"Vanitas, if you don't leave right now you won't find anything out there that will be worth bringing back." Terra repressed a sigh. "Van, you're going to be late!"
"You're late," Vanitas remarked glumly, picking up his bow at the doorway. "If you were paying attention, you would have seen me at the door."
"Do you have everything?" Terra frowned, reaching over to straighten out Vanitas' backpack strap. "You know dad only agreed to let you go hunting alone if you promised to go prepared this time—"
"I only forgot the tent last time, no one needs that—"
"And you brought back way too much food last time—"
"We can sell that—"
"And you can't be gone for more than three days—"
"I'll be back in two hours if it'll get you to shut up." Vanitas groaned unhappily, wriggling out of Terra's fussing hands. Huffing, he started heading towards the backdoor. "I'm leaving now."
"You're not going to say good-bye to Sora?"
"No, I hate all of you. Why would I waste my time with that?"
"Because they're your family," Terra responded calmly. He smirked. "Not even Xion?"
"She'll slap me again," Vanitas muttered under his breath. "It's not like she's in town anyways."
"You shouldn't harass her then."
Vanitas snorted. "Whatever. I'm not heading into town this time anyways. I'm leaving when I want so I'll be back whenever I feel like it."
"Like hell you will," Terra started but Vanitas just rolled his eyes and walked out the back door. Chest rising and falling under a sigh, Terra turned back towards the house. The newer floorboards creaked quietly under his feet, light snores from Ventus' room echoed through the house. Snickering quietly to himself, he slipped out to the front of the house. Kairi was already walking up the house, large basket in hand. "Is Sora up yet?" she asked happily.
"Oh come on Kairi, when is Sora ever awake before noon?" Terra teased, taking the basket from her arms. "What did you bring up for us this time?"
"Some fresh fish and herbs—Axel sent a note with me."
"How's he doing? I haven't seen him since Roxas decided to apprentice under him. Are they busy?"
Kairi nodded. "Axel's finishing up proving that he learned something to Yen Sid, so he's really busy with that and teaching Roxas. His mom's been really nice though."
"I'm glad to hear that. How's Xion?"
"Yen Sid took her to train a bit before she can stay with Axel, since Aqua isn't around." Kairi shrugged. "She'll be back today though."
"Does she still hold a grudge against Vanitas?"
Terra chuckled, sliding the door open further to allow her entrance. Her red ochre tail swept across the doorway, lifting slightly to prevent dirt from brushing into the home. "Oh, I almost forgot—Riku's mom took Naminé right?" How is she?"
Kairi shrugged. "She wants to stay here in the village, I think. I guess it's ok—I mean, she looks like a human. More than I do, anyways." Flexing her legs continuously, she stood impatiently. "Can I go wake up Sora?"
"Go ahead," Terra replied, waving his arms dramatically. "Wake up the sleeping bear boy."
She grinned, scampering down the hall. Chuckling, he turned back to the basket, reaching in and taking out the note Axel had haphazardly stuffed in. Dusty from both the charcoal words and Axel's coal covered hands, Terra began deciphering the blacksmith's messy scrawl. Brushing aside the thin black dust, he frowned. "Kairi, can you read this?"
He looked around. "Kairi?"
"I'm in Sora's room!" she hollered.
Terra chuckled, placing the basket at the end of the hall before walking to Sora's room. The door was shoved open; Sora's cluttered room was displayed in all its glory. Sora however, was invisible under the heaps of clothes and blankets. Kairi began yanking the clothes off; with one strong tug, she started heaving Sora out of the fortress of fabrics. He whined, clinging to a blanket and wrapping himself into a tightly wound cocoon.
"What are you doin' Kairi?" He grumbled, pressing his face into the floorboards. "It's too early."
"Get up sleepy head! You promised we were going to the river today!"
"It's too early," he whined, curling into ball and out of Kairi's grasp. "'Sides, I'm not ready yet—"
"You can just wear what you have on, it's just gonna get muddy and wet anyways!"
"But I'm comfy—"
Kairi groaned loudly, dropping herself onto Sora's midsection dramatically. "Riku's gonna be mad!"
Sora hesitated. "Is he already awake?"
"Probably—Riku's always awake before us." She sat up. "Wasn't he going to teach you how to catch a fish with your hands today?"
Sora shot up like a rocket. "Aw man, I forgot all about that!"
Kairi giggled, scampering out of the room and into the hall; Sora was already tearing off his clothes and rushing to find a clean outfit under his mess. Terra sighed exasperatedly, holding out the note. "Kairi, can you read Axel's note for me? I can't read his chicken scratch."
She shrugged, taking the paper delicately before taking a glance. "I can try but I can't make any promises. He hasn't gotten better at writing since I moved in with him 5 years ago."
"If it makes you feel better, he hasn't gotten better at writing since I met him and that was when he was seven."
Kairi giggled, handing back the paper. "If I can't read the stuff he writes, I usually ask instead. It's easier." Placing the note back into Terra's hands, she allowed Sora to run between them before taking off after him. "We'll be back soon! Tell Ventus hi!"
Terra nodded glumly, ignoring their loud shrieks and laughter as he headed for his own room. Ventus had gone on an annual trip to the ocean with their father and had yet to return. His greatest concern was Vanitas returning from his hunt after their father arrived. Sighing, he took up his sword and slid it into the loop Sora had attached the other day. 'It'll be easier to grab', he said. 'That way you won't have to ruin your clothes or carry it'.
Little did Sora know the loop didn't balance the weapon well enough, therefore the sheath dragged on the ground more than often. However, it was the thought that counted.
Making sure the food was stored somewhere cool, Terra set out towards the village. Everything had been changing so rapidly lately; more and more people from across the ocean were visiting. Traders, merchants, and people who were simply seeking a new start in the countryside—it wasn't just the people either. The merchandise and crops were expanding. Houses were morphing into what a few traders called 'western style'. He could only imagine what the city looked like, seeing as the countryside's were always late in modernizing.
Not that it was a bad thing, he mused, children playing in the now longer paths. His house wasn't as secluded from the town anymore, and his brothers made plenty of friends nowadays. The cold winters were bearable with sturdier crops and villagers more than willing to share food. Many businesses bloomed under the population growth, Axel's in particular. With more people came more merchants and traders with swords that needed sharpening, knives that couldn't be sold dull, and most of all, good gunpowder. He was teaching Roxas how to handle the shop now, simply because he couldn't balance the learning curve of new merchandise and dealing with customers.
However, modernization had brought a tragic downfall to the town. Many of the trees had fallen, used to build homes or simply for being in the way of someone's view. Ventus had been particularly upset and Terra couldn't lie, he was upset as well. The tree under which he had first met Aqua was almost dead. Whether from lack of nutrients or because it was alone, he didn't know. However, it was no longer a majestic cherry blossom tree that overshadowed the town's bridge. In its place stood a sad hunched trunk with a few blossoms scattered across the brittle branches.
To many it had been a tree that brought prosperity to the land. Others claimed it was a sick tree that would have only infected other trees. To Terra however, it was like a fading memory that was becoming increasingly faint with each passing year. Gently patting the trunk as he passed by, Terra quietly crossed the bridge. Before the population boom, he could tell if Axel was home by just looking for a dark pillar of smoke arising from the center of town. Nowadays there were so many smoke stacks, he couldn't decipher with stack led to which home. It wasn't surprising to arrive only to find Axel either out, busy or asleep with the fire burning.
Sometimes he questioned his judgment for letting Roxas visit Axel at all.
Roxas, who in fact, was dashing across the street that very moment, arms burdened with firewood. Terra quickened his pace, catching up with his younger brother in three brisk strides. "Roxas!"
"I can't talk right now!" Roxas yelled in passing, darting back into the blacksmith's workshop. Tossing the wood aside, he quickly began sorting out the equipment again.
"It's alright, I just need to ask Axel about something—"
"He's not here," Roxas grumbled. Tossing a log into the fire pit, he turned to organize the work load he would need to complete in order of importance. "He left early in the morning after I showed up to start working. The jerk didn't even close the shop and now I'm stuck working overtime so he won't lose any customers."
"He didn't say when he'd be back?"
"He didn't even tell me where he was going!" snapped his brother, taking up an iron prod and arranging the firewood neatly so the flames weren't blazing wildly. "He just gave Kairi a note on the way out and ran off! Look at all of these swords I need to sharpen! I still need to make a ton of horse shoes for the traders and I haven't even started working on the steel someone commissioned yesterday for their wagon!"
"Roxas, if you need some help I can—"
"No! No, no, no—the last time you helped, Axel chewed me out for a week! You left a blade so battered that we had to make a new one for free in exchange!" Roxas grunted loudly, tossing a few blades into the fire. "Thanks but no thanks; I'd rather get yelled at for not getting stuff done than have you help me."
"Thanks Roxas. That really makes me feel appreciated."
He sighed, patting his hands down on the apron. "Why did you come over Terra? You never visit during the day, especially early in the morning. Don't you have to do the chores around the house? I'm pretty sure you haven't done all of them yet, especially since you're probably the only one around the house right now."
Terra held up the note. "Kairi brought me the note Axel sent but I can't read it. Do you mind?"
"Is it covered in charcoal?"
"Then it's a lost cause," sighed Roxas, reaching back to adjust the ties to his black dusty apron. "I can usually read his handwriting but if he writes in charcoal, it's impossible to read. I don't see why he can't just invest in an ink pot and a brush. It's not that expensive."
"Yeah, well Axel doesn't exactly like to be…convenient," Terra mused, tossing the note into the fire. It crinkled and blackened, curling into itself before disintegrating into the flames. "I'll just come back later and ask him then. It's no big deal."
"He might have gone to see Yen Sid," Roxas mentioned hastily. Terra hesitated. Yen Sid was a popular character among the Kitsune of the village and his family. Despite never setting foot outside his home, he always managed to communicate between the families. Roxas had been annoyed to discover Axel's heritage; according to him, Axel was a danger to let around fire and couldn't be left alone anymore. Terra was fairly sure it was an excuse to visit town more often.
Roxas cleared his throat, reaching in to shift the placement of the swords before turning back to his brother. "I noticed that whenever he doesn't mention where he's going, he usually goes to see Yen Sid. I'm not sure why he went this time though. Usually, something important happens or he needs to pick up one of Aqua's sisters."
An awkward silence fell between them. "Xion is with Yen Sid, so I guess he could be picking her up but he would have been back by now…" Roxas continued weakly. Shifting uncomfortably in his spot, he straightened up. "You know Axel tried really hard to find a way over the ocean, right? I mean, there's only so much we could all do. He did try to find a route with Yen Sid, with their…magic, but there aren't many who can teleport so far away and come back themselves, let alone with another person."
"I know," Terra responded kindly. "It's alright. We all tried."
Roxas fidgeted anxiously. "So um, was that everything because I really have to get back to work...?"
Terra nodded. "Don't worry. That was everything. I'll try and keep dinner warm for you but if you're late don't worry about it. Sora's determined to catch a fish today so knowing him; we'll have fish stew for dinner tonight."
"I thought Kairi brought some fish and herbs up to the house this morning?"
"She did, but you know Sora. He'll catch some fish anyways. It's alright. We can just dry out the one's he'll catch. I'll see you later Roxas."
The walk back home was disappointing to say the least. Not only was he unsure of what the note said in the first place, he was more depressed than he had been when he'd walked by the dying cherry blossom tree earlier. As he passed by said tree however, something thin and small fell out of its branches and onto his back. Shouting out in alarm, he felt a hand cling to his shoulder and reacting quickly, he reached back to catch the fallen girl. Crouching down, he allowed her to clamber off his back.
Smoothing her clothes in a nervous manner, Naminé bowed her head in shame. "I'm so sorry Terra—I didn't mean to hurt you—"
"No damage done," Terra insisted gently. "I do want to know why you were in that dead tree though. It's dangerous up there."
"I know but the view is beautiful up there and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of something."
Terra frowned. "A glimpse of what?"
"It's nothing," Naminé answered quietly, brushing her hair back shyly. "I was going to paint the valley today but I ran out of paint and Riku's mom is still down at the river with Sora and Kairi."
"You didn't want to go fishing?"
Naminé shook her head. "It's not my sort of thing. I like to read and help the seamstress in town finish dying the fabrics for her work."
"You know Naminé, you don't really act like you're fifteen," Terra commented, slightly concerned. "Don't you have anyone else to hang out with?"
"I do, but they're all busy today. Usually I stay with Axel or Roxas, but Roxas is working and Axel went into the forest."
Terra frowned. "He's not visiting your sister or Yen Sid?"
"Then what is he doing in the forest?"
Naminé smiled. "Looking for a glimpse of something," she answered cheerily before bowing and turning back towards the inner town.
Terra sighed. He understood all of Aqua's sisters except for Naminé; she got along better with his father than anyone her age. She was...young in appearance but aged in spirit. In some cases, she reminded him of Aqua. In other cases however, she reminded him of his father's more philosophical moments. Not even bothering to adjust his now angled sword and uncomfortably crooked attire, Terra tiredly made his way back home. He still had to wash everyone's clothes and feed their livestock.
Approaching dinner time, he heard the familiar shrieks and laughter that announced Sora's arrival—Sora, Kairi, and a quiet Riku to be exact. Not even bothering to open the door, Terra continued folding the freshly washed laundry (of which he was incredibly proud of, therefore Sora could not approach it until after a long bath). Sora threw open the door, the frame shaking loudly but not loud enough to overshadow Sora's triumphant cry of 'I caught lots of fish!'
Terra simply nodded, well aware from just the looks on Kairi's face that Sora had probably only caught one or two fish and they were probably the runt of the litter. Still, he humored his little brother by looking into the wooden pail and gasping loudly in mock surprise. Riku rolled his eyes.
"The one's Sora caught were tiny and somewhere tadpoles, not fish."
"They were not!"
Riku ignored his best friend. "My mom went home and said I could stay to eat dinner here—Kairi too, because Axel isn't back yet."
"That's fine by me—"
Riku grabbed the pail of fish and began hauling it into the house. "I'm gonna start cooking."
"Hey, wait—you don't have to help—"
"No," Riku answered simply. "I'm not helping. I'm cooking."
Terra hesitated. "You're serious? You want to cook for all of us? That's a lot of people Riku—"
"What are you going to make then?"
"Are you sure you don't want any help?"
Riku nodded. "Mom said that if I was going to eat here then I had to make dinner because you always make dinner."
"Your mom worries too much," Terra mumbled, embarrassed. Allowing Kairi and Sora to set up the table (giggling every time they intentionally bugged Riku over the stew), Terra continued his task of placing the fresh laundry into their respective owner's room. Just as he was about to enter Vanitas's room, a loud insistent knock resounded through the home.
"That's probably Roxas, coming home from work," Terra grumbled, dumping the last of the clothes at the doorway and rising off his knees. "Sora, could you get the door?"
"He already did," Roxas responded wearily as he stepped into the hallway, dropping his smoky black apron onto his already discarded shoes. "Dinner smells great, who's cooking?"
"Riku—Roxas can't you at least no put that apron with the rest of your clothes?"
"No, it'll stink up my room."
"You sleep in the same room as Sora, it's impossible to make that room smell any worse."
Roxas ignored him; stepping around the corner towards his room. That was when Terra noticed. "What are you two doing here—when did you get here?"
"Oh yeah," Roxas drawled tiredly from inside. "Naminé and Xion are here too."
Terra scowled. "It's great to see you again Xion but really, what are you two doing here?"
"Axel sent me," Xion answered simply. "Naminé came because Riku's mom said she'd have more fun here than at home. Is Riku really cooking?"
"I hope so," Roxas called out from his room. "He cooks a lot better than Terra does."
"If you say that one more time, I'll never cook for you again." Terra muttered under his breath as he watched silently while the girls walked into the kitchen, comfortably navigating his home as if it were theirs. "Besides, I love having parties over."
He continued his chores while the kids giggled over freshly cut herbs and vegetables, Riku silently catering away. Once the food was done and everyone was at the table ready to eat, the backdoor began to shake furiously in its frame. Terra sighed, already rising to his feet. "Vanitas forgot something again, I just knew it—"
The door exploded inwards, a heavy crash echoing down the hall as its broken frame collided against the wall. The table fell silent in shock, Axel rushing into the house ecstatically. "Get up Terra."
"You broke into my house—"
"That's not new—"
"You kicked my door in—"
"No I didn't. I just set an explosion off near the lock—"
"You blew up my door?!"
"I didn't have a part in this," Vanitas stated calmly, bow and arrow still strapped to his back. "He dragged me back from the forest and took me home."
Riku held up an empty bowl silently. Nodding glumly, Vanitas took the bowl and began pouring soup for himself. Terra could feel the beginning of a headache coming on. "Axel, you can't keep breaking into my house and not fixing it afterwords—"
"Oh quit your bitching and come with me."
Kairi hummed quietly, sipping her soup to hide her smile when Sora immediately turned to Riku in order to express his shock. Axel unfolded his arms over his chest. "Hurry up, we haven't got all day."
"Why do I even—Come on!" Axel snapped, reaching forward to grab Terra's arm and yank him out into the hall. "Hurry up!"
"But the kids—"
"I'll watch them," Vanitas shouted, words barely audible from a mouth full of fish fillets. "It's not like I have anything else to do."
Sora beamed. "Hey Van, can we go—"
"No. Sit your ass down and finish your food."
Roxas groaned. "Why can't we have a normal dinner for once?"
Terra fumbled to grasp one of the frames around the house as he was tugged away, listening to the conversation in the kitchen with terror. This was just a set up for disaster—Vanitas would either lose the kids or get into a fight with Roxas. "Axel, you have to let me go—"
"No—let go of the door frame you chicken, I have something to show you."
"I'm not letting go!" Terra yelped, his fingers slipping when Axel gave one last ferocious tug.
"Terra, you really need to start doing more farm work if I can pull you along this much for this long."
"What is wrong with you?!"
"I got you something."
"You couldn't bring it in the house?"
"Well I could but then all the work I put into getting it would be kind of pointless, don't you think?"
Axel sighed, clearly tired of his own game by now. "Alright, just go into the forest ok? You can't miss it."
"How can I 'not miss it' when the whole forest is pitch black by now—"
"Because I lit the way," Axel teased, forming a small blue flame in the palm of his hand. "Now go—you shouldn't take too long. That is, unless you get lost in the forest."
Terra rolled his eyes, shoving Axel towards the house. "Just stay here and watch the kids."
"Aren't you afraid I'll burn down the house?"
"Even you aren't that stupid," Terra sang quietly under his breath, calmly stepping over a few branches scattered before him. Slowly making his way through the woodland, he continued muttering his displeasure. Sure enough, Axel had left a small path cleared and lit by a few floating, flickering blue flames but that didn't excuse him from being so irresponsible. The path of flames licking his feet was beginning to end, the only thing left before him a young, lone cherry blossom tree. Beyond was a sea of bamboo trees—trees that he recognized would lead to the meadow he'd once visited with Aqua. Terra sighed.
"What is he trying to prove?" Terra murmured, reaching up to gently swat the illuminated paper lantern that was propped up against the base of the tree. "Is this his way of telling me to get out more often?"
A smaller, smoother hand landed over his. Turning his head sharply to look behind the tree, he froze. Aqua's wide cerulean gaze met his, her mouth open from shock and cheeks flushed for reasons only known to her. The silence between them spread from a few seconds to a minute, neither of them able to break the gaze they shared. Aqua smiled slowly. "Terra, I—"
Terra grasped her arm, pulling her into a tight embrace. Burying his face into her neck and hair, he struggled to steady his racing heartbeat. "Aqua, I—you're actually here—I looked for you—I looked everywhere for you—"
Aqua sighed, relaxing in his arms and returning the embrace. Her fingers were beginning to dig into his back but he didn't mind. "I know you did," she whispered. "It's alright. There was nothing you could do."
"I'm so sorry that I couldn't help," He continued, breathing in and out slowly once before separating. She opened her mouth to speak but he interrupted with a grin. "Your sisters are fine—we did exactly as you asked. They all missed you a lot. Kairi's enjoying living in the village but she wants to go off on an adventure with my brother and Riku. Xion is planning on staying with Yen Sid and Naminé wants to stay in the village. She's a lot like you."
Aqua chuckled. "I didn't even have to ask."
"Your family is my family," He answered simply before lifting her into the air, spinning her around once and then placing her on the ground once more. Aqua laughed heartily, her arms wrapping firmly around his shoulders to embrace him again. "How did you get back?"
"It took a while but I found some of my kind—they were incredibly hospitable. Sometime last year, I heard about a boat that would be travelling across the sea and I just knew it had to coming here. I don't know how long I travelled for but once I got to shore, I knew I had made the right decision."
"Do you mind my asking what happened when you got there—wherever there is?"
Aqua hesitated, wrists beginning to slip from his shoulders. Reaching up to grasp her slender forearms, he shook his head. "It's fine. I understand."
Aqua shook her head, arms slipping out of his hands and tugging at his loose clothes to expose his collar bone. Terra flinched, instinctively shutting the layers of cloth over his chest, hiding the painful scar that was left as a reminder of that difficult day. Smiling feebly, he shrugged. "I think we both have moments that we'd rather not speak about right now."
She nodded quietly, reaching over to pick up the lantern's pole. "Let's go for a walk. We can talk."
"Yes?" Terra smiled, leaning in and pressing his forehead against hers. She hesitated, staring up at him. His eyes were closed and for a long moment, he looked peaceful—that is, until she fidgeted self-consciously. "Terra, I don't mean to pry but what are you doing?"
"Absorbing your aura."
"That way a part of you will always be with me."
Aqua snickered. "Terra, that's a little silly, don't you think?"
"Do you think it's silly?" Terra asked honestly, opening his eyes to look at her for an answer. She couldn't find it in her to say yes. Flushing pink, she averted her gaze. "Well Aqua?"
"N-Not necessarily," she mumbled, suddenly overwhelmingly conscious of his gaze, his darker slate blue eyes humored by her slight discomfort. "What are you doing now?"
"Thinking about all the things that we have to discuss," he replied simply.
"What your sisters did while you were gone. The things I did to pass the time or to search for you. The adventures you had while we looked for you—"
Aqua gasped, turning to face him in shock. "I didn't leave to have adventures in a foreign land Terra—"
She froze. His face was just inches above hers, expression almost daring her to continue her outburst. Slowly, the mocking look dissipated, an odd look overcoming his previous one. Leaning in slowly, she pressed her lips against his, her heart pounding in her chest. Terra reached up to her face, cupping her cheeks and reciprocating the kiss with adoration before initiating a second kiss. They continued kissing feverishly, her arms wrapping around his neck and his own arms wrapped about her waist. It wasn't until they knocked against the thin tree that they broke apart, laughing nervously. "I think we really do have a lot to talk about, don't we?" Aqua whispered, embarrassed.
Terra grinned, gently poking her nose with his now free hand. "Don't worry. It can wait. You must be hungry and I can't just keep you all to myself when your sisters are waiting at my house—oh and Aqua?"
First of all...We're done! Thank you so much for the support, reviews, commentaries, critique, etc! I really appreciated each and every one of you; every review was a joy to receive. I almost wish this wasn't over but all things must come to an end. I'm sorry it took so long to post the epilogue but I had to focus on my school work before I could find the time to finish this baby.
A big shout out to KAISRE; without you and your beautiful fanart(s), this story would have never happened. For all of you who haven't checked out KAISRE's art, please do so! They're a wonderful person and a fantastic artist/fanfiction author!
To my constant reviewers; you know who you are. Thank you. You kept me going when I thought I couldn't write anymore and seemed to review when I felt like my day was going wrong. I hope that sometime soon I'll be able to write something else that will be to your taste.
Thank you for everything. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! ~LightBloom