Set in an Alternate Universe.
I don't know what to say about this one. Hahaha!
DISCLAIMER [I do not own Kingdom Hearts] DISCLAIMER
IN THE END
I'll find you.
"They say the end of one thing marks the beginning of another; one door closed is a window opened. You're exploring new things and looking for a change. What do you think of that, sir? Sounds like a good thing to tell your fans, right?"
Vanitas did not answer his assistant as he crushed his stress ball – designed to look exactly like a miniature planet earth – as hard as he could with both hands. "For when you're mad at the world," he remembered her saying as she smiled teasingly and gave it to him. Well, he was more than just mad at the world at the moment.
"Shut up for a second, will you?" Vanitas snarled.
"But we can't have them thinking you've died or something."
"Actually, that sounds good; let them think that."
"Answer him, St. Clair."
Vanitas looked up from his stress ball and glared at his manager, who had suddenly appeared at the doorway. "You answer him," he snapped. "Who cares about those social networks anyway? Don't these losers have anything better to do than to Like me or Follow me? They should get a life."
"Those losers are your fans. They paid for this penthouse, and your private jet, and your Ferrari, and your hell-knows-how-many beach-front properties all over the world. Among other things. The least you can do for them is spare them from your crappy attitude."
Vanitas made a sound that was halfway between a hmph of indifferenceand a snort of derision.
"Listen, St. Clair," his manager said, trying to control his voice. "You've caused us enough trouble, breaching your contract in the middle of a tour. Do you have any idea how much shit you threw at the fan?"
Rolling over on the sofa, Vanitas said nothing, focusing on creating massive craters on the tiny planet in his hands. Sighing exasperatedly, his manager went to speak with the assistant. With their eyes focused on the computer screen, typing updates on his blogs and arguing about how best to counter the latest criticisms against their little rockstar, they failed to notice that Vanitas had curled into a fetal position, his stress ball crushed beyond recognition in his trembling hands.
Aqua unpacked the last and the smallest of the cardboard boxes she brought from her old place to her new one – a full three months after moving in. The contents of the box were just a few things she kept for sentimental reasons. They would likely end up in her bedside drawer or in one of the baskets she kept under her bed as extra storage compartments.
She pulled out a couple of old journals she had written during her high school days, a shoebox filled with seashells that she collected in childhood, and a box of keys that have long been rendered useless. She had a thing for keys and kept them even when she no longer needed or had their matching locks. All of those would go under her bed. The sheaf of envelopes – letters and cards from friends and family that she couldn't bear to throw away – and the photo albums filled with her favorite pictures would go in her drawer.
The last item was a brown envelope labeled Clippings. She paused, tilting her head slightly to one side as she stared at it. She had to think for a moment to remember what it was but it came to her quickly enough. It was a collection of newspaper and magazine articles that she used to enjoy reading or she thought were good references for her own writing. It has been a while since she last opened it, though, and perhaps it was time to throw it.
Nodding to herself to reinforce her decision, she opened the envelope to read the contents just one more time. She remembered there were some pretty good clippings in there. She might even find a couple she would want to keep even though she had sworn that she would stop hoarding things now that she lived in a new place; an impossible task for someone as sentimental as her.
Sighing at the hopelessness of her promise to herself, she pulled the first article out of the envelope.
Vanitas St. Clair – In Love with a Fan?
On the header was a picture of a black-haired, tan-skinned, golden-eyed teenager. He was in a recording booth, headphones over his ears, microphone in front of him. He was smirking at the camera and looking at it from between his dark lashes.
She could not stop his name from escaping her lips. It was hard for her to believe that the picture was taken last year – he looked exactly like he did when she last saw him just a few months ago. He looked as arrogant, conceited, self-centered, egoistic… desirable as ever.
She scanned the page. She once knew the details of that interview as if they were engraved into her soul, having read it too many times to count. But now, she could only remember one question and one answer in particular. And when she found it…
Q: So, Vanitas, your latest, greatest, record-breaking hit, The Lights Go Down. It's about meeting a fan during a concert and falling in love with her, right? There are rumors that it's based on a real experience. Is that true? Are you in love with a fan?
A: Hell no! (laughs) She hates my music.
...her heart stopped, just like it did the first time she ever read it.
His manager was on the phone with someone in the other room, yelling loud enough for everyone else in the world to hear. Vanitas knew the subject of the argument was his failure to make an appearance during a meeting with the record label yesterday but he could not care less. He was done with recording, done with music, done with fame, done with fortune. He was done.
It just was not worth it anymore.
Vanitas walked up to the seamless glass windows at one end of his penthouse suite. The view of the city outside was to die for: gold and red and silver glitter scattered on a black canvas. The lights were flowing here and there, blinking now and then like stars, like fireworks.
There was a split second where he felt the urge to jump through the glass and die on the pavement waiting far below – just another blot on the black canvas. He wanted so badly to clear his mind, to have everything fall silent for a while so he could forget about everything and feel nothing. Even for just a while.
But he couldn't. He couldn't stop thinking about Aqua.
Looking out over the city, missing the details because of the distance and the darkness, he wondered if she was out there. He wondered where she had run off to, where she was hiding. He wanted to find her. To see her. But maybe this time, fate would not be on his side.
He remembered their second meeting; a chance encounter. Fate.
It was noon, on a Friday, and he was standing just outside a restaurant downtown – one of his favorites because they served the best four-cheese pizza and angel hair pasta. His only expectation for that day was a belly full of cheese, nothing more.
Then he caught sight of her across the street, getting into a cab. He acted on impulse. Leaving his bodyguards behind – and a cluster of people vying for his attention – he ran through traffic, opened the cab door on the side opposite her, and slid in just as she closed her door.
"You freak!" she said right after her first reaction. "What's wrong with you?"
He chuckled. "I told you to call me."
She scowled and opened her mouth to scold him when the cab driver spoke up. "Miss? Where to?"
Aqua took a deep breath, shaking her head as if to shake away Vanitas. "I'm so sorry to waste your time but I've changed my mind," she told the driver.
And then she reached for the door handle. Vanitas leaned over quickly and both their hands closed over the handle at the same time. "One drive around the block," he said.
"What?" she asked.
Vanitas turned to the driver. "Get moving. You'll earn more in the next ten minutes than you do in a week."
"No, wait, just – " Aqua stammered, but the cab had begun to move. "You!" she yelled at Vanitas, freeing her hand from his grip.
He smiled at her. "What about me?"
"Let me out of this car right now, Vanitas!" She sounded beyond angry.
"Relax," he said, leaning back and making himself comfortable on the cheap leatherette of the backseat. "I'm not kidnapping you. We're just taking a short drive."
"I'm pretty sure this falls under kidnapping," she said.
He sighed and pulled out his cellphone. "Here, hold on to this. Call a friend, tell her where you are, tell her you're in a cab, give her the plate number for all I care. And tell her that she should call the police if you don't call her again in ten minutes."
Aqua did not take the phone. "Just… What do you want from me?" she asked, keeping her tone as calm as she could.
Vanitas could tell that such an endeavor was not easy for her. Her little nose was slightly wrinkled up to match the furrows in her brow. He imagined that her expression had nothing to do with him, thinking instead that it must be from the rather unpleasant smell of dysfunctional air-conditioning combined with fake leather that probably hadn't been cleaned in a while. The thought made him smirk.
"Well?" Aqua said, still waiting for his answer and looking a little apprehensive. Probably because he smirked.
So he spoke slowly, deliberately, as if he were talking to someone who did not speak his language. "A decent conversation."
Aqua rolled her eyes, thought of making a retort, but then decided against it as one of his songs came up on the radio. Vanitas started singing along but he had hardly finished the first verse when Aqua raised a hand to silence him.
"What?" he asked, though he sounded more curious than offended. "You don't like my songs?"
She shook her head. "Actually, I love your lyrics. They're meaningful." She brought her eyes to his. "But I can't say the same for the way you sing them."
He blinked. He had a feeling that she was trying to imply something, but he couldn't figure out what it was. So he just laughed. "So you hate my music."
"I didn't say that," she said coolly.
"Hey!" Both passengers looked away from each other to see the driver eyeing them from the rear view mirror. "You're this guy?" He was pointing at the radio. "Oh, shit! I've got Vanitas St. Clair in my cab?"
There was silence. Then it was broken by something that started as a smile, as a stifled chuckle. Within moments, Aqua was laughing with a hand over her mouth and another on her stomach.
Vanitas smirked. "You're amused by that?" he asked. Then his phone rang. With a groan, he answered it. "What?" he said irritably.
Aqua was watching him.
"Relax, I'm just taking a ride around the block," he said to the caller. There was yelling on the other end. "Shut up," he said. "Shut up for a second, damn it. I'll be back in five minutes. Just order my usual. No, wait."
He covered the mouthpiece. "Have lunch with me," he said to Aqua.
"You can't be serious." She looked exasperated. Beneath it, Vanitas saw – or maybe imagined – a hint of amusement.
He spoke into the phone again. "Make that my usual, for two." He hung up.
"Wait, what? I didn't agree to have lunch with you!"
"You didn't say no, either."
"You are such a…" she bit her lip, thinking of an insult.
"You'll get used to it," he said, not waiting for her to finish. Then his phone started ringing again.
Vanitas snapped out of his trance, the memory slipping slowly away. His phone was in fact ringing, but not in the memory. He looked away from the glass and the view of the city lights for a moment to stare at his phone. It was lying on the floor nearby, screen flashing.
A few weeks ago, he would have rushed to answer it, tripping over his feet in his panic. Actually, he would not have had to rush at all to reach it because it would not be on the floor. It would be clutched tight in his hand. But he had long since given up on the thought that Aqua might still call him. Hope wasn't something that lasted long in his system.
So he ignored it. And even if he hadn't, he would not have answered anyway. The number on screen was an unknown. And he would only pick up if it said Aqua.
Aqua set aside her phone. She had probably dialed a wrong number. Unlikely, she knew, as she traced circles onto the palm of her left hand. The night she met Vanitas, he had scrawled his number onto her skin with a permanent marker.
"Going to stay stubborn, are you?" he had asked before grabbing hold of her wrist with one hand, deftly uncapping a marker with the other, and writing down his digits onto her palm. "Call," he had said when he finally let go of her wrist. "I'll wait."
It had taken her ages to wash it off. For days upon days upon days, she would wake up to the sight of black numbers written carelessly on her skin. The result: she now knew his phone number by heart.
But if she had dialed correctly, Vanitas would have answered. Wouldn't he?
It was a wrong number. Or the number was no longer in use. Those were the only explanations. Or so she tried to convince herself. Maybe it was a sign that she should not be calling him. Why was she calling him anyway? What did she have to say? Nothing. He might not even want to talk to her. Maybe he had moved on.
Aqua rolled over in bed, clutching a pillow close against her chest. Of course he had moved on. Vanitas St. Clair was a world-famous singer. Replacing her would be easy. No, simpler than easy. Knowing his personality, replacing her would be instinctive, natural. Inevitable.
Vanitas wanted a replacement. He was determined to find one.
The first option was an up-and-coming dancer and actress, just a year younger than him, who was discovered thanks in part to her insanely epic performances in three of his music videos. Their relationship lasted about fourteen minutes in the dressing room.
The second was an assistant choreographer, several years his senior, with bleached blonde hair cut boyishly short. That relationship survived through three private rehearsals where there was absolutely no rehearsing going on at all.
The third and final attempt was with a photographer. But the moment he kissed her, he felt sick. When he touched her, his skin crawled. The sound of her voice or her laugh or her footsteps as she walked up to him… They made him want to cover his ears and scream.
It was then that he decided it was hopeless. Aqua was impossible to replace.
If only he'd known that before he went and lost her.
Aqua was the one who ended it.
It was the right thing to do. They were no good for each other. He coaxed out the darkness in her that she never even knew she had. She was shameless around him and selfish about him. She forgave his faults too quickly, fed his pride, and fueled his vanity. And they were not even officially in a relationship.
They were just… friends. Weren't they?
The month after she left him was the easiest. She was sure of her decision then, confident that she had done what was best for them both. It was that resolve that steadied her as she severed all the connections she had with him; an endeavor that took two weeks.
Once she had moved into a new apartment and found a relatively stable – albeit freelance – job, she congratulated herself on her successful attempt to gain freedom. She didn't know then just how short-lived that happiness would be.
She started to miss him, and missing him was torturous.
Missing suddenly meant more than just thinking and worrying about someone, or wanting the company of that person. Missing literally meant that she had lost something, as if a piece of her had been forcefully ripped away, leaving a painful hollow in its wake.
Vanitas was right; his personality was something she would get used to. Addicted to, even, because without him she felt surrounded by a stark silence that led to an annoying throbbing in her ears that just would not fade. She missed the sound of his voice, even though what would often leave his mouth were his own arrogant opinions, almost always preceded by her least favorite of lines: "Don't be stupid, Aqua."
In fact, that line was the last thing he said to her as she walked out the door. Except, just that once, his voice was quiet and soft. And though he had said it many times, that was the only time that it actually made her ask herself if she was truly being stupid.
Vanitas thought it pathetic that the first and last things he said to her were the same. It was as if their relationship – whatever their relationship was – had simply come full circle and its end was unavoidable. Maybe if he had said something different, or maybe if she hadn't been so stupid in the first place…
The song he had written – the one he was asked about once during an interview – was true.
He met her at a concert. It was not his idea to randomly select audience members to receive backstage passes for that night; it was his smart-ass publicist shoving her nose where it didn't belong. But everyone thought it was a good idea and they forced it on him. The only compromise he managed to squeeze out of them was that he would only choose one from the audience and, begrudgingly, a friend.
That one audience member was a girl around his age whose name he has forgotten. He did remember that she insisted she was his number one fan. More important was the friend of that fan: Aqua. Although he learned later on that she was only at his concert as a favor to her friend.
They trailed after him backstage and he ignored them. Number One Fan was babbling on and on about pointless things to him and he was hardly listening until Aqua sighed and said quietly to her friend, "How long are we staying here? I doubt he enjoys our company."
To which Number One Fan confidently answered, "Of course he does!"
Amused, Vanitas turned to face them. "Don't be stupid. Of course I want you two around."
"See?" Number One Fan smiled.
Aqua, on the other hand, frowned and narrowed her eyes slightly. "Then why did that sound so sarcastic?"
That line made Vanitas like her instantly. The venom in her voice was so sweet that he spent the rest of their time together aggravating her. He loved the way her eyes flared when he sugar-coated an insult, and the way her jaw tightened whenever he said something that begged for a harsh response.
She obviously did not give a damn what he was; the only thing that mattered to her was who he was. It was refreshing to meet someone who looked beyond his being a famous, rich celebrity and instead saw him as… What exactly did she think of him anyway? He was suddenly desperate to know.
As luck would have it, an opportunity to get her friend to leave presented itself as Number One Fan was saying something about how she loved his guitars. He raised a hand to silence her for a second. "Want one""
"You mean… a guitar?" she asked in disbelief. Aqua, too, seemed surprised. Who knew the stuck-up little devil had a drop of generosity in there somewhere?
Vanitas nodded. "Sure. Choose one and it's yours." He waved lazily at someone and said, "Hey, go give her one of my guitars."
'No way!" Number One Fan screamed excitedly as she ran off to go get the concert souvenir that every other fan in the world must have been dreaming of.
And Vanitas got what he wanted. Aqua. Alone.
Except she was starting to get up, obviously intending to follow her friend. He grabbed her wrist. "Not you," he said. "You stay."
'What?" she said, raising her eyebrows at him in a way that suggested, "You're not quite right in the head, are you?"
She seemed adamant about leaving, definitely not liking him even an ounce as much as he liked her. So after failing to press his case and making her sit and talk with him, he held fast onto her wrist, held her hand palm up, grabbed a marker lying around and scribbled his number onto her skin.
He told her to call him.
She never did.
Aqua climbed into the backseat of a cab and momentarily stiffened as a rush of memories overwhelmed her. She could almost see Vanitas hopping in from the other side, smirking at her, scolding her, technically kidnapping her and somehow managing to convince her to join him for lunch. It was that moment that started it all – their twisted friendship, their biggest mistake.
The driver was looking at her curiously as she finally regained her composure. He asked where she was headed. Aqua gave him an address and he drove off.
Absentmindedly, Aqua pulled her phone out of her bag and stared at the screen. Her fingertips slowly punched in a familiar number and froze just over the call button. It was odd to think that although she has had his number from the moment they met, she only started to use it when they had fallen apart. Her hands trembled.
"Are you all right, miss?" the driver asked.
She didn't want to reply, but she didn't want to be rude either. "I'm fine, thank you. Just nervous…"
"Ah, I bet you're headed for a job interview, huh? It's an office building, where you're headed right?" the driver went on.
Aqua nodded. "That's right." She quickly erased the number on the screen of her phone and slipped it back into her bag, reminded that she needed to focus on the all-important interview she was about to have.
The helpful driver smiled at her from the rear view mirror as he turned on the radio. "Music will get your nerves down. Always does for me," he said cheerfully.
"Oh, but I'm fine, I don't need - "
"Give it a minute, it'll work, you'll see!" the driver insisted as the music from the radio filled the cab.
Aqua suddenly tensed. It was not a song that she recognized, and the style seemed a little different, and the voice was distorted slightly by the low-quality speakers. But she was certain it was him. She suddenly couldn't breathe, couldn't think. She felt her heart begin to rip itself apart, torn by the words being sung.
Leave me, go ahead.
I'm used to an empty bed
When I wake up in the morning
Run, hide, do it quick
Don't even stop to think
If I deserved at least a warning
"Please," she said to the driver, desperate to mute the radio herself. But all she could choke out was, "Could you make it louder?"
"Sure," the driver obliged, smug that his method of settling her nerves seemed to have worked, oblivious to just how deeply the music was cutting into her and just where it cut the deepest.
It's fate you're lying to
If you insist that this is over
Distance won't protect you
From what's meant to be forever
Aqua listened, taking the sound of him in. She could practically see him in front of her, his lips forming the words, his fingers making the music, his eyes staring right into hers the way they always did whenever he made her listen to him sing.
Run, if that's what you must do
But in the end, I'll find you
I swear - I'll find you
The song finished long before she wanted it to end, his music and his lyrics fading and being replaced by the words of the radio disc jockey.
"…and that was Vanitas St. Clair, with – according to some rumors – his last single, I'll Find You."
Vanitas gripped the steering wheel harder in annoyance as his phone continued to ring. He dared to throw a quick glance at it to see who was calling and was further aggravated by seeing that it was the same unknown number, for the third time in the last two minutes.
He ignored it until it stopped ringing. He was pissed, having just turned off the radio because they had just played his song and were now talking about his decision to leave the music industry and what a terrible waste of talent that would be. Who gives a damn what they thought? It was his decision. It was his life.
And music... Music never did him any favors anyway.
His phone started ringing again and he slammed a fist against the wheel. "Damn it," he cursed. "Whoever the hell you are, you'd better say something worth my while!"
Keeping his eyes on the road, he grabbed his phone from the passenger seat, answered the call, and held it to his ear.
"Who the fuck are you and what the hell do you want?" he snarled into the phone.
He was answered with silence. But not complete silence. He could hear distorted voices in the background and he recognized them. They were the voices of a couple of disc jockeys: the same ones he was listening to only moments earlier. Whoever was on the phone was listening to the same radio station he had just shut off.
And he instantly knew who he was speaking to.
He brought his car to a stop, in the middle of the highway. Other cars rushed by on either side of him, honking their frustrations, but he paid them no mind. The sun could die right then and still all that would matter to him would be the phone in his hand and the girl that he was sure was on the line.
"Aqua." He said her name quietly, not seeking confirmation. He could feel her; it had to be her.
The silence went on for a moment more, then…
"I'm sorry, Vanitas," answered the voice he had been dying to hear. "I'm sorry that it took me so long to... to call."
He slumped into the driver's seat. It was her. And, for a moment, he had no idea what to say.
"Vanitas, please..." she begged. "Say something..."
He paused for only a second longer, and then he smirked, realizing that there was only one thing that he needed to say: "... I did say I would wait."