Set in the Land of Departure.
In an Alternate Reality.
This was supposedly part of a very lengthy multi-chapter that I began writing in June of 2011.
Yes, it was that long ago. I checked the File Creation Date. Hahaha!
Anyway, that multi-chapter is too broken for me to finish as I originally intended.
This is just a snippet of it, but the scenes here are some of my favorites.
I did, unfortunately, have to delete several parts and type up new ones here and there but I hope the stitches aren't too obvious...
Have fun reading!
DISCLAIMER [I do not own Kingdom Hearts] DISCLAIMER
PAGE FOUR HUNDRED THIRTY-TWO
And the story begins...
It was a pleasantly warm day that promised gentle breezes and soft sunlight. Perfect for spending time under the shade of a tree and reading a good book with a cookie or three and a cup of tea. And that was exactly what Aqua had been doing the past couple of hours. Only crumbs were left of her cookies, dregs at the bottom of her teacup, and less than a couple dozen pages to go of her favorite novel.
She loved spending some quality alone time in the privacy of her secret sanctuary - a little niche just beyond the training grounds, sheltered by an evergreen tree and surrounded by fragrant flowers. Neither Terra nor Ventus knew of this personal space of hers; they always thought she did all her reading in the library. Silly boys.
Why would she waste such a wonderful day in the confines of stone walls when a nice bed of grass and a canopy of leaves waited temptingly outside?
Sighing contentedly, Aqua turned to page four hundred thirty-two of her book and...
She looked up from the page she was reading at hearing the unmistakable sound of a materializing portal. Turning towards the castle in the distance, she saw the flickering silhouette of an opening to the Lanes Between hovering above the Forecourt. As far as she knew, the Master had no plans to leave the Land of Departure today. So who would be opening a portal to the Lanes Between?
Although reluctant to leave her sanctuary, she stood up and hastily made her way down the mountain path back towards the castle. Her brows were still creased. If Terra was being reckless again or –worse – if the ever-hyper Ventus was feeling rather curious, rebellious, and adventurous... Or both. After all, from who else would Ven learn how to open a portal?
She picked up the pace, feeling anxious. And as soon as she stepped onto the Forecourt, her breath caught in her throat and her anxiety worsened. What greeted her was much worse than Ventus going on an unauthorized field trip; Master Xehanort was standing at the center of the courtyard. That alone troubled her enough. But, then, beside him was…
She gasped, watching as the Master's apprentice visibly trembled and his knees suddenly gave way. Without thinking, Aqua raced forward, catching Vanitas in her arms before he could hit the stone paving. Master Xehanort was looking at her with a blank expression as she held Vanitas close. And she met his gaze with carefully concealed disdain at his obvious lack of concern for his apprentice.
Then her attention returned to Vanitas. She could feel tremors coursing through the boy's body as he struggled against her, trying to push himself back to his feet.
"Let go…" he hissed, his voice coarse and broken.
She scowled, but helped him up, much to his obvious annoyance. He pushed her away – weakly and ineffectively – and she took a step back just as Master Eraqus, closely followed by Ventus and Terra, made their way down the steps from the castle.
"Xehanort," Eraqus said. "This is… unexpected. What happened?" His last question was clearly an inquiry about Vanitas, who looked ready to collapse again.
Aqua held onto his arm and he tried to shake her off. "Stop touching me," he grumbled in that same broken voice. "I don't need your help."
"You obviously do," she responded, just as he started to lose balance again.
Master Eraqus frowned, noting that there was clearly something wrong with the boy. He asked Terra and Aqua to take him inside to lie down while he spoke with Master Xehanort. And Terra reluctantly stepped closer to Vanitas.
The boy half-growled as the older apprentice approached and Terra hesitated, looking questioningly at Aqua. What was he supposed to do exactly, lift the cranky demon into his arms? Sighing, Aqua slipped Vanitas' arm across her shoulders - the latter putting up a futile resistance - supporting his weight, and Terra moved to do the same.
Vanitas glared in his direction, although his mask concealed much of the hostility, as he said, "Do not touch me."
"We're trying to help you," Terra said with a deep scowl as he motioned for Aqua to relinquish Vanitas to him.
Aqua shook her head; signaling that Vanitas was furious enough, having been forced to rely on her. It would probably make him explode if Terra tried to help as well. So Terra just followed the two of them into the castle, frowning the entire time.
Inside, he walked ahead of Aqua and they made their way to the west wing, where the bedrooms were. Terra paused at the start of the hallway, turning to Aqua. "Which room?"
"Any," she answered. "The closest one?"
Vanitas shoved her away. "I won't be here long anyway, so don't worry your little heads over it…" Then he lurched forward, and Aqua caught him again.
"What's the matter with you?" she asked, annoyed now that he kept refusing their help even though he obviously needed it.
"Get the hell away from me!" he said in what was probably a shout, although his voice was too broken to maintain a loud volume.
Angered, Terra grabbed his upper arm and dragged him down the hallway. "Terra!" Aqua said worriedly, following him. "Don't be so harsh …"
But he did not listen to her as he walked towards a random empty room, opened the door, and pushed Vanitas inside. "Do not talk to Aqua like that!" he growled, and then he slammed the door shut.
"Terra…" Aqua murmured, touching his arm. He was breathing heavily, enraged.
"Why is that idiot here anyway?" Terra asked.
Aqua shook her head. "I don't know," she answered. "Come on, let's go ask the Master."
He nodded and they made their way back to the entrance hall. Once there, they ran into Master Eraqus and Ventus, who were just coming back in. Aqua noted that Ventus looked thoroughly upset.
"Master," Aqua said. "Is everything alright?"
The Master was frowning slightly. "It seems Vanitas contracted a virus during their exploration of a foreign world. Master Xehanort is leaving him here for a few days to recover."
"How long is a few days exactly?" Terra asked.
"As long as it takes for the illness to die down."
All three apprentices tensed. None of them was too fond of Vanitas; he was callous and arrogant. He especially liked to torment Ventus and pick fights with Terra.
"Also…" the Master continued. "I will be gone for a few days starting tomorrow. I hate to leave at a time like this, but I have some urgent business to attend to. I trust you will be able to handle things on your own?"
The tension rose to tangible levels. It was bad enough that they would be playing hosts to a demonic guest – who is surely going to be even more trouble now that he was feeling unwell. Now they would have to watch over Vanitas without Master Eraqus?
Aqua, Terra, and Ventus exchanged worried glances, but before any of them could say a word, Master Eraqus spoke. "Vanitas. Where are you going?"
The apprentices turned around and caught sight of their guest, wobbling down the hallway. There was a moment of hesitation, but Aqua finally mustered the will to walk towards Vanitas. She held him firmly by the shoulder.
"You should stay in your room," she said.
"Let go of me," he hissed.
Master Eraqus approached them, sighing, with Terra and Ventus close behind. "Take him back to his room," he told his three apprentices. "And make sure he stays in bed."
"Yes, Master…" came three reluctant responses.
It was a long and difficult trek back to the west wing, with Vanitas struggling and complaining the entire time. But they finally managed to wrestle him into his bedroom and close the door.
And after a pause to catch their breath, Ventus said, "Now what?"
Terra and Aqua hesitated, neither one knowing what to say.
"Why does he have to stay here anyway?" Ven asked.
"I suppose... He has nowhere else to go," Aqua answered.
There was another pause. Then: "I don't want to be on sick duty…" Ven groaned. "Especially not for Vanitas…"
"Neither do I, but... damn it, someone has to do it," Terra said grudgingly.
Aqua sighed. Vanitas was always so mean to Ven so his feelings had enough grounds. And, unfortunately, she couldn't expect Terra to do a decent job of caring for the sick apprentice as well. Whenever he and Vanitas were in each other's presence, explosions occurred.
"Don't worry," she said, coming to a decision. "I'll take care of him."
Ven and Terra exchanged a look that she could not quite decipher. "Are you sure?" Terra asked. "I could help you."
"No, I'm sure," she said. "You'll just aggravate him, Terra. It might make him worse."
Both boys frowned, concerned. They felt as though they were sending Aqua to the front lines of a battlefield while they hung back where it's safe. But they understood why she was the only one capable of doing this.
"Okay," Terra said. "But we're right here to back you up, if anything goes wrong."
"Right," Ven agreed. "For anything…"
She smiled. "I know."
The first night was terrible. Vanitas somehow found the strength to force Aqua out of his room and shut her out. Neither of them slept at all. The following morning, shortly after Master Eraqus left, Aqua tried again.
She walked into Vanitas' room to find him sprawled on the floor, gasping for breath. She knelt down by his side, worry etched into her tired features, and she took hold of his helmet.
He shoved her hands away.
"Vanitas, you're going to need to take that off."
Aqua narrowed her eyes at him, frustrated. "Take it off."
"Make me..." he muttered, his broken voice surprisingly mocking.
Annoyed, Aqua grabbed at his helmet, but he shoved her away again with shocking strength for someone who was ill. Standing up and glaring at him, Aqua placed a hand on her hip. "Do you want to do this the hard way?" she asked.
He pushed himself up to his feet and chuckled. "What's the hard way?"
A soft chime echoed in the room as her Keyblade materialized in her hand. "Do you really want to find out?"
"You're going to use your powers on me?"
"If I have to."
He chuckled again, though this time it was broken by a cough and a wheeze. "I had no idea you had the heart to resort to such measures. Especially while I'm... powerless to fight back." Aqua frowned at the snide tone in his voice.
Her grip on the weapon tightened. "Do not test me, Vanitas. Now take it off, and lie down!"
She could almost feel him smirking beneath that dark visor. "Make me," he said again.
Aqua swiftly raised her Keyblade, its point almost touching his chest, and summoned a burst of wind. It pushed him back, his balance failing him, and she stepped forward, quickly laying a hand on his chest. With a slight push, he fell back on the bed and Aqua pointed her Keyblade at him again.
A ring of gold light held him in place, and he roared. Or, he made a sound as close to roaring as his aching throat would allow. Aqua slipped off his helmet, but almost dropped it as soon as his face was revealed. It was the first time she had ever seen what was beneath that mask and…
He smirked at her. "Something wrong, Aqua?" he asked, his voice teasing.
She breathed deeply, ignoring his question. She set aside his helmet and fixed his position on the bed so that his head was on the pillow. Then she wrapped the blanket around him just as her spell began to fade.
"Stop touching me," he said as she placed a hand on his forehead.
"I have to," she argued, frowning at feeling his high temperature.
He pushed her hand away and struggled to sit up. With her hands on his shoulders, she pushed him back down. "Stay, Vanitas," she said. "Do not make me Bind you again."
He scowled at her, the glint in his eyes sharp and threatening.
"Stay," she said again, more firmly. "I'll be right back."
He stared after her as she left; she could feel the weight of it behind her. Closing the door, she stood for a minute outside his bedroom, just breathing. His face was nothing like she had expected. Nothing at all. But what exactly did she expect anyway? Venomous fangs hidden behind pale, thin lips? Red eyes with narrow black slits for pupils? She shook her head. Vanitas was just a boy. He might not act like one, but he was still just a boy.
Aqua returned to his room some time later, burdened with a tray of food and other miscellaneous things. She was pleasantly surprised to see that Vanitas was still in bed, although he was sitting up, fiddling with the loose threads of a pillow case he had obviously ripped.
"Why did you do that?" she asked, wincing a little at the sound of ripping fabric, as she set the tray on the bedside table.
"I was bored," he answered casually, his voice rasp. She could see his shoulders rising and his chest heaving from his labored breathing, and she bit back the reprimand that was already aching to leap out of her throat.
She sat on the bed, taking the spoon and the bowl of soup from the tray and offering them to him. His face scrunched up. "What's that?" he asked, not accepting her offer.
"What's in it?"
She sighed. "Chicken."
"I know that. I'm not stupid. What else is in it?"
"Just eat it, please," she said. "And stop talking. It will just worsen your already-sore throat."
He scowled at her. "I'm not eating that."
"You have to."
"I don't know what's in it."
Aqua frowned. "If I tell you what's in it, will you eat it?"
He stared at her, as if to say, "Are you stupid?"
Aqua felt her annoyance itching to surface and for a while, the only sound in the room was that of Vanitas' shallow breathing. Mustering what patience she had left, Aqua opened her mouth to begin enumerating the ingredients when…
"Aqua! Aqua! Aqua!" Ventus yelled excitedly, suddenly appearing at the open doorway. He inhaled deeply, savoring the delicious smell of soup that was wafting through the room. He could practically taste the flavorful chicken broth, the soft potatoes, the slightly sweet carrots, the chewy mushrooms, and that tiniest hint of garlic, just by breathing. He hoped there were those thin rice noodles in there, too, because he loved how they felt all squishy in his mouth.
"Is that chicken soup?" he asked, his tone eager and his expression unmistakably hungry.
"Yes," she answered, turning to face him.
"Really?" he squealed, beaming at her.
But she frowned sadly. "Ven… It's for Vanitas."
Ven's expression plummeted from ecstatic to disheartened. "But… But I… Can't I have some?"
"I… I didn't make all that much…" Aqua replied, sounding very sorry. "But I suppose since Vanitas doesn't want -" She stopped, feeling the bowl slip out of her hands. She faced Vanitas again and her eyes widened with surprise at seeing that he had taken the bowl from her and, with its rim pressed against his lips, was greedily sipping up the hot liquid.
After he had swallowed down half of the bowl's contents, he stopped to look at Ventus, smirking. "This is actually…very good…" he said slowly, obviously teasing the other apprentice.
Ven scowled at him and, without saying anything, ran off.
"Ven!" Aqua called, but there was no response. She glared at Vanitas. "Why did you do that?" she asked, angry.
He shrugged a little, as if he had done it simply because it was in his nature, and he began sipping the soup again.
"A minute ago, you didn't even want to touch that," Aqua muttered.
"I said it's good, didn't I?" he said between gulps.
"You meant it?" she asked, disbelieving.
He didn't answer and she watched him finish the soup in silence, not wanting to make him talk anymore. She knows it pained him; she could practically hear how his breath scraped his sore throat, making his voice coarse. And, besides, she didn't want to hear his mocking, derisive tone any more than necessary.
He finished the soup quickly, handing her the bowl – without even the slightest gesture of thanks – and she set it back on the tray.
"Lie down," she told him.
"Do I have to force you to do everything?"
Gritting her teeth, she forced him to lie down. He scowled at her and she scowled back, but he remained still and quiet. She placed a hand on his forehead, brushing away the spikes of his black hair. Then she reach for a second bowl on the tray, which was filled with cool water, and dipped a clean cloth in it that she had brought along as well.
With her wet hand, she gently massaged his forehead so that the sudden cold from the damp cloth wouldn't sting so much.
"I hate it when you touch me," he said, his fists clenched at his sides.
"It isn't fun for me, either," she replied, sounding just a tad bit hostile. "But I have to, because we really need to bring your temperature down." She placed the cloth on his forehead and he flinched a little from the cold. "Now stop talking, and go to sleep. You need a lot of rest, Vanitas."
"Stop telling me what to do."
Her jaw tightened. "I'm trying to help you."
"I don't want your help. I want to get out of here," he said, wheezing and coughing.
"The only way you're getting out of here is if you get better," she said. "And that's not going to happen if you don't cooperate."
They stared at each other, both with brows furrowed, until Vanitas finally looked away. Aqua could tell that he was in a lot of pain. She could see it in the way his body was shaking, in the sound of his painful breathing, in the way his eyelids fluttered every now and then. Even the gold in his eyes looked faded, glazed over from the torture his body was going through. But he kept up the stubborn façade, staying wide awake.
Sighing, Aqua slowly ran her fingers through his hair in an attempt to soothe him. He looked at her angrily. "Stop that."
He shoved her hand away roughly and she slapped his hand. He glared at her and she glared back. "Go away," he growled.
"Go to sleep first."
"Again, Vanitas, we can do this the hard way, if that's what you want."
A growl escaped his throat, but that was it; just bark and no bite. She brushed his hair with her fingers again, similar to the way she did whenever she comforted Ven. Gradually, Vanitas calmed down, although it was probably involuntary and it probably frustrated him.
Eventually, his eyes began to fall closed, his breathing relaxed – although very slightly. Minutes later, he was asleep, all the tension in his body fading away, his clenched fists falling open. Aqua stopped fondling with his hair, breathing deeply for a few minutes. Why did Vanitas have to make things so difficult? She was doing all this for him. She was trying to make him better. Why couldn't he be a little more civil about it?
She looked at the sleeping boy and almost smiled. He looked very innocent that way, almost like Ventus. She touched his cheek lightly, marveling at how unbelievably child-like he seemed. Perhaps it was because he wasn't wearing that awful mask, or smirking in that sinister way, and she couldn't see the malicious glint that so often shone in his eyes.
At the same time, though, there was a sharpness to his face that reminded her of Terra. As if he was a boy with a heart that was mature beyond his age and his body was trying vainly to reflect it. And if he didn't look so ill, she would've thought he looked handsome. For a boy, that is. For a boy that had always struck her as strangely grown-up.
Frowning, she replaced the cloth on his forehead as it was beginning to get warm, and then stood up to leave the room. She was contemplating him too much, and it was making her feel uneasy.
Aqua checked up on Vanitas at least once every hour. He slept for much of the afternoon, to her relief. But then he woke at around sundown and then he tormented her throughout the evening. It reached the point where Terra decided that he had to interfere and both boys summoned their Keyblades, determined to fight to the death.
It had taken a very furious Aqua and a terrified Ventus to calm Terra down enough to swallow his pride and walk away.
Fortunately, the mere act of summoning his weapon and attempting to assume an offensive stance had drained Vanitas of energy. He finally fell asleep at midnight, and Aqua was able to retreat to the comfort of her bedroom in order to steal a few hours of fitful slumber.
Still, she woke up the following morning feeling as though she had not had any rest at all. For a moment, as she remained in bed, she debated whether she really did have it in her to keep assuming the responsibility of taking care of Vanitas. He seemed to be doing an excellent job at making her miserable and hopelessly frustrated, and it had only been a day.
Pressing her fingertips against her temples, she took a few deep breaths to calm her mind. The sooner Vanitas recovered, the sooner he could leave. For the moment, she would have to bite back the frustration, for the greater good and all that. So she pushed herself to get up, went through her morning routine, and prepared herself to step into the war zone once more.
She hesitated for a second outside their guest's bedroom, just breathing. Whatever he had in store for her today, she hoped her heart had the strength to withstand it. She opened the door.
And she gasped as her heart nearly stopped. Vanitas was curled up on his side with his back to her, writhing in agony. She hastily crossed the short distance between the door and the bed, and touched his arm, only to recoil at the heat of his skin, which she felt even through the suit he was wearing.
"Vanitas?" she asked worriedly, feeling terrible about what she had been thinking just a few minutes ago. "Vanitas, look at me, please," she said, touching his arm again. His eyes were shut tight, his jaw clenched, his arms crossed tightly over his chest as if he was trying to hold himself together.
"Go away," he hissed through his teeth.
Frowning, but with frantic concern rather than annoyance, Aqua dashed out of the room. She knocked frantically on Ven's door and Ven answered, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
"Aqua?" he asked, quickly becoming alert at seeing the panic in her expression. "What's wrong?"
"I need to borrow some clothes," she said.
"Uh, okay…" Ven said as he stepped aside. Aqua quickly went through his dresser, grabbing a shirt and shorts.
"Thanks, Ven," she said. "I'm very sorry to wake you." And she hastily ran off. Concerned, Ven ran after her.
"Hey, is everything okay?"
"Vanitas is worse," she answered.
Ven frowned. "Do you need help?"
"No, no," she said, forcing a smile. "It's fine, I can handle this."
They had reached a bathroom and Aqua grabbed some small towels and a basin from the cabinet under the sink, which she began to fill with water. She nodded in response to Ventus, again forcing a smile. The frown on the younger apprentice's face remained. "You know, Terra and I could take over."
"No, it's alright," she replied. And, burdened with the items she had gathered, she made her way out of the bathroom and back to Vanitas' room. Ven could only watch after her, confused and concerned.
Aqua walked as quickly as she could, careful not to spill the water. Once she had reached Vanitas' bedroom, she set aside the basin, the towels, and the clothes before shutting the door. Vanitas was still on his side in bed, still trembling uncontrollably.
"Vanitas," she said. "I… I need you out of that suit…"
He curled up even tighter. "No."
"Please?" she begged.
"Leave me alone," he choked out.
"I'm not going anywhere," she said. "And I need to do this."
"Would you like me to ask Ven or Terra to do it instead?"
He didn't answer, but his body relaxed a little. She took it as permission and she carefully undressed him, slipping the tight-fitting fabric down gently so that his upper body was exposed to her. He was shivering all the while and he flinched every time her fingers brushed against his bare skin, as if even her normal body temperature was painfully cold for him.
Just as she had done the night before, she wet her hands and gently massaged him. He hissed as if her touch stung.
"Sorry…" she murmured, knowing how uncomfortable it must feel, but if she allowed his fever to remain that high… She didn't even want to finish that thought as she soaked one of the cloths and brought it to his skin.
Vanitas all but screamed.
"It'll be alright," she promised softly.
"Stop it! Shut up!" he snarled.
Aqua ignored him, knowing that it was just the pain talking. She brought the damp cloth all across his shoulders, his neck, his back, and along his arms. Then she brought it to his chest, and that was when he really screamed.
She stopped and tried to calm him down, putting aside the cloth and just gently running her hands along his back and shoulders. In the middle of all this, the door burst open and Terra stepped in.
"What happened?" he asked, worried.
Vanitas glared at Terra, his eyes wide open. "Get out!" he shouted, his voice almost venomous with hatred and fury. Terra clenched his fists, but said nothing, focusing his attention solely on Aqua.
"His fever's gotten worse," Aqua said.
"What can I do?" Terra asked.
"Nothing, I can handle this. But would you and Ven be okay today, without me? I have to stay with Vanitas."
Reluctantly, Terra nodded. Oh, sure, he would probably blow up the kitchen, and cause other unnatural disasters, but he could tell by the look on Aqua's face that she wasn't really asking. She was telling him that she was staying with Vanitas and that he and Ven would have to get by without her. And not knowing what else there was to say, he left the room, closing the door behind him.
As soon as Terra was gone, Aqua sat down on the bed. She pulled Vanitas to her and, because he was in too much pain to resist, he pressed his cheek against her shoulder, his lips inches from her neck. She ran her hand up and down his back, whispering softly to him.
Every now and then he would spit out harsh words and growls, but she did not let him go. He needed her whether he admitted it or not. She stayed in that position for close to two hours, until the tremors of his body calmed enough for her to lay him back down. She placed a damp cloth on his forehead and then massaged his body with another. His eyes were shut tight and his jaw clenched, but he made no attempt to push her away.
And after another hour of her tender caresses, his temperature lowered. It was nowhere near normal but it was no longer dangerously high, and Aqua sighed with relief. She picked up the shirt she had brought with her and was about to dress him when he choked out, "I can do it myself."
"Okay," she answered softly, a little too tired to argue. She set the shirt down where he would be able to reach it. "You know, it always gets worse before it gets better," she murmured, running her fingers through his hair. "Try and get some sleep, Vanitas."
She stood up to leave him but he grabbed hold of her wrist. "I'm hungry."
And despite the inconsiderate tone he used, Aqua found herself smiling. His having an appetite was a good sign. "I'll bring you something."
His grip tightened. "I want soup."
"That might take a while…"
"I'll wait." He released her wrist and said nothing more.
She paused for a minute to look at him. His expression was more relaxed now; his eyes were not shut as tightly as earlier, his brow was no longer lined with creases. She brushed his hair with her fingers one more time and he made no move to resist her. On the contrary, his expression softened further. Aqua felt another involuntary smile tug at her lips and she hoped that this meant he would be easier on her from then on.
"Today is the fourth day, Aqua, you need a break," Terra said with his arms crossed over his chest, watching as Aqua gathered the meal she had prepared for Vanitas onto a tray.
She smiled at him – a rather brilliant smile, despite the exhaustion that was obvious everywhere else on her features. "Thanks, Terra, but I'm alright," she reassured him. "Besides, he's getting so much better already. To take a break now would be silly, don't you think?"
He exhaled slowly. "You're tired. Let Ven and me take over."
"I'm fine," she said, lifting the tray and making her way out of the kitchen. Terra followed close behind her, offering to take the tray off her hands. She shook her head. "If he even sees you, he'll snap, and it takes me so long to calm him down every single time..."
"Just let Ven and me deal with him today. Or just for half the day. You need time away from Vanitas," Terra insisted, stepping in front of her to block her path.
"He won't like that."
"Why should we care what he likes?"
Aqua's brows furrowed. "That's very inconsiderate of you, Terra."
"He's just getting what he deserves. It's not like he has our best interests at heart." Then he muttered, "If that thing even has a heart..."
"Enough, Terra," Aqua said, her tone cooling and her bright eyes darkening dangerously. "I'm not listening to any more of this."
She sidestepped around him and went on her way. Terra stubbornly followed and grabbed her arm to make her face him. He stared at her doubtfully. "You know, at first I was so sure that you just wanted him out of here as soon as possible, like Ven and I do. But now..."
"But now what?" she questioned.
"Now, it's almost like you..." He hesitated.
"Like I'm concerned about him? Like I actually want to take care of him?" Aqua challenged. Terra had nothing to say and she shrugged his hold off. "Well, perhaps I need to make it clear. Yes, Terra, I do."
It was surprisingly calming to be by his side, watching him sleep. It felt nice to hold his hand while he was unaware, to gently brush his hair with her fingers as he slept. When he was vulnerable and quiet, he seemed so innocent. And she was drawn to him.
As she watched the rise and fall of his chest, she suddenly remembered Terra.
"If that thing even has a heart."
It was a foolish thing to say. Vanitas may act heartless but to suggest that he actually, literally was... Aqua shook her head. But...
Slowly, she rested a hand on his chest.
"Find what you're looking for?"
Aqua suddenly drew her hand back, shocked to find Vanitas staring at her. His golden eyes were blazing, like flames in the darkness.
"I... I was just..."
He smirked. "I do have one, if you must know. It's just... not quite in the right place."
Aqua had no idea what to say to that.
Vanitas continued to look at her, burning through to her core as if he, too, was seeking her heart. She had to turn away. He laughed again, his voice much clearer and smoother than it had been when he first arrived.
"You're... something else," he said quietly.
And before Aqua could ask him what he meant, his eyes had closed and he was fast asleep. She sighed, her exhaustion sinking in and turning into a slight throbbing in the back of her head. For a moment, she wondered if she should head back to her room and get some sleep.
She looked back at Vanitas. He would be perfectly well in the morning, she was sure. Then it would be time for him to leave, after five days of giving her hell and making her miserable and...
Aqua smiled, shaking her head. "You know... I'll miss you, Vanitas..."
With her head on his bed, inches from him, she fell asleep.
Someone was shaking her awake.
"Would it have killed you to go to your room?" Vanitas asked as Aqua lifted her head.
"I... I was so tired." The room was spinning. "How do you feel?"
He tilted his head at her. "Good as new."
Aqua smiled weakly. "Are you?" she said, reaching up to touch his forehead. As soon as her fingertips brushed against him, he grabbed her wrist. This time, it was her skin that burned against his.
"You have a fever," he said blankly.
"That... can't be." She frowned. "I feel fine."
"Sure you do," he sneered.
"Anyway, I'm glad you're better, Vanitas," Aqua said sincerely. She stood up slowly from the chair by his bed and said, her voice slow and pained, "I just... I could use a little more sleep."
"That you could," he said, watching as she took a step away from him.
Halfway to the door, though, she suddenly felt all her strength disappear and the floor rushed up to meet her. But her fall didn't hurt as much as she thought it would. In fact, she had no idea the floor could feel so... comfortable.
It was only when she looked up and saw a pair of searing amber eyes that she realized Vanitas had leapt off the bed to catch her.
Vanitas was leaving. That much she knew.
Ventus told her so when he came to see her that morning, bringing flowers he'd picked from the garden. Terra, too, had visited her though the Master told them not to spend too much time with her because they might catch the virus as well.
Although the older apprentice seemed thrilled that the little demon was leaving, he was also thoroughly pissed that Vanitas had made Aqua ill. So she knew Terra was standing guard outside her bedroom door. He said it was so that he would be nearby in case she needed anything, but she knew him better than that. She was sure he had a second, hidden agenda; he was just being his usual, possessive, protective self.
Sighing, she pulled her blanket tighter around her. The pain in her head and her throat and her chest was terrible. Her skin felt so hot that it was as if she was on fire within. The sunlight shining through her bedroom window did little to stop her from shivering. How Vanitas managed to fight with her all the time and even summon his Keyblade against Terra while under this kind of agony was beyond her.
It was as she was thinking about him, wondering if he'd left, when a burst of shadow appeared just above her and Vanitas suddenly clamped a hand over her mouth.
Her scream died against his fingers as her eyes widened. His mask was back on but he allowed the visor to melt away to reveal his golden eyes and sharp, white smirk.
"Surprise, surprise," he said darkly.
"What... What are you doing?" she hissed when he pulled his hand away.
"Terra is being an idiot at your door," he answered.
"Did you just... was that a...?" She paused to collect her thoughts, ignoring the agony coursing through her head. "Vanitas, Corridors of Darkness are dangerous! And forbidden!"
"You're not in a... position to scold me," he teased.
He was right. She was incapacitated by her illness. Not to mention she was in such a prone position, with him on top of her, in bed of all places. Her cheeks flushed, and not from the fever. "Get off."
Vanitas smiled. "Make me."
"Oh, you can't be serious."
He laughed. And when he'd had enough fun, he leaned closer to her. For a moment, Aqua felt a spasm of fear. But all he did was stare at her. "I heard what you said last night."
"You should be careful," he said seriously. "I'm a dangerous person to want around."
"I don't think you're as dark as you pretend to be."
"I'm not pretending."
"Well, then you're fighting back the light inside you."
He blinked, then grinned slowly. "Not bad," he said. "That sentence is... not quite right, but you're almost there."
"What?" Her brows furrowed. "I don't understand."
"You don't have to," he replied. "Not yet."
He stepped off the bed and placed something on her bedside table. She turned her head slowly, wincing a little from the pain of moving, to see that it was the book she had been reading before he arrived. It was only then that she remembered she'd forgotten it at her secret spot, under that evergreen tree surrounded by fragrant flora.
Vanitas looked down at her. "It seems my arrival interrupted your reading," he said, smirking. "And I know how much that annoys you."
She looked at him, confused, as he let the visor of his helmet solidify to cover his face again.
"Maybe I'll see you around, Aqua," he said, stepping into a newly-summoned, swirling portal of darkness. She thought she heard him mutter "Thanks..." just before the shadows faded. But that could easily have just been the fever making her hallucinate.
For a moment, she just stared at the book. It was a little dirty, having been left outside for days. Strangely, though, the sight of it eased her pain a little. And it lightened her heart to think that Vanitas would be so... thoughtful as to get her favorite book for her. Maybe he truly was trying to let her know he was grateful.
She reached for the book and was just in the middle of opening it... Then she froze. She had left the book at her secret sanctuary. She had been certain that it was a place no one - absolutely no one - knew about.
Apparently she was wrong.
The realization should have shocked her. Upset her. Frightened her a little, perhaps. And maybe she did feel all those emotions, but they were eclipsed by something brighter. Instead, it made Aqua smile.
"See you around, Vanitas," she whispered, turning to page four hundred thirty-two.