Work Header

To Be With You Wherever You Are

Chapter Text


Inspired by: Just the Way You Are (Bruno Mars), You & I (Lady Gaga), Umbrella (Rihanna)

Something About, Baby, You and I

(Day 1 – Amusement Park)

Aqua sat in her bedroom, leaning up against the backboard with her knees pressed to her chest. She hadn’t bothered getting dressed yet though she had already been up for an hour, showered, brushed her teeth, blow dried her hair, then completed pulling her hair up in a careful ponytail. But still hadn’t gotten the courage up to go knock on the guest room door.

It was silly really, as she was the one who invited Terra when he offhandedly mentioned his spring break would consist of babysitting his brother and friends. Not like her hometown was all that exciting in comparison but she hoped it was better than watching after teenagers. She propped her chin up on her knees, trying to get the fluttering feelings from the pit of her stomach that pretty much didn’t leave since said good night to Terra before they went to bed. Aqua didn’t actually think he’d agree; sure they’d been good friends since the first time she saw him passed out in the library over his books freshman year but this was…different.

It wouldn’t even be the first time she had to wake him up. Terra was not a morning person who often forgot to set alarm. It wasn’t unusual for her to have to go make sure he even got up to get to class on time; something Zack never ceased to find hilarious. He always seemed to get amusement out of calling Aqua Terra’s girlfriend even though the both of them always corrected it. To be fair they both gave up after a year of Zack’s relentless teasing; which she both dismayed and enjoyed if she was being honest with herself.

Terra’s other roommate was thankfully a little quieter, well, a lot quieter as she’d be lucky if she heard more than a one word sentence from Leon’s lips. He kept to himself and the only time Aqua ever learned anything about him was whenever his girlfriend visited from their hometown. Rinoa liked to talk a lot more than Leon ever did and tended to let out a lot more stories about him than he probably cared to have people know, but he also seemed to have a bit of a hard time saying no to her more than just a glance to tell her to reel it in some. She was also the only one he let call him his given name which Zack learned the hard way.

It really wasn’t even the first time she and Terra had woken up in the same vicinity. They had late nights either studying or just hanging out that usually ended with falling asleep on the couch or on the floor but that almost seemed normal. It was at school and it’s just what they did but this was a house, her house. It was like waking up in some sort of domestic life that seemed oddly intimate for her to go into a room that was specifically his for the week.

Aqua sighed. She was probably way over thinking all of this as per usual. She should just kick her legs over the edge of the bed and wake him up otherwise he might sleep the whole day; they got in pretty late last night to begin with. With a determined huff she jumped off her bed and pushed her door open to look out into the hallway.

The guest room door was still closed and the bathroom door open so there was a good chance he was still in bed. The rest of the house was quiet as her parents were at work; yeah, that was a task, getting her parents to agree to let Terra stay even when they wouldn’t be home. One would think since she was twenty her parents wouldn’t treat her like she was in high school still and let a boy who wasn’t even her boyfriend stay over without hassle. They agreed in the end so she supposed she couldn’t whine too much.

Aqua walked down the hall, hand knocking on the door just in case he was getting dressed or something but there was no answer. She carefully pushed the door open to peek inside.

Terra was, unsurprisingly, still asleep. The blinds were still drawn, keeping the room darker than it was in the hallway but she saw him sprawled out on his back, limbs tangled in the blankets, and mouth slightly open. She couldn’t hold back a smile from seeing him, warmth filling her chest at all the times she woke up first looking to find his adorable sleeping face.

Okay, maybe it was a bad idea to bring the guy she liked to her house.

It wasn’t exactly a new development, but it was admittedly getting worse the more time she spent around him; which these days it was a lot. Tifa often gave Aqua that raised eyebrow look whenever she casually mentioned things like that; which was better than Aerith who’d just as casually ask why Aqua was so insistent on not making a move on whatever adjective for attractive she decided to use for Terra that day. Some roommates they were. At least Cloud, their honorary roommate as thanks to Tifa since he was there enough to be one, never cared or bothered Aqua about it. Him she liked best on those days.

Aqua walked into the room, leaning over the bed slightly. “Terra?” she asked, hoping he was awake enough to hear her which was probably naive of her.

She reached out to push at his shoulder. “Terra, wake up, you’re gonna sleep the day away. Is that how you want to spend your spring break?”

Much to her surprise his eyes actually opened, blinking over to her. “Possibly,” he murmured, rolling over on his side.

“Oh, stop,” she snorted. Okay, maybe she was over thinking it; this seemed like their usual morning interactions. Though there was a part of her that wished they had the type of relationship where she could just get into bed with him and lay around all day, his warm presence and strong arms. She ignored the heat that rose to her face as she leaned back up. “We have plans.”

“Do we?” he yawned. “What are they?”

“I haven’t gotten that far.”

He snorted but started to push himself up to sit on the bed. Terra gestured for her to sit down too, probably to work out what they wanted to do.

She hesitated, feeling that strange sort of intimacy about the situation but she climbed up anyways, pushing his legs over as she did.

“What are the options?” he asked, stretching his arms over his head.

Aqua blinked back up to his face as she reached a hand behind her neck. “Well, there’s places to eat.”

“Always good,” he said, though there was a sort of amusement in his face like he knew she was desperately trying to think of something to do.

“There’s the mall and shopping centers a few towns over.”

Terra hummed, leaning his head back against the backboard. “Do I get to go see where teenage Aqua ate pretzels and tried on endless amounts of clothing cause she thought the cashier was cute?”

“No,” she snorted. “It was because I liked the clothes, not cause I liked the cashier.”

He laughed and even though she knew he wasn’t completely awake it still brought that familiar warmth to her stomach.

“There’s a few things a little farther away too. Some Museums, there’s a zoo and aquarium, there’s also…” Aqua hesitated even though she knew there was one more thing relatively nearby but it wasn’t the best.

He arched an eyebrow. “Also what?”

“Well…” she started, her hands fiddling with the edge of her shirt. “It’s not anything special. It’s probably not worth the trip.”

“I’d help you decide that if you’d tell me what it is.”

Probably a fair point, this was his vacation too. “It’s just an amusement park.”

“How is that not worth the trip?” he asked, more curious than anything judging by his tone.

Aqua reached up to tuck some hair behind her ear. “It’s not exactly one of the bigger ones, it’s a little small and probably not that impressive.”

“But…” he prompted.

“But I used to go there a lot with family, friends pretty much my whole life. It just has all those nice memories, and there’s some fun rides and food. I’m sure there’s way better parks out there though.”

Terra looked over to the window probably forgetting the blinds were still closed. “How’s the weather today?”

“Oh, sunny, warm I think but I haven’t been out yet.”

“Alright, sounds like a plan then.” He moved to untangle his legs from the blanket but Aqua was still kind of blocking him in as she stared.

“Wait, you actually want to go? I promise it’s not anything special.”

“That’s not true, you just said it was to you. Why wouldn’t I want to go?”

Aqua didn’t really have a good answer for that, she could only just watch him. Sure she always went with family or friends but it was all local people who were used to it. Terra lived closer to a bigger city if she remembered right; he probably went to much more extravagant amusement parks. A part of her was embarrassed at the thought of bringing him.

He didn’t say anything but he was watching her expectantly which made sense when she realized she was still blocking him.

“Oh!” she said, quickly jumping off. “Sorry.”

He swung his legs over the edge, feet hitting the carpet as she started to back towards the door.

“Just come and get me whenever you’re ready,” she said. “Bathroom and shower are open.”

“Alright, got it,” Terra said pushing himself to his feet and stretching his arms above his head.

Aqua turned out of the room hurrying back to hers even though it was hardly the first time she saw him in a tank top and pajama pants or watched his shirt rise showing the skin of his stomach. She left her door cracked open so he wouldn’t feel like he had to knock and flopped back down onto her bed. It wasn’t the first time, no, but usually Zack wasn’t far behind making some kind of comment with that goofy grin of his, or Tifa was around the corner in her room singing along with the radio. There was always someone else barging into their conversations or reminding them they weren’t alone, someone to turn to whenever Aqua felt too flustered.

This whole thing was different because they were completely alone and maybe that’s what was really making her nervous all morning. Sure they did stuff together at school without either roommates, but it was going to get food or study in the library. Even when they’d meet halfway over summer breaks, more often than not Terra had Ven who hated being left home alone or Tifa would make the drive with Aqua so she didn’t have to go alone. The rest was with distance and electronic screens between them.

Aqua didn’t know if she should be excited or throw up at the prospect of going somewhere with just Terra. They were friends, there was nothing to be nervous about and yet she was finding that a hard concept to believe at the current time.

She waited till she heard the shower running down the short hall before she reached for her phone; the notifications were there before she even got a chance to open anything.


                Good morning, sunshine! Well, I hope it’s a good morning for you, Aqua


                Seriously, this is seriously what I have wake up to


                I’m just being nice, Tif, I don’t know what your problem is


No, you’re being an instigator is what you’re being. I do hope you had a good morning, Aqua, but not necessarily the sort of good morning Aerith is trying to infer

Though I’d hope you’d tell me if that was the case


                Yeah, real smooth, Tifa


                At least I tried to be subtle

Heat rose to Aqua’s cheeks at her useless friends’ implications. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she was surprised but did they have to be so open about it? Couldn’t they pretend they didn’t know Aqua had feelings for her friend; that would sure be nice.


                Oh my God, I’m killing the both of you when we get back


                That’s a no~


Yes, it’s a no. Completely no. We’ve had this conversation many times


                What are you guys doing today then?

Aqua contemplated dodging the question entirely just to avoid that they were kind of going somewhere together alone to a place lots of people brought dates to. That would go over real well she knew.


We’re going to that amusement park nearby, you know the one, Tif. I happened to mention it and Terra said he wanted to go


                …Like a date?


                No, like, we’re hanging out because he’s here and he has no choice


I wouldn’t say he has no choice, he clearly wanted spend the week with you or he wouldn’t have    come. I think you underestimate Terra, he’s not a dumb boy. I’m pretty sure he could pick up on his own feelings far better than a certain blonde who didn’t know his elementary school crush was in love with him


Please don’t tell me you’re one to talk, Miss I’ve never noticed that Zack Fair fawns over me every second we’re in the same room


                Oh, Tif, I’ve never said I never noticed ;3


                I love you, Aerith, but really don’t need to know


Okay, regardless, I have to go get ready. Please try and restrain yourselves enough in case Terra can see my phone.


                Got it! Wear something cute and make sure he wins you something~


                I’ll be with her today, I’ll make sure she behaves.

                But seconded. Wear shorts or a dress, I’ve definitely caught him staring at your legs before

As if Aqua didn’t think her face could get any hotter.


                Still not helping


                It’ll be fine, my friend! Just be the same as you always are, he already likes you as is.


It’s true. I wish you could see how happy he makes you, Aqua, because we can and we only want you to be happy <3


                Oh God, right? I don’t think he’s as subtle as he thinks he is.


Terra thinks he’s smooth but he’s probably one step from tripping over his feet if he tried to kiss her


                Awwww, he’s such a teddy bear though, it’s adorable. I’d trust him with our girl.

Aqua was about to type that she was still sitting here, trying very hard not to imagine anything they were saying right now for fear her heart would never come out of her throat at this rate but she heard the water cut off. It nearly made her drop her phone on her face realizing she hadn’t gotten dressed at all.


He’s a sweetheart. He never treats like it’s his expectation for her to like him back, he still treats her with respect and takes care of her just happy to be her friend. He’s always had my approval.


                Now I want to give that big oaf a hug ;-;

There was way too much going on Aqua didn’t even know where to begin to comment on what they were going on about nor did she have time to get into it with them; though she did think their kind words about Terra were a little heartwarming even if they had been a pain in her ass moments earlier.


Believe it or not I do love you guys but I have to go. If there’s anything to tell you later, rest assured, I will


                I’d hope so! Have fun <3


                Have a good time, girlie!

                Don’t forget to show them legs~

Aqua tossed her phone on her bed. Maybe she should mute their group chat for the day just to be safe. She hurried to her dresser, pulling out what clothes she wanted to wear for the trip; comfortable since they’d be walking a lot and also going on rides. She threw on a halter top that was both nice to wear and weather appropriate that would work just fine; though she tried not to feel heat on her cheeks when she hesitated for her shorts. Tifa and Aerith were just teasing like usual, that’s all that was. Aqua grabbed them and put them on.

She kicked a leg out slightly, looking down at the long line.

A knock on her door nearly made her fall backwards onto her bed. “You can come in.”

Terra poked his head in, hair still semi wet against his head and messy as always. “Ready?”

Aqua nodded, reaching back for her phone before grabbing her purse off her desk chair. He held his hand out for her to go first down the hall which led the way downstairs, Terra following behind. She would’ve said he dressed comfortably too if it wasn’t for the fact that he almost always wore a tight t-shirt and long shorts during the warm months. It did suite him though so it’s not like she was about to complain.

She grabbed the door, which he reached up and held while she dug out her keys. Once shoes were on and the door was locked, Aqua slipped in the familiar passenger seat of Terra’s car, as he offered to drive them here from school. He followed shortly, reaching to turn the car on so they could be on their way. While it was his car it always smelt like him, but it seemed even stronger with the smell of his shampoo and soap lingering on him still.

Aqua was only mildly embarrassed when Terra had to ask her twice for the first set of directions.

The car ride wasn’t that long and once she was away from the close quarters of her house she started to feel more at ease, their usual conversations settling in around them; ironically since a car was even closer of quarters. Her phone barely even buzzed in her lap being her roommates were doing as they said they would.

It actually went by faster than even Aqua remembered since before she knew it she was looking up at the roller coasters reaching up above the tree lines, the rides zooming along in the distance. Despite the fact she was still a little embarrassed for Terra to see her childhood hang out spot she still felt waves of nostalgia as he pulled into the parking lot, finding a spot with relative ease.

 Aqua stepped out, taking a breath of the warm air, the dirt of the parking lot under her feet. It had been a little while since she was here but it all was so familiar leading up to the old gates in the near distance that marked the entrance. She could hear the rides, the screams, almost smell the food. Hopefully, this was a good idea; Terra didn’t exactly have the same memories she did, this would be his only impression.

He let out a whistle as he closed the door, locking the car. “It’s been a while since I’ve been to an amusement park.”

“Is that why you wanted to come?” she asked, walking over to meet him so they could walk through the parking lot together. It was surprisingly kind of full; which was good, it would’ve been really embarrassing to take him here and not a single other person came.

“I guess, more so cause you got this cute look on your face when you talked about it that I had to know what about it made you so happy.” He nudged his shoulder into hers as she desperately tried to ignore the fact he sort of just called her cute. “Ven’s more of ride till you puke kinda person than I ever was.”

“The question is has it ever happened?”

He turned his head to her, slight smile on his lips but his eyebrows were both arched. “You’re asking me if I’ve ever gotten sick on a ride before?”

“Yep, absolutely.”

“You know, you’re sort of trying to ruin the whole rough and rugged look I’ve got.”

“Terra, I watched you cry during a Disney movie.”

“Fair point. The answer is yes, I have.”

The gates were almost in front of them now, the entrance just passed a tunnel that ran under some old railroad tracks. “Don’t you know not to eat before rides?” she laughed, letting him know she was only teasing.

“In my defense,” he said, placing his hand on his chest for emphasis. “That was the day I learned my little brother had way more endurance than I did. He was the one who dragged me on every ride he did and it didn’t go well after a while.”

From the times Aqua met Ven, she was pretty sure that wasn’t hard; he was all energy all the time. “Do you not like amusement parks then?” her voice echoed slightly in the cement tunnel as they walked.

“I would’ve never offered to go if I didn’t like them,” he leaned his head slightly towards her. “Just do me a favor and stay away from all the ones that go upside down and backwards. I think I’d be significantly more embarrassed now than when I was seventeen.”

She wanted to ask him why but they were already at the ticket booths. Clearly everyone was already in the park and not waiting to get in; they did get a little of a late start. She peered around Terra as he talked to the cashier, trying to see just how many people were here. There usually wasn’t a ton but it was nearly summer and it was the only park nearby.

Terra stepped out of the way, shoving his wallet back into his shorts. Aqua stepped up, fishing for her wallet in her purse but he was already waving a wristband in front of her face. She paused thinking he was just trying to get her attention but he already had a second one in his other hand.

“Terra,” she said. “You didn’t have to do that, I could’ve…” She trailed off when he reached it around her wrist, snapping it on.

“I know you could’ve, doesn’t mean I didn’t want to.”

It was simple, and really not the first time he paid for something of hers but this time she couldn’t get her stupid roommates words out of her mind. “Well, thank you. I’ll get lunch then,” she said, running her fingers over the wristband slightly as he snapped his on his arm.

“We’ll see.”

“What do you mean ‘we’ll see’?”

He clapped his hands together as he started to walk towards the main entrance, guarded by a bored looking security guard. “Where to first? You’re the expert.”

She didn’t forget his obvious dodge of the question but decided it wasn’t worth pressing him at the time. “Easy! We go to the rides that always have the longest lines.”

Terra looked around the park they had just walked into, where there really wasn’t all that many people lurking around; just a few parents with younger kids wandering around, some people getting food at the nearby restaurants. He looked back to her as if to say “what lines?” but was polite enough not to.

Aqua always liked that about him. She reached to grab his hand, pulling him in the direction of the main path of the park. “C’mon we’ll start with the best.”

“Alright,” he snorted, following her lead.

While she meant to simply take his hand to get him to move, he carefully laced his fingers with hers. It caught her so off guard she nearly stopped in the middle of the path which would’ve caused him to crash right into her. Instead she glanced behind him, though he was looking off to the side as he walked observing the parts of park he could see.

Aqua didn’t let go and neither did he so she supposed that was a good sign, well, not until she came to stop in front of the ride she was bringing him to. She still didn’t really want to let go, not when it was comfortable to have him so close to her but they were just standing there, still holding hands. She tugged on him a little bit, getting him to move to where a small line had formed.

“Huh, I guess it’s not as bad as I remembered,” she said.

It was only then he let go of her, only to place his hands on the railing dividing the line, peering up under the overhang to see the white wooden beams all around them. “Of course it’s a roller coaster,” he said a little dryly. “Is it really wooden? Are these things even legal?”

“Yes, it’s legal,” she laughed, trying to remember what her fingers felt like before she felt his in between them.

The area they were waiting in shook as the carts ran over the track above them.

“You’re positive.

“Terra,” she said. “Yes, it’s safe and actually really popular. They’d tear it down otherwise.”

The line started to move, putting them right in range to get on the ride when the other people exited. Okay, maybe it really did seem like a longer wait when she was younger. Oh well, she hoped he didn’t mind too much that this clearly wasn’t as popular of a spot. When she looked over at him, waiting for the okay to get on, he didn’t really look all that convinced. He didn’t look upset, but his forehead was a little furrowed as he looked up at the ride.

“We, ah, we don’t have to ride this you know.” Guilt sunk in her stomach that she had teased him about getting sick on rides and was forcing him on a roller coaster right after. If this was a date she would’ve docked some serious points.

He looked down at her and whatever discomfort was gone, giving her his usual smile. “And miss the most popular ride here, I don’t think so.”

It was like him to put other’s feelings before his own but she also wasn’t given much of a choice when he got in the seat before her. She very well couldn’t drag him out so she sat down next to him, placing her back in the pouch inside the cart and doing up her seatbelt. She helped him pull the bar down, letting it click into place while they waited.

It was strange almost, she was always aware Terra was fairly tall, it was kind of impossible not to but sitting shoulder to shoulder in a crammed cart she never realized how small she felt next to him; especially since by shoulder to shoulder she meant shoulder to bicep. It was reassuring in a way. Even though he was the one who was holding the bar so tight she was pretty sure she could see his knuckles going white.

“You forgot to tell me you didn’t like roller coasters,” she said, reaching over to carefully place her hand on his arm.

“I didn’t forget,” he said with a slight laugh, letting go of his hold on the bar. “It’s been a long time, I figured why not try it again.”

“Don’t worry, if you throw up on me I’ll forgive you.”

That time he really laughed. “Wow, Aqua, that’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

She knew he was obviously kidding but his phrasing made her pause, well, until the ride jerked forward. Terra reached his hands back for the bar though he leaned into her slightly. “And just to get the record straight it wasn’t on anyone, thank you.”

Okay, she wasn’t totally stupid. She very well knew she could flirt a little with him. He sometimes did too but it never went further than that. She always thought that’s kind of how their friendship went but maybe today he was trying to tell her he wanted it to go further, maybe she could tell him the same.

“Oh, well, in that case then.” She reached her other hand around his arm, loosely locking her hands around his as she watched the first hill incoming. Maybe not the best test of affections when he was probably completely focused on not dying on the intimidating drop. “Ignore the drop. It looks scarier than it is, promise.”

“I’ll believe you,” he snorted, glancing over to her. He seemed to be okay, a sort of smile on his face. Of course, it was really only then she had realized how close she leaned into him, feeling the warmth of his body more than the warm air around them. It wouldn’t be the first time she wanted to kiss him though she really needed to work on her timing as the next second her stomach was in her throat, the carts tipping over the edge sending them downwards.

The adrenaline from the speed the ride forced them in, the small hills that made her body feel lightless, the sharp corners that made her collide harder into him, it all made her laugh into the wind. It was hard to look at him but he seemed to be doing okay, arm a little tense still but she swore she heard him laugh too.

She could feel the way the wind had pulled out some of her hair when she arrived breathless back into the docking area. Aqua let out a sigh, her heart still pounding from the ride, as she looked over to Terra, propping her chin up on his shoulder.

There was a certain level of comfort the two had with personal space, this was a little more than usual but to her surprise he didn’t seem to mind. He just rolled his eyes, a smile on his lips.

“I can’t believe you like that so much,” he said.

“I can’t believe you don’t.”

“It wasn’t bad, I’ll admit.”

The bar popped as the cart came to a complete stop. Aqua did let him go that time if only to fiddle with her seatbelt. When she looked up Terra was already standing up next to the ride, reaching his hands down to her. She didn’t really need it but grabbed her bag before taking his hands in hers, letting him effortlessly pull her up to the exit ramp.

“It was better than going with Ven,” Terra said as she bumped her shoulder with his, walking back down to the main paths of the park.

“Yeah, why’s that?”

“You have no idea how loud he can scream.”

Aqua turned to face him. “Well, you did something for me so it’s your turn. What would you like to do next?”

Terra glanced down the few paths that were near them; probably trying to see which had the least intense rides. “What’s that way?” he asked, point towards the path to the left.

“Umm,” Aqua leaned forward to try and remember. “Games and such I think, the kids’ rides too. Sorry though, I think you’re a little too big for them.”

“Imagine that,” he snorted as he started to walk down the path.

She wondered if it was okay to hold his hand again even though she wasn’t technically leading him anywhere this time. “Were you always like that?”

“Like what?”

“Oh, you know…” Aqua watched a few kids dart by them probably headed for the rides her and Terra were headed away from. She regretted her question almost instantly considering “big” was probably not an appropriate response and he seemed to know it judging by the way too amused look on his face. “Tall.”

“Sorta,” he answered with a slight shrug. “Kinda average boy’s heights till maybe when I was twelve then I got the joy of growing a size a day and all big hands and awkward limbs. It was terrible.”

“Stop,” she chuckled. “I bet you were adorable.”

“I don’t think that was the case.” He rolled his eyes. “We all go through it I guess, I grew into it eventually.”

“You can say that again,” Aqua said without really thinking. It wasn’t until he didn’t respond that she realized she probably should’ve kept that one in her head too.

She was comfortable with him, as she knew he was comfortable with her too; so much so that she sometimes forgot Terra was actually a little more of a quiet personality. It had taken her a little bit to get him to hang out with her more than just casually meeting in the library just because he didn’t have a dominating personality like she knew she had.

He reached one hand up to scratch behind his head, eyes looking away though he didn’t look upset enough for her to feel like she had to apologize at her slight word vomit. It was the opposite; he was still smiling a little though a bit more bashful than before, like he didn’t know what to say.

Aqua opened her mouth to change the subject for him. She had meant what she said; honestly she didn’t know how he was unaware of how beautiful he was in more than just physical appearance. He cut in front of her though, walking backwards as he nodded to the path lined with games.

“Bet I can win you something,” he said with a smile more typical of him. His face was a little red but she had no idea if that was from her comment or the sun above him.

She hummed. “My hero. Let’s see what you’ve got then.”

Not that games were anything to write home about; they were probably no better than rigged carnival games at any traveling fair. Booths lined with any sort of cliché game, with rows and rows of cheap stuffed animals and even more cheap toys of sorts were on either side as they walked the path. Aqua only won even a handful of things despite coming here very often but she wasn’t going to tell Terra as he seemed eager to find something he could do.

It was actually adorable. She felt like she was back in high school, a boy trying hard to impress her; this time being she actually really liked the guy. She didn’t bother hiding her grin as she walked next to him, feeling those sorts of flutters in her stomach at the prospect of bringing home something he won for her…even if it would probably be a neon and way too stiff stuffed animal.

“Alright, got it,” Terra said, nodding over to a staple of every fair in existence.

A lot of things were rigged around here, but she was pretty sure the High Striker was the worst. She grabbed a hold of his arm with both her hands, trying to get him to stop before he walked over there. “No, Terra, seriously, don’t waste your money.”

He looked over at her, looking more amused than mad. “Don’t think I can do it?”

“It’s not that I don’t think you can, I don’t think anyone can.”

He didn’t say anything but he kept walking, Aqua trailing along with her hands still around his arm. Really, she just didn’t want him to be embarrassed for not winning when no one was supposed to win.

“Hello there,” the attendant said, an older man who at least didn’t look too bored out of his mind like some of the others. “Going to try to win something for your girlfriend? Brave man.”

Heat flared in Aqua’s face as she let go of Terra so he could pay whatever it was to play the game. It was more so the fact that he didn’t bother to correct that man more than anything that made Aqua feel like she was back on the roller coaster. Ignoring Zack was one thing, he did it to be a pain in the ass and this stranger didn’t know any better, but Terra didn’t say a thing as he took the hammer. To be fair, neither did she.

Aqua tried to ignore the feelings as she instead braced herself for soothing his potential embarrassment but to her absolute surprise when he did hit the target, the ball of light flew right up. It didn’t hit the top but it was close enough for a prize. She could only stare at him as he put the hammer back, turning to face her while the attendant let out a whistle and a congratulations.

“Told you,” he grinned.

“How’d you do that?”

“Pick whatever you want, Aqua,” he said instead, nodding his head back towards the prizes as he stepped back down next to her.

She blinked over to where the attendant was standing. There wasn’t too much of a choice; it was either a bright yellow and green turtle or a pink and blue dolphin. Well, she did like dolphins in the least even if the color choice was a little off. She pointed to it and the attendant passed her the fairly large stuffed animal.

It was pretty ugly and really stiff but it still made her giggle when she held it up to her chest. Aqua looked over to Terra who was standing next to her, still looking pretty pleased with himself. “Thank you, that was very sweet.”

“It was nothing,” he shrugged, though his smile was still there.

Aqua reached into her purse, digging out her out her phone. She did notice some conversations from Aerith and Tifa but Aqua quickly dismissed them without looking so she could bring up her camera. She held her phone up and Terra got the hint pretty easily, leaning down slightly so his chin was over her shoulder. Aqua held up their prize between them and got the picture.

He crossed his arms against his chest as they started to walk again, Aqua quickly typing out a caption and posting the victory picture. “You gonna tell me how you really beat that thing?”

Terra snorted, watching her slip her phone back into her purse. “You never hit it dead on like they want you to. Hit it an angle and most the time you can get a good hit.”

“Wow,” she said, hugging the dolphin to her chest a little. “How did you learn that?”

“My dad,” he said. “Told me it might help me impress a girl one day.”

Aqua laughed, thinking of scrawny younger Terra saving that memory for the right time. “Did it work?”

He glanced over at her, a smile tugging on his lips. “I don’t know, you tell me.”

Her breath caught up in her throat; she was suddenly aware of how close they were walking together, his eyes still on her. There couldn’t be a way she was misreading this time, this whole day, she was fairly certain of that now but she still wasn’t sure what to say.

He reached into his pocket to pull out his phone that was buzzing. She looked away, though not fast enough to avoid seeing Zack’s face next to the message pop ups, shouting something in all caps. The moment was gone and she wished she had a better reaction, but he was doing everything to catch her off guard today.

Terra cleared his throat, quickly dropping is phone back in his pocket. “Why don’t we try rides again then food?”

“Okay,” she nodded. “Sounds good.”

It turned out there weren’t that many rides that weren’t backwards and upside down. She already shoved him on one roller coaster so she didn’t want to do that again but they managed to find a few that he was okay with. Aqua wanted to try and let him know he didn’t have to be shy if he had feelings for her, that she felt the same but nothing came up that seemed right again. The lines weren’t very long so they could walk up and do anything she wanted, nor did she think ramming into his bumper car was the best timing either. She did know she couldn’t remember the last time she laughed quite as hard.

She wasn’t sure how much time they spent bouncing around through the remaining rides but she did know when they stopped in front of the food booths she was starving.

“What do you want?” he asked, holding the stuffed dolphin under his arm which he offered to do when she must’ve looked like she was tired of lugging it around herself.

“Everything,” she sighed, breathing in that amazing fried food smell.

“I don’t know how,” he laughed.

“You and your weird food tastes, Terra, I don’t know how you live.”

“Me?” he asked, arching an eyebrow at her. “I don’t know how you live on a diet of sugar and grease.”


Terra shook his head, but he was still laughing. He looked happy, she loved it.

“Here, they have a little bit of everything,” she said, grabbing his hand though this time she made sure she was the one to lace her fingers with his; he didn’t stop her.

“Alright what do you want?” There was no line, despite a good majority of the park hanging around for lunch so the attendant was already watching them expectantly.

“Umm,” she tapped her finger against her chin as she looked over the selection. There was a lot of good, heavy options but she supposed she should start light. “Cotton candy.”

“Are you kidding me?” he snorted, looking over to her. “For lunch?”

“I wouldn’t kid about cotton candy, Ter.”

“My God.” He let go of her hand but only to reach for his wallet before she could get to her purse again. “You and my brother would get along here spectacularly. And a pretzel, please.”

Aqua reached for the stick that was being passed to her, full of fluff that was just pure sugar while Terra took his own food, slipping his wallet back, still holding the dolphin for her. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why it took her this long to want to do anything about how she felt for him. He was like no one she had ever known before, in all the best ways.

She nudged her shoulder against him as they started to walk though this time at much slower pace as they really didn’t need to rush anywhere. “You didn’t let me pay again.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Aqua smiled as she picked a piece of cotton candy with her fingers, popping it in her mouth. She sighed as she felt the delightful way it melted in her mouth. It was her favorite treat here as a kid and it did bring back nostalgia but this time mixed with how much she liked the present too. “Why?”

“Why?” he asked before he took a bite from the salted pretzel; figures it was the least fried you could get here. “Because I wanted to.”

She put a little more of the candy in her mouth. She would’ve offered it to him but she already knew it was too sweet for him, so she nibbled on it herself. The sun was starting to get lower in the sky; not quite setting but not quite as high either. “I think this is the best time I’ve had here.”

“Really?” he said sounding a little surprised. “Out of all the times you’ve been here?”

Aqua nodded, looking up towards him. “I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun. If you didn’t notice there’s not too much here in the first place.”

“I dunno, I like it.”

“You don’t mean that,” she snorted.

“Yes, I do. It’s not the biggest, sure, but that never matters to me. It’s the company that does.”

Aqua paused at the lack of teasing in his tone. He was actually serious.

He looked down at her, stopping in the middle of the path. He looked like he was going to ask if something was wrong but Aqua stood up on her toes, quickly pressing her lips to his before she could chicken out.

His lips were soft, and she could almost taste the bitter salt in his mouth, smell the shampoo from this morning still lingering between the fresh air that blew through his hair on the rides; it made her feel dizzy.

Terra wasn’t surprised like she thought he might be, instead he kissed her back with a hum, like he had wanted to do it just as much as she had. “You know,” he murmured when she pulled away slightly, one hand already on his chest. “I really never thought I would like cotton candy.”

Aqua laughed, and she couldn’t stop. She didn’t even really know why, other than it wouldn’t stop bubbling up in her. She rolled her forehead against his chest, his warmth almost intoxicating in that moment. She felt much lighter than she had in a long time. There was no more guessing or wondering; save for how long it took Tifa and Aerith to get her a cake with the words “I told you so” iced on the top.

She felt his lips brush against the top of her head before she pulled back moving back to walk at his side. She took his hand that was under the dolphin, lacing her fingers with his.

He was still watching her when they started to walk again but this time with this boyish smile that almost made her think she could see a little of how he looked when he was a teenager. 

She took a bite from her cotton candy, looked to him. “You paid for everything cause you wanted it to be a date didn’t you?”

Terra laughed, shaking his head with a sigh. “Busted I guess. I can’t take full credit, it was sort of Zack’s idea. I went along with it because in the very least I could treat you.”

Aqua sighed too, mimicking the pleased tone he had, the grin, the warm feelings in her chest, his hand in hers, his arm brushing on her own even with the dolphin sticking out underneath it. Terra was her friend first, she was used to that relationship but the slow shifts she realized had been happening even before now were exhilarating. This…this she could absolutely get used to. “It’s been the best date, Terra.”

Chapter Text

 Inspired by: The Longest Time (Billy Joel), Somebody to Love (Queen), Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie (A Man After Midnight) (ABBA)

 Take Me Through the Darkness to the Break of the Day

 (Day 2 – Hospital)

Terra liked the quiet of the halls, the peaceful machine whirls coming from rooms on any side of him, the slight clanging of the rolling carts as others made cleaning and checkup rounds around the wing. The rubber on the bottom of his shoes squeaked slightly as he walked to the nurse’s station, giving small greetings to any of his other coworkers that passed him by, though granted there weren’t all that many this late at night. He was more focused on trying to drink his coffee than to count how many were here tonight but it was a boring weekday so probably only a handful.

He could see the familiar desk just at the corner of the hall a few women congregated there already; granted it wouldn’t matter, he could hear them even if he hadn’t seen them first. He wasn’t sure what they were going on about, some sort of gossip he supposed. Mary looked absolutely gleeful as she leaned over the desk, hands pressed against the surface in excitement. Fauna didn’t look quite as pleased, crossing her arms under her chest, more concerned as Mary rattled on to who Terra assumed was Flo sitting behind the desk probably about ten seconds away from disagreeing with Mary.

All pretty typical start to a shift with the older women Terra worked with.

As he got closer he could hear Flo saying something, but not in an annoyed tone for once when directed at Mary. Now he was really curious what they were talking about; it wasn’t usual that the two very old friends weren’t bickering. He even opened up his mouth to ask but he was spotted first and all conversation ceased.

That seemed to answer that then.

“There you are, handsome,” Mary exclaimed, clearly recovering from being caught. She hurried over to him, reaching up to pat at his face, even though she was much shorter than him. “We were waiting for you.”

“For what?” he snorted, moved to the side of the desk Mary had been standing at, where sure enough Flo was sitting down behind. “What are you trying to pawn off on me now?”

“Oh, stop, you,” Flo said, flipping through some folders she had placed in her lap. “We’ve never done that.”

“You’ve probably done that,” Fauna corrected with a tut.

“He was the big strong guy who signed on to work with a bunch of old ladies, what did you expect?” Mary said, reaching over the desk for some kind of pastry she must’ve left there.

“Excuse me,” Flo said, looking over her glasses. “Who are you calling an old lady?”

“You, or was that not obvious?”

“Alright,” Terra said, trying not to roll his eyes as he placed his coffee mug and tablet up on the desk. “What do you ladies need?”

It honestly never bothered him too much. He was well aware he was the only guy in this wing who worked third shift and while he’d never doubt a single woman here to be able to get any job done, he didn’t mind helping or making it easier for anyone. He’d just also like to know what work he had for the night so he could plan his shift.

The problem was all three women went silent. Flo cleared her throat looking back down to her folders, while Fauna pretended she didn’t hear the question, greeting another nurse as she walked by. Mary just continued to eat her pastry, humming as she started at the ceiling. They were all terrible liars.

“Ladies,” Terra said, leaning his hands against the desk so he could tap his fingers against the surface. “You going to tell me what’s going on any time soon?”

“Oh, nothing, dear,” Flo said, her kindly smile very reminiscent of a grandmother. “We just have a small favor we have to ask.”

It was probably they were understaffed yet again and they’d need him to cover more rooms. It wasn’t uncommon nor did he really care all too much; the more work the faster time went by. “Did you send it to me?” he asked, swiping his finger against the tablet to be able to access the records and information he’d need.

“It should be there,” Flo said, though her voice was a little higher than usual.

Terra accessed his usual rooms but it made him pause. That couldn’t be right. “Hey, Flo, I don’t think it went through.”


“Yeah, there’s only one room here. System must’ve glitched.” None of them were looking at him again.

“No, dear, that’s correct.”

Terra glanced up at the clock ticking on the wall between Flo’s head. “You do realize is like 11:05 pm and I’m here till 8am right? You want me to have one room for my whole shift?”

“Why’re you complaining?” Mary said. “Easy shift then right!”

Something was absolutely wrong. He knew that they went easy on him sometimes because of how much he tried to do for everyone when he worked but at the same time this was a little insane. This patient was either hell and no one wanted to deal with them so he got it or….

Terra went into the records for room 504, brushing past the file notes to find the information he was looking for. “Aqua Queen,” he read aloud. “Female, twenty-two years old.”

“Yes, that’s it,” Flo said. “She was awake last time I checked on her, very nice girl.”

“Very pretty girl,” Mary said so innocently it was like he wasn’t supposed to know what she was trying to infer at all.

Except he did because the three of them had been trying to hook him up with any female in his age range since he started working here. Up until now it had always been other nurses in their wing, or other nurses in the hospital (these ladies had been working here since they were his age, he had no doubt they had all sorts of matchmaker connections, as weird as that was). It never really worked for him because, one, working third shift was hard enough let alone trying to start a relationship with anyone, and two, he’d been introduced to a multitude of pretty girls thanks to his coworkers, but not one he felt any sort of connection with even if he was looking for a relationship.

They had calmed down over the past few months so he hoped they got the hint but it’s possible they were just realizing he wasn’t doing to date just anyone and they were being more selective. A patient was a little too far though, even for his patience.

“Please assign me a little more work,” he said, putting his tablet down. “I’m not going to keep bothering someone in recovery just because you ladies feel I’d think she’s pretty.”

“Oh, handsome, I don’t feel, I know you’d think she’s pretty,” Mary said with that usual confidence of hers.

“I’ll put up with meeting people who work here, at least there’s a common interest, but I’m drawing the line at a patient. I also feel there has to be some kind of hospital policy this violates in both in work and moral ethics?”

“I told you he wouldn’t like it,” Fauna said, her elbows on a higher level of the desk, flipping through her tablet.

“Hush,” Mary tutted before turning back to Terra. “It’s slow here anyways. We have low amount of rooms to watch as is between the three of us let alone you and the other few girls on shift. Take the one room, take a relaxing night. We’ll give you some busy work if you get that bored.”

He hesitated. Clearly they weren’t going to let him have his way on this but he supposed if he only had to keep an eye on her he could help get other things done. “One condition.”

“Go on,” Flora said, dropping a file on the desk in front of her.

“You absolutely don’t make her feel uncomfortable at all. Don’t make me go in there any more than I would any other patient, don’t tease in front of her, nothing. Just let me do my job and absolutely nothing more.”

“Stop being so dramatic,” Mary laughed, reaching for the folder Flora discarded on the desk. “We’re not asking you to sleep with her. Just be friendly, talk to her if she can’t sleep.”

Terra was glad he hadn’t quite got his coffee cup back to his lips at the time he choked.

“Though you’re what? Twenty-five?” Flora said. “Prime of your life, you should be passing those good genes along to someone.”

He adamantly ignored both comments. “She could be married, you know that right?”

“File did say single,” Fauna said, glancing up.

“Hey, I thought you were on my side here.”

 “And I talked to Lulu down in recovery,” Mary said, clearly ignoring Terra. “And she said this little lady only had her parents waiting in the waiting room and they were the only ones who went to see her in the recovery room as well. If she does have a partner then she could clearly do better with someone like you.”

Terra grabbed his tablet off the desk. “I’m leaving now.”

“Tell us how it goes!” Mary called after him but he ignored her completely.

They were insanely outrageous this time but what could he do. Flo was the overnight lead, so technically he did have to listen to her work assignments. All Terra could hope was that she’d realize how crazy this was and give him more rooms before the night was over.

He stopped in front of the door, knocking his hand lightly against it. No answer, not too much of a surprise. He slipped in, closing the door behind him as to not let too much light in and he was plenty used to seeing what he needed to in the dark. Terra looked down at the tablet, scrolling through to see why she was even here; displaced tibia fracture that required surgery which she had earlier today.

Terra glanced at the bed where Aqua Queen was laying on her back, eyes closed and head rolled off to the side. Her leg looked secure enough in the locked knee brace, incision wound still covered. By the looks of the notes, it was changed before his shift so it should be fine for a little while longer. He looked up the simple machine set up next to her, just to log vitals while she slept in case of complications but everything looked to be just fine for now.

Figures they’d give him the one room with the sleeping girl who didn’t even need his assistance at all. It was going to be a very long shift. Maybe he could get one of the other nurses to trade a room with him.

“Who’re you?” a slurred voice said, though it could only be one person.

Terra looked over to the bed where eyes were watching him. “Terra,” he said with a polite smile as was per usual when dealing with patients; at least ones that hadn’t pissed him off yet. “I’m your overnight nurse.”

She mumbled something but it was incomprehensible.

“You feeling okay?” he asked, looking back down at the tablet to see if there was anything he should be looking for since she was awake.

“They put a metal rod in my leg, I’m not sure okay is my range of feeling,” she said.

He glanced up to make sure she wasn’t actually in pain but there was a sort of smile on her face. Even in the dim light it made her eyes look little brighter, clear blue eyes that matched her hair.

 “Well, fair enough,” he cleared his throat. “Feeling any pain or discomfort? I mean outside the terribly uncomfortable hospital bed.”

“Right,” she said, throwing her hands up slightly in agreement. “How do they expect me to sleep? Have you done it?”

He walked around the other side of her bed, checking the medicine they were giving her for the pain. Seemed to be alright, and she wasn’t complaining so he wouldn’t touch it. “I have, but only when I’ve been so exhausted. Anything would do for a nap.”

“You must’ve been dead tired to sleep here.”

“By the time about eighteen hours hits, you’ll sleep anywhere too, I’m sure.”

She laughed, eyes following him as he walked back the way he came.

“You try and get some more sleep. I’ll check back later but if you need anything just hit the button on the wall behind you, I’ll come back.”

Aqua nodded, though she didn’t look all that tired and he almost felt bad leaving her wide awake in this room alone but that was the job. He knew she probably wanted to just be at home in her own bed and not in an unfamiliar place being watched by strangers.

She gave him another smile making her eyes scrunch up a little bit from her smile. It made him want to smile too. He assumed it was the medicine making her feel better than she might’ve but he also had no idea how she could look as pretty as she did laying in a hospital bed after surgery.

“Thank you, Terra.”

“Of course,” he said opening the door, to close it behind him again. Well, that was done and he had all of….He glanced down at his tablet…eight hours and forty-five minutes left. He was going to have a chat with his so called supervisors about giving him more work.

Unfortunately for Terra when he did see them all at the nurse’s station still, they were staring at him all with various degrees of smug grins. “Don’t you all have work to do?” he asked, reaching for his coffee mug that was thankfully still there.

“We had to make sure everything went okay first,” Fauna said; the dirty traitor.

 “She’s pretty, isn’t she,” Mary said, that shit eating grin plastered on her lips.

“You’re incorrigible,” Terra said.

“You’re not saying no.”

He sighed into his cup before bringing it away from his lips. “Okay, yes, she’s pretty.”

Mary looked like she was about to exclaim something but he held his finger up first.

“But if you think I’m planning on hitting on a girl who’s drugged up from her surgery, you’re insane.”

“You don’t have to hit on her, dear,” Flo said, standing up from behind the desk with a sigh. “Just be nice, be memorable.”

“Slip your number for her to find later,” Mary said.

“Are you going to give me more rooms or what?” Terra asked ignoring them both.

“All the rooms are spoken for,” Flo said, patting him on the shoulder as she walked by. “Come along, ladies, Terra is right. We should be working too.”

“Are you sure, we may need to ask him more questions,” Mary said but Fauna was already grabbing Mary by the arm, dragging her off after Flo.

Yeah, they were really a huge help.

He sighed as he leaned over the desk, placing his tablet down so he could hold his mug with two hands. It was going to be an incredibly long night.

Terra had to carefully time everything he did. He didn’t want to bother her again if she was sleeping so he was waiting till the last possible minute to do his rounds again. In the meantime, he wandered the halls, asked if anyone needed help, went to the break room for more coffee, ate a bag of pretzels that were kind of stale, stared at the clock, had more coffee, waited to see if Aqua called for him at all, stared at the clock, contemplated calling Ven just to have someone to talk to, and almost stormed to find Flo to beg her for something to do.

Instead he knocked on Aqua’s door a little earlier than he might’ve but he was getting desperate for anything to do.

“Yeah?” her voice answered, which was kind or relief because it meant something.

“Still awake?” he asked, stepping into the room and closing the door behind him.

Aqua hummed, though she looked a little more tired than before. “I slept for a little bit, but I woke up again.”

Terra glanced over her vitals; everything was still normal. “Can I get you anything?”

She licked her lips, looking up at him. “Something to drink?”

“Sure, want some water?”

Aqua made a face that almost made him laugh. “They’ve made me drink water all day, could I have something different?”

“Depends, did they give you any food for dinner?” He should’ve brought his tablet with him to see exactly what they gave her but he admittedly forgot it in the break room; he had been using as an effort to make time go by faster. 

“Yes,” she nodded.

“And how did that go?”

 She winced a little, holding up her hand, her pointer finger close to her thumb. “Might’ve thrown up a little bit.”

Terra hummed in understanding, crossing his arms against his chest. “I’ll bring you some juice since it’s been a long while but you have to tell me if you start to feel nauseous okay?”

“I will,” Aqua said.

“Good, it’s a long night. No offense but I don’t want you to throw up on me.” Terra had been doing this job for a while he was usually pretty good at telling the people he could joke around with and the people who needed to be serious all the time.

Judging by the way she laughed he was doing pretty okay. “I wouldn’t throw up on you.”

“Oh, why’s that?”

“You’re much cuter than the nurse from this morning.”

He knew it was probably the medicine, but to be fair, it was usually women old enough to be his grandma to call him cute, not girls his age who were pretty enough to be way out of his league. He was a little thankful for the mask of the dark room to hide the heat he felt in his face. “Well, I’m glad you think so,” he said. “Cause you’re stuck with me till morning. I’ll be right back, okay?”


He slipped back outside, walking down the otherwise empty hall to where they kept this wing’s delectable amount of hospital food. He’d just grab her a thing of apple juice; she should be okay by now to drink it without feeling sick but he could never tell who would react well to the medicine and who’d react poorly. He reached in the fridge to grab one of the bland packaged drinks with the straw and went to go back to her room. Terra half expected her to be asleep when he got back but her blue eyes were watching him when he stepped back inside.

“Thank you so much,” she said, trying to push herself up so she could drink it.

“Hang on,” Terra said, placing the juice on the table to hit a button on the side of the bed that slowly brought the top of the bed up so she had something to lean against as she sat up. “Better?”

She took the juice off the side table, popping the straw in so she could take a sip. A smile pulled at her lips as the sweet sugar in the drink must’ve been a nice change for her. “Perfect, thank you.”

“I’ll wait to make sure it doesn’t make you feel sick.” He took a few steps back away from the bed trying to give her some space though she didn’t seem to mind all that much.

“How do you feel about juice?” Aqua asked, still keeping the straw near her lips.

He tried not to laugh at the way she phrased the question. “I guess I’m neutral on it.”

She gasped like he actually offended her. “Why don’t you like it?”

“I don’t know.” That time he did laugh, crossing his arms against his chest. “Why are you taking it like I told you I don’t like kittens?”

Do you like kittens?”

“Of course I like kittens.”

“Well, points back then.”

Terra arched an eyebrow but still smiled despite the ridiculousness of this conversation. “Are you scoring me?”

“Yep,” she said, popping the “p” a little too hard.

“Okay, well, in that case. Sometimes juice is too sweet, but I’m a big fan of apple cider, so compromise?”

Aqua looked up like she was contemplating it. “That’s a fair compromise. I like cider too.”

“Okay, I’m glad we’re back on the same page,” he snorted. “How are you feeling? Any nausea or any pains?”

She shook her head, still sipping on her juice.

“That’s something. At least you seem to be good on keeping your promise.”

“I don’t suppose you have any, like, vanilla frosted cake back there do you?”

“Fresh out, I’m afraid.”

“Liar, you never had any in the first place.” She reached over to place the empty cup on the side table.

“Look, if you actually think hospitals keep fresh cake in their wings, I’m really not sure what kind of medical dramas you’ve been watching on TV.” He moved back to the side of the bed when she settled back against the pillows so he could slowly lower it again.

She laughed and when he looked up, she was already watching him. Her blue hair was sprawled out on the pillow from tossing her head around, face a little pale even in the dim lighting in the room, bags under her eyes from lack of sleep; she absolutely looked like she had spent the day in a hospital. Despite all that she still managed to look pretty. Her hair looked bright against white sheets on the bed, the smile on her lips lighting up her face. Terra saw so many people come in here and just be miserable, not that he blamed them. But Aqua, she was a ray of sunshine even though there was no sun in the sky.

“Need me to get any new pillows or anything for you?”

“No, thank you,” she said, a yawn pulling at her lips.

“Alright, try and sleep this time. If you feel any nausea make sure you call me right away, okay?”

“Got it, boss.”

He stepped back out to the hall, closing the door behind him. Terra started back to the break room for his forgotten tablet, thankful that at least his meddling coworkers weren’t waiting to ambush him.

By the time four am rolled around Terra felt like he was in some sort of time vortex. Half way through but it was dragging so bad. He tried to do odd jobs for the other nurses whenever they needed it, hell, he even asked Flo if he could help with the inputting the files for a little bit just to have something to do. Thankfully she let him (though not without a not so subtle interrogation he completely ignored).

So, okay, they were right. As weird as it was, they actually threw him in the path of someone who for once was actually his type. The problem of course being she was sort of delusional from drugs. It was the middle of the night at a hospital where he worked, it was possible she wouldn’t have a clear memory of any of this let alone him and when he left in the morning, he’d never see her again. She’d go home and come back for physical therapy which wasn’t even in the same building as him.

This is why he never thought twice about his patients. These things would never work, and really he should be mad at all of those ladies for setting him up this way. He couldn’t stop checking the clock to see when he could go check on Aqua again. It was stupid and he felt stupid for it.

“What’s the matter, dear?” Flo asked, not looking up from the computer screen.

“Nothing, why?”

“Because you sound like if you hit those keys any harder you’re going to break it.”

He sighed leaning back in the chair slightly. “It’s nothing really, well, nothing important. Just I’m going to leave in a few hours and she’s going to leave in a few hours and then, well, that’s all there is.”

“Do you want that to be all there is?”

Terra hesitated. He didn’t really have a good answer for that.

Flo chuckled as she reached up to pull her glasses off her face. “While I disagree with Mary’s…forceful advice, she still has a point. Just leave her your number, if she remembers and cares to see you again well there you go.”

“But it’s creepy.”

“It’s not creepy.”

“It’s a little creepy when the professional who’s supposed to be helping you hits on you.”

“Terra,” she chuckled again. “How do you expect people to meet each other? It can happen anywhere, work place included. I know you, and I know you’d ask someone else to take over if you felt you had said or done anything that would’ve made her uncomfortable.”

He shrugged. “I mean, I guess, yeah.”

“So I assume it hasn’t been the case. As far as I know you’ve probably helped her and kept her company, which is your job so I don’t see the big deal. Leave her something should you like to, then she can choose to throw it away, or see you when not under the influence of feel-good medicine. Which for the record makes people a little loopy, sure, but it doesn’t change who they are or how they think.”

“Why does it matter so much to you?” He wasn’t trying to be rude, but just curious.

“Because you’re a good kid, you deserve to find any sort of happiness. So if you feel like you may like her, you deserve the chance to get to know her better as I think she deserves the chance to know you.” Flo placed her glasses back up on her nose as she looked back to the screen. “And because you’re the closest thing I’d have to a grandson and I’d love to see some cute great-grand babies.”

“Figures,” he sorted, pushing himself up from the chair. “But thanks.”

Flo hummed in response but was already back at work. He slipped behind her, going to head back to check on Aqua again; a little early maybe but even just to check she had finally fallen asleep.

“Terra?” Flo called, her voice echoing against the otherwise empty hall.

“Yeah?” he said, turning around to face her.

“I’m pretty sure you don’t have to worry about making her feel uncomfortable. I went to check in to swap bandages for you and to make sure everything was okay, and she asked me why I wasn’t you.”

He rolled his eyes but he knew the smile on his face was obvious when Flo glanced up at him, looking way too amused for her own good. Terra lifted his hand to her before he turned back down the hall.

Honestly he did hope she was asleep, as much as he was enjoying their somewhat ridiculous conversations. She really needed to rest to have her body recover. If she was awake still, he’d probably offer to give her something to help her sleep a little better which she may or may not like so he hoped he didn’t need to.

Terra knocked but there was no answer, a good sign for his medical opinion at least. He poked his head in just as Aqua cracked an eye open at him. “Are you pretending to be asleep?”

She opened both eyes. “Just to make sure it was you.”

He tried to ignore the way warmth trickled up to his chest at a delusional girl’s words. Yeah, this is where he found himself alright. He stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. “You really should sleep. I can give you something to help. Staying up all night won’t help your leg heal at all.”

Aqua huffed a little. “I don’t need it.”

“Really? Because as far as I know you’ve been awake as long as I’ve been here.”

“I slept earlier.”

“Being under anesthesia doesn’t count.”

“I know that,” she rolled her eyes. “I meant after I got out of surgery today, it may be why I can’t sleep now.”

“I suppose,” he said, crossing his arms against his chest. “Though it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sleep. You should be exhausted.”

“Will you stay with me?”

He blinked at her; not exactly the words he was expecting to come out next.

“I mean, just, like to help me fall asleep?”

“You want me to bore you to sleep?”

“You’re not boring,” she laughed. “It’s just too quiet. I have very loud roommates, it’s hard to sleep in total quiet like this.” 

“Roommates, huh.” Normally, Terra would apologize and say he couldn’t as he usually had other people to look after, and while he would do what he could to comfort people, he usually didn’t make a habit of hanging around with his patients. Yet technically she was his only patient for the night, and frankly he wanted to, even if it was just to get her to sleep. He moved to sit down in a chair that was lingering by the side of her bed.

“Yeah,” she said, rolling her head over to look at him, a smile on her lips. “What about you, do you have any?”

“No,” he said, placing his chin down on his hand as he propped his elbow up on the armrest. “I live alone.”

“That’s sad.”

“That’s not sad,” he laughed. “I like the quiet.”

“Don’t you get lonely?”

Terra shook his head. “Not really. Well, sometimes I guess but considering I work when everyone sleeps and sleep when everyone works, it kind of comes with the territory.”

“That sounds lonely to me, I don’t like it. I’d keep you company.”

“Well, thank you, you are keeping me company right now.”

Aqua looked fairly pleased at that fact.

“So, tell me, what’s the story? How’d you get hurt?” he asked, it was usually a safe thing to ask and he knew from her file it was from an accident so it wasn’t insensitive; if it was, he’d know real quick.

“Oh, God, okay, I was skiing and believe it or not I’m actually pretty good at it.”

He held up his hands in defense. “I believe you.”

“No, you don’t cause why would I be in here if I was good.”

“Aqua,” he laughed; it was a little weird, the first time saying her name but it also felt nice in a way. “I believe you.”

“Okay, but I wasn’t so good this past time obviously.”

“Accidents happen. You have an excellent chance for rehab and getting back on those skis.”

“You think?” She seemed a little surprised, like no one told her that yet; maybe she just didn’t remember.

“Yeah, most fractures like yours heal up, and as long as you’re careful you can go back to usual activities eventually.”

“I do like the sound of that.”

“Well, I’m glad.”

Aqua was quiet for a moment. She looked like she might fall asleep for a second but she raised her hand instead, pointing at him. “You know what, I think we belong together.”

Terra choked; he couldn’t say he had been expecting that. “Oh yeah?” he said trying to cough. “Why’s that?”

“Aqua and Terra. Water and Earth. It goes together.”

“You know that just makes mud right?”

“Yeah, mud.”

He laughed. “Are you always this punchy or is that the drugs?”

“Sometimes,” she said. “But only if I really like the person.”

“How do I fall there then, you just met me.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been so nice to me.”

Terra wanted to say it was because it was his job, and while it was, he knew it was little different in this situation. “Ah, well, you have made this shift be a lot better. I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself tomorrow night.”

Her eyes were starting to droop a little even though she was trying to fight it; apparently she was right, she just needed a little noise. “Should I come back and keep you company?”

“No, I don’t want to see you here again. No more skiing accidents, okay?”

“What if I fought you for it?”

“Fought me for what?” he snorted.

“I’d fight you.”

“Oh, yeah, you’d fight me?” He was going to say that she was half his size but considering she was still conscious after everything that happened to her, she was a fighter for sure. “Come back when you’re healed and we’ll see about it.”

She gave him a sleepy smile before letting her eyes close. “Okay, okay.”

Terra paused but she didn’t say anything else; it seemed like she finally nodded off. He waited a few more minutes just to make sure she wouldn’t wake up again but she seemed to be out judging by her breathing. Good, he couldn’t imagine how exhausted she must’ve been.

With a careful sigh he pushed himself out of the seat and headed back to the door. He glanced back over at her still sleeping form before stepping back out into the hallway. Terra shoved his hands in his pockets as he headed back to the nurse’s desk. He never really did consider himself lonely. He had friends, he had work, he had family but for some reason, the thought of never seeing that girl again made him feel lonely.

The problem was he had no idea what to do about it.

Seven-thirty am, a half an hour till his shift was over and Terra was already yawning. The hallways were much busier now; the first shift doctors wandering around to get to their appointments, the nurses working to get things ready for the busiest time of the day around here. Flo was sitting at the desk speaking with the first shift lead about everything that happened overnight, while Fauna was filling out the last bits of her paperwork on her tablet and Mary sipping down the last of some coffee to get her home.

The rest of the shift went by pretty well as Flo let him keep helping with the records and as Aqua slept through the night. Even when he popped his head in around sunrise, she was still out cold. Her doctor would be in soon enough and the morning shift nurse assigned to her would get her prepped to go home.

His stomach tightened. Did he do something? Did he let it go?

“You’re gonna regret it, handsome.”

Terra looked up from his spot leaning against the desk though Mary wasn’t even looking at him; she was glancing down at her phone in her hand. “Regret what?”

She did look up at him that time. “I don’t think I have to say. We all know how you’ve been all night now.”

He snorted. “Whose fault is that?”

“Doesn’t matter whose fault,” Mary said, placing her phone in her purse, walking over to pat a hand against Terra’s chest. “It’s what you do with it. Let it be if you’d like, but don’t do something that will always make you wonder what if.” She turned to wave to Fauna and Flo before heading down the hall.

“She’s right, you know,” Fauna said, grabbing her tablet off the desk.

Yeah, he knew. Would he care? Would he forget tomorrow like this was all one big fever dream like it probably would be for her? He didn’t know. All he knew was how he felt right now, and he supposed that would have to be good enough.

Even though the thought made him kind of want to throw up, he hurried down to the room where he got her juice the other night and pulled out another one. As per protocol he knocked on her door, but thankfully she was still asleep.

Terra had no idea if in three years he’d remember this one night and wonder if he did everything he could to maybe see someone who made him smile again, but unfortunately, Mary was right. There was only one way he could be sure.

He grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled his note, signing his name at the bottom. The sun was shining in through the cracks of the curtain on her still sleeping face. Terra turned and left the room; his shift was almost over and her new nurse would be coming in soon.

Despite the uncertainty of what he’d done, if she’d remember him at all, if she’d just think he was the creepy nurse from her one night stay in the hospital, if she even cared one way or another, he still grabbed his bag when the clock struck eight am and left the hospital. In the very least, the anxiety in the pit of his stomach finally lifted.

Aqua –

I thought you might be thirsty when you woke up, and I can’t speak for the day nurse’s taste in juice so I left you one. I hope your recovery goes well, but if you’re still insistent on fighting me before then I thought I’d help you out.



Usually when Terra got home he was wired for a bit and would eat or play games or something but this time he got changed and fell right into bed. He wasn’t sure if it was due to the fact he was worried he’d check his phone a million times waiting for something or nothing but when he did wake up, it was because his phone was ringing.

He blinked his eyes open as he grabbed at the blankets trying to figure out where his phone fell after he must’ve fallen asleep with it. He really only remembered that he wanted someone call him when he saw Axel’s shit eating grin on the phone than an unknown caller screen. Terra was still half asleep but apparently awake enough to feel sinking disappointment.

“What?” he grumbled, flopping onto his back and reaching up to rub his eyes.

“Whoa, sorry, did I wake you?” Axel’s voice drawled from over the speaker.

“Yeah, but its fine.” Terra pulled the phone away from his ear to see the screen before putting it back. “It’s almost four, I should be getting up anyways. What’s up?”

“Ven asked me to call you to see if you were working this weekend.”

“Why didn’t Ven just ask me?”

“Look, don’t ask me, I’m just the roommate.”

Terra dropped his hand to his forehead. “Okay, I have to work Sunday night but not Saturday.”

“Okay, good, he wants you to come with him to pick up his dog on Sunday.”

“He wants me to what? A dog?”  Terra wanted to be surprised but honestly it sounded like Ventus. “Can you even have dogs in your apartment?”

“Hell if I know. Hang on.” It was clear Axel dropped the phone away from his mouth. “Hey, Rox, can we have dogs here?” 

“Why would I know?” came Roxas’ slightly distant voice.

“Yeah, so, hell if I know,” Axel said, picking up the phone again.

“Sora has a hand in this doesn’t he?” Terra asked rubbing his eyes.

“I don’t doubt it.”

“I’m calling Ven now. Thanks for the heads up.”

“Yeah, sure, see you around.”

“See you.” Terra let the call close with a sigh. He had no idea whose bright idea to give those particular four boys an apartment off campus but it wasn’t his. He went to find Ven on his contacts but something caught his eye first; a new message. Frankly it was probably Ven or Axel and whatever this new nonsense was but Terra’s heart was in his throat when it was just a number, no contact name.

He pressed it, trying to tell himself it was someone with a new number or a wrong number.

Okay so I’m not entirely sure if I should be doing this after the utter fool I probably made of myself last night but I’m home and they gave me more medicine so maybe I have more courage than usual. Thank you for your parting juice gift, that wasn’t a lie, I do enjoy a good apple juice and the day nurse did not look like a juice person. Thank you for being so patient and kind with me, despite the sort of slapstick mood I was in, it was actually fairly frightening of a day, and you made it feel a lot more normal.

That being said, no, I don’t still need to fight you (though I could I stand by it) but I would like to see you again, you know, when I can get around a little better ^^ And when I’m not high on medicine, though I suppose that was still me just a little…enhanced.

Oh, this is Aqua too by the way. From the hospital, if that wasn’t clear already.

Ah, shit, you’re probably asleep. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up. Just whenever you do wake up, its, well, it’s me.

Terra was pretty sure he read the few messages a dozen times. In the back of his head he knew he should get up, do something before work yet again, that he needed to call his impulsive brother, but Terra found he couldn’t think much else but the fact the pretty girl from the hospital got his message and more so felt the same. It was still a completely unknown situation, where it would go, how it would go but it was a start. He’d get to see her again.

The hard part would be not telling Flo, Mary, and Fauna because Terra would never ever hear the end of it. They’d probably show up at his funeral still talking about it.

With a grin he knew no one could see, he clicked into the reply box.

Chapter Text


Inspired by: The Sound of Silence (Disturbed Cover), Bombing Mission (Final Fantasy VII, Distant Worlds), The Day (Caleb Hyles English Cover)

Such Uncertain Road You’re Taking

(Day 3 – Post Apocalyptic)

Aqua officially decided papers right before the end of spring semester were the worst and only created to make students miserable. She tapped her pen against her notebook, eyes staring over her laptop at the open window across from her desk. The warm summer air already hit, the sun up in the sky everyday making everything seem bright and exciting. The last thing she wanted to do was be trapped in her room doing homework but she had to get it done. The sooner it was over, the closer she was to summer break.

Her music played in her ears as she looked over to her phone. Thankfully, she didn’t have any classes today but unfortunately for her boredom, Ven didn’t get out of school for another few hours and Terra wouldn’t be done with his training at the academy for even longer. Eraqus was downstairs probably going over routines for the martial arts school he taught at so Aqua didn’t really want to bother him with her bored whining, but it was tempting.  

Though, technically, he did sign up for that when he became the guardian for three kids.

A ding rang through her headphones, making her glance over at her laptop screen. A small notification was popped up in the corner. Some sort of news alert it looked; there was a warning listed but it probably was just some sort of severe weather or missing person alert. She clicked out of it leaving her screen on the blank document once again.

Aqua huffed. Maybe she could go pick up Ven from school today, which would help her procrastinate a little more. Normally she really wasn’t like this; in fact more often than not she was on Terra and Ven’s cases for their procrastination, but today she just wanted to be outside doing something fun. Maybe she could get Terra to drive them out to get ice cream at that nice place that made all the homemade kinds. Aqua knew Ven would just die if she told him they could go; Terra probably wouldn’t say no to both their grinning faces.

She went to move her hands back to her keyboard but a noise made her turn her head towards her open door. Aqua almost pulled out her headphones but she didn’t hear anything else. That was unusual. They lived in a fairly vanilla suburb community where nothing really ever happened, but that did sort of sound like car tires spinning against the pavement.

She paused but still nothing.

Aqua shrugged and went back to her nearly blank Word document but her phone started to vibrate on her desk. She didn’t bother to hold back her smile when she saw Terra’s face show up on her screen. While she tried not to bother him when he was in training, she absolutely didn’t mind hearing from him any hour of the day.

She popped her headphones out of her ears as she picked up the phone, leaning back in her chair. “I hope you’re not playing hooky from class.”

She could hear all sorts of commotion over the line, people shouting, long sirens blaring. Aqua had slowly been coming to terms with the fact that Terra training to be a police officer would mean he’d be in danger at all times, but not right now. He wasn’t even out of the academy yet.

“Terra?” she asked, her heart already in her throat, tension nearly freezing her body in her seat. “Where are you? Are you-”

“Aqua.” It was more of a statement than anything, his voice lined with both a sort of relief and desperation. “Are you okay?”

Panic made her stomach lurch. “Am I okay? What are you talking about? What’s going on?”

A crash echoed downstairs, like glass shattering. Aqua didn’t even realize she was standing up till the chair rolled out from under her.

“Just stay safe, okay?” Terra’s voice was muffled almost. “I’m coming, I’ll be the-”

The phone beeped in her ear but it didn’t register. “Terra? Are you there? Are you…” She pulled her phone away from her ear to see the call dropped, no signal. Aqua stared at the screen; she could still hear the sirens, the fear in his voice, the crash…the crash from downstairs.

She turned and ran out her room, down the hall to the staircase. “Eraqus!” she cried, hoping he was close enough to hear her. “Something’s wrong! Terra, he…”

She stopped short, just off the last step of the stairs. In front of her where the glass doors leading out back were as a gaping hole, glass everywhere in the dining room. The metallic smell of blood hit her so fast she almost bent over to be sick. There were legs sticking out from behind the couch, not moving. Eraqus was standing nearby, the old sword that usually hung on the wall in his hands, a slight sheen of blood dripping from it. There was a gash on his arm, three deep scratches dripping down.

He glanced over at her but kept his eyes on the glass doors.

Aqua looked over to see two people making their way to the hole in the glass. She didn’t recognize them at all but their skin was ashen, eyes sunk like they were ghouls from that scary storybook Terra liked to read when they were kids.

“Eraqus, what’s-” Aqua tried to take a step closer but he held his hand out to her.

“I need you to stay calm, Aqua,” Eraqus said, his own voice calm but she still heard the urgency in it. “Go find Ventus and Terra, but with extreme caution. I need the three of you to stay together, do you understand me?”

“No, I don’t,” she said, frustrated tears pricking at her eyes. “What is going on? Are we in danger?”

The people were getting closer, eyes locked on Eraqus.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but I need you to find them and stay safe. Go, now.”

Aqua shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere without you. We’ll find them together.”

The people pushed themselves against the glass doors and not seeming to care about it breaking off in their skin.

“Aqua,” Eraqus said. “Leave!”

“No, I’m not…” She tried to walk over but she stopped when she saw the rest of the fallen body, head a few feet away from it. Aqua dropped her phone, both hands clasped over her mouth.

Eraqus glanced away from the two trying to get into the kitchen to bring his hand down on her shoulder. “Find Terra and Ven. Promise me when you do, you’ll stay together.”

She could only nod. “I promise,” she said, afraid if she dropped her hands, she really would be sick.

The glass shattered more, the people pushing into the kitchen fully. There were even more behind them now.

“Go, this is your head start,” Eraqus said, turning back to hold the sword in front of them. “I’ll follow behind. Just get to them first.”

Aqua didn’t know what else to do, so she did as she was told. She turned and ran to the door, swinging it open and not looking back. She ran down the path to the side walk, and kept going. Cars were racing down the road, people screaming, but she couldn’t look, she couldn’t even stop. The car, she should’ve grabbed her car. Aqua knew she couldn’t go back, it would defeat the purpose.

The high school wasn’t that far away. If she ran the whole way, she could find Ven and then they could get Terra together. Hopefully Eraqus would have the same idea when he was able to follow. She tried not to think about it. The end of the road, turn left, and then right, and then right again. She could get there. What if the school had been attacked too? Is this what Terra was dealing with?

She reached up to wipe her eyes as she ran. What was going on?

Sirens were ringing somewhere, but not police or ambulance ones; the long deep ones, ones that sounded only when something very bad was looming. Aqua took the turn at the end of the street, feet pounding on the pavement. Others were running away from where she was headed, cars flying by but she had to keep going.

Aqua turned down the next road. Something jumped out at her from someone’s yard but they missed as she kept running, her heart pounding in her chest. If it was following her she didn’t look, she couldn’t. She saw a blond head of hair running down the opposite side of the road. The school was still a little bit away but she knew that hair, she knew that run, and she saw those clothes this morning.

“Ventus!” she shouted but she didn’t even need too; he must’ve recognized her first because he changed his direction, coming right at her.

Ven swung his arms around her, nearly knocking her over as she skidded to a stop in the middle of the street. “Aqua, oh my God, I didn’t…I couldn’t…”

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” she said, trying to catch her breath as she hugged him tightly back. She looked over her shoulder but whatever dove at her wasn’t there anymore. No one was there; no one else was coming from the direction of the school.

“I didn’t-” He swallowed. “I didn’t think I’d make it out.”

Aqua pulled away placing her hands on his shoulders, it was only then she saw the blood stains on his clothes, the way his hands were shaking as he still clinged onto her.  “Oh my God, Ven, are you hurt?”

He shook his head, but his eyes were still wide as he watched her, making him look so much younger than sixteen. “It’s not mine.”

Not for the first time today, she wanted to be sick. She could only see the way these things pushed through the glass unrelentingly trying to get to Eraqus; she couldn’t imagine what it could’ve been like in a school, people trapped and panicking. Aqua pulled Ven to her again, this time just for the mere fact he was alive.

“I don’t know what’s going on, Ven, but we have to find Terra.”

“At the academy?” Ven asked. “That’s so far away. We should get the car first.”

Aqua shook her head. “We can’t go back there, okay?”

“But…” Ven seemed to think better of his question. “The police station is closer, maybe he went there?”

It was a possibility. There was a scream nearby, gun shots fired and Aqua jumped. Was that close? Where they far away? She had no idea, she never heard them outside of movies. Why was it so loud? She grabbed Ven’s hand; they had to get out of here. “We’ll check there first, but we should keep moving.”

Ven nodded.

She wanted to run but she knew it wouldn’t be good for either of them, so she walked quickly with Ven keeping at her side. He didn’t say much, eyes darting around, jumping at any noise at all.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said, even though she didn’t really know that for a fact. “As long as we’re together it’ll be okay.”

Ven squeezed her hand tighter; she couldn’t even remember the last time he willingly held her hand, maybe when he was ten? Twelve? Yet the grounded comfort of having one of her boys here was better than not knowing where either where.

“Aqua?” he asked, his voice hushed. A car honked somewhere, airplanes flew low overhead. “Do you think Terra’s okay?”

“Of course he’s okay,” she said. “He called me, not too long ago.”

Ven hesitated, eyes peering around quickly. “I saw…I saw lots of people die. I don’t know why it happened but there was so much…so much…”

“Hey, it’s okay,” she said. “You’re okay, and so am I. Terra will be too.”

Ven didn’t look convinced but he nodded. “He called you?”

“Yeah,” she said. “He knew something was happening before I did. I’m sure he got to safety and is trying to find us.”


Aqua knew Ven didn’t want to ask. She could tell by the tone of his voice but at the same time he must’ve needed to know. “He said he’d find us. His first priority was making sure I found you and Terra.”

For the first time since she saw him, Ven cracked a small smile. “Sounds like the old man.”

Aqua reached her hand over to ruffled at his hair. “I’m glad you’re okay, Ven.”

“I’m glad you are too.” He leaned against her slightly and Aqua thought for a second they’d be just fine, as long as they could get to Terra but Ven tensed up immediately. He halted in his tracks stopping Aqua with him.

The road that would take them closer to the police station was right next to them but more of those people were there, slowly walking, almost dead eyes watching as they moved closer.

“You can’t let them touch you, Aqua,” Ven said, though his voice shook as he did. “They’re stronger than people should be and they won’t stop till they bite you and then…you turn into one of them.”

Aqua hesitated. “You mean like…”

Ven nodded, though he was backing away from the street. Aqua followed; there was another street they could take. She started to move towards it, but there were more coming up the side walk. From what Aqua could tell, they weren’t very fast so she and Ven could probably outrun them but where was the question. They were getting blocked in.

“This way,” Aqua said, tugging on Ven to get him to go to the opposite side of the road. “We just have to stay away. We’ll go the long way.”

A car skidded behind them but she didn’t bother to look, she just started to lead Ven across the street, they needed a head start to keep away. Unfortunately, the people seemed to get that hint, a few of them following across the street. Aqua was about to break into a run with Ven when she heard the deafening sound of gun shots.

Aqua watched them drop as one, two, three shots to the head made them fall.

She spun around to see Terra lowering his gun from in front of him. He was still in his training uniform, a black SUV parked nearly on the sidewalk behind him. Out of the corner of her eyes she could still see more coming towards them, maybe drawn by the sound but she didn’t care. She ran and didn’t stop until she could get to him.

He already put his gun away, arms grabbing onto her for a moment before he let one go to swing around Ven’s head who came crashing into the both of them. Terra was warm and real, his heart beat near her head as she held onto him. For all her brave talk to Ven, she was afraid something happened to Terra. Yet he was here, his familiar presence making her feel like everything would be okay.

She looked up towards him but he was already watching her. She wanted to ask him if he was okay, if he got hurt, the things he knew, if he was scared but the words wouldn’t come. He leaned his head down to her and her fingers curled into the back of his shirt holding him tightly as he pressed his lips to hers. It was soothing to have even a small moment with him but also rushed, seeking out any sort of comfort there could be. Aqua felt the hitch in his throat, the look in his eyes when he pulled away from her. He had been just as worried.

“I’m so glad you both are okay,” Terra said, voice rumbling under her ears. “But we can’t stay here.”

“Where are we going to go?” Ven asked, looking up.

Terra hesitated, but rubbed his hand against Ven’s head.

“Doesn’t matter,” Aqua said, letting go enough to look up at Terra. “As long as we stay together.”

“Right,” he said, nodding his head back to the SUV. “The car is safer, c’mon.”

“Did you steal that?” Ven asked, quickly following after Terra who turned to lead them back before more came after them.

“Don’t ask me that again,” Terra said, pulling open the driver’s seat door.

Aqua promised Eraqus, they’d stay together, and she absolutely meant to do everything to keep that promise. Absolutely everything.

“Hey, Aqua.”

Terra drove quickly and effectively but aimlessly. He tried to stay close to home just in case but it only got worse the longer they stayed and he made the call to leave. It wasn’t easy, not when Ven was desperate to find Eraqus but it was clear there was no way to find him with how overrun their hometown became.

 Where were they supposed to go? What were they supposed to do? Eraqus was the only family any of them had. They were orphans; no family ever came to claim them. All they had was each other. So they drove, and drove and they managed to find gas so they could drive through the night. The found food supplies were slim the farther they got away from the city and raiding parties had mostly already taken what little there was. Aqua wasn’t even sure what then would do when they ran out of stale granola bars until Ven pulled out a hunting guide book he said he grabbed from a bookstore they had ventured into.

Terra was a pretty good shot but the rest of what was involved in preparing the meat was…an experience. She opted to let Ven help instead of her. Thankfully it gave them a bit more versatility when it came to gathering food, but luck couldn’t hold out forever; especially when the SUV ran out of gas. They managed to find gas in pumps or abandoned cars for a while, usually with Terra getting nearly a face full of gasoline from the siphon system, but after almost two weeks on the endless roads going nowhere they couldn’t find a single pump or car to siphon any from.


It got much more dangerous on foot. They had no shelter; they had to take turns keep watch. It was dangerous but they were alive, and they were together, just like Eraqus wanted.

“This is a strange turn of roles.”

Aqua blinked her eyes open to see Terra leaning over her, his face so close she could feel his breath on her. She reached up to push him away but he only laughed, flopping down on the floor of the tent next to her. She could see the sunlight starting to rise through the fabric above her. It was already dawn; they’d need to get moving soon.

She looked over to her other side but it was empty. Ven was probably outside packing up anything that was left out of their camp.

“Sleep okay?” Terra asked, rolling onto his side to face her.

Aqua hummed, placing her hand over her mouth to try and stifle her yawn. “Best three hours of my life.”

He snorted, rolling his eyes but considering even he was way more awake than she was, she suspected he tapped into the caffeine supply to get himself through his watch shift. It was maybe a little over a month since the last time she slept in her own bed but they were all at least better about living on shorter hours of sleep. Sleeping in jean shorts though, that took a lot of adjustment.

She rolled over to face him, head resting on the scrunched up sleeping bag as her pillow. It was still too hot to need it, but she knew the time would come when they’d need much more than what they had, so she tried not to think about that as much. “You’re in a good mood today.”

He dropped his arm over her waist, hand pressing against her lower back. “Between the three of us, we didn’t see any threats all night. I think it’s a good opportunity to find the nearby town the road signs were showing and get supplies.”

Aqua hummed, reaching her hand up to brush some of the bangs out of his face. He already had sheen of sweat on his forehead, though if that was from the heavily caffeinated drink or the heat of the day setting in, she wasn’t sure. “If it looks too dangerous we leave.”

Terra opened his mouth, probably to argue with her but she hit her hand against his chest.

“I mean it. I hate it when you go alone and you know…” She hesitated, dropping her voice a little. “You know Ven doesn’t do as well when there’s groups of them.” Not that she blamed him. Ven never really talked about that day at his school and Aqua was always too afraid to ask.

“Okay,” Terra said, tapping his fingers against her back. “Okay.”


“Aqua,” he snorted, though he leaned into her, his breath on her lips. “I’m not ten anymore. I’m not going to lie about putting a worm in your lap and then do it anyways.”

“I don’t care how old you are. Promise me.”

“Okay, I promise.”

“Thank you,” she murmured though her eyes had already fluttered shut, feeling his lips press up against hers. She reached her hand up to his hair as he pulled her in closer to him.

A part of her was aware of the fact they needed to be moving on their way, to be alert and never let their guards down but at the same time the comfort of being so close to Terra was intoxicating. Despite living on the road for weeks he still felt like home, being with him was like everything was normal again. It reminded her of their first kiss; she was only ten, it was a quick peck on lips and his face flushed. It reminded her of their first real kiss and how soft his hands where on his face when he leaned in to kiss her in the backyard with the stars overhead. How warm it was tucked under his blankets and his arms when she’d sneak into his room late at night, how he’d make her all of her favorite treats whenever she had a bad day, how he talked about them moving out together when he graduated the academy, how wonderful everything was before all this shit happened, and how overwhelmingly happy she was he was still here with her.

His hand trailed up her back, dragging her shirt with it. She curled her fingers into his hair, a small noise in her throat. Terra seemed to take the hint, bringing his hand to her hip, pulling her against him.

Aqua broke away from him with a gasp, Terra taking that time to trail his lips down her neck. Chills went down her spine. Her mind was hazy, choosing only to focus on how warm he was, how tight his hold was on her, how he made her feel even after all the years they knew each other. Though she knew they should be focusing on something else, or the fact they didn’t warn Ven first.

“Wait, wait,” she breathed, pressing her hands against Terra’s chest.

He paused, leaning back slightly to look at her though she could see the flush on his face, the eyes she loved so much watching her. Most of her wanted to say fuck it and kiss him again.

“Ven can probably hear us,” is what she voiced instead.

“Yep.” Ven’s voice was so close Aqua nearly jumped; when she looked the tent flap was still zipped up. “So can any zombie in the five mile radius probably.”

Terra rolled his eyes, though he did lean back some. “You’re being dramatic, Ven.”

“Am I though?”

“We should probably pack up the tent, I suppose,” Terra said, tapping his hand against her hip like he didn’t actually want to but knew she was right.

Aqua reached her hands up to his face, kissing him again. It’s not like getting time alone was easy.

The zipper did go down that time. She turned her head to see Ven’s face poking in the gap he made.

“I’m all done out here you know.” He didn’t look mad, it anything it was just his usual teasing grin.

“I heard you the first time,” Terra said as he pushed himself up. “Help if you’re gonna help.”

Ven snickered, unzipping the rest of the tent.

Terra leaned back to hold his hand out to Aqua pulling her up so she could sit before he leaned in for one last quick kiss.

Ven made some sort of cooing noise in a voice pitch way too high for him.

“I liked you better when you thought kissing was gross.” Terra pushed at Ven’s head as Terra stepped out of the tent.

“When I was, what, ten?” Ven said, holding the tent flap open so Aqua could step out.

“Yeah, you were cuter then too.”

Ven pushed himself into Terra as he walked away, clearly trying knock him off his feet. It didn’t work, as it usually didn’t. He laughed, ushering Ven to get the other sides of the tent to pack it up.

Aqua looked over at the tree lined horizon, the sun nearly up now. She glanced over the area, trying to see if any trees were rustling, if anything was wandering around looking for someone to attack. Like Terra said, everything seemed to be in the clear around here.

It took them a while to get this far, to be at a place where they didn’t fear every corner, where they could actually laugh again. It was really hard at first, seeing the state the whole country was in and knowing there was no one to help them. Sure they came across other survivors but most learned to stick to themselves so that’s what Aqua, Terra, and Ven did too.

They never found Eraqus. Cars that worked were scarce, and gas was even scarcer. Sometimes they could find abandoned houses that were safe but otherwise the country side where people once lived spread out seemed to be the safest; cities and towns were dangerous and Aqua already had enough close calls than she cared for.

Ven was going on about something behind her as Terra rolled up the tent in the compact way he was used to by now. They might’ve raided a few abandoned stores for supplies but what else could they do? It was survive how you could, or die out here; though getting that tent and camping supplies nearly cost them too.

She shook her head, turning back to the boys. They were more careful after that but Aqua wasn’t sure if she’d ever get the image of the way one of those things held onto Terra, teeth dangerously close to his arm, out of her mind.

“All set,” Ven said, holding the backpack up once the tent and sleeping bags were loaded before flipping it onto his back.

“To town then?” Aqua asked, reaching down to take one of the smaller backpacks while Terra took the other one. It was all they could carry without weighing them down.

Next to it were the two hand gun holsters Terra found a couple weeks ago. She strapped them on like she was used to now; one around the waist, one on the leg. They were only for emergencies. They were too loud, caused too much attention. It was the same with the shotgun Terra wore on his shoulder. Otherwise the hunting knives all three of them had were as good as it could get. Close range combat wasn’t ideal, but if you could catch them before they saw you sometimes you had a better chance.

“To town,” Ven said, pointing the baseball bat he took to carrying around towards the nearby street.

Terra started to the lead the way with Ven hurrying after. Aqua took one last look at their camp to make sure they didn’t forget anything before following after.

This was their life now. Keep moving, survive another day. Sometimes Ven managed to snag signals when he fiddled with the radio he found where they heard people talking about the state of the country, tips to survive. No one ever said how this happened.

Aqua followed alongside of Terra as Ven walked a few steps ahead. At least they were together, that alone was enough to be grateful for.

The heat started to settle in shortly after they started down the road. Thankfully the trees shielded some of the sun, but the pavement didn’t help and water wasn’t always easy to come by. A town that maybe had supplies could be helpful for them right now.

“Do you think it’s a big town?” Ven asked when another sign came up.

“Considering we’re out in the boonies my guess is no,” Terra said, shielding his eyes from the sun as he looked up at the sign. “Should be the next left.”

“You said that twenty minutes ago,” Aqua said.

Terra looked over, his eyebrows arched. “Oh, that’s what we’re going to play is it?”

Aqua covered her mouth as she laughed, reaching up to push at his arm.

“You try and make sense of all these back roads and out of date signs.”

“You sound like such a guy, Terra,” Ven snorted, swinging his bat at the air, aiming at nothing in particular.

“As opposed to what?”

Ven snickered but he decided not to say anything else, just kicking at some rocks as he walked.

“Here,” Terra said, pointing off to a nearby road. “The town should be down here.”

“Man, I hope they have-” Ven didn’t get a chance to finish as Terra reached one hand out to grab the back of Ven’s shirt, the other stopping Aqua from walking any more.

She didn’t even hear it at first but the rustling nearby was obvious now. They really must be getting closer to town now; though she hoped it wasn’t a bad sign. Usually the infected seemed to travel in packs but every so often there’d be one or two lingering alone.

Terra pulled Ven back so he was standing closer to them. He grunted his displeasure a little but stood where he was asked to.

With a groan one of the infected stumbled out of the woods in front of them. Ven had no issues with calling them zombies but Aqua felt a little silly referring to them as the undead from horror movies. She was well aware how they could be horror movie monsters with what she saw, the risk of being near them, but at the same time they were infected people; though she knew not humanizing them made it easier to do what was needed.

Aqua reached for the knife on her hip. It seemed it was the only one and it hadn’t noticed them standing there yet.

“I got it,” Ven said, pulling out of Terra’s grip to walk over where the infected was slowly moving.

“Ventus.” Familiar panic was rising in Aqua’s stomach but Terra was watching, and he didn’t stop Ven either.

It noticed Ven then, lunging at him in a way that nearly made Aqua’s heart jump into her throat but he swung back the bat before sending it forward again, right at its head. It made contact with a nearly sickening crack, sending the infected to the side of the road. It stayed on the ground, limp and not moving. It was hard to deal if the infected was actually taken care of, but head injuries seemed to be the way to take them out.

Ven rested the bat on his shoulder, turning back to give them a thumbs up.

Aqua hated it. She hated him being in danger, having to learn how to hit someone like that but at the same time what could she do to stop it? If they ever got split up Ven needed to know how to defend himself or he’d never make it. She promised she’d never ever let that happen but she knew it was for his safety too.

“You’re getting pretty good with that,” Terra said, reaching over to push lightly at Ven’s head when he walked back to them.

 He didn’t say anything but he did look fairly pleased with the compliment. He was pretty peeved when Terra taught Aqua how to use a gun and not himself, but she was grateful Terra was the one who drew the line there. It wasn’t even just against the people who weren’t technically people anymore; there were plenty of living humans who posed as just as much of a threat, that a weapon designed to kill could be used against Ven or any of them, that there was a choice when pulling the trigger that Terra hadn’t been ready to put on Ven’s shoulders. She didn’t know if he quite understood why, but he at least accepted it, finding other ways to help fight when they needed it.

One thing was for sure, he was far from the scared little boy who was brought into their group home, unable to even speak to them.

Once it was clear no others were lingering around, they turned down the empty street to finish the walk to town. Aqua knew they were getting closer the more abandoned cars she saw littering the streets; a sign of people trying to escape after it happened. She peered in as they walked but the cars all seemed to be raided already. That wasn’t a good sign for the town, but so far she hadn’t seen any others so it was safe to at least check the town out.

Ven was doing the same on his side of the road. When Aqua looked over to check on him, she saw Terra already watching from the corner of his eyes. He changed so much too; save for the boyish grin and the messy hair he almost looked nothing like the little boy Aqua met on the doorstep of Eraqus’ house. It was already a long time ago, but after everything that happened this past month it felt like it was a whole other lifetime ago that playing make believe in the backyard had eventually turned into stolen kisses when they thought no one was looking.

“Hey, do you think that place is real?” Ven asked, pushing himself away from another empty car.

“What place, Ven?” Aqua asked, reaching down for Terra’s hand, his fingers lacing with hers. He didn’t look over at her but he gave her a hand a squeeze; an acknowledgement of the small comfort she was looking for.  

“The haven, for survivors.”

“Possibly,” Terra said, though when Aqua looked up he was watching straight ahead; a sign he didn’t quite believe it but wasn’t about to dash Ven’s hopes.

“I think if people gathered enough in the right areas, it very well could be possible they’d have a sustainable life again,” Aqua said. She did believe it herself; humans were very resourceful especially when they were forced to be. “Where, I don’t know though.”

It was a rumor whispered among other survivors they passed, a desperate hope on the cracked radio signals but no one could ever say more than just “I hope it’s out there somewhere”.

“I hope it’s by the ocean, I miss the beach,” Ven sighed.

“I’d have my doubts,” Terra snorted. “You can’t grow vegetables in the beach sand.”

“Okay, fair but at least it would be fun.”

“No one could argue that,” Aqua said. “As long as we can find sunblock. Remember that time you said you were fine and by the end of the day, every inch of you was covered in sunburn.”

Ven winced at the memory. “I try not to.”

 “It’s because you spent too much time trying to be like Terra to remember you two have completely different skin types.”

“Aww, Ven,” Terra said, reaching over to pinch at Ven’s cheek which he immediately pushed away. “You still want to be just like me?”

“You wish,” Ven snorted, shoving at Terra’s hand when he tried again and making Ven laugh.

That was a lie; he still idolized Terra.

“Alright, here’s the deal,” she said, visions of laying out on sand gone as fast as they came. “We’re scouting first. If it’s too bad, we’re leaving, okay?”

“You’re the boss,” Ven said, giving her a thumbs up. “A stealth mission.”

“Just remember stealth means being quiet, kiddo,” Terra said.

“I know.” Ven reached over to tap the bat against Terra’s shoulder. “I can be quiet unlike the conversation we had this morning about you.”

Terra reached over to wrap his arm around Ven’s neck pulling him down some. Terra let go of Aqua’s hand only to rub at Ven’s head. He tried to get away but he was laughing too much to actually manage it.

Aqua wasn’t sure what she or Terra would do without Ven’s unwavering positivity; even when things were so grim he still managed to make them smile. “Okay, okay,” she said, tapping Terra a few times on the arm; though she almost had to reach out to grab him when the world started to spin on her.

She closed eyes trying to make it go away before they noticed but she already felt Terra’s hand over hers. Her stomach turned, for a second she thought she might be sick.

“Hey, are you okay?” Terra asked.

She felt a hand on her forehead, feeling for a fever maybe, but when Aqua blinked open her eyes everything seemed to be okay; well, except for Terra and Ven looking at her with concerned blue eyes. “I’m fine,” she breathed, and it was true, she felt fine again like she never even felt sick to begin with. “Just got dizzy.”

“You’re sure?” Terra didn’t look convinced; in fact he looked more like he was ready to call this whole thing. While it might’ve taken the risk away, she couldn’t deny they needed the supplies.

“Positive. We should keep moving,” she said, though she waited till he dropped his hand from hers before she kept walking. “But we don’t need to let everything know we’re coming before we even get there, so keep it down a little bit.”

“Yes, mom,” Ven said, rolling his eyes but he seemed a little more at ease now.

“Just like we’ve done a million times before,” Terra said, looking over to Aqua to give her a reassuring smile; even if he didn’t look like he was quite over her sudden dizzy spell. It was unusual maybe, but it was hot out and they’d been walking for a while. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

He was right though, they had done it what felt like a million times. They’d stick close together, trying to cover all angles to make sure nothing snuck up on them. Mostly it worked, unless they got to the main part of the town and it was too overrun to even be bothered with. Sometimes it would seem safe until they tried to go in a store for supplies, which was how they ended up in the mess at the camping store. But sometimes they got lucky.

The alley way they found first was barren of life, which was a good sign for them to travel in but this was the part Aqua always hated; the emptiness. There were some knocked over trash cans; it looked like it was rummaged through by humans or animals she didn’t know. Weeds stuck up through the cracks in the cement, some skid marks lined the ground but any car that caused them was long gone.

The street at the end also looked empty; also a good sign in the least. She could see the side walk across the street where planted trees dotted along the way with squares of overgrown grass surrounded the trunks. She imagined city care takers must’ve taken care of the streets, they probably light the trees up for Christmas and hung homecoming banners over the streets.

Aqua proceeded with caution, feeling Terra’s back brush up against hers while Ven followed behind them. She wanted to believe they were okay but she saw the broken windows of the store across from them, glass shattered out into the sidewalk. People had been here, people could be here, as there very well could be a horde on either side of the buildings who just weren't alerted yet.   

Terra stopped and Aqua immediately heard why. Some scuffing, grunting noises, telltale signs some were out of sight. She gripped the knife handle in her hand just in case she had to move quickly as she watched the street in front of her.

One slowly walked in front of the alley. It didn’t seem to notice them at all, but she couldn’t tell if it was the only one in the area; judging by the way Terra hadn’t moved either, he must’ve come to the same conclusion.

“Got it,” Ven said, hurrying out from behind them.

“Ventus, wait,” Terra hushed, trying to reach after Ven but he was already jogging out to the street.

It noticed him, lunging towards him with fingers grasping. He was at least already swinging his bat, landing a similar hit as he did just a little bit earlier. It fell to the ground as he jumped out of the way. Ven grinned but Aqua only felt panic.

Terra was already running forward. She quickly followed, knowing that calling out to Ven would only make it worse; the shuffling, the groans, there were more of them.

A hand reached out from around the building, grabbing the backpack on Ven’s back. He jumped away in surprise but doing so only made him trip over the body on the ground. He tried to catch himself but only ended up on his back. He scrambled to grab his fallen bat as more infected started to come at him. Terra already had the gun up. Ven’s panicked eyes darting at all of them, otherwise frozen on the ground.

Her heart nearly stopped as she watched him. She didn’t think, she couldn’t think. Aqua ran out to the street, falling to her knees near him, trying to pull him up. Ven barely moved, only staring as the infected got closer. A gun shot rang out, one of them falling to the ground.

“It’s okay,” Aqua said, wrapping her arms around Ven, trying to keep her voice calm. “It’s okay, Ven, just come with me.”

She heard Terra taking another shot but there were too many now, no way could he get them all in time. She pulled Ven closer to her as hands from the infected reached out to him. She was about to hoist Ven up with herself but a silver blade appeared, slicing through the horde with ease. Aqua could only stare as she watched the bodies fall.

The scythe hit the last straggler. It was only then she looked up and saw a man standing there. He had a silver scythe in his hand and worn only black clothing. With the bodies lined in front of him, Aqua almost mistook him for the grim reaper if not for the pink hair.

“Looks like we’ve got some lost kids,” the man grinned, but it was not friendly in the least. It made the hairs on her skin stand.

Aqua helped Ven up, though his eyes were still on the ground, bat tight in his hands. She held her arm around his shoulders, holding him close as Terra ran over to them.

“Are you okay?” he asked, one hand on Ven’s head and the other on her shoulder.

She nodded but her eyes flickered over to the man who was still standing there expectantly. Terra turned to stand next to her but she felt the tension in his body, hands not too far from any one of his weapons. Humans could be just as dangerous as any monster out here.

“Thank you,” Aqua said, clearing her throat. “We’re sorry we caused a mess, we were just trying to look for supplies.”

“Sorry, little miss,” the man said, though he didn’t sound very concerned; almost like he was already bored of them. “Nothing here for you.”

She saw Terra clench his jaw out of the corner of her eyes but he didn’t elsewise move.

“We’ll just go then,” she said, her grip tightening on Ven. “We’re sorry for causing such an inconvenience.”

The man arched an eyebrow. “What makes you think you’d leave? You’re here aren’t you? Might as well stay.”

Nothing about his tone seemed inviting, but Aqua wasn’t sure they were being given a chance.

“Thank you for the offer,” Terra said, though the tone on his voice told her he also knew it wasn’t an offer made out of generosity. “But we’d rather be on our way. We were scouting for our camp, and we should be getting back.”

That was a lie. A tactic Terra didn’t use often because he was a terrible liar but she understood why he was pulling it out. If others knew where they were, this man maybe less inclined to hurt them.

The man smiled again, just as chilling as before. He leaned the scythe across him, holding it with both hands. “You kids are young, much too young to be wandering around on your own.”

“For fucks sake, Marluxia, stop playing with your food.”

Aqua tilted her head slightly to the source of the bored sounding voice. A blonde girl was sitting up on the nearby low rooftop, a yawn pulling at her lips as she twirled a dagger around her fingers. She was also dressed all in black; clearly this town was already run by a gang.

The man, Marluxia, looked up at her, his eyes looking annoyed. “Did I ask for your assistance, Larxene?”

“Yeah, cause you take forever to do anything when you know the boss has orders on what to do with intruders.” She swung her hand back slightly and tossed it forward, the dagger flying till it landed right in front of Ven’s feet.

So this was how this was going to go. It wouldn’t be the first time they had to deal with aggressive gang members before; though Aqua wasn’t sure if they were a match for Marluxia’s weapon.

“We’ll give you whatever we have,” Terra said. “We don’t have very much, but just don’t hurt them.”

Aqua knew Terra was trained to fight with or without weapons, and she wasn’t a push over either especially with adrenaline pounding through her veins. Still they always preferred the peaceful route. She didn’t want to fight, she knew Terra didn’t either; only when they had no other choice.

“How naïve,” Marluxia said, smiling once again.

Aqua tensed, ready to grab the gun on her hip if she had to, knowing Terra would do the same. She could easily push Ven behind them as he seemed to still not have recovered from this whole situation. They could fight and they could run. They were survivors now.

Before she could even see if Marluxia was moving to strike, a can rolled in between them. Aqua thought it was an explosive at first, nearly throwing Ven out of the way but only smoke fizzled out. She couldn’t even move before the whole area was white.

“Saix!” Marluxia roared, coughing as he choked on the smoke. “You were supposed to be watching that damn brat!”

Aqua tried to cover her mouth to keep from inhaling the smoke but she couldn’t help but cough, feeling it start to sting her throat and eyes. It was the perfect chance to run and she knew it, but she wasn’t even sure which way was out anymore, the smoke was so thick.

“I was,” a voice hissed from somewhere though Aqua had no idea where. “You know as well as I, Xion and her goddamn friends are fucking snakes.”

“C’mon,” a different voice said, this time much closer and much more feminine. “This way.”

Aqua felt Terra’s familiar grip on her arm, carefully pulling her in a direction. She let go of Ven to grab his hand, following where Terra led her. She heard an aggravated noise as the smoke started to blow around; probably Marluxia using is scythe to move the smoke. Aqua pulled Ven close to her as she pressed up behind Terra. The faster they were out of this nightmare, the better.

She followed blindly, only being able to see Terra’s shoulders, feeling Ven behind her. It felt like an eternity.

It wasn’t until the smoke was nearly gone she saw the street and forest she knew they were in the least away from those people. Aqua still knew enough they weren’t safe where they were.

There was a girl in front of them, dropping Terra’s hand which must’ve been how she was leading them. Her short black hair bobbed as she turned her head, a wicked grin on her lips. “C’mon, c’mon,” she said, quick gestures towards the woods. “We have to run now or they’ll catch up the moment the smoke is gone. They aren’t as dumb as they look.”

She took off into the woods, jumping over a log and not looking back.

Terra let go of Aqua and gave her a quick look but he probably knew as well as she did; it was follow or get caught again. He went after the girl, presumably Xion, first while Aqua let go of Ven’s hand. She didn’t have time to make sure he was running with her but she could hear his feet pounding into the ground behind her.

Aqua couldn’t think about where they were, what they were doing, if anyone was following, if there were other things waiting in the forest unseen. She ran and ran until her lungs burned and then she kept running even more.

She had no idea how far they went by the time Xion finally stopped, hunched over, gasping for breath. Aqua wanted to do the same and possibly throw up but she turned back to Ven first. He already dropped his bat to the ground, hands on his knees as he wheezed trying to catch his own breath. Aqua almost backed up just in case he really was going to be sick but he looked up at her instead.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

She ignored him, reaching her hands to his face instead. “Are you okay? Did you get hurt?”

Ven shook his head. “Just, you know, my pride.”

“You sound like Terra.”

He must’ve been close enough to hear since Aqua heard him grunt.

She reached her arms around Ven, pulling him into her as he carefully wrapped his arms around her. “That’s why you don’t run off, even if you think you can handle it. We stay together, always. Okay?”

He didn’t answer but he did nod. She didn’t have to ask again, she knew he’d listen. Aqua felt Terra’s hand on her shoulder, the other reaching for Ven’s head. That was better. They were together and they hopefully safe once again.

Terra leaned his head against hers, warm breath on her cheek. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said, closing her eyes, already feeling the comfort he always brought her. “I’m okay. Are you?”

He hummed in response which she figured was good enough.

“Family?” Xion asked nearly making Aqua jump out of her skin; she forgot someone was with them.

She let go of Ven to turn to face the girl who saved them from whoever those people were. “Sort of,” Aqua said, bowing her head slightly. “Thank you for getting us out of there, you didn’t have to help us.”

Xion waved Aqua off with a smile. “It was nothing. I was already on my way getting away from those assholes when I saw you guys get caught in the crosshairs. You seemed like innocent bystanders in the whole mess, so I couldn’t just leave you there.”

“Well, you could’ve,” Ven said, reaching a hand up to scratch the back of his head. “But I’m really glad you didn’t.”

“I was watching you before Marluxia showed his mug. You guys kinda reminded me of some of my friends,” Xion said. “It would’ve made me feel guilty to run off without you. Plus you did cause the perfect distraction so I could plan my get away so I owed you. Oh, I’m Xion by the way, if that wasn’t clear.”

“I’m Ventus, but you can call me Ven. That’s Aqua, and that’s Terra,” Ven introduced, clearly already feeling a little more like himself again. It wasn’t often they came across someone who was actually friendly and open; it was a bit of a nice relief when most of the people they met were like the ones they just ran away from.

“Nice to meet you guys,” Xion said.

She couldn’t have been older than Ven, probably younger than him even. It shot a pang through Aqua’s heart to imagine a girl so young out here all alone, though it was clear she had pretty good handle on how to take care of herself. “You mentioned your friends,” Aqua said. “Do you have a place to stay? I wouldn’t feel right just leaving you here after you helped us so much.”

Xion nodded. “It’s not much but it’s safe. I’ll take you guys if you’d like. You don’t have to stay or anything, but it’s a good place to rest even for the night.”

Aqua felt Terra’s eyes on her. She knew how tired they were, how a safe place even for one night sounded. She knew this girl just saved them all but at the same time what if it was a trap?

Xion seemed to understand because she raised both her hands to them. “Promise no one there is like those assholes. Me and my friends actually ran away from them, that’s how we found the others who took us in, so I’m just passing on what they did for me. You can leave at any time.”

Aqua hesitated but really, what could it hurt at this point? They were no better off standing in the middle of a forest with no way to get back to the main road.

“Even if it’s just to make sure you get back safely,” Terra said. “We’ll go with you.”

She had to smile. Of course he wouldn’t just let a child wander off alone.

“It’s always safer with more people anyways,” he said.

“Okay,” Xion said, a smile still on her face; Aqua found it hard not to admire this girl who probably went through so much and still had reasons to smile. “Follow me, I can find the way back from here.”

So they did. Maybe it was a little silly to put their trust in a child and yet, she’s the only one who treated them with any sort of kindness since their world was torn apart from them. It could be a trap, it was true. But at the same time, she never wanted to be the sort of person who assumed the worst in everyone, when Xion gave them no reason to doubt. That’s how Aqua would become the people who passed them by whenever they needed help.

The forest was never ending at some times, to the point where Aqua wasn’t even sure how long it was since they were in the town, let alone when they woke up that morning. The sun was still in the sky which was good but she had no idea how much further they’d have to go.

Ven seemed more than happy to have someone a little more his age around. He took to walk beside Xion, asking her all sorts of questions about where she was from, how she got here, where her friends were; though Aqua did notice he never asked how she knew those people in town.

She reached a hand up to her forehead, wiping some of the sweat off. The sun was high above them and they had been walking for so long. They couldn’t stop, she knew that but even her usual stamina seemed to be draining faster than usual today.

A water bottle nudged her in the arm.

She looked over to see Terra handing her his. When was the last time they had a chance to refill them?

“Don’t even think about telling me no,” he said glancing over at her. “Your face is red and you’re starting to lag behind.”

Aqua blinked up to where Ven and Xion were; still pretty close by but farther ahead than the last time Aqua remembered. She reached up to rub at her forehead again. “How long has it been?”

Terra looked up at the sky, somewhat blocked by the canopy of trees. “An hour or so since we left the town maybe.”

It felt like ten hours. She carefully took the water bottle from his hands though she still felt his eyes on her as they walked. Aqua tilted it back, letting the lukewarm water in her mouth. It felt good for a moment, until her stomach lurched. She choked back up the water nearly making her spit it out and drop the water bottle. Aqua was vaguely aware of Terra’s hands on her shoulders but everything started to spin. She quickly closed her eyes to try and get it to stop but it almost made it worse.

“Aqua?” Terra’s voice was close but far away at the same time, almost echoing in her head. “Hey, hey, hold on, okay?”

The water bottle was gone from her hands but she wasn’t sure if she dropped it or if he took it. She tried to open her eyes again but it only sent another wave of nausea through her. Aqua reached out for anything to steady her but he was already there, one arm around her back and the other reaching under her legs. She felt the weightless sensation of being lifted off the ground, the sudden shift nearly making her be sick.

“No, no,” she said. “I’m okay, just…just a second.”

Terra clearly wasn’t listening because she felt her body fall gently against his chest.

She weakly reached her arms up around his neck, trying to keep her head up off his shoulder. “Terra, wait, I’m…” Aqua wasn’t quite sure what she was. She wasn’t really one to get sick very often, though she could recognize this might be what that was. She blinked open her eyes to see him watching straight ahead, jaw clenched as he walked. He couldn’t fight if he was carrying her. If she could at least walk then he’d be free to help if something happened. She could walk, she just needed a second.

“It’s fine,” he said, eyes glancing over at her. “Just relax, I have you.”

Despite the tension she felt in his body, his voice was calming, reassuring. She nodded, knowing he was just as stubborn as she was and all the kicking and screaming wouldn’t get Terra to do something he made his mind up on. That she knew for a fact. Aqua leaned her head against his shoulder, letting her eyes close again. He smelt like sweat and nothing like the sandalwood shampoo and laundry detergent he used, but it was still him, still comforting.

“Terra?” Ven asked, his voice hesitant.

“It’s okay,” Terra said. “Are we close?”

Xion must’ve made some sort of nonverbal response because they were still moving. “I don’t mean to ask…” she said. “But she hasn’t been…you know?”

“No,” Terra said, as if his voice was firm enough it would erase all doubt. “She wasn’t close to any of them today, there’s no way. I think she’s dehydrated.”

They were quiet after that, just the sounds of twigs breaking underfoot, leaves crunching.

Her head felt better and she didn’t feel like she was going to throw up at least but her body felt weird, like her skin was so sensitive she could feel every brush against it, making it prickle in a weird way. It made her feel cold even though she knew it was unbearably hot. It was warm against Terra as he carried her but even then the cold chills still came.

“Are you cold?” Terra asked, his voice hushed compared to earlier.

“Sorta,” she murmured as she curled her fingers into his shirt a little.

Ven made some sort of worried whine. “Ter, it’s like 90 degrees out here.”

“I know, okay.” His voice came out harder than he probably meant it. She wanted to tell him to stop worrying, she was fine, she just needed to rest a little and she’d be okay but the words never came.

A gentle hand pressed to Aqua’s forehead, much smaller than both boys with her so she had to assume it was Xion. “She is really warm, she probably has a fever. I have a friend who’s really good with remedies. As long as we can keep…”

They stopped but there were still noises in the background, movement, groans.

Aqua opened her eyes but it sent a wave of nausea though her stomach, her lids still so heavy. Off in the near distance there were three infected lingering around. They hadn’t noticed anyone else yet but that didn’t mean there weren’t more. Aqua tried to squirm out of Terra’s arms to get him to put her down but his hold on her was relentless. It almost made her stomach turn again that she was worrying him so much when he already worried about enough.

“Can I borrow a knife?” Xion asked, though her voice was hushed a little. “They took all of mine back at town.”

Ven passed his over. He looked like he was about to offer to help but Xion was already moving.

It was hard for Aqua to keep her eyes focused and open at the same time, but she managed to watch Xion practically glide across the forest floor. She had the knife out and across their necks in no time; the only sounds were the bodies hitting the ground.

Ven let out a low whistle as Xion headed back to them. “Where did you learn how to fight like that?”

She handed him the knife, flipping it so the handle was out to him. “They may be assholes, but they did at least teach us how to survive.”

Aqua closed her eyes again when Ven started to get a little blurry. She felt Terra start to walk again and she assumed they were safe for the time being at least.

“I don’t mean to be nosey…” Ven started probably reaching up to scratch behind his head like he did when he was nervous.

“Don’t lie, yes you do,” Terra snorted.

Ven either straight ignored Terra or shot him a look but otherwise didn’t say anything to him. “But how did you end up there in the first place?”

“The first time it was because I had nowhere else to go. Family was long gone, dead or alive I have no idea, so I ended up bumping into that gang. They took me in and I happened to befriend two other younger members. We decided we didn’t really like…the things they did, so we ran.” Xion paused for a moment. “They obviously didn’t like that and tried to find us but we evaded them till we found some sort of safety, ironically with my friend, Roxas’ brother. Neither had even known the other was still alive.”

“And the second time?”

“That was my fault. I went back to steal supplies as an F you, but they caught me. I’d still be there dealing with a not so nice punishment if I hadn’t run.”

“As glad as I am we were there to help you escape,” Terra started; his voice rumbling near her ear and almost lulling her to sleep right there. He adjusted her slightly in his arms. “Please tell me we’re close.”

“And that you have something for Aqua.” That was Ven, not sounding as carefree as he had a second ago. “I’ve never seen her like this before.”

“We’re almost there,” Xion said. “I promise we’ll help her as best we can.”

Aqua wasn’t sure how much time went by. If Terra was getting tired of carrying her, he never let it show. Every so often she could hear snippets of Xion talking to Ven, telling him about Roxas and Axel, though Axel liked to be called something different now…at least that’s what Aqua thought she heard. Ven asking questions about where they all stayed, Terra asking how they survived for so long alone, but it was all a blur; words overlapping in her head and not a lot sticking. Other kid’s names were mentioned too, Roxas’ brother and his two best friends who managed to survive together, and another girl who had a pretty name Aqua couldn’t recall that they found alone along the way.

“Okay, I’m going to run a head and let whoever it is on watch know it’s me,” Xion said. “They’ll let you in no problem if they know. Just wait here for a second.”

“Okay,” Ven said, but even he sounded exhausted now.

“Are you okay?” Aqua murmured, trying to open her eyes again. When she did, she saw Terra already watching her.

He looked exhausted too, sweated beaded on his forehead, breath heavy like he hadn’t been able to catch it for a while. How long had they been walking? “Me? I’m fine,” he breathed. “Are you feeling any better?”

“Where are we?” Aqua blinked, the trees thicker than they were before. They seemed to be standing in the middle of some sort of path but she couldn’t see anything beyond that.

The distinct sound of a gun cocking behind them made the air feel like it stopped.

“Who the fuck are you?” a voice said making Aqua’s stomach sink more than it already had.

“We don’t want any trouble,” Terra said, his voice calmer than the way his jaw was clenched tight.

“Then you should probably turn around and leave the way you came.”

Ven raised his hands, bat included, though he didn’t move otherwise. “We were told we could get help. Our friend is sick.”

“This isn’t a charity. We have to protect ourselves. I’ve got someone in the woods with eyes on you too, so I suggest you go.”

Where was Xion? Didn’t she say she was going to warn them? Aqua had to close her eyes again when the trees started to spin, a whine falling from her lips.

“Please,” Terra said, a slight desperation in his voice that made her curl her hands against him, any form of comfort. “Xion said she’d help us.”

“Wait, Xion?” the voice took on a whole new tone; less harsh making him sound much younger. “Xion’s here?”

Terra hesitated but turned his body towards the man. Aqua opened her eyes again but she realized “man” was over stating it. Standing there was a tall boy with flaming red hair pulled back in a sloppy bun. He already lowered the gun in his hands eyeing them with a sort of surprise.

“Er, Axel?” Ven asked.

The boy glanced over to Ven briefly. “Lea. Where is she then? We’ve been looking everywhere for her.”

“I assume she went to find you so you didn’t, well…” Ven still had his hands up, his eyes dropping to the gun in Lea’s lowered hands. “Shoot us.”

Lea hesitated for a moment but put the gun back in the holster on his leg. “Look I don’t know what’s going on but if…”

“Lea!” Xion shouted as she ran back up the path. “There you are, God, do you have to hide so well? Your hair is usually a dead giveaway.”

He carefully brushed by Terra to meet Xion in the road. Lea swung his arms around her while she laughed, wrapping her own arms around his neck. He lifted her right off the ground which only made her laugh more.

“You little shit, we’ve been looking all over for you,” he said, though he sounded much more relieved than he had a moment ago.

“I’m fine,” Xion said. “You know I’m always fine.”

Something in the woods nearby rustled making Terra take a step back, tilting her away from whatever it was. The person who jumped through the brush looked plenty human though, running until he could hug Xion from the other side. Judging by the way she reached back to rub at his head that must’ve been the other one of her friends; Roxas, Aqua thought his name was.

“This is Lea and Roxas,” Xion said as Lea put her back down, though both boys looked a little sheepish at the introduction.

“We met, sort of,” Ven said. “If meeting at gunpoint is an introduction at all.”

Xion blinked before she turned to hit Lea on the shoulder. “You did not threaten my friends, did you?”

“Okay, how the hell was I supposed to know they were your friends? I saw some people, I told Roxas to wait with an eye on them and I came out to get them to leave. Totally procedure.”

“Because I was with them the whole walk down this path.” She looked over at Roxas who was choosing to look up at the sky instead. “Being on watch does mean you actually have to watch, you know that right? What were you doing?”

Neither seemed to have a good answer for that.

“You know what, never mind, I missed you two idiots.” She reached up to pinch at Roxas’ cheek though he swatted her away with a snort. “But we have to get them back to base, okay?” Xion gestured for everyone to follow her as she started to go down the path.

How old were these kids? Despite Lea’s height and initial commanding presence, the way he teased Xion with a sly grin, pushing at Roxas’ head who leaned in to say something with a grin of his own, there’s no way even Lea was older than Ven. They were all probably sixteen or fifteen, just babies out trying to live on their own.

What had this world become?

Ven looked behind him, seeming to get the okay from Terra who started to follow after Xion and the others. Ven came to walk next to Terra, reaching a hand over to Aqua’s forehead. “Don’t worry, we’re gonna get you feeling better, okay?”

It was hard not a feel a smile pull at her lips. She leaned her head back against Terra’s shoulder as he carried her down the path. She felt herself fade in and out, sometimes just seeing trees and then seeing cast iron fences, a big stone building up ahead. Aqua thought she heard Lea say it used to be a factory or something.

Branches broke somewhere behind her followed by what sort of sounded like someone was falling. She thought someone just tripped but the groan she heard next made her stomach turn again.

“Jesus Christ,” Lea spat from somewhere in front of her. “Where did that come from?”

“Don’t,” Roxas said, as Aqua could sort of see him reaching over to push the barrel of Lea’s gun down. “We can’t attract more.”

“Doesn’t seem like they need the help,” Ven said, the panic rising in his voice made Aqua squirm. Wasn’t this supposed to be safe? Would they ever be safe?

She tried to look around but Terra was firm in his hold on her.

“Hurry, hurry,” Xion hissed, metal screeching so loud it shot a pain straight to Aqua’s head.

She closed her eyes, even her groan sounded loud in her head. Terra started to walk faster, almost running, maybe he was running; maybe everyone was. She couldn’t look, she could barely breathe.

“Come on, come on,” Xion said before the metal slammed shut.

There were more groans and when Aqua did open her eyes she could see hands reaching through the metal gates. There weren’t a lot of them, but there was enough.

“You okay?” Terra asked, probably to Ven.

Aqua didn’t hear or see the answer though; all she could see was the massive building looming over them. It was all old worn red bricks with black metal finishing, steeple towers pointing up towards the sky as the rest of the building seemed to stretch on into untamed grass and wildflowers. The way the sun was in the cast the building cast shadows over them. It looked like an old church almost, but whether she felt it was a sanctuary or an imposing being in its own right she was unsure.

Her eyes felt heavy, she couldn’t look at it anymore. The next thing she knew Terra was laying her down in a cot in an unfamiliar room.

There was a lantern on a nearby wooden crate lighting up the area but other than that it was just stone walls all around. Aqua felt panic start to rise up in her throat, turning her stomach. She reached out for Terra who was pulling his arms out from under her.

“It’s okay,” he said as he sat down on the floor next to the cot. “I’m here.”

Ven was leaning over the bottom of the bed, trying to untangle some sort of blanket; Aqua hadn’t even realized she was shivering again. She felt Terra place his hand on the cot near her and she reached her hand up to it. He was still so warm.

“And this place is safe?” Terra said.

“Yes,” Roxas said, though Aqua hadn’t noticed him standing in the room. “There’s some sections we have blocked off due to danger areas but we keep a close check on it.” He hesitated for a moment. “If you’re referring to what just happened outside, Xion and Lea are handling it. Nothing will get in here.”

“And there’s tons of trigger traps just in case,” a new voice said, sounding pretty proud so there was a good chance he made those traps. Blue eyes and brown hair peered out from the doorway as the boy stood next to Roxas.

“Sora is itching to see if they work too, so I wouldn’t feel completely safe with him on guard,” Roxas said rolling his eyes.

Sora leaned over to shove his shoulder into Roxas, a scene Aqua had seen plenty of times with Terra and Ven. These were the brothers, then.

“Move, please,” a much softer voice said making both the boys quickly jump apart to make room in the doorway. A girl with long blonde hair was walking into the room, holding a tray with two glasses on it. “Will you help me?” she asked kneeling down on the side of the cot near Terra.

“Yeah, of course.” Terra untangled his hand from Aqua’s, taking the glass of water the girl was handing him.

“Have her drink the whole thing.” The girl’s voice was straight to the point but also kind, gentle.

Aqua tried to push herself up some while he helped hold the glass up for her. Ven reached over to drape the blanket as best he could over Aqua from his angle.

“Do you need anything else, Namine?” Sora asked.

“No,” the blonde girl said with a shake of her head. “This should help for now.”

“Thank you,” Ven said, kneeling down at the end of the cot. “For helping her.”

Namine smiled. “It’s the least I can do.”

Aqua really didn’t want to drink any more of the water, but while Terra would let her pause every so often he did make sure she drank the whole thing before handing the glass back.

“This should help with the fever,” Namine said, giving Terra a few pills and another glass. “The tea is supposed to be warm but I made it cold so it would be easier for her to drink. She just needs fluids and lots of rest, okay?”

“Okay,” Terra nodded, watching as Namine stood up to leave the room, shooing Sora and Roxas away as she did.

They were alone again, just the three of them. Terra got her to take the pills and drink a little of the cold tea but Aqua just wanted to lay down again. She wanted to say she stayed awake to thank the both of them for looking after her so much, but when she opened her eyes again Terra was leaning against the wall, his eyes closed and Ven was nowhere to be found. She managed to grab the left over tea without Terra’s help as he seemed to be sound asleep, one hand still on her cot, but the moment she laid back down she was asleep again too.

Aqua felt like all she could be was in and out for what seemed like ever.

Sometimes she’d hear Ven and Terra talking, sometimes she’d wake up to others in the room keeping them company. Usually it was Sora and a red haired girl, both of whom liked to talk to Ven. Sometimes it was Roxas too though he was much quieter than his brother was. Aqua would hear Namine every now and then coming in to check on Aqua or give her more water to drink or more medicine, sometimes there was a tall, silver haired boy who’d talk to Terra but Aqua didn’t think she recognized him at all.

Usually Terra was always by her side; one time he wasn’t but only because Ven said he made Terra go sleep in a real bed for once. She never woke up alone but she also never seemed to wake up for long.

Aqua had no idea how long had gone by; there were no windows, just the flickering fire in the lantern. So the first time she woke up, finally feeling like she slept enough, she didn’t know if it had been five hours or five days.

She reached up to rub her eyes, pushing herself up to sit up on the cot.

“Look at you,” Terra said, though it was paused by a yawn. “Feeling better?”

She turned her head to see him in his usual spot against the wall. He looked pretty well rested himself; something that neither of them could say was common before they happened to find Xion. “I feel a lot better.”

“God.” He closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall before opening them again, a smile on his lips. “You scared me half to death.”

“Not fun being on the other side is it?” she asked, looking over at him as she inched herself over on the cot, hoping he got the hint.

“No, I don’t envy you all the times you took care of me.” He pushed himself up to his feet so he could sit back down on the cot, kicking one leg on the other side of her.

She hummed as she leaned back against him, her hands resting over his once he wrapped his arms around her waist. Aqua had no desire to sleep again but having him so close again was more than enough to make her want to stay here for a little bit longer.

“You sure you feel better?” he murmured, leaning his head against hers.

“Much better.” She sighed, tapping her fingers on his. “How long have we been here?”

“About three days or so.”

“Are you serious?” she turned to look at him. “I’ve been out that long?”

“Aqua, you were exhausted on top of being sick. You needed a lot of sleep.” Terra paused. “We all did.”

She supposed that was true. Sleeping in a tent and taking turns keeping watch wasn’t exactly restful. “So it really is safe here?”

Terra nodded. “As far as I can tell. They take turns taking watch, which is probably where Ven is. He likes to help with what he can, but there haven’t even been any scares since we’ve been here.”

She could see Namine’s face as she gave directions to how to help Aqua, Sora as he told Ven some sort of story, Lea holding up a gun to strangers. It made her heart break. “They’re so young, Ter, what are they doing here all alone?”

“Surviving,” he said simply. “All any of us can do.”

It might’ve been something she thought in a fever dream, but even now it felt clear as day. “You know we can’t just leave them here, right?”

To her surprise he actually laughed. “Oh, I know. I know you, remember? I figured once you got a good look at the kids here, we’d never leave. That’s okay, I think we’d have to pry Ven kicking and screaming away from not just being stuck with us again.”

Aqua leaned in to press her lips to Terra’s. She could still feel him smiling as he kissed her back, a hand reaching up to her cheek. It felt so nice she had no intention of stopping, well, until she heard giggling in the doorway.

Terra leaned his head back against the wall while Aqua peered over to see Sora sheepishly standing outside the door, the red haired girl standing near him both her hands over her mouth. That at least was one thing that never seemed to change whether the world was as it was before or not; teenagers who didn’t know how to knock.

“Glad to see you’re awake, Aqua,” Sora said, though he had his hand up behind his neck still looking a little embarrassed. “I’m-”

“Sora, right?” she said.

All embarrassment seemed to fade as a wide grin split his face. “Hey, you remember! I don’t think we were ever really introduced but yep, that’s me.” He waved his hand towards the door. “That’s Kairi.”

“It’s nice to officially meet you, we’re all glad you’re feeling better,” Kairi said with a sweet smile on her face. “Your boys were very worried about you.”

Aqua leaned her head against Terra, rubbed into him a little bit to make him laugh.

“And,” Sora continued. “The big lug in the doorway is Riku.”

Aqua tilted her head to see the silver haired boy who hadn’t quite entered the room yet. He waved slightly, an easy look on his face that seemed very reminiscent of Terra when he was that age; no wonder they had seemed to get along.

“I think you probably remember everyone else, they’re all around, just getting ready.”


Now, that voice she did know. Ven nearly threw himself on the cot, resting his head against her stomach as he tried to hug her.

“Ven, you can be a little gentler you know,” Terra grunted but Aqua could only laugh, reaching her hands down to his hair.

He looked up at her, his usual big smile seeming a little brighter. “Namine told me you were awake. Are you feeling better?”

“Much better, thank you for taking such good care of me, Ven.”

“You’ve had to clean up my puke before, it’s only fair.”

“Ventus,” Terra groaned slightly and she could almost see him rolling his eyes.

“We got the best news while you were sleeping,” Ven said, clearly not missing a single beat.

“Yeah? What kind of good news could there be?” Aqua asked. It was true, it’s not like they really got any sort news anywhere.

“The safe haven, it’s real. We got coordinates and everything. Can you believe it?”

Aqua couldn’t believe it, in fact her gut reaction was the dread of having to break Ven’s heart. “How did you possibly get that?”

“Lea,” Kairi said. “Well, sort of. He’s really good at fixing things and he fixed us up a radio that actually works really well.”

“Yeah,” Sora agreed. “We were listening to it the other night just for some noise and the people came on that have mentioned this place before and they actually gave us coordinates this time. We dug out the old map we have and we’re pretty sure we have a route.”

Aqua looked back to Terra who presumably had already heard all of this. She was going to ask him what he thought of it all, but she could already read it on his face well enough; he was hesitant but not opposed.

“We figure we can’t stay here forever anyway,” Riku said, still leaning in the doorway. “It’s too far from everything and we’ll run out of supplies. It’s more dangerous on the road, but we’ll have to go sometime. Worst case, we’ll find somewhere else to stay.”

Aqua couldn’t really argue with that.

“Can we go?” Ven asked. “Maybe Eraqus made it there too.”

She wanted to cry. She wanted to take Ven and all these children and shelter them from whatever this world had become. They should be in school, playing sports, worrying if the boy who sat next to them liked them too, not just trying to survive.

It was what it was though. These were the cards they were given, and they had to make the best of it.

It took a few more days for Aqua to feel back at her best but as she stood outside the factory gates at daybreak. It did feel good to know she’d be able to stretch her legs again soon. It wasn’t bad, they all got to recover and she got to know all the kids a little better. She felt more than well rested for the first time in a long time.

As far as she could tell there were no infected lingering outside the gates like there had been when they got here. She couldn’t know for sure, but everything seemed as safe as it could be. For now.

Terra was next to her, adjusting his backpack so it sat better on him. His clothes were washed, skin scrubbed of grime and dirt, and he didn’t look quite as tired as he had either. Ven was usually with them but today he was standing ahead of them, bat slung over his shoulder as he talked to Lea about something.

He was the most laid back of the kids, easy going and easy to crack a snarky joke. Roxas wasn’t ever too far behind his partner in crime though he was quieter, a little more serious though he did take after Lea’s sense of humor. Xion meshed them together, a sassy and fearless fighter.

Roxas’ twin brother Sora was always positive and energetic even as he was trying to help cram a few more things into Riku’s backpack. He was soft spoken and thoughtful, but also a leader the others listened to. Kairi and Namine looked like they could be sisters but they weren’t. Kairi was kind but just as firey as her red hair hinted she might be, where Namine was quiet and sweet but still had the respect of everyone around her.

“Got the map?” Aqua asked, looking over to Terra.

He waved the papers in his hand, giving her a smile. The kids decided since both herself and Terra were the oldest they’d be the ones in charge; she didn’t know about that, but she also felt like maybe they just wanted to lessen their responsibilities for a bit. She was okay with that.

“Ready?” Sora asked, waving his hands over his head. “Is everyone ready?”

There were some cheers, a few whistles and claps. Everyone was ready.

“Straight on, guys,” Terra said, gesturing towards the path. “Stay together in your groups, got it?”

“Got it, dad,” someone said but Aqua couldn’t quite pick out who after all the giggling ensued.

Terra sighed but he didn’t say anything more. Aqua reached over to grab his hand, lacing her fingers with his as they started to walk, holding up the back of the group as planned.

“Ready?” he asked, giving her hand a slight squeeze.

Honestly, she had no idea what they were walking into, if anything would even be there. Yet she had Terra, she had Ven, and now she all these kids looking for any sort of guidance. These times were not easy in the least, but she’d try and make them as easy as she could. Besides, if anything they could all use some hope.

“Ready,” she said.

Hope was all they really had anymore.  

Chapter Text

 Inspired by: Zenzensense (Kimi No Na Wa Soundtrack, English Version), Mitsuha no Tema (Kimi No Na Wa Soundtrack), Supakuru (Kimi No Na Wa Soundtrack, English Version)

Right Here in this World With You

(Day 4 – Reincarnation)

It was only 10am and it was already too long a day. Aqua leaned over the counter near the kitchen window looking over the nearly empty diner. There were a few people here and there but most already had their food; it didn’t even sound like anything was on the grill behind her; Zack was probably bored out of his mind. She tapped her fingers on the counter, but it did nothing to make time go by faster.

A yawn pulled at her lips that she tried to hide but it did no good. Usually she didn’t have to work mornings, especially weekday mornings when everyone in this college town was already in class. Once the morning rush was over it was dead until lunch and unfortunately it did nothing to distract her from how tired she was.

It marked the third time this week alone she woke in her bed in cold sweats from nightmares. It was exhausting enough being a full time student, part time waitress, with homework on top of that and then not being able to sleep.

Aqua yawned again, this time the brief moment of closing her eyes nearly made her fall asleep at the counter. Clearly it was time for coffee number two.  

The bell for the front door rang and she quickly straightened up to look a little more professional. She had one or two more co-workers around somewhere but it was honestly so slow it didn’t matter. Aqua opened her mouth to greet them but familiar faces were already smiling at her.

“Morning, Aqua!” Kairi waved as she walked through the door, Riku and Sora not too far behind.

“Morning, guys,” Aqua smiled, reaching under the counter to get three menus. “Go on and sit down, I’ll be over in a second.”

They were chatting about something as they walked over to the booth they always sat. They were good kids, regulars at the diner though Aqua initially met Sora and Riku last year when they were little freshman as Aqua happened to be the teaching assistant in their class. She met Kairi by proxy when they started showing up at the diner often. She didn’t like a lot of the college kids who came in here as most behaved like animals but she always enjoyed seeing these three’s bright faces.

She walked over to where they were already sitting, placing the menu’s out for them. “How’re you guys doing today?”

“Starving,” Sora said, already grabbing the menu. “We had to skip breakfast.”

Riku snorted. “We wouldn’t have needed to skip breakfast if someone didn’t wake up late.”

“I wouldn’t have the chance to wake up late if someone didn’t convince me to have an 8am class.”

“Can I have the usual please?” Kairi asked, her voice as sweet as ever but she was rolling her eyes.

“Of course. Is it just going to be you guys today then?” It wasn’t too unusual but often there were two more heads at the table.

Sora shook his head. “Roxas is still asleep since he doesn’t have class till noon. Lea’s probably doing the same honestly, if he ever gets up at all.”

Aqua chuckled but nodded; still sounded about right from what she knew of Sora’s brother and his best friend. “What about you then, boys? Drinks to start? The u-” She tried hard not to yawn in the middle of her sentence but she couldn’t help it. She quickly covered her mouth. “Excuse me, the usual as well?”

“You okay, Aqua?” Sora asked, looking up towards her. “You look pretty wiped.”

She waved him off. “I’ll be fine, don’t you worry.”

“Well, okay. I’ll start with an orange juice then. I might want something different today though.”

“Not a problem. Riku?”

The silver haired boy was always a little more intense than his friends, a little quieter but today he was watching her with a strange sort of curiosity. It wasn’t off putting or anything, just unusual. “Coffee, please.”

“Okay, I’ll get your drinks and come back for the rest of the order,” Aqua smiled and started to walk back towards the counter where all the beverage supplies were lined on the back wall. That was a berry smoothie for Kairi, an orange juice for Sora, and a coffee for Riku; all very fitting of their personalities honestly.

She stepped around to get the smoothie started since those took the longest in comparison. She brushed her hand by the coffee pot to make sure it was still warm in case she had to make a new one.


She was in the process of gathering smoothie materials from the fridge underneath the machine but she looked up at Riku who was now at the counter, hands pressed against the marble. “Yeah, what’s up?”

He looked a little more nervous than usual, his shoulders tense. “Is everything okay?”

While it wasn’t unusual for any of them to come to her in such a casual manner as she had spent time with them at the diner, his manner of asking stuck her as a little odd. “Course, just tired is all.” Aqua grabbed what she needed and stood up to place it on the counter. “You know how it is being in school full time. Don’t worry about me, Riku, I’m fine.” She tried to give him a reassuring smile but it didn’t seem to ease his mind at all.

“Are you having trouble sleeping?”

The question was so direct to her problem it nearly made her drop the bag mixed berries but it was a common question to ask someone who just said they were tired. “A little,” she admitted, pouring the liquid ingredients in the blender.

Riku hesitated, like he wanted to ask her more but he didn’t know what to say.

Aqua supposed there was no harm in admitting what it was, wasn’t like it was weird or anything. Lots of people had bad dreams.  “I’ve been having a lot of bizarre dreams,” she said. Once the berries were in the blender she slipped it into the machine and flipped it on; thankfully it wasn’t very loud even as it mixed.

“Yeah?” Riku said, though if it surprised him he didn’t show it. “About anything in particular?”

She shook her head as she reached into one of the fridges under the counter for the orange juice. “Not really, I don’t always remember them.” She poured a glass of orange juice for Sora before grabbing a mug and pouring the coffee for Riku.

“I got them,” he said when she placed the other two glasses on the counter.

“Are you sure?” Aqua tried to say but he was already grabbing them all, balancing the smoothie in his elbow.

“Yeah, and, um, about the nightmares.” Riku paused again, a little longer than usual. “There’s a tea that Roxas used to drink when he couldn’t sleep. It helped sometimes. I’ll get the name for you.”

“Thanks, that’s sweet of you.” And it was, but she couldn’t help but feel a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “I’ll be over in a second.”

He nodded and headed back to the booth where Sora and Kairi were waiting. They cheered upon his arrival with drinks. Come to think of it, she never really saw them apart. It was always the three of them and sometimes others but never apart. It really was sweet to see childhood friends stay friends even through college.

Aqua felt her throat choke up, like she was going to cry.

She felt bad lying to Riku about the dreams, but there was something so personal about them, Aqua couldn’t bear to actually speak them aloud. Like if speaking them into existence would make them real or less real, she honestly wasn’t sure what was worse.

It was always the same thing.

She was wandering alone in this dark place, only the path in front of her lit. Sometimes it was achingly lonely and sometimes it was like something was watching her no matter where she went. It was cold and damp; sometimes it smelt terrible and sometimes temptingly sweet. No matter what she would always walk and walk and walk. Aqua never seemed to get tried but she never seemed to feel all that well either.

While it was eerie enough just being there, without fail there would always be two figures far off in the distance. Their dark shadows stood out enough for her to know one was tall and one was short, maybe they were boys but she couldn’t tell. All she knew was when she’d see the ghostly figures she’d run, and she’d run and run but never get any closer. Sometimes she was so mad that she’d run even harder, feet pounding against the rocky ground. Aqua was never sure if she was mad at herself, or the place, or the figures but she wasn’t sure she ever felt so frustrated and hopeless at the same time in her life. Sometimes she was overwhelmingly sad, feelings of longing and despair filling every crevice of her dream as she’d reach a hand out to the figures that never got any closer.

Those were the nights she’d wake up with tears on her cheeks.

Aqua reached a hand up to her face, still feeling the wet track of tears as she stared up at her dark ceiling. It was always odd to wake up still feeling that longing for something she didn’t even understand, to feel like a part of herself was missing but it just felt so real. She felt like she could roll over and cry but for what reason she didn’t know.

She wasn’t unhappy; work was work, school was school, she had a few friends, not too many, but that was okay cause she still kept herself busy. Aqua had to wonder if there was something deeper about herself she was missing. Maybe she needed more friends, more things outside of work to do. She never really had too much interest in dating anyone, but maybe she should try.

She rolled over onto her side and tried to fall back asleep before she had to get up for class. All she really knew was she wished she could pick that lost girl, whether it was supposed to be her or not, out of her dreams and just hug her.


“Aqua? Hello?”

There was a small hand waving in her face, making her blink and instantly stand up straight behind the counter where she was trying to pour herself some coffee.

Xion was standing nearby, notebook in hand and a teasing sort of grin on her face. “You okay?”

“What? Yeah, of course.” Aqua rubbed her hands over her apron trying to smooth it out. “Why do you ask?”

The black haired girl blinked. “Because it’s Friday night, the place is packed, and you’re over here staring at the coffee pot.”

The noise of the dinner suddenly started to weigh in on Aqua. People were talking, laughing as the other waitresses bustled around between the kitchen and the floor. The cooks were shouting orders, another waitress nearly pushed into Aqua to get to the soda fountain; it was such a blur she wasn’t even sure which waitress it was.

“No, yeah, I’m okay,” Aqua nodded, forgoing her idea of coffee to start to walk back around the counter.

“Wait, wait,” Xion said, hurrying after Aqua. “Are you positive you’re okay?”

She turned to try and give the younger girl a smile. “Course, why wouldn’t I be?”

Xion’s forehead furrowed. “You just look kinda pale, maybe feverish. You sure you’ll be okay to work?”

“Always am.” Aqua reached over to pinch Xion’s cheek which she quickly pushed off with a small laugh. She hadn’t been working here very long but she was a fast learner and quick on her feet. “Don’t worry about me.” Aqua waved as she headed back onto the floor.

“Coming through,” Leon said in that gruff voice of his, narrowly avoiding Aqua with two trays over his head.

Aqua placed a hand out to the counter to regain her balance, hoping Xion went back to whatever she was doing and didn’t see that. Honestly, Aqua knew something was wrong; the dreams were only getting worse and she was getting minimal sleep. Friday nights used to be no problem as she was one of the more experienced waitresses here but tonight, she could barely get her mind out of a haze.

She took a quick breath and scanned over her tables. Most seemed to be doing pretty well, either waiting for food or eating their food; save for one. Aqua walked over to the booth that was just about full tonight. “You guys ready to order yet?”

Sora looked a little desperate as he opened his mouth probably to say yes, but he was effectively cut off.

“Yeah, what’s the best steak you got?” Lea’s head was behind the menu. She couldn’t see him but she knew his voice and the fact he had one long leg bent on the seat; he also very well knew their meat options were limited here.

“Why don’t you walk yourself down the street to the steakhouse and find out?” Aqua said, reaching over to grab Kairi’s empty soda glass for a refill.

Lea pulled the menu down from his face, usual smirk in place. “Oh, so sassy, tonight, Aqua.”

“Not everyone is as equipped to deal with you like we are, idiot,” Roxas snorted from Lea’s other side. Roxas had his chin in both his hands as his arms were propped up on the table. It was remarkable how much he looked like his twin brother and yet it was so easy to tell the two apart.

“You, Rox,” Riku corrected, leaning back against the booth where he was cushioned between Sora and Kairi. “Not everyone is as equipped as you.”

Roxas looked like he was going to respond but he was also cut off.

“We’re ready to order,” Sora said, clearing his throat; he must be hungry as he was usually not the pushy one.

“Aqua!” Xion called from across the diner.

Aqua looked over to see Xion waving frantically as she stood at the front register, a line of people starting to form around her. Something must’ve gone wrong. “Hey guys, I am so sorry, do you mind if I help her for a second?”

Roxas turned his head to look over where the commotion was, as did Lea surprisingly but it was Kairi who waved Aqua off. “Go on, I know it’s busy. We’ll still be here.”

Aqua pressed her palms together as she started to walk towards Xion. “Thank you guys so much. Dessert’s on me tonight.”

That at least got a cheer from Sora. It made her smile as she turned to go handle the issue. They really were sweet kids.

Almost the exact moment she turned around, she felt the sudden pressure of someone brushing their shoulder by her.  It wasn’t very hard, though it caught her off balance as they were a bit taller than she was. Aqua tried to turn to apologize for being in the way, all she caught of the person was their bicep and shoulders, a gray t-shirt, and she couldn’t breathe.

Aqua reached up to press her hand to her chest but it was like the world was shifting under her feet. She threw her hand out to the nearest booth to steady herself. Was she sick? Maybe something really was wrong. One push from a stranger shouldn’t have nearly knocked her out like. She turned her head towards the counter where she saw the same shade of gray.

It was a guy, tall with broad shoulders, shaggy brown hair the stopped at his neck. She could only see the side of his face from here but there was something…something she was missing.

Leon passed a bag of take out over the counter to the guy who smiled kindly and vanished back among the people.


“Wait, what? Aqua, are you okay?”

She blinked as Riku’s semi blurry face came into view. He had a worried expression on, his hand hovering like he was unsure if he should touch her or not.

“Yeah, yeah, just got dizzy for a second. I have to go help Xion.” Aqua looked up but saw someone else was with Xion helping at the register.

He hesitated but his eyes didn’t leave her. “You should probably go home. You don’t…you don’t look so well,” Riku said. “We’ll drive you if you don’t feel well enough to get home.”

Aqua shook her head, standing herself up straight. “I appreciate it but I’m fine, it’s passed. How about we go get your food ordered?”

Riku didn’t look convinced but he nodded and led the way back to the booth where the others seemed none the wiser. Aqua looked over her shoulder towards the front door but there was no sign of the guy that was just in here, almost as if in some weird way he didn’t exist.

Aqua shook her head and looked back to her job, why she was here; making sure these kids could eat. “Okay, Sora, what do you want?”

It was the same dream as always.

A dark passage, so cold, two dark figures in the distance. Aqua ran and ran, trying to reach the people she wanted so desperately to see.

This time, for the first time they weren’t moving away.

She skidded to a stop as the dark figures still stood with their backs to her. “Hello?” she asked, her voice echoing in the emptiness. “Who are you?”

The shorter figure didn’t budge, but the taller one started to blur, colors coming into view. It reminded her of an open field, of dirt, of sweat, but also of the sun, of warmth which she missed so much where she was. He, it was a he, turn his head towards her, head of brown hair flopping as he did. She knew those eyes, she knew that slight smile, those cheeks, that jaw. She knew them so well and yet she didn’t know them at all.

“You?” she asked though even she was unsure what she was asking.

“Aqua,” he said. “What would you do?”

That made even less sense but it didn’t seem to matter. Something rose up inside her; need, desire, longing she wasn’t sure. She threw her arms around his waist, pushing herself into his back. For one brief moment she felt warmth, hope, happiness but then it was gone. She fell to the ground, her hands and knees hitting the gravel path.

Aqua gasped as her eyes snapped open. She tried to calm her staggered breathing, the way her heart was racing. It was pitch black in her dorm room, a little light from the moon peeking in through her curtains.

That one…that one was different. She never saw either of their faces before, not even an a little bit. She never got that close before.

She reached a hand to her forehead. It had to be a fever dream, she had to be sick, but her skin was as warm as it usually was. Aqua placed both her hands over her face. What was she doing? What was she thinking?

She didn’t even get a good look at the guy’s face, back at the diner, but she knew, deep in the pit of her stomach, he was the same one in her dream. It was insane, and ridiculous, and she didn’t know what was wrong with her.

Aqua tried to close her eyes again but all she could feel was that piece of her that still felt so lost.

She kept thinking she saw this guy’s face everywhere. Sometimes she’d be at school, walking to her class and something would catch out of the corner of her eye, making her turn fast to see nothing. Sometimes she’d be working and the door would open, causing her to quickly look at who it was but it never was the same face from that one night, from her dreams. She’d see the back of his head in class, or at the grocery store, at the student café. She almost hoped he’d just show up at the diner again, just walk right in like he wasn’t a weird figment of her imagination but nothing; not even the next Friday night.

It was creepy. It was absolutely creepy, right? Seeing the face of someone once, dreaming about them, and then continuing to see them everywhere? Admittedly the dreams were a little easier to swallow now. She didn’t wake up feeling like she didn’t sleep all night, they didn’t always make her wake up suddenly. They were still heart achingly sad sometimes, but a little less lonely once there was another face she saw just about every time she remembered her dreams.

Maybe it was the tea Riku gave her. She hoped it was the tea at least.

Aqua tried not to cringe at herself for behaving the way she did but after a week of seemingly endless wondering maybe the reason she kept seeing this guy’s face was because she actually met him before. It was possible after all; it wasn’t that big of a university. If he was in the same year as her she may’ve seen him in class or something. Maybe he came into the diner before and that’s why he looked familiar; nothing wrong with trying to figure out how you may know someone.

Aqua waited till the next morning shift she had with Leon, which took a little time considering he usually worked nights and she was getting stuck with opening recently. She wasn’t sure how much he knew as he really only handed the order over or how much he’d say since he was never that big on small talk.

There were only a few people in the diner this Monday morning, a lull before lunch. Aqua slid herself into a booth behind the one Leon was wiping the table of. She sat up on her knees and placed her arms over the booth as she looked over to him.

“Can I help you, Aqua?” he asked, eyes briefly glancing over to her.

“Oh, I just had a kinda…strange question for you?”

He paused for a second, clearly weighing the odds on what he wanted to say. “Alright, what is it?”

Aqua swallowed but gave him an easy smile in case he was thinking she was going to ask him something really weird. Asking about someone wasn’t weird. “Not this last Friday but the one before it, do you happen to remember any of the takeout orders you filled out?”

Leon blinked at her. “You want me to remember two Fridays ago, one specific order?”

Okay, now that he said it like that it did seem a little unlikely he’d remember when Friday night take out was really common. She felt her stomach sink due to stupid disappointment which again was really dumb. “I can kinda describe the person who picked it up if it helps.”

“Did something go wrong with the order?” His forehead was furrowed.

“Oh, no.” Aqua held her hands up to him trying to ease his mind. “Nothing like that, I just, well…” It was easy to say, just say you think you know them. It’s not a lie.

“You thought they were cute?”

That was absolutely not what she thought he was going to say giving her no time to stop the heat from rushing to her face. The guy’s face flashed in her head, warm smile, bright eyes; that did nothing to help. “What? No.” Aqua said probably way too fast, judging by the slight smirk on Leon’s lips. “I just mean I swore I know him from somewhere and it’s been bothering me. I saw you give him the order that’s all.”

“Alright.” Leon dropped the rag on the table and leaned back up, arms crossed against his chest. “Can’t promise I’ll remember but I’ll try. What did he look like?”

She breathed a small sigh of relief. Now to describe this guy like she saw him once almost two weeks ago and not every single time she closed her eyes. “Um, he was pretty tall, taller than you probably. Kinda long brown hair, my age maybe.” Aqua hesitated. She knew it wasn’t enough because that could describe half the guys who came in here. She didn’t really want get too detailed cause honestly who remembered that much from a look? But she’d have to if she wanted a chance to figure out who he was.

“He kinda looked like he had the body type of a football player. He might’ve had a rather angular face too.” Aqua wanted to stop but there was one more define feature that could help. Heat rose up to her cheeks again but she ignored it. “And his eyes were blue, like really blue.”

Leon clicked his tongue. “Yeah, I remember.”

She nearly fell off the booth. “Seriously, you do?”

“Yeah, the eyes reminded me. I have a friend who has blue eyes like that but it’s not fairly common so when I saw that guy I thought it was unusual.” Leon shrugged. “The order was under an uncommon name but I can’t remember it. I don’t know if it was his or not either cause it was prepaid for but the food was three different meals so I assume it was for three people.” He reached up to scratch his forehead. “That’s about all I can remember.”

Aqua honestly wasn’t expecting much more than that. “Well, thanks, Leon, I appreciate it.”

“No worries.” He grabbed the rag and started to walk away. “Hope you can find your boyfriend.”

“He’s not my…” It didn’t matter; Leon was already out of earshot.

She sighed, fingers tapping against the booth as she stared down at the table that was still a little damp from the rag. At least she knew this guy was real, she wasn’t completely insane. Also that he really did look like he did in her dreams. Though she didn’t know how much of a comfort that was.

Aqua really didn’t want to admit she was waiting for him to come back but every time the door opened she had to look. She absolutely hated she even peeked in when she walked by on her time off just in case. It was stupid and ridiculous and she wanted it to stop. She just wanted the dreams, the feeling she was missing something, the feeling she was looking for something, to stop. She wanted to stop seeing his face.

Unfortunately, Aqua knew the truth. She kept looking because she wanted to. Some part of her desperately wanted to.

 “Who drinks a milkshake at 9am?” Xion wrinkled her nose as she watched Aqua blend the vanilla ice cream together.

“That one.” She pointed over to a booth where Roxas and Lea were sitting across from each other. He had his legs kicked all the way under the table, taking up most the room to which it looked like Roxas kept trying to kick Lea out of the way. It didn’t look like it was going well judging by the teasing look on his face. “I’ve never seen anyone eat sweets like he can at any hour of the day.”

Xion chuckled as she looked over at the boys. “I’ve seen them before I think.”

“They’re usually with his brother and his friends, but sometimes Lea and Roxas will come in alone.” Aqua placed the finished shake (with extra whipped cream and a cherry added on top), and went to get the stark opposite for Lea. She grabbed a coffee mug before reaching for the freshest pot of coffee she had out.

“Huh,” Xion said.

When Aqua looked over, she was still watching the two boys. “What?”

“Ever get the feeling you know someone you’ve never met before?”

Aqua almost dropped the mug. She quickly recovered and poured the coffee till it reached close to the top. “Sometimes, yeah.”

That was an understatement. It was almost three weeks since that Friday night and she was still struggling over the fact that guy was out there somewhere and she was probably never going to see him again, let alone understand why she wanted to see him so bad.

The bell on the door rang as Aqua moved the coffee to the counter. “Oh, good morning, Riku. The boys are over there.” She gestured down by the booth but Riku instead walked up to the counter.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” He didn’t look upset so to speak but he did have that nervous way about him.

“Yeah, of course. Xion, would you mind…” Aqua gestured to the drinks.

“Not at all.” Xion grabbed them and slipped out from behind the counter. She held up the milkshake and then the coffee. “Roxas and Lea, right?”

“You got it.” She turned to Riku as Xion headed to the booth to deliver the drinks. “What’s up?”

“I…um…” he reached a hand behind his head. “I need to apologize to you.”

“For what?” Aqua wanted to chuckle, she was pretty sure Riku never did a thing to offend her before but he looked so serious she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

“Remember when I asked you about your dreams?”

A jolt went through her body. With everything that happened she completely forgot he ever did. “Ah, yeah, I remember.”

Riku hesitated for a second. “I wasn’t completely honest with you. The reason I asked was because I used to have…weird dreams that kept me up at night too.”

Aqua could only stare at him. Not that it was usual to have weird dreams, not in the least but there was just something about the way he was speaking that made him seem like there was something more.

“And…uh, God, this is gonna sound so weird.” Riku was a certain shade of red she hadn’t seen on him.

“It’s fine. I know a lot about things sounding weird,” she said with a smile. “Get it off your chest, bet you’ll feel better.”

“You used to be in them.”

Aqua felt her eyes widen and Riku instantly put his hands up in defense.

“Not like that,” he said quickly. “I don’t even know if it was you so to speak but when I first came here I just knew, you looked just like the girl who used to show up in my dreams sometimes.”

She couldn’t say she was expecting this. “What kind of dreams were they?”

“Sad,” Riku said. “Dark. I don’t remember them very much anymore because I haven’t had one in a while, but I used to wake up and feel upset, guilty, like I did something wrong. They kinda stopped last year.” He reached a hand up to the back of his head. “Roxas used to get them too, when he was younger. He never really said what they were about but I mean he shared a room with Sora for a long time, we heard him have them. The way you were acting that day reminded me of when I used to get them or when Roxas did. That’s why I thought…”

“Did his stop too?”

“Eventually. He still might get them on occasion, Sora’s mentioned it. Roxas isn’t as outgoing so he always had a hard time making friends but they stopped being bad around high school when he finally got himself a friend.”

Aqua’s eyes flickered over to where Xion was laughing at something Lea said, Roxas kicking the redhead from under the table.

“I dunno if I believe in any of that kind of stuff,” Riku shrugged, looking a little more at ease now that he said his piece. “But seems like for us at least they went away when we found something; whether its acceptance, forgiveness, a connection I dunno but…” He tapped his fingers on the counter cause Aqua to look up at him. “I hope you find what you’re looking for, too.”

Riku walked over to where Lea and Roxas were sitting before she could process anything he told her. Nothing he said made sense, and yet it made her feel strangely at ease. Riku shoved at Roxas’ shoulder making him slide over on the booth while Xion looked to be taking their order or still chatting, Aqua couldn’t tell.

“Me too,” she murmured, though she knew no one could hear her. With a sigh, Aqua turned around to grab a coffee mug, this time for herself. While she didn’t have aggressive dreams every night anymore, she still felt exhausted and worn down.

The bell on the door rang again.

She glanced over her shoulder to see if they needed assistance and the mug fell from her hand. Ceramic shattered on the tile floor.

It was him.

In a quick moment of utter panic, Aqua sunk to her feet behind the counter in an effort to hide in case he saw her drop the mug when he walked in. She grabbed the dust pan and started to clean while she gave herself a moment to calm down.

Should she say anything? What if he was sitting at one of her booths? Should she just take his order and leave? Try and get to know him? Pretend he didn’t exist? Her heart was pounding in her chest as she swept up the broken shards.

“Hey, I had a takeout order.” His voice was low and it sent stupid chills down her spine. Oh God, this was insane, this was absolutely insane.

“Course,” a cheery voice answered though Aqua was having a hard time focusing on which of her co-workers were helping him. “What’s the name?”

“It should be under Eraqus or Terra. I’m not sure what he put it under.”

The waitress hummed for a second but she must’ve found the order off the wall behind them. “Here you go, have a nice day.”

“Thanks, you too.” Footsteps, the bell, the door shutting.

Aqua closed her eyes as she leaned forward to hit her head against the counter cabinet. So much for that.

It was a weird sort of routine after that. He actually started to come in frequently, always around 10am or so. Sometimes it was for takeout but sometimes he would sit down; just never at one of Aqua’s booths. She supposed she could go ask him how his food was, she was a waitress here after all but she always found some sort of excuse to help her other costumers or clean or drink way too much coffee for her own good.

From what she could tell he was always polite and kind. He kept to himself when he dined in, just getting breakfast and coffee despite when he ordered take out it was always for three. She noticed he doodled on the placemats whenever she walked by his empty seat. Not just stick figures; it was lush scenery, or the night sky, sometimes it was faceless people, sometimes it seemed aimless. It was lovely every time.

Aqua hated herself for not ever even just saying hi or asking him how his meal went, if he wanted more coffee. Every time she tried he just looked so captivated in what he was doing she could never bother him. It was nice though, for some reason just seeing him in the morning. Even if they never interacted, it made her feel more at ease at work. It was comforting in some weird way, that this mysterious boy was real and that he kept coming back here.

It took her about a week until she realized her dreams were becoming less intense at night. 

“Someone’s at one of your booths, Aqua,” Leon said from the other side of the counter where he was ringing someone out.

It wasn’t exactly a busy morning so she was surprised she missed it, though she was trying to keep busy doing other things so maybe she had just been distracted. “On it,” she said, placing the glasses she was putting away up on the counter for later. Aqua grabbed her notebook and headed over to the booth she saw a single body in.

“Good morning,” she said as she flipped to a new page, pulling her pen from her apron. “Can I get you a drink?”

Aqua looked up and was met with blue eyes. She had to pause for a moment to realize she was looking down at him, her heart suddenly in her throat.

“Just coffee, please,” he said in that voice she had sort of gotten used to hearing in the diner but never directed at her before.

“Sugar and cream?” she asked, though she was surprised her voice even came out at all.

“No, thank you. Just black.”

“Coming right up,” she nodded, turning back to the counter where she knew fresh brewed coffee was sitting. Aqua looked over at the register where Leon was counting the drawer though he was looking at her, a slight smirk on his face.

That little shit remembered; here Aqua thought Leon wasn’t capable of having a sense of humor.

She quickly looked away, afraid he’d see the heat rise to her face if she didn’t. She grabbed a clean mug and quickly poured the coffee but her mind was a little elsewhere now. Aqua never really had an excuse to talk to this guy before; okay, that was a lie, she did but she just wouldn’t do it. Now she could, she had a reason to since she was his waitress but at the same time she didn’t know what to even say. What else was there other than “hey I’ve seen you in my dreams, weird right?” Yeah, like that would go over well. Small talk would be okay though, unless he didn’t want to talk. He did kind of keep to himself from what she could tell.

Aqua shook her head as she put the pot back on the coffee machine. This was so dumb; she never had trouble talking to anyone especially customers. This was her job, she could do this just fine.

She took a breath and moved back to his booth. She placed the steaming mug down in front of him. “There you are. Are you ready to order?”

He looked back up to her, his expression a little unreadable even to her who was used to reading people. “Just the coffee for now is fine.”

“Really?” Aqua asked. “I mean, I’m glad you came in here but small secret, there’s better coffee places out there if that’s all you wanted. The food is superb though.”

He laughed, a smile spreading on his lips and her heart felt like it jumped through her throat. Who gave him the right to be so cute? “I know, my, ah, my dad used to work at this university back in the olden days,” he said, waving his hand slightly. “This was his favorite place to eat so I feel like I’ve been having the food here my whole life.”

Okay, his dad used to work here that means he probably went to school here; see, it wasn’t that weird after all. “I said it was good, I didn’t say it was that good.”

“The coffee is good too,” he said with a slight smile, holding the mug up.

“I assume you go to school here then?” Aqua asked, tapping her pen against her notepad, hoping she was playing off the casual conversation well enough.

“No,” he said, taking a sip from his coffee. “My dad stopped working here before I was old enough to go to college. We actually don’t…” he paused for a second. “Even really live around here.”

Aqua tried to mask the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. He didn’t go to school here, she really never saw him before that night; there were no excuses for how she had been behaving. She clicked her tongue instead. “That explains the take out then.”

He blinked at her, like he wasn’t expecting her to say that or have even noticed him before this moment.

She tried not to panic, like she said the wrong thing and completely freaked him out but instead she let herself smile. “Oh, c’mon, what kind of waitress would I be if I didn’t notice our regulars?”

He laughed, breathing out a sigh as he placed his mug back down. “I suppose that’s true. My dad usually would do it so he could say hi to people around town but he asked me to a do it a few weeks ago and well, I saw why he liked it here.”

“And the coffee,” she said, gesturing her pen to the cup.

“And the coffee,” he said.

The bell chimed at the front door, making Aqua turn her head to check but Leon was still at the front to greet the customers. “Well, you enjoy your coffee,” she said, looking back over to the booth.

He looked over to the door too; maybe he was waiting for someone.

“Please let me know if you need anything…” Aqua trailed off hoping he’d catch the hint she was asking for his name. It wasn’t too uncommon when it came to regulars.

“Oh, um, Terra,” he said, tapping his fingers slightly against the table. “It’s Terra.”

“Terra,” she repeated trying to keep her voice from sounding breathless. It was such an unusual name and yet it felt familiar on her lips, like sunshine and fresh grass, like laughter and secrets hushed under a sky full of stars. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Terra. I’m Aqua. Just shout if you need me.”

He paused just looking at her and she was once again afraid she did something wrong but a smile as on his lips, making his blue eyes look brighter. “It’s nice to meet you too, Aqua.”

There was something about the way Terra said her name that made her smile. Maybe it was just finally reconciling this weird thing she had about him. He wasn’t a stranger any more, she knew his name, she spoke with him. Maybe the dreams would leave her alone now.

She turned to walk over to another one of her booths where the new group of people had sat down in. Ready to greet them like she would any other costumers and tried not to pay too much attention to Terra a few booths down unless he called for her.

He didn’t, nor did anyone ever join him. One minute he was there and when Aqua came back holding plates of food for her other customers he was gone, just the money for his coffee and a tip left on the table. She went to grab his cup, placing the money in her apron so she could ring it up but she noticed one of his drawings on the placemat.

It was a travel coffee cup, the diner’s logo drawn in detail on the center of it, wisps of steam coming up from the lid. Words were scrawled underneath in a messy handwriting. “Much better than Starbucks, promise.”

Aqua smiled as she traced her fingers over the pen marks.

It was almost a routine. He came in almost every morning, sitting at the same booth, and Aqua found herself requesting morning shifts when she used to hate them. Most of the time he just got a black coffee but sometimes he’d order food too. She never knew which way it would go but she was always met with a smile and he always left with a little drawing for her on his placemat. She contemplated keeping them to hang up but he seemed the type of person who’d be embarrassed by that.

Unfortunately, even by seeing him almost every day and having a sort of semi-friendship with him, it still didn’t made the dreams stop. She was still trapped and he still disappeared right as her hand is to grab him. The other boy is still, he never moves, he never even looks at her. Aqua found it didn’t hurt as much when she wakes up in the morning but she’s not sure if that was because the dreams were getting easier to handle or that she had something to look forward to.

“Here you are,” Aqua said, placing some freshly toasted bread with a side of butter and raspberry jam in front of Terra.

“Thanks,” he said, placing his mug of coffee back down.

“Had time to stay for breakfast today, huh,” she said, leaning back slightly to check the other booth where she had customers but they seemed to be okay.

Terra nodded. “Yeah, don’t have to work quite as early.”

“Well, that’s always-”

“Aqua,” Xion called from the counter. “Boss said to take your break.”

“My favorite words,” Aqua said, tapping her fingers against the table. “I’ll be back if you need me in a little, if not Xion’s good hands.”

“Ah, wait,” Terra said making her stop mid turn.

“Oh, was there something I can get you before I go? I don’t mind.”

He hadn’t actually touched his food yet so she wondered if something was wrong, especially when he reached up to scratch the back of his head, like he was nervous about something.

“Did he burn the toast? I promise I will kick Zack’s ass if he did.”

“No, no,” Terra said. “It’s perfect, it was just you can take your break here if you, you know, want to.” He gestured vaguely to the other side of the booth, seeming a little unsure even in himself as he asked.

She blinked at him in surprise; that was probably the last thing she expected him to ask.

“Ah, I mean…” he dropped his hand to the table. “Only if you want.”

Aqua realized she hadn’t actually said anything. “Oh, okay, yeah,” she stumbled over her words a little but it was something at least. “Let me just…” She gestured back over to the counter.

“Yeah, yeah, sure.”

She quickly went back to grab her coffee mug she had left earlier, ignoring Xion who Aqua knew was watching. While she never said anything to anyone about Terra, she was pretty sure everyone who worked with her already knew she tended to give him a little extra attention.

Aqua moved to sit down in the booth across from Terra who was already buttering his toast. She sighed as she propped her elbows up on the table, her mug up against her lips.

“Better?” he asked, one side of his lips pulling up in a smile.

“Much better,” she said. “It hasn’t been very busy but standing on your feet since opening is never easy.”

“I don’t envy you.”

She snorted into her mug. “Where do you work?”

Terra hummed slightly as he added the jam to his toast. “All over, sorta.”

“Please tell me you do something with those beautiful drawings of yours.”

He nearly dropped his knife and she realized a little too late she embarrassed him when he gave her a little of a shy smile.

“You never thought I noticed?”

“No, I mean, I thought you or someone might,” he shrugged, reaching for his coffee. “But beautiful is a stretch.”

“I beg to differ.”

“To answer your question, no, quite the opposite. Manual labor actually.”

“That is way too big of a shame,” she said, placing her mug down.

Terra shrugged again. “Being an artist doesn’t pay even if I did go to a fancy art school.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“What makes you say that?” He looked more amused than anything.

“You don’t look the type.”

“And what type is that?” 

“I don’t know,” she laughed. “Snotty?”

“Well, I am glad you don’t think I am,” he said, toast still left untouched as he watched her. “But I did.”

Aqua looked down at the placemat under his plate only to see a few lines going underneath where his hand was. She leaned further over the table. “What are you drawing today then, Mr. Big Shot?”

Terra jumped slightly but he flattened his hand over the picture so she couldn’t even get a glimpse at it. “Don’t you know never to ask an artist to see something that’s not finished?”

“But I did bring you your food and your coffee so I feel like I should get some kind of discount here.”

“Very compelling argument, but no.”

Aqua reached over to try and pry his fingers off the mat but it was no use, he only laughed hand held his hand down even harder.

“Aqua? I’m so sorry.” Xion’s voice was enough to nearly send Aqua jumping back into the booth.

She quickly let go of Terra to look up at the girl who was fiddling with her hands. “No, it’s fine, Xion, what is it?”

“I know you’re on break but the boss is in a meeting and there’s a delivery out back. You’re the only one who can sign for it and check it in.”

“It’s fine,” Aqua said with a smile, even though she really didn’t want to leave the actually nice break she was having today. “I’ll be right there.”

Xion nodded and head back over to the counter.

Aqua sighed and moved to push herself out from the booth. “Always something,” she said. “I’ll just have to handle this.”

“No problem, you’re the one working. I probably shouldn’t have distracted you.”

“No,” Aqua said, walking backwards a little away from the table. “It was nice, thank you.”

He nodded and she relished in the smile on his face before she turned to head to the back.

It was of course a larger order that required her to use more time than she would’ve liked. When she went back to the dining area Terra’s booth was empty, money left on the table like usual. She tried not to let her heart sink that she missed saying goodbye but what could she do? Aqua walked over to take the money and empty plate and cup but almost missed the folded up placemat that was sticking out under her coffee mug she had left there.

She picked it up to see the portrait in blue ink. Usually it was people she didn’t recognize but today she did. She knew her hair, her face, eyes, smile as she looked down at it. Her chest felt warm just at the sight of it, that he took the time to draw her, that he paid attention enough to mimic how she looked.

That time, Aqua kept his placemat.

Lunch rushes were a blur, especially when finals were going on and it seemed like everyone in the whole school was taking a break in her diner at the same time; even worse when this was how Aqua’s shift was starting.

She tried to remember who was where and what they wanted from Selphie’s instructions as she was practically running out the door. Aqua flipped through the notes her coworker had given her but it was a lot of doodling and not a lot of ordering.

“Hoo, careful, Aqua,” Zack said, narrowly avoiding her as he hurried out a few steaming plates from the kitchen.

She quickly ducked out of his way; a sure sign it was busy as Zack usually wasn’t a runner. Okay, it was okay, just look at the booths, hopefully enough people would be patient. There were a few people she didn’t recognize at some of her booths but there was also Sora’s laughter as Riku leaned across the table showing the brunette something on his phone, Kairi was nearby sipping on a drink. Okay good, she had them, they were always good sports about the wait. The booth next to them had more familiar faces, Lea’s red hair falling out of his ponytail as he tried to push Roxas’ face away as he seemed to be teasing about something. A surprisingly familiar face was across the table though. Xion had her hands over her mouth as she laughed, watching the two of them; she was dressed down which meant she came with them on a day off.

It was a sweet thing to see. Aqua was glad they seemed to hit it off well.

She went down the line but her heart nearly stopped when she saw shaggy brown hair, blue eyes staring out at the booth across from him.

Terra wasn’t usually here for lunch. She spent all morning dreading work because she knew she’d miss him and here he was. Her heart swelled up, the familiar warmth his presence brought made her feel at ease even though the place was packed.

She tried not to feel guilty about stopping there first. He just had a drink and no food yet so she figured there was no harm in saying hi and asking for his order. It wasn’t until she got closer that she noticed he wasn’t alone.

Terra looked up when she got closer, a smile on his lip as he waved slightly. It was absolutely impossible not to smile back though whoever he was eating with seemed to notice as suddenly there was a mess of blond hair and blue eyes turning around to look at her, too.

“Hey,” he said when she came to stop in front of his table.

“Hey, Terra,” Aqua smiled back. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here this late.”

He opened his mouth but there was a distinct throat clearing, making Aqua look over to the other side of the booth where another boy was sitting. He looked a little younger but had the biggest grin on his face, one that could rival even Sora.

“You gonna introduce me to our waitress you’re clearly on a first name level with,” he said in a tone she recognized right away; they had to be brothers.

“Do you have to be so impatient,” Terra snorted, rolling his eyes. “Aqua, this is my little brother.”

“I’m Ventus,” he said, sticking his hand out to her. “But you can call me Ven.”

Aqua took his hand, shaking it slightly and trying not to laugh at how eager he was. It was strange; he seemed familiar too but different than Terra. Even though he had to be Sora’s or Lea’s age, Ven still had a boyish aura around him that made her think of playing tag in open fields, of baking cookies, of bedtime stories when nightmares got too bad. It made her want to ruffle his hair and pinch his cheeks just to see the annoyed but affectionate way he’d roll his eyes.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ven.”

“I bet Terra hasn’t said a single word about me, has he?” Ven dropped his hand back to the table, tapping them in a rhythmic way like he had too much energy for his body.

Aqua glanced over to Terra who had his elbow propped up on the table, chin in his hand.

“I don’t always have to brag about my brother do I?” he said.

“I mean, yeah, you should.”

Terra looked like he was going to say something but Ven cut him off as he turned his eyes up at Aqua again.

“You know, Ter, I can see why you keep coming out here.” Ven got this look on his face, like he knew exactly what he was about to do. Terra seemed to know too but wasn’t quick enough. “She really looks like that girl, you used to draw all the time. You know? The one you used to say you had dre-”

Terra must’ve moved to kick Ven or something because the next thing Aqua knew she was trying not to laugh as Ven reached down for his leg with a groan.

“Jesus Christ, Terra, was that really necessary?”

“I seemed to think so.” Terra sat up a little giving her an apologetic smile, though she could see the slight red tint to his face. “Sorry, he’s adopted.”

“So are you!”

“It’s fine,” Aqua chuckled. It was actually nice to see Terra so at ease; he was comfortable when he came here but still very quiet. She imagined it was probably easier when he had someone he knew so very well with him. “I see a lot of siblings in here, it’s nothing new. Though we do have strict no killing your brother rules here so you’re gonna have to behave yourself, Terra. Can I get you boys refills or are you ready to order?”

“Excuse me, miss!” A voice called.

Aqua turned her head back to see someone at another table waving her down.

“Go on,” Terra said. “We’re in no rush.”

Aqua mouthed her thank you before turning to head over before she got yelled at by a middle aged woman; not that it was anything new. Before she did though, she distinctly heard Ven’s, “Hey, I like her.”

It made getting through the rush a little easier.

She didn’t really have time to talk too much to anyone as she hurried to get drinks and food and answer questions, take new orders, tell Sora and Roxas to stop debating over the backs of their booths quite so loudly, and make sure Terra and Ven got their food fresh. By the time she had a chance to breathe she was waving goodbye to Kairi who was following last after the rest of the gang, Xion very much included now.

Aqua leaned back up against the counter before she had to go clean off the not empty booths but she looked down to where Terra and Ven were. They looked done with their food too, just talking to each other about something as Terra pulled out his wallet. Her heart sank at the thought of him leaving without her even really getting to talk to him but what could she do? Force him to sit at a diner while she worked?

He got up, and headed to the back probably to the bathroom while Ven stood up stretching his arms over his head. She must’ve caught his eye because he grinned as he walked over. “Hey,” he said. “It was really nice to meet you, Aqua.”

“It was nice to meet you too, Ven,” she said with a smile. “Come by more often.”

“I would,” he said, leaning his hands against the counter next to her. “I love the food here, but it’s kind of a hike from where we live.”

She must’ve given him a confused look because he laughed.

“Don’t you know? We live like an hour away from here. Terra’s the crazy one who makes the drive practically every day.”

Aqua wasn’t sure what she could even say to that. He did what?

“All set, kid?” Terra asked, coming back around to drop his hands on Ven’s shoulders.

“Almost, you did promise me ice cream too.”

“What are you ten?” Terra snorted.

“I don’t joke about ice cream, Ter.”

“Down the street,” Aqua said, pointing in the direction towards the windows. “There’s a nice ice cream parlor. I eat there a lot in the summer.”

“See I knew I liked her.”

“Alright,” Terra chuckled pushing Ven towards the door. “Leave Aqua to her job.”

“Bye, Aqua,” Ven said with a wave.

“Bye,” she waved back to him and Terra though her heart felt so heavy at the sight of them leaving.

It wasn’t until Terra reached up to push at the back of Ven’s head, their backs both to her as they walked to the door that she found she couldn’t breathe. Hot tears pricked her eyes and she couldn’t explain it but she knew, she knew both of those backs so well. She wanted to cry out for them to stop, to hug them and never let go but she could only watch as they left the diner.

That night she did dream again. The darkness was almost suffocating, cold and hard, like it didn’t want her to move, to just trap her forever.

“Aqua!” a voice called, not Terra’s this time though.

She blinked up through the darkness to see blond hair, blue eyes, wide grin and her heart melted. Ven was standing next to Terra, waving his hands above his head trying to get her attention while Terra stood by watching her with a sad look in his eyes.

“C’mon! You’re almost there!” Ven shouted. “We miss you!”

Aqua couldn’t move though, as hard as she struggled, she felt so trapped, and so lost.

When she woke up, the ceiling above her was dark and she felt just as alone as she did in the dream. Why were these things happening? She didn’t understand. Who were these boys? The ones in her dream, the ones in her diner? A part of her was desperate for it to go away, for her to just forget and never have to think about it again, never have to wonder again. Yet there was another part that held on to how happy seeing them made her feel, even if she didn’t understand why.

“Almost closing you know,” Aqua said as she wiped down the table next to Terra’s booth.

It had been incredibly surprising to see him come in while she had to work closing and have him not just get take out but sit down for a late dinner. He had long been done eating, choosing to sketch in his book when she wasn’t talking to him.

He looked up, leaning back some so he could stretch his legs out. “I know.”

“You know,” she laughed, dropping her rag back in the bucket of water. “Then what are you doing? Go home and get some rest. It’s still a weekday.”

He shrugged. “No rush.”

“Leon will kick you out in approximately three minutes, the moment that clock hits 10pm.”

Terra watched her carefully for a moment, something she had gotten used to. It was usually when he wanted to say something but needed a second to collect himself. It was so crazy how over this past month he had gone from stranger to someone she could actually call her friend just from him coming into the diner. “I wanted to see if I would walk you home.”

The sweet sentiment caught her so off guard she nearly knocked the bucket of water over. “Oh, Terra, you don’t have to do that. I don’t live that far away.”

He shrugged, a sort of shy smile pulling at his lips. “Yeah, I know, but I want to, if you well, want company.”

It would be the first time she spent any time outside of the diner with him. That was both exhilarating and frightening at the same but she couldn’t stop herself from saying, “Yeah, no, I’d love that really. Just let me finish closing.”

“Aqua,” Leon said from the register where he was wiping down the counter. “You can leave its fine.”

She blinked over at him. “No, I’ll help you close, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

“Go on,” he said, nodding his head towards the door.

“Are…are you sure?”

Leon looked back down at the counter. “I won’t say it again.”

She wasn’t quite sure where his generous attitude was coming from but she supposed it would be okay. “Ah, alright.” Aqua dropped the rag into the bucket and looked over at Terra who was placing his book back in his bag. “Let me just…” she gestured to the back.

“Take your time.”

She hurried to get her purse from the back room, hopefully before Leon changed his mind. He didn’t even as she waved goodbye, heading to where Terra was waiting for her on the sidewalk. “Hi,” she said, coming to stop next to his side.

“Hey,” he said, reaching a hand up to his head as he gave her a sort of smile. “Lead the way.”

Aqua nodded as she started down the sidewalk, Terra following next to her. It was a warm night, summer almost here signaling the end of another semester. A few people were out, walking the streets and enjoying the bright moon and warm air. Cars drove by, music was playing somewhere.

She really didn’t live that far away. By the time they turned the first block up one of the residential streets, they were already halfway there. Still, she absolutely was enjoying the company.

“Thank you for offering,” she said, looking up to him. “That was very kind of you.”

He shrugged, like he was unsure how to take a compliment. “You’ve always been very kind to me.”

Should she tell him? Should she let him know what had been driving her ever since she bumped into him? No, that wasn’t right. Sure her weird dreams might’ve brought him to her attention but it wasn’t the only reason. The dreams hadn’t gone away completely, but walking next to him, his arm brushing up against hers, the warmth he brought her just by looking at her, she knew it was so much more than a dream. She liked him, and his eyes, and his sweet laugh, and his kind gestures, the way he teased his brother, the way he took care to draw on placemats for her. She just liked Terra.

“I have a confession to make,” she said, breathing out into the air.

“Oh, yeah?” he arched an eyebrow as he looked down at her. “What’s that?”

“Seeing you has been the highlight of my day, every day.”

He laughed lightly, hand reaching up to run though his hair but she loved the smile that was on his face. “I suppose I have one too.”

“Do you?”

“I can’t even begin to tell you how much money I have willingly spent on gas to come out here just to see you.”

Even though there was a part of her that already was aware she was the reason he came out here as much as he did she still couldn’t stop the fluttering that rose up in her stomach to actually hear him say it.

“And thank God I work a lot otherwise I’m pretty sure I would’ve gained fifty pounds by now from all the diner food I’ve eaten.”

That time she couldn’t stop the giggles that fell from her lips. “I don’t know how you haven’t gotten sick of it honestly.”

“Easy,” he said.

Aqua could feel his eyes on her but when she looked up he was looking away again. This street was a little quieter, a little less bright which meant she could see the stars overhead; her apartment wasn’t that far away anymore. “Hey,” she said, though her voice sounded breathless even to her. She wasn’t sure what was possessing her to bring it up but at the same time she felt like she needed to; she remembered Ven’s half comment about Terra having dreams, a girl who looked like she did. “Have you ever had weird dreams? Like not just I ate too much pizza at one am but weird dreams about people you don’t know, or that you don’t think you know?”

Terra was quiet for a second, only the sound of his feet against the sidewalk, the breeze blowing through some nearby trees. “Yeah, I have.”

“Me too.” She glanced up at him, and this time he was already looking at her. “They’ve made me feel so sad, and so alone.”

He nodded slowly as if he was taking in what she was saying. “I always woke up feeling, lost almost, guilty sometimes. Like I had done something I could never apologize for.”

“What do you think they mean?” It took her a second to realize they had stopped in the middle of the sidewalk.

Terra turned to her. “My dad would say sometimes dreams can be reminders of our past lives, things left undone or left unsaid. I’m not sure if I ever believed him on that, but it’s a theory.”

Aqua hummed, reaching a hand up to her chin, tapping it lightly. “Someone once told me they thought it could be because we were looking for something…something we lost, something we needed. Think our past lives are trying to tell us something?”

“I don’t know about that,” he snorted. “I do know what my current life it’s trying to tell me though.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

His hand was warm and gentle on her cheek, soft almost for someone who worked outside with his hands a lot but she found his lips against hers were even softer.

She reached her hands up to his chest, fingers curling into his shirt slightly as she kissed him back. She probably smelt like gross diner food and grease from the kitchen but he smelt like summer and campfires, of fresh water running through the woods, of grassy fields. Even though it was late at night being this close to him was like standing under the sunshine, warm and safe.

He pulled away slightly but she reached her hands back up to his face pulling him back down to her. She could feel his smile as he dropped his hands to her waist.

They were only a little bit from her home but she didn’t want to move one step. It felt like something had replaced that endless ache in her heart, making her feel whole almost. Like standing out on a sidewalk in the middle of the night with Terra was all she ever needed.

When Aqua did dream that night it was so vastly different she almost thought she was awake. The sun was shining down over a field full of green grass. It smelt so fresh and so real, so different than the dark, endless caves of her dreams past. She was standing near a patch of wild flowers, admiring the bright colors in the sun. Aqua felt like she looked younger, much younger than before; probably no older than fifteen.

She was both aware and unaware where she was. There was some sort of stone area behind her, looking up to a massive castle. It didn’t look familiar but at the same time it was home. She knew she was safe here, happy.

Arms wrapped around her from behind, nearly making her jump out of her skin until they lifted her off the ground and she knew who it was. “Terra,” she laughed, swatting at his arms till he put her back down.

He was laughing when he came to stand in front of her, looking pretty pleased with himself that he caught her off guard. He was a few years older maybe, taller and looking more less like the little boy she knew, not that she minded looking at him now.  

“Where’s Ven?” Aqua asked, looking for the shadow that was usually never too far from Terra.

“Sleeping I think,” he shrugged. “Why? Is just me not good enough anymore?”

“Stop it,” she said, reaching out to punch him lightly in the arm. “You know that’s not what I meant. It’s always you and me.”

He paused for a moment, the expression on his face almost unreadable which was weird. She had known Terra for so long, she almost always knew how to read him. “Yeah? You think?”

“I don’t think,” she said, crossing her arms against her chest though it was partly to ignore the butterflies in her stomach that happened more often than not when he was watching her. “I know. We’ll always be together. Sorry, you’re stuck with me.”

“Promise?” the sudden intensity to his voice made her blink at him. He was watching her with those eyes, face serious like he was asking her the most important question in the world.

“Promise.” She stuck her pinky out to him. “Nothing will break us apart. Not Master’s sometimes really boring lessons, or winning in sparring, or little boys who want to be just like you.”

That one got a snort from Terra but there was a smile on his lips again.

“Or…I don’t know, the end of the worlds. It’ll always be us.”

Terra wrapped his pinky around hers letting their hands stay like that for a moment before he dropped it, wide grin breaking out on his lips again. “Race you to the lake.”

She opened her mouth but he had already turned running across the field. Figures. “Terra!” she shouted, and he turned around, running backwards slightly as he urged her to follow as if she’d ever say no. She rolled her eyes but took off after him.

Aqua had a feeling that’s just how it was with him; Terra blazing his path leaving Aqua to chase after him. He slowed down a little bit when she got closer even if he was trying to make it seem like he didn’t.

At least she knew no matter what he’d be waiting for her at the end of the line.

The next day Terra wasn’t at the diner in the morning. Aqua tried not to feel disappointed, but he had been spending way too much money on gas and food as it was. She almost wanted to text him and ask him if he was okay, but his phone number was so new in her phone she almost didn’t want to wear it out yet.

She walked home after the lunch rush only to find him sitting on her front steps, two bags by his side.

“I figured,” he started as he stood up, sheepish smile on his lips. “Since you always brought me food, it was only fair I do the same.”

Aqua couldn’t remember the last time she felt this happy in her life.

Her dreams seemed to stop after that. Maybe Riku was right all along, and she just needed to find what she was looking for.

Chapter Text

Inspired by: A Million Dreams (The Greatest Showman Soundtrack), Waltz for the Moon (Final Fantasy VIII Soundtrack), So Close (Enchanted Soundtrack)

Waltz for the Moon

(Day 5 – Historical Era: 1800s)

Terra heard her crying before he saw her.

He was pretty sure he shouldn’t be up on a floor this high without permission but this house was triple the size of the one he used to live in and he admittedly was a little bit lost. His mom only just started working as the cook here and it was not like he was given a tour; basically stay on the worker’s floor and this absolutely was not that floor. He knew by the elegant rug he was walking on, the paintings on the wall, the elaborate decorations. The third floor maybe, probably where the family lived.

He was going to turn around and hoped no one saw him but he heard the distinct sound of someone trying to choke back tears. Terra peered around the corner of the hallway but didn’t see anyone standing there or even hear anyone coming. He walked a little bit further, the sound of crying only getting louder until he reached an open door.

Terra carefully peered in to see what looked like someone’s room. There was a large bed with brightly decorated fabrics covering it, toys and books on the wall, the soft carpet spotless save for the girl sitting in the middle of the floor. Her eyes were closed but he still saw the tears on her cheeks. She was holding a stuffed bunny in her arms like it was a sort of comfort, her ruffled dress spread out around her. What struck him the most, even aside from why she was sitting in here along crying, was her hair. It was curled in ringlets that fell down to her shoulders but it was a shade of blue he never saw before.

He vaguely remembered being told the family had a daughter a few years younger than him so he assumed that was who this must be. “Why’re you crying?” he asked, his voice seeming to echo in the otherwise empty hallway.

She choked as her cries came to a sudden stop, head snapping up as she looked for the source of the unfamiliar voice. Her eyes were red and swollen but they still looked bright, the same shade as her hair. “Who…who are you?” she said, scrunching up her face like she was unsure whether to be surprised or mad at the intrusion.

“Terra,” he said, though he remembered something about talking to the family with titles. She was so young though, just his age; he wasn’t sure but he figured he should just in case. “…Ma’am?”

She blinked at him before slapping a hand over her mouth to try and stop her giggles. He couldn’t see it behind her hand but he assumed she was smiling by the way her cheeks and eyes scrunched up. Terra decided he liked it much better when she smiled.

“My mother is ‘ma’am’,” she said. “I am Aqua.”

“Ah, pleasure to meet you, Aqua.” Terra tried to give her a quick bow but it only made her laugh more.

“You are very funny.”

He felt heat shoot up to his face. “I’m not trying to be funny…” Terra paused, realizing he wasn’t speaking the way his mom told him he should. He didn’t like it because it sounded so stiff compared to how he usually spoke but he didn’t want to get in trouble his first few days living here. “I am trying to be polite.”

Aqua giggled again but pushed herself to her feet, still holding the bunny in one hand. She reached to her skirt, she gave him a curtsey. “A pleasure to meet you, Terra.” She looked up at him again, pulling the bunny to her chest. “Are you the new cook’s son?”

He nodded. “I got a little lost and ended up here.”

She bit down on her lip like she was unsure what she should do. “The servants usually are not allowed up here.”

Terra’s stomach sank a little bit. He knew that but at the same time he was sort of happy he found someone his age he could maybe be friends with. It was a little boring helping his mom cook in the kitchen all day.

Aqua smiled at him again, taking a few steps closer to him. “I am glad you did though. It can be very lonely here sometimes.”

He perked up, unable to keep a smile off his face; though he couldn’t forget why he came up here in the first place. “But why were you crying alone?”

She glanced down at the floor, shifting her leather shoes against the carpet. “Mother said it was time for me to leave the nursery. I have to leave all my toys behind so I could learn how to be a lady.”

Terra wrinkled his nose; he couldn’t ever remember his mom asking him to not play with toys anymore. “Aren’t you already a lady?”

She smiled again as she giggled. “No, I’m a girl, but I have to learn how to be a lady, like my mother is a lady. I have to read books and learn how to knit and drink tea.”

“That sounds boring.”

“It does,” she said, making a slight face of disgust. “I would rather not leave my room. I want to stay here.”

Terra knew he couldn’t stop it from happening for her if that was what her mom said to do but he thought he could at least make her a little less sad. He held his hand out to her. “Here, come with me. I may have something that can help.”

Aqua hesitated, like she wasn’t sure if she should go with him or not but she reached over to place her hand in his, letting him lead the way. He took her back out the way he came, though he supposed he probably shouldn’t be leading since he was the one lost in the first place. He wasn’t about to let Aqua down though, not when she looked so much happier now than she had.

He turned down the next hallway and there! He knew there was a door in the wall just right over there that would lead them down to the kitchen. Terra started to take her to there but Aqua stopped in the hallway.

“What is it?” he asked, turning his head to her.

She was biting on her lip again, looking conflicted.

“It’ll…er, it will be okay, just going down to see my mom.”

Aqua still didn’t look all that convinced but she started to follow again, holding his hand tightly. Terra reached forward to pop open the door, a few lanterns lighting the way down the stone steps.

“Wow,” she breathed, eyes looking all around her.

“What? Have you never been here? I thought this was your house.” He carefully started to lead her down the stone steps.

“Well, yes…” she said slowly. “But aside my nanny, I rarely see the servants. I have never seen the kitchen before.”

“Wait till you see it,” Terra said, trying to remember which door led where. “It’s huge, and full of fresh vegetables and meats. My mom is a really good cook too, you’ll like her cooking.”

Aqua nearly ran into him when he stopped suddenly on a flat landing. He pushed the door open, poking his head in but he didn’t need to, he could smell dinner already cooking. His stomach growled just at how good it already was. Terra heard her giggle behind him, probably because the noise echoed in the small space.

He pushed the door open, letting her go in first but then it was his turn to almost walk into her. She stopped right in the middle of the doorway, eyeing the whole room with wide eyes.

“Wow,” she said. “This is beautiful.”

He thought beautiful was a little bit of a strong word, but it was a nice sight, especially when it smelt this good. Other workers were bustling around, chopping up food, cooking things over the gas stove, but Terra kept looking for the one person he wanted to see. He tugged Aqua around some of the workers to get to where his mom was standing, mixing up some sort of batter.

“Mom!” he exclaimed when he was close enough.

She turned to him, looking down with her mouth already open like she was going to say something but stopped suddenly. “Terra,” she said slowly but with a kind smile. “Who is your pretty friend?”

“Aqua,” he said, letting go of her hand as he turned to look at her, though she was a little bashful now. “She was sad so I thought maybe you had a treat you could give her.”

“Well, we cannot have the little miss feeling sad now can we?” His mom placed the bowl down and scanned over the large wooden table she was working at until she made a noise of satisfaction. “How is this?” She reached down to Aqua, holding a decorated piece of chocolate on a white plate.

Aqua gasped in glee as she reached for it. “This looks delicious. Thank you, Ma’am.” She tried to give a curtsey but between the bunny and the plate she found she had no hands left.

“Of course, but why don’t you hurry back upstairs before your Mother or Father worry where you went off to. Right through that door leads back to your house.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Aqua turned to Terra giving him a big smile. “Thank you, Terra. I’m glad we’re friends now.”

“Me too,” he said with a nod. It really didn’t seem that bad to live here if he got to play with her sometimes.

Aqua gave another grin before she hurried out to the door, carefully balancing the chocolate and her stuffed animal.

Terra went to wave but his mom was already kneeling down in front of him. He thought maybe he was in trouble for offering food that wasn’t technically his but his mom looked more sad than mad. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re a good boy, Terra,” she said reaching up to rub something off his cheek. “That was kind of you to try and help the young miss feel better but you shouldn’t have been up there.”

Terra groaned. “I know but I got lost and she was crying.”

“I know, and I know you wanted to make a friend, but she has to stay upstairs and you have to stay down here.”

“Why? It’s so boring.”

“Well, you’re only eight years old. When you’re old enough you’ll be put to work too so there will be something to keep you busy. I’m sure some of the other workers will have kids with them so you’ll make other friends.”

“I wanted to be her friend.” He couldn’t explain why but the thought of never seeing Aqua again made him feel sad, even lonelier than he had.

His mom sighed, reaching up to brush some of his bangs from his face. “You live in two different worlds, my boy, and the older she gets the worse it’ll be for you to be friends. She’ll only be able to be chaperoned in the presence of men who wish to marry her.”

Terra wrinkled his nose. “I don’t wan’to marry her. I wan’to be her friend.”

“I wish the world worked that way.” She pinched his cheek, standing back up to the table. “It’s best you’re not seen with her, do you understand me?”

He looked over to the door though Aqua was long gone by now.


“Yeah, Mom, I understand,” he said begrudgingly.

“Good, now go over and see if you can help peel some vegetables.” She was already back to mixing the batter in the bowl.

“Okay.” He dragged his feet over to one of the smaller tables where another woman was sitting with a few bowls in front of her.

Terra sort of understood what he was being told. She wasn’t supposed to be alone with boys, especially not him who worked in the house more than lived here. Yet there was one thing that made him feel a little giddy as he sat down at the table.

What he was getting out of the conversation was that he could be her friend as long as no one else saw them being friends. That he could work with.

The ballroom was always an impressive sight but it seemed even more so under the sparkling chandelier, the band playing beautiful string music, the gowns swishing around the dance floor as gloved hands met one another throughout the dance. Terra stood in the entrance way longer than he probably should’ve but he admittedly wasn’t very good at these sorts of things. Confidence was always key so he rolled his shoulders back and stood tall as he walked in the room, nodding at the other men who were lingering around with one another.

He scanned over the room, looking for any familiar face though it was limited and most were only vague acquaintances at best. That was okay, he wasn’t much of a socialite but he’d do what he had to do. He carefully ran his gloved hands down the front of his vest making sure everything was aligned okay before adjusting the lapels of his black waistcoat. Finding one that fit him perfectly was tricky in the least, as he didn’t quite have the stature of anyone he knew but this one fit fairly well.

Terra saw a few men lingering around some of the tables trying to get a card game together, some women were entering a side room where the refreshments were being held, otherwise everyone was on or around the dance floor. He supposed he could find someone to dance with which was why everyone was here in the first place but he didn’t really recognize many of the girls at first glance which would mean he’d have to ask someone to introduce them, which in turn would only draw attention to himself.

He probably hadn’t thought everything through. This was more than likely a huge mistake, and a part of him wanted to just turn and leave before anyone even noticed he was here. The few people he told tried desperately to talk him out of it but he wouldn’t hear it. A part of him wondered if they were right. He just couldn’t help it, he had to see her.

Terra was here so he might as well make the best of it. He carefully walked around the dance floor to where the women who weren’t dancing yet were seated. A few of them eyed him from behind their fans but he tried not to stare too long, he simply kept his slow pace. He knew he shouldn’t wait, he should do something to keep up appearances but just as he was about to turn away he was stricken with blue eyes, this time ones he knew.

Aqua Queen was sitting down in one of the chairs, fan fidgeting in her lap, though a hand came down on hers, probably to get her to stop moving so much. She was dressed in a gown of blues and whites, her hair done up with a single flower tucked up in it. She was the most beautiful girl in the room even if she didn’t know it.

Terra glanced to the woman sitting next to Aqua, to see who her chaperone was for the night. An elegant looking woman with her hair as dark as night done up; her face was serious, almost intimidating, but there was a gentle way that Tifa Strife leaned in to speak to Aqua that made the slightly older woman seem a lot nicer than she may have looked.

He took a deep breath and started to walk towards them. The music was just about to change and it was the perfect chance to slip in. It was possible he’d have to wait, Aqua only recently had her debut and men would be lining up to dance with her. He swallowed the lump that formed at the thought and kept walking until he was standing in front of them.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Miss Queen,” Terra said, bowing slightly to her.

“Mr. Hale, what a surprise,” she said, a polite smile on her lips. “I was unaware you’d be attending this ball.”

His heart was in his throat and he couldn’t bear to look anywhere but at her face, afraid of who might see him. “Will you do me the honor of having the next dance?” 

Aqua’s eyes watched his for a moment before she nodded. “With pleasure, sir.” She carefully stood to her feet, letting her fan fall to her wrist. Once she was standing he held his hand out to her, leading her to find a new place on the dance floor.

She waited for him, knowing he was the one who needed to take the lead. Trying to ignore the way his heart was nearly beating out of his chest, he carefully reached his arm around her to place one hand on her lower back; with the other he took hers and raised it slightly, waiting for her to rest her free hand on his shoulder. He took a second to check she was ready before following the familiar steps of dance.

“You look beautiful tonight, Miss Queen,” he said, hoping his voice even managed to come out at all.

“Oh, you are too kind, Mr. Hale.” Her voice was delicate, smooth as she continued to smile at him.  

He did recognize the look in her eyes. Despite her smile and warm tone she was warning him to be careful, watch what he said, what he did. He didn’t need a reminder, he was far too aware already. “I do mean it, the most beautiful girl in the room.”

“There are many lovely ladies here tonight, Mr. Hale.”

“Not a one holds a candle to you.”

“You flatter me, sir.”

Terra felt a smile pull at his lips, well, that was until he felt a sharp pinch on his shoulder. He had to bite back a slight groan at the pain.

“What are you doing, Terra?” Aqua hushed, not leaning in any closer probably afraid it would raise too much suspicion. He knew as well as her when people danced, everyone watched every motion.

“Dancing, what does it look like?” he said in a low voice.

“This is far too risky.”

“Not happy to see me?”

Something flashed in her eyes, making her face melt slightly and making her look more like she usually did. “Of course I am. I would rather it be you than, well, every single man in this room, but I recall someone saying ‘they’d never let me in.’? If you are caught it would ruin you.”

“It was worth the gamble,” he said, pressing his fingers slightly into her back; the shift in her eyes told him she noticed. It was too risky, and before he wouldn’t ever consider it even when she was the one who asked him to do so but sitting on his hands did him no good either.

“It wouldn’t be worth it if my parents are privy and you get fired.”

She had a fair point. “Thankfully, your parents haven’t paid any attention to me since I was ten. I’m not sure they even know what I look like.”

A smile cracked on her lips, one that made her look like she was going to laugh. Not that fake laugh she did when she had to entertain people, but the real one, the one he knew so well. She cleared her throat instead; obviously afraid their casual conversation would be overheard by someone. “You dance very well, Mr. Hale.”

“Oh, thank you, Miss Queen. I had a wonderful teacher growing up.”

“Did you?” she asked politely. “I had a student once. I thought it would help me improve, to teach someone else but he was terribly stubborn and stepped on my feet often.”

Terra should’ve known better to expect that. “He must not have been much of a gentleman to not mind his feet.”

“Not like the gentleman I am dancing with now. Your attire for the night is very befitting of you, sir.”

The look in her eyes nearly had him melting. He had to remember where they were, the appearances they had to keep. Really he would’ve much rather met her in private but ever since her debut, her mother was keeping her so busy Terra felt like he only ever saw her in passing and he hated every second of it. He had to come here tonight even if it was just to get two dances with her; any more would be inappropriate or he’d dance with her all night.

“Now you flatter me, Miss Queen,” he said, trying to not let a smile pull at his lips but it was impossible.

“Where did you find something that fit you?” she hushed again.

He almost rolled his eyes. Of course that would be her concern. “Leon, he’s the closest to my size.”

Aqua hummed slightly, appreciatively almost. “It looks very good on you, Ter.”

He felt heat rise to his cheeks again but this time for a very different reason. “That’s kind of you to say, Miss Queen.”

She opened her mouth to speak again the shift in the music was their cue to stop. There was nothing more that Terra wanted to do than stay and not let her go but he had to. He dropped his hands from her first, taking a slight step back to bow while she curtsied. He held his arm out to her which she took so he could escort her back to her seat.

Tifa was still sitting in the same spot though her husband was behind her, leaning over to tell her something but what, Terra didn’t know. Knowing Cloud it was probably his desire to leave immediately and never look back. He made Terra look like a social butterfly.

“Thank you, Mr. Hale,” Aqua said, letting go of him so she could sit down again. “It was a pleasure.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” he said, giving her another bow before he turned to leave the area. He wasn’t sure where he could go to bide time until he could dance with her again. Considering he was about to be forced to watch other men dance and flirt with the woman he loved, Terra was pretty certain he needed to find a drink somewhere.

Terra knew he was going to get in trouble. He absolutely wasn’t supposed to be in the house and especially when he was working in the stables all morning. He should’ve gotten a maid to go get Aqua but he couldn’t find one (not that he looked very hard). Thankfully he hadn’t cleaned the stables yet, just fixed up the tack room and got her horse ready, so he was pretty sure he didn’t smell bad but he was still careful not to track mud up the hallway from where he snuck in.

Once he hit twelve they threw him into work. He tried a few things, the kitchen with his mom which he admittedly did like, gardening which he didn’t as much, and then the stables which he liked the best. It was quiet out there and he got to spend all day with animals who actually sort of liked him. Besides, it was the best job to see Aqua with so he’d take it.

He heard her nanny droning on about something from the study where he assumed Aqua was trapped. Terra placed his back against the wall and peered in the room.

Sure enough she was sitting on the velvet couch, a book in her lap as she fiddled with some knitting. He couldn’t tell what she was trying to make. It sort of looked like a multicolored lump; she seemed to know it judging by the frustration on her face. Terra resisted snorting at Miss Perfect at Everything Aqua who couldn’t knit a sock.

He couldn’t see her nanny so he assumed she couldn’t see him either which was perfect. A grin pulled at his lips as he sunk to the ground, crouching by the door. Terra waited until she looked up from her knitting and stuck his fingers in the corners of his mouth, pulling slightly as he stuck his tongue out at her.

Aqua didn’t see him at first but she must’ve noticed the movement from the corner of her eye as she nearly dropped her knitting, having to turn her sudden laughter into a cough.

“That is not befitting of a lady, Miss Aqua,” her nanny’s sharp voice came from the other side of the wall.

Terra slipped himself back out of the doorway just in case she came closer to Aqua.

“Apologies, Ma’am,” Aqua said, still trying to stop laugh-coughing which made Terra grin. He knew how much she hated these lessons.

“Drink some of your tea, delicately please.”

Terra heard the slight clang of china as she must’ve picked up her teacup and saucer. Once her nanny started droning on about knitting, he peeked back in.

Aqua had her knitting needles up again trying to follow the instructions but he could see her glancing over at him instead, a small smile on her lips.

He gestured to her knitting, trying to give her a confused look, asking her what the hell she was making.

She kicked her foot out slightly, tapping her shoe against the carpet.

“A sock?” he mouthed silently, eyebrow arched in disbelief that could be a sock.

Aqua puffed her cheeks out slightly in displeasure at his critique. Her eyes distinctly told him “I’d like to see you do better,” which, well, she had a point. He doubted anything he tried to knit would look any less like a blob. That didn’t mean he couldn’t give her a hard time though.

He shook his head. “No way.”

Her lower lip popped out slightly. “The worst, Terra,” she mouthed back.

He only grinned in return.

“Miss Aqua, are you paying attention at all?” her nanny snapped, making Aqua nearly drop her knitting in surprise. It was otherwise quiet but he could hear footsteps walking to the door.

Terra jumped up to his feet knowing he was absolutely caught. He scrambled to pull his hat off his head, holding it in front of him as he looked up to face the sharp face of Aqua’s nanny.

“Terra Hale,” she said in her usual cold tone. “I believe you are very well aware you are not supposed to be in here.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said, bowing to her. “But the missus’ horse is ready for her riding lesson and there was no maid to come and fetch her.”

Her nanny paused and for a moment he thought he’d be punished which was still worth it to see Aqua a little longer.

“Very well. Run along then, I will escort the missus to the stable.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Terra lifted his head to look around the nanny, meeting Aqua’s eyes before he turned and headed back to the servant’s corridor and out back to the stables.

True to his word, he really did have her horse ready, groomed and saddled for Aqua to ride. He reached out to pat the horse’s neck when he got back to her, giving him a slight snort in greeting. She was a big horse for such a small girl but he supposed Aqua would grow into it eventually; she was only ten years old.

He assumed she had to get changed into a riding outfit because it was still a while before he heard the click of heels against the stone stable floor. Terra peered out from around Buttercup, which is what Aqua named her horse when she was eight because what else would she name it, to see her still coming over to him. Her nanny stopped next to the other stable boy who had her horse ready.

“Hi,” he whispered, from the other side of the horse once Aqua was close enough.

Instead of a nice greeting, she reached out to hit him in the arm a few times.

“Ow! Okay!” he laughed, though still trying to keep his voice down so they didn’t alert her nanny.

“That was not very nice, Terra Hale,” she pouted, crossing her arms against her chest but her eyes were sparkling; she wasn’t really mad.

“It’s not my fault your ‘sock’ looked like a limp noodle.”

“Oh, just you wait. If I can get out tonight, I will teach you how to knit. Let us see how well you do, shall we?”

“It’s a deal,” he said, knowing he’d never turn down a competition with her. “Are you going to try to come tonight?”

She nodded, though she glanced behind at her nanny who was getting help from the stable boy to get up on her saddle. “Yes, if I can get out without anyone knowing, I will meet you at the usual place.”

“Okay, I’ll wait for you.”

Aqua smiled that time making her eyes look bluer than they usually did.

“Miss Aqua, do you need assistance?” her nanny asked, the stable boy walking her horse towards the riding paths.

“No, thank you, Ma’am,” Aqua said, before looking back to Terra. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”

“It’s okay.” He held the horse steady as she stepped up into the saddle, twisting herself so she could kick both her legs over the same side. He had no idea how she was supposed to ride like that in all those layers of dress and balance without falling off but what did he know, he supposed. “Ready?”

She nodded. “Yes, thank you, Terra.”

He started to lead the horse after the other stable boy who was already passing the reigns to Aqua’s nanny. She was waiting so there was really no other time to talk.

His stomach sank a little. He hated not being able to spend time with Aqua, always talking in hushed tones where no one could see but it was better than never seeing her. He had the horse stop, reaching up to hand Aqua the reigns.

She smiled when his fingers brushed against her gloves. Aqua looked like she was ready to leave so he stepped back but she caught his eyes first. “Tonight,” she mouthed before her nanny started to ride off, Aqua having to follow.

He stood there watching after her. At least he felt a little bit they might have tonight. Even the prospect of knitting sounded okay if she was there.

Terra wished he remembered alcohol in the presence of women was highly frowned upon and it was incredibly unlikely that Mr. Queen was about to invite Terra to have a drink in private. He supposed he could’ve wandered off to the kitchen to find his own but that would not only mean this would all this be for nothing if he was caught, but his mother would probably murder him if she knew what he was up to. So he settled with what he could find in the refreshment room, mainly because he knew all the food would be perfection, and went back to main ballroom.

While he was technically acquainted with Aqua outside of just dancing and could speak with her, he was also probably unfamiliar among the people here which could cause the wrong sort of gossip; Terra didn’t care too much about himself but for Aqua’s sake. He knew he needed to leave her be for a while and maybe try dancing with someone else to keep appearances up, and that meant he needed to be introduced to the other girls here.

He sighed as he scanned the room for the only two male faces he knew. Despite his shockingly blond hair, Terra couldn’t find Cloud anywhere in the room though Terra knew he shouldn’t have been surprised. However, he did see the other familiar face sitting down at a nearby table, cards left out from the last game played.

Leon was sitting alone which was good; Terra would be able to talk a little more openly that way.

He always liked Leon. He didn’t come from wealth like most everyone in this room, and instead worked his way through the military to be able to be invited to events such as this and to even be engaged to a general’s daughter. It always gave Terra some sort of hope that if he worked at something well enough, maybe he’d be able to reach a status above his own too; even if the circumstances were rare. It also made Leon more approachable as he wasn’t quite as snooty as some of the people here.

“Mr. Leonhart,” Terra greeted, nodding as he came to stand near the table.

“Mr. Hale,” Leon said, standing up to shake Terra’s hand. “Will you sit?”

“Yes, thank you.” Terra pulled a chair out from the opposite side of the table. “Shall I shuffle?”

“Please,” Leon said, gesturing to the cards.

Terra gathered the remaining loose cards and started to form a deck though he doubted they’d actually play anything.

“Everything going alright?” Leon asked. His tone was low, though he was still looking out over the room. “I saw you got your dance.”

“Yeah,” Terra said. “I thought she was going to murder me for being here for a moment.”

A smile cracked on Leon’s lips. “I take that it still went well.”

“She did not kill me, so yes, I would take it as well.”

“What do you plan on doing now then?”

“Pretend to play cards with you,” Terra said, shuffling the deck for emphasis. “Get you to introduce me to someone so I’m not looking like I’m only after Aqua.”

“Even though you are.”

“They don’t have to know that.”

“Not the only one it seems.”

Terra nearly spilled the cards all over the floor when he followed Leon’s gaze. Not that Terra was very surprised to see her dance with someone else; it was the point of the whole night and he knew that. Still, it was different to have to see her smiling at another man, his hand on her back, her hand on his shoulder. Even if she wanted to say no, that would leave her out of the whole set and people would talk. Still, it was easier knowing these things happened without having to see them actually happen.

“Not a place to get jealous,” Leon said casually, but it was also a little bit of a warning.

Terra looked back to the deck, throwing a few cards towards Leon on the table. “I am aware.” Terra paused for a second. “Do you think it will ever get easier?”

“What will? Being in love with someone outside your social class?”

Just put it so bluntly why don’t you, Leon. Regardless, Terra didn’t think he needed to answer that question.

“No, probably not. I mean this with the most respect as I do like you, Terra, but you have worked in her house as a servant for all of your life. Miss Queen may not see you like that, but I guarantee you that is all you will ever be to her parents.” Leon looked over to Terra. “You would have to leave your home and come back an entirely different man, and that would just be if she has not already been engaged by then.”

It wasn’t anything Terra didn’t know but it still made his stomach turn uncomfortably.

“I wish I had better advice, but I was already considered in the higher society when I met my fiancée, I did not do it specifically for her hand.” Leon paused. “Speaking of, I would offer you to dance with Miss Heartilly in my place as I am not one for the dance floor.”

“I appreciate the thought,” Terra snorted slightly trying to ignore the sinking in his stomach. This was a terrible idea. Seeing Aqua was wonderful and she looked radiant but at the same time it only served as a reminder as to what Leon was saying. “Any women you are not engaged to that you could introduce me to?”

“Yes,” Leon sighed, like he didn’t really want to do it which was probably true; him and Cloud were alike in that way. “Come with me.”

Terra stood to his feet trying to ignore the blue hair in the corner of his eyes and the sinking feeling he had to dance with someone who wasn’t her.

“A single woman never addresses a gentleman unless first introduced,” Aqua read aloud from the book in her lap.

“Seems tedious,” Terra said as he threw the ball in his hands up in the hair, catching it when it dropped. It was midafternoon and Aqua was doing what she was supposed to be doing, studying from her book; except she was supposed to be doing it alone in her room, not in a spare receiving room and especially not with him.

She was sitting up on the couch cushions, her legs crossed under her as her dress fanned out all around. “Probably,” she agreed. “But it is in good manners at least.”

Terra was on the floor in front of her, back against the front of the couch though he was tall enough now to see her easily even though she was sitting much higher than he was. He threw the ball up again to catch it before turning his head towards her, a smile pulling at his lips. “No one introduced us.”

“You’re not a gentleman, Terra Hale,” she said in that teasing tone of hers, reaching one her hands to the top of his head and forcing him to look straight ahead again. 

“So cold hearted, Miss Queen.”

Aqua laughed lightly and he could almost see how bright her eyes probably were. “A single woman never walks alone. Her chaperone has to be older and preferably married.”

“Reckon I don’t count on any of those regards.”

“No, you absolutely do not,” Aqua said, still trying to hide her laughter. “But you are much more fun than my nanny is.”

“That isn’t a very high standard.”

“Terra,” she whined slightly but only because she was erupting into laughter again.

He turned his head to her, unable to hide his smile at how she had one hand over her mouth but it still didn’t hide how her cheeks were pushed up from her grin, the shine in her blue eyes.

“You are incorrigible,” she said, dropping her hand but the smile was still there.

“I know.” He turned back to face forward, tossing the ball up again, watching it fall back down in his hands.

“If she has progressed to the stage of courtship in which she can walk out with a gentleman, they always walk apart. A gentleman can offer his hand over the rough spots, that is the only contact he can have with a woman who is not his fiancée.”

Terra’s stomach clenched. He knew, he always knew, there would be a day when someone would come and take Aqua away. That was how it worked. He’d keep working here and she’d go live with her husband. He wasn’t sure if it was because if felt they were both too young to even worry about it or the thought of not having Aqua here anymore that bothered him more. “I’d do that, but I’ve seen you stomp in mud puddles before.”

“Oh, goodness, mother was so furious.” Aqua cringed at the memory but she was still smiling. “I fancied it, though.”

Terra leaned his head back against the couch, feeling the soft material of her dress against his neck. “I enjoyed watching.”

“She shall never ride in a covered carriage with a man who is not a relative,” Aqua continued. “She shall never call upon an unmarried gentleman at his place of residence.”

“Do you even want to get married?” The question was on Terra’s lips before he even had a chance to ask himself if he should bring it up to her.

“Well, yes,” Aqua said carefully. “I think so.”

“You think so?” He turned his head to look at her.

She was already watching him, biting down on her lower lip. “Well, yes, it’s what ladies do. Don’t you want to get married?”

If he was being honest, he hadn’t really thought about it. Everyone always talked about girls getting married, not the men and he was only sixteen; it wasn’t quite the forefront of his mind. “Ah, well, I suppose.”

“You are uncertain, as well.” That time she sounded triumphant, like she won the conversation.

“Have your laugh.” He rolled his eyes.

“I think I would like to be in love,” she said thoughtfully. “To have someone who loved me too. To go to balls and get to wear all those beautiful dresses. To dance with someone who makes me feel breathless.”

He felt the distinct light tap of a shoe on the back of his head.

“Instead of someone who steps on my toes.”

“I warned you. You were the one who was all insistent,” he grumbled, but he couldn’t deny how badly her words made him feel. She’d never have any of that with him and he always thought he was okay with those terms. They were best friends, even if no one but the two of them knew that. Terra should want her to have those experiences but instead all he could think about was how it would take her away from him.

“You’d leave here, though,” Terra said, turning his eyes back forward. “You know that means we’d never see each other again.”

“Oh,” Aqua said, like she hadn’t quite thought of that possibility yet. “That is no good at all. I never want to be anywhere without you.”

 Despite the way his stomach was sinking those words made him feel a lot lighter. “You mean that?”

“Terra,” she said, her voice softer than it was. The next thing he knew her arms were wrapped around his neck, squishing her cheek against his as she leaned down over him and he wondered when he forgot how to breathe. “Of course I do. We will always be together. I never mind that you step on my toes, Ter.”

He wasn’t sure he could believe that statement when he was well aware of the two very different worlds they lived in. He reached a hand up to her head, patting it gently, though all he could think of were the words she had been reading. She was right. He’d never be a gentleman and he wasn’t really allowed to be near her let alone once she had her debut and started courting.

For now, he let himself believe the words he wanted to hear. 

Dancing with a few other women wasn’t bad so to speak. Leon was a great host and introduced him plenty. They were all very lovely women, kind and polite as they were trained to be but it wasn’t the same. It would never be the same.

He tried to only watch his partners and not Aqua’s partners, but he was keeping count even only if so he’d know when he could ask her again. He wasn’t sure if it was a written rule or unwritten but he waited his time dancing. When it was finally her hand in his again, his hand on her back, things seemed a lot better.

“When did you get so good at these things, Terra?” Aqua asked, leaning in when she felt it was safe saying something to him.

“Who says I don’t have any class?” he said, giving her back a careful tap of his fingers.

“I never said you did not have class,” she chuckled but seemed to think better of it, glancing around to make sure no one was paying too much attention to them. “You seem to be enjoying yourself, Mr. Hale.”

“Oh, yes,” he said. “The entertainment here is lovely. My thanks to your parents, Miss Queen.”

“I will be sure to pass the kind words to them, sir.” She paused for a moment, something flickering in her eyes. “Meet anyone who has caught your fancy, Mr. Hale?”

“Miss Queen,” he said, a smile pulling at his lips. “You are being a little forward.”

“Ah, forgive me,” Aqua chuckled. “I just have never seen you dance with so many ladies and I found myself to be a little curious. How unbecoming of me.”

“I do like a woman who speaks her mind,” Terra said, though he was pretty sure she already knew he liked that about her. “To answer your question, yes, there has, but just one I am afraid.”

“One lady amongst all these people. You are a man who knows what he likes, Mr. Hale.”

“That is true, Miss Queen.”

“Well,” she said, though she sounded a little breathless. “What do you think, do you have a chance with your lady?”

“Unfortunately, I do not think it can be meant to be.”

No one else probably saw Aqua fumble her step, but he felt it. He grabbed a hold of her a little tighter to help her easily move back into the dance.

“Why would you think that, sir?”

“Ah, Miss Queen,” Terra said trying to give her a smile and not see the ache that had filled him instead. It was easy to talk like this, where he could pretend he wasn’t telling her these things, and it was just a distant girl far out of reach, not the one who was in his arms. “The world is not always a fair place. Unfortunately, our worlds could never be one.”

“I never think that matters very much,” she said quickly and he regretted saying anything. She was getting emotional, and he couldn’t let her appearance fall to pieces.

“I appreciate that you do not, but when it is in the hands of people above me. What say can I have in it?”

“You have your voice, sir, and she has hers. Is that not what matters above all things? Others included?”

“A fair point, Miss Queen, but this particular lady is the best I have ever known.” Terra never told Aqua before. He was fairly sure she knew how he felt, but he could never voice the words. He wasn’t sure how he felt about saying them here in a public place but if this was the last chance he got to be this close to her, then it would have to do. Leon’s words rang in Terra’s head. He knew it would never be, so what could he lose?

“Her beauty cannot be matched and her kindness and generosity astounding. Her sharp wit and intelligence to rival any man I know. She is most beautiful inside and out and I…” he paused watching, her eyes never leaving his. “And I have loved her for longer than I even knew.”

“Then what is the issue?” she asked, but her voice was soft, almost not even there under the music playing. “If the lady should feel the same.”

He wished he didn’t have to say it, not when she was looking at him like that; hopeful, eyes wide in understanding. He desperately wished he didn’t have to ignore what she was trying to tell him and that he could just kiss her on the spot. Instead, it was only his stomach sinking. “I could never offer her a life worthy of her standing; it would only bring shame to her family and to her.”

Aqua stopped on the dance floor, just staring at him. He panicked trying to get her to move into the next step, but thankfully the song changed; no one would have noticed she stopped short.

Terra cleared his throat and offered her his arm which she took, but she had taken to not looking at him. He could’ve handled it, maybe making her mad at him would be what it took to let her see that she had to be with someone who was worthy of her. He had held hope in his heart maybe, just maybe, it was why he even did all this, yet the night only succeeded in reminding him why he shouldn’t be here.

“Thank you, Mr. Hale,” Aqua said, turning to face him when she reached her chair but her tone didn’t sound very thankful. “If you’ll excuse me.”

He had to watch her walk away from her seat, and walk out of the ballroom alone. He was trapped, stuck to where he was standing.

A part of Terra wanted to let her go, to know it was the best. To find Tifa and tell her to go after Aqua so she didn’t get in trouble and then let her go forever. The bigger part of his emotions wanted to screw all conventions and run after her.

What was he supposed to do when the only person he ever wanted to be with was slipping through his fingers even faster than she had been?

Terra wiped the back of his hand against his forehead. Summer was warm and like usual he was outside working under the sun. Still, it was better than being cooped up inside.

A horse whinnied from the next stall over.

“Hang on,” he said, sticking his pitch fork into the barrel of hay to lay in the stall he was working in. “You’ll get your turn.”

“Talking to the horses now, are we?”

Terra looked over his shoulder to see Aqua, grinning at him from over the stable fence, her gloved hands under her chin as she watched him.  “It’s better than talking to myself,” he said. She looked like she was alone even though he doubted that was true; she was seventeen now, it was rare for her ever to be alone when she wasn’t in her room.

“Are you positive about that?” She was still smiling at him, that teasing glint in her eyes and it felt like it was impossible not to smile back at her.

He stuck the pitch fork into the pile of hay he was spreading so he could turn to face her, crossing his arms against his chest. “You work out here all day with no one but horses to talk to and try and tell me you wouldn’t attempt to do the same.”

She reached a hand up to cover her laughter. “I cannot be sure about that, Terra, but I do know working out here has done you much good.”

He opened his mouth to ask her what she meant but she looked away, like her fingers suddenly became very interesting. Instead he walked closer to her but of course, someone wasn’t far away. They were partly hidden by one of the stalls so he couldn’t tell if it was her mother or her nanny but it was a chaperone in the least.

“What can I help you with, Miss Queen?” he asked, not daring to walk any closer in case it got her in trouble.

She sighed, the previous amusement fading from her face. “I miss you.”

Terra glanced down the stable hall but her chaperone was busy directing one of the younger stable boys on what to do. “I miss you too, but you know what getting caught would mean.”

Aqua huffed. “All because of this idiotic debut I must do.”

“It wasn’t always idiotic, you used to look forward to it,” he said, arching an eyebrow at her.

“Yes, that was before I understood what it meant.” She dropped her chin to her hands on top of the gate. “I used to think it was just pretty dresses and dancing all night. While it is that it is also dancing all night with men I could care less to dance with solely because they would like to marry me.”

She didn’t have to tell him. His stomach had felt like lead ever since she started getting ready for the party. “I thought you wanted to get married.”

Aqua hesitated, biting down on her lip. “I do, but not to a stranger.”

Sometimes Terra wondered if he should tell her, just let her know all the feelings he had for her that he always bit back. He saw the way she looked at him sometimes, how she sought him out even if it meant getting herself in trouble, the hushed secrets she shared with him, that she’d always insist not to wear gloves when she was teaching him to dance, how her smile was different looking at him as opposed to just about anyone else; it gave him a small hope maybe she felt the same. If he told her then at least she’d know. She’d have a choice but he knew deep down it wouldn’t change anything. It couldn’t, her family would want her to marry a man of high standing, not their stable boy.

“Will you come?” Her voice was too loud, and he almost told her to keep it down but he saw the red tint to her cheeks, the anxious look on her face at the words she rather ungracefully blurted out.

“Hang on, will I come where?” He supposed he didn’t need to ask, he saw the look of hope in her eyes mixed with knowing what the answer had to be; he knew because he felt it all the time.

“To my debut. It would make me feel so much better to know you were there.”

“Aqua,” he started, afraid he wouldn’t be able to say the words to her face but the look in her eyes already told him she knew. “I’m fairly certain they wouldn’t let me in.”

She opened her mouth probably to give some sort of last argument because she always had to have the last word, but heels clicked on the stone and she immediately straightened up. He tried to ignore his stomach sinking.

Time was up already.

“Miss Queen,” her nanny said as she approached the stall. “Leaning up against a dirty fence is very unbecoming of you.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Aqua nodded obediently.

“Get the stable boy to help you and let’s be on our way.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Aqua looked back over to Terra while her nanny walked away again.

He didn’t need to ask, he knew the look in her eyes, the slight tremble to her lips. He wished it was as easy as making her laugh like when they were kids, to chase away tears with silly jokes. Nothing seemed terribly funny when he was staring down the rest of his life without her.

“Will you please gather my horse and prepare her for a ride?” Her tone was professional, polite, but her eyes said so much more; begging him for anything, any words, any solutions.

They could run away, they could be together that way. A romantic fantasy maybe, but it would ruin her and her family’s name. He didn’t have a reputation to speak of but she did, and he couldn’t put her in that position. She was tough and strong willed, she did what she was asked but she didn’t let it change her. He knew she could handle what was being thrown at her, but he couldn’t take the watery look in her eyes.

He pulled off his gloves, tossing them on the hay stack before walking to the gate. With a quick glance to make sure no one was watching her, he tilted her chin up with his finger, using his other hand to wipe away a few tears that rolled down her cheek. “Anything for you, Miss Queen.”

Terra dropped his hands from her, pushing the gate open so he could go to the stall where her horse was. He could feel her eyes still watching him, but he couldn’t turn around. If he did he’d never let her go.

“Aqua,” Terra whispered, trying not to let his voice echo off the hallway. “Where in the blazes are you?”

This was bad, this was very bad. She shouldn’t have run off alone, and he absolutely shouldn’t have gone after her. But here he was, trying to make himself as invisible as possible as he wandered down one of the Queens’ hallways. He knew his way around here just fine as did Aqua, and thankfully no one should be in this hallway at all as it had nothing to do with the party but it didn’t stop him from feeling like he was going to vomit the food he ate earlier. He’d have no excuse for being alone with her and she’d be ruined.

Maybe he should just leave and go get Tifa before anyone noticed Aqua was missing and without her chaperone.

“Aqua, you shouldn’t be wandering out here alone.”

“And you probably should not have followed.”

He looked up to see her standing in a nearby doorway, reaching her hand up to rub carefully at her eye, gloves both off and held against her chest. “I’m well aware. But…” Now that she was standing here in front of him, away from prying ears and eyes he had no idea what he even came here to say.  

“But what, Terra?” She was still angry, but her eyes were a little puffy, a little red. “If you are so much lower than me, why did you even bother to follow me?”

Her words stung, even though it was what he said to her in the first place.

“Why do you always think the worst of yourself?” she asked. “Why do you assume you would never be enough?”

“What else was I supposed to believe?” he said. It came out a bit harsher than he intended but nothing was going the way it should, and he knew it was his fault. “I was eight years old when my mother told me I couldn’t acquaint with you. Barely anyone even knows we’ve been friends for over ten years, Aqua, because we aren’t allowed to be seen together. How would I think otherwise?”

“You’re not supposed to believe them,” she said, hands clenched together in fists and clearly not paying attention to correct her improper language. “You were supposed to believe me, because I never treated you as though you were less than me, I never once believed you were less than me.”

“It isn’t about what you want.” He threw his hand up towards the other end of the hallway. “It’s about what they want. You’ve always known that. It doesn’t matter what you want, it doesn’t matter what I want. Your parents would never allow it; their society would never let us happen.”

“This is still my life.” When she spoke it was in such a firm voice he almost forgot what he was talking about. “I assume you came to this ball for a reason?”

“I…” He faltered. It’s not like she didn’t know why he was here. “I wanted to dance with you, to feel like I would be allowed to love you. Even just for one night.”

 Aqua walked slowly to him, dropping her gloves as she did. For a second he thought she might slap him, whether for how he spoke to her or how he spoke about himself but instead he felt the soft skin of her palms on either side of his face. She wasn’t tall enough and had to pull him down to her but he forgot that anything else mattered when he felt her lips gently press up to his.

It was careful and quick but the world almost started to spin when she pulled away, eyes watching his almost adoringly. No one ever looked at him like she did.

“I have always loved you, you oaf.”

He snorted, reaching his hands up to place over hers as she held his face.

“No man can ever hold a candle to you, your compassion, your wit, your diligence, your beauty.” Her smile was breathtaking. “Society can never dictate how I feel, even if they try.”

“No,” Terra said, pulling her hands from him, but not before placing a careful kiss in her palm. He held both her hands in his between them. “But there are customs. Your father would never agree to it.”

“There’s no need,” she said. “We could leave, run away from here.”  

“Aqua. How could we do that? Your family name, your life it would all be-”

“I could care less about all of it.” Her voice was firm, almost desperate, begging for him to listen. “What good is a family or a home if you are not there with me? Your name is what I want, no one else’s.”

He paused, watching her eyes as they never left his. “I would have to leave here. I don’t make near enough to support us in a home of our own.” The thought of leaving her was terrible, but the thought of finally having a life with her outside of the shadows was enough to cast it away.

“Squall, maybe, he would assist. Maybe he would be able to find you more suitable work.”

“Maybe, but…” Terra wanted to believe her, he wanted to know this would all work but if it didn’t…he didn’t know what he’d do. “What if your family wanted you married while I was away?”

She shook her head, her hands still tight on his hands. “I can turn down proposals. My father cannot speak for me. Tifa would assist me as well, I know she would. I will wait for you to come back to me, and then we can leave this place together. I would even find myself work, if it would help us.”  

“Hopefully not in knitting.” He knew he shouldn’t tease, not at a time like this but he couldn’t help it. Everything around him felt like it was spinning except for the grip she held on his hands.

Aqua smiled, as if about to laugh. “I would do anything to be with you. If it means waiting, if it means I have to leave the comfortable life I know, my family, high society, I would do so. A life with you is all I need.”

Terra longed to hear those words for so long and here they were. “It sounds like you’ve thought about this before.”

She hummed, biting down on her lower lip to try and hide her smile. “Possibly once or twice.”

“That does sound like the Aqua I know.”

“One way or another, this is what I want. I may have always known it, even before my debut, before other men showed interest in me. I always wanted to fight for you, for how I feel about you. Maybe that time has come.” She took one step closer to him.

“It will not be easy, both the running and starting over somewhere,” he breathed, unable to stop the warmth that spread through his chest.

“I still would go through with it.” She smiled at him again, but this time with a hint of the devil in her eyes. “Without hesitation.”

Terra had no idea if any of this would work. He built it in his head for so long he could never be with her more so than just his wildest dreams, but here she was, all beauty and strength, telling him she’d never let go. This time, this one time, he decided to believe her; for better or worse.

“Miss Queen,” he murmured, letting go of one of her hands to brush back some fallen ringlets from her hair. “How on earth will I pretend to not be able touch you when you’ve kissed me like that?”

“Oh, Mr. Hale,” she laughed, her whole face bright but not without that glint he loved in her eyes. “Are you unaware? We are so very good at secrecy.”

Chapter Text

I Put a Spell on You

(Day 6 – Modern Magic)

Inspired by: Magic Eyes (Billy Fury) , I Put a Spell on You (Hocus Pocus Soundtrack), Boo (Bob Kelly and the Pikes) 

Terra wasn’t sure when he fell asleep on the couch. He wasn’t even sure what time it was; nor did he want to open his eyes to find out. There were no other sounds in the house save for the low murmur of the TV he left on, which meant he hadn’t slept late enough for Aqua to be home from work yet.

A yawn pulled at his lips but he otherwise made no motion to move. It was both a relief that he didn’t actually sleep his day away and a disappointment as having days off without Aqua was boring. Maybe he should get up and do something. He probably should do something with his day off but there wasn’t really anything to do. He didn’t need to make dinner since they had the party tonight, and there wasn’t any cleaning to do around the house.

Terra went to roll over onto his side but he found a weight on his chest. He cracked an eye open to see two yellow ones watching him expectantly. “Have you just been staring at me waiting to pet you?” he asked the black cat who was looking mighty comfortable curled up, tail wrapped around his body and paws curled under.

Heathcliffe meowed in response that Terra took as saying, “yeah, what else did you think I was doing?”

He reached his hand up to scratch at the cat’s head, making him purr instantly, eyes shutting in contentment. Terra hadn’t really been a cat person before he met Aqua, but Heathcliffe came with his wife so Terra became a cat person.

He ran his hand down to the cat’s back as Heathcliffe continued to purr. You know, for being a centuries old deity, he sure acted like a regular old cat to Terra; not that he knew many century old deities in the first place. That was a conversation; the first question he asked when Aqua laid that one on him was, “can the cat talk?” The answer was surprisingly no.

Yeah, Terra could probably stay here longer; the sound of the purring was easily lulling him back to sleep.

 “Have you done anything all day?”

Terra cracked an eye open, seeing blue eyes and blue hair leaning over his face. Funny, he hadn’t even heard her come in; maybe he really did fall back asleep. “Possibly,” he said, a yawn pulling at his lips.

Aqua leaned back a little bit, dropping a few shopping bags on the floor by the couch. He glanced over to them but Heathcliffe was meowing wildly, trying to get her attention. Aqua cooed as she reached over to scratch behind his ears and the cat was easily back to purring, and refused to move even as Terra tried to sit up on the couch; figures.

He had to physically reach up and grab Heathcliffe, placing him on the couch while Terra swung his legs over the edge and ignored the grumpy noises the cat took to making instead. Terra opened his mouth to ask how her day was but she was already sliding into his lap, legs on either side of his, hands reaching up to his face. Terra closed his eyes again, feeling the warm comfort she always brought, especially when he felt like he hadn’t seen her all day. He laced his hands together behind her lower back, pulling her in slightly.

“How was work?” he asked, letting his eyes open when he felt her hands move up into his hair.

He expected her to be tired, or complain about something she had to deal with today (not that he envied her; she worked with people, he worked with machines and he liked it that way) but instead she was smiling at him, eyes bright and excited almost. “C’mon,” he said, though a smile pulled at his lips. “You didn’t miss me that much.”

“Terra,” she said rolling her eyes.

He expected her to say something else but she leaned in till her lips were pressed to his. Terra hummed against her, more than happy to give her what she wanted but at the same time he knew Aqua very well. He leaned his head against the couch, her hands running back through his hair.

“Okay,” he said, easily tasting her chapstick on his lips. “What is it?”

“Why would you think it was anything?” she said, tapping her hand against the back of his head. She was a little older now than when they first met but he’d never forget meeting her; mainly because she flat walked right into him in the middle of their college’s hallway. She tried to play off that she really wasn’t lost, she knew exactly where she was going but her blue eyes and hesitant smile told him differently.

“Because I know when you’re trying to butter me up, Aqua.”

She bit down on her lower lip but still gave him a half smile. Yeah, that’s what he thought. “I did miss you though. I always do.”

“I missed you too, beautiful, now just tell me.”

Heathcliffe meowed loudly but Terra couldn’t quite tell whose side the cat was on today. Usually it was Aqua’s, but occasionally he sided with Terra. Something Terra took great pride in; it wasn’t everyday a familiar sided with the spouse and not the witch. He always took it as validation that Heathcliffe did actually like Terra, well, he hoped at least. Can you believe deities are as fickle as real cats?

She hesitated, shifting slightly in his lap.  

“Please tell me you don’t want to go to Ven’s party tonight, and you feel bad because he wanted us to come but you just want to stay at home and watch bad horror movies with me.”

“I think that’s what you want,” she chuckled, letting her hands drop to his shoulders.

“Yeah, it is, but I won’t beat around the bush about it.”

“He’s your brother, Ter, you don’t get a choice. Plus, it’s not. You know I love Halloween, I want to go.”

That was an understatement. He was pretty sure he never met anyone who loved Halloween as much as Aqua did. He teased, but it was actually really cute how her face lit up the moment the pumpkins and skulls started to show up all around them. He liked it too in all honesty. He’d take her to the apple orchards, help her decorate the front yard of their house, bring her to haunted houses which was an experience to say the least (figures when Aqua gets scared she makes things accidentally levitate; he got pretty good at grabbing things back before they got too far) but he’d do it all to see her give him that big smile of hers. But spending a night with his younger brother and his friends in a small apartment was a different story.

“Then what is it?” Terra pinched his fingers together against her back making her jump slightly and hit at his shoulder.

“Okay, okay,” she laughed, probably afraid he’d move to tickle her next instead. Aqua reached down behind her to the bags she placed when she came in. What came out was bigger and looked like it shouldn’t fit in the bag; not that it should really surprise him anymore. It was one of those tri corner hats, looked like brown worn leather and she carefully placed it on his head.

Oh, he should’ve seen this coming.

“So,” he started, looking up at the section of the hat he could see. “You want me to wear a costume I’m assuming?”

“Please?” she asked, hands clasped together as she held them to her chest.

It wouldn’t be the first time, it wasn’t like he never went to Halloween parties before. He didn’t really dress up before he started dating her but she had so much fun that he could never really find it in his heart to say no. Nothing changed in the four years they were married.

“Depends,” he said, a smile pulling at his lips. “What’s your costume?”

Aqua grinned, but this time the smile was a little different than before. She held one hand out, a few fingers curling up. It was almost like she was beckoning him, but he knew it wasn’t directed at him.

The bags rustled near his feet, something black floating upwards towards her. It was fairly big but he could already tell what it was. The hat dropped onto her head. Aqua looked mighty pleased under the wide, circular black base; the pointed center sticking up in the air till it flopped over slightly at the top.

“A witch, really?” he asked, arching an eyebrow though she looked so happy it was hard to do anything but laugh.

“I thought it was…cute,” she said, that almost mischievous look on her face.

Cute, real cute, that a normal human would think it was just a costume for the holiday but Terra knew the truth. He hadn’t always; it was actually an accident he found out in the first place.

He probably shouldn’t have tried to sneak up behind her when he saw her walking back to her car on campus but he couldn’t resist surprising her a little. Terra had reached out to grab her by the waist with the intention to pull her back into him where she’d easily know it was him but the next thing he knew his feet were floating off the ground as he practically fell into her. Aqua was horrified and immediately brought him back down but he was a little more dazed than anything. Maybe he thought he was dreaming or maybe he was willing to pretend it was nothing but the look on Aqua’s face looking like she was about to cry was enough to make him realize something was a bit unusual.  

Terra liked to think he took it gracefully, but it was a little hard to swallow that not only was there real magic in the world but the girl he was in love with was also, for lack of a better word, a witch. Aqua had freaked out harder than he did; she was so afraid to tell him, assuming that he’d think she was lying or that he’d run off. It was…different at first, but he never wanted to run away from it. If that’s who she was, that’s who she was. He loved her for it.

She didn’t say too much about her home, but he knew enough to know that marriage between humans and witches wasn’t exactly smiled upon. He never met her family, though she mentioned them in passing every so often but it was always old stories from her childhood; she hadn’t even seen them since she left her home to go to college, choosing to live her life as a normal human and leaving her family behind. She said it wasn’t always her intention to marry a normal human as well, but preferring to say Terra had his own set of charms she couldn’t resist. It also sealed the deal in her never being able to return.

Aqua said it was perfectly fine with her, that she never had much inclination to ever go back. Once she made the choice to go to college away from her magical traditions she already started the process of turning her back on the ways she always knew. It was her choice though, and it wasn’t like he was complaining. He never would’ve met the best part of his life if she didn’t. That didn’t mean he didn’t feel bad; he loved his family, and he didn’t know what he would do if he could never see them again. Aqua often reassured him with a smile that she was happy living her normal, everyday life with him. Words like that may sound boring to someone else, but she was delighted by the ordinary. It was adorable honestly.

She was careful about what she did, always one to make sure no one was watching but he still caught her waving her hand to make the broom go when it was his turn to do chores so he had less work to do. When his favorite meals tasted really good he always knew she whispered a few spells to the oven. Like how she surprised him with gifts she’d pull out of thin air or when his hands suddenly felt restricted as she was sitting up on his lap in bed (okay, yeah, maybe he liked that one too).  It was never anything that affected anyone but them, so he didn’t see the big deal about it.

“Cute,” he snorted, tapping his fingers on her back. “But you know they don’t match, right? A pirate and a witch?”

Sea witch,” she corrected.

“Oh, well, my apologizes for not guessing that.”

She chuckled, reaching her hands up around his neck. “Is it okay?”

“Of course it’s okay, anything for you.”

The smile on Aqua’s face was absolutely worth everything he was about to put himself through tonight. “I love you.”

He would’ve told her the same if she hadn’t leaned in to kiss him again, this time curling her fingers into his hair. He pressed his hands against her back, sliding her in closer to him. Terra felt her smile against his lips as he dropped his hands to her hips, closing any gap between them. She gasped and he knew the familiar heat in the pit of his stomach too well. He pushed his feet off the ground, lifting her slightly off him if only to flip her on her back on the soft couch cushions.

Heathcliffe whined but jumped off onto the floor as Terra placed his hands on either side of her, shifting his body over hers.

She chuckled, pulling his head close to hers causing the brim of his hat to nudge hers out of the way.  “I think you missed me too.”

“That’s not a secret, Aqua.”

She laughed as he kissed her, one hand moving towards her hip as her hands trailed down the front of his shirt.

“Aqua? Oh!”

The hand Terra was using for support slipped at the sound of a new voice. Aqua must’ve cast a spell on him in a split second reflex because instead of falling on top of her, he was floating slightly…and still off balance.

He looked up as she started to push herself up from under him. There was another person standing at the end of the couch, though thankfully a familiar face. His bushy mustache didn’t hide his amused smile very well, black hair pulled back like usual, and billowing robes around him.

“Sorry,” Eraqus said though Terra didn’t think the older wizard sounded all that apologetic. “Huh, pirate and a witch…that’s new.”

Sea witch, Master.”

Terra pushed himself backwards when he felt the warmth from her spell start to withdraw; sitting up on his knees while she kicked her legs over the edge of the couch.

“Ah, of course,” Eraqus said. “How did I not know that?”

Terra wasn’t sure if he’d ever get used to people suddenly appearing in his house; he wasn’t even aware it would be a problem in his life till he had moved in with Aqua. Apparently magical beings really hated using doors.

“Is something wrong, Master?” Aqua asked, reaching up to adjust her hat.

“None at all,” Eraqus said with a slight nod. “I’m sorry to drop in announced, but I have the ingredients you requested.” He raised his hand, a carefully tied sack coming with it.

He was the only person Aqua still had contact with; her one connection back to her old life. It wasn’t usually for deliveries (like it clearly was today) but for news, for updates, if she needed to be aware of anything that could affect her. Terra understood, just because she never went home doesn’t mean home still couldn’t find a way back to you. He also had a feeling Eraqus kept Aqua under the radar of anyone who may seek her out, whether to try to convince her to come home or curious with what she did with her life; that Terra did appreciate. Aqua made her choice, and both humans and witches should respect that. Of course, he also knew if witches were anything like humans, they wouldn’t always. Eraqus’ help was always welcome…even in inopportune moments.

She jumped up to her feet, clasping her hands slightly together. “Oh, thank you. I really appreciate you going through the trouble.”

Also because he still brought her things she didn’t have access to after forgoing her heritage.

“Just what kind of ingredients did you ask for?” Terra asked, arching an eyebrow. He loved Aqua, he did, but “forgoing” was a bit of a stretch when she didn’t always quite stick to her no magic rules.

“Nothing for you to worry about,” she said, leaning down to press a quick kiss to his lips.

“I hope you aren’t planning on turning everyone at the party into frogs.” Terra paused for a second. “You know on second thought, that’s okay if that’s your plan.”

Okay, she never turned anyone into reptiles before, but he didn’t doubt it was beyond her capabilities.

Aqua chuckled “I’m going to finish baking. Don’t worry I made something special for you too.”

“I never doubt it.”

She kissed him one more time before turning to head to the kitchen, Heathcliffe on her heels.

“Always a pleasure, Terra,” Eraqus said, bowing his head.

“Yeah, same, sir,” Terra said, reaching up to scratch the back of his head. “Hey, do me a favor and keep an eye on her in there.”

Eraqus’ mustache quivered a bit, like he was holding back a laugh. “I think you know as well as I do she’ll do what she wants regardless.”

“Fair enough,” Terra snorted, leaning himself back against the couch again.

Eraqus bowed again before following after Aqua into the kitchen.

Terra reached his hands up to rub at his face, forgetting he was still wearing his hat until his hands hit it. It wasn’t like he was accusing her of being up to something but at the same time, Aqua had a little bit of a history with spells and baking. In her defense she did it because she loved baking. To her it was a way to express how much she enjoyed spending time on others, to make them a sweet treat she knew they’d love. Of course that meant she usually liked to have a trick up her sleeve when it came to actually making said treat.

Like the time she made him carrot cake for his birthday, charmed to attract rabbits because she thought it would be cute if wild rabbits came into their backyard while they were eating the cake. It worked, except they ended up having to take the cake to his mom’s house when she wanted them over for his birthday, unable to explain why rabbits kept following them the whole walk there. Or the first time she met Ven, wanting so desperately to be approved by Terra’s little brother that she mixed up her spells and ended up giving Ven a plate full of very spicy chocolate covered pretzels rather than sweet. Thankfully, he liked his food spicy as much as he liked it sweet and ate the whole thing, promising her it was the best he ever had.

Most the time she pulled it off just fine and people had no idea there was anything special about anything Aqua did. The surprise cake which ended up being Tifa’s favorite flavor that no one made for her since she was a little girl? Oh wow, what a surprise, Aqua in no way charmed a way into knowing that very obscure fact about her friend. Mostly everyone just thought it was happy coincidences; or unhappy if you ask the girl at Terra’s work Christmas party a few years back. The one wouldn’t stop trying to flirt with him and suddenly ended up with a glass of egg nog down her back even though no one really saw how it happened. Aqua was conveniently across the room snacking at the desert table. 

To say he never quite knew what he was going to get was an understatement. It was part of why he loved her, of course, but that didn’t mean he didn’t think tonight was going to be…something. He wasn’t completely sure how he let Ven think this was a good idea.

Even though a few hours went by and he was currently staring up at his little brother’s apartment building, he still hadn’t found the good idea in any of this. It was a warm Halloween night at least, so the strange billowy, open shirt Aqua had him wear under the long jacket didn’t make him freeze.

He turned his head back to the car parked safely in a parking spot where Aqua was still fiddling with gathering all the things she brought with her. “Are you positive you don’t need help?”

“I’m fine,” she said, though her voice partly muffled by the fact she was halfway leaning in the car.

He wasn’t sure he bought that but he’d give her another minute before going to help anyway. Terra looked back up to the building, a lot of the lights on, Halloween decorations swinging on balconies, stickers on glass doors all to celebrate. It was still astounding his little brother wasn’t all that little any more with an apartment of his own, able to throw parties not chaperoned by their mom.

“Alright,” Terra said, turning back to the car. “Give it here.”

She huffed but moved out from the backseat, holding a baking tray covered with tin foil. He reached forward to take it from her so she’d be free to get whatever else was in there.

“You’re so impatient,” Aqua said, leaning over to grab a few more bags from the car, the various shades of blue skirts she was wearing shuffling around as she did.

“No, only when we’re standing awkwardly out in the parking lot.”

She placed a small covered plate on the top of the tray he was holding before shutting the car door. “Some things require a little more time.” If she was annoyed at him for pushing her along she didn’t show it, the wide smile on her face still there as she hit the button of the key to lock the car.

“You gonna tell me what you made yet?”

“Nope!” she said, hurrying forward to catch the door from the last person who went in before it locked.

Ven lived towards the top of the building but it was just an elevator ride up before they were on his floor. Judging by the decorations and the few other people in the hallway wearing costumes, it wasn’t the only Halloween party which was a nice thought in the least.

“The top one is yours,” Aqua said, gesturing to the plate he was carrying on the tray. “It’s the same as what I made for everyone else, but dark chocolate, so don’t let anyone eat it but you.”

Terra teased her, sure, but he was pretty certain he’d never met anyone as considerate and caring as she was. “What would I do without you?” he asked as he leaned over to press a kiss to her cheek.

She hummed, smiling as she looked over to him. “Never be able to enjoy Halloween to its fullest.”

“Aqua, I don’t think I ever even knew what Halloween to its fullest was until I met you.”

“I will take that as a compliment.”

Ven’s door was just about in front of them; Terra knew it by the gaudy decorations that were probably courtesy of one of Ven’s friends. Terra still paused, trying to duck his head under her hat better to actually kiss her this time. She reached her free hand to his cheek and he vaguely wondered if it was too late to turn around.

“Okay, you guys do realize how long you’ve been married right?” a new but familiar voice said. “Do you always have to be so sappy?”

Terra supposed that answered that question. He glanced over to see a tall vampire standing in the doorway; if his stature wasn’t enough to give away who it was, the unruly red hair sure did.

“Always nice to see you, Lea,” Aqua said. “Nice costume, a classic.”

He grinned, flicking his tongue against the fake enlarged canines. “I thought so too.” He stepped aside, gesturing for them to come in. “Ven sent me to find you but it was easier than I thought.”

Terra nodded for Aqua to go first and he followed behind, balancing the tray to close the door behind him. It was only then he realized how dark it was in the apartment. Aqua clapped her hands together as she looked over the familiar room, basked in dim lighting, accents of orange and purple everywhere; streamers, cut outs, fake ghosts and bats dangling from the ceiling, glowing jack o’ lanterns, themed bowls and snacks on a nearby table with even more decorations.

“Wow,” she breathed. “He did such a good job. Obviously I taught him well.”

“Obviously,” Terra snorted as he nodded towards the kitchen in the back of the living room.

Lea vanished back amongst the other people, most of which Terra recognized on sight but a few had masks; though he was pretty sure he knew them too. Aqua was looking around, waving to someone who must’ve caught her eye but she kept walking till she could put her bags down on a clear kitchen counter. It was still dim lighting in there, but enough to see.

She gestured for Terra to pass her the tray probably so she could get it to look how she wanted it. He took to removing whatever she brought in the bags; if left to Aqua she’d probably feed all these kids till they couldn’t move. It seemed pretty usual: chips, popcorn, a few bags of candy mix.

He held up a bag that had a very clear tear in it, the bag a little lighter than the others. “Huh, seems like we had a little mouse in the kitchen.”

Aqua had one of her fingers in her mouth, probably licking off the frosting that got on the cover of the tin foil looking even more guilty than usual. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“Mmm, yeah, sure you don’t.” He moved over to her, poking her in the sides making her laugh before he reached above her to try and find some bowls, wherever Ven left them.

“Hey, guys!”

Terra turned his head to see blonde hair leaning over the counter.

“Hello, Naminé,” Aqua smiled, rolling up the old tin foil to toss in the nearby garbage. “Look at you! Aren’t you cute.”

Naminé smiled as she wiggled her back a little making the light colored wings attached there move. He’d guess with the green dress she was supposed to be Tinkerbell. “Thank you,” she said, brushing some of her fallen hair from the bun behind her ear. “I’m glad you guys are here, Ven will be so happy.”

“Where is he anyways?” Terra asked, reaching for another cabinet when he still couldn’t find any bowls.

“Oh, um, I think he was getting changed,” she said. “He was finishing everything up until just a bit ago.”

“Naminé!” someone called. “It’s your turn!”

She turned her head back to the TV. When Terra looked it seemed like they were playing some sort of Halloween movie trivia game or something; why he wasn’t sure, if Xion was here there was no competition. “Come join us when you’re done,” Naminé smiled before turning back to head over where the others were gathered.

There were some bowls. He grabbed them and moved back to where he left the bags to be able to pour the other snacks they brought in them. He stopped before he got there, looking over Aqua’s shoulder to see the tray full of cookies she frosted to look like bats and spiders, the latter even having little pretzel legs. They were rather cute; his wife was pretty adorable to think of and do all of this.

“Here, for you,” she said, holding up a cookie towards his mouth.

Terra poured the bag of chips to the bowl as he glanced up at her. “What’s in them?”

“Why are you so suspicious?” she tutted.

“Because I know you, remember?”

She chuckled. “Oh stop.”

He placed the bowls down so he could lean in and bite into the cookie from her hands, catching the rest in his palm. It didn’t taste out of the ordinary; in fact all he tasted was the slightly bitter chocolate she used for him. It wasn’t anything but really good. He popped the rest in his mouth before opening up one of the bags. Judging by the slight smile on her lips she got the message loud and clear. Huh, maybe it was as ordinary as any cookie would be after all.

“I’ll do that, if you’ll put these out,” she said, passing him the tray of cookies.

He took it from her and went to move around the counter to try and find space on the food table. It absolutely looked like Aqua wasn’t the only one to bring food; this thing was pretty packed. He had to push a few things around to even get the tray of cookies on there.

He was about to move but he felt the distinct feel of someone nearly leaning over his shoulder. It was a familiar enough presence, waiting for him to be done so they could go at the cookies probably. It was one of the twins, Terra knew that but he didn’t know which one till he saw blond out of the corner of his eyes.

“Can I help you, Roxas?” Terra snorted, leaning back so Roxas had to move away some.

“No,” he shrugged. “Just, you know, waiting.”

“Yeah, you aren’t subtle, go ahead,” Terra said, gesturing to the table.

Roxas did move in, grabbing the first one he saw letting Terra get a better look at the costume Roxas was wearing. It was a little unusual to see him with any sort of hat on but the long trench coat and otherwise almost steampunk looking vest and attire fit him pretty well.

“Alright you got me,” Terra said. “Who are you supposed to be?”

Roxas swallowed down the cookie in record time that could only rival Ven. Roxas held his arms out slight, wooden stake in one hand. “C’mon, man, famed Vampire hunter? Van Helsing.”

“That’s oddly specific,” Terra said, reaching for some of the chips on the table. He hadn’t even really realized he was hungry till all this food was here.

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t always gonna do it but…” Roxas paused mid reach for another cookie when someone stepped up next to him. “I couldn’t resist.” He moved his hand with the stake over to Lea’s chest.

“It’s because you’re a goddamn shit is what it is,” Lea said, brushing past Roxas to get one of Aqua’s cookies as well.

Roxas absolutely looked fairly pleased with himself too.

Terra supposed that was pretty much the spirit of Halloween anyways; bug the hell out of your friends. “You guys pick the weirdest couple costumes.” 

“It’s not-” Roxas started but Lea tossed him another cookie.

“Like you’re one to talk,” he said, arching an eyebrow. “You do realize how to match costumes right?”

“She’s a sea witch, okay but please, go tell Aqua that, be my guest,” Terra said, gesturing over to where he could see her out of the corner of his eyes.

Lea decided it was better to eat the rest of his cookie instead. “On second thought, I’m good. Move it, shortstuff,” he said, hitting Roxas on the back of the head slightly. “Leave some for the others.”

Roxas didn’t look particularly pleased about those sentiments but he also had half a cookie in his mouth and another in his hand. Terra might’ve said something questioning Roxas’ choice of sugar intake this early in the night if Aqua didn’t catch his eyes, making Terra look away.

To anyone else it wouldn’t have seen very suspicious but he saw the flick of her wrist, and her slight whisper even under the music and game playing. He turned back to her, catching her hand before it was completely lowered, lacing his fingers with hers as he placed his other hand on her lower back and pulled her towards him.

If Aqua was surprised she didn’t show it, she just reached a hand up to his shoulder, looking up at him innocently. “Yes?” she asked.

“I thought you were proud of how Ven had his party set up,” he said, leaning his face closer to hers.

“I am,” Aqua said. “Very much so.”


“But,” she chuckled, that smile on her lips she always got when he caught her. “That doesn’t mean I can’t help it be even better.”

“I’m not sure why I’m surprised. You’ve never been great with the no magic when it came to making others happy.”

She reached her hand to his face probably knowing he wasn’t actually mad at her.

 “Old habits, my love.” Her eyes flickered over his shoulder.

He turned to follow her gaze, seeing the jack o’ lanterns around the room. Where before they were sort of lit up but by some cheap electronic candles, they now glowed a devilish orange, the flames inside making shadows dance on the walls. Terra looked back to see Aqua still smiling at him.

“Just a little touch,” she said.

He opened his mouth to tell her it was a nice touch even if he thought she should be a tad more careful in public but another pair of arms were reaching around to hug the both of them. Terra looked over to see someone with an ugly but familiar mask on their face.

“I’m not sure why I’m surprised,” he said, though he had a hunch he knew who it was.

“Surprise,” Sora said, as he reached up to pull his mask up. “It’s me.”

“Would’ve never guessed, kiddo,” Terra said, reaching up to ruffle the boy’s head. Boy was an understatement as they were all in college but sometimes Terra could only see the kids he used to babysit. 

“Look at you,” Aqua said, reaching over to hug one of Ven’s oldest friends. She may have only been a part of Terra’s life for about six years yet she fit in so well with his family and Ven’s friends that it was like she was always there.

“Positively frightening,” she chuckled. “But you’re missing some people I think.”

Sora had barely taken a step back when other arms were around Aqua, this time with a mask already pulled up in her red hair.

“We’ve been waiting for you guys,” Kairi said as Aqua hugged her back. “Come play trivia with us!”

“And go up against Xion?” Aqua said. “I’m not sure I can bet on that.”

Riku was standing off to the side, the third member of the three kids from Nightmare Before Christmas; his mask just over his eyes as he used his other hand to wave. “Thanks for the cookies, Aqua, they’re amazing.”

“Oh, thank you, Riku,” she said, still hugging Kairi as she hadn’t seemed to want to let go yet. “It was my pleasure.”

Terra absolutely didn’t miss the wink Aqua gave him. Yeah, okay, nothing in them, sure.

“Hey, funny thing,” Sora said, looking over to Aqua and then to Terra. “I was coming over here to sneak up on you, and I saw the jack o’ lantern like flare up really bright. It was weird because it was pretty dull a second ago.”

Terra froze in his spot. Sora wasn’t always the most observant kid there was, so he couldn’t have noticed? Right? Terra imagined that if a human caught Aqua red handed, that would be a sure thing that she was in trouble. She didn’t really seem tense next to him, but he thought his heart might pound out of his chest the way.

“Does Ven have renter’s insurance? Cause all these candles, especially if the fire is getting blown around.” Sora continued. “If not he should probably take a few out.”

Terra almost visibly sighed, but Aqua reached up to his face, gently rubbing her fingers against his cheek, like she knew what he was thinking the whole time.

“He does,” Aqua nodded. “Believe me, I made sure he did when he signed the lease here.”

“Oh good, I’d hate for anything to happen.”

Terra cleared his throat, wanting all traces of this conversation to be over. “Hey, have you seen Ven? We still haven’t seen him.”

Riku shrugged slightly. “He was here.”

Sora looked over to the TV where others were congregated. Some faces Terra recognized and some he didn’t; maybe college friends. “Where did he go?”

If Sora didn’t sound so innocent about it Terra would’ve thought it was a set up with the way a chainsaw suddenly sounded next to him. Kairi and Aqua both jumped before dissolving into laughter but Terra just turned his head. It honestly didn’t even sound that real, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to see a plastic chainsaw next to him.

He imagined if he could see Ven’s face behind the hockey mask it was probably that ear to ear grin of his. “Hey, buddy,” Terra said. “There you are.”

“Terra,” Ven groaned, reaching his hand up push his mask up. “Does nothing scare you?”

“Sure, just not a fake chainsaw.” He reached his arm around Ven’s neck pulling him into a half hug to let him know Terra was only joking; even though it really wasn’t all that scary.

“Don’t listen to him,” Aqua said, pushing herself between them so she could hug Ven. “You look terrifying.”

“Aqua,” Ven said, hugging her back tightly enough to lift her off the ground. “How did you ever get that humorless lug of my brother to marry you?”

“Cute, Ven,” Terra snorted.

“Oh, he’s not humorless,” Aqua laughed when Ven put her back down. “I just don’t think he’s used to his baby brother being an adult yet. Why don’t you try that chainsaw again?”

He pulled back on the string on the toy but sure enough this time it sounded like a real chainsaw. Terra honestly should’ve expected it with the smile on her lips but it admittedly did make him jump that time.

“Hey!” Ven said, holding the chainsaw up. “I saw that, I got you!”

“Fair enough,” Terra snorted, though he looked over to Aqua who was looking mighty pleased with herself. Who knew there was a spell to make fake chainsaws sound real? Aqua apparently.

“I win!” Xion’s voice echoed over the music as she stood up from the couch, prom dress spilling somewhat onto Lea who was sitting next to her.

“No one is surprised, Xion,” Ven called. “You always win.”

“Yeah but they don’t know that,” she winked, before raising both her hands to wave at Terra and Aqua, apparently only just noticing they were there. It was also the first time he got a look at all the fake blood makeup Xion caked onto her face; it was a strange juxtaposition with her wide grin but somehow fit her just fine. “Okay, loser has to clean my tub.”

“Your bathtub?” Naminé asked from a nearby chair.

“Yeah,” Lea said, rolling his head back against the couch. “Carrie here got a little over enthusiastic with the fake blood on her dress and stained the bathtub red.”

Xion didn’t look apologetic in the least. “Totally worth it. Who has the lowest points?”

The screen scrolled presumably by whoever had the controller. “And the loser is…” Roxas said from his spot on the couch. “Sora, wow, what a surprise.”

“Hey!” Sora said though it was a little muffled as he had one of Aqua’s cookies in his mouth. “That’s not fair, I only ever watch the movies you force me to, Rox.”

“That is one hundred percent not my fault. You played, you lost.”

Sora contemplated it for a second but he seemed to decide tackling his brother from over the back of the couch was the best solution for this situation. Terra swore none of them ever really grew up; which was fine, let them be kids for as long as they could.

Roxas, much to Terra’s surprise, actually laughed, like really laughed as Sora was nearly throwing Roxas off the couch. It wasn’t like he never laughed but he was usually quiet, accompanied by a small smile to show his enjoyment, not full bellied laughing.

“Who wants to play again?” Xion asked, settling back down between Lea and now Sora and Roxas who were still play bickering.

“I will,” Riku said, placing his drink down on the counter.

Lea pushed at Xion. “What do you think, kid? The only person who’s ever beaten you.”

Xion gestured for Riku to come over. “Get over here then, it’s rematch time.”

The room went up in excitement… a little too much excitement just for a trivia game; at least Terra thought so. Kairi reached over to the table to grab a cookie before hurrying over to find a spot with the rest of the kids. Terra glanced over to the nearly empty cookie tray; did they eat them all already? Aqua should’ve made five more trays apparently.

Ven sounded the chainsaw again holding it above his head. “I’m in this time, guys!” He turned to face the kitchen. “You guys wanna play? It’s fun I promise.”

“That’s okay, Ven, you have fun,” Aqua said. “I’m still hungry so I think I’ll pass for now.”

“Terra?” Ven asked. “I know you and me used to watch horror movies when mom was asleep, you’d be good at it.”

“Maybe next round,” Terra said. “I really don’t want to clean their bathtub.”

“Neither do I!” Sora shouted, still half over the couch, stuck in a headlock by Roxas who still looked like he was having the night of his life.

“Okay, next round,” Ven said, pointing the chainsaw at Terra as he moved to jump over the back of the couch, squeezing himself between Lea and Xion who was already getting pushed into Sora and Roxas’ antics.

“Wait! Throw me another cookie!” Sora asked, holding his hand up.

Terra moved to the table, grabbing one and tossing it over to Sora but Xion’s hand was there before Sora could get it.

“No fair, you cheater.”

“That’s what you get,” Roxas said still not letting his brother go.

“What did I do, idiot?”

Terra caught Aqua lifting her hand to her mouth, a whisper on her lips. She blew upwards and the ghost hanging from the ceiling swirled around, a cackling noise echoing over the room and making just about all of the kids scream before dissolving into laughter again.

“You’re having way too much fun with this,” he said, nudging Aqua in the shoulder.

“I can’t help it,” she chuckled. “Look how happy they are.”

So she probably shouldn’t do it in public as much as she did because, yeah, that would get back to somebody and Eraqus may not be able to slide that under the rug but at the same time, the look on her face was so bright and so elated. Aqua had many gifts, both ordinary and, well, unusual, but her greatest gift was making people smile no matter how she did it.

He put his arms around her waist, pulling her back into him as he pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I have never in my lifetime seen Roxas laugh and smile as much as he has tonight.”

Aqua paused for a second, glancing to the cookie tray. “Oh, oh boy. How many did he have?”

“Aqua,” Terra arched an eyebrow at her. The trivia game already started again and everyone was trying to figure out the first question though Roxas’ distinctive laughter was still very easy to hear. “What did you do to those cookies?”

“Nothing,” she hushed, placing her hands over his arms but she absolutely looked guilty. “Just a small, tiny, little spell.”

“For what? Hysterical laughter?”

“Happiness,” she said turning her head to look at him. “Just, you know, lighten feelings. I didn’t know how the party was going to go and I wanted everyone to remember Ven’s first party well.”

“You didn’t count on Roxas eating more than a few didn’t you?”

“How was I supposed to know he’d eat so many?”

“Because you know all these kids can eat sweets like no one.” He wasn’t mad as any of the spells Aqua used would never harm anyone. Terra leaned his cheek against hers. He may’ve only known one witch but he could imagine how power could be intoxicating, used for terrible things. Instead his wife used it to make kids she cared about laugh. “You’re the most thoughtful person I know, believe me when I say but is he going to be okay?”

She chuckled, leaning her head to his. “Yes, it’ll wear off and he’ll probably crash so worst case someone will need to carry him home.”

“Did you lace my cookies with a spell too?”

“Only a spell for them to taste good without all the sugar.”

“Aren’t you cute.”

She laughed, leaning in until she could kiss him. Terra could still hear Roxas giving Sora a hard time in the background, him begging someone to help him but no one seemed to be coming judging by the excitement going up over the next question. Kairi vaguely told Roxas to stop and probably swatted at his head judging by his outraged exclamation. Terra was pretty sure that was Lea who told her to do it again for him, Ven’s chainsaw roaring again.

Aqua leaned back into him with a small sigh, smile on her lips. Xion was kicking at Riku who was sitting on the floor in front of her, making him laugh as he got an answer right on the screen. Naminé had taken to throwing some popcorn from the bowl in her lap into Sora’s lap, occasionally hitting Roxas.

Yeah, they’d all be just fine, and probably have a great time just like Aqua wanted.

The ghost howled again, this time making Terra jump as much as the rest of the kids.

Aqua nudged her head against his, laughing hard enough to make it sound like she couldn’t breathe. “Your face!” she said. “You should’ve seen your face!”

“Yeah, yeah,” he snorted, nudging her back.

She looked back up, eyes bright and grinning nearly ear to ear. He really never met anyone who loved Halloween as much as her, and Terra knew he’d never love anyone else as much as he loved her. Their life was… a little weird considering he lived with a witch and an ancient cat deity who took to being her familiar but honestly? He wouldn’t change her or his life.

Not one bit.

Aqua made some sort of choked groaning noise, her head buried against Terra’s chest, as she had spent a good majority of the movie so far. “I don’t understand how you can watch this stuff.”

He moved his hand from her back to her head, giving her a sympathetic rub, but she didn’t seem to appreciate it. She huffed as she lifted her head up so her chin was resting on his chest. Aqua was settled on top of him on the couch, nestled between his legs and covered with a pile of blankets causing him to be pinned on his back; really he didn’t care, this was all he had wanted for Halloween anyways. It was just him and her in pajamas, watching bad movies till they fell asleep, with Heathcliffe laying peacefully on top of the blanket laid out on the top of the couch.

Terra arched an eyebrow up. “Don’t you live for Halloween? I thought you liked horror movies.”

He had turned off all the lights in their house, it was just the flickering images from the TV shining against her face. “Yes,” she said. “But I like ghosts, and spirits, and haunted houses or like vampires and werewolves not…” She gestured vaguely to the screen. “People getting their intestines ripped out.”

“What else would zombies do?”

She hit down on his chest but it only made him laugh. Heathcliffe meowed but otherwise didn’t move from his spot.

“Okay, okay,” he snorted. “You get to pick the next one.”

There was a smile on her lips, one he knew all too well. “You sure? May keep you up all night.”

“Yeah, try me.”

She leaned up to kiss him but Terra’s phone started to vibrate so loudly on the coffee table they both nearly jumped off the couch. Aqua had already dissolved into a fit of giggles when he reached over to get the phone. Ven’s picture was shining on the screen which was strange since they just left his place but it was possible they left something there.

“Yeah, what’s up, bud?” Terra said as Aqua laid her head back on his chest, bringing the blanket to her nose in case she needed to block her face from the movie again.

“Hey, so, small problem.” Ven didn’t sound panicked or anything but it was still enough to make Terra sit up a little more. There were zero alcohol or drugs at that party, so it couldn’t be anything life threatening; he hoped at least.

“What is it?”

“How do you get someone to stop laughing?”

Terra reached his free hand up to rub his forehead. “Do what now?”

“Yeah, like, it’s the weirdest thing, but I can’t get Roxas to stop laughing. Roxas Mr. I always have something snarky to say yet he’s on my couch in tears over everything. I’m afraid he’s going to hyperventilate or something.”

For a moment Terra had no idea what Ven could even be going on about, but it hit him the moment Aqua looked up. The cookies, Roxas had a ton of them.

“Usually I’d just get Lea to handle it but him and Kairi decided they’d have a battle of who can eat the most chocolate and well, considering they’re passed out in a sugar coma, neither can help. Sora is as lost as I am. Riku and Xion ran down to all-night store on the corner to try and find something, I’m just not sure what they even can find. Everyone else already went home.”

“Okay, okay,” Terra said. “Give me a second.” He quickly muted the phone while Aqua lifted her head.

“What’s wrong?”

“Roxas, who ate one too many of your cookies, is now in an uncontrollable fit of laughter.”

“Wow, really? Roxas? I’d like to see him laugh like that.”

“Aqua,” Terra gestured for her to get along with the solution.

“Oh, right. Ahh…” She leaned up, tapping her chin as she hopefully thought of a good solution so the poor boy could breathe. She gestured for the phone which Terra passed over, taking it off mute in the process. “Ven? Okay, have him take a hot shower or a bath so he inhales the steam. It should even out his breathing and calm him down.” She paused to listen. “Yeah, that’ll be fine. No problem. I love you too.”

Aqua handed the phone back, laying her head down on Terra again.

“Will that help?” he asked, dropping his phone on the table.

“Oh, no, probably not.”

Terra blinked at her.

“Don’t look at me like that, nothing will help but time so when he gets out of the shower he should be feeling better. Really it should’ve worn off by now even by his intake standards.” She paused for a second. “Or did I actually make them stronger than I thought?”


“Relax,” she chuckled. “He’ll be fine, he’s probably having the time of his life right now. He deserves a good laugh.”

“You,” he said, reaching his hand under her chin, tilting her face up to his. “Make my life…”

“Interesting?” she supplied.

“That’s one way to put it.” He didn’t really think he’d ever live in a time and place where he got calls about uncontrollable laughing fits, yet here he was. Terra leaned in to kiss her, as she placed her hands down on his chest.

Really the word he was looking for was wonderful.