Disclaimer: I do not own the characters depicted, except for Vanner, Johanna and Aradorn.
Peace. It's entirely overrated, Aqua decided.
After so long in darkness, she had finally found it. The darkness had begun to slowly recede in aggression, becoming more tranquil. More like the thing her heart craved to feel.
It had started when she heard the soft sound of an ebbing and flowing tide. "It's just been way too long…since I've heard the sound of the waves," she murmured aloud to herself. Her feet fell slowly, wearily, struggling to keep her moving. Exhaustion had been a part of her everyday life for a while now. There had been only intermittent rest since she'd fallen into the Realm of Darkness…
But here and now, she felt hope again.
Sure enough, faint light began to caress her face as the dark fog fled her. The light was pale, cold, and very weak, but the warmth behind its touch, like the purr of a sleeping cat when you stroke its ears, made Aqua's heart cease its restless tossing. Then she finally found the end, walking out onto an eerie, rocky beach laden with dark gray sand down near the water. Rocks lay dark and shadowy, laced with strange streaks of glowing blue; the same rocks she'd seen in the darkness now behind her. The water lapping on the shores of this lonely place led out to the horizon, where a small globe of light, almost like the moon, hung just above the dark, rippling sea. She stopped and gave a sigh, then started. Someone else was already there.
A lone figure sat passive and utterly still on a rock down by the shore; a man garbed in a pitch-black coat that was every bit as dark as his surroundings. Her Keybearer's sense, barely even evident after so long in darkness, began to tingle. He has light inside him…but he's suffering, she thought. He's just like me.
So she trudged over. Her shoes crunched gently into the fine dark sand, disturbing its calm. As she walked up next to the rock, the hooded man didn't react. "Who are you?" she asked. The man turned with a slight murmur of surprise.
"Why, hello," he said. His voice was deep and rich and carried the refined tones of a high-society accent. "It's not often I get visitors."
Aqua smiled sadly. Hmm... He's certainly kind. "Please, call me Aqua." She couldn't stop the small smile of relief. Finally; another person. "Why are you here all alone in the realm of darkness?" she asked. "How did you end up here?"
The hooded man looked away. "Well...I can tell you this is my second time on these shores. But unfortunately, much like the first, I do not fully remember who I am or whence I came. Everything was washed away in whatever currents carried me here."
Aqua sighed and averted her eyes. So…he can't remember. "That's too bad." She sat down slowly on the dark sand, glad to rest her aching legs without having to worry about those monsters. "I know I've been here a long time…wandering through the endless hours…" Her voice seized up as the horrors she'd faced came back to the surface of her memory, and she faltered. "…unable to escape," she finally finished with a sharp swallow.
The figure seated beside her was silent for a moment, having seen the pain glimmering in his newfound companion's eyes. "You wish to return to your own world?" he asked.
Aqua nodded, barely holding back the sorrow that suddenly welled fresh and chokingly heavy in her eyes as she stared out at the horizon. "It's my friends," she replied. "I promised I'd be there for them."
The man seemed to frown beneath his hood. "Your friends?" He was silent for a very long moment; then he raised his head to stare out at that hovering spot of light. The word jogged something inside him. "Hmm… Somewhere in the scraps of memory I have left," he said, "you remind me of a boy I once knew. He is very much like you. True to his friends, and kind, this boy travels to many worlds and fights to keep the light safe."
Confused, Aqua turned and stared at him. "Keep the light safe?" She sat up a bit straighter. "I've been away too long. Has something happened out there? Are the worlds in danger?"
He was quiet for a moment. "Sad to say, they nearly fell to darkness more than once. But at every turn that boy arrived with Keyblade in hand to save the day."
Aqua started at the mention of a Keyblade. Could it be…? "Huh? Wait a sec..." she exclaimed eagerly. "Is his name Terra or Ven?"
The man was silent for another long moment. Then he shook his head slowly. "Neither of those, I'm afraid."
Aqua felt like crying. "I should've known..." she sighed. While she sat and battled her emotions, the man was beginning to gather his thoughts again.
"How long has it been since I met him?" he murmured softly. "At least a year now, perhaps more..." He raised a gloved hand to gaze at it, closing it as he spoke. "Back then, my heart was clouded with vengeance. I did terrible things...both to him and his friends. I brought unhappiness to more lives than one. I felt something must be done. Was that why? A means of clearing my conscience? Or perhaps out of a sort of scholarly instinct?" As he spoke, Aqua really began to listen to him. She was stunned by what she heard next.
"While the boy slept his long sleep," said the man, "I hid the results of my research inside him, transplanting the data to where it might best serve a purpose." His hooded head rose and he drew himself up, sitting much more proudly than he had been a few minutes ago. "In fact, I would like to believe..." he said, with what must have been a sad smile beneath that dark hood, "...maybe he can set things right. A boy like him who touches so many hearts…he could open the right door, and save all those people whose lives I managed to ruin. So many are still waiting for their new beginning, their birth by sleep. Even me...and even you."
Aqua turned over on her side to look more directly at the man. "What's this boy's name?" she asked.
His answer floored her. The name illuminated a connection beyond anything she'd ever felt before in her life. Images flooded her mind—visions brought on by her heart-as the light on the horizon seemed to flare just once.
Images of friends… and friends she hadn't yet met:
A young girl with pale blond hair seated in a blindingly white room, drawing in a sketchbook until she noticed Aqua's invisible presence and smiled.
Then another boy who looked just like Ventus, clothed in a black coat, eating an ice cream bar with two friends in the same garb; the three of them soon turned to look in her direction.
Then, more faces she knew: Vanner, Ara, and Johanna, sitting together around a picnic table in a beautiful green park in what had to be their own world. She'd heard them talk about it wistfully many times. They stopped their horsing around and glanced in Aqua's direction, smiling as if they could see her there with them.
Then she saw her dearest friends: Terra, smiling companionably down at Ventus, who was slumbering in a chair at the training yard on their homeworld. Ventus looked up at Terra with that endearing grin on his face before they both looked up at the stars.
Then she was gazing at the little girl she'd saved—Kairi—picking flowers in Radiant Garden's outer courtyards, pausing in her mission to look up at the sky.
And then, lastly, she saw the Master—Master Eraqus—glowing with sheer presence as he always did, standing in the throne room, looking back over his shoulder, smiling as broadly as he had the day before the exam.
She heard their voices speak. Just one word. A name.
And then they were gone.
No...wait. She heard Vanner's voice, just for a moment. "Aqua… No matter what, keep the light in you safe. Don't worry. One day, I swear, I'll come find you and bring you back home."
Aqua felt a tear slip down her face. She made no move to wipe it away. She didn't mind.
That little kid she'd met on that island world…he was the Keyblade's chosen one? It seemed completely absurd, but at the same time, it made all the sense in the world. That boy was their only hope. Aqua looked away from the man's shrouded face, out at that one shining light amidst all this darkness, and whispered the boy's name too as her last flicker of hope, nearly extinguished by the darkness, suddenly flared as bright as that lonely orb would be someday. I will join them someday, and then no one can stop us.
In your hand, take this Key
And so long as you have the makings,
Then through this simple act of taking
Its wielder you shall one day be.
And you will find me, friend.
No ocean will contain you then.
No more borders around, or below, or above,
So long as you champion the ones you love.