I started writing this at work. Fifteen seconds before my bosses walked back in from their week-long business trip, we had a power outage. I finished this one at home. TIMING 8D

And hoooooly cow this is the second to last chapter here. I'm not sure how to feel about finishing this. I mean. Wow.

As always, it's pretty much not proofread, so if I accidentally a word or anything, please let me know. :Db

~~*~~


He had never seen a longer staircase in his life – at least, it looked that way when he was standing at the bottom of it. The Master’s study was at the top, Aqua had said. She’d also told him the Master wanted to talk to him.

The longest staircase ever was still a very short climb; he was knocking on the Master’s door before he knew it, stepping inside the study when the Master told him to enter. Some part of him deep down knew that this was it – whatever happened here would shape his life, determining whether he had a place to stay or whether tomorrow would find him homeless once again. It was all he could do to stop his hands from shaking and keep himself steady at the thought. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, I did.” The Master’s expression was calm, unreadable, and somehow that made Terra more nervous than anything. “I wanted to give you the choice as to whether you wanted to stay here.”

There was a beat of silence as Terra processed that. He got to choose? The answer was obvious. “Yes, I do. I- I want to stay.”

“Why?” The Master’s expression had shifted, become piercing, expectant, and Terra knew that whatever he said next, it had to be good – no, it had to be real.

“Be- because I-” He’d begun to tremble, steadiness gone as old, constant fears arose. “I-” What if everyone was right? What if he really was worthless and it was true that no one would ever really want him? What if he just couldn’t be loved? What if-

He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, biting back the frightened noise that threatened to tear its way out of his throat. The Master won’t hurt me, he told himself sternly, taking one deep breath and then another in an attempt to calm down. I have to tell him. I have to do this.

“Because there’s a hole in my heart,” he finally managed, voice barely above a whisper. “It’s been empty all my life, and- and I think it’s where people should be.” Those were the only words he could find to describe the horrible emptiness in him that ached whenever he saw close friends, a loving family, everything he’d always wanted but never had, and saying them had opened a floodgate in him. He couldn’t stop what he’d said, just like he couldn’t stop the words that kept tumbling out of him, desperate for someone to hear them and understand. “It’s always been empty, and I knew there should have been something there, but I couldn’t- I couldn’t ever-” He shook his head roughly, trying to gather his thoughts, but it wasn’t working – they were becoming words almost faster than he could follow, voice growing louder with their intensity. “And then I came here, and I met you and Aqua, and…and the hole filled.” His voice had gone quiet again, and a hand clenched over his heart. “I know what it’s like to be whole now,” he continued, beginning to tremble again as the icy edges of fear once again made themselves known. “I can’t go back to being empty,” he whispered, feeling the beginnings of that ache again and this time knowing it would be much worse to not only be craving that affection but to know what it felt like, to know that he’d had it once and lost it. “I- I can’t. Please, please let me stay.”

He felt a hand on his shoulder and flinched away from the touch, survival instincts sharply reminding him that physical contact was going to hurt and he needed to get away before it could. It was only when he looked up and saw the Master kneeling before him with his hand on Terra’s shoulder that he realized the Master was trying to comfort him – that this touch was meant to help. He took a deep breath and straightened up slowly, though he still couldn’t stop the shaking; everything he’d ever wanted was here, right in front of him, and he couldn’t shake the fear that it would slip away somehow and he’d lose it all.

“Terra.” The Master spoke, and he tried to stand a little straighter. It didn’t help with the shaking, but it was something. “For someone so young, your heart is very strong. You’ve shown great courage, compassion for someone you did not know, and an understanding of how crucial the bonds of friendship are to the heart. I believe you are ready for this.” The hand was removed from his shoulder and instead held in front of him, and after a moment, a flash of light glowed around the Master’s hand, his Keyblade appearing as it faded. The Master gripped it by the shaft, offering him the hilt. “In your hand,” he intoned, “take this key. As long as you have the makings, through this simple act of taking, its wielder you will one day be.”

All Terra could do was stare, wide-eyed, first at the Keyblade and then at the Master. I’m gonna have one of those someday, he’d said, and you’re gonna teach me how to use it. He’d seen the results, years into the future, but there was still a part of him that hadn’t believed it would ever happen, that thought that maybe he was wrong this time and the whole thing was desperately wishful thinking.

But he was here, and this was definitely happening. All he wanted to do – all he needed to do – was take that Keyblade. He took a deep breath, steadying himself, before reaching out and gripping the weapon’s hilt. His eyes widened and he gasped slightly – as soon as he’d touched the Keyblade, a warmth had blossomed in his chest. Whatever this had started, it was right somehow.

The Keyblade disappeared, and the Master straightened up, smiling as though he could somehow feel that warmth too. “The Keyblade will not come to you right away,” he explained. “Until it does, you will train alongside Aqua as my apprentice in order to earn both your Keyblade and, eventually, the title of Master.” He paused, allowing Terra a few moments to soak it all in, though something wasn’t quite clicking. “Welcome home, Terra.”

That did it. That one word, the thing he’d been after so long, said so casually – like he belonged here, and…and maybe now, he did. “Home,” he breathed, the word just the barest of whispers. He was shaking again, uncontrolled, and he didn’t care, because maybe it was okay now, maybe it was…maybe he was… “I- I’m home.”

“Yes, Terra.” The Master - his Master, now – knelt, wrapping his arms tightly around the shaken boy. “You’re home.”

The nervousness and fear that had kept Terra upright until then dissipated at that moment, and for the first time Terra relaxed, clinging to his Master’s robes. “I’m home,” he gasped in between short breaths, burying his face in his Master’s shoulder. “I’m home. I’m home.” It was two short words, repeated over and over until they finally sunk in, until the idea that he’d always be alone began to fade and was slowly replaced with the knowledge that he was finally wanted, finally cared for, finally loved.

He didn’t know how long he stood like that, clinging to his Master and wrapping his head and heart around a very different way of thinking. Eventually his breathing slowed and evened out, his grip on his Master’s robes loosened, and he stopped repeating those two words. He didn’t need to say them aloud anymore; they’d already begun to settle into his heart.

He let go and his Master stood, smile now gone, though something told Terra he was still happy. “Now, Terra, don’t you have some news to share with your fellow apprentice?”

It took a few seconds for that to click. His fellow- Aqua. He’d be training with Aqua now. Because he was staying here. His home. “Yeah,” he finally managed. “I do.”

“Then you had better go tell her, hadn’t you.”

Terra tried to reply – to agree, or say thank you, or anything – but words just wouldn’t come. Instead, he smiled, and found that once he started, he couldn’t stop – the smile kept growing until his cheeks ached, but it was a good kind of ache, and the warmth was still glowing in his chest, and-

And he was finally home.

He managed a nod, then turned and bolted out the door and down the stairs. The longest staircase ever was just as long going down as it was coming up – not because he was afraid this time, but because he was happy, bursting with good news, and he couldn’t wait to share it with the other half of his new family. She laughed and jumped for joy – and he had never seen anyone do that, especially not over him – when he told her, and then she threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. “I’m so happy you’re staying!”

He paused, waiting for the half-second he needed to realize the hug wasn’t meant to hurt him to pass, and then hugged her back just as tightly. “Yeah,” he replied, “so am I.”

It was a better welcome than he ever could have asked for.
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