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I've…been having these weird thoughts lately.

Is any of this for real…?

Probably not.

Sora still doesn't like it one bit.

x x x

Sora scrambles onto the sand and pants and wipes the water off his forehead to stop it dripping into his eyes, and when he looks up, Kairi is there, taking his hand. He is home at last - kneeling on the shore of the island he hasn't seen since it was broken and sent to the end of the world.

His face splits into a wide grin. The Islands. The ocean. His friends. He feels so happy, so alive, now that he had back all the things he had taken for granted before the Keyblade had chosen him. See, Riku? The optimism pays off!

And all of a sudden he feels very, very tired. He hasn't had time to feel tired for two years, now.

He doesn't want to cry in front of Kairi and Riku. He's saved the universe twice, she must know he's not a sissy, but still. And he doesn't want Riku to tease him any more than he has to.

He cries anyway, and funnily enough they both start crying too until all three of them are one huddled, sobbing mess on the beach.

"I'm so glad you're back," Kairi chokes.

"Me too," they tell her. And Sora is, he really is. He's too tired for adventures. He deserves some rest.

x x x

Two days later he is still clinging desperately to that feeling of life and joy and happiness – he's safe, he's back, he's home – but it's harder to feel when your parents are fretting over you and worrying about things like school, and rehabilitation, and Sora looks so old now…

"I'll, uh, check for grey hairs," he offers up.

"Not old in that way," his mother tells him.

He gets the unsettling feeling that his own parents can barely recognise him anymore.

x x x

The next night he lies back on the beach and looks up at the stars. It is one thing to look at them and dream about other worlds, and another thing entirely to know that they are other worlds, that they're real, and remember the wonder he felt as he has walked them all and saved them all and promised to return, someday.

The Keyblade appears in his hand, silver and gold and familiar, and he holds it up against a star-strewn backdrop. Once, this weapon saved the universe.

It's useless here, unless he ever feels the urge to break into someone's house without causing damage to property. There's no Heartless to fight, no Nobodies or Unversed.

…Unversed? What?

Sora is hit with the unutterably strange feeling that it's something like his ticket out of here, should he ever get, well, bored. All he has to do is ride the candy ship into space and then he can fight monsters all he likes.

Bored of this place, of my home, my friends? Dream on, he tells himself. I spent way too long fighting, hurting, killing when I should've been here. The Keyblade was NOT the best thing that ever happened to me!

He thinks he might be lying to himself. After all, Riku and Kairi aren't his only friends. He has left so many, out there in the stars.

And you will find me, friend…no ocean will contain you then -

He clutches the Keyblade and vows to never let it go.

As he stares at it, he thinks he catches a flash of…something else. Like the Keyblade is different, for one short moment, until he blinks and shakes his head.

(He thought he caught a glimpse of something black, and bronze, a slender shape like a bird's wing.)

x x x

"My friends are my power!" The words come to him easily, unbidden, and he knows they are true, he has said them before.

Maybe in a past life.

x x x

It is two weeks later, and Sora is alone, sitting on the beach again and watching the sunset and trying to remember how it is you live a normal life. You can't eat whatever you want whenever you want, you have to go to bed when your parents say, and then there's school, and a surprising lack of dark monsters or sociopaths or data beings to kill.

(At first no one believed any of it, but a look at the Keyblades shut them up.)

His mum tried to put him in in some kind of counselling…thing, but he argued until she let up. She's always been easygoing, but it took a while to convince her that he wasn't a victim of PTSD or some other kind of trauma from having a great time killing Heartless instead of sitting in school for two years. Besides, it's Riku who would need the therapy, what with all the falling-into-darkness and dooming his hometown and that.

Sora refuses, because he thinks he knows what a psychiatrist would say, and he knows for certain that he doesn't need someone to tell him to put on a happy face. He does it himself anyway, and a good job of it, too.

He thinks of his adventures, and remembers a different beach, a darker place, where the water is cold and grey, and there are arches of rock instead of trees, and the grey sand stretches out endlessly in both directions.

At least he hadn't been alone there, in that dark place. Riku had been there with him. And Roxas, too, in the back of his head like a whisper.

He closes his eyes.

x x x

And now the sand is grey and the air is cold and he is not alone. Sora's Keyblade appears in his hand as he springs to his feet and turns around, sinking into a crouch, ready to leap at whoever is there. He's raring for a fight – he hasn't had anything to hit for weeks. He's been jumping at shadows (because he knows now that monsters live in the shadows), and people tapping him on the shoulder, and he always whirls around when someone enters a room. Out among the stars, these reflexes he's developed were actually usefulHere, they get him weird looks.

It's strange. He knows he must be dreaming, but it feels like part of him is waking up.

It is a woman, tall, beautiful, with shining blue hair. Sora relaxes his grip on the Keyblade and smiles cheerfully, straightening up, but remaining alert. This is the Dark Realm. It might not be a woman. It could be anything. (He half hopes it's 'anything', just for something to fight.)

"Who are you?" she asks him, her voice husky and cracked from disuse. She frowns, and raises a finger to point at him. "And where did you get that?"

"The Keyblade?" he says. "Oh, it's mine. I was given it. Do you want a look?"

Her eyes narrow. "You were given it? Who gave it to you? Who could have?"

Sora opens his mouth and looks down at the Keyblade, and nearly drops it. Its design is all wrong. It is a kind of black-bronze colour and the blade looks like a bird's wing, and it feels like he should be holding it backwards. He loses concentration and it vanishes from his hand.

"That blade is not yours," she tells him with absolute certainty.

"Say that again!" He slashes at the air with his fist, sinking into his fighting stance again. "The Keyblade is mine. It chose me."

"I don't often get visitors." A steel Keyblade shimmers into her hand, making Sora jump. "But I've heard your voice...I know your voice."

"I've never seen you before in my life," Sora says, and it's a lie. He knows that he knows this woman, and for a moment he just wants to rush up to her and embrace her.

"The last I heard your voice, it was telling me – things," she says distantly. "Horrible things. Taunting me."

"Hey, I don't – you must think I'm somebody else…"

"I'd never seen your face before," she says tightly. "Well, now I have."

"What do you mean, the Keyblade isn't mine?" Sora asks her stubbornly.

"I've had enough of you," she snaps. "Give it up…Vanitas."

"Vani - who? WHAT?"

All of a sudden she is running at him, and he knows instantly that she is powerful, stronger than him, stronger than Riku, and sometimes he's certain she's stronger than Terra though he'd never say that to his face, and he doesn't have much of a hope of winning. He resolves to give it a shot anyway. After all, he hasn't had anything to hit for weeks.

He loses, and ends up spread-eagled flat on his back, with the Keyblade knocked out of his hand and her own steel-grey Keyblade at his throat. It doesn't suit her. It should be the colour blue.

"Stop it," she tells him, her voice cracking. "Just leave me here. In peace."

"Hey, um…who's Terra?" he asks.

She nearly drops her Keyblade.

"Don't you dare," she hisses. "Don't you dare mention Terra."

"Sorry!" Sora yelps. "I just…the name…I thought you might know him…" In fact he had for a second, realised with absolute certainty that this strange, fierce, Keyblade-bearing woman had once known someone called Terra.

"Stop taunting me, Vanitas. I've had enough. Just stop it." She picks up Sora's Keyblade. "This is proof enough, anyway."

And part of him shrieks in horror and part of him laughs with glee, and the part that has no idea what they're talking about just says, "Proof of what?"

And then he looks at the Keyblade. Really looks. And it is spiky and dark, and red too, and eyes glare out of it, and it scares him to death, just the thought of it -

But instead, he can feel his mouth stretching into a smirk.

"Go on, then," Sora tells her. "Do it. Kill me. You've got two Keyblades in your hands. You could do it right now. Or are you just…oh, wasting your energy?"

She snarls at him wordlessly.

"You never would, you coward. DO IT, Aqua!"

Aqua –

Terra –

She hesitates.

"You've tried to kill me before. Why hesitate now?" He sighs. "What a hypocrite. A shame."

Vanitas – where did he go – where am I?

Who are you?

"Look," Sora says, mock-pleading this time, "I'm asking you as a friend – just put an end to–"

"That's enough," she spits, and throws his horrible Keyblade back to him, turning away. Sora catches it in one pale, trembling hand. He doesn't know where those cruel words came from, he doesn't. But he also knows that's a lie. They came from him. He said them.

Somewhere from within, perhaps. From me.

"I'm sick of you and your nonsense and your games. I'm through. Stop haunting me, Vanitas. You're dead. You're gone. I beat you, we beat you. So just…just go."

Sora gets to his feet, slowly, painfully.

"My name is Sora," he grinds out.

And she just whips around and stares at him.

"Who's Vanitas?" he pleads.

She shakes her head wonderingly. "I…but I have met you before. When you were just four years old. Sora. How long has it been…"

Since he was four? He does a little counting on his fingers. He hasn't been attending maths classes for two years, after all. "That'd be…eleven years," he says.

"Eleven years," she whispers. Her Keyblade falls to the ground.

A memory returns to him. He does know Aqua, but this memory feels different to the desire to, well, hug her. A fleeting encounter, not an everlasting bond. She had told him –

"You said to look after Riku," he says. "To look after him. You told me it was my job."

Your job, huh? To follow along behind Riku,to look after him…oh, please. Are you just gonna lie back and take that?

"Yes," Aqua says. "Because Terra gave him the power of the Keyblade." She stares into the distance. "I thought about granting it to Sora, but then – I didn't…"

Sora swallows. "Aqua? Aqua?"

"I never told Sora my name," she says sharply, snapping back to reality.

"You said –"

"I can't believe I keep falling for your lies! Why is your heart awake? Why not Ven?"

"Don't worry, Aqua," he says gently. He smiles, reaching into his pocket and clutching the charm that Kairi made for him. "I'll find my way back to you. And then we'll find Terra. Promise."

She is silent, her mouth gaping open for a while.

"Oh, Ven," she says. And there are tears in her eyes. "Terra's gone. Xehanort took him."

Sora backs away, hurriedly wiping a bit of mysterious moisture from his eyes. "What did you call me?"

"I think I understand now," she says. "You've woken up, now. Coming here…it must have...both of you. And you're…you're inside him."

"I'm Sora!" he shouts at her. "You're as bad as the Organisation!" And what happened to the Organisation? That's right - you. And you didn't even bat an eyelid as they died right in front of you. "Roxas this, Roxas that…now it's Vanitas and Ventus and –and – but - my name is Sora –"

She gives a laugh that is also like a sob.

"Ventus," she says to him. "I'll see you again soon. Alright?"

"No," he says weakly. "Yes."

x x x

Sora wakes in early morning light and the smell of salt, gasping for air and bruised all over.

His hands clench, fingers carving furrows in the sand, and the sun beats down, the waves lap, the sea breeze stirs his hair.

Ven.

Who is Ven? And Vanitas, and Terra? Sora may not instantly know the difference between fifteen and four but he's pretty damn good with puzzles, killing things, the way the universe really works, and finding out who the owners of mysterious names are. Eventually.

Killing monsters, he corrects himself after a moment. 'Things' makes him sound like a psychopath - or worse, a villain.

Oh, stop lying to yourself. It's kind of pathetic. Did you really think that you could spend two years in the way you did without, you know, getting accustomed to it? You keep on telling yourself you wanted to come home. You fought so, so hard for it. What a shame it was all a waste. You're pining for the open skies, the -

Shut up, he says absentmindedly to the voice in his head.

Kairi joins him there after a while. She sits and looks out into the horizon, and her heels dig into the sand.

"What's wrong?" she asks him, frowning. "You're not usually this quiet."

"Aw, it's nothing," he reassures her cheerfully, crossing his arms behind his head. "Just had this…weird dream, that's all. Nothing to worry about."

"A weird dream, huh?" she says, leaning back in the same way.

"Yup," he says, grinning. "Right on the munny."

"And what kind of 'weird dream', may I ask?" She waggles her eyebrows.

"Oh - Kairi! Shut up!" He flicks sand at her, and she playfully returns the favour ."I'm serious."

"Now that's a surprise."

"Ha ha ha."

"You know," she tells him, "the last time you had a weird dream, the world ended three days later."

He freezes, the smile vanishing from his face. (It takes a lot to make him do that.)

"Tell me what happened. Did…a black thing come and swallow you up?"

"Nothing that bad! I was…I was in the Realm of Darkness…" He trails off at the end. He shouldn't have brought up the topic at all. Best for it to remain locked inside his head where it belongs. He doesn't need people to be worrying about him.

She frowns and sits up. "Sora, are you alright?"

"Hey, I'm always alright, Kairi!" He gives her a grin that would light up the room if they were inside.

" You aren't…"

"No, you idiot, I'm not traumatised, Riku and I spent less than a day there," he snaps. Unlike her. Who knows how long Aqua has spent there on that dark beach, under a dark sky? I wish I was there with her…I wish all three of us -

"Less than a day for you," she tells him coolly, and leaves.

"It wasn't a dream," he says to the air once she's gone. He takes off his gloves and on impulse, scoops up a handful of salty water and swills it around in his mouth, trying to wash out the bad taste.

He spits it out, feeling like a fish and wondering where these words are coming from, words that are his and most definitely not his at the same time.

He goes and apologises to Kairi. All is forgiven.

Sora isn't used to feeling guilt. The forgiveness of his friend should erase it, but he still feels sick, dirty, ashamed.

You're awful –

Sora.

x x x

Sometimes, boxes have stuff in them, and then they're not just ordinary boxes, they're TREASURE CHESTS! How awesome is that? Sora always feels really excited when he sees one because, of course, treasure chests are AWESOME. Plus, they usually have useful stuff inside them.

He doesn't know how to open them at first, but then a voice speaks to him from somewhere inside – he assumes it's the Keyblade's power – and he knows how to do it: over the shoulder, spin slightly, bring the edge down on the lid –

He has a feeling he has done this many, many times before. Maybe in a past life.

x x x

The place is a wasteland, eroded and bare. Craters and jagged mountains and crevices pockmark the horizon. Sora's been here before. He should be in his room, in his bed.

He has the sneaking suspicion that this isn't exactly a dream, either, and that he isn't alone. He feels oddly calm.

"So what are you doing here, Xehanort?" he asks after a moment, turning around to face the presence.

The man – Heartless? hisses and one muscled arm draws sharply back, a huge bronze Keyblade appearing in his hand. "Call me that again and I'll –"

So it's not Xehanort. Still no one to fight."Riku?" Sora asks eagerly. "Is that you?"

"Do you mean the boy from the islands?" The man's brow furrows.

"You know him?" It would have been pretty cool to meet Riku here. He runs through the list of people he knows with white hair. "So you're…Xemnas?"

"Stop TAUNTING ME!" the man roars, and once more Sora is given the distinct impression that this person is far, far better at fighting than him, stronger, more adept, and he doesn't have even one chance of defeating him, not in a million years. He doesn't like the feeling. It's unfamiliar. It rankles. Sora isn't very used to losing, especially in life-or-death battles.

He's also getting the impression that Terra is about to charge at him like a bull at a red curtain –

Terra? Is that you?

The Keyblade appears in his hand.

"What?" Terra narrows his eyes. "No. You're not the one I chose. I didn't choose you." Sora looks at him again, and no, it's not Xehanort at all, it's another man, a man with brown hair and blue eyes and a kind of brutal honesty about him.

"You're not the one I chose! Who are you?" And now Terra really is charging forward, and Sora barely ducks out of the way, narrowly missing a fatal blow.

"My name is Sora!" he shouts. A thought occurs to him. "Don't call me Vanitas!"

"You weren't given it! Who did you steal it from?" Terra snarls, and takes another swing – slow, and wide, and very, very strong. "Why? Why do you have the Keyblade?"

Sora barely manages to dodge that one. He is reeling. Remembering another time and place –

"Shut UP!" he howls, trying not to even think about it, and brings his Keyblade up to meet Terra's with a resounding clang.

"Aqua said it too, weeks ago," he pants, his grip on the Keyblade slipping. "She said the Keyblade wasn't mine, that I…stole it. But I know that's not true – can't be true –" what am I supposed to do if I can't use the Keyblade?

"You spoke to Aqua?" And Terra's face lights up for a millisecond, but hardens again instantly. "No. I've spent enough time being fooled and tricked. Tell me where you got the Keyblade!" He gives Sora a shove.

Sora just steps back, causing Terra to stumble. He holds the weapon out in front of his face. Gold and silver and familiar.

He looks harder, and it becomes that black-bronze Keyblade shaped like a bird's wing. It's not his.

It's mine…

"Ven," Terra says wonderingly. "Ven."

He reaches up to touch it, but Sora snatches it away.

"That's not yours to take," Terra says, unmovable as earth.

"It is mine and has always been mine," Sora says contemptuously. He points it straight out in front of him at Terra, like Riku holds his sword. "And if you try to take it from me then I will choke the life out of Ventus and Aqua and make you watch and then I will kill you. Slowly."

"Vanitas?"

Sora stumbles backwards and the Keyblade turns to starlight in his hand.

x x x

He spends most of the next week trying to forget about that dream and the words he said in it.

x x x

"What's wrong, giving up already?" Sora says with a sense of euphoria. He is fighting, and the adrenalin is making him feel dizzy with happiness.

"Stop grinning!" Riku pants, narrowly blocking a swipe from Sora's wooden sword.

"Why?"

"It's distracting me! If I lose, I'm blaming that grin. It's unsettling."

"Hey, I'm happy!" Sora protests, doing a little pirouette and slamming the toy sword down on Riku's, causing it to fall to the ground. "Ha ha, I win! You need to lighten up, Riku. One more round? Pleeeeease?"

"You're on." Riku's eyes flash. "Keyblades this time."

"Finally!" Sora drops the toy and summons the real thing. The Keyblade. And as it appears in his hand, there's that sense of freedom and exhiliration and the ability to go absolutely anywhere, a feeling he has barely experienced since he came home to the Islands at all. He thinks he might go mad without it, without the feeling that he can leave whenever he likes. He knows he won't ever leave again really, so no harm done. Right?

On impulse, he flips it around so he's holding it backhand, shifting back and forth on his feet.

"That's new," Riku says, settling into his fighting stance, Keyblade held straight out in front of him, tracing tiny circles in the air.

Sora spins the Keyblade around in his hand, then charges, still with that stupid grin on his face. They clash; he attacks faster than normal, with quick slices and jabs, but less power. "You're too slow," he taunts.

"It's not my fault you're suddenly fighting like a maniac on a sugar high," Riku says calmly, knocking him back. "What's gotten into you? How much ice cream have you eaten today?"

Sora falters.

There is insane laughter ringing in his ears. He suspects it's inside his head. Nope, not a good sign. The Keyblade clatters to the floor and he sinks to his knees.

What has he been saying? Why was he fighting like that? He sank into that quick backhand style so easily, so naturally – it's like he took it from the memories of another person…

And if he's honest with himself – and you very rarely are, isn't that right? – this has been happening for a while. Since he came home, there's been names and thoughts and that cruel voice in his head I'm here right now can't you hear me? and the pleasanter one, though that turns up less often. There's been the dreams, and the Keyblade -

And there are other things, from the past, from before he came home. Little things that don't make sense. Like the times when he knew things, could do them easily, say them easily, and when memories and experience and opinions trickled into his head from nowhere.

No one ever gave him the Keyblade. You stole it. That blade is not yours... How can he use it? How can he?

He's never really questioned it before now. If he thinks about it, it's been like this since he was a young boy. That constant flow of memories, thoughts, bits of knowledge.

Shaping him, he realises with a flash of anger. Making him like –

Ven.

Home, gone in a storm, destroyed –Xehanort - the three of us - possessed, trapped, asleep -

Ven Aqua Terra

Vanitas

He buries his face in his hands.

"Sora? Sora!"

Riku is calling to him.

"Are you alright? Talk to me!"

He raises his head reluctantly.

"I think you were right," he says blankly.

"Right about what? Sora?"

"I am just the delivery boy." He slumps so he is lying flat on his back. He's tired. So tired. "I'm carrying an…another heart inside me."

"What do you mean?"

"Like when I carried Kairi's heart within me for all that time."

Riku nods, his eyes narrowed. "Alright. So what do you have to do?"

" I think I have to give it back," Sora says. "That's my job."

Silence.

That's your job, Sora.

Riku kneels down beside him and reaches out a hand.

"The Keyblade, too," Sora adds, not lifting his arm up. He doesn't want to move. He's realised the truth, and the quiet revelation is so -

He is not who he thinks he is. He is not Sora. He is just a faded copy based on someone else entirely. Ven.

He is not who he thinks is is. He is not Roxas. He is just a faded copy based on someone else entirely. Sora.

"Enough, Roxas," he snaps, wanting more than anything to just summon the Keyblade and kill something big and ugly and evil, with Donald and Goofy at his side. It's how he relaxes.

"Tell me what's going on, Sora." Riku's voice is grave and his eyes serious. Sora sighs.

"Are there any giant Heartless around here?"

x x x

Sora knows he is of the cheerful and optimistic type. He reckons Riku needs to lighten up sometimes.

He's always been that way. How could he not have been? He doesn't actually remember what he was like before he was four years old, anyway –

-which is a shame, because that night when he was four years old, he took the heart of another person within him, and it nestled next to his own, and it slept through the years until one day he went to the Realm of Darkness and met a girl named Aqua and the heart jerked awake.

As he grows up, Sora forgets about that night. He was only a kid then.

x x x

Riku leaves to fetch Kairi, not believing a single word of Sora's insistences that he is perfectly fine, especially in the head. It'll be psychiatrists all over the place before he knows it.

Sora just holds the Keyblade up and stares at it. His jaw clenches and his heart plummets. He can see that Keyblade. The otherKeyblade. The sword that looks like the wing of a bird. And this isn't just a dream.

Now this is entertaining.

"Shut up, Vanitas!" He figures that Vanitas must be a part of Ven, like his Nobody.

More like his…dark half.

"Ah. Right. My mistake."

Heh. Ven. Ventus. Good ol' Ven. You're him, aren't you? It's like Roxas all over again – except this timeyou're the one who isn't real!

He childishly covers his ears, hoping that it will make the voice in his head go away.

So you've figured out that you have his heart. And, oh, let me tell you, when I'm not playing with your head you are so very much like him.

Shut up. Stop…

I can do what I like. I'm a part of Ven, ya know. Have you wondered why he hasn't been speaking up more? Why you've only been hearing from me? I'll tell you why. He wants his heart back. He wants you to return his heart. And the more I mess with you, the more likely you are to do just that. Get it? Return the heart or you're stuck with me. Forever. I'm not complaining. It's a lot of fun watching you squirm.

And Sora's blood runs cold.

x x x

This time, he isn't in the desert or on the beach. He is standing on smooth coloured glass, and there is darkness all around.

There is a boy standing there, in the middle of the platform. He looks up as Sora approaches.

"Roxas?" Sora asks incredulously. What is Roxas doing here?

"Vanitas!" the boy says angrily. "Enough of your taunts. Leave me and Sora alone!"

And then, like the others, he runs at Sora and Sora ducks and Sora reaches for his Keyblade but this time, this time it isn't there. He snatches at thin air. No Keyblade.

This is not Roxas – this is Ven –

"No," he growls. "My heart is my own!"

Don't you wish.

Ven stands over him with a pitying look, his Keyblade black-bronze, shaped like a bird's wing. He holds it backhand.

"Why can't you just stay gone?" he asks.

"My name is Sora."

x x x

He thinks he can hear Aqua rebuking him.

Shut UP! I'm sick of your nonsense. Give Ven his heart back!

Sora crosses his arms over his knees and buries his face under them.

I am Ven – Vanitas – Roxas – He can hear them all, jostling for attention in the back of his head. He just wants to be himself again. Problem is, he doesn't have a himself.

It's almost as if…oh,as if your heart's become a part of Ven's, isn't it? Oh, this is priceless.

He ignores the voice.

x x x

"Sora! Wake up!"

He peeks out from the shelter of his crossed arms. Riku, Kairi.

"I'm going somewhere," he tells them.

"Then we're coming with you," Kairi says instantly.

"Hmph." Sora raises his head and grins. It isn't a nice grin. "Don't you get it? By the time you catch up with me, I'll be a different person."

They both flinch as if stung.

"It looks like you already are," Riku snaps.

"Riku," Kairi says. "Calm down." She scoots closer to Sora. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Vanitas," he mutters. "He's inside my head. Ven. Vanitas. They're here."

"I'm here," says Kairi, with a smile.

He tries to smile back.

"Guys…I'm sorry. It's been a bit strange lately…"

They listen.

x x x

"It's your choice, Sora," Kairi says.

"The Keyblade or Ven?" Riku says. "Keep the Keyblade."

"Vanitas," Sora says, tapping his skull. Nope, don't forget me.

"Xehanort's Heartless," replies Riku, copying the motion. "You can push it down. Block it out. It makes you stronger."

"The Keyblade," Kairi whispers. "You'd lose the Keyblade."

"And I'd lose a whole part of myself. Don't you get it?" Sora repeats. "Ven has been with me since I was four years old. What happens to me once he's gone?"

They are silent. They're worried about him. Probably misguidedly worried about his mental health. He'sfine, honestly.

What is he supposed to do if he can't use the Keyblade?

Sora is the Keyblade Master. He kills monsters born out of corruption and darkness, and monsters who look disturbingly like people, and monsters that bring sorrow in their wake. He helps anyone who asks for it, and those who don't, too. He rushes in with the Keyblade and saves the day. He goes out and saves people and planets and the universe with a smile to light up the room. That's who he is.

Except that he isn't, because the Keyblade was never ever his, it is Ven's and it is Riku's and he's been using a stolen blade all this time.

He squashes an ant under his thumb. None of the excitement and adrenalin and euphoria of combat, all of the pain. End result the same. Death.

x x x

Glass again. The platform. A masked boy with a Keyblade, looking like Riku did when taken by darkness, laughing at him.

"Vanitas," Sora snarls, reaching for the Keyblade. It doesn't appear, of course. The boy across from him is already holding it.

"Come on," Vanitas jeers, walking closer. His voice is so familiar it hurts. "You're pathetic. Can't deal with a voice in your head. You're such a goody-goody." With a flick of his arm he sends a crescent-shaped burst of energy at Sora, knocking him to the ground. "I can't stand people like you. Liars. Weaklings. You go out and fight and fight, and after a while you get addicted to it, fighting, killing,hurting, but you won't admit it to yourself. You're too much of a little hero to admit that you like causing pain, isn't that right? Well, I think that's weak. It's despicable."

Another burst of energy, sending Sora flying dangerously close to the edge.

"I bet you wouldn't even be able to hold the Keyblade if not for Ventus and I. And you're really going to give it up? Hah! Give me a break..."

The mask fades away, and Sora's insides freeze. His fists clench.

"Like the face? I didn't choose it, you know." Vanitas laughs harshly. "Still…I think it suits me." And he grins. Golden eyes and black hair, but a face that is so familiar it hurts to look at. It's him, it's Sora, it's like looking in the mirror.

"I've made my choice," Sora says quietly.

Vanitas pauses. "…What?"

"You know, you're making the same old mistake. The mistake darkness always makes. You can't ever see the best in people. You can't see how they really are," Sora tells him, getting to his feet. "And that's why you don't even have any friends. Well, I do, and I don't care if he said this first, because it's true. My friends are my power. They're my strength. I don't need a weapon, I don't need the Keyblade, I don't care if I'm a delivery boy or the saviour of the world!" His eyes burn. "My friends aren't leaving me, and they never will!"

"Hmph. You don't need the Keyblade?" Vanitas snorts as he fades away. "You just keep telling yourself that."

x x x

And he's standing on the grey shore of a grey ocean under a grey sky once more.

"Hey, Aqua," he says, smiling. "Long time no see."

"Sora," she says softly, clutching a charm like a blue star. "Ven."

"I'm still me, you know." His grin is empty, but he's very good at hiding it. "Even if me is, well, him."

"I'm so sorry," she whispers. "I'm so, so sorry…"

"Please, don't cry, Aqua!" He shakes his head. "You know, sometimes you can be such a girl."

She wipes her eyes. "Hah. What do you mean, sometimes?"

"Alright, alright! All the time, then –"

"Are you going to do it?" she cuts in, looking straight into his eyes. He looks back at her. She is startlingly familiar in a way that has nothing to do with Ven. Sora realises she reminds him of someone.

"I think I've known all along," he says to the still air and the dark, lapping waves. "I was always going to give it back. It's just…the right thing to do."

He always would and he always will. He never did have the choice, really, because he can't escape himself. Where did that sense of duty come from? he wonders vaguely. From me, or from Ven? Does it matter? Even if it comes from him, it's still mine for now, and I'm going to stick by it.

Aqua nods, and reaches out, and presses something into his hand.

"I'll come back for you. And Terra. And then you can be together again," he says.

"Thank you," she replies, and smiles. If it's an empty smile, she's very good at hiding it.

Sora grins back like a happy fifteen-year-old boy who has never known fighting or pain or killing or even the end of the world itself. It's technically a lie, but it doesn't have to be. Sora has always been a cheerful kid.

"It's my honour," he says. And he realises there's something about her that reminds him of himself.

x x x

The Keyblade is not the best thing that ever happened to him, Sora tells himself, knowing it's a lie. He can't bear to think about losing it. He'd never be able to escape. He might go mad, slowly cracking to pieces under a constantly smiling face.

He might have to build a life for himself on solid ground, at home, with his friends, not fighting and killing and saving the world. Living, not surviving, surviving, not living – he doesn't know which one. Shaking off all the true responsibility and learning things like the difference between fifteen and four.

A better life? A worse one? It's the life he had expected to have until the Keyblade appeared in his hand. He doesn't know if he can bear it. He thinks he probably should.

Maybe he does need a psychiatrist after all. Hah, yeah right.

x x x

He wakes up in a place that he remembers and doesn't remember at the same time, clutching a blue charm in the shape of a star. Ven is there, slumped in a shining white throne. He looks exactly like Roxas. Or, rather, Roxas looks exactly like him.

Sora doesn't even hesitate. He knows what must be done.

He watches the Keyblade dissolve into white specks as he drives it into his own chest, setting the other heart within him free, and realises how pretty it is. Like snow – the stars – wisps of Nothing – a meteor shower, clear and shining, on one single dazzling night -

x x x

What am I?

I'm what's left.

Or maybe I'm all there ever was.

x x x

The boy is sinking headfirst, through water that is deep and dark.

He wakes at the very bottom, and tries to struggle up to the surface, but he is drowning in darkness and there is no one to pull him out, and he dies a little. When his head breaks through the surface at last, salt water cold on his skin, the light blinds him and he cannot see, and he longs for the darkness and the crawling and slime at the bottom of the ocean.

"Take my hand," his friend urges. He stumbles towards it, but there is a wave curling over his head, can't he see it? and it's crashing down, it's drowning them, all three of them, the two boys and the girl. He snatches at their hands but he cannot reach. He realises he does not want to reach.

He gives in and the tide sweeps him away.

The thick salt liquid soaks his skin, his hair, his clothes, finds its way into his mouth and nose and eyes. It is the colour red. It laps around the ankles of the girl but does not touch her, because unlike him she has never taken a life.

They were slime! he shouts. Monsters and darkness and no one at all!

The ocean draws back for a single moment that seems like weeks and weeks.

This is the price, it says to the boy, and he falls to his knees and he goes under and this time he does not resurface.

x x x

He uncurls himself limb by limb, his throat hoarse and his cheeks stained. He tries summoning the Keyblade.

Well. He'd been expecting this, anyway. There is a dull ache in his chest, and a frightening lack of a sense of purpose, and he does not know what he wants to do.

It's a nice change, actually. It's time for him to take some rest. He's earned it.

x x x

They both owe each other, he realises as he feels a hand on his shoulder. And now Ven's collected his reward. Maybe it's better this way. It probably is.

"Sora?" The voice is nervous, guilty, thankful. "Is that you?"

He doesn't look up.

"You look just like him," Ven says softly.

Sora stares at the floor.

There is a faint noise – shhhh – like the Keyblade being summoned. Ventus crouches down beside him.

He folds Sora's hand over the Keyblade's handle.

"In your hand," he begins, "take this key…"

And you will find me, friend –

No ocean will contain you then.

The Keyblade is dismissed; Ven reaches down a hand, to help him up. His eyes are as blue as the sky.

Sora smiles, then, and it's a smile to light up the room. "We'll go together," he says.

FIN