Chapter 1: Port in a Storm 1
When Riku comes home with a handful of cash and a new blanket, Sora knows he's been street fighting again.
Not like he has a problem with it--and the blanket looks clean, it might even be new-new, Kairi would like that he figures--other than Riku doesn't always tell him where all the fights are; but Sora's got a job already this week, promoting a new store that's opened, and they'd probably fire him if he shows up with bruises. Which he would, because if he and Riku are in the same bouts, they always wind up in the finals together, and Sora's still working on that 'win more times than Riku' thing.
Kairi's the only one of them with a steady job, doing some kind of clerk work at some business that seems to involve lots of paper; she comes home with toner on her knuckles and paper cuts on her fingers at least one day out of the week.
Sometimes Sora wishes they'd thought to pack extra clothes when they'd taken off on the raft. Sure, there was a weight issue, and if they'd had any less water they probably wouldn't have made it to the shore (he shoves the thought away as soon as he has it; he doesn't like thinking of the circles under Riku's eyes those last couple days, the sharpness of Kairi's cheekbones), and they'd all have just outgrown those too; but maybe they could have used one set as spare parts for the other or something. He wants a new pair of pants. His old ones, the ones that used to be fine except for the briny smell never really went away, are way too short now, and it's starting to cause problems when he's out on the street at certain hours. They gave him a pair of overalls at this one job tarring a roof; he wishes sometimes he'd just taken them when it was over and seen if he could cut them down into something normal-looking. Normalish. He's not picky. He'll take anything at this point, so long as it doesn't look like hot pants.
Kairi didn't get her job until after her skirt was really kind of . . . kinda . . . noticeable. And the clerk position was supposed to require a high school degree or equivalent.
After the first week, she told Riku he had to stop 'happening to pass by,' because his scowling was making her boss touchy and they sort of needed enough money to make next month's rent and not starve. (The 'landlord' demands cash, and even if he's cheating them--it's not an apartment, it's just one room, and they share a bathroom with the whole floor--there's not a lot of places that will sell a roof to a few teenagers without demanding paperwork and proof of citizenship.)
The next day Sora showed up on her lunch break with a couple convenience store sandwiches. Most of the people in her office seemed to like him, and he's pretty sure none of them know he followed that one guy who was taking pictures of her with his phone into the bathroom--including the guy, Sora tried really hard not to be seen. He remembered to break the guy's phone with his foot, because of fingerprints and stuff.
Even if the guy did know it was him, Kairi's never said anything, so Sora figures he got the message and they don't have anything to worry about.
That was a good thing, because he can't visit Kairi much at work; about the third time he went to see her, somebody started yelling this other guy's name when he was on his way back.
He didn't think about it--it wasn't his name, why would he?--until the next time he was in the area, in the evening. This weird-looking guy had given him a ten and a letter and said if he took it to a guy in the bookstore off the square, he'd get another twenty there, and Sora figured why not? He could pick up Kairi on the way back and they could get burgers (Riku told him later he was an idiot for not looking inside before delivering it). That time, someone grabbed him from behind and asked why he'd dyed his hair.
He didn't start the fight--there was thirty bucks at stake, enough for dinner and the next day's groceries--and it all seemed like some silly mistake; they had a friend that looked a lot like him, but he'd gone missing around the last winter. But then the first guy shoved him in the chest, and Sora started to think if the letter got damaged he might not get the twenty, and he was mostly just trying to push the two guys off enough to get enough room to leave, but then Riku showed up out of nowhere with that metal pole; and after that there wasn't much else to do but win.
Turned out later that Kairi had met them all before, and made friends with Olette and then plans with her for the six of them to hang out one day when there was a fair downtown. That was awkward.
It'd probably be easier to get money if he could go anywhere in the city to look for work, but now he tries to avoid that area. Even if Kairi and Olette made them work out a truce--after they separated Hayner and Riku--Sora doesn't like the way the three of them look at him, like he's somehow responsible for the guy still being gone. Or like they want him to stop reminding them of it.
He doesn't notice until Kairi mentions it, but Riku's coming back later and later at nights.
"Hey," she says, when he rolls over on the floor and blinks enough times to realize she's sitting against the wall, legs pulled up to her chest and arms loosely around them.
"Why're you up?" he mumbles, or a close approximation thereof. She understands.
Kairi raises an eyebrow and gives him that quirked, you-are-such-a-dweeb-sometimes smile. "Riku's not back yet."
Sora props himself up on an elbow and looks around the room. "Huh. Guess the fight ran long."
"Yeah," Kairi agrees. "They've been doing that."
"Don't worry," Sora says, flopping back down and folding his arms under his head. "No one can beat Riku."
"Yeah," Kairi says quietly, resting her chin on her knees.
Riku's back when he wakes up that morning, sun streaming through the window they don't have blinds for; but Sora looks a little harder now because Kairi's doing the same, and maybe there are a couple more bruises than usual, but it doesn't seem that noticeable.
If Kairi's worried, something has to be wrong; but Sora looks when he remembers to and Riku is still Riku. He still looks out at the world with those eyes that convinced Sora getting on a raft to cross the ocean was a totally great idea, like he's seeing past whatever's in front of him to places Sora wants to go.
Riku does it more now, maybe; that's all. He glares out their window, making Sora wonder what he's seeing instead of the flickering neon sign of the ramen restaurant across the street below . . . but not that much. They'll all see it, eventually.
There's nothing in the apartment but their bags and the hotplate Kairi got from a flea market along with a pot and some dishes, packets of chopsticks he and Riku sneak from the restaurant whenever they're low, a few blankets bunched up on the floor and whatever groceries they have for the day, and a couple wooden boxes Sora swiped from an alley. There's another piece of cloth Riku nailed to the ceiling in the corner for Kairi to change behind; she used to get dressed in the bathroom, but then she noticed the holes in the wall, so Riku won this guy's trench coat in a fight and cut it up until it hung wide enough.
None of them really bother to do more with the place; there's not much money, and anything extra would probably get stolen eventually, and they're not in it much, and when they are in it they're all there which is enough; and anyway, they're not staying here forever. This place is just a sandbar. The world's waiting past it.
Girls are luckier, Sora thinks once, after Riku's stolen one of his shirts and given it to Kairi to make her skirt longer and then given Sora his over-shirt to make him shut up. Kairi manages to make her skirt longer and fit better over her hips and add strips of fabric to the side of her shirt so it's not so tight over her--chest, though now she has to wash everything in the bathroom's sink since she can't throw her clothes in the washers in the laundromat down the street or the stitches rip out. Sora has no idea how to go about making his pants less tight; he doubts he could do the add-strips-of-fabric thing without ruining them.
Riku puts him in a headlock when Sora says they should probably at least share the shirt until it's closer to summer, so he quits and enjoys wearing something that isn't as tight around his arms and figures Riku will come around eventually after he's frozen in that tank top a few more days. The thing's so worn it can't be much use anymore except to avoid public indecency laws. Or maybe not; Sora's shorts are pretty bad, but even they're not as tight as Riku's shirt has gotten.
It's his own fault for growing so much taller, Sora thinks sourly one morning when he notices Riku has gained another inch on him again.
Riku doesn't spar with him as much lately. They'll go days without practicing sometimes, which is weird, and makes Sora restless and over-energized. Even if he prods at Riku, he'll just shrug him off unless Sora flat-out attacks.
This night, he's having a good day; he's managed to get Riku's arm behind his back, which is about halfway to winning, while Kairi has her blanket pulled up over her head and is occasionally kicking a leg in their general direction and telling them to let her sleep or she'll go get addicted to coffee and that'll show them. Or something like that; the blanket's muffling her words and she's kind of slurring them anyway.
Riku has to shift his footing to avoid her leg coming close to his calf, and Sora sees his chance and knocks his feet out from under him.
"Ha!" he says, because he didn't really think that would work, and throws his weight forward while keeping Riku's arm twisted back to force him to the floor. He has to grab Riku's upper arm by his elbow to hold him down, but hey, he's winning.
"Give in?" Sora asks, and suddenly Riku tenses up underneath him; and next thing Sora knows, he's been hit in the face hard enough that he skids across the floor and slams against the wall.
Should've pinned his forearm, Sora thinks as he pinches his nose and ducks his head between his knees, trying to stop the bleeding before it really starts.
His thoughts are mostly jumbled around the whooshing in his ears and the grossness of blood dripping between his fingers and the different ways he screwed up, so he's not sure exactly how much time has passed before he hears Riku say, "Sorry."
Sora blinks and lifts his head to look up at him. Riku's standing in the middle of the room, looking like he doesn't know what to do with his arms, and Kairi's sitting up and watching the both of them.
"What for?" Sora replies, confused. "It's not broken."
Riku looks like he can't find an answer for a while, and then says "Oh." A while after that, he shrugs; but it looks more like an imitation of what he used to do than the real thing.
Sora wonders if the hit affected his eyes, too.
He has to soak his shirt in cold water for a couple hours if he wants to hope to get the blood out, which means he has to sit in the bathroom and haul the shirt in and out of its sink every time one of the neighbors wants to use it. It's probably close to three a.m. by the time he returns to their room, since the ramen restaurant has finally turned off its sign.
Riku's curled up in a corner, back to the room, the blanket covering most of him from view. Kairi's in a different corner of the same wall, looking like she tried to stay awake; but she's half-slumped over and asleep too. Sora leaves the shirt on the floor by the door and prods her in the shoulder until she wakes up enough to lie on the floor, before collapsing on his own blanket.
Riku's coming back even later these days. He doesn't look much different, and he definitely doesn't look like he's been losing, but Kairi says it's like his heart's bruised and Sora believes her.
He's tried to talk to Riku a couple times, but Riku always acts like Sora's questioning his ability to fight when that's not what Sora is saying at all, and then they end up sparring and Sora forgets to keep harassing him because he's busy trying not to lose.
Riku's also coming back with more money. Enough that one day, even with groceries and rent and their Get-Out-Of-Here savings (Kairi keeps track of everything on a piece of scrap paper she brought home from work one day; the opposite side is some half-finished research report, and Sora keeps planning to ask what exactly the place where she works does), there's enough left over to go clothes shopping. Kairi hugs Riku for like a whole minute she's so happy, and Sora thinks he could have earned that much too if Riku would just stop being so secretive about where he's fighting these days.
But it's nice to have pants again. And to not have to try not to look whenever Kairi has to yank her skirt back down because it's riding up. They all buy flip-flops because you can't grow out of those as fast as regular shoes, even though it's still pretty cold out in the mornings and evenings.
It's the shoes that finally make Riku start waiting for Sora whenever a new fight's been organized. Kairi got in trouble because her job wouldn't allow her to wear the flip-flops and now she has blisters where her old shoes are too tight; and Sora keeps courting frostbite because he can't wear socks with his and still run fast enough to make people figure it was worth paying him to be a messenger.
(The store-opening job is long gone, and he still picks up occasional temporary work like it--he gets a lot of tips from people he's worked for about new jobs--but the best semi-permanent work he's got is being an unofficial delivery boy around town.
Okay, so it's mainly for this one group of people downtown, but they pay ridiculously well for just carrying letters around. And Sora's figured out that the reason they keep flagging him is because he doesn't read them, so that shows Riku who's an idiot.)
It's at the third street fight they attend that Sora meets the Bastard (he doesn't know his name, he doesn't want to know his name, he just wants him away from Riku and Kairi and out of his world). The first fight Riku was really twitchy, acting distant in a way that was weird even if Sora was bouncing on his feet a lot--it had been a while, he was justified; and if it were anyone but Riku, Sora would have sworn that he threw the second to last fight so that he didn't wind up fighting him at the end.
The second one wasn't as bad. Riku wasn't acting like he was expecting someone to stab him, and Sora managed to hold his own against him for several minutes before eventually losing in the final round. It was the third one where everything goes to hell.
The fight's pretty early in the night, all things considered, so Kairi goes with them and rolls her eyes when Riku says it's too dangerous.
"I'm not on you guys' team," she replies, "I'm staying in the sidelines."
"That's dangerous too," Riku mutters.
"I won't take my wallet and I'll kick anyone who tries to grope me," Kairi says, setting her hands on her hips.
"It's still not safe."
"Then maybe you shouldn't be going there either."
That pretty much ends it; Riku tries to argue a couple more times, but Kairi sticks to that one statement and finally he gives up. Sora's not sure why he's so angry; it's not like Kairi hasn't watched them before, at times when the police are busy doing something else and she doesn't have to get up early for work the next morning, and it's fun to have someone else to show off for. But Riku walks the whole way to the parking garage like he's just daring anybody to take a swing at him.
They're there for only a few minutes, long enough for everyone to recognize who they are and to get their place in the informal chart, when Riku's shoulders stiffen.
Sora looks over, and notices a tall man standing next to Riku that he hadn't seen around earlier. He must have just arrived.
He's not doing anything, or saying anything, and no one in the group is looking at him like he's one of the fighters; but Riku is getting tenser and tenser and there's just something about the man that Sora doesn't like. He doesn't like the casual way he's standing next to Riku, or how it kind of looks like he's staring out at the part of the crowd that Kairi's in. He doesn't want him near them.
The feeling is cemented when the man turns to look at him over Riku's head and says politely, "I hope the two of you make it to the finals again. I look forward to tonight's outcome."
Riku's hands are fisted in his pockets, and his shoulders are shaking as he glares straight ahead. Sora just kind of looks at the man for a second, because he's not doing anything but he really, really wants him to go not do it somewhere else; and then the man leaves, mingling into the ring that's slowly starting to form as the first guys up get ready.
Riku loses his first fight, and goes and sits on the wall next to Kairi with one hand curled around something in his pocket and the other one braced on the concrete behind her. Sora tries to stick it out through the rounds, because they can always use more money; but he's keeping an eye on Riku and Kairi and the man, and eventually the loss of concentration means a guy he normally would have beat takes him out.
That's when the Bastard gets his nickname.
It's like the threat of losing Riku and Kairi make him look at them differently. He's known Riku for all he can remember of his life, grown up with Kairi, been with them when they were living in separate houses and together on that raft Sora privately nicknamed "Deathtrap" after the first squall and in this huge city. They're the touchstones of his life; anything particularly worth remembering, one or both of them are in it, at the periphery or in the center or else in his thoughts as he imagines This would be cooler with Riku here or Kairi would probably like this.
But now, it's like they're in sharper focus than anything else in the city; now he notices them before he notices the rest.
It gets awkward when he starts to notice how different they look now from when the three of them began building the raft.
Some of it was always obvious--Kairi has, like, girl-parts now, and Riku's always had more muscles than him no matter how many pushups Sora does--but most of it wasn't. He's not sure if Kairi's always played with her hair like that, and he's only mostly sure that Riku didn't used to slouch the way he does once in a while.
He is sure, though, that he didn't used to feel jealous sometimes when he sees the two of them together. The feeling makes him doubly aggravated, because it makes no sense; they're his friends, and if they're together when he's not around he doesn't have to worry as much, because Riku can protect Kairi and Kairi can make sure Riku doesn't do anything too dangerous without Sora's backup. It's not like they're less his friends for being each others'; and it's not like they've gone anywhere. It's weird and stupid.
But it exists.
But then Kairi smiles at him or Riku rolls his eyes at him over something someone else is saying, and Sora forgets it for awhile.
. . . The dream doesn't really help, though.
Sora doesn't usually remember his dreams, because he doesn't usually sleep much at a time; he prefers naps, because doing all the sleeping in some big chunk feels like it's wasting part of the day when something cool might be happening. He vaguely feels like he's had this one before, or maybe started to have it and then woke up before it got far. He knows it's a dream because Kairi's wearing that dress he saw her looking at in a store window once when he was walking back with her from work. He's wanted to buy it for her for a while, even though she's never mentioned it; but the fact that it was in a store window and not on a thrift shop rack kind of eliminates that idea (he doesn't think any more about how he could make enough money if Riku would tell him about fights; Riku does tell him these days, but they never manage to make it through all the rounds before the Bastard shows up and Riku drops out and Sora follows because he can't give all his attention to two things at once).
Kairi's wearing that dress and Riku's kissing her against the wall.
Sora's not sure why he's standing in the room and not saying something, or leaving, or doing anything really but staring; he's pretty sure he's not supposed to stare, even though it just . . . it looks good, the way Kairi's fingers are tangled in the ends of Riku's hair and how Riku's hand is splayed over her hip, rucking the hem of her skirt up. He can see the muscles in her thigh flex when she stretches a little higher up on her toes, and see Riku's shoulder blades shift underneath his tank top when he leans closer and it. It looks good.
It looks good, and it makes Sora nauseous in the back of his throat, because he doesn't want to be on the outside. He doesn't want to lose, to Riku, to Kairi; he doesn't want to be left behind.
They break apart to breathe, and he's about to back out of the room before they see him, stomp on the floorboards like he's been in the bathroom or something--and then Kairi tilts her head and smiles at him past Riku's shoulder. Riku's still leaning down, forearm braced hard against the wall, but he turns his head too and looks right at Sora.
And Sora realizes he's not on the outside; he's just standing a little farther away at the moment. He can see there's still space for him there, between Kairi's smile and Riku's gaze; they've kept it there for him, no matter how close they got.
All in all, it's a really weird dream.
One night, Riku doesn't come back.
When they wake up and realize he hasn't been there, Kairi and Sora go through the building and then the street and then the neighborhood, looking; and then Kairi uses the convenience store's phone to call in sick to work and she and Sora come up with a plan: she'll look through the nearby hospitals and doctors, and he'll go to all the places they usually fight at to see if anyone knows what happened.
In hindsight, Sora thinks, splitting up was a really stupid idea.
Nobody at any of the hospitals he goes to say they saw someone like Kairi, even when he hunts down that one creepy guy in a side hall who he's delivered letters to before. That one shouldn't have been surprising; he's not even sure the guy knows what he looks like, he barely looks up from his papers except to pay Sora whenever he's come in.
Sora goes through all the hospitals he even thinks Kairi would have gone to, and then goes through them again, and then goes back to all the fight spots and then to see if Hayner or Olette have heard anything. Then he buys a hot dog off a street vendor because he's starting to see spots at the corner of his eyes, and sits on a curb and tries to figure out where to go next.
He hasn't thought of anything by the time he finishes eating, so he decides to head back to the area around their apartment and go through there once more before maybe trying the fight areas again.
"Hey, kid," he hears when he's waiting on a stoplight.
"Sorry," Sora tells the man, bouncing on his feet because it feels like every second he's not doing something he's wasting time. It's one of the letters guys. "I'm busy."
The man raises an eyebrow at him. ". . . You look like you've lost someone."
"What?" he replies, finally turning to fully face the guy. In the corner of his eye, he can see the light change and people start crossing, and it makes him more agitated.
"You've got that look," the guy replies, shrugging casually. "You've been a real useful kid, you know. If you want help with something, I know a guy."
Sora just kind of looks at him, because he's not sure how to answer. He could use help, but he suddenly doesn't know if he trusts these people; with Kairi and Riku missing, he's not sure he trusts anyone right now.
It doesn't seem to stop the man, which is normal for him. He tosses a business card at him; Sora catches it reflexively and wonders if he had it up his sleeve or something, because he didn't reach into his pocket. "If you're looking for someone," he tells Sora, "just head there. Got it memorized?"
"Yeah," Sora says guardedly.
The guy gives him that look that he does sometimes, the one that makes Sora think of Hayner and his gang even though it's not the same; and then he turns and leaves. Sora wants to demand more from him, answers or something--but he has to run across the street before the light goes from yellow to red, because he can't just stand there any longer.
The neighborhood and the fight areas and the hospitals turn up nothing again, and at this point Sora thinks there has to be somewhere else to go. But he doesn't know where that is, so he wanders through the area where Kairi works and hopes he'll turn a corner and they'll just be there. He doesn't even care if they're kissing.
He finds himself staring through the barred window of a pet store, and realizes he's not sure how long he's been there. The dog in the display is lying on a mat, watching him with blank curiosity, and Sora has a feeling deep inside that something is completely and totally wrong.
The card is crumpled in his fist. Sora flattens it on the glass until it's readable, ignoring the way the dog's come up to where he's standing, and tries to make out the writing in the orange street light.
It's the flower shop. He's delivered a lot of letters to the owner there, but not many from him; but he knows how to get there easy. Sora stares at the card.
It's probably closed by now. I'll look a little longer, he thinks, and shoves the card into his pocket. The dog paws at the glass when he leaves.
There's a duck painted on the design of the shop's door, and the wrong feeling twists deeper into Sora's heart and guts. He throws up the hot dog in the gutter, and then has to make his way to the nearest gas station to wash out his mouth.
He asks the guy working at the station counter if he's seen anyone like Riku or Kairi, but the answer's no.
Chapter 2: Port in a Storm 2
Riku returns to the apartment just long enough to hear from a neighbor that Sora and Kairi have been making nuisances of themselves asking about him. He swears at himself for not getting out of Ansem's office before dawn, and heads back outside to find them.
The story along the street is the same. He stops at the convenience store on the corner and buys a granola bar for breakfast; he hasn't eaten since last night. He won't eat or drink anything in that office.
He's in the middle of paying when the phone rings. The clerk answers, and then rolls his eyes and says, "It's for you."
Kairi's job required a phone number, so they bribe the manager of the store with ten dollars a week to let them use this one. Somehow Ansem learned about it.
He doesn't like the timing. It's one of many things he dislikes about working with Ansem. Riku shuts his eyes briefly and reminds himself of the money. They need to get out of here faster--Sora and Kairi shouldn't have been stuck with crappy clothes and crappy food for this long. It was his idea to leave the island and come here; he has to take responsibility.
"Yeah?" Riku says, cradling the phone between his shoulder and ear and ripping open the granola bar.
"I need a favor," Ansem replies, and Riku raises an eyebrow.
"I don't do you favors," he says shortly, keeping an eye on the door in case Sora or Kairi walks by. "If it's not a fight--"
"Yes," Ansem interrupts, "but I had a feeling you would be personally interested in this. Though if not. . . ."
It's bait, but Riku doesn't like the way he said it. He tears off a bite of the granola bar before finally taking it. "What do you mean?"
"I've been funding some . . . research," Ansem begins, and Riku decides to finish off the rest of the bar. The man might get to his point by then. "But I'm afraid the scientist in question may have moved to human samples without permission. And from what I heard, there was a friend of yours asking about you at the hospital where he works who's . . . gone missing."
Riku chokes. He whacks himself in the chest once, and then snarls "What did you do to Sora?"
"No, no," Ansem replies, unperturbed. "This was the girl."
The sick feeling at the bottom of his stomach worsens. Sora would have at least paid back whoever took him, but Kairi. . . .
"Where is she?!" he demands.
Ansem gives him a room number in a hospital, and then adds, "Thank you for your help, Riku."
He hangs up before the man has finished, and demands a phone book from the clerk.
The hospital transfers him to the room number, which means it exists. It rings for a long time before it's finally answered by an exasperated man. "What is it?"
Riku hangs up again. He knows the sound of his voice now.
The man who answered the phone pretends he doesn't know anything, and is threatening to call security when Riku drops Ansem's name. He doesn't like doing it, but the man puts the phone down.
"You must be Riku," he says coldly, and that's when he realizes just how deeply he's been played.
"It's not necessary for you to see her," the man continues. "Just to know she's here."
"Where is she," he repeats. He's lost track of how many times he's said it.
"Weren't you listening?"
Riku hopes Sora is still free, and says, "Fine."
He picks up a chair and throws it down the length of the nearest lab table.
He would've done the same thing even if he knew the man had all those dissection knives on him. He just would have made sure there was something better at hand to defend himself with than a microscope and another chair.
The noise attracts security, but it must be someone else of Ansem's, because he doesn't try to arrest Riku after breaking up the fight. Instead, he tells the man to let him see Kairi.
The first thing Riku notices is that she's got one arm handcuffed to the hospital bed she's curled up on. The second is that something looks wrong with her.
The door shuts behind him as he strides into the room. Riku listens for the sound of the lock as he bends over her, but doesn't hear it. He angles himself so his back is in the way of anyone looking in as he tugs at the cuff.
Kairi blinks several times, enough for him to see her eyes are glassy. She mouths his name before managing to say it. "Riku?"
He nods. It's not a regular handcuff; it's some kind of metal and leather buckle with a thicker, longer chain.
"It's a . . . trap," Kairi mumbles.
"Yeah," is all Riku replies, because it's not her fault he didn't figure that out earlier. "Are you okay?"
She tries to smile at him, but it looks more like a grimace. Riku's hands burn with the need to hit someone for this. "I'm okay."
The door is unlocked when he tests it. There's no one in the hall, and the corridor stretches for a long way in both directions before reaching any connecting doors. He can barely hear the sound of someone cleaning up the shattered glass and scattered papers in the lab. There are more doors to several other rooms along the hall. If he leaves to go look for Sora, or the bastards that did this, anyone hiding behind one of those could get to Kairi before he could turn around.
The door doesn't lock from the inside, but it opens outwards, which'll make it easier to defend than take. He keeps his fists clenched by his side, and finally jerks it shut again.
Kairi blinks her eyes open when he drags the only other piece of furniture, a plastic chair, up to the head of the bed. "Where's . . . Sora?"
"He's out there," Riku tells her. "They haven't caught him."
Kairi bites her lip. Riku resumes trying to figure out how break open the handcuff. It goes slow; he stops every time he hears footsteps in the hall outside.
Sora's pretty sure he didn't sleep at all that night. He finally went back to the apartment after trying everywhere one last time, but for some reason the place felt smaller without Riku and Kairi there. He bunched up their blankets and sprawled on them instead of his own, and counted the time until it was tomorrow.
He asks around the street the next morning, gets the same statements as before, and finally fishes the business card out of his pocket and heads to the flower shop. He's still not sure he trusts any of the letter guys, but he doesn't know what else to do or where to even start.
It's kind of weird walking into the store to ask a favor instead of making a delivery. He's brought all their money; he's not sure what the cost will be.
The owner is busy with a customer; he nods at Sora and motions for him to wait. Sora stands by a shelf of flower baskets and bounces agitatedly on his feet.
"Hello," the guy says when the customer has left, and holds out a hand.
"Uh," Sora says. "I don't have anything for you."
The guy raises an eyebrow.
He pulls the card out of his pocket. "The guy with the red hair," he says, and then stops, unsure if all these people actually know what each other looks like. But the man nods, so he goes on. "He said I should talk to you if I needed help with something."
"Did he?" the man replies. Sora's not sure that's a good thing, but he's come this far already.
"Yeah. I'm trying to find my friends," he tells him. "Riku, he's tall and got really pale hair, and Kairi. She's got short red hair and kind of pretty." He rubs the back of his head. "Can you find them?"
The guy still has an eyebrow raised. "I'm not sure what Axel told you, but I'm just a florist."
Sora swallows, and thinks he might hit the other guy--Axel--when he sees him again, and then the man continues. "But I and my employees do tend to see a lot of people while making deliveries. 'Riku' and 'Kairi,' you said?"
"Yeah!" Sora replies, because that's a start. It's better than nothing.
The man jots something down on a pad of paper. "Very well," he says, capping the pen a moment later. "We'll keep an eye out."
"Thanks," Sora tells him, and shifts on his feet. "Uh. What do I owe you?"
"Nothing," the man tells him with a brief wave. "You've been very helpful; consider this a return of the favor. Do you have a contact number?"
Sora gives him the phone number for the convenience store, and then heads out to see if maybe anyone at Kairi's work has seen her. It's a start.
The photos are spread out over Xemnas's desk; he arranges them in chronological order based on the dates on the back, slowly, drawing conclusions from the fragmentary evidence.
On the other side of the desk, closer to the wall than the door, Naminé fidgets with the strap of her camera. Xemnas hasn't spoken to her since she handed over the packet of photographs; it's taken her this long to break the silence.
"Is that all?" she asks. "Can I go now?"
"Yes," Xemnas says with a dismissive gesture. "I have no more need of you."
". . . And--"
"It will be taken care of," he interrupts. He doesn't go into details, and continues examining the potential proof of Marluxia's betrayal. The photographs of the boy who's been serving as messenger of the man's little cabal are evidence that he hasn't been wasting his time with Riku.
Naminé's fists are clenched in her dress as she leaves.
He goes over the photos and implications for some time more, and then phones the hospital he's having Riku and Kairi kept at.
Marluxia hasn't heard anything when Sora stops by at noon, so he's not sure what to do after that but keep on trying the same things as yesterday.
Hospitals have security guards, and Sora knows he annoyed a lot of the nurses when he kept showing up with the same question, so this time he tries the fighting areas first. It's the weekend, when the police are out more, so there's not many to check and they're all in the late afternoon instead of at night; but he goes anyway and ignores the looks on people's faces as he asks about Riku yet again. He doesn't care if they're irritated, just if they know anything.
He's at the second and last fight, and thinking he should join for maybe just a couple rounds because he needs to move, to get out all this agitated energy of the last two days, when he hears "Sora" behind him and then it's like he can't turn around fast enough.
He starts to dash forward, but Riku steps back. His hands are clenched into fists at his side, and Sora doesn't get the look on his face. He found him, so why does Riku look like that?
"I was coming back," Riku says, low, and Sora's eyes widen at the bitterness in his voice. "Why didn't you wait?"
"But," Sora says, and shakes his head and stares at Riku harder. "But you kept coming back late all the time! And it was morning!"
"You should have waited," Riku replies, and this time he's using the plural form and Sora thinks Kairi.
"Hey," he demands, "have you seen Kairi?"
Something crosses Riku's face at that, something dark and hurt and this time Sora thinks It's like his heart's bruised but Riku's talking again before he can wonder about it more.
"You lost her," Riku says flatly. "You don't have the right to ask."
". . . What?" is all Sora can manage.
Riku starts to move forward. "If you want to know, then fight me," he says. Sora's still staring at him in disbelief as he walks past.
He barely hears Riku add, ". . . Don't die," under his breath.
He didn't know Riku was serious until he was facing him.
Riku looks a little bit as sick as Sora feels, but that might be the blood in his eyes. It's all over the side of his face where he landed bad on the pavement. Riku said something just before he threw him, something like "--Hospital, room two-thirty-s--" but Sora didn't get it and then he was skidding along the ground and trying not to let his vision turn black. He thinks he might've really been knocked out if Riku had managed to land that last hit.
But he hadn't; the girl who organizes the fights in this area had kind of flown out of the ring of people and kicked Riku in the side of the head.
"No killing!" she scolds loudly, and Sora blinks more blood out of his eyes and realizes she's yelling at Riku and everything just.
Sinks a little.
Riku's back on his feet, though he's still got a hand pressed to the side of his head; they're declaring him the winner and handing over the portion of the bets. Sora rolls a little further from his side onto his stomach, and tries to shove himself up. It hurts--his arm, his ribs, his head, his insides--it all hurts, and he swallows thickly and then spits blood onto the concrete.
"Riku!" he yells as loud as he can, which isn't loud enough--he still isn't looking at him. Sora braces his arm hard against the ground and tries to lean a little closer. "You're an idiot!"
That makes Riku glance over, just for a second, and it's too hard to figure out his expression through the red film. Sora's about to continue--"We should be looking for her together!"--but first he has to spit more blood out, and then when he looks up again Riku is gone.
Sora stares at the place where he was, and wonders what's gone wrong with everything. He barely notices the girl talking to him.
He kind of notices when she waves a hand in front of his face, but that's because the red film is turning black.
No one stops Riku when he staggers into the hospital that evening. At first he assumes they think he's here for the emergency room. But then he heads down a corridor in the opposite direction and still no one stops him, and Riku starts to wonder just how much of this place is on Ansem's payroll. It can't be everyone; why the hell would someone in a position like that even pay attention to him and Sora and Kairi in the first place?
He asked the same thing in Ansem's office earlier, after he got called there and after the bodyguard stopped him from attacking the man: Why are you going after them?!
It's only business, Ansem replied. If you don't like this, why didn't you stay on your little island and remain ignorant of how the world works?
The fact that Riku couldn't answer makes everything burn worse.
The scientist he fought yesterday isn't in the lab when Riku lets himself in with a copy of the key they gave him. First he thinks savagely Good and then he thinks of Kairi.
He gets down the corridor to her room faster.
The man is in there, and Riku only has to take one step into the room to see that he's injecting her with something. If Sora hadn't nearly dislocated his shoulder and done some serious damage to his knee, Riku would already be across the room and on him.
"I wouldn't do that," the man says right when Riku's about to say screw it and see how far he can get if he just flings himself in a body slam at him. "If you jostle me, it could cause an air bubble in the syringe. And if that gets into her bloodstream, it will kill her."
It's probably a lie--he doesn't trust anything these bastards tell him--but it sounds vaguely familiar. It might be true.
It's probably a lie.
He clenches his good hand and demands, "What are you doing to her?"
"There's really no point in telling you," the man replies, in a dismissing tone that makes Riku wish he could risk it. "You wouldn't understand."
"Try me," he says harshly. Kairi's eyes have been open since he first spoke; he doesn't know why he thought she was asleep. Stupid hopes, probably.
"I assume you've heard of the theory of the soul?" the man says after an aggrieved sigh.
"What?" Riku replies.
"The soul," the man enunciates slowly. "The conscience, the heart, whatever you call it. It's supposed to be--"
"I know what it is," Riku interrupts, irritated.
"It's supposed to be the moral center of a human being," the man continues, ignoring him. The needle is still in Kairi's arm. Whatever he's injecting her with, he's being careful about it. "But recent discoveries in neuroscience have shown that the 'morality' previously attributed to some intangible concept is actually the result of certain connections in the brain."
No wonder Ansem hired this guy. They both like to hear themselves talk. "What the hell does that have to do with Kairi?" Riku demands.
The man gives another aggravated sigh. "If an individual soul is only the consequence of a pattern within the brain, then it stands to reason one could impose a different pattern--another 'soul'--on that brain. That's my hypothesis," the man continues, finally pulling the needle out of Kairi's arm. She makes a little noise.
"Of course, to test this, the subjects would require preparation beforehand--a softening of their own connections, if you will," the man finishes, wiping the needle off with a small cloth.
Riku's eyes widen.
He looks at the plastic chair as the man caps the syringe. It's lightweight, not much use, but the legs are made of metal. He's got one good arm, and he can work through the pain in the other one. All he needs is one really good swing, enough to put the bastard on the floor; and then he just has to keep hitting until he doesn't get up.
You're going to kill someone in front of Kairi?
I'll tell her to close her eyes, Riku thinks back at himself, and moves away from the door.
"You understand, of course, this isn't the sort of thing that can be written down," the scientist adds, and turns to look at him. "I make up a single dose each day, and the formula isn't recorded anywhere. So if anything happened to me," he says, very clearly, "her withdrawal symptoms would be extremely severe."
He believed him about the air bubble, and now Kairi is limp on the bed and breathing shallowly. It's stupid to believe this. He knows Kairi; she'll survive some stupid withdrawal.
It must have shown on his face, because the bastard raises an eyebrow.
"It would be rather foolish of you to stop thinking of your friends now," he says. "You should have done that earlier, when the consequences would have been lighter."
He meant to make it believable to anyone who was watching for Ansem, but he didn't mean to go that far. But the way Sora asked 'have you seen Kairi' like it wasn't anything serious, like things were no big deal. . . .
His hand aches where he split his knuckles open hitting him.
The scientist has gotten past him almost before Riku notices, and he shuts the door between them before he can land a hit. He stands there with his fist pressed against the metal for a while longer, until he can stop shaking; and then he goes over to Kairi.
She's lying face-down on the thin mattress of the bed. Riku tries to be as careful as possible when he nudges her shoulder.
Kairi coughs once, and then rolls onto her side. She her chained hand from underneath the pillow, and slowly uncurls it to reveal a small capsule pill.
"They're giving you those, too--?" Riku starts, but she shakes her head once and he stops.
"Use it?" Her words are slurred. He has to crouch and tilt his head to make them out. "For Sora?"
Riku turns his head and stares at her. "What?"
Kairi is silent for a long stretch. Riku guesses she was fighting against the drug to put everything into a coherent sentence when she says, still gingerly: "You can empty it. So it's hollow."
He catches on.
Riku nods once, to show he understands. Kairi gives him something that was probably meant to be a smile.
"Can you . . . buy me a . . . soda?" she adds, a few moments later, shifting her hand closer. "I need to use . . . you know."
He nods again, and presses a hand to hers, slipping the capsule between his fingers. It's sticky, but he gets it into his pocket as he stands. The door is still unlocked when he pushes it open; the smear of blood on it from his knuckles is already drying.
In the hallway, the nurses' desk comes before the vending machines. Riku steals a pen and sticky note as he passes by, then pretends that the machines don't have what he's looking for. He goes to the stairwell and finds a spot out of the line of the security cameras to empty the capsule, tear off a piece of paper and write the note.
He slid the original key he was given into Sora's pocket during the fight. He had to bribe the key-smith with everything he had on him to get the man to duplicate a hospital one, but if Sora has that and the address and Riku can get him the note about what's been done to Kairi without Ansem learning, that should be enough to get them out. Somehow.
He adds a description of the cuff they have on Kairi, even though it makes the note cramped to the point of near-illegibility. If Sora can get in the hospital and figure out what kind of key they need for that thing, they can escape. Riku spent most of last night trying to get it off, but all it did was chafe Kairi's wrist until it started bleeding. He quit after that, and started trying to loosen the metal slat it was connected to instead. He's still working on that, but it makes a lot of noise. There're metal detectors at all the hospital doors, so he can't just steal a handsaw and cut it off.
He doesn't have time to think about how he's going to face Sora again, so he doesn't. Riku knows he's watched too closely to find the key to the handcuff, and if Kairi can't run there's no way he can get the both of them to the first floor and outside. Not through some of the security Ansem has here.
(He stops short of acknowledging he can't do it on his own.)
If Sora picks a fight, that's fine. Riku just has to get close enough to get the note to him.
Sora wakes up thinking he's drowning in motor oil. He's not, but the smell is everywhere; it's kind of dark and his head still hurts, so it takes a while for him to realize that's because there's cans of the stuff all around. Half of his face feels weird; when he touches it, he realizes there's bandages on it.
He half rolls and mostly falls off the cot he was lying on, and then stumbles toward the doorway. He has to push the door open further to get out, and the first thing he hears when he does is, "Huh, you're alive."
Sora blinks at the man.
"If you can walk, scram," he continues, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "I told Yuffie this isn't a $@*% hideout."
"Cid," someone says, and then there's a lady in a whole lot of pink coming up to him. "Are you hungry?" she asks.
Sora checks briefly that Riku didn't knock out any of his teeth, and then says "Sure," because the man's turned his back on them and is working on some piece of machinery. The fact that they're okay with him leaving makes him trust them, a little; he's got the feeling he should be more worried about people that want to keep him in one place.
The lady introduces herself as Aerith, says she was the one who bandaged his face and arms and stomach, and takes him to a bar further down the street. The woman behind the counter gives them some food but says they have to sit outside because Sora looks twelve.
That's annoying, but then she kicks out the girl who organizes the fights with the same words, so that makes it a little better.
"Not fair!" the girl--the woman called her Yuffie--complains, as she flops down on the steps to the back door by him and Aerith. "And you!" she adds, shoving him in the shoulder. "When are you going to thank me for saving you?"
"Ow," Sora replies, because that was the arm he landed on.
"Oh, sorry," Yuffie says.
Sora's head still hurts from the fight, both physically and from the memories, and Yuffie's a pretty big reminder of things he doesn't want to think about, so he takes a handful of pretzels and makes a sort of 'uhn' noise in the back of his throat and hopes that's good enough.
"So I guess Ansem set you two up?" Yuffie asks.
Sora chokes a little on the pretzels, and then manages to get them down and goes "What?"
"Uh, Ansem?" Yuffie raises an eyebrow at him. "The guy you and Riku were working for?
"Or maybe not," she adds, while Sora's still trying to figure out what to say. "Was it just Riku?"
"Is that the Bastard?" Sora demands, and maybe he should have learned his name earlier, but it looks like Yuffie understands anyway.
"Yeah," she replies, pulling a leg up to her chest. "Hey, were you the one asking around about Riku?"
"Yeah," Sora says, food forgotten. Aerith's picked up the bag from the step, listening to the two of them. "What's going on?"
"Well, Ansem suddenly started getting involved in the bets," Yuffie answered, scratching behind her ear. "Using Riku. They weren't rigged or anything, and it wasn't cutting into my share, so I didn't stop it. Shouldn't you have known this?"
Maybe if Riku ever talked to them about it. . . .
But he isn't going to say that to a stranger, so Sora doesn't say anything.
"It sounds like you're being manipulated," Aerith says, folding the pretzel bag and letting her hands rest over it on her lap. "Can you think of anything you have that someone would want?"
Sora tries to come up with something, but has to shake his head. They don't own a thing, and if the Bastard just wanted them to fight for him, all he had to do was ask. They're not that picky about earning money.
"Hm," Aerith says quietly. "Then, is there anything someone might be holding over your friend to make him act like this?"
"You lost her."
"Kairi," Sora says even as he's thinking it.
Weirdly, realizing is almost a relief. Riku knows where she is, and if she's with Riku then she has to be okay.
"There. You should do that more," Aerith tells him, and Sora blinks at her for a moment before realizing he's smiling.
He shakes his head. "But. . . ."
"If you've been separated from your friends, won't you be even more worried if they look scared or unhappy when you find them?" Aerith asks.
". . . I guess," Sora says. Aerith keeps giving him that look, so he tries to smile again. She answers it, and it feels a little more natural after that.
There's a flash of something pale in the corner of his eye. Sora's on his feet while his brain's still processing it.
"Riku!" he yells, running to the corner of the alley as fast as he can; but when he swings himself around, he's gone. Something crunches under Sora's foot as he runs out in to the street, looking both ways for a hint of where Riku went; but there's no sign.
He goes up and down the whole stretch of street, and finally slumps against the window of a store and wonders what Riku's thinking. Why won't he stop running away?
The blood smear on the door is gone when he returns to Kairi's room. Someone was in here again. Riku's hands clench even tighter in his pockets, and that's when he notices he lost the pill.
He swears, and Kairi stirs. He must have woken her up.
She's back to the way she was when he first saw her yesterday--mouthing words before she manages to say them. "Riku."
"I--" didn't find him, he was planning to say, don't worry, I can take care of everything myself, but it won't come out. It needs to come out; he needs to finish what he started before Kairi notices. But it doesn't.
And then it's too late. Kairi blinks again, and then braces herself up a little on her arm. "Riku?"
"I didn't get to him," Riku says. It's close enough to the truth. He should have gone with that to start with.
"What happened?" Kairi asks. She can't really get emotions into her voice, but her eyes are wide.
His hands were starting to loosen, just a little, but now they're clenched again. He split his knuckles back open again at some point.
"He doesn't care," he says harshly. Riku stomps across the floor to the chair, half hoping whoever's in the room below gets irritated and comes up here and finds out what's going on. "He just went and replaced us."
Kairi's slumped back down to the mattress, but she's still watching him. "He wouldn't do that."
Riku makes an angry gesture in the air. "He did." He told Sora where they were. He gave him the key to the room. If he were going to come, he would have by now. Riku shoves his hands violently back into his pockets. "He was just sitting there, laughing with them, like nothing's wrong! He's always been--!"
He bites down the rest of the words, pulls his hands free and folds his arms over his chest. Kairi's always made him talk too much. It was hard enough, making himself go face Sora again after . . . after the fight. And then Sora didn't even care. Riku doesn't want to talk about it, doesn't want to think about it.
She closes her eyes. He didn't really want to hurt her, but it's better if they stop hoping.
Kairi's always made him do a lot of things too much. Talk too much, compete for Sora's attention too much, think too much. . . .
Years ago, they found Kairi wandering the beach on the opposite side of the island from the port. There was no record of her on the ferry lists, no one who saw her pass through the town, and nobody ever came to the island from the other direction. The currents were supposed to make it impossible. Until Kairi did it. Somehow.
And suddenly there was a whole world beyond the island and the mainland, in a direction Riku had never looked.
But Kairi was never able to tell anyone about it. There were hints at first--she called some things by weird names, or hummed songs he'd never heard of. But even those faded with time, and Riku could only wonder.
And wonder. And wonder, and wonder, and want.
But he didn't want this. He doesn't want to be trapped like this, by people he hates and for people he likes, in one place, trapped while Sora's free--no.
No, not free. Abandoned them.
If Riku even has Kairi and Sora still isn't coming, he can't see it as anything else.
"Sora can be careless," Kairi finally says, and Riku blinks out of his thoughts.
She's looking at him again. "I'm sure he's just as worried as we are." Kairi stretches out a hand to him. "We just . . . all show it differently, because we're different. You know?"
Riku exhales through his teeth, but takes her hand.
He doesn't respond for a long time. And when he finally does, it's not exactly an answer. "Do you think you can get another of those pills?"
Kairi nods once. "Tomorrow."
"Will you be okay until then?"
Riku looks away again. He has to pull his hand back and fold his arms again before adding: ". . . Sorry."
Kairi makes a little 'don't worry about it' noise. He shakes his head, hard, but still doesn't look over.
"Well," she tells him, and he can hear the smile in her voice, "I sort've expected it. You and Sora are kind of bad at this."
"I'm not--" Riku starts to snap, and then it just changes to quiet laughter. He leans forward, pressing a hand to his forehead, and keeps laughing. Kairi joins in for a little bit, but it makes her out of breath.
When he leaves the room to get breakfast, there's a woman working on an electrical panel in the lab. Riku glances at her as he heads for the door, but she doesn't look up from the wires she's testing, so he ignores it.
He only has the betting money from the last fight with Sora, and no one bets in ones; Yuffie won't allow anything smaller than a five. The vending machines are supposed to take fives, but this one keeps spitting the bill out. Riku's about to kick it and head to another floor, when someone says, "Here."
There's a reflection of a severe-looking woman behind him in the machine's plastic window. In the corner of his eye, he can see she's holding out five ones.
At this point Riku distrusts everyone in the hospital on principle, but he and Kairi have to eat. He takes them.
She removes the five from the slot and eyes it in annoyance. "I receive so many complaints about these machines, and yet the company won't come maintenance them without a quota of their little forms."
Riku punches in the number for the blandest chips available. Kairi's having trouble eating.
"You must be Ansem's lab rat," the woman continues.
He turns sharply. He's not surprised; he's just sick of these people. "Who the hell are you?"
"You're a rude young man," she replies. "I am not here on Ansem's behalf."
That would be surprising, if Riku hadn't been lied to so much the last couple days. "And I should just believe you."
"If you did, it would prove you hadn't learned anything," she comments, and then removes a business card from her purse. Riku glares across it when she holds it out, hands at his sides. She continues without breaking stride.
"I am Carabosse, the chairwoman of the hospital board, and Ansem is no longer keeping to the rules of our contract." She gives him a level look. "I would prefer that we separate ourselves from him before anything inappropriate comes to light in the media."
She pauses after that. She's still holding the card. At this point Riku can't take it, not even to check the details; he's not going to be the one to give in.
Carabosse taps the pad of her thumb against the edge of the card. "I haven't heard anything about that girl who disappeared between the ER and the outpatient ward two days ago," she tells him, "other than an electrical short damaged the cameras that should have been picking up that hall. I don't suppose you can shed any light on that?"
"You're not convincing me you don't work for him," Riku says coldly.
"And you're beginning to convince me there's no profit in aiding you," she returns. "I do not appreciate random destruction of my hospital. You may hold key information allowing me to break contract with that man, but I can find more elsewhere." She gives him an arch look. "You, on the other hand, I dare say do not have many options, or you wouldn't still be here. You've made yourself very memorable, coming in at all hours," she gestures to his face, "clearly beaten up, and yet not listed on any records."
Riku doesn't like her. But he doesn't have to like her to see she has a point. He snatches the business card from her hand. Aside from pressing her fingers together, she doesn't react.
The card has the phone number he dialed two days ago, along with an extension; and it's embossed with the hospital seal. Riku was able to bribe someone into making a key for this place, so a card doesn't mean much--but he doesn't want to see Kairi getting injected again.
He doubts this is a test. Ansem has to know how much he hates him.
"What kind of key do I need to open a leather cuff chained to a bed?" he demands, but lower. He came to these machines because they're in a relatively obscure place, but there's no such thing as privacy in a hospital.
For the first time, the woman frowns in a way that doesn't seem pre-planned. "Does it have a chain, or a leather strap attaching it?"
"I said 'chain.'"
"Those would be the old psychiatric ward restraints," Carabosse says. "They were supposed to all be sold. Subterfuge and theft of resources as well, then," she murmurs to herself.
"I need the key to that," Riku says flatly.
"And I need to know where Ansem's employees are keeping their experiments," she replies.
Riku manages to bite his tongue before hissing She's not an experiment!
Instead, he says, "Room two-thirty-seven."
Carabosse touches a finger to her chin. "Room . . . ahhh. Of course."
She lets her hand fall again, and shifts to leave. "You'll have the key tomorrow morning."
"That isn't fast enough," Riku snaps, blocking her way. Nobody is going to use him again.
Carabosse doesn't have that much height over him, but she looks down from it well. "The restraints were sold," she says pointedly. "Either I can waste both our times looking for a needle in a haystack, or I can send a note to the purchaser with an excuse for why I need a copy mailed back here overnight."
Riku doesn't answer at first. When he finally does, his whole upper body is trembling faintly. "Fine."
Carabosse steps calmly around him, and turns the corner down the hall.
Riku has just bought the second bag of chips when he connects the damaged video cameras and the electrician in the lab.
He leaves that bag in the machine and the other on the floor and runs back, swerving between people when he has to. Security guards and nurses yell at him, but none actually follow him long enough to lead them to the room. Riku's beginning to think the whole staff really might be owned by Ansem.
The lab is empty. Riku glances at the panel the woman was working at; but it's locked, so he goes to Kairi.
She blinks when he wrenches the door open. ". . . Riku? What happened?"
"Was anyone in here?!"
Kairi gives him a worried, slightly unfocused look, as Riku sits down heavily in the chair beside the bed. Her eyes are glassier than before. He hates thinking that they have to wait for another day. Through another injection.
"What's wrong?" Kairi asks again.
Riku exhales sharply, and then jerks on the slat the restraint is attached to, just in case this time it works. It doesn't. "We're going to get out," he says. "I can get the key. But I need another day."
"Okay," Kairi says.
"It's not okay!" Riku slams his fist hard against his leg, even though it hurts both. "I'm letting you--where's Sora?!"
Kairi can't answer that any better than he can. Riku hits his leg again, and then quits and drops his arm out of reach when she reaches out to stop him.
"He's looking," she says quietly, keeping her arm stretched out regardless. "He definitely is."
There isn't any reason for him to be looking, he already knows where they are; but Riku doesn't say that. It's just cruel.
Neither he nor Kairi talk much, until his stomach growls. Riku shakes his head once, and stands up. "I'll get breakfast."
Kairi starts to speak, but then nods instead.
". . . I'll be right back," Riku says awkwardly.
Kairi smiles at him. "All right."
He nods once, turning aside as he does.
Later, Riku decides it was complacency. The corridor was empty every time he passed through before; and he paid too much attention to the fact that the door opening outward would make it easier to defend. He didn't pay enough to the fact that it would give someone in the hallway cover.
He sees a flash of blonde in the corner of his eye before the taser hits.
Riku doesn't black out from the pain, even when he hits the floor. He just can't move. Over the sound of his heartbeat, there's a woman's bright, sharp laughter, and then, "And you wanted to gas the room! Ridiculous!"
Someone makes an irritated noise. Riku feels somebody step over him and into Kairi's room. Someone else starts dragging him down the hall. He can feel his body twitching, like the muscle cramps he's gotten running on the beach except it's everywhere and hurts so much more; but he can't make it move.
He's dropped on the floor of the lab. The woman is speaking again.
"A taser is so much more efficient," he hears, before something small is ripped out of the skin of his shoulder.
Riku sees Kairi's feet and someone else's shoes cross the floor in front of his head.
"Huh," another person says. "I thought you had to press--"
Kairi stumbles to the side, and Riku can just barely hear her crash against a lab table over the noise of his heart beating too fast. He fights again to move, but he's useless.
There's a little more clatter, and then he's being walked around. If anything happens in the next several moments, Riku can't hear it over his heartbeat.
". . . I thought you had to press it against the skin," the person eventually finishes.
"You're thinking of the 'Drive Stun' use," the woman replies. Her voice gets closer. "That doesn't incapacitate, it just causes pain. Like this!" Something is pressed against his shoulder.
Over the sudden burn of electricity, Riku hears Kairi yell "Stop it!" He grits his teeth and tries to focus on that, tries to turn his head at least enough to see her, to let her know he'll live through this.
His heartbeat suddenly sounds way too loud, jittery on top of being too fast.
Then he doesn't hear anything and his vision goes black.
After Riku disappears, Sora doesn't know where to go. Finally he heads back to the flower shop, because he meant to go before it closed. He figures it probably has by now--it's night and not close enough to any holidays for it to be open late--but the jog lets him stop thinking about the things that make his head and chest hurt even while it kills his legs.
But when he gets to the store, the lights are still on, so Sora goes in. The bell sounds loud when it rings; the owner steps out of the hothouse a moment later.
"You're very worried about them," he comments, and he says it in a way that makes Sora not say anything back. Of course he's worried, they're his friends, what's wrong with this guy that that isn't obvious and normal? "I'm afraid there's still no news on Kairi, though someone matching your description of Riku was spotted in the northwest downtown area. He moved too fast for my employee to keep sight of him or determine where he was going, though."
That was where they'd been during the fight. Sora exhales through his teeth even as his hands unclench; they don't know where Riku's gone either, but at least they can find him if he's out. That's . . . well, kind of reassuring, even if Sora isn't sure yet whether he wants to punch Riku when he sees him again or not.
"But while you're here, I have a letter for you," the owner continues, and Sora looks up and then takes the envelope being held out to him. "To the hospital, please."
"Okay," Sora replies. "And that guy was Riku. If you see him again, just run really fast."
"We make deliveries via bike," he points out. "Traffic is an issue."
"Oh," Sora says quietly. "Uh, okay. I guess."
"We'll make an effort," the guy tells him. Sora nods and turns to go.
He has to hunt down the scientist. He's not in his office in the side hall, so Sora has to ask a couple nurses and then hang around outside a meeting room to deliver it. The man pays him without a glance, and Sora doesn't bother to ask about Kairi. He's pretty sure this guy doesn't see anything that isn't in a paper or test tube.
As he's leaving, he spots one of the nurses down the hall who threatened to call security on him yesterday when he kept showing up, so Sora ducks into the first exit he sees and winds up in a stairwell. There's a man on the landing below who's talking on a cell phone, but he stops as soon as Sora enters, so Sora decides to just walk past. He didn't hear anything, except a time.
He passes the man by and turns down the next flight and sees the Bastard walk through the door at the bottom of the steps on the other side.
He probably should have broken his leg, jumping over the railing like that. Sora's not totally sure how he avoided that. He's also not sure how Ansem looks like he's barely hit him, even though Sora was fighting so hard he's going to feel it in the morning.
Though the guy on the phone turned out to be a bodyguard or something, which explains some of it. Sora started to lose the fight as soon as he realized the other man was completely insane and he might actually die if he didn't fight like he was trying to kill him instead.
It still doesn't feel the same as fighting Riku that time.
It's the Bastard who saves him, weirdly, telling the man That's enough when he starts slamming Sora's head against the railing and shouldn't someone have come by now? He knows there's security guards in this place, he must have run into all of them twice, so why aren't they here?
"That's enough," Ansem says again, and the man lets go of his hair. Sora collapses on the stairs, disoriented and hurting and he still wants to get onto his feet, still wants to look Ansem in the eyes and say You took Riku away, you took Kairi away you took them you took them I'll take everything from you I'll--
"This was unexpected," Ansem starts to say, and then the security guards show up.
Sora's too dizzy to really get anything. He figures out eventually that the guards are arresting him and not the bodyguard and tries to run, but it doesn't go so well and he ends up in handcuffs and getting shoved into a police car while the Bastard has disappeared.
The drive to the station clears his head, though, and Sora thinks that even if the worst happens, if they all get deported back, or put in jail for a while before being deported--he's not really sure what the illegal immigrant laws are, but he's pretty sure they end with shipping you home--then they have to find Riku and Kairi. He couldn't go to the cops before for help, but now that he's been caught anyway, they'll have to listen.
"--Hospital, room two-thirty-s--" Riku said.
Sora thinks that he should have guessed sooner. No wonder Riku was mad. But Riku had been punching him in the face right before saying that, and he never finished the last number, so it's partly his fault too.
Riku's probably going to be angry about the cops showing up, but they can build more rafts. At least this time they'll know what to pack.
Despite all that, Sora can't shake the urge to run. He stays near the wall when he's pulled into the station, and when they make him sit in a chair--which is hard, because they didn't take the handcuffs off--Sora keeps an eye on the obstacles between him and the door until they start taking all his stuff.
"Hey!" Sora protests, because it's just his wallet and some loose coupons and the apartment key and the flower shop card, but it's his--except for that other key. Sora's not sure what that one is; he's never seen it before.
The cop taking his stuff ignores him, and the others are all walking around too much for him to grab them, so finally he decides to just start. He has to do something; Ansem disappeared, what if he snuck back into the hospital?
"Hey," he repeats, trying to make the man look up. "My friends are missing."
"You can file a report later."
"I mean it, they are! Those guys I was fighting, they kidnapped--"
"Excuse me," a man with an accent interrupts.
Sora and the cop both look over. A well-dressed man is standing calmly in the middle of hectic room, holding a teenager by the shoulder.
"You're in the wrong place," the cop says. "I have to ask you to go back to the front desk; I'm processing a suspect."
"That's what I'm here about," the man replies, and a phone rings behind them. "I believe you have the wrong one. This is the boy who assaulted my employer."
The cop glances at Sora, and then at the teenager, and then back at the man. "What?"
Sora looks at the teenager. He can't see his eyes, he's staring at the floor and his bangs are in the way; but he looks like he's been beat up recently, and pretty bad--his mouth is cut and swollen, and there's the start of a bruise under his eye before the shadow conceals it. And he looks tired, like he was running a lot for a long time.
Actually, Sora thinks, he looks like he's been run to ground.
"Hey, man," another cop says, thwacking the first one on the shoulder. "Chief wants to talk to you. Says it's urgent."
Sora, the man, and the teenager get left at the desk under the supervision of the second cop. Sora glares at the man.
"Are you working for that--" he starts to demand, and then the cop interrupts him.
"Didn't you hear you have the right to remain silent, kid?" he asks. "Aren't you looking for someone?"
Sora stares at him.
"--but he confessed!" he hears a couple moments later, over where the first cop is arguing with another officer. The second cop tsks under his breath.
"You couldn't get here any sooner?" he asks the man with the accent casually, not looking at him.
"There was traffic," he replies.
The cop snorts. "Have fun writing that report."
Sora's still trying to understand what's going on when the first cop and the chief come over.
"Thank you for helping to apprehend the right criminal," the chief says to the man, formally, with a blank face.
"It was my pleasure," the man answers smoothly, and then the second cop is unlocking Sora's handcuffs. He hands Sora back the stuff from his pockets while they're reading the teenager his rights.
(He misses seeing the cop slip the flower shop's card into his own hand and then his pocket. Sora doesn't notice its absence until it's no longer useful as a clue.)
"Do you admit to committing assault and battery, with the intent of theft?" the chief asks the teenager, and Sora thinks But they stole from me.
The teenager lifts his head and glares.
It's been a while since Sora's seen his reflection in a real, clean mirror, but he still recognizes his own eyes. He recognizes his own face.
"What?" he says in confusion, and then the teenager glares at him and now there's even more hate in his expression.
The silence stretches out as he says nothing; the man with the accent tightens his fingers slightly on his shoulder, but the teenager still doesn't speak. It's the first cop who finally breaks the pocket of quiet.
"You said you had friends who were missing?" he asks, looking straight at Sora.
Sora glances at the man, and the second cop, and then the teenager; and he thinks he gets it a little. The man and the second cop work for Ansem, Ansem has Kairi and Riku, and the teenager has a lot of bad luck because he's here to take Sora's place so Ansem can get him too.
He just doesn't get why. What's so important to that bastard that he's ruining so many lives?
Sora looks at the teenager again, still glaring at him, and it sucks, it really sucks, but it doesn't change the fact that Riku and Kairi are out there somewhere, and not in here, and if Sora stays here no one will help him find them.
"No I didn't," he replies, and it sticks in his throat and comes out weird and then he has to look away from the teenager.
The first cop is silent, and leaves when the chief tells him the case will be taken over by Braig, and then they're handcuffing the teenager and the accented man is following him closely out the building.
"I'm sorry about the confusion," the man says, as they're walking through the front lobby. "My employer wishes to express his regrets at your temporary discomfort, if you'd like to come meet him."
Sora keeps an eye on the door. There's no one hanging around directly by it, but there's a car idling just in front of the station's steps--a fancy black car that looks like it would go perfect with the way the man talks. Plus, it's idling on a really busy street right in front of a police station, and no one's giving the driver a ticket or hauling them off. Riku would say that'd look suspicious to a blind man.
Sora thinks he's been getting a little less blind these last two days.
It's way past nightfall; the streetlights, car headlights and neon signs are all the light around as the man lifts a hand. Sora thinks again of his grip on the teenager's shoulder, and looks at the dark car and then the street and thinks this is going to be so stupid and dangerous that he'll have to leave it out when he's telling Kairi and Riku everything, and then he runs down the stairs and into the road.
Car horns start blaring immediately, but Sora ignores them and focuses completely on the sidewalk on the other side, and on getting to it alive.
He makes it, even though that one car comes so close the side mirror grazes him before the driver can swerve. Sora glances over his shoulder as he starts down the sidewalk; the man has stopped right at the edge of the curb, and there's a very faint tilt to his mouth that Sora can barely see with the absence of light.
Then he runs away as fast as he can.
He runs through what feels like half of downtown, weaving through all the shortcuts he's learned delivering letters and looking for odd jobs, until he's nearly lost himself so he must have lost the other guy. Plus, he was stuck in a car, and Sora's been jumping walls and fences.
He has to stop eventually; his throat burns, and his legs are starting to shake. Sora slumps down on a curb, fingering the second key in his pocket that he can't explain, and tries to figure out where he is and what's the fastest route back to the hospital Ansem was at. That's the place to start; and if the key doesn't fit any of the two-thirty rooms there, he'll start on the other ones.
"Oh, hey, it's my lucky night," he hears someone say.
Sora shoves himself onto his feet and jerks around; Axel raises an eyebrow and then his hands. "What happened to you?" he asks.
"I'm busy," Sora says shortly, because Axel's holding a small package.
"Ahh, crap," Axel says. "How busy? I need to get this delivered ASAP."
"Do it yourself."
Axel raises the eyebrow again. "Geez, kid. Did Marluxia refuse to help you or something?"
"Who?" Sora replies, still ignoring the package.
"The flower guy."
Oh. "He's no good," Sora snaps. "Look, I'm busy."
"Okay, okay," Axel says, making another 'calm down' gesture. "Look, I'll make you a deal. Double the pay, and I'll owe you a favor. I did try to help you," he adds.
Sora's about to just leave, when Axel adds, "I just need you to drop it off at Fountain Park."
He hesitates. That park is on the way to the hospital, and the rest of the terms sound pretty good; when he gets Kairi and Riku, they're going to have to get out of town as fast as possible, and they probably can't go back to the apartment for their stuff. Sora's not sure what's paranoia and what's sense, but he doesn't want to risk the chance that Ansem knows where they live.
"Triple," Axel says after a moment, watching him. "And I'll owe you two favors." He fishes in his pocket, and pulls out three twenties.
Sora really wants some painkillers and water at this point, and they might have to bribe someone to get tickets or a ride. ". . . Okay," he says. "Fine. Where?"
"I dunno exactly where he is," Axel replies, and before Sora can say Never mind, "just look for a guy playing a sitar. He'll probably be around the big fountain."
"Fine," Sora says again, because if he doesn't see the guy he's just going to get Kairi and Riku and maybe drop off the package on their way out. If there's time.
Axel gives him a smile as he hands it over. "Thanks, kid."
Sora leaves as soon as the money's in his pocket.
The package is really heavy for being so small, and the contents shift a lot; but Sora focuses on breathing and running and not stumbling and doesn't think about it much.
He's planning to cut straight through the park, and if he doesn't see a guy then too bad; but then he hears the music a few seconds before he cuts through the row of hedges and the guy's right there, sitting on the rim of the fountain. At least, Sora guesses he's the guy; he's playing something that looks like a guitar, which sounds like sitar, so maybe that's what the word meant.
Eighty dollars, then. That plus the money he has on him's gotta be enough to get them out of here, at least. That's not bad.
"Hey you, here," Sora says, thrusting the package at the guy, and even he can tell he's being pretty rude, but he needs to get going.
"Wha?" the guy replies, startled. The sitar strings jangle.
"It's a package from Axel."
The guy's frown deepens at that, but he props the sitar in the open case by his feet, takes the package and rips it open.
Sora's never delivered anything to this guy before, so he guesses he doesn't know how it goes; normally they pay him and he leaves, and whenever they open their letters after that is their business. He's about to tell the guy--who's now reading some folded piece of paper that was inside--as much, but then he looks at the water in the fountain and it's really tempting.
Sora leans over the rim and splashes some of the water on his face, trying to cool off. He's really thirsty, and this just makes it worse--not to mention how it's getting soaked up by the bandages that survived him getting smashed into the railing and making them really uncomfortable--but he's not thirsty or dumb enough to actually drink it.
He's wiping his face off with the edge of his shirt when the guy says, "Aw, man, why me?"
Sora's a pretty sympathetic person, he thinks, but not today. "Hey, can you pay me? I'm in a hurry."
"Oh, yeah. Yeah. Okay." The guy fishes some bills out of his case, then rummages in the package. Sora grits his teeth and rubs at some stray water around his eyes.
"Okay," the guy says, while he's still trying to dry the water away. "And I guess sorry about this."
"Huh?" Sora says, and pulls his hand away just in time to see the brass knuckles before the guy punches him in the solar plexus.
Sora sinks to his knees abruptly, trying to suck air back into his lungs and thinking You bastard! at the guy and Axel and everyone that's keeping him away from Riku and Kairi; then there's a pressure on his neck, and he can feel himself going unconscious.
"Hey, don't fall on my sitar," he hears, and then he's pushed to the side and then he blacks out.
Chapter 3: Port in a Storm 3
It feels like it's taking him longer and longer to wake up after all the hits to the head he's gotten over the last couple days, and Sora guesses he should be worried about that, but mostly his thoughts are filled up with how his face stings and what's that buzzing and there's people he needs to hurt a lot and where's Riku and Kairi?
Somebody's yanked off the bandages Aerith put on his face; he can feel the air on all the scrapes and a lingering sense of 'ow' from where the tape was ripped free. But at least he can see fully again. The room he's in looks unused--the buzzing is somewhere above him, and when Sora rolls his head back he can see wires and pipes way up in the ceiling above him. He has to blink when his eyes meet the florescent lights, and then close them and let his head drop again. White painted cinder blocks, gray concrete, he didn't really get the ceiling color between the pipes and the lights, but it's probably either white or gray too. It looks like a storage room, but there's nothing in it; just Sora and the chair he's tied to.
His arms are kind of numb, but he had to haul a coil of plastic twine around for a job once and the slipperiness around his wrists and forearms feels about the same.
Sora rubs his tongue against the roof of his mouth and tries to work up enough spit that his throat isn't so dry and he can start yelling.
"That took long enough," someone says, and Sora blinks and raises his head up enough again to stare to the right, where the noise came from. "What was Marluxia's group working on, boy?"
"You're doing it wrong," someone else drawls--around the corner? there's a corner? well, okay, there wasn't a door anywhere, so sure, there's a corner--and that voice sounds familiar. The first one doesn't, but that's because Sora's never seen the guy now standing a few feet away in front of him before.
The guy ignores the other voice. "What were they working on?"
His throat is still too dry, so Sora just stares at him blankly. He heard the name the guy mentioned just a little while ago, but his head's still throbbing and it's really hard to try and think of anything that isn't right here.
"You're doing it wrooong," the other person drawls again, and this time the guy looks off to the side--okay, definitely a corner, he probably should have noticed that earlier, at least Riku and Kairi aren't here to see him look dumb--and glares.
"Very well, then," the man says coldly, "I'll leave this to your capable hands." He turns to go, but then glares at Sora over his shoulder. It's half-hidden by all the tiny braids in his hair, though. "And you should think carefully about your answer, if you want to see tomorrow."
"Little too dramatic, there," the second voice comments, and then the first guy is out of sight and there's the sound of a door slamming.
"'It's all his fancy, that: they never executes nobody, you know,'" the voice comments, and then Axel leans around the corner, arms folded. "How you holding up, kid?"
The twine cuts deep enough into his wrists when he tries to lunge forward that Sora can feel it even through the numbness. "You bastard!"
"My parents were married, thank you," Axel replies, still leaning against the wall. "Had a certificate and everything."
"Where's Riku and Kairi!?"
"Calm down, you're going to dislocate a shoulder." Axel drags a chair from around the corner, pulls it up close to where Sora's stuck and swings it around so the back is facing him. Sora kicks it.
Axel gives him a 'is that really the best you could think of' look, and then sits down backwards in the chair, now just out of Sora's reach thanks to that kick.
Sora jerks his own chair forward enough to kick it again, but Axel just pushes out of reach. He almost wonders if he can make the guy back up all the way to the wall, but there're more important things. "Where are they?"
"Dunno!" Axel says, tilting his head like he's listening for something outside the room. "I lost track of them when the other task took over. I'm sure they'll show up eventually. The real question," Axel continues, and then he reaches out and grabs Sora's hair, forcing his head up and staring at him with an expression that's gone cold even though he's still smiling. His voice is so low Sora can barely hear him even this close: "The real question is, why do you look so much like him?"
Sora glares. Axel's got him on his bad side, the one everybody's been hitting, and even if he didn't feel this bad how is he supposed to know what he's talking about--
(That anger in Hayner's eyes during his first fight with him, the way Olette never really actually looks at him and how it's kind of like the way Axel's looked at him once or twice, like he's someone else, or like someone else was supposed to be him or he was supposed to be--)
"Roxas?" Sora says, and it sounds funny; he's never said the name himself before.
Axel's hand tightens in his hair.
Ow ow ow Sora thinks, and Axel says, "How do you know that." His voice is too flat to sound like a question.
Sora's about to answer when he stops and thinks of what Riku would do instead. He dumps all the answers that involve hitting because of the twine, and sneers at Axel the best he can with his head pulled to the side. "Tell me where Kairi and Riku are, and I'll tell you."
Axel continues to stare at him, and Sora glares back; and then the man lets go of his hair abruptly. Sora's chin bounces off his chest, and he barely avoids biting his tongue.
"Good try," Axel says, settling into his chair again and letting his forearms rest on the back, "but you're forgetting something crucial. My hands are free--" he splays them in the air, proving the point, "--while yours are tied up. I can learn whatever I want, eventually."
Glaring seems like the best response to that, so Sora keeps it up and tries to twist his wrists free of the twine without attracting Axel's attention.
"Buuut, whatever," Axel drawls, and suddenly his usual attitude is back. "That's not really what I'm here for, anyway. He left, he got caught, whatever. So, what did Marluxia--the flower shop guy," he says a little slower, "tell you about the group you were carrying letters for?"
"Nothing!" Sora snaps. "I don't know anything about it, I never asked! Now where--"
"I know you don't," Axel interrupts. "Marluxia's not the type to spill his secrets to a delivery boy. Really, it's like a personal insult they think that."
"What?" Sora replies, but Axel waves it off.
"The point is," Axel tells him, "you need to come up with something, or else you're really going to be in trouble. They won't need you if they find out you don't know anything."
"Come up with--but I just delivered letters!" His voice cracks; his throat's still so dry it hurts, and all this talking isn't helping.
Axel stands up. "Then think harder," he says, like that's useful, and drags the chair back around the corner.
Sora's expecting him to come back, so it's a surprise when he hears the door shut. He hesitates; but when nothing happens for a while, he goes back to trying to twist his hands free of the twine.
Sora finally has to give up when his arms go numb enough that he can't even feel how badly he's chaffing his wrists, which doesn't leave him with much to do except stare around the room and try to figure out how to escape. But that involves thinking, which is why he's just figured out that he told Axel he didn't know anything right before Axel told him that that made him useless; and that's why he jerks when he hears the door open again.
If he stands, he could probably smash at least one person in the side with the chair legs before he falls over; and since he can't think of a better plan, he decides to go with that one.
The person who turns the corner is the sitar-playing guy from the park. He's holding a water bottle.
"Hi," the guy says, with a little wave. "Axel said you needed water before you could talk to us."
He already doesn't like the guy--his chest and neck still ache--and him dropping Axel's name pretty much kills any willingness to let him get near him. "Stay away," Sora says hoarsely, pulling up a leg to kick him.
". . . Okaaaaay, but you're gonna have to drink sometime." The guy sets the bottle on the floor, and then moves back and leans against the wall.
They stay like that for a while, with Sora glaring at the guy and the guy shifting and tapping his fingers against the wall. Then he turns and just leaves, without saying anything.
Sora stares at the corner for a couple moments, and then looks at the water bottle.
He's trying to figure out the likelihood of getting the lid off using his feet without spilling everything when he hears the door open again. Sora tenses, but it's the same guy--only now he's got the sitar. He pulls the chair that was hidden behind the corner to the opposite side, until he's half-visible; and then he sits down and starts playing.
Sora watches him for a while, and then looks back at the water bottle, and then tugs at the twine around his wrists again, because he's not sure what else to do.
He wonders if he dozed off, because he doesn't remember when the guy started singing. It's not really noticeable; Sora occasionally catches the sound of a voice over the music, though it's too quiet for him to make out any words. He yawns.
"You thirsty yet?" the guy asks.
"Nn," Sora replies, because he still feels sleepy and talking still hurts.
"Sorry 'bout this," the guy continues, and he's still playing the sitar, and not talking much louder than he was singing. "The higher ups can get kind of paranoid. But we're not bad guys, really! We just want your help." He starts playing something slower, a little softer. "I met Marluxia a couple times, you know. Creepy guy. I don't really think I'd trust him."
Uh? Sora thinks, and has to blink a couple times to keep his eyes open. He yawns again.
"I don't know what he promised you," the guy continues, "but I bet he was lying. But we'll let you out of here as soon as we can. We just need a little help."
"But I don't--" Sora mumbles, and then he blinks again.
He shakes his head, hard, until he's not as sleepy. "Where are Riku and Kairi?"
"Huh?" the guy asks, tilting his head so he can see all the way around the corner. "Who're they?"
Sora clenches his jaw, and the guy finally stops playing. "Give me Riku and Kairi."
"Uh, okay, I can probably do that, but who are they?"
"They're my friends," Sora says, ignoring the rasp in his throat. "Ansem kidnapped them. I want them back."
"Ansem . . . no one tells me anything." He barely hears the guy say the last part, but he picks up his voice with the next words. "Okay, well, if Xemnas's got someone keeping an eye on them, they're safe." He starts playing the sitar again, quietly. "I'll get you taken to where they are when you leave."
"I want them now."
"Okay," the guy says, and plays some kind of trill on the strings. "If you can tell me a little about what Marluxia was doing, I can tell that to the guys above me and they'll get you to them."
Sora clenches his jaw tighter for a second, because it's helping keep him awake, and then says, "Give me Riku and Kairi."
"I will," the guy says, "but I can't ask them to do it unless I've got news about Marluxia."
"Give me Riku and Kairi."
"I can if--"
"Give me Riku and Kairi!"
The guy quits playing again, and Sora hears him sigh. He stands and leaves, taking the sitar with him.
Sora's not sure if this counts as failure or success.
The guy doesn't come back for a little while, and when he does, it's with the crazy bodyguard from before.
Crap, Sora thinks, because he really doesn't want to get his head bashed into the wall again. But since he can't think of anything useful to say about Marluxia that won't give away that he doesn't know anything, he figures his best bet is to stick with what he's been doing.
The bodyguard looks different as he stares down at him; if Sora hadn't fought him before, he might think he was just normal.
"What is Marluxia planning?" the man asks.
Sora braces his shoulders for a hit and glares up at him. "Give me Riku and Kairi."
"See?" the sitar guy asks. "That's all he says."
The bodyguard looks down at him for a long moment, and then punches him in the temple. On his bad side. Sora would swear at him, but he's busy falling.
One second he's on the ground, and then the guy's boots are suddenly a lot closer to his face than they were. He knows the guy's fast, but that's crazy--unless he blacked out for a moment. Sora kind of hopes it wasn't that, because that's a really bad sign.
"Maybe we should have let you be arrested," the bodyguard says, and Sora's starting to think this guy hands down wins the creepy contest. The sitar guy is normal, for a jerk, and Axel flips personalities, but this guy just sounds so calm and Sora knows he's insane. It's creepy. "Perhaps then you won't underestimate who you are dealing with."
--No! Sora thinks as the use of the present tense trickles in, makes him realize the guy's talking about taking him back to the jail. He can't let that happen, he'll never find them in there, damn it, what would Kairi say to prevent that? What would Riku do?
What should he do?
Sora doesn't know. He's not a planner, not really a guy to think a lot about things--he's never had a reason to be, around Riku and Kairi. They've always come up with great and fun plans, so he's never bothered to. He doesn't know what to do.
"Hey, but if we do that, what about Roxas?" the sitar guy asks. "Is he going to come back?"
"We won't need him any more," the bodyguard replies.
The teenager in the police station.
The cop that deliberately asked him about his friends after the dirty cop took over.
"He's a traitor," the bodyguard says.
Axel hasn't told anyone that he doesn't know anything, or they wouldn't be bothering with this.
"C'mon, Saïx, he's just a kid. Kids are dumb sometimes. He made a mistake. He's been pretty useful."
And if they still think he knows something, it means they need him.
"There's no room for mistakes in the Organization." Saïx grabs the edge of Sora's chair, hauling him upright. "Or for traitors." He forces Sora's head up again. "Tell us what Marluxia is planning."
There's at least one cop who isn't owned by Ansem. If they put him in jail, Sora will tell everyone about Riku and Kairi and who took them. He won't shut up about it; he'll keep telling people until eventually someone who's clean hears. Even if they put him away from everyone else, he'll yell and make people hear it. He'll even lie about street fighting and make himself and Riku look like a menace to get them to find him and get them out of here; he'll lie about Kairi's job and make them try hard to find her so they don't lose business hiring illegal immigrants. Whatever it takes. They'd be stupid to lock him up; Ansem might own a few cops, but he can't have the whole government.
Try me, Sora thinks, and stares at Saïx straight on. "Give me Riku and Kairi."
"--That is really creepy," the sitar guy says. "Are you sure Roxas didn't have a twin?"
"The hair is different," Saïx says, letting go of his chin and giving him an appraising look.
"So they're fraternal."
"Enough about him, Demyx. You can find someone else to do your work," the bodyguard says, and then he turns away. The other guy follows him around the corner, more slowly.
"It's not like I was shirking my assignments. I was just helping him get used to things," Demyx insists.
"Now you're questioning my loyalty, too?" the guy asks coldly, and the door shuts behind them. If they keep arguing in the hall, it's too low for Sora to make out.
He jerks at the twine until it starts to feel like his wrists have chafed to the point of bleeding, and tries not to look at the water bottle; and then he falls asleep again. Sora wakes up feeling bleary and like he didn't sleep at all, and wonders if it's morning or still night. His throat feels so dry that even swallowing is hard for a few minutes, so he doesn't bother yelling. Someone'll probably show up whenever he doesn't want to see them, anyway.
He's hopping the chair over to the water bottle--kicked over to the wall at some point he doesn't remember--because he's pretty sure he can manage to get it up to his knees and then get the cap off with his teeth without dumping it all on his pants, and even if he can't at this point he's still going to try, when he hears her.
He tries to remember if thirst caused hallucinations on the raft, ignores his throat and hopes he isn't still asleep as he screams "Kairi!"
There's nothing for a second, and then he hears her call "Sora!"
"Kairi!" he yells again. "Is Riku with you?" He has to be, he was with her before, and they wouldn't bring just one of them even though Sora thinks they probably would and he can't hear Riku and--no answer.
"Kairi! Hey, Kairi!" and then the door opens.
Kairi half-stumbles around the corner, walking gingerly. There's a thud of something hitting the ground out of sight, and then the door shuts again.
She gives him strained smile, and something looks wrong, like she's sick. "Hi, Sora," she says, and, "yeah."
"Yeah?" he repeats, hopping the chair closer so fast he nearly falls over.
Kairi goes back around the corner, but pretty soon Sora's up to it, in time to see her half-lift Riku off the floor and start to drag him away from the door. "He's with me."
Something's wrong with Kairi. She gets Riku around the corner and sets him against the wall while Sora wrenches on the twine and wishes he didn't feel so useless, and as she does that she tells him about what happened, how Riku got tasered and handcuffed and how they were in the same hospital that he thought; but her words are slow and she's moving really carefully, like she doesn't trust reality to be what it looks like.
He's about to ask, but then she says, "Wait, is that rope?"
"Yeah," Sora replies, and jerks his wrist agitatedly once again. He blinks when Kairi half-grins.
"Lucky," she says, and then unrolls the waistband of her skirt. A hidden scalpel falls into her hand.
Sora stares. ". . . Where'd you get that?"
"They took us out through a lab," Kairi says, and comes around to the back of his chair. "I saw a couple of them on one of the tables, and tripped against it so I could grab one."
"Wow--" Sora starts to say, but his voice cracks badly from the dryness.
Kairi leans around the side, frowning at him. "Are you okay?"
Sora swallows hard and reminds himself that he's been thirstier before. He's sure Kairi's sick, and Riku's unconscious--Sora can't even really look at him, not for long, because it's just so weird, this is Riku--so they have to need it more. He's been thirstier. It was way worse those last couple days on the raft.
"Yeah," he says.
Kairi gives him a look that says she doesn't believe him, but she goes back to the twine anyway. "Hold still," she says. "I . . . my hand's kind of sweaty, but I'll try not to cut you."
Sora's quiet for a while as she messes around with the rope. He figures out that she's started cutting from the back--that's smart, if anyone comes in they won't notice it as fast; and once it seems like she's got a pretty good rhythm going, he asks, "Are you okay?"
Kairi hesitates for a little bit, and finally says, "No.
"I was drugged with something," and then she yelps and chides him for clenching his hands into fists. She continues after she's got the scalpel back in place. "It's wearing off, so . . . things are a little hard.
"Don't tell Riku," she adds quietly.
Sora tilts his head around and back to look at her, trying not to move his arms or hands as he does so. "Why?"
"He freaks out about things he can't control," Kairi says, and Sora can't argue with that. "I'll be fine."
He swallows hard again. ". . . I'm sorry."
Kairi stops completely. After a moment, he can feel her fiddle with the scalpel; and then he starts when she touches a hand to the side of his face that's still scraped up from the fight with Riku. "I am, too."
Sora shakes his head, and then winces when it makes Kairi's hand hit a sore spot. She pulls away. "But if I'd--"
"We both decided to split up, right?" Kairi points out, going back to cutting the twine. "So I'm sorry too. And I know Riku is, too."
"Better be," Sora mutters, but he can't really put any irritation in it when Riku's still slumped unconscious against the wall.
Sora doesn't know exactly how much rope's been used to tie him, but he does know at least half the reason sawing it off is going so slow is because Kairi's getting worse. He knows she's cut her fingers at least a couple times--he can hear her hiss, and he's starting to smell the blood--but she denies it when he says anything. Sora clenches his jaw and tells himself that he can't cut it on his own, and once he's free he can be useful again.
He glances over at Riku again and then jumps when he sees his eyes are open. Kairi jolts, and the scalpel nicks his palm. Sora barely notices. "Geez, Riku! How long have you been awake?"
Riku looks away.
"Are you okay?" Kairi adds.
"Yeah." Riku tightens his jaw briefly, and then turns his head back toward them. He still doesn't look up all the way, though. "You need to take a break. If they see the blood, they'll know something's up."
"But. . . ." Kairi's silent for a moment, and then says, "Okay."
"You said--" Sora starts, and then drops it, because it's not like he didn't guess. Instead, after Kairi fumbles the scalpel out from the twine, he wiggles his hands around until he can find the area she cut through, and starts picking at it.
Kairi's started shaking at some point. She's sweating a lot, like she has a fever; but she keeps shivering like the room is colder than it is. Neither he nor Riku can get their shirts off to give to her, so finally she curls up against Sora's legs and Riku scoots over until he's leaning against her other side, trying to share at least a little warmth. Riku still won't look at him.
Sora's been picking steadily at the nylon fibers of the rope, until his fingers hurt and he's really thirsty and also wants to use the restroom, and he thinks Kairi's fallen asleep with her head on his knees, but he's pretty sure Riku's still awake. So he keeps pulling at the fibers, and decides he can be magnanimous enough to go first.
"You could have told me you gave me that key," he says.
All right, that came out a little less like an apology than he meant.
Riku's silent for a while, until Sora thinks he should just straight out say he's sorry; but finally Riku says: "I shoved my hand into your pants pocket to get it there. Didn't you think that was a little weird?" His voice doesn't sound quite right, like he's trying for his usual tone but not really getting it.
"No?" Sora replies.
Kairi makes a little noise that sounds suspiciously like a smothered giggle. Sora looks at her, but her eyes are still shut. Riku stares too, and then for some reason purses his mouth and looks kind of red.
"I thought Ansem would have someone watching," he says. The words come out a little rushed; and then he stops abruptly.
. . . That makes sense. Sora starts to nod, and then says, "Well, you could have at least said which hospital and the whole number!" and sticks his tongue out at him. Riku looks up sharply, so he keeps it that way a couple extra seconds, to get the point across.
". . . I did tell you," Riku says slowly.
"No you didn't," Sora retorts. "I heard 'hospital' and room two thirty something, and then you punched me."
Riku stares at him for a really long time, and then turns away and presses his forehead against his knees. Sora's about to say 'hey!', but then Riku starts shaking, like Kairi.
A couple seconds later, Sora hears him laughing lowly.
". . . So that's why?" Riku asks, quiet like he's talking to himself.
"Huh?" Sora says, but Riku just shakes his head and chuckles a little while longer.
He tries to wheedle an answer out of him for a while, but finally goes back to picking at the twine. He can mostly twist his left wrist around now, though he can't quite get it free yet. But he thinks he's close.
Kairi's shivering's slowed down, getting more like occasional attacks of shaking instead of the earlier constant trembling. Riku tells him what happened at the hospital; and when Sora can talk calmly again, he tells them about the police station--leaving out the part about running into the cars--and Axel and Demyx. He and Riku are still discussing how they're going to get all these guys back (it's just talk, Sora knows once they escape they're running, out of this city and maybe over the nearest border as soon as they get the money) after they're out, when the door around the corner opens.
Sora and Riku tense, and then the Bastard and his bodyguard turn the corner.
The feeling of oh crap at the sight of Saïx is pretty much smothered under the need to beat Ansem to the floor. Sora carefully pulls at his wrist, testing whether he can wrench it out yet with minimal damage, and sees Riku shift, bracing his hands on the floor behind his back so he can attack with his legs.
"So it was true," Ansem murmurs.
Sora hears Kairi draw in a breath and then go still.
That's a little weird, but Sora doesn't bother thinking about it long, not when Ansem's walking closer. He pulls his wrist up as much as he can get it, then holds his arm still. He'll have to gamble on being able to tear it free in one hard jerk, catch them by surprise--
"Get back," Riku snarls, bracing his hands harder and shifting his legs. His lips are pulled back, showing his teeth, and Sora's never seen him look so angry before; so full of hate.
He hates Ansem even more for doing that to him.
The Bastard stops out of Riku's reach, and stares down not at him or Riku, but at Kairi. Sora shifts his arm, twisting his wrist in what he hopes will be the easiest way to get it out; and then he catches Riku shaking his head, barely noticeable.
Not yet. Ansem's out of reach, Saïx even further--the element of surprise won't be enough. Sora grits his teeth and waits, shoulders and back tense.
"And there was no note of recognition in any of his reports or lab records?" Ansem continues, ignoring them.
"You'll have to speak to Axel about that," Saïx replies. "Apparently there was 'collateral damage.'"
Ansem makes an irritated noise.
"What do you want?" Sora demands, because he wants the man to stop looking at Kairi. "Why are you bothering us?!"
"Why did you get them involved?" Riku adds with a hiss.
Ansem shakes his head at him, once. "You misunderstand," he says. "This was never about you."
Riku is silent.
"Sora was the one delivering letters for Marluxia. That's the information I had needed. You were a means to that end." Ansem pauses, glances at Kairi again. ". . . She was . . . an unfortunate individual action, but I suppose you could say that's been dealt with."
Sora looks at Kairi's head on his knees, and at the expression in Riku's eyes, and decides Ansem isn't going to have a face left when he's done with him.
He tests his wrist again, but the bastard still isn't close enough.
"It is a shame, though," he continues. "There's a lot of potential in you, Riku."
"Go to hell, Ansem." Riku bites off each word.
"Xehanort," Kairi says quietly.
For the first time Sora's ever seen, Ansem looks surprised.
He comes closer to the side she's facing. Sora tenses further; Riku starts to shift around to kick, but then Saïx is there, blocking his legs with one of his own and then tossing Riku against the wall, away from them.
Sora wraps his other hand around a slat of the chair. He's not sure how much good it will be as a weapon--it's unwieldy and still firmly tied to one wrist--but he's ready to find out.
"Interesting," Ansem murmurs, half-kneeling in front of Kairi and folding his arms on one leg. "You were supposed to forget all of that. No records survived of what Vexen was doing?" he asks Saïx. The bodyguard shakes his head without looking up from Riku.
"You still wear that cologne," Kairi mumbles. "You gave us an empty bottle once, and the smell lingered . . . I wanted to pack it, but someone said no so I gave it to her instead. . . . Why can't I remember her name?"
Sora watches her struggle to open her eyes and stare at the man. "What did you do to Mr. Ansem?"
"That's no longer important," he replies, straightening up. "And Xehanort is a name I no longer use." He nods once at Saïx, who steps away from Riku.
"Goodbye," Xehanort says, to none of them in particular; and he and Saïx leave. As they shut the door and walk away, he hears, "Still, Axel shouldn't know his excessive actions may have been appropriate until we learn whether. . . ."
Sora realizes his shoulders are shaking slightly, from the effort of staying still and trying not to attract attention to the cut twine and from the want to fight. He tries to relax them, but it doesn't really work.
Riku scoots away from the wall, back over to him and Kairi, without looking over.
They don't really talk until Riku says: "They're planning to kill us."
Sora jerks and stares at him, hands freezing where he was pulling at the nylon fibers again. Kairi draws in another long breath.
"You don't let people overhear that kind of stuff if you're going to let them go." He shifts his hands, making the cuffs rattle. Riku sounds more like himself again, finally; like he's got a plan or he's working on one. Sora jerks on his wrist again--it's nearly out, maybe just a little more--ready for any kind of action. Riku drops his voice with his next words; Sora has to lean forward as much as he can to make them all out. "Kairi, let me have the--it."
Sora can see her bite her lip, but she fumbles with her waistband until she has the scalpel again. She starts to push herself up onto her feet, but Riku says, "No. We're going to have to run, so you. . . ." He hesitates, and then asks, "How are you feeling?"
"I'm--" Kairi starts to say, and then stops. She presses her head a little harder against Sora's knee, and finally smiles faintly. "I think I can make it."
Riku doesn't reply. He looks at the corner again, and then shifts around and takes the scalpel from her hand.
Riku says he's managed to pull apart more of the twine that he thought, which is good since with Riku's hands cuffed behind his back, he's kind of guessing where he's cutting. Sora keeps up a steady stream of "Ow!" to let him know when he's trying to saw his hand instead of the rope. Something's still wrong between them, though; normally Riku would have called him a wuss at least once, even in a situation like this. He thinks.
His hand is all bloody when he gets the rope off. Riku goes and stands by the door while Sora waits for the circulation for come back; and when it does and the painful prickling sensations have worn off, he stretches his arm and then wipes his hand off on the back of his undershirt. The blood's going to trash it, but really with everything else going on, that seems like a pretty minor deal.
He can't figure out how to get the twine off his other hand by fumbling behind his back, so he has to stand and twist the chair around in front of him. Kairi scoots over to the wall by the corner and sits with her temple pressed against the concrete.
Sora drags the chair closer to the edge of the corner, so he can keep an eye on both Kairi and Riku while he works the rest of the rope off.
The florescent light catches on the blade of the scalpel as Riku tries to find a way to conceal it; his waistband doesn't roll over easily the Kairi's did.
"I think it's too small to be useful," Sora says. He can't think of any way they can fight with it--it's too small to be threatening, and he's not sure it can cut knuckles deep enough--and Sora doesn't want to let anyone get close enough to use it like that in the first place. Not here. This is too different from the street fights, the rules are all wrong.
"It's possible," is all Riku says.
The double doors around the corner open outward. They can't think of any use for the twine--it's too slippery to hold, except for the places where Sora and Kairi's blood have made it tacky, and there's nothing useful in the room to make it into a trap--so he gives Kairi one of the shorter pieces so she'll have something and keeps the chair close to him. Kairi tells them everything she remembers about the building and the hallways, the route they have to retrace to get outside. Her voice starts cracking, too, by the end; so they get her to drink half of the water and then Sora nearly chokeholds Riku to make him drink some too. When he refuses, Sora does too, even though he knows it's pretty stupid. Kairi shakes her head and takes the bottle from them before it breaks.
Riku stays by the door, so they talk about anything else in gestures and the occasional whisper.
Eventually, there's nothing to do but wait.
Riku hears the people approaching first. Sora knows that's why he's been staying so close to the door; he's always had really good hearing. When Riku gestures to him, Sora helps Kairi stand, and then stays just around the corner in front of her, with the chair in hand.
Once one of the doors is unlocked and the handle's turned, Riku kicks it open as hard as he can.
The person behind it swears when it hits, and then Riku's stumbling back, trying to get his balance again. The second door is jerked open.
As soon as the man steps in, Sora moves around the corner and swings the chair at his knees.
He goes down, and Riku kicks him in the head. Sora leaves him to it and swings the chair at the first man--the one with the braids, who'd been with Axel, he thinks with whatever part of his brain isn't smart enough to be focused on the fight--who's entering.
The guy catches the chair leg and tries to wrench it out of his grasp. Sora barely manages to keep his grip on the back; the man's deliberately pulling harder on his left, where the cuts in his hand from the scalpel are still bleeding.
Water goes flying over his shoulder and splashes in the man's face.
Kairi throws the now-empty bottle over his shoulder, too, while the guy's still trying to shake the water out of his eyes; and Sora yanks the chair free and jabs the legs into his stomach.
When the man goes down on one knee, Riku says "Sora!" and they trade out.
Sora's not sure what more of a threat the guy Riku was fighting is--there's a lot of blood on his face and his nose looks smashed in, and he's not moving--but he hits him once with the chair anyway. The man grunts faintly, but remains unconscious, so Sora turns back to Riku and the braids guy.
Riku's got his hands braced against the wall, trying to kick the guy in the chest without falling or letting him get back on his feet. Sora swings the chair at the guy's head again.
After several more hits, they've finally got the second guy on the floor with the first--who's the guy from the station, he finally realizes, not the dirty cop but the one with the accent who brought Roxas in. Sora shakes out his bad hand before gripping the chair again; when Riku glances out the door and then heads into the hallway, he wraps an arm around Kairi's waist and they follow him out.
The hall's empty. Kairi locks the door to the storage room while Sora and Riku check the opposite ends of the hall.
"Clear," Riku says.
"Same he--" Sora starts to say, and then Axel turns the corner.
Sora hefts the chair. Behind him, he can hear Riku turn and then come closer.
Axel eyes him, glances down the hall he just came from, and then looks back at them. "You're breaking out?"
"Yeah," Sora says, shifting his weight to hold the chair better. "Got a problem with it?"
To his surprise, Axel gives him a thumbs up.
"Nah," he replies. "I have an errand to run, so it'd be great if they're too busy to notice I'm gone. Try not to kill anyone I like."
Sora gives him a disbelieving look. "Are you serious?"
Axel shakes his head, once, and doesn't take his eyes off them while he does. "You are so suspicious, kid. Here, to prove my good faith," he pulls something from his pocket and tosses it at Sora. He catches it; it's a small key. "For the handcuffs," Axel says in response to his look.
Sora keeps eyeing him, because that's just got to be way too convenient. Kairi takes the key from his hand, though, and a couple seconds later he can hear her unlocking the handcuffs, so--whatever. Sora doesn't let go of his grip on the chair.
Riku swings his arms loosely for a few seconds after they're free, and then rubs his wrists above where they're bleeding from the cuffs' bite. Then he throws the handcuffs at Axel's head. Axel moves to the side to dodge them.
"Don't get mad at me," he says. "Larxene's the one who tased you."
Riku doesn't answer. Out of the corner of his eye, Sora can see him glaring as he keeps a hand behind his back. Kairi shifts, bracing against the wall.
"So're we even?" Axel asks, not really making it sound like a question again. The hall he's standing near isn't the one they have to take to get out, and Sora knows time's an issue; he can't afford to pick a fight with someone who's not trying to stop them, no matter how much he doesn't like the guy. But. . . .
"No," he says. "You said you'd owe me two favors."
Axel just gives him a look. It's kind of replicated by Riku, and probably by Kairi too if Sora could see her face.
Each second feels like it's a lot longer--anyone else could be coming down that hall or the other one at any minute--and Sora's about to just back away and leave when Axel says slowly, "Guess I did."
He rummages in his other pocket for another long second, and then pulls out a different key and throws it as well. Sora catches it, and realizes it's for a car.
"The white one, parked by the fence," Axel says, and turns away. "Bye."
"Hey, wait!" Sora calls. He hadn't expected this; it's too. . . . "Who're the people you like?"
"They're not here anymore," Axel says with a dismissing wave over his shoulder; and then he turns the corner and is gone.
Sora stares at the key in his hand for another moment. Then he shakes his head hard, shoves it in his pocket, and turns to Riku and Kairi.
"That way?" Riku asks Kairi, jerking his head at the opposite end of the hall; and when she nods, that's where they go.
There's less people in the building than he expected. They've seen some guards or cleaning staff or whatever while they sneak down the halls, heading toward the elevator leading into the lobby Kairi said she and Riku were brought through; but they've been able to move past all of them so far without being spotted. They've reached the elevator without another fight.
Sora thinks they're almost home-free. Riku keeps getting tenser, like he's waiting for the luck to break. He's not sure how Kairi feels; she's leaning against Riku, and her face is tight, but he doesn't know if it's because she's worried or because of the ragged way she's breathing. There's a set of stairs by the elevator, and they probably could already be halfway to the lobby if they'd taken them--but it's not just Kairi he's worried about now. Riku's breathing way too fast, even if he's trying to keep it shallow; it's not like him, something's wrong.
Riku keeps a tight grip on the scalpel, holding it against his thigh even as he braces Kairi up with his other arm. Sora lets the chair rest on the ground and leans against it. His head's starting to feel light; too much adrenaline and too little food and crap, he doesn't know how to drive so the key's useless, and where are they even going to go anyway? Where are they, how far is it from the train station? Does the bus even come here? Does he even still have the money?
Sora straightens up and moves to check his pockets, but the elevator dings as it reaches their floor.
He picks up the chair again, just in case; but the elevator's empty. Sora lets out his breath and tosses the chair inside it, before turning to give Kairi and Riku a hand.
The door to the stairwell opens.
Saïx stares at them for a moment, and Sora stares back thinking That's not fair and then the man pushes the door open the rest of the way, stepping into the hall and toward them.
Riku shoves Kairi at Sora.
He stumbles into the elevator, nearly tripping over the chair, and manages not to slam the both of them into the back wall. He lets go of her, grabs the chair, and runs back out; from the corner of his eye, he sees her move toward the bank of buttons.
Riku's trying to keep out of Saïx's reach, keeping the scalpel in close; but Sora's fought the guy before and knows that that's pointless because he'll just snap eventually anyway. Since Saïx is mostly facing away from him, Sora swings the chair for the back of his knees.
Saïx moves out of the way before the full blow lands, but Sora manages to graze him, which makes him stumble enough that Riku gets in a left hook. When the man shifts his weight backwards to steady himself, Sora jabs the chair legs against Saïx's feet.
The chair finally breaks as the man trips over it, which Sora guesses was inevitable, and it's the reason he doesn't hear the soft noise Saïx makes--which is why he's surprised when the man suddenly sinks to his knees, wrenching the chair from Sora's hands as he does, before falling to the floor jerkily.
Sora freezes when he sees the edge of the scalpel handle sticking out of his eye.
Riku is staring down at the man, eyes wide. Sora can't stop looking either, wondering if he's going to get back up, because this isn't . . . it's not . . . it can't be. . . .
The elevator begins squealing an alarm as the doors try to close and get forced open again. Riku jolts, then shakes his head once and kneels down next to Saïx.
"Riku--?" Sora says, as he presses a hand to the man's face and tries to wrench the scalpel free.
"Evidence," Riku says tightly, in a voice Sora's never heard before. "Go help Kairi."
Sora thinks he should argue, with something; but he's not sure what, so he goes and holds the elevator doors open. Kairi's pressing down on the open button, but it's been a while, and the doors keep trying to close automatically on top of the alarm.
"Riku!" he hisses, because the stairwell door's right there and Riku probably can't jump over Saïx and get to the elevator without someone else who might come through being able to grab him.
Riku nods once, sharply, and gets the scalpel free. He shoves it in his pants pockets, and then for some reason pulls off his shirt and rubs it roughly against the side of Saïx's face where his hand was; and then finally he jogs for the elevator. Sora lets go of the doors and moves back.
Riku wipes his hands off on his shirt as he comes up; but for some reason he stops and stares over his shoulder at Saïx, and doesn't move. The doors rattle again.
Kairi lets go of the open button, and then reaches out and grabs Riku's arm.
Sora grabs his other, and they pull him into the elevator before the doors close.
After Riku jerks his shirt back on (after wiping down the buttons and swiping rapidly at the edges of the doors where Sora's hands were; Oh, he finally thinks, fingerprints), Sora gives him his overshirt--the one that used to be Riku's anyway--to cover the bloodstains. It means the one on the back of his own shirt is visible now, but it's his own blood, so Sora figures it's okay.
They don't talk.
They all tense up when the elevator comes to the first floor, and Sora tries not to see Riku slide his hand back into his pocket. But there's no one there when the doors open; just a short lobby before an average-looking metal door.
"That's it," Kairi says quietly. As Sora and Riku move warily into the open space, she adds, ". . . I think the parking lot is on the right . . . no, the left. Going out."
Sora nods once, tightens his grip around her waist and keeps a close eye on Riku's back.
No one else stops them, in the lobby or outside; Sora has to blink and shield his eyes with a hand as he stands on the sidewalk, because it turns out it's noon. Or later. The sunlight half-blinds him for a few seconds.
It feels like it should be later. Like it should be dark.
The building looks like an average storefront in an area of town Sora thinks he would know if he could feel safe enough to stop and think for a minute. There's a chain-link fence to the left with a gate to the parking lot; the gate's open.
Sora wonders if Axel hotwired someone else's car; he wouldn't put it past him.
They find the white car, but just as Sora's about to point out that they never got to drivers' ed in high school, Riku holds out a hand. "Give me the key."
Sora blinks at him. "You can drive?"
"When'd you learn that?"
Riku shrugs a shoulder and starts to reach for Sora's pocket, but then freezes. Sora glances at the drying blood on his hand, and then looks away and fumbles for the key. He unlocks the front and back passenger doors while Riku circles around, and then tosses the key to him over the roof of the car.
He helps Kairi into the backseat, and then hesitates. Sora glances around the parking lot, taking in the buildings and the area beyond it; and then he shuts the back door and opens the front.
"I think we're near the docks," he says as he climbs in. "To the left of that main road that goes up and down through the city."
Riku nods once, and starts the car.
At first they just drive to get out of the area--and he's going to make Riku tell him when he learned this, someday--to get away from the building and anyone who may have seen or followed them, without any real plan; or at least without any plan that Riku's said. But when Kairi gets sick in the back seat and they have to roll the windows down, Sora starts thinking.
He's pretty sure they won't be able to get out of here like this, not with Kairi going through withdrawal and Riku's shirt bloodied and him still breathing too shallowly and Sora having this really dizzy feeling come and go. He doesn't want to take the risk of trusting anyone, at least not any strangers (anyone not Kairi or Riku), but if they can't pull this off themselves, then at least he thinks there are a couple people that aren't working for Ansem that they can talk to.
"Hey," Sora says, when Riku stops at a yellow light. The cars in the other lane keep going, one speeding past just as it turns red; but Riku is driving careful, just under the speed limit--there could be a cop car around any block. "I think I know somewhere we can go."
An hour and a few incorrect streets later, they pull into the alley behind the bar Aerith took him to.
Chapter 4: Port in a Storm 4
Sora has to bang on the loudly on the bar's back door for a while before anyone comes. He keeps one hand behind his back, pulling down on his shirt so hopefully the blood isn't visible. Beside him, Riku keeps shifting and glancing over Kairi's head at the car. Kairi's slumped against him; Sora doesn't think she'd be standing without Riku's help. Her shaking's gone back to being constant again.
He's about to cut through the alley to the street and find the gruff guy's shop to ask where Aerith is when the bartender finally opens the door. Riku tenses up, so Sora moves between him and her just in case.
"Uh, hi," he says. She stares at him, so he adds, "I'm trying to find Aerith."
"Her shop's not around here," the woman tells them.
". . . Oh," Sora says. "Where is it?"
The woman looks over his shoulder. "She doesn't run a detox, you know. If you want to get your friend off of her drugs, you'll have to look somewhere else."
He jerks. "Kairi isn't--! Someone else did that to her!"
"Sora," Riku hisses, but there's an odd look on the woman's face now.
"Who?" she demands, and Sora blinks.
"Some jerk doctor," he replies, "look, can you just tell me where to find her? It's really important. Please?" he adds for good measure, because it's for Kairi and the woman's starting to look more helpful. There's a creaking noise from the door she's holding open, though, which is weird.
She stares at the three of them for a few more seconds. Sora shifts on his feet, sees Riku glance at the car again, and is about to repeat the question when the woman opens the door further.
"Come in," she says, before calling over her shoulder. "Aerith! Can you come here?"
Sora blinks again, but when Aerith comes up behind her, he goes to help Riku with Kairi and thinks maybe the day is starting to suck a tiny bit less.
Riku doesn't move, though he hands Kairi over to him. She's unconscious, Sora realizes, but still shaking badly; and that kills the previous hope. "I have to deal with the car," he says lowly.
"What?" the woman asks, as Aerith moves around her. She must have good hearing.
"She threw up in it," Sora says, trying to remember everything he knows about DNA and police work. Aerith is checking Kairi's pulse; Sora doesn't like the frown on her face. "And there's--we got away from the guys that did this to her."
The woman looks at his hands, and then at Riku. When Riku shoves his deep in his pockets, Sora realizes the marks from the handcuffs and the rope are probably obvious. Plus the. . . .
"And there's blood on the wheel," Riku says, harshly, like he's making it a threat.
The woman looks unimpressed. "Aerith, do you have this?" she asks, pulling a pair of gloves out from behind her.
Aerith nods. "Bring her inside," she says to Sora. "This isn't helping."
"Hey!" Riku objects, when the bartender takes the key from his hand and heads toward the car. "What're you--"
"Don't worry," Aerith says. "Tifa's good at this. Come on, get inside."
Riku finally moves away from the door when they hear Tifa drive off; but his shoulders are tense and he takes a seat that lets him keep an eye on the front and back doors at the same time, so Sora ends up answering most of the questions about Kairi. Riku only speaks up if Sora doesn't know the answer, like that Vexen never said a name for what he was drugging Kairi with or what time of the day she was injected. Kairi finally wakes up around the end of the questions, but it's to throw up again, so Aerith takes her to the bathroom. Sora follows them and crouches outside the door until Aerith leans out and tells him to get a glass from the bar.
It turns out girls' restrooms aren't much nicer than guys', aside from less smell; or maybe it's just this place. Sora still feels kind of weird standing inside one, even though he's glad to have Kairi in his sight again. He tries to wedge himself into the most uncomfortable position he can in the corner between the door and a wall, because he's hungry and exhausted. Now that it looks like they might be safe and the adrenaline's drained off, he just wants to sleep.
"How about you?" Aerith asks him, while Kairi's leaning heavily against a sink and sipping the water gingerly. "Are you all right?"
He's pretty sure the dizziness is just from lack of food and sleep, and there's not much to do for his hand or wrists but wait for them to heal, and his head's feeling a little better now that it's not getting punched once an hour, so Sora nods and then winces when the headache decides to prove him a liar. Then he hesitates, and looks at Kairi again.
She doesn't look much better, but she doesn't look like Aerith's made her any worse, either. And he knows Riku will never say anything, but they're probably not going to be able to pay for a medical clinic for a long time after this, because Sora checked his pockets in the car and all his money (everything he had, wallet, house and hospital keys, coupons and the flower shop card) was gone, which is crap, because he took everything they had when he went to see Marluxia yesterday morning. All they might have now is the couple tens of emergency money that he knows Kairi keeps tucked in her bra, assuming that didn't get stolen too.
Sora sucks in a breath, and says, "I'm fine, but. I. I think there's something wrong with Riku."
Kairi raises her head to look at him, and then nearly slips off the sink. Sora dives forward, but Aerith catches her first.
"What's wrong?" Aerith asks. She lets go of Kairi's shoulders after Sora wraps an arm around Kairi's waist to keep her steady.
"He's . . . breathing weird. Like, he got out of breath when we were running, even though it shouldn't've been that big a deal for him," Sora says, getting frustrated as he tries to explain, because maybe it was totally normal--they'd never been so wired as they had been in that building; maybe he shouldn't have said anything. It feels like he's selling Riku out.
"He got tasered," Kairi adds.
Aerith makes a low noise that Sora doesn't like any more than the frown she had checking Kairi's pulse. She looks at the door leading out of the bathroom, and asks, "Is he likely to let me check his heartbeat?"
Sora and Kairi shake their heads at the same time.
"They never are," Aerith says to herself. She looks back at Kairi. "You've held up well, but we need to get you to a bed before the worst of the withdrawal starts."
"What's it going to be like?" Kairi asks. Sora can feel her shaking against his arm through the fabric of her shirt. No matter how tight he holds on, it doesn't stop.
"Do you know anyone who's been through this before?" Aerith asks.
"No," she says, and glances at him. He shakes his head.
"Ah," Aerith replies. "I'm sorry. I can't really say for sure, since I don't know what that drug was; but it's probably going to be bad."
When they leave the restroom, Riku's washing his hands in the sink behind the bar.
Aerith takes him and Kairi into the kitchen behind the bar and then up a stairwell to the second floor. The room she stops at (Sora asks why there's a bedroom in a bar, but Aerith just shrugs a shoulder and helps Kairi onto the small bed) is pretty nice, at least compared to their old apartment: a real bed, and an old chair that looks like it was repaired and then never taken back downstairs, and no cobwebs or insects. Aerith pulls the chair up to the bed, and then says she's going to get more supplies.
Sora sits by Kairi for a few moments after Aerith is gone, and then gets up and cracks the door open again. It's right by the stairs, but the stairwell's the kind that bends so there's two sets of steps instead of being the kind that goes straight up, and he can't hear much from downstairs.
Sora goes back to the chair, almost nods off, and then goes back to the door before finally returning to the bed.
"Hey, Kairi?" he says quietly. When she opens an eyelid, he goes on: "I'm gonna go get Riku. I'll be back in a sec."
Kairi starts to mumble something, then nods instead. Sora walks half-backwards to the door, and then jogs down the stairs as fast as he can without pitching over.
Riku doesn't like leaving his watch on the doors, and he really doesn't like trapping all of them on the upper floor; but Sora can tell from his face that he hasn't liked them being out of his sight, either, so he finally gets him to come upstairs.
After Sora almost nods off a second time and then jerks his head back up so sharply he cracks it on the wall, Riku says they should trade off on staying awake, and since Sora obviously needs a nap, he should go first. He doesn't have his normal tone, though; and he doesn't reply to Sora's comeback except to tell him to go to sleep already so he can get some rest once his shift is over.
Sora tries sitting by the bed and resting his head on the mattress, but Kairi is shaking so much that it makes the bed shake too, and that keeps Sora awake for several reasons. Finally he just half slumps on the chair, planning to at least rest his eyes if nothing else.
He wakes up when the door opens. Riku's standing straight in front of it, one hand in his pocket; Sora almost tells him it's not cool to threaten people that are being nice to them, but then he wakes up fully and pushes himself onto his feet.
It's just Aerith, now with one of those black doctor bags that Sora's seen in old movies his parents watched but never in real life, which is kind of cool. She checks Kairi's pulse again, and then takes her temperature, and then checks her heartbeat using a stethoscope, which is when Sora and Riku leave because she has to pull Kairi's shirt up a lot to do it. They're near the stairs when Tifa comes back.
Tifa pauses when she turns the corner of the stairwell and sees them, but then continues on up. Sora was sitting, but he has to stand again because otherwise her legs are right at his eye level and he's pretty sure he's not supposed to look at strangers like that. "Hope you didn't want that car back."
"No," Riku replies. "What'd you do?"
"I left it with a guy I know who works in a salvage yard," she replies. "The steering wheel's already gone, and the car will be in tomorrow's compression group."
"Did you call the police?" Riku asks evenly. Sora blinks at him; he thought all this worry was about Ansem's guys following them here.
Tifa is giving him that unimpressed look again. "Do you know what part of town this is?" she asks. "I'd lose a lot of business if a cop car's sitting out front close to opening time."
"Thanks," Sora says, after a pause. His voice cracks when he says it, and he has to swallow a lot to work up enough saliva to soothe it. He should have drunk some water from the bathroom sink when he was there; now that he thinks about it he's annoyed that he didn't think of it then.
Tifa gives him a long look, then nods once and steps into the room. She and Aerith talk about something for a few minutes, lowly; Riku tilts his head closer to the door and half-shuts his eyes to concentrate on hearing better, so Sora stays quiet.
That turns out to be a bad idea, because with nothing immediate to focus on, his body starts reminding him how bad it feels. His throat's so dry he doesn't think he can talk again unless he gets a drink of water, and the dizziness is coming back more often since he woke up; and while he's not starving--he knows what starving feels like--he's really, really hungry. Riku doesn't look a lot better; he's kind of pale, and way too tense, like he's straining to keep from swaying.
Tifa gives them another look as she leaves the room and heads back down the stairs, but it's not the kind that would make Sora cautious or jittery; but it's guarded, so he's not totally sure what it is. He glances at Riku, but Riku's still looking inside the room, so finally he just slumps back, presses his head against the wall and wills the dizziness to go away.
Aerith comes into the hall a little later, after Sora's started jiggling his leg to keep himself awake, and shuts the door behind her. That gets both him and Riku to stand up straight.
"She's okay, right?" he asks, voice cracking again on the first word. Riku shifts his weight closer to the door.
"Mm," is all Aerith says at first. She pulls the stethoscope around her neck back up to her ears. "I think she will be, after the worst is over. She has a strong heart. Speaking of which," she adds, and then turns and presses the metal bit of the stethoscope to Riku's chest.
"--What the--?!" he demands, moving to the side. Aerith follows.
"Take a deep breath," she says.
"Stop it," Riku says shortly, and takes as much of another step away as he can without going down the stairs.
"Your friends said that you were having trouble breathing, and that you were tasered," she replies, still holding the stethoscope to his chest.
Riku glares at him.
Sora tries to explain via hand gestures that he and Kairi were worried about him and knew he would be stupid and not say anything, and then he swallows hard and tells Aerith, "Twice."
Riku ups the glare, then looks down when Aerith draws in a breath through her teeth.
"Do you know how long each time lasted?" she asks, pulling down the neck of his shirt and pressing the stethoscope to the skin above his heart.
". . . Not that long," Riku says guardedly. "Why?"
"Tasers . . ." Aerith trails off, still listening. She rummages in her jacket pocket for a moment, and pulls out a watch.
Sora looks on with a growing bad feeling as she times his heartbeat. After a while, she pulls the stethoscope away from her ears and holds it out to Riku. "Listen."
He takes it gingerly, but listens and keeps an eye on the watch after she lifts it closer to him. Sora shifts unhappily when his eyes widen slightly.
"Does it feel like you're unusually aware of your heartbeat?" Aerith asks.
Riku's silent a while longer, head tilted down slightly so Sora can't see where he's looking; but finally he says, "Yeah.
"It goes away pretty fast," he adds, pulling the stethoscope away.
"It's happened more than once since you were tasered?"
". . . Yeah."
"What wrong?" Sora demands, swallowing hard again to get the words out.
"You need to drink some water before you hurt your throat any more," Aerith tells him, and then glances at Riku again before folding up the stethoscope and putting it back in her bag. "It looks like you have a heart arrhythmia. If you've experienced palpitations and shortness of breath . . . there's no point asking about dizziness until you've eaten and slept. Come on," she says, gesturing for them to follow her downstairs.
Riku hangs back while Sora opens the door and glances in again. Kairi's under a blanket facing the wall, maybe sleeping; so he and Riku head downstairs.
When Aerith asks, Tifa says they can take some stuff to make sandwiches from the fridge. Aerith stops Sora after he drains a third glass of water so he won't get sick, and then makes him wash his face, before re-bandaging it and his hand.
It hurts less to talk now, finally, so while he and Riku are downing the sandwiches over the sink he asks, "What'd they do to his heart?"
Riku elbows him in the side. "I'm right here."
Sora elbows him back, and then moves out of range reflexively even though Riku's voice is still off, still flat. "What's an arrhythmia?"
"My heart's beating too fast sometimes," Riku answers shortly, before Aerith can.
"Basically," she says. "Tasers can cause them if you didn't have one originally. It isn't the life-threatening kind, or you wouldn't be with us. And you can treat it with anticoagulants and fish oil. If you take care of yourself, avoid stress and watch your heart-rate, you should be fine."
Sora glances from her back to Riku. He tears off another bite of sandwich and doesn't look up.
A little while later, when they've finished the sandwiches in silence, Aerith gives them a package of saltine crackers and says they're for Kairi. He and Riku take them and a new glass of cold water back upstairs.
Kairi's moved around since last time--she's kicked the blanket most of the way off, and she's gripping it really tightly in her hands; her knuckles are white. She's still shaking and sweating, but her eyes are shut and Sora's not sure if she's awake or asleep. He sets the crackers and water on the chair, and then sits down on the foot of the bed.
Riku stands by the door for a little while, but eventually comes over and pulls the blanket back over Kairi. Sora helps with the edge that's near him. His hand brushes Kairi's leg as he does, and she's freezing, even though she's sweating so much. Sora clenches his hands into fists, then loosens them and digs the heels of his palms against his eyes.
"I'm glad he's dead," he says lowly.
Riku makes a sharp noise. "--Don't say that."
Sora wrenches his hands down and jerks around to look at him. "Aerith said you could have died!" he shouts. "Kairi's sick, and they stole all our money, and they ruined our lives for some stupid personal, business crap! The only thing that sucks is we didn't kill him and Ansem both when we had the chance!" Sora barely remembers not to punch the mattress on the off-chance he hasn't woken Kairi up already, and hits his leg instead. "He deserved it!"
Riku's standing straight, tense; Sora glares at him, because he has to agree, Saïx was in their way when they just wanted to get out of there, he was one of the people that took Kairi and Riku in the first place--
"It's not 'we,'" Riku tells him. "I did it."
The way he says it makes Sora uncurl his fists and look down at the floor.
It isn't that he forgot. He just . . . he doesn't know, it just. It stopped being important when he learned the extent of what those bastards did to Kairi and Riku.
Kairi mutters something. Sora's about to say sorry for waking her up, when she mumbles, "I want to go home."
Riku and Sora both look at her.
"Naminé, it's late, let's go. . . ." She trails off after that into some language Sora doesn't know. He thinks he's heard it before, some time; it makes Riku start. Kairi gets quieter, and then falls back asleep, maybe--she stops talking.
"Who?" Sora asks, because he's never heard that name before; none of the kids on the islands were called that, and it doesn't sound like the kind of name people around here have. Riku shrugs.
Sora grits his teeth, and hunches over, digging his fingers into his arms. He wants to fight someone, to make this all better, make things go back to the way they were when everything made sense; but there's no one to fight and fighting wouldn't fix anything anyway, and he can't think of anything they can do besides run really, really far and hope it's far enough. He hates this.
The mattress sinks as Riku sits down as well, near the edge so he doesn't squash Kairi's knees.
". . . Do you really think. . . ." Riku hesitates and stops; and after a moment Sora looks over at him.
". . . Do you think it was-- . . . okay?" Riku asks quietly.
Sora gives him a disbelieving look. "We were just trying to get away! He was in our way!"
This time Riku stares down at the floor, hands dangling between his knees. He must have washed them in really hot water; they're still kind of chapped and red.
". . . I'd do it again," he says, voice low. "I didn't know there wasn't anyone else coming. So I'd do it again."
Sora swallows, this time not because his throat hurts but because that sick feeling from when he realized why Saïx collapsed is closer to the surface than he thought, and he has to shut his eyes for a second.
Then he opens them, and looks at Kairi's hands clenching the blanket, and thinks of Riku's shallow breathing when they were running; and he pushes it away. Sora nods.
A little bit later, he slumps again; but this time it's to the side, against Riku's shoulder. Riku's still tense despite what he said, still holding his shoulders back tightly; but eventually, he relaxes a little. Not much.
It's a start.
They stay that way for a while--probably not as long as it feels--until Sora remembers he's going to have to tell Aerith eventually that they can't pay for any of this. He doesn't know if just twenty bucks will cover everything she and Tifa've done so far, and anyway they need it to get food and make a start out of this city. If Kairi's still got it.
He tells Riku about it, and Riku agrees that they need it more, so Sora figures they should ask if they can work off the debt washing glasses or something. If that won't do, he'll offer to help clean the kitchen once his wrist heals more.
Kairi jolts awake while he's still trying to convince Riku that they have to offer to do something; she tries to eat a cracker and drinks some of the water, but more of it spills on the blanket because her hand keeps shaking. She manages to check her bra, though, and says the tens are still there, so that's at least one less thing to worry about.
Aerith knocks on the door while he and Riku are trying to flap the blanket dry again.
"Can you help me?" she asks, pushing the door open with her hip while juggling a sleeping bag and another blanket.
"These are for us?" Sora asks disbelievingly as he takes them, because it's a really nice sleeping bag--flannel-lined, the kind for camping in the winter.
"While you're here," Aerith replies. "You can't just sleep on the floor."
"Where'd you get it?" Riku says, eying the bag as Sora rolls it out. He catches the blanket when Sora tosses it at him.
"I never know who I might be treating," Aerith answers breezily. "It's good to have a few practical things on hand."
". . . Uh," Sora says. "About that. . . ."
Aerith looks at him.
"We were robbed," Riku says, tossing the blanket onto the bag.
"Do you barter?" Sora asks. "We can do stuff to pay everything off."
Aerith props her elbow in one hand and rests her chin on the other, giving them a long look. "Weeeeell," she says consideringly. "I'd have to ask Tifa, but I'm sure she has some work to do around the bar."
"We can do it!" Sora replies.
"All right!" Aerith claps her hands together decisively and smiles. "She'll wake you up after closing, then."
Once they hear her go down the stairs, Riku looks at him and says, "Only you could find a doctor who's a conwoman."
"Hey!" Sora replies. "She's helping us out even though we can't pay. We're the ones doing the conning."
Riku gives him a 'you're an idiot' look, which is why they wind up arm wrestling over who gets to sleep in the sleeping bag and who has to take first watch.
The noise in the bar below is loud, but not that loud; it's mainly the sound of TVs and people talking and one guy swearing loudly occasionally, and after he gets used to it--and memorizes some of the swearing guy's phrases that he's never heard before--Sora finds it kind of soothing. It's a constant sort of lull, and when he's sitting wrapped in a blanket by the door in a dark room, it's nice to have something block out the rattling of the bed from Kairi's tremors and the sound of her nightmares, and the low, muffled noise of Riku's fake-sleep breathing, half buried in the sleeping bag.
At least, it's nice until he starts to think about it; and then Sora decides he'd rather hear the nightmares. He opens the door a little more, until there's enough light to see Riku by, and moves over to Kairi's bed so he can listen to her and keep an eye on him.
Kairi finally stops shaking at some point, though she's still mumbling occasionally in that other language; and the need for more sleep eventually catches up to Sora after that.
He wakes back up when he notices that the noise is gone. Tifa hasn't knocked on the door, like Aerith said she would--at least, Sora figures she hasn't, since Riku is finally asleep and Kairi is still something resembling it--but it's quiet enough below that it must be after closing time.
At first Sora thinks that if Tifa forgot to call them in on their debt, then awesome, more sleep for them; but then he shakes off the blanket and, with one last look at Kairi and Riku, heads out of the room to the stairs. They're lucky that Aerith is letting them work instead of pay--he doesn't want to get thrown out until Kairi's okay, at the least, and it'd be really nice if they could stay long enough to make sure nothing's going to happen with Riku. So he has to at least ask if there's anything he can do now, no matter how much a drag it is.
(The majority of Sora's knowledge of bars came from old Westerns, which left him with the vague assumption that they all had sawed-off shotguns under the counter and a majority of the customers knew how to fight; so he's a little less worried about Ansem finding them than he was the previous day.)
When he looks out the kitchen door, he almost thinks he was wrong and the place is still open--there's a guy sitting at the end of the bar. But he's the only one in there, and Tifa's ignoring him, washing glasses at the sink until she sees Sora.
"What is it?" she asks, setting the towel down with a quick snap to get the excess water off.
". . . Aerith said you'd get me and Riku to help after closing," he replies, coming around the door since she hasn't shooed him off. "Doing . . . stuff. Closing stuff. Since we can't pay her money for Kairi."
Tifa raises an eyebrow, like this is all news to her; but then she shrugs.
"I don't need any help now. Wait 'til morning," she says, before changing her mind. "But get that guy's glass."
The guy gives a little half-smile at that.
"Yo," he says as Sora comes up, and now the not-smile's changed to a grin. "So you're Aerith's customers."
"You know Aerith?" he asks, since there's still some beer in the guy's mug.
"Yep. Name's Zack," he says, holding out a hand. Sora shakes; Zack's hand is really calloused.
Zack is awesome. He's done lots of traveling too, even further than the three of them imagined--to countries with names Sora barely remembers from Social Studies.
"It's nothing," he says, when Zack says it looks like the rope burns on his wrists must've hurt, because he wants to be cool too, "you should've seen this one time when we were hauling logs for the raft, and the rope slipped--my hands looked awful!"
"Ouch," Zack commiserates. Sora shrugs nonchalantly, even though it really had hurt at the time.
Zack checks his watch, and Sora finally remembers about the glass. Tifa's stacking chairs on the other end of the bar, so he should probably just leave it in the sink.
"I don't want to keep you up," Zack says, attracting his attention again. "Aerith said you guys had been through a lot. I just wanted to ask a question."
"Can you tell me about the scientist?" he asks. In the corner, Tifa pauses over the chair she was flipping onto the table top.
Sora frowns. "Huh?"
"Like, what he looks like, where he was working," Zack explains.
"Why do you want to know?" comes a voice from the kitchen, startling him.
Sora turns to look. "Riku!"
Riku's glaring past him at Zack, who holds up a hand in a peace-making gesture.
"It's okay," he says. "I just want to verify something Aerith was worried about. It's a private inquiry only."
Riku snorts derisively. "There's no such thing as 'private inquires' when the army's involved."
Sora's eyes widen. "Whoa," he says, turning back to face Zack. "You're a soldier?"
There's a smack of wood on wood; Sora glances over and sees that Tifa's set a chair heavily on the table and is watching them now. Zack seems a little surprised; but then there's an odd look on his face and then he smiles again.
"I was," he says. "I left.
"How'd you know?" he adds, giving Riku an impressed look.
"Your stance," Riku says tightly. "Why are you asking?"
"Just checking," Zack answers. "Did he have long, dark hair?"
Sora glances at Riku, who's still standing tight-lipped in the doorway, and then back at Zack. ". . . It was long, but he was blond."
There's a different odd look on Zack's face for a second, and he leans forward slightly. "Did he have a ponytail? Or glasses?"
"Who're you wanting it to be?" Riku demands, before Sora can answer.
"I'm just checking," Zack says again, "that it's not someone I don't want around here."
Sora can get behind that sentiment.
"He never had a ponytail when I saw him," he says. "And I don't think he wore glasses. . . ." He glances at Riku, who stays still for another moment before shaking his head.
"Contacts and hair dye," Tifa says negatively. She's given up on the chairs and is standing nearby now, one fist propped on her hip.
Zack makes an agreeing noise. "What about his voice? How did he talk?"
Sora shakes his head and looks over at Riku again. "He almost never talked to me."
Riku folds his arms. "He had a low voice. And he talked a lot. He had a facial tic," he adds grudgingly.
Zack and Tifa glance at each other, but then she shrugs once and turns away, back to the chairs. Zack gives them another grin.
"Thanks," he says.
"So is it the same guy?" Sora asks.
Zack frowns. ". . . I dunno. The tic sounds wrong, but the rest. . . ." He shrugs a shoulder in Tifa's direction. "Like she said, it could all be superficial changes."
"It's after closing," Tifa calls without looking back, and Zack stands.
She shoos him and Riku upstairs after Zack's gone, saying that she doesn't need their help until the afternoon. Sora's glad to go, even if Riku's frowning; with both of them down here, there's no one to make sure Kairi's nightmares aren't too bad.
Once they're on the stairs, and the noise of Tifa setting chairs is muffled, Riku orders lowly, "Don't let people ask you questions when you're tired."
Sora gives him a confused look. Then he thinks of Demyx and that storage room, and shakes his head sharply.
"Zack's cool," he says. "He's not like those guys."
Riku gives him that 'you're an idiot' look again, but now it's harder; it makes him hunch his shoulders defensively and glare back, because he's not so dumb that he's going to do anything to lose them again. "He's not," Sora repeats.
Riku doesn't reply; and they climb the rest of the stairs in silence.
Kairi gets sort of better over the rest of the night and the morning--the shaking's stopped and her eyes aren't as glassy, but now she's burning up and sweating worse. He and Riku have to keep refilling her glass with water. She keeps her eyes closed almost all the time, and just shakes her head when they ask what's wrong.
When she learns there's a tiny shower in the bathroom down the hall, the kind with no curtains and a concrete lip like in the janitor's closet back at school, she says she wants to clean up. Sora helps her walk to it, and feels awkward and helpless when he has to leave her inside and she shuts the door. Riku sits outside it with him for a little while, and then leaves to make them more sandwiches since the saltines are long gone.
He comes back quickly, and gestures for Sora to follow him silently.
"--and you checked?" he hears Zack ask, when he and Riku pause behind the half-open kitchen door.
"Yes," Aerith replies. "No abnormal strength, no increases in vision or lung capacity or anything. . . . I don't think it was him."
Another person exhales gratefully somewhere closer to the door; probably Tifa.
"Of course, that means now there's someone else out there like that," Aerith continues. "But from what they've said, it seems to be an independent venture, not an army one."
"Poor kids," Zack says. One of them murmurs in agreement.
"Well," he continues, and there's the scraping noise of a stool on the concrete, "I'll leave these with them and then--"
Sora misses the rest of what he says, because Riku's jerked on his arm. They rush for the stairs.
Zack's a lot faster than they thought. He looks as surprised as Sora and Riku when he finds them heading up the steps.
"--Hey," he says, with a half-wave. He's holding a duffle bag.
"What the hell did you people do to Kairi?" Riku demands, turning around fully to stare him down. Sora follows, because at this point offense is probably the best defense.
"Nothing," Zack says, setting the bag down on the bottom stair. "Aerith was checking that she's wasn't drugged with the same stuff the guy I'm worried about shot up people with."
"Uh-huh," Riku replies.
"Are you a soldier?" Zack asks him.
That was really the wrong thing to say, Sora thinks, as Riku pulls back--not that Zack could have known.
"No," Riku says sharply.
"One of your parents, then," Zack replies, like it's a fact. And it is; even though Riku's face is blank now, Sora figures his own confirms it, because how'd he know?
"Stance," Zack says with a quick nod at Riku's shoulders and another not-smile that soon fades. "But I'm guessing they weren't a commissioned officer."
"Why?" Sora asks, because Riku will never answer and he doesn't really want to pick a fight on the stairs; they're blocked from the exits like this and Kairi isn't with them anyway, so it's not like escape is possible.
Zack frowns, and then says, ". . . It's easier if I just show you."
Aerith and Tifa look over when he and Riku follow Zack out of the storage room. Then Zack either gives them some really subtle signal, or else the fact that he's still carrying the duffle bag means more to them than it does Sora, because Tifa looks away and Aerith props her chin on her hand and watches them leave.
Riku stops on the top of the back steps and folds his arms. Zack drops the duffle by him and heads further down the alley, rummaging around in the assorted debris against the walls.
"What are you doing?" Sora asks, because he's starting to think Zack might be less cool and more lame.
"Trying to find a--ah!" Zack holds up a short, rusting, ribbed iron bar, the kind Sora saw littered around construction sites when he used to work on them. He brings his arms up in a defensive position reflexively; he can hear Riku moving behind him. But Zack doesn't attack--he just wraps his hands around both ends.
Zack folds the bar in half like it's a pipe cleaner.
Sora stares, because even if life has gotten really insane this last week, that's just--creepy and awesome.
". . . Nice trick," Riku says.
Zack keeps pulling the ends of the bar, until he's curved them away and then back together to make a rough, upside-down heart. He tosses it to Sora a second later; he catches it with both hands, and has to bend his knees to keep from dropping it because it weighs just as much as he knew but couldn't believe with how easily Zack twisted it.
"Real iron," Zack says, wiping flakes of rust off on his pants.
"Yeah," Sora confirms, voice only a little awed.
Riku is silent for a moment while Sora turns the heart around and then tosses and catches it a couple times, because--that is just really awesome and creepy.
Riku's voice is thicker when he speaks again. "And you thought Kairi was drugged with the same stuff as that?"
Sora's eyes widen, and the hand holding the heart drops to his side as he stares at Zack.
Zack rubs the back of his neck. "That's what Aerith was worried about. A lot of the . . . circumstances sounded the same."
"What is it?" Sora demands.
Zack makes a 'sorry' hand gesture. "I only know the classified name, and I finally got away from getting shot at."
"Which army were you in?" Riku asks, lower.
Zack gives him a rueful little half-smile. "A different one than I thought."
Then he shrugs a shoulder. "But you guys don't need to worry. It looks like whatever happened with your friend, it was something and someone different. She'll be okay."
Sora looks down at the iron heart again.
There's silence for a little while; and then Zack claps him on the shoulder.
"It'll be okay," he says again. Then he picks the duffle up. "Anyway, these are for you guys."
After they eat (Aerith gives Riku a bunch of purple grapes, telling him that they're a natural anticoagulant and should help with his heart, and it's a little harder for Sora to finish his sandwich after that) Sora learns the duffle has a change of clothes for him and Riku. They're big enough that it's pretty obvious they have to be Zack's, though they're kind of musty; when Sora asks, Zack says he's traveling around, trying to find a friend of his and Aerith and Tifa's, so he hasn't been back to use them in a while.
"So you came here because Aerith thought that bad guy was back?" Sora asks. He almost feels like he should apologize; he's done enough searching for lost friends recently that he knows how he'd feel at being distracted for a false reason.
Zack just shrugs it off and smiles. "I check in with them once in a while, anyway," he says.
Sora almost asks if he's sure about giving them the clothes, but then catches himself, because even if the new jacket is way too big it's still really warm. He hasn't had such a nice coat since leaving home; there wasn't room on the raft, and they left in warm weather, so he hadn't thought about it at the time.
It's not until he changes shirts that Sora remembers he's been wearing one stained with blood all this time. Riku balls his old shirt up tight, hiding the stains, and then zips his jacket up all the way even though it's pretty warm inside the bar.
Kairi says to come in when Sora knocks on the bathroom door. She's sitting on the concrete rim of the shower, combing her hair with her fingers; and her clothes have damp spots. At first Sora thinks the sweating's gotten even worse and almost freaks, but then he realizes that there aren't any towels in the room and she probably had to get dressed without drying off. He tells her about Zack and the new clothes.
"There wasn't anything girly in there," Sora adds, holding out a sleeveless turtleneck and the second pair of pants. Riku took the other pair since the scalpel got blood inside the pocket of his old ones, but Sora kept his since they still fit well enough and he doesn't want Kairi to catch a cold in her skirt on top of everything else. "But it's still really nice stuff."
"Wow," Kairi replies, looking over the clothes. She still looks kind of sick, and she's moving as little as possible. "That was nice."
Sora nods, and then fidgets with the edge of his jacket. "Riku thinks we're getting conned," he adds, and then sits beside her on the rim and tells her about the stuff Zack said. He gets the iron bar heart from their room to prove it, even though Riku--leaning against the wall by the stairs--looks at him odd when Sora darts into the room to grab it and then out again. Kairi stares at it and says, "They thought I could do this?"
"Yeah," Sora replies. "Go figure that we ran into them out of everyone. . . ."
Kairi's still staring down at the heart with a weird look, and it takes Sora a moment to realize she's not blinking. At all.
"Mm?" she replies, without moving. When he waves a hand hear her face, she doesn't do more than purse her mouth slightly.
Sora fishes for something to get her full attention, and asks, "Who's Naminé?"
Kairi blinks, once, at that, and then looks up at him. "What?"
"You were talking about her last night," he explains. "Or, you were acting like you were talking to her. You said some other stuff, too, but it was in another language."
Kairi stares down at the heart again, for a long time.
". . . I don't know," she finally says. When Sora frowns and tilts his head, she shakes hers slightly. "I could . . . I can tell you what she looked like, and . . . how she dressed, what she liked to do, how we played . . . but I don't know who she is. It's like there's nothing behind her. No place. You and Riku have the islands are behind you, behind everything we did, but with her. . . . It's like with Xeha--Anse--no, not Mr. Ansem. Why didn't I notice it before?" she murmurs, mostly to herself at this point.
Sora shifts uncomfortably on the concrete, because this doesn't make any more sense now than it did yesterday. "So he's not really called Ansem?"
"No," Kairi answers. "He's someone else."
She hands him the heart back suddenly, and asks, "How's Riku?"
"Aerith said he has an . . . arrhythmia, and his heart beats too fast," Sora says, turning the heart around distractedly in his hands. "She said he'll be okay, as long as he eats fish oil and doesn't get stressed, but. . . ."
Kairi hugs her arms around her legs. "Is that what you were talking about?"
"When you were talking about that man before."
That sick, twisting feeling is back, because it's Kairi asking this time and he doesn't know how he feels about knowing she heard him say all that; but it's not as bad. Sora shrugs once, hard, pushing it away. He sets the heart on the floor. ". . . Yeah. She said--she said it was the non-fatal kind, 'cause otherwise he wouldn't even be here, because of those bastards--!"
Kairi is silent. Sora knots his fingers in the fabric of his pants.
"I wish I'd gotten it uncapped faster," is all she finally says, and it takes him a second to realize she's probably talking about the scalpel. "Before they grabbed my arms." Then she tilts slightly, touching his face. "How are you?"
"I'm okay," Sora replies. "What about you?"
Kairi half-smiles. "I'll be okay. I want to sleep a little longer, though."
Sora nods and pushes onto his feet, then reaches out to help Kairi when she wobbles as she stands herself.
This time, her half-smile is unhappy and frustrated, caused by the way she's biting down on her lip. "I must look pretty useless," she says. "I can't even stand up, I can't walk, I've been sick and unconscious while all these bad things are happening--"
"It's not your fault," Sora interrupts.
Kairi exhales. "That doesn't change how I feel."
He squeezes her hand tightly, making her look up at him. "It's not true. If--if anything is telling you different, it's wrong."
Kairi gazes at his face for a long moment; and then she chuckles faintly and squeezes back.
Sora pushes open the door to see Riku and Tifa talking in the hall. He lets go of Kairi's hand, suddenly awkward at the thought of being seen by a stranger but even more by Riku--he still remembers how weird and unhappy he felt when he noticed him and Kairi spending time together, and he doesn't know if Riku feels the same way, but if he doesn't, Sora doesn't want him to start. He doesn't want Kairi to feel like that about him and Riku, either, even though he's not sure if that really works--mostly he just doesn't. . . .
. . . Mostly he doesn't know what he wants, except maybe for life to be less complicated again like it used to be.
He takes Kairi's hand once more though when he remembers that he was helping her to the bedroom.
"How are you feeling?" Tifa asks her, as Riku pushes the door open with his foot.
"A lot better," Kairi says, pausing in the hall to face her. "Thank you all for all your help."
Tifa looks a little surprised--maybe she expected Kairi to be blunt like him and Riku, Kairi's gotten that reaction sometimes--but then nods. ". . . You're welcome. Speaking of which," she says, focusing on Sora, "you can come help me get ready for opening."
Tifa has him and Riku sweep and mop the floor before taking down all the chairs. It's not fun--his wrist still hurts and the scabs keep ripping--but it's paying off their debt, and it's a chance to do something that makes sense, no undercurrents or secrets or ulterior motives involved. Just brooms and furniture.
Repetitive work doesn't take much concentration, though, and once Sora gets bored of listening to the news on a TV and starts thinking about the stuff Riku said about Vexen's drug--about it making a person into someone else by erasing their soul--he keeps thinking about it, and about the distant, far-away look in Kairi's eyes as she stared down at the iron heart.
So by the time they're done, he's come up with a plan. He catches Riku by the arm and half-pulls him out the back door when Tifa's in the kitchen, and then tells it to him.
It's cold enough that it looks normal for them to be walking around with their hoods half over their faces, which is the only reason Riku agrees to Sora's 'plan.'
"You . . . want to get her a seashell necklace to help her remember who she is," Riku says slowly, because it sounds absurd. Ansem's men are undoubtedly still after them, and he doesn't want to leave Kairi alone with these strangers that are just a little too helpful. And Sora wants to get a necklace.
But, ridiculous as it sounds, it also sounds like the kind of thing that might work, if only because it's Sora and it's Kairi. So Riku makes him swear that if they don't find a store selling shell necklaces on this block, they'll come back. It's going to be hard enough to sneak back into the bar without trying to do it after it's opened for the night.
He forgot what a lucky twerp Sora is. On the opposite side of the block is one of those little souvenir shops. And visible through the door is a seaside display. Riku refuses to look at Sora's grin as they enter.
He also tries not to think about how Sora and Kairi were holding hands when they left the bathroom, or how most of the time in there they were talking low enough that he doesn't know what they were saying. Riku shoves his hands deeper in his pockets as they enter. He frowns at the bell that rings overhead and announces their presence to the man behind the counter.
"Hi!" Sora says to the guy, before bee-lining to the display. He makes a face as soon as he gets there; Riku soon sees why. Everything on it, necklaces included, is over-priced.
"Maaaan," Sora mutters, before turning away and looking around the rest of the shop. Riku eyes the display, calculating which necklace would fit in his pocket and be least missed. But soon he has to abandon the idea. The store clerk is watching him and Sora closely, but mostly him. At least, it feels like he's mostly watching him.
It feels like everyone who looks at him now knows, about Saïx and what he did. Riku keeps his hands deep in his pockets and deliberately stays in the middle of the aisle, in view. This was a stupid idea.
. . . Okay, it wasn't stupid, but it wasn't likely to work, either. Riku glares at the display's price tags one last time, and then looks out the front window. It's starting to get dark. Tifa has to be opening soon, if she hasn't already.
Sora catches on when Riku clears his throat. He pauses by the display one last time, while the clerk is still watching Riku, and then comes over. They leave.
That was a waste, Riku thinks but doesn't say. He didn't think getting Kairi the necklace would do much good, but now that the chance was so close, he hates missing it.
He's watching the sidewalks and the road as they turn the corner, not Sora; so at first what he says doesn't make sense.
"It looks ridiculous," Sora says out of the blue. "She'll have to take it apart and make a real one."
"What?" Riku replies, glancing at him for a second as they come to the alley that leads to the bar's back door. Then he stops and looks again, longer.
Sora's holding a shell necklace in his hands, scrutinizing it. It does look silly, like the kind of thing tourists buy because they don't know better. But that's not the point.
"You stole that?" Riku says in disbelief. Then he steps into the alley, because it gets them off the sidewalk and out of the city's normal life.
Sora follows. "Yeah," he replies, looking over. "I mean, they were too expensive to buy, and it's for Kairi."
Sora's voice is matter-of-fact, and his eyes are bright in the slant of dusky light illuminating the alley. Everything about him makes something twist in Riku's chest, in a way he half-understands and isn't comfortable with. He has to fight down the sudden urge to push Sora back out onto the sidewalk, into the last of the light, because Sora will just ask what the heck he's doing.
And he doesn't really want to, anyway. He wants to pull Sora further into the dark alley, away from their problems, away from all the strangers, somewhere out of sight.
Riku clenches his fists in his pockets so tight that they're probably cutting the skin. Who cares; what's a little more blood?
He's really glad Sora interrupts that thought.
Sora's been hesitating while Riku was fighting his thoughts, and now he scratches the back of his head sheepishly.
"It's okay, right?" he asks. "I would've paid for it, but we need the money more, and I want to help her. . . ."
"--Yeah," Riku tells him, after swallowing. Then he adds, "I was going to do it, but that guy kept watching me. I think it's fine," because he isn't going to push the reason off on Kairi. He's not going to make excuses anymore; he did that about the money and working with Ansem, and look where that got them. Whatever he does from now on, he's going to be honest.
At least to himself and Sora and Kairi.
"I noticed," Sora says, grinning. "Good job."
". . . It wasn't on purpose," he replies, and then shoves him in the shoulder, toward the bar's back steps. It might be Sora's luck, but Riku doesn't want to push it.
The bar must have opened because three customers are inside. Riku goes up to the counter and asks Tifa, "Where do you want the delivery?" If he's right about this place, that's the kind of question everyone will ignore hearing, no matter what he and Sora look like.
"Back there," Tifa says, keeping a straight face and jerking a thumb at the door to the kitchen. With that excuse, they slide around the counter and leave the bar.
Sora rips the price tag off the necklace while Riku raids the fridge for more sandwich stuff. "Did you see anyone following us?" Sora asks him. Riku shakes his head.
"Me either," Sora says. Riku shouldn't have assumed he wasn't paying attention. "I guess they don't know where we are . . . heh." Sora gives him a side-long grin. "I almost thought a guy like An--no," he interrupts himself and shakes his head. "Kairi said he's really named Xehanort, even though that doesn't make--"
The sound of shattering glass comes through the marginally open door.
A moment later, a guy laughs at Tifa for being clumsy, and she snaps back at him. There's the noise of glass being picked up rapidly. The broom is in here, by the door.
Sora and Riku look at each other.
Riku jerks his head toward the stairs, and Sora nods. As he heads up them, toward Kairi, Riku turns back to the fridge. He starts going through it again, pulling out everything that the three of them can carry without being noticed, and keeps an eye on the door as he does. He almost leaves the grapes, distrusting everything Aerith said; but then he changes his mind. He knows from experience that Ansem is good at dividing people from their friends. Aerith, and even that guy Zack, might not know. And the more food they can take off with, the better.
If Tifa is one of Ansem's people, he has no problem robbing her.
Kairi isn't in the bedroom, or the bathroom, and for a second Sora feels that choking panic again, fist clenching around the necklace as he gets ready to run back down the stairs to Riku and beat the truth about where she is out of everyone if they have to--and then he sees the note.
It's sitting on the mattress, which--now that he notices--is missing the blanket she was sleeping with. It says she's on the roof, and that he and Riku should go up the fire escape that's attached to the room across the hall, the one looking out onto the alley.
Sora still wants to hit someone for apparently driving her up there, but now the feeling's less panicked. He wedges the slip of paper between the bedroom door and the frame, so Riku will see it faster, and shoves through the opposite door.
It's a storage room, and an old one; there's boxes and dust everywhere. The window leading to the fire escape is open, letting a draft in.
The metal rattles under his feet as he climbs the steps to the third floor landing--wondering vaguely what's there, since the stairs they've been using stopped at the floor below, before pushing it away as unimportant--and then the short ladder from there to the roof. "Kairi!"
In the dim orange light coming up from the streets below, he sees an arm wave from the middle of a crowd of flower pots on the roof. Kairi pushes herself into a sitting position as he jumps over the ledge onto the roof. "Are you okay?" Sora demands.
Kairi nods as she pulls the blanket tighter around herself. She does look a little better, or at least less pale, which Sora's willing to take at this point. ". . . Yeah. I'm going to be okay from now on. Sorry if I scared you," she adds, as Sora crouches by her among the flowers. "I was trying really hard to hold on to myself, so I was probably acting weird."
Despite everything, he frowns. "'Hold on to yourself'?"
"It's hard to explain," Kairi finally says. "But, what happened?"
Sora tells her in a rush about Tifa and Xehanort's name and the broken glasses. Kairi looks doubtful when he concludes by saying they're probably going to have to run again.
"Are you sure she's working for him?" she asks.
"Why else would she act like that?" Sora responds.
Kairi pauses, and then looks at one of the pots beside her.
"I know this smell," she tells him.
"I don't know why," Kairi adds, shrugging the blanket closer over her shoulders again as the wind cuts across the roof. "But it's familiar. Like I knew it as a child."
Sora looks around at the flowers. They're spread out all over the roof, lots of them, and the scent is pretty clear; but there's nothing like it on the islands. He looks back at her.
"Is it one of those no-background things?" he asks. Kairi nods.
Sora rubs a hand hard against his temple. "Then, these guys, Aerith and Tifa and Zack and that other guy--they just wound up here like you did at home?"
"Maybe," Kairi says. "It's a pretty big port city. . . ."
It's a world of crazy coincidences is what it is. But on the other hand, he only met them because of Yuffie, and he only met Yuffie because of the fights; and he really doesn't feel like they're bad people, or at least he didn't until a couple minutes ago. Kairi might be right.
Sora wants her to be, at least. Tifa's been really nice even if she pretends not to be, and Aerith's helped them a lot, and Zack was pretty cool. And it's not like he'd be surprised to find Ansem/Xehanort/whoever ruined their lives for stupid reasons the same way he did his and Kairi and Riku's.
He shakes his head, and pulls a pot closer to smell the flowers in it. They smell crisp and sweet, almost bright, even though that's a weird description for a smell. Sora hopes most of Kairi's life before she showed up on their island was like this, even if Ansem was somewhere in it.
"We should probably go anyway," she says a moment later. "Either way."
Sora nods. "We need to figure out where, though."
Kairi looks out over the roof's ledge. ". . . There's home."
He didn't even realize he called the islands 'home' earlier until now; it was a default reaction. He pulls his legs up to his chest, folding his arms on top of his knees. ". . . I guess."
Kairi pauses, and then gives him a quick smile. ". . . Not that it matters if there's an extradition treaty between here and there," she continues. "What we really need to do is find somewhere that doesn't have any of those." She looks over his shoulder then; and a moment later, Sora turns around too.
Riku's standing by the fire escape ladder, one foot still on the ledge, looking almost hesitant--like he's afraid of something.
Sora shakes his head again. That's a ridiculous thought.
Riku steps down completely a moment later, coming over to sit by them. He's carrying his new jacket in a lumpy bundle under his arm instead of wearing it.
"We can go home," he says, quietly. "We might be safer there."
None of them speak for a moment.
Sora tries to imagine it: going back to the island, returning to helping his dad dive for shellfish on non-school mornings, going back to hanging out with Wakka and Tidus and Selphie, walking on the same sand and grass again now--now, after so much has changed, in a lot of big and small ways.
He tries to imagine Kairi and Riku back there, too; Kairi with her curfews that her father kept enforcing more sternly each year they got older, Riku back in that big house where most of the furniture's been sold to pay the bills from his parents' younger days and everything that's left is way too clean and impersonal. He remembers Kairi trudging down the sand with her shoes in hand while it was still bright out because her mother was standing on the road tapping her foot; and all those times Riku knocked on his window late at night because he snuck out of his house to come sleep secretly at Sora's for a few hours before having to leave again before all the fishermen were out on the streets.
He remembers that summer years ago that he and almost all the islanders spent building the fish hatcheries off the shore. The year they left was supposed to be the first one that they would be really profitable for outside selling as well as for feeding themselves; it'd been one of the mayor's best ideas, and helped almost everyone worry a little less about the immediate future.
"Nah," Kairi says, making him and Riku look over. "Think how much homework we would have to catch up on. Maybe after we're adults and school isn't compulsory anymore. . . ."
Eventually, Sora chuckles. "Yeah, that sounds good."
He reaches out for the flowerpot Sora pulled over after a little bit, pushing it a little closer to Kairi. "We could find out where these are from."
Kairi stares down at the flowers for a really, really long time.
But finally she shakes her head.
". . . I used to wonder," she tells them, softly. "About where I came from. It was all so blank, who wouldn't? But. . . ." She smiles, giving the flowers one last look before gazing up at him and Riku. "It's not important anymore. I know where home is; where these are from is just a place."
Sora grins widely without being able to put a finger on why exactly he feels so happy. After a second, Riku laughs once under his breath.
"So where should we go?" Sora asks, because they still haven't solved that question.
Riku stands up, looking out over the rooftop. The view is interrupted by the skyscrapers further downtown, but he has that look on his face like he's seeing past them anyway.
"We should just take the first thing out of here," he says. "No planning. We've hidden long enough that Ansem will waste time checking the stuff that went out that day, and . . . I don't know how much he knows about all of us. So we shouldn't choose anything deliberately, because he might figure it out."
Sora scowls at the reminder of Ansem's intrusion into their lives, not at the logic of Riku's statement, and nods. Kairi agrees.
"We still have to figure out what we can get," Riku adds. "Twenty dollars isn't enough for tickets."
"We could stow away," Sora suggests.
"We'll have to," Kairi says pragmatically. "So no buses."
"No boats, either," Sora adds. "In case we are followed." He doesn't want to imagine what might have to happen if one of Ansem's guys catches them trapped on a ship.
"Guess it's a train, then," Riku sums up, and glances at the bundle of his jacket. "At least until we get further inland." He keeps staring at something out in the city, so Sora rocks onto his feet to check it out. Kairi pushes herself up as well a moment later; she's still wobbling a little, but she's a lot steadier than before, even if she's still moving slowly and carefully.
Way down the streets to the left, half-hidden by a skyscraper, there's a lot of flashing lights around a muddy-bricked building. The direction looks familiar, but so does a good chunk of downtown thanks to the last couple months. "What's all that?" Sora asks, peering out over the ledge.
"It was in the news," Riku says, and then when Sora looks at him, "on TV, while we were setting up?"
Sora shrugs--he wasn't paying attention--and Riku shakes his head. "Someone blew up the holding cells of that police station yesterday."
Suddenly Sora recognizes the area.
It's not hard; he was there only two nights ago, when he was arrested for attacking Ansem and then that other teenager was brought in to take his--
Roxas. Was arrested there two nights ago.
("I have an errand to run," Axel said yesterday afternoon.)
Sora's knees give out suddenly, and he has to brace his hands on the ledge to keep from falling over. He hears Kairi and Riku ask what's wrong, feels Riku's hand on his shoulder pulling him back, but all he can see is the way Roxas looked at him when he denied saying he attacked Ansem. He didn't mean--he knew that he was doing a rotten thing to Roxas, leaving him to take the fall and go to prison, and even though he didn't know him, even though he was a member of those guys' organization, he never--he never wanted this to happen, for Roxas to just be gone because of something he did--
Oh, Sora thinks, staring down at the black tar of the roof. This is what Riku feels like.
He wants to throw up. He wants to apologize to Riku for what he said last night.
He wants Roxas and Saïx to be alive again.
"Sora?" Kairi says, kneeling next to him. The blanket around her shoulders has spilled half over the ledge, half onto the ground. Riku's moved between him and the ledge, crouching in front of him. "Sora, what's wrong?"
The story comes out disjointed, starting with Axel and going back to Roxas. He already told them what he did, that Ansem had someone else brought into the police station and he escaped, but he didn't tell them that it was Roxas, or how they looked the same, or what Axel said about it and how he looked at him like Hayner and the others did.
Kairi's gripping his hand tightly by the time he gets it all out in reasonable coherency. Riku runs a hand through his hair, and exhales.
"It was a controlled blast," he says, and Sora looks up at him.
"That's why they were talking about it so much," Riku continues. "It only took out the wall of one cell, and it wasn't big enough to be lethal. The person in it just disappeared."
"Who?" he has to ask.
"They didn't release the name," Riku replies, sitting on the ledge. "So it must have been a minor. A teenager."
Sora just stares.
"I bet that Axel bastard is good enough to make it look like he was never even there," Riku adds, looking out at the station again.
". . . Huh?"
Riku looks back at him. "Hayner and them liked Roxas," he says. "That was the problem. If Axel looked the same as them, why are you worried?"
("So it'd be great if they're too busy to notice I'm gone," Axel added.)
Kairi squeezes his hand after a moment, and Sora tightens his fingers around hers.
He wants to believe him. It makes sense; it makes plenty of sense, didn't that Demyx guy kind've like Roxas too? It could be true.
But he doesn't know.
This is how Riku feels.
Except it's not, because Riku knows for certain. He doesn't get to hope.
Sora swallows, and Kairi's grip tightens. Sora glances over at her, and then at Riku--and he realizes suddenly how far away Riku is. He's still on the roof's ledge, within arm's length; but when the three of them were sitting in the flowers, he was further away than him and Kairi. Sora didn't notice because it's always been that way; Riku's always stood off, always been a world within himself, while Sora's always stuck closer to Kairi. It's been like that in almost everything he can remember them doing together.
He reaches out abruptly, grabbing Riku's hand and pulling him closer. Riku was looking away again, and the action startles him, makes him half fall to the rooftop beside Sora and Kairi. He stares at Sora.
Riku's hand feels completely different from Kairi's, and he's sure this is kind of weird, but Sora doesn't want to let go. He doesn't really understand, and he knows that he doesn't; and what he feels for Kairi isn't the same as what he feels about Riku, and what he feels about Riku isn't the same as what he feels for Kairi. But that just means it takes both of them to be right. He's not letting go of either of them.
Sora notices that Kairi's taken Riku's hand at some point, or he took hers--it matters a little bit, whether Riku's coming back himself or if they still need to reach out to him first; but not that much, not in the long run--and with the way they're sitting, it looks kind of like a heart. It's a little lopsided and lumpy, more like a real one than the kind on cards and stickers or the shape Zack made with the iron bar; but it's definitely a heart.
And that feeling he had in front of the pet shop, the feeling that everything was going out-of-control wrong, washes away.
This is right, Sora thinks, and squeezes until Riku says to stop trying to break their hands. This is right.
". . . Okay," he says quietly.
"Huh?" Riku replies. He's glancing at Sora's hand gripping his while pretending not to; but he isn't pulling away. Sora's not sure what he'd do if Riku tried that--tackle him, probably. Riku's not going to get away with running off and not explaining things anymore.
Sora can't see the police station from here, but he looks in its direction anyway. "It's okay."
Kairi tilts her head to look him in the face. "Sora."
"I wouldn't have found you guys if I'd been stuck there," Sora says, even though the words still come out tight in his throat. "I . . . I wouldn't change it. So it's okay. I'd do it again," he finishes, looking at Kairi and then at Riku.
Riku stares down at the rooftop, and finally nods. Kairi closes her eyes for a long time, and then squeezes his hand again.
She shivers violently when another gust of wind blows across the rooftop, and Sora finally lets go of them so she can grab the blanket. Riku goes back to the bundle of his jacket, and they return to making plans.
Sora thinks he has a good idea of how to get to the train station from here, so they decide to spend a few more hours inside the warm building and wait until late at night, after most people are off the streets but before the bars close and the night cops are out in force, before heading there. They go back down the fire escape as quietly as possible.
Sora and Riku both take showers, since the opportunity may not come around again for a while, but they have to use the blanket to dry off. They stretch it out between the foot of the bed and the chair to dry while Kairi gets dressed in the extras of Zack's clothes, pulling the sleeveless turtleneck on over her shirt and tucking her skirt into one of the pants' cargo pockets. Riku scavenges through the storage room across the hall for some rope that both he and she can use as belts, since Zack's bigger than even he is. Sora gives her the seashell necklace while he's doing it, because the explanation of why they ditched her to go get it sounded really lame in his head and doesn't come out a lot better and so he doesn't want Riku to overhear; but Kairi looks at the necklace with widened eyes, and then smiles and asks him to help her put it on.
She thanks him after he finally gets it fastened, and thanks Riku as well when he comes back with the rope.
Later, when Riku considers taking the sleeping bag, she tells him they shouldn't; it may be warm, but it'll be bulky to carry and hard to explain. Plus, it's Aerith's.
It kind of sucks to leave, Sora thinks, as he starts down the fire escape with Kairi following and Riku in the rear; partly because they aren't saying goodbye and partly because they haven't really paid Aerith or Tifa or Zack back for all the nice stuff they did, but also because it was nice to be somewhere warm and with lots of food.
Still, they can't afford to stay. As Sora hits the ground of the alley, he spares a wish that they'll find the friend Zack's looking for; and then he focuses on Kairi and Riku.
The night's nearly over when they finally manage to hitch onto a train. They skipped heading all the way to the station, and instead staked out a crossing on a steep hill, where the trains slowed down enough that all three of them could get on. The plan was for a boxcar, but those are all shut at this hour, so they finally grabbed a tanker that had a small platform at the back for the ladder to the top of it.
The car is near the end, but not at it; so they have some concealment. The metal's freezing, but Riku and Sora rig their jackets so they wrap around all three of them, with the food spilled across their laps; and it's livable. They'll have to get off the first time the train slows down after dawn breaks so no one spots and reports them and gets the police on their trail; but that's a couple hours away, and they'll be out of Ansem's city by then, and maybe even near the border.
Sora huddles close to Kairi and Riku under the scratchy fabric of the jackets, trying not to squash the grapes; and he thinks this isn't so bad. Things suck right now, but this is only a stop on their journey--there's still so far to go, so much to see and do. He has Riku and Kairi with him, and that's the most important thing. That's always been the most important thing--it just took him until now to figure it out.
As long as they're together, Sora thinks, they can make anything else the world throws at them work out in the end.
There is always a bright dawn ahead.