‘You are the one who will open the door.’
Alpha gasped and jerked awake. His dark gray hoodie and spiky brown hair were dusted with sand; around him, he could hear the lapping of the waves against the coast and the wind rustling the trees. A short distance away, mingled into the general ambiance, voices were chattering and laughing. He exhaled. Whatever that dream was, it had just been a dream. He was okay.
The young teen relaxed and flopped backwards to lay back down on the beach. The midday sun was too bright for him to go back to sleep; it shone through his closed eyelids, and even resting an arm across his face did little to deter it. He knew he should get up soon. Kairi and Riku were working on the raft, and he'd hear no end of it if he didn't help them. Besides, time spent with Kairi was time well spent.
That dream, though…
He shivered. There had been a voice, both in his head and echoing around him, telling him... what? The details eluded him. His friends had asked him weird, personal questions, and he'd answered as honestly as he could.
'I treasure my friends. I want to see what's out there. I'm scared of being indecisive.'
Then he'd been attacked by darkness with glowing eyes, and fought hard with a weapon that felt like an extension of himself, only for everything to melt away as the living shadows clawed at him and dragged him down... It felt like a mess as he turned the memories over in his mind. They blended together and became indistinct the more he thought about them; only small bits and pieces still stood out to him, and even those were beginning to fade. But he was sure he'd heard something right before he'd woken up.
"You will be the one to open the door," Alpha said to thin air. "What the heck does that mean?" He didn't get an answer, but it wasn't like he'd expected one. He huffed and tried to blow a lock of his dark brown hair out of his eyes with minimal success.
A face popped up in his vision and he yelped in shock. "There you are!" Kairi teased. "Fell asleep again?" The short-haired brunette watched with amusement as her friend kicked up sand to try and orient himself. Alpha flushed with embarrassment as she grabbed his forearm and helped him get to his feet. "What were you muttering about?"
"Nothing," he mumbled as he became very interested in a seashell that definitely wasn't an excuse for her to not see his shame. The tip of his tail twitched side-to-side, and Kairi laughed as she noticed the motion. Great. Thanks to not being fully human, his feline features put his feelings on full display. At first glance he was human enough, but on a double-take one could see the lion ears nestled in his brown hair, the paws only partially hidden by his open-fingered gloves, and the tail that was currently betraying him. Not to mention some other details. Riku had made personal acquaintance with his fangs, once, in a scuffle that led to them both grounded and the sphinx firmly taught that biting wasn't acceptable.
He perked up as a thought entered his head. "Hey, Kairi, where are you from again?"
She was taken aback by the suddenness of the question, but the corner of her mouth tugged up in a smile as she twirled some of her hair around a finger. "How many times do I have to tell you?" she said. There wasn’t any reprimand in her voice despite her words. "I don't remember." Her eyes softened as she looked out at the horizon, far away across the ocean that surrounded their little island.
"But if we get that raft finished, then we can sail out to find it. Right?" Alpha said as he nudged her. His tail swished as he thought about their plans; excitement was building in him, as it did every time it came up, and he hoped that feeling would never become tiring.
Kairi nodded in agreement. "Maybe we can find where you're from, too."
Kairi had just sort of... appeared on Destiny Islands a few years ago. There she'd met Alpha, who had washed up on the shore a couple years before that, and Riku, who hadn't. Unlike both of them, the older boy had lived on the islands for his entire life, but that hadn’t stopped him from becoming friends with Alpha right off the bat.
When Kairi appeared, she and Alpha had gravitated to each other. Neither of them remembered where they came from, or why they were here, and as they grew older there was a longing for something they couldn’t remember having that settled in their hearts. Their other friends (Tidus, Wakka, and Selphie, among others) had never understood their fascination with what lay beyond the horizon, but Riku had been the one to float the idea of building a raft. All three of them hoped that maybe, just maybe, they could sail out far enough to find the end of the world-- and, just maybe, what lay beyond it.
"Slacking off again?" Riku called out. Alpha snapped out of his reverie to see the silver-haired teenager smirking at him. He had a log tucked under one arm, and once it was clear he had Alpha's attention he tossed it at him. The sphinx grunted as he caught it and watched as Riku sauntered past. "You don't expect me to build it all my own, do you?"
"Of course not!" Alpha protested. He hoisted the log up to the best of his ability and trundled after him. It was hard to see around it to make sure his footing was solid, but he tried his best. "I was just asking Kairi something."
"He was sleeping on the job before that," Kairi said in a tone that was far too cheerful as she followed behind them. Alpha squeaked and almost dropped the log on his foot. "He's such a lazybones!"
"H-Hey! That's not fair!"
Riku chuckled as he tightened the rope tying the mast together. Alpha set the log down next to the others making up the raft and squatted down as he followed Riku’s example and started tying it on with the others. "I was just trying to see if Kairi remembered anything," he admitted. "We're going to be sailing not even knowing what to look for!" He didn’t mean for it to come out as negative as it did, and shrank under Riku’s reproachful look.
"We'll find it," Kairi said. Both boys looked at her, surprised and relieved by the firm confidence in her voice. "How hard can it be? I just know I'll know it when I see it." Alpha let out a small sigh and relaxed. To his right, Kairi looked through the pack resting on the almost-finished raft and frowned. "Alpha, when you're done, can you ask Tidus if he's found anything? We're still missing some things we’re going to need..." He nodded at her, then looked back down at the mess of rope in his paws. Riku let out an exaggerated sigh.
"You're doing it all wrong!" He nudged Alpha out of the way and undid the lackluster knot. "I'll handle this, you go talk to Tidus. I don't want the raft falling apart while we're out in the middle of nowhere." Alpha gulped at the prospect and held his tail close to him. "Go on, shoo!"
Embarrassed for the second time in under half an hour, Alpha skulked off. Kairi watched him go, then shrugged and set the pack aside before helping Riku with his efforts. “Is it just me,” she said, “or is something up?”
"I was doing just fine," Alpha complained to no one in particular. "He's just trying to show off for her..." He shook his head hard. What was he even saying?! Sure, the two of them would butt heads often, but over Kairi? He stomped over to where a short, messy-haired blonde and a tanned redhead were in the middle of some game. As far as he knew, Blitzball usually wasn't played on land and didn't involve someone hitting the ball with a wooden sword like an improvised tennis racket, but that wasn’t stopping Tidus from knocking back every toss Wakka sent his way. "Uh. Am I interrupting?"
Tidus jumped in shock at his voice breaking his concentration, and Wakka's next toss hit him in the chest hard. "Ow!" Alpha winced in sympathy. Tidus groaned, then turned to see who’d approached. Upon catching sight of the sphinx, his expression lit up. "Oh, hi Alpha. What's up?"
He thought about his dream, about what the future might hold, and about how Riku's comment had stung more than it should. "Uh... the usual." He scratched the back of his head with one gloved paw and tucked the other in the pocket of his rolled-up pants. "Kairi wanted to know if you had any supplies or...?"
Tidus leaned on his sword for support, one hand crossed over the other, and looked at him. "Wow, you three really ARE set on the raft idea, aren't you?" he said.
Alpha nodded. "Of course we are! This might be our only chance to find out what the other worlds are like!" He clenched his fists out in front of him and looked like he was going to physically spring into adventure, or maybe like he was going to sock Tidus in the gut if he tried to talk him out of it. Tidus assumed the latter.
"Well, count me out," Wakka chimed in. He picked up the Blitzball from where it had rolled after bouncing off Tidus and tucked it under one arm. "Summer's almost over, so I've got my hands full if I want to make the school team, yeah?"
Selphie leaned over the railing of the bridge up above their heads that curved around one of the larger, sturdier trees. "You're not really leaving forever, are you?" she asked with a hint of worry. "We'll see you again?" Something about seeing the curly-haired girl stirred a memory in the back of Alpha’s mind.
"Yeah!" Alpha gave her a gap-toothed grin. "We'll come back, and we'll have all kinds of stories to tell about where me and Kairi are from!"
Tidus looked unimpressed, or maybe just unsure. After some consideration, he picked up a spare wooden sword that he'd kept nearby in case Selphie decided to join in and held it out to Alpha, hilt-first. "How about we duel?” he suggested. “You don't know what kind of crazy monsters you'll find out there!"
He accepted the sword, and with it the challenge. "You're on!" he laughed. "First one to hit the sand loses!" Tidus didn't bother to finish listening and charged him halfway through his sentence.
Alpha cried out in surprise as the toy sword swung uncomfortably close; made of wood or not, they still hurt to get hit by. He hopped away on one foot, got into a fighting stance that Riku always called "terrible posture", and watched Tidus advance. The blonde shifted his weight from foot to foot as he looked Alpha over, then prepared to swing again.
The sphinx lunged, then ducked into a roll as Tidus sidestepped. Before he could turn and face him again, Alpha straightened up and hit him on the back of the leg in one fluid motion. Tidus yelped and stumbled, but to Alpha's dismay he kept his balance and was able to retaliate with a strike to the side. The brunet barely managed to block it with his own sword, but Tidus took advantage of it; as soon as his sword slipped free, he twisted to hit his opponent’s wrist hard enough to knock his sword out of his grasp.
Alpha yelped in pain and momentarily forgot the threat as he darted to where his sword landed. His hand reached out to grab the hilt, but as he did so something hit his ankle and he tripped over it. As Tidus watched, sword out, Alpha hit the sand face-first.
"Aaaaand Tidus wins!" Wakka said with a whoop. Alpha lifted his head up and spat out some sand, wrinkling his nose in distaste. "At least you tried, Alpha!" He scowled, despite the encouragement. He'd been such a good fighter in his dream! Whatever those shadow creatures were, he’d fought them off like it was second nature until he’d been overwhelmed by sheer numbers. But he wasn't dreaming now, and he'd just gotten stomped into the ground by someone a couple years younger than him.
Selphie climbed down the ladder and helped him up. "I'm just off my game today," he said lamely as she patted him on the back. Why was he thinking about the dream again? His eyes widened as the connection clicked into place. They’d been in his dream! Neither Riku nor Kairi had been, but these three had been. They’d been standing up where Selphie had come from, and as he’d passed them they’d asked him strange questions in a weird, echoing tone of voice: almost as if someone had been speaking through them.
"So, what are you going to name the raft?" Selphie asked. Alpha's ears perked up as her voice brought him back to reality. "Every boat needs a name!” When he still didn’t respond to her, she added, “Don't tell me you haven't thought of one yet!"
Alpha drew a total blank. "Uh-- Um." Selphie looked at him, expectant. "I'll ask Riku and Kairi if they have any ideas," he said, avoiding her gaze. He hesitated as something occurred to him. "Oh, crap! How long was I asleep?!" The three of them gave him a confused look, which didn’t help matters. “Uh, sorry, I sort of dozed off on the beach earlier, and I told Mom I’d be back before 4...”
Wakka grimaced. That was all the answer he needed. Alpha curled his tail around his legs and gave the three of them an apologetic grin. “I’ll ask them tomorrow, sorry! Bye!!”
Riku watched as Alpha bolted to the docks. "There he goes. Told you." Kairi didn't respond. Riku looked over his shoulder to see her sitting at the edge of the raft, staring out at the horizon again. He shook his head, then leaned in and tapped her on the shoulder. "Hello~o? Earth to Kairi?"
"Ah!" Kairi yelped as she was startled out of her daydreaming. "Sorry. Guess I got lost in thought again, huh?"
"No kidding," he laughed. The wood creaked as he sat down next to her. "You missed Alpha leave. If he didn't remember the time on his own I was going to drag him to the docks myself." Riku rested his arms on his knees and watched the waves. "So. What were you thinking about?"
Kairi kicked her feet idly. "I don't know why I'm here," she said after a long pause. "What if I came here for a reason? What if my parents sent me away, or something happened to my world, or..." She trailed off. "What if we go all that way and there's nothing there?"
Riku rested a hand on her shoulder. "Hey. Don't think negatively. You know we all believe you, right? And besides, if you're not sure other worlds really exist, just look at Alpha. He's half-furball, there's no way he's not from somewhere else in the cosmos." Kairi laughed at his description of their friend and Riku smiled. “If anything, I think the reason you’re here is to find us. I don’t know what it is about you, but you gave us purpose. You make us feel like we can do anything-- that we should do anything.”
Kairi leaned against him, and Riku looked up with a confident smile. "We'll find it. Trust me."
Alpha didn't dream that night. He dozed off in bed, mind whirling, and woke up the next morning as if no time had passed. The absence felt poignant in contrast to his nap the previous day. What could that dream possibly have meant? He had only lucid dreamed a few times in his life, but none of them had been as vivid as that voice in his head. He almost wished that last night had had an addendum, or some kind of continuation or explanation or something he could go off of, but there wasn't. He went to bed and he woke up and that was that.
He played with the zipper tag on his open hoodie as he listened to Riku and Kairi talk. Their words went right over his head no matter how hard he tried to focus on them. Kairi was probably worrying about what supplies they'd need to take, and he felt a pang of guilt as he remembered getting sidetracked with Tidus yesterday when he was supposed to be helping. What had gotten into him?
"..pha? Alpha! Are you listening?"
"Wuh?" He wavered out of his trance to stare blankly at Kairi. "Sorry, um... What?"
Riku rolled his eyes. "Like I said, he's completely checked out. I was trying to ask you what we're going to name the raft, dummy!"
Oh, right. Selphie had brought that up to him, so maybe she'd told Kairi and Riku after he had to rush off. He was supposed to be the one to ask them, wasn’t he? But it hadn’t even crossed his mind when he met them at the docks this morning. "I can't think of anything," he admitted. "What about you, Riku?"
Riku looked surprised at the lack of challenge. "Uh-- well, the usual. The Highwind!" Whenever they played games together that had it as an option, Riku always named his vehicle the Highwind; according to him, one day he'd have his own majestic ship named that. Alpha wasn't sure the raft fit that fantasy, but he'd hand it over without a fight.
"Highwind is perfect!" Alpha said with honest enthusiasm. Riku looked away, but he could see him smiling. "Really, it is." He tried to climb up on the paopu tree to sit next to Riku, but failed to get a perch and settled for leaning against it with his arms draped over it. Something years ago had caused it to grow horizontally, so the three of them would use it as a makeshift bench. As far as Alpha knew, this was maybe the only paopu tree on the entire island chain; there might be more on the largest island, where everyone actually lived, but he'd never seen one.
Kairi crossed her arms. "Aren't you two forgetting something?" When they both looked at her in confusion, she mock-sighed. "Who's going to be captain?" Alpha's tail shot up as if someone had stepped on his foot.
"Me, obviously," Riku said. "I named it, after all."
"Hey!" Alpha's ears folded back and he held in a hiss. "That's not fair! If you named it, then that means someone else has to get a chance at being captain!"
"Yeah?" Riku jumped off the tree and loomed over Alpha. "Who's been doing all the work? Who's been putting in all the effort? Not Mr. Sleepyhead here, that's for sure!" The fur along Alpha's tail bristled, and even his already-messy hair ruffled as if he was raising his hackles. "I've earned being the captain."
Sensing that the tension was getting dangerously high, Kairi whistled to get their attention. "If you really want to butt heads over it, why don't you two settle it the usual way?" She smirked. "I'll be the judge, as always."
"You're on," Riku snapped. Alpha blinked at him, confused. Was it just his imagination, or was Riku more frustrated than usual? He watched the other boy walk with Kairi to the unofficial starting line, then remembered he should follow if he wanted to participate.
He couldn't remember when this tradition started, but it was probably after he tried to take a chunk out of Riku's arm. With how stubborn the two of them were, they needed to find some way to settle arguments that wouldn't end in one of them needing stitches. It had actually been Wakka's idea: a race, with the winner, well, winning. Selphie had painted a star on a cliffside, and between that and the hut they stayed in if the weather picked up was a makeshift course.
"So you know what we're racing for, right?" Riku said as Alpha caught up. Kairi had headed to the other end of the island for the moment to let their other friends know in case they wanted to spectate, so it was just the two of them exchanging banter.
Alpha stuck his chest out in confidence. "When I win, I'm captain!" he declared. “And if you win--”
Riku smirked and rested his hands on his hips. "And if I win, I get to share a paopu fruit with Kairi."
"Wait, what?" Alpha froze like a deer in headlights. He wasn't sure when the superstition had come about, but something he'd always heard growing up on the islands was that sharing a paopu with someone would intertwine their fates. It wasn't always a romantic thing, but regardless of romantic or platonic intentions it was a gesture laden with meaning.
"Deal? Whoever wins is not only captain, but they also share a paopu with Kairi." Riku said it all so casually, and seemed to be enjoying watching Alpha squirm. “How’s that sound?”
Alpha opened his mouth, but whatever he was going to say was drowned out by Kairi. "OKAY, are you two ready?!" she yelled as she jogged over with Tidus, Wakka, and Selphie close behind. "First to the star and back wins! You can take any route you want, but no kicking or shoving! That means you, Riku!"
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Riku said with a hint of irritation. Kairi was miffed at being waved off, but shrugged.
"Ready... Go! --Riku!!"
Kairi hadn't even said "go" before Riku started running. Alpha stood still for a moment as he gawked at him, then Kairi shoved him from behind and next thing he knew he was stumbling down the course.
The thing was, whenever Alpha and Riku raced, Alpha came out on top. It wasn't that Riku didn't try, but the sphinx had some advantages that he didn't when it came to maneuvering terrain. He'd gone easy on Riku once after he noticed how much it got him down, but it had backfired and gotten Riku even angrier at him for taking pity on him. So, despite not really wanting to, Alpha gave it his all, and Riku did too.
This time, though, Alpha was distracted. Why the heck had Riku brought up the paopu fruit?! Was he planning something, or was he just playing mind games? Okay, so maybe Alpha stole fruit from the tree now and then, but it was specifically sharing it with someone that was a big deal and not something someone said lightly. As with many things, he'd found that out the hard way, although past the initial shock and embarrassment Selphie had explained it in terms he could understand. Tidus would never let him live it down, so it wasn’t like any of them had somehow forgotten. If Riku said it, then... was he serious?
He'd run the course so many times that he could go on autopilot, but it wasn't infallible. With a yelp, he tumbled off one of the wooden platforms Riku had expertly crossed and had to dig his claws into the ledge to catch himself. He could see his opponent dashing towards the star above him, and he narrowed his eyes. He had to be fast. He was good at being fast.
Riku panted as he leaned against the rock wall. Kairi would give him an earful for starting early, but he'd take any advantage he could get. But... where was Alpha? "Whatever," he laughed as he smacked his palm against the star in full view of everyone and turned to rush back. One of the palm trees near him rustled. He knew he shouldn’t, but he hesitated.
Alpha finished scaling the tree and stuck his tongue out at the flabbergasted Riku, then flung himself to land next to him. Riku jumped out of the way, then only took another moment to watch as Alpha also hit the star before he started running. Alpha grinned and gave chase, then spotted another advantage. The zipline! He scrambled over and grabbed on, then kicked himself into motion. Kairi DID say they could take any route…
He was maybe about halfway down the line when he lost his grip and crashed down into the water below with a shriek. It was shallow enough that he was able to flounder his way onto the shore, but it had cost him precious time. Not even stopping to shake off the water, he charged toward the finish line, all too aware of the sand caking his clothes and fur.
He skidded to a stop just short of Kairi and doubled over. "Made it," he gasped. "Did I win?"
"About that..." Kairi said. Alpha brushed his wet bangs out of his eyes and stood up. Standing there, arms crossed with a smug expression, was Riku. “Even after deducting his head start, he still got here first. Looks like Riku's gonna be the captain of the Highwind!" He felt a mixture of disappointment and, looking at Riku, pride.
"You won fair and square," Alpha said. He opened his arms for a hug, remembered he was soaking wet, then settled for putting his hands behind his head. He then laughed as something occurred to him. "Can I be first mate?"
Riku snorted and covered his face with a hand. "Sorry, Kairi claimed it first. You get to be cabin boy."
Alpha whined and drooped over like a wilting plant. That earned a burst of laughter from his friends, and despite his awkwardness over losing so hard in such a spectacular fashion that alone was enough to lift his spirits again. As long as they were all happy together, that was what mattered to him.
'I treasure my friends.'
He startled as the memory popped into his head. He'd said that in the dream, hadn't he? Selphie had asked him what was most important to him, and without any hesitation he'd answered with that. It was true, of course, but again it left him with a weird feeling. Any attempts to push it out of his mind just resulted in it coming back later.
"Hey, catch!" Riku shouted. Alpha jerked in surprise and was just in time to grab the paopu fruit Riku had chucked in his direction. He stared at it, baffled. "Here's your consolation prize." Kairi must have already headed back to the raft, because it was just the two of them again. Noticing Alpha's bewilderment, he added, "I was just joking about the sharing-with-Kairi thing. It was worth it to see your face!"
"Uh," Alpha said. Riku looked him over.
"What's gotten into you? Since your nap yesterday you've been a total space cadet." His brow knitted in concern. Alpha tucked his tail between his legs like a scolded dog. "You know you can tell me if anything's wrong, right?"
Alpha swallowed. "Promise you won't laugh?"
"No promises," Riku said without thinking, then winced. "Sorry. I won't." He walked over to the ledge and sat down with his legs dangling off it. After a pause, Alpha joined him, still holding the paopu as if it was made of glass and he might break it. "What's eating you?"
The sphinx searched for the right words, found there was none, and tried anyway. "I've been having these weird dreams lately," he said in a quiet tone. Riku leaned in to hear him better. "But I had the weirdest one yesterday, and I don't know what to think." He set the paopu down on his lap, one arm circled around it to prevent it from falling, and carded his other paw through his hair. "I can't stop thinking about it. Every little thing reminds me of it, no matter how hard I try to let it go." He looked up at the sky, but Riku got the impression that he wasn't really seeing it.
"It makes me think, like... Is any of this for real, or not? Am I still dreaming? Did I ever wake up? Is there something I'm missing, or something I should be doing?" He shook his head to clear it, then hunched over. "Sorry, I must sound crazy right now."
Riku punched his arm. "A little," he said, but true to his word he wasn't laughing at him. "You know... I had a dream like that, too." When Alpha gawked at him, he continued: "It was years ago, after I met you and Kairi. I don't remember what happened in it, or why it made me feel like that, but for days after it I still felt like nothing around me was real." He kept his tone light, but his eyes were half-lidded and his expression serious. "I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want anyone to worry about me. After a while, I stopped thinking about it."
Alpha wasn't sure what to say. "Do you think this means anything?" he ventured. "Is this some kind of sign?"
"Heck if I know," Riku responded with a casual shrug. "Like I said, I stopped thinking about it. Try to not let it get to your head, okay? Kairi and I need you." Seeing his shocked expression, Riku raised his eyebrows. "What? I mean for the raft, numbskull." His expression turned wistful. "No, but, really… You're my best friend, Alpha. I mean it."
Alpha tried to reply, but made a soft squeaking sound instead. He cleared his throat and tried again. "You're my best friend too, Riku."
Both boys jumped to their feet, Alpha still clutching the paopu. Tidus shook his head at them. "Kairi wanted to know what was taking you two so long. What were you even doing?"
"Oh come on, you haven't ever heard of a heart-to-heart?" Riku teased. "You heard him, Alpha, we best get going."
"Er, yeah," Alpha replied after an uncomfortable pause. "Can you let Kairi know I'm going to be a bit late?" Riku quirked an eyebrow. "I'm going to the secret place, I'll be back in a minute or two."
Riku nodded. "Alright, but don't keep us waiting." Alpha gave him a grateful look and hurried off. Riku watched him go, then turned to follow Tidus to where Kairi was waiting.
Alpha jogged over to the waterfall, holding the paopu close to his chest. Next to it, just out of sight behind a curtain of ivy, was the small cave they called their 'secret place'. Not that it was very secret, with everyone that visited the island knowing about it, but they at least pretended it was. With a small smile on his lips, Alpha nudged the curtain aside and made his way into the cave.
He blinked a few times to help his eyes adjust to the dim light filtering in from the entrance and from cracks in the rocky ceiling. Every surface they could reach was covered in chalk drawings or crude etchings into the stone; ever since he and the other kids had found the cave, they'd started drawing all over it with varying degrees of talent.
His footsteps echoed as he strode over to the far wall and crouched down. His own scribbles were mingled with the others on the walls, but here in this corner was something special. Alpha smiled as he remembered kneeling here when he was younger, carefully etching a picture of Kairi into the rock while Kairi worked on a portrait of him next to it. It had been shortly after she arrived on the islands, and Alpha had intended it to be a sort of initiation; by adding her to the wall, she was officially part of the islands that no one could erase.
Alpha bit his lower lip and grabbed a chunk of rock sitting nearby. With careful strokes, he started to add to the picture. Everything was quiet except for the sound of stone scraping against stone until he finished and tossed the rock aside. He sighed as he looked it over. It wasn't his best work, but it was something... and hopefully Tidus or Selphie wouldn't ask questions about it.
"What am I even doing?" he asked nobody in particular. "He said he was joking, there's no way he meant anything by it... So why am I getting so worked up over it?" He frowned at the updated scrawl. It had been on impulse, which didn't help matters. Originally, it had been a drawing of him and Kairi looking at each other and smiling. Now, though, the drawing of Alpha was offering Kairi a paopu.
He took in a deep breath, then sighed. "Feelings are dumb." He rocked on his heels, thought about getting up, then grabbed the rock again. Part of him wondered if he should just scratch it out, but another idea came to mind and he started adding to it again. The scraping sound always bothered his ears, but it was worth it most of the time.
Alpha was about halfway through his drawing when he heard a noise. His tail fluffed up as he jumped to his feet and tucked the paopu into his hoodie pocket. It sounded like someone was in the cave with him, but he hadn't heard any footsteps... "Who's there?!"
"I've come to see the door to this world." The voice was unfamiliar, and deeper than he'd ever expected would be possible. Alpha looked around before finally spotting the source of the voice: a figure he couldn't make out the details of, save for the brown cloak that was wrapped around them and hiding their features. He gasped and scrambled away from them.
"What the heck--?! Where'd you come from?!" Alpha yelped. They didn't reply. Their hooded head turned to look past him, and despite his rising fear Alpha followed their gaze to look at the large, wooden door set flush into the end of the cave. Or, the stranger called it a door at least. It had no handles, no lock, and no indication that it could ever be opened. Wakka had always speculated what might lay beyond it, but any attempts to find out had fallen flat.
"This world has been connected," the cloaked stranger said. Alpha whirled around to face them again. Their voice was flat and devoid of any emotion. Alpha glanced around for any out of this situation, but they stood between him and the exit. "It has been tied to the darkness... and, soon, to be completely eclipsed."
Alpha took a half-step back, then another, until his tail was brushing up against the mysterious door. "Whoever you are, cut it out! S-Stop freaking me out and tell me what's--"
He didn't see them move, but they stood right in front of him in a blink. Alpha shrieked and covered his mouth with a paw to stifle it. They didn't react to his scream, but he could sense disappointment as they looked him over. "You do not yet know what lies beyond the door," they said. Alpha could almost picture them sighing, as if they'd been let down somehow, but then their disappointment ebbed away to be replaced by something darker.
"Ho- Hold on." Gears were turning in Alpha's mind. The feeling this figure gave him... Their sudden appearance... There was only one explanation, and it made his jaw drop as he realized. "You're from another world!" Questions flooded his thoughts, but he didn't get a chance to ask.
"There is so very much to learn," they said as if he hadn't even spoken. Alpha opened his mouth, but again before he could speak the stranger interrupted him with a chuckle that, to his alarm, sounded... malevolent. "You understand so little."
Alpha bristled. "Yeah?" he squeaked. He hated how pathetic he sounded, and he could tell the stranger found it funny, just as he could tell they were disappointed by his ignorance. "Shows what you know! Me, Riku, and Kairi are gonna find what's out there, and you'll see! You hear that?!" He clenched his fists and channeled all the bravery he could. He could practically hear the stranger scowl in response.
"A meaningless effort." Alpha's tail lashed from side to side as he glared the stranger down. "One who knows nothing can understand nothing." They turned away from him and started to move toward the mouth of the cave.
The sphinx sprung into action and grabbed at the stranger's sleeve. "Stop being so cryptic and tell me what's going on! What does any of that MEAN?!" His claws caught on the fabric, then passed through. Alpha paused, then looked at his hand in confusion. "What..?" By the time he looked up again, the mysterious stranger was gone.
'You will be the one to open the door.'
Alpha struggled to deal with what just happened, failed, and tried to move on. He trudged out of the cave opening feeling like he understood even less than he had earlier. His head was starting to hurt. As he stepped out into sunlight, the ground gave way under him, and he fell--
"..ou hear me? Alpha? Wake up!"
Alpha yawned and blinked with bleary eyes. When did it become sunset? When did he get across the bridge? Why was everyone crowded around him?
"He passed out right on top of me," Wakka was saying. "I went to see what was taking him so long, like you asked me, yeah? Then he walks out of the secret place looking like he might as well been undead, then just..." He imitated a slide whistle. "If I wasn't there to catch him, who knows what would've happened?"
Kairi sighed in relief. "Thanks, Wakka." She brushed her hair behind one ear and leaned in to look Alpha in the face. "Are you okay? What happened?"
Alpha scrunched up his face, thinking. It was hard to string coherent thoughts together, but he was giving his best effort. "How long have I been out..?"
"Who knows," Riku said bluntly. "You were in the cave for, what, over an hour? Kairi asked everyone to look for you, and then ten minutes later Wakka ran up to us with you out cold." Alpha sat up abruptly, and Kairi had to jerk back to avoid him colliding with her. Riku continued, in a quieter voice, "Is this about what you told me earlier?"
"Told you what, now?" Kairi prodded. Alpha's ears folded back and he looked away. Riku looked from Kairi, to Alpha, and back again, then clapped.
"Alright, we need some space. Thanks for the help, Wakka. Selphie, I--" He hesitated, sheepish. "I'm sorry for yelling at you. I'll make up for it, okay? But I need to talk to Kairi." Selphie glared at him and stomped off, and after a few awkward moments Wakka and Tidus left as well.
Kairi crossed her arms. "You two are hiding something," she said, "and you're really bad at it." They both cringed under her disapproval. She narrowed her eyes at Riku, then sat down next to Alpha and rested her hand on his thigh. "What happened?"
Alpha's voice cracked. "You know when you found me on the beach yesterday?" She nodded. "I had this... really weird dream." He hesitated, and Kairi squeezed his paw to encourage him. "Since then, things have been... well, weird. I went to the cave to try and get my head on straight, and then..." And then what? He grasped at memories that flitted out of reach. "It was like I was dreaming again. There was someone there, and they were talking to me, and…"
"This world has been connected."
Alpha and Kairi both startled. Riku had a faraway look in his eyes. "I told Alpha earlier I had a weird dream when I was a kid," he said, choosing his words with careful precision. "I didn't remember until now, but... There was someone talking to me, and they said, 'this world has been connected'." He looked up to meet their surprised faces, and took note of how shocked Alpha in particular was. "That's what they told you, isn't it?"
He nodded shakily. "Then they left, and I tried to follow them... and then I woke up here." Kairi moved to lean against him. "There's something else... In the yesterday dream, there was a different voice, one from... deep in my heart, I guess... that told me 'you will be the one to open the door'. And the, whoever it was, just now, was talking about a door, too."
Alpha stood up and walked over to the paopu tree, then climbed up to rest on it. Riku and Kairi watched as he laid down with his limbs dangling off it and his gaze turned to the sky. Kairi hopped up next to him with a worried look, and Riku leaned against the trunk and tilted his head to look at them. The three of them sat in awkward silence as they all mulled over what any of this could possibly mean.
"While you were asleep," Kairi said, "I was working on a thalassa charm. I heard that sailors saw thalassa shells as good luck, so they would wear jewelry with them on it to make sure they returned home safely." She hummed to herself. "I hope that, whatever happens, we'll all be able to come back here."
Riku snorted, and Alpha swung one foot to kick him in the ribs. "Ow!" He rubbed his side and gave Alpha a sharp glare, but the other boy pretended not to notice. "I just think... well, why would we want to come back here? This place is just a small piece of something even greater, so…"
"We have parents," Kairi chided him. "You have real parents here! Your dad would be worried sick if you never came back!" Riku wilted. "Honestly, for being the only one of us that's from here, you're pretty eager to leave."
Riku toyed with his cuffs. "I never would've even considered it if it wasn't for you and Alpha," he said. "You two opened up the whole world... no, the whole universe to me. Suddenly, Destiny Islands felt very... small. That's why."
"Makes sense to me," Alpha said. "So... the raft's almost done, right?" He lifted his head up and tucked his arms behind it. Kairi made an agreeing noise, and Riku gave a small thumbs-up. "So then... that means we can leave soon! We don't need to worry about anything, we can just go!"
"When you put it like that," Kairi laughed, "it really doesn't sound that hard. But that's up for the captain to decide, isn't it~?" Alpha groaned as he remembered the outcome of the race. He paused, then started rifling through his pockets. Kairi turned to look at Riku. "What do you think? Tomorrow, at sunset?"
Riku tapped his fingers against the bark. "Sunset, huh? Well, unless anyone has any protests (that includes you, cabin boy)..." Neither Alpha or Kairi objected. "So that's settled, then. We set sail tomorrow."
"Hey, Riku?" The silver-haired boy leaned over to see past Kairi and look at Alpha, who'd pulled the paopu out of the pocket he'd shoved it in. "I've got a question," Alpha said. Kairi went 'oh no' in a small voice as soon as she saw what he was holding. The brunet looked down at the star-shaped fruit in his paws. "I know that it's a whole, big, important thing when people share paopu... Is there, uh... Is there anything stopping us-- all three of us-- from sharing it?"
Kairi paused and looked at Riku, who looked a lot like he'd just been handed a live and angry snake. "Uh," he said. His voice cracked. "I-- I guess not?"
"I was just thinking," the sphinx continued, "that... Well, if we share this, then our hearts'll be connected, right?" He let out a nervous laugh. "So we'll never lose each other, no matter what happens... It's like what Kairi was saying, about the thalassa charm. Even if we don't find our way home, we'll be together."
Riku opened his mouth, thought, closed it, then tried again. "That's a pretty heavy thing to say," he managed. "But... I've never heard anything that says we couldn't." In a softer voice, he said, "are you sure?"
"What?" Alpha looked incredulous as he sat up, curling his tail around the tree the best he could to help him keep balanced. "Of course I'm sure! You're both the most important thing in my life!" He let the words sink in, not only for them but for himself. He'd never said it outright before. "I don't know what to do without you. So, even if it's just a superstition..." He turned the fruit over in his hands, trying to think of a way to finish his sentence.
"You really want to, huh?" Riku pushed himself off the tree and walked over to take it from him. "To be crystal clear, I don't really know how this is supposed to work..." The usually cocky boy looked a bit flustered.
Kairi leaned in. "You just split it up, right?"
"Well, yeah, but it has five points..." Riku concentrated. Kairi sighed and took it from him.
"Look, you just have to do it like this," she said as she traced with one figure how it should be divided up, then reached into the sack of items they'd collected for the raft. "It's not that hard... I'd expect this from you, Alpha, but Riku? Really?" She shook her head. Alpha became very interested in the texture of the paopu tree's bark, then looked up as Kairi handed him a piece of the fruit. Riku held his third at arm's length, like he couldn't believe it was happening. "What, are you going to chicken out?" she teased.
Riku snapped to attention. "What-- No! No, of course not!" he protested. "This is just... well... Significant, you know?" The three of them hesitated, thinking about the magnitude of what this meant. Kairi was the one to take the first bite. Alpha was rather fond of paopu in the first place, but it tasted sweeter this time, and he wasn't sure if it was his imagination or not. Riku watched them, still stunned, then started eating as well.
They finished it in silence. Alpha wasn't sure if he was supposed to feel any different, and he guessed Riku and Kairi were wondering the same thing. He rested a paw on his chest and imagined he could feel a warmth there.
"Well," Riku said awkwardly, "we should head home." Kairi slid off the tree and offered Alpha a hand to help him down. He accepted it and hopped off with her help, then walked with them to the docks. The other three must have already left; he didn't see them, and the only boats currently docked were his, Riku's, and Kairi's. As he walked along the pier, he thought back to the weird experience in the cave. Where had that stranger come from? They had to have been from another world, right?
Something about their words settled inside him and made him shiver. What was that bit about darkness even about? Was something going to happen to them? 'Soon to be completely eclipsed'... It felt almost like a threat.
"It's going to be the three of us, always, right?" he said. Riku didn't hear him, but Kairi slowed her pace and looked over her shoulder at him.
"Of course!" she said. "No matter what the future holds, we'll always have each other." She rested one hand on his, and he gave her a grateful look.
"...Hey, Alpha? Don't ever change."