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∞:∞

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Sora shook himself off, checking his hands. He’d just been sitting with Kairi not a moment ago before he felt himself fading from existence.

He’d abused the power of waking to find her, and had been at peace for paying the price, but… well. Maybe he hadn’t just died like he thought. And this wasn’t the Final World, either. Far from it, he had his form, and could definitely feel. He scuffed a shoe on the pavement, taking stock of the world around him.

Neon signs, tall buildings, concrete. Less Traverse and far more Fransokyo or even The Wortld that Never Was.

Scratch that, way more the Nobody’s home base than San Fran. There was no sign of water, and far more neon.

Sora frowned. He couldn’t read a single sign on any billboard or shop. That never happened before. Donald had told him that in the days of Faerie Tales, the worlds were united as one, so they all shared the same language, too. And after they drifted apart, fragmented, that didn’t change. Certain worlds had dialects, or slang, or accents, certainly, but they all still shared the same spoken and written language.

That wasn’t the case here.

Sora walked, feeling a sharp chill. His clothes were wet and dirty, and he wasn’t carrying very much in the way of munny, either. He overheard group of girls, maybe his age, in matching uniforms chatting. They looked like the clothes he had to wear back at school on Destiny Islands, or Kairi’s school uniform at least. The boy’s uniform was shorts to combat the Destiny Island’s perpetual summer.

He didn’t want to pry, but he tried to listen to them.

He couldn’t understand a word.

One of the girls waved to the other two, and turned to face him… and promptly walked straight through. Sora panicked for a moment, flailing his arms, until something caught the corner of his eye.

He flexed his wrist again, pulling off his gauntlet to get a better look. Simultaneously, he felt both relief and panic.

Relief, because he knew what it was.

And panic for the exact same reason.


 

Red symbols were etched on his hand. He’d seen them before, on Neku, and Rhyme, and Shiki. But on them, he could read them as a countdown timer for the game they were forced to play. Here, the marker was the same, but the digits unfamiliar.

Was this world so long separated they had their own language?

At least he had some information, if he could remember what Joshua had told him correctly.

He was dead, he was in this game, and if he won, he’d have his life back. Sora laughed a little. He’d died already, so he just needed to beat this stupid thing and he’d be back to normal.

Which meant the first thing he needed to do was find out who his game partner was.


 

Sora had his first lead when he found someone floating above a streetlamp on black, almost lace like wings.

“Heeeeeey!” Sora cried at him. The black winged person- who was in a black hooded sweatshirt with a red kerchief on his face- ignored him. Sora frowned. If the winged people were like him- dead- they could also see the myriad of living people walking and moving around in the city too. He probably didn’t even consider he was being hailed.

Sora thought about casting a weak spell, but didn’t want to hurt the person, opting to take a small one-munny gem from his pocket, flinging it at the winged boy’s thigh. “Heeeeeeey!” he shouted again.

Now the boy noticed Sora, and swooped down.

“Itai-yo!” he cried at Sora, flicking the gem back at him. “Nan-da-ze?”

“Can… you… understand… me?” Sora said slowly, articulating each word. It was hard to judge the boy’s response, all covered like that.

“Shimatta… gaijin da,” the other boy spat out irritated. Sora took it as a no, and instead just opted to show him his hand.

The boy exhaled, yanking on his hood. “Koko de mattanasai,” he said, in an authoritative tone, as he turned and started walking. Sora followed. The boy just sighed louder, grabbed Sora’s wrist- grabbed, Sora noticed, not passed through- and walked with him until he found a bench. The winged boy pointed at it, and Sora sat.

“Mat-ta-na-sa-i.”

“You want me to wait here?” Sora asked, pointing on the bench he was sitting on. “Wait? Matty nassy?”

The boy just facepalmed and flew off.

Sora hoped somebody living didn’t sit on him.


 

Eventually, the hooded boy flew back, with a very nice sight for sore eyes.

Joshua. The blonde flew low and landed on a knee, standing himself up and magically removing the wet stain he got on his knee from the landing.

“Sora?” he asked, confused.

“Joshua!” Sora said excitedly, jumping up and nearly tackling the angel in a hug. The black-winged boy looked like he was about to faint.

“Shiinda to kiita,” Joshua said. Sora internally cursed.

“Joshua, I can’t understand you.”

Joshua peeled Sora off of him, and tilted his head. The boy in black merely cowered behind, visibly worried about something.

Joshua snapped his fingers, pointed at Sora, and made an open and close gesture with his hand.

“You… want me to keep talking?”

Joshua smiled, and rolled his wrist, which Sora assumed meant ‘keep going’.

“Like how I got here? Because I can’t tell you very much, other than I was sitting on a paopu tree with Kairi, um, she’s a good friend of mine and…”

“Okay, I think I’ve got it again,” Joshua replied. “Do you want to understand Japanese, too?”

Sora never felt so relieved. “Is that what everyone’s speaking?”

Joshua nodded.

“Then, yes. Please.”

Joshua flicked his forehead with a slender finger, and a lifetime of language filled Sora’s head. It felt a little like when Roxas shoved his memories in him, minus the emotional strain.

“Hey, Komaeda, say something,” Joshua said with a slight smirk.

“Er, yes, boss, what?”

“And?” Joshua asked, looking at Sora.

“I can understand him now,” Sora said.

“And you’re speaking Japanese. Thank God,” the boy in black- Komadea- said. “So I’m not in trouble? This kid here’s way out of proto-“

“He’s my responsibility, Komaeda. He shouldn’t even behere.”

“America’s got its own purgatory, I hate it when people die on vacation, especially otaku cosplayers,” Komaeda muttered. “Sending him home?”

“Excuse me,” Sora whined. “I’m right here. And what’s an America?”

Joshua sighed. “Komaeda, scoot. I’ll sort this out.”

“It’s almost midnight and he doesn’t even have his game partner, though. Won’t he run out of time?” Komaeda asked, with genuine worry. “And have you paid your entry fee?”

Joshua paled, and grabbed for Sora’s wrist. “Right, you did say he was dead… oh. Huh. Komaeda, you saw this too, right?”

“Uh, yeah, he showed it to me.”

“Please tell me you’ve passed middle school math.”

“I was run over by a car when I was ten, Joshua.”

“Oh,” Joshua said, softly. “Forgive me. Don’t worry, though. Sora’s not going to fade out at midnight.” He lifted up Sora’s hand so all three could see, and now Sora understood the symbol on the timer.

His timer wasn’t time at all; it merely read ∞:∞.


 

“Well, first’s first.” Joshua said, sighing. “You’re dead and in the Game, but with your timer like that… I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone given infinite time before.” Sora and Joshua walked down the street together, to who-knew-where. Sora causally noticed that people were walking through him, but around Joshua.

“Are you alive? People are avoiding bumping into you,” Sora said.

“Observant, but no. I’ve never been alive. The guys and girls in black were, once, they chose to be Reapers instead of reincarnating. Black wings are reapers, white ones like me are angels. Though most people higher up would be having my head right now for exposing all this. The living humans just see a normal teenager, no wings. Muttering to himself, or, thankfully,” he added, putting his arm down, revealing something similar to Sora’s gummiphone, “modern technology lets me talk to you without looking like I’m crazy.”

“Have your head?”

“The big man upstairs doesn’t really like people knowing exactly how this whole business works. You get a pass because you’re not from here. Heck, to some of my own rank, they’d probably consider you a god. The bigger question now, is, what to do with you? First, let’s get you out of those soaking clothes. Food, too, I’m guessing?”

“Yeah.”

Sora followed Joshua through city streets, before Joshua froze.

“Wait. I knew something was weird. I never put my finger on it.”

“What?”

That,” Joshua said, flatly, pointing at a store display. Sora stepped closer. Video games! He peered in the closed shop, looking at the rows of merchandise, before letting his eyes trail to the window.

“Is… no. That’s me.”

“Komaeda’s ‘otaku cosplayer’ reminded me. I guess, tomorrow, I’ll go buy you a game console. Maybe it has some hints about what to do.”

Sora looked at the display, at the cartoon of his face grinning on a throne with a crown.

“I… hope so.”


 

“Joshua, are you nuts?” A woman with blindingly red hair downing wine straight from a bottle asked as he trudged into a Shibuya penthouse apartment. “Arches only in here. Upper management orders.”

Joshua held up Sora’s timer- marked hand first, and a paper ad second.

“Sora, Uriel, Uriel, Sora. Sora’s from another universe. He gets exemptions.”

Uriel stared at Sora with sharp golden eyes. “ThatSora?”

“That Sora.”

Uriel huffed. “Whatever, fine. Just give him some normal clothes or something. We have one otaku in this house already. I don't need more cosplayers here.”

“Cosplayer?” Sora asked confused.

“People are going to think you’re dressed up as that game character.”

“But these are my clothes!”

“Yes, and in this world, you’re a game character,” Joshua huffed. “Uri, do we have any leftovers?”

“Just go to the FamilyMart and get something. And a bottle of peach chuhai for me.”

“My ID says 17, Uri.”

Uriel stood up. “Whatever. I’ll go too. Sora, you want booze?”

Sora blushed a little. “Um, no, pass. Just a hot shower and food, please.”

“Missing out,” Uri replied with a wave of her hand. “Only good thing about being on planet, if you ask me.”

Joshua rolled his eyes. “Bath is the last door on the left down that hall. And Gabriel’s in, she said she’s happy to share her room with you.”

Her?” Sora asked, blushing further.

“None of us exactly have… er, parts, like mortals do, being male or female is just out of convenience,” Joshua replied with a shrug. “If you feel better bunking with me, I don't care, but I don’t exactly have a lot of floor space.”

Sora shook his head. “That’s fine, I’m already imposing.”

“You know Gabe just wants Sora because reasons,” Uriel muttered, stretching her wings and opening the apartment door.

“Yes,” Joshua replied, grabbing something from a cupboard. “And that’s why it's a good-”

Music blared from Joshua’s pocket. “Komaeda… oh. Wait. A Riku cosplayer? Under the pedestrian bridge? Yeah, I’m flying there now. Just keep him calm. Actually…”

Joshua passed Sora the phone. “Looks like you’ve got a friend.”


 

“Is anyone getting sleep tonight?” Uriel asked, taking another swig from her bottle of cheap highball.

Gabriel, a short, black haired girl with sharp bangs and an oversized T-Shirt with a game logo on it, grinned toothily at Sora and Riku, sitting at the kotatsu inhaling convenience-store fried chicken and oden, both in whatever clean clothes the other angels had that would fit them.

Riku also had an infinity timer on his hand, matching Sora’s exactly.

“Doubt it,” Riku said between mouthfuls. “Though I’m exhausted.”

“Regular dead shouldn't be tired,” Gabriel commented, almost drooling sitting between the two of them. She snatched a bun from the communal pile of sweets and began munching.

“I’m not even sure they’re actually dead,” Uriel said, sliding her bottle into the slowly growing pile of recyclables. “From what you all have explained, it might just be how their magic makes them perceived in this world. If they didn't have timers, they’d just wander Tokyo, unable to talk to anyone, read, or even buy shit.”

Joshua nodded. “I spoke with the higher ups.”

“Tattle tale,” Gabriel whined.

“Call me a snitch all you want,” Joshua muttered, uncapping a bottle of alcohol for himself. “I just want to make sure they can get home. Both Sora and Riku helped restore our world by waking it, I’d say even the top brass owes them for that.”

“Wait… does that really mean our world is part of Kingdom Hearts?” Gabriel asked.

The rest of the table stared at her.

“Um, duh, the game,” she clarified, waving her hands around. “I mean, it’s in the secret ending, too. Sora wakes up, and, like, the graphics are hyper-realistic, and walks through Tokyo, and so does Riku, and the 104 building is there, and…”

“Back up,” Uriel said sharply. “This happens in the game?”

“Um yeah, it's the super secret ending, you need to earn it by taking pictures of Mickey emblems and-”

“King Mickey?” Sora and Riku asked.

Gabriel held up a finger, swiped another bun, and grinned. “Step into my office.”


 

Gabriel’s ‘office’ was a high-tech room, with a TV as big as a wall. She spun in an expensive looking swivel chair, and motioned to her closet. “Grab some futons, you’re crashing in here anyway.”

She grinned, booting up her PS4. A cartoon image of Aqua stared back at them. Sora and Riku just stared at it. “I got this for finishing A Fragmentary Passage!” she cheered, as if that meant anything to anyone but her. “Killjoys,” she muttered., pressing a button on the device. A disc labeled Biohazard 2 popped out and she searched a shelf for a row of cases, putting it back and popping in Kingdom Hearts.

“Do we have to play through this whole game for this?” Uriel asked, downing more chuhai, looking annoyed. “Don’t these take like eighty hours to finish?”

“Theeeeaaaater moooode,” Gabriel piped back. “I can just play any cutscenes I’ve unlocked. Which, in this case, is all of them.” Her wings fluttered as she adjusted herself in the chair.

“Lesse, secret movie, Yazora, here we go.”

“Wait, Yazora?” Sora asked, before being shushed by the entire room.

Sora and Riku watched the short video in silence.

“So, anything new?” Gabriel asked.

“There’s someone in an Organization hood in your city, on a roof, if this is accurate,” Riku said dumbstruck.

“Could be a cosplayer, but it’s a lead.”

“Yazora,” Sora said, mouth dry.

“Who?” everyone but Gabriel asked him.

“He’s a video game character,” Sora stared.

“I mean, duh, that's what your universe is to us,” Uriel said, annoyed, flicking her hair back.

“I mean… in our universe.”

Gabriel saved him. “Yeah, in the Toy Story world. It’s a game. Verum Rex. Yazora is the main character.”

“I’m pretty good at it, but Buzz kills my high score every time I set a new one,” Sora admitted.

“Wait,” Joshua said, crossing his arms and pointing. “Your world is a video game in ours, and this person Yazora is in a video game in yours. And if the end of this game is real, that means there’s some bad guy and this guy from your universe here?”

“This is making my brain hurt,” Sora whimpered.

“I think the answer is yes,” Riku said, thoughtfully, staring at the list of cutscenes on the screen.

“Well, then, they’re our leads.” Uriel said. “But there’s only three of us here now. Michael and his crew are handling some issue in Milan. We’re not exactly omniscient.”

“So?” Gabriel said, cutting the game back to the console menu. “Don’t we have a Game round tomorrow?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

Joshua smiled. “I’ll call the Reapers in the morning. Sounds like tomorrow’s challenge is hide-and-seek.”

Chapter Text

The party on the beach wasn’t what Kairi needed.

But he was.

When did he get so… broad?

Kairi rubbed his palm with her thumb, and she could feel him shudder under her touch. Too easy. She saw Sora blush, and he moved, slowly, gently, as if to let her say no at any point as he moved from holding hands to curving his left arm around her back, resting that hand on her waist, linking his thumb to her belt loop.

She didn’t say no.

“I knew you’d find me, Sora,” she whispered.

He dodged a Frisbee, and the two of them walked past their friends for the paopu tree. There would be plenty of time to talk with everyone else later.

Roxas and Ventus both gave Sora a sly nod as he passed.

Sora curled around Kairi as they sat. She enjoyed his weight, his presence, his scent.

Until she started noticing it being replaced by the smell of wet pavement and… fried noodles? She looked up to glimpse at Sora, only to watch him stare through her, all but an afterimage himself.

And then, he was gone.

Kairi screamed.


 

The party froze, like they were hit with Stop all at once.

It was Lea who broke the silence. “Kairi!” he shouted. “W-wait. Where is Sora?!” he added, running toward her.

“He’s… gone…” she said still staring at the space where he’d just been, reaching out and grabbing air.

“Gone?” he asked, hoarse.

“I… still feel him, he’s still connected. But yes, gone…”

Lea put on a goofy grin for her. “If you feel him, he’s fine. You told me you turned him back from being a heartless, right? Maybe some other planet summoned him. He’s got his phone, right? Text him.”

Kairi put her hand down, and exhaled. “I.. I didn’t even… why are you so calm?!”

“Because I can’t do anything about what just happened. But I can try and go after him. Do you have any-”

Lea didn’t even finish his sentence as there was another scream from the beach. He didn’t even ask permission, just slung Kairi on his shoulder and ran back to the others.

Riku was starting to vanish.

“Talk. Now,” Lea demanded, trying to grab his hand with his free one. It passed right though. He started fumbling with his cell phone, instead.

“Um… I…” Riku stared.

“Focus,” Lea said sharply. “We’ll come for you but you need to tell us what you can.”

Lea smelled wet pavement off Riku, like when it rained in the World that Never Was.

“I see… Riku said, trying to focus as he was disappearing. “Neon. Think World that Never Was or Fransokyo. But I can’t read any signs. It’s dark. There’s electric lights everywhere and ground vehicles. Skyscrapers. And-”

The last flicker of Riku vanished before everyone.

The waves crashed. Lea frowned. Someone’s stomach rumbled, breaking the silence.

“Riku smelled like Sora did. Before he disappeared,” Kairi said quietly. “Wet pavement and fried noodles.”

Aqua clapped her hands, once, loudly.

“All right then. Grillmaster, fire it up and get those fish cooked. Someone make a bonfire. I call this meeting of Rescue the Rescuers to order!”


 

Isa had vanished in a corridor of darkness, and returned a few moments later, dragging an irate Vexen, Demyx, and a whiteboard. Lea had set a bonfire alight while Goofy and Hayner quickly started coordinating dinner. Aqua stood, surveying the group before her. There were going to be a lot of worlds to cover, but there were just as many people before her. And they didn’t have to go everywhere- it was time to start narrowing the search.


 

“Everyone cozy?” she asked, to a mixture of nods and grunts as the group dug into grilled fish and island vegetables. “Kairi, you’re the only one who saw Sora disappear. I know it probably is going to be painful, but tell us anything you can.”

“We were just sitting there, he was leaning on me. It felt lighter first, and then he just looked surprised, and sad,” Kairi said slowly. “And he smelled like wet pavement and street food. Fried noodles. Like the kind in San Fransokyo. So did Riku.”

“I’d second that. I definitely got a whiff of yaki udon,” Lea said, to confused stares. “Noodles fried with vegetables?”

“Who fries noodles?” Pence asked, a bit confused. “Wouldn’t they get all gummy in the oil?”

“Griddle fried, not deep fried, ya big dummy,” Hayner said, nudging him.

“Order!” Aqua said authoritatively. “Can we make an assumption they both got taken to the same place?”

The group murmured.

“They might not have,” Aqua continued. “But we can use what Riku said as a starting point. At the very least, search with him in mind.” She tapped at the whiteboard and Isa scribbled Sora and Riku’snames up on top, with the bullet points

-WET PAVEMENT

-FRIED NOODLES?

“What did Riku say?”

Lea took out his phone, and fumbled with it. “Quiet,” he ordered, and hit a few more buttons.

“I see… Riku said, from the Gummiphone. “Neon. Think World that Never Was or Fransokyo. But I can’t read any signs. It’s dark. There’s electric lights everywhere and ground vehicles. Skyscrapers. And-”

“I got a recording,” Lea said quietly. “Just audio, though.”

“Play it again,” Aqua ordered, and Isa readied with the marker.

-NEON

-LIKE TWTNW, BUT NOT

-ILLEGIBLE SIGNS

-DARK (NIGHT? PERPETUAL?)

-ELECTRIC LIGHTS

-GROUND TRANSIT (CARS?)

-SKYSCRAPERS

Isa put the marker down.

“Any other assumptions?”

“Well, he’d be in a city, between skyscrapers and pavement,” Mickey said, looking at the board. “We’re looking at something industrial.”

“Radiant Garden level technology, at least,” Roxas piped in.

“He didn’t mention anything odd about the inhabitants,” Naminé said quietly. “Which means they weren’t unusual from his point of view. We can rule out places like Monstropolis. He would have mentioned if the people weren’t the same species. And we know it’s habited. He would have said empty. Probably. If I had only a few moments to describe somewhere I’d talk about what made it look different.”

Aqua nodded. Isa added

-PROBABLY HUMANS

-RADIANT LEVEL TECH

“Anything else?” Aqua asked.

Donald frowned. “Riku not being able to read anything bothers me.”

“We’re all from lots of different worlds but we can all understand one another right?” Olette asked.

“Then this is an Old World,” Mickey said, solemnly. “One that split from even before the time of Faerie Tales.”

The whole gathering went silent. “An Old World?” Lea asked.

Mickey nodded.

Ventus crossed his arms. “I remember Master Erauqs mention them once. They’re the farthest pieces of the original world we were all part of, when it was one whole giant world all bound up. The world shattered because of the original Keyblade War but…”

“A few pieces on the edge broke off on their own,” Terra finished for him. “Sealed off from the rest of everything. They say that that’s where chocobos come from.”

“Mhmmm, when the barriers weakened last time and things got through,” Mickey replied. “It’s also how we got malboros.”

Most of the group winced. The few that didn’t knew immediately that whatever one was, it wasn’t pleasant.

“So, then,” Aqua said, looking back to the board. “Isa, I think there’s one more criteria here.”

Isa nodded, and in large letters, added one last line.

-TAKEN TO THE OLD WORLDS


 

Everyone with a phone was squinting at their screens, frowning.

“Where were chocobos first sported from?” Xion asked aloud. It was like the worlds most dire game of Trivial Pursuit.

“Wonderland!” Ventus said, holding up his device. “Six hundred years ago or so.”

“Malboros first spotted in the woods of Corona about three hundred years ago,” Roxas added.

Isa was marking waypoints on their board.

“Yaki udon is San Fransokyo food. It’s a stretch but there might be a sub portal to an Old World from there,” Lea added. Isa marked it down, too.

“Monstropolis has its own direct portals out,” Xion added.

“It’s worth a shot,” Aqua said. “We have the manpower to stretch the net wide, let’s think of any possibility.”

“Traverse Town,” Mickey piped. “When a world falls, it’s residents can end up there. That or Radiant Garden or Twilight Town. They’re all hodgepodges of other places. They might have portals out, too.”

“The Keyblade Graveyard.”

“Is the path to Scala ad Caelum open?”

“Halloweentown is directly linked to a whole buncha other worlds, ain’t it?”

“The World that Never Was? Land of Departure?”

Aqua whistled loudly. “Okay, this is a good start.”

“Destiny Islands,” Kairi added quietly. “The Secret Place has a doorway out.”

Everyone went silent.

“It’s close, but I think Sora or Riku closed the pathway a while back,” Kairi added. “Might still be worth the look.”

“How close?” Aqua asked.

Kairi pointed to a small crevice in the rocks, and Lea stood up, dusting off sand.

“How about a five minute leg stretch?” he joked.


 

As many of them that could huddle in the little cave were, with Kairi in the lead. And there it was, the wooden looking door at the back of their secret little cave.

It was overflowing with an ominous purple aura.

Lea squeaked his way through, but was stopped by Isa.

“Let me,” the taller man demanded, and gingerly touched the edge of the warping. His hand began to dissolve, and he snapped it back immediately.

Unlike Sora and Riku, it turned back to a solid immediately.

“Likely culprit?” Lea asked, staring at Isa’s hand in shock. “Are you…?”

“I’m totally fine, it didn’t even hurt,” Isa replied. “It’s not darkness, that’s for sure. It actually felt… warm. I know my hand disappeared but I think it’s safe.”

Mickey looked at it incredulously, and demanded to see Isa’s hand. So did Donald. The two conferred in hushed whispers a few moments.

“Actually… I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think Isa is right. It should be safe to pass.”

“Want me to stick my head in?” Isa asked.

“No, but you’ll do it anyway, won’t you?” Lea asked. Isa blushed a little, before turning to the oozing portal.

The top half of him vanished as he leaned; Donald held his leg tightly to ground him.

A few very tense minutes later, and Isa took a step back. Donald pulled, if only to make sure.

Isa blinked, as if he was adjusting to the light.

“That’s… well, it’s a place, that’s for sure.”

“What did you see?” Aqua asked sternly.

“Skyscrapers, electric lights, signs I couldn’t read, dark,” Isa ticked off.

The relief on Kairi’s face radiated the whole room, but Isa put up a hand.

“But I also saw people flying with wings. No rain. And it wasn’t ground transport. There were definitely flying vehicles too. It might be where they went, but…” Isa shook his head. “We probably want to still split up and check as many of the places we listed as possible.”

“And maintain order,” Donald added, with an irritated quack. “If the King, Goofy, and I are searching- and we will be- I need to make our curse a bit stronger.”

The group shuffled out of the cave and back to the bonfire. Isa added Destiny Islands to his list.

“C-curse?” Pence asked worriedly.

“We have to maintain order. Doubly so if we try going to the Old Worlds. We won’t be able to speak their language. If the King or I ended up in one and it’s really just humans…”

“We’ll stick out like a sore thumb, a’hyuck,” Goofy finished for Donald. “Same idea if you’re going to Monstropolis and yer a human. You’ll scare ‘em.”

Kairi looked at Donald. “I can’t imagine what you’d look like as a human,” she said, squinting.

“Me either, Kairi,” Goofy said with a chuckle. “And I can’t imagine you as a monster.”

Donald quacked loudly, silencing the chatter. “Anyone who doesn’t have this curse step forward. Actually, I’m making it stronger. I’m cursing us all. Objections?”

Aqua smiled. “I’ll help.” Donald nodded, and the two looked at each other, took in a deep breath, pushing the air away from them.

“Should do it,” Aqua said, with a nod.

“I don’t… feel any different,” Xion said, flexing her fingers.

“Well, on this world, looking as you are is expected. And I can’t control everyone’s individual transformations. The world’s heart will do it,” Aqua added.

Isa looked back at the whiteboard. “So, we have twelve worlds to search. Thirteen with Scala, but let’s set that aside for now. We know for a fact Destiny Islands has a portal, and it’s a close match. But I don’t think that’s where Riku is. He would have said flying vehicles. There weren’t ground cars there. At least none I could see. It’s still worth the search though.”

“So we need twelve groups,” Mickey said. “How are we splitting this?”

Aqua did a quick headcount. “We’ll have to split into groups of two at the largest if we want to be efficient. Except…” she said, looking at Hayner, Pence, and Olette. “You three have no magic or combat skills, correct?”

“No, ma’am,” Pence said, head low. “None of us can even fly a ship.”

“You have one major advantage, though.”

“What’s that?”

Isa pointed to Twilight Town on the list. “You’re natives, right? Search your home. If there’s a portal, we’ll send someone to you.”

“A scavenger hunt?” Olette asked.

“A big one,” Aqua said with a smile. “Huge.”

The trio’s eyes lit up.

“Remember, this is reconnaissance mission. All we’re doing is seeing where portals are right now. If you find one, peek in. That’s it. We clear? We’ll regroup and actually explore once we have an idea.”

“So really, we only need ten more groups?” Isa asked. We already know there’s one here, and we’ve got Twilight covered.”

Aqua nodded.

“I’ll take Radiant Garden,” Demyx offered. “I can even try and rope in Dilan or Aeleus.”

“You just want Radiant because you won’t run into heartless,” Vexen said, rolling his no-longer-gold eyes.

“Aaaaand I’m a local,” Demyx whined.

“Fine,” Aqua said clapping her hands. “The World that Never Was?”

“Xion, wanna go?” Roxas asked. “It has to be someone who can make dark corridors anyway.”

“You just want time with your giiiiiirlfriend.” It was Demyx’s turn to poke fun at someone. Both Roxas and Xion blushed.

“Traverse Town?” Isa asked, changing the subject quickly.

“I can go alone,” Mickey said quietly.

“But, Your High-” Donald started, though Goofy shushed him.

“I think he needs some time alone, Donald.”

Isa went down the list. “San Fran? Lea, seems like you know the place.”

“I also have three warrants for my arrest, nope, no dice,” Lea said shrugging. “Axel miiiiight have done some serious property damage three years ago.”

Isa winced. “I think I remember that. Okay.”

“Ven, Terra, field trip?” Aqua asked. “Our home is small. We can do the Land of Departure in a few hours, and that’s if we’re slow. And we have Keyblade armor. It’s not as fast as using those corridors you Nobodies use, but it’s close.”

Isa marked the trio for both places.

“I can take Wonderland,” Isa said. “I’m on… let’s say I’m on good terms with some of the residents. We still have four places. Who feels safe going to the Keyblade Graveyrd?”

“I’ll go,” Naminé said quietly. “Heartless and Nobodies don’t attack me anyway.”

“Not alone, you’re not,” Isa said sternly. “You can’t make corridors anyway, can you?”

“May I escort you?” Vexen asked.

Naminé nodded, and Isa crossed another world off the list.

“Donald and I could take any of the three left,” Goofy interjected. “We’ve been to all of them, and we have a vessel.”

“I have no preference, but I think Kairi and I should go together,” Lea said, looking at the remaining choices. “She can’t fly a ship or make corridors. I can’t fly but I still can make them safely.”

“We’re still short a team,” Isa said, scanning the group. “Anyone not accounted for?”

Roxas and Xion looked at each other. “We can split up,” Xion said quietly.

“Not if you’re going to the World that Never Was,” Isa said, boring a hole in her forehead with his stare. “It’s huge and dangerous. You two stay together.”

“I’ll go somewhere else,” Demyx said with a sigh. “I’ll call Ienzo and have the locals search. Leon’s team owes me.”

“Done. So who goes where?”

“Monstropolis is the safest,” Goofy supplied. “There’s no Heartless there. And with… with the end of Vanitas… the Unversed should be all gone. It’s just a lot of portals.”

“Millions of them!” Donald piped.

“No fighting but a million places to look?” Demyx asked, frowning. “The other two places?”

“Corona’s city is safe too,” Goofy said, thoughtfully. “But the forests have weak heartless and some Nobodies.”

“Are there Nobodies in Halloweentown?” Demyx asked.

“Gawrsh, none I can remember,” Goofy admitted.

“I’ll take Corona,” Demyx said with a wave of his hand. “I can make them beat stuff up for me.”

“Then we have Halloweentown,” Donald insisted. “Kairi, you have a bond with Sora. Maybe that’ll make it easier to search all the portals.”

Kairi frowned. She wasn’t even getting to fight? Again? But Lea just smiled, poking her in the ribs.

“I’ll take photos for Sora when we get there,” he said with a grin. “I’m sure he’ll love to see what you look like as a little monster.”


Bellies full, the groups began to split up.

“Where’s our meeting place?” Roxas asked. “Somewhere we can all sit together.”

“Ansem’ll let us use his castle,” Demyx said, sliding his phone in his coat. “He’s also set up a search party in Radiant Garden. When you’re done searching your locations, go there.”

Hayner crossed his arms.

“I’ll get someone from Radiant to pick up you three pipsqueaks,” he added with a sigh. “But you’d better come back having turned over every paving stone in the city.”

Lea glared at Demyx. “Myde, you sure you don’t want me to kill you? Even, you?”

There was a mix of gasps and laughter, from the people who understood the implications and not.

“You joking? I’m not gambling on wether I get to keep these powers. If I lose ‘em like Dilan or Ienzo, I’ll have to actually learn to pilot a ship. No thanks. I’m no Luxord, I’m not gambling on keeping my sweet lazy powers like you and Isa did.”

“I can’t say I had much of a heart as a human, Lea,” Vexen added with a slight nod. “But like this, I can actually do some good for once. Speaking of Luxord…”

“His Somebody hasn’t been found yet,” Demyx said with a sigh. “And honestly… he might never be. He’s like me. Our Somebodies were eaten by Heartless in the Keyblade War. He might have awoken not just in the Keyblade Graveyard, but during or after the fight. Lemme know if you find him there?”

Vexen just blinked. “How… old are you, exactly?”

Demyx shrugged, summoned his sitar, and strummed it, crowd-surfing into his corridor of darkness to Corona.


 

Kairi laughed uncontrollably, and her whole body shook.

“You’re a sentient blob of pink gelatin…” Lea said, staring at what had been a normal human teenager not one moment earlier. Lea wasn’t wrong, Kairi was a gelatinous, semi-translucent pink monster with four tentacle like legs and squishy, blobby arms with three fingers on each hand. She had tentacles in a short cropped bob, just like her hair should have been, if it wasn’t like gummy worms. She was still wearing her pink coat over the form, and Lea wasn’t sure if it tied it all together or just increased the hilarity. Kairi slowly adjusted to her new appendages, and quickly figured out how to make lazy loops around her companion, to get a good long look.

“I’m not laughing because of me,” she said. “I’m laughing because of you.”

Lea adjusted. The first thing he noticed was the tail, long, muscular, and helping him balance on his thin-twig legs. He only retained his black duster, the rest of his own clothes missing.

“I feel very, very exposed,” he admitted. “Your coat at least covers…”

“Covers what?” Kairi asked, head tilting. “My lower half is an octopus. You’ve got fur, and…” she added, looking left and right at the pleasant tree-lined street and random pedestrians of every shape, size and color, “it looks like the concept of clothes is at best optional here.”

“When on Mt. Olympus,” Lea said, shaking his head and feeling a head’s nest worth of large quills shake with him, “wear a toga?”

Kairi smiled, and flipped out her phone, grabbing a selfie of both of them.

“My eyes are like… dinner plates,” Lea laughed, looking at his reflection. “Huge. At least I have these porcupine quills I can use if anyone rubs me the wrong way. Literally.”

Both of them giggled a little at that, and Lea fished around in his duster for the piece of cardstock Donald had provided.

“First stop, Monsters Inc.”


 

Lea stepped up to the pedestrian gate of the energy company to a bored looking security guard, Kairi right behind.

“’Scuse us,” she said in her Polite Talking to Adults voice. “We’re associates of Sora, Donald and Goofy Exterminators. We needed to speak to the CEO.”

The security guard rolled a claw. “Yeah, everyone needs to speak to the CEO. Get in line.”

“Ma’am,” Kairi added, hoping she picked the correct pronoun. “We have a signed note from Mister Sullivan himself to come back anytime.”

Thank goodness Jiminy Cricket kept every scrap of paper he’d even gotten. The guard snatched the small handwritten note Sully had once written for Sora, and scrutinized it, before picking up the little corded telephone in her booth, and slamming her window shut.

Associates,” Lea whispered in what he assumed was probably vaguely the direction of where an ear should be. “You sounded like a right professional there.”

Kairi giggled quietly.

“You know, we should get you a giant whipped cream hat with a strawberry,” he joked. “Then Sora could have himself a snack.”

“Lea!” she cried. She wasn’t sure when she and he had gotten on such chummy terms, but she admittedly liked the gentle teasing. It was better than when he’d first met her as a Somebody- awkward, and perpetually apologetic. Now, at least, he wasn’t treating her like she was made of stained glass.

“Aaaaaand now your jello face went from strawberry champagne to cherry,” he added, elbowing her.

She made a surprising slorp as her body quite literally rolled with the punch.

“Punch,” he whispered. “You’re fruit punch!”

“Lea, quit it or I’ll shave y-”

The security window slammed open with a thud, as the lady handed back Kairi’s paper. “An escort is coming. Please wait.”


 

“Hiya!” said the little bowling ball sized imp.

Lea squatted, and held out a clawed hand. “‘Allo. Lea. And this is Kairi. You must be Mike?”

“Mike Wazowski, at your service, Lea!” The imp was oddly chipper, and gingerly took Lea’s hand for a shake. “Donald called us, sorry about the front gates.”

“Don’t worry. We heard what Randall did. Security checks are important for a place like this,” Kairi added.

“I think it’s just theater, if you ask me. And I know a thing or two about theater. I’m sure your bosses told you about the guy in the black coat who got in here without going through the front door.”

“Black coat?” Lea asked incredulously, holding the lapel of his open duster.

“It was like he could telepo-” Mike started, before Lea slipped through one of his corridors and ended up at the end of the hall, waving with a smile.

“Dark isn’t evil!” Lea shouted, jogging back to Mike and Kairi, who facepalmed, and then spent a good two minutes attempting to still the full body jiggle that ensued. Mike’s jaw dropped almost clean to the floor.

“Okay, um, first off, wow.”

Lea shrugged. “’S a gift.”

“Second, what is that, buy one black coat, get teleportation free?”

“Actually, it’s because I could do it I was given a black coat,” Lea replied shrugging.

“Okaaaay, secret magic society, check. Next, you’ll tell me Sora’s little extermination company employs humans.”

Lea and Kairi gave each other side eye and Mike’s jaw almost hit the floor a second time in as many minutes.

“You know one of those three is secretly a human,” Lea said, snorting a little.

“Let me guess, Donald,” Mike replied. “He’s the only sane one among the three of ‘em. And he’s small. We used to hide Boo in a monster costume too.”

Kairi and Lea snorted. “Got us there,” Kairi said, trying desperately not to laugh.

Mike pushed open a big heavy door, ushering them into Sully’s office.

The big blue and purple polka dotted monster stood up to his full height, offering a massive paw to shake.

“So, what brings you here, exactly? Donald said we might have an issue, and I take this sort of thing very seriously. Safety first for my team, and the other worlds we visit.”

Lea frowned. He didn’t realize walking right up to the company CEO would actually be that easy. Kairi stepped in.

“Sora’s gone missing, Mister Sullivan,” she said, cutting straight to the chase.

“Sulley,” he corrected. “But go on.”

“He… we were at a party only a few hours ago. And he disappeared right in front of me, and then one more friend you don’t know did too. Donald and Goofy were at the party too. Everyone there is pretty strong like Sora, Donald, and Goofy are, so we’re trying every path we can to find him.”

“Wait, you said disappeared,” Mike piped in, still in the room. He was a little hard to notice, being so underfoot.

Vanished. And no, he can’t just teleport, so he was probably taken. We’re pretty sure he ended up in another world. One with humans in it, and a big city.”

Sulley frowned. “I mean, that’s a lot of how humans live. How do you know?”

“The second friend- his name is Riku- was able to describe us some stuff before he faded away. I have part of it recorded.” Lea fished for his cell phone, playing back the snippet.

Sulley frowned. “The part that bugs me is that he couldn’t read the signs.”

“That’s what bugs us too.”

“So, you’ve been to the other world on the other side of the doors?” Sulley asked incredulously. “You’re not on my payroll.”

Kairi inhaled. Donald could whine about Order all he wanted, but he wasn’t there to chastise. “Sulley. You have it backwards.”

She breathed out and continued. “This is my and Lea’s first time on this side of the doors.”


 

“I knew it!” Mike cried. “Monsters can’t just teleport, that must be some weird human magic.”

“Actually, it’s Nobody magic.”

“Looks an awful lot like a somebody to me,” he huffed.

“Capital-N Nobody,” Lea corrected. “Not human. Kairi and Sora are real deal humans though.”

“Wait, so Donald was wrong?” Mike cried, surprised. “Go figure, had that one eyed loser pegged as secretly a Code Mauve.”

“Well, I guess it’s good to know that humans and monsters can actually get along. I guess I should be asking how you did it, Kairi, that costume is too good,” Sulley asked, peering down, curious.

“I can shapeshift. So can Sora.” It was easier to say that instead of explaining the minutiae, and she saw two monsters change shapes on the walk to the company. She didn’t need to give these two any more heart attacks. “Before you ask, no, most humans can’t.”

Mike snorted. “So we have a shapeshifter and a teleporter. Sounds like the makings of a B-roll superhero flick.”

Sulley ignored the comment, and turned his attention to Kairi and Lea. “So, you can read on both sides of the portal then, right?”

Kairi nodded. “Yeah, we’re specifically looking for a city where we can’t.”

“Wait.” Mike said sharply. “They can’t be looking for that door, can they?”

“What door?”

Sulley tapped his chin. “It happened earlier today. Our door machine churned out a door on its own. And when it’s opened, it just is darkness. But… it still worked as a portal to another world. We’re just not sure where. The kid had a laugh, we filled six whole tanks, so, the door’s in regular rotation.”

“That might be exactly what we’re looking for,” Kairi said, genuinely excited.

Mike rubbed his hands. “Then what’re we waiting for? Let’s go nab it.”


 

“Upsy daisy,” a woman’s voice crooned.

“Five more minutes, Kairi…” Sora mumbled.

“You’re still in Shibuya, squirt,” a second voice said brightly. “And I’m sure you two want breakfast.”

Sora shot up, hair staticked straight out like he’d stuck his hand in a socket.

“What time is it?”

“Does it matter? Normal players only get up when we wake them for the day, and when the time’s up, they’re back in stasis.”

“Why are Riku and I ignoring the rules? What’s with the infinity timers?”

Uriel and Gabriel looked at each other, grinning huge. “Your entry fee.” Uriel stated, simultaneously with Gabriel’s “Your cheat code.”

“Cheat code?”

“The entry fee to play the Reaper’s game is the thing you value most. Some people lose what they look like, and have to play with some fake face. Many will lose a memory. If you win the game you get the ante you put up back though. And you’re allowed to keep playing if you can ante something else.”

Riku got up groggily. “Sora already lost what he valued most. Kairi,” he added with a smirk. “Though… I’m not sure what I paid. Sora’s here, I’ve got a host of memories I’d honestly rather lose…”

Riku held out his hand, and his key snapped to it.

“Powers are intact, too.”

“Sometimes people pay when someone else gives up something,” Uriel said with a wistful smile.

“Are you saying Sora paid for both of us?”

Sora panicked. “Did I lose Kairi again?” He was on the verge of tears, but Gabriel reached over from her swivel chair and put a finger to his lips.

“I did say cheat code.”

Relief washed over Sora. “Did Riku and I cash in some favor to Joshua?”

Gabriel opened her palm and a black, white and grey card floated lazily above it.

“That’s a Nobody’s symbol,” Riku said, looking at the card back.

“That’s Luxord’s,” Sora whispered. “He said it was a wild card.”

“Yup. And this is your entry fee. Except… it’s worth too much. Way more than just two souls’ worth. So, you two have perks.”

“Perks?” Riku and Sora asked in unison. Gabriel went to her closet and pulled out two hoodies. Black hoodies, with white patterns.

“How’d you like to help us run our little scavenger hunt for Yazora?”

Chapter Text

“We have an 86, ladies and gentlemen,” Mike called out over the loudspeaker, as the room full of monsters on the laugh floor looked up at the PA room.

“86?” Kairi asked.

“Staffer stuck on the other side. It’s not totally lying,” Sulley explained. “Everyone will finish their current assignments and clear out to the break room, and we can go pull down that door.”

Kairi watched, as the teams finished what they were doing one by one, and a tall, wiry yellow monster radioed up to Mike.

“What happened? All my staff are accounted for,” he asked.

“Accident,” Sulley replied, physically lifting up Mike and moving him out of the way for the intercom access. “And none of ours. One of the hired exterminators fell in earlier when chasing down one of the Unversed. We’ve got this one.”

More Unversed?” the foreman asked, gulping.

“We’ve got them all,” Kairi said cheerfully. “But we’d like to get our coworker back, too. Sorry for the trouble.”

The foreman pocketed his walkie—talkie and ushered the workers out of the laugh floor quickly.

“All clear. Get ‘em back, Prez,” he said with a nod when all the doors were put away.


 

Mike swiped his keycard and punched in a code on the keypad, the door swinging in from tracks on the ceiling before settling down in its runner in front of them. For something made earlier that day, it was surprisingly old wood, with rotting cracks and loose pieces, and a triangle symbol emblazoned roughly at Kairi’s eye level.

Kairi could see the purple miasma seeping from it, between the cracks. Had this actually been that easy?

“May I?” Lea asked, putting his hand on the knob.

Kairi glared, and Lea gulped. “We can both fit in the doorway. We’re just supposed to peek in right now.”

Kairi turned back to Mike and Sulley. “All we’re doing now is checking portals. We already found one… a little further away… that sort of matches Riku’s description. We’re actually checking twelve different places.”

“Just go,” Sulley said. “And if you have to come back, we’ll reopen it.”

“We owe Sora big time,” Mike said grinning.

Lea turned the knob, and both he and Kairi stuck their upper halves into the miasma.


 

“You… you’re still a monster,” Kairi whispered at Lea as the two of them looked around inside the room on the other side. “So am I.”

“Maybe it’s because we didn’t step all the way through?” Lea asked, in equally hushed tones.

“I’m not testing that right now.”

Lea nodded, as the two took stock of the space. Dark, check. No skyscrapers, but they were inside a room, here, and one Kairi could see had evidences of industrialization, despite the building itself being on the edge of disrepair. There was a cellphone charging off a surge protector, and a small night light plugged in close to the door. There were several lamps throughout the room, all off, but with cords trailing from them, so also electric, not gas or candle powered.

Dark, check. Electric lights, check.

There were two beds, too, one on each side of a stained-glass window in the center of the far wall, depicting a triangle shape like the one on the door in. A human girl, maybe eleven or twelve, popped her head up, rubbing the crust from her eyes.

“Mizu…” she mumbled. “Hora, Dipper-kun, atashi no mizu wa doko?”

Human, check.

And most importantly, Kairi couldn’t… wait.

She shook out her head. The girl had asked Dipper where her water was. She wasn’t speaking their language, Kairi was sure of it, but she could actually understand her.

“The girl’s not speaking our language,” Lea hissed.

“But you can understand her?” Kairi asked.

Lea nodded. “Aqua and Donald, probably.”

Kairi strained. Whoever Dipper was, he or she was sound asleep.

“It’s on the shelf by your posters,” Kairi stage whispered at her. Lea looked at her in shock.

“What, Sulley said someone came here earlier,” Kairi said to him, shrugging.

“Thanks, ladyyyyy…” the girl said, before going wide eyed. “Dipper. Dipper. They’re back! There’s more!”

Dipper, who they realized was a boy that looked startlingly like the girl who woke him, flew up and stared Kairi and Lea down. To their surprise, he didn’t scream at seeing the torsos of two monsters in their bedroom.

Actually, he was excited, grabbing a book and running up to them immediately.

So much for Donald’s order, Kairi thought, until she saw him flip through pages. It confirmed that it wasn’t their written language, either, but she could catch fragments she understood.

And his book was filled with monsters.

Kairi sighed internally. At least they weren’t messing with the natural order of how this place worked. Too much.

“Um, hi!” he said, nervously.

“Hello,” Kairi said, gently. He reminded her of herself, back just before the whole ordeal with the Heartless on Destiny Islands. He looked about her age when that happened, too.

“The last one spoke some really weird language,” the girl said, a little more cautious around them but still oddly friendly.

Hey,” Kairi said, pouting. “I speak that weird language too.”

The girl frowned. “Yeah… you do. You’re talking funny, now that I’m paying attention. But it also sounds like English.”

“Oooh, telepathy, maybe? How do your powers work?” the boy said, scribbling excitedly. Lea peered down at the journal and saw that magic and monsters were normal to this kid. That made things way easier.

“Magic translator,” he said.

The girl’s eyes lit up. “Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, Dipper, he’s a werewolf! Are you single?!”

Lea looked taken aback. “I… what.”

Kairi giggled. “She’s asking if you're single, Lea, don’t leave her hanging like that.”

The girl looked just shy of having actual hearts for eyes. “My red furry werewolf,” she sighed. “Leeeee the weeeeeerewolf…”

“Um… miss,” Lea whined, pitifully. “I’m a lot older than you.”

“So? The wheels of romance don’t stop on-”

“Mabel, stop harassing him,” Dipper said curtly. Kairi smiled. Now she finally had a name.

“What, so you can harass me?” Lea said, grinning, showing off his canines.

Dipper looked down, kicking a floorboard.

“’S okay, kid, we don’t bite. Or we do, but only the bad guys. We’re sorry to wake you.”

“No, nononono, I don’t mind! Most of the stuff we normally run into isn’t so… er, willing to talk. Your name is Lee? Are you a werewolf, or something else?”

“A Nobody.”

“Nobody…” the boy said excited, writing furiously, as Mabel peered over his work in progress.

Dipper,” she whined. “You need to make his eyes smolder more. Smooooolder.”

“Mabel, please,” Dipper said strained. “I’m doing scientific research here.”

Kairi smiled at her. “Do you have your own book? You can draw him too.”

Mabel’s eyes beamed, and she flew for a dresser.

“Mind if I turn on a light?” Dipper asked, before flicking on the lamps.

Kairi and Lea winced for a moment, before adjusting.

“So, um,” he added, looking up at Kairi.

“I’m Kairi.”

“Kyree,” he said, scribbling the name. “And what are you?”

“Well, normally I’m a human like you, but I can shapeshift.”

Dipper looked mildly interested. “Okay… another shapeshifter… why the pink blob then? Are you coming from somewhere where that’s normal?”

For a kid, Dipper was extremely perceptive, and Kairi nodded.

“We’re not just here to be researched,” Lea said, as Mabel reached up to pet Lea’s fur. He sighed, and held out an arm for her.

“So… soft…” she whined. “it’s like kittens and clouds had a back-alley baby.”

Dipper sighed, changing the subject. “Mabel told me the last one came in to try and make her laugh, and when they did, he- or she- just left. What is this, some kind of monster talent show?”

Kairi snorted. “It’s… um. Complicated. But no, we’re looking for a lost friend.”

“Did the big blue fuzzy not get back home?” Mabel looked worried, holding Lea’s arm possessively. The girl was surprisingly strong for her size.

Kairi and Lea looked at each other. Monsters Inc. wasn’t short an employee from the way Sulley spoke.

“No, they’re fine. We’re looking for one of our friends. A human. Sixteen years old,” Kairi started, then pulled out her phone from her waist pouch, flipping through photos. She faced the phone to Dipper, and Mabel squeezed in to look, too. “Awww, you two are cute! Is that what you normally look like, Kyree?”

“What, no comments on how hot Sora is?” Lea asked, chuffed.

“Um, no, I don’t break up couples. I’m not that kinda girl. But yes, he’s cute. In a dorky sort of way.”

“His name is Sora?” Dipper asked, absentmindedly tapping his pen to his chin, leaving little dots.

“Yeah, and another friend named Riku.” Kairi flipped through the photos again for them, and Mabel actually melted, looking at him.

Dipper finally, actually, looked surprised.

“No way.”

“What?” Lea asked, confused.

Dipper grabbed the cell phone on the floor, unhooking the charging cord. “Mabel, can I?”

“Yeah, of course, bro-bro.”

Dipper stared at his, or more likely, Mabel’s, phone for a moment, flipping through things, before turning the screen to face Kairi and Lea.

“Is this who you’re looking for?” he asked, showing them a computer-generated drawing.

“Sora… Donald… and Goofy…” Lea said, shocked. “But… how?”

Dipper shrugged. “We deal with weird. And this wouldn't be the first time we’ve met someone come out of a video game.”

“Or the second!” Mabel said, jumping on the bed.

“…or the second.”

“Does your world have skyscrapers? Ground vehicles?”

“You mean cars?” Dipper asked, raising an eyebrow.

Lea now fumbled with his own phone, and played Riku’s last words for Dipper.

“I can’t understand that,” he said. “Your magic isn’t working on recordings.”

Lea played it back again, saying Riku’s words as he did.

Dipper frowned. “That doesn’t sound like here… the tallest building in Gravity Falls is like what?”

“Four floors!” Mabel shouted. “Maybe five!”

“But he could be in San Francisco? That’s only a few hours’ drive, and it’s really close to where we’re from. The rest of it sounds like a match.”

Lea and Kairi looked at each other. “San Francisco sounds an awful lot like San Fransokyo.”

Kairi addressed the siblings. “Dipper? Thank you so, so much. We’ll be back, or send some of our friends here. Is that okay?”

Dipper beamed. “More than okay! You’re the nicest monsters we’ve met this summer.”

“Mermando was nice! You even kissed him!”

“Mabel, in this house we do not talk about Mermando.”

Lea and Kairi pulled themselves back, and quietly closed the door behind them. Kairi looked at it again. Did it have an eye in the triangle when they’d opened it?

Wait… Dipper’s world had cell phones, even though it was an Old World, didn’t it?

“Hang on, one more thing,” Kairi insisted, reopening the door before Mike could have it retracted. She shoved her torso into the portal, and quickly sent off a text to Sora and Riku.

“don’t worry, lea n i r coming for u.”

She added their monster selfie, and waited.

Her breath hitched for a moment, as she saw Dipper look at her confused, trying to get back in bed.

“I texted Sora,” she explained. “I don’t know if it’ll work, but…”

Her phone dinged.

Sora had texted back.


 

Kairi pulled herself back out to Monstropolis.

“Hate to do this to ’ya Kairi, but we’re burning munny here,” Mike said, apologetically. “Either go through, or come back tonight when the factory closes?”

“We’ll be back,” Kairi said, hugging the phone to her chest. “Aqua was right, Sora and Riku, they ended up in the same place.”

Sulley beamed. “They’re through there?”

“They might be,” Kairi replied. “But I had signal at least.” She showed her phone screen to the group, as Mike put the door away, giving an all clear.

Sora and Riku were in matching black sweatshirts, Sora with his stupid grin and Riku rolling his eyes.

“homg kairi you look like pudding. we’re okay, but stuck, have a lead to get home. oh! In this world… our world is a video game, isn’t that crazy?”

Kairi ticked back. “I think we found the right place then,” she typed, and hit send.

The message failed.


 

Crap,” Riku said, looking over Sora’s shoulder. “We lost signal.”

“Or they did,” Uriel said, looking over from the other side, as she tried to tame Sora’s hair down enough to stuff it under a short black wig.

“Hey,” he whined. “What’s the deal? You don’t have black hair.”

I’m not a human,” Uriel replied. “And we’re trying to keep you two disguised. Would you rather I cut and dye your hair?”

Sora sat still after that.

Riku, meanwhile, sat patiently as Gabriel was doing the same for him, holding his eye open to put in colored contacts.

“Japanese people don’t have blue eyes either,” Uriel said, to Sora’s groaning protest.

“Why not magic?” Sora asked. “You guys clearly can do some.”

“Because we can sense each other’s spells too easily. And trust me, you really really don’t want to get into angel politics. There was a fight a while back that almost destroyed the world. Don’t ask. The only thing we’ll magick on you is what every Reaper gets from an angel,” Gabriel said, reaching out to massage Sora’s shoulder blade. He yelped for a second, before realizing that there was… something… back there. He stretched it, and felt it hit something squishy.

“Hey!” Gabriel whined. “Wait ‘till I’m out of smacking range.” She rubbed his other shoulder, and Sora shifted in his seat to get accustomed to his spiky black wings.

Riku snorted.

“You next, mister,” Gabriel snapped, and Riku slouched forward to let her work her magic.

“Well, now, you two look like right proper Reapers,” Uriel said, nodding. “Once you cover your faces, at least.”

The door creaked open, and Joshua returned, carrying a few bags. “Breeeeakfaaast!” Gabriel cried, running to help.

Sora arched his shoulder blades, trying to get comfortable with his new appendages, and Joshua slid down next to them.

“A few rules for you two,” he said, uncharacteristically sternly.

Sora and Riku nodded quietly.

“One, outside this apartment, when you’ve got Reaper wings, you are a Reaper. Act as such. Keep your hoods down and kerchiefs up to your nose. You’ll be assigned to a superior officer. Follow their orders. If you think they’re doing something unethical, don’t argue. Just text me or Uri. Clear so far?”

“Yeah.”

“The living can see Reapers, which means they can see you. They can’t see your wings, or feel them. So, don’t worry about hiding them or someone running into them. If living police or someone similar threatens to see you, or your ID, then and only then you can take off your hoods and kerchiefs. Here’s some ID cards.”

Joshua passed them small plastic cards. “Saihara… Youta?” Sora slowly sounded out.

“Hey, my fake name is Kiryu Yoshiya.”

“That’s a mouthful,” Riku said, looking down at his own card. “Saihara… Daiki? So, what, we’re brothers?”

“I didn't exactly have a lot of time to get these done, sue me,” Joshua replied with a shrug. “Thing next. If you see any of us in the field while undercover, don’t treat us like friends. We’re your superior’s superior’s superiors. That’s why that Reaper almost fainted when you hugged me last night, Sora.”

Sora,” Riku echoed with a little bite. Sora blushed and broke eye contact.

“Don’t use your Keyblades in public unless there’s no other alternative.”

“I figured as much,” Riku said nodding, graciously accepting a plate of pancakes and soft-boiled eggs from Uriel, and a shallow bowl of soup from Gabriel.

“Anything else?” Joshua said, thinking. “Oh yeah. Flying. The minute you’re off the ground, you’re no longer visible to living people. If you get chased by a cop or something, just fly off. You’re visible again to normies when you land. Doesn’t work for other Reapers or game players, you saw us flying last night. Here.”

Joshua handed them both a sleeve of pins. “Use these. They’re Noise- er, like the Dream Eaters you two can summon. Only use your own world’s magic as a last resort, got it? Just wear them, on the sweatshirt is fine, and you can call forth their power. It’s okay if you’re wobbly on your wings or bad with your magic today, there’s always new Reapers. Your superior will understand. And when you’re done with your assignment for the day, you can come back here. I’ll have someone escort you around the city if you want to explore later. Any questions?”

Sora was already in his food. “No,” he said, mouth partially full. “But thanks.”

Joshua just shook his head. “God, help me.”


 

“Rudol,” the man said simply, sitting cross legged on one of the dry rocks.

Naminé clasped her hands and looked at him gently. “Can I get you anything, Rudol?”

“Some water would be wonderful, young lady,” he said, absentmindedly shuffling a deck of cards, before spotting Vexen behind her.

He dropped the entire deck, scattering the cards at his feet.

“Don’t worry,” Vexen said lightly, as he voluntarily subjected himself to 52 Pickup. “Look at my eyes.”

Rudol exhaled. “It’s actually kind of nice, getting knocked back down to just one chip. Winning gets boring.” He took the offered flask of water and downed it.

“You didn’t keep any of Luxord’s powers?” Namine asked him gently.

“Not a one.”

“Stay with us, then. We can bring you to Radiant Garden, if you like.”

“I don’t have a mummy to my name, Naminé.”

“Ansem will help. The real Ansem. He’s taking care of Dilan, Aeleus, and Ienzo. And me.”

Rudol frowned. “I don’t exactly like handouts.”

“Then work for it like a normal person,” Vexen replied, handing back a full deck of cards. “We could use another set of eyes right now, anyway.”


Olette sighed. “I guess there’s none here.”

“None what, my child?” Merlin asked, sitting at the bistro the next table over enjoying a glass of tea with his tart.

“We’re looking for portals to the Old Worlds,” she said brightly, before Pence tried to shush her.

“What, that’s Merlin. He’s one of Sora’s friends,” she added, pushing Pence’s hand away from her mouth.

“Old Worlds?” Merlin asked, intrigued. “Who told you about the Old Worlds?”

“King Mickey,” they said in unison, before Hayner clarified. “We were checking to see if there was a portal here for them. Riku and Sora went missing to one.”

“Curious. Because I might have a solution for you three.” Merlin reached into his bag, his whole arm engulfed in the thing, and pulled out a book, Sora on the cover, sitting with a teddy bear.

“A picture book?” Pence asked, curiously.

“There’s a world inside. And… its residents told me there’s some strange door that wasn’t there before. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for?”

“Is it all like blackish purple?”

“I think one of them said ‘oh bother, that looks like black currant jam’, so I believe so. I can lend you the book, so long as you take good care of it.”

Olette stood up and reverently took the tome. It was heavier than expected. “We promise.”

“I’ll hold you to it, young lady,” Merlin said with a smile.

Pence was already on his phone, excitedly asking Ienzo for a pickup with the good news.


 

“Hey, it looks like we can wear our armor in public!” Ventus said excitedly as a girl in yellow zoomed past in an armored suit, followed by a three-eyed monster spewing ice.

Aqua laughed, and mussed Ventus’s hair. “I think you’re right,” she said with a smile. Their own home had been a bust, but maybe San Fransokyo would have better luck. Not all these worlds had to have an Old World portal, but it almost felt like a contest to find one. Especially when her phone buzzed letting her know the Monstropolis and the Twilight Town groups had been successful.

Terra stretched, summoning his armor, and Aqua and Ventus did the same, to some audible gasps and phones out to take pictures.

Aqua nodded at her friends, and off they shot, like rockets.


 

“This suuuuucks, everything suuuuuucks,” Demyx whined, calf deep in swamp water. He’d ordered the local Nobodies- Marluxia’s, he noticed- to help him kill the Heartless, but that didn’t mean he could sit completely on his ass. He still needed to see if there was even a freaking door here in the first place.

He trudged further and further away from the city, which had been a bust. But malboros had been found deeper in the woods, so deeper he went.

Eventually, he found himself at the base of a tall, narrow tower, conveniently next to a lake. He strummed his sitar, commanding the water to lift him right up to the window at the top, and stared at the sight there.

There was brown hair everywhere, in loops around all the furniture.

“Well, that’s not creepy at all,” he muttered. Not at… oh. Huh. Guess I am good for something.”

The wooden door in front of him was leaking purple miasma.

Chapter Text

Demyx stuck his head in.

Then an arm. He knocked, realizing the portal led to a solid stone building on the other side. He tapped it gingerly with his hand.

Hopefully nobody here saw the top half of a torso sticking out of the wall.

He flicked his eyes around, attempting to judge the place based on what they knew. There were humans here, and a small city, though villagewas probably a closer word. If he craned his neck, he could see what looked to be a power plant on top of the hill, thick cables coming down it to wire to tall structures he realized were floodlights.

It was daytime- bright, sunny- but the floodlights checked two things off his list. It would get dark here, and there was electric lighting to combat it.

Cars, too, though none in the city proper. He spotted a car park to his left, at the bottom of the slope with about ten cars of wildly different make, along with a quartet of chocobos hitched to a post, three yellow and one a blinding shade of hot pink. They seemed content, munching from a feeding station, where a kid- probably about Sora’s age and roughly Roxas’s hair color and height- was cooing over them, giving them scratches, adjusting their tack and saddles.

Humans, check.

He peered to his right, back towards the hill. Someone was sitting at a café, reading a paper, and Demyx caught the front page headline and photograph.

The language was definitely foreign, but a few moments of calmly staring at the lettering and Demyx watched it morph before him into something he could read. He’d thank the mages later.

LUCIS FALLS

And underneath, a black and white photograph of a skyscraper-capped city, shelled with all manner of projectiles.

Demyx shuddered and snapped back to Corona, shaking a little.

“Well, it fits every mark…” he muttered, ripping open a corridor to Radiant Garden. “Just hope that’s not the only city with skyscrapers in that world, or Sora and Riku…”

He sighed, stepping out into the plaza of Radiant Garden. It was nice to be able to link the corridor out to somewhere in the middle of a public square without a fuss. The locals had already been informed that the remaining Nobodies and the few Somebodies with powers like Isa were on their side.

Some residents looked on awkwardly, nervously at Demyx as he popped out and shut the portal behind him, but he ignored it. Maybe when all this died down he could plunk in one of the busking spots and just play his sitar for mummy.

But for now, he had work to do. He may have hated the “w” word, but another feeling overrode even that- he actually enjoyed being needed.

It felt nice.

Felt.

He’d have to get used to that.


 

Roxas flopped down on the bed. He was expecting dust on the sheets, after all, he hadn’t used it in two or three years, but it was surprisingly clean.

It was like time had stopped here.

Xion sat down next to him, her coat crinkling. She didn’t exactly like the thing, or what it represented, but until she got actual vestments like Sora or Ventus or Lea did, the old coat would have to continue to protect her.

And Isa, Roxas, Vexen, and Demyx too.

She got up, shut Roxas’s door, and drew a sigil with the chalk left by the jamb. Roxas still had control of the Samurais, the dual wielding Nobodies, but that was only when he was actively paying attention to them, and right now it seemed like they both needed a break. The sigil was simple, but did the trick in sealing off the room, and Xion returned to Roxas to pull him into a tight hug.

“Five minutes?” he asked.

“Maybe thirty,” she replied, resting her keyblade at the foot of his old bed. He did the same with his pair.

“Just a short nap,” he muttered, pulling her closer.

“Hey Roxas?” she asked quietly.

“Mhmmm?”

“Do you want magic vestments? Like what Lea has?”

“I won’t turn down free shit,” he muttered.

“I mean… instead of having to wear these,” she replied, pulling at his coat.

“Dunno,” he muttered. “Guess it depends on the alternative.”

“It doesn’t… bother you?”

“It keeps us safe in the dark, I cant exactly be picky.” Roxas yawned. “I mean, yeah. I know what it represents. But think about our keyblades. Xehanort had one. Keyblades are good right? So does that make him automatically a good guy?”

Xion laughed. “You know, I brought spray paint with me.”

“Oh?”

“If we are going to have to be here, might as well trash his room, right?”


 

Mickey walked past the dull lamplight, looking at the rows of shuttered houses. Normally, that would be a bad thing. But in Traverse Town, shuttered houses meant that the occupant’s world had been revived, and the occupants could be whisked home.

Many of the remaining residents were considering moving to Twilight Town or Radiant Garden, though some were considering opening the unoccupied abodes to other worlds. Tourism in Traverse would be a boon, especially given its perpetual, gorgeous view of the Ocean Between.

Mickey let himself wander in thought to get something to eat.

“Your Highness, sir?”

Mickey looked up from his cup of tea at the only café still open on the promenade.

“I’m… well. I’m really sorry to bother.”

“No, ma’am, not at all. Can I help’ya with somethin’?”

“Your highness, sir, um. There’s… well. There’s a door. The old Dearly house.”

“Are the Dearlys still there with their dogs or…?”

“No, all gone. Their world was revived.”

Mickey sipped his tea. “Well, that’s good news!”

“Er, yes, that part is. But the front door… it’s leaking something. Something blackish purple. Maybe with your Keyblade you could lock it up? We haven’t had Heartless in a while, and I think if there were another nest sighted, well, the last of us might just up and leave.”

Mickey paid her for the tea and meal he’d already ordered, though she tried to protest. “I’ll be back for the sandwich, Musketeer’s honor. The house isn’t far, and without Heartless, I’ll be back in a jiffy!”

The server nodded. “I’ll keep it warm.”


 

Mickey opened the door to the abandoned house, and as the waitress said, there had been miasma leaking through the cracks. Instead of seeing an abandoned house, the open door just led to a solid wall of the stuff. Mickey took a deep inhale, and poked in.


 

Sora took one quick final look in the hallway mirror, adjusting the kerchief. The wig and his eyes only barely peeked from the hood, and his black wings looked… honestly a bit scary, with their sharp points and almost wrought iron design. Between that and his borrowed clothes-the black hoodie, slouching cargo pants, and a belt adorned with an oversized pouch stuffed with healing items and more pins- he almost felt like a bad guy.

“Hand,” Joshua ordered. Sora offered up the hand with the timer, still stuck on infinity time, and Joshua wrapped it up in a long black cloth, dipping in and around, the fabric sticking to itself by some hook and loop material. He did the same for Riku. Even Sora didn’t need to be told not to unwrap this and reveal his secret.

Joshua unlocked the balcony and beckoned them outside. Gabriel pushed past, a piece of toast still in her mouth.

“I’ll have my district search too, but I doubt he’s east of the Edogawa,” she said, crunching. “Ten grand says he’s still stomping in Shinjuku.”

“Well, that’s Uriel’s. She’ll tell her conductor they have to search too.”

“Coco won’t do jack shit and you know it,” Gabriel said, stretching her wings and jumping off the balcony. In moments, she’d flown so far she wasn’t even visible.

“Do you want us to.. just jump?” Riku asked, worried.

“Just flap a bit over the balcony first,” Joshua replied. “But I think you have thirty minutes until morning call.”

“Um if we go splat won’t we…” Sora started.

“You can’t really get much deader than dead,” Joshua replied, locking up the balcony behind him and fluttering his wings.

“Right,” Sora replied, stretching his own ones out until his shoulders ached. He gave two good flaps and started treading the air. He was surprised how effortless it was. Well, it wasn’t like he’d never flown before, but gliding with fairy dust was an entirely different affair.

Sore folded his wings and dove, barreling to the city below, hollering with adrenaline the whole way down.


 

“Everyone accounted for?” Isa asked, tapping a finger on the conference room table, which was laden with snacks and sweets from the various worlds people had visited. The fruit tart from Twilight Town was already long gone, and the sugared jellies from Monstropolis were just about finished.

“I’ll begin then,” Isa said, whiteboard behind him as Ienzo twirled the marker, ready to take notes.

“As we all know, Destiny Islands has an easily accessed Old World portal. I would say it’s a fairly decent match, but exact might be a stretch. Wonderland, however, was a bust. As it turns out, the chocobos spotted there were actually a gift for the Queen. They came from off world.”

“Corona, probably,” Demyx interjected.

“I’d say wait your turn, but I assume you found something?”

“Yeeep, at the top of this creepy abandoned tower. It was full of hair. There’s a door to an industrialized world there with cars and electric lights and humans. Couldn’t read the language at first but Donald and Aqua’s magic did the trick.”

 “Skyscrapers?”

“None I could see from the portal exit, but there was a newspaper article about an attack on a city, and that place had skyscrapers for sure. Ones that looked a lot like Never Was, if they hadn’t been shelled.”

Isa frowned. “Promising, but worrying.”

“Sora did say he was fine,” Kairi interjected as Isa facepalmed. There went his “wait for your turn” approach. Until the words sunk in.

“He said?”

“I got one text in while we stuck halfway in our world,” Kairi explained, passing her cell phone around.

“Fine but stuck,” Ansem said thoughtfully, reading over Goofy’s shoulder. “I would think Sora would be concerned about a war if there were one.”

“Yeah. And I was only able to send and receive a text from the Old World we found. We stayed as monsters poking our heads in but the two human children we found didn’t see that as strange. And we hit every box but skyscrapers. They told us there weren’t any nearby, but there was a city with them a days drive away.”

“Gawrsh, these worlds must be huge!” Goofy drawled. “A whole day’s drive just to get to a city?”

“The fact that Kairi and Sora could text each other means that place is very high on the list. But it might be like here, where we can communicate from any world in the Ocean Between.”

The group nodded in agreement.

“Did anyone else think to try and call Sora or Riku?”

“Gosh, no, though I should’ve. I found a world, too,” Mickey piped up, as he refilled his teacup with Radiant Garden floral tea.

“What did you see?”

“Also humans, electric lights, cars, and darkness. Though the electric lights were mixed with gas-lit ones, and there were more horse drawn carriages than cars. I’m also not sure I saw any clothes like the ones Sora and Riku were wearin’, but it was dark and I only took a quick peek.”

Ienzo wrote this down.

“Okay, any others? Hayner, your group found something, yes?”

Hayner nodded excitedly, holding up the old book.

“Merlin told us the world in here complained there’s a weird portal inside. We haven’t checked it yet, though.”

“May I?” Ansem asked. Hayner passed the tome down the table.

“Roxas and I found nothing,” Xion admitted, as the book slowly made its way down the table in one direction and the gummiphone the other.

“Neither did we,” Ienzo said, tapping the whiteboard. “I’m not sure if that qualifies as surprising.”

“Same,” Ventus sighed out. “We even managed to rope some of the locals into helping.”

“I’m not sure we could have searched an entire city without help,” Aqua admitted. “So we bought as much food as we could carry back in thanks.”

“Didn’t you have two locations?” Donald asked. “What about your home?”

“Also a bust,” Terra said with a shrug.

“Same as us. All we got were some Valentine’s chocolates and shot at by Heartless Cupids,” Goofy said, rubbing a shoulder.

“We found a friend,” Naminé said with a gentle smile, reaching out to grab a green tea custard. “But no miasma.”

“I don’t think I’ve introduced myself properly,” Rudol replied, adjusting his new Radiant Garden attire. “My name is Rudol, and I’m sorry for having caused anyone distress.”

“Join the club,” Lea said, chuckling.

“I think that’s all groups accounted for?” Isa asked, bringing the attention back to the task at hand. “We have five portals. Four look promising, the one Kairi and Lea found the most so.”

“There might be others,” Mickey interjected.

“While true, we should probably explore these locations first. “If you don’t have a cell signal, come back out and here. Sora and Riku do where they are, so you should as well. Now. Groups?”

“Well, I am going back to the one from Monstropolis,” Kairi said, arms folded. “I know I can at least talk to Sora, and the two children we met didn’t fear monsters.”

“Didn’t… Kairi did ya stay a monster when ya entered your portal?” Mickey asked.

“Did you turn human in yours?” she asked back.

“No… but I didn’t step all the way through.”

“We didn’t either,” Lea replied. “We could still change walking all the way through, but it seems like monsters exist in that world, so I dunno.”

“Order.”

Everyone snapped back to Isa.

“Everyone. If you have combat skills, magic, or both, you’re going in a portal. Sorry, Hayner, Pence, and Olette.”

The three of them hung their heads.

“Hey, I don’t either, and I used to be a Nobody,” Ienzo piped up. “I’m sure there’s things we can do from this side of the divide. And you three found an Old World, which is more than I can say for myself.” The pep talk seemed to cheer the trio up, if only a little.

“Ienzo, please write down the five worlds and everyone’s names,” Isa said sternly.

MONSTROPOLIS, DESTINY, BOOK, CORONA, TRAVERSE

Ienzo then looked around the room, scribbling names in his loose handwriting

ISA, LEA, KAIRI, KING MICKEY, DONALD, GOOFY, VEXEN, DEMYX, AQUA, TERRA, VENTUS, ROXAS, XION

“Am I missing anyone?” Ienzo asked. “Can Naminé use magic?”

“About all I can do is ward off Heartless and Nobodies,” she admitted. “I would be a burden in combat.”

“We probably want to avoid fighting the locals,” Isa said thoughtfully. “I think if you want to go, your powers would still be helpful, as well as your connection to Sora. But that is up to you.”

“I’ll go,” Namine said. “So long as I am in a group of three.”

“That would make four trios and a pair, yes.”

“Shouldn’t we… check the world in the book first?” Pence asked. “If it doesn’t fit the criteria we could just ignore it.”

Isa nodded. “Has anyone been in there before?”

“Sora has. But we couldn’t enter with him,” Goofy interjected. “I dunno why, but when he went in, we couldn’t follow.”

“Maybe only Keyblade wielders?” Lea asked. “Hand it over.”

Demyx, who found himself with the tome, slid it diagonally across the table.

“Be gentle with it!” Olette cried. “There’s a world in there!”

He slunk low in his seat, turning up his hood in embarassment.

Lea opened the book, and stared at it, flipping through the pages.

“It just looks like a children’s book to me- ohhhhh.” Lea smirked. “Hey, Ven.” Lea shut the book and passed it to him.

“You want me to try?” Ventus asked skeptically. He cracked open the book, and disappeared in a flash.

Aqua stared at it. “I’m a child at heart,” she said. “Let me try.”

Terra almost spat out his coffee. “You’re a child at heart and I’m Donald’s nephew. That book isn’t taking either of us, Aqua.”

“Well, I’m not leaving Ven alone in there,” she huffed, reopening the book. All she saw were paragraphs and pictures, now with Ven in a few of them smiling.

“Well, at least he’s having fun in there,” she huffed, shutting the book. Ienzo looked at it, nervously, and walked around, putting his own hand on the cover.

“I could try.”

“How old are you, anyway?”

“F-fourteen, I think? I was a Nobody for most of my life.”

Aqua paled. “That’s horrific.”

“I resemble that remark!” Demyx crowed. “Oh come on, it’s called lightening the mood.”

Ienzo sighed, and opened it. He, too, disappeared.

“Anyone else want to try?” Isa asked. “If that world is a match we’ll need one or two more people who can go there.”

Naminé, Roxas, and Xion surrounded the tome. “I guess it’s worth a shot,” Roxas said quietly, and opened the book yet again. All three disappeared.

“Oh come on, Roxas counts and I don’t?” Aqua asked.

“Very childlike of you to be so petty,” Terra laughed. “Maybe the book will take you now.”

“Well, maybe it will,” Aqua huffed, opening it again. Now there was a picture of Ventus, Roxas, Xion, Naminé, and Ienzo sitting on a stump, laughing at a small bear with its head stuck in a honey jar.

Aqua slammed it shut and sat.


 

About fifteen minutes later, the group collectively ejected from the storybook.

“I got signal!” Roxas said, showing off his phone. “Sora didn’t reply, but my text went through.”

“We weren’t going to stand there with our heads in that other world waiting for a response,” Xion added sheepishly.

“Is it a match? Or close?” Isa asked.

“Ish?” Ventus replied. “I mean, it hit everything we talked about except for one thing.”

“Chirithies,” Xion and Roxas said in unison, before Roxas clarified. “There were humans walking around in the other place, skyscrapers, weird text, and industrialized tech with cars. But there were also these smaller people who were all soft and lots of colors. Walking, talking, stuffed animals. And the humans and plushies were just… it was normal for them. Ven called them Chirithies, but...”

"They didn't look like any Chirity I've ever seen."

Isa frowned. “That would be out of the ordinary for most people. But a lead’s a lead.”

“I’ll go,” Ienzo said, looking at the book. “I may not be a fighter but I’ve started re-learning some magic. I can heal. And the group of people that can enter that world is only a fraction of us. It’ll make every expedition a group of three.”

“We’ll go with you,” Roxas said, putting a hand on Ienzo’s shoulder. Xion nodded in agreement.

“I think Ven would rather be with Aqua and Terra anyway, right?” Xion asked.

Ven bowed his head sheepishly.

“Well, that’s one group down,” Isa replied.

“I’m going back to the one from Monstropolis,” Kairi insisted.

“With me?” Lea asked her.

“Who’s our third?” Kairi asked the group.

Me,” Mickey insisted. “I knew I recognized those sweatshirts from somewhere, and I have a bad feeling about ‘em.”

“Are Sora and Riku in trouble?” Kairi asked, worriedly.

“Not.. in the way you think. They looked fine, my concern is how we’re gonna bring ‘em home.”

“What about us, Your Highness?” Donald asked.

“I want you to go with a Nobody,” Mickey said, scanning the room. “I assume Terra, Aqua, and Ven want to go together, so the groups left’d be you two, Naminé, Demyx, Isa, ‘n  Vexen. You two can’t use Corridors of Darkness to travel, or Keyblade armor. You need someone in your group that can, in case you have to flee in a jiffy.”

“Naminé, why don’t you pick your companions?” Isa asked gently. “You can’t fight, so you should decide who escorts you.”

“Isa and Vexen, will you come with me?” she asked politely. “Demyx, I know you’re not much a fighter either, so if you go with Donald and Goofy, they can fight for you.”

“And here I thought you were making me second string,” Demyx said with an exaggerated shrug. “That’s fair. I can open shortcuts in exchange for not beating stuff up. Cool with you two?” he added, looking at Donald and Goofy.

“Welcome aboard, Demyx, a’hyuck. We heading to the World you found?”

“Fine by me,” Demyx said.

“We can take the one in Destiny Islands,” Aqua said with a light smile. “So long as Isa doesn’t mind horses.”

Isa shrugged. “I’m fine with this. Now, we have one final task. Hayner, Pence, Olette?”

“And here we thought we were just getting sent home,” Pence said, grabbing another thin slice of Corona baumkuchen.

“Someone needs to watch that book, and be able to get inside it if needed.”

“We’re the only kids left,” Olette said with a wide eyed grin. “We’re the only ones who could.”

Isa nodded. “We’re counting on you three.”


Mickey stared down the door, as the runners caught it and powered it on.

“It’s weird being back here at night,” Kairi hissed at Lea.

“You and me both,” Sulley said smiling, as Mike finished with the safety checks.

“Now we’re leaving this open for you. We’re covering this area up with a quarantine sheet, so take as long as you need. Just press this when you’re back out,” Mike said, putting colored tape on one of the buttons. “It'll buzz service staff, in this case, us. Someone just coming out of a quarantine area without a haz-mat suit is going to raise some serious eyebrows around here,” he added, tapping his own hair-free forehead.

“Good luck, you three,” Sulley added. “Though if you’re anything like Sora I don’t think you need it.”

Lea flashed a sharp, toothy grin, and stepped completely through the portal, Kairi and Mickey immediately behind.


 

Kairi breathed a sigh of relief.  She saw Lea in front of her, back to a human form. The only change she could see was his dark maroon leggings and knee high boots were replaced by black jeans and sneakers. He rolled his shoulders and stomped a foot on the old wooden floorboards. Nobody was in the room, and the sun shone brightly through the stained glass window. Kairi, too, was back to her human self, the only change to her clothing was a pair of black leggings, and white running shoes instead of her boots. She turned around, waiting for Mickey to follow.

An older gentleman- not Ansem old, but older looking than Lea- popped out of the miasma on the wall. He wasn’t as tall as Lea but taller than Kairi, and he immediately stumbled.

“That’s new,” Mickey muttered, as Lea caught him. “I don’t ever think I’ve been this tall before.” He brushed himself off, noting that his clothes hadn’t changed all that much- black sneakers, pants with a plaid accent, and a zippered black hoodie. He spent a few moments just looking down at his hands, taking out his phone, almost worried to turn on the camera to see his new reflection.

“You look good, Your Highness,” Kairi said with a smile. “Want a photo for the Queen?”

“Give me a few moments to adjust, wouldja?” Mickey asked. Kairi giggled a little again. His voice did not match his face.

Kairi heard thunking. Someone was coming very close to their- well, really, Dipper and Mabel’s- door.

“We don’t have a few moments, Your-” Lea started, before the door swung open.

“Dipper, Mabel, I’m Weird-proofing your…” the voice started, the sound of an older man, who did have the face to match. ”…room.”

Lea, Kairi, and Mickey stared at the man in the beaten-up trench coat, and the man stared between them and the miasma next to them. In a moment, he pulled for a strange looking weapon.

Lea paled. It looked like one of Xigbar’s arrow-guns.

“State your names and what dimension you’re from. Now.” the older man barked. “Nobody comes in my house without my say-so.”

Chapter Text

“Hello, Pooh!” Ienzo cried, as he was tackle-hugged by the bear.

“You said you’d be right back…” Pooh said sadly.

Xion’s eyes went wide. “How long has it been for you?”

“Two days, I think?” Pooh replied, paw on chin, rocking his head back and forth. “I’ve been ever so hungry waiting.”

“You didn’t eat for two days?” Roxas asked, worried.

“Oh no, I had a smackerel of honey an hour ago. But waiting makes my tummy all rumbly.”

The trio sighed.

“Two days though? Wow. Radiant Garden and here are on really different time zones. Fascinating.” Ienzo smiled at the bear. “We are so sorry we made you wait so long. It was only a half hour where we were.”

“Can I go there someday? I hate waiting for things,” Pooh asked.

Roxas frowned. “I don’t want to make a promise to you I can’t keep, Pooh.”

“That’s okay!” Pooh said cheerily. “Because you’ll be here, right?”

Pooh put a paw to his chest.

“Always. And that I can promise,” Roxas replied. “Now, lets go back to that portal, okay? We need to save Sora.”

Pooh nodded and smiled. “I know you can do it.”


 

“Ladies first my butt,” Xion said, stepping fully to the other side of the miasma to a bright, sunny day. Her Organization coat had changed to a short leather jacket with a halter, her pants and boots unchanged as they were. She hoped the new jacket still worked like her other one, in case she needed to make some corridors. She flicked her fingers, materializing her Keyblade to make sure she still could, then hid it just as quickly.

Ienzo came through right after, and took a moment to look at his new attire. Gone were the cravat and lab coat, replaced by some very nerdy looking spectacles, a newsboy hat, and a light purple hoodie with jeans with a simple, thin scarf.

“Could be worse,” Ienzo said, looking at what the World’s heart blessed him with.

Could be worse was the understatement of the century.

“Um… so where’s Roxas?” Ienzo asked after a moment or two of silence.

“Down. Here.”

As if in slow motion, Xion and Ienzo craned their necks downwards.

There was a very irate two-and-a-half foot tall plush tapping his foot behind them.

Xion could barely contain her laughter.

“Oh. My. God. Roxas!”

“Not. Funny.”

“I would be inclined to agree,” Ienzo chimed in. “It’s not funny. It’s hilarious.”

“Can I get a do-over?” Roxas looked at himself. Despite wearing his organization garb on entering, he was wearing his regular casual attire- sleeveless black zip up under his checkered jacket, jeans with the snap over designs, and sneakers.

No, it wasn’t the clothes that bothered him, but the fact he’d shrunk down into a doll with a too-huge mouth and eyes, a tuft of yellow faux fur for hair and eyebrows, and dark orange felt for skin.

Roxas just sighed and yanked on his hair. Surprisingly, despite being a doll, it hurt just as much as if he were pulling on his real hair. Any advantage he might have had in a plush body was immediately mitigated.

“This sucks,” he muttered. “This-”

Roxas didn’t get to finish his sentence. They were in a narrow alleyway with dumpsters and tasteful graffiti, more or less hidden from public view, but with easy access to a major thoroughfare. And a semi-truck whipped by, honking loudly.

“-sucks.” Roxas paused. “Waitasec. Is it just me or is this place… off. I mean, other than the obvious. I mean I just tried to say-”

A car blared loudly again.

“Okay. That wasn’t a coincidence. I just tried to curse.”

Xion giggled. “Well-”

“HOT DOGS GET YER HOT DOGS!” a street vendor cried loudly.

Xion clapped her hands over her mouth. “I… I don’t think we can.”

Ienzo inhaled slowly. “Well, okay, this is for science but holy-”

A police car whizzed by, sirens blaring.

“We can’t curse,” the three of them said in unison when the sound died down.

“What kind of place IS this?”


 

“No slouching, you two-bit flunkies,” a woman in a very short pair of black biker shorts and a cropped lace top shrilled at the lineup of eleven hoodie-clad kids and teenagers. Sora shifted awkwardly in his sneakers, accidentally smacking Riku in the arm with one of his wings. And while the living probably just saw a weird gathering of hoodlums hanging out under the overpass with someone who could be mistaken as a model, the wing was sharp and barbed to Riku, ripping a clean line on the upper sleeve of his hoodie.

“Watch it,” he muttered.

“Oy, flunkies,” the woman said again, stretching her own pair of black iron-wrought wings. “You two are new. Names and how you died,” she snapped, flicking a pin between her fingers, other hand glowing green as it mended Riku’s clothing.

“Saihara Daiki,” Riku said gruffly. “Dunno howI died, actually.”

The woman took a sharp look at him and sniffed.

“Oh,” she muttered. “One of those. Funny you go and immediately choose to be a Reaper though. Didn’t even try and play? Honestly, you reek of Shinjuku. I can’t trust Coco as far as I can throw her, so I get you. If I knew how she runs her city I’d be asking to be a Reaper before the bell’s even rung.”

“One of what?” Riku asked nervously as the woman materialized a whip, cracking it just a hair to the right of Riku’s face. He shot upright, pulling his wings back almost on instinct.

“What, that Akibitch didn’t tell you?”

Riku shrugged. “Madam, I understand you’re speaking words but I genuinely don’t follow.”

“You smell like Akihabara and Shinjuku.”

Riku said nothing.

“You’re not one of those weirdo American cosplayers I heard Master Joshua picked up last night are you? I smell him on you too.”

“If I am?”

The woman sighed and rolled her eyes. “Take off your hood.”

Riku quietly obeyed.

“Oh, so you actually dolook normal,” she said, frowning, lightly sniffing the air again. “I’ll fill you in. You landed in Shinjuku, not here. Somehow, somebody pulled a string or ten to move you from that Underground to here. Yes?”

“Shinjuku is the place with the giant double building right? That’s where I landed, yes,” Riku said coldly, putting his hood back on.

“So… Master Joshua gave you the gift of tongues since you didn’t speak Japanese.”

“Yes.”

“Why the nine hells did you get your wings from the Akihabara nerd, though?”

“Cosplayer,” Riku said with a shrug. He picked up on things quickly, and it seemed to make sense to their new superior officer, too.

“Dear God, you should have been sent there. Why me?” The woman moaned. “Name is Eri. I’ve been the lieutenant of this part of Shibuya for six months. Twenty six games now. I’ll put you on tutorial duty. And you?”

Eri cocked a hip and fluttered her black barbed wings, looking square at Sora.

“Saihara Youta…” Sora said, having repeated the fake name in his head fifteen times to make sure he could remember it.

“Oh god, you’re brothers,” Eri moaned. “And you actually died. I smell it on you.”

“Wait, he didn’t?” Sora asked, worriedly, flailing at Riku.

“Your brother was your entry fee, if you’d won the game you both would have gotten zapped back. Idiooooh, wait. No,” she added, twitching into a frown. “Entry fee, yes. Not yours. You two have any other family here?”

Sora and Riku looked at each other.

“Well, now I understand why you were moved here, Daiki. Don’t expect so much courtesy in the future, we don’t typically put family together if they die at the same time.”

“That’s because if they die at the same time they usually already die in the same district,” someone muttered behind Sora- someone whose voice was oddly familiar. “You wouldn’t need to.”

“Komaeda, your twin brother died a year after you, stop whining,” another boy groaned. “Be glad one of the angels liked you enough to give you his cell number.”

Komaeda rolled an arm. “Yeah, yeah and I can see him when the district walls fall down on Tanabata. Don’t rub it in.”

Despite being covered in his hood, Sora felt like the boy from the day before was boring a hole in his forehead with his eyes.

“Youta, how’d youget offed?” Eri asked, with a light smirk.

“Saving my f-friend…”

“Saving his girlfriend,” Riku corrected for him. Sora suddenly felt very very hot.

“Everyone on the count of three,” Eri started. “One, two…”

The other nine Reapers collectively “awwwww’ed” at him.

“Truuuue wuuuub,” Eri said, grinning, making a heart shape with her hands. “I like you two idiots. I’ll put you together. Who’s going to show these losers the ropes?”

Komaeda shakily raised his hand.

“Fine, I’ll allow it. Put up a barrier by the west side of 104. Everyone else pair off, I’ll hand out pins and assignments.”

Sora and Riku shuffled to Komaeda’s side, when Sora felt his phone buzz.

“Ahem. You can take out your cell after I’m done, Youta. Nobody’s gonna die in the next five minutes that you’d be keeping it in your pocket. If it’s really that urgent, the Conductor or if you’re really un-and-or-lucky, Master Joshua himself.”

Sora sighed, and slid the phone back, looking at Riku.

“You were someone else’s entry fee?” Sora whispered, as Eri was handing pins and instructions to a pair of Reapers at the other end of the line. The two giggled, and Sora realized they were girls under the same baggy clothing the rest were wearing.

“I don’t think it’s Kairi… you’d be her entry fee before me,” Riku hissed. “And it’s not you… please don’t tell me the King died after all that. He was alive on the beach.”

Sora frowned.

“Hey,” Komaeda hissed. “Earth to the Kingdom Hearts nerds.”

Both snapped to him.

“My brother found you, right, ‘Daiki’?” Komaeda asked, air-quoting his name, facing Riku. “You know a lot of us use code names. If you want to just call yourself Riku nobody’s gonna bat an eye.”

Riku sighed. “Do you not believe us?”

“No, I do, and that makes it way, way weirder,” their new friend hissed. “Trust me, the new regular players are going to start phasing in at noon, between me and my bro, someone’s going to spot another- ahem- ‘cosplayer’ that doesn’t look like they’re from here. Then you’ll know who dragged you down this hellhole.”

“Eri didn’t seem too keen on this Shinjuku place. Our friends in high places weren’t fond of this Coco person either,” Riku hissed back, before Eri stepped to them.

“Boys,” she snapped, and the three stood at attention.

“Directive for the first day is tutorial,” she started, then verbally backed up a little. “It’s a Monday, so the new dead from the last week will all rematerialize here in Shibuya. How you two came in on a Sunday night is beyond me. And your circumstances are weird enough I’m keeping my paws out. If the Angels want another war, dear God I’m keeping my nose down and the hell out of the way.”

“War?” Sora asked, voice cracking.

“No time now, when the missions’ over someone’ll fill you two in,” she said with a sigh. “That was literally my second week here. Trial by fire my fucking ass. Anyway. New dead. We’re usually pretty kind on the first day. We set up gates. If any of them come to you picking a fight, give it your all but only with what I’m issuing you. If they beat you, they get these.”

Eri handed a sandwich bag filled with pins to Sora and Riku. “One of each to each player that beats you,” she added, pointing out the two different kinds. “Don’t erase losers. Revive them and shoo them off to go get stronger.”

She pinned a Red Cross pin on a white background to each of their hoods.

“If any of your pins break, call me. Komaeda, teach them how to use them and maintain the barrier.”

“Yes’m.”

“They’re told to hunt for this guy named Yazora today. I have noidea who that is, but Conductor’s orders. In reality, anyone who passes at least three checkpoints and made an effort to look for whoever this idiot is stays in. Everyone else gets erased.”

Sora shook. “Erased? You mean… dead?”

“I mean deader than dead. If they’re not willing to put in the effort, they don’t want to live. Come on, today isn’t even hard. Just make an effort, that’s all.”

“What if someone can’t fight? Like they’re in a wheelchair or something?”

Eri laughed. “You think that matters here? Youta, this is powered by your mind,” she said, pressing her finger on the pin she’d attached to his sweatshirt. “As long as you have the will, you can fight. There was this blind boy who fucking clobbered me three weeks ago. Set the entire plane on fire. If you wanna live, maybe someday enter the game as a Player again, and should you have the will, that’s enough. You’d be surprised who can thrash here in the Underground.”

“So how do we fight?” Sora asked, nervously, as Eri pinned some more pins to Sora and Riku’s hoodies.

“These are Noise, they’re like… they’re all the emotions of the living taken form. Bad things, good things… just consider them and you’ll get taken along for the ride. You’re less fighting and more acting as a conduit. I’ll let you loose by the 104 building so you can practice yourself. It’s easier to just do than say.”

“Why do we have to beat up people’s souls?” Riku asked, as Eri finished.

“Because there’s tons and tons of wild Noise roaming. They tend to stay in packs. We have mercy, they don’t. If the dead can’t beat you two with the pins I’ve given you, they’ll get ripped to shreds in the streets beyond. They lose to you, you can revive them. They lose to some random lady’s seething energy of finding out her hubby’s been cheating? Poof,” Eri replied, exploding a fireball between her fingers. “You’re their last line of defense.”

“That’s…” Sora replied, looking at his new boss. “Actually really kind. Everyone here looked kind of…”

“Evil?” Eri asked, cracking her whip. “Not in Shibuya, we’re just tough love here. Shinjuku, though?”

Eri exhaled. “Nobody’s survived the week there in over two months. The only way out is up. Being a Reaper. And even then, holy shit. I’ve heard horror stories.”

Sora bowed his head slightly. “Thanks for taking care of us.”

Eri smiled. “Yeah, well. I don’t like seeing people Erased. But some people are really just done, you know? Push hard on the people that pass by you in your fights, but if you see they’re through, let them die in peace.”

Sora nodded. “I’m not. Ready to die, I mean.”

Good,” Eri said with a smile. “Now get out there and wreak hell, you hear me?”


Ienzo fixed his scarf. “Well, the message went through, though Sora isn’t replying.”

“A sent message is better than no message, right?” Xion asked. “We should probably investigate until we hear back.”


 

Roxas frowned. He wasn’t huffing and puffing, but he was practically running to keep stride of Xion and Ienzo down the busy road.

“Roxas, do you want a lift?” Ienzo asked him, kneeling to talk at eye level.

Roxas frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. “No I don’t want a-”

“Look out!” Xion cried, as a tan colored plush with brown hair barreled straight into Roxas and Ienzo, sending Ienzo’s phone, in his free hand ready to answer when Sora texted, up into the air. It came down with a crash, bouncing twice on the pavement, next to another near-identical model.

“Oh, neat, you got the Kingdom Hearts case too? Thing’s indestructible at least,” the plush asked, as he picked up both of them, handing one back to Ienzo. “Sorry about that.”

Before Ienzo could ask what he meant, the plush saw his own two companions, a man that basically looked like a human version of himself, and a young woman in a flared skirt, run up to him.

“Walter! Are you okay?”

“Yeah, Mary!” Walter, the doll, replied. “Sorry, I just thought we were going to miss the bus.”

“There’s another in five minutes, silly, come on, we aren’t missing our tour of Muppet Studios, I promise,” Mary sad, helping the doll brush off, while the man lifted him up on his shoulders.

“High-ho, Silver!” Walter cried from his perch, while Mary and the man linked hands and ran off, presumably to a bus stop.

“You sure you don’t want a boost?” Xion asked Roxas again, as they watched the trio hop on a bus marked 37 at the corner.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt,” Roxas admitted. He’d deal with the blow to his pride when he wasn’t toddler height.

Ienzo’s eyes went wide. “Of all the luck,” he muttered.

“What?” Roxas asked worried. “Did that break your phone?”

“It didn’t break,” Ienzo said glumly, facing the device to Xion and Roxas. “But it’s also not mine.” The background photo was of the three people that had just departed, and stuck on a lock screen.

“This world is stupid,” Xion said, easily swinging Roxas up onto her shoulders. He didn’t weigh much, after all.

“Well, I guess I know where we’re headed,” Ienzo said, determined. “Muppet Studios. I need my phone back, and I’m sure Walter wants his.”


 

“Student fare’s a dollar,” the massive literal bear of a  bus driver said, bored, as Xion, Roxas, and Ienzo attempted to climb on.

“What’s a dollar?” Ienzo asked.

“What, you kidding me?” the bear grunted, pushing his hat back a little. “You not from around here or somethin’? I don’t got all day.”

“Er, sorry, we aren’t.”

“Look, don’t sneak off from your families if you’re on vacation. This bus just goes to the old theater district anyway,” he said, shooing them back out.

The driver slammed the bus door shut in their faces and sped off.

“So much for hospitality,” Ienzo muttered. “I guess we’ll have to get some local currency.”

And that’s when they heard the scream.


 

Roxas was cursing up a storm, inaudible over the traffic jam of honking cars.

Heartless. Here. In the middle of this city.

Ienzo pointed a finger at his own throat and began talking at an inhuman volume. “Everyone! Get inside a store, a building, whatever, we’ve got this.”

Xion side eyed him. “Just relearning magic, huh?”

“Well, I’m not that proficient at combat related spells yet. Radiant Garden was Heartless free after the whole Nobody debacle. So most of what I know is-”

“Less talky, more fighty,” Xion cut over him, summoning her Keyblade.

“World order!” Ienzo screeched.

“Don’t care, lives at stake,” she yelled back, slicing a smaller Heartless without much thought.

Roxas jumped off Xion’s back and stretched his arms out, calling his own Keyblades to him. They materialized, full size, and yanked his soft felt arms down with him.

He opened his mouth and a car honked.

“I can’t lift my-”

Honk.

“Keyblades with these-”

An ambulance whizzed onto the scene, siren blaring.

“-noodle arms!” Roxas cried.

Ienzo jumped on the hood of a parked car, and ungraciously rolled on the pavement next to Roxas.

“That looked way cooler in my head,” he muttered, annoyed, green light from his arms closing up the myriad array of scrapes he accumulated from his ill planned stunt.

“You and cool can only be found in the dictionary when the word ‘isn’t’ is sandwiched between,” Roxas bit back as he watched Xion do her best against the horde alone.

“Roxas. Do you trust me?”

“Enough,” Roxas replied. “I hope whatever you’ve got in mind is better than eating pavement.”

“Tell me if this hurts you,” Ienzo said, leaning over.

Roxas gave a slight nod and Ienzo grabbed his arm, tying it in a knot around the hand guard of one of his keyblades.

Roxas looked at it, startled, mildly disturbed it didn’t hurt him. “Bleeping noodle arms,” he muttered censoring himself. He was getting sick of the honking.

Ienzo tied his other felt arm around his other keyblade, and grabbed Roxas by the legs, pirouetting in a circle within the makeshift arena created by the haphazardly parked traffic jam of now-abandoned cars. The centripetal force lifted Roxas clear off the ground and with the blades knotted to his arms, he was still wielding them, if only on a technicality. Ienzo froze the ground under him, using the reduced friction to keep spinning, slicing a small army of weak shadows as he danced, holding Roxas for dear life, worried he might pop a seam.

Xion just laughed, striking out at the few left behind in Ienzo’s wake. In moments, the entire nest of them was gone as quickly as they arrived.

It almost felt like a plot point in a movie, Roxas thought, as the world slowly stopped spinning. He dismissed his Keyblades and shook out his arms, letting Xion bend down to check the stitching on his shoulders and legs, and fluff out the stuffing in his hands until he had feeling in them again.

Ienzo inhaled, addressing the crowd, taking off his hat in a bow.

“Thank you, thank you!” he hollered as people re-entered the street, some checking their cars to see them completely undamaged. “We hope our street performance brightened your day!” Ienzo added with a confidence Roxas and Xion hadn’t heard before. Slowly, people around them began to clap and cheer.

“I was really scared for a second.”

“Man, LA is so cool! That was movie quality!”

“Dude, they pulled a stunt like that for a show?”

A kid ran out in the street, dropping a piece of paper in Ienzo’s hat. “That was really cool!” she cried, whistling from between a missing tooth. “When’s it gonna be in TV?”

Ienzo just smiled and shrugged. Soon, more people came by, dropping paper and coins in Ienzo’s hat, until a man in blue ushered them out of the street.

“Blocking traffic, stunt kid,” the man snapped. “Don’t care how cool that is, do it on the sidewalk at a busking station next time, you hear me?”

“Yessir,” Ienzo said, face red as he walked off with Xion and Roxas in tow.

Roxas stood on tiptoes to peek in Ienzo’s hat.

“So this is a dollar,” he muttered, pulling out one of the rectangular sheets of thick paper. “I’m pretty sure we’ve got way more than three now. Heck of a trick you pulled, Ienzo.”

“Oh, hey, heck is okay,” Ienzo said, tapping his chin.

That’s what you get out of all this?” Xion asked him incredulously. “Come on, pull out three dollars from that pile, we’ve got a bus to catch.”

Chapter Text

Naminé swallowed. “Gentlemen?” she asked quietly.

“Mhmm?” Vexen asked with a hum. “I’ll go first, I suppose. Isa, you take up the rear?”

Isa nodded, and Vexen held his breath, stepping through the portal. Naminé followed as soon as the tails of his long Organization coat had completely been consumed by the miasma.

“Erk!” she hissed aloud, as the world’s heart blessed her with the most unfortunately uncomfortable dress she’d ever had the misfortune to wear. She pressed fingers to the front, feeling stiff fabric holding her torso in.

“What is this horrid contraption?” she hissed at Vexen, who was himself taking stock of his new suit with tailcoat.

“I think that’s a corset,” She heard from behind. She couldn’t twist her torso to look at Isa, carefully opting to shuffle to turn around. His clothes were much like Vexen’s, with the addition of a top hat.

“I’m just glad I’m not partial to combat,” Naminé said, wiggling in the dress in an  attempt to make it slightly more forgiving. “I can’t imagine fighting in this.”

“Well, we really shouldn’t be staying, anyway,” Isa said, sharply. He showed them his phone.

Message failed to send, signal not found.

“Hm,” Naminé said with a nod. “We should pick one of the other four portals and catch up with them, then.”

“Monstropolis sounded the most promising,” Isa agreed. “No point being-”

Vexen cut him off by pointing. One of the lamps above them, illuminating the near-empty cobblestone street they stood on was… blinking.

Isa gulped, realizing there was a Shadow hanging out on the iron-wrought lamp.

“I guess we help, then bail?” Isa asked Vexen as they both materialized weapons, nodding to each other.

“Oh no, no, that just will not do,” a woman said from behind them, tapping Isa on the shoulder.

“My good sir, you cannot expect to protect the city with merely a shield?” the woman asked, eyeing Vexen curiously. “Defend your lady friend, I have the fiends here. And do be a dear, and hold this for me.”

The woman, young, with a black flower-adorned hat, extremely fitted black velvet coat, and black frock, passed Vexen a large carpet bag and flourished an umbrella with a parrot’s face in the handle. She pulled a small item out of a pocket, clipping it in the parrot’s mouth and the umbrella changed before their eyes into intricate black ironwork, a fiery lamp on the business end of the weapon, wrought iron twisted into the teeth of…

“A Keyblade…” Isa said low. “Isn’t this world so old it broke off beforethe Keyblade war?”

“Hmph,” she harrumphed, gracefully spinning, flying into the air and taking out the swarm without breaking a sweat.

“Oh, do close your mouth, young man. You are not a codfish,” she snipped, holding out her free hand for her bag.

“Y-yes ma’am,” Vexen said, gulping. “Keyblade Wielder, ma’am.”

“That’s Keyblade Master to you.”

“Master…?” Isa began, looking at her, waiting for her to provide a name.

“Mary. Mary Poppins, at your service,” she said, far more warmly to Isa than she’d been to Vexen.

“If you’re treating my friend poorly because he’s a Nobody, Master Mary…”

“I’m treating your friend sharply because he needs to learn his manners,” she replied curtly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

“M-master Mary, please wait,” Naminé finally spoke. “We’re looking for two lost friends. Both Keyblade Wielders, one of whom is a Master, too.”

“I’m afraid I’ve been searching this world for ages, with no sign of any other Keyblade users,” she said, softening.

“This happened only a day ago. Not even.” Naminé supplied. “They vanished. One was able to tell us a little of what he saw before he disappeared.”

Mary’s mouth barely twitched to a frown. “What are their names?”

“Sora and Riku. Two boys, sixteen and seventeen years old.”

Mary nodded. “I shall see to searching for them. I’ve been working as a nanny trying to find a child to succeed me, after all. What shall I do, should I find these lost children?”

Naminé pointed to the miasma behind her. “This leads to our world.”

“The Great World?” Mary asked, nervously. “Is it safe to go?”

“Enough. There’s still heartless and Nobodies,” Isa cut in- nudging Vexen. “But they’re mostly relegated to the woods and other uninhabited places.”

Mary’s grip tightened on her lamplight Keyblade, and she inhaled sharply. “What of Daybreak Town?”

“Sunk,” Vexen said, after a silence. “The Great World hasn’t existed for a very, very long time. The World split into pieces after a war into many separate smaller places. It’s possible to travel between them, but not easy. How long have you been on this side, Master Mary?”

Mary’s face sharpened, and she removed the keychain from her blade, reverting it to an umbrella. “A bit too long, I’m afraid. I never stay longer than I am needed, though. A little while yet won’t hurt. How does this sound- I stay, and should I find your friends, return to that side with them? If I close and lock that portal the Heartless should cease to exist here. You’d be free to search elsewhere.”

“And if we find them outside, we’ll come back here to let you know,” Naminé offered.

Mary smiled gently. “My final act as babysitter.”

Isa tipped his hat. “Your assistance is most appreciated, madam.”

“Now, now,” she said brusquely, shooing them back with a hand to the portal. “Off you trot. I’m sure you have better places to look. I’ll have my friends cover up that horrid thing so people don’t accidentally fall in.”

“Thank you, Master Mary,” Vexen added sheepishly, the last one out. “You wouldn’t happen to know anyone named Myde, would you?”

“That layabout? Why, he certainly needed to pay more attention, that’s for certain. Has some misdeed of his lasted all this time? Or did he actually sit down and write down some of that love song drivel he was always strumming for posterity?”

“His Nobody is helping us search.”

Mary froze. “Is he now?”

“Four Keyblade wielders who lost their hearts in the war had their Nobodies survive to this day. Myde, Rudol, Elrena, and Lauriam; all but Myde recently recompleted thanks to the two teenagers we’re tracking having smacked some literal sense into them. Myde has asked not to be after he saw several former Nobodies lose their magical powers; I chose to do the same.”

Mary frowned. “When you see all of them, tell them Mary Poppins has a delivery of one fine knuckle sandwich, each, and hot.”

Vexen shuddered. “I will certainly let them know.”

“I have work to do, now, off you go… dear me, what’s your name?”

“Vexen.”

“Well, your presence here certainly vexes me! Scoot, and find your friends. I can hold the fort here for Sora and Riku.”

Vexen turned beet red, bowed, and fled back through the miasma to Traverse Town.


“Look sharp,” Komaeda warmed. “See those floating symbols?”

Sora nodded, gently flapping his wings to tread air, Riku beside him doing the same. His shoulders were going to be sore by dinner at this rate.

“Noise, I’m guessing?” Riku asked.

“Hang on, Eri’s done with us, right?” Sora asked, digging out his phone.

“Message? I didn’t get anything,” Riku asked, peering over.

“From Ienzo,” Sora said with a squint. It was odd, reading things in his own language again after seeing and speaking only Japanese. His brain felt like mush trying to decipher the text before it just clicked again.

“Looking for you, does anything here look familiar?” Sora read around, scrolling through the images that followed.

Komaeda peered next to him. “Graffiti looks like… oh this is Los.”

“Los?” Riku and Sora asked together.

“Er, it’s how we usually call Los Angeles. It’s a city in America.”

“Where everyone thinks we’re from?” Riku asked.

“Well, everyone but me and your pal Mister High and Mighty. How you got on hugging terms with him is way beyond my pay grade. Anyway…” Komaeda frowned.

“Them being there isn’t going to help you much. Unless you’re alive or have an angel pull you out of district, you ain’t leaving Shibuya.” He flipped through the images. “Um… pardon this, but what the fuck?”

“What?”

“That.” Komaeda pinched the photo outwards to enhance it, and Sora saw plush toys walking alongside the humans.

“What?”

“You don’t see the plush toys walking?” Komaeda asked incredulously.

“Is that not normal here?”

“Is that not normal he- no, no it’s not normal here! Not even Noise look like that and they can’t be seen by the living.”

“Oh.”

“Ienzo must be on the wrong world, then. Close to this one, but not the same,” Riku replied.

“I’ll let him know!” Sora said excitedly. “I can’t believe how many people are looking.”

Sora quickly typed back “close but wrong place. locals recognized the city, but no walking plushies here. look for a world w a city called shibuya. In the local language it’s written like this”.

Sore pulled out the notes app and scribbled Shibuya in Japanese, then captured the screen, and added it to the text.

It sent, to Sora’s relief.

“You know, you could have saved the image and attached it that way,” Riku said, rolling his eyes.

“You can?” Sora asked excitedly.

“I’ll show you later. We need to practice fighting before the real fights start.”

“Oh… yeah. And these pins only, right?”

“Noise around here are pretty weak and docile. People mostly just pass through the Scramble, they don’t stay here unless they die here. They won’t attack you unless you provoke them.”

Sora nodded.

“Fly into one of the symbols, that’ll shoot you into a pocket dimension to fight them. Both of you together. That dimension is split in half and you have to fight on both planes at once.”

“Is that why everyone was paired up?”

Komaeda nodded. “Because they’re not aggressive here, an odd number of us is okay. Head deeper into the city though, like on Cat Street or something, and if you’re alone, you’re as good as dead. First rule of the Underground is act like the Noise; always travel in packs. Both of you go, fly at one that looks green to you.”

“Green… to us?” Riku asked incredulously.

“Noise give off different colors, but their perceptive is relative. Like how some bugs will be bright colors to tell you they’re poisonous?”

“So something that looks green to you might be a different color to us because we don’t know what we’re doing.”

Komaeda nodded. “One thing that looks the same to everyone though-bigger symbols, bigger pocket dimension.”

“And more Noise?” Sora asked.

“Bingo.”

Sora pointed to a small green symbol and Riku nodded in agreement.

For a second, they felt a flash of light, and then Sora was in the middle of the big scramble crossing, alone. No cars, no people, no Riku, and a small wire-work looking frog. Sora panicked.

“Riku!”

“I’m right here,” a detached voice answered. “Where are you?”

“Standing in the very middle of the intersection.”

“Same.”

“There’s one frog thing here,” Sora said, calming.

“I have three.. no, two now.”

“And now I have two,” Sora replied, watching a second materialize.

“They must be able to slip between the pocket dimensions,” Riku’s voice said, just as one of the frogs lunged for Sora. He yelped, and rolled out of the way, faster and further than he expected.

“This stuff’s powered by our will, right?” Sora asked aloud.

“That’s what they said.”

Sora folded his wings behind him, and attempted to jump without actually flying.

He banged his head on an invisible ceiling, the edge of the pocket dimension.

“Ow, hey, did you get hit?” Riku asked.

“I tried jumping, and rammed my head on something.”

“Sora, turn down your energy a bit,” Riku groaned. “We’re supposed to be the tutorial, not a final boss.”

“Man, we don’t even get to be midbosses?” Sora jokingly whined, looking down at the pins on his sweatshirt, before he inexplicably started sweating. He felt like five spotlights had been centered on him, and skidded. None of the frogs were on his side, and he thought he saw double before he was floating again over the scramble, filled again with people and lowercase-n noise.

Riku scratched the back of his neck. “When all four were on my side I activated a pin and set the whole dimension on fire. Um… oops?”

Komaeda facepalmed.

“Try again, and… I don’t know. Don’t try… I guess?” he suggested. “I’ve never had to tell someone to put in less effort before, but there’s a first for everything…”


 

Demyx inhaled sharply. “Well, it’s here,” he said, showing off the portal with a small flourish. “It leads right to the edge of a small city so we should probably be discrete about going through.”

Donald and Goofy just frowned at each other. “Those dark corridors are bad enough,” Donald rasped. “Guess I’ll go first.”

Donald stuck his face in the portal, and looked out. It was pitch dark to the left, down the hill, but there were floodlights illuminating the small city itself to the right. The street was thankfully empty, and he pulled back. “It’s safe to cross. Come on.”

And he stepped through.


 

Donald, a-hyuck?” Goofy asked, looking at the wiry human slumped next to the wall he’d just come from.

“Speak for yourself,” Donald replied, eyes shut, pressing fingers to his forehead.

“Gawrsh, it’s not so different for me,” Goofy replied. He was right, his proportions were basically intact minus the fact that his face was human and he was less his short black fur everywhere. His clothes hadn’t changed that much, either, save his hat being replaced by some flattish bowl shaped thing tied around his head. “Vertigo?” he asked Donald, as Demyx joined them.

“Yes,” Donald admitted. “I’m too tall and my legs are all weird.” He pulled his fingers through short salt-and-pepper hair, sighing.

Demyx plopped down on the other side. “Hey, at least you’re good looking, by human standards.” Demyx himself remained unchanged, but his clothes had transformed significantly from organization coat to black leather jacket covered with patches and studs, and sturdy black pants.

“Come on then, up you wobble,” Goofy encouraged, offering a hand. Demyx frowned, but did the same. Donald rose on skinny, shaky legs, scuffing a yellow-tan loafer on the stone road. Tentatively, he took one step, then another, shifting his shoulders so less weight was on his companions until he felt a little more at ease.

“Better?”

“Enough,” Donald grumbled, checking his own attire. His own clothes had changed a lot more than Goofy’s, their bright blue replaced with something far more muted, and the addition of pants and shoes. His hat morphed into something like Goofy’s, by the way he felt the brim, but at least everything in his pockets was still there. He flexed his fingers, and his staff popped to him, scaled to twice its size to match his new form.

“Everything in order?” Demyx asked.

“As much as it can be,” Donald replied, dismissing his weapon and fumbling for his own Gummiphone. “We should see if we can contact Sora first.”

“At least one of us has brains,” Demyx sighed. “You’ve got a point.”

“I also have signal,” Donald said, showing off his phone. “Sora, this is Donald, Goofy, and one of Ansem’s former flunkies,” he said aloud as he ticked slowly.

“I have a name, you know. It’s Demyx. Or… Myde if you’re talking about who I used to be.”

“Okay, changing,” Donald sighed. “One of Ansem’s annoying former flunkies. Sent.”

The three of them watched as a series of ellipsis formed under Donald’s message. “Well, whaddya know. He’s replying!” Goofy said, wide eyed. “Myde, you might have hit the jackpot, a-hyuck.”

“only have a few minutes before riku and i are on duty, you’re not with ienzo are u? he hasn’t replied but he’s not on the right world. and riku and i need u to come to us. city called shibuya.”

“Ienzo is in a group with Roxas and Xion.”

“I have signal to ienzo but i never got roxas’s or xion’s phone # before i um… well. riku doesn’t have em either.”

Goofy, Donald and Demyx looked at each other.

“We don’t either…” Donald admitted sheepishly. “You’ll have to wait until he texts or calls you. We’ll see if this world has a city called Shibuya. I’ll also text out everyone searching to see if someone else has their numbers. Lea would, if no-one else.”

“thx donald… riku and i are fine for now but.. um.”

“But?”

“im dead. even if you get here I dunno if you can bring me home. riku isn’t but his own life was a wager for someone else… I don’t get all of it. we’re safe for now though, but I gotta go. riku and i are trying to earn our keep.”

“Dead?” Donald hissed aloud.

“How dead can he be if he’s texting?” Demyx asked. “Maybe the people on that world are pulling his leg for free labor.”

“But remember what the King said about the photo Sora sent Kairi, a-hyuck.”

“The King did say he was worried about how to bring them home once he saw their clothes,” Donald added. “I’m going to believe he’s dead for now. We have visited the Underworld on Planet Olympus before, another world having one wouldn’t be that unusual.”

Demyx frowned. “Touché.”

“Stay safe, Sora and Riku,” Donald texted.

“thx, gotta go. they say we’re off duty in six hours. leave a txt if you find out anything?”

“Will do,” Donald replied, before starting a group text with everyone whose numbers he had accumulated. Demyx scrolled through his own phone and added Naminé, Lea, and Vexen’s numbers to his list.

“We should have done this before we left, but here is a group text for all of us searching. Please add any phone numbers we are missing, I don’t have Xion, Roxas, Aqua, Terra, or Ventus’s numbers. And for those of you who don’t know, this is Donald’s phone.”

Goofy and Demyx’s own phones buzzed.

“Everyone,” Donald added. “Sora is on a World with a city called Shibuya. He is with Riku, able to text, but he is dead.”

Goofy added. “This is Goofy, please check in when you’ve seen this.”

Both Donald and Goofy received alerts.

Message failed to send for the following recipients:

Naminé

Vexen

Isa

Donald frowned. “I hope they were smart enough to realize they’re on a world that doesn’t have phone connection and left it.”

“Nothing we can do now, right?” Demyx asked, checking in on the text chain before sliding his own phone away. “First, we need to see if this world even has a city that matches where they are.”


 

“Shibuya?”

The trio had trudged their way to an inn, and stood at the counter, worriedly asking the concierge what he knew.

“Can’t say I’ve heard of a place like that but… I also can’t say I’ve really left Lestallum. It’s not safe to travel. You three refugees from Insomnia? Sure as hell look like it.”

The men looked back and forth at one another. “If we are?” Demyx asked quietly.

“You can stay the night free if you need, I’m sick of this war,” the concierge replied. “And I’m sorry for your loss.”

Demyx relaxed his shoulders, remembering the shelled city, and its name from the paper. “The whole place… it got bombed pretty badly,” he said wavering his voice. One advantage of being a Nobody was that he was emotionless, but very good at faking having them. “The whole downtown got shot. We fled with the clothes on our backs on chocobo, but even they’ve scattered.”

“Well, if any of you’ve got a sword arm or a leaning to magic, you can definitely find work here. Our floodlights protect the city but…” The man frowned. “You ever go beyond Insomnia’s gates before you fled the coop?”

“No,” the three said.

“There’s monsters out there, worse ones in the dark. Wayworse. The pub keeps a running tab of the bigger nasties and pays a bounty. Might still be open, too, if you go now. If anyone knows about the other cities of Eos, they do.”

The man tossed them a key. “Room 2’s got three beds. It’s yours for the night, but tomorrow you start paying if you’re staying. Seventy-five Gil a person a night, but I’ll cut it to thirty each till you’re back on your feet, fair?”

Demyx frowned, not knowing how much work that equated to. “Fair,” he settled on saying.

“Thank you sir,” Donald rasped, putting the key in a pocket.

“Long live Prince Noctis,” the innkeeper said quietly, as they left the building in search of their next lead.


“Well, here they come,” Komaeda said, a laughing huff to his voice. “I always like getting a 104 assignment on a Monday. It’s pretty funny watching everyone freak out in the crosswalk.”

Komaeda was right- there was a warping around them, a sick smell of burning ozone as people began to blink into existence. All told, there were about fifty or so, some panicking as people walking through the crosswalk passed right through them.

“I’ll keep an eye on my phone for my brother,” Komaeda said, gently putting a hand on each of their shoulders. “I’ll find out who dragged you here, Riku.”

“I… don’t think that’s necessary,” Riku said with a gulp, as pedestrians got out of the scramble and the new dead fled to sidewalks, not realizing the cars about to come wouldn’t hurt them.

A black-haired teenager in a red and black bodysuit was still in the crossing, screaming at a white haired one in a near identical bodysuit in blue and black, red grabbing blue by the shoulders and attempting to punch and kick him.

“They both did die, didn’t they?” Riku asked quietly, watching Vanitas take a decade’s worth of frustration out on his replica, hollering as cars whizzed by. Oddly, Riku’s replica gladly took the abuse, as if it didn’t even hurt.

“Bet you a thousand yen the guy in red from your world paid his entry fee with his superpowers,” Komaeda said. “He’s fighting like someone that knows how, but I don’t see him actually doing damage.”

Sora bit his lip.

“Yeah, and it’s the most valuable thing you give up, right?” Riku asked quietly. “Because my Replica doesn’t consider his powers to be useful at all. I guess now we know whose entry fee I was.”

“You’re going to have to smack some literal sense in them,” Komaeda said quietly, as he saw the dead slowly realize what was going on, checking their phones and hands, while the two bodysuit-clad teens still struggled in the middle of the scramble. Or, more precisely, Vanitas struggled while Riku’s replica just let him wail on his chest.

“They’re going to need the gift of Tongues if they don’t want to get Erased today,” Komaeda said sharply. “I’ll call Eri to get Joshua. You two know what to do until I’m back.”

Chapter Text

“Mickey Mouse, King of Disney Town,” Mickey immediately said, throwing up his hands in defense. “And the last time I saw ya, Stanford Pines, you were stealin’ food from my castle’s kitchen.”

Kairi and Lea looked at Mickey in shock, and the man- Stanford- loosened his grip oh his weapon, but only just.

“Six-six-eight-two-three,” he barked.

Mickey sighed. “Nine-four-one-one-alpha.”

Stanford took a sweep of the three of them, looking them square in the eyes, then holstered his weapon.

“Mickey. Wow. Inter-dimensional travel, huh? You actually cracked it. Should have stayed with you guys a bit longer.”

“I saw ya ten years ago my time,” Mickey shrugged, counting on fingers he was still uncomfortable to look at. “But it’s good to see ya again, too, Ford. Are we in your world or are ya still ping-pongin’ between dimensions?”

Ford made a small smile. “Nope, this is it. Casa del Pines. Made it back about… hm. Just a week or two ago… I think? Time’s still a bit wobbly. And what happened to you?”

“What, me being human?” Mickey asked, pointing to himself. “Magic curse, my head mage cast it. I figured if we were divin’ to other dimensions I wanted to blend in.”

“Wait… does that mean… Queen Minnie? Sir Goofy?” Ford asked, slightly worried, looking between the other two humans with Mickey.

Kairi smiled putting up her hands in protest. “Oh, no, Mr. Pines, was it? My name is Kairi. I’m from the same dimension as the King, but from a different world.”

“Intergalactic travel’s picked up a lot since ya helped develop Gummi Ships, Ford,” Mickey piped. “It’s slow goin’ but a few of the worlds are startin’ to get connected to each other. Kairi is from Destiny Islands, and Lea here is from Radiant Garden. They’re both Keyblade Wielders, still in trainin’. We are sorry to have bothered ya, though. We didn’t pick where the exit would be,” he added, pointing to the miasma behind him.

Ford blinked. “Kyree? Lee? You’re the two monsters that visited last week?”

“Last week?” Kairi asked. “That was only a few hours ago.”

“And eight in Monstropolis,” Lea added, crossing his arms. “You know time flows differently on different worlds.”

Kairi paled. “So Sora could be stuck for years in his new world…”

“Or just a few minutes,” Lea replied, in his best assurance.

“Actually, he should age relative to the world he’s from,” Ford piped in. “So even if he’s there a few years, he’ll still be just as old as he was when he left plus the days passed where you’re from, er… not sure if that’s reassuring though,” he added, running a hand through graying hair.

“Do you want more proof where we’re from?” Lea asked the older man, apprehensively, eyeing the weapon holstered back on his leg.

“I’ve seen what I’ve needed to calm my nerves,” Ford admitted. “But if you’re willing to endure my academic curiosity…”

Lea grinned. “You’re not going to see much on the other side,” he said, knocking on the wall next to the portal, “because they’ve quarantined it off, but we can show you what we are as monsters.”

“That’s good, because I was going to ask how you were protecting this thing from civilians. Dimensional travel is… unstable, and that’s on a good day. But yes, if you’ll indulge me, I would love to see your monster forms. My nephew Dipper had quite the story.”

Kairi smiled. “He’s a lot like you, Mr. Pines.”

Ford just shook his head. “And I’m becoming a lot like him.”


 

The sky cracked with a bolt of lightning, and Sora could feel every hair stand on end. Frantically, he checked his wig with his fingertips, but the glue and combs Uriel had used was keeping the irritating thing firmly in place. Not that anyone could see much of his hair unless they were short enough to peek into the hood from under it.

Joshua slowly flapped down to the center of the scramble, his voice booming.

No wonder the other Reapers were terrified of him, if this was all they ever saw of the angel. Sora would have probably run for cover if he wasn’t aware it was just an act to scare wayward souls straight.

Joshua didn’t scream; his voice barely raised above a whisper. It was just amplified to an almost earth shattering volume, and Sora could feel every word hit him in the chest like a strike from one of Xigbar’s projectile weapons.

“That… is… terrifying…” Riku said, muffled under his kerchief. Sora could almost make out the shape of his mouth hanging open under the fabric.

“I’m giving you two onegift,” Joshua purred on blast, looking down at Vanitas and Not-Riku.

Sora noticed that some of the living humans were shaking with a chill, despite the almost sticky summer humidity of… August 23rd, by a large electronic billboard on one of the skyscrapers in the square, and the dead huddled on one side were in outright shock, actually able to witness the full force of this holy creature.

Joshua was floating just off the ground, his wings almost as if they were on fire, which made sense both to scare and startle, but also so the traffic police wouldn’t scream at him to get out of the middle of the street when cars whizzed by, invisible to them in his current position.

Vanitas actually let go of Riku’s replica, and just stood there, mouth almost wide open in shock, but not quite.

“You understand me, yes?” Joshua whisper-boomed.

Not-Riku and Vanitas just quietly nodded, while the rest of the dead just stared at the creature in the sky, speaking in tongues- or, as Sora and Riku recognized, their own language. They spared a quick glance backwards to Komaeda.

“Your language has way too many consonants,” was all he managed to mutter. “Wanna translate?”

“He’s offering them a gift.”

“I speak all languages of all possible worlds,” Joshua continued.

“No you don’t,” Sora muttered. Riku snorted, and any tension they had melted off.

“He is literally just fucking with them,” Riku added, between quiet laughter, looking back at Komaeda.

“… but you cannot read a single sign here, can you?” Joshua’s tone dripped with smugness. “Can you understand any of the other people who are quite literally walking through your dead souls?”

“I have to admit, the dude can act,” Riku said with a shrug. “You know he’s not this much an ass, right?”

Komaeda nodded. “He’s the one who pulled what strings he did for me, I don’t have any complaints. I know he’s high to us Reapers, but low on the totem pole for angels. I just… I don’t see him much except when he’s pulling stunts like this. It was kind of nice to be able to see him off hours last night, even if just for a few minutes.”

Sora focused on Joshua in the crossing.

“If you can’t communicate, you’ll die for good. I don’t think you two want that… do you?”

“Fuck no!” Vanitas screamed at him. “And give me my powers back, I know you took them you little pansy-ass…”

Riku’s replica said something to cut Vanitas off, but Sora couldn’t hear him from where they stood.

What he did see was a small Unversed coalesce out of Vanitas’s shadow, shaking with fear at the angel above them.

“Look at this shit,” Vanitas screamed, lifting up the crying Flood by its scruff. “I can’t use magic or a Keyblade, my punches are worse than an infants’, yet I still ooze off this piece of shit!”

Vanitas hurled the Unversed away, and it skittered off between the cars, running on all fours in no particular direction, driven only by its creator’s fear made manifest. Sora kneeled down and scratched at the pavement, like one would summon a stray cat.

The Flood’s head perked up, chittering, before flattening into a pool on the asphalt. It oozed across the street, onto the sidewalk, and popped up right in front of Sora, Riku, and Komaeda.

Riku actually looked frightened, under the hood and kerchief and contacts. Sora could feel it. Or… was it the Unversed who reeked of so much fear?

“Hey, hey, hey, come here buddy,” Sora cooed in his own language. Slowly, the Flood skittered to Sora, and looked up, with unblinking red eyes.

“Don’t touch it!” Riku hissed.

“If Vanitas is powerless, so is this guy,” Sora replied, determined.

“You will make friends with anything,” Riku said, exasperated. “Don’t ask me to heal you if it bites you.”

“I said did you want to die? Completely and totally erased from existence?” Joshua whisper-screamed over the sounds of the city.

Sora slowly reached out. The Flood sniffed, curled into a ball.

Sora wondered If it was because all Vanitas knew was pain and suffering at the hands of his master and creator. Xehanort. Even to Sora the word felt like poison, redeemed by Master Eraqus or otherwise. Sora needed to be slow, careful. The Flood had trusted him, if only a little, and wasn’t lashing out, for now.

“What else are you going to take from us for this fucking ‘gift’?” Vanitas screamed.

Just another inch…

“Your ability to choose,” Joshua replied.

Sora put a hand on the Flood’s head. For a moment it and Vanitas screamed in unison, and Sora almost pulled away. But carefully, he scratched it behind its antennae, and the thing chittered. Confused. Like nobody had ever shown it affection before.

It melted almost immediately under Sora’s touch.

“We already can’t choose, so what the hell do you mean?”

Sora quickly mentally gambled, and scooped the creature into its arms. The Flood made a panicked sound for a moment, but Sora quickly rocked and cooed at it, scratching its head and petting its soft velveteen fur.

“You have to work in pairs to have a chance of being resurrected. I’m saying if you want to be able to read and talk with anyone here… I’m taking away your right to choose. You’ll have to partner with each other.”

“You fucking bastard you really think I’m going to work with-”

Vanitas stopped mid-sentence with whatever screaming comeback he’d had.

Riku took a large step, shielding Sora from being visible from the center of the crosswalk. “Keep that Flood occupied,” Riku hissed. “And I don’t even know why I doubt you.”

Sora rocked the Flood like a small child until it chirruped happily at him, sneaking in a few chin scratches until the thing started to purr and stretch its neck, as if demanding more attention. Sora happily complied, as Komaeda also joined in with belly rubs.

“Sora, Vanitas is like… raising his neck up for no reason, he looks so confused,” Riku hissed behind him, almost laughing. “What are you doing?”

“I think… I’m calming him down…”


 

“I’ve got that,” Lea said, with a smirk, snapping his finger under the dead pilot light on the Pines’s beat-up stove. It roared to life, and Ford put a bent tea kettle over a burner.

“Thank you, Lea.” Ford reached up into the cabinet, hunting for whatever tea leaves and instant coffee he could for his surprise guests.

“Lee?” a voice yelled, presumably in the direction of the front door. “Lee’s here?”

“Hey Dipper good to-” Lea started, before he was tackled hard by the kid. “Oof, you’re stronger than you look.”

Only then did Dipper look up, face scrunched in confusion, then understanding. “Oh. You’re a human today?”

“Mhmm, and I brought friends,” Lea said sweeping his hand to the kitchen table. Kairi and Mickey squeezed into mismatched chairs.

“Oh, hi Kyree!” Dipper said with a smile. “You shapeshifted?”

“I got to see it,” Ford said with a smile. Dipper pouted.

“I’ll show you after we’re done with what we need to do,” Kairi said gently. “Also, it’s Kairi. Accent on the first syllable.”

Dipper blushed. “Oops, sorry. Oh,” he added, standing on a wobbling stepstool to grab at a box of cookies, still out of reach. Lea glanced at Ford, who nodded, and Lean nudged the box just into Dipper’s reach when he was distracted. “Yes!” Dipper hissed, snagging the box and pulling up a chair at the little table. “Lee, you’d better hide when my sis gets back or she’s going to handcuff herself to you.”

Lea winced. “That bad?”

“DO MY EARS DECIEVE ME?” hollered a shrill voice.

“Oh no,” Lea muttered. “Hide me.”

“Oh my god he’s so pretty,” came a deep booming voice, quickly followed by its owner, a square muscled beast of a preteen girl charging into the kitchen. “Be glad I already have a boyfriend, stud muffin,” she added in her extremely deep gruff.

Another girl, who looked, as Lea would describe her, a female Ienzo before puberty had started to hit, adjusted her glasses, and peered up. “You said he was a werewolf, Mabel. This boy is clearly a bishonenwerewolf. Huge difference.”

“A what-now?” a third voice asked, a little older sounding than the other three. Lea put the voice at maybe Kairi’s age, maybe a bit older than that. She sauntered into the kitchen after them, axe on her shoulder, and red hair stuffed under a fur lined hat despite the wicked summer humidity. “Hooooly…” she added, looking at Lea. “Okay, Mabel, see, normally when you tell me a guy is hot it’s because you’re Mabel.”

“Excuse me, am I a ghost?” Lea cried, pulling on his hair as Dipper, Kairi, Mickey, and Ford just watched the exchange, Kairi giggling behind a hand. “I am righthere you know.”

Mabel entered the room, finally, and just stared.

“What?” Lea asked, snorting, as the kettle began whistling.

Kairi frowned, having pulled out her cell phone. “You might not be a ghost, Lea, but… uh.”

She showed him the message exchange from Donald. “Sora is?” he asked, squinting at her phone, before pulling out his own.


 

Given the number of people, the group decided to move from the cramped kitchen down into Ford’s laboratory in the basement. Lea may have been a pyrokinetic, but he was grateful for the modern convenience of air conditioning down in the lab, though the décor did his constitution no favors. Kairi saw the waver on his face, and laced her fingers in his own, squeezing the hand tightly to ground him.

“This isn't Radiant Garden,” he muttered just under his breath.

“Ford is Mickey’s friend,” Kairi assured him, as everyone sat in a big circle, the girl who looked like a younger girl Ienzo stretching out enjoying the cold air in the vast room with a large triangular object.

Lea wrenched his eyes open, and spied scientific equipment scattered everywhere, but no gurneys, no scalpels. He allowed himself a small sigh of relief. Ford wasn’t studying hearts.

Ford wasn't studying hearts.

Ford re-entered the room, having disappeared, to drag down a second… a second ‘him’, in a cheap tuxedo and gaudy fez.

“Unless they’re paying customers, tell ‘em to scram,” the other voice grumbled.

“You must be Stan,” Mickey said, standing up and bowing politely at the second Pines. “He’s told me a lot about you, ha-ha!” Mickey added, his light uptick at the end incredibly awkward on a middle aged human man’s face.

“Did your crazy friend go and inhale an entire tank of helium, Sixer?” Stan grunted, not accepting Mickey’s outstretched hand. “He’s gonna have to pay for that.”

Mickey just slunk and sat back down.

“Be nice,” Ford said, glaring. “They’re from another universe, and yes, that’s his real voice. Trust me, where they come from, you’rethe weird one. Mickey’s saved my life and helped me.”

Stan grunted, but walked over to Mickey and thrust his hand in his face. “Thanks for taking care of my dumb brother,” he muttered, before cracking his back and flopping into a spare space in the circle.

“So, Kairi, what happened?” Dipper asked, pulling out his journal again, clicking a pen expectantly.

Lea watched Mabel slowly shift a few inches to her right to try and edge up against Lea’s left. The childish crush she had on him actually helped alleviate the tension of sitting in such an upsetting space, Kairi on his other side discreetly massaging his palm with her thumb in slow circles also helping him relax.

Kairi nodded, and jerked her hand away from Lea’s to pull out her phone.

“I’m going to have to read this aloud so you all can understand it,” she started, then read Donald’s text, followed by Goofy and Demyx’s own check ins. She quickly checked in herself, adding Ventus’s number to the group chat. She hoped he could add Aqua’s and Terra’s. Lea took out his own phone, checked in, and added in Roxas’s and Xion’s, and now all their groups actually were connected, save Isa, Vexen, and Namine’s phones still giving all of them connection error messages.

“Should have done this before we left,” Lea huffed.

“So… your brat friend’s dead,” Stan said, frowning. “And… you’re video game characters?”

Dipper crossed his arms. “Well, he’s not in San Francisco like I thought. Would he be here? I’ve never heard of Shibuya.”

“It’s a city in Japan, in Tokyo,” the glasses-wearing girl- Candy- said, matter-of-factly. “I went there last year. Everyone is soooooo fashionable.”

“Hang on,” Kairi added. “Someone else is typing.”

Donald’s message went through, and all three of their phones buzzed. He’d added the entire conversation he’d managed to have with Sora before Sora himself went offline for whatever he’d been ordered to do.

“We’re at a pub now, trying to get info,” Demyx added in a text.

“There’s a Shibuya on this world,” Lea said aloud as he replied to them.

“It’s an eight hour plane ride from here,” Ford added. “And it’s another country. You can’t get in without a passport, let alone the money for plane tickets. And before you ask, I don’t have enough money to spare one same day flight, forget about alone three.”

“So even if we’re in the right place, we’re stymied by… bureaucracy?“ Lea asked, incredulously.

“Could you make a corridor there, Lea?” Kairi asked. Lea’s eyes almost bugged out.

“Um… duh,” Lea said, smacking his head. “As long as I see where we’re going or I’ve been there before. The latter’s no option, for obvious reasons, but if you’ve got a bunch of accurate maps and photos of the place, I could do it.”

“Corridor?” Stan asked incredulously.

“I can sorta teleport,” Lea admitted, scratching the back of his neck. “Like this.”

Lea stood up, and disappeared in a wisp of black smoke, before reappearing behind Stand and Ford.

“Boo,” he said, with a smirk. Stan clutched his chest, and Ford instinctively whipped out his gun, before holstering it again.

“Jeez, kid, gonna give me a stroke,” Stan whined. “But, hey, if you can ever-”

No,” Ford said, glaring at his twin. “If you ask Lea to use his power to steal for you…”

“I was going to ask for a little light breakin’ and entering only! Totally above board.”

Lea pinched the bridge of his nose and returned to his space in the circle.

“How about this,” Ford offered. “I need some help proofing my house against a demon, and I have to contain a little issue I’m dealing with. Then we can help you with Japan. Seems like wherever your two friends are, dead or not, they’re being taken care of.”

Mickey, Lea, and Kairi looked at each other. “A week here was just a few hours back home,” Mickey supplied. “And I wanna get more info from Sora and Riku before we just go bargin’ in there.”

Dipper’s eyes glowed. “Mabel and I’ve fought zombies! And I’ve banished a ghost!”

“Dipper, you’re helping these three save a ghost. Not send it away. And that’s new for me, too,” Ford added. “Though, knowing you, you can do it. Both you too.”

“Oh,” the redhead- a girl named Wendy who felt so very much like a melding of Lea and Kairi it actually shocked them both, “well, if you do need to smack around the supernatural, I’ve gotcha. And I’ll admit it, I’ve always wanted to see Tokyo.”

“Last week road trip!” Mabel cried.

Dipper frowned, eyeing Ford. “Last week… right. End of summer’s a week from tomorrow, isn’t it?”

“It is August 23rd, so yes,” Ford replied. “Now come on, let’s go attach that unicorn hair.”

“It’s covered in the blood of our enemies!” the brash loud square girl named Grenda boomed.


 

“There is no way we could be in the right place,” Terra grunted out. “If Riku mistook thisfor human he needs to get his eyes checked.”

“I don’t know, I look normal eno-oh my, Terra? Is that you?” Aqua looked relatively unchanged, roughly proportional in height to his own body, even wearing the same clothing as before. The only difference- and it required a very close look- was that her ears were pointed.

Like Xehanort-possessed people.

Her eyes, thankfully, were he usual shade of brilliant blue, and the momentary panic in his chest subsided.

“Terra?” she asked again.

“I’m… I’m okay. Your ears are pointed like…” he started, pulling at his own ears. He felt a point on them, too.

“Your eyes…” she started worriedly, summoning her Keyblade, pressing it to his throat, enough to subdue but not enough to harm. “Your eyes are gold, too.”

Terra and Aqua heard a crash, and Terra stiffened immediately. Aqua pressed a little too harshly with her Keyblade, choking Terra, if only for a moment. A small green creature with wings and spiky mint-blonde hair flitted up to look at them both.

“Ven?” Terra and Aqua asked in unison.

Ven flapped his wings a few times, and righted himself. His clothes, too, hadn’t changed. Just his skin color and additional appendages.

“Aqua, what are you doing to Terra?!” he yelped, summoning his own Keyblade before them.

“No, she should be careful,” Terra said, thumping his tail on the ground, before realizing he even had one. His own attire was the same as before, modified only to account for wider chest and knobbier limbs. And a tail. His skin was ash-black and coated in thick scale plating, while Ven and Aqua both had more human looking skin, minus Ven’s unusual coloration.

“Why should she? Look!”

Ven peered down the ledge, and the other two did the same. They were in a cave outcropping, above a park lit with large sun-lamps. A mix of children were playing below. Most looked like Aqua- human, save the ears, and he had to be looking for those. But there was one child, gurgling and throwing a ball, that looked like Terra did. Black, lizard skin, pointed ears, tail. And golden eyes.

Aqua’s shoulders relaxed. “I guess this place is like Disney Town. There’s multiple species that live here. And Terra’s all have gold eyes and pointy ears.”

“I think we all have pointy ears,” Ven countered. Aqua touched her own.

“Huh,” she said, mild surprise escaping her voice.

“You think we ended up in the right place?” Ven asked. “I think Riku would have mentioned seeing someone like me or Terra.”

Aqua peered down again. About a good eighty percent were humanoid, save the pointed ears. The remaining ones were like Terra and Ven, as well as one lone grubby looking creature that was bouncing a fireball on its fingertips, scaring a little girl in a pink dress. Aqua was temporarily reminded of Lea and Kairi, as the little girl retaliated with a hard smack on the more lizard looking one.

“I think whatever you two are are the minority here,” Aqua commented. “And Riku didn’t have a lot of time to tell us. If we have cell signal here, I’d say it’s worth exploring.”

Terra dug his cell phone from his pants pocket. “We do.”

“And a message from… Kairi.” Ven said, adding Aqua and Terra’s numbers to their message chain, before scrolling back up to read it.

“Well, Donald,” Terra grunted, backing through everything they’d missed.

“Sora… is dead?” Ventus asked, paling. Or, whatever his species’ version of it was, his face turning a light mint color.

“Well,” Aqua frowned. “I never visited it myself, but Olympus did have an underworld.”

Ven looked back and forth at his surroundings, noting the place was just cave for as far as the eye could see above them. “Aqua… Terra…” he said with a gulp. “I think… this might be one, too.”


 

“Well,” Terra said, dangling his legs over the park below them, “We need to see if this place is called Shibuya, then, don’t we?”

“How do we do that without attracting attention?” Aqua asked. “If we just go up to someone and ask, they’ll know something’s wrong with us.”

“You three!” This is a restricted area, how did you get past the barriers and barricades?” someone snipped. “My stuff is foolproof so you’d have a very very good reason.”

All three heads turned, to see a centaur clopping towards them with a clipboard, followed by a woman in a green jumpsuit with pointed ears at about the same height… and two non-pointy-eared giants, both in sharp black suits, a child with a shock of black hair, and a bald adult. Terra, Aqua, and Ven scurried off the platform, hands outstretched defensively but trying to show they were unarmed- though that was secretly un-true. Even standing, the child was taller than Terra, and the adult was a beast of a man, head slightly ducked to avoid scraping the ceiling of the little outcropping.

“Names and district,” the centaur and woman said in unison.

“Excuse me, Foaly, but which one of us is LEP?” the woman asked.

“I believe we both are,” the centaur- Foaly- replied rolling his eyes.

You’restill a civilian,” the woman sighed.

“Fair.”

“Hello, I’m Aqua, this is Terra, and this is Ventus,” Aqua said slowly. “We… um… aren’t from around here.”

“With that kind of magic, you sure as a dwarf’s rear-end aren’t,” Foaly snipped.

Aqua frowned. At least the centaur detecting her magic made things way easier. “We’re from there,” she said, pointing. “And we’re trying to find a place called Shibuya. Two of our friends were taken away.”

“There?” Foaly asked. “The other side of that thing?”

“I told you it didn’t look like Koboi’s work,” the giant-boy hissed. “She’s too discrete or too showy. It would either have been extremelywell hidden or dropped right in the middle of the main Haven plaza. Not above some suburban child’s playground.”

“Just… tell us if there’s a Shibuya here,” Aqua said, desperation in her voice. “Otherwise, we’ll leave the way we came and you’ll never hear a peep from us again. We just want to find our lost friends.”

The woman in green inhaled deeply. “An exchange of information. Come back with us without resisting, and tell us what you know about that portal, and we’ll talk.”

Venuts dropped on the ground, flattening his wings and groveled in a full-body bow. “Please,” he begged. “We’ll do what you ask but only if a Shibuya is here. My friends might be dying. They might already be dead.”

The centaur, lady in green, and two giants stood in silence, staring at Ventus for a good few seconds, before the giant-boy spoke, a mild matter-of-fact annoyance in his voice. “Shibuya is a sub-district of Tokyo, a metropolis. You’re a continent and several miles below the crust of the earth away from it, but yes, Shibuya exists here. Now will you come with us, please?”

Ven got off the ground, and dusted off his clothes, grinning. “Yes!” he said, excitedly, on the trio’s behalf.


 

Joshua disappeared in a crack of thunder, and the whole intersection seemed to exhale a massive, held breath. The Flood jumped, squeezing itself like a ferret around Sora’s neck, curling into the back of his hood, almost knocking it off his face.

“If it’s going to move around in there,” Komaeda said, opening his belt-pouch, “I have hatpins to keep your hood in place.”

“Why do we wear this stuff anyway?” Sora asked.

“Because that’s about to happen,” Komaeda replied, pointing to Vanitas plowing his way through the Scramble, completely ignoring the cars phasing through him. Riku’s replica panicked slightly, summoned a sword from nothing, and raced after.

Riku snorted. “My Replica’s got his powers and Vanitas is just full of hot air. I can’t wait to see this.”

“What, Vanitas relying on someone else to save him?” Sora asked innocently.

“You!” Vanitas shouted, screaming down Sora. “Where is it?”

“Where’s what?” Riku asked, trying not to laugh as he lowered his voice to a gruff drawl.

“My Unversed. I can sense it.”

Sora’s hoodie wiggled aggressively, and the Flood’s nose popped out, without actually making the hood fall off Sora’s face.

“Fucker, get back here.”

The Unversed chirped, sticking its head out but keeping the rest inside Sora’s clothing.

“If you want it back, fight me for it,” Sora said, trying to disguise his voice and failing horribly. He just needed to channel his inner asshole like Riku or Joshua. Too bad it took one look at Sora’s heart, complained about the furniture, and fled for more jerky waters.

“Now see here, you little shit,” Vanitas hissed, grabbing Sora’s sweatshirt, but with very little force at all. Sora let him get in his face, and tried to keep his head down, lest he just start laughing from the absurdity of it all. “You did something to me while that hellbeast-angel-whatever thing was talking to me. I don’t know what it was, but give me back my Unversed and if you -ever- try that again… my servant’s gonna floor you. Isn't that right?”

“Servant?” Riku asked, snorting. “You mean the half of your team that can actually fi-”

“Here you go!” Sora chirped, dropping his own acting and fishing the Unversed out of his coat. “But only if you’re nice to it.”

“What. The. Fuck,” Vanitas asked with a growl, the Unversed returning back to his shadow.

Vanitas blinked a few times, and took a deep breath, the growl gone from his voice. “Sora?” he asked quietly, looking back at his shadow as it bubbled a little, the Flood popping its head up from it for a moment before returning back to its master. “Am I dead?”

Komaeda facepalmed. “This is why we cover up, gentlemen,” he hissed. “Because eventually you’re going to run into someone you knew when you were alive.”

Vanitas shook a little, and Riku’s shoulders fell. “Yes, Vanitas, you’re dead. So are we. But how did you know he was Sora?”

Riku’s replica just stared at the small group dismissing the sword when he realized they weren’t actually in danger. “I thought I’d just fade off. I’m not even a person, how am I in the afterlife?”

“Friend,” Riku said, gently to his replica. “You have your own soul, and it clearly counted enough for you to be here.”

Vanitas cut in. “The Unversed are part of me,” he said, answering Riku’s question with no further elaboration. “But how the fuck did you two get offed? Or are you not dead? It makes some kinda sick sense that you’re our wardens in Hell.”

“Well, now you know,” Riku replied. “And yes, warden’s a good word for this. If you survive a week here, you’ll get resurrected, though.”

“Really?” Riku’s replica asked. “But… I’m not a-”

“Do you need your ears cleaned?” Vanitas snapped at him, the Flood coming back out of his shadow, tugging on his leg. “Oh, fuck, fine,” he growled down at it. “Your original said you’re obviously enough of your own person to be here.”

“Which means the same for you, Vanitas,” Sora cut in.

“Fuck you too,” Vanitas spat. His Flood whined. “What? You want more pets or something, you pansy?”

Sora desperately wanted to tell Vanitas that meant he probably wanted to be touched without fear of being hit or slashed at, but bit his tongue. He knew enough to see Vanitas was coming around, if only by a hair. The last thing he needed was to trigger him further.

“You two do know they’re not lying about what you have to do today,” Komaeda said quietly, looking past them and at the other forty-something dead, starting to pair off and experiment with entering the pocket dimensions of Noise. “if you don’t try and search for the person you’re assigned in the next six hours, you’re Erased. That’s dead for good. Knowing your… I don’t want to call you all friends, because you clearly aren’t… your acquaintances are your wardens doesn't change that.”

“So how do we search?” Vanitas asked with bite.

“Explore the city,” Komaeda replied, shrugging. “And you can speak Japanese now, so you can talk to anyone dressed like us or have wings. Anyone else can’t see you.”

Vanitas huffed. “Easy enough. Come on, Riku #2.”

“Wait,” Riku said, quietly. “He needs his own name. Don’t call him Number Two or some other… not name.”

“Well, there can’t be two Rikus, either,” Sora provided, cheerfully. Vanitas actually snorted.

“You called him friend,” Komaeda offered. “Tomo is a boy’s name, though it’s not a common one.”

“It’s as good as Hey, You, so fine; Tomo,” Vanitas said, glaring at his partner, as they walked off, almost immediately smacking into the barrier.

“Um, scuse me, wardens, what the ever-loving fuck?” Vanitas asked.

“Oh yeah,” Riku added, smirking internally. “We put that up. We’re a checkpoint. If you beat us in battle we’ll lower the barrier for you.”

“And if we lose?”

Komaeda swept his hand to the rest of the group, practicing fighting the Noise. “Get strongerl, come back.”

“So, you’re saying we can’t move on until we’ve pasted the floor with your corpses.”

Sora shuddered a bit, but shrugged. “Basically.”

“We literally can’t move on until we’ve beaten your asses.”

“That’s how it works,” Riku added, nodding. “But you’ve been knocked down to zero, so you might need some practice.”

Vanitas grinned cracking his knuckles. “Don’t care, this is going to be the most satisfying thing I’ve done in a long, looooong while.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure?” Sora asked Vanitas, crossing his arms.

“I did say ‘fight me’.”

“You mean us,” Riku replied. “You still have to fight in pairs.”

“Don’t care,” Vanitas grumbled. “I just want to smack you a new one.”

“Komaeda?” Sora turned. “What now, do we just fight?”

“Strike out with some Noise and it’ll make a pocket dimension for you,” he replied. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting anyone to actually challenge you guys so soon.”

Vanitas snorted. “You guys can stop faking being new at-”

The world went white for all four of them, as Riku initiated one of his Noise pins.

Sora was back in the middle of the lifeless version of the Scramble, Vanitas scowling, kicking a pole.

“The fuck?”

“Whenever you fight Noise, or one of us, I guess, you get sent to a pocket dimension like this,” Sora explained. Seeing the world devoid of everything except them, he wiggled loose his kerchief and dropped his hood.

Vanitas frowned. “Stop stealing his face and voice, you ass,” he screamed, and and went in for a right hook straight to Sora’s jaw.

Sora barely felt a thing.

“Sora. Wouldn’t. Die. Like. That!” Vanitas screamed, as he continued to wail on him.

“I… k-k-killed Xehanort,” Sora eventually choked out. “He’s gone. For good.”

Vanitas froze mid punch. “You stopped the old bastard?” He dropped his arm and stared at it, not wanting to look Sora in his now brownish-black eyes.

“We did, together. He… he did make the X-blade first though.”

Vanitas unclenched his fist, and relaxed a little. His shadow bubbled behind him, and the little Flood squealed, popping its head out from it.

“Scram, the adults are talking,” he hissed at it.

“Actually,” Sora said. “That is weird.”

“You need to be a bit more specific, a lot of things are weird right now.”

“Riku and Tomo should be on the other plane fighting at the same time we are. But I don’t hear them. Do you hear Tomo?”

“I’m guessing you’re supposed to, then?” Vanitas asked, cocking a hip.

“Yeah. Maybe it doesn’t work like that when its people-on-people, though. When you fight the Noise, you feel each others pain, and hear them too. And I don’t feel anything from Riku.”

“So we have the place to ourselves?” Vanitas asked.

Sora shrugged. “I died last night. I’m still figuring this out.”

Vanitas slumped to sit on a curb, his Flood re-appearing and crawling into his lap. “So then, how didyou get offed?”

“You still don’t think I’m really Sora, do you?” Sora replied, sitting down next to him.

“Given I ended up in Hell, no,” Vanitas bit at him.

“Okay… so why wouldn’t I have blue eyes and brown hair?”

“You’re avoiding my question, Warden.”

“The last piece of the X-blade was Kairi,” Sora breathed out, kicking a stray broken piece of curb. “I abused the power of Waking to pull her back out, so… here I am.” Sora unwrapped the Velcro cloth on his hand, showing off his own timer. “I’m not technically one of them, but I’m not normal dead like you either.”

Vanitas opened his own hand, seeing the time burned through his glove.. bodysuit… thing.

05:42, and ticking down, to Sora’s infinity.

Sora tugged at the wig. “The Angels put this on with Superglue or something,” he whined, before feeling a finger rub under the side of the wig, pulling the elastic. Vanitas peeked.

“They really wouldn’t go through all this trouble to give me my own personal demon, would they?”

“Oh, they probably would,” Sora replied, as Vanitas snapped the elastic back. “But I guess since Riku and I were already here…”

“How’d he get offed?”

Sora inhaled deeply. Riku and his replica weren’t on this plane, and it didn’t seem as though they could feel or hear them, either.

“You know how you lost your powers?”

“Don’t fucking remind me.”

“They take away the thing you value most as your fee to play. If you win your life back, you get the thing you lost back, too.”

“So what does this have to do with how Riku died?”

“What was Tomo’s entry fee?”

“Oh this is rich,” Vanitas replied with a laugh. “Inferiority complex much? So I’m guessing Riku didn’t lose anything himself?”

“Just his life.” As if the ‘just’ wasn’t huge on its own.

“You?”

”I… cheated.”

Vanitas howled in laughter. “Course you did.”

“Not on purpose! Luxord gave me something when he diii- when he was about to be recompleted. I don’t care about it, but it’s apparently worth… a… lot…” Sora realized, as he stared out at nothing. “More than two souls worth…” he added with a whisper.


 

“Seems like you just missed ‘em,” an old man said to Xion, Roxas, and Ienzo, as they got off the bus at the theater, frantically asking around, showing Walter’s lock screen photo to anyone who cared to give them the time of day. “I saw those three leave in a heck of a hurry.”

“Do you know what happened?” Ienzo asked the old man politely.

“No idea. Honestly, my suggestion is to go bring that phone of yours down to the police. They should be able to issue a lost and found report for you.”

“Yeah,” Ienzo said, dropping a little. “Thank you.”

The phone began to buzz violently, and while Ienzo couldn’t unlock it, he could, to his surprise, pick up the phone call.

“Hello?” the other line asked.

“Walter, is that you?” Ienzo said, concerned. “I think we swapped phones.”

“Oh, good, you do have it… um, what’s your name?”

“Ienzo.”

“I… er, sorry. Didn’t think you were American. Your phones been buzzing like crazy with texts but I can’t read them. I am so sorry Ienzo, but I’m a bit preoccupied right now. They’re going to tear down Muppet Studios!”

“The big old theater?” Roxas asked, piping in.

“Yeah.”

“Seems like this place meant a lot to you,” Xion added.

“…yeah…” Walter added quietly. “It did. But the old owner can buy the place back, if they have enough money to renegotiate the contract.”

Ienzo looked down at his sweatshirt pocket, bulging with money he’d never need again. “We… might be able to help?” he offered. “We… erm. We did a little street performance and earned… how much did we get, all told?”

“I think it was over a hundred. Don’t know if that’s a lot or a little though,” Roxas added.

The phone went quiet, and the trio heard shuffling, before a new voice took over the line.

“Um, hello,” the mellow voice started. “I’m Kermit. I used to run that theater. How long were you busking, exactly?”

“Couldn’t have been more than five minutes, before we were told to move.”

“You made a hundred busking in five- huh.” Kermit went quiet. “Were you three doing a choreographed fight scene over by Park Street?”

The trio looked at each other. “Um, yes?” Xion replied.

“Impressive special effects.”

“Er, thanks, Kermit, sir,” Roxas piped in.

“You were all over the news. How about this, you meet us at the theater, and we’ll gladly accept the help.”

“And swap our phones back!” Walter added, a bit distant sounding.

“We don’t have anything better to do right now, anyway. We’re looking for some friends.”

“Oh? And where are they? I’ve got friends of mine all over. I can pull a few favors of my own.”

“That’s the thing. I don’t know. I was texting them when our phones got switched,” Ienzo added. “I’m guessing he’s texting back.”

“Well, when we meet, you can read them!” Walter interjected again. “See you soon!”

“See you-”

The line went dead.

“Talk about excitable,” Xion said, looking at Walter’s phone.

Ienzo sighed. “Well, it looks like the theater has a tour, we might as well go check it out before they come back, no?”


 

“Lea says there’s a Shibuya where they are,” Donald said, eyeing his phone while Goofy, the far more diplomatic of the two of them, walked off to go talk with the pub owner about the monsters.

Another message went through the group chat, someone had thankfully added in the trio of older Keyblade Wielders.

“The local police told us there’s a Shibuya here,” Donald read aloud.

“Didn’t they enter two totally different portals?” Demyx asked. Donald nodded.

“Both the Beast’s world and Quasimodo’s had a place called Paris, though.”

“Oh, right,” Demyx said sighing. “So not only do we have to find Shibuya, we have to find the rightShibuya. Joy.”

“Shibuya?” came an uptight-sounding voice behind them. “You mean the central district of Insomnia?”

“I mean the…” Demyx started. “Maybe.“

Maybe? You do or you don’t,” a sullen looking young man said, shoving a French fry in his mouth.

“We’re looking for a Shibuya, but… ours shouldn’t be bombed,” Donald said carefully.

“Yeah, and neither should ours,” another member of the table next to them griped. Demyx recognized him as the kid with the chocobos when he’d originally scouted the place. “Doesn’t mean it isn’t. This is a shit time to go sightseeing.”

“Manners,” said another blonde, older, with glasses-  the one who had originally spoken. “And feet off the table, Prompto, that’s hardly becoming. Noctis, eat a vegetable. Anyvegetable.”

“Potatoes are vegetables.”

“They are a starch, Noctis.”

Demyx frowned, remembering the words of the innkeeper. “Your Highness!” he hissed.

The three of them looked at each other in a panic. “Pay and go,” said Glasses, sternly, glaring at Demyx. For a moment, he thought he was being told to leave, but he saw the blonde and black haired boys get out of their chairs in a hurry.

“Waitwaitwait… we’re not here to pick a fight!” Demyx insisted, hands flailing.

“And if we were, we’d have already won,” Donald added, setting his hand on fire and snuffing it just as fast.

“What was that about order?” Demyx said with a laugh.

“They did mention magic exists here,” Donald huffed.

The other trio just looked at the two of them. “See, I can’t for the life of me tell if you were attempting to threaten us, or reassure us,” Noctis growled, taking a seat again. His retainers followed suit, eyeing them warily.

“Well, this is where I’d offer to pay for your food for the misunderstanding,” Donald said, a bit sheepish, “but we’re not from around here, and I’m not sure this is acceptable.”

Donald spilled a handful of munny on their table.

“At the very least, a jeweler would want to look at this,” Glasses said, eyeing the gems. “Fascinating. Never seen anything like it before.”

“Just don’t try and cook with it,” Prompto snickered under his breath.

“I’ve never seen anyone use magic like you,” Glasses said, eyeing Donald curiously. “And if you’re insisting, the name is Ignis. The one without manners is Prompto,” he added, gesturing at the blonde. “And the one without a balanced diet is… as you said he was.”

“Well, what does magic look like here?”

Prompto held up a small grenade. “This.”

“Ours is a bit different,” Demyx said, smirking, summoning his sitar Arpeggio from the air.

“Armiger?” Prince Noctis hissed quietly as Demyx strummed a tune on his summoned instrument, the liquid in the glasses of water and juice on their tables dancing to the music.

“Wild,” Prompto said, eyes wide.

“I’ll bite,” Ignis said. “So you’re not from around here and you’re trying to get to Shibuya. I hope you understand what a colossally idiotic notion that is?”

“If it’s in Insomnia…” Demyx said, eyebrow raised as Goofy and another man- a beast that reminded Demyx roughly of Xal- no, Dilan- returned, holding a stack of flyers each. “I’m assuming it’s suicide.”

“New friends?” the beast asked, pointing a thumb at Demyx and Donald.

“Maybe, if they shared their names,” Ignis said, side-eyeing them as Prompto hastily pocketed his magic grenade before the larger man saw him playing with it.

“Demyx, lazy-ass musician,” he said, with a strum, making the glasses’ liquids swirl.

“Donald, mage,” he said, crystallizing the water in front of him to ice.

“Maximillian, knight,” Goofy said, sitting down with his companions. “I don’t have anything flashy like these two, a’hyuck.”

Maximillian?” Donald asked, incredulously.

“Goof is my last name, you didn’t know? And given my new friend here is Gladiolus, it made sense. Their language is the ancient form of ours!” Goofy said, excitedly.

“Never pegged you as an anthropologist,” Demyx said under his breath. “Would explain why I understand some of it without the magic translation though…”

“Hm?” Goofy asked.

Nothing.”

Goofy just shook his head. “Anyway. Bounties. We need money and that means Gil here.”

“You’re actually going to take some of those on?” Noctis asked, eyebrow raised. “I mean, you guys have some nice parlor tricks, but good luck with those.”

“Said the same thing,” Gladiolus gruffed. “Max is crazy.”

“Maximillian or Goofy,” Goofy replied, shuffling through them. “My son is Max.”

“You have a son?” Demyx asked.

“37thin the line,” Goofy said distracted. “Trainin’ in the reserve guard, like I did when I was his age. Kid just wants to make music though, he’s a lot like you. Think if he’s still got his mind set on it by the end of the apprenticeship year, I’ll call him the winner and let him quit. He’s got quite an ear for the guitar.”

“Learn something new every day,” Demyx said, frowning over the papers. “So which one of these is weak to magic?”

“The more armored they are, the more susceptible,” Ignis said, frowning. “I still think you’re making extremely poor life decisions.”

“Or easy death decisions,” Prompto added, sarcastically.

“How does this work?”

Noctis rolled his eyes. “Go up, accept the hunt, and kill the thing. Bring back proof. A horn, a tail, whatever. Most shopkeepers pay for monster meat and bones too. You really aren’t from around here.”

“Doesn’t mean we’re out of practice. There’s just no system like this where we’re from,” Donald said, grabbing the flyer of a particularly armored creature. “This should cover a few nights at the inn, plus food.”

“Aw man, and here I was, going to slack off.”

“We are two mages and a physical fighter, Demyx,” Goofy said sharpy as Donald went to negotiate with the barkeep. “I can support from the rear.”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. At least I’m not benched for once.”

“Gladio, which one are we going after?” Prompto asked, fiddling with a device.

“Nothing says we can’t take the same bounty.”

“Hey,” Demyx whined. “We need the money and are totally going after it first.”

“And the kid we’re babysitting needs some practice with his magic,” Gladiolus countered. “We won't split the reward, fair? So long as you let us harvest some of the corpse.”

Demyx twitched. “Magic practice my ass. You don’t want to see us get killed.”

“Oh, no, I’m popping popcorn and watching the show,” Prompto said, laughing, as the device- a camera, loosed a flash in his face.

“Consider me curious,” Gladiolus replied. “Your friend there knew our code.”

“You carry yourself like a knight, it only made sense,” Goofy interjected. “And my family’s been in the business for centuries.”

Gladio snorted. “Race you to see who can bag it first.”

Demyx leaned forward in his chair. “Loser buys winner dinner.”

“You don’t have money,” Noctis said, plainly.

“You said we could pawn off monster bones. We’ll kill enough to trade in if you win. Which you won’t.”

“Oh, you’re on,” Prompto said, smirking.

“Children, please,” Ignis whined. “Though I’m not adverse to a little friendly competition.”

Donald returned, with a small typed note.

“That the info on this nasty?” Demyx asked.

“It only comes out at-“

“No, you’re giving the enemy too much info!” Demyx cried, slapping a hand over Donald’s mouth.

“Ehnummy?” Donald asked, rasped and behind Demyx’s fingers.

Goofy already had his coat on and was holding open the door. “C’mon! Let’s go!”

“I… what?” Donald cried, slightly confused, as Demyx practically dragged him to the exit.


“Willpower?” Vanitas said, crossing his arms. “After all that, you’re actually going to teach me how to kick your ass?”

“Well, yeah, I don’t want you to get Erased. And you two have to get past us two.”

“I just… cannot believe you.” Vanitas shook his head. “So what, I should have some pins? You mean these things?”

Vanitas opened his palm, showing Sora five metal pins.

Every face was blank.

“Yeah, but… yours don’t have any designs on them. Weird. Look at mine.” Sora showed the pins attached to his sweatshirt, the five weak tutorial pins plus the red-cross revival pin affixed to his hood.

“Maybe the ones they give us are different?” Vanitas asked. “Worth a try using one.”

Vanitas closed his eyes, and focused on one of the pins in his hand. “Shouldn’t something be happening by now? I got played,” he growled, low, his Flood skittering around at his feet. “Show me how you use one.”

Sora focused on his basic fire pin, shooting out a burst of flame. Vanitas’s Flood chittered excitedly, ran up, and jumped in the fire.

“You id-” Vanitas started, before the flames disappeared completely. Sora tried to summon them again, before looking down at the pins attached right by his heart.

The pin that had been his fire pin was now completely blank.

Sora blinked. “Noise is people’s emotions,” he said slowly. “So are the Unversed. You can literally eat the Noise.”

Vanitas grinned, and cracked his knuckles. “So I don’t have to lay a finger on you to kick your ass then?” he said, looking down at his Flood. “You hungry, short stack?”

It chittered, skittering to perch on Vanitas’s shoulder.

“I wouldn’t be so smug,” Sora said quietly. “And I apologize, because you’re either going to win this fight by breaking all my pins or…”

“Or?”

“I’m about to knock you into next week,” Sora finished, activating another pin.


 

Vanitas groaned. Sora was back to being fully covered up, and bent over him. He offered a hand up, while the two Riku- no, Riku and Tomo- stood behind him with Komaeda.

“I… should be invincible…”

“What did you tell me on Metropolis?” Sora asked him, as Vanitas’s Flood nudged him to get off his butt.

“The Unversed come from negativity.”

“And what are the Noise?”

“Emotions.”

“Is that the same thing?” Riku asked him. “What about… oh… I don’t know, this literal ball of sunshine?” he said, slapping Sora on the shoulder.

“You knocked me out… with a happy bomb?” Vanitas groaned.

“Pretty much,” Sora replied, chipper.

“How am I supposed to fight that? I can’t even use your stupid pins because this asshole eats them.”

Riku swept his hand behind him, back to the main part of the scramble.

“This is why you learn something called teamwork. Now get up, and practice.”

Chapter Text

“Just so you know, Sora.”

“Hm?” Sora asked, perking up as a pair of nervous souls slowly approached them for their first actual barrier fight.

“Tomo and I just sat and listened. He’s got his own issues to work through, but fighting isn’t one of them, so when we heard Vanitas yelling at you, I shushed him and we just waited.”

“You… heard the whole thing.” It wasn’t a question.

Riku gave a gentle nod. “But it’s strange.  Vanitas was never that… angry. Not that I can say I knew him well, but…”

“I don’t think he was angry, Riku. I held that Unversed he spawned. You know how cats puff up and hiss when they’re cornered? He’s acting like that because he’s scared.”

Riku snorted and patted the top of Sora’s hood. “You know people’s hearts better than anyone. If you think he’s scared, I wouldn’t doubt it.”

“I mean…” Sora said, downcast, noting the pair were now likely in eavesdropping range. “We’ll talk after.”

“You two!” Riku gruffed at the freshly dead, a young man and woman in summer clothes, who held each other’s hands, looking terrified at the Reapers. “You gonna just stand there with your mouths open or are you gonna fight us?”

The man looked meekly down at his shoes but the woman sneered at Riku. “You fuckers are going down. I’m ripping my life back from you.”

Sora gulped. The man might not be that strong by Underground machinations, but thanks to that woman’s motivation, strikes from her were going to hurt something fierce.

Being a tutorial boss was going to suck.


 

Lea wiped the humid sweat off his brow, as he knelt along the molding of the twin’s room with Ford’s paste and a bag of unicorn hair. Unicorn hair, which, as Grenda had said, really wascovered in their blood. How the girls fought and obtained an entire tail’s worth was beyond him. He’d only seen one once, about a year into being in the Organization, and that hellbeast had kicked him hard enough in the ribs to put him out of commission for a week, even with Vexen’s continual application of Cure spells and snide remarks for good measure.

The redhead Wendy did tell him they hadn’t actually killed the thing, just maimed it. Severely. With her axe.

He liked the young lady, smiled at the thought of unicorn directed revenge, and got back on all fours to shift a bedpost and keep gluing the ward to the house.

“Ford, do you want any of my spells too?” he yelled out the open window to the older dimension hopper, doing the same outside the house in the rapidly setting summer sun.

“What you got?” Ford yelled up.

“I know a few anti-darkness runes. Mickey’s the light mage among us, though.”

“If you think it’ll help, I’ll take it,” Ford yelled back.

“So who is this demon anyway? Must have you pretty worked up to go through this much trouble.”

“Can’t hear you,” Ford hollered.

Lea sighed, finished lining the final piece of wall he was working on, and looked out the window down at Ford in the dirt.

In the blink of an eye, he stood next to him, holding out the paper bag of remaining tail hair. “Attic’s done.”

Ford clutched his heart for a moment. “Stop that,” he muttered. “My brother’s right, you’re going to give one of us a stroke.”

“Old habits,” Lea admitted.

“You’re the only one who can do that. I know Mickey can’t and your lady friend Kairi said the same. Are you a human or…?”

“I was… I was a demon once,” Lea said, crouching next to Ford to help with the outside of the giant house-slash-tourist trap. “When I regained my humanity, some of my powers stayed.”

Ford clenched his jaw. “Now, not all demons and specters and spooks are bad, and the fact you can touch unicorn hair says you’re nothing malicious.”

“So this was a test, too,” Lea said snorting, disappearing back upstairs to go grab his can of paste, returning in the blink of an eye. “I get it. You’re wary of strangers with strange powers. I was afraid of myself too, when I turned human again. Thought one little slip and I’d go back to being a monster. A real monster, not… that fluffy thing we showed you.”

“Monsters don’t have to look like ahem ‘monsters’. My nephew ran into some in the forest that were perfectly kind, if a bit different on the morals.”

“The Multi-Bear?” Lea asked with a chuckle. “He sounds like Sulley… Er, a friend. Dipper’s been running around showing us his book. Kid’s got an eye for this stuff.”

“I know. I’m going to ask him tomorrow if he’ll apprentice under me,” Ford said, after a long silence. “It’s getting dark. We can finish this come morning.”

“Oh, perfect,” Lea said, looking at the setting sun. “My magic’s best at twilight. I’ll start coating the house in runes for you.”

“Thank you, Lea. And… if it’s not too much trouble, would you be able to start a fire? We’ve got more people than expected, so a hot dog roast outside makes the most sense.”

“Ask Kairi. I’ve been training her and she needs the practice.”

“Is she your apprentice?”

Lea laughed. “Heck no. We both are apprentices to another mage. I just have about two decades of pyrokinesis on her.”

“So if I asked you all if you could chill the air in the house?”

Mickey,” Lea said, with a wave of his hand. “I can barely freeze a cup of water.”


Lea sighed, pacing with a long branch he’d unceremoniously ripped from a pine tree. Terrible kindling for a bonfire, but perfect as a makeshift stave. He’d never had an audience before, and suddenly he had a small army of kids, teens, and an amused Mickey and Ford watching while Stan was grumbling over Kairi’s magically conjured fire, setting up a grate to grill things for dinner. Lea smiled. The man was gruff, but actually very kind under the surface.

Lea found a spot, good enough as any, and slowly walked in a tight circle, dragging the branch to make a larger rune in the dirt.

He squatted in the center, and began whipping the branch around to gather in as much mana as he could muster, surprised as to how quickly he felt full. He could feel the edges of his hair begin to spark, from the back of his neck to his arms, even his eyelashes. There was a lotof magic in these woods. If he had a mirror, he’d guess he’d be glowing by now, but a few gasps from the peanut gallery told him as much.

He really didn’t like having an audience.

“Kyaaaah,” Lea yelled, if only to channel the massive, unexpected overflow, before he began pushing the magic back out of him, plastering the ground around them with an interlocking array of sigils.

As quick as he’d started, it was over, with scorch marks etched in the dirt all around them. Lea exhaled, feeling the last of the sparks escape his mouth and ears.

Wicked,” Wendy said, nodding approvingly when he opened his eyes. “Very metal.”

“Do we have to walk around all of them?” Dipper asked nervously, looking at one of the sigils that had burned the ground below his foot, without doing any damage to his sneakers.

“What, nah, and actually, kicking the dirt back so people don’t know they’re there would be even better,” Lea said, with a shrug and a smile. “Don’t want this demon of yours to know this place is hexed up.”

“Oh! Good,” Dipper said, looking relieved.

“Can we pour water on it to hide it?” Mabel asked.

“Smart thinking,” Lea said, nodding. “The magic’s already there, so yes, you can.”

“I’VE GOT THE HOSE!” Mabel shouted, running towards the taps.

“What, no, I wanna do it!” Dipper huffed, chasing after his twin.


 

“Owwwww,” Sora muttered, peeling himself off the pavement and healing himself by chugging one of the little cans of carbonated potion Joshua had stocked in his pouch that morning. It tasted a lot better than anything from back home.

Riku helped him back on his feet, and he shook out his sore wings.

“You can go,” Sora said, trying to deepen his voice, frowning when he couldn’t make himself gruff like Riku.

“You’re… just a kid…” the woman said, kneeling a little to look into Sora’s hood and at his eyes. “Oh my god, you’re a kid. Are you okay?”

Sora’s shoulders fell a little. He couldn’t pretend to be mean to these people. “Yeah, I’m fine, that was a pretty good laser burst you had, ma’am. I think you’ll be fine in the streets past us.”

“Wait, no, no, no. I’m not just leaving you here to get beat up by everyone else.”

“Ma’am,” Riku cut in. “That’s kind of our job.”

“You, quiet,” the woman hissed, turning to fuss over Sora. She must have thought Riku was much older than he, even though they were just barely a year apart. His fake voice certainly didn’t help.

“Ma’am m, really, it’s okay. And these are for you two,” he added, fishing out their pin sets. “Please do your mission, and I hope you get your lives back!”

The woman looked at the reward, and patted Sora’s hood. “So you guys aren’t all assholes. Good to know. Thank you.” She glared once more at Riku, looked at the pins she had on her purse strap, and swapped one out for one of the ones Sora gave her.

“I’ll use this one, okay?”

The man with her carefully threaded his fingers in hers, and off they went, down a side street.

Komaeda looked down at Sora’s sweatshirt. “Hey ‘Youta’.”

When Sora didn’t reply to his fake name, Komaeda nudged him.

“‘Youta’-I-Mean-Sora. You’re fighting with a broken pin. Go call in another one, I’ll pair with ahem-‘Daiki’. Did you get Eri’s number?”

“No, but I need to call Joshua, anyway,” Sora said quietly.

“On the clock? Not a great idea unless it’s something really serious.”

“Actually, it is,” Sora said gravely.

“You do you, just don’t waste his time.”


 

The woman in green- one Holly Short- led the small entourage down off the outcropping and to a vehicle. “Pile in boys… er, and girl.”

Aqua laughed. “I’m guessing you’re the only woman in your area of expertise, too?”

Holly groaned. “Tell me about it.”

Foaly slid into the front, and started up the vehicle. Ventus peeked out the window.

“Hey, we’re flying!”

“Odd choice of words for someone with wings,” the giant boy chuckled.

“Well, I can fly, but,” Ventus started, before realizing the kid had him in a mental corner. “We did say we came from the other side of the portal,” he pouted.

“We have cars, and airplanes, but nothing this small that can just fly like this,” Terra clarified.

“Ha-ha!” called Foaly from the driver’s space- less a seat and more a bench for the four legged driver-slash- pilot. “Another sub-dimension with primitive tech, boy are you all missing out.”

“A…nother?” Terra asked.

The giant child sighed, and took off his mirrored sunglasses, cleaning them with his eyes held shut. “You three really aren’t playing stupid.”

“What kind of proof would you need that we don’t know a thing about this place?” Aqua asked him, watching the adult giant squirm to sit, in a vehicle that was clearly not designed for his size.

Artemis frowned. “That’s actually a tough question. If we asked you about here, well, you can just pretend to not know. Why don’t you tell me about your missing friends then?”

Ventus nodded. “We’re looking for two teenage boys. I’d say one of them looks like me, a bit, but uhmmmmm…”

“Uhm what?” the giant boy asked, eyebrow raised. He sat leaning forward in his seat, steepling his fingers.

“Can I show him my phone?” Ventus asked Aqua and Terra.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Aqua said with a gentle smile.

Ventus pulled out his phone, and scooted in his seat down to the giant-boy.

He frowned. “Hm,” was all he managed to say, but found something interesting.

“Please show me this photo of your friend,” he added after a pause. Ventus quickly navigated to his photos, and flipped through his images. “Here. This is one of the only photos I have of both myself and Sora. Riku… I have, but not with him.”

Of yourself?” The giant boy looked at Ventus’s face. “You’re.. the one on the left. A human?”

“Yeah… we’re all humans..” Ventus admitted, flipping to another shot of the three of them. “But when we move to new worlds, we change to match what makes the most sense. I don’t even know what I am right now. Some kind of flying goblin?”

“You’re a sprite,” the giant clarified. “The woman-”

“Aqua.”

“Aqua is an elf, and…”

“Terra.”

“Is a demon.”

Terra panicked.

“That isn’t a negative statement, Terra. Just another species. As I am human.”

“But you’re… gigantic! You have to be at least seven feet tall!”

The vehicle went silent, as Foaly parked, before the giant boy began to laugh hysterically. “Seven feet? How tall do you think you are, Ventus?”

“I’m about five-two or so?”

“You couldn’t be an inch over three. Feet.”


 

“Wait, but why is everything the right size?” Ventus asked, following the group through the police station.

“You’re in a fairy city. Butler and I are the odd ones out. Oh, and where are my manners. I am Artemis Fowl. The second.”

“What’s with the sudden change, Artemis?” Aqua asked quietly.

“Ventus’s phone.”

“What about it?” Ventus asked. “And Just Ven is fine.”

“It wasn’t in any language I’ve ever seen. Not human, not fairy, not demon. I have no reason to doubt you three are from the other side of that portal.”

“Artemis, why didn’t you say so earlier?” Holly looked at him confused. “You wouldn’t hold out on people that need your help. Well, not anymore, at least.”

“Because I was confirming something else.”

“And you’re not going to say what that is?”

Artemis grinned. “No, I will not. But these three might help you with your other problem.”

Holly stopped walking, turned on her heel, and looked sharply up at Artemis. “You must have an extremely good reason for trusting three complete strangers.”

“Of course I do.”

Holly looked at their three newest. “So you two are here to rescue someone in Shibuya- two someones- and leave the way you came?”

“Yes, we promise. We will happily accept an escort and guard if that means we can get there,” Aqua insisted, always the diplomat.

Holly nodded. “Well, you’re not the first that’s come through. We… might need your help.”

“With what?”

“There’s a spring in one of the residential districts. It’s… probably faster to show you, but, it’s…”

“Infested.” Artemis said, sharply. “It’s why I was down here in the first place. No fairy magic can cleanse the pollution it’s causing, but when I saw something on your images… I think you might be able to help.”

Aqua, Terra and Ventus looked at each other. “Sora said he was working, which means he’s fine for now,” Aqua hissed. “And if we help, maybe we’ll get some in return. Shibuya sounds far and none of us can make dark corridors like Lea or Isa.”

The boys nodded, and prepared to turn heel when a loud alarm blared.

Holly winced. “Not now. For once I don’t want an emergency surface mission…” she muttered.

“What is it?” Artemis asked her.

“Massive magical use. Near human homes. It’s out in America though, so that’s… not my team.”

“Something bad?”

Holly shrugged. “I can’t take care of every mudman problem in the whole world, Artemis. Whoever is closest to wherever it is will look into it. Let’s deal with our problem closer to home?”

Artemis smiles and nodded. “Sometimes the entire LEPRecon team feels like just you, Vinyaya, Commander Kelp, and Foaly. I forget you’ve got plenty of other fairies who can get the job done. Maybe not as well as you, though,” he added, smugly.

“Okay, Artemis, what do you want?”

“Whatever do you mean?” he asked innocently, as they turned back out the front door and Holly led them on a brisk walk down a new part of the city.

“You gave me a compliment.”

“Compliments are free.”

“Not Fowl ones.”


 

“So, Ford,” Lea said, eyeing him as he tried to figure out balancing a plate on his knee with a can of soda in one hand and a hot dog in the other. “What kind of demon. You seem to be avoiding talking about it.”

Ford sighed, and set his paper plate to one side. “Cipher. Dimension hopper. World eater. He gets in your head. You can tell he’s possessed someone when their eyes turn gold and their pupils blow out.”

“Xehanort,” Lea hissed.

“What?”

“Xehanort,” Lea said louder. “Almost destroyed our universe, possessed my best friend.”

“You’ve… how…” Ford stiffened. “But you say it in past tense.”

“Yeah. The two kids we’re looking for? Sora and Riku? Sora finally took him down.”

“Are you telling me Bill Cipher is dead? When did this happen?”

“A week ago our time. Which… might have been months here. If two hours is a week, that would have been… twelve weeks to a day times seven… more than a year, if time is consistent across dimensions. But it isn’t, so it could have been two weeks ago for you all, or ten years. The only thing we can guarantee is time moves forwards, and it moves consistently within the same world.”

“Was this Xehanort person a one eyed triangle?”

Lea blinked, and then howled with laughter. ”Not even close. Guessing each our dimensions had some ass with a similar modus operandi?”

“Well, at least onegolden eyed body possessing world ender is out of the picture,” Ford said with a chuckle and a sigh. “Get some sleep after this. We’ll need to finish tomorrow at first light. Kairi’s small enough to take the couch in the living room, I have an old storage room that you and Mickey could use, if you don’t mind sharing. There’s also the trailer,” he added, pointing out to the haphazardly parked car and RV.

“That’s up to him. I don’t have a preference, as long as I have a space to crash, I’m good. Anything past that’s a bonus.”


 

“Joshua? I’m really sorry to bug.”

“What’s wrong Sora? I can’t say I don’t enjoy a good chat, but I do have a job to do here.”

Sora gulped. “Yeah, sorry. I’ll make this quick. Vanitas broke one of my pins… and all of his. You… or whoever does it that takes people’s entry fees- you took his strength, magic, and Keyblade, but not his ability to make Unversed.”

“Unversed?” Joshua sounded confused.

“Did you see the little monster that came out of his shadow?”

“Oh yeah, that Fear Noise. What of it? All humans make Noise.”

“Not where we’re from. Or… I don’t know, maybe our dead do.”

“Begs the question of why you three ended up here. Riku notwithstanding since he was dragged over, but why did you, and those two bodysuit wearing people…”

“Vanitas and Tomo,” Sora said. Riku’s replica didn’t have his own name before, so the least he could do was make sure he was recognized by it here. Sora clarified. “What I mean is Vanitas made what you’re calling Noise while he was alive, too. And the living could see it, and it hurt people.”

The other line went silent for a short while. “I’m guessing, unlike Vanitas’s magic and physical prowess, he didn’t particularly like this quirk. Not with the way he tried to throw away his fear.”

“Yeah.”

“So what does that have to do with his broken pins?”

“His Unversed- his Noise I guess- are eating other Noise. It just absorbed my fire, and my pin went blank, and it ate up all the designs right off Vanitas’s pins.”

“That’s… not a bad thing,” Joshua replied. “I mean… the whole point of this is to help keep exaggerated emotions running amok in check. If he beats them by eating them instead of fighting them, that doesn’t make a difference. I’ll get your pin replaced, but not his. Sounds like he just fights differently. Was that all?”

“…no.”

“Well?”

“Gabriel told me my entry fee gave me perks. And it was worth more than two souls.”

“What of it? Are you… asking if someone’s entry fee can be returned and mooch off of yours, instead?”

“Yeah.”

“Returned… no. But mooch off your perks? Yes, if there’s enough power. I’d guess it could probably be used on one-to-three more people before it’s equivalent.”

“What’s the chance it could be used for two?”

“I’d say… likely about sixty percent. Wouldn’t be able to tell if it had extra juice until we used it on the first person.”

“There’s about five hours left before the players go into stasis right? The reapers all just get excused and go where they want after.”

“Yes, that’s right. You’d have the rest of the evening to yourself.”

“Could you come down with about thirty minutes to spare and offer my fee to Vanitas and Tomo?”

“I could. In what order? If it only works on one of them, the other will be left partner-less.”

“Both. Let them decide.”

Joshua chuckled. “Smart man. I’ll be there around five thirty to give them hell.”

“Thank you, Joshua.”

“Now go back out there and get your butt kicked,” Joshua said good-naturedly. “I saw you by 104. Your lieutenant put you on tutorial duty?”

“Yeah.”

“Keep up the good work, Sora. I’ll do what I can.”

Chapter Text

“Twenty two pairs down,” Komaeda said with a smile. “And three hours to go. Once those last two get their butts here, everyone’s passed our checkpoint.”

He pointed lazily at Vanitas and Tomo.

Riku and Sora tread air, people-watching. After a traffic cop called them out for loitering, they took to the sky to stretch their wings and hide from the living. Now that everyone else was off elsewhere, Sora could watch the two of them with interest. They weren’t friends, not even close, but he could see they were starting to patch each other up after fights, Vanitas passing things to Tomo once they re-entered the Underground while Tomo would occasionally heal him with magic or Noise.

“What’s Vanitas doing?” Sora asked Komaeda.

“Looks like he’s giving Tomo any pins he gets before his little Noise eats them.”

“That’s… what I thought,” Sora said, relaxing in a sudden breeze. He was still sweltering, and couldn’t wait to peel off everything. He was used to heat, sure, with Destiny Islands’ perpetual summer, but it was a heat with a breeze and ocean salt. This was just sticky, with even more blistering hot air oozing from the pavement below.

“The rest of the dead are all gone, right?” Riku asked, checking his phone. “If they don’t want to be Erased they need to move on.”

Komaeda nodded. “A few people have come back to shop, but they’re done with us.”

“Shop?” Sora asked, confused. “The living can see us, right? Not them.”

Komaeda pointed towards a fast food place. “Look closer.”

Sora dove down, looking in the window. One of the cashiers… had Reaper wings. And there was a sign taped in the window that looked like the black and white pin all the players wore.

“Some of the Reapers work in the shops?” he asked when he rejoined Riku and Komaeda. “What for?”

“Players don’t get tired, but they can get hungry. And they can buy new gear if they want to. Eri will give you a budget and level for your own equipment so you’re not more powerful than you should be for a challenge, but within that, you can get what you want, too.”

“Doesn’t that put Vanitas and Tomo at a disadvantage? They’re not going to have local money,” Riku asked perceptively.

“Nah, the Reapers working in the shops will trade pins for cash too. Where the angels get the money from without destabilizing the economy I dunno. It’s beyond me. So, it’s good Tomo’s carrying their pins. Otherwise, yeah, I’d worry.”

“Speaking of worry…” Riku said, looking down as the two exited another pocket dimension. Vanitas was… smiling? A little?

“I’ll go,” Sora said. “They should fight us and move on.”

He circled low again, and flapped just an inch or so off the ground. “Half your time is gone.”

“Awww, look, Sunshine Boy’s worried about us,” Vanitas said, grinning. It was a little unsettling. It wasn’t a smile anything like what Sora ever used, yet there it was, plastered on a face just like his.

Creepy.

“I’m not joking, Vanitas. If you don’t finish your mission you die for good.”

Vanitas froze. “Wait. You’re serious?”

“You thought Joshua was joking?”

Joshua?”

“The one with the white wings. My boss’s boss’s boss. He’s an angel.”

Tomo looked surprised. “Wait, so the inverse is true? We… get our lives back if we win?”

“Yes.”

“But I didn’t have one. I’m a-”

“Don’t give me that crap, Tomo,” Vanitas said, cutting him off. “You’re here, right? Hell, you’re here and Xehanort isn’t.”

Vanitas spat out his former master’s name with bile. Sorta understood. Vanitas reassured Tomo, because he was also reassuring himself.

He wanted to exist, too.

“Well? You ready?” Sora asked.

Vanitas frowned, and cracked his knuckles. “Yeah. For real this time.”


 

The silence was deafening. Sora floated just above the empty crosswalk, facing down Tomo this time. He flicked his fingers and his eyeball-bat sword materialized in his hand.

“No pins?” Sora asked.

“You didn’t say we had to use them,” Tomo replied, in Riku’s voice but hardly his posture.

“No we didn’t.”

Sora felt a sharp pain in his shoulder, and a scream from Riku escaped the void.

“Can you two stop monologuing and fight already?” Vanitas yelled from nowhere. Sora saw double for a moment, and Riku phased in to his dimension.

“We can do that?” Sora asked incredulously.

“Guess so,” Riku shrugged, summoning his Keyblade.

Every one of his pins was blanked out.

“Hey! Don’t ignore me!” came Vaintas’s voice.

Riku and Sora nodded, as Sora called forth his own key. If Tomo and Vanitas were going to play by nonstandard rules, so would they.

Tomo jumped, flinging himself halfway up a service pole, and flowed around it, skidding on air. Gracefully, he held out his sword on the descent, with clear intent to impale someone. Sora and Riku dodged in opposite directions, and Tomo only barely skidded on air friction to prevent himself from eating pavement.

“Watch it,” Vanitas hissed from nowhere. “That hurts me too.”

Sora charged, but Tomo knew his fighting style. He’d added to it over the years, but his core attack, dodge, parry, repeat was something Riku was long familiar with.

Which meant Tomo was too.

Sora sighed. There was no possible way to fight Tomo without him predicting his moves.

But there was someone he could fight, if he could figure out how to…

…slide into Vanitas’s side of the pocket dimension.

“Finally.”

Vanitas didn’t just have a Flood any more. He was now flanked by three Unversed. Besides the chirping creature on his shoulder, a red pot looking creature, much like the little Red Nocturne mage-Heartless Sora was used to, floated alongside him. A tiny rabbit looking one peeked out from behind him.

If the Flood was fear… what other emotions had Vanitas released?

“I’m waiting, Sora,” Vanitas said, grinning. The red pot shook, giddy.

Sora skipped straight past wasting the second fire pin, and jumped straight back to his kicker. A great beam of energy powered by his happiness- seeing Kairi’s face- shot straight from his chest, tearing a massive hole of light through the crossing.

When it cleared, the pot chittered excitedly, overflowing with light.

“What are you so happy about?!” Sora cried, noting his pin was now blank.

“I’m channeling the feeling of actually getting to kick your ass for once.”

Sora gulped. He couldn’t hide behind his happiness to defeat Vanitas. Or fear. Which left…

Sora closed his eyes and thought of Kairi again, but not her smile. A dream he’d had many many times since pulling the worlds back from darkness.

Kairi’s hand, fading to dust in front of him.

He felt the tears streaking his face as he activated a blast of ice.

Unsurprisingly, Vanitas’s rabbit took the hit with stride, and another pin went white.

“Oh, you think I don’t know sadness?” Vanitas asked, crystals of frost stuck to his eyebrows and hair. “My whole life was sadness, panic and pain.”

“I was making sure you’d be able to eat any of the Noise a-ouch! Riku, dodge!”

“Tomo nearly sliced my arm off!”

“Well thanks for ruining the moment,” Sora whined. “I yield. You’re just going to break all my pins and Riku’s going to lose a limb.”

“Or three. I yield.”

The world warped and noise and life returned to the crosswalk. Tomo slumped and lay down right in the middle of the diagonal, giving precisely zero fucks when the cars resumed moving through the crosswalk.

Sora and Riku flapped, Riku downing a potion as he did so.

“When I said I’d beat you without touching you,” Vanitas said, looking up, “I was being metaphorical.”

“What, unsatisfying?” Riku asked, a little mocking tone to his voice.

“Understatement of the century. Tomo, get up. Let’s move.”

“Er, wait. You two get pins.”

“Oh yay. Pins,” Vanitas said, dripping with dry sarcasm. “More things I can’t eat.”

“You’re hungry?”

“After doing all that?” Vanitas said sharply. “Yes, Sora, you brick wall. The answer is yes.”

Komaeda flapped over. “Who won?”

Sora and Riku pointed at the other pair.

“Last group then. Barrier’s down for everyone, we’re done.”

“Wait,” Riku asked. “You mean… we can just leave our post?”

“Yep. Hang on, texting it to Eri, and… yes. We’re clear. How about a late lunch? And then you two need to finish your assignment.”

Tomo peeled himself up off the sidewalk. “Food would be great right now…”


 

“What, have you never seen a burger before?” Komaeda asked curiously. He’d loosened his kerchief down to his neck, but left his hood up, and Riku and Sora followed suit. Komaeda’s face, what little they could actually see, was soft, and a lot smaller than expected. Sora did remember he died when he was ten, so did he still look like a young child under the oversized baggy clothing?

“…no,” Vanitas said, looking at the thing like it would bite.

“I never had one until I visited Traverse Town,” Sora admitted. “Though they used giant mushrooms. First one like this, with meat or seafood, that was in Radiant Garden.”

Sora munched on his shrimp croquette burger, waiting for Vanitas to actually try his food.

“I… I’m kind of glad I’m not visible,” Tomo finally admitted, poking at a fry before biting down on it. “I feel really out of place.”

“To be fair, our clothes were a giant warning sign back home too,” Vanitas said, shoulders high and on edge, still staring down his food. “This… is meat, right?”

“If you’re a vegetarian, I can get you a salad,” Komaeda insisted. “I just figured that was the least controversial option.”

“It’s already dead, I’m not wasting food,” he muttered, with a sigh, before biting down. “Like me.”

The rabbit and the pot Unversed had disappeared with the end of their fight, but the Flood remained, alternating rolling around inside Vanitas’s shadow and jumping up on the chair back to sit on his shoulder.

Someone yanked on Vanitas’s chair and the Flood panicked, dropping down under its master’s feet.

“Um, I am sorry to bother, but is anyone using this chair?” a woman asked.

“So sorry, but we’re meeting friends. There’s a second floor, and it’s got a better view of the city, too,” Komaeda hastily half-lied.

“Oh, thanks!”

“Yeah… thanks,” Vanitas muttered. His Flood popped back out, and Sora bent down to offer it a fry.

“You’re stalling,” Riku said, already finished with his food and poking at the paper lined tray in front of him. “You’ve got like two hours left.”

“So?”

“Why?”

Vanitas snorted, and took another bite.

“Nobody’s going to see you talking with your mouth full,” Riku goaded.

“Fine,” Vanitas replied. “I win the week and get brought back to life, then what? Yay, Xehanort’s gone bye-bye but I don’t have anywhere to go, nothing to live for. And I just leave behind literal shit in my wake,” he added, nudging the Flood. It chirruped, ran up the chair, and pressed its head into Sora’s hand.

“Stop that,” he complained at it.

“He just wants pets,” Sora pouted, offering another fry. “And so what? You think the former Nobodies had somewhere to go when they recompleted? Master Yen Sid took Lea in, no questions asked, and Ienzo, Dilan, and Aeleus started rebuilding Ansem’s castle for his return.”

“Ventus won’t take me, I tried that shit before.”

“You asked him if he could take you in his home?”

“I jumped back in our body,” Vanitas clarified.

“So… you’re Ventus’s Nobody? I thought that was Roxas.”

“I… fuck… no. I’m not his Nobody, I’m the darkness ripped from him. I’m his shadow.”

“Explains the brooding emo crap,” Riku said, flinging a fry like a baton; the Flood chirped and caught it in his mouth. “So what, you’re his darkness? What do you think Tomo and I are made of, butterflies and sunshine?”

Vanitas looked between Riku and his replica. “You two still have some light in you.”

“Oh, for fucks sake, dark isn’t evil. Or it doesn’t have to be. It’s just an absence of light.”

Komaeda put his hands on his head. “See, this is why I stopped playing after the second one. Also, I died. Darkness, hearts, light, Nobodies, good lord. It’s like a fill in the blank. Vanitas, people are weird and flawed and you need to get over yourself. Finish your food and go get your life back.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Why didn’t I what?”

“Try and get yours back? Or did you immediately end up a Reaper thing?”

“What, no, if your soul does come here, you’re always a player first. You have to ask to be a Reaper instead. Pulls you out of the game, but you can try and ascend to be an angel. Pretty much everyone who turned Reaper my year is at least a low level angel by now.”

“You’re not even a Reaper officer, though…” Sora piped in. “Our lieutenant’s been a Reaper only six months, and already ranked past you, yet J- the higher ups trust you a ton.”

“Don’t make this about me. They’re on a timer.”

Vanitas huffed. “Come on, Tomo, before some living person sits on us.”

“Wait,” Sora added, picking up the trays as he stood.

“Oh, yeah, clean up our trash. Do the living people see like… floating trays?” Tomo asked, gathering his trash.

“Yes pick up your- wait no, that’s not why I stopped you,” Sora added, flustered. “Did… did you want to be on our side of the equation?”

Vanitas raised an eyebrow. “See, now that I know how it works, why did you want to be Reapers? You of all people must want your life back.”

Sora held up the hand wrapped in the Velcro bandage, then lifted Komaeda’s hands, timer free.

“I’m not technically a Reaper, and I’m not in the game either. Neither of us are. But it means you won’t be thrown into stasis when your timer runs out. We’re looking for a way home, Vanitas. You can come with us. You both can.”

“After what I did?”

“After what Lea did? Isa?” Riku countered. “Hell, I forgave Tomo years ago. You want somewhere to belong right? A purpose?”

“My purpose was to make the X-blade.”

“Was it really? Or was that what Xehanort demanded? News flash. He’s dead.”

 “Then why isn’t he here?”

Komaeda gulped, and deposited his trash in the garbage way more forcefully than necessary. “This is purgatory, not hell.”

“You think he went there?” Vanitas squeaked. “But I didn’t?!”

“With the way you all talk, yeah, I do,” Komaeda said, sharply. “You’re here. He’s not. Get over yourself.”

Vanitas started laughing hysterically. “I wasn’t even a good enough apprentice to go to hell with him. What a fuckup.”

“You can be a fuckup with us,” Sora offered.

Vanitas froze. “You cursed. You actually just cursed. Sora. Mister sunshine.”

“Kairi curses and she’s a Princess of Heart,” Sora offered, holding open the door.

“Dear god if I hear “darkness” or “light” or “heart” one more time…” Komaeda muttered, “I’ll send the lot of you to Hell myself.”


 

Joshua didn’t pull out the theatrics this time. There was just a whipped breeze as he flew, and gently hovered just off the ground.

Vanitas and Tomo were terrified.

“Oh for… I’m not here to turn you two to dust,” Joshua admitted. “It’s called putting the fear of God in you for a reason.”

Vanitas’s Flood growled.

“Yes, I deserved that.”

“He’s really nice, I promise!” Sora insisted.

“Says the idiot who gave my fear made manifest tummy rubs.”

“That was me, actually,” Komaeda insisted.

Vanitas rolled his eyes so hard it was close to audible.

“Look, I’ll drop the act. Do you or don’t you want to be in the same weird stasis that Sora and Riku are in?”

“Is there a catch?”

“Yes, but Sora’s already paid for it. So this is just a yes or no.”

Vanitas looked sideways at Sora, who wasn’t providing any further details.

“If I say yes?”

“You’ll get an infinity timer like them. Which means you’re exempt from these missions, and directly under my care.”

“And no?”

“You play the game as normal, and should you survive to the end of the week, get your life back. I don’t know if that means you wake up back in your own land or not, but I don’t think it does. You’d likely have to start over, here, in Japan. You could also ask to be a Reaper. A real one. Up to you.”

“Why would I want to be taken out of the game?”

“Because Sora and Riku are trying to find a way home, and it gives you the means to search without fear of being gone for good.”

“Is this a personal or joint decision?”

Joshua smiled lightly. “And herein lies the problem.”

“You said there wasn’t a catch.”

“What happens if one of you takes the offer but the other does not?”

“No game partner,” Tomo said quietly. “The other would be as good as dead.”

Bingo. So you both need to give me the same answer. Unless one of you really does want to die for good. I’m not going to stop you, it’s your life.”

“Vanitas, what do you want to do?” Tomo asked.

“I don’t care, honestly. Xehanort is dead, the X-blade was made, what the hell do I have to live for?”

“And I shouldn’t even ex-”

We’re taking the stupid deal,” Vanitas insisted, cutting off Tomo. “You shut your mouth about that.”

“I..”

“No buts.”

Joshua looked at the two of them. “Tomo was it? You don’t have to let him bully you into a choice.”

“I… no. It’s…”

“Nobody gets to choose if they’re born,” Riku said. “You have just as much right to live as I do.”

“…yes. Take me out of this game.”

“Hands out, gentlemen.” Joshua put his two hands over their timers, and a spark of light erupted.

“Fuck,” Vanitas cursed low. “That hurt.”

“Everyone passed your checkpoint, right?” Joshua asked, addressing Sora , Riku, and Komaeda.

“Yes, Master Joshua, Eri gave us the all clear an hour ago.”

Joshua pulled out a stack of bills. “Go get yourselves some clothes. Then come see me for their wings. If we do this the other way, we might have an incident of them being visible with those bodysuits. That goes for all of you, you can’t keep raiding my and Gabe’s closets. Emi, get yourself something too, if you want.”

“Master Joshua!” Komaeda cried.

He turned red. “Sorry Komaeda.”

When the other four boys looked thoroughly confused, Komaeda’s shoulders sagged. “You didn’t think Komaeda was my first name, did you? Why would my twin brother and I have the same name?”

“You don’t like your first name?” Sora asked, confused.

“I do, just… oh. Right. You’re not native Japanese speakers. Never mind.”


“Emi is a girl’s name isn’t it?” Vanitas asked as they walked the square, entering the 104 building to go burn their money on clothes.

“Yeah, it is,” Komaeda said with a sigh. “My brother and I are fat-frat- the non-identical kind of twins. I was a singer in the Tokyo Youth choir. My entry fee was my voice... and I ended up with my brothers’. When he died a year later, his fee was his memories of me. He thinks he has an identical twin brother he forgot about. We’ve almost been dead as long as we were alive at this point, so… I just never bothered to correct him. We can only talk on the phone and text, and see each other in person once a year so… I’d rather him have me in his afterlife at all than not at all. And with the low level uniforms being unisex, everyone just assumes I’m a guy. I don’t bother correcting them.”

“You don’t get your entry fee back when you become a Reaper?” Tomo asked.

“Nope. Win, or become at least a Conductor. Then you get it back.”

“Do you want to be considered a guy or girl?” Sora asked, worriedly.

“I honestly don’t even care any more.”

“You do, if the way you freaked out at Joshua was any indication,” Riku said, stopped in front of a shop, debating wether or not to go in.

“I won’t be a girl again until I have my voice back, and I won’t have that until my brother and I are Conductors or angels. I want to be an angel… with him. Until then, I’ll pass on promotions. He’s just continuously gotten shafted.”

Komaeda sighed. “There’s a running joke that Shinjuku is where people go to die for a reason. I’m just glad he still exists. Come on, stop staring and let’s get some more appropriate stuff for you. Leather bodysuits are so last season.”


 

“I don’t like it,” Vanitas gruffed, stepping out of the changing room.

“Vanitas… you’re covered in scars…” Sora said, horrified, looking at his bare arms crisscrossed with welted scar tissue. “Is that… all over?”

“So what if it is?”

So what if it is my ass,” Riku sad, grabbing his wrist gently. “That has to hurt. These… Xehanort did this, didn’t he?”

“How else do you learn to use a Keyblade?” Vanitas asked.

“Not by beating up your student to an inch of their life!” Riku cried. “I’m taking care of that. Now.”

“You can… get rid of this?”

“Did he never teach you Cure magic? Ever?” Riku asked, almost in a rage. “Changing room. Now.”

“Do you need-” Sora started.

No, help Tomo look for something,” Riku said, a bit of the bite removed.


 

Sora hunted through the racks, partially for himself and partially for Tomo. A clerk came up behind him. “Who’s your superior?” he asked Sora.

“Eri,” he answered quickly.

“You got an all clear this early?”

Komaeda held up their phone. “Two hours ago. We’ve got fresh Reapers who need out-of-work clothes,” they added, pointing to Tomo. “He’s getting his wings from Master Joshua after he finds something that won’t scare the living, but his timer’s already been frozen. There’s one more virgin and a Reaper in the changing rooms.”

“You two looking too?” the clerk asked.

Komaeda and Sora nodded.

“Weird clothes to die in,” the clerk muttered. “Come on, let’s find you something less.. whatever the fuck that is,” he offered, leading Tomo away.

“Whatcha doing, yo?” Sora heard a deep, irritating voice coming from just outside the shop.

“I… could have sworn I heard a familiar voice.”

Now that one, Sora knew.

Neku.

He peeked in, saw Sora and Komaeda, and flicked up both his middle fingers. Komaeda held up a hand, rotating their other one in a circular motion, and slowly raised up their own middle finger as they cranked.

“Oh, hey, Komaeda,” Neku said lightly, dropping the hand gestures. “Beat, it’s the not-asshole.”

“Yooo, long time, shrimp,” a tall teenager with a beanie and a sleeveless white tank top shouted. The Reaper clerk helping Tomo winced, wings folded inward as if Neku’s friend’s voice sounded painful.

“I saw you yesterday,” Komaeda muttered.

“Yeah but you were off the clock. Doesn’t count, yo.”

Sora just stood there in shock at seeing Neku, alive and whole again, before he spied two girls, one in an oversized peach long sleeve shirt and half-undone overall shorts and the other in a green leaf-print skirt with unassuming black hair and glasses. The former he recognized, from her brief time stuck in the wrong Twilight Town.

“Rhyme?” he asked aloud.

“I don’t know you, so it’s Raimu…” she said quietly, peeking from the edge of the store.

“Ahem, Youta. We got an all clear. You can take off your hood, so long as there aren’t any active players nearby,” Komaeda said nudging. “Though how you know them is beyond me.”

Sora undid his kerchief and let his hood fall.

“I knew I heard a familiar voice,” Neku chuckled, before the realization hit him.

“Sora, when I said ‘see you in Shibuya ‘ this is not what I meant!”

 

Chapter Text

A loud thud.

The clerk winced again.

“Vanitas, I am not going to hurt you!”

Sora frowned, and pushed his way past his friends, his wings going straight through Neku and his taller beanie-wearing friend. Neku gripped his arms as if he had a sudden chill.

“I know I can’t see them but if you’re wearing that you’ve got wings,” Neku grumbled. “Don’t phase them through me, I’ve had enough death for a lifetime, thank you.”

“Still gives me the heebie-jeebies,” Neku’s friend groaned.

Sora ignored them and stormed to Riku, the clerk following.

Vanitas’s Flood had expanded, more than human in size, and was both cowering and towering over Riku.

“I’m just trying to help,” he said, eyes like saucers with his hood flipped back.

“Riku, you‘re here? What’s going on, yo?” Neku’s friend asked, looking where he was and seeing only empty space. “There Noise there?”

“Vanitas, it’s just Sora. I’m going to pet your Unversed,” Sora said, carefully, as he reached out for the Flood, ignoring everyone else.

It backed a little further in the corner, close to seven feet tall and huddling on hind legs.

“Here, here,” Sora cooed, holding out a hand. He took off his Pyrokinesis pin and held it out. The Flood chirped, and went down on all fours, eyeing the snack carefully.

“That… what the hell is that?” the clerk asked.

“Unversed. Sort of like Noise,” Sora said, not looking back as he held out the pin for the Flood to sniff. It took a step forward, and Vanitas was finally visible behind it- shirtless, white as a sheet, and in a state of pure panic.

“Noise? Here? There’s like a million wards on the building,” the clerk hissed.

“No, no, our friend fights this way instead of pins,” Sora clarified, taking a step back. The Flood took another step forward to meet him, and shrunk about a foot in size. “He… well… his dad was super abusive. He’s got trust issues.”

The clerk stretched his neck to see Vanitas on the floor, every laceration exposed without a shirt to cover them.

“Fuck,” he said low. “Fuck. Okay. Yeah. His dad do that?”

“Yeah,” Sora said, lowering his hand as the Flood stepped forward and shrunk again.

“I went to heal them, and he just…” Riku started.

“BSOD’ed,” the clerk offered, without a further explanation of the meaning. “You get his Noise under control and I’ll talk to him.”

“I can hear you, you know,” Vanitas said weakly. “Also, don’t touch me. Ever.”

“Can I pet your Unversed?” Sora asked him.

No.”

“Hey, I’m Jun,” the clerk said, squatting a yard away from Vanitas.

“Go away,” Vanitas growled.

“I heard you wanted to be a Reaper,” Jun continued, cautiously. “I… try to dissuade people from being Reapers instead of coming back to life but… uh… I think you made the right choice.”

“Thank you for your extremely helpful opinion,” Vanitas said dryly as he regained some of his senses.

Jun inhaled sharply, and was about to speak, when another young man in the same uniform- without wings- glared at him. “Quit slacking, and help me restock.”

Neku snorted loudly. Of course reality would ensue.

“Scuse me, I have a friend here,” Jun snapped back.

“Shop’s haunted again?” his coworker asked. Surprisingly, it wasn’t sarcastic, but genuine. Worried.

“Teenager. Looks a lot like that guy,” Jun said, pointing at Sora.

“We… we’re actually twins,” Sora fumbled to say, offering the pin to the Flood, now more or less back to its usual size. It chirped, and sucked the design right off the pin face, burped out the tiniest of fireballs, and trotted back to Vanitas, seemingly satisfied enough to press its head under its masters chin and purr.

Jun narrowed his eyes, glaring at Sora. “You’re not… are you?” he asked running his finger along his arms in a criss-cross pattern.

“We… were raised separate,” Vanitas grumbled out. “He didn’t have my shit dad.”

The human clerk followed Jun’s eyes. “Is he sitting in that corner?”

“Yeah.”

The clerk squatted next to Jun. “Your parents did a number on you, kid? Fuck them. You’re safe here.”

“He can’t see me, right?” Vanitas asked.

“Doesn’t mean he doesn’t care,” Jun replied. “Sai ran away from home when he was sixteen. Drunk parents, beat him daily.”

Sai nodded. “I can’t tell how bad you look, but I can tell you Jun and his weird ghost buddies can heal shit that shouldn’t be possible. If he says you’re there in the corner, I sure as hell believe him.”

Vanitas’s shoulders relaxed a little. “He… found you and patched you up too, didn’t he?” he asked Sai, knowing he wouldn’t be heard.

“Yeah, I found this idiot, almost dead in a gutter,” Jun replied, elbowing his coworker. “I broke protocol and used magic on someone alive, but if I hadn’t saved him then, he would have found his way in here Monday morning regardless- minus, you know, a beating heart and all. You’re safe now, and if your excuse of a dad eversteps foot in Shibuya I want you to understand that I will personally inflict the wrath of God on him. Are we clear?”

“Crystal…” Vanitas said, shaking a little. He could feel water starting to pool at the sides of his eyes.

“Go on,” Jun insisted. “Cry as long as you need. I promise it’ll feel way better when you’re done. Let me know if you need tissues or something.”

“I… want them gone.”

“Those scars? Fuck, so would I. If your friend says he can do it, why don’t you let him… oh. You don’t like being touched, do you?”

“If every time someone reached for you, smacked you, it makes sense,” Sai added. “That fear never goes away.”

“Literally,” Riku added, looking down at the Flood. It jumped out of Vanitas’s arms and ran to Sora, headbutting him in the shin.

“He wants pets, Vanitas,” Sora insisted.

Vanitas frowned. “What is your problem, squirt?”

It chittered.

Sora sat down, offering his hand, and the Flood shoved its face in it. Gently, Sora stroked the top of its head, watching Vanitas’s reaction. He shivered a little, and when the Flood’s eyes stopped glowing, Vanitas closed his own.

“If you’re going to heal me, do it now,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Okay. Sora, can you pet the Flood where I touch Vanitas?”

Sora nodded, and Riku reached out for Vanitas’s shoulder, the nastiest of the visible scars. It was a grey-purple, almost six inches long and a full inch thick of gnarled scar tissue. It looked like rope.

Sora gently rubbed the Flood’s shoulder in the same spot with one hand, and offered chin scratches with the other.

Riku lightly pressed his fingers on the scarring, glowing a hazy green.

“Whoa,” came a collective gasp of everyone living. Neku, his loud friend, and the two girls joined to sit and surround the changing room from a few foot distance. They weren’t able to see wings or Players, but Riku wasn’t using Reaper magic- it was a modified Cure spell Sora had seen Aerith do back on Radiant Garden.  

“You, change the sign to closed, wouldja?” Sai asked Komaeda. They did, and shut the front door of the shop.

“You’re doing great Vanitas,” Riku said reassuringly. “Just stay still and let me work.”

Vanitas’s mouth pulled back into a snarl, but he didn’t move, and his Flood didn’t expand in size.

“So, uh, Ba-ni-ta-su,” Sai asked, attempting his name and gulping. “Tough day?”

“Fucking tell me about it,” Vanitas groaned.

“He said yeah,” Jun explained.

“I heard the dead have some cool superpowers, right? What can you do?”

“I have the power to be ignored by stupid people,” he muttered low.

“I’m actually holding it,” Sora said. “Vanitas can turn his emotions into weapons. And by which I mean…”

“If you say ‘cute things’, Sora, I will have that creature bite your dick off; it’s in range.”

“…small monsters,” Sora finished, face red. “I’m trying to keep his fear occupied right now.”

“Wild,” Neku said. “So he has control over his own Noise? And you’re holding one?”

“Basically,” Sora replied.

“What does it look like?” Rhyme’s black haired friend asked, as Riku lifted his hand away from the first scar on Vanitas’s body.

Vanitas’s shoulder was smooth, and a healthier shade of light peach.

“It’s about the size of a really big cat, and kind of looks like one, if a cat was all pointy with antennae. It’s got really short fur and it’s very soft. Like velvet.”

“Wish I could see it,” the girl pouted. “It sounds cute.”

Vanitas cracked an eye to glare at her. She couldn’t even notice.

Komaeda and Tomo squatted down beside Sora, Tomo rolling up a small bundle of clothes to one side- the things he wanted to buy, likely.

Sora noticed the Flood squealing a little and Vanitas grit his teeth harder. Sora had been on the receiving end of this kind of healing magic- the slower kind that restored skin and bone. It didn’t hurt, just felt strange and numb, so he assumed Vanitas’s look of pain was more from mental anguish than anything physical.

That didn’t make it any less real, though. Just a little different to deal with.

“Vanitas, at lunch you said you didn’t like eating meat,” Sora offered in distraction. “What do you like so we can have it stocked for you?”

“I’ll eat anything I have to,” he replied through clenched jaw. “But yeah… if I did have a choice, I don’t want to eat anything that could look back at me.”

His Flood pressed its head in Sora’s hand again, and Sora remembered one of Vanitas’s Unversed had been a rabbit. It would be hard to eat things that looked like ones own cast off emotion, he mused.

“Are there any good places with vegetarian food around here?”

“Oh, sick, that Ethimopan place, yo,” Neku’s friend offered.

Ethiopian,” Neku corrected, dryly. “A bunch of the Reapers go there Monday nights when the place is dead,” he added, snickering at his own bad pun. “You sit at a big table together and share. There’s meat as an option, but it’s mostly vegetarian food and bread.”

“Wait, that stuff is bread?” his friend asked. “With all the little holes in it I always thought it’s like a giant lotus root or something.”

“Lotus root isn’t that squishy, Beat,” Neku sighed out.

During the food based distraction, Riku worked quickly- and half of Vanitas’s chest was done.

“Yeah, and tonight’s Monday, right?” Jun said with a grin. “You’re getting new clothes, a pair of wings, you should come and celebrate with us! And come back in after you get them, right, so Sai here doesn’t think I’m nuts.”

“I don’t have to think you’re nuts, Jun. it’s pretty obvious.”

For a split second, Vanitas’s lip curled into the tiniest corner of a smile.


 

“Thanks for lettin’ us borrow these three,” Goofy said, hauling himself up the side of one of Prince Noctis’s chocobos.

“Yeah, well, the least we can do is keep you off the ground. Most monsters hate chocobos for some reason.”

“It’s their smell,” Goofy said, patting his mount on the head. “Something in their musk bothers a lot of other animals.”

“Well aren’t you a font of knowledge,” Demyx grumbled, trying to stabilize himself on one. “Haven’t ridden one of these in centuries,” he added under his breath as he adjusted, giving his a gentle kick in the flank to bring it to attention. While there were three yellow chocobo in the flock, he’d insisted on the hot pink one instead.

Donald, however, had not only never ridden one of the beasts in his life (he was a mage, darn it, not a knight), he was also not used to being tall enough to sit on anything not specifically designed for him and have his legs dangle off the sides.

“Hold the reins, Donald, and give your mount a kick. Lightly. You’re trying to get it’s attention, not hurt the poor gal.”

“How do you know it’s a girl?” Donald asked skeptically as he nudged it. The chocobo tweeted a loud wark sound and shook itself, with Donald in the saddle, panicking.

“Her height. Look, mine is a good two hands taller.” Goofy gave his a gentle kick and the chocobo ruffled it’s feathers and pranced in a circle around Donald’s.

“Oh, they’re a matin’ pair. Donald, you don’t have to do anything but hold on. She’ll follow her paramour.”

Donald blanched a little, but was grateful it meant he wouldn’t have to worry about steering her.

“We’re burning midnight, stay on your toes,” Gladio hollered, sliding into the backseat of an extremely fancy black car with Prompto. Ignis turned over their car and blasted the headlamps.

“Don’t get off for any reason until we’re at the sighting area,” Ignis warmed, tilting the rear view mirror. “I still cannot believe we are doing this.”

“I want to fight as little as possible, Demyx said, getting his mount into a solid, controlled gallop. Some things you never really forgot how to do.


 

“So, whaddya think? Not bad?”

Vanitas looked in the mirror at his new clothes, fidgeting a little. He was wearing short sleeves, and yet he didn’t feel self conscious.

There was still a little pink- the final tiny scar lines littering his skin- but the gnarled knots of poorly repaired tissue were gone.

Vanitas considered that Xehanort might have left him like that on purpose- branded.

He could still feel someone giving his Flood ear scratches- Sora was giving an extremely watered down version of how they got here to his friends, all while holding the beast, and showing them where the head was so they could try and pet the air where it was supposed to be.

“Wait… you’re Shiki?!” Sora cried from the other side of the store. “Why didn’t you say so earlier?”

He flailed towards the girl with black hair and glasses, who just giggled.

“My fee was my appearance,” she said. “I looked like one of my friends in the game. I… won, and so I’m back to being me.”

“What’s yours, Sora?” Neku asked, nervously.

“A magic artifact from my own world,” Sora explained, without too much detail. “Riku… he was a fee.”

Vanitas sighed, and rubbed his eyes, focusing on the view of himself in front of him.

“There’s a drugstore one level down if you need some drops,” Jun added. “There’s no Reapers there but I’m sure your living friends or your brother can grab you some.”

“Crying sucks,” Vanitas growled, rubbing the heel of his palm into his eye, seeing the infinity-marked timer on his palm.

“Yeah, but you feel better after,” Jun insisted, then spied the timer. “Oh that’s neat. I was wondering how they froze time for you. Your silver haired friend have it too?”

Vanitas nodded.

“Whoo boy, that is powerful magic. I don’t even know whose that is. It’s not Master Joshua’s that’s for sure. His smells like gunpowder and spray paint.”

“You can smell it?”

“You’re a Reaper long enough, and yeah. It’s faint, but everyone leaves a unique mark. Your brother smells like pancakes and pachinko, so he got his wings from the angel in charge of Akihabara.”

“What does it smell like? This magic?”

Jun frowned. “This is going to sound weird but… like a casino. Expensive brandy, cigars, and a little bit of luck.”

Vanitas shook out his mess of hair as his Flood got more head scritches. He had to admit, it did feel nice, once the fear was tamped down a bit.

He adjusted his short sleeve track jacket- red and black, with a skull with an X and a V for eyes on the back, and nodded at his new reflection in the mirror, a stack of clothes piled high enough to last a few days without needing to do laundry, waiting to be paid for on the bench in the dressing room.

“So where’d you get the dough for all this? Pins to trade in?”

“Komaeda has our allowance,” Vanitas said shrugging. “I don’t even know if I broke the bank.”


 

“That’s a lot bigger than I expected, a’hyuck.”

“Yeeeeah, just a tad. Tiny bit. Nothing at all to worry about,” Demyx replied, craning his neck up to look at their adversary.

And craned it some more.

At least a third of it was completely out of the Prince’s car’s obnoxious floodlights.

“Do we get off these things now?” Donald asked, white knuckling his reins.

Ignis huffed, and narrowed his eyes, glinting against the reflected car surface.

“Yes.”

Donald inhaled, looked at the beast before him, and awkwardly flung himself out of the saddle and on the dry cracked earth of the desert. The air was cool, and he rolled once on the ground, right next to the edge of the crumbling paved road.

He flicked his arm, his staff neatly slotting into his fingers, and inhaled.

“Megaflare.”

A sea of sparklers cracked out from nowhere, each additional one sapping his strength. But he wasn’t going to allow those four to take even one hit on the behemoth in front of them.

At first, all he could hear was Prompto cracking up in the car’s backseat, and Demyx’s low whistle.

Then just the whistling of his spell, and finally, the deep bellow of the behemoth as it screamed, to a death of a thousand cuts.

Or, in this case, about 2,500 or so extremely well aimed mini- sparklers to the spaces between its armor plates.

With one last screech, the beast fell forward, thudding hard in the dirt.

The desert went silent, other than the sound of the idling car and occasional squaks from the chocobo. Donald panted, and leaned on the passenger rear seat door.

“You owe us a meal.”


Walter lunged, latching on Ienzo’s leg like a leech. “I am SO sorry! I have such bad luck, like you have no idea.”

“It… it’s fine, Walter. No harm, no foul, yes?”

Walter nodded, holding out Ienzo’s phone to trade. “I believe this is yours.”

“And this is yours?” Ienzo replied, handing Walter’s phone over, as well as all the money they’d earned, save three dollars for the bus ride back.

“What, the money? No, no, that goes to Kermit.”

A slender, green frog doll on too-skinny legs ambled over. “I just wanted to say thank you,” he insisted. “I gave up running this place ages ago. I thought people stopped enjoying live performance. But I saw you on TV. Wow. That was impressive! Everyone was cheering!”

Kermit nodded towards the old seats, at least a decade or two of disuse. “I remember the lights most of all. That click of them going on was like a switch in my brain. It was time to go make people laugh again.”

“Well, I don’t know how much this helps, but it’s more useful to you guys than me.”

“Now, why don’t you read those missed messages and see how I can help you?”


“Think we cleaned out half the place,” Riku muttered, hanging on to heavy bags.

“I can grab some stuff, yo,” Beat hollered.

“We’re going to go get them their wings,” Riku said, nodding towards Tomo and Vanitas, just behind. “You don’t have to stick around.”

“We were literally dicking around doing nothing,” Neku insisted. “It’s the last week of summer break. And we all go hang with the Reapers on Monday’s at Almaz anyway, if we’re not busy. At the very least, to talk shit about Joshua,” he added with a grin. “It’s almost been six months since we died… I still want to punch that pretty boy in the face.”

“You have,” Shiki commented. “Pretty much every time you see him.”

“Well, he shot me twice, so he’s always got another punch coming!”

“Wait what,” Sora asked flatly.

“Oh, guess that news never got your way. He killed me. Two bullets. One to the chest, one to the head. Over on Cat Street.”

Everyone froze, including Komaeda. “I… heard Joshua stole a living kid to help take down a problem in the Underground six months ago. I mean… I was a barrier warden, so I was working it. But… I didn’t realize it was you or…”

“That he murdered me for it?” Neku asked, eyebrow raised. “I mean, I can’t say I’m happy about it, but it was painless and he put me back when it was done.”

“Do you… forgive him for it?” Sora asked quietly.

No, but now that I’ve had a little time to see the bigger picture I understand why he did. I don’t forgive him, probably never will. But I understand, and respect it. And yes, he’s a friend. But sometimes friends do do really stupid shit. That was some grade-A classic stupid shit.”

“You’ve grown up,” Sora said with confidence.

“So have you.”

“So, why did he?” Riku piped up. “Kill you, I mean.”

“I don’t know all the details, but… there was some kind of war going on among the angels, and Joshua kinda used me in a bet, it’s a long story.”

“Oh yeah, Eri mentioned that this morning, didn’t she?” Sora asked. Komaeda nodded, and pointed out where to turn to meet Joshua. “How stuff changed after, too.”

A clock rung six, and Sora, Komaeda, and Riku’s phones all blared.

“Game’s over for the day, right?” Rhyme asked.

“That’s six hours up, so yeah,” Riku said. “And what changed?”

“Joshua got complete control of Shibuya. He used to have to share with another angel who’d assign points to the Players. Reapers could only be promoted if they earned enough points by erasing players.”

“That… that’s cruel!” Sora cried.

“Master Joshua thought so too, but the other angels thought he was just too in love with humanity,” Komaeda said. “So he started forming a coalition of other angels who thought the system sucked, and gathered support from Reapers like me. It was risky. Most angels see humans as stupid toys, like action figures you bash into each other for fun. I was waiting for my brother to be angels together so we could tear their system a new one from the inside. Master Joshua’s already started. He’s turned Shibuya from a battleground to genuine tough love. It’s not free of conflict, but it’s not senseless violence anymore. I’m proud to work under him.”

“Ah-choo!” Sora’s feet had merely followed Komaeda and Neku’s, and he hadn’t realized he’d walked to a mural.

An incredible one, covered in bright bold graffiti art.

“Wow…” Sora said in awe, nearly dropping his bags.

“Figured it was fitti-” Joshua started, standing in front of the center of the mural, before Neku decked him square on the left cheek. “You just took out three teeth. Are we even yet, or how many more sucker punches am I due?”

Joshua reached and cracked his lower jaw with his right hand. It sounded like stepping on glass.

He rotated his mouth for a second. “I hate regrowing my teeth, you know that?”

“Good to see you, murderer,” Neku said with a smirk, holding out his fist.

Joshua fist-burped, then engulfed it for a moment in his own hand. “Only one broken bone this time. You’re getting better.”

Sparks flew from his hand, and Neku shook it out.

“You really should tape up before a punch.”

“Then when will you know if I plan to actually do it?”

Joshua laughed. “Fair. Now, let’s give those two the ability to actually harass the living, shall we? Who’s up first?”

Tomo and Vanitas stared at each other.

“It’s not some kind of blood ritual, I just need to touch your back,” Joshua said, the left side of his face still sparking with Cure magic.

He spat out a tooth.

“Ugh, I made a baby tooth by accident,” he muttered. “I promise I don’t bite. Really.”

“Nah, he’s more a pistol kind of guy,” Neku teased.

Vanitas picked up his Flood off the ground, holding it out for Sora. He placed his bags down and took it.

Sora cuddled it, letting it press against his chest while Joshua reached out, rubbing Vanitas’s shoulderblade.

“Dude, that’s wild, he’s like… kinda see through,” Beat said, surprised, as Vanitas grit his teeth and flapped the wing. Joshua quickly gave him his other one.

Vanitas spread and stretched them out. “Wings that look like bent steel. Suits me.”

“I’ve seen Reaper wings, I’m sure they look sharp,” Shiki giggled out, offering her hand to shake.

“Literally, or figuratively?” Neku asked, offering his fist.

Pass, I know where that things’ been.”


 

Ienzo scrolled though his missed messages, frowning.

“Neither of you have been checking your own phones, have you?” he asked.

“No…?” Roxas asked, guiltily.

“We’re on the wrong world. There’s no living dolls where Sora and Riku are,” Ienzo commented, holding out his chat window for them to see.

“Then we should try one of the other places, right?” Xion asked.

“Yeah, we should,” Roxas started. “But…”

“But there are people here that need us,” Ienzo finished.

“Actually, I was going to say ‘heartless and unprotected citizens’.”

“Oh… that’s a fair point.”

“There’s at least one group in each portal. Unless someone asks for backup, I think we should stay a bit longer. At least until we find the source,” Roxas said, simply. “I hate being here more than you two, but we owe this place that much.”

Ienzo nodded. “Let me check in to the group discussion and let them know, at least.”


Goofy walked cautiously toward the carcass, shield up, with Gladio just behind him.

“Dead as a door-nail, guess we do owe you all some dinner,” Gladio said, whistling low.

“Take what you can and let’s go, Gladio. It’s not safe out here in the dark,” Ignis shouted at him. “I’ve already got the Regalia in gear, take some plates from it’s chest armor and move!”

“Don’t blow a gasket, Iggy,” Gladio muttered. “Waaaait, we do have company.”

Gold eyes blinked out through the darkness.

“Demons!” Gladio shouted, and Noctis was at his side in an instant- literally, as the teenage prince had teleported.

“Doesn’t look like demons to me,” Noctis muttered.

“That’s because… hoo boy, those are Heartless.” Demyx flicked his fingers, and his sitar was in his hands. “We’ve got more fish to fry.”

Chapter Text

“Yes, That is a problem.”

Terra craned his neck up at the pillar of swarming Heartless, a whirlpool whirling around in what would have been a gorgeous freshwater spring straight from the cliff rock.

“Not even Neutrinos deal damage to these,” Holly said, staring at the Demon Tower. “It won’t leave the spring though- it just spins around in there. But it’s scaring the locals, and that’s one less water source we can use.”

“You mean… it’s not attacking?” Aqua asked. “That’s… odd.”

The entire thing stuttered, and for a split second the world went double before it clicked back into place, like a melody and its backing beat being ripped out of synch.

“Our current best guess is that it’s not actually here at all,” Foaly commented, digging a hoof in the ground. “I think we’re just seeing an afterimage, and it’s actually somewhere else.”

“It’s… in another dimension, and overlapping into this one,” Aqua thought aloud. “I wonder. What if it’s actually where we’re from right now, and we’re seeing it projected in here?”

“Where would that be, Aqua?” Ventus asked, curious.

“Well, we basically made a giant horseshoe in this cave…”

Foaly muttered something inaudible under his breath.

“So it would be on the far side of the Play Island back on the other side. Where the obstacle course was set up. We should split up and send someone back.”

Terra and Ventus looked at Aqua, Terra frowning.

“If it’s on the other side, two of us should go. You, and someone else,” Terra insisted, idly thumping his tail in the dirt. “You… don’t have a Keyblade anymore.”

“And that’s the keyword I was expecting,” Artemis said smugly.

“Key… oh no,” Foaly groaned. “My nephew is obsessed with those games.”

“I’ve never played them, but they pasted the adverts thick up in Dublin,” Artemis elaborated. “I saw that photo of your friend and…”

“Wait. Games?!” Aqua asked. “What do you mean, games?”

Artemis took out a phone, ticking away, facing the screen to everyone else. A short movie played.

“Video games. Do you not have them in your dimension?”

“We… do, but… what is Sora doing in that ad?” Terra asked, confused.

“It’s like the demons and that romance novel they took as gospel,” Artemis said under his breath. “Fiction in one dimension, life in another.”

Aqua sighed. “I guess it’s not so weird. We have fictional stories back home that turned out to be true. I just… can’t imagine running around in a game as Sora.” Aqua shook her head clear. “Terra and Ven, who’s coming back, and who’s staying here?”


 

“-so then Eri goes into Lapin Angelique, and we hear a scream,” a Reaper girl giggled.

About twenty of them were crammed around a massive low table, laden with spicy smelling food on thin spongy crepelike bread. Most had taken off their uniforms to some degree- Sora realized if he concentrated, he could phase his wings through the bulky sweatshirt to yank it off- and he was starting to pick out a few voices from the morning. Jun had dragged Sai out with them, who was shivering from a Reaper’s wings cutting invisibly though his body, but happy to be included. Neku and his own group stuck around, laughing and stuffing their faces with fava beans and cabbage.

Vanitas’s Flood had vanished entirely when his second wing was attached, and still hadn’t resurfaced.

“Oh, man, you don’t want to enter Lapin, not unless you want to be Princess K’s next ‘Project’,” Jun said, rolling the lazy Susan to get at a potato stew.

“Project?” Tomo asked, worriedly. “Does this princess perform experiments on Reapers?”

Most of the table laughed loudly, Neku almost choking on his food.

“Hey if you die again today, you’re in good company,” one of the girl Reapers jeered at him. He flipped her a middle finger and downed some yogurt to temper the spice.

Jun shook his head out. “Experiments of the fashionkind. She runs a goth-loli store in A East, and designs most of the stuff there herself. Think big poofy dresses or Steampunk suits- er, big belts, vests, tailcoats, and the like. If a classic vampire would wear it, she’s made it.”

When Tomo still looked confused, Jun clarified. “There’s clothes, then there’s clothes. There’s stuff that you wear to cover yourself, sure, but if you see a shop with a Reaper in it, our stuff’s special. We put wards and spells on the clothing. Princess’s stuff is the most powerful on the market, but her spells come at a price, usually sapping your energy. Also yen, and a lot of it.”

Riku and Sora gave each other a knowing glance. They were familiar with magicked vestments.

“So the stuff we got today all have spells on?” Sora asked.

“You didn’t read the tags?” Jun asked. “Living can’t see the wards, but you should’ve. Sorry. I just assumed you knew that, since you were in Reaper you were in Reaper vestments.”

“I… didn’t know to look… today was my first day,” Sora admitted.

“Oh hey, so we have four virgins tonight!” one of the girls cried. “You’re one of those Americans, right? Yousuke?”

“Youta.” The world still felt weird on his tongue, and Neku shot him a quizzical look.

“People call me Lilly, and this is Yuri,” she explained, pointing to herself and the other girl Sora met that morning at check-in. “And yeah, if you value your dignity, don’t go in Lapin. Not unless you want to be dragged half the day for a makeover,” she added, giggling. “Though her stuff issuper cute. At least now Eri’s willing to accept ‘abducted by the Loli-Queen’ as a valid excuse for missing your shift.”

Shiki swallowed her bite of food. “Aww, I like her stuff though! I know when we were in the game I suggested one of her tailcoats to Neku and he ran out embarrassed.”

Neku turned three shades of red and shoved an entire injera in his mouth.

“Oh come on, it’s not like I was asking you to wear a dress!”

Neku swallowed. “It’s just not my style- her stuff is way too formal looking.”

“Maybe if you stepped outside your comfort zone for five seconds, Mister Basketball Shorts… dear god you men never dress up, ever.”

Rhyme, Lilly, and Yuri nodded in agreement.

“Well excuse us for having to wear a uniform,” one of the male Reapers Sora didn’t recognize griped.

“Do you have to wear it now?” Shiki asked, arms crossed.

“We had a six hour shift, cut me some slack! I didn’t get to go back to the bunkhouse to change.”

“Nope, never!” Rhyme cried, giggling. “At least show us the shirt under that giant hoodie.”

“No, not gonna happen.”

“Dooooo it,” Beat hollered at him. “Thousand yen says it’s an otaku shirt if you’re not taking your hoodie off after hours.”

The poor teenage-looking boy turned pink, but pulled off his hoodie.

Sora almost bit his own tongue when he saw the Reaper’s shirt.

He, Donald, and Goofy were on it.


 

“Kairi?”

“Whats up, Mabel? Can’t sleep?”

“Mhmmm. There’s just a week left of break before we have to go back to… Piedmont.”

“Not a good place?”

“It’s not bad, it’s just… Booooooooooooring.”

Kairi laughed. “I know how you feel. I did a lot of waiting at home while my best friends went on cool adventures.”

Mabel frowned. “But you’re on a cool adventure now, right?”

“Well, it’s more of a rescue mission, Mabel. But yes. I am.”

“What changed?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, why weren’t you doing cool things with your friends before?”

“Mabel, you’re twelve, right?”

“I’ll be thirteen in a week!”

“Well, when I was about six months younger than you are now, my world… it was ripped apart. I got flung around, and eventually my friend Sora found me. And he used some special magic to wake me up again, but it turned him into a demon.”

“Lea said he was a demon for a bit too, right?”

“Yeah, but not the same kind. Sora had a demon body, but he knew who he was. Lea… had the opposite happen to him. His body was his, but turning into a demon ripped out his conscience. He did some very bad things as a demon. Including kidnapping me.”

And… you were younger than me?” Mabel shivered a little.

“Well, when Demon-Lea- he was called Axel by the way- when Axel kidnapped me I was about thirteen or fourteen? Times a bit of a blur. But when Sora was turned into one, yeah, I was younger than you. You know what happened though? I discovered I wasn’t so useless. I used my magic and turned him back to a human again. Er, enough of one, at least. It’s a bit complicated.”

“Maybe if my brother and I both ask real nice together Mom and Dad will get us a PlayStation for Hanukkah. Then we could just play the games.”

“Right… our lives are games here.” Kairi’s smile fell a little. “I’m not sure how I feel about that, to be honest.”

Mabel quickly changed the subject. “That was some cool fire magic earlier.”

Kairi smiled a bit. “Yeah, Lea taught me that trick.”

“It’s cool you’re friends with him. I don’t know if I’d ever forgive someone that just kidnapped me and took me away.”

“Well, people change. And he’s made an honest effort to atone for what he did while he was Axel, even though it wasn’t truly him. Growing up is learning when to accept someone’s apology and start over.”

“Soooooo… if I wanted to learn that spell?”

Kairi raised an eyebrow. “Talk to your uncles first. And if they’re okay with it, then I’ll teach you. Deal?”

Mabel grinned. “Deal!”

“Go to bed before I use a sleep spell on you,” Kairi insisted.

“You can do that?”

Kairi smirked, and Mabel squeaked, heading back up to the attic.

“Kairi… um, thanks!” she cried from the stairwell, before all Kairi could hear was the patter of her feet.

Kairi pulled out her phone.  11PM, Monday the 23rd. Hopefully she wasn’t waking Sora or Riku wherever they were right now, and added them both into the group chat.

She inhaled, and pressed the conference call button.

At the very least, it was worth a shot.


 

Neku and his friends walked Sora, Riku, Tomo, and Vanitas back to Joshua’s apartment block.

“I need to be heading home. It’s over an hour on the express back to Hachioji.”

“Over an hour… you don’t live here, Neku?”

“Rhyme and I do,” Beat offered.

“I live in Setagaya, it’s not far, but it’s not technically in Shibuya. And you guys can’t leave this district, right?”

Sora shook his head. “Seems like Joshua had to do something special just to get Riku here from where he was.”

“You didn’t end up in Shibuya when you… ahem… died?”

“They said it was a place called Shinjuku.”

Neku went white as a sheet. “Fuck. Fuck. I am glad Joshua found you.”

“My twin did, actually,” Komaeda explained.

“Oh… yeah, forgot to mention, I got him the stuff you gave me,” Neku said, gravely. “Things aren’t looking great over there, but I’ve been funneling the Reapers everything I can.”

Now Sora and his friends paled, and a small chirruping sound could be heard. Vamitas’s shadow, lengthened by the streetlamps, began to boil.

“Ummmmm… please don’t tell me I’m seeing Noise, because that is not a good sign, yo,” Beat whimpered.

Vanitas’s Flood popped out, chirping.

“Oh my god, its so cute!” Shiki cried, as the creature bounded out.

“Oh my god, we can see it,” Neku deadpanned.

“Well, Vanitas’s power doesn’t come from being a Reaper or being dead, so I guess now that you can see him…” Riku reasoned.

“Get back here, you cretin,” Vanitas hissed at it. “You’ll scare the normies. And what’s the deal with this Shinjuku place? People keep talking about it like it’s Hell.”

“That’s… not far off,” Komaeda said, kicking the ground. “It didn’t used to be that bad, but three months or so ago Coco was named Conductor. And she’s made that place her personal Hell.”

“Wait… Riku, isn’t Uriel the angel in charge of Shinjuku though? She’s… well… she’s something, but she’s not a jerk.”

“Uriel got transferred from Roppungi two months ago for pissing off the high angels; she’s trying to rein Coco in but that woman is a beast. And the Conductor makes the rules. The angel in charge of a district is actually still beholden to its Conductor, even though they’re higher in rank.” Komaeda frowned. “No dead has survived Coco’s games. Period. You become a Reaper, or Erased, really. Because Neku’s not dead, I’ve asked him to help me funnel supplies to them. Heck, she’s even kicked all the Reapers out of their bunkhomes. They’re sleeping in the streets. And now that Joshua’s stolen one of her playthings, I bet every yen I have she’s out for blood. She’s still a Reaper though, so unless she has Uriel’s blessing she can’t leave Shinjuku. Right now, that’s everyone’s only saving grace.”

The group was silent.

“So yes, she’s holding the Reapers under her hostage. My brother included.”

“And we’re all just going to stand here and not go kick her ass?” Vanitas growled.

“Er, not that I disagree with the sentiment, Vanitas, but since when are you…” Tomo said, gesturing at him.

“She’s a Xehanort,” he said, his Flood popping back out and running around a leg.

Tomo closed his eyes. “Fair. But we can’t leave the district, or charge in blind.”

“Then I’m going to shake everything I can out of this Uriel person until she tells me how to shred Coco.”

“I’ll bring them all food and blankets tomorrow, don’t worry,” Neku said, with a small smile. “This has been all of my summer vacation, and I don’t regret a minute of it. The look on Coco’s face is priceless. I’m alive, and she can’t harm me. Not after the wards the angels put on me when I beat their game last time.”

“We all will,” Shiki added. “I live here, so it’s easier for me to move around, though I don’t have the same kind of protections Neku does.”

“Same,” Rhyme added. “We don’t have much money, but Joshua and his angel friends get us as much as they can spare, and as much magic as they can to keep us safe.”

“Anyway, I have a train to catch, and you five should get some sleep,” Neku said, lightly.

Komaeda yawned, the final straw.

“Hey, are you all just going to loudly say your plans to dethrone a Conductor, or are you gonna come upstairs?” a voice called from above them. The five Reapers looked up, while Neku and his friends didn’t spot a glance.

Gabriel shot down onto the pavement below, and Shiki coughed in surprise.

“Watch it, I don’t need a heart attack, yo!” Beat cried.

“Right, you’re all alive. Laaaaame,” Gabriel whined. “Komaeda, when I said come upstairs, I meant you too. I already called Eri, you’re staying with us tonight. I even went and picked up some jammies for you.”

Komaeda’s head fell.

“You’re also not on duty tomorrow. Josh is putting you five on recon. There’s a lead on Yozora, and y’all ain’t gonna like it.”

“Yazora?” Neku asked skeptically.

“Long story, go watch some Kingdom Hearts cutscenes on NicoNico tonight, and catch yourselves up.”

“Oh, right, the game,” Neku said, slightly embarrassed.

“Whoever voiced you in the DS game sounded like they were in their thirties,” Shiki said, elbowing Neku.

“I am very lost,” Tomo said, shaking his head.

Gabriel cracked her fingers. “I get to blow people’s minds twice in twenty four hours with my gaming rig? Hooooo, this is a lucky week.”


 

Luck has nothing to do with it, Ven,” Terra moaned. “You’re cheating somehow.”

“Am not. I lost every time, so you get to go with Aqua.”

“Nobody loses rock-paper-scissors ten times in a row.”

“I just did,” Vanitas grinned, fluttering his wings for emphasis. “You two go.”

“Four,” Artemis insisted.

“What?”

“Butler and I will accompany. And before you protest- I have dimension hopped before.”

Aqua pointed an accusatory finger, before sighing. “You will keep a safe distance from any danger, you will stray no more than a foot from me unless told otherwise, and you will follow all of my instructions to the letter. And if I tell you to go back, you do.”

“Acceptable.”

“Ven, you, Foaly, and Holly stay here. Don’t leave this spot unless there’s no other choice.”

Ventus nodded.

“If I’m not driving, you’ll need to take the Stick back there,” Foaly chided. Butler looked a little green.

“It’s their equivalent of a subway system,” Artemis explained. “And it is not designed with humans in mind.”


 

Terra took a moment to stretch, and appreciate his return to human form.

He appreciated being as tall as Butler even more.

“Satisfied?” Aqua asked Artemis, as she scanned the shoreline.

“Yes, although I wish I’d known the other side led to a beach. Lovely sunrise, by the way.”

Aqua nodded. “This way to where we’d need to be.”


 

Aqua was right. On the far side of the Island swirled a menacing Demon Tower for real.

“-can ~~ buy these games?”

“On ~ surface, ~~, though you’d ~~ something ~~~ on…”

Foaly’s and Ven’s voices drifted in broken chunks from the tower.

“Artemis and Butler,” Aqua hissed sternly. “You are to stay here. If it gets dangerous, retreat to the portal immediately. Are we clear?”

Artemis nodded.

“Terra, flank it and aim for its core. I’ll pincer with magic.”

Terra nodded, twined the fingers of his left hand with her right.

“Time to kick ass.”


“Time to ~~ ass.”

Ventus stared in shock at the Demon Tower.

“Terra?” he asked it worriedly.

“Ven?” Terra’s voice called back, just before the tower shuddered, whipping up into a frenzy, before pieces split off.

And the small Heartless it sloughed onto the water in front of Ventus plopped with a very real splash before dragging themselves up and over the sides of the spring.

“I am not cut out for fighting!” Foaly cried, shaking in his hooves.

“That’s fine,” Ventus said with a small smirk. “I am.”

He flicked his fingers, and Wayward Wind pulsed in his fingertips. Quickly, he shot off a series of targeted Aero spells before skidding on the air to close the gap.

“~core. ~~ your side,” Aqua cried out, as Ventus saw the ghosted afterimage of a Thundaza spell.

The Demon Tower‘s core shone with more stability and clarity than the Heartless surrounding it. Ven grit his teeth and flapped his wings. Flying on physical power was very very different than flying by magic, but the aerodynamics were the same. He closed the distance between himself and the core, and began to wail on it mercilessly.


“Firaza!” Aqua might have been a Keyblade Master with no Keyblade, but spells were her strongest suit anyway. Finding Rainfell would be a task for another-

-day.

She didn’t know why she held out her arm for it, it had been lost to Xehanort ages ago. But there it was, cool and glistening with dew in her hand.

She smirked, and then screamed loudly as she held it aloft, channeling her energy with it.

“Meteor,” she hissed, followed by a quick, “DUCK!”


 

When Aqua, Terra, Artemis, and Butler returned, Ventus was wrapped in three thick blankets and soaking wet.

“Great warning,” he mumbled through chittering teeth.

“Oh, no, Ven, you’re soaked through!” Aqua said, doting. “Sit still and I’ll suck out the water okay?”

Aqua pressed a hand to his shirt, plastered with cold water to his skin, and pulled away, dragging all the water out of his clothing and flinging the ball of it into the spring.

“Hands, please,” she insisted, and laced her fingers with his, murmuring. He felt warm and dry almost immediately.

“Thanks, I’m good,” Ventus said, grinning sheepishly. “I can use modified Fire spells myself you know.”

“Well, I’m still older than you,” she insisted, mussing up his hair.

Terra waddled on stumpy demon legs to look over at the spring itself. Not a Heartless left in sight.

Holly followed, peering down. “Crystal clear. So, Ven said those were Heartless?”

Terra nodded. “We have some where we’re from, though numbers have dropped off as of late. Some are natural- that thing in your spring being one- but a very bad man was also manufacturing them, too.”

“What the- who would do something like that? Why?”

“Academic curiosity, a lust for power, a desire to do the right thing that was corrupted by means-to-ends,” Terra said softly, clutching his heart.

Holly frowned. “Sounds like you knew this man personally.”

“He possessed me for over twelve years,” Terra said, eyes haunted and looking down at the pool. “I was even one of them for a while.”

Holly made a funny move with her hands, like she wanted to say something but couldn’t. Finally she shook her head, and settled.

“But you’re talking in past tense. It’s over.”

Terra looked at his reflection in the spring, all black lizard skin and armor plating. It wasn’t him, and yet it was.

He exhaled low. “My face, not hi-”

His phone blared, and so did Aqua and Ven’s.

“Kairi?” he asked, picking up, extremely confused.


 

Sora wanted to hold Vanitas’s hand, to ground him, but knew better than to just touch him.

Just because he’d shown improvement today didn’t mean it was going to be quick or easy. Sora knew better than most what it was like dealing with mental trauma, before looking over at Riku in the elevator.

Riku just frowned at his reflection in the steel, spared a single glance at Vanitas’s bubbling shadow, and pulled his wings in just a little tighter so as not to smack Tomo with them.

Komaeda had flown back up to the patio with Gabriel, but the four of them took the elevator instead.

The elevator dinged, and Vanitas’s shadow erupted, the Flood flying out, jumping into Sora’s arms.

It was shaking.

Sora cooed, and rocked it a little. “Come on, Flood, we are just going to the angels for bed.

Just being the operative word,” Vanitas said under his breath.

“Joshua will not hurt you,” Riku said. “And if he tries, I’ll punch him in the groin.”

“I’ll stab him in the eye!” Tomo added.

“I’ll um… push him out the window?” Sora added, bouncing the Flood like he were soothing a small child.

“Sora, he can fly,” Vanitas growled.

“It’s the thought, right?”

Vanitas sighed. “Whatever, let’s get this over with before that cretin turns ten feet tall.”

“That cretin needs a name, you know,” Sora pouted. “You’re going to be introducing it to a lot more people.”

“He’s a Flood, so that’s what he is.”

“Flood?” Uriel asked, leaning on the door to their apartment. “Very Biblical, I approve.”

Sora looked down at Flood in his hands. “You can’t name it Flood, that’s like naming your dog Dog!”

“And who named their fish Fish in first grade?” Riku and Tomo asked simultaneously, before Tomo covered his mouth.

“I… ugh… fine!”

Chapter Text

“AURGH!”

Sora dropped down on the carpet in the foyer, not even enough time to take his shoes off at the door before he ate dirt.

His wings flapped erratically, like he’d shoved a fork in an electrical socket, his left side spasming without any sort of control.

Flood screeched, and began to grow.

“Vanitas!” Tomo breathed out, trying to keep himself from yelling and making the teen panic further. “Breathe.”

Riku attempted to help Sora steady himself, but Joshua pushed his way between him.

“First day of getting your wings- you flew too much,” he said authoritatively. “You’ve pulled at least one muscle, and I’m going to help.”

Sora stuttered out, “Please. Hurts.”

Flood froze, as did Vanitas. He grit his teeth as he saw Sora so readily accept Joshua linking his arms under Sora’s, pulling him into a sitting position.

“Relax your shoulders, and breathe slowly,” Joshua said calmly.

Sora hissed with pain.

Komaeda and Gabriel walked into the foyer from the balcony, both frowning. Komaeda knelt to Sora’s back, and opened up a hand to him.

“Master Joshua’s right. You tread too much air today. I should have been more attentive,” they added, leaning closer. “Can I touch your back? It will probably hurt.”

Sora nodded weakly, gritting his teeth. Flood shrunk, and nudged at Sora; Vanitas felt his own hackles calm a hair, despite being in the same small room as the young-appearing man who had threatened him that morning.

The claustrophobia was already beginning to get to Vanitas, but his worry for Sora’s own pain overrode even that.

Since when did he ever worry about someone else? Ever? Maybe because up until that morning, he had to spend too much mental power worrying about his own hide to care.

Komaeda prodded, and Sora let out an unholy scream, tears streaking down his face.

“Okay, yeah, he’s torn the sprainer,” Komaeda muttered.

“Sprainer?” Riku asked, worried.

“The infraspinatus,” Joshua said, frowning, as if that meant anything. “We split that muscle group in two- half continues up the shoulders into the arm, and the new split starts at the base of the wing, and they move in opposing directions. Most Reapers not familiar with human anatomy call it the sprainer, or the splitter. For the reason I just mentioned, plus how easy it’ll tear until you’re used to flying. Sora, I’m going to need to hypnotize you. If I just knock you out, you won’t be able to tell me if its set properly. Is this okay?”

Sora didn’t even hesitate, he just nodded.

Vanitas’s mouth almost hit the floor. Sora trusted Joshua completely. The hellbeast that had nearly left him in shock that morning.

“Flood, back off,” Vanitas hissed, as he finally un-tensed his own shoulders and patted the floor next to him as he sat down. Flood scurried into his lap, back to normal size, but squeaking and nudging towards Sora. Riku and Tomo flanked him, sitting on the floor. Komaeda continued to hold Sora steady while putting their own head down, closing their eyes.

“Sora, follow my fingers,” Joshua commanded. “And look at my eyes.”

Joshua’s voice changed from a single sound to a pleasant, almost inhuman chorus. “The rest of you. Don’t look directly at me,” Joshua added, hastily. “Sora, focus on me,” he commanded, snapping his fingers to get Sora to look straight ahead. “Right now, your pain isn’t yours. As I speak, it’s just seeping out of your back, and into your clothes. I’m going to help you take off your sweatshirt first, and any of that pain in you that’s gone into your sweatshirt, when I take it off, it goes too. Understand?”

“Yes,” Sora mumbled, unfocused, under the angel’s thrall.

“I asked you if you understand me,” Joshua repeated, Gabriel reappearing from wherever she’d slunk off to get some kind of strange white fabric and silver metal device.

“Yes,” Sora repeated.

“Do not break eye contact,” Joshua insisted, as he quickly pulled off Sora’s sweatshirt, phasing it through his wings. “How is the pain?”

“Less.”

“It’s about halved, hasn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s get rid of the other half now. Put the rest of your pain in your shirt. I’m going to take that off next.”

“Okay.”

Joshua flung off Sora’s shirt.

“How is it?”

“Numb.”

“Good, good,” Joshua said soothingly. “Look at me Sora.” Joshua snapped his fingers, and Sora shifted to attention, his wings immediately snapping up behind him, though his left twitched erratically.

Vanitas wondered exactly how much that would be hurting if Sora weren’t under Joshua’s spell. A lot, by the way it was flailing at a wild angle.

Joshua spoke in his normal voice, addressing Komaeda. “Hold his wings in neutral. Gabriel will brace them in place.”

“Yessir.”

Komaeda stood up, still holding Sora’s arm on the side with the torn muscle, and pulled their fingers through the lace openings of Sora’s wings, yanking up hard until Sora’s wings folded up high on his back. Gabriel shimmied behind them, carrying small plastic pipes, straps, and metal D hooks. She held one of the pipes to his back, twisting it to adjust the length between his wingblades, and began to snap up the straps- a harness- around it until Komaeda let go.

“Sora, I want you to try and move the upper part of your wings. Imagine it’s your arm, I want you to only move the parts above the elbow, to your hands.”

Sora fluttered the part not harnessed easily.

“Are the straps okay? Are they hurting you anywhere?”

“No.”

“Sora needs a splint, too. To keep the weight off,” Gabriel mused. “Komaeda, keep his wing steady.”

Gabriel worked quickly, trussing up his left side more. “Now it’s all in place. Josh, you want to do the rest of the magic?”

“He already smells like you,” Joshua said, snapping his fingers a few times to get Sora to put his focus back on him.

“Point taken,” Gabriel said, before laying hands directly on Sora’s back. She pressed a few points, sparking with her magic.

“That’s the best he’s getting. It’s healed in the right way but it is going to hurt,” Gabriel said, after a few moments of silent concentration. “Next time you tell someone how to fly, Josh, you give them more than a shove out the balcony.”

“It wasn’t a shove!” Joshua cried in defense as he accidentally dropped hold on Sora, who groaned loudly and blinked the mesmer out of his eyes.

“Owwwww,” he whined, realizing he couldn’t move the shoulder joints of his wings. “It feels like you tied my arms behind my back,” he complained.

“How’s the pain?” Komaeda asked gently.

Sora blinked a few more times and shook out his head. Vanitas saw Sora’s blown-out dilated pupils refocus and the last of the hypnosis gone with it.

How Sora trusted anyone, especially these people, Vanitas couldn’t even place. Flood jumped from his spot stretching on his own lap to chitter happily at Sora’s knees, demanding attention again.

“Oh! It’s.. not gone but it’s a lot better. I’m not crying, at least,” he admitted, wiping away the streaks with the back of his in-bandaged hand.

“Sure the contacts aren’t helping,” Gabriel commented, and reached forward to pull something out of Sora’s eye. He blinked, and his eye was blue again; Gabriel slotting away the small lens she’d taken into a plastic case. She did the other one, before running a nail under Sora’s wig to peel it off, revealing the worst hat hair Sora ever had the misfortune of having.

“Be glad we caught that early,” Uriel said from the kitchen counter.

We?” Joshua asked, giving her side eye. “You didn’t do a thing, Uri.”

“You already had two nurses, there’s no room for more,” Uriel countered, as a kettle hissed. “And I was making everyone tea since all of you are lame and sober.”

Vanitas glared at the flaming redhead at the bar.

Uri. You’re not Uriel, are you?” he growled.

“And?” she asked pointedly, as Sora took off his shoes, groaning from effort, standing with Tomo’s help.

“You’re going to tell me about Coco. Now.”

Uriel perked an eyebrow. “What, so you can work under her?”

“If what I’ve heard is true she’s due for a boot to her ass.”

Uriel quietly prepared eight cups for tea, smiling lightly.

“You’re going to be the one to do it then? You’ve lost your magic and magic sword haven’t you?”

“I’ll bleed her dry if I have to,” Vanitas said, glaring. Flood scampered up his shoulder and huffed in agreement.

Uriel nodded slightly. “Are you sure? She’s a demon and a half. Someone higher than me clearly likes her because she’s got power no Conductor in their right mind should have.”

“I’m already dead. What have I got to lose?”

Uriel was quiet, studying Vanitas for a while as she poured boiling water in the cups and took out some small pastries for each tiny plate.

“Thank God. Joshua told me what your little friend could do. I need all the help I can get.”


 

Ienzo tapped a knee, bouncing it with nothing else to keep occupied. Usually he’d have a pen, or a measuring tool to fiddle with, but the disused stage was bare, save some carefully looped rope and cable in the wings.

“A talent show?” Xion asked, the group sitting around considering their options.

“Not just a talent show,” Walter said, excited. “An old-fashioned telethon! People call in with donations.”

“You could also stick a QR code on the screen that links directly to a GoFundMe,” Walter’s human friend- actually, his brother Gary, the three current and former Nobodies discovered- piped in. “Put it as a screen overlay so people could donate straight from their phones.”

Kermit put a hand to his chin. “I’m not so… er… hip on this new technology stuff. But if you think it’ll help I’m all ears.”

“All ears? Kermit, you’ve got no ears at all, wakka wakka wakka!” A bear with an infectious laugh slapped at his knee. Ienzo hadn’t been formally introduced to Kermit’s incredibly motley crew of performers (other than the blue one with the long nose warning him to be sensitive around the pig-woman as she and Kermit had once been married). He almost felt bad remembering them by species. He knew many of the worlds he’d traveled in found that kind of classification kind of offensive, though these dolls actually didn’t seem to mind.

“Fozzie, save the jokes for the show,” the blue one reminded him. “All of us are a bit rusty, anyway.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Fozzie replied, sullen. “So, who’s the new guy?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at Ienzo, Roxas, and Xion’s part of the circle.

“Who… me?” Ienzo asked, worried.

“No, the one who had the giant keys during the street show.”

If Roxas could blush, he would have been red from head to toe. “Me? You want me on stage? It was Ienzo’s idea. I literally just got dragged along for the ride.”

“But you pulled those things from nowhere! I’ve done a bit of magic and I have no clue how you did it. Your sleight of hand was too fast,” Blue Long-Nose commented.

Ienzo and Roxas side eyed each other. “A magician never reveals their secrets,” Ienzo said, gravely. It was the excuse Even, later Vexen, had drilled into him from when he was young when he was to go to a world where magic didn’t actually exist. In those worlds, usually some form of performative ‘magic’ did, and it was an easy cop out for hiding that he was an actual wizard, rather than someone merely in possession of hidden flint or a rubber thumb.

“Fair,” Blue replied, nodding sagely. “But how much prep does the thing need? Could you two do it again on stage, on camera?”

The lie worked as usual, and Ienzo looked to Roxas.

Roxas rapped the floor with a finger, the felt depressing every time he tapped the ground. Far more than a human finger with bones would ever be able to do.

“Let me check something,” was all Roxas provided. He stood up, and crossed his arms. Two purple-black corridors appeared before him, and a pair of white marionettes sprang from them. A pair of wooden swords crisscrossed their backs and they clacked obnoxiously as they danced in place.

Samurai Nobodies in this world took the shape of puppets.

“It’s not the same as the ones in the crosswalk, but I think these will make the audience a little less afraid?” Roxas asked the group. “Plus…” he added, smirking, before nodding in the direction of his summoned minions. “From what Gonzo said earlier I think we could use a little slapstick.”

Ienzo cursed internally for forgetting another of their new friends’ names as Roxas mentally commanded one of his legion to take out a wooden sword, decapitating the other. The wooden head bounced a few times on the stage floor as its owner, headless and panicked, ran for it and tripped over it. The second one ambled to the dropped puppet head, flicked it in the air with the tip of his sword, and shoved the headless Samurai under it as it fell… backwards onto the neck. The agitator slapped at the loose head with the butt of his sword, sending it spinning like a top on the neck of the uncoordinated one until it finally screwed back on, face in the correct direction.

Their group was howling with laughter as the two Samurai stood together, bowed, and bounced back into their portals.

“Okay, that’s gold,” Gonzo said between wheezes. “I don’t even want to know how you did that.”

Roxas just shrugged and smiled. “Magnetic personality?”


 

Sora adjusted on his futon on Gabriel’s floor, doing his darndest to get comfortable. Having wings was bad enough, but having them trussed up in such a way that they prevented him from sleeping on his back was torture. Flood trying to squeeze itself first at Sora’s back, then under his neck like an elevated pillow was almost adorable.

“You should probably take a bath, Sora,” Gabriel said, wagging a finger at him from her gaming chair.

“With this on?” Sora flapped the untethered upper part of his wings in protest, and his left spasmed for a moment before the harness locked up and pulled it even tighter in position.

“It’s waterproof. You don’t think this is the first time I’ve had to hogtie a new Reaper who didn’t fly properly? And no taking it off either. I healed your muscle but it’s still weak. You’re grounded until one of us says you’re cleared.”

“Then… how am I supposed to help tomorrow?”

“Um, duh. You have legs. Walk. Go take a bath. All of you.”

Riku paled, massaging his scalp now that the wig had been peeled off him too. “At the same time?”

Gabriel pinched the bridge of her nose. “Bunch’a prudes. See, when I first was assigned to Japan I thought everyone was prudish, at least until bathtime.”

Komaeda, who had finally pulled off their sweatshirt and sat at the foot of Gabriel’s massive AV unit, tilted their head. “I’m guessing communal bathing isn’t a thing where you’re from.”

Sora, Riku, and Tomo shook their heads rapidly, while Vanitas just shrugged.

“It’s okay, I usually woke up in the middle of the night to wash in peace,” Komaeda admitted, playing with the hem of their tank top. Komaeda was tiny under the massive clothing- some muscle definition, but for the most part, tiny and rail thin, with loose wisps of short black hair swept sideways. “You all go in rotation, I can wait.”

“I’ll go last, then…” Sora said, scratching the back of his neck, mindful of the brace. “I’ll probably take longer.”

“You know,” Riku said, eyeing Vanitas carefully. “There’s a saying on Olympus, when in Thebes…”

Sora turned crimson.

“It’s that or make Komaeda wait for us,” Riku insisted. “Because I know you won’t go until we’re done, will you?”

Komaeda snorted. “Course not.”

“And how am I supposed to wash these without help?” Riku added, flapping his own wings gently. “Let alone, you getting yours.”


It had really been a ploy to get Vanitas to show Riku his lower half, just as poorly scarred as what Sora had seen earlier in the Jupiter of the Monkey clothing shop.

Vanitas actually tried to cocoon himself in his own wings in the bathroom.

“You do know there’s giant holes between your wing splines, right?” Tomo asked gently, kneeling next to Vanitas without actually touching him.

“Just… make it quick,” Vanitas grumbled.

“I can help, if you don’t mind. It’ll speed up the time,” Tomo offered, looking at his other.

Vanitas grunted, and begrudgingly opened up to them, while Sora grabbed a bottle of shampoo.

“Hey, if this is too much I’ll go away, but why don’t I get your hair?”

“Get my… what now?” Vanitas asked, confused.

“Well, Flood likes head pats, so…”

Vanitas pulled his legs to his chest. “I’m… not used to this.”

“What, people worrying about you?” Riku asked. “Get used to it quick, because Sora worries about everyone. I remember him griping to me for a good month after… well, after some issues we had where we’d separated. He was worried about Malificent of all people. Malificent! I’m going to assume even you know who she is.”

“I mean, she did fight off a horde for Donald, Goofy, and I in Radiant Garden,” Sora whined back, pointing an accusatory finger at Riku. “Of course I’m going to worry.”

“She tried to kill you how many times?”

Youtried to kill me how many times?”

The room went dead silent, save a slow drip from the taps.

“I never got to say I’m sorry,” Tomo said quietly.

“You didn’t do anything,” Sora quickly affirmed.

“Maybe not, but I have all of Riku’s memories of it. So, it might not have been my body, but…”

Vanitas hissed through gritted teeth. “Heart to heart later. I’ve been psyching myself up for the last five minutes so take care of this now before I blow my stack.”

Riku and Tomo looked at each other, equal shades of surprise and worry. “Your problem isn’t less important,” Riku insisted to Tomo, as he gently pressed the heel of his palm to Vanitas’s ankle, “but it is less critical.”

Tomo sighed and threw himself into charging up a specialty heal of his own. “Yeah.”

Sora shuffled behind Vanitas. “I’m going to touch your head, and if its too much I’ll hold Flood instead, okay?”

Vanitas just made a pained mphsound, and Sora, ever so slowly, pressed his fingertips into Vanitas’s hair.

It was the same coarse mess Sora had, a surprise, since, outside of a few places, most of the Worlds Between didn’t have people with such heavy, thick hair that stuck upright of its own accord.

Even Lea used hair gel; Sora had gotten a single glimpse of him- in the scant two days between rescuing Kairi and the beach party where he’d faded out of his world- when the near-thirty former apprentice of Ansem had gotten caught in a late summer Twilight Town rain. His thick spikes had gone hilariously flat almost immediately.

Only Ventus, Roxas, and Vanitas had hair exactly like this who hadn’t been an Islander, and Roxas was a Nobody.

Considering Ven had been found, maybe he’d been from Destiny Islands, originally, then? Sora had never gotten the chance to ask. But given the relatively small population, if that were true..

“Vanitas, we might actually be related. I mean, we’re not brothers or anything…”

Vanitas shook a little. “Excuse me?”

“Sora gets into these daydreams sometimes,” Riku said. “And then he’ll blurt out something he realized halfway in it. You get used to it.”

“Excusemefor having a bunch of other people live in me since I was a toddler!” Sora shot back. “Not that I knew it when I was little. Just… sometimes, there was like an echo. More like a warning if I did something really obnoxiously stupid as a kid. I didn't realize it was Ven until only a few months ago. Mom just thought I had an imaginary friend.”

“Her and everyone else until a few months ago,” Riku joked back.

Vanitas snorted, and lowered his shoulders a little, the tips of his new wings brushing against the tile floor, before realizing that not a single person had actually attacked him that day.

The Noise did, sure, but he provoked them, and Sora and Riku was a spar. Deliberate, and with permission. And for all of his loud posturing, Joshua hadn’t laid anything close to a finger on him, either, except to give him his wings.

He honestly couldn’t remember the last time that had ever happened.

“Vanitas, can you stand? I think we’re done.” Riku’s voice, though whether it had come from Riku or Tomo, Vanitas wasn’t sure, as he’d actually started to nod off.

“Uh… yeah… sure.” Riku and Tomo grabbed an arm each, and hoisted him up, and Vanitas closed his wings inward like a flytrap in defense of being touched, locking Sora to his back.

“Ack!” Sora cried.

“Don’t fucking touch me!” Vanitas yelled on instinct, Flood pooling up at his feet.

Riku and Tomo let go showing their open palms; Vanitas began to breathe in pained breath.

“I…sorry,” Vanitas muttered, after taking in gulps of steamed air, as he slowly disentangled his wings.

Sora started to say something, but Riku glared at him. “Sora, I know you’re going to say he doesn't need to apologize. Let him do what he needs in his own time. I may not have been under his thrall for long, but Xehanort got me, too. I know how that feels. Vanitas, look, it’s like all these scars. The worst of it’s gone now- looks like we’ve gotten all the welts. But those little pinkish white lines aren’t ever going to go away. And sometimes they might just hurt for no reason, too. And rarely, without warning, you might just rip one open.”

“Like my wing?” Sora asked.

“Not really the metaphor I was going for, but yeah,” Riku said, scratching the back of his neck. “Speaking of, you should probably soak in the tub and stop pulling on it.”

“But it huuuuurts,” Sora whined.

“Yeah, and if you rip it again you’ll be a puddle on the floor,” Riku said, rolling his eyes. “Now in, before I tossyou in.”

“You wouldn’t!”

Riku grinned, but Vanitas slid in front, hefted Sora up, and dumped him in the massive ofuro, leaving Sora sputtering.

“You do know that means payback,” Sora whined splashing water out at Vanitas.

His wings snapped back, and for a split second, he froze, then began to slowly breathe, almost growling. Flood chittered, and dived into the hot water, giving Vanitas the shock to his system that he needed to refocus. He quirked his mouth to a smirk, and vaulted into the tub, spraying hot water everywhere.

Riku was right, this was going to take time, and a lot of un-learning. And trust.

He exhaled. This was going to be work, but for the first time since he was his own person, separate and distinct from his idiot blonde-haired host, he had actual people on his side. As Tomo more delicately lowered himself into the hot water and Vanitas watched Flood dog-paddle around, squeaking and nudging everyone in a noisy bid for attention, Vanitas realized he might actually have friends.


 

“I… need a minute…” Donald said, weakly, still gripping the Regalia. “I cast that out of my own stamina.”

Prompto tossed him a small bottle. “This might help,” he hissed, before vaulting out of the car, aiming a pistol between the two glowing spheres that were Heartless eyes. He quickly unloaded a clip in them, but the thing ignored it and kept charging. Goofy pulled out his shield, flinging it like a chakram, knocking back the small oncoming horde.

Demnyx cracked his knuckles. He hated fighting, but being killed sucked more. And, in this dimension, he wasn’t even sure that should he be offed, he’d even have the painful joy of recompletion.

“No thanks,” he muttered under his breath, frowning. He needed an army to counter the rolling tide of Shadows in front of them. They weren’t strong, not on their own, but they had numbers and the darkness to empower them.

He just needed a counter to the night. Summoning his sitar, he strummed, hearing a familiar sound behind him of the dimensional rift tearing like wet paper. He just hoped it had been his own doing and not more Heartless.

He spared a glance behind him, and a small army of his own had formed.

“Nobodies too?” Donald squawked.

“They’re mine,” Demyx reassured him. “And I suggest this time around, you all take cover. This many, and I can only give general directions.”

“What?” Noctis asked, impaling a single Heartless with a spear. Demyx was impressed the kid was even dealing damage at all.

“Take cover!” Demyx roared, over a power chord. “It’s not my style but it’s about some time for some real heavy metal!”

Demyx could have sworn he heard the kid mutter “shitty battle cry”, but chose to ignore it, and began to play.

The Dancers lept forward on giant spindly feet and began to swing each other in wide arcs, plowing down whole clumps of the shadows. Demyx moved up from C Major to G, and the Dancers followed his new song, bright and almost obnoxious in the middle of the dusty desert at three in the morning, stabbing through rows of the tiny beasts with their long, pink, hair-rope like appendages. Goofy had ducked and pulled Noctis and Prompto under his shield with him, while Ignis kept the car running and the floodlights on as much of the ground in front of them. Gladio dodged and wove around Demyx’s army, cutting the remaining strays into bits with his great sword.

With the final few notes Demyx added for flourish, the Shadows were gone.

Gladio leaned on his broadsword. “Holy… okay. Let’s scram.”

Demyx dismissed his minions and nodded. “Let’s.”


“Better?” Gabriel asked, as she and Komaeda were angrily mashing buttons on a controller for a fighting game.

Sora nodded, rolling his shoulder.

“After how many new Reapers ruin their shoulders and backs, we’ve blessed the water.”

“I noticed you had a few similar contraptions to Sora’s harness on top of a shelf in there,” Tomo admitted, flopping down on a futon, the entire floor covered with them, barely squeezing space for four plus Gabriel’s gaming chair. “Riku, I hope you didn’t overexert today. You flew just as much as Sora did.”

Komaeda excused themselves to go wash up, and Gabriel stretched herself back, wings folded over the top of the shoulder rest.

Vanitas attempted to make himself comfortable, while Flood jumped on a pillow to smooth it down for a nest.

“Hey, Vanitas, you okay?” Sora asked, watching Flood curl up.

“Compared to what?” Vanitas asked, eyebrow raised.

“I mean… Flood hasn’t come back to you. Your other two Unversed only show up when Noise do.”

“They take effort to materialize. Flood just does what he wants,” Vanitas said, after a while, though it was a valid observation.

“Fear isn’t something you can just turn on and off. Especially if you’ve been abused as much as you have. Honestly, I’m just shocked you aren’t trying to throttle me right now,” Gabriel said, as she quit out of the game she was in and leaned over Riku’s head to switch out disc cases.

“So. Mister Replica and Mister Dark and Broody. Want me to blow your minds?” She held up the game case, and Vanitas snatched it.

“It’s… the Guardians of Light…” he muttered, confused.

“In this universe, we’re video game characters,” Sora explained. “And Joshua, Neku, Beat and Rhyme crossed paths with Riku and I when this world was destroyed and they ended up in Traverse Town. Actually… Gabriel, were you okay?”

“I got recalled home,” she said with a shrug. “If you really want to get technical, us angels are basically aliens. In the same way you are when you go World hopping.”

“I guess… I would be an alien even in a place like Radiant Garden…” Sora said, thinking. “That’s kinda cool.”

“And when you restored this world, everything got put back as if it were the moment right after. Nobody even knew, except the angels and the dead playing the game that week.”

“How did it happen?” Tomo asked, worried, looking bemused over the game discs.

“We aren’t totally sure, but there’s two theories. Both of them boil down to ‘demons did it.’”


“I understand helping them as a good thing to do, but… why?”

“I have a hunch, Xion,” Ienzo said, tapping the side of his head with his fingers in a disjointed rhythm.

“Oh?” she asked, as she summoned her own Keyblade to practice some kata. Fozzie passed her carrying a bass guitar for the band.

“Just don’t magic up some tomatoes, wakka-wakka,” he laughed as he passed. “Any idea how hard it is getting that out of fur?”

Ienzo played with his phone. “I’ve been tracking the news. The heartless only showed up after there was already a crashed car on the street we were on, and people were watching.”

“What, you think they only show up where people are paying a lot of attention?”

“Right now, it’s only a theory, but yes. I’m sure with the technology here if another swarm occurred it would be broadcast very quickly.”

“Well, it’s worth a-”

Xion’s and Ienzo’s phones began to blare with ringtones, as did Roxas’s, who was up on the stage with four summoned Samurai, trying to figure out a routine for the telethon with Gonzo.

“K… Kairi?” Ienzo asked, as he picked up.


“Hey, Gabriel,” Riku asked, wincing slightly as he watched Tomo’s avatar of him during his Mark of Mastery exam get flung into one of Traverse Town’s brick facades by a giant panda Nightmare, trying to ignore the memory of that happening to him for real more times than he cared to admit.

“Sup?” she asked, grinning. She was watching real actual Kingdom Hearts characters playing Dream Drop Distance, a game with her own friends in it, and it was amazingly, wonderfully, nerdy and surreal. She was kind of getting fired up to ask her own conductor to do some Kingdom Hearts themed levels- what they called Reaper challenges back in Shibuya.

“We can’t get our fee back unless we win, right?”

“Yeah, sorry. I can show it to you, but not even Joshua can return your fee. Technically, Riku, you A- don’t even have one, given what happened, and B- you’d actually still need to beat Shinjuku’s game. You might be under special protection, but that’s where you got sorted, so that’s what you’d need to beat. That, or the Conductor forfeits.”

“Wait, does that mean if we can convince Joshua to let us go, we just… win?” Vanitas asked.

“Not Joshua. The Conductor; they’re the ones actually issuing missions. Who, for Shibuya isssss…” she said with a grin. “Someone you know.”

“You’re pausing for dramatic effect,” Riku said rolling his eyes. Tomo’s timer ran out, and the game jolted to the character swap screen. He passed it off to Riku, who smirked at getting to control Sora.

“Of course I am. And it’s Rhyme.”

What.”

“But she’s… not dead,” Tomo said, confused.

“No, but she can still see Players, even after coming to life. Shiki and Neku don’t know; only her brother does. We actually asked him first, when the old Conductor lost his seat. He said, and I quote, ‘hell no, that is wack.’ You didn’t notice she was wearing pins?”

“I kind of just assumed they were sentimental,” Riku grunted, as he used Flowmotion to zoom around three pandas with far more finesse than Tomo had displayed. “Do the other Reapers here know?”

“Only the lieutenants and squad leaders. She spars with me a few times a week, and she’s almost as good as me. To be fair, I’m not one of the strongest angels by a long shot.”

“So if we asked her to let us go…” Vanitas baited.

“She’d probably check with Josh first, but yeah, you’d be free.”

“Then why aren’t we? Riku was Tomo’s fee.”

“Doesn’t matter, he still belongs to Shinjuku.”

“That’s bullshit,” Vanitas spat.

“You’re telling me. Why you think I’ve partnered up with Josh? I’m sick of some of the arbitrary shit the higher ups pull. ‘Ohhhhhh, you two worked so hard together but we’re only bringing one of you back to life, the other one needs to win next week’, or ‘hey, so over the course of the past week your partner became your best friend so now we’re killing them again as your new entry fee’. Bullshit. They just like watching this unfold like a crappy anime. They take bets. That’s what happens when you’re powerful, bored, and arrogant.”

Gabriel’s door creaked open, and Komaeda looked in, worried. “Rhyme is the Conductor?” they asked, worriedly.

“Secret’s out, hope you’ll keep it.”

Komaeda turned red and squeezed in on the floor. “How does she go to Shinjuku to help?”

Carefully,” Gabriel replied. “And with Joshua’s blessing. Shibuya is what happens when an angel and a Conductor work together for the better of those in it, and not stuck in some stupid petty power play. I’m happy to say my own district’s the same. Shinjuku is what happens when two people with very different ideas coexist, and the one with more power steamrolls.”

Gabriel looked down at her five charges from her chair. “’s getting late, and all of you should rest up. You may not be on duty tomorrow, but Josh’s gonna want to be out the door early, when he knows Coco is asleep.”

“You mean we’re going there tomorrow?” Tomo asked.

“Depends. If he thinks its safe. You’d have his blessing to leave the city limits as long as he allows it. Otherwise, there’s a few things he wants to check here in Shibuya. Anyway, I’m crashing, you all should, too, unless you have any other questions.”

“I do.” Sora frowned, thinking.

“Shoot.”

“You said we couldn’t get our fee back unless we won, or became a conductor, and we can win by forfeit. But what if I shared something that was taken?”

“Are you asking if you can share your magic with Vanitas? It’s breaking the spirit of the fee, but not the letter of it. And the other angels do it all the time.”

“So I could?”

“You can try, I won’t stop you. Dunno if it’ll work.”

Sora held out his hand, his Keyblade snapping to it. “Vanitas, do you want a redo on this whole Master thing?”

“I… what. You’re not even a Master yourself, right?”

“Riku, have I not successfully used the power of waking like a whole buncha times?”

Riku looked taken aback, before laughing. “Spirit of the thing, and not the letter, right? The next question you’re going to ask is if that counts as passing your Mark of Mastery exam.”

“Well, you’re a Master yourself now, soooooo…”

Riku rolled his eyes. “Yeah. You passed. Actually, that means something else.” Riku summoned his own Keyblade, flipping it around in his hand so the hilt faced Tomo. “I can take an apprentice, myself. I never did like that weird eyeball sword. Tomo, upgrade?”

“You… sure about this?”

Riku shrugged. “Honestly? No. But if Sora got this far in life being that damn impulsive, maybe I should learn a thing or two, myself.”

Sora grinned, holding his own key’s hilt out to Vanitas.

“Screw Xehanort,” Vanitas said, gripping the handle. “As long as I don’t have to call you Master Sora.”

“It sounds bad, anyway,” Sora admitted.

Vanitas winced, then felt something unbelievably warm in his chest. He couldn’t feel his magic return… Joshua still probably had that hostage. But he did feel something comforting and safe. Sora dismissed his Keyblade in the tight room, and Vanitas held out his hand, aiming where there was open space.

He gasped, ever so slightly.

It felt so light, and it was much smaller and more delicate than his old blade, the keychain the symbol of the Unversed. Spindles of black and grey intertwined, with a broken third of a heart in the hooked part of the key. Vanitas heard a Keyblade sheathe, and Riku, too, had dismissed his own, smiling at Vanitas’s new weapon.

“Nice,” he said simply, before nodding to Tomo.

Tomo inhaled worriedly, and reached out, at first grasping nothing. But Vanitas could see wisps of silver just out of his fingertips.

“Don’t compare yourself to us,” Vanitas said, hugging his new Keyblade close to his chest. It felt… gentle. Especially compared to his old knuckle-dragging Void Gear. “You’ve never used a Keyblade before. Just… sort of open yourself to it.”

Tomo breathed out again. “There’s no way I’m actually worthy of… one.” It was on ‘one’, of course, where his own materialized. Tomo dropped it, like it was a hot potato.

It was all white, with tiny pits of stained glass embedded in it at random intervals. The teeth of the key were colored pencils, sharpened to differing lengths.

“You were thinking of Naminé, weren’t you?” Riku asked, gently.

Tomo slowly picked up his new weapon, his keychain a tiny little sketchbook that actually opened, pages blank.

Gabriel smiled softly. “Okay, okay, I gotta sketch those for my Pixiv.”

Chapter Text

Sora woke up groggy, Flood having worked its way into the space between his wingblades, snuggled pressed to his back. The warmth was welcome on his aching muscles, despite being tinged with a bit of nervousness, a byproduct of being entangled with Vanitas’s fears.

Sora blinked again. Vanitas’s rabbit Unversed was staring him back, an inch from his face. If Sora recalled correctly… that rabbit was his sadness.

Two shapes, wrapped in thin summer comforters were sitting upright and leaning next to each other against the wall with the window. Sora could make out bulges in the back that were folded wings, but that didn’t help; it described everyone crammed in the room, save Gabriel, who didn’t have a sharp iron-wrought point at the joint of her feathery wings.

Sora saw Komaeda on their back, wings sprawled flat, in a tank top and sweatpants, comforter kicked clean off sometime in the night, and Riku curled up in a fetal position to her left, in his new pale blue tee. His infinity timer, unwrapped, glowed a hazy neon red in the darkness.

Sora opened his own hand to look at his. It still blinked double infinity, and burned a little when he pressed a nail on the lettering.

“Hey…” he heard quietly. “I just… thanks.”

Vanitas? Thanking Tomo?

“Riku wanted to help, so…”

“So nothing.Youdidn’t have to. You chose to,” Vanitas snapped quietly. “Don’t make me raise my voice. I haven’t unleashed a rage based  Unversed yet and I’m pretty sure we can’t fit anyone else in here if we tried.”

“Why…?” Tomo asked.

“Because I was ripped from someone else too.” Vanitas said quietly. “And seeing you give up… “

“I’m just a burden,” Tomo admitted with a quiet laugh.

“The fuck you on about?” Vanitas asked, voice raised a little. Riku groaned, blinking open an eye. “That’s not even close to it, you… j-j-”

“Jackass. You can say it to my face, you know.”

Vanitas sighed. “No. It’s a bad habit, it’s not meant to- Tomo, I’m not trying to insult you. I’m not the only one who’s fucked up a bit in the head. You’re just not getting the help you need… because… because you’re nice. I don’t do nice. I don’t know howto do nice, other than some shitty old memories of when I was whole.”

“At least your memories are really yours…” Tomo hissed.

“I am really going to kick myself for this…” Vanitas muttered, before grabbing Tomo on the shoulders. “Where is Riku. Right now.”

Tomo stuttered. “A. A few feet away.”

“So whose shoulders am I holding?”

Riku rubbed the crust out of his eyes and sat up. “Tomo. Do you remember what I said last night? Your issues aren’t less important. But Vanitas needed our help first. I can’t help everyone at the same time. And now… he’s trying to help you.”

Tomo stared at his twin, frowning in the darkness.

“If there’s anyone who can emphasize with you, it’s the guy who literally materializes his emotions,” Riku said with a sweep of his hand.

“Flood, here,” Vanitas demanded. The creature obeyed, and Vanitas scooped it up, locking his hands under its forearms, holding it up for Tomo.

“It’s literally all I have, Tomo. Empathy.”

“You don’t let anyone but Sora touch it,” Tomo said nervously.

“Because when Ventus was stuck in him, I was too, until Xehanort pulled me out of time and shoved me in a replica body. Same as you. I was infuriated, being trapped in Sora for a decade. Do you have any idea how big of an idiot he was as a kid? I saved him from drowning. Thrice.”

“That was you?” Sora asked, rolling a shoulder. “The town thought mermaids did it.”

“Oh look, the peanut gallery,” Vanitas groaned. “Yes. Me. You passed out and I swam your tiny-ass body to shore before you regained conciseness and shoved me back into the recesses of your heart along with my blonde idiot half. You’re a fucking islander and you couldn’t even swim.”

“I was seven!”

“You were an idiot! You still are!”

Riku doubled over, laughing hysterically. “You’re like an old married couple.”

“Yeah well I was literally ball-and-chained to him for years.”

“Is… that why you trust me?” Sora piped in, scooting over.

Vanitas rolled his eyes. “Basically.” He lifted up Flood again for Tomo. “Look. Your old memories weren’t yours. Or they were, in the same way that I have snippets of Ventus’s memories. But the ones you make now are yours. So, make the most of it.”

Tomo slowly reached out, and put his palm on Flood’s forehead. Gently, he stroked the soft velveteen fur. Flood purred, and Vanitas simultaneously relaxed and tensed up under the indirect contact.

“Vanitas, can I hold it?”

Vanitas frowned, looking down at his Unversed. “I’ll let it choose. And if it starts trying to wriggle free…”

“I’ll let go.”

Gently, Vanitas passed Flood to Tomo, who cradled it in his arms. Tomo held and pet the creature, but watched Vanitas’s reaction instead of Flood’s. At first, Vanitas looked a little pained, but bit his own lip and said nothing, flapping his wings a little in the same way a beached fish would flop around stressed.

“Are you sure, Vanitas?”

“If it’s too much, I’ll tell you or it’ll squirm,” he replied, through clenched teeth. “I can’t scream at any stranger I accidentally brush against on the street.”

“I… guess not,” Tomo said, as Komaeda slowly groaned awake.

“Ugh, it’s too hoooooot,” they whined. “I hate Tokyo in August.”

“How did you sleep through Tweedledee and Tweedledum here?” Riku asked, gesturing to Vanitas and Tomo.

“I live in a dorm room with five teenaged and twenty something guys, I can sleep through an earthquake at this point,” Komaeda replied, looking bemused at Tomo handling Flood like it were a decorative egg.

With everyone now awake- Gabriel must have already gotten out of the room- Sora turned back to look around.

The rabbit was gone.


 

“Good, I was just coming to wake you,” Joshua said, opening the door to Gabriel’s room but seeing everyone awake. “A little bird told me Sora passed on some powers to a certain someone who had them taken.”

Sora suddenly felt extremely guilty.

“Didn’t know you could do that. Good job. Get dressed, all of you, regular clothes. Sora, I’ll help so you don’t accidentally phase off your wing brace when you put on a shirt.”

Komaeda quietly excused themselves, as the other four groaned and stretched. Joshua danced around everyone, and found the neatly stacked pile of Sora’s new clothing. Sora groggily pointed at the shirt he wanted, and Joshua held the wing brace in place as Sora pulled it overhead. The straps still clattered to the ground as he phased his wings for a moment to get the shirt on and in place.

“Well, I needed to see if it healed properly anyway,” Joshua muttered.

Carefully, he touched Sora’s back and checked. “I’m still keeping you grounded but Gabriel set it correctly. Fly only as a last resort.”

Sora nodded, having bit his lip while Joshua had pressed on the formerly torn muscle. It wasn’t screaming pain, but it was still extremely tender to the touch.

Emergencies only, Sora reminded himself, as Joshua rolled up the brace and left the room to let them change in peace.


 

“Seven in the morning?” Sora groaned. “If I knew we were up as early as we were I woulda gone back to bed.”

“Stop whining,” Gabriel chided, as she stood over a stovetop, directing breakfast.

And directing was a very good word for it. Various pans were telekinetically being flipped and seasoned, plates floating around her as she loaded each one with pancakes and eggs, flinging it to a table crammed with eight sets of silverware.

“You’re not stepping out of here looking like that are you?” she added, as Riku ducked a carafe of coffee Uriel floated to the center of the table.

“I’m letting them choose,” Joshua replied. Sora relaxed a little, thankful the annoyed side eye wasn’t directed at his choice in clothing, a track jacket Neku had picked out for him in blue-purple and black, with basketball shorts.

“You’re plenty old to be picking your own clothes,” Vanitas said with a smirk. “Unless this is some kind of magic curse thing.”

“She’s not talking about what I’m wearing, or well she is, but… she’s talking about my face. I can’t just walk into Shinjuku like this. I guess you missed the first night here. We angels are only gendered for convenience. I don’t have any attachment to what I look like save the fact that I’ve been using this face for about a decade.”

“My last assignment was in Sweden, fifty years ago,” Gabriel piped. “You think I looked like Futaba Sakura there? Or here for that matter? I was Sakura from Fire Emblem before I changed it up.”

“Our cosplayer nerd here changes her appearance whenever there’s a new game out she likes,” Uriel explained, rolling her eyes. “You always pick the girls, though. Always.”

“Well excuse me for liking being cute,” Gabriel said, flipping three pancakes and tossing them on another plate.

“And yet you’ll never wear a dress.”

“Hate ‘em.”

“Or do your nails.”

“Waste of time.”

“Makeup?”

“Hard pass.”

“Then why be a girl?”

“Because I wanna, that’s why,” Gabriel pouted. “Do I need a reason?”

Ladies,” Joshua said, annoyed. “We need to eat and go.”

“Well excuseme for not being any good at time magic,” Gabriel huffed. “Unless you wanna take over, these pancakes are only going to cook as fast as physics lets them.”

“Josh will just burn them to spite us,” Uriel commented. “Switch.”

“I will not!” he huffed, as Uriel suddenly started to do things at an impossibly high speed, completely filling the table with fully cooked food in under a minute.

“Showoff,” Gabriel muttered, as she plopped down on a cushion at the low table.

“If it’s any consolation, your reality bending magic is unmatched,” Uriel offered, as she slid in an open space between Vanitas and Komaeda.

“Yeah, yeah,” Gabriel muttered, shoving a forkful of chocolate chip pancake in her mouth.

“You… want us to pick what you look like?” Tomo finally spoke up, asking incredulously as he reached for a pitcher of juice.

“I never really liked picking a new face. Someone’s always done it for me, so at this point, I’ve given up trying. If I try to make one without a reference to look off of…”

“It looks bad,” Uriel and Gabriel said in unison.

“Terrible,” Gabriel added.

“Horrible,” Uriel agreed.

“Gang up on me, why don’t you?” Joshua snapped good-naturedly. “Ugh. The only thing worse than being egged like this is knowing that they’re not exaggerating.”

“It’s like, when you try to make a new look for yourself, you go into a character editor, hit the random button, and just be that. Yuck,” Gabriel added in mock disgust. “It never works.”

“Then I dunno, make yourself look like Kairi or something,” Vanitas goaded.

Sora turned crimson. “Please don’t.”

“No, see, now I wanna see this more,” Gabriel laughed.

“I’m not going to be that big of a jerk, Gabe,” Joshua commented, pouring himself a cup of black coffee.

“Then Naminé,” Vanitas suggested. Riku and Tomo turned tomato colored.

“Aqua, then, while we’re at it,” Riku countered, glaring at Vanitas.

“See, that doesn’t work. I have absolutely zero interest in her.”

Joshua pinched the bridge of his nose, exasperated. “Just pick someone. I need to not look like me, or a celebrity. Someone who’s not going to look odd walking around Tokyo. And yes, you’ll need to hide your hair colors again today.”

Sora groaned. “Can I have sunglasses instead of contacts at least? Those things itched.”

“I’m sure I have a few pairs lying around,” Uriel offered.

Komaeda flipped absently through their phone. “I just asked one of my roommates if you can borrow their face for the day. He said yeah.” They faced their phone forward, and Joshua frowned in concentration.

“As good as any. Someone Coco doesn’t know, wouldn’t have any way of knowing, right?”

“He died seven months ago after he got shoved off a roof. His body was so messed up they didn’t run it in the papers or news.”

“Oh, this is Yasu, right? That was just before all hell broke loose. I should go and introduce myself. Tell him I said thanks, and I’ll apologize in person later.”

Joshua closed his eyes, and his features began to rearrange, his hair darkening, and a little stubble grew. He winced as he pulled his wings in, and in an explosive poof of feathers that disappeared after a moment of floating in the air, his wings re-materialized as the metal-looking kind Reapers had.

“Good enough?” Joshua asked. “I’m not going to mess with my voice unless I have to. I like it.”

“Yeah, that’s cause I picked it out for you,” Uriel said, rolling her eyes. “Your old one sounded like one of those old men playing shogi over in Yoyogi.”

“Well excuse me for liking strategy games,” Joshua countered, running his fingers though his now-longer hair, before passing the phone back to Komaeda, who snorted behind a hand.

“Hearing your voice come from his mouth is really disorienting,” they admitted.

“That’s it? I just transformed in front of you and not a single bit of surprise?”

“I’ve turned into a vampire, a mermaid, and a lion,” Sora said, shrugging. “I honestly didn’t realize that was a big deal.”

“Ouch,” Gabriel said, downing a mug of eighty percent sweetened milk to twenty percent coffee. “Pwned.”

“You literally re-set your jaw in front of me last night,” Komaeda added. “And every time Neku slugs you.”

“You’re all bark and no bite,” Vanitas added, more for his own reassurance than anything else, as Flood wormed its way up to try and steal a pancake. “Sit, Flood, and I’ll cut it,” he hissed, bopping it lightly on the head with the back of his hand.

Joshua sighed.

“Tough crowd.”


 

“I’m bushed.” Demyx practically rolled off the back of his chocobo, before hitching it to the feeding station to rest and recover. Goofy followed, dismounted, then offered a hand to Prompto, who’d swapped with Donald for the ride back.

“I got it,” Prompto said, with a wave of his hand. “Go drag your friend out of the backseat. Gladio’s probably too afraid to wake him up and end up with a sparkler in the face.”

“Fair,” Demyx said, stretching. He walked the fifty feet down the hill to the car park, and hefted the snoring mage up over a shoulder. It felt a little like when he delivered Vexen’s replica for Ienzo, a unconscious mage who really just needed a god-damned hug.

“Tomorrow, you’re telling us exactly what in the nine hells you did,” Ignis hissed low as he locked the car. “I won’t hand over the proof of bounty until you do.”

Demyx groaned. “Really? You’re filthy rich. And you’re sitting here hoarding our one chance at cash over us. I get you don’t fully trust us. But that’s just low.”

“Information then. I’ll tell you about Shibuya.”

Demyx frowned. “I hate you. I actually. Honestly. Hate. You. Have it your way.”

“Sleep well, and don’t let the demons bite.”

“Here, that sounds more like a threat,” Demyx muttered, joining Goofy to go crash at the hotel, dirty, sweaty, and exhausted.


 

“This is way too damn early,” Neku whined, yawning. “You know what time I had to be up to be here on time?”

“Well, it’s a Tuesday at 7:45 AM, so not only were you up, you were on an express train to Shibuya during rush hour. I don’t envy you,” Rhyme said, shuddering a little as she sipped her green tea frappe at the café.

Now that Sora knew what to look for, he spotted the seven pins on Rhyme’s knit hat, none of them recognizable save the black and white pin all Players were given. She also had a faint glimmer around spots behind her back. Sora mentally traced the disturbance.

Rhyme had Reaper wings, but they were camouflaged somehow.

“We’re still waitin’ on Shiki, yo. And Josh.”

“Just Shiki,” Neku said, rolling his eyes to give Joshua serious side eye.

“Oh, come on, it’s not that obvious,” Joshua said.

Beat almost fell out of his chair. “Maybe for Neku, yo. I ain’t as smart.”

Flood chittered loudly and jumped up on Vanitas’s head.

“Oh, come on, now even Van’s Noise is makin’ fun a’me.”

Joshua paled. “You seeit?”

“You don’t?”

“Of course I do…” Joshua hissed.

“Our running theory is because it’s something Vanitas could do while alive, now that he’s visible, it is too,” Riku offered sipping a coffee and scanning the sea of people outside the station for Shiki. “They were able to see my magic yesterday too, when I used a spell from home rather than a pin-based one.”

Joshua downed his drink in a hard gulp. “I guess people here really willignore anything.”

“Just tell them it’s an experimental robot companion if someone does ask?” Neku offered as Tomo waved Shiki over.


 

“I’m not sure which is worse,” Isa grumbled, taming stock of the bright, thick blue fur covering his new body. “I’ll take too many layers of clothes to none at all.”

Naminé giggled, as she started to figure out how to use he new row of spindly insect legs to propel herself forward. “No thanks. That corset was a death trap.”

Vexen just shuddered. “Naminé, that skittering on the pavement is making me very, very uncomfortable.”

“You don’t like bugs?” she asked, wiggling her new fingers, just two thick digits plus a thumb, in mottled gold.

“I do not,” he admitted. “My only saving grace is that I am not one.” Vexen was a rail thin, tall beast with six arms and short fur in gold and orange bands. Naminé was reminded vaguely of a creamsicle candy cane when she looked at him.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to sort this out, mentally,” Vexen admitted. “I move one arm, and I end up moving two or five.”

“Well, we’re wasting time standing here. We need to get to the factory and meet up with Lea’s group,” Isa demanded.

“Easy for you, mister two-arms-two-legs.”

“I have horns!” Isa offered.

“I have hooooorns!” Vexen mocked. “Horns are just fingernails that got lost on their way out of the body. You don’t get to complain. If I had my Organization jacket in this form, I’d use one as a coat hook.”

“Says the walking actual coat rack,” Isa replied, grinning with far too many teeth.


 

“Plan of attack?” Shiki asked. “And sorry. They were doing track work so I ended up having to walk.”

“You don’t want to be on a train during rush hour anyway,” Neku shuddered.

“Yeah, and we’re not flying, we have four people weak on their wings and one of them already tore a muscle yesterday,” Joshua added. “It’s about an hour walk from here, so long as everyone’s okay with that. I need to check something in Yoyogi anyway and we basically have to pass it.”

“Can we stop in Asakusa before we head home?” Rhyme asked.

Vanitas noticed that she’d clasped her hands almost in a begging motion as she did. Reapers, and the Conductor, needed permission to leave their districts.

“Did you need something?” Joshua asked. “I can get it for you. It’s the least I can do for dragging you all out.”

“Time with my friends? All of them?” Rhyme asked.

Oh, yeah. Of course,” Joshua replied, nodding. “I’ll make sure we have some time to do something else when we’re done. You only have a few days left of break, don’t you?”

Neku nodded. “What are you going to do once we’re all back in school?”

“We’re going to kick Coco out of Shinjuku before then.”

“But… I have orientation on Friday. It’s Tuesday.”

“And?” Joshua replied. “We have a hostage crisis and four extremely powerful people already breaking UG rules by existing. Let’s make use of what we have.”

“We have like…” Shiki said, counting on her fingers, “sixty hours.”

“And we’ll have fifty-nine when we get to Shinjuku,” Joshua said simply.

“Then let’s use em, yo!” Beat roared, standing to his feet.


 

Demyx rose to his feet. It was past noon, by the small electric wall clock shoved in the corner of their bedroom. He went to turn on the tap, finding the handle loose. He’d complain later, but for now, he magicked himself some water to douse his face and at least make himself marginally presentable.

“Was going to tell you the sink is busted,” Donald said. “Could I ask for some too? I’m out of mana and I can’t absorb from the atmosphere. There’s no ambient magic here.”

“Huh? I’ve had no problem recharging?” Demyx asked with an uptick.

“No ambient light. There’s plenty of darkness,” Donald clarified, with a grumble.

“You could leech, if you needed,” Demyx asked, holding out an arm. “I can barely keep it in here anyway. I hate venting it out.”

“You sure?”

“You’re doing me a favor.”

“You just want to be lazy,” Donald said with a huff, but he took the offered hand and drew.

“Ack, Donald! You just drained me dry!”

“You said you didn’t have a problem recharging,” Donald replied with a smirk.

“The hell are you, some sort of magic pit? Hang on, I’ll pull in some more.” Demyx took a sharp inhale, until the edges of his vision glowed with a purple haze. “Take what you need, just don’t bleed me-” Demyx started, offering his hand out again. In moments, every store he’d just acquired vanished. “-dry. Seriously. How much mana do you hoard?”

“I cast from my stamina when I run out. A trick I learned watching some heartless around the castle when I was a kid. I never told the others, figured they wouldn’t let me be a court mage if they found out. I think King Mickey knows, but he’s never said anything.”

Three more times, Demyx absorbed the ambient magic, and two more times, Donald took it from him in an instant.

“Had enough yet?” Demyx asked, rolling his eyes. “Cause now I’m starving.”

“I’m not full, but it’s enough,” Donald replied, summoning a little fire to his hand. It was purple-black, instead of the usual reddish-gold.

“Just… I know I filtered it for you, but its still darkness based. Be careful with it.”

Donald nodded, bouncing the tiny fireball off his knuckles, one of his gold bangles clanking with the movement. “I know what I’m doing, Demyx,” he snipped, before softening a little. “Thank you for the concern, though. I look at you, and for a moment I see an older Sora.”

“You got kids, too?”

“If Sora counts, yes. Unlike Goofy, I have a wife, but we can’t have children. I have my nephews, but they travel with my uncle most of the time. Sora’s the kid I never had. I’m a bit hard on him, but…”

“You worry. I get it. Back in the Org, it was something similar. Ienzo got turned when he was what… five? Six? Nobody really knows how old he is. Somewhere between fourteen and nineteen, and that’s about all we’ve got. He was like a little brother to me, a bit, but he was basically Vexen’s kid.”

“We should probably get some food,” Donald said, acknowledging Demyx in his own way. “I’m sure Goofy and Prince Noctis and his retinue are waiting.”


“Not one person,” Joshua muttered, as he watched people pass them by.

“One person what?” Tomo asked, confused.

“Nobody’s looking at Vanitas.”

Flood was nested up on Vanitas’s head, his back legs on the teen’s shoulders, chittering happily and enjoying the view of the city from his perch. “Good, because I don't feel completely self-conscious enough already.” He turned the collar on his skull jacket up a notch, flexing the fingers on his right hand through his bandage, grateful they didn't try and shove him in a wig. Flood weighing him down was enough. He pushed his sunglasses up his nose and pulled the Unversed off his head. “Sora, you carry him. When I put him on the ground he just scrambles up me again.”

Sora tried to pull Flood off, but he whined and dug his forelegs into Vanitas’s ears.

“The hell? Stop it, Flood… oh shit. Sora, let go.”

“The border between Harajuku and Shinjuku,” Joshua said. This is the end of the Shibuya district. I have to bless you all or you can’t leave.”

“It’s… like there’s a red fog,” Sora said, looking at the miasma towering all the way into the sky. He tapped the air, and his hand hit an invisible hexagonal barrier like the one he and Riku had erected for the game the day before.

“That’s what the reapers all said yesterday when I came to hand out supplies,” Neku said. “It just looks like another part of the city to me though.”

“Same, yo. That fog’s only in the UG.”

“I don’t think I can see a foot or two inside it,” Riku said, concerned. “And this wasn’t here on Sunday when Komaeda’s brother found me.”

“A foot?”

“Roughly a third of a meter,” Joshua supplied, tapping the border wall gently before sticking his hand through it. “I can’t even see my hand once it’s through. Coco’s been using this haze to periodically screw with everyone. Uriel’s the only one immune, but she also can’t touch Coco.”

Joshua shoved his head inside. “It’s going to take way too much effort to dispel just around me, and I don't have the power to lift it over the whole city. Maybe a few blocks, max.” He pulled back. “I’d bet money that imp made some kind of deal with a devil, and she has to know we’re here. She doesn't put this up indefinitely.”

“D-d-demons are real?” Beat asked shocked.

“You’re joking right?” Joshua deadpanned, crossing his arms. “Anyway, real actual demons are… socially speaking, a bit backwards, but they’re not downright vile. Most of their aggression is of the self-preservation variety. We leave the Fair Folk alone, they do the same for us.”

“Fairies are real?” Beat asked, even more exaggerated. Joshua just facepalmed. “Next you’re going to tell me leprechauns exist,” Beat added.

Joshua inhaled and raised a finger, before sighing and lowering it. “Another time,” he muttered. “So, give us the short version, Neku, Beat. You two go in here the most.”

“Coco doesn’t issue missions. She just leaves the dead to figure out everything. She toys with people, and sics noise on them, and puts up the fog when she really likes screwing with everyone. And unless you’re willing to be her personal servant, she’s kicked the Reapers from their homes. Most are sleeping on the streets. There were rumors that she’s planning to take away everyone’s phones, but she hasn’t done it yet. She’ll randomly run the emergency alert system whenever she feels like it, so between the red haze making it impossible for the Reapers to see, the distrust, the random Noise attacks that go after players and reapers alike, and the regular blaring out of people’s phones, there’s no safe place or time for peaceful sleep.”

Vanitas glowered behind his sunglasses. “That's literal, actual, torture. Does anyone know why she’s even doing this?”

“That’s the worst part of all of this,” Komaeda said, running fingers along the barrier, crackling with energy. “She thinks it’s fun.”


 

“This is literal, actual torture.” Demyx stared down Noctis and his retainers, opposite himself, Doanld and Goofy at one of the pub’s long outdoor tables. They’d already started eating, and Demyx’s food hadn’t come from the kitchen yet.

“Quit being a baby,” Donald chided.

“What he said,” Prompto agreed, nicking a fry off Noctis’s plate.

“You have food.”

“You have a portable army,” Ignis replied.

“So I wasn’t just dreaming that,” Prompto said, mouth full. “Glad that’s sorted.”

“How?” Ignis asked.

“I can call certain… monsters… for lack of a better term, to come help in battle. If I just call a few of them, I have complete control. An army like that, and I can sort of just direct them.”

“You’re inhuman,” Gladio said, poking at his chili.

Demyx nodded and smiled softly. “Yeah. Haven’t been human for a long, long time.”

“I meant that more in the powers sense, not literally. But… you’re really not?”

Demyx shrugged. “I’m basically one of the creatures I summoned, I just happen to have a brain.”

“Most of the time,” Donald muttered, loudly enough for the table to hear.

Prompto, very quietly, shrunk in his chair.


 

“Look, I know you four don’t need it,” Joshua said, addressing Neku, Shiki, Beat and Rhyme. “But I’m just going to cover our collective asses.” Joshua licked the back of his palm and smeared his saliva on Shiki’s forehead.

“Ew.”

“You want every protection I can give, or not?”

“Still, gross.”

“That is entirely fair.”

Neku winced. “I already got immunity thanks to what happened last February.”

“I’m not taking chances,” Joshua chided, and smeared his forehead, too.

“If I get zits or a cold sore, I’m blaming you, yo,” Beat whined, next in the line.

“You know cold sores are herpes, right?” Neku asked grinning.

“Ew, double ew,” Beat complained as Joshua moved on to his sister, the real reason he’d blessed the other three.

“And with this, I grant you safe passage,” he said, doing the same for her. “Until I relinquish it again or time should run its course.”

When Joshua removed his hand to move on to Komaeda, Rhyme had a red timer etched on her forehead.

Six hours, and counting down.


 

“So, why is your home getting bombed?”

“It’s a… very long story,” Ignis said with a shrug as Demyx inhaled his macaroni and cheese. “The summary is a war, though it seems as much a front for our enemy to try out some new bioweapons.”

“The demons?”

“And possibly also the smaller creatures we were ambushed by last night.”

“Those are called Heartless,” Demyx interjected. “They’re born of darkness, though they can come out in the day, too.”

“Is that what you are, Demyx?” Ignis asked, hands steepled on the table as he observed the three of them.

“…sorta,” Demyx replied, before diving back into his brunch. “It’s also a long story.”

“When someone’s heart is ripped outta ‘em, the heart with no body becomes one kinda demon, and the body left behind becomes another,” Goofy explained. “Demyx is the body half.”

“So… you’re a zombie?” Noctis asked.

“Good way of putting it, yeah,” Demyx said. “Heart ripped out, but I get some powers from the bargain.”

Prompto slunk further in his space on the bench.

“Prompto, are you ill?” Ignis asked, noticing his composure.

“I… I’ll be fine,” Prompto said, with a shaky smile. “Just… didn’t get enough sleep last night, I think.”

“Make sure you go back to the hotel and take a nap if you are unwell,” Ignis chided. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we still need to bring Noctis to Altissia.”

“This is the literal worst stag party in existance,” Gladio said, snorting.

“Stag… party?” Goofy asked, before realizing. “Noctis, you’re gettin’ married? Awful young, don't’cha think? This ain’t some political marriage of convenience is it?”

Noctis frowned a little. “It is, but at least I do like her,” he admitted.

“My son’s about your age, can’t imagine him hitchin’ that young. You just be careful, now, you hear? And treat your princess well.”

“Are you giving me… advice on women?” Nocits asked, just short of laughing.

Demyx wanted to add that he should see what Goofy really looked like, but bit his tongue. One friend turning out to be a demon was one thing, finding out the other two were a sentient dog and duck was probably going to make Noctis’s head spin clean off.


“Can we… see my brother?” Komaeda asked, holding one of Neku’s elbows. Joshua was on the other side, holding the other for guidance, but they could barely see each other through the fog.

“Kinda figured you’d want to, though, given how the two of you are going to tear my arms off, you can’t see very much, can you?”

“I can’t even see Master Joshua.”

“Ow. That bad?”

“That bad,” Sora said, holding one side of Shiki while Vanitas had her other elbow. “But I can hear you just fine.”

“Good, don’t yell,” Joshua insisted. “We don’t need all of Shinjuku thinking we’re crazy. Talk like normal.”

“WHAT I’M SORRY I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” Vanitas shouted. Sora vaguely heard Joshua sigh.

Their living friends guided them down someplace, where Neku whistled a quick song.

“It’s Neku Sakuraba, I’ve brought friends, onigiri, and water.”

“Neku?” a woman’s voice called out. “The fog’s still here. None of us can see.”

“Yeah, I know. I have Shiki, Beat, and Rhyme here, and some Reapers from Shibuya. I can see you all just fine. I’ll come and tap you on the shoulder, okay?”

“Head’s up, we’re affected by it too,” Komaeda said aloud. “I can’t see more than an arms length away.”

“Komaeda?” another voice asked.

“His twin,” Komaeda explained. “Is he with you?”

“He’s sleeping under the overpass,” Shiki offered. “Okay, reapers, let go, and let us give out food and drinks and I’ll bring him to you.” Sora let go of Shiki, and shifted nervously on his feet, as he closed his eyes and just listened to his living friends work.

“Jack, I’ve got a konbu and a fried shrimp one for you, here. And a bottle of tea. There you go, you got it?”

“Yeah, thanks, Neku, you’re an angel.”

“No way, man. Give me like seven or eight decades first.”

“Risa, two tuna mayo and a pumpkin milk,” Shiki offered.

“Thank God.”

Sora just listened quietly as food was distributed to seven grateful voices.

“We’ve got another bag here for the homeless people who are alive,” Neku said. “I know they won’t let us just give them stuff, so I’m leaving it with Nori.”

“I’ll make sure anyone who wants food can get it,” a gruff, much older voice replied. “They know that we’ve suddenly got periods when we can’t see, and we.. ahem… liberate things from the vending machines when we can for ‘em, and get the cops to leave ‘em alone.”

“Do you guys need money?” Joshua asked.

“Who doesn’t?”

“I have something from Master Joshua,” Joshua said.

“Oh what, the angel running Shibuya? The heck he’d want with us?”

“Who do you think’s been funding you guys?” Joshua asked the red haze. “Master Uriel and Master Joshua have. There’s no way a bunch of high schoolers could afford to feed all the Reapers in Shinjuku.”

“Tell that witch she can have her money, I just want Coco out,” Risa’s voice whined through the red fog.

“She’s doing what she can, but her hands are tied and her wings are clipped,” Joshua commented. “I’ve been trying to help too.”

“You’re Joshua aren’t you?” the older voice stated. “Nobody around here talks like that.”

“Might be,” Joshua admitted.

“Buncha Reapers from outside gotta have their escort,” Nori grumbled. “Just stop talking in third person and you’re fine in my book. And I know it ain’t Uriel’s fault. But it does sting that she’s not done shit.”

“Eep!” Komaeda cried, far off, followed by a loud crack.

“You… ow, it’s Neku, your twin’s with me. That was my wrist you just snapped.”

“Fuck!” Komaeda- Shinjuku’s Komaeda- cried out. “Sorry Neku!”

“It’s okay. Just get up and hold on to me. Josh, you wanna heal my arm?”

“If you come to me, I’m just as blind as the Reapers,” Joshua grumbled.

“Ugh, hang on. Ko, you hit just as hard as your twin.”

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “With this fog…”

“Yeah. Don’t worry about it,” Neku said, navigating him back to his sibling. “This has to be torture.”

“We have to move camp every night so Coco doesn’t find us. Uriel obfuscates us as much as she can, but…”

“There’s too many of you, and if you all stay together you’re a target.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s… frustrating,” Joshua said quietly, as Neku grabbed Joshua’s hands, placing them on his own, so Joshua could heal his fractured wrist.

“Why can’t we just leave?” Risa whined.

Joshua sighed. “Because Uriel doesn’t allow that alone. You need the Conductor to agree by weakening the border wall. I might be able to use my magic to force override it, but I’d be able to get three or four of you out a week, maximum. And there’s over three hundred Reapers in the district.”

“Of course,” Nori groaned. “Your bureaucracy can’t make it easy. Ever.”

“How’s your hand, Neku?” Joshua asked.

He was answered with a solid jab right on the nose.

“Ubh, an here I thowt I was off easy,” Joshua whined, as he fixed his face. “You broke my nose.”

“Past tense, Joshua- and thanks for the heal, can I have another?” Neku asked, putting his hand back in Joshua’s as the Komaeda siblings wrapped each other in a hug, sobbing and shaking.


“We need to get as far away from Insomnia as we can, not just so Noctis can marry, but so he can be crowned king and return to legitimize his rule,” Ignis explained, paying the check and handing over a wad of bills. “Your Gil, reward for the hunt. We’ll sell off the rest of the viscera, as agreed last night.”

“Thanks,” Demyx said, taking the cash. “Wait, this is way more than what we were supposed to get.”

“You need it more than us,” Noctis said with a shrug. “We all agreed.”

“Is there a catch?”

“No catch, but-” Gladio started, when three pieces of music played simultaneously.

Demyx, Donald, and Goofy all reached for their phones.

“K-kairi?!”


 

“Obfuscate!” Neku yelled, before a sinister howling laugh echoed through the fog.

“Hmmmmm?” the voice asked. “Trying to hide from lil’ me? Why would you do that?”

The fog disappeared, as a small girl, no older than ten or twelve in appearance flapped down, dragging a white body bag wrapped up in chains. She was wearing a bright teal dress, striped socks, hot pink sneakers, and a short hot pink jacket with ears on the hood that reminded Sora vaguely of Kairi’s.

The similarity between her and his friend stopped there, though. She landed, and dropped the bag with a think, dragging the bag with her.

It was wriggling.

“Hiiiiiii losers! Whatcha doing in my city?”

Joshua coughed, and spoke with a voice that sounded nothing like his own. “Master Joshua sent us here. He wanted to bargain for Riku to be transferred under him completely.”

She looked between their foreheads. “Wow. And sending seven of you. That’s bold.”

“Seven?” Neku asked, counting heads, the eight Shinjuku reapers, Komaeda’s brother included, either completely visible or long gone from the dirty underpass they were standing in. “But there’s only six… reap… ers…” he said, slowly coming to a realization, closing his mouth quietly.

He sighed. “And I’m here as someone completely neutral.”

“Neutral my big ‘ol butt,” Coco whined. “You haaaate me. I know you do.” She disappeared from view and re-emerged an inch from Neku’s face. “I can read your miiiind.”

“Hands off.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of hurting you, Neku. It’s a waste of my energy since you’ve won that stupid baby game in Shibuya so many times. But you’ve brought friends I can hurt. Of course… you’ve made them twins.”

She singsonged. “Which… one… is… mi~ineeeeee…” as she walked between them. “Not you, with the Noise on your shoulder, and you…” she said,  pointing a finger between Sora’s eyes, “too happy. I like my teenage hotties with a side order of emo.”

She rattled the chain in her hand. “Makes a better battery.”

“Who’s in there?” Beat demanded.

“Nobody you care about, that’s for sure. Picked up an otherworldly stray. He sucks up magic like you wouldn’t believe, so I have a nice portable energy source.”

Flood growled low at her.

“Tamed Noise? Ew, who is even that base?” She flicked an arrow of purple black energy from a single finger, shooting Flood right between the eyes. It disintegrated immediately, and Vanitas doubled over a little.

“Vanitas!” Sora yelled.

“It… just returned to me, I’m fine…” Vanitas replied in their own language from home.

Coco scowled, an odd sight on such a young girl’s face. “No talking out of turn. Especially in some weird space language.”

She kicked the bag in disgust, and the occupant coughed hoarsely.

“Thiiiiiink I broke another rib. Ah well, I’ll just fix it and wait for something else to fall apart. Like this,” she said, reaching for one of Joshua’s wings. She hissed, as her palm burned under the touch.

“Fucking… loser… angel.”

“I did tell you he gave us his blessing.”

“Yeah well, his blessing’ll only do so much to people he actually owns,” Coco said, frowning. “It’s not the chick,” she added, glaring at Rhyme, “so it must be…”

Coco reached for Riku, right at the lacy part of his wing, and tyrned and twisted it, shredding it into bits between her fingers. Black ichor oozed from the wounds, and Riku screamed, doubling over in pain while Coco planted a sneaker on his back, sending him into the foul smelling puddles in the underpass.

She grinned, and opened her free palm, calling the ichor- Riku’s reaper-wing blood- to her. It began to coalesce into a spear, which she raised giddily over Riku before anyone had a chance to react.

Time seemed to slow… and then rewind. And then stutter forwards again.

Riku screamed on repeat as his wing shred apart and reformed in a stuttering loop.

Coco dropped the ichor spear.

“What the..” she pouted. “Ugh. You’re no fun anymore.”

She rolled the chain up around her arm and flew off, leaving Riku to spasm wildly.

“Riku?” Neku asked, worried, unable to see the damage.

“She… ripped one of his wings to shreds,” Sora whispered, kneeling, in horror as time cycled backwards and forwards in a loop of agony.

“I- I- I-‘m okay…” Riku stuttered out, glitching.

“You’re screaming,” Sora said, watching as Riku stuttered upright.

“It- echo. I’m.. already… myself. Healed.”

His words chipped in and out, out of order.

“Me. Let —- check something.”

Riku stuttered back to a frozen face of him screaming, his wing shredded and Coco’s ichor spear floating on nothing before snapping to Riku holding out his hand, palm out, showing his timer.

“Fee. Your fee. Xord. Time. He controls time.”

“That’s why we’re outside the game,” Sora whispered out. “That wild card is-”

Riku glitched backwards in time to replay his wing shredded, but this time, with his bandage off his hand.

The timer was -99:99:99

He stuttered again, earlier, his wing whole.

-99:98:16

He snapped back to a shredded wing, but no face of agony, glitching as he stepped.

“Time loop. —- have activated —-“

Vanitas gulped. “Komaeda, I know you wanted more time with your brother but we need to flee while that hell-girl lets us.”

Komaeda nodded, and shapes shimmered into view. The eight Reapers materialized, in ratty, dirty clothes and with tired, bloodshot eyes. One had a splint on her wing and another was missing an arm entirely.

Joshua held out a thick envelope.

“While you can, get some food. I’m going to look into getting hotel rooms. It can’t be that hard to house three hundred people, can it?”

“You’d do that?” the gruff old man asked. Nori. One of his eyes was pussed over and leaking the graffiti-like marks of Noise. He snatched the money from Joshua and shoved it in a pocket.

“If I knew it was this bad, I would have done it sooner.”

“Coco will just retaliate harder,” another voice said.

“I’m going to kill her myself,” Joshua said sternly. “Just stay out of her way until then.”

The eight nodded wearily.

“Let’s go,” Joshua demanded. “Before Coco gets an idea for a batter game.”

“E-e-Yes,” Riku stuttered, snapping between positions. Sora watched his hand to try and puzzle out how time affected him.

The lower the negative number, the further back it was pulling from, it seemed.

“You sure you’re okay?” Tomo asked him.

“Okay. Not okay. But —- pain. Not in.”

“Come on Yoda, lets get you home and I’ll back out what’s going on.”


 

“Attacking Coco head on is suicide,” Vanitas said, his shadow bubbling underneath him. Flood’s head popped out, chirping happily, and jumped on the table.

They’d all crammed back in Joshua’s apartment, poking at drinks and snacks and city maps. Riku continued to glitch at unpredictable intervals, and even outright disappeared for a few seconds at a time.

“End up. Shinjuku,” he supplied, after his most recent episode.

If anyone tried to touch him, they’d just warp around him. He couldn’t take things from others, but if they were set on an inanimate object, like the table, he could interact with them.

His cup of juice regularly glitched it’s contents, full one moment, empty the next, then back to partially full of juice again.

No one had poured him anything.

“This is probably Luxord’s power kicking in,” Tomo suggested. “I only know of him from what the other Organization members mentioned. He was an incredibly powerful time mage, yet barely used his magic in any significant way.”

Joshua held out his fingertips, and the card materialized just above his hand. “I can’t return the fee, even if I want to. But… maybe being near the source might help.”

Joshua laid the card on the table, and Riku reached for it.

He screamed bloody murder and flopped back, glitching wildly on the floor.

“Bad idea! Bad…” Joshua cried, freaking out.

And then Riku stilled, his wings whole again. He panted, and slowly opened his eyes and sat up.

The card vanished off the table.

“I’m going to say a full sentence in chronological order,” Riku said slowly. “Can someone else talk?”

“Riku, how are you?”

“Not hearing everything all jumbled out of order, for starters.”

“You’re sounding normal again,” Tomo said slowly. “I’m going to try touching you.”

Tomo reached out and put a hand on Riku’s shoulder.

Riku exhaled a sigh of relief.

“It worked,” Neku said, surprised. “It actually worked.”

Riku opened his palm.

-99:98:16

-99:98:15

-99:98:14

“It’s.. not infinity any more,” Riku said, showing his hand. “It’s like a Player timer, but in reverse.”

“What happens when it ticks up to zero?” Vanitas asked. “We were told when our timers went down to zero we’d be Erased.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the same rules applied,” Riku said, quietly. “Neku and his friends might have a soft timer of two days to help… but I’ve got a hard timer of four to live. I think I would have been Erased back in Shinjuku if Luxord’s spell on us didn’t kick in.”

The table went silent.

“You need to beat Coco’s game,” Rhyme said quietly. “Screw the rules, Coco’s not playing by them anyway. Im giving you every power I have.”

“You’re the seventh Reaper?” Neku asked her, eyebrow raised.

She shook her head no. “I’m the Conductor. And in my city, everyone gets a second-”

Music began to blare.

Sora and Riku looked at each other, confused, before pulling their phones from their pockets.

“…Kairi?”

Chapter Text

“Hello?”

“Kairi?”

A chorus of confused voices rang out in bouncing echoes. Sora and Riku stared down at their phones, bewildered.

It didn’t even dawn on them to try calling their friends.

Joshua took Sora’s phone. “Quiet,” he demanded. “Or I’ll cast Silence on the lot of you. My name is Joshua and Sora and Riku are safe with me… of a sort. Sora, Riku?”

“Hi…” Sora said sheepishly.

“Hello Kairi,” Riku grimaced. Joshua’s demands sounded almost like a hostage situation.

“Step one,” Joshua said, placing Sora’s phone down on the middle of the table. “I’m hearing too much echo. Are some people together, and have all picked up?”

Nobody replied. “Say yes or no. I want to make sure this isn’t dropped.”

“I was worried you might make good on your threat,” a young man’s voice sounded.

“Lea!” Sora cried out.

“Oh, good, it’s not just someone mimicking Sora’s voice,” Lea said dryly.

“Sora and Riku are my guests, not captives,” Joshua sighed out. “I just figured without any order nobody would hear anyone.”

“Joshua’s been nothing but helpful,” Sora chimed in.

“Sora may be the optimist, but he’s not lying,” Vanitas offered.

Vanitas?!” Terra said, enraged. “Is that Vanitas because I’m going to-”

“What did I say about talking out of turn?” Joshua said, sighing. “If you’re in a place with anyone else listening, use just one phone please. And can people introduce themselves? Kairi, you’re the one that called us. You start.”

“Um. Hello, Joshua. I’m Kairi. I’m one of Sora’s and Riku’s friends. We’re in a place called Gravity Falls. I’m here with Lea and Mickey.”

“Hello,” the men chorused, before a click was heard. “We put our phones on speaker. Mickey ended the call on his line,” Lea added.

“I’ll go in their room, Lea, turn off your phone when I do. I made the call. If I end it I might cut the line for everybody,” Kairi said, footsteps resounding in the background. “Is Aqua’s group on?”

“We’re here,” Terra huffed. “I’m Terra, and Aqua and Ven are with me. Phones off?”

The line clicked twice. “Okay. We’re all sharing one phone now. Less echo?”

“It sounds like you’re in a cave,” Joshua said.

“We are, we’re in… where are we exactly?”

“Haven City, miles below the surface. It’s underneath Dublin, Ireland,” a young voice said. “I’m Artemis. Your friend with the blue hair cast something on me so I could understand you. My Japanese is a fair bit rusty.”

“Oh good,” Joshua said. “Next?”

The line was silent a moment, before the next group spoke. “This is Ienzo. I am here with Roxas and Xion in Los Angeles.”

“You’re the closest one to us,” Joshua commented. “I can wire you money for a flight.”

“Sora already told us we’re on the wrong world?” Xion asked, confused. “He said that living dolls don’t exist where he is.”

“Living… dolls?” Tomo asked. “Like Replicas?”

“No, like… living plush toys, this is Roxas, by the way. I ended up being one when I arrived.”

“Right. It’s weird to think you sound like me.”

“Ven, don’t talk out of turn,” Aqua sighed out. “Anyway. That’s Kairi’s group, my group, and Ienzo’s group.”

“This is Demyx, I’m here with Donald and Goofy in… what city is this?”

“Lestallum,” Goofy piped in.

“Wait, Demyx is looking for Sora? The fuck?” Vanitas asked, shocked.

“If that really is Vanitas, I suggest you can it before I do it for you,” Terra said, sharply.

Vanitas’s Flood chittered, and he froze in shock.

“Terra doesn’t know, Vanitas,” Sora said softly. “And he’s not here. He’s just a voice. On the phone.”

“Vanitas, if you want…” Neku offered, pulling his headphones off his neck. “They’re noise cancelling.”

“Wait… what is going on over there?” Terra demanded.

Riku sighed out as Sora picked up Flood and began to cuddle it, offering it a pin. Joshua ducked off for a moment while Riku took the metaphorical floor.

“Everyone, this is a Riku. I want you all to shut up until I’m done. Clear? Good. Sora, Vanitas- yes, Vanitas, he’s with us and you’re going to deal with that- and my replica all died. We are in purgatory. When you die in the world we’re in, you are given the option to play for your life back in a game. What kind of game it is depends on where in the city you die. Different cities have different rules. Are we clear so far?”

Riku heard general murmurs as Joshua returned with a whole box of starter pins, offering one out to Flood. Flood hissed at him, but Sora gently nudged it into Joshua’s hand until it took the offered snack.

Vanitas gulped and took deep breaths.

“In order to play this game, you have to give up something important to you. You don’t get to choose, and the people running it, nice as they are, can’t actually give it back until you win. Sora gave up something Luxord gave him, which seems to be some extremely powerful time magic. I’ll get back to it later. Vanitas gave up both his Keyblade and regular magic. He still makes Unversed. Tomo’s entry fee was… my life. That’s why I’m here too. All of us are actually being protected by Luxord’s magic, so we’re not actually required to play the game. We’re dead, but we kind of exist in limbo. Any questions so far?”

“Yeah, where’s Isa’s group?” Lea asked.

“Isa? He’s looking too?” Sora asked. Joshua bopped him lightly on the head for interrupting. Flood chittered, nearly a laugh.

“What is that noise?” Aqua asked sternly.

“Unversed,” Riku answered sharply. “You startled Vanitas. It’s fine,” he answered dryly. “Joshua and Sora are giving him tummy rubs and a snack.”

“…Vanitas or the Unversed?” Aqua deadpanned.

“Ahem,” Riku said, cutting out the chatter. “So that’s the short of it. Joshua’s taking care of us, but thanks to the nature of being… er… dead… we can’t leave. Well, everyone else can. I’m stuck. I actually landed in a different city, so I’m not bound by the same rules. I’m under Joshua’s protection, but… long story short I have just under a hundred hours left. The ruler of the city I landed in ripped me to shreds, but Luxord’s magic saved me. And now I have a timer ticking from negative ninety-nine hours. And ninety nine minutes, so more like a hundred and change.”

Silence. “What happens when the timer hits zero, Riku?” Mickey asked.

“I think I die for good.”

“Y’know, we could just ask him,” Demyx piped.

“Ask who? Luxord?”

“Naminé and Vexen found his somebody before we went searching for you two. He’s got no power so he’s back on Radiant Garden with Ansem,” Demyx clarified. “The problem is we can’t get signal to our home worlds from where we are. None of us are even sure we’re in the right place.”

“But you all have signal here.”

“Yeah. Except Isa’s group. We don’t know what’s happened to them. All we know is that it’s not that they’re not answering messages, it’s that they won’t even go through. Same happened when I tried messaging you from Monstropolis. It only works on certain worlds,” Kairi explained.

“You guys know there’s a stupid easy way to tell if any of us are on the right world, right?” Lea asked. “What time is it?”

“It’s like…” Riku started.

“Not like. Exact time,” Lea said simply. “It’s 10:59 PM Monday the 23rdof August here.”

“What’s an August?” a teenage voice piped.

“That was Prompto,” Demyx offered, “and I’m pretty sure that answers our question. If this world doesn’t have an August I don’t think it’s the right place.”

“It’s June here,” Xion answered. “But we already know we’re on the wrong world. We’ve just found Heartless here.”

“It’s August 24th, Joshua said. “Three in the afternoon, on the nose.”

“August 24th, seven in the morning,” Terra said, quietly. “This was a waste. None of us are even in the right place.”

“Hang on,” Artemis said, slowly. “Your friends are in Tokyo. We’re under Ireland.”

“What does that matter?” Terra asked, confused.

“Do you… do you not understand time zones?”

“What’s a time zone?” Kairi asked.

“This world is so large, different parts of it are on a different time. Think how it’s a different time on different worlds back home,” Mickey said.

“You said Gravity Falls, earlier. You know where that is, exactly?” Artemis asked.

“America?” Kairi questioned.

“That’s… unfortunately an extremely large place.”

“Holly Short here. You wouldn’t happen to be talking about Gravity Falls, Oregon, would you? There was a massive magical spike there earlier. About three hours ago.”

“Three hours? If we are on the same world that would have been around… eight PM,” Lea said. “I… hexed a house? The people here are worried about a demon attack.”

“Well, excuse you,” Holly huffed. “Demons won’t hurt a fly. Well, maybe a fly, but not some mud-people. I ran the report details. There was a report of a red-headed man casting some very powerful hex over an old mansion. That wouldn’t be you, would it?”

“No way,” Lea replied. “We’re on the same world?”

“We can strongly run under that assumption,” Artemis said. “Now that begs the question, are we all on the same world as your dead friends? I think I have a quick means of figuring out that part.”

“Oh?” Joshua asked, interest piqued. “You can’t teleport, can you?”

“No, but I caaaaan…” Artemis said, glee practically dripping from his voice, “crash the Nikkei.”

“You what, yo?” Beat asked, shocked.

“What? What did he do?” Sora asked, Flood having calmed down and was pulling at the string hanging from Sora’s hood.

“Crashed the stock market,” Neku said, holding up his phone. “Just… the whole thing.”

Everyone in Joshua’s apartment just stared at Neku’s phone.

“Um… excuse me. Artemis, was it?” Vaintas asked.

“Yes?”

“What the fuck?”


 

After the panic died down, and Artemis un-fucked the stock market, the groups began to think.

“It’s going to take me a few hours to sit down with maps and photos to open a portal across the planet,” Lea said. “Even if I start now, I don’t think it’ll be done until tomorrow night our time. I don’t want to phase halfway through a brick wall, or worse, through a person. If you can take some photographs of somewhere safe we can go, and give me coordinates, that’ll help a ton.”

“We can do that,” Joshua said. “Fairies, what about you?”

“We can take a shuttle and meet you,” Holly said. “Emphasis on can and not may.”

“You’re civilian?” Joshua asked. “If you get me a LEP operative I’m willing to make a trade.”

“…you know an awful lot about us, Joshua.”

“I’m an angel,” he said flatly.

“You don’t sound like one, you sound like an assho-” Terra started, under his breath.

“Name your terms, fiend,” Holly said, sharply.

“Well, I want an army,” Joshua said.

“That’s what you angels always want, when you end up coming to us. Cannon fodder, I’ve heard the legends,” Holly said sharply. “No deal, we aren’t getting in the middle of another one of your holy wars.”

“Ma’am,” Riku said, gulping, “this isn’t a war. It’s a hostage crisis. The… woman who ripped me to shreds is holding several hundred souls hostage plus outright destroying anyone who dies in her district. We don’t want a war. We just want to end her nightmare. It’s the only way I can come back to life, too.”

“If not an army, I just want as many of their friends here as possible,” Joshua said. “And I’m willing to pay for the privilege.”

Holly almost growled. “I’ll move this up to my superior immediately. Don’t expect miracles.”

“I’m not expecting any. I’m offering them,” Joshua said, candidly. “So that’s two groups sorted. “Demyx, was it?”

“This place has a Heartless problem. A big one. I want to help you guys but you all have it sorted. They need us here, too.”

“Excuse me for not asking my opinion, I’m going back to save Sora,” Donald said, angrily. “Kairi, you’re more likely to get to him. I’m coming through.”

“I’m sorry, Demyx, but Donald is right. We can come back and help, but Riku has a time limit, a'hyuck," Goofy added.

“Wait. Don’t come through Monstropolis,” Lea cried.

“Why not? If we go through Destiny Islands to where Aqua is, we’ll be stuck there if someone can’t grant us passage,” Demyx said, dryly. "I'd have to start from square one linking a corridor to Shibuya since I've never been there before."

“If Haven wont help, I will,” Artemis said, sharply. “I have a jet. We could be in Japan in about fourteen hours.”

“Artemis, they’re angels, do you have any idea-” Holly started.

“And what of demons then?” Artemis shot back. “I could use an angel’s favor, I think, so if you want to sit on your heels I’ll gladly make the deal. Secure some surface visas. That’s all.”

“Artemis-I- what am I ever going to do with you?! Fine. I’ll get surface visas. How many of you are coming this way? Two sets of three?”

“First, why not go through Monstropolis to you, Lea?” Xion asked.

Time,” Lea said. “The way it flows through between Monstropolis and the portal here. We left it for only a few hours, and it was two weeks later. Even if you left right now, who knows when you’d arrive here? Actually… the same could be said for the Destiny Islands entry as well.”

“No, actually,” Terra said. “I left and re-entered. Time on Destiny Islands moves faster relative to here. We were gone a half hour, but only twenty-five minutes passed when we got back.”

“We’re coming, Terra,” Ienzo said. “I’m not sure how much help I can be but-“

“Your quick thinking saved a lot of people, Ienzo,” Roxas piped in. “I’m sure you’ll have a plan.”

Demyx inhaled. “Then I guess we are too. But we will be back once we’re done.”

“I can agree to that,” Donald said. “We should probably go.”

“I’ll call Ansem on the way, okay? Once we’re with Aqua’s group I’ll let you know what he gave Sora,” Demyx said.

“I’ll do the same,” Ienzo said. “We’re probably going to beat you to seeing him, so long as the book we passed through is still on his conference table.”

“…right,” Demyx said. “Don’t worry, pack of deadbeats. We’re coming.”

“One more thing,” Holly said sharply. “We can’t wait forever. As soon as I have visas, we’re leaving. If you’re not here in twelve hours, we’re probably gone.”

“Ugh, and we have to deal with the differences in time moving around,” Demyx whined. “We’re going. Now.”

Demyx hung up, and Ienzo’s phone clicked soon after.

“Anything else?” Joshua asked.

“We’ll pass info by text,” Kairi said. “Keep your phones charged.”

“Lea, your name is Lea, right?” Holly asked.

“Yeah?”

“When you said you were protecting a house from demons do you mean demons as in lizard looking creatures or something… else?”

“Ford didn’t describe it as lizardlike… right?” Lea asked.

“One eyed, gold, possesses people,” Mickey explained.

“D’arvit,” Holly said, under her breath. “So, not demons. Or, not- English is a horrible language. Be careful and get out of there as fast as you can. I apologize for what I said earlier. You absolutely should be putting up any barrier you can.”

“What? Why?” Kairi asked.

“There’s demons… and then there’s demons. One word in English, two in ours. The former is just another affect of the Fair Folk.”

“And the latter, ma’am?”

“Elder god. Hellspawn. Demon with a capital D.”

“The kind of demons even we fear,” Joshua said, quietly.

“I’ll… work as fast as I can,” Lea said, throat dry.

“You’re gettin’ sleep, first. At least a little,” Mickey demanded. “The only thing worse than workin’ too slow is workin’ so fast you make mistakes.”

“Y-yeah…” Lea said.

“Do you want me to cast Sleep on you?” Kairi asked.

“I don’t think I’m going to get any rest with that on my shoulders otherwise,” Lea admitted. “Just let me-”

Sleep,” Mickey demanded, followed by the sound of a thud. “I’ll wake ‘m in six hours.”

“Call’s done?” Kairi asked.

“Yeah,” Riku said. “We’ll text you any other details we can about this place.

“I’m a little worried about the Heartless here,” Ven piped, as Kairi’s phone clicked. “We saw this giant Demon Tower that was glitching out. It was part here, in this world, and part back on Destiny Islands. That’s why Terra knows the time difference here.”

“Glitching?” Riku asked, interested. “Glitching how?”

“Like, it was here, but wasn’t. Spells Aqua did on that side affected it here. It was like… space and time didn’t affect it.”

Riku looked down at his hand. “I hope Demyx can find out what Luxord’s card thing actually is. Maybe it’s affecting more than just us. When I was… when I was ripped apart, that happened to me. I was here, and wasn’t, and things happened all out of order until I touched the card and stabilized. Joshua, do you still have it?”

Joshua extended his fingertips, and it reappeared. “Still here. You know you get this back if Sora wins the Game.”

“I can do that right now,” Rhyme popped in.

“Not until we know what that means for Riku,” Joshua said, sternly. “If that timer is ticking towards life, or something else, it’s not worth the chance. It might also just kill him the moment Sora is revived.”

The table shuddered. “Yeah, point,” Rhyme said sadly, tracing the condensation from her drink.

“It’s odd. I assumed it had about one to three more charges when I offered it to Vanitas and Tomo.”

“Tomo?” Terra asked.

“My replica. He needed a name of his own.” Riku squeezed Tomo’s shoulder gently.

“Um, hello,” Tomo said shyly.

“Oh great, more duplicates,” Terra groaned. “I had a hard enough time when Ven and Roxas switched places last week.”

Ven could be heard snorting in the background.

“What were you all doing while I was hunting down Kairi’s soul?!” Sora asked.

“Trying to stay sane, rebuild,” Aqua said quietly. “There was a lot of damage. Anyway. We should probably go, too. Until everyone else arrives and we can go to the surface, we’ll look into the glitching here. Stay safe… and… Vanitas?”

“I don’t really want to talk to you,” he snapped.

“The feeling is mutual,” Aqua said sternly. “And I’ll say this- Sora would trust a Heartless.”

“Excuse me, I was one once,” Sora huffed.

“I- okay, you know what? Ven, while we’re on this world I am going to pick up those games for you, look, anyway. Sora is too trusting for his own good, but if both he and Riku are watching over you… well. Terra’s getting a second chance. It’s only fair for me to offer it to you too. But a second chance is all you’re getting. You hear me? I’m offering you a clean slate.”

Vanitas frowned. “I don’t have anything to say to you.”

“No ‘go to hell’?”

“Xehanort’s there,” Ventus gruffed. “You’re not that bad. Go to purgatory, maybe, but then you’d be stuck with us.”

“Maybe I’d like that. Seems like you’ve made some friends there.” Aqua sounded actually genuine, as she clicked the call to close.

Vanitas suddenly found himself shaking, before hearing a soft sob, one that wasn’t coming from him.

Riku pressed his own end call button, and began to cry.


 

“You were very brave,” Joshua said quietly, as he pulled Riku into a hug, nestling him with his wings. “You held in your worry for the whole time, to get people to act. But that’s done, okay? You can’t be strong all the time. Lord knows I’m not.”

Riku just looked down at his hand, watching the timer tick.

“Riku?” Joshua said quietly. “Do you want me to bandage that?”

“N… no.”

“Do you want us to stay?” Neku asked.

“You have people to feed in Shinjuku,” Riku said softly.

Neku shook his head no. “Joshua gave their leader enough money to get food for everyone. Me going back there is just going to piss Coco off more, and she can’t take it out on me, so she’ll just hurt a Reaper. I’m not setting foot in Shinjuku until we’re ready to actually fight her.”

“Why don’t we go to the arcade?” Shiki asked. “It’s summer, we’re a bunch of loitering teens.”

Riku gave a small laugh at that, and Joshua helped him sit more upright. Sora reached out and clasped his hands around Riku’s.

“When was the last time we did something stupid?” Sora asked him.

Riku wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt. “I... don’t know.”

“What’s an arcade?” Vanitas asked, to the table staring at him.

“What’s an… how sheltered were you, yo?”

“Not the word I’d use,” Vanitas grumbled.

“Shiki is right, you know, you can’t solve this on a clouded mind,” Joshua said, arms crossed. “I want to go over everything we know with Gabriel and Uriel when they’re done this evening anyway.”

Riku shook his head. “Let me wash up. Then yeah, let’s go.”


 

“It was here yesterday!” Demyx cried, staring at the wall.

“What was?” Noctis asked, jogging to follow the rest of the group to the wall on the side of one of the side road cafes.

“The portal between worlds,” Donald said, staring at the blank wall before them. “It’s… gone.”

Chapter Text

Terra exhaled, and sat down on the cave floor. “After all that… Vanitas… freaking… survived.”

“You did too,” Aqua said curling up.

“Sounds like you and he had a row,” Artemis said, squatting next to them on the stone walkway. Holly had left to go deal with paperwork, and Foaly had gone to grumble about supplies, which left Artemis in charge of keeping an eye on their otherworldly visitors.

“Understatement of the century,” Aqua said, looking up at him. “Vanitas almost killed us all.”

“Yet it seems the dead friends you’re going to save are protecting him?” Artemis clasped his hands. He was attempting to be compassionate, for certain, but he was also trying to gather his own greatest weapon; information. Especially when the prospect of dealing with what seemed to be a desperate angel was concerned. His days of thievery may have ended, but this Joshua was offering an exchange; why shouldn’t Artemis get his due?

“I don’t understand why, if I’ll be honest,” Aqua said, calling forth and dismissing some kind of magical weapon to her fingers absentmindedly, looking at it fondly.

Aqua had missed Rainfell so much.

“I was multitasking and reading the wiki about Kingdom Hearts during that conversation,” Artemis admitted. When the three faux fairies looked at him confused, he elaborated. “An online encyclopedia covering your games. I don’t know if the games are entirely accurate to your lives, but… it seems as though both you, Terra, and this Vanitas person were the product of a man named Xehanort. I will admit, I myself once did terrible things. And unlike you, Terra, it was not because I was manipulated, coerced, or mesmerized. I was, frankly, just an awful child.”

“You’re still a kid,” Vanitas pointed out. “Probably younger than me.”

“Yes, but I have had some opportunity to mature. What I am attempting to explain is that if the fairies, who, mind you, I had kidnapped one of their own and demanded ransom, if the fairies eventually forgave my actions, maybe it is worth giving Vanitas more than just a begrudging second chance. Especially if he has been vetted not only by Sora, but by what sounded like a small group of the dead and angels. It sounds to me like you’re clinging to hate him not for him, but for the true person you despised.”

“Xehanort,” Terra spat. “Who isn’t with them.”

Aqua nodded quietly. “I’ll.. try to be less abrasive to him. Unless he actually deserves it.”

“Now… if you could. I’d like to know a bit more about this glitching that’s occurring…”


 

Demyx pinched the bridge of his nose. “Of course. Of course,” he muttered. “Things that are just my luck.”

Goofy frowned, knocking in spots on the wall. “Are we stuck here?”

Demyx closed his eyes and pressed his temples.

“No, but you’re not going to like how we get out.”

“We’re not… following a tunnel created by the Heartless, are we?”

Demyx laughed hollow. “Sounds like you’ve done it before. Saves me the trouble of explaining it.”

“Axel opened up a portal for us once when we were locked in Betwixt and Between,” Donald explained. “It ended up dumping us in the World that Never Was.”

Ignis frowned. “I saw some strange miasma here the other day. People were staying away from it, and I think they went to shine some floodlights on it last night in an attempt to burn it out. This is how you arrived here? I… suppose I have to apologize, though I think the city council ran the lights last night to burn it off.”

Goofy nodded. “But if the floodlights affected it, that means these portals might be connected to the demons and the Heartless.”

“‘Might’ nothing. They have to be. It’s too much like my corridors.” Demyx pressed fingers into the plaster cracks. Of course the locals found it and dealt with it in the only way that made sense to them. He couldn’t begrudge them for protecting themselves, especially when their main weaponry was conventional, limited magic, and no sign of Keyblades anywhere.

“So, what’s the plan, Demyx? This is your area of expertise.”

“Well, the easy answer is to summon my own Nobodies. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to bag us some Heartless.”

“A hunt?” Gladio asked, arms crossed.

“Let’s not rush and get our hands dirty yet,” Demyx said, shaking his head. “I’m all for as little work as possible. Let me try the easier option first.”


 

Riku splashed a handful of cold water on his face, looking in the mirror. The light bags under his eyes had started receding. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he’d had two actual nights of sleep. He looked down at his palm, at the timer. Every second they were dicking around was a second they could…

Riku splashed his face again. It was better to wait. Tomorrow night at the latest they’d have at least six more people to help, maybe more, if Demxy’s and Ienzo’s teams could get to Destiny Islands in time. Maybe with enough people who knew magic and keyblade wielding they stood a better chance. But the moment Coco took to the sky she’d be invisible to all but the dead, and probably untouchable too, given how Neku and his friends couldn’t see or touch Reaper wings- and they didn’t see Gabriel until she’d landed on the ground the night before.

Had he really only been there just under two days? It felt longer.

Riku stretched his arms, then his wings, rolling his shoulders and folding his wings high on his back.

Time to go.


 

“So what are we going to do?” Xion asked. “Their show is in three hours.”

“And if my hunch is right, that’s going to lead to a massive Heartless attack,” Ienzo said. “We have twelve hours to get to Destiny islands, and… hang on.”

“What’s up?” Roxas asked.

“Remember what Pooh told us? How long was the time differential between his world and Radiant Garden?”

“Half an hour in Radiant Garden was… two days for him,” Xion said. “You think very little time has passed outside?”

“I don’t know. It could have been a lot of time, or nearly none at all. The question is- do we stay a few more hours here or leave now?”

“We have twelve hours on Sora’s time, right?” Roxas said, tapping his temple absentmindedly.

“Yeah, about,” Xion said. “Since Sora, Aqua’s team, and Lea’s are all on the same world, their rules of time would be the same too.”

“And once we’re out of here, we need to talk to Rudol quickly, but I can make us a corridor straight to the cave with the portal on Destiny Islands,” Roxas thought aloud. “I say we stay. We’ll either have plenty of time, or we’re already too late. Staying till the evening won’t change that.”

“I want to stay too,” Ienzo said, nodding.

“Then it’s settled,” Xion said, bopping Roxas on the head. “Are you ready to be bait?”

Joy,” Roxas muttered dryly. “I get to make an idiot of myself on TV, too. Just what I’ve always wanted.”


 

“What was their challenge today?” Joshua asked, watching two people run across the street at a red light, cars whizzing through them.

“What I want to know is that lead on Yozora Gabriel mentioned,” Riku said, watching another pair run through some cars before jumping into a Noise symbol, disappearing to their pocket dimension.

“You heard Coco. She said she had an off-world battery,” Joshua said, sadly. “Uriel saw her healing him yesterday evening before shoving him in the bag, but didn’t know why she was doing it, and, as you know, she can’t do anything to her. Not directly, at least.”

Vanitas was almost visibly fuming.

“I’m going to wring her neck,” he growled.

The couple that had gone in the Noise popped back out to the city, and kept running until they ran straight into Vanitas, knocking him on his rear.

“Watch it!” he snapped.

“You can see- oh,” the woman of the pair said, realizing she’d just knocked over a Reaper. The second person, a man, followed. Sora recognized the woman from the day before as the one who was worried about him once she realized he was still a kid, and offered a hand to her to help her up.

“You okay?” Sora asked, noticing that Beat and Neku were watching his movements; they couldn’t see the dead woman and man, but they knew enough about the Underground to realize there was a ghost there.

“You… you’re the Reaper from 104,” she said, before looking at the group. “And not hiding your face.”

“Um, hi!” he said, smiling, as she dusted off. “You doing okay?”

She looked between them. “You don’t all have wings. Nice of you to help some of us and not others,” she added, pouting.

“Huh?” Vanitas asked, getting off the pavement. “What, you think they’re players?” he asked, jabbing a thumb towards Neku. “Try walking through him. He’ll loveit.”

“What, no, I hate ghosts walking…” Neku said, before shivering as she did. “…through me. Stop that. You’re freezing.”

She snapped her fingers a few times in front of Beat and stuck her hand through.

Cold!” he cried. “Not cool!”

“Of course it’s not cool, you just said it was cold,” Shiki said with a laugh.

“They can see you?” the woman asked.

“Reapers exist between worlds. Living people just see us as normal people, no wings,” Komaeda explained. “We can’t leave our district though, and we have to work to run the game or we lose our privileges.”

“So, right now, this kid thinks you’re nuts?” she asked, gesturing at Neku.

“He died six months ago,” Komaeda said, grinning.

“Yeah, and you were an annoying shit then too, Komaeda,” Neku said, smirking, fist bumping the reaper.

“Sis and I got hit by a car. We know they’re Reapers… and what it means when we suddenly get cold for no reason. We can’t see or hear you, but we know you’re- ugh, stop it, yo!” Beat whined, shivering in the August late afternoon heat as the dead woman thrust her arms in his chest, haunting him. “Shit gets old real quick. When you come back to life, see how it feels when I dump a bucket of ice on you.”

“So this isn’t some empty promise? Really? We win this game and we get our life back?”

“No tricks,” Joshua said, shrugging, before gesturing towards their living friends. “So you probably want to finish your mission.”

“Your wings are different,” the woman said, narrowing her eyes. “You’re not the big boss or something are you? You look like you’re fifteen.”

Me? Ohhhh, no. I’m not the Composer. Make it to your seventh day and you’ll fight her, though.”

Her?” The woman asked, eyeing the group. Vanitas noticed Rhyme shift very cautiously on her feet, but her wings were still concealed somehow.

Her partner tapped her. “It’s no use worrying about who she is right now, Li-chan. We should get moving.”

“Yeah, we only have an hour left,” she said, checking her hand. “Thanks for the insider info.”

“Next time we charge for it,” Joshua said with a smirk. “Get moving.”

The woman ran off, the man looked between the Reapers.

“Who decides the entry fee to play?” he asked, meekly.

“Its complicated,” Joshua said. “Why?”

“I didn’t have anything taken, as far as I can tell.”

“And you’re telling us this, why? You want something stolen?” Vanitas asked, eyebrow raised.

“I… uh… no,” the man admitted softly. “It’s just… I was drunk that night, and I drove Li-chan home and… she doesn’t remember. Not the crash, not me.”

“Sounds to me like you did have an entry fee,” Joshua said quietly. “You should go. If you’re too far from your partner it can attract Noise.”

“I’m hardly any good in a fight. I just run out of the way until it all gets in her side of the dimension.”

Joshua took a pin out of his pocket and flicked it at the young man. It was blank.

“Try this,” he said, simply. “It doesn’t work on its own, but, if you and her trust each other, it might do something interesting.”

The man looked down at it, before pinning it to his hat. “Thanks, Reaper,” he said, before jogging after his partner.

“That was one of the pins Flood ate. It’s totally useless,” Vanitas said, looking at Joshua as the group walked through Shibuya’s late afternoon.

“Yes and no. Yes, Flood ate the noise out of the pin. Doesn’t mean it’s useless, though. All humans make Noise. You just need to channel it correctly. Even you might be able to use one.”

Joshua flicked another one of the pins Flood had devoured at Vanitas. “Try fighting with someone later and see if it works.”

Vanitas held it up to Flood, who sniffed at the pin, before sticking its nose in the air in disgust.


 

Lea thunked to the floor, a large pink… thing in his face.

It huffed, before licking him.

“Ugh. Gross!” Lea whined. He’d seen an animal like that one only once or twice before. Page? Pigeon?

Pig.

“Get off, swine,” he whined, pushing the rotund animal off of him.

He groaned, cast the only light spell he knew, and fumbled in the storage room to get up. There had to be a bathroom around there somewhere to clean off the pig spit.

And the whole place needed a good cleaning. Lazy he was, but living pretty much all his adult life under Xehanort instilled in him an irrational hatred of dust. The Castle was kept spotless, after all.

Helping clean the literal shack they were staying in would help clear his head until Sora and Riku sent him some material to work from.


 

“You have to be shitting me.”

“The game did just come out less than a month ago, Vanitas,” Komaeda said, looking at the machine with him.

“Flood isn’t going to shut up until he has one,” Vanitas glowered, looking at the claw game filled with plush shadow Heartless and flood Unversed.

Flood was pooling up, trying to shove himself into the prize hatch.

“Flood, in my shadow, now,” Vanitas hissed. “I’ll get you one if you do.”

Flood chirped, and obeyed, bubbling under his master’s feet just as one of the arcade attendants rounded the corner.

“Sorry, got a coin stuck in the hatch,” Vanitas said, a quick lie to the glaring young woman.

“Oh, you did?” she asked, politeness hiding annoyance.

“Totally,” Joshua said, rolling up the sleeve of his button down, giving Vanitas a face full of feathers as he showed his empty hand, bent down to the prize flap, and pulled out a hundred-yen coin.

Vanitas clenched his jaw and breathed heavily though his nose, his back ramrod straight. He was glad Shiki was right behind him, because he would probably have ripped someone’s shirt with one of his black wing hooks if he’d been next to a Reaper.

The woman shook her head and walked away, as Joshua handed him the coin, followed by an entire handful that came from air.

“Do you want to win one the correct way, or do you want to cheat?” Joshua asked, a small smirk at the corner of his lips before getting a closer look at Vanitas’s expression.

“Vanitas is having another panic attack,” Joshua said, simply to the rest of the group, waving a hand over the coins to make them vanish as quickly as they came. “I’m going to take him outside, where it’s less crowded. Have fun, and I’ll take care of him.”

“Wait, we’ll…” Sora started, but Riku glared.

“Vanitas needs some time to re-center. You’re good at these things, win Flood a plush, for when he comes back.”

Joshua snapped his fingers at Vanitas, to pull his focus away from the chaos, and he felt the world drop away from him.

He’d been okay, not great, but okay, when they’d walked through the city. The woman bumping into him wasn’t as bad as he’d expected.

Then again, they were on a fairly wide sidewalk, and he had time to recover.

Getting smacked in the face in the arcade was another story. Vanitas had no outlet. It was too narrow, too small, too crowded, too bright too noisy.. too…

And when Joshua snapped his fingers at him, it was like nothing else mattered.

“Vanitas, follow my finger with your eyes. Good. Good. Breathe.”

It was like Joshua’s voice was everywhere and nowhere at all, it was so simple, so calm. His eyes followed Joshua’s finger, something that wasn’t even quite processing in his brain because he felt like he was in a blissful, stimulus free white room. The arcade had dropped away, and to him, it was just him, and Joshua’s pleasant voice.

It then hit him like a ton of bricks that Joshua was controlling him.

Vanitas panicked. No- no, nobody was invading him, taking him over, ordering him…

“Vanitas, if I do anything that makes you uncomfortable, you can slap me.”

Vanitas swung, and it felt immensely satisfying. For a split moment, his vision melted to reality, Joshua standing in front of him, smiling gently, before the world turned white again.

“I’m just walking you across the street. There’s a park bench there. We’re going to sit, and I’ll let go of your mind. I’m just walking you out of the arcade.”

“I’ll slap you again if you don’t follow through,” Vanitas replied, but it didn’t have any growl to it.

“I want you to,” Joshua said, voice an angelic chorus. “I want you to feel safe. Why don’t we walk? You first, and I will not touch you.”

Vanitas’s legs started moving of their own accord, an odd sensation as he also felt like he was being gently hugged in a blanket burrito, without his hackles raising.

“Raise up your wings as you sit, so you can rest them on the back of the bench,” Joshua suggested. It was a good idea, such a good…

…as Joshua promised, the white world faded away from him, first with the view of the city, followed by the noise. Joshua sat next to him on the bench facing the arcade on a Harajuku side street, looking a bit guilty.

“Sorry,” Joshua admitted. “I usually ask before I mesmerize someone, but you weren’t in a position to consent.”

“Don’t do it again,” Vanitas growled, glad to have his faculties back.

“Nobody likes to be controlled,” Joshua said, watching the comings and goings of all the people in the city. “But it’s one of the big powers we angels posses. Messing with humans. I only use it for medical reasons- calming down people, pain management, that sort of thing. You screw with someone’s head too much and… it makes me really uncomfortable, to be honest.”

“It’s how you got Sora to cooperate while you set his wing yesterday, isn't it?” Vanitas said, playing with his jacket hem.

Joshua nodded. “Again, I’m sorry. I needed to move you without touching you.”

Vanitas curled up on the bench. “Will it ever go away?”

“What?”

“This.” Vanitas said, gesturing at himself. “I… know it’s going to take time, but I wasn’t freaking out when that bit- that woman earlier knocked me over.”

“It’s not easy, pain. A lot of people take a shortcut and suffer for it. You’re just going to need to take it slowly, and communicate. And some things might still set you off, years from now.”

“How many pep talks have you had with dead kids?” Vanitas asked, eyebrow raised.

“Vanitas, I am very, very old. The city changes, the technology humans have has advanced… but the advice rarely does. I’ve gotten good at telling apart the people who lash out because they’re genuinely horrible people, and those like you that just had circumstances thrown at them, be it bad parents, undiagnosed mental issues- don’t talk to me about the Crusades- whatever.” Joshua smiled, and looked at Vanitas fondly, like he was another person he could help, if just in the tiniest of ways. “You like sweet stuff? There’s this weird stigma in Japan that guys don’t eat desserts unless they’re on a date or something.”

“Dunno. I ate whatever.”

“Come on, there’s a crepe place near here. We don’t usually have dinner until eight or nine at night since Uriel’s district doesn’t do set missions.”

“If I hate it. I’m blaming you.”

Joshua pulled out his phone, and shot off a quick text. “I let Komaeda know I’m dragging you to Cat Street. And… now I’m getting orders. Sora’s asking what fruit we have on this planet.”

Vanitas snorted. “If there’s strawberries here, get him that.”


 

“Joshua?” Vanitas asked, carrying five of the ten crepe boxes, all labeled in a language he was still surprised he could just… read.

“Hm?”

Tonight… after dinner, um,” Vanitas said. He never really stuttered before, but he also never was… just himself before. “Can you do that thing again?”

Joshua stopped, and almost did a double take. “You want me to mesmerize you? Why?”

“I figured it was stupid.”

“Vanitas, it’s not, but I need some context. Usually when someone asks, it’s because they’re in serious pain. It’s only a quick fix, it doesn’t actually solve the problem. So I’ll mesmerize, while someone else actually fixes the source. Like last night. I have a reaper in need of a wing setting at least twice a month.”

“I’ve spent my whole life being controlled by Xehanort. The first thing you did when I started fighting your… mesmer, whatever…  was you let me. I want to practice fighting back. Just in case.”

Joshua looked down at the boxes in his hands. “I don’t like causing harm. Not like that. Are you sure?”

Vanitas nodded.

“I guess it's a different kind of hurt,” Joshua mused. “I suppose I can. Is that all?”

“I want to stop freaking out when people touch me,” Vanitas, added, looking at his feet.

“Exposure therapy?” Joshua asked. “I’m not a doctor. Not by a long shot. I can try, though. But if you feel even slightly uncomfortable, I’m stopping.” Joshua held out his hand.

Vanitas balked a little. “I meant through your mesmer thing! It helped strip out any bad thoughts I was having.”

“You can’t just practice in a vacuum,” Joshua replied.

“Fuck you, I do what I want,” Vanitas snapped, shifting the boxes to his other hand, and roughly engulfing Joshua’s in his own.

“You know, in Japan, two people hold hands when they’re dating,” Joshua said with a smirk.

“I’m not Japanese,” Vanitas huffed. “Neither are you.”

“And here I was, trying to get you to feel self-conscious,” Joshua said. “You’re stronger than you give yourself credit.”

“What’s your charge on compliments, you bastard?”

“Oh, so I’m a bastard now? I mean, that is technically true…” Joshua said, grinning.

“Why are you smiling so hard?” Vanitas asked, taking his hand away and shoving it in a pocket. He’d had enough.

Joshua inhaled, and looked at the ground. “Because I think I know a way to defeat Coco. You asking to be enchanted by me gave me an idea.”

“And suddenly you’re upset about it.”

“I was grimacing, not grinning. If I go through with it, I’m no better than…” he started, sighing. “I’m no better than the Conductor before Rhyme.”

Vanitas glowered. “What did they do?”

“Turned the whole city into a hive mind. Controlled almost every living human here. It might be the only way to save Shinjuku.” He shoved his free hand into a pocket and pulled out a red and black pin, looking at it, disgusted, before pocketing it again. “Someone really high up has to like her, with the way she’s running her city. The only way we’re going to knock her down is with one hell of a legal loophole I can send to the higher ups to say she’s unfit.”

“And what’s that?” Vanitas asked, already dreading the answer.

“It’s forbidden for Conductors or Composers- that’s my title by the way, Composer- to do harm to the living. No forcing people into an early game by killing them.”

“You killed Neku.”

“I had permission.”

“From Neku?”

Joshua snorted. “I was… desperate. And I understand I’ll probably never regain his trust for it.”

“Seems like he trusts you plenty.”

Joshua plopped down on the bench across from the arcade, Vanitas following, looking in at the bright lights and big displays.

“Maybe. But I can’t just jack the entire city to do my bidding. I’ve learned my own lesson.”

“Why’d you do it last time?”

“I was a prick.”

“And now?”

Joshua froze, before howling with laughter. “I’m getting lectured by a video game anti-hero.”

“I’m asking an immortal pretty boy to hijack my body later to help me get over my petty mental insecurities, your point is?”

“They’re not petty,” Joshua glowered.

“Neither are yours,” Vanitas said, grinning coldly. “Takes an ass to know an ass.”

“I… I’ll talk to Rhyme and the others at dinner. It’s their city. I just live in it.”

“See? Was it that hard? And maybe one of your fellow feathered pricks has another idea to take Coco down that doesn’t involve anyone but us.”

“You don’t think we’ve been trying? For months?” Joshua cried out, a genuine look of distress on his face. “I just don’t want the blood on my hands of Riku dying.”

“But the other reapers and players in Shinjuku are a-ok?” Vanitas snapped.

“They are,” Joshua said, tightening his jaw. “Nobody in Shinjuku’s actually gotten erased since Uriel stepped in. She’s been working her ass off collecting their souls up. Coco just thinks she’s been slaughtering people, and I need to keep that secret until she’s gone. If Komaeda or Rhyme find out, it’ll trickle back. If it does, Coco’s going to get even more violent.”

“Oh,” Vanitas said, quietly, letting the implication sink in.

“Once Coco is gone, Uriel will revive everyone she’s collected in stasis, and they’ll restart the games for real, fair and square. Everyone deserves a right to fair judgement.”

“Where are all the missing dead people?”

“That’s up to Uriel if she’s willing to say where she’s stored them all. But there’s thousands. Right now, Riku is really the only actual person in peril. I’d be willing to brainwash an entire city to save another, but I’m not sure I would to save just one-”

Vanitas frowned. “What about all those reapers living in filth and fear? They don’t matter?”

“I hate you,” Joshua snapped. “I hate you because you’re right.”

Joshua set his boxes on the space next to him on the bench and pulled out his phone. “Crepes before the ice cream ones melt, I can’t bring them inside,” he said into the device, before closing it and sliding it back in his pocket.

“You’ve been keeping the cold ones cold with your magic,” Vanitas said, squinting at Joshua.

“I’ll… talk with the others first, and then tell you my idea later,” Joshua hissed, smiling as the rest of the group exited the arcade, Sora with a massive Unversed plush balanced on his head.

Flood exploded out of Vanitas’s shadow, nearly tackling Sora over in an effort to snatch up the toy.

Chapter Text

‘Heya! This is Gabriel, one of Joshua’s friends. Thanks for adding me to the group chat! Josh’s kinda busy watching all the kiddos, so I’ve compiled the stuff you need. I’ve got two sets here; inside our house, and on the roof. Don’t know how accurate your dark corridors are, Lea/Axel, so I gave you a small but 100% no outside eyes spot and a larger area that might be spied by normies. Let me know if you need more info, k?

Cya soon, and you better show me how you do it or I’m gonna be super pissed!’

Lea rubbed his forehead, and began sorting through the mess of attachments in the group chat. Sora had added someone named Komaeda to the chat, who added Joshua, who in turn added a bunch more people- this Gabriel person, plus Uriel, Neku, Shiki, and Raimu.

This was going to get too noisy too fast.

Lea pulled out a large roll of graph paper he’d found next to a box labeled Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons when cleaning the living room, covering the entirety of the kitchen table, and began sketching out an overhead view of the city block Gabriel had provided.

He didn’t question how she had a perfect overhead view of the building.

“Morning, Lea,” Ford said, jovially, attempting to start the kitchen pilot light to put on a pot of coffee. It sputtered three times before Ford went hunting for something in a cabinet.

Lea grunted, and snapped his fingers.

“I was going to go grab a fire-starter, thank you for that,” Ford said, mild surprise as he watched the stove blaze without protest.

“I need coffee,” Lea complained, as he went back to his sketching.

“Do you also need some rulers? And you’re welcome to the kitchen, Lea, if you know how to cook.”

“I have to work fast,” Lea muttered, zooming in on the view of the roof on his phone. One miscalculation and he’d phase in through a power line. His best bet would be to open it up a few feet over the roof, then open a more accurate corridor back to Gravity Falls and…

“Earth to Lea?”

“Ruler.” After a pause, he added, “Please.”

“Why the sudden urgency?” Ford asked. “Are your friends in danger there?”

“One is. We have… less than four days to get him out before he dies for good.” Lea erased something off his graph paper, squinted at the coordinates and maps, and began redoing his math.

“Haste makes waste you know,” Ford offered quietly. “I’ll put on something for breakfast and let you know when coffee is ready.”

Lea just nodded, pulling at his now flat hair that was getting in his face.

“Mabel probably has a scrunchie, if you asked for one.”


 

Demyx waved his fingers like a conductor ordering an invisible orchestra, and a portal opened up from thin air. Noctis watched apprehensively from his chocobo, while Donald just snorted, sitting on the trunk of the Regalia. Prompto’s chocobo squawked, and the leaned forward to smooth her ruffled feathers and coo at it to calm down. Only two Dancers popped out this time, and they swayed to invisible music while Demyx poked and prodded at them, almost as if he were a doctor doing a physical.

“Are they… safe to touch?” Gladio asked.

“Wild ones? Not a chance. These guys are following my orders, though.” Demyx scratched next to his eye. They’d rode- in the Regalia or chocobo-back- out away from the city for some privacy against prying Lestallum eyes. “They won’t bite.”

Prompto hopped off his bird and walked cautiously over. He’d always preferred creatures to people, for some reason, and these demons were humanoid, but only just.

Both swiveled their heads as he walked closer, and immediately reached out to grab Prompto. Before Demyx could completely impose his will on them, he realized they weren’t intending harm and let them do their thing.

The two Dancers had wrapped Prompto in a long-armed hug, and were playing with his hair.

“Wha—hey!” Prompto whined. “I don’t want to be Demon food!”

“They’d go after your heart first, if that’s what they were after,” Demyx said with a snort. “They just think you’re one of them.”

“They what?” Prompto paled, as Noctis attempted to stifle a laugh.

Demyx shrugged. “Ladies, off.” The two backed off and bowed to their master, still swaying and jerking erratically; Prompto’s face now beet red with his head bowed.

“You all just wait. I’m going to go see where they came from,” Demyx said, jabbing a thumb at the Nobody’s entrance portal. “Don’t follow unless another one comes out and isn’t aggressive; that’ll be me sending one to ask for help. Any that do pop out that try to attack you, though?”

Demyx inhaled sharply. “If they so much as try, you have my permission to kill.”


 

“I’m going to ask one final time. Are you sure?”

Vanitas clenched his jaw. “Yes.”

Joshua pinched the bridge of his nose. It was six in the evening, Tomo, Sora, Riku, and Komaeda were out fighting Noise, Neku, Beat, and Shiki were picking up dinner, Rhyme was following up with her officers post that day’s mission to gather reports and incidents, Gabriel was flying overhead to compile photographs for Lea, and Uriel was still sneaking around her own haunt collecting up any lost souls. By Wednesdays, the players would all already be crushed by Coco, and all she’d need to do was gather any poor, errant Reapers; though by this many months in, the ones that remained were all plenty tough enough to at least run away at the mere thought she was nearby.

Mondays and Tuesdays were still far too grueling, however.

So then, there was Joshua, inches from Vanitas’s nose in his own cramped, tiny bedroom. There was barely enough space for the two of them on the floor to sit; Joshua didn’t even have a bed. A hammock was strung above their heads- more like a thick cloth sheet than a net- with a slash running horizontally across. Vanitas assumed it was so Joshua could let his wings drop down without having to worry about phasing them through the material while asleep.

“Why is your place the tiny one anyway? Aren’t you the leader?”

“I have exactly what I need and nothing more,” Joshua insisted. “The whole city is my home; I don’t need to keep it all shoved where I sleep. I have an office under the train station, anyway.”

Joshua materialized a knife, and dropped it in front of Vanitas, face turning deadly serious; odd to see on the countenance of a teenage boy.

“I’m going to mesmerize you, and give you orders. Don’t try to disobey everything; you’ll wear yourself out fast. I want you to pick your battles. Fight me when and where it matters.”

Joshua waited for Vanitas to make a sign of understanding, and when Flood- who was snuggling the stuffed toy bigger than he in the only free corner of the room- chirped, Joshua continued. “A few ground rules. I’m not going to control your mouth; tell me if you’ve had enough at any time and it stops immediately. I’m not going to put you in a position where you can actually hurt anyone; I will intervene if you can’t fight off a particularly… violent order. Is there anything that would be crossing a line that I need to know about right now?”

Vanitas frowned. “Nothing I can think of.”

“If you do, you tell me. Immediately.” Joshua thought for a moment. “How would you have me handle if you have another panic attack? Leave the room? Force calm you down though the Mesmer?”

Vanitas eyed Joshua for a moment, then spied a glance at his Unversed in the corner. “You can pet Flood. That seems to work. If I get worse, you can do the thing you did earlier.”

Joshua nodded. “Then let’s begin. Vanitas, look at me, please.” Joshua smiled gently and snapped his fingers right in Vanitas’s face a few times. Almost instantly, Vanitas’s eyes dilated, his pupils blowing out.

Joshua frowned a little. Vanitas went down extremely quickly, even for a human, even for one who was allowing themselves to be mesmerized. He really must have spent a lot of his life conditioned to follow orders.

Joshua bit his lip, and tasted his own holy ichor. Vanitas had said he’d wanted this, and Joshua understood why.

“Very good, Vanitas,” Joshua purred. “Aren’t you so obedient?”

“I… don’t actually feel any different,” Vanitas said, as if he were in an echo chamber. “I just can’t see your room anymore.”

“Hands on your head,” Joshua ordered, and Vanitas obeyed immediately.

He growled a little. “Okay, fine,” he muttered.

“Put them back down again. Very good. You know this is trivial, it’s not worth fighting. But what about this? Punch me.”

Vanitas socked him across the face. Joshua barely felt anything; Vanitas’s strength still stolen as his entry fee.

“Did you even try and fight back?” Joshua asked him.

“Why would I?” Vanitas asked. “I tried punching Sora yesterday and that didn’t do shit. I wasn’t going to hurt you, though I kind of wish I could.”

“So that was calculated.”

“Not worth fighting.”

“Very good, Vanitas.”

Vanitas smirked slightly under the praise.

“Remember the knife I dropped?”

“Yeah.”

“Pick it up. By the handle, if you please.”

There was the reaction Joshua was looking for. Vanitas’s arms were shaking, wavering against the order.

“Can I check to see if it’s real?” Vanitas asked, struggling against his arm.

“So long as you’re not checking by stabbing someone, you may.”

Vanitas stopped fighting his arm, now that he had a new command. Deftly, he picked it up, and stabbed it straight down into the tatami mat, where it broke straw, wafting the pleasant scent of dried grass into the tiny space.

“It’s real…” Vanitas whispered, again, fighting his arm to pull the blade out of the floor.

“Now stab me in the heart with it.”

Vanitas howled with laughter as his arms yanked out the blade, and without any sign of resistance, plunged it right into Joshua’s chest.

“Vanitas, what the?” Joshua cried, more in surprise than any kind of pain. “Let go.”

Vanitas smiled as he dropped his hands to his sides.

“You didn’t fight me.”

“Neku’s shattered your jaw and you just patch it up. I would have fought if you made me stab Flood.”

Joshua groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “You’re enjoying messing with me, aren’t you?” he asked, as he put two fingers around the entry wound, healing his body as he drew out the knife, covered in his golden ichor.

“You’re the one who told me to stab you.”

“Fair.” Joshua frowned. This wasn’t going quite how he expected it to, but he wasn’t upset by it. He just needed to adjust his approach.

“I’m going to transform. I want you to fight me where it makes sense to do so. It will always be me, but…”

“If you’re Sora, treat it like I’m facing down Sora,” Vanitas finished for him.

“Exactly, and…” Joshua pulled up his phone and focused on an image. In a moment, Vanitas was facing down a convincing mock of the sunshine child- Vanitas’s own face with a palette swap. “Does this get the point across or do I have to change my voice, too?”

“That’s fine,” Vanitas said.

“Then pick up the knife and stab me,” Joshua ordered.

Vanitas struggled hard, but Joshua’s order eventually took purchase and Vanitas was staring down a Sora facsimile with a knife in his gut.

“I’m not going to play pretend that I’m in pain,” Joshua said, pulling the knife out effortlessly as he shapeshifted again. “I don’t want you having nightmares about killing your friends, Lord knows you probably do already.”

“Thanks,” Vanitas said, genuinely relieved that Joshua didn't use Sora’s voice or make a scene of being injured, as he faced down Gabriel this time.

“Pick it up and stab me.”

Vanitas allowed it to happen.

“Good. You didn’t waste your energy on an angel.” Joshua pulled out the blade, again, laced with golden blood that smelled like maple syrup and honey, wiped it off on his shirt, and shifted to Neku’s body and face.

“Now, when you fight me, you’re trying to push back against your whole arm. You’re wasting a lot of energy doing that. This time, try and find the path of least resistance to disobey. Now stab me.”

Vanitas again focused on locking up his whole arm, to try and prevent him from thrusting. As his ability to fight began to give way to the mesmer’s desire to give in, just as his arms pushed forwards, he relaxed his hands enough to allow the blade to clatter on the tatami. His arms continued forward with the thrust, making contact with ‘Neku’s’ shirt, pushing the angel backwards against the wall behind him, minorly annoyed, but without a chest wound.

“Very good! You obeyed the spirit but not the letter of the order. I’m proud, Vanitas, this is not easy.”

Vanitas smiled. Joshua was… proud. Of him. It was like someone had shot him in the arm with adrenaline. “Again?” he asked, trying to keep his tone even, hiding his own giddiness of success.

“Let’s, with Sora’s face this time. I know you can fight me, and I don’t need you having any bad dreams tonight.”


 

Demyx wasn’t sure if he missed these dark-bright tunnels or not. There was no sense or place or time in them, and worse, he had no idea where he was actually going. These tunnels didn’t have a visible ‘light at the end of’- you just walked until you were where you needed to go.

Which meant that Demyx was eventually going to just…

Drop out into nowhere.

The air was thick with dense smoke, blocking out the sun. Which meant the sun hating demons were terrorizing the city with full force. Demyx forced himself into a ball to take the brunt of the fall, rolling a few times in the cracked pavement, stilling just at the base of a bent and rent metal sign.

SHIBUYA SHOPPING DISTRICT

Demyx gulped as the two Dancers he’d accompanied returned to their horde, no longer directly taking his orders and returned to screeching through the city.

Following his Nobodies to get out was tantamount to suicide. Demyx, thankfully, remembered the way back and opened up his own corridor back to their small posse.

“Thank the gods, we were just thinking how to get you back,” Ignis said, voice heavy.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, just following my minions is a seriously bad idea.”

“Well, can you tell them to get off me?” Prompto piped up, whining, with three more Dancers cuddling the teen, running their fingers through his hair. These ones were new, but there was no sign of a portal.

“Dancers, off,” Demyx commanded.

He could feel how dejected they were as they stepped back.

“They really do think you’re one of them,” Demyx noticed, as Prompto attempted to fix his already spiky hair.

“That’s great,” Prompto whined.

Demyx crossed his arms and tapped a finger on his elbow. “Mind if I check something?”

“I’m pretty sure I’m not like you, if that’s what this is,” Prompto said, steadfast. “I’m no demon.”

“Maybe not, but there’s regular people with affinity, too. Please. It might help us get out of here.”

“Let him look at you, Prompto. I don’t think he’ll do harm,” Ignis chided.

Prompto whined a little but allowed Demyx to lean forward to press an ear to his chest.

“Well, you’ve got a heart, that’s for sure,” Demyx said.

“Pft, I could have told you that,” Prompto admitted.

Demyx frowned. There was something else though. Something dark, etched around the teens heart, without actually swallowing the thing whole. To a Heartless or a Nobody… he would probably feel like one of them.

This world’s darkness had etched itself of Prompto in a very odd way. Demyx wouldn’t pry- stones and glass houses- but…

“You do have a heart, Prompto. A strong one at that. But it’s protected somehow. To a Heartless or a Nobody- that’s the demons like the ones we fought last night, or the ones like me and the ones I summon- you’d register to them as one of their own. You’re functionally immure to them.”

Prompto’s eyes went wide, placing a palm on his heart. “I’m.. immune?”

“Mhmmm… which means…”


 

“Focus, Tomo.”

“I’m trying! All I’m doing is summoning my sword.”

Komaeda had popped open a Noise dimension for them to fight in, and once they’d done a little shuffling between the two planes, Tomo and Riku ended up on one side, with Sora and Komaeda on the other. Riku could hear the two of them chat quietly- Komaeda was apparently teaching Sora some sort of psychic marbles-type game with their pins. Sora and Komaeda were only there keeping the dimensions open so they could be in a space devoid of being seen by the regular people traversing the real Shibuya.

Riku needed the space; he was trying to get Tomo to use his new Keyblade.

“Okay, then let’s just spar with you using your sword,” Riku insisted.

Tomo sighed. “I knew it was going to be…” he started, flicking his hand to summon his sword, getting Sketchbook Memories instead. “…useless.”

“When you stop trying to force it is when you can use it,” Riku said, a light grin on his face. “Lea had the exact same problem. When he stopped paying attention, it came to him. Now, let’s get a better look at it, hm?”

Tomo held out the Keyblade. “It’s heavier than my sword,” he said. “I think I have to hold this with both hands.”

“Try that. I fight one handed but Sora fights two. Remember, the Keyblade isn’t really a blade- it’s a bludgeon. It fights more like a mace than a sword. You’re not slicing things with it, and I’d hardly call it aerodynamic.”

“Bashing weapon…” Tomo muttered under his breath. “Are you sure I’m…”

“Tomo, you are quite literally holding a Keyblade. Your Keyblade, not someone else’s, like a certain brown haired spiky idiot I know. Just start hitting me with it.”

“I… what! No!”

“Use one of your black and white pins to summon some Noise,” Komaeda said from the air. “The penguin ones move pretty slowly. That’s a good start.”

“Thanks, Komaeda,” Riku said, fumbling through his pockets for black and white pins. “Think I got the right one.”

“Just treat it like any of your psych pins.”

Riku pressed on it, and a graffiti penguin materialized, squawking irritably.

“Okay, Tomo, I’ll keep it still for now. Give it a good smack.”

Tomo frowned, swinging the Keyblade down gently. He didn’t want to break the ‘key’ part- the colored pencils looked so fragile they’d break on impact.

The penguin rushed him, knocking him right on his ass.

“Tomo?” Riku asked, offering a hand up. “Can I borrow it for a sec?”

Tomo shakily handed over his Keyblade, handle first.

“You’re worried you’ll break this, right?”

Tomo nodded, and Riku spied a vending machine. Perfect. He rushed the machine, and took a nightly swing, completely shattering the front of it, and knocking a few cans loose down into the pickup flap.

Maybe that was a little too much force.

Tomo’s eyes went wide as Riku let go, the blade dematerializing and returning to its rightful owner. “So? How’s the keyblade? As bad as this piece of junk?” Riku asked, kicking the vending machine. Two canned coffees rolled out of it in protest, and Riku tossed one at his other.

Tomo caught the can in his offhand and looked down at his Keyblade, then back up at the destroyed vending machine.

His new weapon didn’t have a single scratch on it, let alone a pencil out of place.


 

“What’s wrong, Mabel?” Kairi sat on the sofa, a plate of omelette and potatoes on her lap on a TV tray. Lea had commandeered the kitchen table, and with him their only way to Sora, Mickey and Kairi gladly gave him the space.

“Dipper ditched me.”

“He did what?” Kairi asked, worried.

“He went with Grunkle- er, Great-Uncle Ford on some kinda weirdness hunting thing.”

“So a boy’s day?” Kairi asked her. “We can have a girl’s day if you want. You don’t need to do everything with your brother all the time, you know.”

“Yeahhhhh,” she said with a sigh. “I am having Soos take me down to the school gym. Grunkle Stan won’t let us have our birthday party here. We kinda trashed the place with zombies last time, so I don’t blame him.”

“Maaaaybe doing something a little less… exciting makes some sense,” Kairi said with a smile. “I can tag along if you want me to? I can’t drive, but I also can’t do much here except wait for Lea to finish doing math.”

“Ew,” Mabel said, sticking out her tongue.

“Hey, that math is going to let us walk into downtown Tokyo, halfway across the world,” Kairi said, pouting. “And this world is huge.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve fought wizards with magic math before. Still doesn’t make math more fun.”

Kairi blinked. “I think you’ve seen more battle than I have!”

Mabel puffed out her chest. “Most of it was done with golf clubs. And you’d be surprised how sturdy a karaoke machine is as a thwacking object!”


“Hey. Mabel. Hey.”

Kairi sat quietly on Dipper’s bed, watching Mabel’s face redden. She’d been embarrassed at the high school when asking to use the gym for her party, her best friends couldn’t even go.

These were the sort of problems a twelve year old should be having, Not zombies and inter-dimensional hell-beasts.

And now, she’d overheard on her walkie-talkie that Ford was asking Dipper to stay past the summer.

Just Dipper.

Kairi looked past Mabel at the miasma, still gently swirling on their bedroom wall. Maybe popping back with her to Monstropolis for a moment so she could laugh at Kairi’s jiggly gelatin monster form might give her a moment’s respite before Mickey, Kairi, and Lea would have to go- last Kairi had checked, Lea was testing out the portal by dropping small objects through; in a half hour or so they’d be facing down a Tokyo sunrise on Wednesday the 25th, with the time zones in mind.

She didn’t get the chance to offer; footsteps pounded on the attic stairs, frantic.

At first, Kairi thought it might be Mickey or Lea telling her they needed to go.

But it was only Dipper.

Or, unfortunately, it was precisely Dipper, the last person Mabel would have wanted to see. She bawled, and freaked out, and after a short exchange, accusing Dipper of abandoning her, she fled the room, her brother on her heels.

Kairi sighed. Where had she seen this before? Sora and Riku, in a distant memory, when Sora held her heart inside his?

Kairi clenched her jaw. She could be upset about the situation, sure, but it wasn’t something world ending. Maybe for the twins, but they’d survive this rough patch. They were too close to each other not to.

She squeezed her legging fabric, knowing any minute she’d be leaving these kids and their thankfully mundane problem behind. She’d worry, sure, but she’d come back with Riku and Sora, and whomever else in tow back through the portal they’d entered; maybe then she could sit down with the siblings and mediate.

‘Kairi’

Kairi perked up. A text. Mickey. Lea must be ready to go.

‘Kairi hit the deck.’

Kairi spared a glance behind her, to look out through the stained-glass window.

A gigantic X had torn itself in the sky.

Chapter Text

“Ienzo… what are you doing to my Nobodies?” Roxas asked, confused.

Ienzo was rubbing them gingerly with sandpaper, one with what could only be described as its chin to the ceiling. It looked like it was enjoying the attention, and, despite its master not directly controlling it, it wasn’t attacking.

Ienzo wondered if the Nobody still recognized him as a former master over his own legion. Xion didn’t have a legion of her own, but a Nobody she technically still was. 

“Gonzo said their varnish was reflecting the lights. I’m just dulling it a little.”

Roxas put up a finger to protest, before catching himself. “Yeah, okay, as long as you’re not hurting them.”

“I think they like it- maybe it’s like a facial or something?” Xion said, smiling a little at the one that was already done and sitting contently in the corner of the dressing room. “You want to direct this one back out to the stage to make sure he doesn’t blind anybody?”

Roxas sighed, and nodded. “Yeah, sure. Come on, noisy,” he directed at the Samurai marionette, who clicked loudly after him down the hall.


 

“It’s not trying to bite my hand off,” Joshua said, surprised, as he slowly got to touch Flood for the first time. It’s short fur was incredibly soft, and Joshua almost giggled like a small child. “I want one.”

“You said all humans make Noise. Do you?”

“I used to, but mine didn’t look anything like this. And I haven’t been able to since… since this world got destroyed.”

“Right, that game Riku was playing. That really happened?”

Joshua nodded, absentmindedly rubbing behind Flood’s antennae with a thumb. Vanitas closed his eyes and breathed deeply, in an odd sense of calm. The mesmer had certainly helped ease his mind, but that was a side effect of forced compliance. This was voluntary, and it actually felt… almost pleasant.

Once the initial shock of dealing with the angel wore off, Vanitas found his presence oddly comforting. Maybe because Joshua didn’t know who Vanitas was before- he wasn’t like Gabriel who had played the video games that had him in it- but Joshua knew enough of their world to follow and understand. He didn’t have any preconceived notions of what Vanitas was and wasn’t.

And little by little, Vanitas was discovering they weren’t so different.

“Why’d you lose it?” Vanitas asked, enjoying the comfort through Flood without direct contact.

“Beats me,” Joshua said with a shrug. “When I slide between dimensions sometimes I gain and lose power. Local physics and all that. Like Gabe said, she can’t do time magic. But she can fold dimensional space. You should see what Akihabara’s UG looks like. It’s nuts.”

“And you can’t summon Noise?”

“Nope. It’s not a big issue in a place like Shibuya, though. There’s enough living people rubbing up against each other that their emotional friction makes plenty on its own. And the officers mostly self-regulate. I really just handle major disputes, injuries, and extraneous incidents now; there’s not much need for me to directly intervene with people actually cooperating. It’s… nice. And I’m on better terms with the Reapers. They didn’t even know who I was before. I didn’t reach out back then; I really should have. I was an angry antisocial shut-in who just thought the world was a mess without even giving it a chance.”

“Sounds familiar,” Vanitas said, arching his back as Joshua gently scratched down Flood’s back. Joshua smiled lightly as Vanitas mimicked Flood- or rather that the two shared such a connection. He then frowned, noting the area around Vanitas’s feet bubble and boil.

“Vanitas… your shadow,” Joshua said, worriedly.

“Mph?” Vanitas said, blinking out the stupor. “Fuck.”

A blue head popped out, squawking. Vanitas frowned. “That’s… new.” Nervously he reached out a hand to the bird head bobbing out. “You’re… not an Archraven.”

The bird screeched loudly, as if demanding. Vanitas doubled over, shoving his arms into the inky darkness of his shadow all the way to the elbows, and pulled hard. An extremely irate bird with neon green and blue plumage kicked its legs as Vanitas birthed it from his own darkness, flinging off wisps of purple shadow as it screamed into the world.

Joshua held out his arms like a cradle to take the fledgling emotion from Vanitas, eliciting a jealous whine from Flood. He was hit with a tidal wave of warmth as the bird screamed bloody murder at him; a strange combination, indeed.

“A… peacock?” Joshua asked as he held the large bird out at arm’s length. Vanitas’s shadow settled, and Joshua passed the new Unversed to its master to give more attention to Flood, who was whimpering and crawling up Joshua’s slashed-open shirt to get in his face for headbutts.

Gently, Vanitas rocked his new friend, as it alternated snuggling up to his chest and screaming like an incensed Canadian goose with its long neck right in Vanitas’s face.

“I don’t even know what this is! Flood is fear, Hareraiser is sadness, Red Chili is joy…”

“Maybe that one is anger and this one’s joy? Or vice versa?” Vanitas asked, getting Flood to calm down by bouncing it on a knee, if just by a hair.

The peacock Unversed just shook its tail feathers and screamed again in Vanitas’s face. “There is no way this little shit is joy. What are you, you hollering abomination? Annoyance? Irritation? General asshole-ness? I would have created you ages ago…”

Joshua cocked his head side to side. “Stab in the dark here… but perhaps it’s pride?”

“What you think, you ear-piercing banshee? Pride?”

It bit Vanitas’s nose.

“Fucker,” Vanitas whined low. “Whatever you are, you’re not going anywhere, are you?”

The peacock struggled out of Vanitas’s grasp and attempted to strut, not even having two paces to do so, shook its tail, and preened.

“I don’t know if that bite meant yes or no,” Vanitas muttered, rubbing his nose. “Whatever it is, I hate it already.”

“So this is a new emotion for you?” Joshua asked, thinking.

“That’s typically how it works…” Vanitas said, wincing as Joshua’s sliding door opened with a slam on its runner.

“The living have returned with food offerings for our deceased comrades,” Gabriel said, in a faux-spooky voice, before dropping the affect in mild shock. “Also… um… why is there a bloody knife and Vanitas on your floor? Sora’s been looking for him everywhere.”

Joshua pulled his phone out of his pocket and facepalmed. “I should have let them know you were with me,” he muttered.

The baby Unversed screamed again, and Vanitas, frustrated, stuck a finger in its beak. Surprisingly, the bird didn’t bite down, but suckled on it.

“I was teaching Vanitas some self-defense,” Joshua admitted, looking up at Gabriel.

“In your closet of a bedroom.” She seemed unconvinced.

“This kind,” Joshua said, pointing at his temple. “And then, when we were done, Vanitas had a baby.”

“I didn’t have a…” Vanitas started, before looking down the infant emotion. It had calmed, sucking Vanitas’s pointer finger, and was snuggling warmly to his chest. Whatever it was, pride or otherwise, Joshua’s lesson in fighting mind control had definitely been the reason the whiny peafowl had manifested. “You’d better not be a deadbeat father or I’ll keep stabbing you.”

Joshua looked pained. “Not in front of our son, Vanitas! Think of his virgin ears!”

“Well, congrats on the kid, but if you think Aunt Gabriel is changing its diaper, you clearly don’t know me. Come on, I rearranged the rest of the apartment; we have a second floor now.”


 

Roxas sidestepped the giant plushes moving set pieces and shimmied between the old seats. He’d never been a child- not directly- so the change in perspective was extremely foreign to him.

“Rox!”

“Hm? What’s up Walter? Where’d your brother go?” Roxas looked around. The human shadow that was Gary was nowhere to be found.

“He… had to leave.” Walter kicked a chair back and it squealed from the rusted metal strut.

“Something wrong?”

“Yeah.. so… I don’t know exactly but… his girlfriend- Mary, the one with us when we accidentally switched phones?- she got mad. So Gary went to try and patch things up. It was kinda my fault, too.”

“Are you… gonna be okay?” Roxas asked. “You seemed kinda… attached at the hip.”

Walter grimaced. “As good as I’ll be I guess. I don’t really have a talent like you and all the others though.”

“You wanna be my assistant?” Roxas asked, thunking the Samurai’s chest with his fist. “I can show you how they work.”

“No, but thanks. I need to find my own talent. You’re leaving after the show’s over, right? So… I can’t just help you. I need to do my own thing.”

“Yeah, we’re leaving after. We have to find our friends. And they’re not here.”

Walter nodded.

“I’m sure you’ll think of something, Walter. I’ll be honest, this is my first time doing anything like this.”

“But earlier…”

“Was Ienzo’s idea. I’ve never been one for limelight. Speaking of, I have to check to make sure my minions aren’t ruining the video. Come on, you clinking armor, lets make sure you aren’t too shiny.”

Walter whistled low as Roxas passed by with the wooden automation.


 

“Really your guess is as good as mine,” Terra said, scanning the icy spring for more Heartless. “I wonder if the thing that is affecting Riku is messing with the Heartless too. We are on the same world.”

“That would not be unheard of,” Artemis commented, yawning. “And my apologies. I have been up all night. I doubt I will get any solace until we are on a flight to Tokyo.”

“Yeah,” Ventus agreed. “But I can’t just sit around. It’s making me nervous.”

“Well, unfortunately, you were put under my care until Holly or Foaly return.”

“Our care,” Butler gruffed out from a nearby rock. “If you have some sort of scheme, Artemis, fess up.”

“What do you ask of an angel that’s offering a fee for transit?” Artemis mused aloud. “What can you ask an angel? Can they revive the dead?”

“Artemis, you heard how Holly reacted, whatever this creature is, he’s trouble.”

“He’s also desperate,” Artemis countered with one of his trademarked grins. “And the people with him trust him. I may not place my own cards behind others so easily, but… he doesn’t sound like he’s going to trick us. Not when we have something he needs.”

Aqua pinched the bridge of her nose. “Please stop talking about us like we’re objects. I know we may be game characters here, but…”

“That doesn’t mean we’re not real,” Terra finished for Aqua, as she hugged Rainfell to her chest, scaled down for her smaller elf form. “All three of us thought we were just… I don’t know, but ‘not real’ about covers it, for far too long. I was possessed, Ventus barely clinging to life through the magic of another, and Aqua lost to time and darkness.”

“I… am truly sorry,” Artemis said quietly. “I will try to be more mindful. How about this… I can show you around the city, at least. We have plenty of time to waste, and little to do.”

Terra turned away from the spring, and his reflection in it. “It’s better than just sitting around.”

Ven stretched his wings and flitted around Butler’s head. “I could use a little exercise.”

Aqua giggled behind a hand. “You look like an oversized Tinker Bell.”

Ventus stuck his tongue out at her, and buzzed over her head. “I’ll take being green if I get wings too. And here’s something I’ve wanted to say for like… forever. Terra? Aqua?”

The two looked overhead at him buzzing and grinning.

“What’s up, Ven?” Aqua asked.

“You’re grounded.”


 

“Whoa,” Riku said, eyes wide as he opened the door to the angels’  apartment. “How?”

“Redeeeeeeecorating,” Gabriel chirped. “Just until we kick y’all out. It’s cramped in here and it’s gonna get worse.”

“Redecorating isn’t just making a second floor inside an apartment,” Riku said dumbstruck. “What happens if we go up a floor in the elevator?”

“You go to the next apartment, duh. I’ve folded space here, not slid an extra floor in the building. Our boring old mid-level exec living upstairs doesn’t even know. C’mon, it’s just a multipurpose tatami room upstairs so we can all eat together, and you get your own sleeping space. Plus two more bathrooms. Sharing ain’t caring, not with twelve of us and counting.”

“Twelve?” Tomo asked.

“It’s a lot easier to keep track of you kiddos in one space,” Gabriel said, shrugging. “And it means Neku doesn’t have to keep commuting in. Plus, by tomorrow we might double with all your friends pouring out of the woodwork. Better set this up now and get used to it.”

“Why don’t you just keep it like this all the time? You could live like kings.”

“We all have offices in our own districts, the apartment’s just for washing, eating, and sleeping.”

“And scheming,” Neku added, grinning from the top of the stairwell. “You know, you could ask me before just assuming I’ll stay over.”

“Do you want to take an hour train home and then squeeze in on a rush hour train tomorrow?”

Neku put up a finger, then lowered it. “Point. But what about my parents?”

Gabriel coughed. “Mrs. Sakuraba? Yes, this is Shujin Academy. We have an overnight event at the dorms for new student orientation. Would Neku wish to participate?” she asked, sounding exactly like his principal.

“Okay, fair,” Neku replied. “Why do I even doubt you guys?”

“Because your puny mortal mind can’t comprehend our vastness?”

Neku just rolled his eyes. “Food’s getting cold.”

“Didn’t you pick up sushi?”

“Soup’s getting cold.”

Gabriel grinned. “Come on, upstairs.”

Riku rolled his eyes, but slipped off his shoes and followed before looking back and drawing his Keyblade on Tomo.

Reflexively, Tomo put up a hand in defense. His Keyblade materialized, blocking the blow.

Riku dismissed his, and nodded, with a small smile. “Think fast?” he asked with a nod.

Tomo bowed his head and sheathed his own. “I didn’t summon my sword.”

“There’s nothing wrong if you do,” Riku said, mussing his replica’s hair. “But it’s no substitute for a Keyblade when you get good at it.”

Sora pulled Tomo into a one armed hug, startling him a little. “You’ll be a master in no time!”

Xxx

“So…” Joshua said, frowning as he brought dinner-slash-meeting to order. “Our guests should, if all goes well, arrive tomorrow. We need every tool we can have at our disposal to take down Coco. We are doing it Thursday. No room for error. One, because we lose some of our best on Friday. And two… Riku doesn’t have much past Saturday night, if that timer is for erasure.”

Silence, as chopsticks clicked on plates, save for Sora who simply couldn’t get the hang of them, and was given a pair of plastic children’s chopsticks; a large pair of tweezers.

“Of us four… Tomo’s the best at magic,” Riku said, simply. “I’m probably the best offensive fighter, or Vanitas now that he’s got a keyblade. Sora’s use of pins here is probably the best.”

“That doesn’t help much if we can’t see,” Joshua countered. “And as long as she holds that man hostage, she seems to ignore basic laws of magic.”

Neku nodded. “And we can see in Shinjuku when she releases the fog, but when she’s in the air, she’s as good as gone. Do you have any plan? Rhyme… what about you? Are you… dead or alive?”

“A… alive,” Rhyme said, poking her fingers together. “I can see in Shinjuku and I can see Coco when she flies. But I don’t think I can fight her all alone.”

“Kid, we wouldn’t dream of it,” Gabriel said. “That woman is a beast.”

“I… came up with an idea earlier. But I don’t like it,” Joshua said, poking at a stray grain of rice.

“You mentioned. Let me guess, it involves mind control,” Vanitas said, plucking an egg sushi off his plate. Neku had made sure to get him vegetarian ones, and he was a little grateful.

Joshua flicked the red and black pin he’d shown Vanitas earlier onto the low table they were all seated around.

“Nope, I’m out,” Neku said, flicking the pin with a well aimed shot right back into Joshua’s lap.

Sora had half a mind to ask him if he could teach any Tin Pin moves to him after dinner.

“I told you I didn’t like the idea either. And I’m not planning on making it permanent.”

Shiki sighed. “Hear him out first. You were never controlled by one of those. I was. And I’m willing to listen first.”

Neku glowered, but rolled his wrist. “You have five minutes to convince me you’re not off your rocker.”

“Aren’t I already?” Joshua asked, before diving in. “So, for the four of our offworld friends, these pins imprint. Mass mind control. I wouldn’t use this one, mind. I’d make my own. And the goal is to imprint just one thing.”

Joshua sighed. “Walk to Shinjuku.”

“Walk… to Shinjuku?” Neku asked. “How’s that going to help?”

“Shibuya is the busiest intersection in the world. We get enough of them to move to Shinjuku and…” Joshua clenched his jaw. “If Coco tries to fight us, she’s bound to accidentally kill a bystander.”

Uriel gasped. “You wouldn’t.”

“I wouldn’t. Because the higher ups would have my head for killing a living person. It’s inexcusable without specific, explicit permission. We don’t need to beat her. We just need to get God involved.”

Neku was on Joshua, strangling him, in a moment flat. “You.. callous… inhuman…”

“Neku!” Shiki yelled, and Neku slowly released his hold, Joshua gasping.

“Oh, don’t give me that shit. You don’t need to breathe.”

“What.. happens… when… we… instate… a… new… conductor?” Joshua gasped out, trying to regain his breath.

“Their rules are absolute.”

“And don’t you think we’d ask them to make whomever got accidentally killed by Coco null and void? They’d be dead for minutes, a few hours tops. I wouldn’t make anyone who was collateral damage play the game- at least not from this. That’s unfair.”

“You don’t have control over Shinjuku,” Neku said, getting off Joshua and glaring.

“No, but with Coco out, I would. And guess who appoints a Conductor?” Uriel asked Neku. “Me. The only reason I can’t touch Coco is that she was already Conductor when I got moved there.”

“You’re still… you’re still playing with peoples lives. What if God or whatever thinks you played dirty and puts a crony of his in charge of Shinjuku? What if you can’t bring them back? What if-“

“This is why I thought this plan was bad!” Joshua cried, rubbing his neck, not mad at Neku for his violent outburst in the slightest- frankly, he thought he deserved it. “But it’s all we have right now, unless you can think of something better.”

“Triple Seven.” Beat hadn’t said a thing all dinner, and only now spoke up, staring fiercely at Joshua. “Neku, you’re worried n’ shit that the angels can’t follow through, right?”

“What’s Triple Seven?” Gabriel asked.

“Who,” Shiki explained.  “He was a barrier Reaper when we were in the game. Koinishi erased him.”

“Why did nobody tell me about him when I cleaned up after that mess six months ago? I brought you all back to life.”

“It’s not like we knew to ask,” Rhyme offered. “Prove to Neku that your plan isn’t going to permanently endanger people. Bring him back.”

“I need more than a name,” Joshua ordered, tapping the table with his fingers out of rhythm. “Anything you can tell me about him. And how he died. And where.”

Neku calmed down, and inhaled, but was cut off by Komaeda. “He was my friend. You can… do it?”

“I need more info, but yes, I could,” Joshua said confidentially. “I might have to… change his form for a while to tether him here, but I could bring him back.”

“Change his form?” Beat asked, skeptically.

“How we saved your sister from erasure by making her soul a pin?” Joshua replied, eyebrow cocked. “I fixed Rhyme up properly once she’d tethered back to this existence. Your love of her brought her home.”

Beat’s face turned red and he looked down at his plate.

Vanitas laughed under his breath. So that’s what Uriel has probably done with all the souls she was saving in Shinjuku.

“He was my friend,” Komaeda offered, digging out their phone. “He sang lead in Def March, a metal band that played over in A East, when he was off duty. I wasn’t… I was indisposed when he died though. I was controlled by one of those red pins. I don’t remember that week at all. Here.”

Komaeda passed over their phone. “Oh,” Joshua said quietly. “I remember him. Koinishi… killed him?”

“She set up a trap in the concert venue meant for Beat and I. He went in first,” Neku said quietly.

“So it was the week the city was under mind control… over in the concert area in A-East…” Joshua thought aloud. “I know who he was. I think this is enough to get a lock on him.”

“You bring him back… and I’ll be willing to be complicit in this,” Neku said, the fight worked out of his voice. “And… I’m sorry for throttling you.”

“No harm, no foul,” Joshua said, waving it off. “What’s a little murder between friends anyway? Let’s see what miracles I can pull…”

Joshua scooted himself back from the table, and spread his wings to a full span, and began to glow the same shade of gold as his blood. His irises and pupils melted out of his eyes, glowing a neon white.

“Um… I can see this, yo,” Beat said, mouth to the metaphorical floor.

“He’s tuning his vibe,” Uriel explained. “Angels can cross space-time, so long as we can tune into the right frequency. It’s powerful enough that anyone can see it. Even mortals.”

The energy-being Joshua snapped and glitched, and everyone else at the table, save the other angels, felt themselves being torn into a million pieces. It didn’t hurt; it just felt like you were everywhere and nowhere at once.

Overwhelming was an understatement.

As quickly as it started, it faded. Joshua glitched back to his humanoid form, glaring up at Neku.

“Neku?”

“No good?”

Joshua shook his head. “Not… quite. Did you actually see him die?”

“I…”

“We found his necklace, yo. On the floor.”

“Did. You. See. Him. Die.”

“…no,” Neku admitted. “But no Reaper’s seen him since. You think… he survived?”

“Oh no, but now I know what I’m doing. Hang on, I’m bringing him home.”

Again, Joshua jittered reality to its foundation. Riku gripped the table, feeling an oddly familiar sensation. It was just like when he was taken out of time, minus the physical shredding of a limb or any actual pain.

The universe stilled, and collectively exhaled a breath of air. Joshua was holding liquid gold, that, rather than pooling up around him, began to solidify.

The thing- nay, young man in a fitted, shorter version of the black hoodie with detailing the barrier Reapers wore, short platinum blonde bleached hair, and extremely tight pants- inhaled a sharp gasp.

“Fuck!” he cried.

“Seven!” Komaeda gasped, and ran, tripping over their own feet to help him sit up.

“Ko! Hey man,” Triple Seven choked out. “Ugh. Anyone have some aspirin?”

“Water?” Joshua asked, holding a hand out to levitate a glass to the reaper.

“Yeah thank- what the nine hells? Neku? Beat? Shiki? Why are you breakin’ bread with Reapers?” Seven flailed, but Joshua held him firm.

“Calm, Seven. Breathe. Have some water, sit up.”

“A… are you an angel?” Seven asked, finally taking a good look at the person keeping him still.

Joshua nodded. “We’ve met, but I don’t think I’ve ever formally introduced myself. I’m Joshua, the Composer Of Shibuya. And I just pulled you forward six months in time. Sorry about that, but it’s a stable time loop I had to fill.”

Neku scrunched up his face. “Stable loop?”

“You didn’t see Seven actually get erased. Just saw his choker and heard him scream. And today you tell me this. I go back to save him, but I watch myself grab him and disappear. So now I know I have to go back again and take him away before he steps on a trap set by Koinishi- which I disabled by the way, Neku, you’re welcome- and here he is, after I go back a second time. He never got erased to begin with. I just had to take his choker off before pulling him forward to close the loop.”

“This is making my head spin, yo.” Beat pulled at his hair. “So… what would have happened if we didn’t tell you about him?”

“He would have stepped on Koinishi’s trap and been erased. And I would have found enough of his soul to scoop up and put in a pin until he was whole enough to revive. Except then you would have told me about him and… I need you guys to understand. I don’t just own Shibuya. In a very real sense, I am Shibuya. The same holds for Uriel over Shinjuku. Or it should, but Coco’s vibe is blocking any major magic. Take it out and…”

“…Uriel can restore the city,” Neku said, staring at Seven, who was awkwardly accepting a quiet sobbing hug from Komaeda. “Holy fuck. I… punch the teeth out of a god…”

“You mean I allow it,” Joshua said with a smirk. “Be glad your benevolence rubbed off on me.”


 

Twelve became thirteen, as the circle of the dead- current and former- shifted space to let Seven sit and inhale leftovers and catch him up on the goings on.

“Koinishi’s gone?”

“And Minanoto. And by gone,” Joshua said, wagging a finger, “I mean gone. If they were erased, I would have found traces of them. They’re either truly wiped off the map or outside my influences, and I’d stake my magic on the latter. Tokyo alone has 23 wards.”

“Uzuki?” Seven asked, downing more miso soup.

“She’s a lieutenant now. I got rid of the points system.”

“My bandmates?”

“I… sat down with all the Reapers after the incident- all of them. I revealed myself, and opened the floor to questions. They did not hold back.” Joshua laughed as he winced slightly. “I got an earful and a half that night. Change’s been way quicker than expected, though. And… I offered the Game to any Reapers that wanted to try for reincarnation. I know many only took the job because it was a safer choice than erasure. I want the people working under me to actually want to be here.”

Seven narrowed his eyes. “What of B.J. and Tenho?”

Joshua pulled out his phone and scrolled, clicking something and putting the device to his ear.

“…Beej? No, I don’t need you for anything. Someone else does, though.”

Joshua passed the phone to Triple Seven, who looked at it like it was a venomous snake.

Rhyme made a motion with her hands, and the reaper snatched the phone from Joshua.

“B.J.?”

The phone wasn’t on speaker, but the entire group could hear uncontrollable wailing on the other end of the line.

“B.J.! No, I’m fine! No… Joshua pulled me out of time, it’s me… yeah, no, really, I’m okay. I… you still a…?”

Seven’s face fell.

“You? And Tenho?”

Seven swallowed, looking around at the group.

“Then I’m coming too. I’ll see you all next Sunday. Okay? You’d better be at the scramble Sunday night. Got it?”

Seven shut the phone. “You could have told me they re-entered the game as Players, you ass. Would have saved me that.”

“But my word wouldn’t have been as good as yours. You don’t want to take any time to acclimate?”

“Fuck no, I’ll just get lazy. Put me in the next game. I’m gonna win my life back, and we’ll tour the country. Together.”

“Rhyme, what say you?” Joshua asked.

“Of course. I expect to see you next Sunday, Triple Seven.”

“Taro. Name’s Taro. You can call me Triple Seven when the band’s back together.”

“I’ll have to take your wings from you first,” Rhyme said, standing up and walking around to the soon-to-be-former Reaper. “If you accept me taking away your powers it wont hurt.”

“Course I do.”

Rhyme pulled gently on his wings, and crushed them between her fingers.

“He’s gone,” Neku said, a little surprised.

“He’s just a regular soul now,” Rhyme said. “Lay down, Taro, I have to turn you into energy and take your entry fee.”

Taro laid down on the tatami, grinning. “Back to zero, huh?”

“I’ll give you the same starter pins as everyone else. If none of them work for you, just find a Reaper on Monday and whine at them.”

“Got it. God, the games gone soft, hasn’t it?”

“It’s gotten fair,” Rhyme corrected. “If you’re an idiot and get yourself erased, it’s your fault. The Reapers just don’t do that anymore; there more like GMs and moderators than antagonists. Just keep your eyes open and fight for your life back.”

“You got it, sis,” Taro said. “Anything else?”

“Eyes closed,” Joshua said, and Taro obliged. Joshua placed a five yen coin over each eyelid.

“Best of luck,” Komaeda said, smiling, as Taro faded into light. “I’m not going easy on you.”

“I sure as hell hope-”

The pair of coins dropped through the faded soul, rolled on the tatami mats, before finally coming to a halt.

Joshua scooped them up.

“What’s with the coins?” Rhyme asked. “We don’t need to put coins over someone’s eyes to put their soul in the game.”

“Trying an angel’s equivalent of an old wives’ tale. Neku, catch.”

Joshua tossed Neku one of the two coins. “Goen. Means both five yen coin as well as a connection to the gods. And, conveniently, has a hole in the center. Try looking through it. I want to see if the urban legend’s true.”

Neku put it up to an eye, closed the other one, and looked through the hole in the center.

“Shit.”

“What, what’s it do, yo?” Beat asked.

“I can see the UG.”

Chapter Text

“Give it, yo. I wanna see.” Beat leaned over, using his size and muscles to try and worm Neku away from his coin.

“What, hey, Beat, wait your turn!” Neku said, annoyed, pushing his friend away.

Shiki dug around in her pockets, found a five-yen coin and held it up to her eye. “I don’t see anything different. Does it have to be… charged up or something?”

Joshua flicked the other coin to Beat. “Hence the urban legend among angels. There’s not exactly many chances to test if it works. One, you need to get a coin to charge. And two, convince a mortal to look through it. And given the general asshole nature of my people… even if they tried the former for the hell of it, they sure wouldn’t give any power like that to a human.”

“Sis, I thought you had wings,” Beat said, face a little crestfallen. “You can disappear like the Reapers can.”

“Remember how the Reapers in Shinjuku sort of… faded from sight- but not even Coco saw them when she came down earlier?” Rhyme asked. She rolled her shoulders, and a pair of glittering pink wings materialized into view. “Obfuscation. Hides things even from Reapers. It’s my best skill.”

“They’re… um… very pink…” Neku said, trying to find a compliment.

Rhyme fluttered then a little, turning them a deep burgundy. “Well, I like changing their color. There’s no reason to keep them black.”

“Well…” Neku said, handing the coin to Shiki so she could take a look. “This is… kinda useful, but you only have two. And I don’t think any other Reapers want to bow out to next week’s game just to get us two more eyepieces.”

“Which is why I’ll fly to Yoyogi and raid the offering box at Meiji shrine,” Joshua said, grinning. “It’s worth a shot, everyone there dumps their five yen coins to gain the gods’ favor. Barring that, I’ll sleep with some on my eyes tonight. I expect you all to do the same,” he added, sweeping a hand to the Reapers and angels seated at the table. “Maybe we can charge some more up. At the very least… two people can use them.”

“I’ll make some monocles from them,” Gabriel offered, stretching and levitating up the plates to bring down to the kitchen. “Shouldn’t be too hard to turn them into something a little more user-friendly.”

“Thanks, Gabe,” Joshua said, waving his hand to telepathically sweep up the refuse into a trash bag. “Oh wait, before you all go. Vanitas?”

Vanitas grinned, and peeled under the table. “Hey, whiny, come on out.”

Flood bounded out from under the table, pawing at the remaining pieces of sushi in front of Vanitas. He offered a cucumber roll, which Flood greedily grabbed before hopping on its back legs to Sora for attention.

A second Unversed waddled out from under the blanket Vanitas had rolled up for them to nap at his feet while they ate. His Unversed ran on his emotions, not food, so it was more a treat than a requirement for them.

“Whoa,” came a collective gasp from the table.

“That… doesn’t look nearly as much like Noise as Flood does,” Neku said, surprised. “It’s…  a peacock?”

“Sorry, this asshole was created today. I’m not sure what emotion it is. Joshua and I think he’s pride, but your guess is as good as mine. I’m surprised he’s stuck around. My other ones don’t come out unless I specifically draw on them.”

“Which means it’s some new emotion you just… have now,” Gabriel said, reaching down to touch it.

It screamed at her.

“Right now, only Joshua and I can touch it. Makes sense, he helped bring it out.”

Uriel’s face lit up like the sun. “Well, a pleasant surprise, that, Joshua. You haven’t had a lover in centuries!”

“What… no… for the…” Joshua said, face crimson, before Uriel burst out laughing.

“Gabriel told me what happened. I just wanted to get a rise out of you.”

Vanitas’s shadow began to boil, and a small creature poked its head out. Vanitas, face equally red, dug a hand in and yanked out a small white canine looking creature by the scruff, it’s cheeks rounded with red fur, it’s crimson eyes in permanent U shapes, tail curled up around its legs.

“Thanks, you…” Vanitas started, before catching himself, “…you person. You’re the mother of my embarrassment. This beast’s yours now.”


 

Vanitas’s embarrassment faded almost as quickly as it materialized, and somehow… Vanitas felt better about it existing. Even when the peacock receded, dipping back into his shadow after Joshua went out for an evening flight through his city, Vanitas felt a little more at peace.

He could feel himself opening up- expressing himself- for the first time. It was like that shop clerk had told him- maybe for him, dying hadn’t been such a bad thing. He was finally, truly free.

“All right,” Uriel said, once the table had been pushed to a far corner and the floor swept of their things. “We’ve moved the gentlemen up here, and the ladies to Gabriel’s room downstairs. Komaeda, we’ll set up space for you where you prefer.”

Komaeda looked a little embarrassed, themselves. “Up here is fine,” they said. “There’s way more room, anyway.”

“I’ve added two more toilets at that end of the hall,” Gabriel pointed, “and a small, one person bath, and a larger one that’s identical to the one downstairs on that side,” she added, pointing the other way. “The shoji screens slide around so you can give yourselves private rooms, or not, or combine into a few separate spaces. Your choice. Everyone’s personal belongings are in the closets behind me. If you want anything to eat or drink, the kitchen’s stocked, or go to the FamilyMart next door. Key to the apartment is hung up next to the entryway. Any questions?”

“Can you check my back?” Riku asked sheepishly. “My wing feels funny.”

“If you pulled your muscle, I’m going to kill you myself.”

“I’m dead, Gabriel.”

Gabriel opened her hand, revealing a gaming controller. “I’ll drop your avatar off a cliff then.”

“Shiki, Rhyme, how does a girl’s night sound?” Uriel asked. “Gabriel and Joshua won’t watch romantic comedies with me,” she added, pouting straight at her friend and roommate present.

“Because they’re boooooring,” Gabriel whined.

“Ooooh, can I do your hair?” Shiki asked.

Uriel blushed. “You… want to?”

Shiki grinned, hooking an arm around Uriel and Rhyme. “Maaaaaakeoooooovers!” she cried as she dragged them down the stairs.

“At least she’s directed her fashion fury at someone other than me,” Neku whined under his breath, pinching the space between his eyes.


 

“Well, you didn’t tear it, Riku,” Gabriel said, checking his back while pressing at different points. “But it is a little inflamed. Do you want a massage?”

“I couldn’t,” Riku said, face down on the tatami. “Don’t you have some eyepieces to make?”

“I only sleep an hour or two a night. It’s really no big deal. And actually… Beat. Use one of the coins and watch. You should learn how to take care of her wings; she can’t. I’ve been doing that.”

“Uh, yeah,” Beat said sheepishly. “I remember the first few weeks were pretty rough for ‘er. I wanted to help, but I couldn’t see her wings.”

Gabriel rubbed her hands together. “Okay. Lesson time. Riku, my test subject. On your stomach, shirt off.”

“What.. hey!” Riku said, clutching his shoulders.

Gabriel laughed. “I can do it shirt on, but it’s far easier otherwise.”

Riku rolled his eyes and pulled off his shirt.

“Whoa,” Beat exclaimed. “Since when did you… uh… what’s the word? Shred?”

“Get ripped?” Neku asked, elbowing Beat in the ribs. “Last I saw you, you were a stick. And that was only through a dream.”

“I took on the form of my fourteen year old self when diving through the sleeping worlds,” Riku said, as Beat and Neku lifted the coins to their eyes to watch. “I’m seventeen, now, and swinging a sword for a couple years will do it.”

“Here’s a fun little trick,” Gabriel said, with a mischievous grin. “You all see this little knob here, right at the bottom of where wing meets back? There’s one on each side. Angels have them too.” She pressed hard with her thumbs and pushed up. Riku reflexively snapped his wings upwards and yelped.

“It’s like when someone uses one of those hammer things on your knees. Reflex. If you catch a Reaper off guard in the air like this, you can send them spiraling earthbound.”

“Or an angel,” Tomo said, raising an eyebrow as he watched, scooting a little closer.

“Hey, Komaeda, you mind working on Tomo at the same time? I’m sure he’s probably sore, too.”

Tomo looked a little embarrassed. “I didn’t want to ask, but yes, my shoulders hurt.”

“Have you ever had a massage before?” Komaeda asked, as Tomo took off his windbreaker and top, and laid down next to Riku.

Tomo thought for a moment. “No… not that I can think of.”

“You just let me know if it’s too much, then, okay? We joke about which one of us is secretly a jackhammer back at the dorms.”

Phrasing,” Gabriel muttered.

Sora pouted. “My back still hurts too, you know.”

“Wait your turn,” Gabriel admonished.

“I… could try to help,” Vanitas offered.

Sora backpedaled a little. “No, no, I can wait! I’m not that immature, right Riku?”

“Keeping my trap shut here,” Riku grumbled.

“No, you’re a baby,” Vanitas insisted, grinning, pushing Sora to the tatami.

“At least let me take off my shirt,” Sora whined.


 

Vanitas followed Gabriel’s instructions to the letter, and soon, Sora was just short of falling asleep right there on the mats. Vanitas smirked, observing just how easily the idiot trusted him. Sure, his ability to really hurt him was gone, but he could have sicced Flood on him in a heartbeat, snapping his neck or ripping a wing.

But Sora was hisidiot, dammit, and there was something to be said about making someone else feel that trustworthy of you.

Vanitas wasn’t even sure how he’d even earned it.

“All right, that’s enough. Beat, Neku, hand me those coins. Komaeda, you mind if Beat works on you?”

“What? I’m gonna suck, yo, and I can’t do squat without the coins.”

Gabriel pulled some yarn from a pocket and quickly fashioned a headpiece by knitting the coins together.

“Now you have two,” Gabriel insisted, handing back the makeshift goggles. “See if our wings are corporeal to you while you’re wearing them.”

“This looks stupid,” Beat said, as he pulled the contraption over his head. “Sure of it.”

He reached out and touched Gabriel’s wing, pulling at the feathers. “Feels solid to me.”

“Yeah, ow, yeah,” Gabriel whined, snapping her wing back from Beat. “Practice on Komaeda. Vanitas, you want, or no touching?”

“Not from you,” Vanitas admitted.

“Tomo, you want another round? I want to show Sora and Riku what to do.”

“I’ll take as many as you’re offering,” Tomo said, dreamily, in no desire to move from his spot. “That was amazing.”

Riku mussed Tomo’s hair. “I’m glad.”

Sora slowly sat upright, shaking out his wings and rolling his shoulders. “Vanitas, thank you. I needed that.”

Vanitas went pink to his ears and the puppy poked its head out of his shadow, just for a moment.

“You’re an open book,” Riku said, letting the dog sniff him as Flood whined.

“Yeah well… you’re… uh…”

“Thanks for the info, Captain Obvious,” Neku said dryly, rolling his eyes.

Vanitas exhaled, grateful for the save. His shadow bubbled a little again, but smoothed our as the dog disappeared back into it. Vanitas gave Flood a few quick head scratches to calm down his jealous fear, wondering why one of his Archravens- his own jealousy- hadn’t made an appearance.

“Vanitas, I know you’re probably going to say no, but… would you like one, too? A massage, I mean. It’ll help a ton.” Sora looked expectantly at him. “Seriously, don’t feel obligated. I know this is a lot of new stuff for you.”

“Why not,” Vanitas said, chucking off his own jacket and shirt. “But if I say stop, you stop.”

“Yeah, of course. Only a jerk would keep doing something you don’t want.”

“For once, Sora has a point,” Riku said dryly, as he scooted to the side with Neku to watch Gabriel show the next group what to do.

Flood whined.

“Sora’s busy right now, buddy,” Gabriel said, as the small creature nervously slipped around the group trying to find someone to bother.

“Nudge Neku, he cant see without those coins,” Vanitas sighed out at it. “Everyone else has been giving you attention today.”

Flood head butted his master on the shoulder, before running at full tilt to knock over Neku.

“What, hey, I’m allergic to cats,” Neku whined, getting a face full of demanding Unversed. “Holy cow are you needy.”

“If anything bothers you, you tell me, okay?” Sora reminded Vanitas.

Vanitas swallowed a ball of spit. “Yeah,” he muttered. He could feel his connection back to Flood; the absentminded head scratches the creature was receiving translating back into a sense of calm. Vanitas heard Tomo yelp, as she walked Beat through the wing reflex, but Sora didn’t do it to him.

Vanitas exhaled, grateful again. Sora was a bit airheaded, Vanitas knee as much from the hazy time in his heart, but he was also incredibly empathetic.

Vanitas vaguely wondered what his Unversed would look like if he made any as Sora finally, gently, placed a hand on his bare back. Vanitas flinched, but Sora just kept it there, not moving it or attempting to prod further until he felt Vanitas’s back still.

He loosely remembered Sora reminding Neku to pet Flood. “It calms Vanitas down, too, they’re connected,” he vaguely heard Sora say as Vanitas felt his own wings began to loosen and relax.

The last time he’d felt this safe and comfortable was when he was in Sora’s own heart. Sora stopped for a moment, before forgoing the massage, leaving forward and giving Vanitas head scratches.

And the floodgates opened.

Vanitas started quietly sobbing and convulsing, and he couldn’t figure out why. Nobody was hurting him; he felt, good, actually… so…

“Vanitas?” Sora said, worried, lifting his hands off. The positive feedback from Flood ceased a moment later.

“No, I’m…” Vanitas said, choking on a quiet sob. “I’m fine. I’m… good.”

“Sora, he’s overwhelmed,” Vanitas beard Riku say. “I’m not sure he’s processing this-“

Vanitas felt a large hand- no, paw- grip his jeans, and pull for purchase. He tried to turn around to help yet another infant emotion, but was shaking too much to do so.

“So-So-Sora…” he chattered. “Pull.”

“You want me to help pull it out?” Sora asked. Vanitas nodded, shakily, alternating between sobbing and laughing hysterically. His emotions were going haywire as he flipped on his back and tried to clear his mind by staring at the featureless ceiling.

“Riku, help, this thing is… huge…” Sora grunted with exertion.

Riku came around the other side of the giant creature being born and grabbed it under a shoulder, pulling hard.

“It’s gotta weigh like… a hundred pounds or more, stuck in molasses…” Riku groaned. “More help. Now.”

Gabriel and Beat grabbed on, as Tomo and Komaeda shook themselves out, sitting upright to be ready to help as needed, while Neku helped soothe the panicking Flood.

With an audible thwunk sound of pulling something from heavy mud, the four of them fell backwards on their rears on the tatami as Vanitas’s third new emotion of the day stretched itself out and began grooming itself.

Sora looked shocked at the large new creature. “Why does it look like me?”


 

The lion cub- more aptly lion teenager- lumbered to its master and promptly laid down on top of him.

Vanitas stilled, his crying laughter reduced to dry whimpers. “Thank you,” he choked out, both to the group and the new emotion, whose crown necklace was clinking in his face. The lion nosed Vanitas and huffed, gently taking one of Vanitas’s arms in its mouth and moving its head in a circular motion before dropping the limb.

Vanitas laughed weakly. “Oh, you’re just as needy as Flood,” he said, as he began petting the beast.

It huffed in satisfaction.

“What is it?” Tomo asked. “And why did Sora say it looked like him?”

“It’s easy, it’s been trying to surface all night,” Vanitas said aloud, directed at both the beast and the room.

 “It looks like how I do when I visit the Pride Lands. It’s a world of talking animals,” Sora said, scooting himself to get a better look at the new Unversed. “I’m cursed to change my form when visiting worlds that don’t have humans, so I don’t stick out like a sore thumb or worse.”

Vanitas nodded, and muttered quietly to himself, “I vaguely remember that from being your tagalong. Guess it stuck.”

“Or worse?” Neku asked, Flood now crawling up into his nest of hair.

“One world I frequented was almost entirely water,” Sora explained. “So I’m a mermaid there. I know how to swim, but I’d eventually get too exhausted, and probably drown.”

“I’m trying to picture that, and can’t,” Neku said. “And that has to be weird to swim as. Your legs are just like… fused together?”

“Nope, a tail comes straight from your spine,” Riku said. “It’s more like swimming by wiggling your ass.”

“I didn’t know you’ve been to Atlantica! You have to show me what you look like!” Sora whined.

Neku and Beat snorted, while Vanitas laughed quietly, finally grounded with the lazy Sora-esque lion huffing in his face. The only major difference between Sora’s Pride Lands form and the beast pinning him to the floor were the telltale Unversed eyes- crystal red, in upside-down V’s.

“So, what are you?” Komaeda asked, nervously holding out their hand.

“You can touch it, I’m doing a lot better now that it’s out of my system,” Vanitas sighed out.

Gingerly, Komaeda placed a hand on its flank. “Hello… oh wow. You’re… warm.”

“Like… heat warm?” Beat asked, a little nervous at an Unversed as big as a person.

“Like… heart fluttering…” Komaeda replied. “It feels like… when someone does something nice for you and you’re just overwhelmed by generosity.”

Gratitude?” Riku asked.

Vanitas shifted a little under the lion. “Most likely. And would explain why it took so many people to pull it out. Th-thank you.”

Sora reached out to pet it. “Wow. This is… overwhelming. I feel like my heart’s gonna burst.”

“No wonder you started freaking out, man, I can’t even imagine,” Beat said, giving it ear scratches. “You could pretty much ride this dude into battle if you wanted.”

“How about it, asshole, wanna rip Coco to shreds?” Vanitas asked it.

The lion chuffed and bore its teeth.

“Oof, talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth,” Gabriel commented. “That gratitude of yours could deal some serious damage.”

Neku held Flood out to its new brother. “I think that’s called killing them with kindness.”