The beach on Destiny Islands is a little overwhelming at first. The sun is brighter than Xion can ever remember it being, the sand rougher against her feet, the smell of the air sharper. And there’s so many people. Xion is so happy to see everyone—to be with everyone—that her heart feels overfull, unbalanced. It’s wonderful, but after a little while she has to step away. Get some air that isn’t filled with breathless laughter, Ven shouting as Terra pulls him into a headlock, Axel loudly protesting when Isa threatens to do the same to him.
Naminé is sitting alone by the shore, fiddling with something. Xion walks down to meet her, shading her eyes from the sun.
“Hello,” Naminé says, looking up. There’s a small pile of shells next to her.
“What are you doing?” Xion sits down beside her. The tide runs in slowly at this time of day, washing away the grooves Xion’s feet make in the sand. She scoots back. To avoid getting wet, and because something about it unsettles her. The sand washes away so easily with the whole ocean against it.
“Kairi used to do this,” Naminé says. “These are thalassa shells. If you tie them together in a star like this, it makes a good luck charm. Sailors started it, a long time ago. You give it to people you care about, to keep them safe. To make sure they come back whole at the end of their journey.”
“Huh.” It sounds familiar. Xion can almost feel it: the texture of the shells and twine under her fingers, someone important pressing it into her hand. She wraps her arms around her knees, leaning over to peer at what Naminé is doing. “They’re beautiful.”
Naminé nods. “They are. This whole place is. I didn’t realize. I remember the islands, but I’ve never actually been here before. I only visited in the memories I gave people.” She’s looking down, focusing on her work. Xion wonders if she should reach out, say something comforting. Naminé doesn’t sound sad, exactly. More resigned. But Xion doesn’t have a map for this. Sora would cheerfully talk his way straight through it, and Kairi would calmly and kindly explain why everything was okay, but Xion doesn’t know how to do either of those things. She says nothing, and watches Naminé work.
The tide goes in and out. Xion hears Axel yell something, and when she turns back around, Roxas and Ventus have both tackled him into the sand. They all look over at her, and she waves at them, laughing. When she turns back, still smiling, Naminé is looking up at her again. The charm is finished in her hands.
“I wanted to apologize,” she says, voice quiet.
Naminé digs her toes into the sand. The water rushes up to meet them, and then falls away. “I didn’t remember you,” she says. “I’m a witch with power over memory, but...I couldn’t even remember you. That isn’t right.”
“That’s not your fault,” Xion says. “I—it was awful. Being forgotten. Being gone. But it was my choice. You told me what my choices were, and I made them.”
“But I was there, and I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even try to help you,” Naminé says. “I helped Sora, but by doing that, I hurt you. I hurt Roxas.” She puts the shells aside, bending her head over her lap. “I thought Sora was more important because he was real, but—I was wrong. I listened to DiZ, and I shouldn’t have. I’m so sorry, Xion.”
“Naminé,” says Xion, and it’s enough, finally, that she reaches out, putting her hand on Naminé’s shoulder. “They manipulated both of us. And we’re here now. I never, ever thought this would happen.” She looks back at all their friends, still shouting at each other in companionable mayhem. At the beautiful blue sky above them, stretching on for miles. At Naminé beside her, apologizing. Holding sadness in her heart because of Xion, and what happened to her. Because she knows and she cares. Xion never once thought she could have any of those things. “Thank you, though. For thinking of me.”
Naminé peeks up at her from behind her bangs, smiling hesitantly. It’s nothing like the way Xion’s seen Kairi smile, like the heat of the sun at midday. Naminé smiles like the first pale light of dawn, not yet sure if it’s welcome yet. “Here,” she says, holding out the seashell charm. “It’s for you. You can put it on your keyblade, if you want.”
“Mhm!” Naminé presses it into Xion’s palm, resting her own hand over it. “And this charm...it’s real, not like the ones I made in Castle Oblivion. To keep you safe, wherever you go. It’s the least I can do.”
“Thank you.” Xion stares down at it. She remembers shells, a whole line of them, left beside a bed. She didn’t think she would ever have that. “I’ll keep it safe.”
“And I’ll always remember you, from now on,” Naminé says, hands clasped in front of her. “I promise.”
A charm and a promise. That should feel familiar to Xion, but it doesn’t. She can tell: this is something new.
Roxas wants to go back to Twilight Town, and Axel wants to be where Roxas is. Of course Xion wants that too—she doesn’t want to be apart from them ever again.
She isn’t entirely sure that she wants to stay in Twilight Town. But the idea of going anywhere else—of letting them leave her behind—no. Not again. Not ever. She doesn’t even know exactly what bothers her about it. It should be relaxing, right? Just a nice quiet town. It’s always warm there, pleasantly so. As different from the Castle That Never Was as you can get. Maybe that’s why the three of them were always drawn there in the first place. Xion never felt like she could get warm enough at the Castle That Never Was. When she started to remember Destiny Islands, she realized why. She’s an islander at heart. Or she was.
So she doesn’t not want to go to Twilight Town. But she doesn’t know what it is she does want. Everyone else seems so sure. Like they were just born knowing. Riku and Kairi want to find Sora; Roxas wants to return to the place that has ever felt home; Ven and Terra want to finish their training with Aqua by their side.
Xion never learned how to want anything other than to just be. And she has that now. She has no idea what to do with it.
“I think I’m going to stay in Twilight Town, too,” Naminé tells her. It’s night now, the brilliant blue of Destiny Island’s sky dimmed to a comforting sleepy black. They’re back on the beach, lying back against the sand. Naminé wanted to see the stars. “At least for a little while.”
“Really?” Xion doesn’t know the whole story, but it didn’t sound like Twilight Town held many happy memories for Naminé.
Naminé nods. “There’s a mansion there. I wasn’t exactly happy there. But I left some things behind. I think I should go pick them up, at least. And I might as well stay for a while.” She points up at the stars, tracing a line like she’s drawing something. “There are so many worlds. This might be the closest one I have to a home, but it isn’t mine. Not really. I’d like to see what all the others are like someday.”
“Then you should,” Xion says. “That’s a lovely dream, Naminé.”
Naminé laughs, a little bashful. She’s always so shy. Xion wonders if she would be like that, too, if things had gone differently. They’re both Sora, after all, aren’t they? Sora but not Sora, Kairi but not Kairi. They shouldn’t be so different, but they are. Neither of them have ever been what they should. “You could stay there too. If you want. There are a lot of empty rooms.” She clasps her hands together. “Axel and Roxas could come too, if they don’t mind. It really is pretty big.”
A lot of empty rooms and a lot of memories. Xion understands: Naminé doesn’t want to be there alone. “Of course I’ll come with you.”
They all go, in the end. Axel is just thrilled to have free housing, nevermind what history he might have with the place. “Listen, you have no idea what apartment prices are like in Twilight Town. Trust me, this is the smart play.”
“You just don’t want to work for a living,” Roxas says. “I remember. You just want to sleep all day.”
“And what’s wrong with that? We saved the whole universe! I think we’ve earned a little vacation.”
Naminé covers her mouth with her hand, smothering a laugh. Xion meets her eyes and has to stop herself from giggling. “Come on, guys,” she says. “We have a lot of work to do.” The mansion is pretty run down, and some of the rooms have to be cleared out. They all get dust in their hair. Axel the most, since he’s the tallest. Xion knows because he complains about it, loudly and often.
They make good progress that day. Afterwards, they all go out for dinner at the bistro and then buy eat ice cream. Of course they end up on the clock tower by the time the sun sets. Xion goes a little quiet, watching it. She feels a little like she’s waiting for something to fall. She isn’t sure what.
Naminé nudges her. “You haven’t finished your ice cream.”
“Oh.” Xion takes another bite. “Sorry. I guess I just got distracted.”
“Yeah,” Naminé says. “You never really get used to the sunset here, do you?”
Xion’s not sure she’s ever been used to anything, but she nods anyway. She hopes she can get used to this.
The longer she stays in Twilight Town, Xion feels less and less of that lingering dread. It still creeps up on her, sometimes, when she’s out walking alone, when she stays in bed for too long and realizes it’s been a whole day since she’s talked to another person. But then Axel will come bug her to go pet stray cats with him, or Roxas will beg her to help him deliver mail. She’s faster on the skateboard than he is, now that she’s learned. Axel can’t ride it without falling off. Or Naminé will knock on her door, and ask if Xion wouldn’t mind helping her clean up a few more of the mansion’s rooms, for when the others come to visit.
Naminé hangs out around town with the rest of them sometimes, but she also spends a lot of time alone in the mansion. Whenever Xion asks what it is she’s working on, Naminé just smiles, holding a finger to her lips. “It’s a secret,” she says. “I’ll tell you soon, don’t worry. But I want it to be perfect first.” Xion’s looking forward to it.
The whole place feels the same way that Destiny Islands felt to Sora, the way it never truly felt to her: like a home. Worn in the way her old Organization boots were by the end. It feels more lived in than her skin does, some days. Xion makes Roxas take her shopping, and that helps, even if Axel and Isa maintain that neither of them have any taste—as if they’re ones to talk. She gets her ears pierced, too, because Axel was doing it anyway, and now they match. She thought she might mind the needles, but it only takes a second. Afterwards, she can’t stop touching her earlobes, even though Axel tells her not to. They’re warm. And it’s permanent—something that won’t fade unless she lets it.
“If you start getting tattoos, Roxas is going to kill me,” Axel tells her.
Xion laughs. “Maybe later.”
Naminé catches her peering at herself in the mirror, pulling her hair back behind her ears so that she can see her earings, and then pushing it up and back from her forehead and squinting at the results.
“Trying out Axel’s style?”
Xion snorts. “Nah. I don’t think I could pull it off.” She squints harder and then drops her hair with a sigh. Still not right. “I just.” She shrugs. “I know she doesn’t wear it like this anymore, but I still look a lot like Kairi. It doesn’t feel right.” For a lot of reasons—Kairi is her own person. She doesn’t need anyone trying to be her. And anyway, the face in the mirror—it’s not Xion, not quite. It’s getting there, but…
“Do you want to cut it?” Naminé asks.
“Yeah,” Xion says. She tucks her hair back behind her ears. “Yes. I think so. Have you ever wanted to do something else with yours?”
Naminé shrugs. “I kind of like it,” she says, twirling the bit of her hair that hangs over her shoulder around one finger. “I can ask Olette where she gets her hair done,” she says.
“Actually, can you do it? I found some stuff under the sink. I think we have everything.”
Naminé blinks at her, and then laughs. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I’ve never cut anyone’s hair before.”
“I trust you,” Xion says. She doesn’t realize how much she means it until the words are out of her mouth, weighing down the air of the room around them. It was so light before. “And—you’re an artist! You know how to make people see the right things.” Xion’s never known how to do that.
Naminé is quiet for a moment. “If you say so,” she says. But Xion can tell she’s pleased.
They sit on the edge of the bathtub. It’s quiet, Xion describing what she wants and the clippers buzzing against her head. It’s nice. Naminé’s steady hands are very gentle when they brush against her ears.
Xion squints at herself again in the mirror afterwards. Naminé’s turned away, fussing with cleaning up. Xion thinks she’s nervous. She shouldn’t be.
“I love it,” she says. It’s still Xion, looking out from the mirror, but it’s also someone Xion’s never seen before. She runs her fingers along the sides of her head, where there’s hardly any hair left. “I look just like me. Thank you.”
“I’m glad,” Naminé says, and then she fluffs up the top of Xion’s hair, making it stand straight up. Xion laughs and bats her hand away. She sneaks one last glance in the mirror before they go. No one would ever mistake the girl in the mirror for Kairi at all.
The worst part is that at first, Xion always knows it’s a dream. She’s good at separating dreams from reality, lies from the truth: it’s how she found out who she was, after all. She peeled away the parts of her that were Sora and dug up what was left underneath.
But knowing it isn’t real doesn’t make it hurt any less when they walk straight through her: Axel and Roxas, eating ice cream and talking and beaming at one another, perfectly content, because they’re both with their best friend. They don’t need anyone else.
It’s better this way. It’s what they wanted. It’s what they knew to want.
Xion drops to her knees. She’s at the base of the clocktower again, slipping away into nothing, and Roxas isn’t here this time. No one is. Maybe she was never real at all. There’s nothing to be forgotten.
This is the way it should be, anyway. She was only ever fooling herself that she could ever be anyone worth remembering, anything more than a pale echo of Sora.
She shuts her eyes. Her fingers were getting fuzzy.
That’s not right. No one knows that name. Is it even hers?
“Xion, are you okay?”
She looks up. Naminé is there, peering down at her, back in her old white dress. “That’s not me,” she says. “They forgot me. I was only ever who I was because of them. Without them—I’m no one.”
Naminé reaches for her. She just smiles, and shakes her head. “That’s not true. I know you. And I remember. I promised.”
Xion takes her hand, and wakes up.
“Xion!” Naminé is shaking her shoulder, voice going high. Xion sits up. Naminé’s holding a small ball of light in her hand, casting a glow across the entire room. Magic. That’s right. Merlin’s been teaching her.
“I’m awake,” Xion says, rubbing her eyes. “I’m sorry. Was I being really loud?”
“It sounded like—it doesn’t matter. I’m glad you’re okay.” Naminé steps back—she’d had a knee on the bed, leaning over to reach Xion. She’s wearing the pajamas they bought last weekend, pale pink flowers dotting the legs. Her slippers have rabbit ears on them.
“I like your slippers.”
“What? Oh.” Naminé looks down at them, smiling to herself. “Thank you. I’m sorry, I can go. I was just worried.”
The little ball of light she’d made has floated away from her hand, bobbing against the ceiling like a balloon.
“Stay,” Xion says, looking up at the light. Then her eyes fall back to Naminé’s startled face. “I mean—if you want. You don’t have to go. That’s all.”
“I want to stay,” Naminé says in her soft measured voice. There’s always something so reassuring and steady about her, especially now. She knows what Xion means without her having to say it. She steps out of her slippers and climbs back onto the bed, her head pillowed on her arms. “Come on,” she says. “Get back down here. It’ll be like a sleepover.”
Xion has the hazy impression of what a sleepover would be like: curled up on the floor of her bedroom, warmth on all sides, the knowledge that her friends are here, the night stretching out before them comforting and endless. Like the way she felt after the final battle, when she fell asleep on Roxas and he fell asleep on Axel and Axel fell asleep on Yen Sid’s windowsill, all of them sitting in a row as they waited for him to finish talking so they could go to bed for real.
She hopes Sora and Riku and Kairi enjoyed the sleepovers she doesn’t quite remember. It feels like they were nice.
She lies back down, and Naminé curves into her like a blade of grass pushed by the wind. She doesn’t take her magic back. Xion doesn’t mind. It’s nice here in the light.
“I’m sorry about waking you up.” Xion’s voice comes out hushed without her meaning it to. Something about the moment feels fragile, like if she speaks too loudly she’ll break it.
“You didn’t.” Naminé’s voice matches hers. “I was painting, actually. In my old room. I’m sorry it took so long for me to come.”
Xion doesn’t know what to say to that. Naminé will argue if Xion says that she didn’t have to come; she’ll be upset if Xion tells her that she has these dreams every night, and doesn’t always cry out. So she says nothing. She curls a little closer instead, and closes her eyes.
“You know,” Naminé says, voice clear in the dark, “I think you’re the bravest person that I know.”
Xion doesn’t dare open her eyes. “What? Come on. You know Sora.”
“Yes,” Naminé says. Xion hears a rustling sound, and then feels Naminé’s hand, light against her cheek, brushing some of Xion’s hair back. “Sora’s brave, it’s true. But he never had to do what you did. When I explained to you what was going to happen—you understood. I know you did. But you never flinched. I don’t know if I could have done that. If any of us could. Only you did, Xion.”
It didn’t feel like much of a choice at all at the time. Sora deserved it. Even if Axel and Roxas didn’t.
Even if Xion didn’t. But if Xion was going to be anyone—even if she wasn’t—she wanted to be the kind of person who would say yes. Who would look at Riku, and see how much he missed his friend, and know that going away was the right thing to do.
Naminé’s hand trails from Xion’s face to her back, pulling her close as she starts to shake.
“That’s not true,” Xion whispers. “You could do it. I know you could.”
“Maybe. It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s over. You’re here.” And it’s true, it must be: Xion has to be real, to hear Naminé’s voice, to shiver against Naminé’s breath in her ear, to feel the pounding of her own heart, insistently present in her chest, unwilling to be silent.
Xion can’t find Naminé anywhere. She’s not in town—Xion asked around. People recognize them by now, but no one has seen her. So she’s somewhere in the mansion, even if it’s not in her bedroom or her studio or the kitchen, where Axel is on his third attempt at making pancakes that aren’t burnt.
Pleasantly full from attempt number two, Xion renews her search the last place she knows to look, the place they’ve all been shying away from. The basement hasn’t changed much. It’s still startling in its difference from the rest of the mansion. Going down the stairs is like stepping into another world.
Naminé isn’t standing by the computer, or in any of the adjacent rooms. Xion walks down the hallway, the walls going from blue to stark white. It even smells the same as Castle Oblivion did, clean and antiseptic and sharp.
Naminé’s standing by the pod that once held Sora, one hand pressed against its side. She doesn’t turn when Xion steps in. “The whole point of living in this place was so I could come back here,” she says. “But I’ve been avoiding it. Bad memories, I guess.” She laughs, the most joyless sound Xion thinks she’s ever heard from her.
“Naminé.” Xion walks towards her, reaching out, but Naminé whirls around, and Xion draws her hand back. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen Naminé look angry, either.
“Don’t say it like that,” she says, hands balled into fists at her side. “Like you feel sorry for me. Everyone feels sorry for me! Everyone thinks they should thank me! But—all I ever did was fix my own mistakes. If it wasn’t for me, none of this would have happened at all.” All the anger flows out of her, and for a moment Xion thinks she’s going to fall, crumpling without the weight of it to hold her up. “Sora never should have been here. Neither should Roxas. And you—”
“Naminé.” It comes out harder this time. Naminé’s head snaps up. “Why did you want to come back here? Really?”
“I wasn’t lying,” Naminé says. She turns back to the pod behind her. “I left a lot of things behind. I should be the one to clean them up.”
“Okay,” Xion says, summoning her keyblade. “Together, then.” She holds it out, waiting. Naminé tentatively puts her hand over Xion’s on the grip.
“This isn’t going to change anything,” she says.
“Will it make you feel better?”
Naminé gives her the shadow of a smile. “Let’s find out.” Together, they raise the keyblade and bring it down against the pod, smashing it to pieces.
They sit down together among the wreckage. Naminé stares at her hands, folded in her lap. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I didn’t mean to shout like that. I just can’t really talk about this with anyone else. I didn’t even want to talk about it with you. It should be my burden to bear.”
“It’s okay, Naminé. All of it. You don’t have to bear it alone.”
Naminé looks up. “I know.”
It’s Xion’s turn to glance down at her hands. “I think—maybe it’s part of being real. Having things you regret. Things that hurt. If we didn’t, then how would we know? I’ve fought almost all of my friends at least once, right? And I regret it, but...maybe things had to happen the way they did. For us all to be here. For us to be who we are.”
“I just worry,” Naminé says. “It seemed like the best option at the time. Every step I took, I was sure it was the right one. And I still have those powers.” She meets Xion’s eyes. “And I know how much it scares you. That memory isn’t stable. That it can be molded—that I can mold it. I don’t want to hurt anyone like that ever again. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t,” Xion says. “Naminé, I could never be afraid of you. Maybe that’s why it all happened. So that you won’t ever do it again.”
“But I’ll never be sure.”
Xion shakes her head. “Well, I’m sure.”
Naminé laughs, her hand covering her mouth and her eyes crinkling up at the corners, the smile that Xion is just now realizing is her favorite. “Thanks, Xion,” she says. “We should probably clean up.”
“In a minute.” Xion lays down, clearing a space for herself among the shards, tucking her arms behind her head the way Axel is always doing up on the clocktower. After a moment, Naminé lays down beside her. “Remember this instead. Okay? Not any of the other stuff.”
“Don’t worry,” Naminé says. Her voice wavers, almost teasing but not quite. “I won’t forget.”
They spend the next few days cleaning up the basement. Just the two of them, by silent agreement. It’s not that they couldn’t ask the others to help. But something about it feels private, just for them.
After they finish, Naminé vanishes into her room for the next several days. Against her better judgement, Xion starts to worry.
On the third day, she knocks on the door of what’s become Naminé’s studio. “Naminé? You haven’t come out all day. Roxas made lunch! It isn’t even burnt.”
Muffled from down the stairs, Xion hears a petulant Hey, I heard that!
“Oh!” Naminé opens the door and sticks her head out. “I’ll be down in a minute. I just need to put some things away.” She has a smear of blue paint across one cheekbone, and her hair’s a mess, like she’s been running her hands through it.
“Okay,” Xion says. She feels better, if Naminé’s just been shut up in here painting. “Can I see what you’re working on now? Apparently it’s pretty exciting.” Xion reaches out to brush her thumb against the paint on Naminé’s cheek. She probably only makes it worse.
“Oh.” Naminé presses her lips together. “Well—I mean, it is finished now, I suppose.”
“You don’t have to.”
“No, it’s okay!” Naminé opens the door wider. It’s still pretty neat inside. Messy for Naminé, though, who always keeps her things stacked at right angles and who still wears almost exclusively white. There are tubes of paint scattered across the table, and sheets of paper everywhere—sketches, maybe, turned so Xion can’t see them. There’s a large canvas in the center of the room, facing away from the door.
“You really have been working hard, haven’t you?”
“A litte,” Naminé says. She shifts on her feet. “So, what I’ve been working on...it’s actually for you.”
“Everyone keeps telling me not to apologize for what happened. And maybe you’re right. But I can’t pretend like the things that I did didn’t hurt people. I thought, now that I’m here...I can try to help people instead. In whatever way I can. So, I made something for you.” Naminé fidgets for another moment, and then she takes Xion’s wrist and pulls her around the other side of the painting, so she can see. “I was thinking about what you said. About being able to make people see things the right way. I used to hate that I could do that. That I could bend people’s memories, make them see what wasn’t really there. I never thought about it the other way. That I could reveal something hidden. I thought maybe I’d give it a try.” She smiles. “What do you think?”
Xion stares, and stares, and stares.
“I’m not very good yet,” Naminé says. She sounds a little nervous. “I haven’t been painting for very long—it’s a lot different than pencils—but, well. I thought...the reason I like to draw is that the drawings don’t change. Memory can change, but...this won’t. No one is ever going to forget you again, Xion, but I know it might be hard to believe that. So I thought this might help.” She laughs, pushing her hair out of her eyes. “I’m sorry. It’s silly, right?”
“Do I really look like that?” Xion asks. The painting is as tall again as Xion, but it’s just her face, painted from the shoulders up, done in broad, messy strokes. Her hair is rendered in blacks and blues and purples, and she’s never seen that expression on her own face: not quite laughing, but somewhere on the way. A relaxed kind of joy. Like she’s perfectly comfortable, wearing her skin like it fits. “I look…”
The girl in the painting looks beautiful, and happy, and like she belongs. Like there is no one else like her in any world.
“It’s what you look like to me,” says Naminé.
“It’s perfect,” Xion says, a little muffled. Both of her hands are covering her mouth. She’s not sure exactly when that happened. She is not, not, not going to cry, not again.
Naminé comes close. “Xion?” she says. “Are you okay?” Her finger’s brush across Xion’s forehead, down to her jaw. Xion nods, and then shakes her head, and then gives up entirely on figuring out how to describe what’s happening inside her, like the sun on Destiny Islands but a hundred times brighter. She takes Naminé’s face in her hands instead and yanks her in all but the last inch.
“Oh,” Naminé says, eyes gone wide, hands fluttering with nowhere to land. Their noses brush. She breaks into a smile. “See, Xion? I told you. You’re the bravest person I know.”
Xion kisses her. It’s all a little too much, just like the beach—Naminé’s small gasp against her mouth, the slide of her lips, the way her hands finally settle on Xion’s hips and draw her in. Xion doesn’t mind. She doesn’t know what she’s doing; Naminé doesn’t either. They have no memories to guide them. Just the ones they’ve made for themselves: shells and twine and promises on a beach, two hands together on a keyblade, a light in the darkness.
They break away. Naminé’s face has gone red, underneath the streak of paint, but she can’t stop smiling. Her hand touches the curve of Xion’s ear. Xion’s never felt like this. She didn’t know she could. “Hi,” she says, nonsensically. She wants to cover her mouth again, but Naminé catches her hands when she tries.
“Hello,” says Naminé, and this time, she leans in first.