After all the times he'd piloted a Gummi Ship to dozens of worlds, you would have thought that Sora would have gotten better at landing them. The teeth-jarring WHAM of the landing gear hitting the ground in Radiant Garden said otherwise.
"What?" Sora demanded at Riku's narrow glare. He was trying to wrestle himself free from his seatbelt and argue at the same time, which was going about as well as the landing. "It's not like there's a soft grassy field to land in here, it's all pavement! I'd like to see you do better."
"You're gonna see me do better," Riku retorted, standing up easily. "Because there's no way I'm letting you fly home. Or I might just take a dark corridor because that would definitely be safer."
"Hey!" Sora protested. Riku reached over and pushed down firmly on the release of Sora's seatbelt; Sora topped backwards and onto the ship's floor, one arm still tangled. "Hey!."
"Hurry up, slowpoke," Riku called over his shoulder, already slapping the release button for the hatch. He squinted into the bright sunlight, Radiant Garden's weather perfect as always. Despite his rocky start with it, it was one of his favorite worlds now that more of it was rebuilt, like the whole world had a second chance. Even if they hadn't been coming to visit Kairi, Riku might have ridden along with Sora to Radiant Garden anyway just to visit it for awhile.
Sora scrambled up, slapping his hoodie and pants back into place and dropping the ship's keys into one of his voluminous pockets. He trotted the couple steps to catch up, punching Riku in the shoulder. "Don't be mean to me, I'm doing you a favor driving you! Because somebody can't call their keyblade glider yet, Master Riku."
Riku shot the dirtiest glare possible over his shoulder, but couldn't exactly argue because it was true. He'd only managed it that one time, when they were desperate to chase after Xemnas, and hadn't managed to duplicate it since, even with Aqua attempting to teach him. Sora hadn't even tried; the armor looked cool, but he had the Gummi Ship, so he wasn't in a hurry to add a bunch more lessons to the ones Yen Sid was already saddling him with.
Darting around Riku's shoulder and out of the ship, Sora grinned as he hit the open air and stretched his arms over his head with the warm sun beating down on him. "Aaah, it's so nice here! Come on, let's race!"
Sora took off running, sneakers pounding satisfyingly on the white pavement, flowers bright smudges of color in his peripheral vision. He was a dozen meters away before he realized Riku wasn't following him. Skidding to a stop, Sora looked back, head tilted.
Riku was still standing by the ship, one hand on his hip, the other thumbing over his shoulder in the opposite direction.
"Merlin's house would be that way," he called. "Or do you need hunt around for a map chest?"
"Oops." Sora rubbed the back of his head and started trotting back. Riku stood there like he was waiting, but when Sora was halfway back he turned and sprinted off himself, making Sora squawk. "Hey, that's cheating!"
"What's the matter?" Riku called without turning around, voice bright with the tease of it. "Didn't you want to race?"
Once they got back into town, they earned themselves a few looks from townspeople they had to dodge, but neither of them minded. It was too much fun chasing after each other like they were nothing but careless teenagers for once. Sora almost caught up when he slid down the handrail of the stone stairwell coming up from the Bastion, but Riku dodge-rolled around one of the Heartless defense system triggers and slapped it on the way by, making it burst up in Sora's face and sending him veering off course. Riku was still chuckling about that as he hit Merlin's doorstep and slapped the door. "I win!"
"You're a dickface," Sora accused as he glided the last few meters and dropped lightly onto his toes. He pointed at his right hair spike. "That thing almost took a chunk out of my hair!"
"Aw, you could stand to lose a few spikes, who'd notice," Riku said, ruffling Sora's hair hard. Sora whined and batted Riku's hand off just as the door swung open.
"You guys, huh?" Leon said, sounding less than psyched to see them as always, but there was the barest hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth.
"We're off to see the wizard!" Sora sing-songed. "The wonderful wizard of…uh, Radiant Garden, I guess."
"Catchy," Leon said, deadpan, while Riku chuckled. He pushed the door open wider. "Well, come on, you know the way. Sora—"
"Don't touch the computer, I know, I know!" Sora waved Leon off as they came inside, blinking to re-adjust their eyes after the bright sunlight.
Leon seemed to be the only one around, settling himself back in front of the computer. Riku paused to look at the screen over Leon's shoulder, but Sora marched ahead, across the room to a stack of books heaped up almost taller than he was, and the door that wasn't always there.
Today it was there, red with a flame carving, which meant that Merlin was here training with Lea and Kairi. Sora slapped the carving, calling a cheerful "Fire!" The wooden fire lit up brighter, flickering in response, and the door swung open.
"Riku, you coming?" Sora asked, looking back.
"In a minute," Riku answered, distracted. "What if you used some of the code from the Castle That Never Was? I couldn't shoot through those transparent walkways, so they might double as a flexible barrier, and they definitely were motion-triggered…"
Tuning out whatever they were talking about since he didn't understand a word of it, Sora headed into Merlin's space, calling out a cheerful "Hello!" so he didn't take a keyblade or a lamp to the face again. Instead of the usual sounds of sparring and magic spells, though, there was only Kairi and Lea's voices, plus an unexpected one.
"Roxas? Is that you?" Sora called, trotting around a maze of enchanted furniture, Kairi and Lea's usual sparring partners. Many of them still seemed to be grumpy about that, trudging around and creating a shifting maze, often settling directly in Sora's path as if on purpose. Sora grunted as an aggressive side table banged directly into his hip instead of going around. "Excuse you."
The table let its center drawer flop open rudely.
"We're over here!" Kairi called.
"Keep talking," Sora called back, having to use the direction of her voice to navigate paste a cluster of bookshelves who seemed to be conspiring about their demise in creaks, and a very ominous chiffarobe. He heaved a sigh of relief when the others finally came into view, Kairi and Lea waving at him and Roxas with his back turned. "Finally. Roxas, you jerk, can't you even say hi?"
"You're not the boss of me," Roxas said easily, but when he turned around all of Sora's attention immediately zoomed in to Roxas's hands. He was holding a little animal, furry, a pair of button-bright eyes under tiny floppy ears, roughly the same size, shape, and bright orange as a decorative squash.
"OHMYGOSH," Sora gasped, quick-running the last six steps to get a closer look. When he reached to pat it on the back, it whistled cheerfully at him. "Roxas! When'd you get a meow wow? It's so tiny! Wait, are we asleep? I didn't dive or—"
"It's not a meow wow, it's a guinea pig," Roxas interrupted. He smiled smugly at knowing something Sora didn't.
"A guinea pig?" Sora repeated. The word felt funny in his mouth, like anytime he learned a word on a world that he didn't have a word for back on the Islands. "Is it a dream eater too? What's it for?"
"Pooping," Lea said, obviously not as impressed with guinea pigs as Sora.
"It's not for anything, hairbrain," Roxas answered, giving Lea a beady eye. "He's Olette's pet. His name is Butterscotch and I'm taking care of him for a week while her family's on a trip."
"Isn't he sweet?" Kairi cooed. She scratched behind Butterscotch's ears and the guinea pig gave a long, rumbling purr that made Roxas stiffen in surprise.
"Is it supposed to do that?" Lea asked.
"How should I know?" Roxas demanded. "It's not like I've ever had a guinea pig. Or any pet." Roxas scrunched his nose, thinking. "The dusks don't count."
"We rescued that Hookbat that got into the Castle that one time, remember that?" Lea said, scratching his head thoughtfully. "That was kinda like this, except it had wings. Well, and a hook."
"What's he eat?" Sora demanded, firing off questions far faster than Roxas could ever hope to answer them. "Does he do any tricks? Or sing? Can you paint him different colors? Are you sure he's not a dreameater? Did you flip him over and check his belly?"
"No!" Roxas clutched Butterscotch closer to his chest protectively. "Don't do anything weird to him!"
"You're the one that brought him to a different world in a Gummi Ship," Sora pointed out. "How'd you know that was safe for guinea pigs?"
Roxas frowned like he hadn't thought that through the whole way. "You don't think that could hurt him, do you? I just wanted to show him to Axel." He chewed his lip, expression turning apologetic.
"Aw, he seems fine," Sora softened immediately, feeling bad for worrying Roxas. Butterscotch chirped as if agreeing. "Hey, lemme hold him."
"No, wait," Roxas protested, but Sora was already scooping a hand under the guinea pig and slipping him out of Roxas's hands. "Sora!"
"Sh, I got him," Sora assured, breezily. He lifted Butterscotch up, rocking him back a little to see his belly, all white. The guinea pig kicked his feet and wheeked, not enjoying the inspection. "Nope, no dreameater symbol. Definitely a boy, though! Man, I gotta take a picture of this guy, where's my…Lea, hold him a second."
"What?" Lea asked, startled and not ready for Sora to try and shove the disgruntled guinea pig into his hands. "Hey, I don't want him! He already peed on me once!"
"Hey, watch it!" Roxas warned, but it was too late; Butterscotch wriggled his way out of Lea and Sora's grip and dropped safely to the rug with a soft whump. With one look up at the strange humans surrounding him, Butterscotch took off running, zig-zagging like an expert through their hands and darting under the nearest piece of furniture, a floral-patterned couch.
"Whoops! Guess guinea pigs don't bounce like meow wows. It's fine!" Sora insisted, giving the couch a little push to send it gliding out of the way. "He's just right under…here." There was definitely no guinea pig on the bare patch of run Sora had just uncovered. "Uh."
"Oh no! Sora!" Kairi said as Roxas groaned Lea's name.
"I'm sorry! It was an accident!" Sora apologized, dropping sadly. "We'll get him, though, there's four of us and only one of him! How hard can it be?"
"Uhh…" Lea said, looking out at the dozens of pieces of furniture they were surrounded by, shuffling around. Everyone gave Sora dirty looks and Sora's shoulders slumped lower.
By the time Riku came in, all four of them were on their hands and knees, shuffling around to look under armchairs and coffee tables, and having no success in herding the wayward Butterscotch by either calling his name or surprise.
"What on earth is happening?" Riku asked, with the amused tone of someone who honestly never expected better anymore. "Why are you all on the ground yelling foods? Did Sora see an ingredient or something? Honestly, I wouldn't eat anything that grows in here."
"I lost Olette's dreameater," Sora answered, head sticking up from under a table, its lacy tablecloth caught on his hair. "He's orange and really fast!"
"I told you it's not a dreameater—never mind, ugh," Roxas groused, hip-checking an armchair out of his way. "Butterscotch! Come on! Olette's gonna kill me."
To Riku's credit, he didn't ask any more questions, he simply got on the ground and started looking as well. Even having an extra pair of eyes and hands didn't really help, because as soon as one of them spotted the guinea pig, he scrambled away under another piece of furniture much more easily than his human pursuers could follow.
Suddenly Kairi started laughing. She stood up, dusting her hands off, as the others stuck their heads up, looking like prairie dogs in a sea of furniture. "Guys, we're really dumb." Kairi summoned her keyblade and held it over her head. "Magnet!!"
All the furniture in the room obediently rose to drift towards her, revealing the wide-open floor and one very startled guinea pig.
"I got him!" Lea shouted, making a diving grab for him. Butterscotch took off squeaking in the opposite direction, heading for the only piece of 'furniture' left, which was Sora sitting cross-legged on the rug. Butterscotch hopped up onto Sora's leg and ran directly for the dark space inside his unzipped hoodie.
"Mission accomplished!" Sora chuckled as he curled an arm around the guinea pig's wriggling body, trapping him gently between his side and his hoodie.
"Nice work," Riku praised Kairi, climbing to his feet and clapping her on the shoulder. Kairi beamed, dropping her keyblade. The furniture all around them dropped accordingly and went back to drifting back out to the corners as if trying to get away from them.
"Should have thought of that way faster," she admitted. "We could have used Stop or Aero or…well, guess we need some more training, if we can all be beaten by a guinea pig."
"Is he ok?" Roxas demanded, dodging some suspicious-looking lamps to reach Sora's side.
"Yeah, he's fine," Sora assured, holding the guinea pig in a much firmer grip against his chest. Butterscotch didn't seem any the worse for wear, already investigating the zipper of Sora's hoodie for chewability. Roxas slumped in relief. "He's not even scared. We're gonna be buddies now, since we had an adventure together."
"Of course he's not scared," Riku snorted, getting his phone out to snap a picture of Sora with his new friend. "Sora can make friends with anything."
"Yeah, he's a regular princess of heart, all right," Lea commented, finally struggling to his feet by pulling down a writing desk to thump against the floor.
"I've always thought so," Riku agreed, thumbs busy posting to Kingstagram.
"Riku! Shut up!" Sora protested, cheeks going pink. "I'm not a princess!"
"Don't have to be a real princess to be a princess of heart," Kairi pointed out. She and Riku shared a look, long used to teasing Sora in tandem. She tapped Sora's necklace. "Also you wear an actual crown all the time."
"You do have talking animal sidekicks," Lea said, rubbing his chin.
"You sing all the time," Roxas complained. "You've told me that story about singing for King Triton with the other princesses twenty times! I feel like even I remember doing it now!"
"Hm, here's a picture of you with a dozen bluebirds sitting on you, singing happily," Riku said, flipping his phone around to show the others. He swiped to the next picture. "And picking flowers for flower crowns! Seems telling."
"That was for Rapunzel!" Sora whined. "You guyyyyys."
"Yuck," Roxas announced, taking Butterscotch out of Sora's hands while he was distracted. "Glad I've got my own heart now, because I'm sure not a princess." Lea made a funny noise, and Roxas looked up, eyes narrow. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing," Lea answered cheerfully, hands tucked into his pockets innocently. "Nope."
"Also!" Riku held up one finger. "I seem to remember that the first time in Hollow Bastion, Ansem's Kingdom Hearts didn't appear until you showed up. It wouldn't open without the seventh princess of heart, right?"
"That's because I had Kairi's heart!" Sora blustered, pointing at Kairi. "Tell them!" Kairi shrugged, looking innocent. "Kairi!
"Guess we'll never know for sure," Riku said cheerfully, wrapping an arm around Sora's shoulders and ruffling up his hair while Sora groaned. "For the record, I don't mind being Prince Charming at all. I've saved you from a dragon and everything."
"You did not!" Sora shoved at Riku, ducking out from under his arm. He shoved him again, harder, for good measure. "I fought the dragon myself! You were working for it!"
"No, the other time." Riku frowned at Sora's insistence that he did not. "You slept through it, but I totally did!"
"Ok, ok, let's not start that fight again," Lea said, as if somehow he was the kindergarten teacher here. He swept up Sora in the reach of his long arms, herding him towards the door. "Come on, princess, I think we've earned our ice cream today." He glanced down at Butterscotch, nestled happily in Roxas's arms, obviously gearing up for a nap, dreameater or not. "None for you."