Kairi let out a deep breath as she looked at the large fountains in front of her. What a sight. The Outer Plaza was the best place to park a Gummi ship, especially if one did not want to attract attention. She locked the ship, pulled up her hood, and made her way into town. She avoided eye contact with any passersby. Only one person in Radiant Garden needed to know she was here and that was Naminé.
Once a month, Kairi traveled to Radiant Garden to visit her sister. She enjoyed the periodic visit to the Garden. Her past was here along with her present. Naminé was the closest relative Kairi had left, and she treasured her little sister more than anything. Unwilling to wield a Keyblade, Naminé chose to rebuild Radiant Garden with the Restoration Committee rather than stay with the other wielders. Few stayed in Radiant Garden with the rest electing to stay in Twilight Town or with Aqua in the Land of Departure.
Kairi chose neither. Her own heart rested in Destiny Islands, her chosen home. Unlike the others chosen by the Keyblade, she no longer counted herself a wielder. Instead, Kairi helped Aqua and Terra decode the history of the Keyblade. Centuries of lore thought to be lost to the world when the Land of Departure was locked away was now available once more. She took the responsibility on herself as she was the only one available to do the job. At the very least, this was one task that couldn’t endanger Sora, Riku, or anyone else. The worst she could do was give herself a paper cut. And so she stayed on her island with her books and texts as her only companions. She did not turn away the few visitors she received, but she did not seek out anyone but Naminé.
A few months ago, Naminé suggested that she move to Radiant Garden permanently. The Castle was better equipped than anything on Destiny Islands with the added bonus of living with her sister. Kairi gently refused. Delightful as her sister was, the pain of that world was greater. She still could not remember her past before the Islands; all she knew was that she once had a grandmother that loved her very much. No one knew where the kind lady went once the world fell to darkness. She did not even have her memories to help with her loss. No, just as she learned to shield her heart, Kairi kept this pain locked away and limited her time here for a few days a month.
Her limited time with her sister guilted her into following whatever Naminé suggested. Earlier on the Gummiphone, Naminé could barely keep her excitement contained. Who knew what she planned for this time? Kairi smiled at the thought; whatever she planned, as long as it brought happiness to Naminé, it was worth it.
She turned into the borough in which the Restoration Committee resided. It was oddly quiet around here for midday. Too quiet. She kept her hand at the ready to summon her Keyblade when she heard a door open.
“Kairi!” Naminé called out seconds before pouncing on her. “Are you ready?”
Kairi took a second to look over her sister. Her hair was tied up in a high ponytail, she was wearing light makeup, and she had sneakers on. She didn’t even know Naminé owned sneakers.
“Where are we going?” she asked. “And can I put my bag down?” She gestured to her backpack.
Naminé giggled. “Of course. Let me take that.” She grabbed the bag and tossed it inside her house. “Let’s go!” She tugged her hand and pulled Kairi down the street before she realized she was moving.
“When did you get so strong?” Kairi laughed as she followed the eager girl. Naminé stuck her tongue out at her older sister.
“Maybe you’re out of shape.”
Kairi raised a brow at her and dug her feet into the cobblestone. Naminé faltered at the sudden pause.
“Excuse me?” Kairi asked.
Her sister glanced at her sheepishly. “Sorry. I’m just so excited to see you and for you to see what I’ve been working on for the last month!” Her eyes glistened with a faint sheen of tears.
Kairi sighed. She was powerless against this look, and Naminé knew it. “Well, lead the way. I don’t have any idea where we are going.”
“Don’t worry. We’re close; it’s just ahead.” She pulled Kairi close and linked their arms together.
They continued down the still empty streets of the town. It wasn’t a scary empty but rather an unusual one. Normally, the streets of the Garden were bustling- wait what was that sound?
“Is that organ music?” Kairi asked. A few faint notes could be heard in the distance.
After a few minutes Naminé led them into a dark square. By this point, the sun had nearly set, and all Kairi could see was the shadow of construction equipment.
“Naminé, just tell me-” Kairi started when the whole square lit up in multitudes of colors and revealed the missing townspeople and a carnival behind them.
“Happy birthday!” They shouted out.
“Whose birthday is it?” Kairi whispered.
Naminé rolled her eyes. “Yours silly. Happy birthday!” She threw her arms around Kairi’s neck.
It was her birthday? I guess I lost track of time these last few weeks, she thought. She scanned the crowd for familiar faces. Aerith and Yuffie held a banner decorated with flowers in the shape of her name. Leon stood at the gate allowing people into the fairgrounds.
“You did all of this for me?” Kairi asked, the words nearly breaking.
“I helped, but the heavy lifting was done by those two.” Naminé pointed to the edge of the crowd.
Her heart sped up at the familiar silhouettes approaching them. She tried to tame her wayward heart. Wishful thinking would only lead to heartache if she was wrong. But as they came closer, she knew these two better than she did herself.
“See Riku, I told you my plan would work,” said Sora, smiling from ear to ear. His eyes held a mischievous twinkle.
(One month earlier)
“Riku, what are we going to do?” Sora whined in a high-pitched voice. He laid on the banister of the tower steps pondering his dilemma. It felt like eons had passed since he last saw Kairi. She stayed on Destiny Islands while he and Riku helped Master Yen Sid track down former Keyblade wielders. Physically, she wasn’t far away, but emotionally, he couldn’t reach her. She locked herself away from him to keep him safe, she said. Sora respected that decision initially. After everything that happened, even he needed a break from it all. But days turned into weeks which turned into months. Soon, it would be a year since he last saw her. How much time could he spend away from his other half?
“About?” Riku drawled, knowing what Sora hinted at. He ranted to Riku at least once a week, if not more, about Kairi’s decision. Today was likely no different.
Sora swung his legs over the side and sat up, looking Riku straight in the eye. “Kairi’s birthday! We need to do something for her.”
Riku shook his head. “This won’t end well for you. You are horrible at planning.”
“Name one time!” Sora asked indignantly.
He opened his mouth to argue when he remembered how little he had to do with the actual plan. “That may be true…”
Sora put his mind to thinking once more. After all they had been through, he wanted to make this next birthday special for Kairi. Naminé said that she wasn’t smiling as much as before. He tried to plan his visits around Kairi’s to give her space. Still, it killed him not to see her. A special gesture might not change the circumstances of her isolation, but at the least, he might bring back some joy.
What was something Kairi had wanted in their childhood? He wracked his mind for clues. Think. Think. Think. He thought like Pooh Bear once did and searched through his memories until he found the perfect one.
The two of them were about to sail to the Play Island to watch the sunset with Riku when Kairi stopped and squealed. “Hey Sora, there’s a festival in Town Commons tomorrow!” Kairi exclaimed, pointing at a flyer on the dock. “Carnival rides, fried food, and live music! It sounds so exciting…” She said dreamily as she relaxed in the canoe.
Sora smiled. “Then let’s be the first ones at the gates. What’s so exciting about a carnival though?” He pushed off the dock and set course for the island.
Kairi looked down. “This past year… When no one could remember you…Everyone thought I was crazy for insisting that you existed. It was insane to think that there was someone they all were forgetting. People started keeping their distance from me; only Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka stayed by my side.” Her voice caught on her words.
Sora quietly paddled as she continued her story. “A few weeks before everyone remembered you, there was a carnival in town. The whole school was excited to go, including me. When I went to go buy a ticket, I heard the snide whispers. ‘Who’s she going to go with? Her imaginary friends?’ Selphie told me to ignore them and their hurtful words, but I let them get to me. I didn’t go then; I said I wouldn’t go to a carnival without you and Riku at my side.”
He stood carefully and pulled her up with him. “I can’t apologize enough for leaving you alone, can I?” He held her small hands in his own.
She laughed through a sniffle. “Why apologize? You’re here now and that’s all that matters.” Kairi climbed on the small dock of the island.
Sora lifted her chin lightly and Kairi met his gaze. “You’re not alone anymore, Kai,” He murmured. They stood like that on the dock for what seemed like a year in a moment.
“I-uh…” He began, and with a start, changed the subject. “Riku’s waiting for us!” Sora scratched his head and ran away to catch up with Riku.
Next thing he knew, Kairi came behind him carrying a message in a bottle and a start of the next adventure.
They never had the chance to go that carnival in town. After they found the message, he and Riku left for Yen Sid’s tower for the exam.
“I know what I’m going to do!” Sora shouted, surprising Riku out of his slumber.
“Great. How will you get her to comply? She doesn’t listen to anyone except Naminé.”
The light bulb flashed in Sora’s head. “That’s it! Riku, you’re a genius.”
Riku crossed his arms with a grin. “You finally accept it.” When he looked up, he only saw the back of Sora’s head going back inside the tower. “There he goes,” Riku sighed.
Sora stood in front of her, holding her hands once more. Just like he did on that dock and like he did in the Keyblade Graveyard. His smile so sweet, her own eyes watered at the sight. How had she held herself away from him for so long?
“Do you like your present Kairi?” He softly asked, rubbing his thumb over her fingers.
“You did this for me even though I refused to see you?” Her upper lip trembled.
His hands left hers and cupped her face. “You needed time to heal; it didn’t diminish how I feel about you.”
Those words tore down the last of her walls. Kairi threw her arms around his neck and held him close. “I missed you so much,” she whispered into his ear.
He hugged her tightly against him, brushing his lips against her hair. Someone cleared their throat behind them. Kairi turned to see Riku with his arms akimbo.
“Sora didn’t do this all by himself. Don’t I get a hug?”
Kairi giggled as she pulled Riku into an embrace. “I know. He’s hopeless without us.” In a softer voice, she said, “Thank you for taking care of him for me.”
Riku snorted. “You owe me. He’s reckless.”
“I can hear you,” Sora said pointedly.
Kairi stepped back and took both her friends’ hands in her own. “I’ve always wanted to go to one of these with both of you.”
Sora grinned and dropped a kiss on her cheek. “Then what are we waiting for?”
Kairi blushed from the contact. “Let’s go!” She cheered, making her way to the gates. The boys followed her lead inside the fairgrounds, ready to make a night of memories. New memories couldn’t replace the old ones she lost; instead, they would help ease the pain by building around the old. Too long had Kairi been wallowing in the past. With Sora and Riku by her side, soon, she would face the future without fear.