The fever takes hold and Sora is alone.
He questions himself. Questions his existence and his purpose and his use, tenuous and uncertain now that his heart has been emptied out. He is no longer a shuttle. No longer a vessel for hearts with no home. Those hearts all have homes now.
He’s feverish and sick, too hot and too cold. Shaking and alone.
My friends are my power.
The fear has always been isolation. The fear has always been solitude.
The sickness takes hold and Sora is alone. He doesn’t know where he is, only that it’s just him now.
In his dreams he sees his friends. And in his dreams his friends don’t see him. They pass through him and they leave him. They go to the light and Sora drowns. Over and over he sinks to the bottom of an unfamiliar ocean and he drowns or is crushed by unimaginable pressure.
He doesn’t know how much time passes. Maybe none has passed at all.
He doesn’t wake up in the dream. He doesn’t drop and he doesn’t feel whole, barely remembers what being whole is. Barely remembers who or what he is himself.
Finally, he opens his eyes and he’s somewhere familiar. Not awake but not at the bottom of the ocean, not a flooding beach. It’s his own heart station, stained glass dimmed and crackling as if it’s been crushed by pressure as well. Damaged.
He is damaged.
But here, he finds, he is not alone.
He thought everyone had gone. Roxas, Ventus, Xion. They’ve all left, returned to their bodies, to their homes. Returned to their friends and families. Hollowed Sora out unintentionally. He’d been happy to help. He’d always been happy to help until he’d been scraped clean from the inside-out.
But he finds that he’s not entirely empty. Not entirely alone.
Vanitas is here.
It makes sense when he thinks about it. He just hadn’t had time to think of it, hadn’t felt the presence of another inside his heart and so it never occurred to him to look.
Even under the circumstances, it’s still a relief.
“It’s not a dream,” Vanitas says without looking at him. He’s perched on the edge of the station, legs dangling. He’s kicking them back and forth, slow and easy, so strangely casual for him.
Sora doesn’t know him. Maybe it’s not so strange.
“That’s good to know,” Sora says. His voice sounds stronger here than he’d expected it to.
He feels braver knowing there’s someone around.
He settles next to Vanitas quietly and there’s so tidal wave rushing through him. A torrent of questions, of hopes and fears that rise and flood his throat and press up against the backs of his teeth.
He suppresses them all. He stays silent and it’s the hardest thing he’s ever done.
After a beat, Vanitas huffs a sigh. Sits back and props himself up with both hands. He’s not wearing the suit anymore, like Sora had thought he might be. It’s a similar look — all dark, long sleeves. A looser neck, wide enough that he catches flashes of scars against pale skin. Some old, some new.
Sora wonders what Vanitas feels now. He wonders how much pain he’s had to feel in what must have been an agonizing life. He wonders if he feels that pain here.
“Sort of lonely down here, isn’t it?” Sora says, glancing out into the void. It seems like a safe thing to ask.
“No different than anywhere else,” he says. He doesn’t sound bitter, more… quietly resigned. Sora’s not sure which is worse.
He’s also not sure how to respond. There’s a disquiet between them and of course there is; the undeniable peculiarity of Vanitas having his face — of Sora having Vanitas’ face? — and their last meeting having been so violent, so sad. So final.
Not so final anymore.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to see you again.” Sora isn’t expecting him to speak, and he turns to look. Vanitas isn’t looking back, still staring out into the darkness that surrounds the station. His expression is blank. His eyes glitter. “Or anyone, really.”
“I’m sorry I took so long to visit,” Sora says. It’s meant to sound like a joke but it comes out with all of the sincerity he’s got left in him.
The corner of Vanitas’ mouth twitches up. Not quite a smile but more than Sora had expected.
“You didn’t know I was here,” he says. “I don’t take up much space, I guess.”
His mouth curves down again. Sora frowns along with him.
Vanitas isn’t light, no. But the ache that surrounds him is vast and yawning like the void around the station itself. Sora should have known.
“I’m sorry,” Sora says again.
Vanitas fixes him with a dry look, or what is meant to be dry. His eyes don’t lie, says a little voice, a memory in the back of Sora’s head, and it’s true — there’s pain there, and fear. He doesn’t look angry. Just sort of… lost.
“Stop apologizing,” Vanitas tells him. There’s no bite to it. Sora resists the urge to apologize for apologizing.
“Okay,” he says instead, and he doesn’t look away. Neither does Vanitas.
It should be awkward. Staring each other directly in the eye. It’s uncomfortable until it’s not, and then Sora reacts on impulse, because that’s just what he does.
He’s not sure what exactly pushes him to do it. Maybe it’s that aching look in Vanitas’ eyes.
But he leans in and he kisses Vanitas. Presses their lips together like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
It feels like a fever dream. And maybe it sort of is.
Vanitas doesn’t kiss back. He goes rigid and tense and Sora knows if he were to open his eyes Vanitas would be staring back at him.
Still, it feels good. It feels right. And when he pulls away Vanitas is watching him with wide, golden eyes. Less anger now. More fear.
Vanitas asks, “why would you do that?”
Sora says, “I’m sorry.”
He’s not sorry for the kiss. Not at all. He’s sorry for the pain Vanitas has gone through. He’s sorry that they had to fight, that he lost his body and now has to live in the shell of Sora’s because he’s got nowhere else to go. Vanitas is a wayward heart and Sora is a halfway house, a shelter. But it’s no substitute for a real home.
And that’s what he’s apologizing for.
Vanitas hisses, “what did I just say,” and then he closes the distance between them for another kiss.
This time it’s real. It’s clumsy, too much teeth and Vanitas’ mouth tastes like blood, like metal and like fear, but it’s so irreconcilably good that Sora never wants to stop.
With every bite of Vanitas’ teeth to his lips, with every swipe of his own tongue against Vanitas’, he feels more and more whole. They fit together perfect and puzzle-like, slotting in like they were meant to be.
He wonders if it’s narcissistic. To be kissing someone with his face and enjoying it so thoroughly.
Vanitas pulls away, lips swollen and cheeks pink. “Does this feel sort of vain to you?”
Sora laughs. It’s the first time he’s laughed in what feels like days. “Who cares?” Because really, stranger things have happened.
And Vanitas laughs too. It catches Sora off guard but then it’s contagious; the both of them dissolve into hiccoughing giggles, a knife’s edge of hysteria that is miles better than the silence had been.
They’re shoulder to shoulder by the time they can both calm themselves down, leaning up against each other companionably. It’s not at all what Sora had expected. None of this was what he expected.
“I thought I was alone,” he says. Vanitas’ hand is resting on the platform between them and Sora doesn't think about it. He makes another impulsive decision to reach out and wind their fingers together. Vanitas lets him do it.
“So did I,” Vanitas says.
Sora pushes his face into Vanitas’ shoulder.
“I’m glad it’s you,” he says. He doesn’t need to explain himself. Vanitas squeezes his hand and Sora lets his eyes fall shut.
He’s been tired for so long. Sick for so long and only now does he feel like he can rest.
“When you leave you’ll be better,” Vanitas says. “The fever will have broken.”
“How did you know I had a fever?”
Vanitas snorts. “Can’t hide anything from me here.”
Sora hums. Vanitas hasn’t let go of his hand and he’s not pushing him off and Sora is immeasurably thankful.
If he falls asleep here he’ll wake up in his body proper. He doesn’t want to leave. Doesn’t want to go back to being alone, doesn’t want to leave Vanitas alone.
His eyes fall shut anyway. Vanitas’ bony shoulder is comfortable.
“Time to go back,” Vanitas murmurs, and then he kisses the top of Sora’s head with an open tenderness that floods Sora with warmth.
“Thank you,” Sora says, and Vanitas doesn’t have to ask him for what.
When Sora wakes, he feels refreshed. He feels lucid and lighter than he had when he’d gone to sleep. Vanitas had been right; the fever’s broken and he doesn’t feel quite so cold anymore.
He sits up and presses a hand to his chest. Right over his heart.
He’s not alone now. And that makes it easier to start moving again.