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let's see who we are now (at the end of the world)

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Riku steps out of the dark portal and immediately flicks his eyes around, searching for any movement.

“It’s safe,” he says, and even now he’s still surprised by how low his voice is. After nearly three months inside this body, every time he speaks he’s still jolted by it. It’s not his, but it’s coming from him. It’s not right – too rumbling and rough. Disjointed with what he expects.

He tries not to talk too much, nowadays.

A slim girl steps out of the portal behind him. She’s wearing a white dress and her blonde hair is now long enough to reach past her shoulders. Riku wonders if Kairi’s hair looks like that, then swallows his wave of longing in order to focus on the task at hand. Sora and Mickey have already ventured to the Realm Between. They don’t have any time to waste. He can’t think about anything not connected to their goal, no matter how much he wants to.

Naminé approaches the computer, carefully laying her fingers out on the keys. Riku still doesn’t know much about how to operate such devices, but Naminé has spent the last year under DiZ’s tutelage, and she knows more than enough to do this. He hopes she does, in any case.

“Is this it?”

“It is,” she confirms. Riku’s heart leaps; after all their searching, he’d begun to doubt that they would ever find it. But it’s taken them so long – it’s almost too late. They have to hurry.

“Can you make it work?” he asks, keeping his voice quiet and trying not to betray how quickly his heart beats. Naminé is silent, and as the seconds trickle by Riku’s gut begins to curdle.

“I don’t know,” she finally admits. “My powers work through a connection to Sora… Xemnas and Sora have never met. The link is mostly one sided, through Xemnas’s connection to Roxas. It’s stronger than it was, though. If there’s any hope, it’s now.”

“Try,” Riku encourages. He silently steps around the rest of the lab, examining what he can see. On one wall strange orange lights flicker; the wall opposite that contains the computer set against it. The other two walls are narrow, and hold doors. Riku carefully approaches one, but does not open it. He doesn’t know what type of defence system this world has set up, and he doesn’t want to trigger anything.

“Hold! Who are you?”

Riku turns on his heel to try and find the source of the sudden voice, dark fire already flickering around his palms, but the only other person in the room is Naminé. She looks as surprised as he feels, but she’s looking at the computer.

“Who are you?” she asks curiously.

“A program on this computer,” the voice says. It’s coming from everywhere and nowhere. “If you do not have access to this system, then I cannot let you enter.”

“A program…” Naminé says. “Your name – is it Tron?”

“I – yes,” the voice says.

“We’re friends of Sora,” Naminé says easily. Riku looks at her, but makes no move to intervene. “My name is Naminé.”

“A User like Sora!” Tron exclaims. “He was just here. You just missed him.”

On purpose. Riku has no desire to let Sora see him like this. It is best if he works from the shadows.

“A shame,” Naminé says. “But we were hoping to gain some information off this computer. Could you help us?”

“What information do you want to find?” Tron asks. Riku can’t help but notice that the program still sounds wary. Can a computer sound wary? He supposes that it is talking to them. None of DiZ’s computers ever talked, so this one is already different from what he knows. It could do anything, and he wouldn’t know beforehand to expect it.

“Do you know if anyone has used this login screen recently?” Naminé asks, typing in something carefully. A window pops up, demanding six passwords.

“That…” the voice trails off. “I have no access to that area of the system.”

“Interesting,” Naminé muses. “I have to gain entry to this system. I just need to think for a while to… remember… the passwords. Tron, if you could find out anything else in that time, I would appreciate it.”

“I’ll see if I can find anything in the database,” Tron says, now sounding worried. Maybe an emotional response is supposed to resonate with the people who interact with the system? But when Riku probes a little deeper, he can sense the balance of light and dark that makes up a heart, emanating from the computer. That’s… interesting, to say the least. This computer – this program – has a heart.

Silence builds in the room again as Naminé simply puts her hands over the console and waits. Riku turns to investigate the doors again. The one he is facing seems to lead out to a walkway. Beyond that is a vast space, with strange contraptions on the walls. He can see a courtyard of some type far below.

He hears the tap of a keyboard behind him, and turns to see Naminé entering one password, then another. She hesitates after that.

“Can I do anything?” Riku asks. Naminé shakes her head absently, as if she’s only half hearing him. She types in another password. Riku purses his mouth and paces behind her, moulding darkness to his feet to silence his footsteps completely. He doesn’t want to distract her.

The other door opens automatically when he approaches it. Riku freezes, but nothing else happens. He carefully steps out onto the glass walkway. This path seems to be nothing more than a connection between the computer room and the rooms inside the castle. Riku looks at the path for a long few moments, but there’s no reason to explore beyond his own curiosity. Either Naminé will find the passwords, or she won’t. There is no other reason to be on this world, where people know what a black cloak means.

When he enters the computer room again, he sees Naminé enter the final password. The computer thinks about it for an agonisingly long period of time, but finally a message pops up that says ‘System Start.’

“It works,” Riku notes. Naminé turns and nods at him.

“What did you do?” that voice says again.

“A while ago, a program was loaded onto this computer from an outside source, by someone who had administrative permissions,” Naminé says. “We need to run that program… for it will reveal something to us that might help us, and Sora, in our fight against the rising darkness that threatens us all.”

The computer says nothing for several seconds. “The program unlocked a door in the User world that I had no knowledge of,” the voice finally says. “Take the elevator down to the lowest level. The door should open when you arrive.”

“Thank you, Tron,” Naminé says carefully. Riku follows her as she trots out the second door, the one that didn’t open for him. Riku has to carefully wedge it open, and he holds it for Naminé so she can slip through. He forces the door open wider so he can pass as well, and follows her to the elevator.

Naminé is silent as they descend. When they reach the bottom, she looks at him instead of moving forward.

“Do you think… we’ll really find it?”

“You’ve been helping me search for it ever since you escaped DiZ’s clutches,” Riku says. “Our hard work has to pay off sometime. I’m sure this is it… the Chamber of Repose.”

“Even when Marluxia discussed it, I sometimes wondered if the Chamber of Waking was real,” Naminé says quietly. “What do you think we’ll find down there?”

Riku steps out of the elevator instead of answering. When he comes to the platform at the bottom of the stairs, the ground shines, hums, and opens, revealing a spiralling staircase that descends deep into the earth.

“There’s only one way to find out,” he says. Naminé stands at his side, and together, they walk into the darkness.


 

Sora steps out of the portal and immediately feels like all the breath has been sucked out of him.

He puts a hand on his chest and gasps, and; he can breathe, but he can’t. The air moves over his lips but it’s like it doesn’t fill his lungs. After another few seconds of panic, he realises that he doesn’t feel breathless, like when he tries to dive for too long to find fish, only to realise midway through that his heart is pounding a mile a minute because he needs more air. Instead he feels… nothing.

Sora steps to the side and Donald and Goofy stumble out of the portal after him, both of them looking startled at the change in scenery. King Mickey stands a few paces ahead, already looking forward. Sora puts a hand over his face and feels himself breathing, but – he isn’t. He is. He doesn’t know.

“Hey?” Sora asks, and his voice sounds like normal. He flexes his fist, and resists the urge to summon his Keyblade.

“This place is weird,” Donald quacks balefully, looking around uneasily.

It must be the air here. Sora has been to a lot of worlds, has seen a lot of strange things, but being here reminds him of going to Atlantica that first time – needless panic before he realised he could breathe the water. He can breathe here, too, even if it feels like he shouldn’t be able to.

His heart twinges, an image of Axel flashing in front of him for a second before it fades away. Sora clenches his teeth. Roxas. That’s who Axel wanted to see – that’s the person that was in that photograph, that’s the person who Sora knew the name of, without any prompting from anyone else. There’s an ache in his chest that answers the thought, but he doesn’t know if it’s coming from him… or from someone else.

With every step he took after waking up from that sleeping pod, there’s been a growing thought in the back of his mind. Sora still doesn’t know what to do with what he suspects.

At times, if someone with a strong heart and will, be they evil or good, becomes a Heartless, the empty shell they leave behind begins to act with a will of its own…

If he’s ever going to find answers, it’ll be here. This is the stronghold of the Nobodies, this realm in-between, twisted and curled to fit in the spaces left by the Realm of Light and the Realm of Darkness. The beings that live here must be just as twisted to survive.

We weren’t that bad.

Sora gulps and runs forward to stand next to King Mickey, Donald and Goofy in his steps like always. The pale light of a heart shaped moon shines down on all of them, and Sora can feel the pull of it even from this far away. His heartbeat is suddenly loud in his throat, and he aches, aches to join with the moon. He chews his tongue to distract himself, and the feeling ebbs.  

“Axel said Kairi’s in the dungeon,” Sora manages to say, breaking the stunned silence. An image of a skyscraper, during a dark, stormy night, flashes through his head. There’s someone standing opposite him… he’s wearing a blindfold. Sora puts a hand to his head to try and stabilise himself. He’s never seen that place before. But the person…

“Then we better find a way to get into that castle,” King Mickey says. “I’ll scout ahead; you fellas protect the rear.”

“Yes sir!”

“You got it!”

Sora can’t bring himself to say anything, but he nods. King Mickey stares at him for a second, like he knows the turmoil that’s going on in his chest, but he still turns and starts running, his Keyblade flashing into his hand.

Sora looks down so the light of the moon doesn’t blind him. There’s something about its pale shimmering that makes him uneasy. “Let’s go,” he says, because he has to push on; he knows where Kairi is, and he will find Riku. He can’t consider any other option.

The Kingdom Key is heavy in his hand, and he tries to ignore how this world sets him on edge. He just needs to channel that restless energy into a fight; and he’s sure that there are plenty just ahead of them.

Sure enough, as soon as they walk forward, Shadows rise from the ground, whispers and flecks of darkness that are so much stronger now that they aren’t in the Realm of Light. Throughout the fight against the Heartless Sora clenches his teeth, and when all the enemies are gone he feels like there’s still darkness creeping up his spine, threatening and far too close for comfort. The Heartless just don’t stop – they keep coming, and coming, and coming, only small breaks between the waves. He doesn’t know why they would, unless it’s because of this in-between realm that sits too close –

They’re attracted to your light.

Sora squeezes his eyes shut and covers his face, the murkiness of that thought unsettling him. This small space between fights is the only time he can spare a second for something like that, and he takes advantage of it and trusts Donald and Goofy to watch his back. He feels – he doesn’t know how he feels. He thinks there might be something wrong with him.

“We should push on,” Sora says, voice coming out weaker than he’d wanted it to.

“Sora?” Donald asks. “Are you feeling okay?”

“We can’t waste any time. We have to find Riku and Kairi,” Sora replies. “I don’t think these waves of Heartless are going to stop.”

“I think ya might be right,” Goofy comments. “There’s the next one now!”

“Push through!” Sora calls, and leads the way even though there’s heaviness dragging at his footsteps. He flashes through the Heartless and even though they’re in the middle of a fight he sticks his hand into his bag to find Kairi’s good luck charm and clips it onto his Keyblade’s keychain. The Oathkeeper appears in his hand, immediately filling the area with a softly glowing light. Sora feels a rush of energy fill him as the Keyblade’s healing powers kick in, and its inherent light beats back the darkness. Not having to fight that as well as the Heartless makes things a lot easier, and Sora charges forward into a diving combo of hits that wipes out that wave of Heartless.

“Nice job!” Donald calls, and Sora acknowledges it with a nod. The ambient darkness has been driven back, but now he’s more aware of the coiled thing at the back of his mind that can only come from inside him. It kinda reminds him of the darkest of his Drive Forms, but it’s also completely different. Using Oathkeeper has brought his awareness of it to a sharp edged clarity. It feels like a threat, a blade pressed against his skin, able to cut at any time.  

He grits his teeth and keeps moving forward, keeps pushing himself to deal with the enemies. The three of them finish another wave, and Sora jogs forward, something like dread at the back of his throat.

Even when he flashes into Wisdom Form, Donald’s magic bolstering his own spells, he still feels heavy, his quick steps not carrying him as far as he’s used to. Thunder comes too easily here – the rain and the heavy clouds call to him, and Sora almost feels like they’re striking him with the spell when he casts it. These clouds know him; he has been here before –

When his drive form runs out and that wave of Heartless is gone, Sora lets himself lean on Oathkeeper for a second, lets himself try and breathe even though it still feels like he can’t. Donald and Goofy flank him, trading concerned glances between themselves that Sora pretends not to see.

“We need to keep going,” he says, and wonders if he’s telling them or himself.

They walk into a more open area, a plaza with a crashed truck at one end. Its taillights are still blinking, but Sora thinks that it’s been there for years – no, he knows it’s been there for years. The familiarity washes over him and he chokes it down, casting about for anything else to look at instead. There’s a tall skyscraper at the head of the plaza, giant screens at the top reflecting an eerie light into the area. Sora looks at the bright screens and sees a flash of a blond boy – a blue haired girl – Axel – the blond boy again but wearing all black now, Oathkeeper in his hand – the same boy he saw before, a blindfold over his eyes –

He tears his eyes away from the screens. The rain that’s been falling for almost the entire time they’ve been here is heavier all of a sudden. The drops are falling on his face, but they leave no wetness behind – even the water doesn’t work right in this realm. Nothing ever has worked right –

He shakes his head. He doesn’t have time for errant thoughts. He can’t let himself be distracted when they’re so close to the finish line.

“Sora!”

He spins around to see Donald and Goofy standing behind two samurais, and he tenses. “Donald, Goofy!”

He jumps forward to attack them, but instead the area freezes. Sora has time to blink, to see that the rain is still, suspended in the air, before he hears the unmistakable sound of a dark portal opening. He whirls to face it, light on his feet.

A cloaked person comes out it, and Sora falls into his ready pose, fingers spread wide to summon Oathkeeper. In the same instant he does so, the Nobody’s hand gleams, and Sora can hardly keep himself from yelping as Oblivion appears.

“A Keyblade?!” he half snarls. That’s his Keyblade, his Keyblade that he associates with Riku, the Keyblade that’s made from the pendant on his necklace. No one gets to wield that but him! “You – who are you?!”

The man doesn’t answer, instead flashing forward in an attack that Sora guards just in time. Locked together, Sora tests his strength and his stomach flips. He doesn’t want to go into this fight by himself. He squints to try and see under the hood; their faces are so close that it should be possible, but there’s only darkness.

The darkness shifts, and then he’s falling – down, down, down.


 

Kairi curls her arms around her knees and resists the urge to bury her head in the seemingly safe place in between her chest and legs. She’s not safe. She can’t allow herself to pretend otherwise.

Since coming here, she hasn’t seen anyone besides the blue haired man that had taken her away from Axel, and it’s beginning to get to her. She doesn’t think the strange, wriggly white things count as people – she hopes they don’t count as people, because she wouldn’t know how to deal with it if they are. They’re disturbing in a creeping way that makes her feel like she’s about to be sick. She’d blame it on the food they give her, but since the food is water and bread, that probably has nothing to do with her roiling stomach. Unless they’re poisoning her food, which she honestly wouldn’t put past them.

Frustrated, she gets up and approaches the bars. Just like all the other times, as soon as she does, they bend unnaturally, closing the distance between them until she can’t even fit a pinky finger outside. She takes a step back and they open without moving, a trick of the light – she reaches forward and suddenly they’re so close they’re almost touching. Kairi snarls and paces the width of the cell – five steps, and turn, five steps, and turn. She knows this, knows every stupid corner of this place. From one of the corners Pluto follows her, his head pointing towards her as she stalks. If the dog hadn’t been in here with her, she’s pretty sure she would have actually gone crazy.

The careful click of heels is the only thing that alerts her to the presence of the blue haired man – he’d called himself Saïx, but she doesn’t want to give him the benefit of a name. She leans against the far wall of the cell, because she wants to be as far away from him as possible, and the bars of the cell are so far apart that the opening is more like a window.

She hates that.

The man strolls into view, and Kairi tries not to shudder. There’s something… wrong, about him. His skin is too sallow, and his eyes are too bright. His blue hair is vivid in a way that reminds her of the poisonous snakes that are on the islands. A warning, something to be heeded.

“Kairi,” he says, voice completely flat like always. “Your rescuer approaches.”

“Leave Sora alone!” Kairi shouts. There’s nothing else she can do – she’s been trapped in this cell for weeks, and only her discipline has kept her sane. At least her arms are buffer than she ever remembers. Passing out from exhaustion at least speeds time up a little bit. She’s done a lot of push ups recently.

“Sora will be here soon,” he replies. “It’s too bad that you won’t be able to see him before he serves his purpose.”

She can’t help it – she runs forward and slams her fist against the wall that has appeared to stop her from exiting the cell. “Sora is better than that!” she yells. “He won’t fall into your trap.”

“He already has.” Saïx’s voice isn’t muffled at all by the cell bars, even though Kairi can no longer see him. “Even if there have been some inconveniences along the way, some plans are too well thought out to fall prey to mistakes at the final hour.”

“Yours isn’t one of them,” Kairi spits. “Sora will win out over whatever you’re trying to do.”

“And what evidence do you have of that? Or is that something you tell yourself, to try and dim the pain of your heart when you know I speak the truth?”

“Bastard!” Kairi shouts. “Come in here so I can show you some pain of the heart myself!”

Saïx makes a displeased sound. “Now there. That ill temper of yours is something I never could have thought a Princess of Heart could possess. Perhaps your… imperfections… are what draws Sora to you. He wishes to fix your damaged heart.”

“Any damage done has been done by you,” Kairi seethes. “And Sora is my friend because of our shared past, and our promises to each other! You know nothing about either of us.”

“Be as that may, knowledge of your relationship is not required for both of you to serve your purpose. Be glad that your time here is almost complete.”

Kairi listens to his footsteps retreat, and bites her lip so she doesn’t choke on her bitterness. In his corner, Pluto makes a questioning sound. She sighs as she moves over to pat his head. “He has no use for us after this,” she whispers to him. “Sora’s coming here, just for me… it’s not fair! I want to do something, but we can’t escape from here ourselves. I’ve tried everything.”

Pluto blinks at her, then his attention turns to the back of the cell. Cautious, Kairi stands. Pluto had given her a heads up a few times already – he isn’t a normal dog, that’s for sure. She watches the back of a cell for a few seconds, but just as she’s about to look away a shadow writhes on the wall, and opens into one of the same black portals that she’s travelled through before.

A girl moves from within shadows. “This way!” she says quietly, urgency filling her voice.

Kairi stares at her. She’s so – familiar

“Who–?”

“Believe in yourself,” the girl whispers. “Come on, hurry!”

Well, Kairi had gotten herself into this mess by jumping through strange dark portals, so she supposes she might as well try to get herself out of this mess by jumping through another one. Plus, even if there is some other type of manipulation at work here, this will get Kairi out of the cell.

She is so goddamn sick of this cell.

“C’mon Pluto,” Kairi calls. The dog hops up and follows her as she approaches the portal. The girl holds out her hand, but Kairi jumps into the portal herself – she doesn’t need to rely on anyone else this time.


 

Sora snarls as he races forward, locking his opponent into a duel of strength. He braces Oathkeeper against… another Oathkeeper, and a dual wielded Oblivion. How can he wield one Keyblade, let alone two? The only person that Sora knows can do that is himself. An ability that he’d gained after waking up in Twilight Town…

“Who are you?” Sora demands again, because he’s scared as to what the Keyblades might mean, and he’s so tired of being confused. This man fights so unlike anyone else Sora has ever crossed blades with, attacks sharp and powerful, more than capable of pummelling him if he makes a misstep.

“Someone from the dark,” the man – boy – says. Sora forces him backwards with a push of Oathkeeper, and they both leap back, evaluating each other’s strength. Sora’s on his last legs, but he thinks the other boy might be too.

“I know you… but I don’t,” Sora says quietly. “Please, a name!”

“You’ve taken so much from me, and you want my name as well?” the boy asks stonily. “Tell me instead… why did the Keyblade choose you?! Why did you get to live… and not me!?”

The boy curls his Keyblades around himself and then starts running forward, dragging them behind him, raising sparks off the platform they’re fighting on. Sora braces himself and meets his onslaught with a guard, deflecting his first attack and then pinning the boy’s Oathkeeper with his own. The boy snarls at him and flips back to escape the hold, crouching low. Sora jumps forward to stop his slashing attack, and the boy meets him with an attack of his own that sends Sora flying upwards.

Sora flips in mid-air to watch his opponent, and sure enough the boy leaps up to attack him. Sora slashes at him and their Keyblades meet again, the screeching of ethereal metal the only sound in this quiet place.

Sora makes sure to land on his feet, but when he looks up the boy is still in the air, floating like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Then again, he was floating during some of his giant light attacks, so maybe it is just that easy for him. Sora takes the opportunity to catch his breath.

“I see. That’s why.”

The boy drops from the sky, and Sora jumps back to avoid a slashing attack, pushing down his confusion at the boy’s words. Having Oathkeeper and Oblivion raised against him makes his skin crawl; they’re his Keyblades, the Keyblades that he keeps closest to his heart, the Keyblades that remind him of Riku and Kairi. He hates fighting against them. His Oathkeeper is warm in his hand, but it’s a small comfort.

The boy darts forward, overhand strikes coming down remorselessly. Sora avoids them by using every scrap of dexterity he’s earned over his journeys, but the boy still traps him in a combo. Sora guards against it, but the heavy blows leave no room to breathe. The attacks rain down, and a strong one lets the boy disarm him. Oathkeeper spirals across the podium, and Sora falls forward as he loses his balance for a second. He recovers quickly and leaps back to gain some space between him and the boy’s lightning quick attacks, and then darts towards his Keyblade to pick it up again.

The boy gets there first.

He stabs Oblivion through the handle, locking them both in place, and points his Oathkeeper at Sora, an obvious demand to submit in his bearing.

Riku, standing on the other side of the door – “Take care of her.”

Kairi, grasping onto his hand after he’d promised to find her again, eyes wide and desperate as she’s dragged away – “I know you will!”

Sora’s shoulders curl up, a mix of determination and fear running through him. There’s no way he’s falling here! He stares down the boy, stares down Oathkeeper, and closes his eyes. Oathkeeper is his. His promises, his vows, belong to no one but himself. Kairi’s good luck charm is his to protect, and he isn’t going to let this boy use Oathkeeper against him.

His hand closes around a handle as the Oathkeeper the boy is wielding disappears.

“What?!”

Sora is already moving.

He slices through the boy with a quick step, steely determination driving his movements. He cannot afford to lose this battle. Riku and Kairi are waiting for him – and even if this boy is who he thinks, he cannot allow him to win. Even though his heart is aching, and even though the Oathkeeper in his hand proves it, he cannot let Roxas win this duel.

He hears the quiet hum of a Keyblade disappearing, and when he turns around the boy’s hood is down, revealing blond hair. Half desperately, Sora reaches out to him – maybe he can still save him, too…

The boy lets out a huff, tilting his head back to look up into the murky sky. “Maybe I can leave the rest to you.” He looks over his shoulder, and Sora feels like he’s caught in between seconds as his hand moves too slowly to touch him. “You… make a good Other.”

Sora tries to step forward, but the world around them is already fading into bright light. His hand closes on nothing as he lands back in front of the skyscraper, rain once again falling.

“Sora? Sora, are you okay?”

Oh. It isn’t raining anymore.

“Sora?”

Sora turns to Donald and Goofy, wiping away his tears sloppily. His friends are looking at him with concern.

“What… just happened?” he asks.

“Gawrsh, I don’t know. You just disappeared. Then me and Donald had to fight some Nobodies,” Goofy says.

“The guy… in the black coat…” Sora murmurs.

“A black coat!” Donald quacks. “Where?”

“He’s gone now,” Sora tells them. He puts a hand over his heart. “Isn’t that right?”

“I didn’t see him,” Donald says doubtfully. “He musta been really quick.”

“Come on,” Goofy says. “Let’s just find a way to get into that castle!”

“Right,” Sora says, sticking his hands in his pockets. He freezes as Donald and Goofy start walking forward, and after making sure they’re not looking back at him, he pulls the thing in his pocket out to look at.

It’s a strange looking cross on a keychain. The shape reminds him of the patterns on some types of Nobodies. He swallows uneasily and secrets it away with the rest of his keychains. Maybe someday he’ll be brave enough to use it, to find out what type of Keyblade it will show him.


 

Kairi’s breath is sharp in her throat as she follows the girl in white, Pluto at her heels. She’d introduced herself as Naminé, then had claimed they had no more time for small talk; Kairi had fervently agreed with her. She wants out of this castle. It has held her for far too long already.

Naminé turns the corner and freezes, and Kairi’s heart climbs into her throat as she braces herself for whatever is there. Her footsteps slow but she forces herself to keep going. She’s never been a quitter, and she’s not starting now.

Saïx is standing on the landing of the next ramp, staring at Naminé coolly. His eyes flick to Kairi when she comes into view, and she tries not to shudder under that amber gaze.

“Kairi. Naminé,” he says, voice as flat as always, sending an icy finger down her spine. “You’ve had your little adventure – do you like the rest of the castle?” He tilts his head slightly. “Would you like me to take you to see Sora?”

He holds out his hand, and despite herself, Kairi’s heart jumps in excitement. There’s nothing else she wants to do more than see Sora, but Saïx has never given her anything she wants. This is another trap. She bares her teeth at him.

“You’re crazy if you think there’s any way I’m going with you!” she yells.

“There is no way you can stand against me. Leaving is not an option,” Saïx says coolly. His hand falls. “Now, be a good girl and come with me.”

Kairi feels her stomach drop. The horrible truth of it is that – she can’t do anything against Saïx. The looming figures behind him are dark and strong, and there is power flickering through him, power that she can’t match. But even if it’s hopeless, there’s no way she’s going to just go with him without some kind of fight. She falls into a ready stance, and Naminé mirrors her. Even if it’s stupid, she can’t bring herself to go quietly. That’s not who she is.

A chime sounds out, and Saïx turns. Kairi’s mouth falls open as both of Saïx’s lackeys fall – they disappear to reveal a man in a dark cloak, a strangely shaped blade his only distinguishing feature. Still, there’s something familiar about him. Something warm.

“You!” Saïx says. The anger in his voice might be the first hint of emotion she’s ever heard from him. “Didn’t Roxas take care of you?”

The blade disappears from the man’s hand, and he leans back before releasing a splash of blue fire that shoves Saïx back against the castle wall. Kairi lifts a hand to shield her eyes from some of the smoke, and hears more than sees the mystery man slamming into Saïx. Saïx lifts his lip, but opens a dark portal and slips inside – the man goes to enter the portal after him and that finally breaks Kairi out of her reverie.

“Wait!” she yells, running down the ramp. “Wait, please!”

The man in black pauses, and the dark portal closes. Kairi slows her steps as she approaches. He’s so tall now… did he really grow this much in one year? Can it really be him? That’s what her heart is telling her, but she wants it too much – she wants it to be him.

“Riku?” Kairi asks quietly. “Is it you?”

The man says nothing, but he doesn’t move as she steps up to him, as she leans up and reaches for his hood.

Her heart clenches in her chest when she sees him – but even still, she knows him. They have grown together and their light has refracted and shone into each other for too long for her to not recognise him, no matter what his outward appearance might look like.

“Riku,” she says, and there’s no hesitation in her now. “Oh, Riku.” And her voice is full of compassion, because she can’t even begin to think of what he’s been through in the last year. She remembers him as a ghostly apparition, appearing in front of the man whose skin he now wears, holding him back so she could escape.

“It’s – I’m not –”

“I would know you anywhere,” she gently tells him. “No matter what you look like. It’s okay, Riku.”

Finally, he looks at her. It is so strange to meet auburn eyes and think Riku, but it is him. “Kairi,” he says, and his voice cracks on around her name. She grabs him, wrapping her arms around him as tightly as she can. Riku is still in her grasp until he moves, dreamlike, to hug her back.

“I’m here,” she tells him. She doesn’t know how long they stand like that, but both of them need it.

“Riku,” Naminé calls quietly.

Riku stiffens in her grasp and takes a step back. She sees his aborted lift of his hand to flick his hood back up, and it makes her chest ache. What does he think of himself now? How did this happen?

“Naminé,” he greets.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Naminé says. She comes and stands opposite Kairi, and Kairi blinks several times to make sure she’s not imagining things. The other girl is transparent – she can see the wall through her. She’d been solid a moment ago. Uneasy, Kairi shifts her weight between her feet. “Or rather, I don’t have a lot of time.”

Kairi looks at Riku, but he is regarding Naminé solemnly.

“Kairi,” Naminé says. “Riku can explain the particulars to you later – just know that… I’m sorry, for the harm I caused. I fixed what I hurt, but that isn’t an excuse for inflicting hurt in the first place.”

“What do you mean?” Kairi asks, alarmed. The other girl smiles, a tiny twist of her lips. The look in her eyes is more bitter than happy.

“I’m a Nobody – when a person falls to the Heartless, if they have a strong will, their body is left behind and begins to act with a will of its own. That discarded body is a Nobody. Kairi… I’m your Nobody.”

Kairi stares at the other girl, frozen. Of all the things she could have said, that’s not something Kairi could have ever expected. “But… but I never fell to the Heartless!” Kairi tries to protest. She looks at Riku for confirmation, but he shakes his head.

“You didn’t,” he says. “But Sora did. And your heart was inside Sora at that moment. Through Sora’s fall, and your heart, Naminé was created.”

Kairi slowly turns to look back at Naminé. She hadn’t been around the other girl for very long, but – something about the set of her shoulders, the tilt of her mouth, the hesitance in her eyes, tells Kairi that she’s scared.

“Kairi, I was never meant to exist,” Naminé confesses. “Your heart is pure – it never should have fallen. I’m a hybrid, a shadow of a creature that is already unnatural.”

“What?” Kairi asks, stunned. “Naminé… if you exist, then there’s no way that you’re unnatural. You were created from a peculiar set of circumstances, maybe, but if you were created, then it must have been done naturally.”

Naminé sucks in a breath. “Thank you, but that’s not how things work.”

“Yes it is,” Kairi insists. “Nothing created by nature can be unnatural.” She flicks her eyes towards Riku. “That includes you as well.”

“Kairi…” he murmurs.

Naminé bows her head. “Your words mean a lot to me. But… it changes nothing. My time is up.”

“What do you mean?” Kairi asks uneasily.

“I’ve been holding on for as long as I can, but I’m unstable. As you can see,” she lifts her arms, which are obviously translucent. “I only have one request for you.”

“What?”

“Can I… come back to you?” Naminé lifts her head to look at Kairi as she asks. “I would be at peace in your heart. I don’t want to just… fade away.”

Kairi’s throat closes. She looks at Riku, but his face is impassive. “Are you sure?” she asks, half desperate. She’s only just met this person, only just got told who she is. “Are you sure you’re about to… fade?”

“Yes. I’m certain.” Naminé’s voice is tight, but firm.

“Oh.” Kairi looks at the other girl. Her answer is obvious, but she still doesn’t want to give it, even though the evidence is clear in front of her. Naminé is growing thinner by the minute. “Well… yes. Of course you can come back to me, if that will make you feel better.”

“Thank you,” Naminé says. Her voice is quiet, but there’s a well of gratitude in it. She turns to Riku. “Riku, thank you for all your help. I have faith that you will succeed. If anyone can defeat Xemnas, it’s Sora, with your help.”

“Thank you, Naminé,” Riku says. His voice is so deep. Kairi doesn’t know how to react to it. “I couldn’t have done it without you. And I’m sorry, that you had to go through all of this.”

Naminé smiles at Riku, and Kairi thinks it might even be a real one. “None of that was your fault, Riku.” She takes a shaky breath. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” Riku says. Kairi sees his fists clench and resists the urge to reach out to him. Naminé turns to her and Kairi tucks a curl of hair behind her ear self-consciously.

“How do we –?”

Naminé hold out her hands. “Be open,” she says simply. Kairi looks at her – if she’s going to have her in her heart, she wants to know what she looks like. And something tells her that Naminé has not been the recipient of much kindness. Kairi wants to give her this, at least.

Kairi reaches out, and they grasp hands loosely. Naminé’s fingers are smaller than hers, and cooler. Kairi meets her eyes. “Come back to me?” she asks. Naminé’s eyes crease happily, and she begins to shine, so brightly that Kairi has to shut her eyes. Kairi’s fingers close on nothing, and she panics.

“What happened? Did I take her in? Or did she just fade?”

“Can you feel her?” Riku asks her, voice level and steadying. Kairi takes a breath and puts her palm over her heart. Nothing’s changed… besides that maybe, she feels like crying. But there’s a gentle warmth buoying her, a faint sense that she doesn’t need to worry.

“She’s here,” Kairi says faintly. “Riku… what is happening?”

Riku looks up and down the platform. “We don’t have much time for explanations.”

“Riku, please,” Kairi begs. She can’t get enough of her lips around his name. “I’ve been trapped here for weeks – I’m going to go crazy if I don’t get some idea of what the hell is going on!”

Riku winces. She recognises the expression, but not the face it’s portrayed upon. Strange.

“This is the fortress of Organisation XIII,” he says. “There used to be thirteen of them in the organisation, but there’s only a few left now. Saïx is the second in command – you’ve met him, obviously.”

“He was the only one who would come and check up on me,” Kairi whispers. Pluto comes and puts his head under her palm, and she pats his head. It’s become very reassuring to do that. “How many others are left?”

“Xemnas, Xigbar, Saïx, and Luxord. Xemnas is their leader,” Riku says tightly. “Axel died within the last hour. Naminé felt him fade.”

“You were with her?” Kairi asks. “Why didn’t you come and rescue me?”

“I didn’t know if you’d recognise me,” Riku admits, shoulders slouching. “I didn’t want to scare you. I was keeping an eye on you the whole time.”

She seizes his arm. “No more of that! Don’t get out of my sight from now on, got it?”

Riku looks at her searchingly for a few seconds, but Kairi is serious about this. “Okay,” he finally agrees.

“And we have to find Sora!” she exclaims.

“Here’s here, in this world,” Riku says.

“Then let’s go to him!” Kairi says, excitement brimming from her. Both Sora and Riku, back with her, after all those long months of pining? It’s the only thing she wants.

“No,” Riku says. “He can’t… he can’t see me like this.”

“Riku!” Kairi chastises, leaning up so she can be as close to his face as possible. “I recognised you. And I guarantee you that Sora isn’t going to care about what you look like.”

“You can’t know that,” Riku argues.

“Yes I can. Sora can be a bit of an air head sometimes, but deep down, he knows what matters.”

“Kairi,” Riku says, and his voice is filled with genuine pain. She gets off her tip toes and waits for him to struggle with his words. “You don’t… you don’t know how I came to be like this.”

“And I don’t care,” Kairi says stubbornly.

“I do,” Riku tells her. “I do care. I’m still trying to grapple with the fact that you recognised me.”

“Of course I recognised you,” Kairi says gently. She puts a hand on his chest. “I recognised your heart. That’s what Sora would recognise as well, you know.”

Riku is silent for a few more seconds. “Can I think about it, for a little bit?” he asks. Kairi nods. If he cares, then it’s something she can give him time to think about. There’s no way she’s letting him get out of it forever, but they can spare some time.

“Yeah, you can have a few minutes.”

“A few minutes!” Riku says, sounding shocked. Then he laughs, a single huff that she wouldn’t have called a laugh if she hadn’t been able to see his smile. Her heart drops – Riku always laughed so loudly, before. “Oh Kairi, you haven’t changed.” His face turns serious again. “I need to give you something.”

“What?” she asks.

Riku holds out his hand, and a blade similar to the one he was holding before flashes into his hand. Except this time, it’s gold and pink and has flowers on it. Riku and Kairi stare at it, and she’s not sure which of them is more surprised.

“What is that?” Kairi asks.

“A Keyblade,” Riku says. He holds it out, and she takes it. It’s far lighter than she would have thought. “I have one as well.” Light flashes around his hand again, and the blade he was holding earlier appears in it. “I found that one in a place called the Chamber of Repose. Naminé and I were searching for something we could use against Xemnas – we knew he was searching for the Chamber of Waking, and that it was part of a pair. We found the Chamber of Repose, but the only thing in there was a rusty suit of armour… and another Keyblade. I figured you could use it when I found you.”

Kairi swings it experimentally. It feels similar to the wooden swords they have at home, but it makes a chiming sound when she gets up to speed with it.

“It was blue before, but maybe it knew I was going to give it to you,” Riku says wryly. “That suits you.”

Kairi grins at him. “Thanks, Riku.”

He looks away, but she still sees the touch of colour that darkens his cheeks.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Now, I work overhand, but you should strike however feels best for you. You’ll get used to it pretty quickly.”

“Okay,” Kairi says. She stares at the… Keyblade, and wills it to disappear. It vanishes from her hand, like the magic tricks Wakka likes to pull on the other kids. “How do I get it back?”

“Just imagine it in your hand,” Riku says. She narrows her eyes and concentrates, and it appears in her hand again.

“Destiny’s Embrace…” she murmurs.

“Is that its name?” Riku asks. “Interesting… I wonder who it belonged to, before.”

“I think that’s a question for another day,” Kairi says. Riku nods, but then his eyes go wide and he grabs Kairi’s shoulder, pulling her close to him. She lifts the Keyblade, something about the warm hum reassuring to her, and looks up as a strange sound and twisting in the air announces the arrival of another dark portal.

“So you’ve been to my chamber, and plundered it.” The man who appears has flowing silver hair and eyes that are more golden than Riku’s.

“Xemnas!” Riku hisses.

Xemnas’s focus turns to Kairi. “The Princess, holding a Keyblade… interesting,” he says. “It accepts you. Well, we’ll see how much use you get out of it… when you have no protector.”

He raises his hand, and an enormous force buffets the both of them, but in different directions.

Riku!” Kairi screams as they’re pulled apart. She sees his hand outstretched towards her desperately, but it all disappears as a dark portal spawns out of nowhere and swallows her whole.

Chapter Text

It’s a slog to fight their way through the castle.

Sora isn’t used to dealing with so many Nobodies, and this is a crash course on how to fend off hordes of them at once. There aren’t many rest spots, and the pathways sometimes seem unending, sending them forwards into the unknown. The King is somewhere ahead of them, and the trio push onwards, not letting anything distract them.

Sora pushes open a large door, only to come out onto a type of platform. There isn’t anything to keep a person from walking off the edge, so Sora keeps a healthy distance. He doesn’t want to jump and find himself falling down into that blackness.

“Sora… you’ve done well.”

Sora looks around to see where the voice came from, and narrows his eyes. Saïx is standing on a higher balcony, a smoking dark portal behind him. Sora clenches his fists as he runs towards him.

“Where’s Kairi?” he demands.

“Who knows? I expect she’s catching up with her friend from the darkness.”

“What do you mean?” Sora yells. There’s no way that Kairi has any friends from the darkness – but it’s probably just another attempt to confuse him, to put him off guard. Well, he isn’t falling for it.

“She doesn’t need you anymore.”

Sora scoffs. “I’m supposed to believe that?”

“Well, you don’t have to… but you can believe this. Organisation XIII has no further use for you. Just look there. Our Kingdom Hearts.” He points to the glowing moon that hangs, ever present, above them all. Sora has been trying not to look at it. “Thanks to you, we’ve collected countless hearts. Can you hear their euphoria?” Saïx flips his hair. “Now all they need is one more helping from the Keyblade bearer!”

He clicks, and a verifiable swarm of Heartless appear, racing out of the darkness faster than Sora can count them.

“We gotta fight!” Donald yells. Sora nods, summoning his Keyblade. When he looks up again, the balcony is empty. Leaving his minions to do the dirty work. Sora leaps forward, smashing through the Heartless as quickly as he can, casting reflect when he’s surrounded and following up with fire magic. With the Heartless as thick as they are, he doesn’t even need to think about where he should be attacking. With every swipe of his Keyblade he hits plenty of them.

As the Heartless keep appearing, Sora doesn’t let himself lose his determination. It doesn’t matter how many enemies he has to cut through – nothing is going to stop him now, not when he’s so close to his goal, not when they’re so close to defeating Xemnas, not when he’s so close to finding Riku and Kairi again. Another wave spawns and he’s ruthless with them, every movement efficient and designed to take out the most Heartless possible.

Sora jumps back as suddenly a wave of darts comes down, each one strong enough to take out a Heartless by itself. He knows those darts – Sora traces their source to the same balcony as before.

“Have you been a good boy?” a mocking voice calls, the empty air ridiculing the way that Sora’s hair is suddenly standing on end.

“Show yourself!” Sora yells, trying to channel some bravado into his voice to hide how he’s shaking. “Is hiding the only thing you Organisation lackeys do?”

The Organisation member appears out of a dark corridor. He looks the same as he did in the Land of Dragons, eyepatch covering his face, and hair pulled back into a long ponytail.

“Ahh, the hero thinks he’s cute,” Xigbar chides. He leans against the balcony and Sora resists the urge to leap up towards him. If his Nobodies are anything to go by, Xigbar can probably jump through space as well. There’s no need to go to him, when he can come down and fight at any time. Sora needs to be on his guard for any sneaky moves he might try to pull.

“Where are my friends?” Sora demands. “I know you have Kairi!”

“The Princess isn’t too fond of her cage,” Xigbar says lightly. “She managed to escape, but I don’t fancy her odds against the denizens of this castle. You’ve fought your way here… do you think she will be able to do the same?”

Sora’s heart goes tight in his chest. The enemies here are tough – and he has Donald and Goofy by his side.

Xigbar continues as if he hasn’t seen the fear in Sora’s expression. “Roxas… your heart is strong. I guess that’s why you can wield the Keyblade. I don’t know who gave it to you, but in the end they don’t matter. Your journey ends here.”

“Roxas?” Sora asks, throat tight all of a sudden. The familiar way Xigbar says it makes him angry.

Xigbar ignores him. “But if you’re the best the Keyblade can come up with… well, once you’re gone, the Worlds really won’t stand a chance. You’re nothing compared to all the others I’ve seen. Has the legacy of the Keyblade really fallen so far, that the only one left is in the hands of some brat?”

Others… does he mean King Mickey? Sora thinks. And he knows what happened to Kairi! “Are you going to start making sense any time soon? I asked you already – where are my friends?” Did he… know Roxas?

“He used to give me that same angry look,” Xigbar muses. “Your friends – well, they’re in a bit of a tough spot. But that won’t matter to you for very much longer, traitor: your time is up.”

He summons his weapons, two formidable looking arrowguns. They click heavily, and Xigbar hefts them, crouching.

“Get ready!” Goofy shouts. Sora hefts his Keyblade as Xigbar jumps from the railing. He can come up with questions later – for now, he needs all his concentration to fight.


 

Kairi opens her eyes groggily. Her leg is numb, and as she twists she makes a face when pins and needles start to rush down it. She sits up from where she’d been sprawled uncomfortably on the floor, and looks around.

It looks like she’s on a balcony of some sort. There’s a single corridor that leads away, and a railing that she can’t see over since she’s on the ground. She gingerly gets her feet under her, ignoring how her leg protests, and doesn’t go any closer to the edge when she sees what’s beyond it. It’s a sheer drop into the ominous chasm that sits below the castle. No way does she want to get anywhere near that.

A single beam of light in the sky connects the floating castle to the sprawled city that’s on land. She wonders if it’s a bridge. Would they even need a bridge? Every Nobody she’s seen has just warped out of thin air. Having a floating castle in the middle of the sky wouldn’t exactly be a problem for them.

Kairi turns back towards the corridor. It continues further into the depths of the castle. There’s no sign of anything moving there, but that hardly means it’s empty. She swallows; she could wait here and hope that Riku finds her again, but who knows where Xemnas had sent him. She can’t afford to stay put.

Her eye catches on something beside the edge of the entrance, sitting on the balcony. She gingerly approaches it, then stares when she realises that it’s a treasure chest. She crouches down and tries to lift the lid, but it’s locked.

“Keyblade…” she murmurs to herself. She brings her hand up and squints at it, imagining Destiny’s Embrace in her grasp. It arrives in a swirl of golden light and flowers. “Okay, I’m going to look stupid but I’m the only one here, so it doesn’t count.”

She points the Keyblade at the chest. Nothing seems to happen, so she jiggles it a bit, like if she was unlocking her front door at home. But when she leans down, it’s still locked.

“Okay, come on,” she says. She holds Destiny’s Embrace out and moves it forward, like she’s putting it into a keyhole. She accidentally touches the chest, and it chimes open. “Huh. Well, I was making that too complicated.”

Inside the chest is a strangely shaped bottle, full of green liquid. She recognises it as a potion, but not which type exactly. Normally a basic potion is all you needed on the islands. Anything else was kept in the medical centre.

Still, it’s good to have. She tucks it inside one of her two pockets and wishes that she’d worn her cargo pants when she’d gone to the beach that day.

Chest looted, she turns to enter the corridor. She can see that it opens into a wider room further down, and she sneaks as quietly as she can the whole way. Destiny’s Embrace is still in her hand, because its warmth drives back the chill of this place. The room at the end of the corridor is empty. There’s a ramp that leads to a higher level at the back, and a small ramp down that leads to a water feature and a dead end.

“Up,” she decides, even though it’s not much of a decision. There’s only one path. But saying that makes her feel better.

As soon as she steps into the room, three holes are carved into the air. Out of them come three of the white wriggly things that had stalked past her cage so many times. She supposes that they must be Nobodies too, though a different type.  

“Ahh!” she yells as they approach. Her Keyblade suddenly moves in her hand, all on its own, and points to the closest one. Kairi narrows her eyes. “So that’s how it is, is it?”

Riku had said that most of it would come naturally, and she is sure as hell leaning on that now. She runs towards the closest one and hits it like she’s hitting a home run with a baseball bat. The creature doesn’t flinch, instead reaching out with strange, pulsating limbs. Kairi backpedals, attention flicking towards the two other enemies that are quickly approaching.

“Okay, time to call on those netball skills,” she mutters to herself. Can’t let the opponents touch her. Can’t let them get the ball. Except this time she’ll be hitting them with the ball. Okay, this metaphor is not helping her much.

“Yah!” she yells as she dives to the side to escape one of the things as it flips upside down and looks like it’s going to try and smack her around. She hits another one over the head with her Keyblade and scrambles away as it lurches forward. These things don’t move naturally at all.

She runs around in a circle, hitting once or twice and then backing off. If this is a war of attrition, she’s going to play like she doesn’t know the other side’s resources. And she doesn’t. The only thing she knows is that she thinks these things are Nobodies, like the things that were with Saïx. Riku defeated them with one blow with his Keyblade. That means they can be defeated. She holds onto that as she pants, watching all three of them carefully.

She tries out a combo attack – she might not have fought with the others too much (she’d always been more of a ref), but she knows the basics, and this Keyblade is about the shape of those wooden swords they always played with. She doesn’t try Riku’s overhand, instead falling into a crouch that’s more reminiscent of Sora. That… feels better. Slightly more confident, she jumps forward and lands another combo. The Nobody disappears under her final hit, dissolving into nothing but leaving some strange bubbles behind on the floor where it had been standing.

“Yes!” she shouts. “Suck on that.”

She twirls to see where the other two are, but one’s already on top of her. She cries out in pain as it buffets her with its arms, landing several attacks as she’s trapped in a stun. When it’s finished she stumbles back, dizzy. She can’t quite see straight, but she can see that both the remaining wriggly things are coming for her.

“I’m not… going down that easily…” she pants. She waits until one of them has attacked, and then lands a combo on it. Hit and run is nerve wracking and takes ages, but it gets the job done. She takes out another enemy, and is left with one more. She lands hits against it, expecting each one to be the last, but it doesn’t disappear. Frustrated, she tries to dart out of the range of an attack but stumbles instead, her exhaustion catching up to her. It lands, and she cries out in pain, staggering back. She leans on her Keyblade as she feels a drip of blood slide down her temple.

With a yell, she channels most of her remaining energy and steps forward to land a single hit. The Nobody dissolves, and she falls down into a puddle, breath harsh in her throat. How strong are the enemies here? And how strong is Riku, that he could take out those giant things with Saïx in just one hit?

She fumbles out her potion and drinks it. It’s cool and leaves a minty aftertaste, but almost immediately she can feel her energy returning. She stands up and shakily wipes away the blood that had dripped down her face, but the potion has already sealed the wound.

“One battle down, one potion used.” And now she doesn’t have anything else as a backup. She looks around the room and sees another chest at the bottom of the small ramp that leads down towards the water feature. She clenches her jaw and looks up at the continuing path. There’s going to be more battles that way, she can tell. She hopes that walking down to that chest won’t trigger another fight, but if it does, proceeding is going to make that happen anyway. At least this way, she might get another potion from that chest.

She creeps down towards it, heart in her throat. She can’t bring herself to send Destiny’s Embrace away – what if it doesn’t come back? Then she really would be useless. And stuck.

Nothing else spawns, and she pokes the chest with her Keyblade. It opens, and her heart falls as she sees that there’s no potion inside. Instead, it’s a glimmering bracelet, silver with beautiful blue gems set around the edges. When she touches it, she can tell that there’s a twinkle of magic in it.

She puts it on, and feels safer. “Maybe better than a potion in the long run,” she muses. While that might be true, the long run doesn’t count for very much if she can’t survive the short term. Facing off against those three enemies has given her a bit of confidence in her own strength – she knows she can win a fight. And she knows about how much effort she needs to put into defeating those things. But almost scarier knowing just how strong they are. Yes, she can take them down – eventually. But it had been a close call.   

“What if I come across something besides that type, though?” It’s a sobering thought. But just like before, she has two options. She could wait here for someone to find her. And there’s no way of knowing if that someone is friendly or not. Xemnas sent her here, and he might send someone to find her and put her in that cage again. That sounds like a really good reason to get as far away from here as she possibly can. So really, there’s no choice at all.

“Guess I’m going ahead,” she says out loud. Hearing a voice in this place makes it seem a little bit more familiar, even if it’s only her own. The complete silence of it otherwise is too eerie. “I hope there are more potions soon, though. I think I’m going to need them.”

She returns to ramp that leads upwards and takes a deep breath before starting up it. There’s no turning back now.


 

Riku makes another dark portal and leaps through it, skipping finding a door and just pushing through the wall of the castle instead. The room is empty, and he chokes down a wave of panic as he summons another portal and emerges in another room. Still empty. Still no sign of Kairi.

Naminé had told him where Kairi was – this form of his smothers his senses, and he’s only ever been good at scenting darkness, anyway. Kairi’s light is lost to him.

Surely, Xemnas wouldn’t have sent her far away. He must still want her as bait for his plan to lure Sora in, but Sora is already here. Riku’s worst fear lurks at the back of his mind, that Xemnas had just sent Kairi to the depths below to be devoured by the nothing and the darkness that seeps into this place. The only thing keeping him from panicking completely is the tiny voice in his head that assures him that he would have felt the spark of her light die. She’s still out there. He has to believe that.

He’s so glad he gave her the Keyblade. She’s always been quick to defend herself with her words, but she needs something more than that here. If she’s smart she’ll stay in one place for him to find her, but it’s never been in her nature to sit still. Riku tears through this giant castle, hood heavy over his head, and prays to whatever force might be listening that he finds her quickly. Kingdom Hearts is hanging in the sky – he hopes that Kairi is taking strength from its light.

He rips another wall open, runs through another empty room. It’s only when a dark corridor opens in front of him that he skids to a stop.

“An uninvited intruder… how rude.” A man with a beard and blond hair steps through. He’s wearing the Organisation cloak and Riku bunches his hands into fists. Kairi is out there, alone, while he’s here playing stupid games, dealing with Organisation members who just want to stall him.  

“Move,” he says shortly. “I have no quarrel with you.”

“But I have been ordered to take you out,” he says. “My name is Luxord. And you’ve upset my Superior.”

“Too bad,” Riku snarls, whipping his Keyblade out. He’s never considered himself impatient, but it nips at him now, fear and worry driving his actions.

“You gambled and won against Roxas, but lost against the darkness,” Luxord muses. “I wonder if that game was ever finished – or if the odds continue to hang, suspended. Tell me, even now are you still fighting the darkness?”

“I’ll show you a loss,” Riku says, hefting his Keyblade angrily. He doesn’t have time for this – ironic, then, that the Organisation member that found him is the one that governs time. Luxord grins.

“If that’s how you want to play the game; but just know that the cards are fickle. You cannot predict the outcome even if you do win a bet. I’ll place a wager that you didn’t expect to live long past capturing Roxas, and yet, here you are. Was that face just something else you didn’t predict?”

“Shut up!” Riku yells. He darts forward and tries to slash through him, but Luxord spins in place, body becoming as thin as a card for a second as he dodges. Riku resists the urge to shudder – Nobodies are all so wrong. Naminé might have been different, but all the Nobodies of the Organisation should never have existed in the first place.

“Do you know the rules?” Luxord asks, disappearing. Riku grits his teeth, but fine. They were going to have to take care of him anyway – might as well make that time now. He’ll just have to make this fast.

Riku cuts down the cards that fly through the air at him, and blasts down others with dark firaga. Luxord escapes his reach until Riku finally channels his darkness and appears in front of him, hammering out a combo that he can’t dodge. Luxord retaliates by swirling around and hitting Riku with two giant cards, and Riku wants to say that he looks ridiculous, but it’s effective.

They work around each other for a few more minutes, Riku blasting him with fire or hitting him with Way to the Dawn when he gets in close, and Luxord throwing down cards, exploding cards, hitting Riku with cards. Riku throws a potion up over himself and grimaces as Luxord blocks them into a tiny arena, giant cards blocking the way out.

“I’ve had enough of this game!” Riku yells at him. It’s easy enough to cut the cards in two, and he slices through the lot of them. He casts fire at the ground, and blue-black flames race over the fodder that Luxord has conveniently given him. “Let’s see how you play now.”

“The best dealers always have a deck up their sleeve,” Luxord replies.

“I’m not playing by your rules anymore,” Riku growls. He puts a little more magic into the fire and it blazes hot, disintegrating everything left in the area that isn’t the two of them. The dark fire sucks at his mana, but he steels his will against it, gritting his teeth.

Riku launches a final, blistering attack, pummelling at Luxord. The Nobody tries to summon a card in front of him to block it, but Riku slices through both of them. When he looks back, dark smoke is curling around Luxord.

“A man on a mission… but know that you cannot escape this game, no matter how much you might try.”

Riku says nothing as he watches the Nobody fade. He takes a breath and turns to walk into the next room. He has to find Kairi.


 

Sora keeps his jaw clenched as they ascend the castle. It’s not a choice; he wants to open his mouth, talk through what he’s feeling, figure out what is going on, but there’s a hard knot in his chest that won’t let him.

“Sora…” Donald says as they go through a rest area. Sora sits in the gold light of a rest point and tries to just breathe. Xigbar didn’t know anything. It’s fine. It’s fine.

Why did you call me Roxas?

Ha… you already know.

“Sora, are you feeling okay?” Goofy asks, concern clear in his voice.

Sora forcibly pries his teeth apart. “Fine,” he says shortly, which probably conveys the exact opposite of the word. “I just have this feeling – I know where I’m going.” He jumps to his feet and shakes off his friends’ hands as they try to get him to sit down again. “I know where we are,” he tells them, even though he can’t remember ever coming here before. “And there’s this feeling in my chest… I need to follow it.”

“Are you sure, Sora?” Goofy asks. “We don’t have much time, remember? The King is waiting for us, further inside the castle.”

“We’re going further inside,” Sora says. “Just, follow me.”

“Okay,” Donald agrees after a second. “But we should go slowly. This might be another trick of the Organisation!”

Sora nods, but only to calm both of them down. He knows that this feeling comes from inside him. Now he just has to follow it. Even if he doesn’t know what waits on the other end, he cannot ignore the ache in his chest.

They cut through corridors and vast, empty rooms. Sora has no idea why this castle is so large, if there’s nothing inside to fill it. There aren’t any pictures on the walls, there aren’t any bright and colourful decorations anywhere. Even the scant furniture they pass seems to be utilitarian to the point of harshness – seats with sharp corners, and not a cushion in sight. What’s the point of having a place to live, if you don’t fill it with things that make you happy? He supposes that it’s just another sign of Organisation XIII’s lack of hearts – even though there’s this niggling doubt inside him, now that he thinks of that.

He comes to a halt in front of a door in another bland corridor. Something about this one is different. He stares at it as he listens to the patter of feet as Donald and Goofy catch up to him. It looks exactly the same as any other door in this hall, and this corridor looks like every other one he’s run through. He puts a hand on the handle and swallows, some kind of feeling twisting up his spine.

Sora pushes open the door and freezes.

Inside is a white room. It looks identical to every other room they’ve passed, but there’s an uncomfortable looking bed in the middle of it. There isn’t a speck of individuality about the place, but Sora knows better. Dreamily, he drifts across the room and slides a drawer out from under the bench, something you wouldn’t know was there until someone showed you.

Inside the drawer is a journal.

Sora stares at it for longer than he should before he picks it up. He knew this was going to be here – some part of him is saying this is his. And it might belong to a part of him, but not the whole. A different heartbeat thrums under his skin, and Sora’s fingers go lax around the diary. It falls to the ground with a soft thump as he puts a hand to his head. This is his room – but who is he?

Goofy and Donald manage to cushion his fall to the ground as he drops like a stone.

Chapter Text

Kairi jumps a little on the spot to hype herself up for the next battle. She’s been walking down a strange corridor that seems to warp and move while she continues to walk in a straight line – she hasn’t put much thought into it because she needs to focus on defeating the enemies. That’s more important than trying to figure out this weird castle.

She hasn’t given any of the enemies names. She doesn’t care about the dark stones and the twilit gems they drop. Her only goal is moving forward, and keeping an eye out for any chests along the way that can help her survive.

She’s got one potion and four bottles filled with a dark blue liquid she can’t name. She’d found another ring, and a belt, and the accessories sharpen her senses. The ring must have had some sort of strange enchantment on it, because in one fight she’d been certain that she was about to die, but the ring had engulfed her in a golden light and she’d been restored to full strength again, feeling fresh and ready dive back into the battle. She’s trying not to think about what that might have meant, but the ring had vanished from her hand. She wants to say that she’d been more careful after that, but she can’t afford to lose anymore. She has to take chances.

Riku, Sora, where are you?

She’d found Riku, and she’d have given anything to be reunited with them again, but to have it ripped from her grasp after one conversation seems especially cruel. Her heart yearns to see them again – to see Sora, to make sure he’s okay. Saïx had said he was within the Organisation’s grasp – Riku had said that he was in this world… She needs to see him with her own eyes.

She walks into the next fight with Sora on her mind. She’s fought enough of the wriggly Nobodies that she’s got their weak points down – now it only takes a few strikes from the Keyblade to get rid of them, to step in the strange bubbles they leave behind and feel as they seep into her skin. The things that hide in the ground are a hell of a lot more of a problem – she learned the hard way that she has to wait for the right opening before taking them on. One of those had been the thing that had… made her ring restore her health.

The tiny things that melt into swords are more troublesome than anything else. She’s only come across those three types of enemies, and she’s pretty certain that if she has to fight anything else she’s not going to be able to. Riku had used fire, and she’d tried waving her Keyblade around a bit, but she hadn’t been able to cast any magic. She’s always been more of a bash them over the head kinda girl anyway – but having some ranged options certainly wouldn’t hurt. She’s been stretching every thought she’s ever had about combat to just get through these fights, and she’s pretty sure her learning curve is basically off the charts. She feels like she must have spent days down here, learning and fighting these things.  

She defeats all the enemies in this area, and picks up one of strange grey stones that they leave behind. It feels chill in her hand, but if she can use it somehow she doesn’t know how. She puts it in her pocket, just in case. One also dropped a potion, and she greedily swallows it, the gentle green soothing her injuries. She’s drank more potions today than she has otherwise in her whole life.

Her steps become more cautious as she approaches the end of the warped corridor. It looks like another balcony, but at least ten times as large as the one she had landed on. She leans out. Nothing immediately jumps to try and eat her face, so she steps forward.

“You’ve got to be freaking kidding me,” she says, dismayed. There are two large pipes running up the side of the wall, but besides that the balcony is empty, with nowhere else for her to go. No doors, no bridges. It’s a dead end.

She’s trapped.

Kairi leans against the wall and then slowly slides down it, until she can wrap her arms around her knees. After coming all this way – fighting her way through who knows how many enemies, after figuring out how to open chests with her Keyblade, after getting here – that’s it? Now she has to sit here? That’s it?

She holds her hand out and summons her Keyblade. It chimes gently as it fills her grasp, her palm warming immediately. “Is this all we’re good for?” Kairi asks it sadly. “Waiting, again?”

The Keyblade doesn’t reply, but if it had she would have been more concerned for her wellbeing than she currently is. She dispels it, and sighs as she looks up. The pipes continue up for as long as she can see, running along the side of the castle like an exposed artery.

The distinct sound of a dark portal opening gives her the chance to spring to her feet and summon her Keyblade. Saïx steps out of the portal, and if she had to give a name to the expression on his face she’d have to say that it was… annoyed. Good. He deserves to be annoyed.

“Kairi,” he says tersely. “I wondered what was destroying the lesser Nobodies.”

“Back off!” Kairi yells at him, slashing her Keyblade down for added affect. “Don’t come any closer.”

Saïx’s expression doesn’t change. “You managed to defeat quite the number of Nobodies… but how well will you do now?”

He clicks, and three of the large things with giant hammers spawn into existence. Kairi bends her knees, but panic is sharp in her throat – she doesn’t think she’ll be able to defeat these things. And then she’ll be at Saïx’s mercy…

Still, she launches herself at the closest one, only to bounce back as its hammer deflects her strike. Staggered, she tries to catch her balance as they approach her. Saïx has teleported himself to a small shelf above the doorway she came through, probably just to watch her suffer.

She runs around to try and attack the back of these things, but suddenly one of them swings in a giant arc, catching her straight on and throwing her back. She rolls with the fall and comes back up to her feet, only to leap to the side to avoid a slamming attack. Except a shockwave curls out and catches her, sending her sprawling. Kairi digs a potion out of her pocket and uses it, feeling the temporary green glow of health before she dodges the next attack. She jumps over the shockwave this time, and finds herself near one of them – she lands a combo on it and it retaliates, sending her back to slam against the wall of the balcony. She leans against it as she struggles to stand up again, head ringing from the impact. But she has to stand up. There’s no other choice.

She hoists her Keyblade and faces the enemies head on. She’s panting but if this really is it then she’s not going to be caught lying down.

One of them jumps up to do the hammering attack again and she lifts her Keyblade in an instinctive guard, even though she knows it won’t be enough. It reaches its peak and she watches as it begins its downward fall.

“No!”

The hammer hits a glimmering, sparkling shield, and Kairi can’t help but gasp as Riku slashes through the Nobodies, felling them with one blow just like he did earlier. He throws an arm up and Kairi puts a hand against her forehead as the coolness of a potion washes over her.

“You!” Saïx spits. He leaps down from his perch and Riku appears by Kairi’s side again. He puts a hand on her shoulder and Kairi resists the urge to hug him. “Are you going to continue to appear at the most inconvenient times?”

“If I can be inconvenient to you, then I’m doing something right,” Riku says, voice still rumbling and low. It’s the best thing she’s heard all day. “Kairi, are you okay?”

“A whole lot better now that you’re here,” Kairi says, grinning.

Riku points his Keyblade at Saïx. “You’re delusional if you think you’re walking out of here – there’s no way you can continue to mess around with my friends.” He looks back at her. “Kairi, stay back and let me handle this.”

“No way!” Kairi says. “I’m here, and I’m going to fight too. What did I say about not leaving my side again?”

“You could not even defeat the Nobodies I summoned,” Saïx sneers. “What makes you think you can stand against me?”

Kairi tightens her grip on her Keyblade and falls into her ready stance. “Well for starters, those things didn’t keep me in a cage!”

Saïx reaches out, and a strangely shaped claymore appears. It’s blue and yellow and shaped like the moon; Kairi looks up at Riku for support and he nods. “Stay by my side and follow my lead,” he urges.

“No matter what happens here, fate cannot be eluded,” Saïx intones. “You have arrived far too late to change things now.”

“You’re wrong!” Kairi shouts. “We’ll show you what we think of your ‘fate’.”

“Kairi’s right,” Riku challenges. “We’ll defeat you – and then Xemnas is next.”

“We’ll see,” Saïx murmurs. “Moon, shine down!”


 

He wakes up slowly. He lets out a heavy breath, a sharp pain in his head taking up all of his newfound awareness. There’s some noise in the background, but he can’t parse it into something meaningful.

He blinks open his eyes. Blank, white ceiling – normal. He must have fallen asleep again. How many days has it been this time? He tilts his head to see how many seashells are lying beside him, but squints in confusion when there aren’t any. When he turns his head in the other direction, there aren’t any there, either. Maybe he’d just been asleep for one night like normal, then. Otherwise X–

“Ugh,” he says, putting a hand on his head. “What…?”

“Sora? Are you awake?”

He freezes, then jolts upright. At the end of his bed there’s… there’s…

Donald… Goofy…

He knows their names; he’s never seen them before; they’re his friends; who is he – ?

“Sora, are you okay?”

Sora.

A wave of bitterness crashes over him and Sora gasps like he’s coming up for air after a particularly long dive. He’s lying in his bed – no, in Roxas’s bed. He buries his head in his hands and swallows, a scattering of memories bombarding him from every direction. Doing missions – eating ice cream with Axel – holding the twin blades of Oathkeeper and Oblivion and fighting Riku – standing, resigned, in front of a pod holding Sora.

“Oh,” he says. It feels like such an empty word, like he’s just trying to fill up space because leaving it vacant is too much when he feels like there’s a hole inside him. Roxas.

“Sora, answer us!”

“I’m…” He doesn’t even know how to finish that. Good is just a flat out lie. Broken is probably something they don’t want to hear. Hollow or mismatched is probably the most accurate, but they won’t understand what he means. “I can hear you.”

It’s not an answer. He sees Donald and Goofy trade a concerned look, but he’s too caught up in his own head to be able to deal with it. It’s not – fair. He didn’t ask for this. Roxas didn’t deserve this. He puts a hand over his heart but he can’t feel anything different, now that he knows. That’s not fair either. He should feel like something’s different.

“Are you really gone?” he asks himself. Roxas had been the one to drag him down within himself when they entered this world – and Sora had fought back, had given him no ground, had pushed him down and refused to lose. He wonders if he’d be able to take Roxas’s Oathkeeper now that he knows what it means.

Donald paces at the end of the bed, clearly concerned if how he’s muttering to himself means anything. Goofy is standing a bit closer, and Sora looks up at him, eyes wide and begging some sort of reassurance.

“I looked through the book that you found,” a tinny voice says. On the bench behind Goofy, Jiminy is paging through Roxas’s diary, flipping one page at a time by grabbing the edge and jumping with it. “I think it used to belong to one of the Organisation members that got eliminated.”

Sora leaps out of bed and snatches the diary up, slamming it closed. Roxas doesn’t deserve to have his thoughts paged through so casually. “It was,” he says, clipped. He gently puts it into one of his more protected pockets, the ones that seem to be bottomless. He slips it inside and it disappears somehow, but he knows that if he wants it, it’s only a thought away. He puts a hand out and Jiminy jumps up on it. Sora lifts him to his shoulder and then starts to walk towards the door.

“Sora, maybe we should rest for a while,” Goofy suggests. Sora can’t imagine anything worse than sitting still and contemplating the life he’d ended just by needing to wake up. It’s like there’s a cold, hard shard lodged in his chest. Everything is still settling, but he can tell which memories belong to Roxas and which belong to him. There is a difference, even if it’s only slight. But he has access to Roxas’s memories, and when he thinks about the layout of this castle, information pops up to rest at his fingertips.

“We need to keep moving,” he tells them. “There’s a short cut up ahead – we can skip most of the interior of the castle and head up to the main tower top. That’s where Xemnas is going to be. It’s the closest place to his Kingdom Hearts.”

“Huh? How do you know that, Sora?”

Sora doesn’t answer Donald’s question. Donald lets out a quiet quack of dismay that Sora has to turn his face away from to ignore. There’s so much jumbled up inside him – he can’t let anything distract him, because he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to wrench himself out of his memories fast enough if he falls into them.

The halls and staircases are all familiar to him now – he cuts across one room, opens a door, heads down a level, cuts across another three hallways, and ascends the steps there, trying not to think too much the whole time. He knows this, now. He just doesn’t want to think about how he knows it.

He can almost imagine how heavy Roxas’s diary is in his pocket. And the Keychain Roxas had given him… his chest aches.

He comes out into an open hall, and halts half way across it as a dark portal spawns. He summons his Keyblade, expecting another Organisation member, but instead two different figures step out.

“Why Pete, it looks like we’ve reached the appropriate place,” Maleficent says.

“I dunno, there’s some twerps here that’re going to make things pretty ugly.”

Sora swallows back down a wave of memories of Pete messing around in Agrabah, and shakes his head.

“What are you two doing here?” Donald demands.

“Are you teaming up with the Organisation?” Goofy asks.

“Of course not,” Maleficent sniffs. “As if we would do something like that with a group that is so below us. No, we are simply intending to… claim this castle as our own.”

“House hunting?” Sora asks dryly. Despite himself, he feels the corner of his mouth quirk up in a smile.

“Huh? Don’t be dumb!” Pete says. “We’re conquering, that’s what.”

“Sounds like squatting to me,” Donald says lowly.

“What was that?” Pete demands.

“Silence!” Maleficent says. “Our intentions are of no interest to you. Unless you intend to stand against them?”

Sora exchanges a look with his friends and resists the urge to snigger. “Nope, no need to factor us in. But you might want to look into pest extermination – there’s a lot of Heartless and Nobodies hanging around here.”

“I told ya!” Pete grouses.

“We can easily deal with them,” Maleficent sniffs. “Now if you truly have no desire to stand against us, leave this place.”

Sora nods. “Sure thing. Let’s go, guys.”

As they jog away, Goofy looks over his shoulder. “Are you sure about letting them go, Sora?”

“Yeah,” Sora says. “They’ll probably be way more of a nuisance to Organisation XIII than to us. And if they take out some Heartless and Nobodies, that’s less for us to deal with. Plus we don’t want to waste any energy fighting them, do we?”

“I guess so,” Donald quacks. “But there’s no way they’ll actually be able to take over the castle.”

“Wonder if they’d stop getting in our way if they did,” Goofy comments. “Well, I suppose we gotta just wait and see.”

“I suppose so,” Sora says quietly. He pushes open another door, takes another shortcut, and wonders where Riku and Kairi are. If he’s going to push on – it’s for them. He wants to see them, so badly his heart aches with it.

Where are you?


 

Kairi watches as the claymore falls from Saïx’s hands. She knows how it feels in her hands – knows the red haze that comes with it. Does Saïx feel that, all the time? Can he feel it?

“No…” he reaches up, to the moon shining in the sky. “Kingdom Hearts… where… is my heart…”

Black smoke engulfs him and he fades from view. It’s almost like how Naminé disappeared earlier, but Kairi can’t help but compare Saïx’s black smoke to Naminé’s blinding light.

“He’s gone?” Kairi asks, looking to Riku for confirmation. He nods, and a rush of relief pours over her. She leans down and rests her palms on her knees, exhausted. She’d fought her way here, and Saïx hadn’t exactly been a pushover.

Riku turns his head a few times, searching the area. “I can’t sense him anymore.” He turns to her. “Kairi… you fought really well.”

Kairi manages to find enough energy to smile shakily at him. “Thanks. I’m pretty tired now, though. And you saved my ass a lot of times.”

“Do you want another potion?” Riku asks, concerned. Kairi has no idea how he has any potions left. She feels like he’d done nothing but throw them her way during the fight. She’d been able to take one hit from Saïx, but no more than that. It’s lucky that she’d discovered that grabbing the discarded claymores granted her a time of invulnerability.

Kairi shakes her head. “I don’t think this is the type of tiredness that a potion can fix. I need a really, really, long nap.”

Riku nods, even though she can hardly see it. She steps up and Riku tenses as she pulls his hood down again. It’s still a shock to see his face. Honestly, every time he speaks she has to remind herself not to turn and ask who’s there. But Riku’s heart beats beneath the layers, and that’s all that matters.

“You amaze me,” she says gently, and Riku looks away.

“Don’t. I haven’t done anything… that you should praise.”

“Riku, stop being silly,” Kairi chides him. “I’d talk more sense into you now, but we have to go and find Sora. Who knows what type of trouble he’s gotten into without us? Can you find him?”

“I should be able to.” Riku closes his eyes and Kairi studies the rise of his nose, the new shape of his jaw. He holds out a hand and a dark portal swirls into view.

“How do you do that?” Kairi asks.

“It’s something I learned in the last year,” Riku says, turning his face away. “This should take us to a place near Sora.”

“Then let’s go!” Kairi says, energy welling up from within her. “I want to see Sora!”

She grabs Riku’s hand, but he uses his newfound height and weight against her, keeping them both in place.

“Kairi…” he says. “When we get there, you should go out and see Sora.”

“Obviously,” Kairi says, staring at him.

“You don’t understand,” Riku mumbles. “I don’t want to see him.”

Kairi looks at him. Riku looks at the nearby wall. Kairi purses her mouth.  

“Just like you didn’t want me to see you?” she asks. “Riku. I saw you. I knew you. Sora should as well, as long as he takes a moment to think about it.”

“This face used to be the face of his enemy!” Riku argues. “It’s the face of the enemy that I let inside… that I trusted. Sora shouldn’t want to see me.” He bows his head. “He’d be doing the right thing by avoiding me.”

“Stop being ridiculous,” Kairi says, resisting the urge to smack him. “Saying Sora won’t want to see you is like saying there’s only one world! He’s going to be ecstatic when we meet up – just absolutely off the wall excited. It doesn’t matter what you look like.”

Riku’s jaw clenches, and he doesn’t say anything.

“Far out,” Kairi mutters. “Boys. All idiots.” She takes a breath. “Fine!” she says, louder. “You can lurk in the shadows all you like, but I want to see Sora. Are you coming or not?”

“I’ll come,” Riku mumbles, sounding slightly chastised. But his expression hasn’t changed, and she knows that he hasn’t changed his mind. Kairi is still holding his hand, so it’s easy to tug him forward. This time he comes, but she can tell that he’s reluctant.

She stubbornly drags him forward anyway. Going through the portal is as strange as ever – she squints against the shifting light that seems to beckon her further into its depths. It’s easy to ignore, with Riku holding her hand, and Sora somewhere ahead.

She steps out into another featureless, white room. Does this place even have anything else? She walks forward, eyes automatically flicking about to find any movement, listening for the soft slide as an enemy appears out of thin air.

“Sora?” she yells, because if she gets any attention she doesn’t want Riku is right there – and she wants to draw Sora’s attention.

There’s a pause before a dumbfounded shout answers her. “Kairi!

She sprints towards the corridor that his voice had come from, and when she’s almost there he bursts out of it. She boggles at him even as she flies towards him and they smash together, arms grabbing and clutching and holding desperately.

“You’re so tall!” Kairi laughs as Sora swings her around before bringing her close and hugging her tightly.

“Me? What about you?” Sora asks, sounding shocked. “You’re so – different.”

Kairi leans back enough so that she can see his face. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, huh?”

“Yeah,” Sora says, quieter. “But you’re here now… Kairi, I’m so glad to see you.”

She lays her head on his shoulder and sighs in relief. “I’m so glad to see you. There were times in the last year where sometimes, I thought you weren’t even real… that I’d dreamed you up. Everyone else couldn’t remember you, but I knew that something was wrong. That someone was missing. You and Riku never came home, so I came looking for you.”

“Oh,” Sora says. He blinks at her and looks away. “I’m sorry.”

She hugs him tighter. “Don’t be. What matters now is that we’re together again.” Sora is here, with her – it doesn’t feel real. She’s pined for so long, that having him within the grasp of her arms feels like a fantasy.

“We’re together, so now we gotta find Riku,” Sora tells her. Warmth fills her at the steely determination in his voice. She releases him and it’s gratifying to see that he’s so focused – that he wants to find Riku, just as much as she had wanted to.

“Good news,” she grins. “He’s already with me.”

“Huh?” Sora asks, his expression turning to something she can’t help but giggle at. “Riku’s here? Where?!”

“Riku!” she calls out, because she knew he wouldn’t have gone very far. “Come on, don’t keep Sora waiting!”

Nothing happens. Sora sucks in a breath. “Riku?” he calls, gently. If Kairi didn’t know any better, she’d say that he knows why Riku is afraid to come out. “Riku… please. Are you there?”

Very slowly, a hooded figure turns the corner of the room. Sora points a finger at him.

“Hey! So it was you in the Land of Dragons! You didn’t have to be so shady, you know! You could have just told me what was wrong.”

“I didn’t think you’d take any warning from me,” Riku says quietly. Sora doesn’t react to his voice – actually, he hadn’t even mentioned his height, which is… weird, after he’d made such a big deal of how much Kairi had grown.

“Well, I still thought it was you,” Sora says. He takes a step forward. “It… is you, right? Riku?”

Riku is still hovering, so close and yet so far away. For a few seconds Kairi almost thinks he’s going to reject his name, and her hearts hurts for him. But then he takes a stiff step forward. “It is me, Sora.”

Sora flashes forward so fast that Kairi almost can’t follow him with her eyes. He grabs him in a hug as well, and even from here Kairi sees how tight it is. “Riku!” he exclaims. Kairi doesn’t hesitate, running forward as well. Riku sees her coming and reaches out for her with one arm. Kairi puts an arm around both of them and Riku’s arm wraps around her, holding her close.

“You can put your hood down, you know,” Sora says. Riku doesn’t move.

“Riku…” Kairi says gently. She wriggles until she finds one of Sora’s hands, and lays it over Riku’s heart. “Sora, you can feel his light, can’t you? Close your eyes, and you’ll be able to see.”

Sora looks between them, but he does as she asks.

“His light is dimmer than normal,” Sora says quietly. “But it’s still there, and I can still tell that it’s his. Riku, whatever you’re scared of… it’s okay.”

His eyes are so earnest, so understanding, that in that moment Kairi would have shown him anything he asked, spilled her deepest secrets, if he’d been looking at her. Almost in slow motion, Riku lifts his hand and pulls down his hood, baring his face. His eyes are turned to the side, but Sora calls his name again, so softly that Kairi wouldn’t have heard it if she hadn’t been standing beside them.

Riku finally looks at him. “Sora…”

“Riku… you’re really here.” Kairi isn’t surprised to see him start tearing up – she suppose she can’t particularly blame him, not when she can feel her eyes getting wet as well. “I looked everywhere for you!”

“I didn’t want you to find me,” Riku admits. Kairi tightens her arms around both of them.

“You still could have let me know that you were okay!” Sora says, sniffling. “I was so worried!”

“You shouldn’t have been,” Riku says, looking away. “I didn’t want you to see me… not like this. I fought Ansem – I mean, Xehanort’s Heartless… in order to use the darkness. But to do that, I had to become Ansem myself.”

“So what!” Sora exclaims. Kairi winces slightly. He’s always been loud. It’s good to see that hasn’t changed, at least. “Why did you think I’d care about something like that? You’re still Riku, no matter what.” He scrubs a hand over his face. “It doesn’t matter what you look like.”

“You – you can’t,” Riku says weakly. “You can’t feel that way about me.”

Kairi looks at the tears on Sora’s face and resists the urge to smack Riku. “Too bad,” Kairi she says. “You don’t get to have a say in how we feel. We love you, Riku.”

Sora casts a grateful glance at her. “Yeah! At least Kairi knows.” He lets go, and Kairi reluctantly steps out of the embrace all three of them had been in. “Do you know what’s going on?”

“Yes,” Riku says. He looks shaken at their declarations. “We need to defeat Xemnas. I’m not sure where he is, but if we keep moving we should be able to find him.”

“Yeah,” Sora says, grinning at them both. “Together, nothing can stop us!”

Kairi opens her mouth to agree with him, but pauses as she hears the quiet whisper of enemies incoming. She’s holding her Keyblade before she can even think to consciously summon it.

“Let’s show them what we’re made of, then,” Riku says.

“Sounds like a plan,” Kairi replies, eyes flicking between the enemies that had appeared in front of them.

“Wha – Kairi, you have a Keyblade?” Sora goggles at her and at Destiny’s Embrace.

“Riku gave it to me,” Kairi grins at him. “And I’ve figured out how to use it!” She turns and lets her Keyblade drag her forward like she’d learned, slicing through the first white thing on the way past.

“Fight now, talk later!” Goofy yells from the side. Kairi can’t help but agree with him. Narrowing her eyes, she jumps forward to attack.


 

“So they’re called Nobodies,” Kairi says. She has her arms slung around her knees; Sora can’t help but find it endearing. “I suppose that makes sense, if they’re really the opposite of the Heartless.”

Sora scratches his head. “I never really thought about it too much,” he admits. “It’s just a name.”

“It still says something about them,” Riku says. Sora’s eyes are drawn back to him. He’s still wearing the Organisation cloak, but at least the hood is down now. Even if it’s Ansem’s face, Sora still wants to see him. He’d spent so long looking for Riku, that actually having him here feels like a fever dream of sorts. And it’s not that strange, seeing him with a different face. After all, he remembers when he got it.

Sora looks down at his hands as Riku keeps talking. “Nobodies are… not meant to have a continued existence. From what I’ve been able to find out, the only reason there’s so many of them now is because of the Organisation. Without a purpose, Nobodies just… fade away. The Organisation gave them that purpose.”

He knows; Xemnas had named him and claimed him, and even thinking about it makes his hair stand on end. He rubs his arms and tries to put Roxas’s memories away. It would probably be easier if they weren’t sitting in the castle that he called home.

“So there weren’t any Nobodies before the Organisation?” Kairi asks, brow furrowing slightly.

“There were, but they were rare, and faded quickly. From what I’ve learned, the Heartless only started appearing in giant droves about twelve years ago. That was when the door between realms was opened – but Sora and I closed it, with the help of King Mickey. The Heartless that are still around are mostly just remnants of that. When we take one out with the Keyblade, it should release the heart it was carrying… but instead, Xemnas has somehow made it so that all the hearts are captured and taken here, to create the Kingdom Hearts that exists in this in-between Realm.”

Kairi’s face is scrunched up in confusion. “Wait… so that moon in the sky… is Kingdom Hearts?”

“I don’t know,” Riku admits. “But I don’t think so. Sora, you saw the real Kingdom Hearts, didn’t you? And it was different to this one.”

Sora makes himself nod. “Yeah. It was far away, and shadowy, and I was focused on beating Ansem, but I did see it. It looks similar, but there’s something about it… I can tell that it’s not the real one.”

“Huh,” Kairi says. “Then what are we even trying to do here?”

“It might not be real, but it’s still powerful,” Riku says. “We need to stop Xemnas – the rest of the Organisation is already gone. If we defeat him as well, then the Nobodies should stop being created in such large numbers. Hopefully, they’d stop being a problem altogether. But I think that’d be too easy.” He sighs. “Our first step needs to be stopping Xemnas, because the Kingdom Hearts in the sky isn’t normal, and it’s trapping hearts that should be free. Then we should worry about everything else.”

Stop him… Sora bites his tongue. “It’s going to be a hard fight. The S– Xemnas is strong. Really strong.”

“If what Riku’s saying is true, then we don’t have much of a choice,” Kairi says quietly. “We have to try.”

Sora looks over at Donald and Goofy, who are on the other side of the room sorting out all their supplies. He’d taken off all his accessories and they’re all lying there, waiting to be grouped up with so that everyone has as much protection as possible. Normally Sora organises their gear, but he’d wanted to talk to Kairi and Riku too much to focus on that.

“I can’t believe you guys already defeated Saïx,” Sora says. “He was…” Someone that had humiliated him. Someone who had kept Kairi from him. Someone who had taunted him, had acted like he was better than him. Someone who had given him missions, who had called – someone bad names. Someone…?

“It was difficult,” Riku admits. “But he’s gone now. Xemnas is the only remaining member of the Organisation that we have to take down. We should try and meet up with Mickey first, before we fight him.”

“We came here with the King,” Sora tells him. “He’s here somewhere.”

Riku nods. “We’re going to need everyone to face Xemnas.”

“He’s going to be stronger than Saïx, isn’t he?” Kairi asks quietly. “Riku… was the only reason I survived that fight. He looked after me, while I mostly did nothing. I was just a distraction.”

“No you weren’t,” Riku says. “You seized those claymores – I didn’t have the courage to do that. And if you hadn’t always been on the move, ready to fight back, Saïx could have just grabbed you and left. You’ve had that Keyblade for a day, and your progress is amazing.”

“Yeah!” Sora says. “I’ve fought the Organisation members before, and they’re no push over. Getting through that fight is a really big accomplishment, Kairi.”

Kairi looks at him, and he’s unsure how to interpret the uncertainty in her face. It’s not an expression that he’s used to seeing her wearing. “Are you sure?” she asks quietly.

“Definitely,” Sora tells her. “Look – Riku is right. You’ve come so far, so quickly – who knows what you’ll be capable of in the future! And you didn’t have any supplies when Xemnas kicked you to the bottom of the castle, and you were alone, and you still made it out. I’m proud of you.”

“Even if that’s true, it doesn’t change how scared I was,” Kairi says, holding herself stiffly. Sora reaches up to lay a hand on her arm. “There were times… that I thought it was the end! And at the time I didn’t really have a choice, but now that I’m thinking of it…” She drops her head so she’s leaning against her knees. “Today was… really scary.”

“Do you think we weren’t scared, when we were thrown out of the islands?” Riku asks, voice quiet. “I don’t know about Sora, but when I woke up and neither of you were there… I was scared. I could only think about finding you again.”

“When I left Twilight Town, my only goal was to find Riku,” Sora says. “And when I learned that you were out here too… I wanted to find you as well, Kairi. We’ve been doing this for over a year now. For most of that time, you were on the islands, safe. I think it’d be weird if you weren’t freaking out.”

“Sora’s right,” Riku says. He gingerly puts a hand on Kairi’s shoulder. “Kairi… I believe that all three of us together are more powerful than all of us apart. It’s been a really long day – we should find somewhere to rest. Tomorrow, we can go after the King, and Xemnas. I just don’t know where a safe place to rest might be in this castle…”

“I know somewhere,” Sora admits. He knows the whole layout of this castle; and he knows where Xemnas rarely treads, as well. He can think of a few places that should be safe.

“Some sleep would be nice,” Kairi says. “I’ll… think about what you guys said.”

“Great!” Sora says, springing to his feet. “Now, how about we all accessory up? And share the potions we’ve got, too.”

Kairi lifts her head and smiles weakly at him, and Riku nods. The shadow over his heart lifts a bit – Riku is right. The three of them are strongest together.


 

Riku stands at the edge of the room Sora had brought them too, and thinks.

He’d volunteered to take the first watch, and the other four are sleeping. Donald and Goofy have their own tailor made sleeping bags – Sora is sharing his with Kairi, since she hadn’t had anything to sleep in (though he’d ummed and ahhed about it until Kairi had told him that she was going to sleep and that he could join her if he wanted). He can’t help but let his eyes linger on the two of them. Sora’s mouth is wide open and he hasn’t moved since he passed out. Kairi’s head is resting on his shoulder, and every now and then she twitches. He can see her eyes moving under her eyelids, and knows that she’s dreaming. He hopes it’s not a nightmare, at least. Their reality at the moment is bleak enough as it is.

He’s troubled by Kairi admitting that she’s scared, and Sora being evasive about how he knows so much of the castle layout. He never would have thought Kairi would admit a weakness like that, not when normally she’s so strong – but he doesn’t really know her much anymore, does he? It’s been over a year since he talked to her, a year where she went to school and lived on the islands and didn’t deal with the crushing reality of Sora, sleeping as Naminé performed the slow and fragile work of piecing him back together again. He’s changed, too. Not just on the outside, but on the inside as well.

He’d seen how drained she was before they’d even fought Saïx; how the ripped edges of her dress trailed in the non-existent wind of this place. Then the madness of the berserker… it’s no wonder she’s having doubts. Riku had suggested sleep because he would have had to be wearing his blindfold to miss how exhausted she is. Hopefully things look better in the morning.

Sora is another problem. There’s a shadow to his eyes that Riku doesn’t recognise, and a very quick and hushed discussion with Donald and Goofy reveals that they’re not sure what’s going on either. He aches to corner him, to shake out all his secrets. Sora has always been his best friend, and as kids, Sora would always talk to him first if he had any problems. To not know what’s going on now, when something is clearly bothering him, is… unsettling.

He hates this whole situation. He wants them to go back home, to the islands, even though he knows he doesn’t deserve that after everything he’s done; because of the face that he’s wearing. He wants Sora and Kairi to be there, safe and happy. He wants to be with them, and after Sora’s tears and Kairi’s words today, he thinks that they might want him to be with them, too.

It’s all a fantasy. He can never go back to the islands, but it’s a lovely dream to think about. He rarely sleeps, now. He might wake Donald or Goofy up in a few hours, but only because he knows he needs to force himself to doze for a bit. Any sleep deeper than that just invites the darkness to lick at him, welcoming. Always soft and warm and welcoming.

Looking at Sora and Kairi staves it off a bit. Their light is a focusing point, somewhere he can aim towards when he’s floundering.

Riku leans against the wall and guards his two lights from anything that might want to harm them. He won’t be able to do that tomorrow – but for now, he can pretend that they’re going to be safe.

 

Chapter Text

Sora casts reflect and the resulting backlash of magic destroys the two beserkers that had spawned in front of them. Luckily he’s figured out how to deal with those Nobodies almost as soon as they appear – otherwise, they’re tough to manage.

Riku sends a blast of dark fire at some of the assassins that are remaining, and on his other side Kairi jumps out of the way of a dancer. Sora had taught both of them how to use the Nobody’s tricks against them this morning, and it’s good to see that they’re working – even if it is strange to have them beside him. Not unwelcome, but definitely strange. He’s just glad that Kairi picked up on his everything so quickly. She uses reversal to get around a dusk, and he almost gets hit in the head by another dancer, too busy staring at her to keep track of his own enemies.

“Watch yourself, Sora!” Riku calls out, sending another blast of dark fire at the last assassin remaining. Sora shakes himself and dances through the Nobodies, slashing and hacking and dissolving them so that only the soft MP bubbles are left behind. He shoots a few blizzaga spells at a dancer, unwilling to get too close to it. The dancer avoids the last spell that would have taken it out, and when Sora tries to cast again he mutters something under his breath that would have gotten him Donald’s staff over the head if the duck had heard it. He throws up an ether and blasts the surrounding area with lightning, getting rid of that wave of enemies.

“Oh, do you know what those blue potions are?” Kairi says in the quiet of the aftermath as they all try to catch their breath.

“What, ethers?” Sora asks.

Kairi pulls out half a dozen from one of her pockets. “I was pretty tired, so I forgot to show you them yesterday. I found some of them when I was looting the chests in the basement, but I didn’t know what they did.”

She wouldn’t – they didn’t have ethers back home. There was no need to. As far as Sora knows, no one there can use magic. And even if they did, they wouldn’t need to restore it as quickly as he sometimes needed to in a fight.

“They’re for restoring your mana,” Donald quacks at her, explaining. “Sora doesn’t always manage his very well, so we go through them a lot. That’s a good back up store you’ve got there!”

“Hey, I can manage my magic just fine,” Sora protests. “I just use more than you do, because I use the ethers.” And sometimes he needs to cast reflect a lot of times to withstand a particularly long attack – and it’s not like he can just give up in the middle of it! Sora has become very adept at being able to quickly use both ethers and potions.

“I don’t know any magic, so they’re not really of any use to me,” Kairi says. “Do you want them, Sora?”

“Yeah,” Sora says. He pockets the bottles in his bottomless pocket, except for the one he keeps on hand to replace the one he had used. “I could show you some magic now, but…”

“We need to keep moving,” Riku says from ahead, where he’d already started walking forward. “We need to find Mickey soon. I don’t know how to feel about the beam of light that we spotted. What could they be doing?”

“There’s only one way to the top of the castle,” Sora tells him, jogging up to be at his side. Riku’s last sentence was aimed at himself more than the rest of the party, but there’s not much Sora can do to reassure him other than tell him that they’ll find the others soon. “And it’s the path that we’re on now. As long as the King hasn’t taken any dark portal detours, we’ll find him along here. It’s not that much further to go.”

He glances back in time to see Kairi’s nervous expression, before she smooths it over with determination.

They fight through another few waves of Nobodies on the way up. Sora tries to keep focused on what he’s doing in order to end the fights faster, and not watch out for Kairi and Riku. Riku can probably handle himself, but he’s worried about Kairi. Some of her reservations from yesterday had faded after last night’s sleep, but she still seems nervous about the approaching battle. Sora can’t really blame her; he’s feeling plenty nervous himself. He’s just holding it together better than she is. After having so much practise forcing smiles for the gummi ship, it’s almost second nature by now to ignore what’s worrying him and show everyone else only a grin.

He’s pretty sure that Riku is seeing through it, but Riku’s always known him the best, so that makes sense. Sora had been fine, really, until they’d gotten here and he’d remembered Roxas. Everything after that is a bit blurrier. He just wants to crawl under a blanket with Riku and Kairi and not leave for a long time.

He loses himself in the fight as more Nobodies appear, flashing into Master Form and gathering up all the enemies with magnet for Riku and Kairi to pummel while they can’t fight back. Kairi must notice her charm on the end of Oathkeeper (he’d taken it off his main Keyblade after defeating Roxas – it hadn’t felt right to use it again so soon), because when the fight is done she comes up to his side and grins at him.

“So you kept the lucky charm?”

“Of course,” Sora says. “You gave it to me. There’s no way I was going to lose it.”

“Good to hear,” Kairi says, approving. She must see something in his face though, because she frowns slightly. “You okay?”

It hadn’t been too lucky for Roxas. But maybe that was the point. The charm had been aimed towards Sora and Kairi’s reunion. He doesn’t know what promise Roxas had made, but Sora doesn’t think he had fulfilled it. After all, Oblivion (oathbreaker) was the other Keyblade he had wielded. Sora touches his necklace and makes himself smile for Kairi.

“I’m fine. We’re just getting close, that’s all.”

Kairi nods, and sticks by his side as they walk up into the next area together. Sora takes in the scattered and broken portals – not one is intact. He remembers when this room was shining and new. Axel had showed him his own portal, which was another, easier way to reach Roxas’s room. He’d never been inside any of the other’s except Axel’s, to leave that ice cream stick… Sora shakes his head.

“This is probably going to be the last safe spot we find,” Sora tells them. “We should take a break.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Donald says. He goes and sits against the wall, quacking to himself quietly as he sorts out his supplies.

“Are ya sure, Sora?” Goofy asks.

“Yeah,” Sora says, sticking his hands in his pockets and busying himself so he doesn’t have to say how exactly he knows that.

“Sora…” Riku says. Sora can’t bring himself to look at him, so he wanders over to the shattered doorway that used to be his. The panel at the bottom has morphed since he last remembered it – it now has Oathkeeper and Oblivion, and it’s still eerily lit, unlike the others. Somewhere, somehow, Roxas’s presence still reaches it.

“Sora, do you want to talk about anything?” Kairi asks from beside him. Sora shakes his head.

“I’m fine, Kairi. What about you? Feeling better?”

“With every fight we get through,” Kairi admits. “It’s hard to believe that yesterday I was still locked up in that stupid cell…”

“I know what you mean,” Sora says. “It feels like we’ve been journeying forever.”

“Sora, we know that something’s bothering you,” Kairi says quietly. “You can tell me. It’s okay.”

Sora stares at the crossed Keyblades. “It’s about… someone called Roxas,” he admits.

“Roxas?” Kairi asks, surprised. “I know that name… I talked to him, once.”

“You did?” Sora asks, trawling through his memories. Falling from the clocktower and talking to a strange girl… Roxas had tried to consider all of that a dream.

“He was the one who finally reminded me of your name,” Kairi nods. “What about him?”

Sora swallows. He looks over his shoulder, unsurprised to find Riku leaning against the wall and listening to them. Donald and Goofy are still on the other side of the room, talking to each other.

“You already know about Nobodies, and how they’re made,” Sora says slowly. “Roxas… was my Nobody.”

Kairi is silent for a second. “Like Naminé?”

“Naminé?” Sora asks, startled. He’d wondered where she was, but had thought he could find out later. Truly, he’d expected her to still be in Twilight Town.

“She was with me when we came here,” Riku says. “When we met up with Kairi, she went back to her.”

“Oh,” Sora says numbly. “Roxas and I… fought. At same place you fought him, Riku.”

Riku sucks in a breath, but Sora can’t bring himself to look at either of them. “I remember him. I found his room. That probably helped. That’s why I wasn’t that surprised about your face, Riku. I remember when you changed.”

Riku makes a choked sound. Kairi puts a hand on his shoulder.

“I don’t have any memories from Naminé,” Kairi admits.

“I didn’t at first, either.”

He can almost feel the glance that Riku and Kairi share behind his back.

“Is that why you know the layout of the castle?” Riku asks.

“Yeah,” Sora admits. “It feels like… I’ve been here, lots of times before. I just know it.”

“Sora, you aren’t Roxas,” Riku says, suddenly certain. “I know both of you – and you’re both very different. It’s the same with Kairi and Naminé.”

Sora still can’t bring himself to look at them. “It doesn’t feel like that,” he confesses.

“Sora…” Kairi trails off.

“Is it going to affect how you fight?” Riku asks bluntly. “Because that’s what matters right now.”

“No,” Sora says, finding stability in Riku’s surety. Riku has always been a rock for him to lean on, when he’s scared of something. It feels good that he can give Riku this assurance. “It won’t. I promise.”

“Then it can wait. For now,” Riku says, voice gentler than his words.

“Yeah,” Sora agrees, looking at his hands.

“When it’s over though, I’m going to sit on you if you don’t talk some more,” Kairi tells him, reaching out and poking him in the chest.

Sora gives her a smile, some of the weight on his chest lifted. “Yeah, okay,” he says.

Kairi offers her fist, and Sora bumps it lightly. Sora reaches over to Riku, who rolls his eyes but returns Sora’s fist bump. Kairi just punches his shoulder lightly.

“If we’re all feeling better, I’m going to have a snack,” Sora says. Kairi brightens, and he offers her half the roll he brings out. Riku takes an apple out of nowhere and starts chomping on it, and then the three of them split Sora’s water bottle between them. Sora leans on Kairi and she stretches her legs out from where they’re sitting down so she touches Riku. Riku is looking all dark and broody as he ruffles through his pockets, checking his inventory.

Sora leans his head back against the wall and takes deep breaths. This is their last rest point, so he should try and relax, but there’s a tight knot in his chest that won’t loosen. He felt this way just before they went to fight Xehanort’s Heartless as well – in that gleaming spring of light before they delved into the darkness to save Kingdom Hearts. So maybe it’s okay to feel like this. He got through it then, and he’ll get through it now, too.

“Are you guys ready to go on?” Sora asks. He doesn’t know if he can stand the waiting much longer.

“Yeah,” Kairi says. She flexes her hands, opening and closing her fists. “Are you sure you want me there?”

“Of course!”

“Definitely.”

Sora grins at Riku, who just nods back to him. “We’ll cover for you if you need it,” Sora reassures her.

Kairi jumps to her feet. “Alright, then let’s go!”

Sora gets to his feet. “Yeah. Donald, Goofy, are you ready to go on?”

Both of his friends give him a thumbs up. Sora jumps up and down on the spot a few times and then walks towards the stairs. It’s time.

It’s a few flights of stairs, but they’re ascending to the tower top now. Sora hears voices coming from up ahead and he tenses – but then he recognises the unique cadence of the King, and he glances back at Riku, who nods.

Sora turns the corner and sees King Mickey with a familiar looking stranger. He begins to frown, but before he can call out anything, he hears the trail end of what the stranger is saying.

“…self-destruct, and anything could happen!”

“Your Majesty!” Sora yells in alarm. Self-destruct!?

The King turns to them, a panicked expression on his face. Next to him, the man bows his head.

“Sora… the rest is up to you. And Roxas – I doubt you can hear me, but I am sorry.”

Sora’s chest tightens. No… he couldn’t be… could he?

“Ansem!”

Riku’s shout confirms it. Sora stares at Ansem as they approach. He looks like the portrait that was hanging in the office in Radiant Garden, but a part of him disagrees. Is this who DiZ was, under his mask?

Ansem is clinging to a strange, shaking device. Sora stops a few steps away from it, the vibrations making his teeth ache. “My heart is telling me what I must do. Please allow me to do what it says.”

“No!” the King shouts. Riku steps forward and puts a hand on his shoulder. The King looks up at him. “Riku!”

Riku’s expression is tense. “His heart’s decided. We can’t change that.”

Sora glances between all of them. Normally he’d be right beside Riku, but just this once… he’ll hang back. Kairi has a torn expression on her face, but she isn’t moving either.

“Who are they?” she whispers to him. Sora huffs out half a laugh and is about to answer, but a sudden tearing sound interrupts him. Kairi goes white, and he turns in time to see Xemnas appear next to Ansem.

“I was wondering who would dare interfere with my Kingdom Hearts. And look – here you all are. How convenient for me.” He runs his eyes over them all, clearly unimpressed with what he finds, before focusing on Ansem. “Ansem the Wise... you look pathetic.”

Ansem lowers his head over the device that he’s holding. “Have your laugh. I deserve as much for failing to see you for the fool you are.”

Xemnas stands by him, expressionless, but voice scornful. “Students do take after their teachers. Only a fool would be your apprentice. After all, none of this would have happened without you. You are the source of all Heartless. It was your research that inspired me to go further than you ever dared.”

Ansem shakes his head. “I admit, my disregard brought chaos to more worlds than one. But what were you seeking? You erased me from the worlds, only to take my name, and continue research better left forgotten. Is this the answer you’ve been looking for?”

Kairi’s hand brushes against his, and Sora doesn’t hesitate it grab it. Kairi squeezes his hand gently, and Sora breathes out.

“All that and more,” Xemnas says carelessly. “I’m carrying on what you yourself began. I’m creating a brand new world, one heart at a time. I’d thought you’d praise me, but all you ever do is hold me back. I understand though. Unlike me, you have a heart, and you’re powerless to control it. Consumed, by the jealously you feel towards the student who surpassed you.”

Ansem lifts his lip. “Xehanort… Foolish apprentice of a foolish man. You have surpassed nothing. Only proved how little we both know. We may profess to know the heart, but its essence is beyond our reach. We’re both ignorant – as oblivious as when we began. I’m afraid that any world you tried to create – any world of yours, would be an empire of ignorance! That is why you and your creation are destined to fall.” The device that he’s holding suddenly starts to shake even more violently than before. “We’ve said enough. Riku, you know what to do. King Mickey my friend… forgive me. Farewell!”

Sora grabs onto Kairi as a gleaming light fills the area. He throws out his arms as Donald and Goofy try to rush forward – Riku had been next to the King. He would make sure he was safe. The light weakens and Sora sees Riku pulling the King back – but it all fades again as the entire area whites out.

The last thing he feels is Kairi’s hand in his.


 

A thousand thousand whispers fill his ears – who are you where are we who am I – all of it washing over him, threatening to pour down his throat and drown him in the cut off dreams and hopes and desires of hearts that had been loosed from their bodies too early.

He’d tried to hold Mickey back – tried to keep all of them safe. But they’d still been so close… was this really how they were going to go? So close to the end… he thinks of Naminé’s tiny, scared smile. She’d believed they weren’t enough. He’d hoped… after Sora and Kairi had told him everything yesterday, he’d had the tiniest hope that maybe, after everything, they could go back home. Back to the islands. Maybe… maybe if they didn’t hate him, after all…

That was the problem. He’d had the gall to hope, and that had never done him any good, not since he’d left the warm embrace of the Islands behind him. He feels the whispers take hold of him, dragging at his skin, and he only wishes that he’d told Kairi and Sora that he loved them, too. Another missed opportunity…

This is not the truth of who you are.

What?

.

.

.

Riku groans as he comes to, lying face down on the ground. So the blast hadn’t killed them. A miracle. He carefully flexes his hands and moves his head from side to side, testing out what’s working and what he’d need to compensate for if they got into another fight right now. Damn Xemnas. He should have expected it – he was an idiot to not expect it. Their enemy has no reason to play by anyone’s rules. He has to be ready.

He blinks open his eyes. He’s pretty sure that everything’s in working order, but something feels… strange. He can’t quite put his finger on it, but something’s different. Ugh. His head hurts.

“Riku!”

“Riku!”

Sora and Kairi’s calls get him to lift his head and – oh. That’s why it’s dark all of a sudden. He staggers to his feet and puts an arm out to lean on Sora, who is helpfully hovering close by. He hears Donald and Goofy’s shock, and reaches out to feel where Mickey’s aura is.

“Ansem did say anything could happen,” the King says doubtfully. “Looks like you’re back to normal.”

“Looks like,” Riku says absently, still testing out everything. His voice… he’d never liked how he sounded as Ansem, but it’s almost as strange to hear his original voice again.

“Looks? Can you even see anything with that on?” Kairi asks him.

“Yeah Riku, you gonna take that off?” Sora says.

Riku hesitates for a second, but when he reaches inside himself… the shadow of Ansem is gone. Uneasy, he reaches up and pulls off his blindfold. He blinks against the low light, but to his surprise he doesn’t feel the stirring of the dark half of him. That light… maybe it had burned Ansem away. And maybe pigs would fly. Ansem wouldn’t stay gone forever, but for now, he’s not here. That’s more than enough.

“Why’d you have that on?” Sora asks.

“His eyes couldn’t lie,” Mickey says helpfully. Riku looks back at him and lifts one corner of his mouth in a smile. Sora probably wouldn’t understand that – he looks over to Kairi, who is watching them, clearly worried.

“Lie?” Sora asks, tilting his head. “Who were you lying to?”

Riku bows his head. Kairi steps over and puts her hand on his arm. She’s still shorter than him – Sora is as well – but the height difference isn’t as shocking anymore.

“Myself,” Riku admits.

“Riku…” Kairi murmurs.

Sora’s shoulders drop. “Riku – come on, man. Why’d you try to do so much on your own? Look at all the friends you have here – you can count on us!” Sora gestures to the five of them. Donald waves; Goofy nods. Mickey smiles at him, and Sora and Kairi grin widely.

“Heh,” Riku says. Maybe he does have friends that he can count on. He feels a lot lighter, suddenly – and it has nothing to do with his appearance. “Have you forgotten? I’ll tell you why. Because I’m not a total sap like you.”

Sora screws up his nose and Riku tries not to laugh, or find it cute. “Say that again!” he demands.

Kairi hides her own chuckle behind her hand, but Sora still hears it, squinting at her suspiciously. Riku opens his mouth to keep teasing him, but they’re interrupted by a strange ringing sound. Riku looks over the edge of the castle and sees countless Shadows ascending. They must have been attracted by the newfound hole in the moon, hearts raining down on this forgotten realm.

“There’s a lot of them,” Kairi says anxiously.

“What should we do?” Sora asks the group.

“We must defeat Xemnas. He’s the Organisation’s last survivor.” Riku takes in the swarm soberly. They can only go up, now.

Sora nods at him. “Right!”

Riku takes a breath and shucks his cloak. They’re already in the darkness, and he doesn’t plan on using any dark corridors anytime soon. Plus, Mickey’s already gotten rid of his. It would be strange to keep wearing it, especially since he can’t feel Ansem’s shadow anymore.

“C’mon,” Riku says, calling to all of them. All of his friends. “We’ve got a fight to win.”


 

Kairi focuses on keeping her breathing steady as they ascend the last of the castle. Sora reassures them all that the spire isn’t that far off – and as they fight their way through hordes of Nobodies, Kairi can only hope that he’s right. She’s far more confident now, eyes beady as she picks out weaknesses and slow movements that mean the enemy is about to fall. It’s easy enough to let Sora and Riku cover her back, and she does her best to not be too much of a hindrance to them. She thinks she’s doing better – and Riku had even shown her how to cast a simple fire spell. But that just means that she has to learn how to aim, too. Ridiculous.

She cuts through a Nobody that had been weakened by Sora and follows Riku as he leads the charge up this strange pathway. The ground glimmers under her feet, and she’s trying to keep from looking down because there’s nothing under it. Only the strange magic of this place is keeping them all from falling to their deaths.

She lands a combo and half way through Riku uses reversal on her to slash at something that had been coming from her blindside. Sora casts thunder and the magic washes over her peacefully, but destroys the incoming Nobodies – Donald casts cure, healing the scratches she’d received from being thrown back from the impact of an attack. Goofy barrels past her and King Mickey is hot on his tail. Goofy acts as a battering ram while Mickey follows up with strong attacks as the Nobodies are still off balance.

“Sora!” Kairi calls. She points at the two of them. “Want to try something like that?”

Sora flicks his eyes to their friends and then grins. “Sounds fun!”

She hears Riku’s cut off chuckle, but she’s already racing towards Sora. He grabs her and spins her around so she’s just behind him, and starts casting reflect, which probably wastes a decent chunk of mana but Kairi’s got ethers and no reason not to use them. She darts at anything that survives Sora’s payback of magic, landing the finishing blows against them more often than not. Anything that survives her assault before she has to move on is taken care of by Riku, who is guarding her rear. Feeling safe sandwiched between them, Kairi lets loose, hitting everything within reach. She throws a few ethers at Sora, and then almost runs into his back.

“Why’d you stop?”

“There’s no more left,” Sora says wryly. “And we’re about to reach the top.”

Kairi looks over his shoulder. There’s a corridor cutting into the wall, the shadowy depths hiding their goal.

“C’mon guys,” Riku says. Kairi matches her steps to his own, letting his quick pace drive any stressful thoughts from her mind. The corridor seems long, and too short at the same time. Before she knows it they’re emerging into an open staircase. Her legs freeze without any input from her, and Sora, Goofy, Donald and King Mickey run past her. Riku catches her arm, and Kairi looks up at him.

“We’ll be fine,” he says, gently. “I’m with you.”

Throat dry, she nods. It’s not like she has much of a choice – they need to do this. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Riku takes her hand and they run up the rest of the stairs together, coming to a stop next to Sora. Xemnas is standing there, facing away from them, arms stretched towards the fading moon in the sky.

“Oh, my Kingdom Hearts… ruined. Now I’ll have to start all over again.” Xemnas lowers his arms and turns to face them. Kairi stands between Sora and Riku and stares him down, his amber eyes cutting through them all. “Warriors of the Keyblade! Go forth, and bring me more hearts!”

“No!”

Kairi has her Keyblade out and pointing at Xemnas instinctively. With Sora and Riku on either side of her, holding their blades out beside hers, she feels strong. She looks over and sees King Mickey standing in solidarity with them, and grins, even in this scenario.

Xemnas shakes his head slightly. “Denizens of light, answer me this: why do you hate the darkness?”

“Aw, we don’t hate it,” King Mickey says, filling the silence that had landed in the wake of the question. “It’s just kinda… scary.” He bows his head before looking up at Xemnas again, determination clear in his eyes. “But the world is made of light and darkness. You can’t have one without the other, cause darkness is half of everything.” He pauses. “It does sorta make you wonder… why we are scared of the dark.”

“It’s because of who’s lurking inside it,” Riku cuts in, expression and voice fierce, fiery. Kairi stares Xemnas down along with all of her friends, feeling her heart beat in time with them, united.

Xemnas’s face twists into something unfriendly and Kairi shudders at the change in the air. “Then allow me another question. You accept darkness, yet choose to live in the light. So why is that you loathe us who teeter on the edge of nothing? We who were turned away by both light and dark – never given a choice?”

“That’s simple,” Riku says. “It’s because you mess up our worlds.”

“Yeah!” Kairi shouts. “We wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t destroyed our islands!”

“Be as that may,” Xemnas says. “What other choice might we have had?”

“You could have chosen many other paths,” Sora says, and Kairi looks at him as she hears the thread of grief in his voice. “You had other choices! Don’t try and make this our fault. It’s not!”

Xemnas chuckles darkly, the sound rumbling around them, nipping at their skin. Kairi resists the urge to rub her arms. “It matters not where you lay the blame. I, standing under my Kingdom Hearts that you’ve destroyed… you, standing against me. No matter what you think, what you feel, or how you exist… The result is the same.”

Xemnas throws his hands up and lines of light start flowing up, growing thicker and brighter until they mask the entire area. Kairi throws her arm over her eyes until the light is gone, but even then it’s still scalding.

She blinks until her vision clears again. She’s still standing on the tower top, but Xemnas is gone. She looks around wildly, and her heart plummets as she realises that he’s not the only one missing.

“Sora! Sora, where are you!?”

Kairi looks at Riku, who’s face is white and pinched. He runs over to the other side of the tower, and Kairi looks over the edge as well, as if he could be somewhere so close, so easy to reach. Sora isn’t there… but she does notice a strange looking bike parked on a lower balcony. What use would the Organisation have for that?

“Sora, answer me!” Riku yells out into the void.

“Wah!”

Kairi spins around to see Sora lying flat on the floor, a little beat up and clearly disorientated. Riku runs to his side, but Kairi’s attention is drawn to the figure floating in the air, attention focused on the bleeding moon.

“Are you okay?” Goofy asks.

“Where’s Xemnas?” Sora asks urgently, looking around. Kairi points him out, and the group are immediately on guard again, even though the Nobody is not paying them any attention.

“Hear me, Kingdom Hearts,” Xemnas says. Kairi tries not to sigh at what is clearly the beginning of a monologue. “It seems we must begin anew. Ah, but know this – I will give to you as many hearts as it takes. Mark my words! You can no more be complete without me, than I without you. Heed me, Kingdom Hearts. Lend me your power, so that we may be complete. Lend me your power, to erase the fools that hinder us!”

“Xemnas, no!” King Mickey yells.

Xemnas continues, heedless of the shout. “Hearts quivering with hatred! Hearts burning with rage!”

“You’ll never win!” Donald quacks angrily.

“Hearts scarred by envy!”

“We’ll stop ya!” Goofy proclaims. Kairi stands between her two best friends and lets their presence bolster her.

“That fool Ansem said that the heart’s true nature was beyond his understanding, but it’s not beyond mine. Hearts are the source of all power!”

Kingdom Hearts starts to shine, so brightly that Kairi can’t help but close her eyes. When she looks again, Xemnas is gone.

“No!” Sora calls out.

“Sora…” Riku says lowly.

“We’re not going to let him get away now!” King Mickey says stubbornly.

“You’re right,” Kairi says. They can’t. Even if she’s scared… she has to do this. They have to do this. She looks up at the shattered heart in the sky and asks it – just for a chance. They just need a chance. She reaches deep inside, and hopes that light can call to light.  

A ripple of sound answers her, and a giant door appears in the sky. Slowly, Kairi grins.

“Huh? What’s that?” Donald asks.

“Xemnas must be inside,” Riku murmurs.

“Kingdom Hearts…” King Mickey says solemnly. “The Worlds gave us this door. They want us to be the guardians of their destiny.

“Once we go through, there’s no turning back. It’s victory… or oblivion.”

All of them stand in reflection of Riku’s words. There’s no turning back. She’d known that, of course, but hearing him say it makes it all so… final.

“We should take a moment to prepare,” King Mickey says firmly. “Xemnas has probably grown even stronger, and is waiting for us. This battle began with Ansem’s research, and we should be able to finish it for him if we ready ourselves properly.”

“We can’t let this chance slip by. It’s going to be a tough fight, but we can do it!” Goofy says.

“Let’s save the world again,” Donald says. Sora gives him a thumbs up before turning to Kairi and Riku.

“Do you remember before?” Riku asks almost wistfully, quiet enough that only the three of them can hear him. “We stood facing each other on opposite sides of that door. Now we stand side by side. Let’s go home together this time.”

“Sounds like a great plan to me,” Kairi agrees. “And there’s no way I’m staying behind, so get used to me being around. From now on, wherever one of us goes, the others follow, got it?”

Sora looks between them. There’s still a shadow in his eyes that she isn’t used to, but it might just be the circumstances that they find themselves in. Kairi’s sure that she doesn’t look how Sora remembers her, either.

“Where one of us goes, the others follow,” Sora repeats. His smile is small, but isn’t forced. “It’s a promise.”

“It’s a promise.” Riku’s eyes close for a moment before he opens them again. “Sora, Kairi. I didn’t say it before, but… both of you are really important to me. There’s no one else I’d rather have by my side, if we’re going to the end of the world.”

“Yeah,” Sora says simply. He doesn’t need to add anything else to complete the sentiment. Kairi nods at Riku – she feels the same way as all of them. Sora looks between them. “You guys ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Kairi admits. She reaches out and takes one of their hands each, feeling how different they are from what she remembers. Mostly they’re bigger, but there are new scars and callouses. The map of their lives has changed, when she wasn’t around to see it. “Let’s go together.”

The three of them summon their Keyblades in unison, and face the door.

Chapter Text

Sora doesn’t leave a scrap of strength in reserve – he needs it all now, to cut through skyscrapers, to destroy buildings and engines and to leap through the sky from one goal to another. His friends fly with him, Riku shouting out strategy, Donald attacking from the rear, Goofy protectively taking on enemies at the front – when he can reach them. Kairi is a whirlwind of teeth and fire and unforgiving metal, and Sora feels like he gets a boost of energy every time he looks at her.

Together they slice through everything that stands in their path, travelling from the twisted city, to the depths of the engines, stalling the giant machine. It’s only when they’re standing in front of an armoured figure that Sora lets himself breathe a little deeper, feel a little more vividly.

“Sora!” Riku yells, throwing him a potion. Sora jumps forward to land a few fast attacks, and the figure roars in response.

“C U R S E D   F O O L S!”

Sora shudders as the shout washes over him, sending echoes down to his toes. Movement out of the corner of his eye gives him enough time to cast reflect, and the attack bounces harmlessly off his shield. It’s… a strangely shaped claymore?

Bullets of light rain down on them, and Sora dodges as best he can. Those weapons belonged to Xigbar… when water clones suddenly come out of the throne, it’s no longer a guess. Sora smashes into one of the clones, just like he remembers doing, and twists it above his head, destroying all the others. Somehow, Xemnas has stolen the abilities of the other Organisation members.

It’s a race between them – if Xemnas can wipe them out using the different weapons, or if the six of them can weave alongside each other to land enough hits on Xemnas. Sora jumps over the shockwave generated by Xaldin’s lances, and reflects a strangely familiar pink scythe, which is making its way around the small area in a whirling circle of death.

“I   S H A L L   D E V O U R   A L L …”

Sora sees Riku create a dark shield to protect the King, only for both of them to be hit by an attack by a large hammer that sends spikes of earth cracking up around them. On his other side, Donald gets hit by a pair of flaming chakrams, and Goofy withstands a volt of lightning before a stab of dark magic knocks him out. Sora breaks an icy shield that had formed around Xemnas, attacking with fervour, agonisingly aware of the states of his friends. Kairi lets out a yell of pain, and Sora turns to see her buffeted by two large cards.

“T H E   L I G H T ,   A N D   T H E   D A R K N E S S !”

“No you won’t!” Sora yells. “We’ll stop you!”

His words bolster his friends – the King and Riku throw potions to Donald and Goofy, and Kairi fights back against the cards, incinerating them with two fireballs. Sora leads with a slapshot, lands a combo, and falls back as Xemnas casts a shining barrier similar to when they’d fought before, one versus one.

“Together!” the King calls.

Sora falls back and puts his hand over his heart, feeling it join with the five others here. Five other people who are precious to him.

“Light!”

The King casts the spell, and it sizzles as it flies towards Xemnas. He lets out a guttural moan as it connects, and Sora finds himself flanked by Riku and Kairi.

“Together,” Riku directs. Sora feels heat gathering, and grins, aiming at Xemnas.

“Fire!”

The three of them cast the spell – Riku’s fire burns darkly, and Kairi’s is so bright that Sora can’t look at it. The fire makes contact at the same time, and the resulting explosion nearly rips him off his feet.

When Sora blinks open his eyes, they’re standing back on the top of the tower, as if they’d never left. Maybe they never had. Xemnas is standing before them, once again looking like normal, all traces of the armour gone. He’s clutching his chest as if in pain, and his eyes are glazed.

“I need… more rage. I need more… hearts…”

Sora shakes his head slowly. “You’re wrong. There’s more to a heart than anger or hate. It’s full of all kinds of feelings.”

A stormy night, rage dripping down his arms, flowing from his Keyblades.

A sunlit clocktower, sorrow rolling down his cheeks, fragile memories disappearing.

A dim room, frustration tearing at his chest, Axel’s distant gaze more damning than anything Xemnas ever did. 

At the end, even Roxas had known that he was feeling different emotions, even if they had mostly been negative ones instead of positive. Sora looks up at the person who had once ruled Roxas’s entire life, and feels sorry for him.

“Don’t you remember?” Sora implores.

Xemnas lets out a quiet chuckle. “Unfortunately… I don’t.”

They all watch as Xemnas flickers, disappearing from view.

Sora stares at the space he left behind. Xemnas had been Superior of the In-Between, but somehow the negative space his absence leaves seems bigger than he was.

“Got him!” Donald cheers. Goofy raises a fist in triumph, and Kairi joins them. Sora breathes out. Riku is silent beside him.

“I guess that’s it,” Sora says, looking up at his friend. “That means we can all go home. Right, Riku?”

“I had given in to the darkness,” Riku says stonily.

“Riku!”

“How am I supposed to face everyone?” he asks, expression cracking. Sora’s heart aches at the true fear he sees there; that even after everything Riku has done, that choice would leave him on the outskirts, forever.

This isn’t the first time that Sora’s seen this side of him, but it’s the first that it’s been so raw. Luckily, Sora’s known him his whole life – and a lot of things might have changed, but getting Riku out of one of his funks should still be the same. So he ducks his head, pulls a silly face, and catches Riku off guard (though how he can still keep doing that – maybe Riku wants to be cheered up just as much as Sora wants to cheer him up).

“Like this!”

Riku startles, but he starts laughing quietly. It dies down far faster than Sora would like, but maybe that’s the price Riku has paid, too.

Just as Sora’s about to tell him that he’s being sillier than Sora’s expression, the ground shakes under them, the tower listing to the side slightly. Serious again, the two boys look at each other, then back to the others.

The King gathers them all up. “We need to leave, fast!”

“I’ll open a path,” Riku volunteers. He turns to the side and lifts an arm. Sora’s seen enough dark corridors opened by now that he expects another one to form in front of them, but after a second nothing changes. “Huh?”

“You don’t belong in the dark realm anymore, Riku,” the King says. Sora wonders if he’s imagining the pride he can see in his expression.

“Your light is shining strongly,” Kairi agrees. “But… that doesn’t help us to escape.”

“How do we get out of here, Your Majesty?” Donald asks.

“Hmm,” the King says, putting a hand under his chin.

Kairi startles slightly, and Sora immediately looks to where she’s focusing, wondering if there’s another threat. But instead there’s just the faded, washed out after image of a girl, who lifts her arm. A dark corridor opens, and from Donald, Goofy, and the King’s reactions, it’s real enough.

“Who coulda done this?” Goofy asks. Sora eyes him, but sure enough, he’s only looking at the dark corridor, and not the girl standing in front of it.

“Welp, I’m not sure,” the King says. “But we’d better hurry and get through.”

A dark yellow dog suddenly sprints up from the stairs, circling around the King while barking. He stops for long enough for Sora to see that it’s Pluto, before the dog jumps through the portal.

“Wait up!” Goofy calls, following Pluto. The King doesn’t waste any time either, jumping inside.

“C’mon!” Donald yells, before stepping inside himself. After they’re gone, the translucent image of Naminé takes a step forward.

Kairi steps forward, smiling at the other girl. “Thanks, Naminé.”

“No problem,” she says. She looks at Sora and tilts her head slightly. “See? We meet again, as we promised.”

“Naminé…” Sora says. Roxas had been the one to make that promise. But it still feels like Sora had done it. “You said we’d meet again, but this isn’t exactly what I expected.”

“No,” she says. “It’s not what I expected either.” She smiles – a twist of her lips that doesn’t really convey anything but sadness. “But even like this, I can still tell memories apart. Sora, you remember Roxas’s memories… but they’re not yours.”

“How can you tell?”

Sora flinches as the voice rings out of nowhere. There’s only the four of them standing here… unless…

A shadowy figure steps forward, and Sora stares at the back of his head.

“There’s no reason we should be different,” Roxas tells Naminé. “And even if we are different, then that just means my life came to an end. Shouldn’t becoming whole be better than that? More than that?”

“I was wrong when I told you that you would become whole,” Naminé admits. “I wanted you to feel better about everything. DiZ would not allow you to continue to roam free, not when we needed Sora. But seeing you both, now – you’re different. You were always going to be different. I should have known that then, but now it’s clear to me. And to you, too.”

“So this is the end for me, huh?” Roxas asks, taking a step closer to Naminé. “And I suppose… it’s the end for you, as well.”

Naminé nods slightly. “After this, I won’t have the strength to talk to you all again. I’ve known it all along… the fate of a Nobody. I always thought Nobodies were doomed to fade back into the darkness, but I prefer this ending. I got to meet Kairi… and see Sora again. It’s more than I could have asked for.”

“Maybe,” Roxas says ambiguously. He steps so that he’s standing beside Naminé, looking at Sora and Kairi. Sora can’t help but name his expression as sorrow. “You’d better take care of that diary, yeah? Wouldn’t want… to forget those sunsets.”

“I would never,” Sora says. “And Roxas – we’re different. Naminé is right. I can feel it now. And… if we’re different, then you shouldn’t be trapped inside me, just like Naminé shouldn’t be trapped inside Kairi. I remember the promise you made, and I want to make a new one – no matter how long it takes me, one day I’ll figure out how to free both of you.”

Naminé gasps quietly, while Roxas just stares at him with a pensive expression. “I’d say that you shouldn’t make promises that you can’t keep… but knowing you, you might actually find a way to do it.” He shakes his head. “Sora… I was right. You do make a good Other.”

“I’m sorry for what I did,” Sora whispers to him. “But…”

“I know,” Roxas says simply. “And I forgive you.” He reaches out a hand, and slowly Sora takes it. Roxas glimmers for a second before he fades away into nothing, the space where he’d been, empty.

“I’ll definitely help Sora,” Kairi tells Naminé. “I saw you! We talked, we ran together, you helped me. You’re separate from me as well, I just know it. We’ll do everything we can to try and rescue you guys.”

“Rescue us?” Naminé asks, blinking. “You would… really do that?”

“Of course they would,” Riku says, coming up from behind them to put a hand on each of their shoulders. “And I’ll help, too. We’ve known each other for a while now, Naminé. I want you around too, you know.”

Naminé blinks, lost for words. Sora jumps slightly.

“Oh, right! The message in the journal.” He scratches his head. “Naminé, I don’t think I really remember or know everything you’ve done for me… but I want you to know that I’m grateful for your help, truly. I guess what I mean is…” He grins. “Naminé… thank you.”

Naminé smiles, and Sora thinks that it might be the first genuine one he’s seen on her face. She ducks her head, but he still sees the sparkling tear that falls from her eye. “You don’t know how much your gratitude means to me,” she says. “It makes me sad that I have to give you this news.”

“What news?” Kairi asks, frowning.

Naminé’s smile fades. “Sora, Kairi, Riku. You’ve already given so much, but on behalf of the worlds, I have to ask you to find strength, in yourselves and each other, one last time. Good luck.”

Sora open his mouth to ask her what she means, but the tilt of her head tells him that she’s not going to elaborate. She holds her hand out to Kairi, but Kairi steps forward to embrace her instead. Naminé glows brightly before fading from view.

“… one last time?” Riku says slowly.

The dark portal closes, and Sora’s heart skips a beat. That was their exit – Naminé had opened it, and he has the feeling that she’d deliberately closed it again, trapping all three of them here.

It only takes a second to figure out why. The portal had been hiding it, but now they can see – in the distance, there’s something large and grey, pulsing with power.

“What is that?” Kairi asks, looking between the two of them as if they might have encountered anything similar to it before. Sora swallows. In the distance, the creature unfurls – it looks somewhat like a dragon. The dragon that they’d fought already…

“One last time,” Sora says. I’ve saved the worlds before. We can do it again. “Let’s go guys.” He has no idea how they’d try to stop this – but they’d try. They have to.

The dragon flies closer and closer until is passes the tower, brushing against it as it does. It’s so gigantic that even that light touch has the entire tower crumbling, tilting to the side ominously. Sora throws his arms out to keep his balance, but with the floor sloping like this it’s a losing game. Riku sprints past, and Sora turns in time to see him jump onto a bike that had been hidden by the lip of the tower.

“Sora! Kairi!”

“Come on!” Sora yells at Kairi.

“How the hell are we supposed to get out there?” Kairi shouts.

Sora grabs her hand. The bike is outside the range of a normal jump, but this isn’t normal. “This place – it doesn’t work quite right,” he tells her, running towards where Riku is hovering. “And things are becoming undone. Just believe you can do something, and you should be able to! Now jump!”

Kairi screeches as they leap across the chasm of nothingness towards Riku. Sora lands on top of the other boy while Kairi staggers on the side pad that’s just big enough for someone to stand on.

“Convenient, isn’t it?” Riku drawls.

“Just like the door that led us here,” Sora agrees. He takes a seat behind Riku, wrapping his arms around his waist. “Kairi – you stand there and hit anything that comes too close. Riku, you drive.” He grins. “And I’ll man the guns. It’s just like a gummi ship!”

“I hope so,” Riku says, but the bike starts moving, chasing the dragon that’s already gained quite a bit of distance on them. Kairi summons her Keyblade and falls into her ready position, and Sora flexes a hand on the controls, the other still clinging to Riku.

The bike is fast enough to catch up to the dragon, which is the good news. The bad news is that it seems to know that they’re there – some enemies spawn, and Sora doesn’t even know if they’re Heartless or Nobodies or something else. He just narrows his eyes as he shoots down what he can, while also aiming at the dragon.

“This isn’t going to go down at once!” Kairi yells over the wind that’s whipping by them.

“Then we’ll take it apart, piece by piece,” Riku yells back. “Sora, what’s this big button do?”

It had just popped up after Riku had summoned a shield around them, blocking some of the wider attacks that had been aimed their way. “One way to find out!” Sora says gleefully. The energy running through him right now makes him feel like he can do anything – he’s with his best friends, and they’re somewhere dangerous, doing something that might be impossible. He has no idea how they’re going to get back to the Realm of Light. There’s only the here and now of this fight, and he slams his fist on the big button and whoops as a gigantic laser rips out from the bike, cutting through the dragon. One of its rear engines splutters and explodes, falling into the mire beneath them.

Riku cuts around the dragon as Kairi sends enemies to their doom and Sora shoots as fast as he can. They work together seamlessly, and he almost feels like laughing. Yeah, this thing is probably the biggest enemy he’s ever faced, but they’re doing it. It almost feels surreal, but Sora has always known that Riku and Kairi are capable of incredible, impossible things.

Another engine falls, and then they concentrate on the wings. Kairi is letting out small shouts when she connects a hit with her Keyblade, reminding Sora of hours spent on the beach, Kairi lobbing the volleyball back over the net to the other team while Sora stood beside her. In front of him Riku is silent and fierce and determined, and Sora presses himself along the line of his back and narrows his eyes as he shoots.

He spots a blot of colour as they fly alongside the dragon, and he grimaces when he gets a better glimpse and realises that it’s the armoured figure that they fought before. It must have created this dragon, or this dragon is a part of it, or something – it doesn’t really matter. They’re connected, and Sora has the feeling that they’re going to have to face each other again before this fight is over.

The dragon’s wings are ripped off, and Sora can’t help but hiss in triumph as it slowly spirals down. Kairi puts a fist in the air but Riku is tense, thrumming with nervous energy. Sora watches as the dragon hits the ground, and –

Smoke wreathes it, curling and twisting.

“We’re not done yet!” Riku shouts. The bike zooms down towards the dragon, which has kind of come to a standstill, half mired in the muck of the nothing that coats this place. Sure enough, Sora can see in the crown of its head a place to land, and an occupied throne.

“Kairi!” he shouts, as Riku grabs him and the two of them leap from the bike. He sees Kairi screw her face up but then she’s jumping too, flying through the thick air to land beside them. Sora calls his Keyblade, the Kingdom Key flashing into his hands. Its weight has gotten him through many trials – this is just one more that he’s going to have to add onto the list.

“Sora? Riku?”

“Yeah?” Riku asks.

Kairi swallows. “If there’s anyone else that I had to be standing beside… I’m glad it’s you. I’m happy that you two are my best friends.”

Sora grins at her, grins at Riku. “Yeah!” he and Riku say together.

“Now let’s finish this,” Riku says, lifting his lip so Sora can see his teeth. “Together.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Kairi says.

The three of them lift their Keyblades and charge.

The figure on the throne is wearing gold and silver armour, looming silent and unimpressed. As they approach, the large weapon in his hand gets into a ready position, and Sora braces himself for its first attack.

“S E E …   M Y   H E A R T ’ S   P O W E R .”

Riku hangs back a little, throwing globs of dark fire and casting magic, as well as throwing dark shields up when Sora or Kairi call for him. Kairi gets up close, snarling as she attacks, the gold of her Keyblade glimmering against the silver of their surroundings. Sora tries to stick to the middle distance – attacking when there’s an opening, and casting reflect around him and Kairi when he can’t avoid an attack. Kairi gets used to ducking inside the perimeter of his reflect fairly quickly, and Sora is so, so grateful that he took the time to increase the range of his spell so that other people are safe inside it’s radius as well.

A gurgling yell comes from inside the armour, and Sora can only look in dismay as the giant spear that he’s holding comes down. He casts reflect again, but instead it smacks against the ground, creating a giant shockwave that his spell can’t protect against. Kairi goes flying even though he tries to reach out and grab her, and Sora is blown backwards, out over the nothing.

He instinctively performs an aerial dodge to right himself, and then – it’s a faint memory, but one that he can still remember clearly. Just believe.

“H E A R T S   A R E   P O W E R .”  

Xemnas is right about that. He catches the air beneath him and glides, angling his hands into the air to steer, just like he remembers doing. He’s awkward for a few seconds, but it comes back to him fast enough.

“N O T H I N G N E S S   I S   E T E R N A L !”

The dragon is spitting whole buildings at them, some skyscrapers tearing through the air, others hovering, caught in the strangeness of this place. He spots one, and a touch of pink on top of it, so he glides in that direction as quickly as he can. A flash on the other side of the building is Riku, having the same thought that he did.

“Riku, Kairi, are you okay?” Sora shouts.

“I landed here – I’m fine!” Kairi shouts back. “How are you flying?”

Sora gives her a cheeky grin. “I already told you – just believe.”

She goggles at him.

“Sora, the building!” Riku yells as he lands next to Kairi. “Hit us towards it – we’ll break the shield!”

“Sounds like a plan!”

“E M B R A C E …   N O T H I N G !”

Sora grits his teeth and ignores the voice, calling up all the strength he can muster. He hits the end of the building, straight towards the dragon and the shield that is keeping them away. He starts gliding towards it, and laughs as he watches Riku and Kairi carve up the building together, sending another rain of impacts that shatter the shield. He dodges some lasers and more buildings, which are coming from who knows where, and grits his teeth as he tries to put as much speed into his gliding as possible.

“S O R A …   A R E   Y O U   C E R T A I N   Y O U   C A N   T R U S T   R I K U ?”

The words echo out over the chasm, and Sora’s heart clenches as he hears them. The image of Riku’s back, of Riku taking his Keyblade, of Riku turning into Ansem, of Riku crossing blades with him flow through his mind… until he forcibly shakes his head and dislodges them. That all happened, yes, but it’s in the past now. Riku has more than proven that he’s trustworthy, that he deserves Sora’s respect and admiration.

“We’ll show you trust!” Sora yells. If he hadn’t been so focused on Riku, he would have been angry – but as it is, all he can feel is the flow of emotion between him and his friend. “Riku! Let’s go!”

“Outta my way!” Riku yells at Xemnas as he flies towards Sora. Sora leads their blistering attack, believing that they have the power to do this. Riku curls around him, completing and complimenting his attacks perfectly, their movements in complete sync with one another.

“Is that all you got?” Riku jeers, and together they leap forward to attack again, Keyblades flashing beside each other. Sora lends power to Riku and together they send balls of dark fire flying, dashing in again to attack, and then letting off another blast of dark fire.

“Riku!”

It’s so easy call up new, fiery, powerful, blades that flash around them, circling and protecting and attacking. Sora can’t help but grin as he raises his arms wide, welcoming and eager and calling to the swords that they’ve summoned, together.

“You’re gonna lose it all!” they shout, and Sora summons a blast of light and Riku puts forth an explosion of darkness, and the two implode upon each other, blinding everyone in the area. Sora lands on his feet and bumps fists with Riku eagerly, adrenaline running through him.

“I S   T H A T   T H E   B R E A D T H   O F   Y O U R   H E A R T S ! ?”

Sora calls out thanks to Kairi as she throws him an ether, and pulls her out of the way of one of the crystal lasers. Xemnas raises his sword again, and this time Sora grabs Kairi in time before they’re blown back, away from the dragon and into the abyss.

“Stay with me!” Sora calls. “Fly! You can do it! Believe!”

Kairi still yells a little, but Sora lets her go – she has to do this on her own. He catches the wind under him and desperately looks back, only to cheer as he sees that she’s following him.

“A N G E R ,   H A T R E D ,   E N V Y.”

“The buildings!” Sora calls, ignoring the thrumming of Xemnas’s voice. “We did it once – we can do it again!”

“S E E   H O W   T H E   H E A R T ’ S   G R E A T E S T   V I R T U E S   S U S T A I N   M E !”

Sora smashes into one skyscraper that’s spinning through the void, and it comes to a standstill. Kairi lands on it, and a second later Riku joins her. Sora winds up and punts the building through the air, watching as it crashes against the giant shield, shattering with Riku and Kairi’s joint blows.

“R I K U …   A R E   Y O U   S U R E   Y O U ’ R E   N O T   J E A L O U S   O F   S O R A   A N D   K A I R I ?”

Sora grits his teeth and flies faster. No matter how Xemnas might try… there’s no way he can drive the three of them apart!

“K A I R I …   H O W   C A N   Y O U   K N O W   T H A T   S O R A   A N D   R I K U   W O N ’ T   L E A V E   Y O U   B E H I N D   A G A I N ?”

Sora lands in front of Xemnas, falling into a roll to smooth out the landing. Kairi and Riku are already there, attacking and dodging the laser blasts. Sora throws himself into the fight beside them – dodge an attack, retaliate, cast reflect, land a combo, send a cast of blizzaga towards Xemnas, cast reflect again, and again, and again –

“T H E R E   I S   F A L S E H O O D   I N   Y O U R   H E A R T S .   D O   Y O U   D A R E   D E N Y   I T?”

Sora lands a finisher, and Xemnas lets out a scream. Light starts flashing all around them, and Sora feels hands grabbing him as the world floats away. He holds onto his friends; he’ll keep doing that, no matter what.

Chapter Text

Kairi woozily opens her eyes.

She’s standing up, which is strange, because the last thing she remembers is falling. The only thing she can see is a melting abyss of greys, darker and lighter tones swirling over each other and into each other and becoming each other. Mesmerising.

She blinks, and Sora and Riku come into focus, standing in front of her. And beyond them is Xemnas… wearing a new cloak of black and white, contrasting against the twisting grey of the background. Her mouth goes dry – there’s nothing else here but them. Nothing to hide behind. Nowhere to run to.

“Heroes, from the Realm of Light. I will not allow it to end this way – not yet.” Xemnas holds out a hand, imploring. As if that could somehow change the path fate has laid out before all of them. “If light and darkness are eternal, then surely we nothings must be the same. Eternal.”

There’s half a second of silence in which Kairi wonders if any of them are even going to bother to answer – but of course, it’s Riku who parries back, always there to defend his friends. It’s good to see that he’s kept that part of himself.

“You’re right – light and darkness are eternal,” Riku says. “Nothing probably goes on forever, too. But guess what, Xemnas?”

“Even if they are eternal,” Kairi says slowly.

“That doesn’t mean you are,” Sora finishes.

Xemnas’s lip curls, and he laughs darkly, a rumbling sound that echoes in Kairi’s ears, reverberating down to her bones. “No more eternal than that radiance of yours…”

His hands begin to glow. Kairi tightens her grip on her Keyblade. Sora shifts his stance into a ready position. Riku’s shoulders tense slightly, ready for action.

“For you see… anger and hate are supreme!”

Xemnas darts forward and kicks them all up into the air, spirals of thorns appearing around them. Kairi yells out in pain as she hits some of them, and then Xemnas appears out of nowhere to hit her with some actually real laser beams he’s holding what the hell is going on –

“Use reversal!” Sora shouts, and Kairi grabs a hold of what conciousness she can find and twists her body, just like Sora taught her. She wraps around the sharp vines, Sora and Riku dodging with their own reversals, and Kairi just keeps grimacing and spinning through the air until there aren’t any more vines to spin around. She looks up just in time to see Sora get smashed by Xemnas, his Keyblade flying out of his hand. Riku grabs it and throws it back to him, and the two boys work together to push another attack away. Still, it’s clear that Sora is stunned by the exchange.

She’s lowest to the ground so she hits it first, and digs a potion out of her pocket to throw over herself. The coolness spreads over her skin and she stands, furious, and summons her Keyblade.

“Kairi!” Riku calls out to her, and she hears what he doesn’t say. Riku lands beside her and Kairi leans into his darkness, feeling it wrap around her protectively.

“Riku!” Kairi calls, an affirmation. They move together in step suddenly, and Kairi feels a rush of strength as Riku propels them forward, towards Xemnas. The energy between them swirls, and covers her Keyblade in light so it resembles a giant sword. Beside her, Riku’s Keyblade looks much the same. She swings at Xemnas, Riku casting a dark shield around them so that she doesn’t have to worry about anything but going on the offensive.

“Together!” they shout, and then they switch to throwing alternating casts of light and dark magic, spinning around and casting outwards so that they have each other’s backs. The magic locks onto Xemnas and hits him, even when he tries to teleport away. Kairi grabs Riku’s shoulders and he spins her around as a shower of light and dark magic cascades from the heavens, leaving nothing in the area untouched.

“Nice one,” Riku says, grinning.

“Not so bad yourself,” Kairi replies, energy pouring through her; she feels invincible.

Sora lands beside her and immediately casts reflect as Xemnas shoots a giant ball of energy towards them. It bounces off the spell but then sits, waiting, and Sora casts reflect again and again, until Xemnas’s magic fades.

“Be careful!” Sora yells, and then he’s gone, darting forward to land a few hits before reflecting again, vines of power twisting around the sphere he’d created.

“Stick with me,” Riku advises, coming up behind her. Kairi nods at him.

“I’ll watch your back,” she says, and Riku runs forward, Kairi keeping a close eye on Xemnas. But now there’s… two of him?

Riku sprints towards the Xemnas that Sora isn’t attacking and Kairi follows in his footsteps. The Xemnas they’re approaching lifts a hand, and Riku uses reversal to get around the vine but Kairi missteps and it hits her. Yelling, she dodges the follow up attack and feels the rush of a potion cover her as Riku throws her one.

This is nothing like all the other fights – Xemnas is quick and he just disppears sometimes, reappearing in her blind spot. Their joint attack had put them at an advantage, but now he’s pressing them. Riku stays by her side, and she knows that without him there and Sora distracting Xemnas across the field, she wouldn’t stand a chance at all.

“Kairi, switch!” he yells, and she instinctively uses reversal again, but on Riku this time. They swap places so fast that it leaves her head spinning, and Riku takes the hit intended for her.

“Riku!” she screams. Sora is by their side suddenly, his expression fierce and determined, his Keyblade leaving Xemnas no quarter. Kairi throws Riku a potion, and he stands. If she hadn’t been looking at him, she would have missed the slight waver to his frame.  

“Take that!” Sora says, pushing Xemnas back and giving them a second of breathing space. Kairi pulls Riku out of the way of one of the giant, pulsing energy balls, and then out of the way of an energy vine. The other Xemnas reappears in front of them and Riku lands a combo while Kairi taunts him, staying just out of his reach. 

Sora is like a mad thing, gliding around the grey arena, jumping and dodging in mid-air and landing quick hits against the fast disappearing Xemnas. Riku sends out blasts of blue fire when Xemnas gets too close, and Kairi keeps her head down, and even though she can feel the pounding of her heart and the quickness of her breath, she doesn’t feel tired. She darts in under the cover of Riku or Sora’s attacks to land her own, and her reflexes are quick enough that she can use reversal most of the time when she needs to.

Xemnas pulls out his laser beams again and does a flip, extending the lasers so that they spin dangerously through the air around him. That’s followed up by a swinging attack, and Kairi does her best to avoid it. Riku and Sora are there, being targets as well as distractions, and she uses that to the best of her ability, separating from Riku but then diving behind Sora and his cast of reflect when Xemnas attacks her.

“You shall go together,” Xemnas intones, and then he kicks them all up into the air again. But she’s wise to his tricks now – it’s easy to use reversal when she’s expecting the opportunity to, and she sees that Sora even sneaks in some reflects around his movements. But there are laser beams flying through the air this time, and Xemnas’s sweeping attacks alongside the vines of power, but Kairi holds her nerve and hopes that the boys do as well. When the vines finally stop, she free falls through the air and is very glad that this place doesn’t work right, so that she can hit the ground in a roll and keep going.

Riku starts slashing away, and Kairi catches Sora’s eye. “Hey, Sora! With me!”

“I’m here!” Sora says, and Kairi links arms with him in a half step, feeling power course through her at the contact. “Let’s show them what we’re made of!”

Kairi digs deep within herself and pulls up her magic, this burbling, rumbling thing that she is beginning to get used to. Sora is more inclined towards light magic than Riku, and sure enough he calls up a ring of pillars made of light, encircling them protectively. Kairi latches onto the magic and hits one of the pillars with her Keyblade, sending it flying towards Xemnas. The pillars shift, a new one appearing in front of her, and she grins as she hits it flying too. Sora is standing opposite her suddenly, and he hits the next pillar. Kairi can’t help but laugh as she hits one, and then he does the next – it’s a game, both of them trying to outdo the other.

“I’m here!” Kairi yells, and then Sora’s back is pressed against hers, and her Keyblade is glowing again, light forming a large sword that double the length of her Keyblade normally. She looks over her shoulder to find Sora’s Keyblade sheathed in the same light as hers, giant and glowing. She whoops as they fly through the air, slashing and dancing together, large white wings guiding them, and then they land on their feet, their Keyblades whirling around them to create a tornado, drawing Xemnas in.

“You’re amazing, Kairi!” Sora cheers as he hi-fives her, and Kairi manages a laugh as she summons her Keyblade back to her fist.

Xemnas disappears and Riku runs up to them. Kairi flicks her eyes around the area until Xemnas reappears suddenly, moving through the air incredibly quickly, and then disappearing again. She narrows her eyes at what he’d left in his wake – several suspended lasers…

“Block!” Riku yells. Kairi jerks her head to look at him instead of blocking, which in hindsight is a bad move. All of the lasers suddenly leap into action, targeting the three of them. Kairi takes one to the gut that sends her flying back several paces, while Sora casts reflect and Riku just blocks.

“Ugh,” Kairi mutters, resisting the urge to puke. She stands and downs a potion, uneasily fingering the two that she has left. No use worrying about that now. What they have will be enough, or it won’t be. She doesn’t have time to think about it.

Xemnas repeats his teleporting act several times, leaving lasers behind him, or just appearing and shooting them at the trio. It doesn’t help that his clone is still active – even when she’s blocking the attacks of one Xemnas, she has to be ready for another to appear to the side and throw some more laser beams at her.

There’s no room for error – Kairi gets hit by a few more, and so do Riku and Sora. She can tell the other two are flagging. She’s already been pushed beyond her limits, but they’re just reaching them. It’s been a long day, and it’s starting to show.

“Cure!” Sora yells, and Kairi lets out a breath as she feels the healing magic wash over her. It’s much deeper and more refreshing than a potion, but Sora doesn’t cast it often, the mana cost too high.

Xemnas appears behind Sora, and Kairi shouts out a warning – but Xemnas is already moving.

“Can you spare… a heart?” he asks. Sora spasms as an aura of energy surrounds him, trapping him with his arms spread wide, head thrown back.

“Sora!” Riku shouts.

“No!” Kairi yells. Riku jumps forward in an attempt to throw Xemnas off, but Xemnas bats him back. Riku cartwheels to regain his balance, and then the second Xemnas stands between them and Sora, pain clear in the line of his arched back and frozen grimace.

“I’ll handle this one,” Kairi promises vehemently.

“I know you will,” Riku agrees, running off to the side. Kairi sprints directly at the second Xemnas, her heart in her throat, fear almost clogging her vision. Riku will get there in time; Riku saved her, so he can save Sora as well. She sidesteps a wide attack full of lasers and tries not to remember how Riku had been blown back by Xemnas – how they’d both been powerless to stop him…

“Give him back!” she screeches, pummelling Xemnas for all she’s worth. He flickers and disappears from sight, and she desperately looks up. Riku leaps up and destroys the magic that’s holding Sora – Sora falls and Kairi doesn’t hesitate to throw a potion to him. One left.

Riku takes a laser beam to the face, and Kairi is already running, but Sora is casting reflect and attacking and Riku is back on his feet but she throws her last potion at him anyway, terror clutching at her heels. She doesn’t know what she’ll do if she sees either of them fall. She doesn’t want to know what she’ll do if she sees either of them fall.

“Sora! Riku!” she yells, desperate to have them at her side, desperate for them to triumph, desperate for them to be alive. How fragile their hearts are. She’d never though that a heart was anything as delicate as she’s now understanding them to be, and if either of them shatter she thinks she will as well – glass dropped against an unforgiving ground, pieces strewn around carelessly and waiting for something to cut.

“It’s alright,” Riku says.

“We’re here,” Sora says. They each put a hand on her shoulders and she looks between them, how they’re gripping each other tightly as well, and knows that they are scared too.

“Together?” she asks them.

“Together,” they agree. Kairi stands, takes a step forward, moves into position, as easy and as natural as breathing. She known them for as long as she can remember – she knows their habits, their fears, their quiet sleep-breaths from long nights spent together, their smiles and their love. She trusts them, and with that trust, it’s so easy to just – let go. Kairi puts her hands together and summons a growing ball of light. Across from her Riku holds a smouldering ball of darkness, and between them, Sora’s arms are wide open.

Kairi channels a beam of light towards Sora, and Riku channels a tunnel of darkness towards Sora, and Sora catches them both, handling them with an ease born of familiarity and trust. He moulds them together and sends it blasting towards Xemnas, and Kairi remembers the old Islander saying that warned of tornadoes over the ocean – the union of opposites can be deadly, and unstoppable. Beware the dark wind that carries the threat of ocean storms.

Unstoppable, indeed.

Sora channels their energy until it runs out, and then the three of them dart forward, covering each other’s backs as they strike. Riku leads, and Sora follows, and Kairi finishes. Blades of light encircle all of them, attacking anything that dares draws near, weaving and dancing to their own tune.

Finally, they come to a halt, the three of them facing each other in a loose circle. Sora puts his hand over his heart, and Kairi does as well. A complicated spiral of golden magic appears around their feet, the three of them standing in designated spaces, and Kairi closes her eyes until the glowing orb of light over their heads is just right – then she thrusts her Keyblade towards it, alongside Sora and Riku. The orb splits, sending out streams of golden light to bathe the entire area in a vibrant glow that’s too bright to see through. It doesn’t scare her, though. Not when she can feel her own light mixed in with Sora and Riku’s.

When the light fades, she takes a deep, calming breath, letting that final push of power and determination lap at her, fill her to the brim. All of them are tired – all of them are struggling, struggling to get over that final line. They’re so close. She opens her eyes and is met with grey again, Xemnas nowhere to be found.

She hears a shattering of matter and spins to see Xemnas holding a gleaming ball of power above his head, before the area bleeds black.

“Sora! Kairi!” Riku says urgently. Kairi doesn’t need any more encouragement than that to jump to his side.

The black suddenly gleams, and Kairi resists the urge to let her mouth fall open in shock as she realises that it’s a dome full of Xemnas’s lasers. If it’s just like his other attacks –

Sure enough, the lasers start firing through the air towards them. Sora and Riku flash into action, performing twists and dodges to block the attacks. Kairi throws one of her last ethers at Sora.

“Reflect!” she yells, because if this whole dome is coming down on them, then there’s no way that they’ll be able to manually block them all. “Riku and I will block in between your casts!”

Sora crouches and Kairi falls into a protective stance above him, Riku on her other side. Sora’s reflects are definitely a superior method of blocking, but he can’t keep them up forever. When he finishes a combo she darts into action, trying to block the blasts that are actually going to hit her or Sora. She still gets grazed by one and flinches, but then Sora is casting again. Riku throws an ether at him, and she’s glad that he still has some left – and the shield falls again and block, block, block, and pant with stress as Sora casts reflect…

She runs out of ethers and shouts that to Sora and Riku. Riku shouts that he doesn’t have any left either – and the laser beams are getting faster and thicker, and there’s no way they can keep this up forever, but surely they don’t have to. This attack much be costing Xemnas quite a bit if he didn’t pull it out earlier, so she grimly blocks laser beams alongside Sora and Riku when Sora runs out of mana, and as they start raining down on them, she hopes that they’ve done enough – that they can withstand it.

She yells out as a more lasers get her – they’re falling so thickly that there’s no possible way she can block all of them, and she hears some land on Sora and Riku too. The area is getting brighter and brighter, until she can’t see, and then there’s an arm around her waist, throwing her to the floor as a massive explosion rockets above their heads.

The brightness clears and she lifts her head. Riku’s arm is a heavy weight thrown over her protectively, his jacket smouldering. She sees the mottled black and white of Xemnas’s coat just in time to flinch as he smashes Riku away. She hears something pop, but Xemnas’s laser is against her throat, and she looks into his eyes defiantly, hoping that none of her terror is showing through.

Xemnas brings his arm back to strike at her, but then Sora is at her side instead, yanking her back, and Riku parries Xemnas’s blow, only to be hit aside again, and this time a crack echoes throughout the area. Riku lands heavily and rolls awkwardly, and when he doesn’t move Kairi sees red.

“Sora!” she screams, and he’s right by her side as she attacks, blows heavy and without finesse but with pure anger driving them, anger and fear for Riku, and for Sora, and for herself. Sora comes at Xemnas from behind and they give him no room to breathe, Sora pummelling him while Kairi just imagines that she’s in a game where the score is determined by how many home runs she can hit. Sora flips over her head, hitting the back of Xemnas’s head on the way, and Kairi follows with an uppercut, vicious and without quarter.

They turn, and Kairi reads Sora’s intent from his steps and the look on his face, and together they execute a perfectly timed cross slash that sends Xemnas flying, up through the air and giving them some space to work with. Sora lands by Riku, and Kairi stands on Sora’s other side, and Sora silently offers them his Keyblade. Kairi reaches out and puts her hand on one side, and Riku puts his hand on the other, and into that blade she pours her heart, her dreams, her love for the two boys standing with her and her hope that all of them will return home one day.

The Keyblade glows faintly and a beam of light curls around it, splits from the end of it, impacting Xemnas perfectly. Kairi watches dispassionately as it goes through him, shattering the stability of his form. Xemnas curls backwards, eyes closing, reaching out for something that only he can see. His face twists, defiant to the end, but the stuff of his being starts peeling away, slowly and then quicker, quicker, until there’s nothing left.

Sora and Riku fall out of their combat poses but Kairi can’t make herself relax. They’ve fought Xemnas in a bunch of different places, a lot of different times… is this really the end?

“We did it!” Sora says cheerfully, bouncing a little on the spot.

A slight whisper of sound, and Nobodies start appearing out of thin air. Kairi tightens her grip on her Keyblade.

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Riku warns them.

“Not more,” Kairi says, and her voice catches on the second word. Riku looks at her, concern clear in his eyes as he hefts his Keyblade.

The monters swarm towards them, but a flash of white light blinds her for several seconds. When she can see again, the last of the Dusks are disappearing, and Riku is collapsing to the ground.

“Riku!” Kairi cries.

Sora is at his side faster than Kairi can move, so she hurries around to Riku’s other side, crouching down beside him to lay a hand on his shoulder.

“Sora… I can’t…” Riku mumbles, almost too quiet for her to hear.

“Don’t say another word!” Sora demands. Kairi exchanges a look with him, and Sora shakes his head, focusing on Riku. “It’s not over. It’s just not.” She can hear the tears that he’s holding back in his voice. Kairi puts a hand on Riku’s shoulder, and tries not to focus on blood she can see seeping through his clothes, the way he isn’t curling his wrist quite right. “Kairi, help me,” Sora implores, and Kairi nods. Sora gingerly lifts Riku’s arm over his shoulder, and Kairi shifts so that she’s holding half of Riku’s weight as well. 

“How can you say that?” Riku asks, words almost slurred. Those final few attacks had been rough on him – Kairi doesn’t think he’d be able to walk on his own. And he’s obviously trying not to let the pain get to him. They’re all out of potions, so she just squeezes his hand comfortingly. “Even if we could go on… look where we are.”

“Aww, c’mon Riku,” Sora says, voice too light for it to not be forced. “You’ve been hanging out in the darkness for too long. You gotta try and think positive!” He looks at her, and Kairi takes a breath.

“Yeah, Riku,” Kairi says. “We’re together. That’s a good starting point.”

Riku huffs out a silent laugh. “Fair enough.” He lowers his head so she can’t see his eyes. “Sora? Kairi?” Kairi squeezes his hand again while Sora hums. “You lead.”

“Got it,” Sora says. He takes a step forward, and Kairi steps with him. Riku is right – there’s seemingly no end to this whirling greyscape, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find a way out. They definitely won’t if they stay in the same place. So Kairi flicks her hair out of her face, holds Riku’s weight close, and puts one foot in front of the other.

She doesn’t know how long they walk before she says something. Enough time for the throbbing of her injuries have concentrated at the back of her head, giving her a splitting headache. She grits her teeth and talks, as if that will be able to distract her.

“Riku, we could have fought those Nobodies too,” she chides him, gently. She doesn’t want to lay too much on his shoulders right now. “You didn’t need to spend all your energy to get rid of them all.”

Riku shakes his head. “No, I needed to. I was reaching the last of my energy… and Xemnas broke a few of my ribs, I think. I wouldn’t have been any help in a fight; no, I would have been worse than no help. You would have had to protect me, while fighting all of them. It wasn’t worth the risk. Having both of you safe… is far more important than anything else.”

“You’re not less important than us,” Sora says firmly. “We all got here together. Riku… you’ve been trying to do so much on your own. I was asleep for a year, Kairi was on the islands…”

“I know,” Riku mumbles. “But I had to. I had to.” He sounds so miserable, and for a second she thinks she’s going to see him cry. She can’t remember the last time she saw him cry.

“We’re here now,” Kairi reminds him. “What Sora’s trying to say is… don’t be afraid to lean on us.”

“Well, if my current situation is anything to go by, I don’t have any problems with that,” Riku says wryly. All three of them laugh – well, as much as they can laugh; at the end of the world.

Kairi looks forward, but she can feel Sora’s eyes on her every now and again. There isn’t much to look at here, but it’s more of a mindset than anything else. If she’s looking forward, they’re moving forward. If they’re moving forward, they’re moving somewhere.

Riku’s arm is heavy over her shoulder, and she’s trying to ignore how he’s dragging his right leg. At least Sora’s here to help her carry him. She isn’t sure she could do it on her own. Riku’s gotten pretty beefy in the past year.

They keep walking, until Kairi’s feet start to hurt, and her shoulders ache from Riku’s weight, and her headache pales in comparison to the bruises she can feel starting to form all over her body. But there’s something that keeps her going – a fear that if they stop, they’ll never start again. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to be the one to ask for it. If Riku and Sora can keep pushing on, she can too.

It feels like an age before Riku speaks again, almost making Kairi jump. She’d thought that he’d passed out.

“Sora… Kairi…” he murmurs. “What Xemnas said back there… about me being jealous of you…”

“He was just trying to get under our skin,” Kairi murmurs. She doesn’t say that it had worked. She is afraid that Sora and Riku are going to leave her behind again. Even when they’re standing beside her, she’s still half sure that they’re going to vanish in front of her eyes. She supposes that means that the accusations that Xemnas had flung at Sora and Riku are true, too. She wonders if it means something, that he could read their deepest fears so easily.

“Kairi’s right,” Sora agrees.

“No, I… I have to say this,” Riku says. His words are tense, bitten off sharply.

“When we find somewhere to rest,” Kairi tells him. “Then we can talk. We should focus on moving forward until then.”

Sora flashes a look at her, but she can’t decipher whatever he’s feeling from the brief glance. Riku is silent, and she takes that as his agreement. She closes her eyes for a second, wishing with all her heart for a place of sanctuary for them all. If a place like that could even exist, in a place like this.

“Hey,” Sora says, wonder creeping into his voice. “Riku, Kairi – what’s that light?”

Kairi lifts her head in time to see the light in front of them expanding quickly, blinding. Her breath catches, and she quickens her steps, heartbeat loud in her ears, the impossible in front of her eyes.


 

She knows the feeling of sand beneath her feet before she can see that they’re on a beach. It’s like no other beach she’s ever been to – the sand and sky is dark, and the waves that lap the shore are almost too quiet for her to hear, too small for her to see.

She comes to a stop as soon as Sora does, looking around at the surroundings. There is a type of finality to this place – she can tell that it’s a place of endings, of conclusions.

“End of the road,” Riku says. Kairi nods numbly. A place to rest – that was what she’d asked for. But this might be a final resting place, as well. It’s calm. She didn’t think the Realm of Darkness would be so calm.

“Yep,” Sora agrees. The three of them stare at the waves for a few seconds, and Kairi is suddenly fiercely glad that if this is where they’ll lay their heads down for the last time, it’s a beach.

“Put me down,” Riku asks. “I can walk.”

“No you can’t,” Kairi says immediately, because she’s been watching Riku’s right foot drag along the ground ever since their final battle. But Sora has already let Riku’s arm fall off his shoulders, taking a few steps forward. Kairi lets Riku lean on her, his face pressed against her neck.

“Put me down,” Riku asks again, breath skating over her skin. “We’re not going anywhere else.”

Kairi can’t even begin to voice the feelings inside her, her desperation and longing and fear and stubbornness. So instead she just shakes her head. “Lean on me,” she asks. “Just lean on me.”

Riku turns his head so his nose brushes her chin. “I just want to touch the sand,” he admits. “Can we?”

“Okay,” Kairi agrees, watching Sora step up to the ocean. “Okay.”

It’s a chore and a half, but seeing Riku’s face as he lets a trail of sand trickle through his fingers is worth it.

Sora says something, but she misses it as Riku coughs, the movement shaking his body. She grabs his hand and he squeezes hers reassuringly as Sora races back over to them. Sora skids to a stop in front of them, hand on Riku’s shoulder, eyes searching his face for answers. “You okay?”

“This world is perfect for me,” Riku breathes. “If this is what the world really is – just this – then maybe I should fade back into darkness.”

“Riku…” Sora says, half a warning and half a plea.

“If the world is made of light and darkness… we’ll be the darkness.”

Sora studies Riku for a few seconds before sitting next to him, leaning back on his hands and looking out over the waves.

“Do you really think… we could be something as big as that?” Kairi asks them.

“Yeah,” Sora says, tilting his head up. “Don’t you feel it? This place… it’s not like anywhere else I’ve ever been. It’s not like the other side… the Realm of Light. This is somewhere different.”

Kairi carefully makes herself comfortable beside Riku, stretching her own legs out. Even the sand feels slightly strange, clinging where it shouldn’t, clumping in strange patterns when she looks at it. “The others should be safe, shouldn’t they?” she asks quietly.

“Yeah,” Riku tells her. “They went through the dark corridor. Naminé would have opened it somewhere safe. They’re fine, I just know it. Look inside, and you’ll see the truth, too.”

Kairi lifts a hand and puts it over her heart, closing her eyes and focusing intently. It only takes a few moments, but then she nods. “Yeah. You’re right.”

“Naminé would definitely help them out,” Sora says, grinning at her. “So don’t worry about it.”

“Sure,” Kairi says.

They sit for another few seconds in silence before Riku moves. “Hey, could you guys help me? I want to get down to the water.”

“Of course,” Kairi agrees. “I’m curious how the water feels, too,” she admits.

“It’s kinda weird,” Sora says as he gets up and stretches out his hand for Riku to grab. Kairi lifts one of his arms over her shoulders after Sora tugs him to his feet, and they help Riku take the few steps forward. “Doesn’t feel like the water back home. I’m almost glad, though. I don’t know if I could really stand it… if it was the same. I might even get homesick.”

“And you haven’t, even after all your adventures?” Kairi asks him, tilting her head so she can see his face through Riku’s hair.

Sora looks forward as they walk. When they reach the part of the shore where the water carefully washes up, sliding over the sand as if it is more glass than anything else, they put Riku down.

“I guess… I tried not to think about it,” Sora finally admits. He’s looking out over the ocean, towards the far off uncertain horizon. “There was no way to go home, even if I wanted to. And there was still stuff to do – and I kept having to try and find you two.” He flashes a grin at them, but the smile quickly falls, leaving him solemn again. “It wouldn’t… be the same without you.”

“Well you didn’t give me that choice,” Kairi says, trying not to sound too grumpy. “I had to live on the islands without you two, for a whole year! And yeah, it sucks! Most of the time, I couldn’t even remember you, Sora.” She turns her head as she flops down on the sand beside Riku, looking down the length of the beach. There’s strange dark crystals clawing their way free of the sand, spiralling and twisting until it makes Kairi’s head hurt to look at them.

“I told you to stay behind,” Sora says quietly.

“You did,” Kairi says, and it still stings. Sora hadn’t wanted her – had thought she wasn’t capable of keeping up. But she’d proved herself, now. It shouldn’t matter. So why can she feel tears pricking at the corners of her eyes? “That hurt.”

“I’m sorry,” Sora says, imploring, and she looks at him. His eyes are so kind, so deep and blue. “It was wrong. If we ever run into any more trouble… I want you by my side, Kairi. We’re stronger together, I know that now.”

She breathes out, and feels some of that old hurt leave her with the air. “Thanks, dummy,” she teases. “I already knew that!”

They lapse into a more comfortable silence. Kairi digs her hands into the sand, feels the grit against her palms. Her heart feels lighter, knowing that Sora wouldn’t choose to leave her behind again. Even if they’re at the end of the world, at least she’s here with Sora and Riku.

“At least the waves sound the same,” Riku muses. Kairi hums a note of agreement under her breath.

“They do,” Sora agrees. He still has his head thrown back, but his eyes are closed. Riku is focused on the horizon, staring out as if he can see something besides the faint line where the sea meets the sky.

She’s on the brink of falling asleep when Riku speaks again. “About what I was saying, back there,” he starts. Kairi opens her eyes and half turns to him. Riku meets her gaze for a few seconds before he returns to looking out at the sea. The light hasn’t changed in the time that they’ve been here, even though it must have been an hour at least. Kairi wonders if the light ever changes here. “About being jealous?”

“Yeah?” Kairi asks after a second, when Riku doesn’t continue.

“It’s true,” he admits. “I was jealous, of both of you, and of how close you were.”

“How come?” Sora asks, furrowing his brow.

“I was jealous of Kairi because she came from another world… I always figured, if anyone was going to get out there, it was going to be her. You had a good chance of finding your home world. Of going home,” Riku says, looking at her. “After all, if you came to the islands, you should be able to leave again. And I didn’t know if I’d be able to come with you, or if one day you’d just… disappear. I suppose I was afraid of losing you, too.”

“Riku,” Kairi says, heart full to bursting. She reaches out and puts a hand against his arm, hoping that he can feel how much she cares about him. “If I had the chance, you’d be the first person I’d take with me. I know that you’ve always wanted to see other places than the islands.”

He huffs. “Thanks. Though I think I’ve seen enough of different worlds, now.” He pauses for a second. “And Sora… I wished I could live life the way you do. Just following my heart.”

Riku continues to stare outward, and Kairi watches Sora as he studies him. Sora has always done this – focus on one person, so it looks like they’re the centre of his world when he’s talking to them. When they were kids, it had confused her, how he could be so flighty. Now she just knows that he’s just so full of love for everyone that it just shows up when he’s talking to them. That doesn’t mean he’s forgotten about other people. Now that she knows that, she thinks most of the roughness between her and Riku can fade away. They’d competed for Sora’s attention, without realising that they didn’t have to. Sora has more than enough love for each of them.

“Yeah, well, I’ve got my share of problems too,” Sora says. “I do trust you, Riku. No matter what anyone else says. And you’re… you. There’s no way I couldn’t look up to you. There’s a lot of times where I wished I could be as good as you at everything that we did.”

Riku reaches up with his good hand to rub the back of his neck. “Well, I am a year older than you, you know. That probably had a lot to do with it.”

“Only eleven months!” Sora protests, and Kairi can’t help but laugh. It’s an old argument between them – she can’t remember the amount of times that she’s heard Sora tell Riku off, that he wasn’t a year older than him, it was less than that, only eleven months.

“A difference of only eleven months difference is a lot,” Riku says, tucking his chin down on his chest.

“Doesn’t matter,” Sora says defiantly. “You were still better. I always kinda wanted to be as good as you.”

“I always kinda thought I was better at stuff than you,” Riku says, teasing.

“I know,” Sora replies, serious. “I told you, Riku. I wanted to be like you.”

Kairi sees how Riku flushes red under the dark sky. He looks at Sora consideringly before a slight smile graces his mouth.

“Well, there is one advantage to being me… something that neither of you could never imitate.”

“And what would that be?” Kairi asks wryly.

Riku’s smile grows. “Having you two as my friends.”

Sora blinks, surprised, and Kairi crinkles her eyes as she grins at them both.

“Heh,” Sora says. “Then I guess I’m okay the way I am. I’ve got something you could never imitate too.”

“You two are adorable,” Kairi says, and is rewarded by both Sora and Riku spluttering. “I’m glad that you’re my friends, too.”

“Of course,” Riku says.

They’re quiet after that, mulling over everything that they’ve said. Kairi has kept her words stoppered up inside her for so long, that having her concerns heard out is relieving, a reprieve that’s been denied to her for too long. She’s sure that Sora and Riku have been holding onto their own worries for a while as well. Clearing the air makes this place feel comforting. She wonders if it’s because of the darkness. People are more inclined to spill secrets in the dark. Or maybe it’s just because they’re all coming down from the fight, and they want to get that niggling fear out that they’ve been holding back for years. After facing down Xemnas, is talking really that scary?

The waves quietly wash up on the beach, and Kairi closes her eyes, feels the air of this place press against her. It’s so peaceful – complete silence, apart from the waves. After their grueling series of fights, just sitting on a beach with Sora and Riku is all she could ask for.

Something nudges against her shoe. She frowns and opens her eyes to see what it is. She would have thought that she’d seen anything floating in the water – driftwood is normally visible for a while before it washes up on the beach. As kids, they’d wait for the driftwood as it moved across the horizon, arguing with each other as to who got to keep it. Tidus always wanted the new wood to practice his carving on, while Riku and Sora aimed to horde it to make giant bonfires. And Riku and Sora have been looking too – surely they would have seen anything in the water. They likely would have seen anything, anything except this. It has crossed more than one ocean to find itself on this shore, and she feels that it is no coincidence that it has.

Kairi stares at the glass bottle. She’d thrown her whole heart into the note in this bottle. She’d never thought that it would show up here – but if not here, then where else?

She nudges Riku and he takes the bottle when she offers it to him. He raises an eyebrow but pops the cork out of the bottle and takes a few seconds to get the note out. Kairi watches his face as he scans the letter, something in his eyes softening fondly as he reaches the end.

“Sora?” Riku asks, holding out the note. Sora sits up and looks quizzically at the paper. “I think it’s for you.”

Sora takes the note and starts from the top. Kairi can’t help her smile as he starts to read it out loud.

“Thinking of you, wherever you are. We pray for our sorrows to end, and hope that our hearts will blend.”

Kairi remembers writing this letter, to the boy she didn’t remember. That hole inside her – she’d tried to ignore it, tried to forget it. But she couldn’t forget waking up in a castle, couldn’t forget Donald and Goofy, and seeing a ghostly Riku telling her to run. She couldn’t forget gummi ship rides, and talking to Yuffie and Aerith and Leon in Twilight Town, and she couldn’t forget going to other worlds; she couldn’t forget that other worlds actually existed! Riku’s dream had been achieved, but something horrible had happened, she was so sure. She had doodled in the margins of her schoolbooks, and wondered why a small house near the ocean was so familiar to her, and stared at the play island as she scrabbled for the missing piece of her heart. How could she have forgotten Sora?

“Now I will step forward to realise this wish,” Kairi continues, when Sora falls silent. “And who knows: starting a new journey may not be so hard. Or maybe it’s already begun.”

Starting a new journey hadn’t been hard – it had only taken a second, of Axel’s outstretched hand, of the dark corridor behind her. She’d been yearning for a chance to leave, to find Riku, to do something – so when the chance had come, she’d seized it with both hands. She was tired of waiting.

“There are many worlds, but they share the same sky,” Riku finishes, reading over Sora’s shoulder. “One sky, one destiny.”

Kairi feels her heart swell, connecting with the two of them. Sora meets her eyes, and then they both look to Riku. He lifts his head, and a sudden light bathes them, twinkling brightly in the gloom of this place.

“Light,” Riku says, staring at the expanding doorway.

“The door to light…” Sora murmurs, wonder smoothing out his expression and making him look years younger. He jumps to his feet, Kairi’s poem crinkling in his hand. “We’ll go together!”

Kairi stands up, and the two of them ease Riku to his feet. “Yeah,” Riku agrees. “We will.”

They step towards the portal. Together, as they should be.