Kairi held Namine's hand as they walked to the train station Sunday evening. Kairi toted Namine's backpack on her shoulders as Namine held her suitcase in her free hand. Neither said anything as they walked into the nearly-empty train station. Kairi gave Namine's hand a soft squeeze as she looked at the train waiting to take Namine back home.
Namine finally broke the comfortable silence as she pulled Kairi in for a hug. It didn't feel quite as embarrassing this time since there wasn't anyone around to see. "I'll miss you. We need to do this again soon." She closed her eyes and hugged Kairi a little tighter.
Kairi returned her tight hug, rubbing Namine's back. She finally pulled away and handed Namine her backpack. "I'll miss you too. I promise we'll see each other again soon." She tucked some loose strands of blonde hair behind Namine's ear and patted her head. "Text me when you get home."
Namine rolled her eyes but smiled. "I will. Be careful walking back." Namine gave her a small wave and started to make her way to the train. Just as she crossed the threshold and turned back to give Kairi a final wave, she heard her yell, "I LOVE YOU!"
Namine's cheeks flushed and she turned away without responding. She quickly made her way to her seat, sat down and pulled out her phone. She sent a text to Kairi that said "I love you too. Now stop embarrassing me in public, dumbie." Kairi just sent back a smiley face, knowing full well what she had done.
Kairi leisurely made her way back to her apartment. The sun was setting, casting a beautiful orange glow across the cityscape. As much as she disliked the city sometimes, it had its good days.
Once Kairi was back home, she logged into her work account to check her schedule for the week. Sometimes she would put in a couple of hours of work on the weekend, but today she was actually looking to see when she could set up that interview with Sora. She grabbed a pad of sticky notes and wrote down a couple of different days and times that could work. She could always do the interview from home after hours too if the six hour time difference got in the way.
Kairi decided rather than hopping onto Heart of Worlds to message Sora about scheduling the interview, she'd send him an email and ask for his availability. It would be a little more professional, she thought. She quickly wrote up an email, separate from the one with their pictures attached, and made sure she added her email signature which included her phone number. Most people liked to call or text even when it came to professional formalities.
Kairi didn't want to wait long for a reply, but the notification wasn't an email. It was a text from a number she didn't recognize, but the sender made their identity clear in their text.
"Video chat??" Kairi said out loud. Oh shit. After she texted back a hasty reply, she began quickly cleaning up her room, pulling outfits from the closet, and dumping her makeup bag onto her bed. She wanted to look professional, but also she wanted to look good for him. She bit her lip. Pictures were one thing, but talking over a webcam was another.
Once Kairi was happy with her outfit, natural makeup, and the clean space behind her desk chair. She created a Zoom meeting and emailed the link over to Sora. She had finished in just under an hour so she prepared her screen recording software, grabbed her iPad to scribble down notes, filled up her water bottle, and made sure her USB microphone was working. She wasn't sure how long Sora had planned for the interview to take, but she was willing to talk well into the night for as long as he'd let her. And not just because of how incredible this interview opportunity was... This was an opportunity to get to know him better. The real Sora outside of Heart of Worlds.
Kairi was adjusting a few settings in the screen recorder program when she heard the bell sound of someone joining the call. She looked over and smiled automatically, but then her smile reached her eyes when she saw Sora's face. He was smiling, too.
"Hey, Kairi! Sorry to keep you waiting." Sora said as he waved at the camera.
Oh my god, Kairi thought. His voice was so cute. And he was cute. She already knew he was cute from his photo but it was nothing like seeing him like this. She tried to keep the blush from spreading across her cheeks but she was sure she failed, especially when her voice cracked as she said "I wasn't waiting long."
"Are you nervous? I'm a little nervous." Sora laughed softly. Kairi wasn't sure if he was actually nervous or was just saying that for her benefit. Either way she was grateful for it.
"A little, but I'm always nervous before an interview."
"Me too. This is really out of my comfort zone." Sora smiled at her and she could feel the warmth of it through the screen.
"I'll bet since you've kept such a big secret for three years!" Kairi joked, trying to make herself (and Sora) more relaxed.
He smiled as he let out a sigh. "Yeah. Riku and I didn't mean for it to happen, but it just kind of did. And then we felt like we couldn't do anything about it. It never felt like it was the right time to reveal ourselves as the people behind PFS."
Kairi nodded, and was about to start writing notes but remembered she was supposed to be recording this. "Before we get in too deep, is it okay if I record us and take some notes?"
"Sure! I wouldn't expect anything less. Just make sure to cut out any dumb shit I say." Sora's face was comical as he covered his mouth after saying the cuss word. "Oops... Can I say shit?"
Kairi genuinely laughed. Usually she had to fake a smile through these interviews and throw in pity laughs, but this felt... comfortable. Like she was catching up with an old friend. "You can say whatever you want, Sora. I can cut anything you don't like."
"Sounds good. I'll try to keep the cuss words to a minimum then, heh." He sheepishly rubbed the back of his head, and Kairi couldn't help but admire his strong arms.
She mentally shook herself and hit record, her pen poised above her ipad as she began asking some of the questions she had written down for Sora. She started with the basics: his name, age, where he was from, and what got him to start up an indie game studio with his best friend.
"Like I was telling you the other night," He stopped. "Can I mention HoW or is that too personal? Actually, I'll rephrase."
Kairi was about to tell him that she didn't mind, but it seemed like Sora wanted to keep their HoW friendship to himself. That was okay with her. He seemed like a pretty private person (secret indie game developer aside), so she didn't say anything and let him continue.
"I've loved games since I was a kid. My first console was a Christmas gift from my mom. It was a big deal back then because my family was struggling a bit financially. My brother and I were freaking ecstatic over this console though, and we invited all of our friends over to take turns. My mom looked so happy seeing us playing games together... It's a core memory for me."
"That's so sweet." Kairi said as she waited for him to continue, jotting down little quips onto her iPad as he spoke. She loved how passionate he sounded. And the sparkle in his eyes when he talked about his family pulled at her heart strings.
Sora nodded, grinning at the memory. "When Riku and I got a little older, we used to get together and write story ideas for games. In high school, he started learning how to code, and I learned how to draw and create 3D models with this free program I found online. I don't think it even exists anymore haha! Eventually we created Paopu Fruit Studios."
"Did you ever think you would have a viral game? Let alone three?"
"Not at all. Riku and I thought this would just a side hobby while we did real life jobs. We actually both worked full time until Nobodies went viral. That was the third game that got picked up by some major gaming YouTubers. Some days, I still can't believe it." Sora's smile never wavered as he spoke, and Kairi couldn't help but notice how handsome he was as he continued.
"Riku was working as web developer, building websites, and I was 3D modeling environment assets for different game studios. We were both kind of freelancing but the hours sucked. The one thing we couldn't wait to do when we got off of work was sit down at the kitchen table and plan our games."
"Sounds like a lot of hard work went into PFS even after you had three viral games. What game would you say was the most difficult to work on?" Kairi was playing her part as an interviewer but she was also hoping to learn more about her favorite game that Sora had promised to tell her about: Nobodies.
Whether or not Sora knew what she was doing, he didn't show it. Instead he leaned his chin into his hand, his brows furrowed in thought. A few seconds later, he looked at her and Kairi felt like he was really looking at her as he spoke.
"Working on Nobodies was the hardest thing I have ever done. Probably Riku as well, but I don't want to speak for him. We had already had two viral games. I really didn't think Nobodies was going to keep with the pattern. We felt like it had all been luck up until that point." Sora took a deep breath, and Kairi waited.
"Nobodies was something that I had written down when I was in high school. I had filled up about 3 notebooks with the storyline, the characters, and even game mechanics I wanted. It was extremely personal to me, and when we finally developed it, I knew a piece of myself went into it. The art, the code, everything has little pieces of me scattered throughout."
Kairi felt tears prickled at the corners of her eyes, but she willed them back inside. She couldn't cry during an interview, no matter how moving that was. "That's so beautiful, Sora."
"Thanks." He laughed, blushing a bit from what Kairi could see through his webcam. "Since it was so personal, I didn't think anyone would care or even like it. But I wanted to make games for myself so I wasn't really worried about whether or not it'd make any money."
"But then it did. It went viral." Kairi smiled as she reminded him.
"Yep." Sora nodded, grinning. "Our fanbase has been amazing, but the reviews for Nobodies hit me differently. Seeing how so many people related to the characters and the story made me feel like I could create more games like that... Which is why we are releasing Heartless. Another game that Riku and I are creating based on some more childhood notebooks." Sora laughed and shook his head at himself like it was the silliest thing he could have done.
Kairi giggled. "Riku and you were really creative kids. Whose idea was it to create Heartless?"
"Mmm, that's a good question. I would say it was both of us, honestly. Riku and I would take a notebook and pass it back and forth, jotting down ideas, expanding on what the other one had written, things like that. But Riku has probably put in more work into the storyline than I have. It's going to be good regardless though. I think that everyone that loved Nobodies is going to love Heartless when it comes out next summer."
Kairi smirked into her camera. "As a side note, you're really good at this. You're selling your new game without me having to do anything! Why didn't you do this sooner?"
Sora blushed. "Ah,well..." he bit his bottom lip and Kairi had to make herself stop staring at his lips no matter how incredibly hot that lip bite was. "I just never felt comfortable talking about my games I guess. I run our social media and it felt less... personal. But talking with you feels good. Like we're old friends." He smiled at her, his blush more prominent now. Then his eyes widened a little bit in realization at what he had just said. "C-can we not include that? P-please..."
Kairi giggled. "No, I won't include that. It'll stay between me and you."
Kairi and Sora talked for another hour, flirting here and there which Kairi knew she'd have to cut out from the interview, before signing off. Sora needed to get to sleep, and Kairi needed to begin editing the interview. If she played her cards right, she could possibly get it finished in time for about 5 hours of sleep. Oof.
But at 4:00 AM after laying awake for an hour or two sans interview work, Kairi couldn't sleep no matter how hard she tried. Sora was on her mind, but so was the mysterious Faeron. Seeing Sora so passionate about his work had made her forget that Faeron had ever existed, but was it fair to Faeron for her to forget about him and pursue Sora? Then again, she didn't even know who Faeron really was or where he lived. And their interactions had been surface level if she was being honest with herself.
She knew where Sora lived now. Over oceans, Destiny Islands. She touched her phone. It lit up with his photo, and she wished she could talk to him again. He had such a nice voice, one she could fall asleep listening to. Kairi knew in her heart that she had feelings for Sora, but did he have feelings for her? Or was it just in his nature to flirt? Did their side conversations in the interview mean something to him? She knew more about the real Sora now than she had ever known through Heart of Worlds.
So what did she do now?
•| ⊱♡⊰ |•
The following morning, Kairi walked up to a tall office building that didn't have any signage. She made her way through the lobby that looked a bit too fancy compared to the drab exterior and to the elevators. She stepped in the first one she saw open and pressed the button for floor 7. She checked her phone one more time and took a deep breath. She will be handing in the interview with Sora to her editor today. She had spent the rest of the night editing it and also transcribing it for the blog.
The elevator 'dinged!' and Kairi stepped out into another lobby. This one was much more casual with people walking around in jeans and sneakers, papers in hand or phones pressed against their ears. The reception desk had a large sign on the front of it proclaiming it as 'Game Seeker Magazine' and at it sat a bubbly girl who was normally answering phones and directing clients. Today she was busy typing away on a laptop, oblivious to the hustle and bustle happening around her.
Kairi smiled as she walked up to her. "Morning, Selphie!" Kairi greeted her. Selphie practically jumped out of her skin, putting her hand over her heart as she looked at Kairi like she was a ghost. "Oh gosh, I didn't mean to scare you! I'm so sorry."
Selphie shook her head quickly and let out a long exhale. "Not your fault at all. I was so into this report that I hadn't realized other people were around." She clicked a couple of keys on her keyboard then looked up at Kairi with her full attention. "Let's start again. Good morning, Kai." She giggled a bit.
Kairi laughed and leaned a bit closer to Selphie, dropping her voice to just above a whisper. "I was wondering if Aqua was in yet. I have something pretty awesome to give her, and I don't think I can wait." She bit her lip as she tried to contain her excitement.
Selphie raised an eyebrow, but smiled. "She's been in her office for about half an hour. Why don't you make your way over, and I'll buzz her to tell her you're coming?"
"Perfect. Thank you so much!" Kairi turned and started making her way through the aisles of cubicles to the large offices that faced the windows. She took a few deep breaths then knocked lightly on Aqua's office door. After a few seconds, she heard Aqua call for her to come in. Kairi straightened her shoulders, feigning as much confidence as she could muster, and opened the door.
Aqua sat at her large desk, typing away at her computer. She glanced up and gave Kairi a smile. "One moment. I just need to reply to this email before I forget my train of thought. ...And there. Take a seat and tell me what's on your mind." Aqua gestured to the two plush, lavender chairs in front of her.
Kairi quickly took a seat and gripped her bag tightly to keep her hands from shaking. "Thank you for seeing me so early this morning. I have some awesome news for you!" Kairi grinned from ear to ear as she pulled out a USB drive from her bag and handed it to Aqua, her hands only shaking slightly before she gripped her bag again.
Aqua took the USB and plugged it into her computer but looked back at Kairi for an explanation. Kairi didn't hesitate to fill her in one the amazing interview she had with Sora of Paopu Fruit Studios and how she had already edited and transcribed the interview. She could tell how please Aqua was when she finished.
"Kairi, this is amazing! Nevermind that you got it done so quickly, but I am so surprised that Sora was willing to give you an interview! Three years with no interviews, no podcasts, barely a statement outside of their social media and then here you are with a direct link to PFS! Amazing..." She said again. Then she began tapping her finger on her chin. "So I am supposed to pick someone to go to Destiny Islands this year for Destiny Gaming Expo, and I think you should be the one to go. If you want to, that is."
Kairi's heart stopped. Destiny Gaming Expo on Destiny Islands was one of the biggest gaming conventions of the year. Every year, one of the senior members of the team would get picked to go and stay for a few days on Game Seeker's dime. Everyone wanted to be the one to go and Kairi couldn't believe that with just the interview she had with Sora, she was suddenly top dog.
"I would love to go and represent Game Seeker Magazine!" Kairi could barely get the words out; she was beyond excited.
"Perfect! I really should have picked someone weeks ago, but I've been so busy... It's this weekend. Is that too short notice?"
"Nope, I can make it work!" Kairi said confidently.
"Okay! Well I will see to it that your hotel is taken care of and your plane tickets are booked. You get a second seat if there is anyone you'd like to take with you." Aqua turned back to the computer and began typing quickly.
"Yes, please!" Kairi already knew who she was going to drag on this trip with, and it was a certain blonde ninja.
"I'll make sure that's taken care of then. I'll email you with your itinerary once my assistant has taken care of everything. I'll also give you a company credit card. All food and travel expenses are on us. I also have a couple of pieces of equipment I would like for you to bring with you so you can do interviews and take video while you're there. But also, please enjoy yourself." Aqua smiled and slid a credit card over her desk towards Kairi and then buzzed her assistant with the reminder to get Kairi a vlog camera along with a microphone attachment. Kairi took the card and slid it into her wallet and tucked it away safely in her bag.
"Thank you so much, Aqua. This means so much." Kairi stood up and offered her hand. Aqua smiled and shook her hand firmly.
"You deserve it. You know, you're going to go places here, Kairi. Keep that networking up and you just might be my boss some day." She laughed, but Kairi could tell Aqua was being sincere in her comments.
"I will do my best!" Kairi gave her another smile as she left Aqua's office and practically ran to her cubicle, pulling out her phone to tell Namine the good news.
•| ⊱♡⊰ |•
Back at the boys' house...
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Sora groaned and rolled over, but the knocking didn't stop. After several moments of incessant knocking, Sora finally pulled himself out of his warm and cozy bed to unlock and sling open his door to glare at whoever dared to wake him up. In the doorway stood Riku with a devious smirk. "What the fuck do you want?" was what Sora wanted to say but it came out in a series of curses and sleepy grunts. Riku didn't need an interpreter to know what Sora meant though.
"Woah, who pissed in your cheerios?" Riku asked, pushing past Sora to sit in his desk chair.
"No one since I haven't had breakfast because I WAS SLEEPING." Sora replied groggily before sitting down on his bed with a huff.
"Well, I have some news. Could be good, could be bad." Riku smirked as he looked everywhere but at Sora as he slowly turned back and forth in the desk chair. Riku knew he was playing a dangerous game with how tired Sora was but he couldn't help it. He loved to push Sora's buttons.
"You're getting a haircut." Sora narrowed his eyes, hoping the comment would irk Riku, but surprisingly, his best friend just shook his head, still smirking and rotating back and forth. "I'm too tired for these games. Just spit it out dude." Sora flopped backwards on his bed with a heavy sigh.
Alright, Riku thought. He didn't want to piss him off anymore with the news he had to share. Frankly, he was a little worried about what Sora would think, but they needed this. He crossed his fingers that Sora would agree.
Sora heard Riku finally stop moving the chair and felt the bed bounce as he flopped beside him on his back. Riku let out a long sigh as he looked up at the celing. "Alright. I won't make you keep guessing. I doubt you'd get it anyway." Sora remained quiet so Riku continued. "I got us a panel at Destiny Gaming Expo this weekend." Riku said, slowly turning his head to look over at Sora.
Sora stared up at the ceiling, his expression unreadable. "Our first panel, huh? So... are we revealing ourselves? After all this time?"
Riku nodded, still trying to figure out what Sora was thinking. "I think it's time. Don't you?"
Sora hummed in thought. "Mmm yeah, you're probably right. I guess I'm a little nervous." He chewed on his bottom lip as he finally turned his head to face Riku. "Do you think we'll be okay?"
"I don't see why we wouldn't be. There's nothing scandalous to cancel us for, and with how extroverted you are, I think this will be good for PFS." Riku gave him a small smile then nudged him gently. "I think it will be good for both of us, too. No more secrecy."
"It's gonna be weird. For so long, PFS has been faceless. Now it's gonna have our faces on it."
"Two of the most handsome faces to ever exist in gaming!" Riku laughed and Sora could help but laugh with him. This could be good. Really good...
"So what's our panel about?" Sora slowly sat up, and Riku joined him, finally feeling a bit excited now that he knew Sora was onboard.
"Well, I have some ideas but I wanted to see what your thoughts were too." Riku pulled out his phone and began scrolling down through a typed list of ideas, Sora looking over his shoulder curiously.
"Oh, that's a good one." He said as Riku paused over one of the many bulleted ideas.
"You like that one? I kinda do too. Wanna do some brainstorming?"
"Yeah. Let me get my tablet and make some notes."
And just like that, Sora and Riku would be heading to the Destiny Gaming Expo this weekend, a trip that would be life changing in more ways than one.