Kairi’s heart felt like it was in her throat. No one liked to hear those words. They never led to anything good. Was Sora already backing out? Was the distance already too much? She gently petted Yuna in her lap, trying to keep her hands from trembling.
“Sure… what’s up?” She asked hesitantly, expecting the worst.
She heard Sora take a deep breath before answering. “It’s about Mika… well, I think it’s Mika anyway.”
Kairi’s hand stilled over Yuna. That wasn’t at all what she was expecting. She had barely thought about Heart of Worlds this weekend, let alone Mika. Mika’s weird, but her seemingly innocent crush on Sora had been more annoying than anything. So what was this about? “From HoW ?”
“Yeah. I, uh,” Sora could be heard switching his phone to his other ear as he shuffled around on the other side of the phone nervously. “I’ve been getting some weird texts lately, and I think they’re from her.”
“What makes you think it’s her?” Her jaw clenched thinking about Mika texting Sora. It wasn’t that she was jealous… maybe she was a little. But how did this even happen? How did she get Sora’s number? Yuna let out a “meow” and nudged her hand. Kairi began petting her again distractedly.
“Well, I’m not entirely sure it’s her. They never told me their name. I assumed it had to be her since the texts have been pretty similar to things she’s said in the clan chat … well, until recently.”
Kairi bit her lip, but when Sora didn’t continue, she prodded him a bit more. “Something changed?”
“Yeah.” She could hear him take another deep breath. This is bad. “I need you to prepare yourself. It isn’t good.”
Kairi closed her eyes as a nauseated feeling started to take over. Her anxiety was slowly building up in the pit of her stomach. “Just tell me, Sora. What happened?”
“The person who has been texting me, Mika or whoever the hell it is,” Sora paused before he said his next words very carefully. “...was stalking us while you were here.”
Kairi’s eyes snapped open. She stood up from the kitchen floor, letting Yuna jump out of her lap with an angry “meow” just in time to keep from dropping to the floor. Her hand tightened around her phone as her palms began to sweat. Someone had been following them around while she had been on Destiny Island? They knew who she was and what she looked like? She was speechless.
Sora gave her a moment and then continued. “They sent me photos of us at the restaurant and at your hotel. They are threatening to release the photos and make it look like you exchanged sexual favors for an interview with me.”
Kairi caught herself on the kitchen counter as her knees almost buckled from underneath her. “Oh my fucking god…” That was not what she was expecting. Blackmail? Blackmail that would ruin her career before she even had a proper chance to make someone of herself?
“I know. I’m sorry I didn’t say something sooner, but I thought I could handle it without letting you know.” Sora’s voice got quieter as he confessed. “That was dumb of me… You deserved to know.”
“Fuck.” Kairi let herself slowly slide back down onto the kitchen floor. She felt like she had crested at the top of a rollercoaster and was staring down the tracks that dropped down infinitely. She was hot, sweaty, and had that floaty feeling like being outside of her body. She tried to ground herself.
Once she had collected her thoughts properly, she asked Sora, “What are we going to do? They’ll ruin my career with rumors like that, no matter how baseless they are. The gaming industry isn’t exactly kind to women…”
“I know.” Sora said, interrupting those intrusive thoughts and what-ifs. “Don’t worry. Riku and I have a plan if you will agree to it.”
Hope fluttered in her stomach briefly. “What is it?”
“Well, we’re going to release the photos first with a story about us dating. Riku is going to write up something that will sway things in our favor. He’s got a friend who is willing to run the story exactly as we want it… But the big question is…” He paused. “Are you okay with us going public with our relationship this soon?”
Kairi shrugged even though she knew he couldn’t see her. “Even if I wasn’t, I don’t think I’d have a choice.” Yuna must have sensed her mom’s fear and unease as she briefly forgot her anger about being practically thrown to the floor long enough to rub against Kairi’s leg. Kairi reached down beside her and gently patted Yuna on the head in a silent apology. She would have to give Yuna a lot of treats later.
“Kairi, if you don’t want to do it like this, we can figure something else out that you are more comfortable with. I would never force you into this.” Sora’s voice was firm and resolute. Ever the good guy, Kairi thought.
“I know you wouldn’t. Thank you for telling me everything…” Kairi gently rubbed Yuna’s ears as she tried to come up with an answer, but the exhaustion from crying and jet lag were quickly catching up to her. Her body was surging with anxiety and fear of potential consequences, and she was having a hard time concentrating. “Can I have some time to decide?”
“Yes, but unfortunately, I can only give you a few hours at the most. They will be releasing the photos tomorrow unless…” Sora trailed off.
“Unless?” She pressed.
“Unless I break up with you.” Sora admitted.
Kairi inhaled sharply. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, that was their condition on the blackmail. I don’t want to break up with you. Hell, we’ve barely started dating…” He let out a soft chuckle. “But even so, it’s going to take a lot more than some potentially unsavory photos to make me give you up.”
Kairi smiled a little at his words. They gave her some comfort in this shitty situation. “I don’t want to break up either…” She took a deep breath. She needed to give him an answer now if that was really the case. Kairi decided to go with her gut feeling on this one. “If that’s the game they want to play, then I’m in. Tell Riku to do it. His friend can run the story.”
“Are you sure? This might still cause some issues for you even if it’s not the narrative that they were trying to spin.”
Kairi knew Sora was trying to give her everything from all angles, but she’d be damned if some silly girl with a crush came in between them. Okay, maybe this person was more than a silly girl with a crush, and Kairi was still having a hard time putting Mika and this person in the same room, let alone the same body. Either way, she wasn’t giving up without a fight. “Yes, I’m sure. I can handle anything that comes out of us telling the world that we’re together.”
“I will do anything to keep you safe, so just say the word if it becomes too much. I won’t be angry or upset with you. I just want you to be happy at the end of the day.” Sora spoke with such conviction that Kairi knew in her heart that he really meant it. He’d give her up if that was what she really wanted.
But Sora must have underestimated how much she wanted him too. “You make me happy.” She said softly.
She could almost hear the tension leave his voice as he mirrored her back. “You make me happy too, Kai.”
Kairi smiled, but she knew she had to crawl into bed before she ended up unable to move from the kitchen floor. So much had happened in a single day, and she needed her energy to properly deal with this. “I hate to do this Sora, but I’m exhausted. I need some sleep. I have tomorrow off and then I’m back to work. I want to be well rested when I give my boss all of my stuff from this weekend.”
“I understand. I’m pretty exhausted, too.” As if on cue, Sora yawned into the phone. “How about we meet up tomorrow on HoW ? I’ll block Mika from the clan. She won’t be able to bother us anymore there even if these texts aren’t from her.”
Kairi nodded. The thought of Mika waiting for them to log in felt like a hot knife twisting in her gut. She cleared her throat and shook the feeling away. “Okay, it’s date.”
“Yeah? I’ll make sure I’m on time.” She could hear the smile in Sora’s voice.
Trying to keep it light, she asked. “The usual time then?”
“Yep… Sweet dreams, Kai.”
“You too, Sora.”
Kairi tapped on her phone to end the call. With a lot of effort, she managed to pull herself off of the kitchen floor and slowly make her way to her bedroom where she flopped onto the covers with a loud sigh. Yuna hopped up beside her and curled up snugly into a ball. Kairi gently petted her until she could no longer keep her heavy eyelids open. Sleep claimed her, and Kairi was plunged into exhausted darkness.
•| ⊱♡⊰ |•
The next day, Kairi awoke with a pounding headache. Somehow she managed to unpack her bags, toss her dirty clothes into the washing machine, feed Yuna, feed herself, and begin downloading all of her footage and pictures from the expo to her computer. She had even signed off on the draft Riku had sent to her email that had already been posted hours ago. They had beaten the blackmailer to the photo release.
It was already almost noon, the normal time that she would hop onto HoW with Sora and Riku. Just thinking about logging in made Kairi’s hands sweaty. Mika had already been blocked, but Kairi felt like her safe space had been violated.
She still wasn’t 100% sold on Mika being the blackmailer, but something about the innocent crush Mika had on Sora turning into something so sinister filled Kairi’s head with horrifying images. Things could have gone drastically differently if instead of being stalked, they had been confronted with this person and their unhinged obsession with Sora while she was still on the island. That’s exactly what this is, an obsession.
Kairi shook the bad thoughts away and pulled out her computer chair to sit down. She still wanted to be with Sora today. She had been too afraid to see what the response to their relationship was online so she was hoping Sora could break the news, good or bad, to her over HoW .
Welcome to Heart of Worlds!
New Message from: Faeron
Good evening, Kairi. How was the trip?
Kairi made a mental note to reply back to L soon. She would need to break the news to him as well. He had confessed his feelings for her not long before she left, but now she had to tie up any loose strings. Sora was her boyfriend now, and L needed to know there wasn’t any chance for him with her. Boyfriend… Ha, I like that, Kairi thought to herself with a smile.
Joining Kingdom Hearts clan chat...
Fainn and Geir are talking in the clan chat.
[Fainn]: Hey Kai!
[Geir]: Kai! Have you seen the comments on Gamers Weekly yet???
[Ariae]: Ah, no. I’ve been too scared to look. ^^;
[Geir]: You should go check it out. Like 99% positive. Pretty pleased with how well MY plan worked.
[Fainn]: How many times do I have to say thank you?!
[Geir]: Until I get tired of hearing it.
[Fainn]: Ugh. -.-
Kairi took a deep breath as she pulled up the Gamers Weekly blog. The top trending article was, of course, her and Sora’s ‘budding relationship.’ She hesitantly clicked on the article. She scrolled down past the story which she had already read several times over along with the sketchy photos that Sora had told her came from the blackmailer. As she got to the comment section, her thumb hovered over the screen as she squeezed her eyes shut. You can do this… You can do this… Riku said they were mostly positive…
Kairi opened one eye and slowly scrolled down to the first comment. Someone was wishing them well. That wasn’t that bad. And the next one was talking about how cute they were. And then another positive comment, and then another, and another… Riku was right. Everyone was overwhelmingly positive in the comment section on the article.
Feeling curious, Kairi also opened Twitter and saw that she and Sora were trending there as well. And again, a majority of tweets and comments were in support of them. Kairi smiled and punched a fist into the air. “Yes!” Her gut had been correct even while being jet lagged, anxious, and cried out.
[Ariae]: You’re right, Riku! Twitter is also taking the news well!
[Geir]: Ya had nothing to worry about after all. :)
[Fainn]: I’m glad it’s out there now. Even if the timing wasn’t up to us.
[Ariae]: Me too. It would have been nice to have a little more time and privacy, but I think this is a good thing.
[Fainn]: It’s definitely a good thing. :)
Kairi grinned to herself. Well, now that the band-aid had been pulled off of that one, it was time to pull off another one. She quickly typed out a private reply to L and hit send.
[You to Faeron]: Hey L. It went great! How are you?
[Faeron to You]: I’m doing well. Thank you. :) So what’s up?
[You to Faeron]: Actually, I need to tell you something.
[Faeron to You]: That sounds ominous... What is it?
[You to Faeron]: Well, I did end up meeting Faeron on my trip and things went really well. We decided to give a relationship a chance.
[You to Faeron]: I just wanted you to know because I know how we left things before my trip.
[You to Faeron]: I would still like us to be friends if you are okay with that. I understand if you don’t though.
[You to Faeron]: Or if you need some time.
[You to Faeron]: L?
[You to Faeron]: You there?
[You to Faeron]: Hello?
[You can no longer contact this player.]
Their hands shook with rage as they threw their keyboard against the wall. It smashed into pieces, keys scattering across the carpeted floor. “AGGHHHH!! Are you FUCKING kidding me?!” they screamed.
They looked down at their phone, the pictures of Sora and Kairi staring back at them. “I warned you, Sora. Did you think I was playing with you?” They tapped on their email then their drafts. An email was already written up with the incriminating photos attached, ready to send to several gaming news outlets. As they were about to hit send, something made them pause.
“Why…? Why did he not listen to me?” They closed their email and opened Twitter. Their feed was filled to the brim with the photos they had taken. The restaurant, the hotel, Sora and Kairi were everywhere. And the responses to the photos were… encouraging? “What in the hell?”
They tapped on the first article they saw. Along with their photos of Sora and Kairi, there was a blurb about how Kairi and Sora had met at the expo and were now an item… The article even mentioned that Kairi had fled Sora’s panel after the now “notorious girlfriend question.” It was a cellphone video that everyone had been sharing over the weekend.
They thought the short video of them asking Sora about having a girlfriend would work in their favor… but now it has only solidified Sora and Kairi’s new relationship. “You think you can make a fool out of me? I’ll show you. This isn’t over. Not by a long shot.”
They deleted the email draft and instead opened their phone contacts. They tapped on a name and waited. After a few rings, she finally picked up. “Hey, L.”
“Hey, I have some news for you.”
“Yep, remember Sora?”
“Sora? Gosh… yeah. Why? What’s up?”
“Well, I heard…”
Back in Kairi's room…
Kairi frowned as she read the error message for the third time. Had L blocked her? Or maybe he had lost connection…? Guilt felt like a heavy stone in her stomach. As she tried to message L again, the clan chat pinged with a message. She decided to delete the half written message meant for L and return to the clan chat. Maybe she could try again tomorrow.
[Fainn]: So how did old Faeron take the news?
[Geir]: Faeron? That guy that helped us with the PKers that one time?
[Fainn]: Yeah, but I also invited him into the clan.
[Geir]: Ah, yeah. I was pissed at you for that.
[Geir]: What does he have to do with anything?
[Fainn]: He likes Kairi. Waited until she was leaving for the expo to confess to her.
[Geir]: GAG ME
[Fainn]: Yeah so anyways. She’s telling him we’re dating now.
[Geir]: Oof… Big ouch.
[Geir]: A rejection is still a rejection.
[Ariae]: I don’t think he took it well…
[Fainn]: What did he say?
[Ariae]: He didn’t say anything. I couldn’t send him any more messages after that.
[Fainn]: He probably lost connection.
[Geir]: Or blocked you.
[Ariae]: I agree with Riku on this one. I think he blocked me.
[Fainn]: I’m good with that.
[Geir]: Yeah screw him.
[Fainn]: What happened with “Big ouch?”
[Geir]: Eh… He can go fuck himself.
[Geir]: If he can’t take the rejection like a self-respecting person, he didn’t deserve another moment of Kairi’s time.
[Geir]: Dude has every right to be upset but he could have told her that instead of just blocking her. Goes to show he wasn’t her friend in the first place.
[Ariae]: Aww… Thanks Riku. :)
[Fainn]: What about me??
[Geir]: What about you????
[Geir]: I heard that. We share a wall, remember?
[Fainn]: Yeah, that’s why I said it outloud. Kai didn’t need to read that in chat.
[Ariae]: Hahahaha! Stop it you guys.
[Fainn]: Anyway… Should we do a quest or something? It’s been awhile since we’ve all played together.
[Ariae]: Yeah, a quest sounds nice. Let’s pick something low-key and low energy.
[Geir]: Ooooo. I’ve got a good one. I’ve been meaning to visit that haunted mansion in Halloween Town. There’s a quest we can do there. It’s for low levels so it should be easy peasy.
[Ariae]: I’m down. Sora?
[Fainn]: Me too. Let’s do it!
Kairi found it easy to settle back into the routine of HoW and spend time with Riku and Sora in their small clan. She'd be lying if she said she hadn’t missed this, but things were definitely different now. Knowing what Sora looked like, sounded like, felt like, smelled like… Their 3D avatars just weren’t the same as when she was in his arms.
After a few hours of playing and completing the quest, Kairi got ready to say her goodbyes. She had work first thing in the morning, and she was feeling excited about getting all of the video and photographs to the office to be edited and shared. She even had some rough drafts of articles on her virtual drive that she was going to work on tomorrow.
[Ariae]: Alright guys, this was fun but I need some sleep before work in the AM.
[Geir]: Yeah, I’m pretty tired myself.
[Geir]: We’re about to start hitting Heartless a bit harder soon so I need to actually get on some kind of sleep schedule.
[Fainn]: Yeah, I should probably do the same.
[Geir]: Well ‘night Kai! See ya tomorrow.
[Ariae]: Night Riku!
[Fainn]: Kai, can I call you before you go to bed?
[Ariae]: Of course. :)
[Fainn]: Yay! Talk soon. :)
Right as Kairi logged out and put her computer to sleep, her phone buzzed with Sora’s call. She smiled as the photo of them together on the island popped up with his name. “Hello?” She answered.
“Hi.” Sora’s voice sounded a little sleepy. Kairi imagined that he was lying on his bed with his phone up to his ear. She wasn’t too far off in her imagination.
“Hi.” She giggled.
“I, uh, wanted to say good night, but I wanted to hear your voice too.” Sora explained, fumbling over his words. He may as well have said that he was also blushing since it was painfully obvious even over the phone.
“I’m glad you called.” Kairi laid down on her bed as well, mirroring the image she had in her mind of Sora. She could almost feel his arms around her. Memories of her last night on Destiny Island came to the surface. Without thinking, she whispered. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too.” Sora responded almost immediately. Kairi didn’t even have time to feel even a little bit embarrassed about revealing her feelings. After a moment, she heard him rustle around on his bed, the covers shifting. He sighed. “It’s just not the same is it?”
Kairi knew he was referring to Heart of Worlds and spending time together virtually. She answered honestly since it had also been on her mind. “No, it’s not. But I’m glad that we have HoW anyway. It’s still a way to spend time together.”
“Mmm yeah. Maybe we can hop into voice calls more often, too. I know we have the clan chat and everything, but it’d be nice to hear your voice.”
“I would like that.” She agreed with a grin. They could make this work. Technology has come such a long way. They could easily voice chat and video chat along with phone calls and texting. They could find ways to stay in touch that weren't limited to in-game chat and 3D avatars.
“On second thought, I kinda want to keep you to myself.” Sora smirked as he continued. “Maybe we can do voice calls when Riku isn't around.”
Kairi laughed, and tried to cover her mouth from laughing too loudly. “Don’t want to share me, huh?”
Sora feigned seriousness as he said, “Never.”
Kairi laughed again, but couldn’t hold back this time. “You’re so cute.” Maybe it was the late hour or the sleepiness but Kairi was feeling a little more brave at sharing what she was thinking to Sora. Maybe she was also trying to flirt back. Hopefully it was working.
Sora scoffed. “No way. You’re the cute one.”
“Shush.” Kairi blushed. Her phone vibrated against her ear, and she looked at the screen. It was dutifully reminding her that it was bedtime. She frowned and swiped the reminder away before giving Sora her full attention again. “I really have to get some sleep… As much as I would like to stay on the phone with you.”
“I know. I really should too.” Sora sounded hesitant to get off the phone, but eventually he conceded. “I’ll text you tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay, I’ll look forward to it.”
“Sweet dreams, baby.” Now it was Kairi’s turn to blush. That nickname was going to be the death of her.
Kairi gathered her nerves just enough to respond. “G’night, Sora.”
Kairi hung up and put her phone on the charger on her nightstand. As she went to turn off her lamp, something shiny caught her eye. She gently brushed her fingers against the Wayfinder charm she had brought back with her. Hopefully Sora would think of her when he looked at his, just as she did him.