The first evening Kairi can sneak out of her house without being caught by her dad and grounded even more (you'd think the fact that she came back with Riku, who'd been missing for almost two years, and Sora, who'd been missing for just as long and also forgotten by everyone for half of that, would negate the fact that she'd disappeared in the first place--but, Kairi reflected, parents' logic was not like their own), she goes over to the play island and to the Secret Place.
It's difficult, partly because she goes while it's still light out and thus runs the risk of getting caught more than if she left after bedtime. But it's also difficult for the same reason that she goes while there's plenty of light: Kairi has never liked the Door.
It's always made her uncomfortable, a mental fidgeting in childhood that turned to physical discomfort as the years went on. She avoided it like all the other kids, even after Sora and Riku declared that the monster wasn't real. She's only gone in there three times without Sora; the feeling isn't so bad with him beside her.
The second time was after she was sent back to Destiny Islands alone, with words Sora had and hadn't been able to make heard written in her heart. The third time was weeks after Riku was discovered missing and finally considered lost at sea, and not long after her memories of Sora had disappeared as well; Kairi made herself go back to look at the drawings, to try and understand what drove Riku to leave--she refused to believe what everyone else assumed about the washed up fragments of the raft, even though the last time she'd seen him he'd been half-visible and telling her to run. It was hard, because she'd forgotten most of the reason why she went there the second time, and only really remembered the first.
The first time she went into the cave alone, it was a week before they were supposed to leave. She had to pull her shirt up over her mouth, because something about the place choked the breath out of her; and the drawings only made it worse. They'd grown, multiplied into so many more than were there the last time she and Sora had come in; and they'd all become so much worse. Kairi fled before she'd even gotten all the way around the right-hand wall, after she saw the picture with the oversized, misshapen monster and the strange little ovals with letters over them that might have been stones or anything at all but that made her think of only one word.
It took her six days to work up the courage to suggest to Sora that they leave without Riku.
Standing outside the Secret Place almost two years later, the memory still makes her take a deep breath of sunlit air before pushing through the bushes leading in.
Now, knowing what she does, she wishes she'd reacted differently; but she doesn't regret it. It was just a case of destiny: when she looks back, she doesn't see any other way it might have gone. The darkness scared her back then, especially as it grew and warped the boy she'd known for half her life; and her first instinct was to protect herself and Sora, who hadn't seemed to see the changes to Riku at all. And back then, running was the only option.
There's still darkness in the cave, even with the Door locked. The urge to call her keyblade itches under the skin of her palm as she makes her way down the path, and Kairi can't help but wonder what's really in the heart of this light-drenched world.
But she pushes it aside. Running isn't her only option now, but that doesn't mean fighting is automatically the best one.
The Door pulls her attention as soon as she turns the curve; and immediately after that, Kairi realizes Riku has been in here. When, she doesn't know--they haven't been back a week, Sora's mother has barely let him out of the house to go to school; even Riku's parents must want to keep him close right now, to be sure he's really home again.
Or maybe that's just what she wants his parents to be doing, and feeling.
The white patches scraped across the grey rocks are unpleasant; more like a picture nailed over a crack in the wall than a clean slate.
But not everything is gone. Kairi takes another, smaller breath, and pushes into the cave proper, moving over to the right-hand wall. The drawing that she'd always thought was three circles she now knows is the King, and glancing across the cavern near the floor confirms that the child's drawing of Disney Castle is still there as well. The nearby sketch of Traverse Town, done in a teenager's steady hand, has become a white blank. So has the child's drawing of the monster and the creature and the little ovals that sent her running all that long, long time ago.
Kairi touches her fingertips to the scraped patch of rock where she knows the ovals were and thinks once more Gravestones.
She lets her hand drop a moment later, the rough stone catching on her skin, and glances further up. The fish is still there, and so are the fish that are the exact same but with a merman added; but in both, the eels have been scraped away. Near the roof of the cave, the child's drawing of a house is also gone, which Kairi finds eerie; it was one of the carvings that was already there when she and Sora came in as children. Sora thought it was two people standing in front of the house; but Kairi thought the stick-like figure that Sora said was a tree looked like a person running out the front door, and the blobs Sora thought were people looked more like flames coming out the windows. They'd never agreed; but Sora never got around to mentioning it to Riku and Kairi avoided asking.
The pictures of Donald and Goofy are still there, but that's not a lot of comfort. The drawings are heavily stylized, to the point that they look more like monsters than the friends Kairi knows. The crossed-out chocobo beside them remains as well, and she's not quite sure what that signifies.
Kairi can't look yet at the fierce white patch by the Door, so she crouches by the pictures she and Sora drew together and runs her hand over the paopu to draw strength. Then she takes one last deep breath, straightens, and faces the Door.
The drawing to the left of it has been scraped away so deeply that Riku must've taken a potion afterward, or they would have noticed the damage to his hands. But it's still a curtain drawn over an ugly truth, and Kairi remembers exactly what it looks like.
She closes her eyes and sees the dragon and three ravens, scratched into the rock by a young man's hand.
When she opens them again, she's pressed her palm flat against the stone, hard enough that the edge between the rock and the area Riku scraped away digs into her heel. She drops her head and sees Riku's face dug into the rock near the ground in a child's sloppy style; on the other side of the Door, her and Sora's sketches of each other are just barely visible through her hair.
All his pain was right here on the walls, she thinks; but Sora didn't see and she saw and didn't want to.
This close to the Door, the discomfort is back. Kairi steps away, sits down and leans against the boulder, staring up at the gap in the ceiling of the cave at the sky outside.
It's like that that she notices the last changed drawing on the walls, and she quickly pushes onto her feet and goes over to it.
It's one of the oldest drawings, so who knew how Riku managed to carve it so high on the wall while he was still a kid. He and Sora are fighting an indistinct monster with swords, Riku diving at it from above while Sora fights on the ground with one arm behind him to protect her, Kairi.
Riku's legs are partially whited out, like he started to erase himself and then stopped. Kairi climbs on top of a protruding rock and then stretches up on her toes and holds tight to the wall. Her fingertips just brush over the area that's been scraped away.
She's silent for a long time, until her legs start to ache; and when she does speak it's not out loud.
Naminé? Kairi asks hesitantly.
Yes? comes the answer, drifting up from somewhere not her heart but close by it.
How can I repair this?
Stone isn't crayon, but after they've debated several possibilities, Naminé has the idea of using charcoal to imitate the grey of the rock: drawing back Riku's legs while leaving some of the white to serve as an outline--outwardly the same, but different nonetheless.
Kairi borrows a piece of charcoal from the school art room the next day, but can't sneak out of her house again until a few evenings later. This time she worries less about going in and leaving while there's still sunlight.
The charcoal is too dark to resemble the grey of the stones, even in dim light; but something about it feels right, the seeming asymmetry really just a balance that hasn't been seen before.
Yes, Naminé agrees, and there are undercurrents in her voice that Kairi kindly ignores and doesn't ask about. Too few of Naminé's pleasant memories belong to her alone; Kairi won't take them if the other girl doesn't offer first.
But even with the picture restored, something still feels wrong in here, off-balance and awkward and not quite right yet. She looks around the cave again at all the pictures, even the ones that aren't there; but she still can't place a cause to it. Finally she leaves, because it's nearly dark and the tide will be against her soon.
Weeks later, when Kairi finally figures it out, she's a little annoyed at herself for not realizing sooner. But at least she comes up with a solution more quickly.
She expects it to take a while to explain to Sora, but to her surprise it doesn't take any time at all. Kairi and Riku have both noticed that Sora is clearly a year younger than them, mentally if not physically; they've traded more than their share of exasperated looks over his head, but what else is there to do but wait? She survived two whole years, after all; she can manage a few more months.
(A few months is all she's willing to extend--after that, she's going to start putting Sora's hands where they need to go, and holding them there until he stops turning red and takes the hint.)
They head over to the play island that afternoon, as soon as school is out, telling Riku only that it's a secret he'll get to see later; there's no time to wait until after homework and dinner, because her dad still isn't pleased with all the time she spends with "those two" and it's easier to come back late than to sneak out.
Sora eyes the white spaces for a long time even after they've found some good rocks to use. Kairi's pretty sure he's asked Riku about it, because he always glares at the deep swath by the Door where Maleficent used to be. But this time, there's a sharpness in his eyes, a brief flash of something that makes Kairi think of him in anti-form.
Or specifically, of the way he looked at her and Riku the first time they practiced their trinity limit. Kairi starts to wonder if this particular slowness of Sora's is less a matter of growing up and more one of accepting what he feels and not trying to block parts of it off.
He's gotten better at talking to Roxas, though. So even if that's the case, he ought to overcome it soon. At least, he better--she's sticking fast to the extension of only a few more months.
"Where should it be?" Sora asks, crouching in front of the picture of Riku. Kairi kneels beside him.
"What about here?" she replies, pointing to a spot close to Riku's mouth. Sora agrees, so they get to work drawing the paopu.
They each add one of their own hands around it, carving the arms along the wall and floor so that even if the Door's in the way, it's obvious who the fruit is from.
The next time Sora and Kairi sneak into the Secret Place to kiss, Sora notices the newest change first: by their drawings of each other, there's two new hands and a second paopu, one fruit in two halves.
They abandon the plan for kissing, go back to the island, find Riku, and then tackle and tickle him until he realizes why they're so happy and starts actively trying to escape so he can go be embarrassed in peace. Kairi and Sora nix that plan by sitting on him so he can't get away.
By the time they're finally certain he's not going to flee and move off, Riku's folded his arms under his head and curved the corner of his mouth up in a smirk. "So you like it," he drawls.
He glances at Kairi at the end of the sentence, like he's asking a second question; and when she only tilts her head in confusion, the awkward expression on his face and the way he looks to the side makes her certain that he was. He swats at Sora, who's poking him in the ribs and saying of course they did, and doesn't look at her directly for a while.
Kairi gets home very late, barely making it in time for dinner, and then climbs right back out her window when she goes upstairs to do homework. It's already twilight, and it'll be dark by the time she starts back from the play island, but she goes there anyway and takes a flashlight with her.
The cave has always been dim, but the flashlight throws strange new shadows along its walls, and the hand Kairi's holding it with keeps itching for her keyblade, especially when she has to put her back to the Door to examine anything.
The change is very small, but also huge. In the one drawing with all three of them, the one where Riku and Sora are fighting a monster and where Riku has become half light and half dark, the carving of Kairi is now holding a tiny keyblade.
Kairi presses both hands against the picture, hard enough that when she finally drops down to the ground one palm is dusted with charcoal; and then she has to wait for a while on the beach with her arms wrapped around herself until she can stop crying and safely steer her boat back to the main island.
She doesn't stop smiling, though; not even after she's finally finished tomorrow's homework and wrapped herself up in the covers to fall asleep.
Not all change is bad.