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When Waiting Isn't Enough

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Kairi’s keyblade is made of flowers, but they are not the flowers that belong in this world. They’re island flowers, large and fragrant and as out of place here as she is.

They expect her to be a princess- not just a Princess of Heart, which is simply a matter of being, but a real princess who is proper and polite, who doesn’t go chasing after Heartless in the middle of the night with a keyblade she shouldn’t have. A real princess who doesn’t stare for hours at the sky, wondering when Sora or Riku will come to take her home.

They want someone who has a head for figures and trade agreements, and that Kairi can do- she’s always been good at school- but they want her to negotiate, too. Kairi’s never negotiated for anything in her life. Her dad- her real dad, on Destiny Islands, who raised her and is probably wondering where she went, if she’s safe- gave her everything she needed. Riku’d called her spoiled sometimes, and it’s true that she got more than most kids. But the thing is, she never even asked for most of it. She’d never had to.

Negotiating is hard. She feels like someone is always going to get the short end of the stick, and she can’t accept that. There are people here who are counting on her, but there are other people, somewhere else, depending on the people who come to Radiant Garden from other neighboring worlds to talk to her. She doesn’t belong here, and while she the people she’s met so far are pleasant, her loyalties are split. She’s been to other worlds. She’s lived there. The people of other worlds are just as important to her as the people of Radiant Garden.

She wasn’t even first in line for the throne, nor second or third. Later, one of her tutors explains it to her.

“Not everyone came back when the worlds were restored,” she is told. “Only about one in ten of us made it home. The royal family is gone, all but you through your mother’s line.”

She doesn’t remember much about this world. She remembers a little of her grandmother, of long talks about light and darkness, but her nothing of her parents. She’d thought that meant she didn’t have any, and when she appeared in this world, she hadn’t recognized the man who swept her into his arms claiming to be her father.

She might have accepted a mother. She’s never had a mom. But this man is not her dad. She can see that he is relieved to see her, that he loves her, but her heart still cries out, “impostor!”

Kairi has always listened to her heart above all else, and it feels so wrong to ignore it. But that is what she does over the next few weeks. Her father is kind. He is loving. She can tell he wants her to succeed here, as princess and soon, in a matter of two or three years, as queen. The problem is, she doesn’t want to be here at all. Her heart belongs to another world.

She doesn’t belong here.


Sora and Riku don’t come, for all the weeks and months she sits waiting and learning to be a queen. She considers going to look for them- she could steal a gummi ship from an ambassador and just go looking- but remembers what Sora said once.

“You’d kind of be in the way.”

It’s true- she’s no warrior. When the other kids on the island were playing with swords or hitting each other with beach balls, she was weaving shells together with bits of grass to make charms. She’s never wanted to hurt anyone.

She has no such pity for the heartless that still linger in the shadows or come out at night. There aren’t nearly as many as there once were- she supposes she has Sora to thank for that- but they’re still dangerous.

Some ignore her until she attacks them, and some spring at her from around corners. She guesses they’re confused by her, with no darkness in her heart. She comes back to the castle after battles bruised and strangely happy, which is how she knows she’s meant for something besides trade agreements.

Battle has never interested her before. But when there’s a reason to fight- when she is protecting people from the Heartless, and growing stronger so that she can find Sora and Riku- she finds that she enjoys the adrenaline rush, the solid impact of keyblade against Heartless.

It’s something that feels real, in a world that still feels like a dream most of the time.

She knows things are happening out there, while she waits. One day she wakes up and can’t remember the name of the other boy- not Riku, but the other one. His name, his face- everything is gone, leaving a hole in her memories. She trains more desperately with her keyblade after that, because what if her sudden memory loss means something horrible has happened to him?

It’s months later, when she can easily beat every Heartless she comes across, that she decides she’s ready.

She steals a gummi ship the next day. She has no idea how to maintain one, but she finds that piloting it is pretty easy as long as you point the guns forward and keep shooting at any Heartless that show up. When it breaks down, a few worlds later, she figures that’s a good time to look for alternate transportation.

Luckily (or maybe there’s no such thing as luck; maybe it’s destiny) that’s the world Sora is on.

She remembers him when she finds the pod he’s sleeping in. Donald and Goofy are there, too, all of them sleeping.

“He won’t wake up.”

She turns, keyblade already in hand.

The man in front of her is dressed in heavy clothing, his face wrapped in red cloth. It is impossible to make out his features, but she can see his eyes, at least. They're the golden color that eyes turn after being touched by darkness. He’s looking at her keyblade skeptically. At her, as though she’s a little girl.

“I came to save him,” she said. “It’s been too long. I knew something had to have gone wrong.” She doesn’t lower her keyblade. She has no indication yet that this man means Sora well.

They stand like that for a moment.

“You’re Kairi,” he says at last. “You shouldn’t have the keyblade.”

“That’s what everyone in Radiant Garden said, too,” she tells him. “Do you have anything to tell me that I don’t know?” It’s uncharacteristically mean of her, but she’s been saving up her impoliteness for quite some time. “Tell me how to wake him up.”

“You can’t,” the man tells her. “His memories are being restored. There is no way to wake him until they are complete again.”

“And how long will that take?” Kairi asks. “And where is Riku?”

The man shakes his head and turns away. Kairi lowers the keyblade, but only a fraction of an inch. She has to dismiss it a moment later, because she needs both hands to work the computer, to free Sora.

She’s there to catch him when he collapses out of the pod.

“Come on, Sleepyhead,” she says, shaking him gently, then more firmly. There are tears in her eyes. They do no good. It’s as the man said: Sora won’t wake up.

She lays him gently on the ground for the moment.

“Where is Riku?” she asks again.

The man says, “Have you heard of Nobodies before, Kairi?”

Kairi shakes her head.

“A Nobody is what is left of a person once their heart becomes a Heartless,” he says, and this is all very well, but he’s avoiding the issue. “They’re dangerous beings, and they shouldn’t exist. But your Sora left one, when he became a Heartless. Riku is out capturing it. It has half of Sora’s memories hidden within it, and we can’t restore those memories until we have his Nobody.”

“Oh,” Kairi says.

“Riku has failed before,” the man says, obviously irritated. “Just because it looks human-”

There is noise, then. Distant, from another room, but Kairi hears a door.

“Riku,” she says, and it’s irrational. She doesn’t really know that it’s Riku she’s hearing. But she’s learned to trust her instincts in a fight- and this is a fight, even if it doesn’t look like one.

She rushes through a door, and up some stairs into a library- the architecture of this building is weird, all secret passages, but she doesn’t care. Riku is what matters now. Riku will know what is happening with Sora, will know more of what to do to wake him up. Together they’ll make everything okay again.

It doesn’t look like Riku, when she sees him, but her heart tells her that the too-tall figure in front of her is him, not Ansem. (And that’s a name she has to think about more, too, because there is an Ansem who was king of Radiant Garden, and she hasn’t figured out if there’s a connection yet.)

“Riku,” she says, and she would rush in to give him a hug, but she’s stopped because his arms are full. His arms have someone in them, unconscious and being carried bridal style.

The clothes and hair are different, and he’s a little thinner, a little more worn, but the boy in Riku’s arms is definitely Sora. Which doesn’t make sense- she left Sora down in the basement, with the man who wouldn’t give her any straight answers, and besides, she can see differences already. This isn’t a Sora who’s been peacefully sleeping. He looks so tired, even passed out in Riku's arms.

“Kairi?” Riku says. He looks panicked, the expression so out-of-place on Ansem’s face that Kairi almost laughs. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be safe, at home!”

Kairi just says, “I just knew you two would get into trouble without me, so I had to come help. I’ve been training- I won’t just be in the way this time. Besides, I didn’t end up at home, anyway. I was in Radiant Garden. It’s a long story.”

“I guess,” Riku says, sounding a little dazed. Then he seems to remember the boy he is carrying. “I have to get Roxas- that is, Sora’s Nobody- to Namine before he wakes up.”

Kairi knows when there are too many things for her to keep track of, so she doesn’t bother asking who Namine is. Instead, she says, “What’s going to happen to him?”

Riku shakes his head. “Namine will erase his memories. Then we need him calm and in one place for a while. Maybe a week, maybe two. Then... we can work on putting them together again.”

“Erase his memories?” Kairi says, alarmed. “Riku- that boy is part of Sora . You can’t just erase parts of him!”

“It’s the only way Sora will wake up,” Riku says, looking distressed. “This part of him- he’s had experiences Sora hasn’t. He has memories Sora doesn’t. They can’t coexist anymore.”

“No,” Kairi says. “No, there’s got to be another way.”

Riku just looks frustrated. “The world isn’t fair,” he says. “There isn’t always a perfect solution to everything.”

“I know that,” Kairi says.

Bitterly, Riku says, “Like you’ve ever done anything bad in your life. Like you’ve ever had to. You’re a Princess of Heart.”

Kairi feels this statement like a verbal slap. She says, “I’m not- I don’t-”

She takes a breath.

“If that’s what you think of me... then I have done a lot of harm. I’m not perfect, Riku!”

She thinks of her fathers- island and garden, and how only one of them is real to her, even after nearly a year spent with the other.

“I have so many flaws,” she says. “I’m lazy- you did more to build the raft than Sora and I did together, back on the islands. And I’m prideful- I want people to think the best of me even when it isn’t true. And-”

She looks at Sora’s Nobody, in Riku’s arms, and thinks of all the harm she doesn’t want to come to either of them.

“I’m selfish,” she says quietly. “Because I want both of you to stay with me forever, and there isn’t enough of me for even one of you. I can’t share your rage, or your grief, or your guilt. There are things I will never feel, because I’m- I’m half a person, Riku. You think of your darkness as a weakness. It isn’t, unless you let it consume you. And while my light comes with certain benefits, it comes with weaknesses, too.”

Riku doesn’t seem to know what to say, so Kairi just smiles at him.

“I’m not upset about it,” she says. “I don’t think I’m capable of the sort of... self-flagellation that other people are. But I’m not perfect.”

She draws herself up to her full height. “And- I know you must have thought about the options to save Sora. I know this is what you decided would be best. I know that if we want Sora back, we will have to prioritize the half of him with a heart, who remembers us, over the half without, who doesn’t. And- even so, if you harm even one hair on that boy’s head, I will fight you.”

Her keyblade appears in her hand, ready, and it does not shake. At that point Riku apparently gives up on being confused, and just says, “Fine.”

“Fine?”

“I could never fight against you, Kairi.” He smiles sadly, and it looks so wrong on Ansem’s face. “But I still don’t know what we’re going to do about Sora. And- for that matter, what the hell do we do about Roxas? He was going to go after Xemnas- Ansem’s Nobody- on his own. He’s not strong enough. We can’t just let him go. It would be as good as killing him.”

“We train with him,” Kairi says. “We make sure he is strong enough. And then- we go with him.”

“And then?”

Kairi looks down, and says, “I don’t know. I wish we’d shared a Paopu fruit, all three of us, because then maybe destiny would bring us all together again. Then again- I’m not sure I believe in destiny anymore. Maybe things just... happen.”

Kairi gave her thalassa shell charm to Sora, and he never came back. Sora saved the worlds for her and Riku, and neither of them ended up home again. If she hadn’t come searching for them, who knows what might have happened?

No, Kairi doesn’t believe in destiny anymore.

That’s not to say that she doesn’t believe in happy endings. Happy endings can still happen- they just don’t happen on their own. And waiting doesn’t do anyone any good.

Riku and Kairi go back down to the lab, where the man in red is waiting.

“DiZ,” Riku says with a nod. “I trust you’ve met Kairi.”

DiZ looks displeased, but nods in return. “And you’ve captured Sora’s Nobody. Good. We can digitize him immediately, and then let Namine know to begin.”

“No,” Riku says.

Even through the cloth on DiZ’s face, Kairi can tell he is angry.

She steps forward, as through to provide a guard for Riku against DiZ, and says, “I won’t allow it.” She pulls on all her training of the past year or so- posture, bearing, presence. It doesn’t help, not really- he continues to dominate the room. Still, she adds, “No one is erasing anyone. We are going to wait for him to wake up, and then we will talk about this like rational people.”

If DiZ was angry before, now he is furious.

“Rational people,” he repeats. “Kairi-”

(The way her name sounds on his tongue, she never wants to hear it again from him.)

“-that thing is not a person.”

Kairi says, “If you ever call him a ‘thing’ again...”

“What?” he asks, all venom. “I don’t know you, but I know of you. You’re a Princess of Heart. What sort of threat will you make? You have no darker nature. There’s only so far you’re willing to go.”

“You’re right,” Kairi says. “There are things that I won’t do- that I can’t do. I can’t even imagine torturing someone, for example.”

Her keyblade appears in her hand, not really ready for battle, but there, solid. It is heavy, though she expects this. “I don’t know if I can kill you,” she says, turning it over in her hands once, examining it as though for damage. (She has never met anything yet that can crack her keyblade, is not even certain if such a thing exists). She lets it vanish, then, and looks back to him. “I certainly wouldn’t kill for an insult, if that’s what you’re asking, no matter how tasteless I might find your comments. But one of my dearest friends is asleep, and you want to do something horrible to part of him without his knowledge or consent. I don’t know how far I would go to save him, but I think you underestimate me. My heart is made of light, but that does not mean that I am weak.”

“It’s true that he won’t cooperate, though,” Riku says. “We can’t keep him here, at least at first. I say we digitize him, but don’t erase his memories. It’ll be harder for him to escape that way. And- it will be a good place for training, once he understands what’s going on.”

Kairi doesn’t fully understand what that means. But she follows Riku to the corner of the room where there is a beam of light stretching from the ceiling to a platform on the ground. He tilts his head towards it. “Go on, Kairi. You first.”

She takes a final look at Sora, still lying on the ground where she left him. “Will he be okay?” she asks DiZ.

“Of course,” DiZ says, still angry but now cooling down. “I’ve taken care of him this long.”

She steps into the light, Riku, carrying Roxas, still close behind her.

Chapter Text

The digital world is not what Kairi expected. It looks just the same as the real one- for a moment she thinks that she hasn’t moved after entering the digitizing beam. The room she has entered is identical. But then she looks over, and she sees that DiZ and Sora are gone.

Riku is right behind her, and he bumps into her when she stops to examine her surroundings.

“It’s a copy,” he says. “We based it on the real Twilight Town. We had a whole plan, a little adventure- a tournament- and some friends to keep him busy.” He shakes his head. “I guess it doesn’t matter now.”

Riku carries Roxas up the stairs, out of the basement of the house. He carefully closes the secret passage behind them, and they walk out of the mansion, into the woods, and through town to a house with a room that looks suspiciously like Sora’s, back on the islands.

“You wanted him to be comfortable,” Kairi says. "Even though you thought you had to kill him, you wanted to make it as painless as possible."

Riku nods, and finally is able to set Roxas down, on the bed. He looks tired, but Kairi thinks that his tiredness has nothing to do with carrying Roxas so far. He’s been carrying a lot more than that, for too long, and all alone. Even now, he looks deep in thought.

She reaches over and takes his hand. He starts.

“You think too much,” she says. “You always have.”

Riku snorts, and if she closes her eyes she can imagine that he looks like himself again. “Better than thinking too little,” he says. “I swear, if it weren’t for me, I don’t know how the two of you would-”

He doesn’t finish. He sits down, right there, on the floor by the door, and leans against the wall.

Kairi sits with him, still holding his hand. The rest of the phrase, the thing he'd almost said, the thing he had always said before, was “I don’t know how the two of you would survive.”

She thinks maybe it cut a little too close to home, in all the wrong ways.

Kairi has never seen Riku cry, not even when he was nine and he’d fallen from a palm tree and broken his arm. He’d always just gone very quiet, instead.

She wonders if it’s a good sign or a bad that now he’s blinking back tears.

“I messed up,” he says, finally. “So many times. I let darkness into my heart, and there’s nothing I can ever do to make up for it. I nearly destroyed all the worlds, Kairi.”

“That wasn’t you,” Kairi says. “It was Ansem.”

He looks at her, disbelieving. “I let him in. Not just once, either. Over and over again. Darkness can’t enter a heart without permission, you know. And he didn’t take over all at once.”

His fist- the one not in her hand- clenches.

“He said...” Riku continues. “He said so many things. How he was just like me, how he’d grown up on an island too, and he’d escaped. He said it was a prison, and I believed him.”

Kairi couldn’t imagine the island being a prison. A whole world, how could that not be big enough for someone? But then she thought of Radiant Garden, and how she’d itched to leave, and she thought she understood, at least a little.

She didn’t interrupt Riku, though. This was obviously something that had been eating away at him.

“I looked normal,” Riku said in a rush. “Like myself again. Until today. I let the darkness win again, used its power to stop Roxas from getting away. And I don’t know what it says about me, that I’d do it again, if I had to.”

“It says you care about Sora,” Kairi says. “That’s all.” Quietly, she adds, “I would do the same thing.”

“What?”

She looks at him calmly. “I would let darkness in my heart, if it meant saving you two. If it meant saving either of you. Even if it meant not being a Princess of Heart anymore.”

“Don’t say things like that,” Riku says, wiping at one of his eyes. There are no more tears. She hopes that means she’s comforted him. That he isn’t in pain anymore, even if the relief is just for a minute. “You shouldn’t give up who you are for us. For me.”

“Neither should you,” she says. She squeezes his hand once, hard, before letting go of it. “It's the same. Think about that, okay?"

Roxas starts to stir, slowly, only a few moments later. Kairi thinks maybe they should have given him some potions to heal his wounds, but it’s hard to get unconscious people to drink a potion. Either way, he looks beat up, broken.

She and Riku wait quietly for Roxas to wake up. Kairi has so many second thoughts about this plan. She thinks, Roxas might run. She thinks, Roxas might fight them.

But the alternative was to hurt him, to hurt Sora, and she could never do that.

(I would let darkness in my heart, she’d said, if it meant saving either of you. But would she really? Is saving Roxas mercy, or selfishness? Is she making the right choice?)

When Roxas finally wakes, he sits bolt upright, grasps at the air, and ends up with a keyblade in his hand. Kairi knows that blade. The key chain on the end resembles the charm she gave Sora.

“What the hell,” he says scrambling out of the bed and onto his feet. Then he summons a second keyblade, this one darker.

He points the first keyblade at Riku, then at Kairi, then back at Riku, probably figuring the guy who beat him up is a greater threat than the girl he doesn't know. The second one stays at his side.

Kairi says, “We don’t want to hurt you.” She keeps her tone gentle, soothing, like she’s talking to a wounded animal.

She continues to sit, and keeps a hand on Riku’s knee, so that he can’t stand without moving it. He doesn’t move.

Kairi says, “Can you put down the keyblade, Roxas? We want to talk.”

She carefully digs into her bag, all slow motions, and pulls out a potion. “Here,” she says, placing it as far from herself- as close to Roxas- as she can without standing.

Roxas dismisses the second keyblade, and lets the first keyblade dip down, pointing it at the ground. He reaches for the potion with his free hand but keeps his eyes on them. On Riku, especially.

He sniffs the potion before he drinks it. Maybe he’s afraid it’s laced with something. But he drinks it eventually, apparently deciding that if they wanted to kill him they’d have done it while he was sleeping.

Then he says, “You’re that girl he likes. Kairi. I know you. What are you doing here?”

Riku bristles. Kairi says, “I woke up on the wrong world, and found myself here after searching for Riku and Sora for some time. I arrived just about an hour ago, in time to stop Riku from making some hasty decisions.”

Roxas looks confused. “What do you mean?” But then he blinks, and leans on his remaining keyblade like a cane for a moment before sitting down. He tosses the empty potion bottle on the bed and rubs at his head.

“Headache?” Kairi asks.

“Probably need another potion,” he admits, guarded. “Do you have one?”

She rummages through her bag again. She has one more at the bottom.

“Here,” she says. She stands slowly and walks over to him to hand it to him. “It’s not as strong as the last one,” she adds apologetically, “but hopefully it’ll do you some good.”

He doesn’t bother sniffing this one before he chugs it, though he does give it a suspicious glance for a second.

He is too pale, she thinks absently. Sora had always been at least a little tan, even in the dead of winter. Even his hair is paler, as though he is a watercolor picture of Sora that has been washed out. The shapes of his face are almost right, but he’s faded. The only thing that looks right is the color of his eyes. They’re still set in something like a glare, though, once he tosses the potion bottle aside with the last one. At least it’s a gentler glare than a moment ago. And he hasn’t summoned his second keyblade again. (How does he even have two? What does it mean?)

There is a long silence. Kairi isn’t sure what to say, and she’s sure Riku isn’t, either, though he’s trying to make up for it by being as intimidating as he can while still sitting on the floor.

“Things are a little fuzzy,” Roxas says. “I guess being hit on the head will do that to you,” he adds, glaring harder at Riku, who looks at the floor. “I was going to- to stop Xemnas. But you stopped me for some reason, and now you look just like him. I’m not even going to ask what the hell is up with that. Anyway, I have things to do, so I’ll just be-”

“You’re not strong enough,” Riku says, standing to block the doorway. “If you can’t beat me, you can’t beat Xemnas.”

Roxas’ mouth sets. Kairi knows that expression. She’s seen it on Sora’s face before. He’s being stubborn, but he knows that Riku is right.

“Let us help you,” Kairi says. “You said you remember me. Is that from Sora? I was told you have some of his memories.”

Roxas nods warily.

“Then you know you can trust me,” she says firmly. “You know you’re a part of him, right?”

He nods again, looking like this information makes him trust her even less. But he doesn’t summon his second keyblade again, doesn’t even point the first at her. “I was going to go back to him,” he says quietly. “To Sora. But I have to beat Xemnas, first.” Looking at her pleadingly, as though she is the one to make this decision for him, he says, “I made a promise. That’s... where things get fuzzy. But I know I have to do this.”

She knows that keyblade’s name- the one he is still holding loose by his side. It’s Oathkeeper.

“Let us help you,” Kairi says again. “Right now, Riku thinks you’d lose. I think it’s likely, too. But if we train, maybe together we have a chance.”

Roxas looks from her to Riku, obviously still not completely sold on the idea. But he says, “Okay. Fine.” He stands again, looking at least slightly recovered. “Let’s start now.”

Kairi has so many objections. He still doesn’t look completely well, for one thing. She wishes she had another potion to give him. But she doesn’t want to dissuade him from training. They’ll just have to go easy on each other, for now.

Roxas leads them to a raised platform in the middle of a square of shops. There are people around, but he pays them no mind.

“We fight here,” he says. He nods at Riku. “Come at me,” he says.

Kairi says, “No.” She summons her keyblade, and smiles politely while Roxas gawks.

“Does everyone have one now?” he asks, shaking his head. Then, “Fine. Come on.”

It’s obvious in the first few seconds of fight that Kairi is outclassed. She’s afraid to hurt Roxas, and while he is taking care not to seriously injure her- he’s only using one of his keyblades, even- he is able to dart in and hit her before she has a chance to do anything. She gets one or two good strikes in, but each time he retaliates quickly. The way he moves seems kind of weird, too. He doesn’t seem to touch the ground all the way when he lands before he’s in the air attacking again, and sometimes she swears he breaks some laws of physics, changing his trajectory midair as though pushing off an invisible wall.

Kairi switches to defensive mode. She dodges a thrust, blocks another. She turns sideways to present less of a target, and then she gets in close, hits him not with her keyblade, but with her fist, a solid punch that hits him right in the gut.

He gets farther away, wheezing slightly, and shoots a fireball at her. She dodges that, but then he throws his keyblade at her, and she doesn’t quite get out of the way in time. It knocks her clean over, and knocks the breath out of her to boot. She thinks, cure, the one spell she knows, and then she stands up unsteadily.

The fight is over. The keyblade is back in Roxas’s hand, but hanging easy at his side. He dispels it and offers her a hand, which she takes. He shakes it, too formal, and says, “How long have you been fighting?”

She lets go of his hand. “About a year now. I fought Heartless in Radiant Garden, but there weren’t that many around. Then I went to find Riku and Sora, and there were a few more in other worlds. How about you?”

“The same,” he says. “But I had missions, and the other members of the Organization to spar against. It’s not like there was much else to do, besides sit in my room.”

“Did you not have friends?” she asks. She can’t imagine any part of Sora without friends.

“I had Axel,” Roxas says. He shakes his head. “He won’t miss me, though. No one will. It’s hard to miss someone when you don’t have a heart, anyway.”

He doesn’t look upset. Maybe there’s a hint of anger in his eyes, but it’s hard to tell.

“Do you miss him?” Kairi asks. But before she can get an answer, Riku is at her side.

“Good work, both of you,” he says. “Roxas- we’ll talk in a minute. Kairi, can I give you some pointers?”

She walks with Riku, to the other side of the square.

“Don’t trust him just yet,” Riku murmurs to her. “He’s only part of Sora, and he doesn’t know us yet.”

“I know,” Kairi says, just as quietly. She steals a glance back at Roxas. He’s sitting at the edge of the platform now, Oathkeeper in his lap. It’s a hot summer day, and he’s taken off the coat he was wearing, setting it to the side. His face is guarded once more, any emotions hidden.

“I made a promise,” he’d said.

As Riku walks her through a set of moves she hadn’t known how to do before, she can’t help but wonder- who had Roxas made that promise to? And why, if he didn’t have a heart, did he care about promises at all?

Chapter Text

Contrary to Riku’s predictions and Kairi’s fears, Roxas doesn’t seem hellbent on escaping. In fact, over the next three days, he shows no interest in anything at all beyond training, and he approaches that with a kind of cold calculation that looks out of place on his face. On a face so much like Sora’s.

Kairi thinks, maybe it’s because he’s the half of Sora without a heart. He doesn’t show much of any emotion, really, and that makes sense, she supposes, if he can’t feel anything.

But every once in a while, there’s a flash of something while they spar. Satisfaction, maybe, when she surprises him. And when he thinks no one is looking, she thinks he looks a little sad.

It’s nothing definite. Nothing she can even really talk to Riku about, because it’s nothing more than a suspicion. But when she imagines being in his place- ripped apart from his one friend, in a new place with strangers, or people who might as well be strangers, with his only remaining purpose to fight an enemy he can’t beat-

Well, she’d be sad, too. Heartbroken, even.

It’s hard to read him, though, if he is feeling anything. Maybe it’s because she’s used to Sora, who broadcasts happy optimism most of the time (especially, she thinks sadly, when he is actually upset or hurt). Roxas is subdued, and the contrast is stark.

When they aren’t training, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself. There are only so many hours of keyblade practice that make sense in a day, and they’ve maxed out at about four. Even with Kairi casting her cure spell repeatedly to help soothe aching muscles, it takes time to regain their strength.

(She knows she could cast a stronger cure spell, but she doesn’t know how yet- it’s just out of reach, like a word she can’t quite remember.)

Roxas knows a cure spell, too, a much stronger version, but he is reluctant to use it.

“If I cast too many spells I feel like my brain is turning to mush,” he admits, when Kairi asks. He puts his hand behind his head, stretches, yawns.

It’s like talking to Sora, and she has to remind herself fiercely that this is Roxas, that he would probably not appreciate the comparison.

“Maybe my spells aren’t powerful enough to do that,” Kairi says. “I always run out of injuries before I run out of cure spells. But in a real battle, against equal opponents, you don’t have time to cast cure after cure. I need a more powerful spell.”

She tells him about the feeling she has, that a stronger spell is just out of reach.

“Sparring is fine,” Roxas says, after a moment. “But I’ve always learned ten times as fast in a real fight. We need some Heartless around. I can’t believe there aren’t any in this world. I’ve been here before, and there were always at least Shadows lurking in- well, shadows. I bet if you fought a bit more, got roughed up enough that you needed a stronger spell, you’d figure it out.”

She can’t tell him that this isn’t a real world. She just can’t. So they set off on a journey around the fake Twilight Town, to find Heartless she knows can’t be there.

Still, it’s the most interest she’s seen Roxas show in anything since she met him. They check in alleyways, behind houses, even in the woods by the mansion.

“It’s supposed to be haunted,” Roxas tells her. Kairi and Riku closed the gate after they came in. The lock can’t stop anyone with a keyblade, but it’s been enough to deter Roxas from exploring past the gate, so far.

Kairi looks at the windows of the mansion. She swears she sees a flash of white in a window, but she blinks, and it’s gone. Roxas doesn’t seem to have noticed. He turns away.

“I don’t get it,” he says. “How can there be no Heartless?”

Kairi just shakes her head, afraid to be caught in a lie.

He says, “We could go to another world. There have to be Heartless somewhere.”

“No,” Kairi says quietly. “Let’s just spar some more.”

Roxas looks a little confused, but drops it. Mentally, she adds ‘confusion’ to her list of emotions she’s seen cross his face. The list isn’t very long.

They spar a little more, then give up for the day, grabbing dinner from a shop and eating in the tiny kitchen in the house they’ve been staying at.

“Where did Riku go, anyway?” Roxas asks. “I haven’t seen him all day.”

Kairi shrugs. “I think he went to check on Sora. It’s been a few days.”

Roxas says, “Sora is sleeping, right?”

Kairi says, “Yes. They tell me he won’t wake up because you have half his memories.”

“Have you seen him?” Roxas asks.

She adds ‘curiosity’ to her mental list.

“Yes,” she says.

“Is he- does he look like me?”

Kairi takes a bit of food, chews it thoughtfully. “A lot like you,” she confirms. “But not identical. Your faces are a little different. You’re a little paler. Your hair is lighter.”

He looks positively starved for information. She continues. “Sometimes you move like him. There are some gestures you make that remind me very much of him. But again, nothing is completely identical. If I didn’t know better, I would think you were brothers. Twins, maybe, because you’re the same age- but not identical ones.”

He says, “The Organization told me Nobodies are supposed to look exactly like their Somebodies. They couldn’t figure out why I didn’t. But they knew I had to be- to be me. Because I have the keyblade.”

Thoughtfully, he says, “You have one, too, though. And Riku, of course. Seems like they’re not as unique as the Organization thought.”

Kairi says, “I don’t know why I have one.” Her voice comes out more frustrated than she means it to. “I wish I knew.”

Roxas laughs then, actually laughs. She starts, and stares.

It’s over quickly. He looks embarrassed, and flushes. “Sorry- it’s just, that’s what I always wondered! It’s why I was defecting from the Organization. Because I wanted answers, and no one there cared about that. It was always, ‘let’s kill the Heartless,’ and ‘Kingdom Hearts will restore us to our former selves!’ without any... wondering...”

Kairi is still staring. She looks away, and now it’s her turn to flush.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I just- I was told you didn’t have a heart. That you had no emotions. And I wasn’t certain that was true, but you’re so quiet I almost believed it- and now I don’t.”

Roxas doesn’t seem to mind her rudeness, though. He says, “The Organization told us we had echoes of emotions. Sort of like memories. But I didn’t have any memories to compare my emotions to. I thought that was why they felt so real- because I had no basis for comparison. But- I don’t know. No one really understands all this heart stuff, I think.”

“What about now, though?” she asks. “You have some of Sora’s memories, right? Do those emotions feel the same as the ones you have now?”

He looks thoughtful for a moment. “They’re not... identical” he says, echoing her earlier statement. “They’re similar in... intensity, I guess. But they have a different feeling to them. A different... flavor, I guess. Like ice cream. I can tell they don’t belong to me, even if they feel real in every other way. Even when I’m dreaming, I know that the dreams belong to him.”

He laughs a little, then. “It’s gotten more confusing, though, the past few days.”

“Hmm? Why?”

“Used to be,” he said, “that all his dreams were about you and Riku, and I’d never met either of you. But now I have, and it takes longer to sort out which memories of you guys are his, and which are mine.”

Thoughtfully, he says, “You never sparred with him, though. Not in the memories I have.”

“I didn’t like sparring,” Kairi says. “I still don’t like fighting. It’s just- I wasn’t able to help, before. And everything went wrong. Sora is sleeping, Riku gave into darkness again- I think we’re supposed to be together. And even if we’re not...”

Her hands are fists. Her keyblade disappears from the table and reappears in her hands, and she laughs a little shakily as she dispels it.

“You know,” Roxas says, “There’s this legend I heard once. There’s an island somewhere, and on it there’s a fruit shaped like a star, and if you eat one with someone you’ll always be together.”

“Paopu,” Kairi says.

“What?”

“The fruit. It’s from my home,” Kairi says. “It’s called a paopu fruit.”

“Oh,” he says. Then, “That’s so cool! Did you ever eat one?”

“I ate them all the time,” Kairi says. “My favorite tree on the islands was a paopu tree, and every summer I would eat them until I felt sick. But I didn’t share one with anyone, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Absently, she says, “I couldn’t decide if I wanted to share one with Riku or Sora.” She looks at Roxas again. “It’s supposed to be romantic, sharing a paopu. But now I don’t care. I would share it with both of them, just to make sure they never leave me alone again. Is that selfish?”

Roxas says, “I don’t know. I would do the same. I would share one with-”

He stops, looks puzzled. “With Axel,” he says, finally, but she can tell that isn’t what he was going to say. He laughs, and his laugh is just as shaky as hers was a moment ago. “I guess he’s only one person, though.”

“There was no one else?” Kairi asks, a little alarmed. Has Roxas forgotten someone? Did DiZ decide to go ahead with the wipe after all? Is this how it starts?

“I’m forgetting someone,” Roxas says. “It’s okay, I knew I would.”

He summons both of his keyblades, and lays them on the table. “Oathkeeper,” he says. “Because I’m keeping my promise. But also Oblivion, because I can’t remember anymore.”

“Is it because we’re close to Sora?” she asks. “Roxas, we can go to another world if that’s it!”

“No,” he says. “That’s not it. It’s- it’s just this one thing.”

He looks so confused. He says, “I can’t remember their name, or face- but there was... someone. Someone important. That’s the other person I would share that fruit with. Maybe then the memories would have stayed, even if they couldn’t.”

He doesn’t sound sad, really. Maybe it’s hard to be sad about someone you can’t remember. She resolves to ask Riku if there’s anything that can be done, to retrieve those memories. If there’s something DiZ is doing, that might be erasing them.

It’s hot in the house, and Kairi asks, because Roxas looks both sad and overheated, “Do you want to get some ice cream?”

Roxas brightens up at once. “Sure,” he says. “I know where the best place in town is, let me show you!”

He and Kairi get sea salt ice cream. She’s skeptical at first, but once she tastes it, it’s actually really good. They go up to the clock tower and eat with their legs dangling off the edge. It’s stupid. Dangerous. She knows this. If Roxas meant her harm, this would be a perfect place to push her to her doom. Even if he doesn’t, it’s still a long way down- she’s concerned about the height.

It doesn’t happen, of course. The worst thing that happens is that Roxas looks sad, and clams up again for a while. Finally, once the ice cream is gone and they’re climbing down the steps, back away from the clock tower, he says, “Axel and I used to eat ice cream there. It’s stupid, but I sort of hoped...”

“You hoped he’d be there?” Kairi asks.

Roxas shrugs, and doesn’t answer.

Kairi thinks, waiting longer to tell him feels dishonest. “Roxas,” she says. “This isn’t Twilight Town. Not really.”

He looks confused.

“It’s a copy,” she says. “It’s- it’s digital. We were afraid at first that you would run away. This was to make it harder.”

Roxas says, “Digital? Like, in a computer?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, I should have told you sooner.”

He says, “That explains why there were no Heartless.”

She says, “I wanted to tell you, but...”

“You weren’t sure you could trust me yet,” Roxas says with an understanding nod. “Well- thank you. For telling me now.” He smiles, and it’s so like Sora that her heart hurts. “For what it’s worth...”

He gestures to empty air, and something dark and hurtful opens up midair. A hole in the fabric of the world.

“I could have escaped any time anyway,” he says. “Digital, real- it doesn’t matter. Worlds are worlds.” He closes the dark portal once his point is proved. “So I guess we were both hiding things.”

Kairi says, “No more secrets, okay? Promise?” She holds out a pinky. Roxas looks at it like it is an alien object. “It’s a pinky promise,” she says, with a smile. “We link pinkies, and then, if you break it...”

She doesn’t actually know what is supposed to happen if you break a pinky promise, so she just trails off. Roxas looks bemused, but he holds out his pinky and links it with hers. “It’s a promise,” he says solemnly, and then they both crack up.

When Riku comes back, the mood has lightened considerably.

“What have you two been up to all day?” he asks. They’re playing cards in their pajamas now. Kairi is winning, though it’s not like Roxas is much of a challenge. For someone she thought had no emotions the day before, she can’t believe how bad his poker face is.

“Talked about our love lives, ate ice cream, and made pinky promises,” Kairi says with a smile.

Riku blinks. “Uh, okay.”

“We sparred, too” Roxas says, but doesn’t deny any of it. He bites his lip, obviously nervous about the hand of cards he’s holding.

Riku gives Kairi a confused look.

“I’m winning all his munny now,” Kairi says with a smile that reveals nothing. Then, more seriously, “How is Sora?”

“The same,” Riku says, shaking his head.

That throws their little slumber party into a dark mood again. Roxas folds, then says, “I’m going to bed.”

Kairi says, “Good night, Roxas. Sleep well.”

That leaves her alone with Riku.

Riku says, “Pinky promises?”

Kairi says, “I told him this world wasn’t real. He showed me that he could have escaped at any time, anyway. We’ve made a promise to each other- no more secrets.”

Riku nods, and sits across from her at the table. “Okay. It was about time to tell him, anyway. Anything else to report?”

She flicks his hand gently with one finger, and frowns. “You sound like DiZ. So serious.”

“Someone has to be,” Riku says, and the annoyance, on that face- it looks exactly like Ansem, so that she has to remind herself for a second that it’s Riku in there, and not someone evil.

“We talked a lot,” she says. “About life. Feelings. That sort of thing.”

Riku’s brow furrows. “Feelings? Kairi, he’s a Nobody. Sora has the heart, out of the two”.

Kairi shakes her head. “By that logic, isn’t Sora a Heartless? Roxas has everything else, of the two. Body and soul, right?”

“You fixed Sora,” Riku points out.

“Well, maybe I fixed Roxas at the same time,” Kairi says. “I don’t know the- the metaphysics of the situation. But Roxas has feelings, Riku. He’s a person. There’s no way he’s faking emotions- and why would he? He’s already agreed to help wake Sora up. It’s not like he has anything to gain.”

“DiZ says that Nobodies might think they have emotions when they really don’t,” Riku says doubtfully.

Kairi says, “You should talk to Roxas more, and DiZ less. It’s given me a lot of clarity.”

Riku groans, and puts his head on the table. Roxas didn’t bother picking up his cards, and when Riku lifts his head again a moment later, the three of hearts sticks to his forehead for a moment before falling. It looks ridiculous.

“I don’t want to get attached to him,” Riku says. “I- I do stupid things when I get attached to people, Kairi.”

“You do stupid things when you’re not attached enough, too,” Kairi says. “You would have listened to DiZ if I hadn’t come along to- to attach you to Roxas. That would have been pretty dumb.”

Riku says, “It would have been simpler. Cleaner. This is so messy. I don’t know what to feel.”

Kairi says, “I don’t think emotions are supposed to be simple.”

Riku laughs, a real laugh, deep in his chest. “I guess not.” He starts picking up the cards, stacking them in a neat pile. Kairi joins in, and in a minute the cards are neat, at least, even if emotions remain messy.

He turns. “I should head to bed, too. We should start training harder tomorrow. I feel like we’re close to a breakthrough with you. Maybe you’ll work out that healing spell you’ve been trying so hard to get.”

Kairi says, “Riku?”

He turns back to her.

She says, “Stay there for a minute.”

He is very confused as she drags a chair over. She almost loses her nerve. But then she stands on the chair, leans in to him, and kisses him.

With her eyes closed, she can imagine that he looks just like himself, and not like the darkness he gave into, to capture Roxas.

He doesn’t kiss back, though. She opens her eyes, and he looks too stunned for that.

“I love you,” she says. “I love Sora, too. And- I think if I’d just told both of you that, it might have... avoided some problems, back on the island. And- I hope we all survive the battle with Xemnas, but I don’t know for sure that we will. So I wanted you to know. Now.”

Riku still looks stunned. She hops off the chair, and puts it back by the table.

“You don’t have to say anything now,” she says. “I’ve been thinking about doing that all day.”

She says, “I think maybe Sora feels the same, though of course we can’t ask him until he wakes up. Roxas says he dreams about both of us, though I guess the dreams are pretty innocent or he wouldn’t have said anything.”

She bites her lip. She wishes Riku would say something, even though she just told him he didn’t have to. She feels like she’s babbling.

Finally, Riku says, very quietly, “I thought it was just me.” And he sounds like he might cry. “I thought- Sora and you- it was so obvious-”

Kairi doesn’t understand, and then she does. “You thought it was going to be just me and Sora, and you’d be alone even though you loved both of us? Because you loved both of us? Oh, Riku.”

She hugs him, then, and he clings to her, for all that she doesn’t even come up to his shoulders.

They stay like that a long time before heading off to their rooms.

Chapter Text

Kairi doesn’t want to be in the way. She knows she probably won’t be carrying the fight against Xemnas, but she’s going to be helpful this time, both as a fighter and as support.

And that means getting this improved cure spell to work!

She almost has it. She is so, so close. When she says “Cure!” it’s healing a little more, now- but just a little. She’s pumping everything she has into this spell, but she knows it can be better. It’s like there’s a pathway, etched in her brain for the magic to travel on, and if she could just shift it a tiny bit it would be more efficient- a shortcut, a better path for it to follow. Less magic used, more healing gained, instead of what she’s doing now, pumping more and more magic into the spell until she understands what Roxas meant, when he said spells turn his brain to mush after a while.

“You should take a break, Kairi,” Riku says, from a little way away. “You looks like you’re about to fall over.”

Roxas looks up at her. She’s healing a large bruise on his arm, pumping as much magic into the spell as she can muster, and she does sort of feel faint.

She pushes, just a little more- her brain protests, and she sees flashing lights in the corners of her eyes, but if she can just push through that, maybe-

Roxas grabs her arm. “Kairi. Come on. It’s not worth it.”

She lets the spell go, and the lights in her vision slowly fade. She sighs.

“I’m so close,” she says, for the tenth time that day.

“I know,” Roxas says, for- well, the fifth or sixth time that day. Riku’d said it the other times. “But you’re not going to do anyone any good if you give yourself such a bad headache you can’t do magic for another week, or if you faint, or-”

“Okay,” she says. Riku walks closer to her. He doesn’t lecture. He just picks her up bodily and carries her off over his shoulder.

“Hey!” she says. “Riku!”

Roxas laughs at her.

At least she isn’t wearing dresses anymore. She’d decided that was impractical pretty fast. Not to mention, she’s gaining muscle fast, and all her outfits were fitting strangely. It’s not that she’d gotten bigger, or smaller- what weight she did have just seemed to be shifting around a bit as fat turned into muscle. She’d bought a pair of loose pants and a cute shirt at a shop, and while it didn’t look quite as nice, it was much easier to move around in.

When they finished this adventure, she decided, she was going to wear cute dresses for the rest of her life. But only once the worlds were safe, and she didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing her underwear whenever she did a flip or a roll to get out of the way of a keyblade or a fireball.

They are all exhausted. Five days into intense training, and the cure spells Kairi can do have stopped doing much to relieve their aches. She isn’t sure if it’s because she’s too tired to do magic properly, or if their tired muscles and their bruises are becoming resistant. She suspects it’s her, though.

“Maybe you’re more of a fighter than a healer,” Riku suggests as he carries her home. Roxas is following, still snickering at her even though she has resigned herself to her fate and stopped struggling. “I mean, not everyone is a mage.”

“I am a Princess of Heart,” Kairi says. “If I can do any magic, it should be healing, right? That’s a ‘light’ thing.”

“Could be that you’re more suited to offensive magic,” Roxas muses. “I know I am, and light is pretty much my specialty.”

Kairi says, “I haven’t seen you do one light spell yet.”

They arrive at the house, and Riku finally sets her down.

“Of course not,” Roxas says. “I’m trying to spar with you, not kill you. When it comes to magic, I’m great with power, not so great with control.”

“I can confirm,” Riku says as he walks into the kitchen. “I wouldn’t want you facing that yet. You’re getting better, but Roxas is dangerously ahead of you- just enough ahead to be able to seriously hurt you, not ahead enough to control it and keep from hurting you.” He shakes his head. “I’m not that much better. I wish we had someone to teach us. Like King Mickey- he has a keyblade. I have no idea where he is, though. I’ve seen him a few times, but... he goes off on his own a lot.”

Kairi thinks about this problem for a while.

“There are magic tutors in Radiant Garden,” she says after a while. “That was one of the classes I was offered, by the tutors there. But they discouraged me from taking it. There was so much to learn, to be queen.”

She shakes her head. “But if I go back, they’ll keep such a close eye on me. I’ll never escape again.”

“How did you become a princess again?” Riku asks, opening the fridge and pulling out some apple juice. “I mean, you know- a double princess, Princess of Heart and princess of Radiant Garden, too?” He pours himself a glass, and takes a sip.

Kairi puts on her best princess-y voice, and says, “King Ryo the Noble begot King Haru the Merciful, who begot King Ansem the Wise, who begot-” Riku, are you okay? He’s choked on his juice.

“Ansem?” he says, coughing.

“I’ve seen the official portraits,” she says quickly. “It isn’t the same person as- as that Ansem, Riku.”

He says, “You don’t think there’s a connection?”

Kairi says, “I don’t know. I thought about that a lot, but I guess I’d sort of forgotten. After a while, the names of all the kings start to blur together. Anyway, King Ansem the Wise was my grandmother’s brother. I suppose that makes him my great uncle? I was the closest thing to royalty left after the worlds came back, the last remaining heir to the throne, so they didn’t have a lot of choice about who to make princess.”

Riku is still stuck on the Ansem point. “I wonder if DiZ knows. He knows a lot about- about the evil Ansem’s experiments.”

“The Evil Ansem was Xemnas’s Somebody?” Roxas asks. Kairi forgets how little Roxas knows, sometimes.

“Yes,” Kairi said. And Ansem’s Heartless...”

“Is inside of me,” Riku finishes. “That’s why I look like this. That’s why I have powers of darkness. Part of me will always be him.

Kairi takes his hand. “You’re winning,” she says, simply. “If there’s a battle for your soul, it doesn’t happen in your face. It happens in your heart. And that battle, as long as you keep fighting-”

And then the window blows in, and the room catches fire.

Kairi is so tired. But she manages to leap back, at least a little, and she isn’t too badly burned.

Riku has some sort of dark shield around him, when she looks, and Roxas has a light shield and both his keyblades out.

“The hell?” Riku mouths, but she can’t hear him over the ringing in her ears.

Riku leaps out the window. They’re on the first floor, but Kairi is nearer the door, so she wrenches it open while Roxas follows Riku.

There is an Organization member outside, wearing the same coat Roxas had worn before, with red hair and a hurt look. He twirls his weapons around in his hands, wheels that she does not know the name of. They are on fire. Everything is on fire.

“Roxas,” he says, and there is danger in his voice, but also a sort of playfulness. It’s a bad combination. He reminds her of a cat who has cornered a mouse, but isn’t hungry just yet. He means to play with them before he kills them. He won’t have the chance.

Kairi doesn’t remember summoning her keyblade, but she has it in her hands now. She doesn’t wait, doesn’t think, she just throws it.

He deflects, easily. She summons it back, murmurs a quick cure for her still-ringing ears just in time to catch Roxas say "Axel."

Kairi’s heart just about breaks for him.

“Come on, Axel," he says again. "You don’t have to do this.”

“I have orders,” Axel says, twirling his wheels slowly, with a languor that isn’t mirrored in his face.

“Like you give a rat’s ass about orders,” Roxas says. “What is it, really?”

“Like you don’t know,” Axel says.

Roxas looks totally bewildered. “I really don’t,” he says. “We were friends, last I checked.”

Kairi thinks, just because Roxas has feelings, doesn’t mean that Axel does. Maybe Roxas is Axel’s friend, but Axel isn’t Roxas’s.

All she can do is hope that they manage to resolve this peacefully somehow. There is no winning this fight- defeating Axel would not be a victory.

Axel lunges. Roxas steps forward in return, both keyblades out, but makes no move to attack. He just blocks Axel, letting him lash out over and over again.

Riku and Kairi exchange glances. Both of them are unsure whether to join in. Roxas is not having a particularly hard time of it, but neither is he actually winning.

“You left,” Axel says, punctuating the gap between words with blows that Roxas grits his teeth while blocking.

“I told you I was leaving!” Roxas said. “I said, ‘no one would miss me,’ remember? And you said nothing.

“What was I supposed to do?” Axel said. “I don’t have feelings. I’m not the special one, with the keyblade. I’m just a Nobody, and all a Nobody does is wants.” He practically grunts each word, because Roxas is striking back now, aiming more for the wheels than Axel, but still hitting hard.

They both look pissed off. Kairi is still contemplating stepping in, but they’re moving so fast, she doesn’t know that she’ll do any good.

“We were friends,” Roxas repeats. “Was that about- about wanting?”

Axel lashes out a couple more times, but Kairi can tell he’s lost some steam. Then the two of them stand facing each other, both looking lost. Both are still poised to attack, but they don’t.

“I thought they-" Axel tilts his head at Kairi and Riku- "were going to kill you. I thought- they have Namine. They would just... erase everything that made you you. You’d just be Sora again. It would be like we’d never met. You’d look at me like a stranger.”

“I wouldn’t have you memorized,” Roxas says, like he’s repeating something. “Okay. Is that all?”

Axel looks even more hurt. “What more could there be,” he says, but there’s something off about his inflection, like he doesn’t quite believe in the premise what he’s asking. “I’m just your run-of-the-mill Nobody. What more do you want?”

“More,” Roxas says. “Because- that was never it, to me. It wasn’t about- memory, or wanting. Or at least, it wasn’t just about that. It was about how you made me feel. You were my first friend. My only friend, for a long time. You made me feel... safe. You made me want to keep you safe, too. If you’d said, ‘don’t go,’ I... I don’t know that I wouldn’t have gone. But I would at least have knocked you out and dragged you with!”

“Like you could!” Axel says.

They glare at each other for a moment, and then Axel mutters something under his breath. Kairi can’t hear it, can only see his lips move a little, but Roxas, who is nearer, leans in, looking confused. “What?”

“You made me feel like a person again.” Axel says, louder. “Like I had a heart! Okay? Is that what you wanted to hear? Is that good enough for you? Maybe I’m deluded. There’s nothing special about me- I shouldn’t be able to feel anything. But there’s something special about you, maybe, that lets me feel more than I have in- in a long time.”

His wheel things are hanging limp at his side now. He drops them. Roxas dispels his keyblades, takes a step forward. The fires surrounding the house all go out at once.

Axel slumps all the way to his knees by the time Roxas crosses the distance between them. Roxas leans down a little, and kisses Axel’s forehead. He looks a little self-conscious doing it, a little too self-aware, but he does it.

Axel looks up, and they stare at each other for a long moment.

Sometimes, Kairi thinks, talking helps a lot. But they’ve had their shouting match now. They’ve laid their feelings bare. Sometimes, after all that, it’s time for quiet.

“Come on, Riku,” she says. She dismisses her keyblades, walks over to him, and tugs gently at his sleeve.

“I’m not sure-” he says.

“I think they need some alone time,” Kairi says.

By now the neighbors, digital and fake though they may be, have started to gather and gape at the ashes and charred houses.

“Thank goodness no one was hurt,” one of them says.

They’re usually not so curious, Kairi thinks. They seem to take the keyblade practice in stride, anyway, no matter how much magic Riku and Roxas throw around. Maybe the people here are getting realer, just like Axel and Roxas.

“Aren’t you jealous?” Riku asks, once they’re out of earshot. “Roxas is part of Sora. And he has a friend he likes better than us!”

Kairi says, “Jealous?” She shakes her head. “Maybe that’s something I can’t feel.”

But true as that may be, there’s more to it than that.

“He doesn’t remind me of Sora much, anymore, anyway,” she says quietly. “The more time I spend with him, the more I see him as someone else, someone new. He’s like Sora in a lot of ways, but- they aren’t the same person, no matter where Roxas came from.”

She bites her lip. “Riku, I like him. Not- not like I like you, or Sora. But he’s a friend. When the battle is done, how can we ask him to...”

“I don’t know,” Riku says, and he looks just as lost as she feels.

Together, silently, they go into the house and begin to pick their way through the wreckage to their rooms. If Axel found them, the rest of the Organization isn’t far behind. They’ll be leaving this fake world soon, training somewhere else. It’s time to pack. To tidy up their rooms, to leave them the same as when they came- and Kairi knows that’s silly, to tidy up a digital world that will probably be erased when they’re done with it. But- tidying is soothing, while they wait for Axel and Roxas to be done with their reunion.

She thinks, wouldn’t it be amazing if they could just talk the entire Organization into joining forces with them? Then it would just be Xemnas to beat.

It won’t happen. She knows that it’s a silly hope. She just wishes they didn’t have to fight anymore.

But today, they have a clean, bloodless victory.

“Where to, next?” Roxas says, when he and Axel trail in a little while later.

“Somewhere with potions,” Kairi says. “I’m so sick of healing spells.”

Riku raises an eyebrow. “You know, there’s only one world well-stocked with potions that I’ve come across so far.”

“Huh?”

“It’s a pretty world. You might even call it a garden...”

“No,” Kairi said. “Riku, I have a- another dad there. I’m sure he’s been worried sick, and I don’t want to talk to him, and...”

She voices her objections for several moments. Riku says, “Sounds like you’re afraid. But I want to find out more about this Ansem the Wise, and we need potions if we’re going to keep training. And it’s the safest world around. It makes sense to train there. I mean, we don’t have to go, but...”

Kairi sighs. “Fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but... Radiant Garden it is.”

Chapter Text

They have a bit of a squabble about travel. It turns out Riku, Roxas, and Axel have all been using dark portals to travel. Kairi’s gummi ship is broken and none of them have any idea how to fix it, but something in her balks at stepping into the portals- they smell horrible, for one thing, like tar and caramel mixed together. It makes her nauseated. And they hurt to look at, too, like her eyes don’t want to focus on something so unnatural.

“It can’t be healthy to travel that way,” she insists.

“Well, no,” Axel says. “That’s why we wear the coats. It’s protection against the dark corruption of the void, or something.” Thoughtfully, he adds, “Not sure if you can even be corrupted, though. I mean, you don’t have any darkness... Then again, neither do Roxas and I, theoretically- or any light, for that matter.”

“I don’t have a coat,” Kairi points out, choosing to ignore the rest of that for now.

“It’s okay,” Riku says. “We’ll go to the real Twilight Town. That’s easy. Then we’ll grab my spare coat, and we can check on Sora, too.”

Kairi is sure she’ll be absolutely swimming in any coat that fits Riku, but she agrees to the plan. It’s not like she has a better idea. And- it will be good to see Sora, even though she knows he won’t wake up.

The four of them proceed to the mansion. Kairi eyes the window where she saw... something, before, but there is nothing there this time- if there ever was to begin with. Kairi isn’t sure if she believes in ghosts or not. Besides, why would a copy of the mansion be haunted?

No, there’s nothing there. There probably never was.

They make their way to the basement, and then to the real mansion.

DiZ is waiting for them.

“I see we have an intruder,” he says, with something like irritation. “I could see it on the computer, as well. Why haven’t you dispatched him?”

“He’s my friend,” Roxas says. But DiZ pays him no mind, looking past him at Riku.

Kairi bristles. “What are you suggesting? That we kill people, just for mounting a rescue mission?”

DiZ sighs. She knows his argument, knows it before he says it.

“They aren’t people.”

Axel says, “You may be right about that.”

“Whatever,” Roxas says. He brushes past DiZ, into the next room. Kairi gives DiZ a cool look, and follows, along with Axel. Riku lingers behind, presumably to talk to DiZ about Sora.

Sora looks just the same as he did the last time she saw him. Peaceful. Sleeping. Roxas gets very close to the pod Sora is sleeping in, and presses his hand against the clear glass.

“So that’s my Somebody,” he says, and his expression is hard to read, like they’re back to the first few days after he and Kairi met, when he’d been reluctant to show any emotion.

Axel says, “I like you better,” which gets him a small smile.

Kairi wonders if Axel knows that Roxas is planning to sacrifice himself, to become part of Sora again. She wonders if Roxas will go through with it.

She can’t see any happy endings to this story.

“Are you okay?” Roxas asks.

She schools her expression. “I’m fine,” she says, and smiles faintly. There’s no need to upset them right now. Either Roxas will go through with it, or he won’t. It’s his choice.

She’s glad it isn’t hers. No matter how much she wants Sora back, she wouldn’t be able to sacrifice Roxas for him.

It’s only a moment later when Riku comes in, and tosses a lump to Kairi. She catches it without thinking, and then realizes it’s a folded-up coat.

“DiZ had a smaller size lying around,” Riku says. “From when we moved Namine to this world. Try it on.”

Kairi throws it on over her clothes. It fits almost too well, like it was made for her. She thinks, whoever Namine is, they must be about the same size.

“We have a couple errands to run on the way,” Riku says. “Have you met Yen Sid, Kairi?”

She shakes her head.

“He’s a magician,” Riku says. “He taught King Mickey about keyblade stuff, but he’s retired now. I haven’t met him myself, but last time I met King Mickey, he said... he said Sora should go there once he woke up.”

“Sora isn’t awake,” Roxas says, expression guarded..

“Right. But- we’re the next best thing. All of us, together. Even if Yen Sid is expecting someone else.”

“Then let’s go,” Axel says.

Getting to Yen Sid doesn’t involve any dark portals, luckily.

“He’s technically in Twilight Town,” Riku tells them, as they walk to the train station. “The outskirts of the world, but still connected.”

Riku buys four tickets for them at the station, and they get on the train. The journey is a little somber. She wonders if everyone else is thinking about Sora, too, or if they have other, different worries. The only one of them she knows well enough to guess is Riku. They never did finish their little heart-to-heart about his appearance. But it doesn’t seem like the right moment to pick it up again.

It takes about an hour to get to Yen Sid’s tower. The sky darkens the closer they get, from the near-perpetual sunset-colored-sky of Twilight Town. And then there is the tower itself, which twists and turns.

In front of the door to the tower, though, is... someone.

“Pete,” Riku says with distaste.

The figure turns, and pales. “You!” he says, and runs.

Riku doesn’t chase after him.

“I wonder what he’s doing alive,” he says thoughtfully. “I thought he would have died with Maleficent. Maybe he came back when the worlds were restored.”

He shakes his head. “I guess it doesn’t matter.”

Kairi bites her lower lip. “He was Maleficent’s henchman?”

“Yeah. But we have more important things to deal with right now. Come on.”

They enter the tower.

Kairi doesn’t remember everything about Sora’s journey, while she was in his heart. But she does remember endless puzzles, places filled with Heartless (and treasure!). This is no different in that respect.

It is harder, though, fighting together than apart.

She has something of a feel for Roxas’ fighting style from sparring, and Riku is careful enough that he doesn’t hurt any of them by mistake. It’s Axel that’s the wild card here- and Kairi herself, who still lacks the finesse she would like. A couple of times, a Heartless or what she now recognizes as a lesser Nobody hits her and sends her flying into one of the others. Once, she hits a wall- but she’s able to push off the wall and retaliate against the Nobody, doing more damage than if she hadn’t been hit.

“Good one!” Roxas says, from behind her. She turns and shoots him a grin during a second where nothing is attacking her.

Axel and Roxas fight well together, back to back, keyblades and what she’d learned were called chakrums moving in counterpoint. Axel’s fire fills in what few gaps there are, and they sweep through the rooms destroying Heartless after Heartless without letting Kairi have much fun.

That’s okay. These are stronger than the Heartless she’s fought before. She’d be overwhelmed if she had to fight many of them at once.

Kairi follows in the wake of Axel and Roxas, killing the remaining injured Heartless with a few quick swings of her keyblade. Riku picks off the stragglers she misses without any apparent effort.

They sweep through level after level of the tower this way, clearing it out completely. And then they burst through yet another door-

And a man she assumes must be Yen Sid looks up at them with disapproval as they all fall into a heap trying to stop their forward momentum. He looks from Roxas to Axel, then at Kairi, and finally his eyes settle on Riku.

“You must be Mickey’s student,” he says at last. “He’s told me about you. But why have you come here with two Nobodies and a Princess of Heart, instead of with Sora?”

Riku stands, brushes himself off. The rest of them quickly follow suit, though it’s a bit late to rescue their dignity.

“Sora is still asleep,” Kairi says. “We’re... we’re working on that. But we couldn’t just let Xemnas continue his plans. So we’re working together to stop him. This time, we’re saving Sora, not the other way around.”

Yen Sid, at least, unlike DiZ, seems to listen when she talks.

“How do you have a keyblade?” he asks. He looks at Roxas, then, and says, “And you- you have two keyblades? That is impossible.”

He looks a little crazy, his eyes wide and his pupils so tiny. But maybe, Kairi thinks unkindly, that’s just his face.

“You’re Sora’s Nobody,” he finally says. “Roxas. You shouldn’t be here. This is not according to plan.” He looks at Riku again. “Mickey assured me that you had everything in hand. What happened?”

“Uh,” Riku says.

Kairi says, quietly, “It’s my doing- but I won’t say it’s my fault.”

Yen Sid turns back to her, the question plain on his face. “What did you do?”

Chin turned up, Kairi says, “I wasn’t going to let Roxas die. No one is going to die, except, I suppose, Xemnas. And anyone who refuses to join us against him.”

What she’d meant was that they would stop Organization XIII. But the way it came out, it sounds like more of a threat. She can’t say it was on purpose, but she also can’t say she doesn’t like the effect.

“You would save the life of a Nobody over that of your own friend?” Yen Sid asks.

“It doesn’t have to be a choice,” Kairi says, and the way Yen Sid looks at her, with pity, makes her spit out the rest quickly. “I think there has to be another way to wake Sora up. Without killing anyone.”

Yen Sid shakes his head. “We need Sora now,” he says. “The Keyblade-”

“What’s so special about the keyblade?” Axel asks.”Kairi has one. So does Riku. Hell, Roxas has two of them. Seems like they’re not as special as we thought.”

Yen Sid sighs.

“I suppose you’ll do,” he says, finally. “Together, you may stand a chance.”

He directs them into a side room, where they find three short, plump women with little wings. Fairy godmothers, Kairi realizes, remembering her talks with Aurora. These are Aurora’s godmothers.

“Pleased to meet you,” Kairi says, after a little too much gaping to be polite. They don’t seem to mind her rudeness, though.

For a while they fuss over Kairi. Apparently Aurora told them some things about Kairi, and they have been interested to know how she’s been since the worlds were restored. She doesn’t say much, just that she’s been visiting Radiant Garden, formerly known as Hollow Bastian- that it’s much nicer than it once was, with the gardens being regrown.

“I heard a little about Radiant Garden,” the fairy in green says. “They found their princess, didn’t they? That was- dear me, over a year ago now! I wonder how she’s doing. Perhaps we should visit some time with Aurora!”

Then they seem to notice the others are there, too, and Kairi is spared from having to explain that actually, she is the princess, and she ran away.

“Oh!” the tallest godmother says. “How rude of me to prattle on without introducing myself! I am Flora, and these are my companions, Fauna and Merryweather.”

So everyone makes the rounds introducing themselves. None of the boys seem exactly excited about this.

“We were expecting only keyblade wielder to make clothes for,” Merryweather says. “But this will do nicely! And of course we will have to make a new outfit for you, Axel! We wouldn’t want anyone to think you’re part of Organization 13 anymore!”

Axel says, “Nah, I’m good.”

The fairies don’t exactly glare. They are too polite for that. But Fauna points her wand at him threateningly, and before he can do anything, there is a poof of pink smoke, and he is wearing a red vest and tan pants, along with a yellow scarf. None of it suits him very well. It’s all a little small, poorly fitting. It looks like it was made for someone much shorter and smaller.

“Put it back how it was,” Axel says, and his expression has gone cold.

Merryweather says, “You’re right, that won’t do at all.” At that, he seems to relax a little.

“I just want my coat back,” Axel says, as she raises her wand at him. “How am I supposed to travel between worlds without it?”

Merryweather says, “Perhaps we can work the magic of the coat into your new clothing. For all of your new clothing,” she adds, with a gesture that encompasses all of them. “Not that I approve of traveling using dark portals. No good comes of exposing yourself to darkness over and over again, no matter how protected you might think you are.”

She flicks her wand, and Axel’s clothes transform into something better fitting and darker, with a jacket that reminds Kairi of the Organization’s coat. It’s just a jacket, though, not a full-length coat.

Roxas doesn’t complain when they change his clothes next, though he does look a little nervous. They argue for some time about what color would suit him, and finally, when Roxas is looking at Kairi with an expression that clearly says, “Save me,” they all point their wands at him at once.

The outfit is still black-and-white, like the outfit he typically wears under his Organization coat. It seems a little more suited for battle, though, a little more roomy and the fabric less liable to rip.

Riku flat-out refuses to get a clothing change. “I don’t care if people think I’m part of the Organization,” he says. “I’ll look evil no matter what I’m wearing, as long as I have this face.”

So that leaves Kairi.

“I would like something prettier,” she says to Aurora’s godmothers, as the boys wander off to look at the mirrors scattered around the room. “I usually wear dresses...”

It takes some time to settle on a design that both Kairi and the fairies are satisfied with, even with magic, but eventually they decide on a short pink dress with darker shorts peeking out from underneath, and a pair of practical boots. Kairi won’t be showing the whole world her underwear when she rolls out of the way to dodge attacks, which is what she was worried about in her old dress, and she feels much more like herself dressed like this than she did in baggy old pants.

Also, the dress has pockets. She’s sure that will come in handy at some point.

The mirrors around the room don’t show Kairi anything but her reflection, except for one mirror. The others avoid it, and Roxas warns her that it’s “creepy,” but when Kairi looks into it, she just sees herself, glaring off into the distance, furious.

Kairi has never been furious in her life. Annoyed, yes. Full of righteous anger, maybe. But the girl in the mirror is wearing an expression Kairi has never felt on her own face, and it is fascinating. She spends long moments staring in astonishment, and then the girl stares at Kairi.

The glare is more unsettling when it’s aimed at her. The other Kairi mouths something that Kairi cannot make out. There is no sound from the mirror, so she can’t hear it, and she doesn’t know how to read lips, but she knows it can’t be good from the angry, sad expression on her other self’s face.

You can’t save them, is what she thinks the other Kairi is saying. Or maybe just, you can’t save him.

She turns away. Her heart is beating a little fast. She’s shaken. Is that what she would look like, if she lost hope? She’s done a lot of introspection since she found out she was a Princess of Heart, and she thinks giving up hope is something a Princess of Heart just can’t do. She can’t give in to despair. It just isn’t in her nature to be able to do that.

The mirror was an illusion, she thinks, letting out her sudden tension with a sigh. It doesn’t have to mean anything. Kairi will never give up. The only thing that can possibly stop her from saving Sora is if she dies, and she has no intentions of doing that.

She finds Riku, who is on a balcony outside of Yen Sid’s main room.

“You alright?” she asks, because he looks unhappy.

“The mirrors all showed me as myself,” Riku says, gaze moving from the distance to Kairi’s face. “Not Ansem, but me.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to look like me again.”

Kairi takes his hand. “I think we’ll find a way. Have some faith in the future.”

Riku laughs, a little hollow. “I haven’t had much faith in a long time, Kairi.”

“You’ve been alone,” she says, simply. “You aren’t anymore.” When that doesn’t seem to convince him, she squeezes his hand and says, “But I can have faith for both of us, for now.”

He doesn’t say anything, but his hand closes gently over hers. He leans in as if to kiss her, but stops halfway, then pulls back a little, obviously conflicted.

Kairi would ask what the matter is, but she already knows. He’s scared. He’s scared of himself, and of how he looks, and thinks that she should be afraid of him.

She isn’t.

She closes the gap, standing on her toes and kissing him while twining her fingers with the fingers of his hand, which she's still holding. It doesn’t last long- can’t, because she can’t stand on her toes for long. He looks slightly stunned again, just like the first time she kissed him. Like he can’t believe that this keeps happening, that someone could keep loving him.

It just about breaks Kairi’s heart. She thinks, she’s got to kiss him more often. Hug him more often, too. Tell him she loves him every day, every hour, until he believes it wholeheartedly. She doesn’t want to fix him, because he isn’t broken. She just wants him to know that he’s loved and cherished. But it will take a while. She’ll start slow.

"Even if you never look like yourself again," Kairi says, "I will always love you. Always."

She knows the same is true for Sora, but she doesn't try to speak for him right now. Better that he can say these things for himself, when he wakes up.

Riku still looks a little stunned. Kairi smiles at him, gives his hand a last squeeze before releasing it.

They rejoin the others. Axel and Roxas are standing in the corner of Yen Sid's office, murmuring something to each other. Both of them look fond, at least until Axel catches sight of Riku and Kairi, and his expression sours somewhat.

He doesn't trust anyone other than Roxas, does he? That's something that needs fixing, too, though Kairi isn't sure where to start with that problem. Maybe just by being trustworthy, which Axel probably hasn't experienced much in the Organization.

Kairi thinks, everything will take time. But there is no limit on their time. They have to defeat Xemnas, but there will be time after that for healing.

It seems like an awkward forever passes in silence before Yen Sid and the fairy godmothers enter the room once more.

"Sora's Gummi ship is here," Yen Sid says. "It would be best if those of you with hearts do not risk them to the darkness."

"None of us knows how to maintain a Gummi ship," Kairi says sheepishly. "I broke the last one I had."

Yen Sid says, "Chip and Dale will assist you."

Kairi is more relieved than she can put into words. The dark portals scare her. She doesn't know why. There's just something unnatural about them. It's not just that they're dark- she's seen darkness before and never faltered. Maybe it's that the portals are a hole in the world, and as a Princess of Heart she is meant to stabilize the worlds, to prevent them from tearing like that. Maybe it's that she's afraid for Riku, for Roxas, for Axel, for herself, that they might be corrupted by travel through the void. Maybe it's just that it aches to look at the portals, in a way that darkness always aches, as if she should be able to fix it.

In any case, she's glad they have a ship, and a crew to maintain it. It will be cramped, and she knows that travel by Gummi ship is slower than ripping holes between worlds, but never the less, she's less afraid of this method of travel.

"We're going to Radiant Garden," she says, then, reminding the others, but really more to steel herself. "We're going to find a way to fix Sora."

Roxas nods, serious. Riku takes her hand. Axel just stares at her, intense.

"Let's go," Riku says.

Chapter Text

The ship sets down as far from the makeshift palace as they can get. Kairi has been gone for weeks, and the last thing she wants is for people to fuss over her when she has work to do.

The palace was never really a palace, not when she was there. The whole world was still being restored, and no one had recaptured Hollow Bastion, which was still surrounded by Heartless. She knows that the restoration committee put more effort into building the small castle for her than they should have. She has never needed a fancy place to live. She's always cared more about being surrounded by good people than being surrounded by pretty things.

She has good people now. Riku, Roxas, Axel- they're her friends. (Even if Axel doesn't seem to know it yet.) Not that the people of Radiant Garden aren't good people, too- but she had so much trouble getting close to them. They wanted a leader, a queen, and Kairi was not that person. Still isn't. She's making decisions now, but she has no way of knowing if they're the right ones. She has no idea, when she thinks about it logically, whether she and the others can actually save Sora, let alone if they can save the worlds.

She feels like they can do it. She just isn't sure how reliable her feelings are. She can't be sure that she isn't just being selfish- what if her feelings are leading her down a path that is morally easy, instead of one that will save Sora?

She doesn't know. Logically, she might have to make some sacrifices, to save the worlds. To save Sora. But her heart insists that she has no right to sacrifice anyone. She can't make that call. There is a part of her that freezes up, that balks at the arithmetic of sacrifice. If she loses Roxas but gains Sora... People aren't numbers. They aren't interchangeable. You can't do math with people's lives.

"Are you okay?" Riku asks, as they prepare to leave the gummi ship. "You look unhappy."

Kairi shakes her head. "I just have a lot on my mind."

"Your dad?" Riku asks. "The one in this world?"

Kairi shrugs, glad to talk about something somewhat less stressful.

"I ran away," she says. "When I was lost the first time, he thought he'd never see me again. It must have hurt a lot when I disappeared again."

"He cares about you," Riku says. He smiles softly. "It's hard not to."

Kairi smiles back, then sighs. "I don't know what to tell anyone."

"Just tell them the truth," Riku says. "That you're needed elsewhere."

Frowning now, looking at her hands, she says, "I can't stay here. Not now. Not ever. It was my home once, but I can't even remember that anymore. I haven't been able to remember it since I came to Destiny Island." She adds, quietly, "Merlin told me that there was a spell to make me forget, but he couldn't get rid of it." Her hands are fists now. "And- and I'm glad. This isn't where I belong. It isn't where I want to belong."

"Okay," Riku says.

She looks up at him. "What?"

"Maybe I'm biased," Riku says, "but I want you to come home with me and Sora when we finish saving the worlds." He looks thoughtful for a moment. "I didn't even like home, until I couldn't go back anymore. But if the two of you want to go back to the islands, I'll go, too."

"We won't be split apart again," Kairi says. "Never, no matter what."

They walk out of the ship together, to meet Axel and Roxas.

"You guys are slow," Roxas complains.

"Looks who's talking," Riku says.

Roxas blinks. It takes a few seconds before he says, "Hey!" and lunges at Riku playfully.

They get into a tussle, and Axel and Kairi give each other looks.

None of this escapes the notice of the townspeople nearby, who have started to look at them and murmur.

"I think they recognize me," Kairi says with a sigh. "We might as well get this over with, I suppose."

She squares her shoulders and leads the way down the street towards the castle. A fair number of people gawk at them as they walk by, and Kairi does her best not to show how bothered she is by that.

By the time they make it to the castle, news has obviously spread. Her father is waiting by the gate, and the restoration committee is behind him.

"Kairi," her father says, and there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in that one word.

She says, "I'm back, for now," and there are just as many emotions in that.

He takes a few steps forward, and embraces her, and she does her best not to stiffen.

He lets her go, and looks at her companions. "Who do you have with you?"

"This is Roxas, and Axel," she says, gesturing at them in turn. "And this is Riku, one of my closest friends from the islands. He doesn't look like himself right now."

Her father looks skeptical. "I see." He adds, "I trust you had a good reason for leaving."

"I had to find my friends," Kairi said. "I was worried that they were in trouble- and they were, and still are, and would be in worse trouble if I hadn't gone to help."

He looks at her for a long moment, as though searching her face for some sign. Maybe he thinks she's lying, that she just wanted to get out of her classes or something. It's true that she skipped when she could, out of boredom and frustration and a feeling that she was out of place.

"I can't stay," she says, finally. "The worlds are in danger."

"It's the keyblade master's job to save the worlds," her father says. "Not yours."

Kairi says, "The keyblade master is sleeping. He won't wake up."

The members of the restoration committee shuffle forward, obviously curious. No one else remembered Sora before she left, and she is sure they still don't remember his name- but they know of the keyblade master and how the worlds were saved, even if they can't personally remember him. Sora is more myth than person now, but at least he still exists to them.

Kairi says, "We're trying to find a way to wake him, but until then..." She summons her keyblade and lifts it, and Riku, catching on, does the same. She has to elbow Roxas before he joins them. He brandishes Oathkeeper, which is the less evil looking of his keyblades, and probably the better choice.

"We have keyblades, too," Kairi says. "By the time Sora wakes up, we'll have saved the world for him."

"Sora," Leon says. "I think I knew a Sora, once." He seems troubled, as though the memory is just barely escaping him. Kairi knows the feeling.

"I couldn't remember him well, either," she says. "I had to see him again before I even knew his name. It's something to do with his sleep. A protection, to keep anyone from looking for him, maybe."

"Namine," Riku says, as though that name is an explanation on its own. Kairi still hasn't met Namine, whoever she is. She doesn't understand who Namine is or what she can do, except that it relates to memories. She has only the barest of facts. That Namine is about Kairi's size. That she is reclusive, or else she would have introduced herself by now. She has no idea what Namine's motivations are, why she is helping them. But Riku seems to trust her.

Maybe that shouldn't comfort her as much as it does. Riku is also working with DiZ, and she has a feeling in her gut that says DiZ isn't good. She also knows that Riku is desperate to save Sora- that Riku would do anything to wake Sora up. He let darkness into his heart again. He would have killed Roxas, if she hadn't stopped him. And yet- she's certain, despite the darkness that cloaks him, that Riku is still a good person. She trusts him, and trusts that he is trying to do what is right, even if he messes up sometimes. So if Riku trusts Namine, Kairi trusts her, too. She’ll even work with DiZ.

Leon looks even more confused, now. "Sora is the name of the keyblade master, then?"

"Yes," Kairi says. "He's my friend, and Riku's friend, too. He's- he's going to be fine." She hopes. "You know him- don't you remember, he left me with you, while he went to save Riku."

There is a spark of recognition in Leon's eyes, but her words don't seem to trigger anything more than that. He shakes his head.

Kairi takes a breath. "Anyway, we came here to resupply. We're out of potions. And- I was hoping Merlin would help me with a few spells. I've figured out some magic on my own, but I'm not as good as I'd like to be."

Her father looks... disappointed. She wants to say that she came to see him, too- but she's never been good at lying, and she thinks a badly executed lie would hurt more than silence. So she babbles on, "We're getting as strong as we can. We think there's danger to the worlds, from Organization 13, but we're not strong enough to face them yet. So we're training."

This does not seem to reassure her father, or Leon.

"You're a Princess of Heart," Leon says. "What happens to the worlds if you get into a situation you can't get out of? What happens if you’re hurt? Does everything fall out of balance if there are only six Princesses of Heart left?"

"I don't know," Kairi admits. "But if we do nothing, the Organization will win. They'll have Kingdom Hearts. And who knows what will happen to the worlds, then? We can't risk it."

This does not really reassure anyone- she can see it in their faces. She is swapping one threat to the worlds for another.

Her father says, "You're too important to put in danger. There are two other keyblade masters with you. Why can't they take care of the Organization?"

Kairi rarely gets truly angry. It doesn't come naturally to her. But she can feel anger bubbling up now, as though from a great depth.

"I will not let them risk their lives for me," she says. "Not when I could help! I didn't go with Sora, when he went to save the world, and everything went wrong! No. I've trained hard. I'm won't be a liability this time. I'm going to help."

Her father looks taken aback. Kairi thinks, she's handled every situation in Radiant Garden before with calm and cheer. She didn't see any point in fighting anyone's expectations head-on. She had been waiting for rescue, and it hadn't seemed worth it to protest the endless classes on how to rule a world, the expectations that she would stay forever. She'd had a bone-deep conviction that Riku and Sora would come for her. She still thinks they would have, eventually- but Roxas would be erased from existence, and so Sora would be only part of himself. Riku would have done things he couldn’t forgive himself for. Axel would have found Roxas gone, erased, and while Kairi doesn’t know him well yet, she thinks it would have broken him.

No. She couldn't have waited. She got there just in time, if not a little late. Sooner, and maybe Riku wouldn't have given in to darkness again. Maybe he'd look like himself, instead of the monster who had tried to steal his heart.

She can't think about these things. Not now. The point is, she had presented a docile, dutiful face to her father, when she had felt anything but docile or dutiful. She had sneaked off to fight Heartless at night, but that was her only outright rebellion. She'd hidden her true self.

Riku isn't the only one who'd been alone.

"I'm going to help this time," she repeats, more quietly, calming herself. The anger dissipates more quickly than it came, leaving her feeling almost nothing. She takes a breath.

“You’ll come back,” her father says, but it sounds like he’s reassuring himself more than making a statement. Kairi can’t say yes. It wouldn’t be true. Neither can she say no- not when it would hurt him. She feels trapped, unable to say anything at all.

Axel says, “Of course.”

She looks at him sharply. His face gives away nothing. “We’re not going to let anything happen to her,” he says. “She’s important. We know that.”

Her father seems somewhat relieved at that, though he doesn’t look totally convinced.

It will have to do.


They go resupply first. They all have munny to spare. Kairi can’t remember the last time she actually bought anything, and Heartless collect money, hoard it, so Kairi has amassed a small fortune after her battles with them. Riku and Roxas are the same.

Kairi has devoted too much thought to that- why Heartless would collect something that has nothing to do with hearts. It’s not like they can spend it. Maybe it’s just that most people think munny is important, and the Heartless can sense that, or remember it somehow. Kairi doesn’t understand how Heartless think. If “think” is even the right word.

They buy as many potions as they can carry- some potent ones that make Kairi’s head spin when she smells them to judge their quality, and some gentler ones for minor injuries. The whole way, Kairi’s father trails after them, inquiring about where Kairi has been, what she’s been up to. She wishes, uncharitably, that he would go away.

“I’ve been a lot of places,” Kairi tells him. “I didn’t stay more than a week in any one world. Usually less. I was looking for Riku and Sora. They tend to make an impression- if they’d been there before me, I would have known quickly.”

“You could have been injured, or worse,” her father says.

Kairi shrugs. “I was injured. Over and over again. I healed. I got stronger.”

Her father looks at her like he doesn’t know who she is. That’s fair- he really doesn’t.

“We thought you’d been kidnapped,” he says, at one point, when they’ve returned to the sort-of-a-castle to pack their purchases away. “You disappeared so suddenly. But there was no ransom note.”

“I’m sorry,” Kairi says, not looking at him. “I knew you would try to stop me, and I couldn’t risk that.”

“What’s so important about these boys?” he asks. “What makes them more important to you than your family? Your kingdom?”

Kairi looks away from the potions she’s been sorting into her bags. It is just her and her father in the room. Roxas and Axel disappeared after finding an ice-cream stand, probably to sit on something stupidly tall and dangle their feet of the edge while eating sea salt ice cream. Riku had stepped out, claiming that she and her father “needed a while to sort things out.” She can’t exactly disagree, if she’s being honest with herself. She just wishes it didn’t have to be now.

She doesn’t know how to explain.

“I grew up with Riku and Sora,” she says. “There were other children on the island, but we were closest to each other, always off in our own little world.”

Her father says, “You never talk about the island. I assumed you were unhappy there.”

“No!” Kairi says. “Not at all. It was...” Home, she doesn’t say. “I couldn’t remember anything else,” she says, instead. “It’s not just that I was young, and forgot gradually- I had complete amnesia when I arrived. I knew my name, and that was about it. Later, much later, I could remember my grandmother’s voice. But my life before the islands was still a mystery to me. No one was more surprised than me when I arrived here after the worlds were restored.”

“You said your friend Sora is the keyblade master,” her father says. “You never said anything about that, either.”

“I couldn’t remember him,” Kairi admits. “Something happened- not just to me, but to everyone who’s ever met him. When he fell asleep, we all forgot him. I knew there had been a boy besides Riku, someone dear to me, but I couldn’t even remember his name until I saw him again.”

She shakes her head. “It seems like so much of my life has been defined by forgetting.”

Her father clearly has no idea what to say to that.

Kairi smiles at him, and he seems taken aback.

“It means that the things I can remember are more precious,” she says. “I can’t let Riku or Sora be hurt. And Roxas has become a close friend already, too, though I’ve only known him for a little while.”

“And the other? The redhead?”

“Axel?” she shrugs. “I don’t know him well yet. He seems nice enough, but he’s more Roxas’s friend than mine so far.”

Her father says, “Why didn’t you ever tell me any of this before?”

Kairi bites her lip. “I- I didn’t know you. I’m sorry. I know you want to be my family. But I can’t remember living here. I can’t remember you from before. I feel so lost here, even now.”

It doesn’t feel like home, she can’t bring herself to say. She hopes he can read between the lines, because she can’t bring herself to say that to him.

There are tears in his eyes. Kairi bites her lip again. She stares awkwardly at him, hopes that he won’t actually cry.

She wants to say, “We can make new memories!” She wants to say, “It could be home again eventually!” She wants to say anything that will make him happy. She doesn’t. Some things are too important to lie about, because- well, she won’t be coming back here. Maybe she will visit from time to time, but she can’t stay. And if she tells him a lie now, it will just hurt more later when he realizes she’s not coming back.

He does cry. He doesn’t try to hide it. She doesn’t interrupt him, just sits on the bed and draws her legs up to her chest. She doesn’t like seeing people unhappy. Hates even more that she is the cause of this unhappiness.

No- not the cause. The cause is Ansem, always Ansem, who tore the worlds apart. Somehow he is responsible for her memory loss, just like he is responsible for everything else. Because of him, she lost one family and gained another. And while she can’t regret this- she loves her dad, loves him like she wishes she could love her father, and she loves Riku and Sora too, and how could she live without them-

The worlds were torn apart by Ansem, and ultimately it is ordinary people like her father that pay the price.

It is not Kairi’s fault, but it is her responsibility to fix what can be fixed. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

So she sits, and waits for her father to be done crying. It is probably only a few minutes, but it feels like an eternity. When he seems to have finished, she finds a box of tissues and hands it to him. This sets off another burst of tears.

“You’re so sweet,” he says. “You’ve always been so sweet. The restoration committee tells me you’re a Princess of Heart, that there’s no darkness in you. I knew you were special, even when you were tiny, but every parent thinks their child is special. If I’d known- if I could have protected you better-”

“It’s not your fault,” Kairi says. “How would you have known that the darkness was coming?”

He laughs bitterly. “We all knew the darkness was coming.”

“What?”

“It started here,” he says, shaking his head. “The darkness started here, and we all pretended it wasn’t happening. The shadows moving out of the corners of our eyes. The streets didn’t seem safe at night, and the days seemed shorter than they should have been.”

Kairi frowns, uncurls her legs so that she is sitting normally again.

“You don’t need to hear about all that,” he father says. He adds, “You’re probably better off not remembering at all. Even if- if you can’t remember me, or your mother. I wouldn’t wish those memories on anyone.”

Kairi thinks of her last night on the islands. She’d been so afraid. The darkness had been coming- not from any place outside the islands, but from somewhere inside of it. The door had been opened, and it was as if the world was an apple, rotting from the core. Every part of her had screamed to stop it but she couldn’t. One Princess of Heart wasn’t enough to stop the destruction of a world, especially not one so young and completely unaware of what she was. She’d- she’d faded, wilted, her light no match on its own for the darkness rising around her like a cold tide. She’d nearly gone out.

And then Sora had come.

“I’ve seen darkness,” she says. “It came for the islands, too.”

Her father stills.

“Sora saved me,” she says. “He saved all of us, but he saved me first. He shielded my heart inside of his own, protected it until I was strong enough to live again. And when it was time to let it go, he... he sacrificed his own heart to let me go.”

Her father now looks alarmed. “You said he was sleeping.”

“His Heartless found me,” Kairi continues, her fingers curling up, absently grabbing hold of the bottom of her skirt as though it could offer some protection from these thoughts. “He was still Sora, even as a Heartless, and I fixed him. I don’t know how. I don’t think it would have worked if I’d done it on purpose. It was instinctive. Hold back the darkness, rekindle the light that was lost...”

“You changed a Heartless back into a human,” her father says, and he is now awestruck. “Can all Princesses of Heart do that? Could you do it again?”

Kairi shrugs. She has no idea.

“I can’t save worlds on my own,” Kairi says, returning to her earlier thoughts, not all of them voiced. She doesn’t know how to respond to awe, so she retreats into thoughtfulness. “I’m not strong enough by myself to save a whole planet from darkness. But one person at a time- Sora, or Riku, or Roxas- I can do that. I can help.” She looks back up at her father. “I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t try.”

Finally, finally, she sees something like understanding in his warm brown eyes.

“Your mother was the same,” he says. “She may not have been a Princess of Heart, but she had a strength to her...”

“You miss her,” Kairi says. And then, “Tell me what she was like?”

So he does, in fits and starts.

“She had hazel eyes and red hair,” he starts. “She looked a lot like you...”

So she learns that her mother had grown up with just Kairi’s grandmother. Kairi’s grandfather had died when Kairi’s mother had been very young, long before darkness had taken the world.

“Your mother was a gentle spirit,” her father tells her. “But that doesn’t mean she didn’t have her own kind of strength. We met in school. There was a group of bullies who were absolutely merciless to me, and she stopped them from tormenting me one day, just stood between them and me and stared. She had a presence to her, something that they couldn’t stand up to. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since...”

He smiles fondly, and then, abruptly, the light goes out of his eyes. “The darkness took her,” he says. “I don’t know why I survived and she didn’t. If we could have switched places- if I could have sacrificed myself to save her- she would be here for you now. She would be doing a much better job of this. She would know what to say, now, to make things right.”

“Maybe she would be just as lost without you,” Kairi says. “That kind of connection- it goes both ways.”

He smiles again. “So young, and so wise,” he teases. “Do you have someone you love? This ‘Sora,’ maybe?”

She just smiles back secretively. She doesn’t know what to say. Right now, they’re on good terms. Maybe it’s best not to unsettle things yet by admitting she loves both of her best friends. Besides, she doesn’t know if Sora feels that way about her or Riku, not really. She only has guesses.

They talk a little more about her mother. Kairi thinks she would have liked to meet her. Even the memory of her mother brings a sparkle to her father’s eyes, makes him appear younger and less worn.

There’s a knock on the door after a while. Kairi startles, realizes that the sunshine through the windows has faded to night, that they have been talking for hours.

Roxas says, through the door, “Kairi, are you hungry?”

She is, she realizes, stomach growling. Her father says, “Well, we should go eat dinner. There will be time for more stories later.”

So they do. None of the boys are chefs, but they know how to whip up the basics. Sandwiches, tonight. Her father looks amused as Roxas digs into his sandwich, dropping crumbs everywhere and looking delighted.

“Were you raised in a barn?” Axel teases him.

Roxas looks at him blankly. “I wasn’t raised at all,” he points out, because despite being completely deadly in combat, he still has these moments in everyday life where he is out of his depth, like he has no idea how to handle someone who isn’t an immediate threat to his safety or personhood.

Axel just sighs. Kairi’s father looks confused, but doesn’t say anything. Kairi is glad she doesn’t have to explain the whole Nobody thing. There are enough things to explain right now.

“We should get going in the morning,” she says quietly, sandwich half-finished on her plate.

“That wasn’t the plan,” Riku says.

Kairi says, “I know. But- every moment we stay here, we draw the Organization’s attention to this place. Radiant Garden has already lost so much. I don’t know if the people can stand to-”

“We want you here,” her father says. Kairi looks over at him, and he continues. “You’re a part of this world. Maybe you’re a part of both worlds, this one and the island you’ve made your home. But part of you belongs here, or you wouldn’t have found your way back here after the worlds were restored.”

Kairi bites her bottom lip.

"Okay," she says. "We'll stay here. Just for a little while."

Her father smiles.

Kairi still has a bad feeling about Radiant Garden. But she's willing to try.

Chapter Text

They all train hard the next few weeks. With care, and Riku to back her up, Kairi even gets to fight against Roxas's light moves. She is able to copy only a few of the easier ones, but that's still progress.

But despite their determination to win the battle against Xemnas, they can't train all day. Sometimes, when they are exhausted, they get ice cream. Sometimes they gather at Merlin's house and read books. Magic, history- anything that might give them an edge.

Sometimes, Axel and Roxas go off on their own. Sometimes, Kairi drags Riku away from training or the books and kisses him until he turns bright red. He needs the relaxation. He's always been too serious. Too intense.

Today, even though her muscles ache and her brain is tired from too much magic, she is antsy. She's already dragged Riku away from Merlin's for a while, and he insisted later on going back- he thinks he's found the key to everything in one of Merlin's books, but Kairi is pretty sure it's not going to pan out. This is the third time in the past two weeks that he's been sure some new information would save Sora or give them the key to beating Xemnas.

Kairi downs a potion- their supply is dwindling, and they are going to have to buy more, soon. The ache in her muscles fades.

She finds Roxas and Axel in Axel's room. The door to the room is open, but she knocks lightly anyway. They don't seem to be doing much, just lazing around.

"I was thinking of looking around the city for any Heartless that might be endangering people," she says. "Would you two like to join me?"

Axel yawns. "Right now?"

Roxas, though, stands. "I'm sick of sitting around," he says. "Let's go."

Axel groans, but follows.

Kairi has explored most of the town before. It's not like it's a big place. When she was first starting out, even the smallest Shadow was enough to give her trouble, but by the time she left, it had been easy.

Now, with three of them, they end up without that much to do. There are only a few Heartless to be found, most of them on the outskirts of town.

"Have you ever been to that castle over there?" Roxas asks, gesturing Oblivion towards Hollow Bastion in the distance. "I bet there are tons of Heartless there. We could clear it out."

"Sounds like a plan," Axel says. He turns to Kairi. "You up for a challenge?"

Kairi thinks of Riku, possessed. There are a lot of bad memories in that castle. But then she remembers, faintly, her grandmother telling her stories in the library there. There are good memories, too. Even if she doesn't have most of them anymore, will probably never have them again- that doesn't mean others might not like their home reclaimed.

"Let's go," she says.

The Heartless are more numerous towards Hollow Bastion, but still weak. Still, Kairi is filled with unease.

Hollow Bastion is creepy. Kairi isn't easily creeped out, but the feel of this part of Radiant Garden hasn't changed much from when Maleficent was in charge. It's wrong, corrupted. Kairi wonders if that is the feeling of darkness. If so, how can anyone stand to be near it? It sets her nerves on edge.

Axel and Roxas don't seem to notice it, though. They do seem somewhat grim, but not actually bothered like she is.

There are more and more Heartless the closer they actually get to the castle. They get stronger, too. Kairi wishes for the millionth time that she could master a stronger healing spell. She's tried- Merlin's books have instructions, even. But she can't manage it.

Maybe she's not as good a Princess of Heart as she hoped.

So she uses her weak healing spell repeatedly whenever there is a pause in the battle, and they switch to potions when she starts getting a headache.

"Maybe we should turn back," Roxas says, a little ways into the castle proper. "I mean, this is good training, but we're going to have to face just as many Heartless on the way back. We should save some strength."

Part of Kairi agrees. Most of Kairi agrees. But the part of her set so on edge by the darkness is reluctant.

"There's something wrong here," she says. "I can feel it. It's close." She wants to find what is wrong here. Now that she knows there is darkness here, it would bother her, even back in town.

"We'll come back with more potions," Roxas says. "And with Riku."

Kairi shakes her head. "Riku shouldn't come here. This is where Ansem possessed him. I don't want him reminded of that."

Roxas frowns. "I know that memory. The room with the huge keyhole..."

"Yes," Kairi says. She shakes her head. "Sora beat him," she says, more to remind herself than anything else. "Ansem is gone now, no matter how Riku looks."

She steps further into the room. "Sora closed the keyhole. This place isn't supposed to be filled with darkness anymore. So why does it feel so wrong?"

And maybe Axel and Roxas can't even feel the darkness, because they look alarmed when she says that.

"Maybe we should leave," Roxas says.

Kairi shakes her head. "The library is right through here," she says, pushing open the door. "I need to see it."

She doesn't see what their reactions are. She doesn't look. She just presses forward.

They find no answers in the library, but Kairi takes a few books that look promising and puts them in her bag. They wander more. There are still Heartless around, and fighting them is exhausting. They're all pretty tired when they stumble across the computer room.

The computer isn't what catches Kairi's eye. What she notices first is the painting.

"Ansem," she says.

Axel and Roxas turn to look at the painting.

"So he's from this world," Roxas says. "Xemnas- his Somebody lived here."

"Sure looks like it," Axel says.

"He wasn't the king," Kairi says, thinking it through. "I've seen pictures of King Ansem the Wise. But this is certainly the castle where King Ansem lived."

"Maybe they just had the same name," Roxas says.

Kairi shakes her head. "They must be connected somehow. What are the chances that two people in the same castle had the same uncommon name?"

"You're right," a voice says from behind them.

Kairi turns.

"King Mickey!" she says.

Sure enough, it is King Mickey standing there. He's wearing an Organization coat and hood, though she wonders if it could possibly fool anyone- his ears are pretty distinctive.

He pulls down the hood.

"I was looking for Riku," he admits. "I thought he'd be with you. Do you know where he is?"

"He's at Merlin's," Kairi explains. "But please- before you go, can you explain?"

Mickey nods.

"Ansem the Wise was a friend of mine. " Mickey says. "He had several apprentices. One of them was a man named Xehanort- the man in that painting."

Roxas repeats, "Xehanort," as though the word leaves a bad taste in his mouth.

Mickey continues, "Xehanort was jealous of Ansem, and bitter. Ansem would not allow Xehanort to conduct his experiments into darkness. Xehanort craved the power and control that Ansem had. So he stole Ansem's name and banished Ansem to the Realm of Darkness."

"That's horrible," Kairi says.

Mickey nods. "I looked for him, in the time I spent in the Realm of Darkness, but I didn't find him. I'm afraid he may be gone for good."

"I'm sorry," Kairi says. "No one should have to lose a friend."

She shakes her head. "I guess exploring the castle was a waste of time. I don't know what we've learned here. What does it matter, what Xehanort's original name was?"

Axel says, "Names matter more than you might think."

Roxas and Kairi turn to look at him questioningly.

Axel just shrugs.

Mickey says, "I have to find Riku, but there is business that we should take care of here, first." He looks at Kairi. "It's something for you to do. It won't be easy."

Kairi says, "What is it?" But she thinks she already knows.

"Every world has a heart," Mickey says. "And every heart has darkness. But when Sora closed the keyhole leading to Kingdom Hearts, it didn't seal off the darkness in this world. Something is wrong, here."

Kairi says, "I can feel it. I've always felt it, every moment I've spent in this world." She bites her lip. "I don't know how to fix it, though. I've never sealed a keyhole."

"You'll know how when you see it," Mickey says. "Believe in yourself."

He leads them through a hidden door, and they go down a flight of stairs. The basement is dark, but Mickey summons an orb of light that leads them down a hallway. Kairi can see places where lightbulbs once lit the hall. They're smashed now. Pieces of glass litter the floor.

Kairi can feel the darkness. It presses all around- both the absence of light, and the more metaphysical darkness that has been bothering her for so long.

"This way," she says, when they pass a door. "There's something wrong in here."

"The keyhole is this way," Mickey says, but he sounds more curious than protesting.

"There is darkness this way," Kairi insists. "I can feel it. It isn't as strong, but it's still pretty bad."

She opens the door.

The room inside smells unpleasantly musty and damp. It's a library- a small one- but Kairi doubts any of the books in here are legible anymore. Mold and time have eaten away at them.

She can read a few of the titles, still. Some of them are written in a language she doesn't know. The others- one says it was about the Keyblade War. She doesn't know what that means, but she suspects it is something sinister.

This close, the sense of darkness is overwhelming. She can't sense exactly where it is coming from, and has to search the room. None of the books are the source of the darkness. Instead, as her fingers brush against a small chest, she feels a jolt in her fingers. She jerks back, then realizes she is being silly.

She opens it and finds a keychain. It is made of dark metal wire, with a glass eye set in the center. This is the source of darkness in this room. She sets it to the side for a moment to examine the chest's other contents.

There is a set of clothing which obviously belonged to someone tall. Tan pants, a dark shirt. There is a gold-colored belt buckle, some other small items. None are anything remarkable.

She sets everything but the keychain back in the chest.

"It's this," she explains, showing the keychain to the others.

Roxas says, "Should you be touching that? What if it... rubs off?"

Kairi frowns. "I don't think that's how it works," she says. "And it isn't the only source of darkness here, anyway. Let's go look at that keyhole."

She pockets the keychain, but takes the entire chest with her, too, just in case.

The keyhole is straightforward, at least, though surrounded by Heartless.

She points her keyblade at the hole, and light comes from the end. It isn't quite enough, and she focuses harder. It isn't enough- she can tell some part of her is holding back, but she can't fight past it. It's the same as the healing spell. There is a block she can't break.

Roxas puts his hand on her arm. She doesn't have to do this alone. With his other hand, he mimics her, pointing his keyblade at the keyhole as well.

With the two of them, they're able to do it. The sense of darkness lifts at once as soon as the keyhole clicks shut. All the darkness that's left is what is emanating from the keychain in her pocket, and that is much more subtle now than it was.

"We did it!" Roxas says, smiling at her. She smiles back. Axel, standing behind Roxas, looks grumpy. She still isn't sure what might make him trust her. She'll figure that out later.

With Mickey's help, getting back to town is much easier than it was fighting their way to the castle. She is still exhausted when she gets home. She collapses on her bed while Mickey confers with Riku in the next room. She catches snatches of conversation- Sora needs to be moved. The Organization is close to finding him. Namine is still trying to fix his memories, but she's running out of ideas.

Kairi wonders, idly, who Namine is. They've never met. She figures, though, that if it ever becomes important they'll figure it out.

She tunes out the rest. Riku will tell her the highlights, later. She pulls the dark keychain from her pocket. The glass eye in it seems to look at her, and that's creepy, but when she looks more closely it is a just a trick of the light.

She summons her own keyblade, and looks at the keychain on that. She's not willing to put the dark keychain on her blade- that seems like inviting trouble- but she's curious about her default chain. It looks like a paopu fruit. She's never really questioned that before. It feels right.

She thinks, her keyblade is a reflection of herself. Covered in flowers from Destiny Islands, its keychain a fruit found only there. It suits her the way Riku's Way to Dawn suits him.

Who had this chain? Someone evil, she thinks. Probably Xehanort- but why would someone like that have a keyblade at all? Why had his keychain been left behind?

She shakes her head, dismisses her keyblade, and pockets the keychain again. She goes back to looking at the items in the chest. The only one that looks even somewhat interesting is the belt buckle, gold and shaped into a symbol she doesn't quite know. It looks familiar, but when she tries to think where she might have seen it before, she comes up blank.

After a while, Riku knocks on her door.

"Well, according to the king, you certainly had an eventful day," he says.

"Yeah," Kairi says. "We killed so many Heartless. Sealed a keyhole. Found a weird keychain..."

Riku nods. "Mickey explained to me about Xehanort and Ansem the Wise. I think Ansem the Wise is our best lead so far about how to fix Sora without Roxas. If we can find him, he might know something about memories, and hearts. There's no guarantee it'll work, but it's the best we've got."

Kairi nods. "Then we'll go looking for him. I can ask around a little, but I think if the people here knew where he'd gone, they would have gone looking for him. He was the king of this world, after all."

"Yeah," Riku says. He stands in the doorway awkwardly for a moment. "You could have brought me with," he says, finally. "To Hollow Bastian."

Kairi says, carefully, "I thought it might bring up bad memories."

Riku lets out a bark of laughter. "Looking in the mirror brings up bad memories. There's nothing in that castle that I can't handle. Just- I want to keep you safe." His feet shuffle on the ground. He looks so... teenaged, despite the body he's wearing, that Kairi smiles.

"I'll bring you along on my adventures from now on," she promises. "But tell me if something is hard- I want to keep you safe, too."

His smile is shy. "Yeah," he says. "Okay."

Kairi stands and walks to him. She wraps her arms around him and rests her head on his chest. Riku returns the hug, gently, like he's afraid she is fragile. They stand like that for a long moment.

"We can leave tomorrow," Riku says, mumbling into her hair. "The Organization almost found Sora yesterday- we need to keep move him more often from now on. We need to hurry and fix him."

"We'll do it," Kairi says, pulling away slightly so she can talk clearly. "Don't worry."

She grabs his hand and gives it a squeeze before he leaves to let Roxas and Axel know the plan. "We're all going to be together again soon," she says.

Riku smiles again. She's not sure he believes her. She's going to make it true, though.

She packs things away in her bag for the journey. At the last minute, she puts the dark keychain at the bottom of her bag. She doesn't want it with her, but she's even less willing to leave it where someone might stumble across it by accident.

Her father does not seem surprised when she tells him they are leaving. He gives her a hug, which she returns more stiffly than she means to, and tells her to stay safe.

She sleeps uneasily, but cannot remember her dreams in the morning.

They get on the gummi ship, and they leave.

Chapter Text

Before they left, King Mickey handed them a list of worlds that might have useful information.

"Agrabah," Kairi says. It's Riku's turn piloting the gummi ship, and she's stretched out in the copilot's chair, not paying too much attention. "That's where Princess Jasmine was from. We'll have to visit her."

"Mmm," Riku says. She thinks it's a noise of agreement.

Axel and Roxas are napping in the small cargo room in the back, so it's just the two of them. They've been switching off piloting between the four of them. Mostly it is no effort at all- just vast empty spaces. But there are times when they encounter Heartless, or space junk, or simple asteroids, and they need someone to be ready all the time.

Right now, it is boring, but Riku still insists on paying full attention to the controls.

Kairi thinks she could probably fix that. She takes a quick look at the sensors, gives herself the all-clear, and stands up.

"Going somewhere?" Riku asks.

"Just stretching my legs a little," she says. He glances at her, and she rewards him with a smile.

It's been a while since they had real alone time. Even this isn't very private- the walls are thin, and they have to talk softly so that they don't wake Roxas and Axel. But Kairi'll take it.

With Riku sitting and her standing, she actually has the height advantage here. He is tense, too tense. She can't remember the last time she saw him relaxed.

Gently, trying not to startle him, she puts her hands on his shoulders. When he raises no objections, she rubs gently, then more vigorously, digging her thumbs in to the thin leather of his coat and massaging the tense muscles beneath.

Riku's expression, reflected in the screens of the sensors in front of him, has softened somewhat. But the real way she knows he's relaxing is that he is leaning in to her touch.

Had anyone touched Riku, the whole time since he'd been gone from the island? She thinks, probably not. There hadn't been anyone to be affectionate with him. Even at home- before, she thinks- she and Sora had always been more physically affectionate than Riku was with either of them. Riku and Sora had fought, sure, and offered one another a hand to get up, but that was the extent of the contact they'd had. And Kairi had been afraid. Afraid of the darkness she could feel growing around her, and some of it had been in Riku. She hadn't known what to do. She'd even suggested to Sora that they run away, just the two of them...

She can't even say that things worked out in the end. Not yet. But she still has hope. They're all still alive, and themselves, and while those two things are true, there's hope.

She doesn't notice the field of asteroids when they approach it, not until the gummi ship shakes and Riku snaps to alertness all at once. Oops. She hadn't realized she was distracting him so much.

They make it through the rest of the field in one piece, but that moment of distraction was enough to burn through most of the shields.

Roxas and Axel peek in, determine that they're not all about to die, and head back to the other room.

"We're not making it all the way to Agrabah," Riku says, once they're in empty space again. "We're going to have to make a pitstop on another world and let Chip and Dale repair the shields for a day or so."

Kairi flushes. "Sorry," she says. "I shouldn't have-"

"It's fine," Riku says, sounding a little flustered himself. "It was- it was nice. And I could have asked you to stop, and I didn't." He pulls up a map on the main screen. "We're near... Neverland. I guess we're stopping there. It's not on the King's list, but I don't think we should risk a further journey with the shields so low."

It only takes another hour to get to Neverland, and even though there are no more fields of rocks or Heartless, Kairi is careful not to be a distraction anymore. (She's almost positive that Riku looks more relaxed now, though, so she doesn't have too many regrets.)

Axel and Roxas wake up for real an hour or so later. Riku lands them all in Neverland safely while Kairi sheepishly explains what happened to the the shields.

"I'm going to sleep now," he announces.

Kairi says, "This is the world where Sora was able to fly! Aren't you even a little excited to explore?"

Riku laughs sadly. "You need pixie dust to fly, and I sided against Peter Pan and Tinker Bell last time I was here. No one will want me here, and they're definitely not going to give me flying powers."

Kairi takes his hand, squeezes it for support. "I want you here," she says, not sure if that means much right now. Then, "I'm going to go explore a little before I nap. But if you really do want to stay in the ship for now, I understand."

Riku squeezes her hand back, gently. "I'll see you in a while," he says, then lets go and walks into the storage room where they've all been sleeping.

Kairi is glad to see sunlight after nearly a full day in the gummi ship. Roxas and Axel have already disembarked.

"Where's Riku?" Roxas asks.

"Sleeping," Kairi says with a faint smile. "He'll catch up with us later. I want to explore! I want to fly!"

"We need Tinker Bell, then," Roxas says. "I wonder where she is?"

They set off to explore the island. There are Heartless and lesser Nobodies around, but not that many- Kairi darts ahead and takes care of most of them on her own before Roxas and Axel can even get there.

"You're getting stronger," Roxas says.

"They do seem easier to beat now," Kairi says. "I'm not sure if it's me, or if the darkness of this world isn't as bad, so it hasn't attracted Heartless that are as strong..."

"It's you," Axel says, looking at her intently. It's interesting, she thinks, that his body looks so relaxed when his eyes are always so intense- it is like he's so used to dancing around the truth that he instinctively does it with his body, even when there is no need to lie. "This world has had a fair share of darkness before, and the general situation is getting worse, not better."

"But Hook is gone," Kairi says, fuzzy memories surfacing from her time in Sora's heart. "I think he had the most darkness of anyone here."

"Maybe," Axel says. "But there's a little darkness in all hearts. Almost all hearts," he amends, looking at Kairi thoughtfully and then shaking his head. "Anyway," he says, "Xemnas has been making things worse for all worlds by encouraging the Heartless- even worlds he's not directly targeting right now. This one won't be an exception."

That's a bit sobering, and Kairi feels some of her giddiness drain away.

It's a while before they run into anyone, though Kairi swears several times she feels eyes on her, watching. Not malevolently, but curiously, as though seeing what the three of them might do.

They find mermaids in the lagoon, who splash Kairi and try to lure the boys closer to the water, but Kairi doesn't let the boys step close enough to grab. (She is from an island, after all, and they have legends about mermaids, most of them not-so-nice. She isn't letting anyone drown on her watch.)

Kairi gets tired of sprinting ahead and fighting Heartless, so Roxas takes the lead. Axel and Kairi walk mostly in silence. If Axel asked her any questions she would answer them. Maybe he is having as much trouble coming up with questions as she is, though, because he asks her nothing.

It's only when Roxas is far away that Axel says, "You saved him."

Kairi doesn't understand what he means for a moment, and her confusion must show. He says, "Riku was going to kill Roxas to get Sora back. But you saved him."

That isn't really a question. Kairi isn't sure what he wants her to say, so she just shrugs. "It didn't take much convincing," she said. "Riku- he gets ideas into his head, about how things have to happen, and he sometimes needs reminding that there are other options."

"You as good as saved me, too," Axel says, his tone too light. "If Roxas were gone... I don't have a heart, you know. But when I'm around him, I feel like I do. If he died, I really would be a Nobody again. Not sure I could handle that."

His expression is light. If Kairi weren't looking at his eyes, she might not notice how tired he looks. She isn't sure that it's fully sunken in yet, that Roxas isn't gone for good. Or maybe it's their other missing friend, the one Roxas can't remember. (Does Axel remember? Does he remember there is anything to remember?)

Kairi doesn't know what to say to that, but she's doesn't have a chance to answer, anyway, because when they take a few steps more into a clearing in the forest, they find Roxas talking animatedly to Tinkerbell.

Tinkerbell looks at Kairi and her expression instantly sours.

"Hi," Kairi says. "I'm Kairi, I-"

Tinkerbell blows a raspberry at Kairi and flies away too quickly to see where she might be going.

Roxas looks sheepish. "She gets jealous," he says.

Kairi nods hesitantly. She almost remembers-

"She didn't like Wendy, either," Roxas said. "I remember that. From last time I was here, but also from... him."

"Sora?"

"Yeah." He shrugs. "I'm surprised she remembers me still. This place... they don't remember anyone for very long."

Kairi isn't sure what to make of that.

They don't find Tinkerbell again, but when they wander back to the Gummi ship, they find a lost boy poking it with a stick. He doesn't notice them at first, and then he yelps when he sees how close they've gotten.

"I'm Kairi," Kairi says, giving a smile she hopes is comforting. "Hi."

"Cubby," the lost boy says. He looks at her uncertainly. "Are you a new mother for us?"

Kairi says, "I'm too young to be a mother," very firmly, because she isn't getting dragged into this like Wendy did. She has her own adventures to go on. This isn't her world.

"Oh," Cubby says. "I thought you might... Oh, well. Another mother will come along. Like Wendy, or... the other one."

"The other one?" Kairi is interested despite herself.

Cubby shrugs vaguely. "She helped us," he says. "We had a treasure hunt, and she was the leader."

"What was her name?"

Cubby shrugs again. "It was a long time ago," he says. "I forget."

"Okay," she says. "Well, we're just stopping here for a day or so. Our ship is damaged, and we have to hurry to save our friend. Do you remember him? Sora? The keyblade master?"

He shakes his head. "Too long ago," he says apologetically. He looks a little like he's remembering something, but Kairi is in no mood to keep prompting him.

Kairi is exhausted, and Cubby is too forgetful to be any help, so she politely excuses herself and goes into the ship to sleep. Riku looks almost peaceful where he is napping, lying on his side and half-curled in on himself because the space is so cramped. She's torn for a moment between wanting to let him be and wanting to be near him, but then he makes an expression in his sleep that looks so lonely that it nearly breaks her heart.

She settles beside him, and he seems to wake up slightly, just enough to pull her closer. The warmth of Neverland's island weather (almost like home) and of Riku lull her gently to sleep.

She wakes when Riku does. He tries not to wake her, but she's too light a sleeper.

"G'morning," she says, mumbling a little.

Riku laughs a little. "It's dark out," he says. Looking thoughtful in the dim emergency lights of the storage room, he adds, "almost dawn, I bet."

Axel and Roxas have pitched a tent outside- smart, there's more room in a tent than in the Gummi ship- so Riku and Kairi wander off a bit to avoid waking them up. They end up on the beach, staring out across the ocean, watching the sky slowly turn orange and red.

Chip and Dale need another few hours to repair the ship, once everyone is awake. Kairi stays with Riku, this time. They don't venture far from the ship, but the beach isn't far, and Kairi manages to convince Riku to take off his shoes and enjoy the sand a little.

Of course, Axel and Roxas end up in trouble before long. Captain Hook is back, because apparently nothing ever changes for real in Neverland. He has Tinkerbell, and, as Roxas explains frantically, they can't just leave when Tink is in trouble, right?

Of course, Roxas and Axel are the only ones dusted in pixie dust.

"There are other fairies somewhere," Roxas says doubtfully. "Maybe we can get one of them to dust you two? I don't think it's strong enough magic for us to carry you."

He is saying all of this while floating in midair.

Riku sighs. "Of course we'll save her," he says. "We'll just have to find a way to get to the ship without flying."

"Land the Gummi ship on it," Kairi says. "Chip and Dale are almost done- we can land it on the ship once they finish."

"Good idea," Riku says. "We'll get Tinkerbell fast, before Hook knows what hit him, and then we'll be back on our way."

Of course, it doesn't turn out to be that easy. The Gummi ship is hard to aim at the best of times, and even though it's repaired Chip and Dale are quick to tell them that there is a lot of fine-tuning to do before landings are precise enough to do what Kairi is asking.

They try anyway, but Chip and Dale are right. After three tries they haven't made it closer to the ship than a rock outcropping barely within sight of the ship.

"We'll do it," Roxas says. "Me and Axel. It doesn't always have to be all four of us."

Kairi sighs. "Okay," she says.

She and Riku wait while Roxas and Axel fly over. Kairi doesn't like waiting. She feels so useless.

"I hate this," Riku says, echoing her thoughts exactly as he paces. The outcropping they're on is small. He can only take three or four steps in any direction. He looks like a caged predator, something Kairi might see in a zoo and feel sorry for. She reaches for his hand the next time he walks close to her, and gently tugs until he sits beside her.

"I hate it, too," she says. She leans on him, partly for her own benefit but also for his. It's a way for him to be useful, and Riku likes being useful. He's always teased Sora and her for being lazy, but she's always seen it more like as Riku being too driven, too afraid to take a break. She doesn't know where it comes from. He's always been that way, as long as she's known him. His parents are demanding, sure- but so are a lot of kids' parents.

"What if something happens to them?" Riku asks, still obviously distressed.

Kairi says, "They're both strong, Riku. There's nothing there that they can't handle. This is just Hook, not Xehanort. They'll come back."

Riku is still frowning when she looks up. "I'm supposed to protect people," he says. "If I can't do that... what good am I?"

Kairi says, "You're worth protecting, too. Do you know that?"

Riku looks startled. "I- Yeah." He taps his head. "Here, at least. Maybe not deeper. It's just- that's always been my job."

Kairi takes his hand again. There are a lot of calluses there. She has them, too. She likes hers. They're a sign of hard work, a sign she's earned her power. She likes them less on Riku- he works too hard.

"Why is it your job?" she asks. "Why not me? I'm the Princess of Heart. I'm supposed to have some sort of power. I'm the literal princess of Radiant Garden. That comes with political power, or would if Radiant Garden were still... intact. Why does it always have to be you?"

Riku summons his keyblade with his other hand, and looks at it for a long moment. "No more borders around, or below, or above, so long as you champion the ones you love," he says.*

"Huh?"

"It's what he said when he gave me the keyblade," Riku says. "I don't remember much about him anymore. But he let me hold his keyblade, and he said if I needed one, some day, it would come." Kairi doesn't know what to say to this, but Riku presses on without her comments anyway. "I can't remember what he looked like," he says. "Isn't that weird? I remember what he said, and I remember his keyblade, but whenever I picture his face..." He shakes his head. "I just get an image of Ansem. Xehanort."

"It was so many years ago," Kairi said. "You were small. Of course you can't remember. And as for the rest of it... I have a keyblade, too. So does Sora. So does Roxas. Maybe this mysterious man did mean for you to protect us on your own- but he couldn't have known we'd all have them. We're all responsible for each other now. It's not something you have to carry alone."

"I guess," Riku says. He still sounds bothered. "I didn't want you to fight. I wanted you home, safe."

"That's not fair," Kairi says. "What you're feeling now- that's what I felt, when Sora went to save you. It's what I felt all the year I waited. It's horrible, isn't it? Not being able to help hurts."

Riku's hand clenches around his keyblade, but when Kairi looks up she sees there are tears in his eyes.

"It does," he says. And then, "Sora..."

"Yeah," Kairi says. She stops tracing his calluses and just holds his hand, leaning on him more. His keyblade disappears. She lets him hold on to her as he cries, as long as he needs.

It's a long time before Roxas and Axel come back. Riku ends up dozing in the sun, with Kairi near him. A couple mermaids stop by and look like they want to splash Kairi, but she gives them a warning look and they think better of it.

Eventually, though, Roxas and Axel do come back, Tinkerbell flying back along with them. Riku is awake again, and seems much calmer and less dour than usual. Kairi doesn't know how long it's been since he last let himself have a good cry, but he definitely needed it.

Tinkerbell looks sheepish. She smiles at Kairi, and at Riku, even going as far as to land on Riku's head and sit in his hair.

"She's sorry she was so sour to you," Roxas tells Kairi, Tinkerbell nodding. Hesitantly, looking at Tinkerbell to make sure it's okay, he says, "Do you guys want to fly?"

"Yes," Kairi says without hesitation. "Yes, yes, yes!"

As soon as Tinkerbell sprinkles her with dust, Kairi is in the air. "Thank you!" she says, remembering her manners. "Come on, Riku!"

Riku remains on the ground for long enough that Kairi worries he will never fly. "Think of happy things!" Kairi says. He looks despairing for a moment, and then looks up at her with sudden inspiration. He starts to hover, shakily at first, and then more solidly.

"Oh," he says. "Oh!"

They fly around for quite a while, being silly and having fun while Chip and Dale finish fine-tuning the sensors.

They never do meet up with Peter Pan, but that's alright. Kairi has had her fill of this world for now.

It's dark by the time they leave. Kairi steers, this time, and leads them away from the world.

"It wasn't a bad pit stop," Riku comments. He smiles at her.

From behind them, Axel says, "Let's not crash again, though."

Kairi turns red, but doesn't let her embarrassment affect her steering.

Agrabah, she reminds herself. That's the next stop.

Chapter Text

Kairi and the rest of the group are met in Agrabah by Jasmine and Aladdin. There are a few tense moments while Aladdin tries to determine if Riku is a threat, but then Jasmine puts a calming hand on his arm.

"The darkness in him is balanced by light," she says. "He merely doesn't look like himself."

This calms down Aladdin, but Kairi can feel the tension in Riku even without looking at him. She can almost hear his internal monologue- How could anyone really tell? and She's wrong, there's so much wrong with me-

She takes his hand, tries to communicate with touch alone how much he is loved. She knows it isn't enough. There is no single gesture that can make Riku realize he is wanted, that he deserves to be wanted. Kairi will have to tell him over and over, in gestures and words, for years- probably a lifetime.

So she holds on, and says to Jasmine, "I wish this could be a visit just for pleasure. I want to catch up with you, Jasmine, but there are pressing matters..."

Jasmine nods. "I understand. I've felt it here, too- something is happening again, isn't it?"

They move to the palace Aladdin begs off- he has something he needs to do. The rest of them sit around a low table and Jasmine has a servant bring them tea.

"There's someone missing from your group," Jasmine says. She looks around at them. "Isn't there?" Looking at Roxas with confusion, she says, "He looked a lot like you... but he wasn't you."

"I get that a lot," Roxas mutters. Kairi see's Axel's hand twitch, but he hesitates to take Roxas's hand for a moment before steeling his expression and reaching out to comfort him.

Kairi leaves off the explanation about Roxas being Sora's Nobody, and says, "His name- the missing boy's name- is Sora. He's sleeping, and we can't wake him up. That's why we're here. We're looking for a man called Ansem the Wise. He was once king of Radiant Garden, and he knew more than anyone about hearts. We think perhaps he might be able to help wake Sora up- if Ansem the Wise is even still alive. Radiant Garden... it was swallowed by the darkness before other worlds, and when it was brought back, a lot of people didn't come with it."

Jasmine's expression goes thoughtful. "I've never dealt with Radiant Garden," she says. "I thought it was a myth. Time doesn't pass the same, between worlds. Five or ten years to you may have been a hundred or a thousand here. But... if anyone living still knows, it would be my father. He's been Sultan a long time, ever since his parents passed away, when he was a young boy."

"Then we should talk to him," Kairi says.

They can't do so immediately, though. The Sultan is very busy giving audiences to the people, and Jasmine is hesitant to interrupt him.

"He'll see you after dinner," she says, after consulting with a nervous-looking adviser and passing the woman a note. "I asked him to, and he... listens to advice, perhaps more readily than he should."

She shakes her head. "We should find Aladdin. He hasn't been himself lately, and I worry about him. We have a few hours- if we split up, it won't be hard."

Kairi and Riku go with Jasmine to the market, while Roxas and Axel split off to search the rest of the city.

"There's something odd about the redhead," Jasmine says, once they're split up. "Do you feel it?"

"He's a Nobody," Kairi says. "He follows where Roxas goes. I don't think he means any harm."

Jasmine makes a noncommittal noise. "He has light," she says. "Darkness, too. Shouldn't a Nobody lack both?"

But they have no time to discuss the metaphysical nature of Nobodies, because they turn a corner and spot Aladdin. He's arguing with a peddler, Abu and Iago nearby.

Jasmine walks up to Aladdin. "Is everything alright?"

Aladdin looks stricken. Iago blurts, "The peddler has Jafar's lamp!"

The peddler clutches the lamp more closely. "This lamp is worth a lot of money," he says. "I refuse to sell it!"

Jasmine looks at the lamp. "If you let the genie in that lamp free," she says, "It could destroy the city. It's an evil genie."

The peddler sets his face. Kairi sighs. Stubborn merchants- she has seen those before.

"Look," Kairi says. "Surely we can come to a reasonable price? We can't let you leave with that lamp- it's dangerous- but we can pay you for your trouble."

They manage to haggle it down- Jasmine doesn't carry coins, but her earrings are worth quite a bit of gold, and she exchanges them for the lamp gladly.

They walk back in awkward silence for a while. Jasmine says, "Is this why you were acting so strangely, Aladdin? You were trying to get the lamp without worrying me?"

Aladdin sighs. "No. I just found that lamp a few minutes before you got there. That's not it. It's just- Genie and Carpet and off travelling the world, and I feel weird and out of place at the palace..."

Kairi and Riku split off to let Jasmine and Aladdin have what sounds like a much-needed talk. They walk around the city a bit, looking for Axel and Roxas- but not too hard. They all agreed to meet up at the palace before sundown, and there are still hours left. The day is hot, but dry, and Kairi feels lazy in the heat.

They encounter only a few Heartless and lesser Nobodies. Kairi thinks, maybe the heat makes them sleepy too. Maybe they are all napping. But if Heartless have no bodies and Nobodies have no feelings, would either of them care about the heat?

"Do you think Nobodies really have no hearts?" Kairi says to Riku, then coughs a little as a passing cart throws dust into the air.

"I think no one really understands Nobodies," Riku says, waving dust away from his face. "Things might be easier if we did."

"Jasmine said that she could sense darkness and light in them," Kairi reminds him. "I don't know that I'm able to sense either of those things consistently, but she's older and more experienced with the whole Princess of Heart thing. She must know what she's talking about."

"The smell of darkness clings to both of them," Riku says. "I figured it was the darkness from the dark portals. It's faded a lot since we all met up, especially with Roxas."

"But what about the light?"

Riku says, "Maybe it's from being near you. If darkness can rub off, why not light?"

Kairi makes a noncommittal noise. She doesn't understand how darkness could contaminate a person just by proximity, even superficially, but she has to accept it can happen. But light- can that "contaminate" darkness as well as the other way around? It bears thinking about. It feels wrong, but that doesn't mean it can't be true. Kairi has been wrong before.

But neither of them really have any more to say about that. No matter how many opinions they have- Kairi is sure Riku is being diplomatic, or trying to be, by keeping his to himself- neither of them has any more facts. It's all guesswork right now.

They head back to the palace not much longer after that. The day is getting dustier and dustier. Kairi can tell it's much worse outside the walls- not quite a dust storm yet, but almost as intense. She's glad to be within the walls for now.

She and Riku still have a little time before dinner, and they spend it playing cards. The cards aren't exactly the same as the ones on Destiny Islands, but they're similar, and they figure them out pretty quickly. Roxas and Axel join up once they arrive.

They play a game for munny. They all have plenty, after all, more than they really need for their adventures. Roxas has the best poker face she's ever seen. She can't tell by looking at him how he feels about his hand at all, and she folds a few times when she could have stayed in. Axel is easy to read, because his eyes light up when he has a good hand. Riku doesn't care enough, and is hard to read as a result. Kairi tries anyway.

After about five rounds Roxas admits he simply didn't understand the rules- his lack of reaction to his cards is a result of ignorance rather than a sign of advanced bluffing. It doesn't matter- he has already won half their munny after a few lucky rounds, and a little later the rest of them admit defeat before they lose everything.

Roxas isn't one to crow about his victory, at least. He gathers the sizable pile of munny without any gloating, though he does look kind of satisfied. Kairi sticks her tongue out at him. He looks at her, obviously confused, and then he seems to realize she's teasing him, and sticks his tongue out at her in return, looking so earnest about it that Kairi has to stifle a laugh.

Jasmine comes in to invite them to dinner not long after Roxas wins most of the group's munny. It's a small affair, but the food is delicious. It's soured slightly by Jasmine and Aladdin's slightly blank looks whenever Kairi brings up Sora. Jasmine can remember he exists, but that's about the extent of her memory, no matter how many times Kairi reminds her of Sora's name. Aladdin is even more forgetful.

They meet the Sultan after.

"I've never heard of Ansem the Wise," he says apologetically. "We didn't deal with other worlds much when I was a child. The only people who really traveled between worlds much then were the keyblade wielders..."

Kairi perks up. "Did you meet anyone who had a keyblade, before us?"

The Sultan says, "They stopped coming before I fully came into my power, but yes. I met a few, as a child and a young adult. I'm afraid they were quite secretive to outsiders- I never learned much about the keyblades themselves, if that is what you're wondering about."

Kairi nods. "I understand."

Roxas says, "So they never told you where the keyblades came from? Why some people have them and not others?"

The Sultan looks surprised. "They had apprentices," he says. "I remember there was a ceremony to pass the blades on. I don't really know more than that. I'm sorry."

Still, it's more than any of them knew before.

Jasmine retires for the night. Aladdin disappears, too. Kairi and the boys have a suite of rooms for the night. The others go to sleep, but the cool air of the night revives Kairi, and she sits on the balcony for a while, staring idly into the distance.

"You look sad," a voice says.

She looks up. "Genie! I thought you were on vacation."

"Just got back," he says. "Thought I'd stop by to see everyone, but I forgot about the time change. Wow, am I jetlagged."

Kairi isn't sure what that means.

"It's good to see you," she says.

Genie smiles at her, then reverts to looking concerned. "What's got you so down?"

Kairi shrugs. "I miss him," she says vaguely. "Sora. Do you remember Sora?"

Genie says, "It takes a lot more magic to erase a genie's memory than another person's. I remember."

"Sometimes it feels like he's an imaginary friend that Riku and I made up," Kairi says, staring at the callouses on her hands. "If I made it home, I don't know if even his parents would remember him. I wish every day that things were different- that at least a few people could remember him as clearly as I do."

Genie says, "I could grant that wish, if you want me to."

Kairi looks up at him. "Oh! I didn't realize... I just wanted to talk to someone. But if you could..."

Genies looks thoughtful. "There are only a few limits to what I can do, but there are a lot that limit what I should do. I shouldn't make everyone remember. That's someone else's job. But I could make a few people remember, as a head start. I like you, kid."

Kairi bites her bottom lip.

"Usually the deal is three wishes," Genie says. "But I'm a free Genie now, and I can make my own rules now. How about five people?"

Kairi says, "His parents should remember. That's two."

"Done."

"Jasmine and Aladdin."

"Done."

"I suppose it would be cheating to ask for Sora to just wake up."

Genie looks a little sad. "This is your story, your friend. I could try, but the results may not be what you want. If he woke up right now, he might not even know who you are. Some things have to be done the hard way."

"The hard way involves Roxas dying," Kairi says quietly. "That's what DiZ says, anyway."

Genie doesn't have an answer for that.

They sit for a while.

"You have one person left," he says, after a bit. "Is there anyone else you'd like to remember him?"

Kairi says, "I don't know. There are a lot of people out there who should know him, but none of them in particular stand out."

She shakes her head. "I suppose... could I ask a small favor instead? Are you able to transport a letter to another world with your power?"

Genie nods. "Of course."

Kairi smiles gratefully. "My dad hasn't heard from me since I disappeared from Destiny Islands- he must be worried sick. I would like to let him know I'm okay. I'll write something up tonight. I'm still not tired."

"I'll be around," Genie says. Then he zips off into the rest of the city, presumably to find Aladdin.

Kairi sits for another moment, admiring the stars- the weather has cleared, and there isn't a cloud in the sky. Then she sighs, and goes inside to write her letter.

The letter itself is a simple matter. She tells her dad that she is well, that she can't come home yet but will soon. (She will make this promise real.)

She adds a little bit about finding the world she came from, but makes sure to reassure him.

"Nothing will ever replace you in my heart. I am coming to believe that there is room in every heart for many worlds, many connections," she finishes off with.

She signs it.

She sleeps beside Riku, because she doesn't want to be alone, and because she doesn't want him to be alone, and because there is no need for propriety here. They're not in Radiant Garden, where her father and her court might disapprove, and they're not on Destiny Islands, where her dad and Riku's mom would scold them or at least disapprove. Here, the only people who might find out are Jasmine, or Aladdin, or perhaps Genie, and she can't imagine any of them saying anything rude.

She slips under the covers beside Riku, and while he mutters something like "Jeez, Kairi, are those your feet or ice-" he doesn't otherwise object.

She gives the letter to Genie the next morning. Since they have other worlds to visit, they say goodbye to Jasmine and Aladdin not long after.

"I hope you find Sora," Jasmine says to Kairi. "I remembered him suddenly, last night."

Kairi and Genie exchange looks, but say nothing. Kairi just wishes Jasmine and Aladdin well.

They are already leaving the world when a communication comes through the Gummi Ship systems.

"Hello? Hello? Chip, Dale? Come in, please."

Kairi is the first to the communicator.

"Hello? This is Kairi."

There is a delay, and then: "Kairi, this is Queen Minnie. The castle is under attack. We need you here now."

Kairi looks at Riku. He nods. "We'll be there as soon as we can," Kairi says.

Chapter Text

Disney Castle does not actually appear to be under attack when they arrive, a few hours later with engines strained from running at maximum speed the whole way. Kairi has hopes that Minnie was able to repel the intruders.

They leave Chip and Dale to fix the ship up, and dash inside. They are greeted by Heartless and Nobodies instead of Queen Minnie, which is the first sign that something is still wrong. Fighting them off is easy with so many people in their group, even the couple of tough Nobodies that appear.

They eventually make it to the throne room. The room is sealed against intruders, but the barrier disappears when Kairi touches it.

Queen Minnie is inside, fighting a Heartless off. Apparently the barrier did not keep everything out, though it seems at least a little safer inside than out. Roxas darts forward and bashes it over the head, which startles it long enough for Minnie to send a small sphere of light at it and finish it off.

"Thank you," Minnie says to them, once the immediate danger has passed. "I know it couldn't have been easy to get here so quickly, but I appreciate that you made it. I couldn't get a message through to Mickey, and I didn't know who else to contact."

Kairi dismisses her keyblade and drops into a curtsy- it seems polite, now that the danger has passed.

Minnie smiles. "There's no need for that."

Kairi stands straight again. "How can we help?" she asks.

Minnie's smile fades a little. "The Heartless are coming from below the throne room," she says. "There's an artifact in the room below us, the Cornerstone of Light."

"Cornerstone of Light," Riku repeats. "What does it do?"

"Normally, it protects the castle from darkness," Minnie says. "But it also has the power to reach through time into the history of this place, before the castle was built. If anyone were to gain access to the cornerstone, they could alter my history, or Mickey's, or the castle's."

"And if they did that, it could have dramatic effects on the present," Riku finishes. "Great. Do you have reason to believe anyone has been in the room?"

"I've heard word from Merriweather," Minnie says. "She and the other good fairies saw Maleficent return, and where Maleficent goes, so does Pete. He knows about the cornerstone, and it's possible that he may have been able to sneak in before the invasion of Heartless started."

Riku nods. "We can handle Pete," he says. "Can you show us the entrance to the room below?"

"Of course."

The mission is straightforward, though they have to fight a lot of Heartless along the way, and even a younger version of Pete at one point. But when they step out of the past back into the present, there is another portal in the room, one that wasn't there before.

"What's that?" Kairi asks, but Riku is already walking towards it. He vanishes into the portal, and she dashes off after him.

She finds herself in a desert, but this is not Agrabah. It's quiet except for the wind, which blows a fine dust into her eyes and makes her squint. And around her, stuck in the ground and scattered like debris, are thousands of keyblades.

"What is this place?" Kairi says, looking at the keyblades all around. She looks over at the boys and finds that Roxas and Riku are on edge already, though she doesn't sense any abnormal darkness here.

"It's creepy," Roxas says.

Riku nods in agreement. "I don't like it," he says. But he doesn't stop walking.

Axel and Kairi exchange glances and then shrug almost in unison.

"We should leave," Roxas says, already taking steps backwards. "Something is very wrong here."

"Whoa," Axel says. "We've been in places with darkness before, and this isn't even that bad. What gives?"

"I don't know," Roxas says. "This place just freaks me out."

"You can go back if you need to," Kairi says.

"But you're staying," he finishes for her. "No way. What if something happens? I should be with you. All of you," he amends, looking at Axel and even Riku.

Riku nods, slows down a bit so that they can catch up with him. "We're not splitting up. I have a bad feeling about this place- but that means we should check it out. We can't run away from danger."

So they cautiously venture forward.

It isn't long before they stumble upon something weird. Weirder- the whole place is weird.

It's a suit of armor, set in kneeling position. When they get closer, Kairi can see that there is no one inside, but she suspected as much from the dust gathered around it.

They all stop short of actually approaching it, except Riku. He stares at it as though transfixed.

"Are you sure-" Kairi starts, but she's cut short when the armor says, "YOU," in a booming voice, and launches itself at Riku.

Kairi summons her keyblade, but finds herself driven backwards by an invisible barrier. It's like a wall, and as she frantically hits it with her keyblade and spells she realizes that nothing is going to get her to Riku.

She takes a breath, then watches.

Riku has the upper hand at first. He's always been so agile and fast, springing where no one would expect him to be able, lunging faster than seems possible. But the armor, while slower than Riku, does not tire, and Riku's blows seem to leave no marks on it.

It isn't long before the armor lands a hit on Riku. Kairi bites her tongue to avoid crying out. The last thing Riku needs right now is a distraction.

"Why are they fighting?" Roxas asks her, quietly. "It has a keyblade. Shouldn't it be a good guy?"

"I think it mistook Riku for Ansem," Kairi says, and bites her lip.

"HEY," Roxas shouts. "THAT'S OUR FRIEND RIKU. LEAVE HIM ALONE!"

This actually does catch the armor's attention. It turns its head to Roxas, and stops.

Unfortunately Riku doesn't seem to have realized that they are trying to reason their way out of this. He throws his keyblade at the armor- that's a move he got from Roxas, Kairi realizes absently- and actually succeeds in knocking it over.

The armor retaliates by springing up off the ground and hitting Riku with a brutal hit. Riku goes down.

Roxas says, "STOP!"

Kairi can't look. She closes her eyes and strikes at the barrier again. But whatever magic it's made of is too strong for her.

The final blow that she was listening for never comes. Instead, the barrier vanishes right as she strikes at it, leaving her to unbalance and fall over.

"He's not Ansem," Roxas says again. "He's Riku."

"Ansem," the armor repeats. "No- that is Xehanort."

"He's Riku," Roxas repeats. "He looks like Xehanort, but he's Riku."

The armor walks to Riku, who is no longer conscious. It stares at his prone form.

Kairi thinks, does she stand a chance against this thing? She has to try- maybe the three of them can take it out together. They have to try- Riku is defenseless.

But it doesn't come to that. The armor says, "I see. Xehanort remains, but your friend has succeeded where I failed."

It turns to Roxas. "My duty here is done," it says. "Give him the armor."

Kairi doesn't understand- this thing is the armor- but as she is about to ask questions the armor collapses, and in a flash of light is gone, leaving only one shoulder piece and its keyblade.

Kairi rushes forward and uses her healing spell to revive Riku.

"What happened?" he asks.

"Whatever was possessing the armor realized you weren't who it thought," Roxas says. "It's gone. Just this bit left." He leans down and takes the shoulder piece, hands it to Riku. "I think it said this was for you."

A strange look goes over Riku's face as soon as he touches the armor piece. "Huh," he says.

He puts the shoulder piece on. "Huh," he says again. "It fits perfectly."

His hand brushes against it, and in another smaller flash of light, Riku is encased in armor. This, too, seems to fit.

"Cool" Roxas says. And then, "You're not possessed now, are you?"

Riku says, "I don't think so?"

He touches the shoulder again, and the armor goes back to its smaller form.

"Useful," Axel says. "What about the keyblade?"

Riku bends over and picks it up. His face goes pale. "Oh," he says.

"Hmm?" Kairi asks.

"I know this keyblade," he says.

Kairi waits a moment for an explanation, as Riku thinks.

"So long as you have the makings, then through this simple act of taking, its wielder you shall one day be." Riku says. "There was a man... I told you about this already. I couldn't remember his face, but this is his keyblade."

"That armor..." Kairi says.

"Something must have happened to him," Riku says grimly. "This was all that was left of him. Not even a Heartless or a Nobody. Just a suit of armor and a ghost."

"Did Sora meet him?" Roxas says in a rush. "He seemed so familiar. The keyblade looks familiar, too, but mostly it was his way of speaking."

"I don't think so," Riku says. "But I guess only Sora would know for sure."

Riku shakes his head. "Let's leave," he says. "Before we run into any other ghosts. There's nothing else here. It's just a graveyard." He vanishes the keyblade he is holding, the one that the armor had, and Kairi wonders briefly if that means it's gone forever.

Kairi has a thought as they walk out. "Do you think Xehanort..." she says, and trails off.

"What?" Riku asks.

"I was going to ask if you thought Xehanort might have killed him," she admits. "It's morbid, but it would explain why that armor was so set on hurting you. But... I just had a worse thought."

"What?"

"He said you'd succeeded where he failed."

"Yeah?"

"Well... What if you're not the first person Xehanort tricked?"

Riku stops in his tracks. "No," he says. "No one else would be that stupid."

"Much as I hate to admit it," Axel says, "you aren't actually the most idiotic person I've ever met."

Riku shakes his head. "The man I met already had a keyblade. He had all the power he needed. Why would he fall for Xehanort's lies?"

"I don't know," Kairi says. "It's just a thought. But... it would explain why that armor fits you perfectly. It would explain why his voice sounded so familiar. Because it's the voice you're using right now. Only... not distorted by the armor."

Riku starts walking again. "That's horrible," he says.

"I know," Kairi replies. "I'm sorry. If it's true, I guess it makes everything worse."

"No," Riku says, a moment later. "It actually makes things better."

"Hmm?"

"Maybe it's his face I'm wearing, then," Riku says. "That's a little better, even if it's sad. It means I'm not wearing a face that's evil. It means that I'm carrying on his fight."

Kairi nods.

They go back through the portal to Disney Castle, and find Minnie.

"Thank you," she says. "The castle is safe again!"

Kairi smiles. "Of course," she says.

Roxas says, "We ran into something weird down there. Do you know anything about the land through the portal? The desert with all he keyblades?"

Minnie frowns. "Mickey connected that room to that desert a long time ago. There's a mystery he hasn't been able to figure out. Three keyblade wielders who disappeared long ago. They were friends of his, and he's been unable to locate them."

"What were their names?" Kairi asks.

"Aqua, Terra, and Ven," Minnie tells her. She shakes her head. "I can't imagine they're still alive, no matter what Mickey hopes. It's been years. But I suppose stranger things have happened."

Kairi nods. "Thank you," she says.

Minnie smiles at her. "It's the least I could do."

She loads the ship up with potions and other supplies, and they are about to leave when they see a small figure in a black coat walk into the hanger.

"King Mickey!" Riku says.

Mickey waves, looking solemn. "DiZ and I moved Sora," he tells them, once he's closer. "The Organization was too close."

"But he's safe now," Riku says. "Right?"

Mickey nods. "He's with Belle and the Beast. They'll keep him safe for now." He hesitates. "He's stirring," he says, finally. "In his sleep."

Riku says, "What? But Namine said-"

"Something has changed," Mickey says. "Namine can't explain it."

"Then we have to go to him," Kairi says. "Now."

Riku says, "The gummi ship will get us there within a day. Let's go."

Impulsively, Kairi hugs King Mickey. "Thank you," she says. She isn't sure what she's thanking him for- for telling them? For keeping Sora safe? But Mickey hugs her back.

"Go," Mickey says. "If he's this close to waking up, he needs you."

Riku talks with King Mickey for a bit longer as they prepare for takeoff. At the last minute, Riku ducks into the ship.

Roxas and Axel take first shift piloting. Riku and Kairi sleep in the cargo bay, though Kairi is too worked up to sleep.

"Do you think he'll remember us?" she asks Riku, knowing full well that he doesn't know any more than she does.

"He has to," Riku says firmly. "If he doesn't, we'll... we'll figure it out then."

Kairi curls against him. Even though the cargo bay is cramped with the two of them and all the supplies that Minnie gave them, it feels like something is missing. Something has been missing for a long time. Sora has been missing.

Maybe they can get him back, now.

Chapter Text

They arrive at Belle and the Beast's castle a little behind schedule. The gummi ship is not in top condition after the hurried trip to Disney Castle, and Chip and Dale insist that they not push the engines hard until they've had a chance to replace a few parts.

Because of the switch-off in sleep schedules, Kairi and Riku are deep asleep when they arrive. Roxas is the one who wakes them.

"We're here!" he says, too chipper for Kairi's taste.

"Ten more minutes," Kairi mutters, curling against Riku so that the light from the cockpit can't reach her face.

Riku sits up, which means the light can reach her again anyway. "Come on," he says gently. "Sora's waiting."

Kairi sighs. She'd been having a dream she can no longer remember. Something about the sea, waves carrying her along. It had been peaceful, much more peaceful than real life, but it's already fading.

Riku offers her a hand and helps tug her to her feet. She yawns, smooths her rumpled outfit, and says, "Okay. I'm up."

She brushes her teeth in the cramped washroom and ties her hair up to hide how stringy it's getting. It's been a couple days since she had a chance to wash it.

Then, prepared to see Sora, she emerges from the gummi ship.

The others are grouped near the castle entrance. She sees DiZ and Belle there too.

There is a girl in a white nightgown in front of Riku. She looks shaken.

"I don't understand," she says as Kairi approaches. "His memories weren't coming back- nothing I did was working- but he keeps tossing and turning in his sleep now."

"Do you think he'll wake up?" Riku asks.

"I don't know," the girl says. She turns to Kairi, obviously trying to include her in the conversation. "I thought I knew everything about memories, but this makes no sense!"

"His memories," Kairi says, puzzling it together. "They're still in Roxas."

The girl- Namine, Kairi realizes- nods. "They were, anyway," she says. "A lot of them have just linked themselves back up to Sora all on their own! Not everything- not yet- but it's only a matter of time if things keep going the way they are."

Riku frowns, but it's Kairi who says what they're both probably thinking. "So he'll be okay?"

Namine says, "I just don't know. I wish I could reassure you, but I don't know what's happening, either."

"Can we see him?" Kairi says.

"Of course," Namine says. "I'll show you the way."

They walk through the castle to a spare room. Kairi expects the pod, but it isn't there- instead, Sora in in a bed, covered with a light blanket.

"Sora," Kairi says, his name coming out like a sigh. She doesn't know when she grabbed Riku's hand, but she's glad to have someone to hold on to.

It's so easy to pretend this is a natural sleep. As she looks, he makes a pained expression and his mouth opens slightly before he settles into a more restful slumber once more.

Riku says, "He's close, isn't he? He'll wake up for real any time now."

"Yes," Namine says quietly. "But I should warn you- the memories he has right now are far from complete."

Roxas has remained quiet this whole time. "I wish we knew what's going to happen to him," he says. But Kairi knows he means, I wish I knew what's going to happen to me. She doesn't hold it against him. He doesn't even know Sora- couldn't know Sora, since Sora has been sleeping for so much of Roxas's existence. And Roxas wants to live. Of course he does.

There isn't much to say, beyond what they've said. Sora is getting better, but he's still sleeping. Kairi takes a moment to brush a sweaty strand of hair from his face.

"What about Donald and Goofy?" she asks.

Namine shrugs. "They'll wake when Sora does," she says. "The tampering with their memories was much lighter than Sora's was." She looks guilty about that. Kairi has a feeling there's more to that story than anyone has told her, but she doesn't press.

They stay with Sora a while longer, and then Belle knocks on the door quietly. The sound seems to startle Sora. He fidgets, and for a moment Kairi thinks he's going to wake up fully, but of course he doesn't.

Belle says, "You should eat. Come, all of you. He'll be fine for an hour."

So they join Belle and the Beast for a lavish meal. DiZ does not join them. He grabs a plate and retreats, giving Kairi a look of mild displeasure as he does. She doesn't give him the pleasure of a reaction.

The food is good, but Kairi can't bring herself to eat much. There's too much on her mind.

"So you're Riku," Belle says, when it becomes clear that most of them are just picking at the food. She says, mildly, "I'm glad to see you when you're not possessed."

Riku nods stiffly. He looks painfully awkward. "I'm sorry," he blurts out. "About Ansem, and the capturing you thing, and-"

"You're forgiven," Belle says.

"But-"

"Shh." Belle smiles. "You're you again, now, no matter how you look, and your friend is waking up. All is well. No one is hurt, and you did no lasting harm."

Riku looks absolutely astonished at the ease of her forgiveness.

"His name is Sora," Kairi says.

"Hmm?"

"Our friend. His name is Sora."

"Sora," Belle says thoughtfully. "Did I know him, once? It seems like we must have met, but I can't recall."

"He's the keyblade master who saved the worlds," Kairi says. "He's the one who kept my heart safe when everyone thought it was lost."

Her eyes are watery. "I miss him," she adds, more quietly. She doesn't try to stop her tears.

Riku and Roxas both look alarmed. Axel and the Beast are unreadable.

Belle says, gently, "He's waking up. It won't be long."

Kairi says, "What if he doesn't remember us? What if we're strangers to him? His memories are half missing- what if he's not even himself, when he wakes up?"

Belle says, "If he doesn't remember you, you will become his friend again. As for the rest- what does your heart tell you?"

Kairi lets out a laugh that is half sob. "My heart tells me so many conflicting things," she says.

"That's what hearts do," Belle says kindly. "But does it say you should mourn him already?"

"Never," Kairi says, and the tears stop.

Behind her, Namine says, "Kairi! Riku!"

Kairi hadn't even noticed that Namine had left the table, but that isn't important now. Because leaning on Namine, unsteady, is Sora.

He's awake.


Sora is shaken and somewhat confused, but when he sees Kairi his face lights up. "Kairi! What're you doing here? You're supposed to be safe at home!"

Kairi is crying again. She can only say, "It didn't work out quite like that," and grab both his hands.

He's trembling, and Namine is having trouble holding him upright. Kairi takes his other side, and they seat him next to Riku.

It takes Sora a minute to identify Riku, a long minute of staring. "Riku," he says, finally. "Why do you look like that?"

"Long story," Roxas says, cutting in before Riku can offer up a long-winded apology. "Hi, I'm Roxas."

"Hi," Sora says. Kairi figures they'll explain about Nobodies and things like that later.

Kairi hadn't dared to imagine this moment. There's so much that she wants to say and she can't figure out a priority, can't even start.

"You've been asleep a long time," Riku says. "How do you feel?"

"How long?" Sora asks nervously. "Days? A week?"

"More than a year," Kairi says quietly.

Sora looks over at her too quickly, and it's obvious that he regrets it by the way he winces. "That can't be right," he says. "I- I'd know if it had been that long. Wouldn't I?"

Kairi shakes her head. "It's okay," she says. "You were injured, and it took time to heal. How do you feel?"

Sora says, "Honestly? Not great, right now."

"Are you hungry?" Belle asks.

Sora has to think about it. "I guess," he says. But he picks at the food once they give him some, though he drinks a lot of water.

He shakes less, though, by the end of the meal. Kairi and Riku walk him back to bed after that.

"I shouldn't be this sleepy," Sora says with half a laugh. "If I've been asleep for that long."

"It's fine," Kairi says.

"It wasn't a natural sleep," Riku adds. "Just- get some rest. We'll be around. Shout if you need anything- We'll be right next door."

They leave Sora to nap. Kairi and Riku both stay in the next door room. There are two smallish beds, and they push them together without even talking about it.

Kairi was tired before dinner. She's still tired, but she doubts she'll be able to sleep.

"He remembers us," Riku says, as they arrange the blankets and get ready to get into bed. "It's not the worst-case scenario."

Kairi wonders how upset she looks, that Riku is the one trying to look on the bright side.

"I want him to be okay," she says, knuckles going white over the blanket she is holding. "We don't even know why he woke up- what if he falls asleep tonight and never gets up again? What if whatever woke him up wears off and he starts to forget us?"

"It won't happen," Riku says, though he does look upset. "And if it does, we'll figure out how to fix it."

Kairi nods, tries not to cry. She didn't cry over Sora when he was asleep. It's silly to be so upset when things are finally going right.

Riku puts down the blankets he is messing with and walks over to her. He pauses, a step away from her, and then seems to gather his courage and closes the distance. He wraps her up in his arms, rests his head on top of hers.

"I'm scared, too," he says against her hair. "It's hard being so uncertain. When he was sleeping, I knew I'd do anything to wake him up. But I couldn't. You showed me that. And now it's like... the universe gave us a gift. And I don't know how to accept gifts."

They stand like that for a long minute. Riku is crying, too. Kairi can feel his tears soaking into her hair. She doesn't mind.

"I wanted people to remember him," she says. "I kept reminding them. I was so scared that we'd be the only ones missing him... Do you think they remember him now?"

"I don't know," Riku says. "Namine said that everyone forgot him when he forgot them... that memories are connections between people. I guess if he remembers them, they'll remember him."

Kairi says, "We'll find out, I guess."

"Yeah."

That seems to be as much as there is to say, but they don't actually go to bed right then. They're both way too worked up for that. Instead, Kairi digs out cards from the bottom of her bag. They're both too tired for any complex games, so they play Go Fish for a while.

"Got any threes?" Kairi asks.

"Go fish," Riku says.

Kairi draws a card. It's a three. "Ha," she says triumphantly. She lays her pair of threes on the table.

They play a little longer, and then there's a tentative knock on the door.

"Yes?" Kairi says, already standing.

Sora opens the door. He looks a little better, though still a bit pale.

"Hi," he says, a little sheepish. "I woke up- I was hoping you guys were up."

Kairi doesn't think. She practically launches herself at Sora, wraps him up in a hug the way Riku hugged her a little bit ago. It doesn't feel the same- she's not big enough to wrap Sora up. Not everyone is a giant like Riku.

Sora lets out a half-laugh, but hugs her back.

"You'd think I was gone for ages," he says, more lighthearted than Kairi feels.

"You were," she says into his shoulder.

Riku hovers nearby, and Sora says, "Aw, Riku, join in."

So Riku does.

"You need a shower," Riku mutters into Sora's hair. "You reek." But he doesn't let go.

After the hug is over, some minutes later, they find the kitchen, and Mrs. Potts helps prepare a meal for Sora. He eats a bit more this time. Then Sora takes a shower- Riku insists on standing outside the bathroom in case Sora faints or something, but everything goes smoothly.

"My clothes are too small," Sora says, a minute after the water turns off. "Also, they kind of smell bad."

Kairi's first thought is that Roxas might have something that fits, but the chances of Roxas having any extra clothing seem slim. They're all wearing magical clothes that don't get dirty. Why would they carry anything spare?

After being asked, Mrs. Potts manages to scrounge up an outfit from somewhere, and brings it to Kairi. "It may be a bit big," she says apologetically. "But it will fit him better than what he's been wearing."

"Thank you," Kairi says.

"You're welcome," Mrs. Potts says. She smiles at Kairi. "His name is Sora, correct?"

Kairi nods.

"It was hard to remember, at first," Mrs. Potts says, half to Kairi and half to herself. "When he first came here, it was hard to remember he had even arrived. But it's easier now."

"I'm glad," Kairi says. She bites her lip, then asks, "Do you have any idea why? What's happened?"

"You reminded us," Mrs. Potts says. She chuckles. "I suppose even I couldn't forget once I was told enough times."

Hmm. Kairi has a thought.

"Namine said that people would remember Sora when he remembered them," she muses out loud. "Maybe it works the other way around, too. Maybe when they remembered him, he remembered them."

Mrs. Potts makes a noncommittal noise. Kairi smiles at her. "Thank you," she says again. "I'd better get these clothes back to Sora."

She walks back to where Sora and Riku are waiting. Surely it can't be that simple? Kairi has been reminding people of Sora's name, what he's done for them, ever since she left Radiant Garden. But Kairi has no memory powers- that's Namine's domain.

Maybe Kairi should talk to Namine more.

She arrives, and hands Sora the clothing through the cracked door. "It may be a bit big," she tells Sora.

"Better than too small!" he says. He sounds so cheerful. It's hard to believe she was so frightened for him just a few hours before. Everything seems so much better now.

The clothing is too big. He has to roll the hem of the pants up several times. Not to mention, both shirt and pants are too plain, not Sora's style at all.

"There are barely any pockets in these pants," he says. "Where will I put my gummi ship parts and potions and things?"

"We'll get you some new clothes tomorrow," Riku says, looking fond. "Have you really been carrying all that stuff in your pockets?"

"Well, yeah," Sora says. "Where else would I put it?"

Neither of them have a good answer for that.

"Where are Donald and Goofy?" Sora asks, with a yawn. "Did they go have adventures without me while I was asleep?"

Kairi looks at Riku. "They're still asleep," Riku says. "Namine's focus was on you, but now that you're awake she can work more on restoring their memories as well."

"Okay," Sora says.

"Maybe we should get some rest," Kairi suggests. "It's late. We're all tired."

Sora nods, and allows Kairi to lead him back towards his room.

"Are you and Riku both in the other room?" Sora asks.

Kairi hesitates. "Yes," she says, after a moment.

Sora smiles. "You guys are cute," he says.

There is a silence while Kairi remembers how good Sora is at being happy for others. How selfless he is.

"Join us?" she asks.

Sora is taken aback. "Huh?"

"Come sleep," she says. "We pushed the beds together. It can be a slumber party. It doesn't have to be anything more." She tries to project, unless you want it to be. She's not sure she succeeds.

Sora's face brightens. "Sure!" He looks at Riku. "You okay with that?"

"Of course," Riku says. "It's the three of us, together again. It's not the same without you."

Sora runs ahead. Kairi is pretty sure he's going to jump on the bed. Some things never change.

"Slumber party?" Riku mouths at her.

Kairi shrugs sheepishly, and goes briefly pink.

Sora is not actually bouncing on the bed when they walk in. He's fallen asleep dead-center on the combined bed, and is snoring lightly.

Riku takes one side of the bed, and Kairi the other, Sora between them. It feels right, Kairi thinks idly as she drifts off. She hasn't felt so safe and comfortable in a long time. Sora's snoring isn't enough to keep her up- in fact, the light sound is reassuring. It means he's with her.

Things are going to be fine, she thinks. As long as they're all together, nothing can go wrong.

Chapter Text

The next few days are a flurry of action, but not the action that Kairi has become used to. She and Riku take care of Sora. DiZ has made himself scarce now that he isn't needed, and Kairi is glad of that. She still remembers when he called Roxas "it" and "that thing," and she's not sure she's ready to forgive him for that casual cruelty, especially since there's no evidence that he's actually changed his mind.

Sora bounces back quickly, not so shaky after the first day or so. He's recovering fast. But there are a lot of errands to run, to get him back in shape. He needs clothes that fit, for one thing.

Kairi and Riku take him to the good fairies and he gets some magical clothing. Kairi actually gets to see Aurora this time, since the fairies are in their own world instead of Yen Sid's tower now. It's a brief visit. Aurora doesn't remember Sora, but once she sees him Kairi can see a spark of recognition, even before Kairi explains the whole thing yet again.

(It feels like it has been a million times she's told this story. She'll tell it a million more if she needs to. Sora seems so grateful for an explanation, but she's not sure if he doesn't remember or if he just doesn't want to explain- she isn't sure how much he knows, and she's afraid to jinx things by telling him that they don't know how he's awake or if it might last. It'll happen eventually. Just not today. Soon.)

Nothing seems urgent, now that Sora is awake. There are loose ends to tie up, certainly, and of course they have to defeat Xemnas before he takes over the world, but it all seems somewhat far away at the moment.

Now that Namine is as done with her memory work on Sora as she can be, she sometimes sits with the rest of them at meals. She seems hesitant, as though she's afraid she might not be welcome. Kairi tries to include her, and the others make efforts, too, but nothing seems to help much. She's just skittish, like an animal that has been hurt one too many times.

"You could come with us to visit Aurora, if we go again," Kairi says to her one day, when it's just the two of them waiting for the others. "Or we could go to a shop in town. That dress- it barely fits you." Not to mention, it's basically a night gown, not a proper outfit at all.

Namine does not seem to know how to handle even this small act of kindness. "I- I would like that," she says.

"Tomorrow," Kairi says. "I'll take you. We can have a girls' day out."

Namine smiles.

They do have a girls' day out, though it's a little more subdued than it could be. Namine is so shy! Kairi ends up babbling the whole time about Riku and Sora, and Namine seems content to let her talk the whole time, listening intently.

"It's nice to have someone who listens," Kairi says sheepishly. "Not that the boys are bad listeners, exactly. But I can't tell Sora how much I've been worried about him- I don't want to upset him! And Riku has been just as upset as me this whole time. Sometimes it's nice to have someone who isn't as involved to talk to."

Namine nods. "I understand," she says. "I know what it's like when there isn't anyone to talk to."

She seems so earnest. She's adorable. For all that she looks the same age as Kairi, she acts younger.

"Look at this outfit," Kairi says. "Do you like yellow?"

Namine seems doubtful. "I don't know," she says. "I've never really worn much color. Do you think it would look nice?"

Kairi holds it up to Namine. "Hmm. Maybe not this shade. Something a little cooler-colored. Maybe a green, or blue?"

Luckily Kairi has ended up with lots of munny from her travels. There isn't all that much to spend it on- she always seems to collect it faster than she spends it on potions or anything. So it's no trouble to buy a few outfits for Namine.

For all that Namine is hesitant at first, she seems so happy to have clothing of her own. She wears the last outfit they find out of the store. It's a long sun dress, sky blue with yellow flowers on it. They bought her a hat, too, a woven one with silk flowers. Dressed in something other than plain white, Namine looks a lot less like a watercolor that has been half washed away, or a picture faded in the sun.

Maybe that's uncharitable, Kairi thinks to herself. But it had been true. Namine needed some attention to thrive. Kairi isn't sure what her story is, but she's sure Namine hasn't been treated well.

Namine smiles as they walk back to Belle and the Beast's castle. "It's so sunny," she says. "I like it." There's a certain relish in the way she says it.

"Do you not get outside much?" Kairi asks teasingly.

Namine shakes her head. Her smile falters, and she stops walking forward. "DiZ didn't like to let me go anywhere," she says quietly. "And before him... No, I didn't leave. He's better than the Organization," she adds. "But I had to stay, to keep working to wake Sora up..."

"I'm sorry," Kairi says. She isn't sure what else to say.

"It's my fault he was sleeping," Namine says, in a rush. "The Organization told me to, but I could have refused, if I were braver."

Kairi says, "They threatened you, didn't they?"

Namine nods. Her head is bowed so low that Kairi can't see her face beyond the wide brim of her hat.

Kairi takes Namine's hand. "Hey," she says. "You didn't do anything wrong."

Namine shakes her head, but she doesn't let go.

"I did," she says. "I was a coward."

"You were scared," Kairi says. "I've been scared. But I've had a keyblade, and when I didn't have that I knew that Riku or Sora would save me, would save everyone..."

"I made him forget you," Namine says. "I thought if he remembered me instead of you, he'd save me. And he did! But it was horrible. I was horrible. And then I told him I'd fix everything, put it all back how it was, but I couldn't even do that..."

Kairi pulls Namine into a hug. She isn't sure what else to do.

"I thought you'd hate me," Namine says, voice half-garbled by sobs.

"How could I hate you?" Kairi says soothingly. "You were scared and hurting, and I can't be mad at someone who was trying to save herself. It wasn't your fault you were in such a bad place! And besides, everything is going to be okay now. There's no harm done."

They stand there for a long moment. A cloud passes over the sun, shading them, and then passes away again.

After a while, Namine gathers herself up again and pulls away.

"I'm sorry," she says again, wiping her eyes. At least she's looking up again, no longer hiding behind her hat. "You've been so nice, and I don't have anything to give you in return. And I cried all over you."

Kairi says, "You don't have to give me anything. The dresses are a gift. I'm not expecting anything in return. And... you deserve some nice things. It sounds like you've had enough horrible things happen to you. Let's balance the scales at least a little, okay?"

Namine takes a deep breath. "Okay," she says, shakily.

They take the long way back, through the woods, to get a little more exercise and, though Kairi does not say this, to spare Namine's dignity. She and Kairi are alike in that they both end up with red eyes and blotchy red spots on their faces when they cry. Kairi doesn't want to subject Namine to a million questions when they get back.

When they arrive, Namine shows off her dress to Axel and Roxas, who are sparring in the entry hall. She gives a twirl and shows how it spins out. Kairi has a sudden sense of deja vu- she'd done the same thing to show off dresses to her dad, when she was little, probably dozens of times. She blinks and the feeling goes away.

"It's blue," Roxas observes, obviously a little out of his depth. "I like your hat," he adds hesitantly, and Axel looks at him fondly.

Namine beams.

They go their separate ways a bit later. Kairi makes sure to tell Namine that she's welcome to wander over to the wing of the castle that the others are staying in, any time, and Namine seems at least to appreciate the invitation even if she doesn't look like she's going to take it.

Kairi goes back to Riku and Sora.

"We're telling fortunes," Riku informs her when she walks into the room they share. "They have fortune-telling cards in town, and we found a book of how to interpret them in the library down the hall."

"Tell me about my love life," Kairi says, kicking off her shoes.

Riku snorts. Sora looks confused, but obligingly hands her the cards. "You have to shuffle them," he tells her. "Because it's your question."

Kairi shuffles the cards a couple of times and hands them back.

She doesn't pay much attention to the predictions Sora makes, which are pretty unrelated to her question anyway.

"I think this has something to do with money?" he says. "Um, you're going to be rich. But I guess you're already kinda rich, since your dad is the mayor, so... you're going to be richer?"

"I think money is a metaphor here," Riku observes. "See, in the example the books says..."

They bicker for a little while about what the cards mean. It's not a game they have on Destiny Islands, or on any other world that Kairi has been to. It's funny- decks of cards are common to most worlds, but the exact suits and numbers vary a lot. Maybe the rules of fortune-telling vary a lot, too.

Or maybe Sora and Riku and just bad at this. That's also a possibility.

"Anyway," Sora decides, after finishing the reading, "Your life is going to be great. And you should get a dog. It looks pretty vital."

Kairi smiles. "A dog?"

"Yeah."

"Once the worlds are saved," Kairi says. "Maybe."

Sora says, "I'll come over and take care of it. I'll be your dog-sitter!"

"It sounds like you want a dog," Kairi teases. And then, hesitantly, "You know, we could just share the dog. All three of us. We could all live together."

Sora looks confused. "Wouldn't I be in the way?"

"Of course not," Kairi says, at the same time that Riku says "Never."

Sora brightens. "Really?"

"Nothing is right with just the two of us," Kairi insists. "We need you." And then, before she loses her nerve, she leans over the small table and kisses him. It's just a peck, but she gets him full on the lips, and his eyes go wide.

He looks over at Riku, as though he's sure Riku will be mad.

"We both like you," Riku mutters, going bright red. "I don't know if you're into guys- if you could be into me-"

"Even if you're not," Kairi says, "we want you in our lives. We want you around, and close. It doesn't have to be romantic, if you don't want it to be..."

Sora just says, "Wow. Is this... do people do this? Three people?"

"I don't know," Kairi says. "But why not? It feels right."

Sora nods, decisive suddenly. He turns to Riku. "I don't know if I like guys," he says. "There's never been time to think about things, not since darkness took the islands. But- I want to try. So..."

He leans towards Riku. "Kiss me," he says.

Riku goes even redder, but he does. It's a little deeper than the kiss Kairi gave Sora- not a lot deeper, though- and Kairi watches as Sora's eyes flutter closed briefly before Riku pulls away.

"Yeah," Sora says, a little breathless. "Yeah, that was good."

He grabs hold of Kairi and Riku's hands. "Okay," he says, and it's so simple, so easy. "Let's do this."

Riku looks stunned, still, for all that it was him that initiated the kiss. "Are you sure?" he asks.

Sora looks at him, confused. "Of course," he says. "Come on, Riku, it's not that hard a decision. You're my best friends, and I love both of you, and I want to be with both of you forever."

"Okay," Riku says.

Kairi is used to having to fight Riku, to get him to accept things he wants but feels he doesn't deserve. Maybe he's finally realizing he does deserve love. Maybe he just knows that Sora isn't one to change his mind easily.

"We're getting a dog once we save the world, though," Sora says. "I'm holding you guys to that."

Kairi and Riku laugh. "Of course," Riku says. And then the three of them go back to cards. They're a lot more relaxed now, though. Some tension that was in the air has cleared. Sora seems more cheerful. He's good at seeming happy, even when he's not, but Kairi thinks she can usually tell the difference. This doesn't seem forced.

Things are going to be okay between them.

There's time left in the day. At lunch, Namine pulls Kairi aside.

"I don't want to be a coward anymore," she tells Kairi. "And I want to give back, when I can. So I think I should tell you- there are memories in Riku that don't belong there. They're not connected to him the way his own memories are- and there are a lot of them. A whole person's worth."

"Xehanort's heartless," Kairi says, shaking her head sadly. "As if it wasn't enough that Riku looks like him..."

"It's not, though," Namine says. "These weren't there the last time I saw Riku, before Sora woke up. They're new."

Kairi frowns. "That doesn't make sense. Where else could they have come from?"

"I don't know. But I thought I should tell you, in case it causes trouble down the line. I could remove the extra memories, but I didn't want to do it without talking to him. And to you. Those memories belong somewhere."

"Can you see what they're about? Are you able to... to read the memories?"

"Somewhat," Namine says. "But it's confusing. There's so much jumbled together."

"Well... I'll let Riku know. Thank you."

Namine ducks her head a little. "You're welcome," she says. And then, "I'm working on something else, too, but I'm not sure if it will work. I'm not sure I want to say more until I know. It's a present for you, if I can do it."

Kairi smiles. "Well, let's not spoil the surprise, then."

Namine smiles back.

They all take the rest of the day off. Tomorrow, they'll start training again. Sora insists that he needs to catch up with the rest of them, to be helpful. And while Kairi would rather see him take a few more days off, to make sure he's recovered, he is adamant that there's no time to lose.

Maybe he's right. The lazy days have been nice, but there's still a world to save. Xemnas is still out there. There are mysteries to solve, and enemies to fight. There will be time after the battle is done for kissing and lounging around.

Kairi is having a hard time imagining a world without a looming threat. It's silly- she's spent most of her life on the beach. But the past few years have left a mark on her, she guesses. She's been waiting for the other shoe to drop for so long that she's not sure what she'll do after it does.

In any case, she plans to make the most of the day. There's a little time left.

Chapter Text

They start training again the next day, though Sora doesn't show up right away. Kairi and Riku left him sleeping- he'd looked like he needed it, still.

The turnout is good, other than that- even Namine shows up, sitting at the corner of the ballroom they've taken over, sketching something in the book she always carries around.

Kairi fights Riku, first, and does better than usual. She doesn't defeat him, but she thinks she's getting closer. She landed several good hits, and blocked most of his right until her strength gave out.

Someday soon they'll be closely matched. For now, he's still too strong an opponent. Kairi downs a potion and is prepared for another fight- maybe Roxas this time, or Axel- but is interrupted by the ballroom door swinging open.

"I'm ready to spar," Sora says.

"You're late," Riku says, shaking his head. "Lazy as always." He sounds fond.

Sora's obviously just woken up. (Even though the clothes the fairies gave him don't rumple, Kairi can tell by his hair. It tends to settle a little over the day, and it sticks up more when he's just gotten up.)

Kairi has her doubts about Sora's readiness. He doesn't actually wobble when he stands now, but there's something unsteady about him even after nearly a week of recovery, of potions that should have been enough to fix any ill. Even now, though his face is set in determination, he is a bit pale. Kairi can't tell if he is excited or nervous.

He faces Roxas first, and it's clear something is weird about that fight from the very beginning. Neither of them can land a single hit. Even when Kairi fights Riku, she can land a few hits, and Riku is both fast and unpredictable.

Roxas and Sora are both fast, too. But that's not the problem. No, it's that they each seem to know where the other will be, before they've even moved. The match looks choreographed. They look like they're dancing, ducking under and jumping over each others keyblades, leaping from the walls and delivering hits that might be devastating, if any of them ever landed.

At least Sora looks like he's having fun, his jaw no longer so set. Within a minute, he is grinning, laughing, and Roxas ends up laughing, too, and then they both stop fighting and just laugh until they wheeze.

"What the heck," Sora says. "This is ridiculous!"

"You're too evenly matched," Riku decides. Kairi is not certain that's the issue. "Sora, try Kairi."

So Kairi summons her keyblade, and squares off against Sora.

He's slow. That's the first thing she notices. Against Roxas, he was so fast, but when faced with her, he hesitates. She raps him on the shoulder lightly a few times, and blocks every hit without much effort.

"You can do more than that," she says, after easily blocking another too-gentle swing of his keyblade. "Come on, Sora, I can hold my own!"

She jabs him lightly in the chest with the point of her keyblade, to prove her point.

Sora freezes. His keyblade vanishes. He doesn't seem to be looking at her, but instead at something far away, or maybe at nothing at all.

Kairi dispels her keyblade as well, hurriedly.

"Sora? Sora, are you okay?"

She catches him as he collapses to his knees. Riku is close behind.

"I-" Sora says. He takes a shaky breath, lets out an even shakier laugh. "Sorry, I'm fine. I just- hit a slippery patch."

Kairi doesn't understand.

"Like ice," Sora tries to explain. "But in my head... I keep slipping."

Kairi and Riku hadn't told him about the missing memories. It was like they'd been afraid just mentioning them would cause everything to fall apart, like it was a dream that would dissolve if reality touched it. And Sora had seemed fine.

It was important to remember, Kairi realized, that Sora was good at seeming.

She exchanges worried glances with Riku.

Sora asks, "What's wrong with me?"

Roxas says, "I have some of your memories. I don't know how to give them back without..."

Sora is confused. Kairi can see that.

"Let's go sit down," she says, and Riku helps her haul Sora to his feet. They both support him as they walk to the edge of the room, where there are a few chairs. Namine puts down her sketchbook and comes over, worried-looking. "We should have told you everything sooner, but we were so glad to have you back, and we didn't want to jinx it."

Sora gains steadiness as they help him walk over to the chairs. The weakness he'd been experiencing was not, apparently, physical.

Riku and Kairi tell him everything. Namine looks like she wants to apologize again, but doesn't interrupt to do so.

Roxas and Axel interject from time to time, to explain better what a Nobody is, or to tell Sora that Axel and Roxas were Nobodies, or to tell him that Roxas was part of Sora.

Sora looks less distressed as they go on. More thoughtful. Less unsteady.

"I was a Heartless," Sora says. "I remember, Kairi brought me back. But I don't remember how that happened."

He sounds, understandably, frustrated.

Kairi does her best. Donald and Goofy are still sleeping, so she's the only one awake who was even sort of there.

"My heart was in yours," she says.

Sora nods.

"You used a keyblade to get it out," she continues. "The dark one, that Ansem had. You let my heart out- but you let yours out, too."

"I guess you couldn't become a Heartless," Sora said. "You don't have any darkness."

Kairi nods.

"But you did lose your heart," Sora says. "Does that mean you have a Nobody, too?"

"No," Kairi says, shaking her head, at the same time that Namine, next to her, says, "Yes."

A second passes. Sora looks between them, and his eyes go wide. "Oh," he says.

Kairi stares at Namine too. Really looks at her.

"You really didn't know?" Namine asks softly, looking almost afraid.

Namine is built exactly like her. Her face, while not exactly the same as Kairi's, is similar- almost as similar to hers as Sora's and Roxas's faces are to each other. There are differences, but they're very minor. Namine doesn't look like her identical twin, but they could be very similar-looking sisters.

"I'm partly made from Sora," Namine says, quietly. "Because your heart was in him. I suppose... it was silly of me to assume that you would know as soon as you saw me."

Kairi doesn't know what to say. She has never considered the possibility of having a Nobody. She spent all of the day before with Namine, and never thought...

Kairi says, "But you have memory powers! Where did those come from? How are you more than me, if you're... if you're part of me?"

Namine says, "Maybe you're more powerful than you know."

Kairi blinks. She has no idea how to respond to any of this.

Namine puts a hand on Kairi's arm. "This isn't what you need to be worrying about right now. Come find me later."

She leaves the room.

"Wow," Roxas says. "You really didn't know?"

Kairi shakes her head.

They go back to sparring, once Sora is satisfied with their answers about what his memories are doing.

"You should have told me earlier," he tells them. "Seriously, I thought I was going nuts."

"I'm sorry," Kairi says.

"We have no excuse," Riku says. "I guess we thought you were fine. But... no secrets. No omissions. No more."

Sora nods. "Okay." Then, "I guess I'm not leading the fight this time, huh?"

Kairi and Riku exchange glances. "I mean," Riku says, "I'm worried you'd get hurt."

Sora nods philosophically. "I'd be in the way," he says. "You'd have to worry about me. I get it."

"Can you heal?" Kairi asks.

"Huh?"

"None of us are great healers," Kairi explains with a blush.

"I mean, I have a curaga spell," Sora says. "Is that good?"

Kairi laughs. "I can only do cure," she says. "You're two steps ahead of me!"

Sora brightens up at that.

Riku and Axel spar, next. Roxas and Sora heal. Sora turns out to be a lot better at it, which gives Riku an unfair advantage, so then Sora and Roxas decide to switch off who they heal.

Once Sora can help in some way, he doesn't seem to mind that he's not as strong as the rest of them- not as strong as he once was. That's Sora all over- he's never needed any kind of spotlight.

Kairi has nothing to do- the fight is dragging on- and she thinks maybe she'd better go find Namine. She hadn't mean to upset her, and suspects that not recognizing Namine for what she is might have been hurtful.

She'll apologize. It will only take a little while.

Of course, that means, she realizes after checking several rooms, that she has to find Namine first.

It takes a good half hour to find her hiding spot. Namine is on the gummi ship, a little ways into the woods near where they're staying, when Kairi finds her. She's humming to herself tunelessly, and sketching something in the book she always carries around.

She quiets when she notices Kairi.

"Is Sora okay now?" she asks.

"Yes," Kairi says.

Namine smiles softly. "Good."

There's a satchel by Namine's feet, which Kairi knows normally contains sketch paper and crayons. Namine reaches into it now, and pulls out a package wrapped in brown paper.

"I thought it would be hard, but it took much less time than I expected."

"What is it?"

"You've forgotten things," Namine says, simply. "But the memories aren't gone. Memories never are. The bonds connecting them can be broken, but the memories themselves can't be destroyed. Do you understand?"

"No," Kairi says. "I don't. What have I forgotten?"

But she does know, and the look Namine gives her says, very plainly, that she knows Kairi knows.

The packages slips from Kairi's hands and falls to the ground. She bends clumsily to pick it up.

"What have I forgotten?" Kairi asks again, anyway.

Namine says, "It would be easier if you just let yourself remember. I can explain, but some things you have to experience."

Kairi gives her a questioning look.

"Some of it is bad," Namine admits. "Radiant Garden was the first world to fall to darkness. You saw some terrible things."

Kairi says, "Why call it a present, then? Why not call it a curse? It sounds like I'm better off having forgotten."

Namine says, "Is Sora better off, not remembering becoming a Heartless?" She doesn't sound certain of the answer herself. She shakes her head. "There are beautiful things, too. Your grandmother, and mother, and father, together and happy. The gardens and fountains, and the day you got your keyblade, and your great-grandfather-"

"My keyblade," Kairi repeats. It isn't the thing that should entice her. Surely she should care more about her family, her original home.

"It's your choice," Namine says. "As I said, there are bad memories, too. It's all jumbled together. I couldn't give you one without the other. I'm not sure I would do that, even if I could… I think things are generally better remembered than forgotten, no matter how painful."

Kairi doesn't open the package, but neither does she give it back.

"Thank you," she says. She isn't sure if she means it.

Namine smiles faintly, and goes back to drawing.

Kairi goes back to her room in the castle, and stares at the package for a full ten minutes before putting it in a drawer. She'll think about it later. Maybe she'll open it. Maybe she won't. She's not like Sora, who stumbles over patches in his memory. The parts of Kairi's life that are gone are gone cleanly, and she's not sure that she wants them back- would she be the same person, remembering what she's lost? No, this isn't something she wants to do without careful thought.

Sora is doing much better when she arrives back in the ballroom where they've been sparring. He is sitting along the wall occasionally shouting "heal!" when Riku takes a hit. Roxas, on the other side of the room, keeps healing Axel, but he's not nearly as good at it, so Axel is losing badly.

"They won't let me spar anymore," Sora says when she sits next to him. "Riku called me ‘delicate,' can you believe that?"

He sounds more relieved than offended, though. Kairi wonders how often he's been stumbling over lost patches of memory. How much effort it must take, to carry on as though everything is fine.

Axel and Riku finish up the sparring match, across the room, and walk over. Roxas follows.

"What did Namine want?" Roxas asks.

"To cure my amnesia about my early childhood, apparently," Kairi says.

Riku's eyebrows go up. "She can do that?"

"She says so," Kairi says. "But I haven't taken her up on it. I'm not sure I want to."

"But- they're your memories," Sora says. "Why wouldn't you want them?"

Kairi bites her lip. "I'm afraid," she admits. "What if I remember Radiant Garden, and it becomes more important to me than Destiny Islands? What if I start thinking of my father there as my real dad, my real home as there? I don't want things to change."

"You can have more than one home," Sora says. "And more than one family."

Kairi hadn't considered that. She's not sure if it changes her mind.

"You don't have to decide now," Riku reminds her. "Namine's not going anywhere."

Kairi nods. "Right. There's time to think. I want to be sure, if I do this. I don't want to have regrets."

Sora still looks somewhat wistful. Kairi understands it, from his perspective. He needs his memories. But Kairi is doing just fine without hers.

They eat dinner. Riku and Axel discuss moving worlds again- being in one place too long might bring the Organization to that world, and none of them want to endanger their hosts.

Kairi feels suddenly uneasy, though, and can't think why. For a moment, she thinks maybe she's getting a headache. Then she realizes that the feeling of something scraping up against her nerves is the same as in Hollow Bastian.

Riku's head lifts up, and he gives the air a sniff. "Does anyone else smell that? It smells like-"

"Darkness," Kairi says.

The Beast stands, and the rest of them follow.

"Looks like sparring time is over," Axel says, face grim.

Chapter Text

The fight starts almost at once, with less than a minute between Kairi and Riku noticing the darkness and it being upon them.

The windows of the dining room go dark. That’s the first thing they all notice. The Beast’s castle is magical, and candles light up to illuminate the room, but it still takes moments for their eyes to adjust (except for Riku, who is alert and ready, keyblade out, by the time the rest of them have managed to see anything.)

Kairi can see what is blocking the windows now. It’s Heartless. Hundreds of shadows, maybe thousands. They are all over the castle, climbing the walls like ants swarming something rotting. Kairi is reminded of plagues, of death, but this is not the time for scary stories, parables almost-remembered.

Her keyblade appears in her hand almost unprompted.

“I’ve never seen this many,” Sora says, voice quiet. “Not at once.”

“They’re just shadows,” Riku says, reassuringly. But his voice, too, is hushed. There’s a silence that has settled over the castle. The light ambient noise of the outdoors- birdsong, wind, the humming of the occasional insect- is gone. Kairi wonders if the Heartless are so thick that they muffle everything outside, or if the bugs and birds are too scared to make any noise.

“We’ll just fight them off,” Kairi says, and her voice comes out quieter than she means it too, as well. She clears her throat, and more loudly announces, “Riku’s right. They’re just shadows. It won’t be hard.”

Roxas says, “That’s what the Organization wants us to do.”

“Huh?” Sora asks.

“The more Heartless we kill, the closer they’ll be to completing Kingdom Hearts,” Roxas says. “We’ll play right into their hands if we fight.”

“We’ll play right into their hands if we don’t, too,” Riku says. “If we die, there’ll be no one left to stop them.”

Clapping. Kairi turns to see where it’s coming from, and sees a figure wearing an Organization coat standing in the shadows near the doorway.

“You’ve figured it out,” he says, face unmoved by emotion. “It’s checkmate.”

Axel snorts. “You think this will defeat us, Saix?”

“It doesn’t matter. We’ve accelerated our plans. You’re free to leave these Heartless, of course. We’re happy to take this world as our own.”

Kairi doesn’t know when Belle slipped away, but she notices, suddenly, that she is gone. She spots her a moment later, creeping up behind Saix. She has a large book in her hands.

Kairi thinks, there’s no way that could possibly work.

Belle brings the book down on his head.

To Belle’s credit, he does stagger. But the book does very little to actually wound him. His face twists, and he turns to strike her.

Beast moves to block him, but there’s no way for him to make it in time. Luckily, there’s no need. The Saix’s hand glances off some invisible field, and Belle is unharmed.

“You have no power here,” Belle tells him. “Not in my world, in my home. Leave.”

There is a rushing noise, and Kairi staggers slightly as the light and noise and normality that should be in the castle return all at once.

The Heartless are gone. So is Saix.

“How-” Kairi asks, not sure how to formulate a question beyond the one word.

“He didn’t belong here,” Belle says, with a slight shrug. “Couldn’t you feel it? The distortion around him, and around the Heartless, like the world itself wanted them gone… It was easy to push him out.”

Kairi still isn’t sure she follows. She’s never really understood what being a Princess of Heart means. The things she’s done have been on instinct, and have had unintended consequences. She brought Sora back, but she couldn’t undo everything wrong with him. And maybe Kairi’d saved herself from the darkness that had swallowed up the islands, but she’d lost herself doing it. She’s made a mess of everything at every turn. If she were stronger, smarter, more magically talented, she’d know how to fix things.

“You’re still young,” Belle tells her kindly, as though she can read Kairi’s thoughts. “I’ve had longer to grow. Everything will come to you when you need it. That’s how it seems to work, for us. For everyone, maybe. You won’t know how strong you are until you need to be strong.”

Kairi doubts, but she doesn’t think arguing will do any good. There’s something reassuring about Belle’s certainty, even if Kairi can’t share in it.

“How long can you hold them off?” Riku asks.

Belle frowns. “I don’t know,” she says. “It depends how hard they try to get in, and how they get here. Those dark portals are easy to block. If they came by gummi ship, it might be harder.”

Kairi tries to imagine the Organization traveling in a cramped gummi ship and hides her smile behind her hand. “Still,” she says. “We should get going. You’re less of a target if we leave.”

Belle doesn’t deny it. “If you need more help,” she says. “We’ll be here. It’s our universe, too. We’ll do our best.”

They all gather their things and take them to the gummi ship. Namine is still sitting inside of it, hiding in the cargo compartment.

“There were Heartless outside,” she explains. “Is it safe now?”

Kairi had forgotten that Namine is a- a civilian, she supposes. Someone who needs protecting. She has no keyblade, no weapon of any kind.

“They’re gone,” Kairi confirms. “Belle drove them off.”

Namine lets out a breath. “Good.” She bites her lip. “And… where will I go next?”

She seems unreasonably nervous. Riku says, “Don’t worry. You’ll stay with us.”

“Not with DiZ,” Namine says, tentatively.

“Nowhere near him,” Riku confirms.

There is history there that Kairi doesn’t know. She can tell by the way Namine’s shoulders relax.

“You’d like my father,” Kairi blurts. Namine looks up at her, and Kairi blushes. “I mean, the one in Radiant Garden. He’s nice. I’m sure my dad would like you, too, but I haven’t seen him in a long time.”

Namine smiles, a little sad-looking. Wistful, Kairi guesses. “You don’t have to share your family with me.”

Kairi says, “You’re like my sister, right?”

“What?” Namine says, clearly startled.

“I mean, if you don’t want to be, you don’t have to be,” Kairi says. “But… I don’t know how else to think about this. And I’ve always wanted a sister.”

Kairi needs to say goodbye to Belle, so she adds, “Think about it,” and smiles before heading back out to say a quick farewell.

When she comes back, Namine has made up her mind. “I would like to meet your dad,” Namine says.

“My father,” Kairi corrects. When Namine looks confused, Kairi clarifies, “My dad is the man who raised me on Destiny Islands. My father is the man who raised me in Radiant Garden. I call them different things to distinguish. It’s a bit silly.”

But Namine smiles understandingly.

It’s kind of nice to have another girl on the gummi ship, at least for the first few hours. It’s nice to have Sora with them, too. But what’s not nice is having six people in a cramped space. Axel and Roxas retreat to the cargo room within the first hour. Kairi can’t fault them for that. She’s feeling a little claustrophobic herself in the cockpit. She’d join them, but she has a feeling they need a little time to themselves.

Namine, unfortunately, does not seem to have much to talk about. Sora asks her if she has hobbies, if she likes ice cream, what her favorite color is. Namine has few answers. She does not have hobbies. She’s never had ice cream. But she does have a favorite color.

“Yellow,” she says. “Like sunflowers.” She smiles, looks proud to have an answer to something at last.

Sora’s face lights up, too. Kairi loves him for it.

“Let her have a little peace,” Kairi finally says, when Namine starts to look overwhelmed. Namine shoots her a grateful look.

Roxas and Axel come out after a while. Roxas’s hair is rumpled the way Sora’s is after a nap, but his satisfied look and the way his clothes are on a bit crooked suggests he and Axel were making out, not sleeping.

When Kairi gives them both a big grin and finger-guns, Roxas flushes. Axel grins back. Kairi has already decided she likes him, but if she hadn’t she thinks she would probably start right now.

With the cockpit so crowded, someone has to take first shift actually sleeping.

“Sora, Riku,” Kairi says. “Let’s get some rest. We’ll take first shift tonight.”

“I’ll take the next shift,” Namine says. “I’m not sure four people would fit in there lying down.” Kairi’s glad she doesn’t have to explain.

Then again, once they’re all lying down it does turn out that the space is too cramped for even three to sleep. Kairi curls into Riku’s side, and Sora curls around her, and somehow they make it work. Kairi is too warm, but she doesn’t mind. It feels right.

She wakes slowly to Sora and Riku talking in low voices.

“…shouldn’t have to fight at all. Neither of you should,” Riku is saying.

“No one should have to fight,” Sora says, pragmatically. “That goes for you, too.”

Kairi can feel Riku shrug, beside her.

“I mean it,” Sora says, whisper growing more passionate. Sora has always been bad at remembering he’s trying to keep his voice quiet. “No one deserves a world where they have to fight. But what kind of people would we be if we stood by and let bad things happen?”

Riku makes a frustrated noise.

Kairi finally opens her eyes, just a little. It’s dim in the storage room. A little light comes in from the cockpit around the edges of the door, but it casts shadows more than it illuminates.

“You’re a good person,” she mumbles into Riku’s side. “I keep telling you.”

“Did we wake you?” Riku asks, sounding unnecessarily guilty.

Kairi just makes a noncommittal noise and snuggles in closer. Sora’s arm is draped over her, and Riku is her personal pillow, and everything would be fine if Riku just accepted that he was the best. Because both of her boys are the best.

“Kairi’s right,” Sora says. “No one deserves a life where they have to fight. That includes you, Riku.”

Kairi can’t see very well when she pulls her face away from Riku’s side to look, but the way he’s gone quiet suggests he’s embarrassed. She wonders if he’s gone all red. He gets so bothered by people suggesting he’s a decent person. She’s glad Sora has joined her in her efforts to make Riku feel loved.

“You guys are too good for me,” Riku mumbles at last.

Sora leans over Kairi and catches Riku’s mouth sloppily with his own. It’s brief- it has to be, because Sora is balanced over Kairi and can’t maintain the awkward angle that long- but heartfelt.

Then Sora catches Kairi’s mouth, too, just as sloppy, and she kisses back. When Sora isn’t nervous, apparently he kisses like he does everything else- enthusiastically. There’s room for technical improvement, but it’s a delight to kiss someone so open with his emotions. Riku is wonderful too, in other ways, but his passion is buried under insecurity and self-doubt. Riku loves intensely, deeply. Sora loves openly, naturally. Kairi is so lucky that she has both of them.

The trip is shorter than usual. It’s hard to predict how long a journey between worlds will take. It seems like they shift, sometimes. Navigation isn’t hard, exactly, especially with the gummi ship’s systems helping, but sometimes the same journey takes two days, and sometimes one, and occasionally mere hours. Kairi isn’t sure why, except that time on different worlds is different and maybe time is different in different patches of space, too.

She wonders how long she’s been gone from Destiny Islands. Has it been as long for her dad as for her? Longer? She can’t know. She is afraid to go back yet. It’s cowardice, pure and simple. She’s afraid if she goes home, she’ll never leave again. The worlds still need saving. She can’t abandon them now.

Besides, Sora and Riku have always been such an important part of her home that it wouldn’t feel right until they came home too.

They arrive at Radiant Garden just before dusk. They’re met on the ground by a crowd of people, Kairi’s father included.

“Thank goodness you’re here,” Kairi’s father says. He looks tired and pale.

Leon says, “We have a problem.”

The problem is this: Heartless.

“Isn’t it always,” Roxas mutters.

“They come out at night,” Leon says. “Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. They’re not very strong, but they’re overwhelming because of their sheer numbers.”

“They cover the buildings,” Kairi’s father says.

“Swarms of Heartless,” Riku says. “Belle drove them off, but they came here. Or maybe there was another member of the Organization here, and this was the plan all along… The Organization must have known we’d come back here eventually. And if we didn’t, well, what is it to them if another world falls to the Heartless?”

And this world had no real Princess of Heart to drive off the Heartless. There was only Kairi.

So much for knowing what to do when she needed to. Belle’s explanation about the world twisting had made no sense. Kairi can feel darkness here, but not a solution.

“Can you drive them off?” Axel asks. “Like Belle did?”

“I don’t know how,” Kairi tells him. Tells all of them. “But we’ll think of something else. Even if I repelled the Heartless from this world somehow, like Belle did in hers, there are more worlds out there than there are Princesses of Heart. The Organization will just pick another world to target.”

She takes a breath. “We’ve trained hard. There will always be more to learn, but we’ve run out of time. We’re going to have to make a stand.”

There are a few scattered cheers.

“Are you ready?” Leon asks. “They don’t like to come indoors. If you need time to gather your strength, we could probably hold out until tomorrow night.”

Kairi looks at the rest of her group. Everyone’s faces are set.

“We’ll fight tonight,” Kairi says. She smiles, though she’s not sure how strained it looks. “We’re going to beat the Organization.”

Chapter Text

They have a few minutes before dusk. Leon and the others load them down with potions and elixirs, as much as they can hold in their bags and pockets and then some.

Kairi’s father tells her, “Be careful.”

“As careful as I can be,” Kairi promises. It has to be enough. She grabs Namine’s hand and brings her to her father. “This is Namine,” she says. It’s all the explanation she has time to give. “It’s a long story, but I think of her like a sister, and she needs somewhere to stay while the fighting happens. Can you keep her safe?”

Kairi’s father looks puzzled, but says, “of course.”

Then Leon and Kairi’s father lead everyone to safety. Kairi and the others wait for nightfall, standing in a loose circle formation so that everyone has everyone else’s back.

“Do you think the Organization will show up?” Kairi asks. “Does someone need to be physically present to summon Heartless?”

She’s looking at Axel as she asks, but it’s Roxas who says, “Yeah, someone’ll be here,” and Axel’s face tells her he agrees.

Kairi wonders if Roxas and Axel were friends with any other members of the Organization. Her heart feels torn in two. They might have to kill someone tonight. She hopes they can just capture whoever shows up, instead, or talk them out of the Organization, but she can’t predict that, and she can’t count on it, and it makes her sick.

It makes her just as sick to think of worlds dying, hearts snuffed out. She has never been able to do math in her head or her heart about sacrifices. Does she want to become the kind of person who balances one life on the one hand, and another on the other, and weighs their worth, and decides? She isn’t sure she can do that. It takes a degree of cruelty, even when it’s worth it. And Kairi is lacking the spine.

The last rays of sun start to fade. The sunset, Kairi notes absently, was fantastic. But now the light is fading.

Kairi knows what it looks like when a shadow-type Heartless appears. The darkness between buildings gets darker, and then, shining out from it, you see eyes staring at you. But even prepared for it, even knowing it is coming any minute, it never gets less creepy.

Everyone else sees them, too. They’re all familiar with the sight.

“Remember,” Riku says. “The Heartless are a distraction. We can deal with them after we find whoever is responsible for summoning them.”

But no one appears besides the Heartless.

There is a moment when the Heartless appear to be waiting. None of them leap at Kairi or the others yet. But then the moment breaks, and the first Heartless jumps at Riku.

He fends it off easily, dispatching it in one hit.

After that, the Heartless come all at once.

They can’t maintain their tight formation for long. Even little Heartless are kind of overwhelming in such numbers, and a lot of the moves they would use to take out a bunch at once require that the group spreads out a bit.

Kairi spares a look at Sora- he’s doing fine, whacking Heartless after Heartless and rolling out of the way of attacks- but she can’t look for long because there are other Heartless hiding in the crowd now, stronger ones. Kairi finds herself facing a shadow-type that is abnormally large and takes several hits to dispatch, and then something else hits her from the side. She turns, but Roxas is already there, light-based magic wrapped around Oathkeeper as he hits the Heartless responsible.

Kairi takes a split second to try and identify the Heartless- it’s a humanoid shadow, one she’s never seen before- but then there are several more on her, and all her effort for the next moment or two goes to defending herself and getting in the odd attack.

This is overwhelming. Kairi hopes the others are doing better than she is, but she can’t look. Roxas has her back, but everyone else is scattered now, and there’re just so many Heartless-

And then Roxas is gone. At first Kairi thinks that he must have been separated from her. He disappeared silently. One moment he was there, and the next she was being attacked on all sides by Heartless. But then in the middle of a whirling attack she sees him. He’s on the ground. His keyblades have vanished. He is, as far as she can see, totally unconcious, and the Heartless and closing in on him-

Kairi summons a burst of magic she shouldn’t have left, and knocks the Heartless around her backwards with a light spell that she didn’t know she knew. It’s not enough to take care of them for good, but it is enough for her to slide past them while they regain their bearings.

“Roxas!” she says, and destroys three of the Heartless around him in one blow. This group is plain old shadow-type. Nothing that should have overwhelmed Roxas.

Of course, shouting Roxas’s name alerts Axel. Before he can get to them, though, the Heartless begin to move as a wave.

Kairi stands over Roxas, not willing to believe that the Heartless are retreating.

She hears a cry of “Sora?!” from Riku, and looks around. Sora is not in the street where they have been fighting. He isn’t anywhere, and she rapidly looks around, before Axel, now beside her, says, “On the roof over there.”

Kairi looks over there, and sees Xemnas, holding an unconcious Sora over one shoulder.

Axel can protect Roxas now. Kairi rushes to the building, scales the wall with a grunt of effort, and swings at Xemnas. Riku isn’t far behind her.

But Xemnas takes the hits Kairi deals out, laughs- and then he opens a dark portal, and is gone.

“No,” Kairi says.

The Heartless go back to attacking. Without anyone to guide them, they become less of a threat, at least to Kairi and the others. Kairi sees through a window, though, that the Heartless are appearing in the buildings. That’s not good.

She can’t afford to think about Sora yet. She dodges past the Heartless in her way and bursts through the door of the nearest building. There are three Heartless in there and several townspeople. One is an elderly woman with long hair and a piercing scream. Two of the Heartless are normal shadows, and she takes them out at the same time in one hit. But when she spins to start in on the other, one of the humanoid shadows, the woman in the room has stopped screaming. And there is another Shadow.

Kairi destroys the humanoid shadow, driven by white-hot fury. Then she looks at the other a little helplessly. She thinks, that was a person only a moment ago. But then it attacks, and she has no choice but to block, and then, frowning, to hit it. It vanishes, and a heart flies upward.

Kairi whispers a few words, nothing much, just a simple “Go in peace.”

She can’t bring these Heartless back, the way she’d once brought Sora back. She thinks, maybe, if she knew them, if she cared about them the way she cares for Sora… but she doesn’t, and she can’t.

She rejoins the fight outside. There are too many Heartless, though, and too many places that they could get at people and hurt them. Kairi rushes into three more buildings in quick succession. She loses two more people to the Heartless. She doesn’t know how many Riku loses. Axel is defending Roxas, who is still unconcious.

The Heartless eventually slow down to a trickle. But some of the houses have no people left. Kairi enters, and there are only Heartless inside.

She thinks, this couldn’t have gone any worse. Sora gone, Radiant Garden all but destroyed, Roxas asleep.

There’s no way to salvage this, she thinks. There is nothing she can do to bring these people back.

(She thinks, if she’d let things happen, instead of saving Roxas way back at the beginning of this adventure, Sora would have been stronger. They couldn’t have taken him-

But then she remembers DiZ, and thinks, no. She couldn’t have let things continue that way. She’d done what was right, and even if it had eventually bitten her, she couldn’t have done otherwise.)

In one building, Kairi finds her father, and Namine, and several members of the Resoration Comittee.

“You’re okay,” she says, and hates how she cares more about them than all the others who are Heartless now put together. Her father is okay. Namine is okay. She doesn’t deserve this, when others suffer so much, but she’s glad she doesn’t have people to mourn.

“I’m sorry,” Kairi says, and hates that the tears stem from failure rather than genuine feelings of loss. “Belle said I would know what to do when the time came. But I had no idea. I still have no idea. I’m not a good Princess of Heart. I’m not a good princess at all.”

“You saved Sora,” Namine says quietly.

Kairi looks up. “I don’t know how I did it,” she admits, not for the first time.

But that’s not quite right. She does know. She’d looked at the Heartless, but she’d seen Sora. Their hearts had still been connected. From there, restoring him to what she already knew he was had been natural, almost as natural as breathing.

She doesn’t know these people, these Heartless that remain, the way she knows Sora. She can’t fix things. She isn’t enough. Even if she knew them, she couldn’t possibly know all of them. There’s only so much room in her heart, she thinks.

But maybe, she realizes, she could save some of them. If she knew. If she remembered.

She can’t fix everything. She will never be strong enough. But she can fix one thing at a time. She can put one foot in front of the other. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

She rummages through her bag.

“What is it?” her father says.

She pulls out a package, wrapped in paper. The corners are rumpled, but it’s still intact.

Namine says, “Kairi-”

Kairi rips off the paper.

She expects sketches inside, something that will take time and energy to process. But there’s just light, bright enough to be blinding for a moment. If Kairi had expected this present to be slow or soft, she was mistaken.

And then- she remembers.

Darkness crashing against the edges of the world, against the edges of her mind, not just once but twice-

Her mother saying, “Run, Kairi-” and the Heartless descending-

Time after time the darkness has come for her. For those she loves. She’s hidden from it- oh god, she’s hidden. On an island, inside of Sora’s heart, behind her keyblade.

But no matter how she hides, she can’t wait out evil. It is always still there, more patient than she is. Maybe a Princess of Heart is supposed to wait, to be a pillar supporting the world passively- but Kairi can’t do it. Not now, not ever.

She opens her eyes. Everyone else is still blinking away spots.

No one meant to give her a keyblade. She is not like Riku. Neither did it come to her on its own, as if by fate. She is not Sora. Kairi’s power is an accident, the work of chance. But it is hers nevertheless.

Once, she’d told Riku that she would let darkness into her heart, if that was what it took to save them. She still would. She loves Sora and Riku more than she loves being a Princess of Heart. But darkness isn’t what’s needed here.

She summons her keyblade to her hand.

“Heal,” she says, pointing it upward.

She couldn’t do it before. But she’s different, now. She’s still Kairi, but she’s more. The flowers on her keyblade are island flowers, yes- but there are other blooms there, too.

She feels her magic reach out, farther than it ever has before. Stronger, too, than a Cure or even a Curaga. Different. The power coursing through her is temporary, the result of the restoration of her memories, and she knows it, and it doesn’t matter- this only has to work once.

Namine says, “What was that that you just did?” Kairi doesn’t take the time to answer. She runs outside.

There are people milling around, people she recognizes as being Heartless moments ago. There are more of them than she’d expected. She’d hoped to save a handful of people, but the people coming from the buildings around her are more numerous than she’d allowed herself to imagine. She’s so glad. She wants to collapse, to fall on her knees in relief. But there’s not time.

“We have to save Sora,” she tells Axel. But Axel just shakes his head. Roxas is still sleeping.

“I’ll come,” Riku says from behind her. But his voice-

She turns, and gapes. Riku is himself. Taller, true, and he needs a haircut, but he’s Riku, not Ansem.

She takes a step towards him, and buries her face in his chest. He puts an arm around her. “What did you do?” he asks.

“I figured out that healing spell,” Kairi says, unburying her face but not letting go.

“I’d say,” Riku says, looking around at the restored village.

Then, more soberly, he says, “we need Sora. Who knows what the Organization has planned for him?”

“We’ll get him,” Kairi says. “Give me a moment, though.”

She runs back inside. “Papa,” she says. He is standing next to Namine, talking.

He looks up, a little confused, and she runs and hugs him. “We have to go,” she tells him. “Sora was taken, and we have to save him. But I wanted to say, before we go… I remember, and I love you, and I’m going to do my best to come back.”

His face creases into worry. “Be strong,” he says. “It feels like I’ve just gotten you back. Don’t die.”

Kairi nods. “Take care of Namine,” she says. She smiles at Namine, and Namine smiles back.

And then they need to go.

Axel won’t leave Roxas’s side, but he opens a portal for them. It doesn’t look exactly like a dark portal- doesn’t feel like a tear in the fabric of the world to Kairi. But there’s no time to worry about that. “Get Sora back,” Axel says, giving the portal a dull look of surprise.

Kairi and Riku both nod.

The funny thing is, no matter how desperate she knows the situation is, she feels so happy. They’ve just been defeated. Kairi should not be calm. She should not feel full of a deep pool of joy. But she has a bone-deep certainty that they can do this. That she can do this.

“Let’s go,” she says.

They step through the portal.

Chapter Text

They step through the portal. They have to save Sora now- there’s no time to search the worlds for him using the Gummi ship.

This portal is not a dark portal, Kairi realizes in the moment between stepping into it and stepping out of the other end. In the darkness are pinpricks of light, floating like stars against the black. Kairi has felt the darkness in dark portals before, and it is hostile. This darkness doesn’t intend harm, though that doesn’t mean it is safe.

(That’s fine- the light isn’t necessarily safe, either)

Then they’re through. They come through in what looks like an alley in a dimly lit city.

Kairi’s power was intense like the sun only moments ago, but it’s dimmed now to something more manageable. She can’t help but be relieved. It had burned, even if that burning had not hurt.

Riku says, “Is everything okay?”

“Yes,” Kairi says. She shakes her head. “Well- as okay as it can be. We’ll find Sora, and then things will be good.”

“You’re not in pain or anything, right?”

Kairi smiles at him. “No, I’m fine. Why?”

“You channeled a lot of magic,” he says. “That didn’t hurt?”

“No,” Kairi says. “It was intense, but it was… healing.”

Riku doesn’t look convinced. “Healing can hurt a lot,” he says. He starts walking towards the other end of the alley. There’s not really another way to go.

Kairi walks after him. “Did I hurt you? Just now? Was that a painful kind of healing?”

Riku is somewhat hunched over, and he doesn’t look at her for a moment. “Healing always hurts for me,” he says finally. “It hurt. But it was worth it.”

Kairi frowns at this, adds it to a mental list of things she should be concerned about, when she has time. For now, she just says, “I’m sorry,” and decides to overlook Riku’s shrug. They’ll come back to it after they have Sora back. She takes his hand for a moment, squeezes it.

They trek through the city in silence for a moment. There’s a castle at the center of it, and it’s the most likely place to find Sora. There are Heartless and lesser Nobodies to fight, on the way there, but nothing major. It’s easy. Too easy.

The castle, when they get to it not much later, is mostly empty. They walk down a long hallway and come to a bright white room, filled with at least a dozen thrones. Thirteen, probably, if the Organization is true to their name. Kairi doesn’t waste time counting.

Kairi has a bad feeling about this the moment they walk through the doors. But it intensifies when she looks around and sees Sora.

He’s on a throne, slumped over and sleeping still. Xemnas is leaning over him. Nearby, standing, are a couple of Organization members, who move towards Kairi and Riku when they enter.

“I’ll deal with them,” Xemnas says, sounding almost bored. “You needn’t bother yourselves.”

Kairi’s keyblade is already in her hand. It has been the whole time they’ve been in this city, flowers bright against a city that’s gloomy and dim. Riku’s is out and up as well.

“You think you can defeat me,” Xemnas says with a little laugh, looking at Kairi a lot like DiZ does. “You’re a child of the light- you know nothing of darkness- of the void.”

Kairi thinks of stars, and dark portals, and wonders if she knows more than he thinks.

“As for your friend Sora,” Xemnas says, “I have plans for him.”

Riku makes a threatening noise in the back of his throat.

“And you,” Xemnas says, looking at Riku with even more disdain than he’d mustered for Kairi, “You follow your Princess of Heart blindly, trusting her instincts more than your own. You know the power of darkness, and yet you cling to her, hoping that light is somehow more powerful.”

Riku shrugs. “You like to talk,” he says. He glances at Kairi, and his look is warm. “Kairi hasn’t led me wrong so far. Sora says his friends are his power. Maybe that’s how it is for everyone. No one is good at everything, and we rely on each other to fill in the gaps.”

“Touching,” Xemnas says, bored, and lunges at Kairi.

She doesn’t have time to dodge, but she blocks. His attack is brutally strong, and even blocking she slides back a few inches.

He’s also fast. Riku is lunging at his Xemnas’s back already, but Xemnas steps back too fast for Riku to follow.

The next hit is even faster, but they’re expecting it. Kairi is able to throw up a magical shield around both of them- huh, that’s new- and that confuses Xemnas even more than it does Kairi, buying Riku a moment to slice-

He hits air, and lets out a hiss.

“Give up,” Xemnas says, and there’s something like darkness, like void, clawing at them both, sucking them in. It’s more than physical- for a moment Kairi is confused, and she sees Sora sitting, sleeping, and forgets he was ever awake. The time since he woke seems like a dream, and he has always slept, and maybe the three of them will never be together, maybe there will always be a Sora-shaped hole in the universe where he should be.

But before she can even shake off the illusion and temporary confusion, she realizes that feeling is a lie. While they live, there’s hope. There are stars in the darkness, and any feeling that says otherwise is not her own.

And the keyblade in her hand shifts. There’s a new keychain on it, a few faint floating pinpricks of light. And the keyblade is nearly invisible, made of shadow. She knows without using it that’s it’s sharp, and when she moves it it’s deceptively lightweight.

Sora was awake, and he’ll be awake again soon. Her head is clear again.

She darts into the heavy void at the center of the room, and hits Xemnas so hard he staggers. Then, while he’s recovering, she hits him again, and again. He retaliates with a spell she doesn’t quite manage to block, and it slices at her arm as she raises her keyblade to shield herself.

It’s so easy to heal herself, now. Whatever path in her brain was blocked by memory loss before, it’s clear now. She’s been struggling so long, built up so much magical strength fighting her magic and herself, that it feels almost effortless to do it the right way.

When she pauses to heal and dodge, Riku dives in, catching Xemnas off-balance. His keyblade hits Xemnas, and Kairi is already diving to attack again when the world explodes in an invisible wave of power.

She’s thrown backwards, as is Riku. They hit a wall, far from where they were. They both slide down gracelessly, and it’s a moment before Kairi staggers to her feet again.

The Organization members who were watching are sneaking out through the door, which closes with a clang behind them. Xemnas is lying on the ground- not vanished in the way that indicates a Nobody has died, but simply unconscious. Kairi takes this moment to look over at Riku, who is still slumped on the ground.

“Riku?”

He makes a noise, eyes fluttering open. (She wishes she had time to properly appreciate how pretty Riku’s eyes are when he’s himself, but now’s not the time.)

“Are you okay?”

Riku says, “Ansem- Xehanort’s Heartless- he’s not in me anymore.”

Kairi looks over at Xemnas. His hair, she notes, is no longer the white it was a moment ago. There’s color going back into it, slowly. Kairi doesn’t know what that means.

“What happens when a Nobody and a Heartless join back together?” Kairi asks.

Riku just shakes his head as he sits up and then gets to his feet. “In this case? Nothing good,” he says. “I don’t think we want to meet Xehanort’s Somebody.” Kairi’s inclined to agree.

By silent agreement, Kairi checks on Sora while Riku keeps an eye on Xemnas.

Sora is asleep, but when she touches his shoulder he stirs.

“Wake up, sleepyhead,” she says.

Sora opens his eyes. Kairi lets out a sigh of relief.

“What happened?” Sora says, letting out a yawn. “Where are we?” He looks around, sees Xemnas on the ground, Riku nearby.

“Riku’s himself!” Sora cheers. “Wow, I missed a lot.”

“Xemnas made you sleep,” Kairi says. “But he’s defeated for now. Hopefully Roxas is awake now, too. We’ll have to get back soon.”

“What do we do about him?” Sora asks, nodding towards Xemnas. “Are we just… waiting?”

Kairi looks at Xemnas. His hair is brown now, and there’s something about his face that’s different, too. It looks softer.

“He still stinks like darkness,” Riku says. “When he wakes up, he’s not going to be any easier to deal with.”

Kairi says, “We can’t just kill a downed opponent, though.” And the darkness she’s sensing isn’t the same as before. It’s the gentler kind, dangerous but not evil.

The issue is moot point only a second later. Xemnas’s eyes open all at once. Kairi summons her keyblade again and points it at him. Sora follows suit, and Riku’d never let down his guard at all.

Xemnas makes no move to attack. He just blinks at them sleepily. He looks a little concerned when he sees Sora, but not hostile.

“Who’re you?” he asks them.

Whatever they’d expected, this wasn’t it. Riku glares, obviously deciding this is a trick. “You’re defeated, Xemnas. Whatever you’re trying to pull-”

“My name is Terra,” the man still lying on the ground says. “I remember- Xehanort had me. I tried to fight him… I couldn’t stop him, but I held on.” He shakes his head, looking pained. “Where are Aqua and Ven?”

Riku, meanwhile, has gone very still.

“It’s you,” he says.

Terra sits up, but makes no move to stand. “You’re the boy from the island,” he says, after a moment.

Sora looks back and forth between them. “What’s going on?” he asks. Kairi looks at Riku quizzically, just as hungry for an explanation as Sora.

Riku lets his keyblade vanish, and offers Terra a hand up. Sora and Kairi exchange a look, and then Sora shrugs and lets his vanish, too, and Kairi feels a little silly being the only one still worried. Who is this guy? But Riku has relaxed, and her keyblade is only a thought away, so she lets it disappear for now.

“You mentioned an Aqua,” Kairi says. “That name… I remember an Aqua. When I was a child.”

“Let’s get back to Radiant Garden,” Riku says. “I feel like this is going to be a long story.”

“Right,” Kairi says. “We need to check that Roxas is okay, and then he and Axel will want to hear what’s going on.”

“How do we get back?” Sora asks, looking around. “Where’s the Gummi ship?”

Terra looks at him weirdly. “You came here in a Gummi ship?”

“A portal,” Riku says. “This time.”

Sora says, “What’s wrong with Gummi ships?”

“You have keyblades,” Terra says.

They all look at him blankly.

Terra sighs. “What kind of master did you guys have?”

“Master?” Sora asks. “I mean, Merlin taught me some magic, but no one knew anything about the keyblade to teach me anything. We didn’t even realize there was more than one for a long time.” He pauses. “Riku and I ended up fighting over it, kind of,” he admits, sheepishly.

Terra holds out his hand, and summons a keyblade of his own. “Keyblades are more than weapons,” he says, as though reciting a lesson. “They can take many shapes, depending on what you need.” In his hand, the blade grows larger and changes form. Suddenly it’s a glider.

Kairi holds hers out. Now that she’s seen it done, she thinks maybe she can do that, too. First she turns her keyblade back into its usual form, the flower blade. She doesn’t want to ride on a half-invisible glider, especially not this minute. With the surge of light from before dimmed to almost nothing, she is tired and sore and ready for the day to be over, and is half-convinced she might fall off a glider even if she can see it.

Sure enough, making a glider isn’t hard. She’d just never thought to try before.

“But how do we get out of here?” Sora asks.

Terra says, “A portal to the Lanes Between,” and as he speaks his keyblade-glider opens a portal in front of them.

It looks like a dark portal, but Kairi can tell it’s not. The portal Axel made to get them here was ambiguous, but this- there are more than pinpricks of light in this darkness.

“The darkness is strong within the Lanes Between,” Terra tries to warn them.

Kairi says, “We’ve travelled through worse,” and when he still looks hesitant she adds, “We put as much protection into our outfits as we could.”

He sighs, obviously seeing no better alternative. “I suppose I’m not really prepared either,” he says. “I don’t know where my armor is.”

“The armor that attacked me in the desert?” Riku asks.

Terra’s brow furrows. “What?”

They are getting sidetracked. “Radiant Garden,” Kairi says firmly, “then stories.”

Sora and Riku manage to make gliders without too much trouble, though it takes Sora a couple of tries (and a slightly confused look which makes Kairi frown, wondering if Sora is hitting another of his “slippery patches”).

Terra asks them to lead the way, telling them to follow their hearts to the world they’re looking for. “I don’t know where we’re going,” he admits. “The paths change frequently. I don’t know how exactly long it’s been since…” He looks off into the distance for a moment. “It’s long enough, though. The paths are all different.”

Kairi ends up taking the lead, since she’s the one who knows Radiant Garden best. She worries for a moment that she won’t know how, but once they’re in the Lanes Between, she realizes that she knows the way- she can feel her world calling to her. Both worlds, both homes, garden and island, her papa and her dad. Right now she needs to go to Radiant Garden, but she knows that she could go to the islands just as easily.

The others follow close behind.

The journey takes only moments. She thinks so, anyway. Time feels funny in this in-between place.

And then they’re in Radiant Garden. They emerge high in the air, but not too far horizontally from where they left.

It’s day, nearly noon judging by the sun. They set down in the middle of the road and before Kairi has even dismissed her keyblade, Axel and Namine are emerging from Kairi’s house.“

Axel says, "What took so long? We knew you’d won when Roxas woke up, but that was two days ago.”

He is trying to sound cool, but Kairi can tell he was worried.

“Time runs strangely in different worlds,” Terra tells them.

“Who are you?” Axel asks. “You’re not Xemnas.”

“Terra,” Terra says absently. He’s looking beyond Axel and Namine, where Roxas has come out.

“Ven?” he says.

“Who’s Ven?” Roxas asks, instantly defensive. “My name is Roxas.”

Terra looks confused. “But-” he starts.

Sora says, “Roxas is my Nobody. It’s a really long, confusing story.”

At that, Roxas relaxes slightly, but it doesn’t help Terra look any clearer on the situation. He has a sort of hopeless lost look.

“We need to compare notes,” Riku says to Terra. “I have a feeling that there are pieces of story we’re both missing. But if we put them together…”

“Agreed,” Terra says, finally shaking off that look. Kairi’s glad. It had hurt to look. She knew that feeling well- it’s what she’d been feeling when she’d stared at Sora’s sleeping face, afraid that he might never wake up.

Namine says to Terra, as they walk into the house, “I see Riku found the correct person to give those memories he was carrying around.”

When Terra looks confused again, Namine says, “We do have a lot of catching each other up to do, don’t we?”

They all sit down around the large dining room table, which is usually used for meetings of the Restoration Committee.

Maybe soon, things will make sense.

Chapter Text

Papa makes tea while they all begin to talk.

“How do you have a Nobody?” Terra asks Sora, to start. “You’re not a Heartless.”

“It’s a long story,” Sora says. “And I don’t remember all of it, but maybe the rest of you can fill in the gaps?”

Kairi and Riku nod.

“It started when our world was taken by darkness…” Sora starts.

It is a long story. And a complicated one.

“…so then it turned out Riku wasn’t himself. He’d been possessed by Ansem. Uh, Xehanort’s Heartless, I guess is his real name. We fought, and he left a keyblade behind that had the power to unlock hearts.”

“Many keyblades have that power,” Terra says.

Sora nods. “Well,” he says. “Kairi’s heart was inside of me, and I had to get her out. So I sort of…”

“He stabbed himself in the heart,” Riku finishes, when Sora gets that look that means he’s not quite remembering right. “He freed Kairi, but he also turned himself into a Heartless.”

“Then I tracked Sora down with Donald and Goofy,” Kairi says. “He was still himself, just shaped differently, and I was able to get him back to normal.”

(She thinks, briefly, of Donald and Goofy, how they’re still sleeping. She’ll find a way to wake them up, too. Between Namine and her, it seems like they could do it.)

“Kairi is a Princess of Heart,” Sora explains. “We don’t know everything she can do, but it’s always pretty cool.”

“Anyway,” Roxas says, “when Sora became a Heartless, I came into existence. Xemnas- I guess he’s Xehanort’s Nobody- he convinced me to join up with them. I didn’t know any better- I was a total zombie when I first woke up, barely even talked- so I went along with it for a while. I met Axel, we became friends, and then we decided to leave the Organization.”

“You’re not a Nobody,” Terra says thoughtfully. “Nobodies don’t have a heart. They’re the body of a person, and the memories. You don’t even look like Sora. Didn’t you think that was weird?”

Roxas looks at him sharply. “I’ve been trying to figure that out since day one.”

Terra says, “I guess I should tell my story, too. I’ll warn you- it doesn’t reflect well on me.”

Riku says, “that makes two of us, then. I’m not exactly proud of everything I’ve done, either.”

Terra nods. “There were three of us,” he says, after a pause. “Me. Aqua. Ven.”

Roxas looks at him very closely.

“I let Xehanort manipulate me,” Terra says. “But he was manipulating all of us, really. We didn’t realize…”

He takes a breath.

“He had a plan. There’s a keyblade that’s more powerful than the rest, the X-blade. It appears when a heart of pure darkness and a heart of pure light clash. Xehanort split Ventus into two people, Ven and Vanitas. Ven was all of Ventus’s light. Vanitas was his darkness. Like you,” he says, looking at Roxas, “Ven was a blank slate at first. But we took him in, and took care of him. He was younger than Aqua and me, but very talented. Vanitas was raised by Xehanort… we never even saw his face until the end. When Xehanort took my body. I don’t know where my friends are,” he finished. “But I have… hints, now, since I’ve woken up.”

“Hints?” Kairi asks.

“Yes.” He looks at Sora, then Roxas. “It’s like looking in a funhouse mirror,” he says, shaking his head. “Because you have Vanitas’s face,” he says to Sora. “And you- Roxas- you have Ven’s face, and his heart.”

There is a moment of shocked silence. Then Roxas stands suddenly, has both keyblades in his hands. He doesn’t look like he’s going to attack. He looks shocked, angry, but not violent.

“I’m me,” he says, almost automatically. “No one else.”

Terra looks puzzled. “You don’t remember anything? I don’t seem familiar at all?”

Roxas says, “Everyone always looks familiar. I have some of Sora’s memories, and he seems to have met half the universe before I even existed.”

“That’s not a no,” Terra points out. Then, “I don’t understand how any of this happened. It’s been a long time, and things have gone very wrong. Worlds being taken by darkness, the very stars going out…”

“We fixed it, though,” Sora says. “The worlds are back.”

Terra shakes his head. “The sky is so empty,” he says, simply. “I don’t remember a lot from the time I was possessed, but I remember that. You brought back a lot. But it’s not nearly everything.”

He sighs. “We need Aqua. She might know what’s going on. She’s always been the smart one.”

“I met her once,” Kairi says. “But it was so long ago.”

After a while, when the tea is gone and they’re all exhausted from talking, they take a break.

“I wish I knew where my clothes were,” Terra mutters. “This outfit is ridiculous.”

Kairi has a sudden realization. “Tan pants? Large belt buckle?”

Terra gives her the strangest look. “How-”

Kairi beams. “I think I know where they are. Give me a minute.”

She finds the clothes, tucked away in her room for safekeeping. She’d thought that the clothes belonged to Xehanort, so they’d been a clue. But they’d turned out to be useful after all.

He thanks her, and ducks into a bathroom to change. Kairi waits outside, thinking.

“You said Ven had no darkness,” she says, when Terra emerges. “But I don’t think Roxas is exactly a… a Prince of Heart.”

Terra says, “Ven and Vanitas were joined together again in the end. Even if Ven fought off Vanitas, some darkness might remain.” He shakes his head. “He’s still my friend,” he says stubbornly. “My little brother, in all but blood. It’s not like I can judge someone for having a little darkness. Everyone does.” He looks at Kairi, then looks away. “Almost everyone.”

Kairi says, “It doesn’t make you a bad person.”

Terra looks confused. “You, of all people, think that?”

“Of course,” Kairi says. “Darkness isn’t always evil. It’s part of the world, part of people’s hearts. When there’s imbalance, it can cause trouble, but it’s the same with anything. Even drinking too much water can kill you.”

Terra says, “My master would have disagreed. He hated darkness, wanted to stamp it out in all of us.”

“My dad always said that if you fight against your thoughts and worries, you make them stronger,” Kairi says thoughtfully. “Maybe it’s the same with darkness. If you struggle against it, it just struggles back.”

“Then what do you do?” Terra asks hopelessly. “I lost my friends because I couldn’t control my darkness.”

“Accept it,” Kairi says. “It’s part of you. If you get angry, use that anger to protect the ones you love. If you’re despairing, don’t pretend you’re not- ask for help. Make your friends' strength your own. We’re all each other’s power.” She adds, “Talk to Riku.”

Terra still looks stunned. Kairi says, “Riku is dealing with the same things. I can see it from the outside, but I’ll never know what darkness is like myself. I bet you have a lot to share with each other.”

They walk back to the others, for round two of comparing notes. This one is shorter. Terra fills in some details on Vanitas and his encounters with Xehanort pre-possession. Riku and Namine talk about Castle Oblivion. Roxas glosses over his time with the Organization, though he does admit he can’t remember it right. “I’m missing memories,” Roxas says. “I know I am. Sora’s not the only one.”

Namine says, “I can’t fix Sora any more than I already have, but I’ve never looked at your memories, Roxas. If you’d like me to, all you have to do is ask.”

Roxas nods. “Worth a shot,” he says.

“When a Nobody and a Heartless are defeated,” Terra tells them, “The original person comes back. Xehanort might return. But we have time to prepare while he rebuilds.”

“I haven’t seen my parents in forever,” Sora says.

Kairi says, “My dad must be worried sick. I sent him a letter, but I haven’t seen him since the storm, either.”

“Pit stop at Destiny Islands?” Riku asks, face noncommittal.

Sora and Kairi nod. “Just for a day or two,” Kairi says, looking at her Papa. “It won’t be forever.”

“We’ll meet back here in a two days, then,” Terra says.

“Might be nice to hit the beach,” Axel says, looking at Roxas for confirmation before yawning and stretching. “Mind if we join you?”

Kairi smiles. “Of course- feel free.” She looks at Namine.

“I’ll stay here,” Namine says. She looks a little overwhelmed with all the people around, but she’s putting on a brave face. “Papa and I can take care of Terra here.”

“He does need fattening up,” Papa says with a smile.

The gather up their things. Kairi restocks on potions and other supplies- there’s no such thing as too much potions. Then it’s time to go.

They set off for Destiny Islands on their gliders. On the way, Kairi thinks about what she’s going to say to her dad. She has a lot to tell him. She knows it’s been a long time.

She thinks she needs to start it off with “Thank you. I know how hard waiting can be.”