All the Roads We Have to Walk
End of the Road
They had been all around the castle and hadn't found a single Heartless. The group decided that they were finally safe again and called off the patrol. Leon had sent the soldiers to their dorms, telling them to get some rest before the big clean up began.
Typical, really, that something happened a minute after he had done that.
Leon and Riku were heading back to the library when a loud boom came from beyond the throne room's doors. They approached the door cautiously, preparing themselves for anything that might come running out.
"Ready?" Leon asked.
Riku nodded. "Yeah, let's go."
Both grabbed their weapons and, on the count of three, Leon threw the door open. Riku ran through first, ready to take down whatever Heartless threw itself at him.
But there were no Heartless. Instead, Riku and Leon found a bright light shimmering in the air and a collection of people, seven in total, all flat on their backs… well almost all of them were. One, a large lion-like creature, was resting on his side.
But Riku was already too distracted by someone else to notice the non-human member of the group. "Kairi!" He hurried to her side. Riku shook her and called out again but she was unresponsive. He turned to Leon. "You'd better go get Aerith."
Leon agreed and took off at a run.
Night had fallen. The stars shone cheerily over Disney Castle, completely ignorant of the destruction the world had seen. What didn't lie in ruins only served to show how bad the damage was. It was going to take a lot to restore the once proud castle to its former glory. For now however, people were resting and recuperating from the harsh battle.
But not everyone was in bed where they belonged.
"Now Donald, ya really oughta…"
"Well sure, I hear ya, but ya don't wanna push…"
"I said I'm fine Goofy! You're the one who shouldn't be pushing himself!"
It was true that Goofy was struggling to keep up with Donald's rapid pace. That was very unusual, given their stark difference in leg length.
"The King said he'd come back to your room when he made sure everyone was okay…"
"I don't care!"
And Goofy fell silent then, because he too wanted to make sure everyone else was all right. Well, one person in particular.
But when they reached the hall, they soon discovered that Sora wasn't among the recently returned, all of who were now resting under blankets. Donald and Goofy shared a disappointed look. And they'd been so looking forward to a reunion.
Mickey, who ensured Aerith was all right to check out the group's injuries alone for a moment, hurried over to his friends. Smiling up at the pair, he said, "Don't worry you two. If Sora's not here, it may be because he returned to the world he left from. He may have sent them all back here because he knew they'd be safe. Or, rather, the Keyblade probably chose that because it knew."
"Then I guess we gotta get right back to Brighthelmston!" Goofy said.
"Sure, but can you remember how to get there?" Donald asked.
"Uh, well, let me see now. It was a right turn after Hollow Bastion. Um, another right after Neverland…"
Donald just sighed.
It took Kairi all of five seconds to demand to know where Sora was after she woke up the following morning. Upon finding that he wasn't in the room, she immediately began to panic. But she was determined not to cry so instead she decided to glare at people – a fierce look she reserved for very special use only.
"Kairi, it's okay," Goofy said with his calm smile and friendly tone. "We can go and find him."
"I'm coming with you!" She struggled to get to her feet but Aerith's hand on her shoulder kept her quite firmly on the ground. "Please! I have to! Let me go with them."
"Kairi you've got a broken arm and you're exhausted," Aerith said calmly. "You have to stay here. Besides, you're the only one who's awake and I need to know everything." Because Aerith was overjoyed to see her friends again after years of not knowing where they were. "And maybe I'll need your help, once you've rested."
"Donald and Goofy are worse off than I am!" Kairi's counter-argument was quite true.
"That's as may be," Donald said, still managing to look stern despite the visible strain around his eyes. "But we're the ones that lost Sora so we'll be the ones to find out where he went off to."
"But why isn't he here like the rest of us?" Kairi said worriedly. "What if something happened? What if he got left behind? What if…"
"Everything will be fine Kairi, you'll see," Goofy promised. "We reckon we know where Sora is. We just gotta get there."
"Don't ya'll worry 'bout that." Cid, covered in oil, came strolling into the throne room. He took care to avoid stepping on the bright red carpet in his messy state. "I found a coupla ships that are ready to go. Take yer pick." He almost sauntered off but the shock of seeing the other new arrivals forced him to stay. "Well I'll be!" he said, wiping his thumb under his nose. "Almost all together again, hey Aerith?"
"Almost," she agreed with a smile.
"Told Yuffie yet?"
Cid laughed. "Dontcha worry, I'll let her know once I get cleaned up. You stay here." And off he went.
"Ready Goofy?" Donald said. "We should get going right away."
"Right you are Donald."
"We'll be back soon Kairi," Donald promised.
"I wish you'd let me come. I'm just as worried as you are!"
"No you're not," Goofy said. "You're probably more worried. But that don't mean we're gonna let you come. You gotta stay and rest that arm of yours." He gave a wave and headed off. "See ya'll later!"
Once they were gone, Kairi gasped as another thought hit her. "Where's Riku? He was here when I left. Is he okay? He isn't hurt is he?"
"He isn't hurt," Aerith said. "He was fine when I last saw him yesterday."
Kairi looked relieved. "So he is here then. Can I go and see him at least?"
"No, Kairi." Aerith looked up and saw Leon walking in. "You can't see him." She held up a hand when Kairi tried to argue. "He's not here. He left last night. No one knows where he is. The King didn't seem worried though so wherever he is, I'm sure he'll be fine."
The familiar frustration of being left behind swelled within Kairi, but she fought it away. "Maybe he went to find Sora."
"Yeah," Leon said, trying to sound optimistic for once. "He's probably worried about his friend."
"I'm sure that's what he did," Aerith added as she helped Kairi lift her arm into a sling. "Riku will come back."
"Brighthelmston," Donald said in a thoughtful tone as he and Goofy walked through the town. "It's been… it's been… uuuuh…"
"A real long time," Goofy supplied.
So far their search of the town and beaches had turned up nothing. It was Goofy who, after the pair had stopped for a rest on a beachfront café, realised that they were looking in the wrong place.
"The King said that Sora would go back to where he left from, and that was the island where the Keyhole was."
That was their destination. Normally Donald would have summoned a raft with his magic, but he was under strict orders (from Aerith and Merlin, who was similarly stricken) to not exert himself under any circumstance.
It was fortunate that Captain Dan remembered them and was only too willing to help them. He and his ship were soon taking Donald and Goofy over to the island, the Captain asking all sorts of questions and promising the pair that no further trouble had befallen the town since their last visit.
Donald and Goofy were trying not to get too excited. There was still a chance Sora wouldn't be here after all. But it was hard not to hope for the best, especially as Captain Dan pulled the ship into a natural dock and the anchor was dropped.
"We'll wait for yeh," the Captain assured the pair as they walked down the plank and back onto dry land. "Best've luck."
The island, where the Keyhole had been before, was small and covered in trees. It wasn't used by the townspeople for anything other than relaxing days out and the local council had strict rules protecting it from manmade destruction. Covering it wouldn't take long so Donald and Goofy split up, Donald heading left and Goofy heading right. They both began calling out to Sora, hoping but failing to hear a reply.
"If only I could use magic," Donald grumbled loud enough for Goofy to hear. "We'd know in a jiffy!"
Half an hour later, Goofy pushed his way through the last of the bush and found himself on the beach on the other side of the island. He held a hand over his eyes as they swept across the pebbled shoreline.
Goofy, his injury forgotten, ran over the stony beach. His cry had alerted Donald who also came running, bursting out of the bushes at speeds he rarely reached on such short legs.
Sora was lying face down on the beach, his legs still being washed over by the tide. Goofy knelt down, cautiously rolling Sora onto his back. The boy was senseless, breathing but pale with utter exhaustion. His wet brown hair clung to his skull, uncharacteristically limp. His clothes, aside from being soaking wet, were torn and bloodstained from wounds that seemed to have fully healed aside from a few telltale bruises. At some point Sora had also lost a shoe, his bare foot marred with nasty scars. Goofy and Donald had never seen their young friend in such a dishevelled state.
Goofy and Donald carefully lifted the boy until he was sitting, slumped, in Goofy's arms. Sora's brow creased into a frown and with a soft sigh he came awake. He raised a heavy arm to rub the water and hair out his eyes. When he looked around properly, he saw Donald and Goofy and let out a happy cry.
"You're here!" He hugged them with all the strength he had, tears of relief splashing over his cheeks. "It's you! It's really you…" He held on to his friends for a long time, and they hugged him back. Sora was crying, from relief and happiness and so many other emotions. It was quite a while before he pulled his arms back and held his hands to his face. He was shaking. "It's over…"
"Sora? Are you okay?" Donald asked.
A haunted look passed through Sora's eyes. He shook it off for the sake of his friends and managed something that resembled a smile. "I'm just a little tired. It's okay."
"A little tired," Donald stated sceptically.
"Fine, lots tired. Oh! Is Kairi okay?"
"She's fine, you don't need to worry about her," Donald assured him. "She's safe at the castle."
"Do you think you can stand?" Goofy asked. "Captain Dan's got the boat on the other side of the island. We can go back to the castle. Everyone's there."
"Boat. Other side. Castle. Everyone… Everyone!"
"Yup, and even Riku!" Goofy said.
"Riku… came back! Really?"
"Yup, come on. Let's go Sora."
A happy smile lit up Sora's haggard face. "Okay!" And he pushed himself up, stumbling until Goofy caught him and steadied his balance. "Thanks. I'm only a little tired."
"A lot tired!" Donald squawked.
"I'll be fine soon, promise."
"We know," said Donald, reaching out and patting Sora's hand. "C'mon, I'll lead the way. Shake a leg Sora!"
"Don't I have two?"
"Sure ya do. One at each corner," Goofy replied, tugging Sora back towards the boat.
Goofy caught Sora before he fell back down. "I'd say we need to move a bit faster, don't you?"
"I don't like fast."
"Don't whine Sora," Donald groaned.
Donald and Goofy had to keep talking to Sora to keep him awake, although he seemed to be able to sleep and walk quite well so long as they didn't let him doze longer than ten seconds.
"Kairi's waiting for you," Donald said, hoping this would spur one of Sora's more energetic reactions. "She'll get mad at you if you don't hurry."
"I like Kairi."
"That's right," Goofy said, chuckling at his dozy friend. "She's very special to you."
"There were two of her as well. Did I do that?"
Goofy looked at Donald, who shrugged. "Must be sleep talk," the wizard answered.
"Well, there's only one now and she wants to see you very soon," Goofy told Sora.
"Yeah, I wonder what happened to the other one. Never mind. I'll see Kairi soon. Oh, but mad Kairi is bad. Let's hurry." Sora didn't speed up.
They carried on in almost silence, Sora muttering so quietly under his breath the words were like a hum. Then, quite suddenly, he burst out with an "Oh!" as his memory reminded him of something very important that he had to share with someone. "I saw all the worlds at once y'know."
"Did you?" Goofy asked in the polite tone of someone who thought the other wasn't quite with it.
"Oh yeah. I was sorta floating and flying."
"All at once?" Donald said. "How?"
Sora shrugged. He didn't care about how's. "I saw 'em all, just like I always said I would."
By the time they got back to the boat, Sora was leaning heavily on Goofy, no longer able to hold up his own weight alone. He kept saying strange things about people Donald and Goofy didn't know but, more often that not, his words were too garbled to understand.
"Did he always make this much sense?" Donald muttered.
Goofy just laughed, not caring if Sora was talking about nonsense. All that mattered to him was that his friend was back in one piece, albeit one very exhausted piece.
Captain Dan showed the trio to a small cabin and left them so he could get the boat back to the town. Well, he showed Donald and Goofy – Sora had his eyes shut. Goofy directed Sora to the bed and Sora fell into it, his hands reaching blindly for the sheets that he soon had pulled up to his chin. Curled up under the blankets, Sora had a surprising moment of clarity.
"I really missed you guys," he said, looking at Donald and Goofy with bleary eyes. "I thought maybe you got lost but you were here all along," the end of that sentence had taken on a singsong quality. Sora didn't say anything else. He finally realised he was in a bed and was allowed to sleep properly.
"I wonder what we do now," Goofy said as he sat on one of the cabin's other beds. He didn't need to speak quietly. Nothing short of a world exploding was going to wake Sora up.
Donald sat down as well. "Maybe the King will know."
"We all need to rest for a while," Goofy said. "And the castle needs to be rebuilt. Maybe we can stay there and help out for a while."
Goofy watched his sleeping friend thoughtfully, noticing the changes. Sora's hair was wilder than before but tinged a definitely lighter shade of brown – almost blond in places. And he certainly hadn't failed to hear the lowered pitch of his friend's voice either. But teenage growth spurts weren't really what concerned Goofy. "What d'ya reckon happened while Sora was gone?"
"Dunno. Maybe he'll tell us later." Donald looked at Sora, who had flopped onto his stomach and buried himself beneath the covers so even his head was blanketed. "He got taller though huh?"
"He sure did! I dunno where we'll find clothes to fit him…"
"Yuna… what are you trying to do?"
"Yeah… I see that. I'm just wondering what you're trying to bake."
"A cake for Sora!"
"Um, I think you're gonna need a little help."
"No I don't, I'm fine!"
"Yuna, you don't put the whole egg in… you have to crack it and get rid of the shell."
"Huh? But that doesn't seem very right."
Zidane sighed and picked up an apron for himself. "I'll tell you what, we'll start again and make it together okay?"
"Okay!" And Yuna's mixture of sugar, butter and eggshells went in the dustbin.
"Don't forget to not use sprinkles."
Zidane and Yuna turned to see Kairi walking through the kitchens. She smiled at them both and sat down on a chair beside their work surface, her broken arm resting in a white sling. "Sora doesn't like sprinkles. But he likes chocolate."
"I like chocolate too!" Yuna cheered. "Let's make a chocolate cake Zidane! Do you know how?"
"Of course I know how. I know almost everything."
"Only almost?" Kairi asked with a giggle.
"Well I'm too young to know everything, but I'm getting there," Zidane said as he began searching the castle's impressively large kitchen for all the ingredients.
"When Sora comes back, we can have a party!" Yuna said, bouncing up and down. "And everyone can come! Ooh and I can make Sora's hair look pretty."
"Pretty?" Kairi asked, wondering how anyone could do anything with Sora's mass of hair.
"Uh huh! I got to tie it in bunches once and…"
Kairi burst out with laughter.
Zidane smirked as he returned with cake ingredients. "Oho, that's not all we got up to."
Kairi's eyes sparkled. "Tell me everything!"
"Everything?" Zidane rolled up his sleeves. "Well, how about we start with how we found him way back when in Traverse Town…"
There was no castle, no lake, no broken world to stand in.
This was all new.
He stood in an old forest, the trees towering over him, their green leaves rustling as the wind tried to tear them from their branches. The sky above was orange, twilit, lightly clouded but otherwise perfect. Everything seemed to sway around him.
But he was tired to the very core of his being, and this would all have to wait. He told the figures in his dream the same thing as he walked away.
"You can wait. I'm taking a break."
Sora simply slept, a smile tilting the corners of his mouth.
End of the Road.