Pre-game ficlet. Continuation of "Sands of Tide".

Special thanks to Dagas for the title.

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Ocean's Promise

Akai Kitsune

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Kairi was bored.

The bonfire flared to life as it was lit, the elaborate house of dry sticks transforming into a grand torch for all the islands to see. A small crowd gathered around it, listening intently to an empty-faced old man in a robe as he spoke.

"Today, we gather to say farewell to a dear friend..."

Beside her, the mayor's wife, who took care of her - and was almost like a mommy, or so she had been told - placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. Kairi looked up, puzzled, to see the woman's sad, smiling face. She smiled back, then turned away, disliking the feel of those around her.

She hated fake smiles.

Closest to the old man and the bonfire, Sora's mother knelt, her hands clenched into fists in her lap. Her face was a mask of stone, though Kairi could see the glint of tears on her cheeks.

"Everyone's sad," she murmured to herself, unheard by those around her.

What was so sad about a big fire? It wasn't so scary.

"... a good man, a good husband... a good father..."

The old man continued to intone, and Kairi tried to ignore him. She didn't like the sound of his voice. Much like the smiles that the mayor and his wife had given her recently, he sounded false. It sounded like he was reading a storybook that he didn't want to read.

Sora's mother coughed quietly, concealing a sob that nobody seemed to notice.

Kairi noticed. She tried to move forward, but the hand on her shoulder held her back. Looking back up, she was met with disapproval.

"Someday you'll understand," the mayor's wife whispered. "Right now you have to stay here."

The girl pursed her lips into a pout, rocking back on her toes. After a moment, the hand was removed, reaching out to squeeze her husband's arm instead.

"... will always be remembered as a prime example of what every man should hope to be..."

Kairi let her eyes travel past the flames and the crowd towards the beach beyond. It looked empty and abandoned, almost forlorn in the moonlight. Squinting her eyes, she caught sight of movement near the rocks on the far side. After watching the figure for a moment, she tiptoed backwards until she was away from the crowd, and hurried towards the beach, the old man's words following her.

"... man who loved his family..."

AS she drew closer, she saw that it was not just any figure, but a very familiar one.

"Sora!" she cried delightedly, running closer to stand beside him. "What're you doing?"

Sora grunted with exertion, straining against the weight of the boat he seemed to be pushing towards the water. "I'm gonna go look for Daddy."

Kairi blinked. "He's still not back?"

The boy nodded, flipping over and pressing his back against the wood, trying to get a foothold to brace himself. "Everybody thinks he's not coming back. So I have to go find him."

"What if you get lost too?"

Sora shrugged. "I can't get lost. Riku's coming too."

Kairi glanced around. "He is? Where is he?"

"I dunno." Sora grit his teeth, his bare feet slipping in the dry sand. "But Riku always comes, so I'm going to get the boat ready for when he shows up."

"I think he's with everybody else..." she pointed to the bonfire across the beach.

He shook his head. "Is not! You know what that is?"

Kairi thought for a moment. "You mean other than a big fire?"

"That's just silly, Kairi!"

The little girl giggled, waving her hands around for a moment. "I can't help it, I was so bored there! The old man was talking and talking, and everybody was really sad." She sent her friend a pleading look. "Even -you- look too serious, Sora."

Sora let out a sigh and slumped to the ground, breathing hard. "That's 'cause..."

Kairi peered down at him as he trailed off, then sat beside him. "Sora?"

He sniffled, bangs hiding his expression.

"... can't be happy all the time..."

"Are you crying?" Kairi asked quietly, her hand beside his.

Small fingers curled around her own. "Why would I?"

She fell silent, looking out across the sand towards the bonfire. "Well... because everybody else is."

Sora's hand shifted away, brushing across his eyes. He looked up, a broad smile on his face. "I'm not! I promised Daddy I wouldn't cry!"

Kairi frowned at him. "I think you were crying."

"Was not!"

"Were too!"

"Sora and Kairi fighting? No way!"

Both children turned, hearing a third voice interrupt their argument.

Sora grinned again. "See? I told you Riku'd come!"

Riku crossed his arms. "And I thought you were gonna try and leave me behind or something."

"No way," Sora shook his head enthusiastically. "Where I go, Riku goes!"

"Good," Riku nodded. "So let's get going!"

Kairi jumped to her feet as the boys began to push against the boat. "What about me?"

Sora blinked at her. "You wanna come too, Kairi? It might be scary..."

"I'm not scared!" she replied defiantly. "I want to come too - I can help!"

"Sure, Kairi," Riku then said, thinking intently. "You can keep a look out for monsters."

Her rebellious expression melted, eyes wide. Sora and Riku watched her seriously for a moment, before collapsing into giggles in the sand. They fell back to back, grinning helplessly at the now-angered girl.

"It wasn't so funny!" she stomped her foot, arms crossing over her sundress. "I really wasn't scared at all!"

The boys continued to laugh, but Sora reached out and tugged on her hand, pulling her down to sit beside him. Finally she relented, sharing his smile.

"When we go," Sora spoke after the laughter had died down, "You can come with us, Kai. I promise. You can make us laugh."

Kairi didn't answer, rocking back and forth, her toes digging in the sand.

"That's your job," Riku grumbled, ruffling Sora's hair playfully. Sora just smiled and shrugged.

The three sat in silence, listening to the waves and crackle of the fire in the distance.

"Mom wanted me to watch the fire with her tonight," Sora said suddenly, his voice barely a whisper. "She said we had to... to pay respects to the dead." His gaze lowered to the ground. "We had a fight."

Riku dug through the sand, his hand emerging with a small stone. He tossed it behind him, satisfied as it sank into the water.

"Everybody says he's dead," he responded, turning to look at the younger boy. "So what if he is?"

Sora buried his face against his knees, his voice muffled as he answered.

"I'll never say it."

Kairi hugged him gently, resting her head against his shoulder. "It's okay, Sora. Your Daddy will come back, and then everybody will be happy again..."

Riku stood, offering no such comfort, a handful of stones in his grasp. Instead, he remained beside his best friend, the very image of a protective guardian.

They stayed there for most of the night, gathered around an old, rickety boat, the sound of Sora's tears drifting quietly through the night air.




For days, Riku and Kairi saw nothing of Sora. They met every day at the boat, making plans for their adventure as they waited for him to come and join them, adding any supplies they could carry to a growing pile beside it. They dug a path in the sand so the boat could slide easily into the water, fixing it each morning when the mud collapsed and filled it again. And each night they passed by Sora's house and watched for any sign of him, but the doors were locked, and the curtains closed.

After a week had passed, Riku jogged down to the beach as usual and found a brown-haired figure sitting in the place where the boat had been. Looking up, he caught sight of a small, wooden tip sticking out of the water, several meters offshore.

"I guess the boat had a hole," he said obviously, moving to stand beside the other boy.

Sora nodded, hugging his knees to his chest.

Riku watched the boat's remains as it slipped beneath the surface and disappeared. He let himself fall to the ground, scuffling through the sand again until he emerged with a rock to throw.

He looked over at his friend, his expression deadly serious. "Want to write a letter?"

Sora looked up, his blue eyes laced with scarlet, the tears long gone from his face.

He smiled.


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End

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AN: I wuv pre-game. Pre-game makes me happy. Purr.

Still not too sure about the ending of this one. I felt the need to have Sora speak, but I wasn't too comfortable with that either... I'm not really certain of what he might have said, either... -_-;; Writing is such a lovable, infuriating chore.

Thank you all for reading.