It's me again... I've discovered that the secret to falling in love with a fandom is to write a million one shots until you know the characters well enough to write an endless epic. *snicker* So here goes.

Disclaimer: I own it not. I just write for my own amusement. If I was making money off of this, wouldn't it cost you 50 cents to click on the link? (Psst! If you review, I'll give you a discount!)


~*~


Hero's Welcome

Akai Kitsune


~*~


Fly me to the moon

And let me play among the stars

Let me see what spring is like

On Jupiter and Mars

In other words

Hold my hand

In other words

Darling, kiss me



~*~


It wasn't until after three days of traveling on the seemingly endless road from Kingdom Hearts that Sora, Donald, and Goofy reached the summit from which Mickey's grand castle could be seen. Pluto, who had dodged their pursuit for a long time before allowing himself to be caught and giving up Mickey's letter, scampered ahead of them, barking happily at the sight of home.

Sora squinted in the sunlight, shading his eyes. "Wow," he whispered, "It's huge! You guys live there?"

Goofy nodded with a broad grin. "Yep. And you will too, until we figure out what to do next, right?"

The boy didn't respond at first, too shocked at the sight of such a brilliant kingdom. "It's as big as the castle at Hollow Bastion was," he finally murmured.

"Wait'll you see inside!" Goofy continued, waving them both forward. "You're gonna meet everyone, and we'll see what they've been up to while we were gone!"

Even Donald couldn't restrain his smile, running forward to see those who would be waiting for them.

Sora smiled for his friends. 'They're so happy to be home... so happy to see everyone.'

'Will... will anyone be happy to see me, too?'

Hesitating for only a moment on the hilltop, he finally stepped forward, following the others to the castle gates.


~*~


"Donald!"

"Daisy!"

The two ducks flew into each others arms - almost literally, for when they neared the bottom of the hill within the palace, Donald leapt into a glide, soaring towards his wife. Sora couldn't help but laugh; he had never seen Donald so carefree. He and Goofy followed at a more reserved pace, until another figure walked down the road, followed by a group of children, three of which Sora recognized easily.

"Boys!" Donald gasped, as the duckling trio lunged at him and latched on. "You made it back too!"

Huey, Dewey, and Louie all grinned back at him. "Sure did, Uncle Donald!"

"Dad!" the last child, a small boy who looked remarkably like Goofy, hurried forward as Sora's second companion knelt down to pick him up.

"Did ya miss me, Max?" Goofy laughed, and the boy answered with a smile and a hug. Sora was stunned yet again; it made him realize how little he knew about his companions.

'All this time... Donald mentioned Daisy a few times, so I figured there was someone, but...'

'Goofy... I didn't even think of it. He must've missed his son so much while we were gone.'


Pluto was barking again, jumping and dancing around the one who had brought the children. Sora turned his attention to her, surprised by what he saw.

It was a mouse, her appearance astonishing similar to the king they had seen just days before in a realm of darkness. He felt a sudden lump form in his throat, catching sight of the crown resting on the female mouse's head.

'This... this is...'

He dreaded what might be said if her eyes turned to him, but she was looking at the others, smiling happily and trying to calm down the ecstatic dog who circled her. Relieved, Sora watched his friends' reunions for a moment longer, a small smile on his face, then quietly slipped away, moving towards the gardens by the lake.

As as he did so, the mouse's eyes lifted to notice his disappearance.


~*~


Standing by the edge of the water, Sora closed his eyes, placing a hand over his heart. The warmth, where Kairi's heart had nestled within his own, was still there, despite its recent emptiness. He could feel her with him, and it seemed to make him all the more lonely.

"I'll come back to you, I promise!"

"I know you will!"

'But... will I be able to keep that promise?'


Thinking back, he knew it was reckless. Leon and the others had told him it would be impossible to cross to different worlds, now that the walls that had once kept them separated were back. The gummi ships were useless with such barriers.

'There has to be another way. I'll just have to think harder to find it.'

'Kairi's counting on me.'


"The river's very pretty, isn't it?"

Sora spun around, the Keyblade half-summoned to his hand before he calmed himself. After traveling and living on his toes for so long, always waiting for the inevitable Heartless attacks, he was still too jumpy to really feel at ease anywhere.

In front of him, the same mouse from before stood quietly, hands clasped at her stomach, her expression unfazed by his reaction.

"You must be the queen," he said quietly, his eyes drifting to the ground.

How could he tell her what he'd done? How he'd locked her husband - maybe forever - in a realm of darkness, trapped with an uncounted number of Heartless?

"I am Queen Minnie... and you must be the Keybearer," she replied, smiling gently. Inwardly, he cringed. "Welcome to the Magical Kingdom."

'After what happened... would I really be welcome here?'

'Will they understand that... it had to be this way?'


"Thanks," he said lamely.

She drew closer, glancing over with that same smile on her face. "I look forward to hearing your stories. It must have been exciting, traveling to many different worlds."

Sora shrugged. "Yeah... exciting."

'Scary, too, though. Sometimes I just... wanted to go home.'

'But until now, there was never a place to go back to, was there?'


A thought suddenly occurred to him, and he looked back at her. "Hey, you're the one who asked Jiminy Cricket to travel with us, aren't you? To keep track of what happened?"

She smiled again. "Yes. He told you that?"

The Keyblade Master nodded, pulling a small, worn journal from one of his pockets. Minnie watched him, her eyes growing curious.

"Jiminy went back to his own world," Sora explained after a moment, absently flipping through the book. "But he kept track of everything that happened... everything we did. He asked me to give it to you when we got here."

Minnie took the journal as he offered it, tucking it under her arm. "Thank you. I'm sure he did an excellent job of recording your adventures."

Sora nodded again, looking back at the waterfall. "He sure did. Wrote down just about everything. He kept track of the reports we found about the Heartless, too - that's what we thought King Mickey left to find, at first."

She clasped her hands together, moving to stand beside him. "It was a good guess. Mickey always enjoyed his talks with Ansem. When he became more and more immersed in his work with the Heartless... we all felt it." Shaking her head, Minnie sighed. "Such a sad betrayal of what was once a good man."

Sora stared at her, surprise evident in his gaze. His experiences with Ansem were far from enjoyable, and the former ruler of Hollow Bastion had never once shown any indication of being good anything.

'How can someone change that much in so-'

"I'm not afraid of the darkness!"

"How about it, Sora? Let's join forces to save her. We can do it, together."

"You were just the delivery boy. Sorry, your part's over now."

"Your heart? What good will that weak little thing do for you?"

'... but... yeah, it's possible.'

'People can always change.'

Heedless of his turmoiled thoughts, Minnie smiled at him. "You look as if you don't believe it, Sora. I felt the same when I heard Ansem had become a servant of darkness; I couldn't believe he would do such a thing."

Sora shrugged. "It's not that I don't believe it. For the right reasons, people can change so easily. It's staying the same that's hard."

"Sora, don't ever change."

'I... I never wanted things to change. Not like Riku did.'

'I want to go home... back to where we were before...'

"That's true," Minnie agreed thoughtfully. "When the world around you is changing, it's difficult to not change with it, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Sora watched the river flow past, then looked imploringly at her, jerking a gloved hand towards the water. "Can I...?"

She nodded. "By all means."

Tugging his shoes and socks loose, he waded into the water, not caring if his pants were soaked in moments. The water felt so good. Cool and refreshing, not grainy like the ocean used to-

'I think I needed this.'

'This feeling...'

'I was losing myself. I was losing these memories...'


He could picture it so easily, standing there, when he couldn't before. From the water's edge, there was the dock, the treehouse... the supply shack, the coconut trees... Riku's island, where they used to spar for hours and hours... the Secret Place...

"Feels like home," he finally admitted, opening one eye to smile wryly at the queen.

She giggled. "I'm glad you feel that way."

"Last time I saw home," Sora murmured, half to himself, "It was ripped apart by Ansem."

'And Riku... Riku was...'

"Your voice can no longer reach him where he is."

"His heart belongs again to darkness."


He clenched his eyes shut tightly, willing away the memories. Riku had broken free, and though he was still trapped in Kingdom Hearts, it wouldn't be for long.

'He smiled. He could still smile at me, after all that had happened. We can still go back... can't we?'

'We can go back to being best friends...'


"Come on, Sora! Together, we can do it!"

Together...

'Yeah...'


'And maybe... maybe he'll forgive me. Maybe he'll let me tell him how sorry I am, for forgetting him. For letting him fall.'

"It's hard, isn't it," Minnie said quietly. He looked back in surprise as she continued. "Being away from your family, from your friends."

Sora bit his lip. "Well... I have Donald and Goofy."

"Yes, but they're home now," she pointed out gently. "They have their loved ones with them again, after such a long journey. Do you miss home?"

He closed his eyes. The islands were there, so close in his mind, yet infinitely far out of reach. His mother's gentle touch, Kairi's bright smile. Riku's casual laughter. Wakka's brotherly advice. Selphie's pranks. Tidus's challenging voice. The blitzball tournaments. The campfires. The raft.

The adventures.

The dreams.

"Every day," he whispered.

Minnie nodded. "I know," she said simply, and he believed her, though he wondered why.

"How could you miss what you never left?" he questioned, licking his lips to combat the sudden dryness he felt.

She smiled sympathetically. "Because my home is where Mickey is," she replied, stepping closer to the water's edge. "My place is at his side, and when I can't be there... it doesn't feel like home. This castle, this great kingdom, isn't really home without him here."

Sora lowered his gaze, the shame in his eyes hidden by his bangs. 'I'm sorry,' he told her silently, hoping against hope that she would understand.

But Minnie looked up instead, her eyes on the bright blue sky above them. "I'll always miss him when he's away from me, and it won't be home until he comes back and calls it home."

Despite her words, she couldn't seem to keep a smile from her expression.

"I know that I'll always be waiting for him," she said quietly. "There's nothing else for me to do. That's just... who I am."

Her gaze rested on him once again. "Don't you know that when the other half of your soul has gone to wander, there's nothing more to do but wait for his return, right in the one place he will know you'll always be?"

Sora's eyes widened, staring at Minnie with realization dawning in his eyes. 'They're the same,' he thought guiltily, turning away. 'Kairi and Queen Minnie... they're exactly the same.'

'Both waiting for someone to come home... someone who -can't- come home until all this is finished.'

'And they're waiting because of me...'


"Sora." Minnie's soft voice made him look back, and she gave him a reproving smile, shaking her head. "My husband left for many reasons, but I know the most important thing for him was to help you. I'm sure he and Riku will be just fine when you find them."

Sora pursed his lips, gaze lowered. "I... guess."

He desperately hoped that Kairi did not - and would never - wear such a sad smile on her face. It was so wrong... she was always smiling so happily for him.

'We should keep moving... we're wasting time...'

'What if they're in trouble? What if they need us, and we're here?'


"Don't worry," Minnie encouraged him, "You've been told so many times... you are the one we rely on in this place. Even if you're alone, or if you're away from your home and your friends... you have our trust. All our faith rests in you, and I know you won't let us down. You'll find them when the time is right."

'Is that... is that true...?'

"For now... it's time to just rest for a little while, until you know you're ready to leave this place."

'Am I allowed to rest? Just a little...'

Minnie's smile was warmer now, gentle and soothing as the wind.

'Like Kairi,' he thought absently. 'Like home.'

"Make yourself at home, Sora," she told him, offering her hand to lead him back to the castle.

Sora closed his eyes, feeling the water flowing around his knees, the wind ruffling through his hair. For a moment, it felt like...

No.

Not home.

He looked up at the queen, and he grinned. "Yeah," he finally nodded. "Thanks."

Wading towards her and hastily slipping on his shoes, he took her proffered hand, and together they rejoined the others.

Not home.

But... close.


~*~


Fill my heart with song

And let me sing forevermore

You are all I long for

All I worship and adore

In other words

Please be true

In other words

I love you



~*~

End

~*~


AN: I wrote this fic while listening to Utada Hikaru's version of this song, and that's the main reason the lyrics appear. But I've always loved it, no matter who sings it, ^_^ (And anyone who doesn't recognize it - shame on you! It's such a classic!) I can't say if the lyrics are tribute to Minnie or Sora - maybe a bit of both, but I'll let you decipher it for yourself.

Thanks for reading.