Sora was dreaming.
His dreams were pretty normal, for once. There were no more mysterious calls of destiny or stained glass platforms, a welcome change. For the most part, his dreams were harmless nonsense formed from random worries of yesterday and whatever his subconscious could throw at him.
Eventually his dreams condensed into something plausible and Sora found himself playing basketball - or was it volleyball? - with his friends. On his team were Kairi and Riku, as well as Donald and Goofy. Donald and Goofy! How he missed them! Too bad they had to go back to Disney Castle so soon.
The opposing team consisted of the kids from Twilight Town: Hayner, Olette, Pence, Vivi, and... Seifer? Yes, Seifer. Sure enough, Rai and Fuu cheered from the sidelines.
"He's gonna beat you all, y'know?"
Well, dreams weren't supposed to make sense anyway.
A particularly strong serve from Kairi sent the ball flying out of the court. They saw it bounce once, twice on the pavement beyond the benches and roll away like a super fast bowling ball. Against all logic - except dream logic - it rolled up, beyond the Sandlot, into the Market Square. Only now did Sora recognize the beige buildings, the orange skies. They were in Twilight Town. "I'll get it!" he called, and off he went.
How on earth could a basketball (volleyball?) roll so fast? And how on earth was he able to navigate the streets so swiftly? It was as though he was born and raised in Twilight Town - but he wasn't. Sora had only visited that pleasant place three times. Or was it four?
Then again, dreams weren't supposed to make sense.
The ball came to a stop. Sora froze when he saw where - the feet of a man.
He had his back to the boy. He stood straight and statue-still. He was tall and rail-thin, and his hair was bluish-gray ... or was it grayish-blue? His one striking feature was his clothing, a plain white business suit.
Emblazoned on the back was the Organization XIII symbol.
The man turned around and bowed most deeply. "I have come for you, my liege," he said.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP!
"Wake up! It's 7:00 AM!" an alarm clock next to his right ear screamed, but in its language of beeps. The fifteen year old boy shut it up with a slap of his hand. It was a bright and beautiful morning; exposed to the warmth of the sun outside, his dream lost much of its power, and he could comb it over with a rational mind.
Of course he dreamed about Twilight Town; just yesterday he was talking with Riku and Kairi about visiting Twilight Town (and Disney Castle) again, if it were possible. Of course he knew Twilight Town's streets inside and out; they were laid out so that even newcomers could navigate it. He had explored the place most thoroughly in his few visits. Of course he dreamed about playing ball; yesterday he thought about trying out for the boy's basketball team at school; also, Kairi told him that she was thinking about trying out for the girl's volleyball team.
And of course he dreamed about a mysterious man wearing the Organization XIII symbol, because ... because ... fine, so he couldn't answer that! So what? The Organization was dead and gone forevermore. He himself saw to that.
Now more important things beckoned, like breakfast and school. As morning wore on, Sora forgot more and more of his dream until it departed his brain completely.
"Ready for school?" his best friend asked. They had five minutes until the bell rang.
Riku laughed. "Me neither. Catching up is going to be insane."
Uncharacteristically, Sora was looking forward to school. Even adventures on foreign worlds and battles with Heartless and Nobodies got tedious after a while. Destiny High was going to be a fresh start, a change of pace, a return to normalcy. Sora felt like the luckiest person in the world; he wasn't even a year behind.
"How come," asked Riku (who wasn't so lucky), "you weren't held back a grade?" He tried to sound hurt but came off as humorous. "You spent most of last year sleeping! In a pod! At least I was conscious."
"I dunno. It just happened. When I came back to re-enroll, I took some placement tests and knew stuff I never learned," admitted Sora.
"Lucky lucky," Riku said in jest. He knew who gave Sora that good luck. God bless the late philosopher-king; Ansem the Wise, when he hastened the restoration of Sora's memories, aided him in an unexpected way. Subconsciously, Sora still had memories of Roxas within him - the Twilight Town version of Roxas, of course. Those memories not only included six fateful days of summer vacation, but the school year before that - the school year Sora himself missed. No such false memory provided a substitute year for Riku.
"Where's Kairi?" Sora wondered. It was four minutes until the bell.
Riku could provide no help. "Listen, I have to go to my own homeroom now. See you at lunch," he reminded as he left; the sixteen year old was to attend a different class, a different grade. Sora would have to search for Kairi on his own.
He's lucky too, Sora thought as he watched his best friend go. He got back to Destiny Islands too. At least he knew where Riku was; now where was Kairi? He scanned the hallway until he spotted his female friend. The girl was smiling, her uniform very becoming of her, her red hair held back in a short ponytail. She had some papers in her hands, and her book bag was open. She was chatting with someone.
Sora froze when he saw that someone.
He had blue hair cut in a style similar to what Kairi used to sport. Unlike everyone else, he wore the long-sleeved uniform. Why was Sora reminded of this morning, and why was Kairi chatting with him so closely? "So … you've never been to class before?" Kairi was asking.
"No, this is completely new to me," the boy replied. "Getting up early was a pain!"
"You'll get used to it." Kairi smiled. "Not ever? Not even art classes?"
"No, Dad taught me everything I know. I told you all about him, remember?" the other guy also smiled. "He once won an award for something he did for the -"
"Hey Kairi!" Sora butted in. Sure it was rude, but it was Kairi and she was fine with his antics. He scanned the new guy. "Um … do I know you?"
Kairi laughed, "Hey, Sora! Of course I know you, silly! From down the street!" She nodded to the new guy. "Oh … Sora, this is Rufaus. He just moved here." She gestured to Sora. "Rufaus, this is Sora. He, um …" She searched for an alibi. "He just came back from a long trip."
"Hi. Rufaus, right?" Sora offered a friendly hand. Time to make a good first impression! "Welcome to Destiny Islands! So … how long have you been here?"
"A few months. Pleased to meet you," replied the new guy, accepting his hand. Unlike Sora, his manner was reserved. "You … you must be friends with Kairi."
Sora nodded vigorously. Anyone who's friends with Kairi is friends with me, Sora told himself. Thus he put strength into his handshake, and vigor into his grin. The new guy nodded, or rather, began to nod, but yelped. "Sorry … don't know my own strength," apologized the brunet, who had adventures to thank for his improved grip. I didn't grip that hard, did I? "Have I seen you around?" he added.
"No. In fact, I ... hmm. I see." The new guy nervously looked at Kairi. "Kairi, how come you never mentioned him before? If he's your friend…"
"I know," the redheaded girl apologized to both Sora and him. "You see, I … had a lot of things on my mind at the time. Honest."
"That's fine. I know the feeling." The new guy paused then added, "Come to think of it, you were somewhat out of it right before break. You know, right up to your trip."
Her trip to Twilight Town, Sora thought.
"That's right. It was out of the blue, wasn't it? I decided to just go and forgot to tell everyone," Kairi meanwhile quipped.
"Yeah, I remember calling your house. No one knew where you went! Where did you go?"
"Se … several places. I had fun. Didn't we, Sora?" She went silent. Whoops. Stupid slip of the tongue! She might as well mention Nobodies.
The new guy titled his head and lowered his voice. "So … you were with Sora?"
"Kinda. Not the whole trip," she said quickly, looking uncomfortable. Of course she would! Other worlds weren't common knowledge and were supposed to be a secret. How would the common person react to the concept of gummi blocks? We must protect the world border, thought Sora.
"How long?" inquired the new guy.
"We knew each other since we were six! Oh, you mean the trip. Um … towards the end."
"We ran into each other at the very end," Sora butted in again. Rude, but he didn't care, since the bell was going to ring any minute. Besides, Kairi looking uncomfortable was making him uncomfortable. "Anyway … what about you? What did you do during break?"
"… not much." He sure clammed up quick, thought Sora.
"Really?" asked Kairi.
"Nothing at all, I assure you." The new guy relaxed. "I stayed home. Where was your trip to, anyway?"
Kairi and Sora looked at each other. What to tell? Suddenly the bell rang. Kairi glanced at the classroom door. "Rufaus," she called. "Let's … we can talk more after class, okay? Or lunch!"
"Sure, lunch. Nice meeting you, Sora," the new guy said and left. Sora looked on in wonder. He just popped up outta nowhere. And he needs to be more forward Then again, he wasn't like that last time … wait, what last time? We never met before.
"Saved by the bell!" Sora sighed. "That was a close call! We nearly spilled the beans! Who is this guy, Kairi?"
"That guy, Rufaus … who is he?"
"He's my friend." Kairi gathered up her papers and book bag. "He moved here while you and Riku were gone. He's not that shy once you get to know him, really."
"You know Riku and you aren't my only friends!" Kairi chided. "What about Selphie?"
"I know. It's just … hey, does he look like someone we've met?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Oh." So much for that. So much for first impressions, it was kinda cut short. Who was this guy, really? Why did he invoke thoughts of strange nothing?
"Uh, hello. My name's Rufaus .. uh, full name's Rufaus J. Reddison, and obviously ... I'm new here. Yeah," Rufaus stammered. Ms. Trepe had insisted that he introduce himself to his new classmates before class began, so there he stood in the front of the classroom. What there a way out of this maddening stage fright?
"Hi, Rufaus!" piped up Sora from his seat. In the next seat, Kairi smiled.
Encouraged, Rufaus began his impromptu speech. "I moved here from Kismet a few months ago with my uncle Thaddeus," he began. "Kismet's a big city, so I'm still getting used to this place. We live in an apartment on the other side of town. It's a nice place, small and neat. Pretty far, though. I have to take the bus, but I don't mind." He paused, wondering what to put in next. "Truth is, this is the first school I've attended, ever. I used to be home-schooled … until last year." He would have continued; it was his uncle - his new legal guardian - who insisted he attend school instead of continuing his education on his own. He decided not to mention that fact.
The blue-haired guy looked nervous, and the brunet inwardly winced in sympathy; he remembered battling stage fright while performing in Atlantica. Tell us more about yourself, Sora inwardly commanded.
"I … I can't think of anything else relevant right now," Rufaus finished, unfortunately. "I guess that's it. Be seeing you."
Don't be shy, you have to make a good first impression in class, thought Sora. Meanwhile, was there a way for Sora to help him with it? Any friend of Kairi is a friend of mine. Sora thought back to when Kairi introduced herself in front of everyone in Kindergarten; she had no stage fright at all. The new redheaded girl cheerfully sprouted her name, age, likes, dislikes, and favorite colors, places, people without hesitation. "I like the mayor, and I like Sora because he found me on the beach!" she had quipped at the end. Sora smiled at the memory.
Now he knew how he could help the new guy. "Question!" he called raised up his hand. "What do you like?"
"What?" The new guy was taken back. "You mean … hobbies?" Interest after interest came and went in his brain, but refused to come out of his mouth: cooking, baking, science, abstract art, science fiction, mystery fiction, nonfiction, et cetera. Why couldn't he speak? "Uh ... writing and drawing," he managed to state after some effort. No I don't, he thought in panic.
"Okay, we know what you like, but what do you not like?" insisted Sora.
"Hot tropical climates," answered Rufaus with utmost seriousness, sweltering in his non-summer clothes. At this, the class laughed in good humor. "Is that it?"
"What do you think of Destiny Islands?"
Now that was a worthy question; what did Rufaus think of his current home? He hated it initally; it was small, it was humid, it was his uncle who wanted to move here; they had no real reason to leave Kismet. "I don't know it enough to have an informed opinion," Rufaus said. The class laughed again.
"Favorite foods?" Nearby, Kairi looked at Sora. This was weird, even for him.
Rufaus inwardly gulped. He had several, but he forgot which ones. "Anything I cook myself," he chose finally.
"Least favorite food?" Nearby, Kairi wondered, why the questions?
"Hamburgers." Because his uncle loved them with a slobbering passion.
"Least favorite drink?"
"I ... I really don't know."
"Cool…" Sora wondered how make questions it would take to relax the new guy. Rufaus should have gotten friendly and comfortable by now. But he still looked tense. I know, I haven't asked him anything personal or interesting yet. "Um … you said you live with your uncle. What about your parents?"
Rufaus blanched. A veil of horror came down on his black eyes.
Sora blinked. Did he say something wrong? "What happened to your parents?" Sora asked. "Since you live with your uncle -"
"Excuse me?" It was Kairi, who had raised your hand. "Ms. Trepe? I think …"
Crack! went the last strand of tolerance in Rufaus mind. Without replying, Rufaus left (fled, really) to take his seat. He never looked at Sora. He refused to look at Sora. Instead he looked at Kairi.
"Yes, Kairi?" asked Ms. Trepe. Kairi shrugged and shook her head, her question gone. Or never having existed. In her seat, she sighed. She should have told Sora more about her friend earlier, about his parents, about their fate. Too late now. Now was time for Ms. Trepe to take charge.
"Let us go over our goals for this semester, shall we?" she suggested.
There goes my second impression, Sora thought, ignoring his teacher. Most people like to talk about themselves, don't they? What's up with him? He hit a nerve, didn't he? It if weren't for Sora's inexplicable interest in the new guy, this wouldn't have occurred …
As class continued, Sora occasionally sneaked a glance towards the back of the classroom. The new guy wasn't lying when he said he was home-schooled, but he adapted fast. At the end of class, he was answering questions and paying attention like a pro. The pro caught Sora's stare and gave him an odd look. The brunet broke his gaze in embarrassment.
Finally, when class ended, Kairi got her chance to explain. "His parents died last year," she said.
Sora was aghast. "How did they -?"
"I don't know. I never asked him."
"C'mon, Sora! It's common sense. He doesn't want to talk about it, I won't bug him about it, duh."
"Oh." An unrelated question popped up inside Sora. "When did you meet him?"
"Right when he moved. He came here while you and Riku were away." During the time I forgot about you, she wanted to add, that's why I forgot to tell him about you. But she knew he could puzzle it out on his own. Hopefully.
Sora had no mind for puzzles, however. Instead, he was curious about the new guy. He was sure he could place him somewhere. "You and him … you sure seem to know him a lot -"
"We just met. It's nothing," Rufaus spoke for Kairi.
The new guy had arrived (snuck up?) behind them while they were talking. His face appeared neutral. Was he waiting from an apology from Sora? Huh, he has black eyes, like Yuffie. Maybe that was why he reminded Sora of someone - of Yuffie?
"I saw him at the moving van, and I decided to help him out," elaborated Kairi.
"She gave me a tour of the whole island, just like that," smiled Rufaus. "She was a wonderful guide."
"He insisted," joked Kairi, "even though I told him he didn't need a tour."
"She's right. Destiny Island is a small place. Everyone finds their way around the island sooner or later," interjected Sora. "You never needed a tour. Anyway…"
"Mm?" Rufaus had his full attention on Sora now.
The brunet scanned his mind, picking each word carefully. He wants an apology, I better give it. "Listen, about my bunch of questions earlier. I didn't mean to … freak you out." He waited for Rufaus to accept it.
One long pause later, Kairi added, "He means he's sorry."
The new guy said, "No, you didn't freak me out, I fell to stage fright."
Kairi giggled with mirthful violet eyes. "You can talk about foreign authors for hours, but you can't talk about yourself for five minutes?"
"Not in front of people! In front of you, sure. You're such a nice person."
"Not I'm not." Kairi gathered up her papers. "Just ask my parents!"
"Anyway," Sora interrupted again, "Shouldn't we head to next period or something?" Now it was he who felt uncomfortable.
Inside Sora was a cherished illusion. It was an image of Kairi on the beach, day after day, waiting for her two friends to return. She would have waited forever; she remembered his promise to her, and it was up to him to keep it. This image spurred him on during the early days of his second adventure, until he learned about her trip to Twilight Town and subsequent capture by Axel. But an illusion, in the end, was only an illusion.
In reality, Kairi spent her days hanging out and having fun with a new guy? Who is this guy? How come Kairi knows him so well? How come he reminds me of … someone I don't know?
"So, Kairi made friends with this new guy why we were gone?" asked Riku.
It was lunchtime. Sora had bought lunchboxes; Riku resigned himself to the short line for meat loaf; Kairi was still in line for pizza. "Yep. He's okay," said the brunet. "Kinda nerdy, it's just that…" He wondered if his friend would understand. Here goes: "He reminds me of someone, but I can't remember who!"
"That's the thing, I don't even know. Freaky, huh?" It felt even freakier than becoming the Keyblade Master or visiting strange worlds.
"You said he has short hair, right? He reminds you of Kairi one year ago, because his hair is the same as hers one year ago." Riku nonchalantly dug into his meat loaf. "Simple as that."
Sora wrinkled his nose at his peanut butter sandwich. "Um, blue isn't red! Maybe that's it. Blue hair. Have I seen someone with blue hair before?"
"What?" Now that piqued Riku's interest. "What's wrong with blue hair?" He himself got looks from tourists several times, thanks to his rare silver hair.
"It's pretty weird," Sora admitted. "To see someone who reminds me of someone I don't even remember." That must be what was making him uncomfortable. Maybe he came a picture of someone in the news and forgot. Maybe he dreamed it up?
"Don't worry about him, Sora," assured Riku. "Can't wait to meet him."
"I guess I'm down because I blew my first impression with him. In class," Sora murmured and proceeded to eat his peanut butter sandwich; he couldn't wait for Kairi any longer. "They say first impressions determine everything."
"This Rufaus … why is he so important?"
"Well, he's good friends with Kairi, right? I want him to be good friends with me too. I know!" Sora pointed up with an index finger. "Maybe I can ask him who he reminds me of!" That could fix everything! Now where was Kairi? The pizza line wasn't that long, was it?
Riku resumed working on his meat loaf. Sora waited for Kairi and wondered about Rufaus, how to ask, and how to do a better second impression. Bad first impressions never stopped a Keyblade hero from doing that he must, such as gaining the friendship of the new guy. For what reason? Lack of reason never stopped a Keyblade hero from sallying forth. The Keyblade hero needed a plan, though …
The idea of a one-on-one talk came to Sora, but didn't appeal to him.
When Kairi finally arrived, Rufaus was following her, of course. Where else was the new guy going to sit? Ignoring the brunet, he went straight for the silver-haired teen. "Riku, right? Kairi told me about you," he said, nodding his head. "You were missing for a whole year."
"That's right," answered the silver-haired teen. "Lost at sea."
"Kairi mentioned you once. But she never mentioned Sora," Rufaus noted. Meanwhile, Sora noted that the new guy was ignoring him. On purpose? On principle? Boy, did that made him uncomfortable. Well, let the new guy make small talk. Sora He cleared his throat. No go.
"Is it true," asked Rufaus, "that you tried to make a raft to sail to other lands?"
"Sort of. Not exactly other lands, but … you get the idea." Riku looked at Kairi. "So, Kairi told you about the raft, huh?"
"No, she only mentioned it in passing, in fact. Exactly what was your plan?"
"What plan?" Riku shrugged. "We … we planned to just sail out and see what land masses we hit. If nothing, we were to sail back. What could happen?"
"Storms and tides. But never mind. Kairi mentioned nothing about a raft at first."
"I was too busy guiding you around downtown," Kairi told him. "I decided to visit the new mall downtown the same day he was moving into his apartment. Neat, huh Riku?"
"Lucky, you mean," said Rufaus. He did not go into further details. Whoo, she's a beaut, ain't she Rufaus? his uncle had said. I wish my first crush was a cute redhead! Lucky boy! Date her already!
"Yeah, if you really were lucky, you would have met Riku and Wakka. They would have lifted your uncle's stuff." Kairi rolled her eyes. "He had me help him move all his stuff. I mean all of it."
"Sorry about my uncle," Rufaus sighed.
Maybe I saw his uncle some time before, mused Sora, and he looks like Rufaus. And I forgot all about him. "Aren't you going to say hi to me too?" he interjected.
The new guy turned and started to say something else, but finally said, "Hi, Sora."
"That's more like it. Hey, does your uncle Thaddeus look like you?"
"Oh, no!" Rufaus grimaced. "Dead god, no! What made you think that?"
Sora was taken aback by his outburst. Didn't Kairi mention something about his family and parents being a touchy topic? "Well …" he stalled, "he's your uncle, and … I thought about family resemblance, so -"
"Ugh, just no." Rufaus firmly shook his head. "I am nothing like my uncle, or my grandmother or other uncle. Or any of my relatives. Except my parents."
"Oh." So much for that. Man, that went weird. "Then … what did your parents look like?" Suddenly he felt pressure on his left arm. Kairi was grabbing it, warning him. Touchy subject, her hand warned.
He's hiding something, suggested Riku's upraised eyebrow.
Please drop the the subject, said Rufaus' black eyes.
Sora had a sudden image of him dressed in white. The image vanished, replaced by a nervous chuckle. "Sorry, didn't mean to offend you. I guess your uncle didn't get along with your folks, huh?" Whoops. Did he say didn't? Didn't Kairi say something about dead parents being a touchy subject?
Now he felt really uncomfortable. At least he wasn't the only one, if Rufaus was of any indication. Even Kairi looked mildly worried. Riku came to everyone rescue by announcing, "We're wasting time not eating."
Guess what they spent the rest of lunch hour doing? Not talking.
Because Rufaus took the bus downtown after school, Sora had no opportunity for a third impression. "I'm sorry, Kairi! I forgot about his parents during lunch. And … I had a couple of things on my mind all day," apologized Sora. "I blew it, didn't I?"
The trio were walking home from school. "It's not your fault," said Kairi. "Rufaus' just shy in public, that's all. He' s very open once you get to know him."
Sora nodded eagerly in response. "That's what I have to do. Get to know him."
"You just have to lay low the rest of the week," suggested Riku.
"Man, this new guy is really getting to you. What's with you, and what's so urgent about Rufaus?" pondered Riku. He hated to see Sora unhappy. It was out-of-character for Sora to be unhappy, in his opinion. Or in a coma and trapped in a crystal egg.
"It's not his fault, but he makes me feel kinda … strange, that's all. Like déjà vu. So I end up asking him really inappropriate questions. If only I know who he looks like! That would fix it."
"No," said Riku. He had his own theory. "I think it's something else."
"Maybe I can ask him to hang out with us," said Sora. "Maybe I'll finally learn who he reminds me of."
"Forget that, already," admonished Riku. Kairi just shook her head.
"No, seriously," Sora pressed on. "I'm sure I've seen him before, or someone like him. Somewhere … maybe not even on Destiny Islands. I'm thinking maybe Hollow Bastion or Twilight Town. Yeah, definitely Twilight Town. What do you think?" He looked expectantly at his two best friends. They could only return puzzled looks. "Guess not, huh?"
Riku was right. The new guy was getting to him. And it wasn't the new guy's fault, but his. What was wrong with him? Why is he so worked up about some person he barely knew? Must be from not sleeping well last night, he thought. Sure, he woke up when the alarm clock told him so, but he hadn't felt that refreshed.
"You can make it up tomorrow," suggested Kairi.
"I hope so." I really hope so, he thought. Right now the new guy doesn't exactly like me. For some unknown reason, that bothered him deeply. How could he get close to the new guy if they weren't not on friendly terms? The new guy reminded him of someone, and it was not Yuffie or Kairi.