Dawn fills the sky with yellow light. It looks false, pale, wafer-thin, as easily punched through as a paper nautilus shell or the petal of an island rose. The sea is pale green and as smooth as a piece of bread. Sora wakes, and looks out, and already the rhythm of the waves seems different. Adventure is approaching him like the rush of the horizon and he feels it on his skin: the tingle of salt spray. Tomorrow, they set sail.

Kairi is already down at the beach. She is laying out supplies: wicked hooks for fishing from the raft, lead weights, cord a little thinner than Sora's pinkie finger. Tangerines which glow like streetlights in the mellow dawn. Sora swipes one and peels it all in one long strip: Kairi catches him at it, and swats him gently on back of the head. "Oaf," she says. "We'll run out on the voyage, and you'll get scurvy, and then see if I care. It'll be your own fault!" She pulls back her lips in the young-girl grin. Innocent, mean, beautiful. Sora ducks forward and laughs. What a good kid, is what all the adults think when they look at him: Sora is a good kid. Harmless. A little goofy. Nice, sweet, a bit of a dreamer, sort of a failure at schoolwork - he's got too much energy. A kid with a future playing small-time blitzball, or signing on with a fisherman and then dying young in a storm. Because it's too sad to think of a vital kid like Sora getting old and lonely because he never applied himself to learning long division or the history of anything.

"What d'you want me to do, Kairi?" He asks. Sora has eyes of rich blue, the color of deep water, or the shade way out in the distance where the sky and the ocean kiss up cozy - where water and heaven blend, some say, where if you could swim out far enough and wish hard enough you'd get right out of the water and stroke away into infinity.

"Get more food," she says promptly. "Mom wouldn't give me enough for a long sea voyage, she doesn't think we're really going to do it - maybe some coconuts for drink, and catch some fish. Just for starters."

"Aww," Sora replies, acknowledging and sort of complaining all at once. "Why'm I doing all this? Isn't Riku around?" And where is the lazy dog, anyway, the errant best friend with eyes the turquoise of shallow ocean? It's early and it's too awful to think that only he and Kairi might be suffering this way.

"Riku promised to bring back a compass, and some raincoats, and some maps," Kairi says, with a little flounce. "Go get the fish already, Sora."

"What are you gonna do?" he asks, only she's already off, messing about incomprehensibly with the canvas sail that thrashes white as a gull's wing. Sora scratches at his grungy hair and sets off towards the lagoon where the fish like to come in and bask. He'll catch something there.

This is Sora's special and unique talent, and it's what people remark on about him at school board meetings and before blitzball games: Sora, the kid who catches fish with his hands. He has a quick grip and a good eye, both of which one needs to make a grab for a slippery tuna bare-handed and actually manage to hold it. He likes catching fish, he likes to fish: likes the weight of the sleek body extending his arm, likes the way the mass of it throws him off, just a little. Likes curling his fingers down in the mouth and catching through the gills. He admires the rainbow-flicker of scales in their death throes and the bleached gold of their eyes. Fish, fish, fish.

The lagoon is wonderful, magical, shallow and calm; Sora learned to swim there, seabirds passing through on their long journeys pause to catch a bite. He takes off his shoes and shuffles out chest-deep in the warm water, it is comforting as a hot bath, it receives him like a caress. Sora's swimming is his other notable talent. He has a good, smooth breaststroke, and he hardly leaves a ripple behind him as he strikes out towards where he knows the fish live.

Head submerged, he can hear the deep boom-boom of the waves on the shore, or his heart in his ears; Sora's never been sure which. Salt bites at his eyes for a moment before the pain just sort of gives up and floats away. Barred stripes of sun shimmy along the sandy bottom. Sora kicks forward, lifts his head to gasp, plunges face down again, closes his eyes.

Boom-boom. Boom-boom. The waves on the shore. He can hear it, even here, protected by the enclosing sand bars. It sounds the same as ever. Only with his eyes shut, in the dark, it sounds a little different. Boom-boom - is that a heartbeat, or someone knocking, impatiently, at the door? Someone outside, trying to get in? Outside where? he wonders abruptly, or doesn't, because at the moment the currents around him change and Sora opens his eyes and lashes out a hand. Fish.

He cut himself up once, wicked bad, snatching blindly like that. It was because he reached for a dogfish, and the moment he caught it around its blunt head the small shark lashed its supple body into a tight curve, lifted the two razor-sharp spines on its back and mashed them into Sora's forearm. He still has the scars, white, raised pads of tissue that don't tan no matter how much sun he gets on them. He's hated sharks since, even though he thinks they're beautiful: the reflecting cat-eyes, the rough skin. The scars are a constant reminder of why.

This time, however, he's lucky; no shark this, but some fine other fish - Sora's never bothered learning the names. He only wants to admire them, then gut them. This one thrashes in his hand, transformed from a creature of grace into a frantic thing fighting for its life. A losing battle: Sora gets a hand around it, near where the tail narrows, and he hooks the fingers of his other hand into its curved, frowning mouth. The water is deep enough that his toes just brush the bottom and he stands, lifts the fish, bites it hard between his eyes. And that kills it as good as hitting it on the head.

He turns around, he'll take this to Kairi; one catch at a time is enough. The pummeling ocean holds him close. The waves on the shore still sound, alarmingly, like something foreign. Someone is trying to get in, Sora thinks, and then he is staggering from the water dripping brine everywhere and the thought flies away again.

It is cold, in the island shadows; or it feels that way to Sora. But then, he is also dripping wet. The fish is shining like a pearl. He dangles it from his left hand, in his accustomed manner. Plunging from sun to shade, sun to shade, becomes wild and disorienting; Sora blinks and thinks that perhaps this is what fish feel like when they are pulled from the water and then go back in. His hair is in his eyes. Kairi and Riku are together on the beach; Sora breaks into a run to join them.

"Oh, good," Kairi says, eyeing the fish. She wields a lethal-looking pair of scissors. "You got a nice one."

"Good catch, Sora," Riku says. One corner of his full mouth turns up a little. "That will feed us for days, won't it?"

Riku is full of little challenges like this. Sora has learned to let them run off his back like so much summer rain, because they are like summer rain: warm and harmless. "It'd hold us for longer," he grins, "if we didn't have to feed your piggy face, Rik."

Kairi takes the fish from him, grimacing at the slime. She wades into the water a little, slips one scissors-blade into the fish's anus, and slits it neatly up the belly. She steps on its head to hold it close in, jabs the scissors point-down into the sand, and starts tearing out the entrails. These she throws into the sea: which they are not actually really supposed to do, because sometimes the guts wash back up and gulls become a nuisance fighting for them, but Kairi, Riku and Sora are masters of not exactly doing what they're supposed to do. So neither of the boys say anything.

Sora shakes his head, spraying brine everywhere. He is beginning to get the crusted, dirty feeling of dried salt on his body, but that is all right; he has more fish to catch, after all. But for now he only watches as Kairi skillfully guts his catch. The entrails float away in the water, and disappear into the deep; and Sora has the shivery feeling in the back of his mind that no, these will not wash up on the island's shores ever again; something is out there, on the other side of reality, trying to get in. It is hungry, and dark, and fish guts will only placate it for a short while; but for now he thinks, keep these shores safe. It is his true heart's desire, his one and only wish. He clenches his fists and glares at the horizon.

Then Riku punches his shoulder and says, "What's eating you?" and the thoughts are gone again.


August 4, 2005.

Inspired by watching my friend play the beginning of the game and wondering just how Sora was catching the fish, anyway.