Disclaimer: I'm a poor college student. I don't own it. I barely even own the plot, considering parts of it are cannon. I just write for fun. All credit of game awesomeness goes to Squaresoft/Enix. (And some of the other stuff belongs to Disney.)
A/N: This fic has always kind of been my baby on this account. I love it more than any of the others, yet it's the only one I have not finished. wtf.
Well, in light of KH being re-released on the PS3, and my pre-ordering it, I was pulled back to this story. Even six years after originally posting it, my desire to finish has stayed pretty strong, but a lot of stuff in these earlier chapters was bothering me to no end. So? I'm rewriting it.
I'm fixing all the little grammar mistakes and typos I can find. (Covering up my abysmal lack of knowledge back then on how quotes and punctuation work together. And I was in college!)
Most importantly, I'm fixing the flow of conversation. It was driving me nuts how unnatural this story was, and I'm hoping I managed to capture the characters this time, and write them as human beings, not just moldable plot-devices. It's still slow going because I'm busier now than ever, but I truly hope to finish this story someday!
Chapter 1: When Dreaming is More
Sora jerked from a deep sleep with a yelp, instantly awake, and cerulean blue eyes darted around the pitch-black room. He ran a hand over his face, wiping cinnamon brown locks from his sweat-drenched forehead.
He brought his hand away and noticed it was shaking. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, willing his heart to slow its frantic pace.
It had been that same dream again, only this time more vivid than ever before. As much as people dismissed his dreams as just that - mere dreams - he knew it was something more. It just had to be. Recurring dreams about shadow creatures forming from the ground and attacking people - in such gruesome detail at that - could not be his imagination. It just couldn't.
It wasn't only the dreams, though.
The whole thing was a recent development; it started a year ago, when he was fourteen. In the beginning, it was an innocent, seemingly normal nightmare. There were vague and fuzzy shadow creatures attacking from the dark, and a voice. Sora could remember the first time he heard that voice so clearly and he shuddered, even now, any time the memory of it appeared in his mind.
"Sora, the hour of darkness approaches...surrender your heart to me...or prepare yourself..."
The deep, rumbling tones spoke volumes of power, and it was terrifying because something about the threat felt not only real, but imminent. The statement had been followed by maniacal laughter, and Sora was pretty sure that 'surrender your heart' was in no way a romantic sentiment. He could never make sense of it though, and whenever he tried to talk to someone about it - even his mom, who was supposed to believe you no matter what, right? - they would only wave it off and tell him don't worry, it was only a dream.
Sora knew better.
The dreams started happening more frequently, and after reaching a certain intensity, the world of his dreams decided to crash with reality. He started to see the creatures outside in the park, or at school, even in his own home. Right there, where he'd always been safe. Even that haven had been taken from him now.
His world became a haze of sleep and sleeplessness; of dreams and reality. The lines of both were becoming blurred, and Sora was truly afraid he was going to be sucked into this dream world and never see the unfiltered daylight of reality again.
Sora inhaled another deep breath, and lay back on the covers of his bed, having no desire to attempt sleep again. Something had been different about that dream...what was it? It had been clearer, yes, but there was something...he knocked his fist to his forehead a couple times, straining to remember what the dream had consisted of. The shadow creatures were there again, more diverse and plentiful than ev- That was it! There had been others. Not just monsters...but people. there was another person, concealed entirely by a black cloak. All he had been able to see of the person was his (it was obviously a male figure under the form-flattering cloak) mouth. The feral grin revealed by that one opening in the otherwise solid-black visage had unnerved him greatly. That was the reason he had woken up.
Sora groaned and rolled over onto his side, curling into a ball and grabbing a stuffed white lion next to him.
He smiled a bit at the plush figure in his hands, immediately reminded of where this particular toy had come from. It was a welcome distraction from his current nightmare world.
They were at a carnival, him, Riku and Kairi. It was a few years ago, when Sora was twelve. Kairi had gone off to some ride she wanted to try, and Sora and Riku were walking by the game booths. Suddenly Sora stopped at one that had a friendly display of stuffed lions. Sora giggled and pointed out a white one to his silver haired friend, claiming it reminded him of the other boy. Riku just chuckled and rolled his eyes as they walked past.
As the time for them to go back home approached, Riku disappeared long enough to leave Sora and Kairi panicking, before walking up to their designated meeting place (a practice drilled into them by their parents) carrying one of the white lions. He smirked at Sora, dismissing Kairi's scolding for running off, and handed him the plush toy, ruffling his friend's spiky hair and stating they should head home.
Sora never stopped grinning that night.
Lost for a moment in fond memories, Sora mused over his relationship with his friends. He'd always felt a closer connection with Riku than with Kairi. He still considered her his other best friend, of course, and loved her dearly, but if he were to be honest, only one person claimed the title of true best friend, and that was Riku. He supposed part of it was that he admired the much stronger and more collected teen. Riku was always good at everything he did, and that fact alone had always challenged Sora to do his best, no matter what. Riku made him a better person, even when it wasn't intentional.
A sigh escaped Sora's lips as the thoughts of his friends continued. They had somehow gained a reputation as the 'infamous trio' among Destiny High, despite not being troublemakers in the least. but there was something...off about their friendship lately. He felt as if the other two were drifting away from him, as if carried away by a raft out into an unforgiving, vast sea. Every time he would reach out a hand, a wave came by to carry them further away, teasing and taunting him with the fact that his friends were within his reach, if only he could grab hold.
He squeezed his eyes tightly, willing away the stinging as tears threatened to spill over while his thoughts mulled around in depressing circles. If it weren't for these stupid dreams, none of this would be happening. He could be living the blissfully happy life he'd always had before, goofing around with his best friends, and not worrying about stupid shadow creatures and disembodied voices. Sora shuddered, and through a tight throat, whispered into the dark room, "What do you want from me...?"
He did go back to sleep that night. Eventually.
The absolute normalcy of his monotonous school schedule seemed like something foreign to Sora now, a sardonic mockery of his own life. Every day he would get up and go to school. Every day he would pretend that everything was normal. He would try to avoid any mention of shadows, strange dreams and hallucinations. That couldn't change the fact that they were still there, and his friends usually noticed his almost jittery distractedness. The fact that his grades were slipping tremendously had not gone unnoticed either, by them or the teacher.
Sora blinked and looked up. Had he spaced out again? "Y-yes sir?" he answered the teacher of his first period class, already bracing himself for the bit of humiliation sure to follow.
"Care to answer my question for the class?" Yep, there it was. There were a few giggles and snickers around the classroom. Sora felt the heat rise to his cheeks and he sank into his seat, wishing it would swallow him there on the spot. "Umm...theory of relativity?"
The teacher gave him a blank stare as some people broke into outright laughter. "I'm sorry, that's incorrect. The answer is six. Perhaps you should try paying attention from now on?"
"Yes sir..." Sora muttered, hiding his face in his hands. Pay attention? Who was he kidding? He wasn't even sure what stupid class he was sitting in. He hadn't been able to pay full attention to anything since this living nightmare started.
With eyes shut tight in annoyance, humiliation and desperation, he missed the concerned glance that passed between his two best friends sitting next to, and behind him.
When the time for lunch finally arrived, Sora was already wishing for the day to be over. After a quick glance around the cafeteria, he found his friends (not that it was hard when searching for both bright red and shining silver hair) and made his way to their table. Shortly after, they were joined by Tidus, Selphie and Yuffie. There was a lot of chatter as everyone went over their plans for the weekend, considering it was a Friday, and talked about their previous night. Sora wasn't sure why they always did it, but it was almost tradition by now; they were all pretty involved in each other's lives. It kept them close, and Sora generally liked it that way. Today though, he kept his eyes on his plate and only listened, wishing his own stories wouldn't bring so many strange stares and concerned glances.
"How 'bout you, Sora? Had a good night?" Selphie asked with a cheerful grin expressing all of her naive, yet ideal happiness in one notion.
Sora looked up from his food, surprised at the sudden attention turned towards him. Blue eyes widened when he realized everyone was actually waiting for an answer. He hesitated, and for one brief moment, considered telling them of the small shadow creature he'd discovered in his house. The one he'd fought off with a frying pan from the kitchen in a panic, when it attacked him as he was taking refuge from insomnia by getting a midnight snack. His hand unconsciously moved to cover his left forearm, bandaged beneath his hoodie thanks to the scratches left by the creature.
His worry over that very real nightmare, and what it meant, exactly, was precisely the reason he was so very out of it today. His concern, not to mention his sympathetic nervous system that refused to calm down properly, had kept him up the rest of the night. Before they started questioning his silence, Sora decided on a safe answer. He was too scared of the reactions to tell them about that. "Yeah...yeah. I-it was fine."
His nervous gaze found Riku's, and there was a calculating look in those teal eyes that froze Sora to his seat, and silently forbade him from looking away. He felt like the older boy was looking straight into his mind, and wondered what he'd found in his expression when the extended stare was finally broken, and Riku returned to his meal. A soft hand on Sora's shoulder broke through his curiosity, and he turned his head to Kairi, whose eyes looked more concerned than anything.
Sora immediately felt himself tense beneath her hand. That was the look; the one he hated. Sure, being cared about was nice...but this expression held more pity than anything, and was more concerned for his mental health, than for his mental well-being. In other words, she was beginning to think something was wrong with him too. He shrugged her hand off without being harshly obvious - at least he hoped - and shook his head. "I'm fine, Kairi," he muttered, more to make her stop looking at him like that than anything.
"Sora...what's going on with you, man?" Tidus spoke this time, a look of genuine curiosity on his face. Sora had quickly become rather selective about who knew the details of his 'situation' and Tidus had been among the ones left a little out of the loop. Most of his friends had been, in fact. Despite how hard it was for him to keep a secret, Sora preferred doing that to giving everyone he knew reasons to doubt his sanity. They had been given only vague explanations about Sora, dreams and possible hallucinations.
This fact didn't stop Sora's hands from clenching beneath the table as he bit his lip to keep from retorting. Ever since that first dream-appearance of the shadowy, demon-like creatures, his temper had been shortening, little by little. It was something he was ashamed to admit, since he usually had the patience of a saint, as anyone who knew him could tell you. That was the reason he tried so hard not to blow up now. These people were his friends, and they just couldn't understand...
"Yeah!" Yuffie piped up. "Are you still...you know...seeing things?" she asked in a whisper while waving her hands as she looked for the words.
With a slight glare to Yuffie, Sora braced his hands on the sides of his chair to keep from doing something rash. Why was it so hard to stay calm? He hated it. His knuckles turned white from the force of his grip. "Seeing things..." he muttered, almost mocking himself with the words. "Yuffie, I would-" but Sora never finished that statement as Tidus, not always the most sensitive to the emotions of those around him, stage-whispered to Yuffie, "I see dead people." Sora knew it wasn't malicious; Tidus liked to tease, and he didn't exactly have the strongest social filter. It didn't matter. He was wound too tight already.
"Damn it, Tidus!" he shouted, loud enough that the cafeteria quieted in surprise, but he was a bit too upset to notice at that point. He braced his hands on the table with such force it made the trays rattle, and stood up so quickly his chair scraped loudly across the old tiles. "I do not "see things" okay?" he curled his fingers into air quotes around the 'see things' part. "Don't talk about things you can't - or won't - understand!" It didn't even cross his mind that that statement may have been a little unfair, considering his friend's lack of information. Breathing heavily, and an angry flush decorating his cheeks, Sora grabbed his backpack and swung it over his shoulder, storming out of the cafeteria and leaving a very stunned silence in his wake. Many people in the school at least knew who Sora was, but no one had seen him lose his temper before. Not like that.
Someone whistled, followed by a comically accented "Day-um..." and the cafeteria was once again buzzing with noise, although a common theme could be heard among scattered conversations this time.
Kairi leaned in close to Riku, who was watching the path Sora had taken with an unreadable expression. "Riku, I'm worried about him..." she muttered, watching as the double doors swung back and forth a few times before settling into place, clearing any suggestion that there had ever been a disturbance at all.
"I know..." Riku whispered back. This was not the Sora he knew. He was getting sick of watching his best friend slip away. "Do you think...we don't give him enough credit? That maybe there's more to this than what we know?" he asked, not really expecting an answer but just voicing his thoughts. Something was seriously wrong with the boy, and it was starting to affect his own mood as well. With Sora being so depressed, or whatever it was Sora was feeling, Riku felt himself growing more irritable as well, and he wanted to find out what was wrong with the blue-eyed innocence and ball of sunshine he'd known Sora to be.
"There can't be..." she said, voice wavering a little. "There's no such thing as shadow creatures."
Riku blinked a few times, turning to look at Kairi. He had to backtrack through his thoughts to remember the question she'd just answered. When he did, he was a little taken aback by her resolute response, despite the fact she seemed to be trying to convince herself. Would she not at least give him the benefit of the doubt?
Riku should his head, silver hair falling to shield his expression from view. He wasn't willing to give up on Sora so easily, and he hadn't thought Kairi would either. Maybe it scared her, but he pushed the thoughts aside. It didn't matter, not to him and not right now. There was something...he couldn't understand it, but something just seemed to nag at his conscience, telling him to believe what the brunet was saying. But it was hard...the idea was so farfetched, who's to say Sora's overactive imagination (one of the more endearing, if not annoying, traits that Sora possessed) hadn't just run away with itself, and somehow convinced Sora of its existence?
With a small snort of disbelief, Riku realized that idea was pretty out there as well, but still he refused to believe so blindly that Sora had just randomly - and with no provocation - gone insane. Without warning, Riku stood up, bringing the attention of the previously distracted table to himself. "I'm going after him," he explained to the inquiring looks, and grabbed his own backpack, striding from the cafeteria in a much more composed manner than his younger counterpart.
It didn't take Riku long at all to find his target. If Sora was upset, he immediately sought solace in nature, and the school's gardens were the perfect place for it, having been well designed and cared for by the Agriculture Club. They were towards the edge of the school boundaries, fairly secluded and maintained beautifully with all sorts of trees, flowers, and various other flora. Riku found Sora sitting on a stone bench in a clearing at the back of the gardens. He was hunched over, elbows on his knees and head resting on his upturned palms.
Frowning gently but not saying a word, Riku sat next to him, offering silent comfort. He could tell by Sora's closed posture that it was the best option at the moment.
After a long moment, Sora sighed and allowed his body to slump sideways, his head falling onto the taller teen's shoulder. "Riku..." he whispered, pausing for a moment as a few questions tumbled over each other through his head. "Do you suppose I really could've just lost it and not realized it?" he finally asked, in an almost wistful sort of tone. Then he shook his head, and buried his face into Riku's shoulder instead. "No...I didn't...I promise. I don't know why no one else can see them. You believe me, don't you Riku...?"
Riku was silent, letting Sora just think out loud, until his last statement caused Riku's heart to clench in sympathy. It was only whispered, but Riku heard in the soft tones a plea born from desperation. How had he not noticed just how badly Sora was stumbling? Right in this moment, he felt as if he was the boy's lifeline, that if he were to say no, Sora might actually lose his mind for real, and leave the world behind. He rested his head against Sora's, and whispered just as quietly, "I can't say I fully believe you...but I'm not gonna say I don't believe you either."
When Sora failed to respond, he decided to continue, hoping his statement had not been discouraging. "You have to see it from everyone else's point of view, Sora. Shadow creatures that sound like something straight from a horror movie, and only you can see them..."
Sora's eyes shut tight and he felt his body tense, not really wanting to hear this. He knew that best friend territory came with brutal honesty, but still...and then a comforting arm wrapped around his shoulders, stopping his thoughts and bringing Sora's attention back to what the older boy was saying.
"However, I have never had a single reason to doubt anything you say. You've never lied to me...at least that I know of..." Sora smiled a little at Riku's mischievously accusing tone, "and you're the most sincere person I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. So to think that you would lie about something so serious, or make something like this up for attention I know you would never seek, well that just doesn't make any sense. I find it hard to believe you're suffering any form of dementia, either."
The smile came back to Sora's face a little stronger at his friend's words, and he relaxed and moved a little closer to Riku, seeking comfort that was so often denied him lately. "Thank you, Riku. You have no idea how much that means to me." He paused and sighed deeply, taking strength from the gentle squeeze of his shoulders as Riku silently encouraged him. "I...I know it sounds crazy, you know? Even listening to myself I sometimes wonder. But then I see them, and my only thought is that I have to warn people. Tell them to run because he'll kill them, or the creatures will attack. I...Riku...I fought one last night.
More than a little shocked by this news, Riku pulled away and stared wide-eyed at Sora. "What?" he asked, not quite understanding how that was possible. "Sora...I thought these things were just hallucinations...you shouldn't actually be able to touch it!"
Ignoring Riku's use of the word 'hallucination' - because they weren't, thank you very much - Sora's gaze again turned thoughtful as he let his eyes wander out into the gardens. "I know..." he smiled with little humor. "God, I was scared out of my mind. It actually attacked me! I grabbed one of mom's cast-iron pans from the kitchen and just...beat it until it went away...look," he muttered and pulled up the sleeve of his hoodie. He unwrapped the bandage and let it fall to the ground. There on his arm, plain as day and definitely real and raw, were four scratches running parallel to each other across his arm.
"Oh my God, Sora...that thing did this to you? But how...I mean why...how could it - have you told anyone?" Riku rambled, holding Sora's arm in a painfully tender grip and examining the scratches, as if trying to find a way to prove they weren't real.
Sora answered with a deadpan stare. "Think about that question for a second, Riku. Who could I have told? No one believes me; they'd probably say I got the stupid scratches from a cat."
"They're too far apart to be from a cat..." Riku muttered absently.
Sora smiled slightly and rolled his eyes. "I think you missed my point."
"Huh?" Riku replied, blinking and finally turning his attention back to Sora.
Sora cocked his head to the side, wondering if Riku had been paying attention at all. "Penny for your thoughts?" he asked softly, watching as Riku smiled just a little. When they were younger they had been tricked into thinking the phrase was literal, and spent a couple of years paying each other pennies to get the other to spill their secret thoughts.
"Guess I was just...weighing everything in my mind. Suppose I believe you, completely..." he glanced up to see Sora's eyes widening, shining with a hope and brilliance he hadn't seen in far too long. Riku felt it was worth everyone in the world thinking he had gone off the deep end too, just to see that look in his friend's eyes again. "What could I do? To help?"
Sora fought with himself for a moment, furiously blinking back tears of utter happiness and relief, then just thought screw it and threw himself at Riku, catching the other boy off guard and tackling him to the ground. The distance he'd felt growing between them snapped shut with a resounding echo in his heart, and Sora found himself muttering 'Thank you thank you thank you' over and over again into Riku's chest.
When coherent thought finally returned to the elated boy, he thought over Riku's question. What could he do...? After a few moments of deliberation, in which Riku watched the shifting expressions cross Sora's face curiously, he finally met Riku's eyes and said, "You could teach me to fight."
It was a little odd to hear Sora - sweet, innocent Sora - request such a thing. Sure they had brandished sticks at each other in a mockery of sword fighting, but it was nothing serious, and it was more of a 'try to hit the swords together' fight than 'try to strike your opponent' type of thing. But when he looked into Sora's eyes, studying the unwavering blue gaze directed back at him, he knew this was no joke, and that Sora wasn't just talking about play-fights on the beach.
Sora knew that Riku, if anyone, would be able to teach him useful ways to survive. His silver-haired friend had taken karate classes for years, and had joined the sword fighting classes as well. Though Sora rarely saw him use it, he knew Riku was good at combat.
"It almost seems wrong to teach you that kind of stuff, you know?" Riku asked with a saddened smile on his face. "Like I'm taking away the thing that makes you...you," Riku mumbled, not entirely sure if he was getting the point he was trying to make across.
Laughing softly, Sora crossed his arms over Riku's chest and tilted his head. "Not knowing how to fight makes me, me? That's my only distinguishing quality?" Riku rolled his eyes and tweaked Sora's nose, causing the boy to sniff and comically wriggle his nose to shake off the assault.
"You know that's not what I meant."
Sora winked at him, then shook his head a little and, dropping the teasing tone, said, "I'm still me, Riku, and I always will be. You know that. I just...that thing attacked me. I can't be me if I'm dead, can I?"
The sentence was said lightly, almost as if Sora didn't care, but it struck Riku like a thunderclap. His eyes widened as he thought about this boy - his Sora - being gone...just gone and he felt his heart constrict painfully once more just thinking about it. With a disapproving noise, he wrapped his arms around Sora in a bone-crushing hug, inhaling the boy's scent, and appreciating the fact that he was just there for the first time. "No, Sora. No you couldn't. I'll teach you, and you'll be the best damn fighter the world's ever seen..." he muttered with conviction, and Sora couldn't help but smile. There was a reason this boy was his bestest friend.
After a few moments, Riku somewhat awkwardly released his hold on the boy above him, and Sora took that as his cue to stand up, blushing a little from the intensity of RIku's hug. Who knew Riku was hiding such strong affection behind that aloof persona? He grinned at the thought as he extended his hand to help Riku from the ground, and Riku smiled back. For a moment, it felt like everything was normal, just like it used to be.
"Sora..." Riku started, breaking the moment and effectively dragging Sora back to the here-and-now. "Why don't you come over tonight? It can be like old times, yeah? You know...play some video games, eat a bunch of junk food..." He grinned as memories of many sleepovers long passed came to mind. "And...and I'll start teaching you what I know."
Sora nodded, practically beaming. At least for one night, he could have a distraction from those things...and was genuinely looking forward to a night with Riku. How long had it been since they'd had a sleepover like that? He supposed he couldn't blame his friend; everything in his own life had gone crazy after the dreams started, and nobody knew what to think. His mother, out of genuine concern, had started taking him to a personal psychiatrist. Let me tell you, Sora was not a fan of that development, even though it was the only reason he hadn't been sent off somewhere worse, like a full rehab center, or the mental ward of some hospital. He wasn't sure if they would actually go that far, but his imagination could certainly pull up the scenario with disturbing clarity. As for the shrink, apparently Sora 'intrigued' the guy. All Sora could compare the situation to was a rat caught up in laboratory testing. He felt like an experiment; something to play around with. But there was really nothing he could do about it...
"Sora? Sooooooraaaaa..." The brunet snapped out of his musings as he heard his name being called, and saw a hand being removed from in front of his face. Riku raised one silver brow at him and asked, "You okay?"
The younger boy smiled in return and said, "Sorry, I'm fine. Just got lost in thought for a sec. I'd love to spend the night. When do you want me over?"
"As soon as you can pack up and make your escape," Riku answered with a smirk.
Sora grinned at the answer. It was a line Riku had taken to using every time Sora asked that question. Understandable, considering Sora's mother had a habit of being...overprotective sometimes, and so it was a small joke between the two that every time Sora spent the night, he had to first escape lectures on being safe, going to bed early, and other general statements of concern. "I'll be there," he said, thanking God and anything else he could think of that Riku was his friend, and that there was at least one person who would never, no matter what, abandon him.
The bell signaling the end of lunch reached them from the distant buildings, and without a word, both boys grabbed their bags and headed to their next class. Sora couldn't remember if he'd ever felt as light as he did in that moment.