Mirror and Image
I was at Merlin's house. He was off to make sure the last of the Heartless were gone; there were no more spawn sites, etc. Leon and everyone else were still out, fighting the last of them. I was waiting. Battle was never my forte; it was healing and encouragement. I had already done my part on the field, and now I was waiting for them.
I had been told that they had left, gone off to some other world. Off to defeat more Heartless, find more Nobodies, continue the search for the two dearest to him. So when the knock on the door came, imagine my surprise when I saw them there.
"Aerith," Sora said, his voice low, quiet. "Can you check on Goofy, please?"
I ushered them in, of course, and tried to figure out what was going on. The three of them were in a state. Goofy was adamantly denying he needed any looking after, that he'd taken hits on the head loads of times, that it was nothing to worry about. Donald was talking so fast I couldn't understand what he was saying, bouncing this way and that. It was Sora that disturbed me, though.
"Goofy, you need to be checked out," he pleaded. "You might have a concussion or something. Riku--" he paused, sadness spreading over not only his face, but his entire body. "Riku had one once when we were younger. It's really serious." He turned his startlingly blue eyes to me. "Please, Aerith, check on him."
How could I refuse?
I sat Goofy down and began to examine him. There were, miraculously, no bumps to be seen. His eyes were normal, and he could count my fingers. Discreetly, I eyed the bearer of the Keyblade. His entire body was sagging, his eyes were drooped, and the moments when he was still he leaned to the side. He was exhausted, but he could not keep still, the worry he had for his friend was tinged with franticness. Every little noise I made he would steal a glance my way, worried about it's meaning, that something bad or worse was about to happen.
Done checking on Goofy, I stood and turned to Sora. "He's fine, Sora. There's nothing wrong with him."
The relief, like the earlier sadness, washed over his body. Emotions of all kinds radiated from his (now taller, but still) small frame. For a moment I thought he would cry.
"I'm so glad. I'm so glad," he said. His legs couldn't seem to hold his weight anymore; his body was sinking to the floor. "I was so... worried..."
Leon, who appeared from nowhere, caught him before Goofy and Donald even had a chance to cry out in concern. Looping a free arm under Sora's legs, the scarred man lifted the boy up. "And he told me not to worry," he muttered. He looked up. "What happened?"
"He's exhausted," I replied. "Here." I pushed off the blankets to Merlin's bed and Leon placed the fainted Sora in its welcoming sheets. I drew a blanket up to his neck and looked at him. His face was pale; there was the fresh scent of dried sweat and light wounds on his body. Nothing a potion couldn't fix. The King's loyal retainers were crowding around the bed, hoping that their dear friend was alright. Putting a hand on each of their shoulders, I whispered, "He needs sleep."
Reluctantly, they pulled away, and I sat them down at the table. Leon made no move to move, and I knew he would keep an eye on Sora; needless in Merlin's house, but then Sora always brings out the best in people.
"Now," I said to Donald and Goofy. "What happened?"
The majority of the tale was given by Donald, as Goofy had been unconscious throughout most of it. He spoke very quickly, and there were several times when I had to tell him to slow down so that I could understand him. He sighed whenever I said that, frustrated at a congenital complaint.
What I heard was astounding. The fact that Sora had single handedly defeated over a thousand Heartless (Donald said it might even have been two thousand, not counting the monumental battle in the Maw Pit) was mind boggling enough, but tack on the work in Ansem's computer and the fight with that person from Organization XIII, and the physical exhaustion was understandable. In fact, I was beginning to think that it was a miracle that he hadn't fainted earlier.
Impressive as that was, what Donald and Goofy worried about most was the emotional exhaustion. Learning that there were two Ansems was disturbing but not inconceivable. The search for Riku however had turned up nothing, until the leader of the Nobodies said the person to ask was King Mickey. That the King neither denied nor affirmed that claim, and disappeared before the question could be pressed was frustration upon frustration. There was the learning that Kairi had been kidnapped by the Organization, and that people in the Organization were, as Sora had apparently put it, "not well organized," because of some kind of internal dispute. The unexpected help from Maleficient of all people only further added to the confusion.
"But I think what's bothering Sora the most," Goofy explained, "is what that Head Nobody guy said. He said he wanted Sora to take out the Heartless. Even used a phrase called 'rage of the Keyblade.' Now Sora doesn't know if he's supposed to use the Keyblade on the Heartless and help Organization XIII, or not use the Keyblade and let people get hurt by the Heartless."
"That's right," Donald said. "This whole thing is just confusing. I wish it was just us defeating Ansem, it was so much easier."
"I'm sure Sora is thinking about that, too," I said, staring at the table. There was a heavy silence, each of us lost in our own thoughts. Finally, I put on a smile. "I think it's time the two of you want to bed," I said. "You must be just as tired as Sora, and staying up watching him - which I know you want to do," I added when I saw the beginnings of their protests, "will do nothing to make him feel better. Leon and I will stay with him."
I smiled at the reluctance on their faces. I wondered who affected whom more, Sora on Donald and Goofy, or Donald and Goofy on Sora. Reluctantly, and with much prodding, they retired, and I joined Leon and the sleeping Sora.
"He said he was lucky," he whispered.
Knowing Leon never says anything without reason, I prompted, "Who?"
"That guy, Cloud. He said Sora was very lucky."
"Well, he is," I replied. I gently moved Sora's feet and sat on the bed. "He has such a big, strong heart, and he wears it on his sleeve." I started rubbing one of his shins, by the ankle, comfortingly. "I can't think of anyone who is always going out of his way to help others. He even puts his precious Kairi and Riku on hold so that he can be useful to someone else. Sora takes on everything, and yet he's the kind of person that can still remain positive. I wonder how many times he's faced the Darkness and still managed to see the Light of hope? I wish it would rub off on Cloud."
Leon snorted. "He is a different breed." Whom he was talking about, Sora or Cloud, I don't know.
There was a beep, and Leon rolled his eyes, staring at something on his waist. "Yuffie's calling. I gotta go."
"Don't worry," I said. "I'll stay with Sora." There was the faintest hint of a smile, and Leon was off.
It was much later when the nightmares began. His face became pained, and his body tight under the blankets. There was the occasional groan and whimper. Whatever he was dreaming about was terribly upsetting. I reached out and held Sora's hand, running my fingers through his thick mass of hair. "Shh, it's okay," I whispered. "You're safe here."
But he couldn't hear me. He murmured, once and a while, phrases I couldn't quite make out. I often heard Kairi and Riku's names, and a third name I didn't recognize: Roxas.
Finally, I coaxed him to one side of the bed, and lay on the blankets next to him. This dear child needed at least one quiet night's sleep. I'm not a fighter, like Leon and Yuffie and Cloud, but that doesn't mean I don't have my own special abilities. I am a soother, a relaxer, an encourager. Sora almost immediately curled into me, using my arm as a pillow. I realized how chill he was, even under the blankets, and I wrapped my free arm around his shoulders, rubbing circles to generate circulation and warm him up. It must have been half and hour of this before his breathing deepened into a pattern of deep sleep.
I could smell his hair, a mix of sand and cinnamon. He was so small, even after a year of growing. And he was so light. When had he last eaten? I wondered. His presence was always so large, so full; you never realized just how short he was. I could feel that strong heart of his beating slowly, and I wondered what other trials it had gone through during his journey; things he didn't tell the others, either because he thought it was unimportant or because he didn't know how to broach the subject. He put everything he had into everything he did. It was an ability that was extremely rare; very few people could do it.
I fought hard not to laugh when he started snuggling. There were days when all of us, even the tough guys like Leon and Cloud, just marveled at how cute he was.
The love I felt for this child struck me. I wanted him to be happy. Almost desperately. I wanted him to find Kairi and Riku, to find the answers to his questions, to return to the Destiny Islands where he had been so happy. The emotion struck me so strongly that I pulled him close and held him for the rest of the night.
Almost everyone dropped by the next morning; Donald and Goofy of course, Leon, Yuffie (She nearly woke up Sora. I could have killed her!), that new girl Tifa, Merlin, and even Cloud. I smiled at them warmly and waved them all off, letting Sora sleep. It was late morning when he started to stir, and I finally took my cue to pull my arm-pillow out from under him and take a seat by the bed. My smile was the first thing he saw, and as he rubbed his eyes and sat up and stretched, he looked around groggily, taking his time to recognize Merlin's home.
He was sleep tousled, but his coloring was much better, and he finally looked rested.
"Good morning, sleepy-head. Did you have good dreams?"
"... I guess..." Then he snapped awake. "Goofy...?!"
"Is perfectly fine, like I said yesterday," I replied. It didn't surprise me. "He's probably at the market fighting with Donald on how much to spend."
"What a relief," he breathed.
"I heard you had a tough day yesterday," I started slowly. I wasn't entirely sure he was ready to talk about it; but as always, he surprised me.
"Aerith, what am I supposed to do?" He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and leaned in close, his eyes brighter than normal. "If I use the Keyblade, it helps Organization XIII, if I don't, people suffer! What good is the Keyblade if I end up helping the bad guys? What if--"
"Sora, slow down," I said soothingly. I got up and sat next to him on the bed. "I think you're too far ahead of yourself. You don't have nearly enough information to make that kind of decision."
"Sora," I said over him, "listen to me. I was thinking about this last night. Nobodies are bodies without hearts, right?"
"Yeah..." he drew out, not seeing where I was going.
"Destroying a Heartless releases a heart, right?"
"Then, where does the heart go?"
"..." That one stumped him.
"Wouldn't it go back to its body?" I prompted. He mulled it over for a moment, absorbing the question.
"... I guess..."
"Then maybe, just maybe, the Nobodies want you to defeat the Heartless so they can get their hearts back. If that was true, then defeating the Heartless reduces the number of Nobodies, doesn't it?"
"But then why did they kidnap Kairi??" he demanded. "And Riku, and the Door to Darkness, and--"
I held a finger to his lips, putting on a smile. "Like I said, you don't have enough information. But does looking at it this way make it easier? Do you think you can use the Keyblade with the thought that it reduces Nobodies as well as Heartless?"
He didn't say anything for a while. But that was okay, because it meant that he was putting the pieces he had together in a way that worked for him. I let him mull and went outside. Leon was there. How like him to eavesdrop, I mused.
"Working hard I see," he said in a low voice.
I smiled brightly. "Of course. We all love Sora so much that we'll do just about anything for him." He rolled his eyes at that, but an unbidden blush rose to his cheeks and I giggled. "See? You love him, too."
"Wha?" he demanded indignantly. Looking away, he muttered, "Whatever."
I was laughing outright by then, and the recently arrived Donald and Goofy asked what was so funny.
"Sora's awake," I announced. "I think seeing you would make him feel even better."
As expected, the two bounced twice for joy and rushed in to see their dear friend. It wasn't long after that they came out, dressed and refreshed. "Are you leaving?" I asked.
"Yes," Sora said, and his old smile, his old confidence was back. "You were right Aertih, I don't have enough information. I can only go with what I know, and that's looking for Riku and Kairi and King Mickey. And I can't let people get hurt just because I'm afraid of what Organization XIII might do. I'm going to keep wielding my Keyblade until I can find what I'm looking for."
I nodded. "Good. Sora, you're heart is so wonderfully strong; I think you'll do just fine. You know," I added as an evil thought crossed my mind and my smile, "If you weren't a boy I think you would have been a wonderful Princess of Heart."
The look on his face was priceless.
"You'd make such a cute girl, Sora," I added. "I could have loaned you some of my old dresses!"
That priceless look doubled in priceless-ness, and Donald and Goofy burst out laughing. Leon, too, was giggling under his hand. It wasn't long before Sora was laughing with us.
Good. A happy Sora is a strong Sora.
Author's Notes: This was written during our first play of KHII, and literally right after the halfway mark with the battle in the Great Maw and defeating 1,000 Heartless (pardon me while we oogle the screen at all those enemies!). This is nowhere near as good as it was in my head last night when it waltzed in and demanded to be written. Ah, well.