Disclaimer: I'm pretty sure it's obvious by now – this ain't no G-rated game for the kiddies.
A/N: Happy Anniversary! One whole month, from start to finish. To those who haven't reviewed before now, please just take a moment to tell me what you think overall of the fic, and to those that review faithfully, I nervously/eagerly await your reaction to the finale. To anyone interested in my next fic, either stick me on author alert, or check in later on in the week to see if I've started it yet. Shouldn't be long before I do. All that aside, thanks for all the encouragement, support and love you guys have given me these past four weeks! I appreciate it endlessly. Lots of love to you all!
I developed a headache during the flight to Destiny Island, and had a nosebleed of my own. Zexion was drifting quietly in and out of consciousness, leaning heavily against Demyx. Maybe we had overestimated, giving him a whole week.
The bleeding was pretty heavy this time, and by the time we found something to staunch it, my clothing was blotted with red, along with Sora's hands. I had one of Reno's spare white shirts wadded against my face, my head hanging, elbows on knees, breathing slowly.
This was like some kind of nightmare.
They were just… sitting across from me. And every mile that took us closer to Destiny Island, was a mile closer to their willing deaths. I felt sick.
There was this perpetual inch of space between Sora and me. It's like he was scared to touch me, at the one point in time that I was terrified to let him go, even for an instant. I didn't want to leave him. Not ever. Logic didn't come into it. How could you be logical about something like this? Sora tells me, at least one him will be happy. Oh, sure, my childhood friend Sora would be ecstatic – but this one wouldn't. This one would be left behind. And was it really meant to make me feel better, that I would be waking up to a happy face, only to be reminded like some haunting spectre that elsewhere, he was waking up alone? Did he think I was that shallow, or was he just trying to find a bright side to it somewhere, anywhere?
"I don't want to leave you." My voice hovered just above a whisper. I didn't look at him, but my hand, which wouldn't let him get away no matter how hard he squirmed, tightened on him. He didn't respond. I turned to him, a trace of desperation in me as I asked, "Did you hear me?"
His eyes slipped shut, pinching, a frustrated expression on his face. "Riku. Just because you don't want it to happen, doesn't mean it won't."
This… felt familiar.
"I won't be going anywhere you don't want me to, So. I promise."
"That's… a pretty big promise. Don't say if you don't mean it, Riku."
"Who says I don't mean it? We're best friends. That means we don't run away from each other."
"Going home to your family… that's not running away… It's normal. It's what's going to happen."
"But – it doesn't have to happen at all."
He snorted, eyes flashing open to reveal cerulean scorn. "Riku, the only other option is for you to die. You're going to die, Zexion is going to die. Nobody can do anything about either of those things. Demyx is choosing to die. And I'm… I just…" He lowered his head, refusing to let me see the emotion that brewed there. "I want you to live. You – all you're doing is thinking of me. This is the one instance that you shouldn't be using your heart. Use that… that massive brain of yours." He managed a crooked grin. I smiled weakly back, without feeling. He was right, of course. Sora's always right, most of the time. It was just that this time, him being right was hurting us both more than I thought I could possibly bear. I was just… leaving him here. Leaving him to live my life, and love, while he – he what? Was he going home now, or what? How would that play out? 'Hi, mom, guess what, I'm not really dead? Oh, but don't expect Riku over for dinner anytime soon, because, uh, um, no, wait, he is dead, so, yeah, he won't be coming over any more?'
"Zack. What about Sora?"
The raven-haired man lifted his face from its encasement in his hands, the position he'd been in, elbows touching between his knees, since we had taken off from Icicle. He frowned in weary confusion. "What about Sora?"
Sora let out a husky, bitter laugh.
"Well, I mean, ShinRa made it seem like we're both dead," I said. "So, what happens to Sora now?"
Zack looked utterly, utterly blank. I half-expected him to say, 'Jesus, kid, I don't know'. But he was better than that, I guess. He thought quickly of the boy it seemed that everyone had overlooked, between suicide-pacts and otherworldly portals. "I suppose…" he said slowly, "we find a way to get him home. I mean…" His brow creased, he massaged it. "Shit," he mumbled, "they set up a funeral, didn't they? I – ah – "
"I don't think I want to go home," said Sora softly. I blinked, scowling over at him.
"What do you mean? What about Senna, and Kairi?"
"We don't even know if Kairi's still alive, Riku," he said, irritably.
The voice from the front crackled over the intercom, "What, the little red-haired chick?"
Both our heads whipped around. "Fuck!" I exploded. "You're the one she shot, holy shit – Reno, do you know what happened to her?"
"Sure. She was picked up in Edge by Cloud."
"Apparently he was driving around, looking for someone, and he found her near the, uh, you know the monument? Yeah, there."
We looked at each other in astonishment. "She's okay," Sora whispered, a smile twitching at his lips. The relief was astounding. I could have burst into laughter, if at that moment Sora's expression hadn't wiped abruptly clean. "I don't want to stay on Destiny Island."
"Why the fuck not?" I demanded angrily, slamming the wall beside his head, startling everyone in the cabin. "What about your mom, So?"
"She thinks I'm dead," he said harshly. "It's not like me disappearing is going to cause her any more pain than she's already feeling."
"Don't tell me you're going to kill yourself?"
He smirked briefly, a strained look, and shook his head. "I'd really rather not."
"So then what?"
He looked over to Zack. "I was… hoping you might know somewhere for me?" he said. "Maybe… with Vincent and Yuffie? Or – or whoever." He sighed. "I don't want to be around people I have to pretend with. It's not like… I'll ever be the same again."
"But… Kairi…" I attempted.
"I'm happy she's safe," he said quietly. "But I just can't face that life right now."
I turned away, facing front, slumping. So, after all this, he wasn't even going to get his life back. God, why could nothing in this go right?!
Zack, meanwhile, was cradling his chin, a hooded look to his eyes, very watchful. I noticed, narrowed my gaze at him. "What?" I asked. He looked almost startled at being addressed. His thoughts had been deep, and now… now he looked guilty. I persisted, "What is it?"
He sighed heavily, ground the heel of his palm into the bridge of his nose. "I – Sora… you can't stay with Yuffie and Vincent. It's… out of the question."
Sora scowled. "Why? Why can't I stay with them? They liked me, they helped me once – why not a second time?"
"It's not that I don't think they wouldn't," he said, a hint of anxiety in his manner, his eyes refusing to look at my boyfriend. "It's that, well, it's just not a good idea. Yuffie's going to rule Wutai someday, and… you'll be wanted man. ShinRa isn't going to give up on you, Sora, even if Riku's no longer around… They can't – risk – having someone they framed as dead, with so much information, just… wandering around."
I glared. "And this has what to do with that Yuffie chick?"
He fidgeted. "She might not want to," he said reluctantly, "but in the end, she'd have to turn you in. To her own people… so they could sell you back to ShinRa."
"She's not like that!" Sora said angrily. "She cared about me, and Riku. And don't forget about Vincent – Vincent wouldn't let her just ransom me off."
Zack shook his head, running his hands through his spikes in frustration. "No, see, Sora, Vincent, he's a good guy, and sure, he keeps the little ninja in line most of the time – but Yuffie wouldn't have a choice in this. She couldn't knowingly harbour you like that. She'd owe it to Wutai, to her father. It'd… give them so much leverage over ShinRa. I – " His eyes closed briefly, the expression on his face regretful. "I..." His voice went soft, almost inaudible in the noisy chopper. "I wouldn't be able to let you."
I grabbed hold of Sora, for this moment the pair of us again united. "Let him?" I echoed coldly. "What's it to you if ShinRa goes down? You're not exactly helping them right now, are you?"
"I still work for them, Riku," he argued, without fervour, only contrition. "I'm no turncoat, okay? I wasn't going to stand by and let a – let you guys be hurt…" He meant to say 'a keyblader', before realising how fucking callous that was going to sound in front of the suicidals among us. "…and I'm helping you all I can with this, but – " His eyes flashed to Sora. "That doesn't mean I can just blow them off entirely. I'm still loyal to ShinRa… and I can't let something that potentially damaging be set up."
"So, wait," said Sora slowly, piecing this together, "does that also mean that, if I wanted to go home…"
Zack closed his eyes, lips tightening. "I couldn't let you do that."
Sora fell silent, as the rest of the cabin exploded into angry incredulity.
"How can you say that, Zack?" Demyx demanded furiously, clutching Zexion close. "I mean, what gives you the right to stop Sora from seeing his family?"
"They think he's dead," I said heatedly. "And you won't even – fuck." I snarled, slamming back against the side of the chopper. "What a fucking joke."
"So, what then?" Zexion asked, having been tracking the conversation, frail, but no less incensed than I was. I might have loved Sora as a boyfriend, but both Demyx and Zexion had got to love him as a friend and roommate these past few weeks. Neither of them was prepared to just let him fade away into ShinRa's dark belly. "What's meant to happen? You're just not going to let him go? Going to offer him in Riku's place, Zack? Eye for an eye, all that shit."
"No!" Zack was distressed, offended. "Jesus, I thought you knew me better than that!"
"Better than what, Zack?" Demyx asked tightly. "I thought I knew you better than it taking someone more important than us to get us freed, but that turned out all wrong, didn't it?"
Zack froze, eyebrows shooting together, a look of utmost remorse on his face, useless and too late. "I – Dem, I wanted to help you, but… there was nowhere…"
"Aerith told you about the lab, Zack," the blond replied flatly, cutting off the excuses with a curtness I hadn't seen him exhibit before now. I guess he really was put out by the fact that, without me, he and Zexion would still be whiling away their years under Hojo. I had assumed, because of his general nature, he was okay with it, not really bothered – but how could he not be? He'd just not let it become a topic of discord, until now. "That was years ago. You knew where that lab was all this time, and you didn't care enough to try and save us, because you didn't want to be near Hojo, and because we weren't enough by ourselves, were we? It took the hero of a story to bring you out, make you deliver us from the hell we'd been enduring all this time."
Zack was at a loss. There was no apology he could give that would make what Dem had said any less true. Helplessly, he said, "Dem, I…"
"Shut up." Demyx shook his head, made a cutting motion with one hand. "This isn't even what I want to talk about. That has nothing to do with this, except that I'm adding it to what you just said about Sora, and I really hate to be disillusioned. I thought you were a good guy, Zack, but all this time, you were just another Turk, doing his job."
The other man's face was turned down, a fierce, bitter scowl in place. He couldn't even try to defend himself. Truth hurts like nothing else, when you've been sinning and calling it life.
"Fact is, I'd just like to know what you've got planned for Sora, if anything. Didn't think that far ahead, when you agreed to let me and Zexy fuck ourselves over for your darling keyblade wielder?" I flinched. Demyx saw this, and softened. "I'm not mad at you, Riku." He even managed a smile, a genuine one, reassuring. "I'm happy I can do this for you. You're not using me."
"Demyx, please," Zack muttered desperately to his shoes. The blond's face whipped back to him, cold again in the blink of an eye.
"Sora?" he demanded. Zack drew in a shuddering breath.
"Sora… will have to come back with us. He'll be given a home in ShinRa. He won't be hurt, I'll swear to it myself, but I can't let him leave by himself, and I won't trust anyone else with him…" His head fell even lower, as he growled, in utter self-loathing, "I'm sorry."
Sora had gone completely blank. There was no expression there. None. A life with ShinRa – he'd never thought that chasing after me from Twilight Academy could lead to the end of existence as he knew it.
"Don't bother," Zexion sneered at the man. "You're destroying Sora's life – sorry doesn't change that."
"I'll be okay," Sora whispered dully. Something in me snapped.
"No," I said, angrily. "You won't be. You'll wither and die in an environment like that, So – you were barely surviving Hojo's lab with your spirit intact, and at least you had me then, and Dem and Zex. No, nobody could be okay with that. You're not. I won't let you be."
"What do you propose?" His voice didn't change. "Should I just throw myself out now and be done with it?"
I shivered. Sora – he should never adopt that tone. Not ever. It signals an end of days.
I shook my head firmly. "God, no, Sora, not ever. You're coming with me."
Demyx beamed, as suddenly and brightly as the sun coming out from behind the clouds. Zexion smiled and closed his eyes. Sora was looking at me in shock and disbelief, and Zack just looked perplexed.
"You… can't," Sora breathed, frowning. "It's impossible, Riku. There's already a Sora there, I know he's waiting."
"So he'll find himself a twin," I replied with a grin. When he shoved me, I wasn't prepared, and hit the wall hard, seeing stars.
"Shut up!" he cried angrily. "Don't talk like this is all just some big joke! You don't know what you're saying, Riku, it's just not going to work."
"I don't see why not," I snapped, blinking away the daze. "Maybe we don't know what'll happen, maybe we don't know what life'll be like, but if you think I'm just going to let you go to this bullshit little fate, think again. Sora, I won't leave you to that!" I cast a baleful look Zack's way. "At least if I'm here," I added sourly, "I know you'll be taken care of."
Sora's eyes rolled in exasperation. "Yeah, for like, a week, after which you'll be kind of slightly dead, Riku." He let out a noise of frustration, scuffing his hands through his hair. "For God's sake, what'll it take you to stop trying to be the hero?"
"You," I replied quickly, "with me, coming home."
"I am home!" There were tears in his eyes, helpless. "This is where I was born, it's where I belong. We don't come from the same world, Riku! You've just got to let me go, and go to your own home! I'm not meant to live the life of your Sora, I'm meant to live my life, and that doesn't include you! It doesn't include my mom! I just have to deal with that." He turned to Zack. "I'm coming with you!"
"No!" I snarled, snatching up his wrist, fingers hard enough around his flesh to leave a ring. "You're coming with me. Damn it, Sora, you don't seem to understand that I won't leave you like this. I told you I wouldn't, so I won't. If that means I have to die, then no one gets me, and you end up alone with ShinRa anyway."
"But that's so stupid!" he wailed.
"I DON'T CARE!"
He winced under the force of my bellow, my voice ringing in the confined space. "Do you care about what your Sora might think?" he demanded, face twisted.
I gripped his chin, brought us together hard enough to bang our foreheads, and hissed, "There is no 'my' Sora, except for the Sora I claim as my own, and you are part of that. Sora will understand. You need to stop being stupid and just agree with me."
"And if I don't, you'll stay and just die?" His mouth was curled down, lower lip jutting out, not in a cute pout, not in anything halfway adorable, just this awful pain and conflict, the struggle to not break down completely. His will against mine. His breaths were short and shallow, mouth incapable of closing all the way because of its contortion.
"That's exactly right, So," I said softly. My thumb caressed his jaw. "So what'll it be? You really want to watch me die one more time?"
His eyes squeezed shut, a choked sob escaping. "You're manipulating me."
I inhaled the tortured air, pressed him a little tighter with my fingers. Voice low, I asked, "And is it working?"
Zack saw him cracking, and felt the need to intervene. I cut my eyes to him in a vicious glower, as he said, "I really don't think this is a good idea."
"Shut the fuck up, Zack, no one really gives two shits what you think right now," I growled. Sora's eyes flew open, new hope within grasp.
"I do! What's wrong? Why shouldn't I?"
He shot me an apologetic look. "It's just… I'd love nothing more than for that to be an option, but – two people in the same place, at the same time… the same two people… it's an anomaly. It's dangerous."
"So's this whole fuckin' world, Zack, you see me complaining?" I snapped back. "This place is a living, breathing fucking anomaly, and you're trying to tell me that one more to the mix is going to hurt?"
"Riku, you can't just – "
"The hell I can't!" I roared. "Damn it, Zack, if you're not with me right now, then you're against me, I don't care what you've done for me – if you screw this up, and make Sora stay, I will stay also, and I will find a way to summon the keyblade, and I will hunt – you – down. Sorry, Aerith," I added in frustration to the general air, in case she was listening.
Zack hunched over, tense, lips pressed thin. I don't know if he was thinking about my argument, or letting those last two words run through his head, wondering about her, wondering what she'd do in the same situation. It occurred to me that almost all of her sacrifice had been in vain – Lucrecia wouldn't have been able to use the Mako, either. She'd have died. Perhaps she'd have preferred that, to the nightmare Hojo had made her twisted life into.
Sora was poised on an edge, a thin, straight line. To fall to one side would mean a life he would hate, an invisible existence under ShinRa's watchful shadow. To the other, the unfamiliar, the unknown, his only true fear being his mirror-image that dwelt there.
I would drag him down with me, to my side.
"Sora's coming with me," I said, in a tone that would brook no argument. I didn't even look at him to gain approval. I knew that he would fight with every small amount of leeway that I granted. The time had come to take charge of this dispute, and crush his protests without a second thought. I glanced over to Demyx and Zexion. They were going to die for me, to get me home.
I was going to make damn sure that once I got there, I had no reason to want to come back.
"He's coming with me. And that's all there is to it."
The sun was hot, a direct contrast to the ever-present chill of Icicle. To stand here on the beach, feet sinking into the soft sand, the smell of the ocean filling every sense, was like feeling hope springing anew, eternal. I gripped Sora's hand hard.
The chopper was still going, several meters away, the whirlwind it created whipping up a sandstorm that lashed us even at this distance. The four of us, Zexion, Demyx, Sora and myself, faced the other three. A solemn air had descended upon us all, as we faced one another for the last time. We were on the play island, where I had first washed up all that time ago. It was empty of people, due to the lack of youth on Destiny Island at the moment. We were isolated, alone, preparing to tear the laws of physics apart.
Zack was crying, silently. No drama, just tears trickling down. Sephiroth was as unreadable as ever, and Reno looked calm.
"So," the redhead said, the first to break the tension. He stepped forward, held out his hand to Sora. "You did good, kid." Sora hesitated, shook it, giving a jerky nod.
He winked at me. "Silver," he acknowledged. Then he flipped a wave to the other two, turned, and returned at a lope to the chopper.
"I'm sorry," Zack said hoarsely, voice raised over the noise. "I – I didn't want things to turn out this way. I'm sorry," he repeated, mournfully, to Demyx.
Demyx just smiled. "It's okay, Zack. I'm not mad, not really. And remember, this was our choice. Don't be sad for us; Aerith wouldn't want that."
Zack closed his eyes, nodded shortly. "I just…"
"Zack." Zexion had regained a little strength from spending the last several hours resting. He stood on his own, arm around Demyx, a peaceful expression on his face. "You should go now. People will notice the helicopter."
The tears came a little faster, his eyes flashing open. He stayed for another long minute, not speaking, studying us one by one. Committing to memory what he could. At long last, he nodded. "I'll miss you guys. I hope – I hope things get better, wherever you end up." He turned to me in particular. "I hope you get home, Riku. And – take care of Sora, okay?"
I drew my boyfriend close, holding him against my chest with one arm, and replied, "I will, Zack. You know I will."
He lifted a hand to his mouth, bowed his head, and leaned into Sephiroth. The older man took his shoulder gently, shot me a small smile, and led Zack away. We watched, we couples, as they climbed into the machine and closed the door. I could see a flash of red in the pilot's seat, my last glimpse of Reno.
The rotors kicked into a higher speed, the noise and wind becoming intolerable – then the chopper lifted off, and, within minutes, was gone into the sky.
This was it.
I turned to the other two. "Okay," I said, frowning. "They're gone. This is your chance – if you want to change your mind and run, they're not going to stop you."
Demyx glanced over at Zexion, rolling his eyes. Zexion just sighed and shook his head. "We're going swimming."
Demyx let Zexion go, and came over to us. He enveloped me in a hug, reached out and drew Sora into it. I was surprised when, a moment later, I felt one of Zexion's trembling arms touch me. We stood there for a while, the four of us, a lump of humanity saying good-bye.
When Demyx pulled away, his eyes shone with moisture. "You two take care, okay?" he said, voice shaking a little. "You know we love you, and you know you love each other, so everything is going to be fine."
Sora wept. He reached for them both, and hugged them tightly, his friends throughout this whole despicable ordeal. Demyx allowed the embrace to linger, eventually gently disengaging from him, tugging Zexion along. "We need to get going," he said softly. He wiped his eyes, and gave us each a loving look. "You guys stay in the shallows, okay? You'll know when it's time."
We all walked down to the water. Sora and I stopped where the water lapped at our thighs, while the other two continued, swimming once it got too deep. We watched them go, listening to their splashing grow distant.
"Are you okay?" I asked Sora. He sniffled, shook his head.
"I don't want this to happen. I don't want any of it to happen."
I drew him to me, wrapped him up in my arms, ignoring the pain in my shattered hand. "I know, baby," I murmured into his hair. "It sucks. All of it." I gave him a squeeze. "Are you alright with the water like this?"
Sora laughed harshly. "It's a little late to say I'm scared, don't you think?"
I tucked my chin down, pressed our cheeks together. "I guess it is."
For a while, we closed our eyes, and listened to the sea, the remote cry of gulls, the wind rustling the paopu leaves. "Soon," I whispered into his ear, "we'll be home. And there won't be any ShinRa. We can live peacefully, forever. I promise you."
"Do you think Sora will be mad at me?"
"He can't be mad at himself." I kissed his temple. "I told you. It'll be like you're twins. We'll just tell the world you are, and no one will bother you. I'll take care of you both."
He nodded against me. I straightened with a sigh, turning my head to find Demyx and Zexion. They were a fair distance out, circling lazily around each other, exchanging kisses. To look at them, you'd think they were any pair of lovers at the beach on a fine day. You'd think they were exulting in their lives, rather than verging on ending them.
They dipped below the water.
A wind started to blow, the smack of the paopus becoming louder. I heard the wooden wind chimes Kairi got for her eighth birthday clonk faster. Zexion, suspended between worlds and dying, Demyx, one with the water even when hidden away in a secret laboratory. Both of them, they gave themselves to me.
Minutes passed, and they never resurfaced.
The waves around us surged suddenly, sucking at our pants, tugging at our feet submerged in the wet sand. Sora gave a little gasp and held me tighter. I whispered soothingly to him, rubbed his back, but I, too, felt a spark of nervous fear.
"It's okay, baby." Demyx and Zexion would never come up again. "It's okay."
The sea swirled, churned, and drained away. The water level dropped, as the air went suddenly still. I was pulled from Sora, staggering under the force of the current. I stumbled to my knees in the suddenly shallow water, hands sinking fast into the sand, the bandages on my hand becoming soaked and useless. Brine splashed up into my eyes, stinging, briefly blinding. I gasped, pushing the hair from my eyes, the water flattening it to my head, and clambered back up.
There was a silence hanging heavy in the air. As I tilted my head up, I saw a wave coming, a wall. Terror spiked, awe. It was coming this way. A – a giant wave. A nightmare. I twisted to Sora, who was locked in horror, eyes wide, watching it come. This… was his nightmare. It was true, after all.
I did what I knew I needed to. I walked forward, towards the towering water, the sand wet, depth gone, sucked away to feed the monster. When it should have been around my neck, it sloshed at my calves. I turned to Sora, saw he had yet to move.
"So!" He tore his gaze to me, terrified. I extended a hand, urging him to come. "This is it, Sora," I bellowed, over the growing hiss-roar of noise. "Take my hand!"
He lurched into motion. The tidal wave kept coming, tearing along. This could be nothing else but the portal. "Sora!"
He was running, stumbling in the wet sand, reaching for me. I lunged for him, an endless shadow falling across us. I fell to my knees, and grabbed him, dragged him to me, the roar filling everything, it was everywhere, the world had become noise and darkness, it was being devoured. I felt the first few flecks of water hit me, stinging, hard. It became rain, light, powdery.
Then, it became a train, slamming into me, breaking me. Sora was torn from my grasp.
We were ripped away into nothingness.
Darkness. Emptiness. Nothing.
Air. I opened my mouth, let the fluid vomit from my lungs, an endless supply of it, the agony all-encompassing. Head pounding, body throbbing, arm afire. Hands pressed at me, held me up, scraping the hair from my face, a voice screaming my name over and over.
I collapsed to the sand, cheek against it, sucking in grits of it as I gasped and screeched at the oxygen around me. I was coughing, choking, sick beyond measure.
"Riku – Riku – Riku, answer me, baby, are you okay? Riku, speak, say something, please!"
My arm snaked out, wrapped around the nearest thing, a neck, a neck holding me up, keeping me from smothering in the wet, wet sand.
"Keep your eyes, open, baby, please hold on, we're going to get you to the hospital – "
"No!" I gasped, pushing away from the neck, the voice. I fell onto my back, started gagging on the water that hadn't come out yet. He came after me, crawling across the sand, picking up my head, leaning me forward despite the pain, my sound of distress.
"Riku, it's okay, you're home, you're back, you're home." I looked sideways, eyes torn open, and there – there was Sora. Brown, tear-streaked, blue-eyed Sora. I hitched in a breath, let out a sob, threw myself on him, wrapping him tightly, tightly so I'd never have to let him go again. He clutched me harder. "It's okay. You're going to be fine. I'll take you home, you can sleep. You're going to be okay." His voice was fierce, strong, broken. He felt… dry. I let out a startled noise, clung even harder.
"It's me, I'm here, it's gonna be okay."
I closed my eyes tight, inhaled him sharply. He – smelled like home. I jerked back, took his face with my hands, dug the fingers in hard enough to hurt, my eyes darting frantically over his features. "I'm – home?"
He nodded tearfully. "You made it. I – I had dreams… they all wanted me to believe you were dead, but… I knew – you'd never leave me like that."
"Never," I vowed savagely. Then I realised we were missing someone. My resolve was blown away by a breath of fear, insides tightening. "Sora!" I released him, whipped around sluggishly, eyes wide, searching. "Sora!"
Sora's arms looped around me, yanked me back to his chest, wet from the waist down from where he'd pulled me from the water. "Ssh," he whispered into my ear, voice thick. I struggled, but he held me tighter. "You're home now. Shush, Riku, please."
"I have to find Sora," I said wildly. "He came with me, he crossed, too, I have to find him!"
"It's okay, baby." He was crying against my neck. "He's okay now. He made it across."
My heart leapt. I halted, demanded, "Where is he? Is he conscious? Is he alright?"
Sora's arms tightened on me, he drew me closer. He cried harder than ever. "He's dead, baby. He drowned. He came with you, but he died."
I stopped breathing. My heart… stopped. "No," I said.
"I'm sorry," he wept.
"No. He can't be!" I tore free of his clinging, fell forwards onto the sand, staggered to my feet. I spun in a clumsy circle, seeking, scouring the bare sand of the play island. I saw a blot along the beach and started running. Sora called after me, chased me.
I let out a scream as I got closer, close enough to see his white pallor, blue lips. I threw myself to the ground, clawed my way over the sand, reached him and seized him. Hair plastered to his flesh but drying in the sun, chest still, not moving, not breathing. I leaned down, pressed my ear to his heart, heard only heavy silence. "No," I groaned, pulling back, punching his chest, parting his lips to breathe into him, to breathe into him, to breathe into him, and not once did he breathe back. The lips were cold and rubbery. His eyes were cracked open blankly. I drew a breath, wrenching his sandy head up, bellowing into his ear to wake up. Sora reached me, tried to pull me away, got punched for his troubles. Then I punched the Sora in my arms. "Don't you leave me!" I shouted. I threw him down onto the sand, shook him roughly, and this time when Sora tugged at me, I fell backwards into him, wailing, my cries drifting up into the ocean breeze, to be swept away.
"He crossed first," he whispered brokenly into my ear, "he came first, and when I pulled him out, it was like he'd been there for hours. He's dead, baby, I'm so sorry, I'm so, so sorry."
I sobbed into his shirt, felt a piece of me break off and die, lying with the body of my love. I was home. I was home, and Sora was holding me, telling me I was going to be okay, and all I could do was stare at his counterpart, and feel that nothing could possibly ever be okay again.
It was night. I lay in Sora's bed, on my side, his warmth curled behind me, arm over my waist, fulfilling the promise I had drawn from him to never let me go. All the lights in the house were off. Senna was at the funeral parlour, weeping for the son she had never known.
There had been no way for us to explain the anomaly of the other Sora. I didn't even try, and neither of us wanted to just… just push him back to the waves. He would have hated it. Hated to be left to sink below that which he had spent his whole life fearing.
The Nightmare. Capital T, capital N, death by water. It had all been true. Since his birth, he had been dreaming of his death. It hadn't even happened on his own world.
They were burning his body. There was nothing else to do. No one could figure out the doppelganger, and I refused to allow this to become a media phenomenon. Upon seeing my hair-tearing distress, it was quickly agreed to. No doubt, someone would regret this some day, but it didn't matter. Nothing… really mattered to me.
All through that night, neither of us slept. Sora just held me, and cried with me, the two of us exhausting ourselves, but not enough to sleep. He told me of the dreams he'd been having since I disappeared that day during the storm, washed away on a fool's errand when I should have been safe, right here. He told me how he had been there on the clock tower. How he had caught me when I swooned, and started to fall.
"I was there that night," he whispered, his voice thin in the darkness.
"You were never not there," I replied, hollowed-out and sore. "You were the same heart."
"Yes," he agreed quietly, "we were. The same heart, made twice."
"And both of you loved me."
He buried his face into my neck, murmuring, "How could we not?"
Morning. An hour before dawn. Senna had returned with the ashes in a porcelain box, and stood at the door of the bedroom until we noticed her presence. We rose quickly, and stopped, upon seeing the container. Senna looked half-dead herself, her eyes never leaving her son, as if afraid to. I knew, when I told her my plans, that she wanted to stop Sora from coming with me, wanted to lock him away, wrap him in cotton, and never let him leave again.
But she didn't. She let us go, and took herself away to get drunk and pass out. It would happen again, after that night, for several days running. But then, when Sora burst into tears and accused her of caring more for the dead son than the live one, she would slap him, and never touch alcohol again.
For now, though, we descended the stairs, emerging into the hush of pre-dawn, when the birds were only beginning to cheep. The air held a bite of cold, the ground beneath our bare feet icy without the sun to bake it. I cradled the porcelain box in both hands, afraid to drop it, and spill him over the road. My left hand had healed in the crossing, but much like Zexion's remaining scars, the bones hadn't miraculously straightened and become pristine. There was no pain, but there were strange lumps under the flesh, and a slight hook to my fingers that couldn't be straightened out. Zack's efforts had saved it for the most part, but Hojo had been thorough. I doubted the hand would ever come right. I guess it's good that I wield the keyblade with my right. At least, if the occasion ever called for it, I would still be able to fight.
I don't know, though. My soul was wearying of that sort of life.
We walked to the beach in silence, listening to the gentle hush of the waves, the breeze through the trees, paopu and otherwise. Neither of us had bothered to dress much; I had discarded my ShinRa clothing, and wore an old pair of black shorts that belonged to Sora. Despite the differences in our physiques, they hung loosely on me, evidence of the ruination of my body. Sora had on shorts, and a sweater he had thought to pull over his head before we left.
As we reached the sand, Sora slowed, drawing back, allowing me my space. I don't know if I was crying anymore – it seemed like maybe I had no tears left. All I knew was the dull, heavy weight in my chest. It dragged at me, though I fought it, knowing that Sora wouldn't necessarily want me to be scarred by this. It was hard to remember.
"If I die tomorrow – I die happy – because I know that you love me, too."
"…Nobody has to die. This isn't where we want to be, but we're together. And they aren't going to do anything unless we try to escape."
"I think that if there was a way to escape, Demyx and Zexion would have taken it. They hate it here."
"We can be happy, though. Demyx said we can be family, and we'll all look out for each other. And if I'm good, we can have our own place like they have, and you can sleep on your very own sofa."
I waded out into the water, felt the coldness and ignored it. I went as deep as I knew Sora would be comfortable – only up to my knees, so that the waves as they rolled in licked at my thighs. My shorts swirled and swayed in the calm ocean. I took a long moment to stare at the horizon, waiting for the sun to come peeking out. Sora had been neglected of the sun for too long. Even when we were out in it, he hadn't been allowed to bask and enjoy it. He hadn't enjoyed much for a long time.
I saw it come, the red-golden tip of the arc, which would eventually become a blazing yellow ball. By that time, I would be back in bed, and I would sleep, and for a while, I wouldn't be feeling this pain.
I looked down at the box in my hands, cream and light rose pink with silver filigree, one of Senna's favourites. The sea swayed around me, making docile, wet noises, kissing my skin through the material. Gently, I pulled back the porcelain lid, revealing the meagre remains of the boy who embodied light and love. I tried, but couldn't bring myself to love these ashes. I would stick to the memory, and the reality, and do him justice that way.
I took a few more steps, going in up to my hips, then held out the box, and tipped it.
I scattered these ashes, as broadly as I could, the closest I could get him to home.