Standard Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts. I do, however, blame Square and Disney entirely for making this SO DAMN EASY.
Warnings: A wee bit of swearing. Spoilers for everything. Oh, and implied boylove/yaoi/slash/whatever you prefer to call it. Can't forget that.
Casey would like you to note: This was written back in April (08) and as my first KH fanfic was mostly an experiment--about 5k worth of figuring the characters out and working them into my style. Looking back at this, I think I've made some improvement. Rather than attempting to edit/revise/whatever at this point, I'll let it stand as a testament to my first foray into this particular fandom.
"It's not really a book, you know," Roxas said, head tilted to the side, and turned a page, eyes tracking its progress with a sated slowness. "Just the idea of one. Like a memory."
"That doesn't explain why I can't read the cover."
"Sora." He peered over the spine at Sora's sullen expression, a frown for the not-book's worn cover and a pout for Roxas, like the kid really thought he was holding out. Like Roxas might know the truth behind all this, the dusty green couch and the cloth-covered doorway with the eternal red of sunset peeking through, and just how this place had gotten here, somewhere deep inside... wherever they were. Their body's subconscious or dreamscape or whatever partially physical plane their shared heart produced.
Roxas could probably have explained more of it--he'd been here longer, spent the vast majority of his time loitering here, altering the props and scenery for a change of pace. He'd grown used to the unreality of the place, how you could see and hear and taste and touch and smell--but never really, not like having a real, solid body.
"Think about it." Roxas leaned the book against his chin, papers settling around his nose, and breathed in the scent--the memory of scent, of ink and old paper--tilted his head back against the couch cushions, the tips of his hair catching against Sora's shirt. Memory of touch. "Have you ever tried to read anything when you're dreaming?"
"Oh..." Sora drew the vowel out lazily, something like understanding dawning in his eyes. The kid was bright--didn't always catch on that fast, but he'd figure it out. "But, this isn't a dream--is it? And you can still read it."
"I can't read it, I just remember how the story goes." His voice was muffled under the book; Roxas let it drop to his lap, reached up to stretch and folded his arms behind his head. Sora shifted on the couch when he poked him in the rib, turned a little onto his hip, chin propped on one hand.
It was kind of nice, just like this.
"It's not technically a dream." Roxas had pushed some of the boundaries of it, tests to see what was possible and not in this sort of space. "But kind of the same idea. None of this is real, it's just bits of whatever we have in our heads--head--only we have control here. Not like in a dream where it just goes on it's own."
Sora was picking at a loose thread on the couch cushion, eyebrows drawn together in a pensive stare aimed solidly at the threadbare fabric. Roxas thought he recognized the expression--might have seen it in a mirror before. He'd just lost interest in watching Sora mull, picked the book back up and geared his memory to continue the illegible story when the hand that had been picking at the couch landed in his hair. Soft, curling against the unruly spikes. Roxas felt the touch in reverse against his own palm, a faint tickle, and when he looked up Sora was patting the back of his head with his free hand, like he'd felt the phantom of his own actions, too.
It passed after a moment. Stretch of silence, for a while, and Sora called up the sound of the tide rolling in outside, despite the fact that it didn't really belong in the space Roxas had made. He only remembered it vaguely, a distant sound you could hear sometimes in Twilight Town, when the sky darkened a deeper red and the trollies came to rest, the city quieted--Roxas could tilt his head, then, listen to the roll and crash of waves.
"Are you happy?" Sora's voice was soft but had a finely sharpened edge; it cut neatly through everything.
The book slipped out of his fingers, fell closed on the floor with a muffled thunk. Roxas didn't remember looking up, didn't know what kind of dumbfounded expression might have been on his face, but knew Sora was wearing that one--serious determination, nothing like a smile or a frown in the way his teeth were grit behind his lips, just the unwavering certainty that something was not right, and come hell or ten thousand Heartless he was going to fix it, dammit.
"You could come out, you know. If you wanted."
Roxas moved his mouth a few times unsuccessfully, possibly to tell Sora that no, that wasn't really necessary--that he was doing just fine hiding away here in his not-hangout with his not-book and whatever other not-things he chose to surround himself with, and a year's worth of memories of the outside world that he wasn't entirely sure he wanted some days.
But what he said was, "Ice cream."
Sora's grim determination abruptly dropped into gaping, confused, "Huh?"
"I'd like to have some ice cream," Roxas repeated slowly, more because he was just now realizing that yes, he did want some ice cream than for Sora's benefit. "Real ice cream, I mean. And I think I'd like to see your beach. Sometime when you're not busy."
Sora's brain was still playing catch-up--it took a good minute before any words made it to his mouth. "Is that all?"
"Yeah." Or, more accurately, that was the most Roxas could come up with that might be worth coming to the surface for.
Sora's grin was like a supernova. "Damn, Roxas--that's easy. We can do that tomorrow!" He laughed a little, leaning forward just enough to rest his forehead against Roxas's--strange, how their hair mingled together and it all kind of felt the same. "I thought you were going to want to go world-hopping or--I dunno, something long and involved. Or fight Riku. Although I do that anyway, so that's not a problem, either."
"Well--there's nothing else, really." Might have been at one point, but--
Sora jerked his head around suddenly, one hand almost in the air out of instinct, fingers not quite curled; he dropped it when he looked around and saw that the room was empty aside from them. He blinked a little at the doorway.
"Thought I saw someone." Sora sank back down, slipping off the couch to sit beside Roxas and collapsing on his shoulder without any kind of propriety for personal space. Not that it mattered when they were the same person, ultimately.
Roxas had seen it too, out of the corners of his eyes, but he was used to it now. "Don't worry about it, I was just thinking."
Sooner or later, Sora would catch a better look. He was a bright kid--wouldn't take him long to figure it out.
"Okay, so... how do we do this?"
Sora was scratching his shoulder, the cursory--and non-productive--look around his room cut off by a yawn. Roxas could see it, distantly, like watching through a pair of binoculars in reverse. "Wait..." He watched Sora pause with his hand halfway to the closet door, head turning like he wanted to look behind him for the source of the voice talking, even knowing it was Roxas in the back of his head. "Can I pick out the clothes?"
Sora's bright smile managed to reflect off the mirror on the closet door, backwards, through their consciousness and far enough to tug at Roxas's mouth. "Yeah, okay. But still--"
"You'd better sit down." However this happened, their body was going to have to be unconscious for at least a minute or two. Coming out with a lump on his head was not in Roxas's plans.
Sora seemed to realize this at the same time. "Oh. Yeah, I probably should."
Roxas waited for Sora to sit--only Sora didn't, Sora never sat, he launched himself backwards into a heap of overgrown boy limbs. In this case, onto his bed. Roxas was close enough to the surface that he failed to repress a muffled, "Oomph."
And here Roxas was worried about him face-planting on the floor. "Honestly, if your body can withstand the constant abuse you subject it to on a daily basis, I have no concerns about anything that I might do to it."
Sora made a V-for-Victory sign with one hand, out in front of his face where Roxas could see it through his eyes.
"Says the guy who's going to all this trouble for ice cream."
Roxas rolled his eyes--mentally, at least, and wondered briefly if Sora felt it. The space in their consciousness was still black, distant point of light showing Sora's vision, and this wasn't going to work. He needed to create something around himself that might make sense to both of them, something they could use to swap places. It wasn't as easy in their conscious mind.
After a few minutes Sora started to squirm impatiently.
"Hey--close your eyes. Imagine you're standing in a high place." Roxas had the beginnings of a construct, but without Sora's cooperation, it wasn't going to work. At first it was starting to look like Memory's Skyscraper, the highest point Roxas could think of, but after a few minutes of Sora taking deep breaths and screwing up his face in concentration, it started to look more like the spreading boughs of a large palm tree, the organic material mixing and merging with glass and metal.
Something about that, Roxas thought, was strangely appropriate.
Sora appeared at his side with a soggy-sounding warp of the not-space around them, the vision point in the distance fading to black with no one present to man their body's controls. Unconcerned, he offered Roxas a wide smile.
"Hey." Roxas raised one hand in greeting.
"Hey. That was pretty cool." Sora high-fived him before stepping back to survey the expanse of sky-blue nothing surrounding them. "So, what do I do while you're out?"
He said it so casually, like Roxas was leaving the house to go grocery shopping. "You can make a ladder and use that to get back down to--whatever it is. The place we usually hang out. It'll look different for you."
"Ok--" Sora interrupted himself with another gigantic yawn, "--ay."
"Sorry I made you get up early."
Sora rubbed at his eyes. "No prob."
"Remember this place, okay? We'll need it to switch back."
"Gotcha." Faint thumbs-up hand motion and another yawn.
"If you don't--"
"Would you GO already? I wanna take a nap." Sora shot him an irritated glance, then grinned and threw himself into a hug, arms tight around Roxas's neck. "Have fun."
Fun. Roxas squared his shoulders and stepped to the edge of the skyscraper-tree-thingy, backwards wave to Sora without turning around, because his teeth were planted firmly against his lip. He tried to remember what it was like to have a body, to be wholly and completely Ialive/I. He figured, even with the memories in place, that it was still going to be a bit of a shock.
He wondered what it was going to be like, this time, with that one significant bit of himself in place that hadn't been there before.
The first thing Roxas felt--or, at least, the first thing he remembered being conscious enough to feel, was the sudden rush of air into his lungs that made him gasp and flail like a displaced goldfish. The second thing, immediately following that, was a tightness in his throat and chest, which closed steadily like a vice until he remembered that he needed to exhale.
And then inhale.
For the first few minutes all he could do was squeeze his eyes shut and focus on the simple process of breathing. In. Out. Rise and fall of his chest and the rush of blood and oxygen through his body. Relaxing slowly when his muscles started to take over, remembering the movements themselves and falling into a practiced rhythm. In and out.
He was lying on a very lumpy, very messy bed, on a blanket made of some kind of soft fabric he didn't think he'd ever felt before. After another few minutes spent with his fingers rubbing back and forth over the fibers, he abruptly rolled over and rubbed his entire body against it until his nerve endings tingled.
And finally, for the last few minutes before Sora started mentally poking him, he lay still and listened to the drumbeat thump thump thump in his chest, and the way it echoed in his ears and fingertips.
Is it really that strange?
It was surprising how quiet and distant Sora's voice was, how he didn't hear it so much as feel it. He opened his eyes, finally, focused on the tanned and calloused hand resting next to his face. Roxas moved it experimentally, watching the fingers tap against the blanket. "I'd suggest you try spending as long as I have without a body, Sora, but I wouldn't wish that on you."
Roxas's voice still sounded the same in his ears. Not like Sora's at all. That was unexpected.
He sat up, swung his legs off the bed and felt the carpet under his feet--curled his toes in it against the sensation and wondered how long it had been. Probably since the last morning he woke up in Twilight Town.
His first attempt at standing left him half-sprawled and clinging to the bedpost.
Sora's snicker tickled the back of his thoughts. Very graceful.
"I thought you were going to sleep." Roxas righted himself and found his balance, shifting on his feet and willing his muscles to walk themselves. It had to be like riding a bike. One foot. Next foot. He looked up from the floor and was instantly and inexplicably face to face with Sora, only--
No, it was the mirror.
In his mind, Sora was moving forward and right behind his eyes in an instant, excitement dwindling momentarily into a disappointed Oh.
Roxas frowned a bit at the mirror and reached up with both hands in a feeble attempt to tame Sora's brown spikes. They just weren't quite right. "What's wrong?"
Eh, just thought we might look different. Yanno. With you out front.
Roxas scanned his reflection a few times, noting that something was different, he just couldn't pinpoint what, exactly. "Well, if it makes you happy my voice is still mine."
Sora's mental expression twisted up into something uncertain. That'll look suspicious.
"Not as much as it would if you were walking around with blond hair." Roxas opened the closet, swinging the mirror away and pulling out the first pair of khakis he saw that weren't shorts. "I wasn't planning on talking, anyway."
That'll look even more suspicious. This is me we're talking about.
Roxas flipped through the shirts, pausing once or twice--Don't wear the long sleeves Sora warned. Trust me, it'll be hot today.--before settling on a black and white raglan that was at least passable for his tastes. Sora mentally stuck his tongue out several times during the process. Roxas told him to go sleep already.
"Nothing for it," he muttered finally, ten minutes later in the bathroom with his (Sora's) hair half-wet and still sticking out in every direction.
Well, if you have to talk to someone, try and make your voice more happy and less gravelly.
If that doesn't work, say you have a cold.
"My voice is not gravelly."
Don't forget your munny.
Roxas turned at the head of the stairs and jogged back into Sora's room to grab a few coins, glad his equilibrium had caught up along with his breathing.
And don't let Mom see you.
"All she'll see is you." Roxas rolled his eyes (and this time they really did roll), checking the mirror one last time and assuring that he looked as cool and Roxas-like as possible while wearing Sora's skin. He looked more like Sora pathetically trying to pretend he was a badass. Roxas's little half-smirk didn't sit right on his face.
She's a mom. Moms know all.
It would have to do. It was early enough on a weekend, no one else would be around to notice that Sora wasn't quite himself. And if by chance someone was, and did, well--he'd have to improvise.
The ice cream vendor gave him a very long, very strange look, continuing even after Roxas had paid the munny for his two popsicles and was wandering off into the sand. Probably continuing until the boy was out of sight. Roxas entertained himself by reconstructing the man's thoughts. 'That was Sora. That was Sora. Awake and dressed and fully functional at eight a.m. on a Saturday. Clearly the world is coming to an abrupt and untimely end.'
Sora, in fact, was sound asleep--sawing logs contentedly in a corner of their shared subconscious made up to look like comfortable bedroom with a very large, fluffy bed, which amazingly and improbably was even messier than Sora's room. Roxas had already given up trying to figure out what memory it came from.
This world was different--whether just because it was or because he was able to experience it in a different way, now, was up for debate. But it was rather nice, the way the sun instantly warmed his skin, the way the sand shifted beneath his feet. The sway and rush of the ocean from Sora's mental soundtrack. Some of it was familiar by proxy that way. Some of it was vague. But the damp and the salt on the air was new, and the feel of the breeze in his hair was different--different hair, so that much figured.
And the ice cream, when it hit his tongue, was heaven.
No one else was out on the beach this early--or rather, he could see some kids in the distance, and what looked like a man and his dog, but they were too far away for Roxas to so much as hear them. He watched for a bit, though, strolling slowly and listening and smelling and feeling, until the first popsicle reduced to a syrup-stained bit of wood in his mouth.
He found a dune a bit further from the line where the ocean was pulling on the sand--it was small but shady, and the longer Roxas stood under the sun, the more uncomfortable it became. He shifted down into the curve of sand, stuck the second popsicle in his mouth, and watched the angle of light across the waves as the sun moved higher.
It was nice. He'd forgotten how nice it could be, sometimes. Just living.
"Sora? You've got to be kidding me."
It could have been anyone, Roxas reflected, thinking back to Sora's words that morning and deciding that Sora's mom would be preferable right now. It could have been anyone, but no. It had to be--
"I know, you're running a fever, right? That must be it." A hand on his forehead and silver hair obstructing his vision and Roxas was unsure if he should slap the unwanted intrusion away or do his best to pretend that yes, really, I'm Sora, and it's not like you're his best friend and would notice that it wasn't so. Right?
Riku leaned back on his heels, head shaking in utter amazement with some kind of half-smile that Roxas knew he had never seen before, not on that face-- "No fever, so I guess this is either a miracle or the apocalypse. Seriously, though, what--"
Time froze there, for less than a second, that instant when Riku finally looked him full in the face, and it was only long enough for Roxas to know, fully and completely, that it was time to defend himself--and that was all the time he had before a keyblade that hadn't been there nanoseconds before was on a collision course with... well. With him.
This part, Roxas decided, Oathkeeper and Oblivion appearing in either hand on sheer instinct--this was like riding a bicycle.
It was a single clash, Riku's key colliding with Roxas's two, crossed and defending, Riku bearing down, and they both seemed content to hold like that. Long enough for Roxas to realize that Riku was using the flat of his blade. Long enough for Riku to realize that his opponent was still holding a popsicle in his mouth, stick clenched in his teeth, and that aside from this he had in fact fought this person before.
"It's you." There wasn't really any tone to Riku's words. No spite or malice, nothing particularly friendly either, and strangely, no surprise. His keyblade vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and Roxas dismissed his own after realizing he was out of hands and couldn't talk with a popsicle in his mouth.
"It's me." Roxas waved the half-eaten ice cream bar in the air in accusation. Riku had nearly caused its premature demise. "Why, who'd you think it was?"
Riku just offered him a stony look and didn't reply. The expression stated plainly that he had plenty of ideas, and none of them were pleasant.
Roxas smirked, just a little--triumphantly, having gotten under Riku's skin--and that had to look odd to Riku, looking at Sora's face. "How did you know?"
"Your eyes are the wrong color." Riku shook his head slightly when Roxas opened his mouth again, a motion for silence that was almost haughty. "You can answer my questions now, thanks. Where's Sora?"
"Sleeping." Roxas removed his attention from him just long enough to catch a drop off the bottom of his popsicle before it escaped. "Which, I'm beginning to gather, is what he's normally doing at this time of day."
"He knows you're here?"
"This was his idea."
Silence. Riku stared at him, hard, like he could bore a hole into his mind and discover whatever devious plans for this particular morning on the beach might lie beneath. Roxas stared back, unyielding, and unspeaking because obviously the prince with the girly hair had told him to shut it.
"What is it you're doing out here, then?"
Roxas held up the popsicle. Stuck it back in his mouth.
"You switched personalities with Sora so you could eat ice cream."
"Think whatever you want." Roxas stepped back and sat back down in his sand dune--Riku wasn't going to kill him, at least so long as he was in Sora's body. Hell, Riku wasn't going to kill him even when he didn't know who or what it was lurking around in Sora's body. The softie.
Riku remained standing, first staring down at him, then casting up and down along the beach, and finally staring straight out to sea, as though waiting for some unexpected storm or army of darkness to roll in. When nearly fifteen minutes passed and nothing cataclysmic happened, he finally sat down.
He wasn't sitting close enough to touch, Roxas noted. Not even as close, he figured, as he would have if he'd been sitting next to Sora. It was some kind of compromise, he supposed--Riku would trust him, temporarily at least, but Roxas was not entitled to 'best friend' treatment.
The sun was getting higher. His second popsicle vanished in the same manner as the first. Roxas left the stick in his mouth, just to keep the sweet taste there on his tongue as long as possible. Another hour, maybe, and he'd have to head back, wake Sora up and let the kid go about his normal day.
Riku's laugh came out of nowhere, like a keyblade or a summer storm. It was brighter than Roxas would have thought; enough so that he jerked his head around to look up at him.
"I was just thinking." Riku reached up to scratch one hand through his hair, sending little strands of silver flying around his face. "Sora would have either tackled me or started pulling faces by now."
Sora would have. Sora was a dork--Roxas figured it might have something to do with the heady, dizzy feeling his body was starting to get. Probably had to do with the sun and the moist heat, and then Riku turned enough to look down at him and--
There it was again--that patently unfamiliar smile.
For the second time that day Roxas forgot how to breathe. The popsicle stick fell out of his mouth, bounced off his knee and landed somewhere in the sand, but he barely noticed around the feel of his newly-discovered heart pounding so hard his ears started to ring and the way his throat and his stomach were slowly twisting around themselves.
He could see Riku's mouth forming around his name--Roxas, first time he'd said that today--but the sound never quite reached his ears. He was pretty sure that this thing, this feeling, whatever it was--barring the possibility that he was dying--had nothing to do with Roxas and everything to do with the body he was in. He was pretty sure he was terrified, right now, moreso than he had ever been in his (unfortunately brief) life--but it was a paradox because the last thing in the whole of the universe he wanted to do was run away.
He was pretty sure that running was the best option right at that moment. So, naturally, that was exactly what he did.
"Ugh." Roxas kicked absently at the sand--the subconscious landscape had transformed to Sora's island at some point, and the kid was determinedly snoozing at the foot of a shady palm. Sora had brought this place up before, a few times, but now Roxas had enough beach-related memory to sense the finer points of the scene. The sun was hot on his neck, the air and the smell of salt was thick around him. He needed Sora awake. "I'll dunk you in the waterfall. Get up."
"Five more minutes."
"Fine, fine." Sora stretched and yawned, sat up enough to blink in the sun and rub the sand off his cheek. "You'd think you--" he trailed off, looking up at Roxas, blue eyes wide. "What happened?"
"I'm going to show you something." Roxas kept his voice tight, mostly because otherwise it was still shaking a little. He must have looked as torn up as he felt if Sora was that worried. "And I need you to explain it to me. Okay? No glossing anything over."
"Uhn." Sora stood up with a long, lazy stretch, still dusting off sand from... pretty much everywhere. "Right, okay."
Roxas nodded a little, letting out a breath he didn't realize he was holding in, once he was sure he had the majority of Sora's attention. He reached up into empty space and pulled down a projector screen.
"This should make it easier, we can both see it." Roxas adjusted the length of the screen to his satisfaction, the memory already playing back from the point he and Sora had first woke that morning. "Huh, I need a remote--"
"No, wait, how'd you do that?" Sora pushed past him abruptly, that incredulous slack-jawed expression on his face--looked more like he'd just taken a blitzball to the head--poking all around and behind the projector screen that was hanging innocently in thin air, on the beach, for absolutely no reason.
"I needed it to be here." Roxas held up a remote control and tapped Sora on the forehead with it. "So it is."
"Right." Slow comprehension, Sora drawing out the sound to match the speed.
A click of a button and the images were jerking ahead at triple speed: clothing. Bathroom. Quick wave to Sora's mom before she spotted him leavng. Ice cream vendor and his wondering stare. Roxas paused the replay right at the point where he was sitting on the beach, video showing a clean, clear view of the ocean spread in front of him. "Okay, so--"
Roxas lowered the remote, rubbed his forehead with his free hand and turned around. Sora stared back at him with an innocent look, spoon in his mouth and bowl of hot fudge sundae in his hand. He sighed, heavily, and wondered about Sora's priorities. "At least you get how this place works. Or you're starting to, anyway. Could you just..." he waved helplessly at the screen with the remote, "please pay attention to this right now?"
Sora nodded seriously, removing the spoon.
Roxas turned back to the screen. "Thanks."
"I needed it to be here."
Roxas pressed play.
The video worked the way he wanted it to--almost too well. The memory was close, Rku's voice, Riku's hair, keyblade, smile, laughter. All five senses at once and whatever that terrified sensation had been, right there at the end. It echoed across the beach and through both of them and continued in small reverberations even after the memory came to an end, the flash of sand passing by under running feet. A frozen frame lingering on the screen from that instant.
Silence. Memory of waves crashing on the shore.
Sora was looking a bit pale. His ice cream breakfast had vanished. "I..." he started, but his voice had that same shaky quality to it that Roxas had to suppress. "I didn't think you would--" He spread his hands out in front of him, holding them steady, like he wasn't sure what to do with them; and, failing to have anywhere else safe to look, he watched them hover there, parallel to the sand under his feet.
"It wasn't me feeling that, was it? It was you. It saturated and seeped over." Roxas stepped in front of him, taking one hand--Sora learned best by example. "Like when you touch me and we both feel it. Only this was stronger." Too strong. It was overwhelming--even the memory of it was overwhelming but what disturbed Roxas was something else. Something deep and quiet that wasn't entirely unfamiliar. "It's not supposed to be that strong."
"I'm sorry." Sora had to swallow several times just to get the words out. "It's not--I really didn't think--"
"Sora." Roxas leaned in, close enough that most of what he saw was the blue of Sora's eyes. "You have to tell me." Placed both hands on either side of his head, warm skin under fingertips and the silk of hair between. He paused while the feeling bounced back and forth, mild and fleeting like it always was for everything. Everything else but that. "What it is. I need to know."
Sora's eyes flashed to one side, his mouth falling open in confusion. "Who--"
"There was someone there! Again. That same--"
"Who is he? Rox--"
It wasn't fair, the way Roxas all but snarled the words, the way his fingers curled so tight they were almost pulling. Wasn't fair, that kind of desperation and the flash in the background of someone who had no business being in their shared mind/heart/whatever-space.
Wasn't fair, the way that Sora leaned forward, into his arms, turned his face and whispered in small, hot words against his neck. Wasn't fair, the warmth of a body and breath and fingers against his back, that shiver, and the fact that it happened because Roxas had just enough memories to sense all of it.
Wasn't fair, that Riku knew the exact shade of blue that matched Sora's eyes. None of it, none of it was fair.