Whatever Lies Beyond This Morning
Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts, its characters or storyline. I do own this one-shot and while I don't own Sora's father, the character Chris that I use to portray him is mine.
College is slowly consuming my soul, and my writing juices, so I'm resigning myself to writing in short stints. Basically all of my multi-chapter stories are on hold for a while. Consider this thingy a peace offering. There are more independent one-shots in the midst, because if I didn't write something soon I was going to lose the rest of my sanity.
This is my first attempt at a true father-son relationship moment, so bear with me. I tried not to make it too cheesy or feminine. I really do try. Definitely not my best work, but meh. I also tried to avoid the roadside bomb of Sora angst, but considering the topic, it's hard. This fic is loosely mentions a few scenes from The Hart Part and a squint-worthy brief connection to Every Titanic Sinks. This fic stands alone though and you don't have to read the others for it. Anyway, I'll shut up now.
It was the perfect day for sailing. Chris had only been able to take his girl out twice since hurricane season ended, for fear of blustery winds tearing up her sails or the currents damaging her rudder. Oh, he'd missed his baby.
The Tulpa wasn't a big boat. It barely qualified as a fishing boat, and even calling it that was laughable. The deck was barely 30 feet long, and the body was roughly 10 feet wide. The below deck consisted of a cargo hold the size of a linen closet and even that was crammed full of coolers, fishing supplies, tackle boxes, and a small first aid kit.
Still, she was his woman on the side, as his wife Daylia called her.
His wife refused to set foot on the thing, and she had forbidden Chris from taking Sora out onto the boat until their son was at least eight years old and a strong enough swimmer. Chris had laughed at her when Sora first went out with him on the Tulpa. Daylia had practically swaddled the boy in floaties and life jackets, and the mortified expression on Sora's face had nearly sent Chris overboard with the laughter.
When they had been out of eyeshot of the main island, Sora had torn the plastic floatation devices off in such a flurry that he'd nearly bucked himself overboard. Fortunately, an eight year didn't have the weight to rock a boat the size of the Tulpa. Chris had recently installed rope railings around the sides of the boat, and his son had nearly throttled himself in his haste to be free from the floaties.
Casting aside the rough start, Sora had found his sea legs quick enough. He deemed all the nautical terms too complicated when Chris tried to teach him, so the boom was 'the swinging thing', the mast was 'the flappy thing', and the helm was 'the wheel thing'. Port, starboard, stern, and bow were too difficult to remember too, so Chris reverted back to right, left, back, and front.
Hard to believe that had just been ten years ago.
"Hey, Dad," Fingers snapped in front of Chris's eyes, "You're listing."
Chris pulled himself out of his reverie and glanced down. The wheel of the helm was lethargically turning itself through his lackluster grip. He snorted and took a firmer hold on the helm.
"I was just testing you." He rolled his shoulders.
Sora shot him a snarky look, "Sure you were. Not getting lazy in your old age, are you?"
Chris course corrected and gave his son a flat look.
Sora laughed and leaned back against the mast. The deep, throaty tone of his laugh dragged Chris the rest of the way out of his memories of eight year olds and 'swinging things'. That cute, chubby kid who'd bounced around the deck and asked endless questions about sailing had been replaced almost overnight by this lanky, muscled young man who moved around the boat like he'd been born on it.
"What?" Sora caught him studying him.
Chris shook his head, "Just thinking about when you were little. You were so young and adorable. What happened?"
Sora snorted and shook his head, "Life happened, dude. That chubby kid with the ducky floaties is long gone."
It was Chris's turn to laugh, "Oh, you remember those?"
Sora groaned and dropped his head against the mast, "I can't believe she took pictures."
Chris chuckled, "Yeah, and boy if you'd gone to prom, your mother would have busted those pictures out to show in a montage to your date."
Sora laughed half heartedly and shook his head, glancing away to the open sea. Chris felt a twinge of regret. Sora had missed both of his high school proms because of the…the Heartless. After going missing for two years, he'd been back for three months before some fresh 'orders' came in from 'King Mickey' needing assistance with more 'Heartless' to protect 'Kingdom Hearts'.
Chris had listened to his son tell him the story at least a dozen times and parts of it were still foggy. It was too incredible to believe, but the anguish in Sora's eyes when he'd stumbled back to the house six months ago, half expecting Chris and Daylia to not remember him, was too raw to disregard. Something had happened to Sora over those two years. Something more had happened that Sora wasn't being completely open with him about.
Sora was absentmindedly fiddling with a fray in one of the ropes, staring out at the lazy, sloshing water. The more time went by, the more Chris became convinced that Sora was not okay. He wasn't the bright eyed, innocent, curious, and loud mouthed kid he'd been before…before. He'd changed; rather, something had changed him. He had a bone weary and haggard shade to his eyes now, something Chris had seen in his own father's eyes after he'd come home from the war.
Seeing that same traumatized coldness in his son's eyes gave Chris the chills sometimes. Sora would never admit to feeling any kind of distress though. Just like a good soldier. He smiled and laughed and drove his parents crazy like before, but Chris could only turn a blind eye to the night terrors and dark circles under the eyes for so long. Opening that Pandora's Box was a step that needed to be taken soon, but he had barely made it through the sex talk with the kid, how was he supposed to comfort his child on the horrors of war and evil?
"Hey," Chris spoke up, "Take the helm."
Sora glanced back at him and offered a mock-awed look, "You're trusting me at the wheel of your baby?"
Chris shifted away as Sora shimmied behind the wheel, his hands seizing the controls with a lustful tremor that Chris recognized. His need to be out in the open sea had been passed down to Sora.
"Nah, I just need a beer. I can't stand your face this long without a drink."
Sora made a face at him and Chris knelt down to pluck a beer from the below deck cooler. He gripped one bottle neck, paused, and grasped a second one before straightening. As he did so, he felt the engines chug and rumble to silence under the deck. Alarmed, he turned to the helm.
"You kill the engines?" He asked.
Sora nodded, arms folded over the wheel, "Just want to drift for a while."
Chris chuckled, "Yeah, I always said engines kill the soul of sailing. Here." He offered one of the beers.
Sora eyed it suspiciously, "Unless they changed the legal drinking age while I was gone, I'm still two years underage."
Chris laughed, "Dude, you fought in a war. You've earned a drink or five."
Sora eyed the bottle for another moment, narrowed one eye, and then grinned, accepting the beer. "Yeah, I guess I have."
Chris sank into one of the fastened deck chairs and propped a leg up on the railing. He twisted the cap off the beer and held it up. "Here's to surviving another hurricane season."
Sora lifted his own beer, "To surviving."
Chris took a long pull at the drink and smacked his lips, "So, you asked Kairi out yet?"
Sora rolled his eyes painfully and took a swig of his beer, "Not going to happen."
"What? Why not?"
"Are you seriously making small talk?"
Sora shook his head, "You've been around Mom too long."
"You're avoiding the question."
"No, I'm avoiding this potential chick-flick moment."
Chris tilted his head in consideration, "Fair enough."
A comfortable silence settled between them, and the warmth of the sun overhead coupled with the lulling of the boat softened Chris's attention span. He found himself relaxing into the chair, half dozing and half staring off into the blue of the sky. He could see Sora out of the corner of his eye, leaning with his elbows propped on the helm, the top of the beer pressed absently to his mouth. He was a million miles away, so speaketh the unfocused look in his eyes.
Chris had had his fair share of encounters with post-traumatic stress and the mayhem that ran rampant on wounded souls. There wasn't a week that went by when his father hadn't had vivid and violent flashbacks of the war, sending him ducking and rolling behind desks, cars, counters, and reaching for guns where he hadn't worn a holster in decades. So Sora's lack of typical symptoms unnerved him.
Sure, there were the sleepless nights of tossing, turning, and night terrors. Chris could deal with that. There were the alarmingly quick reactions and involuntary responses to sound, light, or movement. Chris could deal with that. Even the prolonged periods of silence punctuated only by stifled screaming through a memory, Chris could handle that.
What he couldn't handle was this façade Sora seemed compelled to maintain. After nights when he and Daylia talked each other out of rushing to every moan they heard, and seeing the dark, restless circles under his eyes in the morning, Chris could hardly stomach the cheerful, smiling demeanor Sora kept plastering on when he was around them.
The cheerful, fun loving, innocence of his child had been ripped away. At the tender age of 14, still a baby by all accounts, he'd been thrown into an inter-galactic war against darkness and evil. That alone was enough to send Chris into an over-protective paternal bomb. Instead, Sora had been put through every circle of Hell, and was practically appointed CEO of the Good Guy Corporation, if the calluses of sword handles on his hands were evidence enough.
Chris drifted farther away from the present and tried to muster up an image of Sora when he was just a kid, an innocent, and to a time when Chris felt strong enough and sure enough that he could protect him from every sort of shadow that dared darken their lives.
In all truth, Chris had never felt that kind of confidence. Every bump, bruise, scrape, and trembling lip had had him up in arms, panicking and nearly going into cardiac arrest. Ah the joys of fatherhood. He was no worse than Daylia, who'd rushed Sora in to the emergency room in official Freak Out Mode, only to be told that the infant had the hiccups.
For fear of following his vein of thought into Chick-Flick Memory Lane, Chris took another languid drink of his beer and lifted a heavy eyelid. Sora was where he'd been the whole stretch of silence: draped over the helm, staring out at the sea. Seeing him standing there, alive and grown and relatively healthy, Chris was involuntarily sucked back into that maelstrom of memories.
From the moment he'd laid eyes on his son, he'd been terrified. He'd worked on a large scale fishing boat with ten other men for the previous 13 years before Sora was born. He'd weathered hurricanes, whirlpools, shark attacks, and rogue waves, but the seven pound bundle the nurses handed him that day had scared him more than all of that stuff combined. Fortunately, along with the sheer terror of the little person in his arms, came a deep, unwavering, and almost painful emotion. He fell irrevocably in love with the baby after all of two seconds. So maybe fatherhood was terrifying, but he would work his damndest to make sure he did it right.
So he had done what he could, but Sora was no different from other little boys. They ran too fast, they played too hard, and they fell down. Bumps, bruises, and scrapes led to trembling lips, red eyes, and tears. Chris promptly passed him on to Daylia, who had a knack of soothing boo-boos. A few bandages later and the kid was back out there, stubborn as ever, running too fast and playing too hard, and eventually falling down.
Sora had never been the most coordinated either.
Grinning to himself, Chris finished off his beer and sat up, tossing the bottle to the open cargo hold. It clattered across the deck and rolled into the cooler. Out of instinct alone, he glanced over at the helm. Sora wasn't leaning over the wheel anymore. Instead, he was standing ramrod straight, but oddly lax in stance, his head tilted and his eyes drilling holes in the top of the mast, where the little blue flag was flapping manically in the salty wind.
It was usually amusing to catch Sora zoning out. He day dreamed with the same elegance that his mother did: none what so ever. Daylia had this habit of tilting her head, just as Sora was, her eyes glued to some random object, and sometimes one of her eyes would narrow. She'd only ever snap out of it when Chris started laughing at her. This usually resulted in something being thrown at him. Chris bet that Sora had a better arm and better aim than his mother, so Chris decided not to laugh him out of the trance.
Instead, Chris looked over the railing at the water sloshing against the Tulpa's port side. The waves eventually lulled him into a dozing state and he didn't fight the doze.
Chris wasn't sure what woke him up, but suddenly he found himself sitting bolt upright in his chair. The sun was just starting to move off center from the sky, so he had only been out for half an hour, at most. Stretching, he rubbed one hand across his eyes and stood.
Sora was no longer behind the helm at all. He wasn't near the bow either. Frowning, Chris looked around, perplexed and slowly beginning to feel the first fingers of panic when he couldn't spot Sora. It was a 30 foot boat, for Pete's sake.
Then he remembered what had woken him up. A splash.
The fingers of panic morphed into a fist that clenched around his lungs as Chris ran to the side of the boat.
Roughly ten feet behind the Tulpa, he could barely see the fading white rings of water ripples, where something or someone had fallen into the ocean.
Chris immediately dropped the anchor and was nearly thrown off his feet by the angry groans from the hull of the boat as its momentum stalled. Already shirtless and barefoot, Chris ran the length of the boat and launched himself off the stern, pulling into a sloppy dive that still efficiently propelled him into the water.
Kicking in the direction of the splash, Chris blinked through the water. The bubbles of the splash had trailed away already, so he swam lower, scanning the depths with eyes clouded by panic. He spotted Sora easily enough. He was several feet lower in the water than Chris had anticipated, and Chris re-oriented himself in the water and kicked lower until he reached him.
The motionless way Sora's limbs were hanging suspended in the water was a telltale indication that he was unconscious. There was no blood in the water and no fish or anything that could have done anything. Had Sora just passed out and fallen overboard?
Chris reached him and wrapped an arm around Sora's chest, using his free arm to pull at the water, dragging them both toward the surface. He reached open air and clawed out of the water, vehemently pulling Sora's head up out of submersion. There was no gasp for air or violent choking, but Chris had to ignore that for now, swimming toward the Tulpa, which was still bucking under the splintering strain of being halted so aggressively. He could clearly see broken wood sticking out of the above water part of the starboard side.
Reaching the side ladder, Chris grabbed the highest rung he could and pulled him and Sora both up, finding the footholds and heaving at a climb. He bodily dragged Sora over the railing and less than gently dropped him onto the deck. Sora rag-dolled over the wood and fell still.
"Hey. Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey." Chris yammered, pulling himself over and dropping to his knees beside Sora. "Sora, hey, come on, dude, Sora, wake up."
He patted his cheek lightly, but got no response. He leaned in, and didn't hear any breathing.
"Shit." Chris sat up and checked for a pulse.
It was faint and not much good if he wasn't breathing. Folding his hands, Chris flattened his palms over Sora's stomach, pumping down hard. Water was forced up and out of Sora's mouth. Sora choked and gagged on the water. Chris rolled him onto his side and held him there as his body worked to empty his lungs of the unwanted sea water.
"Easy, easy. It's all right. I gotcha." Chris repeated in a mantra, keeping a firm hold of Sora's shoulders and patting his ribs reassuringly.
After resorting to dry heaving, Sora dropped his head to the deck, wide eyed and gasping for oxygen. Chris was trying to regain his own breath, trying to breathe past his heart, which was lodged in his throat by now. He started rubbing small circles into Sora's back, trying to ease the discomfort of breathing.
"That's right, just take it easy. You're all right." He said.
After a few minutes, Sora's inhaling fell back in rhythm with his exhaling, and he coughed lightly before getting his elbows under him.
"Maybe you should stay down for a minute. Get your bearings back." Chris chided gently.
Sora shook his head, either to argue or clear his thoughts, Chris couldn't tell. "No. I'm okay. Really. Sorry. I'm okay."
He didn't let Chris help him sit up, and he scooted over to the helm and leaned back against it, arms on his knees, looking anywhere but at his father. Chris had been around long enough to recognize flat out lying when he saw it.
"No, I'm not letting this one go. What happened?" He asked, staying on his knees, level with him.
Sora swallowed, coughed, cleared his throat, and spoke to Chris's shoulder, "I guess I tripped."
Chris eased from his knees to his backside on the deck, "You tripped."
Sora lifted his shoulders, "I tripped and hit my head, I guess. Fell overboard. Sorry. I'm a klutz." He smiled, but it was weak and didn't reach his eyes.
Chris narrowed his eyes, "Bullshit. Spill it, boy."
"What do you mean, no?"
"Can we not do this right now, Dad?" Sora said, clearly exasperated.
"Do what? I just want to know how you just almost drowned, when you've known how to swim since you were four." Chris countered, feeling exasperated himself.
"I just—" Sora hit himself on the thigh, "I really don't want to talk about it."
"Tough." Chris said in a growl.
"I'm not asking for the epic poem, here, Sora. Just what happened?"
Infuriatingly vague, but better than blatant denial.
"What made you fall?" Chris kept his temper in check. Temper fueled by concern always led to a shorter fuse. That clearly wouldn't fly with this conversation.
"I…I thought I saw something, but—it's not important. I'm sorry I worried you." Sora averted his eyes.
"You're still worrying me, kid. What did you see?"
"It wasn't…I didn't actually see…It wasn't really there. Not really."
Chris didn't say anything. Sora only sputtered like this when his emotions were running too fast for his mouth to keep up. All he could do was wait until Sora got his words together.
"I was watching the sail, the mast, that flag at the top." Sora started deliberately. "I don't know, the way it was moving, that quiet flapping noise it was making…I don't know, it reminded me of—I don't know."
Like a slap in the face, Chris understood. "It reminded you of then, didn't it?"
Sora ran a hand across his face and nodded almost imperceptibly.
"What did it remind you of?" Chris prompted carefully.
For a moment, Sora looked mortified. He looked like he'd rather jump off the boat and swim the ten miles back to the main island before disclosing his episode to his father. An instant later, Chris saw him resign himself to the 'chick-flick moment' with the defeated slump of his shoulders.
"There was this thing—something while I was…when I was gone…" Sora started painfully. "We were, me, Donald, and Goofy, we were down in the Underworld, the world of the dead on Olympus." He explained.
Chris nodded and hid the grimace at the phrase 'world of the dead'.
"There was this tournament—that's where all the tournaments were held—and we…There was this boat. It was horrible…old and tiny and creaky…It was the only way to get to the Underdrome, the arena where the tournaments took place…I don't know, there was this cloth hanging off the side, and it was flapping the same way your flag was flapping—I don't know." Sora fidgeted absently, pulling at the knots in his shoelaces.
Chris rubbed his jaw and dropped his hands to his lap, "Did something happen?"
Sora sighed and moved his hand against the back of his neck. "Yeah. We—the lake you travelled across to reach the arena was, um, the, uh, lake of the dead, where all the souls were trapped. They were—you could see them, Dad—If you leaned over, you could see them, just floating…moving with the current."
Well, that was enough to freak anyone out, Chris almost said, but restrained himself. Now that he had started talking, Sora seemed reluctant to stop.
"I never looked out of the boat. I didn't want to see…them. But Goofy, he, he was too curious and he looked over the edge. I guess after realizing what he was seeing, he freaked out and fell back into the boat. It made the thing rock a little, and I guess it upset the…uh…spirits. They started—some of them started touching the hull. Like they were trying to climb in. Some of them even made it over the rails of the boat and started—they started to—grab at us." Sora shuddered.
Chris couldn't repress his own shudder.
"They were trying to pull us in. They felt so…cold and…and wrong. It was awful. There were so many, and they were climbing over each other and wrapping around us…I don't know—I can't describe what they felt like…like cold, rubbery paper…but worse. So, Donald, he was the lightest of us, and the souls were about to drag him over the edge, so I stood up to help him…"
Sora trailed away sharply and pressed the heel of his hand against one eye, as though to fend off a sudden headache. Chris reached out and gripped his elbow to anchor him, just in case. Sora shook his head after a moment, and Chris withdrew his hand.
"As soon as I stood up, the spirits climbed up with me. They wrapped around my legs, my body, my arms, and they…pulled me over instead. I can't—it was like falling into a pool of death. It was so cold that it hurt, but it was also kinda warm too. It was like…I fought them and I fought them and I tried to get away, but it was no use. And not even five seconds after they pulled me in, I stopped fighting. I kinda—I kinda stopped caring. I couldn't…feel my body, and I didn't even know I was still alive until Donald and Goofy got me out and woke me up at the arena."
Sora paused and looked at Chris quizzically, "Why would I do that? How could I just stop fighting? I let them take me. I didn't—There was no—I don't know."
"It sounds like those…spirits…It sounds like that's what they do. Those people had probably been dead for so long, they yearned for some sort of live connection. Inadvertently they were killing you. Thank the gods your friends saved you."
Sora still looked distressed, but he pressed on, "So, I guess when I saw your flag and I…I felt the boat moving…I thought…I could have sworn I saw those souls, I felt them…groping at me and pulling me down. I don't know how—I can't explain why it—it affected me like that. I don't know how I ended up in the water, because obviously those ghosts weren't really pulling me down…right?"
"Right." Chris responded immediately, "Of course not."
Sora seemed to draw strength, however little, out of Chris's affirming statement. "I'm sorry I scared you. I thought—I thought they were gone."
"We know about the nightmares." Chris confessed.
Sora didn't look surprised, "Guess I don't hide them that well."
"It's hard to cover up when you wake yourself up crying out like that."
"It's all right. We know. We can't even begin to understand, but we know. I'm so sorry, son." Chris blinked a few times to clear the sudden itching at his eyes and glanced at the horizon. "I don't envy the burden that's fallen on your shoulders." But I'd take all of it if it meant you wouldn't have to carry it anymore, he finished inaudibly.
Sora bobbed his head noncommittally, but he couldn't conceal the haunted look in his eyes fast enough to hide it from his father.
Chris sighed, "Sora, don't ever feel like you can't talk to me or your mother about this stuff."
Sora snorted, elbows on his knees, "Thanks, but Mom would be in tears and hugging me before I got three words out."
Chris opened his mouth, considered, and then shrugged, "All right, but I promise I won't cry and hug you."
"Well, crisis averted." Sora rubbed his eyes with a thumb and index finger.
Chris slung an arm around his son and ruffled his hair affectionately, "I'm serious, kid. Any time. Don't let that stuff bottle up inside you, it'll get poisonous and you'll start falling off boats. Which would be unfortunate because after 18 years, I'm starting to grow fond of you." He ruffled Sora's hair again.
Sora ducked out of the hair-ruffling with a cough, "Oh geez, kill me now. What did I say about chick-flick moments?"
He stood up slowly and put his hands on his hips, inhaling deeply. "Er," He started after a moment, "Don't tell Mom about this," He waved his hand at the stern of the boat, "please."
It was the 'please' that made Chris look up at him.
"All right." Chris grunted, standing up as well and moving over to the cooler.
"Good." Sora half turned and glanced out at the horizon, "Because if you do I'll blow up the Tulpa." He threw a smirk over one shoulder.
Chris mock scowled and pulled out two more bottles of beer, "Don't threaten your old man. Just because you're some big shot hero on some other planet, doesn't make you any bigger in the britches than any other 18 year old on Destiny Islands."
Sora snorted and shook his head.
Chris offered another beer, "Although I'm sure your mother wouldn't mind it if you did."
That earned him a laugh from his son, and Sora took the proffered bottle.
"Speaking of which," Sora started, "Does she know you're giving me this?" He lifted the bottle.
Chris popped the cap off of his and took a swig, "No, and it's gonna stay that way." He narrowed one eye at Sora, "Because if you tell her, I'll blow up your car."
Sora's eyes glued to his immediately, "MY car?"
Chris shrugged, "Act surprised when she shows it to you Tuesday."
Sora twisted the cap off the beer, "You're a jerk."
"I'm your father."
Chris punched Sora lightly in the arm and leaned against the main sail, facing the horizon. It really was a beautiful day for sailing. He'd be cursing the splintered wood on the starboard later that evening, but until then, he was content to just watch the water slosh and bubble, reflecting the sunlight from the overhead sun.
He was going to have to have a more serious discussion with Sora about this, and there was no way he could not tell Daylia eventually. At the moment, it wasn't the right time to confront his son about what he'd been through. That was another talk for another day, with much more beer.
So instead, Chris settled his shoulders against the main sail, tipped the bottle to his lips, and gazed out with his son at the melting point of the horizon where the blue sky blended with the blue ocean. There were many more sailing days to look forward to, even if now the horizons were going to be a little less bright.