Kickoff fic for my Kingdom Hearts "Us" Contest! See my profile for complete details!
A/N: What you see before you is the result of my musings over a neighbor's willow tree and hearing "Bubbly" by Colbie Caillat played one too many times on the radio on the way to Florida for vacation. Don't get me wrong, I adore the song, but I heard it like ten times during the eight hour drive, not even kidding. sokai. oneshot.
…x…Underneath the Willow Tree…x…
Kairi always thought there was something beautifully poignant and romantic about a willow tree. Well, not always. The same enormous, ancient willow tree had sprawled over the corner of the estate her entire life, and she'd never really paid it much mind. Then, one summer day, for reasons she's never quite figured out, the giant willow tree caught her eye as she was getting the mail. And it hit her just how beautiful the tree was, and she couldn't stop thinking about how lovely it would be to sit underneath the drooping branches and read, or how underneath the sweeping leaves seemed like such a romantic place to be kissed.
She'd been twelve years old, and as thoughts of sunshine and swooping branches and gentle kisses filled her mind, the image of brown hair, wide smiles and bright blue eyes crept into the corner of her fantasy, and she spent the rest of the day blushing and feeling exceedingly silly.
It's been a month. They've been home for a month and Kairi's still sitting under her willow tree reading alone. Summer is still in full swing even if Summer Vacation ended two months ago, but autumn is coming and this makes Kairi sad because she doesn't think the beauty of the willow tree and the romance that comes with its image are quite sustainable in the fall. It's silly, and she knows it, but part of her can't help but feel like, even if it doesn't happen under that tree, she and Sora will never really be together if he doesn't kiss her before fall.
She's laying on the cool grass beneath a cathedral of green feathers as grayish-brown flying buttresses arc over her head and cascade into waterfalls of pale green leaves. It's beautiful, and peaceful, and there's no better place for her to just sit and think on days like today, where sand just feels too coarse and waves just feel too rough for her to really relax.
She's thinking today about the smile Sora gave her yesterday, and trying to convince herself, yet again, that she wasn't deluding herself in thinking that he loved her. She was almost certain he did—there was too much that had happened in the past two years that demonstrated his love for her, and yet……
That look. That smile. That's what stops her.
He saved her heart, her life, he fought across the universe to find her, and she knows this. And all of this points to a boy who is head over heels for her, and yet here they've been home a month and nothing. No kiss, no date, no paopu sharing, no declaration of 'I love you'; not even an 'I really like you'. Nothing. And nothing in the month since they'd been back aside from the occasional glance and funny smile left Kairi starting to panic.
Not that she was completely convinced that he didn't love her, either.
It was just…that look.
Sometimes she could see it, undeniably see it in his eyes when he looked at her; something soft and affectionate that told her doubtlessly, absolutely, I'm irrevocably in love with you. Other times he'd look at her, and it'd be that look and she was certain that there was nothing more than friendship being directed her way.
And that was enough.
That look, that friendly smile; they were enough to counter everything he'd done for her in the past two years.
A month. It'd been a freaking month.
You could tell him yourself. Some little voice whispers in the back of Kairi's mind.
She frowns at her leafy canopy then sighs wistfully as her mind is filled with hazy images of kisses and confessions of undying love set against backdrops of sunsets and starry skies and chalk drawings in caves and gazebos lit with strands of Christmas lights, and of being romanced under a willow tree; her eyes closing as she is swept up in the coziness of her fantasies…
Kairi groans and presses the palms of her hands against her eyelids.
"Good God, I'm turning into Selphie!" she mutters to herself, and opens her eyes. She sits up and tries to force her mind back into reality, reminding herself that Sora has never exactly been the kind of suitor typical of a Nora Roberts novel or a Lifetime movie. The reality is that he'd probably be a bit dorky about courting her just like he was a little bit dorky about everything else. But then again, Kairi thinks, maybe even that wasn't part of reality anymore.
It's sunset and Kairi is sitting alone on the paopu tree, looking out at the sun-stained ocean and thinking about how romantic this moment would be if there was actually someone there to be romantic with. Of course, Sora's on his way, but Kairi is not-so-gradually losing hope that he'll ever turn a moment like this into the soir romantique she imagines. And fall is drawing ever closer, and with it, the imaginary deadline for their relationship which has cemented itself, however irrationally, into Kairi's psyche.
"Kairi!" Kairi turns around to watch Sora as he bounds towards her across the sands and hoists himself up onto the bridge, skipping the Seaside Shack and the stairs altogether. Kairi giggles and rolls her eyes at his limitless energy. He's off running again as soon as his feet are firmly on the bridge, and he doesn't stop until he's seated beside her, grinning widely, as always.
And at this moment it's friendship and nothing more in his grin, and suddenly Kairi wonders if she's waiting on him or if she's just pining.
She smiles at him anyway; a soft, sweet smile that she hopes tells him, I'm smiling because of you.
She hopes that it's that smile and its message that are the reason his smile changes; the look in his eyes soften and it's in that moment her mind does a one-hundred-eighty degree turn and she's sure that he's silently telling her that it's made his day just to be sitting here next to her.
"Hi," She says softly, in the sweetest, most alluring voice she can, lowering her eyelids ever so slightly so that the curl of her eyelashes over her indigo eyes take center stage in his line of vision.
"Hi," He says back, just as softly, and Kairi's heart soars because he's actually flirting back, even if it is in the subtlest of ways.
Hey, it's something.
And then it's gone. He turns back to look at the sinking sun, special smile and adoring eyes disappearing as he asks, "Where's Riku? I haven't seen him all day."
Kairi's smile fades and her heart sinks lower than the sun as she quietly, sadly answers. "I saw him for just a minute after school. He had some big Chemistry paper to finish for tomorrow."
Sora must have detected the depression in her tone because he turns back to inquire, "Hey, you okay?"
Kairi plasters on a fake smile and replies, "Yeah. I'm fine."
Sora doesn't buy it. His eyes soften again, and his eye brows knit together in concern. "What's wrong?"
And there is so much affection radiating out of that concern that it's enough to force a genuine smile onto Kairi's face.
"Nothing." And as she says it she inches her hand closer to his only to find that he is already moving his hand to take hers. Kairi's smile widens as their fingers intertwine.
They're having a moment, and Kairi thinks tonight might be the night. There is a beautiful sunset before them, and Kairi decides to push the envelope and leans just a tiny fraction closer.
Sora doesn't figure it out. He turns back to watch the sunset as Kairi remains frozen where she was, still leaning forward a little, looking and feeling like an idiot. She goes back to looking at the sun with a sigh, still holding Sora's hand.
Tonight is not the night, then.
Still, it is a nice atmosphere and she's happy to be here, holding his hand. Sora makes a passing comment about an ant that is trying to climb up his shoe, but otherwise they remain in silence. It is not really an awkward silence, though; simply the kind of comfortable silence that falls between two old friends who are content to simply bask in each other's presence.
Finally the last vestiges of molten gold are consumed by the sea, and Sora and Kairi both have to go home.
There is hardly a word between them as they row back to the main island. A boat ride underneath a starry sky—such romantic potential, but Sora doesn't even think to offer to row her back to shore. He doesn't really do much of anything to take advantage of the obvious romantic opportunities the night allows.
And Selphie wonders where the doubt comes from.
There's a thought, Kairi muses as she propels her boat across the dark waters; tomorrow when Selphie asks yet again if she and Sora are together yet, she'll have to tell her, yet again, 'It's complicated.'
Kairi's getting really sick of that phrase.
Well. Add it to the list.
It's a sunny day, bright, warm; beautiful. It's the sort of day that makes Kairi want to put on a flowing white sundress and lay around under her willow tree and listen to Colbie Caillat songs. But she can only do the first of these things today because it's Saturday so there's no school and she and Sora are going to hang out today.
It frustrates her that she has to use the phrase 'hang out' to describe the time they are going to be spending together. 'Date' would be so much nicer. Not that they wouldn't still hang out if they were dating, but hanging out would just be so much more lovely as two people who were dating and in love.
And as all these thoughts mill through her head as she's getting dressed she pauses and looks in the mirror and once again wonders when, exactly, she started turning into Selphie.
Still, it is a beautiful morning, and maybe, just maybe, in the time they will be spending alone today, something might happen with Sora.
She can't help but feel as if she's being overly optimistic on this front, though.
Still, let the girl dream.
Kairi hears the doorbell ring and rushes downstairs to get the door before her parents can, because the last thing she needs right now is for her father (who had never agreed with her mother that she should be allowed to date at fifteen) to scare any notion of romance out of Sora's head. Sora beams at her as soon as she opens the door and somehow it just fits with the bright image of the rest of the day that he's wearing a white jacket over a white shirt and khaki pants. His apparel gives Kairi hope, because it's a bright day and she's still dreaming of light colors and light kisses as the sun streams through the leaves of willow trees.
"Hi!" She greets, grinning.
"Hi!" Sora replies, a little breathlessly, prompting Kairi to ask if he's alright. "Yeah, it's just, it's kind of a long walk and it's hot!" He tells, her, collapsing on the porch swing.
Kairi giggles. "It's not that hot." Sora just gives her a tired look. It's a porch swing on a sunny, bright and beautiful day, and therefore one more opportunity for something to happen; only problem is her would-be lover is apparently on the verge of dehydration, judging by the way he's licked his lips at least three times within the last twenty seconds.
Kairi decides to remedy this.
"Hang on," she says, smiling at him. She runs inside her home and returns with two glasses of something cold and pink. "I," she tells him proudly, "made pink lemonade yesterday. All by myself."
Sora grins. "Well, look who's a big girl now."
She beams as she sits down next to him and hands him his glass. "I can tie my own shoes and everything."
Sora laughs and takes an eager gulp of his lemonade. "Mmm!" He turns to look at her. "This is good."
Kairi smiles and feels her heart beat a little faster. Sora is still inhaling his lemonade, but Kairi has set her glass down on the porch railing. She figures if he's going to kiss her, she doesn't want to be holding a glass while he's doing it. It's all she can do to keep from reminding herself that it's been a month of nothing, so it might be a little ridiculous to assume anything will happen today, or even now, but part of her is certain it's going to be today.
Sora finishes his lemonade and sits the empty glass on the ground near his feet. As he leans back up Kairi boldly decides to curl up a little closer to him, even going so far as to turn sideways to rest one arm on the back of the swing so that she could rest her other arm and her chin on his shoulder.
It made it a bit awkward for him to look directly at her, but it at least got his head turned her direction, which is what she was going for, because now when she raises her head off his shoulder, they are mere inches apart.
"Hi," she says softly, almost a whisper, praying ardently that Sora will take the hint.
"Hi," he says, smiling. Kairi's already starting to move closer, fraction by fraction.
And suddenly Sora's off babbling about the kid who sits behind him in his History class whose pencil-tapping is going to drive him insane.
And it's just more than Kairi can take.
She's up and running before she's even really aware of what she's doing or that she's knocked her lemonade glass off of the porch railing and it's shattered all over the rosebushes; all she knows is that she just wants to get away from that spot and that moment to some place where she's sure of things. It was such a could-be would-be should-be romantic moment and then he switches back to acting as if they are nothing more than friends and the bi-polarity of the way he treats her has come to be more than she can handle.
Because she's just not sure which side of the spectrum he's really chosen to stick to.
She ends up under her willow tree, and she just sort of collapses there; maybe here because she feels at peace under her tree; maybe because a tree is stuck in the ground and therefore it won't wander off—she can count on it. It doesn't treat her with all the multiple-personality-disorder of autumn weather. She gets to sit there in almost-peace with her head in her hands for all of about a minute before the object of her distress comes running after her.
"Kairi!" he calls, pushing his way through the jungle of willow leaves. "Hey, what's--"
"Just leave me alone!" Kairi shouts, already getting up and trying to run off to somewhere else, she doesn't even have to slightest idea where she's heading, but she knows it is as far away from this spot as she can get.
She doesn't get very far.
Sora grabs her arm before she even makes it out of the vicinity of the willow tree, so that they are both standing in the middle of a shower of vines. It is a curious sensation, being surrounded by all of these strings of leaves; the part of Kairi's mind that is not in turmoil thinks that it is probably much akin to being in a rainstorm when someone has frozen time, so that all the droplets are just suspended in space so that they feel so solid when you brush against them.
It would actually be quite nice if she wasn't so frustrated.
"Kairi, what's wrong, what did I do?" Sora's face displays concern, confusion, and utter bewilderment all scrambled together. He keeps trying to meet her eyes, but Kairi refuses to look at him.
She rolls her eyes and lets out a humorless laugh. "Exactly."
Sora's confusion increases. "Kairi, just talk to me; what on earth is bothering you?"
Kairi squeezes her eyes shut and her hands tighten into fists as she yanks her arm out of Sora's grasp, preparing to flee. But then something changes; perhaps it's because she doesn't really know where she could flee to, but in that moment she decides that she doesn't want to run.
She wants to have this out right now, because she's sick of it all.
She's sick of waiting on him. She's sick of running from the question because he won't do anything. She's sick of wondering and worrying and asking herself if she's waiting or just pining. She's just sick of not knowing. She's sick of 'maybe'.
"Kairi, please, what--"
"You!" she shouts, opening her eyes to glare at him. "You, and me, and…us." Her anger quickly dies down as an overwhelming wave of depression takes its place and her arms go a little limp. "I mean," she sighs, "Is there even an us?" She shakes her head. "Or is there just you and just me, and me waiting on something that's never gonna happen." Kairi clutches at her face, trying to regain her composure. She takes a deep breath, pushing back her frustrated tears and then faces Sora with dry eyes and crumbling resolution. "Because I don't know. I just don't know, Sora."
Sora isn't looking as confused anymore, if anything he almost looks guilty. But he stays silent, so Kairi continues because on top of everything else she's sick of all the things that keep going unsaid. "I mean, I thought I did, cuz, well," Kairi drops her eyes and shrugs. It's easier to say this when she's looking at her sandals, anyway. "Cuz there's always been something, between you and me, and after everything that happened, after everything you did for me, I thought…" She trails off, not really knowing which word to choose or even if there are really any words for it.
"And sometimes you look at me," she continues, her voice dancing at the edge of silence, "and I think that I must be crazy for ever doubting what that something was." She let out another empty laugh. "And then the next moment we're just," she watches a drop of rain hit her shoe, and realizes that she's started crying, "best pals," she continues bitterly, "just like we've always been. And I think that maybe I just made the whole thing up." She shakes her head. "I thought, you know, 'Give him time, he'll say something when he's ready.' But now," Kairi's voice cracks and she stops. No, she thinks, she's not going to be crying like a baby when she says this. She squeezes her eyes and fists closed tightly until the tears stop coming and her strength returns and looks up at Sora with all the composure she can manage.
"I just need to know if I'm waiting on a dream or if I'm waiting on a reality."
Sora takes a step closer and fixes her with a look that makes her think he loves her, but right now Kairi is too mad at him to accept it, because not five minutes ago he turned down an opportunity to kiss her to tell her about some annoying kid in his history class.
"I don't really know what you want me to say."
Kairi sighs. "Well, it'd be nice to hear either 'Kairi, I love you' or 'Kairi, I just want to be friends', and frankly, Sora," She shrugs, "I'd take the latter if you'd only just give me something solid to go by."
Sora takes a few steps closer, face set, until there is hardly a foot of negative space between them. He takes a deep breath, opening his mouth as if to say something, but ultimately sighing and closing it again. He tries again, as if desperate to say something but completely unable to actually form the words. Finally he manages to shakily choke out the words, "I'm not good at the whole, romantic…thing."
Kairi opens her mouth to reply but stops, because Sora has lifted a hand to brush away a willow vine that is hanging rather awkwardly onto her shoulder, with a look in his eyes as he gazes at her that's full of hurt and longing all at once.
It's such a light touch that graces her shoulder; fingers barely making contact with her skin, just enough to tickle her nerves. It sends a shiver down her spine and she sways; well, sway is too elegant a word; twitches is what she does, but there is too much sexual tension in the air and this moment is too close to being romantic for Kairi to accept how awkward a motion it was so instead she chooses to think that she swayed.
"I just," he begins hesitantly, "kinda, freak, when it comes to you." He's taking a breath every other word, which Kairi takes to mean that he must be very nervous, which is almost a good sign. It's so quiet when he's not talking that she swears she can almost hear his heart pounding. But then again it could just be her imagination and her hopes conspiring against her. "I mean, sometimes, we'll be having, I dunno, a moment, and then, I get scared, so I run back to best friend mode, I guess cuz that feels…safe."
It's almost a confession, but for Kairi, it's just not enough. After everything, she needs better than almost. It's just another halfway word. Almost, maybe, sort of; they're all just halfway words and Kairi doesn't need halfway, she needs one way or the other. Because the see-sawing between thinking he loved her and thinking he didn't was making her literally, physically, nauseous.
Sora's hand is still hovering awkwardly above her shoulder and now with a gulp he moves to tuck a lock of red behind her ear, and she sways (twitches) again at the gentle twinge against her ear. His hand lingers for just a second too long and he returns it to his side slowly, regretfully, Kairi thinks—or maybe just hopes.
"And I guess," He says quietly, his eyes dropping, "I always sort of thought you already knew."
Kairi takes a half-step closer so that he has to look at her again. "Doesn't mean that it doesn't need saying." Sora's lip part slightly as if to reply, but it the words die before they reach his mouth because he simply closes it again. "If you can't say it, if you can't tell me," Kairi says, her voice getting louder and stronger with every word. "Then at the very least show me. Definitively. Because I'm really getting sick of mixed signals, here. Just give me something that isn't so easy to misinterpret. I mean, if--"
She trails off because suddenly Sora's moved even closer and taken her head in his hands, his palms cupping her chin and his fingers slipped into her hair. His mouth is working furiously, still trying to get something out, and Kairi, through the haze brought on by the sudden rush of blood to her cheeks and her head, lifts a shaking finger to silence his attempts.
"If you can't say anything," she whispers, her voice gone, "then, well, you know how that song goes, 'don't say you're in love, show me.' And if it's good enough for Audrey Hepburn, then it's--"
Sora doesn't let her finish her sentence. He just barely brushes his lips against hers, but after everything, it's all Kairi needs. Because as light, as gentle, as barely there as it was, it was more than a maybe, and that's all Kairi's been asking for. And she really does sway this time, as a shiver shoots down her spine and vaporizes all support systems in her legs. She grabs the collar of Sora's white jacket, just trying to find something to hold on to. She doesn't dare open her eyes yet, because she's too afraid of seeing the world spinning when she does. Finally she lifts her eyelids just a bit to see Sora looking at her nervously.
"How's that?" he asks softly.
Kairi nods, words not quite in her capability yet. "Yeah," she breathes, "That'll do."
"Are you still mad at me?" Sora murmurs, every other syllable a whisper.
Kairi shakes her head. "No."
Her doubts have been swept away with the summer breeze, and apart from the nervous shudder in the vicinity of her stomach that she guesses must be the butterflies, everything unpleasant has been expelled from the moment.
It's back to sunshine and sunlight filtering through willow leaves. It's the romantic dream she's had since she was twelve years old. Just her, blue eyes, sunlight, and willow leaves. It's even more beautiful than she ever could have imagined.
Sora smiles just a little, that same smile that used to temporarily expel any doubts she would have about how he felt about her. (And how she loves being able to use that phrase 'used to'!) Her eyes draw him in and he brings her face closer to kiss her again, and it's so gentle and light. Everything is light and sweet; the gentle caress of his lips against hers, the brush of his fingertips on her scalp, and the light tickle of willow leaves against her back.
It's her idea of the perfect summer's day: being beneath the swooping branches of a willow tree and the dappled patterns of sunlight as it weaves through the jungle of vines, the peace and quiet such an environment allows, and the gentle, loving kisses of the person who means the world to her.
At twelve she felt so silly when the image of brown hair and wide smiles and cerulean eyes crept into her dream of willow trees, and three years later she thinks it silly that she ever could have tried to convince herself that she'd ever be standing here with anyone else.
Kairi's always thought there was something poignant and romantic about willow trees, and she's always been quite convince that beneath one would be such a perfect place to be kissed. But she's always been equally aware of how unlikely a dream that is. However, this perfect moment, this perfect day, this day beneath the willow tree, has taught her, if nothing else, that some dreams, even the ones we doubt, might just be specific enough to come true.
Don't forget to check out my contest, please! Full details on my profile.
A/N: This started out going to be complete and utter sokai fluff, and it ended up being Kairi frustrated with Sora and Kairi getting to monologue and Sora getting yelled at before I even got to the fluff. Odd how things mutate. The Audrey Hepburn thing was a reference to My Fair Lady for those who didn't catch it. Review please, and let me know if I missed any typos in my editing! No matter how neurotically I check, I still always seem to miss something!