- - - - - - - - - - - - - MAYBE-HOME (sokai, with love.)
The splash of him hitting the water was like a gunshot to the heart; she wondered, was it possible to bleed joy?
Sora hadn't really realized that he was back, not until he heard her. Before that it was just him and Riku, wading around in a giant salty-ish puddle, all confused and dazed from their meteor impression. Then Kairi's voice rang out like a bell, calling his name, and it all clicked. Then he was wading/swimming/falling all over himself to get to her.
Sora realized years later that it wasn't the waves that were home anymore, it wasn't the hot sand that itched and scratched at too-tan skin and calloused hands, it wasn't even the crooked tree where they used to sit. Kairi was home.
But, well, he didn't know yet.
Maybe that was why he didn't kiss her.
He got tackled by Donald and Goofy. Kairi should have been annoyed, but she was happy enough that she simply couldn't find the ill will in her. It's unwritten that she waits for him. That's why Kairi stands so patiently on the very edge of the shore with seawater nipping playfully at her boots. Wait for it...
Finally, he turned to look into her face. She could feel Naminé's persona snapping out of subconscious and stepping into the front of her mind, clamoring for a view of their boy. The blonde's artist eye drank him in, setting the planes and lines of his face in paper and in mind. Tanner skin, but the real tan you get from the sun, and sable-brown hair rigid and unkempt as the spines of a hedgehog, water running from root to tip and making the spikes glisten in the sunlight. His face has angled, losing the last bits of baby fat of preadolescence and moved into a completely different strata of not cute but handsome. His smile, however, has kept its place on Sora's face through the seventeen-odd years of the Keyblade Master's existence. Tufts of hair fall in front of his Crayola-crayon-periwinkle-blue eyes, right out of a coloring book, yet the hair can't mute the unbridled joy shining from his face.
And oh, it hit Kairi for the thousandth time, the overwhelming tidal wave of BE CLOSER TO THIS! He had it, that thing that somehow kept him whistling through two years of split heaven and hell. She didn't know what to do, and could only smile helplessly and hope that her small little laugh communicated the depth of her affection.
His gaze broke from hers, and Sora slid a hand into one of his numerous pockets, drawing out a familiar five-pronged charm.
Maybe that was his way of telling her that yes,
he'd gotten the message,
and he cared for her too.
He stutters something, and Kairi holds out her hand. He takes it, and she soars.
Fast-forward one week, five hours, twenty-two minutes, and forty-something seconds. If Sora had been a counting-type person, he'd know that it had been exactly that long since he'd said anything past "Hey, what's up?" to Kairi. But he wasn't a good counter; Sora just knew he missed her. Even though she lived just down the block.
It's not like it was voluntary, not seeing Kairi. But you try getting away from a mom who hadn't seen you in two years, and a school who hadn't seen you in two years, and random flocks of grateful people that would have never given you a glance before. Doesn't work out so well, does it?
They'd probably keep him back a grade, Riku too. They'd missed so much. Sora didn't really mind, being a sophomore twice... school hadn't come easy; it was like his brain looked at the pages and decided that none of the information was worth retaining and flipped the "in one ear, out the other" switch. The words jumbled together. When they were younger, Riku would slam textbooks shut in exasperation, claiming that smacking him on the head with one would have more of an impact than the flashcards strewn all over the floor of his bedroom.
Kairi would be in a different grade then Sora now.
He thought on this disturbing concept until his mom called him downstairs for a nice supper of meatloaf, with lots of ketchup (just how Sora liked it). She still squirted a smiley-face with the ketchup on his slice of meatloaf, and he'd jokingly whine but when he finally had to eat the first bit of smiley-face Sora would salute solomnly and his mom would laugh. Maybe they'd watch TV-- break out the old TV trays, like they used to after Dad died and neither of them wanted to talk. They could watch an old 50's sitcom and eat their smiling meatloaf and talk about how school was going.
If he had any more normalcy, Sora might explode.
Which was why, that night, he jumped out the window.
Oh, don't look at me like that. He's doesn't die or anything.
Kairi watched Sora heave himself over the white picket fence, and wondered why he's covered in prickles and leaves. Then, she remembed... there's a prickle bush right below his bedroom window. So he'd sneaked out. She propped her chin on her hands and watched him tip-toe across her lawn. It'd be easier for him to sneak in if she didn't live on the second floor of her house. But now Kairi got to pretend to be Rapunzel, and he was... what was the prince's name? They didn't get named often, Kairi realized. Just "Prince Charming" and some rippling biceps and shiny armor.
Sora was definitely lacking in both of those categories. Good thing too. Prince Charming was way overrated.
He threw a pebble at her window, and Kairi flinched as it tak-ed against the glass, inches from her face on the other side. She unlatched the window and pulled it open. "I'm right here, you dummy!"
"I know," he called back, grinning, "but it's just one of those things you have to do. It's not sneaking out unless you throw rocks at the person's window to get their attention, right?"
Kairi rolled her eyes at him and yelled (whisper-yelled, actually, her parents were asleep) that she'd be down in a minute. The salty-sweet smell was perfume to her so she left the window open. She dug up her old swimsuit-- the red swim team one from the time she and Selphie decided to go out for the team. It had been a huge mistake; all Selphie wanted to do was look at the boys in their little black swim trunks. Kairi tried to play along, but the whole time she felt like she was cheating on someone. She wasn't sure who. So the swimsuit was all she had left of that ill-decided venue.
Kairi pulled on a pair of jean shorts over the suit and bright green Wellington boots (like Sora would care if she matched). The Wellies crunched against the fine silty sand that always got tracked into the house, no matter how often Kairi's mom (foster mom, but who cares?) swept. But she liked the crunch. Softly she opened the door, sneaked outside and slooooowly let the latch slide back--
The two boats raced across the sea, and laughter mixed with the hollow thwop of wooden oars slapping the water like a seal clapping. Eventually the two reached land and stumbled out of their boats into the shallow water below. Eddies swirled around their toes and wet sand clumped at their feet as they stumbled around like a pair of too-happy drunks.
Oh, they'd missed that.
Sora's hair was almost dry from their impromptu swim earlier. He settled himself deeper in the crystalline, gritty sand and turned to Kairi. "Okay. Your turn."
She pursed her lips, rolling onto her stomach and brushing the grit off a seashell. "Hmmm. What was the weirdest place you've ever been?"
"Hard one," Sora remarked. "I went to a place where the Queen ruled a deck of cards, and a stripy cat disappeared, and then we all drank tea in an upside-down room. That was bizarre."
"How do you rule a deck of cards?"
"Two words: shuffle carefully."
Kairi rolled her eyes. "You're such a dork. And it's your turn."
Sora scooped up a handful of sand at let it run between his fingers, all silky and nice. The top was warm (summer nights stayed pretty temperate on the Islands) and the bottom layer was still toasty from the noonday sun. All the temperatures blended in his fingers and Sora dug his fingers into the beach just to feel the slow roast. "Where were you when you remembered me? From when I was sleeping and Naminé was fixing my memories?"
"Right there." She pointed a white (faintly luminescent, from the moon hung overhead like a picture frame) finger into the air. "Behind the dock. Selphie and I were having a contest to see who could hold their breath the longest. I was under, and then I remembered. I sucked in so much water that I threw up, and then Selphie felt terrible for a week." Kairi grinned. "She got me chocolate."
"Glad I could help," Sora remarked sarcastically. Kairi laughed.
They lapsed into silence. The sun wasn't quite past the horizon line yet, but the ocean was tinged faintly reddish-pink so it must be close. Sora closed his eyes and listened to the waves lapping gently by their bare feet, felt the warm sand rubbing against his bare back and swim trunks, the crackle of hair drying salty from its dip in the ocean. He'd missed it, unbelievably so.
There was a rustle as Kairi stood abruptly next to him, brushing the sand off her legs. "I haven't been to the Secret Place yet," she said suddenly. "Mom was so paranoid after I got back, she made me stay on the mainland."
Sora sat up. He thought about saying, I have, and I saw your drawing, and I'm pretty sure that I've loved you for a long time now. But he didn't. Instead he shook the sand out of his hair and stood. Grinned. "Okay. Let's go."
They took their time, simply enjoying their home again (it was only after being gone so long that Kairi realized that she lived with postcard-worthy scenery). She laced her fingers behind her back. The sun was up now, peeking over the horizon like a mischievous toddler, like trying to sneak up on the unlit word and get a peek at what the it could never see. Darkness. So do you count the sun lucky that it can never see Earth with the lights out-- never see the robberies, the murders, the drunks, and every other scum that crawls out of the floorboards at night... is blindness a blessing? Or do you pity the sun, because it can never see the stars or serenely sleeping children or powdery-diamond moonlight?
Kairi sneaked a glance at Sora, who was playing with a palm leaf he'd found on the ground, stripping out the fibers one by one. They made a zzzzt zzzzt zzzzt sound as he pulled the strands from the frond. Doubtful he was thinking about the sun, or the moon, or any kind of cosmic fate/luck. Doubtful he was thinking anything at all.
A note, for readers (lest you underestimate our spiky-haired hero). Kairi was wrong. Sora was thinking about something. And that something was her.
But, well, she didn't know yet.
Maybe that was why she didn't kiss him.
"I have gotten taller," Sora mumbled, rubbing his head irritably. Kairi grinned and slid past him, running her hands over the stones, smooth as glass from thousands of similar touches. All from them. It wasn't called the "Secret Place" for nothing... when Tidus had tried to follow once, when he was eight, Riku chased him all the way across the island waving his toy sword around and threatening him with the worst threats a ten-year-old could come up with (involving moms, broccoli, Swirlies, and copious amounts of cooties). Nobody tried to follow again. Eventually everyone else stopped caring.
Except them, of course.
He watched her surreptitiously. Kairi's hand rested on a particular drawing, absently following the chalk lines with her fingertips and sending tiny grains of white powder crumbling from the surface like snow. Or dandruff. Or something else small and white and floof-y.
Oh, crud. Donald was right. He didn't have a romantic bone in his body.
Sora shook his head and coughed, as if she could hear his anti-poetic thoughts. "Seems like this place shrunk. I had a couple inches of clearance before, but now my head hit the ceiling on the way in!"
Kairi laughed. "The place didn't shrink, Sora, you grew."
Kairi blushed a moment after, realizing exactly what she'd said. But all the same, the intensely feminine side of her couldn't help but to notice how he'd filled out (and up). He was more than a few inches taller. His face had lengthened and lost the rounded curves of preadolescence-- although she was happy he'd decided to forgo any facial hair. Sora just wouldn't look right with a soul patch or something. His shoulders were broad, and the time with the Keyblade had given Sora the lean, lithe body of a soccer player, cords of muscle standing out just a bit in his arms. His hair was still the same, but the gentle arc of his spine, neck, back... all different. Not cute, so much, but... touch-able.
"Um, thanks." Sora laughed a bit, awkwardly. "You too."
No, duh, his body remarked.
She was a woman, no doubt about it. Kairi was packing more curves than... something really curvy. Like a long string of the letter "s." Sora wished that he could just whisk her into his arms, whisper sweet nothings into her ear about her lovely face, satin-soft hair, opalescent skin, peach-pink lips, rain-blue-slate eyes, swan-like neck--
But he couldn't. And he didn't.
So instead he sat in increasingly awkward silence,
The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Kairi looked away, and by coincidence/fate/Lady Unlucky her eyes fall upon The Drawing. It's not the same way she left it a year ago. It's been added to.
Reader, it's fairly obvious you know exactly what Kairi is seeing, so I don't really see the point of elaborating further. I can't tell you any more about the intertwined hands bearing papou to one another, and everything that The Drawing so implies.
But I can inform you of Kairi's shock-- the way her lips curl together in an "o" and her eyebrows lift a bit. And I can tell you about the way her heart has suddenly increased several beats per minute, and... it's gotten louder? And I could tell you the way that her eyes got soft of wanting and-- dare I say it-- love, perhaps?
I can tell you that, at least.
Sora sees all that too. He's not feeling too normal himself, to be honest. All this talk about growing, and being in a dark place, alone, with Kairi--
Well. He's a teenage guy. Use your imagination.
Or rather, don't.
Eventually Kairi tears her eyes away from The Drawing and looks at him. "Looks" was a woefully inadequate adjective; her eyes were careful daggers slowly sliding their red-hot points into his skin. They branded. They seared. They not only forbade the idea of looking away, but took the idea outside, roughed it up, and tossed it into a Dumpster that got taken away with the trash tomorrow morning.
That kind of look.
Sora took a deep breath. "Kai, I think we need to talk."
They'd needed to talk for the last two years. But the universe had never let them get a word in edgewise between the "you must save the world!" yammering.
Kairi didn't speak right away. She paused and chose her words carefully, because these were important words. Love-words. Heartbreak-words. Soft-vulnerable-scared-words. "There's always been something, right?" She spoke slowly.
Sora nodded. Kairi forged ahead.
"So, then, I guess, after everything..." Her words were barely a whisper. "Where are we now?"
This was a very important question. Sora had to answer this right. What would Riku say? He was romantic; the girls chased after him. Riku would think of something unfathomably witty, toss his silvery hair, and a little sparkle-star would probably ping! off his perfectly white, straight teeth. Sora himself had to wear braces from ten to thirteen. It had sucked, because that was the age when the "hot-or-not" list was made up. Needless to say, Sora was on the "not" list.
He wished fervently for Riku's wit, for anyone's wit as long as it was better than his. The universe owed him a favor, right?
Wish, wish, wish...
Reader, while Sora is waiting with bated breath, let me inform you of a slight spoiler:
The universe does not come through for Sora here.
By the time Sora gave up on magical wit-bestowment, an uncomfortably long stretch of time had passed. Kairi's question was still in the air, sticking to the walls, rapping his forehead impatiently, tweaking his nose: Where are we now?
"Kai..." Pause, pause. Sora capitulated and said the first thing that came to his mind.
"Kairi, I'm in love with you."
Her face arranged itself peculiarly. He doesn't know if he's said the right thing. Or if she still even cares for him, at all. I mean, it had been an entire year since she'd probably drawn that picture. And things had happened. Sora knew now he couldn't ever live a peaceful life, not with the Keyblade. He still woke up at night, scanning the room for yellow-ochre eyes bobbing unnaturally in the liquid blackness. He still practiced every single day (gym class was his designated time, and more than one free throw had been missed when the shooter saw Sora striking out with a power far beyond the little kid of two years ago). He couldn't be so many things that she deserved.
Kairi still hadn't said anything. Her eyes were glittering with tears, and she'd bitten her lip so hard that the skin around it was bleached white. Sora started to panic. "Kairi, if.. if you don't feel the same way about-- me, I'll understand. I'll leave you alone. If I've said something you didn't want to hear--"
He stopped as she shook her head, laughing through her tears. "Sora, I've been waiting to hear that for two years."
Sora wondered why he'd hadn't said it sooner.
But, well, he knows now.
Maybe that was why he kissed her.
A piece of advice, reader:
You've probably read about people kissing. You are likely tired of the clichés, and just skip the actual kiss and move on with the rest of the story.
This is Sora's first kiss (and Kairi's too). This is an important event.
This is the kind of kiss that starts something. This is the kind of kiss that may just change the world.
Sora leaned forward, tilting his head and brushing his lips across hers softly. He lingered, because it felt so wonderful, and she twined her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. Kairi smelled like the ocean-- salt and water and refreshing, but there's something kind of like citrus in there too (oranges?) And lastly, a distinctly feminine smell that Sora can't place but if he had to come close, he'd describe it like fresh air and soft soap. Her eyelashes brushed his cheek and Sora exhaled slowly, trailing across her mouth, stopping at the corner and letting his thumb rub slow circles on her neck.
Kairi fit perfectly into his arms.
Maybe the universe did come through after all.
The sun had come up. Sora and Kairi sat on the edge of the dock, bare feet just barely brushing the surface of the waves. Her head rested on his shoulder, and his arm was around her waist. It's like coming apart will shatter the perfect-ness of this night/morning/dawn.
Sora yawned. "What time is it?"
"Don't know. We're probably missing school."
"Do you care?"
"Nah." She snuggled closer to him. Something inside Sora melted, and he couldn't resist turning his head and placing a kiss in her hair. She stilled in his arms and Sora was eternally grateful that Kairi appreciates silence. Not like he's Leon or Cloud or anything, but sometimes words just spoiled things. Like the melted watercolor look of the sunrise, or the soft ksssh sound of the waves cresting the shoreline. Or, now, the way the sunlight flowed like honey across Kairi's skin, bathing her pretty face in a gold-yellow light, her eyelashes casting long shadows down her cheeks to her pale-peach lips. Mostly he liked the quiet because he could feel her heart beating through his jacket, feel her light calling out to his own.
Words spoiled some things. But Sora's quiet "I love you," fitted perfectly into the scenery.
He had never really answered her question: where are we now?
They in each others' arms, now. They were home.
But, well, we know that, reader.
Maybe that was why we marvel that it took him so long to kiss her.
Sokai rocks my world. Hopefully this rocked yours. Formatting this was kind of a jerk, though...
If it did, I'd appreciate you leaving a review telling me so. If not, I'd appreciate your critique just as much. Thanks everyone.