Disclaimer: I do not own Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts, nor am I making any money off this fanfiction.
Here we are. Thanks for all of you for sticking by me through this, even when I started it over! I'm really grateful for all of my fans for Frog Prince, new and old!
White stretched for as far as my eyes could see. I lifted my hand, saw my fingers spread before me just as I instructed them to. For some reason, I'd felt bodiless, and that hadn't sat well with me. But here I was, in one piece.
And I wasn't alone.
A tiny figure was in front of me, her back to me, long white hair in a braid to down between her shoulder blades. Her head was down, and her fingers were loose fists at her sides. I drew closer to see the line of her shoulders trembling. She was afraid, and she had something to tell me. I could feel it in my heart.
I'm sorry, resounded in my head. The magic… it was so awful…
"It's okay," I whispered.
That head jerked up, those frail shoulders stiffened. It's not okay!
I flinched despite myself and averted my eyes. Putting my arms around myself couldn't ward off the chill that had just eclipsed my heart. I could feel her agony, her grief. It was as much a part of me as it had ever been. This was, after all, all my fault. She felt like this because of me. These things had happened because of me. If only I hadn't…
Sora, don't, she said. You know that the responsibility of this entire… situation… is mine to bear.
"No!" I protested, alarmed. "You can't take all the blame!"
I can. I can…
I reached for her, but she was already fading away. In seconds, her body was nothing more than an outline, and then even that was gone, so that by the time I could put my hand on her shoulder, I was touching thin air. I groped uselessly, then whirled about, trying to spot some sign of her. Nothing.
I can and I will breathed through me, like an errant breeze toying with my hair.
I woke with my cheeks wet. Someone was shaking my shoulders, and I could make out a distant, joyful yell. The world was fuzzy in returning to me, splotches of colors first, a whirlwind of noises at my ears, beneath it all the sound of my heart pounding. My hand, I realized, was still outstretched, as though to curl around something. I closed my fingers, lowered my fist. I couldn't speak, my throat was so tight.
My vision cleared enough to see that I was looking upward at a canopy, sky blue in color. Seconds later, bright green eyes fell across my vision. A perfect pale face, framed by silky silver hair, and a circlet on a well-arched brow. For a minute, I couldn't think of anything that made any sort of sense. It was Riku, but it wasn't Riku. I could see him there, in that face, but he looked so regal, so medieval, and at the same time, it was Riku, gods, Riku, my Riku, my Riku. It was then that I understood that I contained both my memories. The real memory, and the one the witch had fabricated for my curse.
Tears dotted his lashes. It was the first time I'd seen him cry. "Sora," he breathed, his accent both familiar and not. I wondered how long it would take me to shake the curse's dream. "You're awake. We did it. You're awake…"
My face scrunched up. I wished he wouldn't cry. It was going to make me bawl like a baby at any moment. "I'm so sorry!" I'd been asleep for—well, I had no clue how many years I'd been down for the count, actually, but those were the first words out of my mouth. Those were the words I had been wanting to say since I'd seen the witch strike him down. "Riku, I'm sorry…"
And just like that, the fountain started. I couldn't make the tears stop, and they turned me into a trembling mess. Riku grabbed me, pulled me against his firm chest. I fell into him, knowing I didn't deserve it but remembering what he'd said about it not being my fault. Would I always feel like it was? Would I never get beyond that?
"Stop it," he whispered against my hair. "Do not apologize. I have you back—that is all that matters."
I closed my eyes, unable to come up with a response that wouldn't upset him.
"Selphie!" he called then. "Selphie, Sora is awake!"
I heard another delighted yell, more like a shriek. Wings blurred, clattered against one another, and seconds later, I had Selphie on the other side of me, her arms around us both. She was crying, too, and her tears were silver trails down her glittery cheeks. I'd always liked fairies. As I watched, her wings hummed at a rapid speed, like a hummingbird's wings, greenish in tint. Most fairy's wings went with their eye color.
"You're awake!" she squealed. "You are! We did it, Riku, we really did it!" She dissolved into joyful laughter then, hugging me tighter than ever. "It took forever!"
"It really did. You're quite stubborn, Sora," Riku said, ruffling my hair.
I stuck my tongue out at him. It was better than the alternative, which was to start crying again.
Selphie pulled back. "We have to hold a feast!"
I held up a hand. "Oh, Selphie, no—"
"No! We must, we must! Okay, byeeee!" And just like that, she was gone, leaving green dust where her wings trailed. I stared after her, aghast, then sniffled and wiped my eyes. Despite my misgivings, a smile was already twitching at my lips. It was like nothing had changed.
"Welcome back, Sora," Riku murmured against my ear.
That made my smile spread wider.
True to Selphie's word, a feast was thrown in my honor. The court room was filled to the brim with joyful denizens of Riku's kingdom, and I found once again that not much had changed. The drafty old castle walls were still the same, the food was still just as delicious, my circlet, though awkward on my head, still felt like it belonged there… The only difference was the slight shadows to everyone's eyes.
Beside me Seifer, the head knight in Riku's army, poured more wine into my cup. It was bizarre seeing him so friendly and open instead of hostile and eager to slam me into lockers. "This past year has been really good for the kingdom."
"Yeah!" Hayner put in from his other side, the two of them in their armor. He had a smear of sauce from his chicken on his cheek. "After the witch was defeated, King Riku took over everything! It was amazing—'course, part of the problem in the first place was all the vines and stuff, and the people who were turned to stone…" He shook his head, as if remembering bad things that had haunted his dreams. "Well, that all vanished when the witch's reign ended."
A pang hit my heart. I tried to ignore it and focus on the food on my plate. All kinds of meat, from roasted boar to sauced chicken, were heaped all over our table, which fronted the rest of the court's. Fruits and cheeses accompanied the meal, along with goblets of wine. We'd probably gone through more than enough caskets already, but everyone was so merry, I didn't think the drinking was stopping anytime soon.
On my other side, Riku was immersed in conversation with Selphie. I watched them, longing to see Squall and Rinoa, but… they didn't exist. I'd known that waking up. It still took some time to convince myself of it, though, that they'd been only figments of the curse, planted there to keep Riku and me apart. The problem was, they'd been in my dreams for so long… they felt so real… How long would I miss them? Squall especially…
"It was Selphie who got King Riku to wake up first," Hayner was saying. "The two of you were in the dungeons, on this pedestal… it was real spooky, if you ask me. Right, Sei?"
The big blond nodded. "Yeah." He sucked some greasy meat off a bone. "Vines everywhere. Covered in flowers. I've never seen anything like it before."
"Yeah, the vines were moving!" Hayner shuddered. "It was really eerie…"
"That witch had some kinda power, that's for sure…" Seifer gave me a sharp grin. "Guess you're lucky that you got to sleep through it all. It was pretty bad."
The other blond gave him a hard nudge with his elbow to Seifer's ribs. "Hey! C'mon, that was super insensitive."
Seifer raised his hands. "I'm just sayin', that's all…"
I gave Hayner an only slightly exasperated smile to let him know it was all right. Inside, though, I was restless. Everyone kept talking about how the witch had been defeated… But what did that mean? Was she dead? Still alive? How had it been accomplished?
Suddenly not very hungry anymore, I turned to Riku. At my touch to his elbow, he trailed off midsentence with Selphie and twisted in his seat to give me his undivided attention. That made my heart flutter. So many dreams where he hadn't loved me… where he hadn't been capable of it… and now, here, I had him back. My Riku.
"What—happened… to her?"
I didn't have to specify a name. He knew immediately who I was talking about it. It was in the tensing of his shoulders. That reminded me of the white void I'd been in before I woke up, and I dropped my eyes to my food. He was probably upset I brought her up, but… I had to know. I had to know, despite all that she'd done to us.
Riku's fingers were suddenly warm around mine, and he was pulling me to my feet. I gave him a questioning look, but he was already turned away from me. The music and festivities continued on around us as he led me away from the court room and into the castle corridors. It took me a few moments, as it had been so long since I'd been awake in reality, but I got the gist that we were headed down.
Down, to where the dungeons were.
The cells were mostly empty, at least from what I saw. I didn't peer too deeply into the shadows, but once or twice, I heard a rustle and a clink of chains. We wandered like that for a time, Riku with a torch in his hand to light the way, a prison guard behind us to ensure that nothing drastic transpired while the royalty was in the presence of criminals. I liked to think that we could have handled ourselves fine, though we were currently weaponless, fresh from the feast.
Not that I'd handled any sort of weapon in a long, long time…
Riku stopped, his feet scuffing lightly on the stone, and I followed suit. I turned to see where he was facing. It was a cell much wider than the others, and there were engravings all along the bars. Though I couldn't make them out in the flicker of the torchlight, I gathered that they were a spell designed to keep the person in the cell in. And that person…
My breath drew in. I stepped closer to the cell.
"Sora," Riku cautioned.
"She's not old anymore," I breathed.
There she lay, sprawled on her side, her cell devoid of a bed, or anything, really. They wouldn't have wanted anything in there that she could have used as a weapon. Either way, she looked harmless like that, asleep, her red hair spread all around her, her blue eyes closed, one arm resting lightly across her stomach. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen her like that.
The gardens, maybe?
"We're not sure how it happened," Riku said from my shoulder. "The curse—it broke on you, and she expressed some sort of relief, and… she's been like this ever since. Sleeping. She fell asleep, and then, gradually, her youth came back."
That explained why there wasn't anything in the cell.
I stared at her, riveted. I absolutely could not draw my eyes away. "I want to go in there…"
Riku grasped my arm. "Sora—"
"No, Riku." I stepped away from him. I had to go in there. I had to see her. "I need to."
Riku sighed and rubbed his hand over his mouth. Then he dropped his head and lifted a hand in a gesture. The guard left us, only to come back with someone wrapped up in fitted black robes. They waved their hands and muttered a lot. With a bright light, the runes on the steel bars flared, bright enough in the darkness that it made my eyes water.
The robed mage bowed and stepped aside.
I took that to mean the door was open, so in I went. Riku stayed carefully outside of the cell, his fingers a white-knuckled grasp on his torch. I gave him a hesitant smile, then dropped down beside the sleeping figure of my worst enemy and my best friend both. I wasn't afraid. The second I saw that her youth had returned, I knew I didn't have to be afraid about anything anymore, not where it concerned her.
Slowly, I pushed her bangs back from her forehead. She didn't stir, but then, I hadn't expected her to. Still, I sighed and looked up at Riku. "I wonder what she's dreaming of."
"Who knows?" His tone clearly implied, "Who cares?" and he wouldn't hold my eyes for very long. An uneasy frown had twisted his lips. I didn't blame him for being so nervous. We'd lost one another for so long the first time… what if it happened again because of my carelessness? I wished I could have imprinted my confidence about the matter onto him.
I smiled, a little sadly, and lowered my eyes back to her prone figure. "I wish I could have loved you…" I said as tenderly as I knew how. Riku drew in a breath. I could feel his discomfort from where we were, especially when I gingerly tugged her head into my lap.
"Do you mind if I stay with her for a while?" I didn't look up this time to ask that.
I could tell by feel alone that he did mind, very much. I had in my lap the woman who had terrorized his country for countless years that were lost to us both. Upstairs, several floors above us, they were having yet another feast to celebrate her defeat. Yet here I was, inquiring for a moment alone with her. It probably didn't make any sense at all to him. That was all right.
Maybe one day he'd understand. Then again, maybe not.
"Just be—… careful, Sora," Riku whispered.
Footsteps shuffled, armor clanked a little. I waited until the noises had receded to bend my mouth to hers in the gentlest of kisses I had ever bestowed on anyone.
Just like I had expected they would, her eyes fluttered open. They were hazed over, only to clear a moment later, the irises turning to a pure, blueberry blue. They focused on me—widened—filled with tears that I knew probably stung. That made my smile spread, just a little. I tucked her hair gently behind her ears, then cradled her cheeks in my palms.
"You have to go, and never come back," I said. Despite my best intentions, my voice started to waver with emotion. "I forgive you—but they never will." They wouldn't, not if their lives depended on it. I could see it, the hungry desperation for vengeance scouring in those shadows in their eyes. It was a good thing the dungeon was so heavily guarded, although I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had informed me that several attempts on her life had already been made.
Unless… well… it was possible that most people didn't know she was alive at all.
"His powers… they flew into me—when I killed him… they consumed me…"
"I know…" Gods, now my eyes were burning with unshed tears. I blinked them back, licked my lips. "I know. I'm sorry."
At my pain, she closed her eyes. "When the curse broke, I was… strangely… happy…" Her words were slow, as though she hadn't used her throat in some time. "…and then I…"
"It's all right," I breathed.
This time, she didn't fight me, not like she had in the void. She only nodded. Silence stretched between us, and the torchlight Riku had left for me in a sconce in the wall flickered and made shadows dart along the floor. I looked at them, because my throat was tight once again to the point of pain. Would I ever be rid of the grief?
"I'll go," she whispered at last.
I found her hands, gathered them up in my own, and squeezed. "I'll help you."
Nearly an hour later, I watched her gallop away into the night on one of the castle's stallions. I'd made sure the horse was fitted with a saddle without the castle's insignia engraved on it, and I'd swiped plenty of food from the kitchens to keep her going for a while. Golden lights danced in the air, tiny fairy spirits stirred to life by the presence of humans. Trees swayed gently in the breezes. Her cloak hid her bright red hair from prying eyes, not that anyone would recognize her as she was now.
There went the former witch, never to be seen or heard from again.
My heart heavy, I returned to my chambers to find Riku there, waiting for me. He fluffed up a pillow, patted the space beside him. I would have thought he was at the feast, which had been still on-going when I'd passed the court room earlier on the way upstairs. Yet here he was, his eyes solemn as they peered up at me.
"You let her go, didn't you?"
I lowered my eyes, not yet climbing onto the bed. I didn't know what to say. I had no excuse, not one that he would understand.
He sighed, lifted a knee, wrapped the crook of his arm around it. He'd set aside his circlet and was dressed in soft gray night garb. The blankets were already pulled back on his side. "I can't say I understand your reasoning, Sora… but I know that it was something you had to do."
Blinking, I looked back up at that. He wasn't going to berate me? The prince who had kissed the frog, broke the first curse with true love? The man who had risked everything yet again by allowing his love to be left alone with the wicked witch who had caused everyone so much trouble in the first place?
"Come here," he said. "Let's go to sleep."
At that, I did crawl up onto the covers. Together, we got beneath them, and Riku tucked an arm around my waist and pulled me into him. His warmth seeped into me, and I sighed.
"Are you all right?" he asked, so softly I almost didn't hear him.
We were spooning, and I had to twist my head around to see him. I only caught his profile, as he was hiding his nose at the back of my neck.
"How do you mean?"
"Reality… after dreaming so long, it—"
"It's disorienting," I agreed. "And a little sad." I thought of Rinoa and Squall and snuggled back into Riku to make those feelings of longing for what I couldn't have go away. "But… I'm happy that it's over. I'm happy that I'm here with you." That was all I could really say about the matter, in the simplest of terms.
I could hear the smile in his voice as he tucked me as firmly as he could against him. "I'm just glad you're back, Sora."
And, I am pleased to say, we lived happily ever after.