Listen carefully, I'm going to tell you a story. It's about a child's play island, and halcyon days, and seashells.
It's about meteor showers and sunshine and sand.
Listen carefully, it's not what it seems.
From the very beginning, they were outgrowing that place.
Once upon a time there was a little girl. She was curious and maybe a little scared (you would be, too, if you had to leave your home behind and go live in some hot place far far away, with sticky ocean air and very large bugs.) She was scared of quite a lot of things, normal childish things: like very large bugs, and growing old.
Mostly, though, she was scared of the dark.
Are you paying attention?
She was scared of the dark until she met him, and him, the duo she had seen scampering around trees and boulders, pew pew pew, I shot you, Riku! said Sora from behind a pile of logs. Nuh-uh, no you didn't, you don't have a gun, Riku said, crouched down, collecting small rocks to use as ammunition.
They noticed her a few minutes later, watching them play. It was really kind of funny, the way Riku stopped dead in his tracks and Sora collided into him and they both face-planted into the sand. Once they recovered, there was a small but ferocious tussle to see who got to introduce themselves first.
She giggled behind her hands and waited.
Riku won. No fair, you're taller and FAT, Sora said, spitting out a mouthful of sand and his own had proclaimed his victory by sitting on the shorter boy's back. Get off, you're heavy, ugh.
"Hi, I'm Kairi," she said.
We know, we know all about you, said Sora, laughing, then covered his mouth quickly. Riku smacked him upside the head. You're dumb. Shut up. He looked at her, his face apologetic and calm. He asked the mayor about you.
My name's Riku, he said, still looking straight at her. Sora was wiggling in vain underneath him. LEMME UP, dumb Riku, I wanna say hi to her, c'mon. Riku scowled, dropped the cool act, and promptly dumped a handful of sand onto Sora's head.
In the middle of their furious fistfight (which was really a "let's see if you cry like a baby when I rub some sand in your ugly face" contest), she decided that she liked these two quite a lot.
They did not, of course, become friends overnight. That's not how it works, even though Sora was interested and so was Riku
(but maybe Riku was a little jealous).
No, first there was a waiting period of maybe a week where she just sat by herself, collecting seashells, listening to the waves.
But one day she looked up and there was a little girl in yellow there, holding a jump-rope out to her. Wanna play with me? she asked, and of course she said yes. This girl was really adorable and cheerful and everything anyone could want in a friend.
So they had tea parties, and formed a band that lasted all of three days before it met its tragic end due to creative differences, and made an inpenetrable fortress of a sandcastle that Selphie pretended to blow to smithereens. (She never did understand Selphie's somewhat unhealthy obsession with explosives, but no one ever got seriously injured, so it was fine.)
Throughout all of this, she was aware that the duo from earlier, Sora and Riku, were watching her but pretending not to. Sora would start to walk over, but Riku would trip him or pull him away, and Riku would sometimes watch her from his perch in a palm tree. She waved whenever she saw them.
Selphie introduced her to Tidus and Wakka and they were just as nice, helping her catch fish and showing her some basic blitzball moves. She wasn't very good at it (she was, after all, only just learning how to swim), so mainly she just watched as they played.
Tidus claimed that he was the star player of an imaginary bliztball team called the Zanarkand Abes. Wakka, in turn, claimed that he was the captain of an imaginary team called the Besaid Aurochs, who, according to Tidus, sucked eggs at blitzball. Wakka retaliated by dunking Tidus' head underwater.
One evening, there was a meteor shower.
She had been sitting on the shore when it began, able to stay up as late as she wanted because it wasn't a school night. The only others there were Sora and Riku, but they were on top of a tree on the other side of the island.
She wondered if they were still playing pirates, like they had been an hour ago. They took turns being the good guy and the bad guy, she noticed, but Riku was not very good at being the bad guy. His nefarious schemes were logical, sound, and over too quickly. He didn't have an evil laugh or a cool accent. And in the end, he'd just kill off the good guy without any preamble. No gloating monologue or accidentally setting him free or anything.
Now Sora, it turned out, was really really good at being a pirate captain. He adapted a vague sort of brogue and swaggered everywhere, pointing lazily at the captive good guy (Riku) and ordering that he walk the plank, savvy?
Riku bore this with a sort of amused, suffering air, occasionally making half-hearted remarks like no and oh god the humanity. Eventually the hero broke free of his restraints (seaweed) and battled the evil pirate captain. The last she had heard, Sora had been strung up by his shirt on a tree branch and forced to say that he was a codfish.
She wondered where her place in that game would be. Certainly not the pirate captain. She couldn't see herself as the dashing hero, either. Probably, she thought, she would end up being a very minor character. Like a cabin boy. Or a fish.
She sat alone, in the quiet stillness, and watched the sky.
And then there were bright lights everywhere, like the stars themselves were falling, and she was running to the other side of the island, because this kind of thing was too pretty to enjoy alone.
When she got to their tree, she was greeted by smiles and a hand to help her up onto a branch.
"What are they?" she asked.
Stars, said Sora in a know-it-all voice. Riku rolled his eyes. No, they aren't, he said. Yuh-huh, they are, they're shooting stars. You make wishes on them, Sora said. He leaned back and closed his eyes, mouthing the words of a silent wish.
"Are you going to make a wish, too? Riku?" she asked the other boy quietly. He nodded. If I can think of a good one. I don't want to waste it. At this, Sora opened one eye. Jeez, are you kidding?You can't think of one? Sheesh. You should wish for a new imagination. He stuck his tongue out. Riku shoved him off the tree. You should wish for a new brain.
She laughed and closed her eyes and made a wish.
The way it was, the way they were, their friendship was inevitable. No one else was capable of putting up with those two when they were together.
Sure, Tidus and Wakka could handle Sora if he was in a roughhousing mood, and Selphie could sit by Riku and watch the sunset when he was feeling contemplative, but when the both of them were together?
Ha, yeah, good luck with that, buddy. I'll be over here.
Because then there were mudfights and handstands and HEY TIDUS WHOSE SAND SCULPTURE IS BETTER and selphie, who would you rather marry.
But then she came along, and then it was still mudfights and contests and races, except she was the judge. She was the person with the stopwatch. She was the audience, the crowd, cheering them on.
In their pirate games, she was neither a cabin boy or a fish. She was often the damsel in distress, but Sora liked her evil laugh so much that he made her be the villain a few times. When that happened, they conferred quietly for a few minutes, then giggled like little girls and made Riku be the damsel in distress.
And everything was sun and sand and perfect.
They grew older, as children tend to do, and some things changed while others stayed the same.
She was still the mediator, the judge, the audience. But rocks and sticks were exchanged for wooden swords, and juvenile hair-pulling for wrestling.
They didn't really play pretend anymore.
Sora was still shorter, and Riku was still taller. They didn't compete for her attention quite like they used to. No longer would Sora yell Kairi watch this and then proceed to cannonball into the lake, getting her and everyone around her soaking wet. No longer would Riku sit on Sora's back, forcing Sora's protesting face into the sand while Riku sat up straight, talking calmly to her. As if to say, I'm in charge here.
Who knows, maybe they still whispered to each other before every race, If I win, she likes me better. But she doubted it. Because they matched each other, blow for blow, and she could not compete. She could barely keep up with them.
Sometimes, in the silence, she noticed one of them watching the other, or one of them watching her. Why were they looking, she wanted to know (but didn't ask).
(She, naturally, didn't consider that maybe it was like how Selphie looked at that cute cowboy in their homeroom class, or how Sora's parents looked at each other, or how that one group of girls looked at Riku.)
They talked about sharing a paopu fruit, all three of them. Did it work like that? Could you split a destiny into thirds? She didn't want to find out.
"Let's wait to try it til we're older," she said, and went home and began making star-shaped good luck charms.
Are you listening?
Do you think you could have done better?
They were older now, and couldn't be called children. Not really. Riku was restless, she noticed it before he even started talking about distant worlds and rafts. Sora was affected by it, too. However, his restlessness lay not in the desire to leave, but the desire to stay. They could tell, she and Sora, that this could not last forever, these lazy sunny days spent in each other's company.
She and Sora knew, from some unspoken knowledge in their hearts that only they were privy to, that the closer the raft got to completion the sooner they would be split apart.
She and Sora knew this.
Riku did not.
So she resigned herself to the inevitable and made a game out of it. Find the items, you guys, come on, let's go. I can't wait to set sail. It'll be great.
She watched as their arguments got shorter and fiercer, sometimes wordless. A matched set of scowls, a shove, a quick duel. It got harder and harder for her and Sora to convince Riku to wait until the raft was finished.
She tried convincing Riku verbally because she liked to think of herself as more emotionally mature than the boys.
Sora didn't try convincing him verbally, probably because he was under no such delusions of maturity. (She figured that even as an old man, he'd still be saying stuff like "Mature is what happens to cheese!" and pulling faces and eating ice cream.)
Sora instead resorted to petty sabotage and distractions.
She watched, one day, as Sora sneakily stole supplies from the raft and dumped them in the ocean so he and Riku would have to go get more together.
It was in fact not sneaky at all, he did it in broad daylight and tripped a few times.
It put them behind schedule an entire day.
Riku was the only one who minded, and even then he didn't really. There were, probably, a few people who could look into those blueblueblue eyes and that dorky, dorky grin and feel absolutely nothing. (And those few, she reasoned, were completely nuts, or they had no heart, so it was okay.)
Riku was not one of those people. Riku was, in fact, completely hopeless when it came to saying 'no' to puppy-dog eyes and pleading grins and sun-kissed cheeks, and Sora knew it.
So Sora sabotaged and was loud and obnoxious, and she pulled Riku aside every so often and quietly talked to him about what, exactly, leaving the islands meant.
But they could not put it off forever, or Riku would try to go without them. She was not afraid of him getting hurt. She was afraid of him forgetting her and Sora.
She was afraid of being left behind.
When the raft was finished and she looked out her window and saw nothing but darkness surrounding their little island, she bit her lip but did not cry. Riku was there, she knew, it was his ticket out of here and he was going to take it.
She didn't think to wonder why the darkness was there, she just knew that she didn't want him to go alone, without them, so she got out her own little boat and dragged it to the water's edge. She didn't go get Sora from his house, even though he could have helped. He could always help.
She didn't go and get him because Sora should stay very far away from such darkness, she thought. It didn't suit him.
It was so dark. It was so black and endless and dark, (and she thought she wasn't afraid of the dark anymore)but she finally made it, tying up her boat with shaking hands .
"Riku," she called.
I'm here, he said, and she turned to the shore and saw him.
"Don't go," she said.
Not without you guys.
The ground beneath his feet was black. She walked towards him, resolved and steady, while everything in her was screaming:
Her chest ached, her heart hurt, because this darkness was not for her.
It suited Riku, though.
"Sora's still asleep, you know. We can't leave without him," she said, and stopped at the edge of the black void that Riku was standing on, wispy tendrils of dark smoke playing at her ankles.
For a moment, Riku smiled, familiar and nostalgic. The darkness hesitated and so did the storm.
No, I guess we can't. He'd throw a fit.
"Let's go home and wait for him," she said, holding out her hand.
He slowly shook his head and looked up at the sky.
I can't, Kairi.
She took a step back, because the darkness was eating away at the beach. She took another step back, because Riku wasn't smiling anymore.
I did this, he said. I called this here. And he was looking at her like she should be proud of him.
There was a sharp sting of betrayal, (what was so terrible about this place that you would destroy it) but she understood, and she backed away further.
"I can't help you," she said, "I can't go with you, and neither can Sora."
She stood still, because the wind and the thunder increased twofold at these words, and Riku's eyes had something lurking inside them. Hungry and powerful and very very dark.
"Come home, Riku. Please."
She ran, but he did not follow.
She hid in the secret place, tucked into a little crevice near their murals. There were monsters, and pirates, and what she thought was a crude rendition of Santa Claus but she wasn't sure. There were quite a few battle scenes, There were a few small drawings of various spiky-haired stick figures holding hands, and to be honest, she couldn't tell who was who. An artist, Sora was not.
Riku's section of the wall was covered in lovely abstract shapes that spilled over into Sora's section, even though there was a thick bold line that was plainly labeled THIS IS SORA'S SIDE STAY OUT RIKU.
Riku, it seemed, had ignored this boundary.
He had drawn stars, the moon, landscapes, oceans. There were boats floating in harbors, and airships in the sky. She spotted a rocket ship near the moon. Let it be known that Riku did have an imagination, she thought.
Her own drawings were small and simple and scattered. A flower here, a heart there. She drew the three of them, once, and Sora had been impressed. You could be a famous artist, he said admiringly, and her first impression of a "famous artist" was that of a tiny blonde with small wrists and big feet, drawing inside a birdcage.
Directly across from her hiding spot in the cave, there was a picture of Sora offering her a paopu fruit.
She imagined him, here in the darkness, searching desperately for his two best friends who were nowhere to be found. She imagined Sora, betrayed and abandoned, looking for her.
Looking for Riku.
Her heart broke.
There was a period of time where she knew nothing, and everything.
Sometimes she saw, as if from very far away, a little blonde boy with small wrists and big feet. Mostly, though, it was light and floating and quiet.
Her thoughts came and departed slowly. She was at peace in this place, warm and safe.
Occasionally, she would feel sharp emotions that weren't hers. There was anger, real biting anger, and then there was a deep, terrible sadness and a sense of loss.
(Afterwards, she would look back and realize that she had pretty much been hanging out inside Sora's heart. It probably should have been weird. It wasn't.)
When she was brought back, restored to her own body and her own emotions, she was not prepared for what was waiting there for her.
There was no Sora. There was no Riku. There were dark, disgusting little creatures that made her skin crawl and her heart go wrongwrongwrong.
But then, oh, one of them was Sora, so she bit back her revulsion and hugged the abomination tight.
She watched, at the end of everything, as wooden swords were exchanged for real ones, and she watched as the two best friends in the entire world screamed at each other. Hurt each other. Tried to kill each other.
She didn't want this.
They weren't fighting over her anymore, they were fighting over something bigger, something important, something worth fighting for.
For a silly instant, she wished she could simply clap and giggle and they would stop fighting, turn to her, and smile sheepishly. Sorry, Riku would say. I guess we got a little carried away, right, Sora? And Sora would pout and blame it on Riku, You started it! And she would smile and so would they.
But they weren't on the islands anymore, and things could not be solved with a good luck charm and a hug.
Things couldn't be solved at all. And she went back alone, to her islands, with questions and nightmares and sins that couldn't be forgiven in a million years.
She was afraid of the dark, but she wasn't afraid of Riku. She knew him, a long time ago, they used to play together.
There was another boy, too.
Kairi, watch this.