December arrived, cold and dreary. No snow.
The war continued spreading, and I knew it'd affect me eventually. Days passed. Weeks passed. But it still felt like a distant dream, nothing tangible and real, even though the battles had reached the Pride Lands, the middle of the Nation.
It was like a disease, or a rash, spreading, circulating through the veins, itching the skin. And the only way that it felt better was to scratch, scratch, scratch but that didn't really work. Our troops continued losing ground, no matter how much they scratched and fought against the wounds that the Kingdom gouged into the Nation, it was useless.
But the war was going to hit me, infect me.
Sooner than I had thought.
I slumped myself in one of my kitchen chairs, my hands cradling my head in disbelief, unwilling to accept what was happening. Riku's words danced in my head.
My fingers ran through my hair, bunching it, squeezing it. I wanted to rip it out.
What was happening to our lives?
"This is the best way. Really," Riku said. He sat down next to me, rubbing one of my shoulders as if to comfort me. I shoved him away; all I could think of was how utterly impossible it was going to be to comfort Naminé when she got home.
"You're just leaving because you're sick of being around your dad. You're a coward. She needs you, and yet you leave because of your goddamn daddy issues."
My words were like poison, dripping from my terse lips. But I didn't care. I hated him right now. I wanted my words to prick him like needles and infect him like a disease and leave him so weak the only option he'd have left would be to remain in Traverse Town with us instead of running off to join the army.
Riku stood up abruptly.
I continued bruising him without remorse. "You just have to have it your way, don't you? You just have to break my sister's heart."
"You're sick," I hissed. "Coward."
He kicked the kitchen chair across the room in rage. I jolted as it collided with the wall.
"I'm not a coward!" he shouted, bits of saliva spraying my face. "I'm going to fucking fight in this fucking war. I am not a fucking coward!"
"You're a fucking coward for leaving Naminé!" I screamed. "Without even saying goodbye!"
"Kairi!" he yelled. "Let me explain!"
"I don't want your half-ass explanations, you asshole."
He grabbed my shoulders, fingernails digging roughly into my flesh. I tried to yank myself away, but his grasp was strong and true. It was the grasp of a soldier. His face drew close to mine.
"I love her!" he exclaimed.
My body went limp in his arms.
He continued, his voice a melodic whisper, "I love her, Kairi. I love her so much." He released me, and I stumbled back. "I have to do this."
I began to protest, but he hushed me.
"I'd do anything to protect her," he continued. "And if that means I join the army and join a losing war, then so be it." He swallowed. "If that means I give my life to save hers… then so be it."
"And I'm so sorry for leaving. But it's for the best."
I sat down again, soaking it all in, letting my veins absorb the feeling of Riku's absence. I turned to him. "Why did you tell me first though?" I ask. "Why didn't you tell her?"
He closed his eyes, and I could see the pain rip through his chest, sharp as a knife.
"I need to ask you a favor."
I knew. I knew what he was going to ask me to do. "Oh… Oh, Riku. Don't."
"Please," he begged. He grabbed my hand and held it within his hands—hands that would soon be tools of war, protectors of innocents. "Please tell her that I'm sorry."
I shook my head. "I can't tell her. I can't break her heart like that."
Riku gasped, struggling to hold back tears. His white teeth bit down on his thin bottom lip.
"I don't want to break her heart…" he explained slowly, every word spaced by a low, steady breath of guilt. "But I can't bring myself to say goodbye to her."
"Don't make me, Riku," I said with clenched teeth.
"I'm asking you a favor," he said more sternly. "From one friend to another."
"If I told her that I was leaving… and if I saw her face fall… I don't think I could leave. And I need to. I need to protect her. Please, Kairi. For me. Tell her goodbye."
My hands folded in my lap, and I breathed deeply. I couldn't believe I was going to do it.
"Fine. I'll… let her know. I'll do it." He lifted me out of the chair again, embracing me in a rough, one-armed hug. My eyes started welling up with acidic tears, and I hugged him back. "But be careful, Riku. Please. As a favor… from one friend to another."
"I will," he mumbled into my hair.
I didn't want to let go, but I knew if I couldn't, there was no way that Naminé was going to be able to. I released him from my grasp and wiped a tear hanging on his lower eyelid. He swallowed.
"I have to go," he said, "I saved Sora for my last… my last goodbye."
I couldn't say anything, so I just stood there wordlessly, trying to hold back all my protests. And then he kissed my forehead gently, gave me one last hug, and—
"I'm home!" Naminé cried from the front door. I heard her backpack hitting the ground with a resounding thud, filling the silence with unwelcome reverberations. Riku's sharp eyes flew to me, and a soft tear rolled down my face.
"Just go," I whispered. "Please."
He nodded silently. Guilt needed no words full of fake apologies to express itself, only silence. Hurt needed no canvas other than his sad face, his warm tears the paint that dripped slowly down. I watched him break when he plastered the cold, determined look on his face.
"Riku!" Naminé exclaimed with a bright, wide smile as she entered the kitchen, as she entered a cold, lonely world devoid of love that she wasn't nearly ready enough to enter. "I didn't expect you to be here!"
My breath hitched in my throat.
And without a look, without a backwards glance, without any form of hesitation, he brushed past her, leaving her scared and empty and alone.
She left the next day.
I hated myself. I should have seen it coming. I wished I had thrown the backpack that she planned to take with her into my room and locked the door so she'd never have been able to leave. I wished I had been a strong older sister and had explained sternly that she was being young and stupid (when really she was just young and in love).
I wished I had screamed, If you follow him there, you'll wind up on the front lines and get killed! That's exactly what he's trying to prevent! He's trying to protect you and this is how he wants to do that!
But I couldn't. Or rather, I didn't.
She had bawled all night, moving from room to room like a weary ghost wanting to fade into nonexistence so she wouldn't have to feel that kind of hurt again. Every time her crying slowed and her loud sobs transformed into deep, breathy sighs in an attempt to control herself, she erupted again, her eyes like broken faucets, unable to stop running.
When Riku had told me his plan, I had thought my biggest problem was just going to be calming Naminé down, but I found that it was getting increasingly more difficult to control myself.
Watching Naminé shatter was the hardest thing I'd ever had to watch. I wanted to comfort her, but knowing that there was no way to comfort someone who felt so utterly abandoned, I said nothing.
Maybe if I had said something, anything, she wouldn't have left.
I had fallen into a deep sleep in my bed, after I had gotten used to the sounds of Naminé's wails. When I woke, I knew something was wrong.
She was nowhere to be found, and I had let her leave. I should have barred the doors. I should have kept an eye on her. I shouldn't have fallen asleep. I should have done something.
I was so angry as I stormed through the house, looking for signs of her. A used cereal bowl lay in the sink; she always washed her dishes after she used them. Her bedspread was in disarray, pillows on the floor; she always made her bed.
I knew she had gone to follow him. Her clean, white coat was gone from the rack. Her backpack had been scooped off the floor. Necessities had been cleaned out from her room.
I rushed to my purse, and searched through for my cell. A note had been left inside.
Sorry, but I needed some munny. –Nam
My wallet was empty. I shrugged that off and grabbed my phone, hastily pounding the speed-dial. I heard the familiar jingle. My heart sank.
She left her cell phone on her bedside table, with the little star charm attached to the antenna hanging off the side.
She was untraceable.
Shakily, I drove over to Sora's house, squinting to see through the tears. I was scared. So very scared. It was one thing for Riku to run off to the battles raging across the middle of the Nation. He was strong, he was able, he was equipped with a weapon.
Naminé was so weak and tiny and fragile. It was so easy to break her spirit—it could be snapped in half like a crayon, but the little paper coverings that would hang over the edges would never be enough to repair the damage.
I don't know what I'd do when I found her. If I found her.
I parked the car and pushed the front door open, stumbling into Aerith's arms, just as she was leaving the house. Sora was walking down the stairs.
"She's gone," I groaned. "I was so stupid. So incredibly stupid."
Sora hurried down the stairs and took me from Aerith, who was left speechless, into his own arms, holding me tight with his familiar, warm grasp. "It'll be okay," he told me, but of course it was impossible for me to believe him.
Roxas peered out from the stairwell, listening to our conversation. I ignored his presence.
"She even left her cell phone," I explained while crossing my arms, "There's no way I can find her."
"It's gonna be okay."
"No, no, it's not. I'm supposed to be watching out for her, and I let her run away. I'm so stupid. I'm the one who is supposed to take care of her."
"Wait, wait," Aerith started. "What's happened?"
"Naminé ran away," Sora said. "To bring Riku back."
"I can't… believe…" I said.
"Kai, it's gonna be okay."
"Stop saying that it's gonna be okay!" I snapped and began to storm up the stairs. "When we both know that it's not!"
I stepped around Roxas, who had sat himself down on the top step of the staircase. I looked at him, but his eyes were cold and blank, staring straight ahead, unfixed on anything in the real world. He must be focused on something in his memories; I assumed he was still struggling with Zack's death. Just as I passed him, his glance quickly focused and shifted to me. His bottom lip lowered just the slightest bit, quivering with indecision, as if he wanted to tell me something, but he just couldn't get it out.
I went past him. He stayed silent.
Entering Sora's room, slipping under his pile of blankets, I recalled how, even though I'm only two years older than her, I've had to act as a mother to Naminé more times than I could count.
About two years ago (I had been dating Axel), Naminé got really sick at school. I had to leave my classes and bring her home and take care of her until she got better. I vaguely remember when I was kid, our mom took care of me in the same way. I wasn't like normal sisters. I had to be the mom too. Mother and sister.
And sometimes, it was hard. Trying to fuse two entirely different roles could sometimes create awful consequences between Naminé and I.
I hated her for making me miss my date with Axel that night, because I was stuck at home, holding her hair back as she vomited.
She hated me whenever I'd go into mother mode, and get all bossy and snippy if she didn't do something that I needed her too.
It was hard, yes, but I loved my sister.
I'd never trade the relationship we shared for anything in the world.
Sora walked in, holding a cup of tea for me. He set it on the nightstand. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.
"I can't believe she'd leave me, Sora. I'm still hurt that Riku left. Why did she have to go too?"
"I don't know."
"I don't think I'll be able to take it if someone else leaves me. I'll just… I don't even know what's gonna happen anymore. What's… what's happening?"
"We're losing a war," he said simply. His truth was harsh and cold, but there was no longer a place for innocence. Not anymore.
I swallowed a gulp of tea. "Please don't leave me, too, Sora. Please." He took my hand.
"I will never leave your side, Kairi. Never."
"I promise." He kissed my hand. "Now please, get some sleep."
"But it's morning."
"And you've cried yourself out. Don't exhaust yourself, please, Kai."
I nodded and wiggled under the covers and fell asleep faster than I thought possible.
When I woke, Sora was gone. My cup of tea was cold. I stretched my legs, relishing in the movement. I stood and grabbed my mug, walking downstairs so I could reheat it in the microwave. I felt like all I did was sleep these days.
Sora was alone on the couch, playing his favorite game, Gummyship Battalion. Usually Roxas played with him.
"Hey," I said.
"Good morning, sunshine," he said without looking back.
I walked into the kitchen and popped my mug in the microwave. I leaned against the doorjamb between the kitchen and living room when I asked, "Where's Roxas?"
Sora paused the game.
"Um… um…" he stumbled over his words, a very rare thing.
"It was just a question. Nothing serious."
"Don't get angry. Well… Roxas… kinda… went to go find Naminé."
Hours felt like days.
Hours became days.
Five days since Riku had departed to go protect Naminé. Four days since Naminé had run away to follow Riku. Three and a half days since Roxas had left to play hero and bring Naminé home.
And I was to live my normal, innocent life as expected while everyone I was close to got up and left me without a second thought.
At least I knew that Sora'd never leave.
Right after Sora told me what Roxas had done, I called him up. Thankfully he was kind enough to bring his cell phone with him.
"What the hell are you thinking, Roxas?" I yelled before he even had a chance to say hello. "You too?"
"Kairi, stop," he said calmly. I held my breath. "I love your sister. I really love her. I'd hate myself if I stayed home, not doing anything to find her."
I took it in, let his words soak through me. He loved my sister. He loved Naminé.
"But we were going to work out a plan!"
"I'm fine on my own. I'll find her. I promise."
He hung up.
Slowly I closed my phone and sat down on the couch next to Sora.
"He's just going to get his heart broken," I said softly.
"Does he? Does he really?"
"He probably has no idea how badly this is going to hurt him. But yes, I'm pretty sure he knows."
"I know he loves her… but Naminé doesn't love him. Not the way Roxas loves her. Not the way he needs to be loved."
So I lived my life, waiting on the sidelines for everyone to return to me, trying to act like a normal human being whose life wasn't being slowly torn apart by a war that I had absolutely nothing to do with.
I tried to live my life like a normal person. But the questions kept coming back.
Why did war always hurt the innocents?
What did we do?
Or did it really all go back to love, not war? Was it love that was hurting me so much? My love for my sister, my love for a friend, my love for my boyfriend's brother-cousin. Every time a love was taken from me, it hurt.
At the same time, though, was it the war who showed me how much love hurts? So it really did go back to the war?
I had no idea, and it was all very confusing, but I couldn't think about it anymore and I knew I just needed to live my life, so that's what I did; I just lived my life. I went to school, I worked part-time, I spent the majority of my time with Sora. I couldn't stand being alone in my house. The emptiness created a crafty silence —one that messed with my imagination, making me hear things and see things and smell things that weren't there.
Sometimes I thought I heard Naminé light gentle steps traipsing through the kitchen. But it wasn't her.
Sometimes I thought I saw Riku's figure, sleeping on the couch, buried under a bundle of blankets. But it wasn't him.
Sometimes I thought I smelled my parents. Mom's feminine perfume and Dad's musky cologne mixed together in an unmistakable scent that created that one feeling… the I'm home and I'm safe and I'm warm feeling. I opened the cedar chest with the remains of all their belongings and felt them there. But no matter how much it smelled and felt like them and how much I wanted that feeling to be real, I knew they weren't there with me. They were dead.
Was Riku dead? Who was going to get the message? Were Sora and I going to have to swim through a second sea of black with hands clasped tightly—so tightly that it would be impossible for the sea to swallow us?
Was Roxas going to be the one who was the comforter this time around? Was he going to comfort Naminé, his love? Would he comfort her? Or would he be secretly relishing in the fact that his rival was dead and gone?
Or was Naminé the one who was dead? Was she killed in battle? A weaponless civilian? The innocent?
I tried to live my life like a normal person, and I wanted to, truly, but when love hurt this much… it was impossible.
I was walking home from university – where fewer and fewer people were attending – trying to live my life like a normal person when I got the call.
"Twilight Town." Roxas told me, his voice low and raspy and scared. "Hurry."
I nearly dropped the phone in my rush to get home. I sprinted across the city, my backpack bouncing painfully with each stride. It was again a reminder of how stupid I felt to allow my baby sister to run off on her own like that. Yes, she was seventeen. But I'd watched over her long enough to know that she simply couldn't be by herself.
I was shaken.
I fumbled with my keys. They wouldn't fit into the ignition. The tears started welling in my eyes as all the what ifs flew through my head. My entire world was a big what if, and I hated it.
The car grumbled to life, and I floored it.
I pulled up to a giant mansion on the edge of the city, two hours from Traverse Town, waiting, waiting, waiting for the sight of them so my nerves could calm down and I could finally breathe again.
Roxas stumbled out of the entrance, carrying Naminé. He looked grim. She looked… she looked dead. Paler than pale. Thinner than thin. Weaker than weak.
"No!" I screamed automatically, flying out of the car and sprinting over to them. "Naminé! Oh God, Nam!" I rushed to Roxas, rushed to my sister. I stroked her hair, grabbing onto her hand. "Namie!" I yelled.
My voice wakened her from her death-like trance.
"Kairi," she said simply, softly.
"Oh, my God. Oh, God. You're alive."
She nodded once, very briefly, and slumped her head back onto Roxas' chest.
"It's not good," he told me as I opened the backseat door, as if Naminé weren't there. "She's so sick." He gently placed Naminé in the back, climbing in after her to buckle her in.
"We'll just need to get her home," I said.
Roxas joined me in the front, and I peeled away, speeding back home.
Naminé drifted in and out of consciousness in the backseat, her head flopping against the backseat, mouth wide open. Her lips were dry and cracked and chapped and little droplets of blood dribbled down her chin from her bottom lip that was usually so full and pink and dainty—not dead lips.
With one hand still clutching the steering wheel, I patted Roxas' thigh. "Thank you. Thank you for finding her."
He shrugged as he glanced back at her; pain welled up in his eyes—pain at seeing her so broken. He turned back to me. I knew he was going to say it.
"She needs to go to a hospital."
I clutched the wheel more tightly.
"And why the hell not?"
"You know we don't have the money for that. We can't afford hospital bills. It's just too much!"
His face fell. "I'm sure that Cloud and Ae—"
"I can't accept their money. I can't." He settled back into his seat and took another look back. "I can take care of her," I said.
"You're no nurse." He wasn't trying to be mean, only truthful.
"I'm the best she has. I'm sure she'll get better once she gets home. Warm. Fed."
"I hope so…"
We entered a silent pause, the only sounds heard being the engine and the road racing past us. Naminé curled herself into a ball.
"Can I turn on the radio?" Roxas asked.
Only then I realized that I had driven the entire trip in silence. It was eerie when I thought about that.
He flipped it on, and I knew that something was up when a familiar pop song didn't instantly begin pouring out the speakers.
A man's voice, solemn and crisp, spoke.
It was President Leonhart.
"I am proud of our Nation. We are a country of strong, courageous men and women, and the sacrifices that have been made in this war will never be forgotten."
Roxas' eyes began to glaze over as memories of Zack unfolded.
"However, despite the overwhelming bravery of our army…" He took a deep breath. "And despite our government's best diplomatic efforts, negotiations have fallen through. Xemnas refuses to let the Nation surrender and become part of his kingdom, which is what we thought his initial plans were. His plans must have mutated along with his mind. He doesn't want anyone who even dreamt for one moment of undermining his authority to be alive. He is determined to kill, not conquer."
I slammed on my brakes, soaking in what was being said.
"We have information that his army will kill men, women, and children. Any and all civilians in his path will be murdered under his hand."
Naminé, who had been silent, started crying in the backseat.
"Now this is a terrible time, but we shall recover. For now, though, our focus is survival. We must flee the Nation. King Mickey of Disney Land, far across the ocean, has agreed to protect our people at a very great cost and has opened up the gates to his realm. All civilians must evacuate to the Land immediately. I repeat: All civilians must evacuate."
Naminé retched and vomited in the backseat.
"I repeat: All civilians must evacuate."
I tucked Naminé into her bed and placed a cool towel on her forehead before shutting her door quietly behind me. Roxas stood outside in the hallway, staring at me, his eyes intense and alive.
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
"What do you think!" I snapped, pushing past him. My voice rose up in my throat until it exploded out, a wild animal ready to attack whoever was in its path. "She is no condition to travel. She doesn't do cars well, and there's no way we can walk out of this city. No matter what, Naminé would only get worse. She'd get sicker and sicker until she died and then that would be on my conscious. I refuse to sacrifice her life for my safety. We're staying. Obviously."
"Obviously! And whose fault is that?"
"Don't blame this on me."
"I wasn't blaming it on you, princess," he drawled. I cringed, clearly hearing Axel in his voice. "I'm blaming the son of a bitch that left her! I'm blaming Riku!" Venom dripped from the name.
"I love her enough to actually save her. But to save her, she needs to leave, Kairi."
"We can't leave."
"We can't. She's too sick. She's gonna have to stay here and rest and get better before we even think about leaving. I can't abandon her."
"…I'm sorry, Roxas. I'm sorry."
A few hours later, Cloud, Aerith, Sora, and Roxas came, bags in hand. I felt them there outside before I even heard a knock, and when the echo signaling their presence finally reverberated through our tiny house, I cringed. I knew what they were going to say, and I knew I'd have to tell them (again) that Naminé and I were staying. I dreaded seeing them because I dreaded what I'd have to do.
I dreaded having to say goodbye to them.
I dreaded having to say goodbye to Sora.
I had been caring for Naminé as well as I could, checking on her sleeping form every ten minutes or so, making sure the towel on her forehead was cool, browsing old cookbooks for recipes that were easy on the stomach. I kept pretending like I had some semblance of a clue as to what I was doing but I knew Roxas was right: I was no nurse. But at the same time I knew she didn't need a hospital or a doctor or a nurse or expensive medication from the pharmacy down the street. She needed something that would mend a broken heart. She needed Riku.
And he wasn't here.
Was he dead, too?
I was sitting on the sofa alone, staring at the empty television screen, when they knocked. Like a zombie, I slumped my way over to the door and braced myself for the onslaught of protests. I couldn't break down and let anyone know how scared I was about everything, about how unsure I was if Naminé would ever get better by herself, if we'd ever evacuate, if we'd ever survive. If the Kingdom invaded the west before Naminé was well enough, we'd be goners. No. No, Naminé would get better. I had to believe that we would live. I had to be strong for everyone. If I were strong, everything would be okay. If I were strong, Naminé and I would live.
I took a breath and felt it in my bones. I was strong.
My hand was on the doorknob. Turning. Pulling. The door creaked open.
I saw his cerulean eyes staring at me, and I couldn't meet them. Not yet. My gaze fell to Aerith.
"Oh, Kairi!" she exclaimed. Her bags dropped to the ground as she threw her body against mine, her arms folding me into her chest tightly. I buried my face into her and inhaled the floral aroma that constantly emanated from her. It was a scent that seemed like it had been a part of my life forever, and I needed it now. I needed to smell her now so that I could remember her later. Her voice was quiet when she pressed her lips to kiss the side of my head and whisper her final plea. "Please come with us."
I pulled back.
"You know I can't leave Naminé—"
"And you know she can't travel like this. Aerith, she's… she's sick."
Cloud spoke softly. "Aerith. Kairi's made her decision. We have to respect that."
Aerith sighed, her hands sliding down my arms as she let me go. "I know, I just thought… At least let me see if I can do anything to help her heal. While I'm here."
"Sure. Just up the stairs, to your right."
She hurried up the stairs. I saw Sora in my peripheral vision, but I insisted on ignoring him. I couldn't do this right now. Cloud spoke again. "She was a nurse once. She should be able to help."
"I don't think medical help is going to do anything," I said calmly as I stepped back and leaned against the wall for support. I shook my head. "No medicine can cure a broken heart."
Cloud nodded, and we fell into silence. Sora's presence bore down on me like an angry weight. If only they waited just a little longer to leave so I could wait just a little longer before I broke my own heart.
"I need to see her," Roxas said gently.
"Please," he said, voice firm and filled with purpose. "I'm not asking you for anything else. I'm not asking you to leave Naminé and come with us. I'm not asking you to risk Naminé's life by having you both come with us. All I'm asking of you, Kairi, is to let me say goodbye. I have to say goodbye to the girl I love."
When I looked at Roxas at that moment, I saw the agony swimming in his eyes. His heart ached, and I could see, feel, and touch the pain he felt. In that moment, he surrendered.
He surrendered his heart to her.
Because in that moment, he knew that he was not the one to mend her broken heart. No matter how much affection he could pour on her, no matter how he struggled and cried and begged God above for her to understand the love he felt, he wasn't the one. He wasn't her destiny. He couldn't save her. He knew this now, and I could see the thought realize in his stern lips and clenched fists and stoic eyes and his firm stance as he implored this one request of me.
I couldn't say no. He needed to say good-bye, because he didn't know when he was going to see her next.
"Of course," I said, just as Aerith was returning. "Is she awake?" I said to her. Roxas passed her on the stairs as he went to say goodbye.
"She was drifting in and out," she replied. "She's very weak."
"Yeah… yeah, I know. Anything you know of that might help?"
Aerith stood next to Cloud, taking his hand in hers. "She's dehydrated. Small sips of water as often as possible. Replenish her electrolytes with a sports drink."
"Okay. Thank you. Hopefully that will make her feel better."
Aerith nodded. "Well, Cloud, would you like to say goodbye to the girls?"
"I have no desire to disturb Naminé. But Kairi," he said, looking at me. "I know you are strong, and I know you will make it through this. I know Aerith wishes we could evacuate together, but that's just not possible. We may be separated for a long, long time."
"Yeah," I sighed. My eyes lifted to Sora, whose unusually quiet gaze had been locked on me since he had entered. Be strong, Kairi.
Cloud continued, "Let us know where you guys end up once you get to the Land. I'm not sure how easy communication will be… but I promise, we'll come find you, and help you get settled wherever you are. I'm not sure exactly how many refugee camps King Mickey is setting up, but I doubt we'd all end up at the same one."
I nodded, trying to hold back the tears blurring my vision. How long would it be until I saw Sora again? How long would it be until he held me in his arms? Even once we were all in the Land, we still wouldn't be together. How long would it be until I knew for certain that he was safe? I looked away from him again.
"We're walking to the northern edge of Traverse Town, where evacuation planes are held," he said. "We need to hurry to ensure a space for us."
Aerith chimed in, "Naminé should improve before space is an issue. Don't worry."
Cloud stepped away from Aerith and clapped his hand on my shoulder. "You've done the right thing, Kairi. Be safe." Aerith smiled and took my hands in hers. I
"We love you, Kairi. We'll see you as soon as we can."
I heard Roxas go down the stairs then, and I turned to see him. The whites of his eyes were bloodshot, and his tears shone down his cheeks. He was a broken man.
"Thank you, Kairi," he said quietly.
"Roxas…" I sighed, pulling him into my arms. I lost the losing battle against my emotions, and the first tears of what I presumed to be many spilled from my eyes as I imagined the suffering Roxas had just experienced as he not only said goodbye to the girl he loved, but accepted the fact that Riku was her prince. Not him. I held his face in my hands. "Oh, Rox. I'm so sorry."
"I'll be okay, Kairi. I'll find Axel and… once I find Axel, I'll…. Well I don't know what I'll do. Take care of her, okay." I wiped his cheek with my thumb and hugged him again.
I knew Axel would weasel his way out of the Nation as fast as he could. Axel was always like that. He weaseled his way into my heart years ago, and back into my life more recently than I wished to admit. I had never told Sora. And I knew then what I'd have to do before I told my true love goodbye. I'd have to confess.
I spoke to Roxas. "Take care."
Then, Sora stepped forward. I held my breath, expecting the hurt right then, right in that moment, but he turned and held Roxas instead. Aerith broke down crying as she joined her two nephew-sons in an embrace. Her sobs were loud and filled with pain, pain for all this loss. Cloud stood off awkwardly to the side before joining in as well, his strong arms holding the family he had never expected together.
I wiped the tears from my own cheeks as Aerith, Cloud, and Roxas picked up their bags from the front of the house and left Sora and I alone for our own, separate goodbye. They turned and yelled one final goodbye.
I sat on the couch, my head in my hands. Sora sat down next to me, his arm around me.
"Stop it, Sora. Don't. I can't right now. I just need to say—"
"You stop it!"
"I kissed Axel."
"Yeah, I know."
"And Sora, please, I promise you that I felt nothing and I hated every moment of it and I never—"
He grabbed my arms.
"Kairi, just shut up! Please!"
"Kairi. I already knew. Roxas told me what had happened.
"Roxas! But he—"
"Don't be mad at him. He was just upset about Zack at the time. He couldn't help himself."
I sighed, agreeing. "But aren't you mad at me though? And if you knew, why didn't you say anything?"
Sora continued, "I was upset at the time, but after Roxas told me about Axel, and how he manipulated you, I… I forgave you in my heart—"
"I don't deserve your forgiveness, Sora."
"Shut up, Kairi. You deserve everything and more."
"You've always been the kindest, most wonderful, most… amazing…" I choked as the hurt rose in my throat, the hurt of telling him goodbye. "I love you so much, Sora. I can't believe I have to say goodbye to you now… now when I need you more than ever. And I understand that you have to leave with your family, but I… I… love you." My sobs overtook my voice.
"Kairi. Calm down."
I stood then, unable to control myself. I began to yell. "Calm down? How can I calm down? I feel terrible. I just confessed that I cheated on the most important person in the world to me, and now—"
"Kairi?" He looked up at me from the couch, the slightest of smiles curving his lips up.
"Let me finish, Sora. Now I have to say goodbye to you and I just… I just…"
"You are such a drama queen!" he exclaimed, laughing.
"Sora, I… I don't understand."
"Well, one, I've forgiven you ages ago, so please stop berating yourself for something that doesn't matter. Two, I'm staying with you and Naminé. And three, I'm sorry for calling you a drama queen. Even if you are."
The shock rolled over me. "…Really?"
"Kairi. Are you really asking me if you're a drama queen or not? Because that's a silly question."
"You're… you're staying?"
He laughed again. "I thought we promised each other we'd never leave each other… or did I just make that up?" He scratched his head.
"You're staying?" I repeated.
He kissed my nose. "Kairi, we'll be together until the day we die. Why is that so hard for you to understand?"
And when he kissed me then on the lips, I knew. I knew I couldn't have possibly stayed without him. I knew I could never live without him.
"I love you, Sora," I whispered.
"I know," he replied with a wink. "Also, I'm sorry for telling you to shut up. That was just plain rude of me—"
"Oh, shut up," I said as I kissed him again.
Naminé was a zombie. She'd roam about the house weakly, from her bed to the couch, falling asleep from the exhaustion. She rarely spoke, and when she did it was to complain about her chest hurting.
I let her do what she wanted at first, but once I realized that what she wanted to do was absolutely nothing, I tried to push her sketchpad on her, hoping to occupy her time with drawing. She'd scribble for a bit and then tear the page off. Scribble and rip. Scraps of paper littered the house.
She ate much less than she had ever eaten in her life, but at least she didn't seem to be losing any more weight. I couldn't see how it was possible for her to lose any more. Her soft, round cheeks were already slightly sunk in. She looked weak and frail and helpless and once when I had asked her to eat some soup since she needed to put some weight back on, she glanced at me with a thousand-yard stare that tore me apart. I cried to Sora that night. It was the first time that she broke me down.
Some days she seemed to improve the tiniest bit. Others she seemed to have worsened quite a bit. Most days she was the same: sick, apathetic, and broken.
Some days I cursed Riku. Others I wished nothing more than his safe return. Most days I tried to ignore the voice in my head that was telling me he was long gone, dead under the hand of the Kingdom.
The worst days were when Naminé seemed to want to waste away. I refrained from cursing God on those days, but I really wanted to. Instead I cursed Xemnas, the instigator of this entire war. My precious, innocent sister was reduced to this… this shell of a human. All because of him. I hated him. I wished he were dead. I wished he were dead instead of Riku, instead of Zack, instead of the thousands of Nation soldiers who gave their lives to protect the innocents.
The warfront plowed closer. Agrabah was a wasteland.
It was better when we didn't watch the news. It made me bitter. It made me furious. But I knew I needed to be as optimistic as possible, for Naminé, and thankfully, Sora was there to help. He was always there, and I had never felt closer to him.
I was walking down the stairs after checking on Naminé one night. She was sound asleep, but I always felt the need to check to make sure she was still breathing.
"Christmas is in a week," Sora said.
"Yeah? Weird, I've lost track of the date," I sighed as I sat next to him on the couch, cuddling up into his body. I breathed in his scent.
"How could you of all people forget the fact that Christmas is so close?" he joked, jostling me against his chest.
"My mind's been a little preoccupied as of late," I said looking up at him, "in case you didn't already know."
"Oh, I know." He gently pushed me off him and walked to the side of the couch. "Which is why I brought this for us to do. A holiday activity to get your mind off everything for a little bit." He kicked a cardboard box into my side. "Christmas decorating!" he shouted as he opened the box, revealing an array of holiday goodies: tinsel, ornaments, tiny trees, Santa statues.
A smile crept onto my face—and I realized in that moment that a smile… it was something that I hadn't felt in weeks.
For hours, we soaked up the Christmas spirit. From room to room we went, decorating, listening to music, laughing. I even started baking some cookies. What can I say? The happiness invaded me. I hadn't expected it, and I realized that I had been pushing it away. I had been so worried about Naminé and Roxas and Riku and everybody else that I hadn't realized how miserable I was, how long happiness had been missing from my life.
Of course Sora was the one to bring it back. Of course it was him.
I was pulling a batch of cookies from the oven when he called me from the living room.
"Kairiiiiiiii! Heeeelp!" His voice was playful.
"Coming!" I removed my oven mitts and walked to the other room. Sora's hands were behind his back when I entered.
"Come here! We have one last decoration, and I need your help to hang it up." When I approached him, he pulled out from behind his back a sprig of mistletoe, dangling it above his head. I rolled my eyes but walked to him anyway.
"You are ridiculous," I said. "You could have just asked for a kiss."
"But this way, it's a special kiss."
He leaned in to me, holding the mistletoe above our heads. I stood on my tiptoes to meet his lips.
I had shared a lot of kisses with Sora. Quick, frantic kisses. Slow, drawn-out kisses. Smiling kisses. Wet, teary-eyed kisses. Shy kisses. Open kisses. Painful kisses.
But when out lips met, I knew he was right. This was special. This was love. True, honest, innocent love.
He was mine, and I was his, and that's how it would always be.
I could feel his heart beating against my chest as I pressed myself into his body. His lips were hungry, but that was okay because I needed them too. He tasted like peppermint.
We stumbled back towards the couch as I drank him in, my hands feeling along the length of his back, the wiry muscles shifting beneath my fingers with the movements of his arms. He erased all space between us when he pulled me into him, but that still wasn't enough.
I tugged the bottom of his shirt upwards, and he yanked it off as I unbuttoned my blouse, our lips parting for the briefest of seconds before meeting again. This time, my tongue shamelessly dove into his mouth, exploring its taste, its softness, its wetness.
Sora fumbled at the clasp on my bra for a moment before he managed to undo the hook. Again, we pulled together. Bare skin against bare skin. It made me shiver, yet it still wasn't enough.
I pushed him down on the couch, catching his eyes drinking in my figure. His smile was brilliant. I undid my pants and shimmied out of them. Sora followed my lead and pulled his off. His kiss was intoxicating—that was the only word that could describe it. He kissed my neck, nibbled my ear until the moan escaped; even more intoxicating was his touch. As I straddled him, his hands pulled me closer, reading every inch of skin, refusing to ignore a single area. While I kissed his lips, his fingers grazed my legs, my back, my stomach, my shoulders, my breasts. It still wasn't enough.
He tugged my underwear down and I pulled on his, jerking it down to his ankles so he could kick them off. With a swift movement, he laid me down on the couch and climbed on top of me. Poised above, he held me close, and it was almost enough. Almost.
Sora's eyes made contact with mine, and I knew what they were saying.
Are you okay? Are you ready? I was okay.I wasn't scared. I wasn't ashamed.
I love you. I want you. I need you. I needed him so badly, I needed him in every way. I needed him now in the way we had been so careful about, in the way that we had held so dear, in the way we were waiting for.
Are you ready? I had always told myself ever since I was a little girl that I would wait for my husband. And I knew then that that man would be Sora. I knew I loved him. I loved him now. I knew we were to be married, to be together forever.
The only thing I didn't know anymore was if we would actually be alive when that day was supposed to come.
Are you ready?
One week passed. Christmas Eve. Time meant nothing to me, and it meant everything to me.
Everything was the same. In the house, everything was the same. Yet I knew the Kingdom's frontlines inched closer every day. There was nothing we could do. Naminé still couldn't travel. She was still dehydrated, and there was no way could leave her. So we stayed. All three of us. The same.
"Nam's fast asleep," I said as I walked into my bedroom. Sora lay in my bed with open arms, beckoning me with the promise of his warm embrace. It was too tempting to resist, and I snuggled up against him. It made me feel whole lying with him like that.
Sora cleared his throat. "Do you… do you think—"
"No. There's no way she would be able to handle traveling all the way to the Land. And by boat, no less. All planes have already evacuated, you know that."
"Yeah. It sucks that they can't come back."
"Easy targets. Hundreds of innocents dead with one blow."
It sickened me how easy it was for us to talk about this now. To talk about people dying… and not just any people—innocent people. People who had worked in the grocery stores I bought food at… people warming up in the public library in the winter… people who I had seen but never spoken to. It was just easier to picture those people dying under Kingdom hands than Naminé, Sora, me.
Even better was picturing Aerith and Cloud safe in the Land. When they wrote us after settling in, they had said that Roxas took off with a friend. I knew it was Axel, but I was no longer repulsed by their friendship. Axel wasn't toxic to Roxas like he was to me (if you ignore Roxas' foul mouth he seemed to have around him). I could see how they meshed, and frankly, I was okay with it. I hoped they were happy.
Picturing their lives and their future together was so much easier than trying to form my own. I didn't know my future anymore. Where we would live, when we would be able to leave, if Naminé broken heart would ever heal (Oh, please, please, heal. Quickly.).
Reality was even more difficult to grasp since the major news stations had evacuated all their personnel. We received radio signal still… remnant waves from an island off the coast, but that was all the news we got. It made it hard to imagine reality. We were so isolated.
But every day the reality was solidifying. There wasn't much time left. The bits of news we heard when we were brave enough to turn on the radio informed us daily of death and conquerors and the poor people still struggling to escape. I wanted to ignore the signs, but ignoring them didn't change the fact that the war was encroaching on my front door.
Sora had already lulled into a deep sleep, and his heart beat slowly in his chest; the rhythm was a familiar melody in my head. I closed my eyes and listened, as I too drifted into sleep.
Buh-boom. Buh-boom. Buh-boom. Buh-boom. I felt my mind starting to shut down. Buh-boom. Buh-boom. Knock. Knock knock. Knock.
I bolted up, my own heart pounding in my chest.
I glanced at the clock. Past midnight. Merry Christmas.
"Sora," I whispered, prodding him awake. He groaned in response, his eyes firmly shut. "Sora," I repeated, "Did you hear that?"
Knock knock knock.
His eyes opened and bore into mine with a ferocity that gave me chills. I knew we were thinking the same thing. The war was here. It had finally come to claim us, the last of the innocents, its precious prize. They were ransacking the city. There was a soldier standing at my front door. His weapon was sharp and bloodthirsty—for my blood, for Sora's, for Naminé's. Our hope was worth nothing. It was time. Now.
"What do we do?" Sora whispered, his voice a distant scratch. All I could hear was my heart pumping in my ears. "Kairi… what do we do now?"
Knock. I grabbed his hand and kissed his fingertips.
"We will be brave," I said, the shaky tone of my voice defying my words. Together we stood and crept down the stairs, clutching each other with clammy hands. I stared at the door.
"I'll… I'll get it," he said. He approached the door, unlocked it, and placed his hand on the knob, letting it linger there until we heard another knock. This one was louder, more impatient.
My heart stopped as Sora turned the knob. The door creaked open, and I saw the solider standing there, bruised and wounded, staring at me with a weary smile on his face.
My eyes welled up.
Riku was back.
"And here I am, thinking you would be waiting for me to walk up your front steps, but no, I have to pound on the damn door to get your attention."
"Riku!" Sora cried as the two joined together in an embrace. Sora slapped Riku's back while Riku ruffled Sora's hair.
He turned to me. "Kairi. I'm sorry."
I ran up to hug him, squeezing him as hard as I could. "You're alive! You're really here!"
Sora spoke. "But… but how? Why?"
Riku sighed and shook his head. "Once I realized it was impossible for us to win, I came back. I had to come back."
"Impossible?" I asked. "But—"
"Long story," he said as he plopped down on one of the chairs, rubbing the muscles in his arms. "You won't believe me."
"Tell us anyway. Please," I begged, sitting down with Sora on the couch.
He sighed again, resting his head on the back of the chair and closing his eyes. He looked so exhausted.
Sora piped up, "Buddy, you can sleep first if you want."
"No, no. I'm fine. I'll be fine." He took a deep breath while he rubbed his eyes, and I expected the worst. What he told me was worse than my expectations.
"When I finally managed to get to the frontlines," he began, "I soon realized exactly why our army was having so many problems defending the Nation. Exactly why our army couldn't—can't—seem to keep up with the Kingdom's forces. It's… it's some kind of magic."
"Magic?" Sora asked.
"I know it sounds crazy," he said, "But I promise you. Xemnas has all his soldiers equipped with these swords that look like keys, okay? And when these 'keyblades' pierce through our soldiers' chests… I… I could see their hearts, their spirits, leave their body…"
Riku leaned forward, his elbows balancing on his knees and his hands wringing nervously. His eyes were empty, and I knew he was back there on the battlefield.
"And in the place of their bodies, these dark creatures would sprout up from the ground and attack us. We started calling them Heartless. The Kingdom is winning because they're turning our own soldiers against us. They turn them into these… these things and create more and more until all our soldiers are fighting against our old allies. It's…"
"Horrible," Naminé finished for him from the staircase.
We had been so engrossed in Riku's tale, we hadn't heard her come down the stairs. The silence was palpable.
Riku stood slowly, his body visibly aching from the motion.
With her hollow eyes she stared at him, unable to even say his name. I could see her throat clenching as she struggled with her words, as she struggled to pick which ones she needed to say and which ones she wanted to say and which ones shouldn't be said at all. Her fists clenched at her sides, but her voice was low and calm when she spoke. She looked furious. She looked alive. I grabbed for Sora's hand.
"You left me," she said simply, quietly.
"You left me," she repeated. "And you didn't even say goodbye."
"I couldn't, I—"
"After everything that happened. After I confessed my love for you, after I shared my deepest secrets, after you promised to be there for me, after everything," she said, her voice gaining strength. "You just left. Like that." Back to soft, calm.
"Why did you even come back?" she asked. "I know you don't love me. Did you just want to see me cry? You wanted to see how broken you left me? Is that it?"
"Let me explain, please!" Riku's voice was frantic, begging.
"No. You need to go. You already broke my heart once. Please leave before you do it again. I know you don't love me. I know. I'm just a nobody. Who could ever love someone like me?"
"Naminé!" Riku shouted. "Stop it!" Tears shone in the corners of his eyes. "Of course I love you!"
"No, you don't."
He approached her, dug in his pocket, and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. He unfolded it and gave it to her.
The drawing she had given him, streaked with dirt and blood.
"This was all that kept me going, Naminé. Thinking of you helped me survive. Thinking of you was the only thing… You are the reason I came back. You."
The drawing shook in her hands, and she looked at him with teary eyes and the faintest hint of a smile. "Just tell me one thing. Why did you leave me?"
"I left because I love you. I wanted to protect you! I know it doesn't seem right now, but when I left all I wanted to do was to make sure you were safe and fighting in this fucking war seemed to be my best option at the time, and I came back because I needed to protect you… I came back because we need to get out. We need to get out now."
We agreed to wait until first light.
Riku had informed us that the amount of boats left in the Southern Harbor was limited. The army itself was evacuating. Once these left, there would be no more.
We had to hurry. They were coming.
After weeks of isolation, of lethargic days and waiting, waiting, waiting, it was both a relief and a nightmare knowing that we were going to be in the Land shortly. So long our lives had been static, and now everything was changing all at once.
While Naminé and Riku holed themselves away in her room, catching up on lost time and countless apologies, Sora and I flew around the house, trying to fit our lives into four tiny backpacks. These small bags would be all we had to start our new lives in the Land. Our lives as refugees, under King Mickey's protection.
It didn't matter that I had once been livid at Riku's decision to leave, because his decision to return was what would save Naminé. I knew it. When they had kissed, I saw her eyes light up as the life rushed back to her. I knew she would be okay with Riku.
"It's time," Sora said as the first rays of Christmas dawn shone through the big window.
All four of us strapped on a bag and rushed out the door. Naminé was slow. She was still weak, after all. But we all made our way through the streets slowly to the harbor. As we approached, my stomach dropped in my chest. One military ship. Full.
We ran up to the man guarding the plank onto the ship. He had dreadlocks and deep, brown eyes. His uniform read "Cpt. Sparrow". He was our only hope.
When he looked at us, I saw the answer in his eyes, and I knew I wasn't going to be allowed on this ship. Time was ticking.
"Limited space. Military personnel and their families only at this point. No civilians, eh?" he said.
"Only military?" Sora complained. "Why is that?"
"We need t' make sure all our trained soldiers evacuate so we can have some sorta army to join up with that Mickey fellow, see? If we leave all our military men, we haven't got a chance."
Silence. The possible plans ran through my head. I caught Sora's attention and knew he would agree with me. The most important thing was to get Naminé and Riku away. So Naminé would be safe.
"I'm… I'm a Nation solider," Riku declared, rifling through his pockets for his documentation. He showed the Captain his papers.
"All rightey, mate. Get on." We walked forward in a pitiful attempt. "And who do you think you are?" He sneered at us.
"These are… my friends," Riku said.
"Sorry, mate. I already told ye— no civilians. Your friends can try the Western Harbor. There… there may be some civilian ships still there."
He glanced back at us, and I saw the apology in his eyes.
"But this is my… wife," he said, grabbing hold of Naminé's arm. She nodded without taking her gaze from the ground.
"Okay, fine then. You two on." He looked at Sora and I. "Say your goodbyes now, this ship's heading out in two minutes. And hurry on to the other harbor. There can't be many ships left. Ye four were crazy for waitin' so long." And he left us to our goodbyes.
There were no elaborate things to say.
Only tears and hugs and hopes. Hopes that we would be able to find each other once we got to the Land.
"We'll find each other as soon as possible," I said to Naminé and she held me tight, her tears rolling down her cheeks.
"I don't want to leave you," she sobbed.
"Naminé, I need you to go with Riku. For me. Sora and I will be fine. We'll only be separated for the journey over. We'll see each other real soon."
"She's right," Sora added.
"Don't worry, Nam. I'm here. We'll all be okay," Riku said as he grabbed her hand, ready to lead her on to the ship.
Sora and I hugged them one more time, but deep down, I knew something was wrong.
"I love you," I told my baby sister. "I'll see you in no time at all." I kissed her head and watched Riku help her up onto the ship. They waved, and I wondered when I had become such a great liar.
There were no ships in the Western Harbor. There were no ships anywhere. There was plenty of noise though, in the form of explosions and in the form of screams.
They were here.
Naminé and Riku had sailed. I knew they were safe, and that settled my worries a little bit. But now was the time to focus on me, Sora, and how we were going to survive this.
We took off and ran back into the streets, our feet slapping painfully against the cold concrete as we sprinted. Somewhere, anywhere. We needed to find a place to be safe, but there really wasn't anywhere to go, nobody to ask for help, nobody to accept our pleas.
Sora pulled me along, his fingernails digging into my wrist. I knew it should hurt. But I couldn't feel the pain anymore.
I was numb. Completely numb.
The cold, winter air burned against my cheeks, the wind turning them raw and dry. He turned the corner, tearing down the sidewalk. I forced short, heavy breaths into my chest as I ran. I couldn't explain why we were running. There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.
He stopped abruptly, and I tripped over my shoes as I tried to mimic his movements. He leaned down and picked up a sheet of torn-up paper, its edges scorched with thick, black burn marks. I read over his shoulder with difficulty; my eyes were watering so much from the freezing air that all the words were blurred and smudged in my sight.
Kingdom Hearts has won. Surrender.
He dropped the sheet as swiftly as he had snatched it up from the ground, and it fluttered noiselessly back onto its resting place above the cement. Other similar fliers littered the streets. "C'mon," he said gruffly, taking hold of me again and dragging me along behind him. My shoes scuffed against the ground as my body struggled to get back up to speed.
"Momma!" a tiny boy screamed. "Poppa!"
My heart reached out to him, but it was hopeless. I was sure his parents were gone. Or dead.
"Kairi," Sora said to me as he slowed, "Look up."
My gaze flicked up to the burning sky, and briefly, for just a short moment, it looked like it was snowing. Fluffy flakes dropping from the sky began to slowly cover the streets, landing in my hair, blanketing every available surface. Somehow we had made it to the harbor. The boats and ships looked strange and other-worldly covered in the light gray coat.
"It's not snow, is it?" I asked. I don't know why I was even asking. It was obvious.
It was ash. Hot, burning ash fell from the sky on Christmas Day. I swallowed, my saliva sticking in my throat as the realization hit me like a slap in the face.
We were in hell.
A laugh bubbled out of me sickeningly. "I guess I'll never get my White Christmas, will I?"
"I'm sorry," he whispered, kissing my hand.
I stared at the ground, and stood shocked as a giant darkness overshadowed Sora and I. I turned around, my feet pivoting in sync with Sora's.
A massive battle ship cruised towards us, heavy black smoke pouring from its stack. A Kingdom ship.
I squeezed Sora's hand, lacing my fingers tightly between his.
"This is it," I said. My voice was barely audible over the screams of the few remaining people running, crying for their loved ones, begging for mercy.
Sora took my face in hands and kissed me roughly, his chapped lips shoved against mine. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him close. There was no longer any space between us, but I kept pulling him closer, my lips caressing his with all the passion I could muster. He pressed against me harder, his hands weaving spirals through my hair.
I pulled away and knew it was the last kiss we would ever share. One last tear fell from my eyes, and Sora wiped it from my cold, dirty cheek before it could drip to the ground.
He pressed his forehead against mine and I lost myself in his blue eyes. My favorite shade of blue. A rush of images bombarded me. I saw Zack's corpse. Yuffie breaking down. Aerith and Cloud waiting for us in the Land with open arms. Roxas and Axel coyly smiling at me from the end of a bar.
I saw Riku holding Naminé in the evacuation boat, murmuring into her ear one thousand more apologies.
I saw Sora, dressed in a tuxedo, waiting for me at the end of the aisle. I saw Sora, holding my hand as I birthed our firstborn. I saw Sora, crying as our third child graduated from high school. I saw Sora, hunched over, placing flowers on a grave—my grave. I saw Sora and I saw me and I saw everything that I had ever wanted and everything I would never have.
"Kairi," he whispered tenderly, pulling me back to the present. And I saw Sora. I saw him there, real, alive. And the words flew out of my mouth because they needed to be said then and there.
"I love you, Sora," I sputtered. "I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you—"
"I'll always love you," he said. "Until the end of forever."
I nodded, took the hands of my lover, and closed my eyelids, waiting for the cold face of death to take us.
Until the end of forever, he had said.
I believed him.