I wonder how long it has been since I felt the light within my heart. I wonder how long has it been since the war began? How long has it been since Maleficent made good on her promise in The World that Never Was and led a legion of heartless against the universe? How long has it been since you disappeared with no trace, no clues as to where you went? Do you know how I ache even now, years later, with possibilities, with the thought of you alive, the thought of you dead, or somewhere in between waiting, waiting for someone to come for you because for once in your life you can't save yourself no matter how much faith I have in you or you have in me?
What has happened in between?
I am still focused on you. I obsess. I cross worlds in the fighting, searching for a glimpse of your illogical hair, just one glimpse to reassure me that you are alive, not dead like everyone believes. And when the war is over they all go home. Kairi returns to Destiny Islands as its rightful princess though she knows it's a world that doesn't need governing, doesn't need a princess. The inhabitants of Disney Castle return of course, return to a world still untouched physically by the war, but ravaged mentally. Its best warriors Donald and Goofy and countless other soldiers have perished. Leon and what is left of the Restoration Committee return to Radiant Gardens to rebuild what the heartless have once again decimated. Everyone returns to their homes. Everyone.
Everyone returns but me.
I think I go crazy then, because unstable is an understatement and I can't hold myself down to sensibilities and morals then without the burden of war weighing upon my shoulders. My mind goes hazy, my heart throbs in my chest. There's nothing, nothing for me to return to but you, so I travel to the Cornerstone of Light. I make use of a door.
I know the consequences. I know even then without the sound of King Mickey's frantic commands to step aside, but screams are useless and he can't quite break through the barrier I've placed between us. He is anguished and disappointed in what I have become. I can see that plainly upon his face even though he knows my past mistakes, my history, my personality, my habit of grasping on to my loved ones, my true loved ones and never letting go, my self-sacrificial nature. We made a promise all those years ago after defeating Xemnas didn't we? Upon that beach, in the twilight, we made a promise to be the darkness if only the rest of them would maintain the light. I use that promise today. I use it because there's nothing left of me, of you, of us?
This is not a door to the past as I speak lowly to the king. Your name is upon my lips and when it registers the King makes a garbled yell. He pleads, he says my name, but it does not have the same ring. It doesn't curl upon my shoulders like your arm in friendship. This is not a door to the past, but a door to you and King Mickey thinks you dead. On some level, even though I hope otherwise, I think you dead as well.
It's a one way trip then. Suicide.
I step through the door never for a moment regretting the life I'd ruined and left behind.
Though I do wonder how King Mickey feels standing there alone after I go, in a corridor facing an answer to his sorrow, a way to bring back those he loves even more than me, but unable to use it in the moment he desperately wishes to.
I may know the consequences of using the Cornerstone of Light and fooling around with the doors between dimensions, but I am in no way prepared for what happens next. I meet you, but it is not you. At first I am elated thinking, finally, I'd found you, wondering why the solution is so simple, wishing that I'd stepped through the door earlier even if it meant abandoning the universe that sired me to its gruesome fate. But it is not you, not really, or at least, you are not my you.
I realize quickly that my way, my method of finally giving up, and running away only brings me more pain. The Cornerstone sends me each time to a new universe and I keep crossing the threshold in a desperate, wild hope that in one universe I'll find you and finally mend the broken pieces of me I've allowed to fall away in a war I was too young to fight in and too naïve to fully understand. I see hundreds, thousands of worlds. I meet thousands of you but not you in different ways. In one universe you are young and I watch you receive your keyblade. That is a world still untouched by the darkness, a world with a fate still yet unknown. Another world is like a mirror. Your me is the dead one and you live in bitterness. We share the same pain. We are two parts. I could be happy there, but I leave in the night unable to look at someone who is you, but only in a way that shares your face. That you is a message in the dark, a representation of a war not fought, because I have not lived it.
In one world you are dead before the journey begins. In another it simply never begins. You are young. You are old. You are happy. You are bitter. There is never a world where you simply disappear. Never in any world have I disappeared. There are no copies, but steadily I lose my ability to discern shifts in time. All the you jumble together in my brain, scattering my thoughts making me forget. Who am I? Who are you, because I remember both things like I remember the story behind an old photograph? Slowly, oh slowly, my world fades, governed by the truths of the universes that may not even be truths at all. We live. We die. We lose. We are victorious. We smile. We weep. We exist. We are connected. We are scattered. It's a mess in my brain. I want to be saved. The two Keyblade Masters are irrevocably connected.
There is a world in which I find you, but not you. You live on Play Island after a war more brutal than even mine. Your me is dead and you stand on the beach with those beautiful eyes, palms forward reaching out for help, but pushing away in fear that I am but a delusion. I stay there for a while, years and years, because I've discovered another facet to my punishment, my sin of breaking the dimensional lines: I cannot age. Time is meaningless, but it is also the most meaningful thing of all. And then I leave that universe when you die, because old age and a broken heart are two things even the strongest Curaga cannot heal.
Over and over, through the door, through each you but not you; I steadily crack, lines filling up along my skin, invisible, but in existence nevertheless. And somehow I know what I should have known at the beginning. We don't need the Paopu fruit to bind us for we are already tied together. By fate? Maybe, or maybe not. The moment you disappeared something within me stopped. Something within me yearned for its missing partner, the thing that made it functional and whole. Inside I gasped and screamed and reached out ghostlike hands whispering destinations on where you might be, who you might be with, what you might be doing. I search and search until that search becomes me and each world is no longer a singular thing, but a journey of steady resistance, one bump after another separating me from you in the worst ways possible, showing me images, photos, but never the genuine article, never you.
And somewhere along the way I realize that love you. I realize that the ache is the absence of you because I love you so much it's too difficult to conceive of a world without you. There are things that I sacrifice, things that also make me who I am that I would give up in a heartbeat to see you again.
And you love me didn't you?
You did. You searched and searched for me. I'm sure that was motivated by love.
And I continue to search for you now. I step through the door each time, sometimes amidst chaos, sometimes in periods of tranquility, until the one time I step through the door and end up back in my own universe. I think again as I see the shimmer of my own barrier breaking down and the small king of the worlds running towards my figure that fate is a cruel mistress. How sick.
How many years did I wander? Hundreds, thousands of years are stored in my mind. There are hundreds, thousands of you but not you lingering on the edges of my memory while you still stand at the forefront. But only seconds have passed in my world as a tearful king Mickey tells me. To him I'd stepped in and out of the time door faster than he could even react. And the rush of it all make my knees buckle. The utter failure seeps out in the screams that tear through my throat and pierce the peaceful corridor around me. Mickey makes demands to his vassals. I feel my body lifted up, but the weight is too much. I can't.
I failed to find you even by crossing dimensional lines, a thing I now know to be forbidden to all beings. I am useless. Useless. I am a useless man-boy trying to follow the whims of a broken heart with a spirit beaten down by a sickeningly overabundance of love and war.
I wish the Cornerstone had let me die. I wish time had swallowed me up.
I want. I wanted. I will want. I've always wanted. It's so confused in my brain, countless lifetimes jumbling together in the maelstrom that overcomes me.
I don't know when the darkness claims me. I don't know when I lose consciousness. Somehow, some way I realize that I've finally given up. I should have given up at the very beginning.
From the very beginning I wanted to be saved.
I wake to the smell of the ocean and know immediately they've sent me back. For a moment, in my drowsiness I wonder how King Mickey can let someone as clearly unstable as me near a princess of heart, but I find quickly that I don't really care to know the answer.
The room around me is not my own, but the tree house Kairi and I furnished sometime during the war. At the time it was to be a place to relax at and unload from the stresses of battles, a place to avoid the questioning eyes of our families who didn't quite understand, but I'd seen this place in far too many settings to care much about its foundation. This place was untouched physically by the war, much like Disney Castle. In fact you and I are probably the only considered casualties after Destiny Island was swallowed by the darkness the first time.
I hear humming outside. I've known her long enough to know it's Kairi. Before, I used to appreciate the melody in her voice. Today I stare up at the ceiling of the tree house feeling numb to the soft, comfortable breeze and the sound of waves lapping against the shore. This is the feeling I had once before when the first journey ended and the second began only moments after. There was no time for breath then, only the certainty that you were alive and searching for me in return. But now, now what did I care for another adventure to soak up the disappointment? My last one was filled with long, torturous nights, lonely days, and the constant dismal realization that you are just as far away as you've ever been. I can't ever forget.
And I can feel it building upon me. I can feel the panic, the anguish, the humiliation that I felt in the room of the Cornerstone. I can feel the futility and sense of loss from working so hard for something only to have absolutely nothing to show for it, nobody to wrap my arms around except my own thin frame in some ill-thought attempt at comforting myself. My heart begs and pleads with you to appear, but I know it's hopeless. I know. I know.
My keyblade appears in my hand. All these years it has been my faithful companion, even when I didn't fully understand my place in the world. In this instant I know what I will do.I feel my regrets. Always, always I will have regrets.
I take a moment. Kairi's voice has stopped. I don't know where she went, but the sounds of the waves upon the beach are amplified. The air around me tingles and I am comforted as I rest the weight of my keblade, tip flush against flesh, upon my chest directly over a heart that still beats. With a large breath I grit my teeth and push.
My vision is engulfed in darkness and for a moment I hear Kairi scream, but my name doesn't sound so good in the distance. I can't help but think how utterly painless death is compared to the way I've been living. There is no ache, no release, only a breath as I expect my world, the sounds and the smells to fade away. I expect, maybe to become a heartless, but I know just the same that is what death means. I feel as if maybe my heart disappeared a long time ago.
But then I begin to realize that nothing is fading away except the darkness from earlier and I take a moment to look down at my chest expecting to see a mangled wound, maybe frozen in time as yet another punishment for traipsing through dimensional boundaries, but instead I see a hand grasping the keyblade, its tip barely millimeters from its destination.
Blood drips into my lap, but I can't look up. I can't do anything but scream at the way the world works in my head. How can so many people, innocent, brave, caring people die instantly when the one person who wishes above all else to die is refused over and over again. I want to weep for those lives I lost, for those who were my friends yet perished in front of my eyes, because life is fragile and resilient at the same time. I want to weep for all the things I should never have had the chance to do, but I can't. I have nothing.
I have nothing.
And then you say my name and my head snaps up before my brain can even process it. It's instinct, because I've been searching so long for that voice, your voice. I've been searching so long for you.
It's you. You! My you is standing right in front of me breathing harshly with an incredulous frown on your face. Kairi stands just behind you with shocked tears in her eyes grasping the hem of her shirt tightly, but I don't care about her, only you.
I don't know who says whose name first, nor will I ever care. I'm so happy in that one moment, so happy that I can see you, my you in front of me.
The order doesn't matter. Upon your lips my name sounds like coming home.
I don't know that I've collapsed, only that when I awake again I am still in the tree house and voices are loud outside the door. Your voice. Your voice! I still can't really believe it. It's so sweet upon my ears even if it's raised in anger. You and Kairi are not having a happy reunion.
I think about making some noise, but I refrain. I want to listen a little longer.
"Where have you been? Do you have any idea what disappearing did to us? Did to him? He went insane! And you just waltz back in here like nothing ever happened?" Kairi's voice is furious and I can't help but agree, but I fear you might disappear again from the mere thought.
"I had no choice." Your voice is low and rumbles pleasantly against my spine. "I volunteered for a mission for King Mickey, but I was ambushed on the way back to the castle. Maleficent, well . . . she did something, cast this spell that ripped a hole in the universe and threw me in it. I've been trying to get back, but I couldn't." I feel my lips pull into a frown.
There is silence and then a loud crack echoes through the door. Kairi just slapped you. I think we're probably both surprised in this moment.
"You expect me to just believe you were gone all this time in another universe? Go on, pull the other one why don't you?"
"I'm telling the truth!" Even from here I can imagine the scowl upon your face. You are indignant. One of your best friends just called you a liar and smacked you. Despite myself I smile slightly at the image in my head. "I've been jumping universes trying to get back and then, a few years ago, something began to change. The walls of the dimensions were getting thinner, like someone was opening doors and I realized what was happening, but I still couldn't find him. A few minutes ago it was like . . . it was like I heard his voice and then instantly knew how to get back. I promise Kairi. I never would have left if it were my choice."
I can hear Kairi shuffle from here and I wonder how much she knows. How much did King Mickey tell her before he just left me here under her care? "What does this mean?" Her voice trembles. "He. . ." I take a deep breath. They are talking about me now.
Your voice brakes through Kairi's hesitation. "Where was he directly before this? Kairi, why is he secluded way out here on Play Island?"
There is shuttered silence and then Kairi begins to speak. "King Mickey brought him here. The king said he was interacting with the Cornerstone of Light and he opened another door like Merlin did. He said he tried to commit suicide, because there was no possible way you were still alive and the door was meant to lead him to you. We . . . we all thought you were dead anyway. I mean, it's been eight years since you disappeared. The day . . . the day we learned you were gone it was like something snapped within him. He became so ruthless, so involved with the war effort we thought maybe he really wanted to die, that maybe you two were connected more than we thought and your death just wasn't something he could handle."
I listen as the desperation enters her voice.
"I tried! I tried to make him whole again, to move on, but I couldn't! He wouldn't listen to me! He went searching for you every spare moment unless we forced him to stay with one of our group. After the war we were both supposed to come here. It was supposed to be his place to heal, but he ran off the moment he defeated Maleficent. King Mickey found him in the Hall of the Cornerstone and thought the worse, but he only entered and came back a few seconds later before collapsing!"
There are footsteps outside the door and for a moment I suck in a breath, but the door stays closed.
"The Cornerstone of Light is a mysterious object, but we know with the power of light it is possible to breach world boundaries correct? Is it so farfetched that he might be able to cross dimensions with that same power? Is it so strange, really, that years could go by on his travels while only seconds pass in this world? Kairi, if he was looking for me, and I was looking for him, isn't it possible that we simply kept missing each other?" There is a choked moan from Kairi.
"But . . . how long? How long was he traveling alone like that? How long were you alone? You said you both traveled years, but neither of you have aged at all. And you said he breached dimensional boundaries. That's not like traveling between worlds right? So does that mean he met alternate versions of the people he knows? How many times did he have to repeat the past?"
"How long!" Kairi's voice is firm. "How long was he alone? How . . . how long were you alone?"
"Countless worlds Kairi. Countless years. We've both probably lived our lifespans several times over by now, but for him . . . I can't even imagine it if he thought I was dead. I knew I had something to come back to, but what would he have if he was ignoring you of all people?" There is a loud crack against the door and I jump at the sound. "Damn! If I had lost him, if it were me in his shoes I don't that I would have survived at all."
I listen on from my place in the small cot, but it doesn't seem like the conversation is going to continue. I lay back against the pillow and stare up at the ceiling. It is so quiet, Kairi's next statement, that I wonder for a moment if she even said it at all.
"I wish I could hate." There is the sound of shifting fabric.
"Wh . . .What? Kairi! Don't be stupid!" There is alarm in your voice, but I think I know how Kairi feels.
"SHUT UP! You don't know anything! I'm a Princess of Heart. I can't lose my heart or become a heartless. I've never felt the darkness, not once, in my own heart! You didn't see him! You didn't see him falling apart day by day! You didn't have to stand back and watch your only true friend left lose himself. And my light? Hah! I wanted so badly to feel hatred for Maleficent who was killing without remorse, for the heartless who were too weak to resist her command. I wanted to hate you for dieing when we needed you the most, but I couldn't. I couldn't let the darkness enter my heart. I could not feel hatred towards the beings that destroyed him! What kind of friend does that make me? I couldn't help him. I couldn't hate for him! I couldn't do anything. What kind of failure does that make me?" Kairi's voice is visceral in the silence and I hear her harsh breaths even through the door. It is the first time in all of this that I understand her pain to be the same as mine.
"Kairi? Kairi don't! Your light is important! It's special. It's . . ." but Kairi interrupts once again.
"You don't know! You don't understand because the light always meant good to you. Light was always your savior. But he and I, we're different! We always were and it's suffocating, this light, because we can't let go. We care for things that bring us pain so heavily that it kills us. We sacrifice ourselves to save others because we can't bear the thought of losing someone important and then we lose that person anyway. We lost you and it burned! It burned so bad in our hearts and we couldn't even hate the things responsible for our pain, because other people depend on our light. I couldn't do anything but watch as his light, his love for you and the people dieing around him drove him mad!" There is ragged breathing, closer now, from outside. Kairi seems to be finished.
"Kairi" but I have had enough. Deliberately I sit further up on my cot and reach for the glass that rests upon a crate acting as a nightstand beside me. It shatters rather magnificently as it hits the door I know you are standing outside of and has my desired effect. You and Kairi enter the room only seconds later frantic expressions upon your faces. Panic is clear in your eyes, but as always, I appreciate their color. Cautiously you approach the bed placing your hands atop mine. I spare a glance towards Kairi who is frozen on the other side of the room, but my eyes are almost magnetically drawn back to your face.
My name. Please say it.
I am silent, but you always understand.
I feel like I can breathe for the first time in thousands of years.
We stay on the island. Really, there is no other choice. The smell, the sound, the taste of the ocean in the air always calms us like nothing else could. Eventually, you tell me your story, of your journey home and the trail I left behind when I was dimension hopping for you to unwittingly follow. Tentatively I tell you what I can remember, what I can still picture beyond the grief that blinded me at the time. I mention my favorite not yous, the ones I stayed with the longest and watched grow old and die, of the good yous, the evil, the worlds where you perished before the journey, and the worlds where I failed to survive. In truth most of the you I met are all jumbled in my mind to the point that it's difficult to discern who is who.
We make the tree house into something livable. It is sparse, but play island becomes our home despite protests from the friends and family we'd long since left behind. Kairi still technically lives on the mainland, but she stays so often in the small cottage by the beach that it is practically her home now too.
The nightmares still come for the both of us, though mine are more violent. I have memories of a war to deal with after all. Sometimes we lie in our room at night awake and listening to the sounds of the world around us. My mind is most jumbled in those times and sometimes I need you to sort it all out.
"It hurts." My voice breaks through the air. My head upon your chest listens to your steady heartbeat. It is reassurance that you are you and alive.
"I know." You murmur.
"I hate you." I am an alien, unsure and solemn at the same time.
"No you don't." Fingers run through my hair softly. They bring me back to reality.
"I love you." You sigh.
"I love you too Sora." I smile against your chest, because these days smiling is much easier. I raise myself to hover over you.
Our kiss is just the same as the last hundred we've shared since our return. It is sweet, heartbreaking, fulfilling the both of us simultaneously. It makes me forget the past in that brief moment and focus on the something concrete, the one person who always had the ability to save me. You flip me over and curl your long fingers against my body. My response is your reassurance.
I'm here. You're here. We exist. We are home. There are no more doors.
Because we've lived a thousand years without each other.
Because we've seen countless outcomes.
Because in each universe Sora and Riku's hearts are irrevocably connected.
Because we make each other whole.
In the night, curled around each other, reassuring each other of our existence, we love.
I finally feel the light in my heart shine.
-AN: In my defense this is angst of the past. I've had this in my notebook for about three months now, but since it's longer than my usual fics I haven't gotten the will to type it. In addition, I recently got out of the hospital so I haven't really felt up to doing much of anything at all. I'm working now on my ongoing Digimon fic while still trying to produce the occasional one shot when it hits me. I hope you guys like this one and, as always, reviews are appreciated!
Until next time!