Sora still hasn't found what he's looking for. KH2.
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes I'm still running
You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
You know I believed it
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
Believe in the Kingdom Come
In battles, the only blood Sora ever spilled was his own.
Shadows can't bleed.
Having no real bodies and existing only as darkness given form, the Heartless left no trace of their passing except the rare bits of magical material that gave them solidity enough for Sora to hit them and for them to strike back. Their bodies were made of only borrowed elements, and when the shadows were defeated they left a pile of glittering fragments behind, crystallized gold and greenmagic, but no bodies, no blood, nothing solid of their own. What they did leave of themselves was their smell, pervasive and cloying, like the scent of stale smoke clinging to an old campfire, or dank wet rock that never sees the sun.
By the end of a battle Sora always smelled like one of them in a way that was more horrifying to him than being splattered with gore. Under his own sweat and grime there was a lingering darkness in his hair and clothes that, if he thought too hard about it, made him wonder if he was becoming one himself.
Fortunately, he was usually in the company of a very fastidious duck.
"Root Beer!" Donald was saying, or a near approximation of it, spinning his Lord's Broom in a sparkling circle. Goofy's ears flapped in the wake of the magical breeze, ruffling the darkness and dirt out of his clothes, scouring the surface of his shield until it shone like a mirror. "Grapefruit!" Donald performed the gesture again, only on himself, dinginess blowing out of his white feathers and dissipating in a shower of stars.
"What about you, Sora?" Goofy asked, carefully putting his hat to rights and squinting against the bright afternoon light of Hollow Bastion. "What'd ya get last time? Watermelon?"
"Green Apple!" Donald insisted, webbed foot tapping.
"Peppermint?" Goofy said. "I like the peppermint, wakes ya up, kinda like."
"You lookin' pretty draggy!" Donald agreed, and lifted his wand. "Try Orange Creamsicle!"
Sora held up both hands. "Guys, really, I just--"
"Wanna borrow my shower?" Leon had been so busy adjusting the pins and widgets on his gunblade, Sora didn't even know he was listening to the traditional post-combat argument of What Sora Should Smell Like Today, When Sora Just Wants A Bath Like A Normal Human Being.
Sora whirled. "You have a shower?"
Leon shrugged, shouldering his gunblade. "Yeah well, most of us don't have a self-cleaning duck."
Sora once thought that after being magically scrubbed, the mundanities of hot water and soap would be almost too boring to bear. That was before the unfortunate time Donald's less-than-clarion speech had made "cantaloupe" sound like "antelope", and Sora spent the day reeking like a cattle enclosure.
He'd never been so glad to see Heartless before.
"I'd love to!" Sora said, his own weapon dissolving into sparkles until he called for it again. "You don't mind?"
"I dunno," Donald cautioned. "I don't trust waterworks."
"Uh," Goofy began, scratching his head in confusion. "I thought ducks--"
"Shut it!" Donald said.
Leon jerked his head back towards the town and away from the rubble of the walls. "This way."
The shower wasn't much, as Leon had cautioned, being only a tub with a curtain and lots of bare pipes, and hot water that Sora was warned could be wildly variable. Sora didn't care. He left his clothes in a pile; Leon said he would take them down to Donald later, as the avian mage proclaimed that washtubs were terrible for magical fabric. Sora just hoped they didn't come back smelling like a fruit salad.
He wrenched on the faucets full blast and steaming water hit him square in the face, sluicing the grimy traces of darkness off his skin and hair and swirling the dregs of heartless in a grey whirlpool down the drain. The residue was gone almost instantly but Sora took his time anyway, scrubbing himself red with soap that just smelled like soap and not like bubblegum, slicking his hair back under the downpour and then just leaning on the cool tile wall and letting fat drops of water thud into his back, battering tension out of his shoulderblades.
He couldn't remember how long it had been since he was last obliged to fiddle with faucets and washcloths. He tried, but the only memory that surfaced was of being sticky with sea salt and sand after a day swimming, and jumping headfirst into the waterfall on the island. The waterfall was always cold, colder even than the ocean, and Riku and Kairi would scoop up great handfuls of water to throw at anyone in range until it was a miracle any water remained in the pool, churned up and muddy for hours afterwards. Sora closed his eyes and there they were, the light sending rainbows through the spray, Kairi's purple swimsuit with the halter neck she was so vain about, the sail-rope bracelet Riku always wore.
Their laughter was tinny with distance, and Sora's own voice was that of a childhood far out of reach.
The water had gone cold, and Sora was left alone worlds away from that island and that waterfall and those children, washing the smell of heartless off a body that he barely even recognized as his own.
"You look like you feel better."
Leon's room was on the top floor of a pleasantly narrow brownstone, with a steeply sloped roof and one oval window opening out onto sunset. The half-finished castle in the distance was a shadowy, brooding hulk against a strangely familiar orange-colored sky. There was only one picture on the bare brick walls, Leon and a group of people Sora mainly didn't know standing in front of some blue, curvy kind of building.
There was barely enough room in the small space for Leon's bed, wedged against the wall, and the sleek black case for his gunblade, fresh shells tucked into the velvet lining. He had just finished placing the heavy silver weapon in its indented spot, and thumbed the latches closed on the lid. "You have enough hot water?"
"Yeah," Sora said, tearing his eyes away from the window and the strange, pink-red-orange color he was trying to place. "Thanks. Last time I had a real bath was--" He paused, thinking. "Well I guess being underwater doesn't count, not if you're breathing it... and then the other time wasn't really nice at all, my fur took ages to dry out--"
Leon's hands went still on the gunblade case. "Your /fur/?" he said, in a tone that spoke volumes.
Sora toweled less than effectively at his hair, shrugging. "So maybe I was a lion. S'no big deal, right?"
Leon might even have laughed, pushing himself up off the floor, and the ragged edge of his hair did not entirely hide his smile. "You know I used to be really mad that some punk kid got picked as the keyblade master," he said. "But really, I don't think anybody but a kid would be able to do it." He toed the gunblade case under the bed, and sat down on the threadbare patchwork quilt covering his cot. "Once you get to a certain point, you get too stuck in your own mind. I think I was too old for it, even then."
Sora was looking at his hands, bare of gloves. There was no childish chubbiness to his fingers anymore, nails bitten short, keyblade calluses on both palms where use had toughed the skin even through padded leather. "So what happens when I get too old for it?"
Leon looked up at him, and though there was eloquence in the slide of his eyebrows and the tightening of his mouth, there was nothing he could say with words.
"How long has it been?" Sora asked, of his hands. "A year? Two? ...Three?"
"You're asking the wrong person," Leon said. "Thinking about time and trying to find memories... let's just say it's something I try not to do."
Sora let his hands fall to his sides, as though they were an otherworldly language, indecipherable. "You must have some idea."
Leon squinted up at him, and in the fading daylight, his smile was hidden. "Well offhand I'd say it's been about ten inches straight up." Sora made a face that tried and failed to not be pleased, and Leon added, "Don't you remember? Where have you been all this time?"
Sora sheepishly raked wet hair out of his eyes. "If I knew that, I wouldn't be asking. I just came to and I was in this jar... kinda... thing, and I couldn't remember anything..." Seeing Leon's blank look, Sora added, "Maybe I should be talking to Cloud about this."
"Cloud's so messed up it's miracle he can get his pants on in the morning," Leon stepped over and took the neglected towel from Sora's neck, toweling roughly at wet hair that was dripping a large puddle on the bare wood floor. "Try me."
"Nothing to --unf-- try," Sora said, as best as he was able, buffeted under the less than gentle drying. "Nowhere to go but forward, and finding Riku's more important--hey, I'm gonna need my head later."
"You won't if I find a wet spot in my floor in the middle of the night," Leon answered, whipping the towel off of Sora's considerably drier head. "I'm all for standing around and angsting up an internal monologue if you need to, as long as you're not dripping at the same time. Here, I think I've got some clothes you can borrow."
Sora hitched up the towel around his hips, looking for the familiar pile of his own clothes. "Donald's not done with mine?"
Leon was rummaging around in a chest of drawers that looked like it, or the carpenter constructing it, had had a few drinks too many. "I don't think he really knew what he was doing, cleaning them without you in them. Hopefully Merlin can help him get them unshrunk. Meanwhile--" Sora nearly dropped his towel in his effort to catch the t-shirt and sweatpants Leon flung at him, "I don't recommend fighting heartless in sauna chic. Though I guess if they were paralyzed with laughter, it might get them off guard."
Sora had a brief horrified flash of having to fight the entirety of Organization XIII in nothing but his altogether, and suddenly had enough nightmare fodder to last him a lifetime. There was a long awkward pause after Leon closed his drawer with one hip, and Sora shifted his weight in the middle of the cramped room.
"Well?" Leon prompted.
Sora suspected his face was seven shades of humiliated red, and he hoped it was camouflaged with a freshly scrubbed flush. "What are you gonna stand around and watch?"
Leon might have rolled his eyes, just a little, but he turned around, all the same, as Sora hustled into borrowed clothes. He had grown in the arm and leg department, sometime in those lost years, but Sora still swum in Leon's garments, the sleeves of the t-shirt reaching to his elbows.
"Thought you grew up on a tropical island or something," Squall said, to the worn brick wall. "Figured you'd be more laid back."
"Well--" Sora had done plenty of impromptu swimming with Riku and the other guys when Kairi wasn't around, enough to have a pretty relaxed notion of his own body and anyone else's-- or at least, he used to. He wasn't sure then, cuffing up the hems of Squall's sweatpants, why that had changed. If he had been away from the island too long, or if it was something else. "I was just a kid."
"You're still just a kid," Leon countered, and held out both hands. "You done back there?"
"Yeah, yeah," Sora grumbled, trying to push up the sleeves of his t-shirt, as though he would spontaneously have the biceps of a twenty-year-old fighter to fill them out. "Not as much as I used to be."
Leon turned around and surveyed Sora with his eyebrows, but instead of the remark Sora expected (something about the foot of pant leg Sora had to roll up to keep from tripping), Leon only said, "You know, there's probably a lot to be said for spending puberty in a coma. You didn't even have to put up with your voice cracking, did you?"
Sora shook his head, and tried not to be too smug about an answer that came out in an adult's voice. "Just woke up this way."
"Some guys have all the luck." Leon picked up Sora's towels and flung them in the general direction of the bathroom. "If I could have slept two years from thirteen to fifteen, I would have been a lot happier at the end of it." He looked over his shoulder at Sora, eyes narrowing. "You know, don't you, that time does strange things, between worlds? You might run into friends of mine that I grew up with... but that are your age. You might come back here after a day in interspace to find two weeks have passed, or an hour, or a year. You don't age in gummisleep, either, so who knows how long it's been for you?" Leon looked back out the window, but the light had died, and the castle was invisible in the dark. "Or for your friends?"
Sora scowled. "Oh, great," he said, flinging his arms out and narrowly missing both walls of the room, "So I'm finally gonna get back home, and there Kairi will be, twenty two years old with a bikini and a margarita, and I'm still gonna be twelve."
"You don't look twelve," Leon said, reasonably.
"I feel twelve!" Sora shot back, thumping his chest and in no mood to be reasonable. "Even if I get there in some kinda grown up body, I'm still gonna be thirteen years old on the inside-- in every way that's gonna matter to Kairi. So what if I have twenty years experience killing heartless, I still haven't had a chance to learn anything else."
"So join the fucking club," Leon snapped suddenly, his grey eyes flashing in a way Sora hadn't seen since a dark alley in Traverse Town. "And print me up a T-shirt while you're at it. At least you still have friends you can find, at least you had a childhood to lose in the first place, at least you have a way to fight it!"
"Oh yeah?" Sora's fists were clenched, his face red for an entirely different reason. "At least /you're home/!"
Leon inhaled sharply, his face going alarmingly blank. Sora braced his knees, certain he was about to be put through the brick wall in one way or another, and ready and willing to knock Leon right back. If there had been the whole army of heartless and all the Organization's might between the two of them at that exact moment, the forces of darkness wouldn't have stood a chance.
But Leon didn't say anything, and for a long moment there was only the sound of Sora's ragged breathing, and the creak of Leon's belts. Then something in Leon's expression seemed to clear, and in a tone very different from what Sora was expecting, he said, "This isn't about me, though, is it."
Sora tried to meet Leon's gaze, and failed. Leon's eyes had suddenly and effectively stripped Sora bare and laid him out like an autopsy, all his parts neatly labeled. Leon knew; Leon had been there, had been helpless and overwhelmed and alone and weighted with guilt enough to try to erase his own name. Looking at him was like Sora looking into a mirror and seeing the same guilt and same grief, hands that knew weapons and battle but still somehow managed to be helpless at the things that really mattered.
Sora's eyes burned, and he hoped Leon didn't notice how hard he was blinking as he looked away. "What if I finally get back," he said, in a voice that was as hollow as a Nobody's chest, "and she's forgotten me?"
"You're not the kind of person someone can really forget, Sora."
"/You/did," Sora said, but he sounded more sulky than angry.
"I forget lots of things," Leon said, tapping himself between the eyebrows, on the faded line of his scar. "I spent too many years carrying summons in my head instead of in charms or gemstones. So I know what it's like to lose memories gradually. The way we forgot you... it wasn't natural. Someone erased you, very carefully, and then just as carefully scribbled you back in."
"That doesn't make me feel a lot better," Sora said, folding his arms.
"Sora," Leon said, and gripped Sora's shoulder. "Listen to me. Even if Kairi forgets everything else: your name, your face, everything you gave up for her-- the second she sees you, she'll know you. She might not know how or why, but she'll recognize you. And then you can sit down, and you can tell her everything."
Sora scrubbed at his face with his arm. "Sounds like you know what you're talking about."
"I know what it's like to spend years looking for someone, and when you find them, they don't remember you," Leon said. His eyes flickered inward for a moment. "Who do you think found Cloud when he washed up in Traverse Town? We'd been looking for him for years... and he didn't know me-- didn't know any of us. Not for a long time. He's still missing some things, only he knows what."
Sora sniffed, as though he was merely suffering from some sort of leather allergy from the proximity of Leon's pants. "You guys go way back?"
Leon's eyes narrowed. "Way back." He gave Sora a little shake. "So don't worry about what's gonna happen when you get there. Get there first, and it will sort itself out."
"Yeah," Sora said, staring hard at Leon's belt buckles. "Thanks, Leon."
Leon's hand tightened, just a little, on Sora's shoulders, and in Sora's blurry vision there was a flash of a triangular smile. "Call me Squall."
Downstairs there was a sudden bang, followed by some triumphant garbled squawking, and a lot of coughing. Acrid green smoke crawled up the lurching stairwell and seeped around the cracks in Squall's bedroom door, followed by Donald's voice.
"Sora! Your clothes are done!"
"Come on down!" Goofy echoed. "We got places to get, ya know!"
Squall straightened, crossing his arms and tilting his hips in a way that made his moment of vulnerability seem like an illusion. "Sounds like you got plenty to keep you busy, Keyblade master."
"Yeah," Sora said, slowly. "I owe you one. For the shower." Sora grinned, and Squall's eyes flicked sideways. "And for rattling my cage a little."
Squall waved one hand with a resigned air. "We're always open," he said, as another bang shook the building and the door lurched drunkenly off one hinge. The photograph on the wall fell down with a practiced clatter, as though it had done so many times before.
"Sora!" Donald squawked, sounding a bit panicky now. "You better get in these while you still can!"
Squall put his face in his hand.
"Gotta go!" Sora said, heading for the half-open door. "thanks, Le-- Squall."
"Stay alive out there, kid," Squall said, with a wry wave.
"You know," Sora said, hesitating a moment by the broken door, "I always thought I'd like having a big brother."
"So-ra!" Donald repeated, as the entire building began to vibrate, ever so slightly.
"I'm comin' I'm comin'!" Sora shouted, pounding down the steps. "Keep your pants on!"
"Gawrsh Sora, Donald doesn't wear pants..."
The din retreated with Sora, as though he carried chaos in his back pocket with him, and Squall shook his head slowly. "Big brother, huh?" From downstairs there was the familiar flash and vacuum of air as Sora and his companions vanished again for parts unknown, and Squall went to hang up his picture again.
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