Some promises are meant to be kept. Sora and Kairi on the beach, reflecting on past events, and of what that comes after.
When Kairi opened her eyes, she expected to see the blue sky spanning on forever. She expected to see the wispy white clouds stretched across the infinite heavens, a thin shroud between her world and some distant other. Worlds so far away, almost dreamlike, yet they seemed so close to her heart and as real as the waves crashing upon the shores. She opened her eyes and she expected to see the sunlight dancing on her skin, warm and as comforting as a friend ( holding on tight never letting go ) but saw a figure looming over her instead.
A shadow fell over her, blocking the sun's warmth. For a split second she thought she saw bulbous yellow eyes looking at her, a clawed hand reaching out for her heart. But as she threw her arm across her face in a clumsy attempt to protect herself, she blinked, and his familiar face greeted her vision in its place.
She lowered her arm. Sora was standing over her, hands on his knees, his expression puzzled. "I thought I was the lazy bum," he said, his voice light, teasing.
Crazy, she thought to herself. No one has yellow eyes.
She relaxed and gave him a smile. "Don't scare me like that, Sora," she admonished. He straightened and stepped back, and the brightness of the late afternoon sun fell on her full-force. She blinked rapidly, trying to adjust her eyes to the sudden light. Sora still seemed like nothing more than a silhouette against the burning sun behind him, and she suddenly wondered if he would be gone along with it at the end of the day.
She blinked again, forcing to get her sleep-blurred eyes to focus, and Sora was still there. She could hear the sand scraping against as his shoes as he moved, and the chain around his neck jingled as he shifted something from his left hand to his right. For a short moment, she was certain that it was a ( lost ) star, twinkling and bright, and he was holding it safe, cupped against his palms.
He closed his fingers tighter around it, and she stifled a cry of alarm, her mind's eye seeing a whole world disappear. He shook it, and this time she heard a soft tinkling.
It was a bottle, she realised in mild surprise, made of clear glass. The afternoon sun was playing tricks on her eyes.
"Look at this," he said, his usual grin plastered over his face. His spiky brown hair was falling in a hundred different directions, his eyes blue and bright and beautiful.
She stretched on the sand, affecting a careless attitude. It was hard not to enjoy the warmth and the grainy feel of the sand seeping through her clothes. "Look at what?" she said sleepily.
He plopped down beside her. He set his bottle on the ground before he laced his hands together and put them behind his head, and proceeded to lie down on the sand. The sand clung to his wet clothes, but he didn't seem to mind. He was smiling, staring at the clouds that were high in the skies and she tilted her head to look at him. He had been fooling around in the water again, she could see that---his clothes were damp, dripping seawater on the sand, and those overlarge shoes of his were wet. She couldn't really understand why anyone would wade in the surf with their shoes on, but Sora and Riku ( Sora and Riku? ) did it anyway.
She shook her head, and the fragment of a memory faded.
"What is it, Sora?"
"I haven't found Riku yet," he said, eyes fixed on a point in the sky. The memory stirred again, and this time, she ignored it.
"No," she murmured. That didn't matter; at least, not for now. It was not important for some reason. She sat up, hugging her knees, but kept Sora in her field of vision. "I mean, what's with the bottle?"
"Seashells," he said dreamily. "I thought you'd like them."
He handed the bottle to her and she accepted it cautiously. An ordinary bottle, nothing more, though it could have held the universe's greatest secrets, the way Sora looked at it. She pulled the cork, slightly startled as it came out easily into her palm, watching as light danced on the transparent surface. She saw the seashells; pale pink and coral and off-white. Small stones---pearly-white and smooth---rolled around, clinking, as she shook the bottle. She fished out a pale pinkish-white shell and glanced at the boy beside her.
"You never liked to collect seashells before, Sora." She pushed aside a strand of her dark-red hair from her face. "If you're not sparring with Riku or Tidus with those wooden swords, you'd be playing ball with Wakka."
"These are special," he insisted. "How many people you know have shells from other worlds?"
She peered at the one she was holding. There was nothing extraordinary about it; certainly nothing otherworldly. But his comment, playful as it was, disturbed her. She turned the shell over, and over again, and wondered what it was she was looking for.
"You aren't serious, are you?"
He grinned. "You hafta figure that one out yourself, Kairi."
She sat up straighter, a hand on her hip. "C'mon, Sora! Say where they're from!"
"Nah. It'd be much more fun if you just make up your own stories." His eyes flicked to her. Was he teasing? She couldn't tell. "You were always good at that. And your stories always have happy endings. Like fairy tales and stuff."
( I guess it's more than just a fairy tale.
Confounded Heartless---get lost, will ya?
You won't use me for this!
I know I can always come back here. Right? )
She shook her head, trying to clear the sudden thoughts invading her mind. She asked her question, the only one she could think of, and it drowned the voices of the others. "You believe in happy endings?"
He considered the question for a while. "I'd like to. Besides, it's the only way I can keep my promise."
( I'll come back to you. I promise! )
She blinked. When did he say that to her? Was it just a figment of her imagination or something from another distant past she couldn't remember?
Besides, Sora was here, and so was she, and that what was important.
"Sora," she said, smiling at him, "you've changed." She couldn't help the hint of sadness that had crept into her voice. He sat up suddenly at her words, and he scratched he back of his head, looking embarrassed, but he didn't protest.
( You're the one that's changed, Kairi. )
Things would never go back to what they were. She was suddenly sure of that.
"The way you say it, Kairi; you make it sound like it's a bad thing," he complained. No anger there, though perhaps there was a trace of incomprehension reflected in his tone. "Is it?" he asked after a moment, and Kairi shook her head with some amusement.
"No, not really," she answered. She shook the bottle at him. "Sora? What's with these?"
He grinned suddenly, that silly toothy one that always made her laugh. He reached out, and for a short moment she thought he was going to take her hand, but his fingers closed over the bottle instead. He took it, his hand brushing so very slightly against hers, and examined the bottle for a moment before he dumped the contents on the sand. He arranged the shells and the small pebbles in a line, considering some intricate pattern that he alone can see, before looking back at her. "Would you like these?"
"A necklace of thalassa shells," she murmured. She didn't reach out for them.
"In the old days, sailors always wore thalassa shells," he said solemnly, startling her. She remembered telling him that, a long time ago.
Kairi giggled. She couldn't help it. "I don't sound like that, Sora, you idiot."
"You do, too! You should listen to yourself when you're telling those stories to Selphie--" He broke off at a look from her. "Okay, okay, so you don't," he said hastily, quickly standing up. He glanced at the necklace in his grasp, and dangled it in front of Kairi.
"A peace offering for the princess?" he said, and she chuckled. Funny, he had never called her that before . . . .
Her laughter ceased abruptly, and Sora looked at her, his eyes questioning. She reached out for the shells, expecting them to dissolve into thin air but the strand remained in her hands.
". . . right. Thanks, Sora," she said simply.
He shrugged, looking slightly self-conscious. "Glad you like it." He fell quiet for a moment. "It's nothing much, really." He was going for aloof, but he sounded wistful, apologetic.
"You've given me enough," Kairi said quietly.
She was beginning to realise what all this was, and she felt her heart constrict. Her hand came to rest on her chest, and the memories finally came crashing upon her. This was their island, hers and his---inexplicably theirs. It was where she was then, where he was at the moment, at a crossroad of their memories. It was their world, and they were standing under their sky, if only for a couple of heartbeats.
It was not real.
Because he was not there, and had not been there for the longest of times.
"You kept . . . my heart safe," she said haltingly, forcing herself to remember, as much as she could in a half-dream world. She could still feel the sun's warmth on her skin, the salty breeze ruffling her hair. She felt if she concentrated hard enough, she could almost hear the other kids laughing gaily somewhere near the shed, and she almost turned around.
No shadows here; not on this bright, sun-drenched beach. "You gave it back to me."
Those wide blue eyes looked startled, slightly discomfited. It was endearing how he wore his heart on his sleeve, how his feelings were surprisingly obvious to her at times.
"I had to, Kairi. You'd do the same for me."
He had grown more confident, somehow. Confident and more serious, and somewhat quieter than before. This Sora was not the same Sora who had almost hero-worshiped Riku; not the same one who had followed the older boy around willingly. She ran her fingers over the smooth shells, only now wondering where Riku was. When was the last time she saw him?
"I don't think I could be that strong," she finally said.
"Hey, hey," he said laughingly. His amusement seemed genuine, and his eyes sparkled. "Don't say that. You brought me back. Else I would've been a black little thing with large yellow eyes and two antennas." He put both hands on the top of his head, wriggling his fingers, and opened his eyes wide.
She didn't find that amusing. "Stop that. That's not funny."
He stopped at once, and held out a hand to her in apology. She regarded it for a few seconds---it wasn't funny; it just /wasn't/---before clasping the proffered hand. Sora grinned at her, and Kairi rolled her eyes. She let him haul her up to a standing position, and on impulse, she stood on her tiptoes, and slipped the shells around Sora's neck.
He started to protest almost immediately, a hand already trying to pull them off. He stopped as his fingers curled around him, pausing for the longest of moments to look at her. He looked flustered, almost as if he thought he had been caught doing something wrong but he was not quite sure what it was he had done.
"They're supposed to ensure a safe journey," she said, smiling at him, both hands clasped behind her back. He stopped fidgeting and let his hand fall.
Sora made a face. "I don't wear seashells. Besides, it was for you."
"You should wear it." Kairi looked away at the clouds, but this time she only saw the same endless blue. She would like to believe that they both were under the same sky. "I'm not the one going anywhere."
He either didn't hear or was pretending he didn't hear her last statement. "Ha. So that I'd have to worry about two things to return to you now."
She swatted his shoulders playfully. "You know what I mean."
His expression grew sombre. "It's yours."
If he wanted to be serious, then, so could she. "It won't stay with me, Sora, so it's better if you keep it." He reached out for her, and she laughed softly. "It's easier to play pretend, then, if things are as you remember them."
His eyes betrayed a hint of pain ( of heartbreak of their world, of a thousand worlds ) before the illusion disappeared. "Hey, don't you believe in dreams, Kairi?"
She smiled at him before looking away. "I believe in you, Sora," she said softly. "You should go now."
He stood there for a moment, shoulders slouched, frowning slightly. He was rarely disheartened; Sora was bright and cheerful and full of optimism. She almost reached out to touch him on his arm when he straightened suddenly, and flashed her a grin. "You can't get rid of me that easily," he said. "Besides, I already promised."
"I'm always with you. Remember?"
She nodded once, not trusting her voice to answer. The keychains of Sora's keyblade clinked as he moved away, and the chain he wore around his neck jingled as he stepped back. "I'll come back to you." His voice was clear, certain.
He was silhouetted against the burning sun again, and she remembered wondering if he would disappear along with it at the end of the day.
Kairi shielded her eyes.
She didn't open them until she was sure he was gone.
When Kairi opened her eyes, she expected to see the night sky, a dark velvet blanketing her island paradise. She expected to see the stars twinkling, dancing in the firmament's crest. She expected to see the crescent moon slowly rising in the horizon, its silvery light scattered upon the breaking waves.
What she didn't expect to see was a necklace made of seashells ( of fragments of distant worlds ), washing up the surf, and coming to rest at her feet.
She picked it up, running her hands over each shell and gently slipped it around her neck. She looked up at the stars, and at the one just appearing in the heavens, bright and twinkling and pure, and she smiled.
"I know you will."