[Oneshot. Post KH2.] Glimpse of a final ending for the once children of the Destiny Islands. Failed potions and failed letters trapped in bottles. But there will always be a door to the light. And ...
Warnings: Yeah. SPOILERS, really, for all of KH2, since this is post endgame. But they're the vague sort that are just referenced to here-and-there in word and theme. Either way; ye be warned. Also, be warned of disjointed, grammatically challenged writing. Ta.
Time Left Behind
"I'm dying," Riku tells Sora. Sora doesn't need to be told. He knows. It's been weeks since Riku has reached for the bright emerald drink by his bedside; some foreign medicine they had requested and received. The smooth bottle still sits at the bed's edge, but it's cold and thinly congealed along the surface, despite being sealed.
"Potions don't really keep," Riku had told him. Sora /knows/. He knows all of the stories. As long as he kept drinking the thick liquid, Sora thought that everything would be okay. But he has stopped. So Sora stops hoping. It's almost easier this way.
Riku is looking towards him with eyes that once shown eerily crystal blue but are now smudged blind.
"Drink your drink," Sora says anyway, because he can not bear to think of any alternative. He curls his fingers around the glass and brings it to Riku's dry, dry lips. He will fake hope for Riku, because Riku can't use his eyes to call his bluff. Riku shifts away. The glass' rim knocks against sharp cheekbone, and Sora pulls back. Back into himself.
"I'm sorry," he says, and means it.
"For what?" Dry amusement. Sora shrugs, but it goes unseen.
"Sh-should I get Kairi?" He wants the answer to be 'no'. As long as Riku isn't making his Last Goodbyes, then there's still time. Time for anything and everything. Time for luck, or a miracle. Just... Time for Sora to hold onto Riku for a little longer, because it isn't fair that the potions don't work, or that Riku can't see, or that Time is killing all that Sora holds in heart.
Sora has seen Riku do unexplainable things with a twist of his wrist, a summon in his mind, or the gentle hum of magic. He can't quite understand why Riku would succumb here, but the words to prolong Riku's endurance or to reaffirm conviction are far too elusive.
"No..." is his answer. Sora smiles, his lungs releasing stale breath he didn't know he'd been hoarding. "She knows." It ruins the answer. Sora pinches his jaw shut, not afraid to wear a sulk in Riku's blind presence, though he suspects Riku can feel it anyway.
Since Riku can't see sunshine anymore, but still enjoys the way it soaks in his skin, the woven curtains are widely tied back and glass slid away. Stray splashes of light hit the potion bottle, cheerfully casting green reflections around the too too white walls. Sora remembers a time when such a sight would make him smile, but now, in a fit of blind frustration, he just wants to smash the jar to the ground.
But then Riku would have every excuse to turn away from the medicine, and he'd have to somehow get more sent- Oh. Sent. Sora almost hates himself for not thinking about it, but neither did Kairi or Riku. There are liquids of more potency and affect; what of hi-potions? Elixirs? Why weren't those sitting by the bedside?
Sora doesn't think things fully through when an idea strikes him lightening-fast, so he grabs Riku's hand roughly, squeezing out a fierce good-bye. Riku turns his face to Sora, his eyebrows stretching to forehead, showing confusion.
"Don't go," Sora says, because he can't bring himself to let the word Die pass his lips, and becomes a hypocrite himself as he tears from the room.
His Mother says that he knows the paths and the water routes to the island like he knows the back of his hand. She's wrong of course; Sora doesn't spend nearly enough time looking at his outside palm to have it as memorized. The route from his house to the Old Docks wasn't mapped by him, but it is certainly maintained by his constant treading. The way the water laps at his shoes and knocks against the tethered boats are sensations as natural to Sora as breathing.
Stepping into his boat, intention towards that familiar off-shore island, is like coming Home. All nerves, guilt, and horrible dread that grew and festered in his mind while at Riku's bedside begin to fade. The knot that is tying his heart to lungs and /pulling/, starts to loosen. Sora breathes.
The island isn't secret; anyone can see it from the main island. But it is secret, still. Something awesome and forbidding about the tangled trees and wrecked ships that adults can't quite comprehend. Sora worries that one day he will outgrow the thrill of life and completion that the secret island brings, but Riku usually puts that worry in its place. It's why he needs Riku.
Why he's going to the island for that one perfect sending spot. Why at his feet is a sturdy glass bottle and a rolled-up message inside. Why in a last frantic effort he will plead for Help from far across ocean, world and time.
At the opposite shoreline, away from the eyes of mainland, Sora casts his bottle. Kairi had once shown him how she had done it; gently in the ripples, letting the tide take it home. Sora throws the bottle with all the anger and unexplained guilt of a boy watching a friend die. He absolutely refuses to cry, and the wet on his face is only the off-spray from the ocean.
He gathers the ocean's tears with his last remaining courage and tries to go back. He'll come back tomorrow to the curve of the island where the seaweed nets land and water. All bottles get trapped there, Kairi had explained. She always found them. He would check the traps and find a new potion; a stronger one. One that could actually heal sickness. When the sun rose again, so would Riku. He holds onto this self-proclaimed hope like it's the only thing keeping his heart pumping and his limbs moving. He wants to melt into the ground and not move from the island, but he'll wait, letting his body and mind fall by Riku. Riku has an amazing catching arm.
When Sora, damp and internally angry, finds himself back home his Mother tells him that Riku is asleep. Sora goes to him anyway. He's grateful for the raspy noise Riku's chest makes with each breath, and the slow winces of pain across his tired face. If he were in a peaceful sleep, it would look like something else; something Sora isn't (will never be) ready for.
His shoes are toed off quietly, damp socks as well, before he stealthily crawls beside Riku. For this moment he pretends that it doesn't matter how old he is, and that it's alright for him to be curling around the other. Ear to chest, Sora listens to the failing heartbeat and begins to carefully will his own life to Riku. It won't work, he knows, but it's the only thing that keeps his mind from dissolving. Erratic and disjointed, Riku's heartbeat leads him to sleep like a sick lullaby.
In the morning, when the sun is burning across Sora's face, an omen disguised in searing heat, Sora wakens to silence. Riku doesn't wake at all.
He can't move, hand and face pillowed on an unmoving chest, because if he looks up everything will be Real. He curls his fingers in warm cloth and does his best to keep air passing between his lips; it doesn't want to. His throat is seized, his fingers numb, and the back of his eyes burn with everything that was never said.
It's a new feeling bubbling under his skin and threatening to choke his own breath. It's like his mother's holiday parties, where she deftly pours into one glass the contents of numerous bottles. There is a vengeful, painful hold in his lungs creating a new cocktail. Two parts anger, one part guilt, a dash of shock and pure numbness as a base. It burns, this drink, as perhaps the potions did at the end for Riku. Poison that heals and destroys.
There is only one destination. There will always be just the one. He needs to go back. Back to the only place where Riku is, and away away from all that he left behind. Back back back back -
Here. The small island is mostly dead now, compared to when Riku himself had played here. The wooden docks and ships have rotted enough that one's foot will fall through with a misstep, the trees are hollow carcasses lining the once white sand, and the legendary papou fruit is long since extinct.
A hastily scratched image of a boy and a girl sharing fruit still remains, unweathered, on the inside of stone walls. Sora does not go there. He thinks he would march right past, scratch the walls until his fingers were raw trying to find the door. That door. So much more practical than a bottle that just drifts and drifts on the water.
His knees buckle on his fifth circuit of the island. His tears still burn liquid channels down his skin.
Riku is the first person to die. The first that he's known. The first that he's loved. Loves. (Don't shuffle him to past tense yet, you horrible, horrible child.) Sora chokes on nothing so simple or physical as tears, and allows himself to blend a little into the sand. Let his skin be pealed away by the rhythmic caress of the tide.
"Time can be bent," Riku had once told him. "It's pliable, but still fragile. You can work it, but it will always be the master and you the slave." Sora didn't understand what that meant at the time. He still doesn't. But Sora likes to remember it and substitute it for his mother's singsong reminder that Time Flies. Time does not fly, according to Riku, but is manipulated by human hands to soar.
Riku makes Time take flight. And when Sora gives into emotional exhaustion on the once pale sand, Riku must have begun to work his magic. (Riku never really had magic; just a blade that wasn't a key and an unwavering will, Kairi once said.) He knows time has been played with because when he opens his eyes to broken sky, the sun has hidden and the stars mockingly twinkle. A bottle is hitting his foot. The gray sand is cold, the water colder. There's a dampness that only comes at -
Sora reaches down, fingers clumsy from the full body drain that crying causes, and grasps a smooth, familiar, clear bottle. For one wild moment he almost smashes it to the ground, though perhaps the sand would cushion instead of destroy. A stabbing reminder of a message gone astray... no. Same bottle. Different letter.
Rolled thinly and much more precisely than his own, and one terrifying difference. Three filled circles, touching together to form a simplistic silhouette of a mouse's head. It takes three times to successfully uncork the bottle and coax the thin page from glass to palm.
No promise of stronger potions. No sympathy. No well wishes. No grief. Just four simple words.
"They will go together," Sora reads aloud, and somehow knows that though it is a response to his letter, it is not meant for him. It could only be meant for one person now.
He's grateful for his own boat, a Christmas present only two years back; small, a little rusted because it wasn't given to him new, but it has an /engine/. He carefully doesn't think what it must have been like rowing by hand to the secret-yet-not-hidden island each day for play. Because Riku used to chide him and say When I Was Young... and Sora feels a little guilty, but won't give up the way the wind and sun batter his face for anything.
His home, her home, is at the top of the western hillside. His bedroom used to be hers and he can see the entire coastline and half of the secret island from his window. At night he will fall asleep being stroked by the breeze from there. She can't stand the smell of that wind anymore. Kairi.
She's in her own room when he enters the house. His Mother makes a sharp comment about Dripping Water Over Clean Floors, so he kicks his shoes off halfway up the staircase.
She knows by now about Riku, of course, but her face is still and her eyes are stainless where his are marred with old tears. Sora gently touches two fingers to her arm, then waits for her acknowledgement. She turns to him and wordlessly smiles. The returned message is placed in her lap.
When Kairi fingers the empty bottle and reads the crisp letter, she laughs. Out loud. It bounces around the room like a small pixie that has been trapped for far far too long and has just been given freedom. It lingers even when she closes her mouth and descends to a simple smile.
She hasn't spoken a word since her husband died, his Mother told him. His Mother likes to try and lure a spoken word from her stubborn lips, but Sora almost enjoys the silence. He likes Kairi's form of grief in a way he can't quite explain or understand, but certainly admires. And when he smiles, so does she, so it seems enough.
Her laugh gives her energy. She stands, slowly still, and shuffles to her set of cabinets across her room. In a deep drawer is a worn box filled with letters. Sora has read them all. She let him one day, then didn't stop him when he returned for a second glimpse. He thinks he might have them memorized.
Letters and communication from one world to another. Over a vast space of years and adventures. Thin, durable bottles being tossed to the ocean, kissed in salt water, and passing precious letters of goodwill, memories, and requests for help.
Kairi folds the last letter on top. She hands him the box to look, to hold, to treasure in a way that his Mother never did. His Mother thinks that her parents just made up ridiculous stories on their islands and never remembered that they were just that.
Sora believes. It would be insulting to his namesake if he did not.
His favourite letter is the first one ever written. When Kairi was not much older than him, scribbled to a different Sora, a Sora she couldn't quite remember yet. It was water damaged, because Sora had tucked it into his pocket instead of a bottle when he came back to the islands. But that only made Kairi stroke it more lovingly.
"Grandma?" he asks, and his voice is raw. She looks at him; young, kind eyes inside old, weathered flesh. "Can I have the bottle?"
Letter safe inside her treasured box, Kairi hands the King's bottle to him. He runs so fast it is as if his feet glide, and he can hear his Mother's Slow Down long after he clears their property. He doesn't go out to the island; the mainland's shore will suit.
He lets the waves lap in, then watches it pull the bottle together on the way out. No violent hurl this time. Captured inside is his own clumsy plea. Still for Riku. But not to the King, where all bottles must go, Sora has been told. He doesn't want this one to go there at all. It must reach a different person.
He thinks it will.
It's for Sora now. The other Sora. The one that treasured Riku, that married Kairi, and befriended entire worlds beyond this place. And of course he was not living; he had died years and years ago. Much less quietly than Riku. But when Sora died he passed on his name. When Riku died... when Riku died, he simply must have passed on his power. Sora would use it.
His bottle would get to That Sora. Through worlds, time, and space. Because such things are malleable, Riku knew, and so Sora knew.
And when That Sora got this bottle, these three words, everything would be alright. Three words.
Wait for them.
That Sora would understand. Would comply. Would heal. Would cause Riku to see again.
Later, when Kairi leaves too, would cause her to speak again.
And then, Sora was fairly certain, he would be able to feel again.
Sora turns to return to his grandmother; the last of a vigilant, heroic trio. Returns to offer comfort and keep company by being the embodiment of past memories and love. He plans to make her pineapple pancakes because they come close to tasting of papou if one drowns them in syrup, she says. And that taste doesn't make her spill bitter tears, but sweet ones now. He thinks he will boil some dark tea, the kind she likes but rarely uses. He decides to tell her that it (whatever 'it' has to be) is okay, because he can bend Time now.
And she will smile. And nod. And subtly wait with him a little longer. Wait just a bit more before going with them. Together.