At first, there was only dark. The lights fizzled out above him as he sank farther and farther. So deep of an abyss, no light can reach it.
But that’s fine. It means that Kairi made it back. She’s safe. She’s home. He did it.
So, now what?
Can he find his way out like this? It’s so disorienting. He can’t even tell which way is up anymore. He wanders for what seems like ages. It feels like his heart is leading him in circles. His friends are always with him, connected to his heart, so maybe…
It’s fine. As long as everyone is safe. He’ll find his way back somehow.
His friends are always with him.
He’s not alone.
The dark is… never ending.
He kind of wishes he had someone to talk to.
“But, at least you’re safe. Right, Kairi? Riku?”
The darkness does not answer.
But if this is his fate, then… maybe it’s okay.
There’s a sudden, sharp clenching in his chest. Is it really okay?
His friends… what are they doing now? Are they still waiting for him? If he takes too long, will he eventually fade from their hearts?
No! That can’t be true!
He shakes his head. His chest hurts so much. They won’t forget. He won’t forget. He’ll make it back. He just has to find his way.
He misses everyone so badly. He can hardly stand it. It feels like the void is closing in on him.
Focus! His heart. His guiding key. Which way should he go?
He moves with his fist pressed against his chest. Floating in the abyss. Flying aimlessly for home. Is he even getting anywhere? It’s impossible to tell. Is he moving at all?
A feeling like vertigo slams into him like a wall. Which way is up? He has no idea where he’s going. There are no landmarks or defining features. He can’t navigate himself like this. How is he supposed to find his way?
A faraway memory sprouts in his mind. One from so long ago, when he and Riku were just kids playing on the beach. A great storm was out at sea, and the surf had turned monstrous. They were reckless. Always were. The undertow was strong enough to rip Sora’s feet out from beneath him, and the waves tossed him around like an old toy. The sun was behind thick grey clouds, and the tide had spun him enough to make him dizzy. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t find the surface. No light. No sound. He reached out with both arms to find something. The surface. The ocean floor. Anything.
Riku’s hand wrapped around his arm and hauled him back up. The swim back to shore through the choppy water was slow and agonizing. Afterwards, they lied on the beach in a pile of each other, sopping wet and shaking and panting.
“Are you stupid?” Riku had said. “Why were you out that far?”
Sora didn’t have an answer. He didn’t know. He wasn’t trying to do anything. He had been lost in raging grey water with no idea of what was up or what was down. What was he supposed to do?
“That’s easy,” Riku sighed and rolled onto his back. He was still trying to catch his breath. “Just breathe out.”
He pointed towards the murky sky. “The bubbles will always rise to the top.”
If only it were that easy.
Sora rubs the memory out of his eyes. This featureless abyss is not the ocean. What kind of bubbles are he supposed to be following here? What can breach the surface of this darkness?
The light in the darkness… it was always Kairi, wasn’t it? But that’s the reason he’s down here—so she doesn’t have to be. As long as she waits for him along the shore, she can be the beacon that will guide him home. Surely.
Even if he can’t see her right now.
She still exists. On that beach. In his heart. His dreams…
She appears not in a flash of light, but a haze of shadows. This is not Kairi. This is nothing but a figment of his imagination. A dream projected onto this empty space.
Sora reels back a bit. He had no idea he could do that. Construct a dream like this.
But even just seeing her face gives him some comfort here.
“You’ll make it back. I know you will,” she says, before dissolving back into nothing. He can’t imagine her here like that, because that would mean she’s not safe. As long as she’s back at home, she’s safe with the others. And as long as she’s safe, she’s not with him now.
But that was incredible. Just thinking about Kairi, reaching for her, it brought about a dream. Of course. In the abyss of sleep, there’s nothing but dreams. He could dive into any world he wanted.
He shouldn’t. That would only send him farther down. Wouldn’t it?
He continues through the darkness. Floating? Flying? Spinning? He doesn’t know. There’s no way to tell. If only there was something.
What could he make to fill the void? It could just be… something to let him escape for a while. A place to rest, when the darkness becomes too dizzying.
He thinks of home first, and swats the palm trees away before they can form. No. It can’t be a place like that. He could get too comfortable in the dream. He could get complacent.
Then, maybe… a world he’s never been to would be best. But how is he supposed to just make something up on the spot? He hasn’t tried doing anything like that since he was a little kid.
And then, for some reason, his mind goes to Toy Box, and the video game that Rex was so obsessed with. The one he was convinced that Sora came from, even if the main character looked more like Riku than anything. The game Sora wanted to play with Rex one day, but never got the chance to. What was it called again? Verum Rex? That sounds right. Rex had said that it meant ‘True King’ in another language. Does that mean that Rex’s name also means ‘King’? Could he actually be a king?
Sora can’t stop himself from laughing. Rex would not make a good king. Not in a million years.
But the setting reminded Sora a lot of San Fransokyo. A huge city, as vast as the ocean. Looming buildings and glimmering lights. Streets that weave together like a spider’s web.
He shuts his eyes to try and remember it. It felt… colder than San Fransokyo. Less inviting. All business. But fascinating.
He gets lost chasing those thoughts, and when he opens his eyes again, he’s lying on an empty street with lights shining in his eyes.
“Huh?” Sora springs to his feet. The city. He must’ve…
It’s huge. He can’t believe it. A dream… it feels so real. Did he really do all this?
A dream, in this place, is it’s own world, isn’t it? The world of the game. Verum Rex.
Still needs the ‘Rex,’ though.
Sora racks his brain. The main character was called Yozora. He only remembers because in the end, Rex never got Sora’s name right. He insisted on calling him Yozora. But that’s not right. Sora looks nothing like Yozora. Riku, on the other hand…
There’s a pang in his chest. He wants to take Riku to Toy Box to meet Rex and the others. He wants to see how Rex will react. He’ll probably lose his mind. Especially if they can use Donald’s magic to make them look like toys…
There’s someone standing in front of him before he knows it. Sora freezes in his tracks. It’s… Yozora.
Of course. He was thinking pretty hard about it.
“Hey there,” Sora says like a reflex.
Yozora only nods. It looks like he’s not very talkative. Sora guessed as much. He finds himself mesmerized by those different coloured eyes. One blue and one red. Maybe they hold some great importance in the game. Sora wouldn’t know.
He wonders how far he can push the dream. He prods Yozora with a few questions and greetings. Nothing too crazy.
And he realizes he has no idea what Yozora is supposed to sound like. He never got a chance to play the game, after all. So, when Yozora’s mouth opens and Riku’s voice comes out, Sora really can’t say he’s surprised. Yozora is still a man of few words, though. He typically reserves them for snappy one-liners and moments of encouragement when Sora needs it the most. He doesn’t mind it.
They often go their separate ways in the dream city. Sora doesn’t want to get too attached to something that’s ultimately not real. This dream is… nothing but an escape.
Yozora’s appearance changes pretty often. Sometimes both of his eyes are red. Sometimes they’re both blue. Othertimes they’re green, and those are the hardest times. That’s when Sora misses his friends the most, and worries that they might forget about him if he doesn’t come back soon. Sora knows he’s in a bad headspace when Yozora starts to look even more like Riku. He has to get it together. He’ll never be able to fight his way out like this.
Then he finds himself staring at the ground. His head and his thoughts are so heavy, like they could drag him into the floor. Pull him even farther down. The dream city starts flickering. Fading in and out and leaving spots before his unfocused eyes. What can he do? This sadness… He’s never felt anything quite as sharp as this. His chest is tearing itself apart.
And then Donald and Goofy slap him on the back. “Cheer up there, Sora!” Goofy chuckles.
Donald wags a finger at him. “Remember: no sad faces!”
“Ya gotta keep believin’!”
But there’s no way that they’re really here. They’re just part of the dream, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
Sora grits his teeth and smiles. “You got it!”
The two slip back into the shadows of the city. The dream reaffirms itself. He’s still grounded here. As long as he doesn’t wander too far, he’ll be okay.
It’ll be okay.
Some times are easier than others.
Sometimes he wakes up from a haze with illusions of Kairi and Riku lying on either side of him. Their bodies are warm against the cold darkness. But they’re not real, he tells himself. He can’t have them. Not yet. He has to crawl his way back first. Then the figments vanish, except for the times when they don’t, and Sora lies still beneath the weight of their arms.
He’ll make it back. He has to.
And when they finally fade away, he stays there, gazing up at the hazy stars. He counts them. Well, tries to. He keeps losing his place. How many times has he started over? He traces constellations with his finger until all the blood has drained down his arm. He has to set it back down at his side so the feeling will return. How long…
“Loafing again?” That voice. Sora cranes his head back and finds Yozora standing there. His tone is stern, but his eyes are amused. They’re blue today.
Sora climbs back onto his feet with a chuckle. Yozora appears with his restlessness. “I guess so.”
He sends a look of disapproval.
“I’m… figuring it out.”
Then he smiles, and it makes Sora’s chest hurt. Why? His face flickers—no, changes.
That’s not Yozora anymore. It’s Riku.
When did the dream change? He didn’t do it on purpose.
But dreams aren’t just exercises in fantasy. Cinderella told him something once, long ago, that’s always stuck with him: “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” And if that’s true, then just what is his heart wishing for now? An end to the fabrication? The loneliness?
Maybe it’s just Riku. Gods, he’d give almost anything to reach him right now.
Sora tries to will the figment away, but he doesn’t move. His will isn’t strong enough, he guesses. They stare each other down for a long time, and Sora takes in every detail. The thin smirk. The uneven buttons on his lapel. If only. “I’ll be back soon,” Sora says. “I promise.”
He hums like a laugh, and disappears into the dark.
The silence creeps back in. Sora dives down to the empty streets. He kills the dream, and wanders through the dark. The surface is still nowhere in sight. He walks until he gets too dizzy and disoriented, and then the city springs to life around him again, like falling back down and finding the ground.
It’s not that way either, huh?
Sometimes when Riku shows up, Sora just lets it happen. Sometimes they sit back-to-back atop a skyscraper, and Sora leans onto him. Sometimes he drops a reassuring arm on Sora’s shoulder, and memories of their trek through the Realm of Darkness spring up so fast and so vivid that Sora can still feel Riku’s weight draped over him as they walked. Sometimes they just sit. Side by side. Close enough that the cold doesn’t matter.
But it’s not real.
Most of the time he just wanders through the city on his own. He’ll have a run-in with Yozora, watch him fight off some Gigas or jump into the fight himself. Something to do with his body while his heart continues to aimlessly wander. The enemies are always just strong enough to present a challenge. They’re never disappointingly weak or despairingly strong. Well. At least it’s not boring.
But if Sora’s being honest, he’s tired of fighting.
The view from the top of the tallest building is something to behold. The city sprawls out like a huge, glowing insect with countless legs. The distance loses detail and turns to fog. Rolling clouds that cover the horizon. Just like San Fransokyo. Sora laughs through his nose. All it’s missing is the colossal bridge.
He rests his chin on his knees and lets the cool wind sweep through his hair. The city twinkles in the distance like it’s alive. But it’s nothing but empty. No one. His own voice is the only thing that can break the silence, but he can only talk to himself for so long. “Riku… there’s still so much I wanna tell you. About the adventures I’ve had, the people I’ve met… the things I’ve seen…” There’s not even an echo in this abyss. “And I want to hear about yours too. What was it like, when I wasn’t there? What all did you do without me? What kind of friends did you make?” His arms tighten. It’s cold on the rooftop. He lowers his head even farther. “We never got a chance to hang out like we used to. I wanna talk about it all.”
“Then, why don’t you just talk now?”
Sora jerks upright. Riku’s face smirks back at him. No, a dream. It’s another one. Why? Why do they keep popping up? He doesn’t want to imagine this. His friends should stay safe and wait for him to come back, not risk getting stuck down here with him.
He tries to send the figment away. It doesn’t budge.
“So I’m not strong enough right now, huh?” Sora scoffs. He pulls his knees closer to his chest. “I must want it more than I thought…”
“What are you talking about? You’re plenty strong.”
The figment smiles from beside him. “I may not know all about your adventures, but I’ve seen you fighting where it really counts. I’ve seen you do amazing things, Sora.”
It’s weird. Figments aren’t usually this talkative. Sora’s mouth has gone dry. “You think so?”
“What? Do you not believe me?” he huffs.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“You’re not denying it, either.”
Sora clamps his eyes shut. Please. Just go. It’s not real. None of this is real. Just disappear already.
He can’t stop his gasp. Riku is still sitting there, on the rooftop with him. And he was trying so hard to dissipate it. Could this be…?
Sora slowly uncurls himself, legs dangling off of the ledge. “Are you…?”
Riku seems so amused by his uncertainty. “Am I what?”
He can’t get his voice out. “… real?”
That smirk. It feels so true. His hand lands on Sora’s shoulder in a firm grip. It’s warm. It keeps their bodies close. “It’s okay now.”
No, it’s not.
It’s out of character.
Riku would never—
No… his hands are never this warm.
This one’s a fake, too.
Sora presses his palm against his mouth. His eyes are stinging. His free hand draws a keyblade and bashes it into the figment. Riku turns to dust.
Sora buries his face in his knees. His shoulders still feel warm.
He goes back into the dark to find his way out. The featureless abyss… he can barely tell if he’s moving at all. Nothing changes—in or out. His heart is aching to reach home—his friends—but the line is so tangled. He can’t follow it. Is he getting any closer?
He wakes up face-down on the street again. He fell back into the dream. This city is the only netting keeping him together now.
Sora rides the railings on the highway, enjoying the sensation of movement. He traipses over the streetlights like hopscotch. Gravity magic is so useful.
He pauses on one of the streetlights and watches the stars fight against the light pollution. Or is that just the tops of the buildings flashing? He remembers the skyscrapers in San Fransokyo had blinking lights at the top for some reason… He never got around to asking Hiro why. His arms find their way behind his head like a cradle—just like they always do. A sigh drops from his chest. This city is so vast. So bright. It’s hard to believe it’s just a dream. His own dream, at that. He made this incredible place. What would Riku think of it? Would he think it’s cool too? Or would he scoff and tell Sora that he can do better than this? Would he push Sora to create more—to do things he never thought he could do? To be better?
“I can’t wait to tell you everything,” he speaks to the sky, as if Riku could hear him from way down here. “I want to tell you about how cool this place is… Oh, and take you to San Fransokyo. The guys in Big Hero 6 are a lot of fun. I think you’d like them. You’d like their city, too. It’s such a blast.”
“And where is that?” A voice calls from the street below. A voice he recognizes.
“Huh?” Sora jumps and almost slips. It takes his eyes a moment to readjust to the brightness of the street. “Yozora?”
Riku narrows his eyes. “Who?”
“Oh,” his face falls. Of course. “Again, huh?”
He huffs. “Don’t get too excited to see me.”
Sora runs a hand down his face. “He always shows up like this… when I’m… wanting, and weak,” he mumbles. “I should know better by now.”
“Huh. Does this count as talking in your sleep?”
Sora doesn’t respond to that. He hops down from his streetlamp perch. His eyes scan Riku up and down. It’s a little different this time. His colours are more vivid. Sora commands the figment to dissipate, but nothing happens. Figures. “I guess I’m still not strong enough,” he murmurs.
Riku tilts his head. He folds his arms over his chest, like he’s so sure. “What? You’re plenty strong.”
Déjà vu. “The fact that you’re here says otherwise.”
“No… I’m just being impatient,” he says. “There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll come back on your own. But I couldn’t wait around anymore, so I came to get you.” Then he shrugs a little. “Sorry.”
Sora can only laugh. It’s nothing but breath. “I must be so weak to want it this badly. I… You can’t be here, Riku. I can’t keep dreaming like this.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You only show up when the loneliness gets to me,” he admits. His hand curls over his chest. “But my heart keeps wishing for you. I keep dreaming you here.” He steps slowly towards the figment. Riku just stands there, confusion creasing his face. “Why? You shouldn’t be stuck down here with me, so why do I keep wishing you were?”
“Sora… you’re not stuck.”
He stops walking, less than a step away from where Riku is standing. His head hangs low as he studies the sliver of ground between them. “What am I supposed to do?”
Riku doesn’t say anything.
Sora wonders if he should just let himself be weak. He could lean forward, and let this made-up Riku hold him together for a little while.
Riku’s hands carefully curl over his shoulders. There’s his answer.
He tilts forward into that embrace, and Riku turns awkwardly ridged. “Your hands are cold,” Sora mumbles.
“So I’ve heard.” His voice is so tense, like his throat hurts. In this quiet city, Sora can even hear his heart hammering away in his chest.
Riku exhales all of his tension. He places a hand on top of Sora’s head. “So, you think I’m just a dream, huh?”
“How do I prove I’m not?” he presses. “Any dream you have… that’s just a version of me that exists in your memories. Should I do something new?”
His other hand finds Sora’s back. “Should I say that I believe in you? Or follow you around until you believe I’m the real thing?”
“How many nightmares do I have to take care of? How many obstacles? Because I’ll do it all. Just say the word, Sora, and I’ll do it.”
“Just stop!” Sora shoves him in the chest, but Riku doesn’t move. He only stops talking. “You can’t be here. You just can’t…”
“Why can’t I?”
“Because if you’re here, that means I failed.” He can feel the tears starting to pool in his eyes. Gods, he’s pathetic.
Riku’s grip tightens. “I told you: it’s my own impatience.”
“I failed to save you. I failed to come back.”
“You didn’t fail at all,” he says, quiet and firm. “You’ve only failed once you’ve given up. You haven’t given up, have you?”
Sora shakes his head. “No.”
“Then what are you worried for?” He’s smiling. Sora can hear it in his voice. He feels warm breath passing through his hair. “You know, Sora, I believe that you can save anyone. No matter who it is, or the circumstances… you’ll do everything you can to save them. Even the impossible. If only you were just as serious when it comes to saving yourself. Do you really think you’re not worth the effort?”
The tears are dripping down his face now. “I… I don’t know,” he sniffs.
Riku sighs. “Do I really have to spell it out for you?”
“No.” That tone isn’t convincing at all.
“If you fought for yourself as hard as you fight for others, you would’ve found your way back by now,” he says simply, in pure confidence. “So, until that day comes, I’ll fight hard enough for both of us. Okay?”
“I know just me telling you this isn’t going to be enough to convince you, but I want you to know: it has nothing to do with strength or power. All of this… it’s all in your head. Your point-of-view.”
“But how do you know?” Sora pressures.
“Because…” His voice gets caught for a moment. There’s a physical reaction; a shudder through his entire body. “… because I’m the same way.”
He can’t stop himself from looking up—from gawking directly into Riku’s face.
His softened eyes… That sad smile… Cold hands and warm chest… It’s all true.
Sora’s hands get knotted in his shirt. He’s real.
“You’re here,” he chokes, and returns to that warm embrace. “Riku, you—” His voice breaks, and nothing else comes out.
It takes Riku a moment to shake off his tension again. “Yeah… I made it.”
It’s no dream. No, Sora doesn’t need dreams anymore. Not when he has the real thing. Nothing could ever compare or replace it.
As soon as he thinks it, the dream city dissolves. Every street and skyscraper fizzles away and vanishes back into the abyss of sleep. There’s only him and Riku in this dark void. More proof of his authenticity.
“No more dreams?” Riku smirks.
“Nope,” he murmurs. “Don’t need ‘em.”
“Glad to hear it.”
It’s real. This is real. This is actually, really— “So you really think I can do it on my own?”
“I know you can.” He’s certain.
Sora holds on tightly to those words. He steps back to lessen the tension. To see and read every twitch and flicker on Riku’s face. “But what about you? How hard would you fight to save yourself?”
That smile is still sad. It’s bitter. “I’ve… never really fought for that.”
“We really are the same,” he chuckles.
“I told you.”
“Oh, come on, Master Riku,” he jabs, “how could you possibly think you’re not worth it?”
He clearly stumbles over the addition of ‘Master,’ but he recovers. “Well, you’ve seen where thinking too highly of myself has gotten me.”
Sora huffs. “Is that all?”
He shakes his head like he’s exasperated. Like there’s nothing left to argue. “At least… when it comes down to it, we both have the strength to protect what matters.”
Sora pulls his arms behind his head, gazing out into the emptiness. “It’s too bad that doesn’t include self-preservation.” Riku laughs quietly at that. “But I guess… that’s love, right?”
“Giving your all for someone else… Sacrifice… I’ve seen it so many times, in countless worlds. Herc, Anna, or Flynn… That kind of strength… is love. It’s born from the heart. It’s the greatest form of strength there is.” He’s met with nothing but dead air. He glances back to Riku and—oh gods his face is so red—he’s just staring at him. Sora bursts out laughing. “What’s the matter?”
Riku is still gaping at him. “Do you,” he’s even stammering, “do you know what you’re implying?”
He scratches his cheek. “Uh…” The implications would be… that Sora loves Riku and Kairi. They’re his greatest strengths. And Riku… He must love Sora. What’s so bad about that?
Still, Sora’s never seen this expression on Riku’s face before. Maybe… he’s talking about something else? But what else could Sora be implying?
Sora laughs like a sigh. “Maybe I don’t know what love is, after all.”
Riku jerks like he just stopped himself from moving. His lips are pressed tightly together. He doesn’t say anything.
The silence is too unbearable. “But I do know that my real strength comes from you,” he continues. “That’s why, even if you or Kairi, or Donald and Goofy… even if you weren’t here with me, I was still able to hang on. I didn’t get so lost that there was no coming back. It’s all because of you guys. You kept me… together.”
He doesn’t respond to that either, but at least now there’s a vague sort of smile on his face.
Sora lets his eyes pass over the void. What does he see in it? There’s a new feeling in his chest. It’s so light, it could buoy him up to the surface. If so, which way should he go? His gaze falls back to Riku without any thought. He’s a vivid splash of colour in this place.
He tilts his head a bit. “So, what do you think?”
He’s honestly not sure. “I think…” A pause. He grins, and holds out his hand. The keyblade appears in a flash of brilliant light. “I can find my way now.”
Riku only smirks. “Looks like you don’t even need my help.”
Sora doesn’t hesitate at all. He holds the hilt of the blade towards Riku like an offering. “Still want it, though.”
That smirk blooms into a full smile. How rare. He accepts the gesture and stands by Sora’s side, cool fingers curling over the keyblade and part of Sora’s own hand. A power they can share. Together.
“May your heart be your guiding key…” Sora mumbles. His faith in his own heart, and the direction it takes… whatever it may be, it will guide him home. He’s sure of it.
He feels something tugging in his chest. Riku’s fingers twitch. The path opens up before them. A beam of energy that shatters the sky. Through the keyhole, he can see it. A flicker. A flash of light in the far distance. So dim, like the faintest stars, that he can only see it when he’s looking somewhere else.
It’s almost like a trick. It could fool him into thinking that he never saw it at all. But when he glances at Riku and sees the confidence in his eyes, he knows it’s really there.
They don’t even have to speak. They merely nod before diving forward, chasing after that light with everything they’ve got. Two bubbles fleeing to the surface.
They travel up and up. Higher still, until the light grows brighter. Until they can see it clearly. Until it dominates the sky. Until there’s no darkness left, and all they can do is plummet across the threshold and crash into the sea.
Sora breaks the surface of the water. He lies floating on his back, letting the sun beat down on his face. This sort of entrance… it’s so familiar.
Riku grabs his arm and tugs him towards the shore. There’s already someone standing there. Kairi. His beacon. She still looks the same. She runs down the beach to meet them as they stumble up onto the shore.
Kairi is smiling. There are tears in her eyes. “You two… idiots,” she laughs. “Reckless idiots.”
Sora grins. He’s shaking so badly that he won’t even try to stand up. “We’re back.”
Tears fall. She throws herself between them, arms wrapping firmly around both of their waists. “Welcome home.”