Sora examines his hands, holding them up to what little light there is in this dark, glassy expanse. He’s never seen the Final World, like this, at night. Unless he has? His mind is heavy, like the clouds that block the moon.
He stands. And calls.
Someone should be there to answer him. Someone important, he knows.
Sora’s ears perk. “Hello? Who’s there?”
There’s no time to wait. He starts running, picking up pace as he spots a distant figure walking towards him. As they draw nearer to each other, Sora sees their dark jacket, silver hair,
and teal eyes.
Sora’s feet slow along with his mind.
“You’re…” he gets out before words stop up in his throat. He doesn’t know what he expected to say. He hasn’t met this person before.
The other person, another boy a little taller than him in a light V-neck shirt, frowns. “Yes, I’m here. You called me, and now I’m here.” He sounds fed up, and the excitement—relief?—that had begun to rise in Sora’s chest drains immediately.
“O-Oh! Sorry…” Sora says sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. “I didn’t mean to, I just thought…”
The other boy stares at him like he’s wasting time, but when he says nothing to help the conversation along, Sora lets out a breath, and brings a hand to his heart.
“I’m Sora, by the way. Who are you?”
The boy’s eyes narrow, obscuring that beautiful teal. “…I know.”
Sora blinks. “You know who I am?” he asks quizzically.
Instead of giving a proper answer, the other boys’ lips tighten into a firm line, and he moves to adjust his gloves. “…I don’t have time for this.”
A laugh escapes from somewhere in Sora’s throat. “What, you have somewhere to be?” he jokes, gesturing vaguely to the dark mirror that runs endless in all directions.
The boy's eyes swivel back on him coldly, and something behind Sora’s chest cracks. “Yeah, ‘Sora’, I do.” The way the stranger says his name, it sounds like it should belong to someone else. “Unlike you.”
The dark around them flashes red for just a moment as the silver-haired boy summons a weapon to his palm: an inky crossbow with red lights, which he levels at Sora.
But instead of feeling threatened, Sora’s eyes remain fixed upon the weapon, unable to stop thinking about how wrong it looks in the stranger’s hand. His broad shoulders and carved arms look strong enough to wield it, sure, but Sora can’t shake the thought that it’s been stolen.
Before he can think to confront the stranger, the stained glass of Sora’s heart station reveals itself at their feet, and what were stars in the distance become the flickering lights of buildings as a city comes into view around them.
“It’s time,” the stranger says, summoning a sword to his opposite hand that looks just as wrong in his grip.
“Why?” is the only word Sora can think to answer with, but the other boy is already charging him.
It’s over so fast, before Sora even has time enough to wonder why the boy who looks like that is moving so strangely, with cruel weapons that don’t belong in his gentle hands.
“How many times do I have to tell you?”
A fast-creeping chill is spreading through his veins, and Sora falls to his knees before the boy who stands above him, now silent. There is something in the motion that tugs at him, makes him want to snatch at the boy’s gloved hand and cry until there’s nothing left in his chest, but his arms have grown too stiff to move. Then the chill pierces his heart, and the end of the world disappears.
In waking, Riku patrols the halls of the Land of Departure, a single thought in his mind.
In dreams, Riku wanders the streets of a foreign city, a single word on his lips.
The icy lights of the buildings and lamps seem to steal whatever warmth the rain-slicked streets might hold, but he’s found they don’t go on forever. At a certain point, the next step he takes puts him back on the same street corner he stirs on. The feeling pervading his chest is not so much being trapped as being played with. But this game is one he’s going to win.
Riku walks, and he calls, and he listens for any voice beyond his own.
And sometimes, the stoplights flicker a red that recalls the sleeve of a jacket, an arm wrapped around his. The blush across freckled cheeks, the warmth of lips against his own.
Sora isn’t gone. He’s lost.
And Riku will find him.
Sora examines his hands, holding them up to what little light there is in this dark, glassy expanse. He stands.
Sora calls out to the darkness. “Hello?”
All at once, a figure with silver hair is striding towards him, boots kicking up ripples in the glossy water below their feet. As he slows to a stop, fists clenched, his teal eyes rise to pierce through Sora’s chest.
“Again? Again?” The boy’s voice sets off an old guilt in him, like he’s being scolded by a friend, and Sora takes an involuntary step back.
“What’s going on?” Sora asks.
“Every time,” the boy says lowly, taking a threatening step closer. “You wake up every time I pull you under.” He brings a hand to his chest. “And every time you do? I get dragged back here.”
“Sorry, but… i-if we know each other, then… what’s your name?” Sora tries, in a weak attempt to get the stranger to stop his advance. “I’m So—”
“And you keep using that name,” he bites, “like it’s supposed to make this all make sense!”
A black metal crossbow flashes into the boy’s palm, looking strange in his hand. “I can’t even rest when I’m asleep.” His low voice seems to shatter against the end of the sentence, and he raises the crossbow level with Sora’s chest. “All because you just don’t know how to stay down.”
Another weapon answers the other boy’s next call—a vicious black sword rimmed with a long red light.
“Whoa, what?!” Sora staggers backwards, just barely managing to keep his footing. The Keyblade flashes to his hand, as if it had been waiting to match itself against the strange sword.
“I’m through with this,” the boy says, almost inaudibly over the sound of the skyscrapers flickering into view around them. As his teal eyes return to Sora’s face, lit by the new city lights, for the first time Sora realizes how tired they look. “I’ll save you later.”
It’s over so fast.
The approaching footsteps on the wet ground sound like echoes of his own. Riku turns.
A stranger with silver hair and dark clothes draws closer, and at first Riku’s mind fills in the other person’s features with Ansem’s face. Xehanort’s face. His face.
But as the stranger enters the light of the lamps, Riku sees that he’s something else entirely. Silver hair, checkered shirt, and mismatched eyes, with clothes that look like Riku’s as seen through a darkened mirror. But the red on his sleeve, and the red held in his eye like a stoplight in the dark, stand stark against the cold city, like a sunset that leads home.
“Neither of you know when to quit,” the lookalike scoffs.
Riku moves his foot, steadying his stance for a fight, but somehow the minuscule motion feels like a step towards Sora—a step closer than he’s felt in months. “Sora doesn’t know how to quit.” The words rise from somewhere in his heart, and as they leave his lips he’s certain they’re true.
“What do you know about Sora?” the other person responds bitterly.
The name is different on his lips, stranger than Riku’s ever heard it. Everyone who knew Sora knew how to hold his name in their mouth.
“Where's Sora?” Riku presses, feeling his fingernails dig into the leather of his gloves.
“Safe.” The stranger’s scowl deepens into a look that’s something like disgust. “I’m the one keeping Sora safe,” he says quietly. “And I’m the one fighting through every dream and nightmare to do it.” As if in punctuation, his form seems to flicker around the edges like a screen losing power, and he raises an accusing finger at Riku. “You’re just the one who keeps waking Sora up.”
Riku’s heart flops and jumps on every word he speaks, like a bird trying to fly after having both its wings broken. “Sora’s waking,” Riku breathes.
Mismatched eyes home in on him like lasers seeking a target, and the strange young man summons two weapons to his hands—a crossbow and glowing broadsword.
“Not for long.”
The stranger’s attacks are swift, unpredictable, and ferocious. He glitches and shudders like a bloodied virus, summoning fractal shapes and red beams of light that seek Riku with vicious intent. The dual weapons dance like batons, singing in his hands as he launches attack after attack in an endless melody that Riku can’t understand.
It doesn’t take long to be overpowered.
He’s knocked away from his Keyblade, which clatters against the stone sidewalk near the lookalike’s feet. Riku reaches to call it back, but the stranger has already cast away his own weapon, freeing a hand to pick it up.
He hefts Braveheart, turning the Keyblade in his left hand. Riku calls its name, trying to tug it back, but it refuses—as content as it was to sit in Sora’s hand instead of his, so long ago.
In the stranger’s grip, the Keyblade flickers with threading red lights that soon overtake it, overriding its blunt form with the lacy latticework of Riku’s half of the great Keyblade he and Sora share. Yet instead of the soft kaleidoscope colors and the comfort of Sora beside him, the metal of the weapon burns a feverish, singed red.
“Who are you?” Riku chokes from his hands and knees.
The lookalike lowers the new Keyblade to regard him. “I’m the one who will save Sora.”
In the next moment, Riku is being broadsided, betrayed by his own Keyblade. He tumbles across the concrete, and there is no one there to catch him. After the hit lands, the lookalike lets the weapon fall to the ground, and a sound like shattering glass rings in Riku’s ears in an echo that may never stop.
The weight pressing down on his mind and body at once begins to lighten, and Riku realizes that it’s because he’s turning to light. Through his hazy eyes he sees it illuminating the other young man’s face, accentuating the dark circles carved below his beautiful eyes. They close slowly, and reopen on his next breath as relief softens his features.
The weary desperation held between those eyes is familiar. Riku felt it being etched into his features each time he faced Xion, and lingering long after he’d doomed Roxas.
The young man’s frown returns. “What are you looking at?”
A small chuckle presses itself out of Riku’s straining lungs. “Myself.”
For the first time, the lookalike’s expression falters. His eyes flick around Riku’s face, unmoored from their usual cold certainty. Then they fall to his own body, to his empty palms, as if to check that everything is as it should be.
He seems to decide that it is, and turns a glare back on Riku, but the facade has fractured like a broken mirror. Between the cracks, the lookalike is tired, lost, and alone, and he makes for a fitting doppelgänger.
Before the rest of him can drift like stardust into the sky, Riku says the words he wanted to hear, alone in the rain with a felled Roxas below him.
“I’ll save you.”
The last thing he sees is a pair of mismatched eyes, alight with pooling tears.
Riku is plunged out of his dreams, waking with a start on the floor of his room in the Land of Departure. He thinks to sit up, then quickly rethinks as his limbs ignite with pain. Riku lets them fall back to the floor.
As he stares at the ceiling, aching, a giddy sort of smile spreads across his face, and he lets out a weak laugh.
It wasn’t a dream.
And Sora is waking.
Sora is already on his feet when he comes to, standing in an inky, mirrored expanse of water and sky. Someone is standing before him, silver hair and dark jacket, eyes the teal blue of the ocean just before it gets too deep to wade in. Sora could fall in love with those eyes, if they didn’t belong to someone so…
“You’re tired,” Sora notes.
The other person breathes out a laugh, and those eyes disappear behind a hand being dragged down his face. “Yeah… Yeah, Sora, I am.” His voice is wrong in those lips.
Sora’s eyes follow the other’s hand as it falls to his side, drawn as if by habit. The way he holds it there, fingers spreading, makes all of Sora’s muscles lock.
But then the hand pauses. “Hey…” And when he raises his eyes to Sora again, this time one flickers red, like he’s blinking away a tear made of blood. “Why are you doing this?”
“Do you even know?” he goes on, like they’ve already been at this for hours. “What’s so important? What’s so important that you keep coming back here?”
“He’s calling me.” Sora’s heart says it before his mind can stop his mouth.
The other’s lips quirk as he lets out a halfhearted laugh. It sounds fake and wrong in that chest. “Still?”
His hands drop again, both weapons flashing to his palms with the eagerness that comes from being made to wait.
The world shatters and shifts, crackling with the force of change. Sora barely manages to keep his footing as his heart station flashes below them, just before it’s replaced with the metal grate of a city rooftop.
“He can’t save you,” the other calls over the noise. “Sora.”
The Keyblade rises to Sora’s call, and this time he’s the first one to strike.
The other’s attacks are steady and unrelenting, but predictable. Sora’s body reacts to their tells, blocking or dodging in the breaths before impact, then parrying back with attacks of his own.
It takes longer to fall.
The cold of ice creeps into him, like the seasons cycling to winter, and he’s on his knees again. He wants it to be over faster, willing the next thing he feels to be the dawn of spring thawing him.
“He will save me,” Sora says, with more spite than he understands.
The other’s weapons are gone, and in Sora’s fracturing vision he looks like someone else entirely. Shattered like a mirror, he looks more like he should. “You know what, Sora?”
The world has frozen into shards of light and color. Two spheres of blue and red are the last things to go.
“I'm starting to think you're right.”