“Let your heart be your guiding key”
A pretty good piece of advice, Sora acknowledged. But as the Gummy Ship kicked into hyper-drive, eager for a new flight, he couldn’t help but feel a different tug; pulling him in an alternate direction.
Sure, he knew that his role was to go to Olympus and train for the upcoming trials (he couldn’t let Riku, Kairi and the others do all the work, now could he?) But the fact remained that his heart wasn’t in it. Not fully at least.
How could they not say goodbye? Or even leave a message for Master Yen Sid to pass along? Hadn’t they all been separated enough times in the past for them to know better?
Okay, so maybe previous experiences has given him has some separation anxiety. Still, a quick hug shouldn’t be that much to ask for.
With a final sigh of acceptance — if not agreement — he checked the navigation system to make sure his impromptu gateway was steering them in the right direction.
All right, time for the next adventure.
Leaning back and kicking his (overly large according to Donald) shoes onto the console, he let the Gummy Ship make it’s way through the infinite stars that had captivated him as a child who didn’t know how to swim yet.
He knows that he’ll have to put everything he has into what lies ahead; if he wants to carve out some peace, in the far-off future. Peace for all of them and all the worlds.
Time passes in a blur and suddenly the familiar sight of clouds and ornate columns signals their arrival at the Coliseum. Slipping out the brightly hued door, he swears to himself — as he summons the comforting feel of the Kingdom Key into his palm — that at the end of all this, he’s getting his hugs no matter what. Just let Xehanort try and stop him.
The lost return and the predestined battle between light and dark is fought.
Against all the odds, through pain and heartbreak they win.
Too some, it might seem like testing fate to smile in the face of such an event.
But Sora’s never been one for letting fate get in the way. He smiles (this surprises no one).
Also, he hugs (as they would all soon find out).
He got to Kairi and Riku first, chest heaving and sweat running down his face, with injuries that needed healing, once the dust settled. An arm slung over each neck, he burrows into them and trusts them to catch his weight.
They stayed like that for a while, fitting against each other easily. Their hearts beating erratically until they synced up, into a perfect, steady beat. It’s everything they didn’t know that they needed.
And of course, next were Donald and Goofy. Honestly, by now pulling them into a pile, only to get up and swing around in a circle, had been made into an art-form.
They'd been through so much together, that planning around their differing heights was no issue at all. The huffing from Donald and good-natured chuckling from Goofy was a constant he was thankful to have.
And right after, he managed to snag King Mickey into an overenthusiastic handshake that morphed into solid squeeze. But his Majesty sure knew how to give as good as he got. He’s happy that the man (mouse?) that his companions follow is worthy of their loyalty, that’s for sure.
That night, as everyone was falling asleep around him, in the Mysterious Tower, he caught sight of Master Yen Sid watching over them all with a rare smile. He didn’t know whether it was because of leftover adrenaline, the daze of semi-consciousness before one lets sleep embrace them or some weird mix of both, that gave him the courage to risk getting one of the Master’s patented 'I am older and wiser than you, young whippersnapper don’t even think about it' stares.
But somehow, the funny sounding cough and awkward shoulder pat that he received in return made it worth it.
It is when he’s making his way past the outer hallway, with the star and moon shaped windows that overlook the forest and recently made training grounds, that he runs into Ventus (it’s Ven he corrects himself, the other had made sure to tell him his nickname when they’d finally met face-to-face).
He’s resting against one of the sill’s and it’s obvious that his mind is far away, judging by the defensive stance he takes upon hearing Sora’s footsteps approach. It should be surprising that anyone could still be awake, when the allure of a soft bed is so close by.
However, Sora’s not quite as dense as people seem to think (at least not anymore, that’s been all but stripped away). It makes sense that a person who was forced into an unnatural slumber for so many years wouldn’t — or couldn’t — go to sleep just yet.
Keeping this in mind, he keeps his movements slow and clear, giving the former-longest-staying-resident-of-his-heart a chance to move away, putting one hand on a pale forearm and wrapping the other around Ven’s back. The instant relaxation he senses in response, is humbling. He can’t track time as they stay like that, perhaps the feeling of normalcy, despite neither actually having hugged the other before, should be uncanny but it isn’t.
That’s how Aqua finds them, an undetermined amount of time later. Her smile is soft and it amazes Sora that how after all those years, trapped in the Realm of Darkness, she’d been able to have the fortitude as to not let it break her.
He gives Ven over carefully (who has, amazingly, dozed off) and by chance winds up it yet another embrace (not that he minds, of course). He has observed little of her so far but from that he knows, Aqua has a graceful strength to her in all she does, hence, her hugs are no different.
With one last smile that’s easy to interpret as a ’thank you for looking after him’ she turns away and starts to go back to wherever Terra is being kept to treat.
He assumes that it’s only King Mickey, Master Yen Sid and Aqua’s intervention that stopped him from going in search of Ven at this time of night, when he should be resting (based on the comparatively insignificant experience, Sora himself had, as a potential vessel of Xehanort, he feels a deep empathy for the recovery process that Terra shall no doubt have to eventually go through).
Feeling a yawn bubble up against his ribcage, he hurries to where he last saw Riku and Kairi lay down for the night. He sees Riku’s silver hair fanned out against the bed of pillows that the walking-brooms had rustled up from somewhere, and Kairi’s, too awake for the hour, sea-blue eyes meet his and he feels his heart tighten in immeasurable affection.
Apparently, Aqua was not the only member of her Master-and-(accidentally?)chosen-apprentice-pair, to stay up in search for the third member of their respective trios.
He lies down, between the two people he had wandered the known universe for (three times now) and felt a dreamy grin overtake his face. Beginning to drift, he almost moves at the feel of deceptively delicate arms go around his torso and watches as red locks pool against his chest. Gently, he curls around her in response and goes to sleep feeling the happiest he can ever remember being.
The next morning is paradoxically both more relaxed and more tense at the same time. It’s as if no one is willing to shatter the idea that everything might actually be all right as well as coming to the realisation, that the question of ’what now?’ remained to be answered. Not to mention the tiptoeing involved between the multitude of differing personalities (Sora finds the last bit a little ridiculous, they all just saved the world together, come on).
In an attempt to break the ice, he put the offer of a spar to the entire room.
Most turned him down; instead focusing on eating breakfast or disappearing off to some far recess of the tower. But both Terra and Axel took him up on it. He’d actually been hoping that Terra would agree, the guy looked like he needed to get out and he must have felt cooped up, what with everyone hovering around him. Less selflessly, the fact that he gave off a similar vibe to Riku, which Sora automatically felt the need to rival probably played a part too.
And Axel was no shock, after all of the training he’d done to use the Keyblade, he’d practically made Sora promise him a fight.
The training grounds was widely spaced and well equiped, with fake targets able to be summoned with magic and a stock of potions and ethers ready to use.
Fighting against Terra made Sora think back to versing his lingering will, only less intense. Which made sense, Terra didn’t feel the need to fight like his life was on the line, in a friendly match. Also, only recently freed from Xehanort’s possession, he was understandably not at his peak.
The match resulted in Sora winning but not without working up a sweat and getting some blows that were, more likely than not, going to bruise.
Still, the exercise felt good. More than that, exercise that didn’t involve potentially deadly consequences was great. After putting a fist in the air, in a victory pose, he reached down to haul Terra into a one-armed hug, necessitating him standing on his tip-toes. Similar to Master Yen Sid, the resulting look of bewilderment on the normally serious face made the effort extra sweet.
Speaking of sweet, the ice-cream that Lea handed to him after going out with style, in a blaze of projectile based Keyblade moves, was just that. And salty. Salty-sweet. It tasted pretty good actually, maybe he should see if they sold them back on Destiny Islands?
Finishing up with a thank you, and an attempt at a sneak attack styled hug, only resulted in him getting a hair-ruffle and an — “I’ll catch up to you yet, got it memorised?” — thrown his way. Again, coming from Axel, this was no shock.
Predictability could be nice sometimes, Sora decided; as he tried to plan out his next move. The other current occupants of the Tower were more elusive but he was determined to find them despite nervousness creeping up on him.
How should he speak to them? How would they react?
Pushing back some stray brown locks, he decided he’d just have to hope for the best.
For a while, he just wandered, taking in the sights and catching glimpses of others resting or chatting but none of the ones he was trying to find.
That is, until he came across Kairi and Naminé sitting cross legged together, up in one of the towers that seemed to relocate itself every once in a while as it pleased. For a moment he stood in the doorway, not wanting to intrude.
It looked like Kairi had persuaded Naminé to show her some drawings. They looked both calm and unworried, a welcome sight. Especially, considering that he didn’t think Naminé had ever had the chance to just…do what she wanted for a while…or have people to spend time with; as friends.
Soon enough, Kairi spotted him and as if sensing what he came here for, leant over and whispered something to the blonde before getting up and nodding cheerily to Sora on the way out.
With an unusual hesitancy, he found his body pulling him forwards. Meanwhile, Naminé picked herself up but not before sweeping up her sketches into pile in one fluid motion, clutching them to her chest.
For a beat there was silence.
Then, the words just came spilling out. An apology. An extended hand of friendship; that had been delayed by outside circumstances for far too long.
It may have taken longer than expected to explain to her what he’d like to do. But the expectant, almost unbelieving, look pushed him into action. It was a barely there hug, both sets of arms shyly going around the waist of the other. Pulling back, it occurred to him, that it was likely Naminé’s first ever hug (…unless Roxas?).
He felt anger at the way that Xehanort, who through Xemnas, had used Naminé so that she was isolated and used. Now at least, he could make good on his promise and be friends with her for real.
Stepping back, he asked if she knew whereabouts Roxas was. That constant, knowing look of hers, would have been disarming on anyone else. However, those who came into contact, with the girl, would know that her intentions are pure-hearted.
Following her direction, he found himself on-top of one of the (thankfully) flat parts of the roof. Looking down at the drop, he reminded himself that he could glide and pushed on, across the luminescent green tiles.
The figure ahead may have looked like Ven, superficially, but Sora wondered how anyone could mistake the two.
Unlike with Naminé, he didn’t pause, just reached the edge of the roof and kicked his legs over the side. It was sunset. The light danced amongst the leaves, hitting the beds of flowers below. It was a beautiful sight but after the experience with the world of sleep, Sora understood, that for Roxas, it was also a painful one.
He didn’t know what to say. What Roxas had endured on account of his very existence…it made his heart miss a beat in response. Although, they were no longer connected exactly as before, the former Nobody still turned to face him, as if sensing the disturbance. A tilt of the head, asking “why are you here?”.
And Sora, well, try as he might, the words for better or worse were lodged in his throat with no chance of coming out. So, instead of words, words which were traitorous at the best of times, he reached out. It mirrored the gesture that Roxas had undertaken, in order to share his memories, his entire life, with Sora. The intimacy of it, was something Sora was sure would be unachievable with anyone else. Those memories were something Roxas treasured above all else, his very sense of self.
And…and he’d entrusted all that to Sora.
Feeling the sensation of warm palms against his own, Sora reflected back to the struggle they had in the World That Never Was. Roxas had told Sora that he was ’a good other’. He hoped that Roxas still felt the same way, now, after everything.
He must have been quiet for too long, because a huff — a mix between irritated and amused — jostled him out of thought. Looking up, blue met blue. When another moment passed in quiet, Sora could pinpoint the well-hidden (to anyone else) concern in the golden-blonde’s eyes.
Without thinking, Sora, seamlessly closed the small gap between them. He buried himself against the crook of Roxas’ neck, pulling him close. Tight enough to feel the seperate yet mirrored heartbeat thud beneath the surface.
He felt the sudden tensity that radiated through Roxas’ body, at his touch; and leaned further in for a second before preparing to extract himself.
But he couldn’t.
Because suddenly, he found himself being held fast. His own pose being replicated, as he felt soft spikes nestle into his collarbone. The hands on his back were encircled so tight, that he worried about getting yet more bruises, before the day was out, until brushing the errant notion aside.
This was probably the longest of all the hugs that Sora had ever had. What they couldn’t verbalise instead murmured across the pulse points of their skin, resonating as one until they made their peace. It wasn’t perfect. But it was a start.
Finally, as the night began to envelop the ground below, and the wind turned chillier than is comfortable, they stood. Before being able to ask where to find the other person he wanted to see, Roxas beat him to the punch.
“There’s someone I’d like you to meet — for real”
And so it was that a short while later, he came face to face with Xion, hidden within the expansive library that Yen Sid kept.
This time, it was someone else — namely Xion - who took the first step, grabbing onto his wrist, only to shuffle him through the numerous shelves, pointing out titles that she found funny or strange. Roxas had left at the entryway, so they were the only ones there.
It continued in this way for some time before Sora began to note Xion’s closeness. Small touches against his arm or hair were common as they explored together. The curiosity about new things, be they literature or just having the freedom to dawdle, with no limits on time, was easy to understand, thinking back; on what he knew of the restrictions that the Organisation had placed on her.
But the need for touch…oh.
It had taken a while for him to connect the dots, being as naturally tactile as he was but…if he'd spent time where everyone he ever knew or cared about forgot he existed…then yeah, he’d be pretty hands on as well.
His stomach began to turn. What had it been like, to be told that you’re everyone and anything but yourself? A tool to be used and then tossed aside and forgotten?
With that thought in mind, his course of action was decided. So, when Xion unconsciously began to turn to him again, he swept her up in a twirl, cutting through the air. The sound of her laughter was something bright and precious. It seemed to settle something in him.
Apparently, the same was true for her, as she linked her arm through his and they began browsing at a more relaxed pace. Sora found himself wishing that this would become a happy memory amongst many, for her to keep to herself.
Night fell and they made their way back to the centre of the tower. It turned out that they’d been beaten there by practically everyone. With a wave they separated, off to complete their own circles.
Being served some dish, for dinner, he couldn’t pronounce the name of but which tasted great, he surveyed the room with cheer. It looked like everyone was — not celebrating exactly — but just basking in the fact that they were all still here, safe and ready to face another, brighter day.
He discarded his shoes. It had been far too long, since he’d felt the sand between his toes, and the tropical warmth on his shoulders.
These were welcome and anticipated, ever since he'd had to leave the Island’s for the Mark of Mastery.
However, the next part he wasn’t so sure about. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t looked forward to this…hadn’t wanted it, whenever he was scared or felt expectations and nightmares bear down on him, during his prolonged journey…
But to say he was anxious was an understatement. He found himself looking at the inconspicuous wooden door with trepidation, twisting a fistful of his black shirt as he tried to bring himself to knock.
He’d told Kairi and Riku that he could handle this by himself and would see them tomorrow but…
Taking in a deep breath, he wrestled with his emotions ’C’mon, I’ve saved the known worlds three times now, this shouldn’t be this hard…let my heart be my guiding key…’
And so he knocked.
And knocked again.
For all his reflexes, he was stunned at the sight that greeted him, upon the door’s opening.
A few shouts and plenty of tears later, Sora found himself wrapped up in the warmest, softest hug; in all the worlds.
His Mother always did give the best hugs.