“Kairi!” The older woman’s voice came from somewhere in the house below. “Kairi, are you there?”
The girl kneeling in the centre of the room gave no sign that she had heard.
“Kairi?” The voice was closer now, almost at the door. “Kairi, sweetheart?” A gentle knock. “Are you resting?”
A shudder shook the slight figure on the floor, and she gave a sobbing gasp, as if she had been holding her breath. Resting..? Never again.
“Sweetheart? Are you there?”
“Okay, just give me a moment,” Kairi called softly, not wanting her voice to give her away. Don’t come in, please don’t come in. She looked around at the litter of boxes, bags and jars scattered across the floor; at the jumble of flowers, beads, letters and leaves strewn across the rug, like the stars in the night sky, or flotsam on the beach. All she had left of them; of him. Stars and flotsam. Please, don’t let her come in…
“Oh, darling…” the woman was behind her now, stooping, gathering her up in her arms and rocking her, singing soft comforting words into her hair as she sobbed uncontrollably; as endless tears poured down her face.
I feel as though I’m dying. Am I dying?
“There now, love; there now. It’s okay my sweet. Cry it out. I’m here…” Kairi let herself be borne away on the swell of gentle words as wave upon wave of sorrow broke over her. Will I ever be able to stop crying?
“But he’s gone! I’ve lost him!”
“Shhh, dear. Be still, now. I’m here.”
“I’ve lost him!”
The strong reassuring arms tightened around her, rocked her, but could not heal her.
“Where is he? Where has he gone? Where’s Sora?”
To that, there was no answer.
Destiny Islands had been a paradise. In the years she had spent here she had been almost entirely happy. Sometimes she had been troubled by the blankness that surrounded the edges of her memories, but always when she had felt the vague terrors of unknowing creep up on her there had been her friends to cheer her: carefree, madcap Selphie; imperturbable Tidus; courteous Wakka. Sora. Riku… But now, after all this, with the two of them gone, something had changed. No-one said anything, and everyone was still perfectly friendly, but an insurmountable barrier had grown up, a gap no-one could cross who hadn’t been where she had been. And the only other people who had been where she had been were…
Gone! She could feel the tears threatening to return, and dashed a hand angrily across her eyes. How could you do it? she railed silently. How could you leave me again? How could you let me be here on my own? Where are you, Riku?
Riku, who was bright and strange and fine, yet dark with darker moods that had sometimes almost scared her. She looked about her, at the painted stones, the eggshells, and pictures scattered around; at her keepsakes and mementos, and the letters she’d written to Sora but never sent. Letters in which she’d written I love you. To Sora, and yet so much of this was not him.
She picked up a leather box, one which Wakka had given her on her thirteenth birthday. The surface was tooled with intricate whorls and spirals, like the inside of a shell, or an ear, and Wakka had told her that they were secret powerful marks. She’d thought it very beautiful, and Wakka had been pleased, but she could never tell him why it meant so much to her. For within it’s satin-lined cavity she had laid a thing more beautiful than any she had ever seen, a necklace of coral beads, twisted into a pattern which had fascinated her eyes and fingers for months on end, and which – when she knew it as well as sight and touch could allow – she had put into her mouth, tasting the intricacies of the shape. Riku had made it, although he’d shrugged it off as a nothing, and for one blazing moment she had loved him more deeply than she had ever thought she could love anything.
The beads were as cool against her skin as her tears were hot. Setting the leather box carefully aside, she took up another, larger one, wooden this time, and filled with beautifully fitted trays which – as one lifted out – revealed another beneath it. This was her name box, and each tray was filled with the treasures of the sea; with brittle, dry starfish; with crystals growing like plants; with branches of natural coral; with driftglass; with sea urchins. He’d called her that, just once, when first the two of them had found her. Washed up out of the ocean, like a sea urchin, he’d said, fixing her with his questioning glacial eyes; before he’d even known her name.
After that she’d begun to find these things, placed in the hollow in the tree he’d shown her. Casually, almost off-hand, as if it were of no importance, but again and again over the years, there would be a thing, placed carefully in the middle of a bed of moss lining the cavity. And amongst the magpie jumble of things she’d found there, two kept recurring. Time and again, over and again, amidst the others, there would be shells, and there would be stones.
The shells were here, in the middle tray. Shells of every kind; fan-shaped and spiral; some marbled with mother-of-pearl, others as pale as rose petals; as crisp as ice; or heavy; or fine and feather-light. Each was a joy to handle, some large enough to lie across her palm, others so small they would vanish into the cracks between her fingers. She knew what these shells were – they were her, washed up from the water.
She lifted out the tray. And there, in the gloom at the bottom of the box, was Riku. Row upon row of stones, pebbles; moonstone and agate, amber and alabaster, quartz, marble and slate; all worn to their perfect shape as only the sea rolls them; each a thrill to touch, warm or cold, as smooth as glass or pulling on her finger like a kitten’s tongue. She had not understood the stones at first, but she’d taken them, and kept them, and cherished them, until one day Riku – fretting under the lash of one of his black moods – had teased and tormented and argued and fought with Sora, but had come to her quiet, and still, and contrite.
“It’s like there’s a storm inside me, sometimes,” he’d said, “and Sora just makes it worse. He can’t help it,” he’d added quickly, noticing her expression, “it’s my fault, not his. But you calm me down, Kairi. You take off my rough edges.”
Your rough edges, she thought, turning the smooth pebble over in her hand. Worn away by the sea.
She dropped the pebble back into place and closed the box. You were my anchor, Riku, she thought. Sora was my boat, but you were my anchor. Now we’re all just adrift.
Riku was her dark knight, Sora her golden prince. Laughing, head-in-the clouds, butterscotch sunshine Sora, who made her heart dance. While her love for Riku was deep and troubled, her love for Sora had always been a buoyant, innocent thing. Riku – if she were perfectly honest with herself, there had always been something unsettling about Riku, a look in his eyes, a curl to his lips, something ever-so-slightly provocative about him. Riku’s very existence seemed to be a challenge somehow, not to her, but to the universe. And while she loved him, in her heart of hearts she knew that there was something about him she feared as well.
Oh, Riku! I needed you!
And, she supposed, he’d needed her too. Otherwise why all this? Why all these things? Surely all this meant that… but what did it mean? Were all these just reflections of memories of a love that hadn’t ever existed? Was it real, or not? Sora had loved her, had lived for her, had kept her heart alive and had sacrificed himself so that she might live again. She had been alive in him and she knew. She knew his thoughts, the very fibres of his being. His heart. But Riku? Who ever truly knew what was in Riku’s heart?
With a sigh, Kairi began to gather up the varnished flowers, the wooden beads, the boxes, letters, leaves and bags. The enormity of what she was about to do weighed on her like stone, dragged at her heels, pulled at her, trying to keep her in the house, away from the sea.
Slowly, sorrowfully, Kairi made her way to where the small boats bobbed along the water’s edge. The distance to the small island – our island – wasn’t great, but the growing pain in her chest, the swelling knot in her throat made it difficult to row. But at last she stood on the jetty where – how long ago now, it seemed – they had all three stood and looked into the storm’s heart, into the darkness, and first lost each other.
I’m sorry, Riku! she cried silently.
I love you, Sora!
With her eyes screwed shut, she began to scatter the contents of the boxes, bags and jars, the jumble of flowers, beads, letters and leaves onto the water, where they bobbed like the stars in the night sky. All she had left of them; stars, and flotsam.
Come back to me, both of you!
When everything else was gone, she took up the tray of polished pebbles and began to remove the stones one at a time, kissing each one before casting it into the water, where it sank, along with her tears, into the swell of the waves which echoed with the beating of her blind, broken heart.