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Chapter XXIX: Love and Respect

“Sora, Kairi!”

Sora and Kairi turned to see Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka charging towards them. They appeared rattled and dismayed. That could not be good news. Sora saw a wave of worry wash over Kairi’s face. As for himself, Sora did his best in keeping a calm face.

“What’s happening?” Sora asked Selphie.

“He… he…!” Selphie stuttered. She was suffering from anxiety, panicking and hyperventilating; no words could be interpreted from her.

“Tidus?” Sora asked.

“Riku’s dad…”

“What!”

“What about him, Tidus…?” Kairi asked cautiously.

Sora and Kairi wanted to stuff their ears with any possible insulated material. The next couple of words seemed to leave Tidus’ mouth one by one, each taking an eternity for both of them to comprehend: “He’s gone.”

Sora shook his head, first more out of denial. “What do you mean gone?

“Gone,” Tidus repeated. He pointed to a brittle looking hut that was on the farthest side of the village. Sora and Kairi walked past Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka and decided to investigate this cruel situation. Each step they took, took them one step closer to grief and pain.

Sora opened the door to the battered hut and approached a bed with a darkened figure lying on top of it. Kairi followed closely behind and peered around Sora. She covered her eyes and screamed.

The man they both knew as Riku’s father was no longer breathing the precious breaths of life. His neck was darkened and shriveled, evident of a brutal strangling. Sora was about to retch before he turned his eyes away from the corpse. Sora shut his eyes as tight as he could and moaned a grief-stricken moan. Kairi sobbed wildly beside him, her knees buckling before she sank onto the ground.

For a moment, Sora thought about the time in his childhood when he, Riku, and Riku’s father would, for the first time, spar. Sora was about four years old that time, Riku five. He saw Riku and his father poking around with sticks, which seemed like fun to him. Sora asked if he could join, and he was indeed welcomed. Other than that, every once in a while, Riku’s father would buy Riku and him ice cream and other treats. When Kairi arrived on the island, Riku’s father welcomed her just as he did when Riku first met Sora. Sora, now staring at his best friend’s beloved, now motionless father, yelled in anguish and stabbed the wooden floor with his Keyblade.

“I know who could have done this… I know who’s responsible,” Sora grumbled through his clenched teeth. “I’ll get them for this. I swear I will.”

Kairi was still on the ground, sobbing bitterly. “Don’t, please, Sora. Please stay here right now…”

“And what, Kairi? Stay and do nothing? I bet a dozen other folks around the islands are being trampled by the Heartless right now. Riku’s dad was one of the lost ones,” Sora snapped. “What good is this Keyblade if I can’t use it to save people!”

He slammed the Keyblade on the ground, which slid and fiercely hit the bedside. Kairi looked away and let loose a few more spastic breaths before turning her back to Sora. She faced the corner of the hut, agonized and heartbroken, silenced and defeated.

Sora panted with fury. Looking away from the lifeless body, he recalled the Oblivion back to his hand and stormed out of the hut. I must find that cursed keyhole… Sora told himself. On the way out, he met eyes with Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka. Without saying a word, he walked past them. In a second, he felt something grab his arm.

“Why did you yell at her,” Selphie griped. “You didn’t have to do that…”

Sora looked towards the dry soil on the ground, mute.

“Ya. We heard you. That was rough, man,” said Wakka.

“Did Kairi ever yell at you, Sora? Hmm?” Selphie added. “She’s just as devastated as you are?”

“Heck, she was probably gonna cry herself insane,” Tidus mumbled.

Sora still remained mute. But this time, he yanked his arm away from Selphie’s hold and walked past them again, in the opposite direction from before. When Sora was out of earshot, Tidus chuckled.

“He’s a nice guy, though, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, no wonder Kairi couldn’t stop thinking about him when he and Riku were away from home,” Selphie said.

“And Riku’s still not here,” Wakka noted. “What do you think’ll happen when he finds out about his fatha?”

None of them could guess what will happen. But they listened closely to the voices in the hut. The crying stopped, which should be a good thing.

Inside the hut, Sora stood behind Kairi, who was still sitting sideways on the floor, facing the corner. It was as if she was in kindergarten, being punished by the teacher for talking too much. Sora bent down and behind her, his back leaning slightly on hers. Kairi was surprised for a brief moment, but she barely physically reacted. She sniffled every few seconds, but she said nothing otherwise. Sora chose not to say anything either, but he did rock back and forth, gently pushing Kairi around to signify his presence. Kairi tried her best to ignore her friend, though it was seriously difficult. Before long, she in turn began to rock back and forth along with Sora, both of them in a slow, sitting dance. Kairi shut her puffy, tear-drenched eyes and relaxed herself. Sora stopped rocking eventually and turned around to face the back of Kairi’s head. The girl’s lustrous, auburn hair hung loosely over her bare shoulders.

“Kairi?” he called quietly.

No response.

“I’m sorry for yelling at?”

“I know you are.”

Kairi spun around and drove herself into Sora, planting her face roughly into his chest and locking her arms around his neck. The motion caught Sora off guard and knocked him onto the floor. Kairi moved her head higher to the arch between Sora’s neck and chin and rested herself there. The two of them remained that way for a few minutes, but to both of them, the rough embrace seemed to last quite longer. For the first two or so minutes, Sora was still in shock. Yet, he wrapped one arm around Kairi’s waist and placed one hand on her upper back. The bare skin there felt soft and silky, sensitive to his succinct touch. Sora could smell the faded scent of herbal aromas in Kairi’s hair. He did not recall ever being so physically close to her ever in his life.

Sora got up after Kairi released her hold around him, though she was still quite attached to him. Nevertheless, Sora stood up only to realize their height difference. Kairi was at least five inches shorter than he was. With one surprise after another, Sora was once more stunned when Kairi reached upward and gently pecked his cheek with her lips. A peck is a peck, but Sora felt his mind blank out for a second. He placed two fingers on his cheek and stood bemused. Kairi smirked and ambled out of the hut.

Sora stood dumbfounded by the open doorway and rubbed his cheek over and over. It was like a thousand-volt shock stunning every muscle in his body for a brief moment and at the same time a pulsating a warm, soft feeling across his face. And it was just a peck. He slowly pivoted and wobbled out the door, following Kairi. Looking back, he heaved a sigh. Trying hard not to allow anger to overtake him again, Sora shut his eyes and departed from the small hut of tragedy. Maybe the darkness has gotten to me.

Outside, he found Kairi standing around with Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka. He waved cheerily although inside he felt rotten and distraught. His best friend’s father was gone. Sora never remembered feeling so miserable before. Forcing himself to stick with the present, not with what’s already past, Sora left the scene. He had two things left to do: find his mother to ascertain her safety and find the islands’ keyhole.

“Sora?” Kairi called before Sora had gone too far.

“Yeah,” Sora answered without turning back.

“Will you be okay?”

“Will you?” Sora asked.

“Yeah,” Kairi responded quietly, but Sora heard her.

“Then I will be too,” he said and continued on his way.

Again waiting until Sora was out of earshot, Tidus spoke up.

“Nice guy indeed, huh?”

“He did make it up to you right?” Selphie asked Kairi.

“H-huh?” Kairi mumbled confusedly, waking up out of a trance.

“Don’t think we didn’t hear him yelling his head off, Kairi!” Selphie said in a high-pitched voice.

“Oh. Y-yeah, yeah, he did…” Kairi said slowly, trailing off.

Selphie looked at Tidus, who looked towards Wakka, who merely shrugged. Kairi seemed to be oblivious to everything that was happening around her at the moment. That was evident to Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka.

“You know… I think I’m just gonna follow Sora,” Kairi continued. “Just to m-make sure he’s really okay.”

Kairi rushed forward a few steps and halted for an instant. She peered over her shoulder.

“Don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere,” Selphie said. “We’ll be here if you need anything.”

Kairi nodded and sped up to a jog. More than ever, she felt a need to be with Sora. Whatever the reason was, it soon became a feeling she could not extinguish. Maybe he went to look for his mom, Kairi thought. It was the only logical thing for Sora to do after what Kairi and he saw. I do hope she’s okay. I don’t know what will happen to Sora if she is? Kairi shook her head violently. No, I can’t think of things like that. She was on a wooden ramp and she looked down to the second level of the village to see a figure with… brown, spiky hair suddenly rushing into a small hut. Kairi quickly followed.

Sora just pushed open the small hut’s door. Inside were three women, two that he could not recognize and one that he could only barely recognize. But that one woman surely recognized Sora. She slowly stood up from a crusty, wooden chair and a look of absolute awe spread across her face. Sora witnessed the glistening in the woman’s eyes as tears soon began to slowly trickle down the sides of her face.

“Mom…?” Sora whispered.

The woman did not speak. She only feebly extended her arms and beckoned Sora to come to her. Sora did and found himself in the woman’s embrace.

“Sora… you’re alive,” his mother whimpered. “First a year went by and I had no idea where you were. Still you came back and I had a reason to love life once more. And then, after a few days, you disappeared again. You, Riku, and Kairi all disappeared. I?we, everyone, thought you were all victims of these creature attacks…”

It seems like he could not keep his secret any longer. But how should he explain everything?

“Mom,” Sora started. “I think now’s a good time to tell you everything.”

“Please do, Sora. Please do.”

The door was open and Kairi entered unhurriedly. Sora was telling the entire story to his mother; beginning to end, from the start of his adventures up to the present moment. When Sora turned and noticed Kairi behind him, he smiled and told her to sit down next to him.

“See, mom? Kairi’s safe,” Sora said, with a tone of reassurance.

“Kairi…”

Kairi could barely recognize Sora’s mother. She was supposed to be in her late thirties, but the conditions currently plaguing Destiny Islands made her appear haggard, adding the looks of an additional twenty years to her face. Kairi felt herself wanting to cry again. Both Sora’s mother and Riku’s father took part in taking care of her in some way or another during her childhood. It was one of the reasons why she felt so accepted on the islands when she first moved there.

And so Kairi cried. Sora was not surprised, but his mother was certainly startled. She approached Kairi and placed a hand on Kairi’s shoulder. Sora’s mother waited a minute until she knew she had Kairi’s attention.

“Kairi, you’re like a daughter to me. Please, dry your tears,” the older woman said. “There. Oh, and by the way, Kairi, I think it will be a good idea if you visit your father. He must be worried sick.”

Kairi shook her head. “Not to be disrespectful or anything, ma’am, but… I seriously doubt my dad would let me continue this journey with Sora, let alone even believing the stories.”

“What makes you think I’ll be allowing Sora to continue on this journey?”

“Mom…!” Sora almost yelled out.

“I’m sorry, Sora, but this is far too dangerous a task for you and Kairi. For goodness sake, you’re both still kids… Please, Sora, don’t be so reckless… And you too, Kairi, these adventures are not suitable for a beautiful, young woman like you. Live a normal life. Seriously, both of you?”

“A ‘normal life,’ mom?” Sora cut in. He called out his Keyblade and displayed the weapon to his mother. “The stories I’ve told you are all true. I need to do this, for the sake of everyone. Kairi?”

Sora glanced at Kairi. He paused, but continued. “It is also Kairi’s choice whether she really wishes to stay with me. I’ll respect her choice.”

The older woman said nothing. She was devastated, but she smiled a faint smile.

“You’re growing up so quickly, Sora. Physically and mentally,” she whispered.

A peaceful silence followed before Sora and Kairi both simultaneously rose and exited the hut. The islands used to bustle with noise, either from children playing in the sand or natural sounds like birdcalls and gentle sea breezes. Except now there was nothing but dark rumbling skies and eerie, ghostly drones from the surroundings. Sora and Kairi stood outside the hut, quiet and motionless. But it was not long until Sora felt soft fingers intertwine with his. He was finally certain.

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