“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, princess,” her father tells her, bouncing her on his knee. “You’ve got people will fight for you.”
The first time Kairi disarms Sora, she drops her own Keyblade and hurries over to him, wide-eyed and surprised. She fusses an apology, but Sora laughs it off and rubs his wrist. There’ll be a bruise there later, purple-brown and dotted with red under the glove, and the next time they spar he pushes a little harder, a little faster, and grins for the sheer joy of the sunlight off her hair and her strong tanned arms.
Sora fights like he lives, utterly confident and comfortable in his own skin; he’s all instinct and born talent, knowing where to put his feet and how to swing his arms simply because he knows, and not because anyone’s taught him. He does acrobatic flips and tumbles and spins like it’s the most natural thing to do in the world. At one point he tucks into a dodge roll between her legs and knocks her down, so of course she has to grab him and rub sand into his hair in retaliation, and together they roll till they hit the point where the surf hits shore and the sand grows damp, and she ends up sitting astride his hips, smirking down at him. Water eddies around them, catching Sora’s hair and coaxing it into a wilder mess than usual.
“You’re a monkey,” she tells him.
He puts his hands on her hips and laughs, but he doesn’t argue, so she leans down and kisses him in reward.
The first time Kairi disarms Riku, she does it hard and fast: he ducks and she kicks out, her foot connecting with the edge of his wrist so that his hand flies open and Way to Dawn goes flying, driving itself into the sand at an angle, where it rests at quivering attention. They’re both so shocked by this that they freeze together in their fighting tableau, him crouched with her foot dangling in the air inches from his nose. They stare at each other for a moment, and then Kairi drops her leg and Riku straightens to his full height, so that she finds herself suddenly only coming to below his shoulder.
She wonders when he learned to stoop and hunch the distances.
There’s already a mark reddening on his wrist where she kicked him, stark against his fair skin. She stares at it and bites her tongue, and watches as he brings his hands up to cup her face. She feels small against him, but — and this surprises her as well — she doesn’t feel delicate, or fragile: she feels drawn thin and compressed small, and strong enough from that to carry a still-beating heart in her hands.
“I wish you didn’t have to do this,” Riku tells her, his large hands cupping her face and his eyes are narrow dark slits of color in his pale face. He’s steady as stone, hands and voice, but there’s a brief flicker in his eyes.
Kairi covers his hands with her own, curling her fingers to hold them close. “I know,” she says gently. Outside something is howling. She reaches up then, and pulls till he bends and touches his forehead to hers. “But I’m not going to stop.”
Darkness no longer comes to Destiny Island: the doors are all closed, with every possible lock turned and sealed.
Every few months, however, there comes a message in a bottle with the King’s seal. There are hundreds of worlds that still don’t even know that there is a Keyblade Master, still strugging against waves of Heartless that crawl out with dusk. It feels like living the pages of the comic books that Sora brings along and stashes under any appropriate surface in the gummi ship, obscure smokey back alleys and the bright technicolor sparks that each Keyblade makes when it hits darkness, the enemies trickling out in growing numbers until there’s a whole horde of them like a living wall versus their three.
Once upon a time, Kairi knows, there’d been a point where she’d been more concerned with her grades and the best way to spend the long sunny afternoons; she remembers sitting on her father’s knee and his very serious words — she didn’t have to fight her own battles, oh no, little princess, no. She could pull her white sheets to her chin and sleep while someone else took care of everything, stood bastion against the things in her closet and under her bed while she walked unfettered in the sunshine. A wave of her hand, and people would fight for her — her parents, her friends, Sora and Riku.
Kairi spins and uses her Keyblade to cleave a Neo-Shadow’s pointed head from its shoulders, watches the body dissolve into black ribbons and a small crystlline thing flutters up, past her head, and vanishes into the sky. Nearby she can hear Sora hooting as he cuts through a swathe of his own, and she knows Riku is close as well even if he’s more quiet. Her own legs are burning and her arms are tired and she can’t stop grinning, even as three more Shadows claw their way up from the ground, their round yellow eyes glowing.
She had the chance, she knows, to be protected.
Sora comes tumbling past her, springing to his feet and grabbing her hand. “Trade you!” he shouts, and they twist like dancers, so that he can cut the three new Shadows through and she can block an Air Soldier’s descent, and he kisses her cheek once before they spin away and all three of them are back to back. She sees Riku grin fiercely at them both. He touches her forehead briefly and his fingers come away red; she hadn’t even realized she was cut.
“On three?” Riku asks. He doesn’t wipe his fingers clean as he adjusts his grip on Way to Dawn’s hilt, his sweat and her blood, and she grins.
“One,” Sora says in answer.
“Two,” Riku agrees, and she feels them both tense, draws herself up ready as well.
“–Three!” she finishes, and they’re off again.