Kairi is fifteen years old and starting to remember.
Something about this castle sings to her, standing majestic against a backdrop of sheer nothingness and lit by the golden light of Kingdom Hearts itself. Though far darker inside than out, she found that none of the sharp turns or closed doors made her stumble; the thought strikes that she could close her eyes and walk unasissted. She knows this place, though she knows she has never been here before in her life.
It frightens her.
She reaches out and curls her fingers tightly around the bars of her prison, staring at the fishbelly-pale lanky figures that sway in and out of darkness and slivers of moonlight just beyond her reach. It’s difficult to focus on them: her eyes keep listing to the side, as though some part of her brain cannot acknowledge their existence. Even so Kairi tries, because it seems if she can just see them, if she can just understand, then maybe everything else will make sense. There are gaps and black places in her memory, and even though everything is slowly starting to come together, it’s not enough.
A new flicker of movement catches her attention: one moment she’s squinting at those undulating white figures, and the next there is a man staring down at her. She almost falls back in her surprise, looking up and up and up into narrow gold eyes. Like the white shapes, there’s something about him that defies looking-at, but also some strange compulsion that draws her gaze. The shape of his face and the slant of his features makes something else in the back of her mind itch, and even as she lifts her hand she knows she cannot scratch it away.
Perhaps she imagines it, but it seems his eyes widen.
“Princess,” he says.
Something in his voice strikes a chord within her. She wants to open her mouth and agree, she wants to reach out for him, she wants–
“How unexpected,” he goes on, and kneels down before her. Kairi holds very still as he reaches through the bars, hardly breathing as the tips of his gloved fingers brush her cheek. It sends a shivery hot feeling through her, and she bites the inside of her cheek. “Here you are again …”
“A–” Her throat closes for a moment, and she has to swallow a few times to clear it. “–again?”
His fingers flick away, and she feels an old, old disappointment at the break of contact. The thought rises that, if she squinted, she might see another man in his place — not so different, ultimately, but another man still — then dissipates. Kairi rises as he does and stops just short of stretching onto her toes, peering hard into his face.
“Do — do I know you?” she asks. Her voice cracks higher, but she doesn’t waste time being embarrassed as she grips the bars again. She leans hard against the bars and presses her arm through; the man glides just out of reach. “Please, who are you? You called me ‘Princess’ just now, why–”
He holds up a hand and the words dry up in her throat. It isn’t magic that stops her voice, but a strange longing instinct. Kairi looks at him, half-veiled in shadows, and the moon off his white hair and sun-bright eyes does nothing to reveal him.
“Please,” Kairi says again. If she strains her arm, she can just — just — brush her fingertips against his upraised palm. Even through the leather of his glove she has the impression of warmth. Something in her throat tightens again, in memory of a longing that feels distant and loved, in its own way, for its impossibility. There was a garden, she wanted to say, one with a small stone bench amidst all the flowers, you were there, weren’t you?
The man looks at her as though she’s the creature who can’t truly exist. Then, quickly as he came, he disappears in a darkness that seethes and rolls and cuts through the light of the moon.
Kairi lets her arm drop and slides back down to her knees.
She’s fifteen years old and starting to remember.