Bonds of Misery

BY : Cold_Silence
Category: Kingdom Hearts > Crossovers
Dragon prints: 49
Disclaimer: All properties relating to Kingdom Hearts and Ai no Kusabi belong to their respective trademarks. No profit whatsoever is being made off this work of fanfiction.

Author: Cold Silence


Fandom: Kingdom Hearts, Ai no Kusabi

Pairings: Multiple pairings all involving Sora. Given which fandoms are being crossed over, you might be able to guess why!

Warnings: Post DLC scenario. Non-Consensual / Rape situations, Underage Characters, child abuse. Very dark content, read at your own risk.

Special Note: I’m so excited to write this story. This will be my first foray into sci-fi content, as well as doing a canon-compliant crossover fic. Hopefully it doesn’t take me ten years to finish it!


Bonds of Misery

        The quiet hum of machinery reverberated through the cockpit of the gummi ship. Its interior was lit by the passing stars and colors of the endless space that shot past the view screen. Riku watched the scenery flash by, and then he turned to his left to look at his companion.

        Sora was asleep. His body was sprawled over the chair with both arms hanging over the armrests and his legs kicked out to the sides. With his mouth hanging open and his brown hair rumpled from previous efforts of trying to snuggle comfortably, he looked as if he was on vacation instead of patrol.

        Seeing him there sometimes felt like a dream. Riku counted every rise and fall of his friend’s chest, memorized the shape of that hanging face for the hundredth time, and found himself inhaling in tandem. That chair had been empty for one long, lonely year. Now it was overflowing with a presence that he thought he’d lost forever.

        The fuel gauge ticked upwards, its crooked arrow hovering back into the zone marked “full.” It never stayed out of that area for long. Riku was sure that there was enough happiness in his heart to power the ship to the ends of the universe. If he ever felt down, all he had to do was look left.

        A chime announced that they were approaching the coordinates that they had set. Riku reached over to nudge his friend’s shoulder. “Wake up, lazy bum,” he said with affection.

        Sora woke up with a sharp sigh and groggily climbed back into a normal sit. He rubbed his eyes and fixed the lapels of his hooded jacket, making the zipper jingle. His outfit had not changed much over time, but his body certainly did. His torso was longer and his arms plumped with lean muscle. The change happened almost overnight, as if his body suddenly decided to make up for all the years stuck in stasis and shattered from the inside out. He raised his gloved hands up and stretched languidly in an attempt to work the soreness out of his joints. “We’re there already?” he asked.

        There was a moment where Riku seemed unable to speak, and then he answered, “Yeah. This is it.” He toggled the controls from autopilot to manual and took the steering column in hand. A shift in the gummi ship’s inertia announced that the Highwind was now under his command.

        “You know, I could have drove us here,” said Sora with a playful lilt.

        Riku chuckled at that. “Not a chance. The only way you’ll drive this ship is over my dead body. Besides, you looked like you needed a rest.”

        “Stupid growing pains,” said Sora with a pout. Then he leaned over and lined up his arm next to Riku’s, fist clenched to encourage his bicep to pop up. “But so worth it when I finally catch up to you.”

        “In your dreams,” retorted Riku as he playfully shoved Sora away with a bright smile. “Even if you did catch up, what would be the whole point?”

        “I don’t know.” Sora folded his hands behind his head as he thought about it. “Maybe because I’ve always wanted to catch up since I was a kid. I never thought of what I would actually do with big muscles. What do you use them for?”

        “You mean besides the obvious,” answered Riku dryly. “They’re pretty useful for Keyblade Master work. And building rafts.”

        The memory of their raft made Sora smile bittersweetly. They only got to ride it once in a dream during their Mark of Mastery exam. Everything that happened after that had been so hectic that they never got a chance to make it reality, not that they needed to anymore. World travel was easy nowadays. Still, he would have liked to do it once, just for the memory of it. To build another tie to someone he never wanted to let go.

        “Are you sure you want to do this?”

        The somberness in Riku’s voice made the smile on Sora’s face wane. “Yeah. It’s not just a matter of wanting to. I feel like I have to.”

        “It’s not your fault that bringing you back caused all those sleeping worlds to wake up. It’s mine and Kairi’s,” said Riku seriously. “It’s our responsibility to take care of them. Because we were selfish.”

        Too selfish to accept that Sora was gone forever. They spent an entire year moving heaven and hell, light and darkness and dreams to find him. Both accepting that things would get shifted out of place because of it, and knowing that there was a consequence that they would have to pay. The waking of sleeping worlds that were steeped in darkness was side effect of their quest. Now they had to lock the keyholes of those places in order to stem the flow of heartless that came from them.

        “No. I started this, and I don’t regret it,” said Sora stubbornly. “I don’t regret Kairi, or you, or everyone else I was able to bring back. I don’t care if I have to be punished forever for it. Going to this world and all the others is just part of making up for what I did.”


        “It’s just. I couldn’t let it end the way it was going to end. I just couldn’t.” Sora pursed his lips as he looked down at his hands.

        “Alright. If you won’t regret it, then neither will I. We’ll be rebels together,” offered Riku.

        That brought a bright smile to Sora’s face. He looked up at his best friend, unable to bring to words how his heart was swelling with feeling. His expression must have been contagious, because Riku was smiling back with the same sort of ardor, and for several moments they locked eyes and conveyed mutual adoration.

        An alert broke the moment. Riku turned his attention back to the view screen, the quick movement of his head tossing his short, silver hair. A pair of targeting grids popped up to illuminate a centipede shaped ship that was currently wrapped around a much smaller, cylindrical vessel. Sparks were flying from the latter as the monstrous ship used its pincers and legs to pierce and mangle the metal.

        Sora picked up the radio transmitter and held it up to his mouth. “This is the Highwind. What’s going on out there?”

        There was no answer. Sora exchanged a look with Riku.

        “We’re going,” Riku said decisively. The Highwind’s engine exhaust burned white hot as he moved to combat speed. Their ship darted in the direction of the entanglement, and the centipede shaped gummi opened fire from several canons that lined its back. They accelerated past it to outrun the blasts, which narrowly missed the tail end of their engine blocks.

        “It won’t move,” gritted Riku. He hoped that by rushing past they would draw the attention of the animalistic ship and force it to let go of its prey, but it was to no avail. It remained steadfastly secured to the hull of the other vessel.

        “That means I get to use that thing!” said Sora excitedly. Already, he had pressed the button to switch off the weapons array and stuck his hand into the recessed receptacle at the side of his chair. There was a wild grin on his face.

        Riku just shook his head. “You better not miss,” he warned.

        “I won’t!”

        The Highwind banked a u-turn and shot back to the target with a burst of its boosters. The centipede opened fire again, and Riku rolled the the ship left to right to avoid the stream of plasma energy and closed the space between them at breakneck speed. Just as they got near, Sora grabbed the hidden handle in his hand and pulled it. A giant claw rolled out from where it was propped against the Highwind’s flanks, like a tail untucking from a creature’s haunches.

        Their ship came within a few meters of the enemy, and Sora used the hydraulics in his hand to snatch the centipede’s midsection using the massive claw. It peeled violently off the smaller ship, causing deep gouges and setting the other vessel adrift. Riku turned the Highwind into a barrel roll, and once the momentum was built up, Sora opened the claw, sending their captive ship hurtling through the cosmos like a baseball through the field.

        “So long!” chirped Sora as he switched the weapons array back on and targeted the squirming ship. The long range lasers fired and made short work of the enemy. The centipede exploded into a shower of gummi blocks.

        “How is it that you can work a gummi ship this good, but when it comes to computers all you can do is break them?” asked Riku.

        “Hey!” Sora crossed his arms across his chest. “I can do it because I can learn!” Of course, it took several months of Donald smacking the back of his knuckles with his staff every time he hit the wrong button, but eventually he got it. “So did I convince you that I can drive?”


        Sora stuck his tongue out at Riku, and then their attention was drawn back to the ship that had been attacked. It was still rolling on a slanted axis with no sign of it recovering its equilibrium. When they approached it, the claw was used to steady and draw it next to their ship. There was still no answer from its captain, so they decided to board it and find out for themselves what happened to the crew.

        They identified a door on the side of the ship they could use to enter. After establishing an airlock, they approached the hull and knocked.


        Riku held out his hand, and Braveheart appeared in a white-purple flash. It was aimed at the doorway and a beam of light threaded between his keyblade and the barrier. In a few moments, they heard the sound of several tumblers releasing and a metallic groan. The weapon was then released back to the ether, and together they forced the heavy door open.

        A rush of air ruffled their clothes, and they found themselves in a brightly lit, sterile ship. Everything was white and spartan, with no furniture or signs of life. Its interior was as its outside - cylindrical and metal.

        “This is weird,” commented Sora as they walked inside. “Where is everybody?”

        “Maybe they’re hiding or hurt,” suggested Riku. On their left was what they presumed to be the cockpit. It had a monitor and control panal, but no chairs. On their right was some sort of storage area. The entire ship was cold, enough that goosebumps were rising on their skin. “Let’s see if we find anything.”

        Riku went to inspect the control panel and Sora went to the storage area. The back of the ship was lined with several glass tubes that stretched from floor to ceiling, their interiors frosted over from the cold. Curiosity made Sora huff on the glass and rub it with the side of his gloves so he could see what was inside.

        What he saw shocked him. There was a young girl with her eyes closed in peaceful repose. She wore a long linen dress that was lined with ruffles, and her shoulders were covered in flaxen hair that fell in layered waves. There were catlike ears at the top of her head covered in ring-shaped earrings, and her tiny mouth pouted with pink lips. There was something unearthly beautiful and innocent about her. It reminded Sora of when they first found Kairi washed up on the beach, when she was small and alone.


        The alarm in Sora’s voice brought Riku running. He slid to a stop next to his friend. “What it is?” he asked.


        Riku looked through the glass, and his eyes widened. “So there is people here.” Wordlessly, he started rubbing the frosting off all of the other glass tubings - six in total. Each one carried a sleeping boy or girl, all of them dressed lavishly and topped with cat ears - and apparently tails too, upon closer inspection.

        “Why do you think they’re here?” asked Sora.

        “There’s no crew. I don’t think this ship was meant to have one,” answered Riku. “I think it was probably flying on autopilot, and that might have gotten busted up when the ship was attacked. Who knows where they were going, or why.” There was a grim expression on his face. He didn’t associate stasis pods with good memories. Unconsciously, he moved closer to Sora.

        A light caught their attention. Cautiously, they walked to it’s source: a glass tube that was in the middle of the cargo bay. Unlike the others, it was resting on the ground instead of standing upright. Alien writing was flashing across the screen, and its interior was glowing with red warmth. The frosting over the glass was quickly melting, revealing a young man with short cropped hair.

        And he opened his eyes.

        “He’s awake!” exclaimed Sora. “We got to get this thing open.”

        A warning klaxon started blaring. The boys covered their ears against the piercing noise. Inside of the pod, the man’s eyes widened, and he was suddenly beating weakly at the glass in a desperate way and shouting soundless words. Before they could figure out what the problem was, the rear exit of the cargo door opened.

        “Sora!!” Riku had only a second to grab the first thing he could - a metal bar attached to the refrigeration system, and Sora’s arm. It was all he could do before the vacuum of gummi space started ripping everything out of the cargo bay. Their bodies lifted off the ground as a violent whirlwind threatened to toss them off the ship. Sora grabbed Riku’s forearm with both of his hands and hung on for dear life.

        The moorings that tied down the pod that they had been looking at automatically released, and it began to slide along a groove in the floor to jettison outside. Inside, the young man continued to pound away at the glass with tears in his eyes.

        “Oh no!” Upon seeing what was happening, Sora released one of his hands from Riku and summoned his Kingdom Key. It was pointed to the middle of the cargo bay. “Graviga!!”

        Immediately, a black ball of condensed mass blossomed up into existence. The forwards motion of the pod was stalled, and then slowly started to reverse itself. Sora grunted as he put his all into the spell to drag the capsule back into the ship, inch by inch, while Riku kept them from sharing the same fate.

        As if the ship knew how to give mercy, the bay doors closed. As soon as they were sealed, the boys flopped to the floor in a pile of limbs and keyblade. The graviga spell petered out, but not before flipping the pod over once the pull of escaping atmosphere was gone. Vents opened up and a rush of fresh oxygen filled the cargo bay to replace what had left.

        The warning sirens turned off, leaving only the sound of the boys coughing bitterly in their attempts to breath. Eventually they untangled from each other and staggered to their feet, the kingdom key left to disappear from the floor.

        “I guess muscles do come in handy after all,” Sora managed to sputter.

        Riku looked back at the pipe that he had been clinging to. It was dented in from the force he used to keep them anchored. “All the more reason you should drink your milk,” he said dryly.

        Sora huffed a short laugh, and then they turned their attention to the pod. The two of them darted over and combined their efforts to roll it until it was facing up again. The glass was cracked but not shattered, and it wasn’t until they found a button on the side that it finally released its occupant with a retraction of the glass door and a hiss.

        The occupant was sobbing so hard that he couldn’t even speak. Sora and Riku helped him to get out of the pod. As soon as the stranger was free, he collapsed to his knees and held onto their ankles. “Thank you, thank you! Thank you for staying my execution!”

        “Execution?” repeated Riku. He looked decidedly uncomfortable at the way this man was groveling before them and didn’t quite know how to react.

        Sora was the first to move. He kneeled down and gently pried the man’s hands away from their feet, and instead just held them in his own. “Hey, it’s going to be okay,” he said with a gentle smile. “No one’s going to hurt you. We came here to save you, alright?”

        The young man looked into Sora’s eyes, and by degrees, he began to calm down. Riku couldn’t help but smile in a quiet way. He knew what the man was feeling just by being in his friend’s presence. If hope was a tangible thing, then it came packaged with spiky hair and a pair of sky blue eyes.

        “You were not sent from Tanagura,” said the young man as he calmed. “Are you from the colonies?”

        “Uh….” Sora exchanged a look with Riku. He was never great at the whole World Order thing. “We’re from really far away. I’m Sora, and this is my friend, Riku.” He let go of one the hands he was holding to turn their greeting in to a handshake. “Nice to meet you!”

        The young man looked down at their joined hands, as if trying to process everything that was going on and failing. “I am Darryl, Furniture to –” Darryl stopped his words, and then lowered his head. “No, I’m not that anymore. I’m not even a citizen anymore.”

        Riku frowned at the word Furniture. He didn’t like the way that it sounded. “You mentioned something about an execution?”

        “Yes,” answered Darryl with a bow of his head. “I was to be placed in cold sleep and sent to the far reaches of space, where I was to be awakened and left adrift.”

        The boys were left to imagine what happened after that. A slow, tortuous death, either by lack of air, lack of food or lack of water, whichever came first. Sora sucked in a breath of disbelief. “Why? What did you do that would deserve that?”

        “I betrayed my master,” said Darryl quietly. “I allowed his favorite Pet to escape the main gates, because of my own pride.”

        “Hah?” Sora looked completely confused. “Your master was going to punish you because you didn’t want to watch over his dog or something?”

        “In a manner of speaking,” said Darryl with a tight smile. “Exactly how far away are you from?”

        Sora made a strangled sound, making it completely obvious that he was fibbing in some way regarding where they came from. Before he could make things worse, Riku offered his hand to help the stranger to his feet. “Never mind that,” he said in a quiet voice. “Can you tell us more about this ship? We intervened when we saw that it was under attack.”

        “It was attacked?” asked Darryl curiously. “Strange. All the routes are usually screened before hand.”

        They probably don’t screen for heartless, Riku thought to himself. It was a problem that the worlds developed almost as soon as they awakened, and the reason that they were seeking them out. All of the new worlds arrived unlocked, and if they didn’t close those keyholes, then it was only a matter of time before they were consumed by the darkness.

        Darryl looked around the cargo bay, and he walked over to one of the pods. After peering inside, he sighed in understanding. “I see. This is a transport ship. These are Lanaya Hugo special edition Pets. The ship’s autopilot would have taken them to their final destination after it completed the subroutine of sending me out into space.”

        Riku’s olivine shaped eyes widened. Sora seemed to be having a hard time following the conversation. He was frowning deeply as he said, “I’m sorry, but did you just call those kids pets?”

        “Yes. Here are their registration numbers.” Darryl tapped the glass, and a green overlay appeared with information. “These have already been bought and paid for. The ship manifest states that their final destination are the colonies.”

        “Now wait a min–”

        The rest of what Sora was going to say was cut off when Riku planted a hand on his chest. “Can I talk to you for a second?” he asked, although by the way he was shoving his friend to the cockpit, it was not a request. Once they managed to get a modicum of privacy, he released Sora.

        “Did you hear what he said?” said Sora once they were alone. “He called them pets! Those are people. They’re kids!”

        “I know,” whispered Riku. “But we’re not sure what he means by that. Pets could mean anything on the world that he’s from.”

        “He said that they were paid for. How can you pay for a person! This doesn’t make any sense–”

        “Sora, calm down,” said Riku with just an edge more authority in his voice. “What matters it that we keep everyone on this ship safe until we figure out what’s going on, and what to do. Nothing bad is going to happen to them while we’re here.”

        The knot of anxiety that was coiling in Sora’s stomach began to unravel at Riku’s words. He was right. Whatever was going in, they were there to protect everyone. That helped to ease his mind a bit.

        “I take it that we’re not going to be taking the dolls to the colonies,” interrupted Darryl.

        The boys wheeled around and found that he was standing a few feet away. Apparently the stranger had a very quiet way of moving around, as if he was used to making as little noise as possible. Who knew how much of their conversation he overheard.

        “I can reprogram the ship’s heading if you like,” offered Darryl when the silence stretched.

        The boys deflated with relief when Darryl offered to help. “You’re okay with that?” asked Riku.

        “Yes, you saved my life. It’s the least I can do,” said Darryl. “Besides, if I arrive at the colonies on this ship, then they will figure out who I am and resume the execution.”

        “Great, then we’re all in agreement,” said Sora with a grin. “Anywhere but the colonies!” Happy that they weren’t going to send those children to a dangerous place, he went back to the cargo hold to take a closer look at the people in the pods.

        “Is there a place where we can take them so that they will be safe?” asked Riku.

        “Yes, there is a neutral planet where we can take the Lanaya Hugos for de-programming,” suggested Darryl.

        “What exactly does de-programming mean?” pressed Riku.

        “The Lanaya Hugo collection was made illegal some time ago. The Universal Charter outlawed the usage of genetic modification and mental tampering of humans. Amoi and its colonies are the only ones that are outside of that jurisdiction, and continue making dolls.” As Darryl spoke, he began modifying the ship’s autopilot. “Deprogramming would involve undoing the illegal modifications and restoring their normal brainwave functions.”

        Riku had a lot of questions, but he hardly knew where to start. A triumphant noise from the back of the ship made him look in that direction. “Sora, what are you doing over there?”

        “I learned!” called Sora back with a big grin. “I can open all of these doors if I press that button on the side. They’re starting to wake up!”

        All six pods were aglow with a red light and slowly defrosting. Their inhabitants were starting to stir from their cold sleep.

        “No!” shouted Darryl. “Get away from there, don’t let them see you!”

        Riku moved without thinking. He closed the distance between himself and Sora in a shot of light, his Dark Aura activating without a thought. His friend was shoved behind him so he could put himself in between any threat that manifested.

        The doors to the pods opened, and the children walked out with sleepy faces. They opened their eyes and beheld Riku standing there, and immediately they smiled and rushed over to him with open arms.

        If it weren’t for the fact that those kids looked so small and helpless, Riku would have definitely called Braveheart. Instead, he held his ground as the group rushed to him and began purring and happily rubbing on every part of his body that they could find. “It’s Daddy!” they called between happy mewls and flicks of their tails.

        Riku’s face flushed as he tried to gently pry the horde of cat-like children away from him. They were so focused on him that they completely ignored Sora, who backed away with a perplexed look. “I’m.. I’m not your dad!” protested Riku.

        “Now you have done it,” said Darryl with reproach. “Those dolls were programmed to imprint on the first person they see. It is going to take intensive work to undo that damage.”

        Riku looked over at Sora in hopes that he could help him out of his current situation. However, one look at the pinched look on his friend’s face turned his desperate expression into glaring daggers.

        Sora was trying to hard not to laugh, but was failing miserably.






        At first it was really funny to see those kids fawning all over Riku. However, the more that Sora tried to get to know them, he realized that something was really off. None of them had any likes or dislikes. They didn’t have favorite ice creams or candies to talk about. Not a single one had a clue about playing sports, or games, or anything at all that resembled normal diversion. It was like each child was a complete blank slate that knew nothing more than how to look up at Riku with eager eyes.

        They feel empty, he thought to himself. They were nothing like the children back on Destiny Islands or any others that he met on his travels. He thought back to the days of adventuring on the beach, rivalries and fights with his friends, and it made him feel sadness for them. A child’s heart should be overflowing with lots of things.

        “You noticed it?” asked Riku quietly.

        “Yeah,” answered Sora with a frown. “They’re off in a way I can’t explain.”

        “Like Nobodies,” supplied his friend.

        “That’s exactly it,” said Sora with a snap of his fingers. “They’re just like Nobodies. No memories, but with a little bit of a heart.”

        Currently, the children were sitting in neat rows on the ship they came from. With Darryl’s help, they found out that not only were they very affectionate, but also very obedient. A single command from Riku was all that they needed to make them sit down, remain silent or walk in pairs. They didn’t so much as fidget once they were put in place. It was eerie to watch.

        Darryl took it upon himself to provide care for the newly awakened children. He slid into the role as if he was born to do it. The children were fed, clothed, and taken to the toilet despite being old enough to be potty trained.

        When Riku asked about it, Darryl had said, “It is the role of Furniture to look after Pets.” So they assumed that ‘Furniture’ meant that he was basically a babysitter of sorts.

        Due to the damage that the vessel had taken, they decided to move it using the Highwind. The claw was proving to be the most useful tool of the ship, because it made for a good tow line. They limped along until they arrived at a large planet with several space stations moving in orbit around it. Darryl took it upon himself to man the communications with its denizens while the boys looked on nervously. The Highwind was unlike all the other spacecraft that was milling about. It stood out like a colorful sore thumb among the sleek grays and white of the ships around them. Hopefully they wouldn’t have to answer too many questions about it.

        “The authorities are ready to receive us,” announced Darryl once he was done negotiating the docking. “They will accept the Lanaya Hugos at the docking bay.”

        “You can at least call them by their names,” complained Sora. “Not that they’ve told us what they are yet.”

        “They do not yet have names,” explained Darryl. “It is up to their master to decide if they should be named or not.”

        “But they have to have had parents,” said Riku. “Those parents would have given them names.”

        “Their memories have been modified. They do not recall having parents or their previous names. Until their natural brain function is restored, their only purpose is to serve the master they imprint,” said Darryl.

        Sora’s face when stony upon hearing this. Riku closed his fists at his sides. They thought they saw the last of this sort of evil when they defeated Xehanort. To think that people’s hearts and memories were still being toyed with even now, it sent a chill down their spines.

        The ships shuddered when they docked at the outpost. An airlock was established with the battered ship and the door unlocked. Riku looked at all the children, each of whom were staring back at him intently.

        “It’s time to go,” he said to them. The boy turned to open the door, but before he could take a step, he was suddenly jolted from the feel of six small bodies running and grasping onto his jacket and pants.

        “I don’t want to go!” whined one of the young girls.

        “Don’t leave us alone, we want to stay with you!”

        “We only want to stay with you daddy!”

        Riku was at a loss. He’s never experienced anything like this before. The boy gently pried their hands away and kneeled down so he could face the at their level. “I know it’ll be scary. But you have to be brave. When you walk through this door, you’re going to gain something amazing. Real parents. Real names.”

        “He’s right,” added Sora. He also squatted down so he could talk to the kids. “Besides, he’s going to go with you!”

        “What?” Riku said dumbly.

        “You heard them,” said Sora with a stern look. “You’re their dad. You have to go with them.”

        “I am not their dad–”

        “It’s real to them,” argued Sora. “Besides, until they get their memories back, you’re all that they have. You’re the only thing that matters in their hearts. I don’t want that taken away from them too. They don’t have anything else.”

        “For what it’s worth,” interrupted Darryl. “Their deprogramming will require your assistance. You will need to present in order to ensure its success.”

        “But we don’t have time for this,” said Riku with a frown. “There’s somewhere we have to be.”

        “It’s okay. I’ll go on ahead,” said Sora. “When you’re done here, just catch up with me.”


        “Trust me. It’ll be okay.” Sora gave a brave smile, and then he stood up from his crouch.

        Riku didn’t say anything else. He knew when his friend’s mind was made up. There was nothing he could do when Sora’s heart made a decision. The boy breathed a sigh as he also stood up. “Fine. I’ll stay until this is over.”

        The door to the ship opened, revealing a docking bay with several personnel already waiting for them. They ushered everyone out of the ship and began the arduous process of documenting the human trafficking, taking interviews and asking a lot of questions. It was an exhausting process, and thankfully Riku was able to outmaneuver the questions about the Highwind with skillful lies of omission.

        By the time the whole process was done, Sora was antsy to get out of there. He found it too difficult to be dishonest, even if it was for the sake of world order. The transport vessel was left with the authorities on the outpost and he returned to the Highwind, this time with Darryl at his side instead of Riku.

        “Are you sure that you want to help?” he asked the newcomer. “You could stay here and start over.”

        Darryl shook his head. “I am in your debt. I will repay it by helping you on your journey as much as I can.”

        “Even if I don’t exactly tell you what it is that I’m looking for?” Sora scratched the side of his cheek in his sheepish way.

        Darryl gave a gentle laugh. “I think it’s obvious that you want to save more children.”

        “No–” Sora started to deny, but a lie that deep was impossible to swallow. He shook his head and then changed his tune. “I mean, it’s not what I came for, but if it’s something that I can do, then I will definitely do it.”

        “You’ll need my help then,” said Darryl. “I can give you information and assist in navigation.”

        “Thanks.” Sora smiled at the man. “I’m glad to have you.”

        Darryl nodded, and then he went to take one of the seats in the cockpit. That left just one more task before departure - saying goodbye to Riku. Sora went back outside of the ship and was unsurprised to see his friend already waiting for him there.

        “Your mind is made up,” said Riku without preamble.

        “Yeah.” Sora rubbed the back of his head in a sheepish way. “Sorry.”

        “Don’t be.” Riku walked closer to his friend until they were only about two feet apart. They looked into each other’s eyes, both feeling a sudden rise in tension between them. The decision to separate was a significant one. Each boy could feel it. “Sora, every sleeping world we’ve seen has been steeped in darkness for longer than anything deserves to be. We can lock their keyholes, but the people there have been without light for so long that we can’t expect them to change overnight.”

        “I know that,” said Sora with a frown. “I know what that means, but every person deserves a chance. Sometimes one little change is better than no change at all.”

        “That’s definitely something that only you would say.” Riku gave a soft smile, and then his expression became sad. “It’s because you have that kind of heart that you can say it. You open up to everything and anyone, even if you shouldn’t.”

        “Why shouldn’t I?” asked Sora.

        “Good question,” said Riku with a shake of his head. “Maybe it’s me that doesn’t want to see you hurt.”

        “Hey, have a little faith! I can handle it.” Sora gave a brave smile as he gave Riku a fond touch to his shoulder. “Just don’t keep me waiting for too long. We’ll be together again before you know it. I’ll meet you then!”

        With those departing words, Sora released his friend and went to walk back to the ship.

        “I can’t.”

        Sora froze in his tracks.

        “I can’t stand it. Knowing that worlds like the one we’re looking for exist. Even from here, I can smell it’s stink. I don’t want to let you go there alone, but I know I have to let you go. Because worlds like that, and the people in them, they need you. I can’t hold you back because of how I feel. So..”

        Static buzzed in Sora’s ears.

        “…I’ll let you go.”

        Sora didn’t turn around. He didn’t dare to. His heart was hammering in his chest as he realized what Riku was saying.

        “Are you breaking up with me?” he asked, his voice flat with disbelief.

        Riku’s silence was louder than words.

To be continued.

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