* * *
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts is not mine.

* * *
- Two -
* * *

In Oswald's absence, nothing changes. The names that have slid into the world continue to change, to breed, until there is a word twined around every creature, words humming in the air and rushing with the river, strung from the sun to smother the land below. Mickey still wanders, still leans into the corners of the world, still follows wherever his feet point him, still shuns the new language, refusing to birth something new when the ground is not yet steady, when new paths spiral out from wherever he touches.

When his feet tread a circuit and bring him back to where he started, he will rest, and maybe then his chest will stop burning, maybe then the ache in his bones will cease.

It will be a very long time before he understands what "growing pains" are.

It will be longer still before he understands what that means.

* * *

There are shortcuts to be made in this world, swift and silent doors that spill open at a touch, and Mickey laughs with delight, darting between one and the next, fleet-footed and sly, each one a new extension of what has come before, each one strung out across the world like the stones across the river, and he spins around to smile behind him, to share his triumph, but he is alone.

That's okay, though, once Oswald comes back, though, he'll show him.

* * *

In Oswald's absence, Mickey learns what it is to count the days.

He spends a long string of them, maybe dozens, maybe hundreds, crafting out a tiny town for tiny people, using the curl of his body to scoop out the bay, the tip of his tail to detail each shingle and every leaf on every tree.

He isn't quite sure how to make tiny people, but that will be his next project, whenever he figures out how to do it.

After all, it'll be easier to concentrate once his chest stops burning.

* * *

Mickey moves on from the tiny town, sliding into a new space, stretching up on his toes just to see how far he can go, and leaping into the sky when he finds that it isn't enough.

Beneath his tracing hands, the land moves, shifting and shaping, clear air settling down into something heavy and solid, until he has made himself a house to stay in. And then he wonders why he bothered, because the land will always shelter him, and he has no possessions to call his own.

This is my house, he thinks, and then shrugs and walks out the front door.

It is a gift of the world, like everything else, and nothing more.

It's probably a bad sign that making something from nothing is getting a little boring.

* * *

Mickey passes by the grand house again, when the sun is high in the sky, and pauses in the knee-high grass.

There is a girl there, sitting on the porch swing, and her ears are like his. Her ears, and her nose, and the soft curl of her tail, and she wears a ribbon like a crown.

For just a moment, the burning in his chest subsides.

For just a moment, all is calm.

He raises a hand in greeting, bounds over and introduces himself with a tumble and a laugh, but then there's a very big something on the porch and it's nowhere near as pretty as she is and is yelling at him besides, so Mickey turns around and runs. When he chances a look behind him as he crests the hill, he catches a glimpse of her waving, and spends the rest of the day a giddy mess, trying to guess her name.

* * *

There is another girl, in a place less grand, plucking flowers and placing them in a basket. Her ears and tail are different than his own, and he does not spare her a glance until he has nearly passed her.

The only thing that slows his steps is the brief flare of heat in his chest, brighter than the usual pain, but it's a strange and unfamiliar thing, so after a moment's hesitation he continues on.

He'll remember this place, though, and this girl, because she's not her, but she seems to be familiar.

* * *

Everything comes back to the river, Mickey thinks, and it always will. There is motion now, thick on the shores, people moving and changing and creating with their own hands, taking the gifts the world gives them and making them into something new, something that is all their own.

Mickey thinks of a girl on a porch swing, and the impatient way Oswald always tries to blow the drooping curl of his ears out of his face, and closes his eyes and surrenders.

And suddenly breathing is not so very difficult after all.

Maybe he has been a bit stubborn about all this.

* * *

He scoops up the flowers that bloom at his command and carries them across the field, to the grand house, to the home of the girl on the porch swing.

Her father, as it turns out, is both very tall and very unimpressed by his meager offering.

Mickey works the kinks out of his tail and wonders how it is possible that there is such a thing as a father when their world is still so new, when he knows only Oswald is his elder.

And then he presses a hand to his chest, closes his eyes, and listens as the world flows through him, and thinks oh.

Small wonder, then, that Yen Sid annoyed him. Small wonder that he doesn't care for the new languages borne by the people, small wonder that he can't help but wander, small wonder that he aches so much in the absence of his brother.

His people will grow quick and sure and light, will dance into adulthood and create children of their own, but Mickey will forever be bound to the pace of his world, and worlds grow much more slowly than people.

He hopes the girl on the porch swing will wait for him.

* * *

He stays on the fringes of the town, now, watching his people change, watching them grow. All of them have names now, ones that describe the sweep and curve of tails and ears, feathers and fur, names that reflect the shape of their bodies instead of the shape of their souls.

Mickey finds himself approving a bit more of those who only use one instead of two names, even though their motives range from pride to gentleness, even though he knows that he shouldn't prize one more than the other, because the world doesn't, and in the absence of his brother it is from his world that he seeks all of his answers.

It is a sleepy, drowsy world, only now waking up to itself, and his answers are slow in coming, stretched out over long lazy days, and sometimes he finds himself waking out of a doze with no conception of how much time has passed.

That is as it should be, but the sun rises and sets, and Mickey cannot help the urge to count as the days slide past.

Yen Sid said the training would take years, but Mickey has no idea what a year even is, and isn't quite sure that he wants to know. From his world he gets the vague impression of spinning, and twirls in a field to see if he can understand what it means, but he only gets dizzy and tumbles into a flowerbed that hadn't been there a moment earlier.

Lying in a spill of pure white blossoms, he stares up at the sky and wonders for the first time what it must be like to be one of them, to breathe and think and be without the gentle drag of a world's will beneath their skin, to not be able to see the thin shell that shimmers beyond the stretch of the clouds, the armor their world has given to them all to shelter them from what lies beyond.

If he is to be bound to this world for always, perhaps it is time he got to know his people a bit better.

* * *

They don't know his name, and Mickey is delighted. They don't know his name and they don't know what he is, they think he's just another child, a little slow, a little simple, and he smiles widely and communicates only in his native tongue, never speaking a single word aloud.

They remember Oswald, but they only know Mickey as his younger sibling, and Mickey wonders if this too is a form of self-defense, sending one out to attract attention while drawing the other close and safe, a double-layer of protection for the world and its keepers.

It's a brilliant plan.

Mickey smiles a bit more widely as he steals the tools from the shed and begins to scatter them around the dock, making sure at least two of them see him--if his world is going to all this trouble to shelter him, he can only do his best to play along—for no one will ever suspect a troublemaker to be this world's keeper, no matter how special his elder sibling, no matter the way Yen Sid used to look at him in the rare moments when his eyes were not fixed on Oswald.

Deception, as it turns out, comes as naturally as breathing, as naturally as listening to the whispers of his world.

In time, it will become his greatest weapon.

For now, it makes stealing sarsaparilla from the saloon very easy.

* * *

He takes care to flit through his people's lives, taking a day's work here, skipping out there, and though he doesn't know names and doesn't want to, he is careful to sweep through with minor disasters, just enough to keep them on their toes, just enough to make himself a barely-tolerated presence but not enough to be a nuisance. It's pretty fun to destroy things, but it's also fun to make them, and sometimes he makes things specifically to destroy them later--he hadn't lasted long making barrels simply because the urge to race them down hillsides became irresistible within the first day of doing so.

There are more of them than there used to be, although he's not quite sure how, since families seem rare, and he's seen several would-be romances crash and burn and then drag themselves back onto their feet, so maybe there are more children than there used to be, or maybe their world is still gently creating new children here and there, now that it's not so difficult, now that it's a joy and not a necessity.

When Mickey finds someone sleeping in the field of flowers he'd created with his tumble, fur still shimmering with the dusty remains of the magic that made him, he knows that it's true.

He's an adult, like so many of the early children were, at least in form, but unlike the ones that Mickey remembers, he wakes with laughter on his lips, stumbles to his feet, trips over them, and lands face-first in the flowers and then stays sprawled there, marveling at the scent and texture, sliding awkward fingers against the petals with a delicacy belied by his shape.

This one will only ever have one name, Mickey thinks, and slides off his perch in the trees, introduces himself with the sweep of his tail and brilliant smile, and the new arrival smiles back and returns the greeting in the native language of the land, an awkward flail of limbs and another warm spill of laughter, and he is gentle and kind and thoughtful, and he will see right through Mickey, for now and for always.

He does not have the world singing beneath his skin, cannot feel its pulse in its chest, but Mickey is the second born and can sense the care that was poured into him, can sense what void he was meant to fill, and if Oswald is their world's warrior and Mickey is its defender, then this is the one meant to guard its people.

He calls himself "Goofy," hides his grace beneath a clumsy exterior, and next to the girl on the porch swing, is the loveliest thing Mickey has ever seen.

* * *

The first storm is not Mickey's doing, though he spends it racing out in the fields, face turned to the sky, tracing out lightning strikes with outstretched fingers and laughing at the feeling of water in his ears, for whoever heard of water falling from the sky?

There is no anger in this storm, no threats pressing close, just the twist and crackle of energy sizzling through the soil and lancing the air, and he wonders if this is an experiment or just a prelude to something else.

Mickey thinks the feeling humming through him might be called anticipation, but he doesn't much care for naming feelings, even more than he dislikes naming people or things, for who could describe a feeling in something so arbitrary as a single word?

* * *

In the morning they find someone washed up on the riverbank, feathers sodden all the way through, and he is so thoroughly unimpressed by his rude awakening that he promptly gets in a fight that eventually expands to encompass fourteen different people.

Mickey lingers at the edge of the crowd and watches him fight, a brawler who doesn't have the build for it but does have the tenacity to bite hard and in uncomfortable places, and he may accidentally trip another bystander or two into the fray just to see what happens.

Violence is as common as laughter here, and melts into it just as quickly, so when the fight finally settles, half of the participants swagger off for a sarsaparilla and the other half decide to go fishing, regardless of their lack of lines, hooks, or bait. Mickey overhears the beginnings of an intense debate about the possibility of using hats as a net before he decides to hop down from the barrel he'd been perched on--to get a good view, as it is an unfortunate fact that all of his people seem to be much taller than he is--to inspect the last person standing.

He's grumbling to himself still, dusting off his hands and fluffing up his still-damp feathers when Mickey approaches and greets him in the traditional way, a flicked tail and a bright smile, an experiment to see what kind of gift he is, to see what special thing his world has now created.

The stranger responds with what the royal chronicler will later determine is the first-ever invective heard on the world.

* * *

The clouds are full and heavy, and the air seems wet, somehow, so Mickey is on his feet and wandering, past the ramshackle houses that are beginning to turn into a town, across the river and through the fields, beyond the grand houses, where the only thing separating the land from the sky is the brilliant shell that bounds this world from all others.

It's difficult to see even when the sky is clear, but when the cloud cover is so thick, Mickey has to squint to even catch the faintest glimpse of it, so he doesn't see it when it ripples with impact, but that doesn't matter when he can feel it down to his bones.

He topples over into the grass, but doesn't mind it, not when there's coolness settling into his chest, not when his world is humming through him, not when the air finally tastes right again.

And then Mickey flings himself onto his feet and into a dead run, because there's a brilliant flash of light in the distance, and finally, finally, his brother is home.

* * *


Part Three
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