* * *
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts is not mine.

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- Four -
* * *

There's someone new in town, someone who seems like a stranger but who isn't. Mickey can feel a rippling under his fur, a tingle in his fingertips, and he can't tell where the not-stranger came from. He doesn't--feel--like someone river-born, but he's not a traveler. He doesn't seem new, and that thought makes Mickey frown, makes him trail along in his (sizable) wake, quick and silent (the not-a-stranger is large and loud) and trying to puzzle him out.

He's got a temper like all of their world's children, and the roaring laughter too, but he seems a bit slow-witted, not like someone who feels so familiar should be.

He's a mystery, and Mickey has decided that he likes those things.

* * *

He sees the girl with the ribbon in the street one day and can scarcely believe his good fortune. Her ribbon makes her ears look pretty, and he likes the way her bloomers peek out from underneath her skirt, and her smile is as bright as the sun, and he accidentally walks into the path of an oncoming cart while he's staring.

She giggles and claps her hands together as he vaults over it, bounces off the owner's head, and lands with a flourish on the rooftop of the saloon.

Mickey blows her a kiss and she doesn't turn away, she laughs and stretches out a hand to catch it.

She gives him a wink and tucks it in her skirt before turning away and flouncing into the crowd, and Mickey gives a giddy little laugh and flops onto his back to grin up at the sky. Everything is amazing.

* * *

Their town is swelling softly, by degrees, once-scattered settlements giving way to more organization, more steady trade.

Mickey goes for a walk around the edges of the world. The other places--his people have been wandering--are growing too, shifting and changing to suit their children. It's a different kind of creation, not like his own magic, wrought with physical labor instead of the gifts of the world, and Mickey sits back and watches how it's done.

It seems like an awful lot of bother.

* * *

He finds his path always returning to the town on the riverside, and part of him wonders why, what has drawn all of their world's most interesting children to that place.

It will be quite some time before he realizes that his heart is capable of resonating with those of beings who aren't Oswald.

It will be later still before he realizes that his people were simply being called to the place that will one day be the heart of their home.

* * *

His people grow ever-more industrious as the days pass. They slice down the trees to build things and draw shiny rocks from the ground to barter with; they mix earth and water to make bricks; and Mickey sits and watches and isn't sure what to feel.

They are his people and this is his land, and he is now and forever bound to both. Eventually he starts to coax the trees into growing again and purify the water, but he doesn't replace the shiny metal or the missing earth--he mustn't solve all of his people's problems for them, and besides, the most wonderful brawls always start with either a romantic problem or those bits of shiny rock.

Or both. * * * One of the women in town collects flowers. She puts them in bunches and wraps them in ribbons and does a tidy business selling them to whoever gets roped in by her smile.

Goofy has often been seen in her company as of late, and Mickey takes an interest simply because of what Goofy is. The girl, for her part, is utterly unremarkable, and for some reason that is utterly perfect.

And most importantly of all, she gets her flowers from the girl who picks them in the fields.

* * *

The river is the life of the town, of the other towns, of the world, and if something does not come from the river and does not come from the worlds outside, where has it come from?

The not-stranger has settled in like all of their world’s children eventually do—Oswald alone, Mickey thinks, knows what it is to truly be free—and, as with all of the others, it is as if he has always been here.

But he hasn’t, because that isn’t possible.

He looks like any of the others, acts like any of the others, but he simply can’t be, and when Mickey asks, the world does not answer him.

That in itself is a mysterious thing.

Mickey sets himself in the path of the big creature and laughs when he skids and tumbles, laughs when he shouts and curses, reaches over and tweaks his pointed ear and then lightly vaults over the top of his head to steal the lunch from the pail he’d left on the edge of the dock.

It is as familiar as breathing, and yet it is not, and Mickey frowns as he bites into the sandwich.

--the sandwich is disgusting.

And so the stranger can’t be what he thought, because that is impossible and the sandwich is proof.

* * *

Every day, there are new faces in town, a little differently shaped than they used to be, and Mickey perches on top of the saloon and watches his people. The new ones are a little strange, a little sharper than they should be, than their elders have been, and they splash in through the water and tumble down the hills and sing laughter in the air, and there is a girl who wears the shiny rocks in her hair, who dances at the saloon and makes so many of the men in town be so very silly that they swoon in her wake, except for the saloon’s owner, who scowls and turns away.

Mickey watches her flounce away from him, her head held high, watches him making sure not to watch her go, and quietly admires their resolve even when he finds himself puzzled by it, by the purposeful choice to suffer that kind of pain.

His people are bright, fierce things, and they shimmer and shine in every shade of silver and gray, in bright light and velvet darkness, and it makes him smile to watch them clash, it makes him smile to watch them fall and pick themselves back up again, to attack and defend and be foolish and wise and always, always brilliant.

His people are not meant to be shaped by anyone but themselves, and Mickey frowns as he thinks back on Yen Sid once again.

Oswald must protect the World, this much is true, and there are many shining worlds out there to explore, but all the same, every world’s children should always be free.

* * *

His people are restless, impatient, quick to laugh and to fight and to make, and he watches as they swing off the ropes at the watering hole, watches as they dig their fingers into the earth and pull forth their baubles, watches as they experiment and sing and hang washing out to dry, and for the first time Mickey wonders if he is supposed to be helping them make things instead of just making sure that the land keeps breathing.

It doesn't seem right, but...

Oswald would know. He'll have to ask whenever he next comes home.

* * *

In retrospect, making a flower that large and sentient for the girl with the ribbon was probably a bad idea.

And it only rampaged a little.

And it stopped being on fire after a while.

Mickey discreetly sidles backwards past the smoking wreckage and makes a mental note to never, ever let Oswald know about this. He would laugh for weeks.

* * *

He goes back to his tiny city by his tiny sea, and molds a tiny form of sand and breathes it into still, perfect glass.

He thinks of dreams, and dust, and fragile things, and does not coax it to life. Some things even he cannot create.

* * *

Her tail curves a greeting in the air, but she continues down the street, head high and eyes fixed on the path before her.

He follows her along the rooftops as the sun slowly slides down the sky, and she does not turn to look at him, but her laughter is warm on the breeze, and a scent of flowers lingers in the air.

It's a much gentler dance than the one that weekly damages the saloon, but Mickey is beginning to understand the appeal.

And watching the pretty dancer and Scrooge interact is very, very funny, as long as you remember to get out of the way in time. And to duck.

His people have begun using that word for Scrooge, a second name to go with his first. Mickey can't decide if they do so out of respect or terror.

* * *

The not-stranger has built himself a little barge to take things up and down the river, so that the people can build, and it is fun to rearrange his cargo, to tug at his ears, and though the not-stranger shouts and complains, blusters and threatens, he laughs too, and chases when he should and doesn't when he shouldn't.

Mickey has decided that he likes him enough to learn his name, and it only takes six times tripping him before he knows.

He likes the name--it's short and direct and rough, like it should be, not like Donald, whose name is fancier than he is, though that might be because he's related to Scrooge, who is equally fancy and equally rough in turn, and who has also known to hurl out the not-stranger--Pete, Mickey thinks, his name is Pete and he has chosen it well--bodily out of the saloon despite his much-smaller size. And not always through the doorway, either.

Unfortunately for the town gossip, everyone who was there at the time still refuses to discuss the grand piano incident.

* * *

Slowly, piece by piece, his people's homesteads instead grow into neighborhoods, and slowly, piece by piece, their little village grows enough that it gets a new name, a sharper word for a sharper people. The saloon burns down and is rebuilt, Scrooge and his dancer love and fight worse than ever, and the docks and houses grow larger, more elaborate, stores and farms and gardens, roads and pathways and wells, a walkway along the river and a space to gather in the soft, rolling hills above the river.

Perched high in the hills, Mickey smiles, and looks to the sky as it shimmers, as it whispers to him that change has come.

His brother has returned.

* * *


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