* * *
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts is not mine.

* * *
- Three -
* * *

When Mickey finds him, Oswald is standing at the top of the ridge, staring down at the town below, and he skids to a stop at the bottom of the hill instead of racing up it and tackling him, when before he would have flung himself forward, leaping up the length of the slope in two long bounds, when before he would have scrambled up and jumped out of the nearest tree to surprise him.

Now is not then, Mickey realizes, disquieted, and wades through the waist-high grass to reach his brother's side.

He looks different, somehow, in some way that Mickey can't define, fizzling faintly with magic that's not his own, and he's a little bit hard to look at the same way Yen Sid is.

When Oswald finally tears his gaze away from the town to look at Mickey, there's something unfamiliar in his eyes, something stranger than his appearance and the taste of the magic in the air, and Mickey breathes in sharply and forces himself to stay still, because this is his brother, this is the eldest child of their world, and he is not a stranger.

And then Oswald shrugs and smiles, and Mickey smiles back, a little more fiercely than he should, lashes his tail just a bit too hard, and Oswald finally laughs and greets him in return, the way he should have the instant Mickey came running.

Then Oswald takes a step forward and hits the ground with a yelp, and Mickey realizes why he had stayed still.

Inter-world travel is apparently more complicated--and dizzying--than he thought.

* * *

Oswald's eyes are strange, and his clothes are strange, but he hasn't forgotten how to speak with the crinkle of his nose and the fall of his ears, with the hand he presses against his own chest, then Mickey's, and Mickey catches his hand and reciprocates, tilting his head and curling his tail, and between the two of them they manage to puzzle out what one says after having been parted for a long time, but they're careful not to give it a name, since there's no reason for it.

They are the firstborn of their world, created to defend and to shelter it, and they will make sure that none of the other children will ever have to experience this feeling.

* * *

An idle thought later and the grass is softer than it should be when they sit, but Oswald doesn't seem to notice, eyes drawn again to the soft glow of the light below, and Mickey hides a frown before deciding that he's probably just surprised by the ways in which things have changed.

The little town glows softly in the night, but it's a warm sort of glow, and it doesn't interfere with any of the stars, and once the saloon closes, it will grow still and drowsy in the full dark, with only the stars above them gleaming.

Mickey guesses that if you're not used to it, the gentle press of the light against the darkness can be a strange sight, since one so typically eats the other instead of the two embracing like this; but he likes the way it looks now.

When he looks over at Oswald, he can't read the expression on his brother's face, and even though there's quiet contentment humming in his chest and beneath his fingertips, even though he can feel it resonating through his brother, that isn't really a reply.

It's like their world is pouring itself into him and finding only a void within, but that doesn't make sense, because Mickey can sense the power there, carefully tucked behind his skin, and--


It seems that people aren't the only ones who feel that feeling that they will not name.

* * *

When the soft glow of the town below dims, Oswald lets out a sigh and flops back into the grass, finally relaxing. Mickey yawns his way out of drowsiness and rolls over when Oswald gives an inquisitive chirp against his ear, and blinks a few times as he comes nose-to-nose with his brother.

His eyes are still strange, but he looks much healthier like this, bathed in starlight and gently humming with the pulse of their world, and when Mickey reaches out, Oswald meets him, fingertips touching and curling together.

Their world has made them for itself, and no matter how far they may wander or how much their world may change, they will always belong to it and to each other.

* * *

They rise with the sun, shaking off the morning dew and stretching and yawning lazily, and Mickey smiles at his brother, at the glossy sheen of his fur and the brightness in his eyes, at the thick hum of magic in the air, and the gentle murmur of their world beneath their feet.

Oswald seems much happier now, humming softly under his breath and perking his ears up inquisitively when Mickey makes a soft sound and inclines his head towards the nearest tree.

Its flowers unfurl as they approach, and as they come to a stop beneath it, the branches lean down and drop sweet, heavy fruit into Mickey's waiting hands. Oswald makes a soft, sharp noise, taking a quick step back; but when Mickey turns back to him, he's smiling, and when Mickey offers him the pear, he takes it.

Later, they plant the seeds, and Oswald takes a step back and watches carefully as Mickey coaxes them into sprouting, and when he's done, Oswald reaches out a hand and settles it against his chest with a soft, strange smile.

And then he headbutts Mickey with a laugh, and Mickey understands.

* * *

They wander through the fields, first, so Oswald can feel out the new boundaries of their world, so that their world can whisper to them and not be drowned out by its people.

Oswald murmurs approvingly at the shimmering shield that arches so far above them, at the river and the tall grass and the grand houses, and comes to a complete stop to watch the girl with the strange ears pick flowers.

Mickey grins to himself and backs off as Oswald takes a hesitant step forward before biting his lip and glancing backwards, then gesturing to the ground in an awkward little motion that makes Mickey's grin stretch even more widely.

He is careful to make it a very lush flower, with wide soft petals and a scent like sweetness, and a stem that's soft to the touch.

Oswald picks it up very carefully and edges his way closer to the girl in a motion that starts out halting but melts into a confident strut as the girl raises her head and flashes him a smile.

Mickey watches their interaction, all fluttering lashes and coy smiles, and creates a flower of his own before turning around and heading back towards the grand house and the girl with the ribbon that lives inside it.

* * *

Mickey makes his way back to Oswald a bit later, rubbing his sore back and grumbling softly under his breath, only to discover his brother engaged in the same activity, plopped on the ground in a warm patch of sunlight, scowling and picking brambles out of the fluff of his tail.

When he spies Mickey, Oswald hops to his feet and begins chattering angrily about the inhospitality of the girl's family, and of the girl's house, and then he starts rambling about the size of the girl's family.

Specifically, the size of her guardian.

Mickey frowns a bit, thinking about his own altercations with the ribbon girl's father, and, considering, stretches up on his tiptoes and down again, lashing his tail, and Oswald shakes his head in reply.

They are the eldest, and they must protect their people, even when their people are so much larger than they themselves are--as firstborn they are swift and delicate, and so have no excess, only a thin veneer of skin to hold the power beneath, to shape and give it form--and it's best for all that even their people are deceived by their shape, even though sorcerers can apparently see right through it.

Mickey knows why their world has made them this way, but even so, he wishes it weren't quite so easy for their people (or rather, certain fathers) to lift them up and throw them off of porches and across lawns and, apparently, into bramble bushes.

--bramble bushes which aren't there any longer, and Mickey turns and gives his brother a puzzled look, because there's something not-there when it should be there, and there's an odd tingle in the air around that spot where something isn't, and it makes his fur fluff and his fingers curl, makes him shift his weight from side to side and glance around, because something has stirred here, and something is wrong.

Oswald clasps his hands behind his back and turns his gaze down and to the side, and Mickey's eyes narrow. He takes a step forward, tail curling behind him, and Oswald glances up and winces, then shifts his weight and takes a few steps back. He chirrups softly, flicking his ears down, and Mickey stares at him, at this creature who is suddenly and again a stranger.

He will not and would never lift a hand against their people, but Oswald has destroyed a piece of their world, and Mickey frowns as he deliberately pushes his brother away and tries to coax the little plants to grow again, tries to pull the power out of the ground and form it into life, but the dirt stays dead beneath his fingertips, washed-out and sterile, and now Mickey doesn't know what to think at all.

Yen Sid has made his brother a destroyer.

Destruction must come before rebirth, he knows, he has always known, but here, crouched low over the scorched ground, Mickey wonders for the first time if Oswald is really safe out wandering the worlds on his own.

* * *

They walk again--start running, really--when the one who threw Oswald out comes to shout at them, but no one in this world is as swift and light on their feet as they are, and they both know it.

When Mickey starts to slow, Oswald bumps him in the shoulder and then reaches over to tweak his nose, and Mickey takes a swat at his ears, and then they're tumbling in a race that's half-wrestling and half-play, and it's obvious that Oswald is trying to distract him, and Mickey wonders if he should let him.

They are not the same as they were when their world first made them, but they can clearly live on their own, and perhaps Oswald will find companions to travel with him once Yen Sid no longer guides him.

If Oswald won't choose companions of his own, Mickey decides, he'll just have to find some for his brother.

The girl with the funny ears would be perfect.

* * *

They scramble into town in a cloud of road dust, and it's easy enough for Mickey to smile and drag his brother to the saloon, easy enough to snatch a sarsaparilla from an unsuspecting bull, and Mickey makes sure to smack Oswald's hands down before he can attempt to pay for anything.

His brother is laughing when Mickey gently drags him out from underneath the ensuing fight, and when he fishes a stolen sandwich out of his pants and offers to share it, Mickey feels his own laugh bubbling in his chest.

It's a little awkward, but here is his brother, trying to learn what their world and their people have made, and perhaps it is Mickey's time to do the same.

Oswald is the warrior and he is the guardian, and that is the way it must be, so Mickey will listen to him and learn, instead of just showing off what he has done. Even though what he’s done is amazing.

Way more amazing than anything Oswald’s done, he’s sure.

* * *

Most of them don't remember Oswald's name at first.

His brother doesn't seem to like it.

Mickey does.

Once he explains why, Oswald looks thoughtful, but keeps up the grumbling as they pull away from the crowds.

And that's when they get ambushed by Scrooge.

* * *

As the sun begins to sink in the sky, Mickey snaps out of his stupor and reaches for his brother's hand and forcibly drags him away from Scrooge's endless interrogation. Mickey fell asleep halfway through, so he's not quite sure what just happened, but judging by the look on Oswald's face, Oswald isn't either.

They're both a little off-balance, so Mickey leads his brother away from the town again, to the place where he made his empty house and his tiny, empty town, and Oswald sits in the shallow bay and drags his fingers through the water.

Mickey trails his tail in the sand, a habit too well-ingrained to break, and it is quiet as the sun kisses the horizon, the red-gold light making the world-wall so high above flare like a sheet of flame.

It is very quiet when Oswald shows him the keyblade.

It is quieter when Mickey holds it in his hands.

And there is nothing but silence and the heartbeat of the world as they hold it still between them.

It feels like a promise.

* * *

In the full dark, Oswald rises to his feet, gently dragging Mickey up with him, and tugs him down to the riverside. Their world is singing softly, and Mickey doesn't resist as Oswald drags him upriver, past the town and the houses, into the land where only the wild things grow.

The river here is wide and shallow, skin-warm and clear through all the way to the bottom, and Oswald steps straight into it.

Mickey follows him. Mickey will always follow him, sometimes against his own better judgment, because Oswald might be the oldest but Mickey is pretty sure that he's the smart one.

They clamber over boulders and past unintelligent life as the river wanders through fields and thick forests, and when the trees nearly blot out the light from the worlds above, they slow. When the river comes to an end, they step into the headwaters, a wide, softly-rippling pool, and when they reach the center, they stop.

The water laps at Mickey's waistline, warms his hands, and the current slicks back his fur and tugs his tail out to stream behind him, and at his side, Oswald sighs, deep and clear. When Mickey turns to glance at him, Oswald's eyes are closed, his head tilted back, his ears flopped over to drag against the water, his palms open and floating in front of him, and he's listening to the heart of their world, here where it's so loud that anyone who really wanted to listen would be able to hear.

He almost looks asleep, and Mickey's half-tempted to poke him, but then he takes a second look around and blinks in confusion, because this place seems familiar.

Seems incredibly familiar, like something from his earliest, dimmest memories, from the soft burble of the spring that bubbles up from the earth to spill into the pool that will become the headwaters of the river, the soft mossy grasses that line the water's edge, to the boulders and the fallen logs, their solitary playground in the earliest of days when they were their world's only children.

This is where they were born.

* * *

The memories are vague and uncertain and grow even blurrier as Mickey tries to think back, remembering a time suffused with warmth and softness, shadow and light, the water on his skin and the world's heartbeat singing through him, and, always, the gentle sound of someone breathing beside him.

His first clear memory is of his brother.

He'd chewed on his ears.

They'd had their first fight when Oswald attempted to chew back.

* * *

He blinks his way out of contemplation as the water ripples, as the warmth at his side begins to drift away, and without thinking he reaches out a hand and catches Oswald's wrist.

His brother turns to look at him, one ear lifting, and Mickey shakes his head lightly, still half-caught in memory, and gives a gentle tug.

Oswald blinks at him for a moment, then pulls back, a little harder than Mickey had, so Mickey tugs again, much harder this time, and then Oswald sets his feet into the sand and pulls back hard enough that Mickey loses his balance and splashes face-first into the water.

That's okay.

It's much easier to go for his brother's ankles that way.

* * *

They drag themselves out onto the bank, breathless with laughter and drenched all the way through the fur and down to the skin, and Mickey shakes his head hard to get the water out of his ears while Oswald shakes his feet off, then wipes them on the moss and flops down at Mickey's side.

It's been a while since he's been so thoroughly soaked, and it's been a while since he's laughed that hard. Mickey thinks it's probably been even longer for Oswald, and turns to glance at him, then smothers another laugh as he takes in the sight of his fur, waterlogged but already starting to spike up in the places where it's been ruffled.

Oswald snorts back at him, reaches a hand out and swipes it against Mickey's arm, smoothing down the fur, and Mickey tilts his head to the side and leans over, reaching out to slide a hand down the sodden length of an ear, flicking away any remaining water out into the moss.

He remembers this, the soft drowsy times after their play, falling together in a heap on the bank and picking leaves out of his brother's ever-mussed tail, Oswald's gentle chuckle against his ear and his hands smoothing down his ruffled fur, yawning against his brother's chest and falling asleep here, so many times before that they've all blurred together now.

They are not now who they were then--a little differently shaped, a little larger, a little stronger and a little more aware--but Mickey closes his eyes, and when he does that, he can pretend that it is like before, when all was the world and his brother and the endless sky above.

But it's not the same, and it never will be again.

And it's kind of hard to keep pretending once Oswald starts to snore, since he never used to do that before.

* * *

The dawn reaches them slowly, filtering through the trees, so it takes a while for them to rise, uncurling themselves from the knot that they'd slept in. Mickey rolls over--but not away--and idly demands strawberries; and Oswald gives a brief snort as a little plant sprouts, buds, and produces fruit, curling out towards Mickey's outstretched hand.

They eat in drowsy silence, listening to the world around them wake, and when they're done Mickey places the leftover leaves in a pile and presses them back into the ground. Oswald gives a soft chirp, sliding a hand over the newly-enriched earth, and lifts an ear.

Mickey frowns thoughtfully, then reaches out to rearrange his brother's hands before nodding slightly.

Oswald closes his eyes, and there's a soft hum of power in the air, a gentle overlay to the pulse of their world beneath and inside them. Time passes in silence, but the dirt stays dirt, and no new things sprout from the old.

Oswald stays still like that as the sun slides further into the sky, as the shadows of the trees dip and move, and when the sun hangs high, his ears and shoulders droop, and he pulls his hands back with a sigh and then a shrug.

Mickey will not use the word for this feeling either, because it is too horrible to name, so he grins and teases his brother instead, because that is much better.

* * *

When Oswald walks into the pool, gently treading a circle around the full length of it, Mickey follows with his eyes, content to float on his back in the center, a little sleepy in the haze of the afternoon's sunlight, which pours down only in the middle of the pool, and cannot touch its outer edges.

When Oswald makes a soft, pleased sound, and promptly dives underneath the water, Mickey splashes to his feet, trying to get a better look at whatever caught his brother's attention.

Oswald grabs his ankle and pulls him down, but not in a way that seems to indicate that he wants to play, so when his brother tugs him forward, Mickey perks his ears up and follows.

He hadn't noticed this depth before, in the darkest corner of the pool, and the water is clear enough that he can see the tumble of boulders and the clear open space between them.

When Oswald swims through it, Mickey follows, idly wondering where they're going, idly wondering why his head feels so light. He's pretty sure it's not a lack of air because apparently they can breathe the water here, and somehow that isn't quite as surprising as he thinks it probably should be.

The tunnel is long, the rocks warm and smooth to the touch, and Oswald seems to know where he's going, so Mickey doesn't mind the twists and turns, doesn't mind the increasing pressure as the tunnel slopes steadily downwards, as the light fades and he loses sight of his brother.

Sight is only a single sense.

They surface in a cavern lit by what seems like a thousand stars, hanging low over the water, but when Mickey reaches up to touch them, he stops before actually hitting the stone, suddenly aware of the fragile life clinging to the craggy surface, so delicate that even his maker's hands could crush it.

He turns to his brother, sudden and swift, and exhales softly at the sight, Oswald's hands tucked gently beneath the water, his ears tilted back and his head tilted up, staring at the world-swirls above them.

He looks a little silly.

Mickey paddles over to him, a soft smile curling his lips, and noses his side in a way that he hasn't since they were very small, still soft with down and unable to take two steps without stumbling; and hums softly underneath his breath when Oswald turns and nuzzles back.

Then Oswald lifts an ear, not too far, careful not to bump the dangling lights, and chirps, a grin tugging at his lips. Mickey turns his head to look behind him and makes a soft sound that he is certain isn't a squeak even though it makes Oswald start laughing.

Above the path he tread, the little light-lives glow even brighter than all the others in the cavern, a river of thicker starlight in all the gleaming, and Mickey turns back to his brother and sticks out his tongue with a smile.

Oswald promptly makes a face in return, wiggling his fingers, so Mickey makes a more elaborate one and follows it with a splash.

When the ensuing wrestling match is over, they continue their swim, beneath the shimmering light, and have to duck a little sometimes to avoid scraping their ears against the ceiling. In time they come to a cavern that arches up high while the little lives hang down in glistening ropes, and Oswald grabs and tugs at his hand insistently as he gestures forward, to a strangely blank sheet of rock on the far side of the cavern.

And then Mickey blinks, and it's not blank at all, it's blazingly bright, and his world's heartbeat is a dull roar behind it, inside this place, and he wonders how he didn't notice before. It's loud.

Oswald tugs him forward again, and together they press their free hands against the stone.

Mickey closes his eyes against the blaze of darkness and light, tightens his grip on his brother's hand, and knows he is home.

* * *

They are the eldest because it took so much to birth them, but they are stronger now, more stable, they can stand on their own and walk among the worlds and not be swept away.

Here is where the severed pieces of their world's heart were left, here is where the shadows coalesced to form flesh and bone around them, and here is where the thousand tiny lives slid down from their false sky to give them breath and blood.

They were perfect, then, but too fragile to do anything fun or useful, and Mickey thinks he likes it better now, when they are no longer one child, and their hearts are not the same.

He also kind of likes having hands that are all his own.

* * *

They make their way back from the cavern slowly, a little awkwardly, because Mickey feels like his weight's been shifted, or that a piece of him has changed somehow, and from the sluggish way that Oswald's moving the same seems to be true of him.

The darkness of the tunnel hugs close around them like an embrace, and they surface again in the full of the night, but the worlds that sparkle above them are a pale imitation of what lies below.

That must be true of all of them.

Mickey curls his tail up, tilting his head in question, and Oswald grins and nods, stretching a hand up to point at the world that he's been training on.

Someday, Mickey will see those worlds as well.

* * *

Yen Sid comes in the morning to take his brother away, but neither of them flinch as the world-walls shift aside, and neither of them flinch when their hands finally part. When Oswald leaves, it doesn't burn at all, it just aches, and even that doesn't hurt that much.

Mickey hopes he brings back even more loveliness the next time.

* * *


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