I knew that it was going to be, but it still takes me by surprise. It wraps itself around me and pushes into every part of my skin. The smell is thick in my nose—fetid and nauseating, but I can't breathe it out. It's slimy and sickening and makes my stomach turn, but I have to fight. I have to keep going. I have to see him again.
It's not like that's a feeling I don't know. The fear is always there, somewhere. It hides in the back of my mind, and comes out when I'm not expecting it. It's black, and creeping, and it feels like this, heavy and crawling. It's not exactly the same as before, but it lingers. There was a time once when I thought it might never come back, but I was stupid. Of course it would. He'd tell me to be strong, and not to give up. Here in the dark, I wonder if I'll ever hear that voice again.
I can feel it choking me. Its fingers are wrapped around my throat, and with every step they squeeze tighter and tighter. There are times when I don't know if I'm here or there, or who I am. The only sound is my thoughts, and sometimes they're too loud. It's too hard to escape from them, and I let them swallow me. I shouldn't. But I do.
You'll never make it out.
You'll never see him again.
He abandoned you.
There's nothing left for you now.
I fall hard onto the ground and pant for breath. The darkness slithers away from around me, hissing as it releases its hold on my skin. It's relieving, but at the same time, I'm left vulnerable. The darkness was a shield, once. It protected me from everything I pushed away, and myself. There are times when I wish it would again, but it's too late now. There is also light inside me. And inside him, too. I remember why I came.
I don't know this place. I didn't think that I would, but I'm still shocked, somehow. It's not important. I have to remind myself that I stand on the edge of the dark. It has no power over me. Yet, there's an emptiness in those words. I start to think that I don't fully believe them. But he would. Maybe it's okay if I don't believe yet. Because he believes for me.
* * *
I reach out for his hand in my dream. It's warm, and a little rough. Just the same as I remember. I dream of him more often than I remember, but when I wake up, I know he was there. That hand is my good luck charm. I only need to think of it to feel calm. He was always good at lifting me up. I thought I could do the same. I tried. I don't know if it worked. But I like to think it did.
We never talked about what happened the last few years. There just wasn't time, and I didn't know what to say. I thought I wouldn't need to say anything. But now I wish I had. It hurts. I try to tell myself that we can talk all we want when I see him again. It helps pull me forward, but the doubt drags me back. I think about that hand again.
I don't know if the dreams are scary or relaxing. Sometimes they're both. Sometimes they're one that becomes the other. I wake up confused or panicked or sad. I forget which one is real life and which one isn't. I think about letting the dreams take over sometimes. It would be nice not to think, or worry, or fight through another night. But it's scary, too. I want control. I probably never had it in the first place. But I feel him. That's how I know where I am.
I pass the time by imagining what he'll say when we meet again. I know he'll be surprised, and he'll say my name. He says it a lot, even though I don't think he knows when he does. I like the way it sounds in his voice. His eyes shine through the dark that surrounds me. They're a blue that's purer than the sky, or the sea. They're a blue that belongs only to him, and it's blinding. Even in my memories, there are times when I can't look right at his face.
* * *
I think that maybe he's alone too, wherever he is.
I wonder what he's thinking, or if he thinks. Is he asleep? But I feel him.
Maybe he's dreaming of home, or his adventures. He's been to so many more places than me. There was a time where I would have been jealous, once, but now all that matters is keeping him safe. I wonder if he's scared, too. But it would be stranger if he wasn't. He's always been good at hiding it, but I can see it when he thinks I'm not looking. I want to be the one to chase the fear away. I did it before. I can do it again.
I don't know where I'm going, but neither does he. Thinking of him looking at the same things I am puts a smile on my face, because I already know what he would say. Even small things would surprise him. No matter how old he gets, there's a simple, straightforward way he sees the world, and I hope it never disappears. That light's saved me more times than I can count. I remember the light inside me, too. I'll save him.
When I think of him walking beside me, talking about things I've never seen, waving his arms, I don't feel so alone anymore. He's with me.
* * *
The Heartless come. I hit them away and hit them away and hit them away, but still they come. I've had enough of yellow eyes to last me a thousand lifetimes. But they come.
I plant my feet and swing. The sound of the blade through the solid dark of their bodies sends chills through me. It's cold again. I can fight them forever if I have to, but I'll never get used to that sound. It's funny how it used to never bother me. Now it shakes inside my bones.
Is he fighting too? I remember the last time we fought together. We never have to think about it; it's like we always just know. It's automatic. It always has been. Is this automatic, too? But I don't even have to think about that. Of course it is. I'll go anywhere to find him. I don't doubt he would do the same for me.
There are times when I almost can't remember his face, or his voice. Those are the times when the darkness is strong. The smell is deeper, and the chill is colder. I can only follow the beacon for so long. But I have to keep trying, because he's out there. He's calling from somewhere beyond the dark. The sound is muffled, and his face is blurry.
But I can feel him.
I swing at the last pair of yellow eyes with a scream. It feels good. It's nice to hear a voice, even if it has to be my own. It lets me know I'm still here, and as long as I'm still here, there's a chance. That's going to be my new mantra. I let it play over and over inside my head. It mixes with the hazy blue of his eyes and the muffled voice that floats down through the dark. I can almost hear him call my name.
When the battle is over I sit a while and recover. Colors seem far away these days, the world shades of black and white and gray. A monochrome world for a clockwork boy. I just go through the motions. One foot in front of the other. Sometimes I really do feel like a wind-up toy, but there's no hand to wind me now. But there's still the hand I imagine in mine.
What if the world was all an illusion? That's not much better than a dream. It might be okay, though, if I could stand next to him. Just getting through the next day is hard enough. I don't want to fade. And he pulls me back to reality.
I run. I don't know where to, but it's better than standing still. Maybe he's waiting there at the other end of a path I can't see. No matter how hard I squint, I might never be able to see him, but I feel like he'll come into view eventually. He'd be waving. Like it's a marathon. Like he's cheering me on to the finish line.
* * *
I remember one day when we were younger. The sun had just set, and we were on our way home. I don't know what we were talking about, but I vividly remember the way his face looked against the purple sky. I don't know if he noticed. I don't know if he even realized I was looking. His eyes were the shade of blue that always comes back to me.
He pulls me on into the future, and I reach out my hand and go. I think I don't mind following where he leads, as long as he's leading. The warmth in my heart isn't a lie, and it's a feeling I know is real. It helps me fight away the dark, and the light burns brighter. It's a light that he is half of.
I'll keep going.
Because, when I find him, I know he'll call my name.
And I'll call his.