* * *
The Unopened Door
* * *
There were, Sora was starting to realise, a lot of things he should have thought about more before starting out on an adventure. Stuff was one of them.
They couldn't do anything about the essential things like weapons and munny, and it was probably a good idea to hang on to the potions, elixirs, ethers, tents and camping sets. They kept the shards, gems, crystals and orichalcum in the same spirit. In comparison you scarcely noticed the keychains, though Sora was starting to jingle alarmingly whenever he moved.
It was really the cottage that stumped them.
"I don't see what you're so worried about," said Donald. "We can leave it in Traverse Town. Property like that appreciates."
Sora didn't like the glint in Donald's eye.
"I don't think that cottage cares where we put it," he said sternly.
"That's not what I -- "
"But other people might," said Sora. "We can't just leave cottages where there aren't supposed to be any! That's littering!"
"Sora's got a point, Donald," said Goofy. "King Mickey would be awfully mad if he found out we were littering."
"Well, what do you suggest we do?" said Donald.
"Don't you know a spell to compress things or something?" said Sora. He brightened. "Hey! Maybe if we got some of that stuff in Wonderland that makes you shrink ... "
"Cottages don't have an alimentary tract," said Donald flatly.
"We could pour it on," Sora argued. "It's a worth a shot."
"If we could shrink everything, that might come in useful," said Goofy. "This tent's kinda been sticking in my side for the past week. And there's only so many bottles Sora can fit in his pockets."
Sora tugged the bottom part of his one-piece up.
"And Mom thought the pockets were too big," he said. "I've still got space!"
"If we could carry more stuff, we could keep more of those stones you like so much," Goofy told Donald.
"They're pretty stones!"
"Pretty as they are, they're not a priority," said Sora firmly. "There's only so much we can handle, especially with these puppies around."
"Woof," said Rolly, looking at up Donald with trusting puppy eyes.
Donald deflated. "Okay. We're going back to Wonderland?"
"We're going back to Wonderland," he started to say, but at that moment the world drew a deep breath and squeezed.
Everything went black.
* * *
The Twins were tucked into their pram, Jane and Michael were wrapped in their coats and scarves, and Mary Poppins had a new coat on as they walked sedately out of the garden of Number Seventeen, Cherry-Tree Lane. Robertson Ay was in the garden, leaning against a hoe, but Jane and Michael didn't dare do more than wave hello, for Mary Poppins was in a furious mood this morning.
"A wustery, blustery, hurricane mood," Jane whispered to Michael, who nodded. His ears were still red from the scrubbing Mary Poppins had given them.
"That was a blizzard, not a bath," he wanted to reply, but Mary Poppins swept up behind them.
"No dawdling!" she snapped. "Come along, and not a word out of either one of you, or else -- !"
Mary Poppins never explained what she meant by "or else", but Jane and Michael were sure it was something quite, quite terrible. They looked at each other and shivered, before hurrying after her.
Mary Poppins strode along Cherry Tree Lane crossly, so that Jane and Michael had to hop to keep up. They passed Admiral Boom without saying hello, and they didn't even have a moment to laugh derisively when Miss Lark walked by with Andrew and Willoughby, both neatly buttoned into their red tartan coats.
"She is in a hurry today!" Michael ventured, but "Shhh!" said Jane, nodding at Mary Poppins. Michael remembered the "or else" and closed his mouth.
Flurries of leaves chased them down the road, chuckling in a dry, rustling voice. Jane and Michael looked longingly at the piles of red, yellow, orange leaves that lay heaped by the pavement, waiting to be jumped in. If only Mary Poppins would pause and look away!
But not even her reflection in the windows they passed distracted Mary Poppins today, though she was wearing a fine dark blue coat with a pink cloth carnation pinned to the lapel. She swept Jane and Michael and the Twins down the road, and they burst into the Park.
"Oh!" cried Jane joyously. The wind had gone around the Park, fussily sweeping fallen leaves into piles. "Come along, Michael!"
Michael hesitated, looking up at Mary Poppins. But she had seated herself on a bench and taken up her knitting, and did not seem disposed to object. Michael let out a whoop and ran after Jane.
The first pile of leaves they flung themselves onto said, "Ow!"
"Oh, oh!" said Jane. She staggered back and sat down.
"My knee!" said Michael.
They watched with round eyes and open mouths as the pile rose and shook itself, leaves of scarlet and gold and bronze flying everywhere.
"Why," said Jane. "It's a boy!"
"Why were you hiding in there?" said Michael reproachfully. "You might have said." He rubbed his knee.
The boy brushed the leaves out of his hair. He was wearing bright yellow shoes and bright red clothes and his hair stuck out all over like the quills of a porcupine. Jane and Michael admired him at once.
"Are you from the circus?" said Jane.
The boy looked confused.
"Where am I?" he said.
"What's this? What's this?" cried the Park Keeper, hurrying up. "No 'idin' in the leaf piles! Obey the rules!"
The pile of leaves next to the one the boy had been in exploded, and then the one next to that. Jane and Michael looked around, and their eyes grew even rounder. The Park Keeper went purple.
"Donald! Goofy!" said the boy. "You guys are here!"
"What happened?" said the dog in the hat.
"I don't know! Do you guys know where this is?"
"No," said the duck. "But something feels very familiar about this ... "
The Park Keeper took a deep breath.
"I 'ave never," he said, "in all my life -- !"
The boy had been looking around the Park, and now he interrupted with a glad cry.
"Hey! It's Mary Poppins!"
The Park Keeper choked. Jane and Michael looked at each other, then at the boy, and finally at Mary Poppins.
Mary Poppins put her knitting away.
"It's about time," she said tartly. "You're late. Sora." The boy grinned. "Donald." The duck had turned the same colour as the Park Keeper. "Goofy."
The dog doffed his hat. The duck flung up his hands, then threw himself into a bow so enthusiastic that he overbalanced and fell on his face.
"Mary Poppins!" he said in a muffled voice.
Mary Poppins sniffed.
"I'd like to know," said Mary Poppins, "what I've done to deserve this sort of treatment. Of all the ideas! Kneeling as though I were a Heathen Idol!"
"Gawrsh, Miz Poppins," said Goofy amiably, as Donald sputtered in the dirt. "We haven't seen you in a while. That's a mighty fine coat you've got on."
"Handsome Is As Handsome Does," said Mary Poppins, but the prim line of her mouth looked smugly pleased.
"Donald! Goofy! You know Mary Poppins?" said Sora.
"Do we know Mary Poppins!" said Donald, sitting up. He opened his mouth, but shut it when Mary Poppins directed a chilling look at him.
"There's no need for language, I'm sure," she said.
"'Course we do, Sora," said Goofy. "Why, she used to visit King Mickey reg'larly, back before the Heartless started takin' over the worlds. His Majesty always said Mary Poppins wasn't like other oomph!"
"Fancy that, I wonder how my staff got there," said Donald. "I guess you'd better not talk for a while, Goofy! How do you know Mary Poppins, Sora?"
"Oh, she used to be my nanny," he said.
Jane and Michael had been sitting on the ground, goggling with the Park Keeper. At this they looked at each other. Mary Poppins someone else's nurse! Mary Poppins in another world! -- For they knew already, of course, that the marvellous strangers had to be from another star. Was this where Mary Poppins went when she left them?
They sprung up and ran to Mary Poppins. Jane clasped her left arm, Michael her right.
"Mary Poppins, you're not leaving us, are you?"
"Mary Poppins, don't leave!"
Mary Poppins gave them both a look like a biting wind. It seemed to go right through their coats.
"I'll thank you, Jane and Michael, to keep your hands to yourselves," she said. "I am not a Fairground Entertainment. I have no intention of going anywhere today."
The Park Keeper finally found his voice.
"It's you!" he said. "You and your Disturbances! No respect for the rules!"
Mary Poppins glared at him, but for once she was not the first to speak. Sora looked disapproving.
"Look, I'm sorry about your leaf piles, we'll tidy them up before we go, but we haven't seen Mary Poppins in a while," he said. "Do you mind?"
"If I were a Park Keeper, I'm sure I would have much better things to do with my time than pester old friends," said Mary Poppins. The Park Keeper looked dazed. He turned around and wandered away.
"Obey the rules," he murmured sadly to himself.
"You!" said Mary Poppins sharply. Sora, Donald and Goofy all leapt to attention, saluting. Mary Poppin took a tape measure out of her carpet-bag. "Goofy first."
"But Miz Poppins, I just weighed myself before we left the Castle," Goofy began, but he fell silent at Mary Poppin's look. She measured him briskly, then looked at the tape measure.
"Humph," she said. "Well-intentioned but bumbling. But there's no hoping your sort will change your ways, I suppose."
Donald was greedier and greedier, which made him quack despite Mary Poppins's stern eye. She moved on to Sora.
"Reckless, forgetful, wears out the knees of his trousers and does not attend in school," Mary Poppins read out. "I might have expected it."
"I never -- !" Sora protested.
"Now that's established," said Donald. "Why did you bring us here, Mary Poppins?"
He realised his mistake immediately. Mary Poppins snapped bolt upright, her eyes sparking.
"Bring you here?" she said dangerously.
"I mean -- that's not -- but we didn't bring ourselves -- " wailed Donald.
"I never thought I'd see the day," said Mary Poppins, "when a decent, respectable young woman could be accused of such goings-on -- and in broad daylight!"
"Don't ask her questions, Donald. Mary Poppins hates it when you do that," said Sora cheerfully. He held out his hand. The air shimmered, and a large silver key dropped into his open hand.
"Oh!" cried Jane and Michael.
"What is it?" said Jane.
"It's my Keyblade," said Sora. "Look!" He tossed it in the air. The key tumbled slowly in the air, glittering in the sunlight, slicing the wind in two so that it parted around them and rushed away, whistling indignantly. Sora caught the handle neatly when the key came down again.
"How lovely!" cried Jane.
"Can you kill people with it?" said Michael eagerly.
"Only bad guys," said Sora, smiling down at them. His eyes were so friendly and full of laughter that Jane and Michael couldn't help wanting to smile back. Michael remembered something.
"Mary Poppins is our nurse," he said. "Ours."
"She stayed around for a while when I was a kid, but she wasn't mine," Sora said. "She isn't yours either. Mary Poppins belongs to herself."
"You know that, at least," sniffed Mary Poppins.
"I've learnt some stuff," said Sora cockily. He brought up the Keyblade in one hand and leant it against his shoulder. "So I guess I have to lock this world too? Only ... " He looked around. "I haven't seen any Heartless."
Mary Poppins looked offended.
"Of all the -- !" she said. "I'd like to see any of that nasty common scum scrabbling around my nursery!"
"This world isn't connected to the others, Sora," said Donald, giving Mary Poppins a wary look.
"I don't understand," said Sora. "But we're here -- and Mary Poppins has been to my island too." A frown furrowed Sora's brow. "Mary Poppins, you're a Keyblade Master?"
Mary Poppins opened her mouth, outraged.
"Oh, she doesn't need a Keyblade," said Goofy hastily. "She's Mary Poppins."
"Mary Poppins doesn't need to worry about the Heartless," said Donald.
"That's because she hasn't got a heart," said Michael pertly. "-- Oh, oh! I am sorry, Mary Poppins! I didn't mean it!"
"Why, look," said Jane quickly. "It's the Sweep!"
She tugged on Michael's sleeve and they ran towards the Sweep. He was coming up the path, whistling to himself.
"Come to shake hands with the Sweep?" he said.
"Oh yes," said Jane earnestly. "We need good luck, you see." She looked behind to make sure Mary Poppins couldn't hear, and lowered her voice. "Michael was rude."
"To Herself? It takes a foolhardy man to talk back to that one," said the Sweep. "Here you are, then!"
He shook hands with them both, and as the warm sooty hand covered theirs they felt courage and hope and warmth rush into them.
"Shake, sirs?" he said to Sora, Donald and Goofy. "It's lucky, you know!"
"I'm not going to shake hands with a common -- " said Donald, but the Sweep had already grasped his hand and was shaking it vigorously.
A smile spread across Donald's face.
"Well, of course we're going to find His Majesty!" he said.
The Sweep shook hands with Goofy, then Sora.
"I guess Max'll be okay without me for a little longer," said Goofy.
Sora just smiled.
"I already knew that," he told the Sweep. "But thanks." He opened the hand the Sweep had shaken. "A keychain?"
"Might be you'll be needing luck more than most," said the Sweep. He touched his cap, nodded to Mary Poppins, and went on his way, whistling.
"If you're quite finished," said Mary Poppins. Sora shoved the keychain into his pocket guiltily.
"Sorry, Mary Poppins," he said. "But I still don't understand why we're here."
Mary Poppins sniffed.
"That's no surprise," she said. "I didn't need a tape measure to tell me you're forgetful. Do you remember the time I left you, at least?"
Sora looked at her. His eyes were calm and very blue, as blue as the sky on a sunny day.
"It was the day before my birthday," he said. "And after that ... Kairi came."
Mary Poppins nodded as if she were satisfied.
"Come here," she said. "Hold out your hands."
She slid the carpet-bag off her arm and put it in Sora's obediently outstretched hands.
Sora's eyes widened. He gazed at the bag, then looked up at Mary Poppins.
"Your carpet-bag? Really?" he said. "But Mary Poppins, you've had this ever since I knew you!"
"And quite some time before then, too," said Mary Poppins.
"But isn't it -- special?"
Mary Poppins looked down her snub nose at Sora. How ridiculous, her expression seemed to say, to question whether a carpet-bag of hers was special!
"I'm not quite so helpless as not to be able to find another bag for my own use, I hope," she said.
"Oh no," said Sora hastily. "I mean -- thank you, Mary Poppins."
"Humph," said Mary Poppins. "Happy birthday."
Sora looked down and rubbed his eyes with the back of one hand.
"If you lose it, I'll not be giving you another one," said Mary Poppins.
"I won't," said Sora, in a scratchy voice. "But he always -- Riku was always jealous. That I got you."
"Oh?" said Mary Poppins. "I never knew such a silly child."
But her voice was soft, unlike her normal accents, and her eyes seemed sad.
"Stand up straight," said Mary Poppins. "You are not an Ape in the Zoo." Sora flung back his shoulders and drew his feet together. "Now, remember to brush your teeth, wash behind your ears, and listen -- "
"To my heart?" said Sora promptly.
"To your elders," snapped Mary Poppins.
"And remember," said Mary Poppins. "Close the door tight."
They looked at each other then, the boy and the woman, and understanding passed between them, from blue eye to blue eye.
"I will," said Sora. "Goodbye, Mary Poppins," but:
"Au revoir," she said.
Jane and Michael took out their handkerchiefs, because they knew what one was supposed to do when one said goodbye. They waved, and Sora smiled at them one last time ...
"And what do you think you're doing, I would like to know?" said Mary Poppins. "Put your handkerchiefs away and start waving yourselves home, if you please."
"Oh, Mary Poppins," said Jane. "Is it already time to go home?"
"But we've hardly been here any time at all!" cried Michael. "We were playing that a friend of ours was going away, and we were saying goodbye."
"There's no accounting for tastes, I suppose," said Mary Poppins. She started pushing the pram down the path leading out of the Park.
"It isn't much fun as a game," said Michael, realising. "I wonder why we were playing it?"
But Jane was not listening.
"Michael," she said. "Look!"
She unfolded her handkerchief. It fell across her hand, snowy-white -- except for a clear black print in the middle, in the shape of a key.
"The key!" said Jane.
"Sora!" cried Michael, remembering. "But then ... why didn't Mary Poppins say?"
"She never does say," said Jane. She took Michael's hand and they ran after Mary Poppins, watching her blue-clad back and thinking.
But what Mary Poppins thought nobody knew, because Mary Poppins never told anyone what she thought of anything ...
* * *
"Next puppy!" said Donald.
"I'm not so sure about this, you guys," said Goofy. He was holding Lucky.
"Don't worry," said Sora. "We've put Rolly in twice and he loves it." Sora stuck his head into the carpet-bag and shouted. "Still okay in there, little guy?"
"Can you hear him?" said Goofy anxiously.
Sora pulled his head out.
"Echoes," he said. "He's fine. Hand Lucky over."
Lucky fit, too. As had the six tents, three camping sets, spare shields, staffs, the synthesis items, and Donald's favourite chair. The chair had been an accident, but Sora swore they'd be able to find it again if they really needed it.
"Gawrsh," said Goofy. "I guess we'll have to send her a thank you letter."
"His Majesty can write it," said Donald. "That woman scares me."
"You okay, Sora?" said Goofy.
Sora had been staring at the weave of the carpet-bag. He tried to smile.
"Yeah," he said. "We should thank the Sweep, too. The keychain's been really useful for keeping the ship clean."
"I never really thought about it before," said Sora. "But she is ... I guess Riku must have known. Even then."
"Why did she choose me?" said Sora.
"Guess she thought you needed her more," said Goofy.
"You're special too, Sora," said Donald.
"I guess," said Sora. It was a vast empty space between the worlds, and he wondered if it was lonelier if you travelled alone, without a Keyblade, without any friends except a parrot-headed umbrella. He wondered if princesses came from the same place as nannies, as aliens; if you could lock your heart away so nobody could steal it.
An ache pulsed in his chest, right above his slumbering heart. For a moment he was overwhelmed by mystery, but when he blinked it away the stars were ordinary worlds again, filled with people just like him. And he had a mission.
"I guess the chair could keep the cottage company," he said.
"Wait, what?" said Donald.
"That's a good idea," said Goofy.
Au revoir meant until I see you again, thought Sora. He'd have to remember that one.