Ever since Riku and Sora returned home to the islands, they'd been inseparable just like before. They didn't talk much – there wasn't much to say most of the time, as both boys were slowly easing themselves back into the lives they left behind – and neither one questioned the silence in the times they did have a conversation. Usually these were held while they were alone, hanging out on the beach or at one another's house in their rooms while they put off much needed schoolwork. Kairi had joined them more than once and acted as the instigator to many small talks and chats, and while it was nice that she put forth the effort both Riku and Sora came to realize, mutually and without words, that the silence between the pair was just as important as anything else. A lot could be said without the use of words – Sora was starting to come to terms with this kind of fact and how grateful he was that Riku seemed to understand it completely.
As the months passed, Riku was the one to open a discussion more often than Sora. Speaking as if there hadn't been any long gap between the previous conversation and the one he just started, Riku would bring up any topic that was on his mind at the time. Usually this involved prompting for Sora's advice or perspective about... well, about anything. Whether or not they should let the junior classmen borrow the raft, what Sora had planned for the weekend ahead, if anything, and what he thought about journeying now that he'd had an adventure to make most people sick at heart of the idea.
Sora was glad for these questions because they made him think – not that Sora didn't think on his own, but Riku's questions had a habit of opening his mind to territories that Sora usually didn't let himself stray into on his own. He only wished there was some way to know if Riku was doing the same.
One day after school, Riku and Sora were hanging out as they had so many times before, lounging happily on the floor of Sora's bedroom, staring at the ceiling still covered in stickers of stars and planets.
“When're you gonna take those down?” Riku asked, pointing at them. He was lying on his back with his head towards Sora, one of his legs bent at the knee and lifting his foot up and down in a slow pattern.
Sora, lying in the opposite direction with his arms behind his head, shrugged and gave a shy smile. “Probably not for another few years. I like them. They light up at night, so it's nice to look at before I go to sleep.”
“Yeah but it must be pretty boring now that you've actually seen what other worlds look like.”
“Maybe.” Sora shrugged again. “I never thought about it that way."
Riku lowered his hand to his chest and tapped on it with his fingers. “I remember when you got them.”
“Do you remember the trouble I had hanging them up?”
Riku chuckled. Sora could feel its vibration in the floor. “Yeah, you had to ride on my shoulders to reach the last of them. You were so short back then.” Sora heard the sound of Riku's hair rustling on the floor as the other boy tilted his head back, watching Sora. “You still are.”
Sora flung one of his hands out to strike lightly at Riku's face. He missed, but not by much, prompting Riku to straighten his head and laugh again. “Only next to you . You're taller than everybody, Riku.”
“Like a freak,” Riku said, chuckling to himself. This time Sora didn't hear much amusement in the tone.
Sora frowned. “No, just... like Riku. You were always bigger than the rest of us. That's just how you are.”
Riku's foot stopped moving. He straightened his bent leg out on the floor, his other hand moving up to cradle the back of his head. “When was the last time we sat and stared at your ceiling like this?"
Sora paused to think. A few years at least – maybe three? No, two. He wracked his brains for the memory. “Well, it was a year before all the trouble started.”
“Two years ago, then."
“Yeah,” Sora said, nodding. “I remember because that was the same night that – oh.”
“Hmm?” Riku leaned his head back to look at Sora again. “What?”
“Nothing,” Sora answered quickly, knowing his haste betrayed him.
Sora could almost feel Riku grinning – the shift of the other boy's emotions from introspective to playful was like a current moving through the air. “Come on, tell me. Don't leave me hanging like that.”
“Well...” Sora tried to think of the best way to phrase his answer. He squinted his eyes, not really looking at the ceiling anymore, seeing instead the inside of a familiar cave with a familiar, cheerful face peering up at him. “That was the night Kairi and I had our dare.”
“First I'm hearin' about it.”
“It's not really something either of us would talk about,” Sora mumbled.
“What, did you kiss?”
“What?!” Sora's arms flew out from behind his head as he sat up, staring back at Riku.
It took Riku a few tries to speak through his laughter. “Calm down, Sora, it was just a question – but judging by your reaction I guess you did ?”
“What, she told you?”
Riku shook his head. “Just a lucky guess. Who else could it be?”
Sora decided to let this jab slide as he observed his friend. Still calm and passive, as if nothing ever bothered him. Sora knew better than to buy this facade. “Well what about you, Riku?”
“What about me?”
Sora screwed up his mouth at Riku deliberately being difficult. “Have you ever... kissed anyone before?”
“A couple times,” Riku said, as if he were commenting on nothing of importance. “Nothing really special. I'd probably do it again.”
“So why'd you do it if it wasn't anything special?"
Riku's eyes met Sora's, his expression blank. “Do I have to have a reason?” When Sora didn't answer, Riku blinked, breaking their stare as he glanced up at the ceiling again. “It's 'cause I wanted to.”
“I just thought...” Sora began, feeling a little foolish. “Y'know, things like that would be with... someone you liked.”
“I haven't really had time to think about that,” Riku said.
“Yeah, me neither.” Sora returned to his position on the floor, easing into the relaxed pose as the moments passed in silence.
It was a few minutes before Riku spoke again.
“A lot's been on my mind ever since we got back. Everything's the way it should be – the same boring life we used to hate so much, only now I sorta see it as a good thing.” Riku smiled, and the warmth in his voice prompted Sora to do the same. It felt good to hear his friend talking like this, to know that, deep down and underneath it all, Riku was... okay. Different maybe and certainly changed, but still definitely Riku throughout it all. “Nothing unexpected can sneak up on us anymore.”
“Don't jinx it!” Sora teased.
Riku ignored the interruption, his smile still in place. “I guess you could say I feel more prepared.”
“I dunno. Life? Just living day to day in general. I haven't really been able to focus on anything but a larger goal for a while now, and to go from that to what life is like back here is... strange. I feel like I have to get used to it all over again.”
Sora thought back to the first few weeks after his return. No matter how much Kairi tried to gloss over what happened, no matter how Sora himself ignored it and went on with a smile and a joke, there were still times when he let his mind wander far out into waters he didn't feel comfortable exploring alone. Most of the time this happened at night while he was in bed, staring at these stars the same way he was doing now. Only he had Riku to keep him company, Riku with whom to share these thoughts. “... I know what you mean.”
“Sure I do. You weren't the only one fighting, remember?”
“That's right. Everything I did and went through, everything I saw – you were going through the same thing on your side of things. Isn't that right?”
Sora nodded. “I'm happy to be back home. It's nice, not having to worry about anything scarier than missing homework or sleeping during class.”
“Or hoping the teacher doesn't see you and Kairi passing notes,” Riku teased.
“She's just happy to have us back. Guess I can't blame her. Must have been lonely not knowing where we were all that time.”
Riku didn't say anything to this. Sora waited patiently for the silence to pass.
“Did you ever get lonely, Sora?”
“Sometimes... well, more than some.” Gently, Sora eased himself into the thoughts he had kept locked away, taking baby steps through the memories. “That time we separated after you stayed with the King, I'd sometimes wonder if it was even possible to see you again. If I wasn't fighting fate trying to get back to you. When I started to think like that, sure... I got lonely. No matter how many people I met along the way, they still weren't you.” Sora reached one arm out and groped around, searching for his friend's shoulder. He missed it by a few inches and landed instead on a batch of Riku's hair. Deciding this was as good as anything, Sora gave it an awkward pat. “There's only one Riku.”
Sora pulled back his hand. “Hey, it's not nice to laugh when I'm being serious.”
“I'm not laughing. Go on, keep talking.”
“Well... that's basically it.” Sora let the lie spread between them before he corrected himself, taking a moment to move deeper into his thoughts. “Whenever I felt lonely I'd tell myself, 'You're doing this to see Riku again, right?' No matter how far away we were from each other, I felt like every world I visited and every step I took was a way that'd bring me closer to you again. I had to keep telling myself that it was possible.”
“Did you ever get sick of hearing it?”
“I tried not to let my mind get that far ahead.” Sora unfolded his arms and crossed them over his chest, feeling a little self-conscious at the subject. “Hey, weren't we talking about kissing?”
“Yeah, we were.”
“So why get so serious? You don't really want to hear all this mushy stuff.”
“Yeah, but it doesn't sound so mushy coming from you – instead it's just funny.”
“Geez, you pour your heart out to a guy...”
Sora head Riku shuffle again, though he didn't turn around to watch. “... Would you do it again?”
“Sure, if I found a person I wanted to kiss.”
“Like who?” Riku prompted.
Sora hesitated. “I dunno – I haven't really thought about it much.” He used this opportunity to give it some thought, tilting his head as he did so. “I'd guess they'd have to be a friend, someone I could trust. That way I'd know it meant something.”
“You really are too much sometimes. When'd you get so sentimental?”
“That night I lost you and Kairi.”
Riku paused. “That wasn't really a question you were supposed to answer.”
“Don't worry about it.”
Sora closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. He felt lighter after having confided in Riku, and wondered why it'd taken so long for him to open up at all. It wasn't that he'd been afraid to, or even reluctant – he just didn't have a chance like the one he had right now. Being around Riku reminded Sora constantly how grateful he was to have someone with whom it was possible to be so at peace, almost as if Riku were an extension of himself. Something small but vital, like an organ or a vein that pumped blood, something that made Sora function normally, wholly – completely.
Riku's voice, when he spoke again, was full of the bravado Sora was beginning to recognize. “... So, you trust me, right?”
“Of course I do.”
“And you consider us friends, don't you?”
Sora laughed. “Do you even have to ask?”
Riku shuffled again, sitting up and turning around to face Sora. Sora kept his eyes closed, waiting. “Then how about it. I mean, you already got one friend down.”
At this, Sora's eyes flew open. He leaned his head back and stared at Riku, not sure if he understood. “You mean – you want me to kiss you?!”
Riku frowned. “Not if you put it that way.”
“It's just... it was different last time. Kairi kinda took charge and forced it on me by surprise.”
“So you would only do it again if you knew it was coming?”
Sora bristled, returning his head back to its former position. “I didn't say that – sure, it'd help but – ”
Sora stopped talking and looked over at his friend. Riku was hunched slightly, ready to lean in if permission were granted. He felt his brain lock up. Riku looked almost as if he were going to pounce – but no, Sora had to correct himself. Riku looked defensive, on his guard. That bothered him a little. He decided not to move, that watching would be the best solution.
“Consider this a head's up,” Riku said, closing one of his hands and scratching his thumb across the back of his first finger. Was he nervous? “And just... back off if you decide not to. Okay?”
Sora nodded, his heart jumping up somewhere between his mouth and throat.
“Last chance,” Riku whispered, leaning in closer.
Sora's only response was to watch as Riku's face descended, his eyes still open, searching Sora's own. Sora closed his eyes a few moments before in anticipation, remembering how Kairi had scolded him for keeping his eyes open the last time.
When Riku's kiss finally landed its mark, all Sora could think was how it was... different. Not bad, just a little weird. He hadn't really known what to expect, not that he had much time to really think what it would be like to kiss his best friend. Riku's lips were firm and Sora tried to accommodate his mouth to Riku's position, once more remembering how he had been very much the respondent in the previous kisses with Kairi. Hers were insistent and a little demanding, leaving Sora scrambling to keep up with her. Riku, on the other hand, was cautious and calm... waiting, perhaps, for some sign of rejection.
This bothered Sora. What was he so afraid of? He was going along with it, wasn't he? Sora couldn't frown, so instead he made a little noise of impatience – though apparently this was the wrong thing to do as Riku pulled back, his eyes opening fast.
“Sorry,” he said, moving away.
Sora sat up and grabbed hold of Riku's wrist before his friend could pull back further. “That's not it. You're just going too slow.”
“Slow?” Riku echoed, smiling as he laughed in disbelief. “Geez, what'd Kairi do to you?”
“Y'wanna see?” It was Sora's turn to grin as Riku's expression moved quickly from surprise to the familiar smirk of confidence Sora had attached to so many memories and feelings. Once upon a time he'd even grown envious of that expression, wishing he could imitate it or even make it disappear. Now it gave him bravery to move closer, shifting on his knees towards the spot where Riku sat and, still holding onto Riku's wrist with his right hand, lifting the left to give his friend's shoulder a squeeze. Riku's hand reached up and rested on the back of Sora's, squeezing back. Yes, the touch said. Yes, Riku's eyes said. Just do it already, that smirk insisted.
Sora moved fast before he had a chance to think too much. Taking a quick breath before the plunge, Sora's lips found Riku's and began a hurried, almost hungry, attack against Riku's mouth, making the older boy bend back from the force. As the kisses continued, Riku's hand lifted off of Sora's and moved around his friend's neck, cupping the bare skin with his fingers and moving his nails over it in slow strokes. Sora shivered, opening his mouth against Riku's – Kairi hadn't done that before, and Sora was a little glad she hadn't discovered that particular sensitive spot. It felt better to have Riku know it was there though why this was so, Sora couldn't quite figure out.
His guard lowered, Sora now found himself moving backward as Riku leaned in, moving his other arm around Sora's back and clutching at his shirt, pulling him to his chest as the older boy descended, his tongue now joining in with the rhythm of his lips. Sora had been expecting this, though he hadn't expected to like it – it'd been weird to have Kairi do this, and the kisses had stopped quickly after her tongue entered into play. By contrast, Riku showed no signs of letting up and Sora was happy to let his friend explore his lips and tongue with a great deal more relief than he thought possible to feel. It was less weird now – still different, but also good, familiar and comforting, as if this had been something only natural the two friends would do with each other. Yes, natural. That was the perfect word for it. It was natural for Sora to feel Riku's hands stroking and pulling at his neck and back, natural for Sora to sling his arms around Riku's neck and hold himself in place against the prodding kisses and softer, almost playful, flicks of Riku's tongue around his mouth. Natural that he should like all of this without questioning or worrying what it meant. He didn't even flinch when he felt Riku's teeth moving along his chin, giving it a small nip before replacing it with the warm flush of his lips.
Sora took a breath to replace the one he'd been holding in and opened his eyes to see Riku do the same. The smirk was gone now, all trace of humor erased from his handsome and – not by much – older face. Still very much wrapped around each other, Riku laughed and gave Sora's back a quick, friendly pat.
“Somehow I don't think Kairi was as submissive as you are.”
“Shut up,” Sora said, smiling as he leaned up to start again.
When they took a break to catch their breath, Sora had been pushed flat on his back with Riku hovering over him, his hands leaving Sora's body to brace himself on the floor.
“What is it?” Sora asked, a little wary about the look on Riku's face. He'd seen that expression enough times to know that suspicion was a good reaction to it. Riku only looked that way when he was planning something.
“How about we do something else?” Riku prompted, lowering himself closer to Sora's face, his smile and the tips of his hair brushing Sora's cheeks. “You can even show it to Kairi next time.”
“Or she could join us,” Sora said quickly, stalling.
“Maybe.” Riku didn't seem concerned with that thought. He was focused entirely on Sora.
Neither boy moved. Sora realized what Riku was waiting for – permission, once again. He took a breath – natural, he reminded himself – and reached up to give Riku's hair a light tug.
“But let's see how it works with just us first.”