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In Which, After Everything, Riku Still Feels Undeserving

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Riku was a seventeen-year-old boy, and he would like to think it was the PTSD that even made a situation in which his mom would have to actually beg him to attend a high school party full of his peers necessary. It was bad enough that Sora had begged, and that Kairi had begged, how dare they get his own mother in on it?

They’d tease him about it for the rest of his life, no doubt. Despite everything they’d all been through over the last two years, Kairi and Sora were still a couple of little imps, barely even affected by that term of endearment anymore. If anything, it just seemed to encourage them.

Perhaps it wasn’t quite the accident he’d claimed when he’d lost track of time and found himself still sitting in his room when the party started, as well as forty-five minutes after. Though, be it as he was the type to brood (and oh, did he brood), nothing could pull someone out of a good sulk quicker than five missed calls from one Sora Hikari.

He barely had time to hiss out a strained, and very afraid “mother of shit” before his phone signaled a new text. He wasted no time in clicking it open, anxiety quickly relieved upon his first glance at the message.

hey there. somewhere u supposed 2 b?” Enclosed was a selfie (because who was Sora if he didn’t communicate through selfies) depicting the face Sora made when he wanted to seem threatening that just never quite appeared so. Eyes so very blue and so very wide, under pensive eyebrows and crazy, directionless bangs. Skin tan and warm and so summery compared to Riku’s alabaster, wintery pale. And of course, lips meant to be set in a scowl, but pouting – actually pouting, and Riku was happy that he could still find it in himself, after everything, to laugh to himself about the fact that this idiot was the hero to restore peace to the worlds.

Umm, not that I recall?” Riku attempted. In vain. He knew it was in vain. But he could never say he didn’t try.

Sora’s response was immediate. “ok u wanna try that again?” Riku would be lying if he said he didn’t feel a little reprimanded. Even if the message was trailed by way too many blank-face emoji’s.

I’m on my way?” Riku typed obediently on the way to grab his shoes.

More instantaneous than the last response, Riku tapped open his latest incoming text to find himself stunned with the image of Sora beaming like the princess of heart everyone but him knew that he was. (Eyes so very blue and so very wide–) “u better be or me and kai are coming for u.” In the next image, he stood beside Kairi, who actually did have the ability to look threatening and, coming from Cosmic-Resting-Bitch-Face Extraordinaire Riku, was pretty damn good at it.

He’d never admit to quickening his pace.

He’d always known that there was something strangely brilliant about the power of darkness. Perhaps that was why it had called to him those years ago. One of the best things about it was easily, the stealth. And true, there was no way he’d ever sink so low as to go crawling back to it, that was one attribute he missed most because this stumbling down the stairs like an awkward giraffe with limbs too long and clumsy to know what to do with was going to take some getting used to.

“Riku?”

He paused on the bottom step at the sound of his name. If he’d still harnessed the power of darkness, his mom never would have even sensed him. “Yeah,” he responded evenly.

“Are you going to your party?” She asked, voice preceding her as she appeared in the open expanse of their living room, a bowl and a towel in hand.

“Yeah,” he repeated. He shook his head, telling himself to stop sounding like such a teenager and more like an adult. “Sora and Kairi threatened me.” That didn’t fix it. “I mean I’m… late….” He’d just stop talking.

“Oh, good,” she murmured, black-rimmed glasses slipping the steady incline of a long straight nose to abandon narrow teal eyes. “I didn’t want to bother you, but Kairi told me it started at seven and I thought you were… changing your mind on going out with them again,” she explained, eyes trained heavily on the bowl she was cleaning.

Riku and his parents had been awkward and distant even before the storm, even before he’d left and everyone on the islands had forgotten them. But now that he was back and peace was restored, they were even worse. He would count it mostly in part to his dad upping and leaving during Riku’s absence and not seeming to care enough to come back upon word of Riku’s return.

It was times like these, however, when Riku almost missed the days when he and his mother wouldn’t talk at all, her glued to her phone obsessing over work, him brooding up in his room wishing so fervently to be anywhere else that he’d risked everything he’d ever known without even thinking.

“No, I’m going,” he answered quickly.

“Good. I know you’re different,” she began, speaking to the bowl, shimmering silvery hair coming to lay across her face before she flicked it back in a tick, a habit Riku had easily inherited. “I know you’ve changed, but I’m glad your friends are the same.”

Riku blinked, taken aback. There was a time she didn’t used to care for them, called them distractions and “much too loud.” However, upon his return, she had admitted to being grateful to his loud distractions for bringing him home. He hadn’t really expected her to keep that opinion past a day, much less two months.

“Yeah,” Riku said again.

As soon as he hit the driveway, his phone buzzed again. He tapped open a message from Kairi. “You have fifteen minutes, Riku.”

“Shit,” Riku muttered, quickly pocketing his phone. This wouldn’t be the first time his long legs saved his life, it seemed.

The sun was just beginning to set when he turned into Tidus’ driveway and he headed for the backyard fence, battling waves of nostalgia. Tidus always threw the best parties no questions asked. He remembered Selphie getting so drunk at one that Kairi had to quickly intervene before she stripped off any more than her top. He remembered all the drunk truth or dare in which Kairi and Sora had been dared to kiss during every game until it embarrassed Sora so much he started hiding out during the rounds. It infuriated Riku so much that he started to do the same.

He hardly had time to reach for the gate handle before the angriest exclamation of his name he’d ever heard sounded over the laughing of the party-goers and the cicadas, even the music and reflexively, Riku ducked as Kairi nearly cleared the fence to get to him. “Riku!” She exclaimed, throwing her arms around him in a hug that was nearly a strong-arm. “I thought I was going to have to come find you.”

“Glad you didn’t have to come find me,” Riku said, hugging her back. Kairi’s arms flinched from around his shoulders when Riku found himself, again, ducking as yet another quick shout of his name stopped the party, and yet another form cleared the fence.

“Riku, you came,” Sora said, breathing hard like he’d run a mile to get there.

“You two are literally children,” Riku chided.

“No really,” Sora said, straining against his very nature to stop bouncing when he said it. “I’m glad you finally came out with us.”

Riku blinked his eyes until the halo atop Sora’s head vanished. “Thanks.”

“Come on, come on inside,” Kairi said, grabbing his hand in one of the strongest grips he’d ever felt. “Everyone’s been asking about you.” That was the last thing he wanted to hear, really. Two months of damn near perfect aversion to be ruined in five minutes because of Sora’s puppy eye selfies.

When Sora and Riku plopped back into the familiar ocean of Destiny Islands, the only one there to receive them had been Kairi. Kairi who all but camped out on the beach until they made it back and Riku had spent the last two months trying to forget the obvious “moment” Sora shared with Kairi once they’d reached the shore.

He’d powered through all the questioning from Kairi and the questioning from Sora’s mom and the questioning from his own mom and the last piece of advice he could stand to hear from the king, then he shut himself away. The isolation was something he could deal with. He’d dealt with it for two years, but he reminded himself that this time, he was stronger. This time, he didn’t need the darkness.

He’d had a good run until Sora and Kairi went over his head and contacted his mom about his reclusive behavior, and well.

Here he was.

Just as he’d imagined, Riku spent most of the party against the fence, sipping punch that had to have been spiked by an amateur and wishing he’d had a better expanse of Sora excuses in his repertoire. He used to have the power to do anything he wanted by simply challenging Sora about it, but that method had lost its appeal when challenging him was quickly on its way to killing him.

It turned out, Sora was a better person than he was. All the anger and the backstabbing and the betrayal and the bloodlust on his part, and Sora had just forgiven him like it was second nature to him. It struck Riku in a really sad way that it probably was. The kid was made of sunshine and second chances and Riku was… undeserving.

He was undeserving of Sora and Kairi both – Kairi who was a princess of light, who was strong and sweet and ruthless and pure and Riku was a stain.

The two of them had adapted back to islander life so quickly. Battle-ready gear quickly became board shorts and tank-tops for Sora. Add a pukka shell necklace and he’d be the perfect beach god. Large, clunky yellow boat shoes became flip flops and pockets full of potions and cures became pockets full of sea shells that he sometimes left on Riku’s window sill.

Faring just as well as Sora was, Kairi maintained her title of Most Wanted Female on the Islands. Riku had no qualms admitting that she was easily the hottest girl he’d ever seen and worst of all, her magnetism appeared so utterly effortless. She wore purple shorts and a yellow tank-top like she was doing the articles a favor by letting them clothe her. Burgundy hair pulled back into a ponytail, barefoot and agile, grin wide and mischievous, it would make all the sense in the world for Riku to fall right back into the old tussle he and Sora used to perform over her, but Riku was the only one of them who just… couldn’t go back.

He just wasn’t like the two of them anymore, or anyone else here, and Kairi’s childish giggles at Sora’s usual antics wasn’t letting him forget that fact. Sora’s loud, choked-up laughter was something he hadn’t realized he missed so much. His stupid puns and his half-baked stunts, Kairi’s mediation and calming presence, his own cockiness, athleticism, and heroism…. Those were the things he’d truly sacrificed by opening the Door.

“Hey! What are you doing over here?” Kairi leaned beside him against the wooden fence, solo cup of her own spiked punch in hand, looking at him with concern he didn’t deserve.

“Nothing,” Riku said quickly, ticking his head so his hair would fall before his face in a habit he didn’t realize he had. “What are you doing over here? You were over there being the life of the party a minute ago.”

“I saw you over here doing ‘the brood,’” Kairi answered, lively smirk overtaking her pretty features. “This is too much isn’t it? You weren’t ready. Sorry me and Sora bullied you into coming here.”

“No, don’t say that,” Riku said, offering an easy chuckle. “It’s me.”

“I don’t want you to shut me out, Riku,” Kairi said, all traces of joking leaving her tone. “Come on, what’s the problem?” She had no way of knowing her concern was only making things worse, making him even more irritated. “I mean, we’re hardly considered best friends if we can’t talk about this stuff, right?”

“I’m telling you, Kai, it’s nothing okay? It’s just me. I’m just really awkward now, because I don’t… fit here anymore and that sucks because this is my home and you’re my best friends and you don’t have a problem and Sora is over there glowing and I’m casting shadows again.”

“What was that?” Kairi asked, raising a confused eyebrow.

There was no stopping the waterfall of stupidity falling forth from his treacherous mouth before the damage was done, and he knew there was no taking any of it back, but maybe he could be evasive. “Don’t you–?”

“Because nobody thinks that, Riku,” Kairi said, eyes steely and level. “This is your home. And you’re always gonna belong here. And we’re always gonna want you here. And I want you here at this party. And Sora’s over there being a doof performer, but he wants you here, too. So… so stop with the doubting yourself, okay? We all left that back at Kingdom Hearts, and personally, I want it to stay there.”

Panic inside him subsiding as quickly as it appeared, he nodded. “Me too.”

“Great,” Kairi grinned, pouring the remainder of her drink into his cup, “chug.”

Riku grimaced. “Kairi, gross. Backwash.”

Kairi rolled her eyes fondly, grabbing his hand and leading him to the refreshment table. “Always such a priss.”

“Hm,” Riku murmured, having poured himself a fresh drink. “This is better.”

Kairi nodded. “Yeah, we told Tidus so he fixed it, chug.”

“Alright!” Riku groaned, tossing half his drink back. “You know, you’ve gotten pretty bossy since we’ve made it back.”

“I resent that, Riku. You’re not wrong, but I resent it.”

“Are we saying we resent Riku?” Sora asked, appearing beside Riku. “Because resent is a strong word, Kairi, but I see it.”

“Fight me, Sora,” Riku quipped without thinking.

“I have,” he said, grinning in accomplishment. “And, also, I’m pretty sure I won that, so.”

“Sora,” Riku sputtered, shocked that he could talk about it so freely when Riku still had nightmares over it. But more importantly: “You did not win.”

“I did,” he insisted.

“No, Sora, you didn’t,” Riku argued.

“I think you’ll find that I did, Riku,” Sora smirked, eyebrow raising threateningly. “In fact, if you think about it, I fought and won against you, and then I fought and won for Kairi, and then I fought and won for you, but I guess you fought for me, too….” He went silent, figuring up the score in his mind while Riku shifted his hair over his face to hide his warm cheeks. “Anyway, add all that up and I win.”

“That’s not how it works,” Riku shook his head.

“What, do you have a better system?” Sora countered, head cocking to the side like the stupidest puppy Riku had ever seen.

“Do I need to mediate again like old times?” Kairi interjecting, laughing quietly at her boys’ absurdity.

“No, we’re not children anymore,” Riku said, throwing back the rest of his drink. “At least I’m not.”

“I resent you, Riku,” Sora straight-faced.

“Aw, you guys,” Riku was startled to see that they had made something of a spectacle of themselves during their teasing. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you argue like that,” Selphie said wistfully.

“What?” Riku asked in disbelief that this was what she was commenting on.

“You were gone for so long, it feels like I can’t even remember some of it, you know?” Tidus interjected. Riku tried not to outwardly sour too much about the memory loss being something else that was inadvertently his fault. “And then when you came back, it was scary. We didn’t know what it was going to be like, but it’s nice you guys haven’t changed that much.”

“Yeah I guess,” Sora said, smiling sheepishly at the same time Kairi overdramatically threw her arms around Selphie.

“So where were you guys all that time?” Selphie asked. She’d most likely been holding the question off for weeks. “You never told us.” Kairi removed her arms.

It wasn’t a particularly large party. Just the three of them, Tidus, Selphie, Wakka, and a few other people they weren’t all that close with before the storm. It wasn’t exactly a particularly large party, but still well over the limited amount of people allowed to know about the other worlds out there. Not to mention, it was bad enough that Sora and Kairi knew about Riku’s transgressions.

Selphie wouldn’t take her eyes off Riku, watching him sweetly through calming green eyes that inspired within him the exact opposite effect. Sora stared, watching the panic rise within his best friend, unsure of what to do. He could defeat a million heartless, travel the worlds unsure of what would happen within the next hour, and spend years away from his home and his family, but he felt like he’d never know how to help Riku when he really needed it.

Kairi surreptitiously nudged Sora. Come up with something.

Sora shrugged to no one in particular before an ill-formed idea struck him and he had no choice but to run with it. “I – I – you know, um – while we were gone, Kairi punched a guy in the face!”

The simultaneous “what?” screamed back at him was unanimous.

“I didn’t punch Axel,” Kairi corrected, waving her hands out in front of her as if that would placate their audience.

“But you assaulted a man?” Tidus chuckled. “You were the sweet one, Kairi.”

“I didn’t! I just shrugged out of his grasp!” Kairi exclaimed, purple-tinted eyes wide with embarrassment and frustration and maybe a little leftover anger from the actual situation when it happened. “If anything, he was assaulting me! I should have punched him.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Selphie said, looking almost affronted. “Who is Axel?” She looked at Kairi in that way all good friends do when there is juicy gossip long overdue and Kairi immediately looked disgusted.

“Oh, Jesus Christ, no!” Kairi protested vigorously. “I’d kiss you before I even thought about Axel!”

Selphie laughed and it was contagious, even spreading to Riku who glanced over at Sora to find him already looking back at him.  He owed him a thank you for saving the situation, but he didn’t think Sora would even understand the magnitude of what he’d done. Before Riku could figure out how to address it, Sora shrugged, grinning pure light despite the fact that the sun had set and Riku smiled back, mechanical and forced, the best he was able.

*

Kairi demanded that he “chug” until he “quit acting so damn awkward.” He only felt obligated to drink until she quit bothering him, which luckily didn’t take much. Kairi wound up far drunker in her efforts to be a good example.

It was getting late – well past midnight – and sure they lived on an island, but stuffy adult figures were still stuffy adult figures who would call the authorities on a loud ongoing party even if it was the summer.

No one was ready to stop, though, and drunk teenagers didn’t grasp consequences. Per Sora’s request, Tidus did turn down the music a little, but it didn’t stop him looking a little apprehensive. The tiki lights and paopu-shaped lanterns cast dancing shadows across the backyard. The sapphire of Sora’s eyes appeared almost incandescent.

Selphie sidled up to him and looped her arm around Riku’s once a new song started, green eyes wordlessly conveying what she wanted. Riku had never danced. He didn’t think he would be particularly bad at it, but he was nowhere near as good as Selphie and Kairi were. But then again, he’d drank enough not to really have to worry about it.

Kairi cheered from somewhere in the distance, and it was unmistakably her, but there was no way to know what she was cheering about. Riku did his best to mimic whatever Selphie was doing. She’d looped her arms around his shoulders, so he gravitated his hands to her waist though she was gyrating too quickly for him to keep hold very well.

Maybe Selphie hadn’t noticed, far gone as she was, but Riku was never going to get the hang of this, so he kind of just… let her dance on him and he held on. And that was mindless, so he was getting the hang of that until a strong, tan hand gripped his bicep. He didn’t have to look to know it was Sora, but turning to his left and glancing down into his eyes revealed an expression he wasn’t used to seeing on him. He couldn’t read it.

“We should start getting ready to go,” Sora called over the music. “It’s, like, one in the morning.”

“Oh,” Riku nodded, dropping his hands from Selphie’s slim waist. “Okay. I’ll get Kairi.”

Kairi complained and gripped hands with Tidus like he’d really do anything to stop them dragging her off but in the end she left willingly. “Fine, but one of you is carrying me.”

The lucky winner wound up being Riku, not that he was complaining. He’d changed a lot over the last two years, but he still took a lot of pride in his strength. It was his thing. It only made Kairi happier, anyway, that he was willing to let her hold onto him all the way home since she’d missed him so much.

Having Kairi on his back obscured his balance and he bumped shoulders with Sora every other step. His skin felt warm and he never looked up at Riku when it happened. Kairi cackled after a moment of silence. “You know, Riku, when you said you were on your way, I was sure you were going to wear that stupid yellow jacket thing unzipped so we could all see your abs through your belly shirt!”

“That’s not why I wear it,” Riku said, indignant.

“Then why do you?” Sora asked, finally looking up at him with a smirk.

“I don’t know! It’s not like I had a lot of clothing options hiding in the Organization,” he justified.

“Anyway, you should have,” Kairi giggled. “That’s what you call a party outfit.”

“Oh, what the fuck, you were just teasing me about it, Kairi!”

“I’m just saying!” Kairi exclaimed, laying her head on his shoulder. “You showed up to a beach party in jeans and a t-shirt like you’re not really hot or something. You know you’ve got, like, one of the best beach bods I’ve ever seen, right?”

“Oh, Jesus, Kairi,” Riku stammered out.

“No, really!” Kairi insisted. “So why do you hide it, you beautiful, pasty beach god?”

“Okay, you’re drunk,” Riku sighed, over Sora’s choked laughter.

“So are you,” Kairi said defensively.

“No, I’m not,” he argued, not missing Sora’s raised eyebrow.

Kairi’s house was on the end of her block and her parents were light sleepers. Riku had to threaten to drop her twice if she wouldn’t be quieter.

“Do you have your keys?” Sora asked as they stepped into her front lawn.

“Don’t need ‘em,” Kairi answered smugly as Riku placed her down. “I’m climbing in through my window.”

“Okay, I feel like we’d be horrible friends to let you do that right now,” Riku started, only to be interrupted when Kairi placed her arms around his shoulders, forcing him into a hug.

“I love you, okay?” She said. “Maybe it’s because you’re acting all methodical and authoritative, but holy shit I miss you.” She pulled back to bring Sora into the embrace as well. “It’s so nice to be back together again, right? The three of us?”

“Of course,” Riku said quickly, realizing he genuinely meant it.

“So start hanging out with us again,” Kairi said sweetly. Yawning, she stretched her arms high above her. “Alright, that’s my cue. I’m tired and I’m going to bed. See you guys soon. You hear me, Riku? Soon.” With that, she headed for the tree near her window.

“Hey, seriously, Kai,” Sora said, hands jumping out in front of him. “Maybe we can–”

“Sora, I can wield a keyblade, I can climb a damn tree,” she decided and proceeded to climb the tree in two minutes and even land the small leap to her window. She waved to them below before shutting the glass and turning out her lamp.

“Wow,” Riku marveled. “No one drunk-climbs a tree like Kairi.”

“Yeah,” Sora laughed softly. He turned to Riku. “So what about you?”

“What about me?” Riku asked, puzzled.

“Are you going to come to mine willingly, or am I going to have to watch you slur your way through pretending you're sober enough to go home and face your mom?” Sora challenged like he knew he’d win.

“I’m not drunk,” Riku insisted.

“Well, you’re not trashed, but you’re a little buzzed,” Sora admitted.

“I’m acting perfectly normal, how would you know?”

“I know my best friend. And anyway, say you get caught sneaking in tonight and your mom catches you? She’d never let you see me again if I let you go home like that and it’s taken us so long to get you out in the first place.”

“I wouldn’t get caught–”

“Please?” Sora asked softly, using his eyes and it wasn’t fair. “Please? It’ll be just like when we were kids and you’d sleep over!”

Oh shit. A sleepover with Sora? Like this? “I’m fine I swear, and I’m older than you so you have to listen to me.”

“That’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said to me,” Sora snickered. “Please?”

“Are you using puppy-dog eyes on me?!”

“Yes.” Sora blinked innocently. “Is it working?”

“Irrelevant. Listen I can’t,” Riku stressed.

“Riku,” Sora sighed, like this was taking a lot out of him. One good look at his face and Riku knew that it probably was. “If I ask you something will you be honest with me? Do you not want to? Because of… me? Is something wrong? Because you can tell me.”

No,” Riku groaned without really meaning to. “Don’t worry. Please don’t be worried about me.” Maybe Sora was right about his state of inebriation.

“Stay over and I won’t be,” Sora sing-songed.

Riku could only stare, mouth agape as Sora wiggled his eyebrows. “I… how do you always get your way?”

Sora shrugged, nudging Riku so he’d start walking and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. “Kairi says I’m cute,” he divulged jokingly. He looked up at Riku and grinned as they walked side-by-side.

And funny. And sweet. And gorgeous. And irresistible. And strong. And adorable. And perfect. And Riku was both endlessly fucked and hopelessly in love with him.

*

“When does your mom wake up for work?” Riku whispered as Sora unlocked the back door.

“She doesn’t wake up until three,” Sora whispered back. “So you should stick around for lunch. She’ll be off work and she’s been missing you.” He shut and locked the door behind Riku and followed him through the living room and up the stairs.

Sora’s mom was a nurse. She was a good nurse, and in Riku’s opinion, a much-too-nice nurse to take the graveyard hours all the time. It was nearly two in the morning now, and it killed Riku to think of anyone having to wake up while it was still dark outside. Leave it to a Hikari to find the one job on the islands that demanded so much of a person with barely any thanks. Sora said his mom didn’t mind, but Riku thought Sora did. Riku knew he got lonely in this big house all alone.

Walking into Sora’s bedroom took him back a few years. It was junky. Clothes, food wrappers, and stuffed animals littered the floor, textbooks and sheets of paper layered his desk and dressers. The sky blue of the walls lined the posters of old cartoons and video games. It hadn’t changed at all and Riku couldn’t place why knowing that made him so happy.

“Take off your shoes, you animal,” Sora whisper-yelled, throwing one of his flip-flops at him.

Riku wanted to turn around and gesture dramatically around the room to indicate which one of them was truly the animal here, but instead, he found himself getting choked up (drunker than he realized) and simply decided to follow orders.

Sora stripped off his shorts like it was nothing (technically it wasn’t – they had been best friends since Riku was five, of course they’d seen each other in just about all states of undress, but Riku was uncharacteristically jumpy) and pounced onto his bed in his boxers.

Riku stood by the closed door, confused.

“What’s wrong?” Sora asked, hanging half off the bed to reach for his phone in the pocket of his shorts tossed carelessly on the floor.

“Um – I – I need to get the futon, right?” Riku asked as Sora retrieved his phone and snuggled down into his sheets.

“Oh yeah,” Sora said thoughtfully, though he didn’t remove his eyes from his phone screen. “No, dude. It’s two in the morning. Guess who’s not going up to the attic to get a futon and spend forty-five minutes blowing it up? This guy.”

“Ew, you’re so lame,” Riku commented. But wait. “Wait, then what am I supposed to do?”

Sora looked at him like he was acting like an idiot (because he was acting like an idiot) and condescendingly pulled back his bedspread.

Oh shit, stop, dirty, dirty brain, Jesus, no, no, no, no! “Um. We’re too old for that.”

“Aw, Riku, you’re never too old for best friend snuggles,” Sora said sarcastically.

“You sleep in a Queen,” Riku said disdainfully.

“What’s wrong with a Queen?” Sora asked defensively.

“We’re not ten anymore?” Riku said, inflection conveying the “duh” he’d never let himself say out loud because Sora was the lame one, not him.

“Dude it’s a Queen. There’s plenty of room. And if you don’t think there is, you can always sleep on the floor.”

Not even giving it a second thought, Riku crouched, looking for a stuffed animal to use as a pillow when Sora groaned and said his name in a tone that sounded like nails on a chalkboard and scraping metal and the climax of symphonic horror movie music. Riku looked up slowly because he wanted to live. “Yeah?”

“Just get in the stupid bed, Riku,” Sora said, tone dismissive, expression everything but as he went back to his phone.

Riku accepted his fate, removed his own jeans and very carefully climbed into Sora’s bed, leaving a foot between them. “This is better than the floor,” Riku tried, hoping to lighten the mood.

“You’re killing me, Smalls,” Sora sighed, keeping his eyes down. “What is wrong with you today?”

“I’m sorry,” Riku conceded. “You’re right. I’m being weird.”

“The weirdest,” Sora agreed, nodding.

“I’ll stop being weird,” Riku promised, forcing himself to look Sora in the eye. He had the self-control not to try and shimmy closer to him. “Starting now.”

Sora didn’t seem entirely satisfied, but eventually, he grinned. Riku knew better than to take that as the end of this. Sora would definitely be bugging him to talk about his weirdness at a later time. “Tonight was fun,” Sora said instead.

“Before or after I made it there?” Riku joked.

Sora looked a little a little affronted. “Because you got there.”

“Sora, you fucking kid,” Riku chuckled.

“I’m serious, though,” Sora smiled almost shyly. “Kairi was serious about going to your house and dragging you out. I was already going to do it, but Kairi wanted to do it and embarrass you. Like she was hoping to catch you changing and drag you out in like your pajamas or something. I would have at least let you get dressed, so. Anyway, you’re lucky you came willingly.”

“Would you have let her do that to me?” Riku asked, all traces of joking forgotten.

“Of course,” Sora shrugged. “And anyway, I don’t think Selphie would have minded you showing up in your nighties. What, you sleep like this all the time, right?” Sora pulled the sheets back and Riku reflexively covered his body as if Sora were instead pulling back a shower curtain. Sora raised an unimpressed eyebrow at Riku’s antics.

Riku quickly shook his head. “What’s Selphie got to do with anything?”

“Oh, my God, did you not notice? She was all over you.”

“She was just trying to get me to participate.”

“With her.” Sora wiggled his eyebrows.

“You’re such a gossip,” Riku scoffed.

“I bet Kairi noticed,” Sora continued thoughtfully, putting his phone on its charger. “I bet she’ll try to fix you two up together.”

“Unbelievable.”

“Do you remember when I was in the fourth grade and we all had to pick a career?” Sora asked, turning onto his side to face him.

Riku tended to get whiplash from Sora jumping from topic to topic. “What? Where’s this coming from?” Riku puzzled, doing the same.

“Do you remember?” Sora pressed, eyes wide and serious, and almost pleading and Riku couldn’t say no.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t in your grade.”

“Yeah, whatever though, I know we would have talked to you about it.”

“You didn’t have to. I knew you wanted to be a vet.”

“Yeah,” Sora said wistfully, touched that Riku would remember. “And Kairi had only just moved here. She wanted to be a princess. And when our teacher told her there weren’t any princesses here, she decided she would be a lawyer.”

Riku snorted.

“And… I’m sorry, I don’t remember what you wanted to be,” Sora said sheepishly.

“That’s okay, I probably wouldn’t have told you anyway. I don’t remember exactly, but I bet I would have wanted to be an adventurer….” They both let that sink in. “Or maybe a cop?”

“You’d be a terrible cop,” Sora chuckled.

“What? Why?”

“You’d literally go so easy on everyone, Riku,” Sora laughed. “Your records would be terrible! No solved crimes, no jailed criminals, no calls, just a lot of kids running around with big dreams and aspirations and candy no one knows where they got it from.”

That’s what you think of me?” Because that wasn’t true at all. He was all cheap shots and glory moments and lunges for strength and corruption. How could Sora not see that after everything he’d put him through?

“Yeah, Riku,” Sora grinned like it was obvious. “You know, when we were younger, I used to wanna be just like you.”

“Yeah, I know,” Riku smirked, before a large yawn took over.

“Shut up, this is embarrassing.” Sora punched him and it still did things to his weak, pathetic heart. “You were so cool, you know? You were older and stronger and braver and just… better. Everyone on the island wanted to be your best friend.”

“Yeah,” Riku sighed, hating the person he used to be. “I put a lot of work into creating that image.”

“But you chose me,” Sora continued. “And it made me really happy. Because you weren’t all that social, but you’d let me talk your ear off. I know I can get annoying, and… sometimes, I’m clingy, but you never thought so, did you?”

He forced himself to look Sora in the eye, so he’d knew he meant what he said. “No, Sora. Not even once.”

Sora beamed and Riku was weak. “I just want you to know that you’ve always been a really good friend to me. You’ve been my best friend for my whole life and the way you were inspired me to try harder, and work really hard at the things I want to do and… you should just know.”

Riku could raise the temperature of the room with just the heat in his cheeks. The rapid speed of his heart had to be unheard of. But if he was going to die tonight, then what a way to go. “Well then,” Riku cleared his throat, “I guess you should know something, too. I did a lot of that stuff, and acted that way so you’d stay looking up to me. So you’d keep wanting to be friends with me.”

Riku swore Sora’s eyes gleamed. “I’m always going to want to be friends with you, Riku.”

Riku was so tired, he was sure he had to be dreaming. Through the slits of droopy eyes, Sora looked like an angel, and Riku accepted that this may all very well be an extremely creative fantasy occurring within his mind.

“All that to say, I know you’re different now. You’re quieter and more reserved. You’re scared, and I know you’re hiding something from us, but I’m just… glad you still choose me.”

Riku willed his heart to slow the hell down, he wasn’t serious about dying tonight and croaked out, “I’ll always choose you, Sora.” Then promptly fell asleep.

*

The realization that Riku was inconveniently in love with Sora lacked all the wonder and romanticism that should have been there. Two years prior, when Sora had traveled the galaxy looking for Kairi, who he had kidnapped, he realized he was, admittedly, a little annoyed. Sure he had been acting like a crazy person, and kidnapped their best friend, but deep down, Riku thought that maybe Sora would have thought once that despite the stupid reasons he did it, Riku was keeping her safe. Riku was keeping her safe and still Sora had only concerned himself with rescuing her because that’s what heroes do.

Then Riku found himself wishing that Sora had put half that energy into trying to find him. Especially since he’d been a villain at the time, which, Riku would later realize, was nothing if not a cry for help. Sora would be so hurt if he knew Riku thought he hadn’t cared enough to find him, but the thought never strayed far from his mind ever since Maleficent uttered the words into his ear.

And God, Donald and Goofy struck a jealousy deep in Riku’s gut the likes of which he’d never seen. They, with their stupid idiotic faces and ridiculous… situations, had forced him right before his own eyes to realize that Sora wouldn’t always be enamored by the things Riku could do that he couldn’t. Eventually, he would just learn to do them, and he’d have the good heart not to gloat about it.

They made him see that someday, Sora might not need him anymore.

And with Maleficent there, sensing his every emotion, taunting his weakness and his pain, and promising him strength and power, how could he say no? He could do what he’d set out to do by seeing other worlds and egg Sora on in the process. He had Kairi (he’d never let any of the others watch out for her in the state she was in) what was the harm in taunting Sora and making him hurt the same way he was hurting?

And then he got too close to the fire, became much too confident, which was always going to be his downfall, and Ansem took over his body. Ansem took over his body and was going to seriously hurt Kairi, was going to make him defeat Sora, and Riku finally realized too late that he wasn’t strong enough. He couldn’t fight it anymore, he’d never be half the hero Sora was. Since he’d come all this way for Kairi, maybe Sora could save them both.

Of course he did. As heroically as possible, he even gave up his heart so Kairi’s could reform itself. It was then that Riku started to question. All he could do was apologize to Sora on opposite sides of the Door and ask him to take care of Kairi. All he could do was stay in the darkness with the King and fight. Maybe it would begin to right the wrongs he’d done.

The next time he’d been forced to wonder was when Sora was asleep so Naminé could restore the chain of his memories. It became utterly apparent that he missed the idiot. He’d fought through all of Castle Oblivion, fought the darkness within himself to find him and when he finally did, he wasn’t even awake? Naminé promised to take good care of him inside the pod, Riku would just have to do the best he could to make sure his best friend slept in peace and woke up the same person he was when he went in.

But he woke up even better.

He woke up after a year. A painful year of Riku missing him and thinking about him and fighting for him and checking on him and missing him even more, completely unaware of the things that year made Riku have to face.

He woke up innocent, and battle-ready, and unknowing of the things Riku had done to keep him safe. He had no idea about the nobodies he’d destroyed to make sure he woke up in peace. He didn’t know about the form he’d lost himself to. He had no idea that he’d let himself become a pawn again to someone who’d be a fool not to exploit Riku’s feelings for him.

But then Sora had started his journey and he started asking around if anyone looking like Riku had been by. His heart fluttered, but his face never betrayed him. The face of Ansem didn’t blush.

He knew for sure about his feelings long before Sora finally found him in The World That Never Was, long before Kairi made him have to face him in that body. But then Sora cried over him – about finding him and Riku knew he was utterly fucked, but he could keep it down. He knew he was being stupid at a time like that.

But then, there the two of them were, trapped alone together on The Dark Beach and Sora had pretty much agreed to rot away in the sand with him and Riku had a moment to think that maybe he wasn’t being quite so stupid after all when Kairi’s letter washed up on the shore.

And he put himself back in his place.

*

When Riku woke in the morning, it was to the sound of familiar laughter and though the sound itself was familiar, the setting was not. Under the sheets, he surreptitiously pinched himself, to be sure that he was, in fact, awake. He’d had dreams of waking up to Sora’s laughter, or Sora snuggling up to him on rainy mornings, or Sora in general more times than he could count, and if this had been a dream, he could play along.

But since it wasn’t, he groaned the most depressed and ill-fitted groan his vocal chords could form.

Out of his peripheral vision, he saw Sora jump and consequently drop his phone onto his lap. Retrieving it and pausing whatever he’d been watching, he smirked to himself before turning sapphire orbs onto Riku and greeting: “G’morning, Riku.”

“I think I’m gonna throw up. Everywhere. All over the place. I’m an idiot.”

“Want me to hold your hair?”

“Shut up.”

Sora cackled and placed his phone down. “I brought you up some water,” he divulged, reaching over to his nightstand to retrieve the glass. He gently placed it into Riku’s waiting hand and sat there watching him, arms crossed, smug.

“What’s your problem?” Riku growled, because not only was he hungover, he was a grouch in the mornings regularly.

“‘Oh I’m not drunk Sora,’” he said attempting to mimic Riku, but possibly just making himself sound incredibly unintelligent on purpose. “‘I’m always mature, Sora. And I’m older than you so you have to listen to me, Sora.’”

Okay, Sora,” Riku said impatiently.

“Drink your water, I’ll get you some Advil,” Sora said, still smug.

“Did you really not drink last night?”

Sora shrugged, finally abandoning his smug expression for a sheepish one as he rose from the bed. “I don’t like the taste of alcohol. You know that.”

“Baby,” Riku scoffed, in some show of superiority.

“Um-hm, says the one who’s being babied by me,” Sora retorted, walking out the door and very audibly galloping down the stairs. He returned in the time it took for Riku to fall back asleep with a smile on his face and two trays in hand. “And also, I made us pancakes.”

Riku sat up and, feeling even more disoriented than before, quickly looked around to gather his bearings as Sora carefully crawled back into bed. The sun glaring in through Sora’s open window was brighter than before, and the room was warmer, good old island humidity seeping in and causing him to toss the sheets off his torso. Atop the nightstand on his side were two blue tablets beside his water glass. Riku downed them as Sora place his tray onto his lap.

“Eat up, I don’t cook for just anyone,” Sora said around an open mouth full of very mashed pancake.

“Thanks,” Riku managed.

“Sure, Sure. We should check on Kairi later,” Sora said thoughtfully. “I’ll make her pancakes, too.” Sora bent over the edge of his bed again. “You wanna watch Netflix?” He asked as he produced his laptop from the floor.

Well, it was nice to feel special for two seconds.

Breakfast devoured, Parks and Recreation well underway, Sora turned to look carefully at Riku. “Feeling any better?”

“Yeah, actually. Thanks.”

They heard the back door slam before Sora could respond. “Mom?” He shouted very loudly and very near Riku’s ear.

“Hey, Sor!” Ms. Hikari shouted back.

“Oh, awesome,” Sora grinned, scrambling off the bed and running around to grab Riku. “Come on, come on, she’s gonna flip that you’re here.”

“She can’t see me like this!” Riku panicked.

“You don’t look hungover anymore,” Sora promised. “Just, maybe brush your hair real quick?” Sora skid over to his dresser and tossed Riku his brush. “It’s gotten so long now.”

“Wait, why don’t you have to brush your hair?” Riku pouted, wincing at the harsh tug of the brush.

Sora shrugged, again, smug. “I look like this every day.”

Like a stupid puppy, Riku rolled his eyes. He simply decided to tie his hair back and followed Sora downstairs.

“Oh, you made pancakes,” Genori cooed, setting down her bags and kicking off her shoes. In the action of taking down her hair, she caught sight of the boys coming down the stairwell and froze. “Is that my Riku?”

“Aw, you hear that?” Sora nudged Riku once he hit the landing, again, smug. “Her Riku.”

Genori smiled and it lit up the kitchen and if Sora smiled, too, the pure brightness of it all would explode the walls. Riku didn’t remember Sora’s father any more than Sora did, but it served well, since he got all his looks from Genori. The sable hair (though hers was much tamer) the 1000megawatt smile, the dimples (though Sora got the freckles all on his own) and the chipper disposition. The only thing Genori didn’t give him were his eyes. Where Sora’s were a calming cerulean, Genori’s were a bright forest green.

“Riku, I’m so glad you’re here!” she all but cheered, meeting him halfway across the kitchen. She reached up and placed a loving hand on his cheek. He had been taller than Genori before the storm, but now he loomed over her, a large, oppressive shadow in a room full of light. “I was wondering when I was going to see you in my house again.”

“Sorry,” Riku said, at a loss for what else there was to say.

“Don’t apologize,” Genori said, hands acting in a shooing motion. “You’ve all been readjusting. I’m sure you’ve been busy. Have you eaten?”

“Yeah, I thought we ate all the pancakes, actually,” Riku admitted sheepishly.

“Nah, I saved you some, Mom,” Sora said like it wasn’t obvious. He pulled up a stool and sat himself at the island.

Genori went to the stove and fixed herself a plate before placing it down on the island beside her son. “It’s just so nice to see you two together again. You know, Sora never stops talking about you.”

Mom!” Sora exclaimed, eyes wide with terror. “And Kairi,” Sora said, locking eyes with his mom.

“And Kairi,” Genori corrected quickly, trying poorly to contain a smile. “Take a seat, Riku, act like you’ve been here before!”

Riku laughed softly as he took a seat on the side across from her, adjacent to Sora.

“Wow, you’ve grown up so much, Riku,” Genori gushed, taking a bite of her pancakes. “And so handsome.”

Riku reflexively ticked his head to launch his hair forward, but remembered that he’d tied it back and consequently had to deal with:

“Dude, are you blushing?!”

“No,” Riku lied, glaring at Sora with blazing red cheeks.

Oh my God,” Sora crowed.

“Stop teasing him, Sora,” Genori scolded playfully. “You were just as embarrassed when you made it back and I called you my handsome, beautiful baby boy. Besides, he is handsome,” she insisted, like she expected to hear some input.

Mom,” Sora groaned, face blanching.

Riku covered his smirk with his hand.

“You look just like your father, Riku,” Genori said, grinning fondly at him. “With your mother’s hair.”

Riku’s heart stopped in his chest, but he forced a small smile before either Genori or Sora could notice the stall. “Come on, Genori,” Riku said bashfully.

“And you just look so mature and responsible,” she continued as if he hadn’t said anything, which very well could have been the point she was trying to make. “You know, you have my permission to pretty much live here part-time again and teach Sora how to be an adult,” she winked.

Hey!” Sora said, indignant. “I’m plenty adult!”

“Are you not the one who ran away and made Riku and Kairi have to go with you?” Genori raised an eyebrow.

What? Riku looked to Sora, confusion helplessly evident on his face and Sora looked down to his food. He raised his gaze pointedly to his mother, playful pout up to par on its usual cuteness. “I was fourteen!”

The king had told the three of them again and again that they could never mention that there were other worlds out there no matter what. They all agreed that they should tell their parents that they had simply taken the raft since that was the original plan, that it had gotten too far out for them to control anymore, that they actually wound up somewhere strange and new and had to work to survive, then make it back.

Even so, even with that story in place, Riku hadn’t been able to face Genori. His own mother was easier. She didn’t act like she saw the stars in his eyes. That was what he deserved after everything he’d done. Genori and Sora, this open house with wide open windows and sunshine, identical white-tooth smiles, and precious sapphire eyes… they weren’t luxuries Riku truly deserved anymore.

“I’m just saying it’s nice to know that if I can’t look out for you all the time, you have Riku,” Genori continued.

Mom!” Sora pleaded, still very obviously avoiding Riku’s gaze.

“Alright, alright,” Genori said, teasing smile dazzling below playful green eyes. “I’ve had a long shift. I’m going to bed.” She placed her hand lovingly against Riku’s face again. “Thanks for staying with Sora, sweetie,” she said, smiling sweetly. “Seriously, don't be a stranger, okay?”

“Okay,” Riku nodded, staring just above her eyes.

“Maybe you can get him to do his catch-up school work today,” she said, half teasing, half serious.

“Mom. Go,” Sora said, standing up and pointing up the stairs.

“I’m going, I’m going,” she laughed softly. She walked to the stairs with one last smile at the boys before climbing them.

Riku lasted one minute before he broke. “Sora, what–”

“Do you believe her?” Sora interrupted quickly, looking everywhere but at Riku.

Riku tried again. “Why does she think–”

“I make her pancakes and she bullies me,” Sora continued, chuckle dubious. Riku could see the desperation in his eyes. Please let it go.

Riku decided to let the distraction work. “You kind of had it coming. Wanna play a video game?”

Sora finally looked at him, face stony, as if trying to gauge whether or not he was really letting it go. When satisfied, he smiled in poorly concealed relief. “Sure. It’s been a while since we nearly ended our friendship that way.”

“True, true,” Riku grinned.

“Heads up, don’t think she’s kidding. She literally wants you to live here.”

“You two are too good to me.”

*

By “soon,” Kairi meant two days later.

Riku and Sora were sitting on Sora’s floor doing their catch-up school work when Kairi stepped through the open doorway, knocked softly on the wall and proclaimed that later on that night, they were having a sleepover. At her house with her strict parents who were surprisingly okay with it.

“Do you wanna stay and study with us till then?” Sora had asked.

“No I have to clean my house!” She exclaimed, and she was back out the door.

“What do you wanna bet she tries to talk Selphie up to you tonight?” Sora asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Are you still on that?”

“I think the better question is: ‘Why aren’t you on that?’”

“Did you mean that to sound as sexual as it did?”

“Huh?”

“Honestly, Sora, you’re adorable,” Riku said, condescendingly reaching out to ruffle his hair.

Sora smacked his hand away. “Shut up! You’re not that much older than me!”

“True, I’m just a lot more mature than you,” Riku continued, falling back into the habit of purposely egging on Sora he thought he’d never see again.

Sora glared at him with large blue eyes degrees colder than usual just like he used to and Riku smiling about it didn’t help.

 

That night, the boys showed up on Kairi’s doorstep at 9:00pm like she’d instructed, junk food and movies in hand and backpacks hanging off shoulders. Kairi opened the door wearing grey Sophie shorts and a Destiny Islands U hoodie.

“Oh great,” she commented, excitedly grabbing the movies from Sora and carding through them. “Good choices. Hey, go get changed! You brought pajamas right? We’re gonna do this sleepover thing right.”

Riku sulked out of the bathroom and down the stairs in sweatpants and a tank, a little embarrassed that he had been drafted for a sleepover rather than just a casually-hanging-out-all-night-together kind of thing. Kairi was standing by the TV, setting up the movie when he made it to the bottom of the stairs. He opened his mouth to voice his complaint when Sora came bounding down the stairs after him, causing enough racket to make both Riku and Kairi stop and stare because–

“What the fuck are you wearing?” Riku cackled.

“What?” Sora demanded defensively. “Mom took me shopping for school shoes at one of the shops and I saw this and I wanted it so I bought it!”

“But what is it?” Kairi giggled. “It looks like a baby onesie.”

“Holy shit, it’s a onesie, Sora!” Riku guffawed.

“You guys can laugh all you want but you’ll never be this comfortable in your lives, legs–” Sora shot a superior glance at Kairi. “Belly shirt.” He smirked over at Riku in turn.

“What’s ‘Disney’ mean?” Riku asked, dodging the belly shirt comment (because he hadn’t even worn that thing in two months). All along the large, baggy, candy-apple red actual onesie Sora was wearing was the word “Disney” printed in yellow onto the cloth. Even the zipper was a metal “Disney.” “Disney like the king’s castle?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Sora shrugged. “I guess I didn’t really notice? Anyway, the reason I bought it is because look at the hood part.” He flipped up the hood, large and black, sitting atop his head were two large black circles.

“They kind of look like mouse ears,” Kairi noted.

“Yeah it reminded me of the king, and my brain was like ‘you gotta,’ you know?” Sora explained, less affronted.

“Yeah,” Riku decided. “It’s uncanny. We gotta show him the next time we see him.”

“That’s what I said,” Sora nodded.

“You just look so ridiculous it’s cute,” Kairi snickered.

“For the record, Sora,” Riku said, folding his arms, “this is what I meant when I said I’m more mature than you.”

“But I’m more comfortable than you,” Sora shrugged, “so, it’s all subjective who the real winner is here, I’d say.”

“I’d say,” Riku rolled his eyes fondly.

“Let it go, Riku,” Kairi scolded playfully. “He’s adorable, so he doesn’t have to see reason.”

Story of Riku’s life.

One of the movies Riku had insisted on bringing was Inception. It had come out while they were scouring the worlds and he’d found himself mildly interested in it. Though the movie only lasted fifteen minutes before they instead wound up watching reruns of Steven Universe because Kairi wanted to gossip and Sora couldn’t stop making jokes about the characters. Which then led to Kairi all but demanding they play truth or dare and passing Sora a very significant and conspicuous wink before he quickly tacked on that it sounded like fun.

“How ‘bout it, Riku?” Sora asked, like it was no big deal to him either way, but he was practically bouncing on the floor.

“Well it is a sleepover,” Riku shrugged like it was no big deal to him either way, but it was. It really, really was, he did not want to do this; it was hard not to know what was coming.

“Okay, but we can’t get too loud,” Kairi reminded them, scooting closer so that they were positioned in a circle. “My parents are upstairs.”

“What the hell happens in truth or dare that gets that loud?” Riku raised an eyebrow.

“You’ve never played with Kairi,” Sora answered bumping shoulders with her.

To which Kairi not-so-lightly nudged him back and smirked, “Truth or dare, Sora.”

“Dare,” Sora nodded.

Kairi’s smirk quickly became frighteningly mischievous and she fixed Sora with a pointed look. “I dare you to g–”

“I change my mind, truth!” Sora decided, eyes wide and afraid.

“What?” Kairi exclaimed. “You can’t do that, that’s not even fair!”

“You weren’t looking at the face you just gave me!” Sora defended. “You weren’t even going to go easy on me and I’m not starting off this game, like, naked or something!”

“I wouldn’t have made you get naked,” Kairi huffed. “I was going to make you turn your onesie inside out in front of us.”

“So I pick truth,” Sora reiterated.

Fine,” Kairi groaned, throwing her arms up in exasperation. “Sora. How do you think you’re going to do this school year?”

“That’s boring,” Sora complained.

“You made it boring!”

“Fine, I’ll do alright, if Riku keeps helping me study,” Sora hinted, turning to smile almost sheepishly at Riku.

Riku rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I usually just wind up telling him the answers.”

“And it helps!” Sora nodded vigorously.

“Okay, okay, It’s your turn now,” Kairi said impatiently.

“Oh, okay. Truth or dare, Kairi,” he said, eyeing her just as viciously as she had eyed him.

“Dare,” she said willfully, folding her arms and staring him down.

“Okay.” Sora’s face became thoughtful. “I dare you to…. I dare you to lick Riku’s foot.”

“Ah, no Sora!” Kairi begged, overdramatically hugging her body to herself.

“That’s kinda gross, Sora,” Riku drawled, though he was heavily amused.

“It is,” Sora agreed heartlessly. “But she agreed to a dare.”

“I can’t do it,” Kairi moaned. “I won’t do that. What’s my punishment?”

“You gotta cut your bangs off,” Sora responded simply, like it made total sense and was completely rational.

“What the fuck, Sora?!” Kairi shrieked.

Fine,” Sora relented, sighing like this cost him all the effort in the world. “Go take a sharpie and write ‘wuss’ on your forehead.”

Kairi crawled to her feet and groaned all the way into the kitchen to find one.

Damn, Sora,” Riku marveled, turning wide eyes to his secretly-very-devious best friend.

Sora simply shrugged like he shouldn’t be surprised. Really, he shouldn’t, but still, damn. He’d never played truth or dare with Kairi, but miraculously more detrimental was that he’d never played with Sora.

Kairi emerged from the kitchen donning the deepest of frowns, her forehead labelled correctly with a few backwards letters and the sight of it was so funny that for once, Riku founds himself laughing just as hard as Sora. “Your turn, Riku, you jerk,” she seethed over their raucous laughter.

“Yeah, see all along I thought I was the mean one, but I’m nothing compared to you two,” Riku admitted. “Alright, Kairi. Truth or dare?”

“Dare,” she said.

“Really?” Sora asked, just as incredulous as Riku was.

“I’m not a wuss,” she glared. “Dare.”

“Alright then,” Riku shrugged noncommittally, in a way that made them think it was going to cost Kairi. From that moment on, they all knew it would. “I dare you to text everyone in your phone a picture of your dad’s ass.”

Kairi protectively clutched her phone close to her. “No. No. No way in hell, Riku. There are some things in life a child is never meant to see, dammit! What’s my punishment?”

“Clinging to not wanting to cut your bangs off?” Riku smirked, face splitting wider with a grin the harder Kairi glared. “Then you can go change ‘wuss’ to ‘wussy wuss.’”

Gah!!” Kairi bellowed, storming back into the kitchen to the accompaniment of the boys snickering.

Sora silently held out his hand and feeling the proudest he’d felt of himself in the past two years, Riku slapped his own against it.

“Okay, assholes,” Kairi declares, plopping herself back into the circle, forehead creased in frustration and distorting her newest label, making this whole thing even funnier. “It’s my turn so, truth or dare, Riku?”

“Truth,” he answered quickly.

“Awesome, tell us how you feel about Selphie,” she ordered, folding her arms against her chest.

Riku waited, letting the events of the past fifteen minutes add up and fall into place in his mind before it clicked. “Oh my God was this whole charade to see how I feel about Selphie?!”

“Yeah and now you have to answer completely truthfully,” Kairi pressed, grinning mischievously.

“Well I truthfully don’t like her that way.”

Kairi scrutinized him, trying to feel out whether he was lying or not. “Fine,” she sighed finally. “Don’t you like anyone, Riku?” She whined.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Riku murmured, before he could think about it and realize he said that out loud. “I just don’t really think about things like that too much,” he recovered quickly.

“Lame,” Kairi scoffed.

“It’s not lame,” Sora interjected.

“Oh come on, it is,” Kairi insisted. “Who ‘just doesn’t think about things like that?’”

“Well, I don’t,” Sora admitted.

“Well of course you don’t, you’re an infant.”

“Wait… don’t you two have a thing?” Riku asked, hiding his sheepishness behind his hair. It had been plaguing his mind for the past three years, especially within the last two months. He never thought he’d ever bite the bullet and ask, especially this way, but at least he could finally go ahead and get the heartbreak over.

No,” Kairi moaned, long and drawn out at the same time Sora began chuckling. “I mean, we – no.”

“I mean, I used to,” Sora admitted, like it wasn’t important.

“Aw, you did?” Kairi turned her head to look at him, beaming, face pink. “I used to, too.”

“You’ve never talked about it?!” Riku demanded, exasperated and stunned.

“Oh my God no,” Kairi laughed. “I thought I was supposed to wait until Sora said something.”

“I thought she liked you, dude,” Sora informed Riku.

“This is horribly awkward,” Riku decided.

“But then Kingdom Hearts happened,” Kairi recalled. “Right?”

“Yeah,” Sora nodded, eyes turning thoughtful. “I mean I went through so much just to get the two of you back, and when I did, the only thing I could care about, or even make myself really think about was the fact that I had my best friends back and. I love you so much Kairi, but I like being your friend the best.”

“Same,” Kairi laughed, holding out her arms to Sora who fell right in.

“Did you two just break up?” Riku deadpanned, emotions run dry. “I’m never playing truth or dare with either of you again.”

“But it’s my turn,” Sora complained, releasing Kairi.

“Fine, whatever,” Riku folded his arms. He couldn’t believe himself for letting himself get angry over this, but it was difficult not to. He’d spent so many years very highly aware of the rivalry he and Sora had over Kairi, and over the years, he accepted that place in Sora’s heart: best friend/ rival for Kairi. He knew he’d never win her, not over Sora, but at least it had been fun and it made Sora have to appreciate what a threat Riku would have been (and inadvertently, what a catch he could have been). A feat and a trial that, though enjoyable, hadn’t even truly mattered.

He had a headache.

“So, Riku, truth or dare?”

“Kill me,” Riku answered. “Actually kill me.”

“Truth or dare,” Sora said impatiently.

“Dare. Someone dare me to go home.”

“Fine, Riku, I dare you to go home,” Sora said, calling his bluff.

When Riku didn’t move, Sora’s smirk only deepened. Riku sighed. “I’ve literally gotta rethink the last few years of my life.”

“What, over me and Sora?” Kairi demanded.

“Well, yeah!” Riku rolled his eyes. “I mean, just… so much hinged on that.”

“On me and Kairi,” Sora deadpanned. “On me and Kairi what? Liking each other? Getting together? What?”

“I don’t know.”

Kairi watched Riku much like she did when she saw him in the body of Ansem – like she’d be able to understand if she stared long enough. “Why’s it such a big deal?” She asked finally.

“It’s not,” Riku said, not meaning to sound as defensive as he did. “It’s just if you two aren’t…. Then…. First of all, I owe Wakka money,” Riku realized angrily. “But then, what was the point?” Why had he been such a jerk to Sora? Why had he even opened the Door? Hadn’t the fact that Sora and Kairi would end up together no matter how he felt about it been the deciding factor that pushed him to do anything? To get used to doing things all alone? “It’s the reason any of this happened.”

Sora snorted. “You’re talking like me and Kai had a love greater than anything in the universe.”

That’s when it hit him that that was definitely how he had perceived it. And now here he was, sitting in the floor of Kairi’s living room in the middle of truth or dare, no less, while his worldview was cracking.

He’d nearly destroyed the worlds for nothing. For strength and power and a jealousy that, in the end, was even pettier than originally thought possible. He’d never felt like a bigger asshole in all his life.

And Kairi kept staring at his profile until, finally, he turned to her. She raised a red eyebrow and Riku felt like she was looking right through him. He ticked his hair over his face to hide it from Kairi’s piercing eyes and when he did, her confusion was almost palpable.

“Let’s stop,” Sora decided, pulling his eyes away from Riku. He looked at Kairi who nodded, then forced a small smile. “Wanna go back to watching Interception? Me and Kai will shut up this time.”

“It’s Inception, idiot,” Riku chuckled lightly, perfectly aware that Sora had messed up the name on purpose in a cheap trick (that actually worked) to get a laugh.

When Sora smiled this time, it was real. Small, but real. He looked to Kairi to see her looking both happy and a little relieved. Awkward spell resolved, Riku really hoped they could all just move on from it and continue whatever other sleepover rituals Kairi had planned for the night.

Movie resumed from where it had been paused, Sora sitting contentedly between Kairi and himself, Riku thought maybe it was time to stop meditating on how much he didn’t deserve them and start working on ways he could possibly start to.

The only thing they’d ever wanted from him was for him to be more open with them and he couldn’t do that feeling like this, feeling like the same prideful, foolish child that tempted the fates and opened the Door.

He could do with a change.

 

He was surrounded by darkness punctured with angry, glowing yellow dots. The darkness moved in jumbled unity, yellow orbs blinking, advancing as he summoned his keyblade and steadied himself. The moment he began to wonder how he got back here, a loud clicking sound startled Riku awake. Panicked, he tried to sit up, but found himself weighted down slightly. He gathered his surroundings, taking in Kairi’s living room television on the home screen to Inception, junk food on the carpet, sunlight streaming in through the unfamiliar angle of Kairi’s living room window.

Sora was pressed up against his right arm, Kairi pressed against Sora’s, head resting on his shoulder as a very awake Sora held his phone up higher.

Click.

Ah. That was what woke him.

sleepover w/the crew” Sora typed into the small black box across the screen. Then he hit the arrow and Riku felt his own phone vibrate from within his pocket, notifying him of a new notification from Snapchat.

Sora went back into his camera and held up his phone again, angling it again so that he could capture all three of them just right. Riku watched on as he grinned that stupid grin he did for most his selfies – eyes squeezed shut tight and tongue poking out from between his teeth.

Fucking dork.

Sora brought the phone down and typed: “the boyz (and gurl) are back” before saying softly to his phone screen: “I didn’t know you were awake.” He hit the arrow. Riku felt his phone vibrate. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Riku said quickly, realizing Sora was talking to him. He must have seen him in the picture he just posted. “It’s just… you’re such a dork.”

“Bruh,” Sora said, and left it at that.

“How long have you been creepily snapchatting your poor, defenseless, sleeping best friends?” Riku asked around a knowing smile.

“I’ve got no shame, it’s been like twenty minutes, you guys are my story now,” Sora said, tone honest and without inflection. He went to his Snapchat story and clicked it open. “Observe. You’re famous.”

But one glance at himself and he no longer had it in him to laugh. Was that how he looked now? Spending so much time in the darkness had left him extremely skilled in getting around without really seeing, getting himself dressed and groomed without his sight. He hadn’t truly seen himself in so long and true he no longer bore the face of Ansem, but this was just as bad. He looked horrible. Tired and thin, skin pale and sallow, hair too long and too much like Ansem’s. Maybe he’d left the darkness but he looked every bit like he could call a swarm of heartless at any moment to… to destroy everything all over again.

It was convenient Sora was so invested in his phone or he might have seen the utter horror in Riku’s eyes at the sight of himself.

Sora.

Riku shook his head, hair falling over his eyes before he angrily swiped it away. How is he not afraid of me?

Riku watched silently as Sora pulled up a picture of just Riku, clearly taken before he had woken up, head lulled so far to the side, his neck appeared to be in danger, drool flowing out of his mouth and in that direction. He uploaded it to Snapchat, typing: “oh shit, it’s dat boi Riku whaddup” and posted it, turning his face back and up to smile cheekily at Riku.

Riku couldn’t stop the rolling of his eyes, no matter how disgusted he felt.

“You’re like a meme-jewel, Riku,” Sora said, turning back to his phone. “A Rare Pepe of sorts.”

“Why the hell do I talk to you, you loser?” Why does he talk to you, you monster?

“Why the hell are you even talking go back to sleep!” Kairi growled. With that, she aggressively lifted her legs from under her, turned her body and laid them across both Sora and Riku’s own legs, head still pressed into Sora’s shoulder as she refused to open her eyes.

Riku’s hair fell forward as Sora turned back to look up at him, trying and failing to hold in a snicker at Kairi’s outburst. Riku joined in, finding his amusement did little to dispel the sensations of filth and guilt from within him.

He could do with a change. Disdainfully, he pulled his hair back off his face, knowing a good place to start.

*

But to do that, at least for the first thing, he would need Kairi’s help. Kairi had been only too pleased to provide him the favor. In fact, as soon as he’d sent the text, she’d replied in all caps and showed up on his doorstep in under twenty minutes, backpack in hand. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked him in lieu of any type of polite, or normal greeting.

“Yeah, hurry up, before I talk myself out of doing this,” Riku replied gruffly. He ushered her in and shut the door behind her. He led her upstairs to his room and shut the door. He didn’t know how long this would take and if his mom might come home in the middle of it.

“You got a chair or something?” Kairi asked, glancing around his very chair-less room.

“Yeah hang on,” he pulled a stool out from his closet and set it in the middle of the floor.

Kairi gestured for him to take a seat then groaned from behind him. “And you’re still too tall,” she complained.

“Hang on,” Riku smirked. He went down into the kitchen to retrieve the small step stool his mom used to reach the taller cabinets. When he stepped back into the room with it, Kairi glared, but accepted it nonetheless.

“Thanks for letting me do this,” Kairi said, squatting down to dump out the contents of her backpack. She picked up the scissors and methodically slipped her fingers into the spaces like she knew it scared him. “I’m gonna think of it like revenge for truth or dare.”

“Well I see you got the writing off,” Riku said sheepishly, smiling apologetically.

“No. No I didn’t, this is foundation,” Kairi informed him, snipping the scissors in his direction.

“Good job, you’re really skilled,” Riku tried again.

“Sit down,” Kairi smirked, rolling her eyes. Riku obediently lowered himself onto the stool as Kairi stepped up onto the step stool behind him. She gathered his hair into her hands. “What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know,” Riku sighed, feeling himself grow nervous. “Just… just make it look how it used to, I guess.”

“Okay, but I’m gonna use the technique I used to use on my dolls, ‘cause it’s the only one I know.”

“Whatever you need to do, I guess.”

“Awesome.” With that, Riku felt her gather his hair more securely in her hand before she tied it up. He heard the cut before he felt it, then a much lesser amount of his hair was falling back around his face.

“Did… did you just cut my hair off in a ponytail?” Riku asked, voice startlingly level.

“Yeah, check it out,” and she held the severed ponytail out in front of his face and Riku felt his heart pause because something about that was just so unsettling and that was a part of him not two minutes ago.

She dropped it onto his lap and he nearly screamed.

“Don’t pass out, Riku,” Kairi giggled from behind him, gathering up what was left of his hair. “I’m not done. I promise even though you and Sora made me write on my own face, I’m not gonna screw up your hair.”

Riku could manage only an embarrassingly shaky sigh.

Fingers tightly gripping the stretched fabric along the curve of his knee, he braced himself as Kairi brought the scissors back to his hair. Teeth clenched in nervousness, he listen to the intermittent snipping of more of his tresses. A quick glance down revealed the massacre surrounding his stool along the floor. He watched it grow and grow, feeling a strange mixture of remorse and good-riddance for his silver fallen comrades.

Finally, Kairi made it to his bangs. Fully combed out, they reached his lips. Kairi lifted the curtain of his hair, giving him a reassuring grin. “Calm down okay? It’s looking pretty good. When I’m finished and I give you the mirror, you’re gonna be like ‘whoa, Kairi, I was freaking out for absolutely nothing you’re the best I can’t wait for Sora to see me!’”

Riku froze as Kairi continued to ramble on, laughing at her own teasing. There was no way to know what she meant by that. He was probably being paranoid, as that was kind of his strong suit.

This wasn’t the time, he decided. Back to panicking.

“What are your parents going to say?” Kairi asked after a long, silent stretch.

Riku looked up at her through the eye that was no longer blocked by his bangs. “I’m not sure. She’ll probably like it, I think. But I don’t really care.”

“What about your dad?”

Riku looked down, keeping his face flat. “He probably won’t say anything.”

Sensing a shift in mood, despite how very slight it was, Kairi left it at that, continuing to snip carefully away at his bangs until, finally, she closed her scissors and stuck them into the back pocket of her shorts. She carded her fingers through his hair and ruffled it a bit, walking around to assess her finished product.

She hummed softly as she stooped to grab a bottle off the floor. She squeezed the contents into her hands, rubbed them together, then carded them evenly back through the strands of his hair. Riku felt her ruffle it again, comb it out, then she stopped.

“Alright,” she sighed after a minute. Poking her face back in front of his, Riku couldn’t help but grin at her obvious elation. “You wanna see?” She held out a small hand-held mirror.

Riku tried not to let his hesitance show as he cautiously took the mirror into his hands. He held the mirror up in front of his face, noticing first how strange it was to look at his own reflection and immediately see both his eyes. He looked like an entirely new person. He looked so much younger. His head felt so much lighter on his shoulders in lieu of the weight of his hair and the weight of the monster he felt it had made him resemble. It now sat right at the nape of his neck, just long enough for him to still look like Riku, but no longer a patron of darkness.

He saw himself smile and felt a sigh of relief leave his body.

“Oh good,” Kairi issued her own sigh of relief, appearing behind him in the mirror. “You like it?”

“Kairi, this is great,” Riku said, lowering the mirror and pulling her into a one-armed hug. “Thanks. I feel a lot better.”

“You look a lot better, too,” Kairi nodded. “You look happier.”

That was how he felt. Happy and light.

“I’m doing your hair from now on,” Kairi decided then, smile daring him to argue her about it. “This is a good look for you.”

“I trust you,” Riku decided then, knowing it was something he’d never said enough to his friends.

Kairi looked taken aback, but very pleasantly so. “Thanks,” she smiled.

“So. Is this what the world looks like all the time?” Riku joked.

“Yeah, looking at the world through both eyes is a commonality for the rest of us,” Kairi teased.

*

In the days that followed, Riku had nothing but free time. He had the rest of an entire summer to fill before school started back up, so he took full advantage of his days. He was an early riser since birth, and the air was nice out in the mornings. Having energy to burn, he ran along the beach in the mornings, learning that Selphie went running in the mornings as well, so sometimes, they met up. He studied more methodically, even ate something green and leafy here and there. He knew it would take time, but he was willing to work at trying to be at peace with himself.

Looking in the mirror every morning and seeing Riku-definitely-Riku helped most of all.

Twenty minutes into his run down the boardwalk of the mainland, he saw it, noticing it only for all of Selphie’s gushing about it the day before. Had she not said anything, he could have lived the rest of his life without noticing it and been perfectly fine.

However, he entered the pet shop very cautiously at first. He had never been bad with animals, but he had never been particularly good with them either. His mother wasn’t good with them and never let him have a pet. Pets were more Sora’s thing when they were kids. Genori never went a day without complaining about some animal Sora had snuck home in his backpack.

“Hi, good morning!” The pretty clerk chirped over the overhead bells announcing his entrance.

“Hi,” Riku said, hoping his smile seemed at least a fraction more comfortable than he felt.

“Are you looking for a particular animal?” She asked.

“Oh, uh, no, I–” Shocked at his own awkwardness, he paused, took a breath and tried again. “No, I just wanted to… look.” That didn’t fix it.

“Oh sure,” the girl nodded, having the good grace not to acknowledge his antics. “Look around. We have the cutest pets on the islands.” She probably had to say that. “Let me know if you need anything.”

“Sure.”

Animals were nice, he supposed. Sora seemed to love them and so did Kairi. Animals were said to be great stress-relievers. Science backed that one up, he’d read countless articles on that over the years for school. Not to mention, Sora always conveniently forwarded such articles to his email and shared an almost startling amount of to-do-with-animals links on social media. Maybe after his runs, he could begin coming by to pet a dog or two.

Though admittedly, he liked cats. They were quiet and low maintenance. They liked to be left alone and didn’t require a large amount of attention and those were all attributes he understood quite well.

The birds were colorful, he noted, as he made his way further into the building. Kairi loved birds. For a pet shop on the islands, Riku hadn’t expected to see much more than a plethora of parrots and parakeets, and in that right he was not disappointed.

And lizards were interesting. More specifically, the iguanas. He watched one crawl from its barky branch to its leafy pallet, claw changing color upon the touch and remembered the time Sora kept a lizard in a jar in his closet for four days and cried when it died and Riku said a few words at the midnight funeral they held for it.

The dogs in the final room had been, for the most part, peacefully lying about in their cages until they heard him walk in, at which point, they became barking, howling maniacs. Predictably, the puppies rushed up to the gate of their cages to get closer to him, to get affection from the new human in the room, reaffirming his heavy opinion that dogs were loud and needy.

Rolling his eyes fondly, he walked down the main aisle, reaching to pet the dogs within his reach until he was about halfway through the room, pausing at the one dog acting a little unusually.

The blond Labrador looked to be honestly a little depressed. It lay strewn out across its floor mat, half facing away from him, breathing slowly and evenly as if trying to sleep.

“Here… boy?” Riku tried.

It turned its head, slowly and deliberately only to look upon Riku with utter disinterest like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world than here in this room in this cage on this ground looking at Riku, and it was generally off-putting and most likely the last thing anyone ever wanted in a dog, but,

“You have his eyes,” Riku marveled, because it was strange. Large and wide and expressive and blue as the sky while, at the same time, they couldn’t have been more different because these eyes were cold and expressively indifferent, hard and stony. This was a feeling a displacement he’d felt once before. A feeling of displacement he’d remember forever and for many different reasons, his chest ached.

*

That night, he climbed into bed, feeling a new, rare itch of excitement beneath his skin for the next day. Unexpectedly friendly and content, his new k-9 companion lay at the foot of his bed, curled into a tiny blond ball of fur, nametag reading “Roxas” in the moonlight.

*

Eight in the morning and way too early on a Saturday yielded an utterly inexcusable text from Sora of all people. “kai’s destiny day is coming up.” Utterly inexcusable until he read it, that was.

It’s next week, right?” Riku replied, wiping sleep from his eyes.

Sora’s response was immediate. “six days.”

Do you have a plan or is this you hinting that we’re coming up with a plan today?” Riku asked.

are you free?”

I’m always free for you, idiot. He sighed at himself, typing: “Yeah, come by in an hour?”

k.”

Riku was in his backyard when Sora made it by. His mother was out running errands, so he felt more secure in his skin knowing that she wouldn’t spend the entire morning watching him like she no longer knew him.

Like she ever did.

He was giving Rox a bath in the kiddie pool he, Sora, and Kairi used to play in as kids when he heard the backyard gate creak and Sora came walking around the house, leisurely, hands behind his head, grin lazy and casual and kind of heart-stalling as usual. Riku raised a hand in a wave of acknowledgement, continuing to rinse what was left of the soap from Rox’s fur when a loud “WHOA!” sounded, causing him to drop the hose.

Riku jumped up, startled something was happening around him that he hadn’t noticed yet, but when he looked to Sora, he was confused to see that the cause for his alarm, at least judging from where Sora was still staring, wide-eyed and mouth agape, was Riku, himself. When Sora fell back against the house, Riku got concerned.

“What’s wrong with you?” he demanded.

“I – are you trying to kill me?” Sora near on shouted.

Taken aback, instinctively, Riku held his hands out in front of himself, panicking for reasons he thought he was overcoming. “I’m sorry!” He shouted immediately. “Did I hurt you somehow I–”

“Y-you didn’t warn me!” Sora screamed instead, slapping a hand against his chest.

“I didn’t warn you–?”

“You just told me to come over here, Riku, and I thought we were going to be working on plans for Kairi’s destiny day and that’s all!” Sora exclaimed, red-faced and flustered, as he launched into an explanation that, up to par with all the goings on of the last two minutes, made absolutely no sense.

“What the actual fuck–?”

You got a haircut!” Sora yelled, hands flying up to cover his face, head shaking back and forth, brown spikes going haywire. “You got a haircut and you were giving a bath to a puppy!”

In his mind played the actual sound of a record screeching to a stop.

“I need a moment,” Sora’s voice pleaded, muffled through his hands.

“Fucking shit,” Riku muttered, rolling his eyes with what felt like his entire head. He nearly toppled over from the released adrenaline.

“Alright, man, I’m sorry,” Sora said diminutively, peaking out between his fingers.

“Well aren’t you a drama queen?!” Riku yelled. “Nearly gave me a goddamn heart attack, this kid, I fucking thought I–”

“I’m sorry,” Sora repeated, finally pulling himself away from the side of the house and removing his hands, though his face was still incredibly red, and though Riku found it incredibly cute, he was still both too incredibly pissed and incredibly confused to really think much of it.

“Yeah, there’s a time and a place for your stupid dramatics, Sora, I almost summoned my keyblade in broad daylight!”

“It wasn’t on purpose, I wasn’t trying–” Sora stopped mid protest, eyes locked heavily on his before he righted his posture. “I know,” he said instead, proving yet again that Riku still hadn’t completely relearned Sora. There was a lot that changed him over the past two years that Riku hadn’t been there for and one of those things seemed to be a healthy dose of responsibility and introspection.

“Well then what the fuck was that?” Riku demanded, forcing himself to stop yelling.

“Nothing, it’s all cool,” Sora said, still looking far too flustered for that to be even remotely true, but Riku was done arguing the intermittent weirdness of his best friend. “So, when’d you get a puppy?” Sora asked, voice back to sounding like the definition of good intentions. He neared the kiddie pool and dropped to his knees, face carefully turned away from Riku as he ruffled the puppy’s fur.

“Oh,” Riku murmured. He hadn’t seen Sora in over a week, and that explained some of the shock, but none of the dramatics. “A few days ago. Selphie’s been talking about the pet shop down by the boardwalk for a few days and I finally went inside and me and this little guy had a connection,” Riku smirked at the end.

An unreadable gleam crossed Sora’s eyes before he nodded and asked: “What’s his name?”

Oh. He hadn’t thought this through. “Roxas.” Shit. “I… call him Rox. To differentiate better.”

Finally, Sora raised his gaze to look back at him, looking like he didn’t quite know how to feel about that. Riku thought he might have been getting angry until, finally, he cracked a sad kind of smile and nodded again. “It makes sense. He does kind of look like him.”

“I know he’s important to you,” Riku said without really thinking, kneeling down beside Sora and pulling Rox out of the pool. “And when I saw him I immediately thought about Roxas because he was so….”

“Unhappy,” Sora supplied evenly.

“But he also reminded me of you,” Riku said quickly, again without really thinking. “But that’s probably because he’s a puppy and, dude, you’re kind of like a puppy,” Riku explained in a joking tone.

“I’ve been told that from time to time,” Sora said, like they didn’t both already know. “Puppies are kind of great. You read my articles.”

“I thought it would be kind of meaningful to do, you know?” Riku admitted, feeling incredibly stupid. “For Roxas. Just until we can… help him.”

“Do you really think we can?” Sora asked, looking too hopeful for how unsure on absolutely anything Riku was.

“I know the king thinks we can. We’ll find a way,” Riku decided, nodding. “If the king thinks there’s a way, I trust him.”

“Yeah,” Sora said, Riku’s pep talk doing its job in taking at least some of Sora’s worry away. “And Roxas is strong,” Sora said, placing a hand over his heart like maybe Roxas would feel it, too.

That was one thing Riku knew far too well. He still had the battle scars to prove it. “Definitely strong, that one,” Riku said in remembrance.

Sora smiled at that. “He’ll be okay,” and maybe he was saying that more for himself than anything else, but at least he was saying it.

“Yeah,” Riku nodded.

“Now back to this puppy!” Sora exclaimed, nearly falling on his face in the grass in his poor efforts to grab Rox who was soaking wet and getting Sora equally as soaking wet.

“You’re both a puppy and an infant,” Riku commented.

“You love me, so shut up,” Sora cooed to Rox, holding the pup’s face in his big, clumsy hands as it pawed its way onto Sora’s lap.

Flustered at everything happening, Riku stayed silent.

“Oh and Riku?” Sora asked, laughing as Rox yipped and licked at his face, which was insulting because Rox was never this rambunctious with just Riku.

“Yeah,” Riku said, feeling the oddest sense of jealousy he’d ever felt in all his life.

Face as red and flushed as before, Sora bit his lip and turned to Riku as Rox continued to fight for his attention, admitted: “I never realized before how much I missed seeing your eyes.”

And Riku. Riku felt his soul depart his body.

*

They had only been children when Kairi washed up on the beach, the news going far, far over their four-year-old heads.

“She did not wash up on the beach, Sora,” Riku had said, already taller and braver and now apparently even smarter than Sora now that he was five. “People don’t wash up on beaches.”

“Well she did!”

“Who said?” Riku had challenged, crossing his arms.

“My dad said!” Sora had yelled, pushing himself up into Riku’s face. “And my mom! They saw her!”

“They saw her?” Riku had gasped, changing his condescending tone to one of shock and wonder. Sora’s dad knew everything, sometimes even more than Riku’s dad. “They really did?”

“Yeah, they took her to the mayor!” Sora said conspiratorially, lording it over Riku that he finally knew something Riku didn’t.

It hadn’t been too long before Genori had asked the mayor if he’d like to let his new daughter have a playdate with her son and his best friend. The mayor agreed and the rest was history.

As the years passed, and the three of them grew closer, it came up between them that Kairi did not know where she came from, nor did she remember anything before she woke up on the islands. And as all the other children grew and started school and had parties, it became painful that Kairi just didn’t have a past.

They had no birth date to celebrate, so instead, Sora had the idea that they celebrate the day she came to them. The day she came to Destiny Islands. They celebrated her destiny day.

*

When Kairi’s destiny day came, despite everything they had all been through, she only wanted to spend the day with them on the play islands like always. Riku and Sora had her meet them there so they could surprise her with the cake they (Sora) made.

Ritualistically, Kairi and Sora sat themselves on their curved paopu tree, Riku leaning against its trunk, and watched the sea.

“You’re sixteen now, you know,” Sora started. “We could do anything you want. You still have time to come up with something really good.”

Kairi laughed softly, turning to face Sora, purple-tinted eyes bright. “But this is what I want. I missed the islands and I missed my boys.”

Under other circumstances they would have teased her for such sentimentality.

“Have you not been here since we made it back?” Sora asked, sounding surprised.

Kairi shrugged, glancing around them. “A lot, actually. I got back before you. I spent a lot of time here waiting for you two to get back. This place means a lot of different things to me now. My heart is here.”

Riku hadn’t ever truly considered what Kairi must have gone through while they were fighting Xemnas and she was waiting here scared and just as afraid they’d never see their home again as they were.

“I’ve been back a few times,” Sora stated, sounding just smug enough to elicit what-ever competitiveness was left in Riku. “This is where I get my seashells. And also, now I can do all the stuff Riku used to say I couldn’t.”

“That’s sweet, Sora,” Riku teased.

“Shut up, Riku,” Sora scoffed, looking away, surely hiding his face, “it doesn’t have anything to do with you! I come here to train and exercise mostly. I figure I should stay fit and ready because the king could need us at any time!”

“You’ve been training?” Kairi asked, scandalized. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have come with you! I want to train too!”

“Sorry,” Sora said, extremely apologetic as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t think you guys would care. You can come with me next time,” he offered.

“Okay, I’ll take you up on that,” Kairi nodded excitedly. “And what about you, Riku,” she started, turning to him, a challenging smile on her face. “Have you been training, too?”

“Uh, I go running sometimes,” Riku answered, sheepishly.

“Training for battle, not your beach bod,” Kairi amended, as if Riku really understood that there was, and had consequently gotten himself a little confused by, the supposed difference.

“The running isn’t for the beach bod!” he protested, doing a good job of further embarrassing himself. “I’m keeping fit? Like we should all be doing? Running is good for you, you know. Releases endorphins and all that good stuff.”

“Uh-huh, well I’m going to surpass you,” Sora said, grin taking up half his face, “and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Kairi shouted in the background, taking on the role of “instigator.”

“Saves the world a few times and suddenly thinks he’s indestructible,” Riku scoffed.

“I’ve proven that I have it in me,” Sora shrugged nonchalantly, though the proffered challenge brewed deep in his eyes. “Meanwhile, you keep getting better at running. It may very well be the only thing you can beat me at anymore.”

Kairi loudly sniffed the air, then roughly nudged Riku. “Riku. Riku I smell the biggest challenge.”

“And I’m old enough not to fall for it,” Riku said quickly. He wasn’t fifteen anymore. He didn’t have to fall for Sora’s bait. Even if (since when did Sora start baiting me?) it slightly hurt his pride not to.

“Very well,” Sora sighed, rising with all the confidence of someone who had won. Won what, Riku couldn’t be sure. “Kairi, if you’re up to it, I can teach you some stuff while we’re here?”

“Really?” Kairi beamed, jumping off the tree and summoning her keyblade. “This is shaping up to be one of our best destiny days. A bestiny day if you will.”

Riku watched as Sora guided Kairi by her shoulders to a good space and instructed her to mimic his stance. Sora raised a knowing eyebrow and that was what let Riku know he’d just been caught staring. Riku quickly averted his gaze, unable to stop himself from intermittently glancing back up and felt himself smiling at the light faint red across Sora’s cheeks.

“You don’t have much to learn I think,” Sora said thoughtfully, appearing to use a lot of effort to turn his attention back to Kairi. “You fought some heartless already. In The World That Never Was.”

“Yeah, but I was with Riku. I fought, but he did all the defense.”

“Great, then we can work on defense,” Sora decided, nodding.

Riku continued to casually observe as dorky, goofy, smile-for-days, never-going-to-grow-up Sora taught resilient, level-headed Kairi the tactics of basic defense. His eyes looked on with a steady righteousness Riku had only seen a few times before, (usually directed right at him) eyebrows level with determination, encouraging smile in place to reassure Kairi that she was doing just fine.

Eventually, they both felt confident enough to try actually sparring. Riku feigned affronted when they bet each other that the winner sparred him. In the end, he was rooting for Kairi. She showed an alarming amount of promise, and he knew she hated feeling left behind.

The sparring was taking an unexpected turn, Kairi holding her own much better than either of them truly expected, defending herself against Sora’s attacks left and right and even from above.

Kairi,” Sora huffed, voice leaking approval, “Have you been practicing behind my back? Did you just hustle me?”

“No unfortunately,” Kairi huffed back, blocking another of Sora’s otherwise extremely effective attacks. “Wish I could say I did.”

It took a well-trained eye to see when Sora switched gears. Riku knew the signs well. First of all, the surrounding air grew stiff. Then, the content smile went away, lips drawn into a thin line. Next, Sora’s blue eyes quickly became Roxas’: cold, determined, and completely unforgiving. Then he unleashed like a hailstorm.

Kairi let out a shriek equal parts terror and amusement as she hit the ground with her backside, keyblade held protectively over her like she thought Sora would keep going. When he didn’t, she peaked out of one eye and gave a nervous laugh as she lowered her keyblade and raised a hand to Sora. “Are you done?”

Sora lowered his keyblade, took her outstretched hand and gently pulled her up. He shrugged, easy-going smile back in place like nothing happened, “For now,” he said.

“You know,” Kairi started wiping the sand off her clothes. “You’re a little terrifying, Sora. You act all sweet and heroic, but you’re kind of horrifyingly ruthless, and that’s my full opinion.”

“Hey, I am sweet,” Sora protested, laughing sheepishly. “It’s just, battle is something entirely different, Kairi.” He looked at her seriously, expression conveying unexpectedly pure honesty. “And you have to be something entirely different. When you get out there, it’s no joke. And you and me have baby faces so we have to be a lot scarier than we look.”

“Well, you’ve got it down,” Kairi continued, laughing a little nervously. “For a second back there, I thought I was going to die.”

Sora, looking extremely apologetic, held out his hinds in a show of surrender. “I didn’t mean to actually scare you! Reflexes, sorry.”

A determined look overtook Kairi’s features. “Don’t apologize,” she decided, tucking away her keyblade, “teach me. You won, so you get to spar Riku. Show me how it’s done.”

Then their eyes were on Riku and Riku hesitantly pushed himself from against the paopu tree. It had been over a year since he’d fought Sora, and even then he’d been no pushover once he knew what he was doing. But this Sora was nothing like that Sora. This Sora had a flying chance against him.

“You wanna get a head start on running?” Sora quipped, battle stance defensive like it had always been.

Riku blinked, then felt the smirk he’d had no conscious decision in making cross his face. “You wait,” he challenged, battle stance welcoming and lethal.

Then Sora smiled, looking content enough for Riku to feel it too when Kairi counted down for them to fight. Then no holds were barred. Unlike anything Riku expected from him, Sora attacked first, striking hard and fast and Riku was able to only dodge just in time before Sora was attacking again.

The day before the storm, Riku had challenged Sora to a fight with their wooden swords. He did it because he knew Selphie was going on about paopu fruits and the tradition and he knew it was making Sora think of Kairi and he wanted to remind Sora that he didn’t need him. He wanted to remind Sora that he was still stronger and better and faster and….

And Sora lost. And he pouted like always, but then he got right back up and smiled, all sunshine and island breeze and went back to looking for more supplies for the raft and it had only made Riku’s insides hurt more.

Sora now, fighting him in real time was just making his outsides hurt and he wondered to himself when Sora got so skilled. Then Riku reminded himself that it was probably around the time he was running around the worlds cleaning up his mess.

Sora struck again, so hard he’d nearly burst through Riku’s grip on his keyblade as he shielded himself. “You look surprised,” Sora commented, jumping back and taking an offensive pose.

Riku offered an uneasy chuckle. “You’ve come a long way from toy swords.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“Sure,” Riku shrugged, readying himself for another attack.

“But, you killed my father, so prepare to die.”

“Jesus Christ, Sora,” Riku groaned, finally attacking first. Later, he would deny aiming for his head, but in the moment, he was not ashamed of aiming for his head.

“Hey!” Sora protested, like he didn’t deserve it.

After a while, Riku was able to read him again. He was still Sora, just less inhibited, less accustomed to having to be a good sport and more accustomed to winning, and Riku thought it was extremely admirable.

Not that he’d ever tell him.

Sora never slowed down, didn’t even appear to be breaking a sweat. If anything, he seemed to be getting more determined to bring Riku down and more frustrated that that hadn’t happened yet, but Riku wasn’t a loser before he fell for Sora and, love-struck as he was, he certainly wasn’t about to become one now.

Taunting smirk long gone, Sora’s attacks came completely uninhibited, as did Riku’s. It wasn’t until the end of their first real battle together, with Ansem controlling his every move that Riku realized Sora was a formidable opponent when neither he nor Ansem were holding back. It was unsettling now that during a playful sparring match because of a bet, Riku was breaking a sweat and Sora just kept coming and something in Riku snapped.

It felt as if he were watching himself do it, rather than performing Dark Aura, himself. He felt like he was sharing his body with Ansem all over again, helpless as his body began to rush Sora repeatedly with Soul Eater again and again from every direction. He stabbed the ground with his keyblade, dark energy materializing and spreading from the spot for meters, knocking Sora father back into a curled-up heap, outstretched hand just out of reach of his own keyblade.

Then Sora’s keyblade was a wooden sword. Sora was just a kid on a rock, surrounded by the multiple waterfalls of Hollow Bastion, and Riku was a younger monster in the making, collecting his best friend’s keyblade right from under him. Sora was on his hands and knees, heartbroken and defeated and Riku was a hurting, evil, terror, grinning at his best friend’s pain.

“Why don’t you go play hero with this?”

Frozen in place, he shook his head until the image went away. Until they were no longer children trying to find themselves across all the big, scary worlds they hadn’t been sure of until they had to be. Until Sora wasn’t looking at him like he didn’t know him anymore. Until Kairi was safe. Until Ansem was long, long gone.

Until Riku was himself again.

Then, adrenaline draining his system, he dropped to the sand.

“Riku!” Then sapphire eyes were entirely too close to his own. Riku concerned himself with visually checking Sora over, looking for scratches or bruises. Blood. Sora scanned him frantically, patting sand off him like that was what hurt him, “Riku, what happened?” He offered a weak chuckle, “I thought I was the one who lost, not you. You’re not supposed to be on the ground.”

“Just say you’re okay,” Riku said, voice level and steely and determined.

“What?”

“Riku?” Kairi asked. She knelt down beside Sora in the sand, seeming to have only just realized what was going on.

“I know you’re fine,” Riku tried to block his face with his hair before he remembered.  “I can see that you’re here in one piece, but… please just… say the words that you’re okay so I can tell myself I didn’t hurt you again.”

“I’m fine,” Sora said quickly, but a sour look remained in his expression.

“He’s okay, Riku, you didn’t hurt anyone,” Kairi said assuringly, as if she were talking him down off a bridge.

“Yeah, Riku,” Sora said, looking concerned and confused and a little of something else. “I’m not glass.”

Riku glared. “In my hands, you might as well be.” He found that he didn’t have it in him to be embarrassed.

“Okay, that’s enough, Riku, what is going on?” Sora asked. When Riku looked at him he saw the impatience and the desperation he’d been trying to keep from Riku for months finally out in the open and it cracked at Riku’s resolve just enough for him to lightly consider being honest until Kairi saved him.

“Probably dehydrated,” Kairi said convincingly. When he looked at her, surprised, he swore she winked. “We’ve been out here in the heat for hours, and you two were just seriously battling. It’s okay, though, I brought water.”

She went back over to the paopu tree for her bag leaving the boys alone. Riku felt Sora’s eyes on him, searching him, scorching blue fire into his skin, but he couldn’t look up.

*

Midnight found Riku huddled up on his side in his bed scrolling through all the cat videos Sora had sent him over the hours. Three seconds into the fifteenth cat video, his phone buzzed again, signifying that he had yet another text from Sora.

Riku sighed, but clicked it open only to feel physically assaulted by the blurry image headed by all capital letters. Riku rolled his eyes at the image of the yellow sleeve above a furry fist sitting angrily under the all caps caption: WHEN U ASK THEM WHAT’S WRONG AND THEY SAY “NOTHING I’M FINE” INSTEAD OF TELLIN U WHAT’S WRONG. And written inside the balled up fist in Comic Sans font were the words: “I want to love and support you.”

Riku groaned aloud.

He resumed his video, involuntarily smiling as a cat hit a wall only to find himself being interrupted yet again, this time by a quiet but incessant tapping.

Sora was outside his window.

Riku easily had the option of pulling his blankets up and over his head, pretending he wasn’t here. But then he ran the risk of Sora literally kicking in the glass of his window and incurring his mother’s wrath and Riku considered himself a relatively smart man. He untangled himself from his sheets.

He had rowed back to the mainland alone after Kairi declared her destiny day a success even though Riku knew it had been a lie. He’d rushed into his home and up into his room, dove into his bed and immediately began ignoring any attempts at reaching him. The sooner he could distance himself from it, the sooner he could forget it happened.

That process was never something Sora could wrap his head around.

Frowning, he lifted his window pane and started to turn back, thinking Sora would follow him inside but was halted by a warm hand encircling his wrist. Puzzled, he turned to look over his shoulder to see a strange look in Sora’s eyes. Determined and level with righteous fury.

“Come with me.”

“What?”

Sora looked ethereal in the moonlight, skin washed pale, facial features hooded and dramatic, eyes sapphire and seemingly glowing blue fire in his direction. “I want to talk to you. Come with me.”

Riku couldn’t find words.

Without another thought, Riku climbed up onto his window sill, accidentally crushing something. When he stepped over onto the roof, he saw the sad, damaged fragments of what must have been another seashell. “Another shell?” He asked quietly.

“Oh,” Sora sent his hands fishing into his pockets. “Yeah.” And he procured another small handful of shells.

“Why do you do that?” Riku asked, watching as he arranged them symmetrically along his windowsill.

“It’s for good luck,” Sora answered, determined in his work. “They’re supposed to bring you peace of mind and convey well-wishes from someone special.” He finished his arranging, then began shimmying his way to the edge of the roof. “Come on.”

Riku wasn’t all that surprised to find that the end of their long silent trek through the neighborhood presented them the docks. Now that he knew what was happening, he felt an oncoming sense of dread. “Why?” He asked, unsure if he was really ready for the answer.

Sora untethered two rowboats, face down, tone passive as he admitted: “I started piecing a lot of things together today.”

The boat ride was just as silent and pensive as the walk had been, the only sounds the washing of the very waves that used to be so calming for him. Much too quickly, they were tying up their boats to the island’s docks. The play islands at night wasn’t something he thought he could have done if not for Sora beside him. If not for Sora making him do it in the first place.

“Come on,” Sora said again, moving to step forward.

Riku knew where he was going. “No.”

“Riku….”

“I can’t go in there,” Riku admitted, staring warily out ahead. “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have come here at all, but it’s Kairi’s destiny day and I at least owe her that much after what I’ve done to her.”

Sora shook his head, frown deepening to an almost comical degree. “Stop. I knew you were avoiding this place and I figured it had to be for the same reasons you were avoiding me.”

“I wasn’t avoiding you.”

“And lying to me.”

Riku faltered. “Sora, I’m trying.”

His eyebrows set in a hard line, lips almost a scowl. “Then come on.” He turned on his heel then, headed right for The Secret Place.

Riku would follow Sora anywhere on earth except for The Secret Place. He halted outside the opening as Sora ducked to head inside. He seemed to know immediately when Riku stopped following, turning his head over his shoulder. “Riku,” Sora sighed sounding helpless.

“This is where I… where I wrecked everything.”

Stop,” Sora insisted. “Do you trust me?”

“Wh–”

“Do you, Riku?” Sora insisted, voice raised, arms stiff at his side.

“Yeah. Of course.”

“Then… do this. Please. For me.” He turned back around like he knew Riku would follow.

He wasn’t wrong.

Riku had been nearing on “too tall” for The Secret Place when he was fifteen. Now he had to hunch over, basically crawling down the winding tunnel of the cave. The moonlight lit the center of the cave’s center opening, illuminating the chalk drawings on the rock walls and the mahogany door near the back. Riku could stand tall again.

His eyes immediately trailed to the crude drawing of Kairi and Sora sharing a paopu fruit together. He knew Sora saw him quickly avert his gaze from where he stood directly across from him.

“I thought after a while, if I gave you space, you’d stop hating yourself,” Sora started, gaze angled downward toward his shoes. “But it wasn’t working. So I’m going to try something else.” He turned and took five long strides toward the door, then gently laid his hand against it and pretended not to notice when Riku flinched. “It’s just a door now. There’s nothing else it can do.”

Riku looked down at the sand, disheartened at his own bitter thoughts about already having done everything that could have been done two years ago.

“It’s not like you’re this horrible defected soul whose sole duty it was to open the door. It could have been me. Or Tidus. Or even Kairi.”

“But it wasn’t,” Riku stressed.

“And I’m saying it doesn’t matter.” Sora took a step away from the door and closer to the center of the cave, closer to Riku. “I don’t want you to be afraid to come here because of something that’s – that’s over and done with! Something you did as a child that doesn’t matter anymore. I just want you to stop angsting and go back to being my best friend.” The last few words left Sora sounding so defeated that Riku almost conceded, but Sora wore rose-colored glasses at the best of times, and Riku hated to rip them off now, but Sora was forgiving him a literal world of ruin and it wasn’t right.

“I’m not just… just angsting for the hell of it, Sora, I’m not a good person!”

Sora blinked, all confusion and sadness. “Why would you say that?”

“I didn’t have to say it,” Riku huffed, “it’s just a known fact of the universe I nearly ruined. Look at the things I’ve done! Ask the universe I nearly ruined!”

“But I don’t care about what you’ve done in the past, Riku.”

“How could you not?” Riku shouted. “I changed everything!”

“But you were just a kid,” Sora reasoned.

“So were you, Sora, but I was the one who fought you. Again and again, when all you wanted was to help me.”

Sora chuckled, probably without even meaning to and answered: “Well, you’ve always been so stubborn, Riku.”

“Stubborn,” Riku scoffed. “I brought darkness into the world. And it tried to devour all the worlds.”

“Yeah, but–”

“I betrayed you and turned against you–”

“And I told you–”

“I kidnapped Kairi!”

Sora stared a long moment, looking utterly heart-broken. “But then you apologized, didn’t you? You let her go. You told me to take care of her.”

“What does that–?”

“And you stayed with the king. Behind the Door. In the Darkness,” Sora continued, crossing the cave’s center until he was directly before Riku.

Riku paused, trying not to let his proximity affect him. “I had to.”

Sora angrily rolled his eyes. “You watched over me while I slept for a year.”

“Well, you’re an idiot,” Riku supplied.

Sora ignored him. “You helped us from behind the scenes the second time I had to restore peace to the worlds.”

“The previous statement still stands. It’s hard to get you to do anything without a really hard shove. Especially Goofy and Donald.”

“You broke a rib defending me against Xemnas, Riku!” Sora yelled it emphatically, putting his face right into Riku’s so that he had to try his hardest not to look down at his lips.

“I told myself I wouldnt let you get hurt again if I could help it,” Riku admitted, looking down and aside, anywhere that wasn’t right in front of him, burning twin holes into his insides with a forgiveness and a light he could never possibly earn. “Not if it was going to be my fault again.”

Sora had already reared back to continue arguing his point when Riku’s words finally sunk in, then he became contemplative. Slowly, he asked: “Is that what earlier today was about? When I fell?”

“You didn’t fall, I attacked you.”

“We were fighting!” Sora exclaimed, like he was having to explain something to an infant. “You were kind of supposed to!”

“I didn’t have control, Sora!” Riku yelled back. “I could have really hurt you! I haven’t used that attack since Castle Oblivion when I was fighting the Organization, so I can’t imagine why my body decided to use it on you!” Riku sighed, rage dwindling down as he began to remember again, despite how desperately he tried not to. “Then we were kids again. And we were in Hollow Bastion and you were playing hero and I took your keyblade, I…. threw you the stupid wooden sword, I told you…. I told you to….”

“Riku,” Sora murmured, gently placing a hand against his bicep that felt really warm for how cold the air was. “You had a flashback right? I get them, too. So does Kairi. We went through a big thing, the three of us. It’s okay, though. I know that when you did that, back in Hollow Bastion, it wasn’t really you. You came back to me in the end.”

With a helpless glance from Riku, Sora stepped closer, moving his head to keep Riku from looking away.

“The door would have been opened with or without you. One of us was going to do it, and I really think that if it wasn’t you, it would have been me. But you always beat me to everything,” Sora tried for a smile, tried for a joke, but against Riku’s hopeless expression, his expression faltered. “I wouldn’t have… carried it out. If it were me who opened it, I would have panicked. I would have had no idea what I’d done and the worlds would have gone to ruin. At least – at least you knew what you were doing.”

“That doesn’t make it okay!” Riku said, shocked that Sora would excuse his behavior.

“I know, I know, it’s just… instead of thinking all the time about why it was you who was tempted by the darkness, maybe you should think about what it could have been like if it wasn’t.”

Riku felt his jaw drop. “Your optimism honestly astounds me,” he marveled, eyebrows setting themselves into a deeper glare.

“Yeah?” Sora bellowed. “Well, you can thank my optimism for the two of us staying friends this long! Because if I were anyone else, with the way you act, I would have assumed you hated me a long time ago!”

Riku paused, shocked to see Sora so angry, and over him of all people. “Did you really ever think that I hated you?”

“Well, yeah, you butt!” Sora shouted. “I traveled behind you through the galaxy twice fighting for you and you snub me, I leave well-wisher shells on your window sill all summer and you don’t even care, I take care of you when you’re hungover and you wouldn’t come within two feet of me, I spent all summer, worried sick about you and how you were feeling and what you were doing and you – for two months, you couldn’t even text me back! What was I supposed to think?!”

Riku knew Sora like he knew the back of his hand in the darkness, like he knew his own fear, so he knew that when Sora looked down and away that he was hiding his face because he was probably crying.

It broke Riku’s heart. He reached forward and caught himself before he touched Sora’s face. “Sora,” he said softly.

What?!” Sora exclaimed, sounding angry and distraught and so, so tired.

“You told your mom that you ran away,” Riku said clumsily, uttering the question that had been on his mind for weeks at the most inopportune time. “You took everything I did onto yourself.”

“You wanna talk about that now?!” Sora huffed, sounding pained, and turning his face further out of Riku’s sight. “About how I lied to my mom for you and you seemed mad at me?”

This time, Riku allowed himself to reach for Sora. Placing his hand tenderly on his shoulder, he tried not to be offended when Sora turned himself further away. “Why would you take on the responsibility of my actions?”

“Because,” Sora spat, glaring at the ground. Riku tried again to turn Sora toward him, but found himself staring at Sora’s profile. “I know how much you love my mom. I know you’d hate it if she thought anything bad of you.”

“Sora,” Riku groaned. “If she could know, I’d make you tell her the truth. You can’t go around being a hero all the time. You didn’t do anything and it’s not right to cover for me of all people by saying you did. I kinda deserve her being disappointed in me.”

At that, Sora snapped his head up and in Riku’s direction, eyes watery and full of fury. “If she could know, she wouldn’t care! Just like I don’t care! Do you hear me? I don’t care what you’ve done, Riku! I don’t care and I’ll never care because I care about you so much more than anything you could ever, ever do! You walk around acting like we’ll only like you for how well you can behave, but you know what? If you mess up again, I’ll still be here! I’ll be there right beside you helping you to fix it because I could never not be with you!”

Eyes wide and mouth agape, Riku could only stare at the angry blue eyes and serious clenched jaw before him, to assure himself that Sora was being genuine because this couldn’t really be happening. Sora couldn’t be saying what it sounded like he was saying.

Eyes wide and watery, face flushed and sad, Sora spoke and Riku felt his world imploding. “What else do I have to say before you get it?”

Riku couldn’t actively make himself understand, even though there was no way not to. If he let himself listen to Sora’s words, then he would have everything he’d ever wanted. His heart would feel whole and Sora would be with him, dedicated to him and loving him and way, way too pure and bright and Riku knew he’d only stain and tarnish him. Instead, he decided he at least owed Sora an explanation. “I was avoiding you,” Riku admitted, finally.

And Sora looked up at him, caught horribly off guard, eyes open and honest and heart-broken. Voice cracking and raw, he whispered, “Why?”

Because,” Riku ground out. He looked into Sora’s eyes and knew he had to keep talking. He clenched his fists at his sides to stop his hands shaking.  “You speak… and I drop everything to listen. You smile and my knees go weak. I hear bells when you laugh and you have the most gorgeous smile I’ve ever seen, it’s like the actual fucking sun and I see your eyes in my dreams! When you were asleep in the pod for so long, the only thing that got me through was – was telling myself that if I kept fighting, I’d get to see your eyes again, and when you finally saw me again, you looked at me with those eyes and you cried!”

Sora, eyes wide in shock and something else, looked down and away again, face glowing red in the moonlight. “We don’t talk about that,” he said, sheepishly.

“For so long, I cared about everything you thought of me. In the beginning, it was easier to befriend Kairi than hate her for liking you because who wouldn’t like you? I fought so hard against you and myself and the light and the dark. I wanted power and strength and superiority and most of all, something to lord over you so you wouldn’t see what an idiot I am. I’ve wanted so many things my whole life and I’ve gone so far to get those things, and none of it even comes close to how much I’ve always wanted you.”

He wanted to apologize for… everything. For how selfish and stupid he’d been for as long as they’d known each other. For how much he’d hurt Sora and Kairi and even the islands. He thought that perhaps now that Sora knew everything, now that Riku had explained it all, Sora would understand.

But then, Sora laced their fingers together and Riku felt like he was missing something huge. “Riku. What you’re saying is that you want me. Right?”

Riku sighed, heart light from his admission. “More than anything.”

“And I’m saying you can have me.”

“What?” Riku baffled, trying in vain to disentangle their fingers. Sora held on tighter. “Were you listening to anything I just said?”

“To you trying to sabotage yourself?” Sora raised a knowing eyebrow.

“No, bonehead, I’m trying to tell you…. I’m trying to protect you, okay? Like I should have been from the beginning!”

Sora blinked up at him with eyes half angry, half sad. Angry and sad and unfamiliar and ugly because Sora’s eyes should never look like that and here Riku was again hurting him. Seeming to know exactly what Riku was thinking, Sora glared, mouth angling into a frown. “If you tell me you’re trying to protect me from you, I will knee you in the dick so hard–”

“But I am. Someone has to, you won’t stay away from me.”

“Riku, you’re my best friend.”

Riku looked down to their hands. “I’m dangerous. All I’ve ever done is hurt you.”

“No, dude! What you’re doing now is hurting me!”

Riku paused, mouth wide open, ready to brutally argue his point when Sora’s words finally made it through the thickness of his skull. He looked into those sapphire eyes again and knew he was lost. “It is?”

“Well, it’s making me kind of angry, if anything,” Sora decided. Risking a crooked grin, he removed his hands from Riku’s, sliding them up his arms to rest innocently against his chest. “Especially since all you’re doing is wasting time and energy.”

Blushing furiously and unable to hide it, Riku struggled to recover himself. “Th-this cannot happen, Sora. I can’t let you get hurt again because of me.” But he couldn’t disentangle himself from Sora, not when he’d wanted this for so long.

“Don’t you get it? I’ve fought some weird shit for you, Riku, and if I’ve gotta fight you for you, then I’ll do that, too.” Riku didn’t miss the way Sora’s eyes repeatedly jumped from his eyes to his lips and back again. Riku was sure his own were doing the same. “I’ve already forgiven you. You just… need to forgive yourself, and I can’t do that for you, but I’ll help.”

Riku’s heart soared, but accepted its fate. If after everything he’d done wrong in his life and to a handful of all the worlds out there, the universe dropped him a gift like Sora and refused to take it back, then who was he to refuse it? “You’re too good for me.”

“I’m not,” Sora disagreed.

“But you are amazing. How can you possibly think I deserve you, Sora?”

“You don’t have to deserve me, Riku. You can never do anything to deserve me, you just… have me. You always have.”

Riku vaguely registered the slight surprise in Sora’s eyes before he pushed his lips down onto Sora’s, the blood boiling in his veins calming in ferocity as the incessant itch under his skin was finally scratched. “God, finally,” Sora muttered, against his lips. Riku laughed into the kiss and brought his hands up to claim Sora’s hips as Sora wound his arms around his shoulders, molding their bodies together.

Sora leaned forward against him, the smile against his lips making it impossible not to smile as well as he was pushed back against the cave wall. The arms around his shoulders quickly became hands tangled into his hair as Sora lightly bit his lip and Riku felt his tongue.

Riku’s knees became jelly as their tongues met and he felt a spike of pride when Sora hummed and raised higher onto his toes. Riku raised his hands from Sora’s hips to around his waist, pulling him as close to himself as possible. Sora gave one last light tug at his hair before he was falling back onto even footing and breathing hard. Riku’s own breathing matching Sora’s he realized he hadn’t been breathing at all, an awful and very Sora-esque pun about Sora taking his breath away bounced around his mind but never saw the light of day.

Riku opened his eyes, slightly afraid he would see the dark of his bedroom again, but his heart stalled at the sight of Sora’s beautiful, beautiful cerulean eyes, watching him like he was his world.

Sora beamed, cheeks flushed, freckles dark, lips kiss-swollen, eyes alive and electric, blue lightening in a calm night sky and Riku felt like nothing in his past mattered compared to this moment. Sora’s hands went back down to his shoulders and Riku felt his brain short-circuit.

“You okay?” Sora smirked, blush deepening.

“Go out with me, Sora,” Riku murmured in a daze, too far gone to find himself anxious or embarrassed at all.

“Okay,” Sora chuckled lightly. “Now was that so hard?”

*

Riku awoke to the sound of rain overhead, falling onto the roof and louder against his window. He relaxed further into his mattress as visions of a moonlit Sora flooded his mind and he froze.

Slowly peeling his eyes open against his apprehension, he saw he was facing his window, the line of seashells sitting on the windowsill both settling and unnerving him. He started to sit up, to go take a long, warm shower to rinse away the shame and the sadness at having dreamt about Sora again when a loud, muffled groan sounded. From under his sheets, a muffled: “Stop moving!” sounded in Sora’s voice.

Quickly, Riku lifted his comforter to see Sora, tank top and boxers horribly disheveled in his undoubtedly fitful sleep, arms wound so tightly around Riku’s middle he found it hard to believe he hadn’t felt him before.

“It really happened,” Riku said, unconcerned this once for how lame he sounded.

“Keep talking while I’m trying to sleep and I’m really gonna punch you,” Sora huffed against his chest, head directly over his heart.

Riku calmly settled himself back into his sheets, brought his hand through Sora’s hair and tried not to actually tear up like a fucking doof. He looked out his window at the rain hitting the beach, colliding with the ocean and smiled to himself. He felt himself overheating, his clothing against Sora’s, matched with the thickness of his comforter and the natural space heater currently in his arms, causing him to smile. He brought a hand up over his eyes, still processing that it was all real.

Then Sora spoke again, muffled and tired, but very intentional. “Riku.”

“Hm?”

Riku felt Sora smile against his skin, felt his face warm up as he murmured, muffled but impossible to misconstrue: “Love you.” Ear directly over his heart, he knew Sora heard when his heart rate sped up, saying the words for him that he was far too flustered to make his mouth form. Sora chuckled lightly, raising his head to prop his chin on Riku’s chest. Sapphire eyes meeting aqua, Sora’s face flushed as he considered whether or not to say something. He’d made his decision. “I hope your heart always races for me,” he admitted, face embarrassed like he thought Riku might tease him.

But Riku’s heart faltered, and he knew Sora felt it, too, and he knew Sora’s faltered as well when he answered, “It always has.”