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A child sits upon the brick pavement in front of a shack of a house. A stick of white chalk at hand, she scribbles, immature doodles of space ships and stars in the sky. She licks her chapped upper lip, in concentration—for this is the most intricate moment her young life has seen.

She was barely two when her parents passed away. She has no memory of them, but dreams of the sky they were lost in.

The girl whips too short bangs that stick straight up, thanks to a particularly difficult cowlick, out of her sea green eyes. Left alone with scissors, she would certainly cut them off completely. But, for as ill equipped as Uncle Cid is, he at least has the paternal instinct to keep sharp objects away from this eight year old girl.

Two boys go rushing by, an excitement palpable in their footfalls. The girl looks up, lips fixing into a pout.

“Today’s the day!” One of the boys, a redhead with a fire burning behind his emerald green eyes grins. The other boy, is slightly taller with pale blue hair and cyan eyes.

“Only if you move faster.” The blue haired boys replies.

“Hey!” The redhead snorts, but they laugh and carry on, completely disregarding the girl.

“Hey!” She calls, but they take off at a speed that leaves no room for doubt—they have no intentions of waiting for her. They’re older than her, uninterested in her, however, this does not quell her vexation. Her tiny fist clenches around the chalk. She sits up, eyes narrowed into slits as she throws the chalk to the ground. It hits the pavement with an uneventful ‘clank’. “Jerks.” She mutters. She looks back to the shack of the house. Yuffie is supposed to be coming over later to play dolls. And Yuffie’s parents always bought her the best dolls…

Then again, Yuffie is six and those boys are thirteen and the girl knows exactly what they are up to.

And she wants in.

Without another second’s hesitation, she takes off after them, running as fast as her short, chubby legs will take her.

She makes it as far as the town square and that is when she sees him sitting on the ground, shoulders slumped over.

Golden blonde hair. Eyes that are blue like the sky and shine twice as bright. This boy is the light upon her life, an oddity. He is not from here, she knows that without a doubt, because he holds himself like a hero. This boy is from a fairytale, like the books she sneaks into the school library to read. She’s too young to read these stories, she won’t understand. But she does, oh she does.

This boy could pierce through even the darkest of nights with his smile, and she knows exactly who he is, instantly.

Prince Charming.

“You still play with toy swords, that’s cute?” She sees the red haired boy taunting him, the ever present, ever playful smile lighting his features. The boy spins a strange, key shaped sword around in his hand before offering it to Prince Charming, by the hilt. Prince Charming purses his lips. The redhead cocks his head to the side, the mischievous spark in his eyes softening. Prince Charming lets out a noncommittal grunt.

The redhead tosses the key shaped sword aside and, from his pockets, retrieves two Frisbees, with flame insignias on them. His grin could burn a hole in the sun. The little girl pokes her head out from behind the stairway, her eyes bright.

“Tada!” The redhead laughs. “Whaddaya think?”

“Not a whole lot.” Is Prince Charming’s lazy response. The little girl snorts loudly, and three sets of eyes find their way to her. She grins. “Really? Can’t we ever get away from you?” The redhead rolls his eyes.

“Lea, at least pretend to have some manners.” The blue haired boy sighs.

“Oh, come on, Isa!” Lea groans. “She’s annoying.”

“And you’re an asshole.” The girl crosses her arms to her chest, looking defiantly up at Lea.

“What the hell? You can’t say stuff like that, you’re seven, Rueki!” Lea snaps, but she just looks smugly up at him.

“Eight, actually. And that’s what Uncle Cid calls you. A little asshole.” She says, quite proud of herself to have thrown him off.

“He’s not wrong.” Isa mutters, trying to fight back a smirk. “And you’re the one who wanted to stop in the first place.”

“Eight, seven, makes no difference.” Lea waves his hands and shakes his head.

“Sure, it does, eight’s my favorite number.” The little girl grins. “Anyhow, you look like an idiot.” Lea looks around, to Isa, who just shrugs, to Rueki, who is smug, to the blond boy, who just looks overwhelmed.

“You’re all just jealous.” Lea rolls his eyes, huffing dramatically. “I’m Lea, got it memorized? What’s your name?” He asks the boy. But before the boy can even answer, Rueki grins.

“I know exactly who you are.” She shoves Lea aside, with great force for a small child. He blinks at her, eyes narrowed as he regards her. But she doesn’t see him. She doesn’t see anything outside of the very bright glow this boy casts. She bites her lip as she looks at him. “You’re Prince Charming.”

Suddenly, Lea howls out laughing, clutching his stomach, limbs trebling, eyes watering. Rueki whips around, nostrils flaring, hands clenched into fists. When Lea doesn’t immediately cease his laughter in fear, she stomps forward, draws her leg back, and with all of her might, kicks him in the shin.

“Ouch! Hey!” Lea yelps, stumbling back, toward the fountain. “You are such a pain!”

“Go to hell!” She snaps.

“Stop cursing!” He counters.

“Bite me.” She huffs, crossing her arms to her chest, lips fixed into a pout. Prince Charming regards them, his brows coming together. The boy with the frisbees, the quiet boy and the vulgar girl are perhaps the oddest combination of people he has met in all of his travels.

And oddness is a distraction. From Aqua. From Terra…

“Actually, I’m Ventus…” There’s a tangible discomfort radiating from his presence as he looks at the unlikely trio. Lea shakes out his leg, rubbing his shin briefly before righting himself, a new determination in his eyes.

“Okay Ventus, let’s fight!” Lea says.

“Fight, why would I want to do that?” Ventus raises an eyebrow, still seated.

“You scared of losing?” Lea grins, head tilted. “C’mon. Hope you’re ready.” He jumps back. Ventus looks up, around the group. Rueki cracks a grin and strides over to him, paying Lea absolutely zero mind. He narrows his eyes at her as she leans down, jolting a hand out to Ventus. The blond boy cracks a smile and takes her hand. She’s small, but her grip is fierce, unrelenting. She pulls him to his feet and stage whispers to him.

“You’re gonna beat him, no problem.” She instigates, eyes flicking to Lea as she speaks. His eyes narrow, dangerously. The two are younger than him, and Ventus does not by any standard of the word, consider himself wise or worldly. But he looks at these two and he instantly sees a magnetic pull. Not romantic, for they are only children. But there is something desperately drawing the two of them together that neither can control.

He wonders how much of this entire conversation was for them to push and pull at one another.

Ventus releases Rueki’s hand and picks up that key shaped sword.

“Yeah!” Lea grins as Rueki takes a step back, toward Isa, who offers her only a small smile. “Now we’re talking.”

“You’re gonna be sorry.” Ventus shrugs. Isa chuckles as Lea goes charging in.

And there is nothing aggressive in this brawl. It is childish, fun, lighthearted. Before he realizes it, Ventus is beaming, smiling from ear to ear as he trades blows with Lea. For a brief window in his young life, he is a child again. He’s not a Keyblade Wielder, he’s a boy, goofing around with another boy, while yet another boy and a young girl watch, giggling. For just a moment, there is no weight on his shoulders.

It doesn’t take long until Lea hits the ground, throwing his head into the brick pavement, heaving a sigh.

“You had enough? Cuz I’m ready to call it a draw if you are.” Lea pants, his chest heaving. Rueki giggles loudly.

“From where I stood, the only thing you drew was a big ‘L’ on your forehead, for ‘Loser’, ‘Lame’, ‘Laughable’.” Isa shakes his head.

“What? Isn’t this the part where you cheer me up or something?” Lea asks. “‘You’re just having a bad day’ or ‘that’s what you get for pulling your punches’. Some friend.”

“Oh, you mean I was supposed to lie.” Isa more says than asks, and this is enough to cause Rueki to toss her head back, little strands of bangs standing straight into the sky as she giggles.

“I told you, you were gonna lose. He’s a hero, you’re a zero.” And she beams at him with the utter pride that only a child can, at crafting, what she believes, is the cleverest insult ever.

“I’m going to push you into the fountain.” Lea glares at her. She sticks her tongue out at him. “Ya see what I have to put up with? Sure hope you don’t have friends like him. And I sure hope you don’t have to deal with anyone like her.”

Rueki huffs and makes a move to kick him again, but at that exact moment, Lea sits up and scoots out of the way.

“You’re such a brat.” He tells her. She shrugs.

“Maybe stop being such a jerk.” Is her very wise suggestion.

“Lea, we have to go.” Isa finally sighs, as though he knows this is the only thing that will end the banter. The smile still hasn’t left Ventus’ face.

“’Kay.” Lea nods, pushing himself up off the ground. Ventus brow knits together, and he realizes, for the first time since that night he, Aqua, and Terra watched the meteor shower, he doesn’t want this moment to end. He is at peace, all is well.

“Already?” Ventus cocks his head to the side.

“I’ll see ya when I see ya. After all, we’re friends now. Got it memorized?” Lea’s grin blazes.

“Okay, Lea.” Ventus nods.

“Besides, we don’t need them.” Rueki grins up at the blond boy, boldly. “We can go on adventures without them.”

“Why would anyone want to take you on an adventure?” Lea rolls his eyes.

“One could ask the same about you.” Isa teases his friend, who ‘humph’s, indignantly. Ventus offers the girl a bashful smile, this would be infinitely more embarrassing were she older. As a child, who clearly has only heard of love from story books, her affections are only mildly mortifying.

“You said you have an uncle, right?” Ventus asks. She shrugs.

“Technically he’s my godfather.” She answers, pursing her lips.

“Well, you can’t leave him behind. I think he’d miss you.” Because Ventus knows he misses the two who have left him behind.

“You have to bring me with you though!” She insists, throwing her arms up.

“Why’s that?”

“I already told you! You’re my prince charming!” She huffs. “You’re going to take me to other worlds, of course.”

“And why would anyone want to be your prince charming?” Lea scoffs.

“Come on, Lea.” Isa rolls his eyes, thoroughly exasperated at his friend. Rueki, however is content to defend herself, she flashes her middle finger at Lea and sticks out her tongue, causing Isa to snort on a laugh, while Ventus chuckles. The last thing this girl needs is someone to protect her, if she stays like this, she’s going to grow up dangerous.

“I don’t think you need a prince charming. I think you’ll always find a way to save the day by yourself.” Ventus smiles. The girl mulls his words over for a minute, pressing her finger to her chin, thoughtfully.

“You know, maybe you’re right. Besides, I’m too young for us to get married right now. You’ll just have to wait until I’m a grown up.” Is her response. Ventus’ eyes go wide, and he colors ever so slightly. Who the heck is this girl? Jeez, if Terra were here now, he’d never hear the end of this…

“Who’d wanna marry you?” Lea snorts. Rueki whips around, hair spinning with her as she glares at the boy.

“Can you stop instigating a child for fifteen minutes?” Isa rolls his eyes. “And what is it with you and picking up stray puppies?”

“I want everyone I meet to remember me. Inside people’s memories, I can live forever.” Lea explains.

“I know I won’t forget you, believe me, I try all the time.” Isa says.

“I think I’ll forget you the second I fly away from this world. I won’t miss you.” Rueki tosses her hair, trying very hard to seem cool and grown up.

“Oh please, no one was asking you.” Lea responds, and then, very proudly, grins at Isa. “See, I’m immortal.”

“You’re obnoxious.” Isa counters. His eyes flick to the castle. Lea’s follow suit.

“You ready?” Lea asks.

“Well, I can tell you are.” Isa shrugs.

“Yeah.” Lea nods, and with that the two boys go taking off. Rueki turns to Ventus, arms linking behind her back.

“What about you?” She asks him, tilting her head to the side.

“I’ve got someone I have to keep a promise to.” He says. Rueki nods, incredibly understanding, eyes so piercing and so intense for someone so little. “And you’ve got someone you’ve got to play dolls with, right?” He asks.

“Yeah, I guess.” She says, shoving her hands into her pockets, her eyes flicking away from Ventus, up to the sky. “You sure you won’t take me with you?” She asks. Ventus fumbles.

“Yeah, I’m sure. You should have fun with your friends.” He suggests. Rueki purses her lips.

“Lea and Isa aren’t my friends. Isa’s only nice to me cuz he’s supposed to be, and Lea’s just a jerk.” She huffs, eyes flicking back to him.

“Well, girls mature faster than boys. Maybe one of these days they’ll figure out you’re smarter than them.” Ventus suggests. A brilliant smile lights Rueki’s entire face. She smooths her spiky bangs back. Somehow, this makes them stand up even worse.

“Yeah, maybe you’re right.”

Chapter Text

It’s a spring night, nearly a year after Ventus’ appearance in Radiant Garden. Isa is freshy fourteen. His lab coat is pressed, perfectly crisp even after his first full day as an apprentice. Lea’s is crumpled, the sleeves rolled up haphazardly as he unbuttons it. Isa raises an eyebrow at him. Lea offers a half grin.

“I’m hot!” Lea whines. Isa rolls his eyes.

“I’m not touching that statement.” Is Isa’s reply. Lea snorts. “Tell me again, why we are not utilizing our new positions to search for her?” Her. The girl in the tunnels. Isa can hear her voice in his head. It plagues his thoughts, his dreams, the fracturing in her voice is his constant fixation. Lea’s lack of urgency is irritating, to say the least, but utterly unsurprising. Lea fumbles through life, moving from one passion to another so quickly that Isa can hardly keep up. If the redheaded boy weren’t so fiercely cunning, Isa wouldn’t have had the patience to try keeping up in the first place. But for all of his failings, Lea has a good head on his shoulders, a sense of justice that goes above and beyond. It doesn’t matter who tells Lea something is right or how many times they say it. If Lea does not believe the words, nothing will ever change his mind. His own moral code, the way he is true to himself, it’s inspiring to say the least, not that Isa ever would say a word in those regards. Lea is nothing if not obnoxious at the first signs of a compliment.

“Oh, come on, we’d get kicked out of the castle all over again, Isa. We’ve gotta wait it out just a little longer. That way, when we disappear into the tunnels, they don’t expect anything, they just think we’re doing our job.” Lea murmurs, conspiratorially. Isa’s lips press into a frown. He doesn’t like this and is certain that they wouldn’t get caught if his friend had any sense of subtlety. They could break her out, set their mysterious friend free, offer her some sort of comfort. Isa could spend one night, not staring at the moon, through his bedroom window, wondering if the cries piercing the night were falling from her lips.

“Tomorrow, then.” Isa isn’t an unreasonable person. If Lea truly believes that today is a lost cause, Isa is willing to compromise. They can spend the night preparing, making plans, mapping out tunnels. They can spend the evening coming up with ideas, escape plans, diversion techniques. They can bide their time by becoming unstoppable. Tomorrow night their friend will be free.

“Isa, we barely know what the inside of the castle looks like. We’ll get a map of the tunnels tomorrow, I’ll go into the library, and—”

“Your laziness is utterly unendearing.” Isa rolls his eyes. Lea’s mouth presses into a hard line. This isn’t the first time the two have squabbled. Lea is frequently insufferable, and according to anyone with an opinion, it is Isa’s job to keep his friend in line. It’s not terribly difficult. Isa is good at taming the beast. It doesn’t mean he particularly enjoys watching his friend go off, like a lit match.

“Hey, you’re always trying to tell me that I’m too rash, that I jump into things I shouldn’t. I’m trying to take a page from your book and be smart about this! That’s what you’re always saying I should do!” Lea throws his hands up. Isa could swat his best friend.

“You’re being loud.” Isa rolls his eyes, striding forward without another word. Lea blinks behind him before sprinting after a him, a lost puppy. Funny, considering what Isa frequently accuses Lea of picking. “You know, I can tell when you’re preoccupied. We’ve been friends long enough. I don’t know why you wouldn’t just tell me to search the tunnels on my own, if you have other things you’d rather be doing.” Isa jams his hands into the pockets of his lab coat as he makes his way into town, Lea at his heels.

“I wanna be there with you when we set her free, Isa. She’s my friend too. You think I like knowing our boss is experimenting on her? Cuz I don’t!” Lea having to take two steps to keep pace with each one of Isa’s. Isa’s growth spurt hit first, thank Twilight. Isa cannot imagine how utterly obnoxious Lea would be, were he the one standing nearly a foot taller. “But if Ansem the Wise catches us snooping around the tunnels now, you know it’ll be ‘goodbye’ to our jobs, they’ll double down on security, who knows what’ll happen to her, because of us? Is that a risk you want to take?”

The absolute worst thing possible is happening. Lea is right.

“No.” Isa mutters, voice barely above a whisper. He stills, at the center of town, looking up at the sky. The sun is starting to set. Tonight is a full moon.

“So, let’s make sure they trust us, okay?” Lea asks, rocking back on his heels as he skids to a halt behind Isa. “We’ll work a little longer, until they start to trust us, and then, we’ll set her free. I don’t want her to hurt anymore either. But imagine what they’d do to her if they caught us trying to break her out. You’re the smart one, I know I don’t need to tell you how bad it would be.”

And Lea doesn’t. Isa knows, Isa truly understands. If they are caught, at all, ever, the girl, their friend will be undoubtedly punished for their actions.

Isa chews on his lip.

“Find a map of the tunnels tomorrow.” He finally orders, his shoulders relaxing ever so slightly. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Lea’s face light up, as the redhead seems to realize he is no longer in trouble. Isa cracks a half smile, himself.

“Yeah, definitely. You’re the one that always comes up with the best plans. You just tell me what to do, and I’m there. Doesn’t matter how dirty the work is, got it memorized?” Lea grins. Isa rolls his eyes. His best friend is an idiot, but perhaps the most lovable idiot in the world.

“Oh, trust me, there will be plenty of heavy lifting for you to do.” Isa snorts. Lea laughs. This isn’t the first time they’ve fought, it won’t be the last, but Isa is thankful to have a best friend who always strives to bring him back when the beast within rears its ugly head. “Perhaps we should get some ice cream.”

“Yeah.” Lea nods. “Wanna get some for Rueki, too?” He asks.

Isa’s eyes widen, his body tenses. It is almost as though hearing the girl’s name is a proverbial slap in the face. Lea must be joking. Or, at the very least, trying to push Isa’s buttons. But when the blue haired boy whips around, he notices his friend is smiling dreamily at the setting sun.

“You can’t stand her.” Isa says flatly, eyes narrowed, waiting for his friend to laugh and say ‘just kidding’. But Lea purses his lips and turns back to Isa, brow furrowed.

“I dunno, it just feels weird, you know?” Isa doesn’t know, and he cannot stand how vague Lea is being.

“You’ll have to be more descriptive than that.” Isa mutters.

“Oh, come on, like you don’t say mysterious stuff, just to sound mysterious? We’ve been friends too long for you to get away with acting like that.” Lea cackles, but when Isa’s expression doesn’t budge, the redhead sighs. “Look, it’s just…it feels different without her. Like something’s missing. She’s come up to us every day for like, years now, just to bug us.”

“Exactly, why would you not want to rid yourself of that annoyance? Growth can be good, Lea.” Isa reminds him, with the roll of his eyes. But there’s a desperation in Lea’s gaze, a pleading, an intense need for understanding that Isa cannot connect with on any level. Why? What in this world would possess Lea to want to spend more unnecessary time with this girl? She is younger than them, a mere child, i she simply cannot comprehend the importance of their lives now. They are meant for so much more than the fairy tales this little girl longs to weave. How could she ever be expected to empathize with them?

“Well, yeah, I know. But maybe I was a little meaner to her than I should’ve been.” Lea shrugs.

“I think your guilty conscience is misplaced.” Because truly, why is he worried about teasing a child? Lea has always been, in the words of Cid Highwind, a little asshole. It is Lea’s prerogative to harass a little girl. How can he feel guilty about light hearted taunting when he finds it perfectly acceptable to abandon their friend in her cell until the timing is perfect? Lea always wants to play the hero, what is so utterly different this time?

“You’re the one who always tells me that I need to pretend to have some manners!” Lea insists, and that is true, but Isa hardly cares. This is so unlike Lea. The boy has changed. “I just think, maybe, we should make it up to her. She’s part of our lives too, maybe when she stops acting like such a baby, we can all be friends, is what I’m saying.”

‘She’s part of our lives’. The words have Isa’s ear’s ringing and his heart hammering, his vision becomes a pinprick.

The moon will shine so very bright upon his thoughts tonight.

How dare Lea? Rueki is in immature brat, utterly insufferable, Lea is right for every unkind word he has ever said to her, what does this child have that Isa doesn’t? What does the child have that their friend trapped in a cage doesn’t? Rueki is nothing, a vulgar, insignificant nothing. Why is Lea even the slightest bit concerned about her? And how dare he rank her with Isa, with their other friend, the mysterious girl? What could Rueki even begin to contribute to—

Reality comes flooding back to Isa, too bright, as though a light has been shone on his dark thoughts. Isa is mortified. Jealousy is not his motif, he is not a vindictive person. Though Rueki is a lot to handle, she has never wronged him. This is not like him. This is not who Isa is. His face colors as he looks to Lea, who appears to be deep in conversation with himself.

“—not saying that we shouldn’t, but I think we should try to be nice and bring her some ice cream is all.” Oh. On about Rueki, still. Isa smooths imaginary wrinkles from his coat. Lea is completely unaware of anything occurring other than in his own mind. Isa’s moment of insanity is completely his own. A secret that Lea will never know about.

Thank Twilight.

He’s better than this. He’s not some jealous fool. Never again will this weakness cloud his judgement. They can humor Rueki tonight, they can plan another night. They will rescue their friend in no time.

“Oh, you don’t need to explain yourself. I know you just like the attention.”

Lea swears he does not as he chases Isa to the ice cream stand, meanwhile calling his best friend every vulgar name in the book. But Isa does not even attempt to fight him on this. He’s happy Lea is yelling like a complete idiot, after him. He is happy Lea is none the wiser about the darkness that briefly clouded Isa’s heart.

Never again, will the shadows of jealousy cast a presence over Isa’s heart. Lea’s desire to appease Rueki is only temporary. A fixation the redhead will soon forget.

In no time, Isa is certain, they will free their friend from her cell, and then all will be as it should.

Chapter Text


She sits on the pavement and draws with chalk, legs folded up like a pretzel. She draws with chalk a lot, he’s noticed, and he’s been paying attention. Oh, has he been paying attention.

After all, there was a time when he thought she was his daughter.

Mayris, her mother, had been a lot more than just a fellow member of the guard. He remembers the redheaded woman with full lips and a mole just beneath them all too fondly. He remembers pinning her to the wall, in a dark corner of the castle, her legs wrapped around his waist. He remembers her screaming and throwing empty glass vials at him whenever he pissed her off, and he pissed her off a lot. He remembers the woman calling it quits with him and running off with some pilot. But said pilot had about as much personality as a bowl of oatmeal, and Mayris always came running back. Even when her pilot husband joined the guard.

She met with Braig in secret, constantly, desperately. That was, until the day she found out she was pregnant.

The timeline fit, the girl could’ve been Braig’s daughter. But when she came out with the exact same blonde hair and sea green eyes the pilot had, that settled Braig’s doubts. Still, Mayris was the most fun he’d ever had…at least, in this body.

‘The child born of obligation, not love, will be your guiding key. Keep her safe, at all costs. Keep her away from the darkness. For if she remembers the shadows that will fall, she will become nothing but a pawn.’

Braig, Luxu, whatever. It doesn’t matter what he calls himself. He remembers not only Mayris, but every other life he’s ever had. And clearer than ever, he remembers the Master of Master’s words. The child born of obligation. Here she is, in the flesh, chewing on her full lower lip, brow creased. Her drawings aren’t good, not in the slightest.

But that doesn’t. matter. At the end of the day, as long as she fills her role in this war, as long as she is his guiding key, then hey, that’s all that counts.

With purposeful footsteps, he approaches her. Immediately, her eyes dart up, bright and aware. She presses her lips together and sits up a little straighter, regarding him in a way that makes her look older than she actually is. Braig nearly laughs. Damn, she’s not his. But with an attitude like that, she could be.

“Hey there, kiddo.” He drawls. She prickles.

“Uncle Cid says I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.” She says, flatly, returning to her drawings. Ha, little bitch. She’s gonna grow up just like her mom, he’s certain of that.

And fuck Cid Highwind, for that matter.

“Awe man, thing is, I’m not a stranger. I knew your parents. We were in the guard together.” Braig says, crouching down on his haunches to look her in the eye. She however, refuses to meet his gaze.

“I don’t remember my parents. And I don’t know you.” She shrugs.

“Well, I’m Braig.” Although he’s tempted to tell her his real name. He nearly told Mayris, because if someone’s going to scream his name, he’d rather it be the real one. Still, that’ll have to wait. All good things, right?

The little girl looks up at him, eyes narrowed as though she is trying to figure out what to make of him. Finally, after a moment worth of debate, she drops the chalk to the ground and thrusts her hand out to him.

“I’m Rueki.” She announces. He snickers as he shakes her hand, and to his surprise, for being some short, chubby little marshmallow of a girl, she’s got a hell of a handshake. She could be intimidating if she were a decade older and her bangs weren’t standing straight up.

“Nice to meet ya, Rueki. Whatcha drawing?” Because truly, he cannot make out what’s she’s trying to create. Seriously, art is not her forte.

“An owl.” She says, proudly. “See, those are the wings.” She points to something that looks a lot more like a tree than wings, but he nods, a smile playing at the edges of his lips.

“Yeah?” He raises an eyebrow.

“It’s not very good though.” She says, but it’s very matter of fact. She’s not looking for sympathy, she’s not looking for a father figure to praise her. Maybe Cid Highwind is doing something right in raising the girl, after all.

“Hey, you said it, not me.” He grins wildly, and to his surprise, she smiles back. Bright and genuine, so truly real. For the first time, he thinks she looks like a young Mayris. But then her expression settles, and he sees the pilot again. He chuckles, ruffling her messy hair.

“Hey!” She protests.

He likes the kid, really, he does. He’s incredibly good at faking tolerance for others. Part of the job description. Luxu, go and observe. Luxu, follow around some asshole who’s going to summon Kingdom Hearts. Luxu do this, Luxu do that. He’s gotten so good over the years at bullshitting his way through things. But her? This little girl? Well, as long as she keeps on the same path, maybe she won’t be the worst ‘guiding key’ out there.

At the very least, if her attitude doesn’t disappear, she’ll make life interesting for him, and after so many years of hopping from body to body, entertainment is the best he can hope for.

“Maybe you should find another hobby. Or go off and play with your little friends.” He offers.

“I don’t have any more books to read.” She sighs, dramatically. It isn’t lost on him that she doesn’t say a single word about friends. He thinks of the little black haired girl that follows her around, and how Rueki’s gotta be at least nine now, and probably outgrowing dolls. He thinks of the two little shit teenagers who just became apprentices, and how it’s painfully obvious that they’ve been sneaking into the Castle, into the dungeons where Ansem the Wise houses his little experiments. The boys are probably infinitely more fixated on HER, than they are on Rueki. He looks at the little girl, who picks up her chalk once again, and wonders if she’s as lonely as he is. “I don’t really have any friends. I mean, I thought I did. But, I guess this is just what happens when you’re smarter than most people. It’s okay though. I don’t really like hanging out with stupid people. It’s not fun.”

How right she is. His face hardens a little as he looks at her.

The child born out of obligation, not love.

She’s his guiding key and this world is going to fall to shit at any minute. Braig knows what Xehanort has planned, he knows all of Xehanort’s plans. He knows everything and then some and when this world falls, this little girl will fall to darkness too. Even as she draws, mouth pressed together in a pout, eyes suddenly hard, he sees a spark in her presence. A flame that wants so desperately to ignite. No way will that happen if she gets snuffed out too soon. No. Now that he’s found her, there’s only one option to keep her safe. And that’s by shining a light so bright on her, nothing can eclipse it.

“No, it’s not.” He agrees. She looks up through her lashes at him, raising her eyebrows, as though she forgot he was there. “Maybe you’re just destined for bigger and better things.”

“Probably. I’m gonna be a pilot, like my dad. I’m gonna see everything out there.” She tells him, and there’s no stupid, youthful optimism in her tone. No, she just looks at him like nothing can stop her if she works hard enough, and that’s endearing, really, it is.

“Sure you are, kiddo.” He says.

“My name is Rueki.” She reminds him.

“Yeah, little Rueki. I won’t forget that.” He cracks a smile.

“You know, you’re not as mean as I thought you’d be.” She says, that spark brightening in her eyes.

“You thought I was mean? As if!” Braig laughs.

“Yeah, you look mean.” She says. “I thought only pirates wore eye patches.” She says. He howls out laughing, and she starts giggling too. It’s not a cute sound, she snorts and wheezes, but she means it, and he likes that about her. She’s real, fuck, this little kid is as real as it gets. He hopes she stays like this.

“Ha, is that what you like? Books about pirates?” He asks. She shrugs.

“I like books about anything. I’d rather read a boring book than do nothing at all.” She says. He nods. She is it. Without a doubt, she’s the one. And wouldn’t it be grand to get to look her in the eyes, here and now, and tell her that her life was meant for so much greater than this? That one day, she will live the most beautiful adventure of all?

But instead, he smiles softly at her as she starts to scribble maybe another wing on the owl.

“Hey, kid?” He asks.

“Rueki.” She reminds him.

“Little Rueki.” He says. She looks up, sitting up tall once more. “Don’t sweat the other kids. I think you’re right. I think you’ll see a lot more of life than just this tiny world.” He says, reaching out to her. Her eyes widen as he sets his index and middle finger against her forehead. There’s a moment that passes between the two of them that completely takes her breath away. She gasps, as light radiates from his fingertips, engulfing the two of them in a warm glow. But just as quick as it began, the light is extinguished and it completely drains the girl. Her body crumbles, but with quick reflexes, he reaches out and tucks her against the side of the house, knees curled to her chest. She’ll wake up in a few minutes, but protection spells are tricky. Hell, even he is tired.

Keep her safe at all costs. Keep her away from the darkness.

All it’ll take is a little darkness—like the flipping of a switch, if darkness so much as touches her, she will be hurled as far away from this nightmare as possible. To the tiniest, hole of a world, the middle of nowhere. Her memories will be locked away, safely out of her reach, like a tourniquet for a wound. She’ll be so far removed from Xehanort, from this Keyblade War, safely untouched until the day comes that she needs to light his way.

And, if destiny intervenes and all else fails?

Well, Braig…no, Luxu, is quick on his feet. If he fails at keeping her safe, at least this body still has one good eye to watch over her with.

He doesn’t visit the girl again before Radiant Garden falls, however, he does send her a book of fairy tales and scribbles on the inside of it ‘may your heart be your guiding key’.

Chapter Text


A young boy sits with an ice cream stick melting down his hand, almost forgotten as he flips through a book. Even urged him: read the research notes. And he wants nothing more than to please Even.

The notes are difficult to read, convoluted, tricky for an almost eight year old to understand. Ice cream drip, drip, drips. Onto the brick pavement, a sticky blue mess.

The sun blazes as it sets, and even with his hair hanging heavily to shade his eyes, he still squints to read the deranged scrawl that is Even’s handwriting.

“Whatcha reading?” A shadow hovers over him, blocking the sunset. His eyes widen a little as he looks up at a blonde girl, not much older than he. She’s got two fresh ice cream sticks at hand, utterly unmelted. He cocks his head to the side.

“Notes.” He says, simply. She nods, like she gets it, even though he’s certain she doesn’t. In fact, he doesn’t even get it.

“Your ice cream is melting, want one of mine?” She asks.

“Why do you have two?” He asks, a little unsure. He has seen this girl, playing in the streets, drawing with chalk, reading, playing dolls with a dark haired girl or following around two boys, the two newest apprentices. He’s never spoken to her, but to be frank, he’s spoken to very few people in town. He’s Even’s ward, a strange little orphan boy who knows very little of life outside the castle. A boy who grew up on science, on facts, on intrigue with darkness, rather than love, friendships and playfulness.

The girl makes a face, her lips fixing into a pout.

“Why are you saying ‘no’ to free ice cream?” She counters. He isn’t, and he can see the sadness in her eyes. He wonders who didn’t show up to their playdate, but is smart enough not to say anything.

Without asking permission, the girl sits down and again, holds out an ice cream stick to him. Gingerly, he sets down the melting one on the brick ledge he sits on, before taking one from her. She draws a knee to her torso. He looks down at the notebook, and then back to her.

“I’m Rueki, by the way.” She says. And he knows, of course he knows. The eighth apprentice, Lea, talks endlessly about her. About how much she vexes him, about how obnoxious she is, about how he’s going to push her into the fountain, and simultaneously, about how he can’t wait to tell her what he and Isa have been up to. The redhaired boy talks about very little, beyond this girl.

“Ienzo.” The boy says simply.

“Are the notes science things?” Rueki asks, tilting her head to the side as she takes a lick from her ice cream. Ienzo bites into his with his two front teeth. Thanks to the sterile iciness of the lab, the cold has never bothered Ienzo. Rueki, however, cringes at his actions.

“They’re research notes, yes.” Ienzo replies in a little voice fearing that he might stumble over such large words as ‘research’. The last thing he needs is to seem foolish in front of this girl. Even has warned him about this type of creature. Abrasive, boisterous. Ienzo has been utterly safe from the world around him, the last thing he needs is a bully to come in, taunting him. But, contrary to what Even has imprinted upon him, this annoying girl does not look for flaws. Instead, she just nods again, like she gets it, though again, he knows she doesn’t.

“What are you researching?” She asks. He shrugs.

“I’m not. Even is. He’s trying to teach me some of it before I begin my own research.” He explains.

“That’s cool. Is Even your godfather?” She asks. He blinks, visible eye wide and confused. No one has ever asked him about his parentage, outside of the castle. In fact, no one has ever held this extensive of a conversation with him before. Pleasant greetings are passed around, shop owners that he is a patron at, thank him, people nod politely at him, knowing from his ever present lab coat, who he is. This girl does not regard him as Even’s ward, but as a child, much like herself. She doesn’t get it, without a doubt.

“Even cares for me, yes.” He nods.

“My parents died too.” She says. “Uncle Cid isn’t really my uncle, he’s my godfather. But he’s always taken care of me.” He blinks at her, setting the lab notes aside, regarding her like she is a passage in Even’s notes that he cannot quite decipher.

“I don’t know what happened to my parents.” He says, flatly. “I can’t remember anything about them. Even says he’ll explain everything to me when I’m older.”

“I don’t remember my parents either. But Uncle Cid says they got lost in space. Out traveling to other worlds to do stuff for Ansem The Wise.” Ahh, now there is a name Ienzo recognizes. The wise and powerful ruler of the world. The man with kind, albeit stern eyes who overlooks their experiments, who occasionally sneaks Ienzo fictional books and sea salt ice cream, the one who encourages Even to allow the boy time to play, to be a child. Ienzo likes Ansem the Wise quite a lot. Even grumbles to himself frequently, about how the man is not focused or driven enough, that Xehanort would be a better ruler, with his ambition, but Xehanort frightens Ienzo. There is something unnerving that the child notices in the man’s golden eyes. A struggle going on beneath them that only Ienzo’s perceptive, young eyes understand. “I’m gonna be a pilot, just like my dad and Uncle Cid, but I’m not gonna get lost like my parents. I’m going to see every world there is. I’m going to go on adventures of my own.”

“Even says there are many worlds out there. He’s been doing a lot of research on them.” Ienzo nods.

“How many do you think are out there?” Rueki asks, leaning forward, licking at her ice cream again. Ienzo bites into his once, twice, three times more as he ponders.

“I’m not sure. Even says too many to count.” He replies. Rueki makes a face.

“No, not Even. You. How many do you think there are?” She asks, tilting her head to the side, like she is genuinely interested in his uneducated opinion. This is when Ienzo realizes, she might actually be. This girl is unlike him in every way. Ienzo has seen the man who is raising her, he can imagine what Rueki’s life must be like. Ice cream, make believe, playing games, climbing trees, a wonderfully untamed world. This girl, he’s seen her nose deep in books before, but this girl’s thirst for knowledge isn’t out of obligation, like his. No, everything she does is out of the sheer desire to experience life. He sees the wanderlust in her eyes, the curiosity in her posture. This girl cares to hear his opinion, just to know what he thinks. There is no right or wrong answer.

“At least a hundred.” Ienzo says, catching himself smiling, truly smiling.

“I wanna see them all.” Rueki says, throwing her arms open, as though she is trying to encase the universe. Ienzo giggles, an utterly silly sound, something he is unused to. It feels freeing. “Uncle Cid is teaching me how to fly now.”

“You’re too small, you can’t reach all of the levers.” Ienzo reminds her.

“Yeah, but I know what they all do. So, when I get big enough, I’ll be able to fly out of here.” She says, a dreamy look in her eye. For a moment, Ienzo is just a boy, Rueki is just a girl, they’re watching the sunset and adventure feels palpable. For just a minute, these silly dreams feel like they could one day be a reality. For a moment, a world of imagination is opened up to him and he sees a thousand possibilities, all within his reach. There is more than just factual information. So much more, and he is going to one day be able to control every beautiful illusion in this world, regardless if Even’s notes say this is possible or not. For just a moment, Ienzo feels real.

And then, footfalls approach them. Rueki looks up and the entire world lights up in her eyes.

“Hey.” Lea, the new apprentice has his hands shoved into his pockets and is grinning lazily.

“You came!” She breathes. Suddenly, everything makes sense. The two bars of ice cream, the disappointment in Rueki’s eyes as she sat beside Ienzo.

“Well yeah, I just got held up at work. I’ve got a job now, remember?” Lea laughs, leaning forward. Rueki chews her lip, anxiously.

“I thought you forgot.” She confesses.

“Forgot? No way. I had it memorized. I’m just a grown up now, I’ve got stuff to do.” Lea insists. His eyes meet Ienzo’s, as though the redhead has just realized, for the first time, that the boy is there. He clears his throat and stands up a little taller, almost as though he is embarrassed, being caught with two kids. “Hey, Ienzo.”

“Hello, Lea.” Ienzo nods, picking his notes back up as he finishes off his ice cream.

“What, you didn’t think I might want ice cream too?” Lea asks Rueki, still grinning wickedly at her. For all of the complaining he does about her, Lea really does seem to be excited to see the girl, Ienzo thinks.

“You took too long.” Rueki says, smugly. “Besides, you’re bragging about how you’ve got a job now, you should be the one buying me ice cream.” She insists.

“Hey, that’s no fair. Cid still gives you allowance money.” Lea insists, with the roll of his eyes.

“Yeah, and he gives me enough money for me, not for you. He still thinks you’re an asshole.” Rueki grins and if Ienzo had any ice cream left, he might’ve choked on it. His eyes are wide as he looks at Rueki. That is not a word Even would accept him saying.

“Whatever.” Lea rolls his eyes.

“You can have the rest of my ice cream.” Rueki offers.

“Ew, and get your cooties?” Lea snorts.

“You’re the worst.” Rueki mutters, but Lea extends a hand to help her up, and she takes it, beaming at him. He smiles back, and there’s a vibrant enough light passing through them, that Ienzo wonders if this could be the light to cure the darkness in the hearts of man. But he remembers himself, he remembers Even’s research, he remembers scientific fact. At the end of the day, Rueki only wasted her time with him, because Lea was late. This is not a fairy tale, this is reality. But then, Rueki speaks, turning back to him. “Hey, Ienzo. We’re gonna go walk around town, want to come?”

Ienzo doesn’t even need to look at Lea to see the desperate pleading in the older boy’s gaze.

“Oh, no thank you. Even must be expecting me back by now.” Ienzo says, shaking his head. Rueki nods her head, like she understands. Perhaps he was wrong, perhaps she does get it.

“Okay, let’s get ice cream together soon.” Rueki offers. Ienzo offers her a smile that doesn’t touch his eyes.

“Sure.” He says, knowing full well that it will never come to fruition.

She beams up at Lea who leads her away

"Hey, Rueki. Do you know why the sun sets red?" He asks.

That is the last Ienzo sees of her.

Chapter Text


The world falls to darkness on a summer evening.


Lea is at home, in his bed, staring at a mobile created from construction paper in art class. Sun, moon, sun, moon, sun, moon. They flutter around as the breeze of the balmy night drifts through the windows. Lea’s room is muggy, he can still taste sea salt ice cream on his chapped lips, as he licks them. He’s exhausted, ragged. He and Isa spent the entire day working. They spent the evening searching the tunnels for a cell that had been emptied not long ago. The girl, the mystery, she’s gone, without a trace.


Lea has never seen Isa so distraught in his entire life.


Lea has never been calm and collected. He has never been the voice of reason. He has never been a soothing influence. So, when Isa fell to his knees and burst into the angriest tears Lea had ever seen, the redhead had no idea how to comfort his friend.


He still has no idea how to comfort his friend.


Heavy thudding sounds come from outside, a storm must be starting. It’s felt like rain since they day they found the cells empty. What did Ansem the Wise do with her? And more importantly, where is Ansem the Wise? Rumors of his disappearance have been swirling for days now, but Lea’s head is in such a fog, he can’t even begin to speculate on that.


Lea thinks of Rueki’s smile, of the girl leaning close and smearing ice cream across his nose. He thinks of how loud she laughs, always right in his ear. The rain doesn’t sound so loud.


He doesn’t want to call the girl his friend, truly he doesn’t. She drives him absolute nuts, has too much energy and not enough all at once. They work against each other, like waves lapping at the shore, a constant push and pull. They cast each other aside one day, and the very next, meet up for ice cream and laugh as though nothing has ever gone wrong between the two. He doesn’t want to call the girl his friend. She’s growing up, but still, he catches himself saying things and sees a blank stare in her eyes, and realizes she’s too young to understand.


The rain pounds like heavy footfalls against the brick pavement.


He doesn’t want to call Rueki his friend, but since the girl in the cell disappeared, the blonde is the only ray of sunshine lighting Lea’s suddenly dark world.


His mom calls out his name, dinner must be ready, but there’s a safety in the darkness of Lea’s room with only the stars and the street lamps shedding light. This is soothing, this is comfort.


Isa blames him, Lea knows this. Isa blames him in the worst of ways, for the girl’s disappearance. If Lea had acted when Isa wanted to, they might have been able to save her. If Lea didn’t waste his evenings, sneaking away from scheming with Isa, to have ice cream with Rueki, things might be different. If Lea is being honest, he blames himself.


He wonders if his friend screamed as she was ripped from her cell…


He wonders if she is alive.


Growing up might be the worst thing Lea has ever done. The rain pounds on.


Suddenly, the light of the stars is extinguished, and Lea jolts up. He wheels around and his eyes flick to the window where he realizes that there is no storm wreaking havoc on his world.


Instead, he watches as black creatures with glowing yellow eyes thunder around. One with long antennas reaches its claws forward and tears the heart out of a little boy.


This is the moment Lea’s innocence shatters.


His eyes go wide, his pupils shrink, and Lea does what he always does. He doesn’t think, he acts.


Tearing open his bedroom window, Lea slips into his shoes, shoves his frisbees into the pockets of his pants and leaps out the window.


He’s just a boy, there’s not much he can do, he knows that, he isn’t a fool. But he cannot simply do nothing. Isa is a wreck and Isa is his best friend. If left alone, who knows what will happen to Isa? That’s not a question Lea wants answered. After all, the moon would not glow were it not for the sun’s light reflecting on the surface. Isa is smart, Isa is careful, Isa is the one with the plan, and yet, right now, Lea knows Isa needs him.


The path to Isa’s house is familiar. Lea’s feet know the way, well.


Fire rains down from the sky as a lamp post crashes. Lea dodges it, expertly, as though this is what he was made for. He’s never been able to sit still, he’s always been so antsy, the child that teachers cannot stand. But here, as darkness consumes the streets, he shines.


He hears a scream as a woman charges in to defend her child, and her heart is ripped from her chest. Lea chokes, his throat constricting. He tears his head away, narrowing his eyes as he brushes back tears. He needs to keep his head, that has never been his strong suit, but right now, it doesn’t matter what kind of hell is forming around him, Isa needs to be his priority.


The sky is dark, a teenage boy, not much older than him bleeds out on the ground, a hole in his chest where his heart once was. Children cry as they or their parents are attacked. Lovers scream for one another. Fire rains down from the street lamps. A black creature comes flying through the air at Lea. He retrieves his frisbees from his pockets and swats the creature away. It scatters away from him, like an insect, through the streets. He has never felt so much like a child in his life.


A shriek pierces the air that makes his blood run cold.


No. Please no.


Not her.


“Go the fuck away!” Rueki cries out as Lea spins around in the direction her voices is coming from. He sees her little blonde head, her bangs that stand straight up. He sees her swinging around a pair of kitchen scissors.


He doesn’t think, he acts.


He can’t let her die.


He sprints to her and right as a little black creature scatters over to Rueki, Lea swats it away with his frisbees. He swears, he feels Rueki’s shock as she stands behind him.


“Lea.” She breathes his name, as though he is a breath of fresh air after drowning.


“Where is Cid?” Lea asks.


“I dunno, he went out to get milk, then these things started smashing through the window, I ran, I’ve been trying to find him, but I couldn’t—I can’t—” She’s choking on her words, but when another one of the black creatures crawls toward them, Rueki lunges forward and stabs it with her scissors, no hesitation. Lea looks at her with wide eyes. Her hands shake, she’s been crying.


The creature rears back and dissolves in a cloud of blackness.


“What are these things?” Lea asks, more to himself than her. She doesn’t know, there’s no way she can, she’s just a little kid.


“I’m not sure. They’re just…darkness…” He doesn’t know how she knows this, but he looks at the creatures and is certain that Rueki is right.


They’re just darkness.


“You shouldn’t have to fight by yourself.” Lea says. She looks at him, brow knitting together, and, with a quivering lower lip, nods.


“You either. You’re my friend, right? I’ll fight with you.” She decides.


An instant warmth washes over him as another creature charges forward and Rueki stabs it, her whole weight thrown into the attack. Lea bats the creatures through the air, Rueki slashes at them. For a moment, they’re not children, but warriors, and despite their trembling bodies and tear stained faces, they hold their ground. The world is ending in flames, but they refuse to. He doesn’t have to call her ‘friend’, but he chooses to. She’s his teammate. His partner. And together, they can conquer anything.


A scream pierces the air, Lea can’t tell where it is coming from. A lamp post falls directly in front of him.


“No!” Rueki screams and shoves Lea with all of her might. Both of her hands crash into his side as they hit the ground, her weight falling against him. Lea wheezes as he chokes on a breath. Rueki’s eyes are pinched shut so tight as she shakes her head. “Watch out for yourself, you idiot! You can’t leave me here alone!”


A creature comes clambering in their direction. Lea wraps his arms around Rueki and rolls the two of them just out of range of the attack. She gasps, eyes flying open. He climbs off of the ground and smacks the creature with a frisbee.


“No way, I’ll always protect you. Got it memorized?” Maybe Ansem the Wise disappeared. Maybe the girl in the cell is gone. Maybe Isa is an inconsolable mess. Maybe everything in Lea’s life is falling apart. But no matter what it takes, he can make this right. He will stand beside Rueki, her guardian, her savior. If he can just keep her safe until this is all over, until an adult comes to save them—dear Twilight, they’re only

kids!—then he can tilt the scales, fix the balance of the universe.


He can be her hero. He can fix all of this.


A new monster writhes its way onto the scene. A much taller beast with longer antennas, sharper claws and daggers for teeth looks at the two of them with hungry, golden eyes.


Time stills. It goes so slow, Lea is certain he can predict what will happen.


It moves too fast, so fast, he doesn’t have time to debate.


He doesn’t think, he acts.


The monster charges at Rueki, and as fast as his legs will take him, he dives in front of her. He doesn’t regret this, even as he feels claws pierce his chest.


His body shakes as he hits the ground, eyes rolling back. He doesn’t see the hole in his chest, and in fact, after the initial shock of losing his heart, there is very little pain. He seizes, violently but his body has completely shut down. There’s no more pain, there can’t be, he simply cannot process it.


But she can.


“Lea!” Her voice cracks as it breaks the air. She stabs the monster, it dissolves and then, she crumbles down to his broken body. He nearly vibrates in her arms as she tries to gather him up. He’s losing too much blood, and how is anyone supposed to live with a gaping hole where one’s heart should be? “Lea, no! Don’t leave me, Lea!” She pleads, clutching the fabric of his once white shirt. Blood spills from the opening in his chest.


He goes to say something, but blood trickles from the corners of his mouth.


Suddenly, she shifts. Something changes. It’s as though her body is trying to escape this nightmare, she has to grasp him tighter to stay put, because some imaginary force is trying to pull her away. He’s thankful. He wants this. As he shakes, as darkness starts to cloud his vision and pool at the edges of his being, he thinks, at least if she makes it out alive, someone will remember him. In her heart, in her memoires, he is content to live, happily ever after.


And then, another monster, just like the one before comes charging in.


Lea is limp, unable to move, unable to even warn her, and panic has completely overwhelmed Rueki.


She doesn’t even look up until the creature tears her hear straight from her chest.