The serene atmosphere outside the Mysterious Tower was interrupted by the Gummiship landing a little away from where Sora sat on the steps. It had been a year since he and Riku had returned, and once a month Sora’s presence was requested at the Mysterious Tower so he could update Master Yen Sid on his progress.
Since his return Sora’s magic had been all over the place, barely there one moment and so powerful he could barely control it the next. The Keyblade still came to him without hesitation, but whenever someone mentioned the power of waking in any capacity it would disappear in a shower of light and Sora’s face would shutter.
The hatch of the Gummiship opened and Sora’s face lit up just a little. Out stepped Riku and surprisingly after him, Roxas. After hearing what happened between the two of them Sora had urged them to talk things through, especially after experiencing the tension that hung between them. Most of the time Sora thought they acted in a civil manner to each other because he was there and neither of them wanted to upset him.
“Hey, you,” Riku said as he approached him. His brow furrowed automatically when he saw the frown on Sora’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Sora replied, looking down at the stone steps between his legs. “Hi, Roxas.” He looked up and like flipping a light switch, his mouth curved up into a bright smile. One that neither Roxas nor Riku seemed convinced by.
“Hey, Sora,” Roxas said nevertheless, smiling back at him. “How’d it go?”
The simple words made the smile slip and Riku saw his eyes tense, a face he knew well enough to know that he was pushing back what he was feeling. Riku sat down next to Sora on the steps and gave Sora a nudge with his shoulder. Roxas moved to stand in front of Sora.
“Did something happen,” Roxas asked.
Sora looked down at the ground again and Riku saw him squeeze his eyes shut from he sat. Sora looked up suddenly, his grin huge but his eyes watery.
“I don’t think Master Yen Sid likes me very much,” He said, his voice a little choked. Riku and Roxas’ eyes met.
“Why do you say that?” Riku asked.
Sora swallowed and then sighed. “He never says it but I’m just not quite good enough, I guess. Screwed up the Mark of Mastery, lost of the power of waking and when I got it back, I messed up again and you had to come save me. Again.” He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes suddenly. “Now I’m back and I’m still messing up. He says I’m not focussing, but I am.” He put his hands down and opened his eyes, red and a little watery. “I am.”
Before Riku could say anything, Roxas spoke. “Of course you are,” He said. “We’ve all seen how hard you’ve been working. I think maybe Master Yen Sid is just giving you a hard time because he thinks that’ll work. We all look up to you, Sora. He just doesn’t know you like we do.”
One tear slipped down Sora’s cheek and that was the last straw for Riku, who wrapped his arms around Sora and hugged him tight. He felt Sora’s hands curl into his jacket. After a moment he pulled back and used one hand to push Sora’s hair away from his forehead so he could see his face clearly. “Roxas is right. We all admire you and you deserve it. So it takes a little longer to get back on your feet, who cares?”
“Not me, or any of the others, that’s for sure,” Roxas said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“We’ll figure it out, together,” Riku said softly, letting go of his hair and feeling relieved when Sora gave them a real smile. “All of us. We’re with you. One day you'll believe you're as strong as we know you are.”
“Thanks,” Sora mumbled, a mix of sadness and relief on his face.
Riku stood and pulled Sora up with him. “Hey, why don’t you get the ship going, I need to get something from upstairs. Oof,” He exhaled sharply when Sora grabbed him around the middle to give him another tight hug. “Alright, you little monkey, go get that ship running… Roxas, think you could give me a hand?”
Their eyes met over Sora’s head and there was recognition there. “Oh, sure,” Roxas nodded. “We’ll be done in a minute, Sora.”
Sora smiled and let go of Riku, twisting his hands together the way he did when he was embarrassed but didn’t want to show it. “Don’t take too long, okay?”
Both Riku and Roxas nodded and watched him cross the grass to the Gummiship. Without further ado, Riku pushed the door of the Tower open and strode inside with a determined gait. Roxas followed and they climbed the stairs up, up, up until they reached the door that led to where Master Yen Sid and the Good Fairies were.
Roxas kept his eyes on Riku, trying to anticipate what was going to happen. He had an inkling what Riku was going to do, but he couldn’t be quite sure. Riku always struck Roxas as the type of person who was stickler for the rules but he also knew the lengths he would go to for Sora’s sake.
“Riku, Roxas,” Yen Sid greeted them when the entered the room. As always Riku gave the Master a curt bow, but his face was tense. “What can I do for you?”
“Master,” Riku began. “I’d like to ask that you go easy on Sora.”
“Oh?” Yen Sid asked, his face stoic as always and the air of authority around him increasing.
Roxas saw something change in Riku, that part of him that had the greatest respect for people with authority tremble just a bit. He knew it was taking all of Riku’s willpower to say what Roxas now knew he was going to say.
“He’s doing the best he can. Before Xehanort, we were all hard on him. We never let him breathe, always telling him to do better, to fight this battle, to save this person, keep this world from disappearing. He’s just… he’s better than all of us, but trying to force it out of him isn’t working.” Riku’s eyes grew brighter the more he spoke.
“Sora has never mentioned to me that this bothers him,” Yen Sid said, looking genuinely confused at Riku’s behavior.
“And he never will,” Roxas intervened. “Sora’s greatest strength is that he sees good in everything, and wants everyone to be happy. And we can’t take advantage of that. After everything, he doesn’t deserve that.”
Riku looked at Roxas and nodded in agreement. He turned back to Yen Sid. “Master, with all due respect, I’m asking you to stop.”
“And if I don’t,” Yen Sid asked, not threateningly, but seemingly out of genuine curiosity. It wasn’t hard to imagine why, Riku had never spoken that way to him.
“Then I will,” Riku replied. Both Roxas and Yen Sid looked surprised. “All of this,” He took a step back and held out his arm, summoning Braveheart in an instant. “This… it doesn’t mean anything if it’s making him unhappy. This is my strength to protect who’s precious to me. I’ll protect him from anything.”
A long moment of silence fell over them and Roxas suddenly remembered Sora was still downstairs, sitting in the Gummiship, probably wondering what was taking them so long. It wasn’t in Sora’s nature to be suspicious, but surely he had doubts whether they had gone upstairs just to get something. The tension between Yen Sid and Riku wavered and Braveheart dematerialised.
“Thank you for your candor, Riku,” Yen Said said, looking at Riku as if he was a different person. “I will consider your words carefully.” It was the most polite get the hell out Roxas had ever heard.
The answer seemed to satisfy Riku and he bowed once more, unwilling to let his protest be deterred by a lack of manners. He turned and walked to the door and Roxas followed him, giving Yen Sid a nod as a goodbye.
As they walked down the stairs, Roxas thought of a dozen different things he wanted to say but ended up blurting out, “He’s everything to you, isn’t he?”
Riku stopped and turned to Roxas. At first he looked surprised until he looked conflicted. “Yeah, it’s a part of who I am.” He clenched his fists for a moment but then they relaxed again. “Roxas, what I did to you… to Xion, back then all I could think of was saving him. I didn’t see you, or her. That you were people, too. And that Sora would’ve been sad to know I thought you or Xion were worth sacrificing for his sake.”
Roxas held his breath and felt his heart speed up.
“I’m sorry,” Riku said, placing a hand on his chest. “More than anything, I’m sorry. I hope one day we can be friends… not just because Sora wants us to be. But because you’re what I couldn’t see you as back then.”
“Oh yeah, what’s that?” Roxas replied carefully.
“A guy that I’d like to be friends with?” Riku said with half a smile. “Just a person, with a heart of his own and feelings and dreams and fears?”
It didn’t make everything alright. A part of him still looked at Riku and saw the obsessive person he’d been when Roxas had been in the Organization. But a part of him, slowly but surely a larger part saw him as he was now, the same way Riku saw him.
“I’d like that,” Roxas said. “Someday.”
Maybe any other person would be deterred by Roxas’ reply, stoic and standoffish as it may have come across, but Riku’s eyes were honest with their relief. “I’m glad.” He said, and turned away without another word.
“Where were you two?” Sora cried out from the front seat, his legs swung over the arm, his Gummiphone in hand. “I was just about to call you!”
He looked much better, his eyes had cleared and his face had brightened and Riku couldn’t help but cross the ship and lean over to kiss him. A surprised choked off noise escaped Sora but it was followed by a happy hum as he slipped his arms around Riku’s neck so he could return the kiss properly. Riku broke away and gave his legs a pat to encourage him to sit right in his seat.
“Never you mind,” Riku said. “Get us out of here?”
“But…” Sora gestured between the two of them, like it was hardwired into him to keep Roxas and Riku from having to deal with each other.
“No buts, I’m hungry,” Roxas said from his seat. “Riku’s buying us dinner.”
“Of course he is,” Riku replied, giving Roxas a sharp look that slid into a grin. Roxas returned it.
Sora turned in his seat and decided not to say anything.
“We should go that place in Twilight Town that Lea took us to last time you guys were there.” Roxas said, already looking forward to it, especially now that it had been established that Riku would be paying.
“With the cheeseburgers!” Sora exclaimed happily from the front seat.
“Extra onions,” Roxas added.
“No pickles,” Riku said with finality.
Roxas nodded. “Definitely no pickles.”
Riku looked at Roxas and Roxas looked back at him. “I’d like that,” Riku said.
From the front seat Sora couldn’t help himself and looked back at Riku, looking a little in awe that he and Roxas seemed to be at the very least, civil towards one another. Riku gave him a wink and a light blush dusted his tan cheeks, his smile even wider than before.
Roxas looked at the exchange and gave into the feeling inside him just a little. Someday he might be able to give in all the way. When Sora turned back once again to see where he was flying, Riku looked over at Roxas.
“I’m glad.” Roxas said, and meant it.