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In a Different Light

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Seven months. It was exactly seven months to the day Riku let Sora go find Kairi.

Although, Riku thought, “let go” was probably not the right phrase. He didn't know why he kept thinking of it like that. Sora was never really his to let go, was he? It was odd that somewhere along the line, Riku had come to think so.

He'd felt things changing after the Mark of Mastery exam. Diving into Sora's dream to protect him — to save him — had left a deep mark on Riku's soul. It had bound him to Sora even more than before, and he knew that Sora could feel this too. They hadn't really talked about it, but they had grown close again, they were best friends again, they were maybe even closer than before all of this had started, back when life was simple and they had never even heard of Heartless. Back when magic spells only existed in fantasies. A lifetime ago.

If they'd gotten the time then, after the battle at Scala ad Caelum, things might have been different. If things hadn't gone the way they had, they could have gone somewhere private, just him and Sora, and sat down to talk about the things that mattered most. Not those short Gummiphone conversations, always thinking of saving people, fixing the worlds, always the threat of Xehanort lurking at the back of their minds. Maybe if Kairi hadn't been in the wrong place at the wrong time… Riku's thoughts often went in this direction. 

Would Sora have returned to him, with him? Would they have gone back to the Destiny Islands together? Or would they have taken the gummi ship and just gone? Would Sora have wanted to? Would Riku have had the courage to… But it was no use dwelling on what-ifs.

And Riku couldn't, wouldn't blame Kairi for this. He liked to think he had at least learned from his mistakes.

Following Xehanort's defeat and Sora taking off, Riku had taken the gummi ship and flown it back to the Destiny Islands, where he had managed to stay for three full days before he realised he would not be at peace there. It didn't feel like home anymore. His mother was indifferent to his return, which hurt more than he cared to admit, even though it wasn't really a surprise. What hurt even more was that everything reminded him of Sora. The roads he walked down were the roads they'd taken to school. There were the docks where he and Sora clambered into their boats to row to the island on afternoons after school and early weekend mornings. There was the smell of sea salt and paopu fruits in the air. But more than anything, there was the sheer emptiness where Sora used to be in his life.

So Riku had taken the gummi ship from where he'd hidden it amongst the trees on one of the uninhabited islands and flown it to Disney Castle. King Mickey had taken one look at him and told him that the castle would be his home for as long as he wanted. 

Being at the castle was...a little easier. He felt almost as cooped up as on the islands, and the hole in his heart where Sora used to be was just as big, but Riku had more distractions there, and he didn't feel as useless. It also helped that not every street corner or flower patch reminded him of all the things he'd lost.

Some days, Riku missed Sora so much that he didn't know what to do with himself. He would walk around the halls of Disney Castle, restless and jittery, unconsciously clenching his hands. He would cross the courtyard, pretending to look at the expertly pruned trees, the hedges shaped like the Disney Castle residents, and the impressive archways, before making his way to the Gummi Hangar to talk to Chip and Dale. Sometimes they could distract him with their enthusiastic chatter about the latest high-tech gummi ship materials. Sometimes Riku would just sit there in silence and watch them work. Gummi ships were never his forte, but he supposed it might come in handy one day if he knew how to maintain them.

Most of the time, the mountain of guilt inside of him made it hard to breathe. It was almost a tangible thing, pressing onto his lungs, driving the air and his soul out of him. Sora was doing what he wanted to do. Sora's mind was set on finding Kairi, and Riku couldn't fault him for that. Sora loved Kairi, had always been closer to her than Riku had been. And Sora was forever playing the knight in shining armour. For everyone Sora knew, but for Kairi most of all.

It had been hard, when he was fifteen, to watch this from the sidelines.

It was hard, still, three years later. Although this time, he wouldn't let the darkness in his heart consume him over it. 

And then there were the days when the longing and the guilt were manageable. On those days, Riku would just be worried sick instead. Sora had been gone for seven months. Was that too long? Would there come a moment Riku needed to go after him, to help him? Or would he then be overprotective, because Sora had clearly wanted to do this on his own? Sora hadn't asked for his help… How would he know when to cross the line, when would it be okay for his worry to overcome the need to let Sora follow his own path?

The radio silence was killing him. During their search for Xehanort, the Gummiphones had been a blessing, a luxury they’d never had before. But where Sora had gone now, there was no phone coverage. No selfies of a grinning Sora in front of a giant Hercules statue. No late-night texting about how many Heartless they'd beaten, or how many times Donald had snapped, moments when Mickey gave him some time alone because Riku couldn't stop smiling at his phone screen. No comparing high scores of the minigames they played during rare stolen moments back at the Mysterious Tower, their shoulders brushing as they bent over their phone screens together.

Just a whole lot of emptiness in his life and way too much time to think, despite the fact that King Mickey and Queen Minnie did their best to keep him busy. Running a kingdom was hard work, and there were always papers to read and missions to fulfil.

But no matter how much Riku tried to distract himself, no matter how guilty he felt, how ridiculous it was that he could not seem to be at peace on his own, his heart wouldn't stop calling out to Sora’s. He could feel it, in a strange way he'd never felt before. It had started just after Sora had disappeared. 

Or maybe just before? His memories of the Keyblade Graveyard were fuzzy. There were chunks missing, he felt that, although he couldn't figure out where they should go, or why they were missing. Whenever he thought about it too long or too hard, his brain would short-circuit, and a sharp headache would appear behind his eyes. And every time, the pieces he wanted to remember eluded him, slipping from his brain like the fish he and Sora would try to catch in the shallow ocean waters.

Whenever he was in one of these moods, Chip and Dale would let him borrow a gummi ship, and Riku would fly around aimlessly.

The worlds were relatively at peace. There were Heartless, as there had always been. There would be Heartless as long as there was darkness in the hearts of people — but their strength had dwindled and the local residents managed to handle them most of the time. Sometimes Riku would partner up with Terra or Aqua and do a mission together if there was an increase of Heartless somewhere, and that would distract him for a little.

But mostly, Riku flew around purposelessly. It was nice to focus on steering, navigating, and using the newest lasers to shoot some Heartless out of the sky. He didn't really want to visit anyone. He didn't have friends in any of the worlds, not the way Sora did.

And as always, his thoughts would come back to Sora. Flashes of his smile, the way he would brush the bangs out of his eyes when they were sparring. The way Riku's heart skipped a beat when Sora would take his hand or brush his shoulder. The rush he felt when they fought side by side, the thrill of an Eternal Session.

He'd lost Sora before, multiple times. But the last time Riku was waiting for Sora, during the year Sora slept, he’d felt useful, he’d had a mission, there were things he could do to help. Now, there was nothing to do but sit around and wait, and Riku hated every second of it. 

The only two people he would sometimes visit were Ienzo and Axel. Riku would fly the ship to Radiant Garden, where Ienzo had turned the castle into an impressive research facility and was building a knowledge base of everything that had happened over the course of the last decade. Ienzo was like Riku: he liked to keep to himself, and he let Riku sit in silence or gave him small tasks to focus on: papers to order or the easier math formulas to double-check. Axel and Isa came to visit Ienzo sometimes, dividing their time between Radiant Garden and Twilight Town.

Riku discovered he enjoyed talking to Axel, who knew better than anyone what it was like to lose a best friend. During one of their talks, Axel had confessed that the pain and sorrow that came from losing Roxas still felt fresh, even though he had both Roxas and Xion back in his life now. Riku didn’t often open up to anyone, but it was easy, talking to Axel about this. And when Axel told him the story of how he and Isa had grown apart when they were younger, how jealousy and rivalry had grown between them, well, Riku could also relate to that.

And when Axel's eyes lit up when he talked about his and Isa's reunion, how nice it was to have Isa by his side again… Riku guessed what that meant, even though Axel didn't come out and said it.

Riku had good days, too. Days where he could almost pretend that things were back to normal. Days when Mickey would send him on a mission to explore a new world or scout for a new type of Heartless that Ienzo had picked up on, and he almost felt alive again. Days where he felt useful, Braveheart a familiar weight in his hand, and he could pretend to ignore the ache in his chest.

Today was not like that. 

Riku and Mickey sat in the study area of the library, reading through proposals for new laws. Well, Mickey was reading. Riku's gaze kept going to the windows. The sky was a solid bright blue, so bright that it hurt to look at for too long. Every now and then, a seagull would fly past the window, wings flapping wildly in the summer breeze, and Riku smiled then, at the freedom these birds must feel. It reminded him of how he and Sora used to jump from tree branch to tree branch on the islands, pretending they could fly.

“Riku,” Mickey said softly. 

Riku jumped and guiltily directed his gaze back to the papers in front of him. Something about the rules for becoming a musketeer. He hadn't really gotten past the first paragraph yet.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. 

“I know it’s been a long time...” Mickey's eyes were sympathetic, and Riku hated it when people looked at him like that. He didn't need to ask what Mickey was referring to.

“Seven months.” Riku couldn't stop the sigh that escaped him. 

“He'll come back, Riku. I know he will.”

“I know,” Riku said, even though he didn't. He hoped. He ached. But he didn't know. That was the whole point, wasn't it?

“You and Sora have always found your way back to each other,” Mickey spread his arms in that typical way that he did, then rested his fingers together, leaning on the table. 

Riku sighed again.

“What if he's lost somewhere, Mickey? What if he failed, what if he's stuck in darkness? Or worse yet, trapped in another dream, without me to wake him up this time?”

Mickey debated this for a minute. “Look into your heart, Riku. What does it tell you?”

What a stupid question, Riku thought, then immediately regretted it. Mickey was only trying to help...

Yet he could never tell Mickey what was truly in his heart. How it had been empty since the day Sora left. How his very soul wouldn't stop calling out for something that wasn't there, how he ached with a bone-deep desire for something he couldn't put into words. How lonely he felt, how he sometimes basked in that loneliness but resented it simultaneously. How deep the love in him ran, how much it hurt. How every day, it took all he had not to succumb to the sadness, the darkness.

“I don't know,” Riku said softly, blinking rapidly. He wouldn't cry. If he started crying, he knew he wouldn't be able to stop. His hands curled tightly into fists where they were lying on the table.

“You will know when he needs you,” Mickey said.

Mickey was only trying to help, and Riku was glad that at least one of them had optimism left, but every day it was getting harder to believe.

“You know, Riku, we received reports of a Demon Tide in Arendelle,” Mickey said gently. “Maybe you should go and check it out. I can handle these papers on my own.”

Riku nodded, thankful for the dismissal and the obvious offer of distraction.

“Of course, Mickey. Thank you.”

With a heavy heart, but at least something other than Sora to focus on, Riku packed a bag with the bare necessities before running through the rain (of course it was raining, of course), through courtyard and into the Gummi Hangar. 

He was helping Chip and Dale prepare the ship, crouching underneath the engines to install a few new gummi blocks, when Goofy came rushing in.

“Riku!” he called gleefully.

Riku's heart immediately jumped into his throat. That tone… It could only mean one thing.

“Sora?”

Goofy's enthusiastic grin was the only answer he needed before Riku was on his feet. 

“Where?”

“In the audience chamber.”

Riku was out of the door and into the courtyard before he realised that it was probably rude to leave Goofy behind. Reluctantly, he slowed down enough for Goofy to catch up, with Chip and Dale on his shoulders holding on for dear life.

The way to the audience chamber had never been so long. There were dozens of turns and corridors to sprint through. Why was this castle so big?

When finally, Riku rushed through the open doors, he stopped dead at the sight in front of him, panting hard. He resisted the urge to bend over and rest his hands on his knees.

His gaze landed on Kairi first. She was smiling, talking with Queen Minnie and Daisy on the left side of the throne, below the large velvet Mickey banner. She looked up as Riku took her in and her smile widened as their gazes met. Riku scanned her for visible injuries, but on first glance she looked fine. He relaxed a little, smiled and nodded at her.

Then his gaze snapped to the other side of the throne, where Donald and Mickey stood, grinning widely, and right beside them, gesturing animatedly...

Sora.

He looked like he hadn't been gone a day. It felt as if he hadn't been gone at all. As if he'd been on a short “just a few Heartless” mission. As if it hadn't been seven long, painful months.

Riku felt his throat close up with something he had repressed for so long, and suddenly it was hard to breathe. Just when he was wondering how to get new oxygen into his lungs, Sora turned around, and even at this distance Riku could see his eyes widening, his mouth falling open. And then he broke into the most blinding smile Riku had ever seen on him. It lit up the entire audience room. It didn't matter anymore that it had been raining outside or that Riku's world had been dark and bleak for seven months. Not now that Riku's light had literally dropped back into his life...

Slowly, as if in a dream, Riku started forward. Then Sora, without sparing Mickey and Donald a backwards glance, broke into a run, sprinting the rest of the distance and all but launching himself into Riku's arms.

It was pure instinct that Riku wrapped his arms around Sora's waist, using his momentum to spin them around. Sora was laughing and crying, and Riku spun and spun him until he got so dizzy that he worried he might drop Sora, so he set him down.

Sora immediately stepped closer to him until they were chest to chest, pressing his face into the hollow of Riku's throat, and Riku's arms tightened around him. Sora had grown. Riku could still rest his chin on top of his head, but before, he had needed to lean down. Now Sora fit perfectly there, his unruly hair tickling against Riku's skin.

Time seemed to stop, though no one had used any time magic. With his eyes closed, Riku just breathed, reacquainting himself with the still familiar smell of the ocean and sunshine, something flowery-sweet and refreshing, and underneath all that something very Sora. The world was still spinning behind his eyelids as Sora relaxed completely into his embrace.

With Sora's breath hot and wet against his neck, Riku's heart did a series of somersaults that he was unable (and unwilling) to stop. He was sure Sora could feel his heart beating at twice its usual speed, but he didn't care. Sora was back. He was home. Everything was going to be alright now.

When they finally pulled apart, Sora was smiling through the tears in his eyes. 

“Riku…” Sora just said, his voice breaking.

“You've grown,” was all Riku could think of, but that was alright, because Sora's smile grew wider anyway.

Riku couldn't let go of Sora completely. He held him at arm's length, looking intently at him, committing this sight to memory. He'd missed him so, so much… Sora cocked his head in a way that was so Sora that it almost brought tears to Riku's eyes, too. 

Sora seemed okay. He was a little paler and his eyes had lost some of their usual sparkle. He looked tired, but that was to be expected. There was a bruise on the side of his neck and grazes on his cheek that Riku instinctively reached out to touch. Sora's skin was smooth and warm underneath his fingers.

“Sora…” He didn't recognise his own voice. It sounded like he'd swallowed sandpaper, rough and full of emotion.

“I'm okay,” Sora said, beaming. “Kairi's okay. We're both okay.”

Riku nodded and swallowed thickly. He had forgotten about the rest of the room. Nothing else mattered anymore.

“How did you… Why… I didn't know if…” Riku took a deep breath.

Sora's grin, impossibly, grew even wider. “I'll tell you everything. I'll tell everyone everything. But first, I could really, really use a shower. And some food.”

Behind them, Donald started laughing at this, and Riku looked up to take in their audience. Donald, Goofy, Mickey, Minnie, Daisy and Kairi all silently standing there, watching them. 

Riku stepped back, letting go of Sora's cheek, suddenly feeling self-conscious. This was not like him. He didn't hug people in the middle of audience chambers. He moved to take another step back, but was stopped by Sora grabbing his hand. 

He nodded at Riku with a soft, private smile that Riku knew was just for him.

“Show me to my room?”






That night, a banquet was held in honor of Sora and Kairi's return. Even at such short notice, the kitchen staff had really put together something special: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, garlic mushrooms, paopu-marinated fish, and large platters of mixed vegetables.

“All of my favourite foods!” Sora exclaimed before digging in.

All throughout dinner, Sora’s phone wouldn't stop buzzing.

At such short notice, it had been impossible to get everyone to the castle, so the non-Disney Castle residents all checked in through video messages. Terra, Aqua and Ventus had sent their love from the Land of Departure, and Axel, Roxas and Xion had sent a long video message exclaiming how happy they were to have Sora and Kairi back.

The rest of their friends were seated at the long dining time, Sora at the centre of the table. Between stuffing his mouth with food, he started recounting the events that occured after he had left them at the Keyblade Graveyard.

Sora had always been a terrible storyteller, getting lost in the details and losing track of the narrative. Today was no different. Riku kept exchanging mock-exasperated glances with Kairi, who giggled whenever Sora said something like Wait. But before I did that, I found some mushrooms and I had to try and fry them the way that Little Chef taught me…

“Okay,” Sora started with his mouth full. “So, you saw me using my keyblade and the power of waking to travel to a different word, right? After I went through the portal, I think I...ended up in another Traverse Town. It was like the beginning of my journey, only everything was just a little different. In the First District, I found the Lich, he was the Heartless who held all of your hearts hostage after the Keyblade Graveyard. 

“But the Lich was much stronger and much cleverer in the other realm, and I couldn’t beat him. But I knew that it had Kairi's heart, I could feel it. After a long fight, he opened up a portal and jumped through it. I followed him across worlds, but he was always just one step ahead of me. I lost all track of time. Time seemed to flow differently there. Some stretches took forever, and sometimes weeks seemed to pass in a flash.

“After a lot of chasing and fighting through the worlds in the other dimension, I finally managed to trap the Lich in an alternate version of the Keyblade Graveyard. There, we fought, and I finally beat him. After the fight, he released Kairi's heart.

“Then, Kairi and me joined our strengths and managed to use the power of waking to create a portal back to this world. We opened up some...sort of tunnel of light? And it led us straight to the Disney Castle. And now we’re here.”

“I’m glad Riku believed in you,” Mickey said when Sora had finished his story. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe in you more before you left. But you really showed remarkable strength, doing what you did.”

Sora grinned and ducked his head. “I had a little help. It helped to know that Riku believed in me. And Kairi helped to find our way back.”

“I’m glad,” Mickey replied. “Tomorrow, can you give us the full report again? Chip and Dale will write it down, so we can send it to Ienzo at Radiant Garden to analyse.”

“Sure!” Sora nodded.

The rest of the evening was relaxed. Sora wanted to hear all about what everyone had been up to and was both disappointed and happy to hear how quiet things had gotten after Xehanort's defeat.

“What will we do with our time now?” He wondered aloud.

“Gee, Sora,” Donald said. “Maybe you could go back to school!”

Sora pulled a face as if this was the most offensive thing anyone had ever said to him, and Kairi and Riku shared another smile.

Riku hadn't realised how much he'd missed Kairi, too. His yearning for Sora had drowned out almost everything else. But having Kairi back made Riku feel more at ease as well, her presence familiar and more than a little comforting. Riku liked everyone in present company, but it was only Mickey he had truly felt at ease with when Sora and Kairi had been gone. Having both Kairi and Sora here again lifted something heavy off his shoulders.

At the end of the night, after all the food was gone and they were all tired from talking and enjoying the festivities, one by one the others around the table yawned and excused themselves for the night. In the end, only Sora, Riku and Kairi were left.

They sat in silence for a while, comfortable and familiar.

“I missed you guys,” Riku breathed, shaking his head.

Kairi nodded at him over Sora's head. “I missed you, too, Riku... It was so lonely where I was. I don't remember much of it, I just know that I felt so incomplete. Without Sora. But you, too, Riku…”

Sora looked from Kairi to Riku. He fidgeted with the buttons on his vest and looked as if he wanted to say something, then shut his mouth.

“I am so sorry I let you down,” Kairi continued.

“What do you mean?” Riku asked.

“If I had been stronger...then Xemnas and Xehanort wouldn't have capt—” she mumbled quietly.

“No,” Riku interrupted. “Don't even think that. You did the best you could. We all did.”

“Then why was I the only one who got hurt in the process?” Kairi exclaimed, her voice tense with frustration.

“Because Xehanort knew I would fight for you,” Sora said. “Both Riku and I would.”

Riku nodded. “I think it could've been anyone. It could've been me. Please, don't blame yourself.”

“Okay,” Kairi said with a weak smile. “I'll try.”

“I know how you felt,” Sora said, still serious. “I was lonely, too. I wasn't used to being on my own. I'd been with Goofy and Donald for so long. And before that, I was always with you guys. I don't want to be alone anymore...”

Kairi reached out and put her hand on Sora's on the table. Riku wanted to do the same, but he let Kairi and Sora have this moment, instead.

“You're not alone, Sora,” Kairi said. “You have me and Riku. And the King, and Donald and Goofy. And all of the others.”

“I know,” Sora replied. But Riku could tell there was something he wasn't saying.

Kairi leaned back and bit her lip wistfully.

“Do you know what you're gonna do now you're back?” she asked.

“I hadn't really thought about it,” Sora said slowly. “Get some rest, maybe. Hang out with you guys? Then, I don't know, take the gummi ship and just travel around for a bit. Fight some Heartless… You guys can come?”

Kairi's face fell.

“What?” Sora asked, worry creeping into his voice.

“I'm really thankful that you came and rescued me,” Kairi slumped a little in her seat. “Really. But I don't think… I don't think being a keyblade wielder is something I'm meant to do. I'm not really good at it…”

“Don't say that…” Sora frowned.

“I mean it. I don't enjoy it. Not like you and Riku do. Or even Axel. I see you guys fight, and I'm so in awe of the way you handle yourself. How at ease you feel with your keyblades. But that's not me.” Kairi took a deep breath. “I don't know where to go. Maybe back to the Destiny Islands. Maybe somewhere else I can be useful. Or maybe I'll stay and help Minnie run the kingdom. That would be nice... I just...don't wanna fight anymore…”

Sora reached out and pulled Kairi into a hug. Riku watched as Kairi leaned into Sora’s shoulder, and he bit his lip at the insane urge of something that felt dangerously close to jealousy. Oh, who was he kidding… 

Riku shook his head sadly and for a moment, he made to get up. But it didn't feel right to leave. He couldn't help it. Even through the pang of jealousy, he wanted to stay by Sora's side.

“Thanks, Sora,” Kairi said, pulling out of the hug. “But this is something I have to figure out for myself.”

After a long moment of silence, Kairi nodded to herself. “I'm gonna give you two some time. I'm going to bed as well.”

Riku followed her with his eyes as she left the room, the thick wooden door falling shut with an overly loud bang behind her, leaving Sora and Riku alone in the now empty dining room. Almost all of the candles had gone out, which left the room in mostly dark shadows, with the remaining candles illuminating Sora’s face and hair in an ethereal orange glow.

Sora's eyes were dark too as he looked at Riku. He was restless, his knee bouncing up and down, his fingers fidgeting before he folded his hands behind his head and slightly tilted it to the left. The gesture was so Sora that it almost physically hurt, a twisting pang in his chest.

Riku didn't recognise himself when he reached out and brushed his fingers against Sora's shoulder, curling into the fabric as if it was his lifeline. Somehow, he needed the contact to reassure himself that Sora was really here. His thumb brushed across the bruise on Sora's neck, and he noticed that Sora shivered a little at the touch. 

Riku muttered a small Cure spell, watching as the purplish-blue colour faded back to normal.

“You're really here,” he whispered.

Sora nodded.

Riku felt strong, here, just the two of them. He felt a rush of emotion he couldn't keep in. 

“I missed you so much…” Riku muttered. If he kept his voice low, maybe he could keep this moment from shattering. Some deep part of him always wanted them to stay like this, just him and Sora, just this connection he had missed so, so much. “It feels like I'm dreaming.”

Sora shifted, removing his hands from behind his head to take Riku's hand from his shoulder. He clenched it between both of his, resting them on his lap in a strangely intimate gesture, brushing a thumb across the back of Riku's hand.

“You're not dreaming,” Sora's eyes crinkled at the corners as he leaned a little closer to Riku, their faces now only inches apart.

“Sora…” Riku swallowed.

“Riku…" Sora's smile fell a little. “I didn't tell you guys the whole story before.”

Riku waited for Sora to continue. His hand was warm between Sora's, a point of contact that grounded him to the moment. He wanted to reach out with his other hand as well, but he didn’t dare to move.

“I told you that Kairi and I summoned a pathway back to this world. That was sort of true. Kairi wanted to wait until we were both stronger again. She had only just been returned to her body, so she wasn't at full strength yet. And I… I had been traversing those unfamiliar worlds for so long. All of those worlds were the same, yet different. There was no one there I knew. Kairi was the first familiar sight I saw in a long time.”

Riku nodded, not sure where this was going.

“I defeated the Lich that held Kairi's heart. I just told you guys that I won, but it wasn't really as simple as that. We fought for a long time. I don't even know how long. I was getting weaker towards the end, and I knew the Lich was getting weaker, too. I really didn't know if I was going to win. We were so evenly matched, and even though I wanted to save Kairi with all my heart, it didn't seem to be enough.”

Sora took in a deep breath. His eyes shifted to the left and he bit his lip for a moment.

“But then I thought of what I wanted to come back to. I wanted to leave that place, with Kairi, but most of all...I wanted to come back to see everyone again. It had been so long.”

“Sora, it's okay…" Riku didn't know what else to say.

“Riku,” Sora said as their gazes met again. “I could feel your heart calling out to me. It gave me renewed strength. I think I felt it the whole time when I was over there, even though I didn't really know what it was.”

“Sora…" Riku flushed, embarrassed. The idea that Sora had felt his heart across dimensions… Well, he couldn't say it surprised him. Their hearts had done stranger things before. He looked away for a moment, swallowing hard. If Sora had felt his heart… What else had he felt?

"Thank you, Riku.”

Riku turned back to him, feeling his cheeks still burning. “Thank me?”

“Near the end of the fight, I put all of my strength into a final attack. I blacked out after that. But when I came to, the Lich was gone and Kairi was there. And all I wanted was to go home. Kairi thought we needed to regain our strength, but I didn't want to wait any longer. Kairi helped me open the door, but I followed the call of your heart, Riku.” 

Sora bit his lip, his cheeks turning a shade of pink in the darkness of the room.

“What?” Riku gulped.

“That's why we were able to land right in front of the castle. I knew I would find you here. Most of all, I wanted to find you…” Sora smiled wistfully.

“Sora…”

“No matter what Kairi decides, I don't wanna leave you again. We spent so much time apart. I don't want that anymore.” Sora squeezed Riku’s hands and looked at him expectantly.

“Me neither, Sora. I'll be here. I'll always be here.” It was almost a confession, but Riku didn't care.

Sora let himself slide forward, holding out his arms, and Riku caught him easily. It felt so familiar, hugging Sora, holding him tight, the shudder in his body, the hitch in Sora's breath. Even though their positions were a little awkward, it was the most perfect hug. As long as Sora was here, as long as Sora would stay, nothing else mattered.






The first few days, things seemed to be looking up. Riku showed Sora and Kairi around the castle, helping them settling in, filling them in on the things he'd done in their absence.

He talked more than he was used to. He told them about what it was like, helping Mickey to run his kingdom, about the missions he'd done. But also about his loneliness, about how he hadn't been able to stay at the Destiny Islands without them there. Kairi gave him a look that went straight through him, and Riku knew she knew, then. That it had been Sora he had thought about most the time. She gave him a wistful smile, and Riku averted his gaze.

Sora, oblivious, asked when they would go and visit the islands. He wanted to see the ocean again.

Sora's physical injuries healed within days, and Kairi's smile turned a little more real every day. Clearly, being at the castle was helping them. Riku felt himself relax, his worry over his friends slowly fading day by day.

Until the morning Sora came over to Riku's room before breakfast and asked him if he wanted to spar. 

Riku declined at first. “Sora, you're not strong enough yet.”

Although Sora's bruises and scratches had faded, and his smiles were coming easily enough, his eyes had not gotten their usual sparkle back. Instead, standing here in the dusky hallway, dark circles underneath his eyes, he looked almost more tired than the day he had returned.

Sora frowned at the refusal, and his gaze darkened for a split second. “What's that, Riku? I didn't think you would back away from the challenge…”

"Fine,” Riku said, because Sora always knew how to push his buttons.

They found a clearing a little way from the castle, a reasonable sized patch of grass surrounded by pine trees. Sora wasted no time in summoning his Kingdom Key, dropping into his battle crouch. The metal of the blade shone brightly in the early morning sunlight, but what Riku noticed most of all was the almost awkward way Sora was holding it, as if it were the first time he ever held a keyblade in his hand. 

Riku's heart dropped. He shouldn't be doing this, everything about this felt wrong. Sora clearly wasn't ready for any of this. But was that for him to point out?

Riku rolled his shoulders once and shook himself. He'd take it easy on Sora. He reached out a hand and summoned Braveheart, automatically dropping into a fighting stance, keyblade held sideways in front of him. He watched Sora as he gripped his keyblade with two hands, raising it into position. Riku narrowed his eyes, debating his options.

He wondered how much he would need to hold back to still win, while not hurting Sora or Sora's feelings in the process.

Before he had settled on an answer, Sora charged at him, keyblade raised high.

Riku acted on instinct. He stepped to the side, blocked, then countered with a weakened version of a Tornado Strike.

Sora swirled around, trying to block in the same movement, but he was too slow, and Riku's second strike hit against the tip of the keyblade.

Before Riku realised what had happened, Sora was on his back, Kingdom Key knocked out of his hand. It had only taken two hits. Riku had held back as much as he dared, but still he had defeated Sora before the fight had even really begun.

He knew Sora had lost part of his strength during his search for Kairi, but this was…bad. It curled something dreadful in his stomach, and his skin crawled in an unsettling way.

As Riku let Braveheart disappear, he bit his lip. He stepped forward and reached out a hand to Sora, but Sora wouldn't take it. With an almost-growl, he scrambled backwards across the grass, narrowing his eyes, and suddenly the χ-blade materialised in his hand.

Riku startled, eyes growing wide. The χ-blade sparked in the sunlight, green and yellow rays reflected in every direction. The blade truly was beautiful, but Riku couldn't appreciate it, cold shivers running up and down his spine.

“Sora, what…”

Sora jumped to his feet in an ungraceful movement and made as if to strike at Riku, who brought up his arms automatically in defence, Braveheart back in his hand in a flash to block. He braced himself for the clash of metal on metal, but it never came. He looked up just in time to see Sora letting the χ-blade disappear just as quickly as he had summoned it.

Sora's eyes filled with tears. He turned away, crossing his arms across his chest in a protective gesture. Riku ached to touch him, but everything about Sora's posture screamed stay sway.

When he looked up, he saw Kairi standing on the other side of the clearing, watching the two of them.

“I can't fight with it,” Sora said, and his voice sounded strangely hollow. “I tried to summon it to fight with it before, but it feels powerless. I don’t think I can wield it at all. I thought it was broken, but maybe it just doesn't want to fight anymore.”

“Like me,” Kairi remarked, making her way over to them. She had a determined look on her face, her mouth set in a way that Riku recognised. She'd made up her mind. She came to a halt before Sora and Riku, a hand on her hip, and Riku knew what she was going to say.

“I have decided what I want to do,” she said, no attempt at pretence. “I am going back to my old...home Radiant Garden, I mean. I want to go looking for answers there.”

Riku nodded. She looked from Riku to Sora, eyes narrowed a little as if daring them to disagree with her. Sora looked like he was about to say something, but he closed his mouth.

“I talked to Mickey about it,” Kairi continued. “He thinks it's a good idea. Ienzo is running a new facility at Radiant Garden, and Mickey says he will be happy to have me there.”

Sora stared at her. No one said a word for a while until Sora spoke up. 

“Kairi, if you're leaving… I think I need to leave, too.”

Riku took in a sharp breath, and his heart skipped a beat. “What? Why?”

Where was this coming from? Sora had just returned. Not days ago, Sora had looked him in the eye and told him he wouldn't leave Riku again. He told Riku that he wanted to stay. What had made him change his mind? Riku’s thoughts raced as he went over the events of the past days. What had he done? What had he missed?

“You saw what just happened!” Sora exclaimed. “I mean, you've always been stronger, I know that. That's okay. But I used to be able to give you a proper challenge at least…”

“I am not letting you go alone,” Riku said hurriedly, voice tense.

“You let me go before,” Sora retorted, with more than a hint of bitterness.

What was going on… This wasn't like Sora at all...

“That was different. Now you’re...” Riku trailed off, realising what he was about to say.

Sora's eyes flashed as he gave Riku a smouldering look that made Riku’s stomach curl. 

“I'm what, Riku? Weak? Is that what you were gonna say?” Sora spat out bitterly.

Riku shook his head, but Sora was right. Sora was weakened. He could see it in Sora's eyes, and he kicked himself mentally for not seeing this before. He had been so happy to have Sora back that he had managed to overlook what was right in front of him. It was in the way Sora’s shoulders hunched, in the way he sighed when he went up the staircases at the castle. And now, Riku saw it in the way Sora had barely managed to hold a keyblade before it was knocked out of his hand...

“You are not yourself,” Riku said, instead. 

Sora turned on his feet, quick as lightning, and stormed off without a backwards glance.

Riku could probably count on one hand the times he'd seen Sora angry — really angry— and not once had Sora ever run off wordlessly like this. Something was wrong. It made Riku all the more determined not to let Sora go off by himself again. Not now. Not so soon. Not ever, if he could help it...

Kairi sighed deeply.

“You're right, Riku. He's not himself. That fight with the Lich took more out of him than he wants to admit. I feel guilty for leaving, but I must… I can’t stay here, the thought of holding a keyblade makes me sick, I don’t want to…” She sighed.

“It’s okay, Kairi,” Riku told her. “I think it’s brave you’re doing your own thing. You should be free to follow your heart.”

Kairi gave him a smile that almost reached her eyes. Riku only now noticed that she looked almost as tired as Sora.

“Riku, promise me you'll look after him.”

“I promise,” Riku raised a hand to cover his heart, and he didn't think he'd ever made a promise that he intended to keep as much as this one.

“Go after him. He shouldn't be alone…” she urged him gently.





Riku found Sora in the courtyard, next to the neatly trimmed hedges of King Mickey and Queen Minnie. Sora hadn't really done a proper job of hiding, so Riku knew he wanted to be found.

He sat down next to Sora in the shade of the trees, drawing up his knees and wrapping his arms around them. They sat in silence for a long time, both lost in their thoughts, but it was not an uncomfortable silence. He could tell Sora wasn't angry anymore.

“I'm sorry,” Riku said eventually. “I didn't want to make it sound like I don't believe in you. I believe in you more than I believe in anyone.”

Sora shifted closer then, so there was barely any space between them. He rested his head on Riku's shoulder and Riku wrapped an arm around Sora's waist, pulling him flush against his side. He curled his fingers underneath Sora’s vest, letting them rest on the small curve of Sora's hip.

“No,” Sora said, his voice shaky. “Don't be sorry. I’m sorry. I don't know… I don't know why I said those things.”

“You only just came back. You need time.”

“You're right. I am weak.”

“You're not weak,” Riku shook his head.

“I feel weak,” Sora said bitterly. “I don't think I can stay here. These past few days, all I can feel is how weak I feel. How I need to get my strength back. Again. I need to leave, Riku. I can't stay here.”

“We can go, Sora. We can go wherever you want to go. But… Please… Let's go together. Don't go alone...”

“Okay,” Sora smiled, before burying his face in Riku's shoulder. “I don't want to go alone.”

Riku gave in to the urge to rest his head against Sora's. Maybe things would turn out to be alright, after all.






That night, Riku woke up with Sora's name on his lips, his heart racing. 

He opened his eyes, staring up at the ceiling in the dark, completely disoriented for a few moments. He could smell the darkness, in a way he hadn't been able to in a long time, overwhelming in a way it had only been whenever he'd journeyed the Realm of Darkness. But he was lying in a bed. There were no beds in the Realm of Darkness. 

As he slowly started to make out the shapes in his room, the desk, the chair, the chandelier on the ceiling, he started feeling a little safer again. He was in Disney Castle. Sora and Kairi were here, too. Sora was home. He was safe.

It had just been a nightmare.

Riku brought his hands to his chest, covering his racing heart, and tried to focus on his breathing. Flashes of the dream appeared before his eyes, swirls of darkness, and his thoughts kept going back to Sora

It didn't make sense. Sora was fine, wasn't he? He was safe. He was sleeping in his room just down the hall.

They were fine. They were going to be fine.

But no matter how much he tried to convince himself, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. With a sigh, he threw off the covers.

Riku made his way down the hallway to Sora's room, blinking against the bright lights along the walls. He put his hand against the door, feeling more than a little stupid. He traced the carvings on the wood with his fingers as he debated what to do. 

For long minutes, he waited, thinking, listening. Then, there was a sob from behind the door, the sound almost too low to hear. Before Riku was aware of what he had done, the door was open and he was at Sora's side. 

Sora was asleep, but Riku could tell immediately that something was wrong. He shook Sora's shoulder.

“Sora, wake up!” Riku called to no avail, panic seeping into his voice when Sora didn’t even stir. “Sora!” 

But Sora was fighting wakefulness, Riku could feel it. The more he tried to pull Sora out of it, the deeper into the dream Sora fell.

There was one last thing Riku could try. The only thing he could think. Riku clenched his fist and focused on Sora. Focused on their connection.

Between one blink and the next, he dove into Sora's dreams.

Chapter Text

Sora's feet were dragging the ground, his arms slow and sluggish. Everything felt so heavy as if little lead particles had been injected into his bloodstream. He stumbled and took an involuntary step towards the dark portal in front of him. Something was pulling him forward, the portal was calling to him, but his movements were sluggish, and he faltered. His mind screamed at him to go back, this was wrong, wrong, wrong. He shouldn't be here. Go back!

He tried to focus, but navigating his thoughts was like groping through thick fog. Smoke and whispers, darkness.

WIth his entire body on edge, Sora managed to keep still only with the greatest of efforts. He tore his gaze away from the portal to look around himself, head going from left to right in a desperate effort to get his bearings, but there was nothing to orient himself by. There was just...darkness. Nothing but heavy swirls of dark purple mist that obscured his vision, nothing to give off any indication of space or time.

Panic rose at the back of his throat, his eyes growing wider, his muscles now completely frozen as the swirls of purple pulsed darker and drifted closer to him. There was nowhere to run. Where could he go? How had he even gotten here? The portal kept calling to him, but it felt so wrong, he shouldn't go through it, there had to be another way...

With a sudden jerk of his head, he looked down at himself and was horrified to see the purple mist now swirling around his chest as well. It seemed to soak through his vest and shirt, enfolding him in darkness. He wanted to fight it off, but his arms felt so heavy, and just the idea of moving was too much to even wrap his slow-moving thoughts around.

Sora...

The voice came from far away, and Sora blanched, his heart rate increasing even further. Who would know his name in a place like this? He turned around to face away from the dark portal, looking at the vastness of the darkness in front of him. What remained of his courage left him at the sight. 

He was weak. This was impossible… There was nowhere to go and he had no strength to fight. In a desperate attempt, he reached out his hand and willed his Kingdom Key to appear, but he felt empty and hopeless in the face of what was in front of him. The darkness curled further around him. 

And the Kingdom Key wouldn't come to him.

That scared him more than anything.

Sora!

The voice sounded closer now, more insistent, and just as panicky as he felt. Sora looked up.

Sora, wake up!

Suddenly, there was a light above him, so bright that it turned the purple haze a soft lavender, the fog parting around the beams, a beacon of warmth. Sora reached out, one hand stretching to touch the light. He wanted to go to it, it would keep him safe, it felt so familiar… The dark purple swirls around him retreated.

Sora, please.

A sound between a groan and a gasp escaped him as he jerked awake. With his eyes still tightly shut, he turned onto his side, facing the bedroom wall, and started coughing violently. There was something awful and repulsive inside of him. His body rocked with the force of his coughs, fighting to get rid of something that Sora had never felt inside of him before. He felt tainted, like his body didn't belong to him, but in a horrific way, it did

A gentle, hesitant hand came to rest between his shoulder blades as Sora kept coughing and coughing, curling in on himself as his chest burned forcefully. The touch made him flinch and he tried to move away, but he didn't have the strength. With tears behind his closed eyes, he pressed his hands to his ribs, trying to relieve some of the pressure in his chest. 

“Sora, it's okay,” a steady voice said behind him.

Riku… Of course...

“Just breathe. You're alright. You're okay. It was just a dream.” Riku's voice sounded very far away, as if there were worlds between them, and there was a ringing in Sora's ears that drowned out almost everything else. The terrible smell of darkness was so poignant and strong, too... It was impossible to focus on anything else.

Riku's hand started rubbing his back in small circles, and slowly, moment by gruelling moment, Sora regained control of his breathing. The violent shudders grew less and less forceful in nature.

When he trusted himself enough, he opened his eyes and turned onto his other side.

Riku was lying next to him in the small twin bed, their heads sharing the single pillow. His eyes were wide, bright in the silver moonlight filtering into the darkness of the bedroom, and worry was etched onto his face.

“Sora?” His voice was strained.

Sora took a shuddering breath and shifted closer to Riku, closing the remaining distance between them. He felt Riku’s arms go around him, and he pressed his face into Riku's chest as he tried and failed to stop his tears. Riku's shirt smelled like lavender laundry detergent, and he wanted to bury himself in it forever. It drove away the lingering smell of darkness.

The tears kept coming, as if they were the literal darkness flowing out of him. He didn't remember the specifics of the dream, just the darkness, and that he had never felt so overwhelmingly powerless before. Sora inhaled deeply against the fabric of Riku's shirt once more, wanting more of that smell, and shivered when his exhale turned into a sob that rocked through his body.

Slowly, with every breath, he managed to get a little more air into his lungs. Riku's fluttering heartbeat against his ear distracted him, and Riku's voice kept him from slipping back too far into the vague memories of his dream.

“You're okay, Sora,” Riku's breath ghosted across Sora's ear. “It was just a dream. You're okay. Just breathe. I've got you.”

When finally, Sora felt focused enough, he tilted his head up to look at Riku. Their faces were really close. Suddenly embarrassed, he tried to pull away, but Riku wouldn’t let him, the arms around him tightening instead.

“Are you okay?” Riku asked hesitantly.

Sora nodded slowly. “What happened?”

“You had a nightmare,” Riku said. “It woke me up.”

“My nightmare woke you up?”

“I think so. But when I came here to check on you, I heard you cry out. I tried to wake you, but I couldn't... So—”

“You dove into my dreams?” He shouldn't have been surprised. Riku was his dream eater, after all. Riku would wake him from any nightmare when given the chance. He'd woken Sora from his worse nightmare ever: the one Xehanort himself had trapped him in.

“I tried to,” Riku said, and Sora could tell he was trying to keep his voice calm and soothing, though the event had probably upset him as much as it had Sora. “I dove but couldn't reach you. Something blocked me. So I called out to you. I kept calling until you woke up.”

Sora exhaled with a shudder, releasing some of the remaining tension in his body as Riku reached out to brush at the tears on his face. Then he hugged Sora again, and Sora was more than happy to melt into his tight embrace once more. He'd missed this. He'd missed Riku. So much.

“Do you remember what you were dreaming about?” Riku asked softly, hesitantly.

“I remember you calling my name. There was a light. But I don't remember much else. Just…this feeling. Shadows. Darkness.” Sora shivered again as his stomach turned in on itself and he suddenly felt nauseated.

“It was just a dream,” Riku reassured him. “You've been through a lot recently.”

“Yeah…” Sora tried to convince himself that Riku was right. It was just a dream…

They stayed like this for a long time, Sora counting Riku's heartbeats, slowly feeling himself calm down. Finally, after what felt like forever — but was still not long enough — Riku slowly removed his hands from around Sora's waist.

“Okay…” Riku murmured. "Do you think you could sleep again?" 

The loss of contact felt like a wave of cold ocean water crashing over him. Riku moved backwards a little and Sora almost reached out again, but he forced himself to stay still. He really, really didn't want Riku to leave, but he also didn't know how to ask him to stay. It had been forever since they last shared a bed, years ago back when they were kids. Surely Riku wouldn't want to now.

“I think so,” Sora lied. 

“Okay,” Riku said, as he slipped out of the bed. 

Please stay, his mind, his soul, called out, but Sora remained silent. The nightmare was fresh in his mind. What if he dragged Riku down with him into this darkness? He couldn't risk that. Riku didn't deserve that...

Riku glanced towards the door, then back at Sora. Slowly, he bent down and smoothed Sora's hair away from his forehead, his fingers warm against Sora's skin, and Sora closed his eyes involuntarily for a moment.

“I'm only a few doors away. Call me if you need me, okay?”

Sora nodded, trying a smile that he hoped didn't look as fake as it felt. After he watched Riku pad out of the room, he curled into himself on the suddenly too large bed. 

It was a long time before he fell asleep again.

Despite his broken night, Sora jerked awake again before the crack of dawn, adrenaline racing through his veins from the second he woke. He tried and tried for a long time, but he was unable to fall back asleep.

Sora had had nightmares before. During the year in which he searched for Riku, after Riku and Mickey had closed the door to the Realm of Darkness from the other side, Sora had dreamed almost every night of Riku being swallowed by darkness. Of trying to save him, of the ocean waves crashing over Riku just as Sora reached out to take his hand. And more recently, in the other dimension, he'd dreamed of Kairi's heart being lost forever, of the darkness consuming them both, of never returning home again.

But none of those dreams had felt like this. The darkness had always been outside of him. It had taken his friends, it had mocked him, but it had never… He thought back to his coughing fit. Never before had he felt darkness inside of him. Not like this.

Maybe the fact that he had nearly been defeated and stripped of most of his powers made him more susceptible to nightmares? Coming out of his fight with the Lich, he'd known that he lost most of his powers once again. The Lich had nearly defeated him. It had been a really close call, and he'd had fortune smiling down on him during the last moments of that battle. And he'd been so lucky to see Kairi returned after the Lich's defeat...

Sora suddenly craved movement. He dressed quickly and restlessly wandered the halls of the castle. Part of him itched to go to Riku's room, to slip into his bed and bury himself in his arms. Riku would let him, probably. But the other, larger part made him hesitate. It was still early. Riku was still sleeping, probably just as worn out by Sora's nightmare as Sora himself.

So instead, he snuck into the kitchens for a bread roll and made his way back to the clearing where he and Riku had sparred yesterday. He moved to the only spot in the sun and lay down on his back.

He was restless, his leg jerking up and down almost uncontrollably, but simultaneously he felt too tired to do anything noteworthy. The bread roll lay forgotten by his side. He wasn't hungry after all. A strange feeling, because he used to always be hungry…

His thoughts drifted as he stared up at the sky and the treetops surrounding him, swirling a little in the wind.

The time he'd spent in the other dimension, looking for Kairi, had flown by strangely. The others had told him that he'd been gone for seven months, but there had been no sense of time, just like there was no sense of time in the Realm of Darkness. It could've been a week, it could've been a decade.

Yet still, Sora had all the time in the world to think there, his only companion being his useless Gummiphone, a bittersweet reminder of the things he'd left behind. 

He'd thought about Roxas dropping down from the skies, and how happy he'd been to be reunited with Axel and Xion. He'd thought about Aqua, who had been so kind to him when he was little, and who was kind still, even after spending a decade in the Realm of Darkness. He hoped she would find happiness again after being reunited with Terra and Ven.

He had thought about Goofy and Donald, his constant companions for so long, and the looks of disappointment on their faces when he had told them he needed to do this alone. He'd thought about Mickey begging him to stay, his crestfallen face.

He'd thought about how wrong it had felt that Kairi hadn't been there at the end, to rejoice together over their hard-fought victory together with the rest of them.

But most of all, Sora had thought about Riku. Thinking about Riku made him feel strong and brave. Whenever he was lonely or had doubts, he would picture Riku standing in front of him, keyblade held high, fearless beyond words, and Sora's heart would fill with pride and hope every time, and he felt like he could do anything.

Sora closed his eyes, lost in memories for just a moment. 

When he opened them again, he was standing in a corridor of darkness once more. The abrupt lack of light was disorienting, especially after coming from a sunlight-filled clearing, and his head was reeling. 

He watched helplessly as the dark swirls instantaneously curled around him until his vision was blurry with fog and tears, and his lungs were burning. With the darkness surrounding him, he was forced to his hands and knees, and it was all he could do to keep breathing.

It took immense strength, but he managed to sit back on his heels and reached out to summon the Kingdom Key. But just like last time, it wouldn't materialise.

Sora closed his eyes and focused, calling on his remaining strength, searching inside himself for that feeling that he got whenever he thought of Riku. He reached out his hand again, and this time put all of his willpower into summoning Oblivion. It took a lot longer than usual, but he felt the beginnings of power rushing through him, growing, surging for long moments until the keyblade appeared in his hand. 

He let out a sigh of relief. He jumped to his feet, slashing at the darkness surrounding him, but the dark swirls only briefly recoiled. He kept swinging, sluggish strikes at purple smoke, but it was no use. No matter how often he swung, the darkness would curl towards him just as fast again.

Through the recoiling smoke, the dark portal was clearly visible once more. It called to him, it tugged on some deep part of him. Exhausted, helpless to resist, he let himself fall forwards and stepped through.

The darkness disappeared. 

Sora looked up, taking in his surroundings. He had stumbled into what appeared to be the Disney Castle courtyard. The dream version of it, anyway. As he spun around to look at the giant archway behind him, flashing bright white even though the sky above was overcast, he noticed a figure crossing underneath it, making his way over to him. Riku.

“Sora?” There was confusion in his voice.

Was this his Riku? Had he dived into Sora's dream?

Sora wanted to call out, he wanted to reassure Riku, tell him he was fine, but as soon as he opened his mouth, a sudden jolt rushed through his spine and he doubled over for a moment. It wasn't painful, but it was…overwhelming, intense. The feeling rushed through him, though it didn't belong to him. It belonged to the darkness. He'd never felt anything like it. It felt like a form change, but stronger, dangerous, terrible. It felt like his Rage Form, but a thousand times more powerful... When he stood up straight again and looked down at himself, darkness completely surrounded him. Good...

“Sora?” Riku's voice was clear, gentle, the way he always sounded when he talked to Sora these days.

But Sora couldn't answer him, he didn't want to answer him anymore. With a feral grin, he teleported towards Riku, readying himself to unleash a rapid multiple-hit combination with his keyblade. Power, incredible power rushed through him. It was exhilarating after having felt so weak. Some distant part of him felt wrong, but he squashed it down. He was made for this. 

Riku stood silently, just watching with a serene look on his face, not making any move to protect himself as Sora swung back his keyblade in preparation for a powerful blow. But then, just before the keyblade hit Riku in his left side…

...Sora woke up.

Riku wasn't there. He was alone in the clearing where he'd fallen asleep, his face wet with tears, his heart racing. The sun was shining on his face, but Sora shivered. He'd never felt so cold before.






Sora managed to avoid Riku, Kairi, and the others for an entire day, hiding in the woods, not wanting to see anyone. Only after nightfall did he sneak back into his bedroom, crawling under the covers, and trying to stay awake for as long as he could.

Riku had felt Sora's nightmare last night, but not this morning, Sora was pretty sure of that. Riku would've found him if he had. Maybe he'd been too far away and out of Riku's dream eater reach? Or maybe it was because he'd felt stronger this morning, powered by memories of Riku's strength. Maybe if he strengthened his own heart enough, Riku wouldn't be able to sense his nightmares anymore.

Because he couldn't let Riku see him like this: engulfed in darkness, weak. So he had to use all of his remaining strength to throw up walls around his heart if it meant he could prevent Riku from sensing his nightmares.

When he finally couldn't keep his eyes open anymore, he fell into the same nightmare again. He was alone in the corridor of darkness, the portal calling out to him. Only Riku wasn't there to wake him up this time, and the dark purple swirls engulfed him until he nearly suffocated. When he woke up, he was gasping for air. He rolled onto his side, coughing harshly to try and relieve the feeling of dark anguish inside him. It bubbled up, choking him, and he coughed harder as if his life depended on it.

And this time, Riku wasn't there to comfort him. Sora didn't know whether to feel sad or relieved.

After he'd calmed down, he turned over on his back, staring up at the ceiling. The taste of darkness remained strong in his mouth, and his chest clenched uncomfortably. He didn't want anyone to see him like this, but he couldn't be bothered to leave the room either. He lay there for hours, slowly watching the moonlight filtering into the room change to sunlight.

He lay there until a knock came on the door in the morning. Sora went to answer it, plastering on his best fake smile before opening the door. Kairi stood in the hallway, her hands on her hips, a worried frown on his face.

“Thank god, we looked everywhere for you!” she exclaimed. “Where were you yesterday?”

Sora shrugged. “I needed some time to think.”

He was worried Kairi would press the issue, but she tilted her head and smiled a sad smile. “You know we're all here for you, right? If you need someone to talk to?”

Sora forced another smile, hoping it looked more real than it felt. “Yeah. Thanks, Kairi.”

“You need to eat. It'll help get your strength back, you'll see,” she said with a conviction that Sora did not share. “Get dressed and come and have breakfast with us?”

Over the breakfast table, Riku kept shooting him concerned looks, even after Sora had tried to reassure him and the others – multiple times – that he was fine. He had just had a nightmare, alright? There was nothing special or worrisome about it.

“A nightmare?” Mickey asked thoughtfully. “What kind of nightmare?”

“Just a nightmare,” Sora said quickly before Riku could speak up. “Two nights ago. Only one.”

“Then where were you yesterday?” Kairi asked. “We were looking for you.”

“I needed time to think,” Sora repeated.

Kairi raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. Sora bowed his head to escape the worried glances from everyone around the table.

The nightmare had left him feeling nauseated again, and he found he had no appetite. There was a bowl full of cereal in front of him, but he was just swirling his spoon aimlessly through the cereal flakes while his thoughts kept going back to the way he had changed into Rage Form in yesterday's dream. He remembered charging at Riku without a second thought. He had wanted to hurt him. A feeling so alien to him in real life, that he couldn't even begin to fathom it. How could his subconscious dream of such a thing?

What was happening to him?

“Are you okay?” Kairi asked.

"Sure,” Sora said, trying for a smile. “I'll be okay. I've survived worse…”

“I know,” Kairi said, returning his smile. She paused. “I'm sorry, too…”

“What for?”

“I wanted to tell you yesterday. I'm leaving today. I wish I could stay... But I…”

“I know,” Sora nodded. “Your heart is telling you to go somewhere else.”

Sora could feel Riku's gaze on him, gauging him for a reaction, but he pointedly kept looking at Kairi.

“I'm leaving today,” she said.

“I understand…”

And he did, even though it stung more than a little. He would never ask for anything in return for saving Kairi, of course, but Sora couldn't ignore the fact that it hurt that she would leave so soon after getting back. Even though part of Sora also couldn’t wait to get out of here again, so he, more than anyone, should know how she felt.






After breakfast, all of them gathered at the Gummi Hangar to see Kairi off. As she hugged Sora goodbye, Sora pressed his eyes shut against the tears and the sudden flash of rage he felt. Kairi was leaving him. After he spent all of that time and effort to search for her and save her. Where was the gratitude in that?

But as she stepped back and smiled at him through her own tears, Sora deflated. The sadness and fear were bottled up so tightly inside him, swirling around in so much darkness that it was hard to filter through all that to find his true feelings.

After Kairi hugged Riku as well, Riku moved to stand closer to Sora. Without a word, he reached for Riku’s hand and grabbed it tightly. 

Riku shot him a quick sideways glance, but thankfully didn't say a word. He just squeezed Sora's hand and Sora moved a little closer as he waved goodbye to Kairi with his other hand.

They watched the ship leave until it was no more than a distant speck on the horizon.

Riku turned to Sora. “Do you still want to leave, too?”

Sora bit his lip. Yes, he wanted to leave and travel again more than anything. But at the same time, even the thought of summoning a keyblade was exhausting right now. He didn't know how he would find the energy to travel to other worlds and fight Heartless in his current state.

He hung his head. “I don't know…”

“Take your time,” Riku said. “There's no rush, is there?”






They fell into a pattern. During the daytime, Riku and Sora would do the tasks Mickey set for them. Mostly, Riku would be in the library reading and researching documents, while Sora busied himself with practical tasks like trimming the hedges in the courtyard or helping Chip and Dale work on the gummi ships.

Sora knew what Mickey was doing, trying to distract him. 

It wasn't working, but at least he could mostly avoid Riku like this. Every morning, Riku asked him how he'd slept, and every morning, Sora would reply that he was fine, that he'd had no nightmares.

Riku didn't press, and Sora was grateful. He knew now, beyond a doubt, that there was darkness inside of him. Riku must have seen it, too, that night of the failed dive. What had Riku thought of him, then? Riku had left his room that night, was that because he knew Sora was tainted by the darkness?

It was a bittersweet relief when they went separate ways after breakfast to each do their own tasks.

During the night, Sora would lie awake. He would try to keep his eyes open for as long as he could until exhaustion claimed him and he eventually slipped into a dream of darkness. The dreams seemed to grow stronger every night and it was all Sora could do to shield his heart from Riku, knowing that Riku would dive into his dreams again to help him if he felt Sora's fear.

The worst nightmare so far happened a few nights after Kairi left. That night, the dream started as it always did, with Sora in the dark corridor, a few steps away from the dark portal. Sora's sadness at Kairi's departure seemed to have fueled the darkness inside of him, and he had not even attempted to resist the pull of the portal that night.

Sora stepped through it with an eagerness that should have scared him, but didn't. That night, he had ended up Radiant Garden. There was something he had to take care of here. Transforming into Rage Form this time was welcome, the darkness was powerful and amazing, and it made his heart surge. Gathering all the darkness inside of him, he rose up into the air. He calmly floated over to the castle, where Ienzo's research facility was located. 

Floating in the air above the castle, Sora summoned a dark fireball that started small, but grew quickly between his hands as he held them up above his head. It grew and grew until it was bigger than Sora himself, eagerly soaking up the darkness that Sora fed it.

When the dark fireball was strong enough, Sora sent it flying down towards the research facility below him and watched stoically through narrowed eyes as the building below blew up in a sea of flames.

It was a miracle that Riku hadn't felt what Sora felt when he woke up. With tears on his face and his heart in his throat, he wanted nothing more than to search out Riku and give in to this childish urge to curl up close to him, to have Riku protect him from everything. From meteor showers to waves of Heartless and all the things in between.

But finding Riku was dangerous. Riku would see straight through him and see the darkness inside of him. And then what? Riku knew darkness, he had conquered the darkness within himself. But then, Riku had always been stronger than Sora…

Once again, Sora thought back to the moment when he was down on his hands and knees at the Keyblade Graveyard. How Riku had said, without any hesitation, that he knew Sora wouldn't give up.

Sora had believed it, then. He didn't believe it anymore.

He knew that Riku didn't have any memories of that moment. When he rewound time, everyone else lost their memories of the events in the Keyblade Graveyard after that moment, but Sora remembered. He remembered how Riku stood in front of him, keyblade held high, and Sora had never been so in awe of anyone else before.

It had kept him going in the other dimension. And he wished it would give him strength now...

It hurt, actively avoiding Riku. Sora felt it in every fibre of his being. He had never felt right without Riku, had spent almost all of his life trying to be at Riku's side. It was a little ironic, how the tables had turned...

But this was a battle he had to fight alone.

Whenever Riku and he did talk, the worried look on Riku's broke Sora's heart. He avoided looking in the mirror these days, but he knew what he looked like. Haunted eyes, pale skin, even his hair had lost its usual shine, the spikes drooping.

He sounded like a broken record, telling everyone that he was fine, he was just still recovering. 

“You're not fine,” Riku said one day.

Sora couldn't look at him. He bit his lip, turning away. 

“I will be,” he said softly, but he didn't believe it.

Sora wandered the grounds around the castle when he was not doing any jobs. More often than not, he would wind up in the Gummi Hangar, staring at the ships there. 

He could take one and fly far away from here. There were hundreds of worlds out there. He could hide in one and no one would find him. He wouldn't be able to taint any of his friends if he wasn't close to them.

But then he would shake himself and walk away.

But Sora could feel his defences wearing thin. He had been using what strength he had left to build walls around his heart, so Riku wouldn't be able to sense his nightmares. But it had been two weeks since the first nightmare, and Sora could feel that he wasn't going to be able to keep this up forever. The last of his strength was slowly leaving him.

That night, right before he fell asleep, he wondered how long the walls around his heart would hold.






The dream started the way it always did. Sora in the corridor of darkness, the portal in front of him, calling out to him.

Some nights, Sora was strong enough to resist the portal’s call, and the darkness would gather inside him until he was suffocating. Sometimes he would wake up, coughing, as usual, to try and dispel the darkness clawing at his throat. Other times, he would slowly feel the remnants of the light in his heart leaving him, until finally, mercifully, he would black out and jerk awake.

Most nights, as the portal called out to him, Sora was unable to resist, no matter how hard he tried. The portal would lead to someplace different every time.

This was one of those nights where Sora knew he wouldn't be able to resist. Step by step, he staggered towards the portal, trying in vain to fight the darkness inside him that kept calling him forward.

With a final tug, Sora was pulled through. Every muscle in his body clenched as he looked around himself, filled with a sinking feeling of dread at what would happen next. Nothing good ever happened after he stepped through the portal.

The place he was in this time was a city, similar to San Fransokyo. But San Fransokyo at night had been a blast, neon lights and party music everywhere. Here, things were eerily quiet. It was night-time and Sora could barely see a thing. The corridor of darkness where he came from had been dark, too, but this place was pitch black.

Sora looked at the skyscrapers, following the lines of the buildings up with his eyes, but even the sky above was dark. There was not a star in sight. Sora shivered and wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly noticing how cold it was here.

Then, with an abrupt feeling of dread, he felt like he was being watched. 

Sora froze. He didn't want to turn around. He felt like a child, terrified of the monsters underneath his bed, and as long as he didn't take a look at them, they would leave him alone. But he wasn't a child anymore. Even if he didn't turn around, whatever was watching him would still be there.

Slowly, Sora turned his head. A pair of bright yellow eyes stared at him from a distance. The creature was completely dark, save for the yellow eyes and the heart-shaped hole in his chest, which was framed by a pink, glowing crystal edge.

It couldn't be...

Sora held his hand out instinctively, trying to summon a keyblade that wouldn't appear. 

He dropped to his knees.

He watched as the Lich moved closer, its sceptre held high. It didn't speak – it never did – but the end of its sceptre started glowing with the sickly blue glow of its magic. Sora looked around himself, trying to find somewhere to hide behind, but there was nothing he could reach. He raised an arm again, calling desperately for a keyblade, a magic spell, anything… The Lich advanced further, and Sora trembled. If he died here in his dream, would he really die?

But then, a bright light appeared and suddenly someone was standing between Sora and the Lich.

Sora's heart jumped.

“Riku?”

Was this real? Or was this another of the dreams twisted attempts to get him to use the darkness, to fight his friends?

Riku shot a look over his shoulder at Sora, giving him a reassuring smile. Sora felt his fists unclench.

This was the real Riku. His Riku.

Riku turned back to the Lich, summoning his keyblade and dropping into a fighting stance. He steadied himself, and Sora watched in awe as Riku all but flew at the Lich.

Riku was moving so fast that he was nothing more than a dark blur. The Lich, clearly stunned by this turn of events, could only try and block Riku's blows. It had no time to right itself and counterattack. Riku fell into a pattern of jabs and slashes and was moving so fast that the Lich couldn't keep up.

It only took a few minutes before the Lich stumbled backwards, summoning a dark portal a few feet away. Sora and Riku watched as it glided through, closing the portal behind it.

Riku stood, breathing hard for a few seconds. Then he turned in a flash, keyblade disappearing into thin air.

“Sora?” He gasped around deep breaths, his voice breaking.

“Riku…” Sora whispered. With the Lich gone, with Riku here, relief crashed over him, and tears sprung into his eyes as he swayed forwards.

Riku was at his side in a heartbeat, a hand on his shoulder to steady Sora as Sora tried to stay upright.

“My god, Sora, what… How…”

All thoughts of wanting to keep Riku at a distance were promptly forgotten. Sora reached out to him with both arms, and Riku dropped to his knees in front of him so Sora fell into his embrace. With one of Riku's arms around his shoulder and the other around his waist, Sora crumbled against him.

“How did you…?” he sobbed.

“You were afraid. I could feel that in my heart,” Riku muttered, holding him so tightly that it almost hurt, but Sora didn't care. He wanted Riku closer still. “I came as soon as I felt it.”

“Thank you,” Sora responded, and his voice trembled, breaking on the second word.

Riku pulled back to look at him, both hands coming up to cup his cheeks.

“Sora… Are you—”

Sora lowered his gaze, unable to look Riku in the eye. “I can't feel the light inside of me anymore…”

“Oh, Sora…” Riku pulled him into a hug again, his right hand sliding into Sora's hair to bring Sora's head to his chest. Sora's knees hurt where they were pressed against the pavement, and the darkness was still so strong inside of him that Sora could taste it on his tongue, he could smell it all over himself, but none of that seemed to matter now if Riku would just hold him.

“Let's go home, Sora.”

There was another flash, and Sora was on back in his bed in the castle, awake. He turned his head to find Riku lying next to him, just like that first night. 

Riku, who had stood up to him against a whole wave of Heartless, who had always watched out for him, for as long as Sora could remember. Who had dived into his darkest dreams and chased them off.

He'd been such an idiot for pushing Riku away...

“What happened there…?” Riku asked, eyebrows drawn together, looking intently at Sora.

Sora blinked and stared up at the ceiling. He didn't know what to tell Riku. Would he lie and say this was just a nightmare, too? He opened his mouth a few times, but he had no words to explain. 

“Sora, talk to me. Please.”

Sora pressed his eyes shut, curling his hands into fists against his chest. It took everything he had just to breathe.

After several long minutes, Riku sighed softly, the sound barely audible. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No, please,” Sora whispered. “Stay.”

Sora rolled onto his side and shifted closer to Riku. He didn't care anymore if this was dangerous or if he would corrupt Riku by being close to him. All he knew was that Riku made him feel safe.

They lay facing each other as Sora raised a hand to press it against Riku's chest. Riku's heart was beating wildly, fluttering like a caged bird underneath Sora's hand. Sora himself also had adrenaline racing through him, and it would be a long time before either of them could sleep again.

So he started talking. 

“The Heartless you fought in my dream, that was the Lich...”

“Sora… Tell me, honestly,” Riku said. “How long have you been having these nightmares? How bad are they?”

“They started a few days after Kairi and I returned. The first one caught me off guard. That's the one that woke up...”

“So it's happened more than once?” Riku studied Sora's face carefully.

Sora fell silent.

“Sora...”

“Every night,” Sora admitted.

“What?” Riku gasped. He reached a hand out to grasp Sora's shoulder. “Sora, you told me…”

“I know,” Sora sighed. “I know, I'm sorry, okay? But I was handling it.”

“Yes, clearly…” Riku said through clenched teeth, and Sora winced at the wry tone in his voice.

“I didn't want you to know,” Sora looked away, staring at his hand still pressed against Riku's shirt. “I tried to shield my heart from you, so you wouldn't find out.”

“Sora, I say this in the nicest way possible, but sometimes you're a bit of an idiot...” Riku looked away for a moment to compose himself. “Why didn't you talk to me?” 

“You tried to do things on your own last year,” Sora bit back.

“Yeah. Remember who told me that I was being an idiot then?”

Sora turned his head to look up at the ceiling for a few moments, trying to swallow back the sudden flash of anger that was becoming increasingly familiar these days.

“I'm scared, Riku…”

“We'll figure it out, Sora,” Riku said with such conviction that Sora's spirits rose. “If there’s darkness inside you, it’s not inherently bad. Light and darkness need to be in balance. There can be no light without darkness. It’s what you do with it that matters.”

Sora turned back to Riku just as Riku's gaze turned away from Sora, and he seemed to debate something. After long moments, Riku pressed his lips together before taking a deep breath.

“Darkness is… I used to think I was darkness. That darkness was all there was to me. I know now that's not true, but during the year that…” Riku swallowed and took another breath. “I'm gonna tell you something I've never told you before.”

Sora nodded, eyes wide, mesmerised by the sincere look on Riku's face.

“That year you slept in a pod while Naminé restored your memories, I fought… to keep you safe. I fought to help you regain the memories you lost. And to do so… I did… I did things I regret. I used the darkness in a way I never want to do again. But it was worth it. It was all worth it…”

Sora watched as Riku swallowed heavily, pressing his eyes shut for just a moment. Sora didn't dare to speak, afraid he would shatter the moment.

“I have been in the darkness, but I have also seen the light. Darkness makes the light shine brighter. Darkness can be peaceful, too. If you look at the night sky, it's only because of the darkness that the stars shine.

“And Sora… I believe that the light existed first, but darkness came into being because of the light. And when I look at you…I see that light. You may not feel it, but it's there. I can feel it. My heart can...”

Riku trailed off, swallowing and turning his gaze away from Sora. Even though Sora only understood flashes of what Riku was saying, he knew this was important.

“I guess what I'm saying is… Don't fear the darkness. It's there because of the light. It'll always be there. I know it's inside of me, too. And that's okay. Because there's also light inside of me. Light and darkness need each other.”

Even in the dark, Sora could see that Riku felt a little embarrassed when he stopped talking. He didn't understand what Riku had to be embarrassed about, though, because that had been a great speech. Sora reached out and grabbed Riku's hand in the space between them.

“Riku… Will you be my light?” he asked, his voice low but steady.

Riku smiled wistfully and nodded. “Yes, Sora. I'll be whatever you need.”

Sora smiled back softly, a smile which quickly turned into a yawn.

“Maybe you should try and get some sleep,” Riku said gently. 

Sora tightened his grip on Riku's hand. He could say the words now that he should've said weeks ago. “Will you stay?”

“Of course, Sora,” Riku said without hesitation. “But please… Don't shield your nightmares from me again. I can help. Let me help you...”

“I won't,” Sora promised.

He closed his eyes and drifted off. With Riku beside him, he slept dreamlessly for the first time in two weeks. 

When he woke the next morning, it was with an actual smile on his face, his hand curled against Riku's chest. Riku was still asleep, his face soft in the morning light, his mouth relaxed and his eyelashes sweeping against his cheeks. Sora's smile widened. Riku was still here. Riku had seen his darkness, and he was still here.

He was still terrified of dragging Riku down with him. But Riku was strong. Riku had fought the darkness and conquered it. Maybe he would not be dragged down… 

More than anything, Sora wanted to spare Riku the pain of another fight against the darkness. He reached out a hand and brushed his fingers over Riku's hair, soft and smooth against his fingers.

When Riku stirred, Sora was quick to retract his hand. He and Riku had always been affectionate in a way that was different than Sora's relationship with his other close friends, but he wasn't sure how Riku felt about his hair being petted while he was asleep, no matter how weirdly intimate their friendship was slowly becoming. Riku was now sleeping in the same bed as him, just like when they were five and daring each other to stay up all night.

Riku slowly opened his eyes and blinked at Sora. Sora could feel his lips curling up in a smile again.

“I missed your smile,” Riku said in a rough, sleep-filled voice, his eyes squinting a little, and Sora's heart clenched for a moment.

“Thanks, Riku,” he said, heartfelt.






After the two of them joined Donald and Goofy at the breakfast table, and Sora was digging into a huge bowl of cereal as if he hadn't eaten for a week, Mickey walked in with a serious look on his face.

“I have just received word from Ienzo and Kairi.”

“Are they okay?” Sora asked worriedly, his spoon hanging forgotten in the air.

“Oh, yes. Don't worry, they're fine! But you remember how I reached out to some of our allies in other worlds to give them Ienzo's contact details? In case anything happened? Over the past few days, he and Kairi received reports from multiple worlds that the Heartless seem to be getting stronger again.”

“We should go and check it out,” Sora said.

Riku turned to look at him. “Are you sure? What about—”

“I'm sure,” Sora said with new-found determination. “Sitting around here isn't going to help anyone.”

“We'll go, too!” Donald exclaimed and Goofy nodded.

Sora's face fell. “Actually… I need to tell you guys something.”

And so Sora told Donald, Goofy and Mickey about his nightmares. From the moment they started the night he got back, to the moment Riku had made the nightmares stay away last night when he stayed to sleep next to Sora.

Mickey's face turned more serious with every word Sora said. When Sora had finished talking, he shook his head.

“I am not sure those are just dreams, Sora.”

They all turned to Mickey in surprise.

“I think there may be a connection between your dreams and the increase in Heartless,” Mickey explained. “There seems to be something wrong with the balance between light and darkness. I, too, have felt this. And I talked to Master Yen Sid. He also felt it.” 

Sora and Riku exchanged a glance.

“All the more reason for us to go investigate,” Sora said firmly, before turning his head. “Donald, Goofy… If all of this is true, Ienzo, Kairi and the others might need your help at Radiant Garden.”

Mickey agreed with this. “Sora's right. I have a feeling this is something Sora and Riku will need to do together.”

“But don't worry!” Sora exclaimed as saw his friends’ faces falling. “I'm sure we'll all get to go on another adventure together soon!”

Goofy, of course, was the first one to recover. “Gawrsh, I think you're right.”

Donald tapped his knife on the table as his gaze turned dark. Suddenly he pointed the knife at Riku, who jumped in his chair. “You look after him.”

Riku gulped, not daring to blink, “Yes, sir.”

Sora laughed, and the mood brightened again. “And we'll have the Gummiphones. We'll send updates as often as we can.”






Sora finished packing his bag quickly. He didn't have a lot of things to take with him anyway. He sat down on the bed, staring out the window. This morning, he had felt determined to do this, but now, alone in his room, tasked with yet another difficult quest, he could feel the fear and doubt creeping back into him.

With all of his heart, he wanted Riku to come with him. He didn't want to do this alone. Last night, with Riku there, he'd had his first good night's sleep since he returned. He was afraid of what would happen if he were to go alone.

But at the same time, he felt the darkness inside of him getting stronger every day, and Sora was afraid to drag Riku down with him. If Mickey was right and if the balance between light and dark had been disturbed...

He knew how to fly a gummi ship. He knew how to traverse worlds. He had done it on his own for the last seven months. He could just go. Then, at least he wouldn't drag anyone else into the mess that was his life...

There came a knock at his door that made Sora jump out of his spiralling thoughts.

“Yes?” he called.

Goofy and Donald came in. 

“Are you ready for your new adventure?” Goofy quipped, trying to get Sora to smile.

“Sort of. I'm a little scared,” Sora admitted.

“It's normal to be afraid,” Donald said. “But Riku will be with you. He'll protect you just as well as we did.”

Sora bit his lip. “I traversed the other dimension on my own. What if…”

“No,” Donald said, immediately. “I know what you're thinking. You're not going alone. Not this time.”

“Donald is right,” Goofy added. “We don't want to let you go either, but we know Riku will keep you safe.”

In his heart, Sora knew they were right. He had come to rely on Riku so much, it was scary. But the darkness didn't seem so bad when he was with Riku. 

He sighed in equal parts relief and resignation. “Okay.”

Goofy insisted on carrying his bag, and Donald kept fussing over him the entire way to the Gummi Hangar. 

“Make sure to eat your vegetables, too. And don't stay up too late. Bed before ten. And call us every day!” Donald instructed him.

Sora nodded obediently.

After all of the hugs goodbye, Sora and Riku boarded the gummi ship as their friends at the castle waved at them from below. After setting their bags in the sleeping quarters, they went into the cockpit.

“Riku?”

“Hmm?”

“You can pilot the ship.”

Riku nodded.

“So…” he said, his lips curling into a small smile as he strapped himself into the pilot seat. “Where to, sir?”

Sora couldn't help but smile back. He sat down in the co-pilot seat and fastened his seatbelt.

“Let's pay a visit to Master Yen Sid, first. Maybe he can give us some clues.”

Chapter Text

Riku had made the trip to the Mysterious Tower often enough that he didn't really need to look at the navigation system, so he alternated staring at the space in front of them with stealing long glances at Sora, fast asleep next to him. Riku had already slowed down the ship as much as he reasonably could without feeling like he was delaying their arrival too much, justifying this to himself under the pretence of needing the time to think.

And while he did need time to think...if he was honest with himself, he just really wanted to enjoy this moment.

He had dreamt about going on a journey with Sora since he was five years old, when he'd realised that there were other worlds out there that they could go and visit. And although Riku had done a lot of travelling on his own by now, the fact that finally, after thirteen years, he was getting to travel the worlds with Sora… Well, it made it hard to suppress his smile, in spite of everything.

Once more, he glanced to his side where Sora was curled up in the co-pilot seat, and Riku felt his smile soften. Sora's face was relaxed, his breathing deep and even. No sign of nightmares, and Riku was glad. Sora needed all the extra sleep he could get after all of those broken nights.

Though it didn't look like Sora was having nightmares, Riku couldn't stop himself from worrying anyway. So maybe if he kept glancing at Sora, he could prevent him from slipping into another nightmare with his guard up. Sora had said he wouldn't, but… 

Riku tightened his hands against the steering wheel. He was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Sora had tried to shield his nightmares from him like that. 

Although… It was hard to blame Sora for what he'd done when Riku knew better than anyone what darkness could do to a person. He still remembered vividly how awful and unworthy he'd felt when he let the darkness in, even if he'd done it to save Sora. He hadn't wanted anyone to see him then, least of all Sora. All things considered, Sora was probably handing it better than Riku ever had.

Of course, that didn't keep Riku from worrying. But then again, worrying about Sora had always been second nature to him. And now doubly so.

Mickey said that the Heartless were growing stronger and that the balance between light and darkness seemed to have been disturbed. It sent a shiver down Riku's spine to think that all of this might be connected to Sora's nightmares. Considering everything they knew, Riku understood they were in for a tough mission. And how would Sora handle himself once they started encountering Heartless? If their sparring match was any indication...

He shook his head. One thing at a time. Yen Sid, first.

But before he could focus on that, his thoughts wandered again. What would it be like, travelling the worlds with Sora? Even though they had spent seven months apart, and their first two weeks back together had been a little...shaky at best, they had still slipped back into being best friends easily. Being around Sora always felt right, and their connection still felt as strong as ever.

Waking up next to Sora this morning had simultaneously been one of the best and hardest things that had ever happened to Riku. At some point last year, Riku had started to realise that maybe there was a fine line between being friends and a little more than friends, and with Sora, occasionally he felt a little like they'd already crossed it. Their friendship felt so intimate, it was so wildly beyond the connections he had with anyone else... 

He had to remind himself it was mostly just Sora being Sora. Sora had never cared for following relationship rules or being masculine for the sake of being seen as tough or strong. He just followed his heart. So for Sora, holding Riku's hand, touching him or hugging him was just regular physical contact. It didn't mean what Riku's body and heart wanted it to mean. He knew that.

Riku sighed deeply and forced himself to relax his clenching stomach muscles. He had to put his own emotions aside. He would never be able to help Sora with his nightmares if he was so caught up in his feelings. Sora should be able to be his regular affectionate self without Riku reading anything into it.

And that was enough. Riku would be forever content with whatever Sora was willing to give him. He sneaked another glance to the side and smiled again. Sora already gave him so much. Sora was here, next to him. They were doing this together.

When he looked back in front again, Riku could begin to make out the tall shape of the Mysterious Tower in the distance, a bright yellow contrast against the dark star-filled sky surrounding it.

With the tower rapidly approaching now, Riku swallowed thickly. While he was pretty decent at flying a gummiship, his landings had always been...shaky at best. During the months Sora had been gone, Riku had generally just flown around aimlessly, and the few times he had to land a gummiship for a mission, well...

The less said about those the better.

He was aiming to park the gummi ship on the front lawn, but he could tell from the moment he slammed the brakes that his timing had been off and they were coming in way too fast. As the ship slammed into the ground with a resounding crash, Sora jerked awake with a gasp.

Riku pulled at steering wheel, turning it as he kept the brakes pressed down in a desperate attempt to stop the ship before the tree line began. He managed, but only barely.

Sora blinked a few times at the sight of the tree branches brushing against the windscreen and the ship practically parked in the forest. Then he turned, two eyebrows raised, and sent Riku a disbelieving look. “Really?”

Riku huffed. “I just need some practice, okay?”

"Right," Sora said with a little smirk.

As they made their way down to the ground and towards the front door of the tower, Sora was cheerful, the nap evidently having done him well.

“It feels like our journey has really begun now that we're here!” Sora exclaimed enthusiastically as he pushed open the door and they started up the stairs, and Riku wondered if anything ever truly got this boy down for a longer period of time.

The welcome Master Yen Sid gave them was as stoic as ever, but underneath the straight face, Riku could tell he was happy to see them both in one piece. 

After the initial pleasantries, bringing across regards from all their mutual friends, Sora and Riku sat down at the desk, and Sora started telling Yen Sid what had happened, starting from the moment he left Scala ad Caelum. When Sora came to the part where he encountered the Lich in his dreams, Master Yen Sid sat up straighter and narrowed his eyes.

“And this was the same creature you went after when you searched for Kairi?” Yen Sid asked in a level voice.

Sora nodded.

“Have you encountered other Heartless in your nightmares?”

“No,” Sora replied, his expression shifting into a frown as he thought about it. “I mostly dream about the darkness trying to get to me. And one time I dreamt about the Lich. And a few times there were...other people.”

Sora shot Riku a quick glance, and Riku realised there was more that Sora was not telling. Again.

“But no other Heartless,” Sora added.

"Hmmm…” Yen Sid hummed. “This is most peculiar.”

Sora tilted his head, then spoke up again, his voice hesitant. “I've been thinking about something young Master Xehanort told me when I was using the power of waking to save everyone. He gave me a warning. He told me that if I kept chasing the Lich and kept using the power of waking to traverse worlds, I would condemn my heart to the abyss. What if that's what I did? I didn't know what he meant, I thought he was just trying to scare me.”

“We cannot be sure of anything at this point, Sora. However, I would advise against using the power of waking for now. What Xehanort said worries me. It seems there is more to the power of waking than we may have realised. I hope we have not… Hmmm...” 

Yen Sid stroked a hand across his beard, his gaze becoming unfocused. He began to mutter, mostly too himself, but Riku caught bits and pieces as the wizard clearly became lost in thought.

“Stronger heartless and a Lich… And the abyss…” 

Yen Sid stroked his beard again, and went silent, his eyes closing though Riku was fairly certain he remained awake.

After long moments of silence, Sora and Riku looked at each other, and Sora's face slipped into a pout as he started fidgeting with the zipper of his jacket.

“Can we go now?” he mouthed at Riku.

Would it be rude if they left? Were they dismissed? Riku glanced from the old Master to Sora and back again. But when Yen Sid remained silent, Riku exhaled with a little frown and stood. When even that didn't get a reaction, Riku decided that the wizard must be lost in a world of his own, alone with his thoughts, so he gestured to Sora that they should leave. They would reconvene tomorrow. 

For now, he wanted Sora to get a good night's sleep, and he was tired from the flight himself.

While they made their way through the winding staircases and corridors to the hallway where their rooms were, Riku wondered what to do. They had always had separate bedrooms when they spent the night here, which made sense because the tower had dozens of bedrooms. Riku didn't want to assume now, but he also didn't want to leave Sora to face his nightmares alone...

When they got to the hallway with their rooms, they passed by Sora's first, and luckily Sora made the decision for him. 

“You'll sleep in here, right?” Sora asked, trying to sound casual, though Riku could hear the slight tremor in his voice.

He nodded wordlessly. Like he would ever deny Sora this.

Still, it was a good thing that the bedrooms in the Mysterious Towers had double beds, because it made the idea of sleeping in the same bed as Sora a little more bearable than back in the smaller beds at Disney Castle. But because Riku was a masochist at heart, he turned on his side anyway and watched through half-lidded eyes as Sora undressed to his black tank top and boxer shorts. When Sora stood to stretch, his back arched until it popped, and the movement exposed a small layer of skin. 

Riku rolled onto his back with a deep sigh and pressed his eyes shut, trying to calm down his suddenly racing heart. It was like he concluded before. He really needed to get a grip on his emotions. He'd make things really complicated for both of them if he didn't… 

Lost in thought, Riku almost startled when he felt the mattress dip as Sora slipped under the covers next to him. Sora hummed happily as he settled on the other side of the bed, keeping at least two feet between them.

Riku forced himself to relax a little. He could do this.

“Night, Riku,” Sora mumbled quietly. 

“Good night, Sora," Riku replied. And after a pause, he added. "No shielding your nightmares.”

“I promise.”






Sora kept his promise, and Riku slipped into Sora's dream effortlessly, without consciously being aware of it.

He found himself on the beach of their former play island, looking out across the ocean. The horizon was all but invisible because of the dark haze above the water, and the sky above was a dark purple, foggy in the same way it had been on the day Riku opened the door and the islands fell to darkness. This world, this dream smelled of darkness.

But the dream was not of that fateful day, although it was another painfully familiar memory. A younger version of himself stood scowling by the waterline, opposite a younger version of Kairi with narrowed eyes, hands on her waist and lips pressed together. They were standing on the packed sand next to the ocean, facing each other, both of them glaring, and neither of them backing down.

Riku remembered their fight from this day. It had been so stupid. Back then, he and Kairi fought all the time. All their arguments were about Sora. Riku was angry and jealous, perceiving Kairi as petty and a thief when she was stealing moments alone with Sora when Sora should have been spending time with him.

“He's my friend, too,” Kairi said, scowling.

Friend?” Riku's voice dripped with contempt.

“Ugh, Riku." Kairi crossed her arms across her chest. "Don't be stupid.”

The younger Riku turned away from Kairi, hands curling into fists, and that's when Riku noticed a younger Sora running towards them, kicking up sand as he sprinted across the beach.

Sora came to a stop next to his friends, breathing hard. He leaned over to rest his hands on his knees for a moment.

“Hi guys!" he panted, oblivious to the conversation that he had just fallen into. "What are you talking about?”

The younger Riku scowled, which wasn't surprising. It was his default expression from that time. 

“Nothing,” he said curtly, before spinning on his heels and stalking off towards the shack, leaving Sora and Kairi behind on the beach.

Riku's stomach turned as he watched the scene unfold in front of him. He remembered this. He knew what was coming.

“Riku!” Sora called out, but his younger self didn't turn around.

Sora looked from Kairi's upset face to Riku's retreating back, his head whipping from left to right in a way that would have been comical in any other situation. The conflicting feelings were obvious on his face. He sighed deeply, his expression falling.

“I'm sorry, Kairi...” Sora muttered apologetically before he turned to run after Riku.

Riku remembered this moment. God, he had felt so vindicated that Sora had run after him and left Kairi behind. It was so hard to watch now, how awful he'd been to both of his best friends.

He remembered so clearly how possessive he'd been. How the darkness inside of him had grown and grown, how anger and jealousy had twisted his mind. How his confusion over his feelings for Sora had made him push Sora away again and again, and how smug he'd felt when Sora came running back to him regardless.

He'd been such a mess.

Riku took a last look at a crestfallen Kairi, alone on the beach now. She deserved so much better… But with a deep sigh, he followed after Sora. This was Sora's dream, after all. 

As he came closer to the wooden shack, he dreaded the scene he knew he'd come across: Sora stamping his feet in frustration and the younger Riku glowering vindictively, his arms crossed in front of his chest.

The sky above them grew even darker.

“Riku, please,” Sora said, on the verge of tears. “What's wrong? Why won't you talk to me?”

When the younger Riku didn't respond, Sora reached out to grab his hand, but Riku shrugged him off. And still, Sora tried again. This time, Riku physically pushed Sora back, and as Sora fell to the ground a crash of thunder echoed around them. Even from where Riku was standing he could see that Sora looked like his heart had literally been broken in two.

“Leave me alone,” Riku’s younger self spat and turned around to run off.

“Riku…" Sora called out weakly from where he was sprawled onto the ground.

Riku averted his gaze, unable to watch any longer, but quickly looked back up again as the scene started changing in front of his eyes. The sky above — around — them, grew darker still, and Riku's eyes widened as the darkness was literally drawn towards Sora. Massive dark purple clouds surged towards him, wrapping him like a cocoon as the smell in the air turned metallic.

When the darkness reached out tendrils of purple smoke, curling around Sora's ankles, Sora ripped his feet away. Riku's heart rate doubled. He'd been just observing so far, but he couldn't stand by and watch this happen to Sora. He broke into a run.

“Sora!” he called, but Sora couldn't hear him.

Sora was still struggling to get the dark tendrils off him, kicking his legs, scooting backwards across the ground, but it was no use. Whatever he did, the darkness came back around to try and wrap around him once more. As Riku came closer, Sora held out a hand, but his fingers curled around empty air where a keyblade should have appeared.

“No,” Sora shouted, curling into himself as the darkness reached for him again. “No, you can't make me do this again. I won't hurt him. Not again.”

Riku finally reached him and crouched in front of him to look into his eyes. Sora was evidently not able to see him, and Riku's chest clenched when he noticed Sora's eyes had turned yellow.

“Sora?”

Sora didn't even react to his name, staring into the distance with those glowing, haunted yellow eyes. Panicked, Riku reached out, both with his hand and the dream eater part inside of him that was so ingrained into his own heart by now. 

It worked, if only a little. The moment he put his hand on Sora's shoulder, Sora slumped against the ground, tension training out of him as the darkness around them retreated. Something inside Riku unclenched as he watched yellow eyes flicker and turn back to their regular sapphire blue. He wanted to pull Sora into a hug, his body craving the physical contact, but it still seemed as if Sora couldn't see him… 

And the immediate danger of the darkness seemed to have passed. Just as he looked around, to decide what to do next, the world around him faded into black and...

...Riku woke up with a jolt. 

The first thing he noticed was Sora squished into his side, their legs entwined. Ah,shit… 

The second thing he noticed was Sora's hand fisted into Riku's sleeveless shirt and his face pressed against Riku's shoulder. Riku could tell Sora was still asleep by the rhythm of his breaths. Sora's body was tense in the aftermath of the nightmare, though with every breath Riku felt him relax a little.

Riku's skin was warm where Sora was pressed against him, and this is exactly what Riku had been afraid of last night. He swallowed thickly as his heart hammered against his rib cage. It was a small miracle that it didn't wake Sora up.

He forced himself to think of other things: the way he'd landed the gummi ship yesterday, Yen Sid staring off into space, the quest in front of them... Anything but the way Sora's left leg was curled over his, how warm his skin was, or the small puffs of air flowing hot and wet across his bare shoulder.

With insane difficulty, he forced his thoughts back to Sora's nightmare. Last time, he had managed to wake Sora up from the dream and Sora had been able to see him...

This time had been different. Had it been a regular nightmare, not one of those darkness-induced ones? But Riku had seen the dark purple sky and had smelled the metallic stench of darkness. He had seen Sora fight the darkness in his dream, just like before. But the dream had also been a memory, one of Sora's memories.

Seeing this memory play out in front of him had been hard, and then seeing Sora struggle with the darkness like that... He remembered the look on Sora's face, his determination for not wanting to hurt Riku… And what had he meant, not again?

Riku could tell from the way the light was slowly creeping into the room that dawn was approaching. And with Sora pressed up against him the way he was, Riku knew he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep, even if he'd wanted to.

Part of him wanted to stay and bask in the feeling of Sora's warm body against his, but part of him wanted to run far away. He wasn't sure if he would be able to handle it if Sora woke up with the way they were tangled together. It would either be awkward, or Sora would shrug it off. He wasn't sure which would be worse.

But he also didn't really want to leave Sora's side. What if Sora ended up having another nightmare? Would Riku still be able to feel that if they were in separate rooms? Maybe as long as Sora wasn't actively blocking Riku from his nightmares (and it looked like he had kept his promise and hadn't done that)… Back in Disney Castle, Riku had sensed Sora's nightmares from a different room.

Carefully, barely daring to breathe, Riku slipped his leg out from underneath Sora's and disentangled Sora's hand from his shirt. When he slowly scooted backwards across the bed, Sora subconsciously followed his body’s warmth, and Riku couldn't help himself. He brushed a hand over the swell of Sora's cheek, stroking the soft skin there. His heart jumped and with a sudden jolt, he could feel it calling out to Sora's. Sora's lips curled into a smile and his face relaxed further.

Riku looked away. Sleeping in the same bed was simultaneously the best and the very worst idea...

Finally free from Sora’s grasp, he slipped out of the bed and quickly and quietly dressed. He grabbed his Gummiphone from the nightstand and made his way to the room that had been his previously. It was only two doors down from Sora’s. 

What time would it be in Radiant Garden? he wondered as he sat down on the bed, shifting backwards so he was seated against the wall. The time difference across the worlds always confused him… He sent Kairi a quick message to ask if she was up. Instead of replying, he was greeted by his ringtone and a picture of a smiling Kairi on the screen. He picked up the voice call, bring the phone to his ear.

“Riku, hi!” Her voice was soft and cheerful over the speaker. Riku felt some of the tension leave his muscles. “How are you?”

“I want to apologise,” Riku blurted out, because that is why he had called her, he suddenly realised.

Kairi blinked. “But…what for?” 

Riku tipped his head back for a moment, the crown of his head pressed against the cool wall as he stared up at the ceiling. The room was still dark, the rising sun not yet illuminating it completely. “For how awful I was to you when I was younger.”

Kairi fell silent for a moment as she processed this sudden information. “Oooo-kay… But… Why?”

Riku sighed. “Let's just say I was suddenly reminded of what a jerk I was to you. And to Sora.”

“We…" Kairi paused to sigh deeply before she recovered herself. “We had a few disagreements, yes.”

“I'm sorry,” Riku said.

“I wouldn't say you were awful, though. I mean, sure, we didn't always get along, but we were still friends. Well, most of the time. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry, too. I admit that I was…jealous of what you had with Sora. I wanted that.”

“You were jealous?” Riku asked in surprise.

“Yeah. He would always pick you over me. Even when it was just the two of us, he would mostly talk about you. I hated that,” Kairi confessed.

Riku thought back to the scene on the beach he had just witnessed in Sora's dream. Sora had always been caught in the middle of the triangle of their friendship, but yeah, he had spent most of his time with Riku. And yet, Riku had been too caught up in his own drama to notice.

“I was jealous of you, too,” Riku said after a long while.

Kairi laughed quietly. “I know. We were kids. We didn't realise how stupid we were. Sora has enough love for both of us, you know?”

“You're right.” Riku agreed and couldn’t help the smile from spreading across his face.

“So was that the reason you called? To say sorry for being an angsty teenager?”

Riku smiled wider and shook his head. “Not just that. I wanted to say hi to you, too. How are you settling in? How's Radiant Garden?”

“It's good to be here. I'm starting to remember bits and pieces from this place now that I'm back here. It kind of feels like I'm home,” Kairi paused. “Not that I don't miss you guys, of course! But it's just… I don't know. It's good. I'm happy.”

“That's good to hear,” Riku said. “It sounds like you made the right choice.”

Kairi hummed. “Ienzo is so smart and I’m learning so much from him. And Chip and Dale are teaching me about gummi ship production. I really like that, and they said I have a knack for it! It's been...really, really great. I feel… useful? I never felt this way when I was training with Axel to become a keyblade wielder.”

“I'm glad, Kairi,” Riku replied. “How is Axel? I haven't talked to him in a while.” 

Talking to Axel had been one of the few things that had managed to make him feel better during the past months, and now it seemed that as soon as Sora was back, he'd managed to forget about that. He felt guilty.

“He's doing really well.” Riku could hear the enthusiasm in Kairi's voice. “He's getting so much better with his keyblade, too. He trains with Roxas and Xion almost every day. Oh and did you hear? Axel and Isa are together now! Like, together together. A couple.”

“No, I didn't know,” Riku said, involuntarily clenching his free hand into a fist in his lap. “Though I can't say I'm surprised.”

Axel had never really come out and said it during their conversations, but Riku had seen the way his eyes turned soft whenever he talked about Isa. Riku had always been afraid to ask, worried Axel would comment on what Riku's eyes did when he talked about Sora.

“When did they get together?” Riku asked, forcing his mind back to the conversation.

“A couple of weeks ago. Though Axel only told me about it yesterday. Something about wanting to take the time to get to know each other again and work through some issues before announcing it." Kairi let out a sigh that almost sounded a bit wistful. "They're really sweet together. And Axel! He's so... relaxed. It's like he's a totally different person.”

“I'm happy for them,” Riku said, and he meant it. He made a mental note to call Axel someday soon. It didn't feel right that they hadn't spoken in so long.

“So…” Kairi teased. “Isn't there anyone you like?” 

Riku felt all the blood rush to his face, and he was glad for the fact he had Kairi on voice call and not on video. It wouldn't surprise him if she suspected something about his feelings for Sora and was trying to use the opportunity to draw a confession out of him.

“C'mon, Kairi,” he tried to keep his voice light. “When would I have had the chance to meet someone I liked?”

Which, that might have been an excuse last year. But Riku realised that as far as arguments were concerned, it wasn't that valid anymore. He'd had the chance for seven months to meet someone he liked. The thing was, of course, that the boy he liked hadn't been here during that time.

“So that's a no, then?” Kairi teased playfully. 

“Yes,” Riku huffed.

“Fine, don't tell me then.” Kairi sighed dramatically, before changing the subject. “How's Sora?”

“He's still having nightmares.” Riku bit his lip involuntarily. “I’m trying to protect him from them, but it's hard. I see him fighting the darkness. I want to help him, but I don’t know how...”

“You fought the darkness,” Kairi said, her voice going soft again. “You know what it's like. How did you defeat it?”

“I didn't,” Riku replied frankly. “I used it. I embraced it.”

Kairi was silent for a few moments, and Riku could practically hear the gears turning in her head. “Maybe that's what Sora needs to do, Riku. You can help him with that.”

“I don't know, Kairi... It runs deep, the darkness in him. I can feel it.”

Kairi sighed quietly, barely audible over the phone. “You need to try, Riku.”

Riku shook his head and drew his legs up to rest his chin on his knees. “I know… Just… It scares me.”

Kairi was silent for so long that Riku brought his phone away from his ear to check if they still had a connection. They did.

“I can check the library here. See if there's any record of something like this happening before,” Kairi said eventually. “There must be something in the research archives. But it's your job to help him. You know that.”

“I know.” And Riku did. He was Sora's best friend, his dream eater. “And I will. I promise.”

Suddenly, there was a rustling sound from behind the door. Then a knock.

“Sorry, Kairi, I think Sora's awake. I gotta go. Talk to you soon!” Riku hastily said goodbye.

“Bye, Riku. Tell Sora hi from me. And be safe!”

As Kairi hung up the phone, the door was slowly pushed open until Sora was visible in the door opening, hair tousled, eyes bleary, clearly having just woken up.

“Was that Kairi?” he mumbled.

“Yeah,” Riku said, getting up from the bed and slowly taking a step towards Sora. 

Sora's eyes were haunted, and he looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Riku was afraid to breathe, worried that one wrong move would cause him to bolt.

“You weren't there when I woke up,” Sora said, his voice small.

Riku mentally cursed himself a little. “I woke up early. I figured I'd call Kairi to check up on her.”

Sora didn't reply.

“How did you sleep?” Riku asked hesitantly.

“I don't know. I had a dream, but…it was different.”

“I know.” Riku averted his gaze.

“You were there? You saw?” Sora's eyes widened.

Riku nodded at the carpet beneath his feet. He felt caught. But it wasn’t like he had meant to see it. He had just suddenly been there, which was...one of the complications of being Sora's dream eater, he supposed.

His gaze went back up to Sora just in time to see Sora's face close off. 

No, Riku thought. Don't do this. Don't shut me out. But before he could think of the right words to say, Sora had turned around and left the room. 

Great.

Riku quickly took a few more steps to the door opening, but when he stepped into the hallway, Sora was nowhere to be seen. He ran a hand through his hair, frowning. This was a new thing, Sora running away from him instead of talking about his feelings. Sora always wanted to talk about his feelings.

Riku searched the entire tower, even checking all of the broom storage rooms, but Sora was nowhere to be found. He called him half a dozen times on his Gummiphone, but Sora didn't pick up either. Riku didn't understand why he couldn’t find Sora. The tower was big, but it wasn't that big. He searched the grounds as well, but it seemed like Sora really didn't want to be found.

In the end, Riku gave up and went back up to Master Yen Sid's study, the last place he hadn't checked. The old wizard was still there, and it looked like he hadn't left it at all since last night. There were books everywhere, along with half a dozen empty teacups.

“Ah, Riku.” Yen Sid leaned back in his chair and looked up at him. “What can I do for you?”

“I can't find Sora...” he said.

“Then perhaps you are not asking the right question,” Master Yen Sid said cryptically.

Riku blinked, and suddenly the important question came to him. “What must I do? To help Sora?”

Yen Sid narrowed his eyes and brought a hand up to stroke his beard.

“That is the right question. I researched all night. I think someone is targeting Sora's dreams. Sora misused the power of waking, and he has once again lost almost all of his powers, so he's vulnerable. Whoever is doing this knows that.”

Someone is doing this?” Riku asked, confused. “But who? We defeated Xehanort… And all of the Organization. Who else is there who would do something like this?”

“I do not know,” Yen Sid said gravely. “I will need to research more.”

“Master Yen Sid…” Riku started, but he didn't know what he wanted to say. Please hurry? Do your best? Clearly the wizard was already doing his best and doing as much as he could, judging by the state of the room.

“Riku,” Yen Sid said slowly. “Sora will need you to guide him. He cannot fall to darkness.”

Riku inclined his head in a curt bow. “I'll do whatever I can.”

“You have found a way to make the darkness part of you, right?” Yen Sid asked.

“I think so,” Riku replied.

“Teach Sora to do the same. He needs to learn how to not be consumed by it.”

Riku pursed his lips and nodded. Kairi had said something along those same lines...

Then Yen Sid pointed to the large, old book that was lying on his desk. The pages were yellow and the edges frayed. Riku took a step closer to try and make sense of the words that were scribbled there, but it was written in a language he didn't understand.

“I stayed up all night to research. I should have done this before. I have been foolish. The power of waking is indeed meant for traversing hearts to reach worlds, not for traversing worlds to reach hearts. It speaks of a dire price to pay for those who do so,” Yen Sid said with a grim expression on his face.

Riku's heart skipped a beat. “So what does that mean for Sora?”

“It doesn't say what that price is. But I will keep searching. If young Xehanort knew about this, it must be written somewhere. I will keep looking.”

Yen Sid closed his eyes and clasped his hands together.

“Everything about this deeply worries me, Riku. It seems to me like someone is using Sora to accomplish something. You and Sora. You know Sora better than anyone, you dove into his dreams and your hearts are connected. Both of you will need to be careful.”

Right when Riku opened his mouth to reply, there was a sudden, strong tug in his chest. He looked up in alarm, his eyes widening. Something was wrong. 

Sora

Without another word, Riku turned and ran from the room. He glided down the endless staircase as fast as he could, following this sudden urge in his heart. It was guiding him, he knew exactly where he needed to go.

When he threw open the front door of the tower, the first thing he noticed was the sound of the gummi ship engines firing up.

Damnit, Sora!

But the fact that Riku had parked the ship unconventionally now proved to be his saving grace. The ship was hovering just a foot above the ground as Sora tried to maneuver it around so he could take off. This gave Riku just enough time.

He raced towards the ship, pushing his body as fast as it would go, and right before Sora had completely turned the ship, he slammed the emergency stop below the right engine. The engines stopped dead. Thankfully, he had paid attention during some of the things Chip and Dale had tried to teach him.

The ship dropped back to the ground. With his heart in his throat, Riku pressed the button to open the gummi ship hatch. As he stood on the grass below, tapping his foot, he tried and failed to suppress the sudden anger inside of him. All he had tried to do was to help Sora, and this was how Sora repaid him?

When after long minutes, Sora appeared at the top of the gangway, Riku couldn't stop himself.

“Sora, what in the world were you thinking?!” he yelled, frustration building inside him like a giant wave. He slammed his fist against the landing gear of the ship. “You can't just run off and do things like this!”

But when Sora's shoulders slumped and he lowered his head, Riku's anger left him in a heartbeat.

“Sora?” Riku called, softer this time.

Sora took a few steps down the gangway and sat on one of the metal steps. His shoulders shook with suppressed sobs as he wrapped his arms around his knees, curling in on himself.

Riku sprinted up the steps between him and Sora and sat down next to him.

“Hey,” he said reassuringly. “It's okay. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you.”

“No, you were right,” Sora said, his voice rough and breaking on the last word. “I don't know what to do anymore, Riku... I'm so scared.”

“Sora… What happened? You said you didn't want to go on this journey alone,” Riku reached out and grasped Sora's shoulder, trying to get Sora to look at him, but Sora's head was bowed and he kept his forehead pressed against his knees.

“I heard what you said to Kairi,” Sora said in a small voice. He paused to wipe at his nose. “You told her that the darkness runs deep in me.”

Riku flinched. He had never intended for Sora to hear that. That's not at all what he meant, but if Sora had just heard that part of the conversation… No wonder he had run off.

“You said my darkness scared you,” Sora finally looked up. His cheeks were tear-stained, and his irises were impossibly blue against the red-streaked whites surrounding them. Riku felt his own eyes sting, but he didn't dare blink, didn't want to look away from Sora for a second.

“I don't wanna drag you back into the darkness,” Sora said, then paused. “You said you were in my dream last night. Then you saw what happened. What I became. The darkness is inside of me. The darkness makes me want to hurt you. Even though it was only a memory, I felt so sad. And that sadness made me almost give in to the darkness.”

“But you didn't,” Riku said firmly. “I saw you fight it. You didn't give in.”

Sora blinked, more tears spilling onto his cheeks. “But you left.”

“What? I didn't—”

“This morning when I woke up,” Sora's breath hitched on another sob. “I woke up and you weren't there.”

Riku's eyes widened. God, he'd been so stupid...

“You saw what I became in my dream. My Rage Form...” Sora whispered. “You saw the darkness in me and you left. And I don't blame you...”

Sora let out a shuddering breath and looked away from him. Riku shifted closer across the metal step, reaching out to bring both his hands to Sora's face, sliding them into his hair, guiding Sora's head towards him again. Riku took a deep breath, gathering his courage because Sora needed to hear this.

“I will never leave you. I would rather be in the darkness with you than alone in the light.”

“But—”

“I left this morning, because…” Riku shook his head. “It doesn't matter. I shouldn't have. I'm sorry. It wasn't because of you.”

“It...wasn't?”

“I have been looking for you all morning. I called you, like, a dozen times. Didn't you get my messages?”

Sora's eyes widened further before he bowed his head. 

“My phone was in my bag. I forgot… I didn't think to check it…”

Riku moved his hands to Sora's cheeks, gently tilting up his head to get Sora to look at him again. Sora met his gaze, more tears spilling onto his cheeks which Riku brushed away with his thumbs.

“I'm not avoiding you. I want to be with you,” Riku inwardly winced at his poor choice of words, but he pressed on. “I want to go on this journey with you.

“Me too...” Sora tried to smile through his tears, and Riku's heart ached.

“Then let's go, Sora. Together,” Riku said resolutely. “We'll figure it out as we go along. We always do.”

Riku watched Sora take a deep gulp of air and let it all out in a shuddering breath as he composed himself. Riku let his hands fall back to his lap.

“Do you remember what you told Xemnas after we beat him? Before he faded away? He said—”

“A heart is just pain,” Sora finished. “But pain is being human.”

“It takes…incredible strength.” He smiled at Sora, and his heart fluttered when Sora gave him a watery smile in return.

“Are you okay?” Riku asked.

Sora nodded. “I'm sorry.”

Riku shook his head. “I'm sorry, too. But please… Please, promise me you won't ever do something like this again. When you feel sad, talk to me. About anything. It doesn't matter. Any time.”

“Okay.”

Riku stood and reached out a hand to help Sora up. As Sora was pulled up, he stumbled forwards so he was suddenly standing in Riku’s personal space, close enough that Riku could see the unshed tears between his eyelashes. Riku’s breath stopped. He looked down at their joined hands and then back up at Sora's face. Okay, this was a little more than he had bargained for. 

They stood like that for a long moment, just looking at each other. Sora’s eyes were bright and wet, but the look on his face was now one of adoration instead of misery. 

Just when Riku started to wonder when his body would remember how to breathe again, Sora released Riku’s hand. Sora stepped back and rubbed at his eyes to brush away the last of the tears, and just like that, the moment was over, and Riku inhaled sharply.

“Let's say goodbye to Master Yen Sid and go,” Sora said.

Riku finally released the breath he had been holding and nodded. “Yeah. It's time to be on the road for real this time.”






“So…” Riku said, opening up the navigation panel. “What’s our first stop?”

“Hmm…” Sora nodded as he strapped himself into the co-pilot seat, just like yesterday. “Let's go to Arendelle.”

“Arendelle? I've never been there before… Although I was gonna go the day you came back.”

“It's cold. But beautiful. At night, on the mountain, you can see the northern lights. I would love to see the ice palace again. And Elsa and Anna. I hope they’re doing okay.”

“Arendelle it is, then. Mickey received reports about a Demon Tide in the area. We could check it out while we're there.”

As Riku pulled up the gummi ship, watching the Mysterious Tower disappear from view behind them, he gave a shaky sigh of relief.

“I don't know what I would've done if you…” he blurted out before trailing off, his gaze on the stars and distant planets in front of him, deliberately not looking at Sora.

“I'm sorry, Riku...” Sora's voice was soft. 

Sora leaned forwards in his chair and reached out a hand to cover one of Riku's against the steering wheel.

“I promise I'll stay with you, no matter how scared I feel, okay?” Sora said in a low voice, and Riku turned to look at him then. Sora's eyes were wide and sincere and a warm feeling spread throughout Riku's chest.

“I know it's scary,” Riku said. “I know the nightmares and the darkness get to you. But we have friends helping us. Yen Sid told me he's going to research more, and Kairi and Ienzo have a whole library of books and computers full of data to go through. There must be something they can find.”

“Yeah.” Sora took his hand back and leaned back in his seat, shifting to get more comfortable.

Riku kept looking at him. “Sora, I know what it's like to have darkness in your heart.”

“Yea…" Sora looked up at him, mouth set in a sad frown. “And you defeated it. How?”

“The thing is… I'm not sure that I did. I learned to use the darkness.”

“How?”

“The light cuts through the darkness. Light tries to destroy it, but darkness can never be destroyed. It remains just at the other side of light, quietly, and it will always be there to make the light brighter.”

“Huh?”

Riku debated if he should explain. He was getting into dangerous territory here… But if it would help Sora, he would.

“That's what I learned when I had to use the darkness,” Riku continued. “Darkness is not inherently bad. It's what you do with it, that determines what it is. Sora, you can learn to wield the darkness, too. Make it strengthen your light. I think that's what I did, I searched for the light inside of me and let the darkness make it stronger.”

“How did you find the strength?” Sora asked.

Riku pinched his nose with his left hand. He really shouldn't tell Sora this... But Sora looked so heartbroken that he left Riku no choice.

“Because of you,” he said softly.

“Because of me?” Sora blinked in confusion.

Riku took a deep breath.

“I hurt you most of all when I fell to darkness. When we closed the door to Kingdom Hearts, and I was left on the other side of it, all I wanted was to get back to you. I wanted to redeem myself to you. You were the reason I kept going when everything around me was darkness.”

“Riku…”

And now that Riku had started talking, he found he couldn't stop.

“You were the light I was always reaching for, and that made me embrace the darkness. I managed to trap it in my heart and somehow, that made my light shine through again.”

“I can do that,” Sora said, suddenly brightened. “That's easy.”

“Well,” Riku smiled at Sora's sudden turnabout. “I wouldn't say it was easy…”

“Sure.” Sora raised his arms and folded his hands behind his head. “I’ll just think of you. You said you’d be my light, right?”

Riku shook his head, smiling wider. Sora would never stop to amaze him.

“Yes, Sora.”

Sora gave him a real smile, then. The first real smile of that day. The smile that always made Riku's heart skip a beat.

“Then I know what I have to do.”

Chapter Text

As the gummi ship was coming into Arendelle, Sora couldn't see a thing outside because the snow was blowing heavily across the face of the entire world and reduced everything to a hazy, white fog.

He was giving Riku directions, peering intently at the screen of the navigation system, while Riku had to blindly trust whatever Sora told him because they could hit anything at this rate. There was literally nothing to see but rapidly falling snowflakes against a darkened sky.

“Left,” Sora said. “No. Right, I mean right!”

Riku groaned. “Our chances of landing this ship safely seem to be diminishing by the second.”

Sora ignored him. “Okay, yeah, that's it, just keep going straight. We're nearly there. Just a few hundred feet and then, okay, stop!”

Sora yelped as Riku slammed down on the brakes and both of them were thrown forwards against their seatbelts. The ship groaned and squeaked as it skidded across the snow-covered grounds, and slowly Sora could start to make out a huge dark shape to their left, growing more visible by the second.

“That must be Arendelle Castle!” Sora exclaimed happily, relieved that his less than flawless navigation skills had not led them astray.

Unfortunately, the ship kept sliding, only coming to a full stop when it hit the wall of the castle with a resounding crack. Sora and Riku both winced at the sound, and for long moments they waited breathlessly. The only remaining sound was the howling wind outside. No more cracks or other destructive noises followed, and the wall appeared to still be standing. The gummi ship also still seemed to be in one piece, so that was an added bonus.

Riku breathed a sigh of relief and leaned his head forwards against the steering wheel.

“So,” Sora chipped. “Was that the landing practice you mentioned?”

“Oh, shut up,” Riku groaned. “Next time, you can land the ship and I'd like to see you do it better.”

“Oh, you're on,” Sora laughed, and god, it felt good to be able to laugh again.

Ever since they left the Mysterious Tower, Sora felt reborn. Over the past few weeks, he’d noticed himself slipping further and further down a slope of darkness, without being able to hold onto anything that could halt his descent. And this morning, things had come crashing down spectacularly. 

All of his defences had been down, and it had hurt more than Sora wanted to admit when he'd woken up to find Riku gone from their room. His mind jumped to the worst possible conclusion immediately, and that stomach-turning feeling of loneliness was twisted further into his gut like an ice-cold knife when he'd overheard Riku talking to Kairi about the darkness inside of him. He had panicked and decided that if that's how Riku felt, he should save them both the pain and just take the gummi ship and leave.

As it turned out, the universe seemed to have other plans for him this morning, and thankfully Sora had a best friend whose heart was so intertwined with his that he had felt Sora trying to sneak away on the gummi ship.

Not his brightest moment, Sora could admit to himself now.

But the memory of Riku sitting next to him on the gummi ship’s gangway, outwardly calm but simmering with held-back passion, telling Sora he would never leave him, was etched into his memory now. Whenever Sora closed his eyes, he could see the scene perfectly in his mind. Riku's eyes, burning and sincere, his mouth set into a stubborn, determined frown. The rough, pent up emotion in his voice going straight to Sora's heart. And Sora had started to feel like maybe he wouldn't slide down until darkness completely engulfed him if Riku would just keep looking at him like that.

And now, here they were.

Sora undid his seatbelt and got up to press his face against the window. 

“I can't see anything out there. Last time, the weather was never this bad…” He turned back to Riku. “I wonder if this is normal?”

Riku shook his head. “When have we ever been to a place where things were normal?” 

“Okay, good point.” Sora turned back to stare at the blizzard. “Did you pack a coat?” 

“I don't even own a coat.”

You'd think Sora would have learned by now that not every world had the climate of the Destiny Islands, but somehow, he had managed to overlook this once again. When he had packed his bag, he hadn't thought to bring warmer clothes or a winter coat and apparently, neither had Riku. Last time he was in Arendelle, Sora had somehow managed in his short-sleeved jacked and his capris. But this time, the weather was a little bit more severe...

To avoid being in the cold for longer than strictly necessary, they ran the entire way from the gummi ship to the castle. Their hoods were up against the snow, but that did nothing to shield their bare arms or prevent the snow from blowing into their shoes.

As they ran straight past the palace guards, Sora called out, “It's okay, I'm friends with Anna and Elsa!” 

He heard Riku, two steps behind him, muttering under his breath. “How come I'm not surprised that line actually works for him…” 

They rushed through the doors that were opened for them, and when Sora came to a complete stop in the entrance hall, Riku nearly bumped into him.

Sora looked around. He had never actually been inside Arendelle Castle before. Last time, they had said goodbye to Anna and Elsa in the courtyard. The entrance hall was huge, twice, maybe even three times the size of the one in Disney Castle. There was a large, regal staircase in the centre, and the hallway was decorated with baby-blue ice crystals. Red velvet banners hung between the large columns, and flower patterns adorned the wooden floors. He turned to Riku with a huge grin.

“We're inside a castle!”

Riku's cheeks were red from the cold, and his silver bangs clung to his forehead, wet with melting snow. He was breathing hard from their run from the ship. It wasn't often that Sora saw Riku so dishevelled.

“Sora,” he deadpanned. “We literally spent the past weeks inside a castle.”

“Right, yeah...” Sora grinned stupidly at Riku.

Riku shook his head, sending water droplets everywhere, then reached up to brush a few strands behind his ears and flatten the rest of his hair back against the back of his head. 

Riku's hair had gotten really long... Sora was suddenly hit with the realisation of just how much time they'd spent apart. Seven months… No wonder Riku had gotten so angry when Sora had tried to take the gummi ship to leave by himself. If their situations had been reversed, Sora would've been angry, too.

And actually, not that long ago, their situations had been reversed. Riku had pushed Sora away to protect him before, and Sora remembered just how much that had hurt...

Sora shook his head. That was in the past.

Suddenly he noticed Riku was staring at a point behind his shoulder, and Sora whipped his head around and looked up to see Anna and Elsa standing at the top of the staircase. Anna was wearing a green dress, and her hair was in a braid that was wrapped around her head. Elsa was dressed in the same teal dress she had worn the last time Sora had seen her, the neckline and sleeves decorated with silver-embroidered floral accents. Both of them were smiling.

“Sora! What a pleasant surprise!” Anna exclaimed.

“Hi Anna, hi Elsa!” Sora called out.

“And you brought a friend!”

“This is Riku," Sora grinned. "He's my best friend. We're here to help you defeat your Demon Tide!”

“You couldn't have come at a better time,” Elsa smiled. “Will you join us for supper? We'll tell you all about what's been happening here.”

They two of them came down the stairs, and Anna gestured for Sora and Riku to follow them.

Sora caught Riku's look of bewilderment out of the corner of his eye. “What?” 

“Nothing." Riku's said, shaking his head minutely. "It's just... You're so good at this.”

Sora grinned and without thinking, he reached out his hand to Riku. Riku stared at it for a few seconds before slowly reaching out to take it. Both of their hands were cold, and Sora shivered at the brush of cold fingers before tugging Riku in place next to him. It was...nice, having Riku so close to him. Comforting.

Supper was a small and informal affair, it was just Elsa, Anna and Kristoff. 

“Where’s Olaf?” Sora asked, looking around the dining room as they took their seats.

“Oh, he's the only one who loves the blizzard outside. He's out there with Marshmallow, giving the townspeople warm hugs.”

“I'm not surprised,” Sora grinned.

Then, over hot bowls of tomato soup, Elsa explained what had been happening.

“This blizzard began a few weeks ago. At first, we thought it was just a normal snowstorm, the kind we get a few times every year. But then it continued for days, and we began to suspect something was wrong.”

Anna nodded, trying to speak around a spoonful of soup. “Elsa tried to go to the top of the North Mountain to see what was causing this, but not even Elsa and Marshmallow could make it through the storm.”

Sora pondered this for a moment. “Did the Heartless cause this storm?”

“We don't know,” Kristoff said. “No one's been able to venture outside of the castle walls. When the blizzard got really bad, all of the townspeople came to the castle for safety. A few of them mentioned strange creatures and a large, dark shape at the top of the mountain. But now, we can't see anything out there anymore and all we can do is wait and hope the storm will pass.”

“Riku and me will stop it.” Sora made a fist and punched the air. “We'll go up the mountain and find out what is causing the snowstorm.”

Riku looked at him, frowning a little, but refrained from commenting.

“You'll need warmer clothes than those,” Elsa said, looking from Sora to Riku, eyebrows raised a little at the way they were completely underdressed for the weather.

Though the soup had finally warmed Sora enough that he'd stopped shivering, he couldn't help but agree. 

At Elsa's signal, two servants left but quickly returned with sets of winter clothes for Sora and Riku. Sora received a black coat with white fur lining, silver crown buttons lining the front, and gloves and a hat to match. Riku's coat was aqua, also lined with white fur, and adorned with a silver thorn pattern. There were matching hats and gloves for both of them.

“Do they fit? Come on!” Anna exclaimed excitedly. “Try them on!” 

They tried on their new clothes, and Sora was amazed by how perfectly his coat fit. He twirled around, left and right, looking down at himself and brushing his hands down over the soft, black velour before striking a pose.

“How do I look?”

“Like a rogue Santa,” Riku snorted, but his eyes crinkled in amusement.

Riku's outfit was even more beautiful than Sora's, and Sora couldn't help but stare when Riku put on the coat. Riku always looked good, but in this, he looked amazing.

“Wow...” Sora blurted out, and Riku flushed a dark shade of pink.

Sora kept his coat on throughout the rest of the evening, because it was warm and comfortable and made him feel better, and he was pleased to see Riku do the same. They spent the rest of dinner discussing other topics, like how Elsa was settling into her throne and Sora's search for Kairi. Sora's eyes widened when Anna eagerly told them of her engagement to Kristoff.

“Please invite us to the wedding!” he exclaimed, and Anna promised that she would. 

Riku was quiet beside him, only asking the occasional question, but seemingly happy to let Sora do most of the talking, which was fine with Sora. Now that he was feeling more like his regular self again, it was fun to talk with friends and catch up. It made him feel...almost normal again.

It was late when everyone agreed to call it a night, and Anna offered to show them to their bedrooms. The three of them walked through a seemingly endless number of hallways when Anna offhandedly said, “You can have two rooms next to each other.”

And Sora stopped dead in his tracks. Riku and Anna turned around when they saw Sora wasn't following them anymore.

Sora pursed his lips and stared down at the elaborately decorated carpet underneath his feet, dark red with golden stitches.

“Sora, what's wrong?” Anna asked.

“Actually,” Riku said after a beat, and Sora lifted his head. “I think one bedroom will be enough.”

Sora felt a rush at affection for him for speaking up.

"Oh? Oh!" Anna's face shifted from confusion to understanding in a matter of seconds. "Ooooh."

“No!” Riku said immediately. “It's not like that.”

“Not like what?” Sora asked, pouting at the way the turn of conversation seemed to have gone over his head.

But Riku talked over his question, which really wasn't like him.

“Since Sora came back, he's not been sleeping well. That's part of the reason we're on this journey, we're trying to figure out what's going on that's making Sora have these nightmares. But we found out that it helps if I sleep in the same room.”

Sora, relieved that it seemed like they would be getting a shared room, took a few steps forward until he was standing next to Anna and Riku again.

Anna nodded in understanding.

“You must love him a lot,” she said to Riku.

Sora expected Riku to flounder and deny the words. Instead, he smiled softly and looked at Sora. His eyes crinkled at the corners, and had Riku’s irises always been this bright or was it the aqua colour of his coat that made them stand out like this?

“Yeah,” Riku said quietly. “I do.”

And Sora's heart did a thing where it seemed to soar in his chest and do a few somersaults there, and he couldn’t stop the fond smile from spreading across his face, mirroring Riku’s. 

Riku's eyes locked onto his, and Sora couldn’t breathe for a moment. What was this?

Then Anna clapped her hands together in excitement, and Riku looked away.

“I'll give you guys the biggest guest room we have! It's right around the corner,” she exclaimed.

The room Anna led them to was indeed, huge, with a large fireplace and a bed nearly twice the size as the one at the Mysterious Tower. Anna lit the fire in the guestroom herself and then left them with the words that they shouldn't hesitate to ring for a servant if there was anything they needed. When she was gone, Riku took off his coat, carefully folded it and put it on top of one of the wooden cabinets. With a small sigh, he turned to look out of the window where the blizzard was blowing relentlessly. 

“Sora, are you sure you're up for this?" Riku leaned his hip against the cabinet, still looking outside.

Sora sat down on the bed and kicked off his shoes. He pondered the question for a minute until Riku turned to look at him.

“Yes,” he said, because even though it would be difficult, sitting around never helped him accomplish anything.

“It's gonna be a difficult trip tomorrow,” Riku said softly.

“I need to do this,” Sora folded his legs underneath him. “For Arendelle, but also for myself. I can't stand this feeling of being weak and helpless. I know that I'm pretty much useless with a keyblade right now, but I also know I've felt this way before. And fighting Heartless always seems to make me grow stronger.”

Sora felt warm in his coat and safe in this palace guestroom with Riku close to him. He realised that he wasn't even scared of going to sleep, as long as Riku was next to him. He let himself fall backwards onto the bed and looked up at the ceiling.

“Scoot over,” Riku said and Sora rolled onto his side as Riku slipped under the covers of the right side of the huge bed. They stayed like this for a while, neither of them saying a word.

Eventually, Sora broke the silence. “Do you think it's weird?”

“What?”

“Us sleeping in the same bed?”

Riku was silent for another moment. “Not really. Do you?”

Sora shook his head. “No.”

He lowered his eyes and picked at the covers, then pulled the coat tighter around himself. “Thank you, Riku.”

“No need to thank me. You'd do the same for me.”

“Do you think…” Sora trailed off. He looked at Riku, who was watching him patiently, silver hair shining in the moonlight that filtered through the open blinds. The fire was crackling in the background.

“I feel like we've been...closer, since our Mark of Mastery exam,” Sora started hesitantly.

“Well, I am your dream eater now.”

“Yeah, I guess that's true. But we…” Sora wasn't really sure how to put into words what he was feeling. A feeling of warmth and home and shelter when he was next to Riku. Whenever he just thought of Riku. Had he always felt like this?

And while Sora had always been touchy-feely, never one to shy away from hugs and holding hands, since he'd been back, Riku seemed to initiate the contact just as much as Sora. And not just since he'd been back, come to think of it. Riku gripping his shoulder to ground or comfort him, their shoulders brushing as they walked side by side, Sora reaching for Riku's hand when he got scared or overwhelmed. It had become an unspoken thing between them, it seemed.

Sora shook his head. “I guess it's nothing.”

“No, you're right,” Riku said, still looking at him. “I've felt it, too, even before you went away. I wish we'd talked about it, then... But I guess we had no time.”

“It's okay, right?”

“Yeah, Sora” Riku breathed, and he closed his eyes for a long few seconds. “It's okay.”

Sora smiled, and the smile turned into a yawn as he suddenly realised how tired he was. He scrambled off the bed and took off his coat as well, placing it down next to Riku's. He put his hat and gloves on top of it.

Even though a fire had been lit in the room, without the coat on, Sora immediately felt cold. He shivered as he took off his jacket and trousers. He quickly went back to the bed and slid under the covers, waiting for his body heat to warm the space between the duvet and the mattress, but that never happened. After long minutes of just lying there, he was still cold.

There was a lot of space between them in the bed, and Sora turned onto his side. It looked like Riku was already asleep, his chest slowly rising and falling with each deep breath.

“Riku…?” Sora whispered, voice barely audible.

When Riku didn't respond, Sora shifted closer to Riku's body heat. An inch at the time, until he was pressed up against Riku's side.

Riku sighed, turned on his side and without opening his eyes, slid an arm across Sora’s waist, pulling him closer. “Come here.”

Sora shifted closer so every inch of him was pressed against Riku's warm body, and he felt himself melt against him. Within seconds, he fell into a dreamless sleep.






The next morning, they set out after breakfast. When they went into the driving snow, barely able to see a hand in front of their eyes, even Sora had to agree that maybe this was a ridiculous mission. But Riku was right next to him, so what could possibly go wrong, right?

It was slow going through the snow, but they made some progress. They hadn't gone a mile before the first Heartless showed up, a flock of Soldiers.

Sora was a little slow to summon his keyblade, dread flowing into his limbs at the thought of fighting. But Riku was already ahead of him, Braveheart in hand, and had taken out three Heartless with a single slash before Sora had even lifted his keyblade. Not wanting Riku to take all the credit, Sora surged forward, bursting through the Dark Shield that Riku had thrown up and struck one of the Soldiers from the side. It disappeared into thin air with a satisfying crack. 

Sora grinned. This was more like it. He hit a combination of three strikes on the next Soldier that made to attack him and finished with a spinning blow, feeling the triumph of a well-executed attack surge through him.

He turned to Riku, grinning. 

“Not bad, Sora!” Riku called, holding his keyblade out to the side to hit the last Soldier smack in the chest without even looking at it. 

“Show off…” Sora muttered.

The next three Heartless battles went much the same way. Riku charged first into the battle, and Sora followed his lead. They moved a little awkwardly together, a little hesitant from not having fought side by side for so long, but Riku was strong, and all Sora had to do was keep sight of Riku and hide behind the shields Riku threw in front of them. 

By the time the fourth battle ended, Sora had slain a dozen Soldiers and Marine Rumba’s, and his confidence had grown a little with every accurate hit from his keyblade.

But after the fifth battle, things went south. When the last Marine Rumba faded into smoke, Sora turned around to check on Riku, but as he did so, the snow that Sora was standing on collapsed and he lost his balance. His keyblade dematerialised as he grasped at empty air. Then the ground underneath him shifted, and Sora was swept away in an avalanche of snow. With a yell, he tumbled over the edge of the cliff they'd been fighting on. The last thing he heard was the panic in Riku's voice as he called out Sora’s name.






He didn't know how long it had been, but Sora woke with a gasp, heaving, his lungs desperate to get in as much oxygen as they could. He was half-buried in the snow, which had luckily broken his fall. There was snow everywhere, inside of his coat, melting against his skin, and he shivered.

As he blinked open his eyes and could begin to make out the cliff in front of him, Sora panicked. It would be impossible for him to climb back up there. Squeezing his eyes into slits to prevent the snow from blowing into them, he looked around. To his left, flanked by snow-covered spruces, there was what looked like a path. It seemed to go up and might make it possible for him to get back to the place where he and Riku had been separated. But would that be a good idea? What if Riku was making his way down to where Sora was right now?

But Sora was shivering so much that his teeth clattered, and he could barely feel his feet and his face. He tried to curl his fingers in his gloves, but they were so cold that they wouldn't obey him.

Staying here was not an option. He might actually freeze to death. And shit, why had he insisted on going out here when he knew the snowstorm was going to be this bad?

Slowly, he stood, swaying a little on his feet. He took a few hesitant steps and sighed in relief as the feeling returned to his legs. He started walking.

He had come a decent way up the path by the time he came across more Heartless, a pair of Helmed Bodies this time, flanked by more Soldiers. Sora hated those big Heartless with a passion. He sighed and called for his keyblade. 

Without Riku by his side, it took Sora twice as long to defeat them. The battle went on for what felt like hours. When his arm got sore from the endless amount of combinations he was attempting, Sora tried to alternate the hits he was landing with some spells, but his magic was so weak that a simple Thunder spell barely put a dent in them, and any Fire spell he attempted was blown away by the howling winds and snow before it landed. A Helmed Body slammed into him, knocking him back into a tree and god that was going to leave one hell of a bruise. He took a deep breath and surged back at the Heartless, his movements clumsy and slow because of the cold and the exhaustion.

When finally, Sora managed to hurl his keyblade into the back of the last Helmed Body, he was panting and felt completely wrecked. Everything hurt. His back was throbbing with pain, and he could barely lift his arms anymore for the burning feeling in his shoulders. With tears in his eyes, he collapsed onto his hands and knees, the world spinning around him. He felt like he might be sick.

Then, it hit him without warning. A dark rush inside of him, threatening to burst out of his chest. 

No, Sora thought. Not now.

He curled into himself, trying to push the darkness down, but his skin ached with it and he felt so overwhelmed that he forgot how to breathe. Coughing violently, his body seemed to be fighting this as much as his mind was. But still, Sora felt the darkness rise, and he knew that with one false thought or movement it would overtake him. 

He looked up, blinking against the snow blowing into his eyes, and that proved to be a distraction enough. The darkness was still there, right underneath his skin, a heavy blanket across his body, but for now, it seemed that Sora had averted being overtaken by it.

With great difficulty, Sora got to his feet. He wished he had enough magic left to cast a Cure spell to ease the ache in his forearms and his shoulders, but he felt so completely drained that he didn't even attempt it.

He had to keep going. He had to try and distract himself.

Unfortunately, distraction came in the form of more Heartless.

As Sora turned the corner, he stopped dead in his tracks. There, in the middle of the path, stood an enormous Rock Troll. Its yellow eyes pierced straight through the cloud of snowflakes, and whatever light there was in the clearing was reflected on the chains around its neck and wrists.

There was no way past, really. Either Sora would have to backtrack the way he came, or he would have to fight.

At that moment, Sora felt another pull of darkness from beyond where the Troll was standing, this time so strong that it physically hurt him, cutting through his gut like a hot knife, his shoulders tensing with the pain. He doubled over, hands on his knees, and vomited his breakfast into the snow.

The noise alerted the Rock Troll to his presence. It raised its axe and charged at Sora. Sora barely had enough time to stand up and summon his keyblade before the sound of metal on metal clang through the air. 

Sora was hopelessly outmatched this time, the previous fight having taken the last of his strength. He did his best, getting in a few combinations and even a weak Firaga spell that sent the Troll a few staggering steps back, but he knew that he was never going to be able to keep this up for long enough to actually beat it.

Sora dodged a particularly vicious swing, ducked and felt rather than saw the axe whoosh inches past his head.

Calling upon the last of his magic, Sora cast a Reflect barrier to buy himself a few seconds of time. He looked around frantically, but there was nowhere to run or hide. Worse still, he was so disoriented that he didn't even know which way to run off to.

The Rock Troll turned back towards him, grabbing the axe in both hands and bringing it down with much more speed than a creature of that size should have had. Sora dodge rolled, crouched, and suddenly time seemed to slow. 

Between one heartbeat and the next, there was nothing rush, and the darkness exploded in him. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, he knew they were yellow.

With a hoarse shout, he charged from his crouched position, letting the rage inside of him consume him. Keyblade held high, he smashed into the Rock Troll with all of his strength, sending it toppling backwards with a blast. 

It was so easy, he thought, as he brought his keyblade down onto the troll, the end of the blade stabbing into its chest, where its heart would have been. The troll exploded into nothingness.

For a moment, Sora's grin was feral, triumphant as he half-kneeled over the keyblade that was set into the snowy ground.

But just as quickly as the darkness had come, it rushed back out of him, and Sora collapsed into the snow, utterly spent. He couldn't stop the tears from appearing, and the icy pain in his eyes as his tears were blown away by the freezing wind was almost welcome.

He hadn't been able to fight the darkness after all. He was weak.

There was a call of darkness from higher up the mountain, so much that he felt it churn in his stomach, expanding, his body suddenly too small and confined, the rush inside of him threatening to burst. It hurt so much that Sora was sick again, heaving out the remains in his stomach into the white snow.

Sora didn't know what to do. Part of him wanted to just sit here and wait for the end to come. What else was there, but darkness? He had nothing left to fight for if this was all he was…

But that wasn't true, a voice inside of him said. You don't believe that, Sora...

Sora closed his eyes and unbidden images came to him.

Riku, poised in battle stance, facing off against a Demon Tower all on his own, framed in a blaze of light as the darkness consumed him and Sora reached out hopelessly as Riku was blasted into nothingness.

Riku, appearing out of nowhere, literally dropping from the sky into his worst nightmare to fight off the Lich when Sora had been unable to, a blur of movement and grace as Sora sat and watched him in awe.

Riku, next to him under the blankets in the dark of the night, arms wrapped tightly around Sora's waist, his body solid and warm, his hair brushing against Sora's cheek and Sora felt like he never wanted to be anywhere else.

He used his keyblade to push himself to a standing position and straightened his back. He could do this.

He kept going, step by step, and he moved just a little easier, the weight in his chest just a little lighter. The darkness was still inside of him, but it was more than just one heartbeat away now.

The next surge of darkness didn't catch him off guard anymore. He brought a hand to his chest, his heart racing, but he pictured Riku, fighting and trying to make his way to Sora, as Sora knew he would be doing. The darkness resided.

When Sora got to the end of the path, he looked around and saw that he had made it all the way to the top of the mountain. The blizzard was stronger here, and through the haze of snowflakes, Sora could make out a dark shape in the distance. He knew what it was, and he knew what he had to do.

The darkness rushed to the surface again, heavy underneath his skin. He knew that this time, there was no other way. He held out his arms, letting the darkness overtake him. He took pleasure in the way the shadows curled into his stomach, leaving him nauseous but so powerful.

He surged forward, feeling all but invincible.

Distantly, he heard someone call his name behind him, but he was too far gone to care now. He moved in a whirlwind of motion, swinging his keyblade, landing combinations that were almost too fast to see. The Demon Tower swirled, left to right, right to left, but Sora was constantly one step ahead of it. Darkness was so powerful.

Out of nowhere, a portal appeared next to Sora — black and blue and purple — and something dark inside of him surged, the same rush he'd been feeling-fighting-embracing since he fell down the cliff, the feeling of darkness

A split second later, a shape flew through the portal. An aqua coloured blur, moving just as fast as Sora, both arms held high to summon a massive Thundaga spell.

Sora fell back to the ground amidst bolts of lightning and crumpled to his knees.

Something was wrong. He shouldn't be doing this. His keyblade fell to the snow, dark swirls clinging to it, floating around the silver and gold metal of the Kingdom Key, curling around the Mickey token on the keychain. Sora's heart ached.

“Sora!” Riku called, and Sora looked up, his vision blurry with tears and snow, and Riku was moving so fast it was impossible to follow him.

Riku…

What had he done? Sora looked at his gloved hands, every muscle in his body clenched. It was like the dark blanket that had been covering him was slowly lifted. He gasped for breath, torn between looking at the ground to keep the world from spinning and looking at Riku, taking on the Demon Tide on his own now.

Sora blinked as the light returned to his body. 

He wished he could move, get up to help Riku, but his limbs felt too heavy, and it took every inch of strength that he had to just keep the darkness from taking over his heart again. He wanted to call out to Riku, but he also didn't want to distract him.

Above him, Riku glided sharply from left to right, dodging attacks. The Demon Tide rose up, seemingly growing even bigger, and turned its attention to Sora. Sora watched as Riku did a backflip in the air and hurled his keyblade towards the Demon Tide.

Sora watched in horror as that didn't stop it. It whirled around in the air and lurched towards him. Sora raised his arms instinctively and had only a second in which to make a decision. To summon the darkness to protect himself, which was the only way he would be strong enough to block this attack, or to…

But then Riku was in front of him, keyblade back in both hands, and unleashed a Dark Firaga attack that utterly obliviated the Demon Tide.

Sora watched as Riku dropped to his knees a few feet away, supporting himself on his keyblade, trying to gather his breath. The sudden silence was deafening.

As Riku let Braveheart dematerialise, Sora crawled the short distance to where Riku was. He put a hand onto his shoulder, and Riku turned to look at him, his face set and eyes wild and glittering.

“Sora, are you okay?”

Sora stared at him, then took a quick look around them. The snow was still falling, but it was definitely less than a moment ago.

“Sora,” Riku repeated, voice rough through his heaving breaths. “Are you okay?”

Was he okay? Sora didn't know. “What colour are my eyes?”

Riku's face turned so impossibly sad then that Sora wanted to take the words back. He wanted to tell Riku he was alright, if that meant Riku wouldn't look at him like that. He never wanted Riku to be sad. Sora looked down, removed his hand from Riku's shoulder, and closed his eyes.

“I'm sorry,” he whispered. “I wasn't strong enough. There was so much darkness inside of me… I felt the dark portals you created. They—”

The lump in his throat made it impossible to continue. Sadness curled its way around his heart, intertwining with the darkness, threatening to rise to the surface once more.

Riku opened his mouth, and Sora knew what he was going to say, so he swallowed thickly and fought to find his voice again.

“No. Don't apologise. It's not your fault. You didn't know…”

Riku's face fell even more, and Sora felt tears pricking at his eyes. 

It was a long moment before either of them spoke again. Riku stood, then pulled Sora to his feet. 

“Let me check on you,” Riku murmured, taking off his gloves. 

“I'm okay,” Sora said, leaning away. He was tainted with darkness. Riku shouldn't touch him. 

But Riku didn't care. He brushed cold hands over Sora's cheeks, his forehead, into his hair, infusing Sora's skin with little Cure spells that danced over Sora's skin like electricity and made his heart surge, his shoulders releasing some of their tension, his stomach slowly unfurling until the darkness inside him didn't feel so overwhelming anymore. 

“I've got a few potions, too,” Riku said, turning Sora's head this way and that, checking for more visible injuries. “Are you hurt more? Do you need anything?” 

Sora shook his head and repeated, “I'm okay.”

He still couldn't look at Riku, swallowing against the burning in his throat, feeling a ridiculous urge to shut his eyes and keep them shut forever. Was this how Riku had felt, when he wore that stupid blindfold? How horrible that must have been… 

Riku took his hand and led them both to the treeline, a little ways past the summit.

They sat on a snow-covered rock beneath a fir tree, watching the remains of the blizzard settle down around them as the world slowly turned dark again, but this time because the sun was setting. 

Sora looked at Riku out of the corner of his eye. Riku's hair was all but hidden by his hat, only a few strands visible underneath. His cheeks were bright red, his eyes staring off into the sunset and despite the sad look on Riku's face, despite the heavy feeling inside of himself, Riku looked so alive that Sora couldn't help but smile. 

And weirdly, slowly, Sora felt his heart lighten again. He had been too overwhelmed by the sudden chaos, the darkness, to try this before, but he had been stupid. Riku had told him he would be his light. Sora had said it would be easy.

“Riku,” he said softly.

Riku took a deep breath and turned to him. His mouth fell open in a silent gasp.

“Sora, your eyes! They're…” 

Sora's smile widened. And then, he noticed an bright glow out of the corner of his eye.

“Riku, look!” 

The snow was no longer falling, the air around them had turned crisp. And over the rise of the mountains in the distance, the sky had come alive in a magical display of green and blue, rippling glowing curtains of light against the falling darkness. Sora stared in fascination. He turned to Riku, eyes bright and a grin on his face.

“I told you it was beautiful.”

Riku didn't reply, but instead reached out to cover Sora's gloved hand with his own. Together, they watched the northern lights skid across the sky, shoulder to shoulder. Sora lost all track of time, comfortable to just sit here for as long as they needed.

Finally, Riku stood, brushing the snow off his coat and hat. Sora got up, too, and if he stood just a little bit too close to Riku, well, there was no one else here to comment or laugh at him.





That evening, back at the castle, a great feast was held to celebrate the end of the blizzard, but Sora and Riku stayed only long enough to receive the thanks and congratulations from the Arendelle citizens. After the umpteeth shake of hands and heartfelt thank you's, Sora bumped his shoulder against Riku's and nodded his head in the direction of the exit. Riku got the hint.

They made their excuses, not even needing to feign exhaustion – everyone could see they could barely keep their eyes open anymore – and made their way to their bedroom.

The fire in their room was already lit, and Sora asked one of the servants roaming the hallway to bring them hot chocolate. Because if anything called for hot chocolate, it was having conquered a Heartless-infused blizzard in a perpetually snow-covered world.

It wasn't until Sora was curled up in a chair in front of the fire, a mug of hot chocolate warming his hands, that he had the peace of mind to think back to everything that had happened today.

Riku had used his own darkness to create portals to get back to Sora. Riku hadn't been taken over by it. He used it for good things. He had full control over his complete arsenal of dark powers, and the Dark Firaga that had shot out of Riku's keyblade to obliterate the Demon Tide was a sight Sora would never forget.

“You were…amazing today,” Sora said into the quiet of the room. “You beat that Demon Tide single-handedly...”

Riku's smile was bashful. “You weren't too bad yourself. You took down a good chunk of its health before I got to it. You made it easy for me.”

Sora paused, blowing across his hot chocolate. “Hey, Riku?”

Riku hummed next to him.

“I want to learn to use the darkness the way you do. I want it to make me stronger, like it's made you stronger. I want to learn how to control… whatever this is, inside of me.”

“Yeah,” Riku said, staring into the fire. “That might be a good idea.”

“We can train together, like we used to do back at the Mysterious Tower. You can teach me how to summon dark portals!”

Riku huffed fondly and shook his head. “Let's start slowly, okay? No more dark portals for awhile.”

Riku, ever the sensible one.

With his arm extended, Riku summoned Soul Eater. The blade glowed orange in the fire's light, and they both stared at it for long moments. 

“This blade is connected to my darkness. It's not that powerful anymore these days. Maybe it will help you...learn to wield the darkness inside of you.”

He leaned forward in his chair and handed the blade to Sora, who took it with careful hands. There was a rush of something as their fingers brushed, but it disappeared just so quickly Sora wondered if he'd imagined it. He felt the glimmer of darkness radiating from the blade, and he looked up from the blade to Riku's face.

Riku was staring at him, expression unreadable.

Sora thought back to everything Riku had told him about light and darkness. How they were eternal. How having darkness inside of you didn't necessarily make you a bad person. How rare and beautiful it was that light and darkness always found each other, completed each other. 

The darkness from Soul Eater was nowhere near so threatening as to overtake him. He let the blade dematerialise.

“Riku?”

“Yes, Sora?” 

“Tell me again about light and darkness?” 

Riku gave Sora that look he had been giving him a lot lately. His lips curving up into half-smile, his eyes going soft. Sora tilted his head. Had Riku always looked at him like this? Or was it just because he was happy and relieved they had survived the day's events?

Sora folded his legs in front of him, resting his chin on his knees, and looked up at Riku as Riku started talking. He closed his eyes and fell asleep to the sound of Riku’s voice, as he talked about the light of the stars and the beauty of the dark night sky and how eternal both light and darkness were.






Sora opened his eyes with a racing heart and clammy hands. He didn't need to look around to know where he was.

No, he thought, not again. Why did this keep happening? He had gotten better at fighting the darkness. When he went to sleep, Riku had been right next to him. Riku was supposed to protect him. Why was he here now, again? He had been trying so hard to be better...

The sound of his raspy breathing was the only noise in the corridor of darkness. There was nothing but emptiness, nothing to distract him from his racing thoughts and, as always, the portal just a few steps away, darkness radiating from it, calling to him.

He reached out a hand and the darkness of the portal swirled towards him, curling around his fingers. 

What did it all matter anyway, if nothing he did seemed to help? Whatever he did, whatever he tried, if he always ended up here, alone, what was the point? No matter how much Riku believed in him, what if this was all he was, forever?

The darkness crept up his arm, swirling around his elbow and then disappearing underneath the v-neck of his shirt. Sora curled his hand into a fist and brought it to his chest, bowing his head.

He nodded to himself and stepped forward until the portal consumed him.

When he looked up, he was back on the summit of the North Mountain. The blizzard was back in full force, and it should have been hard to keep his eyes open and see anything through the snow, but somehow, it wasn't. His vision was clear, and he had no trouble at all taking in the scene in front of him.

Riku, casting spell after spell at the Demon Tide, sending Shadows spinning out of line as the tide soared towards him. Riku, owning the darkness, bending it to his will with every Dark Splicer he performed, every Dark Shield he threw up. And then turning around and infusing his blade with light and slashing at the Demon Tide effortlessly.

It was glorious and frightening to watch.

Sora didn’t see how he would ever be able to do this. Riku had always been better than him. Better at fighting from the moment they made their first wooden toy swords out of tree branches, always faster as they raced along the beach and Sora knew that if he won, it was only because Riku had let him win. Riku had become an actual Keyblade Master while Sora slept through his test. It was unsurprising he also was better at using the darkness.

Jealousy made it easy for Sora to reach for the darkness inside of him. He would never be as good as Riku, so what was the point? He was forever trailing Riku, trying to keep up and always falling short.

Distantly, he was aware that this wasn't him talking. He might have felt this way at some point, but that was a lifetime ago. It felt like someone was putting these thoughts and feelings into him, they felt wrong and alien, like a keyblade with a keychain that was unsuitable for the battle ahead. And yet, the feelings overwhelmed him, wrapping the darkness around him like a cloak of misery that he didn't know how to cast aside. 

But then, was it his imagination, or was the sky slowly turning lighter? The landscape shifted minutely, the snow on the ground a little brighter, the trees a little taller, and there was the sound of birds in the distance where there had been only a howling wind before. That's when Sora realised the blizzard was gone. When Sora looked back to where Riku had been fighting the Demon Tide, the snowfield was now empty, nothing pointing to the fact that just a minute ago, a battle had taken place there. The sun was coming out from behind the clouds, and the snow turned so bright that Sora's eyes turned to slits.

That was weird...

Sora unfurled his fists as he took in the serenity of what the world had turned into. He realised suddenly that every muscle in his body was tensed, and he slowly exhaled and forced himself to release the lump in his stomach. That, in turn, cleared his mind even more. 

And then a sigh behind him made him whirl around. 

He shouldn't have been surprised, really. There was only one person who could have made this happen.

Riku was wearing his aqua winter coat, but no hat or gloves this time. Sunlight reflected off his hair, giving him an ethereal glow. The North Mountain was all shades of white, with Riku the only source of colour around.

Sora ran to him, kicking snow everywhere. When he was a few feet away, he launched himself forward and wrapped both his arms around Riku's waist, burying his face in the soft fabric of Riku's coat.

“You're here…" he choked out.

Riku's arms came around up to wrap tightly around his shoulders, and Sora could feel him trembling as Riku leaned down to rest his cheek against Sora's hair. Somehow, the fact that Riku seemed to be just as affected by this, grounded him.

When Sora pulled away, he didn't step back, keeping his hands on Riku's back, needing to be as close to Riku as he could. It was ridiculous that he had felt jealous of him just a few moments ago. Riku was everything to him. So what if Riku was better at using the darkness? That just meant Sora had the best partner to fight beside.

“I'm sorry it took me so long. I don't know what happened,” Riku replied. “You fell asleep, and everything seemed fine. It was like there was some kind of barrier preventing me from feeling your nightmare.”

“It's like the darkness is growing stronger. I couldn't even resist it a little this time, it was so easy to give in, I didn't even fight it. Just now, I was so jealous of you, and I let that jealousy turn into darkness.”

Riku shook his head, pressing a cold hand to Sora's cheek.

“You're dreaming, Sora. This isn't real.”

“I'm not so sure,” Sora said. “This darkness is real. That jealousy I felt was real. I just wanted to give in to it.”

“But you didn't,” Riku said gently.

“Not this time. I did, before,” Sora murmured as Riku's eyes widened. “I hurt you in my dreams before… I couldn't stop it. What if this is who I'm meant to be?”

“I don't believe that. There's no ‘meant to be'. There's always a choice.”

Riku lifted his hand from Sora's cheek and brought it to Sora's chest, covering his heart. 

“I feel the light inside of you, Sora. I feel the darkness, too, but that's okay. You can't get rid of the darkness in your heart, but you can learn to use it without turning away from the light.”

Sora lifted his hand and covered Riku's fingers that were splayed against his jacket.

Slowly, he breathed out and reached out for the light he felt inside of Riku. It joined with his own, and he could feel it shine through the darkness. And for now, that was enough.

Chapter Text

The shrill sound of a ringtone echoed around the gummi ship cockpit, breaking the comfortable silence that had long settled over them. In between rings, Riku could hear buzzing vibrations coming from one of Sora's pockets, and he looked up from the book on time magic he'd been reading, a gift from Mickey.

Sora frantically reached into his pocket with his right hand, twisting in his seat to grab his Gummiphone. The ship swirled dangerously to the left as Sora lost his grip on the steering wheel with his other hand, and Riku's stomach lurched. Sora struggled with his pocket for a long few seconds before he finally, triumphantly, pulled the phone free and held it up into the air.

“Ha!”

“Give me that before you crash our ship.” Riku rolled his eyes as he reached out a hand across their seats. Sora dropped the phone in his hand with a pout.

“Yes, sir,” he huffed.

Riku ignored him in favour of peering at the tiny phone screen which showed a picture of a smiling Kairi, indicating the incoming video call. Riku closed the book and laid it down into his lap as he pressed the button to pick up.

“Hi, guys! How's life in space treating you?” Kairi's grin was all teeth, and her eyes were sparkling. Her flaming hair shone brightly in the fluorescent lighting of the research room she was in, clashing with the bright pink Radiant Garden hoodie she was wearing. She sat behind a desk of some sort, only the dark grey surface visible from where the phone was propped up against something. Both hands were raised in an enthused wave. Behind her, Riku could make out the tops of bookshelves and computer screens.

“Hi, Kairi,” Riku smiled at her. “You look well.”

“Hi, Kairi!” Sora chirped, both hands back on the steering wheel, thankfully.

“Sora's flying the ship, so he can't talk,” Riku smirked a little, his voice taking on a teasing note. “You know how bad he is at multitasking.”

“I am not bad at—” Sora started indignantly.

“Ah,” Riku cut him off. “So that little stunt just now is how you generally pilot this ship, is it?”

Sora shot him a sulky glare, and Riku snorted out a laugh before turning his attention back to the Gummiphone.

“So.” Kairi was staring at Riku with a knowing grin, brushing the hair out of her eyes. “Looks like you guys are doing okay?”

“Yeah,” Riku agreed, deciding to ignore the implications in Kairi's grin. “We just left Arendelle this morning after spending a few days there.. We defeated the bulk of the Heartless, I think, including the Demon Tide at the top of the North Mountain. It should be a much safer place for a while.”

“That's good to hear,” Kairi said. “We figured as much. Ienzo is building a prototype machine to try and detect Heartless activity. We noticed a few days ago that the rate of Heartless activity from that area of the Ocean Between had decreased.”

“That's good news.” Riku leaned back in his seat to get more comfortable and shifted the phone to his other hand. “So have you guys found out anything more about what's been going on? Master Yen Sid doesn't have a Gummiphone, so we were kinda hoping you had heard from him in another way?”

“We have, yeah,” said another voice from off-screen, and Kairi leaned over the desk to adjust the phone so Riku could see the owner of that voice. Axel came to stand next to Kairi's chair, his hair a wild sea of red hair an even brighter shade than Kairi's, his green eyes also filled with a sparkle Riku hadn't seen there before. Was it Radiant Garden that did that to people?

Riku felt a bit bad that he still hadn't taken the time to call Axel after he'd spoken to Kairi and told himself that he should. He wanted to ask him about Isa, how things were going between them, but now was probably not the time. He made a mental note to call Axel sometime soon.

“Mickey went over to the Mysterious Tower to help Master Yen Sid with his research,” Axel said, leaning in a little towards the phone screen. “Just a few days ago, they sent us scans of a number of ancient texts they found that we are now going through.”

“That sounds promising,” Riku said. “Did you find anything yet?”

“We're still translating them, and it's slow going. But from what we got so far, they mention the same abyss that Sora talked about,” Kairi explained. “The one that young Master Xehanort told him about. It's apparently ‘synonymous with darkness’.” 

She made air quotations for the last three words.

“What does that mean?” Riku asked.

“It means that…” Kairi sighed. “Our best theory right now is that when Sora chased the Lich around the other dimension, it made his heart susceptible to darkness? If the abyss is a synonym for the darkness, and Sora condemned his heart to it as it were… Well, that could explain why he's having nightmares of the darkness, now. Speaking of nightmares, how's Sora doing?”

“I'm right here, you know…” Sora frowned, craning his neck to take a look at the phone screen. Riku tilted the phone towards Sora so he could see Kairi and Axel while still keeping an eye on the vastness of space in front of them. Sora having to divide his attention between flying and talking probably wasn't the best idea, though... Riku really hadn't been kidding when he'd said Sora was awful at multitasking.

“Sora, how are you doing?” Axel asked the question again, addressing Sora directly this time.

“I'm okay! The nightmares are...more manageable now. Riku helps me keep them at bay, we think.” Sora's eyes turned briefly from the phone screen to Riku, and they shared a brief smile. “Also, Riku's gonna help me get a better grip on the darkness. We're gonna find a place to train.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Kairi said. Axel nodded next to her.

“So where are you off to now?” Axel asked.

“We're not entirely sure yet.” Riku turned the phone away from Sora again to prevent him from getting too distracted while piloting. “I think we...”

“Oh, look, it's a new world!” Sora exclaimed, pointing straight ahead at the world that was slowly materialising in front of them. “Do you want to go check it out?”

“Sure,” Riku said to Sora, then turned his attention back to the phone. “Looks like we found a new destination. Kairi, Axel, thanks for the information. Let us know when you hear more, okay?”

“Sure thing, Riku,” Axel said with an incline of his head.

“Bye, Riku! Bye, Sora!” Kairi waved at him on the screen before it turned black.

“Okay, Sora,” Riku grinned at him. “Let's see your landing skills, then.”

As it turned out, Sora hadn't been lying. He manoeuvered the ship expertly into a clearing between a forest and a massive white castle and performed one of the smoothest gummi ship landings Riku had ever seen. He stared at Sora, not sure whether to be surprised or jealous.

“Impressive,” he admitted.

Sora puffed his chest out and raised both of his arms to flex his biceps, to which Riku shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“Come on, flyboy.” He got up from his chair and ruffled Sora's hair on the way to the cockpit door, ignoring Sora's whiny Rikuuuu. “Let's go and check out this world.”

A wave of summer heat hit them the second they opened the door to the gangway, the air around them instantly smouldering. The sun was bright in the clear blue sky, its lazy, dry warmth immediately wrapping itself around their bodies like a blanket even though they were still in the shade. Riku shouldered his backpack properly, a little annoyed to find he was already sweating before they'd even reached to the ground. The torrid heat was worse than the dry season back at the Destiny Islands.

To Riku and Sora's surprise, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather stood waiting for them when they exited the gummi ship. The three fairies had felt the magic of the gummi ship approaching and had raced from the castle to meet them.

“Welcome to the Enchanted Dominion!” they chanted in unison with bright smiles, wands waving along with their words.

“Hello!” Sora exclaimed enthusiastically. “I didn't know this was your world! I thought you all lived at Yen Sid's tower or something.”

“Oh, no,” Fauna said, twirling her wand around some more, shooting tiny sparks from the end of it. “That was just temporary after our world had fallen to darkness. But when the worlds were restored, we came back here. Now that Maleficent has left, we can spend our time and energy to rebuild our world.”

“Princess Aurora and Prince Philip are working hard to have the castle rebuilt,” Merryweather added. “Of course, we help as much as we can, but we can't do everything at once. Even our magic is limited, unfortunately.”

“Yes, unfortunately…” Fauna repeated. “We are so busy trying to rebuild the castle that we just don't have the time to start on our cottage… And it was such a lovely cottage, too… We'd love to see it rebuilt to the way it was. It's a little in ruins now...”

“Are you guys good at rebuilding things?” Flora asked.

“I am awesome at rebuilding things.” Sora jumped excitedly up and down, his backpack bouncing with the motion. “I'm a member of the Hollow Bastion Restoration Committee!”

“The what?” Riku asked, eyebrows shooting up as he watched Sora dig through his pockets.

“Look!” He held up a small plastic card eagerly. “Here's my membership card.”

“What on earth is the Hollow Bastion Restoration Committee…” Riku shook his head, wondering how he had never heard about this before. “Sora, you don't know the first thing about building or rebuilding things. The only thing you ever built in your life was a raft, and even then Kairi and I did most of the work.”

“Great!” Flora quipped, ignoring Riku's comments and clapping her hands. “I guess that's settled. The cottage is that way.”

The three fairies pointed in unison in the direction of the forest.

“Just follow the path, and you'll find it!”

Sora turned to Riku with a grin. “Ah, come on, Riku. How hard can it be to rebuild a cottage?”

Riku shook his head as they set out. Travelling across worlds with Sora was turning out to be quite different from travelling around on his own.







The cottage turned out to be well over half a day's walk from where they had landed the gummi ship.

Honestly, Riku didn't mind. After having been inside for the better part of the past weeks — apart from their trip up the North Mountain in Arendelle and a few Heartless battles during the days after — it was kind of nice to be able to stretch his legs again. The summer heat made both of them a little lethargic, but they weren't really in a hurry anyway. Also, Riku had to admit he'd take the summer heat over a blizzard any day.

As they walked, the soft breeze rustled the leaves around and above them, and the birds chirped and sang continuously. Everything seemed so peaceful here that Riku wasn't surprised when they didn't encounter any Heartless along the way. 

Maybe the three fairies had been right, and peace really had returned to this world.

Still, despite the apparent serenity of this pace, there was a tingle in his spine that he couldn't explain, a little shiver, and vaguely a flash of darkness. Somehow, he couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched. One time, he thought he saw a movement out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned his head to look between the trees, there was nothing there.

He sighed. Maybe he was imagining things...

The heat steadily grew as the day went on. By lunchtime, Sora was complaining about tired feet, feeling hot and being hungry.

“Riku, how much farther?” Sora whined, dragging his feet dramatically across the path.

Riku turned to look at him, watching as Sora wiped at his sweaty brow with the back of his hand, a pout on his face. He had taken off his jacket some time ago and stuffed it in his bag with the rest of his belongings, so he was now dressed in just his capris and his black tank top. His hair clung to his forehead, and sweat glistened on his skin, little beads rolling from his throat and disappearing into his v-neck. The sight of it made Riku's stomach clench uncomfortably, and he had to force his gaze upwards to meet Sora's eyes.

“Five minutes less since the last time you asked.” Riku was proud of himself for his voice coming out so steadily.

“Riku,” Sora whined, pout deepening as he sighed. “Why don't you just summon one of your dark portals to get us there?”

Riku knew Sora had meant it as a joke, but at the words, he felt a tight fist clench around his heart.

He'd tried not to think about it...the dark portals he had summoned back in Arendelle. He'd been trying so hard to find Sora in the swirling snowstorm after Sora had tumbled down that cliff. Summoning portals had seemed like a good idea at the time, he had been able to get around much faster that way. He hadn't used his darkness like that in a long time, he'd been almost surprised he could still call on it. But he'd always known that for Sora, somehow he could do more than he thought he could.

It wasn't until he'd caught up with Sora, and Sora had choked out that he could feel to pull of darkness from the portals that Riku realised what he'd done. The sight of Sora with yellow eyes, scared beyond words as he struggled to control the darkness inside of him, would be burned into his mind forever.

It was only when Sora spoke up that he realised he'd stopped walking. 

“I'm sorry, Riku.” Sora looked at him with sad eyes. “I didn't mean to…”

Riku shook himself and clenched his fists. “It's fine.”

Sora took a few steps forward, right into Riku's personal space. Unable to meet Sora's gaze, Riku bowed his head to stare at his shoes. Comments and promises ran through his head.

Riku, promise me you'll look after him. 

Sora, I'll be whatever you need. 

But it's your job to help him. You know that.

Sora will need you to guide him. He cannot fall to darkness. 

Not a week into their journey and he had already failed.

“Riku…” Sora tilted his head, twisting his neck so he could look Riku in the eye. “Don't be sad, Riku. I'm okay.” 

“No thanks to me,” Riku mumbled, letting his hair fall into his eyes so Sora wouldn't be able to see them, and he wouldn't need to look at Sora.

He could, however, hear the note of anger in Sora's voice when he spoke up next.

“What are you saying? That was all thanks to you! You saved me back in Arendelle, just like you saved me so many times before.”

Riku didn't know what to say to that. He was close to blurting out something about how he was only trying to make up for the hurt he'd caused before, but he knew a statement like that wouldn't go over well with Sora.

Sora, frustrated that Riku wouldn't reply, stamped his feet. That, more than anything, made Riku look up at him again. He was pouting once more, tugging on his backpack straps, and there was a fiery look in his eyes that Riku hadn't seen in a long time.

“You told me to talk to you when I felt sad and not keep it inside.”

Riku sighed and pressed his lips together. He had said that, yes.

“Well, now I'm telling you the same. Talk to me when you feel sad. You shouldn't have to do all of this alone…” Sora trailed off, his frustration melting away. He tried a smile, though Riku could see the worry behind it. “Okay?”

And because Riku could never really deny Sora anything, he nodded. 

“Okay.”






They reached the clearing with the cottage not long after. 

Well, Riku thought, the fairies had said cottage but the word ruin was more appropriate to describe what was left of it. 

The cottage had once been standing proudly against the massive tree in the centre of the clearing, flanked by the water wheel on the other side. Riku could tell it used to be a homey, comfortable place to live. Now, though...

The brick walls were still mostly standing, though the mortar was cracked in places. The door had been ripped from its hinges and cast a few feet away. The windows on the ground floor seemed to be in one piece, which was a small miracle. However, a thick tree branch had fallen through the roof, creating a gaping hole in it, and straw and bricks were haphazardly spread out all over the clearing, remains from the thatched roof and its chimney. 

The bridge crossing the stream had collapsed and the water swirled wildly around the stones that had ended up in there. Riku could tell there had once been a stone path from where they were standing, across the former bridge, to the entrance, but the stones had been ripped from the ground by force and were thrown all over the grass.

They stood for a moment to take it all in. Then Riku turned to Sora, raising an eyebrow.

“Still think you're awesome at rebuilding stuff?”

“Well,” Sora tilted his head to the side and seemed to consider this. “Good thing you're pretty buff. Bet you can move all of these stones and fix the roof.”

Riku flushed and choked mid-swallow, erupting into a coughing fit. He doubled over and kept coughing until he could pretend the blood rushing to his cheeks was because of the lack of oxygen, not because he was in any way flustered about Sora's casually spoken words. 

“Are you okay?” Sora asked with something close to amusement, pressing the palm of his hand between Riku's shoulder blades in what would have been a comforting gesture in any other situation, but at the moment was really not helping. Warmth from Sora's touch seeped through his shirt and spread throughout his chest until he felt he would burst.

It took him long moments before he finally stopped coughing. He cleared his throat and raised himself back up, the movement making Sora's hand drop back to his side, and Riku could start to think clearly again. 

“I see how it is," he said, his voice rough. "You're just gonna let me do all of the work again.”

Sora smiled brightly, teasingly. “Yeah, it's much easier that way.”

Riku shook his head and felt the corners of his mouth turn up into a smile. 

“You know, this could work. This would be a good training spot, too. I can feel the magic of this place. We could train in the mornings, and rebuild the cottage in the afternoons.” Riku paused, smile turning into a smirk. “Emphasis on we.”

Sora huffed. “Fine.”

“We'll start tomorrow.”

“Where are we gonna sleep, though?” Sora said, dubiously eyeing the tree branch that had fallen through the cottage roof.

“Yeah, we'd better take care of that first…”

They climbed the tree next to the cottage and Riku cast a Zero Gravity spell that lifted the fallen tree branch just far enough for Sora to swing at it with his keyblade. The branch dropped to the ground, barely avoiding the front porch.

“Nice teamwork,” Sora grinned.

They looked down into the bedroom below them, which now no longer had a tree branch sunk into it, but still had no roof. It was a miracle that the large wooden bed was still standing in one piece, even if the mattress was covered with twigs and leaves.

Sora turned to Riku and shrugged. “I've slept in worse places.”

Sora insisted on cooking a simple potato stew in the remains of the kitchen, so Riku made a start on ridding the house of the worst of the debris. Afterwards, they ate in silence at the wooden dining table, both of them too tired to speak much, and they went to bed soon after.

Sora pressed closed to Riku's side and was asleep in seconds, any hesitance over sharing a bed seemingly long forgotten.

Riku wasn't so lucky. He'd managed to hide it so far, but ever since Sora's nightmares had begun, Riku's sleep had suffered as well. For the past weeks he'd slept more lightly, fitfully, always a little too alert. But even though — and he was loath to admit this to himself — being Sora's dream eater was exhausting, sleep wouldn't come to him now. He stayed awake, listening to Sora's breaths, watching out for any sign of nightmares. It wasn't even necessary, he knew he'd feel it even in his own dreams if Sora needed him, but he couldn't help it.

Every night for the past few nights he'd jumped awake at the smallest sound just to find Sora breathing calmly next to him. The only thing he could think of to finally get a good night’s sleep again would be to cast a Sleep spell on himself, but he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to feel Sora’s nightmares like that, and he didn’t want to find out.

And there was another reason that, try as he might, Riku couldn't fall asleep. Having Sora so warm and so close to him was a bittersweet torture. During most of their waking hours, Riku was able to push his own feelings aside, but during the night, pressed together like this with nothing to distract him from Sora's hands curled tightly into his shirt, Sora's breath hot and humid against the fabric…

He sighed.

Riku allowed himself to turn his head to rest his cheek against Sora's hair, breathing in the smell of pine needles and smoke from the cooking stove. And underneath all that, a smell that was just so Sora, sweet like strawberries and a little musky like cold rain. He let his eyes fall closed and tried to match Sora's slow and steady breathing with his own.

He was unaware of having fallen asleep, but he must have, and he must have done something to wake Sora up, because Sora was pushing at his shoulder and calling his name.

“Riku! Wake up, Riku!” Sora's voice was frantic.

Riku opened his eyes, heart racing, and sought out Sora's face in the dark.

“What?” He asked roughly, disoriented.

“You were having a nightmare…” Sora said, eyes wide and voice a little shaky.

Right… Riku sighed. Figured.

He sank back into the mattress and let out a long shaky sigh, closing his eyes. Images of Sora, a wild grin on his face, covered in a cloak of darkness, eyes yellow and cold, flickered before his eyes. And Riku, helpless to do anything but watch as the darkness spread out from Sora's chest, as Sora's grin darkened and he raised his keyblade to strike at him. Bile rose at the back of his throat. 

When Sora spoke next, his voice was barely above a whisper.

“I wish I could be your dream eater, too. I wish I could protect you from your nightmares...”

Riku's heart was still racing, and he found he couldn't speak, though he wanted to reassure Sora that he was fine, don't worry about me. Wanted to reach out and stroke across his cheeks until he smiled again, wanted to take away all of the dejection in his voice.

“Let’s go outside,” Sora said gently.

Riku raised an eyebrow and choked out, “Why?”

“I wanna look at the stars. That always makes me feel better. Maybe it'll make you feel better.”

They put on their capris and jackets in silence, and Riku let Sora hold his hand as he led the way to the clearing in front of the cottage. The night sky was clear, there was not a cloud in sight. The air was crisp and cool, the breeze just enough to make Riku breathe easier again, but not cold enough to make him shiver.

Sora found a patch free from debris and lay down on the grass, tugging on Riku's arm to pull him down to Sora's side amidst the scattered straw. They lay on their backs, side by side, shoulders touching, and stared up at the night sky. The stars were so bright. Riku wondered which worlds they all were. Was Mickey up there somewhere? Which one of them was Radiant Garden's star?

“It's so beautiful,” Sora sighed breathlessly.

A wave of affection rushed over Riku and he grabbed Sora's hand tighter.

“It's like you said, Riku. Light and darkness make each other better.”

“Light and darkness need each other,” Riku replied.

The way I need you, Riku thought. It scares me so much how much I need you. How close I come time and again to losing you… How much I love you... But he didn't say that. He didn't say anything.

Sora let out a low, happy murmur next to him.

What would happen if he were to say it? How would Sora react? He'd fantasised about a moment like this. He would roll onto his side, prop his head up on his elbow, smile at Sora and tell him, unflinchingly, that he loved him. And in his fantasy, Sora's eyes would grow wide and round, before he would break into that grin, and he would launch himself into Riku's arms. They would hug for a bit, first. And then, Sora would pull back, and their faces would be really close, and all Riku would need to do was lean forward just a little bit to capture Sora's lips, it would be the easiest thing in the world.

But really, even if Sora didn't do that, what was the worst thing that could happen? Both of them had gotten so free with their affection, sleeping in the same bed and holding hands and hugging and touching all the time now. Riku was pretty confident Sora wasn't going to bolt over a confession like this. Their connection was too strong for that now. And maybe, if there was the tiniest chance that Sora could feel the same… If Sora felt the same, wouldn't he want Sora to tell him?

“Sora, I…” Riku's stomach fluttered wildly, and he pressed his eyes shut, trying to find the courage to continue. It should have been easy, just like in his fantasies. They were just three little words. But he faltered, the words stuck in his throat. He waited, not breathing, caught between I love you so much and the part of his brain that shouted caution, abort, abort… “Nevermind,” he finished lamely.

“Aww, come on, Riku,” Sora whined close to his ear, tugging on his hand.

“No,” Riku said curtly. “The moment's over.”

“Tell me!”

“No.”

Sora huffed, the sound laced with annoyance. “Fine. Then will you at least tell me what your nightmare was about?”

Riku was silent for a long time, his thoughts about Sora's trademark grin and stuttered confessions momentarily forgotten as he thought back to his dream. He felt Sora lace their fingers together and rub a thumb over the back of his hand. He wondered if he should lie or deflect the question, but debated against it. Sora could be a little oblivious, but when it came to matters of the heart, he knew more than he let on. Also, he'd promised Sora to tell him when he was sad… 

“I dreamt about…creating portals of darkness,” Riku sighed and when he opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Sora, Sora's face had gone soft. “You being overtaken by the darkness again, and it was all my fault.”

Sora rolled onto his stomach, elbows digging into the grass, and brought up their joint hands to rest his head against. “Riku, it wasn't your fault. You didn't know what those portals would do to me.” 

“Well, I should have. I should have stopped to think.”

But Riku hadn't thought, the only thing on his mind that he needed to find his way to Sora. And then his desire to get back to Sora had made everything worse.

“That doesn't matter, though,” Sora shook his head forcefully, that fire from this afternoon back in his eyes. “When we got separated in the snowstorm in Arendelle, I was so scared. I needed you. And you knew that. That's why you did what you did.”

“Sora…”

“Riku,” Sora said softly, shaking his head. “I wanna tell you something. Something that I maybe should have told you before.”

He lay back down, looking back up at the sky, tightening his grip on Riku's hand until it was almost painful. Riku waited, not knowing whether to say something to encourage Sora or to keep silent. Finally, Sora spoke.

“Back at the Keyblade Graveyard, before time was rewound, you did the bravest thing for me. I know you don't remember.”

Riku's eyes widened. He knew exactly the moment Sora was referring to, the gap in his memory that felt like an itch he just couldn't reach to scratch. He didn't think Sora remembered anything from that moment either... They'd never had a chance to talk about it. His heart started beating a little faster.

“But I never forgot,” Sora continued, so softly that Riku had to strain to hear the words, even in their peaceful bubble in the dark. “It kept me going through so many difficult moments.”

And so Sora told him about how one by one, their friends had been swept away by the Demon Tide. How Sora had collapsed onto his hands and knees, not knowing what to do or how to go on. How Riku had told him I believe in you and how he had walked up to the Demon Tide, raised his keyblade and put his entire being, all of his strength, into protecting Sora

He had died for Sora.

Riku realised absentmindedly that there were tears in the corners of his eyes. He reached up his free hand to wipe them away, but of course, Sora noticed. He sat up and looked down at Riku, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. Riku watched him swallow and lick his lips.

“I know how much you love me. Because I saw it. That's why...” Sora was crying now, too, and Riku couldn't handle any of this. 

He raised himself up into a seated position and let go of Sora's hand to wrap both arms tightly around his shoulders, holding him in such a crushing grip that he was sure it must have hurt, but he couldn’t let go. He needed the physical contact, telling himself he was reassuring Sora, while really he was reassuring himself, because Riku already knew that he would do anything for Sora, and that was already the scariest thought in the world... But to have it spelled out like this for him…

“Don't cry,” Riku choked out, but his voice was full of unshed tears, too, so it didn't have the intended effect.

“I love you, too, Riku…” Sora whispered into his neck. 

Riku's heart stopped. He wanted to laugh. He wanted to scream. What a cruel universe, when the word love didn't even come close to expressing the way he felt for Sora.

Neither of them got much sleep the rest of that night, though they did go back to bed. Riku thought he dozed off a few times, but when he woke the next morning, he felt stretched thin and raw, hazy and tired from a lack of sleep and midnight confessions that had hit a little too close to home, but still not quite enough.

But if Riku took the day off every time he had a bad night, he'd never get anything done, so after breakfast, they went into the forest, searching for a sizeable clearing for their first training session together.

Riku summoned Soul Eater, carefully watching Sora for any changes or signs of darkness. But Sora reached out his hand, cautiously took the blade, and his eyes remained blue and a smile played on his lips.

“Okay,” Riku started to explain. “So the trick is to use the darkness without losing sight of the light. You need to be in control. The darkness is just a tool. It can never be in control.”

Riku held out his hand and let Braveheart materialise. He raised his arm, holding the blade in front of his chest. He summoned a tiny ball of darkness, keeping his eyes trained on Sora's face.

Sora dropped into a fighting stance, grabbing Soul Eater with two hands, and suddenly, Riku was struck with the absurd thought that Sora was holding his keyblade, a literal extension of his heart. Okay, so that was a thought that he would not dwell on too much, either. He shook himself.

“Try this,” he said instead. “Search for the darkness inside of you, but keep looking at me.”

Sora wrinkled his forehead in concentration. Tiny purple swirls appeared around Soul Eater, and Riku's heart jumped into his throat as Sora's eyes seemed to flicker for the briefest of seconds.

Then, with a yell, Sora charged, and Riku barely had time to release the ball of darkness, which Sora easily struck aside, before their blades clashed. Okay, not exactly what he had in mind, but he could work with this. 

Sora was slower than Riku was used to, but his movements were deliberate. Riku slowed down to match Sora's pace. They fell into a pattern: Sora would slash three times, each one blocked by Riku before he counterattacked. Sora parried and sidestepped before charging again, repeating the cycle. Soul Eater was shimmering in darkness, but Riku could feel that Sora was the one who was in control.

Sora had definitely improved since their session on the grounds of Disney Castle. This was more like the Sora he knew, even though Sora was clearly not at full strength yet. But his movements were confident and there was a lot more power behind his strikes.

They fell apart, both breathing hard, and Riku took in the way Sora's eyes lit up and his chest heaved. Riku grinned. He had forgotten how much fun it was to spar with Sora, how it sparked his competitive side just enough, how Sora would grin and throw his entire being into the fight. He smirked and made a come-on gesture with his left hand, and without further hesitance, Sora charged again.

The first round had been easy, a way for them to get reacquainted with each other's fighting styles. This round, both of them dropped the pretence. Sora concentrated on hitting combinations, but Riku could tell he was still holding back the darkness, not letting himself use that side of himself as he charged. He decided to push Sora a little, firing off orbs of dark flames that Sora had to stop mid-air to fling aside.

"Come on, Sora," Riku taunted, breathing heavily. 

Deep down, he was terrified of pushing Sora too far, sending him back into a downward spiral of darkness, but he knew Sora would be mad if he held back. And Sora needed to learn how to use his darkness in a controlled way. Better here, with Riku, than during a fight against a party of Heartless.

Sora's eyes flickered again and Riku watched him struggle for a moment, ready to call this off as soon as he felt it would become too much. 

"Think of the light," he called, and Sora's mouth set in a determined frown. He adjusted his grip on the blade's handle and jumped at Riku.

Sora was fast, but Riku was faster. As Sora swung back his blade to slash at Riku's side, Riku brought up a hand and a Dark Shield materialised in front of him. Sora, however, covered himself in light, and flew right through the shield. Once through the shield, he rapidly fired off a cluster of three dark orbs which knocked into Riku, launching him into the air. 

He slammed into the ground, momentarily disoriented. When he looked around after a few seconds of trying to figure out which way was up, his eyes landed on Sora, smirking down at him.

"Well," Sora put a hand on his hip, grin turning cocky. "That was easy."

Riku sighed dramatically. "You know I was holding back, right?" 

"You were so not."

Sora was right. The first round, yeah, but that last attack had been all Sora. Riku blamed it on his lack of sleep, but he decided to let Sora have his victory and relaxed his shoulders in defeat.

Sora reached out a hand to pull Riku to his feet. His eyes were bright and sparkling as he pushed his sweaty hair back, and okay, he should maybe let Sora win more often if this was the way he looked at Riku then.

An idea arose in the back of Riku's mind. It would be a little risky, but he wanted to try it anyway. He could tell that at this moment, basking in his little victory, Sora might feel strong enough to handle this. He held out a hand to the side, letting darkness rush to his fingertips.

Sora watched him carefully, eyes growing a little wary. 

"Are you up for this?" Riku asked, just in case.

Sora looked at him for a second, then his eyes narrowed as he realised what Riku was about to do. His mouth set in a harsh line as he pressed his lips together. Riku could see the spark of fear in his eyes, recognised it because he felt the same way. 

He swallowed it down. He kept his eyes fixed on Sora's as he slowly let the portal of darkness materialise a few feet away from them.

Sora gasped and curled his hands into fists. Riku ached with the desire to touch him, but he knew this was something Sora needed to learn to do by himself. 

The portal grew in size, and Sora eyed it sharply.

Suddenly, Riku felt the heat of darkness rush through the clearing. Everything went silent as Sora's face drained of all colour, and the adrenaline that surged through Riku made him feel shaky.

Sora brought his hands to his chest, gritting his teeth, and Riku watched, stomach curling, as Sora closed his eyes for long seconds.

"Sora…" he exhaled involuntarily, his voice barely audible over the pounding in his ears. 

Sora opened his eyes and looked at Riku. Blue flickered to yellow, then back again, and again. It was like watching a thunderstorm pass over the mountains.

Riku was this close to letting the portal disappear, not wanting to see what the outcome of the internal war would be, but then Sora's eyes narrowed briefly before his face relaxed and he looked at Riku with such open adoration that Riku gasped. Yellow flickered back to blue and stayed blue.

Riku had stopped breathing long seconds ago, he realised belatedly.

Then Sora smiled at him, his trademark sunshine smile, and suddenly the rest of the world came rushing back to Riku. He let the portal disappear and suddenly he could hear all of the birds chirping around them. He felt the warm wind rush over his bare arms and had to narrow his eyes against the sunlight suddenly washing over them again.

"That was…" Riku paused, trying to find the words. "That was really good."

"Thanks!" Sora beamed, a proud look on his face.

Riku was about to reply, had a whole train of random thoughts about light and darkness ready that he wanted to share with Sora, when suddenly he noticed that something was off.

Once again, there was this tingle in his spine that told him they were being watched. He felt a presence just beyond the treeline, and he turned quickly, Braveheart back in his hand in a flash. Sora jolted next to him at the suddenness of it.

"Riku?"

"Shhh," Riku whispered, fixing all of his senses on that spot just out of sight.

But just as suddenly as the feeling had come, it disappeared. Slowly, he let the tight grip on the handle of his blade relax and as he exhaled slowly, he felt some of the tightness in his stomach unfurl.

"What was that?" Sora asked behind him, his voice high and frightened.

"Did you feel that?" Riku muttered.

Sora nodded.

Riku's face set into a frown. He didn't like this at all. He shook himself before sprinting over to the clearing edge, looking left and right to peer into the forest, but there was nothing there. He knew he hadn't imagined the presence, though. Sora had felt it, too. Yet there was nothing to see, nothing to fight, and when Sora suggested they go back to work on the cottage roof, Riku agreed with a heavy heart.

They settled into a daily routine. In the mornings they would spar. Riku would teach Sora all of his dark magic moves, and one by one, Sora learned to use them, both his magic and his grip on the darkness growing stronger by the day.

That presence they had felt the first day didn't return, but try as he might, Riku couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong beneath all of this. However, with no proof that something was actually wrong, he wanted nothing more than to pretend that everything was fine in their little bubble, for now.

They spent the afternoons cleaning up the mess inside and around the cottage, and when that was done, they started rebuilding the roof. It did end up being Riku who did the bulk of the heavy-duty work, but true to his word, Sora did his fair share. And Sora cooked. Riku couldn't believe it, but Sora was a really good cook. He came up with new recipes for the ingredients they would find during the day, and it was a joy to watch him cut zucchinis or mushrooms at the speed of light, or fry a freshly caught fish at the stove. Sora elbowed him away when he tried to help, muttering that he knew what he was doing, Riku could just set the table if he wanted to, and Riku desperately ignored the feeling in his chest that this was what having a home must feel like.

At night, they would play games on their phones, or they would sit on the porch as Riku read books while Sora practised little spells by his side. 

Riku was still not sleeping as well as he should be, but it was alright, because he didn't think he'd ever been this happy in all of his life.

After three weeks of this, the cottage was nearly restored. The roof was repaired, most of the bricks had been put back where they used to be – with a few left over that neither of them really knew what to do with – and all that was left was to repair the bridge.

Riku woke up early. It was still dark outside. It wasn't a nightmare that had woken him. Not one he remembered, anyway. But still, his eyes were painful from lack of sleep, and he could feel the beginnings of a headache throbbing behind his temples.

He shifted up on the bed to get into a seated position, careful not to wake Sora. The covers shifted down to his thighs, but that was okay. It was warm enough in the room, and Sora was like a furnace next to him.

As Riku leaned the back of his head against the wooden headboard, Sora — fast asleep — shifted and turned to rest his head against Riku’s hip, muttering meaningless words in his sleep.

Riku forced himself to exhale and unclench the muscles he was tensing. He reached a hand to brush through Sora’s unruly hair, then let it rest against Sora's head, his thumb slowly brushing over his forehead. 

It terrified him, how much he cared about Sora.

During every training session, Riku felt the cold clutches of fear. Sora's grip on the darkness was getting stronger, but he saw Sora waver at times. He knew how little it would take to lose control, to be overtaken by the darkness. The fear he felt was for Sora, yes, but also for himself. He feared what he would do if he lost Sora again. Was that selfish? He honestly thought when he let Sora go last time, he could live without him.

He knew now that he couldn't go through all of that again.

Even though things were far from peaceful in the grand scheme of things, with Sora's dreams twisted into nightmares with sinister intent, living this oddly normal daily life in the cottage with Sora made Riku incredibly happy. Which in turn, made him terrified of losing this happiness, too. Since when did he get to have nice things like this?

Slowly, the room began to grow lighter as the sun outside rose, illuminating the freshly painted ceiling in the barest hints of light. 

Riku felt the strange urge to talk to someone. He reached out the hand that was not in Sora's hair to grab his Gummiphone off the nightstand. He flicked through his contacts, resting his thumb above Axel's name. He had been putting off this phone call for far too long. 

Only Riku didn't want to leave the bed. He remembered what happened last time he left Sora to wake up alone to talk to someone on the phone. Besides, Sora was a sound sleeper these days. Riku could probably risk it.

It wasn't like he had any better occasion to call Axel anyway. For the past weeks, he and Sora had barely spent a moment apart. He pressed his thumb down on the phone.

“Riku!” Axel picked up the video call enthusiastically. “It’s been forever. Did you forget that phones work both ways?”

“Shh,” Riku shushed him. “Sora's still sleeping.”

Axel's grin grew devilish and Riku realised what he just said. And what Axel could probably see on the screen of his phone. How had he not thought this through better?

“So, have you told him how you feel about him yet?”

What,” Riku whispered loudly, trying and nearly failing to keep his voice down.

“Oh, come on, Riku. You're petting his hair.” 

“What,” Riku repeated eloquently, as loudly as he dared. “I am not petting his hair. I am…”

He sighed. That was exactly what he was doing. He softly banged his head back against the headboard and inhaled and exhaled slowly. He had known this moment was going to come. Someone was going to see how he was getting worse and worse at hiding his feelings.

Just his luck that this someone was Axel. He would never live to hear the end of it. 

“I don't wanna talk about it,” he said, teeth clenched together.

“It's okay, Riku,” Axel's voice was surprisingly gentle and Riku opened his eyes. “I know what it's like to have feelings for your best friend that you've known since childhood...”

“Yeah,” Riku nodded, quick to jump on this chance to change the subject. “Kairi told me about you and Isa. ”

It worked, as Axel's eyes lit up and his smile turned soft. 

"Yeah…" 

Riku listened silently as Axel launched into the story of how he and Isa had finally stopped dancing around each other, and Isa had asked him out on a date which had both been surprising and maybe a long time coming. 

"I'm really happy for you guys," Riku said, heartfelt, as he looked down at the mess that was Sora's brown hair. His attention was drawn to the small hairs above his ears, sticking to his temples with a hint of sweat.

“Riku?" Axel said softly, and Riku looked back at the screen. "It took us forever to figure it out, too.”

Riku wasn't sure what to do with that information, so he remained silent. His hand was still brushing through Sora's bangs, almost of its own accord. Riku could stop, but he really didn't want to. He stared at Sora, who was slowly beginning to stir.

“I gotta go, Axel.”

“Take care, Riku. Don’t be a stranger.”

Sora lifted his head from where it was lying against Riku's thigh, and he looked up at Riku through sleepy eyes. His hair was sticking in every direction, despite Riku's attempts to flatten it. He looked adorable, there was no other word for it.

And yeah, Riku thought. There was no way he would ever get over these feelings. There was no figuring it out for him. He had it figured out.

“Good morning,” he smiled.

Sora smiled back automatically, blinking into the morning light now fully engulfing the bedroom.

“I like waking up next to you,” Sora blurted out, before his cheeks turned pink and he hid his face against Riku's thigh again. 

Riku stilled the hand that was still in Sora's hair. 

What.

The silence rang between them. Riku could think of nothing to say to that. When the silence had gone on so long that it had gotten beyond awkward, Riku cleared his throat. Sora looked up at him, biting his lip, his cheeks still a little pink. He pressed his head sideways against Riku's hand where it was still buried in Sora's hair, lips curling into a smile.

Riku wondered if Sora realised what he was doing. If he didn't know any better, he'd say Sora was flirting with him. But this was Sora. The most oblivious person Riku knew. 

Whatever it was, Riku liked it. Probably a lot more than he should. It raised something in him that he had long ago buried under a layer of self-doubt and resignation. Hope. His thumb resumed its movement against Sora's forehead.

“Did you know that Axel and Isa are together now?” Riku blurted out.

Riku kicked himself mentally. Out of all the things he could have said, he had to mention the one thing that hit a little bit too close to home? Secretly, though, he wondered how Sora would react...

But all Sora did was grin wider, and the awkward mood between them disappeared with that grin. “Really? Good for them!”

Of course, Sora would think nothing of it. It wasn't in Sora's nature to question love, no matter the shape that it took.

Riku reluctantly withdrew his hand and sat up.

"Ready for me to kick your ass again?" 

Sora met his challenging grin head-on. "What do you think?" 






It started out innocently enough. They were long past the point where Riku felt like he had to hold back even a little. Sora’s grip on the darkness was now so strong that he could cast Dark Firagas and Dark Impulses without breaking a sweat, although his favourite attack had become Dark Splicer. Riku suspected that was because he had become scarily good at teleporting around Riku just when Riku least expected it. Despite the fact that his magic had improved a lot, Sora liked the simplicity of slashing at something with a keyblade.

Sora had exchanged Soul Eater for his own Kingdom Key last week, when he'd felt confident enough. The Oblivion keychain was now attached to transform the blade. The darkness was stronger when he used Oblivion.

Riku leapt into the air, his heart surging at the clash of keyblades ringing through the air. He watched carefully as Sora flipped and whirled around, feeling the surge of air as Sora teleported from left to right, and Riku barely brought up his keyblade in time to block. Riku turned, adjusting his stance, and put all of his weight into the press of blade against blade, but Sora gave as good as he got and they were at a standstill.

Finally, Riku managed to deflect their blades away to the left, letting his own keyblade swirl back around to try and get it back into a good position to swing at Sora's side.

But he was too slow.

Sora knocked Braveheart right out of Riku's hand and spun 360 degrees in a heartbeat, knocking Riku back down to the ground and pointing Oblivion at his chest. 

Riku gasped at the suddenness with which he was on his back and lifted his hands in defeat.

“Well, Master Riku,” Sora drawled, basking in the moment. “Looks like you're not the only one with tricks up their sleeve.”

“You're getting better,” Riku said, honestly startled at the speed at which Sora had moved. 

“You sound surprised,” Sora grinned. 

Riku paused for a moment, wondering how far he could take this banter. He decided to risk it. 

“Well, not a few weeks ago, I remember the situation was reversed and I had you on your back.”

He watched Sora for a darkened look or a frown, but it didn't come. Instead, a smirk tugged at the corners of his mouth. Riku did an internal victory dance. This was the Sora he knew, no leftover resentment or anger. He'd felt it before, but in this instant, he saw so clearly that Sora really had gotten a handle on the darkness.

“Well,” Sora replied, brushing back the bangs from his eyes with the palm of his hand, now smirking in earnest. "Someone told me that darkness is not inherently bad. And that using it doesn't make me a bad person."

"Sounds like a smart person."

“He's got his moments,” Sora's eyes were sparkling as he teased Riku and god, Riku felt his cheeks heat up at that look. Sora continued, “So, looks like I won.”

“We'll see about that…” Riku muttered. He summoned the keyblade that was discarded back into his hand, and in the blink of an eye, he had parried Sora's stance, knocked Sora on his back and pointed his own keyblade at Sora's chest in a reversal of their previous position. Sora gasped in shock as the breath left his lungs and Oblivion disappeared.

“Do you yield?”

“No,” Sora said stubbornly and surged.

Riku dismissed his keyblade in surprise as Sora pounced and pushed at Riku's shoulders, pressing him backwards, and then they were rolling across the grass, struggling for dominance. Riku gasped as Sora's elbow connected with his chin, and Sora took advantage of his momentary surprise to climb on top of him, pinning him to the ground.

“Ha,” Sora said triumphantly.

But his triumph was short-lived as Riku quickly turned them around, and now he was the one leaning over Sora, one knee on each side of his hips, palms on the grass next to Sora's chest. Sora dropped his head back against the ground with a sharp intake of breath. 

Their faces were so close Riku could count every single freckle scattered across Sora's suntanned cheeks and the bridge of his nose. It would be the easiest thing, to lean down and press their lips together, Riku thought. Sora would taste like sweat and sunshine and cool water. His eyes would flutter closed and he would shiver underneath Riku as Riku ran his tongue across Sora's bottom lip. Riku would slip a hand into his hair to bring him closer and move to shift one leg between Sora's…

Oh, shit.

He swallowed thickly and forced his mind back to the present. Sora was watching him intently. The air was thick between them and electricity thrummed under Riku's skin. Sora's chest was heaving beneath him, his arms flung out to the side. His tongue came out to lick at his upper lip. 

Riku froze.

Oh, shit. Oh, fuck...

With incredible difficulty, he tore his gaze away and rolled off Sora. “I win.” He winced at the roughness in his voice.

Before Riku could dwell on what had just happened, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye, and he was on his feet in an instant.

This time, he could see the cause of the movement. It was not hidden in the shadows now. Standing there, at the other end of their sparring clearing, stood a figure in a black coat, hood up to cover his face. His arms were crossed in front of his chest, and even though Riku couldn't see beneath the hood, he could sense the gaze that was on them.

Riku summoned Braveheart back into his hand and took a step forward, holding out the blade to his side in a feeble attempt to shield Sora, even though the figure wasn’t doing anything yet. Behind him, he heard Sora scrambling to his feet.

“Who are you?” Riku called out angrily. “What do you want with us?”

But the figure remained silent. Then, without a sound, a dark portal emerged just behind it, and the figure took a step back to be engulfed by the murky shadows, leaving without a trace.

Riku's entire body was shaking, and he was unable to release the tight grip on his keyblade. He turned to Sora, who looked just as distressed, maybe even more so.

“Who was that?” Sora asked, taking a step closer to Riku. He reached out, and Riku released some of the tension he was holding as Sora grabbed his free hand. He shot a final look over his shoulder, scanning every inch of the clearing, but the figure was gone.

“I don't know,” Riku said, voice unsteady now that the adrenaline was wearing off.

“He looked like he was with the Organization,” Sora said thoughtfully. “But we defeated all of them...didn't we?”

“I wish I knew, Sora,” Riku shook his head. "Looks like this is now one more mystery for us to figure out.”







And just like that, their time in the Enchanted Dominion came to an end. Riku had known that it would, but he still couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. The weeks they had spent here had been good for both of them, and he didn't want to give up the easy routine they had found. He wished they could stay longer, but both of them knew that duty called. They needed to find more answers to what was happening. 

On their last morning, they fixed the bridge, the last thing that was left to rebuild. When it was done, they stood to look at it in silence for long moments, both of them more than a little proud.

“Told you I was good at rebuilding things,” Sora chipped, bumping his shoulder into Riku's.

“I guess so,” Riku said easily. “Guess after all this time, you can still surprise me.”

As if on cue, the three fairies entered the forest clearing, followed by a pair that Riku knew had to be Prince Philip and Princess Aurora. The fairies gasped in unison at the sight in front of them and hurried over to Sora and Riku.

“Oooh,” Fauna spoke up first. “You did it!”

“Oh my,” Merryweather said. “That must have been some hard work!”

“We're ever so grateful,” Flora added.

“It was nothing,” Sora folded his arms behind his head, tilting it in his trademark gesture.

“It looks like it was quite something,” the young woman behind the fairies spoke up. She was holding the young man's hand, and her smile was radiant. 

“Oh, Princess Aurora, right? And you’re Prince Philip?” Sora said, beaming. “It's so nice to meet you. It was our pleasure to help you out.”

"And you must be Sora and Riku," Prince Philip said. "I'm sorry we couldn't come and see you sooner. I'm afraid we have been quite busy with rebuilding our castle."

"Aw," Sora shrugged. "It's fine. We managed to entertain ourselves, didn't we, Riku?"

"We've certainly been busy, yeah," Riku agreed with a smile. Then he turned serious. “Fauna, Flora, Merryweather, did you see anyone strange around these parts in the past few weeks?”

“No, we haven't,” Merryweather said. “But we have felt that something was not right. Something dark has been here, it seemed to flicker in and out of this world.”

"Something dark that wasn't your magic," Flora added. "We could tell that your darkness was controlled, used for good. This other darkness…"

"We've never felt anything like that before," Fauna said seriously. "Not even when Maleficent was here…" 

And if Riku hadn't been concerned enough before, this last statement was definitely something that sent his mind spiralling into overdrive. Something darker and more powerful than Maleficent? What on earth were they dealing with this time?

He shot a glance to his side and found Sora looking at him. They shared a worried look.

“It's gone now, though," Merryweather broke through Riku's thoughts. "We haven't felt it since yesterday.”

"Hmmm,” Riku said. “At least that's something.” He turned to Sora. “We should go. I want to find out more about this person. They must be connected to what's been happening to you.”

“Oh,” Aurora spoke up in regret. “Are you leaving so soon?”

“Don't worry,” Sora said. “We'll be back some day to visit again."

"We'd like that," Philip said. "You're welcome anytime."


art by: amberwing ❤️❤️❤️

Chapter Text

If there was one thing that Sora had learned during their journey so far, it was that travelling with Riku was wildly different from travelling with Donald and Goofy. 

For one thing, Riku was calm and never really panicked. He never yelled at Sora for nearly hitting asteroids with the ship (and not even for hitting the edge of a Boost Ring that one time, either) or missing a healing spell during battle. 

He was meticulously organised. Where on his previous journeys, Sora used to be the one who would insist they stock up on potions, Goofy trusting Donald's healing magic a little too much at times, Riku was even more insisting. Sora's stash of potions and ethers had never been as big as it was now.

After leaving the Enchanted Dominion, the next world they came across was the Kingdom of Corona. Since this had been Sora's favourite world on his previous journey (and definitely the world he'd sent Riku the most selfies from), he was strangely giddy to be able to show Riku all of the sights for real this time.

That was, if they ever got through all of these Heartless that kept popping up between the gummi ship and the bridge to the capital...

It was probably a good thing, Sora thought, as he was late with his block against the Powerwild and then too distracted to recover himself mid-air, that Riku made him carry all of these extra potions. He spun around in the air, flailing, attempting to right himself while also trying to figure out which way to direct his Firaga spell. A flash of sunlight distracted him for a moment, the brightness glinting off of Braveheart as Riku spun it towards a Chief Puff. Sora launched his Firaga but it missed its mark spectacularly.

As he crashed into a patch of pink and yellow flowers, he heard Riku's worried “Sora?”

“I'm okay!” He yelled back, launching into a Dark Splicer that finished off the Powerwild.

Riku made plans. He never charged headfirst into a battle, he assessed their escape routes beforehand. He analysed the enemy, made an actual plan of attack. He pulled Sora back by the hood of his vest to discuss and coordinate their attacks when the only thought on Sora's mind was hey, look, Heartless! Sora wasn't used to any of this.

Riku really was a Keyblade Master and it showed.

And while Sora had never felt unsafe travelling with Goofy and Donald, and he could always talk to them, knew they always had his back…being with Riku was something else entirely. Riku was his anchor. Just looking at Riku made him feel grounded and secure. And now that he had figured out how to use the darkness in him, Riku was literally his light whenever he called upon it. It made him feel jittery in the best kind of way, made something warm and comfortable flow through his every nerve. He'd never felt anything like it before.

Now free from Heartless trying to jump him, Sora watched with no small amount of pride as Riku spun around gracefully, moving his keyblade so fast and effortlessly through the air as if it was nothing. He infused the blade with a little thunder and smashed it into the last Chief Puff, which vanished into thin air, leaving behind a small pink heart that floated off in the distance.

Riku shot a quick look over his shoulder and inclined his head just a little when he saw Sora standing up straight, if a little dishevelled.

Sora wondered if he'd ever get used to fighting side by side with Riku. If it would ever stop being this amazing.

Whenever Sora thought back to the time they had spent training in the Enchanted Forest, his insides would burn a little. Donald and Goofy had never trained with him in the way that Riku had taught him to use the darkness. Always patient, never condescending, showing him over and over how to channel the darkness, how to focus on the light, on Riku

Donald and Goofy had sometimes practised with him; magic spells or blocks and parries, short sessions between setting up camp and making dinner, or in the morning before they'd set out again. But that had been nothing like this. Donald's magic training could consist of a few unintelligible quacks if Sora didn't understand a new magic spell right away, and Goofy could occasionally become distracted when he was parrying Sora's attacks, leading to more injury than necessary. It was nothing like Riku's patience and focus.

Sora shivered when he remembered how their last sparring session had ended. Riku above him, pinning him to the ground, eyes dark and breath coming out way too fast. The charge in the air around them that Sora had felt deep inside of him somehow.

It had changed something between them. He couldn't put his finger on what it was, or even if that was the exact moment it had happened. Because Sora had noticed that ever since they'd set out from the Mysterious Tower, Riku had grown more free with his touches and his smiles. Touches and smiles that Sora was more than happy to return. Sometimes he wondered if things had always been like this between them, but he had just forgotten during the time he'd been gone? 

Whatever it was, Sora was hyper-aware of Riku's every move, all the time. He noticed the way Riku kept glancing at him with this look on his face, especially when he thought Sora wasn't paying attention… Sora wasn't sure what to make of that.

It didn't worry him. He liked it. He liked having all of Riku's attention on him. 

What was more, he liked how for some reason, for the first time in years, it felt like he could breathe a little easier. Even though they had been in the Enchanted Dominion with a purpose, somehow it also felt like they had all the time in the world. He remembered lying on the grass, just being, pausing, breathing. Basking in Riku's presence by his side, for the first time in years. He had felt relaxed and calm, despite their training, and despite the darkness still looming over him.

In fact, he still felt that way. Sure, they had something of a mission, trying to figure out who the man in the dark coat was, and what the reason behind the darkness in Sora was. And while that was worrying, it wasn't as if anyone was being immediately threatened. Sora's nightmares had completely stopped, and he could channel his darkness now in a way that was freeing and exhilarating. There was no real rush to get anywhere. It was nice. It was more than nice.

But maybe that was just the effect Riku had on him, Sora mused, as he watched Riku let his keyblade disappear and roll his shoulders.

A few Heartless battles later and they finally made it to the bridge to Corona's capital. As they were walking side by side through the cobbled streets, Sora realised another perk of Riku being by his side. When Sora was paying more attention to the bright colourful flags and banners and the assorted flowers hanging from the buildings than to where he was going, Riku's hand on his back steered him away from the crates and gutters he would otherwise have stumbled into. 

Sora sighed happily as he stared up at the purple garlands and the yellow lanterns contrasted against the bright blue sky. “Isn't it beautiful?”

“Yeah,” Riku agreed, dodging a pair of children racing towards the market square. “I can see why this was your favourite world.”

Sora beamed sideways and wasn't really surprised to find Riku already looking at him with his lips curled up in a half-smile, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

“Can you believe we managed to get here just in time for the festival?” Sora said as he basked in the sound of birds chirping over the fiddles playing in the distance. “It’s gonna be amazing. Do you know what they do on the night of the festival?”

“I do actually,” Riku said, as he grabbed Sora's elbow to pull him away from an incoming horse and cart. “You sent me dozens of pictures last time. But you can tell me again.”

“They release thousands of lanterns, from all across the capital. It’s…” Sora sighed again, smiling at the memory of lanterns in the night-sky above Corona. “You’d like it. We totally need to watch it together.”

Riku's hand remained on his elbow and Sora stumbled into him when he tripped over a loose cobblestone. As Riku steadied Sora, his smile was soft and fond. “Okay.”

Once they got to the marketplace, Sora looked around eagerly, thinking back to the last time he'd been here. He was half-expecting Rapunzel to be dancing across the square as she had before, but she was probably too busy preparing for the festival. He swept his gaze across the square's edges, taking in the fruit stands, the jugglers and the crowds until he caught sight of the back of a familiar turquoise vest across a long-sleeved white shirt and an unruly head of brown hair. 

“Hey!” Sora called, running over to where Eugene was talking to a shopkeeper. He threw a quick glance over his shoulder as he ran to make sure that Riku was following him, which he was. Just not at Sora's pace. “Eugene!”

The brown-haired man turned around in surprise, eyebrows raised to his hairline, before breaking out into a grin when he realised who had shouted his name. “Hey! It's good to see you again, Sora.”

Sora ground to a halt before him. “You too! Where's Rapunzel?”

“Oh, she's back at the castle, fussing over all the decorations and the planning for the festival. I had to get out of there. Actually, I—” He broke off as Riku appeared at Sora's shoulder. “Where are the duck and that long-eared dog you were with?”

“Donald and Goofy? Oh, they're in another wo—” Sora caught himself as Riku elbowed him just a little harder than was strictly necessary. “Uhm. I mean. They're not here? They had other things to do.”

“Oh,” Eugene frowned a little, then looked over to Riku. “And who's this?”

“This is Riku!” Sora exclaimed, leaning a little into Riku's side just as Riku nodded briefly at Eugene. “He’s my best friend."

Eugene nodded back and reached out to shake Riku's hand. "Right, I remember. Sora talked a lot about you last time he was here. It’s nice to meet you, Riku."

"Looks like we made it just in time for the festival, right?” Sora exclaimed as he rolled onto the balls of his feet.

“You did, yeah,” Eugene nodded before his expression turned thoughtful. “And actually… Right on time for me as well.”

“Why’s that?” Riku asked from Sora’s side. His hand made its way to Sora's lower back again, just lightly resting, even though there was nothing to steer Sora away from now. Sora felt his skin tingling through two layers of fabric.

“Well,” Eugene looked around for a moment, dropping his voice to a whisper so they had to lean close to hear over the chattering crowds and laughing children in the square. As Sora moved forward, Riku's hand on his back slid up a little in a way that sent a shiver up Sora's spine. 

“I have this surprise for Rapunzel,” Eugene continued. “I had a very special necklace made for her birthday, and I wanted to give it to her at the festival.”

“Aww,” Sora grinned. “I’m sure she’ll love that!”

“Yeah, well,” Eugene sighed deeply. “The thing is, I need to go and have it picked up from the village blacksmith at the other side of the kingdom. Beyond the tower.”

“So why are you still here?”

“Because I can't leave now, in the middle of all the preparations. She'd know for sure something was up.” Eugene sighed again, shrugging his shoulders. “I've been trying to find someone to go in my place, but everyone wants to stay here for the festival…”

“Leave it to us!” Sora blurted out as he leaned back, flexing his arms, and Riku burst out laughing next to him. 

“What?” Sora turned, lips forming into a pout before he could stop himself.

“God, you're such a dork,” Riku laughed, shaking his head a little.

“Hey, that's—” Sora began, but he was quickly distracted by Eugene's eager whoop.

“You will? Thank you so much!” Eugene grinned. “Let me show you to the castle, you'll have to stay there tonight. Rapunzel would love to see you. And then you can leave first thing in the morning. Remember, you have to be back in four days time, that's the night of the festival.”

“Not a problem,” Sora reassured him. “We'll make it.”







Rapunzel hadn't changed at all. She was every bit as enthusiastic and giddy as Sora remembered and it was hard to believe it had been almost a year since he'd last seen her.

She stood in the castle's entrance hall, sparkling in her purple ankle-length dress, directing people this way and that, pointing at things that needed to be moved, a long to-do-list in her hand. Her brown hair was longer now, tied up in a small bun with strands falling out and flying around her because she kept whipping her head around at the speed of light as she was keeping track of everything.

She seemed to have taken well to her newfound princess role.

Her eyes were bright and wide when she caught sight of Eugene, Sora and Riku and rushed over to meet them.

"Sora!" 

"Hi, Rapunzel!" 

"And you must be Riku." Rapunzel clapped her hands together before leaning forward to shake Riku's hand with vigour. "It's so good to finally meet you! Sora never stopped talking about you the last time he was here."

"Did he now..." Riku murmured as Rapunzel wildly shook his hand up and down. 

"Rapunzel…" Sora whined, rubbing his neck to try and hide the way his cheeks flushed an embarrassing pink.

"What?" Rapunzel said innocently. "It's true. You were all Oh, Riku would like this. Here let me take a picture to send to Riku." 

As she pretended to take selfies with an invisible camera for a few seconds, Sora's blush deepened. But he didn't miss Riku's pleased little smile, and somehow that made it a little less embarrassing.

"Here." Rapunzel shoved the list and pen in her hand towards Eugene. "You're gonna have to take over for a bit. I'm gonna show Sora and Riku around the castle!" 

And so they got the whole castle tour with free commentary. Rapunzel showed them the large hallways, the winding staircases and the inner courtyard, pointing out a few places of interest — boring old wood carvings and weathered statues — but mostly all the secret corridors and the best hide-and-seek locations she had discovered over the past year. 

Sora got really into it, asking all sorts of questions about how she'd discovered the corridors (the servants seem very keen on using them…) and if she was really that good at hide-and-seek ("the best. Eugene doesn't want to play with me anymore. Once it took him more than three hours to find me…"). Riku seemed content to listen and watch, smiling a little at the way Sora and Rapunzel hyped each other up more and more as the tour went on. 

As they got to the guest wing, Rapunzel paused for a moment, tilting her head.

“You’re gonna have to share a room, though," Rapunzel said, a little apologetically. "Because of the festival, we’re a little short on rooms in the castle.”

“That’s okay,” Sora grinned with a slightly coy sideways glance. “We don’t mind, do we, Riku?”

"I guess we’ll manage," Riku said teasingly, with a wink that left Sora blinking in surprise for a few seconds.

Rapunzel blinked a few times as well, her gaze flicking from Riku to Sora and back again, and she was about to open her mouth, something like realisation dawning on her face when Riku held up a hand and shook his head. 

She frowned but closed her mouth again. 

Sora blinked a few more times, a little confused by this silent conversation between them, but neither Rapunzel nor Riku offered up any further explanation.

After Rapunzel showed them to their room, she excused herself, explaining she still had a long list of tasks to get through, which really couldn't wait any longer. 

"Oh, please, go," Sora said, all but shoving her out of the door. "We'll keep ourselves entertained!"

"Dinner's at six!" Rapunzel said over her shoulder from the hallway. "Please join us there."

As if on cue, Riku's Gummiphone rang the moment the guest room door fell shut. Riku pulled it out of his pocket and took a look at the screen. 

"It's Mickey," he told Sora, accepting the video call. 

"Hi, fellas!" came Mickey's cheerful voice over the speaker. "How are you doing?"

Sora watched as Riku kicked off his boots and sat down on one of the twin beds, setting himself against the headboard and balancing the phone against his knee. 

"Hi, Mickey, it's good to see you," Riku smiled, the words coming out easily. Sora was struck by the way he relaxed into the conversation. Sora knew there weren't a lot of people who Riku was truly comfortable around, and Sora would always be grateful for the fact that Mickey was one of them. It had made it a little easier, every time they'd been apart, knowing that Mickey was Riku's friend, too.

As Riku launched into an account of their time in Arendelle and the Enchanted Dominion, Sora followed Riku's example, removing his shoes and jacket before settling in by Riku's side. He gave Mickey a small wave, and Mickey nodded at him as he made himself comfortable, scooting closer so his arm was pressed against Riku's. It was a bit of a tight fit on the bed, but they managed.

"So," Mickey summarised after Riku was done. "You've been training hard for the past few weeks. That's really good. And it seems I am a bit late with my news. You've come across him already..."

"You know who he is?" Riku asked, leaning forward a little, his elbow brushing against Sora's with the movement.

"Master Yen Sid has been researching a lot. We both have. You know how he gets, he can't rest until he gets to the bottom of something he doesn't understand."

Riku and Sora both nodded.

Mickey sighed, looking up at something Sora couldn't see for a moment before continuing. "We've only found out a little about him. He calls himself the Master."

"That's…pretty vague," Riku frowned.

"It was hard to find any information on him. He's shrouded in mysteries. It's probably why we've never heard anything about him before."

"What does he want?" Sora asked eagerly, leaning in towards the phone as well.

"We're not really sure yet," Mickey said slowly, not perturbed by Sora and Riku's excitement. He paused again, clearly not comfortable with the news he was bringing them. "But some of the more obscure texts we found mention a χ-blade…" 

"A χ-blade? Again?" Sora gasped. He thought back to the χ-blade he'd gotten from Xehanort. Somehow, he'd thought that was the χ-blade. He hadn't realised there might be others as well. Or that more people might try and create one...

"It's not like the one Xehanort tried to create," Mickey went on, answering Sora's unasked question. "Xehanort tried a number of different ways, and he managed to create a true χ-blade in the end. That's the one you now have, Sora. But Master Yen Sid discovered an ancient text about something called the ultimate χ-blade. It is written that it can be created through something that's called the 'fusion of hearts'." 

Sora tilted his head. "So this Master wants the ultimate χ-blade? What does he want that for?"

Riku picked up on something else. "A fusion of hearts?"

Mickey shrugged, an unusual gesture for him. "There's more. I wish I wouldn't have to tell you guys this. You've been through so much already. I wish you wouldn't have to worry about something like this…"

"It's okay," Sora said, and he really meant it. "We're good."

Riku nodded. "Please, go on, Mickey."

"The ultimate χ-blade is created through a fusion of hearts. But also by joining light and darkness. As it is written, light shall be infused by darkness, and darkness shall be infused by light…" Mickey trailed off again.

"Mickey?" Riku asked softly.

"Oh, sorry,” Mickey visibly shook himself.

"Is that all?" There was an odd undertone to Riku's voice.

"All?" Sora glanced at him. "This is a lot. You want more?" 

Riku was silent, waiting for Mickey to continue, but Mickey was staring off to the side, seemingly not having anything else to say. Riku frowned and leaned back against the headboard, exhaling with a small huff of air. 

"We talked to Kairi and Axel," Riku changed the subject. "You sent them texts on the abyss and the Lich, right?" 

Mickey nodded. "Ienzo and Kairi have done a great job translating them. We now know for sure what we suspected. That the price to pay for traversing worlds with the power of waking is a heart susceptible to darkness. That's what Young Xehanort meant before." 

“Yeah,” Riku said, biting his lip and shooting a sideways look at Sora.

“Sora, I have to ask,” Mickey's voice was firm but gentle. “Are you handling the darkness?”

"Yes," Sora said wholeheartedly, with a glance at Riku. He was once again struck by how bright and sincere Riku's eyes were. A feeling that Sora was more and more associating with light blossomed in his chest. He smiled.

"I'm glad," Mickey said earnestly, and Sora was almost startled by the words, nearly having forgotten they were in the middle of a phone call. "I'll let you know when we know more, okay?" 

"Okay," Riku said. "Take care, Mickey."

"You too! Be safe!" Mickey nodded and waved before the Gummiphone screen went black.

After the call ended, Riku turned to Sora with a frown. "There's something he's not telling us." 

"Really?" Sora hadn't noticed. Then again, Riku probably knew Mickey a lot better than Sora did.

"Yeah," Riku turned his head to stare out of the window for a long moment. "Guess we'll need to do some more investigating on our own."

"Like our own personal adventure!" Sora exclaimed, and Riku chuckled and turned back to face him.

"Sort of like that, yeah."

Following the phone call, Riku and Sora explored the castle some more to pass the time until dinner. Riku was pensive and quiet as they roamed the hallways. Sora didn't like it.

"Are you worried about what Mickey said?" 

"No," Riku shrugged a little. "Not about what he said. But I can't help but think about the things he didn't say."

"About the χ-blade?" 

Riku nodded.

Sora summoned his χ-blade in the middle of the castle hallway, amazed as always by the way the light caught the colours. But also by how awkward and big it felt in his hand. This blade wasn't meant for him. He'd always felt that, but never as acutely as now.

Riku reached out and traced two fingers across the hilt. His hand was shaking a little.

"We've seen the lengths Xehahort went to create this. If there's an even more powerful χ-blade out there… How far will this Master go to get his hands on it?" 

For the first time in weeks, Sora felt a small pang of something close to fear. If Riku was worried… Then he shook himself. 

"I'm not scared," Sora said, letting the blade disappear. He stepped in front of Riku and reached out both hands to rest them on Riku's hips, slipping them underneath the jacket against the white cotton shirt. "I know we can handle whatever this Master throws at us."

"Sora…" Riku's eyes narrowed a little.

"I mean it," Sora said vehemently. "I really feel we can."

Riku's skin was so warm, even through the shirt. It was a little distracting. There was a kind of tension in Riku's muscles and when Sora splayed his fingers, he felt a tiny tremor pass through them.

Riku let out a soft sigh, and although the look he gave Sora was a little pained, Sora felt some of the tension flowing out of the muscles beneath his fingers with the shaky exhale of breath.

"Okay," Riku said weakly. "Let's go with that. But first, dinner?" 

Sora, who was always up for food, nodded and reluctantly let go of Riku.







When they woke the next morning, the weather had done a complete 180 from the previous day. Sora opened the curtains to a sea of grey clouds, all colour drained from the world. It was pouring, the rain coming down in sheets so thick that Sora had to strain to see beyond the castle courtyard.

From behind him on the bed, Riku groaned as he opened his eyes. “You have got to be kidding me…”

Sora's grinned at the look of disgust on Riku’s face. “Oh, come on, Riku, it's just a little rain! Don't tell me you're going to melt…”

“I didn't sign up for this,” Riku grumbled as he rolled around onto his stomach, pressing his face into the pillow as if that would make the rain magically disappear. 

Sora's grin turned a little more devious. He might have to reconsider his previous thoughts about Riku being a sensible keyblade Master. Right now, he looked every inch the sulky teenage boy. Only his silver hair was visible from below the covers.

“We could leave tomorrow,” Riku suggested, his voice taking on a hopeful tone, if a little muffled by the pillow.

“Nice try, Riku. But we need to be back in time for the festival in three days.”

Riku turned onto his back again, threw a hand over his eyes and sighed dramatically. 

Sora honestly didn't mind the rain. He had survived through a blizzard and a heatwave already. Rain just made things wet. Also, he was too excited about the upcoming trip to really care.

He whistled as he rummaged through his backpack, looking for his bright yellow raincoat (the one coat he had managed to bring).

He supposed maybe he didn't mind the rain because he finally got to show Riku this place. What was a little rain when he had that to look forward to? Surely Corona would just be as beautiful in the rain.

When he mentioned this to Riku, Riku's mouth snapped shut, and he stopped complaining. Although the look on his face when he put on his own dark blue raincoat could not have been mistaken for anything other than utter dismay.

They set out after breakfast, Sora at a brisk pace, nearly humming with excitement, Riku a few steps behind. They were both drenched before they even left the capital's cobblestone streets and reached the foot of the slope up to the wildflower clearing.

Sora could tell Riku was trying really hard not to be too grumpy and for now, that was probably enough.

There was an earthy smell in the air and the sounds of the grasslands were all hushed. No chirping birds, no humming insects, the only sounds for miles the continuous raindrops on the leaves of the plants around them. It wasn't a surprise that they were the only ones on the road.

To make matters even more interesting, and as Sora had suspected after yesterday's welcoming battles, there were a lot of Heartless in Corona. They hadn't even gotten to the crossroads on the first hill before they were ambushed by a pair of Water Cores.

Strangely enough, fighting seemed to cheer Riku up a little. With a slight smirk at Sora, he raised a hand and called on a Thundaga spell that snapped the two Water Cores out of existence just like that.

Sora, who had only just summoned his keyblade by the time the Heartless had already faded, let out a low whistle. “Show off.”

As they continued, the rain continued to fall, making the ground ever more succulent below their feet. Within half an hour, everything was soaked, water running into their shoes and down their faces, and Sora might as well not have bothered with the raincoat. The hood helped a little, but not even a raincoat held up against this kind of weather. 

The grass was slippery underneath their feet and it was slow-going up the hill.

And still, Sora remained cheerful. He caught himself whistling in between battles, and there was a skip to his step that he didn't remember having before. He still didn't know exactly why he was so happy. By all means, the information they'd received from Mickey yesterday should maybe worry him, or at the very least, make him ponder things, but he found he just couldn't really be bothered. Not by the new knowledge and not by the rain.

But with every step, Riku's face fell a little more. 

They continued through the wildflower clearing. At the top of the final hill, Sora turned around to look back across the clearing and the capital in the distance. Despite the rain and the grey skies, the place was strikingly beautiful. Everything was so green and lush, even though most of the flowers had retreated into themselves and the rain had sucked most of the colour from the world. It was still something special.

Next to him, Riku pushed back his hood a little to reveal wet strands of hair plastered to his forehead. Sora couldn’t help but smile at the slight pout on his face.

“I know you don’t like this,” he started, and Riku turned to look at him. “And yeah, it would’ve been nicer if it wasn’t raining. But I’m still happy to be here with you.”

“You’re just saying that to cheer me up,” Riku grumbled, and Sora tilted his head and let his eyes widen just a little. Riku pursed his lips. “Don’t give me that look.”

“It’s working, though,” Sora took a step closer, reaching up to push Riku’s hair back from his face, so he could look into his eyes. “Isn’t it.”

“It’s not,” Riku huffed, but Sora could see his resolve wavering, could see the slight uptilt to the corners of his mouth.

But Sora knew he could do better than that.

He took another step, so the toes of his shoes were touching Riku’s. The ground underneath him squelched with the movement, and Sora had to grab Riku’s raincoat to keep himself from slipping on the muddy grass. He stretched up on his tiptoes and pressed his lips to Riku's cold, wet cheek. Riku's skin tasted like raindrops and a little sweat, and Sora kept the touch there longer than strictly necessary as his fingers curled into the smooth, coated fabric of the coat. He felt Riku sigh and relax a little, leaning just a little into the touch.

When Sora pulled back, Riku was definitely smiling, and Sora could swear he saw something like a blush rising across his cheeks. Although that could’ve been from the cold and the rain.

“Are you cheered up yet?” Sora couldn’t bring himself to step back just yet, enjoying the way Riku’s eyes were looking at a point over Sora's right shoulder, a little glassy.

He licked his lips, fascinated by the taste and the tingling sensation that remained.

“Shut up,” Riku muttered, but there was no heat behind the words.

“I’m gonna take that as a yes,” Sora reluctantly let go of Riku’s coat, and turned his back on the clearing and the capital, facing once more the direction in which they were going.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Riku bringing a hand to the cheek where Sora’s lips had just been, shaking his head a little. But he was still smiling, so mission accomplished.

The rain continued to fall, not letting up for a single moment. After dozens of Heartless battles in the wetlands, and then long miles through the marsh, they were halfway through the hills just as the sun was beginning to set.

For the first time that day, Sora started to feel a little nervous. Camping out here, in this weather, would not be a good idea.

Riku was probably thinking the same thing. He pulled out their soggy map and traced his fingers across the roads, measuring the distance as Sora leaned closer to see as well. 

“Let’s keep going,” Riku said after a few moments. “The tower is close. Probably half an hour to go.”

Sora, who had been steadily getting more tired for the past hours, nodded in agreement. There were fewer Heartless here, but still they came across a few parties of Powerwilds in the hills. Sora knew he was getting slower, not as quick with his teleports as earlier today. Riku still lashed out with Thunder spells, but Sora could tell he was getting tired as well, having downgraded from his earlier Thundaga spells.

And then, finally, mercifully, when the grey skies turned darker and darker as the hidden sun went down, Sora spotted the cave that would lead them to the secluded spot where the tower was. He didn't think he could stand to see even one more Heartless, and even his cheerfulness had finally subsided. The moment when they'd be inside, out of the downpour and into a place where it was warm and dry and they could have food, couldn't come soon enough.

They entered the (now deserted) tower through the secret entrance and made their way to the very top. Rapunzel's old room was a little dusty now, having not been used in some time, but there was a bed and a fireplace, and it was dry and that was all that mattered.

First things first, though. Sora peeled off most of his wet clothes, dropping them in a heap on the floor, as Riku stacked half a dozen logs in the fireplace and set them alight with a few small Fire spells.

As soon as the fire was burning, Sora sat as close as he could, basking in the searing heat, spreading out his arms as if that would make him dry up faster. Riku chuckled and shook his head a little.

Then Sora suddenly realised just how tired he was, and he curled into himself instead, setting his chin on top of his knees.

Riku found a chest with blankets in the corner of the room. As Sora watched through half-lidded eyes, Riku stripped down to his underwear as well and then rummaged through the chest, coming up with two purple blankets covered in bright yellow stars. He draped one around his own shoulders and came over to wrap the other one around Sora from behind. 

Sora's arms came up to cover Riku's as the blanket was put around him, his fingers curling around Riku’s now warm wrists. He knew he was clinging a little, but Riku didn't seem to mind. In fact, Riku leaned more of his weight against Sora's back, enveloping him in a tight hug from behind. Sora relaxed against Riku’s chest, tension flowing out of him like a Cura spell.

He loved how Riku had become so sure of himself, so free with his affection. He loved that they could share moments like this, and both draw strength and comfort from it.

Maybe that was the reason why he didn't feel bothered by what Mickey had or hadn't said. Because Sora knew that if he was with Riku, he was at his strongest, and they could handle anything the world threw at them. 

“Hey,” Riku started, his voice low against Sora's ear. “We need to eat. Do you want me to cook?”

Sora wanted to protest, saying he was definitely the better cook out of the two of them, but he was honestly too tired to lift his arms more than he’d done now to hug Riku, much less cut carrots or lift pans onto a fire. He let himself lean back into Riku's embrace more, shaking his head and then nodding, his hair brushing against Riku’s cheek.

“Use your words, Sora,” Riku muttered.

“Okay,” Sora drawled. “But cut the carrots into tiny pieces. And don't boil the rice too long, it'll get sticky.”

Riku chuckled behind him. “Yes, master chef.”

Sora watched, with the blanket tugged around himself, as Riku prepared a meal from the carrots they had found along the road and the rice they had brought with them. 

Despite the fire and the blanket, Sora was shivering. 

The warm food helped a little, but even after dinner, Sora was still cold. After Riku had cleaned up, he tried to dry their clothes with small Aero spells with moderate success, and then hung them out to dry. When he was done, he joined Sora in front of the fire again. 

Sora felt his eyes droop involuntarily. He leaned into Riku’s side and Riku shifted his blanket so he could slide his arm into Sora's blanket to wrap it around Sora's waist, pulling him closer. Sora's skin burned at the contact, and he melted even more into Riku's side. Pressed sideways into Riku's chest, close to the rapid beat of Riku's heart, he finally stopped shivering.

He put his head onto Riku's shoulder and stared into the fire. The flames were dancing wildly, and Sora followed the little sparks that emerged at the top with heavy-lidded eyes. He yawned, struggling to keep his eyes open.

Sora suddenly realised that over the past years, he had always been on the move. He'd always been preoccupied with one thing or the other. Finding Kairi, finding Riku, finding a way to defeat Xehanort. He couldn't remember the last time he'd really allowed himself a moment's rest. There had never been any time to relax and reflect. 

And even though Sora supposed they were still preoccupied now, trying to find out more about yet another adversary, he was struck again by how it felt different this time. Easier. 

“I'm glad you are with me.” The words left Sora before he'd fully thought them through. He lifted his head from Riku's shoulder to look up at him. “I'm glad you're looking out for me.”

Riku's soft, fond smile made Sora's heart flutter, tiredness suddenly forgotten.

“And I’m glad you’re here with me, Sora,” Riku said. The flames of the fire were reflected in his eyes, and Sora leaned just a little closer to admire the sight.

Then Riku wet his lips, and Sora leaned back again to take in his entire face. Riku's eyebrows set in a determined little frown. “Although, you're not doing too bad yourself. You've come a long way.”

“Thanks to you.”

Riku shook his head. “No, that's all thanks to you. You're the strongest person I know. I just wish you could see that. The way I see it.”

Sora didn’t reply, although he didn’t really agree. He did feel stronger, and he felt more sure of himself than ever. But he never felt this more than when he looked at Riku, as if he could literally feel the light in Riku strengthen every good thing inside of him.

“Sora,” Riku tried again. “You don't need me to look out for you. You can do all of that yourself.”

“Yeah, well,” Sora mumbled. “Even if that was true, I don't want to do it all myself.”

Riku was silent for a long time. “That’s okay, too. I’ll always protect you, as long as you want me to.”

“I’ll always want you to,” Sora said quickly.

Riku twisted his body, so he was sitting sideways. The movement made his arm brush across Sora’s back, and Sora shivered again, but this time not from the cold. With his other hand, Riku reached out to smooth the now dry bangs away from Sora's forehead. There was a moment where neither of them spoke, and Sora held his breath in an unexpected kind of anticipation.

Then Riku leaned in and pressed a brief kiss to Sora's forehead. Sora exhaled and relaxed, closing his eyes. With his eyes closed, he suddenly realised again just how tired he was, and when Riku pulled back, he felt himself sway a little.

Riku chuckled, and Sora felt the noise rumble through him. 

“C'mon, sleepyhead,” Riku said, standing to pull Sora up with him. “Time for bed.”

Sora let Riku lead him to the bed, and he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

When they woke up the next morning, curled around each other as had become their habit, it was to the sounds of chirping birds and hammering woodpeckers. One look out of the window confirmed that the weather had gone back to Corona's trademark sunshine and blue skies, barely a handful of puffy wide clouds in sight.

Despite the rain and the long day yesterday, Sora had still enjoyed the trip. But yesterday had nothing on today, and if he'd been excited yesterday, he was buzzing today. 

That might have to do with the fact that Riku was oddly cheerful again, his eyes bright and his lips pulled up in a soft smile from the moment he woke up.

When they set out through the forest towards the blacksmith's town, and Sora dashed ahead, not able to just walk, needing to fly, Riku shot him this knowing look again, like he had it all figured out. The look that he had been giving Sora a lot, lately. And Sora wanted to ask him What? What is it that you know? What am I missing? but for some reason, he was afraid of the answer.

Instead, he focused on the feel of soft leaves and needles below his feet and the overwhelming smell of pinecones in the air. As he dashed ahead, he was struck by the visible dew on the spiderwebs between the tree branches and the sunlight filtering through the branches. The sound of singing birds mixed with the ribbiting of frogs and the rush of rustling leaves. It was like moving through a dream. Every time he looked back to see if Riku was keeping up, he felt light, like he would just float away if he looked long enough.

There were less Heartless around here and with the improved weather they made good progress through the hills. Halfway through the afternoon, they reached the final hill and paused for a moment to look at the village lying in the valley below. The road downhill was flanked by daisies, dandelions and poppies, bright and colourful against the green grass. 

"Hey," Sora said suddenly, "You wanna try something?" 

Riku shot him a dubious look. "That…depends…"

Sora grinned and summoned his keyblade.

"Ven taught me this. He sent me a video of him showing off his moves to Aqua and Terra, and I practised it during my time away…" 

Sora held up his keyblade and thought about the way he wanted to transform it. With a loud snap, small metal appendages erupted from all around, transforming the blade into… 

"A skateboard?" Riku gasped. 

Sora dropped the blade to the grass and hopped on. "Race you?" 

Riku smirked, summoning his own keyblade. Sora watched as Riku, unsurprisingly, managed to transform his blade into a similarly looking board on his first attempt.

“Impressive,” Sora let out before he could stop himself, staring at Riku's silver blade, wider now than when the blade was a weapon, although the etched circular indents were still visible along the edges.

Riku's smirk widened. 

"On the count of three?" Sora asked as Riku stepped onto his transformed keyblade. 

"Since you've done this before, I should get a head start." The grin Riku shot him was cocky and exasperating and did something strange to Sora's stomach.

"What, wait…" He got out before Riku pushed off from the ground and was gone. "That's not fair!" 

Sora only needed a second to compose himself before he took off after Riku. 

It was ridiculous how good Riku was at this. But then, Sora thought… That would make it even more satisfying when he beat him. He crouched on his keyblade board, making himself as small as possible for better aerodynamics as he slowly gained on Riku. He zigzagged around a few rocks, laughing as Riku hit one and was thrown into the air. He had to keep his eyes in front as he picked up speed, no time to think or look, barely enough time to avoid the bushes that were coming up.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Riku make a 360 in the air, righting himself before continuing down the slope. 

Sora grinned wildly. 

They were halfway down the hill, still side by side, as the treeline rushed up to meet them. 

Sora took the left fork in the road as Riku took the right and then all he could think about was the way he needed to throw his weight around as he slalomed around the trees. His heart was in his throat, but he felt light, agile, free.

There was a yelp from his right and Sora smirked, willed his board to go even faster, a laugh bubbling up inside of his chest. He could see the light at the end of the path now, the end of the hill. He chanced a glance to the side, caught a flash of black and blue just a few feet behind him. 

He crouched down further, dodging the last tree and then he reached the end of the road and erupted into a clearing. 

As he let his blade come to a stop, he chanced a glance behind him and saw Riku emerge from the trees.

Sora stepped off his blade, smirking.

"Guess that head start didn't help, huh?" 

Riku frowned as his blade came to a stop next to Sora's. Then he reached up to brush a hand through his hair, scattering twigs and leaves everywhere. 

He huffed. "You totally had the easier path through the trees."

Sora crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Sounds like someone's a sore loser."

"Whatever," Riku said, shaking his head to dislodge a few more leaves. “Next time I'll win.”

"Sure, Riku.” Sora reached out to pick out a few leaves that he'd missed. “Let's go and find this blacksmith?" 

It turned out that the blacksmith's shop was easily found in the small village. As Riku talked to him to pick up the necklace for Eugene, Sora wandered around the shop. The shelves were lined with armor and battle accessories, and he admired the strength and magic enhancing rings and cufflinks for a few minutes, wondering if they should buy some of them. Then he moved on to another shelf, which displayed a dozen different necklaces. These were not battle accessories, he could tell. He reached out a hand to trace a silver chain with a bright red stone on it.

A thought struck him, and he whipped out his gummiphone.

Quick. Which colour goes with Riku's eyes he typed and sent off the message to Kairi. 

Thankfully, the reply was instantaneous, although filled with question marks. Sora sighed. He chanced a glance over his shoulder and relaxed a little as he saw Riku still talking to the blacksmith. 

He risked a picture of the shelf with its contents and sent it to Kairi. He held his breath and counted the seconds as he waited for her to reply. 

"Top left, golden chain with the pink stone. WHY."

Sora looked up at the chain she meant and tilted his head. Pictured the necklace on Riku and nodded to himself. He knew pink was Riku's favourite colour.

Then he jumped as Riku appeared at his shoulder. 

"See anything you like?" 

"N-no," Sora stuttered, shoving his phone back into his pocket. Kairi would have to wait. Then he gestured towards the battle accessories on the shelf next to them. "I mean. I guess we could use a few of these?" 

Riku narrowed his eyes at him, and Sora held his breath. Then Riku turned to look at the items Sora had gestured to. "I guess… I don't have much experience with these, though…"

Another thought struck Sora, and he beamed, pleased with his own cleverness as he held out his hand. "Give me the munny, I'll get us what we need. You go and find us a spot to camp tonight."

Riku's narrowed eyes were on him again, and for a heart-stopping second Sora worried that Riku had seen through him and would refuse. Then he nodded. 

"Okay," He said as he handed Sora their money pouch. "I'll set up the tent at the foot of the hill we skated down."

Sora beamed again. "See you there!" 

He watched Riku leave the shop with a weird fluttering feeling in his chest. He waited for a few more moments, staring at the door, before he reached for the necklace Kairi had indicated, tracing his fingers along the chain and then around the pink stone. It really was very pretty.

He picked up a pair of Technician's Rings as well, judging he would have enough munny to pay for them and the necklace. 

He was right, although the pouch was worryingly empty after that. Sora supposed he'd just have to slay a few more Heartless to make up for it. 







Their journey back was uneventful and sadly enough, weirdly devoid of Heartless. Figured, Sora thought, just when he needed them. At least it meant they made good time, and when they arrived back in the capital near the end of the afternoon of the day of the festival, Eugene was pacing around the central square. The look on his face when he noticed Sora and Riku walking up to him was pure relief.

“You made it!”

“I told you we would,” Sora grinned as Riku held out the silver necklace with the green pendant.

“Thank you so much. Both of you.” Eugene pulled both of them in an awkward, tight hug, before letting them go. “I have to get ready for tonight. I won’t forget this!”

“Really,” Riku said. “It was no trouble at all. Could’ve done without the rain, though.”

“Oh, hush,” Sora said.

“Wait, I almost forgot!” Eugene pulled out a round yellow lantern from his bag. “This is for you.”

He held out the lantern to Sora, who looked at Riku before taking it. “Thanks!”

“If you want my advice, take the stairs to the highest tower in the castle, and watch the lanterns from up there. You’ll have the best view in the city.”

“Wow,” Sora said. “Thanks!”

They returned to their room, glad for some hot showers and proper food while they waited for the sun to set. 

Once the sky was starting to go dark and the stars came out, they made their way to the top of the tower Eugene had indicated. Following the journey, both of them were a little tired, a little sluggish. Sora felt a headache building behind his eyes. The past few days had been exhausting in a way none of their time in the Enchanted Dominion had been. He still wasn't worried, he wasn't, but in his exhaustion it was harder to brush away the thoughts of an ultimate χ-blade, a powerful being in a black coat and a heart susceptible to darkness. He felt a tiny sliver of dark fear in his gut.

He paused halfway up the winding staircase. Riku turned and reached out his hand wordlessly, and when he did, Sora found renewed energy to hop up the next two steps to lace their fingers together. The tiny sliver disappeared.

They were silent as they kept walking. Sora was keenly aware of the warmth of Riku's palm pressed against his. He thought back to the moment in the tower, both of them pressed side to side and the shivers that had sent through him. Or the moment in the pouring rain, with Riku frowning and how Sora had wanted to cheer him up more than anything. The feeling of his warm lips against Riku's damp cheek. The way all of the tension went out of Riku's shoulders as he had sighed and leaned into the touch a little.

And as Riku led them up the stairs, Sora's thoughts wandered further. Because if he thought hard enough, he could still feel the exact way Riku's skin had felt against his lips. What if next time, he would press his lips against Riku's mouth instead of his cheek? Would Riku still sigh and lean into the contact? Would it tingle just as much? More? Would the kiss taste like something other than rain and sweat? 

And why was all of this so confusing? His heart had always told him what he needed to know, he had never been confused about how he felt for somebody. Maybe Kairi a long time ago, but that had been nothing like this.

As they got to the top of the tower, Sora suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. Riku turned to him, eyebrows raised in a questioning arch. 

"What's wrong?" 

Sora stood there with his jaw open, as he realised what he'd forgotten. His headache grew worse as he felt tears forming in his eyes. In a flash, Riku was right in front of him, and he let go of his hand to cup Sora's cheeks. 

"Sora?" 

"I forgot…" Sora whispered, panic rising at the back of his throat. And with the panic, a familiar rush of something wild and dark deep in his stomach. How stupid. To lose himself over this. He didn't care about some guy in a dark coat who wanted to create a χ-blade, but he cared about this

"Hey," Riku bent down until they were at eye level, gently shaking Sora's face. "Talk to me. What's wrong?" 

Sora tried to pull away, but Riku wouldn't let him. Teal eyes looked at him in concern. It shouldn't have been a big deal. Sora wasn't sure where the panic suddenly came from. 

"I forgot the lantern Eugene gave me… I left it in the room…" Sora gasped out as he felt tears well up in his eyes. 

But instead of being mad, Riku just smiled. He pulled Sora into a tight hug. 

"Oh, Sora…"

"I really wanted to light a lantern with you…" Sora buried his face in Riku's chest, mumbling the words against his t-shirt. 

Riku held him for long moments, before abruptly pulling back. He released his arms from Sora's shoulders to reach back into his pocket and pulled out a yellow, folded-up paper lantern. 

Sora felt his face split into a huge grin through his tears. "You got one, too!" 

Riku nodded.

"How? Why?" 

Riku looked up at the clear night sky and shrugged his shoulders. Then he looked behind him, towards the balustrade of the plateau they had reached. He opened and closed his mouth, and Sora watched as Riku struggled to speak. Just when Sora thought he was going to drop it, Riku spoke up. 

"At the marketplace, when you weren't looking. I guess I wanted to light a lantern with you, too."

"Riku…" 

Riku still wasn't looking at him, but that was okay. Sora grabbed his hand, tugging them towards the balustrade. 

Eugene had been right. The view from up here was amazing. From this point, they could see the entire city and the water surrounding it. The night was quiet, the only muted sounds came from the crowds of people chatting below. 

They watched in silence until, from the dockside, fireworks erupted into the sky, the starting sign for the lanterns to be lit. 

Riku released Sora's hand, but only to take his lantern back out of his pocket. 

Sora watched quietly as Riku unfolded it carefully, and then lit the small candle inside with the tiniest of Fire spells. 

Riku looked up at him then, holding out the lantern silently. 

Sora smiled and reached out to touch it, his fingers brushing Riku's. Without breaking eye contact, both of them released the lantern together. It was only then that Sora drew his gaze away, turning to lean on the balustrade to follow the lantern into the sky as it floated away to join all of the other lanterns that were being released from below.

Sora couldn't help it, he needed to reach out to take Riku's hand again, something inside of him calling out for the light that he felt resonated in his best friend. Then he glanced sideways, and his breath caught in his throat.

Riku was beautiful. His silver hair shone with the light of a thousand golden lanterns and when Sora leaned forward a little to look at Riku's face, Riku turned to him, and Sora saw the tiny specks of light reflected in his eyes. He squeezed Riku's hand tighter. 

Sora felt for some reason that he saw Riku for the first time. Really saw him. It was as if he'd been looking at Riku through a veil all these years and suddenly that veil was lifted and he saw Riku in colour. Like, objectively speaking, he knew Riku was good-looking. That had been a fact since they turned 12 and 13 and suddenly the girls at school started giggling when Riku walked past. But Sora had always just taken that as a fact. 

Now, he felt that colour in his chest, and it made it hard to breathe for some reason.

It was glorious. 

Riku flushed a little in the dark, and Sora realised in horror that he'd been staring at Riku's face for what had probably been minutes. He jerked his gaze away. 

And blurted out, "I wish Kairi would be here to see this."

Sora would never know why he just said that in a moment like this. The words had just tumbled out. He didn't even mean them. He didn't want Kairi to be here, he just wanted Riku. But it seemed stupid to backtrack now...

Only then, Riku let go of his hand, turned away and folded his arms in front of his chest. He didn't reply. 

No, no, no. Sora's insides turned to ice. He quickly stepped around, facing Riku again, who wouldn't look at him. He was looking up at the lanterns with a tight look on his face. 

Sora wished he could take back his words, but he knew that wasn't possible. So he did the next best thing. He reached out to slip his hand in Riku's hair, tangling his fingers in the soft strands. Riku finally turned to look at him, and Sora flinched at the emotions in his eyes. He was such an idiot… 

“I didn't mean that. I never think about Kairi like that," he blurted out before he could stop himself. "I don't ever dream about Kairi. I only dream about you.” Sora's eyes widened as he realised what he had said. 

Riku froze. 

“No, I don't mean it like that!”

But, a little voice inside Sora said. What if you did? 

Sora started to pull back his hand, but Riku grabbed his biceps, keeping Sora's arm in place.

"Like what, Sora?"

"I don't know," Sora whispered. He felt like this was something he should know. He felt like this was the secret Riku was keeping from him, and he felt stupid, not being able to see it.

He tightened his hand in Riku's hair, thinking vaguely that he might be hurting him. 

"I don't know," he repeated, and he was so tired. All of this was so confusing. Riku's eyes were shining now, but they weren't really sad anymore, just a sort of wistful. And Sora couldn't help it, but he let the tears spill down his cheeks as he looked at Riku, until Riku surged forward to wrap him in another hug.

Sora clung to him, thoughts and feelings racing through him. How was it that Riku was comforting him after Sora ruined their moment together?

But Riku always gave the best hugs, and when he was pressed against Riku's chest, ear right over Riku's fluttering heart, he felt himself relax again.

"That's okay. I know you'll figure it out, Sora." Riku murmured into his hair. 

And Riku's words were spoken with so much conviction, that Sora couldn’t help but feel that he was right.


art by: amberwing ❤️❤️❤️

Chapter Text

Riku had told Sora, standing on top of Corona Castle with his heart in his throat and his stomach in a million knots, that he knew Sora would figure it out. And the more he thought about it (and he'd thought about it a lot over the past three days), the more he believed it to be true. He would just need to be patient. And if there was one thing Riku had learned to be good at, it was being patient. He'd spent years waiting for Sora. He could wait a little longer.

In a way, it was maddening beyond belief, but he wanted Sora to figure it out on his own. Riku was sure he had emotional whiplash by now or something after all of that, but it had been impossible to be mad at Sora when he had been pressed against Riku's chest, his shoulders shaking with barely repressed sobs. This was Riku's job, and he was gonna excel at it. He had to push his own feelings down.

His feelings were confusing anyway. 

And yet. And yet. This was okay as well. Sora shooting him little smiles from the pilot seat, smiles that made Riku's heart flutter every time, and he was only pretending to be reading his book because he couldn't concentrate at all. He had read the same paragraph at least seven times now, but he still had no idea what it was about.

Riku was pretty sure he wasn't imagining things. Sora had been more touchy-feely since he'd come back, but this was different yet again. After their hug amidst a scattering of lantern and emotions, Sora had pressed a little closer when they turned in for the night, had looked at Riku for just a few seconds longer than before. Riku had to bite his lip to prevent himself from commenting because he loved it. He hated it, but he loved it, and it sent his thoughts into a jittery spiral. Just like Sora's little smiles that made it impossible to read his book now. All he could do was turn every smile and every little touch over and over in his head, for the rest of eternity.

In a way, he and Sora complimented each other perfectly. Riku was always thinking too much. Sora was always acting too much. Both of them were feeling too much.

Riku allowed himself a glance sideways, watching Sora — relaxed and assured — as he piloted the ship. Sora had taken off his jacket, and Riku followed the line of his bare tanned arms up to his shoulder with his eyes. He was still too thin, muscles and veins a little too visible beneath his skin, even though he'd been eating better. Riku supposed it was all but impossible to eat enough calories for a growing teenage boy, even without all of the fighting and walking around they were doing. His gaze lingered on the necklace resting against Sora's prominent collarbones, his gift to Sora for his fifth birthday, a tangible testimony of his promise to protect what mattered most.

Sora really had nice collarbones, he realised vaguely. Riku wondered what it would be like to trace his fingers over them, like the softest of touches, barely there. Would Sora shiver? Close his eyes? What if he were to press his lips to one, tongue darting out to lick a tiny strip across it?

“Riku?”

Riku blinked, his heart racing. He…hadn't meant for his thoughts to go there.

Sora was looking at him with that same smile again, his eyes a little wide, and Riku let out the breath he hadn’t realised he was holding.

“What were you thinking of?”

Riku thought back to that moment again, the one he had been analysing and picking apart and putting together again for days. Sora had said that he only dreamed of Riku. But what had he meant? Riku was dying to ask again but afraid of the answer. Although really, what harm would it do? It was Sora who had brought it up in the first place…

He opened his mouth, but at the same moment, his Gummiphone ringtone blared through the cockpit. Sora flinched a little, and Riku sighed deeply as he fished his phone out of his pocket.

“Hi, Kairi,” he said, turning on the video call, wincing at how his voice came out, a little too impatient and a little too rough.

On the screen, Kairi pretended to frown. “Okay, don't get too excited.”

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean—”

“Was I…” Kairi's lips curled up into a smirk and she leaned forward a little towards the camera. “Interrupting something?”

Riku gulped, shooting a quick glance over to Sora, who was still staring at him. “Not at all. What’s up? How’s it going?”

“We found out a lot of things, I have so much to tell you guys. Hang on a second.”

The picture on the screen moved as Kairi took the phone to set it somewhere on a table. When she leaned back, Riku could see the interior of a lab room, much the same as the one Kairi and Axel had been in during a previous call. Ienzo came to stand next to Kairi and gave Riku a nod.

“Hello, Riku. Sora. We’ve got some new information you might find interesting.”

Riku sat up a little straighter, thoughts of lingering touches and lanterns and dreams pushed to the back of his mind. “Oh?”

“Remember how we were working on a Heartless machine?” Ienzo asked, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “So we could detect Heartless activity better?”

Riku nodded.

“Well, work on that has been going really well. It’s still a prototype, but we believe the readings it’s giving off now are pretty reliable.”

Next to him, Kairi grinned, although Riku couldn't help but notice that it was a little conflicted. “I helped with the add-on that can detect the type of Heartless we’re dealing with, as well. I think it’s gonna be really helpful.”

Sora leaned sideways to peer at the screen and make himself visible on camera. “That’s great, Kairi!”

“Sora…” Riku sighed. “Eyes in front?”

“Oops,” Sora grinned, turning his attention back to the way they were going.

“There’s more,” Ienzo said thoughtfully, expression going a little dark, and Kairi's face fell as well. “Sora. Kairi’s add-on has picked up readings of the Heartless you were fighting when you were on your quest to bring Kairi back from that other dimension.”

Both Sora and Riku were shocked into silence at those words. Riku's chest clenched so tightly that he couldn't breathe for a second. That wasn't possible, Sora had said he'd defeated it… Hadn't he?

It was Sora who recovered first, his voice small and a little shaky as his eyes remained trained on the galaxy in front of them. “The...Lich?”

Kairi nodded while the look on Ienzo's face turned darker still. “I'm sorry. I wish I had better news. We checked and doublechecked at least ten times.”

“How is that possible?” Riku asked, trying to ignore the sudden feeling of dread in his stomach. Images of the Lich from Sora's nightmare flickered in his mind.

“We believe…” Ienzo sighed. “We think that at the end of Sora's battle with the Lich, it survived somehow. Either it retreated or someone else pulled it out of there. And now it's here. It seems to be gathering more Heartless to it. And it seems it's...not acting alone.”

Riku sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. Perfect. Then his eyes shot open again because the Lich was Sora's nemesis. He looked sideways again to find Sora staring into space, unblinking. His mouth was pressed into a thin line, worry etched onto his face. 

“Hey,” Riku said softly.

Sora looked at him, his eyes wide and unseeing, like a frightened animal caught in the headlights.

“It's gonna be okay.” He reached out a hand to grasp Sora's where it was resting on the steering wheel. “I promise, okay?”

Sora blinked once, his eyes a little unfocused, and Riku squeezed his hand until Sora really looked at him.

“I promise.”

Sora nodded slowly, and Riku reluctantly let go of his hand, turning his attention back to the phone. “Where is it?”

Kairi and Ienzo looked at each other for a moment. Kairi sighed. “The Land of Dragons.”

Riku's heart skipped a beat and he closed his eyes for a second against the rush of anxiety flashing through his stomach. The one world he really, really didn't want to return to. Just perfect. He had the sudden urge to kick something or to blast a few asteroids into oblivion. Instead, he just sighed and clenched the hand that wasn't holding the phone into a fist.

“We'll go and check it out.”

“Be careful, okay?” Kairi said softly. “We don't know just how powerful it is. Let us know if you need help.”

“Okay,” Riku agreed.

After the call ended, he turned his head again to find Sora still looking at him with a distressed look on his face. “Sora?”

No response. Riku glanced out of the window for a moment, assessing their route. No heartless or asteroid fields in their immediate vicinity, so that was good. He got out of his seat to press the ship's autopilot lever up, before crouching down in front of Sora. 

He reached out with both hands, cupping Sora's face in the way he knew calmed Sora down, and brushed his thumbs over the curve of Sora's cheekbones, slowly, so as not to startle him more.

“Hey,” Riku said softly. “Are you okay?”

Sora didn't respond, staring off at a point somewhere over Riku's shoulder, but Riku could see him trying to compose himself. He waited patiently for a long few moments. After a minute or so, Sora's breathing slowed down, and then after another minute, his eyes moved to look at Riku. Riku winced at the panic he saw there. It was probably a small miracle that those eyes hadn't flickered to yellow yet. 

“This is not one of your nightmares,” Riku said, trying to get Sora to focus on his voice. “I'm with you. You've been doing better, you've been working really hard. We can do this.”

“But—” Sora’s voice was small and Riku could hear the unshed tears in the way his breath hitched.

“Think about all the places we've been to so far. Think about how you got your strength back, how you're doing so well. Think about how happy we've been, huh? That hasn't changed.”

Sora was blinking too fast, and all Riku wanted was to make him stop looking like this.

“Talk to me, Sora. Tell me what you need.”

“Keep talking,” Sora whispered. “It helps.”

Riku nodded. “Remember the northern lights in Arendelle? It was just the two of us up there on the mountain, and we watched the most beautiful thing lighting up the sky. It was perfect. You found the light inside of you then, do you remember?”

Riku saw Sora's shoulder drop an inch as he relaxed, some of the tension going out of his muscles. Good. That was good.

“Remember our sparring sessions in the Enchanted Dominion? Remember how you beat me just as often as I beat you? You found a way to use the darkness inside of you, alongside your light. And it kind of felt like a vacation, being there. Didn't you think so? Just taking it easy, playing games on our phones at night, taking our time to rebuild the cottage?”

Sora nodded. Riku watched him inhale deeply and exhale with a shudder. And then twice more. Riku moved one of his hands to slide it into Sora's hair, cupping the side of his head instead, his thumb now stroking the soft skin in front of his ear. Sora leaned his head into the touch just a little and his eyes slipped closed. Riku's heart fluttered at the trust in that gesture, and then he forcefully swallowed down the picture Sora made in front of him. Now was not the time.

“And then, Sora, you showed me all of the things you said you wanted to show me in Corona. I know I was being a bit fussy when it was raining, but I loved every second of our time there. The rain, too. And we got to light a lantern together, like you wanted. Like I wanted.”

Slowly, with his eyes still closed, Sora broke into a smile and the tight hold on Riku's chest lessened a little. This was working.

“Yeah...” Sora exhaled another shuddery breath. 

And now that Riku had started, he found he couldn't stop. When Sora opened his eyes again, they were once again bright and clear, and the panic in them had made way for a kind of bashfulness. 

“I believe in you, I—” Riku trailed off, trying to convey with his eyes the words he still couldn't say. “I'll always believe in you. You're so strong and amazing. I'll always be by your side, okay?”

Sora nodded, a brief incline of his head that slipped Riku's hand deeper into his hair and brought their faces closer together. “But, Riku, what about the Lich? What if the darkness gets me again?”

“Then I'll find your light again,” Riku said, his voice sure and confident because that was what Sora needed right now. “Tell me you believe me. I know you, Sora, just like you know me. You know me better than anyone. Would I lie to you?”

“No,” Sora said, reaching out with his hands, slipping out of the pilot seat and into Riku's arms. “I believe you.”

“Good,” Riku murmured, tightening his arms around Sora. One thing at the time, he thought to himself. They could do this. “Okay?”

Sora nodded against his neck and when he spoke, Riku felt Sora's lips moving against the bare skin there. He desperately tried to ignore how that sent shivers down his spine. 

“Okay,” Sora murmured. “I'm okay.”

Sora was pressed so close to him that Riku could feel his heartbeat, still too fast, and Riku inhaled deeply into his hair. Sora shuddered with another exhale and Riku suddenly felt his eyes sting. He blinked back the tears and tightened his arms even more, until Sora’s heartbeat had completely gone back to normal and his knees were hurting from being pressed against the floor for so long.







After his minor panic attack, Sora had wanted to continue flying the ship to the Land of Dragons. He said it would help him calm down. For a second, Riku thought about arguing, but for one, that wasn't at all what Sora needed right now. And what was more, deep down he understood. Riku had flown around for hours at a time during Sora's absence, and it had been a good way to combat the turmoil inside of him.

So he settled back into the co-pilot seat and picked up his book again, only this time he couldn't focus on a single word for other reasons. After a few more failed attempts, he gave up, closing the book with a snap. 

One glance at the navigation system told Riku that Sora was taking the long way around to the Land of Dragons, but he decided to let that slip. Riku wasn't particularly looking forward to visiting this world either.

He resumed his earlier glances at Sora, only this time he let them linger, no longer caring if Sora noticed. Riku frowned, his eyebrows drawn together in concentration as he catalogued Sora's little gestures, trying to figure out if Sora was really okay. But the longer Sora piloted the ship, the more relaxed he became, eventually even launching into the story of how he'd met Mushu in the Land of Dragons before, and how Donald, Goofy and him had mistaken him for a Heartless. Riku smiled and when their eyes met, he could tell Sora's returning smile was genuine.

The first thing Riku noticed after Sora landed the ship next to the village cave at the foot of the mountains was that it was snowing. And then, when they exited the ship, Riku realised in dismay that it was cold. He shivered and felt his face slip into a scowl before he could help himself. Sora looked up at him with a surprisingly cheerful grin.

“Guess those coats Anna and Elsa got us come in handy once again, right?”

Riku blinked. “I guess.”

“I like snow.” Sora's grin turned wider until Riku felt the corners of his own mouth turn up into a smile as well. 

“You seem happy again.” Maybe Riku shouldn't have been this surprised. Sora had always been like this. Even when they were little and one of the other kids said something mean to him.

Riku remembered how a 5-year-old Sora had cried when one of the other boys at school had made fun of his pink t-shirt. Riku found him, his eyes red and his face tear-streaked, hidden behind the toy shed in the corner of the schoolyard. 

“I don't care,” Riku told him after he'd pieced together what had happened through Sora's unintelligible sobs. “Pink is my favourite colour.” And just like that, Sora beamed up at Riku through his tears, sadness forgotten.

No matter what got him down, Sora could always snap right back with the right words or a simple friendly smile. It was one of the things he admired in Sora so much, used to be so jealous of. Now it just made him want to pull Sora close to him and hug him until he squirmed out of the tight hold.

“Yeah. Because.” Sora's grin turned a little wistful. “It's like you said, Riku. We're together this time. We've never lost a battle when we're together. Also, I really, really like snow.”

Sora tilted his head, his eyes sparkling and so blue amidst the white-covered world around them that Riku forgot how to breathe for a second. Sora leaned in just a little.

“And your coat is so pretty, too.”

Riku dissolved into a coughing fit as all the blood in his body rushed to his cheeks. “Sora!”

“What?” Sora said innocently, but amidst Riku's embarrassment, he noted that Sora's ears turned a little pink as well. That, even more than Sora's grin, emboldened him a little.

“Not as pretty as yours.”

Riku watched with a little smirk as Sora's mouth fell open in a silent gasp, and he blinked up at Riku. Score: 1-1.

With their coats on, and with Sora all but back to his usual cheerful self, they set out and made their way towards the nearby village. It should have been a good opportunity to replenish their stock of potions and ethers, but when Riku reached into the money pouch, he found it suspiciously empty.

“Sora,” he said, squinting his eyes at his best friend, who was currently giving him a sheepish grin, bringing up one hand to rub the back of his head. “What happened to our munny?”

“Hehe,” Sora said with a look on his face that screamed guilty. Then he tilted his head and widened his eyes a little in that stupid way he did that Riku kept falling for.

Riku squinted some more at him, determined not to get side-tracked by that look. “I thought we’d have enough for supplies, but we’ve only got three hundred left?”

Sora rocked back and forth on his heels a little, unwilling to meet Riku’s eyes. “Uhm,” he mumbled. “Those Technician's Rings I got in Corona were more expensive than I thought?”

Riku thought for a second about telling Sora off for being so irresponsible, but he thought back to the panic on Sora's face after they received the news about the Lich and thought better of it. He relaxed his shoulders with a sigh. “Guess it’s a good thing this world is overrun by Heartless then, because you are getting our munny back up to at least two thousand.”

Sora gulped, but his grin was cheeky. “Aye-aye, sir.”

Some asking around in the village quickly taught them that the mountainside was, indeed, riddled with Heartless. There had been Heartless there for as long as the villagers could remember, never really causing them any trouble before. It was only since last week that their numbers had steadily increased. 

That information matched up with what Kairi and Ienzo had told them. It was last week that they had left the Enchanted Dominion, Riku thought to himself. That could just be a coincidence, but what if it wasn’t… He shook his head. They’d cross that bridge when they got to it. One thing at a time.

“Do you think we should go look for Mulan or the emperor?” Riku asked Sora.

Sora contemplated this for a moment, then shook his head. “No, I don't think so. If it's Heartless we're dealing with, then we're better equipped to handle them. Let's go and see for ourselves?”

Riku nodded. They spent the last of their munny on a few potions and started their trek up the mountain. 

The first Heartless jumped at them from the get-go, and as Riku had expected, these Heartless were both stronger and more plentiful than in the other worlds they’d been to so far.

Despite that, it was funny how fighting Heartless always seemed to cheer Riku up, even now. There was something pure and simple about fighting that made his body thrum and his mind go quiet. He felt like he was born to do this, to handle a keyblade, to snap dark and light magic into his fingertips to send it crashing into enemies. And he knew Sora felt the same, because in between battles, after every party of Heartless they defeated, Sora's grin grew a little more confident.

The longer they spent travelling together, the more in-sync their fighting became. It wasn't even because Sora had obviously gotten stronger, although that probably played a part as well. It was deeper than that, it was a feeling Riku didn't really know how to explain. When he and Sora fought side by side, he didn't even have to look, he knew what Sora would do at the exact moment he moved to do it. 

Previously, back in Arendelle and Corona, he had tried to talk over strategies with Sora before they went into battles. And for the first few battles here in the snow, Sora looked at him, expecting directions, but after three Heartless fights, Riku suddenly realised that they didn't need to talk about coordinating their attacks anymore. Sora fought in much the same way he did everything in life: by following his heart. And all Riku needed to do was be in tune to that, and that made the two of them unstoppable.

So Riku just shook his head minutely, smirking as he inclined his head towards the next party of Heartless, and Sora understood. 

Sora was possibly an even better fighter with no instructions or directions to hold him back. Riku always threw himself into any battle with everything he had, but with Sora next to him, he couldn't help but stop and stare sometimes. Sora was a wild whirlwind, a black-coated flash across the snow-covered battlefield. Slashing, teleporting, an occasional spell if he managed to stay in one place long enough to actually aim. He was at Riku's side in a flash whenever Riku clashed with a particularly strong Heartless, covering his back, or teaming up to inflict double the damage.

The Heartless here were stronger, bigger, faster. But even the strongest Nightwalkers and Storm Riders were no match for the two of them. Side by side, they fought their way up the mountainside, battle after battle, Heartless after Heartless.

In between battles, they shared looks that Riku didn't want to dwell on, but still did. Sora’s cheeks and nose glowed red from the cold and his eyes were sparkling again in that way that did funny, but familiar things to Riku's stomach. It was in a moment like that that Riku's breath hitched as he froze in place for a second too long. Then he tore his gaze away to compose himself.

He should have seen what Sora was doing, but he was too far into his head to notice. The snowball hit him square in the chest, interrupting his train of thought.

Riku's eyes snapped back to where Sora was giving him the most shit-eating grin Riku had ever seen on him. Then Sora reached down to scoop up more snow, but before he’d formed another ball, Riku had recovered himself. He straightened and narrowed his eyes at Sora, holding out his arms in an open invitation. Sora, unsuspecting, threw the snowball, but Riku cast a small Reflect spell at the same moment Sora threw it. As he’d guessed, the snowball was cast back and hit Sora full in the face.

Riku!” Sputtering, Sora reached up a hand to brush the snow out of his face. “That's cheating.

Riku laughed out loud at the expression of indignation on Sora’s face, but he didn't feel bad in the slightest. He launched himself at Sora who was still wiping at his eyes, tackling him into the snow and shoving more snow down Sora's coat.

Sora wiggled below him, fighting to break free, limbs flailing as Riku struggled to keep him pinned down. 

“You are such a cheater,” Sora cried out, bucking up below him and Riku bit back a moan as the movement brought their hips together.

He had to make Sora stop squirming so much. Riku leaned closer, narrowing his eyes and that had the desired effect. Sora went still underneath him, breathing heavily. 

“You started it,” Riku said, and wow, was that really his voice?

Sora just stared, wide-eyed and blinking, completely frozen. Vaguely, Riku realised he should maybe pull away, put an end to this before he lost himself. Instead, his gaze flickered to Sora's lips and shit. He was barely holding on to whatever control he had left as it was. But still, he kept staring at Sora, and Sora was staring back, and Riku forgot about everything else around them. 

Say something. Riku tried to rack his brain for something light and playful, but he came up completely blank. 

“Riku?” Sora's voice was rough and he sounded confused, but there was something else there, too, something that made Riku shiver, and a pleasant jolt shot through his stomach. Everything inside of him screamed at him to pull away, but he couldn't, captivated in the moment. He wasn't sure he was even breathing anymore.

Mercifully (or not. Riku couldn't decide), a noise from up the mountain broke the spell, and Riku was sent crashing back into reality with force as he looked up to see a pair of Nightwalkers drifting into the clearing. He was on his feet in a split second, leaning down to pull Sora up with him.

Keyblades back in hand in a flash, they blocked the long-range ghost-fire attacks as one, before each propelling themselves at one of the Nightwalkers.

It should have been an easy fight, but Riku was distracted by thoughts of blue eyes and the way Sora had said his name, intimate and deep, and he felt himself slipping. It was no surprise when a spin slash caught him unaware, and he cried out as the attack hit his left side, right across his scar. He staggered backwards, barely keeping his footage.

Sora was there immediately, slamming into the Nightwalker with an extraordinarily forceful Dark Aura attack. Riku watched with bated breath, pain in his side quickly forgotten, as Sora rushed the two Heartless repeatedly from all directions and finished by plunging his keyblade into the snow, vertical energy columns snapping the Nightwalkers into oblivion.

He turned to Riku without skipping a beat. “Are you okay?”

Riku just stared with his mouth open. “Holy shit, that was impressive.”

Sora blinked and the worry on his face made way for a bashful, proud grin. “Thanks!”

“Where did you learn to do that?”

“He hurt you,” Sora said simply and shrugged one shoulder as he stepped closer, as if that was explanation enough. He put his gloved hand over Riku's, where it was still pressed against his bad side. The initial pain had faded, leaving a dull throb in its wake. “Okay?”

“Yeah, I'm okay.” The dull throb was now accompanied by a tingle as Sora curled his fingers around Riku's hand.

When Riku turned his gaze up, away from the intense look in Sora's eyes, he realised with a start that it was getting dark. He stepped back, needing the space between them to be able to think.

Sora voiced his concerns first. “We shouldn’t be camping outside in the snow like this.”

Riku agreed. He wasn't cold at all anymore, their coats kept them warm while they were walking around and fighting Heartless after Heartless or fooling around in the snow. But sleeping outside in a tent in these temperatures would not be the best idea.

“So… Now what?” Sora turned to Riku, who was scanning their surroundings with narrowed eyes.

“Look,” Riku said after a few moments, pointing up the mountain to what appeared to be a small opening on the right side of the path. “That looks like a cave.”

“Looks good,” Sora agreed.

The cave was dark and smelled like bats and old earth, but it was dry, if a little damp. It also provided ample space for both of them to lie down and make a fire. Sora rolled out their sleeping bags and got out the cooking equipment as Riku moved into the back of the cave to look for firewood. He knew from his previous visit to this world that the people here usually stocked firewood inside of these caves, since they were often used by people travelling up and down the mountains.

When Riku came back with his arms full of logs, Sora set them ablaze with a Fire spell, and prepared an easy dinner of pasta and tomatoes, ingredients they had picked up before they left Corona.

After dinner, Sora turned to him with a pout on his face.

“I’m cold,” Sora stated simply, and Riku snorted at his forwardness. And then he stopped breathing for a moment or two at the intensity in Sora's eyes. Wordlessly, he extended his arm, until Sora was pressed against his side. They were still wearing their coats, so there wasn’t a lot of heat to share between them, but Sora still sighed happily.

With the arm that was currently not occupied, Riku reached out to grab one of their sleeping bags. He handed it to Sora, who zipped it open, so they could drape it around their shoulders like a blanket. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do.

Riku had a lot of things he wanted to ask. About the Lich, about Sora's panic back on the ship. And about the moments the air between them had felt charged and heavy. Had Sora felt that, too? Would he be brave enough to ask? 

There were also things he wanted to say. Returning to this world brought back a lot of memories. Watching Sora from afar, trapped in a body that wasn't his own, resigned to never truly be by Sora's side again. It felt like a lifetime ago that he had been watching Sora, waiting for him to be ready to face what was coming. Now he was waiting still, but waiting for Sora to be ready to face what was between them

He wondered how to put all of this into words. 

In the end, it was Sora who broke the silence. “What's it like, being back here?”

“Not as bad as I thought it would be,” Riku said without thinking.

Sora gave him a soft smile. “No?”

Riku stared into the fire, grappling with his thoughts. Watching Sora from afar had been the hardest thing he'd ever done. Every day, he had been wrecked by guilt, had felt the darkness deep inside of him. And he'd known that he would never — could never — let Sora see him like that. And yet, he had hoped, still. A foolish, boyish hope, that somehow things would work out. Especially when he'd known, after being here, that Sora had started to suspect something. 

“It was bittersweet, the last time I was here. I never thought it would be easy, trying to hide from you. But I underestimated how hard it would be. Whenever I saw you, I...” Riku sighed. He wasn't sure he could put it into words. The longing, the way he had resolved to live his life in a dark coat without anyone ever knowing his true nature. But Sora had always pierced through every armour he ever threw up around himself, and Sora had done the exact same thing then as well. 

He remembered sitting on the couch in the mansion after his fight with Sora here in this world. How happy he had been, unable to stop smiling. So happy, in fact, that Axel had seen straight through him.

What is Sora to you?

Riku hadn't known how to answer that question back then. And he didn't know how to answer it now, either. Their bond stretched far beyond what his definition of best friends was. But it didn’t need a label. It just was.

Once again, it was Sora who filled the silence, his voice so soft Riku had to strain to hear it. “I loved fighting you on that mountain slope. It was like… It was like my entire journey, I felt hollow. Lifeless. Until that moment. Seeing you, sparring with you, it brought me back to life.”

Riku felt that was an apt way of putting it.

“Same, Sora,” he murmured. He turned to face Sora and lifted a hand to stroke his fingers down a warm cheek. Sora’s face was illuminated in the orange glow of the fire, and Riku wanted to drown in his soft, shy smile. His world narrowed to just this moment, and he found he wasn’t even phased when his thoughts spiralled into what would happen if he did it. He was pretty sure Sora wouldn't pull back. He could slip a hand into Sora's hair. He'd go slow, giving Sora ample time to pull away, but Sora wouldn't. And at the last second, Sora would close the remaining distance and their eyes would close, and Sora's lips would be just as warm as his cheek, and…

He sighed. “We should sleep.”

He was about to pull his hand back when Sora surged forward to hug him, face pressed tight against Riku's neck. “I love you.”

Riku's heart stopped. Somehow, he managed to wrap his arms around Sora's shoulders in return, the sleeping bag falling away from them. Sora had said it before, and back then, he hadn't been able to say it back. He hesitated for just a second, but he had never felt surer and more confident than right now. 

“I love you too, Sora.”

He felt Sora smile against his skin, and Riku felt stupidly giddy as he buried his face in Sora's hair.

After a minute, both of them reluctantly pulled back. Riku's fingers lingered too long on Sora's shoulder, but Sora didn't mention it. They zipped their sleeping bags together to make a large one, and when they crawled in, Riku was pretty sure he wasn't imagining the way Sora wrapped himself needlessly close. It was a long time before he fell asleep.






The next morning, Riku woke up to rustling noises at the entrance of the cave. He had Braveheart in his hand before he was fully awake, although he was half-pinned by an unconscious Sora and had no way of fighting like this.

Luckily for them, it was Mulan and Shang who entered the cave. Riku blinked in surprise, but they looked just as flabbergasted to see two boys in a sleeping bag next to a dying fire.

He pushed at Sora's shoulder until Sora groaned and mumbled into his neck that he didn't wanna wake up yet. 

“Sora,” Riku hissed.

“Five more minutes,” Sora murmured and promptly fell asleep again.

Riku forcefully entangled himself, sliding out of the sleeping bag and onto the cold cave floor as Sora's reached after him with grabby hands. “Riiiiku.”

Riku tore his gaze away to Mulan and Shang, who were both looking up at the ceiling and trying very hard not to laugh. Riku cleared his throat.

“Uhm,” he said. “Hi.”

It was Mulan who spoke up first, after giving a polite cough. “You must be Riku.”

At hearing Mulan's voice, Sora abruptly sat up straight, getting tangled in the sleeping bag in the process. “Mulan! And Captain Shang!”

“Hello, Sora,” Shang said with a barely contained smile.

“What are you doing here?” Sora wiggled to get free of the sleeping bag, and Riku watched him struggle for a moment before coming over to help with the zipper. Sora rolled out of the bag and onto the cave floor with a groan before standing up quickly.

“We came up from the capital because we received reports of monsters in the mountains,” Shang explained. “After asking around in the village, we heard that two foreign boys had gone up the mountain to investigate, so we figured we'd follow.”

“So the real question is,” Mulan added. “What are you two doing here?”

“Oh, you know,” Sora said. “Saving the world again.”

Riku rolled his eyes. “We, too, heard about the influx of Heartless here. We believe there's a large Heartless at the top who's drawing them all in. It's called the Lich. We're trying to find out why it's here. Defeat it, if we can.”

“We'll come with you,” Shang touched a fist to his chest. “We need to protect our country from these monsters.”

“We could definitely use your help,” Riku agreed, shooting a sidelong glance at Sora, who nodded frantically. 

The four of them set out again. With four people, the trek up the mountain was much faster than yesterday. They could defeat parties of Heartless in nearly half the time. Riku would team up with Sora to fight the Storm Riders further up the path — the strongest Heartless they had encountered so far — while Mulan and Shang stayed behind to pick off the weaker Shadows and Hookbats that kept appearing.

After a fairly easy battle with the Storm Riders, Riku turned around to see Mulan and Shang pick off the last of the Heartless on their end.

It was fascinating, watching Mulan and Shang fight together. They moved together as one, shielding each other's back and attacking in turn, effortlessly. Whenever Mulan was on the offence, leaping forward to slash and parry, Shang would hang back a little to cover her, and vice versa. 

As Riku watched, Sora came to stand beside him to watch as well. “They fight well together, don't they?”

Riku nodded.

“They're so in tune,” Sora said quietly, as Mulan slashed at a Shadow while Shang blocked the last Hook Bat's air slash. Just then Mulan turned around, and she and Shang finished off the Hook Bat together.

“Yeah,” Riku agreed, refusing to look at Sora.

Sora fell silent as Mulan and Shang checked in with each other, making sure they were both okay. Riku had to look away for a second as Mulan put a hand to Shang's cheek for a second and smiled. He clenched his fist.

He and Sora stood in silence for a long moment while Mulan and Shang made their way to where Sora and Riku were waiting on the slope. Until Sora turned to him.

“Riku?”

Riku hummed in acknowledgement, keeping his gaze carefully turned away.

“Do we…” Sora trailed off, then sighed. When he spoke next, he said exactly what Riku had been thinking. “Do we look like that when we fight together?”

Mulan looked up at that very moment, and when Riku didn't have the words to answer that, she did.

“It's such a joy to watch you fighting together!” She exclaimed, and Riku blushed as Sora beamed. “You guys are so strong and in sync together.”

“Thanks, Mulan!” Sora laughed next to him. “It's mostly cause of Riku. He taught me to use all of these attacks.”

“Sora…” Riku wanted to protest.

“But now I'm getting better at them, and it's just fun? It's fun to fight with Riku.”

Riku's blush deepened as Sora bumped his shoulder, and for the first time, he was glad for the cold, because, hopefully, that meant everyone thought his cheeks were red from the freezing temperatures.

After that, Sora used Dark Aura after Dark Aura, seemingly having gained the confidence to use this difficult attack again and again. He was getting better at them too, every attack a little more powerful, a little faster. They adopted a new battle style. As Sora glided through the air, Riku stayed on the ground to shield him from long-range enemy attacks with a series of Dark Shields.

They were getting close to the very slope where Sora had fought him the last time they'd been here. Sora finished another attack with a forceful slam of his keyblade into the ground, and Riku watched in amazement as pillars of dark magic surrounded them, sending snow and Heartless everywhere.

“Guess you found your new favourite attack, huh?” He remarked when he found his voice again, and when the snow had settled down around them, all Heartless gone.

“You jealous?” Sora retorted, his eyes fierce and his smirk a little cocky.

Jealous? Riku shook his head. In awe? Yes. Turned on? Possibly. He swallowed thickly.

“Hey,” Riku said, wincing when his voice went up a notch and cracked. He swallowed again, not able to look away from Sora. “I'm just glad we're on the same side this time.”

“Yeah, definitely!” Sora exclaimed, letting his keyblade dissipate. He put his hands on his hips and tilted his head. “Although it has been too long since we sparred. Think you could handle this now?”

Shit, Riku thought as heat sparked in his stomach. The answer to that question was probably no, but he'd never admit that out loud. “Yes.”

Sora's smirk turned even cockier.

“Hey,” Mulan called from several feet up, brushing the snow off her arms and pulling Shang out of a heap of snow. “Stop flirting and get over here.”

Riku and Sora both jumped and looked away in unison.

Mulan pointed at the top of the mountain. “Look.”

Riku squinted in the direction she was pointing, momentarily blinded by the way the sun was reflecting off the snow. But then he saw it. A tiny black speck, all the way up the slope.

Next to him, he heard Sora's hitched breath. “Is that—”

“The Master,” Riku finished his sentence.

So it was as Riku had expected. It was the Master who was behind all of this. This must have been the world he went to after their confrontation in the Enchanted Dominion last week. He was the one controlling the Lich, controlling all of these Heartless.

“Master?” Shang asked.

“It's a long story,” Riku sighed. He glanced at Sora, who was looking up the mountain with a determined look on his face. That was good. That was much better than yesterday's panic.

“Let's go and kick his ass,” Sora said so fiercely that Riku was surprised by the boldness in his voice.

“Wait,” Mulan said. “What Master?”

“We only met him last week,” Riku explained. “We don't know exactly who he is. But our friends found out he wants something called the ultimate χ-blade, which is a really powerful keyblade. Apparently he's found out a way to create that, but that's about all we know so far.”

“Why is he here?” Shang asked.

“We don't know. But he's the one controlling the Heartless that is causing all of this. So he's the one causing this entire situation. He's the reason the balance between light and dark is disturbed.”

“How powerful is he?” Mulan tightened the grip on her sword. “Can we defeat him?”

“We don't know. I wish we did,” Riku sighed. “But we have to try, anyway.”

They continued up the slope, getting closer and closer to the figure in black. He didn't do anything, he didn't move, he didn't try to attack them. He just sat there in the snow, arms crossed.

When they got to the clearing he was sitting in, they paused. Riku tightened his grip on his keyblade, grabbing it forcefully with both hands. He felt Sora do the same besides him. Shang and Mulan remained a few steps behind them.

“Well, well,” The Master spoke, his entire face hidden in the shadow of his hood. “It seems you made it, after all. I've been waiting.”

Riku pressed his teeth into his bottom lip, fighting against the spark of rage inside of him. 

“What do you want?” Sora asked next to him through clenched teeth, barely controlled anger in his voice.

“Oh, I think you know what I want.”

“The ultimate χ-blade,” Riku said curtly.

“Bingo.”

“How?”

“Well, if I told you that, it would ruin the surprise, wouldn't it? You'll have to wait and see. But I've already set all the pieces in motion. Isn't that right, Sora?”

“What have you done to me?” Sora spat.

“It wasn't easy,” the Master spread his arms. It was creepy, talking to a person whose face they couldn't see. “I had to go to great lengths to get you to have these nightmares of darkness.”

“That was you?” To Riku's surprise and relief, Sora's voice was still sure and steady, unwavering.

“Bingo, again! You are on a roll. I'll have you know I like a challenge, and you two certainly gave me one.”

“Stop talking in riddles,” Riku exclaimed in frustration.

He felt the Master's gaze on him next, piercing into him in a way he felt in his very soul. He forgot how to breathe for a second, until he felt the gaze leaving him when the Master addressed Sora again.

“The first nightmares were easy. Weren't they, Sora? But then he got very good at shielding you from them,” The Master spat out the word he with venom. “He got too good at it. But that's okay. Like I said, I appreciate a good challenge.”

“I don't have nightmares anymore,” Sora said firmly. “Riku keeps them away.”

The Master laughed, a cheerless, hollow sound, and Riku shivered. “The nightmares aren't needed anymore.”

“What do you mean?” Riku asked.

“Look inside you, Sora. You have become darkness. You are wearing it like a cloak.”

“That's not true!” Sora yelled.

“Haven't you noticed?” The Master taunted. “You're just using Dark attacks now. Isn't that what Riku taught you?”

“Don't listen to him, Sora,” Riku said firmly. “It's not true.”

He wanted to step closer to Sora, he wanted to touch him to emphasise his words. But before he could do that, before he could say more, remind Sora of his light, of what they had done together, how darkness and light were always two sides of the same coin, he felt goosebumps as that dark, hollow laugh rang out again.

“And you, Riku.” That intense gaze was on him again, and Riku felt another shiver creep up his spine.

“Stop talking,” Riku spat. He wondered if they would be able to take him. He and Sora had been on a roll, fighting together these past few days. Would they have a chance against this guy, too? He chanced a glance sideways, but Sora wasn't looking at him.

“Tell me, Riku, did you find satisfaction in his nightmares? Does it make you feel good, knowing he needs you beside him to sleep soundly? What's it like, having him so close, yet so far away?” Riku clenched his hands around the handle of his keyblade, teeth grinding together as he forced himself not to respond, although every word was like a knife twisting into his gut. “What if he falls to darkness, what will happen to you then?”

“He won't,” Riku said firmly. He knew Sora wouldn't. But still, the words filled him with a sliver of doubt that he immediately hated himself for. He said he'd believe in Sora, and he was going to stick to that promise. And even if Sora fell to darkness, he would never stop fighting to bring him back. There was always a way. If he'd learned anything, it was that darkness was never the end.

“There’s too much light in you, Riku.” The Master said, standing up. Before Riku could ask what that meant, the Master raised his arm. “But that's okay. I'll make it work either way.”

Gloved fingers snapped in the air, and the Lich appeared out of nowhere.

Riku heard Sora gasp beside him. This time, he did step closer to grab Sora’s arm. Sora looked at him then, but Riku saw determination where he had expected panic.

“I can do this,” Sora said softly, for Riku's ears only, but his voice was firm and steady. “Let me do this.”

“Do what?” Riku asked, but the moment was interrupted.

“Sora,” The Master called out, and they both turned towards him as one, Riku's hand still on Sora's arm. “Don't you want revenge?”

Next to him, Sora took Riku's hand and gave it a brief squeeze. Then he let go and took a step forward. Riku's eyes widened as he realised what Sora was about to do.

“No, Sora—” He started, but Sora gave him a reassuring smile over his shoulder. 

“It's okay. I can do this. Cover me from below.”

Vaguely, Riku heard Shang and Mulan gasping behind him, but Riku wasn't able to take his eyes off Sora. He nodded.

“I know you can,” He heard himself say, his voice steady although his chest was clenched with worry. “I’ll cover you.”

Sora held his gaze for a few more seconds, before looking over his shoulder at Mulan and Shang. “I'm glad you guys came with us so far. But please stack back. This can be dangerous.”

Then Sora turned around again. The air around them suddenly went quiet. The wind died down completely, and Riku watched in something between fascination and horror as Sora went still for long moments. Then, the wind picked up again as Sora covered himself in a cloak of purple dark swirls. He transformed in front of their eyes, his black coat growing somehow even darker until it was disconcerting to look at. Riku couldn't see his eyes from here, but he knew they'd be yellow. He also knew this form was different from the Rage Form that Riku had witnessed before back in Arendelle. Rage Form was Sora succumbing to his rage. This form was more, somehow. Stronger, more effective, more controlled.

Riku could feel it inside himself, he saw it when he looked at Sora. There was darkness there, powerful darkness. But beneath it, a light so bright that it nearly took his breath away. As Riku watched, Sora launched himself into the air and rushed at the Lich in a blur of movement. 

The Master's hollow laughter rang through the cold air when Sora’s keyblade clashed with the Lich’s raised sceptre. Riku crouched down on one knee to steady himself for the defensive attacks he was throwing up around Sora. Sora was moving so fast it was all but impossible to follow him with the naked eye, but Riku realised quickly that he just needed to let his heart guide him, and he could throw up shields and barriers wherever he felt they would be needed to protect Sora from the Lich's arsenal of magic attacks.

He watched, using all his focus to cast spell after spell until, vaguely, he realised the hollow laughter had stopped. Sora was landing a series of combinations, rushing the Lich from all sides. Pillars of light and pillars of darkness shot out of the ground whenever Sora paused to raise his keyblade into the air. The air crackled with his magic.

He was amazing

For a long time, Sora looked to be unstoppable, and it seemed only a matter of time before the Lich would succumb. It threw up blocks and barriers of its own, but most of Sora's hits landed well enough. But the fight went on and on, and Riku slowly felt Sora’s strength wavering. Even though Riku’s barrier spells stopped the majority of the Lich's magic attacks, occasionally one would hit, casting Sora back into the air. He recovered himself every time, but every time it took a little longer for him to right himself.

Riku wished there was more that he could do, but he wasn't sure what. He didn't know if he should join in, if that would tip the balance or if Sora was better off with Riku covering him from the ground. And he felt his strength leaving him as well, his barriers and shields coming slower than before.

Before he could make his decision, a sudden feeling of wrongness settled in his gut. He gasped another dark magic spell hit Sora in the side and sent him flying through the air. With an explosion of darkness, Sora righted himself. He soared straight up into the air, the cloud of darkness around him growing larger.

“Sora!” He called out, and he heard Mulan and Shang behind him calling out Sora's name as well. “Sora, don't!”

But it was too late. Sora was contained in a large orb of darkness. Riku felt the power radiating from him, power beyond anything he'd ever seen. But at the same time, he didn't feel the light inside of Sora anymore. The balance was gone, tipped over to the wrong side.

He watched in horror as Sora raised his keyblade, covering himself and the world around them in a sea of darkness. With an inhuman yell, Sora rushed at the Lich. 

Riku saw something out of the corner of his eye, and his gaze flicked sideways in time to see the Master snap his fingers. The Lich disappeared. Then he snapped his fingers a second time and disappeared himself.

Not a second later, Sora stopped mid-air, his keyblade disappearing. Then, all the darkness rushed out of him at once, imploding all around them as Sora plunged down headfirst into the snow.

Chapter Text

The images in front of his eyes flickered, like a computer screen flashing on and off, image to darkness and back again to image. 

A courtyard. 

Flicker to darkness. 

A light in the darkness, distant like a star on the horizon, too far away to reach. 

Another flicker, and he was back in the courtyard. When he looked up, he was staring at a building he'd never seen before. A…mansion? Before he could get a good look, it flickered out of view.

Darkness again.

The darkness felt familiar, but also wrong somehow. More wrong than usual, like it shouldn't be there. Or like he was not supposed to be here in it. He wondered if he should fight it? But he didn't know how; there didn't seem to be any strength in his body. He was floating in the air, and he couldn't really feel anything. There was nothing to smell or touch. It felt as if he was floating in water.

And there was the light again, calling to him, and something in him burst with the need to return the call. The light had a name, only he'd forgotten. He wanted to reach out to it, that felt like the right thing to do, but he couldn't figure out how to move his arm and the light was so far away.

A whisper, very faintly. It sounded like rustling winds. It sounded like it might be his name, but...did he have a name? He couldn't remember.

The courtyard flickered into view again, and he focused very hard to keep it there this time. His head was spinning. He looked down at the grass, and he noticed that he was standing now. Or he had been standing, because he was suddenly on his hands and knees, coughing against something tight in his chest. He curled his fingers into the grass, digging his fingers in the soil beneath, and it grounded him. Blinking repeatedly, he found he slowly started to recognise his own body. 

As the sensations returned to him one by one, his chest heaved with rough breaths, filling his nose with the smell of dirt and grass. The wind was ruffling his hair, and he felt the texture of the earth beneath his hands and knees. After long moments, he felt secure enough to look up.

He was met once more with the sight of a huge mansion in front of him, a massive house of faded pale bricks and a red-tiled roof. Once, it must have been a fabulous place, but now it looked completely abandoned, nothing more than faded glory. He looked around himself, taking in the wild trees in the courtyard, the neglected and overgrown shrubs that had once been neatly trimmed. The sky above was cloudy and dark.

Slowly things were coming back to him. He used to have nightmares like this, before…before someone... It was all still a bit hazy. Was he in a nightmare now? But there was no corridor of darkness, no suffocating purple haze around him. He looked back towards the building. A gravel path ran from the grass he was currently still leaning on. He stood, a little shakily, and took a step forward onto the path. He had to extend his arms to the side to keep his balance, but he managed. Something pulled him towards the mansion.

He started slowly, a few small paces, just to try them out, remembering what it was like to walk. Then as he moved, he gained confidence, and by the time he was halfway through the courtyard, he was walking normally. Right before he opened the mansion's door everything flickered out of view for a second or two, and he was back in the darkness. 

S—

Was that… There was that light again, too. He wanted to go to it, but… He shook his head to clear his mind because there was something he had to do, something important… 

Another flicker, and he opened the door to get inside the mansion. He missed the darkness for a second or two, and he was surprised, because wasn't the darkness supposed to be bad? But then he remembered the light, and he felt...happy? He felt happy. He smiled. He continued further into the house, tiptoeing so he wouldn't make a sound, not wanting to be heard. He hid behind doors and corners, although there seemed to be no one around to see him. 

Then he got to an open door in the middle of a long corridor, and a sudden jolt ran through his body, not painful, not really, but he still doubled over, his hands on his knees, heart in his throat.

Sora—

That sounded familiar. He looked around himself, but there was no one there. 

“I know,” a voice from behind the door said, and Sora (that was his name, Sora) crept closer, pressing himself against the wall next to the open door. 

“He hurt you. But it was necessary. It's all part of the plan. We need Sora in darkness. He became too much light. And that won't do, because the other one already is too much light.”

This voice knew his name. How did it know his name? And there was...another? What other? Before he could dwell on it, there was a sound, a whisper that Sora felt in his very bones. Something like dread settled in his stomach, and his breathing grew shallow. But then the voice continued.

“Xehanort had it wrong, you know. It's not 100% pure light and 100% pure darkness that you need, there's no such thing. It's impossible. What you need is darkness streaked with light, and light streaked with darkness and then fuse it. It will become infinitely more powerful.”

A pause. The words all sounded vaguely familiar, although he couldn't really make sense of them. It was like they were spoken in a different language, one he had once known, but forgotten. Who was Xehanort? What was this fusion this voice spoke of? It sounded important, it sounded like something he should know.

So maybe this wasn't a nightmare, but by now he was sure now that he was in a dream at least. He felt so far removed from his body it felt like he was seeing everything from a point outside of himself. And he knew for certain that even though he could hear them, they couldn’t see him.

For a second, he felt like everything would flicker to darkness again, but he pressed his fingernails into the palms of his hands and willed himself to remain standing here. With his heart pounding, he slipped through the open door. He entered some sort of living room, although the furniture was sparse. There were high bookcases all along the walls, but apart from that, there was only a sofa and a coffee table. On the sofa, his legs crossed, one arm across the backseat of the sofa, sat a man with a dark coat, his hood covering his face. And next to the man, floating in the air, was an enormous black creature, and its chest— 

Sora stared for a moment, his heart suddenly racing, his eyes wide with fear. A fear that almost made him double over again, but he pressed his fingernails harder into his palms and stood straighter, forcing himself to think. There was something he'd forgotten. This man and this creature looked so familiar, but how… And why were they talking about him?

Sora!

He clutched at his chest as another jolt ran through him, but it felt good this time. It felt warm and light and it made him feel more alive, even though this was a dream. He stood up straight again, fear pushed to the back of his mind. This was important. He needed to pay attention.

“Before, I thought we could use Riku. His darkness was so powerful, so good.” 

Riku… Riku! Everything suddenly came rushing back to him. He'd been standing on top of a mountain, snow all around him, adversaries in front of him, and he was not afraid. He wasn't, because he could do this. Because Riku believed in him. And he'd been powerful, and Riku had… Riku had protected him. And he'd almost won. But then… He remembered falling and falling and being unable to move, unable to cast a spell or summon a keyblade and… He reached out a hand to steady himself against a bookcase. I'm sorry, Riku…

Vaguely, he heard the man talking again, and he strained to hear the words over the pounding in his ears.

Then the room disappeared once more, and suddenly there was light all around him. But he couldn't open his eyes, he couldn't move, and he panicked for a second. Only for a second though, because then…

“I believe in him.”

That voice… His heart rate rose, and his fingers twitched. He wanted to reach out to that voice, but his body was frozen and he was lying on...a bed? Why was he on a bed? There was pain, too, and the longer he laid there, the more he became aware of the pain that seemed to radiate from every nerve ending in his body.

“You should. Keep believing in him. There was a time when Hercules lost his strength, and I never stopped believing in him. And in the end, he found his strength again.”

It was a female voice speaking these words, and Sora recognised it, although he couldn't place it. Also, why was he in so much pain? He couldn’t breathe, and he wanted to be away from here, but at the same time he didn’t, he needed to hear that voice again, confident and fond and soft.

“Sora has done it before. I know he'll do it again.”

But the harder he tried to focus on the kind voice, the more it seemed to slip away. Suddenly he was back in the room with the bookcases and he slid down the bookcase he was leaning against. All this jumping back and forth made his head spin, and he pressed his hands against closed eyelids for a second to ground himself. The pain was gone, though, and he could breathe again.

Over the rushing in his ears, the Master spoke again.

“It's too bad that we had to start all over once Riku became filled with too much light. It's made him immune to the darkness, you know? I mean, it's still there, inside of him. He can't get rid of it entirely, that's impossible. But it doesn't affect him like it used to.” 

The voice let out a deep sigh. 

“So, it's gotta be Sora instead. If Riku is our light streaked with darkness, Sora's gonna be the darkness streaked with light. There's no other way; we need our Yin and Yang. So, friend — can I call you friend? — we had to let him chase you down. It was the only way to condemn his heart to the abyss. Sow the seeds as it were. Then we let him return to his own dimension, and let nature take its course. With a little help, of course. A good gardener prunes their plants to produce the best result.”

The Lich was floating in place, bobbing up and down slowly. It had no expression on its face. Sora watched and frowned. He reached out a hand, fingers curling around air where there should have been a keyblade. He ached to charge and fight and harm. It curled in his stomach, a tight and powerful feeling.

“I'm sorry, but I couldn't let you defeat him yet. Either of them. All of this was just to draw out the darkness in Sora.”

There was a hollow laugh that turned Sora's inside to ice.

Then everything flickered again. Light filtered through his closed eyelids. He was still in pain, but it was worth it, because of that light.

“You should believe in yourself too, Riku.”

The light grew brighter and something warm and delicate blossomed in Sora’s chest as the soft voice was back. Riku... “I do.” 

Everything inside of him called out to the light, but he still couldn't move.

“There was a time that I didn't. When I didn't think I was worth it.” Sora felt heavy with the need to move and open his eyes (why couldn't he open his eyes?), to protest, because Riku had always been worth it. “But not anymore.”

“That's good. You are worth it. You're lucky to have each other.”

“Yeah…” And there was so much longing and sorrow in that word, and why couldn't he move, he wanted to move and then suddenly everything went dark again.

He drifted through time and space for a long time. Then he was back in the Realm of Darkness, floating in the air, and he opened his eyes to see himself covered in it, purple swirls tugging at his limbs and he arched his back, fighting to get them off, and he coughed again and curled in on himself, but then…

God, this was so exhausting. He was panting, his arms wrapped around his knees, sitting on the floor back in the mansion's living room.

“Soon, though.” The voice laughed. “They're so close. I have waited for this moment for a long time. I have waited for centuries. Until I felt it, the light and the darkness, the ripple in the universe when they met for the first time. And I've been patient since then, watching. It was when I saw them making a joined keyblade, a combined keyblade, out of thin air, that I knew for sure. They don't know it, but that combined keyblade of theirs is just another kind of χ-blade. It's not that powerful, of course. Not yet, at least.”

Sora’s head was spinning, but this time in confusion. He'd been too scared at first and then too angry and too unsettled by all this being hurtled around to register most of the words, but suddenly he realised what he was listening to. It was like little puzzle pieces clicking together in his head one by one. Xehanort, the Lich, the abyss, his and Riku's combined keyblade... And where was he? All of this was the weirdest thing that had ever happened to him. And he'd had some weird things happening to him.

He drifted back into darkness with that hollow laugh ringing in his ears.

The next time he woke up, it was a slow drift into consciousness, and he felt...weightless. Ethereal. But this wasn't a dream anymore. This was real. 

He squeezed his eyes shut tighter and was surprised to find out his body was cooperating this time. He was lying on his back, and everything around him was soft and light and hazy. There was pain still, an ache under his skin that was hard to pinpoint, but it wasn’t overwhelming anymore and he could breathe, so he did. He focused on breathing for long moments, liking the way the air felt as it went down into his lungs, four counts in, hold for two, four counts out. The way he'd taught himself years ago, when panic threatened to overtake him whenever he thought about the weight of the worlds on his shoulders.

As Sora breathed, he scanned his body. The pain was a dull throb, but it was bearable. He wriggled his toes, and that seemed to go well. Then slowly he dragged his attention upwards, his legs, his torso, his arms. Where he had felt light before, now everything was heavy, but a good kind of heavy. Melted into the mattress, grounded by heavy blankets on top of him, soft and warm. When he tried to move his left hand, his fingers brushed against something squishy and then there was a gasp and...

“Sora?”

He opened his eyes and everything was white for a moment. Then shapes and colours slowly drifted into focus as his eyes adjusted to being used again after who knows how long. Slowly a ceiling came into view, covered in elaborate paintings of heroes fighting against three-headed monsters. 

Before he could think more about those battles, there was a hand on his face, so gentle that it made Sora want to cry. Then tender fingers brushed over his temples, catching the wetness there and oh, okay, so he was crying. 

“Sora.” There was so much emotion in Riku's voice that Sora couldn’t distil all of it. But he wanted to. He wanted to pick apart that one word — his name — and unravel all the emotions so he could display them on a shelf in his heart to feel every single one: anxiety and astonishment and helplessness and joy and love.

He turned his head to the left, lowered his eyes away from the ceiling and caught Riku's gaze where he was sitting on a chair next to the bed. One hand on Sora's cheek, the other gripping Sora's hand tight on top of the bedsheets. He looked exhausted, dark circles under worried eyes and his forehead wrinkled, but he was smiling through all of that.

Sora opened his mouth, and he wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but all that came out was, “Riku.” His voice was hoarse, and his throat was so dry it hurt to speak.

But it was worth it when the smile on Riku's face grew wider, softer and he leaned forward to cup Sora's face in both hands.

“Are you okay? How are you feeling? Are you in pain? Do you want anything? Should I get the healer?”

Those were too many questions at once, so Sora ignored them in favour of staring at Riku's face, now closer, studying him carefully.

“Riku,” he said, his voice still raspy. He did want something, he realised. With great difficulty, he raised his right arm and touched it to Riku's face. “Hold me.”

“I'm not sure if…”

But even a weak and barely awake Sora could pout, and Riku sighed before he folded back the covers and slipped in underneath them. When he wrapped his arms around Sora, Sora relaxed, melting into the embrace and trying to hug Riku back as well as he could. One of Riku's arms went around his waist, and Sora rolled over a little so he was pressed even closer, half on top of Riku. Riku's other hand curled into the hair at the nape of his neck.

For long moments he just breathed against Riku's chest, in time with his heartbeat. Four counts in, hold for two, four counts out again, as Riku brushed fingers through his hair in tune with the beat. Sora shivered, curling in closer to Riku, needing the way the contact made him feel anchored, needing to feel him. Something warm and helpless settled in his stomach.

“Sora, I was so worried,” Riku's voice was strained from where he had pressed his face into Sora's hair.

“It's okay. I'm here now,” Sora stroked soothing fingers down Riku's spine, tracing over the shirt, along the edges of where he knew the dream eater sigil was. 

“Yeah…” Riku trembled against him, tightening his hand into Sora's shirt against the small of his back.

They had more to say. Sora had so many questions, and he needed to tell Riku about his weird dreams. But all that could wait. He needed this so much more. The warmth inside of him slid up and down his spine and tingled all over his skin now.

Sora relaxed so completely into the hug that he almost slipped back into unconsciousness, but Riku pulled back before he was fully gone. With shaky hands Riku brushed Sora's hair back from his forehead, and then ran the same hand through his own hair, trying visibly to compose himself. His face turned serious. Cuddle time was over then. 

“How are you feeling?” Riku asked carefully, one hand still on Sora's back.

“Not too bad. Thirsty.”

Riku helped him sit up, putting a pillow behind his back, and handed him a drinking cup with water. Riku watched as he drowned it all in long gulps, choking a little when he swallowed too fast in his haste to get rid of that parched feeling. When the cup was empty, he felt a little better. He decided to start with the most pressing question.

“Where are we?”

Riku settled next to him against the headboard of the bed, and now that Sora was sitting up, he could look around the room. It was a beautiful room, heavily decorated with carved wooden furniture, marble statues and red and black painted vases. There were large paintings all over the walls. The cotton azure curtains were open, fluttering faintly in the breeze from the open window. There was a fireplace, unlit, and above it hung a painting of Zeus holding hands with a beautiful woman.

“We're in Olympus, in Hercules and Meg's house,” Riku said. “Do you remember...what happened?”

Sora nodded slowly, thinking back to the last thing he remembered. “We were on a mountain with the Master and the Lich. I fought it. You helped me, but I fell. There was darkness.”

“You're okay now.” Riku's words were somewhere between a question and a statement. As if saying those words would make them true.

Sora nodded, leaning closer into Riku's side. The pain underneath his skin was still there, but it paled in comparison to the warmth radiating from Riku's body that made him feel fuzzy and hazy all over. Riku wrapped an arm around Sora's shoulder.

“How did we get here?” Sora asked. “How long have I been asleep?”

“Two weeks,” Riku said. “Mulan, Shang and me got you down the mountain and to the palace, but the Emperor’s healers weren’t able to help you. Olympus was the closest world. I didn’t dare fly back all the way to Radiant Garden, and I hoped Hercules would be able to help.”

Two weeks? Wow. No wonder Riku looked so extremely tired. He peered up at Riku through his eyelashes, and from up-close, the dark circles beneath his eyes were even more obvious. Sora was loath to tell him what he'd learned and add to his worries, but Riku needed to know.

“I have…” Sora trailed off, wondering where to start. “When I was out, I had…dreams.”

“Nightmares?” Riku asked in alarm, tightening his arm around Sora. “I tried to reach you. Every day, I tried to dive into your sleep, to get to where you were. But I couldn't.”

Sora closed his eyes. Of course Riku had tried. He knew. He'd heard Riku's voice, even in the darkness. He'd seen his light, even if it had been far away.

“Not nightmares,” Sora shook his head as well as he could, pressed up against Riku's shoulder. “Not really. I'm not sure exactly what it was. It felt like I was connected to the Lich, and my spirit followed him to wherever it was?”

“You dreamed about the Lich?”

“Yeah, and the Master. But it's okay,” Sora added quickly as he felt Riku tense up. “They couldn't see me. It was weird. But the Master was talking, about me and—”

Sora suddenly cut himself off with a yawn, and he rubbed his eyes. He was so sleepy, but he needed to get out what he remembered from his dreams before he fell asleep again. So he told Riku everything. The darkness, the mansion, the room with the bookcases, the Master, the Lich. And the story of how Sora and Riku were supposed to make this ultimate χ-blade, although Sora still had no idea of how that was supposed to happen. 

“And then he said I needed to be the darkness, and you needed to be the light. But that I needed some light inside of me, and you needed some darkness. Not a full split like Xehanort did with Ventus and Vanitas.”

Riku was silent for a long time. Sora waited, listening to his heart beating where his head was pressed against Riku's chest. The steady rhythm of it calmed him down. He remembered the Master talking about drawing out the darkness in him. Was there more darkness in him now? He didn't feel any different. Not like before, when he'd felt tainted with it, not wanting anyone — least of all Riku — to be close to him. 

Finally, Riku spoke up, interrupting his thoughts. “Remember when Mickey told us about the χ-blade and there was something he wasn't telling us?”

Sora hummed in acknowledgement.

“I think he knew it would come to this.”

“So what do we do?”

Riku pulled away and put his hands on Sora's shoulders. “We're not doing anything right now. You are going to rest and heal up.”

Riku's words were stern, but the look on his face was one of worry and relief, so Sora nodded, no energy left to disagree. He yawned instead, proving Riku's point.

Riku slid off the mattress and settled back down in the chair as Sora lay back down under the covers. He let Riku fuss with the blanket, but before Riku had fully tucked him in, he was out again like a light.

When he woke up next, he felt much better. The pain was all but gone, and opening his eyes was much easier this time around. He looked towards the chair on the left side of the bed to find Riku slumped forward with his arms crossed on the bedsheets. He clutched Sora's hand in a tight grip, his arms on top of Sora's hand and his head pillowed on his harms. His breaths were deep and steady, the rhythm soothing. 

Sora smiled at him for long moments, watching him sleep. He hoped the position wasn't too uncomfortable and that he wouldn't wake up with a painful back. Riku's face was hidden by his hair, and Sora was struck by the irrational thought that he wanted to wake him up just to see him smile.

After Sora had been looking at Riku for a good few minutes, picturing Riku's smile in his mind instead, there was a cough from his right side. He whipped his head around. 

“Herc!” He cried out, then clamped the hand that wasn't trapped below a sleeping Riku to his mouth. He glanced back towards Riku, who was still breathing deeply. 

“Don't worry, he's out like a light.” Hercules smiled. “He hasn't left your side once in the past two weeks, and he refused to sleep anywhere else. He must be exhausted.”

Sora's mouth curved up in a soft unconscious smile. “That sounds like Riku, yes.”

“How are you feeling?” Hercules asked. 

“Like I've been run over by Hades’ chariot and set on fire multiple times.”

Hercules chuckled. “At least you're still cracking jokes.”

“Yeah,” Sora murmured. “I think I'll be okay.”

“You had all of us really worried, Sora. Our healer tells me it was touch and go for a few days. Your physical injuries healed quickly, but still, you wouldn't wake up. He did everything he could, but if not for Riku…”

Sora's heart skipped a few beats. “What about Riku?”

“He was in here every day, casting healing spells until he almost passed out from exhaustion. Meg had to make him promise to stop at some point, he was pushing himself beyond his limits.”

Sora looked away from Hercules again to glance down at the head of silver hair resting on the bed. He wasn't surprised to hear this, although he couldn't decide if he should be thankful or angry. Riku always gave him everything, was always looking out for him. To the point where he almost gave Sora more than what he had to give. 

“I’m glad you found your special someone,” Hercules said gently. 

Sora frowned, turning again to look at Hercules. Special someone? “What do you mean?”

Hercules’ gaze shifted to where Riku was passed out on the bed and he smiled before turning back to Sora with a knowing look.

Sora blinked. Once, then twice, then a third time. “Riku…? You mean Riku?”

“Yeah?” The look on Hercules’ face said duh.

“No, Riku is not my—” 

But then he gasped. 

Hercules continued. “You didn't see the way he looked at you when you were out cold. He looked like his heart was broken in two. Nothing we did or said could console him. The only time he smiled, was when he was reminiscing about you.”

But Sora barely heard what Hercules was saying. He looked back to Riku's sleeping form.

Riku's heart guided him home from the other dimension. Riku protected him, always looked out for him, and Sora loved the way that made him feel. Even in his dreams, he could feel his own heart calling out to Riku’s all the time. All he'd ever wanted was to be by Riku's side, for as long as he could remember.

Sora felt something light and wild flutter inside his ribcage, and his stomach was turning itself into a thousand little knots. Despite that, he smiled giddily, unable to help himself.

Hercules was right. Riku was his special someone.

Sora slowly pulled his hand out from where it was trapped beneath Riku's arms. Riku murmured something in his sleep but didn't move when Sora settled his hand on top of Riku's head instead, stroking over the soft strands of hair. It felt freshly-washed, soft and somehow so Riku. He caught a whiff of familiar shampoo, something spicy and flowery. Both the touch and the smell were familiar, comforting Sora in the way that only Riku could.

Then, slowly, Riku raised his head and blinked his eyes open. Sora let his hand fall back to the bedcovers.

“I'll give you some time alone,” Hercules said and stood.

“Thanks, Herc,” Sora said firmly. “For everything.”

Hercules left the room, and then Sora had nothing else to do but to stare at Riku. Riku's eyes were narrowed with sleep, and his hair was ruffled. He was looking back at Sora with a small smile on his face and once again Sora was struck by the thought how beautiful Riku was. 

This time, it made his heart flutter in his chest as his breath hitched a little in his throat. This time, he let himself dwell on the thought, cataloguing all of the little details in the picture Riku made in front of him. The way Riku's bangs fell across his forehead and into his eyes a little, how bright teal his eyes were behind the strands of silver hair. The curve of his pink lips slightly parted, upturned in that soft, familiar smile that Sora had wanted to wake him up for earlier. Then he let his eyes trail over the tendons in Riku's neck, down to the way his collarbones disappeared under the v-neck of his white shirt. 

Sora swallowed. Okay, that was new. He drew in a shaky breath and felt himself blush.

“How are you feeling?”

Sora blinked. For a second, he kept staring at Riku's shirt collar and forgot to reply. 

“Sora, you're burning up. Do you have a fever?”

Riku leaned forwards to press the back of his hand against Sora's forehead, and Sora closed his eyes, forcing himself to keep breathing.

“You feel okay,” Riku said thoughtfully as he pulled his hand back. 

“I am okay,” Sora said with his eyes still closed, unable to keep the smile off his face. He felt so stupidly giddy all of a sudden. He needed to get out of this room, there was a weird energy inside of him that made it impossible to keep still. He needed to move.

He opened his eyes and sat up, pushing back the covers.

“Sora, what—”

He swung his legs over the edge of the bed to put his feet on the floor, and promptly his head swam with a slightly dizzy feeling. There was a hand on his shoulder, steadying him.

“Sora.”

Four counts in, hold for two, four counts out. He did that several times before the world righted itself again.

“I'm hungry.”

“I can get you something to eat.”

“I wanna see Herc's house.”

Riku squinted at him. “Are you sure that's—”

Yes.” Sora was tired of feeling helpless and weak, and the sooner he got out of here, the sooner he'd get back to feeling himself again.

To his surprise, Riku nodded. “I suppose I can show you around.”

Riku hovered as Sora put on his shoes and his jacket, although he didn't offer any help, for which Sora was grateful. It made him feel as if he didn't look as weak as he felt. When he’d tied his shoelaces and was standing up, he swayed for only a second. He turned to give Riku a proud grin as if to say see?

Riku chuckled. “Okay. C'mon, let's get you some food. That'll make you feel better, too.”

Thirty minutes later, Sora had consumed half a loaf of bread, a plate full of cheese with honey, several handfuls of figs and a bowl of yoghurt as Riku looked on in amazement.

“Hey,” Sora said in between bites, leaning over the kitchen counter, closer to where Riku was standing on the other side of it. “I've been asleep for two weeks. I can't live on Cure spells alone.”

Riku flushed a little. “Ah, so Herc told you about that, did he?”

Sora nodded, swallowing around a mouthful of yoghurt. He realised his first impulse was to reach out and grab Riku's hand where it was resting on the counter, and he would have, only… Touching Riku suddenly brought with it a whole new set of implications.

Which was stupid. He'd held Riku's hand before. They'd stood side by side looking at a sky full of lanterns, and neither of them had even mentioned the fact that they'd been holding hands then. Why was it suddenly different? He was slowly chewing on a dried fig as his mind went miles away, remembering the way their fingers had curled around each other on the steps of the stairs up the castle tower, Riku's hand warm and solid against his, rough calluses on their palms sliding together.

“Sora?”

Sora almost choked as he swallowed the fig, then quickly tried to mask his embarrassment by shoving another few spoonfuls of yoghurt into his mouth, finishing the bowl. He jumped off the stool.

“Done.”

Riku shook his head, his hair flowing a little with the movement. “You're unbelievable.”

“I know.” Sora grinned. “I feel a lot better. Now, you promised to show me around.”

As they walked side by side through the hallways, Sora was acutely aware of how Riku was just a little bit too close. Their elbows brushed every other step, a maddening touch that sent tingles up Sora's arm. Distantly, he was aware of Riku talking and pointing out statues and orange-coloured jars on pedestals. But none of that seemed important.

What was happening to him? He'd never felt this jittery about anything before.

His thoughts kept drifting back to Herc mentioning that Riku was his special someone. He'd never considered having a special someone before. He'd mostly been busy running around, trying to stop Xehanort, trying to save Kairi, trying to get his strength back. And Riku had always just been there. His feelings for Riku had always just been there, as well. He'd never had to think about them before. 

Although… He remembered that moment on top of Corona Castle, where he'd been so confused, and how Riku had looked so hurt when Sora had blurted out stupid thoughts about Kairi… 

Sora glanced sideways in time to see Riku pointing at something.

“...and that's the atrium, it's like a garden in the middle of the house.”

Sora nodded, hoping he looked interested enough that Riku wouldn't comment on his absent-mindedness. 

“That's…” Sora rubbed a hand at the back of his head. “Nice?”

“Sora…” Riku said, but Sora could tell his exasperation was mostly fake, because he settled a hand on Sora's shoulder and smiled that soft smile that Sora knew he didn't give anyone else. “Are you feeling okay?”

As long as you keep looking at me like that, yes.

“Yeah.” Just to have something to distract him from his confusing thoughts, Sora held out his arm to the side and called the Kingdom Key into his hand. It felt good, having a keyblade in his hand again. And to distract himself further, he changed the subject. “Have you thought about what we need to do about the Master?”

Riku sighed and dropped his hand. “Let's sit down.”

Sora let the keyblade disappear, and they found a stone bench in the shade at the edge of the garden. 

“We need to find out where he's hiding. When you saw them, did you recognise anything?” Riku asked. 

Sora thought back to the courtyard he'd been standing in, the mansion he'd been looking up at. “No.”

“I've been thinking. What if they're not in a world we can get to?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if right now, they're back in that other dimension, the one you travelled through before?”

Sora's eyes went wide. “Do you think so?”

Riku nodded. “Earlier today, when you were asleep, I talked to Mickey and Master Yen Sid. They agree.”

Sora narrowed his eyes. “Did you tell Mickey he should've told us the truth?”

“I didn't,” Riku shook his head slowly. “He must have had his reasons.”

Sora huffed a little. “It could've helped us.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

Sora turned sideways on the bench, sitting cross-legged so he was facing Riku. “So we do nothing?”

Riku shifted to mirror Sora's position, so they were both facing each other, knees touching. “When you're back to full strength, we'll keep looking. Like we've been doing.”

“Yeah,” Sora agreed. “If anything, it'll be fun to travel to more worlds together.”

“Yeah,” Riku said, offering him a small, almost shy smile that set Sora's pulse racing again. “I'm so glad you're okay...” 

Without thinking, Sora tentatively raised a hand to place against Riku's cheek, touching him in the same way Riku touched Sora these days. Riku sighed at the contact, turning his head a little, and Sora ran an experimental thumb across his cheek. He held his breath as Riku's eyes fell closed for a second, silver eyelashes dark in the shadows. He wondered if he should say something, reassure Riku somehow, but he didn't trust himself to speak. After what felt like an eternity, a voice called out from across the garden.

“Sora! Riku!”

Sora almost guiltily dropped his hand.

Meg and Hercules made their way over, and Meg smiled at Sora as they came to stand in front of the bench. “We heard you'd been up and about.”

“Yeah,” Sora said. “Thanks for letting us stay here.”

“Oh, after all you've done for this world, it's the least we could do!” Meg said with a grin. “You look...surprisingly good for someone who’s just spent two weeks unconscious in bed.”

Riku chuckled and Sora beamed. “Must be something in the food here.”

“He did eat a lot of that,” Riku added from where he was sitting.

“I was hungry, okay?”

As if to underline his point, Sora’s stomach rumbled and all three of the others laughed as Sora pouted.

“We wanted to invite you to dinner.”

“I love dinner,” Sora said, and Riku laughed again.

Meg looked from Sora to Riku and her smile grew wider. “It’s good to hear you laugh. I don't think I've heard you even chuckle the whole two weeks you've been here.”

Sora glanced sideways as Riku lowered his eyes to the ground. He reached out his hand again, lightly resting it on his shoulder. That seemed to help, as Riku looked up again.

“We’ll see you there, then, okay?”

After Meg and Hercules left, Sora and Riku got up and wandered around the house some more. Sora was still distracted, but he also wanted to know what he'd missed over the past two weeks. He mostly managed to pay attention while Riku told him what he knew, although Riku had been cooped up as well and too distracted to really keep up with everything. Most of his information had come from a string of text messages from the Mysterious Tower and Radiant Garden: Mickey and Master Yen Sid doing more research, Kairi and Ienzo working on their Heartless machine some more, and Donald and Goody dividing their time amongst other worlds that needed protecting from a surge of Heartless.

Sora was proud of himself for listening to more than half of it. Mostly, it was just nice to spend time with Riku.

When it was time for dinner, they made their way over to the dining room. It was crowded, what with Hercules being the most popular hero in this world, who apparently liked having over a lot of guests for dinner. There were at least fifty people in there, seated at two long tables. Sora and Riku sat down next to each other on a bench at the end of one of the tables, and Sora looked around with interest at all the other people there.

That interest quickly made way for concern as he could tell Riku was feeling uncomfortable with the sheer amount of people around. Riku had never been good with crowds, and Sora supposed that after spending the past two weeks mostly in a Sora's room without a lot of company, all of this must be extra overwhelming.

So Sora ignored the rest of the room to relay the anecdote of the last time he was here, how they'd raced down the streets of Thebes on Goofy's shield to collect mini flans. He kept talking non-stop until he made Riku smile by recounting in detail the number of times they crashed into walls and gazebos.

Then, right after the main course, he reached out without thinking to grab Riku's hand where it was resting in his lap, underneath the table.

“You wanna get out of here?”

Relief flooded across Riku's face. Still, he said, “Don't you want dessert?”

Sora did, of course, but he didn't mention that. Instead, he squeezed Riku's hand and shook his head. “I'm tired.”

Riku's small smile was more than worth the lack of dessert.

Sora held onto Riku's hand as they slipped out of the dining room and through the corridors. It was nice holding Riku's hand again, and Sora felt weirdly energetic as he pulled Riku back towards the atrium where they'd sat and talked earlier. The sun had set now, although the air was still warm. The garden had been nice before, but now it was lit by torches all around, which gave everything an orange, unearthly glow, making the place even more beautiful.

With his left hand, Sora felt into his trouser pocket. Over dinner, an idea had started to grow in his head, and he couldn't let it go. The necklace he'd bought for Riku was wrapped in a soft velvet cloth in his pocket. He pried the cloth apart with his fingers a little until the necklace was uncovered. Nervously, he traced the warm metal underneath with his fingertips. It had been a while since he'd bought it, and he'd meant to give it to Riku earlier, but the right moment had somehow not yet presented itself.

Maybe that was a good thing. He wanted to tell Riku about Meg and Hercules, about what had happened that made Hercules get his strength back before. That's what made both of them stronger. And Sora knew that this was the same for him and Riku as well. Riku's love for him made both of them stronger. And Sora's love for Riku… His breath hitched.

Riku stopped in the middle of the gardens, and Sora turned around in confusion.

“Riku?”

“Are you really okay?”

Sora's face softened and he let Riku pull him in so they were a mere foot apart. “I am really okay.”

“Good. In that case—” Before Sora realised what was happening, Riku punched his shoulder with his free hand. It barely hurt, but Sora felt his face slip into a pout anyway, and he took his hand out of his pocket to rub at the afflicted shoulder.

“Hey,” he said, frowning. “What was that for?”

“For worrying me,” Riku said, his voice low. “For nearly dying on me. Again.”

“I didn't die.” His voice was still a little pouty, but the look on Riku's face quickly made all of Sora's indignation melt away.

“Well, whatever you did,” Riku said and his voice trembled a little. “Don't do it again.”

Something tight settled into Sora's chest. “I won't.”

“I mean it, Sora. We're gonna run into them again. And this time, we can't lose. I can't—”

Sora stepped closer and raised both of his hands to cup Riku's cheeks. His heart was racing as he tilted Riku's face down, so he could lean their foreheads together.

“I know,” he said softly.

Riku shook his head gently. “I can't lose you again.”

“I know,” he repeated. Riku's face was so close to his that he could see the gleam in his eyes in the darkness. Sora's heart was already in his throat, and he swallowed convulsively around it. 

Riku's eyes slipped closed, and Sora let go of his face to pull him into a hug, his arms going around Riku's broad shoulders. 

“You too,” he said, suddenly with tears in his eyes. “You need to take care of yourself, too. You need to stop curing me when your magic is low. And you need to sleep, even if I'm not okay.”

Riku shook against him, and Sora held him tighter. They stood for long moments, Riku rubbing a soothing hand up and down Sora's back, Sora toying slowly with the strands of silky hair beneath his fingers, parting them so his could stroke the soft skin underneath. Riku shivered.

Sora wanted to stay here forever. Masters and Liches be damned, he never wanted to go anywhere ever again. He wanted to touch every part of Riku, his hair, his neck; he wanted to run hands down over his t-shirt. He wanted Riku to shiver again.

They had so much lost time to make up for. 

Slowly, reluctantly, he pulled back. Because he needed to say this, and he needed to look at Riku when he did. Riku's face was unguarded, and the expression there, a mix of tenderness and eagerness, took Sora's breath away. He slid his hands down Riku's back to settle them on his hips.

Despite himself, Sora broke into a smile. “I only dream about you, Riku.”

Riku froze. “Sora?”

And Sora couldn't help it, he beamed at Riku. “I told you, back in Corona. I didn’t know what that meant, then. But I know now.”

Riku's eyes widened and his mouth fell open. He closed it again, shaking his head. He tried to step back, but Sora tightened his grip on Riku's hips.

“I'm sorry I didn't figure it out sooner,” Sora said softly.

Silence hung heavy and sudden between them. Riku looked like a deer caught in the headlights, and Sora wanted to shake him, tell him it was okay, but he had to be patient here. Riku had been patient for him.

“Sora,” Riku whispered at long last. “What are you saying?”

“You're my special someone.”

“Your…”

“Like Meg and Hercules.”

“Like…”

“Like Rapunzel and Eugene. Like Mulan and Shang.”

“Sora…”

“Riku,” Sora said softly, smiling fondly as he shook his head. “Stop it with the one-word sentences. I finally made you speechless, huh?”

Somehow, that spurred Riku into action and the expression on his face shifted to something close to petulance. “No.”

“Another one-word sentence.”

“Sora, don't say this if you don't mean it.” The look on Riku's face turned...scared, almost. 

“Riku, I—” Sora reached into his pocket. “I wanted to give this to you before. I couldn't figure out when. But now I'm glad I waited.” 

He took the velvet cloth from his pocket and removed his other hand from Riku’s hip to fold it open.

“It’s…” he trailed off, suddenly nervous. What if Riku didn’t want it? What if he didn’t like it? It was pink, maybe that was weird? He continued anyway. “It’s for you.”

He held out his hand awkwardly, and watched as Riku’s gaze dropped down to it.

“Sora…”

Another one-word sentence, but Sora decided to let it slip. His hand was trembling a little. 

“To thank you. For being there for me. You gave me my necklace when I was little, and… I mean it, Riku.” Sora swallowed thickly. “I mean it.”

Riku was just staring at the necklace in the hand he was holding out.

“Say something.” Sora winced at how small his voice sounded.

Riku looked up then, and Sora gasped as their gazes met — Riku's eyes had turned a soft pink. It reminded Sora of the way his dream eaters’ eyes turned pink when he petted them or fed them Confetti Candy.

“Sora, this is…” Riku whispered. “Did you buy this...for me?”

“Yeah,” Sora said a little sheepishly. “I'm sorry about the munny.”

“I don't care about the munny.” Riku finally raised his hands to the necklace, and Sora shivered when their fingers brushed.

“Where did you…”

“In Corona.”

Sora smiled as Riku touched the necklace, not taking it yet. But he'd been patient enough for today. He unclasped the necklace and reached up to put it around Riku's neck. Riku stopped breathing, and Sora saw the colour in his cheeks rise a little, now matching the colour of his eyes. When he had clasped the necklace around Riku's neck, his fingers lingered on the bare skin above Riku's shirt.

Riku shivered again, and Sora was beginning to realise what that meant.

Slowly, Riku raised a hand to the necklace, rubbing the pendant between his thumb and forefinger. “It's pink.”

Sora nodded.

“My favourite colour.” Riku brought his hand from the necklace to Sora's cheek.

“I know.” As if in slow motion, Sora leaned closer. He wanted this. He'd been thinking about it even back in Corona, though he hadn't realised what it meant back then. Riku's other hand found its way to Sora's waist, and Sora wasn't sure if he was the one who moved closer on his own, or if Riku pulled him forwards.

Riku's hand slipped underneath his jacket, and Sora's skin was burning, and was that normal? Should he be worried?

Sora looked from the necklace to Riku's eyes, pink to pink. Should he tell Riku? Did Riku realise his eyes were pink to match the necklace?

“Riku,” Sora breathed instead, unable to find the words to say more than that.

Riku moved closer, suddenly with newfound resolve in his eyes, and Sora didn’t know it was possible, but Riku's face went even softer.

“Yes, Sora?”

God, kiss me, Sora wanted to exclaim, but he closed his eyes instead.

Then opened them immediately when Riku brushed a thumb across his lower lip. 

Sora had thought about all the ways they'd touched and looked at each other over the past weeks. And none of that made him feel so heated as this touch right now. When Riku's thumb stilled, Sora opened his mouth to touch the tip of his tongue against the pad. Then he wrapped his lips around it.

Riku's eyes darkened, pupils dilating until the pink was barely visible.

Sora was afraid to move, afraid to breathe, afraid of anything that could shatter this moment. 

Then he realised that he didn't need to wait for Riku to kiss him. He could be the one to kiss Riku.

So he surged forward and closed the final inches between them. Riku's thumb was caught in between, so Sora just pressed his lips against that instead as Riku gasped.

Then Riku pulled his hand away, slipping it into Sora's hair at the back of his neck, and a sound between a sigh and a moan left Sora's lungs, a sound he'd never heard himself make before. Their lips pressed together, a little slick from Sora's spit, and it was so soft and warm, and Sora lost himself in all of it. 

He felt a faint tremor in his spine, but Riku’s solid arm around his waist was holding him up.

It was so much more than what he'd imagined. It was cold and hot at the same time, the friction was just right, and his lips tingled with it in a way that made Sora squirm a little.

When he opened his mouth again to sigh, the tip of Riku's tongue hesitantly touched between his lips. Sora tightened his grip around Riku's shoulders, tugging him closer, and Riku went willingly. Sora didn't know what to do with all of these feelings tumbling through him, so he just opened his mouth a little wider and gasped as Riku's tongue slipped past his parted lips.

It felt so good, and when Riku sucked a little on his tongue, Sora whimpered, and the tremor in his spine increased. He wanted more and closer, and he wanted all of that now. Riku was only too happy to comply, and Sora didn't care that he was making ridiculous sounds because Riku was making them as well.

Sora wasn’t sure how long they kissed. It felt like hours. When Riku finally pulled back, Sora whined in frustration.

Riku chuckled.

“Sora,” he said, and Sora's eyes widened at the roughness of his voice. Riku's eyes and cheeks were still pink, but now his lips were darkened and swollen to complete the picture.

And there it was, the final line, crossed and man, how had they done this backwards? Starting with sleeping together in the same bed and cuddling to touching and hugs and looks. How had they started this intimacy that built and built until it turned into this

He wanted to ask Riku. Wanted to try and put all these feelings into words. But when he opened his mouth, what he said was, “Your eyes are pink.”

Riku blinked. “P-pink?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Riku said teasingly. “That's not the thing that surprised me the most today.”

“No?” Sora asked, his lips curling up into a little smirk. “What did?”

And Riku shook his head, chuckling. “You need to ask?”

“No, but I wanna hear you say it.”

“You, Sora. You always surprise me. I don't know how you manage to do it, but even after fifteen years, you still surprise me.”

Sora hoped the grin on his face didn't look as stupid as it felt. 


art by: amberwing ❤️❤️❤️

Chapter Text

They hadn't closed the curtains last night, instead preferring the way the torches outside illuminated the room in an orange glow while they lay on the bed and just looked at each other. Nothing else happened. They didn't even kiss again. Sora laced their fingers together and put their joined hands over his heartbeat, which was strong and erratic below Riku's fingers, and Riku's throat closed up with tears because he felt so much love for this boy that he didn't know what to do with at times.

It had taken hours for Sora to fall asleep, and even longer before Riku did as well.

Sora was still sleeping now, his head resting in the curve of Riku's arm, his breathing coming out in hot and even huffs against Riku's shirt. The sunlight fell across the bed, a golden line slowly inching across the sheets towards their faces. Riku's arm was asleep, and his back was twisted a little awkwardly to accommodate Sora, but he didn't care. He would be content to lie here forever, watching Sora sleep, and a numb arm and sore back muscles seemed like a small price to pay for this. 

He could hardly believe last night's events. Ever since that night in Corona, he had started to hope. It was a small hope at first, but it had grown. With every smile Sora gave him, with every touch of their hands, or whenever Sora leaned his head against his shoulder, that hope had flourished. Riku knew he hadn't imagined the electricity between them when they sparred. And maybe he had realised the way Sora felt about him even before Sora did. But to hear him say it was something else entirely, something Riku had been utterly unprepared for.

Sora, his best friend, his light, who had told him with wide, blazing eyes that he knew now, that he meant it, that he was sorry for not figuring it out sooner. And Riku had felt like he was in a dream. He still felt like he was in a dream. He brought his free arm to the necklace, the pink stone that rested lightly between his collarbones. A promise of some sort, in return for the promise Riku had made when they were little, the promise he kept every day, without question. To protect what matters.

Riku exhaled slowly. He'd often thought about what it would be like to kiss Sora, but the actual kiss didn't compare to anything he'd fantasised about. It had been a million times better. Sora so solid and warm in his arms, the soft urgency behind the press of their lips, but most of all, the emotions that Sora pulled to the surface. Emotions that apparently made his eyes change colour. For Sora. He didn't really know how he felt about that yet. He was used to burying his feelings so deeply that to have them on display made him feel exceedingly vulnerable. But he trusted Sora to keep his secrets. 

Sora's eyelids fluttered and he stirred. Riku couldn't keep the smile off his face as Sora slowly opened his eyes and looked up at him, blinking. He'd been wrong before. Watching Sora sleep wasn't his favourite sight. This was his favourite sight, Sora with sleepy eyes, dishevelled hair and slowly breaking into a gentle smile.

“Hi,” Riku said softly.

“Hi,” Sora replied in a rough voice that did weird things to Riku's stomach. 

Sora's eyes widened marginally, his mouth falling open. Riku was struck with the desire to kiss him, to lick into that mouth until Sora was trembling in his arms, until the world ended with both of them just here, making out until the end of days. The fact that they could now made him shiver a little.

Yet Riku didn't want to assume. He would never ask Sora for more than he was willing to give. He would be patient for Sora. He'd wait forever for Sora. But yesterday Sora had kissed him and Riku wanted to find out if he'd do it again.

But he wanted to go slow.

“How are you feeling?”

Sora yawned and contemplated this for a second. “Good. Better than good.” He paused and gave Riku a sleepy grin. “Especially when you're looking at me like that.”

So much for going slow. Riku moved and rolled them over, as gently as possible so as not to startle Sora, until Sora was beneath him against the mattress. He carefully didn't touch him, giving Sora space to move away if he wanted to.

Sora's eyes widened further and his breathing quickened to match Riku's. Riku could feel his chest rising and falling rapidly. Sora's hands had fallen to his sides with Riku's movement, but after a moment of hesitation he lifted them to Riku's back, guiding Riku down against him. Riku let himself be pulled and oh that movement did something to the butterflies in his stomach he didn't want to think about right now. Or maybe he did. It was hard to let himself feel all of these things now, after having repressed anything that came even close to this for so long. The feeling that he was in a dream returned, and he resisted the urge to pinch himself.

Sora had called him his special person. The idea that Sora wanted this too, that he, maybe, loved him too — like that, that they could figure this out together, ignited something warm in his chest. Maybe Riku had been a few steps ahead, but he knew Sora would catch up. He always did.

When Sora spread his legs a little so Riku could lie more comfortably between them, Riku's heart rate doubled. He tore his eyes away from Sora's to bury his face in the curve of Sora's neck, overwhelmed by the sudden way his chest clenched and the butterflies that fluttered wildly in his stomach. It was almost too much.

Sora's hands brushed across the tiny strip of bare skin between his shirt and his boxers and Riku gasped as a shudder ran through him. His hips shifted of their own accord, and he let out a low and shuddery breath. And Sora, the little bastard, brushed his hand upwards underneath his shirt, letting it rest against the small of Riku's back, slowly rubbing circles there.

Riku remained still for a few moments before he figured he had collected himself enough to pull back and look at Sora.

Sora's eyes were wide and round, Riku noted with more than a little pride, his pupils dilated to the max. He looked at Riku with a mixture of wonder and nervousness, his mouth half-open, his cheeks flushed. Riku didn't know what he'd done to deserve this.

Riku swallowed heavily and brought a hand to Sora's cheek, warm and soft, trying to get Sora to look a little less skittish. He understood the feeling. If Sora felt even a tenth of the things Riku did, he was probably just as overwhelmed. Sora turned his head a little to lean into the touch and Riku's heart clenched again.

“It's okay,” he said, and he winced as his voice came out higher than usual. “Don't be scared.”

“I'm not scared,” Sora said, his expression shifting as his mouth closed in a defiant little pout.

“It's okay if you are,&rdquo Riku said softly, mouth curving up a reassuring smile.

“Well,” Sora frowned. “I'm not.”

Riku's smile slowly turned into a teasing smirk. “No? Prove it.”

Sora, of course, had never once backed away from a challenge. Within a split second, Riku found their positions reversed, and now Sora was the one pinning him into the mattress with all of his weight, one leg on either side of Riku's hips. His hands rested on Riku's chest, and Riku was now looking up at the hottest sight he'd ever seen: Sora grinning defiantly, leaning down so their faces were only inches apart.

“See?”

Riku couldn't take it anymore, his patience having already run out sometime between Sora opening his legs for Riku to lie between and Sora's hand brushing underneath his shirt. Sora triumphantly grinning down at him did nothing to help. He wanted… God, how he wanted…

“Can I kiss you?” His voice was breathless, low and barely audible.

Sora's eyes widened comically before he nodded. Riku lifted his head to slide their lips together in a smooth movement. Sora gasped, and Riku — all pretence of going slow immediately out of the window — took the opportunity to slide his tongue against Sora's.

Sora's mouth was soft and pliant, his tongue a little hesitant at first, but slowly picking up on what Riku was doing. Ever the quick learner. The blankets rustled as Sora shifted and let out a tiny, desperate noise that set Riku's heart racing even more. Collecting all of his self-control, Riku slowed down and let Sora dictate the pace because that felt like the right thing to do. He slid his hands down Sora's back soothingly, and a soft whimper escaped him as Sora shivered above him.

When Riku pulled away, the need for oxygen too great, Sora sat back up, looking more than a little dazed. The flush on his cheeks had spread lower to where his crown necklace rested against his collarbones, and he looked even more dishevelled than when he'd just woken up.

It was a good look on him, Riku mused, finding himself proven wrong for the second time this morning. Out of all of Sora's facial expressions, this would now have to be his new favourite.

But as Riku watched, the dazed look on Sora's face faded a little, and that little hint of fear from earlier returned as he bit his lip.

“Sora…&rdquo Riku could tell what Sora was thinking. Years of experience in reading Sora's every look, his body language just as familiar as his own. His heart knew Sora's so well. And it clenched now.

Sora looked down at his hands on Riku's chest.

“It's okay. I know this is all...a lot,” Riku said softly, lifting a hand to Sora's neck, thumb brushing against the curve of his jaw. “We'll take it slow.”

“So is this...okay?” Sora asked.

“God, Sora, this is more than okay,” Riku said firmly. “It's more than I ever wanted. This doesn't have to be anything more than what feels right to you. Ever. Okay?”

“Okay,” Sora's smile was a little shy, but his eyes were sparkling as he tilted his head minutely.

“And you can tell me, okay? If something doesn't feel right, please tell me.”

Sora nodded and leaned down to kiss him again. It was a chaste kiss this time, a press of smiling lips, a kiss for comfort and feeling loved and home. Then Sora laid his head down against Riku's chest, and Riku wrapped his arms around his chest and just held him.

And even just that was overwhelming. Sora's hair tickling his jaw, Sora's arms warm and soft around his shoulders, Sora's warm breath against the collar of his shirt. Riku rubbed soothing circles over Sora's back that were more for his sake than Sora's. Sora melted against him, and Riku relaxed as well. The only sounds were their combined inhales and exhales, growing more and more languorous.

Eventually, though, the strip of sunlight reached his eyes, and Riku sighed. “We need to get up.”

Sora groaned against him, nuzzling his cheek against the fabric of Riku's shirt. “I don't want to. Why do we always have to be the ones to save the world?”

“Perks of being keyblade wielders,” Riku shrugged, pushing a little at Sora's shoulder to get him to move. “Come on.”

Sora was pouting a little when he sat up, and Riku couldn't stop the smile on his face. How was everything Sora did just so cute

Then Riku sat up as well, but before Sora could leave the bed, Riku put a gentle hand on his shoulder. Sora turned to him, and the pout on his face softened into that familiar, private smile.

“Hey,” Riku said. “Are you really okay?”

Sora nodded. “I know I only just woke up yesterday. And I know that it's weird. But I feel fine. I feel good, even.”

“Really?” It should've been impossible. But this was Sora. Sora had done the impossible before...

“I don't understand it either.” Sora continued to look at him, his nose and forehead wrinkling in confusion. This, too, was the cutest thing ever, although Riku would probably never admit it out loud. “I don't feel any different than back in the Land of Dragons.”

Riku hummed, tightening his hand on Sora's shoulder just a little. “No pain?”

“No, none at all. It's all gone.” Sora smiled softly and tilted his head. “Guess those cure spells really helped, right?”

“I'm glad,” Riku said heartfelt. “And...the darkness?” 

Sora paused, closing his eyes for a brief moment. “A little, maybe. Nothing...nothing different?”

Riku didn't pretend he understood, but when he reached out with his heart, he also felt there was barely more darkness inside of Sora than earlier. It was still there, yet it was carefully controlled just as before, and Sora's light was so overpowering that the darkness was only discernible if he really searched for it. 

And Sora looked fine.

“I'm good, Riku, I promise.”

“Okay,” Riku nodded and took his hand back. “Guess we need to figure out a plan then. If you think you're up for it?”

Sora face shifted into a pensive frown. “I thought maybe we should call the others again.”

“Which others?”

Sora gestured wildly. “Everyone.”

“I'm not sure our data plan covers calling everyone.” Riku smirked.

“Oh, shut up,” Sora grumbled as Riku laughed. “I mean some sort of group call. I can call our friends in Radiant Garden on my phone, and you can call Mickey and Yen Sid on yours, and we can have some sort of group call.”

“Okay, yeah. That's a good idea.” 

“Someone should be able to give us a clue as to where to go next.”

And so after breakfast, they set their phones propped up against tiny Hercules statues on the wooden floor of Sora's room in a kind of triangle, so they would all be able to see each other. Ienzo and Kairi, Donald and Goofy — back from their mission — were visible on one Gummiphone, and Master Yen Sid and Mickey on the other. Sora and Riku sat cross-legged on the floor in the third corner of the triangle, able to see both phone screens from their position.

When they had reassured everyone that yes, Sora was okay, and no, he didn't plan on doing this again, and yes, Riku was fine too, Sora launched into the story of what he had learned. He told everyone what he'd told Riku yesterday, about the Master wanting the ultimate χ-blade and his plans of using Sora and Riku to make it.

“That's why he made me chase the Lich back in the beginning, I guess,” Sora looked away from the phone screens towards the floor, trailing off with apprehension. 

Riku reached out to take his hand, intertwining their fingers together, and he was happy to see Sora sit up a little straighter and raise his head again. He picked up the tale once more. “After my fight with it in the other dimension, I was weakened, so it was easy for me to be overwhelmed by the darkness. I thought I won, but now I think maybe I lost instead…”

When Sora fell silent, Riku picked up where he left off. “The Master needs Sora to become darkness, because he knows I wouldn't again let in the darkness to the extent that he needed.”

“He's trying to draw out more darkness in me.” Sora had found his voice again. “But I don't think it's working.”

“There's just as much light in Sora as before,” Riku mused. “Maybe he made a mistake?”

Master Yen Sid hummed and stroked his beard. “I doubt we could call it a mistake. But maybe there's more at work here than what he's taken into account.”

“I have a thought,” Kairi quipped, tilting her head. “Both of you are each other's light, right? Did something happen that would brighten that light?”

Riku flushed a little as Sora actually wrinkled his forehead in confusion again. Riku shook his head in exasperation. 

“Sora.”

“What?”

“Really?”

On the phone display, Kairi's grin grew wider. “He's using your love for each other, but I think he got a little more than he bargained for. Right?”

Riku choked on a swallow and coughed as Donald and Goofy gasped. Kairi smirked. Ienzo just looked confused. Yen Sid still seemed to be thinking, and Riku pointedly refused to look at Mickey. 

“Oh,” Kairi crooned. “Don't be embarrassed Riku, we all know you love Sora and that Sora loves you.”

Riku closed his eyes and sighed up at the ceiling. An icy chill settled into his gut, and suddenly he wanted nothing more than the floor to open up and swallow him completely. He clenched a fist against the floor, but before he had pressed his fingernails into his palm too hard, he felt a hand on his cheek. He opened his eyes to find Sora beaming at him, his entire face alight with happiness. “Kairi's right, you know.”

Impossibly, Riku's cheeks grew even hotter. Everything between them was so new. He had barely wrapped his head around it, and now it was out in the open. 

“Garwsh,” Goofy said while Donald was just quacking unintelligible words. 

Kairi clapped her hands. “I was right!”

It was funny. For weeks, Riku had been dealing with implications from other people that he and Sora were together. And he'd been able to handle that, shrug it off. But now that it was actually, maybe true, he wanted to keep this feeling for himself. He wasn't really ready to share it with anyone else but Sora yet. But Sora was still beaming at him, and maybe he could do this if Sora could as well.

“I'm really happy for you,” Mickey said gently, yet still somehow audible over Kairi’s cheers, Goofy’s little cheers and Donald’s continuous quacking. That familiar, calm voice made Riku snap out of it.

“Mickey?”

“I waited to tell you about the Master’s plans, because I wanted to give you two more time to get stronger. To find yourselves. Maybe that was wrong, maybe I should have warned you.”

“It’s okay,” Riku said, giving him a shaky smile. “I know you had your reasons.”

“Riku, Sora,” Mickey continued. “I’m really sorry that you had to find out about the Master’s plans like this. I thought we’d have more time. I didn’t think he’d make a move so soon.”

“So what now?” Sora asked.

“If the Master and the Lich are back in their own dimension, we don't know how to reach them there,” Ienzo said. “But if the Master wants you for something, he'll show up here again. And if he brings the Lich, we'll know. We'll pick up readings from the increased Heartless activity.”

“Yeah,” Kairi agreed. “We'll let you know as soon as we do.”

“Me and Master Yen Sid will keep looking as well,” Mickey said. “In the meantime, just keep doing what you're doing. We'll find them.”

“Thanks, guys,” Sora, nodding. “We appreciate all the help!”

After the phone screens went blank, Riku shifted backwards across the wooden floor until he was sitting with his back against the edge of the bed, pressed a little too tightly against the hard edge of the bed frame. His drew up his knees, hugging his arms around them. Sora picked up their phones, then crawled over to him, settling by his side.

“What do you think we should do?” Sora asked.

“I don't know,” Riku said, honestly. He wanted to be strong, for Sora, but it seemed like he had suddenly forgotten how to. The phone call had left him feeling anxious and jittery. He hadn't expected to be so affected by the fact that now apparently everyone knew. That Mickey had known

Riku had figured out his feelings for Sora a long time ago, but to have them reciprocated? That was new, and more than a little overwhelming. The idea of it suddenly sent his mind reeling. What if everything changed between them now? What if he somehow messed everything up now?

On top of that, he had spent the past two weeks worrying over Sora every waking moment, and most of his sleeping moments as well. And to suddenly have Sora back, not just alive and well, but kissing him… 

“Are you okay?” Sora leaned in to brush a strand of hair away from his cheek.

“It's all...a bit much,” Riku closed his eyes, sighing as he felt Sora's hand move gently across his forehead, then down across his temple.

“We'll figure it out together,” Sora said earnestly, stilling the hand against Riku's cheek, but not removing it yet.

Guilt flushed Riku's face. He should be the one to comfort Sora. Sora had done so much for him already, had so much on his mind as well, had only just woken up from a coma. Riku should be able to be strong and handle this. And instead, he just sat there, feeling sorry for himself, swallowing around a lump in his throat over what, exactly? He couldn't put it into words.

“Riku,” Sora said, and the emotion in his voice made Riku open his eyes again. “We're stronger than we've ever been.”

That was true.

“Nothing's really changed.” Sora slid his hand into Riku’s hair.

“Sora, everything has changed…” Riku blurted out before he could stop himself.

“You’re still my best friend.” 

Sora's words were spoken so earnestly, and his eyes were so intense with that sincerity that Riku caught himself nodding. That at least hadn't changed. He felt the same about Sora as before. They had the same conversations. Sora still looked at him as if Riku was his entire world…

It was just hard to believe that he could have this. It felt like he had been given a crystal vase and any wrong move would shatter it into a million pieces.

“We always bring out the best in each other. This…” Sora paused and smiled bashfully, and Riku felt his spirits lift a little. “This thing between us, it's a good thing. It's the same as before. It's just more now.”

Sora was slowly twisting his fingers in strands of Riku's hair, and bit by bit Riku felt like he could breathe again. But just when he thought he had gotten a handle on his emotions, Sora pulled him into a hug, and the knot in his stomach tightened again. Only now he decided to stop fighting it, clutching at Sora's waist, melting against Sora as strong arms encircled his shoulders tightly.

“I love you, Riku,” Sora whispered in his ear and Riku shook with restrained emotions. “I've always loved you.”

“I love you too,” Riku said and he didn't care that his voice trembled and that his eyes were brimming with tears. When he pressed them shut, they spilt over onto his cheeks. “I love you so much.”

Riku pressed his face into the fabric of Sora's shirt, painfully aware of the fact that he was getting it damp. But the whiff of lavender laundry detergent and the overwhelming strawberry-rain smell of just Sora underneath were so comforting that it was worth it. Sora kept stroking his hair, his neck, his upper back, mumbling over and over, “It's okay. It's okay.”

Slowly, Riku stopped shaking and took a few deep, shuddery breaths. He was almost afraid to pull back because if he kept his face pressed in Sora's shirt, he could maybe pretend he hadn't been crying. On the other hand, that was a stupid thought, because there was no way Sora didn't already know. So he gathered his courage, sighed and pulled back.

But Sora was smiling at him, and there was no judgement on his face. His eyes were shining and wet too, a set of bright sapphires rimmed with red. 

“Your eyes are pink again,” Sora muttered and he leaned closer to press his forehead against Riku's.

“I think… I think it happens when I'm…” Riku trailed off, unable to find the words.

“When you're feeling things. About me.”

Riku nodded.

“Riku, you're my dream eater,” Sora said, leaning back and bringing his hands to both sides of Riku's face. “It's only normal that your disposition can change.”

Riku pressed eyes shut, hating the way they felt itchy and painful with more unshed tears. “Don't tease.”

“I'm not teasing,” Sora said firmly, and Riku opened his eyes again to see the sincerity on Sora's face. “I love it. I love you.”

Unconsciously, Riku brought a hand to his new necklace, gripping the pendant in his fist.

“Your eyes can't lie,” Sora whispered. The line was loaded with memories and emotions, and suddenly Riku had to force himself to keep breathing. The pendant was his lifeline, it grounded him, as well as the way Sora was looking at him with so much love in his gaze that Riku felt powerful again. Confident, even. He could do this, for Sora.

“Thank you,” Riku said earnestly.

Sora smiled at him and wiped at his own eyes with the back of his hand. “You know, it's okay to cry. Crying always makes me feel better.”

Riku didn't know what to say to that, so he just smiled back.

“I love you.” Sora's eyes were dark with emotion.

Riku's smile widened. “You said, yes.”

“And I'm gonna keep saying it. Every day.”

Riku didn't know it was possible to fall more in love with Sora, but he did right then. 







Riku convinced Sora to stay in Olympus for a few more days. Just until they were sure Sora was one hundred percent okay.

“There's no rush, is there? We have no leads anyway. Let's explore this place for a bit instead.”

Before they let Sora go anywhere, however, Meg and Hercules insisted that he be checked over by the healer once more. And even though both Sora and Riku cast Curaga spells on him repeatedly in front of the healer, and Sora was forced to drink a homemade healing draught that left him coughing for five minutes and complaining about the aftertaste for another sixty minutes, both Hercules and Meg still wanted Sora to proof he was strong enough before they'd let them leave the immediate vicinity of the house.

Sora sighed and grumbled, but the four of them set out anyway to a patch of grassland at the bottom of the road up Mount Olympus. 

If Riku was honest, he was more than a little curious as well. Sora had told him he felt fine, and while Riku believed him this time, it was almost beyond his imagination that Sora could be out for two weeks and feel this good two days after waking up. But at the first group of Heartless they encountered, Sora summoned his Keyblade, rolled his shoulders once, and shot Riku a cocky grin that left Riku unable to breathe for a few seconds.

Sora stepped forward, and Riku threw out an arm to the side, ready to call Braveheart into his hand should Sora need him to. But he shouldn’t have worried. Sora jumped into the air and launched into a series of aerial combos that had Riku blinking in amazed shock. 

While Sora swooped from left to right, Riku stared as his heart soared in much the way Sora did. Sora hadn't been lying. It really looked like he hadn't lost any strength. It should have been impossible, but here he was, rushing Heartless without breaking a sweat. Sora was at the height of his power, controlling his darkness in all the ways Riku had taught him.

Riku didn't even care that he was staring, too far lost in the sight in front of him. But sometime after the third Dark Break attack, Riku was broken out of his reveries by a non-too-gentle nudge in his side. 

He looked away from Sora's battle moves and blinked up at a slightly smirking Meg.

“Guess believing in him worked, huh?”

Riku felt his cheeks heat up even as he rolled his eyes. His first instinct was to look away in embarrassment, but something soft underneath the smirk on her face made him unable to.

“I guess,” he sighed instead, not knowing what else to say.

Meg put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I meant what I said before, Riku. You two are lucky to have each other.” She squeezed just a little to emphasise her words. “You both deserve it. Never forget that.”

Riku smiled tentatively before looking away just in time to see Sora slam his Keyblade down into the ground with force, sending the last Shadows flying. He stood up straight and turned to Riku, then brought up his keyblade to rest it behind his head, across his shoulders, one hand on the grip and the other coming up to grasp the tip. The smug grin on his face sent a shiver down Riku's spine.

“Riku! Did you see me!?” He called out, and Riku's face settled into a matching grin.

“I sure did, Sora,” he said, probably too soft for Sora to hear, but he'd get the sentiment.

“Look after him, okay?” Hercules said from Riku's other side.

Riku nodded. As if anyone had to ask him this.

Afterwards, Riku got a check-over too, to make sure that he hadn't expanded too much of his strengths on Cure spells, even though he kept insisting he was fine

Yet after Riku's check-up, both Sora and Riku found they couldn't relax, not really. They both felt on edge and jittery, waiting for a phone call that could come at any minute. So in the end, not much world exploring was done.

They wandered around the house some more and spent the afternoon in the gardens. They sat in the exact same spot where they had first kissed, and there were so many butterflies in Riku's stomach that he actually began to wonder if this was healthy. Fear over the upcoming battle mixed with all sorts of anticipation of Sora, over this and the future and everything between them, hanging over them.

But Sora had been right. Nothing had changed between them, really. Only Riku now let himself look, no longer jerking his gaze away when his thoughts faltered over freckled cheeks and the way Sora's bangs curled over his ear. And Sora took every opportunity to slip his hand into Riku's, and the look on his face was just as intense.

When Sora leaned in, Riku's eyed slipped shut, and he discovered that kissing Sora was a surefire way to shut up his spiralling thoughts.

The third day, they went to the beach. They walked slowly across the packed sand along the shore, deliberately pressing their feet down harder to make deeper imprints. They giggled over shared memories of toy sword fights and collecting seashells and making sandcastles on another beach, miles and years away from here and now. Another lifetime.

They raced each other down to the shoreline (Sora won), and Riku sat back against the sand and the seashells while Sora stripped down to his underwear and ran into the ocean. The sounds of the waves and crying seagulls were reassuring somehow, as well as the relentless sea breeze in his ears. 

Riku watched as Sora splashed around in the waves, sending foam and ocean spray everywhere as he spun around in the current. Then Sora turned around, radiant in the sunlight glistering off his wet chest and shoulders and raised a hand, grinning widely. Riku waved back before Sora dived under again.

Sora had always been the better swimmer out of the two of them. And after Riku had let the darkness into his heart, he found he could no longer stand the feeling of being submerged in water. The sensation was too close to when he felt like when he was drowning in darkness. Sora knew this, of course, as Sora knew just about everything about him.

Eventually, Sora tired of playing around by himself and made his way back over to where Riku was sitting. He got dressed, not caring that his clothes were getting wet because of the lack of a towel, before plopping himself down next to Riku.

Just as Riku was wondering if Sora's lips would taste salty now, Sora's Gummiphone buzzed with a message. Riku watched as Sora picked up his phone from where it was lying on the sand and flicked the screen to unlock it. 

“It's Kairi,” Sora said out loud. “We are picking up massive Heartless readings from the Keyblade Graveyard. Are you gonna investigate?

The message they'd been waiting for, the message they'd been dreading.

“Of course…” Riku whispered. That was fitting, to have to return to that place. The place where he'd stood with Sora, where he'd died for Sora.

“Do you think it’s the Lich, back in this dimension?” Sora asked, looking up from his phone.

“Yeah, definitely sounds like it. What do you wanna do?”

“We're just gonna have to go and check it out,” Sora said with so much confidence that Riku blinked.

“Should we ask for back-up?” Riku wondered out loud. “Mickey and the others might be able to help out this time?”

“The Lich might be gone again by the time we assemble everyone. We can do this. It's us the Master wants,” Sora said confidently. “I've learned from the past. I know what we need to do now.”

“You...do?”

“Riku, we're stronger together. The first time I fought the Lich, I was alone and I lost. The second time, you helped me fight and covered for me, but we didn't really fight together. This third time, we need to fight together to beat him.” Sora put the phone into his pocket and curled both hands into fists in his lap.

“You make it sound so easy.” But Riku had to admit Sora had a point. When they fought together, they were unstoppable. His entire body tingled just thinking back to how amazing it had been to fly at enemies together in the snow, no plan, just following their hearts and letting instinct guide them.

“You'll see, Riku.” And there it was again, so much confidence in those words. So much trust in that gaze. It was incredible how Sora gave Riku strength when Riku's was wavering. So Riku pushed himself off the sand and reached out a hand to Sora. 

“We'll go together?”

Sora's eyes widened at the obvious call-back. Then he grinned and reached for Riku’s hand. “Yeah.”







After saying goodbye to Hercules and Meg — who sent them off with a large stock of elixirs and an escort to the gummi ship — it took them two full days to fly the ship to the Keyblade Graveyard. They took turns piloting the ship and sleeping curled up in the co-pilot seat. They had sleeping quarters downstairs, of course, but neither Sora nor Riku could find it in themselves to leave the cockpit. Riku didn't feel it was right to leave Sora's side, even though he'd almost certainly get better sleep in a proper bed.

They spent their waking hours discussing strategies, magic spells and special attacks to prepare themselves for the upcoming fight. Even though Riku was nervous over what was to come, and he could tell Sora was too, they couldn't help but grin stupidly at each other while they held hands between their seats, resting their elbows on the armrests. 

By the time Sora landed the ship at the top of the Seat of War at the Keyblade Graveyard, Riku was buzzing with a new, unfamiliar energy. It was like electricity under his skin, all over his body. He felt ready.

He knew they were in for a tough fight. Once again, possibly, the hardest fight of their lives. And he knew there would be Heartless here to defeat before they even got to that final fight, more and stronger Heartless than ever before. 

But Riku had always loved fighting Heartless. It calmed his mind and gave him purpose. And he'd never felt so confident and ready as now. Sora and his unwavering certainty and courage had that effect on him, apparently.

As they got ready, slipping into their jackets and checking their inventory, he kept stealing glances at Sora, grinning whenever their gazes met, fond and certain. Both his and Sora's grins were loaded with a confidence Riku hadn't felt… Ever, maybe.

They prepared in silence, not needing to speak anymore, but Riku was aware of Sora's every move. When they stood next to each other at the top of the opening hatch, he caught Sora's wrist, gloved fingers sliding across smooth leather, and turned to face him.

“Are you ready?”

Sora nodded, a brief incline of his head that sent a few strands of dark hair across his forehead. Riku reached out to brush them away with his free hand. Sora's eyes were blazing.

“I feel it, deep inside of me. Something's changed.”

Riku didn't know why, but he felt the same. Like a curtain had been lifted, and everything was suddenly in focus.

“Whatever happens out there,” Riku gently tightened his fingers around Sora's wrist, and he felt the fluttering pulse point underneath. “I'll protect you.”

“And I'll protect you,” Sora said easily, with bright, earnest eyes.

Riku felt so proud of him then that his chest almost burst with it. He inhaled shakily and shook his head to clear his thoughts. 

“Let's go.”

Slowly the hatch opened, and they made their way to the rough, sandy ground and then to the edge of the deep abyss down below. The deep craters, wrought during ancient battles, made it seem as if they were looking down at a moon landscape. And in between those craters, thousands — tens of thousands — of abandoned keyblades. The details were not visible from up here, but Riku knew the blades were rusty, dull, lifeless. They were the remnants of memories from long ago, a sad echo of the fact that light and darkness had always clashed. Would probably always clash, because they were two sides of the same coin. As long as there was light, there would be darkness. 

It was their job to make sure that light and darkness remained in balance.

As Riku watched, he felt rather than saw Sora move closer to him, until their elbows were touching and it was the easiest thing to reach out and link their fingers together once more.

“I'm still a little scared.” Sora's voice was small but unwavering.

“That's okay. We’re here together. We can do this, together.”

Sora nodded once before turning to look at him. “I promised I'd tell you every day, Riku.”

Riku felt his face settle into a smile, his eyes narrowing with amusement and an indescribable fondness. He turned his head to meet Sora's gaze.

“I love you.” Sora smiled softly.

“I love you. I'll always love you,” Riku replied.

Sora grinned, tightening his grip on Riku's hand. “Are we turning this into a competition now?”

Riku let out a startled laugh. “We've had worse competitions.”

“Yeah… Do you remember the time we collected crabs on the island? We each had a pile on the beach, and we kept going towards the water to pick up more?”

Riku looked away for a moment, smiling. “I remember. You cried because your crabs kept walking away, towards my pile.”

Sora tilted his head minutely, his eyes shifting as he thought back to the memory. “I did, huh?”

It was just one of the many, many things they had done as children. Sora had been in his life for as long as he could remember. Riku couldn't remember a day they hadn't been together until after the day of the storm, the day they got their keyblades. Yet even then, during all the time they had spent apart, there had not been a day he hadn't thought of Sora. Sora literally was half of his life, his soul, his heart.

“Let's do this,” Riku said with a squeeze of his hand. “Then we can go home together.”

Sora nodded again, his eyes reflecting the same fondness Riku knew was in his. Then they turned towards the path down and summoned their keyblades. No more memories and feelings. It was time for action.

They hadn't gone fifty feet before the Heartless were on them, too many to count. For a second, Riku was afraid. What if Sora didn't have his strength back after all, what if these Heartless were too strong for them, what if one of them got hurt again? But then Sora launched himself at the closest Neoshadow with a yell, and that fear disappeared the second Riku also pushed off the ground and threw himself at the closest Flutterings. His body thrummed with the need to move, to strike. With a whirl around his axis, the keyblade in his hand spun so fast it cut down any Heartless in its path.

He shouldn't have worried. It was unexplainable, and it shouldn't have been possible, but Sora seemed even more powerful than before his fall into the snow. There was a force behind his every swing that was stronger than Riku had ever seen.

In his heart, he felt the tug and twist of Sora's every move. He didn't even need to try and search for it, it was just there. Back when they fought together in Land of the Dragons, he had learned to truly be in tune with Sora's fighting. But if Riku had thought they'd been unstoppable back then, they were invincible now.

They had come so far since the time they'd fought side by side in Arendelle. Back then, Sora had been unable to control his darkness, clinging to his light for attacks with a body that was not yet back to full strength, but that also needed to wield both light and darkness. Back then, Riku had not known how to help him, really, caught between a struggle with his own feelings and an overwhelming need to support Sora, yet not really knowing how. 

But he knew now. And he had never felt so free before. 

Riku didn't have much opportunity to really watch Sora, but still, his gaze was drawn to him time and again. Sora was a whirlwind of red and black, slashing and blocking, jumping and falling, casting spells and unleashing combinations, then crashing his keyblade into the ground to throw Heartless flying with shockwaves of light and dark energy. Riku went wherever the Heartless were thrown into the air, spinning into any Shadow or Fluttering that Sora sent flying.

The Heartless never stood a chance. They breezed through battle after battle, making their way down to the Fissure as they went. After each battle, they checked on each other, soft smiles and brushing fingers as they handed each other Elixirs.

Once down in the Fissure, a group of Large Bodies surrounded them, and Riku shot Sora a cocky grin that Sora returned. They automatically dropped into their fighting positions. Sora launched into a series of combinations towards his right, while Riku fought through an endless swarm of Heartless towards his left. There were so many, and for every one he struck down, a new one took its place.

At some point, Riku was surrounded by at least a dozen Heartless and casting Firagas all around him, safe behind a Dark Shield. Still, it was exhausting, and he wondered how long he would be able to keep this up. He'd already gone through two Elixirs in this battle alone and tossed Sora one as well when he saw Sora needed it.

“Riku!” Sora called then, and he sounded so cheerful.

Riku looked up to see Sora suspended in the air, extending the keyblade in his arm up to the sky. Without thinking, Riku raised his left arm in response, and he wasn't even surprised when Sora's keyblade appeared in his raised arm. Everything inside of him tingled with steadfast energy. With Braveheart in his right hand and Sora's Kingdom Key in his left, he launched into a series of Dark Maelstroms at the Heartless all around him. 

Sora was at his side a flash later, calling on waves of dark magic with a flick of his wrist, hitting all enemies around.

When the dust cleared, there was not a single Heartless left on the battleground. Sora came up to him, grinning as Riku let both blades dematerialise.

“That was amazing,” Sora said, and all Riku could think was yes, just like you.

Instead, he reached out a hand, to lay it against Sora's cheek. “Are you okay?” 

Sora nodded. 

“Curaga,” Riku muttered anyway, and Sora shivered all over in front of him, his eyes darkening with something Riku had never seen before.

But before he could dwell on that, a hollow laugh came from behind Riku and he spun around, Braveheart back in his hand in a flash, instinctively holding it out in front of Sora.

“You've grown even stronger. Good, good.”

“You!” Riku spat. “You've done enough. We're here to stop you.”

“Is that so?” 

The taunting voice sent a shiver through his whole body. He felt Sora come up to his side, their shoulders briefly brushing, and Riku could feel Sora's anger and fear underneath his confident front, mingling with his own.

“It's impressive how in sync you two are. All that light.”

Riku's thoughts were racing, trying to find a way to gain the upper hand here. He thought back to what Sora had told him, his vision of the Master’s plans. How Sora was too much light. And Riku could feel that light inside of Sora, reaching out to him, yearning to sync up together. Sora had learned to wield and embrace his darkness too well, Riku thought proudly. That would be their trump card.

“Of course,” the master's voice was dripping with contempt. “It used to be different, didn't it Riku? You used to be weak. You became darkness, all because Sora wouldn't look at you the way you looked at him.”

Riku's stomach turned over with an icy jolt, and his heart sank as those words hit him hard.

“A boy who used to conjure shadows of Sora, just because you couldn't have the real thing. Pathetic.”

Riku's eyes cast down towards the dusty surface below his feet.

“You don't deserve him. Isn't that the truth, Riku?”

“Shut up. You don't know anything.” Sora stepped forward, brushing past Riku, and his voice was powerful and vehement, and Riku looked up to just stare at him for a second. There was so much unwavering passion there that it sent something warm and electric curling through him, bubbling up and into his chest.

There was a beat before the Master raised his arms to slowly clap his hands together in mock-applause.

“I needed you to be together. I needed for you two to become who you needed to become. Never did I think that it would be this. I guess the world had some surprises for me left, after all.”

Riku's stomach lurched, and he wanted so badly to launch himself at the Master, to strike with every inch of power he could muster, conjure his strongest Dark Barrage attack and send this guy all the way into tomorrow. But he stayed where he was.

The Master snapped his fingers, and like a déja vu, the Lich appeared in front of him. Riku saw Sora's shoulders tense and rise up to his ears before he turned back to Riku.

Their eyes locked, and Riku waited for Sora's nod. They didn't speak, but they didn't have to. Riku leapt into the air, launching himself at the Lich, and even though he couldn't see it, he felt that Sora was right behind him in the air.

It was like their entire journey had let them to this point. Every step, every talk, every moment together had prepared them for this particular battle ahead. Riku couldn't really put it into words. They were so in sync that it was almost scary.

Together, they crashed into the Lich, attacking from both sides. Riku's keyblade slammed into the creature’s left side, while Sora launched into a combination of its right arm.

It was a good thing Riku felt invincible because this fight was the toughest one he'd ever been in. He let instinct guide him, alternating keyblade combinations with light and dark magic. Sora was a whirlwind of power next to him and his raw determination gave Riku strength. Whenever Sora fell back to take in an Elixir, Riku distracted the Lich with a rush of Dark Aura attacks. 

Riku lost all sense of time, his mind focused on driving into the Lich over and over again, infusing his blade with Water magic, blocking Thunder Disc attacks with Dark Barriers. Whenever he needed to replenish his strengths and magic, he let himself fall back for a moment, and then it was Sora who crashed into the Lich with double the energy.

It seemed to take forever, but slowly their joint efforts managed to bring the Lich's strength down. Its movements got a little slower, the time between its Fire Turns and Blizzaga's growing longer and longer as the battle went on. And even though it felt like forever, Riku held onto the connection in his heart, and it gave him unwavering strength. He and Sora just needed to throw each other one single glance, and Sora would grin and Riku would smirk, and they'd launch themselves at the Lich with renewed energy.

There was light all inside of Riku, and he could feel it calling out to the light inside of Sora.

At one point, Lich turned on Sora, who was just a heartbeat too late to block the swing of the sceptre, and his keyblade was knocked out of his hand, tumbling through the air before disappearing.

Sora launched himself up into the air and in a move that surprised even Riku, Sora held out his hand for a keyblade, but instead of his Kingdom Key, it was Braveheart that materialised in his hand. Riku frowned at his suddenly own empty hand for a second, and then looked back up to see the Lich had turned on him. Without missing a beat, though, he backflipped to avoid a swing from the sceptre. Then he watched as Sora crashed into the Lich from behind, both hands on Braveheart's handle.

The Lich spun through the air, and for a second Riku thought it would blast apart and that it would finally be over, but it righted itself, holding up the sceptre again in two hands.

“Riku!” Sora called out.

Riku gave himself a second to stare at Sora. Sora holding Braveheart, his keyblade, his heart. His eyes were so blue and sparkling, his hair was a windswept hot mess, but he looked so fierce and radiant that Riku's breath hitched on an exhale, and he shivered all over. But Riku was keyblade-less now, and for a second he wondered, but then… 

“Hold out your hand.” Sora smiled widely at him, and Riku's heart stuttered.

He raised his right arm, and like before, with just the barest of thoughts, Sora's Kingdom Key appeared there. And all of a sudden he knew what to do. He felt that same yearning, the same call in his heart as before an Eternal Session. He grinned.

As one, Sora and Riku raised their arms and synced up their keyblades. The blades came together to twirled around each other, like a dance, spinning almost too fast for the eye to see.

It was like an Eternal Session, but better. Riku could remember every single time they had joined Mirage Split and Nightmare's End, the two keyblades spinning around each other in a rainbow of colours, could remember exactly how that energy had felt, thrumming underneath his skin, longing for closeness. A longing he still felt, but which had now been soothed a little with Sora's every touch, every look, every brush of their lips.

Braveheart and Kingdom Key spun around them, rising above them, and in a flash of energy, both blades were sent crashing into the chasm in the Lich's chest, where they exploded outwards in a spin of glittering multicoloured flashes.

The Lich crashed down to the ravine below them, flaring up before blasting out of existence in a million pieces. Riku turned to grin at Sora, but then— 

“No!” Sora shouted.

Before Riku could process what had happened, his entire body was engulfed in searing pain. Every nerve was on fire, and he arched his back, throwing out his arms as felt suspended in an enclosure of agony. There was a flash of black, and he tried to follow it with unfocused eyes, but then it disappeared into a portal.

He looked down at himself to find his shirt slashed to pieces, white streaked with red. Oh…

“Riku!” Vaguely he was aware of Sora calling out his name, and then he was falling, falling, tumbling down faster and faster, the rush of air the only thing inside his head. He curled in on himself, wrapping his arms protectively around his chest, bracing himself for the impact he knew would follow.

But it never came. Arms encircled him from behind, and he reached the ground not with a crash, but with a cushioned drop against a solid warm body.

“Riku,” Sora's voice was strangled from below him, where Sora had broken his fall.

Riku opened his eyes to see the dark portal in the sky slowly disappear. His vision was swimming and everything inside of him was convulsing with red-hot waves, yet all he could think about was how the Master was getting away. Again.

“Go after him!” He tried to yell, but his voice came out hoarse, and he stumbled over the words.

“No!” Sora exclaimed.

Sora shifted and lowered Riku to the ground, and Riku watched through hooded eyes as he yanked off his jacket and then his shirt. Sora pushed the bunched up shirt against Riku's chest, trying to stop the bleeding.

“You need to go after him!” Riku tried again.

“I'm not leaving you!” Sora shouted, and Riku felt his heart clench at the desperation in his voice.

“But—” 

“Stop talking. Please stop talking.” Sora's voice was trembling, and Riku realised he was holding himself back, trying not to shout. “I'm not leaving you. Just as you wouldn't leave me.”

Slowly, Riku came back to himself, and he nodded. The movement made his vision swim again, so he closed his eyes against the spinning cliffs and clouds and the portal disappearing in the sky. With his eyes closed, the pain intensified ten times. He didn't want to worry Sora, but he couldn't stop the moan from leaving his lips.

Sora grabbed his hands and made Riku press the t-shirt against his own chest. Even with his eyes closed, his head was spinning, and there was a rushing in his ears that wasn't the howling winds.

“Shit.” Sora murmured as he gathered up Riku in his arms, and Riku hissed at the pain of being moved. Sora's arms came around his shoulders, cradling him against his chest. “Sorry.”

“I'm sorry,” Riku said, opening his eyes again to blink into swimming pools of sapphire blue.

“No,” Sora said firmly. “You were amazing. I'm so proud of you.”

Riku's grip on the shirt tightened as Sora bent his neck to press hot lips against his forehead.

“It's just. We've only got one Elixir left.”

Riku blinked, trying to process this information. They had to be smart about this. “You need to take it.”

Sora shook his head. “I can't. You need it much more.”

Sora reached down into his pocket to take out a round yellow bottle. Then his other arm left Riku's shoulders so he could unscrew it. He shifted so he could bring the bottle to Riku's lips.

Riku firmly pressed his mouth shut, his eyes narrowing as he tried to glare. Sora threw his head back, letting out a frustrated scream. 

Riku lifted a hand to push the bottle away. “Sora, you have to take it. You're hurt, too. It'll replenish your magic, then you can heal me. If I take it, it won't restore everything, and we'll both still be half hurt.”

It made sense. It was the only way that Riku could think of. Sora shook his head, tears spilling over his cheeks. “I can't,” he hiccuped.

Riku ached to reach out and touch him, hold him, tell him everything was gonna be okay. But pushing the Elixir bottle away seemed to have cost him all his strength, and he was left panting, his grip on the t-shirt growing lax as he felt more of his strength leaving him with every beat of his heart.

“Please, Sora,” he gasped.

Sora was really crying now, silent tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Okay.” He sounded breathless, voice catching on a sob, but he opened the bottle and Riku watched him take a few gulps. “Curaga.”

Riku felt a few weak slivers of warmth glowing up his chest, but it wasn’t enough. He could feel it wasn't enough. He almost couldn’t bring himself to say it, looking up into Sora’s tear-streaked, pale round face. But Sora had felt it as well, of course.

He suppressed another sob and downed the rest of the bottle, discarding it beside him. Then he reached for Riku with both arms, and Riku tried to relax throughout the overwhelming swell of pain inside of him.

“Curaga,” Sora's voice trembled, but the spell was strong. Strong enough. Green flowers blossomed into the air and seeped down into Riku’s chest.

The warmth of it had Riku moaning again, this time in relief, and he let his head fall back against Sora’s shoulder as the spell did its work, easing the blistering ache to nothing more than an edgeless twinge.

Then, mercifully, he blacked out.

Chapter Text

With shaking hands, Sora lifted the bunched up shirt off of Riku. He was trying very hard not to think about how it was soaked with blood and sweat and layered with dust, although the overwhelming smell of copper made that impossible. The tears still rolling off his cheeks dripped onto Riku's chest and the remains of Riku's shirt below him. There was blood there, so much blood, but when Sora allowed himself to look closer, he saw that the gashes across his skin seemed to have closed and healed themselves. He didn't risk prodding at the wounds to be sure though. Miraculously, the necklace was still around Riku's neck, not lost in the battle or the aftermath.

He reached out with his heart, calling out for Riku's light, and he felt it answer almost immediately. It was weaker than before, but it was clearly there, and the relief Sora felt was impossible to put it into words. Even if it wasn't as strong as earlier, the connection felt like a dance of energy, pulses of pure brightness intertwining with each other. That meant Riku was alright. He just needed rest.

Sora was strangely calm as he wiped the back of dusty hands across his eyes. Now that Riku had passed out, he needed to think. He needed a plan.

He looked up at the sand typhoons whirling around them and the wasteland stretching out in every direction and the steep cliffs all around. There was no immediate threat anymore. All the Heartless had been defeated, and the Master had disappeared through his portal. It was eerily quiet in the aftermath of what had just happened, and in the silence Sora's ears were left ringing with the clash of metal on metal, harsh breathing and shouted magic commands.

He looked down again. Riku's face was pale but calm. His breathing was deep and even. Sora tried to avoid looking at Riku's chest, but he could see the steady rise and fall from the corner of his eye. That was good.

“Curaga,” he tried again, but just a few faint green flowers appeared and seeped into Riku's skin, not enough to actually do anything.

As far as Sora could tell, he had two options. The first was to leave Riku here and go and get the gummi ship. The other one was to carry Riku to the ship himself. Since he really couldn't be sure that there weren't more Heartless or other enemies around — or worse, what if the Master came back? — he knew he couldn't leave Riku. 

So he gathered up Riku in his arms as best as he could, and half-walked, half-glided his way back up to the gummi ship.

Underneath his worry and relief, Sora could feel other emotions simmering. Darker emotions, things he hadn't felt in weeks, months maybe. He gritted his teeth and tried to push them down, but with every step, they bobbed back up to the surface. 

It wasn't fair that Riku got hurt. It wasn't fair that Sora was alone now, left to devise a plan on his own. He'd promised to protect Riku, and he'd failed. And Riku had promised to protect him, but how could he fulfil that promise now that he was unconscious?

Sora's heart was beating wildly in his chest, constantly searching for a connection that was there but also wasn't. It wasn't the same as having Riku awake and by his side.

It wasn't until Sora got to the ship that he realised the feelings for what they really were. Darkness. Sadness and fear and anger, all rolled up into a ball in the pit of his stomach where it was spreading, tendrils reaching out towards his chest, his heart. He pushed them down, forcefully, at least until he made it inside the ship and put Riku down in the sleeping quarter's bottom bunk.

Every time he pushed the shadows down, they rose up again, evading him like smoke between his fingers. His heart was racing, and he felt the familiar rush of rage inside of him, stretching him from the inside out. He stumbled over towards the sink and looked into the mirror. 

It was no surprise really to see that his eyes were yellow

His fingers grasped the edge of the sink, cool and smooth underneath his touch. He tried to breathe, but even breathing was difficult.

Riku…

And suddenly there was an answering call. Some of the tension left his muscles as he inhaled deeply, and with the exhale he realised with sudden clarity what this was. What he needed to do.

He took two steps back towards the bed, where he dropped to his knees. He reached out and removed Riku's glove before taking Riku's hand between his.

Sora focused on the light inside of him, still there, still just as bright, and he focused on the answering call. 

Sora. Don't give up, Sora.

He wouldn't turn away from the light, his light,ever again. 

Sora's light had never been this strong, he felt this. Riku had felt it. He smoothed one thumb across the back of Riku's hand, and the other across the soft skin on the inside of his wrist. Tendons and little veins moved underneath his touch, and below that, he felt the steady thrum of Riku's pulse. 

Riku had darkness inside of him, too. He lived with it, every day. And if Riku could do it, so could Sora. He forced himself to breathe, and with every inhale and exhale, the light inside of him got a little bit brighter, a little louder in its call. And Riku's answer was just as immediate, growing stronger and stronger with every heartbeat. And not just his light. Suddenly, Sora could feel Riku's darkness as well, carefully concealed, but there beneath the surface.

They had both overcome their darkness. That was just another bond between them, something no one could take from them anymore. He could feel that connection vibrating with energy, and between one breath and the next, he felt the tendrils and the smoke settle down within him. Sora dropped his head to the mattress, trying to get his breathing to settle down as well.

“Guess we're not going home together yet, after all.”

Sora's head shot back up, and fresh tears appeared in his eyes. “Riku!”

Riku's smile was small, but his eyes were bright and crinkled as he squinted into the fluorescent light of the quarters. Sora scrambled to pull his feet underneath him, shifting towards the head of the bed to touch Riku's forehead, his cheek, his hair. 

“You're okay.” He was crying again, but his heart soared with happiness at the look on Riku's face. 

“I'm okay,” Riku echoed. “Thanks to you.”

Sora pushed himself up on his knees so he could lean over the bed, closed his eyes and press a desperate kiss to Riku's lips. He didn't dare touch him anywhere else, there was still blood all over his clothes and he wasn't sure how much Riku was still hurting, but he couldn't deny himself this. When he pulled back, Riku’s eyes fluttered open, soft and apologetic. Wordlessly, he reached out to brush away the tears on Sora's cheeks.

For a long moment, Sora couldn't look away, drowning in the emotions in those bright teal eyes. Then he took in a shuddery breath and his gaze dropped to Riku's chest.

“Can you take that off? I'm gonna have to clean your chest and check for more injuries.”

“Okay.”

Riku struggled a little to sit up. But though his movements were slow and controlled, he didn't wince, and his muscles all seemed to work as they should. When Sora was satisfied that Riku wasn't going to fall over, he went over to fill the sink with warm water and soak a towel in it.

“Lay back down,” he said, and Riku did so silently. 

Sora kneeled at the edge of the bed, and he ignored his own racing heart as he gently pressed the damp towel to Riku's stomach, brushing away the blood and the sweat with careful strokes. Riku sucked in a sharp breath, the muscles under Sora's touch jerking, and Sora's gaze shot to his face immediately.

“It's okay,” Riku said, his voice shaky, his eyes wide and dark. “It just tickles.”

The worry on Sora's face smoothed itself into a faint grin. “Right.”

He focused again on the task at hand, slowly wiping across pale skin. Sora was suddenly lost for words, and he swallowed thickly as he continued, brushing in short strokes across Riku's stomach, his sides, and then up towards his chest. The skin underneath was intact, all the blood seemed was from before the healing spells. 

However, there were ragged, slightly raised edges on Riku's stomach where the slashes had been, catching on the towel as Sora stroked, and Sora's throat closed up. How many more times would other people get hurt because of him?

He finished by cleaning the blood off Riku's necklace before discarding the towel. He then couldn't help but reach out and stroke across the scar tissue with trembling fingers. He felt Riku shiver underneath him, muscles quivering with tension.

When he dared to peer up at Riku's face again, the look he saw there was unreadable. 

“I'm sorry,” Sora said, his voice smaller than he intended. “There's gonna be a scar.”

Riku reached out a hand, and now that he was sure Riku didn't have any physical injuries, Sora didn't waste any time in pushing himself up on his knees to all but launch himself at Riku.

Riku's arms came up around his chest as Sora pressed his face in the curve of Riku's neck. He was shaking now, unable to form words or even thoughts, there were only emotions, so many emotions that he didn't know what to do with them. Riku was always doing so much for him, always gave him everything, every day, and Sora wanted to do the same for him. But he didn't know how.

“It's okay, Sora,” Riku's voice was clear and steady. “I don't mind.”

Sora took just a few seconds to process this before he pushed himself up on trembling forearms. “You should mind. It's not fair.”

“Sora…”

“All the scars you already have, for me. Your waist and your wrist. You died for me, and you shouldn't have had to. No one should have had to, but you least of all!”

He was almost yelling now, but he didn't care. 

“Sora,” Riku said gently, and somehow that broke through his armour of resentment. Riku's hands came up to hold his face. “I am proud of these scars. Every single one. Because they're for you. Because I love you.”

Sora tried to shake his head, but Riku's hold on him was strong enough that he could barely move.

“You know I'm not so good at telling you how I feel. I'm getting better at it, but…” Riku paused, before sitting up. Sora moved with him, so he ended up sitting in Riku's lap, straddling him. “All of these scars are proof of my love for you.”

Sora was usually good with words, able to blurt out anything he was thinking or thought he was feeling. But not now. What did you say to a confession like this

“I’m scared,” were the words that came out of his mouth. Not really what he wanted to say, but now that he had, he needed to finish the thought. “I’m scared I’m going to lose you. When it feels like I only just got you. The real you.”

“I can’t promise you that’s not going to happen,” Riku brushed a few stray strands away from his face, his fingers warm and his eyes gentle, softening the harshness of the words. “But I’m going to try my utmost to stay by your side, always. I promise.”

Sora wanted to say it back, wanted to tell Riku that he loved him too, but instead when he opened his mouth, a spell came out. “Curaga.”

He watched in fascination as Riku shivered, and he felt that shiver run from Riku’s arms into his hands and into Sora. And suddenly the look on Riku’s face went from wistfulness to something darker, something deeper, and Sora shivered himself. And then there was nothing more in the world he wanted to do more than kiss Riku, so he did.

Sora would never get over how soft and warm Riku's lips were. How they slotted so effortlessly against his, how his entire body tingled and sang and how he suddenly felt lighter than air. The fear and anger all melted away, every fibre of his body was just Riku, Riku, Riku, a perfectly harmonised song.

His hands came up to clutch at Riku's bare shoulders, then sliding around to tangle in his hair. Riku's hands were so warm against his jaw, gently tilting his head a little so Riku could press even closer, and there were sparks behind his closed eyelids and so much light inside of him that Sora felt giddy with it.

When eventually, Riku pulled away, just barely, laughter bubbled up in Sora's throat, and escaped him in a breathy giggle, smoothing away the rough edges of sadness, because it didn't matter anymore. This was the only thing that mattered. Him and Riku, and the way their bodies felt when they pressed together, the way Riku's eyes crinkled, the way Sora's heart felt complete.

Yet even though he wanted to stay here forever, he knew that was not an option. He sighed as the rest of the world came rushing back to him and then shifted back just a little, putting enough distance between them so he could think. Blinking a little to clear his thoughts, Sora noticed that Riku looked just as dazed as he felt. They looked at each other for long moments, until slowly the expression on Riku's face changed and became almost sombre.

“We need to rest and heal up, Sora,” Riku said softly.

Logically, Sora could agree with that. But resting now went against everything inside of Sora. He wanted action, he wanted fast and he wanted it now. His entire body was thrumming with energy.

“I should go and do some research,” Sora said firmly. “Scan the radars or something. See if we can find anything in the ship's database. We need to find out where the Master went.”

Riku shook his head. “Not now. First, we need to heal up. We both do.”

“No,” Sora said petulantly, disentangling his hands out of Riku's hair and shifting backwards to shift off Riku's lap. “We need to find him. We need to finish—”

Riku cut him off with a murmured whisper. “Sleep.”

Sora had just enough time left for his eyes to widen slightly in shock before they slipped closed, and he collapsed forwards into Riku's arms. 





He opened his eyes to find himself suspended in the air. All around him were mountain towns full of bright white buildings with glistening gold rooftops, stretched out across a body of water as far as he could see. There were familiar rotating windmills everywhere and prominent large citadels rising into the air on top of each mountain of buildings.

Was he dreaming?

Sora looked around for long moments, taking all of this in. There was no movement apart from the rotating windmill blades, everything was eerily quiet. He had to squint to see anything, the sunlight was reflected off every white surface making everything so impossibly bright.

He turned around, towards where he knew the main citadel was, the place where he and Donald and Goofy had fought their final battle against Xehanort last year. He wasn't surprised to find a figure in a dark coat floating in the air above the roof of the castle on top. The figure was far away, but still, there was no mistaking his identity.

Of course. It was fitting, where else would their final battle take place, but in the place where all worlds had come from, the origin of the power of the keyblade?

For a second, he thought about summoning his Kingdom Key and taking this Master on before he thought better of it. This was a dream. He and Riku needed to beat this guy in the real world, not in the sleeping realm. So instead he inhaled deeply, extending his arms, and let himself fall down into the water below. Right when he hit the surface—

He woke up with a start.

For some reason, his sudden jerk hadn't woken Riku, even though Riku was sprawled half across his chest in a way that meant he had to have felt Sora jolting awake. The fingers of Riku's left hand were curled around Sora's bicep, his right arm squished underneath the pillow. His hair was soft and smooth where it fell against Sora's neck.

Sora couldn’t help but smile. Riku had probably cast a Sleep spell on himself as well, seeing as how he was sleeping so deeply. 

Sora pursed his lips for a second, thinking back to Riku casting a Sleep spell on him, but he found it was hard to be angry over that. In all honesty, it had probably been for the best. Sora knew he tended to get carried away in his enthusiasm, always racing towards the next thing. Having Riku to slow him down a little might just have been what they needed.

He stretched a little, as best as he could with most of Riku's weight pressed down on top of him. Then he wrapped his arms tighter around Riku’s chest, turning his face to inhale the smell of him. They hadn’t showered after yesterday’s battle, and he knew both of them were smelly and more than a little dirty, but an earthy smell so distinctly Riku still overwhelmed him so much he felt tears prickling at the back of his eyes. 

He couldn’t believe that they were here, curled together on the bottom bunk in the tiny sleeping quarters, about to go off on what was probably the biggest fight of their lives. Once again. In a strange way, Sora felt more ready than ever before. He knew where they had to go. He knew what they had to do.

And yes, it was scary, but Riku would be with him. They were stronger than they’d ever been.

Part of Sora wanted to wake Riku up, get going now that his dream had told them where they needed to go, but Sora somehow found his patience here, counting the seconds of Riku's slow breaths. He could quell his excitement for a little longer if it meant watching Riku sleep. Riku almost always woke up before him, so this was a rare occasion.

Eventually, though, Sora couldn't help himself any longer. He wriggled to roll onto his side, shifting back a little to take in Riku's face and stroked a curled finger across Riku's cheek. Riku's face scrunched up adorably as silver lashes fluttered open. Then slowly, Riku grinned, his eyes crinkled with sleep but so fond that something entirely unexpected fluttered in Sora's chest.

Well, maybe not entirely unexpected. He wanted to find out all the things Riku could do that made that sensation happen again and again; it felt better than breathing

“You put a spell on me,” he said instead, because he was still a little pissed about that, but his voice lacked any sort of heat, barely above a whisper.

“Literally or figuratively?” Riku replied, and Sora blinked. Then he grinned and rolled them over, so he was pressing Riku into the bed. Riku looked up at him, his smile equal parts apologetic and stunning.

“I'm sorry. It was the only thing I could think of.”

Sora found he wasn't really mad after all, and without thinking his heart reached out for Riku's light instead, felt it almost immediately, much stronger than yesterday, and he leaned down to kiss Riku, needing the contact to satisfy this urge inside of him that he didn't know what to do with. 

Riku melted below him, their lips catching and sliding together, tingling all over, and the fluttering in Sora's chest was now a mild hurricane. Riku slipped his hands into Sora's hair, holding the back of his head as he tugged him down a little more. Riku arched his back just a little and then there was a gasp, a brief press of tongues, a tiny moan, and Sora really wanted to lose himself in this moment. But something was tugging on the back of his mind. 

The dream.

So he made himself pull back after long moments, panting a little. He really could do this forever, he thought. And he wanted to find out. He wanted to find out how long they could tangle together, smiling and kissing and finding out all of Riku's little noises, carding hands through each other's hair. But they didn’t have forever, not yet anyway.

“I really have the worst timing,” he blurted out, and Riku let out a startled laugh.

“Hey,” he replied. “I beg to differ. I'd rather go into this fight knowing we have this.”

Sora smiled and kissed Riku again, a brief little touch of lips, and then another and a third one. But then he really pulled back and sighed.

“I had a dream.”

“Uh oh,” Riku said, sitting up. Sora sat back to make space for him on the small mattress.

“We need to go to Scala ad Caelum. That's where he is.”

“You saw this?” Riku's voice had gone from affectionate to serious in the space of a second.

Sora nodded, remembering the way the Master had been floating in the sky, all suave confidence and patience. He was waiting for them.

“How do we get to Scala ad Caelum?” Riku's voice pierced through his reveries and Sora shook his head a little to snap himself out of it.

“Our combined keyblades can open up a portal. We're in the Keyblade Graveyard, there's something about this place that's tied with Scala. We could probably open up the portal from right outside the ship.” 

Riku nodded, sitting back against the wall next to the bed. He tilted his head back to rest against the wall, staring up at the top bunk. “This is really it then, huh?”

“Are you scared?” Sora asked, leaning back so they were sitting side by side.

“A little. But we beat the Lich. We made our keyblades sync up in a way I didn't even know was possible.”

“You wielded my keyblade. You dual-wielded.”

“And you wielded Braveheart,” Riku said with wonder in his voice.

“Guess there are even some surprises left for an actual Keyblade Master, huh?” Sora meant for the words to come out as a joke, but his voice was a little tense and the words fell flat.

Riku turned to him.

“Keyblades are mysterious and powerful things. No one knows everything there is to know about them. The only thing we know for sure is that they come from the heart. And people's hearts are fickle.”

“And strong,” Sora added. “And brave. They feel love. And connection.”

Riku nodded, and his smile was pleased and gorgeous. “Exactly.”

And so, in an almost exact re-enactment of yesterday's scene, they got themselves ready once more. They put on clean shirts, but their jackets were still dirty and sweaty. It would have to do. They restocked their healing supplies with the mega-potions and ethers that they hadn't been able to fit into their pockets yesterday. 

Sora had been nervous yesterday, but today, he was strangely calm. If this was to be their final battle, he was damn well gonna make sure it was going to be a battle to remember.

Once outside, their gazes met.

“Where do we open the portal?” Riku asked.

Sora debated this for a second. “By the cliff. The portal will open in the sky.”

But before they set out, he stopped again. He didn't know what was going to happen once they went through that portal, whether or not he and Riku would end up creating this ultimate χ-blade, but there was one thing he knew for certain right now.

“Wait,” he said, and Riku turned to him in surprise.

“What's wrong?”

“No, nothing's wrong. I just need to do something.”

Sora held out his hand and summoned the χ-blade he had received from Xehanort. For a few seconds, nothing happened, but then the blade appeared into his hand. It was still beautiful, even in a desolate desert like this. It sparkled despite the lack of sun, and Sora could feel the energy vibrating under his hand. But it felt just as wrong and awkward as every other time he'd summoned it, and now he knew why. This blade was never meant for him. 

He looked around himself to find a pair of sharp rocks not a few feet away. That would do.

“Sora, what…”

But Sora ignored him as he moved towards the rocks. He raised the χ-blade in his hand, heard Riku's sharp intake of breath, and smashed it down upon the rocks with all of his strength. There was a loud crash as the blade exploded into thousands of glimmering shards, green and yellow flying all around him, then disappearing into thin air as he watched.

Afterwards, he felt immensely better.

“You know,” he said, turning to Riku. “If keyblades only work if you can wield them from the heart, I'm not surprised I was never able to wield this.”

He held out his right hand again, and this time let the Kingdom Key appear. He took a step forwards, towards Riku, and held out his left hand. With a grin that was more bashful than cocky, he narrowed his eyes for a second, and let his heart reach out for that familiar, welcoming light. Braveheart appeared in his left hand.

Riku whistled lowly, his face unguarded as his gaze flicked between Sora's face and the keyblade in his left hand. “Well then.”

Sora's grin widened as he spun both blades in his hands, then held out the Kingdom Key towards Riku. “Shall we?”

As soon as Riku touched the blade, Sora felt a familiar longing tugging at his chest. He had never really thought about it before, but this was the same feeling he'd gotten whenever he and Riku had used their combined keyblade during the Mark of Mastery. The feeling was even stronger now than back then. He used to think that it was just part of the joint attack, but he suddenly realised that it was much more than that. 

Their eyes locked for a moment, and Sora was overwhelmed by a wave of yearning. A sudden bizarre thought that his life was incomplete.

How had this happened? How had he not realised this before? Back in Olympus, when Hercules had referred to Riku as his special person, Sora had just sort of taken that in stride. But suddenly the implications of it hit him. If he felt this longing, if he felt incomplete without Riku, what did that mean for them?

But before his thoughts spun further out of control, Riku was there, a hand on his shoulder, against the side of his neck, pulling him back into the moment.

“Hey,” Riku said softly. “We can do this, okay?”

The fingers against Sora's neck tightened for a moment before relaxing again. Riku looked away to the sky for a moment, sighing. When he looked back at Sora, his eyes were blazing, and somehow that gave Sora a renewed sense of focus. 

“Yes,” Sora replied. “We can.”

They made their way over to the edge of the abyss, and with a final nod at each other, they both raised each other's keyblade. Light shot from the tips, two radiating beams expanding as they launched into the grey sky, parting the clouds and then twirling around each other to create a large, shimmering keyhole. 

Sora and Riku pushed off from the ground and let the beams of light carry them up and into the portal.

Even with his eyes closed, the world seemed to be spinning. It took him long moments before he could open his eyes, staring up at white clouds gently drifting across a bright blue sky. Sora turned his head and was relieved to see Riku lying next to him, blinking open his eyes.

“Well, that worked,” Sora said cheerfully.

“Ugh,” Riku replied, sitting up, steadying himself with both hands on the cobbled stones beneath them. “This has got to be my least favourite way of travelling to other worlds.”

“Oh, hush.” Satisfied that Riku was alright, if only a little shaken, Sora looked around them. 

This was the exact floating island where he had fought Xehanort. He remembered chasing the Remnants across these very streets, how they had joined to power up Xehanort in his final, armoured form. He couldn't look at the walls of the buildings without thinking back to how they had folded up, how Xehanort had bent the rules of space to his will, sending them underwater to the ruins of an ancient town, long forgotten.

Sora stood, reaching out a hand to Riku to pull him up. They stood side by side, looking around up at the massive city rising up into the sky. And then Sora turned his head to take in the dozens of similar cities all around them, connected by cables and gondolas that hadn't run in years. 

Riku made a discontented noise. “Now what?”

Sora shrugged, but before he could open his mouth to suggest they start looking around, the world started shaking. There was an overwhelming rumbling noise, something like an earthquake. Sora reached out a hand to grab Riku's on instinct.

They watched in amazement as the entire world seemed to shift and tilt, everything crumbling and collapsing in on itself. Sora had no words to describe what happened next. If he hadn't seen it himself, he wouldn't have believed it, and he had seen some pretty unbelievable things in his life. 

At some point during the shift and tilt, the entire world seemed to flip itself 180 degrees. Worn buildings and run-down streets, dripping with water, stood where beautiful bright white buildings and rooftop gardens had been just a moment ago. Sora blinked as beyond the ruined buildings, a massive clock tower rose up into the sky.

“What on…” Riku muttered next to him.

Sora looked down to see they were now standing on faded cracked stones, in a large square with a broken-down fountain. The sky was dark and grey, and there was no sun to be seen, although it was somehow still light enough to make out their surroundings. Looking closer, it seemed that the buildings had once been white and purple, similar to the buildings in Scala, but the paint had long been washed from the exterior. 

“What happened? Where are we?” Sora asked out loud, reluctantly letting go of Riku's hand.

Riku took a step forward and looked around. “Did you see anything like this the last time you were here?”

“No, not that I—” Sora suddenly gasped and Riku turned back to face him. “Wait! During the fight against Xehanort, there was a portion of the fight during which we were underwater. I didn't really think about it before, but there were buildings and streets, even in the submerged portion of Scala.”

“Like this?” Riku gestured around him.

Sora nodded slowly. “I think so.”

“Remains of an ancient town, then…” Riku moved closer to one of the buildings, peering in through the cracked windows. “There's no one here.”

Sora pulled out his Gummiphone, squinting at the screen, but there was no service here. Figured. He put the phone away.

“So where is this Master?”

Riku looked up at the massive clock tower in the distance. “Looks like a good place to start searching, right?”

It was like walking through a ghost town. The place itself reminded Sora of Twilight Town or Radiant Garden, only those places had always had people. Even Radiant Garden back when it had been the ruined town of Hollow Bastion. The streets were still dripping with seawater, slowly flowing down as they made their way up, but there was no movement apart from that.

They climbed up endless sets of cracked stairs, crossing ruined squares and traversing long roads, all lined with the same faded houses. More often than not, they had to jump from stone to stone because of the number of craters and gaping holes all across the streets. At times, their path was blocked by a collapsed archway which they had to climb over.

“What if he's not here, after all?” Sora asked as they were walking across the remains of an elongated road, crossing underneath an archway that was miraculously still intact.

“Sora, you had that dream for a reason. Your dreams have always been right before.”

“Yeah, okay…” Sora said. They turned a corner and suddenly the stone walls of the clock tower rose up in front of them. “We’re close now. Do you really think he’s in there?”

Riku shrugged. “My guess is as good as yours. It would be fitting, though. The most important building. He thinks he's just as important.”

They spotted a bridge and an entrance into the tower, a wide arched doorway with double doors. When Sora pushed his shoulder against one of them, half expecting it to be locked, the door opened easily at the force.

And then they found themselves in a large hallway. The inside of this place seemed like it had not been tainted by the passing of time. The floor was a colourful spectacle of yellow and purple mosaic, creating large stars and intricate patterns. All around the hallway were doors with glass sections, decorated with golden keys. One of the doors stood out, and when Sora pushed it open, it led them to the bottom of a large, winding staircase. Sora sighed.

“Race you?”

Riku gave a low chuckle. “Not today.”

Slowly, they glided up the stairs, Sora in front, Riku close behind. The staircase seemed to go on forever, the spiralling steps all blurring into each other until after what felt like hours, they reached the landing at the top. Sora briefly wondered how far above the ground they were.

Then he turned his attention to the open doors in front of them, leading them into a large meeting room. The floor was tiled in yellow and brown, and there were massive, unmoving dark blue gears all along the walls. The far end of the room was lined with stained glass windows which barely let in any light. Sora looked up at Riku, who was taking this all in with pursed lips.

But before either of them could speak, there was a slow clapping sound from the other end of the room, and the Master stepped out from the shadows.

“Impressive.”

Sora felt his face settling into a scowl, and his fingertips tingled with the urge to summon his keyblade. Sora felt the same energy coming from Riku by his side.

“How did you figure out where to find me, Sora?”

Sora couldn't stop himself. He summoned his Kingdom Key, and it appeared in a flash of light that illuminated their corner of the dark room. He felt more secure and safer with it in his hand.

“I'm not telling you,” Sora seethed. 

“That's okay,” the voice was eerily unruffled. “Your dreams have never been a secret from me anyway.”

Sora stiffened and stopped breathing for a second until he felt Riku wrap gloved fingers around his elbow. The touch seemed to breathe new life into him, and he inhaled a shuddery breath.

“Don't you think it's fitting? That I should finally acquire what I have wanted for centuries, back in the place where all of this began? The first keyblades were forged here, in Daybreak Town.”

Sora was torn between rushing at the Master, keyblade-first, and hearing the story that was clearly going to follow. Riku made the choice for him.

“Why all of this?”

“Isn't it obvious, Riku? The existence of the χ-blade is tied to Kingdom Hearts. There is no Kingdom Hearts without the ultimate χ-blade. The χ-blade is its equal and its protector. What you two will give me will make me the most powerful being in the universe. Light and darkness, forever. The ultimate weapon.”

“We'll never give that to you,” Sora said resolutely.

The Master took a step closer, and Sora brought his left hand to his keyblade handle as well, gripping it as tightly as possible with both hands. The movement made Riku's hand slip from his elbow, and Riku summoned his own keyblade, shifting minutely to change his footing in order to be able to block or launch out, should either be necessary.

“Oh, I beg to differ. These pieces have been set in motion a long time ago. There's nothing you can do to stop it. It's destiny.”

“Please,” Riku spat next to him. “We've heard all of that before. There's always a way.”

“Is there?” The amusement in the voice was almost creepier than the earlier indifference. Despite the fact that there was no face visible beneath that black hood, Sora could feel the Master's eyes on him, and he shivered. “Didn't you think it was strange, Sora, how your dreams were always about Riku?”

Sora narrowed his eyes, refusing to dignify that question with an answer.

“Who gave you these dreams, Sora? You might think that what happened was your own choice, but was it, really? Your dreams influenced all of this. How much of this was you?”

“You’re lying,” Riku said, but Sora could hear the doubt in his voice, which in turn made him doubt himself.

The Master turned his gaze on Riku.

“Yeah, you would say that.”

Sora didn’t want to doubt. He knew what Riku must be thinking, and he hated how it was now also on his mind. He felt anger bubbling up inside of him, the same tendrils of darkness he had felt yesterday after Riku got hurt. And not just anger, but fear and hesitation

If all his dreams had been put into his head by this Master then… Where any of these feelings his own?

“Sora, don't listen to him,” Riku's voice was shaking. “He's doing this to—”

But the seeds of doubt had been planted, and Sora hated himself for it. Hated himself for believing even a little of it. He tried to keep it back, but it was too much, he wasn't able to contain all of these shadows inside of him. With a yell, he let it explode inside of him, and in a cloak of darkness, he surged at the Master, keyblade held high.

Somehow, he was still holding onto his control, but barely. With a yell, he threw multiple balls of Dark Firaga at the Master before throwing his entire being into a Dark Splicer. Behind him, Sora felt Riku leap into the air, and where Sora was darkness, Riku was light, covering himself in a shield of light magic and casting Firagas that curled around Sora's dark magic.

Right before their attacks hit, the Master surrounded himself with a bubble of Reflect magic, and their attacks met the barrier in an explosion of smoke and blaze.

When the smoke cleared, the Master was standing, unharmed, with a large keyblade in his hand. It was huge, sporting a spiky, black guard, merging into two large shafts and ending in a claw-like axe at the tip. And in the middle of that claw sat an eye, darting all around.

Perfect,” the Master said, his voice now even more amused.

Suddenly, Riku was at his side, pulling at his shoulder to make Sora face him. At the same time, Sora felt Riku's light calling out to him, and some of the tension left his shoulders. He lowered his keyblade just a little. 

“I love you,” Riku said with a determined look on his face.

The Master started laughing only a few feet away. 

Suddenly, Sora’s chest overflowed with light, and there was no more doubt. It didn't matter why Sora dreamed about Riku. It didn't matter if those dreams had been real or put into his head by a creepy dude in a black coat. All that mattered was that his feelings for Riku were real. Sora knew that above anything else. 

“I love you too,” Sora said, and he felt the darkness inside of him slide slowly back into the place where it had come from. And then he smiled, because he felt the mixed emotions, the doubt, the darkness inside of Riku, too. “It's okay. We'll figure it out.”

Sora had just enough time to see the relief in Riku's eyes before they were forced apart by a dark blast.

“Sora!”

“Riku! I'm okay!”

Sora looked over to see Riku safe behind a Dark Shield. 

And then the battle began in earnest. Riku threw up a multitude of Dark Shields that Sora, with his renewed light, blasted through to land Dark Splicers from all sides. The Master raised his keyblade to block and counter, but at least half of Sora's hits still landed. 

As Sora had expected, the majority of the Master's attacks were dark attacks. He moved almost to fast to see, launching himself in the air and throwing dark magic spells at both Riku and Sora. But Sora had learned how to push himself through the air with lightning speed as well. He spun around his axis, his keyblade above his head as an extension of his body, then drawing up and slashing and striking combinations that were almost impossible to see with the naked eye.

He and the Master seemed pretty evenly matched, some attacks landing, some being blocked. Sometimes the Master countered, and once or twice Sora was struck by a combination of blows from that dark keyblade as well, struggling to get his keyblade up in time to block them all. But then Riku was there to block for him and take his place, which gave Sora time to quickly consume a potion, before joining the fray again.

Just like with the Lich, their main advantage was that they could team up on the Master. And teaming up was something that Sora and Riku had become especially proficient at. 

Now that they had figured out how to use each other's keyblades, they could swap them at will. Sora discovered that while Braveheart was almost too large and heavy for him, holding it in two hands gave him just a little bit more power to strike. And since he was used to fighting two-handed anyway, the extra power lent to more damage in combinations just when he needed it. At the same time, the lighter Kingdom Key gave Riku just a better way to maneuvre sometimes, and it was just slightly better equipped for light magic, which made Riku's Thundagas and Blizzagas even more powerful.

Sora felt confident. There was no way they were going to lose this fight. It seemed just a matter of time before the Master would go down. Even when Sora was struck by a particularly vicious Dark Aura and sent tumbling back through the air.

“Sora!”

Sora righted himself with a wince. He had to pay more attention. No more being overconfident.

“I'm okay!”

Riku rushed at the Master while Sora held back to consume an Ether and then cast a Curaga on Riku first and then on himself. He saw the Master bring up his keyblade just as Riku swung at him with Braveheart and suddenly time seemed to slow down as Sora thought what their next move had to be. He reached out with his heart.

“Riku!”

In a split second. Riku shifted Braveheart from his right to his left hand. The Kingdom Key appeared in his right hand, which he brought down with a resounding clang against the Master's keyblade, while at the same time sliding Braveheart into the Master's unguarded side.

The Master fell back down to the ground in a flash of black, crashing down hard on his back against the tiles. Riku was on him in a split second, finishing the attack with a series of combinations.

“Yes!” Sora exclaimed loudly as Riku leapt back into the air.

He surged down, holding out his hand for the keyblade he knew Riku would pass him. Riku did him one better, and both blades appeared into his outstretched hands. He decided to spin this attack from above into a Dark Break, and with two keyblades, he exploded into the knocked down Master with double the damage.

Sora fell back, launching himself back up in the air so he was at Riku's side once more, both of them staring at the dark shadows slowly dissipating below. Wordlessly, Sora let Braveheart dematerialise from his left hand, and with a flash, it ended up back in Riku's hand.

Slowly, the Master rose, and with a little roll of his shoulders, he called his keyblade back into his hand.

“I could do this all day, boys,” he said darkly, as he pushed himself up on his feet, using his keyblade as leverage. 

Sora exchanged a look with Riku, and with matching grimaces on their faces, they dove down to attack the Master once more. The Master might think he could do this all day, but so could Sora and Riku. And Sora could tell their attacks from just now had weakened him. There was a slowness to the way he stood up that hadn't been there before. Just before they were on him, Riku cast a Dark Shield that Sora — cloaking himself in light magic — effortlessly flew through in a move that had become as natural to him as breathing. 

The Dark Shield was powerful enough that Sora felt confident he could borrow Braveheart for just a moment, and he had barely finished that thought before he crossed both blades in front of his chest, spun on his axis, and was about to land an attack.

But just before his blades would hit, the Master moved almost too fast to see. He launched himself back up in the air, passing so closely past Sora that he could feel powerful energy shockwaves rippling through the air before he crashed into the ground.

“Riku! Look out!” Sora called out. 

He whipped his head around and watched in horror as the Master cloaked himself in the same light energy as Sora had used. Riku raised his arm to call upon a keyblade, but he was too slow. At the very last second, Riku managed to cast a Reflect spell, but the shield it produced was only half-finished when the Master smashed into him, keyblade-first.

“No!!!” Sora called out, immediately back on his feet.

But the Master spun around Riku and gripped him from behind, holding the keyblade, thrumming now with dark energy, across Riku's chest.

Riku gave a strangled yell as the blade was pressed into his chest, right over where his skin had been slashed open only yesterday.

“Riku!” Sora called, frantically trying to think of what to do. He was quick, but he couldn't be so fast as to strike the Master down before he further hurt Riku.

“Well, Sora,” the Master drawled, and Sora had never heard anyone say his name in such a spiteful manner. “Looks like you're in quite the situation here, huh?”

The Master pressed the blade deeper into Riku's chest, and Sora's eyes widened at the contorted look on Riku's face. He could tell Riku was trying not to cry out, and Sora couldn't imagine the pain he must be in.

“I'll give you a choice, Sora, because I'm in a good mood today.”

Sora grit his teeth, tightening his grip on the keyblades in his hands. Maybe he could use a magic spell. Would a Thundaga hit quickly enough to surprise the Master? Would it be powerful enough to let him drop Riku? He couldn’t really take the risk, though. What if he hit Riku instead? The Master was basically using him as a human shield.

The familiar rush of fear and anger came faster than before, and he found he didn’t really have his defences up enough to stop it. 

“Yes, Sora.” the Master’s voice came out in a sinister cackle. “Embrace it. That’s the choice I’ll give you. Embrace the darkness, completely, and I’ll let Riku go.”

“Sora, don’t,” Riku started, but his voice cut off in a painful howl as dark shadows erupted from the keyblade pressed against his chest. 

“You don't get a say in this,” the Master said lowly. “You could use a little more darkness, too, but you had to be all self-righteous about it.”

“Riku!”

“You can spare him the pain. All it takes is for you to let it in. Let it consume you. You know how good it will make you feel.” The Master slowly descended, still keeping Riku tightly pressed against him, his keyblade still in the same position as he touched down on the floor at the other end of the room. “I've watched you embrace it in your dreams, Sora. I've watched you embrace it in Arendelle. And then I watched you control it in the Enchanted Dominion. Remember the power it gave you. Didn't it feel good, to push Riku into the ground? I know you felt it, the rush of power. The heat of it. Didn't it feel good to finally be the one to look down on him, after all those years? I gave you that power.”

“Shut up,” Sora shouted, tears of anger in his eyes. “I will never listen to you.”

“Oh, but I think you will.”

“Not in a million years!”

Nevertheless, the darkness inside of him was threatening to spill over, and Sora pressed his eyes shut against the sheer power of it. Somewhere he realised that if he did this, he would be playing right into the Master's hand. It was obvious now, what his plan was, and Sora felt stupid for not seeing it before. 

Sora had become too much light, he'd said. His plan to draw out more darkness in Sora during his fight with the Lich hadn't worked. And now Riku had gotten hurt, again, because of him. That thought sent a shiver up Sora’s spine.

“I'm waiting, Sora. What will it be?”

“Sora—” Riku tried again, and Sora's eyes flew open as Riku was once more cut off when the dark smoke around the Master's keyblade spread out further across his chest.

Their gazes met, and Sora stopped breathing for a second as he stared at the boy who had been by his side for as long as he could remember. Riku had always been in his heart, his main driving force even when they hadn't been physically together. He'd seen Riku at his worst, and Riku had seen him at his worst, too. And still they stood by each other, always found their way back to each other. 

Sora smiled. It seemed so easy, suddenly. 

“Fine!” He called to the Master, and he closed his eyes and focused. But instead of calling on his darkness, he pulled out every inch of light he could find. He reached out with his entire heart, feeling how bright it was when he let himself feel all of it. And then he called out for Riku's light.

Riku answered immediately, and Sora marvelled at the familiar warmth and radiating colours all inside of him. When he opened his eyes again, he saw the look of understanding on Riku's face. The determination in his eyes. 

Sora summoned all of the light he'd gathered, and suddenly both his and Riku’s keyblades disappeared from his hands and reappeared at the centre of the room in a bright flash. He watched in fascination as the blades spun around each other, picking up more and more speed until it was impossible to see where one blade ended and the other began. Sparks erupted all around, golden and silver, and suddenly a name came to Sora’s mind.

Key to Harmony.

“Yes!” The Master exclaimed. “That's it.”

When the keyblades stopped spinning, it became obvious that they had fused into a single one.

The Master lowered his keyblade just a little, and Riku took the moment to raise his hand. Within a flash, the joined keyblade — Key to Harmony — was in his hand, and he pushed himself out of the Master's hold, launching himself into the air with superhuman speed.

He landed at Sora's side and they grinned at each other, matching looks of wonder and excitement in their eyes. 

In Riku's hand was the most beautiful keyblade Sora had ever seen. It was enormous, larger than Braveheart. The blade, silver in colour, had circular gems in every colour of the rainbow asymmetrically along the edges. It was broad, tapering to a narrow point at the tip, with a large navy heart symbol in the centre of the blade. When viewed head-on, the black hilt reminded Sora of Braveheart's. When Riku turned the blade 90-degrees, Sora's saw elements of his Kingdom Key, with a gold second hilt and the crown-shaped teeth from his keyblade now embellishing the tip of this new blade. The keychain continued to reflect the rainbow elements from the blade, with a three-dimensional Mickey-shaped token.

“The ultimate χ-blade,” Riku whispered.

“Key to Harmony,” Sora said. The name sounded even better spoken aloud.

Riku smiled at him, fond and soft, his special Sora smile, as if they were the only ones in the room. “It's beautiful.”

“It is,” Sora smiled back.

“Well now,” the Master said, letting his own keyblade disappear. “That took you long enough. Now, hand it over.”

Riku shifted the blade from his right to his left hand, so it was between Sora and Riku. Sora held out his hand and grabbed the second handle of the blade. He felt the immense power radiating from it, tingles shooting up his arm from the touch alone. And they hadn't even used it for anything yet.

In front of them, the Master held up his hand. There was a long moment in which nothing happened. Then he shook his arm. 

Sora exchanged a look with Riku.

Then they looked back towards the Master.

“Impossible…” And for the first time, there was something other than disdain or amusement in the Master's voice. Something close to panic. “The χ-blade spells endings.”

Next to him, Riku closed his eyes and shook his head. When he opened them, his gaze was so fierce that it took Sora's breath away. “Yes, it is written that the χ-blade spells endings. And the letter χ carries the meaning of death.”

As one, Sora and Riku raise the χ-blade into the air, pointing it straight up at the ceiling.

“But,” Riku continued in that same suave voice. “It never specified which ending. Or whose death.”

“No—” The Master called his own keyblade back into his hand, but it was too late.

The beam that shot from the ultimate χ-blade was the most powerful light magic Sora had ever felt. It shot up at the ceiling, curled all around them, and then engulfed the entire room in light. Sora felt his heart singing with the light — the true light — and he felt Riku’s heart beating in tune with his. The feeling was beyond magical, lighting up every cell in his body with its brilliance.

The light was so bright, yet he didn’t have to close his eyes against it. He looked sideways to see Riku staring down at him, and his heart did that soaring thing it had been doing for a while now whenever he looked at Riku, but wilder.

This really was an inopportune moment to kiss him, Sora bemoaned. Even though he really, really wanted to.

“Sora…” Riku said breathlessly, and that want inside of Sora surged just a little stronger.

Then there was a large crash as the light in the room blew off the ceiling and exploded out into the sky above. Sora jerked his gaze away, his heart racing for multiple reasons now. Debris came raining down on them, but Key to Harmony created a barrier above their heads, shielding them.

Slowly, they lowered the blade, and Riku let go of his handle, so Sora could raise it up to stare it at. This χ-blade felt nothing like the one Xehanort had given him. This blade was made for him, he could feel it reacting to his every touch. To Riku’s every touch. It was their keyblade.

Sora looked up as the dust cleared, at the last of the light surging up into the sky above. For long moments, they both held their breath as they watched where the Master had been standing. 

But when all the dust had cleared, there was nothing there anymore. For a second, Sora wondered if it was a trick, but then he noticed the discarded keyblade on the floor.

Riku was the first to move, slowly making his way over to the blade. He picked it up carefully, as if expecting the Master to jump him as he did. But nothing happened. After a long moment, he brought it down with force on the tiles. It shattered into a thousand dark pieces, disappearing into the air in much the same way Xehanort’s χ-blade had done earlier today.

It was really over, then.

Sora made his way over to where Riku was standing, letting Key to Harmony dematerialise. He reached out and slipped his hands underneath Riku's jacket, encircling his waist.

“We did it.”

Riku nodded, one arm going around Sora's shoulders to draw him closer, the other hand going to the back of Sora's head. A heartbeat later, Riku was kissing him — hard and rough, full of fierce eagerness, their teeth clashing — but so full of relief and promises that it didn't matter.

Sora's hands curled in Riku's shirt, drawing him closer still, until they were pressed chest to chest, everything too much and yet not nearly enough, and Sora trembled with it all, the fact that they had this, that they survived and made it out even stronger.

When Sora pulled back, his eyes widened at the look on Riku's face, the expression there so intense that Sora stopped breathing for a second, his heart in his throat. He froze for a second before burying his head in Riku's chest, and Riku's arms tightened around him protectively, cocooning him in their warmth.

Sora didn't know how long they stood there, clinging to each other, lost in the feeling of their hearts beating in tune. Slowly, Sora felt the adrenaline and the nervous restlessness leave his body, and he could both feel and hear Riku's heart settling down in the same way.

Finally, Riku pulled away, just enough to look Sora in the eye. “C'mon. Let's go home.”

Sora nodded. With their hands tightly clasped, they flew up into the air and surged up through the open roof. But when they emerged from the top of the building, out into the darkened sky, Sora faltered.

There was a huge, heart-shaped moon in the sky.

“Wow,” Sora whispered as Riku let out a low whistle. “Did we…”

They touched down on the part of the roof that was still standing and Sora tightened his grip on Riku’s hand.

“And they will find Kingdom Hearts, the true light within the darkness, and awaken it,” Riku said softly.

“What?”

“I remember that line, I read it in a book on keyblades. It's stuck with me ever since. χ-blades are powerful enough to open Kingdom Hearts. Xehanort did it before, of course, only his version wasn't the true light.”

“Well, if anything would open the door to Kingdom Hearts again, it would be our ultimate χ-blade, I suppose,” Sora said with a smug little grin.

“Can you feel it?” Riku asked. “All that light?”

Sora nodded, leaning into Riku’s side. “We knew it years ago. Kingdom Hearts is light.”

They looked up together at the sky, where the soft and peaceful golden light of Kingdom Hearts was silently shining down on them.

“This means the worlds are once again in balance,” Riku said. “And now that the true light is awakened, and the ultimate χ-blade is around to protect it, there’s no reason for Kingdom Hearts to hide anymore.”

Sora looked up at him, at the peaceful smile on Riku's face, the sparkle in his wide eyes. When Riku turned to him, Sora’s face lit up with a bright smile of his own.

“Let's go home now.”

Chapter Text

“Astonishing...”

Riku had never seen Master Yen Sid truly speechless before. It was interesting to see the usually so formal and collected Master with his mouth slightly open and his eyes wide with bewilderment. Riku almost smirked. Next to him, Sora was not so reserved as he raised a hand to hide a snicker behind. 

Yen Sid turned the χ-blade this way and that, watching it catch the light and reflect a myriad of colours across the walls of the largest laboratory of Radiant Garden’s research facility. The rest all watched wordlessly as well, Mickey, Kairi, Ienzo, and Axel just as speechless.

It was Mickey who found his voice again first. “And you say it's called Key to Harmony?”

Sora nodded. “Because light and darkness are now in perfect balance once more. Just like our hearts.”

Riku's fingers twitched at Sora's words, and wordlessly Sora's hand slipped into his own and gave him a squeeze. Riku turned his head to see Sora's head turned up in a shy, adoring smile, those sapphire eyes so earnest, and Riku realised with a start that anything Yen Sid could say to them would pale in comparison to the way Sora looked at him then.

Yen Sid looked up from the keyblade, his eyes going from Sora to Riku with amazement. “This keyblade is the most magnificent thing I've ever seen. The world owes you two a great debt. I didn't think I'd ever see the day when the true Kingdom Hearts would light up the sky in peace again.”

“Can we study it?” Ienzo asked eagerly. “We know so little about keyblades and how they're made, studying this one would teach us a great deal.”

“Yeah!” Kairi exclaimed excitedly. “Please guys, I wanna know all about this keyblade. It's so amazing!”

“I guess…” Riku said, a little hesitant at the idea of leaving the blade in someone else's hands, even though he knew the importance of keyblade research. And if there was anyone he trusted with handling it with the respect it deserved, it would be Ienzo and Kairi.

“But only until our next mission,” Sora added quickly. “We'll need it back by then, I can't wait to crush some Heartless with this.”

“Next mission?” Kairi asked, frowning. “But you just only just got back!”

“Well,” Sora drawled, his grin turning sheepish. “Maybe not today or this week. But someday. Right, Riku?”

Riku nodded. Honestly, he would go wherever Sora wanted to go. If that was another world tour, or just the occasional mission, or even back home to Destiny Islands, he would follow. He figured out long ago that his entire life would always revolve around Sora. Somewhere, he realised that maybe he should want more out of his life, but he also didn't really want it any other way. Sora would always have all of him, for as long as he wanted him.

“And first,” Sora said, his voice taking on a pouty tone. “I wanna show it to Donald and Goofy! Where are they anyway…”

“They'll be here soon. They needed to wrap up their mission first,” Axel said. “Even with Kingdom Hearts watching over us again, there are still Heartless out there in the worlds.”

As if on cue, the door to the research room burst open, and Donald and Goofy rushed into the room. They looked around themselves for a second until they spotted Sora and Riku.

“Sora!” Donald exclaimed and all but launched himself at the boy at Riku's side. Sora let go of Riku's hand to wrap his arms around Donald, his peals of laughter filling the room. Riku's chest swelled with affection, and he watched in fond amusement as Goofy engulfed Donald and Sora in a hug of his own.

“Sora, you're okay,” Goofy grinned widely. Then he looked up. “And you too, Riku! Come here.”

Goofy extended an arm towards Riku, who stepped forward after just a second of hesitation. Then both Sora and Goofy pulled him into the group hug, and Donald patted a hand on his thigh.

“You did good, Riku,” he said brusquely, but when Riku looked down at him, he could see Donald's eyes were misty, and Riku nodded at him.

“Hey,” Sora sulked. “What about me?”

Goofy gave an amused chuckle. “You did good too, Sora. You both did.”

When they stepped back, Donald was still glowering a little, but he also had to rub a hand across his eyes. Riku poignantly looked away, his gaze drawn back to the χ-blade that Yen Sid was still holding. Goofy followed his gaze, until he, too, caught sight of Key to Harmony.

“Is that...a keyblade?”

“Yeah!” Sora held out his hand, and immediately the blade dematerialised from Yen Sid's hand and appeared in Sora's. Donald and Goofy let out simultaneous gasps, clamouring over each other to get a closer look.

“Me and Riku made it,” Sora said proudly.

“Gawrsh, guys,” Goofy's eyes were comically wide. “It's beautiful.”

“It's so bright,” Donald exclaimed. “It's almost all light.”

“There's a little bit of darkness in it,” Sora said. “We all have a little bit of darkness inside of us. But the two are in balance now. Like mine. I feel even better now that I can handle both. I can feel it in my heart.”

Donald crossed his arms and shot Sora a teasing look. “Are you sure that's not just the love you feel for Riku?”

Sora's entire face flushed at that, all the way down to his neck, and Axel and Kairi snickered from across the room. Even Riku couldn't stop the short burst of laughter from escaping him.

“Now, Donald,” Goofy said, holding up a hand. “I'm sure Sora knows what he's feeling.”

With his cheeks and neck still red, Sora's expression shifted a little and he shook his head slowly. He let the χ-blade split apart into Kingdom Key and Braveheart again, and both blades disappeared into a bright flash of light.

“Maybe,” Sora said thoughtfully. “Maybe not. There was a point where I was always doing stuff, always racing from one thing to another. I thought I knew my feelings, but I didn't. Not really.”

He looked over to Riku, and even though Riku loved all of their friends dearly, right now he wanted nothing more than to be alone with Sora. He wanted to hold him and kiss that wistful look off his face. He wanted to tell Sora he loved him, that they'd figure it all out, together. There was so much left unsaid between them, and Riku wanted all of it. All of Sora's doubts and musings, he wanted to know everything Sora was feeling. He wanted to know what he wanted.

He held out a hand instead, and Sora stepped closer once more to grab it. The look on his face told Riku that Sora wanted the same thing.

It was Kairi who broke the sudden silence. “I'm sure you guys are tired after that adventure. Follow me! We got a room set up for you guys when you called and said you were on your way!”

Sora didn't let go of Riku's hand as Kairi led them through the endless hallways of the castle turned research facility to show them to their sleeping quarters.

“So how have you been, Kairi?” Riku asked, meeting her slightly amused grin with one of his own.

“It really is amazing to be here,” Kairi said, heartfelt. “There are so many things I'm learning and doing here. And in my spare time, I've been exploring Radiant Garden. Being here, seeing this place again, has made some of my childhood memories return. I remember meeting Aqua at the front doors of the castle. I remember the street I used to live on with my grandmother. It's all still hazy, but I've met people who remember me, old neighbours and friends. They're kind enough to share stories of my Grandmother and of me when I was younger.”

“That's great, Kairi,” Sora said with a wide grin.

“You guys need to do some more exploring while you're here. I'll show you all my favourite spots. Like the gardens! They're beautiful. And Riku, you'll probably love the library. There are at least a hundred times more books than at the Islands library. I don't think I'll ever be able to read them all...” She let out a small sigh, evidently disappointed at that idea..”

“Look at you, Kairi,” Riku smiled. “Researching, learning how to build Heartless detectors.”

Kairi's grin was radiant in a way that Riku hadn't seen in years, probably. Then her grin turned a little sly as she caught Riku's eye. “So, you and Sora, huh?”

Riku almost choked on his swallow, but he recovered quickly. “Don't tell me you're surprised.”

Kairi shook her head, red hair flying around her as the grin on her face turned soft. “Not really. I'm just surprised it took you guys so long.”

Riku turned to Sora with a fond grin of his own. “Guess he's just a little slow, sometimes.”

“Hey,” Sora piped up. “I heard that.”

Kairi laughed out loud. “You had good timing, though, if it was your love that defeated the Master.”

Sora tilted his head as his expression became thoughtful. “I'm still not entirely sure how he thought he could ever get the χ-blade to belong to him… In the end, it was almost easy?”

Kairi crossed her arms in front of her chest and tilted her head in that same way that Sora did. “I think... his plan probably failed because he underestimated the love you two had for each other. He didn't believe that love could defeat him. I mean, we all saw the χ-blade just now, it was too much light for him in the end. Because you two created that light with your love.”

Sora nodded. “Well, if you put it like that.”

They walked through a few more hallways until they got to the room that had been made ready for Sora and Riku. Kairi opened the door for them, but before they could step inside, she held out an arm to stop them. 

“I can't believe you guys became boyfriends and that that made the true light summon Kingdom Hearts again.”

Riku flushed a little as Sora just grinned and shrugged. “Guess we're just that awesome.”

“Aw, guys.” Kairi opened her arms, and the three of them hugged each other. Before Kairi pulled away, Sora pressed a kiss to her cheek as Riku stroked a hand across her hair.

“I'm happy for you,” Kairi said with a barely concealed hitch in her voice. “Now, get some rest. You deserve it.”





When Riku woke the following morning, Sora wasn't pressed against his side, like he had been literally every morning over the past months. For a moment, Riku froze, thoughts of nightmares and Heartless and darkness running through his mind. Then, as the hazy edges of the world came into focus, he forced himself to swallow down the panicky feeling in his chest. They were in Radiant Garden. They were safe. Sora wasn't hurt. At least, not physically.

He rolled onto his side to find a note on the bedside table.

Hi Riku. I'm preparing a surprise for you, don't worry. Meet me at the entrance at 11! Love you. Sora.

Riku glanced at the clock above the desk in the corner of the room. It was ten in the morning, much later than he had slept in ages. He must have been exhausted, even though it hadn't really felt like that last night. Adrenaline always did funny things to his body. 

He let himself fall back against the pillow. He was surprised Sora had been able to slip out of the bed and the room without him noticing. It had been a long time since he'd slept so soundly.

He rolled over on his side, curling in on himself a little as he hugged Sora’s pillow to his chest. He felt almost guilty for letting himself relax after so many months, years really, of always looking always his shoulder, always planning and looking ahead, looking out for himself, for the world, for Sora. He closed his eyes again and felt a lethargy settle over him even though he’d actually slept well and long. It was as if his body was telling him to finally let go and recover.

It was only the thought of Sora that stopped him from falling back asleep.

Just when he was considering getting up and getting dressed, the door was pushed open, and he pressed his eyes shut tighter against the sudden bright light flowing in from the hallway. 

“Riku! Are you awake?” Sora's voice was too loud in the quiet room, and Riku buried his face in the pillow he was still holding.

He heard Sora move across the room, and suddenly there was the sound of curtains being yanked open and more light filtering in through his closed eyelids. He groaned weakly. Then he felt the mattress dip next to him, and there was a hand slowly sliding in his hair.

“Is it eleven yet?” Riku asked, trying and failing not to press back into the hand now stroking in small circles. He could almost hear Sora’s smile.

“No,” Sora said softly. “I was already done and got impatient.”

Riku chuckled. “Done with what?”

“It’s a surprise.”

Riku rolled over onto his back so he could open his eyes and see Sora grinning down at him, way too bright and awake. Riku groaned, which he thought was an appropriate response to someone being that awake at this hour.

Then Sora leaned down to kiss him, and Riku’s eyes slipped closed again. Sora’s lips were soft and warm, a little chapped, and when Sora licked into his mouth, his tongue tasted of...mushrooms? Spinach?

Sora pulled back with a smile. “Get dressed.”

“Why do you taste like vegetables?”

Sora blushed a little and untangled his hand from Riku’s hair. “You’ll see. Get dressed.”

“Bossy,” Riku said, and he was not pouting, but he got out of bed anyway to get dressed. He noticed Sora wasn't wearing his jacket, instead just wearing his tank top and a pair of dark shorts, so Riku decided to just slip on his capris and a clean white t-shirt.

Afterwards, Sora led him to the castle entrance, where Kairi was waiting with a wicker basket. 

“Thanks, Kairi!” Sora said, taking the basket from her extended hand.

“Have fun, guys,” she grinned, and Riku watched as she turned on her heels to saunter back down the hallway.

“What’s this?” Riku asked, raising an eyebrow at Sora.

Sora bit his lip, and Riku could see the conflict on his face for a few seconds before he caved. “Okay, I might as well tell you. I thought we’d have a picnic. Just the two of us.”

Riku’s heart did few little somersaults, and he reached out a hand to run his knuckles down Sora’s cheek before he could stop himself. “Like a date?”

Sora averted his gaze to the floor, and Riku felt that cheek heat up underneath his touch.

“Yeah,” Sora said softly. Riku curled his fingers underneath Sora’s chin to lift his head, meeting Sora’s bashful smile with one of his own. Sora's blush deepened. “If you want to?”

Riku wanted to. More than anything. “Of course.”

Sora's smile was brighter than the sunshine outside.

They walked hand in hand through the gardens, and Sora led them towards a secluded spot away from any paths and other people taking strolls in the morning sun. A spot near the castle walls, Riku noted with a little relief. It made him feel safer because that meant they couldn't be surrounded by Heartless out of the blue, which was something that had happened to him and Mickey on more than one occasion in the Realm of Darkness. He supposed the chances of that happening here were close to zero but better to be safe.

Sora took a blanket out of the basket and after they sat down in the shade of the oak trees, almost completely hidden from view, he thrust the basked into Riku's hands. Riku blinked.

“You want me to—”

Sora nodded with wide eyes, and the corners of Riku's mouth turned up. He opened the basked to find an assortment of foods. He wondered where Sora had gotten all this stuff. There were strawberries, a whole watermelon, cheese cubes, rice balls and a large brown paper bag that Riku pulled out first, setting the basket down on the blanket.

“What's this?”

Sora reached over to pry the bag out of his hands, ripping it open with eager hands.

“That's why I got up so early this morning. Kairi made the rice balls, and I made these. They're stuffed buns with mushroom and spinach.”

Well, that explained the way Sora had tasted this morning. “You made these?”


“The castle has a proper kitchen! With an oven and everything.” Sora's eyes were sparkling in the strip of sunlight falling through the tree leaves, and so blue that Riku drowned a little in them.

He smiled at Sora's enthusiasm. “When we get a house together, we'll have to make sure it has a good kitchen.”

Sora's eyes widened, and Riku shut his mouth with a snap.

“That… I don't… I didn't mean…” 

“You want us to get a house together?”

“No!” Riku said quickly, holding up his hands, but when Sora's face fell at his sudden negation, he backtracked. “Uhm, that is...”

Sora shifted closer, grabbing Riku's hand, easily lacing their fingers together. “Cause it's okay if you want to.”

Riku just stared at the container filled with strawberries and wondered what to reply. Sora hadn't bolted yet. Sora had moved closer and was holding his hand. He swallowed. “Maybe... Do you?”

Sora waited long enough with his reply that Riku was forced to look up, at Sora's slightly self-conscious, but radiant smile. “Maybe.”

Maybe was good. Riku could live with maybe. He felt his lips curl into a smile of his own. Then, to have something to do, he reached for the bag of buns and handed one to Sora. When he bit into one of his own, he closed his eyes for a second. They were very good, although he hadn't expected anything less. He'd known since their time in the Enchanted Dominion that Sora could do amazing things in the kitchen.

They ate in silence, Sora stuffing down three buns by the time Riku finished his first. 

Yet in the silence, Riku felt that familiar doubt creep into his mind again. At the moment Sora was about to bite down in his fourth bun, Riku blurted out what had been at the back of his mind for days now.

“Do you think we only got together because of what the Master did?”

Sora froze with the bun partly into his mouth. Then he swallowed the bite he'd just taken without chewing, struggling to get it down his throat. “No!”

Riku gave a low, sad chuckle. “How can you know?”

Sora dropped the rest of the bun on the blanket and moved even closer to Riku, both hands coming up to cup his face. “I just do.”

Riku closed his eyes at the sudden unwanted stinging sensation there. “I know you thought it, too. When we fought him.”

Sora pulled his head towards him, and Riku exhaled a shuddery breath when Sora kissed his temple. “Only because he took me by surprise.”

Riku tried very hard to relax at the way Sora was stroking across his cheeks, but his shoulders were tense with a weight that had become all too familiar by now. He never doubted his feelings for Sora anymore. And he didn't doubt that Sora loved him, too. But there were a lot of ways to love. 

What if Sora didn't feel the same way? Where would that leave him?

Sora could decide they should go back to being friends. And now that he knew what it was like to have all of Sora, he didn't know if he could go back. He would if that's what Sora wanted. He would never ask Sora for more than he wanted to give, but Riku wanted him so much — all of him — that he didn't know how to keep all of that inside. 

“Riku,” Sora said, and Riku opened his eyes at the determination in his voice, at the way Sora was now lightly shaking against him. “I feel my heart and soul calling out to you all the time. Even back when I didn't know what it meant. That was long before any of this happened. It's like...fate.”

Riku’s mouth fell open. Sora looked so sure of himself. And Riku wanted to believe him, more than anything, but still… 

“So you think we didn't have a choice in all of this?”

“No,” Sora said fervently. “That's not what fate is. Fate means we would always have ended up together. But we chose our own paths, and they brought us here.” 

Slowly, Riku felt the knot in his chest dissolve, but Sora wasn't done yet.

“I'm not sure I told you. But do you know what the Master said when he talked about using us to create his χ-blade?”

Riku shook his head.

“He said he felt a ripple in the universe when we first met each other. He didn't do that. We did that, Riku. Every step we took, everything we did, light or darkness, every road we took led us to this.”

“Sora…”

“I know you're scared. I'm scared too. But let's figure it out together.” Sora slid his hands into Riku's hair. “Okay?”

Riku knew he could never deny Sora anything, not even when his throat was closing up and his chest felt like it would burst with everything he felt. He choked out the only thought that floated to the surface amidst all of this. “I love you.”

“Riku.” Sora's voice broke through his thoughts that were spiralling wildly out of control. “I may have only realised recently what this is. But that doesn't mean I love you any less.”

Riku's body shuddered with what might have been a sob, but then Sora's lips were on his, and he was beyond caring. It was soft and gentle, somewhere between sorrow and bliss, and Riku reached out a hand to curl into Sora's shirt, tugging him closer. When Sora moaned, Riku echoed the sound. Sora parted his lips, and the taste of spinach and mushrooms was even more overwhelming now, but Sora's tongue was doing things that left Riku unable to process any further thoughts.

When they pulled back, gasping for air, they stared at each other through half-lidded eyes until Sora let out a breathy giggle.

“Can we go back to eating, now?”

And that was such a Sora-esque thing to say, that Riku hummed and felt a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth again. “I suppose.”

Sora reached across his legs to grab the container of strawberries, sitting back and shifting to cross his legs. And just like that, he had shrugged off his fierce tenacity with which he had made Riku feel better, and he was back to Sora, a little hesitant and blushful as he held up a strawberry. 

Riku watched, unblinking, as Sora lifted the strawberry to Riku's mouth. He stopped breathing when Sora pushed the fruit past his lips, and barely remembered to chew as Sora's eyes remained on his lips, focused at first, but clouding over a little with every motion of Riku's jaw.

Riku smirked. This, maybe even more than Sora’s words, convinced him that Sora probably wouldn’t want to go back to just being friends anytime soon.

They took turns feeding each other strawberries, their gestures getting a little bolder every time. Sora’s cheeks were flushed and his breath had quickened, and somehow this had turned into a competition, although for what, Riku couldn’t say. Sora's ever-present grin turned coy, and he leaned in just a little further every time until he was practically in Riku's lap. It was when Riku held out the last strawberry for Sora to wrap his lips around that his fingers lingered, and after a heartbeat, Sora sucked his forefinger and middle finger into his mouth.

Possibly, this meant that Sora had won, although Riku couldn’t say for sure. He wasn’t really sure he cared, either.

They kissed again, Sora’s lips now sticky and wet with strawberry juice and saliva, and at some point, Riku moved and pushed a little until Sora was on his back beneath him on the blanket. Riku's hands moved to Sora's hips, and he could apply just a little more pressure with his lips like this. Sora gasped a needy sound into his mouth, arched up a little into his hands, an accidental brush of hips that left Riku shivering and made him break the kiss.

He kept his eyes shut for long seconds, feeling and hearing the way Sora was breathing hard below him.

“Riku?” 

Oh, and the way Sora's voice was all rough now sent more shivers down Riku's spine, so he pulled back before he lost himself completely. He flipped around and rested his head on Sora's stomach, which was still rising and falling rapidly, but slowly calming down to a more relaxed rhythm.

Then Sora's hands tangled in his hair, and Riku exhaled slowly, melting a little against him. He breathed deeply for a few long moments, letting the smell of flowers and strawberries fill his lungs as his heart rate came back down.

“Riku?” Sora's voice was also back to normal.

“Hmm?”

“I've been thinking about what...you know who said to you, back in the Keyblade Graveyard.”

Riku closed his eyes, bracing himself for the question he knew would follow. 

“How long have you been in love with me?”

Riku inhaled sharply, curling his fingers into fists at his sides. 

“I don't remember,” he muttered, his teeth pressing into his bottom lip for long seconds. “Is it stupid to say forever?”

Sora paused for a moment, shocked into silence at the confession, but the hands in his hair didn't still. And it was easier, talking to Sora when he wasn't looking at him, so he pressed on.

“Sora, you're my entire life. I don’t know who I am without you and that scares me so much. I would do anything for you.”

The weight of Sora's hands in his hair was both a distraction and a way for Riku to stay in the moment as he held his breath and waited for Sora's reply. When it came, it was shaky, full of unshed tears.

“I don't want you to get hurt for me again. I don't want you to die for me again.”

There was a phantom pain in his chest, and without thinking Riku brought a hand to his shirt, rubbing a little at the scar below. Sora noticed immediately. He untangled a hand from Riku's hair and reached out to cover Riku's where it was pressed against his chest, grasping it tightly.

“I don't think I could live without you again,” Riku said softly.

“But that's not what I want. If something were to happen to me, you need to live. You're my best friend, my boyfriend.” Riku shivered at the word. “But you're so much more than that. You're a keyblade Master. You helped save the world, multiple times. You helped Mickey run his kingdom while I was gone.”

“Well, yeah. Okay. And all of that's important. But not as important as you.” Riku opened his eyes again, blinking into the bright blue sky up above.

“Riku…” The tears were gone from Sora's voice, replaced now by a tone of wonder.

“I mean it,” Riku said. “You're always number one.”

Riku counted the clouds that were drifting past overhead. The one that looked like a lucky emblem and the one that looked like the crown on Sora's necklace and then a set of three clouds that were perfect imitations of Meow Wows.

Sora sat up, shifting so Riku's head was in his lap instead and leaned over him, obscuring Riku's vision of the sky and the moving clouds.

“Okay,” he said softly, and Riku blinked to bring spiky bangs, furrowed eyebrows and a bold grin into focus. He chanced a wistful smile.

“It's okay if you don't feel the same.”

“Riku,” Sora said firmly, honestly pouting now. “Stop saying that. I do feel the same. I love you.”

Riku's smile widened and Sora leaned down as he leaned up, and wow, this was a really uncomfortable angle for a kiss, so he pulled back after a brief press of their lips to drop his head back in Sora's lap.

“I'm still hungry,” Sora said, reaching for the watermelon, and as much as Riku enjoyed lying here, his stomach also started growling, so he pushed himself up in a sitting position to reach for the bag of stuffed buns. Apparently talking about feelings made you hungry. Or it might have been the aftermath of the battles they'd fought of the past days, his body still in recovery mode.

Riku bit into the stuffed bun as Sora eyed the watermelon dubiously, holding it up and looking at it from multiple angles.

“How do you open this?”

Riku smirked. “I suppose you could always summon Key to Harmony. I'm sure that'll work.”

“Oh, haha,” Sora said in a wry voice. Then he looked up and his face lit up.

Before Riku could ask him what he was thinking, Sora had thrown the watermelon at the closest tree, where it burst apart in multiple pieces. 

“Yes!” Sora exclaimed, sprinting over to pick up the pieces as Riku shook his head.

But just as Riku wanted to reply how usually people just cut watermelons up with knives, Sora had lifted up one of the pieces, almost burying his entire face in it. He let out an honest to god moan as he took a large bite and started chewing.

Riku felt his eyes go wide.

“This is really good,” Sora said around a mouthful of watermelon, the juice running down his chin. For long moments, Sora continued to devour the fruit in his hands until Riku couldn't take it anymore. Before he realised what he’d done, he was leaning in closer and pressed his lips against Sora's jaw. 

Sora dropped the fruit on the blanket to lift his hands to Riku's neck, cold and sticky, but Riku was too busy licking down the trail of watermelon juice to Sora's neck to care. Sora leaned back against the blanket, and Riku followed, sucking on a particularly soft bit of skin on Sora's neck. Sora giggled and gasped, trying half-heartedly to push him away, but also wrapped one leg around Riku's, tugging him closer, so Riku decided to ignore the mixed signals in favour of sucking every drop of watermelon juice from Sora's skin.

When he'd succeeded, Sora tugged him closer until Riku's head lay against his chest. Riku smacked his lips. He didn't really like the taste of watermelon, but somehow, he only now realised this and it hadn’t been important before.

As he listened to the steady thrum of Sora’s heartbeat below his ear, he nuzzled a little against his shirt while Sora's arms slid lower, across his shoulders before settling against his middle back.

“What do you wanna do now that this adventure is over?” Riku asked, his voice a little muffled against the fabric.

Sora hummed, a sound Riku felt vibrating through his chest and into his own. “I really do wanna travel more. I don't think I could be in one place for a long time.”

“Are you still feeling restless?”

“No, it's not that. There's just so much to see out in all the worlds? I haven't even shown you half of it.”

“Okay,” Riku said, smiling a little at the idea of it. Just the two of them in the gummi ship, no threats, no darkness, no ulterior goal. Almost like a vacation, maybe.

“And there are still Heartless,” Sora continued. “I meant it when I said I wanna try out our new keyblade.”

“That would be cool, yes,” Riku agreed. His left hand was tracing slow patterns across Sora's bare upper arm and he felt Sora shiver a little, goosebumps appearing under his fingertips.

“But maybe also a place to come back to,” Sora continued softly.

Riku smiled. “Like a house?”

Sora was silent for a beat before he exhaled. “Yeah.”

Riku's smile grew wider.

“Riku, what do you want to do?”

Now it was Riku's turn to be silent for a moment. “I've been thinking about writing a book.” 

“Oooh,” Sora exclaimed. “That's great!” 

“I've always loved reading about the adventures of the keyblade wielders of the past. I like the idea of writing ours down, so future generations of keyblade wielders can read them and learn from them.”

“You'd be really good at it,” Sora said fondly. “And we did have a lot of adventures.”

Riku raised himself up on trembling arms, staring down at Sora. He pressed their foreheads together, going a little cross-eyed trying to keep eye-contact. Sora's smile was bright and genuine, and Riku rubbed a hand across his cheek, his chest aching with affection.

“I hope we'll get to have a lot more adventures together.”

Sora kissed him softly. “Me too, Riku.”