Chapter 1: Five Things About Riku
On his return to the islands.
He knows that when he grows up, he will look just like Sephiroth. The one time he mentions it, Sora flinches, but they both know that it's better than the alternative.
Precious child, they told him, precious darling twilight-child, and even now he doesn't know if it's the darkness or the light that made him first believe them.
He likes the biting cold of winter nights - the wind tearing his hair and slicing through his skin makes him feel clean, but sometimes, he wishes it would rain.
He doesn't remember who first taught him how to fight. He does remember who first taught him how to lose, and he's not surprised that it burns a hole in his memory, half-swirled with bitterness and aching, wistful gratitude.
None of them want to let go now, and no matter who stares and who whispers in the hallways, he keeps his arm around Sora's waist and his hand in Kairi's hair.
Chapter 2: Melancholia
"Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside of us." - Unknown
The Hall of Empty Melodies has two levels, and Sora never bothers to wonder why until the first monsoons hit the islands and the nights drag on lit by candles and the steady pounding of rain against the side of the house, the wind shrieking down the lanes and ripping the beaches and palm trees to shreds. Then, curled up and half-dreaming, he remembers the delicate fury of gloved hands racing down thrumming strings and how close to the sound of a heartbeat the crashing of waves on pale metal could be.
Did you...? he asks, and there's a crystal moment of quiet in his head.
Does it matter? Roxas murmurs, and Sora's immediate, incoherent response is wordless and indignant and full of the importance of remembering precious things, even if they weren't real things at all.
...it's because his memories were the clearest, Roxas admits after a long silence, that's probably why he could still play the way he did.
Did you all...? He's not sure how to phrase it, he's not sure if he's intruding, he's not sure if it's even an okay thing to ask about, but he's curious now, because he never bothered to wonder before, in the wildly tumbled dizziness of his desperate search and frantic clawing for survival.
Yes, he says shortly. All of us. And there's a memory there, half-hazy and blurred, perched on the balcony's edge and watching the tempest below, and Axel beside him, fingers tapping the rhythm while Larxene danced, all sharp edges and sizzling, flitting from one partner to the other, because in her old life she was a noble lady who'd killed the man she was forced to marry, and even though some of them didn't know the steps, it was something, it was anything, and even if Xigbar looked past the distance and polished his guns and Zexion could only be pried away from his books via more threatening weaponry, the Superior was unnaturally graceful, and Luxord was elegant and Lexaeus amazingly refined and Vexen more quiet and thoughtful than anything else, and Marluxia and Saïx were too-still and gave him the creeps, but sometimes Xaldin would lean on the balcony and whip the waves into even more of a frenzy, and it was almost, almost like being alive.
He remembers dancing with Larxene, not because he'd wanted to but because she was there and he was there and it was something to do, and then there was Axel again, spinning him away from her and into his own arms, and he remembers remembering a flash of silver hair and sea-green eyes, and he'd held on so much more tightly than someone without a heart should have, because the silver blur in his memory had no face, but Axel was there and almost-alive and his favorite person-not-person in all the worlds of the universe.
He remembers the swell of the waves and music, softer now, smoother, and how much it felt like the memory of breathing, black cloth beneath his cheek and the scent of half-cooled ashes, and it was almost like being real, almost like feeling.
He remembers closing his eyes and just existing, no plots and no plans and no pining, the frantic desperation that beat in the hole in his chest soothed for once to a dull ache, to the solid physicality of the body-soul he was holding, almost real enough to pretend that he was only dreaming.
He remembers the sound of footsteps, slow and graceful, padding in time to the soft tinkling crash of the delicate waterfalls that followed him, the signal that the show was almost over and reality was about to slip in again, and whoever was the closest (Xigbar, this time, so quiet and calm, already unfolding from his perch) was the one who had the duty of catching him and hauling him back to his room when he finally collapsed, because Demyx always, always played for as long as was physically possible and then beyond, for reasons that none of them could even begin to understand.
He remembers how much the memory of hurt ached when the music stopped, how even Xemnas would linger to make sure that he'd survived, because memory was all that they were, and if they lost that...
Because they teetered on the edge of nothingness, they hated it with all the emotion they did not possess.
Don't be sorry, Roxas snaps, too sharply, don't ever be sorry, any one of us would have stabbed each other in the back, even I would have if it suited my purposes.
Except Demyx, Sora points out softly, too softly, and... Axel was...
Whatever Roxas might reply is washed out by the roar of wind and rain, battering down the house again, like fury and hopelessness and a desperation that doesn't really exist, that never existed in the first place.
He was going to kill me, Sora thinks, it was self-defense, and he knows that these things are both true.
He still feels like he's broken something beautiful.
Chapter 3: Bathing Suits
Every day is full of small changes.
She wears pure white, for Naminé, but picks a suit that has Selphie giggling, all skimpy strings and shimmering fabric. Maybe she's being a little reckless, but she knows that nobody will be able to tell the difference, and attribute it to flirtation and girlish vanity - and it is, a little - but more than that, it's just herself, and a reminder that she won't break, not anymore. And the part of her that can admire her own appearance knows that they'll stare, and the thought is delicious and makes her smile a little stranger than usual, a little older, and a little more sly.
They preen in front of the mirror in the front hall of her house, pulling their hair back and sliding soft filmy sarongs around their waists, and Kairi shrieks in protest when Selphie snaps the back of her top.
"That's what you get for wearing a bikini!"
"Yours is worse!" she protests, but Selphie just laughs at her and dances away from her grip. Watching her dip and twirl in a swirl of bright color and a flash of pale skin, Kairi knows that pretty brunette is bound to be more distracting for the boys than she herself will be, but she has the advantage of being able to snuggle up to both Sora and Riku without having either of them protest, although Sora will trip over himself blushing and Riku will stiffen into a marble statue under her grip. But it will reassure them both, reassure her, and that will be enough for her so long as the sun hangs in the sky.
She can't wait to see them - knows half of the girls on the island can't wait to - but she knows better what she'll see, because her boys are beautiful, so very beautiful, but they've been battered by so much that she doesn't know if anyone else will really see that their imperfections make them even lovelier than they were before, because it means that they survived. They all survived.
She wonders if they'll notice the faint spiderwebbing of scars between her breasts, so slim and delicate that it had surprised her the first time she'd looked down and realized that even though she was home, she was the only one who remembered the feeling of sharp claws ripping out her heart. The others have nightmares, a tendency to jump at shadows, and a nebulous fear of evening storms, but they don't remember the end of the world. She forgot it once, for a while, like she forgot one of her boys, like the memory of Riku's smile fading into nothing at all.
Forgetting is the one thing Kairi is afraid of - not being left behind again, because she won't be. She's proven that well enough already.
"Kairi!" Selphie calls, already out the door and halfway through the yard, and she grabs a towel and tears her way out of the house.
Later, feeling pretty and silly and posing outrageously on the beach for Tidus and Wakka, she knows that they don't see, but then Sora comes tearing through the sand and flings his arms around her, and she knows he knows, can feel it beneath her fingertips as she places her hand on his chest, tracing the jagged scar that's the only reminder that he tore his heart out to free her own.
And she was right, too, that Selphie stutters a bit when she first sees him up close, that Tidus takes a step back and blinks and Wakka murmurs "...what?" and Sora just smiles and ducks away, calling for Riku.
And that makes them falter, too, because Riku's so different now, half-hidden and so quiet even when he's happy, all silver waterfall hair and so much solid boy, acres of pale skin marred by a thick scar of his own, sharp and clean, tucked into the curve of his side like it's something to be ashamed of, like it's something to hide. Riku thinks of it as a sign of weakness, Sora thinks of it as a sign of his inability to protect one of his precious people, and Kairi shakes her head and knows that they're both wrong.
Her own breath catches a little when he and Sora tackle each other into the surf and Riku comes up glaring, hair plastered back from his forehead and looking too much like Xehanort right up until he smiles.
Later, tucked into the comfort of the Secret Place, a small fire will flicker before them as they reach out and trace each scar with fingertips and lips and whispered apologies, later she will blush pink and shy but feel beautiful as careful, nervous hands fumble with the strings at her back, later will be kisses and cuddles and skin bared to shy eyes and trembling caresses, but for now she wades out into the water and dunks them both, and when one head pops up as too-blond and laughing, she ducks behind herself and doesn't warn Naminé when Riku and Roxas lunge for her legs and drag her down, sputtering, into the waves.
Chapter 4: Reunion
What do you say to the stranger on your doorstep?
This is your child. You know that. This is your lost child, this is your boy, and this boy is a stranger to you. Your boy didn't have eyes like that. Oh, the color is right, that same bright startling blue, but this boy has the eyes of someone older, for all their brilliance and honesty, for all the sheer joy that they radiate.
This isn't the boy you've forgotten, and this isn't the boy you remember.
His clothes are dark and fierce and bright, his smile is wide and gleeful, and looking at him makes your eyes burn.
You remember this child as a blur of color, too-blue eyes and impossible hair, small clever hands and the scent of sand and sunshine. He was shorter than you then, a whirlwind of growing boy and stubborn independence, and you'd rejoiced at raising a child in a safe place, a community full of children his age with wide beaches to race along and cool shaded places to explore, and no need for a curfew or a lock on the door, no need for constant supervision and no need for fear. A place of life and light and laughter, and the children sparred on the beach and swam as soon as they could walk and ran and fished and gardened and planted and grew, ever-blossoming and brilliantly bright. It was safe here, it was small and protected and a little dull, the perfect place to raise a restless little boy.
This was your home, and this was your son.
This is not your child, and you are not his mother.
He calls you "Mom" and squirms in discomfort when you close your arms around him, and when he tentatively reaches to pat your back, his arms are whipcorded steel, rough with scars and exposure to sun and rain and a thousand unfamiliar elements. You ruffle his hair and frown at its hue, at the glint of metal at his ear and hip and throat, but the crown necklace is still the same, and even though he still smells like the ocean and the sand he also smells like something else that you don't recognize, a thousand somethings that you've never seen or felt before.
You don't recognize anything about him, this boy with eyes so blue and a smile so bright and hands that don't know how to hold you.
"Sora," you say softly, and he slips out of your arms and offers you an awkward smile.
"Yeah... I'm home now," he says, arms folding behind his head, and it's a gesture you don't recognize any more than you recognize the way his gaze darts over to the left, staring past trees and houses and long stretches of sand to where Kairi and that other boy slipped away, down the path and towards the best neighborhood on the islands, a path he'd run down a thousand times before in search of Riku, Riku, Riku.
That quiet intense thing can't have been Riku any more than this brightdark shining thing is your son, and sweet little Kairi has begun to move with a calm clear purpose in the time that they've been away.
You lick your lips and stare at him, eying the length of his arms and the careless grace of his stance, and you remember glancing out your front window to see him half-curled into a huddle on your front lawn, clinging between the boy that isn't Riku and the girl that Kairi became, heads together and fingers latched in a too-tight grip on cloth and skin and soft bright hair, a protective huddle where once it would have been a clever little circle plotting mischief and games and laughter.
"Why don't you come inside," you say, and you think of the emptiness of the room that once was his, toys put away and clothes neatly packed into boxes and stacked in the corner, because you'd forgotten how to say goodbye, and you don't remember when or how he left you, or why he's standing there and looking at you now like you're something he doesn't know how to handle, like you're something from a dream that he's long since forgotten.
"...sure," he says, and takes a step forward, hesitates, and waits for you to open the door.
Your son would have bounded through without a second thought, but this boy that isn't yours just watches as you twist the knob and push it open, then step back and hold it open. You're very careful to make sure that your fingers don't tremble as you do, and feel a flash of pride that he doesn't seem to notice that your hands linger a fraction longer than they should.
He walks through the door with a careless, purposeful step, and for a moment you're blinded by the sight of your child again, bright and breathing beneath this stranger's flesh.
But this boy's weight shifts as his too-blue eyes scan doorways and windows and every other thing in the room, and your fingers slip from the handle as coolness sinks into your chest, and your throat tightens until it's difficult to breathe.
He looks back and smiles at you again, clear and glittering, and so you smile back, taut and frozen with a boy you don't recognize standing in your front hall and wearing your son's face, and the world tilts sideways as you wonder if he even knows who you are.
"Come and have a sandwich," you say, and turn towards the kitchen so you don't have to look at him through the tears prickling in your eyes.
This is not your son, and you are not his mother, and this is not his home.
Sandwich-making is easy, mechanical, and the boy that once was Sora turns a chair around and folds his arms over the back the way he always used to, and you pull out his favorite bread and grilled fish and crisp lettuce and watch him watching you. It is quiet and calm and familiar, like a half-forgotten dream, and you can't quite read the expression on his face.
He smiles shyly when you put the plate down in front of him, mumbling a soft thanks and eying you through his lashes, and you sit down across from him at the little table. He smiles again, wider this time, and sits up a little straighter and reaches for his sandwich, and the echo of youth you see in his movements makes your fingers curl into your leg so hard that the nails bite even through the thick fabric of your skirt.
He grins at you the way Sora used to, the way his father used to, and you look at the scars on his arms and the gleaming darkness in his eyes and wonder how he murdered your child.
Chapter 5: Distractions
Or, three ways to slack off in high school.
- In School/Priorities -
Sora's fingers tap a relentless rhythm on desks and chairs and books and his own skin, sometimes, and he chews on pencils and hums under his breath and murmurs to himself when he thinks nobody is looking. He whispers to no one during tests, peels apart erasers with a jagged fingernail, and doesn't know how to calculate with pi or to examine the subtext in the novels he hasn't bothered reading.
His mother scolds him for his indifference, and he just looks at her like she's ranting nonsense and asks how anything he's supposed to be learning has any practical relevance for his future. She gives him lists of trades, of the island's industry, mentions college and apprenticeships and self-sufficiency, but she can tell from the way that his gaze drifts away that none of her words are reaching him.
Sora knows that his future has always been in his own hands.
Kairi fills the edges of her notes with sketches, curling smoke and skittering shadows and long lean bodies draped in blackness, and has to be called on twice before she'll answer. Selphie tugs at her hair and whispers into her ear, trying to help, but can't forget the way she froze one day when Kairi tilted her head and smiled at her like a stranger, and then bent back over her drawing, a boy sleeping who might have been Sora or might have not.
The mayor looks at her slumping grades and wandering eyes, and blames the boys that she won't let go, but can't understand why their return means torn dresses and races along the beach instead of experiments with makeup and clumsy, cautious flirtations, because two boys are always trouble, and Sora and Riku both came back strangers.
Kairi still moves with grace, but her backpack lies unopened just by the front door, and the notes from her teachers are littered with tales of distraction and failure.
Riku has given up even the pretense of paying attention, and spends his classes with his head propped in his hand and his thoughts worlds and worlds away. He doesn't participate in discussions, but he does the work that is placed in front of him, and that's enough to keep his grades passable, even if he never hands in homework. He's managed to avoid all of the detentions Sora has earned simply because none of his teachers are comfortable looking him in the eye.
His parents have never known what to do with him, so they do nothing at all, and hope that he'll learn the lessons of responsibility on his own.
They tell him this once, over dinner, and he stares at them through blank blank eyes and doesn't respond. Later, long after his parents have retired to their rooms, Riku sits alone in the dark kitchen and laughs until he throws up.
* * *
- After School/Crush -
There have always been cliques on Destiny Islands. Small communities breed contempt, and the rest of the kids their age still haven't forgiven the six of them for taking over the play island at ages seven-eight-nine-ish, even as Tidus and Wakka are growing into star athletes, even as Riku and Sora disappeared and came back again, and the little bubble that has always existed around them grows in size as the days go by and the boys slowly grow accustomed to the island life again.
It's the first year in five that no one has asked Kairi to tutor the younger students, and no one has asked Sora to join a club or Riku to join a sports team. Kairi's father worries about her transcripts, Sora's mother worries about his social life, and Riku's parents frown at the shelf of trophies that's been steadily gathering metaphorical dust for the last two years.
The three of them spend their afternoons training on the play island, because social training for adulthood means nothing if you don't survive your teenage years, and Kairi desperately needs the practice. They don't even have to lie about it to their parents, which Kairi thinks is a nice change - they just fudge on the details a little, and that way no one comments about the bruises and the aches and the way they always head straight for one another once the final bell rings.
No one has yet worked up the nerve to comment on the way they always come back in the late late evening holding hands, or how long it takes them to get home, because Kairi argued with her father for an hour straight when he suggested she was spending too much time with them, and Sora's mother was terrified of the expression on his face when she mentioned the same, and when his own parents obliquely hinted at it in passing, Riku just walked out the front door and didn't come home for three days.
But their parents are beginning to wonder.
* * *
- At Home/Hearing Voices -
Sora begs and wheedles and pleads with his mother to buy him a skateboard, but his grades are a wreck, and even if she can't bring herself to ground him, she won't indulge him, either.
Sora buys it with a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the munny he's carefully hidden away, and at night, long past the time when normal denizens of the island are asleep, he and Roxas practice tricks off the top of the school building to the sound of Kairi's laughter and Riku's mocking commentary and the constant brush of pencil against paper as Naminé sketches them all beneath the pale cool moonlight.
On the weekends, Kairi sprawls out on her belly alone in the sunshine with her eyes shut, drawing pictures with her fingertips in the damp sand, murmuring to the girl in her head. The richness of an island home is nothing like the emptiness of the white castle or the stale dusk of the mansion, and the air is salty as she breathes it in, and they watch through their own eyes as her skin tone deepens to the color of warm honey, bringing out the depth of her eyes and the rich luster of her hair.
Her shadow is a pale delicate pretty thing, and Kairi wants to breathe color into her, with every thought and whisper and tear.
Sometimes, when he's very tired, Riku can hear Ansem murmuring deep within the confines of his heart.
Kairi and Sora find him every time no matter how far he wanders, and curl around him like limpets until the whispering dies away, and he can finally sleep.
Chapter 6: Puzzle Pieces
They don't quite fit right anymore. (Except where they do.)
Sora moves too quickly for the pace of their islands. He's used to running, feet pounding a rhythm of Kai-ri Ri-ku find-you find-you find-you, jumping off of buildings and onto interesting-looking ledges, poking his nose into every crevice he can find, tumbling through holes and scaling the edges of gaping chasms, every step guided by curiosity and recklessness and the keyblade's call.
Sora has been blazing roads of light for so long now that it's hard to stop, and Riku now is a quicksilver thing that melts into one shadow and out the other, and neither one of them is suited to rambling anymore, so they let Kairi lead them, guide them, hold their hands and slow them down, pull them into the ebb and flow of tide and growth, and the sand beneath their feet feels like dust blown off of old memories, like sleepy summer days when they once were small.
Walking like that is time for talking, for scouting and planning, time to indulge and time to reflect, and Kairi and Riku both know it. When they walk together, it's a luxury, all smoothness and the sound of Kairi's laughter, the soft curl of Riku's smirk, and wrapping his hands around them both, tugging at Riku's hair and Kairi's earrings and playing shameless games of keep-away with each other's school briefcases.
In those times, he feels like dancing, spinning and catching Kairi in his arms, curling himself around Riku and tugging at her until she stumbles against them both, giggling and scolding and reaching small clever fingers out to pinch and tickle and yank on his hair. The school skirts are too short and Riku's way too tall, but he fumbles his way along soft cotton hems and the folds of his tie, curls his fingers through theirs and bounces his steps, and Kairi had shrieked with laughter and smacked them both when they'd scooped her up between them and raced down the beach to dump her in the water.
Her laughter makes him tingle all over, and she pulled on his pants leg and dragged him down with her, and between the two of them they managed to get Riku thoroughly soaked even though he never actually fell into the water.
Riku's only ever that silly when he's with them, and they both hang off of him, snuggle up into him, and one rose-gold evening they'd taken the long way home, Riku's arms around their shoulders and their hands interlinked on his waist, and the memory of the mischief in Kairi's eyes and the way Riku's breath hitched when she curled their joined fingers beneath his belt still makes his stomach flutter and his cheeks heat, makes him smile and fidget and feel like he's about to wiggle out of his own shoes, because something is changing now and that something is amazing.
Walking with Riku and Kairi feels like breathlessness and laughter, and he soaks up every moment that he can, clings to them for as long as it's allowed before they have to part, and it always feels a little lonely in the moment they let go.
Knowing they're safe has always been enough to soothe him, calm him, let him pick up and move on, but there's nowhere to move on to, and even the threat of detention can't convince him that doing his homework would be a good way to spend his time, not when there are random synthesis items still lurking in his bottomless pockets, not when there are so many things for Roxas to see, not when there are old clothes to discard and a bedroom to reorganize, hiding spots to find and trinkets to carry, chores to do and a mother to please, and dreams to be dreamed in the absence of their arms around him.
But they can't always be there, because Riku has parents who want him at home and Kairi's always gotten along with the rest of the girls, so sometimes after school he settles in with familiar faces and tries to relearn them. Even if Wakka's gone through the same sort of evil growth spurt that attacked Riku and is even more smug about it, he can still team up with Tidus to trip him, and then run screaming from Selphie when she attempts to beat them to death with her briefcase for "being jerks who are so totally jealous just because they're midgets!"
They have an implicit agreement to never ever under any circumstances mention the fact that she's even shorter than they are, mostly because the little moogle charm that she's got attached to the briefcase has an awful lot of really pointy edges, and her aim's gotten even better in the time since he's been away.
Tifa, he thinks, would like her.
* * *
Walking with Tidus and Wakka and Selphie is a strange, exhilarating experience, fumbling for words and trying to breathe in their realness, careful not to smack the ball that bounces between them too hard, and putting only the slightest bit of effort into avoiding Selphie's cheerful pokes and good-natured abuse, but he clings to that, to their careless laughter and easy comfort in themselves, to friends his own age who don't remember the way it felt to see the world ending around them.
He always listens to Selphie's stories, now, and tries to follow along with the development of Tidus and Wakka's increasingly complicated ball game, even though he has no idea how anyone is actually supposed to play it. In those times, he thinks, he might be able to do it, to sink back into the sun-warmed sweetness of this life, but then his eyes will catch a glimpse of silver or the jerk of shadow and lightness, and he once left them a block and a half behind because he'd seen a flash of crimson out of the corner of his eye, and the way his insides lurched afterwards left him with wet stinging eyes and a conspicuous silence ringing in the back of his head.
He laughed it off too loudly, and Tidus gave him a sharp glance, and Selphie's eyes were thoughtful and her lips were pursed, and Wakka looked a little bit too old for the moment, and in a heartbeat he wondered what they'd really been thinking all the time that he was away.
So many worlds, so many moments, so many battles and so many precious people, and it scares him just a little that settling down seems like such a foreign thing, when all he ever wanted was to come back home again.
He wanted to keep his friends safe and the worlds safe and he wanted to protect them and find them and go home and he did and it's wonderful and he has no idea what he's doing, but the one time he mentioned it Kairi rolled her eyes and told him that he never had any idea what he was doing but saved the world anyway, and that takes some of the uneasiness away, to know that it's okay this time, that his ignorance won't hurt anyone or cost a heart or a life or a friendship.
Kairi once asked him to never change, he remembers, and he doesn't think he has, not really, because the people are the same and the rest of the kids are the same if a little bit taller, and the buildings are the same and the beaches are the same and the sunsets are the same and her smile is almost the same, but a little wiser, a little calmer, a little more sure and stubborn, and he thinks she must have changed her mind because she makes him feel young, sometimes, which is strange, because he feels disturbingly like a grownup whenever he's with his mother.
There are fine lines on her face now, and he doesn't think they're from smiling, and he's pretty sure that's his fault, because he's not blind and he's not stupid, and she looks at him now like he's almost a stranger. He doesn't like that, he wants to fix it, and he's not really sure how, so he does his chores unasked and keeps his room tidier than he used to and holds her arm when they walk down to the market, and tells her she's pretty when she laughs.
He learned chivalry from Goofy and passion from Donald, and from his mother he's relearning gentleness, a strange soft thing that makes him feel like his skin doesn't fit right, like there are too many calluses on his hands.
Walking with his mother is a careful, delicate thing, shaded in memories of being small and the ever-present need to curb his reactions, to be slow and patient and kind, and even if she doesn't understand why he's so eager to carry her things, to chatter to her about his day in all of the ways teenage boys aren't supposed to, it still makes her smile. He hangs back when she interacts with the other islanders, tucking the sight of her smile and the faint lines of silver in her hair away into a soft empty space inside his memories, to be protected and cherished for the strange painful sweetness that it is, and thinks maybe he's a little bit more like a grownup now, and maybe she likes that even if she thinks it's weird.
"She lived a year without you," Riku told him once, soft and calm and cool, and even though he's always been the most grownup of all of them, there's something about him now that makes him seem older. "It was to keep you both safe, but she can't forget that you didn't exist for her, once. It's gotta be weird for a mom, to think that you could forget your own kid."
Riku can see in the dark now, Sora knows, and that's why he doesn't let anyone look him in the eye, but Sora and Kairi both lean up on their tiptoes and stare because it's like looking into forever, like looking into his soul, and one soft sweet night Kairi had leaned over with Naminé's eyes and whispered that Riku could see in the light, too, and that's why he won't look at anyone else the way he looks at them, because he can see right through everything and fragile things collapse when they're examined too closely.
Maybe that's why his mom flinches, he thinks sometimes, like he's a ghost, but the sad kind, not the laughter-dancing-shrieking kind, but when she scolds him, she looks right into his eyes, and he knows that shouldn't be as reassuring as it is, that she can see him and realize that he's still himself, even though things are a little different now, even though he's a little bit older, even though she's a little bit unused to him.
Crumbling things are meant to be rebuilt, Sora thinks, and runs his fingertips along the crisp plastic outlines of his now-outdated Hollow Bastion Restoration Committee membership card.
She made him chocolate-chip pancakes for breakfast the first weekend he was home again, and he remembers the curious, cautious way Roxas had peered across the table at her, and the way they both pretended they couldn't see the faint glitter of tears in her eyes.
Roxas has never had a mother before.
* * *
Everything is a little bit strange now, for all that everything is the same, and there are others, sometimes, people whose names he once knew and half-forgot and then remembered, and if he's a little awkward and clumsy sometimes in his greetings, that's only to be expected after such a long absence, and he's always glad to clear up a mixed-up memory, to seal a familiar face back into place and to think, yes, I know this place.
Walking by himself is strangest of all, because after two years of constant companionship, Sora doesn't quite know how to handle being alone. In those times, he can't even chatter to himself, because Roxas pulls back until he's a quiet and distant curl of stillness deep in the back of his mind, and even though the island folk are friendly, even though passers-by will wave and smile and greet him by name, it still feels strange. He stops and chatters to everyone just the same, offers to carry things for old ladies and run errands and do whatever he can to help out the other islanders, but everyone tells him to relax, to take it easy, to get used to being home again, and even when he presses, pushes, says it's no problem and that he's happy to help, he's always being gently rebuffed, sometimes with people laughing softly in the way that adults always do and saying "My, you've grown up so much, haven't you?"
My friends would let me help, he thinks, and then scolds himself for being petty when he knows they're not trying to be condescending.
And that ties his tongue and stills his hands, because he doesn't know how to explain that unless he can connect again, unless he can reach out and dig in, it'll never feel right, and every soft refusal leaves him a little more at a loss, because being at home should feel like a vacation and it does, but he's not sure how to reconnect with this place when there's nothing here for him to do except play and work and slide back into the Sora-shaped void that he made when he left, but he's grown a little since then, and he's beginning to think he doesn't quite fit anymore.
"Three hundred days," Riku told him off-handedly once, and it made his breath seize too-tight in his throat, to think of so much time wasted sleeping while the worlds spun on without him. "...we missed each other at Castle Oblivion by a couple of hours."
"Three hundred days," Kairi whispered, fingers twisting in his shirt, teeth biting into her lip, and he wanted to apologize even though he wasn't sure why, "...she's sorry. You don't know how sorry she is."
Were you ever alone like this? he asks once, and Roxas is quiet for a long time before he says mostly after I left and the silence that comes after tastes like cool ashes and sea-salt melting on his tongue.
He's never dared to use that spoked little keychain, the one that burns bright-hot when his fingers brush against the metal, the one that doesn't belong to him and never will.
Missing Donald and Goofy is a quiet, steady ache that he does his best to block out most of the time, but the emptiness at his side only seems to fill when Riku or Kairi are nearby, and it only goes away completely when they're both there. So he runs, because that's what he knows how to do, but even he can recognize that if he moves full-out he's too fast and he's too strong, so he can only run when no one is looking, and being forced to walk to wherever they are is a slow and inventive sort of torture, because when he's alone he can't stroll, he can't laugh and banter and get distracted by interesting sights and sounds and smells and people, because there is no one there to talk to.
Roxas pretends that he's not looking for sunshine smiles and gentle laughter and dark hair and vendors selling ice cream that doesn't exist here, and Sora pretends not to notice him pretending.
* * *
Even though he tells himself it's safe here, even though the world is locked, even though everything is calm and collected and normal here, even though everything smells and tastes like paradise, as much as he tries to squash the feeling, as much as he tells himself that he's being irrational, he can never quite shake a vague uneasy feeling that unless he hurries, unless he rushes pell-mell across the roads and down long stretches of sand, by the time he finally gets there, his precious people will be gone again.
He once caught a glimpse of Riku through a closing door, somewhere between his house or his own, and he doesn't remember which one it was because he spent the next half-hour with his face buried against his chest and sobbing nonsense while Riku stroked his hair and said nothing, because there were no words to say; and when Kairi is too still for too long Sora has to toss crumpled balls of paper or paopu rinds or random bits of whatever is in his pockets at her just to see her move again; and sometimes he watches Riku's curling fingers and the way the shadows seem to bend just so in the afternoon light with his heart beating a little bit too fast; and when she's there with them, Kairi holds their hands and wraps herself around their arms and sets her jaw and digs in with nails that are steadily growing more ragged by the day and a brilliant, blinding light that sharpens with every breath she takes.
On their first night back they split a paopu three ways, and his lips still tingle from the brush of their fingers, from the tang of the juice, and he still feels heat rush to his cheeks every time he thinks of the way her eyes had darkened as she'd bitten into the soft flesh they'd held out for her, the way Riku had peered at them through thick lashes and long pale hair before leaning forward to nip at the last piece suspended between his and Kairi's fingers.
The play island is the one of the few places where he can forget himself and completely relax, and he thinks that it's ironic because that's the place where the world went away, but no one else goes there anymore, and so they're free to run, to brawl and to play and to tumble like they did when they were small, and Kairi's getting stronger and faster every day, with every swing of a summer-bright keyblade and every flare of pure white light as she learns to focus her power.
So far, the paopu tree on the little island has been set on fire three times, frozen twice, and once charred by a particularly poorly-aimed Thundaga.
Laughter and the tang of new-spent magic and sweat and sun and bubbling joy, and he'd do it all over again just to win one more day of this, just one more moment to be with them.
Sometimes, rarely, Riku laughs when they're playing, clear and careless and free, and every time he and Kairi both freeze and stare, because it's so hard to breathe when he's like that, so suffocatingly beautiful that even Roxas goes shocked-still and silent in the back of his mind, because he's spent so long chasing after him that having him here still makes his eyes sting sometimes, still makes him reach out for no reason at all, just to be able to touch him and make sure that he's real.
--Heartless and darkness and flashing neon and pouring rain, spinning on slick ground and sliding closer to panic and he needs to escape, before the others come, before the Heartless shred him to bits, no matter that he has no heart, and his head snaps up and his not-breath chokes in his chest as Oblivion screams joyful recognition in his hand--
Kairi tackles them both with the force of a keybearer in the making, and even though she's still learning, she's the only other one on the islands who's fast enough and strong enough to knock them down. But they have to treat her like she's an ordinary girl when they're around other people, curb every motion and plaster politeness on top of meekness so that her father doesn't act on his very clear desire to murder them both, because, as he's slowly realizing, Kairi is actually a girl, and that means things that he doesn't really want to think about, except maybe how pretty she is when she's all flushed with exertion, and how the smooth lengths of her arms and legs are starting to harden into sleekly curved muscle, and how nice it would be if they didn't have to sneak her out of her room every night just to keep her beside them, and how pretty it looks when Riku's got his arm around her waist and is whispering into her ear.
Taller and smoother and sharper and brighter, sleek hair and sly smiles and clever eyes, and Kairi turned beautiful when he wasn't looking and people stare at Riku now and he thinks sometimes that they know what this thing is, and just haven't gotten around to telling him yet.
He wants to touch them all the time now, to tug at the eight million zippers on Kairi's dress and flick Riku's hair out of his eyes, because the prettiest thing he'd ever seen was Kairi in the World That Never Was, stretched up on tiptoe and pushing back long silver bangs while Riku smirked down at her, and the memory of that alone is enough to make a warm knot curl up in his stomach, to make him want to fling his arms around them and clutch them to himself and never ever let them go.
But their parents look at them warily now, because they forgot him and thought Riku ran away and panicked when Kairi disappeared, so he can't do it, can't catapult himself out of the doorway and into their arms, can't pull Riku into a full and proper brawl, can't pick up Kairi and twirl her around, can't do anything that will give away just how strong and how fast he's become, or how nervous he gets whenever they're not around him.
"I can smell you," Riku says once, sleepy and content sometime long after midnight, Kairi drowsing against his chest and Sora tucked against his side, beneath her outstretched arm, "and Kairi can sense our hearts from really far away. You just need to pay more attention."
I do, Sora thinks, and nestles closer, curls his fingers into the fall of Kairi's hair and rests his cheek on Riku's shoulder, I do I do I do but it‘s so hard to see anything but the emptiness when you're not there beside me.
* * *
They sneak out every night that they can manage and curl up together, on the roof of the school, in the treehouse, on the play island, on the beach, and in the Secret Place, and every night that they don't he lies on his back in his bed and stares out the window until his eyes water, staring down the sky. He names every world that he knows and imagines all of the ones that he doesn't, reciting names and places and hearts and ships and puppies and precious things, and even then, it sometimes takes him hours to fall asleep.
It's too quiet without the sound of Donald snoring or the low crackle of a fire or Goofy's off-key humming as he takes the first watch, without tents straining against the wind and creaking boats and the low hum of the gummi ship's engines, without the rustle of seaweed in the currents and tall grass on the savannah, and his house is just a little too far away from the beach to really hear the waves crashing on the shore. It's lonely by himself, without Riku taking up way too much room and Kairi stealing the pillows, and he worries about Riku's insomnia and Kairi's nightmares, for all that Riku takes catnaps during lunch, for all that Kairi squeezes their hands in the morning and insists that she's fine, really, she and Naminé talked it out and they're both okay, stop worrying, Riku; and Sora you look really dumb when your face gets all scrunchy like that.
Sometimes they exchange odd glances and then catch him between them, tumbling down onto his bedroom floor or the soft soft sand, his back pressed to Riku's chest and Kairi warm against his own, her arms around him, her fingers curled in Riku's shirt, Riku's breath against his ear and his arms around them, cradling them both, and he breathes out and breathes in and everything falls into perfect stillness, perfect warmth, and Riku doesn't even make fun of him when he cries, and Kairi's a girl and a princess so he knows she'll never tell.
The sound of his mother moving around and settling down for the night brings him some measure of comfort and familiarity, makes his eyelids droop and reminds him of being small, but it made a small sour thing turn over in his stomach when he realized that even parental affection isn't what it once was. It makes his skin itch and his fingers curl sharply into his pants and his teeth clench, because holding still is so close to impossible, but he's learned the hard way that even careless touches are enough to make his mother flinch away from his hands.
He tries to think of handling the puppies, all soft fur and tiny bodies and warmth, and it helps, somewhat, even though he knows that she's stronger than that, but they're all a little bit paranoid now, ever since he slammed the screen door behind him hard enough that it fell off its hinges, ever since Kairi splintered her own windowsill when she was scrambling back inside at four in the morning, and Riku adamantly refuses to tell either one of them how exactly he wound up with a hole the size of his fist punched all the way through his bedroom wall and out the other side.
Sora does not think "my hand slipped" is an adequate explanation for it, but Sora also knows that Riku's house is very big and very empty, and that Riku keeps his precious things safely tucked away in a box under his bed, and he and Kairi have been very careful not to mention the distinctive shimmer in the air that tastes of a lock sealed with a keyblade and not a key.
Kairi hides her growing ferocity beneath sweet smiles and stubborn gentleness, laughs it off as a result of her training, but Riku is the best at it, pulling careless stillness around him like a cloak, every movement a study in graceful restraint, which Sora finds hilarious and also tremendously unfair because Riku also hits the hardest out of all of them.
They teach Kairi to fight dirty, because Sora learned from mercenaries and nobility born of a scrappy riverboat town, and Riku learned from witches and madmen and warrior kings and the Heartless have no conception of fighting fair, and their keyblades have a viciousness that is all their own, even in Oathkeeper's delicate grace, even in deceptive fragility of the ribbons that entwine around Kairi's blade.
Sora is well aware that he is all elbows and impatience, and that this at least has not changed since he was a child, but every time he walks down the road to school alone he eyes handholds and ledges and rooftops, and remembers the feel of weightlessness and the acrid tang of spent magic burning his nose, the sharp rush of wind accompanying a knight's charge, and the smooth comfort of a keyblade singing in his hands.
* * *
There are no Heartless here, no Nobodies, and the only Darkness is what's naturally carried in people's hearts, in his own heart, in Riku, but it's safest there, in the hands and heart of someone who knows how to use it, and the first time he snuggled up close he had to swallow down a really nasty curse that he'd learned from Cid, because Riku's heartbeat had an echo, and he hates that reminder, hates that shadow on his soul, hates that he ever hurt enough to let him in.
He would kill Xehanort's Heartless over again if he could, over and over and over and over again, because the only thing as horrible as Kairi's empty shell was Riku's too-full one, and even though he has no regrets he knows that they both made her cry.
Maybe that's his darkness, his rage, but power is power and he's been able to channel it, shape it, make it for protection and not aggression, and maybe that's a good thing for a hero to know.
Sora knows better than to think that he's perfect, especially when everyone is too-quiet when his vision swirls with blackness, when Heartless fall to fang and claw and Darkness instead of the keyblade's shining light.
Sometimes he reaches up and pulls Riku down to him, rests their foreheads together, entwines their fingers, breathes in his breath and the shadows beneath his skin and thinks yeah, this is okay too.
Pencils snap and paper crumples and books stacked on books stacked on books are nothing but an interesting thing to try and balance on his head, not quite like the colorful water jugs he remembers on the women of Agrabah, and sometimes that is enough to slow him, to take the edge off of his impatience and to ground him once again.
And it makes Kairi laugh and Riku smirk, and even before he'd reached them he'd already known what he would do to win that again, when everything and everything and everything was battle and power and searching, always searching, always seeking, and he's dropped to his knees for them both, again and again and again, because he loves his friends and he loves the worlds and he loves the light and the darkness, but he's always, always been theirs.
Sora needs to run, and everything is okay when Kairi and Riku run with him.
Every night, they race down empty lanes and across soft damp sand, and if he closes his eyes, it feels like flying.
Someday they will go back to Neverland and make it right again, wipe away the mistakes and bad memories and play with the mermaids and the lost boys, and then, then they will fly.
Chapter 7: Uniforms
Some things you just can't get used to. Like clothes that don't have magic pockets.
One of the biggest problems with going back to school, they find, beyond the blank expanse of two years of missed classes and knowing only those things they shouldn't, between Sora's inability to sit still and Riku's tendency to doze off during the middle of the day, is the uniforms. Sora isn't used to anything without at least three belts and Riku keeps squirming over how tight they are, and neither of them can stand the fact that the pockets in them are made out of plain ordinary fabric. Because of this, they can't keep them stuffed full of potions, ethers, armor, keychains, munny, synthesis items, and in Sora's case, whatever shiny thing happens to catch his eye on any particular day.
Despite how many times Kairi has pointed out that it is very unlikely that they would get attacked at school, of all places, she still glanced over one day to catch the bright green glow of a hi-potion tucked in among the disaster area that the rest of the world politely calls Sora's school briefcase, and she's pretty sure it's a fat little munny pouch that jingles every time Riku chucks his own briefcase into his bedroom without looking to see where it falls.
Since the first day they got them, Riku has never stopped making faces at the color and pattern of the tie and pants, Sora has been convinced that his tie is plotting to strangle him when he's not paying attention, and both of them have become very creative at hiding jewelry under their clothes. The necklaces are acceptable: Sora leaves the crown dangling in plain sight over the tie no matter how weird it looks because that is what he's always done, but Riku keeps a sleek black feather on mythril chain carefully tucked beneath his shirt, because gifts from Sephiroth are never meant to be taken lightly, and they all have a sneaking suspicion that it might actually work as a summon charm.
Boys at their school aren't allowed to have pierced ears, though, and both of them complained for a week straight about being stripped of some of their strongest armor because of it. Gold and diamonds and mythril and orichalcum are known on the islands for their beauty and rareness, not for their magical properties, and so they're forced to leave their favorite rings behind, too, and even though nobody here is going to attack them, they both fidget with their fingers when nobody's looking. Sora is much worse than Riku, in that respect - after two years of constantly wearing gloves, he complains that being without them makes him feel naked, and they're always the first things he pulls on when he gets home in the afternoon.
The school loosened the rules about boys' hair a generation ago, so Riku's still falls all over the place and Sora's still looks like it's trying to escape from his head, and they're allowed to personalize things a little more now, so nobody cares that Sora's tie hangs loose and that a short chain dangles from his hip. Everyone cares about what Riku's wearing on his left arm each day, but that's only because it changes with his mood, and even some of the teachers' gazes linger on him longer than they should, nowadays.
But even that makes sense, sort of, because Riku is also the only person in the history of Destiny Islands High School to actually make the uniforms look good. Selphie once pointed out that Riku could probably make wearing a paper bag look good, and Sora and Tidus had both pouted about it for an hour before finding that they couldn't actually disagree with her assessment. Riku had, mostly by saying "Argh" and refusing to talk to anybody for the rest of the afternoon, but whatever his vendetta against blue plaid is, it doesn't change the fact that it actually looks disturbingly flattering when he wears it.
They both complained for two weeks straight about the shoes. Sora hates anything that isn't two sizes too big, Riku hates anything that could possibly slip off in a fight, and both of them hate the fact that boys' dress shoes don't have anything that's even remotely like traction. Kairi keeps pointing out that they live on an island, that most of the footpaths are made of clay, and that the roads are made of brick, but Sora remembers fighting in snow and Riku remembers fighting on rain-slicked streets, and so as soon as school lets out, Sora kicks off his shoes and walks barefoot back to his house no matter how many people stare, because most days the beach route is too long to be practical. Riku doesn't, but he tends to shuffle more than walk nowadays, so his shoes are a scuffed mess but at least they stay on the ground.
Most of the boys personalize their briefcases, and Sora and Riku are no exceptions, and if you don't look too closely, their accessories almost look normal. Sora has taken to dangling keychains from the strap, changing them out week by week, and she's been trying to convince him that the bag doesn't actually need a zipper on the bottom. The only reason that one isn't already there is because Sora is utterly helpless when confronted with constructing anything that isn't made out of gummi blocks. There's a little blue crystal set in orichalcum dangling from the buckle, the setting a gift from Riku who had held it out with a mumbled apology and a resolute stare at the wall behind Sora's left shoulder, and when Sora's fingers had closed over it he hadn't thanked him, but there was a glitter in his eyes that was all Roxas, wary, but willing to try.
He'd been exquisitely careful with the etching on the side, asking Naminé for the designs in a low whisper, then tracing them out with delicate edge of a scaling knife, a crown and a thassala shell charm and what she'd initially mistaken as the Heartless symbol--and then she'd noticed the lack of thorns crisscrossing the middle, and wondered where she had seen it before, and thought oh as she glanced back through her lashes at Riku's very careful lack of expression.
Riku had asked for the same designs a day later, and Kairi had been a little surprised at the gentle sweep of sweet sadness that thrummed through Naminé even as she sketched on the leather, and at the way he watched her, soft and cool and infinitely gentle. When their fingers brushed, the sudden tingling thrill that shivered down her spine was enough to make her take a second and then a third look from where she was tucked away back in the corner of their mind. Even though she'd noticed the change--it was hard not to, given that no matter how much Riku slouched, it couldn't quite disguise just how ridiculously tall he had gotten--it was still a little startling, the way Naminé's artists' eyes were drawn to the precise fall of his hair and the vibrancy of his eyes, the sweep of his lashes, the curve of his lips, and the graceful shape of his features. She had to stifle a desperate giggle of breathless wonder and rueful amusement as the idea fully sank in that her very tall, very male best friend of as long as she could remember was prettier than she was.
Riku still looked at her like she'd grown a second head, but Naminé just giggled and whispered Prettiest boy we've ever seen and then she did laugh out loud, and promptly dissolved into helpless giggles as Riku discreetly scooted away from her, eyes a little bit wider than usual.
She carved out the designs into her own bag a day later under Naminé's careful instructions, and it made Sora grin wildly in a way that made her heart flutter, and Riku give a sort of smirk that made her cheeks heat, because now that she'd looked she couldn't stop looking. A day or two later she caught Sora staring too, in the same sort of dazed stupor, and their gazes met and they both turned bright red before smiling sheepishly at each other. Right then and there they made a silent pact to keep everyone else's eyes away, because Riku was and is ridiculously oblivious about his effect on anyone who has eyes, now that the ones who are looking aren't out for murder or worse, now that people are drawn to the way he looks instead of what he is.
It probably doesn't help the stares and speculation and outright gawking that there's a black ribbon wound around the straps of his briefcase, sometimes curled around his wrist, or that he's practically flaunting hinted-at riches with a heavy black carving of the king's symbol dangling from the end of his bag. Most of the time it looks just like a highly-polished stone, but if the light hits it just right and you know how to look, it glitters in a way that makes it easy to tell that it's been carved out of dark crystal by a moogle's careful paw. He's like that with a lot of things, now, if you're looking right, little flashes, here and there, of shadow and silver, just enough to hint at what he is, cleverly disguised as an ordinary teenage boy. An ordinary teenage boy who admittedly kind of looks like a supermodel, but still an ordinary teenage boy.
It's easier with Sora, all threaded with sunshine, in his hair and in his eyes and in his laughter, in his callused fingertips and his careless grace, because that's even more of a disguise than Riku's studied coolness, and it makes up for the fact that he's much more of a showoff, precious things shared and covered up with summer smiles and little evasions of the truth that aren't quite lies, gummi pieces and paopu leaves and songs on his lips that don't come from their world, a way of yawning and flopping in the sun that is entirely and completely feline, a way of swimming that is blatantly not quite human.
Sora doesn't hide it at all, so there's no way to tell that there's something to hide, so he charms without thinking and bowls common sense over with chatter. Once, she looked over and met Riku's eyes, all amused exasperation and an exaggerated smirk, and she'd flashed him a bright smile and right then and there they had made a silent pact to cover for him, to keep anyone from looking too closely, because Sora's oblivious in all the ways that Riku isn't, and people here won't just accept what he does with a smile and an understanding that there will always be another road to drag him away.
Kairi tucks her hair behind her ear and smiles into the mirror, smiles at the pretty blonde girl looking back at her, and smooths down her skirt. Her hair is long enough now to help disguise the unnatural glitter of her earrings, armor she doesn't think she needs, but both boys insisted, and by now they've all earned the right to be paranoid. She looks like every other girl, tanned and tough and pretty, because no one on these islands, not even the mayor's daughter, has soft hands.
There's a gentle chime of metal when she hefts her briefcase into her hands, and she smiles down at the spool of ribbon that she's finally managed to lace along the strap. Sora's belongs to Roxas and Riku's is the king's, and she's not quite sure how she managed to do it, to give it to her, but Naminé insisted that this was the only charm she wanted, and until she gets to a moogle shop she can't make things otherwise.
Her shoes are squeaky and the uniform skirt is too short even though she kind of likes the way it makes their eyes wander whenever there's a stiff breeze, and she doesn't really like the tie, but it looks right, not like a princess at all, save for the little hints that hide in plain sight, and whoever manages to see them deserves to know, if they work up the courage to ask.
Keybearers, after all, are nothing if not adaptable.
* * *
Coda: Make sure you've read Subtle Grace before proceeding, or the following will not make any sense.
When he picks up her briefcase after school, there's a hint of pink touching Riku's pale cheeks, and she thinks oh very quietly to herself, and doesn't quite know if she should be feeling jealous or not, or of who. That night's dreaming is soft and hot and slow, and in the wispy moments between sleep and waking she kisses Naminé's cheek and whispers her apologies as she clutches the memories close and cries, because he wasn't hers, and never could be, and it hurts so much more now than it did then, when all she felt was yearning.
She kisses Riku for the first time outside of a dream in an empty classroom that afternoon, stretched up on her tiptoes like the girl in her memories, and he holds her like she's a delicate thing while she cries.
Chapter 8: Better Than Worse
He ignores the front door entirely, and slips around the back, through a garden that smells too strongly of roses, and frowns at the pretty white statues so carefully placed on their little pedestals. It takes a moment to shake off the memory of white walls and white floors and glass flowers, but the back of the house hasn't changed much, and he vaults onto his balcony with barely a thought to the ease of the motion.
He doesn't quite recognize the reflection in the glass, but Way to the Dawn sings quiet shadows in his grip, and the door swings open with only the faintest of squeaks to betray his passage.
He knows, now, why pathways have always been so very easy for him to find, and when he closes his eyes, he can still see them, faintly shimmering, just waiting for him to reach out and touch.
Riku steps into his bedroom for the first time in over two years with his breath held and his eyes shut, and resolutely thinks of absolutely nothing.
- - -
The air in the room is still and cool and smells of too-strong bleach and the staleness of old darkness, and he gags on it, just a little, on memory and regret and the stink of old, furious frustration. Things said and left undone, Riku thinks, and flings open each window and props open the balcony door, leans over the railing and breathes in deep the scent of sand and sun and Sora and Kairi, not too terribly far away.
His clothes are laced with them now, the brush of their hands and the fall of her hair, the ghost of Sora's arm still curled around him, the touch of her fingers to his cheek, and underneath it all, the faint, sharp scent of the king still lingers. His fingers drop to his pocket, slide inside, and he squeezes a carefully-carved chunk of dark crystal and thinks about love in faraway places, about the fall of shadows against brightness, about smiles and emptiness and the faintest trace of crayon wax, abandoned in the dusty stillness of an eternal sunset.
He closes his eyes against the sunshine and feels a little sick when he realizes that he has no idea what his parents smell like. It's clear that this is a human habitation, that two people live and breathe and fill this place with the essence of their souls, but the taste of them is strange, and though the scent is vaguely familiar somehow, in it he can find nothing of his own.
He runs his fingers along the railing and thinks of time passing, the backwards upfall of crystal waterfalls and the smooth black sleekness of endless pathways, and when he curls his hand around the polished stone, he's not surprised at how low the tips of his fingers reach, almost but not quite touching the wall that curves deep and low beneath the ornate carvings.
Taller now, but not quite to that height that should have been unfamiliar, not quite so broad and poised, and the clothes on his back tingle with the faintest touch of magic, not yet abandoned, for all that he'd insisted on practicality and comfort, for all that he knew he was undeserving. Temperatures and weather don't much matter to him anymore, but all black on an island is a silly thing regardless of what you're made of, and gifts from a king should never be ignored.
He steps back into his room and closes his eyes for just a moment, and when he opens them again, he lets a curl of power slip out, just enough to muffle the stink of old darkness, just enough to curl the shadows into something warm and familiar, just enough to calm his own senses and breathe without inhaling the ghosts he's not meant to disturb.
His father has been dusting.
He lets his gaze run over what once was his, bed and bookshelves and desk, neat and crisp and clean, like perfection, like he just stepped out for a moment instead of two years, and realizes he never missed this place. Little things, yes, a pretty shell from Kairi, aged seven, and a book of fairy tales he read to Sora when they were small, but nothing of this is his, and maybe none of it ever was. He's always loved people more than things, and despite the vastness of the house he grew up in, Soul Eater was the first thing he'd ever thought of as his own, and he loved it then and he loves it now, a different shape and song and name, but only ever his own.
He sits down on the bed with utter care, because it's been seven months since he's even been near one, and this one has the same sheets and blankets that he remembers, all crisp corners and neatly-folded edges, the quilt a deep rich blue and a little ill-suited to the climate. He swings a cautious leg up, just to check, but it's true--there's absolutely no way that he's actually going to fit on this mattress anymore. He closes his eyes again, shut tight this time, and resolutely doesn't think of a cozy room with an oversized bed, just the perfect size to fit three growing teenagers, an empty room in a beautiful castle for a heir that's never been born, and Minnie had said "Please," and been utterly kind to step out the door when he first crumpled into the thick bedspread and didn't, didn't cry.
He doesn't cry now because he's not feeling anything at all, no pain and no fear and no sadness, just calm and quiet and clear, and if his fingers are digging into the covers a little bit too hard, he's still got control enough to keep the magic tucked safely inside.
I missed this place he thinks, but he'd missed sand and sun and laughter and the salt of the sea breeze, not this empty room in this empty house that's too far from the beach to hear the waves rolling against the shore.
When he leans down and pushes the comforter up, the old box is still there, but the lock is missing, and when he lifts the lid, it's empty.
...he has been gone for two years. They must have thought he ran away. Of course they would look. Of course they would. That only makes sense. He knows this and almost approves of it. It's okay that they went looking. They might even have kept some of it safe for him, the shell necklace and the fairy tales, if they...
...that wall's a lot flimsier than he remembers it being, he thinks, and shakes plaster dust from his fingertips.
It's all real, every single thing, childhood memories bound in fabric and plastic and paper, and he thinks of cards and crayons and fake things, chain links scattered across the floor in messy scribbles and careful portraits, half-captured and half-free, and wonders why everything feels so strange, like he's caught in a memory half-forgotten, or a dream he lost somewhere to the shadows, or burned up in the light.
The clothes in the closet are hung in plastic and he knows without looking that not a single one of them will fit him now, and the mirror's hung low enough that if he stands up straight he's too tall to see his reflection in the frame. He thinks of how well he used to fit it and feels a little sick, even though he's not really sure why, because when he slouches down he doesn't look anything like Ansem, and with his hair this long he doesn't look like the not-boy who died wearing his face.
He'd stopped smashing mirrors about six months after Castle Oblivion, anyway.
- - -
He steps out into the beautiful, empty hall, and remembers spaces to be filled, an aching void filled with the scent of heartless and not-a-human, back before he knew those ones with blue blue eyes and empty empty chests, back before he learned that maybe he wasn't made of poison. White and cream and pale, because it's elegant, because it's spotless, because it's made of bleach and fragile lies, and maybe this is why he hated those blank white castles so much, because they reminded him of home.
"Shadow-child," Sephiroth had whispered once, black feathers and madness and eyes like a wild thing, "precious little one, why aren't you my own?"
He won't think about it, not now, maybe not never. There's no place for wondering when he's planning lies, all the little evasions they're going to have to weave, and if he can fake amnesia, maybe it will all be magically better somehow.
Riku's not very good at magic.
Neat little bookshelves and walls and the stink of realness, but he can see through it now, every whitewashed corner and every paintjob half-bungled by childish enthusiasm and distraction and frustration and boredom, and there were more reasons than one that his parents always made them play outside, more reasons than one that he's so good with his hands.
Too much brightness plastered on top but he sees right through it, and too much shadow that can't hide what's beneath it, and he misses the coolness of the twilight, the swath of cloth against his closed eyes that hid nothing but the truth of everything he was meant to hide. Shadows to protect, shadows to claim and guide, and he remembers a secret and a promise whispered to still cool glass and the boy trapped beneath it; a whisper to a girl empty in his arms and still sleeping; a whisper to a girl soft and warm and vibrantly alive in his arms, still empty; a whisper to an empty boy lying still on the rain-slicked street; a whisper to a dead boy and a whisper to a king and a madman and a whisper to the darkness alone.
He talks too much to the dead and the people they haunt, or to the mad, or to no one at all, and Naminé's hands had been gentle and her body warm and her chest empty and aching, and he thinks he must love her still, for all that she isn't and all that she is, but that time had been bittersweet and brief, and they'd both known it was never meant to last.
He thinks of Kairi's smile and Sora's tears, the way they'd both clung so tight, the tiny miserable keen deep in Sora's throat when they'd left him standing there in front of his house all alone, the way Kairi smiled up at him, so fragile in the moment before she'd let go, and not for the first time he wonders if it's selfishness at all, or the farthest thing from it.
"Love will make and break the worlds," Mickey said once, low and calm and still beside the evening's fire, "You're not wrong to love them. Please don't ever think that's wrong."
Riku thinks of his mother, slim and graceful, the appraisal in her carefully made-up eyes, and the quiet, calm complacency of his father, and the wide stretch of land that bears his family's name. He thinks of Kairi, age eight, lips pursed as she practiced ill-fitting grace, pudgy fingers fumbling with the finely-carved tableware, and the way she'd cried, later, curled in that coat closet and sniffling all over his nicest clothes. He thinks of Sora's cozy little half-mad disaster of a house, so close to the beach, and Sora's mother, warm and distant as a summer breeze.
He thinks that Kairi's father will grow to hate them very quickly once he gets over the joy of having his daughter back.
This is no castle, no crumbling ruin, no mountaintop or endless sea. This is the island he was born on, and the house he grew up in, and this is the stairwell, wide and deep, stone imported from the main island and white stucco and there, in that little recess in the wall, the shelf of trophies that's still standing, a monument, maybe, to the boy that went missing, that boy who got swallowed up in the night and never returned.
He stands there and stares and wonders if they've put up a stone, maybe, in the little yard that's meant for the souls of those lost at sea, with the shells strung around the plank of wood that's meant for Sora's father, with the carved roses that's all the mother Kairi's ever known. He wonders if there's one for Sora. He wonders how long they've waited, if they've waited, if they've found someone else, but the only scent of boy he can detect is his own, and the traces of Sora still lingering on his skin.
At least he hasn't been replaced, he thinks, and then has to shake off a shudder, because this world and these people aren't like that, even if that's only because they don't know any better, even if that's only because they haven't the means to make it so.
...he's being unkind.
Riku knows just how easy it is to slip, now, a faded broken echo of memories in his head that aren't his own, even if the voice is nearly silent, now, even if that shredded heart's been halfway swallowed by his own.
Still listening to shadows, but it's better than being deaf or blind, and in all the time that's passed, sometimes he thinks he must be a little bit mad, or maybe he was born that way, and it was just destiny, tearing at his throat again.
Only Mickey knows that he was six years old when he first saw the keyhole.
- - -
The stairway leads down to the greatroom, all wicker furniture and natural light, and he shivers a little, struck by the sudden memory of dinner party after dinner party after endless dinner party, the plastic smile on his face and the breathless sweetness of escape, Kairi under one arm and, rarely, Tidus on the other, Selphie too loud to accompany her parents and Wakka and Sora so far away, in those cozy seaside homes where all the laughter's real and the children are expected to play instead of get tucked away while the grownups talk business and plans and maintenance and upkeep, talk of organizing and community politics and all those other things that don't matter, all those other things that he's mostly forgotten until now, all those old trappings rusted and dusty and creaking, for all that this home has always been polished, for all that everything in his life has always been kept neat and clean.
Jecht's laughter echoes in his memory, too-loud and boisterous, and he remembers the way Tidus flinched, the way his mother frowned faintly with disapproval, remembers taking them away to his room and his balcony and a thousand little dreams they shared, out and away from the chatter below, talking of the friends that they wish were there, even though in the long still quiet that stretches in the in-between of words they all know that they'd rather be sleeping over in those messy little homes, fading paint and creaking wood and shabby couches that are so much more comfortable than the smooth plush perfection that lurks in each of their living rooms, with pillows big enough for small imperfect things like them to drown in.
He blinks at that couch now and wonders if he'll still know how to talk to them, the ones who have always been whole, to those ones who never felt the soul-deep pull of the worlds calling, to those ones that were left behind, the ones he missed for all that he never really understood them. He thinks of Tidus' wide smile, of Wakka's laughter, of Selphie's mischievous grin and capable hands, and feels just a little bit sick, to know that so much has changed here without him, for all that nothing ever has. He loves his friends, he does, remembers tumbling with them when he was small and brawling with them as he grew, and he remembers pulling away when the call got too loud to ignore, when every shadow and moonless night started to whisper his name.
In the end, it has always been Kairi and Sora to break through, to hold on, to pull him to themselves and to keep his feet on the ground, and he knows he doesn't deserve how much they love him.
He thinks of falling stars, the taste of sea-salt on his lips, and feel of rain falling from empty skies. He reaches up a hand and runs his fingertips along a pretty picture frame, the waves and the sea and the sky at night, and thinks of that dark beach and a future alone, if not for Sora at his side.
It's so much easier, now, to recognize how thick that love is, how much of a battle it's going to be, and his parents have never approved of Sora, not once, not even when they were still tiny and didn't understand what it meant that Sora's toys weren't as nice as his own, or why his mother always frowned and made him change his clothes after he'd played over at Sora's house, why Sora's own mother watched Kairi with such careful eyes, and why she pursed her lips but said nothing when he pushed Sora just a little too hard, coaxed him into games he didn't want to play and fights that he could never win.
Riku doesn't much like who he used to be, anymore.
- - -
There's nothing much new in the kitchen, rare and underused for all of its gleaming perfection, and he remembers the caterers coming in, flooding through the wide open spaces and filling them with life, and he remembers standing in the corner and watching his father direct them, quiet and solemn and still as they ebb and flow around him, and he remembers breathing in and breathing out and being invisible, darting in and out to sneak a taste here, a rare sweet there, the young ones indulgent and kind, the older ones inevitably shooing him out the door with an expensive sliver of candied fruit and promises for more later, but there's never a later, and all of the leftovers get thrown out before he can snatch them for his lunches, before he can even think about sneaking a few away to share with Sora.
He doesn't fit on the stool in the corner anymore, legs too long for where he used to sit, and watch, and wait, on those rare occasions in which the food was made by hand instead of carried inside, for those rare rare times when they didn't eat in the formal dining room, when his mother let her hair fall long and loose and his father mixed her drinks and leaned against the counter to eat, when he looked at them and saw only strangers, the echoes of who they must have been when they were young.
He remembers thinking that they were almost like a real family in here, soft and laughing and gently indulgent, the brief caress of her hand against his hair before he was forgotten again, the rare delicacy of grilled fish and fragrant rice, so much simpler than their usual fare, neat little slices of pineapple heavy with sweet rum, burning down his throat with a pain that to him will always taste like love.
Sephiroth once spent three hours smoothing down his hair, whispering of planets and shadows and sweet bright souls lost forever, and Riku had stayed still and just let him, because in the oldest languages of the dark beloved means the same as betrayer, and child has never been about blood.
- - -
He looks up as the door creaks, as the scent peaks, as the soft sound of sandals shuffle across the mat, and doesn't mean to hold his breath, but all the same, he does.
There are deeper lines on his father's face, now, and his mother's wearing a new shade of lipstick. It makes her look older, more like a stranger, and he stares at them and thinks You are not my parents but they are, they are and always have been and that's always been the problem, because Riku possesses every inch of his mother's glacial beauty, but everyone on the island knows he looks nothing like his father.
He always thought it sounded ridiculous, in books and stories, when people were so shocked that they dropped what they were carrying, and he knows he could catch the bags before they hit the ground, but he's not moving right now and he doesn't know why, doesn't know why they aren't moving, why they're just letting tonight's dinner fall to the ground.
His name doesn't even sound like his own when it slips past his mother's lips, and he stands there and stares as they leave the bags where they've fallen. He's never seen his father move this fast, this awkwardly, and the necklace around her throat clinks with soft chimes of seashells and sea-glass and it doesn't look anything like the light, or the twilight, or anything at all, and there's the faintest trace of sawdust-scent lingering in the air, half-drowned by sick-sweet perfume and the delicate scent of dusting powder, and the carpet skids a little when her feet catch on it, and when did she get to be so small?
"Mom," he says, and is amazed that his voice doesn't crack, that he can even say the word even though it tastes like blood and rust on his tongue. "Dad," he manages after a moment, and that doesn't even taste like anything at all.
She reaches out one delicately manicured hand and rests it on his arm, and he stares down at it, because that's easier than trying to look them in the face, because he doesn't know what to do with that touch, because he doesn't know what he's supposed to feel anymore.
I killed you, he thinks abstractly, even as his mother's grip on his arm tightens, even as his father takes another step closer, and he doesn't know what he's supposed to do when they close in around him, because he's looking down at the top of his mother's head and that's never happened before, because his father's stepping closer and he doesn't know what he's supposed to do now, when every instinct he possesses is screaming at him to strike them away.
There's a cautious, wary fierceness to his mother's posture when her arm slides across his back, and his father steps up to his other side and reaches his own arm out. "Riku," he breathes, slow and uncertain, "...it's really you?"
"Yeah," Riku says, standing very still, "it's me."
They don't cling like Kairi, don't cry like Sora, don't curl against him like Naminé, don't glare him down like Roxas, don't murmur like Ansem and don't watch like DiZ, don't laugh like Mickey or smile like Sephiroth, and he closes his eyes and swallows down hard against the nausea rising in his chest.
It's the first time his parents have hugged him in at least five years.
It shouldn't feel like he's drowning.
Chapter 9: Four Moments
He's just a boy in love.
- Logistics -
"Sora," Kairi growls, low and startlingly vicious, and yeah, okay, this is more than sort of terrifying and way worse than Riku's teasing and he really doesn't know what he's supposed to do and anyway these things are really tiny and impossible to see and anyway his hands are shaking way too much and if Riku were here he'd be laughing hysterically because of course Riku could probably do this with his teeth because he's stupid and gorgeous like that and--
"If you don't hurry up back there I'm putting my shirt back on."
--and he can figure this out. Totally. Maybe. The phone's down the hall and Riku never answers it anyway and he really really doesn't want to actually have to talk to Riku's mom and--
"Wait, Kairi, no! No! I'll figure it out, I promise!"
- - -
"STOP BEING SO TALL," Sora roars, and Riku blinks thoughtfully down at him for a long moment and then says "I guess I could take off my shoes" and that's when the coconuts start flying.
* * *
- Precious Things -
"Silly," she says, and closes his fingers back over the charm. "That's not what it was about at all."
He stares at her, because he still doesn't understand, and he knows it exasperates them, that he's always a little slow to catch on, to catch up, to fall all over all the words they managed to figure out while he was still sleeping.
"Ask Riku," she says, laughter in her eyes, in her smile, and the kiss she presses against his lips tastes of light and life and strawberry soda.
- - -
Sora doesn't quite understand Roxas' obsession with keeping that keychain safe until one soft dark night when Roxas asks, sharp and quiet, "What if Oblivion was all you had left of Riku?" and Sora goes dead white and can't stop shaking for fifteen minutes.
The tears finally trickle to a stop an hour later, but the nightmares last for a week, and if Riku notices he's clinging more than usual, he doesn't say a word.
* * *
- Bandages -
She's got a jasmine blossom tucked in her hair and the morning sunlight falling pretty on her face, and she buries herself right in between them, the hem of her uniform skirt brushing their thighs and her hands firmly tucked in their back pockets, but her hold's a little tight, and there are fine lines around her eyes, like she's been crying.
Sora's already beet red and even Riku's looking a little pink around the ears, but when she whispers "I decided to stop forgetting last night" they don't even have to exchange a glance before abruptly turning from the pathway that leads to the school and towards the road down to the beach, and the docks, and the play island, and each other.
- - -
"It's always so bright here," Riku sighs, long lashes drooping against the glare of the blazing high noon sun, and Sora slides around his back and softly softly closes his hands over his eyes.
* * *
- Speechless -
Summer sunshine loveliness, and she's the first one to say it out loud, the words lingering sing-song sweet in Sora's ear as he trips off the pier in complete shock.
Her ensuing cackle of laughter isn't princesslike at all, and Riku is seriously not helping what with all the pointing and laughing because he's a jackass, but even just being sprawled out there in the surf and staring up at them makes his breath catch too much for a single word to slip past his lips.
- - -
"I kissed Kairi once, before," Riku says, and he's looking away, to some other world and some other memory, out beyond the sea and stars and farther. "...she didn't wake up."
It takes a moment for it to sink in, and then - oh - and Sora has to blink back tears and chokes a little, because it's so hard to breathe through the knot of love that's tangled in his throat.
Riku says "Oof" when Sora tackles him, and says it again when Sora squeezes him, and then says "Stupid, what are you crying for?" when Sora buries his face against his throat and nuzzles him in an expression of something that he doesn't have words for but is half-frantic and half-gentle and "You're getting my shirt soggy, you giant sap, c'mon, shut up already" and Sora has to chase those words into kisses, catch his hands in his hair and try to tell him all the things that he can't say out loud because he doesn't know how.
Chapter 10: Footsteps
It only takes an evening for them to settle into each other.
After the king and his men have gone, the afternoon runs long, and they decide to stay on the play island, because none of them have any idea what they're going to do when they go back home. Not even Kairi has really thought that far ahead, and anyway, it's more important to be together now, to soak in the sun and the sand and the smell of the ocean, to appoint Riku as the unofficial pillow because "There's more of you than there is of us," and even though they're all exhausted none of them fall asleep, too drugged on relief and adrenaline to do anything more than lie there quietly and cling.
At sunset, Sora drapes himself over Riku's middle and whispers "Curaga" against the already mostly-healed wound, and they're all feeling lazy enough that digging around in their pockets provides all the dinner they need, sparkling hi-potions and softly-shimmering ethers that survived the final battle, just enough to refresh but nothing heavy enough to restore, little vials passed from one to the other until they're gone.
"You know," Sora says, staring rather thoughtfully at an empty bottle, "if anybody's sick, we're kind of in trouble."
Riku's hands are halfway through raising when Kairi slaps them down again. "No conjuring potions when you're this tired!"
"You didn't stop Sora."
"I couldn't figure out what he was trying to do."
"I was fixing him!"
"...Sora, you were slobbering on him. You hiked up his shirt so you could slobber on him."
"...well it worked," he points out rather sulkily. "Riku's better, mostly."
That's true about a lot of things, she thinks, and brushes her fingers through salt-laden bangs of spun silver and spiky brown. "Boys are dumb," she declares with an authority that neither boy is foolish enough to question, though Riku looks like he might try right up to the point where Sora gives him a discreet elbow to the stomach.
"Ow," Riku says, and pokes his cheek.
"Ow," Sora replies, giving Riku a narrow-eyed glare, and two minutes later Kairi is watching in satisfaction as the empty bottle she's thrown whacks him on the head and interrupts the vicious poking match that Riku was clearly winning by virtue of having longer arms.
Sora pouts, scowls, and grumbles a bit, but when they swat at him, he stills and curls and settles, halfway sprawled across the sand, halfway sprawled across the two of them. It's easy enough to coax him into drowsy contentment with a few caresses on her part and Riku messing with his hair, and for a time, all is quiet, just the sound of the waves and the touch of their hands, just watching the stars come out.
Sora gets up a half hour later from their comfortable drowsing pile, meanders his way out to the little island, and comes back bearing a paopu fruit. He holds it out like an offering, or a promise, and if his eyes are a little shy, his hands are steady, and she exchanges a quick glance with Riku, and Sora's smile is breathtaking as he carefully places it into their outstretched hands.
It turns out that a single paopu is shockingly easy to shred into thirds, and Sora's ears are turning pink as he leans forward to bite down on the fruit, and she's not quite sure, but maybe there's a spark there that makes him linger over their outstretched fingers, maybe that little hitch in Riku's breath means he's as flustered as she is. When she takes her own turn, leans over her boys' hands and accepts their offering, it feels like her face is on fire. Riku doesn't blush when it's his turn, but he does hesitate for a moment too long, and there's an infinite gentleness to the way he leans over that makes her feel fragile and Sora makes the softest pleading noise when he pulls back again, and just because Riku's not looking at them doesn't mean--
It's so easy to tackle him down to the sand between them that she wonders how they lived so long apart from each other, when it's so natural to curl against his side and hook her fingers into one of Sora's belts that she doesn't even wonder about her lack of nervousness, at the absurd picture they must make, all tangled up and latched onto each other in a way that has to look silly from the outside, but there's no one else to see. The breeze off the water is cool and the boys are so warm, so close, and there's nothing at all scary in the thickly-falling darkness, and Riku's hair looks so pretty under the starlight that she and Sora are both playing with it, very pointedly ignoring his half-vocalized protests, and anyway, between Sora's out-slung legs and her arm across his chest, they've mostly got him pinned.
Like that, they're finally able to sleep, because they're all exhausted, because there is no danger here, but mostly because they're all finally here where they belong.
She and Sora pretend to be asleep when Riku starts awake and then hovers over them for an hour, wide-eyed and clutching their hands tightly enough that his nails bite into their skin, but they squeeze back and don't let go even when he tries to tug himself away again. Later, she keeps her eyes shut as Sora flutters over her and Riku, soft feather-brushes of his fingertips sliding against her cheek and Riku's lips, over and over again, just to feel them breathing. Later still, in the cool gray quiet before dawn, both of her boys stay perfectly still as she brushes kisses against their closed eyelids and breathes in the scent of their skin.
* * *
In the morning, when hunger finally trumps drowsiness, Sora wades into the surf to catch fish barehanded. Kairi shades her eyes and watches him splash about a little awkwardly, a little gracefully, and admires the clean lines of bare boy flesh gleaming in the sun.
"Aren't you supposed to be wood-gathering?" Riku drawls pointedly over her shoulder, and she gives him a halfhearted swat and tells him to go fetch them some paopu and a coconut or two. Then she turns to stare as he jumps up and grabs the fruit right out of the tree, because his shirt rides up an awful lot, and really, who knew the last few years would be so kind to them both?
"It wasn't," Riku grumbles later, gesticulating angrily with a slightly over-roasted fish courtesy of her meager wood-pile and Sora's overenthusiastic fire spell. "It was awful. I kept tripping on nothing 'cause every day the ground got farther away." There's a rather long pause where he won't look at them. "Mickey kept trying not to laugh." Another, longer pause. "It really didn't work."
Kairi smothers her laughter in an unladylike snort. Sora accidentally inhales a bit of paopu while he's giggling. Riku stares determinedly at the horizon, pretending that he's more mature than them even though they both know that what he really wants to do is grab them both for a vicious noogie. Taking pity on him, Kairi very thoughtfully whacks Sora on the back hard enough to send him sprawling, and also incidentally to keep him from choking to death.
"You don't get to talk," she scolds, "you slept right through it and didn't suffer the way Riku and I did."
They both look at her funny. Teenage boys are oblivious, even keyblade masters, and keyblade masters who spent the last two years gallivanting around the universe with only anthropomorphic animals and crazy people for company are even more oblivious than the regular kind of teenage boys.
"Wakka," she explains patiently, "looked up one day and shouted "You have boobs!" at me."
They look at her again, but not at her face, and she isn't sure if she should hit them for being perverts or start cheering because they're actually noticing now. She settles for folding her arms under her breasts and pouting. They keep staring, even though Sora's gone an odd shade of pink and Riku's trying to look like he's not actually looking.
Kairi decides to consider it a victory.
* * *
"...we should go back," Sora says softly, not looking at either one of them, and Kairi closes her eyes and just breathes for a moment. Her father will have panicked by now, and as for their parents...
"Everyone forgot you, for a while," she says softly, staring down at the soft gold sand, "...even you, Riku... the memories got a little fuzzy around the edges. It wasn't too long ago that they started to remember..."
"...when I woke up," Sora finishes softly, curling up and into himself just a little, "that's when it was, right...?"
"...yeah," Riku says, voice solemn and low, thick with all the things he knows and still hasn't told them. "That's when it was."
Their hands are rougher than hers, thick with calluses and crisscrossed with scars, but she squeezes their palms in her own and knows that she is the anchor that holds them here, grounds them both so the stars in their eyes don't sweep them away from her again. She doesn't feel guilty for it, because she fell from the sky once too, and as soon as she's strong enough, they'll reach for them again, finally, together.
Chapter 11: Concept of the Land
Your sole heir should never be a stray child.
He's back late again, uniform crumpled and sand in his hair, dinner a distant memory and the sun already an hour past setting, and you watch him as he stands at the door and toes off shoes barely three months old and already scuffed into near-uselessness by salt water and sand and carelessness. You'd open his mouth to scold him for it but you know he'd never listen, and so you make a mental note to go shopping tomorrow and hope that the next pair will at least last out the last few weeks of the semester. It's not a question of expense, or of waste, and not for the first time you wonder where your child went, and why he left this stranger to take his place.
Riku's glance is quick and assessing and dismissive, a flicker of vibrant blue-green through a soft curtain of silver, and that's the only thing that's familiar, the coloring that's not from your side of the family, but from hers, the thing that made you huddle down over genealogies three centuries old and trace out intermarriages and clan weddings and cross-tribal negotiations between twelve of the fifteen islands and the mainland long enough that even just the memory of it makes your head ache. You'd finally managed to track it down, guessing at a founding matriarch more folk legend than real human, because she was the one to unite the tribes, that warrior woman with hair like moonlight and eyes like the sea, and you'd stared at your beautiful wife and the soft little bundle tucked in her arm and wondered why after a dozen generations and political marriages a child like that had been born again.
"...you were out late," you say, carefully nonjudgmental, because at least he had the decency to come in the front door this time. You don't know how he's managing to slip in and out without Chihoko or you noticing--just because your wing is separate doesn't mean you can't see his balcony from your own--but you know it happens often enough to be grateful that he's right here right now.
"Not really," he says, deliberately misunderstanding, "it's almost summer, the daylight's lasting longer."
"You still have school," you remind him sharply, and he straightens up and tilts his head to the left just a little, and you think of the way Chihoko's brow furrowed at that first report card since his return, the carefully averted eyes of the teacher as she murmured "He could be doing so much better..." and all the unspoken apologies for not pushing harder, for not expecting... but there's no way to blame any of them for something you can't even bring yourself to do, much less expect it of anyone else.
"I'm doing okay," he says, and it's not quite a bald-faced lie, because he actually completes the work so long as it's assigned in class, and he's bright enough that two years of non-attendance have barely touched his test scores. Or he learned other things while he was gone, and the amnesia he keeps claiming is exactly the kind of lie that you suspect it is.
"That's not the point," you say, and he shifts his weight and hooks a thumb into his pocket and shrugs, but none of that is an answer, and he's still not looking at you. He never does, not really, and with those bangs in the way all the time, he doesn't even need to bother to pretend.
Riku won't get a haircut, snapped at you the only time you'd pressed, so there's no way to really tell which way he's looking unless he's staring straight at you. On those rare occasions when he does, he almost looks like he did when he was a child, bold and unafraid of anything, but still nearly impossible to see. He doesn't stand up straight, either, or move with the same purposeful stride you'd drilled him on since his first fumbling steps across the nursery--except that one time a few weeks past, a comment in passing that you didn't quite catch, and you couldn't hear his low-voiced reply, but the sudden intimidated silence in its wake was unmistakable, and he'd strode past you again without a word, cool and calm and so tall now, nearly a man. A block and a half later it had melted back into a teenager's casual slouch, but in that moment, you hadn't known your child.
"...you're getting too old to keep playing around like this."
He snorts softly, rocks back on his heels, and casts you another quick glance. "I'm not eighteen yet. Besides, I'm not that eligible--"
"...there are other islands," you interrupt, because two years spent missing ruined his marriage prospects with the mainland girls, but you're not any more willing to say it out loud than he is. Chihoko knows exactly what she's doing, and it's not your place to disagree with her, not when she's trying to salvage his chances. "It could work out better this way."
Riku snorts again. "Doubtful."
If this were two years ago, you think, he would have smiled, laughed it off, because he was comfortable and confident and careless back then, but now all of those things have shifted form, and even though they're still present, he doesn't flaunt it anymore. There's none of the causal arrogance of his childhood in him now, no cocky laughter and no mischievous smile, and you wonder if that means if it's gone forever or if it's just not for you to see any longer. The thought stings, a little, and you wonder if you should have been more attentive before, if you should have--of course you should have.
"Come eat," you say, and wish the words didn't sound so clumsy. "Your mother claims that the papaya's not quite ripe enough, and I want you to disagree with her."
You also wish he weren't so obviously hesitating, but you've made the offer and it's going to stand, and he'd looked so confused to see the gardens lush with fruit instead of flowers, and openly balked the first time you tried to coax him out to collect fresh herbs. It only makes sense, after all, that something you picked up in his absence would startle him now that he's here again, but you wish he'd stop avoiding you, even if these passing encounters feel smothering and alien and strange.
You can only hope Riku doesn't feel quite as suffocated as you do, but you're also not foolish enough to believe it, either.
"...okay," he says, after far too long a silence, and you smile at him and turn to go to the kitchen, hoping he'll follow. It takes a moment, and his footfalls are disturbingly quiet, but you know he's actually coming, and that's more than you expected.
You've already lost him once, and your dreams and hopes crashed with him, but he's here now, and you'll never be able to keep him. You're a little grateful, now, that the law's still in place, that he came back before he could be officially declared lost at sea, that the stone you carved by hand has gone mysteriously missing from the little graveyard meant for those whose bodies had never been found. Chihoko bites her lip sometimes when no one is looking, presses a hand to her flat belly, but she's always been more willing to understand necessity than you, always more willing to swallow the grief and carry on regardless.
"You ate on the beach?" you ask the refrigerator, because you don't want to look at him when he tries to arrange too-long legs to fit on the same stool that he always perched in as a child on those rare times when you took dinner in the kitchen instead of the formal dining room. It always makes something in your chest hurt when you look over to see him there and you don't know why, because if you'd never lost him then this wouldn't have changed either, because it's infinitely better to have a child sitting where a child belongs even if you don't recognize him anymore.
"Yeah," Riku says, and you swallow down the urge to comment on habits that aren't fitting because he'll never listen, and the last time you dared say anything about the company he keeps he got up and walked out the front door and didn't come back for three days.
That didn't help the gossip any. It certainly didn't impress the parents of the girl that Chihoko had been negotiating with, and didn't do much for your blood pressure or her stress levels, but Riku never cared about those things before, and you see no reason for him to start now.
If you're honest with yourself you don't even know why he came back, but if it's because of them--those two--you don't like that boy, he's too loud and takes up too much of Riku's time, and the girl's so much better but she's demanding too, and that was one thing when they were small but now Chihoko's scrambling to mend relations and seek out suitable matches, and Riku can't be spending all of his time with them when you're trying to build him a future--but if he came back because of what they said to him, you can't--you can't not be grateful, no matter how much the feeling rankles.
"That's good," you say, which is a lie, and put the fish back because he won't need it. It's half a miracle that he's sitting here at all, so you put the plate of papaya on the counter and slide it over, then reach for the guava juice and pour him a glass just to give your hands something to do. If you pretend to be occupied you can watch him in peace, and even though you're halfway sure he's aware of the subterfuge, he doesn't say anything about it, just stretches over the counter to reach the drawer with the chopsticks inside, and you bite down on another comment when he grabs the cheap ones instead of the carved bamboo.
He looks so much like his mother when he's focused like this, quick and graceful, but the image is ruined by the ragged edge of his hair, the crude cutlery and slouched shoulders, and the worst part is that you know he knows better than that but can't bring yourself to correct him anyway.
You'd been so proud when he'd been born, the final step in Chihoko's plan to salvage what her father had nearly wrecked, a bright beautiful little boy who would be the first of your children, a way to flesh out the dimmed family line and ensure the future of all of the land that she'd fought so hard to hold on to, to improve and save and keep in the hands of native islanders. And then the years had rolled on, and your son remained an only child, and then the storm came and left you with nothing at all.
It's scarcely been eight months since you had one blazing moment of hope, a brief flash of joy for a child that could have been, but it came to nothing, and the pain from the loss of that hope is still fresh--but then maybe it was a sign that your missing child would return a few months later, or maybe it was a sign that you'd never deserved a child at all, because even Riku's return isn't quite the miracle you know it should be.
You haven't told him about his not-a-sibling. You never will.
"Drink your juice," you remind him, because he used to get dehydrated, playing for all those long hours on the beach, and the sour look he shoots you is blessedly familiar, and you lean against the counter behind you and duck your gaze down low and wonder what you're supposed to do now.
Your son is still Chihoko's heir, so carefully planned for, so carefully groomed, and you wonder if you'd be able to start again, if he'd ever forgive you for giving up, for yielding to inevitability and letting him go again, or, worse, if he'd be so relieved and happy that--
If the family were larger, it would be easy enough to adopt in another heir, but you're an only child and all of her siblings are dead. There might be a cousin somewhere, if you're lucky, but they'd come from your family, not hers, and even though it doesn't matter that you'd be breaking the direct line of descent, it still doesn't feel right when your heir is sitting right there and halfheartedly poking at his dessert.
"Well?" you ask, gesturing to the half-empty plate, and he flashes you a quicksilver hint of a smile that hits your heart like a knife.
Riku is such a beautiful child. He always has been. Maybe you just didn't appreciate it for the right reasons, before. Maybe you don't now.
"Sorry, dad. Mom's right."
You shake your head with a little more emphasis than you actually feel. "My poor wife and child, cursed with nonworking palates."
"More for you," he says, and pushes the plate back across the counter, dropping the chopsticks with a light clatter, and you give him a smile you don't feel at all.
"Lucky me," you say, and he looks away and takes a sip of his juice, and of course barely a moment passes before he's staring out the window again.
He'll leave you in an instant. You know that. You've always known that, both of you have, and though Chihoko's tried so hard, done so much, he's always been a strange thing, but you'd thought that he was finally starting to listen, finally starting to understand what it meant to be her child, finally starting to accept--
And then the storm came, and he was gone, and you'd sat in a room you didn't understand and watched your wife cry over a book of fairytales you hadn't seen in nearly ten years, and wondered what you did wrong, because normal people didn't lose children to night storms, normal people raised their children to know when to huddle down for shelter, normal people raised their children to be attentive and cautious and wary of the dangers of the tides and thunder, especially in those families that had been so devastated by the monsoon of sixteen years ago, and Riku knew he would have had an aunt and uncles if not for that, so why would he risk--?
But you also remember Riku at three years old, starlight in his hair and in his eyes, wide awake on a long moonless night, one hand stretched out and reaching through carved marble to the ocean and skies beyond him, and you remember a kind of bone-deep terror that left you frozen still and then shaking, that made you snatch him up and scold him harshly, made you lock the balcony door and jam a chair in front of it, and all of it was for nothing because you'd slipped in the next night and watched him press tiny fists to the glass and stare right through it out into forever.
He'd looked at you like that on the day he came back, standing in the middle of the greatroom like a stranger, not your son at all, and you'd never realized that relief could feel like heartbreak, that you actually froze in the doorway because you thought the child that had been born in this house--the child that had been born for this house--could actually be an intruder.
Unworthy thoughts of an unworthy father, because he's never felt less like your son, even as you can finally see yourself in him, in his silence and his stillness and the breadth of his shoulders, but he's not yours, and maybe he never has been.
Your mouth is surprisingly dry. "Where'd you go when you were gone?"
That makes him look at you, another one of those abrupt glances that slides from your head to your toes like a razor, and you won't squirm because this is your own child. He's yours, you held him and taught him to walk and brought him to swordfighting lessons and carved his first toy sword and chased him down when he was still a toddler wandering by the ocean's edge. He's still your child.
"I already told you I don't remember," Riku says, slow and deliberate, but there's a sound like a whipcrack when he sets his glass down on the counter, or maybe that's just the rush of your pulse in your ears magnifying every echo. "None of us do."
You don't want to know about them, even though you know you should, even though they've got him in a stranglehold and you know that it's willing, but they aren't your children and you hope to every one of the old gods of the islands that he won't spurn everything you've ever worked for by claiming them as his own. You won't lose tenants over it--being the largest landholder on the island has its benefits, they have nowhere else to go--but it will effect the business, and if they decide to have children... the girl has no land to speak of, and the office of mayor isn't inherited, but the boy's the heir to a small fishing operation, and you can already predict the headache that will doubtless occur if everything goes the way you're dreading it will.
The girl has nothing to offer, and that would be fine, all you need is a grandchild, but that boy--
You'll have to tell Chihoko to go ahead with the plans for the festival on the northwest island. The girl's nowhere near the best pick, but Riku is rapidly running out of chances, and being the biggest landowners on the island means nothing if you can't even keep your own heir where he belongs.
"Please don't treat me like I'm an idiot," you say, "I know you haven't been spending your nights here. I haven't told your mother yet--" and you still feel guilty, but she's working so hard and is always so tired at night that you don't want to stress her further, "but you need to be careful. I'm protecting you as best as I can, but you owe me an answer."
Riku is very still.
You lick your lips and try to pretend you aren't afraid, because that's absurd, this is your son, and he's moody and strange but he'd never hurt anyone on purpose unless they hurt him first, and you're trying to protect him. He must understand that. He has to, he's far from an idiot and he's been raised knowing that this is what has to happen, and even if you've been keeping things quiet that doesn't mean that they're not happening, just because you haven't pulled him out with you for maintenance and surveying doesn't mean that he's forgotten how to do it.
"I won't tell you to stop what you're doing. Your dalliances are your own until we find you a suitable match, but we haven't worked this hard to watch you walk away from your responsibilities."
He shouldn't have any dalliances at all, but he's young, and people will keep their mouths shut as long as he remains discreet, and there will be talk, of course, a fishmonger's son and the mayor's adopted daughter from the gods only know where, and not for the first time you wish he had better taste in friends.
"...responsibilities?" he echoes, and you don't like the undertone in his voice. You don't like the way his fingers are curling, and you don't like the way he's shifting his weight, and you don't like the fall of his hair in his eyes. "You're going to lecture me about what I should--no. Forget it." He shoves off the stool in a swift graceful motion and you have the utterly bizarre thought that he's going to slip, but of course he never would, not your boy. Never your child.
"No." He cuts you off with a raised hand and an expression so blank that it's almost frightening, and you shouldn't be intimidated in your own kitchen by your own son, and maybe this is worse than before, when his temper burned white-hot instead of cold.
"You'll get your answers when and if we decide to tell you. Not before."
"This isn't open for debate," he snaps, like it's an order, like you're the child who doesn't understand, and he's always been willful but this is different, this is strange and sharp-edged and you don't like it. You don't like any of it, that boy and that girl and all the secrets and all the lies, the silence in his footsteps and the restrained grace in his motions, the way he always scans doorways and windows for an escape even though he grew up in this place, the way he tenses every time you try to touch him. The way he won't let anybody but those two touch him.
"...you're seventeen," you say, and you know the words are meaningless as soon as they pass your lips. "You should be focused on school right now, on our business, on your duties to our family. You can even play around with them until you're officially engaged as long as you're careful to keep things secret. But I want you to stop lying to me."
Riku looks at you for a long, quiet moment, hooks his thumb back into his pocket, and shakes his head. "Sorry, dad," he says softly, and maybe he really is sorry. Maybe. You can't tell. "That's the one thing I could never do."
It's all you can do to swallow down an exasperated sigh, because you don't know what you're supposed to do with this child. "Riku. I'm not being unreasonable."
"No," he repeats, and you're suddenly struck by the notion that he's trying to be kind, for your sake. He's angry and he's defensive and he's still trying to protect you, and you don't know why. "Don't ask me for that. Just don't."
You're angry, suddenly, for all of those things he won't tell you, for whatever it is he feels he needs to protect you from. "I deserve an answer."
You're keeping secrets from your wife for him. From Chihoko, who you loved since she first approached you with a proposal of marriage and a plan for salvation and improvement, for her stubbornness and cleverness, for her grace and calmness, and she's always been everything to you, and she always will be. Lying to her is wrong, feels wrong, and maybe it's the guilt that's making you push so hard, or maybe it's because Riku inherited every inch of her stubbornness, all her beauty and all her razor edges, and it's one thing when that's coming from the love of your life and very much another when it's coming from your teenage son.
Riku straightens up suddenly, and you're struck again by how tall he is, by the strength evident in his arms and shoulders, by the coolness in his expression. He looks so much like his mother, nothing like a child, and nothing at all like you. Never anything like you.
"No," he says, calm and clear and sure, and he's always had a particular penchant for cruelty, your boy. "You don't."
You want to scream at him, you want to shake him, you want to scold him, but those things never worked when he was a child and they would never work now, so you watch him turn and leave the kitchen in silence, because you don't have anything at all left to say.
"Chihoko," you say later that night, hating the sludge of the words even as you speak them, "What do you think of that girl, Solada?"
Chapter 12: A Mirror Dimly
Some triangles have four sides.
"Did I wake you?" she asks softly, gaze flickering up though her hands never stop moving, and he exhales slowly, watching the soft rise and fall of her chest, not bothering to try and disguise his interest in the way one bra strap is slipping down her shoulder.
"Not really," he says, because it's true, because the shift in scent that he'd noticed an hour ago was light and familiar, because for all that's she's moved around, dug out pencils and paper and drawn the soft filmy curtains that drape around the bed, it's so easy to stay relaxed with her that waking had been slow and gradual, because for all that they're similar, Naminé is rarely like Kairi, especially in moments like these.
"Good," she says, soft and warm, and he watches the curve of her fingertips, dusky with charcoal, the new medium a gift from Kairi, like the watercolors and the oils and the expensive pencils, now that the art is just art, now that her drawings are for herself and no one else. "Did you sleep well?"
He knows she knows he sleeps much better when he's with them, any one of them, so he's not really sure why she asked the question. "Yeah..." he agrees quietly, "am I bothering you? I know now's your drawing time..."
She glances back at him from underneath her lashes, a tiny smile curling her lips, and tilts the page down, just enough for him to see. The rush of warmth to his face isn't unexpected, exactly, because he knows it isn't the first time she's drawn him, but he can't quite look her in the eye anymore as he clears his throat and says "Uh... hide that one really well from Kairi's dad, yeah?"
Not that Kairi's dad isn't going to be planning to kill him and Sora anyway once they come clean, but he needs to never ever find that picture just in case. In terms of sheer influence his own family has few rivals on the island--well, none, really--but then again her father is still the mayor and a little bit high-strung when it comes to his lately-missing and even more lately returning daughter.
Naminé giggles, clear and sweet like a bell, and reaches out one slim hand to lightly shove at his shoulder. "Get back into position, silly, you know I work better with a model that doesn't wiggle."
Riku kind of wants to pull the sheets up a little higher, but she'd swat at him for it, so he leans back again and tries desperately not to feel like he's as naked as he is. It's nothing she hasn't seen before, hasn't touched before, and she's barely wearing anything at all, but she wasn't drawing him when they were last like this, but it's not like he'd ever want to say no to her, and if it's a little embarrassing, well... "You know I feel really stupid when you do this."
She glances back up again, then grins, sweet and sly and a little mischievous, not quite like Kairi, not quite unlike her. "But you're doing it anyway."
"I guess," he murmurs, and lets the statement trail off because he's got no idea what to say. He's never forgotten how much he liked it when she was like this, bold and playful in her own quiet way, and it makes him want to lean closer, reach out, because he already knows how nicely she fits in his arms, and how clean and soft her skin tastes underneath his tongue.
He wonders if he's allowed to touch her like this, if they could curl together in Kairi's bed and not have the joining be awkward and strange, if Sora would mind. If Kairi would mind. This thing between them is still delicate, new and uncertain, and he's not really sure what's allowed, but she's beautiful to him, especially like this, flooded in light from the warm soft glow of Kairi's heart finally filling that aching void inside her.
"You smell nice," he blurts, because he's an idiot and always feels a little clumsy around her, like she might break if he pressed too hard even though he knows that's ridiculous, "I mean, you always smell nice but right now is really nice. Um."
Her smile is radiant, this time, and she puts down the pad of paper and the charcoal and lifts one slim hand to her chest. "Because I have a heart now?"
Sort of, he thinks, and then wants to unthink it, because he's not sure why but the thought seems unkind.
"It's all right," she says softly, "I don't mind that it's because of that. I wanted to be with her to be whole again."
He looks at her, at the soft curve of her lips, the gentle sweep of her fingers across the paper, smudging charcoal into soft shadows, and thinks about scribbles left lying still on a gleaming white floor, thinks of empty spaces on empty walls where old memories used to hang. "...are you happy?"
"...I can be happy now," she says, soft, a little wondering, a little unsure, "but it can hurt more now too."
"...yeah," he breathes, because he knows. He knows. "It can."
Her hands still on the paper, and she tilts her head up, a little hesitant, but a little bold, the faintest of smiles curving her lips. "...can I...?"
He doesn't quite know what she's asking, but the only times they've ever disagreed were over Roxas, and this isn't anything like that time. "Okay...?"
She sets the paper and charcoal down on the floor, careful and delicate, and rubs her fingers free of charcoal. Then she scoots back onto the bed, settles down next to him, and reaches up a careful hand and slides her fingers lightly through his hair.
Riku exhales on a sigh and closes his eyes, because it's been months since she's done this, and up until this moment he never realized he missed it.
"You've been neglecting it again," she murmurs, not quite scolding, "you know it grows too fast for you to just ignore it."
"I ignore it just fine," he says, pleased when she giggles, "and Sora's the only one who complains about getting it in his mouth, and he deserves it anyway since his hair always tries to stab me in the eyeballs."
"Still," she says, sounding wistful, and he leans a little further back into her touch.
"If it bugs you," he says, deliberately casual, "I guess you could trim it again."
Her hands still for just a moment, and for a heartbeat he forgets to breathe, because he's not sure what's allowed anymore, if he has the right to ask this of her, if it's okay to even be doing this, and Sora's never seemed jealous of the girls, of either of them, and he doesn't have any idea of how things work between the two of them either, what they share with each other and what they don't.
Naminé is not Kairi and Kairi is not Naminé, and the needs of a Nobody are very different than those of a proper human being, and he's known and understood both, but they're girls, and girls... girls are strange regardless of what kind of girls they are, regardless of whether or not they're actually girls or just girl-shaped things with nothing else on the inside but the memory of what it's like to be one.
"I'd like that," Naminé says, soft, an undertone of silver and steel and chains unwinding, and Riku rolls over onto his stomach and watches as she slips off the bed like a ghost and slides open the bedside drawer.
He doesn't really know why Kairi keeps scissors there, but there are some things mere boyfriends were never meant to understand, and the logic behind Kairi's bedroom is one he's not even going to try to figure out. He's never been able to figure out why the bed has curtains when they're transparent, because he's pretty sure that transparent is exactly what curtains aren't meant to be, or why she's kept so many scraps of their childhood out on her shelves and walls where they're vulnerable, or even why almost everything she owns is softly colored, when most of the kids on the island have always preferred bright bold things, splashes of color brilliant enough to be seen even through the lushness of their surroundings.
When Naminé turns back again, there's a glint of silver in her hand and mischief in her eyes, and when she says "Sit up," it's with a touch that reaches straight underneath his skin to memory and heartbeat beneath. He doesn't startle because it's not unexpected, and if it's a deeper intimacy than he thought it would be, well, it's not her fault that she's still hungry, and maybe having a heart doesn't feed everything, even if it belongs to a princess.
It's easy to sit up, to lean back and tilt his head up, close his eyes and stay still, and he doesn't think Kairi will mind the mess on her sheets, not when it's been given for this, sweetness and silence in the stillness of a slow-waking morning, because Kairi loves Naminé like a sister or herself or a lover or all three at once or maybe none of them at all, and even if he can't quite explain it in words that make sense in any language beyond that of the shadows, he knows exactly what it is.
Naminé's fingers are soft and light as they smooth down tangles and trim down ragged edges into something that falls a little smoother, and he breathes in the scent of her, layered in everything that is Kairi, and thinks that emptiness might go on forever after all, and that's okay as long as there is darkness and light to buffer it, to make the endlessness bearable.
Everything comes in threes, he knows, and breathes in deep the scent of Kairi and the faintest traces of Sora, up and out already in the cool gray moments before dawn.
"All done," Naminé says softly, setting the scissors down with a gentle 'clink,' but her free hand stays in his hair, and he leans back into her arms with deliberate pressure, tilts his head back and brushes a kiss against the soft hollow of her throat, where Kairi's heartbeat should be racing. Her skin is cooler and softer than Kairi's, and her heartbeat now is a soft muffled thing draped in gold and silver shades of light, slow and steady and serene.
Her breath skips a beat, and maybe this isn't allowed, but when he starts to pull away, both of her hands settle in his hair, and the kiss she presses to his lips is much softer than any of Sora's kisses, than any of Kairi's.
Maybe it's not fair to her that he can't love her the way he does them, or maybe it's unfair to her that she can't have someone that's all her own, or maybe some things just aren't meant to be, not for people--beings--like them, even after everything has ended.
She looks like a girl and smells like a girl and feels like a girl and tastes like a girl and is part of a girl, but that doesn't really make her one, but she wants to be one, and for that, he thinks, the wanting is enough.
When she pulls away, her head is bowed but her eyes are bright, and when she nudges him over, he scoots to the side and watches her carefully as she brushes away the last of the trimmings and drops them to the floor.
He likes the way she bites her lip, the way she looks at him from underneath her lashes, the way she shifts her weight and slides the sheet back and asks, "Can I...?"
"Okay," he says without knowing what exactly it is he's agreeing to, because he's got a certain weakness for pretty girls in their underwear, and he likes the way she stretches out, likes the way she tucks her toes underneath the sheet and slides down, likes the faintest hint of a blush on her cheeks, when she never would have blushed before.
Her touch is just as soft as he remembers, and if her skin's a little warmer than before, if her eyes are just a little brighter, it's because she's whole now, because she's right where she belongs, and she's the one who wanted it most, to find Kairi and be with her, no matter what the cost was.
She still fits against him just the way she should, the way Kairi does, but her grip is gentler, her scent softer, her hair a soft pale halo against the lavender sheets and her eyes the same clear blue, and there's a melancholy to her that has never gone away, not really, and he's never been the best person to comfort others, but for her, he's willing enough to try.
She presses a fingertip to his lips when he parts them to speak, though, and says "Just let me stay like this for a while, okay?" and he knows he doesn't deserve whatever trust it is that she's placed in him, but he also remembers those long slow days when she was the only one near who remembered the crash of the waves against the shore and the bright flash of Sora's smile, the way she brightened when he brought her strange flowers and stranger food, the way she laughed on their one long day beneath Twilight Town's endless sunset, and if having a heart has changed her, he doesn't think it's a bad thing, not really.
"Okay," he whispers back, and curls an arm around her waist, pulls her closer and tugs the sheet up over the curve of her hips, and she giggles softly, settling her head on the pillow next to his own.
"It's nice being in a real bed," she says softly, a hint of a laugh in her voice, and he grins back at her, because there's steel underneath the sweetness, a stubbornness and fierceness that held her together for so very long, and she's so pretty now, so close to being real that there's barely a tug on his heart from the void that's still inside her, now that it's so nearly filled by Kairi's brightness, and if they aren't quite okay, if this isn't quite real, it never was before, either, and that doesn't make it wrong or bad, it's just not a happy ending, but it's not like either one of them deserve that, so it's good enough.
"Better than the floor," he agrees, and his breath catches just a bit as she slides a little closer and slips one slim pretty leg through his own.
"Much better," she says softly, and reaches up a hand to push back his bangs.
"What is it with you guys and doing that, anyway?" he asks softly, and she shrugs in ways that are completely fascinating. He kind of hopes he isn't staring, because it's easy to laugh about it with Kairi, because Sora will turn bright red but stare right back, but Naminé makes him want to be gentle, reminds him of all the proprieties that got jammed in his head when he was a kid that he's been ignoring since he started dating them, and he knows she could know if she wanted to, or maybe she already does, and that's okay. It's okay that she understands him better than they do--he's not sure he ever wants Sora to understand that well--and she's allowed to keep her own secrets from anyone she wants, even from Kairi.
"Your fault," she says softly, gently teasing, a little too self-aware of all the things he's not saying, "no fair hiding from us."
"Nosy," he accuses, and she laughs lightly, pokes him in the chest and curls an arm around his waist, and he wonders if he should feel guilty, or if she should, but he can't really imagine Sora getting jealous--"I'm glad," he'd whispered once, tangled up in the sand on the play island sometime well after midnight, rough and low like a secret, "I'm so happy she was there to love you"--and Kairi is Kairi is Kairi.
She feels soft in ways that Kairi doesn't, harder in others, and having Sora and Kairi has been amazing, wonderful, still leaves him a little bewildered and dizzy and breathless, but this is nice too, soft and familiar and light, not so thickly tangled up like it is with them, not so full of nervousness and tentative joy, not so heavy, not so much like drowning, just gentle and content, and if it's underlined with longing, with a soft sort of ache, he can at least give her that much, he can at least let her take what she needs from him, even if he's not allowed to give her what she wants, even if he never could.
It's probably not fair, any of it, but he knows now to cling to whatever he can, and if he's what she's chosen, he can only be grateful.
"What are you thinking about?" she murmurs, and he slides her a smile, gentle and rueful.
"Don't you know?" he asks, and there are no barbs in it like there could be, nothing but honest inquisitiveness, because even if no one can quite forgive her trespass, not even Kairi, of all the beings in all of the worlds, he knows he's the one best made to understand her.
Maybe that's arrogance, he thinks, but only the penitent can understand how hard it is to try and find redemption, and so he stays quiet as he watches her consider how to reply, watches the her fingers curl and the way her hair spills down the curve of her throat. She looks delicate, fragile, but it's a lie as much as it's a truth, so he smiles when she looks up and says, clear and even, "I could know. But I want you to tell me."
He wonders if she would be this straightforward with anyone else, wonders if anyone but Sora would understand why it's so easy to lie here with a witch that could shatter his heart, wonders if Kairi can understand her. He hopes she can, doesn't doubt the strength of her heart, but seeing's not the same thing as understanding, and Naminé is cast in shades of light, but they shift and waver, shimmer and fade, and if the lie is the truth then the truth is a lie, and Kairi burns a little too fiercely, like they all do, and if she didn't have a molten steel core he thinks she could have melted away beneath her.
"...freedom," he says, and watches the dawning realization in her eyes, the sudden downward sweep of her lashes, the way she curls in just a little bit tighter on herself, because getting what you want is terrifying, even if it's not quite right or real, even if it never could be.
"It's a good thing, isn't it?" she asks, soft, but her grip just a little too tight, and he wonders why they always cling so hard, why they're so afraid that he'll go when he's already agreed to stay, breathed it out in a soundless whisper against Kairi's skin and murmured it low and slowly enough so that even Sora could understand, but he's not sure that either of them believe him, and it hurts a little every time Kairi lingers with a hand splayed against his chest, every time Sora swallows down a flare of nervousness with desperate heat, every time their nails and teeth dig into his skin hot and deep like the brand that's already burned into his heart, even though he doesn't really know why.
It's not a lie even when it's her, because it might not exist but that doesn't mean it's not real, after all, and those memories are hers, and always will be.
"Yeah," he says softly, and brushes another kiss against her lips, not a promise because he could never promise her anything, not a promise because she could never accept it. But almost. Almost. "It's a good thing."
"Even with these restraints?" she asks, and there's something fragile there, and he's not sure what reassurance he can give her, because he's the one who broke it all in the first place, he's the one who couldn't stand being chained, and maybe all those glances from their parents mean something, maybe they really are just too terrified to ever let each other go again.
Terror teaches you things, Riku thinks viciously, remembering the uncertainty in his father's eyes, and lets his arm drape more heavily around her waist, digs his fingers into soft fabric and thinks of a day spent drowning a parting into a lingering goodbye.
DiZ told him to kill her even after all that, when he'd left the mansion with the taste of her skin still lingering on his tongue and her scent threaded through his clothes and hair, when he'd dropped Roxas at her feet and left him to her magic to be sewn back together, tucked back under Sora's skin where he belonged, and he thinks that maybe adults just don't understand, or that too much darkness makes you choke, makes you gag on the scent and taste of it until that's all that you can feel.
It's not. You just have to learn how to breathe, then there's no fear of drowning, and jealousy and fear will only make you sink deeper, make it easier to fall farther in, and clawing back out again gets harder the longer you linger in it.
In the end, DiZ died for them. He thinks it's a little bit fitting.
"This is what we chose," he says finally, instead of whispering soft dark things about the dead, instead of murmuring a truth she already knows, because he's here now, lying in his own body, and she's safely tucked away inside Kairi, and the worlds that survived are still standing, "so that makes it okay, doesn't it?"
"...yeah," she says, and her smile is soft and her mouth is softer, but there's a flash of shadow in her eyes, and her nails graze down his skin with the memory of mirror-polished floors and the calm cool certainty that desire doesn't make one deserving, that regret doesn't make it right. "Yeah, it does."
She's not starving anymore, but he's not surprised when she pushes him down, and it's not desperation, and it's not a lie, and it's not wrong. It just is, and that, he thinks, is what makes it okay.
They're allowed to be selfish now.
* * *
When she wakes up again, she's Kairi, and she looks at the papers scattered on the floor, the tangled sheets and her missing bra, and she reaches out a hand and slides her fingers through his hair.
"Better," she says decisively, and kisses him in the deep rich glow of the dawn, and he guesses that means she's okay with it after all.
Later, safely secreted away on the roof during lunch, Sora completely abandons his previous no-making-out-at-school stance in favor of an embrace that's more of a tackle and a kiss that's more of an attempt to suck out his soul via his mouth, so Riku guesses that means he's okay with it too.
Chapter 13: Deluge
Learning to swim through the flood of what you've become.
- Streaming -
There's blood on her hands and sand in her mouth, but Kairi spits it out with a fierce grin and just swings the keyblade harder.
The screech of the blades clashing makes her teeth vibrate, and there's sweat stinging at her eyes, and somewhere along the way she lost her left shoe. Twist, drop, flash and her grip's slipping, she's slid to one knee and let the blade fall, but right there--
Sora's surprised yelp when she punches him in the stomach with her free hand makes the aching leg totally worth it.
She has to jump to reach Riku's outstretched hand for the high-five, and now there's blood slipping down her legs, too, but she manages to balance right as he catches and spins her, and the keyblade slaps back into her palm with a sound like the waves against the shore, and then Sora's there again, a whirl of bright color and silver flashing like death, and blocking the blow drives her back to her knees and the breath from her chest, but she smiles up at the sunset and drives the keyblade into the sand and pushes back onto her feet again.
The blow to her back is swift and sharp and makes her topple down face-first, but it also drives the air back into her lungs, and she gulps it in greedily as she adjusts her grip and swings the blade out, fast and low over the ground. The skin on her elbow rips open against the sand and Riku jumps over it anyway, but she gives herself points for trying and shoves herself back unsteadily to her feet.
They let her get up way too often, she thinks, wincing as she totters to the left, but then they're only boys, and it took Riku way too long to convince Sora that he did actually have to hit her, so maybe they can be forgiven for being so hesitant.
--and Sora's just standing there with that little crinkle between his brows, and he's too far away for her to lunge, and Riku's still on guard so going after him is useless, so she licks her cracked lips and listens to the sound of her own heartbeat and lifts the blade up slowly and then down and the rush of light is like a crack in the heart of a star, like ripping a hole inside herself, and she wonders if magic always feels like this, or if it's only the light that makes it feel this way.
It probably would have been a more dignified attack if Riku hadn't had to catch her, she thinks idly, blinking up at him, but it definitely worked. He'll know if the attack is supposed to go like that anyway, she thinks, but when she opens her mouth to speak she has to take a moment to spit the grit out, and he pulls a face like he never would for anyone but them, and it's awfully cute for him to be disgusted by her spit but not for the way she's getting blood and sweat all over him.
"That was so cool!" Sora chirps, plopping down on the sand next to them, not looking the least bit singed, so she guesses that means she missed. "You almost totally fried me!"
Almost's not good enough, she thinks, but maybe it's not so bad for today, so she reaches out and pokes his nose and says "Next time I won't miss" through cracked lips with a voice that kind of makes it sound like she's been gargling the sand instead of just inhaling it.
"Good," Sora says, and grins, fierce and bright and wild, and Riku laughs and swats at him without letting her go, and she closes her eyes and breathes in and thinks yes, yes, yes.
* * *
- Lingered -
In the moments before he can swallow frustration or anger, every shadow near Riku deepens and curls towards him, even beneath the glaring light of a noontime sun.
Sometimes, when he's agitated, blackness drips from his fingertips to pool at his feet, spreading and curling up like a lover's caress, and sometimes, he can feel Sora's heart respond, darkness surging forward in response to his own.
Kairi thinks Anti-form is cute, but Riku always feels vaguely sick when Sora closes his golden eyes and nuzzles against his chest, clinging softly with black black claws and delicate curls of shadow, whispering sweet deadly nonsense in the soft mindless way that only the Heartless can.
If Sora tears out his heart then they'll be together forever, but if Sora strikes at Kairi first, he can reach straight through Sora's soft black body and lock his fingers around that blazing heart, drown him in shadows and hold him still enough that Kairi can spin the light into a prison and tuck his skin back around his soul where it belongs.
The scent of darkness lingers long after its presence has receded, and even Kairi's hands sliding down Sora's skin can't quite brush it away, but the sight is distracting enough that he doesn't resist when they reach for him and pull him into the embrace, and if he buries his face against the soft curve of her throat, keeps his hand curled into Sora's hair, the scent of girl-shampoo and sweat and lust is almost enough to drown it out completely.
* * *
- Fell So Deep -
Please he thinks, and soon and nevereverleaveme and mouths the words against sweatslick skin and softly parted lips, tangles his hands in long pale hair and digs his toes into the sand, arches his back and murmurs moregoodmore because it's all too fast but he won't won't won't ever let him go.
"Yes," he gasps to every cautious inquiry, to every pause and hesitation, because he could never say no, and if he pushes back hard enough, murmurs "Riku, don't stop," digs his fingers into the sand and into his clothes, pulls and pushes and bites, gasps and trembles and presses back with eager touches, then Riku won't leave him.
Riku will never leave him.
"Mine," he whispers after, because it's true, because he fought for him, searched for him, crossed worlds for him, wept for him and bled for him and loves him, loves him, loves him, and if there's a thick black knot in his chest, it's only because so many people tried to take him away, it's only because Riku kisses back deep and slow like drowing and answers "mine" in a voice that's a little like wonder but a lot more like thick black satisfaction, and Sora shivers a little and clings tighter, because he likes that. He likes that, the tingle down his spine, the heavy full feeling in his belly and the press of his skin, the odd scent in the air and the taste of his lips, the press of his weight and the curl of sword-callused fingers twined in the sand, the way Riku's breath catches when he slides his free hand down his back to pull him down for another kiss that lingers.
When he opens his eyes again, they're still close enough that it's almost still kissing, that there's silver hair pooled on his skin and the sand beneath him, thick black lashes almost brushing his skin, and Riku has eyes like a shallow sea and they glow and he'll never understand why they're forever pushing back his bangs just to catch a closer glimpse, and oh, he's so beautiful, here in the night and the dark that was made for him, drenched in shadows and shimmering like moonlight on water so pretty pretty like the shape of his heart.
He'll never ever ever let him go.
It was too soon and he knows it and he doesn't care, and he won't say a word because Riku would, if he knew, would hate himself for the unintended pressure and the nervousness, and so he won't do anything to sour the sweetness of the memory, and he made the choice on purpose, leaned into every touch and tugged at every dangling bit of fabric, and he knows he should be ashamed, should feel cold and empty and uncertain, but there's heat still singing through his veins and the taste of salt on his tongue, and he is sixteen years old and in love.
"Mine," he says again, after an hour's long drowsing, fingers tracing lazy patterns down his skin, and leans down into his smile, drinks in his laughter and shoves back at his teasing, sighs against his mouth as the pushing turns to caresses, slides his hands everywhere--everywhere and Riku's letting him and arching against him and oh--and there's sand in his hair and his heart's pounding so hard, and it's a little bit awkward and a little bit clumsy and he's a little bit terrified that he's doing this wrong and -- oh.
Sora steals every kiss he can and races him to the water, tackles him in the surf, and those kisses taste of the sea and the dawning sun, and he's so, so happy.
"Mine," he breathes against his parted lips, sprawled out in the rising tide, "mine forever," and Riku smiles up at him dark and secret like a promise and says yes without saying anything at all.
Chapter 14: Lumen
Each breath that you take has a thunderous sound.
- Learning -
There are little things to adapt to in each other, and it's all natural, it feels right, shifting and sliding into place, and it doesn't strike Sora as weird until he's staring down at a bottle of bubblegum-scented shampoo held out by his mother and staring at her wavering smile and he thinks, I'm sixteen--am I sixteen? and Roxas says I think we are maybe--I don't know for sure-- and Sora gives his mom a plastic smile and says "Wow, you remembered" and that makes her go tight-lipped and pale and oh crap, he's bad at this because he's used to being the one that's angry and upset and he doesn't think any of the things that Riku does to make him stop should ever be done to his mother ever because Riku is a jerkface except for when he's not but Sora needs to never ever ever think of his mother in situations like that or he will drop dead of complete horror right then and there.
He leaves the shampoo in the bathroom and makes sure to dump a little down the drain every time he takes a shower, and feels a little guilty about it, but it's all about shifting around again, and he'd really liked Kairi's new perfume right up until her face had crinkled and she'd gasped "Oh crap, Riku, I'm sorry I totally forgot!" and yeah, it's weird and sort of freaky but it also makes him feel all soft and sort of stupid that Riku really is that attuned to them, so that a slight shift in scent is enough to have him brushing up against them in the hallways, deliberately picking a fight whenever Sora's on edge and sidling up to Kairi and offering her silent massages on the days when being a girl really really seems like it sucks.
That also required some adaptation, after they'd both completely freaked out the first time she'd winced and bent over and hissed out through her teeth, so near the beginning of each month he makes sure to toss extra painkillers into his bag, because "Potions don't work, stupid, there's nothing physically wrong with me..." and keep a little extra munny on hand, because chocolate allows for the release of endorphins which helps to alleviate pain, and so far that biology quiz has been the only thing he's actually passed with flying colors, and yeah, his mom gave him a really freaked-out look about that.
So far he's avoided having to buy tampons, but Riku hasn't. There's a little list with instructions and everything - apparently brands and different types really really matter and they're probably going to have to build up a little stockpile or something in the future, because she's healthy and she's going to stay that way, so unless she gets really stressed or--and they're not going to have any babies until they're married, and that's at least two years away, because they have to finish high school and move away first, and he doesn't want to be killed by Kairi's dad, so he'll hide behind Riku and then run away while the mayor's busy killing him instead.
And besides, they haven't even... done that. Yet. The one time he managed to get her shirt off he got so flustered by her bra that she'd actually put her top back on again and then Riku made fun of him for a week. He's still not sure where he's supposed to put his hands anyway, at least not on her, and he still gets shy about both of them, sometimes, when they're so close he forgets to breathe, when he's caught up in heat and laughter and uncertainty about what he's supposed to do next, when Riku's warm and close and flirting outrageously because he knows it will make them both splutter and laugh, because he knows they'll let him get away with anything, because everything he does always feels so good that it almost always drowns out the nervousness that leaves him tongue-tied and turning red from his head to his toes.
It's very unfair that Riku not only knows how to take Kairi's underwear off but also what to do after that happens, but he can't complain too much because Riku also knows how to take off his underwear and then do other things, but it's really no use calling him a pervert when they're the ones who keep letting him convince them that they want to play.
Riku's really really pretty when he's flirting, all sly smiles and low-voiced innuendo, but he's still obnoxious, and Kairi had cracked up for nearly three minutes straight the first time she'd walked in on what had been a pleasant make-out session that rapidly dissolved into a wrestling match for reasons that he and Riku still can't remember. She also called them both idiots, but then they'd teamed up on her with a pillow barrage that they later figured could probably legitimately be used as a last line of defense against Heartless invasion as long as you strapped rockets inside, and the whole thing had ended rather pleasantly, even though he felt the blush on his cheeks for days afterwards.
That... seems to happen a lot, and he's not sure when it's going to stop, because every day there's something new to think about, every day there's a new way for Kairi's skirt to inch higher and a new way for Riku to laugh at him, every day there's something to notice that he's never thought about before, every day there's something that should be the same but is totally different than it ever was before.
He likes it, being able to settle in and look around, for once, at a world that's his own, being able to smile at familiar faces and laugh at the same jokes, being able to catch up on news and slide back into routine, and if it's not quite the same as it was before, that doesn't make it uncomfortable or strange, it just makes it a little different, and that's okay too, because keybearers are made to handle change.
If that means his mom looks at him like he's crazy sometimes... well, it's not like she's exactly wrong, either.
She's her own new and different thing, better than Riku's parents by far, but so far it's only Kairi's dad that still makes sense, and according to Riku it's just a matter of time until he goes the way of the other three. Sora's really not looking forward to that, mostly because he's starting to get the impression that having parents is a lot more complicated than he remembers it being.
A lot of things are more complicated than he remembers them being, and he's still not sure if he likes them all.
"It's 'cause we're growing up," Kairi explains, and swings their joined hands as they walk in the sand. "Everybody does this."
"Well, not exactly like this," she agrees, "but yeah, it's the same idea, it's just kind of worse with us because of everything else."
"Seems like kind of a pain."
"It is, but on the other hand, do you want to tell Riku he should start sleeping in his own bed instead of in ours?"
That is the worst idea that Sora's ever heard, and he tells her so, and she laughs and tells him to look on the bright side, at least the school isn't making him retake all the lessons he missed while he was gone.
He's sufficiently distracted by horror for her to trip him face-first over a piece of driftwood, which effectively ends the conversation.
* * *
There's something a little feral about Sora, and with Riku it's three times worse because he's so much better at hiding it.
Sora's eyes are too sharp and his smile sometimes is lined with lies, and he can't keep his hands away, sweet and shy and insecure at first, and when they don't shrug him away he starts to cling, and when they kiss him he blossoms like sunshine, like sweet fruit overripe to bursting, and they have a vague plan to tell them all, parents and friends and the whole island alike, because he's so tripping-over in love that they can't really hide it, and it's only his uncertainty that's kept them moving so slowly, one step at a time and her hands guiding his to where they need to go.
He smiles at her and brings her things, offers training and magic spells and songs from far-off worlds, and it's slow and sweet and fairytale-perfect, them and their island and their playing, and she thinks this is the way storybook romances are supposed to go, but she doesn't care much for stories now that she knows the truth, and even if Sora purposefully doesn't think much about the flash of darkness in his eyes, she still smiles to see it, because memories are precious and he is precious and it's just another sign, that's all, it's just a hint of what they're still becoming.
Sora is shy and sweet and fumbling and uncertain, and he makes her feel that way too, a little silly and a little unsure, a little awkward and a little too grown-up, a little aggressive and a little invincible.
Riku's hands are larger and rougher and infinitely gentle, and he makes her feel brave and gleeful and a little bit crazy, because his touch is ghost-soft and his kisses are slow and warm like melting and dreaming, and it wouldn't be strange at all except he always seems to know how to touch, and where, and when, and then there's a vague impression of ink-black against the pale, and she has to push him down and hold him still just to make sure she's still herself, even though he's always, always just been him.
He smiles at her when he's like that, warm and patient and so so pretty, and she always turns red to see him sprawled out in her bed like decadence and mischief, all lean warm boy clashing with her lavender sheets, and she still feels a little guilty for the time she'd shoved him out the window when her father unexpectedly knocked on the door.
He'd had to wait on her roof for an hour before the coast was clear and he could come back in to get his pants.
The next time she tried to hide him under her bed, but he didn't really fit, and the third time, he had to sneak out down the hallway while her father wasn't looking. That's not even counting the time when Sora was still grounded that his mother chased Riku off with a mop, although ever since then Riku has loudly been counting down the days until she chases him off with a harpoon.
That's probably what's going to happen when they finally confess, anyway, and Kairi is just grateful that there aren't any weapons just lying around in her own house where her father is going to be able to grab them, although the boys have already planned out escape routes just in case.
She thinks they might be just a little bit paranoid, but then again, maybe not.
She's also more than a little skeptical about their plan to rig up an alarm in the hallway so they can all sneak into Riku's giant bedroom and equally giant bed without worrying too much about his parents, but it's better than risking the splinters in the treehouse on the play island that was the original plan. They just need to figure out a way up to the balcony that's not within view of his parents' wing, and a way past the low garden gate that won't make any noise, especially if his father is tending the plants again.
Then they need to figure out a way to ensure that Riku's mom doesn't kill them all in their sleep, but nobody, including Riku, has figured out how to do that yet. And it's not like she doesn't have reason to do it, because the two of them are definitely not son-and-daughter-in-law material as far as Chihoko is concerned, which would be the only thing that would save them from her wrath if she knew what they'd been up to with her son.
In their defense, though, the entire population of their class, including all of the guys and the pair of girls that have been dating since seventh grade, agree that Riku is sort of gorgeous.
It's way worse if you're dating him, because it's probably a sign of some sort that she and Sora are so tongue-tied around each other, but Riku only laughs at them, rolls his eyes and slides his hands wherever he likes, because he spends his nights in their beds and never in his own, and maybe it should feel weird, taking things so slow with one boy and so quick with another, except Sora's done exactly the same thing. Maybe it's because Riku's utterly shameless or maybe it's because he's so sure of himself, but when they're all together he's the one to tease them into heat and sweetness, to slide kisses deeper and whisper things into Sora's ear that make him turn bright red, to coax them both into giggling embarrassment and a silly kind of joy, and maybe that's why it's so easy to play with him, because he's so upfront about what he wants and why, because he's always so brash and so gentle, because Sora's still shy and a little bit young, and sometimes she just wants a pretty boy to pounce on.
If she tried pouncing on Sora they wouldn't get anywhere because it's hard to kiss someone when you want to die of embarrassment, and Sora's nowhere near bold enough to try that with her, so falling all over Riku is a pretty good alternative for now.
They're working on Sora, and she tries not to be jealous that Riku's been more successful than she has, because he keeps explaining that she is a girl and that somehow makes the entire situation different, but then again, she's also seen the two of them manage to get into an argument while still kissing, and maybe there are some things about boys that she's destined never to know.
That and it's a little weird how their fights tend to dissolve into lots of shoving and constant reiterations of "Your face is stupid!" when you notice the amount of time they spend staring at each other. Apparently in boy-speak doing this is not actually hypocritical or contradictory behavior--but then again they do make really stupid faces sometimes, so maybe she's a bit of a hypocrite herself, even if she has to point it out just to watch Sora turn pink and flustered and to hear Riku laugh, warm and clear as a summer night.
He doesn't laugh much, only when he's alone with them, when they're training and playing and sprawled out in the sand, and she thinks it might be a little sad, but being able to make him laugh is one of the most amazing things in the world, and for Sora it's so effortless that it's a little breathtaking, and she falls in love with both of them a little more each time it happens. Sora, predictably, doesn't even realize what he's doing and winds up a flustered mess every time she coaxes Riku into joining her for a pouncing session, even though they've only gotten as far as tickling matches, but that's almost as good as anything else would be, all warm bare skin and the tang of sweat on her lips, and when the darkness falls, she curls herself against them and watches the stars come out.
If she closes her eyes tight enough, links her fingers with theirs and breathes in deep, reaches for Naminé and thinks only of the light, sometimes, she thinks, she can hear the worlds singing.
"What do you feel?" she asks, and Sora says "You," because he doesn't understand the question, or maybe he does, even more than he realizes, and she turns from the sky and kisses him just to taste the innocence on his lips. When she asks the question again, Riku says "Everything," and she leans up and kisses him to taste the knowledge on his, because Riku can be the densest idiot in the world and still he understands.
Sora says "You," again, a little uncertain and impatient, so she turns her gaze from the skies and watches Riku blink once, twice, and then wade his way back to them, swift and sure-footed through the currents of darkness and light that have been calling him, and she thinks about telling Sora to close his eyes just so he can see how pretty it is, just so he can stop being afraid that Riku will drift away again, but his hand is halfway crushing hers and there's the faintest tightness in his lips, so she slides her arms around him and lets Riku kiss his anxiety away, because he's still learning, and there's still so much to discover.
* * *
- Laces -
Words carefully unspoken: loving them too hard ruined him, but he doesn't care.
He thinks it's funny that their parents can see so clearly what Sora will never understand and Kairi will never say out loud, and still not understand.
Love beyond reason, he thinks, but will never say, is what forged the keyblades, and tore the worlds to ruin and built them back again.
Love, Riku thinks, is not unselfish.
And love, he knows, is never kind.
* * *
- Longing -
His chest aches, sometimes, on the long lonely nights when he's thinking of Riku and that big empty room that he never sleeps in, and Kairi and the soft filmy curtains that hang above her bed, because sometimes, rarely, he'll notice it, the evidence of the year that he missed, in Riku's idle comments, in the way Kairi interacts with their other friends, and he thinks the time can't come fast enough, when they'll be grown past school and the age of majority and the demands of their parents, when they can just hurry up and be married, never mind what the rest of the universe throws their way.
There's a room, he knows, just a room, big and lovely in all the ways that Disney Castle is, with a bed that's big enough for three and is meant to be, a room where Riku's left a smattering of things behind him, set aside in the private quarters of the palace because the king loves Riku like he's his own, in all the ways Riku's own parents have never seemed able to.
Sora doesn't hate very many people, and that hatred is usually reserved for heartless and nobodies and all the horrors that plague the worlds, but there's a harsh cold spot deep in the corner of his heart that's for them, and all the ways that they've failed him, because he just can't understand why anyone could have a child and not take care of him, and if Riku calls himself damaged goods one more time Sora is going to scream.
Riku's mother is looking for matches for him already and they all know it, and none of it matters because they're going to get married, and everything's going to be okay, and if Riku gets disowned he'll be so happy and so hurt, and Kairi's dad is gonna hate them both but it'll all be okay.
His own mother's been paying more attention lately, and it's gotten harder to slide out his window and back inside again without her noticing, and now that he's spending the early morning hours helping her out on the boat it's getting harder to even get to school on time, much less spend the night with Riku or Kairi or both. Lunchtime isn't nearly time enough, even when they're able to sneak off to the roof to eat, because Riku gets sleepy-eyed and dozes off in their laps because he almost never sleeps at night, and too often after school Riku and Kairi get dragged off by their parents to do things, and sometimes his mom tries to convince him to practice with the paperwork, but he's really awful with numbers when he can't hold the munny in his hands, and maybe his mom will like that Kairi can do that better than he can, if he stays the heir to the business.
He hasn't told his mom yet that he doesn't think he really wants to be. He'll have to, once they confess, because some things you don't get to choose, and some things you should never give up.
And Sora likes being a hero. He doesn't like the pain and the sadness and all the ways he's been ripped apart inside, doesn't like to think about the way he feels in antiform, doesn't like to think about all the ways Riku was hurt or how many times Kairi's been taken from him, but he loves the worlds and he loves the people and he loves traveling, loves the light and the darkness both, because both are sweet and bright as life and sharp as death and they've both sheltered them, his most precious ones, and he could never hate anything that kept them safe.
So many plans and so many dreams and he wants to go wandering, to go to Halloween Town and finally see what kind of demon Riku is, to take Kairi to Atlantica, to train at Radiant Garden and Disney Castle, to climb the mountains in the Land of Dragons and maybe meet a real one for once, one that the Organization hasn't corrupted, one that isn't like Mushu.
One that isn't Maleficent.
A sometimes-ally is a sometimes-ally, but sometimes he dreams of shredding the darkness, but when he wakes up, he can't remember his dreams, and when he asks, Roxas always stays silent.
He won't ever ask Riku, not because he's afraid, but because he's so sick of hurting him, now that he's finally starting to understand.
Kairi says that none of them are to blame, not really, and he leans into her arms and trusts that it's true, because it is, because the worlds are so much bigger than they are, and if they're what the worlds have chosen, they never would have been able to get away from it, not really, and she's probably right, because she usually is.
Her magic is brighter than fire, burns clearer than any sun, and sometimes he catches a glimpse of it just barely bound by the cover of her skin, and it makes his cheeks heat and his fingers tingle just watching her, the fall of her hair and the curve of her lips, the way she laughs and rolls back to her feet when they're training, the flash of her keyblade in the sun and the press of her hands to his skin, the tang of ozone in the air in the wake of a too-quickly cast spell, and it will be amazing when she's finally able to try limit breaking, she'll be amazing, and he loves it here but he can't wait until it's safe for them to finally try.
This world is so beautiful, bright and precious and always and forever home, but looking at it now, he's slowly starting to understand that maybe...
Eloping would be easier, he's said it at least twice now, but Kairi rolls her eyes and Riku shakes his head, and Sora sighs and knows they're right, because coming home was supposed to be easier and just because it's been that way for him doesn't mean it's that way for everyone else.
He sees things a lot more clearly now, he thinks, than he ever has before, even if Riku keeps complaining that he's an idiot, but idiot or not, he knows that Riku's started staring at the horizon again already.
They'll just have to distract him, then.
Which is sort of terrifying. But awesome. But terrifying.
But mostly awesome.
* * *
- Lingual -
She watches the mirror and talks to Naminé in the morning, if she's not too sleepy, idle and aimless chatter about the day and the night and the twilight between, the progress she's making in her training and the odd sensation that is the hot clear burn of her power sliding underneath her skin, the endless blue of Sora's eyes and the distracting way Riku's shirt always rides up, the quiet concerns that are rapidly becoming louder, the way her father's started to look at her, the way he looks at her poorly-disguised boyfriends, the way her poorly-disguised boyfriends' parents have started to look at her, the new gossip Selphie's told her and the endlessly evolving rules of Tidus and Wakka's ballgame.
She kind of thinks they're going to accidentally drown themselves one of these days out of sheer enthusiasm.
Riku would listen if she spoke, and Sora would hear, but she likes having this now, another self to whisper to, a her-that's-not who keeps her own secrets and echoes her own laughter, because she's flung her whole life into them, but boys are boys and there are so many things they don't quite understand. She knows so many things she could say that would silence them into confusion and curiosity, and she's not good enough yet, she's not quite sure how to put things into words that they'll be able to understand, because her boys are barely human and exactly like every other teenage boy all at once. So she finds herself playing go-between, translating Riku's expressive silences into words that other people can understand, filling in all the gaps that Sora leaves in propriety and sense and everything else, and sometimes complaining about it to Selphie's sympathetic ears, even if she can't quite understand why it's such a problem, why she can speak their words well enough to translate, but not enough for fluency.
Part of the problem is that neither Sora nor Riku really speak ordinary person anymore, but that's not their fault, and even though she hated it, couldn't stand the waiting, maybe it's a good thing she was left behind to cover for them, to string together careful lies and keep the peace in their absence.
They can't help what they've become, Sora's always been like a small sun but it's focused now, sharp and brilliant, and Riku's gone from merely ethereal to a slice of moonlight made flesh, so between the two of them she makes sure to tug them back down to the ground, even when the temptation to let them sweep her off her feet is strong enough to make her falter.
Sora loves many people generously, and only a few selfishly, and those few selfish loves are quick to spark to heat, and beneath layers of shyness they make him needy, greedy, all eager kisses and clinging, always clinging, hands everywhere he can put them and spilling out radiance like the sun.
He gluts himself on kisses, on cuddling, on the quick light brush of his fingertips over their skin, on nearness and sweetness and blinding-bright fierceness, and it's probably ironic that he's wildly jealous when it comes to Riku but not at all when it comes to her, considering her track record of being kidnapped and Riku's sheer sneakiness, which has increased exponentially over the past two years even without him being able to slip through dark corridors at will anymore.
Riku loves only a few people, and does so with an intensity that is quiet, deep, and probably completely terrifying to anyone who's not them. In the beginning, she thinks, it was wilder, needier, and it scared her then, but with balance comes peace and Riku now is a brightdark shadowlit thing that makes her a tiny bit jealous of the darkness she'll never get to call her own, because she can see things now, and the blazing white light underneath her own skin is frighteningly different from everyone else, because even Sora has shadows singing through his brilliance, and everyone else is normal, shining in their own way, with different shades of shadow and light.
She breathes in and curls herself around Naminé, and smiles to see the way the light flickers, shades of cream and pale and barely-there touches of blue.
It would be easy for her, she thinks, to just wallow in it, in their attention and their love, the way she did when she was younger, before Riku's eyes filled with shadows and before she understood the tangled trip-wire that was love so thick it was strangling.
Many things become clear in the spaces between disasters, and everyone thought she was crazy for dreaming of Sora, but Riku, she thinks, would have understood.
Even though Sora beat him, even though she knew in her heart Riku was alive and still fighting, she still had nightmares of that man, and went to school in the morning red-eyed and wary, and on Riku's birthday she stayed home and cried until her insides hurt, and when she couldn't stand waiting any longer, she'd left to find them, and she thinks she always will.
Some songs are too loud to ignore, and some words are too precious to speak, so she holds their hands and smiles into their parents' confusion and defends them in ways that they don't even realize are necessary, because the world they rebuilt isn't exactly the same one that they left from, and that's all right.
In this, she can protect them.
* * *
- Lunacy -
It's funny, he thinks sometimes, remembering the fleeting brush of a hand against his shoulder and a whisper in the corner of his heart, that of all the laughing shadows he's met, all the ones who took one look at him and tried to woo him, that they could sense all his rage and his loneliness and never recognize it in themselves.
Lift the light to illuminate the darkness, and wrap the darkness around the light to let it shine, and sometimes he wants to grab them, shake them, scream at them because he can't possibly be the only one to realize it, there's no way that they can't understand, he can't be so utterly alone.
Every shadow he's met has been strung through with madness, no matter their veneer of civility, and sometimes he wonders if that will be his fate too, even with all of the king's reassurances, even with Naminé's soft confidence and Kairi's sympathy and Sora's adoration, even with his own certainty in himself.
Even so, it's nothing to be afraid of.
If he loses them, he'll welcome the insanity.
* * *
- Lust -
Their fights usually dissolve into childish scuffling because it's too dangerous to pull out keyblades anywhere but the play island even though Sora's fingers itch so badly sometimes because Riku can be all smirky and sarcastic and mocking like they're ten again and it's so hard to resist because he's been getting so antsy about not being able to practice and Riku would be so much fun to fight because he's always been so strong. He still gets shivery whenever he thinks about their limit break, the hot sizzle of Riku's power burning through his skin, like electricity on his tongue, and he wants to know what it would be like, not to be as cautious and careful as they have to be to train Kairi, not to keep the attacks simple and neat, to move just as fast as they can and hit as hard as they're able, and it really hasn't been that long but it feels like ages since he's had a good challenge and maybe it's making him a little bit stir-crazy.
Riku's arms and legs are longer and that's totally unfair except when it's completely fascinating but that means Sora gets his hair messed up a lot, so he's taken to a lot of bodychecking that hasn't actually done that much good since when they're close like that he can only hit with enough force to make Riku go "oof" and not actually enough to knock him over, which sucks, but then they usually fall over anyway because they start wrestling pretty much as soon as Sora can hit him, so that's all right, because those long legs and arms aren't quite as much of an advantage when they're both scuffling in the sand.
Wrestling's fun because they act like they're five again, pulling hair and yanking shirts up over each other's eyes even if it doesn't count anymore because Riku can see through them anyway, but traditions are important and so is squishing Riku's face in the sand, and tickling does so still count as a finishing move, and anyone who lands on a crab or starfish is automatic loser for the week, but they always fight on the play island so the crabs had learned better by the time they turned eleven, so the fights don't really end, they just sort of warp into something else.
It's kind of embarrassing to admit, but it had taken him almost a whole minute to figure out what was going on that first time he'd managed to wrestle Riku down into a full-body pin and Riku had put on the smirky face, which was usually a signal that he was about to get thrown into a coconut tree, but then Riku hadn't thrown him into a coconut tree, just kept smirking, which was a signal that Sora didn't know how to interpret. He'd come seriously close to asking if he'd done something wrong before Riku blinked, rolled his eyes, sighed heavily, and then yanked him down for a kiss.
No matter what Riku says, he didn't yelp. It was just unexpected, that was all, because sometimes it takes a minute for him to remember that brawling also means lots of skin touching and the heat of an adrenaline rush, and that Riku's smirky face doesn't always mean he's going to end up facefirst in the water, and that if he bites while they're wrestling Riku isn't going to punch him, he's going to cackle about fetishes and then lean over and bite Sora's fingers really softly and Sora's going to have to stop hitting him because he can't think when Riku does that and Riku knows it and takes advantage of it because Riku is a dirty cheater and also kind of a pervert.
...which Kairi seems to like even more than he does, so she might be right that he still has a little bit of growing to do to catch up with them, because she flirts with Riku when they're training her, the back-and-forth banter so flying so thick and fast that Sora can't keep up with it.
...mostly he knows that 'cause they told him, though. Riku also says she keeps trying with him, but that it doesn't work out because they're both so shy with each other, which is probably why he still hasn't succeeded in taking her bra off but Riku has. A lot. With both of them. A couple of times. Probably maybe almost definitely more than a couple with Kairi.
He... can't quite picture himself between them yet, because he just knows if he takes that invitation he'll die of blushing--just because nobody's died that way yet doesn't mean they couldn't--but Riku's said stuff, and Kairi's said stuff, and if it's that pretty when they're just making out he kind of thinks he might faint if they're doing that stuff right in front of him and expecting him to join in.
He kind of loves to watch them kiss because it looks so pretty, Kairi so bright and warm and vibrant against Riku's grace, and he loves the way Riku will drape his hand over her hip, the way she digs her nails into his chest, and he's thought about it so much, a three way kiss, sweet like her mouth and long and slow and deep the way Riku likes to kiss, but every time they've tried they keep bumping noses and tongues and lips, and it feels wonderful and silly and precious but it's not very sexy, especially when one of them inevitably winds up with Riku's hair in their mouth, and then they have to gang up on him and make threats about scissors and ribbons and pretty hairclips until he throws them both in the water and then gets distracted by the fact that Kairi's wet.
The only downside to the whole thing is that Kairi being wet distracts Sora too, and then she wins when they're busy staring at her, because. Wow.
She shoved a starfish down his shorts once, and dunked Riku while he was busy laughing, and then they had to chase her halfway across the beach and tackle her between them and kiss her until none of them could breathe anymore.
Somehow their kisses always wind up tasting like salt and his belts seem to pinch in all of the wrong ways and Riku doesn't know when to shut up and just make out already and Kairi really is bossy, but every time he winds up embarrassed and awkward and shy and flushed and blissfully happy.
* * *
- Lineaments -
"What makes a Princess?" she asks once of Riku, not Sora, because Sora might know in his heart but he could never articulate it, and Riku would understand the question better, anyway.
Because Riku is infuriating, he shrugs, and because he's a very attentive boyfriend, he picks up on her annoyance and takes a moment to try and fit words around something that he probably doesn't really have them for any more than Sora does.
"It's your heart," he says finally, "but it's not all of you."
She doesn't think it's the answer, not really, but she draws him to her and presses his hand up against her heart and asks, "Is it really okay?"
"Just 'cause it's unnatural doesn't make it wrong," Riku says, and she'll never understand why so many people think he's cold when he's so gentle with the ones he loves.
* * *
- Link -
It's not so much proposing as it is pointing out that they're going to get married as soon as possible. Kairi just giggles agreement, takes his hand and swings it, because she knows better than Sora ever could of the necessity of it all, and its impossibility, and anyway, she'd already agreed to marry them back when they were seven, even if he's the only one who remembers it.
Sora, on the other hand, turns so red and spluttering that Riku considers it a personal duty to make fun of him for the next three hours.
By which he means three days.
Okay, three weeks.
There's a three in it, anyway.
* * *
- Languid -
"We should probably go."
"We've got school soon."
"Gotta go change."
"Kairi, you're supposed to be the responsible one, stop agreeing with us."
"I'm comfy," she says, and wiggles a little. Sora gives a kind of startled squeak and Riku just smiles and says "Hmm," with a low sort of purr that makes Kairi wiggle again and Sora turn an even darker shade of red.
"Dude, your face."
"No, your face."
"Both of your faces," Kairi says dryly, then closes her eyes. "It's only a half-day anyway, and we don't have any classes, and I already did all the homework. Let me have my day off without you two being annoying."
"You're the one who has to graduate for real," Riku says agreeably, "but Sora's the one being annoying."
"I am not!" Sora protests, but then he has to stop because Kairi's got a really good grip on his bangs, and she's not afraid to pull.
"You both are, so shut up," she reiterates, and Riku rolls his eyes hard enough that they can probably hear it on the main island, but they're both pretty bad at disagreeing with her, so it only takes a little bit of shoving until they're curled back around her and drowsing their way through the morning sunrise.
Chapter 15: All Things Nice
Maturity is born in the swing of the blade and the taste of first kisses in the dark.
AKA how they actually managed to hook up in the first place. (i.e. badly).
They're sprawled out in the sand and waiting for Riku to come back with fresh water from the falls near the center of the play island when Sora rolls over ostentatiously enough that Kairi sits up in recognition and sends him a sideways glance. He props his head in his hands, kicks his feet a little, and then says, "You know you're gonna have to learn how to fight."
Kairi flexes her fingers, thinks about the hum of her keyblade in her hand, thinks about the weird pulse of energy that thrummed through her skin when a heartless fell beneath her blade. "You don't think I did okay?" she asks, teasing, and Sora snorts and wiggles a little.
"Weeeeell," he says, not quite a drawl and not quite hedging, "I didn't see much, but it kinda looked like Riku was halfway swatting away the heartless and halfway dodging you."
Her aim when smacking Sora upside the head has always been flawless.
"Yeah, like that!" he says brightly, and she rolls her eyes and waves Riku over, making a complicated gesture with her hands that takes Riku a minute to process.
Then he obediently dumps the bucket of water over Sora's head, and she leans back in the sand and feels mildly proud about her first successful joint attack while a spluttering Sora chases Riku in ever-tightening circles around the remains of their campfire.
Predictably, they fall into it.
* * *
Under Sora's careful tutelage, she learns to hold a blade, to twist and feint and parry and, when all else fails, how to slowly and steadily beat an opponent to death. His voice and hands don't falter as he points out weak points, teaches her to go for vulnerable places, and forces her to swing a wooden sword against a palm tree until her hands are sore and red and her arms and head are aching from things she doesn't quite recall and could never forget.
Sora holds her up when she finally collapses, half-sickened and close to tears, and she thinks she might like to kiss him someday, when her lips aren't acid-burnt and her eyes aren't puffy and streaming.
"It gets better," he says softly, petting her hair with awkwardly shy boy-hands, "I promise, most of our enemies are just Heartless and Nobodies and they really don't bleed..."
But Kairi remembers claws on her skin and slicing through soft folds of silk and satin, and the bloom of crimson on pale flesh as Belle stumbled, the way Jasmine's hands and staff had snapped up, shredding the heartless to shadow and burning it away, and how much hard muscle flowing skirts can conceal, and pushes his hands away.
He blinks up at her in surprise when she clambers to her feet and reaches for the sword again.
"Again," she says firmly, because everyone has to battle for their happy ending, and she already knows she's woefully underprepared for everything she's already known.
Although he's by far the strongest mage on the islands, Sora's attempts to teach her magic leave Riku running for a bucket and salt water while she desperately tries to smother the accidental inferno with sand and their abandoned shirts. In the end, Sora flings his hands in the air and meanders away, and comes back dragging a half-protesting Riku, who nevertheless never bothers to exert enough effort to actually get away from him.
And they both stare at him for a while, at his doofy grin and complete certainty that they know exactly what he's talking about, and she realizes for this first time that she's back on that perfect wavelength with Riku again, finally, half exasperated and half confused, and it's all she can do to bite down a grin as they both reach out and simultaneously slap Sora upside the head.
"Ack, ack, stoppit!" he cries, slapping at their hands remarkably ineffectively for someone who's supposed to be such an awesome warrior. "I already know I suck at it!"
And then they have to drop their hands and exchange a long glance and a shrug, because he really kind of does. Sora blathers on about 'feeling the elements' and 'reshaping your will' and 'think of how awesome it is to smash things with fire!' which, while admittedly sounding impressive, doesn't exactly show her how to do it, or what makes throwing ice any different than summoning lightning, or the difference in power between a shield and a summon. Every time he demonstrates, she stares at him blankly, and her imitative effects have so far tended to wind up blinding them both or, occasionally, setting things on fire.
...maybe a change will be good.
* * *
As it turns out, the change is mostly weird.
Riku can't use proper elemental magic at all, not the usual way. Everything comes out wonky, save for his one Cure spell, which isn't a proper Cure at all, for all that it blossoms like one. Instead, it's an odd combination of potion and spell - when Sora casts Curaga, she can feel the aches wash away, but when Riku casts, there's a disconcerting flare of shadowlight that coalesces into something that feels like a potion but sizzles when it hits and sinks beneath the skin to drag together split skin and shattered bone.
When she presses, he mutters something about balance and elements and needing both darkness and light to draw on them both simultaneously, that's why you don't get proper mages out of princesses of heart or beings of pure darkness.
"Can't you?" she asks, and he shrugs a little.
"Not really. Whenever I try it just comes out as light or darkness instead."
"That's still something," she points out, reaching over to poke him in the arm. "Have you ever tried?"
"Healing yourself with light. Or darkness, I guess."
Riku stiffens, glances away, and shifts uncomfortably, all without moving an inch. Kairi tilts her head to the side, studying him, and waits. "...can't," he admits finally, "you don't--it needs--ergh."
He rakes a hand through his hair in a rare gesture of frustration, and she can tell he's trying to think of a translation for something he understands but can't put into words.
He's been doing that a lot, lately.
After another long moment, he says, abruptly, "I can't do it 'cause I'm a freak and you can't do it 'cause you're all light."
"...you can conjure the potions, though," she observes softly. "How come you can do it but I can't?"
"It's... kind of a long story."
"I'm listening," she says quietly, and he rakes another hand through his hair before folding his arms across his chest and starting to speak.
The story's not as long as he thinks it is, and it's funny, in places. She likes listening to him, hearing about what he's done and where he's been and everything he's seen, because Sora bubbles over with stories but Riku shies away from talking about things for reasons that don't really make any sense, because he has nothing to be ashamed of, not anymore.
They'll let him keep his regret, but weakness isn't a sin, and someday they'll make him realize it.
She looks at him for a long minute after he's finished, the slouch in his shoulders and the way his bangs fall to hide his eyes, then says lightly, "So that makes us both magically crippled. I guess that leaves Sora one thing to gloat about, since you're the prettiest and I'm the brains of the operation."
It wins her a hint of a smile. "Really now. You think I'm prettier than Sora?"
"You're definitely prettier than Sora, but Sora's cuter than you, so it balances out. Both of you are equally stupid, though, so that makes me the smart one, and because I'm the smart one, that means you should do as I say."
"That makes you the bossy one, not the smart one."
"It's because I'm the smart one that I get to be bossy, and as the smart one I say you show me what you do and I figure out what I can do from there."
"Bossy bossy," Riku says, and slips away from her hands before she can smack him upside the head.
So instead of trying to explain balance or attempting to cast ice or lightning, which he can't do anyway, Riku just grabs a handful of darkness, again and again until she can see and understand how to hold pure essence in her hands, and then stops and waits through her fumbling attempts to do the same with her light. He's good at that, too, because Riku is annoyingly adept at anything that serves to destroy things, and she'd be crankier about it except it's saved his life she doesn't know how many times over, so she swallows down the annoyance and teases him for it instead, because from everything she's heard he's a walking impossibility--"freak" she hears again, and thinks, viciously, boys are so stupid--but she won't let him treat himself that way, she just won't.
Sora knows how to channel his power, direct it and guide it and call on the light to aid him, but Riku's the only one she knows who casts barehanded, but he's not the only one who can.
After she's finally convinced him that she won't accidentally explode any trees (it was one single paopu, once and Sora didn't stop giggling for almost an hour) Riku finally shows her how to shape it to attack ("The king called it 'Pearl'," he murmurs softly, guiding her hands through the motions, "Queen Minnie invented it.") or defend ("Snap it up! It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be fast!").
The first night when she manages to blast a sapling clear into oblivion, she jumps into his arms and gives a triumphant shriek when he's proud enough and feeling silly enough to twirl her around in the moonlight, but not silly enough to do it more than once.
"Thank you," she says softly, once her feet are back on the ground, and she doesn't mind the flicker of shadow in his pretty eyes as he tries to look away from her. But he's being silly and shy and uncertain again, so she tugs on his soft silver hair until he looks back and steals her second kiss from his surprised lips.
It's been two weeks since she first kissed him in the classroom, she thinks, and that's more than enough waiting, now that she can finally attack on her own, now that she's no longer halfway helpless even with a blade in her hand.
Their first kiss tasted of salt, but their second tastes like sunsets and dawns and darkness and old pain and the promise of new things, and even though he's too-quiet and still in her grip, she's patient, nestling closer and pressing her face to his chest, just holding him and not letting go. Naminé stirs softly in the back of her mind, and she lets her slide forward and hold on too.
You did this before, she says softly, warm with the memory of it, a white room and a black blindfold and her hands carding through long pale hair. After he...
Yes, Naminé murmurs, to keep the bad things away. He's too good for them.
He doesn't believe it, she answers, sorrow reflected and echoed in the warmth of their shared heart. He thinks he can't be forgiven, or he shouldn't be.
Silly of him, Naminé agrees. It's not his choice.
Do you think he'll want us back?
They don't need to open her eyes to see the war inside his head, because Riku is an awful liar--he's too sincere for it, and anyone who can't tell just isn't looking hard enough.
Do you think he'll let himself if he does?
It's a long, quiet eternity while they hold him, while Naminé runs her fingers down the black chain link of memory and then slides back softly until she's just a ghost-touch against her mind, quiet with her own secrets and a soft sadness that tastes like joy and tears.
He's shy and careful and intensely solemn when his arms finally wrap around her, but it doesn't take much to convince him to spend the rest of the night with his head on her lap and her hands in his hair. Somewhere past midnight, she feels him shudder, and she squeezes him tight as he cries. She's a little embarrassed when she starts crying too, and once he starts a fumbling attempt to comfort her while he's still swiping at his eyes, they both dissolve into helpless, slightly hysterical laughter and more kisses, tentative at first, and then softer and smoother and calmer, and it feels like coming home at last, slow and peaceful and sweet.
"Stay with me."
"Shh. You're mine too, remember?"
She rolls over and drapes herself across his chest, leaning down to rest her forehead against his and stare into his uncertain eyes. "Shh," she murmurs again, kissing his nose softly, feeling her own lashes droop with exhaustion and contentment, the warm thrum of his heartbeat singing through to her own. "I'll keep you safe. We love you."
It's... kind of a terrifying thing to say out loud, and she's sure that she's bright bright red, but Riku is kind of dense sometimes and needs a lot of coaxing to accept the things that will make him happy.
At least she and Sora haven't had to forcibly tackle and pin him to keep him from doing something stupid and self-sacrificing again. Yet.
His eyes widen just a little, and she smiles for him, Naminé's smile, their smile, the smile they share for all the beautiful boys that they love.
It would probably be more romantic if she weren't still red, but when she kisses him again, she knows he'll stay.
She wakes up in the morning curled underneath his arm, and his sleepy smile of greeting makes her feel precious and beautiful despite the gumminess in her eyes and the grime of a night spent out on the sands. "You were up all night, weren't you?" she accuses, giving him a glare, and swats at him when he just shrugs.
"I'll be okay - it's not like I haven't not-slept before."
"Not the point, Riku," she grumbles, and straightens up with a yawn, stretching and discreetly trying to adjust her bra. He looks anyway, which is kind of immensely gratifying and totally embarrassing all at once. "We've got school first, and then Sora to catch. Busy day!"
He stares at her. She stares back, because she knows he's just as sick of waiting for Sora to catch on as she is, and at this rate Sora will never get the hint and she'd like to have kids before she's forty. "What? We do!"
"Today?" he asks, a bit slowly, "like, today today?"
"I'd like to catch our boyfriend before we're old people," she says crisply, despite the fact that she can feel her cheeks heat even as she speaks the words, and then stands there and marvels as Riku slowly turns pink, because even when he's blushing he's still pretty. It would be infuriating if it weren't so nice to watch, the way he fidgets and glances down and toes the ground and okay, fine, she's sixteen and they've been waiting for half of forever and it's a little bit ridiculous, everything is.
First-thing-in-the-morning kisses don't taste very nice, Kairi discovers, but they feel awesome.
* * *
Riku walks her back home like a gentleman, and helps her scramble through her open window, and even though it's utterly silly she blows him kisses as he turns away and in one swift motion leaps the fence and streaks away into the shadows.
"He's ours," she whispers fifteen minutes later to her blonde-headed reflection, straightening her school tie, "they both are. We can win this, and then they'll never leave us again."
Naminé's answering smile is luminous and steel-edged, and Kairi thinks of sketches and false worlds and the sound of a lonely heart beating.
Desire is desire and they're not children, not really, not any longer, not even Sora.
* * *
She takes catnaps during class, gets detention for the first time, and has to stay after school and be scolded by an incredulous teacher, but it's more than worth it, she knows, feeling the thrum of her own power under her skin, and remembering the slow thrill of Riku's darkness twining with her light.
Well, that and the kisses. And the quick grope she'd managed to sneak in. Riku hadn't seemed to mind, if his snort of laughter and answering speculative tug at the hem of her dress was anything to go by.
Sora and Riku are waiting for her in the Secret Place, she knows, so she breezes past Selphie with a sheepish smile and heads out to the island. By the time she gets there, she's more than a little giddy and seriously overtired, and she isn't sure who of the three of them is more surprised when she flings her arms around Riku and drags him down into a slow, hungry kiss that means that everything is all right and she still wants him and that they haven't made a mistake, because this is right.
When they finally part, Sora's staring at the two of them with an enormous fragile smile and a faint glitter of tears in his eyes, but his expression melts into something adorably gobsmacked when she curls her arms around his waist and slants her mouth against his, which is when he starts making confused murfing noises and Riku starts to laugh like he hasn't in forever, in much too long, and she pulls back with a satisfied smile and a formal curtsy for them both, her gallant heroes and dashing boyfriends and idiot best friends.
"What-" Sora tries rather helplessly, and then promptly shuts up when Riku sweeps in, tilts his head back, and kisses him like the world is ending again. But things are different this time, because now he's ready to reach out and cling just as hard as he wants to, because everything is all right. Now Riku knows that he can't break them, now he knows that they're going to cling back just as hard and never ever let him go away again.
She's never seen anything quite so pretty, and when they finally part, Sora looks so bewildered and happy and Riku so unbearably smug that she has to laugh, long and hard and gleeful, and she throws herself at them, her lovely boys, and doesn't care about anything, not about school or her friends or her father or her reputation, because these are her boys, her beautiful beautiful boys, and she loves them so much that it feels like she's bursting from the inside out, like her heart is unlocking again and blossoming into something beautiful.
She settles down between them, plopped on the sand like a child, and snuggles against them both, one hand sliding down Riku's thigh, one hand threading up Sora's shirt, laughing at them both as they squirm and flush beneath her touch. She flexes her fingers into stiff uniform fabric, thinking of the new calluses on her palm and fingertips, thinking of the brokenness in their eyes, thinking of Naminé's smile.
We're going to protect them, she says softly, because they're silly boys who can't take care of themselves.
No more waiting for them, Naminé agrees, and they nod decisively at each other in the stillness of their mind. Protect them both, because they fought so hard for us and for everyone.
I'm sick of being saved, Kairi says softly, and Naminé turns her eyes down and bites her lip, and it's enough to make her take two steps forward and curl her arms around her, hold her shadow of a shadow close and breathe in the soft scent of her hair.
You have to fight too, she reminds her gently, we can't be afraid of our own power anymore.
Naminé stiffens, but Kairi kisses her cheek softly and rocks her a little. We deserve to use our own power for our own reasons, she says, it's ours and now that we know how, we should use it.
I know, she murmurs against her throat, I want to protect them - all of them, all the ones I hurt -
You know they don't think of it that way, they never did - they love you too, you worked so hard to save us all -
And that's why, she says firmly, looking up at her again, and Kairi's not at all surprised at the brilliance there, sweet sharp stubbornness and the flash of a thousand lights in her eyes, that's why we're going to protect them even if they don't want us to. We owe it to them and to us to fight our enemies and win.
But Sora is nuzzling her hair, and Riku is tugging on the hem of her uniform skirt, so she gives Naminé one last squeeze and folds herself back into reality.
"What did Naminé say?" Sora asks softly, blue eyes luminous, and she smiles to see a quick flicker, just the faintest hint of Roxas there. She leans over and kisses him on the cheek in Naminé's place, because it's nowhere near the same but he should still be her boy too, and she has to laugh at his disoriented expression as the two of them shuffle places again, resettling down into something like normality tinged by embarrassment, because Roxas is still learning to adjust to having a heart again too, and sometimes it seems like he still doesn't quite know what to make of it.
"That's a secret," she coos, tugging on an unruly brown spike, all Sora again and grinning, "so you're never gonna know."
"Aww, please?" He bats his big blue eyes at her imploringly and it doesn't look half as ridiculous as it should. "I'll buy you candy!"
"Uh-uh. No way I'm telling."
Riku snorts softly, reaching over to flick both of their noses. "Sora, you probably don't wanna know. I bet it's girl stuff."
She turns a soft, brilliant smile on Riku, and leans over to kiss him too, soft and light and gentle. Such a sweet boy, her pretty twilight boy, and Sora the light to his shade. Now that she knows how, she's ready to do for them what they've done for her, and there's nothing they can do to stop her.
"Mmhmm," she agrees softly, humming a little as she resettles herself against them, between them, with them, exactly the way it should always be. "Just girl stuff, that's all."
For them, she'll learn to destroy.
Chapter 16: Seeking
Sora stays quiet when they reach his house, when they scramble into his room, but he keeps closer than usual and doesn't squeak or blush when Riku tugs at his shirt, just toes off his shoes and shrugs out of his clothes, then collapses on the bed, not his usual sprawl, just an awkward kind of flop. When Riku pokes him on the nose, he blinks once, too slowly, then shifts over. It usually takes a lot of wiggling for them to both fit, but Sora curls in on himself, and when Riku pokes him in the side, he doesn't try to scramble on top like he usually does, just rolls onto his side so he's facing the window.
"Hey," Riku says, because he doesn't like being ignored and Sora's silences are always unsettling, "we'll figure it out."
That gets Sora to lean back enough to offer him a slight smile, but there's a distance there, and when he says "Yeah, I know," his voice is just a little too soft.
Riku's skepticism must show on his face, because Sora blinks, smiles again, then reaches for his hand. "I know we will," he says, a little stronger this time, and curls their fingers together, leans back against him and makes a small show of settling Riku's arm around his waist and curling their joined hands against his chest.
It's... a little weird--Sora and Kairi always like to sprawl on top of him, Namine's the only one he's ever noticed who likes being held like this--but even if the feelings are faint, it must be unsettling, so he guesses he can put up with it.
Unfortunately it means he's going to be stuck with a faceful of Sora's hair all night. Clearly he is the most tolerant boyfriend in all of the worlds to put up with this kind of abuse, especially after the egregious poking he was subjected to earlier.
* * *
"Oh, hey," Sora says, "am I asleep?"
Duh, Roxas says, you might not have noticed but we're kind of tired.
"Not that tired," he protests, "I don't feel sleepy."
You shouldn't feel sleepy while you're asleep, Roxas points out, and okay, yeah, Sora can kind of understand that, but he's kind of wondering what he's doing here, since Roxas has been quiet all night.
Oh come on, Roxas says, something weird's going on, did you think I was gonna ignore it?
"Guess not," Sora says, "so why didn't you say anything earlier?"
Roxas gives him kind of a funny look. What, while you were with Kairi? And you took Riku home.
"They'd listen to you," Sora says, "shouldn't we all be talking about this stuff?"
Yeah, but Namine and Kairi were falling asleep, and you took Riku home.
"So? I take Riku home all the time."
Roxas gives him kind of a scowly look. Yeah. Not taking that risk.
His whole face scrunches up at that. I don't wanna talk to him when he's in your bed. Or, like, ever that close. Or ever.
"Hey," Sora protests reflexively, even though he knows how awkward it's been between... all three of them, actually, now that he's thinking about it.
And none of that matters, Roxas continues pointedly, 'cause I've been trying to figure this out.
"Yeah?" That's the best news he's heard all night, because he doesn't have any idea, and Kairi doesn't so Namine doesn't, and Riku doesn't, and anything is better than this.
--I said trying, Roxas says. Anyway, Riku was right, it's not from your memories, I don't think.
Sora blinks. "What, you can see those?"
--sometimes, Roxas says after a long pause. Some of the stuff you forgot from Castle Oblivion.
"Cool," Sora says, because that's pretty awesome, that they're all still there, even if he can't get to them. "But you don't think that's part of it?"
Nah, Roxas says, then hesitates. It doesn't--feel like you. And I don't think it's mine, but my memories got scrambled before too, so...
"So we don't know?"
We know it's not--it's not us, anyway, Roxas amends.
"But then whose is it?"
We'll ask the girls when we wake up, Roxas says. And--mm. Riku might--no, he'd have said if he recognized it.
"Yeah," Sora agrees, "Wait, what?"
Not the feelings, Roxas says, rolling his eyes. Just the--you know. The darkness stuck to it.
Sora closes his eyes for a minute, trying to see, but it just feels like faraway grief, sadness like drowning and and ache that will never ever die. "Yeah," he agrees, "I guess there would be a lot of shadows there."
Roxas shifts his weight a little, glancing down to the stained-glass floor. Yeah... you really didn't notice?
...that he's been pushing the shadows away all this time?
Sora knows he's a little slow sometimes, that he doesn't always catch all the details, but there's a little niggling twist of nastiness in his chest whenever Roxas talks about Riku, and it's stupid because the two of them don't even like each other, and there's less than nothing to be jealous of but he hates that he can't read Riku the way that everybody else seems able to, hates that Riku knows it too, and it's silly and childish and--
And Roxas is fidgeting because he's creeping him out, so Sora shakes his head and smiles and says, "I guess I'm not surprised," because, really, he's not.
Yeah, Roxas says shortly. So--that was all I had to say.
So I'll just, er, go somewhere else. And ignore you now.
"Wait, what for?"
The look Roxas shoots him is pure poison. Oh, and after I said that you're not going to go try and suck his face off like always?
"Erm," Sora says, and Roxas nods decisively and says Yeah, that's what I thought, and then Sora's standing alone on a glass tower, and he closes his eyes, breathes in, and moves.
* * *
When he opens them again, it's a little too warm and there's a weight on his hip and tension ripples up his body like a wave before he remembers where he is.
"Hey," Riku says softly, low and warm against his ear, and it's silly but it still makes his skin tingle.
"Hey," Sora answers, and rolls over to face him. He doesn't look sleepy, or rumpled, and the first thing he asks is "Did you actually fall asleep, or were you talking to Roxas all this time?"
--Riku is weird and creepily insightful sometimes.
"--maybe," Sora says, and "he says it's not mine or his so it must be somebody else."
"That makes sense," Riku murmurs, "if it were yours you'd have noticed it sooner, but if it were his... how sure was he that it wasn't his?"
"Pretty sure?" Sora guesses. "But I guess--oh. You mean we might not know that it was ours."
"Yeah," Riku agrees. "If you don't remember anything else about it, only the feeling, then..."
"You think we can still feel the memories we can't remember?"
"'course. Kairi could."
They're not Kairi, Sora considers saying, but then again... "Argh. Why don't we ever know anything?!"
"Grownup conspiracy," Riku answers immediately. "Or grownup forgetting on accidental purpose."
"Oh, c'mon, it's not like they would--" and then Sora thinks of months of not knowing and knowing that the king knew and he thinks, oh.
Riku's watching him with an arched eyebrow. "Get it now?"
"Yeah," Riku agrees, "yeah, it does."
Plans are Riku's thing, not his. "So we..."
Sora makes a face. "I hate waiting."
"You get used to it," Riku says dryly, "especially if you're waiting for slowpokes like you."
"Hey," Sora says, and gives him a shove, but then he thinks of those long months of uncertainty again, and thinks of all that time he lost by sleeping, so the shove melts into kind of an awkward caress, and then Riku's giving him a speculative look, and...
Okay, maybe Roxas has a point, but it's not always, it's just... often. Really often. ...and anyway, it's not lonely anymore.
Chapter 17: Desperately Wanting
AKA "Sora is awkward around naked people."
It's just restlessness, that's all, and Sora's not even sure why he's feeling it, not really, but he smiles and bids his mother a good night and waits until the rustling in her room falls into silence before he slips his window open and shimmies down the tree as quietly as he can. It's pretty easy to sneak out, they all do it, and he spends a moment wondering which way he should go before shrugging to himself and loping down the road that leads to Kairi and Riku's neighborhood.
Riku hasn't climbed into his window, after all, so that leaves only a few places where he could be, and if he's lucky they'll both be there, and if the thought of soft slow kisses in the dark makes his cheeks heat pleasantly, that just means that everything will be better once he's with them, that just means the day's been too long and he's been away from them too much these past few days.
He thinks of the flash of Kairi's smile and the brilliance of Riku's eyes in the dark and sprints a little faster. The night air tastes warm and sweet with the heavy dampness of the summer, the promise of rain and the low rumble of thunder, and he thinks of drowsing between them in the long moments before dawn, and if he's moving a little bit too quickly now, there's no one out on the roads to see him, and if he broke into a run, the only consequence would be that he'd get there faster.
It's not quite gliding, that's still too risky, and it's not quite dashing, but it's close.
* * *
Kairi's house is dark, which is a good thing because it means that her dad is asleep, and even though the mayor doesn't seem that scary he's a little more wary than he used to be just because of Riku's dire warnings about almost getting caught in her bedroom. Her room's dark too, but that doesn't mean anything, so he takes a minute to scout around the yard for something to throw that won't break the window, and also won't hit so softly that they don't hear him.
He's about to chuck the pebble when the window slides open and Riku sticks his head out and says "If you throw that at me I'm going to hit you," before Sora can so much as lift a hand in greeting.
It's perfectly typical and a little annoying of him, and he really should throw the rock because Riku's face is obnoxious, but instead Sora tilts his head up, exhales, and lets the pebble fall from his hand, because even though it's annoying the tightness in his chest is starting to recede, even though Riku's lazy threats aren't anything special he knows he's already starting to smile.
"I'll throw me at you," he retorts quietly, and completely ignores Riku's grumble of "That doesn't even make any sense," by dint of jumping up and grabbing onto the windowsill with his fingertips.
Then he dangles there for a bit, because Riku's still in the way, looking down at him with an annoying sort of smug superiority that got old when they were five, and it's not hot at all, especially not because he's not wearing a shirt and looking all pretty and rumpled like that.
"You gonna move or what?" Sora says, because Riku really will just leave him dangling there until it stops amusing him, which could take hours. "Or--geez, if you're stuck in the window that means you're growing out of the house way too early, slow down already."
"I'm not turning into a giant and I fit in the house just fine," Riku says with an overly-dramatic roll of his eyes, but he steps back from the window and Sora swings himself up and into the room and is very careful not to trip, because Kairi pushed him out of that window once, and it didn't hurt, but it was kind of embarrassing, mostly because Kairi's never pushed Riku out of a window even when he deserved it.
That might be because Riku's too smart to call Kairi out on her ridiculous sleeping habits, though, even if it's true that she is a slugabed.
"Says you," Sora says, straightening up, "but you can't judge your own giantness because oh hey you're naked."
Riku looks at him like he's an idiot, which Sora finds kind of annoying because he can make like a million better faces, ones that don't make him look cranky like Donald, which is a horrible thing to be thinking of when you're staring at your naked boyfriend, so Sora vows to immediately forget he ever had that thought and concentrates even harder on the nakedness to make sure the thought goes away.
...was he thinking about something?
"And you're wearing clothes," Riku says, and it takes a second before Sora realizes that's some kind of belated reply in Riku-speak, which is not the speech of normal people, "which makes you in the minority and you the weird one."
Sora opens his mouth to reply in kind before his brain processes that statement, but then almost against his will his gaze drags over the room, over the delicately carved furniture, the simple mirror and the pictures tacked on the wall, to the bed that dominates the room, and he swallows hard, because the curtains are open and Kairi's a notorious blanket hog but there's a spill of russet hair over the pillow and the faintest hint of the back of her--
He looks away so quickly he thinks for a minute he's given himself whiplash.
Riku takes that moment to snicker, because Riku is a giant jerk.
"Shaddup," Sora tells the floor, because he can't look at Riku because Riku's naked too and that means Riku's naked and Kairi's naked and they've been doing nakedness-requiring things and he can't figure out if he wants to crawl out the window in embarrassment and maybe die a little or pester Riku for details or kiss him to see if he tastes like Kairi or maybe all of them at once.
He takes a half-step backward, still staring at his shoes, and then another one, and then there's the brush of a hand against the side of his arm, light and quick, and he goes utterly still, because it's not like he wants to leave, it's just that he doesn't know what he's supposed to do now, and this at least is familiar, caught between eagerness and uncertainty and feeling the slow inevitable creep of heat across his face--and other places too--and he might be biting his tongue just a little because there's a faint, pleasant tingle on his skin where Riku touched him, and if he lets his tongue go he might make a sound, and then Riku will make fun of him. Again.
"If you're staying the night the clothes come off," Riku says, low and warm and still standing close, but not touching any more, because he's a horrible, horrible tease that way. "You've got two million buckles too many for us to be comfortable otherwise."
"I don't have that many belts," Sora retorts instinctively, and then he remembers how long it took to piece his things back together that one time on the beach when the tide had risen while they were busy doing other things. "Just some," he corrects.
"Some too many," Riku says agreeably, apparently taking this as a cue that Sora's not going anywhere, and ambles back in the direction of the bed, bending down to start gathering up his own clothes, probably because Riku remembers that night on the beach too, even though his pants had never washed out onto the sandbar because Riku might complain that the universe is out to get him but he still somehow always manages to be just a little bit cooler than Sora will ever be.
Not that he'll ever actually admit that out loud, because Riku's pretty when he's preening, but he's also really obnoxious.
"Sometime before the sun rises would be good," Riku says in that mock-helpful way, and Sora makes a face at him and then bites his lip, because okay, Kairi's asleep and it's not like Riku hasn't seen him naked before--hasn't made him naked before--but he's really not sure where the clothes are supposed to go or even what he's supposed to do once the clothes come off, although there's kind of a desperate hope that's starting to burn low in his chest the longer he looks at Riku and the rumpled bed and the soft sleek hints of Kairi's bare skin in the starlight flooding through the window.
"Yeah," he agrees softly, and drops his fingers to the first of the belts.
He swallows once, hard, when Riku glances back over his shoulder and offers him a slow, appreciative smile, the kind that Kairi once admitted made her shiver all over, and he can feel his fingers biting into the metal even as his toes curl, and okay, maybe Riku does have a point about all the buckles. They'll just... have to come off. So Riku can be comfortable. So Kairi can be. So they can all be comfortable together.
When Riku brushes past him again, arms full of clothes and eyes full of mischief, Sora swallows again and starts undoing buckles with fingers that aren't at all trembling.
If he stares at the floor it's not even all that scary, and if he focuses on folding up the clothes as he goes, it means he doesn't have to look at all, because there are a lot of belts to keep track of and layers and then he has to sit down to work his socks off because they might be fairy-made but there's no dignified way to take socks off unless Riku or Kairi does it but even then it's not dignified, it's just pretty to look at.
And he's not being a coward for leaving the boxers on. He's not no matter what Riku's snickering about under his breath. It's just a little cold in here and he's not a child, he's not, he just doesn't want to startle Kairi when she wakes up, is all--and he resolutely squashes the little voice in the back of his head that says she doesn't seem to have any problems with Riku being naked since duh, anybody who likes looking at things isn't going to have a problem with Riku being naked.
And none of that matters anyway since he needs to pile everything up and set it underneath the window next to all of Riku's clothes and there's nothing at all embarrassing about it even though Riku's underwear is right there on top of everything else, and hey, isn't Riku the one who's afraid that Kairi's dad is going to kill them?
"Are you ever planning on actually coming to bed?" Riku asks in that voice that pretends that it's polite but is actually just another version of his I am being deliberately annoying voice. "You've been staring at my underwear for way too long. It's getting creepy."
"You're creepy," Sora retorts, and then thinks I am an idiot in a voice that might or might not actually belong to Roxas instead, except that Roxas always runs and hides and plugs his ears whenever there's the slightest hint that Riku might be around and not wearing clothes (that time on the beach still makes everything awkward) so that must mean it's his own voice.
He manages to cast a quick glance over at the bed, and Kairi's still an unidentifiable knot underneath the covers and Riku is--glaring at him. Crap.
The only space on the bed is on top of Riku. Which would be one thing if Riku were in the mood to be used as a pillow, which he usually is, except now he's glaring, which doesn't make him any less appealing as potential places to sit go, it just means that if Sora does decide to sit he runs the very real risk of getting thrown out the window.
"--you know I didn't mean it like that, shut up," Sora says, because he's not going to apologize, and anyway Riku's way too prickly, and he's not a liar either, because Riku really is creepy, at least according to what other people say.
Sora doesn't quite see it himself, but enough people have told him so that he guesses they're probably not all lying about it.
Doesn't stop him from wanting to punch them, though.
"I know you don't mean it that way because you're not smart enough to understand why it's an insult," Riku says, and Sora sighs out between his teeth and steps over to the bed, because that means he's been forgiven, and it's so hard sometimes to tell what's going to set him off, because for all that Kairi reminds him, scolds him and nudges him and drops hints here and there, it's so hard to think of Riku as delicate when he's not, not in any ways that Sora can see, and then every once in a while Riku will say something, always idly, always in passing, always like it's nothing, and Sora has to swallow hard and fight the urge to challenge everyone in every world just so they'll stop hurting him.
"I'm not that dumb," Sora retorts, and deliberately digs his knees in as he clambers onto the bed and sits down a little too hard onto Riku's outstretched legs. "And you're a jerk."
"Jerk king," Riku corrects, like he always does, because he's sort of irrationally proud of the title even though he doesn't even have a crown or any real lands or anything, but that's clearly just a delusion since Sora's crown and kingdom is way better even if those don't actually exist either.
"Whatever, jerk," Sora says, and Riku smiles quick and sharp like a knife, slides his hands lightly along Sora's waist, and says "Our girlfriend is naked," and then hangs on tight as Sora reflexively tries to hurl himself off of the bed.
He manages to catch himself on a knee and a hand, so at least he didn't make too much noise, but it's more than a little awkward since his other leg is kind of caught in Riku's and his hand is sort of clenched in a deathgrip around Riku's thigh. Riku's laughing at him again, but his hands are still curved around Sora's hips, and he's sort of halfway leaning off of the bed, and Sora has the sudden and deathly embarrassing thought that this is exactly what's going to happen whenever they actually manage to do the stuff that involves what Kairi bought. He's going to fall off the bed and probably break it and then they're never going to want to sleep with him again, and all of their children will wind up with girly silver hair.
--actually that would be kind of cute, tiny little Riku-lets with Kairi's eyes and some weird mishmash of their powers, tumbling all over the house that Riku's gonna build them, and Sora kind of has to wonder where they're gonna find enough keyblades for all of them and what age they're supposed to start learning at anyway--
"You are so dumb," Riku says through his laughter, and he's not in a position that should really let him tug Sora back up onto the bed, but keybearers aren't made out of the same stuff that makes up regular people, so with some squirming and shoving Sora clambers back on top of him without accidentally shoving too many elbows where they don't belong. Purposefully, however, is another matter, so they have another quiet scuffle before Sora decides that discretion is the better part of actually being able to sit down comfortably and leans over for a conciliatory kiss.
This attempt is interrupted by a very unladylike snicker from somewhere very very close by and Sora makes the split second decision that running away won't work, so he has to hide instead.
Riku says "Gnaagh!" when Sora closes his eyes very very tight and then slams his face against his chest.
Kairi takes that moment to laugh in a way that really isn't cute at all. "You look so dumb!" she cackles, and then there's some shifting and sliding around and Sora is resolutely not looking even though that is definitely her leg sliding against his thigh.
"Same as always," Riku agrees cheerfully, and Sora scowls and bites down in retaliation without thinking about it. Riku tastes a little like sweat and a little like nothing but a lot more like the memory of heat and saltwater and laughter, and fighting with him is pretty much the best thing ever but it's gotten really confusing lately since sometimes they wind up making out instead and now Kairi is cackling even harder and he's going to die of embarrassment before they even get to have any kids at all.
"Keep it down," Riku's saying through his own laughter, "your dad really will kill us if we wake him up," and now he's not even going to live long enough to die of embarrassment, Hiromasu's going to murder both of them, and that will piss off Riku's mom, who'll declare war on the mayor and then conquer all of Destiny Islands in bloody revenge, and Sora hopes his own mom can negotiate with Riku's dad to feed all of Riku's mom's troops since Hiromasu's a good mayor but Chihoko is Riku's mom.
"But his face!" Kairi snorts, and Sora briefly considers hitting her with a pillow before he remembers that the whole reason he's stuck like this is because she's naked.
It's really stupid that he can feel himself turning red from his hairline down because he never used to blush like this or feel this stupid before he started dating them and--
"I think his chest is blushing too," Riku says in that tone that means he's highly amused but too dignified to start laughing and Sora does hit him because he deserves it even though Kairi's the one practically wheezing on her giggles.
"Shaddup!" Sora snarls, and hits Riku again for good measure. He flails out a free arm to try thwapping Kairi too but he can't see her with his eyes still shut and he's not really trying that hard either since if he makes contact he doesn't know where his hand might land.
It lands anyway. Somewhere soft and warm and a little bit damp and Kairi goes "Meep!" and Riku starts laughing again because he is kind of a horrible person sometimes.
"Guh!" Sora says, and yanks his arm back so quickly he smacks Riku upside the head and he's not sorry about it at all and he kind of wants to just melt through the floor right now.
Kairi's moving now, shifting the bed around and Sora is not thinking of anything at all, even when she clearly moves closer and does something that definitely kind of feels like pulling Riku's hair.
"Oh shut up," she growls, and Sora isn't at all surprised to discover that it's a pretty sound and he'd actually like to hear a lot more of it, "I was surprised, you don't get to make fun of me for being surprised--and where are my panties, anyway?"
Panties. Which Kairi is having to ask about because Riku is the one who took them off and probably threw them across the room because he just kind of does that and it's too hard to protest whenever he does because he's always smiling that smile and touching so softly that it feels like dreaming and he was doing that to Kairi earlier, he was doing all of that to Kairi earlier and that's why she's so soft and damp and naked now, because Riku was doing those things to her and wow, it kind of feels like he's going to pass out now.
"Pffhaha--both of your faces--ow..."
"Panties, Riku," she says, and she's definitely yanking his hair again because that's the only thing Riku will ever complain about because Riku is kind of vain sometimes.
"I put them in the pile," Riku says, still laughing a bit because Sora can feel it thrumming in his chest, "under the windowsill, with our stuff."
"Better," she says, and then there's this confused impression of soft skin and movement, and then he can hear his own breath catch way too loudly.
Sora's eyes are shut tight-tight-tight and there's no way to breathe like this, no way at all, because it's way too hot and his heart's pounding so loud that it's almost deafening, in this moment trapped between them in a too-small bed, her lips against the back of his neck, the softest parts of her pressed up against his back, crushed against him like he's crushed against Riku, and there's nothing to do, nothing to say, no way to move at all, and he doesn't--he can't--
The way they sigh in tandem makes him shiver.
And then she's moving again, scrambling off the bed, and Riku shoves at his shoulder and mutters "You are seriously kind of terrible at this," and that makes Sora open his eyes enough to glare at him.
"It's not like I have a lot of practice yet!" he hisses, and then makes kind of a choking noise once he realizes what he's said. Riku's lips are twitching in the way that means he really wants to laugh but is afraid of getting punched in the kidney for it.
"We can fix that!" Kairi laughs from somewhere near the window, but he's resolutely not looking, he's glaring at Riku, except it's not working since Riku's not looking at him any more, he's looking at Kairi, because it's taken him a bit but Sora's finally figured out that the reason Riku only touches the place over his heart when they're making out is probably because he doesn't know what to do with a chest if there aren't breasts there, which is incredibly aggravating because Sora kind of wants to try out some ideas he's had but he doesn't know how you're supposed to ask about that sort of thing and is pretty sure that even if he made an attempt he'd choke on the words so hard it would startle Riku out of being in the mood to even try.
"Yeah, when we're fifty," Riku's saying, and Riku is a jerk king but Sora is kind of a little bit afraid that maybe he's got a point, because Kairi's so so so pretty and what kind of boyfriend is he if he can't even look at her when she's happy and laughing and probably standing in the moonlight and only wearing her underwear?
"Don't be mean," Kairi says, voice still lilting with a giggle, "and tell me what you did with my bra."
"Burned it," Riku says immediately, with an utterly straight face, and if Sora weren't looking straight at him he might have believed him.
"Must be getting very subtle with those dark firagas, then," Kairi responds archly, and then lets out a brief "A-ha!" of triumph that probably means she's found it.
"He drowned my clothes once," Sora finds himself saying while the little noises indicate that she's fussing with her bra, and he's resolutely not thinking about anything or looking at anything or--anything. "Don't let him tell you it's accidental, Kairi, 'cause it's not."
"The tide came in," Riku replies, rolling his eyes, and Sora and Kairi both pointedly ignore him because it's more fun that way.
"Nothing Riku does is accidental," Kairi says brightly, padding softly across the floor, "especially when it comes to taking our clothes off."
Sora's very proud of not shutting his eyes, because it's kind of amazing to watch Riku turn his head and stick his tongue out at Kairi, who looks--wow.
She meets his eyes with a shy kind of smile, pretty white teeth biting down on a lower lip that's a little more swollen than usual--from Riku he thinks abstractly, a pleasant shiver slipping down his spine--and her flush is a soft seashell-pink in the moonlight, and her hair's sort of a tangled mess and he's seen her in bathing suits before, but this isn't a bathing suit, it's her actual underwear, and Riku's said so before but girls' underwear is so different, it looks so soft and delicate, and there's really no place that's safe to look at, not even her eyes, since they look so dark and pretty and nervous, like she's almost as scared as he is, but that's ridiculous because she's Kairi, who bought them condoms and kissed him first and already made out with Riku once tonight, and--
"Breathe," Riku says gently, chucking him on the chin, "both of you," and somehow that breaks the spell, makes Kairi giggle and his tongue come unglued from where it got stuck to the roof of his mouth somehow, and then Riku's rolling his eyes and sighing about hormonally imbalanced fiancees, and it's easy, it's so easy to reach out and smack him upside the head at the same time that Kairi does, that it feels a little bit like magic.
When Kairi climbs back on the bed, it almost feels like it usually does, since she doesn't try to squish in, just stretches out beside the two of them, and if Sora weren't kind of gaping at her he could almost pretend everything was like usual and they were all wearing normal clothes or bathing suits or something, not just underwear.
Or nothing, since he's still sitting on Riku.
"Honestly," Riku grumbles, reaching out a hand to tangle in Kairi's hair, "You guys."
"It's still too soon," Kairi says patiently, like they've had this conversation before, and they probably have. Sora knows he's too slow for them, always has been, the last to realize what it meant to feel that way, the last to be kissed and the last to be touched, the last to realize what it had meant, what it had all meant.
And then Kairi turns those brilliant eyes on him and says, "But we're not waiting forever, you know."
Sora swallows hard, curling a fist into the bedsheets, feeling the heat rise to his face again, but he manages to choke out an "I know" that doesn't even sound strangled.
Riku shifts under him, just slightly, a warm ripple of movement that whispers years and he ducks his head just a bit in shame, for never realizing, for never understanding before, but then Riku's sliding a gentle hand through his hair and Kairi's moving again, sitting up to press a soft kiss against his cheek, and Sora slides an arm around her and tugs Riku up into the embrace too, and it's so easy to lean over and kiss him, to turn from his lips to hers, to practice that perfect three-way kiss that they're still terrible at.
Kairi's laughing and swatting at his bangs and Riku's mumbling something against his cheek about people needing to brush their teeth more often and Sora closes his eyes and squeezes them both tight-tight-tight and thinks soon.
And then Sora licks his lips and opens his eyes and stares at the boy-who-will-be-his-husband and the girl-who-will-be-his-wife and says it out loud, and then again, more loudly, because they've been waiting for him for much too long.
"...can you get more specific about that timeline?" Riku asks, and Sora chokes on a laugh as Kairi adds, "There are some considerations to keep in mind, date-wise," and suddenly he's stuck between his beautiful boyfriend and girlfriend as they start trying to figure out the exact date of when Kairi's next due to--um, stuff, and Sora kind of wants to die a little bit but that's actually kind of a good thing to be planning for, really, since they were running low on supplies the last time it started and he wound up having to make a quick run to the store that was kind of hard to justify to his mother when she wound up finding the receipt in his room.
--but that won't be a problem anymore, not now that their parents know, and Sora feels the whole world brighten at that, the reminder that Hiromasu will be murderous if they get caught but he won't be surprised, that if his mother finds his room empty she'll glare when he shows up on the boat and scold him but she won't have been worried, that Chihoko and Yasuhiro are crushingly disappointed in Riku but they never deserved him in the first place, and they'll never get to have him again, because Riku is theirs for now and for always, even if none of their parents want to believe it.
Soon, Sora thinks again, and it's not scary at all, it's not in the least bit terrifying, and he squeezes Kairi around her sleek smooth middle and tangles his fingers back in Riku's hair and offers to buy her the really fancy chocolate for this time around.
* * *
"It's almost dawn."
"Rikuuuuu, it's too early to be making fun of Sora, be quiet."
"But doesn't your mom's boat go out at, like, early?"
"...Kairi, what time is it?"
"Mmph? Eh, hang on, my watch is over here--uh, it's a quarter to five."
"Oh, I've got time, mom doesn't get up until four-thirty."
"That was fifteen minutes ago."
Chapter 18: Girl Talk
They're two girls in one space, but they manage okay.
Relies on an understanding of rayemars' RR, as always.
* * *
Kairi is usually very careful not to ask about Naminé's time with Riku--those memories are hers alone--but the first time she manages to get his pants off she lets out a soft squeak of what she's pretty sure is combined delight and terror and takes a moment to fall back inside herself and dart forward with mental yelp of Naminé, quick, how does it fit?
A peal of ringing laughter answers her, and five minutes later a very pink-cheeked Riku is sitting on her bed with a pillow jammed on his lap, staring resolutely down at the bedsheets and grumbling "It's totally proportional, it's not weird," like he's deeply affronted by the fact that his assets are, um, noteworthy.
Kairi's still laughing.
So is Naminé.
It takes them a while to stop, but at least Riku doesn't put his pants back on, and he's pretty cute when he's sulking. It has something to do with his hair, and his eyelashes, and the shape of his mouth, and the fact that he's only wearing underwear and what really is kind of a frilly pillow and is still sitting her bed.
It probably makes her something of a pervert that she's so willing to forgive him for a lot of things, including pouting, so long as he's got no clothes on, but. You know. He's kind of distracting in a really really obvious way that makes Sora turn pink and kind of flaily and gives her long fits of giggles like this one.
Honestly, if he were a normal kind of boy he'd be flattered, but she and Naminé are both pretty sure he doesn't actually know how cute he is, since he doesn't actually seem to notice when other people are staring at him.
(Sometimes Riku can rival even Sora in cluelessness, but then, he's always been the competitive sort, even if that part of him's been crushed by guilt heavy enough that it's a wonder he can still breathe and laugh and flirt with that smile that makes her tingle all the way down to her toes.)
She opens her mouth to say something reassuring, but what comes out instead is "Can I touch it?" and okay, now they're both bright red and she is officially a pervert.
Riku bites his lip, sends her a long glance from underneath his lashes, fidgets a little bit more, then says "I guess that's kind of the idea...?" in a tone of voice that is underlaid with laughter.
"Really?!" she blurts, and then slaps a hand over her mouth and leans back and clears her throat and says, "Oh, um, I mean... cool."
"Uh, yeah," Riku agrees, "Cool," and then he pulls a face like he's just realized how ridiculous it sounds and then she's laughing at him and he's laughing back and this is so not what any of the gossip said it would be like, not at all, but it feels right in a way she knows she's never going to be able to explain to anyone else but Sora.
* * *
Kairi knows she's pretty good at math, and as the daughter of the mayor (who's a scholar besides) she's very good at history, geography, and research, but she can't carry a tune to save her life, or anoyone else's.
(She may or may not have laughed way too loudly to really be cute when Sora told her about Atlantica, but she figures it doesn't matter since she's not actually sure he was able to hear her over Riku's cackling.)
The first time she started singing in the shower after their reunion, she was interrupted by a soft, pained, Could you stop please? because, as it turns out, she sounds off-key even to herself.
* * *
Kairi likes strawberry soda, the kind traded in from the mainland, but Naminé prefers the new cola the company's started making, because it doesn't taste like someone else's memories.
Soda's too expensive to buy on a regular basis, with her allowance in the shape it is (which is to say pitiful), so when Riku starts bringing a couple of bottles with him when he slips through her window, she has to stash them under her bed so her dad doesn't notice.
Soda's not meant to be drunk warm, not really, but the gentle fizz and the sharp tingle on her tongue taste right, for some reason, like lazy afternoons in the sunshine and the flash of a keyblade in the light.
* * *
Naminé tends to stay quiet and usually keeps to herself, but one idle Tuesday she does agree to Kairi's open invitation to share a day, and her usual routine seems strange with that gentle presence hovering around her shoulder, especially when she settles down for breakfast with her father and realizes that Naminé's never shared a meal before with anyone but Riku.
This also means she has never been introduced to what are politely known as Tidus and Wakka's so-called table manners. It's not like they can't eat properly when they choose too, it's just that they never choose to when they have the opportunity to do otherwise, and their teachers pretty much gave up on fixing that back in grade school, so.
Naminé kind of winds up gaping over lunch, but Kairi can't really apologize for them, even though she feels like she should, because, well, they're them, and it's not actually a surprise when Sora joins in on the thing with the spoons and the noses, especially now that Selphie's doing it too.
Riku stares at the three of them for a long calculating moment before getting up and announcing "I'm moving where it's sane," and he actually manages to take one step closer to where Kairi's sitting before he gets interrupted by a laugh that isn't at all muffled by the spoon and nose thing.
Sora smirks behind the spoon and makes the near-lethal declaration of "Wussy."
Riku raises a sardonic eyebrow, folds his arms imperiously, and retorts "Bet you can't make one hang from your hair," and it's all pretty much downhill from there, but against her ear, Naminé is laughing.
* * *
Sora hasn't realized it yet, but she and Naminé have come to the consensus that the real reason Riku's such a flirt is that he's congenitally incapable of going more than four hours without making fun of someone. They've even got evidence to back it up, a dusted-off memory from just before the world ended, when Tidus bet his entire lunch that Riku couldn't resist making fun of Sora for the rest of the school day.
Riku won that bet by dint of not saying anything at all for the rest of the day, no matter how much they harassed him.
Tidus sulked for an entire week. It was a little impressive.
* * *
She's careful with the sketchpads, and the pencils and the charcoal and the oils. When she's not using them as a medium to channel her powers, Naminé's art becomes much more refined, and there are things in those sketchpads that could be dangerous for others to see.
Especially that picture of her very obviously naked boyfriend dozing in what was clearly her own bed, but she does have to agree with Naminé that it's very, very pretty.
When she mentions it to Sora he turns three different shades of pink, which is kind of hilarious considering he's seen the real thing in person, but then again, Sora is pretty easily scandalized by things that really aren't that scandalous after all, and not at all bothered by the things that are.
They keep them wedged very carefully under the bed, buried in her underwear drawer, and once under a pile of dirty clothes when her father came calling, but looking at the edges of them, Kairi thinks that she needs to invest in some sort of protective casing or something.
She won't have Naminé's precious things lost, not ever.
* * *
She likes purple and pink and white, but Naminé prefers blue, so she lets her tie the necktie and pick out accessories for school days; and on the weekend Kairi wears her hair down, her dresses short, and armor gleaming at her fingers and ears and hips.
"Should we put it up?" she wonders once, staring into the mirror and pursing her lips, and she can feel Naminé raise a nonexistent eyebrow.
How much do you think that would distract Sora? she asks delicately, and Kairi snorts loudly, the way she'd try to cover up in public and exaggerate in front of the boys.
"Okay, so we do that when it's seduction time. ...could we get Riku to put his up?"
...I'm not sure his even knows how to do that, Naminé says thoughtfully, after a moment's long reflection; it's awfully heavy.
Six hours of practice later, Riku eventually starts to swat at her when she reaches out to tug on his hair, but by then she's got Sora doing it too, so between the two of them they manage to wrestle him down and then everything dissolves into shoving and laughing and maybe a tiny bit of groping and an awful lot of salty kisses.
* * *
Kairi knows she should probably be upset about the Solada thing, but she's not. There's no reason to get mad at her, or her family, and even though she should probably be angry with Chihoko, mostly she just feels a vague sort of pity for her.
It makes sense, Naminé murmurs. She's just trying to protect what she has, it's not like she could know that no one else would ever stand a chance.
"She could have paid attention," she murmurs back, but then, it's not like she hasn't seen the self-imposed blinders that her father's been wearing since this whole thing began.
They're paying attention now, Naminé replies, and the words shouldn't sound so heavy, not from her, not about this, but no grownup has ever given Naminé a reason to trust them, and maybe no grownup ever will.
* * *
Kairi wants to meet Queen Minnie so badly it almost aches, sometimes, and when she thinks about the other princesses, she misses them in a way that does.
She misses Aerith and Yuffie, too, and all that they taught her, how to recognize swift-cast magic and how to take a hard fall without getting too injured, hands and feet and learning to jump and run and spring back onto her toes, learning to catch up, learning the flow of her own power underneath her skin.
Naminé doesn't miss anyone at all, and Kairi is sad for her because she's not sad for herself, because you can't miss someone who wasn't there in the first place.
* * *
The only reason the boys complain that she's bossy is because they are really kind of too dumb to do anything right if left to their own devices.
And she has to tell them this at length because Sora has no attention span and will forget otherwise and Riku--
Riku has been ignoring her scolding for long enough that he's actually asleep.
"Right," Kairi says to Sora, sharp enough that he snaps to attention. "Revenge time," she orders crisply, and he scrambles to his feet and salutes before she can remind him that he's not actually part of the emperor's army at all, really.
In fact she's pretty sure they kicked them out.
* * *
Kairi loves her keyblade, it's as right as breathing and laughing and feeling the blood sing through her veins.
And it's fun to hit the boys with something that's covered in flowers.
And it is hilarious to think about Riku lugging it around all that time, even if he never used it, because. It's Riku. And a keyblade that's made of flowers.
She's inclined to agree with Sora that killing things with flowers is awesome, but if keyblades had feelings, she's willing to bet that Way to the Dawn would have been mortally offended by her keyblade's presence in the hands of its wielder. She's only held Way to the Dawn a couple of times, but it seems like it would be exactly that kind of moody.
(And holding Way to the Dawn feels just like holding onto one of the razor edges of Riku's heart.)
* * *
Kairi's ruined a lot of clothes since she started training, and her nails will never look nice again, but she remembers the knife-flash of Yuffie's smile and the whipcrack of Aerith's magic and thinks she probably needs to invest in some sturdier footwear for the day when the worlds call them out again.
And maybe some pants, or shorts, or something to go under the dress, at least. She doesn't mind flashing the boys her panties because Sora goes a hilarious shade of red and Riku's seen them all already, but when she goes off-world and actually starts getting into real fights, well, that might be a little bit much.
* * *
A quiet nightmare, endlessly blank: sometimes the sound of her own heartbeat is terrifying, and all of her dreams end in white.
"Do you dream?" she asks Naminé, and there's a long, thoughtful silence that seems to echo inside of her head.
...I'm not sure, Naminé says, I don't know... if I even sleep anymore.
Kairi thinks about that for a while. "...do you want to?"
The silence stretches on for even longer this time, but eventually, Naminé murmurs, I don't know, and she sounds so small and lost that Kairi closes her eyes, steps backwards, and curls her arms around her, closing her eyes against the blinding glare of her own heart.
Zexion tried to drown Riku in something like this, once. She could probably do the same, if she tried, but she'll never do it, not unless it's absolutely necessary, not unless there's no other choice at all.
She's fiercely glad he's dead.
* * *
Tidus and Wakka really are going to drown themselves one of these days, if they don't scare all of the wildlife off of the islands first.
Yes, she does mean all of the islands, even the ones that are really far away. They're that dedicated.
* * *
In an abstract kind of way, she feels sorry for Masao, but in another way, he makes her feel wary and sort of tense, but that's because she knows first-hand what jealousy can do.
And she's not going to tell Riku about him, either, or anyone else if she can help it.
Ignoring it won't make it go away, Naminé says, and she's right, of course, but what else can be done right now?
"It's sad that he's sad," she says after a while, "But--"
But he's normal, and he'll get over it in time, Naminé finishes, and Kairi hugs her knees to her chest and wonders how anyone could ever just get over it.
I don't know either, Naminé murmurs. Sometimes I wonder if--
"If we're all just too different from them," Kairi says, and the words taste strange on her tongue.
* * *
Out of all of them she has the best impulse control, but that really means very little when you consider who makes up that "everyone."
At least she's still passing all of her classes.
Even though they're boring.
* * *
In her memories her grandmother is stooped and gentle and kills monsters calmly and wisely, and Kairi is sure that she is dead.
She doesn't remember her birth parents at all, not even a little, but then again, it's entirely possible that Xehanort killed them too.
She doesn't say anything, and neither does he, but she's pretty sure that Riku thinks the same thing too, and if Sora doesn't know, well...
He'll find out eventually, but that time isn't now.
That missing year seems like ages, sometimes, and even if he's catching up now, Sora's not quite the same as them, not yet.
That day really can't come soon enough.
* * *
Kairi's patience for school is wearing dangerously thin, and even if there are only a few weeks left until summer vacation, it's still too long. The tension in the classroom is grating, their parents are grating, and the schoolwork itself is grating.
She wonders if this is what Riku feels like all the time.
And for the first time she wonders if freedom tastes like darkness, or if it's the other way around.
* * *
She's tried to protect them with both words and silence, but it turns out that they don't like that any more than she does.
In retrospect, this should have been obvious--Sora's so artless that it's honestly kind of mind-boggling, and Riku's so honest that it burns.
* * *
If Kairi leans her chair back and stretches, Sora will stare at her legs but Riku will stare at her chest; if Riku leans back she'll stare at his arms and Sora will stare at his throat; and if Sora leans back, he usually overbalances and tips the chair over.
She and Riku both stare at that pretty intensely, but it's usually so they can pick out the appropriate adjectives to properly describe his flailing, since he's pretty cute like that, and he always flails harder when they're making fun of him.
* * *
Kairi remembers learning to read at her father's side, tucked beneath his arm while he narrated land wars and pirate tales and the old days of early trade and adventure across the islands.
She'd never expected to live them.
* * *
It turns out that boys (by which she means Riku) are weirdly fascinated by even her grungiest pair of panties and her oldest bra, which doesn't quite fit right anymore, which... probably explains some of that fascination, actually.
(Hopefully, when the time comes, Sora will be too.)
* * *
She's a little bit self-conscious about the size of her chest, not because she's insecure or anything, and not because Sora's always careful to avoid pressing there, but more because Riku is always careful to press there, and not just with his hands.
Boys really shouldn't have lips that soft, she thinks, and then she has to stop thinking because she doesn't remember how words work, or thinking, because the world has narrowed down to soft wet heat and a flash of a sweet, sharp smile.
* * *
Her saddest memories are of Traverse Town, spiced soup and a damp cavern and a soft, aching loneliness, the precursor to a year that unwound her.
Her clearest memories are of sterile air and shy, uncertain boys clasped in her arms.
It's a bit strange to think that white hot joy is a thing born of war, and fidgety anxiety born of its lack.
* * *
She knows it's really just armor, but every time she looks at the ring on her finger, she giggles, which makes Riku laugh, which makes Sora turn bright red and turn away in a huff and start complaining about them both to no one in particular.
* * *
"If there's not supposed to be any darkness in my heart," she asks Naminé once, "then why do I hate Xehanort so much?"
I hate him too, Naminé says, and I shouldn't be able to do that either.
Kairi thinks about that, thinks about what Ansem said, thinks about what Xemnas said, and thinks about what DiZ said.
Her fingers curl into a fist. "...I'm beginning to understand why you and Riku don't trust any grownups but the king," she says, and Naminé hums in quiet affirmation.
It's because they lie, Naminé agrees, and Kairi nods, carefully not looking down to the first floor, where her father is up late reading again.
* * *
She doesn't really understand Naminé's relationship with Roxas, but doesn't want to ask questions, either, since that's private, even more private than the thing with Riku, because Riku, like Sora, is a precious thing shared between them.
But she does wonder.
* * *
Kairi sometimes wishes she could make her hair do interesting things like Selphie's, but then again Sora's hair is interesting enough for all three of them.
Occasionally she wonders what their kids are going to look like, and sometimes what she imagines kind of makes her shudder.
* * *
It's not like she doesn't appreciate that Sora's trying to teach her to cast magic properly, even though he's very terrible at it, it's just that ethers taste weird, and her dad is starting to wonder how they're going through toothpaste so fast.
* * *
Sometimes it feels like she's bleeding rust, or like her brain is leaking, but no one said remembering would be easy.
Aqua, she thinks, where did you go?
* * *
It's awkward being trained by boys simply because their centers of gravity are so different, and neither of them have any ideas about how to compensate.
She kind of suspects that Riku's center of gravity is located somewhere over her head.
* * *
She stares at the shelves and refuses to be intimidated, but that doesn't take the edge off of her frustration.
"Do you remember what Selphie said?" she asks under her breath, because she was sure it was something important, something that would effect the whole experience, but she just can't quite....
Not really, Naminé says. It wasn't an issue before.
"Dang," Kairi grumbles. "...think we should just buy them all?"
Probably, Naminé murmurs, that way there will still be lots left before you have to buy more.
Going this far out of the way--on the mainland, as far from her uncle's house as she could make it without getting lost--is a pain, but she and Riku have been waiting for what seems like forever, and Sora's still a bit slow, and it's just frustrating having to wait for so long when she knows exactly what she wants.
She pauses halfway through filling the basket. "Is there something I should get for us?" she wonders, but Naminé only shrugs.
I'm not sure, she murmurs after a moment, without a heart, I couldn't... so there wasn't any risk.
"That was probably for the best," Kairi answers softly, because right now, standing here in the aisle of the store, condoms and lube safely tucked away in the basket, she's never felt less ready to be a mother.
* * *
When she tries to force the memories all she gets is a headache.
You know better than that, Naminé chides gently.
"I know," Kairi murmurs back, eyes closed tight and fingers clutching her temples, "But it's not fair not to know, not when she might need me."
...no, Naminé whispers, no it's not, and if there's a feeling of low slow grief curling down her spine, it's probably just the migrane and not that wailing emptiness that Sora found lurking inside him, because there's no space for that in her, and there never will be.
It's a little bit lonely, being the only one here with no darkness in her soul.
* * *
The first time that Kairi wakes up, faintly sore and sticky and statisfied, and takes a good look at the boy tucked in her bed, she has to press a hand to her mouth to stifle what she's pretty sure is an entirely inappropriate cackle of glee, because she feels weirdly triumphant and also kind of ridiculous.
Riku is not a thing to be won, and she is not the queen of the universe no matter how much she feels like she needs to do an impromptu victory dance around her bed because he's hers, he's hers-theirs-hers and no one else has ever had this before.
Kairi waits until after he's gone home before she falls back into herself and reaches out both hands to grab Naminé and spin her around in joyful circles until they fall to a giggling, dizzying heap on the dreamed-up ground, giddy and a little punch-drunk and so, so in love.
* * *
Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka are amazing friends.
She should tell them that more often.
* * *
She likes sitting on Sora's lap because it means he can't squirm away in shyness, and she likes sitting on Riku's lap because it makes him much easier to kiss.
Seriously. He's really tall. It's kind of a pain.
* * *
She still hasn't gotten used to the way that none of the grownups can quite look her in the eye yet.
It'll happen someday.
And if it doesn't, they're the ones who will be missing out.
* * *
Chapter 19: Apparitions
Dreams on Destiny Islands are never just dreaming, no matter who the dreamer is.
This fic makes much more sense once you remember it happens very soon after Chapter 11 of RR and that when the world went away, Yasuhiro was a Green Requiem.
Yasuhiro opens his eyes with a dream half-faded and already-forgotten words slipping from his tongue.
Curled into a knot under the pure white sheets, he blinks slow and sleepy, and thinks he smells bright green growing things, but when he blinks again, the impression is lost, and he exhales through his teeth and presses the heels of his hands to his eyes, careful to keep his motions slow and gentle, careful not to disturb her.
It's not the first time he's awoken without knowing why.
And when the sun comes up, it won't be the first time that he'll meet his wife's gaze over breakfast and hide a lie in his smile. Chihoko still thinks he doesn't know about the nightmares.
He knows she doesn't know about his dreams.
He won't tell her, not now, not until much later, when things have calmed, when the winds are not so harsh and high, when the sun sets as it should instead of lingering--when the strangeness has faded, only then will he tell her what he knows.
In that time when all was gone, he knows, he was not at her side.
And she was not at his.
Unthinkable, but he knows the truth of it, and so, he knows, does she.
Perhaps they are too careful with one another, perhaps all of their lies are too delicate to be breathed into realness, but he will not shatter an already-fragile peace with words he knows are poison.
He has lied more to his wife in the past few months than he has in all of the years of their marriage, and in all that time, it has never gotten easier.
Yasuhiro doesn't want it to get easier.
She'll forgive him, as he always forgives her, and if his tongue burns, if his throat is sealed with guilt, if his lips are raw-bitten from the ache of keeping the truth bound behind them, so much the better.
There is strangeness in their house, and not all of it borne by his child, for all that Riku is its root and cause.
Another suspicion unspoken on his wife's lips, and he thinks of her tears and the brilliance in his son's eyes, and in that moment, black char is still wedged beneath his fingernails, and the scent of smoke curdles the sweetness of his wife's perfume.
He'd made her cry so many times that day.
Not of their house any longer, and Yasuhiro is coolly, terribly grateful. He wouldn't have been strong enough to cast him off on his own--weakness enough that he still can't quite let go, for all that his only child is scarcely more than a ghost in these halls, so much worse now that he's here than when they believed him lost forever.
At least then, there had been peace.
Asano will make a fine heir, he hopes, though she will fit strangely within these walls, though she is all but a stranger to this place.
Chihoko is a good teacher. Asano will learn.
If he keeps telling himself that, maybe it will even become true.
Chihoko doesn't stir when he rises from the bed, and he leans over to press a kiss to her hair, and in the early dawn light, he thinks, its pale gold could hint at silver.
Perhaps that's why he's having such a hard time letting go--in appearance, if in nothing else, Riku has always favored his mother.
* * *
As he steps into the kitchen, the bright scent of green growing things strikes him like a blow, chasing soreness from his limbs and exhaustion from his sight, and he raises his chin to see a tall, slim figure turn towards him, swift as a high summer's breeze, and for a strange, endless moment, he wonders if he's still dreaming.
The light pouring through the open windows is an endlessly shifting gray, and beneath its soft, cool glow, his son is wrapped in a thousand shadows and a brilliance so bright it burns.
Yasuhiro blinks, and there is just his son, standing in the kitchen, a bowl in his hands; but the air is heavy and fragrant, and his skin is tingling, as in the aftermath of a lightning strike, and his son is ever unfathomable.
It takes him a moment to collect his thoughts, but when he does, he bites back a frown. Truth be told, he's rather surprised to see Riku here. Riku has never made any secret of his nocturnal wanderings; Yasuhiro wishes it were something as benign as arrogance, but knows Riku just doesn't care. It's more than a little strange to catch him here so early in the day, when he would have tumbled out of Sora's bed a scarce hour before--and if he'd been in Kairi's instead, he would still be there.
His throat and lips ache with the burn of breathing, and "What are you doing here?" slips off his tongue before he even realizes what he's saying.
Riku casts him a quick look through dark lashes and the soft fall of his hair, and Yasuhiro clenches his jaw to hold back the apology that threatens to slide past his lips.
It may have been an unspeakably rude greeting, but after what he's done to Chihoko, Riku doesn't deserve any better.
"Just making some stuff," Riku says, and Yasuhiro blinks, registering for the first time that Riku has set the wide, shallow basin on the counter, beside a row of sparkling bottles, cork-capped and gleaming a green so bright that they almost appear luminous.
"Making what?" he asks, only vaguely realizing what he's said even as he takes another step closer, then another.
"...just some potions," Riku says, and Yasuhiro barely registers the way his son drifts backwards as he advances across the cool tile floor as if drawn by something, but what that something is, he doesn't know.
If one were opened, Yasuhiro thinks, it would blossom like a flower, the contents sliding across split skin and torn muscle, sealing gaping wounds and dragging the weary back onto their feet.
But it would not be gentle, not mild, not kind. No matter what Riku's just said, he can tell it's not a potion, carefully wrought by the hand of one of the priestly family, or even one of the hi-potions, so precious and rare, meant for more dangerous wounds.
This is something else entirely, and Yasuhiro does not know how he knows that.
"Making what?" he repeats after the silence has gone on for far too long, as his son stares at him like a stranger.
Perhaps they are.
"I said they were potions," Riku says, and his arms are folding across his chest, and somewhere in the back of his head Yasuhiro recognizes that pose, but he's not sure from where.
When he picks up a bottle, it hums in his hand. "...is this like one of those elixirs you showed us before?" he asks, because this seems like that, but not... not the same.
In that terrible before, Yasuhiro thinks, he would never have reached for this, but in his hand, the little bottle glows, and his every breath is thick with the scent of highest summer, when every tree and bush is heavy with fruit, and every flower lush and wild.
"It... doesn't do the same thing, exactly, but yeah."
"You made this?" he breathes, and Riku makes a soft noise, a gentle huff of breath, and though he can't bring himself to look away, he thinks his son might be frowning.
"Yeah," Riku says, but his tone of voice makes it a question, and Yasuhiro blinks hard and drags his gaze up, turning from the brilliance cradled in his palm to the boy standing a scarce few feet away.
Strange. He hadn't realized he'd gotten that close, or that Riku had let him.
His child has always been capable with his hands, with toy swords and new-sawn logs, with that strange, vicious blade he calls "Way to the Dawn" in a voice soft with reverence, as though the thing is a gift instead of a strange nightmare wrought in razor edges and dark metal, as though it is something that he cannot ever be without.
But Riku has ever-spurned the priestly family, for all that Wakka is a friend, has never expressed the slightest interest in their gift for the healing arts, has never echoed Yasuhiro's interest in the whys and hows of all things that bud, blossom, and grow.
And yet here is this thing in his hand, small and radiant, blazing with life, and this is a thing that his child has made, this child who has ripped apart his family and driven his brilliant, beautiful wife to tears, this child who he scarcely recognizes even when he's standing right before him.
How strange, to think this boy capable of more than mindless destruction.
Riku's weight has shifted, his hair tumbled into his eyes again, motionless in the kind of way that sets Yasuhiro's teeth on edge, and it takes him a moment to realize that the reason for his son's unsettling stillness is that he's been staring.
Once upon a time, Riku would have fidgeted under his gaze, he thinks, but that time was lost long before their world was, and he can scarcely remember it even now.
"How?" Yasuhiro asks, and doesn't recognize the sound of his own voice.
The smile that slips across his son's face is quicksilver and vicious, barely there before it's gone again, and Riku takes a deliberate step back, shrugs a shoulder, and says "Magic."
Yasuhiro doesn't flinch, but it's a near thing, and when he breathes in deeply, the scent of green nearly makes him gag.
Of course it's magic, not a new recipe, not an amalgamation of other things that came before, not some new twist on something that has been known on Destiny Islands for generations.
Of course it's magic.
"I see," Yasuhiro says, and sets the little bottle back down on the counter with its fellows, glad that his hands stay steady.
Set together like this, the bottles reflect one another, brilliant green radiance doubled and trebled upon itself, so much so that it spills across the counter, tainting the pale stone chlorophyll-bright and shining.
Even knowing what it is doesn't make it any less beautiful.
"Why did you make them?" he asks, a frown creasing his brow as he voices the newborn thought. Why now? he wonders, What else do you know that you aren't telling us?
His son is a liar, but perhaps he'll speak the truth this time. He's already demonstrated more patience thus far than Yasuhiro thought he possessed, and he's been acting so odd since Chihoko let him go...
Riku shrugs, a little awkward, more so than Yasuhiro would have expected. "Just... for people around here. There's... some for you guys, and for Kairi's dad, and for Sora's mom..."
Which means that either Riku has suddenly developed a truly odd sense of what a proper gift might be, or that the strangeness is simply because they're engagement gifts, or at least the precursors to them--likely because he knows exactly how receptive Hiromasu and Shina will be to whatever overtures they do decide to make.
Damn, Yasuhiro thinks, but summer is creeping ever-closer, and they have agreed to open negotiations on the day of the clam bake. It's a clever enough move, to appeal with a gift of his own creation, and a subtle dig at the insult Shina's already offered them: only an attentive child would bear gifts of protection for all members of the families involved, and its expense and rarity will act as a reminder of what danger they court by spurning his suit.
Yasuhiro does not entirely approve of Kairi, Sora even less, and even if Riku is no longer their heir, even if he is barely even their son... the islands, and the islanders, remember.
Chihoko may be their first line of defense against challengers and gossip-mongers, but Yasuhiro knows his role well, and he has never been blind. A marriage none approve of can grow stronger through strife--Shina herself is proof enough of that. The stronger a play Riku makes, the more solid his position will become, and with the entirety of the island against them, he'll still hold the steadiest grip. Mayoralty comes and goes, and there are always other fishermen, but the land is theirs, and the people remember--
--none of this matters anyway. It's too soon. Everything is too soon, too strange, and he is standing here thinking of the insult to his family while his child has conjured an echo of his dreams onto the kitchen counter.
"I see," he says, and plasters on an empty smile, resolutely turning towards his son, letting neither his gaze nor his fingers rest too closely to the cluttered countertop and its unnatural glow. "That was thoughtful of you."
Lying to Riku, at least, is easy. Whether or not Riku buys it, well... that much is impossible to tell.
"But I'm going to need this counter to put together our breakfast, so clean these things up, won't you?"
Giving ground for Riku to gather up his things is easy--it's just as easy as pretending that he's not watching--and Yasuhiro turns to rummage in the nearest cabinet when Riku gets too close. Better not to risk touching him, he thinks, and hates himself, just a little, for the thought.
There's a gentle clink, glass against glass, and the air doesn't change, his skin doesn't stop tingling, but it seems dampened somehow, and when he turns around again, his son is shadowed in the doorway, silent and still, brilliant eyes clear and focused and staring right through him.
In that moment, he knows how easily his son could kill him.
"You'd make a good healer, you know," Riku says, soft and gentle, all the things that he isn't and has never been, and when Yasuhiro blinks, he's already gone.
Endless darkness, endless hunger, endless green, and he knows the touch of magic like he knows the sunrise, like he knows the touch of Chihoko's hand, like he knows his son is not his own, not any longer.
Yasuhiro braces both hands against the counter, closes his eyes, and just breathes.
* * *
The brush of Chihoko's hand against his cheek is like the breath of dawn, and she doesn't turn away when he leans in to kiss her.
He will never be apart from her again.
* * *
When he goes upstairs to change, he finds one of the bottles dangling from a crimson strip of cloth tied in a loop around the door handle. There's no note, but when he unties it, it unfurls into two ribbons, tiny diamonds glimmering at the ends, and both hum softly in his hands.
Yasuhiro casts a glance out the balcony doors, but Riku is long since gone, and in the brightness of the near-summer sunlight, it's hard to remember the dark.
Chapter 20: Before the Dawn
Conversation and anticipation. Naminé and Riku.
She's taken a long, meandering path back to the house from the beach, trying to let her thoughts settle, trying to will the taste of lies off of her tongue, and when she slides through Kairi's window at last, there's a spray of flowers lying on the desk, next to a... papaya? and a sleepy-eyed boy lounging against the bed and idly flipping through one of the books that Kairi's father has yet to reclaim.
He'd still been sleeping when she'd left, distracted from her drawing by a pervasive sadness that all but dragged her to the beach; but then, he doesn't sleep all that much anymore. He's clearly been out wandering: the flowers are the holdouts from his father's old garden, and the papaya is merely the latest in a string of offerings he's been bringing them at odd hours, all the overflow from the garden that's replaced the flowers that once grew there.
"Hey," Riku says softly, tilting his head up with a shy, sweet smile, the kind he doesn't share with anyone else but them and the king, and Naminé smiles back at him.
"Hey," she greets him in return, toeing off her sandals and leaving them beneath the window. The carpet isn't as plush as it used to be, but it's still soft underneath her feet, and she idly hopes that she's not scattering any sand into its weave as she crosses the room to settle down at his side.
He's busy tucking a bookmark into the ledger when she does--not even Riku wants to endure Hiromasu's wrath should any of the old records be damaged, especially when he's already kind of on the warpath--and when he looks up again, his smile has deepened, but his eyes are thoughtful.
It's hard to stay still when he reaches over and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear--he's always been almost unbearably gentle with her--and he doesn't move his hand away once he's done, just settles it on her shoulder as he asks, "How'd it go with Roxas?"
Different. Strange. Sad. "Lonely," she says, and wonders if she should be feeling more guilty as she leans into his touch.
"Mmm," he agrees, "are they okay?"
She wants to shrug, but also doesn't want to dislodge his hand. "As okay as we--as they ever are, I think."
He blows out a gentle sigh between his teeth. "Awesome," he murmurs, but the sarcasm is soft, and the look in his eyes softer.
"I think they're talking now," Naminé offers, because it is an improvement, of sorts. "That should help."
"I guess so," he says thoughtfully, "the more they do, the calmer it should get inside his heart."
She tilts her head, watching his eyes. "That darkness still bothers you," she says, and bites the inside of her lip--but gently, gently, it's still Kairi's body and she mustn't damage it, no matter how anxious she feels.
He's nodding though, gaze a little distant, looking through the surface of the world to the light and shadows beneath it. "We both know it's not his, and it's definitely not Roxas, I'd be able to--wait, hang on. Do you know whose it is?"
Naminé freezes, because of course he'd be the one to figure it out, because he's the one that's most like her, he's the one that's always been the most dangerous because he's the most willing to push and push until everything shatters.
She could deny it, of course, because things are so fragile, and she'd been surprised too, when she'd found him there, tucked secret and safe in the deepest recesses of Sora's heart, too delicate to touch when everything else was in pieces.
The not knowing is awful, and there's not really a way to answer him, not really, because she doesn't know what happened to them, not really, not when she can't reach Kairi's memories any more than Kairi can, not that any of them would have even been able to understand, since they were all so small when it happened.
But Riku just huffs out a little laugh before shaking his head. "I'm not stupid, you know," he says gently, sliding the hand that's still on her shoulder up to tap lightly against her chin. "Just 'cause Sora and Roxas can't remember whose it is doesn't mean that you don't know. Did you find it when Sora was sleeping?"
Her hands have curled into her lap without her noticing. It's Kairi's gesture, not her own, and she wonders why it's happened. Riku has never made her feel unsettled before, not like this, a queasy feeling in her stomach and her skin a little too tight.
He would never leave them, never, and being tucked inside Kairi means he'll never leave her, either. He won't, he wouldn't, not ever. He can't leave them and maybe that's even worse, because he's not bound to her, not really, not in any way that matters.
He's theirs, and she shouldn't forget it.
"...you've suspected this for a while," she says, and wonders why she's staring down at her clasped hands instead of looking at him. She should be braver than this, braver than anything, with Kairi's heart an endless blaze inside her. "Why haven't you asked?"
He makes a soft sound, somewhere between a sigh and a laugh, but it's a resigned noise, a familiar one. "You're keeping it secret 'cause it's safer that way, right?"
She thinks of Ventus, still so alone in a place nobody knows, his shattered heart still hidden beneath Sora's light. Still safe, but for how long? "...they're not ready yet. Those memories... they'll hurt them."
"So when the time is right, they'll know."
She looks at him, the calm certainty in his eyes, and thinks of the boy she left at the side of the road, still cloaked in Sora's skin, still himself in a way that still seems out of her reach.
They'll know when the time is right. It's the least she can do for all of them.
"When they're ready--" she starts, but pauses when he leans a little closer and tugs softly on a lock of her hair, and she can't not look at him then, no matter the unease under her skin, no matter the shyness keeping her frozen.
And Riku smiles at her, a little shy, a little wry, a little tired. "You aren't the only one keeping secrets to keep us safe, you know," he says gently, and she blinks once, startled.
Of course he understands.
Of course he does.
She has to close her eyes for a moment, squeeze her fingers more tightly together and focus on breathing, because Kairi's heart is doing something strange in her chest, and it's making it hard to think, hard to understand, because there's a feeling like tides tugging at her insides, an endless rush that she doesn't have the words to explain.
Maybe there aren't any words at all, and maybe that's why there's this silence, soft and warm and full, maybe that's why she's feeling so still now, sitting here and listening to him breathe.
When she opens her eyes again, he's looking out past her, maybe to the heart of this world, maybe out to the skies and worlds beyond it, and she just looks at him for a moment, unsure of what it is she's feeling, unsure of what it means.
"You know his name, don't you."
Like a stone dropped into water, she thinks abstractly, and then blinks and tries to focus, frowning slightly as she tries to parse his meaning. "Whose?"
He blinks once, slowly, and that's where he's looking, not out but in, the endless depths of his heart. "That guy in my memories."
Naminé smiles. "There are a lot of people in your memories," she points out, unable to resist the urge to touch him, to spread her fingers against his chest and revel in the warmth beneath. "A lot of people in your heart," she continues, and as much as DiZ hurt them, he helped them too, and maybe that's enough for forgiveness, maybe.
Riku ducks his head, because he's so much shyer than he pretends to be, but he's smiling softly, shifting to curl his fingers through hers. "You know what I mean," he mumbles, but he's pleased, she can tell. "I remembered something he said right after the thing with the Door, when we were..."
She does know, and hums a little in agreement, remembering his unease, remembering the glittering edges of his heart shifting, a soft echo to the restlessness of his world's heart, and if she did unlock that darkness, what would they find within? Precious things, certainly, held deep and protected, but there were terrible things there too, and some of them are one and the same.
The softest whisper in the dark, nearly drowned out even now, but his heart remembers what it once held even if his head can't, and looking through him at Ansem always made her feel slightly sick, too many layers and too many missing pieces, too many shards and too many lies, even before she knew why.
What happened to you all? she wonders, and there's nothing to do but wonder, at least for right now, when they're hobbled by chance and circumstance and all the things that the others have left unsaid because there was no time for any of it, any of it at all.
"Uh-huh," she agrees, because there's no point in hiding it--Riku hoards pain even though he hates it, and maybe that's what makes him stronger, maybe that's why the darkness has never been able to swallow him whole, because he looks at it and calls it his own without being afraid. "I... know who he is, but..."
"But you can't tell me?" he interrupts, and maybe his words are a little sharp, but she can't take offense, not now and not ever, not with him.
"No," she says, because she can't tell him, not this, not anything. "I know him, but I don't, not really. I just... I recognized who he was, that's all."
He's quiet for a moment, clearly thinking it over, but when he looks back at her again, his eyes are bright and clear. "It's okay," he says softly, carefully, and it's not fair at all, not fair to a single one of them.
Naminé bites her lip. "I could try--"
"No," he says immediately, because he always does, because he always will. "I'll figure it out on my own, when the time comes."
"You keep saying that," she says carefully, "but--"
"We both know something's starting to happen," he says quietly. "The weather, the world's heart getting that restless--it's not gonna happen now, but things are starting to move, or are, I dunno, getting ready to start to move."
No matter how hard anyone tries, she thinks, it's always impossible to hide things from Riku.
"I know," she says, because how could she not? "I think--we'll need to sleep once it starts, so Kairi and Sora can use all of their power without keeping us awake all the time."
Riku frowns. "I don't like that," he mutters, squeezing her fingers a little more tightly, "what if they need you?"
"We'll still be there, in their hearts, if they need to wake us up--but supporting us like they've been doing here, when there's a--" she stumbles, not wanting to say "war" even though she knows that's what's coming, "a battle going on..."
"Not just a battle," he agrees quietly, eyes half-lidded as he looks somewhere beyond the soft, comfortable confines of Kairi's room, and she's not sure what world he's looking at, Disney Castle or Radiant Garden or Castle Oblivion or The World That Never Was, the worlds still asleep and the worlds barely hanging on.
"No," she says softly, "not just a battle at all."
"Mnph," he grumbles, and rakes his free hand through his hair, the other squeezing her hand once more, a little too tightly, before letting her go. "This sucks."
"It does," she sighs in agreement, "but we're stuck waiting until the shift happens, and until then..."
"Until then we're trapped here, doing nothing."
There's more bitterness there than she was expecting, so she tucks her hand over his again and resettles it over her chest this time, where Kairi's heart resides. It catches his attention, like she knew it would, and when he blinks over at her, she smiles softly.
"Not nothing," she says gently, pleased at the soft flush that steals across his face, the way his gaze drops low.
"That's... not what I meant," he mutters, chagrined, and his shyness is a pretty thing too, for all that it's brought on by discomfort.
"I know it's hard for you to be here," she murmurs after a moment, "but we're managing, aren't we?"
"I guess," he says, but it's more of an unhappy grunt than an agreement, so she squeezes his hand a little harder.
"Aren't things better now than they were?" she asks, and if she's being insistent, it's not only on her own behalf, it's for all of them.
"Of course they are," he says immediately, because this place used to crush him, when now it's only just a little too painful, "but--"
He cuts himself off there because he doesn't want to say it out loud, so she has to do it for him, she'll just... change the words he was going to use to make them less harsh, less angry.
Naminé thinks of Hiromasu's simmering unease, Chihoko's impossible tangle of emotions and Yasuhiro's weary resignation, and the sharp, brittle edges of Shina's concern. And she thinks of Donald, bright and brilliant, Goofy's gentle, solid warmth, and the king's endless, shining light.
They will be the ones with the congratulations, the teasing, the happy laughter and the gentle blessings that they all crave.
They are all so very far away.
"But it would be nice to have somebody approve of us," she says at last, and watches as the tension in his shoulders immediately relaxes.
"Aren't you forgetting a few people?" she teases gently, trying to make him smile, and he blinks a few times before chuckling.
"Is it really approval or just Selphie being smug that she got us to 'fess up?" he drawls, and she has to stifle a laugh before poking him in the side.
"Be nice," she scolds gently, because it actually had been pretty funny, no matter how incredibly awkward it was to explain, even though she'd only been listening in and failing at offering Kairi anything useful to say.
Riku rolls his eyes and huffs a little, but he's smiling slightly. "What's not nice about that?"
She pokes him in the side again--she's been picking up a lot of Kairi's habits--and he pokes her back, grinning, but there's still a little distance in his eyes.
It's not like it's a surprise, the restlessness ever-present beneath his skin, but his melancholy always makes her feel wistful, and he misses the king desperately. Even now that he's no longer the heir, his parents still make him incredibly uncomfortable, and despite the fact that he rarely stays on the property for long, going back to his house always unsettles him.
A world so bright, yet so full of shadows. She can't imagine him being from anywhere else.
"Don't forget that she's proud of Kairi for managing to wrangle two boyfriends at once," she says, trying to distract him. Then she has to move closer while he laughs, to tuck herself against his chest, because their friends have been amazing and DiZ had been harsh and the king nothing but kind, and he hadn't minded her then, even after all she had done, he'd just smiled at the two of them and grinned at Riku to make him blush. "And that Wakka and Tidus are happy that you two aren't competition anymore."
"Pff, this whole island should be proud of both of us for wrangling Sora," Riku says, and then makes a soft, surprised noise when she slings herself all the way into his lap, but his arms curl around her automatically, and it's not fair at all, not really, that he should offer her so much when all she's done is lie and hide and break the things he loves.
Not fair, and yet he sits here on the floor in Kairi's bedroom and laughs with her, lets her tease him and curls into her like it's all okay.
She's so selfish, and Roxas is so sad. It isn't fair to him, and she doesn't deserve it at all, and maybe if she weren't so weak it would be easier, maybe if Kairi didn't love them so desperately she wouldn't hold the echo of it in the void that used to be the space where Kairi's heart belonged--
Riku's got his hand in her hair again, a habit he's picked up from Sora and Kairi's incessant messing with his own, and he's gone quiet again, not distant, just thoughtful.
"We'll figure it out, someday," he says slowly, and she frowns slightly, unsure of what he means. She pokes him again, this time seeking clarity, and he glances down at her, considering. "Or maybe we're already on our way there."
Naminé blinks a little, pulls a little farther back to look up at him, because even when they're both sitting he's still taller, because there's a strange note in his voice that she recognizes, and that means it's important.
He blinks rapidly, several times, before looking back down at her. "...that's what we're supposed to do next," he breathes, eyes widening, "that's why we're here now and why we'll leave, so we can get the information we need and take out the ones who are standing in the way so we can fix it. The stuff we can't remember, the stuff that we are remembering, the secrets we're keeping... it's all building towards something, and we need right now to be ready for it."
--yes. Yes. That's what it's for, that's what all of this is for, what it's always been for, all the secrets and all the lies, so they can be ready, and they need to settle into each other, into their comfort with each other, because they'll need it for the battle ahead, they'll need to be unbreakable and comfortable and able to let each other go, they'll need to know as much as they can about Xehanort and what they've been keeping safe inside their own hearts, they'll need to know as much as they can about their keyblades and the darkness and the War and the light and the forgotten ones and the places that were and haven't been, the slumber and the waking, the blurred line between humanity and all of the things that aren't, and the hearts, all of the hearts lost and found and broken and still alive--
"Hey," he says softly, and leans down to rest his forehead against her own. "Why are you getting all flustered like that?"
I love you, she thinks desperately, even though she can't, even though Kairi's heart is a heavy warm thrum in her chest that still doesn't make it her own, and there are things that she can never, never have and it's not fair.
"Because we figured it out," she manages a tremulous smile, "and so now we know."
"You already knew," he responds, and then seems to get it, blinking rapidly as realization dawns. "Oh. Oh."
Riku knows his own strength better than most people ever will, so he's unfailingly gentle even when he squeezes her tighter, pulls her fully into his lap again. "Don't be upset," he says, bending his head down to brush a brief kiss against her cheek. "You'll keep their secrets safe until it's time, and then we'll help you set them free."
It isn't fair at all that she's allowed to turn her face up and kiss him breathless, but she can and so she does, because he's the most beautiful boy she's ever seen, and there are so many apologies to make and no one to make them to, not yet, but there will be.
There will be, and she'll give all of her power to Kairi, give it all up, to make sure that they'll all be saved.
Not now, but some day.
Not now, but soon.
She's never been destined to be a grown-up anyway.
* * *
The rising sun is catching on the brilliance of Riku's hair as he dozes in their bed, and Kairi's light and warmth and arms are wrapped around her, an insubstantial hug that's realer than anything, realer than the air that she breathes and the beat of Kairi's heart, so bright in her chest.
It's okay to keep secrets as long as they're keeping us safe, Kairi says, you shouldn't ever feel bad for protecting us.
Naminé tilts her head, looks at her other. "Us?"
Kairi rolls her eyes good-naturedly. Yes, us. All of us. And that includes you--don't feel bad for protecting yourself, either.
I don't deserve protection, Naminé thinks, but hides the thought, because Kairi would scold her for it, because that's what Kairi does, warm support and gentle abrasiveness, because her heart's so bright that she's not afraid to get angry, not afraid to shout it to the heavens, because if she's going to get mad it's for a reason, and if the rest of the world resists, then she'll change that world to better suit her.
"Okay," she says instead, and leans back into her other, closing her eyes and smiling. "Let's all save each other, then."
Like we always do, Kairi agrees, and Naminé reaches out, past the thick tangle of chains looped all around her towards the one that binds them all to Sora, skims a gentle wish across to the one that's so like her but not.
It'll get easier, Roxas, she thinks, letting them take some of the burden makes it so much easier, you'll see--we can't get crushed by it if we share.
Kairi squeezes her then, right where they're both ticklish, and it isn't fair at all that their laughter wakes Riku, that they're here in the sun with each other and with him, but in time, maybe, maybe Roxas will understand, maybe he'll forgive her for what she's done.
It still won't be fair, but then, it never could be, not with an existence like theirs, not ever.
But maybe someday they could all be free.
* * *
Chapter 21: All the Space Between
The party is over, the agreements settled, and yet...
So a million years later, guess who's updating BtOB?
Refresher reading definitely required. rayemars' Returning, Resuming is key here, as are quite a few earlier parts of Salvation Holdout Central. This is a bit of a timeskip as far as R&R and SHC is concerned, but it still takes place before the events of Dream Drop Distance, immediately following the clambake that was discussed but never written about in R&R.
All thanks to RM for the beta despite long since falling out of the fandom and barely remembering this universe and what we wrote in it all those years ago.
Hit me up on tumblr if you'd like to chat.
It's late enough that the grownups are gone and the only ones left around the fire are Selphie and Tidus and Wakka and the two of them. The others have long since staggered home or fallen asleep farther off in the yard; everyone knows what teenagers get up to in the wake of the summer parties, and they've alienated everyone else in their class.
Sora doesn't mind it. It's way better like this, when it's just them, Selphie and Tidus and Wakka leaning into each other but still giggling and trading sips of leftover wine, now that all the others are gone and no one else can see, since technically Wakka's not allowed to drink but he's doing it anyway because it is just them, now.
It's way better like this. It's safer.
Kairi's bare feet are in his lap and her bare legs are slung over his shoulders and she's perched on the log that once was a tree that fell when the world was lost and has since become a place for them to lounge in her backyard, and her hands are in his hair and everything is almost perfect, but not quite.
The fire's burning lower now, more orange than gold. It reminds him of freedom, of long nights on the savannah, and sleep, and he's drowsy and wide-awake all at once, itching under his skin but holding very still. Kairi's been letting him poke at her feet--he can't help it, her toes are painted with something sparkly so they glitter when she moves, and Selphie did her nails with the same, and Tidus has been staring at them for so long that he's moving his whole head whenever she waves a hand, so Sora figures it's probably all right for him to find Kairi’s toes so distracting.
Tonight was Tidus' first night drinking with the rest of the kids from their school, and Sora doesn't like thinking about why, how his eyes had glittered and his smile had been too bright when he’d swiped the first bottle, how he’d laughed too loud when someone had told him how great it must be to have his dad back home again, after all that time away on the mainland.
It's hard to anyway, when Kairi's curled up with him like this, when he can tilt his head to the side and press his lips to her thigh, when it would be so, so easy to turn around and slide up, the way he knows that Riku has, to lean in against her soft heat and--
But after the negotiations earlier, when their parents had been so brittle he'd thought they might break, when his mother smiled at him like a liar and he'd thought he finally understood why Riku doesn't like it when--
Riku had walked his parents home. He wasn't back yet.
So it wasn't perfect.
It should have been perfect. It should have been--his mother's smile hadn't reached her eyes and Riku's mom still looked right through him like he didn't exist--but they'd agreed. They'd agreed to it, to the dowries they'd suggested and the plans Kairi had offered, and it should have been perfect.
It should have been perfect, but it wasn't.
Her skin is so soft against his cheek, and her hands in his hair are so gentle, and in the wake of the party they’ve been steadily drinking their way through what the grownups left behind them, and their parents have agreed, and it's still not perfect.
There's no Heartless here, the only Nobodies are curled quiet and still inside his heart, inside Kairi's, and it took way more sips from their shared bottle than it used to for the world to go soft and hazy, and Hiromasu doesn't like him but at least Kairi's dad knows that he exists, and--
He looks past the fire again, and no one is there.
It doesn't take that long to get to Riku's house. It shouldn't take him this long to get back, and that means he's probably fighting with his parents again, in that cold, brittle way that doesn't seem like it’s fighting but it actually is, and Sora can't--
It was supposed to be perfect, once they agreed, or at least better, but he doesn't-- he doesn't understand why they're being like this, why this is apparently so much to ask, when Riku's got that cousin who’s going to be his family’s heir so he doesn’t have to anymore, when his parents had already agreed even before this--
Kairi shifts behind him, and he wants to turn into the curve of her, nuzzle into her, slide teeth and tongue against the softness of her skin and press upward--
But Selphie is still talking, and Tidus is still following the slow arc of her hands, and Wakka shouldn't drink and isn't a priest yet but is still right there and Riku hasn't showed him how to do it yet, but. He wants.
It was supposed to be perfect and he knows that she knows it too, that's why she pulled him to her, curled around him, tugged his head up so she could shadow him with her hair while she stole a kiss when no one was looking.
His lips still ache, the sweet tang of the wine and their shared loneliness, because it was supposed to be perfect but everything's fractured at the edges, and sometimes he wonders if this is what it felt like for Riku, before everything, because if it is--
Sometimes he hurts and doesn't know why.
Three dowries agreed on, four grownups who said yes, and it's all such a bother.
It's not fair.
Wakka laughs at something Selphie says, ruffles Tidus's hair; and Sora blinks, feeling his lips curve down as he watches them.
It would be easier, if it were them. Of course two boyfriends are better than one, Selphie had said into the classroom's awkward silence, calm and confident; and Jecht would only laugh and slap Tidus on the back, if it were them. Wakka's family would be the problem, but Wakka’s the only one with siblings and he’s not even the oldest so it doesn’t matter who he marries--and Tidus and Riku's lifelong ban against stepping foot on the family property aside, Wakka’s dad is usually pretty easy-going, for a priest.
If it were them, it would be easier.
It should be easier.
It's not fair.
He looked for them, he looked for them everywhere, world after world after world after world, always seeking and never finding, and Kairi left this world, left the safety of this place, fought past the Organization just to get to them, and Riku--
They're engaged for real now. Their parents agreed, and it's almost perfect, firelight and his friends and his fearless fiancée, but.
"Where is he?" Kairi murmurs. She says it low, maybe low enough that he wasn't supposed to hear, but her feet are in his lap and she's leaning over him, her hands folded on his head and the rest of her so so soft that--
She’s resting her chin on top of her hands on the top of his head, keeping him folded into her, because she's his fiancée now, for real, and if she did decide she wanted him to do all of the things he's been thinking about, no one could stop her.
But she won't, not while their friends are here. Even though she could, if she really wanted to. She won't, not when Riku's not here to guide him, not when Riku's not here to show him what to do.
It's not fair that Riku isn't here right now, that he has to go back to that awful too-big house that Sora hasn't visited since they came home, that Riku couldn't just stay with them and--
Maybe they shouldn't do anything, even though the light’s low, even though Wakka and Selphie and Tidus would probably look away, but--
"I could smell you guys from two houses over. How much have you been drinking?"
--and Riku is just there suddenly, standing at the edge of the light, and Selphie gives a belated yelp and skitters backward into Wakka, who blinks lazily and then raises his hand in a slow, careful wave.
Tidus, now distracted from Selphie’s glittering fingernails, is staring. "...where'd you come from?"
Riku chuckles, and it's low and warm, and also a little bit of a lie. He's standing loose and relaxed in that way that makes other people think that he's being insolent, that reminds them of how he was before, but Sora knows better: Riku always goes sarcastic and still before launching into his most vicious attacks.
It's a clear tell, and he’s teased him about it, but Riku's also so blindingly fast that most of the time it doesn't even matter.
Looking at him now, it’s so easy to tell that he had another not-a-fight with his parents on the way back to the house, because of course he did. Even though the whole point of the meeting before the party was for their parents to come to an agreement. Even though everyone had been so polite that even he could feel it, and right before his mother had left (early, always early, he was starting to understand it better now, the mornings on the boat and the work, always the work to be done) she’d squeezed his shoulder and murmured "I'll see you tomorrow" with that tone was half-expectant, half-warning, and he'd smiled at her and agreed and not understood, then.
It was supposed to be perfect, but even though Riku's here now, it's still not. So Sora smiles so hard that a little of the damp in his eyes slides past his lashes, smiles and waves him closer, like Kairi started doing even before Riku spoke, arms up and beseeching.
Chasing after Riku is always useless; just hints and guidance left behind him, like a concession, like sympathy, and somewhere in Sora's heart he's still a little angry at the king.
Still so angry at Riku's parents.
But Riku will relax for them. He always has, and even now he's drifting closer, soundless and easy, the poised calm melting into the real, even as his nose is crinkling.
He stops just out of arm's reach, evading their outstretched fingers, and in the dusky night the firelight gleams gold against his hair. It's so pretty Sora almost forgets to pay attention when he talks.
"You stink," Riku says, in that drawling "I'm a jerkface" voice, and it makes Kairi giggle and Tidus let out an offended "Hey," even as Selphie's saying "You can't say that to a lady!" and Wakka just laughs.
"Whatever," Sora replies, and flaps his hands a little more intently, "C'mere already, you've been gone forever."
More than a year without him, without her, more than a year and there will never be enough time, never never, and he doesn't understand how their parents can think they're rushing when all of the rest of forever will never be enough.
"I'm pretty sure you're exaggerating," Riku says, but then he sidles closer, and closer again, then closer still as Kairi says "You're still too far away," and then he's right beside them and Kairi grabs his arms and Sora lunges up and together they pull him down against them, finally, finally.
Riku tumbles into them with an easy grace, laughing now, still taller even when he's on his knees, his hands braced against the log that Kairi's sitting on, the weight and heat of him a bright and smothering rush that makes Sora’s face flush, makes him want to--
Riku is pressed against Sora's chest and leaning up for the kiss that Kairi is bending down for, and maybe Riku will let him, since it’s close and dark and no one will be able to see.
Sometimes Riku doesn’t mind it when he bites.
Sometimes he even likes it.
Sora tilts his head up like he's been wanting to, noses soft fabric aside, and then he can finally taste skin, salt and softness under his tongue, between his teeth, and Riku laughs again, so close that it vibrates right through him, so close it makes him shiver.
It’s so warm.
Riku's kiss with Kairi doesn't last nearly long enough because his laughter made her giggle, and then Riku's pulling away again, sitting back on Sora's outstretched legs. But his hands are on Kairi's thighs now, and Sora likes that almost as much as he dislikes him pulling away.
Riku probably won’t let him bite again, but his eyes are glittering with amusement and there’s a tiny smirk curving his lips, so Sora curls his fingers through his belt loops to tug him closer.
Riku lets him, moves with him, until they’re all crushed together, a little awkward and a little uncomfortable, close enough make him breathless, close enough that they could do anything if they wanted to, they could, and no one in all the worlds could stop them.
Kairi laughs again, sweet and low against his ear, and he wants.
He wants to pull Riku all the way down with him, wants what he’s had before, wants more. He wants Riku's hands to cup his own and slide them higher up the soft curve of Kairi’s thighs, beneath the hem of her skirt and farther; he wants Riku to show him where to go and how to touch so that she'll giggle and sigh for him, for them; he wants heat and pressure and he wants, he wants, he wants--
The world is soft and warm and golden, and there's laughter here, safe and familiar. They're engaged now, for real, here with the people who will protect them, and Kairi is wrapped around them both, her hands already curling into Riku's hair, her voice lilting as she calls back to their friends.
It should be perfect now.
It should be.
"Hey," Riku murmurs, low and warm, and Sora blinks up at him, relaxing his grip, but not letting go. "You okay?"
He’s said it slowly, low and easy; but Riku notices too much, too early, and that's what the problem has always been.
"Uh-huh," Sora says. He smiles when Riku starts to frown at him, then arches up to catch his lips in a kiss that's been too long coming.
His mother had walked away without looking back, her arms wrapped around herself, protection against the evening breeze or something else; Riku had muttered a flat "Bye," and fallen into absolute silence before turning to join his parents; Hiromasu had stood and quietly argued in a corner with Kairi for fifteen minutes before snapping at her and turning to storm up the stairs; and Kairi had stood stiff-limbed and glaring at nothing for almost a minute before she'd grabbed his hand and dragged him off to find Selphie.
They're officially engaged. Their parents have settled on dowries and his mother is handing control of the business back to his uncle and Riku's cousin is going to be the next landlord and Kairi's dad is going to figure out the paperwork, and it's supposed to be perfect.
Riku's here in his arms, in their arms, and Kairi's still so warm against him, and their friends are protection against rumor and protection against others and even if nobody believes them it's still an official act, the first watch of the first night, a tradition so old no one even knows how it started, and they could do anything right now, anything, in the old days it would have been expected, it wouldn't be considered meaningless teenaged experimentation like before because they're officially engaged now--
Sora pulls back from the kiss, reluctant, rests his forehead against Riku's and smiles against his frown, then slides a hand down to curl around Kairi's ankle.
One hand on her and one hand on him.
"We just missed you, that's all."
- - -
(Tired of wasting time)