The Castle is cool and still and sterile and bright, and in the endlessness, she watches Sora sleep. Time isn't something she quite understands, even now, and builds up only in worn-down crayons and the sheaves of paper littering the floor. Sometimes, she watches Donald, and wonders at the woman she draws, so fierce and so bright, and wants to know what it is to be in love that way, so strong and sure and full of brilliance and laughter. Sometimes, she watches Goofy, and wonders at the boy she draws, so close to being a man now, and wants to know what that is, to cherish a child like that, to be so devoted to home and family and duty that all can be left to protect them, to have a heart so selfless and endless and clear.
There's a little cricket sleeping in Sora's hood, and he dreams of a puppet-child he left behind, and of the endless sparkling sweep of the worlds the that he captures in words and images that are so much more real than anything she can create from smears of wax on paper.
Sora dreams of everything with a heart so full it's overflowing, and sand and sun and laughter is swirled with shadows and blood and tears, and he cherishes them both, but all of his best dreams are a tight curl bound up in RikuKairiRikuKairiRikuKairiRikuKairi, so thick and heavy and sweet that she chokes on it sometimes, scrabbles to capture every bright color and mix them up into something wild and beautiful, mix them up into something that rips open worlds and tears down anything that would harm that which is most precious, a weapon to end every war and free every heart, and no matter how she tries she can't quite capture it, can't quite bind him down, because there aren't enough colors, not enough colors to capture the truth of him.
She tried markers once, but that just made everything bleed.
She made him love her once, and she's still more guilty than anyone can know. She can't draw a dream for a dead boy, and even if none of it was real, that copy of a boy was the only boy she ever made only her own. Maybe she is as cruel as Larxene has said, but of all things, she knows, a Nobody is the most selfish creature of all.
Sometimes she sleeps, and sometimes she sidles down to the kitchen to eat, and sometimes she traces the pathways they took, runs her fingers along broken glass and stone, and smears soot into graceful patterns that reflect the force that created them.
It only took them one night to shatter everything, and keybearers, even failed ones, have only the strongest hearts. Sometimes she thinks of the fallen and wonders if challenging them was a desperate form of suicide instead of a brilliant plan to regain what they had lost.
One day, the morning brings a hint of smoke and ash on the wind, and when she looks up, the other one who survived is there, brow furrowed and staring up to where the keyblade master sleeps, not quite reaching for the glass, not quite not, not quite threatening, not quite not.
Naminé has never understood anyone less than she understands Axel.
"Why are you here?" she asks, and he tilts his head and blinks at her, slow and satisfied and lazy.
"You're waking him up," he says, and then there's a hint of razor in his smile, too much color in her too-bright world. "Sora needs his sleep."
Naminé clutches the crayon in her fingers and thinks of chains unraveling, of the flash of fire and silver and gold, and remembers the hallways she has wandered, so many floors below. A Nobody's weapon is ever more than that, and the paper beneath her fingers is pristine and smooth and unmarred, a world waiting to be born.
Axel's gaze drops to her hands, and while she watches, his grin just widens. "You really gonna try that?"
It wouldn't be hard. It never is, not in the breaking. One, two, breathe, twist, snap, and then they shatter, one after the next after the other until there's nothing left but glittering shards of a heart that once was whole. The healing, though, plucking up a piece here and there and melting one memory into another... one link to another, one fragile bond to another, and a memory without a heart is still a memory, and there are threads even now, under her skin and out it again, and she could steal Roxas from him right now, if she chose, rip out each memory and leave him with nothing instead. Too close, Nobody, too close, and the crayon hits paper at the same instant that flame and shadow burst into life, when the world rips open and bodies slide through the darkness and invade her world.
There's a moment of utter stillness while they all stare at one another, too many eyes, too many people in this room, and then Axel flashes her a smirk and gives them all a jaunty wave and a wink and vanishes in a swirl of black, a whirlwind here and gone, and she looks down at her hands and is startled to find that they aren't trembling.
The two almost-not-quite-strangers are talking, walking around the pod where Sora sleeps, shaking heads and arguing softly, and she's staring down at her sketchbook and the ugly black streak that's marring the page. All she can do is break things.
What would you do for Sora? she wonders, and doesn't know who she's asking.
"Hey," someone says softly, and she blinks and looks up at him, tries to look into him, but she can't see his eyes. "We're getting you out of here," he continues, holding out a hand in invitation, "you and Sora both. It's not safe here anymore."
The last person to freely offer her anything was Sora, and even then, he had been in her hands.
She hasn't done anything to this boy, not once to this boy, and even though his eyes are hidden he's still waiting for her, still and calm and sure, and she remembers how desperate Sora had been to find him, she remembers how Sora remembers Kairi cradled like an empty doll in his arms, and she remembers how he laughed and turned away from her offer, the only person to ever say no, the only person to ever have a choice.
She drops the crayon in her haste to take his hand, and drops the sketchbook as she lunges to her feet. It sprawls open to an unfinished picture, three figures reclining on a beach, and he turns so swiftly she almost stumbles, but he's still holding her hand, warm and strong and sure, and she leaves the drawings scattered where they lie.
They don't matter anymore.
* * *
Twilight Town is golden and sleepy and beautiful, but Sora is locked away in the basement, and alone in her white room she feels like a princess in a tower.
If she grew out her hair, or sang like an angel, maybe her prince would come for her, but all she has is a boy who is dreaming and a boy who is far away and a not-a-boy who doesn't even know that she's alive.
She flings the window open anyway, and breathes in the perpetual sunset--or is it always dawn instead?
She's not alive, but brushing her fingers down chain-link and breath and heart, memory of memory of memory of memory, she thinks she might like to be.
* * *
"I'm not a good person," she says to him softly, sketchbook in hand and drawing an echo of the boy sleeping before them, all bright flare and wild motion captured into stillness, frozen into memory like the sound of his mother's half-forgotten voice. Even before they'd left, they'd been pulling away, and she's not surprised that she doesn't remember what the mayor looks like, or the smell of her bedroom at night.
"You're not a person at all," he points out calmly, no malice in his voice, "so how could you be expected to tell the difference?"
"It's not the same as feeling," he interrupts swiftly, "and what you feel isn't what Kairi remembers."
"How do you know?" she asks, feeling very small, remembering the clink of delicate shells turning in her hands, the prick of bright blood when her hands slip, the crispness of the waterfall in the thick heat of a muggy summer.
"Kairi can't draw," he says, "and you smell differently than she does."
He leaves her then, clutching her paper until it crumples, staring through it to memories of childhood and laughing and falling stars and falling worlds, and she's so lost to that endlessness that he startles her when he comes back later with a silvery ribbon in his hands, the metal bright and gleaming in the starkness of the pod room.
"Hide it from DiZ," he instructs gently, and she stares at the spool of power in her palm, then lifts her gaze to his as she hikes up her dress. He tilts his gaze towards the wall, but doesn't turn away completely, and she bites her lip as she tugs the knot closed, smoothing it down to lie flat beneath the hem of her dress.
"Why?" she asks, uneasy with the cool thrum of power wrapped around her thigh, unsure of what to say or do in response, because this has never happened before, not to her and not to Kairi, and if he weren't the most familiar thing in the room, he would be an alien.
"Because unless you attack them first, you're helpless, and you need a way to defend yourself."
"I did it," she says, flat and cool, because it's true, and she does not regret it. She has no heart to feel pity, only its echoes, and just because she knows she shouldn't have done it doesn't mean she won't do it again. "And I would do it again, if I had to." Sora wanted to protect her, and so did the Replica, because she forced them and forced them and broke them both, but can only put one back together again, because only one of them is real.
"I know," he says, "this is so you won't have to, stupid."
That night, he sleeps by Sora's pod, and she draws them both in vibrant motion, brawling on the beach to the echo of her other's laughter. Her fingers tremble as she shades in the brilliance of Kairi's hair, and she closes her eyes for a long time, thinking of broken dolls and the memory of sadness.
She isn't Kairi, and even though she knows he sees her as her shadow, he doesn't expect her to be.
* * *
He sits in the basement and watches Sora, sometimes, while she stands still and silent with her sketchbook clutched to her chest and watching them both, and she wants to reach out and grab them, wants to hang on and never ever ever let them get away again, never ever let them leave her again, never ever ever ever let them go and she wants it so much, so much--
And then she remembers that it's Kairi's longing, not her own, and she remembers bright brilliant afternoons and sand crunching beneath her toes and the blinding brilliance of a glare on the water, and they're racing again, running so fast and so far away that no matter how much she chases them she's just standing perfectly still, and she still can't reach them no matter how hard she tries, no matter how her legs ache and her breath burns in her chest, no matter how many lies she has to swallow before they're born, no matter how many times sketching out the truth feels like she's ripping herself apart.
Princesses want things too, and so do little girls, and so do shadows of both.
They're both the first thing that Kairi really remembers.
The empty spot in her chest hurts, sometimes.
* * *
He hesitates before stepping into her space every time, but without him, she couldn't eat, and even a shell needs something to keep it alive.
She doesn't know if he likes it or hates it in here, surrounded by the echoes of his past, but when she asks him to stay, he stays, and when she asks him to model for her, he gives her a look like she's crazy but puts up with it anyway.
"Why do you even need me to do that?" he asks, and all she can do is shrug.
"You're the prettiest boy I've ever seen," she says frankly, and it startles him into laughter, and that and her encouraging smile is all it takes to convince him to come and slouch on the floor with her, a sprawl of black and shades of pale that don't match the white white walls or the white white floor or her white white dress or the splotches of color scattered across sheets and sheets and sheets of white white paper.
The shadows he brings with him make the room so much softer, and he pretends not to notice as she slowly inches closer, until she can almost touch him, almost feel him breathing.
If she were Kairi, she could curl up against his side, press her ear to chest, and listen to his heart beating. He might not push her away, maybe, relieved at being forgiven, he might not flinch too hard when she clung to him and refused to let go, he might not bolt back into the darkness and leave her alone again.
She's not Kairi, and she's not Sora, and he's not hers, but she won't share this drawing with anyone.
She wonders if this is what jealousy feels like.
* * *
When DiZ stalks through the corridors, she remembers a doll in a cage and the sound of bodies hitting the white white floor.
When Riku walks by, she remembers the waves crashing at night, and the tinkling crash of falling stars and worlds breaking.
He never asks her why she spends so much time just watching him move, but when stray Heartless and the occasional Nobody slip into the mansion, he'll show off when he knows that she's watching, adding extra spins and blinding strikes to make her gasp and giggle and applaud.
Once, he let her hold Soul Eater, and her palms stung for days afterwards with the echo of its power. On those days, she drew memories of darkness and empty shells, of doors closing and paths shattering, of Shadows swarming and a keyblade born of princesses' hearts, of standing between nothingness and eternity.
She wasn't surprised when Riku spent the next week ignoring her.
* * *
He brings her new crayons, and food with names neither one of them can pronounce, and flowers, sometimes, because those are things that girls are supposed to like, and she's almost a girl, and each time, she's surprised. He is the first person to bring her gifts and expect nothing in return, and it hurts a little, to know that the only thing she could ever give has already been promised away, a debt to the boy she wronged.
She knows he's only taking care of her because she can help Sora. But then, he's always been the one to take care of them, and Sora's asleep and Kairi is so very far away, and she's almost like Kairi, but not, and her duty is so much more important than them both, and they will always understand that, and he'll do anything to bring Sora back to them, so he'll protect her, he'll keep her safe, and he'll treat her almost like a real person, and that is more than anyone but Sora has ever done.
Riku isn't Sora, and neither is she, but sometimes when he comes back injured he lets her wrap his wounds.
Once, when he was almost delirious with exhaustion, not quite in time to save the last flickers of a dying world, he slumped into her lap and let her brush slowly-drying blood out of his hair. She thought about that world, about the Heartless that had overrun it, about the Organization that had set them there, and felt nothing but a vague melancholy that the loss of that world had hurt him, and since it had hurt him, it deserved to die anyway.
It's ironic that she's learning to think like them now that she's finally something that's almost like being free.
She wants to erase his guilt, ease the weight on his shoulders, and steal away his sadness, so she calls him to her when she's drawing sweet memories, asks him about the color of the sky that day, about the sound of Sora's laughter.
Sometimes it makes him smile.
Once, he fell asleep on the floor, and she wasted sheets and sheets of paper sketching him from every angle, until her black crayon was reduced to a nub and her fingers were smeared with wax.
The pictures are carefully hidden where no one, not Riku and not Sora and especially not DiZ, will ever find them. Sometimes, when he's far away, she pulls them out just to see them, just to remind herself that they're real, to remind herself that he trusts her, even if it's just a little bit, even if it's just because she reminds him of Kairi.
These memories are her own.
* * *
Over a dinner lost somewhere in the endless gleaming sunset, she reaches for his hands, and when he doesn't shy away, she lifts his palm and places it against her chest, and knows he feels the echo of her emptiness down to his bones.
She places her own palm to his chest and curls her fingernails into thick dark fabric, longing to dig deeper, to reach past the chains and grasp the brilliance there, for all that it will melt her hands and self to nothingness. "You have his heart," she says, unsurprised to find the low thrum cradled behind the greater whole, "It wasn't real, but it was mine, once."
"No," he says gently, shaking his head, "you might have molded it, but it was only his. It still is, and it always will be." He says it without flinching, without anger, without commentary on how it's only a copy, a poor imitation of the original, and she knows how much safer the Replica is in his hands and not her own, for all that she shaped him, for all that she made him, for all that she broke him for Sora.
Sora has always been everything, except when he's not, and the worlds need him much more than little girls ever will, especially the ones that don't exist, especially the ones whose names he won't remember.
"I don't understand," she admits, and presses his hand harder to her chest, watching the spread of deep black on endless pale, the slide of her fingertips against his own. She stares, quietly fascinated, as a soft wash of color floods the paleness of his features, as the constant thrum of his doubled heartbeat quickens, and when she closes her eyes, she can hear a third echo, deeper and older and alien, and her lips part in surprise, because she should have known, but the sound of his own heartbeat is almost enough to drown out the worlds, and Ansem is only a whisper now, a wellspring of darkness bound tightly behind will and the thick force of his own power, shadows curled into light and constantly singing.
It's only a matter of time before the strength of his song calls a keyblade into being, and even now she can sense power stirring, waiting to wake in his hands.
But for now he has his hand pressed to the shell of her body, and his eyes hidden from the world, and he's smiling, wry and cool and full of alien strangeness, because he's overflowing and she is nothing at all. "You can't," he says softly, careful with her now, because even though she could shatter him with a thought, she won't, and even if she did he might just drag himself back together again, but if he broke her, she'd vanish, and nothing would remain. "Not like this, not right now."
"When I go back to Kairi," she says, "will I have a heart of my own?"
"It's not so bad to share," he answers her, and she bites her lip and doesn't answer him in words, because she doesn't know how to tell him that she doesn't want to share him with anyone, not even herself, not even Sora.
He wouldn't understand, because he's always been a part of them, and even though he's alone, everything he's ever done has been for them, and all his selfishness is borne from wanting to hold them closer, knot them up into each other so that they'll never be parted again.
It's almost enough to make her want to melt back into Kairi - at least then, she'd be whole, and when she looks at the empty spaces around him, she wants to fill them with whatever she can, lies and truths and memories and herself most of all, but he sees through her every illusion, and even if he no longer shies away from her touch, he never reaches for her.
A self-imposed exile doesn't have room for two.
* * *
It's not working. The chains aren't linking, the metal won't bend, she's gouged holes in her paper and it's not working at all.
She pushes herself to her feet and walks down empty corridors, past what once was beautiful, and down the stairs, where the air is cool and prickles against her bare skin. It reminds her of empty castles and empty people, and the man who is waiting is empty too, even if he doesn't know it yet.
"Where's Riku?" she asks the back of the man's head, and stays very still while he laughs.
"And why would you want to know that, little nobody? Do you care where he is?"
She can take his mockery and ignore it, because it's meaningless, and though this man can help her, he's only using her, just like everyone else. He's using Riku, too, and that is unforgivable, for all that he's been nothing but willing. "I want him here," she says, and is almost surprised at the fierceness in her voice, is almost surprised how her hands curl into fists, almost surprised that she wants to be able to drag her fingers through his memories and force him to leave them all alone, if not for Sora. "Bring him here."
DiZ picks her up by the back of her dress, walks over to the door, and throws her out of the room. She lands awkwardly, but her body isn't quite that of a human, and she's had so much worse than this that it doesn't even matter anymore.
Naminé walks back to her room, sits with crayon poised, and tries to remember the color of his eyes.
* * *
She's not sure how much time passes before there's a gentle tap on the door, and then he's there again, bright and brilliant and alive, the realest thing she's ever seen, trailing gentle shadows as he slips into the room, so much softer than the harsh jutting darkness that echoes in every step that DiZ takes, that lingers in the corners of the mansion and turns the air thick and stale and sour. Riku's darkness smells like summer nights on the edge of a storm, and it's the memory of thunder and crashing waves that gives her the courage to smile and make her request, because this is the only thing she can ask that won't break anything, because this is the only thing that she wants that he can give her without breaking the worlds, and he would never be that selfish, for all that she wants to be.
"I want you to take me out," she says, and watches him as he startles, skittering to a halt with none of his usual grace.
"What are you talking about?" he half-splutters, and she hides a giggle, because oh, yes, there's a boy in there, just a boy, just that boy that Sora loves, that boy whose dreams they were willing to follow over the edge of their world.
She stands up, smooths her skirt, and smiles up at him. "I want to go into town and I want you to take me."
He stares at her for a while, lips parted just a little, and there's a hint of unease in his voice when he finally asks her why.
"Because I want to go," she answers, and takes another step closer. "I want to go out and see what the town is like. I want to see the people, and I want to buy new crayons." The next part will be harder, but she draws in a soft breath and takes another step forward, close enough that she can almost touch him. "I want to know what it's like, to do those things that real girls get to do."
He is very, very still for a long time. "...you want to go into town," he says slowly, "and just... hang out?"
"Is that a bad thing?" she asks, and stares up at him, carefully resting her fingertips on his arm. Even beneath the coat, he's warm, and he's even prettier when she's this close, all smooth marble and just the faintest hint of pink to his cheeks. He's gotten taller again, and she likes the way his hair has started to tumble all the way over his shoulders, bright brilliance on deepest black.
"...not for you," he says, and shies away when she reaches up to brush her fingers over the blindfold. "...do you really want to...?"
"DiZ doesn't have to know," she says softly, "please?"
Kairi would have made it a demand, and she can't do that to him, not now, maybe never, and maybe that's why every boy she knows is so far away from her, but he's close, and he's real, and he's wavering.
"...okay," he says. "Okay, we can go."
* * *
They leave his coat draped over the chair and slowly sliding down to the floor, and she wiggles her fingers into his empty gloves while he chuckles at how tiny she is. A few precious drawings they plaster up on the wall, scatter on the table, and shove off to the side of the room, and she pretends not to notice how his gaze lingers on images of sand and sun and Sora.
She takes his hand as they slip out the mansion doors, curls their fingers together like it's something precious and sweet, and he looks down at her in surprise as she traces her fingertips along the roughness of his palm and up his fingers, lingering on the strangeness of each sword-callus and scar. She's only ever had a paper cut, and even that vanished, bloodless, within an hour. He's even warmer without the gloves, and she can feel shadowlight swirling placidly underneath his skin, close enough to strike and shelter with barely a conscious thought, the consequence of endless months of fighting, a guard he's forgotten how to drop completely.
Riku will never be a normal boy, but he's very good at pretending.
"I like you like this," she declares, "and I like your new clothes. Did the king give them to you?"
He flinches a bit beside her, but she holds on without faltering. She barely knows his majesty, but Donald and Goofy dream nothing but joy of him, and she can see clear as day the chain stretching from Riku's heart out into eternity. "Did he?"
He fidgets a little. "...yeah. I was outgrowing my old ones."
Sora's been asleep for a long time, and she's still not done yet, and she still can't be done yet, and if she wants to be done, she'll only wind up hurting him. Naminé bites the inside of her lip hard enough for a normal girl to bleed, yet it does nothing, and she wonders if Kairi felt this crushing pressure when she suggested sailing away alone, taking his dream and leaving their strange shadow-boy behind.
"I like them," she repeats, and folds their arms together as she remembers seeing in Kairi's memories, giggling and preening over silly magazines, the ones she'll never admit to the boys that she reads with Selphie, "they make you look more comfortable."
He snorts. "Like a normal kid?" he asks pointedly, and if she could see him behind that blindfold and the bright fall of his hair, she's sure he would be raising a sardonic eyebrow.
She considers this. "You're almost a normal boy, and I'm almost a girl," she says. "Would you like it if I were a real girl?"
He pushes the gate open and does not answer her.
If she were a real girl, she knows, she would be Kairi.
* * *
Twilight Town is beautiful, she thinks vaguely, and lets Riku guide her along the streets and through the crowds, watching wide-eyed as the people go by, as the birds fly and dogs bark and doors open and slide shut and boys on skateboards zip down the roads and people lean out windows and shop doors to yell at one another, as a trolley passes by in a bright jangle, all color and movement and life, and she knows she's clutching Riku's arm just a little too hard, but they're walking along and no one is stopping them, no one is stepping out of the shadows to pull them back into them, no one is giving them a second glance save for the occasional double-take at Riku's blindfold, and a curious look or two from kids their own age who clearly don't recognize them save as strangers on their turf.
They pause at a long stretch of stairs, and Riku leans against them while she gathers her dress under her and tries to sit along the edge without sliding down, falling over, or bothering any other passers-by.
"So," he says, a half-lazy, half-smug drawl, "this is town. What do you want to do?"
The stone beneath her thighs is warm with the constant heat of the sun, and Riku is close enough to touch, and she squeezes her eyes shut for a long time and just breathes. "I want to do everything," she says, and he tilts his head up and smiles at her, just at her, and she knows she's never actually smiled like this before, because it's making her face ache and tears sting her eyes.
"Okay," he says, and offers her his hand again.
She takes it.
* * *
She tries skateboarding, and fails miserably. He tries it, and fails slightly less miserably, still getting adjusted to the length of his legs, the gangliness of his arms, and for the most part, the passers-by are too polite to laugh at them too loudly or too often. He makes up for it by taking up a challenge from an obnoxious boy for a game that the natives call 'Struggle,' and wins within minutes despite the blindfold and the newness of the game. Riku startles the woman at the accessory shop by offering to sell her half of the veritable treasure trove he "just happened" to have in his pockets, and then drags her over to the nearest clothier and buys her a new dress while she's too busy being shocked to be able to speak.
"Don't complain too much," the woman at the counter says, giving her a wink, "most girls can't even drag their boyfriends in here no matter how hard they try, and this one's even offering! Cute too, even if he is blind--at least you know he isn't looking at any other girls!"
She looks at him from underneath her lashes, but he's looking away, and maybe he didn't hear her. Maybe.
She takes up an offer to try bouncing a ball in the air, and manages to keep it up long enough to draw a small crowd of children and earn the first munny she's ever made on her own. She uses it to buy colored pencils instead of crayons, and Riku grabs the bag for her before she can even take it from the visibly-amused cashier. They eat fried food on sticks at an outdoor cafe, and take the trolley to the other side of town. She takes off her sandals and dips her toes in the stream, and Riku holds her hand as she explores walking on top of planters and bridges for the first time, little transgressions of propriety made easier by the bright flash of his smile.
They buy ice cream at the bottom of the hill, and eat it sitting perched on the fence at the top.
"Riku," she says softly, when there's nothing left but syrup-sticky hands and half-chewed wooden sticks lying on the ground, "I need to tell you something."
Beside her, she can feel him stiffen, and she stares deliberately into the sun, wondering if it's bright enough to sear her away. Nothing is, maybe, except for her other, and Kairi is worlds and worlds and worlds away.
"What is it?" he asks warily, and she can already feel him shifting his weight, ready to fight, ready to flee, ready to... do what?
She breathes in. "The way things are right now, I can't wake Sora up. I've tried and tried and tried, but there's such a gap--from what happened--everything got all jumbled, and I don't have enough pieces to make sense of it all." She closes her eyes against the brightness, colors so thick she could drown in them. Her eyes are burning, just a little, and she wonders if she could ever capture this, layers of sunlight and emptiness and shade. "...I need the memories from the other half of his heart to make him whole again."
For a time, it's very quiet, and slowly, her nails bite into the wood beneath her palms, and the fence creaks slightly as he shifts beside her. "You need Roxas," Riku says slowly, "right?"
Her eyes are still closed, and she lifts her hands to curl her fingers into the scalloped hem of her new dress. The fabric is soft and smooth, pretty and dainty, and much more than she deserves. "Yes," she says softly. "DiZ will send you after him, I know he will."
"...yeah," he says, and then laughs, like something's broken that can't be fixed, and she reaches over and fumbles blindly for his hand. It takes a minute, since she's still got her eyes shut, and it takes her even longer than that to coax his fingers into unclenching, into threading through her own and holding on just enough to clutch and cling, not to crush. It would be so easy to break her, she thinks, but he's always been more resilient than any of them.
He'll break himself before he lets anyone break him again.
"...it's for Sora," he says finally. "It doesn't matter what happens, as long as it's for Sora."
Naminé breathes in, lifts her chin, and opens her eyes. "Yes," she agrees softly. "Anything for Sora."
"...have you told DiZ yet?"
She glances over at him, watching how still he is, watching how the warm light paints his hair in shades of honey and gold. "...I'll tell him tomorrow."
Carefully, she slips down from her perch, slipping closer until she's standing right in front of him, staring up into blank black cloth. "Riku?"
He tilts his head slightly, his free hand raising lightly to settle on her shoulder in an almost unconscious gesture, to keep her from falling. He did that for Kairi too, she remembers, and Sora sometimes, because he was the one who protected them.
"...would you kiss me?"
It's very quiet up above the town like this, and the trains passing below rumble slow and steady like a heartbeat, and she waits patiently, not expecting anything, not really knowing why she asked in the first place.
"...okay," Riku says, and lets go of her hand to tilt her chin up. She has to stand on her tiptoes to reach, and there's a moment of confusion while they both try to figure out which way to tilt their heads, and they accidentally bump noses on the first try.
The second try is soft and fragile and tastes of sea-salt and shadows, and when it's over she opens her eyes and looks at him for a long time without speaking. "Thank you," she says at last, and wraps her arms around his waist and leans against his chest.
This close, she can feel his heart beating, layers of light and darkness so thick that it makes it a little hard to breathe, to think, to keep from reaching for him, to keep from tugging on his chains and wrapping them around herself so tightly that he'll never let her go.
The one thing a Nobody can do is want, and his heart is so beautiful.
He holds her like she's a delicate thing right up until she suggests they try jumping off of the hill, and when they do, it feels like flying. They land in a tumble of limbs and laughter, and when they're still half-sprawled out on the ground and breathless, she curls her hands into his hair and kisses him again, like a real girl would, and this time it tastes like being alive.
They hold hands all the way back to the mansion, and she manages to coax him into lingering at her side while she draws, and he doesn't resist when she drops pencil and paper to draw him to her instead.
This time, he leans down and kisses her, slow and deep and warm, and doesn't pull away when she slides her hands through his hair and tugs the blindfold free.
His eyes are the brilliant blue-green of the oceans he left behind, his smile is half-shattered and gorgeous, and his lips taste of darkness and dawn.
He's the most beautiful boy she's ever seen.
* * *
She wakes up in the morning curled up in his cloak, missing the heat of him, and ignores the breakfast that's waiting on her table. Riku is leaning against the windowsill, staring out, and when she rests a hand against his shoulder, he loops his arms around her and tugs her back against his chest. She thinks about how well she fits against him, about the fall of his hands at her waist and the smell of his skin, and wonders if Kairi ever dared to dream this hard--could she want it if she hadn't?
"It's for Sora," he says roughly, still staring outside. "The worlds need him."
"You need him," she corrects gently, and stretches up onto her tiptoes to kiss him. He holds her just a little too tightly when she does, but she just smiles and runs her fingers through his hair, and right now he's just a boy, just a beautiful boy from the dark.
"Let's go see DiZ."
The walk from the white room to the computer room takes only minutes when done slowly, and less than one when done quickly. It takes them three hours to make it from one end of the hall to the other, and another hour to make it all the way down the stairs, and after he's gone, she lies on her back on the table and remembers the curl of his arms around her, and the taste of slow kisses traded in the soft shadows of the mansion, pooled deeper by his presence and curled around them like a cloak.
Just before he left, he said her name, not Kairi's, not Sora's, just hers, and told her she was beautiful.
She thinks what she's feeling should be the memory of happiness, but it hurts too much for that.
DiZ had laughed when she'd stretched up on her tiptoes to kiss him goodbye.
* * *
The waiting is terrible and cold and empty, and she sits in her room surrounded by her pictures and thinks of castles and hearts and loneliness.
Going down to see Sora makes her chest sting, going near DiZ makes her feel nauseous, and going outside will break the fragile spell of peace that Riku leaves behind him whenever he goes.
She thinks she might hate the silence.
* * *
"You don't actually care about him," DiZ says blandly, not looking at her, lost in endless streams of data and slow-burning hate, "You can't."
Her grip on the pencil tightens. "Does it matter? Kairi loves him. Sora loves him. I want to, too."
"You can't do that either."
"Shut up," she says, calm and clear, and glares him down and runs before he can strike her.
The picture beneath her fingertips is shaded sunset-gold and yellow, and the boy is a bright blur of color and darkness, but the girl kissing his lips is a wash of pale nothingness on the page.
* * *
Riku comes back a week later dragging a comatose Roxas and wearing a face that isn't his own, and he has to pick her up this time so she can kiss his cheek, but when she tries to hold him, he slips from her arms like a dream.
Later, hands covered in graphite and surrounded by brilliant smears of color, Naminé is glad she isn't a real girl, because a real girl who hurt this much would be crying, and she wouldn't be able to draw with tears in her eyes.
She throws herself into Roxas and Sora, curling them together again, slipping away from DiZ and his coldness and running from all the things she doesn't want to hear, and when Sora wakes up, she stands in the doorway and listens when DiZ gives the order for her destruction.
He leaves her on the top of Sunset Hill, and she throws her arms around his waist and drags herself up to kiss him again, trying to drink him in, trying to drown in his realness and the memory of what they've done, because even now he's still perfect, even now he's still the most beautiful boy she's ever seen.
He pushes her through a dark corridor instead, and she's stumbling in the in-between of the worlds and clutching at the empty ache in her chest when she finally remembers how to cry, except there's no time left now, not with heroes to guide and an Other to find and all the worlds beginning to spin to the keyblade's call.
She has to make it back to Kairi. Her other is the only thing that's left, and even she's never been hers, not really.
Nothing to nothing, and all the worlds to wander.
* * *
Later, she watches through Kairi's eyes as he laughs and fights and breathes and finally, finally finds his way home.
When Kairi's gaze starts to linger on Sora's eyes and Riku's smile, she clamps down on the memories and holds them tight, knowing she's being selfish, but also knowing enough now not to care.
He was almost hers, once.