"I dreamt about a man named Squall, once," Selphie says one balmy summer evening, sprawled out in the sand with the firelight crackling and streaking her hair with gold and crimson, "and mercenaries and knights and a Garden that could fly."
Selphie skips rope and spins the handles in a graceful dance, green eyes dreamy, and sings a nursery rhyme about falling stars and time inverted and sorceresses and white wings and flashing blades and the end of the world.
Kairi once met a man called Leon, with angel wings on his back and a coldness in his eyes that was slowly melting, and she thinks, yes, maybe you did know him too.
"I dreamt of a girl named Yuna," Tidus admits, eyes on the sky and the stars, "but I was the dream and not the dreamer." He steps a little more carefully, now, looking for his lost dream-girl, but most of the time he winds up staring at Selphie instead.
"I dreamt of water and the sky," Wakka says, ball spinning on his careful fingertips, looking at nowhere, "and a thousand gleaming lights."
Kairi thinks of the night when she stood on the shore and watched it bloom around her, and she knows that there was a boy there, a boy who had done something, a boy who she'd been calling to, a boy who had saved her and the world and everything else, but she doesn't know his name.
"I dreamt of Riku," Kairi says, closing her eyes against all of the things that make no sense, all of the things that don't quite fit right in her head. "He was watching over the boy I can't remember." She draws a breath and holds it, the better to hear the heartbeat rushing in her ears. "And a thousand shadows and hollow men and a hunger that won't die."
"Sounds like a nightmare," Wakka says, covering for them all, but she's seen the otherness in his eyes, and thinks maybe that's what they dreamt in the darkness, when their world had fallen to pieces, or did they make it out instead? She's never really been able to tell what anyone remembers, least of all herself, but everyone cringes at nighttime storms, now, when she can remember them laughing before.
Maybe they fell from other worlds too, Kairi thinks, remembering that clockwork world of lifts and gears and opulence crumbling to ruin, remembering waterfalls falling up and Heartless nipping at her heels, remembering that she can't remember someone - someones? - and remembering Riku-not-Riku, and screaming at the darkness and the shadows for something but she doesn't know what.
She doesn't tell them that she wakes up aching for him and the boy she can't remember, doesn't tell them that the last time she saw him he was glowing and transparent and holding back a wave of Darkness and Heartless and the thing that had stolen his body, doesn't tell them that the details are fuzzy but that she knows he gave up something for her, for that other boy, and that the only reason she's home right now is because he's not--the only reason home is there at all is because he and the other boy put it back.
She'd wanted to stay, to reach out, to save him, but he told her to run, so she swallowed her tears and ran.
Sometimes she chokes on the silence all around her, sometimes the sound of the waves crashing on the shore makes her cry, and once she stood in the surf with the tide rising and a wooden sword in her hand, knowing that it had a twin, not knowing where it had gone.
She remembers being cradled in bright warmth, and in the night and the dark she dreams of lying still and cool and empty in Riku's arms, the taste of his tears on her lips. She wakes up wondering if that had ever actually happened, if their fairytale didn't work, and then she remembers the other girls, sleeping and beautiful and wrapped in jewel tones, soft fabric and work-roughened hands and quiet fierce diamond-hard shimmering power, and what if he'd been their dark prince and not hers?
But no, that's silly - why would he be theirs? He was an island boy and she was an island girl but his eyes looked out past the sea and saw more, and she remembered the way the stars fell, so she must be a secret princess and he must be a prince, one of shadows and secrets and bright silver laughter. Her dark prince, yes, that's right, to match their light prince, the other boy who everyone says doesn't exist, the other boy who loves Riku as much as she does, the other boy who loves her as much as Riku does, the other boy she loves as much as she loves Riku.
Sand and sun and seawater, silver starfire falling, and the rushing swiftness of the wind. Two boys, two boys, there have always been two and she's always been their third, their lady-love and their princess, the one to poke them and tease them and curl up around them, the one to chase after them and tackle them into the sand, to hold them still and make them see the good things, the special things, the things that only silence and stillness can manage.
Sometimes it feels like she's floating in an empty sea, eyes closed, mouth shut, with only the memory of the land and sky to soothe her.
Sometimes it feels like she's missing her heart.
* * *
Secret: six years old and crying, her new father awkward and clumsy and gently encouraging her to meet the boys that have come to greet her, and one's holding a starfish and one's holding a flower, and she kisses soft round little-boy cheeks under the docks with the sand cool and damp between her toes.
Secret secret: twelve years old and newly aching, and they don't know anything except that she's hurting in an insides-tearing kind of way, and Riku looks away and turns red when she takes the chocolate and kisses his cheek, and the other boy squeals out loud and dives behind him when she kisses him too, and won't look at her again for hours.
Secret secret secret: Riku's a new-minted fourteen and even when his parents are home his house echoes with its emptiness, so they pile blankets on the balcony and camp out. When everyone's asleep, she slips away from Selphie and tiptoes around Tidus, hops over the sprawl of Wakka's arm and hurries over to the boys that are perched right on the railing, dangerously close to tipping over. They're both still awake, so she curls up against his side, and she and the other boy hold on tight-tight-tight while he shivers in their arms, and she cries, just a little, because he won't, and the other boy cries with her, and somehow that makes it a little better, even though it will never be okay. Riku kisses their salt-spiked lashes, his and hers, rubs his nose against their damp cheeks, and whispers in their ears that everything's all right.
Riku is lying.
Secret secret secret secret: fourteen years old and something is wrong with Riku, and when she closes her eyes, all she sees is darkness.
* * *
One two three, she counts, one two three leaves on a paopu and three bright stars that shine in the falling twilight, and at dusk and dawn she thinks Riku Riku Riku and under high noon sunshine she thinks that someone is missing, and on long lazy afternoons she watches the shadows stretch and thinks of a boy she can't remember dozing on the beach, sprawled limbs and careless hair and a silly smile that's all hers--all theirs--because this boy is the other half of Riku, sunshine threaded through with shadow to match Riku's midnight-moonlight glow.
Princesses aren't supposed to have two princes, not in the stories, but Kairi knows she's selfish and doesn't care, because they chose her to be theirs and she chose them to be hers, and she'll never choose between them, between the boys who put her back together when she shattered, between the boys who pulled her from the sea and into themselves, and it doesn't matter that they're so far away and that she can't remember one of them, because she knows, she knows that Riku remembers.
Riku's good at holding things, swords and bodies and shadows and light, and even though his grip on himself slipped once, even though he fell and fell and fell and fell, when she closes her eyes and listens to the sound of her own heartbeat, she can feel him clawing his way back again. The taste of him on her tongue is bittersweet darkness, burning so hot that it's blinding, all fierce impossible power and sheer stubborn recklessness, and she folds her hands and focuses on the shining brilliance in her heart and wishes him strength as hard as she can. He'll never fall again, she knows, even when he's hurting, even when there's no light around, because she knows that the door closed in his hands, in the other boy's hands, so she knows he'll hold the memory and himself for her, and when it's time to share he'll let it free again.
She stopped stock-still once in the hallway, white heat searing her insides, and didn't hear Selphie or the teacher or the nurse or the frantic sound of her father's voice, because all of her was straining so hard so far away that all she could feel was Riku, hurt and alone and half-drowning, and when the ache finally eased, she slept for twelve hours straight and dreamed of softly-falling shadows and bluegreen greenblue eyes and the gentle brush of his lips against her own.
She woke up feeling strange and beautiful and quietly determined to marry him someday, and laughed in familiar happiness when she heard a boy's voice that she didn't recognize whisper yes yes yes as soon as we can, quick, before he runs away from us again! against her ear.
His parents are offering a reward for information, but she can't tell them where he's gone, what he's done, and in school it's quiet and strange without him. She doesn't think he would want his parents to know what happened, because so much of it was bad, but she thinks of that man and that man's smile and glowing eyes and hates him, not Riku, never Riku, because Riku had gotten wilder and stranger with the coming darkness, enough to scare her, but none of them, none of them had known what was going to happen.
Sometimes she looks at the play island and wonders just how long the door has been whispering its secrets, in the howl of the wind, in the trickling shadows that slide along the floor, and she wonders what it was saying to him, all those times that they'd spent hours carving into the walls, all those times that they'd fallen asleep on the soft cool sand to escape the sweltering heat of a summertime sun.
She thinks about Traverse Town, about Hollow Bastion, a patchwork world and the crumbling ruin where she had been born, and the magician she'd met and the girl who had helped her with her aim, the girl with the green eyes and soft smile, the man with the silver blade and the other princesses whose hearts had slept with her own. It's gotten hazy, but she remembers the names of the worlds, the endless blanket of stars above the city sprawl, the cool dampness of the cavern beneath Merlin's study, water splashing at her ankles as she stood on her tiptoes to examine old murals and delicate torches. She remembers running through the castle, down steps and through beautiful, terrifying rooms, all vaguely familiar, none worth the look.
She remembers wondering where Riku's room was, if he'd had one, if it was as big and empty as his one at home, if he would need it then or ever again. Does he have one now, she wonders, or is he still on the road, still traveling through shadows? Would he care? She cares, because she snuck in through his window, once, ran her fingertips along pictures that were missing a boy, pulled one of his shirts from the closet and clutched it to her chest, buried herself in his sheets and slept the night away in his bed.
She can wait for him a little longer, she thinks, but as the months stretch on and the stars stay in the sky, she grows a little more impatient, a little more restless, a little more ready to crawl into the Secret Place and shove against the door with all her might, even though she knows it won't open for her.
It rains hard and vicious on the only night she tries, slamming useless fists against shining gold and solid wood, screaming every swearword she learned from Cid, because it's not very princesslike but there's an ache inside her that won't go away, and she needs to get away from this world, even though it's home, even though it's the place she loves, even though she promised to wait, because she's newly-fifteen and there's a hole in her heart and she loves them so much that it should be enough, enough to let her rip out through the darkness and into the universe beyond.
She wakes up in the morning tearstained and sweaty and feeling stupid and sullen and very young, and takes the day off from school and deconstructs her room, carefully examining every photo and its empty spot, polishing the stone on her necklace (she remembers it in Riku's hands, now, small and callused and clumsy, but she smiles down at memory-Riku's fierce scowl at the empty spot beside him, because he knows it too, that someone else is missing, and he hates it even more than she does because she knows he knows who it is that's missing) and carefully rearranging the detritus of fifteen years to reflect what she knows about what isn't there.
The absence is more glaring when it's cleaned up, lined up, and Kairi thinks of lines on paper and the impossible bright glint of Riku's eyes, and knows that he approves of it, wherever he is.
* * *
She keeps Riku's shirt tucked under her pillow and dreams of him every night, heavy waves on the shore and the air thick and humid and heavy with low-hung clouds, and they're staring into a small fire dug into the sand, a tiny inferno that blazes gold warmth into the darkness. She wiggles her way onto his lap and tucks herself against his chest, ignoring all his halfhearted protests and fumbling boy-awkwardness, the hands that hesitate just a moment too long before they touch her. They've both been growing, slow and steady, and so her head fits just right into the crook of his neck, and his hair is growing longer and tickles her nose with the smell and gleam of starshine, and beneath the outstretched sprawl of her fingertips against his chest, she can feel his heartbeat humming slow and steady, quietly shimmering with brightdark shadows.
"How much longer?" she asks, and feels his shrug all over, and it makes her tingle a little that he'll let her hold him this close, his breath ruffling her hair and his arms around her waist, as natural as the night and the darkness and the long slow rumble of thunder above them.
"Until it's time," he says, "there are still more things to fix before we'll be done."
"I know," she says, crystal-calm and certain, and she does know, because sometimes she can feel her fingers clutching crayons, gliding over crisp white sheets of paper, and sometimes delicate metal is warm and pliant in her careful hands.
"Who are we waiting for?" she asks, because she knows he knows, and Riku would never lie to her, not like this, never again.
He looks down at her through long bangs and long lashes and it feels like breathing, like the sound of her own heart beating, because yes, yes, he's hers and she's his and they're waiting for their boy, the one that they're missing, the one that belongs to them, and she's not crazy, she's not insane, she's just lonely, so lonely without them, and so it feels a little like drowning, being like this, all wrapped up in the only one in all the worlds who could ever understand her.
"We're waiting for the sky," Riku says, and she closes her eyes and breathes in deep and wraps her arms tight-tight-tight around him.
"He's still sleeping? What a lazy bum," she says, the words familiar and right and strong, like the sweet acid burn of paopu on her lips, and Riku smiles down at her, seagreen and silver and shadow, and it's the most natural thing in the world to tilt her head up and kiss his pretty mouth, to close her eyes and flood him with her power, to heal all the little wounds and to hush the silksoft blackblackblack presence curled in the back of his heart into silence.
Kairi wakes up in the morning exhausted and teary-eyed and laughing, the taste of darkness on her tongue, and the feel of summer sunshine swelling in her heart.