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The Sun in Wintertime

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"Hold on a minute there," he says, and watches as Pete lurches to a halt.

"Whadda you want, Goof?" Pete spits, half-turning, ears nearly pressed flat and belligerent as ever, maybe worse now that he's angry and in pain, another loss to a loudmouth kid with an oversized key and enemies so old they've almost fallen into friendship again.

Goofy looks at him and thinks thoughts of long-ago and children's laughter, summer barbecues and a bright blue skateboard, but only says, "I just thought you'd wanna know that PJ's doing well."

Pete stiffens, ears raising slightly, then he's puffing up again, blustering and proud in all the ways that PJ never has and still doesn't understand. "'Course he's doing well!" he snaps, "never woulda thought any different!"

"I saw him fighting the heartless at the Castle," Goofy continues, pretending he can't see the strain in those clenched fists, ignoring the not-so-subtle way Donald's hushing Sora in the background, "He'll make knight soon, once this is over."

Pete's eyes narrow. "Don't you go makin' things too easy for him," he grumbles, "he don't need your coddlin'."

Not anymore, Goofy thinks, and remembers long still nights spent watching over two little boys curled into one bed, in that deep black time when all the Castle knew that Pete was in no condition to be a father.

"Aww, it ain't coddlin'," is all he says, "he's gettin' real good. Made those bombs a yours and blew all the heartless right out the courtyard. And some of the shrubbery too."

It's the wrong thing to say. Pete's eyes slide narrow again, dark and mean, and his voice is a low growl when he snarls "Boat-boy king gone again, eh?"

"We took care of it," Goofy says calmingly, but can't help the way his fingers reflexively tighten on his shield. "Peg'd be proud and so should you."

Pete folds his arms again, angry and proud, the way he'd been standing in all that blackness, pulling and shoving at it to get his way, and Goofy doesn't like remembering that, the way Mickey's smile faded solemn and cold, the lash of his tail through the air like a whipcrack before the world flared brilliant and painful with white-gold power.

"I always been proud of my family," Pete says, low and grating and harsh, "you watch my boy, Goof. He'll make you all see someday."

Goofy sees all the things he doesn't say, because he stood beside Pete when his son was born, and wonders why it's so hard for so many to understand. "I'll send him your love," he says, and watches as that same blackness spills out of his open hand, watches the flick of his ears and the curl of his lip, familiar and unwelcome as always.

"Pah! Love," Pete spits, and sinks back into the darkness again, "who needs it?"

Goofy thinks of a little girl, bright red hair and a missing tooth, and the woman who died defending her, and thinks maybe it really is easier pretending not to care.

Behind him, Sora finally manages to wrestle free of Donald's full nelson with an indignant roar of "What was that all about?!"

It's almost a relief when Donald clonks him upside the head with his staff, because Sora's still too young to understand that shades of gray don't start and end with Riku, and that darkness of the heart is always born of love.

Chapter Text

The wind rustling through the jungle leaves isn't unfamiliar, and the lushness of the oasis is a sharp counterpart to the desolation out past the golden sands, and he's never minded taking first watch, because Donald was made for dawns and rude awakenings, and they've always been careful to make sure that Sora can sleep the night away. Duty and necessity will always come first, and they can't always afford to be reckless, but when they can it's not so bad to indulge him a little, to make sure he's the one to get the extra rations and the softest bunks, the swiftest-cast healing spells and all the strongest armor.

Sora isn't his child, and he's always been grateful for that.

Like this, he looks more the age that Goofy knows him to be, because human children grow strange and quick and wild, and he's never quite been able to tell how their parents keep up with them.

Sora curls the tip of his tail over his nose and stares through the soft fur, but Goofy knows his gaze is somewhere far away--the same place it always wanders in the long quiet moments when there is only silence and the stars around them.

Odd for him not to be sleeping, but not odd enough that it's alien, so Goofy stays quiet and waits for him to speak.

"...do you think Riku's mad at me?" he asks finally, soft and shaky, and there are a million questions interlaid into that one, a million little doubts and fears, and young love, Goofy remembers, is as fragile as it is overwhelming. He's been thinking about this for days, Goofy knows, biting his lip and staring off into space, so it's not that unexpected, now that he's finally said it out loud, even if he's not quite sure what prompted him to speak, out here in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

"Gawrsh, Sora," is what he says, slow and steady, "why would Riku be mad at you?"

Sora fliches back a little, pawing at the ground lightly and looking away, and Goofy wonders if he's going to be brave enough to speak it out loud, or muffle it away, because it's not so hard to see that his smile's been fraying around the edges, no matter how hard he tries to hang on. He's good at hiding it, but Goofy raised his own teenage boy and practically Pete's as well, and he knows better.

"I dunno," Sora says, and it's a terrible lie, not quite to the level of disaster it would be if it were PJ talking, but still far worse than anything Max would ever invent. "It was just a stupid thought, never mind."

It's not a stupid thought, and Goofy knows enough now to recognize that the cool, sharp-tongued boy he met at Hollow Bastion is far more than just that, that grief can be a poison and that Sora's never felt a loss like this before, not so keen and sharp, because he left them with a smile and the sound of the doors slamming shut could almost but not quite muffle the crack of a heart, newly splintered.

"Aw," he says, "Riku knew what he was doin' when he helped us shut that door. It'd be silly to get mad about that."

"I'm not mad at Riku!"

"A'course you're not," Goofy says, even though yes, Sora probably is and doesn't even understand why, "but that doesn't mean you can't be mad that he's not here."

"I'm not mad," Sora says again, which is a lie even if he doesn't know that it is, "I just don't understand what's going on."

You're growing up, Goofy thinks, but that's hardly a consolation, and he knows it. "Well, we gotta beat that Organization and take care of all of the Nobodies. And the Heartless too."

"I know, I know," Sora says, and it's close enough to sulking that he has to duck his head to hide his smile. "I just... I just wanna know what's going on."

He could tell him, he thinks, about duty and honor and knowing one's place, about what the role of a knight in a war really means, about why he's the captain of the king's guards but carries a shield, but the creed of Disney Castle is to keep smiling and carry on, and it's brought them through more wars than this one, and their kingdom will always continue for it.

"Well," Goofy says, "for now, we just gotta focus on what we can do. Figurin' things out is the king's job."

"We find stuff out too," Sora protests, and he's not wrong, but they tend to fall face-first into trouble, or it chases them down, they don't go seeking it out the way his king does.

"Yeah," he agrees, "but we gotta focus on what we do know, not what we don't."

Sora's quiet for a moment, pawing at the ground, and he mutters, low and angry, "We don't know anything."

"We know the important stuff," Goofy protests, because duty to his king comes second only to duty to his heart, and he's always most content when the two are in agreement.

"No we don't," Sora protests, fur on this back prickling, "the important stuff's still missing."

"We know what we need to know," Goofy says, thinking of the logistics of wartime, of field commands that mean far more than the simple instructions that they are, of the necessity of haste and silence, of choosing between duty and defiance.

His king will always forgive them for following their hearts, and that kindness is what has always made him shine, because there's a recklessness that he sees in Sora that he first saw years ago, when a mouse hopped off a riverboat and brought a sleepy little town to chaos.

"I still don't know where Riku is!" Sora snarls--or maybe it's a sob instead--but then he cringes back, maybe remembering the others snoozing nearby, or maybe just startled by the sound of his own voice, cracked and bleeding in all the ways that he won't admit he's hurting.

Goofy trusts Mickey, always has and always will, and if there are secrets he's keeping, they're being kept for a reason.

"Gawrsh," he says, "I dunno, Sora. But you trust Riku, don't you?"

Yes and always are the responses he's expecting, so it comes as a surprise when Sora whirls around and exclaims "He's stupid! Something bad happened, I know it did, and I don't know what it is and nobody will tell me!"

Goofy looks at him, at the tears glimmering in his eyes, the arched back and the ruffled fur that Sora would never recognize as anger or threat, because there's nothing here to strike at, no Heartless nearby and not a single Nobody in sight. His temper's been showing a lot more lately, Goofy knows, set on by heartbreak and loneliness, and the Organization's taunts haven't helped, and that fleeting encounter in the mountains of the Land of Dragons had left Sora tight-lipped and pale and silent for a solid week afterward, whenever he forgot that he should be smiling, whenever there wasn't something new and strange to distract him.

Sora is too young to trust that some things aren't for him to know.

"If nobody will tell you," he says, and if you don't trust him, "then I guess I gotta wonder if Riku asked them not to tell you."

Sora opens his mouth, and then shuts it again, squeezes his eyes closed tight and crouches down to the ground, not to pounce, but not cringing, either, a knotted-up ball of tension in the form of a lion cub, and Goofy thinks of the necessity of power, thinks of what that focus could do.

Pain isn't a necessity of love, merely its consequence.

"He'd do that," Sora says, and the words are half-choked. "He's so stupid he'd totally do that because he's such a dumb stupid idiot!" and Goofy gets up from his position next to the fire, even though moving means abandoning the best vantage point, because the night is long, and Sora is very, very young.

He settles down next to Sora without a word, and if he's sitting just a little closer than usual, it's not enough that it should ruffle his pride, not really, it's not with any of the caustic affection that colors every interaction that he's ever known from Donald, because maybe Sora might respond better to it, but Donald isn't a father. It's been such a long time since Max needed comfort like this, and Sora's not his own, has a bigger destiny than any of them, but still, he'll shelter him as best he can.

Goofy spends the rest of his shift watching Sora instead of the wildlife, carefully not saying a single word, and when Sora finally falls asleep, exhausted past the tears, he carefully straightens the camp back to normal before he wakes up Donald for the morning shift.

Goofy avoids intelligence missions because he's bad at information gathering, but he's very, very good at keeping secrets, and he will never betray a confidence given to him in honesty. It's why he pairs so well with Donald, the spark to his steady flame, and between the two of them, he thinks, they've done well enough with Sora, who doesn't so much need guidance as to be aimed in the right direction. Mickey is a kind king to respect them for it, if not a good one, but of the two, Goofy knows which he'd prefer to serve.

He wonders, briefly, about Mickey, who has never been a parent either, and the volatile young one he's chosen to guide, but then the sun is rising, and there are worlds to save.

There are always worlds to save, and that necessity outweighs everything, especially childishness, especially envy.

Sora, he thinks, has come to know that too, and if he takes a moment to mourn for that, in the hustle of packing up camp and moving on, no one will notice the difference.

Chapter Text

They've settled down against the wall now, a soft tangle of limbs and clothes and teenaged awkwardness, and Donald gives a chiding sigh and casts a minor heat spell to warm the chill section of wall they've picked out as a bed, even if Sora and Kairi seem to have chosen a faintly-squirming Riku to be their unofficial pillow. There's a painful caution to the way they're holding on to each other, even as Kairi's delicate hands crush the boys' to her own and Sora resolutely squeezes himself into the space under the curve of Riku's left shoulder, and even as they start to shove limbs around and poke clever fingers into well-known ticklish spots, it's obvious to anyone who bothers to look that all three of them are holding their breath, half-terrified that they're dreaming.

He casts a sleep spell when it becomes obvious that they're not going to crash from the adrenaline high any time soon, and isn't surprised when Riku shoots him a narrow-eyed glare for the favor, even though he reluctantly settles down into place as the group pillow as soon as Sora and Kairi start to droop over on top of him.

Nearly an hour later, the king casts the same spell, and this time, his eyes actually close.

* * *

Donald will always love Sora, and he knows that the politest term for his own personality is "explosive," but sometimes it's wonderful when the boy will just shut up and sleep, and it's been much too long since they've held a war council, much too long since he could linger in the presence of his king and oldest, if not dearest, friend.

(Sometimes, when he dreams, he is still dancing with José and Panchito, and he will never tell Sora that he has Panchito's smile.)

It has been years since this, months since this last quest began, and yet they do not speak of what will come--a madman is a madman, a threat to the worlds is a threat to the worlds, and there is no need to discuss what must be--and for once, his king is actually sitting still long enough to have a conversation that consists of more than a joyful greeting and a few shouted orders.

And since their path is clear and they need no words to understand one another, naturally, the talk turns to the children.

"They've grown so much," the king says softly, tail curling at his side softly, a gentle sweep of agitation he would never allow in front of strangers. "Maybe after this, they'll finally be able to go home."

They look at him for a long moment, and Donald can tell from his silence that Goofy probably expected this, but it still takes a moment to adjust to, the silent question in his king's--in his friend's voice.

"You know we can't take them with us," Donald says, thinking of Daisy, thinking of the excited chatter of his nephews, "they have families waiting for them."

"I know," Mickey sighs, "and they deserve to go home and--"

"Aww, it's okay that you don't want to send him back," Goofy says, "but yer majesty, you know you have to."

Donald blinks at his king, at the slight defensive hunch of his shoulders, many things quickly growing apparent in his stillness and the way his tail twitches to the left just a little bit too sharply. He'd thought it was all three of them, but... in some ways he guesses it's not too big of a surprise.

Even his king's heart is not devoid of selfishness.

"...he wanted to leave the islands," Mickey admits softly, not looking at them, "you know how strong his heart is. It was enough to call to Ansem from worlds away, that's how strong his desire to leave was. And he's never talked about his parents, not once, not even when we were following the Twilight path, not even when he slipped back inside the darkness to guide you."

"Sora hasn't either," Donald points out, thinking about a salt tang in the sea air, thinking about shadows and stillness and fairydust, "They've been busy, and they're young. Maybe they just didn't want to think about it."

Donald is very good at making excuses for reckless children, and has had enough experience that sometimes he can even believe the lies he's so gifted at spinning.

(The picture of Della he painted for the triplets has seeped into the real memories, and Donald doesn't mind it, because the lies are so much more beautiful than the reality he's so deliberately tried to forget.)

"Aww, but you know Sora always ignores personal stuff that way, especially if he's got something else to focus on," Goofy says, calm as always, too-aware of everything as always, and Donald remembers once again how very well he wears fatherhood, for all that Max is worlds and worlds away. "But I don't think Riku's like that."

Mickey sighs. "He broods," he admits, folding his hands over his knees and fiddling with his gloves, a nervous habit left over from a time when he couldn't sit still for longer than a minute and a half without accidentally destroying something. "He talks to me about it, sometimes, but..."

"He's still just a boy," Goofy reminds them, "they're all kids. They don't wanna let you know what they're really thinking. Sora hides it, and I bet Riku just laughs it off, right?"

Goofy is always right about these things, Donald thinks, and it's only affirmed when their king nods. It's hard to remember, sometimes, that for all of his cleverness, for all of the mischief of his youth and the strenuousness of his training, that the king has never really dealt with children before, not the way Donald has kept an eye on his own nephews, and definitely not the way Goofy raised his son. No soft laughter and sweetness, no time for pranks and lullabies, no time to hold a tiny life in cupped hands and shield it from the rest of the world.

(No time for a boy in a war to be a child.)

All of them are too young for this, and he's seen it in Sora's casual arrogance and single-mindedness, his aggression and viciousness, and the way he likes to show off, to pull and tug until he gets what he wants, and if he weren't such a sincere and vulnerable thing, if their enemies weren't so numerous and so dangerous, it would be much more aggravating than it already is. He's barely seen Kairi and Riku, but he remembers the wildness and jealousy so painfully evident back at Hollow Bastion, and the possessive way Kairi had reached for him, the fierceness in her grip as she grabbed Riku and kept him from slipping away again, and the fact that she's here now, running on sheer bullheadedness and a fierce clarity that makes all too much sense coming from a princess of heart.

(The princesses are lovely, but so was Maleficent, once.)

The Light is rarely kind, the Darkness is crueler, and the universe by far the worst, especially to those with power, especially to those just learning to wield it.

Someday, he thinks, once the last of the Organization falls and they can spare a moment to rest, someday he will sit down with the king and interrogate him on everything he knows, search all the legends of the keyblade to find out why these children are so different from the last, the inheritors of a tragedy that they all are too young to remember.

(Untrained and unknowing and innocent in ways that he can scarcely articulate, and somehow, somehow these children will save them all.)

Even in a dozing pile they radiate to his mage's senses, thick elemental magic clinging like an echo to the curves of Sora's fingers, Light spilling out from underneath Kairi's skin, and Riku between them is a paradox of Dark and Light so pure that they should rip him apart or meld together, not exist in a thick resonant harmony that he's never sensed anywhere else, not even in the realms of in-between, because those places stand in between the Darkness and the Light, not right on top of both of them at the same time without any care for the seeming impossibility of it all.

Maybe that's why his king is so intrigued by the boy, or maybe that's how it started, but it's clear from the way he's staring now that he's tired of having to let him go.

This time, Donald thinks, it should be different, because now he's finally going to where he belongs. Except one keybearer's longing was enough to rip apart his world, so really, should they be going back home at all, once this is all over? Sora wants it, he knows, but looking at him now, tangled up in the two of them, makes certain things shift and settle in the back of his mind, and he thinks, ah, that's what he wants.

He's seen it in the wrenching way Sora looks at beaches, the times his nose has scrunched up in his sleep, his half-dreamy smiles for the girl he left behind, every time a ragged whisper of "Riku" has slipped past his lips, and if home is where the heart is then he's already there.

(Sora's love is sincere enough to burn a world to ashes.)

But Sora's too young to know that the reason he wants to go home so badly is that it's the only place he can imagine being safe, because it's where his memories of his precious people were formed, and all he wants is to keep his precious people close, because it's gotten so idealized in his head that he doesn't realize how very much he's changed, how much they all have, and it will be a painful realization buried in all that joy if he ever does get home.

(They will win this fight and there will be no more hearts lost to darkness, there will be no more children murdered in this war, and they will be done with Xemnas--with Xehanort--for good.)

Sora will be happy there, with them, if the worlds would let them have peace for a time, and Kairi will be too, but he's not a wizard because he's blind, and just because he gives his temper free reign (the Duck temperament is famous on more worlds than his own) doesn't mean he isn't capable of insight.

Looking at his king now, he can see the longing and the frustration and the understanding, and he thinks that of the three of them, Riku would be the one to come back with them in a heartbeat, if not for Sora and Kairi. Sora's capacity for love is overwhelming, and Kairi's, he thinks, must be radiant, but Riku's must be intense enough to drown in.

He finds he can't begrudge his king for not wanting to let that go, not when there's a curl of reluctance deep in his own heart that's only soothed by Sora's happiness, the desperate way he's clinging to them even in sleep, and the way they're holding him back, clutching hard enough to bruise.

"It's not really a surprise," Goofy says, carefully not saying out loud words that would be too clumsy for what he actually means, and those who don't watch really have no idea how graceful he is, why someone so simple on the surface has the king's endless and precious trust, and always, always will. "They're just a little too young to figure it out, that's all."

And that's the real trouble, that at this young they've already discovered what they are, even if they're not quite sure what it means.

Storybook love is real, Donald knows, real enough for falling and redemption and shattering and saving the worlds, but it's dangerous, so dangerous, and it's worse when they're so very young. It might be sweet and pure when it's born, but immaturity and insecurity wreak havoc on good intentions, and that's why everything went wrong for them in the first place, because young love is never sure even when it's strong enough to rip down world-walls and tear apart hearts and bodies and minds.

(Sora has never once realized that his smiles are not actually fooling either one of them.)

Watching Sora has been enough to make him fear for his nephews, for the future when they'll fall so hard that there will be no recovering from it, because everyone in his family loves long and viciously, and even when it will never work, even when worlds and sheer bullheaded stubbornness keep them apart, that love will never fade.

(Somewhere out in all of the worlds Goldie still sparkles, somewhere she must still shine, because his uncle still lives and laughs and breathes, and someday he will find her again.)

Sora will never abandon his allies, never turn from his duty to the worlds, but he won't stay put either, not forever, he won't belong to any of them except Kairi and Riku no matter how hard they love him, and they won't belong to his world no matter how much the idea of having the three of them living in the castle appeals.

Two keybearers and a princess of heart, the darkness in his own heart whispers, oh how greatly our kingdom would prosper, and how many more would heed our king's warnings when more keys than his own answer to the will of the worlds.

(Of the three of them, Donald has always been the most cynical, and of the three of them, he is the darkest, but a mage must know balance above all things, and destroying the darkness is just as foolish as destroying the light.)

The part of him that loves Sora wants him safe and happy, and that would mean that Kairi and Riku would be safe and happy too, and he's seen the way Riku glows around the king, the way she lights them both, and since he's found them Sora has become almost blinding in his quiet joy, and there is no refuge safer for young heroes than the halls of Disney Castle.

Daisy would love them, he thinks, and Max would be thrilled to meet the hero of the worlds, and from what the king has said Queen Minnie already knows about Riku and would take him as her own in a heartbeat. And it would be good for them, too, for Kairi to learn how to use the Light and the pretty, gleaming keyblade that Riku gave her; for Sora to refine his magic so that he wields control instead of just power; for Riku to grow accustomed to people again; for all of them to learn a little discretion and tact and how to play politics, so that they don't just keep blundering their way towards saving the worlds, one minor disaster at a time.

It would be safer, then, for the three of them to figure out how they balance against each other, how they will fight together, because it's clear that Kairi has never held a weapon before, and that Riku isn't used to having this many people around him all at once, even though it's obvious that he's missed them both, even though it only took a heartbeat for he and Sora to fall into rhythm again.

They are children in age and maturity, and adults in everything else, and from all of Sora's words the home they left behind was a refuge, a golden safe space where children could grow up in safety and in leisure, and that is not a place for a warrior to live until well past the time in which they should retire to raise little warriors of their own.

Sora is barely sixteen, Riku is brushing a too-wise seventeen, and Kairi is somewhere between them, a girl's natural maturity hampered by her lack of training, and they'll probably be all but married within the next few years, but children--and there will be children, Donald knows with a mage's foresight, ridiculously strong brilliant children, with their fathers' fierceness and their mother's clear calm understanding-- actual children will take much longer, because none of them have grown up yet, but after the vacation ends those little islands will stop being a refuge and start to stifle them again.

Not for Sora, not really, and probably not for Kairi, but Riku is another matter, and there's no hiding it, and of course they'd never let him go.

(Now that they have a kingdom, now that they are warriors and statesmen instead of dockside brawlers, they are supposed to act with grace, but Donald remembers his youth, and he remembers Mickey before he was a king, and all of the legends say that keybearers are harbingers of chaos, and his king has always, always loved dangerous things.)

Donald thinks of his nephews again, and sweet pretty pink Webigail, wherever she is, and thinks of what any of them would do if she came back with two warrior boys attached to her arms and the will and power to never ever let them go, and thinks that might be a problem, too, because some worlds are more accepting than others, and he's not quite sure what sort of place Destiny Islands really is, to have borne Sora and Riku both, and drawn Kairi to itself, and then the darkness.

(There are no gummi routes that allow passage to that shining world.)

He thinks he would like to see their home one day, but only for the people there, and for the chance to dabble in unfamiliar magics, to seek out what made them into what they are--and, he thinks, it would make Sora very happy to share something of his own with them, nothing borrowed, nothing won, but just his own.

(He cried for home once, in his sleep, called names neither he nor Goofy recognized, but somewhere along the way all the names slurred into Riku, and every smile became threaded with the promise of Kairi.)

Assuming that home is still his, of course, and Donald is well aware that he's being cruel, but he doesn't like all the secrets in the silence, and a graveyard for those foes they've slaughtered is a poor place to take a rest, but he hopes, at least, that they've found some semblance of peace, if such a thing can be granted. He whispers a prayer for them just in case, because in the old old days mages were priests, too, before the worlds began to understand what they were made of.

Compassion has its limits, and destruction has its place as well, so he has no regrets for the ones they've killed, only pity, because no-one in the Duck family has ever been kind.

Max has been raised in the palace, knew he was going to grow up in his father's footsteps, and his own nephews take after their Uncle Scrooge and are more than capable of managing on their own, but from what little Sora has said of his childhood, his islands weren't ready for a war.

No one is ever ready for a war, and yet here they sit, the best hope of the worlds a softly-snoring tangle of barely-trained teenagers, a magician with a temper problem, a knight who hates violence and a king who is giving serious consideration to child-stealing.

"It would be so easy," Mickey sighs, and draws himself to his feet, strides over to the pile of teenagers and crouches down. Riku doesn't so much as twitch when Mickey runs one gloved finger along the fall of his hair, and that is evidence enough that they must not keep them, that they have to let them go, and Donald doesn't mind the bitterness on his tongue.

(In his own thoughts, a mage must always be honest, and he is always sincere in his rage.)

"Yer actin' like a king," Goofy says approvingly, and Mickey smiles, but it's with resignation, not joy, and when he rises to his feet again, it's with a lingering glance backwards, a smile that slides into the gentlest kind of grief, thick with love and regret, promises unmade and dreams unwritten, and there's a mess left in that room in the palace, the one made for the heir that cannot be the boy lying there, even though it's his things that are scattered around that room, even though the bed is big enough for three.

Sometimes, responsibility must come before the demands of the heart.

(And Donald will always envy that Sora will never understand this.)

* * *

When they wake, they feed them and scold them and check their armor, pass around elixers and hi-potions and weigh them down with ethers, cast a few surreptitious spells, and then accompany their children to war.

(They will never be their children.)

Chapter Text

* * *

His apprentice is, as ever, endlessly reckless to bring such a creature to his door.

The child's eyes are a piercing blue-green, not gold, and that is the only reason Yen Sid lets him pass across his threshold.

Yen Sid watches the boy as he glances around the tower, the fall of his hair and the lightness of his stride, the thrum of his power and the suspicion in his eyes, and the scent of sun and saltwater that even the darkness threaded through blood and bone and sinew cannot drown.

The resemblance is more than striking, more than enough to be disturbing, but then, Mickey had never known Xehanort in his youth.

And even if he had, Yen Sid thinks, watching the way his apprentice watches the child, even if he had, he might not have cared.

* * *

Travelers eat when they can and sleep when they may, so it is easy enough to feed the child and send him to bed, though Mickey holds his hand up and shakes his head when Yen Sid lifts a hand to cast a spell to ensure that the boy stays asleep through the conversation that is doubtless to ensue.

It will only be a conversation because Mickey has finally grown out of the tendency to shout when agitated.

"He'll wake up," Mickey says, voice soft, "if he doesn't recognize the caster. Let me."

Mickey's control over his magic has improved considerably in the last decade, so Yen Sid lets him cast, relatively confident that nothing will break this time, and quietly pondering the kind of lifestyle that would make the boy's unconscious magic a reflex instead of a learned skill, as it should be.

He suspects it has much to do with the flood of darkness of late, and its more recent ebb.

Mickey lingers in the doorway for a long moment, watching the magic settle, watching the boy curled on the bed relax beneath its touch, and Yen Sid settles behind his desk to watch his apprentice.

Much has changed in Mickey since last he saw him. Kingship suits him well, and while there has always been little darkness in his heart, it seems to have tempered somewhat, aggressive purpose when before it only turned him to mischief.

But the king has not changed so much that he cannot scold him for what he has done.

When the door finally closes behind him, Yen Sid steeples his fingers and fixes his apprentice with a cool gaze. Mickey's gotten too old to squirm beneath the weight of silence, so his apprentice just cocks his head to the side and stares back, serene.

"Why have you brought darkness unto my home, Mickey Mouse?"

Mickey's tail lashes to the side, once, sharply, a gesture of impatience that he hasn't yet outgrown, though he only does it now when in private, and Yen Sid reminds himself that he has no reason to be pleased that his apprentice still trusts him.

That trust, after all, is why that disruption in the form of a boy lies sleeping in a sacred sanctuary that by all known logic should have driven him away.

But then the Twilight does not share all of its mysteries even with him.

"I didn't bring any darkness here," Mickey says, voice clear and even, and there is certainty there that speaks to a story that will remain untold, for Mickey has an understanding of the World that Yen Sid knows better than to question. "I just brought Riku."

He's going to question it anyway. "You deny that he is the darkness of which I speak?"

Mickey has always been perceptive, if artless, and that boy is spilling out darkness so thick that it leaves a trail in the air behind him, one that for all of its heaviness nevertheless still shimmers with a clear light bright enough to be blinding.

It is utterly absurd to look upon.

Mickey's tail lashes once again, but he only says, "I'm not sayin' that he hasn't got a lot of darkness in him. I'm just sayin' that it's not all that he is."

...he has grown, or at least learned to control his temper better. Yen Sid rather likes the improvement. "You deny the taint in him?"

"In him," Mickey says pointedly. "That's not who he is."

"Then who?"

"...it's Ansem."

...that explains much, or doesn't. Ansem the Wise was lost with his world when Radiant Garden fell. "What exactly are you referring to?"

"The Heartless that caused it all."

...interesting. The Worlds had said nothing of this, and yet--yes, he can see it now, a layering where there should be none, and he thinks that the boy seems very young to be caging such a foul thing.

But then given the state of things, it's hardly surprising that the newest generation would be Called as soon as they were capable of bearing a blade, and the young are ever vulnerable to corruption.

There are untold stories in his apprentice's eyes, but Mickey has always borne the secrets of others better than his own. Yen Sid leans a bit further over the desk and inquires, "And his heart has not yet collapsed under the strain?"

"It won't." Calm and sure, the ghost of a smile on his lips, and Yen Sid wonders if Mickey realizes that pride is an inappropriate emotion to be feeling towards a boy like this. It should, at the least, be pity instead, for he knows it will never be the disgust that such a thing deserves. "It never will."

Mickey's feelings are rarely wrong, but Mickey was never a human boy, and knows little of their weaknesses. "You seem confident. Why?"

His smile widens. "Because Ansem first threw him out rather than keep fighting him."

That is certainly an inventive way to look at the matter. "One would think that would imply victory on the part of the Heartless."

There's an utter serenity about Mickey that is as inappropriate as the pride. "He woke up in the realm of darkness, whole and intact, and helped us close the Door to defeat the one who stole his body from him."

It is not unheard of for a keybearer to create something of themselves to carry on long past the point at which they should be dead, but Yen Sid knows without a doubt that the boy beyond the door has never had so much as a day's worth of formal apprenticeship, much less any study of the metaphysics of what children of the World may become when pushed past their limits.

And that means it was all instinct.

And that makes the boy even more dangerous than he would already be, given what he is.

"Even the strongest of hearts will succumb to the darkness," he reminds Mickey, "Few have the willpower to resist its allure for long."

Mickey smiles, and it is not the kind smile of a selfless king, it is the satisfied smile of a warrior, with echoes of the dangerous brat he'd once been. "It's the darkness itself that strengthens his heart, makes his light shine brighter. I've seen how he uses it. He's different than all the others."

The Dark is chaotic, restless, and drives the hearts of sentient beings to strength even as it corrupts their will, yet it is a necessary thing, for the Dark is also what powers creation, while the Light orders it, and the Twilight sings in the in-between where neither reign.

And this is why there is not a Dark equivalent for the Princesses of Heart, for they would tear the World asunder.

The idea that a mere child could change that is laughable, and yet the king, who of all people should know better, who has seen corruption eat through the hearts of worlds and men alike, the king... is smiling.

"All it takes is a strong will," Mickey says, and that has been true of him all along, but of him and no other. Impossible in anyone already so tainted as that boy, though Mickey has always had a tendency to believe the best of anyone until they prove themselves unworthy of that trust.

And yet... "If you are so sure of him, then why have you not taken him on as an apprentice?"

Mickey's gaze hardens, and Yen Sid watches as he shifts his weight, as magic forcefully left uncast shimmers in the air, wondering which of the child's enemies he is seeing--for Mickey has never been so vicious towards his own. "I won't do that to him. Not ever."

This would be dangerous ground to tread were he anyone but himself, but Mickey will always be his apprentice, and he has never cared about crushing the ideals of others--should they break so easily, they were never worthy of being in the first place. "That is not an answer, Mickey Mouse."

Mickey's tail stills, and that's almost as much of a question as it is an answer. "He answers to no one. Never again."

And yet if he had done so willingly once before--for the Dark does not whisper to those who will not hear.... "You have an unfortunate propensity not to rule, for a king," Yen Sid says, instead of calling his apprentice on his lie.

In truth, that reluctance to interfere with the free will of others makes him a brilliant king, and an even more brilliant keybearer, but it made him a terrible apprentice.

"My people make their own decisions," Mickey says, and in his own way, he is as much a servant of the Dark as of the Light, which is as it should be, to know when to let chaos reign and when to hold it back.

Yen Sid inclines his head in acknowledgment, but finds it necessary to point out something that his apprentice seems to have forgotten, or at least seems to be ignoring. "That boy is not yours."

It makes Mickey smile, which is oddly satisfying. He truly has grown into himself, into his Masterhood, and while it will ever be impossible to see him as an equal, Yen Sid can certainly feel some satisfaction that it was his own teachings that brought him to this point.

"No, he's not," Mickey agrees happily, more happily than he would have predicted, given his apprentice's apparent fondness for the boy. "He belongs to himself and no one else."

"Not... Ansem, was it?"

"Never Ansem." And there is the temper, the hands curling into fists and the expression hardening, the tail lashing quickly now, a long sweep across his body all the annoyance that he allows himself to show now that he's truly a king.

In older days, half the objects in the room would have shattered by now.

"And yet how did Ansem come to the boy to begin with?"

Silence.

"Surely you know the answer to my question, Mickey Mouse."

Mickey draws in a long breath and glances away, towards the closed door that might not exist at all for all that it does to hide what's inside. "...I'm not excusing what he's done."

And he'll never name it, either. The boy has a weak heart to let so much darkness pour into what once must have been a brilliant light, judging by what remains, but that is the way of all those who succumb. "So you do admit that what he has done is terrible."

It must have been, to create such a weight as the boy drags behind him, to lure such a foul creature to him--and hadn't Destiny Islands been one of those so-recently lost and even more recently restored worlds?

Busy children they have been, the both of them--for even he has heard tell of Sora, their bright and shining hero, and, of course, this one, wreathed in secret and shadow, at Maleficent's side and then not, fleet-footed through the endless halls of Castle Oblivion, and now sedate at the side of his own apprentice--yet still strung through with this so-called Ansem.

There's a gentleness to the king's face now, and he's halfway turned towards the door, but Yen Sid finds that he doesn't particularly mind the rudeness. It has always been Mickey's way to love fiercely, and unwisely, and that will never change.

"And he regrets it," Mickey says, softly, and then, even more softly, a whisper not meant for Yen Sid's ears, "...maybe more than he should."

Of course the child regrets it, might well regret himself into the depths of self-loathing and suicidal despair for it, with a light so pure as that it's practically a given, regardless of the fact that with that much darkness in him there shouldn't be any such light at all--and Yen Sid looks at his apprentice and thinks oh.

The guilt goes full circle, it seems.

But Mickey need not worry, for a child bearing darkness so deep would never stop fighting--every Heartless and Nobody exists because of that fierce will to survive--but he will keep that little tidbit of information to himself, because already he can see the disaster that would ensue should a creature like that lose his heart and still refuse to die.

Xehanort reborn indeed.

"Apologies mean little in the face of so much destruction," he says instead, drawing Mickey's attention back to where it belongs and breaking off whatever reminiscence he has doubtless been engaging in.

Mickey has always been a daydreamer, and easily irritated when those dreams were broken. Yen Sid wonders what will happen when the boy inevitably smashes them, as all creatures of darkness do.

"The worlds have been restored, half of the Organization has already fallen, and Sora is safely asleep. That's more than an apology, that's making amends."

As if there could be salvation for such a creature. "An attempt doomed to failure."

Mickey shakes his head. "It isn't and you know it. You can tell as well as I can how strong he is."

Yen Sid leans back in his chair and folds his arms, raising an eyebrow at Mickey's impertinence. "I can tell how dangerous he is."

"I can tell how dangerous we all are," Mickey retorts, "and that helping him will only help the worlds even more."

Yen Sid looks past his apprentice, past his wall, to the corona of power that cocoons the sleeping boy. Light and darkness intertwined, but it's not Twilight, for the powers do not blend, but neither is the light crushed by the darkness nor the darkness obliterated by the light. "That boy is an abomination," he muses aloud, "or an aberration, at the least. The darkness around him will only increase as he grows stronger."

"And so will the light," Mickey replies, arms folded in what another would call regality but Yen Sid recognizes as obstinacy. "They both make him stronger."

They probably will. And that is part of the problem. "He should not be." That the worlds should allow this... but the worlds have allowed much, over the centuries, by giving so much freedom to their chosen ones.

In the end, it is always keybearers who destroy the worlds, or save them.

"Maybe that's true," Mickey allows, which is more than Yen Sid was expecting, "but he is, and maybe that's the way it truly should be."

Yen Sid shakes his head, casting his apprentice a long glance. Perhaps he too has been addled by his long stay in the Darkness, however unlikely that may be. "He disrupts the balance."

Mickey smiles then, a soft, secret smile, the smile he wears when listening to the heart of his own world sing. "He is the balance."

Ridiculous, of course, and yet there the child remains.

"...there is potential there," Yen Sid allows, since somehow the child still breathes after having been torn from his body and then restored to it, with that foulness still festering inside, yet somehow not rotting him from the inside out, "but history is against him."

"Then give him the chance to surprise you."

Yen Sid stands from his chair, already resigned. "As he surprised you?"

"No," Mickey says, gaze already sweeping back towards the door, "I don't think it's surprising at all."

The realm of Twilight has never had a child of its own, and the world this boy has come from is made of the brightest Light, and brought unto the Worlds the greatest darkness he has known in his time.

And of course, there is Sora.

In the end, there isn't a choice at all. He cannot lose Mickey, and Mickey will not abandon this creature that he has found--and the boy is certainly powerful enough to be of some use before his heart fails him.

"Very well, my apprentice. What would you have me do for this child you have found?"

"Maleficent found him first," Mickey says, and oh, there is venom there, a darkness thick and biting, a pure and righteous rage that the boy fell into her clutches--and Ansem's--before he could find him.

It is probably not worth telling Mickey that the child would never have listened to him when he first tumbled out into the freedom of the Worlds, not when the darkness first came to claim him.

And Mickey is still talking, still coldly furious, still vibrant in his rage. "She taught him to use his power, but healing is light magic, and she'd never teach him anything that would use that."

Not even to save his life, the king does not say, for his narrowed eyes and the spike of power rippling the air are all the words he needs.

But then, why would she? The witch is hardly a fool, and the Heartless this boy would make would be a terror, to say nothing of the Nobody he would doubtless also create.

"It is a magic which you are quite adept at," Yen Sid reminds Mickey, sweeping across the floor to gaze out the window to the worlds beyond. He mislikes this side of his apprentice, the desire to seek out a mortal justice beyond the will of the Worlds, but he supposes it can't be helped. His apprentice was born to be a king before he was chosen to be a keybearer, and as such, his priorities have ever been skewed to the transient and emotional.

Mickey's footsteps are as light as a summer breeze, but there is still ice frosting the edges of his words. "I can't be with him all the time," he says, "he needs to be able to be as free as he likes."

Yen Sid frowns out at the stars. A thing like that, and yet his apprentice would let him wander when he should be struck down where he lies. "And yet the child you claim to be so gifted cannot cast a simple cure spell."

Mickey clucks his tongue against his teeth, one of the oldest habits Yen Sid can remember--and he's more than a little surprised by the thought, since Mickey hasn't fidgeted with his gloves even once throughout the whole of the conversation.

His apprentice is desperate, it seems.

How interesting.

"He uses his power differently than anyone I've ever seen. Is it really so surprising?"

Yen Sid has met many incompetents and unbelievers in his time, but the thought of a keybearer being unable to cast magic is baffling, even when it is this particular one. "And you believe I can assist him?"

"Can't you?"

"Tch. Still so impertinent, little mouse."

"...you'll understand, in time," Mickey says, and Yen Sid leans down and very lightly flicks the back of one ear with a fingertip, because Mickey will never be too old for that.

This could prove an interesting challenge, and an illuminating one.

Weapons, after all, are meant to be used, and a well-honed blade is ever more efficient than a dull one.

* * *

It is somewhat irritating to find that the boy is an attentive pupil, though he has no grasp of theory and, as Yen Sid first predicted, instead relies only on instinct to cast his magic.

It is further irritating to find that he is completely incapable of casting magic like any normal mage.

And it is utterly bewildering that his ability to cast with light and darkness is flawless, his control over each element completely unhindered by the presence of the other, to the point that they seem to be reinforcing each other in a way that Mickey's words had only hinted at.

The child stands quietly in the ruins of a once-pristine training room, looking both slightly awkward in the way of all teenagers when they are uncertain whether or not they are about to be reprimanded, and slightly on edge in the way of all teenagers when they are certain that they have done nothing deserving of such a reprimand.

Yen Sid has seen many limit breaks over the years, has shared them with beloved comrades and the comforting hum of his own power, and yet he has never seen one quite like that before.

The blast of light that ended the attack had been severely disorienting, and he supposes that was rather the point--perhaps his apprentice is on to something after all.

It has been a long time since Yen Sid has been surprised.

He finds he enjoys the feeling even less than he used to.

"Do you not find casting such an attack uncomfortable?" he inquires, watching as the boy straightens up a bit from his slouch only to cast him a rather puzzled look.

"Why would I?" the child asks, as if drawing on the darkness to slip through the fabric of the World while simultaneously charging a keyblade with blinding Light were a natural thing to do, and Yen Sid frowns at the seething knot in the boy's chest and thinks of Xehanort as he wonders Did you teach him that, too?

* * *

It's been a long time since they've had the chance to play dress-up with an unwilling victim, but Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are surprisingly subdued when given the chance to create new clothes for the boy.

The child pulls the cloak on again swiftly, sidles out of the room on quick and silent feet, and Yen Sid thinks it must be an unfortunate thing to be so young and so desperate for approval.

It is hardly a wonder that the child clings to his apprentice so tightly, for Mickey is the only bright thing that would so willingly tolerate his presence.

Yen Sid leans into the room and eyes the mirror on the far side of the room, then snaps a hand up to burn off the last traces of Darkness that still cling to it--their workspace is still shimmering with magic, but it's nothing concentrated enough to even dilute what the child must have seen when he looked into that mirror.

"I trust you have sufficiently attired the child?" he asks into the stillness, and watches as the three of them startle out of their huddle, turning gray eyes that are alternately troubled, reproachful, and furious on him, although it is hardly his fault that the child is at that particular time in a boy's life when nothing, including his own body, quite fits right.

"It should do him nicely," Fauna says, because she is the gentlest of them all, and hates to see any child damaged, "But you should have sent him to us sooner."

"Maybe not," Merryweather grumbles, "but still, it's disgraceful that you waited that long to bring him to us."

"He has only recently arrived," Yen Sid explains, "and there are more pressing concerns than his clothing."

"Pressing indeed," Flora says. "What is it that you wanted to know? Surely you're not occupying our doorway just to chase out pesky shadows, we're more than capable of doing that much, at least."

Small shadows, at any rate, not like those that had devoured their world, not like those that roil beneath the child's skin. "I merely wondered what you thought of the lad," he says, "Mickey has asked me to teach him to heal himself, and in truth, it is difficult going. I was hoping for your insight."

The three of them exchange quick, silent glances, a conference that he is not privileged to hear, and then Fauna turns a slow, hesitant smile on him, gently fiddling with the leaf-green folds of her dress. "Well, he's certainly a handsome boy," she says softly, "so quiet and attentive, as well."

"Oh yes, and so soft-spoken too," Flora agrees. "Not at all fidgety or uncertain like most boys his age."

Merryweather is scowling, and that is answer enough. "I guess he's all right," she says, but her arms are folded and her gaze is far away, as if she's trying to puzzle out an answer to a question that she is unsure of.

Yen Sid has some doubts about the boy's politeness, but perhaps the boy is the type who is only decorous around women. "But...?"

The silence lingers for a few moments longer, then Fauna looks up, a troubled expression on her gentle face. "...but something about him reminds me of Maleficent."

"Fitting. It was she who first trained the boy in his power."

He can see the moment realization sinks in, the way three spines stiffen in horror, the fury that steals across Merryweather's face--of all of them, she's always hated Maleficent the most.

"And you're helping him to unlearn it?" she asks sharply, "You'll get that darkness off of him?"

That is not what he is doing at all, because the king does not think he needs to unlearn the very skills that have kept him alive all this time.

And if he asked the boy himself, he knows that Riku would say the same.

The three fairies are good and wise and gentle, and he trusts their counsel, and though they think the child is salvageable, there is no saving those who do not want to be saved.

"I will do what I can," Yen Sid says, because he does not want to lie to them, even if they do not entirely, as Mickey has been known to say, 'buy it.'

"You had best," Flora says quietly, casting a glance at the last mirror, still gently shedding shadows. "It would not do to lose him."

"I sincerely doubt that my apprentice would allow such a thing," he says, in an attempt to be soothing, but Fauna cocks her head to the side and looks at him for a moment.

"Are you certain?" she asks, and Yen Sid frowns, for surely Mickey would not be so foolish.

Surely he would not.

It takes a sharp, unpleasant twist of power to wipe their memories of the conversation, and a harder one to cloud the memory of Maleficent, but given the risks involved, he's willing to make the temporary sacrifice of power to ensure the safety of them all.

If this one made it out of the realm of darkness, after all, who is to say that another will not?

* * *

When Yen Sid throws books at him, the child reads them attentively, and he is bright enough to pick up on the theory, but this proves a problem in its own right. The child is a chosen of the keyblade, has the same gift for languages that they all do, but it's all he can do to refrain from hurling the child out the nearest window when he catches him murmuring under his breath in the curling, guttural language of the dark.

Objectively, he knows that it is only logical for the child to do so--he is, after all, only trying to understand, and with the Dark in him so deeply it is only to be expected that he has been gifted with its tongue--but all of his attempts to connect what he is trying to learn with what he already knows seem destined to end in failure.

"It doesn't make any sense! How are you supposed to put darkness and light together and make magic? All it does is make whatever you thought of first stronger, or changes it into something new. I don't get it," the child grumbles to Mickey, and Yen Sid pinches his nose between his fingers and counts to ten silently in his head in six different languages before leaning back in his chair and sighing.

What the boy is saying is not actually true, after all.

Most mages draw on the power that is inherent in themselves to cast, a reflection of the light and darkness in their hearts, each spell drawing the majority of its strength from one or the other, and the stronger and more skilled the mage, the stronger their magic becomes.

When the boy first tries to draw on both to create a spell in the way that Yen Sid has instructed him, he winds up with a giant glowing sword made of pure darkness in one hand, and another made of light in the other.

Which really shouldn't be possible, but then again, he's seen the child's limit break, and that doesn't make any sense either.

Yen Sid looks at the new holes in the Tower walls, the boy standing in his room with two swords in his hands and an expression that is caught between pride and guilt, and supposes he shouldn't be surprised.

Mickey's chosen child would have to be just like him, after all.

"Banish those and try again," Yen Sid says wearily, "Perhaps you could try to focus on defense instead, as that is where you are severely lacking."

It is a true deficiency. From what he's observed, the child's fighting style relies on sheer speed and aggression, a good match for the Darkness he wields so readily, but even his defense relies on being swift enough to dodge and counterattack before his opponents have realized that their attacks have missed.

Yen Sid leans back in his chair and watches as the power curls back inside the boy and then out again, shaped differently this time, for in some ways, the boy does learn quickly.

What he winds up with isn't right either, but Yen Sid supposes a shield, even if it is cast of Darkness instead of magic, will at least prove useful to the child.

* * *

The child, Yen Sid has decided, is a headache, and he's starting to suspect that maybe Mickey is right to be so upset that they had overlooked his presence when his powers were first stirring, since the boy seems damnably ignorant of the fact that he makes a routine habit of breaking the laws of reality simply because he doesn't seem to register the fact that they even exist.

Rather like an apprentice he once had, and Yen Sid has taken to glaring at the stars with suspicious eyes, but the Worlds do not speak in words and never have, and the sparkle of Destiny Islands in the endless skies seems to have taken on a decidedly mocking twinkle.

The child has only been in his home for six days and already he has proved more frustrating than anything Yen Sid has experienced in the last six years or so.

He's shooed his erstwhile apprentice and the child outside to give himself time to think, but he can't escape their voices, several dimensions and many feet below, as Mickey had declared it was "Entirely too stuffy in here with all this magic, Riku's going to have a sneezing fit in a minute or two" and promptly flung all of the windows open, heedless of the fact that none of them open into the same place, or that some of them open underwater.

There are spells enough to keep his books from getting wet, but not to stop the fish that leapt through the opening and began a slow, gasping death on his carpet before the child swept in and tossed it back with the easy grace of an islander born and raised.

The child knows something of mercy, at least.

It is a small consolation, given what he now knows about the boy. The sensitivity to scent, at least, explains some of the child's troubles in casting--it is, after all, somewhat difficult to grasp the whole of an object when all one can see are its component parts--but he's wondered if Mickey has bothered to tell the child that particular ability is a gift of the darkness, granted to few but those who have drunk so deeply of it that they will never shake off its taint.

It is entirely possible that Riku has figured that much out on his own.

Yen Sid looks out the window at the starry skies of a world three dimensions over and pretends he can't hear what he's hearing. Humanizing the boy now will only make things more difficult when they inevitably have to strike him down later.

But the child keeps talking, his voice a soft, awkward tone, a match to his changing gait and stride. "I dunno, I guess I just suck at this."

He doesn't have to be looking to know just how hard Mickey has begun to shake his head. "Aww, that's not right at all! We just gotta figure out what you can do, and go from there!"

A moment of silence, and then, reluctantly, "...I guess."

Ungrateful brat. Yen Sid can't remember being a teenager himself, but he knows for certain that he has never enjoyed their company, their endless arrogance and even more endless uncertainty.

"I know it!" Mickey chirps happily, and Yen Sid spares a thought for how exhausted he must be, having to pour so much energy into a broken vessel, one that is not even his own, but then, Mickey's always had a fondness for doomed prospects.

"...okay."

A long pause, a rustle, and then, quietly, "Hey, your--Mickey. Do you--never mind."

And he can't even ask a question right.

"Do I what?" Mickey asks, and Yen Sid spares a thanks to the Worlds for finally teaching his apprentice the value of patience. Had he come across this boy in his youth, not a single world would still be standing, of that much Yen Sid is certain.

"You're... married, right?"

The child apparently has learned to state the obvious. Perhaps he will even someday learn to understand it.

"Yep! Minnie's my gal and always will be!"

Yen Sid rather likes Queen Minnie, the clear bright burn of her power and the way she keeps his rather distractible apprentice grounded.

"...right. So... girls like flowers, right?"

...oh. How unfortunate.

Yen Sid can hear the smile in Mickey's voice when he replies. "Aww, Riku, I'm sure she'd like anything that you got her."

Then, quieter still, "Really?"

"You betcha!"

"...right. Um--like what?"

Darkness is darkness and light is light and one chosen by the keyblade is ever bound to it, to the fate of the Worlds, and yet sometimes a boy is just a boy.

Yen Sid rises to his feet, crosses the room, and closes the window by hand, not with magic. The glass clicks into place with a satisfying sound, but he presses his fingers to the glass and seals it shut with a layer of magic thin enough that it won't aggravate the boy's senses any more than they already have been.

It is not an act of consideration--the sooner the boy learns what he needs to know, the sooner he can depart, and Yen Sid will once again be able to turn his attentions to the larger forces at work in the World.

The Organization still bears watching, no matter how much this boy and the other have reduced their numbers, and if the child can take down more of them once he leaves this place, so much the better.

* * *

Another day of utter failure, and he shoos both child and apprentice out of the Tower and down into the town so that he can have some blessed peace in which to think.

Yen Sid tilts his gaze to the stars and considers.

The boy can shape the darkness into anything he wants.

And he can do the same with the Light.

He can do both at the same time, switch from one to the other and back again in the blink of an eye, call up shields and toss out attacks, but no matter what they try, no matter which spells they suggest and demonstrate, he cannot heal himself at all.

His grasp of magic is hardly magic at all, and perhaps that is why it fails.

But what, then, to do with him?

* * *

The girl the boy is so shyly fetching flowers for is not a girl at all.

But then she's not exactly a proper Nobody either.

"I think it's sweet," Mickey says, because he is an idealist, because he has ever been in love with his queen.

Yen Sid does not say anything, because he is fond of his apprentice, and Mickey would hate him for what he is thinking.

But two things that should not be have no chance of ever being, and that is the way that it is, and the way it must and should be.

Truth be told the whole thing is somewhat revolting, but, although he is unaccustomed to it, Yen Sid holds his tongue.

* * *

The day has been long, the evening longer, the boy's frustration sky-high, his own temper fraying at the edges, and even his apprentice's endless reserves of energy finally seem to be running low.

Nothing at all is going right with this boy.

Finally, in a fit of exasperation, he snaps, "Perhaps if you would stop trying to imitate what you clearly cannot do and put some effort into figuring out what you can, we would not be stuck in such a useless position."

The boy shoots him a sharp, fierce glare, but at Mickey's gentle touch on his shoulder he closes his eyes and stays quiet for several long moments. He is much more agreeable when he doesn't talk, or try to cast anything, but the thick taint of his presence ties the magic in the room into knots, and Yen Sid finds himself wanting to rub his eyes in exhaustion.

He is giving considerable thought to simply retiring for the night when the child's eyes snap open and he snarls, "That's it!"

The resultant flare of darkness and light is almost blinding in its purity.

Which shouldn't happen, which should be impossible, but when the light fades, there is a boy sitting on his floor, blinking in the backwash of his own power, droplets of glowing green liquid still caught in his lashes, dripping from his hair, and the sound of his apprentice's happy laughter echoes sweetly through air rendered electric with the scent of a potion so strong that he can taste it on his tongue from halfway across the room.

...he supposes that will do.

* * *

It is both an honor and a duty to keep his eyes on the balance of light and darkness in the world, and he is not fool enough to be blinded by his own devotion to the light, or to sentiment, as Eraqus was.

How much could have been saved had they only struck down Xehanort in his youth.

How much may yet be saved by striking down this one.

Yen Sid watches as the two of them step out into the ever-present twilight, as the boy lifts one hand and parts the fabric of reality, watches as his apprentice and the boy disappear into a corridor of darkness that will never hurt them.

Anomalies can be both a blessing and a curse, and he intends to use this weapon until it becomes too dangerous to wield.

It is just a pity that the sharp shard of darkness that Mickey carries in his heart will only bite deeper when the day comes to slaughter his precious child.

But he is neither cold nor unfeeling, so for his part, Yen Sid hopes the child dies in battle instead.

He had hoped the same of Xehanort, once.

And he is used to disappointment by now.

* * *

- Omake -

Yen Sid's point of view on the Riku/Naminé affair: "These matters always end in heartbreak, and he's the only one with a heart, and if it breaks then we're all fucked!"

Chapter Text

Someone is calling his name.

That is unusual.

So few know it, now, and fewer still would dare attempt to summon him.

The voice is... not unfamiliar, pitched high and sweet, and comes from somewhere below him, from a deceptively gentle white light that when irked has been known to flare into an inferno.

A mouse king has come to call.

...a mouse king has come to call, and there is a shadow strung through with starshine at his side.

Sephiroth turns.

There is the king, small and bright, and beside him is--

--that is a child.

That is a child, that is a child of sun and sea and sand and endless night, that is a child, not a broken half-mad thing rent in two but a child, staring back at him with eyes like and unlike his own, staring back at him with a gaze that sees beyond both darkness and light, that knows the truth of the World.

That is a child of Twilight, of encroaching night and silvered dawn, light and darkness intertwined, and he has never seen the like.

"Sephiroth," the king says, distantly, calm and clear, and he must have known, he must have suspected, otherwise why bring him here? A child, neither apprentice nor heir but a keybearer true-born, and oh, how many would rip their worlds asunder for the sake of such a prize?

A child.

"Sephiroth," the king says again, more lowly this time, a note of equal warmth and warning: a child already claimed, and yet here the mouse king and the boy stand before him, waiting.

Sephiroth blinks, glances down at the king, who inclines his head in turn. Who smiles, bright as a knife, shining. "This is Riku."

Names are unimportant; he's been Hero and Angel and Calamity's Child, and only the lost remain.

He wonders who named the child.

It doesn't matter.

They're not here, and the child is with the king, the child has chosen the king, chosen a guide of blinding light, someone to stand against the fools who would call him enemy for what he is, for what he has become.

A child.

How is such a thing possible? Children are of the light, always, until--

Until--

--grasping hands and the flash of steel, and his wings had broken free in a rush of down and blood and Hojo had been laughing--

"Child-victim?" he asks, too quickly, and watches as the boy's head snaps up, as those familiar-yet-not eyes widen before narrowing sharply.

"Child," the boy retorts immediately, low and sweetly-accented, then hesitates, pressing a hand to his chest. "Child," he mutters again, lower, as if to convince himself, and Sephiroth shakes off the memory of screaming, tilts his head and looks closer.

...a child with a prisoner in his heart, locked away behind sunlight and shadow. Who caged the one who did it, who trapped him in what he made; revenge and justice both against the one who dragged him into the darkness, the one who even now whispers poison into his heart--

"Child," he agrees, and feels his lips move, curving softly into an unfamiliar form.

The boy tilts his head, watches him in return, cool and assessing, while at his child's side, a mouse king awaits an answer to a question yet unspoken, still and serene.

A child.

Sephiroth thinks he might be smiling.