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Facing Shadows

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Kairi knew something was different from the beginning.

Normally when Sora and Riku came up with a plan, they were so enthused that it took a couple tries to get it out without Sora interrupting both his and Riku's sides. And they usually couldn't wait long enough to see her in class the next morning, so they'd wind up tossing pebbles at her window after her father's light went out.

This time, they didn't say anything until school was out for the day; and even then it wasn't until after she'd asked if Sora was sick. She couldn't figure what else would be making him drag his feet so much.

She definitely wouldn't have imagined that him thinking up a trinity limit for them would do it--at least, not until she learned it relied on Riku's powers of darkness and her light and Sora's apparent ability to turn into something like a Heartless from a quirk in his drive forms.

That made the hesitation make a little more sense.

Once she'd gotten the full story, Kairi agreed to try. Underneath the awkwardness, Sora really believed that being able to go into anti-form in a fight without having to overuse his drive forms--the only thing he and Donald could guess caused the change--would be useful. Especially because once he'd gotten final form--Roxas, basically, he'd said--it almost never happened.

That made sense, Riku had pointed out; having his Nobody back should hamper his ability to be a Heartless. Sora had shrugged.

And even though Riku had looked away while laying out the details, Kairi knew he was sure he could drag out Sora's darkness safely. The idea wouldn't have made it to her otherwise--who knew how long ago they'd had it before speaking to her now? It couldn't be a coincidence that she finally had precision and hitting rapidly moving targets with her attacks down, and was at a point where the guys were chafing to go off-world so they could find out her limit breaks.

So Kairi agreed, because she'd made her choice to fight with them from now on.


They pick the volcano to practice in, because it's the only place that guarantees privacy from the rest of the islands and enough space to move in. They've been using the far side of the play island up to now, but both Sora and Riku seem happier with the idea of high walls around for this--which is weird enough that Kairi goes with it.

Once they've scrabbled inside and called their keyblades, the guys' shoulders are still tense--in the wrong way, one that doesn't precede battle or even sparring--so Kairi shakes her head and flashes a grin. "What's wrong?" she asks. "Are you sca~red?"

When neither respond with the usual bluster, she realizes that yes, despite everything, they're kind of freaked out at the thought of actually doing this.

That's unsettling, and makes her stomach knot up a little inside; but she figures that if she isn't still a little nervous about going into battle, she might get cocky and wind up making mistakes that hurt them or her.

Besides, it's Sora and Riku. The only thing about them that could scare her is losing them again.

Kairi hooks the hilt of her keyblade over her wrist and holds out her hands, palms up. "It'll be okay," she insists. "We're practicing to make sure everything will be all right."

Sora finally nods first, and Riku follows; and they briefly take her hands.

Kairi squeezes Sora's extra tight, because he took the longest to reach out.

Then she lets the hilt slip back into her palm, and steps over beside Riku as Sora moves back, and watches as the shadows in the volcano darken and coalesce.

And then Riku pulls and there's a sound like shattering glass as everything that's Sora shifts.

*

he's back, he thinks, the dark-and-light boy, Riku's back, riku's back and so is she but he doesn't know her, only he does, it's Kairi, kairi riku and kairi from that question, that mantra chanted so much even he remembers it: "Have you seen Riku and Kairi?" and here they are.

Riku and Kairi look like they always have, only now it's more obvious now, clearer because he sees it tinted through the darkness: Riku looks like he did the last and only time he saw him before, darkness limned by light, and Kairi's all light, light as fierce as death.

that would be fun to burn against, he thinks, and pulls himself into a crouch.

Shadows flicker at the edge of his vision and he wheels around immediately, because it's a Heartless, but it's not, it's just shadows in the shape of one, it's just shadows fake cheating riku's cheating but then he forgets who's cheating and attacks it anyway because it's there.

The not-Heartless is all hollow inside, air stuffed into thin darkness, no heart and not even the thick skin of Nobodies to rend, so he ignores the next one further away in the corner of his vision and turns back to Riku and Kairi. They're solid. They're not fake, there are hearts in there and skin around them and he already knows what they taste like so he knows it's way better than air.

But he can't pick, so he sways on his feet, right and left, right and left, because he can't decide between the gleam of light on darkness like a sunset or the center of the sun, can't choose between Riku or Kairi.

And then he thinks why pick? because they're his, he's fought and fought and fought for them, and they've fought for him, and destiny has always been sealed for keyblade wielders by the sweat and blood of the battlefield, even if he's not a keybearer right now.

He shifts left again and then picks right, because Riku's familiar darkness for all that light and if he's going to burn from Kairi, he'd rather do that last.

Get a grip on yourself, someone says into his head, someone not him, someone wrong all wrong who doesn't belong in there. He wants him out. If he doesn't burn against Kairi, he'll rip him out last of all.

The someone-who's-wrong snorts and says Try it, and then Kairi's running at him, all light light light on the attack, and he thinks okay that's fun too, and tenses his legs and digs his claws into the rock and gets ready to lunge.

*

As he pushes the shadows back toward the edges of the volcano, Riku stares over at Sora and Kairi and thinks that that didn't go as bad as it could've.

By much.

They know it works, at least: Kairi can force back the change he can induce. He doesn't like that she has to touch Sora to do it--it's a potential liability, especially if they get separated in battle. But that's the way of the light; if it didn't need control, the princesses wouldn't exist in the first place. At least it works.

But he still doesn't think this is a real trinity limit--it's nothing like stuff he saw Sora and Goofy and Donald do, and it's not like his limit break with Sora. It feels off and wrong; a trinity shouldn't be two people manipulating the third, even if Sora said it counts because he's willing about it. The way it is now, it feels like he's using Sora as a tool--

That thought makes the darkness cloy worse in his throat. Riku shoves the lingering shadows away hard and moves over to Kairi and Sora; the acrid tang isn't so bad there, the light already clearing the dark's remnants away.

Burning it away is more precise, but after what just happened Riku doesn't care.

Sora finally shakes his head hard, almost knocking Kairi's hand off his arm in the process until she tightens it, and looks up. He blinks at her, at Riku, and then at Kairi's keyblade where it's imbedded in the rock from when she wedged it there and used it to vault over his attack and behind him.

"That was cool," Sora says. "Where'd you learn that?"

"Aerith," Kairi answers. "She showed me how to vault over walls and things in Traverse Town. --It's supposed to be with a pole, but I guess this worked."

Sora laughs, and more of the light returns to the area.

Riku hooks a thumb into his pocket, still feeling awkward; but then Kairi glances over and gives him a look like 'I know you want to say it,' so he does.

"You're lucky he's short," Riku drawls. "Anyone bigger, and you would have needed a pole."

"I'm still growing!" Sora retorts, same response as always. He hasn't been changed.

Good.


As they head back down the volcano, Sora does that glazed-eyed, wobbly walk that means he's mostly in his head talking to Roxas. Kairi keeps an arm firmly locked through his, because even if a fall wouldn't hurt him much, the landslide would be hard to explain.

The fact that Sora ignored Riku saying that means the conversation must be pretty serious.

When they get down to the beach Sora all but dunks his head straight into the water; but when he comes up and finishes rubbing his eyes, he's back with them again.

"That didn't go so bad," Sora says. Just as Riku's about to give him a disbelieving look, he adds, "Roxas . . . said he'll help, so the next time should be better."

"A little more practice, and we'll have it down," Kairi agrees.

Riku still thinks they're crazy for wanting to do this, for being comfortable with him doing this; but they both shook their heads the first time he pointed it out, and there's no reason to keep repeating it. It's not like he didn't already know they're a little crazy.

Besides, he's working on believing in their faith in him. It's hard, because he knows they both have a habit of believing in the best--or in Sora's case, sometimes the worst--of people, instead of seeing the whole.

But he's working on it.

Sora stretches his arms high above his head and stares at the sun still above the horizon. "It's too early to go home!" he says emphatically. "We should do something."

"Sounds good to me," Kairi replies, and then startles Riku by hooking her arm through his. The gesture still unsettles him when it comes by surprise, and he looks down at her through his bangs to remember that he's back to himself again. "What do you want to do?" she asks, looking up at him through them.

He shrugs, which makes Sora roll his eyes and Kairi shake her head. They start wandering along the beach while debating, because with or without plans, being together is the best thing.

Still, Riku's shoulders don't fully relax until the sunlight and the laughter burns off the last of the darkness clinging onto Sora.


Warding off imagined and as yet unimagined evils.