As he hit send, Riku heaved a tiny sigh. While it was great getting texts and pictures from Sora all the time, Riku never knew what to send in reply. He jumped a little when King Mickey chuckled beside him.
"Sorry, it's just," Mickey grinned up at him, "you always look so serious when you're writing back. And you sure took a long time that time."
Riku frowned down at his gummi phone. Aside from the fact that he was still learning how to type with his thumbs, he'd written a sentence and then erased it at least ten times. Sora's silly selfies, the brightness of his doofy camera smile, filled Riku with plenty of things he wanted to say, but all of them looked stupid on his screen. Stuff like I'm glad you're safe right now and I miss your face and I hate being so far away from you just seemed overbearing and weird in response to Sora's message of [lookit this fluffy thingy im gonna pet it].
Riku had settled on [Hope it doesn't bite. Don't bring home any pets to Yen Sid's tower.] but that wasn't what he wanted to say at all, really.
Mickey was still staring up at him expectantly, so Riku cleared his throat. "I guess I just don't know what to say? I want to answer him so he knows I'm safe and listening, but when I type it, it seems so…"
"Mmhmm," Mickey agreed, like he understood. He swung his feet against the rock they were sitting on. "You know, thought, it seems to me like there's some stuff you really want to say, so you should just trust your heart."
"Easy for you to say," Riku sighed. His phone buzzed in his hand, lit up with the message [UPDATE: IT WAS THE FLUFFIEST ( OwO)]. A second buzz brought up a new picture, Sora in the bottom corner of the frame pointing up at something that looked like a cross between an alien sheep and a dandelion. Sora's excited face was blinding; the sheep-dandelion looked unimpressed.
Quickly Riku typed [if it's a heartless don't], erased it, typed, [what is it], erased it, and typed [Is it fluffier than your hair?]. Making an aggravated face at his phone, Riku mashed his thumb down hard on the backspace and resisted the urge to throw his phone into the depths of the Dark Realm.
"You could always practice, if it's real important," Mickey advised. "What you want to say, I mean. Like…positive visualization?"
"It's not…that important," Riku said. Mickey gave another hmm like he wasn't buying that, but Riku ignored him. He typed [You got bitten, didn't you?] and sent it without second guessing himself.
The reply was immediate. [yea but WORTH IT riku u gotta touch 1 of these]
[Wash your hands.] Riku answered. [We're going to keep moving. Stay safe.]
"Ready to go?" Mickey asked, and Riku nodded, standing up. As they walked, he thought about it a little more, what it was he really wanted to say to Sora every time one of those ridiculous pictures lit up his phone.
Hours later, they stopped for the night, in as much as 'night' meant 'the time both of them took turns trying to sleep for a couple hours.' Mickey insisted on taking first watch, claiming he had to call the castle for some updates anyway. Riku tried to protest that he wasn't that sleepy, but he had hardly curled up on his side before his eyelids started to feel heavy.
Ever since the Mark of Mastery exam, Riku's dreams had been more vivid. He wasn't sure if that was a side effect of so much lucid dreaming, or if he was just simply more aware that he was dreaming and remembering them better. Either way, this one was crazy realistic. It was the world Sora's latest batch of selfies had shown him, all emerald grass ruffling in the soft breeze, the sun warm on Riku's face and arms. Sora was in front of him, petting one of the weird sheep-dandelions with high-pitched noises of delight that were just as ridiculous as they were cute.
"C'mere!" Sora ordered, reaching behind him to grab Riku's wrist and yanking him down. He shoved Riku's hand into the mass of fluff in front of him. The thing gave Riku a beady eye but otherwise kept on chewing the grass. "See? SO FLUFF."
"Yeah," Riku had to agree, the fur or wool or whatever it was soft under his fingers like the newborn kittens Kairi had had one summer. It was a surprisingly real sensation for a dream, and when Riku turned his head, Sora felt surprisingly real too. The shifting shades of brown in his hair, the crazy blue of his eyes, even the faint freckles across Sora's nose that only came out in the sun; Riku would have sworn it was the real Sora right next to him.
"Hm?" Sora asked when he noticed Riku staring. He tilted his head, waiting.
Mickey had said to practice, right? Riku took a deep breath. "It's just nice to see you. I miss you, you know." Riku felt embarrassed even though he knew it was just a dream, but forced the rest of the words out. "When we're split up, I really miss you."
Sora's grin was blinding, scrunching up his eyes. "Me too! There's so much cool stuff in all these worlds I want to show you, or tell you, or…well, at least I can call you now, but."
"It's not the same," Riku filled in, and Sora nodded vigorously. "Sora…" This close, Riku could almost count Sora's eyelashes, and suddenly he knew what he should really be practicing saying. "I…"
"What?" Sora prompted, nudging Riku's shoulder with his own.
Riku swallowed hard. Why was this so difficult? His heart was racing, fingers twisting tightly in the sheep-dandelion, but that was stupid, right? To be afraid in your own dream. He took the deepest breath he could, then released it with a whoosh. "I love you. Not like best friends," he added quickly as Sora opened his mouth. "I mean, we are best friends so I guess that way too, but I mean, I'm in love with you."
"You do?" Sora's eyes were so wide they were almost perfectly round. "Love me like…like Belle and Beast kind of love? Like quit being a mermaid or magic carpet ride or become a pirate kind of love?"
"I don't know what any of that means," Riku admitted, eyes glued to the pink blush spreading over Sora's nose. "But yes. I think so. Do you—"
Riku didn't get to ask what Sora did or didn't, because Sora was throwing himself at Riku, smacking their foreheads together while trying to steal Riku's first kiss.
"Ow," Riku muttered against Sora's mouth. "The heck is with this dream? Dreams aren't supposed to hurt."
"Shut up, it's a great dream," Sora muttered back, still working out how to get their lips to slot together right. It was terrible but sweet, Riku's heart skipping. "Close your eyes, weirdo."
"Close yours, weirdo."
Riku woke up eventually, cheeks hot and heart still racing. He stared up into the starless heights of the Dark Realm for a couple minutes before sitting up, trying to recalibrate himself.
"Dream something good?" Mickey asked.
"Something like that," Riku answered, refusing to meet his eyes.
A few sleeps later, Riku dreamed of Sora again, in the Land of Dragons of all places. The two of them were up on the mountain ridge, snow swirling around them and wind stinging Riku's cheeks. Riku looked down and saw his black Organization robes; frowning, he concentrated and they changed to his current clothes from the fairies. The snow started soaking into his jeans, but Riku didn't care.
Sora had his keyblade up but lowered it when Riku's clothing changed and he started trudging towards Sora through the knee-deep snow. He blinked like his head was clearing. "Riku? What are you doing here?"
"Beats me," Riku shrugged. "I guess I like the snow?" Riku concentrated on the storm slowing, and the wind died down, leaving just the snow to fall more gently.
"Me too! This was the first world I saw snow in. It's so pretty!" Sora tilted his head back and stuck out his tongue to catch a few flakes. When he lowered his head, there were more stuck in his hair and eyelashes.
"It is pretty," Riku answered, not really meaning the snow. Sora's cheeks were bright pink from cold; Riku wanted to reach up and cup them in his palms, so he did. Sora's skin was surprisingly warm and grew even hotter under Riku's touch, as if he might burst into Firaga at any moment. "You're not going to set me on fire, are you?"
"No?" Sora said, voice hushed and eyes wide. "Maybe."
Riku huffed a tiny laugh. It was a lot easier this time to say, "I love you. You know, like—"
"I know," Sora interrupted Riku's explaining. "Like happily ever after kind, right?"
"I hope so," Riku said. This time with his hands holding Sora in place, the kiss was a lot more successful, less concussion. It went on a lot longer this time, and Riku woke up with his lips still tingling from it.
After that, it kept happening, Riku dreaming about Sora in Neverland, on Sunset Terrace, back home on Destiny Islands. Every time it got easier for Riku to say what he meant, because every time Sora beamed at the confession as if Riku were the sun itself, every time threw himself into Riku's arms to encourage him with the strength of his hug and the soft slickness of his mouth. In one dream, Riku even got confessed to, Sora stomping his foot on the grand staircase in Beast's Castle and demanding, "I wanna do it for once! I love you too, you know!"
"Oh!" Riku was too surprised to get anymore words out before Sora leaned up on his toes and kissed him firmly, laughing against Riku's dumbfounded expression.
"You know, you were right," Riku said to Mickey eventually as they were walking along. Mickey tilted his head up, eyebrows raised. "About practicing what I want to say. I think the next time I see Sora, I might be able to do it."
"That's great, buddy!" Mickey encouraged, slapping Riku on the hip, which was about as high as he could reach. "All the reason to hurry home, right?"
"Definitely," Riku agreed. The Dark Realm still sucked, was still endless and exhausting, but all Riku had to do to feel better was close his eyes and thing about Sora warm against him, fingers wound in his hair and muttering, "I love you too, stupid," against Riku's cheek.
When they finally, finally made it back to Yen Sid's tower, Riku had barely set foot outside of the dark corridor before a tornado of Sora slammed into him, hard enough that he would have fallen right back into darkness if the corridor hadn't already winked out.
"Ow," Riku complained about his bruised butt, but it was a superficial complaint at best when he could wrap arms around Sora's back and squeeze him tight enough to make him squeak.
"I'm so glad you're back safe," Sora exclaimed, squishing Riku back just as tightly. A lot of his strength seemed to be back, given the strength of his grip, which Riku was relieved to feel. "There's so much I wanna tell you!"
"Me too," Riku said, pushing Sora back by the shoulders. Now or never, he told himself. He wasn't nervous, though, not after all the practice. "Sora? The thing I wanted to tell you most of all is, I love you."
"I know," Sora chuckled, one hand coming up to swipe his thumb across Riku's cheekbone.
Riku blinked. "You do?"
"Uh yeah?" Sora tilted his head. "You've been telling me for weeks. Like dozens of times! It's like the only thing I've been dreaming in ages, not that that's a problem."
"But…" Riku frowned. "Wait. Those were my dreams. You dreamed about me too?"
"Oh my god, you idiot," Sora laughed, shifting his position so he was sitting more comfortably in Riku's lap. "You're my dream eater, remember? You were breaking into my dreams and dreaming with me. I can tell it's really you because you have the thingy on the back of your shirt."
"Oh. Oh." Riku's face went up in flames, and he buried it against Sora's shirt. "Oh my god." Embarrassment writhed in his chest. "This is so embarrassing."
"Shh, it's ok," Sora told him, ruffling his hair. "You can keep telling me how much you love me as much as you want, awake even. Only, uh," Sora tugged on Riku's hair, "maybe let me up. Because everybody's staring at us."