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victory tastes sweeter when i’m with you

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Riku acknowledges that what he feels for Sora isn’t normal.

Their friendship alone isn’t normal. It’s hard to have a “normal” friendship when you deal with the pitfalls of darkness, when you lose yourself to protect someone you care about, when you become a Dream Eater to protect your friend’s heart.

So, no, Riku would never claim that his friendship with Sora is “normal” for two boys their age. The King’s commented on it whenever there’s a quiet moment, which makes Riku feel like he’s talking to a parent about the birds and the bees rather than to the King about Sora. Kairi, especially, has never failed to tease him whenever the opportunity strikes. And he ignores her, save for averting his gaze and wishing he hadn’t cut his hair so it could cover his face.

He likes hanging out with Sora. Why wouldn’t he? They’ve been together the longest. Sora’s seen him at his worst and still, somehow, wants to be around him. And Riku relishes in the feeling, because Sora is why he chased strength, and to have Sora safe and warm and happy next to his side makes him feel safe and warm and happy.

And, well, he’s trying to lead with his heart.

Sora is closer, now that it’s all over. He’s closer with Kairi, for sure, and the two of them often have hushed whispered discussions whenever they think Riku isn’t looking. Or Riku will walk in on them talking on the beach, heads bowed together as they look at the horizon. Sometimes they’re in the cave together. Sharing a paopu fruit, probably.

It’s sweet. Sora deserves to be happy.

Riku’s not jealous. Not anymore, anyways. He has something with Sora as well; an oddly close friendship, a warmth that spreads from his head to the tips of his toes whenever Sora smiles at him, a private little world that picks up whenever Sora foregoes the front door and sneaks through his bedroom window.

It’s perfect. Honestly, it’s more than Riku could have ever hoped for when he gave himself to the darkness for Sora’s sake. There was no need for Sora to forgive him, but of course Sora did. Of course Sora cried when he found him, even though Riku didn’t want to be seen. Of course Sora forgave him, even as they both stared out at the horizon in the Realm of Darkness, doomed to be part of the darkness forever.

Of course Sora proved why it was worth it.

Of course, it’s hard to explain that to his mother and father, who hadn’t seen their precious little boy until he returned taller and leaner and infinitely more muscular.

Which explains why he’s now looking through the photo album from his cousin’s wedding, forced to bond with his family and make up “lost time” with parents who still don’t understand why he doesn’t want to go to school. It was a beautiful ceremony and his beautiful cousin married a beautiful wife, both of their gowns flowing in the wind as they made their way to the altar.

“Look at the length of their trails,” his mother murmurs and taps the carefully kept photo. “They wanted it to be the same length and pool together at the end. It would symbolize their lives being separate, then coming together, and spending the rest of their days together.”

“Ah,” Riku says smartly. Symbolism.

He flips the photo album to the next page—his cousin and her bride cutting the cake. There’s a photo that catches his eye. His cousin forking a bit of cake into her bride’s open mouth. She’s happy. Her smile is large and wide.

Privately, Riku wants that for himself.

“It was beautiful,” his mother says dreamily. “Are you considering getting married?”

“Probably not,” Riku says instantly, feeling awkward at the thought of tying the knot. “There’s no one that I’m really—you know. Into. Like that.”

His mother stares at him.

There’s a funny look in her eyes, like she knows something he doesn’t. Which is absurd, because he knows so many more things than a woman who was born on Destiny Islands, stayed on Destiny Islands for her entire adult life, and will probably die on Destiny Islands.

“I see,” she says slowly.

“Yeah,” Riku shrugs. His mind feels oddly muddy. “I’ll let you know if I ever date someone and get serious about it, Mom.”

“Alright,” she says. “Well! As your mother, I have to help. It’s my duty! Perhaps I could set you up!”

Perhaps is the key word, Riku thinks.

She flips through the photo album with additional vigor and stops at a particular page. “Look at her,” she says and points to a brunette. “She’s your cousin’s friend—we could visit her.”

The woman is conventionally attractive. But Riku is only seventeen and feels that way, awkward and disjointed and not wanting to be set up with a woman he’s literally only seen in a photograph.

“Well,” Riku says.

“She’s beautiful,” his mother says, which Riku can’t contest. She squints at the photo. “Reminds me a bit like Sora, actually.”

Riku looks at the photograph closer. The woman’s hair is long, flowing, radiant in the sunlight as it spills over her shoulder and down her back. That’s probably the only similarity, Riku thinks, that their hair is somewhat the same color when it glows in the sun.

Actually, when Riku looks even closer, there’s something off about her. Not in a bad way, but in a way that Riku finds himself growing less attracted to her with each passing second. Her eyes are brown, not blue like Sora’s, and she’s smiling for the camera and not truly smiling like how Sora does. She’s probably shorter, too. Riku can’t see how she reminds his mother of Sora, aside from the general color group of their hair. It just feels wrong.

“Sora’s hair is different,” Riku says finally. “I think it’s a bit of a lighter shade, actually. Not that anything is wrong with her hair, but Sora’s is nicer in a way. He looks more—”

He cuts himself off before he can embarrass himself. Handsome hangs off the tip of his tongue, threatening to get out and bare these weird feelings that started ever since his mother compared someone at a wedding to Sora. And Riku can’t—well. He can’t let that happen. Because then his mother would know more about him and Sora than he’d feel comfortable telling her, especially when it’s gently unrequited at best.

His mother lifts up the photo album to examine the photograph.

Riku can’t see her face, so he looks down at his feet.

“I suppose so,” his mother says finally. “Good eye, Riku. Must have gotten it when you were out being a… a, Keyblade Warrior, correct?”

It’s a bit embarrassing when his mother says it like that.

“Sure,” he says.

“And this was with Sora, right?” His mother asks.

“Yes,” Riku says.

“How wonderful,” she says as she smooths his hair and kisses his temple.

And as if nothing happens, they’re back to flipping through the photos of his cousin’s wedding. But now Riku can’t stop thinking about it. Not Sora in a dress with a trail that symbolized his life trailing behind him, but Sora in a white suit smiling. Riku, his best man, giving a speech about how Sora saved him more than he could ever save Sora, about how Sora deserve not only the world but also the universe, how Sora is his everything and he’s entrusting his happiness to—

To.

Well, probably, Kairi.

And that stops him hard in his tracks. He needs to slow down. It hurts to breathe, just a little.

They finish flipping through the entire album and his mother lets him retreat up to his room. Riku flops on his bed, drained of all energy, and comes to the realization that the only wedding he’d ever attend is probably Sora’s and Kairi’s.

There’s nothing wrong with that. He can find someone who is conventionally attractive who isn’t Sora and who isn’t his everything, because his everything is going away, and he has to accept that even though his friendship with Sora isn’t normal, his friendship with Sora doesn’t mean that they’re going to get married.

Maybe it’s because he’s only had Sora. Maybe he needs more friends. There isn’t really a guidebook on what boundaries friends are supposed to have—he imagines that he doesn’t feel the same way about Kairi because they’re not as close. And Kairi is beautiful, strong in a way that he isn’t, and so pure and powerful that Riku cherishes her too.

But she isn’t Sora. And it’s different, somehow. Sora’s different.

He wonders if Sora has ever saw a wedding and thought about him in a wedding and went down this terrible rabbit hole. It’s horrible and confusing and hurts him to his core. He doesn’t wish it on anyone, much less Sora. But it’d be nice, just a little, to know what Sora thinks of him.

Does Sora think that he’s handsome?

The thought makes Riku feel warm all over, tingly and giddy, and he allows himself the immaturity to roll around on his bed with his face buried in his pillow.

He can’t allow himself to imagine too much though. Everyone knows that Sora and Kairi share a different relationship.

Riku would be a fool to hope.

His dream that night, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to share the same thought.

It starts out innocuously enough. Him and Sora, on the paopu tree, watching the sunset. Sora’s legs are dangling next to his as they sit side by side. Then Sora’s hand slides into his and their fingers interlace, Sora’s palm fitting against his perfectly. And they stay like that, Riku’s heart pounding wildly in his chest that he’s sure that Sora can hear it.

When he turns, Sora’s right there. And they’re kissing, all of a sudden, soft lips pressed against his. The world melts away, paopu fruits spinning around underneath them as they’re transported to a chapel, an altar, Sora and him in matching white suits, holding hands and kissing. The sun shines through the stained glass as they press closed-mouth kisses against each other, with their hands the only point of physical contact other than their lips. Time passes lazily, Sora giggles and laughs against his lips and Riku can’t help but smile back, basking in the warmth and the glow and the sheer excitement of life from being around him.

They stay like that, holding hands and kissing while the sun sets, and Riku opens his eyes with the sun rising.

Oh no, he thinks, because he wants, still, always. Oh no.

 

 

 

Sora sends him a text exactly ten seconds before the boy himself slides through his window, which means that the warning was all but an unnecessary courtesy. Riku has long since cleared out anything underneath his window expressly for this purpose, because Sora rolls out onto his floor with all the grace of a drowned cat.

“Riku!” Sora says cheerfully and holds up a cartridge in offering once he regains his bearings. “I got this from Tidus! Let’s play!”

“Sure,” Riku says and tries to stare at Sora’s eyes instead of his lips.

It’s not working. Riku stiffly stands up and heads on over to his television—he stretches his hand out backward and Sora places the game in his hands, a brief brush that sends his mind into overdrive.

The damn dream, he thinks as he loads the cartridge, is messing with him. The wedding photos from yesterday are messing with him. Sora being in his room after his dream is messing with him.

It’s one of the newer fighting games, which means that Riku just has to mash buttons until he can figure out whatever new and unique combos the character he’s selected has. Sora seems to have the same idea but is more physical: leaning against Riku as he mashes, seconds away from shoving the controller out of his hands altogether, almost sprawling out on Riku’s lap to obscure his field of vision.

Something so innocent, something that they’ve done time and time again, has turned into something so unbearable thanks to his dream.

Sora turns to him, face millimeters apart from his own. VICTORY for Player Two flashes on the screen.

Riku frowns so he doesn’t kiss him.

“You are unfair,” Sora complains. “You said you never played before!”

“I’m just a natural,” Riku teases easily and leans back on his hands. His controller is balanced on his right thigh, whereas Sora’s leaning on his left. “Rematch?”

“You’re on!” Sora cheers and hits the button with almost too much vigor. Riku doesn’t think much of it though; Sora gets endearingly serious about the oddest things, and Riku’s just rolling with the punches as he usually does.

They game again, and again, and again, and again, until Sora’s racked up an impressive seven-game loss streak that even Riku has to pause at.

“Are you losing on purpose?” He asks.

“Maybe,” Sora says cryptically and flops back down onto the floor. “I’ve got something on my mind.”

“Oh?” Riku says. “You? Thinking?”

Sora looks at him.

“It’s serious, Riku, it’s about Kairi,” he says as a multitude of expressions flit over his face: happiness, nervousness, excitement, then fading back to a general thoughtfulness.

Riku stiffens, the noise from the game fading out as he focuses on Sora. He’s hardly ever seen this expression on Sora before. Instinctively, he itches for something to hold, the heavy weight of Braveheart in his hand to give him strength.

“I see,” Riku says. And he prepares himself.

“Kairi and I were talking yesterday,” Sora says but Riku’s not really prepared, so he shuts himself out.

The world and the noise fade away until it’s just him swimming in something murky that feels oddly like the darkness. It’s disorienting and sends him sliding down a slippery slope, one that he fears means he’s regressed somehow. That he may have passed the Mark of Mastery but it didn’t mean he’s truly passed anything. That Sora is now staring at him, silence apparently has gone for far too long, and Riku struggles to remember if he heard anything that Sora said.

Well, it didn’t matter. Riku’s pretty sure he knows what Sora and Kairi were talking about.

“I’m happy for you both,” is what Riku says, because he prepared himself for this, and he lets that sentence hang in between them for a moment too long.

He looks at Sora, who’s studying him. Forcefully, Riku smiles.

“Riku,” Sora whines, “you weren’t even listening!”

“I was too,” Riku lies. “I’m happy for you both.”

Sora looks at him.

“Kairi’s leaving tomorrow morning,” he says slowly. “Hello? Anyone home in there?”

Then, mortifyingly enough, Sora launches off the floor to pinch at his cheeks and stretch his face.

“Sora,” Riku grumbles as he bats Sora’s hands away. He rubs at his cheeks, now tender, and frowns. Sora’s not making any sense. “I didn’t hear that part.”

“Kairi’s leaving tomorrow morning as part of her Keyblade Master duty. She’s gonna travel the worlds to help them out. That’s all I was talking about!”

“Okay.” Riku puts his elbows on his thighs. “Are you going with her?”

“Not unless you come with me,” Sora says and rubs the back of his necks. He averts his gaze and looks out towards the window.

Riku finds himself avoiding looking at Sora as well. He studies the familiar carpet of his room as if it suddenly merits thorough scrutiny. Bashfully, he feels like bolting all of a sudden.

“I’ll go with yo—”

“So I was—”

Sora stares, mouth flapping open, and Riku cuts himself off with a noise that is a cross between a garble and a cough.

“Sorry about cutting you off,” Sora says.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” Riku says and hopes that Sora doesn’t think he’s weird. “What were you saying?”

“You first!” Sora points. “You—you won, after all!”

Riku’s lips thin out as he considers this. He hadn’t realized that he was battling for Sora to talk to him. If he’d known, maybe he should have lost.

“I’ll go with you both,” Riku concedes.

Sora doesn’t look that happy about it, which makes Riku’s chest twist in a weird way. But he nods, grins a little tightly around the corners, and then they’re gaming again. It’s forced and neither of them really get into it. Riku wants to know what Sora was trying to say but he doesn’t look like he’s in the mood to say it, which makes Riku less inclined to force the issue.

Sora loses, again, and then they’re shutting off the system. Sora plucks out the cartridge and shoves it in a pocket. Then, with a quick goodbye and a hug, he leaves through the window as quickly as he entered.

Huh, Riku thinks.

Well.

Time to pack.

 

 

 

The next morning’s air is particularly crisp, which isn’t unusual for Destiny Islands considering they’re surrounded by ocean air. But it’s a good omen, Riku considers slowly as he makes his way over to the mayor’s mansion, even though the brilliant sky is unfortunately overcast. It fills him with confidence with each step, that maybe he can make it through the entire journey and find little pockets of happiness, despite the way his heart is heavy in his chest.

Kairi’s Gummi ship is in her backyard. It’s sleek, pink, has a series of flowers patterned on the side, and shoots Blizzard like nobody’s business.

In a way, it suits Kairi.

“Oh, you weren’t kidding,” says Kairi as soon as Riku shows up, knapsack slung over his shoulder.

“Kairi!” Sora groans and buries his head in his hands.

“I’m teasing,” she says and smiles at Riku. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too,” Riku says. “Glad to spend some time with you.”

“About that,” Kairi’s lips thin out and her expression turns apologetic. She puts a hand over her chest and her fingers slowly curl into a fist. “I want to go alone. Nothing against you, Riku, or Sora. I just want this to be my journey, where I discover what I want to do with this power inside of me.”

“That’s not what Sora said,” Riku says instantly, because this is a definitely different picture to what he imagined.

She looks at Sora, who is still hiding his face in his hands.

Sora had something else to say yesterday,” she says. “And I won’t leave in my Gummi ship until he says it.”

“Aw, c’mon!” Sora says. “Kairi—”

“Nobody said that you had to beat him in a video game,” Kairi crosses her arms. “That’s a rule you invented, Sora.”

Dramatically, Sora makes a noise and throws his head back.

Riku looks between the two of them, catching on just a bit, but not exactly.

Kairi smiles at him patiently when he meets her eye. She doesn’t exactly share the same kindness when she looks at Sora.

“Yeah, yeah,” Sora grumbles and then rubs his face a bit bashfully. “Riku. I was going to ask yesterday, but you cut me off.”

“Ah,” Riku says dryly, “so it’s my fault, is it?”

Kairi hides a smile behind a hand.

“No!” Sora says. “Can we, uh, hm,” he thins out his lips and looks at Kairi, who pointedly turns her entire body away from him, “aw, c’mon, Kairi, leave us alone?”

“I did that yesterday and look how well that turned out,” she says teasingly with her back turned. “Sure you’re not going to run?”

“Riku’s here,” Sora points out.

“Alright,” she says easily enough. She waves kindly to Riku and then she’s heading back into her house, as if she’s forgotten something.

“Okay,” Sora says and turns. He sucks in a huge breath.

Riku waits.

“I don’t want you to go with Kairi,” Sora says.

Well, Riku thinks as his chest tightens. He’s never felt more like an intruder than he has right now.

“Okay,” he says quietly and hopes his face doesn’t shatter like his heart did.

“No, not like that,” Sora says and rubs a hand through his hair. “I want you to go with me.”

Riku blinks.

“I’m also going on a journey,” Sora says and his voice grows louder as he gains confidence. “It’s not really what Kairi’s doing and it’s kind of hard to explain, but I see it as a victory lap. We did our duty as Keyblade Warriors and protected the light and I want to enjoy it! I want to see all my friends again and… well, I want to do it with you.”

Slowly, Riku blinks.

“And I didn’t really know if you wanted to go with me so it was kind of hard to bring it up,” Sora laughs, oddly bashful. “So I led with Kairi’s trip and then everything else got, y’know, mixed up and all that. But I want to leave too. And I want you to come with me.”

Sora looks at Riku, who is currently enduring a crisis as to what expression he should have. Or how he should respond. Or anything, really, because he doesn’t know what to say.

“Riku?” Sora says, hands on his hips. “Hello? Anyone home?”

“Hold on,” Riku says and puts a hand over his face, which feels mortifyingly hot. His ears burn red as Sora looks at him and he thrusts his other hand up, as if to stop Sora in his tracks. “Give me a second.”

“Okay,” Sora says.

Sora wants to go with him, not Kairi. He desperately wants to say something, but he’s too stunned for words right now. It’s like he’s under Paralysis, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to think. Hearing this now, that Sora wants to go with him, and that he’s going to be able to spend several days—maybe even weeks—with Sora makes his heart beat even faster. And it wasn’t him who suggested it, it was Sora. Sora, Keyblade Master, Guardian of Light, his guiding light, was the one who wanted to spend time with Riku.

Sora, who is now looking at him worriedly.

“Can you repeat that?” Riku asks faintly. He doesn’t trust his ears, but it has to have happened. Maybe he misheard though.

“Riku,” Sora groans. “It’s embarrassing!”

He acquiesces five seconds later.

“I was wondering if you’d like to come with me to the worlds,” Sora says with his hands in his pockets, a faux casualness that does absolutely nothing for him. “I want to see my friends again and I want to do it with you.”

Riku looks at him.

“Kairi’s watching from her bedroom window,” Sora says dryly, his well of patience rapidly drying up in embarrassment.

“Yes,” Riku agrees.

“You didn’t even look,” Sora grumbles.

“No—I mean,” Riku looks up behind him and sure enough, there’s Kairi at her desk. She smiles and waves, so Riku weakly waves back. He turns back to Sora. “I mean, yes, I’ll go with you.”

And when he says that, Sora does this thing that makes him so beautiful. He smiles so wide that his entire face lights up with color, piercing through the dull grey of the skies like he’s the sun, and maybe he is, because he flings himself forward and seizes Riku in a hug, his legs dangling in the air as his arms wrap around Riku’s shoulders, and he squeezes Riku with everything he’s got.

Riku hugs him back, warmth spreading throughout his body, pooling where Sora is touching, and Sora starts to laugh.

“Look,” he says and points to the sky, legs wrapped around Riku’s midsection in his embrace. “The sun!”

True enough, the clouds part for the sun to shine through. Right on them.

Riku wants to bury his face in embarrassment but his hands are preoccupied around Sora’s waist, which means he can only close his eyes and hope that Sora doesn’t look at his face.

“I’m so happy right now,” Sora says. “I was so nervous you were going to say no.”

“Why would I say no?” Riku snorts. “One of us has to watch your back. And it doesn’t sound bad, leaving Destiny Islands to head out to see the worlds.”

“Yeah, well,” Sora says and shrugs. “You’d do that for me?”

Riku laughs. “I’d do a lot of things to you.”

“F-For me,” Sora says, letting go of Riku and plopping back down on the ground as he looks at Riku nervously.

Oh god.

“Yeah.” Riku nods hurriedly, seconds from bolting. “That too. I mean, that. Yes. I’d do that for you.”

Kairi, who joins them later, sympathetically pats him on the back. He doubts that she heard what he said, but maybe she saw their body language and figured it out for herself. Or Sora told her, somehow.

“Well, glad that got settled,” Kairi smiles as she leans against her Gummi ship. “Riku, you know I like you, but I just want to go by myself. Nothing personal.”

“Yeah,” Riku smiles.

“I still care about you both,” Kairi says and holds up her Gummiphone. “Keep in touch, okay? Sora’s trying to figure out something for himself too. I’m glad he has you with him, this time.”

“I will,” Riku says. “It would be nice if you two figure out what you’re both looking for. I want you to be happy.”

“Thanks, Riku!” Kairi twists her lips into a wry smile. “Consider your own happiness too. We all want that.”

“Yeah, well,” Riku shrugs because his happiness might mean their unhappiness and he’s grown enough to put aside his feelings. “I’m happy when you’re happy.”

“Charming,” Kairi laughs. She pats him on the arm. “I’ll save my hug for when I return.”

“Can’t wait,” Riku says honestly, because Kairi gives great hugs and it’s a shame that he’ll have to wait. But it’s not just him. Sora gets a conversation that turns his face red and his expression sheepish, and then Kairi pats him on the arm as well.

“Bye, boys!” She calls from the cockpit of her Gummi ship. “Take care!”

Riku and Sora watch her go from the tree, both craning their necks up to the sky until the ship disappears.

“Well,” Riku says, suddenly awkward. He wants this nervous energy to go away. It’s ruining his friendship with Sora. “What now?”

 

 

 

Ever since he got back, Riku has passed his days finding peace with the simple life. He relishes in the simplicity of taking over his father’s business and knowing all of his neighbors. Riku imagines sending the occasional letter to the King to let him know of his progress and basking in the tranquility of peace. Riku imagines opening his window every morning, seeing Sora smiling and waving at him, and feeling happy.

It was an epiphany that he had a long time ago but only realized when he gazed at the horizon on that dark beach. That he wouldn’t mind the darkness anymore, if he was with Sora. Even without them, Kairi was safe. The worlds were okay. He had Sora. And Sora made him feel safe, with his heart as the door to light, and then Riku slotted him into the wedding photos that his mother splayed out on their living room table and ruined everything with his wild fantasies.

But still, Riku thinks as he stares at Sora’s own Gummi ship, which has a massive Meow Wow and is made out of cardboard and shoots Fire with a press of a button, Sora’s the only part of this journey that feels safe.

“Let’s go!” Sora cheers as the cockpit opens up.

“Hm,” Riku says because he’s still reeling from the sudden shift from traveling with Sora and Kairi to traveling with just Sora. “To where, exactly?”

“Everywhere!” Sora says and thrusts a fist up into the air. “That’s the point of a victory lap, Riku!”

“I meant where are we going first,” Riku says dryly and picks at Sora’s Gummi ship. A bit of cardboard crumples underneath his fingers and Sora yelps, smacking Riku’s hand away.

“Hm, that’s a good question,” Sora says and chews on his lip in thought. “Well, I promised Belle that I’d visit ages ago. And I wanna explore the worlds with you! Everyone knows that I was looking for you, so now I can say that you were found!”

“Oh no,” Riku drawls even as his heart rate picks up, feeling strangely thrilled and embarrassed at the same time. “Making promises you can’t keep, Sora?”

“Hey!” Sora shouts. “I’ll leave you behind.”

It’s an empty threat. Sora would never do that.

But Riku makes a show of throwing his hands up in the air, mentally asking his parents to forgive him, and then climbing in after Sora.

“Only because you asked,” he says when he’s settled in. “Also, why haven’t you changed your Gummi ship’s design?”

“It’s cool,” Sora says defensively and hits a few buttons. The cockpit slides shut and it’s just him and Sora, the rest of the world blocked out, as they rise up. “And the way I see it—you’ll know it’s me coming from an entire world away!”

“Ah,” Riku says dryly. “That logic will get you far.”

“Whatever,” Sora says, but he’s smiling at Riku as he points Kingdom Key in front of him, lighting the path and finding the way.

Riku rolls his eyes and smiles back.

Sora’s smile grows until he’s beaming so brightly that it hurts to look directly at him. So Riku doesn’t.

A comfortable silence settles between them. After Sora whoops and sends several fireballs irresponsibly through the debris to clear a path, Riku allows himself to quietly relish the feeling of happiness spreading throughout his body.

It really is that simple, he supposes. Sora makes him feel like he could go anywhere.

 

 

 

Beast's Castle is a familiar sight.

He doesn’t really want to talk about what happened on the bridge with Xion. He doubts that Sora would want to hear about it, much less bring it up, but it does cause him to stiffen just a little bit as they make their way over.

“Belle’s going to be so excited,” Sora says. “You’d like her.”

“I’ve met the Beast,” Riku comments. “I’m not too sure that he’s as fond of me as he is of you.”

“The Beast’s changed!” Sora defends as they enter through, the familiarity of the landscape making this walk muscle memory. The castle has changed, not necessarily the exterior, but the interior feels much more joyful. It might be a trick of the lighting. “Belle was good for him, you’ll see—”

“Sora?” A voice calls out and they look up, Belle peeking over from the banister. “Oh my goodness! Sora, it’s been so long!”

“Belle!” Sora cheers as he sprints up the wall, double jumps in the air, and lands neatly next to her. They hug, briefly, and then Sora takes two steps back. “It’s so good to see you! This castle—it’s different!”

“The magic’s been undone,” she smiles kindly. “Adam, you may know him formerly as the Beast, and I are living quite happily here.”

Sora smiles widely. “That’s fantastic. I’m so happy for you! Belle, I’ve got someone I want you to meet!”

And then Sora is peeking over the banister, looking down at Riku.

Caught off guard and feeling a bit nervous for a reason he can’t quite place, Riku lifts up a hand to wave. It’s harder to place this feeling, because he truly has no reason to want Belle to like him aside from the fact that she’s Sora’s friend, and apparently, that makes all the difference. She beckons Riku to come up with a wave of her hand, and, on impulse, Riku jumps through the air until he lands next to Sora.

“Belle, this is Riku,” Sora claps him on the arm. “Riku, this is Belle.”

Riku bows at the waist and, understanding that she is a Princess, lifts her hand up to press a gentle kiss against her fingers. Belle giggles, courtesies, and then looks between them.

“This is who you were looking for?” She asks.

“Yep!” Sora says and puts his hands behind his head. “This is him! Riku!”

“Oh, how wonderful!” Belle clasps her hands together. “Adam and I have made preparations to throw a ball—now that you’ve returned with your someone, there’s no better occasion!”

“I’d love to be there!” Sora says, enthused.

Riku, who realizes that they both are traveling with the clothes on their backs and a knapsack of basic necessities, considers informing both of them how bad of an idea this is. But he’s also trying to process what Belle means by, “your someone”, because Riku may be someone in Sora’s life, but it sounds less than innocuous when it’s coming from a Princess.

Yet, it feels good. To live in the fantasy of being Sora’s someone.

“We don’t have any suits,” Riku says and crosses his arms. Next to him, Sora laughs sheepishly.

“Oh, we’d only need to take a few measurements. I’m sure we can get some stunning suits tailormade for the both of you,” Belle says with a smile, as if everything is that simple. “Let’s get you both settled in. We’re holding the ball tonight; I know you’re quite busy and tired, so I won’t ask you to stay for long. Cogsworth will help you both get settled in.”

“Thanks,” Sora smiles. “Where’s Adam? I want to say hi!”

“He’s in his study,” Belle nods. “I’ll let him know that you’ve arrived.”

 

 

 

They get measured, shifting slightly as the maid takes their measurements, and they thank her after she makes a promise to return in one hour. Cogsworth told Riku that he’ll put his knapsack in his room and then proceeded to handle a bag full of pointless things, like toothbrushes and toothpaste and combs, and precious things, like Kairi’s Wayfinder, with the utmost delicacy. It’s refreshing, Riku supposes, to be treated with such care and attention.

Then there’s the matter of introducing themselves to the master of the castle.

Adam looks good. Happier, more confident. It’s like a heavy weight has been lifted, and it’s not just his beastly form. He shakes Sora’s hand, says thanks for helping him be honest with Belle, and then stares at Riku.

One thing’s for sure: Riku’s ready to run.

“You,” Adam snarls and stands up. “What are you doing here?!”

Nothing like having his past ruin his present. Riku doesn’t have anything smart to say, so he keeps quiet. It’s hard to talk to someone who you’ve bested when you were only fifteen, so Riku looks at Sora with an expression that screams now what.

“This is Riku,” Sora jumps to his defense. “He’s my best friend! One of the honorees at the ball tonight! Just like me!”

“He’s what?!” Adam puts a hand over his face and rubs his temple. “What is Belle thinking?!”

I’m thinking that it’s right,” Belle says pointedly, coming out from behind Riku who had been inching closer and closer to the entrance. “He’s a Keyblade Master. Show a little respect! He’s Sora’s someone.”

There never seems to be a great time to make it clear to Belle that he’s not Sora’s someone. Riku looks at Sora, who sees him and smiles. It makes sense that Sora wouldn’t get it, probably interpreting that title as being true because Riku’s his best friend, and why wouldn’t he be Sora’s someone?

“It’s fine,” Riku says and smiles ruefully. He doesn’t need Sora nor Belle to fight his battles for him. “I was misled when I was younger. But I’ve changed. Sora’s helped me. You get that, don’t you?”

Sora moves to Riku’s side, crosses his arms and grins up at Riku. “Yeah! C’mon, Adam, you would still be under the magic if it weren’t for Belle!”

Adam considers this matter slowly. Belle looks at him, a perfect eyebrow raised, and he sighs as he rubs the back of his head. Then, he walks over to Riku and scrutinizes him.

Slowly, he extends his hand. Riku takes it, shakes it firmly, and Sora cheers.

They head out to the dining hall for lunch. Belle and Sora chatter the entire way over while Riku walks a few steps behind them, next to Adam.

It’s awkward, like Riku’s the odd one out, but Adam then gruffly admits that he’s pleased that Riku and Sora made up because Sora had been crushed by Riku’s betrayal way back when, and Riku looks him straight in the eye and says that it will never happen again and that he’s learned a lot, especially from the Beast. It’s good enough for Adam, who demands that Riku gets served first to Lumiere, who is bringing out small plates of salad drizzled in rich dressing to the four of them.

Riku waits for everyone to get served before he eats, but it’s a kind gesture. He appreciates it in a small masochistic way, the slow warming up that Adam is doing. It’s difficult to imagine that everyone can forgive him, even after he saved the world—because there had been the guilt of betrayal, and Belle’s easy and kind acceptance of him because he’s related to Sora is more of a reflection of Sora, not him. Adam’s suspicion that fades into begrudgingly mending a broken bridge is apter.

He doesn’t tell Sora this, though. The boy is much too happy, laughing as Chip comes up to hug him around the waist, and Mrs. Potts pours Riku a cup of tea.

“It’ll warm you right up, if that sight doesn’t,” she says.

“Thank you,” Riku says and waits for the tea to cool before he drinks it.

 

 

 

The first time Riku sees Sora in his new clothes, he’s wearing something that’s been tailor-made for him as well. It’s full-on black—a single-breasted jacket with silk lining, black pinstripe wool with a full canvas construction, a pleated white shirt with a light grey tie, and a red pocket square tucked into his breast pocket. He’s wearing grey studs with matching cufflinks, expensive jewels that shine in the light, and a black silk waistcoat peeking out.

It’s a look. What he doesn’t expect is for Sora to wear the same—except the tie and pocket square colors are reversed to match.

Sora says as much. He lights up when he sees Riku, for they’re running five minutes over because of Riku’s delay, and rushes over to his side with an excited, “we match!”, wearing a red tie and a light grey pocket square. He also has red studs and matching red cufflinks.

“Huh,” Riku says as his gut twists at the sight of him, how painfully attractive Sora was, how he would surely capture the attention of everyone in the room. He’s irresistibly magnetic, Riku thinks, and he is simply another one of the many ensnarled in Sora’s gaze.

“Clothes really do make the man,” Riku says because teasing is always a good default, and Sora pouts and puffs his cheeks.

“Says the guy who made us fashionably late,” Sora says as he looks Riku up and down. “You look good.”

“Thanks,” Riku says, mortified when he feels his face heat up. It’s dark in this hallway, probably to signal to the guests where to not go, and he’s grateful for the shadows that hide his face. Then, to regain some control of the situation, he holds his arm out.

“Shall we?” Riku says.

“Let’s go!” Sora says. He takes Riku’s arm.

 

 

 

Belle announces their presence as soon as they enter and they’re both flustered messes, embarrassed as she leads the applause for the two Keyblade Warriors, the heroes of light, and each other's someone. It’s nice to make polite conversation with the residents of this world; it helps Riku remember why he was fighting for.

He wonders if Kairi is doing well. She sent them both a picture of her in the Castle of Dreams, so she must be doing fine. He wonders what she’s looking for.

He hopes she finds it.

“You’re both quite handsome,” a woman says. “It’s so nice for you to visit us for your Victory Tour. Once we heard about the Keyblade Master coming, we had searched our local libraries for all we could find about your traditions. There wasn’t much, but we appreciate the work you’ve done.”

“We’re glad to have gotten a chance to visit,” Riku says, despite feeling like there’s something he isn’t quite getting about this entire conversation.

“Yes, well,” she says and pats Riku on the arm. “Best of luck to your shared future.”

And then she’s off. Riku watches her go, spinning away back to her friends who all send him fervent looks and then chitter quietly with each other.

“You two are quite the pair,” Belle says, stunning in her gown. Adam is next to her, a hand on her hip. “We would be honored if you two could lead the first dance.”

“Oh,” Riku says thickly, “I’m—we’re not—Sora can’t dance.”

Belle stares at him blankly.

“I’m sure it’ll work out,” she says slowly. “And besides, he’s looking this way.”

Instinctively, he turns to search for Sora.

Sora is looking at him, smiling again, watching him steadily, as if Riku is the most captivating person in the room, breathtaking and capturing Sora’s attention as steadily and as readily as possible, as if no one else was in the room at all. Peculiar, because Sora is always the center of attention, and no one seemed to mind that the star of the show was staring at him.

Riku struggles to remember how to breathe.

“Go on,” she says. “I’ll clear out the dance floor.”

Oh no, Riku thinks as he nods, moving on autopilot to reach out for Sora. There’s no way this is going to end well.

“Sora,” he says once he reaches his side. “Have you heard?”

“Riku,” Sora says pleasantly. He takes a bite of a smoked salmon crostini from a waiter, who offers Riku one as well. Riku declines. “What’s going on?”

“We’re supposed to dance,” Riku says. “You never passed dance class.”

“Hey,” Sora admonishes, “that was square dancing.” He rolls his eyes and finishes his crostini. “This is ballroom dancing. How hard can it be? Our hearts created a song before—now, our hearts can just create a dance!”

Riku doesn’t think it’s quite the same thing. But Sora is smiling at him like that and holding out the smoked salmon crostini that he declined earlier with an eager smile.

“If you say so,” Riku says and takes the appetizer, “I’ll have to trust you.”

“That’s it!” Sora cheers. “Hey, y’know what we should do?”

To show that he’s listening, Riku makes a noise around his mouthful. It’s pretty good, even if he isn’t all that hungry.

“We should practice!” Sora says.

“Practice,” Riku says dryly after he swallows. “The first dance is in minutes, Sora.”

“Better late than never,” Sora comes closer to Riku and puts a hand on his shoulder, a firm press of fingers that sends jitters down Riku’s spine.

“Okay,” Riku says and put his hand on Sora’s back as well. Sora hums and takes Riku’s hand in his and Riku’s with such casual ease that it makes Riku’s knees weak in the middle. He stares, Sora’s face close to his, and mentally screams.

“Great practice,” he swallows thickly. People are watching them, curious as to what the guests of honor are up to.

“Ready for the real deal?” Sora teases and leans back.

“Yeah, well,” Riku says and leans with Sora, his hand on the other’s back to keep them both steady. “You’re right. It can’t be too hard.”

“Hehe,” Sora grins. “We should get a picture! For Kairi.”

“Your Gummiphone’s here?” Riku asks.

“Whoops,” Sora frowns. “Later then.”

Later ends up being after their dance, where Riku ends up leading Sora around in a sweeping circle around the ballroom. He’s nervous, under the scrutiny of all the guests who are eager to see the two of them move, but Sora smiles happily enough and they forego the traditions of ballroom dancing to just dance, two bodies spinning around in sync as their hearts and souls sing in tune. His entire world shrinks until it’s just him and Sora, two people dancing in suits that aren’t theirs, simply overjoyed to be in each other’s presence.

This is good, Riku thinks. This is what he gets from being Sora’s best friend. This is good.

The orchestra leads them through the music and they spin around each other, hands as their only connecting point, and Sora laughs in delight. They finish their dance with a crescendo of the strings and Riku imagines that they must have looked ridiculous, but people are applauding and cheering and Sora waves excitedly with his other arm around Riku’s waist.

It’s a good feeling. Riku tentatively waves with Sora and the room explodes, the noise almost doubling in volume with the townspeople’s excitement.

Later ends up being after Belle and Adam’s dance, which is far more traditional than whatever he and Sora just did. If Riku’s being honest, he can’t really remember. It was only three or four minutes, maybe, but it felt like it had been hours. He’s drained of all energy, simply standing next to Sora sends his skin buzzing, and his hands shake a little due to the adrenaline drop.

Sora’s talking with some guests, quiet hushes that are broken by his boyish laughter, and Riku finds himself looking over to where Sora had been quietly taken away. He goes to Sora, reaching him in record time, given that he’s walking instead of jogging like he wants to. Sora lights up as he sees Riku, smiling with a bit of a flush on his face.

“It’s the champagne,” the waiter says apologetically, balancing an empty champagne flute on a silver tray. The other guests Sora had been talking to look bashful with their respective flutes. “He’s fine.”

“Riku,” Sora says emphatically, “I’m so glad you’re here. It’s really you. I feel like I’m dreaming.”

“Oh wow,” Riku laughs because Sora’s getting a bit handsy, leaning against Riku as if he can’t support his own legs. “I’m glad that I’m here with you, too,” he says, face heating up in embarrassment as the waiter looks at the two of them.

Politely, the waiter bows at the waist and excuses himself.

“Sora,” Riku hisses quietly but smiles politely to the guests, who are drinking quite heavily now, “now is not the time.”

“Don’t mind us!” One of them says. “We’ll watch Prince Adam and Princess Belle dance and leave you two alone. You make quite the picture!”

“Oh,” Sora says, “a picture. Kairi.”

Riku takes Sora over by a wall, grabbing a glass of water along the way, and lets the boy take gentle sips as Belle and Adam dance.

Later ends up being after everyone else has gone on the dance floor and a quiet girl comes up to Riku, her dress beautiful and flowing as she moves, and asks if he would care for a dance. He turns to Sora, who is sending him away with a nod and a nudge. Riku leads her and they make polite conversation; she ends up asking him about the worlds out there, and he tells her as much as he can. He doesn’t want to threaten the perfect balance that the worlds have, after all.

Later ends up being after she spins and he spins to accept his new partner and it’s Sora, smiling up at him as he readily accepts the new position. Sora asks him if he’s having a good time, which he is, and Sora looks so pleased about it that Riku wonders if his face is going to freeze that way.

Later ends up being after the ball is over, with Sora, Riku, Adam, and Belle all bidding the final guests goodnight. Cogsworth takes the photo with Sora’s Gummiphone and it’s the two of them, a bit sweaty and disheveled from all the dancing, on the ballroom floor, the massive chandelier above them casting them in a perfect light.

Sora sends it to Kairi.

Kairi texts back, Looking good boys!, with a picture of her and Cinderella throwing a thumbs up.

Riku gets caught in a blurry selfie with Sora, who sends that back with a we’re leaving for tlod tmr.

I’m heading to Navigator Island after here, Kairi texts back. Isn’t it funny? Leaving one island to go to another. I know you and Riku haven’t gone there, so it’s something exciting for me to uncover for myself. I’ll take lots of pictures!

They head back to their room after that. The guest room has two large beds; Sora gets the wise idea to push them together so that it’ll be like a sleepover. Riku tries not to mind, because he imagines anyone’s allowed to be childish after they save the entire universe, and Sora’s typically good about sticking to his side of the bed. Even though he wakes up the next day from yet another dream about him and Sora holding hands, it’s almost the best sleep he’s had in years. Sora, warming the bed at his side, sound asleep. Riku could almost reach out and touch him, but he’s afraid to shatter the fantasy—Sora’s breathing is soft, deep inhales and exhales, and Riku finds comfort in that no one else is around to judge him for doing absolutely nothing but staring.

It’s a groggy realization in the morning that he’s been staring at Sora’s sleeping face like a creep when Sora’s eyes flutter open, and Riku finds himself having a near mental breakdown and spluttering out, “rise and shine, sleepyhead.”

So, they’re both late getting up the next morning. Belle smiles at them after they finish brunch, Sora still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, and she sends them off.

“Shame you can’t stay longer,” she calls. “Come back anytime!”

“I will!” Sora promises. “Thanks so much for having us!”

Riku waves goodbye as well. The suits are folded up in another bag that Cogsworth had given them, a gentle reminder of what transpired in this world.

“Okay,” Sora says with groggy cheer. “Let’s go to The Land of Dragons next!”

“Oh,” Riku says halfway through a yawn, “that place? With all the snow?”

“Where we fought, yeah!” Sora smiles as he steers them. “I knew it was you. Somehow, I just knew it. I thought, hey, wait a minute, this guy’s got to be from the Organization, but I’m having so much fun fighting him. This is so weird! I’m enjoying myself!”

“Yeah,” Riku says and slips his eyes shut in the memory. “I had fun too.” Even though he didn’t want Sora to find him, or to see him like that, it had been fun. Sparring with Sora is always a fun time.

“I can’t wait to see them!” Sora cheers.

 

 

 

The Land of Dragons isn’t exactly what he remembers. Then again, he had been running up a snow-topped mountain last time he was here, so the weather is certainly a nice change.

Mulan looks good, too. She’s smiling when Sora hops out of their Gummi ship, and opens her arms readily to accept him in the hug he offers, but cuts it short. Shang is behind her, arms crossed, at the Emperor’s side protectively. The ruler of China bows deeply to Sora, then Riku.

“It is our great pleasure to welcome you to China,” the Emperor says.

“The pleasure is ours,” Riku says and bows his head. Sora nods once and then laughs as if he’s being tickled. There’s movement underneath his clothing that Mulan looks ruefully at.

“We will escort you to your rooms,” Shang says. “You’ve come at a great time. China is beautiful in the summer.”

“They won’t be here for long,” Mulan says easily. “Sora’s just come to say hi. And introduce us to Riku.”

“Hello,” Riku says and lifts up a hand.

“He was the man who warned us about the dragons,” Mulan explains, “and the one who said that Sora, Donald, and Goofy would take care of things. The one we all thought as a spy, remember?”

Well, Riku thinks, he’s never going to have a charming description to his past actions. First, he beat the Beast. Now, he’s led Mulan on a wild chase up the mountains and didn’t do anything other than entrust the situation to Sora.

Shang looks at him. There’s something that crosses his face, maybe a healthy dose of skepticism, but eventually it smooths out to one of acceptance. “You bested me in combat.”

“I did,” Riku says and doesn’t add that he did so quite easily. It’s not like Shang posed any threat, much less the threat that any form of Xehanort did. “Still, you weren’t half bad. China seems to be safe under your guidance.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” Shang nods. “Mulan’s serving the Emperor along my side after Sora’s last visit.”

“He cried when he heard the news,” Mulan chips in. “Sora, that is.”

“Hey! Don’t tell him!” Sora complains.

“Sounds like him,” Riku says with a smile. He turns around and Sora is there, frowning with his arms over his chest. Riku grabs him easily and rubs a knuckle into his hair, roughhousing like the old days, as they continue to walk.

“Riku,” Sora grunts loudly, and then quietly adds, “you’re crushing him!”

“What?” Riku says and lets go.

“Later,” Sora puts a finger over his lips and looks at Shang and the Emperor.

Riku gets the hint, even after they’re brought to the palace and put in a single guest room that has a single four-poster bed surrounded by a chiffon drape.

“The mosquitos tend to be dreadful in the summer,” Mulan explains, which explains absolutely nothing, because there’s only one bed.

Shang and the Emperor turn to look at Sora and Riku. Sora quickly toes off his shoes and climbs onto the bed excitedly, groaning as he lies down on the mattress. They all watch him try to relax, then Shang and the Emperor turn to look at Riku.

“Perhaps the mattress is too stiff,” Mulan wonders as she cups her chin. “I’ll go find some bedding. I forgot that you aren’t too used to our ways.”

“No, no,” Riku says, “there’s only one bed.”

“Yes?” Mulan tilts her head. “Is it not big enough?”

“No, the size is fine, it’s just," Riku frowns, cut off guard by her question. Is it cultural differences? Do all guests sleep on the same bed? Is he being rude? Sora seems to be enjoying himself, despite the hard mattress, and Riku forces a smile.

“It’s fine,” he says. “Thank you so much. If we could get some extra quilts, that’d be much appreciated. I don’t want Sora to keep me awake at night.”

A loud laugh comes from the bed. Sora looks sheepish, but that laugh was definitely not from him.

“Of course!” Mulan smiles and claps her hands together. “Now, we’ll leave you three—two—we’ll leave you two alone.”

She ushers Shang and the Emperor out of the room and closes the door with a smile and a wink. Riku, stunned, turns to Sora.

Who has a tiny red dragon standing atop his head.

“What,” Riku can’t help himself, “what—Sora, what is that?”

“Rude! Last time someone called me a that, they got burnt to a crisp. You want that, huh?”

“Relax, Mushu,” Sora says as he tilts his head back. “Riku’s never met you, I don’t think!”

“Oh, so you never told homeboy about me,” the dragon says and stomps his feet in agitation. It can’t hurt much, Riku hopes, because Sora is laughing instead of grimacing in pain, and Riku’s halfway to summoning Braveheart even if Sora protested.

“Little, lethal, and legendary, it’s me. Mushu.” The dragon bows at the waist. “Got it, pretty boy?”

“Got it,” Riku says slowly, suspiciously. “I’m Riku.”

“I know,” Mushu says, stretching out every vowel. “At least one of us was payin’ attention. Sora’s been talkin’ about’cha this whole time when you’re not around. I can only expect that he’s done the same for me.”

Riku doesn’t have to tell Mushu that Sora didn’t because the boy laughs sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.

“About that,” Sora says, “don’t be mad, Mushu, but I didn’t really have the chance.”

Mushu falls off Sora dramatically, landing on the mattress with his claw over his eyes. “I cannot believe you would betray me like this,” he bemoans. “Out of left field, Sora! Out of left field!”

Do they have baseball in China? Riku frowns.

“Well then,” Mushu says and stomps his feet. The dragon walks towards the door that Riku’s leaning against. “I’ll leave you two alone. Can’t believe this.”

“Aww, Mushu! Don’t be mad!”

Ever the enabler, Riku opens the door. Sora looks at him, betrayal in his eyes.

“And be sure to slam it once my tail’s in the clear,” Mushu tells Riku when he gets to the entrance, hopping over the ledge. He points two fingers at his eyes and then in Sora’s general direction. “At least one of you gets it.”

Mushu’s five steps down the hall when he turns around and stares at Riku.

“Close the door!” He shouts.

Riku closes the door. Finally, he thinks, he’s alone with Sora and they can talk or just hang out or relax or—

There’s a knock at the door. Riku gets it.

“You need to slam it,” says Mushu.

Obediently, Riku slams it.

 

 

 

Mulan drops by with three bowls of cut apple slices and tiny forks for him and Sora to eat. She eats her own bowl of apple slices as she sits on the bed.

“Shang’s stopped by the nearby village to try and find some more quilts for you,” she says apologetically in between bites of apple. “I had forgotten that you’re used to things being so much softer.”

“It’s good for the back,” Sora says optimistically. He twirls the delicate fork between his fingers. “Quilts are nice, but they can get kind of stuffy. Don’t you think, Riku?”

Riku hums in the back of his throat because his mouth is full of apple. He chews for a bit and then swallows hurriedly. “I’m fine with anything.”

“Yeah, no,” Sora makes a face. “You’re really bad with cold temperatures—Mulan,” he turns to her conspiratorially and cups his mouth as if he’s telling her a secret. She leans in to encourage him. “Riku can’t handle the cold.”

“Neither can you,” Riku interjects to protect his honor, thrusting his tiny fork in Sora’s direction. Even though Destiny Islands celebrates Christmas, it hardly gets to the freezing temperatures that other worlds experience. It snows, of course, but it never gets to the point where there’s a winter advisory warning. Snow is snow. They’ve spent many winters throwing snowballs at each other.

“We’re both islanders, Sora. One of us is just tougher than the other.”

“I was wearing shorts when I visited Elsa and Anna! You’re the one who wore pants.”

“Your ankles were exposed,” Riku comments dryly. “It’s generous to call them shorts.”

“Hey!”

“If you got frostbite on your ankles, then that would have been truly a sight,” Riku comments and takes a definitive bite of another apple slice. He’s joking, but the look on Sora’s face is worth it—teasing Sora is always worth it. If Sora actually got frostbite on his ankles, Riku knows he’d be extremely concerned and probably demand Donald to actually cast Cure for once in that duck’s life.

Mulan giggles, then laughs and covers her mouth with the back of her hand. “You two are so close,” she says. “I’m envious. I hope Shang and I can be as close as you two.”

Sora laughs, embarrassed. “Oh, c’mon! You and Shang are great just the way you are.”

“We’re going to be married soon,” Mulan says nervously. “If you’re in town for the wedding, will you come?”

Riku wants to hold his head in his hands. Even a world away can’t save him from weddings. He wonders if his mom is laughing now. He told her that he’d be going with Kairi and Sora to distant worlds and she seemed alright about it; maybe he’ll call her tonight and let her know that it’s just him and Sora. She’d probably get a kick out of Mulan getting married, if she knew that her son was mortified by the question even now.

“Sure!” Sora grins. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Unless,” he laughs sheepishly, “the world’s in trouble. Then I’d have to miss it.”

“Of course,” Mulan smiles. The three of them finish their apple slices and Sora sighs contently as he leans back, his bowl balanced precariously on the flat of his stomach.

Riku plucks it off and stacks both his bowl and Sora’s neatly in his hands with their forks on top. “I can take care of this,” he says and holds out his hand.

“No, it’s fine,” Mulan says with a smile. “You’re our guests—I’ll wash them.”

“It’s because I’m your guest that I’d like to do some of the chores,” Riku says pleasantly. He doesn’t budge with the bowls, still holding out his hand.

“The path to the kitchen is most treacherous,” Mulan says and arches an eyebrow. “I can navigate it by myself—can you?”

“I can find it by myself,” Riku says bravely. The palace may be large, but it can’t be that big. A little trial and error never hurt anyone.

“How about we all go?” Sora asks. “I want a tour of the palace!”

“That’s not a bad idea, actually,” Mulan says as she attempts to pluck the bowls out of Riku’s grasp. Riku feigns ignorance and move the bowls out of her way each time. “Why don’t you join me, Riku? We can head to the kitchen first and then come back for a tour.”

Sora looks at him. “Problem solved!”

“Right,” Riku says and stands up. He puts the bowls down to put on his shoes again. When he’s done, Mulan’s standing by the entrance with all three bowls in her hands and three forks on top.

“Shall we?” She says and opens the door.

Riku knows when he’s been bested. He nods to Sora, who’s lying down on the mattress, and follows Mulan out.

The way to the kitchen is not very difficult, actually. Riku doesn’t think that he’d have taken the path that Mulan is walking along, but it’s not like he wouldn’t have found it after running around the palace for a bit. Still, it’s a peace and quiet that’s unique to The Land of Dragons. The gardens that they pass are so aesthetically pleasing that Riku wants to sit and just drink in the atmosphere. It’s balanced in such a fascinating way and Riku pauses the trip to snap a few pictures on his Gummiphone. His mom might like it. She’s been getting into interior design lately.

They make their way to the kitchen, which is bustling with staff. Mulan smiles at each chef and cleaner, addressing them all by their names, before joining them to wash the three bowls and forks with practiced ease. There are token protests that the Emperor’s guard shouldn’t do something so lowly, but Mulan deflects them all and puts the washed bowls on a drying rack with a smile.

“Everyone,” she says with a grand sweep, “this is Riku. Sora has brought him for his Victory Tour. Or,” she frowns as she considers him, “Riku may have brought Sora for his Victory Tour?”

“This was Sora’s idea,” Riku says. Again, that phrase, Victory Tour.

“Ah, well,” she clasps her hands together. “Sora has brought him here. Please treat him with the same respect that we afford Sora.”

There’s a chorus of yes’s that ring out from all the staff members. Mulan turns to Riku expectantly and he clears his throat, unprepared to make a speech.

“I’m grateful for your hospitality during our stay,” Riku says. “And thank you for your kindness.”

There’s another chorus of yes’s that intermingle with you’re welcome’s. Mulan nods, as if satisfied, and turns around to lead Riku back to the guest room.

Along the way, she takes a corner that they definitely did not take before and they go down several hallways until she finally slides open a door. She steps inside and beckons Riku to follow.

Judging by the look of the room, it’s her personal sleeping quarters. Riku feels like an intruder just standing there, so he doesn’t dare to move.

“I just want you to know that I am here for you,” Mulan says seriously and puts her hand over Riku’s. “China isn’t the easiest when it comes to change. But it is coming.”

Riku blinks, confused for all he knew about Mulan was that she was very capable, very brave, and a woman who faked her identity to save the country, but smiles nonetheless.

Something must show because Mulan twists her expression into one that he’s seen on Kairi again and again. Patience.

“You and Sora,” Mulan says.

“Sora and I,” Riku replies.

“I looked into it, for I wanted to be respectful of your warrior’s culture,” Mulan continues. “After their journey is over, a Keyblade Master bringing his consort to explore the wor—”

“Excuse me,” Riku interrupts. “What did you say just now?”

“I want to be respectful of your traditions?” Mulan offers.

“No, after that,” Riku says and feels his heartbeat quicken. “You said something about the Keyblade Master and his—”

“Consort,” Mulan finishes for him. “Since it was Sora’s idea, that would be you. It is possible for Keyblade Masters to be consorts of other Keyblade Masters.”

Riku spends a good amount of time squashing the desire to bolt. Keyblade Masters don’t run away from their problems. And if—if he has the chance to clear this up, so that Sora doesn’t hear about it, then he has to.

“Could you elaborate?” He asks weakly despite wanting to hear absolutely nothing.

Mulan tilts her head. “Upon passing the Mark of Mastery and finding fulfillment on their journey, the Keyblade Master will travel across the worlds with their beloved in a Victory Tour. Since the worlds fell into danger again, I assumed that you both postponed it until now.”

“I’m not Sora’s consort,” Riku says very quickly. “He wouldn’t have brought me here if he knew that that’s what this all meant.”

“Oh,” Mulan says.

Riku makes a noise of agreement.

“Huh,” she says slowly. “But he searched for you?”

“It’s a long story,” Riku says. “He spent a lot of time searching for a lot of people.”

“And it’s just the two of you exploring the worlds?”

“Because Kairi’s going on her own personal mission,” Riku says, because it seems only natural that Kairi would join Sora and him if she had the chance. “So, Sora and I are going around the worlds because Sora thought it’d be fun, not for romance.”

“Ah,” Mulan says and nods slowly. “I see. So the single bed is—”

“Yeah—”

“And you two are not—”

“No, far from it, actually—”

“Okay,” she says. She still looks skeptical, but she doesn’t continue to push the issue. “I apologize if I made this awkward. I had thought that the two of you were close.”

“We are,” Riku says, because he wants to make this clear. Sora and him are very close, best friends, but nothing more. And that’s the real tragedy of it all. But it’s hard to explain that being Sora’s best friend is a blessing that he doesn’t deserve and a curse that he’ll have to carry for the rest of his life. “We’re just not close like that.”

Mulan looks at him, quietly, and her expression softens.

“Oh,” she says softly. “Riku, he does care about you a great deal. Last time he was here, all he could ask about was you. All I heard from him was Riku so—well, in my eyes, you are very important to him.”

That does very little to ease the ache in Riku’s chest, but he smiles at her attempt. “I feel the same way. He’s important to me.”

Mulan nods. “I understand. Shall I ask for you to be relocated to another room?”

“No, it’s alright,” Riku says. “Should we get some quilts for him?”

 

                                                 

 

Later that night, he calls Kairi.

Sora’s soaking in the bath so he only has a few moments. Out of all his friends, Kairi’s the only one who would really understand where he’s coming from. Well, aside from the King. But it seems imprudent to call him about his problems.

She picks up on the second ring.

“Riku,” she says, smiling when his video loads. She’s surrounded by lush vegetations underneath a bright sun; he hears the crash of waves in the background and understands that she’s probably taking refuge in the shade near the beach. “Is everything alright?”

“How is Navigator Island?” He asks instead.

“It’s great!” Kairi smiles. “Moana’s fantastic. You’d love it here. Or, at least, that’s what Moana tells me. Right now, it’s not doing so well.”

“Moana?” Riku says. “And what’s wrong?”

“Oh, yeah,” Kairi says. “It’s a bit of a long story, but I’m helping her fix this blight that’s been plaguing her people. Did you know that a Goddess’ heart could be stolen?”

“Sounds like you’re busy,” Riku comments. “I’d be worried about Navigator Island. But, since you’re there, I guess there’s nothing to worry about.”

Kairi laughs. “You’re sweet. Anyways, what’s up? I heard from Sora that Mulan and Shang are getting married. That’s so exciting!”

“It is,” Riku says, his heart pounding in his chest at the thought of marriage and weddings and relationships. It plagues him no matter where he goes. “Hey, did you know anything about this journey that Sora and I are taking?”

There’s silence on the other end of the line. Kairi looks at him, her expression suddenly heavy and sad.

“Kairi,” Riku stresses. “You have to tell me.”

She sighs loudly and looks away. “What do you want to know?”

“So you knew?” Riku says, unable to keep the hurt out of his voice. “About this whole Victory Tour that Keyblade Masters are supposed to take? Kairi.”

“What?” Now it’s Kairi’s turn to look confused. “What are you talking about?”

“What?”

“I thought,” she starts and then stops, “I thought you were talking about Sora and you? Last time I checked, you both had a good time in Beast’s Castle. So I was wondering if something went wrong in The Land of Dragons for you to call me.” A beat. “You usually don’t call me unless something happened with Sora.”

It’s awkward to call for anything else. They’re close, but in a different way.

“Sorry,” Riku apologizes.

“It’s fine,” Kairi says. “Just—y’know. Part of it is my fault too. But I want both of you in my life. When I get back, let’s talk more, okay?”

“Sure,” Riku says.

“Anyways,” Kairi heaves a sigh. “What is this about a Keyblade Master Victory Tour?”

Oh. Riku hadn’t planned this far ahead in his line of accusation. To be quite honest, he was expecting more of a, Sora doesn’t know anything, but I do, it’s okay Riku, Sora and I will go on one when I get back and override this experience, instead of a blatant, what are you talking about.

“Apparently,” Riku says slowly, “after a large victory, Keyblade Masters go on a Victory Tour with their…”

“Their?” Kairi asks, her brow furrowed.

“Their…” Riku waves a hand.

Kairi blinks.

“Mulan called the term, hm, consort,” Riku finally says.

“Oh,” Kairi says.

Then, she laughs.

“Oh my god,” Kairi gets out between gasps of air. “Does Sora know? Please tell me he doesn’t know.”

“Kairi,” Riku says, face heating up. “Of course he doesn’t know. If he did, we’d be back at Destiny Islands right now.”

“That’s not true,” Kairi says, her laughter finally quieting down with Riku’s desperation. “There’s a lot to unpack there,” she says, “but Sora wouldn’t leave just because you’re on a Victory Tour. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Oh, that’s so funny. I wonder if Aqua’s going to go on one with Terra soon, then. I’ll ask. This is so funny.”

“Kairi,” Riku groans. “You’re,” he struggles to find it, “you’re embarrassing him.”

I’m embarrassing him,” Kairi says and raises a delicate eyebrow, but he hears the tap of the screen come through the microphone which signals that she’s definitely texting Aqua right now. “How so?”

“Because I’m not—we’re not—you know, you and him are—” Riku waves a hand in the air, his usual eloquence dissolved all because of Sora.

He pauses and collects himself.

“I didn’t mean to say that. It’s not your fault, Kairi. But everyone seems to think that we’re together.”

“Okay,” Kairi tilts her head. “And that’s a bad thing?”

“Yes,” Riku says with an air of finality.

Kairi peers at him. Her mouth is a thin line as she examines him critically. Riku tries not to flinch underneath her gaze.

“Oh, Riku,” she says softly and her expression melts into one of kindness. If she was there, Riku imagines she’d put a hand on his arm and squeeze him reassuringly. “We all just want you to be happy.”

He has nothing to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything.

“Riku,” she says. “Maybe you should talk to him?”

“And say what,” Riku says.

“I don’t know, clear things up?” Kairi frowns. “Sora and I are not together, you know that, right? Our souls are just bound by a chalk drawing of us sharing a Paopu fruit. That doesn’t mean anything. Even friends can share Paopu fruits. Ven has a Wayfinder Charm from Aqua. Don’t read too much into these things, Riku.”

But the thing is, Riku wants to say, he has to read too much into things. Because that gives him hope, that there’s a chance that Sora might actually like him back. That gives him the reason to dream fantasies of him and Sora holding hands and kissing in the sunset, because Sora spent forever searching for him, and Sora’s heart and his created a melody called Dearly Beloved, and Sora leaned against him in Beast’s Castle and smiled and told him that being together feels like a dream.

What he says instead is: “Okay.”

Kairi looks at him.

“Look,” she says and rubs her forehead. “Look, Riku, sit down with Sora. Have a conversation. You deserve to hear this from him, not me.”

“Hm,” Riku says.

Someone shouts Kairi’s name and she looks up. “Riku, I have to go. But trust me—talk to him. I’ll tell him to go to Radiant Garden for his next trip. Maybe all the people in Ansem’s lab can help you guys navigate this weird Keyblade Master Victory Tour stuff. I’ll send you anything that Aqua tells me.”

“Thanks, Kairi,” Riku says.

“You owe me,” she jokes. “But seriously, talk to him! Bye!”

And then she’s gone.

Sora comes out of the bath a minute later, but not after Aqua sends Riku several messages about Keyblade Masters and their unusual proceedings. She apologizes on behalf of Yen Sid, but Riku isn’t too sure he’d like to know about the romantic side of being a Keyblade Master from his master.

Somehow, though, hearing it from Aqua is a bit more mortifying.

Don’t worry. It is typically seen as a romantic honeymoon. But it’s okay to go on these trips with friends or warriors that you have respect for. After we all recover, I plan to take Terra and Ven with me, is the last message she sends.

Don’t worry, which is funny, because Riku has spent a good amount of his life feeling insecure and worrying constantly. Even now, he’s got his fair share of concerns.

“Hey,” Sora says and plops down next to him, shirtless and wearing a towel around his neck. “I thought I heard you talking to someone.”

“Just Kairi,” Riku says.

“Ah,” Sora nods. “She’s trying to restore a Goddess’ heart, right?”

“Yeah,” Riku says. “Hey. Sora.”

“Hm?” Sora says and turns to look at Riku. His hair is still dripping at the tips, droplets of water that fall down and slide around distractingly on his shoulders and collarbone. He looks good, refreshed after a long day of running around, and smiles. “What’s up?”

Riku, who is inappropriately distracted by having a shirtless Sora so close to him, opens his mouth to speak and then decides promptly that he has nothing to say.

“Nothing,” Riku says. “Kairi’s doing cool things, huh?”

“She is,” Sora says after a beat. “I’m happy for her though. She spent so long on Destiny Islands wanting her own adventure and now she’s got it.”

“Yeah,” Riku says. They stay like that, in the quiet, and Riku finds his mind thinking of absolutely nothing. A white field that he endlessly walks, a journey to nowhere. Peaceful.

Then, Sora.

“If you don’t dry your hair, you’re going to catch a cold,” Riku complains and stands. “Give me that,” he says and rubs Sora’s head with a damp towel.

“Riku,” Sora groans as his hair is furiously rubbed. “You’re gonna ruin my spikes!”

“I don’t think anything could ruin them,” Riku says dryly. “They’re your true power. Not your friends, not your heart, just your hair.”

Sora laughs at that. Riku really likes the sound of Sora’s laughter, bright and loud and just happy in a way that drawls everyone around him like a moth to a flame.

He stops his attack on Sora’s hair to let Sora get up and get a shirt.

“Let’s sleep!” Sora says as he stretches. Riku’s careful when they get into the same bed, surrounded by pillows and quilts in a futile attempt to make the bed less hard on their backs. Sora’s got his Gummiphone in his hand, scrolling through and then tapping a few times. “Kairi says we should head to Radiant Garden so you can do some research.” He squints. “What’s up?”

“Mulan mentioned something about Keyblade Masters,” Riku says, because it’s not necessarily a lie. “There was something I wanted to check out.”

“Oh,” Sora frowns. “Why don’t you just ask the King?”

There’s something not right about asking King Mickey whether or not he’s ever gone on a Victory Tour. But Riku doesn’t really know how to explain that to Sora, who has only ever journeyed with Donald and Goofy.

“Maybe I will,” Riku says instead. “But I also want to find it for myself.” He looks Sora squarely in the eyes. “My mind’s made up. I know we’ve only taken one Gummi ship, so if you want, I can just ask Mickey to borrow another one of his ships.”

Sora considers this slowly as he examines Riku.

“It’s not that serious,” Sora says eventually. “I won’t leave you behind.” He reaches out and grabs Riku’s hand, closing the distance between their bodies as he slides in closer. In his grasp, Riku feels small and large at the same time, fit for bursting out of his skin.

“Let’s head out to Radiant Gardens first thing tomorrow,” Sora promises and squeezes Riku’s hand. Once. Twice.

 

 

 

When Riku wakes up the next morning, Sora is curled up at his side.

They’re still holding hands. And now that he knows what Sora’s body heat feels like pressed against him, his dreams are going to go wild.

He closes his eyes when he feels Sora stir. Carefully, he relaxes his jaw, lets his eyelids grow heavy, and deepens his breath. This close, he can smell the jasmine shampoo that Sora must have used last night. It’s good, weirdly not Sora but Sora at the same time, and Riku tries to force his heartbeat to slow down. Let Sora decide what he wants to do. After all, he is in no position to figure out what to do. Last time, all he did was stare at Sora’s face like a stunned idiot.

A minute might have passed. Riku’s not too sure; time slows down when he’s aware of Sora like this. The other hasn’t moved at all, so maybe Riku imagined it—

Nope, Riku thinks when he opens his eyes and Sora’s right there, staring back at him. He definitely did not imagine it. Neither of them are moving, instead content on staring at each other. After a while, a slow and sure smile spreads across Sora’s face. It’s so brilliant that Riku’s mind drips down to a halt, syrupy slow as his internal organs turn into dust with warmth sprouting from every fiber of his being.

Even though he’s stopped breathing, Riku can tell they’re having a moment.

“Good morning,” Riku says, like a doofus.

“Good morning,” Sora says and shifts in closer. “You’re warm.”

Inside Riku, his stomach has clearly regained physical form as it proceeds to do a series of impressive flips. However, as soon as Sora’s cheek touches his chest, he stiffens up immediately.

Sora squints at him, his lips thinning out. Then, slowly, red overtakes his face.

“Oh,” his voice comes out shrill, like a squeak. “Oh no.”

Riku, who is thinking the exact same thing, makes a similar sounding distressed noise.

“I thought,” Sora tries.

“Don’t,” Riku says immediately. He’s not sure he’ll be able to handle what Sora says next. Yanking his hand out of Sora’s grasp, Riku smoothly slides out from underneath him. His mind is racing a mile a minute to fill in the gaps of Sora’s sentence and it’s damning when every suggestion starts becoming, I thought you were someone else.

“Riku, I’m,” Sora says softly, because he always leads with brutal kindness, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Riku swallows thickly. “I understand.” He turns to look at Sora, but he finds himself unable to meet the other’s eye. A coward until the very end. “It’s cold in here,” he says as if they’re not surrounded by quilts.

“So,” Riku struggles for words, “it’s understandable.”

Sora sighs, scrubs his face, and they’ve reached an impasse of silence. This was what Riku was trying to avoid, so of course he stumbled right into it.

Eventually, Sora gets up and makes his way to the bathroom to get ready for the morning.

Riku inhales. Exhales. He hears Kairi’s voice from the bathroom and Sora’s panicked cries, so he gives Sora his privacy and heads out down the hallway. It’s only a few more turns, his legs running until the desire flees him altogether, and he finds an empty guest room so he can wash his face.

You are very important to him, Mulan said. Talk to him, Kairi said. Don’t worry, Aqua said.

Riku chases all these thoughts away by dunking his head in ice cold water.

 

 

 

Breakfast is an awkward affair.

Mulan doesn’t press the issue, but he can tell she knows something happened, as she sends him an apologetic look over her bowl of milk. Riku busies himself with eating the steamed buns, chewing in thought as he considers the matter. It’s not about him forgiving Sora, Sora’s already apologized for something that didn’t need an apology. It’s up to Sora this time, Riku thinks guiltily, because Sora always ends up forgiving him too quickly. And if Sora decides not to forgive him, because Riku indulged in a fantasy for far too long, that’s fine too. Riku is fine with that.

Maybe if he thinks it enough, he’ll believe it. He’s fine, Riku thinks. He’s fine.

“Riku,” Sora says in front of Shang and Mulan and the Emperor and Mushu, who he knows is listening from the inside of Mulan’s shirt, “can you come with me?”

Turning to look at Sora, Riku’s sure that his face is an open book. He feels torn, and he knows that it shows. Sora always forgives him too quickly. He grabs a steamed bun and Sora takes his bowl of congee to a nearby corner. He can see all three of the humans at the table trying to mind their own business, with one dragon hissing in Mulan’s ear while pointing at the two of them.

“I’m not mad,” Sora says.

“Okay,” Riku says and crosses his arms. “I figured.”

“Are you mad?” Sora asks quietly over his congee as he fiddles with the spoon.

“No,” Riku says quickly and, instinctively, reaches out to cover Sora’s hands with his own. He squeezes gently. “I’m not mad. Why would I be mad?”

“Because you left?” Sora makes a face. “I came back and you were gone. I thought you went to call the King or—”

“No,” Riku cuts him off, his heart pounding in his chest. “I wouldn’t leave you behind.”

“Okay,” Sora says quietly.

“Sora,” Riku says, stern. “I’m not going to leave you behind.”

He doesn’t have time to consider how weird it is—the two of them, huddled in the corner of the Emperor’s dining hall, one of them armed with a bowl of congee while the other has a half-eaten steamed bun in his hand. Sora takes up his entire mind now.

“I’m sorry if I made you worry,” Riku acquiesces. “I didn’t mean to.”

“You came with me on this trip for my sake,” Sora says, “so I want to do things for your sake too.”

“Thanks,” Riku says and means it. He smiles. “Where were we supposed to go after this? Atlantica? You’re that eager to get back in the water?”

Sora huffs, which would look more menacing if he wasn’t holding a bowl of congee in his hands, and begins to spoon it in his mouth with a vigor like no other. Riku rolls his eyes and ruffles Sora’s hair, shoving the rest of his steamed bun into his mouth.

“Are you leaving?” Mulan asks eventually, Mushu slipping back underneath her shirt. “We’ve prepared a gift for you.”

It’s several gifts. Several expensive, lavish gifts. Most of it is food, which means that Riku and Sora will never go hungry from mandarins and apples, but the other gifts are scarves and shawls and socks, the latter of which Sora delights over.

“Aw, thanks Mulan!” Sora says. “They’re so nice! I can’t wait to wear them!”

Riku doesn’t understand the joy but imagines that it has something to do with how Sora’s been losing socks lately. He complained about it once to Riku back on Destiny Islands, how he kept ending up with one sock out of a pair despite his best efforts, so it’s a tentative inside joke at best. Maybe Sora’s feet are always cold.

But he tries on a scarf, just to be polite, and Mulan smiles.

Shang, the Emperor, and Mulan all wave them goodbye. The Gummi Ship takes off and Riku’s at the helm, Braveheart in his hands.

“Radiant Garden, here we come,” he says.

 

 

 

They land and Sora stretches out his legs.

No one’s there to welcome them, which is fine. After all, they’re here on a mission, not for leisure.

“Let’s get to Ansem’s lab,” Riku says, even though he doesn’t want to meet any of the people he imagines will be there. “He should have records about Keyblade Masters—I mean, he does research on hearts, but there should be records.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Sora agrees. Then, he brightens. “Hey! Maybe we can visit Tron now that we’re here!”

“Yeah,” Riku says as he considers it, the world that he briefly connected to when he dove into Sora’s heart, and the world that exists out here. “Sounds good.”

“And Scrooge! And Leon! And Yuffie! And Aerith, and Cloud, and Tifa, and—”

Sora continues to list off names of his friends, which should be obnoxious but just comes off as ridiculously endearing to Riku. His heart swells with pride for his best friend: it makes sense that so many people would choose to surround themselves with Sora, because he’s Sora.

On the other hand, none of the restored humans look excited to see him. Which, granted, makes sense considering their interactions with him in Castle Oblivion. But it’s a stark contrast from Sora who had been rattling off names left and right, and Ienzo who is staring at him like he’s grown a second head and Ienzo’s the only one in the room capable enough to chop it off.

“Records,” Ienzo says slowly, as if Riku’s being particularly thick, “on the Keyblade Masters?”

“Yeah,” Riku says. “Their history? Traditions? What are you even doing here?”

“Clearly, my duty is as a tour guide,” Ienzo says with a sigh but leads them down a series of hallways. “What are you two doing? I had thought you’d stay on that tiny island for good.”

“It’s not tiny,” Riku defends.

At the same time, Sora says, “we’re here on a victory lap!”

Ienzo stops.

“Do you mean a Victory…Tour?” He says and looks at the two of them.

Riku leaps at the chance to turn the tables, because he doesn’t want to go down that rabbit hole with Sora and Ienzo, of all people. “If you know so much about the traditions, then there have to be records.” He crosses his arms. “We don’t have all day.”

“The two of you,” Ienzo says with a squint, musing already. His hair is in front of his face, obscuring his expression, but Riku thinks that he can see the hint of a smirk. “Hm, now that I think about it, it does make sense—”

“Ienzo,” Riku says quickly. “The records.”

The problem with Ienzo is that he enjoys tampering with people’s insecurities or, at least, exploiting them as much as possible. Or, at least, that’s what Riku remembers from his Nobody. But Ienzo drops the issue and continues to lead them down the winding hallways, eventually getting to a library.

“All the records of Keyblade Masters will be over there,” Ienzo says and gestures to a wall. “Have fun.” He turns to Sora, ignoring Riku completely. “If you need me, I’m only a call away.”

“Thanks for your help, Ienzo!” Sora says cheerfully.

Ienzo looks at Sora, hums as he cups his chin, turns to Riku, hums pointedly, and leaves.

“I’ll be over here!” Sora points at a comfortable couch. “Let me know when you’re done looking.”

Riku nods, heads on over to the rows upon rows upon rows of books, and begins his search. Most of it is the chronicles of the Keyblade Masters, but these are often about what they chose to do after passing the Mark of Mastery—a few chose to stay behind and shape their worlds, while most went out and journeyed to solve problems in distant lands. Riku flips through hurriedly, having already gone through that part of his life, and the number of pages about what the Keyblade Masters did after it was all said and done is small in comparison.

Hm, Riku thinks. Two of the stories he’s read so far involve the Keyblade Master proposing on their Victory Tour.

It really does seem like the Victory Tour is just that—the Keyblade Master takes their loved ones on a tour across worlds, some propose in a huge fanfare when they land back at their home island. But most Keyblade Masters spend it in love, a joyous occasion that everyone in the worlds they visit must be made aware of, and Riku frowns at that detail.

“Sora,” he calls, “did you tell everyone that we were coming?”

“Yeah! I told Belle, I think, and Mulan knew well in advance. I was already planning it out because I wanted it to be a victory celebration!”

Sora, Riku realizes, has been unknowingly feeding everyone misinformation. He resists the urge to groan but caves slightly, burying his head in between the pages of a thick and heavy tomb. The boy in question peeks over the edge of the couch, peering at Riku curiously.

“What did you say, exactly?” Riku asks weakly.

“Oh,” Sora grins, looking oddly bashful for a split second before continuing. “That you were coming with me, Riku.”

“Right,” Riku says. He closes the book and rests it on his knee.  

Wait.

“When did you tell them that I was coming with you?” Riku asks. Sora hadn’t called anyone inside the Gummi ship to let them know that he was coming with an extra person. Instead, they passed the time traveling between worlds poking and prodding each other and failing to steer correctly until they realized that they were getting way off course.

Sora laughs, a bit nervous and high pitched.

“Oh, you know,” he says.

Riku very much does not know.

“Maybe,” Sora says in a tiny voice as he stares at his hands in his lap, “before you even agreed to go?”

Flustered, Riku stares at Sora. “You can’t make promises like that, Sora,” he says weakly. His heart beats louder in his chest. “You couldn’t have known that I would come with you.”

“I wouldn’t have gone without you,” Sora looks up to gaze steadily at him.

Riku tries to imagine the opposite—him, inviting Sora out for a tour of the worlds, and the possibility of Sora saying no. And that sends cold washing over him, wrapping steadily around his stomach and heart, clenching firmly until his entire body hurts. Even if he had to flee the islands out of shame, where would he go?

“It’s the same for me,” Riku says before he can think better of it. “I wouldn’t have gone without you.”

Sora smiles.

“Thanks, Riku,” he says. “I’m glad you’re here.”

 

 

 

Riku takes some pictures of the books with him to save for later—little anecdotes that he finds interesting or that give him strength.

There is a story of a man who proposed to a fellow Keyblade Master and met with an explosion of support. The world from which they were from proposed for several centuries well after they both passed, the legacy of their keyblades inherited down generations until one of the Keyblade Wielders passed without choosing a successor. The dual flames were snuffed, leaving only one to blow in the wind as a solitary figure.

But still. The initial two Keyblade Masters lived in happiness for the decades that they were alive and made their world a better place. It’s a bittersweet tale, Riku thinks as he carefully puts the book back.

Sora yawns as he stands to join Riku by the exit. “Done?” He asks. “Did you find what you’re looking for?”

“Not really,” Riku says. “But if I had a few more days, I think that I’d be fine.”

“You really have to stop doing things on your own,” Sora says with a frown. “We’re friends, aren’t we?”

“Right,” Riku says slowly. Of course. “Friends.”

“Yeah,” Sora laughs. “You still have those, you know!”

Riku doesn’t know how to respond to that. In a panic to restore some normalcy, he puts Sora in a headlock. “I know that,” he says as he rubs a knuckle against Sora’s head. “Thankfully, my head’s not as empty as yours.”

“It’d be less empty if you stopped doing this!” Sora grumbles and bats at Riku’s hand.

“Blaming your problems on me?” Riku laughs. “What am I going to do with you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sora whines.

It means that you’ve put me in this mess where several worlds think that we’re dating, Riku wants to say, but then he’d have to explain to Sora what a Victory Tour even is. And then what? Spend the next few days suffering as Sora explains to all his friends that they’re not together—no way, not with Riku—and what would Riku get? Pity?

Maybe he can just say that the power of friendship is brilliant and dazzling every time he lands. Something Sora-esque. Negate the concept of special someone and insert best friend instead.

“You’re my best friend,” Riku says firmly, his chest pressed against Sora’s back as they continue to tussle. “I worry about you, you know?”

“Come on, Riku,” Sora groans, still trying to get out of Riku’s grip, “I’m a Keyblade Master too!”

A Keyblade Master who knows next to nothing about what being a Keyblade Master means. Riku rolls his eyes and lets go of Sora, who immediately begins to touch his spikes as if Riku’s hand could ever break their gravity-defying ability.

“What were you looking for anyways?” Sora asks with a bit of a pout.

“The history of Keyblade Masters,” Riku says and picks up a book. He tosses it to Sora, who scrambles to catch it. “I’d tell you to read it, but I know that you can’t.”

“I can too!” Sora says and cracks open the book.

“Sure,” Riku says, for Sora’s attention span is feeble and Riku chose a particularly dense text as a formidable foe. He waits for Sora to read, which involves him tapping his feet for half a minute as the light in Sora’s eyes starts to fade.

“This is so boring,” Sora complains.

“I’ll summarize it for you over food,” Riku snorts. “We haven’t eaten since Mulan’s breakfast.”

“Sounds good to me!” Sora smiles. “Hey—wanna go to Twilight Town? There’s a really good bistro there! We can always come back to say hey to our friends!”

With all the enthusiasm of someone who had never anticipated going back to Twilight Town, Riku agrees.

 

 

 

Twilight Town is the same as it’s always been.

Sora’s figure is basked in the golden hour glow as he runs. Riku chases him, uncertain of where they’re going but uncaring as they zip up and down the streets. With practiced ease, Sora swings around the lampposts and runs up the walls of the alleyways that he leaps into. A step behind, Riku manages to keep up an even pace as he feels the whipping of the wind.

Easily, Sora leaps between two buildings and jumps across the street into another alleyway. Riku launches himself the same way, maybe with a bit less height, just as someone jumps up with their skateboard.

There’s a crash, a collision, and a tangle of limbs as Riku goes down. His elbow digs into someone’s stomach as he lands.

The girl groans. In a haste, Riku stands up and—

“Xion?” He says, taken aback.

“Riku?” She squints at him while holding her head and stomach. “What are you doing here?”

“Sora and I are getting dinner,” Riku says and, remembering his manners, sticks out his hand.

Gratefully, Xion takes his hand and stands up. Her skateboard clattered to its final resting spot just a few feet away. She goes over to pick it up, examining it for scratches.

“You and Sora are here?” As if she suddenly remembered to respond to what Riku said, Xion blinks. “You weren’t supposed to be here for another—”

“Riku! Is everything alright?” Sora says as he leaps in between the two of them.

“Sora!” Xion brightens visibly. She looks between him and Riku, the latter of which feels like he’s somehow intruding on this conversation. “It’s good to see you.”

“Yeah,” Sora smiles. “Still running errands?”

“Just for a bit of pocket munny,” Xion smiles and looks at Riku from the corner of her eyes. “It’s for the, whole, you know.”

“Oh!” Sora smiles pleasantly. “I thought I was just going to fund the whole thing! I mean,” he turns to look at Riku, “the ‘you know’.”

“Hey,” Xion says and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “We have our pride too! We can’t let you pay for everything. What kind of hosts would we be?”

Sora laughs. Riku joins them, hands awkward at his side.

“We’re getting dinner at the bistro,” Riku says. He looks at the two of them. It’s clear that they’re hiding something from him, but Riku imagines that he’ll learn about it sooner or later. Patience is a virtue. Also, Sora’s never been good at keeping secrets from him. “You want to come with us?”

“The whole gang can come!” Sora says and tucks his hands behind his head, a grin on his face. “It’d be nice to meet everyone!”

“Oh no,” Xion says hurriedly. “We wouldn’t want to intrude on your date.”

Wide-eyed, Riku looks at her.

“And I have errands,” Xion says as she readies her skateboard underneath her feet. “Errands and all that.”

She speeds off with a promise to call Sora on his Gummiphone later. Sora’s at his side giving a cheery wave goodbye. Riku watches her go, still stunned, as she disappears over the hill with the wind sending her hair and skirt flapping in the wind. Just like that, it’s as if she never appeared at all.

Riku turns to Sora.

The other looks up at him, grinning as if nothing’s wrong, and Riku doesn’t know if he maybe misheard her. Maybe she said something like dinner, instead of date, and Riku just put wishful thinking words into her mouth.

“Hey, Sora,” Riku says, “did you hear what Xion said?”

“About having to run errands?” Sora asks.

“No, what she said—” Riku cuts himself off. “You know what? Never mind. I bet you that I can get to the bistro before you.”

He jumps into the alleyway that Sora was already heading down on, climbing the wall to get the height advantage. Sora shouts a complaint behind him before following, taking a different route than Riku, and soon they’ve diverged paths as Riku continues to search for the bistro from his height advantage. With ease, he pinpoints where Sora is heading and, just seconds before Sora can reach the front door, lands right in front of the bistro’s entrance.

“Hey!” Sora says. “Not fair!”

“Don’t be such a sore loser,” Riku says with half-hearted cockiness, having overexerted himself by launching himself over several buildings.

“You’re the sore winner!” Sora complains. But he heads inside with Riku following him close behind.

They don’t get a seat at the table. Sora smiles and waves to almost every employee, while Riku walks behind him with his hands in his pockets, and then makes his way into the kitchen.

There are chefs bustling around, trying to recreate the dishes that are on the menu, and Sora strides in with all the confidence of the head chef.

Behind him, Riku wonders if he’s allowed to be here.

What happens next can only be described as surreal. Sora bends down to the ground and puts on a chef hat. Then he’s splitting eggs, tossing pepper grinders left and right, and pouring alcohol to flambé the meat.

Riku, who had never seen Sora cook, stares wide-eyed as Sora begins to push dishes out with a fervor like no other. Soon, all the tickets are gone and all the chefs are hanging up their aprons, their work done for them.

Sora smiles at him, sheepishly apologetic, as he slides a dish over.

“Sorry for the wait,” he says. “But, um, enjoy? I think it’s supposed to be a comforting baldy?”

With a yelp, Sora jerks. His hand stretches upwards and, as if he’s a marionette on strings, tugs him over to the shelf. He slaps a recipe book and, in quick jerky motions, brings up a page.

“A… confit byaldi,” Sora says with a squint. “Oh! Yeah! That’s it!”

Brandishing Braveheart in the kitchen, Riku looks suspiciously at Sora as if he’s been possessed.

“Oh!” Sora says and tugs off the chef’s hat. There’s a rat standing on top of Sora’s head, tugging at two of his spikes. “It’s just Little Chef! Don’t worry, Riku, I’m alright!”

“Who?” Riku says, because he’s seen a mouse before and the two of them do not look similar.

The rat climbs down Sora’s body and sprints over to Riku, winding up around him. In a panic, Riku swings Braveheart and proceeds to bash several pans and pots to the floor in a great clatter.

Then, as the rat takes his position atop Riku’s head, he can feel the control of his body just leave.

“Sora,” Riku chokes out.

“Oh!” Sora says, alarmed. “No—no, Little Chef, don’t do that! Riku doesn’t like it!”

The rat lets go of his hair and tilts his head with a frown.

“It’s a long story,” Sora says hurriedly. He extends his hand and the rat jumps from Riku’s head onto Sora’s hand, turning to Riku apologetically.

Sucking in a breath, Riku flexes his hands. Braveheart disappears in a wave of light. “It’s alright,” he says finally. “Little Chef.”

Little Chef leaps off of Sora’s hand onto the counter. He points to the food, as if telling Riku to eat.

Attempting to stop the tremors in his hand, Riku picks up a fork and takes a bite.

It’s delicious.

Unreasonably so.

For some odd reason, he misses the islands.

Slowly, happiness spreads throughout him. As if it can’t contain itself in the pound of his heart, he feels his entire body grow warm and content. Riku stares, mesmerized by the food, and looks up.

Sora’s looking at him with his head propped up on his hand. He’s smiling.

“It’s good, right?” Sora says.

“Yeah,” Riku says, his voice hoarse. He takes another bite. “It’s good.”

Sora studies him, his expression soft and fond. Quietly, he asks, “what do you see?”

Riku chews, swallows, and thinks. There’s a great amount that he’d like to say. He sees the beach that Sora, Kairi, and him run down on. He sees Sora with the water up to their ankles, squinting at him who’s extending a hand for Sora to grab. He sees the meteor shower that brought Kairi to their island, him and Sora side by side in the sand.

“I see us,” he says slowly.

“Oh,” Sora says. “Me too!”

“Really?” Riku says with a frown.

“I saw us!” Sora scratches his head and crosses his arms as he thinks. “Remember when we were just laying on the beach, looking up at the sky? As kids?”

“We did that a lot,” Riku says.

“Well, that’s what I saw!” Sora says. “Just the two of us hanging out. And I saw all three of us running down the beach. And I saw,” he flusters, red rising high on his cheeks, “I saw me hugging Kairi and me crying when I found you again.”

“Ah,” Riku says smartly. He tries not to read too much into it. “You were always a crybaby, Sora.”

“Hey!”

 

 

 

Little Chef takes over Sora to cook several more dishes until they’re both full, satisfied on good food and nostalgia. Sora drops off a bounty of ingredients for Little Chef to experiment with and makes a promise to return. Sadly, Little Chef kisses a bell pepper and waves goodbye to both of them. Tentatively, Riku waves goodbye back.

“Huh,” Riku says as they exit. It’s still twilight. “Where to now?”

“We should probably say hi to everyone,” Sora says and turns to look at Riku. The golden hour is still generous and Riku feels his chest clench and grow warm all at once.

“Sure,” Riku says as they walk. The constant sunset makes Riku dizzy, as if his biological clock is being rewired this very second, and he wonders how people fall asleep in this town. Sora’s chatting up a storm as they walk side by side, talking about how Lea, Hayner, Pence, and Olette will be more than delighted to see him, and Riku notices that he left two very important people off.

“How is Isa?” Riku asks about the lesser of two evils.

“He’s fine,” Sora frowns. “I think? He’s doing a lot of growing. But it’ll definitely take some time for him to warm up to you, that’s for sure.”

Riku understands that Sora said the last part mainly for his benefit. He couldn’t imagine that anyone would take a long time to warm up to Sora. After all, it’s his special ability—to bring all these hearts and people together.

“And Roxas?”

“Oh,” Sora says. “He’s doing well. I mean, I think he was worried about Hayner, Pence, and Olette not being friends with him, but I think they’re good!”

“Right,” Riku says.

Out of the corner of his eye, Riku sees someone’s skateboarding down. Instinctively, he reaches out to pull Sora out of harm’s way. The teenager whoops as he blows past the two of them, the wheels making a racket against the cobblestone.

Now, Riku’s hand is hot against Sora’s wrist and he doesn’t know when’s the right time to let go. There’s a pulse thudding through his fingers that’s either his or Sora’s and, by the time he decides he should have let go fifteen seconds ago, it’s been too long for it to be natural.

“Nice save,” Sora says with a grin. There’s a bit of pink at the corners of his cheeks. “Thanks, Riku!”

“Uh,” Riku says with his hand still around Sora’s wrist, his own face hot. He lets go slowly. “You’re welcome.”

And that’s how Roxas finds them, walking side-by-side with both their faces flushed. Unamused, he stands at the top of the sloped street with the sun against his back, skateboard at his side. His shadow stretches out at this angle. Sora and Riku stop just shy of touching it.

“I heard from Xion that you’re here early,” Roxas says. “What happened to the beach?”

“We’re visiting Atlantica after this,” Riku says simply.

“You didn’t—” Roxas shuts his mouth and turns to Sora.

Sora lifts a finger to his lips.

“Oh,” Roxas says. “Right, Atlantica. Going out of order?”

“I called Ariel to let her know we’re coming later,” Sora crosses his arms. “Riku had some reading he wanted to do in Radiant Garden.”

“Stuff about Keyblade Masters,” Riku says quickly. Sora beams at his side.

“Okay,” Roxas says. “Isa bought two extra ice creams.”

And that’s how Riku ends up at the clock tower, sea salt ice cream in his hand, sitting in between Roxas and Xion.

The former joins him in quiet, contemplative silence as they slowly eat and stare out at the horizon. On Roxas’s other side, Naminé draws in her sketchbook quietly as she smiles contently to herself.

On the other hand, everyone else seems to be lively. Hayner and Olette are talking about the beach while sending the worst discrete looks at Riku possible. Sora’s talking to Pence and they tinker with Sora’s Gummiphone over the edge of the clock tower, which would spark cause for concern if Riku didn’t trust that five keyblade wielders would be able to jump down and snatch it from midair.

Xion turns from a conversation with Isa and Lea to look at him.

“So, this Victory Tour that Sora’s taking you on,” she starts and Riku’s already mentally strapping himself in for a long ride, “you’re having a good time?”

“Oh, we’re talking about that now?” Roxas says, his interest piqued. “Yeah, Riku, tell us more about the Victory Tour.”

How is it that parts of Sora are more aware of Keyblade Master rituals than Sora himself, Riku ponders as he avoids eye contact.

“It’s been fine,” he says, feigning casualness. “We went to Beast’s Castle—” Xion stiffens next to him briefly, “—and the Land of Dragons. But that’s about it.”

Roxas squints at him and takes another bite of his ice cream. “What did you guys do there?”

“Well,” Riku says. “We danced—”

Choking on the sea salt, Roxas coughs viciously next to Riku.

Ignoring Roxas, Xion motions for Riku to go on.

“And we got a tour of China,” Riku finishes lamely, looking at Roxas who is trying valiantly to not have sea salt come out through his nose. “Is he going to be okay?”

“He’ll be fine,” Xion says. “That’s great, Riku. I’m so happy for you. You finally get to explore the worlds with Sora, just like you both have always wanted.”

“Yeah,” Riku says slowly.

Xion smiles kindly. Roxas is still coughing, wheezing as he struggles for air. Next to him, Naminé pats him kindly on the back.

“Do you know what—”

“Yes,” Xion says excitedly and clasps her hands together around her ice cream. “Do you know what you’re going to do when he proposes?”

“I bet,” Roxas gets out through coughs while Naminé rubs his back comfortingly, “I bet Sora’s going to cry.”

“If Sora cries, let him. It sounds so nice,” Naminé says wistfully, “seeing all those worlds and then going back to home for your happiness.”

Between coughs, Roxas looks at Xion pointedly.

Feeling ganged up on and ignoring the eyebrow raising battle between Xion and Roxas, Riku sighs as he resists the urge to bury his head in his hands. “Sora isn’t going to propose.”

“Oh,” Xion says. “Because you’re going to?”

“No,” Riku says. “Because Sora doesn’t know it’s a Victory Tour.”

There’s a prolonged silence.

“But—” Xion starts.

“He said—” Roxas continues.

“Sora says victory lap, not tour,” Riku says and waits for the pieces to click.

“Oh,” Naminé says quietly after a pause, “he did say that.”

Somehow, being pitied by all three of them hurts more than Riku thought it would. He ignores Xion’s stare to his left, busying himself with eating just so he’d have something to do.

“Oh,” Xion says softly. “Oh, Riku. Oh no,” she cringes, “I called your dinner a date. I thought that you two were dating—I mean, we all did.”

Riku shrugs his shoulders. “It’s fine. Sora’s kind of dense when it comes to these things and he doesn’t see me that way, so I don’t think he caught on.”

“That makes no sense,” Roxas says. “Why were we all going to the beach then?”

“Roxas!” Xion says. “That was supposed to be a surprise.”

“But, Xion, that’s what I’m saying,” Roxas says as he looks over Riku. “It’s a surprise for Riku. Sora planned out this big adventure for Riku, called up all his friends to make the arrangements for both of them, told us to plan a beach trip, and Riku’s telling us that Sora doesn’t like him. Do you really believe that, Riku?”

Riku turns to look Roxas square in the eyes. It hurts, a little bit, because Roxas is looking at him sadly, but he does it anyways.

“Yes,” he says.

“You’re dense for a Keyblade Master,” Roxas sighs.

Gently, Xion puts a hand on Riku’s arm. “But if you know what a Victory Tour is and that most of the worlds you travel to are going to think of you both like that, does it bother you?”

“I’m fine with it,” Riku says. “I don’t want to ruin Sora’s trip.”

“Are you happy though?” Naminé asks thoughtfully.

Riku doesn’t know how to answer that. He understands that he’s got quite the track record for putting himself second and Sora first. But it’s not such a bad life. He wanted to protect what matters to him, and he did it well—Sora sits just a few feet from him, still asking Pence about new upgrades to his Gummiphone, and all aspects and elements of Sora are sitting around him as well. He accomplished what he set out to do and now he should enjoy it, whatever form that it comes in.

It could be worse.

He could not have this, sitting next to Roxas and Xion as they eat sea salt ice cream and look at the constant sunset. He could not have Naminé sketching while feeling whole and human and her own person. He could not have Sora, awake and brimming full of life, smiling at him and laughing at his jokes.

Naminé looks at him.

“Riku!” Sora shouts and leans dangerously over the edge of the clock tower. “Pence upgraded my Gummiphone!”

Patting Riku on the arm again, Xion smiles slightly as she stands. “We’ll give you two some space.”

Sora slides in where Xion was sitting, a familiar presence against Riku’s side, and shows Riku what Pence had done. He’s close enough that his hair brushes against Riku’s cheek as he leans in, tickling him slightly as he pulls up update after update.

“More data means more pictures!” Sora cheers. “And we can play games now!”

“Nice,” Riku says.

A few feet away from them, all of the Twilight Town sea salt ice cream eaters decided to hold a small meeting. Somehow, Sora ignores all of them despite the whispers and the glances sent their way.

“And we can hold group calls now!” Sora grins. “If you give Pence your Gummiphone, and if Kairi can come over to get hers upgraded as well, we can all call at the same time! And look!”

There’s a virtual Meow Wow living inside Sora’s phone. Sora rubs against the screen with one finger and the Meow Wow responds to his touch, shaking and rolling over excitedly. The victory of the darkness was well worth it, Riku thinks as he watches Sora play.

Hopefully, the Dream Eater is virtual. Otherwise, he’d have to ask Pence how to get that Meow Wow out.

Speaking of Pence:

The whispers have stopped. Riku chances a look and—

They’re gone.

Sora turns to see what he’s looking at. “Aw,” he says, “they didn’t say goodbye!”

“I’m sure we’ll see them again,” Riku says. “Weren’t you guys planning a beach trip? A surprise beach trip?”

Sora groans. “What? You told you?”

Part of Riku wants to say you did. “Roxas.”

“He’s the one who I trust the most to keep a secret,” Sora says as he tilts his head back. “Well, maybe.”

Riku shrugs. He doesn’t mention that it came out because Roxas’s patience slipped.

It’s quiet. Sora’s staring out at the horizon, his eyes unseeing as if he’s thinking about something. The silence is good for the both of them, Riku muses as he turns his attention to the same sight that Sora’s seeing. There was a lot that he doesn’t want to think about but his thoughts wander, as they are prone to do. His stomach turns at the thought of Xion or Roxas letting it slip to Sora that they thought that the two of them were together, but part of him trusts in them to be better than that.

“Riku, you said that you were going to summarize what you found over dinner,” Sora says.

Oh.

“Yeah,” Riku says and swallows thickly. He had forgotten about that, too wrapped up in the feelings bursting through his chest and spreading like wildfire through his veins. “What do you want to know?”

Sora hums. “Start from the beginning.”

So Riku tells him. Not everything—no, he skirts over the feelings and the courtship and the love associated with the Victory Tour. But he tells Sora enough. He tells Sora everything about the two Keyblade Masters passing down their dream that their world would have everlasting peace. He knows that Sora likes it when he adds in his own thoughts to a tale because Sora’s not interested in hearing the story half the time, instead focusing on the thoughts and interpretations. Sora’s like that, Riku thinks as he shares his thoughts on how eternal prosperity would truly work. Sora’s the type of person who makes Riku feel like he’s at the center of the universe when, in reality, Sora’s at the center of his.

“Huh,” Sora says when he finishes. “So you were looking up how to change a world?”

Pausing, Riku collects his thoughts. It’s an interesting thought experiment: changing Destiny Islands to how he sees fit. “I thought that you, Kairi, and me could all help the islands.”

“I never thought of that,” Sora says. “But that’s a great idea! When Kairi’s finished, we should make an endless stretch of sand for everyone to run down on!”

“Sure,” Riku says with a laugh. He leans back and spreads his legs to get more comfortable; his knee knocks against Sora’s casually. “You want all three of us to run along the beach that badly, huh?”

“Yeah,” Sora complains as he tucks his hands behind his head. “We never got a chance to before Kairi caught her traveling bug.”

“Can’t blame her,” Riku says. “We all wanted to see the outside.”

Sora gets quiet again. Riku doesn’t read too much into it. It comforts him, actually, because a tiny part of him is relieved that after everything they’ve been through, Sora still lets his walls down around him.

“Riku,” Sora says, “do you want to go back to the islands?”

“Huh?” Riku blinks.

“It feels like you do,” Sora says. It’s not necessarily accusatory, but it sends Riku’s heart into nervous overdrive.

“How can you say that?” Riku asks. The thought hadn’t even occurred to him—returning to Destiny Islands alone. “I don’t get where you’re coming from, Sora.”

“Our hearts are always in tune,” Sora says cryptically, coming out of seemingly nowhere, and that’s enough to gain Riku’s full attention. Pausing, Sora stares at the horizon with his lips in a thin line. He looks worried, with a tightness to his eyes that Riku wants to wipe away, and tilts his head. “So why is it that I feel like they’ve started beating out of sync?”

Self-consciously, Riku puts his hand lightly over his chest. Beneath his hand, his heart beats at a staccato rhythm. He closes his eyes.

“Sora,” Riku says. He’s at a loss for words.

“I’ve been thinking about that morning,” Sora continues. He holds out his hand in front of him and the light seeps through his fingers.

Riku watches him, transfixed, trying desperately to not hang off his every word but failing miserably.

“That time in The Land of Dragons, I thought I was dreaming again,” Sora says quietly. The admission falls out of his mouth and his shoulders tense up, as if preparing himself for hurt.

“What?” Riku says.

Sora smiles tight at the corners. He shrugs. “Just thought you should know. And Kairi keeps saying to talk about it even though I kept telling her that I’m fine with how we are, but I don’t think I am fine anymore.”

Of course. Sora is always like this, Riku thinks with fond anxiety. Leading with his heart, trying to convey what’s important, admitting terrible and hard truths because he feels that it’s right. If only he could do the same. It’s hard, Riku thinks, even harder than battling a thousand heartless because he could really ruin the truest friendship he’s ever had in his life. Sora is so brave.

Riku wants to be brave, too. For him. For Sora.

“I’m not sure of anything anymore,” Sora sucks in a breath, ducking his head just once and then sighing as he looks back up. “It used to be so easy. But then,” he touches his chest, “here started hurting a lot more. And it isn’t like it’s Roxas’ hurt or Ventus’ hurt or—or anyone else’s hurt. No.” He turns to look at Riku. “It’s mine.”

Sora’s done so much thinking, Riku despairs, that it feels like he’s falling behind. That Sora’s leaving him behind, again, because Riku hadn’t even given much thought to analyzing his feelings other than that he likes Sora. He wanted strength to protect what matters and then, through falling into darkness again and again and again, he discovered that it was his friends. His family. Sora.

But now Sora’s looking at Riku, fingers curled gently around his own chest, and Riku’s mind refuses to do anything but repeat that he likes Sora.

“I like you,” Riku says quickly, his heart beating in his chest. That’s all he can say, truly making a fool out of himself. There’s no reason to apologize for his feelings. He’d like to be a lot more eloquent than that, maybe bring some sort of gift out of thin air and make Sora feel like the treasure he is, but all Riku can do is stare at the popsicle stick in his hands while his face burns in embarrassment.

Privately, Riku acknowledges that he might have been selfish. A better friend would have waited for Sora to continue or apologize for unintentionally hurting him. Or said something other than a confession. But his feelings have been dragging him down like a weight, making their interactions messy and their hearts discordant, and he hates it too. It hurts him, deep inside, when he thinks of a future where he’s fine but not happy.

And that’s the difference, Riku thinks as his face continues to grow a more violent shade of red. That’s the difference that made him messily throw his feelings out of his mouth and into Sora’s head.

“What?” Sora says quietly. “Riku, what did you say?”

Oh god.

“Sora,” Riku says again, nervous and already damned. He contemplates running down the clock tower and far, far away from here. “I like you.”

Like a dam given permission to break, it flows out of him. Words rush out of him through it all, an embarrassing explosion of feelings, and he can feel Sora’s gaze on him. “I realized that I liked you before this whole trip began and I’ve only fallen deeper every day. But I know that you could do this with anyone. It doesn’t have to be me.”

With each word, it becomes a bit easier to breathe, and he chases the feeling of relief like no other. “Sora, you’re magnetic. You draw people to you like no one else. You’ll do anything for your friends. And I’m like that too. But in some ways, I’m different. I don’t want to go see the worlds with just anyone.”

Then, with his stomach twisting and turning, he chances a look at Sora.

“For me, it has to be you.”

Next to him, Sora stares.

“Gee, Riku,” Sora says, “you don’t know anything, huh?”

Riku startles, momentarily shocked, his heart pounding in his chest, and he tries to laugh it off but all that passes through his lips is some vague wheezing noise.

Sora’s smiling though. He’s smiling so widely that it takes over his entire face; his whole body buzzes with an energy that is uniquely him, and Riku falls just a bit deeper. “It’s the same for me,” Sora says. “It has to be you.”

And that changes Riku. He feels his face grow hotter as he lets himself hope. The realization that Sora might like him in the way that he likes Sora sends him into a spiral of confused happiness, because he never anticipated Sora would ever like him back. But now he’s sitting next to Sora, their knees touching each other, and Sora says that he likes him back. Genuinely, Riku feels like he’s about to die. His body doesn’t know what to do or how to feel; he thinks he could run forever on this high, but his body is somehow rooted to this very spot and all he wants to do is sit next to Sora in endless twilight.

“Could you say it again?” Riku asks, voice weak.

“Sure,” Sora says. “I like you too, Riku.”

And oh, Riku thinks, he was so blind. It was so obvious. But he never dared to dream.

He’ll have to apologize to Kairi later. Or thank her.

“Riku,” says Sora, soft and amused.

Riku stares. Warmth spreads throughout him, the hotness from his face oozing out beneath his skin and through his blood, supplying happiness to his veins as he stares at Sora. Sora, who he wants to like him back. Sora, who likes him back. Sora, who wants to kiss.

Riku, who kisses Sora. Sora, who kisses him back.

He cups Sora’s face in his hands. It’s really happening, Riku thinks as he feels the warmth of Sora’s skin beneath his fingers. Gently, Sora’s hands come up to rest lightly over Riku’s. It’s real, Riku thinks. It’s not a dream.

He kisses Sora once. He kisses him twice. He kisses him three times.

And just like that, Riku gives himself to Sora.

 

 

 

“Do you know what traveling the worlds as a Keyblade Master means?” Riku chances one evening, sitting opposite of Sora. They’re slowly drifting through a sea of lanterns in The Kingdom of Corona. He’s got one lantern lit up in his lap, designed with half of a paopu fruit, and Sora’s holding the matching pair.

Together, they let go. The lanterns rise up in the sky, twirling around each other as two halves of a whole.

Sora turns to him, smile sly on his lips.

“No,” he says. “Tell me?”