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Your Heart's False Start

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Riku’s mind felt fuzzy. He was suffocating, underwater, pain was slicing through every part of his body but when he tried to call out, it slid down his throat too, making him cough and gag and panic. He broke through the surface, gasping for air-

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” someone said quietly, putting their palm against Riku’s chest and gently pushing him back down, clearly mindful of Riku’s injuries. He had a nice voice. Riku sucked in ragged breaths, head spinning. The warm hand rose and fell against his heart. “Whoa, don’t sit up so fast, Riku, you’re really injured.”

“I can’t - I have to find-” the words came to him unbidden but Riku couldn’t recall what he was searching for. Only that it was important. How important could it be if I’ve lost it?

“I’m here, Riku, don’t worry.” The voice sounded fond. No one had ever talked to Riku like that before, said his name so softly, like it was a gift. “I can cure you a little bit, but you have to take it slow, okay?”

Riku opened his eyes to see who was talking to him. Even though his vision was a little blurry, he didn’t recognize the boy at all. He should have recognized a face like that, a face that belonged to that voice. It was so worried - it shouldn’t be that worried.

 “Where’s Kairi,” he said fuzzily, trying to reach up to touch the boy’s face, wanting to smooth away his panic and worry so there was only that fond look in his eyes, unmarred by anything dark. The boy caught his hand instead, linking their fingers together. “Who are you?”

The boy gasped, ripping his palm away from Riku’s chest and leaving his hand empty. Their absence was like water doused over a small fire, a chill spreading over his entire body.

“I’ll - get her,” the boy said numbly, and then he was gone.

-------

They told Riku that his name is Sora. Well, Sora didn’t tell Riku that, he went and got Kairi and Kairi told him that. Sora mostly hovered around near the door, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Riku didn’t really understand most of what she was saying, because he was still a little groggy - what had even happened to him, to mess him up that much? - and because the look on Sora’s face kept distracting him. Riku had never seen such devastation, not in anyone.

They put Sora in charge of taking care of Riku. No one explained why, but Riku thought it was because there was no way Sora was battle-ready yet. Kairi explained that he’d been fighting constantly for the past few months and it showed in how thin he was, the bones of his wrists jutting out sharp like the wings of a fragile baby bird that Riku had once found in his backyard, unable to fly.

“Are you sure you shouldn’t be eating soup too?” Riku asked critically as Sora kicked the door shut behind him. He was looking at Sora’s hands, shaking like he was carrying around the weight of the world instead of a tray, how he was a little uneven on his feet when one was off the ground. The boy was entirely too thin, like he hadn’t been fed in ages. He too had cuts and bruises, including a nasty cut that sliced through his lip that he hadn’t healed yet, presumably because he’d spent all his magic making sure Riku wasn’t going to die on them. “You look like a stiff breeze would knock you over.”

Sora grinned at him, the cut on his lip stretching garishly. The scab didn’t seem to bother him. Riku had been stuck in bed for three days now and Sora had been by his side for all of them, so Riku knew by now that he grinned easy, though sometimes he thought Sora was faking it. He couldn’t figure out why he felt like that, but no one could smile that much. “Don’t worry, Riku!” He always said Riku’s name a lot too. He put the tray down on Riku’s lap carefully, mindful of the fact that Riku’s thighs were wrapped in bandages. “I’m fine.”

Riku dipped his spoon into the soup, clumsy because of the bandages wrapped down to his fingers. “If you say so.” The soup was absolutely delicious, cheesy and hot, and it couldn’t have come from Kairi, because she couldn’t cook worth a damn, and Riku really couldn’t see Yen Sid cruising around the kitchen in an apron. “Do you want some?”

“There’s enough for me,” Sora reassured him, settling into the armchair that was pulled up to Riku’s bedside. It was a huge overwhelming thing and it drowned Sora, and he often fell asleep in it, feet stretched out onto Riku’s bed. It definitely wasn’t comfortable, for all the times Sora woke up groaning and kneading at his sore neck, but oh, Riku, it’s way comfier than a tent in the middle of a jungle, right? “I made a whole pot.”

Riku blinked. “You made this?” The surprise didn’t mix well with his mangled excuse for a voice and he cleared his throat with a painful cough, followed up by more soup. It eased its way down Riku’s throat, pacifying the soreness.

Sora, thankfully, ignored everything that had just happened and focused only on the soup. “Yup!”

Warmth spread through Riku’s chest that was less about the soup and more about Sora working on this for him. He probably had worn an apron, maybe Kairi had helped, both of them laughing together in the bright kitchen. Riku could feel himself turning red; even if it didn’t mean anything, no one had ever done that for Riku before. “It’s really good.”

Sora gave him a grin so bright that it couldn't be anything but real, sending Riku’s stomach swooping in a way that had nothing to do with the soup he’d just swallowed. “Thanks, Riku,” he said. “It’s a new skill.”

“But you didn’t use it wherever you were?” Riku asked unthinkingly.

“Very little to cook with there, actually,” Sora informed him, taking it in stride. If it didn’t bother him to talk about it or if he was just that good a liar, Riku couldn’t know. “And, you know, I didn’t really get hungry? It was a first for me, usually I’ll eat anything.” He wrinkled his nose. “I ate the wrapping paper of a sandwich one.”

Riku snorted, trying not to spit out his soup and laugh. “You didn’t.”

“I did,” Sora said, trying to act mournful, but he was too delighted with his own ridiculousness to pull it off. “I was totally fine, though. Not even the worse thing I’ve eaten. That was definitely, like, a bug.”

This time Riku did laugh. “A bug!”

Sora held up a self-important finger. “It was also an accident. A terrible terrible flying accident. But you can’t judge me, we’ve all been there, even if you want to hide it from me!”

I could never hide anything from you, Riku thought, then physically jerked back with the force of how ridiculously romantic that statement was. He’d known Sora three days. Apparently he was just in awe of the unique way Sora could make him forget everything except how to smile. “So you ate a bug wherever you were? Which, uh - where were you?”

“Kairi didn’t say?”

“She may have,” Riku admitted, “But I wasn’t doing a great job of listening.”

He didn’t expect Sora to answer, given his explanation, but Sora was constantly surprising him. “I was in the Realm of Darkness.” He leaned back in his chair, rubbing at his too-thin wrist where there was a white scar. It looked like the remnants of a lightning spell gone wrong. There were traces of it on his fingertips, too. “It wasn’t where I expected to go, honestly, I thought I’d go to -” he clamped his mouth shut, eyes wide. He must have realized he was saying too much.

“Where?”

Sora made the kind of face kids made when they got caught sneaking candy. “I’m not supposed to say,” he said reluctantly. Riku realized he’d been leaning forward, hanging on Sora’s every word, and he sat back abruptly, wincing from the sudden motion.  Sora rubbed at the back of his head sheepishly. “People aren’t supposed to know what happens after you die.”

Riku nearly dropped his spoon. “You died?”

“Just a little bit,” Sora reassured him, patting the blanket like it would calm him down. He didn’t touch Riku outside of checking his bandages. Riku had flinched the first time he had, because Sora’s touch was electric, every nerve in his body singing alive, but Sora had taken it as an indicator to not touch Riku at all. Riku refused to miss his gentle hands. He hadn’t even had time to get used to them, even if they had pulled him back from the edge of death, breathing life into Riku with every touch. “I’m back now! Now you’re the one who almost died.”

“I think this is the worst game of tag ever,” Riku muttered, which made Sora snort with laughter. “Besides, I’m fine.”

Sora reached out and tapped his thigh, where he knew there were bandages covering deep gashes. Riku winced. “I don’t think so.” He took the napkin and wiped up the soup Riku had spilled on the blanket. It left an orange stain on the blanket anyways.

Riku scowled. He couldn’t remember what had sliced him open but he could feel the wounds prickling whenever he moved, around the edges of the pain potions Sora made sure he swallowed ever four hours on the dot. The cuts were deep, running from Riku’s palm up the entire lengths of his arms and meeting in a messy X right over Riku’s heart. His legs had also been clawed to shreds, and his side too. Torn into ribbons like that, they had to be slow with the healing, in case the scar tissue formed too thick and left Riku unable to move his limbs.

The deepest and messiest cuts were on Riku’s neck, like he’d almost been beheaded. He’d been carved out, from head to toe, like whatever it was had wanted something inside Riku, content to leave him hollow. It had dissected Riku with such precision it was practically a ritual, hopefully an unfinished one.

“Here.” Sora settled his hand on Riku’s wrist, his thumb right over Riku’s pulse point and Riku gasped. For the past three days, he’d ignored the way Sora’s touch set every nerve in his arm alight. It should have been painful but it felt familiar and comforting, like he’d been asleep and he was finally waking up. But he was going to ignore the way he wanted to clasp Sora’s hand, the way some strain in his chest felt settled. Sora’s hands were just warm, that was all.

Sora bent his head as he focused on the cure magic and Riku studied him, like he had the past three days. He was just as handsome today as he had been the last three days. Even more so, now that the dark shadows under his eyes were fading. The faint freckles on the bridge of his nose, the scar on the underside of his jaw, the way his long eyelashes cast swooping shadows across his cheek, it all made him so beautiful Riku longed to touch the enticing bridge of his nose, the scar on his temple, to pull him so close their hearts beat as one.

He didn’t like this one bit.

-------

Talking with Riku made Sora feel settled, even though every fiber of his being ached. It was the oddest of wars tearing apart his heart, just the pure joy of being alive and here weighted against the stone in his stomach that was Riku’s missing memory.

Sora was used to the aches that healing magic brought on even when he was completely cured. He and Riku both had scars that could never be erased - Riku’s fractured wrist, Sora’s improperly healed fingers; a slightly mismatched set.

This, though - being human meant carrying around a little bit of hurt, Sora had long grown used to that. But his heart was gone. He’d surrendered it all the love in it to Riku willingly, so long ago he couldn’t remember a time when it had just belonged to him and now Riku had given it up. The imitation left in his body was beating, sure, but what was there left for it if Riku couldn’t remember him? If Riku wasn’t there, treating it with his gentle hands, Sora didn’t know where it was at all. Abandoned in the darkness, beating pitifully, yearning for the warmth of Riku’s touch to pick him up, carry him, make him strong.

Kairi and Yen Sid let him be in charge of Riku’s health, partially because Sora was still pitifully weak from being - well, dead, basically - and partially because, secretly, they were all probably hoping that Sora would be able to bring his memory back. It stood to reason, didn’t it, but they didn’t know what Sora knew, which was that when Riku came to save him, he’d paid a price.

Sora had been forced to watch as darkness itself had torn Riku apart, holding onto Riku until he was practically dead, every bit of Sora carved out of him, until Sora could see the gruesome white of bone. It was a surprise he could even talk right now with how torn apart his throat was.

Riku had known the price. He hadn’t said anything, not really, but Sora knew him better than he knew anyone, better than he knew himself, so Sora knew he’d known.

Sora had been walking for minutes or years or anything in between. It wasn’t so bad, really, in the Realm of Darkness but he kept tripping along the road. He was aiming for a glowing crystallized patch in front of him, but for all his walking, it wasn’t getting any closer. It was swimming further and further away, or maybe that was his vision swimming - he sunk to his knees, palms on the hard dirt, thinking just a moment to rest -

The second the thought crossed his mind, he shook it away, pushing himself back up to his sore feet. He couldn’t afford to think like that.

When he straightened up, Riku was there, appeared out of the darkness as if summoned. Sora’s heart could have done that, could have created a miracle if it were desperate enough. Riku could always find him, always. Every part of them was so tied so closely together that if Sora’s hand moved, Riku’s would move to hold it.

“Sora!”

Sora had run towards him, feet skidding on the gravel. It was so dark, but he could see Riku so well, like he was glowing, bathed in light. “Riku!” His heart caught in his throat, hammering out a staccato pattern like it was singing out Riku Riku Riku. “Riku, you found me!”

Riku had caught him, barely flinching as Sora rammed into him. “I found you.” He sounded victorious and desperate. Sora had wrapped his arms around Riku’s neck, felt how solid and real he was. Riku’s hands dug into Sora’s waist like they were worried what he held might disappear, pressing bruises into Sora’s skin that would prove he was real. “I’ve got you.”

“You got me,” Sora said, because Riku always would.

Riku leaned down to press a kiss to Sora’s lips, breathless, his hands cool and tight on Sora’s jaw. Sora fisted his hand in Riku’s collar, thinking finally, finally, we can be together--

Riku’s palms began to bleed. “Oh, no,” he murmured. “I thought I’d have more time.”

“More time for what?” Sora could feel the blood hot on his cheek and when Riku pulled away, his arms started bleeding too as cuts opened themselves down his entire body.

Riku jerked away from Sora’s touch, holding his bleeding hand out of Sora’s reach. “I’m going to forget you. It’s - to save you - ah-” He doubled over in pain, crimson flowers blooming across his chest, staining his white shirt red. “Sora, I-” He was crying. Riku didn’t cry, never cried even when they were little kids, but he was sobbing now, clasping a desperate hand to his heart like his very core was being drawn out. And little bits of light were leaking out, illuminating Riku’s face, his dazed eyes, his tears, but no matter how hard he pressed against his chest, he couldn’t keep the fragments of light in.

Just like that, Riku didn’t have Sora anymore.

So they were technically back, the both of them, even if Sora had to physically carry Riku’s half-dead body into the Realm of Light. His flesh had been torn from him; Sora couldn’t look down without seeing how Riku was barely held together by bloody, raw scraps of skin. Sora just hadn’t wanted to believe it, believe that the haltering words Riku had tried to tell him were true while he bled, was pulled apart, but then Riku had looked at him with those blank, dead eyes.

That wasn’t fair. Riku looked at Sora with politely curious eyes. Cautiously friendly eyes. It just might as well have been the same. Riku himself didn’t seem to notice, and maybe it was because he was injured, but he seemed to have less life to him. Maybe it had been sucked out of him, like Sora had been.

The bruises Riku had left were still there, five of them littered up Sora’s side. They were turning yellow now, well into healing, and if his Riku knew they were there, he’d reached out to brush gentle fingers over them, an apology ready on his lips. But Riku didn’t know they were there, wouldn’t remember his own hand leaving them, and wouldn’t care.

Sora hadn’t wanted to cure them. He needed the reminder.

Sora passed Riku his potion after he finished his soup. Riku had permitted him to check under the bandages and the wound were healing nicely, enough that he could lower the potion dosages. In another day, it would be like nothing happened, and most of them probably wouldn’t scar. Sora stopped himself from reaching out to check the bandages around Riku’s neck again, where the wounds were some of deepest, by grabbing the tray instead. “Yell if you need anything.”

“You’re good at this,” Riku told him.

Sora looked down at the empty bowl of soup, feeling a little glow of pride that this, at least, he excelled at (he buried the sorrow that rose up, too, in the realization that Riku had never known he learned to cook). “Oh, yeah, I actually only learned to cook this year-” He thought it was still this year, at least. He hadn’t committed to asking how long he’d been in the Realm of Darkness, but from the way Kairi and Riku’s hair was both longer now, Riku’s well covering the bandages on his neck, it had to have been several months.

“I meant taking care of me,” Riku elaborated, shifting on the bed uncomfortably. “I know I’m not a great patient.”

Sora let out a laugh that sounded too awkward even to his own ears. “Well, no one’s ever accused me of that before.” In fact, Riku had once told him he had the bedside manner of a hyperactive elephant. He’d tightened his fingers around Sora’s wrist when Sora had jokingly threatened to leave. But Riku didn’t care about that anymore. “Besides, you’ve been fine!”

Riku cast him a look, so familiar it was almost laughable if it wasn’t heart-breaking. Sora desperately searched for something, anything, in those familiar blue eyes. “Uh-huh.”

Nothing. He’d probably spend the rest of his life looking.

“You’re - really, you’re fine,” Sora reassured him quietly, swallowing past the lump in his throat. Technically, it was true. Riku had been grouchy, but he’d been confined to bed for three days. He’d really been more quiet than grouchy, honestly. Like this, Sora could tuck facts away in the corner of his mind and pretend that Riku was still Riku, and the pain-relieving potions was just making him lethargic, taking his memories only for a moment. Sora blinked away tears, ready to leave the room. “Besides, you should be fine to move around tomorrow! All your wounds are healing nicely.”

Riku’s hand drifted up to the bandages around his neck. “Right,” he mumbled. If he noticed Sora struggling not to cry, he didn’t say anything. “Of course.”

“I’ll, um. Get Kairi.”

Sora never knew what to say anymore. That was his best friend and his best friend wasn’t remembering him. Sora didn’t even know how Riku could be okay, with everything severed like that. Sora wouldn’t be the same person if Riku had disappeared from his memories, every part of them was intertwined.

It was hard to yell at the boy you loved for sacrificing everything he had for you when he didn’t remember doing it.

“Stay,” Riku said, then scrunched his nose the way he always did when words came out his mouth with him thinking about them. “I - sorry, I was thinking, I’m just bored-”

Sora dropped the tray on the bedside table with a clatter and settled back into the chair. “I’m so good at curing boredom,” he said, and it was true. His mother often didn’t have time to deal with him when he was bored and she’d very soon learned to say something like then entertain yourself. “I do stories, I do voices, I do silly dances. Oh, I can lick my elbow-”

“You can not,” Riku said, clearly interested despite himself.

Sora rolled up the sleeve of his sweater. “Watch the master work.”

Sora had spent most of his life wheedling smiles and laughter out of Riku, who all the adults always worried was too stoic a child. Sora had never seen that at all. Riku played with him and laughed with him and dunked him in the ocean. This? Now this Sora could do. He could handle this. He could laugh and pretend his heart wasn’t breaking if it helped Riku even a little bit.

-------

Riku was out of bed the next day, thankfully. Sora had been polite about it, but Riku could tell he’d been moody. He wanted to go outside, to walk around and shed off the excess negativity that clung to him.

He still felt a little tender, his chest aching, but he was healed, every bit of him. Most of the wounds had turned to scars which had turned to smooth shiny new skin with Sora’s healing. There were still two ugly red marks on the side of Riku’s neck, but they were more itchy than painful now, the bandages off. Now Riku didn’t have an excuse to feel the weight of Sora’s hand in his.

The only place that would truly turn to scar was a deep X, right over his heart.

The tower was empty, of course, besides Sora, Kairi, and Master Yen Sid. Riku hadn’t expected anyone to return over his injury - Aqua and Terra and Ven were still getting used to being home, and he didn’t want them to be dragged away so quickly. He didn’t know what everyone was up to in Twilight Town. He was alive, so there was hardly reason to alarm anyone over wounds that could barely been seen unless you looked for the new red skin in the light. He couldn’t even really remember what he’d been doing that had gotten him this badly.  

“You saved my life, Riku,” Sora had told him this morning, tracing his index finger slowly around the pattern on the edge of Riku’s blanket. He was studiously avoiding Riku’s gaze, his ears red. It was a stark change, after all the staring into Riku’s eyes he’d been doing the last few days. Riku didn’t think he’d hit his head, so he couldn’t understand why Sora kept checking for signs of a concussion. “You just - you appeared - found me. And that let me come back to the light.”

“I want to know what I was doing there,” Riku grumbled, embarrassed. He flexed his fingers. Sora had done one last round of healing magic, and Riku’s wrist was stiff, as per usual. Riku knew from the pattern of scars on Sora’s arms and fingers that he was no stranger to injuries, and Riku knew how perilous, crushing, the Realm of Darkness could be; it made it easy to believe Sora when Sora said, voice trembling, that it was pretty common for memories to be shaky after traumatic injuries. He’d probably know better, since he was the one who’d actually seen Riku get carved open.

Sora shrugged. He wasn’t a very good liar, so while it seemed like he was trying to be casual about it, Riku could tell he was stressed. “I don’t know.” It sounded like he was lying, too, but Riku has only known the boy four days, it seemed a bit extreme to take him to task for lying.

He wouldn’t want some stranger, no matter how kind and beautiful, to ask him about his time in the darkness either. That wasn’t - he only wanted to share that with -

He pressed a hand to his head, groaning. These headaches had been constant and frequent, but he’d only told Kairi about them, and she didn’t know what was causing them either. Maybe it was from hanging out in darkness too long - apparently he’d been in there a month too, doing - whatever the hell it was that he was doing.

“Hey, you okay?”

“Fine,” Riku grunted, though his blurry vision proved him a liar as he straightened up. He was tired of people asking him that. When he looked up, it wasn’t Sora who helping him stand. It was Roxas. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be in school or something?”

Roxas snorted. Retirement, as everyone jokingly called it, looked good on him. He had a new haircut. Maybe he didn’t like looking just like Ven, maybe he just felt like it. Either way, living in Twilight Town suited him. Xion had sent a picture to Kairi of the both of them in school uniforms, waving happily while Axel looked on like a senior citizen. “Same to you, old man.” He removed his arm from Riku’s back, scrutinizing him. Checking to see if he could stand on his own. “I’m looking for Sora.”

“You know Sora?”

Roxas sighed like he had no patience for him. Roxas didn’t seem to ever really have patience for Riku, which Riku figured was kind of fair. They hadn’t really had many good interactions, even if they were pretty much over that. At least, Roxas didn’t look at him with murder in his eyes. Mostly he just made fun of Riku now. “I fucking will, if I ever find him.” He hesitated. “He’s my somebody.”

Riku blinked. Sora seemed so - happy. Just yesterday, he had told Riku a story about how he once had gotten his pants caught on his keyblade and ripped them right down the middle, which had made Riku laugh, sounded bubbling up from his newly-healed throat. Not that Roxas couldn’t be happy, but Sora didn’t have the distrust, the edge that Roxas still kept in his back pocket, ready to be weaponized at a moment’s notice. But he could see the similarities, in their too-blue eyes and the shape of their face. He wasn’t sure how they could have separate bodies like this, though. No other Nobodies had. “How?”

Roxas shoved his hands in his pockets, scowling like he knew what Riku was thinking about his attitude. “Do I look like I fucking know,” he said tightly. Riku regretted asking when he saw the set of Roxas’s jaw, how this was weighing on him. “He’s nice.”

“I know that,” Riku snapped. Sora had spent the past four days checking in on him, bringing him books and soup and potions, of telling silly stories to entertain him when he got bored. Of course he knew that. “I’m looking for him too.”

Roxas tilted his head, eyes narrowed like he had something planned, but when he spoke again, it was only to ask in a stilted tone of voice, “Where do you think he might be?”

“I don’t know.”

Roxas frowned. “Guess.”

“I - outside on the steps, maybe.” Though he didn’t know why he thought that. Roxas’s slow smile meant the answer was right, but Riku didn’t know how or why Roxas would even care or know himself. He closed his eyes shut as if to shut out the headache but only gave himself a second in the darkness before he opened them back up, not wanted to worry Roxas.

Roxas patted his shoulder gently, avoiding the red marks on his neck. “I’m glad you’re alive, Riku.” He drew back. “You sure you’re okay?”

Riku smiled at him. “Yeah, totally healed,” he promised, because they might not be close friends, but they both understood each other. They weren’t going to be losing anybody else. “Sora’s been taking good care of me.”

Roxas bit his lip until it bloomed red, then pointedly and obviously made the decision not to say anything. “Okay. Well, I’m going to go find him. For future reference, Sora likes to sit on the steps in the morning and watch the sunrise.”

“Uh, okay?”

“For when you decide you want to marry him.” Roxas’s smirk betrayed his serious tone and Riku shoved at him, hard, towards the front door. Roxas could barely open it, he was laughing so hard.

Riku caught a glimpse of Sora sitting outside on the steps, just like he’d guessed, before Roxas shut the heavy door behind him. The window was open, though, and Riku could hear Sora’s delighted voice floating through.

“Roxas!” Once Riku heard his voice like this, it was so clear that much of the cheer he’d put on in Riku’s room while delivering food and potions was absolutely an act. He got close to this when he was telling stories to distract Riku from the pain, but this was the real Sora, so much sunshine in his voice that Riku could hardly stand to hear it for how gray it made him feel to know the lies. If he looked, he’d be blinded by that glow. “What are you doing here?”

“I thought you’d need a friend,” Roxas said. “After everything with Riku-”

“I’m fine.” An immediate answer. “Riku’s the one who’s-”

“Don’t give me that crap.” Riku could imagine Roxas’s burning eyes. He’d seen them before. “Stop smiling, Sora, I know you-”

Riku pointedly started back up the stairs. He didn’t want to eavesdrop on them, especially when it seemed like a pretty private conversation. Instead, he went for the library, hoping Kairi would maybe be there.

She was, half-asleep in one of the comfortable chairs. Riku tilted his head to read the title of the book - something about memory charms, but it fell out of her lap and woke her up before he could finish reading the title. She squinted up at him, hair sticking up. “Hi.”

“Hey.” He slouched down in the chair next to her, reveling in the ability to slouch and throw his limbs around after confinement. He hadn’t gotten to go for a run, but Roxas’s appearance had shaken off some of his pent-up energy. “Did you know Roxas is here?”

“He showed up ten minutes ago,” Kairi said. “I told him about - well, Sora, yesterday.”

“They seem like fast friends,” Riku grumbled, unable to pick about the tangled annoyance in his chest. Why shouldn’t Roxas and Sora be friends, talking like they knew each other better than they knew anyone else?

Kairi huffed like she knew just what Riku was thinking. That was what best friends were for, weren’t they, but Riku could feel his cheeks heating up anyways. He pressed his hands to his face so that she couldn’t see, though she probably just knew. “He’s really nice, Riku.”

“I know.” He was snapping again. He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to reign in his headache. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled. I’m just - tired of being cooped up.”

Kairi snorted, shutting her book and dropping it on her seat as she stood up, stretching her back. Riku winced at the cracking sound her spine made. “Owning up to it finally, grumpy-head?”

“Hey,” Riku protested as she helped him stand up. “I tried really hard not to put Sora out!” It just didn’t seem to bother Sora at all, how much time he had to spend with Riku, fingers dancing along the edges of bandages and blankets. In just a few days, it became familiar to rely on him, to ask him to stay and tell jokes.

She eyed him strangely. “Really,” she said. She held on just a little too long. “I guess you’d know better than me.”

-------

There used to be something more in his ribcage, but it was empty. The bones might have been stitched back together from where they’d been split open, but their delicate cage protected nothing inside. Whatever it had been looking for, the thing that attacked him, it had found it, Riku knew. His arms still worked fine and all was normal, but it felt like he was collapsing in on himself, being pulled into the void, bits of him whittled away.

Sometimes he laid a palm flat against his sternum, trying to feel the soothing beat of his heart. It was always there, proving that he was fine, just fine, but sometimes he did wonder if that was what the thing had been trying to get at. If it partially succeeded, maybe it had taken his ability to fully laugh, head thrown back. Maybe it had taken the way he used to smile with all his teeth. Maybe it had taken the way he pretended not to cry, because Riku could remember trying not to and he couldn’t remember what had made him sad or why he was acting like he wasn’t. The heart remained constantly beating, but the feelings that were supposed to grow around it like precious blooms, comforting it, soothing it - those had been pulled out like weeds.

The only thing he could really feel was irritation. And anger.

Kairi was gone to Radiant Garden on one of her monthly time with the girls trips. Riku always felt a little lonely whenever she went, even though he knew it was partially his fault: he was the one that had left her behind on Destiny Islands and so it was only right that she should have something beyond him.

Sora was around, though, having not been invited on the trip either, so Riku couldn’t say he was truly lonely, though that feeling had survived just fine in the hostile living conditions.

Riku thought for a second, thinking about where Sora might be when he didn’t answer Riku’s knock at his bedroom door, then headed for the library. Sora was sprawled out on the ground in a patch of sunlight, chin propped up and focusing so intently on his book that he didn't even hear Riku come in.

“Hey,” Riku said, and took guilty pleasure in the way Sora jumped. He was just in his tank top today and Riku let his eyes linger on Sora’s arms. He’d always been wearing jackets before this and now Riku could see the white scars that crisscrossed his biceps, like he’d long ago run out of healing magic in the Realm of Darkness. Maybe he had.

Sora was talking, always talking, his lilting voice curling around Riku’s ear comfortably. “I keep falling asleep and getting ink on my face,” he was complaining. “Does that ever happen to you?”

“I was a great student, so no,” Riku teased, enjoying the way Sora’s ears turned red.

“Fuck off.” Sora flopped onto his back so that his arms were spread out. He dug around under him for a second and then pulled out another book, pages slightly bent from where it had been squashed underneath him. He snorted, apparently unconcerned about the destruction of property.

Riku’s eyes caught on a flash of silver around Sora’s neck as he leaned over to put the book on a pile next to him. “Where did you get that?”

Sora tilted his head, confused. “What?”

Riku pointed. “The necklace.”

Sora reached up, twisting the chain on his finger so that the little crown was suspended in the air, slowly twirling. “It was a gift-”

“You took that off me,” Riku snapped, anger growling in his chest, vibrating through his body. That necklace was his, he knew it, it belonged to him. Sora must have pilfered it out of his pockets while he was unconscious. “That’s mine and you just - you took it. Give it back!”

Sora’s eyes were wide. “But-”

“Give it back,” Riku demanded. This was the first time he’d felt anything this strongly since he’d returned to the realm of light and fire was burning in his chest, not just emptiness, but roaring angry fire, smoking through his ruined lungs, and Riku could hardly be upset that it was anger, because it felt good to be feeling something. “Give it back.”

Sora reached up to unhook it, the crown bouncing along with his trembling hands. “Sorry, Riku.” He sounded like he meant it. He always meant it, Riku was coming to learn.

Sora’s neck looked bare and weak without the heavy chain. He left without another word, leaving the metal pooled in Riku’s palm, cold and not at all comforting.

-------

He knocked on Sora’s door later, necklace and apology in hand. Sora answered almost immediately, a look of surprise on his face. Riku was the only one in the tower, so the shock must have been from Riku actually showing his face. He still looked small, like Riku’s hoarse yells had torn away his confident exterior, leaving a little less of him behind. His eyes were red, even if he’d tried to scrub away the tear tracks.

“I want to apologize,” Riku blurted out. After the fury had simmered down, leaving just emptiness again, he’d regretted letting it get the best of him. He had just reveled in feeling something, gotten caught up in, and taken it out on poor Sora, who had yet to do a thing wrong. “I - don’t know why I got so worked up over it, I can’t even remember where it’s been the past ten years, I just - here.” He shoved the necklace back at Sora.

Sora looked down at it for just a moment before he closed Riku’s fist around it, his hands lingering just a moment too long. “You keep it, Riku.” He turned away from the door, heading back to his bed. “It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine, I yelled at you-”

The corner of Sora’s mouth turned up, like this was a familiar argument. “I forgive you,” he said, dropping onto the bed and swinging his feet. “You’re too hard on yourself.”

“Do you ever get tired of being so nice,” Riku asked, exasperated. Instead of being annoyed, Sora laughed, not bothered by an apology that was also somehow an excuse to berate him more.

“Sometimes,” he promised. If there was any hope left in his heart, then Riku could swear he felt it blooming to life. “You should see me wail on some heartless.”

“We should spar sometime,” Riku suggested, determined to keep the conversation going. Sora didn’t seem mad, which made the guilt even more cloying, coating his lungs so sticky that he could barely breathe. He had to fix this.

Sora snorted. “Have you even touched Braveheart since you got all -” he vaguely gestured towards his own chest.

Riku considered that. He hadn’t, but he held his hand out anyways, waiting for the familiar heft of it. Braveheart materialized. Riku doubled over, pain lacing through his stomach. He’d never felt anything like this, ever. White hot agony, fire, was tracing its way down his newly-healed wounds, trying to reinstate them. He and Braveheart both dropped to the ground, Braveheart disappearing with a clatter.

“Riku?” Somewhere above him, Sora’s voice floated down, high-pitched and worried. Riku focused on that instead of the way his heart felt like it was being torn out of his chest. “Fuck, hold on-” and then a trashcan was being shoved into Riku’s arms just in the nick of time.

Riku hadn’t eaten very much today, but it didn’t seem to matter much as he hunched over the trash can. “Sorry,” he mumbled, before dry-heaving again. His throat ached.

Sora carded his fingers through Riku’s hair, pulled it away from his sweaty forehead. “It’s okay,” he soothed, rubbing calming circles on Riku’s back, right between his shoulder blades.

Riku arched up against them. “I’m puking in your room- oh god-after yelling at you, too.

“It’s really okay,” Sora reassured him, and Riku hated him, because he did sound like he really didn’t mind at all. The only thing Riku could detect in his voice was worry. “I’m just sorry you feel bad.”

“It hurts,” and then he was crying. He could feel his cheeks heating up, but he was too embarrassed about the puking to feel embarrassed about the tears spilling down his cheeks. He hadn’t cried in front of anyone in years, but that was a problem to dwell on later.

“Just breathe,” Sora said, even as Riku pushed away the trash can and sagged against the bed. “I’ll get you some water.” His comforting weight disappeared, his feet leaving Riku’s vision as he crossed to the bathroom.

Riku stretched out his arm out again, staring at his upturned palm. He’d pulled Braveheart into his grasp a thousand times and never had a problem and now it wanted to rebel? But he didn’t know what was wrong. He closed his eyes, focusing on the blade and the way it made him feel strong, like he could do anything he needed, protect what was important. He could feel faint magic tingling in his fingers and his omnipresent headache hammering behind his eyes.

“Riku, I don’t think it’s a good idea-”

But it was too late, Riku had summoned Braveheart again. It appeared without a problem, no evidence of its earlier tantrum, but its weight was unfamiliar.

He opened his eyes to see Braveheart changed. It was the same silver blade, but the middle was hollow; he could see his knee right through it. The whole blade, too, was covered in black markings, like a very artistic four-year-old had taken a Sharpie to the whole thing, more than happy to mar its clean surface. Just like Riku’s now-defunct heart.

Riku dropped it again, but this time it didn’t disappear, just hit the ground with a thud. “What-” he reached out with a trembling finger. “What happened?”

“Riku, maybe you should talk to Master Yen Sid.” Sora knelt down besides Braveheart, but he didn’t touch, which was good, because Riku probably wouldn’t have been able to handle it if he had. Sora shouldn’t be allowed put his beautiful kind hands on the manifestation of Riku’s soul, clearly broken.

“No,” Riku said shakily, accepting the water Sora had brought him. His mouth tasted disgusting. “I’m fine.”

“You just puked in my trashcan.” Sora pressed the washcloth against Riku’s forehead. “That’s a really big argument for the not fine column.”

“How can you be so nice to me after I yelled at you,” Riku mumbled, catching Sora’s delicate wrist.

“Well, you apologized.” Like it was that simple. Like Riku hadn’t made him cry, like Riku hadn’t been yelling. Like they had a silly argument instead of Riku verbally beating Sora down until he’d cried. Sora had waited until he was in the privacy of his room to cry, Riku thought dully, while his Keyblade had misbehaved and made him have a breakdown on Sora’s floor. He should have waited, like Sora did.

-------

It became easier when Kairi was back, because while Sora seemed happy to pretend that nothing had happened, Riku couldn’t. He’d practically avoided Sora for three whole days, guilt swallowing him whole. But Kairi had brought Roxas with her again, and she also forced Sora to attending training with the three of them.

Sora, like Riku, was self-taught, with a keyblade that looked antique, with a simple star on the end. Riku forced himself to say, while Kairi and Roxas were stretching, “Wanna spar?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Sora said nervously, looking anywhere but Riku. Kairi gave him a thumbs up. “I’m not really - I’m not really in fighting form.”

“I’ll go easy on you,” Riku promised and oh, now Sora’s eyes were full of determination.

“You’re on.” He veritably pulled him towards the training ring by the sleeve, not that Riku was fighting him very hard. Riku tossed his blade from hand to hand, still not used to the unfamiliar heft. It was lighter, which was maybe easier, but Riku would have to relearn how to work with that.

Sparring with someone new was always thrilling, and he expected Sora to attack first. He was correct; Sora slid in with a step that almost got under Riku’s guard for how lightning quick it was. Riku slammed his keyblade up just in time, blocking Sora, breathless not from the force of it but for the joy in Sora’s eyes.

He was good, even weakened. Oh, he was steady on his feet, but he was still too thin, the circles under his eyes a constant reminder of what had happened to him. But he was good.

Sora pivoted, Riku’s keyblade coming within an inch of him, and then his own slammed into Riku’s side. He was grinning but panting, still not at top strength even his footwork was great. “You’re pretty good,” he sang out, looking for an opening.

“So are you.” Riku threw up a barrier as Sora attacked but Sora was already slipping around it, like he’d expected it, to get in close. Riku found himself stumbling back, surprised. They were too well-matched for either of them to gain an inch; Sora had the clear advantage of being practically a mind-reader but Riku was at better health than him.

Kairi and Roxas were cheering behind them as they paced in slow circles around each other, wary, but for Riku, it seemed like the world had shrunk to only Sora and the way he laughed so daringly even in the middle of a fight. Riku tossed up another barrier, sending Sora several steps back, reckless grin still on his face.

“Come on, Sora, giving up already?” Riku teased, preparing to swing.

He didn’t expect any of what happened next - certainly not Sora dropping his keyblade to the floor, where it disappeared. Riku barely managed to stop Braveheart before it slammed directly into Sora’s side. “Whoa, what - I almost hit you!”

Sora crumbled to the floor like he had been hit. “Sorry.” His hand scrapped at the dirt, clawing for something out of reach. But Riku hadn’t, he hadn’t. He dropped to his knees beside Sora, pulling him into a sitting position, his hand at the base of Sora’s neck to hold him steady. Sora tried to plaster on a smile, but it kept slipping, revealing that same devastation that Riku kept getting hints of when Sora didn’t realize he was looking. He still hurting from whatever it was.

“I could have really hurt you!”

“I knew you wouldn’t,” Sora said, instantly looking like he regretted it. “Sorry.”

“Move,” Roxas ordered, ice in his voice as he pushed Riku aside. “Hey, hey-” He sounded like he was taking to a frightened animal and Sora collapsed against him gratefully, burying his face. It took Riku longer than it should have to realize his hands were empty, Sora removed, and let them rest against his thighs. Roxas picked Sora up - and it should be Riku doing that, cradling him - Riku shook his head to clear it of stupid thoughts like that. He watched as Roxas carried Sora out of the room, Sora clinging to him like he was just a baby.

-------

Kairi and Roxas were all treating him like glass and they should, because Sora was breaking apart. Roxas had laid him in his bed and Sora had cried into his shirt, his arms wrapped around Roxas’s middle, feeling cruel and stupid and empty for wishing it was Riku there instead. Sora could only be grateful Yen Sid was away on ‘business,’ as he called it, since he’d probably say something like Sora was acting quite childish for someone of his status.

They sat with him long after he’d stopped crying, as the sun set and the room got darker, the shadows stretching long across the floor.

It was weird. They wouldn’t know this, but he’d really stopped crying this past month. He’d never done that before. Sure, he’d cried all the time in the first few days, of course, when Riku kept looking at him like he was a stranger, because he was a stranger, but eventually, he’d run out of tears. He’d never cried himself empty before but he didn’t know how to be anything without Riku.

His hand came up to press against his chest, checking for his heart. He’d caught Riku doing the same a few times, when he didn’t know Sora was watching him. Whatever Riku thought was missing, it wasn’t because his heart was gone. His heart still beat, just like Sora’s now tapped a calming tattoo. Even in this emptiness, they were a matched set.

Roxas caught sight of him clawing at his chest, which made Sora want to hide under the covers, because he was being stupidly selfish, thinking his pain was the worst. It wasn’t the worst, it wasn’t even the worst in this room, and yet here he was, acting like the world should bow to him simply because his pain was his own. Kairi and Roxas had their own things to deal with and he’d barely even asked how their time had been, if Roxas had met up with Hayner, Pence, and Olette, if Kairi was trying to find more information about her family, how anyone was doing but him.

He’d been consumed by Riku. Sora had lived on the beach his whole life and right now it felt like the undertow had caught him, pulling him down into the dark as he struggled to draw breath. Every gasp just brought him a little closer to the ocean floor, his lungs filling up with water.

Some days, Sora just thought his Riku was gone. Oh, this Riku was the same one, of course, just a little lesser somehow, like a copy that had printed a bit faint as the ink ran dry. He said the same things, but Sora wasn’t making up how Riku didn’t laugh with his whole body anymore, how he got irritated more quickly, how his smiles were fleeting. He wasn’t all there, not without Sora.

Sora hated it. He hated that Riku couldn’t be happy without him, that Riku had done this to bring him back.

But today - sparring with him had felt good. They’d been on slightly uneven footing at first, Sora having the advantage of knowing how Riku fought. He thought he’d be able to explain away how easily Riku was adapting to him - it wasn’t memory, Riku was just that good - and then Riku had gone and taunted him with that, eyes laughing because he had no idea what it had meant.

As always, Riku was capable of bringing Sora to his knees, no warning, all the air knocked out of his lungs. His Riku must be in there somewhere. He had to be. This reflection of Riku - and Sora felt cruel to think it - wasn’t happy.

Sora thought it was just that Riku needed to adjust. In a few more months, he’d be able to smile just fine, once his body relearned how to be without Sora. Dozens of emotions Riku couldn’t find the source of had been stuffed back into him, of course he wanted to yell. You couldn’t sort through how you were feeling if you couldn’t remember why you were feeling.

But it hurt. To see Riku give him that thin smile, nothing like what he should be giving him.

If Sora were being fair, he’d help Riku, remind of him of how to sort through everything when it all got to be too much.

He had to squint to see Kairi in the dark, sitting in the chair by his bed that she’d had to drag in from the room next door, because this room, Sora’s room now, had been empty a month ago. Sora had shared his room with Riku. This room was still mostly empty, except for a few changes of clothes and things that Sora had removed from his old room. Some souvenirs, a few old unsent postcards, some keychains. All it did was remind Sora from the second he woke up to the moments before he fell asleep that he was losing something.

So he wasn’t going to be fair.

“I have to get him back, Kairi.”

Kairi’s head snapped up. “What?”

“I have to get him back,” Sora repeated, slowly slowly unclenching his hand from Roxas’s shirt, one sore finger at a time. “He’d do it for me, and - Kairi, please.” He was begging her to see where he was coming from. He’d never been any good with words, he worked on actions and reactions and for the past month, he hadn’t had any, unable to truly process beyond the pain. He could barely stand to say Riku’s name some days.

“Are you sure you aren’t just being stupid,” Roxas said from above Sora’s head.

“Hey!” Sora elbowed Roxas, who winced. “Riku was the only one who remembered me when you were running around and - he stayed with me. Remembered me. Through everything, because he wanted to make sure I was okay and now -” he tried not to let out a sob, but from Roxas’s minute flinch, he hadn’t succeeded. “Now he’s lost me again.”

“He hasn’t lost you-”

“Yes he has!” Sora said shrilly, his voice echoing around the room. His own voice interrogated him, reminded him of what he’d lost, sitting in this stupid empty room that didn’t belong to him because he belonged two doors down, with Riku. “He’s lost me, I’ve lost him, we aren’t together, there’s no us and neither of us can be us without each other and he’s lost me!”

“You’re still here!”

“It doesn’t mean anything!” Sora sat up to look Roxas in the face. His hands were trembling - they were always trembling lately, how could he save anyone with those hands? He crossed his arms to try and hide it. “I would be a totally different person if I couldn’t remember Riku and I know it’s the same for him! There’s no - I wouldn’t be Sora anymore and he’s not all Riku! You can’t just separate us from each other like that, I don’t - half of me is gone, Roxas.”

Riku still had the scars on his chest to prove it, but Sora held no physical evidence of how Riku had been cleaved from him. When he talked to Riku, he could see how the removal had been messy even if the cuts had been were surgically precise. The way Riku scowled, the constant headaches he seemed to have; that was Sora, even if he didn’t know it.

You couldn’t split someone’s soul like that, not really. It was too imperfect, the edges jagged and catching against Riku’s whole body and scraping him raw inside. Sora could feel the shards cutting against his skin too if he reached out, and he always reached out, but he was nothing if not determined.

“Don’t get so worked up,” Roxas grumbled. He reached out and brushed through Sora’s hair, clearly conceding the point. He probably remembered everything that Riku had done when Sora was asleep, things that Sora still had to hear about, things that he’d tried to coax out of Riku and would have succeeded at, if they just had time.

And - he must remember not remembering Xion.

Sora squeezed his hand, thankful to have an ally, and turned to Kairi. “It’s not all of him.” He could hear himself pleading, but she must understand, right? She must see how Riku wasn’t the same, she must see that he was buckling under pressured, about to be pressed flat. He didn’t make the same jokes, he didn’t roll his eyes the same, he was underwater and moving slow. “Riku isn’t - he’s not all there - if he can’t remember me, I - it’s not the same. It’s not right.”

“He did that for you!” Kairi said, leaving behind her chair and joining them on the bed again, snaking her cool arm around Sora’s waist as if to hold him in place. “Are you just going to keep making sacrifices for each other until there’s nothing else left?”

Sora chewed that thought around for a while, pretending to give it consideration, but he knew the answer. It was a straightforward question, even if he didn’t like it. Kairi wouldn’t either. “If that’s what it takes.”

-------

Riku hadn’t meant to listen, but he’d been worried about Sora, how small he looked as Roxas carried him out of the room, hands hanging limp in the air. They’d left his bedroom door slightly ajar, enough for Riku to tell that it was pitch black inside. He was sitting on the stairs, listening, because that was better than sitting in his room barely being able to make out the words. Besides, they were all talking around him. Being left out had used to be familiar and it was rapidly becoming familiar again with the way Sora and Kairi constantly were off together, heads bent together, stopping their chatter the second Riku entered the library. Riku couldn’t stand it. It made his skin prickle, so that he kept scratching at nothing and scoring red welts on his bicep. It left him jittery whenever they all withdrew, which they did far too often to not be suspicious.

And this was why, apparently. All getting together to fabricate some lie about his life, to hide from him that which he already should have owned. He felt the anger, all too familiar and concerning now. Would he be sadder if he had his memories? Would he be able to feel anything more? There had to be something, anything, to replace the fury buried under his breastbone.

There must be. If he dug down to his very core, peeling away layers of wrath and loneliness and jealousy, he’d get to the tiny seed of heartbreak that he should be feeling when he heard Sora’s plaintive voice, so desperate and hopeless.

Riku didn’t know when all his good feelings had become this hard to catch. Was he incapable of having any without Sora there?

Sora left his room moments later, fists curled, before Riku had time to run. He’d left Roxas and Kairi behind. Maybe he was coming to find Riku. Either way, he’d see Riku in another few seconds, so Riku spoke. “Hey.”

Sora jumped and then immediately turned bright red, easily seen even in the gloom of the tower. “Oh no,” he squeaked. Under the moonlight, his flush covered his entire face, not just his cheeks. “You heard?”

“You talking about me like you know me?” Riku felt the corners of his mouth turn down. It had all clicked into place. Sora’s tender hands, the way he’d known what Riku was going to do when they sparred. He should have put it together much sooner. “Yeah, I heard. You want to explain?”

“It’s not what you think!”

“What do I think?”

Sora deflated. “I don’t know.” Frankly, neither did Riku. “What do you think?”

All he could hear, over and over, were the words he’s not all there and he’s not right, ringing around his head. He was himself, what else could they want from him? But - he could remember passing by Sora’s room the first night Riku had been allowed to walk around, and hearing him cry through the door. The gut-wrenching, raspy sobs of someone who had completely given up hope, who had cried until there was nothing left, the kind that had left Sora’s eyes red and puffy the following morning, like he’d fallen asleep in the middle of his breakdown. Riku had wondered if maybe he’d lost someone in the Realm of Darkness, he just didn’t know it had been him.

“I’m not in the mood for guessing games.” A hurt look appeared in Sora’s eyes for just a moment before it was covered up with Sora’s customary good cheer and Riku backpedaled, guilt blooming and almost welcome among the simmering anger. “You said you used to know me.” Then, because it had to hurt, he added, “But you said I’m not - not right.”

“I’m so sorry,” Sora said immediately, dropping down on the stair beside him. He didn’t stop his warm hands from finding Riku’s, tangling their fingers together. “I - that was really awful of me. You’re still you, you’re always you. I should have known better than to be a jerk, but I was upset, they were - well -”

“They were trying to stop you from getting my memories back,” Riku said, filling in the gaps. He’d heard the whole thing, no point in trying otherwise. He could feel something tender pressing against his ribcage. Maybe - just maybe - that empty hole was supposed to be Sora.

Ever since he’d woken up to find Sora taking care of him, the other boy had been filling that barren wasteland with sunshine, letting flowers grow all throughout his body like he was a real boy again.

It would be less embarrassing that Riku had a crush on him so fast, if that were the case. “Sora, I-” He stopped as Sora duck his head, hiding his eyes, so Riku couldn’t see what made him him and not just any boy sitting in the dark, framed against the moonlight. “Sora?”

“Sorry, Riku,” Sora managed to say, brushing away tears. “Sorry, I - you just don’t usually say my name.”

Riku hadn’t noticed. “So?” He almost winced at how cavalier he was being - if Sora had noticed, it must have been important, but Sora didn’t look taken aback.

“You used to say it all the time.”

“I - didn’t know,” Riku said clumsily, focusing on Sora’s hand in his. Just that simple touch, grounding him.

“It’s fine!” Sora let out a watery laugh. It sounded real, for once, not the boisterous booming thing Sora would let out when he was trying to show everyone that he was fine (and a liar). He was grinning and excited, somehow, squeezing Riku’s hand right back. “It’s fine, really! I’m just - I’m so glad you know now, we can figure this out together, right?”

Riku’s eyes widened, suddenly tense. He wasn’t sure how he could have missed it but - Sora didn’t like him for him. He liked him for what he used to be, for some history that Riku couldn’t ever hope to fathom. He was an idiot for thinking Sora could ever just let things lie. Not when he thought Riku was needing to be fixed.

The rage was back, choking out hope and love and anything good that Sora might have brought. Riku stood up suddenly, dropping Sora’s hand. Sora looked up at him, confused, still just so happy, because he’d been able to tell Riku, because he wasn’t keeping it all pent up, because he wasn’t lying anymore-

“Maybe I don’t want my memories back.” He almost regretted saying it, for the look on Sora’s face, that same desperation he kept recognizing, but then, Riku couldn’t feel anything like that in the empty cave of his chest. “Maybe I gave them up for a good reason and I didn’t want them. So what then, Sora?”

“You just - you don’t know what you’re missing, Riku, you’re not the same-” and suddenly Riku wasn’t just upset but blindingly furious with him, with Sora and his smile, with all of them.

“I know what I have!” Riku hissed. Sora was already wincing, knowing what he’d said wrong, but Riku couldn’t care about that under the pain. “I don’t need anything else! I don’t need what you think I need!”

Sora didn’t follow him as he stormed down the stairs.

-------

Riku was well-used to the shame that poured in after the anger dimmed now. It had happened a lot, lately, but he had yet to make his way back down to find Sora and apologize. Instead he sat on the roof for longer than he knew, kicking his feet off the edge and staring out at the ocean of stars, the galaxies ebbing and flowing like the familiar tides that touched Destiny Islands.

It was hard to parse the flood of feelings in his chest, which Riku had long assumed had been hacked out of him in the Realm of Darkness. The fragile tendril of hope was easily overpowered by fear and anger and he clung to it, trying to figure out what it meant.

The guilt was easy to identify, however. He barely understood the situation and he’d gone running off like a child having a temper tantrum, taking it out on Sora, who’d been distraught, if slightly thoughtless.

He was right, though. Riku didn’t know what he was missing. How was he supposed to make an observation if the evidence had been stolen from his very being?

He lay back, waiting for Sora to show up. He’d seen him on the grass earlier, tiny and dozens of stories below, and Riku had flinched when Sora had shielded his eyes from the sun and looked directly at Riku.

It made Riku’s skin crawl to be that known. He’d always wanted that, wanted someone who would know him better than himself, and it was a cruel reminder now that he was that known but couldn’t recall anything more.

Instead, though, it was Kairi who found him, crawling through the hatch on the roof. “Hi.” She gave him a small smile. “How are you feeling? About, um, everything.”

“Kind of sick,” Riku revealed. He hadn’t realized, but – this must have been the reason she and Sora had gotten so close so quickly. Riku had just assumed Sora was that friendly, but he’d been looking at something he couldn’t understand, friendship that was born of years, not a month. “So – you knew?”

Kairi sat cross-legged beside him, eyes steady on his face. “I knew.”

Riku let that weigh him down for a moment. “How long have we known each other?”

“You and Sora have known each other longer than I’ve known either of you,” she said, voice sad, and Riku felt it like a punch to the gut, the wind knocked out of him. “Since you were just little kids.”

“That long?” Riku whispered, feeling awful. He’d been thinking a few years, maybe, but his entire life, almost, was a different story. No wonder Sora had been so upset, so adamant that he wasn’t the same, and the guilt rose up again. “I yelled at him-”

“We’re not mad at you,” Kairi reassured him. “Sora made me promise to tell you when he told me where you were, and we aren’t mad. Sora shouldn’t have said what he said.”

Riku groaned. “But he was right to feel it.” Sora could just look at him and know that thing beating in his chest was only half-working, barely pumping slippery blood to the rest of his body. Riku had no doubt that was what Sora was talking about.

“And you were right to feel your pain too,” Kairi countered, stretching out her arm so that her hand was right next to Riku’s on the concrete, touching but not linked. “It wouldn’t be fair of either of us to ask you not to be upset, he – he implied that you were inferior. That’s not true, Riku. You can both be right.”

Riku lay back on the roof so that he was looking straight up. He could feel his spine shift into better alignment. He always thought better when he was lying down, and Kairi knew that – she knew that, right? It wasn’t just false memories, tricking Riku into believe he had a best friend? “Kairi, why am I on the ground?”

She tilted her head at him, eerily reminiscent of Sora. “You always think better lying down,” she said, bemused. “Why – oh. Oh, Riku, no, I promise, we’ve always been best friends. We – we didn’t always get along; for a while, I was so jealous of how close you and Sora were, but I promise, that isn’t fake. We’re best friends. We’re just also best friends with Sora, too, okay?”

Her voice was so sincere it was almost painful and Riku soaked it in, letting it soothe his irritated flushed skin. “Why didn’t you tell me, then?”

“Right, because it went sooo well this time?” Riku winced, thinking about the look on Sora’s face. Kairi and Roxas must have had similar ones, overhearing him in the bedroom, but Riku had been wholly focused on Sora. Kairi patted his knee. “I think we were hoping – well, I don’t know about Sora, but I was hoping that if you spent enough time with him, your memories would come back. Like, maybe if you started to think of him as a friend or – or maybe something more –”

“Kairi!” Riku hissed, face flushing.

“You like him,” she teased, voice annoyingly sing-song and self-satisfied. “I guess that’s why it hurts so much to feel inferior now, huh.”

Kairi did have a habit of getting right down to the issue and cracking it open like an egg, refusing to let anyone run away. “Yeah.”

“Well, I’m glad I was right-”

“You weren’t,” Riku interrupted fiercely, trying to ignore the disappointment in his chest. “Nothing came back. I don’t have any memories.”

Kairi sighed. “I know.” She lay down beside Riku. This time she did link their pinkies together, like they were little kids on the beach watching the sunset turn the ocean red. “I think – Sora knows too. He won’t say anything but he’s losing hope, and he isn’t a boy who really loses hope, Riku.”

Riku turned his head so that he could look at her, the red of her hair, the line of her earrings, the green band aid slapped across her cheek. “He smiles all the time.”

“I’m sure you know it’s all a show.” Kairi turned her head too, so they were looking right at each other, cheeks pressed to the roof. “He didn’t want you to feel guilty, Riku. He’s always thinking about you.”

Riku thought of Sora’s hand, tapping at his chest like he was recreating the rhythm of his heart when Riku wasn’t looking. Sora was losing himself too. “I said I didn’t want my memories back.”

The words dripped from him absolutely coated with guilt, and Kairi sighed, her breath hot against Riku’s face. “Is that true or were you just angry?”

Riku threw his arm over his face. “I don’t know,” he admitted. He hated not knowing what Sora’s smiles meant. Hated that Sora could read him so well, like he was the answer to Riku’s prayers, and Riku would worship him for it, if he could remember how Sora knew him so well. “I – hate feeling like I’m not good enough. But – then he smiles at me, and – I think I’d throw it all away for that smile, Kairi, is that bad?”

Kairi snorted. “It’s typical. You gave up your memories for him. You didn’t lose them. You gave them up so he wouldn’t die, you cared about him that much. You both keep doing incredibly stupid self-sacrificing bullshit just to save each other.”

Riku’s breath caught. He could barely imagine loving someone that much, to have done it several times over, and Kairi seemed so certain that he loved this boy that much. He must have been someone different if he could have done that without thinking twice, and the thought wasn’t – it wasn’t as unwelcome as it would have been a few hours ago, when Riku’s head and heart only held negative, slimy things.

She saw his look and elbowed him pointedly. “It would be really romantic if you both weren’t so incredibly stupid.”

Riku smiled; this was the Kairi he knew. Not the sad one who had to come fix him, again. He’d hoped to leave that one far behind. She could always bring the sun and the ocean back to him. “Really.”

“Really.” Kairi sat up, pulling Riku with her, surprisingly strong. Riku should stop being surprised by that; she’d proven again and again that she was capable, probably more capable then he was. “Do you trust me?”

“With my life.”

She grinned at him, startled and pleased, but he’d meant it. “You might get mad at me for this but – well. I know, without a doubt, that I wouldn’t be the same without Sora. He’s so important to me and that’s written into every fiber of my being. I think all of us would say the same. He saved Ven’s life and Roxas’s life and Xion’s, and – and mine, Riku, and yours. You care about him, you really do. Can you imagine how much you must have loved him, to leave behind your memories?”

“I have an inkling,” Riku mumbled.

She squeezed his hands, calming him. “I’d be less if I had never known him. I think we all would. And –” she took a deep breath, and Riku tensed, knowing what was coming. “I don’t think you’re the same either. I think you’re walking around in a daze. You aren’t quite the same person without Sora. You’ve been so intertwined your whole lives, you just can’t be the same, I’m sorry, but you don’t laugh as much and you get angry faster and –”

Riku frowned. “I know,” he interrupted. “I feel it too.” It hurt less than Riku thought it would to hear but he still didn’t want to hear it laid out for him. Maybe Kairi could feel, through their linked pinkies, that there was less inside him. Riku had already known. He didn’t need to describe the cracked arc of his ribcage, how his head constantly felt like he was underwater and he didn’t know which way the surface was. How Sora had been filling up that empty space. “You think I should get them back, then?”

Kairi’s mouth opened and shut like a fish; unsure whether to smile or frown. “I think you’ll forever be different if you don’t,” she conceded. Her hands around Riku’s were shaking a little bit. “Maybe that’s what you want, I don’t know. I’ll be your best friend either way, okay? If this is who you are now, I’m here with you.”

It was nice to hear, but - Riku poked her side. “You didn’t answer the question.”

She huffed, the corner of her mouth quirking up like it always did when Riku caught her out. “I won’t lie, I want you to get them back. The three of us are - well, we’re the three of us. Best friends forever. But you should do what you want. Just – talk to Sora and then decide, okay? I’m not going anywhere.”

Sora might, she didn’t say. Maybe she wasn’t thinking it. But Riku heard it all the same.

-------

Roxas kept Sora pinned in place while Sora and Kairi talked, his arm thrown over Sora’s shoulders like he knew its weight was the only thing keeping him around. Roxas had herded Sora outside, to sit on the steps, and it was oddly comforting to know that Riku was a dozen stories up, sitting with Kairi. Just to be a little bit closer…

“I’ve never really been good at sitting still.” Sora heard his own voice say it, but it was oddly disconnected from his throat. He hated sitting still. When he was upset, he needed to be moving, and he could feel that urge in a detached way, too, like his body wasn’t his own.

“I know that.” Roxas’s hand was digging into the crook of Sora’s neck. “But you have to stay.”

Sometimes, Sora wondered if it would better if people didn’t know him this well, if they didn’t know how good he was at ignoring and running away from his problems.

“I know,” Sora said, and it still didn’t belong to him, even as his mouth formed the words. “I made him so mad,” he whispered, and those words belonged to him, catching in his throat until he was crying again, because he was selfish and couldn’t contain himself.

Roxas rooted around in his pocket until he found some tissues. He probably carried them just for Sora. “Riku was born mad.” He offered the tissues, tone light, and Sora hiccupped, smiling through his tears. “Kairi’ll calm him down. He can’t go far.”

“He could now.”

“No, he couldn’t.” Roxas shook his head. “He still looks at you like he always did. He might not know it, but he won’t go far, even like this.”

Sora didn’t know if that was true. He’d hoped, of course, kept searching for proof that he still belonged to Riku in minute actions. When Riku sought him out in the library, when he unthinkingly passed Sora his favorite meal from the kitchens – Sora sought meaning in those interactions like it was proof of a god existing, instead of just a boy who meant everything.

Roxas could say it, but he hadn’t seen Riku’s face, the purest rage that Sora had never known. “He’s never been that mad at me.” Sora bit his lip until he could taste blood. “Never. Even when he hated me, it wasn’t – it wasn’t real, you know?”

Roxas raised a doubtful eyebrow. He couldn’t know much of Riku before he’d existed, so what he remembered was probably eons different. A hunter intent on his kill, ready to end Roxas’s existence. When Sora thought about it like that, he could see why Roxas refused to believe that Riku could really go anywhere, and Sora couldn’t explain a lifetime of memories so embedded in his being he’d have to be carved open like Riku before they were gone.

He could never explain anything about himself and Riku, the bond so incomprehensible to even Sora, sometimes; the only sure thing was how strong and unyielding it was. Riku’s hate, years ago, had been much more complicated than simple hate. Jealousy, abandonment – self-hatred more than anything, something Riku just hadn’t been ready to accept about himself.

Sora loved watching him grow past it, grow strong. Some of the story was still missing and Riku had never seemed that willing to tell him what he’d missed, but then, Sora had yet to tell him how scared he’d been when he saw his face in the mirror for the first time after he woke. It had been older and unknown, and he’d jumped, thinking it was an enemy for far longer than he should have. He’d never told Riku about how he didn’t recognize the sound of his own voice.

He never told Riku how much he relied on him.

To see Riku divorced from everything he had worked for – Sora’s stale heart strained at his chest, begging to seek him out. What did Riku see know, when he looked at his steady hands, if not his promise to protect the people he loved? To protect Sora?

“I don’t get either of you,” Roxas groused, tilting Sora’s head so Sora could cry into his collarbone. Sora felt his hand run through his hair a few times.

“Thanks for being here,” Sora mumbled, curling his fingers in Roxas’s shirt. It was a jersey for his school soccer team, weirdly enough. Sora didn’t know if he’d ever be able to go back to normal life, to school, to his swim team, with or without Riku, but he was glad Roxas had gotten the chance. Maybe Roxas was much better at math than Sora had ever been. “I mean – you have a life in Twilight Town.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Roxas said simply. “You’re important.”

Roxas was the only one who had come, and he’d stayed for the full month. Sora had, panicked, convinced Kairi not to tell anyone that he was back, because he couldn’t deal with everyone when he was this broken, but he’d called Roxas himself, crying, barely able to explain himself. Roxas had shown up the next day, eyes dark but hands gentle.

“Thanks anyway.”

“I’ll kick Riku’s ass myself if it breaks you out of this funk,” Roxas muttered. “Not that I won’t anyways, but still. It’s the principle of the thing.”

“It’s not his fault, Rox, it’s mine,” Sora confided, and the guilt was eating him alive, tearing away whatever he had left. “If I hadn’t been stupid, Riku wouldn’t have done this for me-”

“Hey, you aren’t stupid,” Roxas said sharply. “You were following your heart, and Riku would tell you the same thing, okay? No one knows what the fuck they’re talking about. You did fine, okay, you did fine-”

Sora lifted his head to see fresh tears in Roxas’s eyes, tears he was refusing to let fall. “Oh no,” he breathed. Could he do nothing right? “Roxas, I’m so sorry, I haven't even been thinking about you-”

“Dammit, Sora, can’t you be selfish for once in your life?” Roxas snapped, eyes wild. “You’re hurting, it’s okay to be selfish! You just lost the most important person to you! If I lost – if I lost Axel or Xion again, like this, I wouldn’t be okay and you wouldn’t ask me to care about you when I was like that.”

Sora pressed his forehead to Roxas’s collarbone, thankful the other boy could read him so well. It might have been a side effect of sharing a heart, emotions attuned, but Sora liked to believe it was because Roxas just cared about him that much. “I guess not.”

“Riku didn’t do this because you were stupid,” Roxas said, trying to sound a little gentler. He tapped his thumb against Sora’s shoulder so that the flat of his heavy silver ring made a comforting thump with every motion. “He did this because – because he was always going to do this for you, you know? He – he really loves you, Sora.”

“I know,” Sora confessed. He could still recall Braveheart, held high, as a wave of heartless consumed Riku. That was gone from anyone’s memory but his, but he turned that sacrifice over and over and over in his head once he was gone. There had been a lot of time to think.

It had been easy, before, to push his feelings inside when people and words needed to be saved and he hadn’t seen Riku in years. If he’d known Riku was going to go and do this right at the time he realized what all those sacrifices meant – he’d have made the time to talk about it.

“it’s okay,” Roxas murmured, like Sora was a frightened animal. He sat back, so that Sora was falling against his chest, and blocked from the wind that had started up. “You’ll figure it out.”

“I used to be so jealous of him,” Sora mumbled, tightening his arms around his waist to stave off the cold. “He was always so perfect! He was better than me at everything, he got better grades, he always won the races and he was taller – we used to play fight and he would just look at me like he knew he’d win without even trying. It used to make me so mad!”

“Jerk.”

Sora let out a hollow laugh that only made Roxas look more worried. “Yeah. But – I’m not jealous anymore. It’s nice, now, that I can rely on him.” He didn’t know when it had turned into something else. When he became grateful to have Riku at his side, protecting his back. Riku had come so far, Sora could hardly look at him without bursting with pride. “I took that from him.”

“No you didn’t,” Roxas said immediately. He must have assumed Sora was talking about Riku’s memories, not Riku’s entire purpose, his entire being. “He gave them up for you, that’s different.”

Sora tilted his head back. “It’s more than that,” he mumbled, looking up at the sky, up to where Riku was perched. Everything Riku had worked for, Sora had wiped it clean. Stolen it by being reckless and hot-headed, took so much from him that he seemed a shell of his former self, and Sora felt cruel to even think it, but sometimes Riku’s eyes were frighteningly blank and Sora would have to reach out to find his pulse, strong through his wrist, just in case. The shame burned at his heart, threatening to melt him down until he was nothing, just like Riku was too. “He’s different now, because – because of me. I took away everything he’d been working for.”

“Sora, no,” Roxas said firmly. His shirt was becoming grungy from how much Sora had cried on it today. “Yes, he’s different, but -”

“If Riku doesn’t want his memories back, what do I have?” He couldn’t say he was running out of hope. It was, usually, the only thing he had, and it had worked miracles time and again, but he could only take so much, had only ever been able to take so much, and Riku never touched him anymore.

“You still have everything.” Roxas pulled him closer, voice fierce. “You still have all of us and you’ll still have Riku. You didn’t steal anything from him, he gave it, and he’s so annoying that I bet he’d still do it again, even without his memories, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Just trust him, Sora,” Roxas said, poking Sora with a little more force than necessary to disguise how desperate he sounded. “Shit, did you just blow your nose on my shirt?”

“Yeah.”

“That is so gross.” For a moment he was silent, collecting his thoughts, possibly ruminating on what a disaster Sora was. Sora liked that about him, that he took the time to review what he was about to say. “Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But trust yourselves, okay?” He hesitated. “I’m sure you feel so guilty, Sora, but Riku wanted to do this for you. He’d want you to have hope.”

Sora pressed a hand to his chest, where his necklace would sit if he had one. That had hurt more than anything, to take that necklace off for the first time in twelve years. Riku had been so upset, wildfire racing up and down his body; he’d known how important it was, even if he couldn’t remember why. “Okay,” he said, feeling the thump of his heart. “For him. For him, I have to.”

Riku would do the same, he knew. Had done, hundreds of times over.

-------

It was surprisingly scary to stand at Sora’s door, now fully closed. Riku had sorted through his thoughts as well as he could, but Kairi was right, he really did need to talk to Sora to decide anything, and he had a feeling that Sora might be - pretty disappointed, and he hated to be the one to put that on the poor boy’s face.

He knocked. Sora said in a dull voice, “Come in.”

Riku shoved the door open. Sora was lying on his bed, back to the door, and he didn’t roll over right away when it opened, so he must have thought it was Roxas and Kairi.

Now that Riku was listening, he could hear his heart speed up into a dizzying rhythm, could feel the warmth of the sun soaking into his bones the second he lay eyes on Sora, the slump of his shoulders, the way he curled up like a cat claiming a patch of sunlight. Or like an abandoned child in a dark room.

Riku took a moment, before Sora rolled over and the peace would shatter, to inspect Sora’s room. He’d never been in it before and it was depressingly empty. There was a bit of clutter on the desktop, postcards and seashells all piled on top of each other like Sora hadn’t had the time or care to display them. He seemed like the sort to display them.

“Roxas, I don’t really want-”

“It’s Riku.”

Sora nearly fell off the bed he sat up so fast, relief plain on his face as well as tear tracks. “Riku! I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have said any of that-”

Riku held up a hand to stop him and Sora fell silent immediately. Should this be familiar? “It’s fine,” he said, voice rough. He coughed. “I - you were right, a little bit, I think.”

Sora shook his head. “That doesn’t matter, I still shouldn’t have said it.”

“And I shouldn’t have gotten that angry.” Riku shook his head. “I think that’s all I know how to do anymore, and I don’t like it, but - but I don’t want to be just that, I - I can’t believe that I’m not allowed to have anything if I don’t remember you, I can’t feel good or okay or anything but the bad things! I don’t want to be someone who can only be happy if I have you!” He stopped himself short, panting. Angry again, perfectly illustrating his point. How dare Sora start filling the void in his chest where its heart didn’t remember how to do its job?

Sora’s mouth fell open, a perfect ‘o’. “You’ll learn how to be happy again, Riku,” he said softly. He didn’t cross over to Riku, to comfort him with a light touch, the way he had before. “I know you will. And when it happens, maybe - if you want - you can call me, okay? I’ll always come.”

Riku blinked. “You - you won’t stay here?” He hadn’t foreseen this. Somehow, in all his calculations, he had just assumed Sora would stay by his side, but that clearly wasn’t the case. And why should he, if Riku refused him?

“I might go to Twilight Town or Radiant Gardens or something.” His voice was hollow. He didn’t even take a moment to think about it; he’d probably been thinking about this for a month now, turning each desperate brokenhearted scenario over in his mind, while he lay in bed and tried not to cry. Riku ached to hold him, to smooth that exhaustion away before it became second nature. “You won’t even have to see me. I’ll get used to it, Riku, don’t worry!”

“What if I don’t want you to leave,” Riku’s mouth said without his input. “I don’t - is that okay?”

Sora’s eyes widened. “Of course it is! I just thought - I figured you’d be more comfortable that way.” He reached out, his hand hovering above Riku’s collar, unwilling to touch just yet but closer, at least. “I won’t leave if you don’t want me to.”

Riku sagged onto the bad next to him, burying his face in his hands. “Sorry.” He could only hope the words slipped out loud enough between his fingers. “Won’t it hurt to be around me, though?”

Sora winced but Riku couldn’t regret it, really, not know when he needed answers. “I think I’ll hurt forever, no matter where I am,” he admitted. “Me, I don’t know how not to be with you.”

Riku swallowed. Emotions tangled around in his stomach, unable to decide if he was - pleased, almost, or if it was tragic that Sora would move mountains for him, even if Riku never wanted to remember the fact that apparently he’d do the same right back. “Oh.”

Sora finally put his hand on the scars over Riku’s heart, a pale imitation of his beautiful smile on his face. Riku’s heart flourished at his touch, sunbeams seeping through his corrupted body. He could breathe easier. “Don’t worry,” he reassured Riku, as if Riku was the only one here who needed comforting. “This can be like - a blank slate! We kept giving up too much for each other and we never talked about it, and - I relied on it too much. We should - I - you should be able to have your own purpose outside of me.”

Sora had mustered up enough of his typical good cheer to say it, but Riku flinched, the very thought of it sending spikes of pain down his spine like it knew how wrong that sentence was. Sora’s unnaturally blue eyes were too empty for him to be okay with it, but this was him moving mountains for Riku, wasn’t it. Completely willing to let Riku go, if that’s what Riku truly wanted. Even Riku could see how much the words hurt him, no matter the smile. Maybe Sora thought Riku didn’t know him well enough to notice, or maybe there was just no way to hide how the sadness filled him up, threatening to overflow despite the dam. Riku hated it. “Kairi says we do it for each other.”

“We do,” Sora allowed, the ghost of a smile on his face briefly replaced by something softer and real. Then it flickered away. “But - we’re at the end. There’s nothing else for you to sacrifice.”

The admission felt too heavy. From the way Kairi had talked, it seemed like he and Sora were always together, always laughing. From the way Sora had worked so hard to coax a smile onto Riku’s face, that only seemed right. It didn’t seem natural that they should be separated now; Riku’s entire being ached with the thought, longing to put his arms around Sora where they knew they belonged.

“Could I - I grow into him? Without remembering?”

Sora frowned, brow furrowed. Riku stopped himself from reaching out to smooth out the wrinkles in Sora’s forehead, from cupping Sora’s cheek with what he hoped were gentle hands. “I don’t know.” He blew out a breath, flopping back on the bed, far out of Riku’s reach. “That’s not fair to you, Riku. You should be able to grow into whoever you want to be, not whoever I want you to be.”

Riku hadn’t particularly come here intent on telling Sora no, but it had seemed the ultimate conclusion. It would be simple to trust whatever it was that rebelled so deeply again getting his memories back. Probably it had something to do with how long he’d spent hating himself, making himself into someone he liked, only to find himself cheated. Some of it probably had to do with Sora himself, his stupid grin and how it turned dark towers cozy with firelight, how his smile light up Riku from the inside out. The darkness had crept back in so easily when Riku realized Sora didn’t like him for him. That was more - terrifying than anything else. It was terrifying to know what Riku might do, had done, for this boy, terrifying like flames licking at his heels no matter how fast he ran, and he could just run, let the wildfire chase him so far that no one would ever be able to smother it into the dirt. Sora had stolen Riku’s laughter.

The stubborn, scared part of himself wanted to say he didn’t need his memories. He was doing just fine. He could grow again, find soil and stretch up to the sun. Laughter would come with time.

It all came back to Sora, though. Riku suspected now that it always would, no matter what he chose. Sora wasn’t fine, that was obvious, no matter the act he put on, and Riku wasn’t ready to turn the broken-down misery Sora had been wearing for the past month into a permanent accessory; shackles and chains that would restrain him no matter how the two of them moved forward. Riku already felt like half a person and the misery would chafe and burn at Sora’s skin, scraping it red and raw until he was ruined. But Sora would let himself become half a person too if it would keep him step in step with Riku, not quite two of a kind but walking hand in hand. He would give that sacrifice back to Riku a hundred times over, like Kairi said they always did.

Riku didn’t want him to do that. A sacrifice like that, a sacrifice like the one he made - Riku had no belief that he and Sora had been perfect. It was fairly clear that they hadn’t talked enough, that they were caught in a loop of sacrifice that would horrify even the most faithful martyrs. Riku wanted for them to live in the peace that he’d become embarrassingly prone to imagining romantic versions of in the past month, and it would never happen if he was a blank slate and Sora’s was scribbled upon, bogged down by memory.

He wanted Sora to smile, and he wanted Sora to smile because of him, not because of a mysterious past, no, not when it meant the smile could turn false at any moment. Sora made it so that he could breathe again, so that he felt intoxicating life pumping through his veins. Whatever the old Riku had thought, this Riku could easily see how Sora had become the center of his universe, his laughter and love and everything nestled in Sora’s caring, scarred hands. Riku liked him there, where Sora could press starlight into his soul with every kiss.

The answer now seemed pretty simple.

“Tell me one more thing.” He allowed himself to stretch out his hand and find Sora’s, so their fingers could tangle together. Sora propped himself up on his elbow, looking adorably confused. Riku hadn’t himself known he was going to reach out, either, but their hands knew each other. “Were we together?”

Sora looked like he’d been punched, shaking his head like that would free him off guilt. “We were going to be, if we ever got a fucking moment to talk. I - we both knew it. I know you knew way longer than me. It took me ages to figure out.” He slid his fingers out from under Riku’s hand. “I guess we thought we’d have time.”

“We still have time,” Riku captured Sora’s hand before it could fully escape. “I want my memories back.”

Sora’s mouth dropped open. “Riku, no,” and he sounded so upset. Riku frowned, confused, not making sense of the words, before Sora continued and understanding settled in with a click. “Don’t do this for me, you just - it’s so obvious you don’t want them back, you’re scared, and that’s fine, I’ll get used to it-”

“I kind of don’t want them back,” Riku admitted, because it seemed important not to lie to Sora in this. He hated the way Sora’s hand flinched under his, his fears confirmed, but there was no way not to hurt him with the truth and there was no good way forward without the truth either, so Riku let them spill. “But I want to know you, even if - I’m scared that I’ll never won't be empty and I’m scared that I have nothing left without you, because that’s - that’s terrifying that I can’t smile without you. But my hands haven’t forgotten you.”

“Riku-”

“I gave up everything for you.” The words were rushing out now. “I want to know why, and even now I don’t want you to ever be sad, my stupid heart can’t take it. So I guess - I am doing this for you, if you’ll let me.”

Sora threw his arms around him, shaking so much that Riku was afraid to pull him closer and instead let his hands float a mere inch above Sora’s spine. “I think I’m taking advantage of how good a person you are,” Sora mumbled. “I always take too much from you.”

“You give me everything too,” Riku said, unable to rid the image of shackles rattling at Sora’s wrist from his mind. He had never been very good at comforting people, and Sora was a newfound entity, but Sora leaned into his touch, let Riku smooth his hands down his back, aware of each knob of his spine.

Even if it didn’t work, even if those missing fragments never returned, Riku’s hands belonged here.

He could tell that Sora was falling asleep in his arms, likely exhausted from all the crying. His eyes, fluttering closed, were still red-rimmed. “Hey.” Riku nudged him softly. “Can I-” but he couldn’t let the words fall.

“Of course you can stay,” Sora mumbled anyways.

Riku shifted them backwards, so carefully, like it might disappear if he was too quick, until his head hit the pillow, Sora on top of his chest. It was comfortable, his back sinking into the soft cushion, but he knew from the uncontrollable tap tap tap of his incessant fingers on Sora’s waist that something wasn’t right.

“I hope you won’t mind,” Sora whispered, wiggling around so that he was facing Riku. He pulled Riku by the collar of his shirt, gently, until Riku tucked up against him, his forehead pressed against Sora’s collarbone. “We always sleep like this.”

It should be awkward to be held by someone smaller and shorter than him, but when Sora arranged his arm over Riku’s chest, Riku just felt settled, content with how their bodies were connected from head to toe, tangled together under the sheets. Sora’s weight kept the flames at bay, so that grass could grow into meadows and bloom into spring wildflowers.

So they fell asleep in the empty room, Riku’s heart settling into place alongside Sora’s.

-------

Sora felt lighter to be around, even if he became more studious. Riku tried to make sense of it and could only conclude that if the boy you loved implied that he loved you back even without his memories, it’d be one hell of an upper.

“You don’t strike me as someone particularly studious.”

“Fuck off,” Sora’s voice came, muffled, from under the book that was resting open on his face.

Riku reached over and lifted up - he squinted at the title - something about curing incurable injures, which amnesia would qualify as. From the other side of the room, Roxas groaned, arms crossed over his chest in much the same position as Sora was. “So it’s going well?”

“Fuck off,” Roxas echoed.

Riku reached for his own book. They all spent a lot of time in the library now, Roxas and Kairi having being swept up into the search with fervor. Roxas was nicer now, too, now that Riku wasn’t ignorantly stamping pain into Sora’s bones with every stray touch.

Sora’s foot hooked idly over Riku’s ankle. He kept doing things like this, finding little ways to touch Riku. He hadn’t done anything, but their conversation kept echoing in Riku’s mind. They would have been together… Riku kept his mouth shut but he didn’t move his leg.

It was getting better in more ways than one. Kairi and Roxas stopped tiptoeing around him, Riku got comfortable talking to Sora, and Sora stopped flinching when Riku asked him questions about their old life, buoyed by Riku’s curiosity instead of crushed by his ignorance.

It wouldn’t be so bad, like this, if Riku never remembered. Ridiculous as it was, one conversation had solved anything, dissolved tension like it had never been there. He almost berated the old him for never trying it, it might have solved a lot of problems, but even with a huge swath of his brain missing, he knew he would never have done that.

He was even feeling things again, vague stirrings even when he wasn’t around Sora. He gloated about winning a race to Roxas and Roxas squinted at him, half-annoyed but half thrilled with his fixed-up laughter. The emotions came in sporadic bursts, leaving him aching for what he was missing the rest of the time. Sora had theorized that Riku’s body just needed to relearn how to work properly, and there was no proof that he was wrong. It only made Riku more determined to remember.

Sora leaned over him to reach for another book, elbowing Riku in the stomach. He was so close it was dizzying and Riku… Riku wanted.

Sora would kiss him like this, Riku was sure. He blessed Riku with his real smile daily, something Riku must have been treated to thousands of times before and his breath must have caught in his throat every time he saw it, like it did now. Sora had probably thought about it for ages, wondering what to do if there was nothing to be done.

Riku remembered Sora saying I’ll probably hurt forever. He wouldn’t, Riku hoped, not if Riku was willing to stay by his side. For now, they hovered in limbo, almost-together but not quite, which was probably exactly where they’d been before all this. Riku wanting to remember might be enough to bridge this divide. But it wasn’t yet.

Riku went back to his book.

-------

Standing in front of the door to darkness, Sora’s fear was tangible, wafting off him like ocean-mist. It was coursing through his veins and Riku was picking it up from where his hand rested on the back of Sora’s neck, second-hand adrenaline coursing through him too.

Sora tilted his head to look at Riku, licking his lips. They had been bitten raw the past few days, coming up with this plan. “Are you ready for this?”

Riku looked back at him. “Almost probably not.” He rooted around in his pocket, looking for - ah. “Here,” he mumbled, shoving it at Sora. “This is yours, isn’t it?”

Sora looked down at the little crown necklace. “Yeah.” Like last time, he curled Riku’s fingers into a fist, until the silver was hidden. Unlike last time, he kept his hands on Riku’s. “Keep it for now, though. You’ll give it back to me after it’s over.”

No matter the outcome, he seemed to be saying. Riku took a deep breath in and shoved the crown back down into his pocket, where he could reach in and touch its cool face and reassure himself. He nodded, pressing his forehead against Sora’s. Then he pulled the door open.

Falling down down down through darkness, Sora’s hand on his elbow their only point on contact, Riku couldn’t stop himself from holding his breath. He was diving into darkness like he was searching for shining white pearls in the black ocean, holding air in his lungs until they were about to burst, no good for breathing anymore, and he sucked in a ragged breath.

Then he couldn’t stop himself from laughing, just for pure exhilaration, and he heard Sora’s laugh echo back as Sora pulled him a bit closer.

Riku grasped at his forearms, thumbs against his pulse, waiting to land.

Kairi was the one who suggested they return to the Realm of Darkness to try and figure out what happened to Riku’s memories, and Sora revolted.

No,” he said, pushing back from the table. “No, Kairi, we can’t-”

Riku had snagged his wrist before he got very far. He was becoming more comfortable touching Sora and Sora had stopped looking wide-eyed when he did. “It’s probably a smart move.”

“That’s because you don’t remember it tearing you open!” Sora cried. His fingertips were light against the faint white scars on Riku’s neck. “It gutted you, Riku, you were just like - you were practically a corpse, okay, I could see all your bones and all the light was spilling out-” he cut himself off.

“Well, that’s not going to happen again,” Riku said. “That was a sacrifice, right? We won’t do that again.”

It had taken ages to talk Sora into it, every conversation a battle that Riku almost lost, every single time, because of how haunted Sora looked. Just like the Sora Riku had first meet, with hollow cheeks and birdlike wrists, not at all the one who was eating proper and training again.

“Are we ever going to land,” Riku shouted above the wind and then Sora was pulling him up so that he was standing. Riku frowned, confused, until Sora dove, posture betraying a lifetime spent in the water.

They both hit the ground with graceful rolls.

It wasn’t possible to take a wrong turn, really, but they found themselves among the stars, a whole sea of them glowing blue and gold. It was blindingly beautiful, just like the meteor shower Riku had seen when he was just a kid. How they’d ended up in the sky, Riku didn’t know.

“What-” Sora said, trailing off. He put his hand to his forehead as if to block out the sun, but of course there was none. The whole place, besides the flowers, was pitch-black. It would take ages for their light-accustomed eyes to adjust to see anything. “They’re flowers.”

Riku looked down a star near his left boot. It was a little flower, with lush, velvety petals. It was facing towards him, leaning with its little vines curling out, and he took a quick step back before they reached his shoe. It didn’t stop the little flower from trying. “Why - why are they here? They weren’t here last time.”

Sora knelt down, the glow lighting up his face and casting shadows so that he became a skeleton, and touched a delicate petal. Electricity traced its way around where Riku’s stubborn dysfunctional heart lay. “I think they’re your memories,” Sora said eventually, removing his hand. The electricity remained. “They were - when you got hurt, they were pouring out of you. I didn’t realize they were flowers.”

“Oh.” Riku cast his gaze across the ocean of stars. “My memories of you are - really - they’re nice,” he finished lamely.

He could see Sora’s smile in the pale light. He hadn’t expected to be able to see Sora well at all in this place, but he could see not just the smile but how true it was. “Don’t be ridiculous, Riku, it’s because your heart is beautiful.”

Riku put his head down, embarrassed. Sora probably wouldn’t be able to see his blush here in the dark anyways. “Uh, so, what do we do with them?”

Sora reached down, scooping the little flower up. It wasn’t grounded in dirt at all, its roots trailing behind as it was lifted up. It floated just above Sora’s hand, still bright and facing Riku even as it wrapped its roots around Sora’s palm. In a way, it was going home. “Here.”

His smile was scared, of course, so Riku reached out to touch the little flower, to erase the fear before he could think about it too much. Leaves reached out for him but the whole thing disappeared the second his fingertips touched velvety petals.

“Well?”

Riku focused on his heart, willing the electricity to get it pumping right. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t remember anything, but I - I feel warmer.” Like the plant had rooted down under its skin, finding its new home in a different sort of dark cavern, vines enveloping Riku’s heart.

Sora nodded thoughtfully. “So. More then?”

Riku swallowed, looking at the field of flowers. He didn’t see how it would be possibly to ever collect them all, they stretched to the edges of Riku’s field of vision. Sora had been in his life for years, that must be thousands and thousands of blossoms. “More.” Sora nodded eagerly, already stooping to collect another, and Riku pulled him back by the edge of his jacket, his spine colliding solidly with Riku’s side. “Don’t go too far, okay?”

Sora passed him the flower he’d just uprooted, easing some of the paranoia. “We go together,” he promised, and he put his hand over the new flower in Riku’s heart and pressed a kiss to Riku’s cheek.

Each flower returned no memories, but they all clearly wanted to come home. They filled Riku’s chest until it was brimming, his rib cage expanding with deep breaths to make room, until they spilled over into the rest of his body. Petals thawed his frozen bones and eased the aches in his knees and his wrist, coaxing him to stand up straighter.

Sora offered him a bouquet. “For you.” His grin was silly.

Riku grinned back. It came easier now that he had sunshine running through his veins instead of scorching wildfire. “Why, thank you.” He took the bouquet, which faded into nothing like all the rest, settling somewhere along his throat. “Is that all of them?”

Sora shook his head. “There’s a few more,” he said. “I mean, I hope. I dunno what we’ll do if there’s more than those.”

“Go get them, I guess,” Riku offered, putting his hand on the small of Sora’s back to be sure that he knew who was showing him the way. Their ocean of stars was gone, save for three at the end of the road, glowing more brightly than the rest. The North Star, as it were.

Sora plucked them up, studying them. “I think this is really it. Are you - are you sure you really want to do this?”

Riku stared at him in disbelief. “Sora, are you crazy, it’s way too late to ask.”

“Well, maybe that was enough,” Sora said, clutching the three little blooms close to his own heart. “You keep smiling now, so you probably have enough emotions again, we could just go back-”

“Give those to me.” Sora jerked back and Riku got only one, bursting it into nothingness. “Sora!”

“Riku, I mean it!” Sora ran, gravel kicking up under his feet as Riku chased him down the path. “Maybe we should just leave well enough alone, because you’re happy right now without them-”

“Sora, shut up, I’m not going to let you suffer just because you love me!” Riku yelled, then crashed into Sora because Sora had stopped running, a stricken look on his face. They tumbled down, a mess of elbows and knees and dirt.

“Sorry, Riku, sorry,” Sora whispered, removing himself from Riku’s chest.

Riku groaned, flat on his back. He could feel dirt in his shirt and his shoes and a scrape on his forehead. “Do I always take the brunt of protecting you?”

“You’re buffer than I am, it’s your job,” Sora said absently. He still had the two little flowers.

Riku sat up a little gingerly. “You gonna let me touch them?”

Sora smiled sheepishly, holding them out. “It’s your choice,” he said. “I’m just really scared, Riku.”

Of course he wouldn’t be ashamed to declare that. “Before I touch those,” Riku said, settling Sora in between his outstretched legs. Sora’s knees knocked into his. “I’m also really scared. I - I keep thinking that it definitely isn’t healthy that I put my happiness in one person.” He’d turned over the fear constantly, as if approaching it a different way would yield better results, but he couldn’t get over it. He could be making a huge mistake. But he trusted Sora wouldn’t lead him astray and if his trust was that strong, still, then he was going to touch the damn flowers. “But you and Kairi are teaching me how again, even without my memories, and I don’t think it’s that big a problem if I feel bad without someone I love so much. It seems like - it seems like if I lost someone, it would take me a bit to remember how to be happy. So it’s okay.”

Sora buried his face in Riku’s chest. “You always know what to say.”

“I definitely don’t,” Riku countered. “I’m so tense I’m not even sure I remember what I just said. Just - I guess I’ll know in the future to put my happiness in more places than just one. It’s a learning experience.”

Sora sniffled and nodded, bringing the two flowers out. “I love you, Riku,” he said. Riku's breath caught. He'd known, of course, but it was another thing to hear it. “No matter what happens, it’s us together, okay?”

Riku smiled. Of course it was. Sora tipped the flowers into his cupped palms.

Immediately he felt faint, dropping his head on Sora’s shoulder because he couldn’t possibly keep himself upright. It was like the ocean was rushing in, past broken barriers, and he couldn’t breathe, his hands scrabbling in the fabric of Sora’s shirt.

Sora’s hands were the only thing keeping him up and they were everywhere; on his neck, his waist, his jaw. In his hair, on his knee, and those weren’t Sora’s hands, they were the memory of them, the memories of Sora patching him up and taking care of him and walking them to the sea, of helping Riku learn how to rollerblade and telling Riku about the stars, about the meteor shower, Riku hadn’t been alone at the meteor shower, how could he forget that?

Sora was calling his name. “Riku? Riku!”

“I’m fine,” Riku grunted. He was sweating, sobbing, his heart going the speed of light, finally pumping joy and power and love, so much love that Riku almost couldn’t stand to feel it pouring in because of how much it hurt - he remembered - when it had been dragged out of him because no matter how he’d known the price, Sora was intertwined in every fiber of his being. He’d known Sora longer than he’d known anyone, and he’d known what he was doing when he’d given it up but oh, how he was begging to keep it, to press that light back into his soul. The weight of it all pressed down on him and Riku smiled because he had it back, Sora had gotten it back for him, he’d known Sora would.

“Your nose is bleeding-”

Riku jerked away from the gauze Sora was trying to press again his nose, still dizzy and intoxicated from the rush. “I’m okay, really.” He was going to have nightmares about forgetting Sora’s face for the rest of his life, alongside the nightmares where Sora never forgave him and Sora never lived, but Sora would be there, every time, ready to comfort him no matter how late in the night it was. “Sora, it worked, it worked, I’m - it’s me, I remember everything, I’m so sorry-

Sora gasped, a deep shuddery thing that Riku could feel through his entire body. “Riku?”

His name, like a prayer, like no one else had ever said it before.

Riku lifted his head. He could see Sora again. The blue eyes, so blue no sea or sky could ever compare. The bob of his throat, the shadow of his jaw, the way he bit at his lips, here in the darkness sat the most beautiful boy Riku had ever known, inside and out.

“Ask me anything.” He dangled the necklace, Sora’s necklace, the one Riku had given him. No wonder he’d thought it was so important, it was everything. Every time he saw it around Sora’s neck, that year he was slowly being possessed, he could fight a little more, knowing that Sora hadn’t given up on him. "I know it."

Sora was shaking his head, tears streaming down his face. It took Riku a second with his fumbling hands, but he got the clasp around Sora’s neck, the crown at his collarbone where it belonged. Sora looked down at it. “It’s really you.”

“It’s really me,” Riku smoothed away Sora’s tears with a thumb. Sora’s free hand did the same and Riku couldn’t stop laughing, because they were two fools who kept wiping away each other’s tears and they’d done it, they’d ended the cycle, they got to talk and be.

Sora was laughing too, boisterous and helpless. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Positive,” Riku promised. He felt invigorated, fully formed, every bit of him settled back in place, his heart a finely tuned clock and his body finally containing the gears. Sora was back, he was perfect. “I’d tell you, I swear, I’m never not telling you anything ever again.”

Sora pulled him in by the collar for a messy kiss, lips raw, heart still too desperate. He tasted salty from the tears; Riku was sure he did too. He wrapped his arms around Sora’s entire body, memorizing it, learning by heart the way it felt to hold him. Sora’s kisses turned him inside out, his happiness where everyone could be blinded by it, like petals dancing away in the wind and he had more than enough happiness to share. He tried to broadcast it into every touch, tried to breathe it into every exhale, because Sora needed to know, and Riku hoped it came through in every beautiful kiss.

When Sora finally pulled away, Riku instinctively chasing him, only then he realized how bright it was. He squinted, could make out Sora shielding his eyes. “Realm of Light?” His voice was just a rasp.

“Realm of Light,” Sora confirmed, though the cold stone floor under Riku’s legs would have done it too. He sounded similarly destroyed. “The library.”

“Kairi’s going to make so much fun of us when she learns how we got back.”

Sora kicked at him ineffectually. “We’re never telling her,” he insisted, though they could never keep anything from her, either.

Riku leaned back on his palms, Sora still wrapped around him. “We did it.” He sounded awed even to his own ears, and why shouldn’t he? “We did it, we’re here.” He laughed again, the sound bouncing off the high ceilings.

Sora grinned tentatively at him. “Safe and sound,” he offered. He had blood smeared on his face from where Riku’s nose was bleeding. “Only slightly worse for the wear.”

Riku tugged at the collar of his shirt, checking to see if the scarred X on his heart was still there. It was, light and discolored. A quick glance at Sora confirmed that the white marks on his neck probably still remained too. For all that Riku had been cleaved apart, a few scars hardly seemed like a problem among the hundreds that already decorated his skin. Riku was more concerned with the less physical wounds, the ones Sora bore.

He had to say it now. “I knew you’d bring me back.”

Sora gulped. “You made it hard enough,” he said with no bite. Instead he sounded empty. Riku had no magic cure for this, no way to fade those scars. The smile on Sora’s face was real despite it all. He’d never been one to dwell, and Riku was so grateful to see that wonder, blossoming on Sora’s face, even as he said, “I didn’t know if I should.”

Riku wasn’t stupid enough to believe this was the end of the conversation. He’d need to convince Sora later that it was fine not to smile, but he understood why Sora couldn’t stop, because he couldn’t stop either. Despite it all, all the pain, they’d arrived at the happy ending. They’d face the rest together, good and bad. “Sorry I was a dick.”

“Sorry I was being stubborn,” Sora offered, looping his arms around Riku’s neck. He still hadn’t moved from Riku’s lap. “But never do that to me again, I mean it.”

Riku poked him none too gentle. “You never do that to me again! Six months I waited, Sora, I never want to be apart from you that long ever again, where do you get off never coming back!” He didn’t say to me but Sora heard it.

Sora lapsed into silence. “Not that I want there to be a next time,” he said, tracing Riku’s nose, down his cheek to his lips. “But we’ll do it together next time. We’ll come back together.”

Really, Riku had to kiss him again after that. He’d waited long enough to come home.