“Leon called,” said Riku.
Sora hummed a little three count—or was it four?—from where he’d tucked himself against Riku’s chest. Riku watched him for a moment as he swayed, suspended in that familiar melody—the curve of his cheek, the fall of his hair, his arms tight around his middle—then turned back to the horizon, his heart twisting.
“Cid thinks he might have found something,” he went on, his own arms firm at his sides.
Sora snorted, amused, and kept on humming, the sound carrying, echoing through the empty streets. Adrift, Riku turned further still, watching the skyline; Sora followed, unfailing, watching nothing at all. It was peaceful like this, in their shared silence—a dream amongst the nightmares.
Clearing his throat, Riku spoke.
“I’m going to Radiant Garden after Terra and the others get back tomorrow. One more night, and then...”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sora nod, slow and thoughtful. Sora’s fingers drummed against his back, and the rain drummed against their bodies in turn. It was a new take on an old rhythm, the two of them side-by-side, staring at nothing. The sway of the leaves was missing, but Riku heard it anyway, in the wind and the rain, their soft percussion adding to the nighttime song. No ocean here, but the borders around, below, and above still stood—monstrous cage bars of steel and glass and concrete, reaching endlessly for the sky.
Same as him, Riku supposed, shifting. Searching, finding, waking. Forgetting. Rinse and repeat. “I keep telling myself to believe it’ll be different this time, but... I’m not you, Sora. Miracles don’t come easy.”
“Sure they do,” Sora chirped, reeling him back in. “You’re here, right?”
Riku sighed. What did he expect?
Somewhere, a bell tolled.
Sora made a soft noise. “Midnight.” His lips quirked as he lifted a finger to the clouds. “Hey. Make a wish.”
“On what?” He knew well there was nothing to see, but looked anyway, blinking the rain from his eyes. “Not a star in the sky, Sora.”
Sora’s smile went cheeky, and in that grin, there was every shining part of him: joy and irreverence, faith and forgiveness, humanity and righteousness, adding up to an impossible good, and all lit from within— so close, but so far.
“Who says you need a star?”
Riku’s pulse throbbed against his palms. His fingers ached to unfold, to touch, but he held his hands fast, afraid to move for fear that it all might fall apart in front of him, afraid to touch for fear of shattering the perfect, sunbleached memory, preserved as if in crystal, afraid most of all to let go and then have nothing, not even the hope he held tight. It was kind, for all that it was horribly cruel. Sleeping princesses and fairytale knights and falling stars and waltzing until the twelfth chime—well, it was all an awful lot different than what he’d imagined as a kid.
“Well?” Sora prompted. “Did you make one?”
Riku closed his eyes and listened to the song spilling out from the beat of his heart, its insistent gravity tugging his limbs to move, to reach for Sora, to do anything at all—it was that same pull on his bones that told him his time was up. Good thing he hadn’t wasted it on anything stupid, he thought bitterly. Good thing—
“I’ll find you,” said Riku at last, weary; his mouth formed the words easily, instinctive and unthinking as his own name.
Sora smiled again, and Riku looked at him—really looked. His blue eyes, his bright grin, his hand reaching out for Riku’s, even his voice—they were almost real enough to be true, and they all melted away with each ring of the bell. The melody swayed and whirled, tripping like the raindrops over the pavement in all their thoughtless, perfect grace. If only he could be a little more like that.
“You—” Sora began, his eyes soft, but the wind howled, and the rest was lost in the swell of light and sound.
Riku woke to the sensation of sun-warmed metal in his palm. The gentle kiss of this particular pommel and all its scars and grooves was almost unfamiliar, but that didn’t really matter. He would know the feeling of a keyblade anywhere, even if it was only the phantom touch of one he’d dreamed. This one was sturdy, compact, and somehow kind. Not heavy like Braveheart, or fierce like the Way to Dawn had been. It was— what was it? Pins and needles pricked at his hand, and when he moved to shake them loose, he shook the feeling free, too.
Frustrated, he reached out for the dream, but it was leaving him already. With each breath and each blink it faded, like the impressions burned onto his eyelids after he stared too long in one place. A pink sunset, palm trees, and a silhouette long gone.
Sunlight poured in through the open window. Outside, the early morning breeze and the birds sang their counterpoints to each other. There was something in the air, some crackle of electricity, of feeling—of hope, really—that today something might finally be different. To be honest, he felt it every time he thought they’d found something, and nothing had borne out. He supposed that made it more a wish than any real prescience, but the first step on any road was believing there was something ahead that was worth the rest.
It had been a long, long year.
Riku stole a glance at the drifting clouds, where they towered as they reached up to touch the sky. He closed his empty hands and rose.
On an average day, Riku pushed through his routine with the same diligence and urgency he dedicated to all his other duties as a Master. Today, though... today, he took his time.
He walked the well-trod path through the sun-drenched halls past the library he’d haunted like a phantom, the books of techniques he’d scoured for a single hint of a clue left behind like tidy ruins. He wandered past the throne room, pondered its three seats, and reminded himself to be thankful that he’d chosen waking over sleep when he’d had his pick. He lingered at thresholds like he hadn’t since he was a child. At last, when there was nothing left to farewell, he took the long way out to the training yard, skimming his fingers over the marbled beauty of Departure’s halls each step of the way.
Ghosts followed him all the while—a laugh, a smile, a promise. I’ll be back before you know it. He was only saying goodbye for now, as far as he knew, but in the intervening months he’d grown wary of goodbyes. Too often, they seemed more inclined to last forever.
Hurry up and wait, he thought, setting up his practice targets like he always did, letting muscle memory carry him through the routine. Block. Strike. Reset. Repeat. Again. He grit his teeth. Again and again, left behind, with nothing left to distract him from replaying the events in his head, in his dreams, imagining what else he could have done to find the better ending—easy prey to the thought that maybe, just maybe, if he had been stronger, things could’ve turned out different. But he’d made the mistake of giving in to that particular spiral before. He picked up the target and set it again, sinking slowly into the next set of keyblade forms. Feint, guard, block, overhead blow—the refrain repeated as the sun moved its on circuit through the sky. The only choices he could make were his own.
Maybe this is my punishment for making him chase after me. Riku squeezed his eyes shut hard enough to see bright flashes of blue behind his eyelids. A labyrinth of constellations, every world connected, and in one of them there had to be—
He bent his knees and aimed another swipe at the post. All that time, never letting him know I was okay, just because I was ashamed... it was a taste of his own medicine. His just desserts. Looking at it that way, it made sense for him to be the one plagued by dreams of Sora now. But Sora wasn’t the type to want anyone to suffer, even if he had good cause to be angry with them. And regardless of whether or not he deserved the pain, Sora didn’t deserve the loneliness, the isolation, this fate. Good deeds and their prices. Riku sucked in a breath on the recoil. He’d done worse, and for uglier reasons, and here he stood. It wasn’t fair.
Wood splintered under Braveheart’s swing. He drew back, chest heaving—he hadn’t meant to hit so hard. His keyblade had felt so much lighter just a second ago... he raised it up to the sky, wondering, and the light of the sun flashed across the surface like a shooting star. That same star tugged at his heart, hooked behind it, sharp like a hook—a jolt in the scale that balanced everything about this world. It pulled one, two, three times. Riku closed his eyes. It was simple math—Aqua, Terra, Ven.
Anxiety bubbled up in his throat. It was real now. Tomorrow was a ticking clock.
Golden light glanced off the windows, bright enough to blind, and he was struck by a sudden sense of vertigo, dizzying and exhilarating. It was the feeling of falling and rising, waking from a long dream. Or a nightmare, really. Tomorrow, everything could—
He wrangled the sensation, centered himself, and stepped back into form. After the Mark of Mastery, it had been—still was—difficult to distinguish wishes from dreams, and dreams from reality. They were all tied up in each other: a knot that became an impossible tangle when you weren’t looking- like shoelaces, or childhood memories. Things that had never happened, things that were already memory. Dizzying heights. The tap of boots on pavement. Sora’s voice. Round and round in circles it went.
Behind him, he heard the rustle of loose stones. Riku shifted, feeling eyes on his back. He waited a breath, but Terra—and it was almost assuredly Terra, based on the length of his stride—was silent, so Riku relaxed into the next set. He’d speak when he was ready, Riku knew. Until then, he could make use of the dead time; he was practically an expert at that now.
“Good form,” Terra observed, after a few minutes had passed in silence. There was undisguised pride in his voice. “You’ve been reading the Master’s books.”
“Can’t fall off the wagon,” answered Riku, turning to greet him. Terra looked hale, despite the travel; that was good. “Welcome back. How are Ven and Aqua?” No sense in asking after the search. After the first few stop- overs, Riku learned that Terra would have led with anything worth telling.
“Good,” he answered, a faint contentment settling over his shoulders. “Resting. They’ll be happy to catch up after some sun.” He nodded at Braveheart. “Those aren’t only for fighting, you know.”
Riku startled, glancing down at the keyblade in his hand. Wasn’t it a weapon, in the end? He supposed it did come down to what you used it for; they were all Guardians, after all.
“To protect,” Riku said slowly, chewing over the thought. “Right. I remember.”
Terra laughed. It was a good laugh, full-bodied, a joy to see from anyone after so long in the Dark Realm. Maybe it was like what Aqua had said; it was different when you weren’t alone. He looked askance, caught up in a vision of a midnight beach, the rhythm of the waves, and his place in it, at Sora’s side—
“You’re so serious,” Terra said, pulling him back from the memory. “No, I mean, there’s more than that. To all of this.” He crossed his arms, drumming his knuckles over the pauldron hugging his shoulder. “You know, when I said I had nothing left to teach you, maybe I spoke too soon.”
A touch smug, Terra let the beat hang. Riku pursed his lips. Not a fighting technique, but something more to both keyblades and being a wielder...
“The armor,” he guessed, his interest piqued. If he’d seen that as a child, he might have started swimming for the horizon right then and there, all his sworn secrecy forgotten.
Terra shook his head, amused. “We’ll get to that.” With that, he turned, cutting a path to the far part of the grounds, where the grass met the low walls that bordered the open sky. “This is different. Might be even more difficult. An ancient and well-guarded secret...”
Riku trailed him past the ivy wrapped columns and the stone walkway onto the soft grass, jogging a bit to keep pace. More difficult than manifesting armor? What did Terra consider that much of a challenge?
A few brisk, purposeful strides into the courtyard, Terra about-faced abruptly. He squared his shoulders, pulling himself up straight, then bent forward in a little bow, like they were about to spar. Riku mirrored his stance, bemused. If this wasn’t battle, then what was it?
Terra laughed, like he’d heard the stray thought. “Good. You’ve got the first part down already. Now follow my lead.”
He skimmed an arc over the earth with his keyblade, drawing a faint line in the grain of the grass. The breeze ruffled it back into place, but not before Riku managed to memorize the pattern of it, tracing it in his mind.
Hesitant, he mimicked the move in reverse, glancing up to Terra for confirmation. It was hard not to feel foolish, like a kid playing with sticks. Or toy swords. The thought made him wince. Save the self-pity for later, he told himself sternly. Focus.
Good thing he did: quick as a flash, Terra swept that same arc at his ankles. Riku stumbled backwards, missing the blow, but only just barely. Instinct took over; he brought his keyblade up in front of his body, his hand torquing awkwardly as he fought against the ingrained impulse to strike back. Breathing hard, he shoved down the moment of panic and stared at him, incredulous.
“Almost,” said Terra, nodding his approval as he straightened. “But jump over it next time.”
“You said it’s not fighting.”
Terra shrugged. “It’s not.”
A little petulant, Riku shook out his wrist. It was hard to keep the accusation out of his voice. “Sure looks like it.”
Terra’s mouth quirked. “That’s the point. Keeps you sharp.”
Sharp? Riku raised his eyebrows. When did any one of them have the chance to get blunted?
If Terra noticed his doubt, he paid it no heed. “Alright, again.” He dropped low, swinging with real force this time; Riku leapt over the dangerous flash of metal, drawing his knees high, and brought his keyblade down to meet Terra’s in a satisfying clang as he landed. Terra whooped loudly, and Riku smiled in spite of his confusion. “That’s it! Now me.”
It was easy enough once you got the hang of it. Terra walked him through it again and again, until Riku found the hidden rhythm in the traded blows, and then mastered it. One chain was only one chain, though, and Terra said it was supposed to be difficult.
“What else?” he said, pushing his hair from his eyes, a little surprised at the well of curiosity bubbling up inside of him. “That can’t be it.”
“It isn’t.” Terra assessed him for a moment, then pointed to his keyblade. “Alright. See how high you can throw it.”
Riku froze. Braveheart kept him level, kept him safe—and the people he cared for, too. He couldn’t fathom opening his hand to let go of it, or throwing it away on purpose, even now, on a training ground. He looked from the handle in his grip back to Terra, shaking his head. “I don’t...”
“It’s fine.” Terra juggled his keyblade from one hand to the other, then flung it high, ferocious and strong. It arced, spinning with carefree grace; he caught it neatly in one hand when it fell, almost as if it were magnetized to his palm. “See? We put them through worse every day.”
Riku frowned, unconvinced. “What if I miss?” It was a long way down, and a fractured keyblade was no laughing matter. No time to waste on lengthy repairs garnered by goofing off when at any moment he might be needed, when Sora might—
Terra made a face, as if the very notion of Riku making a mistake was ridiculous. Far from it. Sometimes he found himself wishing the less savory parts of his reputation would precede him; it would make everyone else’s expectations a lot more manageable.
“You won’t,” he said.
“How do you know?”
“I guess I don’t.” He shrugged. “But you definitely won’t until you try. Let go and see what happens.”
The words stung. The wielder of a keyblade called Braveheart, and here he was, too stricken by fear to do something as easy as letting go. But there were leaps of faith, and then there were reckless, stupid risks. His elbow itched, like there was a hand pushing at it, urging him on with a whisper. Make a wish. He ignored it.
“Think I’ll pass,” Riku said, pulling back. “I need to get back to the...”
Riku pressed his lips flat, cutting a desperate look back to the targets.
“Oh. Right.” Terra nodded. “Very important. They don’t have all day. My mistake.”
Riku heaved a sigh. Sympathetic, Terra clapped him on the shoulder, and then his face went serious.
“Look, Riku. Aqua was alone. Ven was sleeping. And for twelve years, I—” He gestured helplessly. “What I mean is, I know how hard it can be after all you’ve been through to just... take that risk and let something happen.”
Riku adjusted his grip on Braveheart; was he so transparent? He was getting dangerously close to the heart of it. He shifted, uncomfortable. “Terra,” he said, hoping for a distraction, “what is all this?”
“You couldn’t tell?” He sounded far too pleased with himself. “It’s dancing.”
“Dancing,” Riku repeated flatly. All the dramatics, and it was only...
“What, were you expecting more?”
Honestly? He planted a hand on his hip. “Little bit, yeah.”
Terra waved a hand through the air. “It’s tradition. A dance for every occasion—birthdays, victories, all kinds of celebrations. Passing an exam. Starting a new adventure. A way to wish a friend good luck. But mostly they’re an excuse to show off and have fun. Usually they’re side by side, or in a circle—a group. Like how we all fought together.” A look stole over his face, something reverent. “There’s almost enough of us now to do it the way it used to be done, back before the Keyblade War. Isn’t that something?”
A new adventure. Riku frowned, thoughtful. A swaying sensation tugged at his limbs, his core, and with it, a bone-deep melody, taking on a tolling bell and rain for a rhythm. Dancing. Hesitant, he ventured a question. “You said usually. The dances—if they’re usually in a group, then what about… what about when they’re not?”
“When they’re not...?” He looked puzzled for a moment, and then it seemed he understood what Riku really meant. “Ah. That’s something else. Mirrored—together. That’s special.”
“Special,” Riku echoed, dubious.
“It’s...” He frowned. “A declaration. No, that’s not right. It’s—“ He dismissed his keyblade and crossed his arms over his chest in concentration. “You learn both parts, because you are both parts. The chase. The flight. Sometimes leading, sometimes following, but always going forward through life—together. That’s the dance. Or...” He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and cast a sidelong glance back towards the castle. “That’s what Master Eraqus told me, anyway.”
Riku followed his gaze to what had once been Castle Oblivion, where the endgame of their Keyblade War had truly begun, where Riku now sat as steward, where he and Sora had both wandered once—together, but apart. More set dressing for their shared history. Leading and following. If this was together, it was awfully lonely. But he supposed he had no room to talk when faced with twelve years. Or a lifetime.
“Sounds exhausting,” he murmured, his free hand closing into a fist at his side.
Terra shook his head. “Fulfilling, too, from what I’ve seen. It’s a balancing act.” He favored Riku with a smile. “Reminds me of someone I know.”
Riku snorted, unable to meet his eyes. “Yeah? You should tell them it’s a little messier than that. Just so they know what they’re getting themselves into.” There was something decidedly different about playing pretend at letting someone spin away from you, knowing they’d return. If only he had something as convenient as choreography to rely on. A waltz, maybe. Like a fairytale.
“Messy or not, I think they’d choose it every time over nothing at all. I know I would.” Terra’s hand settled on his shoulder again, and he let the pretense drop. “We’ll find him, Riku. Tomorrow’s a new day.”
“Right,” he said, shoulders sagging at the thought. Tomorrow, a new day, and the change it would—or wouldn’t—bring.
Terra considered him for a moment, then spoke, softer.
“Riku... you told me once you wanted strength. I think you know better than the rest of us—it doesn’t always look the way you expect. But even if you have to work up to it… a leap’s a leap. Take it. Believe. You might be surprised.”
Riku shook his head, slow. Easier said than done, but he still—he could take the first steps and build to the running start.
“Alright,” he said, his voice a little stronger. He turned Braveheart over in his grip and took a breath for courage. First steps. Right. “How about you teach me that one for luck?”
Terra laughed, dropped his hand, and called his keyblade. “Alright. But something tells me you won’t need it.”
His final night at the Land of Departure fell thick and heavy and soft, like a comforter. Exhausted even past the point of anxiety, Riku fell with it. His dreams were waiting—a hard landing, what with their steel and concrete and unyielding mirrored glass, but in his time, Riku had learned a little something about reflections. They were sometimes hard to confront, sure, but they helped you understand, too, and improve. He had some time yet, and while the thick-walled glass of the building he found himself facing wasn’t exactly a mirror, it was close enough, and, well. Didn’t practice make perfect?
Drawing on some old reserves of pride to buoy him, he made his move. He drew an arc over the ground like Terra had shown him, then switched his grip, cutting across the air, watching himself in the glass all the while. It didn’t look nearly as silly as it had felt learning. He looked... confident. Graceful. Maybe even dignified. Still, it wasn’t much without a partner. He tried it a few more times, closing his eyes as he imagined the easy back and forth, how the energy might change with someone else beside him, guiding him, reflecting him.
“What’s that?” a familiar voice said, forgoing a greeting entirely. A shower of sparks filled his peripheral vision—the warm glow of a keyblade manifesting.
Riku banked a slow, resigned turn. Of course he’d be the one to find him now, and like this.
“It’s—” But Sora was already grinning at him, his eyes flicking back and forth between his face and hands like Riku’s backpedaling wasn’t just metaphorical. He swept the Kingdom Key before him in a perfect imitation of Riku’s own swing; his heart leapt to his throat to see Sora mirror him so seamlessly.
“Dancing,” he finished, his voice weak. So much for dignity. “It’s dancing.”
“Dancing!” Sora brightened, flinging himself into Riku’s space easily, laying a hand on his arm like it belonged there. “Did I do it right?”
“I don’t think there is a right—”
Riku swallowed, wrapping his hands tight around Braveheart’s hilt to keep them in check. He shook his head, more to clear it than in any outright denial.
“Aw, come on!” Sora wheedled, giving his sleeve a tug.
Riku shut his eyes, breathing in sharply. As if he could deny Sora anything. As if he even wanted to. Clocktowers and nightfall and a familiar stranger. His dreams were awfully self-indulgent, no matter how he tried to temper them. A meteor shower, and he’d hit every cliche in the book.
So then... why not lean in? Riku bit his lip, considering it. Everything might change tomorrow. This could be the last time this particular dream visited. It always left him in the morning anyway. Sora pulled his sleeve again, expectant, and just like that, Riku was decided. He planted his feet and summoned up his courage—easy enough when he had the reason for it in front of him. Why waste a dream when nightmares were plenty?
A leap’s a leap, he thought, and bent over his keyblade in a low, princely bow; Sora laughed and followed suit, matching him evenly.
“So,” he began, borrowing Terra’s seasoned confidence and threading it through his own voice, “it’s not so different from fighting.” Except for how it is, he thought, hoping Sora would take the low hanging fruit.
He didn’t disappoint, snorting cheekily.
“What?” Riku grinned, following the cadence, finding, despite the distance, that he settled back into their old patterns with ease.
“What do you mean, what?” He cocked his head to the side, then aimed a playful kick at Riku’s instep. “Course it is. For starters, I’m not trying to hurt you.”
Riku danced backwards, eyeing his feet. “You sure about that?”
“Hey! I know how to dance!” He flapped his hands at him, impatient, like he had when they were kids—get on with it!
Sora. It was almost too much. Riku’s heart crimped, full and charmed and miserable all at once. He wanted to pluck his hands from the air and spin him close, safe in his arms where the dreams always seemed to lead him. Where Riku wanted him, at the end of this strange, winding road they walked. His eyes went hot.
“Hey,” Sora cut in, soothing. “It’s nothing we haven’t done before. Look.” He ducked close, slapping his hand and the hilt of the Kingdom Key with it against Riku’s palm, where it clanged against Braveheart. The bright peal of that strange, leaden high five went right to Riku’s core, reminding him of a light at the end of another dark, dark year, brilliant as a star. “Remember?”
Of course he did. In the World That Never Was—even through the pain, he’d felt it. He couldn’t forget the warmth that trust had brought him, even at the edge of oblivion. The turn of their palms over the hilt as Riku had passed his keyblade to him was embedded in him. He felt it even now, the world as it moved in slow motion—like waiting for a latch to turn over, the breathless anticipation of finding something new on the other side of that door.
He lowered his hand, hoping Sora wouldn’t see through his haste to what it disguised. “Yeah.” He rolled his shoulders, like shaking off a heavy cloak. “Alright. Show me what you got.”
Beaming, Sora feinted to the left. Riku guarded, anticipating the diversion. He pivoted, and Riku lurched after him—but Sora was smaller and quicker, the perfect counterpoint to his own sturdy stance; he slipped past easily. Riku spun, hoping to catch him at it, lifting his keyblade high over his head for the downstroke, but in the next second, the teeth of the Kingdom Key hooked just so on the dip of his waist.
Gotcha, Sora mouthed, looking at him along the length of the blade, a triumphant, sly smile playing around his lips. “I missed it. Being like this.” He gave a little tug, and Riku stumbled sideways, pulled easily into his space. “You’re always somewhere else.”
That was rich, coming from him.
“Sora,” he warned, stiffening. His eyes gleamed in response, bringing heat rushing to Riku’s face, sure to stain his cheeks red and give him away. “Careful.”
“Nah. You told me we were gonna dance.” He grinned and yanked him closer still, then spun him loose with a sweep of his arm, sending him spiraling out into his orbit. Riku reeled in the grip of his gravity, eyes locked on his eager, open stance as he waited for him to come back, patient and unafraid. “So come on, Riku! Let’s dance! Give me something to work with! A lift! A spin! Something!”
Swallowing, Riku looked down at Braveheart in his hands, then back to Sora, his knees bent, his arm outstretched. The night deepened, spilling like ink from the horizon. It was impossible to see stars in this place, but there were so many in the buildings, on the streets, and in the reflections of the puddles that gathered in the sunken parts of the road that it hardly mattered. Plenty of winking lights to make wishes on, to throw his hopes and fears at, and all of them reflected in Sora’s eyes.
See what happens, something inside him insisted. No room for fear or doubt, right?
“Do you one better,” he said, smiling, and let go.
Braveheart soared up, up, over their heads. Delighted, Sora dismissed the Kingdom Key in a flash, leaping up to catch it before it could fall. It went neatly to his hands, like it was coming home. It should have dwarfed him, should have disappeared from his hands, really, since he hadn’t handed it off directly—but there it was, sure as anything, cradled in his grip.
Riku swallowed, connecting the dots from the keyblade in Sora’s hand to his open, empty palm. No, that wasn’t right. He wasn’t bereft. He was reaching out—giving, sharing, living. And maybe that made him vulnerable, but it was in the same way he’d been when he removed his blindfold and looked at Sora with his own eyes, the same way he’d known instinctively when, after the battle, he’d let him go.
As he watched, Sora turned a lazy circle around himself, Riku’s heart in his hands. “Jeez, Riku, this is heavy. And you hold it up over your head like that? You gotta guard yourself better.”
Riku shook his head, a quiet sense of wonder lifting him higher and higher, matching the sweeping arcs Sora drew above himself beat for beat. “Nah. Maybe that’s the thing. I gotta be a little more open.”
Sora’s nose wrinkled, but then understanding struck his face like lightning. “Aw, Riku! Look at you! You’re learning!”
“All the time,” he managed, breathless.
A new light shone in Sora’s eyes, some emotion Riku didn’t recognize. “Wish I was there to see it,” he murmured, drifting close, into the circle of his arms. His fingers were warm where they met, tangled together over Braveheart’s hilt.
“Me too,” Riku said. For a moment, he thought about shoving it right back into his hands, leaving it there in his care, but he knew the truth now, even when they were apart. It’s yours. It’s always been yours. He willed the blade away with a thought, but their fingers stayed there, intertwined. “Sora, I—”
Sora silenced him with a kiss, the softest brush of lips over his own, and Riku’s heartbeat stuttered, his hand falling open in shock. Sora drew back, just looking at him, and his eyes were shining, like a crystal throwing light off all its faces—there it was, his shooting star. He knew this feeling, knew this warmth, knew this song, inimitable—
No. It wasn’t possible. Not even in his wildest dreams—he would never dare—
“Sora,” he whispered, stunned. “Is it really you?”
His head tilted sharply. “Huh?”
Riku ducked, fighting down choked laughter. Well, there was his answer. Evidently the script had run out. But still—any Sora was still a Sora, right?
“Nevermind,” he said, with a fond shake of his head. Sora’s eyes went wide.
Somewhere in the distance, a bell tolled.
“Midnight...” said Sora slowly, and then he gave a short nod. “Hey. Make a wish.”
Already, huh? Riku blinked the tears from his eyes.
“I’ll find you,” he vowed, the words coming as easily to him as his own name. He lifted his open hand, reaching out for him again, unafraid. Tomorrow was a new day, and what good was hope all bundled up in his fists? Free of its prison, it filled the space between them.
There was a soft chime and a flash of light, and then Sora was pressing his keyblade into Riku’s waiting palm. It’s yours, he translated, a counterpoint to his own silent confession. His heart swelled, like the light of sunrise, like a chorus, and so did Sora’s smile.
“Don’t you know?” he said, folding Riku’s fingers under his own, around the Kingdom Key, calm, fearless, together. “You already did.”