Cloaked in black, blindfolded face, he stands in the vacant city, tall, dark building surrounding him, a slight drizzle fallen from the blackened sky above him. Instead of seeing with his eyes, he used his senses and breathed in the smell of the light, falling rain, and the darkness to accompany it. To any normal person it would feel cold and bleak, possibly even foreboding, but to the young man it felt right. Like it was the place for him to be, like this was where he belonged. He had been wandering for some time, looking for a way to conquer the darkness within him, and he'd been doing it alone. He and King Mickey had separated awhile ago while Riku went on his journey. His words "I walk the path to dawn" would constantly ring in his head, but could the boy stay true to his words? Riku remained uncertain. After all, he had once told someone that he was the biggest nobody of them all, and he was.
Riku believed it with all his heart because of the path he walked and the choices he had made. He was nothing but a castaway, a castaway from the darkness. A nobody who betrayed his friends, who gave into the darkness and allowed it to consume him. And now a near consistent voice rang out in his head, menacing and deep, echoing through the depths of his mind and reaching it's invisible hands past the stone walls protecting his inner core and squeezing with imperceptible force causing his heart to weaken beyond imagining. If he didn't keep his face blindfolded, the darkness would come out, and he'd no longer be himself. He knew that it could change his appearance forever.
"Riku," came the voice once more and the silver haired boy clutched at his face, a slight groan escaping his lips. "Riku, why do you try and control the darkness within you? Why do you try and fight me. You won't win."
"Ugh," Riku moaned, as he went to one knee. His hand was plastered to his head, his black gloved fingers threading through strands of silver, while the other placed firmly on the ground to hold himself up. "What are you doing to me?"
"You need me, Riku. You'll give in. The time will come when you'll need that power of darkness and I can provide you. All you have to do is succumb," the voice filtered through his head loudly enough that it made Riku's ears want to bleed from the sound. Now on both knees, Riku placed his hands over his ears and yelled out. The voice vanished and all that could be heard was the sound of pattering rain hitting the streets around him. Riku stood up, feeling Ansem; Seeker of Darkness, of Xehanort's Heartless, release it's grip, at least for the moment and he breathed deeply, letting out a long sigh in relief.
He had just left Destiny Islands where he'd sat in his favorite spot on the paopu tree, overlooking the ocean and quietly reminiscing about happier days long since past. He couldn't help but be filled with more remorse and regret than he ever thought possible, and it pained him. The young man was hurting, hurting more than anyone could ever realize, but he wasn't about to let others around him in on this, when he was around others that is.
After all, he had to stay strong. If he was going to work to bring Xion and Roxas back to his best friend and awaken him, his mental strength was important. Then at least he would have done something right by Sora. Sora. Just the name sent a shiver of guilt down Riku's spine. Sora was his best friend. Was. He didn't even know if Sora forgave him for his actions from nearly a year ago, and might not ever know. If his friend continued in suspended sleep, then he may not ever get the chance to make amends with Sora. Honestly, he missed them. He missed Kairi and Sora both so much that it wanted to physically manifest itself into something Riku would not allow.
Riku swallowed hard, a sudden feeling of nostalgia, longing to go back to Destiny Islands and just sit by the water, listening to the soothing sounds of the waves, smelling the salt of the ocean and feeling the water's spray on his skin. Not seeing, just hearing and feeling. But was a nobody castaway from the darkness even allowed to feel? Prior to now, he had found Xion there, laying in the sand near the ocean. The created girl, a perfect replica of Roxas, and implanted with Sora's memories. The black-haired girl who so resembled Kairi. Xion was just a young girl completely lost and unsure of who she was or what she was, and frightened by the results of what she might be. He knew who she was and what she was, and he couldn't help but feel for her false existence, because he himself had been replicated once, and he watched his replica's sorrow when Riku himself had put an end to him.
Riku brushed back strands of black hair, that had fallen into her eyes, carefully, and before long, sapphire blue eyes opened wide; the small frame he held in his arms gazed up at him and with a small gasp, she sat up. "Are you...?" she began questioning.
"Riku," he responded, keeping his hand on the young girl's back as he helped guide her upward. "Sora's friend."
"You know Sora?" the black haired girl responded, light surprise resounding in her voice.
"Yeah," he replied with a small nod. Riku rose to his feet now, and held out a hand to help the cloaked girl to her feet. The compassion he could feel for her was strong, and he knew why.
Her heart was like Sora's, her appearance like Kairi's. His two best friends. Two of the people he cared more about than anyone else in the world, and this alone made his own heart physically ache as he longed to see the two of them, but Sora was sleeping, and he couldn't show himself to Kairi. Not like this. She was a Princess of Heart. Kairi was pure, unadulturated light. If she could see what had befallen Riku, that he'd given in the darkness and let his heart be warped by it, she would be so disappointed in him, and Riku didn't know if he could handle that. So instead, he hid himself away. Away from his home, away from her, but with this girl, Xion, it was different. He was concealed, shrouded in a mask, but Riku found he couldn't stop himself from talking to her, and being honest with her. He was unsure why, and he honestly felt he enjoyed the girl's company. Almost as much as Sora and Kairi's.
"Thank you," Xion said as she gazed up at the older boy, looking somewhat confused. "You saved me, but I don't know why... you did."
In truth, Riku wasn't sure why either. He knew this girl, and yet he didn't. He knew her because she contained Sora's memories, and because she looked just like Kairi, only with shorter, black hair. He also knew that she was a creation, made by the Organization, a perfect Replica of Sora's Nobody, implanted with fragments of Sora's memories and taking the look of Kairi, created as a fail-safe Keyblade wielder in case Roxas failed the Organization. Maybe it was the sadness of who this girl was, just a created being, a puppet, to be used and molded that Riku felt empathy for the girl, or maybe it was just his own heart longing to be by his best friends' sides again. Maybe it was all of the above.
Riku found himself turning from Xion, unable to look into the girl's face anymore, trying hard to sustain his own agony from all that had transpired. "I guess... I just felt like it," he replied nonchalantly, walking away from Xion.
"Riku, please...," the girl's small voice spoke from behind him. "Tell me more. About Sora and that girl he's always with."
Riku stopped short, feeling the familiar pang in his chest. Instead of the darkness grabbing hold and squeezing his heart, this felt different. The squeezing his could feel in his heart wasn't darkness. It was a longing pain of wanting comfort, of aching to seek it but knowing he couldn't. The comfort that Kairi and Sora used to give him, even though he never let them know that of course, and the desire for it was almost unbearable. He chose to ignore the threat of emotion building in his chest. "You mean Kairi."
"Kairi. That's right. She's the one who looks so much like me," Xion stated, lowering her head and placing her hand against the side of her face. Riku turned back toward the girl and approached her once more.
"To Sora, she's someone very special." How he wanted to tell Xion that Kairi was special to him as well. Not only Kairi though. Sora too. They were his very best friends. Were. He didn't deserve their friendship anymore.
"It's just... I remember things about the two of them," Xion replied, turning her back to Riku. "But I'm nothing more than a puppet... something that somebody created." She approached a rock, placing a hand on it to lean against it, head lowered and Riku could no longer see her face. "So why would I have... their memories?" Xion turned, inclining her head back toward the blindfolded boy. "Do you know where Sora is now?"
"That secret stays with me," Riku responded with conviction. He knew where Sora was. He was sleeping, suspended in a pod at Castle Oblivion, completely vulnerable to attack should anyone find where Sora was and Riku was not about to put his friend's life in danger again. Especially when he wouldn't even be able to defend himself. He didn't care about the feelings he got when he was around Xion. Nothing would harm his best friend. Knowing his luck, if he did say anything, the information would be leaked back to someone and ultimately put Sora's life in danger.
Xion turned away from Riku once more, lowering her head again. "Why's that?"
"Xion...," Riku began, changing the subject. "Your memories... they really belong to Sora."
"So you mean... I'm like a part of him?" She turned once more to look at Riku.
The silver haired boy began to walk toward the girl dressed identical to him. "When his memories were scattered, some of them... found their way inside you." He watched as Xion squeezed her eyes closed and dropped her head into her hand as the realization hit her. "Now, Sora has been put to sleep so that we can piece together his memory. Except..."
"You can't, because part of it is inside of me. That means... he can't wake up." Xion interrupted, saying the exact words Riku was about to say. No, he couldn't wake up. Not without Xion and not without Roxas. Riku could tell Xion knew what he was trying to get at, and while he felt bad for this girl's existence, his best friend would never wake up without Xion.
He was so close to doing this one thing right. So close he could feel it, and it was overwhelming. "Yeah. You got it. But, if you go with me to Sora right now, we could give the memories inside you back to him."
"So," Xion began, tossing back her hair, voice a bit stronger and not so subdued. "Do you hate me for taking your friend away from you?"
Did he hate her? No, he didn't hate her. It wasn't her fault after all. Instead, his heart filled with sorrow. "Nah," he answered her, lowing his own head now, grateful once more for the blindfold covering his uniquely colored eyes, for he knew the pain that could be seen in them and the darkness that might drift it's way to the surface should he release the blindfold. "I guess... I'm just sad." He admitted it, and it actually felt a tiny bit better to tell someone that he was sad. Mickey would say his eyes couldn't lie, for the eyes were the window to the heart after all. Instead, Riku wanted to hide his sorrow, but to say it outloud to someone he didn't even truly know helped him realize what he'd done to himself and to his friends moreso than ever, and the remorse enveloped him. He wanted to grab the girl, kidnap her and force her back to Sora, but he was too good of a person to do something like that to a vulnerable girl.
Xion breathed, her eyes widening slightly, almost as if she were surprised at Riku's sadness. Maybe a young man like him didn't deserve to feel sadness, and even if he didn't, he couldn't help it. "I'm sorry, ," Xion apologized to Riku. "But... I can't go with you. It's my friends. They need me, and I need them too," she tried to explain, her small hand clencing into a fist.
Riku reached out a hand to place it soothingly on Xion's shoulder. One thing was for certain, one good thing he could say about himself, was that he was a compassionate person, but he also knew what had to be done and what ultimately would be the right choice. He thought for a moment, choosing his words carefully so as not to upset the girl, which was the last thing he wanted. He'd upset enough of people in his life. "Maybe... you should take some time and think about it. Figure out who really needs you more, and where you belong."
Xion closed her eyes and opened them once more, to stare up into Riku's blindfolded face. "How will I know... where I belong, truly?" Her question was so sincere, and Riku's hand laid tenderly on top of her shoulder, giving it a small squeeze. "I'm not sure... I can promise you I'll come up with the right answer."
"Well, the answer you come up with can't just be right for you. It has to be the one that works best for everybody," he explained to her calmly, a small smile on his lips. "You and your friends and everyone else." He let go of her shoulder and turned to walk away from her, hoping he said the right thing, hoping that it would get through to Xion of her importance to not only Sora, but to Kairi and himself as well.
"I'll try," he heard her voice as he moved out of her sight. "Thank you, Riku."
Not long after, Riku found himself meeting up with King Mickey in the forest, outside of the Mansion as he'd wandered, trying to control himself from going off the deep end and be swallowed by darkness once more. He'd removed his blindfold in attempts to fight the darkness attacking him from inside, and in doing so, Riku had lost his true form. He realized that he couldn't wear that blindfold and retain his normal self, that the blindfold gave him back his true form. So, instead, he tried to fight it, pulling his cloak over his head and tried to overcome Xehanort's Heartless who continued to taunt him from within.
His sinister voice echoed menacingly, jeeringly in his mind. Unable to turn himself back on his own, Riku pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and continued walking through the forest. Hearing footsteps, he stopped and turned around, a familiar, small form moving toward him. He turned around to look down at the smaller figure, doused in a black cloak just like him, and easily knew who it was just, just by the distinguished ears, and had to suppress the desire to laugh. Mickey!
Riku observed as Mickey stood calmly, alertly, staring up at Riku's cloaked form and he pulled back his hood, revealing a face that was not his own. Instead, it was an unpleasantly familiar face. Mickey started, flipping backward away from Riku into an aggressive stance, his Keyblade materializing in his small, gloved hand. Riku grinned at Mickey, knowing that it gave the King the impression of impending danger and took out his blindfold, tying it once more around his face, concealing his eyes. A mist of darkness seeped from his body, and Riku's form began to shrink until he was once more back to his own size and himself again. The dark mist dispersed. He smiled again at Mickey as the King now understood.
"Riku!" Mickey cried out in surprise, throwing his arms open as if wanting to run to the boy and hug him.
"Your Majesty," Riku replied with a nod of his head.
"Gosh, have I been worried about you!" Mickey exclaimed "Where've you been all this time?"
Riku's head lowered momentarily, afraid to reveal the truth to the King. He raised it once more and if his blindfold had been removed, his eyes would've been staring off into the distance, unable to face the king, and yet again, he felt a sense of gratitude for this small, black piece of cloth around his face. "I've been... searching for a way to conquer the darkness within me, while we wait for Sora to awaken," he replied, his voice sounding melancholy.
"The way you looked," Mickey began, worry showing in his eyes and heard in his tone.
Riku couldn't help but appreciate the King's concern, but he didn't want Mickey to concern himself with him. There were more important things. This was an internal battle that only Riku could fight on his own, and he hoped that it would go without saying. "You don't have to worry about me. I'm getting the hang of keeping the darkness under control," Riku stated, unsure if he was actually being truthful or not. Probably not. Who was he trying to fool? Mickey or himself?
"And Sora," Mickey changed the subject, seemingly reading Riku . "Did something go wrong with fixing all his memories?"
Riku was grateful the conversation had now changed. He didn't want to talk about himself anymore, and Mickey seemed to understand that. "There's a reason the Organization's been quiet since our battle at Castle Oblivion, and now I know it's not because a depletion in members had made them weak. Taking Sora's memory apart piece by piece was only the first step in what they were trying to do at Castle Oblivion. And I think they needed more time to fix his memory."
"You know," Mickey began thoughtfully. "You and me were both looking into what the Organization was up to, but what I saw didn't look like much. Almost like they're trying to buy some time."
Riku nodded his head in agreement. "Right. Sora's memories are what they're after, and they needed all this time until now to absorb every piece of it."
"Huh?" Mickey gasped quietly.
"The process of putting his memory back together has gone nowhere... They have what's most precious to Sora... his memories of Kairi," Riku explained feeling a twinge of sadness pull at his heart once more. He knew what this would take. Xion held all of the memories of Kairi Sora had inside of herself, and in order for Sora to re-obtain those memories and wake up, Xion would have to merge with Sora eventually. He was giving her enough time to collect her thoughts and figure out the right answer, but time was growing short and Riku wanted his best friend to wake up again.
"Well then you have to let me help!" Mickey explained, his voice determined. "Maybe I could get the memories back!"
Riku smiled again, breathing softly. "I've got that covered, Your Maj- I mean Mickey. Instead, I want to ask you for a favor."
"What would that be?" Mickey inquired, looking curiously at the boy standing in front of him.
Riku inclined his head upward toward the trees, looking away from the king now. "I have to face one of the Organization's members soon. I might not survive the fight. And if I do, it might be because I gave in to the darkness." Riku looked down and if Mickey could see his eyes, he'd see the sadness mixed with the conviction there. "That means you're the only one who will be there for Sora, Donald and Goofy, the only one who can guide them when they awaken." He may have been able to hide the sorrow in his eyes, but not from it sounding in his voice.
"Riku...," Mickey said, sounding just as sad, as if knowing what Riku was about to say. His lids lowered, along with his head, almost unable to look at the silver haired young man in front of him.
"Promise me, Mickey," Riku asked, his voice sounding stronger now. "When our friends wake up, you have to be there to help them out. " He smiled down at the King, who's head had snapped up at Riku's words.
"I promise, Riku," Mickey promised, nodding his head in affirmation. "But I have to ask you something. Do you really think you'll need to use the darkness to face this member?"
"I don't know, honestly. In order to get Sora's memories back, I'll have to take him by force, which is why I'll have to face him. He's strong, Mickey. After all, he's a Keyblade wielder," he added with a smirk, but Mickey wasn't buying it now.
"Keyblade wielder! You mean, Roxas? Sora's Nobody!? Gosh, Riku. Why don't you let me help you with this fight? You can't do this on your own. You have to let me help!" Mickey insisted, but Riku just shook his head back and forth.
"I can't. This is something... that I have to do all on my own. I have to do it for Sora. He's counting on me, and nobody else." Riku wanted to believe this more than anything, but he knew it wasn't true. Sora was completely oblivious to the fact that Riku was pulling the strings to get his memories back and have him wake up. If anything, Riku was doing this for himself.
"No, Riku," Mickey shook his head, his voice slightly reprimanding. "Why do you always go out on your own and think you have to do everything by yourself? It's dangerous."
Riku couldn't help but feel a sense of gratitude toward the King and his kindness, so he just smirked once more, trying to bring back some of that former arrogance he once held, happy that he had his blindfold on to mask the pain that could most definitely be seen in his aquamarine eyes, hoping to fool the king. "Dangerous? C'mon, Mickey. You forget who you're talking to. I can definitely handle myself."
"Well, I'm sure you can handle yourself, but can you manage the darkness in you?" Mickey questioned as he held out his gloved hands, a light shining from them. The ball of light ascended and traveled toward the young man where it made it's way inside of Riku's chest. The silver haired boy raised a hand, placing it over his heart where the light had entered, feeling a warmth blossom inside of him and it was almost overwhelming enough to send him to his knees again. Riku was always grateful for Mickey's light. He could easily recall all of the times Mickey saved him as he traveled through Castle Oblivion nearly a year ago. Riku absentmindedly wondered if he deserved the King's friendship.
Out of nowhere, he felt the urge to cry. He could feel the lump rising in his throat, but forced it back, swallowing hard, keeping his eyes shut tight underneath the blindfold to compose himself. He absolutely would not cry. He hadn't cried since he was just a little boy. Growing up, out of all of the kids, Sora was the biggest crybaby of all. Even bigger than Tidus. When they were kids on the island, racing and playing all day, it was always Sora doing the crying and Riku was always there to comfort his friend and sometimes even playfully tease him.
Instead, he smiled. "Thanks, Mickey. I appreciate it," he responded to the king, trying to keep the tremor in his voice controlled, and honestly it wasn't happening. Riku went to his hands and knees in front of Mickey, and the small King ran toward his friend. "I'm alright. I'm okay. I really am," he lied, trying to smile again, but could feel his chin quivering.
"You're not alright, Riku. You don't have to do everything on your own, and you don't have to keep so much locked up inside of you. We're pals, aren't we? We're supposed to lean on our pals when we're down," Mickey tried to get Riku to understand. Riku dropped his silver head, strands of long hair falling against the sides of his face. "You can lean on me for a bit if you want, Riku."
He shook his head unable to speak and the lump was back in his throat, harder than ever, and this time, Riku found much to his dismay that he wouldn't swallow it back. "I can't, Mickey. I can't risk getting you hurt because of me. I've already hurt so many others. You have to let me do this on my own. So you can return to Sora, Donald, and Goofy's side when they wake up, and-" Riku nearly choked on his words, pausing and he felt his eyes burning unrelentingly behind his blindfold and soon, the emotion he'd been holding back for a very long time finally found it's way out. It manifested itself in Riku's eyes, seeping into the blindfold and he couldn't suppress a quiet sob.
"Riku," Mickey began, and he felt the King place a small hand on Riku's chin. Mickey lifted his face to look at his, and the incomprehensible compassion and friendship that King Mickey held for a nobody boy castaway from the darkness was almost too much to bear. "Look at me." Mickey reached another hand up, lifting one side of Riku's blindfold from his eye.
The tears that had filled his aquamarine eyes were now being shed, sliding down the sides of his face, escaping from underneath his blindfold. His breath hitched as the one eye freed from the blindfold peered into Mickey's face, his vision distorted from the warm, salty water that seemed to just constantly refill as if there were no end to it. "I-I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
So, for the first time in years, he cried. Riku cried. His breath hitching rapidly, his sobs quiet, and painful, chest heaving with each one as Mickey held onto the side of his friend's face and let him cry. Riku couldn't honestly remember the last time he'd cried so hard like this, if he ever had or really why he was crying. He'd been fooling himself for so long that he was just fine, but in truth, he wasn't. He was terrified. He was terrified of what might happen, what might become of him if he lived and what would happen to Sora and Kairi. Sora. If only Sora could see him now. He'd probably tease him for being such a big baby the way Riku used to tease him when Sora would burst into tears over silly things. Riku almost laughed as he imagined what Sora would say.
"Gee, Riku, and you always told me I was the crybaby!" He could hear Sora's voice in his head, and it only made him want to cry more.
"There's nothing to be sorry about, Riku. Tears aren't an evil thing and you're not unworthy of shedding them either," Mickey told him sincerely. "It's okay. That's what pals are here for, right?"
Riku sniffed, raising his head, and lifting the one eye released from the blindfold to look once more at Mickey. He wasn't? Maybe not, but still. No matter how much Mickey wanted to, and how much Riku would've loved for him to, this was still something he had to do on his own. "Riku sat up, raising his hands to wipe at his face. "Yeah. Maybe." his voice cracked, sounding a little hoarse. "Sorry. I don't usually do that. I don't know what came over me."
"You can't always hold everything inside of you like that, Riku," Mickey gently scolded him. "You'll fall to pieces like this again if you do. I understand you have to fight Roxas on your own, and I respect your conviction to do so, but please remember, you have friends out there, Riku. I know you'd gladly give your life for them, but please," the King implored as Riku now fell back on his haunches, hands placed behind him as if to hold himself up, and he took a shaky breath, left over from ceasing tears and closed his tired eyes.
Riku was glad Mickey understood, and he didn't want to die, but if it meant bringing Sora back to Kairi, he gladly would. "Just try, Riku. And even if you do give in to the darkness, we can always try and find a way to change you back. Giving in to the darkness doesn't mean you've lost your friends. It just means that we want to save you too." Riku listened to the King, soaking in his words, and now more than ever, he felt the determination to win this fight fill him up from the inside out. His mind was silent from Ansem's voice, and he could feel the warmth of King Mickey's light in his heart. In the end, he knew what had to be done, but Riku couldn't help but feel extreme gratitude that his friends would want to save him just as much as he wants to save them.
Riku slowly rose to his feet and tugged the damp blindfold back over his eyes. "Thanks, Mickey," was all he could say as he and the King stood in the night amongst the forest's mist.