Author's Notes:

Welcome to the first chapter of Stygian Solace. I'll have you know that you're in for a very long, plot-driven emotional ride of love, destiny, hope, and betrayal. If you think you've stepped into a fanfic about pointless fluff and humor, you're in the wrong place. While this does have romance and sex and all of that yummy yaoi stuff, this fanfic deals with more deep emotions and insanely twisted plots than normal fanfics.

This fanfic is an epic. It is NOT a novelization of Kingdom Hearts. It has its own plot, written deep with KH's major themes, and while it has many original ideas, it still loyally follows KH's true story. Stygian Solace may start off slow with its first six chapters, but I assure you, the story does pick up and it doesn't leave you with excess baggage.

Without further ado, here's the first chapter. ^^ And enjoy!

A look ahead:

A little game of Island War. Riku's Plan A? Hidden crushes and sandy butts.


Chapter 1: Exploiting the Horizon v. 3.0 (redone November 2003)

"Alright soldiers... Listen up!"

Exactly four pairs of eyes were focused on Tidus as he aristocratically marched down the beach, his wooden staff slung over his shoulder like some sort of military rifle. His five friends were sprawled out in different positions on the sand below him, a few of them still trying to fully awaken for the day's events. It was a particularly warm morning that lacked the normal island breeze, and the air was dreadfully thick and sticky with humidity. So, to keep their minds off the immutable weather, the blonde-haired boy had suggested a game of Island War, and everyone had agreed.

Since he had decided on the morning's game, Tidus, of course, got to set the rules and play General.

"This is no game!" Tidus barked, or at least tried to with his early-teen vocal cords. Riku snickered at this. "I expect everyone to pay attention, even you Cadet Riku!"

Riku lifted his head to grin up at General Tidus, raising one hand in a mock salute. "Yes, Sir." Either Tidus didn't catch the sarcasm, or he didn't care, because the boy went back to marching, satisfied with Riku's response.

Riku had been the only one of the "platoon" who hadn't been paying attention; rather, his eyes had been focused on more important things, like say... Sora's hips. The boy had nice hips when they weren't being layered over with his gaudy belts and chains, and right now, they weren't.

Actually the whole group had stripped out of their accessories and placed them in a huge stack in the middle of the gathering, as per Tidus' instructions, who had said that jewelry and the like were too noisy and distracting for serious games like War. Riku actually had to agree, though he had a feeling he was going to be distracted more by Sora now than he would have been before.

Urk... Stupid hormones. They did strange things at strange times, and right now they were telling Riku that Sora's boyish hips were awfully cute in his red jumpsuit. Which was why Riku found himself staring at them. Which was why Tidus had noticed and had confronted him, probably to warn him before Sora himself noticed.

See, Tidus knew about Riku's growing love for his best friend --- love that two best friends (especially when they were both boys) shouldn't have --- and when he wasn't teasing Riku about it, Tidus was trying to help him hide it from Sora until the time was right. Good 'ole Tidus.

Riku inwardly sighed, shifting slightly in the sand and draping one ungloved hand over his knee. It was weird. The material of his pants. He rarely got to touch it with his bare hands... It felt almost like rubber....

He had to do something about that.

"Two teams, as always," General Tidus was saying, kicking up sand with his sandals as he marched to and fro down the line of soldiers. "You can only carry one coconut at a time, but you may replenish that ammo whenever you need to. Do not aim for heads or crotches."

Here Selphie giggled, and Tidus shot her a warning glare before he continued.

"The whole island is the battlefield. However," he said, coming to a stop in the middle of the line, jutting his chin out. "There's a new rule this time. No getting wet."

There were a few muffled groans of protest, mostly coming from Wakka and Sora's side.

"You heard me," Tidus sternly said. "No getting wet. If you step in the waves, get thrown into a pool of water, or run under a waterfall, you're dead. And one last reminder... No weapons! If you're hit by a coconut, you have two seconds to fall and announce your death, during which time you can counterattack. You must remain there until War is over. War is over when all the members of one team are killed or captured. Alright. Are we ready to pick teams?"

Sora shot to his feet, one fist in the air and his blue eyes wide with hope. "Oooh! I wanna be a platoon leader! Me! Me!" he cried, his hips swaying as he waved his hand maniacally around. "Come oooon, Tidus!"

Riku raised both eyebrows at Sora, hiding an amused smile as he watched the boy practically hop up and down. He not only had cute hips, but his butt too...

Tidus, unfortunately, noticed the silver-haired boy's ogling. "Riku, get up. You're the opposing platoon leader."

"Riku always gets to be leader!" Selphie whined, vocalizing Sora's thoughts before he could.

The boy lowered his arm in defeat, blue eyes narrowing as his lower lip stuck out in a cute pout. Hiding another smile upon seeing Sora's adorable (almost irresistible) moping, Riku pushed himself to his feet and crossed the short distance to stand next to Tidus.

"Alright. My team's the Crabs, Riku's is the Seagulls. I get first pick," Tidus announced, pointing a finger at the remaining four cadets. "Kairi and Wakka! That leaves Selphie and Sora on Riku's side. You have ten minutes before War commences, so get started!"

The six children exchanged quick glances and words of challenge before they scattered, Tidus and his comrades pattering across the warm sand towards the pier to discuss plans. Warm sand indeed. Everything about today was hot already. And, judging from the annoyingly-blue sky that only had a few sparse puffs of cloud, there wouldn't be a break from the heat. Even more vexing was that Tidus had added that stupid no-getting-wet rule, which meant, basically, no cooling down. Suffering until the end of the game.


"Why seagulls?" Sora grumbled as he, Riku and Selphie were passing under the bridge connecting the paopu isle to the rest of the island.

He kicked angrily at the sand before turning his blue eyes to stare at Riku, who was already staring at him as he daydreamed about Sora's hips and cool weather. He blinked upon being caught staring and turned his head to glance ahead, hoping he looked casual about it. Sora brushed the incident aside, but not before a faint veil of red fell over his cheeks as he continued.

"I-I mean, seagulls are stupid. Nobody likes them! Why can't we be the sharks.. Or barracudas... or something cool at least."

"Why something natatory at all?" Riku laughed, glancing back at Sora as he reached a hand out to muss the other boy's hair.

His bare fingers slipped through the spikes and he inwardly awed at their softness. Oh what he would give just to be able to run his hands through that hair all morning...! If only Sora didn't like Kairi, though. If only Sora liked him back. If only Kairi wasn't there to interrupt their little adventures every time the two boys were alone. If only...

"Natatory?" Sora innocently asked, his boyish voice breaking through Riku's reverie.

"Er.. That is..." Riku faltered, mentally chiding himself for drifting off into LaLa land. "Why does our team have to be named after something marine-related?" As they passed through the doorway leading into the cove, he added, "We could be the raptors or dragons."

Sora hesitated before stepping through, turning his head to give Riku a bright smile. The silver-haired boy took in the smile, memorizing the details of it; the curving of his lips, his adorable little cheeks, the way his eyes lit up...

But ahead of them, Selphie's cutesy voice ruined the moment as she called back:

"But dragons stink!"


Thirty minutes. At least, around there. It couldn't have been less than that.

It had been approximately thirty minutes since the game of War had commenced and Riku's team had split apart to get into their positions, bidding each other a "Don't get killed or you'll screw up the plan!" before they left. From Riku's position perched precariously under the broken bridge, the heat was almost unbearable, like sweltering knives ripping into his skin as he impatiently waited for his enemy to pass over him. The water lapping against the wooden posts of the bridge seemed to taunt him, flirt with him, begging him to drop down and take a lap or two to cool off. But then, according to the rules, he would be dead.

What, was the water a metaphor for molten lava in War or something? Why had Tidus made up that stupid rule?

Ah, in any case, it was just another chance for Riku to trap his enemy. If they couldn't get wet, that means they couldn't take the route under the bridge, and would have to go over it if they wanted to get to the other side of the island. That was why Riku was perched there, hidden under the planks in the mid-morning shadows cast over him, so he could pull his enemies into the water.

That was how most of these War games turned out. One team would go hunting with more of an offensive battle plan, while the other team would lay in hiding with either an ambush plan, or a stealthy approach. And after an hour of hiding or searching, the War would end in a suspenseful last battle. It always did end quickly, even after all that careful planning.

Today Riku had formulated a mixture of defensive plans, but it all depended on whether or not Selphie would survive as bait. As per Riku's instructions, she had snuck over to the other side of the island to lure the other team to where Riku was (after all, she was small and quite quick and could easily outmaneuver them).

But that had been relatively soon after War had begun, and Riku was getting uncomfortable in his position. Where the hell was she?

When Riku was beginning to think that he was thoroughly wet with sweat, he heard conspiring voices coming from the direction where the tower that overlooked the unfinished raft was. That was... unexpected. He had been preparing for the enemy to come in the opposite direction, by way of the door separating the Seashore and Cove, not through the small passageway below the Treehouse that led to Star Tree used as a tag post during races. This was only a slight hindrance in Riku's plans, however.

That's what he told himself, at least, until he actually saw his enemies at the foot of the broken bridge.

Selphie was with them.

For a moment Riku was concerned --- had she been taken as a prisoner of war?

But then he realized that she was smiling as the four of them whispered to each other.

She had betrayed him! Switched sides!

That was worse than having her die on him!

Actually, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that Selphie had been coaxed over to side with the enemy, considering she was easily charmed. If Riku wanted something from her, all he would have to do was offer her something meager in return. Like say a kiss on the cheek, or a seashell. Selphie was easily amused. Riku idly wondered what Tidus had offered her to betray Riku.

A piggy-back ride?

But now he only had Sora to rely upon.

Well. Sora was more than enough.

Hmph. Riku would show them that he and Sora could still win, even with double the odds against them. Four to two. Feh!

Shit. But Sora didn't know about Selphie's betrayal. What if he decided to play hero or something and try to save her? Or what if she tried to trick him and he believed her?

Riku had to do something.

But before he could, he noticed something peculiar. Wakka and Tidus were carrying some thick wooden sticks, while Kairi and Selphie were carrying cloth pouches with one coconut each, and they were climbing down the stairs to the small beach under the broken bridge.

Shit. Shitshitshit!

If they came any closer, they would see Riku's hiding spot!

And then it clicked. Selphie! Selphie knew his plan! She must have told them what it was, and where to find both him and Sora, and they were now planning to pick Riku off first!

But how were they doing it?

Biting back the bitter anger of betrayal, Riku watched as Selphie casually pointed in his direction, and Tidus looked up to study the broken bridge. The blonde boy muttered something to his team mates before he turned his wooden sticks vertical and grinned in Riku's general direction.

That was when Riku realized what the sticks were. They were stilts! So Tidus and the others could walk over the water without worry of getting wet.

That was when Riku also realized that he had been set up --- that Tidus had come up with that stupid no-getting-wet rule to force Riku into thinking inside the box, which meant that he knew that Riku would think that Tidus would have to cross over the broken bridge. Since Tidus knew Riku's plan ahead of time, he can constructed a clever trap to manipulate Riku into exactly where he wanted him.

Smart little bastard. Riku would have to give him credit later for tricking him like that, but not before he got himself out of this mess. Somehow.

Tidus and Wakka were now adjusting their balance on their stilts as Kairi and Selphie handed them their coconut ammo pouches to sling around their shoulders. When that was done, as Tidus and Wakka began to wade into the shallow water, the two girls ran back up the stairs and disappeared from sight--probably to go get coconuts for themselves. After all, the rule said that a soldier could only carry one coconut at a time.

Riku, from his position under the bridge, didn't even have a coconut. He couldn't even take one of his enemies out.


Just as the two stilt clowns were stopping directly in front of Riku's hiding spot, the girls came running back, both with a coconut in tow, giggling and looking pleased with themselves as they ran onto the bridge and positioned themselves close to Riku.

He was surrounded now. Great.

"Come out, Seagull Commander!" Tidus called, using Riku's team name. Pfft. Seagulls. Maybe Sora was right about that whole Island-War theme. "We know you're there because we saw your silver hair a mile away!"

Wait, what? They could see him that obviously? Well, crap.

But there was no way he was going down without a fight. Riku never lost.

The silver-haired boy slid down from his perch into the open, standing on one of the crossing beams holding the bridge together as he stared at Tidus and Wakka a few feet below him, who were having a bit of a difficult time keeping their balance in the soft, wet ocean sand. The boys certainly looked like crabs on their stilts, clumsily swaying to and fro like scuttling crustaceans.

A slow smirk crossed Riku's face.

Maybe it was time for Team Crab to see the benefits of being a seagull.

As Wakka and Tidus launched their coconuts at him, he leapt up and grabbed a beam, bringing his legs up and letting their attacks pass harmlessly under him before he dropped back onto his beam, grinning proudly out at the boys.

"Crap! Selphie, give me your coconut and go get some more ammo!" Tidus cried, struggling to keep his balance as he glared at Riku. "Kairi, don't just stand there!"

Selphie whistled and tossed her ammo down to Tidus, who carefully caught it and managed to stay standing on his stilts.

But before the girl could run to get more, a coconut hit her from behind and sent her staggering forward, dangerously close to the edge. She cried out in surprise and spun around, as did everyone else, to find Sora standing there at the foot of the bridge, casually waving.

"Didn't forget about me, did you?" he grinned.

Selphie whined and slumped to the wooden planks of the bridge, having gotten hit by Sora's coconut.

"Selphie's down!" Kairi cried, fear creeping into her voice. She seemed to know her situation wasn't too great, considering that Sora was one of the more talented people at War. Her death in this game was inevitable, even with Sora unarmed.

She squeezed her eyes shut and gave a weak whimper as she launched her coconut at him to take him out, as though afraid of missing him, but afraid of hurting him at the same time.

Sora, of course, easily ducked it and stepped onto the bridge, trapping Kairi between him and Riku's position down below.

However, that didn't stay that way for long.

Taking Sora's appearance and everyone's distracted attention as his chance, Riku vaulted from his beam and landed on Wakka, who cursed as he was thrown off-balance. But they remained standing because, as Riku had hoped, while the two boys had been standing there so long, their stilts had sunken into the sand deep enough to create a suction that held them in place. Now the whole balance problem lay with the boys' legs and feet, not the stilts themselves.

"Wakka's under attack!" Tidus cried and reached forward to help his red-haired comrade out.

Riku used this to his advantage as well --- he still wasn't planning on losing, after all --- and used all of his strength to push away from Wakka and cling to Tidus instead. As planned, the oldest boy finally lost his balance as Riku shoved him, and he fell off his stilts into the shallow water below, leaving Tidus to contend with Riku alone.

Meanwhile, back on the bridge, Sora lunged forward and gently grabbed hold of Kairi's arm, pushing her over the edge. Kairi shot the boy a disbelieving glare, as if she expected him to show her some mercy because they were close friends, but then gravity took hold of her and she screamed on the way down.

Sora merely waved as she hit the water below. But then he saw Tidus and Riku fighting for control on the stilts.

"Get off me, you crazy bastard!" Tidus cried, reaching out to pull Riku's hair, who cried out as it was yanked and reached for Tidus' golden locks in response.

"Fuck, Tidus! You don't have to cheat because you're losing!"

It was just the three of them left now, but from the looks of it, Sora would be the only one surviving this round of War. The boy glanced around him, frowning, searching for a solution. He had to save Riku somehow.

"Arggh! Let go, let go!" Tidus screamed. "I'll drop us both into the water!"

But Sora was already climbing down into the beams of the bridge. Just as Sora was at Riku's height, Tidus' resolve broke and he leaned back to fall into the water, taking Riku with him.

Sora lunged forward, one hand holding onto a beam for support as his other hand grabbed for Riku's arm as they fell past him like a tall tree crashing to the ground. His gloved hand wrapped around the flailing limb and he held onto it, planting his feet firmly against the beam and hoping his strength could hold Riku.

Tidus dropped into the shallow water next to Wakka and Kairi, who were all sopping wet and staring up at Riku and Sora with wide eyes.

The silver-haired boy brought his other arm up and grasped Sora's hand, who slowly pulled him to the beam, relieved that Riku was alright. Their eyes met as the elder boy hoisted himself onto the beam and for a moment they were all that mattered to each other. Riku had fought bravely to win, Sora had been there to save him, and they had both come out of it alive.

"We won," Riku said, a little out of breath from his escapade with Tidus and almost falling to his 'death.' Sora gave him an adorable toothy grin in response and pulled him into a tight hug, and they both broke into laughter.

Below them, Kairi had begun wading out of the water, looking miserable, while Tidus complained to Wakka about how Riku always won. Selphie called down to them, saying something about how pathetic they were that the four of them couldn't even defeat Riku.

Sora and Riku exchanged glances again and grinned. But then Sora tilted his head, noticing something.

"Hey, Riku, why are you all wet?" Sora asked, momentarily pulling Riku away from his giddy victory. The boy reached out and brushed his ungloved hand through Riku's damp silver hair. "I was afraid I was going to drop you back there, not because you were too heavy, but because you were all slippery."

Raising both eyebrows, Riku stared at his best friend. "Well, it was really hot during those thirty minutes waiting under that bridge. What? You don't like me wet with my clothes clinging to me?"

Sora promptly blushed. "Stupid."

"I know," Riku laughed, mussing Sora's hair as he grinned. "But you know you wouldn't last without me."


One... two... three!

He lugged the log up out from the underbrush and it flew into his arms from the momentum, almost knocking him backwards into the small pool of water by the secret place.

Riku silently laughed to himself, thinking that actually that wouldn't have been such a bad thing. He could lounge around in the cool water, letting the spray of the waterfall tickle his face as the cold enveloped him in its weightless embrace. It sounded really good right now, but alas, he was busy. Busy gathering last-minute construction material for his raft, that is.

He'd have time to swim later. Hmm... And maybe Sora would join him.

The afternoon was just as hot as the morning had been, but after Riku and Sora had won Island War, Kairi had gotten pissy and given the two boys a vocal list of materials to gather for finishing the raft.

It was almost like building the raft had been her idea. Actually, when Riku had mentioned building a raft all those weeks ago, he had intended for only him and Sora on going, not Kairi as well.

Oh well. If Kairi was going, then that meant Sora was guaranteed to follow.

Kairi. Grr.

But the day was way too hot to be doing this sort of manual labor. Riku wouldn't complain though, because he was Riku, and nothing perturbed him (except for perhaps some of Selphie's antics). Sora on the other hand was probably lazing around somewhere, trying to keep cool.

Smiling to himself at the mental image, Riku shifted the log in his arms and turned towards shore, immediately spotting a figure with spiky brown hair laying there, basking in the sun with his face turned towards the sky.

Sora. As predicted. The boy was probably sleeping and having dreams about chocolate milk shakes. He looked adorable laying there in the sand, arms behind his head and the sun lighting up his tan face and almost making his red jumper glow. He could even see the glint of the boy's crown necklace from this distance, and it made him smile.

Riku was just taking a step towards him when he saw that Kairi had gotten to the boy first, and now Sora was sitting up, staring at her as she leaned over him with her hands clasped behind her back.

Kairi. The rift between the two boys.

Unbeknownst to her, she was always there to ruin Riku's plans with Sora.

That had started way back when she had appeared so suddenly on the islands, and back then, it had been just Riku and Sora, always competing over the littlest things... Sora had looked up to Riku as a role-model, and Riku had reveled in the attention he had received. It had been a perfect life.

But when Kairi had come along, Sora's eyes had filled with a new sort of fascination; Riku was no longer the center of Sora's attention, and Kairi was just another competition between them, with her as the prize to be won.

However, Riku didn't want her. He wanted something else.

He needed attention to survive. He thrived on the feeling of importance. If Kairi were suddenly to return her feelings for Sora, what would become of Riku? Sora wouldn't need his rivalry anymore. Sora wouldn't need him.

Riku sighed and trudged towards the beach, his happiness fading away just like it always did when he thought of the possibilities of Kairi and Sora's relationship.

He heaved the log over the ledge and it dropped next to a daydreaming Selphie in the sand, startling her out of her own reverie, no doubt romantic. To Selphie, everything was romantic.

She sometimes even teased Riku about Kairi and Sora, asking which one he had a crush on. It was a joke of course, but how funny it was that Selphie was actually that perceptive to notice Riku's staring at Sora. Tidus had noticed. Actually, Tidus knew. He was the only one who did know.

"Hey, that wasn't very nice, Riku!" she huffed in irritation, her face turning a fine shade of pink nevertheless. Leaping to her feet, she shook her brown locks and cried, "You got me all sandy!"

"You were already sandy," he managed to laugh, dropping next to her and picking up his log. Teasing Selphie was always fun, but right now he had more important things --- like separating Kairi and Sora. "I'll see you later. Gotta deliver this first."

Selphie huffed again, but not without a smile as she got to her feet and ran to the dock where she usually spent most of her day. With that done, he tucked the log under one arm and headed over to Kairi and Sora, who were staring out into the ocean and talking now.

They looked like a couple. It was so... sickening.

Really, something needed to be done about this.

Riku had actually formulated a plan, ever since he had admitted to himself that he loved Sora in that way.

The first step was winning Kairi's heart. It sounded stupid, right? But it was supposed to seem natural. Once she was infatuated with Riku, Sora would be discouraged with Kairi and return his full attention to Riku, and then things would be back the way they had been before Kairi had shown up.

See? It worked out perfectly in the end. That was the plan.

And Riku had been working on it for years.

The situation had only gotten worse with time, unfortunately; Kairi was spending more and more time with Sora alone whilst Riku was being left out more and more frequently.

And to top it off, Kairi didn't seem too thrilled about Riku at all --- a major fluke in that plan of his. If Kairi didn't like him, then the rest of his plan flopped.

As for Riku's feelings for Kairi...

She was an interesting gal, no doubt, but Riku didn't harbor much feeling for her. She was a good friend most of the time, but to him, she was an obstacle in his quest for Sora's returning affection.

Time was definitely running short, especially with their big adventure a mere two days away. He was beginning to think that a new strategy needed to be set --- a Plan B, perhaps.

Maybe this whole Plan A: "beat Sora to Kairi first so he pays attention to you" plan was doomed to failure from the start.

In any case, something needed to be done quickly so that Sora wasn't lost to Kairi forever.

Riku didn't know what he would do if they ran off together and left him to wallow in solitude.

"I'd like to see it some day..." Sora was saying from his spot in the sand. "Along with any other worlds out there! I want to see 'em all!"

Riku smiled, feeling his spirits soar. Just two more days and the three of them would be on the open sea, searching for those worlds. It was just like Sora to say something like that, and it reassured Riku that Sora was saying it even to Kairi because sometimes Riku doubted that Kairi believed they would find anything --- that his dreams were worthless, just some dream and nothing more.

Or perhaps she only pretended to doubt Riku, so that she could have Sora for herself. But Sora's dedication and constant babbling about other worlds let Riku know that he still supported his ideals, which was a small sign of hope that the boy still wanted and needed Riku's rivalry and friendship. His love.

"So what are we waiting for?" Kairi said cheerfully, turning to face Sora with a smile.

But now was time for Riku to continue with Plan A, which was the only thing he could do before he came up with an alternate solution.

Well, other than confessing his love to Sora outright, but Riku would never do that. No, it wasn't Riku's style, and therefore Sora wouldn't take him seriously if he ever did. The boy would probably even be disgusted and then definitely run off with Kairi.

In any case, if Riku ever did admit his love publicly, Selphie would probably go into "uber-conspiracy" mode and make a huge soap opera deal out of it.

Riku approached his two friends from behind and took a calming breath. According to his plan, he needed impress them both with his charms, and just slightly make them feel guilty for excluding him in their conversation while he had been working.

"Hey!" he called, and his friends turned at his voice. Kairi's happy expression fell when she saw him, but Sora immediately flashed him an adorable smile. "Aren't you guys forgetting about me?" he asked, placing a gloved hand onto his hip. They probably didn't know that was actually one of his greatest fears: being left out. Being alone. "So, I guess I'm the only one working on the raft," he said, managing a sheepish grin as he crossed the sand towards Sora.

He tossed the log at the boy, who caught it and fell backwards into the sand with a small cry of surprise. Stopping in front of Kairi, Riku leaned forward and placed his gloved hands on his hips, his brows raising as his eyes narrowed mischievously. "And you're just as lazy as he is."

Kairi rubbed the back of her head with one hand, giggling. "Hee hee. So you noticed." But then she spread her arms wide, innocence gone, and said, "Okay, we'll finish it together."

Right. As if she would lift a finger to help them, other than to point at one of his faults or praise Sora's skills. She was like that.

But he hid a satisfied smile (yes! he most certainly had charmed them!) and casually dropped onto the ground next to Sora and rested an arm on his knee, just as Kairi pointed at them and said, "I'll race you!"

"Huh?" Sora uttered innocently. That boy had a talent for acting adorable. It was as if he had been placed on Destiny Islands for the sole purpose of tempting Riku.

Riku played off his stare as usual though, pretending to look and sound exasperated.

"What? Are you kidding?"

Kairi giggled again, sounding ominously innocent, and said, "Ready? GO!"

Another competition. It seemed their days were packed full of them, but this didn't bother Riku nor Sora at all. It hardly fazed them. The two boys exchanged quick looks before they simultaneously leapt to their feet and broke off into sprints, Kairi already far behind them. As they ran, Riku cast a satisfied grin over at Sora, whose attention was instead focused on the finish line ahead.

Two more days and they would be free. Their raft would be done and they would have all the time in the world to explore new worlds. With each other.

Now, if only Riku could get Sora to understand his feelings... without making a fool of himself.

Then again, if only Kairi wasn't going with them. It would be a lot easier then, because then Riku could slyly flirt all the time. Hah! He could imagine Sora's startled reaction and blush.

Trying to burn the image into his memory, Riku slid to a stop in the warm sand near the raft, managing a triumphant smile as Sora came jogging up after him, defeat written clearly on his face.

"Man, not again..." the boy whined. He dropped onto the edge of the unfinished raft and gave a deep sigh.

Riku flopped down next to him just as Kairi caught up, the smile fading from her face when she saw the two of them sitting there. Together. Stopping in front of them, she scowled, putting on a mother-hen-ish facade.

"Sora, didn't I just get after you about being lazy? And now you, Riku!"

The silver-haired boy shrugged nonchalantly, knowing she didn't really care what Riku did, as long as it wasn't with her Sora. "I already got my stuff," he said casually. "Sora left the log back on the beach though. Stupid."

Sora frowned, lightly punching Riku in the arm. "I'm not stupid! And since you're done, you can help me!"

Riku raised an eyebrow at that, a sly grin crossing his lips. "Aha... Sure. The only thing I'm going to help you with today is shaping up that pudgy belly of yours," he calmly replied. "How do you expect to attract girls when you still have your baby fat?"

A furious blush ran over Sora's cheeks at Riku's words. "I'm attractive!" he retorted, raising his eyebrows as he turned to get Kairi's support. "Aren't I, Kairi?"

She giggled, patting him on the head. "Puppy-ish cute, Sora."

His shoulders sank and he turned his gaze to the sand. "Oh..."

Riku scooted closer to the boy and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, leaning his face close to Sora's. "Don't worry," he whispered softly, brushing a thumb over the boy's cheek, "I think you're sexy."

"Ugh!" Sora gently pushed him away, that grin back on his face. His tone was forced though, and Riku wondered if it was because Sora was really disgusted and didn't want to hurt Riku's feelings, even if it was just a joke. "Riku, that's not funny!"

"Do you think I'm sexy?" the silver-haired boy asked, putting on a face of false innocence. Testing time. Was Sora really disgusted with him? He got to his feet and slowly spun in a circle, giving them a short wink as he modeled for them.

"Oh yes," Sora replied dryly. "Almost as sexy as Wakka."

Kairi suddenly burst into laughter, Sora not far behind her.

"Well, well. I always knew you had a thing for red-heads, Sora," Riku teased, but not putting any emotion into it. His good mood had died as soon as he had suspected Sora's discomfort. And now this. Sora's comment practically confirmed his fears.

But… there was always a chance that Riku was reading his best friend wrong. Sora had been acting rather blushy lately.

"Nah, not really," Sora said as he managed to calm his laugh, his blue eyes gleaming with tears from laughing so much. "It just seemed funny at the time. I like someone else."

Kairi's interest immediately perked up. "Ooo... Who is it? Are you going to miss her when we leave on the raft?"

"I'm not telling!" Sora exclaimed, suddenly embarrassed as Kairi leaned towards him for more information. Pfft. She was no doubt hoping he liked her. But Sora turned to Riku, cheeks stained with a light hue of pink as he asked, "W-What about you, Riku? Don't you like someone?"

"How can you be so sure?" Riku asked, managing a small smile. Did Sora actually care, or was he only asking to escape Kairi's questioning gaze? And there was that blush of Sora's again. It was happening a lot lately.

"My mom told me that all teenage boys direct their lust toward one secret person that they remember for the rest of their lives. She says it's because of the hormones. And you're almost sixteen, so speak up!"

His mom is always so knowing, Riku mused, and wondered if Sora was going to grow up with that almost mind-reading trait. Well, judging from how Sora didn't already know Riku's feelings, Riku was safe for now. "Yeah, I like someone..." he admitted slowly, with a light smile. "But you're getting only one hint: brown hair."

"Brown hair? But that could be anyone from Selphie to that three-year-old at the market!" Sora said, obviously disappointed at the vague hint.

"Or me," Kairi pitched in with a smile. "Or your mom, Sora."

Both of the boys cringed and gave her disbelieving looks.

"I can't believe you said that!" Sora laughed, rubbing at his forehead. "That is... thoroughly disturbing. Ugh. Moving on... What about you Kairi?"

"Oh, me...?" She hesitated, turning her face to stare out into the sea. "Girls don't talk about their love lives with boys. Unless they're gay. Or so Selphie told me. So neither of you are hearing anything from me."

Riku cast a glance at Sora, who was suddenly frowning. Blinking at the look, Riku wondered why Sora's mood had changed so suddenly like that.

Was Sora upset that Kairi wouldn't answer his question, or was it because she had said something he hadn't liked?

"Anyway!" Kairi spun on Sora and narrowed her eyes, who glanced up to meet her gaze, his dark mood gone. "You need to gather the parts of the raft now! And don't even think about changing the subject again!"

As he watched the two of them, a smile slowly crossed over Riku's face.

Well, he'd get Sora to understand somehow.

The boy didn't have to like him back in return, though that would be great, but Riku just needed him to understand... Keeping it to himself was torture.

Once he had even considered asking Tidus for advice, or perhaps telling Selphie outright about his problem... But, knowing them, they'd spread the word and Sora would find out the wrong way.

Inwardly sighing, Riku waved Sora goodbye (who pleadingly looked up at him to save him from Kairi), smiled, and headed off to his favorite spot to escape the sweltering heat by lounging under the shade of the paopu tree.


The sunset had dyed the ocean hues of fire, and the wind had finally picked up to cool the islands down after a long day. Kairi, Sora and Riku were lounging around the paopu tree, watching the sun sink over the horizon, discussing their futures. Sora had mentioned something about Kairi's world, bringing Riku's thoughts to other worlds again, wondering where she had come from and how.

Riku wanted desperately to leave these islands.

"Could be," he said in response to Sora's comment. "We'll never find out by staying here."

Genuinely interested, Sora leaned forward to look over Kairi's shoulder at the silver-haired boy, his voice light with curiosity. "But how far could a raft take us?"

So, Kairi's doubt was beginning to affect Sora too. Pretty soon she'd be feeding Sora affection from her hands, both of them ignoring Riku or forgetting him for good.

Still, Riku couldn't lie to Sora. Even he actually had doubts about the raft idea. There had to be another way to get off these forsaken islands!

"Who knows?" Riku replied, lifting a hand casually as he spoke. He had to sound like the leader. Like he knew. "If we have to, we'll think of something else."

"So, suppose you get to another world," Kairi began, and then paused to giggle, her legs swinging back and forth as she sat carefully balanced next to Sora on the paopu fruit tree. She continued with a hint of cynicism. "What would you do there?"

Riku noticed the "you" in her sentence rather than the "we" that should have been there. Her question... It caught him off guard. It sounded like she was testing him or something, trying to throw off his suspicion of her under a guise of innocent giggling. Unsure of how to respond, he used the first thing that came to mind.

"Well, I haven't really thought about it."

Lame! Silently he cursed at himself. Whatever Kairi was trying, she probably had gotten the right response out of him. For some reason, Riku had a feeling she was trying to ruin his dreams, rebuke them as foolish, or try to make Sora see that Riku's plans had no future. And so far, he had acted against his plan... He was speaking too honestly. There was no way Kairi or Sora were impressed with him now.

Shifting his weight onto his back as he leaned against the tree, he quickly added, "I've always wondered why we're here, on this island. If there are any other worlds out there, why did we end up on this one?"

This prison surrounded by water, he thought silently, crossing his arms.

Instead he continued with, "And suppose there are other worlds... Then ours is just a little piece of something much greater. So we could have just as easily ended up somewhere else," he paused, looking up at Sora with hopeful green eyes, "right?"

Sora tore his gaze away (had he been staring at Riku?!) and turned, falling into a reclining position against the tree, his arms behind his head. "I don't know."

He didn't seem to agree. Shit.

"Exactly," Riku said, a bit disappointed in Sora's reaction, even if it was truthful. He had been hoping for a thoughtful response at least, not some nonchalant truth. Riku pushed himself away from the tree, his arms falling to his sides. "That's why we need to go out there and find out." He took a few steps towards the edge of the small island to look out into the water, his voice turning solemn as though he was muttering to himself. "Just sitting here won't change a thing. It's the same old stuff."

And it was. Island War some days, grueling training other days, playtime scenarios with knights and princesses... It was fun, yes, and Riku enjoyed winning, but he was getting too old for it. As Sora had said earlier that day, Riku was almost sixteen. What was he going to do with his life? Become a fisherman like so many others? Or how about a businessman for some high-tech corporation on one of the main islands like his father? Right.

Behind him, Sora watched him with an unreadable expression in his deep blue eyes as Kairi shook the hair out of her face, seemingly unfazed by Riku's statements.

"So let's go," Riku finished quietly.

"You've been thinking a lot lately, haven't you?" Kairi spoke up, sounding curious.

Was she trying to reprimand him again? Never mind that, Riku's plan was still in motion. He had to keep trying. Even if Riku couldn't lie to Sora about his feelings, he could always lie to Kairi.

"Thanks to you," he replied as he turned to face her.

This was an obvious lie --- Riku had dreamt of visiting other worlds way before Kairi had ever shown up. But Kairi didn't know that, and this suited his purposes.

However, he noticed that Sora's eyes narrowed and his mouth opened as though he wanted to cut in; Sora had seen through the lie, but the boy hesitated as Riku spoke again.

"If you hadn't come here, I probably would have never thought up any of this."

The air fell silent and Sora abruptly turned his gaze back to glare into the sunset.

Kairi meanwhile was letting Riku's words sink in. So far so good...

"Kairi, thanks," he said finally with a hint of a smile.

She giggled in response, pretending to accept the compliment. "You're welcome."

As soon as her words faded away and she paused to give Riku a friendly smile, Sora sat up and shattered the romantic mood.

"Well," the brown-haired boy said with an obviously fake yawn, "let's go home. I'm beat from running around all day. And I think Tidus bruised my ribs..."

Riku glanced up at the other boy, noting the distant tone in his usually cheery voice. It sounded almost mechanical. Had Riku said something that made Sora angry?

Oh, the lie. Sora had seemed like he had wanted to say something when Riku had spoken directly to Kairi... Was Sora acting jealous? But why would he be? It was almost as though Sora was acting jealous that Riku was giving Kairi credit for the whole "other worlds" idea.

The silver-haired boy stifled a sigh. The wrong message was being sent.

Riku didn't like Kairi... but that's obviously what Sora thought. Which he was supposed to think, of course, according to Riku's plan. But with Kairi not really returning Riku's fake affections, the plan wasn't working anyway. And sometimes, it seemed like Sora wasn't acting jealous of Riku, but of Kairi, which was totally strange.

There was no way Sora would be jealous of Kairi because Riku was giving her attention. That made it seem like Sora wanted Riku's attention.

Was it possible that Sora was hiding under his own façade?

"Yeah, let's go," Kairi agreed, sliding off the tree onto the ground. She exchanged a look with Sora before she headed towards the bridge.

Maybe it was time to set Plan B into motion. Maybe it was time for Riku to try to express his feelings to Sora, before this whole thing turned into a huge mess...

But how to do it?

Taking a look around, Riku spotted the answer.

How obvious!

As Sora dropped onto the ground to follow Kairi, his chain jingling as he began walking, Riku quickly climbed the tree and reached for the ripest paopu fruit from its top. He jerked it and its stem broke with a soft noise, and he hugged the fruit to himself as he slid carefully back onto land.

Well, he might as well try.

If Sora didn't get this hint, then Riku didn't know what to do.

"Sora," he called as he caught up to the boy.

His heart was suddenly thundering in his chest, and he forced back a blush as Sora turned.

This was the moment of truth. Sora had to understand…

Riku tossed the fruit at him and the boy caught it, staring down at the yellow star with a confused look.

"You wanted one, didn't you?" Riku said, silently hoping his message would get across. That Sora would understand that he liked him, not Kairi. That the paopu was for him, not her, that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with him, not her.

"A paopu fruit..." the boy asked, rather than said, his brow furrowing as he stared at the smooth yellow skin of the fruit.

Riku started walking again, explaining without mentioning names to emphasize his meaning, "If two people share one, their destinies become intertwined. They'll remain a part of each other no matter what." His voice involuntarily dropped at the last three words, momentarily revealing his true emotions. Of course, that would only happen in front of Sora.... In order to make up for his moment of weakness, which Sora still did not seem to catch, Riku added with a laugh, "C'mon, I know you want to try it."

With me, he silently added.

"What are you talking--" Sora began in a demanding tone, a tone that almost sounded like disgust.


Breaking into a laugh and interrupting Sora before the boy could continue, Riku ran ahead.

It probably sounded like Riku was teasing him, and that his laugh was a casual laugh. But it was actually riddled with an emotion Riku rarely expressed.


He was afraid that Sora would never understand, that Sora would hate him for his true feelings…. Or that Sora would be so confused because of Riku's confession that he would approach Kairi with his feelings.

The paopu fruit was supposed to be an ultimate symbol of love, but it hadn't worked. How else could he explain his feelings? What better way was there than a paopu fruit?

There wasn't any, aside from the blatant truth.

And much to Riku's dismay, Sora casually tossed the fruit off the bridge into the water and took off running after him towards the docks.

Sora had discarded it. Like some dirty sock.

He had thrown it away... a symbol of his love!

The rejection was an arrow through his heart, but he could only shake his head and sigh.

Another wasted effort.


Everything in this fanfic has a meaning, even these first six introductory chapters. These first six chapters are to introduce you to Riku and Sora's friendship and growing relationship, and to make you comfortable with them so that by the time you reach the real plot in the story, their relationship is already familiar to you.

Because of this, the plot in these first chapters is kind of fluffy and cute, and basically follows KH's plot, with a few changes. However, don't expect that to last.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the first chapter. ^^ If you're new to Stygian Solace, make sure you review as you read, as I work really hard on this fanfic (I have plot! I have plot!) and feedback is very precious to me.