Back in 2002, barely weeks after the first Kingdom Hearts came out, I started writing tidbits between Riku and Sora that made me fall in love with them as a pairing. The universe of KH inspired me in so many ways that I could barely keep my mind wrapped around it. It rekindled my love for Disney, reawakened my inner child, and solidified my love for Final Fantasy, Squaresoft (now Square-Enix), and Tetsuya Nomura forever.
Back then, I had no idea how I would spend the next nine years. I assumed I would have finished one of my original stories by now. I never imagined I would spend all those years trying to finish something as simple as a fanfic based on a tiny what-if idea I had: "What if Sora had taken Riku's hand in the beginning of the game?"
What the hell was I thinking?
But you know what? I don't regret it.
Here's to you, Stygian Solace. Here's to you, brave reader, who made it this far. And here's to everyone who told me I'd never finish this.
I DID IT!
(Also, spoilers for everything ahead!)
Epilogue: Strength to Believe
Evening had settled her wings over the grassy crossroads.
Sora lay beneath the gorgeous heavens, his arms folded beneath his head as he proudly stared up at the midnight blue sky speckled with the flickering gold hearts of other worlds.
He wondered, not for the first time, which one of those stars was home.
Around him, his friends were setting up camp for the night.
Goofy arranged the campfire with scout-like expertise, and Donald lit it with his magic, filling their slight campsite with the comforting sound of crackling twigs. Not that they needed the fire to scare anything off. They hadn't run into a single heartless, not since they had defeated Xehanort. But the warmth a fire provided was worth the trouble of gathering firewood.
Nearby, Yami was propped against a small boulder, diligently continuing the tricky crafting of the new lucky charm he had agreed to make for Sora, something temporary to replace Oathkeeper until they could return home and Kairi could use real thalassa shells.
His friends had all agreed to donate little pieces of their clothing: a large button for the center, the lining of a sleeve or two to make the petals, the bone of a stiff hem to give it shape, the oversized tab of a broken zipper as a makeshift lobster clasp. Though the materials had been meager, Yami had undertaken the task with a smile. Sora liked to think Kairi was trying to impress him (not that he minded).
Done with the fire, Donald sprawled out next to Sora with a sigh, tugging off his hat. As always, he reached into the hat and pulled out the wrinkled, worn photo of the pretty duck he had left back home, and sighed the wistful sigh he gave every night.
Yeah, things were back to normal.
Sora smiled up at the stars.
"Ahyuck, that's lookin' pretty good!"
Tilting his head back, Sora glanced at Goofy, who was leaning over Yami to take a look at the makeshift pendant he was lacing together.
"It's not bad," Yami admitted, "for what we had. I only have two more petals to finish."
Sora flashed him an upside down grin. "Awesome! Thanks, Yami. I'll take really good care of it this time, promise."
Nodding, Yami didn't glance up from his crafting. "It wasn't your fault my heartless destroyed it."
"Gawrsh…" Goofy curled a hand under his chin as he studied Yami all of a sudden. "You know, maybe it's my imagination, but isn't his hair a little spikier?"
Donald snickered at that as he glanced over at Yami. "Sora rubbing off on you?"
A withering, playful glare was returned. "Or maybe the darkness has better hair management," Yami said.
"Hey!" Sora laughed, playfully kicking Yami's foot. "I like my hair." And then the rest of Yami's words sank in, and he realized—"Wait… so your darkness is gone?"
Yami shook his head, but he didn't seem upset. "My darkness is here to stay, but… I'm no longer afraid of it. This may sound weird, but I feel like a new person." He glanced up, the smile on his face reaching his blue eyes. "Like there's something else there, inside of me, helping Kairi keep my darkness at bay."
All around the camp, the trinity gave thoughtful hums as they contemplated the mysteries of Yami's heart.
Yami laughed, quiet but happy. "What about you, Sora?"
"Huh?" Sora blinked at him before realizing he was referring to his darkness. "Oh, uh…" Hesitating, Sora returned his gaze to the stars, already knowing the answer to this question. "I don't feel it anymore. At all. No Id, no darkness. Nothing. It's just… gone."
"Musta been Kingdom Hearts," Goofy said as he sat beside Yami, "and all of that light!"
"Probably," Yami agreed, and he seemed relieved.
As the four of them relaxed, listening to the pop and crackle of the small campfire, Sora mulled over that final fight with Xehanort's heartless and how many close calls he'd had. If his friends hadn't been there for him, there was no way he would've gotten out of that alive. He owed them everything. He hadn't been joking when he had told Xehanort that his friends were—and still are—his power.
Xehanort had called them weak-hearted fools.
Sora cracked a smile at the irony of that.
But that did make him wonder… What were the real qualifications for wielding a keyblade?
Sora hadn't forgotten what he had seen when Kairi's light turned the tide of the battle, helping Yami's heart fight the darkness long enough to strike Xehanort through.
With a keyblade.
A keyblade Sora hadn't recognized.
It had been massive, something that no amount of muscle would help Sora lift it.
So the question was—where had it come from?
His friend glanced up at him, his fingers in the middle of weaving another petal onto the charm. "Hm?"
"Whose keyblade did you use?"
The question seemed to catch everyone off guard. A thoughtful silence spread through the camp as each of them replayed the events of that final fight.
"Yami used a keyblade?" Donald asked at last.
"Gawrsh, I don't remember that…"
But from the way Yami's eyes locked with Sora's, he knew that at least Yami remembered. The other two had been frozen by a stop spell. Despite being under the influence of the darkness at the time, Yami seemed to have kept his memories.
"I'm not sure," Yami admitted at last. "It felt familiar. Much of that fight felt familiar…"
"Guess the only way we'll ever get those answers is if we find that nobody of yours," Goofy said. He reclined into the grass, settling in for the night.
Donald harrumphed at that. "Unless he finds us first!"
That definitely caught Sora's attention. He hadn't even thought about that. They'd been walking these crossroads for days and hadn't seen a single person or enemy. Could there really be someone out there hunting them? Or just looking for them?
"You think he would?" he asked them.
Yami answered that one. "We took out my heartless," he said. "Likely he will see us as a threat he cannot ignore."
Somehow, Sora wasn't worried about that.
As long as his friends were with him, he knew they could handle anything.
Besides… Hearts were what made people strong, right?
"If he doesn't even have a heart, how powerful could he be?" Sora laughed. "Come on."
Donald and Goofy laughed in agreement, but Yami didn't join them this time. His expression grew solemn as he studied the unfinished charm in his hands.
"So I'm not gonna worry about it for now," Sora said, trying to reassure him. "We'll just focus on what we need to do."
"Right—find the king!" Donald said.
"And Riku," Goofy added, lifting a finger into the air.
"Yup!" Sora rolled onto his stomach and propped himself up, facing Yami with an expectant grin. "And like a good friend once told me, bright hearts are easy to find."
For the briefest of moments, surprise filtered on Yami's face, as if he hadn't expected Sora to remember. But how could Sora have forgotten one of the many times Yami had saved his butt? Then a warm smile tugged at Yami's lips, and he nodded.
"See? We'll find them in no time."
Sora rested his chin on his arms, his heart feeling at ease.
You hear that, Riku?
Deep down, there was a gentle strength that wasn't his own, and he knew that even if Riku couldn't hear him, he'd be able to feel Sora, too.
Wherever you are, we're going to find you.
Then we're gonna go home. Together.
No matter what.
The shuffle of his boots made the lost child raise his head.
Amber eyes squinted up at him through the shadows, a glint of hope and recognition within them.
But it was obvious the boy was partially delirious from the suffering his form had been put through.
"Which one are you calling for?" he asked the child, his tone devoid of care. "Your misguided pet who perished at the hands of the boy that looks like you?" A pause, and then an empty smirk for effect: "Or the master you betrayed?"
The reaction was immediate, and almost impressive. The boy's darkness bristled like a cat, and his amber eyes narrowed with defiance.
The darkness around them roiled with the boy's emotions, and with tiny bursts of magic, small creatures leapt into existence and surrounded them. Not heartless. Not nobodies. They were creatures he hadn't seen in years.
Still, when you had complete mastery of Nothingness, petty emotions held no weight.
He swiped his hand through the air, banishing the boy's twitchy pets with hardly an effort.
Though the boy growled at him, it was an empty threat. They both knew that the boy had no strength to call his own anymore. That was the only reason he had risked coming all this way to see him.
"You never could keep those irksome emotions at bay," he said as he approached the fallen figure. The darkness of the boy's body was sluggish, barely keeping itself together. "But I suppose someone like you wouldn't know how to. What were you calling yourself these days?" His feet paused in front of the boy's dark, spiky hair. "Oh, yes. Id."
"You're one to talk," Id snapped at him. "What are you but a barren shell? An empty clone! Vacant. You wouldn't even be able to use the master's keyblade if it was chained to you—because you're nothing."
A smirk curled his lips. "You say that as though nothingness is something to be pitied… Yet when I look at you, I see proof that the thing to be pitied is emotion."
Another growl, and the boy curled in on himself, his darkness settling into a blanket. "Figures," he muttered, his voice hoarse. He seemed to have resigned to his fate to fade into the darkness. "Is that why you came here? To laugh at me?"
"For failing to capture your prey?" he said. "No. I knew, when I tested Riku, that you and Xehanort were destined to fail. I have a different motive for being here."
"How could you know something like that?" Id demanded. "I had him!"
"Because he reminds me of someone I once knew, someone with similar rock-headed obstinacy." Then, with a secretive smile, he chuckled. "Like trying to bend a mountain. Something like that takes time… Time and innovation. Instead, you used force. Xehanort had the right idea when he seduced the boy's heart and claimed his body as his host."
Id's glare burned with a hatred that stirred the darkness again, but this time he did not summon any of his pets.
"So why are you here? Get to the point."
Looking pleased, though he felt nothing of the sort, he gracefully knelt in front of the boy and reached out to cup his chin in his gloved fingers. "I thought you would like to know that I have found Ventus's keyblade."
Those amber eyes widened with a beautiful myriad of emotions.
Surprise. Hate. Hope. Desire. Despair. Desperation.
"Ventus?" Id repeated, almost as though he couldn't believe it.
He stared into Id's torn expression, memorizing it, as a dark but subtle smile crossed his own face. "And now… I've found yours."
He rose back to his feet as Id's expression filled with fear.
Answering with an empty chuckle, he spread his hand towards the boy and tapped into the endless oblivion from which his power came.
Chains of nothingness cut through Id's darkness and snared him as he screamed and struggled to get away, but the superior power consumed his form with ease.
As the nothingness wrapped Id into a tiny sphere, a glowing symbol etched itself into it: two halves of a broken gear, a symbol of what the boy had always been—a damaged tool in a much grander machination.
"You were always a nuisance, Vanitas."
He closed his hand around the sphere that contained the weakened darkness.
"I will find a better use for that blade of yours than your master ever did."
Then, conjuring a portal of darkness, he entered the corridors between worlds and returned to his own castle in the world that never was.
When he left the corridor and the darkness closed behind him, he had arrived on the skywalk that only certain members of his organization had access to. It overlooked several popular areas of the castle, but it was not that aspect that had drawn him here today.
He sought out the cloaked figure standing at the balustrade. The blue-haired diviner was not his second in command, but Saïx held a certain potential that had always intrigued him. The other members called it playing favorites. In reality, he merely trusted Saïx more than them.
When Saïx sensed his presence, he turned away from his observations to regard him with a calm nod.
Xemnas said nothing as he approached his comrade and stood beside him at the skywalk, gazing down at the common area below them. It was a lounge, of sorts, that had become popular with the other members of the organization. Xemnas himself rarely visited it, and Saïx was usually only there to delegate missions to the others.
When Xemnas saw who was occupying the lounge, he understood why Saïx had been observing them.
Axel was teasing the newcomers. And while the newcomers were fascinating themselves, he knew it was Saïx's former friend that had held his attention.
He would have been amused if he could have been.
The playful redhead seemed to be sharing a story with the two nobodies watching him with rapt attention.
There was Roxas, who was finally settling into the organization as an active member.
And there was Maiyx—
A ghost of Xemnas's past, almost. If his hair had been brunet instead of black, and those eyes blue instead of amber…
Thankfully, only he and Xigbar knew the truth of Xehanort's past. He need not worry about the others connecting Maiyx to anyone other than Yami himself.
Still, in order to avoid future catastrophe, he hadn't given Maiyx a true rank in Organization XIII.
The honor of the last rank, thirteen, belonged to the young blond nobody sitting beside Maiyx.
The key of destiny.
Unable to resist, Xemnas let another smirk tug at his lips, and he lifted the sphere that contained Vanitas's remnants.
Saïx's brows furrowed with interest as he studied the emblem glowing amongst the swirling mass in Xemnas's hand.
"What a dangerous toy."
"One that will prove useful," Xemnas reassured.
Saïx formed a shadow of a smile. "Ah, yes. Vexen had something useful to share, as well. The data that you collected from your battle with Riku has proven profitable. Vexen is creating a doll from it as we speak, to replicate the boy's talents."
A replica… with the keyblade wielder's power?
This meant he could have three keys under his control.
Ventus's, Vanitas's, and now Riku's.
But Xemnas knew more about the keyblade wielders than his comrades ever would. "Vexen might run into problems trying to control such a doll, more than he anticipates. That is, if the results are anywhere near as impulsive as the true Riku."
A thoughtful expression crossed Saïx's face, but then the sound of wild laughter caught their attention, and Xemnas turned his gaze below.
Axel was laughing.
Even Roxas and Maiyx seemed almost… happy.
Wondering if it was possible, Xemnas studied them.
"I have been meaning to ask…"
As Saïx's soft voice cut through Axel's laughter, Xemnas regarded him expectantly. Only then did Saïx continued his question.
"Why give only Roxas a number? Why not the other two?"
In the corner of the skywalk, seated on a low bench surrounded by scattered sheets of parchment, a young blonde girl paused in the middle of her sketching.
Xemnas glanced calmly at her, unconcerned with her presence. "Roxas is our key. As for Maiyx… We are lucky to have found him first. With him, we have an advantage over both keyblade wielders."
Saïx raised a brow. "Is that so?"
With a nod, Xemnas focused on Yami's black-haired nobody, his dark smile returning.
"As long as Maiyx exists, my heart and the heart of their precious little princess can never be separated."
Faintly, Saïx smiled. That was enough for Xemnas to know he appreciated the irony as much as he did. It was moments like this that solidified his respect for the quiet nobody. He never questioned him for the sake of questioning him; he did it to better understand their mission.
"And what of our little princess?" Saïx wondered, finally gesturing to the young blonde seated nearby.
Her shy blue eyes were watching them now. No fear. Just curiosity. Her colored pencil remained stationary in her hand as if she had forgotten she had been in the middle of a picture.
Xemnas slowly approached her, pausing beside the bench to scan the drawings she had done. "Naminé is linked to my hearts," he said. He reached for one of the loose sheets of paper littering the floor.
On it was three distinct figures.
A tan-skinned man who could have been an elder Xemnas, if he hadn't known better. It was Xehanort, but not his heartless, and not the Xehanort that Yami believed he was. It was the original Xehanort, Vanitas's master.
The second figure was a petite girl with auburn hair, her hands clasped over a glowing necklace she was wearing: the aforementioned princess, and friend to both of the keyblade wielders.
And the last figure, the one who looked like Maiyx—wild brown hair, stark blue eyes, and the strong physique of someone who had been trained to be what Sora and Riku were only pretending to be: a keyblade master.
"Your hearts?" Saïx asked.
Xemnas passed him the colorful drawing, not giving him an explanation as to who the figures were.
"And she will be the perfect bait to draw them into a trap."
The blonde girl raised her face, genuine concern reflected in her eyes. "A trap…"
Her voice was soft, like the whisper of a bird's feathers against the gilded bars that caged it.
Xemnas leaned over her, and with a smile that wasn't as empty as it should have been, he spoke into her ear.
"I think it's time we returned you to your palace, princess."
Her fingers clenched against her sketchbook as fear filled her eyes. Catching sight of the two boys she had been drawing, Xemnas tilted his head and gently plucked the book away from her, studying the silver-haired keyblade wielder and his best friend on the sheet of paper.
"And I will ensure that your two princes will be there to save you."
"Gosh, Riku—I know I saw her!"
The white road of the world of darkness had fragmented into a never-ending scatter of floating islands, requiring well-timed leaps to traverse—and a lot of luck, in hopes they didn't land in a nest of heartless.
Riku and Mickey raced from island to island, dodging powerful heartless as they spawned around them, sensing the bright hearts lost in the darkness. Only when they couldn't outrun them did the two of them stop to fight, Mickey with his keyblade, and Riku with his personalized Soul Eater. He'd learned a thing or two from Yami after all.
"Someone I used to know!" Mickey said. "Someone who disappeared a long time ago!"
Riku swore they were chasing after a ghost, though. He didn't have a clue what Mickey had seen or sensed because Riku himself hadn't seen anything except heartless. Mickey had just suddenly started raving about some girl he had seen out of the corner of his eye in the distance… in the darkness…
Still, if Mickey was this insistent about finding whoever "she" was, she must have been really important. Besides, Riku knew firsthand how much it sucked to be lost in the darkness. If someone else was stranded down here, he did want to find her.
As Mickey flew across a bottomless chasm and landed safely on the other side, Riku hesitated at the island's drop-off.
"Just how long was 'a long time ago'?" he wondered. For all he knew, they could have been down here for weeks. Time lost all meaning in the darkness. All he had was Mickey and the warmth in his heart he knew was his bond with Sora.
Mickey paused to glance back at him, and the gravity in his expression told Riku all he needed to know, even before his question was answered.
A long time.
Swallowing hard, Riku prayed they found this girl and made it out of here before they got lost down here for ten years.
Backing up a few steps, Riku charged forward and leapt across the chasm to join Mickey—
—only to see Mickey's panicked gaze as a darkside emerged from the chasm.
Unable to avoid the impact, Riku cried out as he crashed into the heartless's back, his hands scrambling against its cold skin to desperately find a grip—only to come up empty as he tumbled past the heart-shaped cavern in its torso.
Riku began to plummet into the darkness alone, fingers scraping against the sides of the floating island to try to find something, as Mickey's worried face disappeared out of sight high above him, his scared voice echoing after Riku.
Heart in his throat, Riku reached deep inside of himself and called out to Sora—anyone—
And he came to an abrupt stop in midair, a brilliant globe of light surrounding him.
A swift figure darted from the edge of a nearby ledge, catching him with strong arms as the globe of light shattered into sparkles, its job done.
Then his savior landed elegantly on a narrow outcropping, moving as if gravity had no hold on him.
Definitely a her.
When the woman set him on his feet, Riku fought back a blush as he tried to glance up at her—
—only for her to shove him to his knees as she swooped her arm outward, a shimmering keyblade clutched in her hand. That's when Riku spotted the darkside crouching to come after them, its massive hand reaching into their outcropping.
"Leave us alone!"
A barrage of bubbles arched out of the keyblade and slammed into the darkside's head, knocking it back.
A streak of black and gold fell from the sky and cut through the heartless, finishing it off with one blow, before the small figure flipped off of the darkside's dissolving body and landed beside Riku and his savior.
Remembering how to breathe, Riku gaped up at his friend, torn between yelling at him for being reckless—and hugging him for having the gall to come after him.
Instead, he just held a hand over his thundering heart and smiled.
"Th-Thanks… Man, I thought I was a goner."
Then a pair of long, smooth legs stopped beside him, and Riku felt his heart flutter as he lifted his gaze to acknowledge the woman who had saved him.
A familiar face…
Why was it familiar?
"You're both too noisy," she laughed, dropping into a graceful kneel beside him. "The heartless will sense you regardless, but they especially like noise."
She offered him her hand.
Riku froze as he caught her gaze and was met with a pair of smiling blue eyes.
Her eyes locked with his, and she froze, too.
They gasped at the same time, recognizing each other.
"I know you," she breathed.
All Riku could think about in that moment was the memory of a young woman, a stranger, visiting him and Sora on the beach when he was five. Not even a day after the first stranger had talked to him…
Riku felt his heart miss a beat as memories and faces of the past came back to him, memories he hadn't thought about in years, memories from before Kairi had ever arrived on Destiny Islands. Memories of a keyblade and a tall brunet giving him the hope to protect his best friend forever.
"You were real?" was all he could manage to say.
A watery smile broke across her face as tears filled her eyes, and before Riku knew what was happening, she pulled him into a fierce embrace.
And beside them, Mickey gave a happy laugh, spreading his hands with delight.
"Gosh! Then I guess I don't need to introduce you to each other!"
11-04-02 to 11-04-11
For nine years, you were my baby.
Stygian Solace, I don't know what I'm going to do without you.
Thank you, all of you, for making it this far with me. Your support has meant the worlds to me.
Please check my Livejournal for future projects or updates, as this fic may never be updated again.