A/N: Another chapter down. We're getting ever closer to the end, but we're not there yet. Thanks again to all who have followed and reviewed my story thus far! It's hard getting back into writing for the KH fandom after long periods of not exposing myself to the franchise at all, so it's awesome when I get review alerts every now and then. They help me keep this story on my mind.
Some people have expressed concern about time inconsistencies. While I appreciate you pointing them out (they'll definitely help for when I go back and edit my chapters one day), but for now I will focus more on plot. So please bear with me!
A cyber penny for your thoughts at the end – enjoy!
"Yikes," Yuna narrowed her eyes at her sheepish friend, "What in the world did you do to him to make him shoot out of here like a frightened chocobo, Kairi?"
Kairi shrugged innocently, and was about to explain when Sora walked back into the tent again, but with his phone pressed to his ear. She was about to harass him, but the look on his face froze her. Yuna also tensed, sensing something was not quite right.
"Don't worry, Mom. Kairi's right here, I'm with her now."
Kairi and Yuna edged closer to Sora, their expressions growing more alarmed. Sora put a hand on Kairi shoulder, though it did little to assure her. His brows furrowed suddenly as he snapped, "What? That can't be right!"
There was more silence as Sora struggled to contain his emotions. After a moment, he spoke calmly into the phone again, "Okay. I'll tell them. See you in a bit, Mom."
There was a pause.
"Love you too," Sora said quietly before finally hanging up. He shoved his phone into his jeans before rounding on Yuna, "Do you know where your parents are? I need to talk to them."
Yuna started, her eyes widening, "Y-yeah, I'll go call them right now." She gave them both a worried look before hurrying off to use her phone.
Kairi grabbed Sora's hand from her shoulder, her hand clammy against his, 'What's going on? You're scaring me.'
Sora laced his fingers with hers, his blue eyes troubled.
"It's about the Burns," Sora began slowly, as if he was wondering if there was an easier way to explain the impossible to her.
Kairi felt her gut twist.
"Barry Burns was found murdered."
Her skin crawled while ice lanced through her veins. As if that wasn't enough, Sora squeezed her frigid hand before telling her the worst part, "Cara Burns is missing…"
Kairi felt numb as the situation dawned on her.
"The police are looking for her right now, but my mom thinks you may be in danger."
Yuna's family had quickly found Kairi, Yuna, and Sora by the Macalania tree fountain. All around them, fair goers continued their carnival activities, oblivious to the tense little circle in their midst. As everyone murmured worriedly to each other, with the triplets oddly subdued by the atmosphere, Kairi couldn't help but feel the tendrils of icy fear creeping ever closer to her heart.
As two detectives arrived to escort them safely to the precinct, Kairi found herself withdrawing into her thoughts. She barely even registered their arrival or the familiar cop who greeted them.
"Miss Kairi?" It was the same policeman who had interviewed her the night Barry Burns had attacked her at school. Mr. Notepad. "Please come with me. There's a detective who will ask you some questions."
Nerves tingling, Kairi was about to follow an officer towards the interrogation rooms, when Sora spoke up.
"Officer Bradley, wait. I'd like a word with her."
The officer paused, sighing. "All right, Sora. Make it quick."
Just as she turned back to him to ask him what he wanted to say, she was immediately pulled into a hug. Without realizing just how tense she was, she found herself relaxing in his arms as he rubbed her back soothingly.
"I know you're nervous, but you have nothing to worry, Kairi," he pulled back and smiled at her, "Everything's going to be okay."
Kairi nodded shakily, wishing he could be with her in the interrogation room, but knowing he couldn't.
"Remember to breathe," he teased, kissing her forehead.
Feeling her lips quirk, she closed her eyes and relished the moment. All to soon though, she found herself walking away from him to follow Officer Bradley. She was led to the back of the precinct where she was told to wait in an empty room and that the detective would be there to ask question soon. She was given a chocolate chip cookie and a paper cup with hot tea in it.
They didn't really appeal to her. All she could think about was what happened to Cara Burns to make her go off the deep end. And after they left the station, how safe will the Lescas be if Cara wanted to come after her? Her stomach dropped.
What if the police wanted to place her somewhere away from the Lescas for protection? She didn't want to leave them, but she knew that if it were for their safety, she would do anything. But if she was honest with herself, she knew she was afraid.
…Afraid to be left alone. The scared, little selfish voice inside of her didn't want to be left alone without a family again.
The more she thought about it, the more she fidgeted in her seat as the tea in front of her started to go cold. Maybe all this waiting in an empty interrogation room was meant to rattle her? And the glass on the wall… They had to be watching her right now, right? That means they knew she was nervous.
What was she thinking? The police were on their side.
Before she could twist herself up even more with her worries, the door opened, snapping Kairi out of her inner stupor. Seeing a familiar face relaxed her somewhat as the detective closed the door behind her.
"Hello again Kairi," Sora's mother greeted warmly, sitting down beside her, "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. I came here as soon as could. Are you all right?"
Kairi nodded, although her troubled feelings probably still showed on her face.
"Kairi, you're safe here. Nobody's going to hurt you."
'That's not why I'm worried.' Kairi's lips moved, 'I'm worried about the Lescas. I don't want them in any danger because of me.'
"Here," Detective Risado pushed a paper pad towards her, "I'm sorry, but my lip reading needs some work," she offered Kairi a gentle look, "I know you prefer writing over hand signing though."
Kairi nodded, taking the offered pencil and repeated her answer.
"I understand your fear," she said, "Of course, your family will be briefed on taking appropriate measures for their own safety, however, we will provide surveillance to ensure Cara Burns does not come anywhere near them."
Without realizing she had been holding her breath, Kairi let it go, remembering Sora's earlier advice. Detective Risado smiled in assurance, "I'd like to ask some questions. What do you remember about the relationship between Cara and Barry Burns? Did they fight often? If so, what did they say to each other?"
'They argued a lot about money. I know Cara worked but I'm not sure what Barry did. Whenever I saw him, he was almost always drunk.' Kairi's brown pinched in thought as she continued writing, 'I remember them talking about my parents' insurance money too. I just know we get a check every month, but I don't know how much. I was never allowed to open any mail.'
"Did they ever mention getting money from anywhere else?"
Kairi shook her head.
"Right now, the police are doing everything they can to find Cara. We need to know if she tries to make any contact with you," Detective Risado continued, "You must understand that if she sends you any threats, you must come to us. Do not try to approach her on your own. Can you promise me that?"
Swallowing, Kairi felt compelled to agree. She knew she had to trust them, but she still had questions of her own.
'Why do you think she killed Barry? Why exactly do you think I'm in danger?'
After a moment of quiet, Sora's mother answered, "I can't tell you the details. Until we get hard evidence from the crime scene, we won't know if she's responsible or not. All we know is that she is someone we need to question."
Kairi was no detective, but she wasn't a fool either. 'Just like you're questioning me?'
"It's only procedure, Kairi. We do this so that we can rule out those who aren't involved," Detective Risado pursed her lips, "Can you tell me where you were three nights ago?"
As Kairi answered question after question about where was and what she was doing as well as who could vouch for her, she felt herself feeling more and more drained. A glance at her watch showed that it was almost eleven. She had been there for almost two hours straight, going over details about her friends and Yuna's family, where they were and what they were doing.
Sensing her weariness, Sora's mother smiled apologetically. "Thank you for your cooperation. I know it wasn't easy, and that things have been hard on you lately. We'll do everything we can to find Cara Burns. I'll show you outside where the Lescas are waiting. They should be done with their statements too."
Reuniting with Yuna and her family, the detectives who questioned them explained the circumstances about where Kairi would stay. Since both her legal guardians were unable to care for her, her custody would normally be awarded to the state. However, Kairi was allowed to stay with the Lescas until the hearing. As neither of her guardians would be there, the judge would likely award the Lesca family immediate custody.
She had no idea things would escalate to this level. The trial was coming up, and she had a good chance of putting the past behind her. According to the police and the district attorney representing the Lescas and Kairi, they were still seeking the facts behind her parents' death. In light of the circumstantial evidence, they were able to reopen the case and move it to homicide.
She was finally able to do something after so long of suffering silently. She had so many people willing to support and protect her, but now she feared for their safety.
She should have known that woman would have done something like this. She killed her own sister and brother-in-law, didn't she? Was it worth the danger now?
She felt a hand on her shoulder, drawing her back to reality.
"It's gonna be okay," Yuna told her, putting an arm around her, "You're safe."
Kairi shook her head, signing absently to her friend, 'No. No one's safe. You're not safe because of me.'
"Don't be like that," Yuna reprimanded, "It's not your fault, so don't you think like that for one moment."
'I'm sorry,' Kairi told her as the police investigating the scene came back and assured them that the neighborhood was safe to return to.
Advised to continue with their normal lives, New Year's passed, as did the weeks that followed it. Soon it was February, and her trail was quickly going cold. Every day that passed, Kairi felt her anxiety climb. Sora, Yuna, and Tidus soon became her constant shadows at school. There were a lot of rumors going around, and at times, Kairi wondered whether or not her handicap had become a blessing in disguise. No one at school approached her since she couldn't talk to them even if she wanted to.
However, the police and the district attorney dug further into the Burns' background to see where Cara could have gone. Instead, what they found was that Cara Burns had bought life insurance on both Kairi and Barry Burns, evidently without either of them knowing it. According to them, she hadn't filed a claim yet. Detective Risado had cautioned Kairi and the Lescas again about Cara possibly calling the house, so the police had set up a trace just in case.
Several days had passed since then, and Kairi found herself studying for midterms with Yuna in the library after school. As the two of them waited for Sora and Tidus to join them, Kairi tapped her pencil over her math homework, struggling to make sense of the tangled mix of numbers and symbols. As much as she paid attention in math, it never came easy to her.
But even math wasn't as complicated as her nerves. Groaning inwardly, she was about to give up and move on to the paper she was writing for Miss Lockhart's class when the chair beside her was dragged back. She looked up as Riku dropped into the empty seat.
"Hey Riku," Yuna said, "You're joining us?"
"Yeah. There's a Blitzball meeting about the trip for summer championships, so Sora asked me to drop by until they get here."
Kairi fought not to squirm beside him. She didn't know Riku well, even though he was Sora's best friend. He was the most reserved out of all his friends, and he never really made an effort to get to know her like the others did. But when he did speak to her, he was always civil. Now that she thought about it, unlike Sora's other friends, Riku had been the only one who had never bullied her in any way.
In all honesty, she never really had an opinion about him.
"You need help with that?" Riku's voice broke her out of her musings. He pointed a finger at her open textbook, drawing her silent scrutiny to the math problems in front of her. She nodded, her face hot. She hoped he didn't think much about her staring.
The time passed with Riku's cool, baritone voice explaining the problems to her. She kept messing up at first, feeling nervous around him, but soon she found herself more and more able to focus and understand the formulas enough to work them out on her own. Within an hour, she had completed her math homework in record time.
Smiling, she turned to thank him, only to catch him scrutinizing her this time. His intense turquoise gaze was piercing, although distant like a cat's. He looked like he was weighing what he wanted say to her. Uncomfortably, she looked for Yuna, but the girl seemed to have gone for the moment. Her books and homework were still scattered on the table, so she must have left to use the bathroom or something. Without the presence of her friend, she looked apprehensively back at Riku.
Somehow, she got the impression that he wasn't just here because Sora asked him to be here.
"Don't look so scared, Kairi. I'm not the boogey man," Riku finally smirked, leaning back in his chair.
Flipping to a fresh sheet of notebook paper she scrawled a retort. 'I'm not scared. Anyway, thanks for the help.'
"Are you dismissing me?"
'You look comfortable where you are.' Her brow pinched. 'And you look like you have something to say.'
Riku's smirk disappeared, his face taking on an inquisitive one. "You're very perceptive. What else do you make of me?"
'I don't know,' Kairi thought for a moment and added, 'You're not like the others though.'
He shrugged. "How different can I be? I'm friends with them."
'But you never bullied me like they did. You never seemed interested. Even after you guys warmed up to me, you never seemed to care about making yourself visible.'
After she wrote her response down, she cursed her tactlessness. The past year, she had developed a bolder persona. But at this moment, she just felt abashed. It's not like she knew the guy well enough to be so frank with him. But Riku didn't seem to mind. In fact, he looked pleased.
"Well, I changed my mind. I think you're interesting now," he said with a smile, his winsome features making her breath catch.
It took all her self-control to keep her jaw from dropping. What the hell did he mean by that? Now who was being bold? Before she could gather her wits to scribble a reply, he got up and stretched. "Looks like it's time to go. Your boyfriend's here to pick you up."
"Hey Riku. Thanks for staying behind today," Sora said, grinning at them as he, Tidus, and Yuna approached. He looked sheepishly at Kairi, "Sorry about being late. Tidus and I forgot we had a meeting with the team today. I can't believe the championships are just around the corner. There'll be practices after school and on all weekends now, so we'll have to find a way to work around that."
Tidus slapped a hand against Sora's back and sighed dramatically, "Seriously, man. Goodbye cozy afternoon naps, snuggling against my girlfriend's warm lap…"
Yuna kicked him behind the knee, grinning when he lost his balance. "And good riddance. Do you know how heavy your head is? I don't know how it hasn't come loose after all those blitz-related head injuries of yours."
Tidus whimpered, "But Yuna…"
Kairi shook her head, amused by her friends' antics. However, her mirth dissipated when Riku made a suggestion.
"I'm in between part time jobs right now, so I've got more time. I can take the girls home after school when you guys have practice," he offered.
Sora and Tidus looked like they liked the idea, but Yuna interjected fervently, "You don't have to trouble yourself, Riku. Kairi and I don't have to walk home. We can take the bus."
Kairi couldn't agree more. Unless she was being overly imaginative, more time with Riku might spell trouble. She looked over at Sora, but he was waiting for Riku's answer.
"It's not a problem, Yuna. I really don't mind," he said amiably, "I rarely got to hang out with everyone this past year, so this will be my chance to get to know you." As Riku looked away from Yuna, his striking flicked towards her for a second before returning to his friends.
"I think that's a good idea," Sora agreed readily, turning to Kairi and Yuna, "What do you guys think?"
Kairi's stomach twisted inside. The way Riku put it, it would be rude on her part to decline. Besides, it seemed to put Sora's mind at ease. However, it made her feel indignant at the same time. She hated the idea of being taken care of because of she was weak, like a sheep that needed a shepherd to lead and protect it against wolves.
This fear of being sought out by a madwoman who seemed hell bent on hurting her was throwing the dynamics of everything askew. She wasn't used to being coddled. She'd survived all those long years of silence and abuse, so already being taking care of by Yuna's family was a novelty. Being fretted over like this was just suffocating. It was fine while under the pretenses of spending time with Sora, but to have Riku substitute seemed overbearing.
Gathering her things quickly, she gestured towards the double doors. At the moment, she couldn't trust herself not to crumble under her irritation if they continued this conversation. Without really waiting for an answer from the others, she made her exit.
Once she was outside in the front courtyard again, she heard a pair of footsteps catching up to her. She was forced to a halt when Sora blocked her path, his face full of concern and confusion.
"What was that about back there?" he asked, his blue eyes searching her vacant expression, "Why are you angry?"
'I'm just stressed out,' she answered simply, walking around him, 'I just want to go home.'
"Wait," Sora put a hand on her shoulder to stop her, "I want you to tell me what's really bothering you. Something set you off and I want to know what it was."
Not willing to tell Sora that she didn't trust his best friend, she settled on the partial truth, 'I know everyone is worried, but the last thing I want is to be babied and guarded at all times. I just want some space, even from you.'
She didn't want to look into his eyes. She wasn't sure what she would see there, and she certainly didn't want to see if her words hurt him. 'It's my fault Yuna's family is in danger right now. I don't want anyone else getting drawn into this. It might be best if you left me alone.'
"Is that what you call convincing?" Sora asked softly, though his eyes were hard. "Sometimes I feel like if I turned my back for one second, you'll disappear. Every now and then, I wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweat because I'm afraid I'd been too late that day on the roof – that you were actually gone and all of this a dream. I don't want to come that close to losing you ever again."
Kairi's jaw tightened, remembering that fateful day. She understood his fears. Sometimes she dreamt of that day too, afraid she had really fallen to her death and that the time she spent with Sora and her friends was some false heaven.
'Fine,' she conceded uneasily. She would deal with Riku if it came down to it.
Kairi wasn't sure how things had become so tense between them. Even Tidus' lively chatter didn't seem to lift the cloud hovering above them. Instead of listening to her friend's banter, all she could think about was how ominous the future seemed. With a murderous aunt on one hand, and friends that she felt helpless to protect on the other, she really didn't need Riku's questionable advances.
That afternoon, the road back home was silent and paved with long shadows as the sun burned red in the evening sky.
It had been two weeks since Riku started tutoring her on math after school, and Kairi grudgingly admit that he was good at walking her through the more complex matrices that had always stumped her. However, math was the last thing on her mind when he was around. She was weary of him every time they met in the library after school, half expecting him to continue where he left off when they were alone.
To her surprise, he hadn't said anything else to make things awkward between them. Although she still had a niggling suspicion he had some kind of ulterior motive, she pushed it to the back of her mind. No harm, no foul.
But this particular day, Yuna had gone home sick during the day, so now Kairi was left alone with Riku after school. As she walked to the library, she had planned to tell him that she wasn't staying. Her mind decided, Kairi strode into the library heading straight to the usual table behind the back shelf.
She stopped short when she saw the table was empty. Debating over whether to wait or not, Kairi ultimately spun on her heel towards the door only to nosedive straight into Riku's chest.
"Hello to you too," he grunted, steadying her as she grabbed her offended face.
Blinking hard, she fished a notepad from her bag and scrawled a message, 'I'm going straight home. Yuna's not feeling well.'
"Sure, come on."
As he led them out of the school, Kairi felt the pain dull to a slow throb. Irritated, she couldn't help but speed up, wanting to get home as soon as possible. However, after a few minutes of silence with Riku keeping up with her quick pace, he calmly spoke up, "You know, you don't have to walk like the devil's at your heels. I want to talk to you about the other day."
She slowed her steps a little and turned to glare at him.
"I was a bit out of line," Riku admitted offhandedly, "I was serious when I said I never found you interesting until recently. Although from your attitude towards me, I think you jumped to the wrong conclusions."
That got her attention.
Stopping under a tree, shadowing the sidewalk, Kairi stared up at him expectantly for more answers. If he didn't mean to make any advances towards her, why exactly would he suddenly find her worthy of his time?
"You're a hard person to hate, Kairi," Riku said quietly, crossing his arms, "I tried really hard to blame you and your family. After all, it was your parents' car that collided with ours. You see, the same incident that took your voice and your parents was the same incident that took my sister."
The ground suddenly didn't seem as solid as it should be, Kairi thought absently as she absorbed what he was telling her. She stared incredulously at him. Even her hands had gone numb.
He leaned closer towards her until his lips brushed her ear, "I didn't think it was fair that you survived while Xion died. I thought you deserved all the pain in the world. I didn't even have to dish it out myself when everyone else was already making you miserable."
Kairi backed away from him, confused and mortified.
"I was angry when Sora decided to help you, get close to you. But for his sake, I didn't show my contempt. I was even nice to you on occasion, though I kept my distance."
Unknown to herself, she had backed up right against the tree. Stupid! He had her neatly trapped as a cat over a cornered mouse. Was he after her for revenge? Did he know that it wasn't her parents' fault that the car accident happened? Would he even care?
And why was he telling her all this now?
Though he seemed relaxed, there was something deceptive about his lazy grace. He was someone who was both patient and calculating. She knew that now, and she wished she'd known sooner.
"But there's no point in keeping a distance now. There is something you can do for me."
A/N: Thank you all for keeping up with my story, especially when I run out of steam for a while and need some incentive (coughkh3cough) to get back in the groove. Hope you enjoyed this extra long chapter, seeing as it's been a while since my last update.
Hope you liked the cliffhanger. I promise things will fall in place soon. :)
Chapter question below if you want to answer it, but I'd love to get a review from you about what your thoughts are!
Question of the Chapter:
When did you get into the Kingdom Hearts franchise?
When it came out in Japan back in 2002, my brother got it for me. Over ten years later, I'm still a KH nut. Now that news of KH3 is FINALLY coming out, I'm just reeling over how I'll be in my thirties a couple years down the road, and that's just horrifying.
Thanks for your patience, and for taking the time to share some of your love with me! Here's a shout out to last chapter's reviewers.
Chocolate-dipped watermelon slices to Chapter 22's reviewers: LinaLina-chama, 1000BlueCranes, StattStatt, Tsuraya-chan, LoreilDarksky00, Q-A the Authoress, Kora Bloom, Amulet Misty, Danielle Fenton, Sound-is-Silver, Le Neko-neko, Brian6330, becksterRES, EternallySky, TheRevSirDrProfMan, TenchiSaWaDa, The 13th sun, KarakuRoku, YeahI'mWeirdAndILoveIt, Livinginyourfantasy, the ultimate kh fan, kairi8912, KHfan22, BlazingKaiogra, Peach, tsuki123, LoveLife45, Hog s Head, The Unknowing Herald, Sora's Guardian Angel, Anon, Skeleus, kitty-gurl1, MoonCastic, Kinglou27, hideki411, Applepiegirl222, MidnightDeath666, loyalty-and-devotion, Tanokki, PinkParadise23, It's My Lucky Charm, MoonLitSparklesofTwilight, rageaxe195, irememberthis, AngelHatsune, Penguinlord352, Kayla, alpacalanche, Nano1012, and Meandor711.