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Chapter Two

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I don't do mornings.

And I can't get any blunter than that. Except for maybe: I'd rather maul my own head of than get up at six AM.

And my mom told me to go at it, too, once when she tried to wake me for school.

'Fine. Maul your own head off. See if I care. Let me know when you're finished.'

I think she was still bitter about the braces.

…It wasn't my fault we didn't have dental insurance.

And so, as it goes, when I was asleep, I was almost able to trick myself into believing I was home again, happily dozing off in bed, halfway between sleep and some hazy awareness, content to dream of Kairi and sports cars and beer and everything else that keeps your average teenage male going.

But all this abruptly ended when I received a sharp kick in the side from some unknown source and found myself swinging blindly at invisible foes.

"That's enough moping!" a voice declared, echoes bouncing off the walls of the cavern. "Time to get up! Up and at 'em I say!"

…And is it wrong to be distraught that I'm not dead yet?

Right now I was really wishing Michael had a rifle in the stead of a keyblade so I could kindly ask him to shoot me executioner's style in the back of the head; just pump my cranium full of lead and let my corpse rot in the aftermath. Just make it quick and make it painless. It beats dying of starvation, at any rate.

"I couldn't give a rat's ass what you have to say," I groggily replied, no pun intended.

"Mouse."

"Mouse ass. Excuse me. I stand corrected. I couldn't give a mouse's ass what you have to say, Michael."

"Mickey."

"…Whatever."

I began to stumble to my feet. I hated getting up but I had to take a leak, and wasn't really in the mood to void myself when I didn't exactly have a change of clothes.

"Don't tell me you've given up already," Michael/Mickey droned, watching my disheveled state try to rearrange itself hopelessly. I suppose, for a sugar addicted fiend like himself, the only alternative to painfully blatant optimism is that of suicidal brooding. Which, ya know, was exactly what was going on, but I would sooner eat my own weight in steaming turd than admit defeat in front of Michael.

"Please, for the love of all that is holy and sacred," I began, exasperated, hungry, and distraught, "stop wasting my planet's oxygen."

I busied myself behind the privacy of a conveniently placed rock and tried to avoid eye contact as I did my business. I can't talk and piss at the same time. I was never a good multi tasker, really, now that I think about it.

Michael's chin seemed to turn upward in the wake of my last remark.

"Ah, so this is your planet now?" he questioned, bemused grin gracing his features.

I didn't mean it like that, it was a force of habit. I had used that line countless times on Sora, who would, predictably, continue to waste the oxygen so he could keep blabbering on about whatever ridiculous topic had managed to catch his interest ten seconds beforehand.

"I guess that makes sense," Michael continued. "This is, after all, the home of darkness."

I growled out something incoherent and zipped my fly. So the rodent wanted to start something? Fine. But I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of a response.

It wasn't even a decent insult. And I don't waste decent comebacks on indecent insults.

I guess Michael had caught wind of my animalistic grunting, for the next line of wisdom he bestowed upon me was, "You really should stop snarling all the time. It makes you look like an animal."

"Hell, you are an animal."

I couldn't resist.

The banter came to an abrupt halt after that. I momentarily wondered if I had succeeded in offending the mouse and found myself feeling an odd twang of guilt for doing so. Sarcasm flies off my lips like poison, and I don't always intend it to be venomous, but sometimes it just turns out that way. I decided quickly that I did not care if I had insulted Michael, because, well, he started it. So I was vindicated.

That's some real mature logic right there, folks.

I think I've been using that line since preschool.

'Butbutbut he started it!'

What can I say? It's a good line.

I guess I was so caught up in my childhood reminiscence that I had forgotten to take heed of where I was walking. And because we all know how monstrositous my feet are, I found myself becoming personally acquainted with the gravel in three seconds flat.

I never particularly enjoyed eating dirt, my last time doing so ended in a trip to the local hospital to get my stomach pumped because—well, whatddya know—mom had just so impeccably sprayed fertilizer all over the lawn and Wakka was unaware of that when he dared me to swallow the fistful of earth.

It made for good bragging rights, though.

This, however, did not.

I felt a sickening thud as I whacked my head against some nondescript rock, which I swear was probably plotting against me the entire night, in all of it's evil rockiness, and let out a lovely slew of mollifications as Michael came bounding over to me regardless of my less than stellar vernacular.

"…You alright there, pal?" he asked, barely audible, a small trace of worry seeping into his features.

"Do I look it?" My hand had already migrated to the warzone that was my hair in search of blood and skull fragments. Luckily, I only found the former.

"Not in particular," Michael replied, flopping over to me on his colossal feet—which were bigger than mine and that's saying something. "You're bleeding," he astutely noted.

I had to repress a nasty remark that was begging with my subconscious to come out.

I had never been a fan of blood. Which is strange, seeing as I took up temporary residency as a world class villain and all. But Heartless don't exactly bleed. And there's not clause in the 'official bad guy contract' that says you need to have a blood lust. Malificent did, and she sated it every other week, but I was perfectly content to keep to world domination and the restoration of Kairi. I didn't need the power trip that came with vanquishing a foe. It's enough for me to simply rule over them. And I can't rule over them if they're dead, now can I?

Regardless, Michael proceeded to prod and poke at my scalp in a thorough investigation of my newly acquired wound. "Well I'll be a monkey's uncle," he mused out loud. "You've got a lot of blood gushing out here. It's kinda like a waterfall."

And I had to smirk at that one. I wasn't expecting that comment, not from the likes of him. I mean, the whole monkey's uncle bit was ridiculous and strange and completely in character, but that waterfall line was pretty awkward. This guy was weird.

"Is it now?" I asked, blinking rapidly. Because that's what I do when I'm in pain. I blink. A lot. In very rapid succession. Almost to the point of an epileptic fit. Because I can't remember the last time I cried and I don't do the whole drama whore groaning for attention bit, so I find that blinking works just fine. I mean, I look stupid as hell, but at least I'm not being vocal about it.

Sora used to mock me into the ground for the actions I exhibited while in pain. He witnessed the feat once when we were off gallivanting around the island; Tidus, Sora, and I, a trio of bored twelve year olds just looking for something exciting to do because watching TV and eating onion rings can be amusing for only so long, when Tidus spotted a cocoanut located at some ungodly height on a lone palm tree situated at the end of a narrow precipice.

And we decided it would be of great intelligence to see which one of us could shimmy up there and get it first. Why? None of us actually liked cocoanut. But we did it because we could. And we were moronic and bored. And Tidus had run out of matches to play with.

Because my balls were too big for my boxers, I declared I was going to go first to show them how (and I quote) 'it's really done.' Which, in the end, resulted in me getting halfway up the tree, risking a glance southward, getting vertigo, plummeting straight back down to the ground, and consequently snapping my leg in two. It's the type of sound you don't forget. Tidus promptly lost his cookies all over the beach and Sora stood with eyes glazed like doughnuts, unsure of how to go about the current situation. Eventually Tidus regained enough composure to go out and get help, and that left me and the caffeine addict of the millennium alone under a palm tree with that one damn cocoanut waving above our heads, almost as if to mock us and say we were not worthy of its contents.

And in response to my injury, I could do nothing but blink.

And blink. And blink. And blink.

And just for good measure, blink some more.

I mean, I was perfectly placid otherwise, it was just my eyes that were darting around like ocular ping pong balls and my lids were moving to the point of tearing a muscle.

(Can you do that? Tear a muscle in your eye? Or face? Yes, that is just the kind of thing that would have kept Sora up at night. Which meant me, too. Because God knows that kid loved to have sleepovers, and I never much minded escaping from the open bar that is my home with its one permanent customer that is my mom, and his parents baked brownies and stuff, so I put up with his random blabber in the middle of the night. Perhaps this is why I never was able to get up for school in the morning.)

Sora was gaping like a goldfish.

"Riku," he said, a smirk slowly tugging at the corners of his mouth. "You totally look like a freak right now. You know that, right?"

"How could I possibly know that?" I asked through viciously clenched teeth. There was granite in my jaw and fire in my eyes. "I don't carry around a frickin' vanity mirror, ya know."

Sora seemed to ponder this predicament for a minute, because heaven forbid I miss out on witnessing myself having an ocular seizure.

"Hm. I bet Kairi has one!" he threw out merrily.

And I guess a lot of people would probably have been put off by his utter lack of sympathy. But it wasn't so much a lack of sympathy as it was a lack of awareness. At least that's how I see it. Sora's a moron. We all know this. He could strike up a conversation with solid brick wall, if necessary. Maybe even a coma patient. Possibly even the dead. And I didn't mind his antics all that much, he was just oblivious. And it was enough to take my mind off the pain. So, hell, what else mattered?

"We don't know where Kairi is, Sora."

"…I'm sure Wakka will find her."

"Wakka saw me fall?"

"Everyone did!" Sora exclaimed, thrusting a lanky appendage in the air. It reminded me of a chicken bone, all weak and scrawny. I could never understand how he managed to defeat Ansem, the galaxy's official bad ass, with such lanky extremities. Maybe the duck helped.

"It was kinda like a circus act," Sora pressed on, totally unaware, as usual. The corners of his mouth were at a very dangerously high height, thus he was plotting something. Thus I was really wishing we were closer to my house so I could send Sora on an errand to go and snag some of my mom's booze.

"Attention, attention please!"

Now, I don't know what initially inspired the kid to do this, but apparently he was overcome with this dire urge to reenact a ring master at the aforementioned circus and decided to puff out his chest and deepen his voice while doing so. "For the first time, in person, the one and only, Official Human Klutz!"

I internally cringed at the word vomit that was continuously dribbling from the endless black abyss that is his mouth.

"Sora, I'm not finding this funny."

"Yes you are," he retaliated, so sure of himself.

"No, Sora. No I'm not."

But he ignored me, as per usual. Went on blabbering about all the circus animals we could have in the big tent and who would be our resident tight rope walker, since Kairi was too busy studying and Selphie has the dexterity of a pregnant elephant.

…And I still can't believe I tried to kill him.

So that's when pain shot through me. Either I had accidentally moved my leg of Sora had somehow managed to run into it while on his rambling spree.

It must have been quite evident, for even the clueless Sora picked up on it, and he dove to the ground and said "Here, here, here," in one short breath. "Watch me blink. It'll be funny. Ready?"

I set my jaw firmer. It was all I was capable of doing.

I don't know if a person can really have the gift of blinking, but if there is such a quality, Sora definitely could not add it to his lacking itinerary. It was almost nauseating to see how pathetically he blinked. One eye would close before the other and sometimes his eyelid didn't even come all the way down. His cheeks twitched with uncertainty every time he attempted to perform my actions in succession and pretty soon his head was moving from side to side too. It was all so terribly helpless I jut had to laugh, regardless of my throbbing leg.

"I swear Sora, you have ADHD."

"Really?" he pondered. "Cool!" Pause. "What's that?"

"…Never mind. Hey, think if they take me to the hospital they'll shoot me up with morphine and stuff?"

"…Morphine? What's that? Is it a painkiller or something?"

Sometimes it shocked me how oblivious Sora managed to remain all throughout his childhood. How does a twelve year old not know about morphine?

"Yeah."

"Like…like Advil and stuff?"

"It's a little stronger than Advil, Sora…"

Pause.

"Well, does it taste good, at least?"

I chose to stop the conversation before I gave myself a migraine.

It was then Sora chose to expose a toothy grin.

"Hey, you're talking!" He then jabbed a finger in my face. I momentarily contemplated biting it off so he could share in my pain and I could make fun of whatever stupid actions his exhibited while wallowing in self pity. And then maybe they'd give him some opium, too, because while drunk Sora was amusing, drugged Sora would probably be a riot.

And that's when Kairi meandered over, eyes all sad and teary like, practically oozing sympathy out her very pores, inquiring as to what had happened and if any of us would like some cookies.

Sora than threw himself in front of her, as if to protect her virgin eyes from the horrors of stupid adolescent boys. "Oh, no, no, no. Kairi, trust me, you do not want to see this. It's real icky and stuff. Riku threw himself off a tree."

"I did not throw myself," I cut in, desperate to maintain some dignity in the presence of Kairi. Even back then I still had an ego. "I fell. Get it right."

"Eh, whatever," Sora dismissed. Was I actually taking back burner? "At any rate, he's on the ground now, and it's really ugly. Ya see, his leg made this wicked awesome snapping noise when he fell," Sora continued, flailing his arms out all over the place like he was a windmill or something. That kid could never tell a story without over dramatic hand motions and cheap theatrics. "It was like lightening or something. CRA-AACK!"

"Ewww!" Kairi squealed, hands flying to her mouth like he was trying to repress vomit, which Tidus had so far been quite unsuccessful in. "Sora, stop! That's gross!"

"Really? I think it's kind of funny."

"That's because you're not the one in pain," I handed out.

"Oh. Yeah. Well. I guess that may have something to do with it."

Sometimes I swear that kid's IQ was smaller than Kairi's waist size. Which is practically in negative numbers as it is. So that's really saying something.

"Well, at least let me give him a hug," she said, twiggy arms outstretched in a physical invitation.

And I know what you're thinking. You're thinking preteens are way too young to know what love is. To even know how to love (which it complete and utter turd, by the way, and you know it.) We may not know all the intricacies that make up the patchwork of marriage, but we can tell when there's electricity in the air. We still have hormones, ya know, and I over compensated for whatever Wakka seemed to lack in that arena. (Still do, in fact. He doesn't seem to realize there is life outside blitzball and girls just aren't that into running around in circles chasing some circular object around for days on end.) And even if I'm the tough, sarcastic, loner who thought he was too cool for the air he breathed, I have butterflies that live inside my stomach, too. Hell, we all do. I'm sure even Ansem had a couple butterflies at one point in his life. Like, maybe when he was contemplating whether or not to become a first class psycho and go on a merry rampage of nonselective destruction throughout the galaxy.

…And that had absolutely nothing to do with my previous tirade on love.

Regardless of whether or not you think twelve year olds are capable of such a feat (loving, that is, not taking over the world, though rumors have it there's this one planet with a boy emperor named Larsa who is coming pretty damn close) I knew then and there that I was pretty much head over heels for Kairi. And it wasn't lustful, either. Because, truth be told, she had nothing to lust after. The girl ain't voluptuous, I can tell you that much. She's a skin bag of organs and bones, but she's so…pure. And so kind. She radiates goodness and warmth and smells like summer and sandalwood and cherry blossoms. It's what euphoria would look like if euphoria had a face. Kairi could chase rainclouds away if she had half a mind to (and ostensibly some freakish control over the weather that I have only ever seen Malificent utilize.)

And—dammit—where was I?

So, yeah, maybe you think I'm crazy. Maybe you think I'm forgetting fourteen comes two years later. Maybe you're thinking I hit my head a little harder than I thought. But in the long run, none of it matters, because Sora took her away then just like he took her away now (only this time I told him too, but I was kind of at a desperate lack of options.) Sora wrapped his lithe arm around her and told her the best thing to do was leave me alone. He then proceeded to walk her down the beach, leaving me with a dangling cocoanut, Tidus' wad of unpleasant vomit, and a completely shattered leg. Soon thereafter the resident doctor came onto the scene with the infamous Wakka in tow. I dunno if the little runty red head even said anything directly to me. I can recall his presence simply because there was a steady beat of 'ya ya ya' in the background. It was the only word he knew how to say.

The doctor was blabbering about something or other, you know what I'm talking about. Point to where it hurts, on a scale of one to ten, are you allergic to anything…

(Yes, I'm allergic to all painkillers except narcotics. And four milligrams of Dilaudid makes me sick but six work just fine.)

Truth be told, I wasn't exactly listening, even with the promise of drugs and the blissful haze that goes along with them. My painkiller was currently walking down the beach. Yes. That was my sedative. She was traipsing along the ocean with Sora. And all I could think about was 'I wish that were me.' I wanted to be the one to walk her down the beach. I wanted to be the one with my arm around her, even if it was in a kiddy sort of manner. But most of all, I wanted that stupid frickin' hug.

And thinking of all this, the childhood memories and my home and even Wakka's obscure dialect, made me long for Destiny Islands in a way I was unaware I was capable of. All of the sudden, I wanted my life back. I wanted to sit on the beach and do absolutely nothing—a past time I abhorred previously and insisted on complaining about whenever one of us couldn't think of something to do. I wanted to get tan again; I haven't seen the sun since forever and I scarcely remember what color it is. I wanted to work on that confounded raft the three of us were building, the promise of other worlds elusive and just beyond the horizon. I just wanted to go home. I wanted my life back. The one I gave up. Willingly.

I still don't know what I was thinking when I closed that door. Maybe it was some final act of redemption, my eternal apology for nearly killing everyone alive. Maybe I deserve this misery and maybe my convoluted reasoning was karma coming back to bite me in the ass. But then why was Michael here? Sure; he was retarded as hell but he wasn't evil. He wasn't in some training program to be the prince of darkness. He didn't wield a weapon called the Soul Eater. (Though, damn it, I miss that thing.)

And so I chose to lash out at an unsuspecting Michael, who had no idea what was going through my head at the current moment, and probably thought I had finally lost it and was suffering from severe brain damage in addition to almost loosing my heart to darkness. I think I almost took the rodent's face off. But I had to do something in response to the startling conclusion that I had, in fact, destroyed my own life.

Sora didn't do it.

I did.

But I did for her, didn't I? I went searching for her heart. I went away to try and bring her back.

But I'm the one who was left behind.

And that was nobody's choice but mine.

Michael sensed the tension (well, no really?) and seemed to back off, though not rashly. If anything, it almost looked as though he understood, on some simplistic semblance of a level, what it was I was currently going through. Which, if you ignore the fact that that is pretty much physically impossible, made for a good dramatic interlude, right?

"…You okay there, pal?"

What do you say to that? No, really, what do you say to that? 'Well, I nearly destroyed the world, so you tell me.' And what the hell was he going to answer with, anyway?

"Why are you being nice to me?" I finally questioned, slumped in the dirt with my head on my knees, the perfect picture of self defeat. I was praying fervently he wasn't going to pull a 'because that's what friends do' line Sora most undoubtedly would, that is, if Sora noticed something was wrong in the first place. Michael and I couldn't be classified as friends, we had only known each other for a day, and we weren't exactly getting along at that.

And besides, even if you do know someone for sixteen years of your life, what do you make of it? Sora considered me his best friend, and I tried to shove my Soul Eater up his ass.

The passage of time does not indicate the strength of the friendship.

Pity it took me almost losing my soul to see that.

"Because you look like you need it," Michael responded gently, voice actually not cracking for once.

I remained silent. I just wanted to be left alone.

Michael seemed to pick up on my bad vibes, and decided to let me rest in peace. I watched him curl up in the far corner, despite the fact he had just woken up (but what did it matter? It wasn't like we were aware of the time anyway. It could be midnight for all we knew) and watched as his breathing slowed to a steady rhythm that indicated sleep.

I needed to rest. The apocalypse was going on inside my skull, and you know damn well I could angst about that for the next five pages because—let's face it—I can pretty much angst about anything given enough time and alcohol, but Kairi seems more important by far and I would much rather have you pay attention to her as opposed to the fireworks display that was going on inside my head. And before you write me off as some unfortunate screw up, think about something for me, will you? Think about how you would have handled it. I mean, really. Would you have honestly closed that door?

And so I laid myself down with the comforting reminder that Sora will never be normal, either. It's really the only fragment of sadistic happiness I can hold onto, and even though I both love him and hate him, I still find comfort in knowing he can never go back to the life he once led, either. He's got the keyblade now. He saved the universe. He can never go back to Destiny Islands. Things will never be what they once were, even if we were all to miraculously make it home somehow and nothing ever needed saving again. (And, hell, can you imagine how awkward that would be? The three of us; Kairi, Sora, and I, together again on an island like nothing ever happened even though we both like the same girl only I nearly tried to kill him over it and somehow ended up being the bad guy even though it's technically all her fault to begin with?)

And I shouldn't blame things on Kairi. Because she did nothing wrong except be herself, and since when was it a sin to be likeable?

I began to doze off on thoughts of Sora being revered to the point of immortality. He'll be placed on a pedestal so high he'll lose orbit with everything he once knew. The only thing is, he'll have Kairi by his side the entire time. And that fact alone makes him ten times better off than me.

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Author's Notes

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Oh my gosh, Vixen is back to her roots. Good, solid, emo-licious angst. With just a hint of snark and a healthy helping of sarcasm. Which makes up Riku. Thank you so much for reading! Hope I at least got one good smirk out of you.

And thank you so much for all the valuable input on my first resurrected chapter! It's so nice to be working on this again, and you guys make all my efforts worth it.

…And does anyone have any better ideas for the title? I had a reason for naming it Flaming Shadows, but that was five years ago, and now I seem to forget that reason. XD