"Are you certain he'll show up?"

"I left the letter with Leon...he'll make sure Riku gets it."

----------

Riku topped the rise in the small cemetary, looking around at the warped scenery and down at his own hands. He was clothed all in black, a long cloak swirling around his ankles, his silvery hair greyed as if in post-mortem decay. His usually-vibrant green eyes were pale and dead-looking (and this was not entirely a result of his current costume), his skin white beneath the light of the pale moon. He squinted into the distance where the hill curled up into itself, and he noted wryly how it looked like the little swirl on the top of a soft-serve ice cream cone. And then his eyes adjusted to the nighttime darkness and he recognized the dim highlighting on a slender figure that stood at the very tip of the curl. Riku looked down at the note in his hand, his pale eyes scanning over the words once more.

'Riku -

I want to talk to you. Please don't avoid me anymore. I'm not angry. I want to understand. Meet me where the truest faces are often masks.

Sora'

It had taken Riku a while to decipher the place Sora meant, but finally he'd decoded the cryptic location to mean the world of All Souls' Night: Halloweentown. And now he'd come, having finally accepted the fact that he couldn't run from his past forever.

No matter how it frightened him to think of the pain he'd created...for the person he should have tried to help. He ran one black-gloved hand through his matte grey hair, breathing an uneasy sigh as he started moving again, feet noiseless on the curling hill.

Sora's back was to the hill proper, one leg dangling down toward the ground far below as he stared up into the star-glittered sky. Even though he hadn't closed much distance between them, Riku could see that Sora's shoulders hunched slightly, his stance not the straight, confident posture that Riku had once known.

And Riku knew that a great deal of that lack of self-confidence was Riku's own fault. He stopped a few feet away from Sora and lifted an arm, opening his mouth to speak. He found, however, that his voice stopped in his throat, and his arm dropped back to his side before he'd even uttered Sora's name. He shouldn't have come...he didn't deserve to even look at the trusting heart he'd nearly destroyed. He turned to walk away, his head bowed.

Riku only got three steps back down the hill before Sora spoke. "Please don't leave," he whispered, but his words hit Riku's ears like he'd spoken loud and clear.

He stopped, turning around to see that Sora had gotten to his feet, and was gazing with sad blue eyes at his best friend. "You shouldn't have asked me here," Riku murmured, his heart - funny, he hadn't thought his heart still existed, let alone worked - wrenching at the deep, muted sorrow in Sora's eyes. "Not after what I've done."

"Stop it."

"I hurt you," Riku continued, blazing on bullheadedly despite Sora's quiet demand. "And I enjoyed it."

"STOP it."

"Hate me. Hate me, Sora! I don't want your sympathy. I don't want you to understand me!" Riku turned away again, fists clenching tightly, nails digging into his skin painfully even through the black material of his gloves. "Please hate me..." he whispered pleadingly.

"STOP IT!" Sora roared, tears suddenly streaming down his still-youthful face. "Shut up, Riku! SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!" He tore the little jack o'lantern mask away from his face, throwing it savagely from the top of the hill, and when Riku turned to stare at him in shock, he could see the little fangs protruding in the clean white rows of Sora's teeth. "Just STOP, Riku!" he sobbed, rubbing at one eye. "I've never hated you. I don't know how, and I don't WANT to know how!" He took a step toward his best friend, one hand reaching out toward him. "I want to make things right..."

"Sora..." Riku shook his head sadly, looking away. "Things will never be right again." He sank down to his knees, sitting down heavily on the packed earth. "I've destroyed too many lives...hurt too many people...I can't ask anyone to forgive me." Softly, he finished, "Especially you."

"You're wrong," Sora whispered, dropping to his knees behind Riku and throwing his arms around the surprised boy's shoulders. "I'd forgive you in a heartbeat...but you won't forgive yourself!"

Riku felt his dead heart lurch, one hand coming shakily up to touch one of the arms that were wrapped so tightly around his shoulders. "Sora...I shouldn't be forgiven...I don't deserve it." Before he realized what was he'd done, he was clutching those arms like a life preserver, his head bowed and chin nearly touching his chest as great huge tears of pain and guilt and grief streamed hot and salty down his pale face. "I don't deserve it," he whispered through his tears, body shaking with each harsh, painful sob.

Sora moved quickly, disentangling himself from Riku's vice-like grip and kneeling beside him instead to pull his best friend into his arms. He cradled the taller boy close, rocking gently while Riku wept so piteously. One hand ran along Riku's back, gentle words issuing in a steady stream from Sora's lips as he tried to comfort Riku, knowing even so that his words did little to ease the heart-wrenching ache his friend suffered.

Riku clung to him, sobbing openly now, knowing that the stoic, brave image he'd worked so hard to create over his lifetime of interaction with Sora was gone now, knowing that he had no facade of strength, of toughness left; just raw, exposed pain, grief and guilt having finally won out over stubborn, bullheaded bravado.

Softly, ever so gently, Sora spoke again. "I forgive you, Riku...I hope someday you can forgive yourself." He tightened his hold on the other boy, resting his cheek against Riku's soft hair. "I've never hated you. I never could..."

"Why?" Riku lifted his eyes to gaze in tortured confusion at his best friend. "Why don't you? I deserve it..."

"Ansem used you, Riku," Sora explained patiently, one hand reaching up to gently wipe tears from Riku's pale face. "He's the one who destroyed so many lives. You were his pawn, just like the rest of us were. He hurt us all...including you. And you deserve more forgiveness than anyone else because of what he forced you to do."

"I wish you could hate me..." Riku said, though he leaned into Sora's careful touch like a lifeline. "I could handle that. But...when you tell me you understand...and that you don't hold me responsible...the guilt...the pain...it all comes back so much deeper." The tears began to fall once more. "I could handle anything else the worlds throw at me...but knowing how badly I've hurt you...I would die rather than know that. I wish you'd killed me..."

"NO," Sora hissed fiercely. He took ahold of Riku's chin and turned his head forcibly to face Sora's own eyes. "NEVER wish that." His voice was barely above a whisper, but there was so much fire in his eyes, so much determination, that Riku found himself speechless in the face of Sora's vehemence. "I will NEVER harm you. I couldn't." Tears sprang to his own eyes. "We've lost so much already...would you take away my best friend away from me too?" And in the moment, desperate for a way to even begin the healing of Riku's broken spirit, he pressed a gentle kiss to Riku's forehead, pulling him for a tight, heartfelt embrace. "Please don't give up, Riku...I can't lose you now too. I need you here. Alive...helping me rebuild."

Riku pulled back after several long, silent moments, sucking in a shaky breath as he stared at Sora with new wonder in his eyes. "S-Sora..." he whispered, in awe of the strength of heart the boy before him had just shown. "I..." he trailed off, not knowing quite what to say. In a five-second span, the concern, the sympathy, the understanding...the love...from his best friend had all come washing over Riku and had left him speechless. Here was someone he'd known since his earliest days of childhood; planned and carried out so many insane little adventures with, and he sat now holding Riku in his arms as though the silver-haired boy belonged there. And from what Riku could tell, he didn't seem keen on letting go anytime soon. And, Riku realized, he didn't want Sora to let go. And with his last words, Sora had sent Riku's pain and guilt washing away.

"You don't have to say anything, Riku. I think I understand. I just...I can't let you just waste away...I can't lose you." And Sora hugged him tightly again.

This time, Riku held on just as tightly in return, his face pressed into Sora's shoulder. He felt his best friend's lips brush lightly against his temple, and finally made up his mind. "Sora..." he murmured softly, and sat up straighter. He lifted one hand to rest against the other youth's cheek, and, very gently, pressed a tender kiss to Sora's lips, marveling again at their softness. "Thank you...for being you."

Sora smiled then, leaning back into Riku's arms as they turned to watch the moon and stars from their vantage point on the peak of the little hill. "There's not anyone else I could be."

Riku chuckled - his first laugh in several years - and slid his arms a little tighter around Sora's body, inhaling the boy's unique scent...spice and just a hint of...paopu sweetness? Riku grinned. "Sora...stay that way, and I'll love you forever for it." So it was more blunt and less...well, less "Riku" for Riku to be so blunt, but Sora, he was certain, could handle it.

Sora craned his neck to peer over his shoulder at Riku. "You be a little less mopey, and I'll love you forever for it," the brunette countered. "Hell, Riku...I love you anyway."

The simple admission took Riku by surprise; he was used to Sora's honesty, but this was more honest than Sora had ever been. "You...do?"

Sora turned to face him. "Yes, you blockhead," he said, sounding so thoroughly exasperated that it made Riku want to laugh aloud. "I do."

"Oh," Riku replied, bewildered. And then he thought about it. "Good," he said finally, "because I don't want to share...you're MINE, Sora...and you have been since that day on Destiny Island when I tossed you that Paopu fruit." He smirked. "You just never seemed to know it."

"I knew," Sora said candidly. "I just wondered if you knew it."

"Sora?"

"Hmm?"

"Shut up," Riku deadpanned. And then he pulled Sora in for another of those soft, chaste kisses against Sora's lips. "Just go back to stargazing, okay?"

Sora grinned widely and leaned back once more into Riku's embrace, his eyes closing for a moment. "Can we stay like this for a while?"

"Sora, we can stay here for as long as you want."

"Good...then I vote we don't move for a while."

"Well...I can think of some other moving that might be sort of fun..." Riku's grin grew positively wicked.

"Been creative, Riku? You always have had quite the imagination..." Sora's eyes softened as he stared up at the moon. "And I've always followed you straight into whatever hare-brained trip you've schemed for us...and I always will follow you. Wherever that leads."

Riku didn't answer that. He simply tightened his hold, resting his chin against Sora's shoulder as he stared out into the night sky above the Halloween Town horizon. His eyes stung again at the simplicity of Sora's oath, and once more he felt the pain and guilt and grief simply melt away in the face of Sora's unconditional love...love he felt unworthy to receive. Riku closed his eyes...and for the second or third time that night...he smiled.