Eh…hey folks. Sorry this final chapter took so long, but I had to wait for the main story to catch up. I always meant for this little collection of stories to end this way and, well, even though the execution could have been better, I hope that you're at least happy with the glimpses of darkness we managed to gather up. This last chapter is really short even by the standards of this story, but really, I think it says all that it needs to say. Thank you for everything, enjoy the wrap-up, and I hope to see you again in the main KoEH storyline.

Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon, nor do I own Kingdom Hearts. I'm just a rather creative person with an overactive imagination.

Elemental Hearts - Inside/Outside

Chapter 12: Promise

Riku stepped out of the bedroom when they others did, but he did not follow them the rest of the way down the hall to the King's study. After all, he had faith in the capabilities of both Sora and the King and, with the insider information provided by Taichi Yagami, he was confident that that they could figure out a plan without him.

So instead of retreating down the hall, he leaned against the wall outside Kouichi's bedroom, waiting. It hadn't felt right for him to watch what was bound to be a private moment. After all, they were brothers, bt he wanted a moment of his own.

Minutes later, Kouji stepped out, closing the door behind him. Riku caught his gaze as it clicked shut. Navy blue eyes locked with crystal blue and didn't look away for several long minutes. Kouji was glaring, slightly demanding to know what the elder boy though he was doing. Riku was glaring, wondering how those eyes cloud look so much like Kouichi's when there wasn't a hint of his soothing shadows anywhere in them.

Finally, Kouji broke the staring contest, storming away in a huff. Riku waited until he had joined the others in the study before he slipped into the bedroom himself.

Kouichi's body was still there, as it should have been, unmoving, unchanging and completely unaffected by the world around him. The peaceful expression on his face made it look like he was sleeping. Almost as though he were still there…

Riku felt his own heart pulse painfully at that thought, so he shoved into the back of his mind. Slowly, he crossed the room and took a seat – the same seat that Kouji had occupied minutes before. The room was quiet for a short while.

Finally, Riku sighed. "…Hey."

Kouichi didn't respond, not that Riku had been expecting him to. The elder warrior reached out to take his friend's hand, squeezing it gently.

"…I'm sorry," he whispered, knowing that Kouichi couldn't hear him, but wanting – no, needing – to say it anyway. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help you. I should have been. None of this should have ever happened. Not to you."

Kouichi's chest rose and fell in a shaky, measured breath. Riku watched it repeat the motion a few more times before he could the nerve to speak again.

"I'm going to make it right, Kouichi. We're going to make it right – your brother and me. I promise, we'll get that bastard back for what he's done to you. We'll get your Heart back. We'll save you. I promise.

"So please…" Riku paused, suddenly realizing the position that he had gradually been leaning further and further over the sleeping boy. He was so close now that the tips of their noses were brushing together. He could feel Kouichi's soft breath ghosting over his face. "So please, just…hold on. For his sake, if you won't do it for mine."

Riku dipped his head down for a split second, giving into his urge to plant a single brief, chaste kiss on the unmoving lips. The kiss tasted distinctly of darkness and something resembling Paupau fruit.

With that thought, Riku pulled away and sat up, his fingers ghosting over his own lips with a bewildered touch. Kouichi went right on sleeping, as though nothing had ever happened.

Riku let his hand drop from his lips and trail down his own body until it came to rest against the opposite hand. Distractedly, he ran his fingers along the base of his right pinky. For a few split seconds, he almost imagined that he could feel the string.

He pulled himself out of those thoughts with a forceful shake, rubbing a bit of misty fog that was not and would not turn into tears out of his eyes. With a sigh, he glanced back at Kouichi's face just one more time. The sleeping boy was still just as peaceful as ever, though a bit of hair had fallen across his eyes.

Riku brushed the dark bangs back into place and pulled the blankets up to tuck his friend in. He stroked Kouichi's cheek with the knuckles of his right hand, slightly amazed at how soft it could be despite everything the poor body had gone through.

"I'll protect you from now on," Riku whispered one last time. "I promise you that, Kouichi."

Then, without another glance, he slipped to the door and back out into the hallway, hell-bent on keeping his promises.

( - )

Deep in dark, dank, eternal shadows of the Realm of Darkness, an old woman sat meditating over a cup of tea that had been drained almost to the leaves. Her little room in the depths of her little hut was so covered and hidden that it would have been impossible for any normal person to see anything, let alone the lumpy piles of wet muck in the bottom of her navy-blue cup.

But she could see them, and she could see even more. She saw what no one else could, saw the hundreds and thousands of glistening strings that stretched throughout the world and all of the creatures that they connected. She saw the sightless eyes that stared back at her from the depths of her softly-glowing crystal ball and she saw the little fortune teller's shop where they originated from – an old residence of hers, as a matter of fact – all decked out and ready for tea.

And, out of the very corner of her eye, she saw a twitch.

It wasn't a very large twitch, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if she hadn't been waiting for exactly that tiny little twitch as the bond between two hearts changed just the tiniest bit with just the tiniest action that one could imagine, she would never have noticed it at all.

But as it was, she did notice it, and she noticed the ripple of change that it sent throughout the everlasting web, and the notice of all of these things brought a whistful smile on to her face. She turned that smile to the crystal ball and addressed the sightless eyes that were watching her through it with as slight hint of emotion. "Well now. Would you say, my young friend, that this is the beginning of an end?"

"No, dear lady," whispered Xenos from the far side, his voice sending tremors down the Strings until they reached her ears. "I would say that it is only the end of a beginning."

Having received the answer that she knew she would get, the old woman let her smile widen. Then she stood from her table and went to examine exactly how the new web would unfold before them.

Kingdom of the Elemental Hearts: Inside/Outside

END

(To be continued in the main storyline of "Kingdom of the Elemental Hearts")