Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts, nor am I making any money off this fanfiction. Nor do I own Seiya—she belongs to Uzumaki-sama.

-o-o-

Author's Notes…

First off—

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SUSIE!

:D That's all I'm saying.

-o-o-

Adrift

"It's true! I saw it with my own eyes!"

"You sure you didn't just hear it this time?"

"What difference does it make? There's a huge monster in there, I tell you!"

"All right. Suppose there really is a huge monster… think we can beat it by ourselves, Sora?"

"No problem. Let's do it! Listen! There! Can you hear it growling?"

"Shh, quiet. We've gotta be careful."

"See that? It was just the wind making that noise."

"Aw, man. I wish it was a monster!"

"Hold on! What's that over there?"

"A window, or maybe a door? It won't open."

"Geeze, is that really all that's in here?"

"What do you expect in a boring place like this? Hey, Sora."

"Hm?"

"When we grow up, let's get off this island. We'll go on real adventures, not this kid stuff!"

"Sure. But isn't there anything fun to do now? Hey, you know the new girl at the mayor's house…?"

-o-o-

Sora jerked awake with a start just as thunder crashed outside his bedroom window.

He stared straight ahead into the thick, dark shadows of his room, heart pounding rapidly against his ribcage, and out of habit, he placed his hand over it. He swallowed against his dry throat, took a deep breath, slowly let it out, repeated the process until his breathing had somewhat regulated again.

"…"

"When we grow up, let's get off this island. We'll go on real adventures, not this kid stuff!"

Riku… he thought sadly, plopping back down onto his bed. He vaguely noticed that his legs were entangled in his sheets, and that his shirt had ridden up to the middle of his chest. Instead, he flopped his arms out to either side of him and closed his eyes, exhaling slowly.

"…I heard you dreaming," came a sudden soft deep voice from the darkness.

Sora wasn't startled—a smile merely crept along his lips, and he rolled over to curl around his pillow, peering up at Leon. The stoic man was standing against his bedroom window, one hand resting against his hip, the other pressed against the glass. Sora couldn't see much of his expression from here, but it looked deep in thought from what he could make out.

Sitting up, Sora began to untangle himself from his sheets. "I dream a lot," he admitted. And, without waiting for Leon to say anything—although he probably would have only given a noncommittal grunt—Sora let a slight grin trace his lips and shrugged one shoulder. "Mostly about the old days, you know? Back home. On the Islands."

"…Where Kairi is," the older man said softly.

Sora bobbed his head up and down in a happy nod. "Yup!" He sobered moments later, however, brows puckering and lips drawing down into a soft frown. "I miss her."

Lightning lit up the room, outlining the sharp features of Leon's face before it faded and shadows reigned once again. Thunder rumbled shortly afterwards, softer than the peal that had awoke Sora.

"…I miss everyone…" he whispered. "I miss Mom's homemade cookies, and the tea that Riku's used to make. And… how we used to have this delicious fish that came from an island south of ours, and we'd eat it with rice and sauce…"

He felt the backs of his eyes burning suddenly, and he wondered why he felt the urge to cry. This was ridiculous, he thought, scrubbing at his face. He hadn't cried since before this journey, nearly two years ago.

"…But most of all… I really miss Riku…"

He turned to look up at Leon then, bottom lip trembling despite his best efforts to hide his tears, and the older brunette turned slowly to meet his gaze. He slung a hip out to the side, crossing his arms, then gave a soft sigh and shook his head. Slowly, he made his way over to the Keyblade Master, pulling him into a loose embrace and stroking his hair.

Sora sniffled and wrapped his arms around his trusted friend, reveling in the rare affection he was being given from the other. Leon and he had grown quite close in the past couple of years—nothing beyond the boundaries of friendship, of course, and this was all that Sora needed, anyway. Someone to confide in, that would listen to him, that wouldn't expect so much from him, that would—

"It's dark," Sora whispered, watching the shadows begin to shift as lightning flashed again. "Can we turn on a light?"

"The power's out," Leon said softly into his hair, sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling the boy closer. "I don't know how long it will be until it's on again, either. Aerith and Yuffie are searching in the basement for candles, and Cloud and Cid went outside to try and find some flashlights and things from the garage."

"I hate it when it's dark…" Sora breathed, swallowing.

Fingers stroked his back in soothing circles. There was a long moment of silence filled only by rain beginning to patter against the windows and roof of the house. And then, very softly, "…Me, too."

-o-o-

A bright light clicked on, illuminating a face that was grinning manically. "Hoooooooo! I am going to get you, Squall!" A high-pitched cackle filled the air.

"Give me that!" Leon snapped, wrenching the flashlight away from Yuffie. "And it's Leon."

"Eleven years, and you haven't changed a bit!" Yuffie shook her head, waggling her finger at him, then grinned and placed her hands on her hips. She leaned forward a little. "C'mon, Leon—lighten up a little!"

"I'll lighten up when this storm is over," the man growled at her, batting her away as she clung to his arm. "Get off."

"But I'm scared of thunder, Squally-Squall!"

Leon sighed, giving a roll of his eyes, and then shook his head. "Cloud—could you—?"

"Yuffie, leave Leon alone," came a quiet voice from the shadows of the room. The blonde was lying on the couch, eyes closed and hands clasped over his stomach. Despite the fact that he had just spoken, he appeared to be sleeping.

Pouting, the girl let the lion go, and proceeded to bounce over to the other side of the room to twenty-question Cid, who was wrestling with the wires to the power case.

Leon was about to open his mouth to thank the winged man, but a glowing blue eye slipped open and looked at him.

"We all know how he can't take a bit of teasing."

The brunette scowled, gray eyes narrowing into a little glare. With a silent shake of his head, he crossed his arms and turned away.

Leon wasn't really sure how he felt about Cloud. The winged man had been in their party for two years, and at first the only person he had really spoken to was Aerith. He was quiet, but it was a different type of quiet than Leon's quiet—instead of an icy quiet, it was a calm quiet.

The blonde was a complete and total mystery. Carrying fragments of his memories, he had wandered about until he had finally returned to their home—Hollow Bastion—when Sora had closed the doors to Kingdom Hearts.

Leon sighed softly, his brows furrowing in thought. When Cloud had been a child, he had been very open and very affectionate. He could always be seen bouncing around whatever room he happened to be in, and if he was outside, he was climbing trees—sometimes even people. He had had really bright eyes and a broad grin.

Squall had always been intimidated by him. Squall had avoided him at all costs. Squall hadn't wanted anything to do with him.

And now Leon was stuck with him.

He sometimes wondered if he preferred the giddy Cloud from the past or the crass Cloud of the present. It seemed that whenever an opportunity arose, the blonde was only too happy to slip in a smartass comment to Leon. It made the brunette want to clock him in the jaw, but somehow he always managed to refrain.

"Squall, Squall, Squall! Heeheehee, look at what I found! Isn't it pretty! Here! You can have it!"

Leon pursed his lips, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. He preferred neither.

Just then, the door crashed open, sending in a harsh howl of wind and a splash of rain, and then it closed much more decently. Leon whirled, looking down into the face of a grinning Sora.

The older brunette stared for a moment, captivated by the bright blue eyes staring into his own and the wet brown spikes that were so wild. And those white teeth from that boyish stretch of lips.

Sometimes Leon swore that Sora was an exact imitation of a younger Cloud, minus the hair color.

"Yes, Sora?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow and crossing his arms.

"I found something!" A wet puddle was beginning to form beneath Sora's soaked sneakers, but no one said anything about it yet.

"Oooo, what did you find!" came Yuffie's excited voice as she bounced into the room. "C'mon, Sora, with the look you have on your face, it's gotta be good!"

He paused, as if suddenly realizing that he was not alone with Leon in the room, and his grin turned a bit sheepish. "Oh, um…Nothing special. Just—"

"C'mon, tell, tell, tell!" the raven-haired teenager gushed, clasping onto his arm like she had with Leon earlier.

"Yuffie, leave him alone," Leon said curtly as Sora shot him a pleading look. "Go help Aerith with the candles and things."

"Awww…!" Yuffie whined, stomping her foot a little. "But Squ-all!"

"You're eighteen, act like it," he said unyieldingly, shooting her a look.

Huffing angrily, she curled her hands into fists at her side and whirled, storming off to presumably find the other woman of the house.

"I didn't really find anything," Sora said as soon as she was gone. "I just—Kairi sent me something." His boyish grin was back. "It's my old journal!"

Leon lifted an eyebrow again. "Your old journal?"

Sora bobbed his head. "Yeah!" He pulled it out of a pack he had slung over his shoulder and began pulling it out. The pack had protected it from the rain, the brunette noticed. "See? I used to write in it all the time. Up until the point that this whole thing started." Clutching the journal to his chest, he looked up at the older male with bright eyes. "Can I borrow a flashlight, Leon?"

Leon hesitated, then allowed a faint smile to trace his lips and gave the flashlight he had taken from Yuffie to him. "Where are you going to read it?"

"My room," Sora replied, then threw his arms around Leon in a swift hug. "I'll bring it right back! I just wanna look through this!"

And he ran off with an excited laugh, the pack slinging back over his shoulder.

Leon watched after him for a long moment, then released a soft sigh and placed a hand on his hip, the other raking through his hair. He shook his head a little, smile spreading slightly. It was hard to be grouchy whenever Sora was around. He just seemed to light up the whole room, no matter where he was.

Feeling eyes suddenly on him, Leon shot a glance back over his shoulder. Glowing eyes were peering out of the shadows at him, and when they met stormy gray, they shifted to the side quickly.

"…What?" Leon asked.

"Nothing," Cloud replied. "I just thought that maybe sometimes you can be sweet."

Leon stared at him for a long moment, wondering where those words had come from and trying to decide if they were a compliment or not.

"…It was… nice," the blonde whispered softly.

Leon turned his head back around slowly, unsure of what to think about that.

-o-o-

Sora gazed down at the old journal in his hands and couldn't keep back a happy grin. When was the last time that he had laid eyes upon this ancient thing!

Two years ago, he thought, fingers smoothing over the worn, ratty cover.

The book was very big—like a textbook that you'd find in a medical university back on Destiny Islands, or one of those tombs stacked on the shelves in the library at Hollow Bastion. Sora had had it since he was a child. It had once belonged to his father, San, who had passed away sometime after Sora's tenth birthday.

A sad smile traced his lips, and he opened the book to gaze at the first yellowed page. His father's messy scrawl peered back up at him, the ink faded. He had been a boy, as well, when he had received this journal, and the first thing that he had written about was how beautiful Seiya—Sora's mother—was, even at the time of being only twelve.

His parents had been really in love, Sora reflected, falling back onto his pillows and beginning to gingerly turn pages. Although it would seem unrealistic to anyone but his close friends and he, his mom and dad had never so much as raised their voices at each other. (However, that didn't mean that they had a problem raising their voices at Sora. But then again, Sora liked to get into trouble a lot.)

…Sora remembered the expression on his mother's face when her father had died. When the police had arrived at the door, wearing grim expressions. Their town had been small, and everyone had known each other. That meant that it was really hard for the police officers to give the news to Seiya.

Sora had watched from behind the kitchen wall, peering into the hallway with wide blue eyes as his mother collapsed to her knees with a long, keening wail.

The brunette sighed, chasing depressing memories away. Right now, he wanted to have a bit of fun before he left with Goofy and Donald on their mission tomorrow. Currently, his comrades were out on the gummi ship, scouring around for signs of any new worlds.

4-19

Today was a bad day. Seiya rejected me… again.

I wonder why?

I don't know what's wrong with me. It has to be me, right? I mean—I really like her. And I care for her like no one else can or ever will.

(Okay, so I realize that this sounds slightly obsessive of me…)

Smiling slightly to himself, Sora began flipping through pages, eyes idly flitting over hastily scrawled words here, long devoted love notes there.

5-13

We're getting engaged…

7-2

…decided on our place of marriage. It's in the church that my parents got married. By autumn, it will be really breathtaking. There's so many hickory trees and oaks.

I know that she'll be beautiful walking down that isle.

1-17

Our baby boy was born today! This is the biggest blessing—

Biting his bottom lip, Sora finally landed on the page of his first journal entry. He almost giggled out loud. His handwriting was very sloppy, for one, and it has been rushed in his eagerness to write in his father's journal.

But Sora wasn't interested in the early days of his journal. He wanted to get to when he had been fourteen—because those memories… Those were the best days of his life, even in their sweet misery, before things had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

8-26

Today Riku and I headed out to the Secret Place—that's what we named it, because no one else knows about it, except for Kairi.

I'm having a bit of trouble with some… things. More often than not, Riku has been spending all his time with Kairi lately. I mean, Kairi is a very pretty girl, and I get in the occasional flirt, too, but it's plain that Riku is "Obviously Interested"… interested in a relationship that goes beyond the boundaries of a mere friendship and into… "love".

(It hurts to write this…)

I mean… I'm really happy for Riku! I'm always gonna support him, no matter what! But… sometimes I think that I'm almost jealous of Kairi…

What does this mean? Riku's my best friend, sure, but… I just don't know…

8-27

…Today—something happened… in the Secret Place. We went back again, because it was cooler there, and we wanted to dry off…

Sora's eyes slipped closed slowly as a wave of nostalgia rolled over him. That was one of the days that he remembered so vividly. He could call it to his mind's eye and go over even the smallest details.

So he did.

"Hey, Sora, I'm gonna take my shirt off, is that okay?" Riku asked, drawing Sora from his thoughts. He had been untying his shoelaces, intent on resting his feet against the cold stone.

Sora gave him a weird look. Like he had never seen Riku shirtless before! "Why wouldn't it be?"

Riku gave a shrug of his shoulders. "Nothing—it's just that you seem like such a prude lately."

The brunette boy gasped, staring at his friend in shock even as his cheeks warmed considerably. "What! I am not a prude!"

His friend's lips curled into a teasing grin. "You don't even know what a prude is, Sora."

Sora glared, giving him an indignant pout. "Of course, I know what a prude is! I'm not stupid, you know!" And before Riku could make him prove it, "Why am I a prude? I see you change clothes all the time!"

Riku rolled his eyes, fingers drifting to the hems of his shirt. "I was just teasing you, Sora. Can't you take a joke?" he drawled.

The brunette glared for a moment longer, mostly because Riku just irritated him with his attitude these days, but he didn't say anything else and merely looked down at his hands.

Movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he looked up to see Riku revealing bare by bare inch of his skin as he took off his shirt. His muscles rippled as his arms shifted, his skin slightly pink from days spent in the sun.

But… Sora's eyes lingered over dusky pink nipples, standing at attention in the slightly chilly air, along with the silver hair trailing into Riku's pants—

He quickly averted his gaze, feeling things in his groin stir to life. He took a shuddery breath, wondering why, and swallowed hard against his dry throat before shifting his legs to hide any evidence.

Oh, man… he thought. What's up with that

He squeezed his eyes shut, but he could still see—

"Hey, Sora… We're friends—right…?" Riku suddenly asked slowly, and Sora paused, looking up at him with confusion in his eyes, momentarily chasing away his other thoughts.

"…Yeah…" Sora replied just as slowly. Even though sometimes I want to smack you, you jerk…

Riku frowned at him. "Don't give me that look. I just asked a simple question."

"Geeze, Riku…" Sora grumbled, looking away. What's his problem?

"Remember what I told you last night?" Riku continued on in a much more normal tone, as if he just hadn't gotten haughty with his best friend.

Sora pursed his lips thoughtfully, deciding to let it go. Though Riku had become a bit of a jerk lately, they had been best friends since the days of their cradles. "Oh… Do you mean about the paopu fruit?"

"Yes, exactly." When Riku grinned, his teeth flashed pearly white. It was somewhat intimidating—there was something about his grin that wasn't like any of the ones that Sora had grown up with.

"What about it?" Sora questioned, puckering his brows in confusion.

"Well… It's like I said. If two people share one, their destines will become intertwined. They'll remain a part of each other's lives, no matter what." He was edging closer, and his hand was in his pocket now.

Sora looked at him curiously. "Right…"

"Well… We're best friends…" Riku began in that slow tone that he had adopted earlier.

Sora nodded once, eyes fixated on Riku's green ones, which seemed to be sparkling with—something… He couldn't quite call it mischief… hope, maybe?

"Never to part?"

"Never to part…" Sora echoed.

"You always want to be friends with me, right?"

Sora bobbed his head again, having an inkling of an idea where this was going.

"Say it," Riku whispered, a sudden intensity coming to his eyes. "Say that you do."

"I do," Sora murmured, and blinked. "Riku, what's wrong?" He felt vaguely hurt—his friend had never doubted him before. Well, not about matters such as this, anyway.

"And you'd do anything to make me happy?" Riku asked, ignoring the question as he slipped even closer.

Sora knew his expression was skeptical. "Almost anything," he cautioned.

His friend fixed him with a look. "Sora."

Sora sighed. "All right, all right. As long as it doesn't involve killing someone, or something like that, or embarrassing myself horribly in front of everyone just so you can laugh at me, then yes. Anything."

A slight frown creased the silver-haired boy's brows. "When did I embarrass you like that?"

Sora ducked his head, a heat flaring high in his cheeks. "That one time in the third grade…" he mumbled.

Riku waved a hand dismissively. "That was a period of time when we were fighting, remember?"

The brunette sighed. "…I suppose so…"

"So…" The Secret Place's shadows suddenly lengthened as the clouds creeping overhead blocked the sun's rays from dipping into the fissure. "If I said it would make me happy, would you share the paopu with me?"

-o-o-

"The rain is just growing worse…" Cloud murmured from off to Leon's side, and the brunette turned slightly to look at him. The lithe man was still lying on the couch, but his blue eyes were riveted on Leon's again.

"…That's what happens during bad storms," Leon replied wryly, indulging in a rare side of himself that was pleased to see the way those strange eyes narrowed.

Had his eyes always been so… ethereal? Leon couldn't remember that period in his life very well, but he didn't think so.

"I know that, Leon," Cloud murmured, the look easing off his face—smoothing his brows, curving his lips from where they had been pursed.

A moment of silence passed between them, in which the rain pounded on the roof and Cid's distant curses drifted through the house. Lightning illuminated the room, followed briefly by a peal of thunder.

"Do you remember what home was like…?" the blonde's soft voice drifted from the couch.

Leon shifted his eyes to him again. "…Home?" he replied.

Cloud gave a slow nod of his head, his own eyes not looking at the brunette this time, but at the rain streaming in rivulets down the window. "Yes. Home."

The warrior pursed his lips, eyeing the blonde for a moment longer, then turned and began to head out of the room. "I don't have a home. I just have a place to stay until everything's made right again."

"…But what if nothing's ever made right again?" came the other's soft voice, and something within it made Leon come to a slow stop.

"…Then I guess I just don't belong anywhere," Leon said, peering over his shoulder.

Cloud was still watching the rain. It was a long moment before he spoke again, just when the brunette was about to shake his head and leave. "…You're nice, Leon. But you're also really sad."

Leon blinked, and his eyes slowly narrowed at the winged man. Cloud said nothing else, however, eyes slipping closed and shifting slightly to get more comfortable. A few moments later, and it was apparent that the blonde was asleep by the soft snores drifting through the room.

"…Whatever," Leon muttered, turning and intending to go and find Cid to help out with the power.

Sad? He wasn't sad. He wasn't happy, either, but he wasn't sad.

Cloud was wrong.

-o-o-

"…Share… the paopu…?" Sora breathed, eyes widening slightly.

The seconds ticked past, in which his silver-haired friend watched him, green eyes still carrying that strange brightness.

Sora swallowed against his dry throat and tried again, voice weak, "You want to share the paopu with… me?"

This was probably just some stupid joke that Riku had conjured up to make fun of Sora later. The paopu? That was just—

"Who else would I want to share it with?" Riku murmured, a soft look coming to his eyes, but the brightness was still there.

"Um…" Kairi? Sora thought, but didn't voice this out loud. It didn't seem like something he should really be saying at the moment.

Maybe that was it? Maybe Riku was practicing for Kairi? Although this revelation hurt Sora, as well, it seemed the mostly likely conclusion.

"So will you?" Riku asked, and he finally withdrew his hand from his pocket. There, with his fingers curled around it, was a star-shaped, yellow fruit.

Sora swallowed against a sudden lump in his throat.

"Will it—really make you happy?" he asked hoarsely, unable to break his gaze away from the paopu. His mind was already conjuring up images of Kairi's excited eyes, Riku's smirk, and then it plunged into further sickening revelation. Marriage, and—

He found that he wasn't upset that Riku would get to Kairi first. He was upset that Kairi—would wind up spending the rest of her life with Riku, because they were a boy and a girl and it was natural, and Sora… would be left behind like all best friends eventually are.

…When did I start crushing on Riku? Sora wondered, and tried to send his mind reeling back, but all sorts of memories brought themselves to the surface, and he could only watch helplessly as his other best friend came and shattered them all.

I guess I've liked him forever…

"Yes," Riku whispered, and also withdrew a pocketknife for which to cut the precious fruit.

Sora's heart began pounding, and he found his mouth dry, like he had run all the way around the island with only blustering winds to keep him company.

He's really thought this out, hasn't he? I hope he decides to stop joking soon…

But a piece of Sora knew that he wasn't joking at all, and that his thoughts about Kairi were really close to the truth, if not completely. At the least, Riku had probably gotten the idea in his head. He had always had a one-track mind, and Kairi seemed to be on it the most these days.

"Okay…" Sora breathed, trying to swallow the lump in his throat back down, but without success. It made his voice thick, and he choked when he talked. "Let's share one, Riku."

The shadows shifted again, and when Riku raised his pocketknife, the blade caught the returning rays of sunlight and glimmered.

"I'm game if you are, Sora."

Good, the brunette thought, because you started this whole thing.

Sora watched as the blade cut into the soft flesh of the paopu, watched as gooey pink juices trailed down Riku's hand. When Riku offered a piece of fruit by pressing it to his lips, he parted them, and he tasted honey and coconut.

Riku's green eyes never left his as Sora pressed a piece of the paopu against his lips in return, smearing them with the sweet juice.

Sora would eventually realize later that Riku had no intention of sharing the paopu with Kairi, and that every word he had said to his best friend had been absolutely sincere.

But Sora had been fourteen, and in love with a wild boy. The thought that someone so special to him could return his feelings was far off in the future, like a single, burning star.

-o-o-

Squall had always wondered why Cloud smiled so much.

Leon sometimes thought of the reasons why he didn't anymore.

"I want to give you something, Squall. For your birthday. You said that you liked lions, so… I dunno… I just thought that you might appreciate this. It's name is Griever. I hope you like him."

Leon fingered the cool metal necklace wrapped around his neck and stared out into the pouring rain. There… was something out there…

The hairs on the back of his neck prickled, and his eyes narrowed. It was too dark, and the rain was so thick, that he couldn't really see a damn thing, but his senses knew.

"Cloud, get up," Leon said, turning from the window. "We need to alert Sora. Something's out there. Let's go."

And without waiting for a response as blue eyes shot open sleepily, Leon headed for the Keyblade Master's room, belts jingling and boots clicking on the linoleum floor.

-o-o-

It said that it could read our memories, and that it could tell the future.

We didn't know what it was, really. It looked human, with brown eyes that bordered on amber, and red-brown hair that glimmered in the neon lights of TraverseTown, but looked black otherwise. It was short, and it had a boyish build.

But those eyes seemed sightless, and it was looking through us, instead of directly at us. And when it spoke, its voice reverberated through our minds, and its lips did not move.

-Defeat me- it said -and I will show you your future-

Well, the fact was, we were going to have to defeat it, anyway. It had been feasting on a heart when we had arrived. Whether it could actually tell the future or not was irrelevant—it was some form of heartless, and it had to go.

…And sometimes I believe Donald when he tells me I'm over-confident, because this was one of those times.

-o-o-

Sora slashed the Keyblade through the air with a twirl of his fingers, leaping and aiming directly for the heartless.

The rain was pouring, and the fluorescent lighting was incredibly bright, and the next thing Sora knew was that his face was in a puddle of mud, and that his knees were scraped up pretty badly.

Lifting his head and sputtering out dirty water and thicker things, Sora whirled around just in time to block four blades sweeping towards his face.

Why did I agree to take on this thing alone! Sora thought wildly.

"We are all a part of time," the heartless murmured, eyes now completely amber and boring directly into his. "Even you cannot escape it, Keyblade Master."

"What are you talking about!" Sora growled, twisting Ultima again and knocking the claws to the side. He lunged forward, intending to end this quickly, but the Keyblade cut through thin air.

Sora blinked, dumbfounded. Had the thing just vanished?

There was something at his back.

Sora whirled around, blocking four blades that had been about to plunge into his heart. He gritted his teeth, feet slipping a little against the cobblestone alleyway, but he resolved that he would not fall.

"You run away from time," the thing whispered, and it seemed to echo, creeping along the brick walls, hissing with the rain, swishing through the inky black sky above.

"But I don't!" Sora cried, puzzled. Was this thing mad!

He could have smacked himself. Well, duh! It was a heartless!

"Your memories haunt you, Keyblade Master." The thing tilted its head in a way that reminded Sora eerily of a predator—well, it was, but… "You seek to forget the most horrifying ones."

"What has that got to do with time!" Sora snarled in frustration, wondering why he was even bothering talking to this thing.

A slow smile crept along its lips. "Everything, Keyblade Master. Defeat your fears, and you defeat me."

"What, do you want to die!" Sora cried.

"I do, I'm tired of living in this existence. I am older than time itself," it murmured. It lifted those strange eyes to Sora's again. "Humans—they will never learn."

Sora frowned in confusion. This thing was a heartless—how could it be older than time itself? The heartless had only sprung into existence eleven years ago, and that was because of—

"Ansem," it said slowly, as if reading his thoughts, and maybe it was, if it could really read memories, "was not the first."

Sora's frown deepened as his brows drew into a furrow. "What?"

"Nor will he be the last," the heartless whispered mysteriously. "As long as there is light, there will be darkness. You cannot defeat it entirely—without one, the other cannot exist. For what is light without the darkness, Keyblade Master?"

"A meaningless effort," Sora whispered, eyes widening slowly. "A meaningless existence."

"No one has ever defeated me before," the heartless said softly. "no one has ever overcome their memories."

"I thought that the paopu tasted pretty bitter, ya?"

"Yeah, man, I'd have to agree with Wakka."

"Why are you fighting now, Keyblade Master?"

The heartless lunged, and they were spinning, twisting through the air, weapons colliding with piercing shrieks that echoed, only to be drowned out by a peal of thunder.

"I dunno… I haven't tried it yet. I'm waiting for that special someone to share it with."

"Answer me this question, and you will defeat me. It lies deep within your memories."

And so Sora searched, deep within himself, memories racing through his mind with a kind of desperation that he had never really experienced before.

"Why didn't you share one with me, Sora…?" Kairi whispered, violet eyes filling quickly with disappointment, and it was then that Sora realized that it wasn't Riku that Kairi liked—

"I'm fighting for the light!" Sora yelled, voice growing hoarse as he chased after the heartless.

The thing spread its arms as if to embrace heaven, rain slipping down its face and along its almost wistful smile.

"Think deeper, Keyblade Master!"

So he did.

The memories rushed to the forefront of his mind, nearly stunning him with their intensity, and it was all that he could do to keep up with them.

Riku, grinning as he held up a fish, the ocean water slapping against the backs of his legs and nearly toppling him over.

Lemonade on hot summer days, sea breezes idly tousling hair about.

Jogging through the sand, lungs constricting with the effort of breathing as he struggled to keep up with his very best friend.

The clock ticking as they idled the afternoon away, just talking and ignoring their textbooks spread out before them, homework papers forgotten.

The memories swirled faster and faster together, rushing past his ears with fragments of laughter, of tears, of screaming in anger, of comforting tones.

Sora's foot caught on a loose stone, and he tripped, falling forward, and for a moment, everything seemed to dance to a slow spin. His arms outstretched to either side of him, Keyblade vanishing from his right hand in a myriad of colors.

Yellow eyes peering down at him.

A smile spreading, just slightly.

And then he was sinking rapidly into warm, dying sunlight, the sounds of seagulls screeching and water splashing against a small island overcoming him.

-o-o-

Sora sighed, dangling his legs over the side of the paopu island and watching the sun sinking below the distant horizon. The reds, oranges, and purples were really gorgeous, he decided. This raft of theirs would reach that far one day.

As it was now, however, sand was digging into very uncomfortable places in his shorts, and he was sticky and hot from the day and excursions of collecting items for the raft and dueling with the others. He felt content, though—productive. Productive wasn't something that he experienced all that often these days. He mostly just lazed them away.

A faint smile crossed Sora's lips as his mind began flitting back through the summer days. July was gone, and it was the middle of August, and school would be starting back up in just a few days. The thought caused Sora to be uneasy—he would be entering high school. Riku, who would be a sophomore this year, had reassured him countless times that it was great, that Sora would have a blast. And, he would add in a low whisper, he could hang out with Sora more, and wasn't that just great?

A faint blush filled Sora's cheeks as he fingered the hems of his shorts. His jacket was off to the side, discarded in favor of a cool, refreshing breeze to ghost along Sora's bared skin.

Well… ever since they had shared the paopu fruit the night before… Sora hadn't been quite able to look Riku directly in the eyes today.

His shoulders drooped slightly. And… Riku had gone back to flirting with Kairi again. Like they hadn't just shared the paopu fruit. Although Sora knew he should have expected it, it still—hurt.

"Boo."

Sora jerked, startled, and whipped his head around to see Riku standing there with a grin stretched upon his lips. He had one hand on his hip, and the sea breezes were tossing his silvery hair about. The setting sun was casting beautiful hues on his pale tone, and Sora couldn't help but admire them with a soft blush crossing his cheeks. He quickly turned back around, heaving a sigh.

…Man, how am I supposed to deal with this kinda stuff…? Riku's my friend… right?

"You were out here kinda late. I figured that you wanted a bit more time to yourself, so I told Kairi to go on home."

Sora blinked, surprised. He had told the redheaded girl to go on without them? Weird… usually, if Sora wasn't careful, he was the one left behind these days, trying to catch up with his friends.

"You did?" he asked, raising his brows. "Wow, Riku."

A frown traced Riku's lips, and he came closer to his friend, plopping down in the sand next to him. "What's that supposed to mean, huh?" The grin was back, this time sly, and his friend jabbed him in the shoulder with a finger.

"Hey, ow!" Sora whined, rubbing at it. "Don't do that crap, Riku!"

"Oh, you big baby," Riku teased, ruffling his hair, and suddenly all the huff left Sora, and he found himself averting his gaze. "So, c'mon, twerp, what did you mean?"

"I'm not a twerp!" The huff was back, and Sora cast him a defiant glare, lip jutting out into a fierce pout.

Riku laughed, holding up his hands and waving them disarmingly. "Okay, okay, you're not a twerp!" His green eyes softened as his mirth died. "So what's wrong, Sora?"

Sora fell onto his back and stared up at the darkening sky gloomily, curling his fingers into the sand out to either side of him. "…Nothing, really, I guess," he sighed, giving a subtle shrug of his shoulders. He could hear the water splashing against the side of the island as the tide began to come in. They should probably be leaving soon. "I don't know…"

"You don't know?" Riku's face moved into his line of vision, and his friend smiled a little, edging closer to him. Sora watched as he lifted a leg and swung it over his waist, settling down on top of him and pushing his hands against the brunette's shoulders. "C'mon, I'm sure you do," he teased.

Sora could feel the tips of his ears burning, was sure that his face was as red as a cherry. "Riku!" he gasped, sitting up and pushing against him, but his friend wouldn't budge. "What are you doing!"

"Our destinies are intertwined now, Sora," Riku said, shoving him back on the ground so that the breath left Sora's lungs. "So—since we're going to be together forever, you can start telling me stuff, y'know. Might prevent future fights in the end." His teeth gleamed pearly white.

"Oh, c'mon, Riku," Sora growled. "You know that's not—"

Suddenly, Riku's fingers tightened in his shoulders, and his eyes darkened to a deep shade of green. "You don't believe?" he asked, voice lowering to a fierce whisper.

The brunette stared up into his friend's eyes, uncertain of what he was seeing there. Another stray breeze gusted past, cooler than before, and he shivered. It was almost completely dark out now. "…Riku?" he asked hesitantly.

"If two people share a paopu, their destinies will become intertwined. They'll remain a part of each other's lives, no matter what," he whispered, leaning down to rest his forehead against Sora's. His eyes slipped closed. "And you shared one with me."

Sora swallowed against his dry throat. "I thought—that you were practicing for Kairi."

The fingers dug in further, and Sora winced. "Hey, Riku, stop, you're hurting me!" he cried.

Abruptly, Riku's fingers fell away, and he scrambled off Sora. The boy caught a horrified look in his friend's eyes before he saw silver hair and Riku was turned away from him, curled up in a ball, shaking his head back and forth.

"Riku…?" he asked again, sitting up slowly. He gritted his teeth and rubbed at his shoulders, before letting his hands drop back to his sides and making his way over to the older boy. "Hey, Riku… I'm sorry—I know I'm a baby—you didn't hurt me that bad…" Gingerly, Sora reached out, and placed his hand on a broad shoulder.

The body beneath his hand tensed, muscles knotted, and he thought he heard a sharp intake of breath. But then, slowly, the breath eased back out, and the body began to relax. After a long moment, Riku leaned into his touch.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, laying his temple against Sora's forearm.

"It's—it's okay," Sora said, licking his lips, then dropped to his knees behind Riku. He tentatively reached out with his other hand and placed it against Riku's free shoulder. "…Riku… really, it's okay…"

What was that about, anyway? he couldn't help but wonder. Riku had become more and more distant lately, and Sora feared that they were drifting far apart, but—he didn't want to let go. Not yet.

"I don't know…" Riku murmured, shifting his eyes up to gaze at the brunette. "But I'm sorry."

Riku rarely apologized.

Sora felt his face heating up again, and he gave a nonchalant shrug, looking away hastily. "Aw, c'mon, Riku…" Despite himself, a sheepish grin crossed his lips—he hoped that it didn't show how happy he was. "…You don't have to apologize. Sometimes you just play too rough, that's all."

"But I hurt you," the other whispered, and suddenly, Sora could feel him nuzzling into his wrist. He paused, blinking in surprise, then looked down at his friend.

"Hey—uh—Riku?"

The older boy turned around slightly, lifting his eyes to Sora's again, and a faint, mysterious smile crossed his lips just before he jerked the boy forward directly into his lap. Sora lay sprawled there for a moment, gasping, and his friend snaked his arms around his waist and drew him closer.

Sora swallowed hard. He could feel Riku's chest pressing against his own, and it was warm, hard, firm and bordering on manly. And the other boy smelt good, too—there was some faint whiff of his deodorant beneath the customary scents of sea water, fish, sand, and sweat. There was also something slightly tropical—he had been eating that coconut earlier today, hadn't he?

Riku buried his face in Sora's neck, and Sora heard him inhale again, only this time it was more—deep… slow… Slow enough that Sora shivered as he blew the breath back out, along the brunette's sensitive skin, a warm gust that had his toes curling.

"Sora—we're friends, right?" Riku asked softly, and Sora could feel the shape of his lips moving.

"Yeah…" Sora managed to rasp out, then cleared his throat and said more clearly, "Yeah. Of course. Why, Riku?" Something about this seemed entirely familiar…

"No reason…" his friend murmured, hands sliding up his back. He pulled back, fingers curling around Sora's hips, and gazed up into innocent blue eyes. "So—if I kiss you—you'll still be my friend, right?"

Sora froze.

It took his mind a few long moments to backtrack on what Riku had just asked of him. He stared into those familiar green eyes, his blood roaring in his ears, his heart pounding frantically against his ribcage, and wondered if he had heard correctly.

He opened his mouth, closed it, repeated the process a few times before his voice came back, and even then, it was choked, garbled, "What?"

"Well…" Riku began slowly. "We're friends. You just said so. So…" An eyebrow arched. "If we're friends, then you won't mind if I kiss you."

"Riku!" Sora gasped, stumbling out of Riku's lap as he began to crab-crawl backwards. Once he was a good few feet away, he continued staring at him, chest heaving up and down as he tried to regulate his breathing. He settled for exhaling sharply through his nose.

Riku leaned forward, settling onto his hands and knees, and Sora gazed into those green eyes, unable to look away as he began to crawl closer. It was like a snake had mesmerized him! What… what was…?

"Well, we shared a paopu fruit. You knew that it would be romantic," Riku was saying softly. "C'mon, Sora—don't think I'm buying that practicing with Kairi excuse."

Sora pouted despite himself. "It wasn't an excuse! I was being serious!"

A hand settled on his knee.

It was enough to startle Sora out of his locked-gaze with Riku, and he jerked away as if he had been burned. He didn't miss the frown that immediately tugged at the silver-haired boy's lips. But then, after a long, intense moment, in which Sora thought of all possible escapes, a slow smile curled at Riku's mouth, replacing the frown.

"Sora, do you remember what you confided to me at New Year's? What your resolution for the year was?"

Sora shook his head.

"Oh, yes, you do," Riku whispered, and his fingers came to rest against Sora's knee again. This time the brunette didn't pull away, but he swore that if his friend tried anything further, he'd be out of there faster than you could say bingo.

"I…" Sora licked his lips. "I said that—" He hesitated, wondering why he was saying this again. It had been embarrassing enough the first time, and now he had a feeling that it was about to be used to his disadvantage. "I said that I wanted to be kissed…" he said weakly.

"To receive your first kiss," Riku corrected, and he tilted his head. This time, when he smiled, it was soft, and his eyes were warm. "You haven't been kissed yet, have you?"

Sora almost didn't hear the question. His attention had been captured by the fingers stroking along his knee, just beneath the hem of his shorts. The slow circular movements sent a long shudder up his spine, and he let out a breathy gasp.

"Have you…?" Riku prompted, leaning closer now that he knew Sora wasn't going to escape just yet. "C'mon, Sora, answer me…"

"Can't think…" Sora breathed.

"I like you, Sora," his friend whispered, nose brushing along his jaw before he buried his face in his neck. "…I like you a lot…"

Sora swallowed numbly, unable to move, frozen in place. "…I l-like you, too, Riku… W-we're friends…"

Riku swatted lightly at his knee, although it wasn't meant to hurt. "You know what I mean."

Sora wanted to push him away, to demand that he stop, but he couldn't. Riku was his friend, and he had always, always let the other boy have his way, no matter what that had meant for the future. "…Riku…" he whispered shakily. "I don't… understand… I thought that you…"

Riku pulled back and arched a brow. "Thought that I liked Kairi?"

The brunette nodded, biting his bottom lip and looking at his friend meekly.

Riku sighed, dragging fingers through that long hair of his, and then fixed Sora with a rather intense stare. That brightness from the day before was back in his eyes, and Sora could only watch helplessly as he slowly shifted closer, breath caressing his mouth.

"Riku…" Sora whispered weakly.

Riku pressed his lips softly to Sora's.

The brunette froze yet again, unsure of what was happening. Well—it's not that he wasn't sure—it was just… he hadn't… really expected Riku to go through with—

His friend's lips were soft and warm, just like Sora had imagined them to be. The contours of the other boy's mouth seemed to mold perfectly to his own, and he couldn't help but let his eyes slip closed.

So this was what a kiss was like? This breathtaking tingling that started low in the pit of his stomach to work its way through his body until he was nearly dizzy with giddiness?

Riku pulled back a hair's breadth, but it was enough to make Sora give a soft sigh of disappointment.

Fingers slipped into his hair, lightly teasing the strands, and Sora couldn't help but shiver slightly. Riku's hand moved to cup the back of his neck and tilt his head up, and Sora obliged, looking up at Riku with hooded eyes.

He heard his friend's breath catch in his throat. "Sora…" he whispered. "Was that okay?"

Sora thought about this, licking his lips almost anxiously. Now that Riku's mouth wasn't pressed to his own, he was starting to feel not so intoxicated.

Was… that okay? Well, considering that this was his best friend, and that his best friend was a boy—probably not ethically-wise. But Sora had been daydreaming about something like this for weeks now, and if he was honest with himself, he was definitely enjoying all of Riku's attention that he was currently receiving.

Sora didn't think he knew how to say the words properly, so instead he just nodded.

"Say it," Riku spoke in a trembling whisper that pierced the anxious silence. "Say that it was okay, Sora."

The brunette opened his mouth—closed it. Well… he would have to speak his mind, after all.

"I liked it," he confessed softly, cheeks burning. He bowed his head in embarrassment, spikes drooping forward to hide his face from view. "It's… okay, Riku." Definitely okay, he added silently with a fond sort of smile.

"Good," Riku breathed, and Sora peered up through his bangs to see that the older boy's green eyes were bright like before. "Because I want to do it again." He leaned in close, gaze hopeful—this hope struck something deep within Sora, and he felt his body beginning to tremble. Riku really wanted this—this wasn't just something impulsive, something to practice for somebody else.

"Can I?" he asked softly.

Sora found that he could only nod, gaze locked with his best friend's. He watched as Riku's face blurred slightly as he leaned in closer, felt his breath on his lips, warm and almost… soothing. With the silver-haired boy this close, Sora could hear his breathing.

In… Out… In… Out…

How many times had Sora listened to the pattern of Riku's breathing in the dark of the night whenever they stayed over at one another's houses? There were too many to count, it seemed.

But this… this was more familiar to Sora, and he began to feel himself slipping into an eased frame of mind.

Riku kissed him again, and he exhaled softly, pressing his lips back this time. He felt his friend's fingers stroking over the back of his neck, gently tugging on his hair, and it was causing pleasant shivers to run down his spine.

"If I didn't know any better, Sora," Riku whispered against his mouth, "I'd say that your neck was sensitive."

"Is… Is it?" Sora managed to gasp out as Riku drew a particularly long line down the prominent vein in his neck with the tip of his finger.

"Mhmmm…" Riku murmured. "Very sensitive."

Sora couldn't help but let a little grin trace his lips. "Heehee."

"You're so cute, Sora…" his friend whispered. "I'm glad that we're going to be together forever." He buried his face in Sora's neck again, inhaling deeply and slowly letting the breath out.

The brunette slipped his arms around Riku's shoulders and drew him closer, burying his nose in the older boy's hair. He exhaled shakily, fingers drawing random, soothing designs along his shoulder blades.

"Me, too…" he murmured, eyes slipping closed slowly. He smiled as Riku's grip tightened around his waist. "…Me, too…"

And slowly, the sun began disappearing, its dying rays leaving him cold. The seagulls' screeching faded away, lost to the sounds of the waves crashing against the island as the tide swept in. And then even that was gone, and before Sora knew it, everything was pitch black. Riku—

He was clutching at thin air.

Dark tendrils wrapped around his wrists slowly, like snakes, or vines climbing up the tallest trees, and more secured themselves around his ankles. The tendrils drew him up into the air, and he shivered slightly as they tightened.

Amber eyes peered up at him. "Do you know the answer to the question?"

"Time…" Sora whispered, and it echoed, seeming to never end as it bounced along the darkness. "I'm fighting… for more time…"

"And do you know why?"

"Because—I miss… Destiny Islands… my friends… my family…"

"But who are you searching for?"

"…Riku…" His eyes slipped closed again. "…Always Riku…"

Fingertips, icy to the touch and causing him to shiver hard, caressed along his cheek, but he didn't jerk away. "Humans—deep down, their reasons for doing noble things are always so selfish."

A sole fingertip traced along his lips. "Sleep well, Keyblade Master."

And Sora slept.