Dedicated to Light and Love.

A/N: Ah, the sappiness of me.

Your eyes aren't fooling you. This IS the last chapter of That's Why.

No joke.

I promise.

Don't look at the computer screen like that! You'll make me cry!

Please enjoy the final read. It's long. And when I say long, I mean LONG. Thirty four pages of finality. (Yeah. I had the day off and this is what happens. I wrote all of this today and I only re-read it once. I hope it's not too bad.) Never fear, my loverly readers and reviewers. There's always The Afters.

Disclaimer: For the forty-seventh and final time, NO!

ooo

Sora picked his way through Tarsus' endless maze of corridors. Most lead to dead ends, which only frustrated him. Kairi's heart tugged Sora in a general direction, but there was nothing to be done. Walls of darkness forbade his passing, despite his being near-shadow. It was trying.

And dark. It was difficult to tell where he'd been and when he'd been there.

Desperate now, Sora crawled along the right-hand wall. If he was going to get anywhere, he had keep moving.

"I'm next. I know I am."

Sora halted, one clawed foot hovering to step. He turned his attention down the way, where faint voices did conjure. Sora considered taking an alternate route, but his gut persuaded him otherwise.

"Don't speak like that," sighed another, familiar voice. Female. "We both know he'll take me before he takes you. I'm the one that gave the Restoration Committee the antivirus for Tron's program. I'm the one that was defeat by that oaf, Axel."

Sora picked up his pace. The clack-clacking of his talons didn't stave the conversation he desired to overhear. Maybe because they'd heard the on-coming approach of Chasers more often than not. Sora poised, still as a statue. He bent his head to peek inside a tiny cell.

And there sat Demyx.

Sora blinked.

"Larxene, please," Demyx huffed.

"Please yourself!" Larxene's voice filtered from a vent hinged against the stone ceiling. Obviously leading to a neighboring cell. "Tarsus will kill the both of us when he's good and ready. I'll be cursed to the Underworld before I let him take you before he takes me."

Demyx's eyes watered. "Larxene!" he sniffed. "Do you really mean it?"

She laughed at his tears. "I don't want to be the last to grieve."

Demxy's face fell. The chains at his wrists rattled when he folded his arms across his chest. "Well!" He stuck his nose in the air. "And here I was thinking you'd had a change of heart."

"Don't get all mushy on me, you pansy-weaponed canary."

Sora's ears fell flat against his head. He wished that he could help. He really did. But he didn't have the power to break the three-or-so bars imprisoning either Organization member from the outside. Or...the inside of Tarsus's labyrinth castle. Whatever the Mastery's citadel was made of, it was strong. Sora's claws couldn't pierce...

Sora made a determined face. He was tired of being useless. As horrible as his transforming body was, it had its pros. He was more beast than human, now. His anatomy and physiology was very different and complex, he felt. Sora knew he could slip past the prison's bared window.

Sora shoved his head to. His shoulders thunked against the onyx. "Owww," he groaned.

Demyx considered him with defeated eyes. He looked as if he might've screamed if he hadn't been so beaten. "Oh look," he sing-songed. "A..." He didn't know what to name Sora. He didn't appear 'Chaser' enough to be called a Heartless, but he wasn't human enough to be labeled differently. "...thing."

Sora growled.

"Hey, Larxene!" Demyx called. "I bet five hundred munny I die first! "Cause, you know, my deathnote's just arrived."

Sora flexed his shoulders. They popped and dislocated themselves in ways a human could never move. But he felt perfectly fine. His ribcage collapsed, only to expand once he'd maneuvered himself next to Demxy's side. Sora swelled in his ability to act the animal. "Demyx," he snarled.

Demyx shook.

Sora slashed Demyx free. It was almost silly. The chains were weaker than the palace – why? Was Tarsus really such a genius? Sora shook his head and pointed toward himself. "Sora..."

Demyx didn't react for a moment. Then he leapt for joy. "HAHAHAHAHAHA!" Demyx scooped Sora in his arms and twirled the little, black beast around his head. "I knew you'd save us! 'Cause you're the good guy!" Demyx stopped his twirling and studied Sora's blackened state. "Aren't you?"

Sora nodded.

"SWEET!" Demyx ignored Larxene's 'What's going on in there?', released Sora, summoned his weapon, and cradled it in his arms. "Daddy's missed you." He kissed its strings. "Tarsus couldn't tear us apart forever, could he?" Demyx kicked his shackles, which glowed an eerie, magical glow. "Stupid...despotic..." he bit. "You can't keep a musician from his-"

Sora gnashed his teeth at Demyx's heels.

Demyx yelped. "Down boy!"

Sora made a whining noise in the pit of his throat. "Favor?" he growled.

Demyx eyed him into continuing.

"Kairi?" was Sora's plea.

Demyx shrugged. "Can't help ya." He tapped his chin. "But there is someone else..."

Sora's ears twitched. He perked to attention.

"She's locked in the cell beside Larxene. Nevaeh's her name." Demyx faced the grate overhead, still reverberating with Larxene's curses on his good name. "She used to work for Tarsus. Switched teams in the middle of the Mastery's bout, I heard."

Sora remembered that Nevaeh didn't have her heart. There wasn't much he could do for her in his present condition. "Protect her..."

Demyx swatted the air for Sora to say no more. As if he could. "Done 'n done." Demyx held his sitar, fingers ready to play. He stuck a single chord, which prompted him to melt into a thread of water. Humming in tune, Demyx snaked his way toward the vent. No doubt meaning to free the only other Organization member left to liberate. "Thanks Roxas."

Sora scampered out the window.

Back where he started, Sora had no other choice than to continue along the wall. That is, until a bright, green glow caught his immediate attention. It pulsed, lighting a bowl-shaped arena – inside of which Sora hung, batlike. He hadn't realized he'd escaped from Tarsus' hallways, twists, and turns. Maybe he had. Or hadn't. Sora wasn't sure whether to trusts his eyes or not.

Far be it from him to say Tarsus' castle didn't know how to move on its own.

Sora squinted at the light's source. His eyes were accustomed to the darkness, and it stung to look. But said sense heightened the more he transformed. His slits-for-pupils focused ahead. He realized that, on the far wall of the stadium, stood a magnificent computer. It reminded him of Tron's. Only bigger. And, like Tron's database, Sora had the feeling he could work his button-pushing (aka: keyboard wailing) expertise to his advantage. If he was lucky, he might be able to figure out where Kairi was.

Sora jumped to the floor. It was a long way down. A very long way down.

Sora alighted, quiet, despite the drop. He made to venture toward the opposite side of the room. The top of his spiky head of hair brushed against something he hadn't detected as of yet. Sora sprung, claws itching to rip whatever-it-was to itty-bitty pieces. Fortunate for his prey, he stopped himself before he mutilated the evidence...

It was a person. A child. Maybe twelve. They were frozen, but hovering a good three feet above the floor.

And there were more. Many. Hundreds. Thousands. Side by side. Ages ranging from ten to twenty. They floated, as cold and still as death. Sora could tell that they were very much alive. The stench of cadavers didn't harass his nose. Nevertheless, he refused to poke or pry any more than he had to.

Sora weaved under and around, through and through. While he navigated the floor on his stomach, he noted numbers scribed in the stone. From one to well over five-thousand, he surmised. Whoever was number one, however, was missing. As well as the number 525,600 and 100.

Sora analyzed the room. "Tarsus," he hissed, reverting his eyes to the first, empty slot. He knew it belonged to the Master. Because it smelt like him.

The others were Tony and Nevaeh.

Sora emerged from the forest of bodies. He gradually made his way to the computer screen, which bathed him in green. He considered the keys before flicking a single claw against the largest button he could see. A document pulled on-screen, typed and dated by the big cheese himself.

'Lineage' it read. A crooked family tree snaked from Tarsus (as its head) to Sarmiento (as its tail). 'Revivable by blood. Key Bearer 100.' was etched beside Tony's name. Branching in many-many-many directions, Nevaeh's name appeared in the midst of numerous, tangled tips. Above her, and the only 'real' connection she had: Ansem. 'Revivable by blood. Abandoned by father. Her genetics are a valuable asset. Key Bearer 525,600.'

Sora was numbed. Not only were Nevaeh, Tony, and Tarsus related, but Ansem was now a part of this equation. DiZ. If that weren't enough, he was also Nevaeh's father. Her orange eyes were more than explained, considering her DNA.

Sora shook his head. He continued reading.

'Light' was the second title. Below, amongst a timeline, were pictures. The first presented hands, unscarred and perfectly normal. In the next picture, the same pair of hands was burnt. Its caption elaborated: Nevaeh's punishment. A note followed, scribbled in spindly handwriting: 'I meant to kill her. But something, or someone, instilled a spark of Light in her heart. I can't bear the sight of my apprentice. I can't kill her myself. So I shall bid another to seal her fate. I trust the Keyblade Master's friend will destroy his enemy accordingly.'

Sora snorted. "Wrong..." he huffed.

The third picture showcased Tarsus' hands again. They were incredibly marred. The caption read: Riku's Retrieval. And, again, Tarsus' handwriting proved that the head of the Mastery wasn't as omnipotent as he'd been portrayed.

'I thought Riku was Dark. He controls my disease, yet it pains me to touch the boy. In spite of this, I'm ready to take him. I don't know what the Veil will do to Riku – what with the little Light he possesses. But I also don't care.

He would have made for great subject matter.

I was ready to execute my plan when Nevaeh's heart reacted to Riku's absence. I left my research unattended. Her heart emanated more Light than I could handle.'

Sora's eyebrows skewed in wonder. Tarsus' note explained a lot. His inability to handle or touch hearts was his reasoning behind the Organization. Since they were adept to stealing, hiding, and collecting as many as they had in the past, it was no wonder Tarsus forced them to do his dirty work. And once he was through with them – once they no longer served their purpose...(that, or denied him their services)...he killed them.

There was one picture left. Sora cringed.

He never knew Tarsus' bones were black...

Caption: Collecting the Princess of Heart

Note: 'None of my subordinates were capable of fetching the seventh Princess of Heart. Or Nevaeh, for that matter. As much as it pained me to collect what I must-' The rest was blotted with Tarsus' blood. Illegible and smeared, Sora opted to leave his memo unfinished. Except for the end: '-didn't destroy me because Kairi's heart wasn't located within herself, but within the Keyblade Master. It's refining as I write.'

Sora touched his chest, He scrolled down the document.

More data. More numbers. More confusion.

Tarsus wrote: 'The other Princesses mean nothing to me. But they mean something to the Worlds they govern. One by one, the Organization filched important pieces on the game board. They pitched my competitor into a frenzied chaos.'

'Two hearts reside in each Princess. Their own and their Prince. (It was recorded that, beforehand, when the Princesses lost their hearts, they found safe haven inside the Keyblade Master. This time their hearts were the anchors. Because they're immune, having been adrift once already. Their 'other halves' hadn't the means to stay put.) A strange and unique bond tie them together as one. I can't break them. Touch them. This bond is strong enough to charge my army of Chasers. Being trapped inside my Veil has converted their 'love' to 'hate'. Light to Dark. What holds them together breeds my monsters. Breeds destruction. Love is ruin.'

'Light cannot survive here, aside from the Princesses of Heart. They have a strange power. They survive Dark – it's their nature. Their purpose. The lucky seven. Nobody, and I mean nobody else, is strong enough to survive my Veil. Not if they are Light. They will die. I have nothing to fear. Not a sane soul alive is idiotic enough to test my magic.'

Sora snorted again. "Two for two..."

'The Seventh Princess...the Queen of my game...is magnificent. Without her heart at her disposal, she makes Light, channeling Dark. Converting it. I was loath to put her away so quickly. She would have killed me, I'm certain...'

'Her heart will be strong. Sora's disease keeps refining it – keeps feeding her heart with Dark to alter. Once its at its speak, it will obliterate its vessel, eliminating all in its path. There won't be anything left. The perfect World.'

Sora didn't have the stomach to read anymore.

Tarsus was mad.

(A/N:1)

"I'LL DESTROY YOU!"

An unidentified, flying body speared the wall above the computer screen. Chunks of darkness crumbled to the floor, which impressed Sora more than it startled him. He knew it must have taken a lot of umph to shatter the 'Dark' – as Tarsus liked to call it.

Sora couldn't help his curiosity. He sat on his haunches in order to catch a glimpse of the pair of legs dangling from the hole whoever-or-whatever had created.

He didn't recognize them.

"I'LL DESROY YOU IF YOU DON'T GIVE HEAVEN'S MEMORIES BACK!"

Sora bristled. He made an irate face as 'Xaldin's Heartless/Ansem' emerged from one tunnel. Or Riku: reduced to what little clothing he'd striven (or not) to salvage. His jeans were more gilligans than pants. And there was nothing else. Sora's expression didn't improve. He thought:Why is he always losing his clothes?

Of course, he would have made a public announcement/big to-do if he'd had vocal chords at his disposal.

Sarmiento unearthed himself. Slowly. Bleeding at the mouth, he wiped his chin clean. "Touchy, bodyguard."

Tony was a little worse for wear. Riku wasn't any better. The former had his clothes, though, which prompted Sora to believe that Sarmiento was winning.

"Strange," Tony mused. "You looks like the man Iz fought a whilez back, but youze don't act likes him no mores." Sarmiento grinned wide. "Whatever happened to 'little puke'?" He tantalized Riku's raging-red irises with a handful of memory. "Let's ask 'Vaeh, eh? Why don't I completelyz erase all of you dis time." Tony's grin was manic. "Or, maybe, Iz should puts me in yourz place."

Sora faked a puke.

Tony didn't fail to miss this. Sora's sideline theatrics were running the mood. "Put a corkz in it, blackie."

"Related," Sora growled.

"Who?"

Sora turned around to look at Riku, who was analyzing all the floating bodies. Sora imagined that his friend was still listening. So he faced Tony and said: "You...Nevaeh..." Sora laughed, before finishing his chortle with an, "Ew."

Sarmeinto turned red in the face. "We're distantly related," he snapped. "Generationz and generationz aparts – the birthline of myz second cousin's second cousin twice removed, twice removed." He shut his eyes and kicked his feet while he explained. "My family treez ain't a straight line!" When he finally regarded his opponents, he almost toppled out of his hole.

They weren't paying him any mind.

"Are you twoz evenlistenin' to me?"

Riku and Sora stood staring at the computer screen. One read Tarsus' log for the very first time. The other scanned.

Riku bowed his head. "So that's why the King wanted me to take you to the Cornerstone." He smiled a melancholy smile. "So your Dark wouldn't feed Kairi's heart. So you wouldn't risk your life. So you wouldn't risk hers. And..." Riku glared at Tarsus' sentences: 'Nobody, and I mean nobody else, is strong enough to survive my Veil. Not if they are Light. They will die.' "...it's pointless giving Nevaeh and Kairi their hearts if they're only going to die when they get them back."

Sora bared his teeth. His yellow eyes narrowed to slits.

"We have to get out of there," Riku finalized. "We have to get to the castle."

Sarmiento jumped down on top of the consol. The computer screen flickered when he crushed the keys beneath his heels. "'N dis is why I'z had ta stop ya." Tony's stance was impressive. Especially since he'd just taken a huge blow to the side of his face. "I'm not gonna let 'Vaeh go jus' 'cause youze claims to love her, bodyguard." Tony's silhouette faded in and out as the computer died. "If you really cares for dah girl, you should've listened to dah mouse."

Riku didn't comment. He was too ashamed to comment.

Tony shrugged his shoulders. "Ya can't leave. Not anymorez."

Sora growled. He struck the keyboard with his fist, which bent the entire thing concave. (Sarmiento was forced to leap for safety, over Riku's head.) "WHY?" was Sora cry. "WHY NOT?"

Tony smirked from beneath his cap. "Are youze stupid or something?"

Riku and Sora death-glared Tony out of the corners of their eyes.

Sarmiento laughed. He slapped his knee, rested his elbow on the nearest, floating body, and asked, "Did youze hear that, numbah four?" He fixed his suspenders, taking all the time in the Worlds. "Did youze hear what dat simpleton asked? He asked WHYZ NOT?" Tony clapped #4 on his shoulder. "Ah..." Tony's giggles subsided. Instead of speaking to the sleeping Keyblade Master, he considered Sora. "Nobody escapes from here, be you Dark or Light. Notz a one."

Riku dipped his chin. "What about you? What about Heaven?"

Sarmeinto pffted. "Helloz!" he scoffed, very Nevaeh-like. "'Vaeh and I are Tarsus' bloodline."

"There's no hope of saving Heaven? At all?" Riku asked. His voice was heated. "Is that what you're telling me?" When Tony didn't grace him with an answer, Riku pressed: "If I don't find her soon, my Dark will smother her!" Riku clutched his legs. "If you care about Nevaeh, tell me! What am I supposed to do?"

Sarmeinto, for once, was at a loss. For words. For action. For anything.

"Your...Dark..." Sora sputtered. He seized his chest. Enough to where his claws pierced through his tendrils of black fur. More like wisps of smoke than anything. Sora replayed Riku's words: If I don't find her soon, my Dark will smother her! It reminded him that his Dark, adverse to Kairi, was also dealing some heavy blows. Kairi's heart wasn't reacting well.

Then again, Tarsus' log stated that Kairi would overpower him. Destroy him (Him being the vessel.) when the time came. Why, then, was Kairi failing to grow in power as his transformation progressed? Was it because she knew the risk? Was it because she wasn't even trying to survive? For his sake?

Silence grated Sora's ears. He knew he had to do something, but what that something was, he hadn't a clue. First and foremost, he had to assure Kairi's endurance. He had to convince her to keep fighting.

He had to find her.

"Kairi?" Sora tried. Angry tears flooded his eyes when he was powerless to speak her name.

Tony caught his attempt. Being the same blood as Tarsus, he understood Sora. He understood Chasers. He understood the Dark. The only thing he couldn't understand was Sora's want to find her. "Youze can't give her backs her heart," Sarmeinto said. "She's locked in a chamber built to her specificationz. Not even Mastah can reach her now."

Sora seethed. "Kairi!" he snarled. "Where...is...she?"

Tony was taken-aback. He made a sour face. "Finez." Sarmiento pointed toward the hall from whence he and Riku did emerge. (Or, in his case, fly.) "That way."

Sora scampered away without a moment's notice.

Riku didn't bother chasing him. "Be careful," was all he said. "That place in filled with acid." Riku considered his charred pants. The need to expound wasn't necessary.

"Not acid," Tony corrected. "Chaser waste. Fromz above. Where da other-Worlders are excavatingz them."

Riku grimaced. Sarmeinto was starting to act and sound more and more like Nevaeh every time he opened his mouth. Since Riku was loath to respond to Tony's tid-bit, he continued to massage his legs. It was hard to look Tony in the eye.

Sarmiento sighed. He situated his cap so Riku wouldn't have to meet his gaze. Or vice-versa. "I can tellz you have 'Vaeh's heart," he huffed. "You have her blood inz you. That's whats wrong with yourze legs.Her blood. 'Cause dat's how Mastah revived us in the first place. We're dah only two dat're tied to him byz our blood. We're the only two dat he could wake." Tony paused. He seemed to struggle with what he was about to say. "Mastah knew he couldn't bring youze here by force, though he wanted to. He's interested in yourz Dark."

Riku scowled.

"He tried to takes youze once, but 'Vaeh intervened. The only way he could study you was to lure you here. And the bait was 'Eaven." Tony looked up. His eyes were uncommonly soft. "Mastah knew her heart would followz you – not the other way aroundz. Unlike the Princesses of Heart." Tony cleared his throat. A nervous bead of sweat betrayed his mood. "Mastah had to wait til 'Vaeh gave you her heart willinglyz. Dat way, he could enterz dah World, strike youze down, and take your girl."

Riku waited for Tony to finish. He felt ridiculous to be standing there, clenching and unclenching his throbbing knees. The longer he stood motionless, the more they ached.

"Odderwise..." Tony laughed. "You could've killed Mastah in the real Worlds."

Riku stilled. "What?"

Sarmiento nodded toward the computer, which was still dead. "You sawz his pictures didn't you? Mastah's allergicz to Light. Even the smallest amounts." Tony put his hands on his waist. He shook his head in exasperation. "Nowz, at least, I understandz Mastah's intentions. That's why he gave 'Vaeh her memories way back when. He wanted her to fallz in love with you. But he thoughtz by doinz so, your heart would fasten to hers. Not the other way around." Tony smirked. "Curious. I wonder if she ever loved you at all."

Riku clenched his teeth. "Shut-up..."

Tony overlooked him. He waved Riku's threat aside in an off-hand sort-of-way. "Mastah has the powah to implant memories, too. He could've lead 'Vaeh to believe she loved you..."

"SHUT-UP!" Riku snapped. "Tarsus can't fiddle with emotions!"

Sarmiento's guffaws on Riku theory triggered Riku's heart to falter. And the pain in his legs increased. Enough to where to fell to his knees. "Dat's true," Tony admitted. "Mastah can't fiddle with luv or blah-blah-blahz. But he can instillz certain memories, heighten them, and make someone believez their in love." Tony stalked forward, advancing on Riku, who was hunched and shaking with rage. "Jus' ask Sora. He forgots all about Princess Kairi and thought he loved another."

Riku couldn't retaliate. His legs wouldn't allow it. Nevaeh's heart was weakening. His heart was severely pained – Sarmiento's words were killing him, body and soul. Not to mention 'Ansem' – he was taking his toll. What with Nevaeh so weak and his own will so defeated, the Heartless in him was rearing to consume him. "I..." Riku whispered. "If you help me..."

"Help you?" Sarmiento laughed. He summoned his blade and rested its edge against Riku's neck. "I'd kill you if you didn't holdz 'Vaeh's heart."

Riku closed his eyes. He had a decision to make.

It was liable to kill him.

"If we find Heaven...together..." Riku swallowed the bile charging his throat. "...I'll let you destroy all the memories she's made since a week ago. She won't remember me. Her Light will vanish. I'll give her back her heart..." Riku didn't know if he could finish or not. The thought of losing Nevaeh to Tony was maddening. "...I'll give her back her heart," he snarled, raising his head to meet Sarmiento's scrutinizing disbelief, "and she'll live."

Tony stroked his chin. He sifted Riku's plea longer than was necessary. "Onlyz if I can killz ya afterwards."

Riku's eyes flickered, menacing and bright. "You can try."

Sarmiento grinned wide. "Dealz." He spat in his palm and thrust his accord-setting-spittle under Riku's nose.

Riku followed through. Shaking hands was never so difficult.

ooo

Sora ran the fastest he'd ever run. Time was running out. With ever step he took, his transformation completed itself. But, instead of resembling the Chasers like he thought he would – like the beginning – he began to appear his old self, albeit black. Soon, he was sprinting on two legs. The floor beneath his feet shattered. The Chaser waste evaporated at his touch.

He was more than Dark, now...

There wasn't Light in his eyes. Not anymore.

Sora wondered if he was anything but arms, legs, a torso, and a head. If he could wonder at all.

Sora halted. His body was numbed. He felt nothing. Worried nothing. Loved nothing. Hated nothing. He was nothing. Dark and nothing.

A shaft of Light exploded from his chest.

Sora corked the leakage with his left hand.

He remembered himself.

Kairi.

Sora couldn't speak, but he thought. And it was enough to jar him back to his senses. Kairi! Please! Sora was frantic. He held his right hand over his left. He bent his face to look directly at Kairi's heart. Or where it would be if he hadn't been blocking his view.

Kairi was suppressing her power in order to save him. But her resistance was dissolving along with Sora's old self. Unconscious or no, in spite of her wanting him to survive, Kairi's heart...

She was already starting to convert him into Light. Pure Light.

Sora, faint with pain, looked to see what had become of the hallway.

There was nothing. In truth, nothing. No hall, no Dark, no Veil, no Realm of Darkness, no World...Sora's eyes were tortured, trying to decipher what he was seeing. It was almost as if what he saw didn't exist. Therefore, his eyes couldn't perceive...anything...

Even the Realm of Light was absent.

Sora gasped. He closed his eyes against the 'hole' Kairi made. When Tarsus had predicted that her power would destroy any and every thing, he wasn't kidding.

ooo

Sarmiento helped Riku to his feet.

Riku's legs were completely dead. He'd disregarded Nevaeh's advice and hadn't kept his pace. She wasn't there to flirt with him anymore – the ghost of her heart was concealed by the Veil. There wasn't a hope for his walking. Riku hoped that the pain wouldn't continue once his lower extremities were useless, but he was wrong.

It doubled.

"Stop yourz blubbering," Tony chuckled. "Bodyguards don't cry."

Riku's tears were unconscious. "Hn," was all he said.

Being toted on Tony's back wasn't the most comfortable of situations, either. He was a grown man. In physique. And Sarmeinto was much too gung-ho about their deal to just carry him any other slower way. Bare-chested and sweaty (this going for the both of them), uncomfortable didn't do the situation justice.

Sarmiento stormed past the floating bodies. He didn't bother winding around them. So the Key Bearers of old were shoved to the wayside.

Nevaeh's heart beat a little differently. Riku was curious as to whether or not Heaven heard his pact with Tony. Or if she cared. When had her thoughts been stripped of her? The moment Tarsus forced Heaven into his Veil? If so, did her spirit 'remember', in spite of her lack of memory? Would it recall him after Sarmeinto removed the times they'd shared?

Maybe. The way Nevaeh's heart was panicking, Riku believed it to be true.

But the head and the heart were very different. What Nevaeh would remember of him would be overshadowed by her consciousness. All the same, it made Riku happy to know that there would be a little bit of 'stoic', deep-deep-deep down. Not enough to uncover, but enough to be there.

Nevaeh's heart lurched. No matter how quickly it beat, Riku's ability to walk wasn't returning. And the Dark in him quickly took care of Nevaeh's second wind. Her emotions submitted and her heart resumed its original pace. Or, perhaps, slower.

Riku sighed. "Do you even know where we're going, Sarmiento?"

Tony nodded. His hat bumped against Riku's nose. "To dah prisons. If she's not dere, she mightz be..." Sarmeinto brainstormed. "I dunno. But we'll find her."

(A/N:2)

"YO!" called a voice from above.

Riku and Tony lifted their heads.

Half of Demyx was sticking out of Larxene's cell. The rest of him was morphed into water. If not, he wouldn't have been adept to do what he was doing. "Look, Larxene! Look! It's..." Demyx faltered. "...it's that one guy! The one that kidnapped Roxas from us!" Demyx smile faded, suddenly remembering that what he said wasn't something he appreciated. "HEY!"

(A/N:3)

Riku furrowed his eyebrows, mocking Tony. "I'm Riku. Sora's friend."

Demyx' frown turned upside down. "Oh! So you're a good guy?"

Riku nodded. "I'm-"

"HOW'D YOUZE GET OUT OF YOUR CELL?" Tony interrupted.

Demyx, having not noticed Tony at all, balked at the sight of Tarsus' understudy. But his surprise was short-lived. His face fell into shadow. "You..." Demyx held his hands over Tony's head. Fifty feet over his head. Demyx wriggled his fingers until ten droplets of water puddled at their ends.

They dropped, sharpening as they went, tripling in size.

Tonyonly just dodged them. He moved so quickly his hat flew off his head. Sarmiento's prized possession was pinned to the floor by a lance of water.

Demyx slumped against the prison bars. He was out of breath. "Wow..." He didn't even have the energy to talk. "What's..." He blinked. "What's wrong with me?"

Sarmiento smirked. "Youze a good guy now. Youze are a parts of the Light, if onlyz a little." He kicked down Demyx' lance and reached for his hat, which sported a five-inch by five-inch tear. When he situated his cap on his head, his dark brown hair feathered out the top like a peacock. "I don'tz think you has enough Light to killz ya. Notyet."

Demyx wailed. "I don't wanna be a protag!"

Riku 'hn'ed long and loud. Yes, Demyx was fast approaching the team of good. But he lacked. A lot. If Demyx was willing to hit Riku just to hit Tony, 'protag' was out of his reach.

Demyx wiped his nose. "I guess that's why Larxene's having such a hard time breathing."

Tony sniggered.

Riku shushed him. "Demyx?" he called. "Can you tell me if Heaven's up there?"

Demyx blinked. Once, twice, three times. "Uh, no," he snorted. "This is more, like, the other place." Demyx worked water-horns on top of his head.

"I mean..." Riku grumbled. "A girl named Nevaeh. Is she up there?"

Demyx' answer was quick. "Yep."

Sarmeinto's reaction to his response was even quicker. Tony ran up the wall, Riku in tow. Demyx summoned the strength to convert the rest of his body into water, but not before Tony thrust his hand into Demyx' liquefied self. So, of course, when Demyx retreated into Larxene's cell, he pulled Tony and Riku right along with him.

Three, solid bodies fell to the floor, right in front of Larxene.

Demyx 'eek'ed. "I didn't mean to take you with me!"

Tony shivered. Both him and Riku were soaking wet. "I don't seez how youze travel like that." He wrung out his hat.

"Demyx, you moron," Larxene hissed. She didn't move from her chained position. "Tarsus' sent his lackey to finish us off. And you invited him to kill us with open arms." Murder was in her eyes. "I'd strangle you if I could!" Her chains rattled, exemplifying her warning.

Demyx simpered. "I'd release you if I could."

Riku, in want to convince Larxene of his good intentions, dispelled her bondage with a rove of his wrist.

Demyx smiled. A part of him appeared miffed that Riku could accomplish what he could not, but another part of him was relieved that Larxene was free from Tarsus' magic shackles. "See? He's a good guy." Demyx made sure to point at Riku.

Larxene didn't know what to say. She was dubious of Sarmiento.

Tony cheesed. "I'm not herez to killz ya right now. We're lookin' for 'Vaeh."

"You aren't here to kill her, are you?" Demyx asked.

"No," was Riku's answer. "We're here to save her." His eyes, through not his own, spoke volumes since he was himself. "If we don't find Heaven soon, she'll die."

Demyx looked at Larxene, who nodded him an 'okay'. She still didn't move, which drove Riku to worry about her and the Light she possessed. Then again, Larxene was strong-willed. And more evil than good. She would survive.

Demyx laid a hand on Riku's shoulder. He hesitated. "You need him to come with you?" His issue was a hopeful one. Possibly because he could sense Tony's wicked objective. From the darkened expression on his face, Riku deemed it so.

"Yeah," Riku said softly. "He needs to come with me."

Tony smiled a triumphant smile.

Demyx punched it off him. He apologized to Riku while Tony sputtered from the shock of being hit by Demyx of all people. "Sorry. That's your fare."

Tony made to shout obscenities. Demyx altered Sarmiento's mouth to water (following the rest of his body) in sync with a wide, jubilant grin. Next, he worked with Riku. Demyx' magic moved agonizingly slow under the circumstance, but his power was exhausted. It wasn't his fault.

Finally morphed, Demyx steered Riku and Sarmiento into the cell that neighbored Larxene's. Releasing his water ability was easy as well as draining. As soon as Tony's solid feet made contact with the floor, Demyx passed out cold.

Tony watched him fall. "Serves youze right." He didn't bother furthering his revenge. A kick here and a kick there, though tantalizing, was only a waste of Sarmiento's time as far as he was concerned. He was there for one reason and one reason only. Nevaeh Alexander.

Nevaeh sat, unchained. The need to bind her wasn't necessary. Her heart was gone. She wasn't going anywhere.

Riku eased himself to the floor. His heart – his mind were ballistic. His deal with Sarmiento stabbed at his insides. It burnt his throat and dizzied his senses like a mutated nausea. Seeing Nevaeh now, face to face? And realizing what he was giving up? Who he was giving up? Riku didn't know if he could do it or not.

(A/N:4)

"Heaven..." She was unhurt. No bruises. No cuts. No nothing. But she looked upset. She looked scared. Her unbound hair lay mimicking an aureola – a halo of the body. Nevaeh was more angelic now than she had ever been. In the midst of the Dark, she looked as close to pure as they came. "Heaven..." Riku stroked her cheek. He wasn't one to display such emotive behavior. Especially when another was around to watch. But this was the last time...

Tony smacked his hand away. "Don't touch herz," he sneered. "She no longerz belongs to you."

"She never belonged to me," Riku corrected.

"Whateverz." Sarmiento collected all of Nevaeh's memories. He took a nervous breath. Again, sweat betrayed the fact that this was something that wasn't allowed. He was disobeying his Master. "Be veryz quiet and veryz still. If I mess up, she'll die when you give her back her heart. I have tah destroy every singlez memory tied to you. And since 'Vaeh doesn't have dat many memories to beginz with..."

Riku cheeks trickled with tears. He liked to think that they were still unconscious.

Tony pointed to the duller colors of Nevaeh's memory. "Mastah kept her past shielded fromz her for so long, she's powerless tah recallz her childhood. Or, if she does manage it, it's hard." Sarmiento picked a memory from the depths of Nevaeh's past. "Some are clearz. Like this one: raspberries. But dat's only because she wants, yearns, to rememberz it."

Riku braced himself with his arms. Legs tucked beneath him against the Dark, his ache escalated into something terrible. Riku hung his head. His insensible tears dripped from his chin and his nose. "Why are you telling me this?"

Tony crushed Nevaeh memory of raspberries. "I likez watchin' youze squirm." When Riku tensed at his deed, Tony cocked one of his eyebrows like he was instigating a challenge. Just like Nevaeh. "I don't like raspberries." His justification was pathetic and cruel.

"Just get it over with," Riku growled. He fingers raked against the floor, which splintered. "Quick. Or Heaven's going to die."

Sarmiento yielded to Riku's request. He held Nevaeh's memory against her temple. One by one, he slipped the ember-orb of blue back where it belonged. "First, I'll replace dah memories I wantz to replace, since dere're less of 'em. Then I'llz breaks what's left." He hummed a gibberish melody, much too happy for the vibe, while he worked. Tony made sure to examine every grain of memory before he put it in its place. He wasn't about to make any mistakes here. He wasn't about to be reckless with his power, like he had with Riku.

"Dancin', eh?" Sarmiento made a funny noise. "Dat's gotta go."

Riku's hands twitched. He wanted to beat Sarmiento like the monster he was. But...he knew Tony's memory alteration was for the better. Nevaeh wouldn't remember him. In turn, she'd revert to her evil self. She would live.

Tony's muscles locked. His arm grew taut. "She's..." He gasped. "She's fighting me. She's knows I'm here."

Nevaeh flinched.

Riku remembered what it was like to have Tony rearranging his mind. He was insanely proud of Nevaeh's retaliation. And afraid. Fighting within ones mind wasn't exactly a stroll in the park. Riku caressed Nevaeh's brow. It tortured him to see that it wasn't his hand that touched her face. But Ansem's. "Heaven," he lectured. "Stop. It's okay."

Nevaeh gasped. She moaned in her sleep. "...Riku..." Her hand clung to his.

Tony relaxed. "She's settled." He trembled from the exertion. "For a secondz, I thought I was gonna have to hurt her." Sarmiento took several, deep breaths and continued his reminiscence procedure. He began by inserting Nevaeh's ember, slow and easy, only to speed the process. Tony shoved the lot of memories, unwanted and not, directly into Nevaeh's head.

Nevaeh's nose bled. Her ears bled. Her eyes brimmed with crimson tears.

Riku jerked him back. "You're hurting her-" His words failed him. Holding Tony by the back of his suspenders, he took a good look at his face. It was pale. As pale as death. "Sarmiento?"

He didn't respond.

Riku shook him. "Sarmiento?" he asked. "Sarmeinto?" Riku's mind scrambled for an explanation. "SARMIENTO!" Riku shook him. Hard.

Tony's hand fell open. A single ember of memory remained. "Bodyguard..." His voice was almost too soft to hear. "Youze...has ta save...'Veah." Tony's face paled evermore. "My blood..." he gasped. "God, my blood...my blood..." He made such a face. It haunted Riku's eyes. "I don't...wantz to die...'Vaeh's not...hurt is she...I..."

Riku shook his head. He really didn't know, but he didn't think saying so would help. "She's fine. What happened?"

The last of Tony's color drained from his face.

Tony Sarmiento was dead.

(A/N:5)

"A fitting end for such a fool." Tarsus made his presence known at long, long last. He disregarded Tony and, instead, set his gaze on Riku. He looked at him like a starved beast would drool over fresh meat. "And here you are."

"Here I am." Riku, very subtly, took hold of the last of Nevaeh's memory. "Aren't I what you've been waiting for?"

Tarsus shook his hooded head. "No. I've been waiting for the Seventh Princess to destroy everything. You, my dear boy, were simply a side quest." Tarsus studied him with his hidden eyes. "Come to find, you're nothing more than a little boy with a Heartless living inside him, in place of your Nobody." Tarsus tisked. "How boring. You're nothing but trash."

Riku laid Sarmiento on the floor. "How could you do this?" Riku clenched the hand that didn't hold Nevaeh's memory into a tight fist. "How could you do this to your grandson?"

(A/N:6)

Tarsus stood there, ominous and foreboding. He bent over Riku. A punctured smile plagued his face. "He was going to ruin everything. I knew you'd come for Nevaeh. I was hoping that I'd be able to study you when you arrived. But he..." Tarsus made a motion toward Tony. "He was going to kill you." Tarsus leaned back. He didn't illustrate or speak further. He merely waited.

Riku didn't know what he was waiting for. But since Tarsus didn't appear to want to kill him just yet, Riku asked, "Why are you doing this? All of this?"

"Isn't is obvious?" Tarsus' chuckle dripped with angst. "I want to destroy everything."

"You don't want to open Kingdom Hearts? You don't want to rule all the Worlds?"

"No."

Riku was startled. Every single one of his assumptions was wrong. "Thenwhy?"

Tarsus looked from Nevaeh to Sarmiento to Riku. "It was for you. All of you. A life dedicated to war with Dark? A life dedicated to service under a warmonger King? A life that really isn't life at all? I couldn't bear for anyone else to have such an existence." Tarsus reached for his hood. "So many..." He clutched its brim. "So many Key Bearers reduced to machines of war. Light vs. Dark. And who will win, in the end? How many must die in order to claim victory?" Tarsus removed his hood.

Riku gaped.

Tarsus was unveiled.

The Master was nothing more than a boy. A boy, perhaps, at the age of eighteen. He had no hair. His eyes were sewn shut. But the glint of his orange irises shone through the holes in his eyelids. He was handsome. Scarred. Holes were everywhere. Even his lips...

Tarsus' was frightening.

"No more war. No more Key Bearers." Tarsus' beastly teeth made an appearance. "That's my goal. Not World domination. Not Kingdom Hearts. I want to obliterate everything."

Riku's mind was too scrambled to work properly. Nevertheless, he found his voice. "You can't. You can't just end everything."

Tarsus demonic smile faded.

Riku was adamant. "What about the ones that want to live? You can't just deny someone the right to life because you know its is hard-"

"Quiet," Tarsus hissed. "Everything will be gone. Even me. There's no stopping it. Kairi will crush all that isn't good in these Worlds. And since nothing is good – not hearts – not anything..." Tarsus didn't have to finish. He lifted his arms into the air, practically begging Kairi to finish him. "Everything," he laughed. "Everything will be gone! You, me, Nevaeh, the King..."

Tarsus lost himself in his laughter. "I will save ALL OF YOU!"

Riku opened his hand. Nevaeh's memory glowed there. "Why didn't I listen to the King?" Riku asked himself.

Tarsus was too busy laughing to rebuke his query.

Riku bent toward Nevaeh. The need to wipe her memories clean didn't exist anymore. But he wanted to return the last of them anyhow. He wanted to speak with her again. Love her again. Before the end.

Riku didn't know what he was doing. He'd never dealt with memories. He didn't know how to handle them. 'Carefully' was the limit to his knowledge. Even so, he copied Tony's methods and pressed Nevaeh's ember against the temple of her head.

Riku didn't expect memory manipulation to be that easy. And it wasn't.

Riku felt a part of him follow Nevaeh's recollection. Not literally or physically. But it was a part of him. Riku recalled Sarmiento's hand...the day Tony had taken it upon himself to mess with his head...Riku imagined that this – this sensation that he felt right now – was the same.

Riku's 'fingers' emerged into Nevaeh's head. His 'wrist'...his 'arm'...until 'he', was inside of her. Riku knew that he was on the outside, too. He sensed himself there, leaning over his love, listening to Tarsus' peels of hilarity. The outside, however, was at a languish. Here, on the inside, was another matter.

Riku was customary. He was dressed as he normally dressed, fully clothed...

This was Nevaeh's memory.

Scenes of her life, like ghosts, fluttered by where he stood. Some were too dim to see. Some were particularly bright. In the span of hours and hours, it felt, Riku watched them all. But he knew time hadn't passed. There was no such thing as time here. Nevaeh's memories were expanding, filling her mind. What was once barren and dry was now filled with Prussian blue. Memories, good and bad.

Riku strode through Nevaeh's memoirs. He amused himself with the recent: The way he looked wasn't correct. It was how Nevaeh saw him, which was entertaining in and of itself.

The first time they met, according to Nevaeh, he looked ridiculous. Evil, gangly. Riku snorted.

The second and third time she encountered him was most accurate.

From then on out, his appearance was even more absurd than the first meeting. Because his flaws were tossed to the curb. He looked handsome. Not just any handsome, but beyond handsome. Which...might have been saying something if he actually cared about how he looked...

(A/N:7)

Riku found Nevaeh sprawled out on the memory floor. She looked peaceful. And different. Within her mind, she saw herself how she saw herself. Nevaeh didn't do 'Heaven Alexander' fair dealing.

Heart in a vice, Riku knelt at Nevaeh's side. He grabbed her shoulders in a firm, but gentle, hold. "Heaven," he whispered. "Heaven, wake up."

Riku was surprised at how sudden she came to. He opened his mouth to express his relief, but his jaw snapped shut when Nevaeh's first collided with the underside of his chin. Riku issued a very low and a very painful groan through clenched teeth.

"Mr...Riku?"

That title had never sent his insides to twist the way they did.

"I thought you were going to let Tony..." Nevaeh supported herself with her elbows. Their noses touched, which wasn't a problem. "Tony. I can't believe you were going to let him-"

"You don't have to worry about Sarmeinto anymore."

The note in Riku's voice bade Nevaeh to hold her tongue. She searched Riku's face and the realization dawned on her that something was terribly amiss. "What's happening?" she asked. "Why didn't you listen to the King..." Nevaeh resisted the urge to scream. All the information Riku had gathered had found its way at her disposal, in one way or another. "You idiot! Didn't I tell you not to come for me?"

"But-"

"I would've stopped you if I could!" Nevaeh shouted, referring to the time she'd been a mere apparition of her heart.

Riku didn't argue. Heaven's spite wasn't important right now. To him, her beauty intensified the angrier she became. Which only infuriated Nevaeh.

"Stop that smirking! This isn't a joke! What you did was selfish, ignorant, dangerous-"

Riku shut her up with a kiss. He couldn't decide if she was returning it or continuing with her rant. So he parted with his Heaven the smallest of amounts to hear her murmur against his lips: "Ris...risky...and...'n..."

Riku didn't miss the hidden meaning. The I'll-get-you-back-for-this-later look. (If there was a later.) Not that it mattered. Riku memorized Nevaeh's bliss-stricken face. And he suddenly remembered that Sarmiento crushed her memory of their admission. "I had to come for you."

"Why?"

There wasn't a point in beating around the bush. "Because I'm in love with you."

Nevaeh blushed. "I..." She faltered at his frankness and sincerity. "I'm in love with you, too, but that doesn't mean-"

Riku ignored the rest of Nevaeh's sentence and silenced her again. Except, this time, Nevaeh responded as he did. Like the last time, unremembered or no, Riku smothered her mouth with easy kisses. Many many times. He was afraid to stop. Afraid to let her go. But nothing lasted forever.

Riku was kind enough to let Nevaeh win their kissing match.

Then, almost reluctant, he released her heart.

Time was up.

ooo

Sora walked, one hand over his chest and another over his stomach. Two breaks. And another was on the way. He could feel it.

A shaft of light exploded from his back.

Sora buckled. He couldn't cork that one...

Still, he pressed on. He shuffled his way down the corridor of glass coffins. There were six – three on each side. And each contained a Princess of Heart. Thick tubes connected them to the ceiling. Though Light admitted from the girls, Dark fed through the pipes. Two Hearts were confined to each container.

Sora glanced behind him. There was no retreating. Whereas the first and second of Kairi's shafts only made a hole, the third destroyed the entire hallway. Sora gulped. He focused ahead. Though blurred from the pain wracking his Dark body, he perceived Kairi's chamber.

She wasn't justlocked in a coffin like the others. She had an entire room to herself.

Sora approached. Slowly. In agony.

Kairi lay in the middle of her prison, which radiated with Light. Even when she didn't possess her heart, Kairi's Light ate the Dark. As of now, the latter was powerful enough to stifle one, little girl's supremacy.

It was also fading.

Sora pressed his hand against Kairi's cell. His fingers not only sizzled, they started to vanish. "Kairi..." he whispered. "I'm here..."

Kairi's heart beat more soundly. At the same time, it shuddered against itself.

"Kairi." Sora uncovered his wounds. Her Light shone through him. "Don't hold back. I promise, everything will be okay." Did he really have the authority to say such a thing? Well, he had. And that was that."Take your heart, Kairi. Live." Light devoured Sora from the inside out. It surprised him how much it didn't hurt. Then again, the pain was probably so intense he no longer felt anything.

Sora merged into Kairi's field of white. He released her heart.

ooo

Axel stood his ground in the courtyard of the castle. He stared above him. At the Dark. At Tarsus' enforcements pressing against the Cornerstone's shield. Beside him stood Leon and Cloud, among many more from every World. United under one banner.

Wave after wave of Dark hammered back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. The Cornerstone held, but, ever so slowly, it deteriorated. And the Dark kept coming.

The King stood in front, eyes turned toward the heavens. "Don't worry." He smiled a unique smile. "Everything's going to be fine."

Axel blanched. He shrieked over the murmurs of the crowd equipped for battle. "How can you say that? Evil is right on our doorstep!"

Mickey's smile grew. "Yes. It is on our doorstep." The twinkle in his eye was comforting. "Just wait. Wait until evil opens the door. Like the last time, and the times before, Light will shine among the Dark. And the Dark will not understand it."

(A/N:8)

ooo

Kairi opened her eyes. A wave of panic consumed her, only to pass as quickly as it had formed. Everywhere, all around, stark against the Dark, was Light. The Light from her grandmother's story. All of it. Every single bit. "So much," she whispered. "So much Light." Kairi wondered how she came to hold the entirety of coveted power.

She watched it expand. It was quick to consume the Dark. Quick to consume everything.

Nothing was good.

Kairi lifted her hands to where she could see them. They were solid white. As was the rest of her body. She, in fact, was the Light. And she was surrounded by Light. Nothing but a cyclone of Light. Everything else was too evil to approach. Kairi was alone.

A smudge of Dark appeared in the distance. Its approach was steady. Unfaltering.

It was Sora.

He held something in his black hands, which were cupped at his chest. It glowed bright amongst the storm of Light. It radiated far more brilliant than anything either of them had ever seen. Yet, all the same, they didn't regard the luminosity. Only each other. Light and Dark. Good and Evil.

They walked toward each other. Kairi, shining in all her intensity. And Sora. A dark blotch against Kairi's canvas of fair.

It was a feigned eternity. The seeing, the approaching, and...

Neither of them spoke. If one did, the other didn't hear. The torrent of Dark and Light was overwhelming. And, steadily, Light was winning. Sora's aura dematerialized.

He held Kairi's heart. He held it out for her to take. When his Princess complied, but before she returned her heart to its rightful place, Sora stepped close. He breeched the Light, and stole a final kiss.

Kairi absorbed her heart.

Light detonated.

ooo

Tarsus spread his arms ever wide. Kairi's Light advanced.

It devoured him while he laughed.

(A/N:9)

ooo

Dark threatened to eat Riku alive. His shadow. 'Ansem'. It was suffocating. Horribly so. And it chided him for trying to resist the lure of evil. For trying to run from what he really was.

Then, just moments after, his iniquity was gone. Like it never existed. Converse, but just as torturous, the Light dominated the Dark. Dominated its roll, too. Instead of bowing under the power of Dark, Riku bowed under the power of Light.

Riku found himself on the outside, now. Tarsus' Veil rattled. Riku could barely see.

Everything was breaking. Dying.

Riku hunched down over Nevaeh. If he could protect her, he would.

Seconds ticked away. More seconds. And more.

"Mr. Riku?" Nevaeh breathed in his ear. "As much as I adore you, I'd rather bebreathing..."

Riku bristled. He pushed himself upright and sat on his legs, which were fine. He helped Nevaeh into a sitting position. "What happened?" Everything he saw was white. There was nothing. Nobody. Riku looked left, and right, then left again.

This time, he saw two figures. Quite near.

One stirred. He rubbed the top of his crown. "Whoa. What'd I miss?" It was Demyx.

Larxene was out for the count.

There were others, too. The Seven Princesses, imitating Larxene. Least he forget Tarsus' slaves in the distance.

Riku stared at his hands. They were his. Every single bit of him was...

"Shouldn't we be dead?" Nevaeh asked. She looked herself over. "Are we dead?"

Riku shrugged his shoulders.

Nevaeh smirked. "Well. Death isn't so bad, is it?" She touched Riku's face. So softly. So tenderly. "I just have to think of this as the next, big adventure."

Riku stifled a 'hn'. "How poetic."

"Isn't it, though?" Nevaeh slid her hand from Riku's cheek to the nape of his neck. She pulled him toward her. "Let's hope you kiss as good in the afterlife-" A small spark of Light ignited within Nevaeh. Enough to where she felt it. Enough to where she knew what it meant, too. "EEP!" Her sunset eyes popped. Then she leapt for joy, knocking Riku over in her haste to rise to her feet. "I'M ALIVE!"

Riku blinked.

Nevaeh's smile broadened. "YOU'RE ALIVE, TOO!"

Riku felt frazzled. "Am I really?"

Nevaeh's expression changed. "Don't use that tone with me!" She crouched down in front of him. "You don't believe a word I've said, do you?"

Riku raked a heavy hand down his face. "No..."

Nevaeh's eyes diverted to something behind him. It must have been big because she squealed Riku into silence again. "Sir," she cooed in a calm manner. A happy giggle was cause for Riku to worry. Only because Nevaeh never giggled like that. And she never cried when she was jolly, either.

Except for once. But Riku kept that to himself.

He spun to see what was so awesome. He wasn't surprised to see Sora and Kairi. Full-throttle snogging, no less. Only something of said magnitude would capture Nevaeh's attention. (And there was no way he could outdo a kiss like that...)

Tiny beads of Light erupted from Sora and Kairi's core. Millions. Billions. They scattered everywhere and in every direction.

Nevaeh gasped. She grabbed Riku's chin and returned him where he'd been facing beforehand. Since her palms conquered his cheeks, Riku's lips were puckered like a fish. Riku was in too good of a mood to grunt or complain. He was also too exhausted to wiggle from Nevaeh's grasp. "That's why!" she whispered. "That's why we're alive!"

Riku understood without having to ask. Kairi's Light didn't destroy the Worlds and what they held because she didn't keep her Light to herself. Tarsus had miscalculated. He didn't understand love or kindness. He didn't understand selflessness. So there was no way he could have predicted that Kairi would share her Light.

With everyone.

Riku opened his mouth to speak: "Why isn't..." Nevaeh slid her hands to Riku's neck, where she commenced to play with his Adam's apple. Riku, for once, didn't mind Nevaeh's flirtatious behavior. It was annoying, yes, but it was also addicting. "Where's Tarsus? And Sarmeinto?"

Nevaeh pursed her lips. Her brows furrowed. "I don't know." She flexed her ankles so she could peek over the top of Riku's head. "Miss Kairi!"

Riku's skin crawled with goosebumps. "Don't bother them!" he hissed.

Kairi was already turning around.

Sora stood unaffected.

The Princess appeared a tad sleepy, but perfectly okay. She brightened when she saw Riku and Nevaeh. "Nevaeh! Hi!" She waved.

Sora fell over backwards in a heap of unconsciousness.

Kairi clapped her hands over her mouth. "Not again!" She rushed to his side.

Nevaeh ignored the situation entirely. "Miss Kairi, I was wondering-" Her line of questioning died in her throat.

People began appearing out of the Light. People Nevaeh recognized, moreover. People like Fifi and Cloud. Axel and Mushu. No matter how many times she blinked, she couldn't get rid of them. They didn't appear to have seen her. Not until Nevaeh's environs took to change. From where she sat to the sky above.

Blue. How she missed the color. Wind. It teased her hair. Grass. It tickled her bare feet.

Nevaeh ogled her surroundings. "Mr. Riku," she said out of the corner of her mouth. "Have I gone insane or are you seeing what I'm seeing?" When he didn't answer her, she glowered straight into his...

...closed eyes.

He was asleep.

Nevaeh released Riku. He slumped to the ground. "What a fine time to nap."

Solidity came into play. Kairi, Sora, Demyx, Larxene, Riku, herself, the other six Princesses of Heart, and Tarsus' laborers were now located at Disney Castle. The transaction from the Realm of Light to a real World startled them as much as it startled the King and his men. Or, actually, just his men. Mickey was considerably tranquil, truth be told.

Everyone stood staring.

Demyx cleared his throat. "Yo."

Axel burst from the crowd.

Demyx anticipated receiving his flame-infatuated cohort...

Axel dashed him by in order to see if Larxene was okay. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders. "You okay, babe?" He was lucky she was unconscious.

Demyx pouted.

Shouts of excitement reverberated across the garden. The leaves from the bushes threatened to fall. Victory was in the air. "The Chasers are gone!" some cried. Others were too busy bouncing up and down or hugging or kissing to make remarks. It felt like one, big festivity. Nevaeh had never seen the like.

People she didn't know showered her with praise. "Long live the Key Bearers!" they shouted. Over and over and over again.

"LONG LIVE THE KEY BEARERS!"

The chanting was splendid.

"LONG LIVE THE KEY BEARRES!"

ooo

Snip...snip...snip...

Riku awoke, not knowing where he was. But that didn't last long. He smelt sterilities. He heard the persistent chirping of an EKG. He felt an outlandish amount of gauze wrapped about him like a mummy.

Riku took a moment to ponder what kind of shape he was in.

Snip...snip...snip...

Riku opened his eyes.

Nevaeh sat there, a pair of scissors in her hand. Her beautiful lips turned to smile. "You're awake," she stated the obvious. Her tool flashed against the sunlight that poured from the windows up above. Nevaeh went back to work:

Snip...snip...snip...

Riku found moving hard. "What are you doing? Where am I?"

Snip...snip...snip...

"You are in the infirmary of Disney castle. And I'm cutting your hair."

Riku would have jerked upright if he hadn't been so sore and stiff. "WHAT?"

Nevaeh patted him on top of his head. "No worries. Just a trim." She pulled his silver locks around for him to see. It was, indeed, shorter, but not as short as he thought. Mid-shoulder was perfectly fine. As long as she didn't touch his bangs. "You're such an Emo," Nevaeh teased.

Riku grumbled something incomprehensible.

"Riku!"

Sora beamed from the bed to his right. At the moment, Kairi was feeding him soup. She pressed the tip of her spoon against Sora's cheek, wetting it with broth. Sora made a disgusted face. "I don't want soup, Kairi. I want a burger. And fries. And ramen! And a chocolate shake! And-"

Kairi'syou-know-better glare shut Sora up pretty quick. "No solid foods for you. Not until Aerith casts another Cure spell."

"I've had three," Sora whined.

"That's not getting rid of these." Kairi pointed at the two scars on his torso. Where her light had torn through him.

Sora grinned a cheeky grin. "Battle scars."

Riku sniggered.

"This isn't a laughing matter!" Kairi scolded. She held her hand for the others to see. "I can't summon as much Light as I used to." Only the very tips of her fingers glowed. "Riku's 'empty', Nevaeh can't conjure her Keyblade, and Sora..." Kairi fumbled. "You..."

Sora was gnawing on his arm. Or: scratching an itch with his teeth. "Hm?" he asked.

"Nevermind," was Kairi's reply.

Nevaeh wasn't fazed about her weapon. She explained: "When Tarsus vanished, my power vanished, too." Snip...snip...snip... "I'll have to find a new weapon. The possibilities are endless, don't you agree, sir?"

Riku didn't know what to say to that. "Wait," he finally managed. "What's wrong with me?"

Nevaeh stopped cutting. She ran her pointer down his chest. (The EKG spiked.) "No more 'Ansem'." She drew little shapes against his abs. They didn't make any sense. "What's what you called him, right?"

Riku nodded. He wondered, for a moment, if Nevaeh recalled ever having the real Ansem as her father. "Yeah..." Riku batted her hand aside. "He's gone? Just like that?"

Nevaeh nodded. "You have a 'hole', as Lady Aerith said. Your Dark was ready to take you hostage. Your Light has to rebuild itself. There wasn't much to begin with so it'll take a while."

"What about Tarsus?"

Nevaeh looked at Kairi, who took her turn elaborating: "From what the King told me, I dispersed my Light. To everyone. Even him. Those who rejected it..." She didn't bother finishing. "But I don't understand," she sighed. "Even Maleficent accepted my gift. And Pete, too. All of them. All the antags."

"Maybe it has something to do with the Cornerstone." Sora offered.

Kairi shoved soup into Sora's open mouth. "I guess so.

Sora choked. And while he battled with Kairi's nasty sustenance, Mickey, Axel, Donald and Goofy chose to grace them with a check-up and a hello. Unsurprisingly, the latter two took to their usual Sora-glomping. It was good medicine for them.

"How're you guys feeling?" the King asked.

"Peachy," one choked.

"Fine, You're Majesty," another curtsied.

"Never better, sir," purred the third.

"Hn," grunted the last.

Mickey smiled. He took the four of them in with a smile. "You did very well, considering you didn't heed a single word I said." (Sora and Riku shrank under their covers.) "But that's all water under the bridge. The Princesses of Heart are safe and sound, as well as their Princes, and the other-Worlders have returned to their rightful homes, which were restored thanks to Kairi." Mickey's ears fanned in his pride. "There hasn't been a World Union like this since my great-great grandfather was King."

"World Union?" Kairi questioned aloud.

Mickey nodded. "Every World has made a pact. To help and be helped. Nothing like Tarsus' war will ever tear us apart again. Not while I'm around."

Pity struck Riku's insides. He couldn't help his sympathy. It was sad to think that Tarsus thought he was doing the greater good. When, in fact, he was very wrong. On-the-other-side-of-the-spectrum wrong.

Axel wiped a fake tear from the corner of his eye. "I'm just glad to see you safe, Roxas. You had me worried."

"SORA," everyone said at once.

Axel sighed. "Fine!" He sat on the end of Sora's bed. "So, Sora, you've just saved the Worlds from complete and udder destruction. What are you going to do now?"

Everyone was shocked. Not only had Axel called Sora 'Sora', but he'd also unannounced the fact that Kairi was the hero of this story. Not the Keyblade Master.

Sora grinned. "I'm going home."

"Home!" Kairi acknowledged.

"Home," Riku agreed.

"Home?" Nevaeh looked a little put-out. "Yes...I guess I'll...go home." Anyone with ears could tell she was distraught. But only one person knew how to consol her.

"Yeah. Home." Riku smiled. A genuine smile. The 'You-like-me-Heaven?' smile. "With us."

Nevaeh brightened. "Home," she breathed. "I'm going home."

Axel wasn't impressed with their answers. "Well, good, then," he huffed. "You can take your parents and your little friends with you, too." He snubbed the lot of them, ostensibly hurt. Why nobody had answered his broadcast question with a: "I'm going to hang out with the coolest guy I know: Axel!" was beyond him.

"Parents?" Sora piqued.

The EKG wouldn't shut up.

Axel, continuing his slight, replied: "Well, duh. We weren't going to leave your World behind, were we?"

Sora, Riku, and Kairi rounded on Mickey, who avoided their gawks of:Why-didn't-you-tell-us-sooner? "They're a very excitable bunch. I can tell ya that much." He laughed his high-pitched laugh. "I can see where you get it from." Embarrassed, Mickey withdrew a couple of sheets of paper. "While we're on the subject, can you please sign these?"

Sora and Riku shared suspicious looks. "What are they?"

"They're contracts." Dread filtered across the King's face. "I'm not allowed to summon you guys for mission purposes unless it's a weekend, holiday, or vacation." Mickey sighed. He looked defeated. "That is, if you don't have any homework."

Sora knew his mother's scolding-aftermath-facade without trying.

Nevaeh clapped for joy. "Great! Where do I sign?"

The End

A/N:1: Tarsus is mad. He's insane. Throughout this entire story, I've led you to believe that he's actually had a reason behind everything he's done. That he's actually very smart. But he's not. He's just crazy.

A/N:2: Holy snacks. Riku and Sarmiento are getting along.

A/N:3: Lol, Demyx. I'm growing fond of him.

A/N:4: Poor Riku. Also: Those of you that I talked with concerning 'the end'? Yeah. It's completely different from what I said. That's because I never know what's going to happen until I write it. Weird, huh?

A/N:5: I'm sad. Tony Sarmiento was a formidable villain. And, even though he was evil, there was a part of him that cared for Nevaeh. OH! The reason Tony shoved Nevaeh's memories in her head like that was because he lost his concentration. Because of Tarsus - Tarsus sucked away all of Tony's blood, which killed him. Yeah. Gross.

A/N:6: When Riku said 'grandson' he meant: great-great-great-great-great- (So on and so forth.)

A/N:7: Rikuwould be the kind of guy that didn't know how good he looked. Then again...guys find themselves in the worst trouble when they realize just how hot they are.

A/N:8: John 1:5 – 'A light shines in the darkness, but the darkness can't understand it.' It's my favorite.

A/N:9: What an anticlimactic way to go...

Please don't ask me about Roxas and Namine. I tried to add them in a-gah-gillion times, but I couldn't make it work. I'm sorry.

ooo

A/N: Wow. This feels rushed. Is this really the end? For real? I'm seeing spots. I'm done! WHOO-HOO, I'm done!

At the same time: (Sniff) I'm done...?

Ah, well. As one story ends, another begins. THE AFTERS will be posted by the weekend. So keep a look out. Sometime between now and Saturday, TA will be up and running. I can't live long without a story to write.

Guys. Seriously. If I've forgotten to tie a loose end, let me know. I'd feel horrible if I didn't catch everything. So, perhaps, if I did, theremight be a chapter 48. Only because this author is the most feckless person she knows.

Wow...what to say? A year and a half. That's how long this story's been goin' on. Sheesh-louise. Finally complete.

I kinda don't want it to end...eeeeehhh.

I would very much appreciate it if y'all gave me your final grade for That's Why. And, if it's not too much, I'd like to know your favorite part. Or one of your favorite parts. Just because. As a favor for reviewing, I'll reply with a hilarious scene:

Nevaeh is deciding what sort of weapon she wants to use, now that she's no longer capable of wielding a Keyblade. Riku shuts her down. Repeatedly.

That should be sweet. Hehe!

Thanks for reading.

This is Talitha Koum, over and out.

God bless you all.