Author's Note: Sometimes normal life is taken for granted, especially if you haven't lived it for a long time. Having completed KHII, I couldn't help but wonder how our intrepid heroes would fare when they tried to pick up the lives they left behind. This fanfiction, for the most part, is intended to be written serial/vignette style, with an overall plot but with each chapter focusing on only one or two elements at a time, this focus revealed in the chapter title.
However, we start with where it all began: in the past.
Another Day in Paradise
"But it's true! It's right there!"
"No, it's not! You're just a liar!"
Riku's eyes blazed, small fists tightening at his sides. "I am not a liar! You're the one that's lying!"
Sora glared back at him with equal fury, or at least as much fury as an eight year-old could manage. "I don't lie, you…you jerk! You just want to prove you're better then me!"
Rivalry was a new thing to the boys. Kairi had brought it, however inadvertently, and now and then it reared its ugly head. This excursion had started simply enough, Riku rushing to Sora in an excited state, going on and on about something new and amazing he'd found in the Secret Place. But now matter how much Riku yelled and swore it was there, Sora saw nothing that hadn't been in the cool, damp cave before.
Riku, on the other hand, felt a rising panic in the back of his young mind, scared of what seeing something other people didn't might mean. He'd thought that, out of all people, Sora would be the one to find an equal thrill and touch of pride over something that they had found and witnessed. Instead, all he'd gotten was confusion and unfair accusations, at least to his eyes, and the growing fear that something might be wrong. But Riku was never one to show his fear, so it changed to anger, the older boy abruptly shoving his friend. "I do not!"
Sora stumbled, shocked at the action, but recovered quickly. He didn't like that Riku was getting taller than him, bigger than him. They were supposed to be best friends, right? Didn't best friends wait for each other? Riku always seemed to leave him behind, and if there was something that only Riku could do—or that only he could see—well…it hurt. But Sora was never one to show his hurt, so he shoved in return, as hard as he could. "You do too!"
Shocked by the strength, Riku tottered back, hitting the ground hard, and the jarring up his spine snapped something in his mind. He was up before he knew what he was doing, lunging at Sora and tackling him to the ground, fists flying. Sora let out a surprised squawk, but retaliated instantly, kicking and thrashing. Their vision blurred, anger and pride driving them further, and it was only when a third pair of hands grabbed onto Riku's shoulders, tugging him off his younger friend, did they start to think again.
"Stop it, stop it!" Kairi cried, suddenly there, as she was sometimes. It was so odd, really. She just had that way about her, an ability to be where she was needed, to be with them when they needed her. That was why they thought sometimes that she would be with one of them when he needed her, but not the other…it was a scary thing to think about, and one neither of them would admit to. "What're you doing!"
Sora was the first to manage to speak, shoving himself up into a sitting position, blood streaming from his nose and a dark bruise on his cheek. "He…he started it! He's seeing things!"
"I am not!" Riku countered angrily, speech slightly garbled by a torn lip, collar of his shirt ripped and hanging lopsidedly off his shoulder. "It's right there!"
Kairi looked at Riku, releasing his shoulders and stepping back, worry in her eyes. "…what? What is it, Riku?"
Desperate for someone to believe him, Riku gestured at the old, crumbling wooden planks at the back of the cavern. They seemed so incongruous, more so than ever. The Secret Place was a familiar heaven now, cool, damp walls adorned with their childish musings, the pale white stones littered about the soft dirt of the floor perfect for illustrating their imaginings. The ancient roots above masked the sky for the most part, letting in only a few of the first drops of rain from a coming storm. They would have to go home soon, they knew, the shivered rustling of the trees beyond the cavern a result of a warning wind.
But not yet. Not yet. Riku had to make them see…an urgency was growing in him, heart pounding faster with a need that scared him more than anything else. They were his friends, his friends, surely they would agree with him? They always stood by him, even when the other kids at school avoided him, or whispered about his hair and his family, or any of the other countless cruelties that children seemed so apt in producing.
Surely…they'd stand by him in this? The first time he'd seen it, years ago, he'd thought he really had just been seeing things, but to see it again? It had to be real…it had to be.
"There…there, on the…door. You can see it, right?"
Somehow, it was Kairi's confused, faintly pitying eyes that made his heart sink the most. "See…what?"
Riku's face fell and he couldn't find it within himself to say any more. In the silence that followed, Sora gave one angry, defiant sniff—hiding the tears that touched the corners of his eyes—and stumbled to his feet. Glaring heatedly, hurt gathering as a lump in his throat, he stomped out towards the tunnel, leaving without another word. Kairi lingered, but Riku didn't want her to see the fear, the odd betrayal that he felt, and he turned away. After a few moments soft footfalls marked her exit.
It took Riku several minutes to recognize the sound after it started. It came from the back of his throat, punctuated by heavy swallows and sharp sniffs as he tried to hide what he was actually doing. But there really was no point to it, was there? No one was here. No one could see him crying. So that made it okay, didn't it?
Somehow, he knew it didn't, but the pride and the confidence that he usually called upon to banish tears were oddly absent. Bereft and abruptly, terribly lonely, he lifted curled fists to his eyes, a tiny, bitter sob escaping him. The cool soil was beneath his knees now, Riku hunching on the ground as he wept, ashamed and afraid. He wasn't some crybaby and he wasn't a freak. He wasn't. It…it just hurt a little, that was all. Just a little.
He wouldn't cry again, if he had anything to say about it. He'd be strong and never cry if he was hurt, or lonely, or scared. He'd always have a brave face and a smirk like the older boys at school. That way, no one would see him like this, especially not himself. He'd be strong and people would believe him when he told them things. Not just his friends, but everybody. They'd listen to what he had to say, because he wouldn't say things unless they were especially important.
Riku would make sure they could see it, too. There was nothing wrong with him for being able to see the curling, golden lines on the wood. There was nothing wrong with how he just knew the planks were actually a door. There was nothing wrong with how the black space beyond the simple, elegant keyhole called to him. He'd make them see, so he wouldn't be left alone after fighting Sora and scaring Kairi, with only his tears to comfort him.
He would be all these things and then it wouldn't hurt so much any more.