Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts.

Author's Notes: This will probably be a long story, and at least for the first nine chapters, every chapter focuses on one character – the order is Riku-Sora-Kairi. There is a plot, and eventually they will be going on an adventure. I will also be using some of the game mechanics – like, the forms and the Heartless dropping munny and such – but obviously giving some sort of explanation.

Setting: Post-Kh2. Around nine months or so after in fact. Kairi and Sora are sixteen, Riku is seventeen.

Chapter 1 - Atlantica

Riku wasn't sure how the other two had even found enough pieces to make a Gummi ship - and thinking back on it, he was glad he and Kairi had been so very ignorant about what constituted a proper, stable andsafe Gummi ship, because he was pretty sure the mess that Sora had enthusiastically said was a Gummi ship had been held together by nothing more than Sora's optimism. He only now realized how close they had come to dying in that first pathway away from the Islands. They had only had one cannon.

By the time they had left the next world, Riku had still be just as clueless, but even he had noticed the difference in the Gummi ship. Still, it wasn't until they had reached Radiant Garden that Riku had been given a long lecture on gummi parts by a man called "Cid" and started to realize why Sora kept giving the ship a complete overhaul - each path was different, each one getting harder.

He was glad that Sora and Kairi had built the ship, especially when they reached Mickey's Castle. The week spent there had been the best way Riku could think of to spend time - outside of just spending time with Sora and Kairi on the islands.

He pulled away from his thoughts as the ship they were in slowed after passing through a bright flash of light. He shivered as the familiar feel of magic washed over his skin - he looked quizzically over at Sora but the boy just grinned in return. That was the first thing that warned him there was something different here - Sora had looked much too smug for this to be a normal world, or for that magic to have just been a change of clothes to fit in.

But Sora was tearing his eyes away and pressing buttons and Riku exchanged a puzzled and wary glance with Kairi before tensing his shoulders, ready for whatever this world held.

Between one blink and anther the gummi ship was gone and the three were clustered around an open shell. An arch of rock was before them, as well as plenty of sea weed. Riku was about to ask what kind of world had sea weed growing on the surface, and had even turned to raise a skeptical eyebrow at his friend. He froze as he took in Sora's new body, his jaw dropping. Kairi gasped on Sora's other side, and the brunet laughed, swimming away with an easy flip of his tail.

His pale, slate gray tail - and as the brunet twisted around, Riku noted that it was complete with a dorsal fin. At least now he knew why and how his friend had become such a good swimmer.

Riku didn't dare look at his own bottom half - instead he looked over at Kairi. Her tail, unlike Sora's, was scaled, like a fish. It was also blue-purple in color, and Riku's lips twitched. "Matches your eyes."

She huffed, then grinned. "At least I don't have a dorsal fin where my butt would be, whale-boy."

"Whale...?" Finally, Riku looked down, and almost growled. He was black on the back, but there was white that spread to the sides and down most of the front, stopping before it reached his tail. Still, orcas were supposedly powerful - that had to mean something, right?

"Hey, you two going to swim, or should I just find Ariel and leave you here?" Sora swam around them in a circle, just out of reach. It didn't stop Riku from lunging for him with a mock growl.

It didn't work out as well as he had hoped - Sora slipped sideways somehow, and Riku found himself slowly circling over and drifting to the sea floor head first. Sora laughed, and Kairi's giggles added to the usually pleasant sound. Right now it was just plain annoying as his body settled gently onto the sand.

"Guess I have to teach you two to swim," Sora said in the next moment, and Riku felt a rush of mixed annoyance and gratitude. On the one hand, he didn't have to ask. On the other hand, couldn't he have taught them before Riku made a fool of himself?

"It's easy once you're shown how. The tail's most important - the rest of your body is mostly for steering. Here, take my hand." Sora's hand was suddenly thrust into his field of vision and for a moment he considered not taking it and just sitting here to brood - or, really, sulk. But Sora's eyes were shining, and he had wanted to visit everywhere so very badly - Riku couldn't ruin it for him, or for Kairi, who found each new world delightful and looked around with such wide eyed wonder.

So he took his hand and then resisted the urge to squeak girlishly when Sora darted through the water, holding his wrist in one hand, and snatched one of Kairi's hands with his other. Then he pulled them both out into the middle, and let them go. Immediately the slowly began to drift down. Kairi looked up at Sora expectantly. He was staring at them with a peculiar expression, and Riku swallowed thickly at the warm look in Sora's blue eyes.

"Sora, swimming?" Kairi reminded gently.

"Oh, right!" Sora flushed and then dragged them up again. Riku watched carefully and was confident he didn't even need to hear the full explanation. As Sora had said, the tail was the key. And weren't they both masters of keys? He ignored the fact that the metaphor didn't work that way, and as Sora continued to explain and Kairi was moving her tail just enough to keep her in place, he shot off.

He felt triumphant. He was speeding through the water, faster than Sora had dragged them, faster than he was sure Kairi at least could go, even if she learned every trick in the book. His half-new body was powerful, and he flashed through seaweed and past clamshells, ignoring Sora's cry for him to stop. He didn't need lessons.

The ocean decided to prove him wrong. He would swear later it loomed up out of nowhere, a large stone pillar, at least three times as thick as he was. He did try to brake, but his tail didn't work like his feet. He thought he almost had turning down, but it wasn't enough and he yelped as his head slammed into the stone. For a moment, he was stunned and there was a moment of darkness.

Sora caught him before he slid down into the sand, swearing softly and startling Riku enough that he turned aqua eyes toward his friend. the brunet looked angry, but Riku knew it wasn't aimed at him. So he winced as his head used pain as a way to tell him what an idiot he was and softly said, "It wasn't your fault."

Blue eyes widened and then looked away. "I still should have been watching you better. Figures you'd do something like this."

Riku winced at the accurate assessment. He was still a bit over confident sometimes, wasn't he? "Still not your responsibility - I can take care of myself."

"But you shouldn't have to," Sora reminded him, and then whispered something beneath his breath. A green glow enveloped him and Riku's eyes widened at the familiar sensation of Curaga washing over him.

He raised an eyebrow. "Kind of powerful to use just for my head, Sora. Why not just use a potion?"

"We're not fighting anything right now, so Curaga was easier to use." He felt Sora shrug, his shoulders moving against Riku's own. It took that for the silver-haired boy to realize Sora was still holding him. His eyes flickered over to Kairi. The girl was watching them with a gentle, fond smile. Riku took this as permission to stay right where he was.

"Lazy as ever," He teased and reluctantly flicked his tail, trying to time it with Sora's. It didn't work and their tails brushed, for a moment flush against each other, his dorsal fin bumping into the other boy awkwardly. Riku jerked away at the odd sensation, freezing when Sora pulled him back.

"True," he replied, and the brunet suddenly pushed him up, sending him reeling head over tail. Grinning, Sora followed, circling below him. "but I can still swim here, and you can't. Since you won't listen, maybe you can watch. Kairi, you pay attention too."

He moved slowly as Riku let himself drift back down, his eyes trained on his friend. This time he wasn't going to make a fool of himself - again. He dropped through the slow circle Sora was making and with much less confidence than before, flicked his tail and tilted his body, righting himself when his head was on the same level as Sora's. The boy grinned in delight toward him. "See? Not so hard, if you actually stay still long enough to learn."

Riku smirked but said nothing, his bruised ego quickly repairing under Sora's encouragement. Unfortunately, the brunet ruined it by darting by down and going from much-to-fast to perfectly still in an instant as he leveled with Kairi. Scowling, Riku let gravity pull him slowly down, watching Sora correct Kairi as he did so. At least he hadn't needed Sora's hands all over him, demonstrating how to move his tail and the rest of his body.

The silver-haired boy paused and then narrowed his eyes at Kairi, who blushed and shrugged, not an apologetic bone in her body. Now he wished he had been clumsier.

"Sora!" An unfamiliar voice called. Sora shot up - literally, he shot up past Riku's falling height and peered off into the space that served as an exit and entrance to the grove they were in. Riku stopped his downward movement with a flick of his tail and looked out curiously. There was what looked oddly like a city in the distance. Sora had mentioned little about the place - actually, he had done that a lot, with everything. He seemed to enjoy surprising them.

"Ariel!" Sora greeted, swimming forward hurriedly to meet a red haired mermaid. Riku's eyebrows shot up when he pulled her into a quick hug, exchanging pleasantries and news that Riku couldn't hear. Attempting to ignore the meeting, Riku moved cautiously toward Kairi, pleased when he managed to turned and stop in the same motion, exactly as he had meant.

"Who is she?" he asked, jerking his head toward the girl.

"No idea," Kairi said cheerfully, arranging her tail on a rock. Riku scowled, then reluctantly did the same. Kairi continued, "He tells me no more than you. Still, this is fun, isn't it?"

Riku tapped his head meaningfully and said nothing. Kairi giggled. "You know that hitting your head was worth it. "

He ignored that, leaning back to keep her and Sora in his field of vision. "I thought you and Sora weren't together anymore."

"Doesn't mean I don't like his hands on me. I know exactly what those hands can do, Riku. Just because he's not in love with me doesn't mean I can't enjoy his touch." Riku frowned at her choice of words, but nodded slowly. Even though she had been the one to break it off, he should have expected that. Sora wouldn't risk hurting her by breaking it off - Riku had never asked for details, but once the idea was there he knew it was true.

"He was right though. He never said it, but I could tell when he looked at me. He never would have been totally happy with me. He might not even have noticed it - but he would have felt... obligated with me. He needs someone who he doesn't feel like he has to settle down with them - especially because with his duties, that's impossible. The darkness might not be making trouble now, but its still stirring out there. I can feel it - and I would bet all of Sora's munny that you two can as well." The conversation had turned from normal teenage near-drama to something much more serious. Riku shifted his mood accordingly and stared into the water distantly.

"Stirring - but without any goal except what the Heartless always do - collect hearts. Each world can defend itself from disorganized heartless - but you're right. Eventually someone will gather enough power that they'll try their hand at Kingdom Hearts. And Sora will jump up to be the hero." Riku smiled, faintly. "This time, I'll be next to him."

"I hope I can be, too," Kairi said softly, "But if I can't be - if I'm not strong enough -then at least I know one of us will be with him."

"Just make sure not to get kidnapped next time and everything will work out fine," Riku said, smirking as she huffed and mock glared at him.

Next thing he knew, there was another red head in front of him. "Hello! You must be Riku, the one Sora was looking for all that time!"

A bit stunned - everyone at Radiant Garden had repeated the same thing, nearly word for word... Well, Cloud had glared more, Leon had grunted, but the girls at least had been similar. - all he could do was nod. She smiled brightly. "Oh, I'm so glad! I'm Ariel! Sora was here with Donald and Goofy, and they helped me win Eric's heart! And they sang in our musicals!"

Riku blinked, and uttered in time with Kairi, "Sora... sang?"

He tilted his head back to look up at the blushing brunet and missed the sparkle of mischief in Ariel's eyes. "Oh yes. More than that - he performed! He did great!"

Ariel giggled and couldn't resist adding, "They even sang a song instead of saying goodbye."

Riku smirked wickedly. "Sora, how come we've never heard you sing? Aren't we your friends?"

"Oh no," Sora hissed, and turned pleading eyes toward Kairi - who mirrored them perfectly.

"Don't we deserve to hear your voice, Sora?" Kairi asked, eyes slowly looking toward the floor, voice soft and sad. Riku knew Sora knew they were faking - they all could tell when the others were lying now.

It didn't stop Sora from looking panicked. There was a brief flash of it in his blue eyes before he crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at them stubbornly. "I'm not singing, or dancing, or performing in any way."

Ariel giggled and swam up to his height. "Since you won't sing, did you want to give your friends a tour? I could help."

"I want to see the palace!" Kairi exclaimed, her eyes bright in sudden excitement.

Riku shrugged, but under Sora's questioning gaze had to say, "I think I would rather explore here."

Kairi looked disappointed, as if she expected Sora to agree with Riku - he was expecting that the brunet would agree with Kairi. Instead, Sora exchanged a look with Ariel, who pursed her lips, then nodded and offered to Kairi, "I'm a princess - the youngest. Or I was before I was married. I've visiting for a few days, so I could show you the palace and the city while Sora could show Riku around - and you can all stay in the palace together. Daddy won't mind."

Kairi didn't look totally satisfied with the arrangement, but nodded anyway and hesitantly swam up to Ariel, glancing at Sora before looking back at the redheaded mermaid. "I guess that's okay." She smiled and added, "It's a good chance to get to know you, too! Sora made so many friends that I know nothing about!"

Riku approved wholeheartedly - on the way they were split up, and on Kairi gathering information. Sora really did keep too many things to himself. Ariel was already chatting to the other girl, and swimming slowly, giving Kairi a chance to adjust to the gentle traveling pace the mermaid set. The brunet boy drifted down to the rock Kairi had been sitting on and tilted his head, regarding his friend.

Unable to read that intent gaze, Riku shifted uncomfortably, but refused to simply ask. Sora would either explain eventually - or just stop. He had been doing that too much lately, and with a small secretive smile that Riku had rarely seen before.

"Come on. Let's see if you know how to swim yet." Sora broke the silence suddenly and pushed up from the sea floor, spiraling up until the sun from above made him into just a silhouette.

Riku smirked and shot after him - and then beyond him. "Let's see if you can keep up!"

There was a short burst of laughter from the brunet - and then the dolphin-tailed boy shot past him. "Don't be so slow, Ri-ku!"

The silver-haired teen narrowed his eyes and focussed, his body streamlining almost naturally now as he raced after his agile friend. He was just a flash of gray and brown, cutting through the water as if he had been born to it. Riku still felt awkward in comparison, despite the fact he was on his tail - his new body had more power to it but Sora knew how to use his better.

In a game that had no set rules and had started so sporadically, Riku didn't consider what he did next cheating. Sora had just seen how close he was and was about to pull even farther ahead. He sent a sudden spurt of speed and energy into his tail and launched sideways and forward, catching a startled Sora in a tackle.

Smirking, Riku botched any attempt Sora made to balance them and drove them both downward, stopping only when a cloud of sand rose around them and he had his friend pinned, tails overlapping and hands curved along the slim shoulders. He could feel how deceptive his friend's build was like this, when the muscles moved beneath his fingers as Sora half heartedly pushed at him with his eyes crinkled in laughter.

"That was a mean trick," Sora finally scolded, but made no move to dislodge the older teen. Riku smirked and slipped off, settling onto his side next to his friend.

Sora grimaced and shifted to face him, on hand moving to rub at his backside. Curious, Riku lifted his head - and cursed mentally. He had forgotten they had dorsal fins. He didn't voice it, but his eyes filled with concern as he met Sora's gaze. The smaller boy rolled his eyes. "I'm fine, Riku. If Heartless can slam me into walls made of stone, being pressed into the sand isn't going to hurt me."

Riku shrugged, but shifted closer, pretending he was still concerned and - after seeing Sora's shrug and smile of permission - ran a hand around the dorsal fin. That wouldn't have been so bad, but there was no reason for Riku's other hand to be on Sora's bare back or playing with the tips of his hair. The keyblade master didn't object, and shivered slightly under his hands.

"You know," Sora said, and Riku paused, cocking his head to listen. "We're supposed to be exploring the ocean. Not each other."

Riku blinked. Sora didn't say things like that. At least... He hadn't. Of course, it wasn't like they had conversations even relating to relationships - Riku had avoided the subject altogether once they came back to the islands, even after Sora and Kairi weren't together. He didn't think Sora had changed much since they came back - but he had certainly changed before they were back on the island.

"Not that we really were," Sora said, sounding oddly regretful, "But its not the same in these bodies anyway. We can do that later. Come on!"

Before Riku could react, or even let it all sink in, he was being pulled through the water once more. Sora seemed to know where he was going and stopped suddenly in a cavern, swimming more slowly to an exit. He flashed a mischievous grin over his shoulder. "Want to see if you can really swim yet?"

He saw the challenge for what it was - a distraction, and a trap. But he couldn't figure out what the long tunnel Sora was hovering outside of had to do with it. He couldn't just shrug off a challenge either, even one as unfair as this. Perhaps if he, against all odd, did win, he could persuade Sora to explain what he meant - or at least let him go back to what he had been doing.

"Fine. How about a race?" He arched a silver eyebrow at Sora's growing grin.

"Perfect. But - to the beginning of the tunnel." Riku narrowed his eyes at the answer and swam toward Sora, staring at the water. It looked different - rushed somehow. A dreadful suspicion in his mind, he realized he had already agreed.

"One," He began, and he and Sora moved to be at the exact same starting position - or as near as they could get. He was on the inside, and in his opinion, he had the advantage there at least.

"Two," They said in unison, and Sora's eyes glittered with an unknown emotion as he stared at Riku. It unnerved the boy a little.

"Three," Sora said alone, and gave Riku a quizzical look. Riku jumped guiltily - he had been too busy puzzling over the look from before. He refocused his mind, muscles tensed.

"Go!" They shouted as one, and dove into the tunnel. For a moment, Riku thought he might have a chance. He was ahead of Sora for a brief second - and then he found out why it was to the beginning of the tunnel, and not the end. There was a current here, powerful and implacable. He twisted his head, looking helplessly at Sora - who was smirking. It was odd to see it, but Riku was too busy being outraged at the boy outsmarting him to care. Sora was in the current as well - but not being pulled back.

In a last minute desperate move as the current, despite all his efforts, moved him back, he twisted sideways, putting every ounce of power into his tail, and grabbed for his friend once again.

He didn't quite manage it. His hands reached out, but only brushed him - but did settle on the dorsal fin on his friend's back. Riku reacted instantly, grabbing on fiercely and glaring at Sora, who had turned his head, and looked surprised at what was hampering his movements somewhat.

It didn't take long for Sora to take advantage of this. Soon Riku was thinking it had been a very bad idea because his friend was taking off, and once out of the current, with more speed than Riku liked to think about. He held on out of habit, and with the hidden fear that Sora would just keep swimming and leave him if he did let go.

It wasn't a very long trip, and Riku tried to watch how his friend was moving in order to duplicate the rapid dashing through the ocean. Then, with barely any warning except for a quick look and sudden slowing, Sora twisted out of his grip, leaving Riku still going in another direction. The older boy stopped himself and looked curiously - and with more than a bit annoyance - at Sora, who simply pointed behind Riku.

He turned and had to admit this was the sort of thing that was much better than a city. Cities were everywhere, and even one filled with fishy people couldn't be that different. But sunken ships - now how often did one get to see a sunken ship, just like out of a childhood story?

"It could have been sunk by pirates," Riku said immediately, and heard Sora laugh in delight.

"Or a sea monster," Sora replied, swimming by and toward the ship.

"Or a sudden storm." Riku followed, admiring the ship as they circled it.

"Drowning someone's true love?" Sora asked, and darted away at Riku's scowl.

"What are you, a girl?" He called after, his scowl melting into a grin once the boy was out of sight.

"You wouldn't like me half so much if I was, Ri-ku," Sora taunted from somewhere ahead, and Riku jerked back, tail faltering mid movement. His eyes narrowed. How much did Sora know? How long had Sora known? And why now?

Determined to have some answers from his friend, he raced after Sora - only to find him no where to be found. He swam up, hoping for a glimpse of the dolphin-tailed boy - though he noted in frustration that everything was gray around here and it wouldn't be terribly difficult to hide.

"Sora!" He called finally in frustration. "Come out! I don't want to play?"

"But I thought you liked games?" Riku froze at the familiar question and felt all his anger die in sudden guilt. He had said that once, as he stole a wooden child and forced Sora into actually pointing the keyblade at him. Gravity pulled him down toward the ship, but he didn't notice until he was above an open hatch and hands pulled him down and through.

Anxious blue eyes stared at him. "I didn't mean it like that," Sora said softly. "I was just teasing."

But Riku had meant it like that once, as an angry taunt, and Sorashould have thrown it back at him on purpose - but he hadn't. Riku jerked his face away, only to have Sora turn his head back with an insistent hand on his chin. "Hey now, what have I said about brooding over the past?"

Riku's lips tugged into a faint smile. "Lots of things. Most of them including 'Stop that' and whacking me with a toy sword - or throwing me into the ocean. You can't do that anymore."

Sora called his Keyblade to his hand and looked at Riku's head speculatively. At the silver-haired boys nervous look he laughed and let it disappear. "So? Don't. The past is the past and you care more about it than either of us do."

The "us" included Kairi, he knew, and he had to admit it was true. Kairi and Sora were perfectly happy in forgiving him and ignoring the fact that he had caused most of the troubles they had went through. He had opened the door - it was even his fault Roxas and Naminé had existed.

He was brought back to the world by an exasperated huff and once Sora was sure his eyes were focussed again, the boy pulled Riku toward him. He half struggled, not sure what to expect - and froze when Sora brushed the bangs away from his face with an oddly gentle hand. He could feel the calluses on his hand from the keyblade. The brunet whispered softly, "Stop that," and kissed him.

It worked just as well as hitting him had, since his thoughts let go of the past altogether to cling to the present. He was sure Sora had meant it as a gentle kiss, since the boy tried to pull away after only a moment, but Riku wasn't going to let a chance go by that he might not have again for a long time. He clung to his friend, pressing as close as possible and wrapping one arm around Sora's waist, brushing both human and dolphin skin while the other arm went back and up, a hand in Sora's hair to keep him there as Riku deepened the kiss.

That Sora returned it with a passion nearly equal to Riku's was surprising. So was the hand on his chest, dancing across his ribs and sliding almost teasingly around his nipples.

Sora was also the one to push him away - hard enough that it sent them both back a bit, Sora bumping into the stairs behind him and Riku stopped by the wall. They stared at each other, Riku watching and waiting, nerves taut and wondering, despite what Sora had been hinting at, if he had just ruined their friendship. Sora was staring, an unreadable expression on his face. Then he shook his head, and smiled gently. Riku relaxed. They were fine.

He half expected Sora to want to talk about it. But he didn't, just swam forward and grabbed Riku's wrist. "Come on. Let's see if I can teach you to not have to use me to go through the current."

Riku had to be satisfied with that. The week they stayed there passed much too quickly, and never again was Riku able to get enough time alone with Sora to find out if it had been a fluke - or to try it again. But Riku was patient. Sora had visited many more worlds - Riku hadn't watched him for all of them, but Sora had spoken of them. Riku could be patient. Another world was another opportunity - one he would take.

End Chapter One.

Yes, I know that having Ariel probably wouldn't have been there. Sorry. And for those of you wondering about a certain character mentioned as being in Radiant Garden who shouldn't be, that will be explained – sort of – at a much later date. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, it's a post-Sephiroth battle spoiler.