A/N: I'm not dead, 'k? Internet access has been some kind of an issue. The next chapters have already been written, but I still have to find a way to upload them regularly. Modem's dead, y'know.

Warning: Long chapter. And fluff. Should be enough fluff in there to tide y'all until the end.

Hmm...more like characterization here first. The action will come sooner than you think, but let's put the spotlight on the characters first, shall we?

Disclaimer: Like hell no I own it.

Previously: Sora and Leon go all out in an angst fest. Riku joins in. Yuffie joins in. Roxas leers at Naminé. Rinoa watches silently. We all scratch our heads and ask where this is going.

v: departure

"What...what do you think you're doing?"

Kairi looked up, blinked twice, and raised an eyebrow. "Taking off your wards. If you're going to portal out, I don't want you guys to end up like Rinoa."

Sora lunged forwards, placing both of his hands on hers and ignoring the sudden clamminess of them. He reached across the countertop and brought his face so close to hers that their noses brushed, and the auburn-haired Princess leant fractionally backwards. It was not surprising to hear her breathing quicken.

"If you wanted me to leave right away, you could've just said so," he began quietly, watching a blush cross the bridge of her nose, "But never, ever, ever do that again."

They stared at each other in complete silence, Sora losing himself in Kairi's pools of amethyst. He could feel Rinoa and Riku's eyes on the two of them, probabaly wondering what was wrong.

Kairi blinked once more, then matched stare for stare, hunching her shoulders and pressing forwards. "I--"

"Why not?"

That was Roxas.

He, together with his Princess, hands linked and golden heart still glowing on the countertop, swiveled their heads together in sync to face the blond Wielder.

"Just asking! Asking!" Number Thirteen shook his head frantically, "I mean, go on, kiss each other, make out, uh, whatever you were trying to do! No! That sounded wrong! I mean, get a room first and then go and--"

Cerulean eyes widened as Naminé suddenly stood up and silenced him.

Riku let out a low whistle.

The blonde memory witch turned around calmly from a now-stunned Roxas and gave them a rather disturbing smile. "I'll just have a word with him, okay?"

She held out a hand and summoned a portal, before dragging the just thoroughly-kissed teen through the strands of darkness and disappearing.

Sora blinked. Tilted his head, and grinned at Kairi, who was now furiously blushing. "That kind of gave me ideas."

"I'd rather those ideas stayed as ideas, Sora."

That was Leon, arms folded and grey eyes regarding him with a cold scowl. Beside him, Yuffie gave a rather sheepish grin and flashed a peace sign.

"Leon!" Kairi said indignantly, sticking out her lower lip. "I'm seventeen years old, and I can kiss anybody I want!"

The brunet raised an eyebrow, and the auburn-haired teen suddenly blushed crimson as she seemed to realize what her words had implied. She turned back to Sora with wide eyes. "Um, I mean--"

"You want to get kissed?" Sora teased her, smiling at how red her cheeks were getting.

Kairi bowed her head, letting her hair flounce forward. "Well, I, uh..."

"Anyway, anyway," Rinoa suddenly cut in, taking the candy heart Riku had tossed in her general direction. "Why stop her from taking down your wards?"

Sora froze. He had hoped that in the kissing-change-of-subject, they would forget why he had reprimanded Kairi in the first place. Sighing, he released her hands and waved a palm over the golden traced heart on the countertop, and he winced slightly when he heard the princess gasp.

Two crimson lines slashed through the shape and met in the middle, forming an 'x', followed by two arrowheads each. The heart lengthened and flashed red, turning into the trademark insignia of--

"Heartless," Kairi breathed, looking up at him with fear and anger in her beryl eyes.

Why did Rinoa have to ask?

What did she have in mind?

He pursed his lips and settled back onto his barstool, reaching over into the fridge and taking out another blood pack. He poked a straw through it and took the first sip before speaking. "The wards aren't only of light. That's why I've never let anyone else touch them."

Riku made a derisive noise, standing up and rounding on him. "Where the hell did you get the idea?"

Sora shrugged, careful to appear only nonchalant as he did so, not betraying the storm of emotions he had raging inside. He had gotten the idea from Antiform, from the year before, during one particularly boring day. He had taken it upon himself to explore the World That Never Was, and somewhere along his path Antiform had commented how stronger everything would be if only light would just go and agree with darkness.

A very unlikely event, but as he had said, it gave Sora ideas.

Kairi drew back, a hurt look on her face.

"Why didn't you tell us?" his silver-haired best friend demanded, staring at the Heartless symbol on the countertop.

He looked away. "I--"

"Did you really have to use darkness?" Leon cut in, walking across the room in fast strides, arms still crossed. He stood beside his sister, who was now eyeing him with an unreadable gaze. "Light would have been enough."

Sora wanted to place his face in his hands. Awkward questions. Did people from Radiant Garden do nothing but ask awkward questions? "It's not that. My -- I mean, the Heartless would persevere even more if they spot a pure ward of light," he swallowed, watching Leon's gaze turn steelier grey by the minute. He had almost said 'my Heartless'. Okay. Take deep breaths. "For example, because of the Cornerstone, Disney Castle is one of the Worlds that Heartless put most of their energy into--"

"And you know this how?" Leon asked in a rather strained voice.

Rinoa tried and miserably failed to hide a smile.

Sora blinked. He stood up, drained his blood-pack, and chucked it into the nearest wastebasket.

"Is that blood?"

I need help, Sora thought desperately, his right hand itching to summon his Keyblade as Leon grew angrier and angrier by the minute, judging by the way he had started taking deep, calming breaths.

"Sora--"

"Leon--"

"No." Riku and Yuffie said simultaneously.

"Let them be," Rinoa said calmly. "Settle everything once and for all. If things get out of hand, well..."

"No!" the silver-haired Wielder seethed, pounding both hands on the countertop and glaring at him angrily. "Don't drag him into this, Sora!"

"Him?" a bewildered and furious Leon asked, whipping his head around to stare at Riku.

"Squall, calm down," Yuffie interjected in a long-suffering manner, throwing out an arm and shaking her head angrily.

Sora shook his head. "I can control him."

Kairi took in a shuddering breath, presumably as she realized what Sora was going to do. She backed away right into Riku, and clutched convulsively at his vest. She tried to smile, but ended up with a grimace instead. "It's okay. He just drank. Leon needs to know," she said shakily, stealing a glance at her brunet brother.

Leon looked like a raging bull. "Know what?" he said in a venom-laden voice.

"As Yuffie said, calm down," Rinoa piped up, walking over and collapsing into the nearest plush chair. "It's not as bad as you think. Hey Riku, toss me some candy, will you?"

Aquamarine eyes flashed, and the Wielder in question smiled reluctantly. "You can get it yourself, you know."

Kairi's brow smoothed, and she also smiled. "You're a wonder, Rinoa."

"I know," the ebony-haired teen said smugly, waving a hand dismissively as she clutched a pillow and pointed a slim finger at the bowl of candy hearts. "Yuff, sit down. You might get a heart attack."

"From what?" the ninja asked in a half-bewildered, half-frightened voice, tearing her gaze from one furious Squall Leonhart.

Sora offered Rinoa a grateful smile, watching as the multicolored candy floated out of the bowl and over to her in an orderly line. He closed his eyes, waving a palm over the Heartless symbol and making it disappear.

Darkie, this needs your sarcastic touch, he chuckled mentally, as he called on his dark side.

-- x --- x --

Naminé slapped a hand over her forehead, as a very crimson Roxas stared up at her with his infamous puppy-dog eyes. Which were really huge, watery, and for crying out loud endearing as hell.

Oh no. Anything but the puppy-dog eyes.

The blond clasped his hands and settled back down on his own bed, staring back at her with stars in his puppy-dog eyes and a grin curving up his pink lips.

She chucked a pillow at him, which thankfully hit him squarely in the face.

"It was the only thing I could think of that could shut you up!" she said, finally feeling the flush of embarrasment paint her cheeks. She took the next nearest pillow and buried her face into it, leaning back into the wall as she sat on her bed, facing Number Thirteen.

"I'm not complaining," Roxas finally replied, and she felt the hairs at the back of her neck lift up as he portalled up right next to her.

"Don't do that!" she shrieked, scrambling away from the blond Wielder and backing into the headboard.

"Oh, c'mon Nam..." he leered at her once again, getting on his hands and knees as he crawled over to her. She blushed, leaning backwards as the teen hovered over her, both gloved hands on either side of her waist and face precariously close to hers. "You started it..."

"Roxas..."

He was getting awfully close by now, and she was getting quite dizzy with how his scent of rain and mint was overwhelming her and how he had taken off his gloves and was now thumbing her jaw and how his stormy blue eyes had fluttered closed and how his breath felt warm and--

"Okay, Nam, the Superior let slip that you're the next on duty at the Postern, and---oh. Oh."

They blinked at the same time, and chanced a glance at the far corner of the room, at the foot of Roxas' bed. A fiercely red Demyx was standing there with a bewildered expression on his face, mouth hanging slightly open.

"Dem?" Roxas mouthed, before suddenly appearing to catch himself and sitting back into a more innocent position.

Number Nine shook his head violently, waving his hands. "No, no, go on, I didn't mean to interrupt your, uh," if possible he turned even redder, "Uhm, you know. Yeah. That. I'll just go and catch you guys later. Yeah."

Muttering something that remotely sounded like "That's the third couple I've caught today," he waved a portal open and disappeared into it.

Naminé stared at the spot where the music lover had disappeared, and then at Roxas, who had an eyebrow raised in amusement.

"What did he think we were doing?" he asked aloud, turning to regard her with those puppy-dog eyes once more.

"What else, you big, stupid, idiotic jerk!" she yelled, clutching the nearest pillow and throwing it at him, hitting him at the side of his head.

"Oooh, that was a low one," he teased, reaching over and pinching her cheek. "You're cute when you're mad."

She blinked, before letting out a disbelieving huff. "What's up with you?"

Roxas tilted his head. She could almost see the question marks blink on and off his metaphorical speech bubble.

"Honestly," she said again, taking on a serious tone of voice. "Ever since the night Sora had turned completely Antiform, you've been...I don't know...happier."

"Happier?" he repeated blankly.

"You joke around more often. Heaven knows what pranks you and Axel have thought of now. You've lightened up considerably, on the Keyblade Master business and everything..." she paused, and hid her face in her pillow, muffling her voice. "And you look...better. Um. I thought it was only Sora who could do that, but when you enter a room...you lighten it up."

"You really think so?" Roxas asked softly.

She lifted her head up and brought her knees to her chin, leaning against the wall next to Number Thirteen. Tilting her head sideways, she steadied her stare on his stormy-blue eyes. "Yes."

He looked up into the Nobody insignia mounted on the ceiling, and closed the distance between them, putting an arm around her shoulders and gently tilting her head to lean on his own shoulder.

"Kingdom Hearts has started to reform last night," he said quietly, smiling as he pointed with his free hand to the floor-to-ceiling window of their joint room. Naminé followed his gaze, and blinked. He was pointing at just another patch of inky black.

"Roxas..." she started, but he squeezed her shoulder.

The blonde Keyblade Master spread his fingers wide open, and suddenly, small but blazing meteors traced the sky, leaving a glowing yellow heart with a blue outline. It was small, but very bright nonetheless.

"Nobody else knows yet," he continued, smiling more to himself than at the room in general. "At least, except for Rinoa. I think. Kingdom Hearts is made mostly of darkness, you know. When Antiform broke free, it signalled another rallying point for the Heartless. We'll get our own hearts sooner or later."

Naminé squinted slightly, before pillowing her face on her knees once more. She smiled wanly. "It's not that, right?"

A derisive snort. "What do you mean?"

"That's not the reason why you're so different."

The blond raised an eyebrow. "What could be more important than getting our own hearts?"

She brushed choppy flaxen strands of hair to the side of her face. "Hearts? That's our long-term goal. But Nobodies like us, Roxas, don't usually get worked up on the hearts thing. That's Xemnas' job. We already remember how to feel, right? Getting our hearts shouldn't be that much of a good thing. Seeing Sora go through such pain because of a shattered heart was not a very pretty sight. In fact...I'm having second thoughts..." she trailed away.

"Don't say that," Roxas chided her gently. "In the long run, hearts will finally make us real."

"That's cliché." She sighed. "And stop changing the subject."

The blond boy cracked a grin. He paused before continuing, apparently gathering his thoughts. "I've finally loosened up, you know?"

"No, I don't."

Roxas rolled his eyes. "I finally figured everything out. When Sora turned Antiform, I felt free. Before, there was this strangling feeling I had every single time Sora even as so much as thought of darkness. But that night...I just watched. Watched his eye turn amber and watched him go berserk. He doesn't need me anymore. I can finally...well..." he laughed, the first time that she had heard him do so without that hint of holding back, "...I'm free."

Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, only time would tell.

-- x -- x --

"I want to try the orange-flavored one, buddyboy. Have any of 'em?"

Sora made a disgusted noise. "Believe me, it tastes awful."

Strands of wispy black drifted through the air as one Antiform, drenched in darkness, stood with his head stuck inside the refrigerator and with one hand on the door, while the other was rummaging inside.

The brunet Keyblade Master made a face. "D'you think King Mickey will allow shipments from the Black Market?"

"...If it's you, then," Rinoa shrugged, popping another candy heart into her mouth, and biting down on it with a disturbingly loud crunch, "...anything is possible. Right, Yuff? Have a heart," she offered, twirling her wrist and making a candy heart float over to where she was sitting on the sofa.

Yuffie shook her head, mouth still temporarily dry from what had just transpired.

Two amber eyes and a crown of ebony spikes peered out from behind the fridge door. "I'd like a heart!" he volunteered, snickering.

The sorceress shot him an amused glare. "Candy hearts, Antiform."

Doing what was probably the Heartless equivalent of rolling one's eyes, Sora's dark side went back to rummaging through the fridge. "Killjoy."

She was still shocked, so to speak. Sora had just closed his eyes, and a split second later, his shadow had risen up and taken form of its own. It had introduced itself (him, no, himself) with the personality one would not expect a Heartless would have. In fact, they hadn't expected Heartless to even have personalities.

Antiform, or Darkie, as he had said, with a bow and a flourish; a nightmarish mirror image of Sora, all weeping black and amber eyes.

Leon's hand had automatically strayed to the hilt of his gunblade that swung from his hip, but the brunet Keywielder was quick to intervene.

"Wouldn't want to have unsightly claw marks on that lovely leather jacket, would you?" he had said airily, after whispering what looked like a few choice words into his antiform's ear, and a discreet shift of eyes in Rinoa's direction.

Riku and Kairi had taken refuge on the sofa next to Rinoa, distressed looks on their faces looking quite comical amidst the floating candy hearts. The auburn-haired girl had almost collapsed to her knees when Antiform had taken shape, and she thought she had never seen Sora run faster than he had done, just to be able to catch Kairi as she fell.

When everyone had settled down (massive understatement), Sora and Antiform on neighboring barstools, mirror images of each other as they cradled their faces on their upturned palms, they began explaining.

Explaining the past year, explaining everything, the attack, the blood-packs, the Heartless, for the sake of Leon, or Mr. Shampoo Model, as Antiform had affectionately termed the brunet.

Yuffie herself had earned the endearment 'Yuffgar', which the Heartless had explained was a mix of Yuffie...and sugar.

They had not expected that.

I mean, sugar!?

Where the heck did that come from?

Antiform, hell, this was the Heartless that maimed hundreds of people before! Who took delight in taking out hearts! Who influenced Sora to let go and lose himself in the darkness of Kingdom Hearts!

And this, this ebony-black teen who was now looking through the fridge as any normal teenager would, who had just given the each of them nicknames, snickering with sarcastic side comments...

Are we talking about the same Heartless here?

After the final words of explanation slipped out from their mouths, there was a five-minute lapse of silence, wherein everyone, with the apparent exception of Rinoa, had struggled to absorb what they had just narrated. Even Riku and Kairi appeared shocked. Sora had probably never told them from his point of view.

Remarkably, Leon had taken all of this in a relatively calm way, meaning that no, he had not gone on a bloody rampage or anything, no, he had not summoned any Guardian Forces or anything like that. He was now currently regarding the twin Masters with narrowed grey eyes, and Yuffie noticed that he was seated in such a way that he could easily shield her and Kairi in case Antiform decided to attack.

And yet, the Heartless hadn't.

She wondered how he could've controlled himself. Being in the presence of the hearts of three knights, the heart of a Princess of Heart, and hers, it didn't take a lot more motivation to just go and attack them.

" 'bout you, pretty boy?" Antiform was saying, poking his head deeper in the fridge. "Wanna get something?"

Riku looked stricken, and he directed a nervous glance at Sora, who returned it with a tilt of the head.

"No thanks."

"Uhm, could you get me a sea-salt popsicle?"

Yuffie blinked.

Kairi looked torn between a grimace and a grin.

Antiform nodded. "Sure, princess. Wait," he turned to Sora, and spoke in a rather long-suffering voice. "I've been churning through this stupid box all day, buddyboy. You get the ice cream."

The brunet looked outraged, sky-blue eyes narrowing. "Lazy bum."

The Heartless shrugged, finally extracting himself from the fridge with a blood-pack in hand. "Hey, you were the lazy bum. Princess said so herself, right?"

Muttering something under his breath, Sora got up from his barstool and threw the freezer door open, punching Antiform in the shoulder with something akin to brotherly love.

Batting amber eyes, he sidled up to the brunet Keyblade Master and grinned, teeth looking disturbingly like fangs. "I love you too, buddyboy."

Sora snorted derisively and shoved him off.

"...I don't get it."

Leon rubbed his temples, a sign that he now had a massive headache.

"Don't worry," Yuffie comforted him, reaching over and tucking a stray lock of mahogany hair behind his ear, "I don't, either."

Kairi had stood up and taken the popsicle Sora offered her, and she sat on the barstool previously occupied by the brunet, right beside Antiform.

Beryl eyes shifted nervously to her left. "Stop staring at me like that."

He waved an ebony hand dismissively, grinning, that hungry look on his face only partially disappearing. "Don'tcha worry, princess. I'm not gonna try anything funny. Well, not right now..." he trailed off, taking one look at Sora's raised eyebrow and focusing on the paopu-blood cooler in his hands instead.

"Why are you not attacking?" Yuffie finally asked bluntly, twiddling her thumbs.

Antiform shrugged, using a sharp, manicured nail to pierce through the blood-pack. "Need to make a good impression on Mr. Shampoo Model, right?"

Sora nodded fervently, almost looking like he was still trying to convince himself.

"That doesn't change the fact that you're still a Heartless," Leon grumbled, folding his arms and looking away. "Even if you're the most perfect Heartless."

"Is that a compliment?"

"Shut up."

"Ooooh," Amber eys narrowed, as he took a sip of blood. "Feisty, Mis-tah Model."

"So!" Rinoa said brightly, clapping her hands, sending the candy hearts spinning throughout the living room and kitchen. "Everything's been settled, then! Leon, you can now stop trying to butt heads with Sora. Sora, you can now stop trying to hide any more of your, erm, interesting experiences. Antiform, you can now stop trying to kill every Princess of Heart you meet. Kairi and Riku, you can now stop trying to feel uncomfortable everytime Sora's near you. Okay? Okay!"

Antiform choked. "What do you mean, Miss S? If I don't go out and kill 'em Princesses, what more is there to live for?" he asked dramatically, looking mock-stricken as he put a hand to roughly where his heart (if he had one) would be.

Yuffie noticed that with one single hint of a glare from Rinoa, the Heartless stopped whatever he was doing and just grinned weakly.

Riku let out a very long drawn-out sigh. "Leon, just accept what Sora is already, so we can just go and get this prince business over and done with."

The brunet in question frowned.

"Pssh, Mr. Model," Antiform threw up his hands in dismay, chucking the empty blood-pack into the sink in the process. He turned to Sora. "My Neoshadows are kinda getting excited, buddyboy. I can't control them if they suddenly decide to crash this party, so you might wanna put our wards back up."

Sora sighed, throwing a look at Leon. "Fine."

The two walked side-by-side up to the front sliding doors, Oblivion appearing in Sora's fist, and the Reverse Keyblade in Antiform's, apparently needing to go outside to raise their wards against Heartless once more.

"Play nice, you two," Rinoa called after their retreating backs, only to be met by twin dismissive waves of the hand.

Yuffie caught a snatch of whispered conversation between the two of them as they slid the door open.

"Next time, I'm gonna make sure that she's not here when I get out."

"Keep it down. She'll hear you."

A wince. "Sorry, shutting up now, buddyboy."

It suddenly occured to Yuffie why Antiform was being so...nice.

After the door had slid closed, Leon burst out at once.

"Can you believe him?" he said furiously, standing up and raking a hand through his hair. "I thought what I knew about Sora was bad, but after what him and that...thing had narrated...they're murderers! Both of them!"

"It's Antiform, Leon" Kairi said as she spun the popsicle stick between slim fingers. "And he's sort of...nice."

"Nice? Kairi, this is the same Heartless that tried to kill you!"

The auburn-haired girl shrugged. "He didn't try to now. That proves that Sora can control him, at least, for a while."

"Yeah," Riku nodded in agreement. "There wasn't any strain on me at all. It was like Antiform wasn't a Heartless at all. And if you'd notice, Kairi was able to stay close to him without any effort. No overwhelming feelings of darkness, right?"

"It's a Heartless," Leon said through gritted teeth.

"Most powerful Heartless," Rinoa offered, before appearing to catch herself, clamping a hand to her mouth as the gunblade master's expression darkened. "You didn't need to know that."

"I--Something's...not right about this picture," Grey eyes closed, and a gloved hand pressed itself to a scarred forehead. Of all things that Yuffie had expected him to do, Squall Leonhart sighed deeply, looking more weary than Yuffie had ever seen him. His hardened tone of voice softened, and the tension in the air seemed to evaporate.

Riku looked away, as so did Rinoa. A frown creased the sorceress' features; if there was anything Rinoa hated the most, as Yuffie remembered, it was seeing him deviate from his normally stuck-up disposition and shift into something that was totally heartbreaking.

Grief never suited him.

The knight collapsed on the plush chair, right beside Riku. He turned to face his sister at a slight angle. "I know you love Sora, and I know that he loves you too, more than anything. It's obvious," he admitted in a defeated tone, ignoring Kairi's almost inaudible surprised intake of breath, handsome face crumpling. "But... it's a deadly risk that you're both taking. What if Antiform is not what he seems to be? What if something happens to you, Kairi, because of him? I know Sora would never forgive himself. I'd lose the both of you..."

"Squall..." Kairi stood up and made her way towards Leon. She cracked a wan smile.

Riku watched Leon with an unreadable expression on his face. Yuffie knew that he had never seen Leon in this state before. However, she herself had seen Leon through the hardest...and saddest of times. Radiant Garden breaking apart, him and Rinoa getting themselves tangled in Fate's web of grief and separation...

"... and I don't think I can stand losing anyone else again."

"Ssshh," the auburn-haired princess crooned, as she leant over the plush chair and buried her face in the fur of her brother's collar, her arms winding around the knight's neck in a gesture of comfort.

For a moment, there was the funniest expression of surprise on Leon's face, but it faded as quickly as it had come, and he leant back into his newfound sister's embrace.

Yuffie watched the scene unfold with wary disbelief.

"She has this gift," Riku said quietly, standing up and making his way to sit next to her, leaving the siblings alone on the couch. "I don't know how she does it, but if it exists on this good green earth and if it's sad, Kairi can make it feel better."

"Nice way of putting it," she commented, a smile working itself onto her face at the gunblade master's contented expression.

"Riku, we leave later at nine sharp, by Gummi Ship," there was a soft swoosh as the sliding door well, slid open and closed,"We'll have to scout around, I still don't trust King Mickey. Kai, never touch the wards again, the darkness will be too--"

She and Riku looked around, only to see a Sora with sky-blue eyes wide and a stunned expression on his face, mouth open in an 'o'. Kingdom Key still in a limp fist, he was halfway in the motion of turning around when he froze.

"...what did I miss?"

Rinoa laughed.

-- x -- x --

"...mhmm. Yeah. They're leaving now. Hm? About midnight. Of course." A pause. "I'm not stupid. B'bye."

Rinoa flipped her phone shut and waved a pale hand over it, making it disappear in a whisper of black.

Riku eyed her gesture with interest. "I have got to learn how to do that."

She shrugged, shooting him a disarmed smile at his sudden comment. "No can do. You'll have to become a sorceress first, for starters."

He hauled his backpack higher up his shoulder. "Too bad," he replied easily, staring down at the polished granite floor of the Gummi Ship Terminal, trying to ignore the prickling feeling at the back of his neck that meant that the whole Terminal was staring at them. "Who'd you call?"

She frowned grimly. "King Mickey."

He wisely decided to keep his mouth shut and not ask about it further.

Beside him, Sora stuck out his lower lip in an impressive pout. "How the heck do you do that?"

Insert raised silver eyebrow. "Do what?"

The brunet pointed dramatically at his backpack. "That's all you're going to bring?" he cried out.

Riku nodded hesitantly, ready to use the bag as a shield if in some cosmic joke, Sora suddenly threw a tantrum.

"I had always thought you were a high-maintenance kind of person," Rinoa put in, walking right up to him and pulling a lock of silver hair. "So I'd expected you to bring a lot more stuff..."

Ignoring the way blood rushed to his cheeks as she started playing with his hair (She was shorter than him, he pointed out, and it was kind of disconcerting how she was standing on her toes. Rinoa never really took notice of how close she got to people. She was just that kind of girl.), Riku cocked his head in Sora's direction, eyebrow going higher at the amount of luggage he was carting around.

"But Sora..." he started, shoving the ebony-haired sorceress off in a very undignified manner, "The King's sending some of his men to get all our other stuff. He said just bring the essentials."

Sky-blue eyes widened. "He did?"

"Weren't you listening when I called King Mickey?" he asked in an exasperated voice, palming his forehead when Sora sheepishly shook his head no.

He shrugged, and crouched down, eyebrow furrowing. "Well then," he groaned, zipping his luggage open and taking out a few things, transferring them to his belt-bags, "I feel stupid."

"No duh--ow!"

Roxas and Naminé had just walked up to them, with Leon and Yuffie in tow. The blond spiky-haired teen was rubbing the side of his head gingerly. Apparently Naminé had just smacked him upside the head.

Riku felt a grin spread across his face, and a similar one bloomed on Sora's. He turned to face the pair fully. "So."

"So." Sora echoed.

Rinoa bit her lip, unable to stop smiling.

"What?" Roxas thundered indignantly, narrowing his eyes and throwing them a Look.

"Nothing," he turned around, running a hand through silver hair, ignoring Roxas' protests. "Let's go. Our flight's at gate thirteen."

"Lucky choice," Naminé muttered under her breath, but she immediately clammed up when she was regarded with twin stares of incredulity. Not to mention, what seemed like all her blood had rushed up into her face and colored the bridge of her nose an interesting shade of red.

Riku rolled his eyes. Ah, love. It was lucky that he was still a bachelor.

"Wait," Sora halted, looking around, finally stopping to stare at Leon. He couldn't help but notice how the brunet took on a panicked tone of voice. "Where's Kairi?"

The knight shrugged. "She went ahead," he answered in an oddly fond voice.

Riku could've sworn Sora walked ten times faster.

He had called King Mickey earlier (because Sora was being stubborn and just would not talk to the King more than he absolutely had to) and confirmed that Sora was accepting the King's offer. He had scarcely flipped Rinoa's phone shut (she was the only one whose cellphone plan also took care of universal calls) when they had gotten a house call from a manager of the Destiny Islands Gummi Ship Terminal. All too eager she had promised them Sora's Gummi Ship at their convenience. Her smile was so white it was scary.

He wasn't prepared, however, for the sight that greeted him when they finally located their departure gate.

Yuffie, Roxas, and Rinoa burst out into simultaneous laughter.

"Sora," he started in a disbelieving voice, "You flew in a Gummi Ship...that's shaped like a tonberry?"

Sky-blue eyes widened comically, and Sora reddened. "Hey! That's not my ship!"

"Hell yeah it isn't!"

Selphie Tilmitt, adorable bundle of pure sugar, popped right out of the empty terminal desk beside the gate. "That ship's mine!"

"...yours?"

"Yep!" she bobbed her head in a thoroughly energetic way, punching the air as she did. "And it's so cute, and cuddly, and looks so much like--"

Riku cringed as Selphie went into a long-winded cooing session over her Gummi Ship, wondering all the time how the bubbly brunette had gotten her own ship. Those things were expensive, and...

"Tiddy! Move your butt and get my gummi outta the way!"

From the way things were playing out, Selphie was way more inclined to end up a Cid Highwind rather than a Yuffie Kisaragi. Or a rather frightening combination of both.

The tonberry ship moved a few feeble but steady feet at a time, and another ship glided into its place, one that made Riku's jaw drop and Sora grin approvingly.

Leon let out an unwilling whistle of disbelief.

"Riku," Sora spread out a hand, in the direction of his Gummi Ship, "Meet the Highwind."

"Breathe, Wielder," Rinoa teased, thumping a hand into the small of his back.

Riku stared. He had never seen Sora's Gummi Ship before. Kingdom Hearts just kind of...dumped them into the ocean. Sora had probably kept it in a private hangar.

"Thirty-five feet tall, with a wingspan of seventy feet. Flare twin engines. Regen cockpit, and the hull's made of high-grade adamantine from Atlantica. Completely waterproof," the brunet narrated lovingly, leading them out of the gates and onto the runway. Surprisingly, the engine was running with only a small, quiet hum. "Auto-Silence on the exhaust; Heartless can't usually hear it. Wings are Tornado-built. It has built-in radars and automatic shield defenses. Two laser cannons and two gun turrets. Supports warp drive. The Highwind was built for speed and stealth, and this is the safest Gummi Ship on this side of the universe, if I'd dare say so myself."

Yuffie let out a disbelieving gasp, turning to Leon. "And I thought it was bad living with Cid."

"Wow. Just...wow," he managed to say, after a few minutes of silent staring at the ship. "And you named it Highwind too," he added weakly.

"Who could ever forget?" Sora grinned, putting his hands on his hips as he turned around to face them.

"Toys for the big boys," Naminé smirked, crossing her arms. "Roxas, close your mouth."

"Shut up."

The flaxen-haired teen shook her head. "Portalling beats flying any time. And I bet you can't even fly one of those things."

"Shut up. For your information I've been doing the weapon check on the Assault of the Dreadnought, and I so can fly a stupid Gummi Ship."

"Aww, wittle Woxie's getting defen--"

Roxas turned to face her, blue eyes smoldering, smirk unnatural on that visage. "Shut up, or I'll shut you up myself."

Naminé flared red, and she did fall silent.

"The Highwind also has a luxury interior, complete with fully stocked food enough for a month and potable water for six. I don't know why the heck Sora likes leather, but I'm happy that, at least, it doesn't smell half-bad."

The top of the cockpit slid back, and Kairi appeared, waving happily at them. "Hiya!" she half-shouted.

Sora's blush was visible, even in the darkness of the night. "K-Kairi! I--wha--"

The auburn-haired teen climbed out, and in one smooth motion, used her right hand to push herself off as she somersaulted over and out of the cockpit, landing gracefully beside a surprised Sora, who was half in the motion of holding out his arms to catch her.

"Nice jump," Riku said approvingly, watching her brush off some imaginary dirt from her skirt.

"Thanks," she offered in reply.

Yuffie and Rinoa were halfway through a bow when the beryl-eyed girl stopped them, waving her hands frantically. The two ebony-haired women exchanged looks before nodding their assent.

Rinoa pulled her cellphone out of thin air once more and flipped it open, answering an incoming call. She held up a hand at them and turned away for a moment.

"So," Sora started, climbing up neatly on the wings and into the cockpit, pressing something that made the lower hatch open. He then leapt, as nimbly and as gracefully as Kairi had done earlier, back onto the tarmac, gesturing to the lower entrance to the Highwind. "I guess we have to go, then."

Leon grunted. Riku guessed that it probably translated into 'safe journey', in Leon-speak.

"Sora, you sure you know how to fly this thing?" he asked cautiously, placing a hand on the cool metal of its hull.

The brunet nodded. "Of course. Sure, might've run into a few close calls, but I'm sure we won't die."

"That's very comforting," he replied dryly, turning away and facing Leon, walking up to the knight. "Okay, listen, Leon. If Kairi gets hurt in any way, I swear, I will kill you."

Steel-grey eyes hardened. "Of course I will protect her."

"And you'll have the two of us to answer to if you don't."

It was kind of hard, threatening somebody who was at least five inches taller than you, but Riku managed to get a nod and a whispered oath on his Knighthood that he will protect Kairi, at any cost. And another promise, on Yuffie's part, that she'll keep Leon in line.

"Hey."

Naminé placed a warm hand on his own, and looked around warily. Roxas was busy admiring the Highwind; Sora and Kairi were speaking to each other, Rinoa was still talking on her cellphone, and Leon and Yuffie were having some kind of...silent war that involved a lot of glancing at each other.

Cerulean eyes gazed up at him, and she brushed away a strand of bleached hair. "...take care, and be safe."

She took her other hand and pressed something into his palm.

When she lifted her hands, there was a wolf's head earring in his right hand, silver and sparkling in the moonlight.

"It's Zexion's. You must take care of yourself," she dropped her voice a few more decibels, and Riku had to lean in (with another wary look cast around, now Rinoa was patting the Highwind and was engaged in very enthusiastic conversation with Roxas), "Sora's not the only one who has darkness in his heart. This earring has very powerful white magic; it will prevent your Heartless side from acting up for a limited period of time."

Aquamarine eyes blinked. "But--"

"It's your choice if you wear it or not, Riku." She reached up and tapped his nose playfully, smiling as she did. "Trust nobody, and watch your back. If you need help, just ask Roxas."

"Uh...okay?"

She turned around, and with her hands behind her back, skipped over to Rinoa and Roxas.

He stared after her. Girls. He'd never understand them.

He walked towards Sora and Kairi, pocketing the earring and pondering on Naminé's warnings. Reading between the lines, he knew that she knew more than she led on to. Meaning that Organization XIII would play a large role in events from now on. Or maybe, just maybe, she had a plan of her own.

"...be careful, and don't trust anybody," the auburn-haired girl was saying, and Sora was shoving something into his belt-bag as she did, nodding quietly. "Not even the King."

Riku did a double take; didn't just Naminé tell him that?

He let a smile creep into his face; Rinoa's advice had worked beautifully. Sure, King Mickey might've seen him talking to Naminé, but he was really talking to Kairi. About the note. She had taken it to heart, bless that girl, and was now discreetly warning Sora.

"Well," he started, planting his hands on his hips.

Kairi jerked back as if startled, and she turned to face him sheepishly, averted eyes telling him that she was pretending she had said nothing. Sora looked like a deer caught in headlights.

And then something small and strawberry-smelling flung herself at him and proceeded to try and squeeze the living daylights out of him.

"Riku...you have no idea how much I'll miss you..." Kairi's muffled voice informed him.

He wondered how she and Naminé had gotten a grip this hard. "K-kai...I need to breathe..."

"Oh. Oh! Sorry about that," she beamed up at him, and his annoyance instantly melted away. Kairi just had that effect on him, and now that he knew that they were friends and were going to stay that way forever, he appreciated it. "Take care of Sora, okay?" she said in a cheery, and obviously fake, judging from the way it shook, voice.

"Hey!" Pout courtesy of Sora.

"Don't worry," he said gently, pulling her into another hug of his own, smoothing the redwine locks of hair. She let out a squeak of surprise but hugged him back, arms winding around his back. "I'll do my best, Kairi."

"Is this the part where I start crying?"

"Roxas!"

"OW! That actually hurts!"

"That's the point!"

"Come here, you," Kairi suddenly whirled around, and launched herself at a surprised number Thirteen, throwing arms around his neck and voice all too wobbly.

Her tears fell in a graceful curve in the night, and beside him, Rinoa caught a clear droplet and made it dance in midair. They watched Kairi hug Roxas in silence.

"How long?" Riku finally spoke, not looking at the ebony-haired girl beside him.

"As long as it takes, Wielder. If they want to stay together, they must find some way to get out of this." She paused. "Xemnas called. You have a honorary joint scholarship in Radiant Garden and Disney University if you care to take up their offer."

He raised an eyebrow. "Meaning...?"

"You have full access to Radiant Garden archives, and you have 24-hour shuttle Ship service to the Garden."

"That's not the point."

"You are suspicious," she turned to him, face completely serious, and her hand went up unconsciously to her necklace. "I'm giving you the chance to prove anything."

"I'm not--" He started to protest, but Rinoa silenced him as she placed a finger on his lips.

"You don't trust me. I don't need to read your mind to see that." Her hand moved, and she patted his cheek, smiling as she did. "And trust is always a valuable thing, Riku."

And with that, Rinoa Heartilly walked away, stopping beside Yuffie and Leon.

Girls.

Keyblade Master or not, he really had no hope of understanding them.

He turned back once again, and he smiled wanly. Sora and Kairi were standing alone together, facing each other, looking into the other's eyes. They were the ones who were going to suffer the most out of this chain of events. Sure, Roxas and Naminé would part, but they could use the Corridors to see each other. Sora couldn't, since portalling was a usual sign of darkness, and being the new crown prince, that wasn't a good thing to do.

Kairi tilted her head, and smiled, raising a hand and pointing upwards.

Sora followed her gaze, and so did Riku.

Stars. Hundreds of them, twinkling in the heavens. Hundreds of worlds that Sora had to protect. Man, he was lucky that the Keyblade decided to move on to the brunet.

Behind him, Rinoa and Leon made simultaneous choking noises.

"Beautiful," Sora said softly, smiling, something that was so unlike his usual goofy grin.

"Yeah," Kairi replied, eyes still gazing at the starry sky. "Look! A falling star...world...whatever..."

Someone Riku supposed was a certain Knight and Sorceress made another choking noise. What was up with those two?

"...I'm not talking about the stars."

The brunet took one of her hands and intertwined her fingers with his, then pulled her flush with him with an arm around her waist. And even though it was kind of dark out on the tarmac, Riku had to grin when they kissed.

He chanced a glance over his shoulder, and he saw Yuffie blush fire, hiding and burying her face as best as she could into Leon's back. The knight had let out an unwilling smile. Rinoa was smirking.

"See? See? Can't I get one little kiss like that?"

Naminé glared. "That is not one little kiss, Roxas. Besides, you've got more than enough kisses, and although I'd really like to give you more, you have to get going," she pointed out, before freezing, apparently realizing, once more a few seconds too late, what she had said.

The blonde Nobody leered at her. "Just one kiss?"

"No"

"One teeny-tiny kiss?"

"No."

Sora and Kairi had broken apart, but they still held each other, staring at the two Nobodies bemusedly.

"I'll be good, I promise," Roxas was saying, spreading gloved palms open.

"You'd better be," she huffed, crossing her arms and turning up her nose in a very comical way. Honestly, it seemed like every moment those two shared came from a really bad sitcom.

"Kiss me?"

"No."

"Please? Pretty, pretty please?" he whined. "Oh come on, Nam! We're not going to see each other for only Creator knows how long, and you won't even kiss me goodbye?"

The flaxen-haired girl whirled around, and her face crumpled, making Roxas take a step back.

"What?" he asked, panicking at what looked like tears rapidly pooling in Naminé's eyes. Riku made a mental note: Roxas and Sora's common weakness: crying girls always turned them into blubbering idiots. "What'd I do?"

"It's not goodbye, you stupid idiot!" she shrieked, crying as she did. "Never say goodbye! Don't, just don't! I'm trying to shrug it off, Mr.-I'm-Suddenly-Happy, I'm trying to ignore the fact that I'm not going to see your stupid face every day! I'm trying not to worry, trying not to start missing you so much, you dumb, crazy Nobody!

The flaxen-haired girl took a swipe at her eyes as she rounded on Roxas angrily, seeming to forget that there were other people there. "I'm trying to get over the fact that you won't be there when I wake up, that your stupid bedheaded self won't be the first thing I see in the morning! I'm trying to convince myself that since I'm a Nobody, I can't feel sadness! But you're leaving and I'm sad right now and it's not fair!"

"I don't want you to leave but you just have to and--mmph!"

Roxas grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her. Naminé struggled at first, but her sobs finally quieted, and when they broke apart, Roxas just held her close for a few minutes of silence.

"Must every goodbye be this...dramatic?"

Riku blinked; Axel and Larxene had just portalled in next to Rinoa.

Larxene chucked a kunai at him when she caught him staring.

"What did I do?" he yelled, glaring at his former Healing Arts professor.

"Nothing," she shrugged, turning to Axel. "Get this over with, pyro."

"Yeah, yeah," number Eight waved her off, walking up to the blond Keyblade Master and putting his hands on his hips. Naminé smiled and wiped a tear away, wriggling out of Roxas' embrace and stepping back.

"I--"

"Uh-uh, Roxie, don't give me any of that angsty 'No one will miss me' stuff," Axel said, doing a ridiculously horrible imitation of Roxas, complete with frown and pout. "I know that you've already bid the Order goodbye earlier, but I just wanted you to know that I will miss you, 'kay?"

"Stoppit," the blond mumbled, turning away and drawing up his hood. "You're making me cry, jerk."

"Just..." Axel walked up closer, and placed his hands on Roxas' shoulders, peering around his hood and smiling. "Always remember that you have your own Castle That Never Was to call home."

"I know."

Riku shook his head mentally; at this rate, they'd never take off from Destiny Islands.

Larxene crossed her arms and stood beside him. He felt rather intimidated from the fact that she was as tall as him. "Oh, Roxas and Axel would miss each other more than they think."

"How'd you know?"

The Savage Nymph tilted her head thoughtfully. "I just do."

And behind Roxas and Axel, beside Naminé, Sora and Kairi started kissing again, as if their life depended on it.

"Those two..." he palmed his forehead exasperatedly, muttering quietly to himself. "They should stop the smooching already. It's not like they'd never kiss again in their lives..."

Riku had no way of knowing that he was right.

-- x -- x --

All was right in the world; nice blank music book, sitar just tuned, a fountain just outside his second-story window, and a very silent night.

Demyx just knew something was up, so he was ready. Narrow-eyed and suspicious, but ready to go nevertheless. He wasn't surprised when the new orders came.

"Create a detour through the Corridors, Demyx, for the Heartless."

Sapphire eyes glared. "You know I can't do it. Not with the Cornerstone in place."

"Not through the castle, but through the Kingdom."

"Why?"

"You'll see soon enough."

Demyx watched the window slam closed, and he collapsed on his bed, eyes to the marble ceiling and hands laced behind his head.

"They always send the wrong guy for these kind of situations..."

-- x -- x --

beep. beep. the review button needs some love.

Oh yeah. If you've played FFVIII, or even watched the infamous dance FMV, you'd know why Rinoa and Leon were acting up.