For Zanisha. Happy belated, belated, really belated birthday!

(glare) Is this utterly, undeniably stupid? Because I think it is. Man, did this give me hell. (sigh) Yeah. Well, just be nice when it comes to criticism. Hope it's not too awful.

Disclaimer: Nah.

-- - --

Darkness was the fever he'd grown accustomed to.

In the darkest of nights, when hardly a star shined and the moon cowered behind the darkened faces of storm clouds, he could find himself at the shoreline of a home he'd thought he'd lost, tracing the lines of the horizon which kissed the sky to where it disappeared in the distance as he thought of earlier days. The stab and throbbing of the evil he'd allowed to control him still whispered in his mind, and oftentimes he found himself stumbling over the pure, silver glittering of the sand beneath his feet as he fisted his hair in pain, brow beaded with sweat and mouth formed into a grimace as his heartbeat quickened, his memories causing more pain within him than any physical blow could.

It was a burden, he'd found, to walk the road to dawn. The shadows kept wrapping around his ankles in ribbon-like threads, pulling him back to days of pain and suffering and uncertainty, where he relied on power given to him and not his own strength. When that happened, when the urgent murmurs of evil lulled into a persuasive purr, he felt terror beyond what he'd ever known, and an amnesiac wave crashed over him as his footsteps carried him to the shoreline, so that as he glanced hollowly out at the writhing mass of blackness he didn't know who he was for a time, arms trembling, breath coming short, memory sparking in fragmented flashes.

And then his gaze moved away from the hypnotizing depths of a lonely ocean, opting to rest on palm branches brushing against the sky from the breeze and the houses slumbering in the distance, and he realized that he was home and was not fighting for the sake of his sanity. With an uneasy smile he crossed his arms over his chest, head bowed, dull ache in his head retreating as the feverish sensations in his body ebbed away, so that he came to know in the blink of an eye once more that he was Riku, inhabitant of Destiny Islands, best friend of Sora and Kairi.

And it didn't hurt so much to breathe after that.

But wading through the dark memories that wrapped about him in an oppressive cloak was a difficult chore, and sometimes he found himself drowning, almost as if he'd been tossed into the black, roiling ocean that always met him on his nights alone; if he closed his eyes and had to imagine, he'd see himself floating further and further away from the weak beam of light refracting off the breaking waves, legs kicking and arms struggling with the binds of memory circled around his throat.

Inside he was screaming, too, as the vision caused him to convulse and his brow twitched in agitation, firm line of a mouth contorting into a scowl. He could take that pain, he could bear that fever, but every time he saw himself sinking into the depths he saw himself alone, and he didn't know what to think.

He had renewed faith in Sora, and knew the boy would always be there to fight for him. Without a doubt, he knew that.

But the question was, could anyone truly save him?

Or was he too tainted to ever hope for redemption?

Nights that called him to the shoreline, that made him forget who he was momentarily as memories made him second-guess himself, were the worst, and he had many of them now, now that he was attempting to purge his soul of all traces of darkness in favor of the more honorable life full of light.

It caused him pain, because mentally he had no idea how to go about it and physically it sent searing, white-hot pains slicing through his heart and mind.

He wasn't doing all that much, and yet it hurt far worse than he could have imagined. And he wanted escape, wanted to just settle with the fact that he was tainted, but the stubborn part of him would not have that.

So he fought, because if he'd learned anything from Sora he'd learned that light was precious. And he wasn't going to let it slip away.

-- - --

Choking, clutching his chest, Riku clenched his jaw and closed his eyes tight, willing it all out of him, willing for this hell of an in-between life to fade away. Legs shaking, body craving rest, he trembled as a breeze descended upon him, caressing his flushed face and toying with his silver bangs. Gasping sharply, swaying dizzily, he jerked once and then doubled over, trying to ignore the call of evil within his heart that just wouldn't quiet.

He was rejecting himself, rejecting this person whom he'd always been, and he'd never known such suffering. Attacks from heartless filled with bloodlust were more tolerable than this, and he vaguely wondered if his heart was bleeding, it felt so broken now.

This darkness was a poison within him, and this fever he'd grown accustomed to just wouldn't stop hurting. The ribbons of darkness bound more tightly around his ankles each time, chaining him to a time and place where he'd messed up, where he'd gone further down the road of self-destruction, where he'd killed a part of him deep within himself, and the chains held fast, the ribbons tangling tighter and tighter and higher and higher until they pressed against his throat and he couldn't breathe. Light-headed, feverish, scared even, he felt his vision flicker and blur and then that amnesia was back again, so that instead of standing in place in a world he knew he was back in his memory, eyeing down a subordinate heartless and sneering at the empty hunger found in glowing, yellow eyes.

The ribbons choked off his frightened cries when his mind slammed back into the present.

Gasping, a droplet of sweat trailing from his temple, he shivered in the raw wind that ripped across the shoreline, bangs ruffled by the gust and dark clothing rippling in the rush. The ache in his side had him pressing his fingertips desperately against his ribs, hoping that this would stop and peace would come, peace in the form of light and home and relief.

It didn't, though.

It came in the form of Sora.

"You know, it's scary, to see you like this."

Grunting, turning his head to watch as the brown-haired boy came to rest at his left side, eyes glancing over the horizon and hands interlocked behind his head, Riku coughed softly and then turned his gaze back to his sneakers, hair cascading over his shoulders and brushing against his cheeks. A shift of feet indicated that Sora had turned to him, too, perhaps deliberating what to say next, but Riku didn't give that new thought a chance.

"Yh…you have no idea," he said with a bitter laugh, cringing just afterwards as he pressed his hands to his sides, another memory tainting his mind as he thought of that laugh, that dark, derisive laugh; his upper body convulsing, he ground his teeth together as he closed his eyes.

"Riku, there's no use beating yourself up for it. What's done is done."

"I-I…will not go back to how I was before," he argued, cringing at the sudden bouts of pain in his stomach. "I-I…c-c…can't."

Sora sighed tiredly, the sad undertones speaking volumes to Riku as he glanced hollowly at the sand. The brown-haired boy had been watching him for a long time now, lingering on the fringes of Riku's torment without a way of getting close, of helping. No doubt his best friend hurt, then, his pain only muted for the sake of Riku's well-being. Brow knitting, the silver-haired boy looked away, a sound of disgust at himself caught in his strangled throat.

"If you're so worried, you should forgive yourself, Riku. Not doing that will make your darkness grow."

Closing his eyes, the silver-haired dark-keyblade wielder smirked absently, eyes glazed over as a spasm of pain shot through his body like a bullet, shocking him into a numb state for a moment. This fighting with his genes, this rejecting of his own body, was worsening the more he suffered beneath the muted loneliness of midnight.

"I'm trying. I just…c-can't…forget."

"Then don't."

"I don't want these memories!" he snarled, voice harsher than he'd intended it to be. Belatedly cringing, avoiding Sora's pensive, ever-attentive eyes, he swallowed down the words he wanted to shout, the screams he wanted to let loose from the depths of his soul. This emotional rollercoaster and masochistic hell-ride was wearing him out, and if he collapsed now without a single utterance of discontent maybe he could sleep it off, so that no witness could remember his pain, and he could truly forget it all.

Shifting his feet again, Sora grunted, the flicker of his movements attracting Riku's distracted attention. Blinking when he caught the Keyblade Master sitting on the sand, contented smile playing on his lips as he watched the stars glitter in their suspended positions above the horizon, Riku made an effort to sit beside him, wincing when his forced movements made his muscles ache and his heart break into further shards of glass.

"You know what scared me most about the darkness?" Sora murmured, reminiscent smile on his lips. Riku cringed at the continuous stabs of pain, but he shrugged nonetheless, indicating he hadn't the slightest idea. Turning his head, grinning, Sora lifted a hand and scratched at his cheek absently. "Being alone."

Riku blinked, shock coursing through him. "You're never alone."

Laughing gently, the brown-haired boy drew his leg close, knee acting as an armrest for him as he leaned forward, perhaps carefully choosing his words, considering Sora wasn't the most eloquent of people. Riku smiled at the thought.

"Maybe that's true," he said reflectively. "I mean, no one's truly alone, sure. They've got…something, for 'em," he murmured, completely missing the point that Riku had meant him specifically; grinning gently, the silver-haired boy shook his head.

Sora, meanwhile, absently playing with the bunched pant fabric near his knee, knitted his brows together as he pursed his lips, tilting his head to the side as he then moved his lips thoughtfully, silently talking to himself.

At last he murmured, "I'm not saying this right." Sighing, the brown-haired boy laughed at himself softly and scratched again at his cheek, eyes ghosting over the waves breaking in the distance. "Well, anyway. My earlier point first," he said, voice slightly teasing, flicking his eyes towards Riku's aquamarine and allowing his smile to shine. "It's just…when everything started out, and even after I got the hang of it, when those heartless came…and when the darkness settled it…and when I thought all three of us would never be reunited…" Sora lowered his head, moving his chin onto his forearm as he pouted slightly, troubled eyes staring off into a place Riku would never see. "I thought…I thought light would never be able to help me. I thought my heart was weak. I thought I was weak. And, even if I never said it, I worried about whether I'd ever find you guys again. I'm not proud of that, of course."

Listening distantly, pain ebbing away as his mind wrapped around the concept of another's worries, another's troubles, Riku found himself back in those first moments of Traverse Town, before the feelings of betrayal could even sink in, before the evil could even take hold. Back then, when he was vulnerable, he felt almost the same way, small and pitiful and as confused as Sora claimed he'd been.

He'd just taken the wrong road.

"It's not bad, though," Sora murmured, tapping his fingers against his pant-leg, "to be afraid of the darkness. It's not bad to feel alone. Because then you know you want the opposite, and fight your hardest to get it. But," he continued, a soft sadness in his voice, "but maybe you think it is?"

Riku grunted noncommittally.

Nodding distractedly, the brown-haired boy shrugged. "And we're all still here, anyway. Why you're fighting alone just confuses me." Laughing easily, Sora glanced over, cheerfully meeting Riku's pensive stare. When he merely blinked, too, failing to answer, the brown-haired boy softened his mockery. "Being stubborn isn't always a sign of strength. You're hurting, Riku; let us help."

Grimacing, attempting to twist his lips into a smile, he glanced over at Sora weakly, pressing his hand against his forehead as a surge of pain came sweeping back. "It's…f-fine. I can…handle this. It's just new, is all."

Saddened greatly by Riku's refusal of his help, the brown-haired boy merely nodded, a thing the silver-haired teen watched with guilt. It wasn't anything Sora could save him from, though. This was the one battle the Keyblade Master could never best anyone at, because, for a boy who was almost pure light, he knew nothing about the first-hand pains of darkness.

There was being affected by darkness, true, where the deep rage and hatred broiled in your belly because evil in the form of heartless had ripped from possession things held infinitely close and dear. And then there was being tortured by darkness, sickened by the taste of it invading your mouth and terrified by the way it crawled under your skin and darkened your vision.

Horrors like these could not be grasped by those who'd never lost themselves completely. No, Riku thought bitterly, such an honor had been reserved specifically for him.

-- - --

"In my humble opinion, you're being the biggest idiot I know."

Cracking a smile from his current position, head cradled in Kairi's lap as she glared out into the distance, Riku waved his arm tiredly. "And you know a lot of idiots, Kairi."

Glancing away stubbornly, the redheaded beauty frowned. "No, you are so not making me laugh…jerk."

"Kairi's affectionate way of saying she loves you and cares about your well-being, of course," Sora laughed as he poked the girl in the shoulder, softening his princess's temper only slightly so that she went back to stroking Riku's hair, waiting out the darkness with him with less agitation.

Smile slight, headache a dull pulse, Riku closed his eyes and rested in a darkness that was much calmer than the hot fire in his veins. Granted, it had been getting better lately, ever since his talk with Sora at the shore had made him guilty enough to grudgingly fall back on his friends and rely on them, but this cool calm that swept off from the celestial heavens, brushing the sky with deep blue, reflected against his lids when he blinded his vision, was a relaxing state of mind, and he'd forgotten how comforting the dark could be.

There was no shame of being afraid of the darkness; Sora had been right in that. But there was also no need for fear of the dark.

And there was a difference, he'd long ago learned.

"How do you feel?" Kairi murmured tentatively, fingertips cool against his forehead.

Grunting softly, smirk curling his lips against his will, he blinked open his aquamarine gaze and stared into indigo depths. "Pretty spoiled."

Sora laughed cheerfully, wrapping his arm around Kairi as he leaned his chin against her shoulder, the casual affection natural to him but instigating a pleased smile from Kairi's visage nonetheless.

"As long as you know it," Sora teased, wrinkling his nose playfully.

Rolling his aquamarine gaze, stifling the laugh pressing against his lips, Riku craned his neck to look up at the two with a pensive gaze. Kairi, toying with his hair, had her head turned so that she could watch the palm trees bend and bow submissively to the oncoming wind, and Sora was fighting with a yawn, eyes closed and mouth twitching as he lowered his head, weariness evident in the slump of his shoulders and the way his cheek slid slightly down Kairi's shoulder to rest against her upper arm. They were so mature in appearance and yet almost completely unchanged in their mannerisms. After all that had occurred, after all three had been ripped apart from each other, chain of friendship cracked and near shattered by time, distance, and wrong choices, Sora and Kairi still shined, the light emanating in their hearts and preserving their innocence.

It was a thing he couldn't even envy, either.

"Lazy bum's falling asleep on my arm," Kairi murmured to him with a smile as her gaze never wavered from the sight of swaying trees, her thumb moving in comforting circles against his forehead. "Honestly, he could sleep anywhere, anytime."

Laughing softly, Riku shifted, curling onto his side and lifting his hand to grasp hers. Intertwining their fingers, guiding her grasp down to rest the outside of her hand against the young Keyblade Master's outstretched leg, he smiled in Kairi's lap as he closed his eyes, an ache receding in some part of his body.

"Sora would feel much more useful if you didn't resort to subtle efforts towards recovery," the redhead jabbed in a scolding manner, her other hand running through his hair to lull him into a state of calm; it was working, too.

"He's my best friend. One day the idiot's gonna learn that he's useful whether I ask him for help or not," he replied indifferently, eyes closing as he squeezed her hand affectionately. "It's not my fault if he worries over stupid things."

"You're horrible," she said with exasperation obvious in her tone, the amusement hidden beneath that.

Smiling, he shrugged his shoulder, wincing only slightly when a jab of pain sped up his spine. A shaky sigh whispering past his lips, he groaned as he forced his stiff body to relax, willing himself to attain sleep in the hush of the night.

"I'm getting better," he murmured, smile gentle on his lips.

-- - --

"You know what hurts me?"

"S-save it, Sora," he snarled, clutching his chest as he remained stiff in his position, one knee digging into the sand as he doubled over, brows twitching in pain, shoulders shuddering. He'd allowed more memories in, and at the moment he was severely regretting such a choice, overwhelmed with the bursts of pain that he'd been without for quite a few days.

"Thinking about how much I always wanted to be the hero before," he continued, as if Riku had never snapped at him at all, "and how now I would do anything to just be the guy in the shadows again."

Laughing wryly at his word choice, eyes flickering as darkness crept in on the fringes of his vision, he shook his head, gasping sharply at the headache such an action roused. This pain wasn't as bad as before, and so perhaps it was only days longer that he had to endure it before he was free from it all, soul purged and memories cleansed.

But no, he would never be free of all darkness. And, with his self-doubt, the pain increased two-fold.

Crouching down, pouting in concern, Sora placed his hand on the back of Riku's head, craning his neck so that he could catch a glimpse of the older teen's profile. All this the silver-haired boy watched from his peripheral vision, one arm wrapped around his stomach now to hold himself up at the other dug into the sand, his teeth biting into the tender flesh of his lip to keep himself from screaming in either frustration at Sora or immense pain.

"You're sick," Sora murmured, patting his head in the way a young child might, so innocent in his actions when he was one of the most dangerous people in all the worlds; the irony was enough to bring a smirk to Riku's pained lips. "And stupid, if you think I'll just look the other way while you suffer."

Grinning weakly, Riku shrugged, turning his head to meet the gaze of his oldest friend. "It's only a little longer, Sora," he lied, knowing that the pain would probably be eternal, should he always fight it so stubbornly.

Sora laughed bitterly. "Right. You still think I'm as naïve as before."

Lowering his head, fighting to breathe over the pain, he fisted his hand, grains of sand sifting through his grip as his body trembled violently. He could take this; he was stronger than he used to be, and so this ever-present pain that wracked his body could be endured, he knew. He just had to keep this up, had to keep rejecting this poison, and soon it would become second nature, this living in constant pain. It would be okay.

"Forgive yourself," Sora urged, voice soft and pleading. "Stop being a martyr and realize it's all in the past."


"You're not fine!" the brown-haired boy countered, voice shrill. "Stop saying that!"

"Sora," he whispered, cracking a grin, one eye open as he shook his head. "It's not the end of the world. I'm still fighting; that's enough, isn't it?"

Falling back on his heels sharply, sitting on the sand with a tired thump, the boy cradled his head against his drawn knees, strands of brown hair poking out from beneath his position, shoulders trembling. Forced calm dwindling into a kind of sadness, Riku sighed and stretched out his body, lying close to his crying best friend as he winced and rolled onto his back, arm over his forehead and aquamarine eyes glancing across the sky. As another sob tore from Sora's throat, the boy beside himself because, now out of his element, he couldn't save the world with his own devices, Riku just started talking, hoping to ease the grief of his long-time friend by just sharing some of his own sorrows, recounting the days of hatred and longing that Sora had only heard of briefly from time to time. Time passed, and Riku missed the moment when the brown-haired boy's tears stopped, murmuring until he winced at a warming light and suddenly realized that it was dawn.

Blinking, staring at the tones of gray yawning closer to the middle of the sky, he shifted, body calm, head clear. He didn't know if Sora was still awake or if he'd long ago drifted off into slumber, but those thoughts didn't stop him from lowering his eyes. Content, heart unburdened for once, he allowed himself rest, slipping into a dreamless sleep for the first time in what felt like decades.

-- - --

"So, there's this thing called love," Sora said, leaning back on his hands, tapping his shoes together and away, together and away as he tilted his head and watched the sea, smile soft on his lips.

Rolling his eyes, snorting slightly, Riku reclined easily, body stretched out and cheek in his left hand as he remained turned on his left side, eyes glancing over the boy's profile to stare at Kairi sitting cross-legged at his side, hands holding her shins close to her body. She shook her head at the brown-haired boy's childish manner, smiling as she pushed a strand of hair behind her ear slowly, and then she turned her head to watch the sea as well, eyes elsewhere as she lost herself to the scenery and the sound of Sora's voice.

"And it's why we're friends, you know? More than anything else, we love each other."

Snorting derisively, Riku waved his right hand in dismissal, closing his eyes. "Yeah, way to be a sap, doofus."

Laughing, the boy next to Riku turned his eyes to lock onto aquamarine, shoulders shrugging at he maintained his act of innocence. "You're just mad because you know it's true, and so you're embarrassed."

Snorting again, Riku fell back, arms stretching above his head and lying against the sand. "Oh, you caught me. It's not your blatant stupidity that ticks me off; no, it's the face that your philosophical crap hits me square in the heart and humbles me."

Cracking up at that, Sora closed his eyes and just laughed, the sound of his voice echoing against the open air and stretching on forever, evaporating slowly. Falling back with a thump as his sides shook, tears welled in Sora's eyes as Kairi glanced over at him, grinning as he rolled from side to side.

In the end, when Sora's laughter subsided, all three were lying side by side, watching the sky darken into a purple twilight, thoughts unspoken for fear of disturbing the calm.

"This thing called love," Kairi finally murmured, sand shifting beneath her as she turned her head.

Lifting himself up on his elbows, Riku looked over and watched as Kairi glanced at him calmly and then to Sora, the brown-haired boy staring distantly at the sky above, the worlds appearing no doubt catching his horrified yet fascinated attention.

It was a bittersweet predicament Sora was in, being the savior of worlds; he loved it and hated it, but could never, ever say no to it.

"It's what makes the pain go away," Sora said softly at last, gaze flicking to Riku's once as he grinned, blue eyes crinkled in mirth. The silver-haired teen rolled his eyes, aware that Sora knew how much he hated talk of feelings and sentimentality, and grumbled under his breath incoherent musings as the brown-haired boy chuckled, hands moving to interlock behind his head.

"You finally forgive yourself, you stubborn jerk?"

Smirking, Riku punched the boy's shoulder in reply, relishing in the absence of pain; his mind had so easily forgotten what it felt like to be without suffering, and now that the ease was returning he was soaking the sensation up, willing his mind to memorize what it felt like to not be plagued by constant darkness.

True, by no means was he cured, but he was healed, and that was enough. All that remained were the scars and the memories.

"I've accepted it. Is that enough for you?" he replied in a mocking tone.

Smiling, Sora nodded, laughing brilliantly as he watched the sky darken into royal blue. He moving to watch as well, Kairi shifting closer to Sora as she opted to do the same, all three caught the flash of light move across the sky, a shooting star in the darkness swirling around them.

"Make a wish," Kairi murmured, a force of habit only as indicated by the hollow tone of her voice.

"The way I see it, I've got all I could possibly want," Sora laughed in response.

Gaze softening, Riku found himself nodding, hand coming to rest behind his head in a makeshift pillow as his free arm splayed across his chest in comfort. So easily he'd been freed from the restrictions of darkness that he could hardly grasp that the pain was gone, so he couldn't think of anything more that he desired, lying beneath the dark of the sky with no regrets clouding his judgment.

As well, his two best friends were beside him, on his home island that waited faithfully for their arrival every time. Even if he had the capacity at the moment to think beyond wonder, he wouldn't have a single thing to ask for, because they were enough, they his shining light in the ocean depths of darkness.

"This thing called love," Riku murmured in a low voice, eyes softening as he allowed himself a smile. How perfectly said.

It was the one thing darkness could never, ever take away.

-- - --

Nnn. Well, please review.