Okay, I was rather unsatisfied with the end of this story and I know some of you were also. This is the aftermath which I am infinitely happier with.
Please let me know what you all think.
Mickey watched from one of the high platforms as Riku demonstrated to the King's nephews how to escape an unarmed attacker. In the past month, Riku had gotten very involved in teaching the children of the castle how to defend themselves. He really had a knack with kids and they simply adored him.
The Keyblade wielder had finally found peace with himself. It had taken nearly six months but he had been determined. And Cloud had been with him every step of the way going through his own trails. Both had made incredible progress and Mickey was extremely pleased with both of them
He glanced at the letter in his hand. They were ready.
"Hello, Your Majesty."
The mouse smiled. "How many times do I have to tell you to call me Mickey?"
"As many times as it takes."
He looked up and over at the blonde. "Finished already?"
Cloud nodded. He stepped forward to glance down. "How are things down there?"
"Very well. Mort adores Riku." Mickey commented. "Both of you do very well with children. Marlene and Denzel are great kids."
"That was more Tifa's doing than mine."
Mickey studied him for a moment. Cloud physically looked different from when they'd arrived. He seemed younger, no worry lines, eyes no longer haunted. He had lost his fear and now lived fully in the present. The future was a welcome thing.
A loud chime rang through the courtyard.
"That's dinner." Mickey grinned, turning. "Let's meet Riku downstairs."
The evening found Riku and Cloud walking with the King through the courtyard. They held hands lightly, completely comfortable together. The demure ruler lead them down a winding path. "It's been almost six months now. Both of you have made amazing progress. I'm quite proud of you."
"See?" Mickey pointed at Cloud. "Riku has no problem calling me by name."
"He knows you better than I do."
"Whelp, that may be true but I'd like to think we've gotten to be pretty good friends."
"As I was sayin', both of you have gained insight into yourselves and learned to deal with your faults. There isn't much more we can do on that front. It's time to begin the final stage."
They frowned at him as they entered a small alcove.
The silver haired teen froze. Sora sat on a bench, a trace of a grin on his face. Something about him was very different. Beside him stood Leon, arms folded non-threateningly.
"Mickey says you've been working with the kids."
"Yeah. It's been a lot of fun."
Mickey took a step back. "Whelp, I've got things to do. See all of you at breakfast."
He left quickly and the four stood in an uncomfortable silence. Sora swung his legs, both hands on the stone bench. "You look good, both of you. Sending you here was a really good idea."
"It was." Cloud quietly agreed.
"So, uh, what have you two been up to?" Riku decided to push through this awkwardness.
"Kairi and I went to Twilight Town. She's dating Hayner now." Sora smiled. "They're really happy."
That was a surprise. "Wow. Well, good for her."
"Yeah." Sora agreed. "I finished school there with them. It's been fun."
"Leon's gotten a ton of things finished on Radiant Garden." Sora gave the man a mischievous glance. "You going to tell them?"
"Knock yourself out, kid."
"Leon's going out with Aerith." Sora almost laughed. "Can you believe it?"
Cloud's eyes widened. "Really? That's … actually that's not all that surprising."
Leon raised an eyebrow. There was a slight grin on his scarred face. "When it happened, we wondered ourselves why it hadn't been sooner."
"What about you, Sora?" Riku asked seriously.
The smallest of the group shrugged. "Still single but hey, everyone loves me and it's enough. One day, there will be someone but until that time comes, I have friends. I'm happy."
He frowned suddenly. "Well, almost happy."
"Almost?" Riku echoed.
Sora looked him dead on. "I want my best friend back. No one knows me like he does."
Riku felt something in his heart slide into place. That last little bit that had been off center settled itself in its proper place. "I want that too."
"Good." Sora actually smiled. His old, bright enthusiastic one. "Now that that's been settled, it's your turn, Leon."
The Gunblader shifted his weight. He was clearly a bit uncomfortable and he placed his gaze on Riku. "I still don't like what you did. I've finally figured out why all this happened, how it happened. I still care for Cloud, deeply but it's not and never was something that would last."
Cloud stepped forward until he was standing right before him. He then embraced him tightly. Leon gripped him back for a moment before carefully pushing him off. "Don't get all sentimental on me, Strife."
During the course of the conversation, something had lifted from each of them. That last little bit of weight, the lingering guilt disappeared. Each had come to terms with themselves and therefore could do so for each other.
"So, I think we should all blow this joint and go to Twilight Town." Sora grinned. "Leon and Cloud have got to try sea salt ice cream."
Riku laughed. "Yeah, they do."
"Sea salt ice cream?" Cloud frowned.
"Sounds disgusting." Leon argued.
"Oh it's totally awesome." Sora protested. "Riku's had it and liked it and he's totally picky about food."
"Tell me about it," Cloud folded his arms. "The cafeteria here is all vegetarian. Riku only eats broccoli drenched in cheese sauce and corn there. Thankfully, we have our own kitchen and can buy our own food."
"Ooh, really?" Sora's eyes widened. He turned to Riku. "Got any steak?"
"Of course." He smirked. "And Montreal seasoning."
"That stuff's good." Leon commented.
"Well come on then." Riku waved them and turned. "I'll make you all steak."
The four left the alcove, smiling and chuckling.
Mickey had watched the scene from the gazebo with a small smile. Once they disappeared from sight, he laughed to himself and went to bed. He knew they'd all be fine.