· XII ·
Long after Riku's departure, Kairi still sat in the secret place, on her knees in the dirt. She was staring blankly ahead, one pale hand drifting about her lips. She wasn't stupid. She knew what Riku had meant by his kiss.
Worse still, she now remembered how that hadn't been their first.
The girl now recalled, with painful clarity, the evening of her fever; how she had believed Riku to be Sora and kissed him because of it.
What have I done? Kairi thought, slumping forward and hiding her face in her hands. Not only have I pushed him away, but… I hurt him so much… She hated to even think of the feelings she must have hurt when she called him by the wrong name. I don't know what I would have done in his position, she admitted to herself, letting out a soft sigh and shooting to her feet.
By the time she exited the small cave, the moon was high in the sky, and Selphie and Tidus had long abandoned their game and gone home. She walked alone in the direction of the one-grave cemetery, her arms wrapped around herself protectively as she thought back on the last few days.
It all makes sense now, she realised numbly. Why didn't I figure it out before?
The sidelong glances, the wistful yearning constantly seen on her friend's face… the very way he worded things had, unintentionally, hinted of his feelings.
"What do I do?" Kairi mumbled, so quietly that anyone eavesdropping would not have heard. Her heart felt as if it was breaking all over again as a memory ran through her head: the last time she had seen Sora, when he had comforted her on the docks. When they had confessed their love for each other—when they had kissed.
Riku didn't want to hear about it, she thought. Now I know why.
She mounted the top of the hill, finally, and was making her way toward Sora's grave when she saw that somebody already occupied the spot. She didn't have to squint in the dim light to know that it was Riku.
Kairi could hear his words from where she stood. Over and over, he was apologising—something he rarely did without a very, very good reason.
"Riku?" she ventured, stepping toward her friend. He started, cutting himself off mid-word, and whirled toward the intruder. To her surprise, he didn't try to run away when she approached and, relieved, she sat next to him, facing the gravestone. He didn't stop her, and merely returned to his thoughts, this time only voicing his requests for forgiveness inside his head.
"You were apologising," said Kairi suddenly, as if reading his mind. Riku blanched, but then nodded. "But… it's stupid to say sorry for falling in love."
Hearing it out in the open was shocking, for both of them. The young woman couldn't believe she'd said it so calmly. Riku echoed her sentiment, but the word love had stirred something inside him, and he fidgeted uncomfortably.
"Well," he said eventually, "you… you were…" The boy shook his head and cleared his throat, eyes picking out each separate particle of dirt at his feet rather than meeting Kairi's violet gaze. "Sora was my best friend. And you—you were his… girlfriend. He'd always loved you."
Kairi froze at the words, and took a deep breath as they registered, allowing a sad smile to flit across her face. "And that's taboo, right?" she sighed once she had recovered, and crossed her arms over her chest. "Falling in love with a friend's girl is a definite 'no-no', right, Riku?"
He flinched, and nodded reluctantly. It seemed so stupid once it was said aloud.
She grinned at him wryly. "Do you see how dumb that sounds now?" she teased, poking his shoulder playfully.
The young man smiled back, hoping, maybe, that things could go back to normal. "Yeah, yeah." Riku stood up then, and faked a yawn, fanning one tanned hand over his mouth and pinching his aquamarine eyes shut. "Look," he exclaimed hastily, turning to go, "I'm pretty tired—I think I'm going to go to bed. I'll… uh, I'll see you in the morning, Kairi."The girl nearly sighed, but did nothing to stop him as he ran as fast as he could off the hill. Tomorrow, she thought, sighing heavily. Tomorrow we'll sort this out. Maybe by tomorrow even I will have figured out my feelings.
All throughout that night, as Riku lay in his bed, he was plagued with visions—visions of a smirking Anti-Sora standing over Kairi's dead body, of Sora's gentle smile as he fall backwards and then vanished forever, of the shock in Kairi's face when he had kissed her.
He tried to imagine how Sora would have reacted had he been there. It was painfully easy to picture the surprised hurt in the brunet's sky-coloured eyes as his hands balled into fists at his sides. It was so effortless to visualize how he would have pretended to be happy while being broken up inside—
The silver-haired boy decided he didn't want to think about it anymore. After all, Sora was dead, once by sickness, and the second time by Riku's hand.
But he didn't want to think about that, either.
Instead, Riku turned his mind to happier times, when they hadn't been preoccupied with romance and love triangles and, least of all, death. Back before the idea of exploring other worlds had even appeared in his mind—when the days were short and simple, consisting only of two things: school and playing at the beach with Selphie, Wakka, and Tidus.
Life had been so fun back then. The Keyblade hadn't existed to the islanders. They hadn't known about Heartless, or Nobodies, or the Heart of all Worlds. Kingdom Hearts was just two very different words strung together, like performing monkey, or art project.
But then Riku decided to leave; he just had to get out and see the worlds for himself. And light wasn't good enough for him—he seized darkness as soon as it appeared, and abandoned his duty as rightful Keybearer, leaving the crushing weight of that responsibility on Sora's slight shoulders.
And it had killed him.
"No, damn it," Riku mumbled, pressing his face into the pillow and shutting out his dark thoughts. "It's not my fault…"
But he knew damn well that it was.
Sighing in defeat, the young man rolled over. He stared up at his ceiling with its glow-in-the-dark constellations—the ones Kairi had bought for him several years before—and allowed his feet to hang over the edge of the short mattress as his mind drifted back to the girl.
I shouldn't have kissed her, he thought dully, his brow furrowing in misery as he thought about what the next day would bring. "I almost wish I could leave," he whispered to himself, turning over again and staring fixedly at the white wall. Maybe Kairi would follow me. She'd definitely have followed Sora.
But I'm not Sora, Riku reminded himself, chuckling halfheartedly. I'm tainted and I've never been able to live life by following my heart. Kairi never—The boy frowned deeply, squeezing his eyes shut in a pathetic imitation of sleep. It doesn't matter. I'll deal with it tomorrow.
The sun rose quicker than neither Riku nor Kairi would have liked. Before they knew it, light was streaming in through the blinds and the chirping of the birds outside their windows was forcing them awake.
The silver-haired young man was quicker to get up; he dragged himself out of bed and to his front door, still dressed in his pajamas, to answer the bell, which had been ringing insistently for the past minute. Throwing it open, Riku glared at the newcomer.
"Hey, Riku!" exclaimed Tidus, hefting a wooden sword over his shoulder and a blitzball in his free hand. In the time that Riku had been away, the boy had grown tall, his dirty-blond hair swinging into bright blue eyes. He had never abandoned the weird fashion statement of wearing one of his shorts much shorter than the other, and was now renowned for it all across the islands. "Want to play some blitzball with Wakka and I?"
His friend let out a weary sigh, though he was grateful for the distraction. "Okay. At least let me get dressed."
Predictably, when he retreated back into his room, Tidus followed, chirping on and on about this and that, and how much it was going to suck when school started again. It was only when Riku whirled back around and grated, "Tidus. I have to change. That means taking off my clothes," that he got the point and ran for his life.
When the platinum-haired teen returned, he and Tidus began to walk down to the beach, where Wakka was a tiny orange-haired speck by the shore. The blond was quick to start babbling again.
"So, when I grow up, I was thinking that I'd become a famous blitzball player—me and Wakka both, you know—and you and Kairi and Selphie could come watch our games." He grinned widely. "It'd be great. I'd play for a really cool team, and… well, first, I think I'd have to move to another place. You know? Somewhere big, famous… and it'd be cool! Maybe they'd even name a town after me. Like… Tidusland. Or… Z… something starting with a z! Like… Zan… Zanka… Zanar…"
"Tidus," Riku sighed tiredly. "That's cool. We're here."
"Oh." The boy looked down from where he'd been staring dreamily at the sky to see that Wakka stood before them, a wide grin on his tanned face. He smiled back. "Let's practise!" he cheered. "We'll be famous one day!"
Just then, Riku happened to glance up and see Kairi alighting from a boat at the docks, a chattering Selphie by her side. His face went white. "Let's play," he urged his two friends.
But it was too late. The redheaded girl had spotted him, and had abandoned Selphie to rush over as fast as her feet would take her. Her mind was racing, the previous evening rushing through her head.
Kairi sat on by the seashore, alone, with her knees scrunched up to her chest. Both her mother and father were back home and long asleep, as it was past one in the morning. When she had found that dreams would not come to her, she had snuck out of the house and ran to the shore. Now she just sat there, staring up at the lonely moon surrounded by glittering stars—no, worlds.
"Sora," Kairi mumbled, and couldn't help but wonder if the boy was listening. "Even though you're gone… it still feels like you're here. You cared for me so much… and that's how much Riku cares for me now." She smiled wetly up at the sky. "I know you told him to take care of me, and… I think we might give it a try. After all, Sora, you'll be okay with this… as long as we're happy, right?"
She settled back in the sand, a soft, sad smile blossoming on her face. "I just wanted you to know."
"Hey, Riku," she called, slowing to a walk for the last few steps, until she was near enough to tug at the boy's sleeve. "I… need to talk to you."
He swallowed hard, and put down the ball. "Okay," he whispered, and allowed her to lead him away, into the seaside shack. Riku stood back against the wall, letting out a soft sigh and staring at the ground rather than at his friend's face.
She would have none of that. Kairi stepped up to him and tipped his chin up again so that he could meet her eyes. The emotion he found in them was scarier than almost anything the boy had ever faced, but he couldn't look away. She smiled gently, and leaned forward in a brief hug. "I was thinking, Riku," she said softly.
"You don't have to say anything," he said hastily. "I understand—"
He was immediately silenced when she put a finger to his lips. "Just listen," she murmured, and he nodded mutely. "I was," she giggled a little, nervously, "talking to Sora last night. And don't make fun of me, because you do it too!"
He wouldn't have, anyway.
"And… I think I know what to do." Now it was she who broke their eye contact, stepping back and staring at the floor. "Sora always said that he was happy when I was happy, and he agreed with whatever decisions I made, no matter how they affected him… or even if they secretly made him sad."
"That's Sora for you," Riku said wryly, in a sorry attempt to quell the awkwardness in the air.
Kairi let out a half-smile. "Yeah," she whispered, her voice shaking a little, violet eyes glittering wetly. When she finally looked up, however, her expression was sure and kind. "I've made my decision."
He took in a deep, shuddering breath, preparing himself for heartbreak. Bravely, he kept her gaze in his aquamarine one, and forced a smile.
"Riku, you're such a wonderful person," she continued, but that, to him, only seemed to make his rejection all the more final, "and I've decided that we should give us a chance."
He blinked. "Wh… you're… really?"
She smiled beautifully. "It is your job to take care of me, right?"
After a moment of disbelief, Riku let out a grin choked with relief. "Yeah," he agreed, trying not to let it slip into his voice. Tentatively, he reached out and tugged her into a close embrace. "Thank you," he whispered into her hair when she didn't pull away. "And I promise, Kairi—"
"Don't promise anything," she said, interrupting him. "It'll just jinx it."
"You can't jinx under a roof."
"I don't care!" she said emphatically, and wrapped her small arms around his waist, returning the heartfelt hug. "We'll just deal with everything in time, right, Riku? Like that old expression—we'll cross those bridges when we come to them. But for now…"
The door to the seaside shack blew open in a slight breeze, and they heard, down on the beach, Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka beckoning them over with expectant shouts. Breaking apart, they smiled at each other and turned to leave.
"…let's just be happy, together."And Kairi and Riku entwined their hands and stepped into the sunlight.
Author's Notes: That's right, it's over! Sad, huh? Well, I hope you guys liked the ending. To the readers and reviewers who have stuck by me these past four months, it's been lots of fun! See ya next time.
- Crimson Kaoru