The Gospel According to Riku

-
Something Riku has never thought about before is how much conflict there is in his life. There is slightly mournful Kairi, always... a bit. Too. Shy. And here is Sora, bouncing around just a little too much like it's nobody's business how he goes. And a year ago when Riku was sixteen and fragile, he would have wondered and made a whole mess out of things. But now, he is okay with it.

Kairi is Kairi and Sora is Sora. There is nothing he can do to change that.

But there is a wheel turning in Riku's mind, his mind which is thinking things that even he doesn't realize. Clicking to conclusions just a little too slowly. When he can't hear the clicks anymore, he sits in his room and thinks about it. Very, very hard. But nothing comes of it.

Nothing yet, Riku realizes, and feels better about wasting his time.

Then he goes and has fun with his friends.

-
Sometime after breakfast at his house on a Saturday, Sora comes out to him and Kairi. Sora has been acting fragile, lately, like his bounces take too much out of him, and Riku nods understandingly while Kairi looks a little bit hurt. Then she smooths it out of her face and says playfully, "You and Riku should go out sometime, then."

"Let's watch a movie," Riku deadpans.

And the weirdest thing is, Sora shrugs. "Um, sure." He is being awfully withdrawn.

And suddenly Riku knows why.

"Me?!" Riku exclaims.

"Yeah. You. Um..."

He decides not to say anything and watches that movie. With Sora. And he has a good time with it, too.

But... now... Kairi is alone.

-
"Riku, why are you doing this?" Kairi asks, being her usual self. Slightly depressed.

So Riku gives her a good hard look and asks, "Why? Did you want to go out with me too?"

She shakes her head ashamedly. "No. No! Um--"

"I am just giving him a chance," Riku says. "If he can win me over by the third date, he wins. I can give you a chance, too."

"Yes! Please."

Kairi looks very relieved at his impartial three-date judgment system, which is better. But now that the shadows are out of her face she looks tired. And edgy.

Edgy...

-
And at the end of his first date with Kairi--she is surprisingly overblown and took him to an arcade, then ended up singing karaoke with him on stage and winning third prize for "Most Entertaining Rendition of Moulin Rouge's Elephant Love Medley."

"We should have won first, damn it!" Kairi laughs with him, tucking her hair behind her ear dutifully. "Not least because my hair is Satine's color exactly. It was your fault with your flowing silver locks!"

"Yeah! Blame everything on me!"

-
Riku lies awake that night comparing things.

He has gone out with Sora, and liked it.

He has gone out with Kairi, and liked it.

He wonders if he really has a chance at being impartial when the two closest people to his bloody beating heart are so desperate for him. Him, him...

He remembers when Kairi first came to Destiny Islands. Sora saw a new friend and someone he could protect. He was the optimist. When Riku talked to him about Kairi starting a new life as the mayor's adopted daughter, Sora saw nothing but sunshine and rainbows.

The rain was really on Kairi's side. She had blank space before she woke up on the beach, little films of emptiness over her eyes. She filled it fast with the two of them, but maybe she was trying too hard. She learned too quickly to take Sora's side on things when they were in trouble and hoped for the best, shattering her opposite image for a second.

Now he thinks he's seeing both of them clearly and something clicks in his head. Another inch on the path to absolution?

Another...

Kairi is a little less mournful now and Sora is less hyper than he was. Riku wonders if he will be the catalyst to balance them completely and remembers when Kairi and Sora were dating, the year when he was fresh from the darkness and back in his old life, fragile and tingling with sensations that weren't really there. He's watched as they clashed, rather like puzzle pieces that didn't quite match. There was the right W edge on one piece and the right M on the other, but... they just didn't fit.

And this has gotten him nowhere--

Opposites attract, but they can also drive people away.

Riku thinks about himself, running from one side of the spectrum to the other, terrified of both and resting insecurely in the middle. The gray area. Riku feels something like taking a step out of darkness towards the light. But slowly. Solidly. One step back down the twilight path. Everything is a little bit lighter. Just enough to see outlines, not color.

But it is enough.

Riku turns off the lights and goes to sleep thinking about things that don't bother him as much.

This challenge can wait another day.

-
His second date with Kairi is a little more laid-back. She takes him to a place with bright, subdued colors and people swinging in time to the music. At first he shies away briefly, saying "I can't dance."

"It's easy. Come on--they're teaching us."

She pulls him out to the dance floor where there is a special corner reserved for people who can't dance, and she talks with the instructor.

"Rinoa!" Riku exclaims upon seeing her dark hair.

She winks and gives them both a discount. "We're all friends, aren't we?"

"We won't tell a soul," Kairi says, as a suspiciously thin amount of munny changes fingers.

"Such covertness," Riku remarks.

"No talking on the dance floor!" The vegan pairs them up and starts instructing them, strictly putting their hands on the right places or lifting chins. "Stand up straight!"

It's a few minutes. Maybe ten. And then suddenly everything works, and Riku leads Kairi around the dance floor invisibly.

-
"That was an interesting date," Riku remarks. Sora looks at them both, out of breath and flushed and too tired to do much of anything besides watch a movie with him.

"Ah, well... I didn't think you'd appreciate another one like the first," Kairi says, much more reticent and humbled now that she's home. More like her usual self.

Or maybe her real self was out on the dance floor with me, Riku thinks, and feels a little disturbed that she's been hiding it all these years. But maybe it was just excitement.

-
His second date with Sora involves, strangely enough, a lot of ice and a lot of DDR. Maybe it was because he'd listened to them seriously, or maybe he was getting less subdued.

Either way:

"Kairi, I don't think we can either of us talk about our 'date,'" Riku says. "We did a lot of things. Stayed up a little late, ran around a lot, broke a few windows--"

Kairi laughs into her drink and spills it a little as they all suddenly feel a lot more comfortable around each other.

"Cops came! And I'm not sure what happened, but--"

-
Riku shuts himself into his room and listens to the Cure. Some of their happy songs tide him over until he finds Hot Fuss under his bed and changes CDs.

"Oh, Andy you're a star! In nobody's eyes, but mine..."

And Riku thinks very hard about this because no both dates are getting closer to the middle. Almost the same, ticking closer to each other like hands on a clock, and once it's midnight everything will shut down. He still can't choose between his friends. Inevitably he will hurt someone he loves very dearly, and whether it's been Kairi who's been forgetting all her life or Sora who has been sleeping, being fixed, remembering everything he can--he can't help but think that he has to.

There is no forward step this time because the door he wants to open is absolutely stuck. The one leading to his answer. He keeps pulling at it, kicks at it even till his knees are sorely bruised, but the fighting doesn't help.

Riku decides to go back into the darkness a few steps and find another way, holding his arms out timidly till he finds another door. He leaves that one in the mist. And somehow he feels right--he feels like he is on the correct track. He just isn't at the final stage yet.

So he gives up and turns off the light. He wants an answer, but he won't be getting it now at any rate.

-
Riku swims in this curious concoction that is not really fear, or anger, or both. He feels almost as if it is neither and they're poking at him with their ice-cold fingers in an attempt to win him over. He doesn't feel stressed about this decision he has to make. He is over his fragile phase and his emotions do not have control over him anymore. Then he hears a snatch of conversation, blinks twice as he absorbs it, and makes a note to inform Kairi and Sora.

-
"No, no. It. Was. Hilarious. Listen, they're talking about us. Someone saw me with Sora and I definitely saw someone familiar while I was with Kairi. It's--" Riku stops to give a full-hearted laugh and finishes, "Apparently the whole school is talking about us now. They're wondering who I'm going to choose. And they're wondering--if..."

Sora tilts his head. Kairi seems uncomfortable.

Riku notices both their dilemmas. "Well. You know what they say about horny teenagers? Replace that last part with 'us', why don't you?"

"Ha!" And Sora gets it this time. But Kairi still seems nervous, like she's about to cross her legs. As Sora and Riku dissolve into laughs, she clears her throat embarrassedly and Riku stops.

"Kairi, it's ridiculous. Laugh with us!" Kairi looks down and Riku thinks he's pushed a little bit too far. "Um."

Sora elbows him quickly. "Riku, man, I think you went a little too far there..."

"Can..." Kairi begins. "Riku, can I talk to you?"

"See?" Sora triumphs.

"Oh, shut up--sure, Kairi, anytime."

"I mean now."

"Face the music!" Sora sings. Riku whaps him.

"I said shut it! I'll be fine."

-
They travel up to his room where Riku shuts the door and sits down on the bed. He wants to play some music now, but Kairi jitters and sits down far away from him, crossing and uncrossing her legs. She's halfway across the room from him and seems more nervous than ever.

Around the third time her ankles switch places Riku starts. "Look, Kairi, we're friends! If I said something that made you uncomfortable, you can tell me."

"It... It's not that." Her gaze switches between him and the floor, him and the floor, like they are in some contest for her attention. And Riku is okay with that, but he just wants to know why.

"Okay, so what is it?"

"I've... been... thinking about this for a while." Kairi's hands dangle uncomfortably at the arms of the chair, fingers digging into thin cloth spread against the wood skeleton. Then she burst out, "Riku, you know when Sora and I were... going out? Well, I wouldn't call it going out, because we weren't going anywhere, and it was kind of painful but still. I... I said something that may have--and I don't know if he thought I was joking or not, but that was our last date ever, and--"

"What?"

"When you disappeared and Sora went to find you I was alone for a year!" Kairi rattles. But not angrily, more like... frantically. Her red hair spins wildly as she struggles not to look at his face. "I... and when you came back, I still felt alone or maybe I felt that you two were going to disappear so I thought,maybe, getting close to you on a different level would help me out, but it didn't, and I just woke up one morning thinking that everything I was doing was wrong, and--I just! I wanted to be close to you two again, but it turns out the best-friends-forever deal didn't work and the I'm-going-out-with-my-best-friend plan didn't work, twice, and I just wanted to stop feeling so empty inside."

This is weird, Riku thinks, feeling guilty as Kairi thrashes quietly around in her seat, riddled with turmoil.

"I wanted to be... close...? You know, close?! Physical closeness? I didn't want you two out of my sight! And I thought that was it. But now, I..."

"...Are you saying... what I think you're saying?" Riku asks incredulously. Pure, determined, fragile Kairi who always does her homework on time and never leaves the dishes dirty, is saying...

"I know it's wrong," Kairi fights her way out of wordlessness and embarrassment suddenly. "I know it's wrong to link emotional intimacy with sex--I mean, I'm a girl! I used to think that way whole-heartedly. But now I can't stop thinking about it! And it's the only thing I haven't tried, and--and... And how do you explain something like this?! It feels like my insides are being torn out!"

Riku jumps up. "Okay, Kairi, calm down."

If she's lucid enough to know that it's wrong and feel bad about it, she really doesn't think that way at all, the detached and logical part of his mind tells him clearly. What she's experiencing is really a mix of neuroses and probably... sexual frustration from abstinence? He wouldn't have expected this of Kairi, to be sure, but he wonders how to say that to her as he puts his hands on her shoulders.

Kairi shakes at the touch and stares up at him, half frightened by herself. Her eyes are almost purple with it and it looks very harsh. Her skin is red, too, tingling with a thin, taut mesh of nerves underneath her shirt like puppet strings. It buzzes out from her indiscriminately; Riku can almost see it. Almost touch it.

Kairi starts to breathe dangerously hard. Riku thinks just as dangerously hard and takes her hand off his shoulders.

"Kairi, collect yourself. Deep breaths. I'm going to get Sora going just as soon as you answer these questions."

"All right!" Kairi snaps, feverish with doubt and impatience all at once.

"When you said this to Sora, did you say what you said to me just now?"

"No." Kairi shivers. "I..." Riku averts his gaze as she stops, stuttering, knowing eye contact will make things even worse. "Even if he did say yes, even if he was serious, I don't think he would have understood why. I said I was joking, but... that was after we broke it off."

"You know Sora doesn't read between the lines," Riku points out. He takes up a CD from the rack.

"I know. I know!" Kairi jerks out of the chair and starts pacing in circles, caged lionesses swirling underneath her skin. "I wanted someone who would." Her gaze flicks to his hands, with all the alertness of a predator. "What's that?"

"It's the CD I start playing when I want people to go away," Riku answers simply. He goes over to the bedside table and shuts it into the radio. "Just... sit down and don't panic, all right? I know you're jumpy."

Kairi sits down and tries to take deep breaths, but it only makes her look more feverish, more weak.

Riku opens the door and yells, "Hey, Sora! Get in here!"

Timidly the brunet pokes his head in, as if he was expecting a murder scene. "Have you made up already?"

"Yeah. Now we're watching a movie." Riku takes up the wrong remote and presses the 'on' button; both of his friends jerk as the radio screams to life instead.

"Britney Spears!"

"Huh." Riku points the remote at the radio and pretends to push the 'off' button. "That's strange. Now it's not turning off." Rikku tosses the remote nonchalantly under his bed and goes to the radio itself. "You stay right there, Sora. I guess I'll just pull the plug or something."

"Um." Sora fidgets, looking as awkwardly deer-in-the-headlights as Kairi. "Um!"

"What?"

"It's getting... late." Sora sees the clock and tries improvisation. "I got a D on my math test and... and my mom said I had to be home by seven thirty!"

"My clock is fast," Riku informs him, rolling smoothly into the lie without a hitch. "I forgot about Daylight Savings Time."

"I have to walk home!" Sora shrieks, as the violins of 'Toxic' screech their own counterpoint.

Riku takes a good long look at him and waves him off. "Okay, then. Go if you want to."

"Sora..." Kairi speaks for the first time. "...Are you sure you don't want to stay?"

"No. Yes! Sorry guys, I really am!" Sora waves messily and bolts out of the room. "See you!"

Riku listens for the terrified door-slam and turns the radio off when he sees Sora running down the street, into the afternoon sun. "Ha! Never fails."

-
"You're..." Kairi stifles a cry and her fingers scrabble over her eyes. "You're really doing this, aren't you?"

"We're friends." Riku holds a hand out to her, feeling no sense of regret. "I'm helping you out."

She lurches up and throws her arms around his shoulders. It's hard, since he's so much taller than her, and he can feel her rapidfire heartbeat pulsing in the soft vein on her neck. "I'm not expecting anything else." Then she pulls away sharply and tugs at his vest.

"H-hey--whoa!" Riku doesn't step back, but he does hold her wrist firmly. "Kairi, don't you want to think a little more about what we are doing and how it--"

She glares at him murkily and goes out the door, tramping down the stairs and into the living room. When she comes back, she takes something out of her bag and smacks it into his hand.

Riku stares at it bewilderedly, turquoise eyes wide. Then he looks up. "You have been thinking about this a lot."

"Yes." Furiously. "Now?"

Riku shrugs, jerking one shoulder up. "I guess you thought of everything."

-
Afterwards, Riku is still awake. The light has gone completely from the sky, leaving a blue wash over everything. Kairi's hair is purple and messy and her eyes are closed. But softly. Not like blinking to get sand out of your eyes, like you're in it for the long haul and know it, you know you know it. All the buzzing has disappeared and her skin is smoother now. Cool. There is that emptiness he remembers from when they were six and five, but not bad. Not bad at all.

It's like she was crammed to overflowing with secrets and I took them all away. Riku reaches out one almost-white hand to brush a few strands of hair from her face.

There is room for peace in her skin, for Kairi to breathe normally and deeply. He can see it shining out of her body and he wonders... Just wonders if he can touch that, for one second.

Kairi opens her eyes, wide awake. "Riku?"

"Yeah."

She takes his hand and presses it to her mouth. "Thank you."

-
"Dad?" Kairi hands over the orange juice politely and Tellah looks up.

"Yes, Kairi."

"Last night... Riku and I had sex."

The mayor looks at her very hard at that moment. Then he puts down his paper. "All right then. I am only asking you these questions as a formality, so don't take it personally."

Kairi nods.

"Were you in any way drunk last night?"

"No, Dad."

"Did you use a condom?"

She thinks about saying it, then nods alertly.

"Well. That's a relief." Tellah returns to his former task, entirely nonplussed. Then he looks at Kairi over his spectacles and adds, "You and Riku are the responsible ones. I trust you won't get out of hand with this?"

"I won't, Dad."

"Good." He starts reading, then tags a few final words. "And now, you never have to tell me that again."

Kairi smiles into her cereal.

"Hmm?" Tellah stops reading for the third time.

"...What?"

"Oh..." Her father shrugs. "You seem calmer today."

-
Riku is in the library reading about Hinduism. And Taoism. And every Eastern religion he can think of. Every religion, period--he was an atheist before and he honestly doesn't know much about any religion at all to make a well-informed choice, but he can't stop thinking about that light...

Then a soft footstep approaches his table and he stops his perusing. Kairi is standing and smiling, dressed in her blue and white uniform like he is. She doesn't fidget or shift her gaze around, which is weird. Then she talks.

"Hi."

"Hey."

Kairi sits down next to him and picks up a book, reading it... but not really. Skimming interestedly. "So I told my dad today."

"Really." Riku smirks. "Did he turn you out of the house? Or is there a bounty on my head?"

"He's actually pretty okay with it. He--" Kairi bubbles over slightly with a laugh. "--said we were the responsible ones."

"Oh, god." (Riku can't help that right now.)

"And now I never have to tell him again."

Something about that cracks them both up quietly.

-
"Sora! Where have you been!"

Riku and Kairi mow their way across the street to their oldest best friend. He doesn't look quite right in the blue and white uniform--his hair sticks out even more. Riku grabs the awfully blue and white tie and pulls Sora in closer. A little surprised, Sora grins anyway at the sight of them.

"In case you didn't recall," Kairi lectures him.

"You've got a date with me. Seven! And don't be late this time."

"Why are you two so happy?" Sora asks, a little subdued with confusion. "Did you win a million dollars?"

"Riku just checked out a book on Buddhism from the library. I don't know why he's so happy, but I have peace of mind."

"Oh yes, that elusive state of bliss." Riku lets go of Sora's tie and follows the brown-haired boy on the way home.

-
"Stalker!" Sora jabs when they get to his house. "Walk next to me, why don't you!"

"All right." Riku strides confidently so he is shoulder to shoulder with his friends. Maybe a step or two closer to Sora than to Kairi. But she is okay with that, and most importantly Riku is okay with that.

Totally.

-
Somewhere deep down in Riku's head, as he plunks down money for a good old-fashioned horror flick at seven thirty, he is buzzing with thoughts of the eight-spoked wheel and the creation of Buddhism. It is steeped in pain and pessimism, at least in the beginning. In fact, at the beginning of all the stories there is a strong pain and pessimism feel. Very formulaic. Riku thinks, as the daughter goes down into the basement, that horror movies are the same as Buddhist stories. The faint warning, the disregard of said warning, the pain, the pain! And then... enlightenment.

"One more step on the way to absolution?" Riku asks himself suddenly.

"What?" Sora asks. His bright eyes are pale in the darkness as they reflect the flickering light.

Riku thinks, and then throws popcorn at him. "The princess is in another castle!"

"Shh!"

Sora cracks up individually. Everyone else is glaring at them as Riku lasers a grin onto his face. It feels like it will never come off.

-
"Okay, kids, hush now." Riku gathers up his things as he finishes his homework. "You go play by yourselves now. Uncle Riku needs some thinking time in his room."

"You lie," Kairi tells him confidently. "You're using that time to listen to bad music and angst about your life."

Sora snorts. Riku gives a huff and deadpans, "No, it's thinking time. Really."

She waves it off and returns to her own homework with a grin. "Whatever. You go ahead."

Riku is almost up the stairs when he hears Sora say, "It's weird."

Riku stops and listens curiously.

"You know we did the exact same boring thing we did today that we did the first time? We watched a movie. But..." Sora is pondering. Think! Think! Think! "I don't know, it was more... fun."

"Maybe he's enlightened," Kairi suggests.

"What?"

Riku shuts the door.

-
The eight truths. Riku sees pessimism all over the page and he struggles with it, horror-movie lifelines pounding in his head--the princess is in another castle!

"There is suffering," Riku reads aloud quietly. That is the first noble truth. That is... emo. But it leads on to another. And... and another.

"And if we let go of these things," Riku paraphrases, "Then there is enlightenment." Riku thinks about the light he saw in Kairi's face that made him think she was asleep. The light reflecting off Sora's eyes in the dark, flickering and blue. "Craving is the cause of suffering..."

The princess is in another castle!

Riku remembers being on Hook's ship, remembers searching for a heart that wasn't his. He remembers the pain acutely, actually--being alone and not wanting to be alone did things to you. He took his friend's body through the darkness with him even though it was just a plain shell, because he was lonely and he didn't want to be lonely, not at all...

They'd filled it eventually--at least Sora did. Riku had been trapped.

Riku remembers seeing two orbs of light swirling out of Sora's chest and trying, so desperately, to understand why. All those strings surrounding Riku's chest had pulled back till they tore at him, but he'd kept on asking why, why, why, why?

The princess is in another castle, the princess has two suitors chasing after her, the princess is always, always--

"The princess is always in another castle," Riku understands. And he understands right now. Craving!

All these things Riku has been wondering about, why he was so painwrecked and ashamed exactly one year ago. All the pain he had suffered--his redemption was always in another castle, too. Deadened and lifeless, but maybe not.

"As long as we continue to striving for something, for these material things, we will continue to feel pain." Riku looks down and sees the truth on the page. He looks up and asks the ceiling, "But what... if we let go?"

That is a dangerous thought, the detached voice says in Riku's head. We all want not to feel pain. But at the same time we don't want to let go. That is...

"I...?"

Riku reaches up to the ceiling. It's so bright...

It is so easy to let go, Riku thinks, striving for the ceiling. It is so bright and unattainable. He feels things falling away from him, the things that were in the past. The hurt from every keyblade strike. Kairi's lifeless eyes. Sora restoring her to living, breathing form when Riku could not. Riku! The strongest of the three. Delicate Kairi aside, Riku felt his duty to save her, then...

The pain of being alone. Riku remembers being alone in his house when Sora and Kairi were dating and the relief he felt when the stopped and paid attention to him again. Selfishness.

The pain of leaving others alone. He remembers Kairi's frantic eyes. Guilt.

Pain at one side of the spectrum! Riku remembers being in darkness with a blindfold on. Trying to fool yourself, are we? Aren't you going to take that off? And all that light bursting into his body, which was actually the body of Xehanort's Heartless. He remembers the burning he felt as opposed to the quiet, murky streams of darkness trickling out from underneath his blindfold.

"I can see it now..." Riku stops stretching for the ceiling and stares at his hand curiously, like he's never seen it before.

God it is so bright.

"If I just let go." Riku looks up at the ceiling and smiles. "I'm not going to reach for you anymore."

The ceiling says nothing in return.

And Riku understands.

He is suddenly okay with it when he stops reaching. He has let go of the upward motion and that is fine.

"And now I'll just let go of my life right now?" Riku asks. "But that would be sudden..."

Riku thinks. He gives the ceiling a good hard look. If he wanted to, he could start wanting to reach for the ceiling again. It isn't that hard to start wanting again. But...

"But it's harder to stop," Riku finishes. "Oh. I see. So if I wanted to want to reach you, I would be taking the easy way out. Let's try again."

He stares up at the ceiling and tries to let go of things. He even puts on his thinking music, Plans from Deathcab for Cutie, to show that he is serious. And then the CD is finished, is in fact starting over again, and he still hasn't let go of his life. Not everything. Sora and Kairi are downstairs and they want him to make a decision. The one he's been thinking about for months. Which one, which one will he choose?

"If I keep going the way I've been going," Riku remarks to the ceiling, which is as silent as ever, "Then I could just as easily choose neither of them. I could let go."

It shines in response to his talking.

"But they would be hurt. What was it, 'abstain from hurtful speech?' It wouldn't be hurtful if I said it right, and it wouldn't be hurtful in the long run if they allowed themselves to get over it. And then they would try again? Marry each other? Have a perfect happy family while I remain enlightened forever?"

The ceiling shines a little brighter.

"Yeah. I could do that."

And then the white becomes blazing.

"I could let go of my angsty boy reputation," Riku declares. "I could let go of all the things in my past. I could let go of the things I couldn't change, the things I can't change right now. I could let go of the darkness!" A faint ringing sound pierces into his head, as painful to his hearing as the light is to his eyes. "I've cut my hair already--there goes that."

Bells--have I reached Nirvana now?

"No, no, not yet." Riku waits as the radiance grows brighter and threatens to swallow him whole. It twines around his fingers softly like a living thing. Pools around his legs like the darkness did once before. He can't see his room anymore, can't hear the music from his radio, but he is okay with that.

"If someone killed me right now, I would... There would be no reason to keep living and wanting anymore! There goes the pain. I could do that!" It is crawling up his shins like a flood of rainwater, whispering. Going by centimeters. He is going overboard, but he's just saying things to keep himself thinking straight. It's disorienting, the way he can't see or hear or feel anymore.

"I could do that!" Riku exclaims, breathing it in. It tastes like white, dry nothing in his mouth.

Nothing makes any reply.

-
Lady standing in the way to Nirvana right in front of him, with oranges in the air and a white robe. It's the first thing he's experienced here--she smells like oranges. Bright, crisp, singing citrus peel; the real thing.

"Go past me and you will find enlightenment," the woman says, quite softly. But she's not bothering to whisper. She takes his hand and tells him, "If you need it, I will help you."

She gives him a calm, serene smile, and Riku smiles right back at her, letting go of his pride.

"I could do that," he replies calmly.

"We can all do that," she says, just as calmly.

"And I am not better for having reached it than anyone else."

"You might be," she corrects him. "But that doesn't matter."

"No. It doesn't." (She smiles.) "And if I take your help, I am not the worse because of it."

"You might be. But that doesn't matter."

"It doesn't."

They smile at each other for countless minutes-hours-decades. Then the orange lady speaks.

"Enlightenment?" she asks, and points to the door. His door. The one he was searching for unconsciously but didn't know where. And Riku smiles again.

"I could do that."

She stands silent in front of him, not judging.

Then Riku lets go of her hand. "But I won't."

"Will you stay down on earth, then?" the woman asks. "Until you try again, or until you die?"

Riku laughs. He feels emotions coming back to him and he answers brightly, "Yes!"

He starts running down the steps of enlightenment. Pain comes back next, surging through his stomach; but he laughs anyway and nods furiously, pushing back into his room. He holds his sides and feels tears, absolute tears streaming down his face and chin--crying!

"Will you help those on the way to enlightenment?" the lady asks.

Riku sobs and laughs. Sobs and laughs:

"Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!"

-
Riku wakes up on the floor, silence blasting, muscles stiff. Body generally in pain from staying still so long. His book is on the floor as well, all mussed and rumpled.

"Riku! Riku!" Sora and Kairi are pounding on the door (his door).

"Are you alive?!" Kairi calls.

"Can you hear us through your screaming emo music?!" Sora is just as terrified, but he tries to hide it anyway. Riku calmly closes the book and puts it on his nightstand. Then he takes step after brilliant step towards the door, opening it to his friends' amazed faces.

"Riku!" Kairi exclaims, relief falling into her features like bricks.

"We thought you were dead!" Sora snaps, a little less forgiving. His face softens as Riku says nothing, then the brunet cautiously asks, "Wow, man, are you okay?"

...Riku smiles. "Yes."

He goes over to Kairi and runs his fingers through her hair very gently, lingering on the maroonish strands for a second. Then, before Sora gets confused or hurt, Riku winds his long arms around Sora's neck and holds on tight, the only thing he feels like he can do. "I'm fine."

Kairi is staring after him in astonishment, hands smoothing over her hair even though it was exactly the way it was before. Sora is silent as well, probably because Riku is still holding on to him.

"Riku," Kairi says finally. "Your eyes."

He turns to her, blistering eyes full of radiance (bright, bright, bright, bright turquoise). Riku can tell just by looking at her face that he is different, somehow. Kairi swallows a little harder than usual.

"Riku! Man!" Sora pulls away belatedly, so confused. "What the hell happened to you in there? Because... because when you went in you were just a normal person and now you're life, personified or something! Your skin is tingling like crazy. And like Kairi said your eyes are blinding, and--!"

Riku slides away from both of them, entering his room with the fluidity of a cat. He holds the door open for Sora and Kairi as they stand there, unsure of themselves.

And he waits.

-
Finally he asks them: "So are you coming in or what?"

They look at each other, Sora and Kairi. Once best friends, still best friends, formerly dating, still a little awkward. Then they look at Riku, still holding the door and still standing so... so perfectly still.

Perfectly perfectly still.

They look at each other.

And then silently they make a truce, taking hands and bolting in through the door. Kairi shuts it; Sora locks it. Then they turn back to their friend.

And Riku smiles.