He almost laughed at the irony of it all. He, along with his friends, had wanted so desperately to see other worlds. Once Riku had found a way to do just that, everything spiraled out of control. They found themselves inevitably draw into a maelstrom of adventure and danger everywhere they went, but they had all been separated from one another. While Sora had teamed up with the king's most trusted servants, Riku himself had been deceived by Maleficent to believe that Sora had not been searching for him, but had replaced them and was simply fooling around. Such a behavior wouldn't surprise Riku, but he cursed himself repeatedly when he realized that Sora had indeed been searching for him, and quite fervently at that, going as far as to force a crash landing into a backwater world not far from where he began the search.
Sora may have had his share of troubles, but Riku had gone through his own. Being given the power of darkness was one thing, but using it was another. The first time he had traveled through a dark corridor, he thought he'd never feel peace again; the darkness had seeped dangerously close to his heart. Now that he thought on it, it had been a warning…one he never heeded. When Xehanort's heartless possessed him, he knew he had been fighting a losing battle all along. In a last effort of redemption, Riku helped Sora close the door to darkness. He almost cried out in shock when, after all he had put him through, Sora nodded, uncomplaining, and went along with him.
But through that stern look, that determined visage, Riku could see something that only a friend of Sora could see. A kind smile that never showed itself, and the words that had never been spoken.
"I forgive you."
The first time Riku saw Sora after that, the brunette had been asleep in Castle Oblivion, regaining the memories that Naminé had been forced to make him lose sight of. All the while, Riku had been facing the darkness within him that threatened to control him once more. Naminé offered to lock it away, but he turned her offer down, claiming that he wouldn't be able to reprimand Sora if he was asleep. He would face that darkness himself, and conquer it.
What he didn't tell her was that he wanted to look after Sora while he was sleeping. Then again, Naminé probably already knew.
Later, Riku had allied with DiZ. While they both had a common goal, which was to awaken Sora, Riku couldn't understand why this man was so concerned with his friend. Nonetheless, he did his part, retrieving Roxas and bringing him to the simulated Twilight Town until Sora was ready. In the process, however, he was forced immerse himself in darkness to survive and capture the nobody. The form he found himself in was hard to accept, but he willingly made a sacrifice if it meant Sora would awaken.
Riku almost regretted his decision to team up with the man when he learned of his true motive: Revenge. The thought of his best friend being used as a tool angered him, and it took all of his willpower to suppress his rage. Instead, he carried on, silently aiding Sora when he finally awoke. It hadn't been easy; Sora mistook him for Organization XIII when he was in the Land of Dragons and put up quite a fight.
He had been revealed in the Organization's stronghold, when he had been forced to rescue Kairi. He didn't particularly feel like revealing himself, ashamed of his appearance, but to his surprise, both of his friends didn't hold it against him at all. Sora, the normally cheerful and optimistic boy that he was, broke down entirely upon finally realizing that the man in front of him wasn't Xehanort, but his best friend. Riku thought he'd never see Sora smile again, the way the boy wept. Even Sora's voice seemed to have finally shattered.
"I looked for you! I looked everywhere for you!"
But true to himself, Sora had somehow managed to gather himself again, and they pressed onwards. The brunette had gone as far as to playfully reprimand Riku for trying to do everything on his own after he finally regained his original appearance. The silver-haired boy chuckled at the thought. After all, Sora did have a point.
Now, it all boiled down to this. Just when they thought they'd finally be able to end this adventure and go home, their pathway vanished, and both Sora and Riku had been left in the World that Never Was. It became clear moments later that when they had fought Xemnas, they hadn't quite finished the job. So, with hardly a word, they fought together, side by side.
Friends, then rivals, then enemies, then friends again. Riku could hardly wonder how Sora only saw one of them to be true. Maybe one day he would finally figure it out.
Xemnas was without yield. When he wasn't lashing out physically at Riku or his friend, he was playing mind games.
"Sora…are you certain you can trust Riku?"
Anyone that knew the brunette would know better; Sora was entirely trusting in his friend. The proven answer came in the boy's eyes, which were uncharacteristically narrowed to slits, and the way he brandished his keyblade and raced into the fray.
"Riku…are you sure you're not jealous of Sora?"
But Riku had made up his mind. I've had enough of jealousy. I gave into it once, and look where it got me.
What they thought was the final blow hadn't quite been so. They had found themselves in a gray, endless void, and Xemnas wasn't quite content with them still being around. A single glance at Sora told Riku all he needed to know: this wasn't the time to quit. They had come this far and they weren't stopping yet.
The fight that ensued made every previous battle combined feel like one of their casual sparring matches on the islands two years before this mess had even begun. The exhaustion, combined with the adrenalin rush, the determination to finish this once and for all, the sudden hopeless thought that they just might not make it, the horror of the endless, ever-shifting void around them…all of it meshed together and Riku barely felt he could stand, but Sora tightened his grip on the keyblade and rushed into the fray again. What kept that boy going?
Brushing away the question for now, Riku followed, brandishing Way To Dawn.
Riku was barely able to keep up as the fight went on. Twilight thorns lashed out like whips, lasers shot from all sides, doppelgangers tricking them into running one way while the real attacker snuck up from behind. Xemnas grew increasingly aggressive and frustrated, cursing them for not vanishing. It wasn't until a deafeningly silent sentence reached his ears that everything changed.
"Can you spare…a heart…?"
It was like it happened in slow motion. The twilight thorns gathered, and Sora prepared to block the attack. Then, unexpectedly, wrapping around Sora and strangling his entire body in midair. A familiar pattern of crackling hexagons appeared, locking Sora in place with his arms forcefully outspread and his legs kept still. More thorns lashed out, plunging deep into Sora's chest. The brunette squeezed his eyes shut and his mouth shot open in a soundless scream. Riku made the connection instantly and raced forward, making to stun Xemnas long enough to free his beloved friend, only to find that the thorns blocked him, sending him hurling backward.
Regaining his footing, Riku looked up. He watched as Sora's image flickered unstably, like an old hologram. One moment it was Sora, the next it was someone else. And only when it was that someone else whom he couldn't quite make out that Riku could hear that ear-splitting cry for help.
Riku's eyes widened when he came to his realization. Roxas was screaming.
The nobody was shrieking in anguish, frustration, agony, and fear all at once. The image continued to flicker back and forth between the Nobody and the Other.
Sora, whom Riku had once envied to the point of betrayal.
Roxas, whom was born from Sora's selfless sacrifice for the sake of a friend.
Sora, whom would do anything for his companions.
Roxas, whom unlike the other nobodies, would only settle for one heart: his own.
Sora, whom had done so much in search of his beloved friends, only to lose so much when he was finally reunited with them.
Roxas, whom had finally found his heart again, was about to have it violently ripped away.
Riku wouldn't let that happen.
Riku did not come this far just to see his best friend die.
He went into a complete frenzy. Black fireballs shot out of his hand, and empty shields shattered with a single slice from Way To Dawn. Anything else that would have blocked his way would be either trampled underfoot, cut down, or burned to ashes. The doppelganger that had been trying to force him back found itself being the one hurled backward as Riku rampaged forward. He didn't know what this was that suddenly drove him, but he didn't care.
Once he was at a close enough proximity, Riku leapt into the air smashed Way To Dawn into one of Xemnas's arms and clamped his hand over Xemnas's other uninjured one, managing to stem the flow of the energy. He gave the nobody a deadly sneer, one that was almost feral. As he spoke, the words hissed through his teeth like a deadly steam. "Get your filthy paws off of my friend."
Without waiting for a response, Riku struck Xemnas square on the chin and, with a burst of strength, hurled him into the air and far away from Sora. Still seething, he felt his grip on his keyblade become so tight that ordinary metal would have crumbled into dust. Sora made his way back to his feet, still dazed, clutching his chest and gasping for breath. Tears streamed from his eyes not from sorrow, but from pain. Riku knew there was no time to aid Sora in gaining his composure back, but he couldn't help but reach for his friend, even for a brief moment.
Then he found the answer he had been looking for.
Before anything could be discerned, the world went black around them. Xemnas sneered, summoning countless lasers around them. There had to be millions. Sora stood, keyblade in hand, teeth gritted tightly. Riku straightened himself as well and nodded.
"There is no such thing as light," Xemnas spat. Then, with a wave of his hand, the projectiles all fired.
Sora and Riku moved in total unison, not entirely certain how they managed to read each other's movements when the darkness blotted out their vision. Keyblades spun and slashed and parried, the lasers not once touching them. Both of them knew the same thing: one hit and it was over.
After what seemed to be an eternity, the assault finally ended. Riku was just catching his breath, however, when he felt a blade slam into his side, sending him tumbling backwards. He could see Sora immediately disregarding immediate danger as his eyes widened in horror. "Riku!" He cried, beginning to reach forward, only to find his progress halted by a glowing blade. Sora froze, the building exhaustion and confusion from the previous battles finally taking its toll. Xemnas reared back the blade.
Riku clenched his teeth. "No!" He cried, running forward and parrying the strike with Way To Dawn. Another strike rose and began to rip through the air. Riku shoved Sora roughly aside, not thinking for his own safety. The only confirmation he received that his friend was safe was the searing pain that tore through his ribs just before he crumpled into a heap on the ground.
Even as he fell, he gave Sora a weak gaze, extending his hand and calling his friend's name silently. The brunette's eyes flared in determination, and he took Riku's keyblade without a word. Racing at Xemnas, Sora unleashed a flurry of blows so fast that he was a blur. Then, finally, as Xemnas was being thrown into the air, Sora leapt one more time, slashing the nobody via crossed blades.
Sora landed next to Riku, giving him a look that shouldn't have belonged on his face. Riku knew what it meant without having to ask.
Let's finish this.
He placed his hand over Sora's, and a very, very brief flash of light appeared where their fingers touched the hilt of the keyblade. Riku knew what it was. It was the same thing that had kept Sora going for so long. Even through becoming a heartless, the threat of the organization, the relentless battles and the possibility of never seeing his friends, his family, or his home again.
"I don't need a weapon," A voice from their past rang out. "My friends are my power!"
Light gathered at the tip of the keyblade and shot forward. Xemnas didn't dodge, and Riku would never find out whether he simply didn't bother or whether he was unable to. The light impaled Xemnas, throwing him backward and eliciting one last roar of rage from his throat. Riku and Sora watched as he vanished in a spiral of black and white thorns, evaporating away for the last time.
After the battle had ended, it wasn't easy leaving. Riku had never really been the type to lean on others for any kind of support – mainly for pride reasons – and found himself gasping for breath, the metallic taste of blood in his mouth. He couldn't go on. He couldn't even bring himself to stand.
But Sora refused to believe it. "It's not over. It's just not."
Riku would have laughed if he was in any other condition. So that's what keeps him going, he mused to himself as he allowed Sora to help him onto his feet. I can't believe I didn't figure it out sooner.
Even as he limped forward, not knowing where he'd end up next, Riku clearly recalled dubbing Sora a 'total sap.' He never imagined that such a thing one would be teased for would end up being such a driving force. He looked up, intent to thank his friend. "Hey, Sora?"
Sora returned his gaze, looking as calm and peaceful as he had on the islands, but Riku could see under his façade that he was weary from the fight. Even so, the brunette gave him a smile. "Yeah?"
Then again…maybe it wasn't necessary. "…you lead."
And they walked on, not knowing where their footsteps would take them. Riku didn't mind. He had found what he was looking for.