A Thousand Miles, Collapsed

*~*~*

*~*~*

They met at the neon tower in the black city, Riku and the boy with the keyblade. They had fought, and Riku had lost - and yet, something drew him back to that place, again and again.

A boy with Sora's keyblade living in the half-world between light and dark shouldn't have been anything more than a fleeting curiosity, another anomaly in a universe that never even tried to make sense. But, to Riku, there was something inherently wrong with it, and fascinating - he had tried to convince himself that the blade was a fake, a clever forgery, but he knew it to be a lie even as he said it. He knew what the blade was just as surely as he would have known if Sora himself had wielded it.

So he kept going back to the half-world - partially because he felt strangely comfortable there, in a world that was born for those who, like him, wavered tremulously between the light and the dark; but mostly, hoping to catch another glimpse of the boy with the keyblade. He lived - such as he could - by the towering edifice they had fought on, simultaneously hoping for and dreading the boy's return.

He told himself that he didn't know why he stayed.

*~*~*

The boy with the keyblade returned some time after - it was hard to tell just how much; time was another thing that simply didn't exist in the World that Never Was. He slid onto the plaza in silence, enough a part of the surroundings that it took Riku far longer than it should have to register the other's presence.

They stared at each other for a moment, from underneath their hoods - one sitting on the stair with his back to the light post, the other hunched tersely a thousand miles across the pavement.

"Larxene told me you'd been hanging around here," the boy muttered, and Riku found that the thousand miles snapped back into nothing until their proximity was almost suffocating, though neither had taken a step.

"Yeah, well," he responded, not knowing what else to say.

"Well, get out," the other snapped, though his voice held no real force. "We don't want you here, and I've kicked your ass once already. So leave."

"Don't want to," came Riku's response. He watched the other quietly, not asking the questions that he really wanted to ask because for once, he didn't know how to say them.

"Don't see why you'd want to stay here," the other boy responded with what might have been a laugh - but even Riku could hear that the sound was hollow. "Just get out before somebody decides to make trouble for you."

"You're not going to make trouble for me?"

The boy shrugged, leather jacket wrinkling with the motion.

"I figure that you're not up to anything, you're just an idiot. So if you want to sit around in a dead city where you're going to get eaten by heartless anyway, that's your business, I guess," the boy intoned, like he really didn't care - about anything at all, it seemed. Like caring was just too much trouble.

Strange, how Riku kept remembering the angry, forceful attitude the boy had worn during their fight - the fight that the stranger had won. Strange how all of that trapped frustration had disappeared.

"What's your name?" Riku asked, words falling out of his mouth before he had a chance to stop himself or even remembered why he should have.

The other froze then, and Riku couldn't be sure if the stranger had just been surprised or genuinely saw the elder as a threat. The question was probably strange in the context, he reflected for a moment. There weren't too many unknowns in the World that Never Was who were interested in more than your death.

So Riku threw back his hood, like a gesture of goodwill - he really didn't mean the other any harm, even if he wasn't sure if the nonviolence extended as far as amicability yet. His blindfold followed, pooling on the ground next to him as he let it fall.

"…Roxas," the other responded after a sharp breath, though the tense line in his shoulders never quite abated. "I'm Roxas," he repeated, and his hand hovered by the edge of his hood for a fraction of a second before he pulled it back.

"Riku," he returned to fill the awkwardness between them, to hide the skip in his heartbeat as the hood fell down.

The moment of shock - longing, terror - was justified, because the first things that Riku saw were Sora's eyes - the same bright blue, framed by the same too-dark lashes and set under a mess of hair that spiked in a too familiar way. But behind them crouched a wariness, a taut longing, that Sora never had possessed and never would.

"Yeah," Roxas muttered, scowl carved into his face like a monument. To what, I wonder?

"Guess I'll see you around then?" Riku stated more than asked, because he could tell that the blonde didn't want to kick him off any more than he wanted to leave.

"Dumbass. Don't come crying to me if Xigbar finds you here or something," he mumbled, and Riku noted with something between apathy and anticipation, that the boy had never said no.

*~*~*

A boy with Sora's keyblade - a boy who now had Sora's eyes and his hair, living in the half-world between light and dark - was significantly more than a curiosity. For Riku, he rapidly transformed into an obsession - this dark version of Sora, wielding the Keyblade like it belonged to him and scowling to keep the world away. He knew that it wasn't, that his Sora was wandering the worlds somewhere and not stuck in the in-between world, but that didn't stop him.

So he stayed, dreamed and wished and hoped, living by the neon tower that shot up into the sky like a frozen fountain, shimmering with his captured reflection.

He lied and told himself that Sora's face hadn't replaced the blonde's in his memories.

*~*~*

Riku had slept twice when the blonde returned, so that probably made it two days by a normal calendar. Roxas seemed to have dispensed with the hood for the moment, though he certainly hadn't rid himself of the scowl - and Riku matched that, removing his protective blindfold and placing it carefully in a pocket.

"You're back," he commented with a half-smile that didn't really mean anything anyway when the other stopped not five feet in front of him. "I wondered how long it would take you."

"You're an arrogant asshole, do you know that?" Roxas shot back, a glint of his earlier fire in his eyes. Better than that cold emptiness, by far.

"I've been told so before," Riku returned with a smirk that was almost like the one he used to wear, back on Destiny Islands before he'd fucked everything to hell.

"Yeah, well, not everything revolves around you. I do live here, you know, it's not crazy to think that you might see me here every once in a while," the blonde snapped, crossing his arms in a show of what might have been frustration or might have been defiance, and he looked very much like Sora when he stood like that.

"I guess that explains why I've seen so much of the rest of your organization," Riku noted, joking a little like he might have with someone else - he played the game willingly, even though the blonde wasn't Sora, because after solong he found himself half-starved for conversation.

"Fuck you," came Roxas's response, and he shifted from leg to leg.

"Well, if it wasn't for my charm, then why did you come?" Riku questioned, though he liked to think he knew the answer.

The distance grew between them for a moment.

"I dunno," the blonde finally mumbled, staring determinedly at a spot on the pavement about two inches to Riku's left. "There's not much else for me to do right now, I guess. I figured it couldn't hurt."

Riku wisely chose not to push the boy any further - he didn't want Roxas to leave. Every movement this boy made was uncannily familiar, and yet the meaning behind each was so different as to be incompatible. It was almost -

"Yeah," he agreed, cutting into his own thoughts, then paused. "What do you guys do around there anyway?"

The blonde shrugged again - this was getting to be some kind of ritual.

"Not too much. Y'know, settling internal feuds, taking over the world, normal organization stuff."

Riku almost laughed, and the possibility of it crackled across the distance between them.

"Why are you here?" Roxas asked after a moment, finally raising his gaze to examine the other's face with a mixture of reticence and genuine curiosity. "I mean, why do you stick around? This place is boring as all hell - believe me, I know."

This time, it was Riku's turn to shrug, taking a moment to breathe the awkward tension in the air.

"I guess I don't really have anywhere else to go. I can't -" he started, then thought better of it. He wasn't about to let his mouth run away with him.

"Same here," the blonde intoned, straining to keep something Riku couldn't identify out of his voice. "Same with all of us. We don't have anywhere else to go, because nowhere else will take us. So…" He drifted off for a moment, eyes flickering hesitantly from place to place. "So are you… I mean, are you like us?"

The look that flashed across his face was so innocent and hopeful that Riku froze as if he'd been struck.

"What do you mean by that?" Riku asked after he'd regained his composure - and he felt the bottom drop out of his stomach not moments afterwards, when he saw that little bit of something in the blonde's eyes shrivel to nothing.

"I guess the answer is no, then. You're -" Roxas stopped for a moment, considering. "That's good, I guess." He breathed out slowly, and those blue eyes really locked with Riku's for possibly the first time since their meeting.

"I think - maybe I'm glad you're not."

Well, he certainly has a talent for making no sense, Riku thought, and was about to say so when suddenly that hovering distance was gone, and all he could make sense of was that Roxas's lips were on his own though he couldn't for the life of him figure out why. They stayed like that for a moment - frozen, the moment shivering in the glow of the neon lights - before the blonde pulled away, clearly forcing his expression into indifference.

Riku didn't say anything for a moment, breathing the dream from his lips and he could only think, I wonder if that's what Sora tastes like. Another thought; I wonder if that's what sin tastes like.

"…You're a confusing person, do you know that?" he finally asked, shaking his hair out of his eyes to watch the other's face. "What was that about?"

"I wanted…" Roxas turned a little, facing the white castle in the distance, and Riku couldn't see his eyes. "I wanted to know what it would be like, with a real person."

"And?" the elder prompted, deciding not to ask about the latter half. He valiantly tried not to smirk - on the one hand, their play-fighting almost-rapport had been welcome; on the other, that kiss had been… so much more. He couldn't give up a chance to try again.

"And I think you're an asshole," the blonde evaded, conviction vehement. Riku smiled, because Sora never would have said that.

"That didn't answer my question."

"Don't care. I'm leaving now," Roxas muttered, walking forward and disappearing into one of the back alleyways.

Riku leaned against his light-post again, watching the impossible moon and loving the taste of forbidden fruit on the air.

This was a strange garden of Eden - the black-steel orchard towered into the sky, bearing nothing but empty promises, and at its feet the ground frothed with a communion of evil given form. The dark sky surrounded a moon that bore down on him like a threat, and the fruit of knowledge could be found on the lips of a blonde boy who hovered - frustratingly, enticingly - between the snake and its antithesis, the guardian of worlds. A strange Eden, but not unfitting.

Because in this world, there was no God.

*~*~*

Riku dreamed about that kiss, and one face layered on top of another until he wasn't sure which boy the other had been. He awoke with a curious, painful longing - and for the first time, an inkling touched the back of his mind, feather-light, saying that he remembered that longing. He remembered it, sitting on a white-sand beach as the foam rolled up over his ankles and watching Sora share a sweet smile with Kairi as they built castles from sand and shells.

Riku remembered watching the ephemeral palaces wash away. The memory was comforting, though it did nothing to lessen the quiet ache the dream left behind.

He told himself that it was for the better - he and Sora would never be close like before, much less share a kiss like that one. Sora deserved sweet smiles and sandcastles that the sea never claimed, deserved all the best that the worlds had to offer. Riku could never allow himself to taint the boy's light. He wouldn't betray his best friend again.

Now Roxas - Roxas, with Sora's eyes and Sora's hair and a voice that wasn't the same but was - now Roxas was a different matter altogether. Maybe - just maybe - he would let this happen; because Roxas was Sora, painted in black.

Maybe it was alright, because on a black canvas, even Riku's taint wouldn't leave a mark.

*~*~*

Roxas came back again, like they had both known he would, this time appearing in a cloud of black and violet on the tower's footstep. It was more comfortable that way.

He sat down on the staircase awkwardly, like wasn't sure whether that was ok or if he was breaking some kind of unspoken rule, and pulled his hood back.

"Hey," he offered, voice low.

"Welcome back," Riku returned with a quiet, throaty laugh. "I hope you'll forgive me if I'm a bad host and don't offer you a drink or anything."

"I think I'll survive."

"Good. Shame if you didn't," he replied, and swallowed his fears, hiding them with a smirk like he'd gotten so damn good at. "Or I'd never get a repeat performance."

"What makes you think you'd get one anyway?" Roxas shot back, crossing his arms and leaning back onto the stair.

"Instinct." Riku had mastered the arrogant bastard routine by this point.

There was a moment of quiet as the blonde choked on a lump of what was probably indignation, before pushing it down and forcing himself to look up again.

"You know," he began, "You - remind me of someone, I think. Or something. I'm not really sure. Can't remember." A pause. "I'm not sure if I hate you for that or not."

Riku thought about saying - you remind me of Sora, my - but he didn't know how to finish that sentence and it was probably wiser not to say anything anyway.

"I've never met you before, if that makes you feel any better," he responded instead, and he didn't understand why it felt like lying.

"I'm not sure it does."

Inexplicably, Riku found himself wanting to reassure the other - wanting to see Sora's smile on the blonde's face, and not wanting to at the same time.

So he leaned forward, closing the distance between them until he could feel his breath hovering across the other's skin. He pretended he hadn't, but he brought a hand up to the other's face gently, like he might have if the hair had been brown instead of blonde, and watched the fear - anticipation, hate - churn in those blue eyes for a moment before he pulled their lips together.

This time, the kiss kindled something in him that he didn't understand and he couldn't be bothered to try, because Roxas's mouth had opened in a silent invitation that Riku didn't think he was capable of refusing. Their tongues danced across each other desperately, tasting and exploring and reveling in shattering some unspoken law, and somewhere in the process hands found their way into hair and fisted there like they'd never let go.

Somewhere, after an instant and an eternity, they pulled apart, panting, and Riku watched the other's kiss-swollen lips through the haze over his vision.

"You're better than I thought you'd be," he murmured, because his higher brain functions had deserted him entirely.

"What," Roxas shot back, voice breathy, unconsciously tempting, "you thought you'd come by and sweep me off my feet? Not likely. You're not a goddamn prince and I'm sure as hell not a fucking princess." A pause. "If anybody's a princess, it's you."

Riku heard himself laugh then, because it was so much something Sora might say but so completely opposite from the way that he might have said it - and it was so damn infuriating, so fucking hot that he couldn't keep himself from responding.

"Prove it," he returned, the throatiness of his voice surprising even him. "Prove it to me."

Roxas wet his lips unconsciously and, taking a breath, said: "Alright."

Their mouths met again then, but that was only a distraction because this time the blonde's tiny, dexterous hands were fleeting all over his body and Riku shivered because he didn't want to admit it but he'd never done this before, not with a guy, not like -

Roxas's mouth slid down off Riku's, testing the spot beneath his jaw with his tongue and Riku wasn't quite sure when his hands had slid under the blonde's jacket but he certainly didn't mind. That tiny mouth made a trail down his neck that burned like gunpowder and he returned the favor by divesting the younger of his jacket because it was only getting in the way, hands moving across his collar and onto smooth planes of muscle that felt nothing like a woman, and that somehow made everything different - made everything more exciting. The blonde, however, knew exactly what he was doing, so the other's coat joined his own on the concrete - and Riku was grateful because the sensation of the black leather sliding across his skin was undeniably erotic - a delicious warmth had begun to pool in his stomach, churning with adrenaline and anticipation to create a heady mix that made coherent thought nearly impossible, especially when -

"Fuck," he whispered as that hand moved lower, teasing at the belt of his pants and underneath, tracing circles that made him arch into the touch with a strangled noise he'd never meant to make - and he felt Roxas smirk against the skin of his stomach because he was acting like such a virgin and he wasn't really, it was just that, god -

- when he looked at those eyes, saw that hair, he could pretend -

The hand moved lower, and his hand fisted in the blonde hair desperately.

Even with Roxas's hand and his body and the too-slow too-fast movement of skin on skin - even with the burst of incomprehensible pleasure when he came - he was careful, so careful, never to say Sora's name.

*~*~*

"I'm thinking of leaving," Roxas admitted later, much later - when a month had passed and they'd fucked enough that they'd both lost track, and they both lay, naked, in an alcove in a back alleyway.

This statement stopped Riku short for a moment, and he sat up slowly, giving Roxas a critical look.

"Why?"

"I'm - well, I don't know if you've figured this out yet, but I'm not - I'm not quite a real person. I'm only half a person - we all are, the Organization," he murmured, trying to keep his scowl and not quite succeeding.

Riku almost flinched at that, but didn't - though the guilt was sudden and unexpected, surging through him unrestrained, because he realized in that moment that he had never thought of Roxas as a real person. The boy had only ever been a substitute, a cracked mirror with Sora's reflection on it - because he couldn't stand the idea of breaking the real thing.

"We're what you call Nobodies," he continued, staring at the ground as he slowly pulled his coat back on. "We're the part of a person that's left when they lose their hearts - we're the shell, I guess you might say."

This triggered something in the back of Riku's mind; a memory of something the King might have said to him once, something that seemed to have little importance at the time but now was only fueling the burning shame.

"I don't really remember anything about what he was like - my Other, I mean - except -" Here, his eyes locked with Riku's. "Every so often, there'll be a flash of something and I won't remember but I know." A pause. "And I remember -" He stopped short, considering his words carefully. "We all want our hearts back. I think my Other might be able to help me - us - become a whole person."

Riku didn't respond - he couldn't help but feel like something crucial was missing, like he just needed one, maybe two more pieces before it would all click together.

"Are you going to do it, then?" he asked after a moment, not sure if the answer mattered.

"I don't know. I've just been thinking, is all."

Neither of them said anything after that - Riku lay back down, hands behind his head, and Roxas followed, though they were careful as always to keep some distance between them. They stayed like that for a while, each lost in their own thoughts, and watched the moon grow.

*~*~*

Slipping out of the World that Never Was became more frequent after Roxas's statement, though Riku never really admitted to himself that that was the case. Something about the knowledge that the blonde really was only half a person made Riku more aware of the fact that, despite that, Roxas was his own person, with dreams and desires of his own.

That somehow made what Riku had been doing that much more wrong - spending every day pretending that the blonde's hair was darker, that his eyes were just a bit more welcoming. It was almost like a betrayal, and Riku knew that feeling too well already.

A week or so later, they fucked again - and for the first time since they'd been together, he said Roxas's name as he came.

*~*~*

Again and again, Riku found himself in Twilight Town - it, like the neon city, was an in-between place; though closer perhaps to the light than the dark. He liked the quiet monotony of the days that didn't seem to change any, liked the hum of trains as they clattered back and forth on iron tracks, liked watching the sunset over the rolling town, on a hill that seemed made for that purpose, and pretending that he sat on sand instead of turf.

Once, when he appeared there, he found that he wasn't alone.

A tiny girl stood by the rail delicately, a splash of white in a world of red and orange, and she turned to look at Riku with a smile that she couldn't help but think was just a bit sad.

"Hello, Riku" she began, and even if her voice was tentative, there was a purpose hidden behind her awkward manner. "I'm Naminé. It's nice to finally meet you."

"…How do you know my name?" he asked - and beyond that, he wondered how she had recognized him underneath his hood and his blindfold almost hiding his eyes.

Her smile didn't fall, but the sadness in it only grew.

"That… would take a while to explain. I would love to tell you later, if you're interested, but for now - I thought you might like to know where Sora is."

That statement didn't surprise him as much as it possibly should have - he supposed it would be too much to hope that Sora had gone back obediently to Destiny Islands. The guy'd always been headstrong like that.

He sighed a little, and walked forward to lean on the rail by her.

"He can't just stay put, can he?" he asked, far beyond questioning the impossible by this point.

"No," she agreed, "he can't."

"So did something happen to him, or…" His heart raced at the thought - somehow he hadn't even considered the possibility of Sora being hurt, because he'd assumed - stupidly - that the boy would go back to Destiny Islands now that he'd found Kairi. Riku had liked to think that the boy would be building sandcastles right now.

"Yes, some things happened -" Riku's breath caught on hearing this "- but he'll be okay. I had to take apart his memories… but I'm putting them back together again. And I - we - need your help to do it. Will you help us?"

"Who's 'we'?" he asked, because he wasn't sure he wanted the answers to his other questions.

"DiZ and I. We're working together to make Sora better."

There was only a brief pause as Riku collected his thoughts - after his terrible betrayal, there wasn't any deciding that needed to be done when confronted with the question of whether to help Sora or not. He would do anything, even if it meant hurting himself in the process. There was no-one else in the world he would do that for.

"What do you need me to do," he murmured, watching the sunset creep along the train tracks.

"I need…" Naminé took a breath, gathering her resolve. "I need you to find a boy named Roxas. He's Sora's other half, and we need him if we want to fix Sora."

Riku stiffened at that, and he didn't care if she saw it or not - suddenly a thousand things clicked in his mind, setting his thoughts cascading toward the edge. Roxas was Sora's other half, his dark half - that explained the gestures, the inflection, the startlingly blue eyes. The Nobody wasn't a person himself, then - he was only the parts of Sora that made the boy whole, the anchoring ground that kept him human.

"What will happen to Roxas when I bring him?" he asked, keeping his voice carefully flat - he wanted to know, though he realized nothing would change his own answer.

"He'll become a part of Sora again," she responded, her gaze strangely wistful as she spoke. "He'll be whole. He… won't be the same, though. He won't be on his own anymore."

"I… see." He paused. "I'll be back with him."

He would do anything, anything for Sora. Riku repeated this silently, like a mantra, until he had almost forgotten what it meant.

*~*~*

Illogically, incomprehensibly, Riku couldn't help the guilt that washed over him once she left - he told himself that this was nothing like betraying Sora, he was helping Sora. But the two boys had become so inextricable in his mind - one face layered on top of the other - that he wasn't sure how to separate the two anymore. He wasn't even sure if they needed to be separated.

That didn't help the feeling in his gut, the one that wouldn't let him lie to himself. Something in him wished there was another way - and yet, he was determined.

Still, he wasn't sure if he had the strength it would take to see the shock and anger in those eyes, to see the pain that laced through it all. He wasn't even sure that he had the strength, physically, to take Roxas somewhere against his will, even with the power of surprise - not betrayal, not betrayal - on his side.

You don't, whispered a voice from inside of him, a voice Riku had tried to forget. A voice that had spoken to him in Castle Oblivion, fought with him in Castle Oblivion.

You don't have that kind of strength, and you know it, but -

He took a breath, because he was sure he knew what the voice would say, and he wasn't even sure anymore that it was wrong.

- but I do have that strength, Ansem declared, voice growing stronger with every moment until he was an almost physical presence. You need it now. Let yourself take it.

Riku hesitated for only a moment - telling himself It's for Sora's sake, anything for Sora - before he closed his eyes and, for the first time in his life, he surrendered.

It's appropriate, anyway, he thought afterwards, when he saw what change had been wrought on his body, now I can't pretend I'm something I'm not.

*~*~*

Once, before he left to fulfill his purpose, he visited Sora - and found him clasped in the petals of a lotus, suspended in air though not in time. Riku remembered that face perfectly - and he found that it had grown older, that the brunette's clothes were just a bit too small. He didn't mind - change was, after all, inevitable.

Naminé recognized him, even with his new face - but that didn't matter, because Roxas wouldn't. And even if he had recognized his - lover? Riku didn't even know how to describe what they had been - it wouldn't have mattered, because he had found the strength to do what needed to be done.

Eventually, he found Roxas in Hollow Bastion - and he told himself that he didn't feel even a flicker of regret as his keyblade struck the finishing blow.

Returning something that had been lost was nothing to be ashamed of.

*~*~*

"You're leaving, aren't you," Naminé murmured, appearing by Riku's side like a wisp as he stood in front of Sora's lotus, a dark stain on the white perfection.

"Why do you say that," Riku - Ansem - stated more than asked, glance falling down on the tiny blonde.

"Sora's memories will be complete, soon. And I just - I think you're going to leave before Roxas is absorbed. Before Sora comes back," she replied, watching Sora's hair move gently back and forth in some invisible current.

Roxas's re-absorption didn't matter so much to him - two parts would become whole, and Sora would once again be free. Over the time since he'd captured the blonde and brought him back, he'd had a lot of time to think.

Roxas was nothing. Roxas never had been anything.

"I can't… let Sora see me like this," he started, turning his gaze to his friend's face. "I betrayed him too badly. I've spent too much time staring into the darkness - and the darkness has stared back. Just look at me now," he laughed, and Riku's look of sadness and shame looked awkward and out of place on Ansem's face.

"I guess… if that's what you want to do, I can't stop you." She paused then, and after a moment, put her tiny hand on Riku's arm. "Just remember - Sora wants to see you. And… I'm sure Roxas does too, you know. He understands, now, what had to happen."

Riku shrugged, then turned back toward the door.

"In a few hours, he'll be back where he belongs, and then it won't matter. I won't taint Sora with my presence."

The irony wasn't lost on him - where once, they had been two people with one face, now they were one person with two.

With time, he convinced himself that he'd cried Sora's name and not Roxas's that night, so long ago, when the blonde's body had moved against his own, perfect and sinful.

He pretended it didn't bother him when he couldn't forget that other, less youthful face. He pretended it didn't bother him when he couldn't remember it.

*~*~*

Back on the world that hovered between light and dark, tremulously suspended between two conflicting worlds, Riku found - unsurprisingly - that when Sora called for him to come, he couldn't refuse.

He had meant to leave, to go somewhere that Sora would never go, where he would never see Riku's shame. He made a valiant effort - but in the end, he just couldn't say no.

Riku could feel something crack inside him as he watched the boy he loved cry desperately, clinging to his hand as if he'd never been so happy, so relieved, so sad in his life.

Riku's guilt never seemed to end - he was guilty for staying, selfishly unable to leave Sora again even if it was for the better; guilty, now, for having left in the first place. He never said anything, but he wondered if some of those tears belonged to Sora's other half.

He had never loved Roxas, and Sora's tears were more important - so he didn't think about it for the moment, shoving the whisper away for later inspection. He would deal with it later, because he had begun to feel a quiet happiness welling up into his chest as he and Sora began to talk, like they hadn't in so long. He'd almost forgotten what happiness felt like, and he wasn't going to give that up.

*~*~*

"Why? Why did he choose you?!"

Riku had never heard those words, thrown like a desperate accusation at the boy he loved, but he knew their meaning just the same. He had never seen the look on Roxas's face as he stood in the shadow of a memory of the neon tower, never heard Sora's uncomprehending response. But he felt it deeply, instinctively - and he couldn't escape it, no matter how hard he tried.

*~*~*

Midnight, Destiny Islands, far too late - Riku woke to the realization that Roxas had become yet another skeleton in his closet. He shivered as he felt the empty, never-sleeping eyes on him, ceaselessly watching - and a memory struck him of their painful, vivid blue. Sora's blue.

He spent the rest of the night by the sink - heaving and shuddering, tasting bitter acid in his mouth as his stomach tried to rid him of his shame - but he felt no better for it.

Morning rose early on the islands, crawling up from the basin of the sea to find him standing weakly by his window as he watched the tide roll away - for once, not trying to forget.

*~*~*

"Hey, Riku," Sora started, looking up from his half-finished sandcastle, face framed by the glaze of the evening sun over the palm trees. "You ok?" he asked, the worry evident in his eyes. "You've been kinda quiet today."

"Yeah," Riku responded with a half-smile that he knew Sora could see right through. "Don't worry about me, I'm fine."

"Ok," the brunette agreed, even if he knew his friend was lying. He'd always been like that - he figured that people would talk to them when they were ready, and under normal circumstances bothering them about it would only make the situation worse.

Maybe someday, they would talk about it - someday, but not today. Someday, when he didn't look into those eyes and wonder who he was seeing there. Someday, when he'd paid off enough of his debt that he didn't have to be guilty for darkening his friend's world.

Sora looked down at his sandcastle for a moment, then back up at Riku - and without pausing to really think about it, he picked up a shell and offered it to his friend.

"Want to help?" he asked, childish in his enthusiasm, but endearing for all that - and Riku remembered the first day he had known that longing, watching the boy he loved smile like that at someone else over a similar creation.

He took the shell.

A castle wasn't so bad, after all, even if it would wash away by the next morning - they'd just have to build another one the next day.

He looked into Sora's eyes and knew that both of them were watching; and for the first time, he saw an acceptance, a resignation there. And maybe, maybe, the beginning of forgiveness.

When Riku said: "I think it looks best here," placing the faded purple ornament over the front gate with a quick smile, what he really meant was, thank you.

*~*~*

fin

*~*~*

Oh my god, can someone kill me now? Or at least remind me what in hell I was thinking? I've never read any RikuRoku ever before, and suddenly this hits me and I betray two of my favorite ships in any series ever. What have I done to myself? What happened to morals and resolution?

Also, things tend to break when I play with them - and canon is no exception. Please forgive me if I broke any canon here, I wrote this on an insomniac binge and my memory is hardly perfect. The insomnia might also explain some of the other aspects of this fic.

Uh, comment if you liked?