Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom hearts.

Summary: He was a wanderer, a no body—he couldn't even remember his own name. And there she was; hopeless and broken and equally as lost as him. Perhaps what they've been looking for all along is each other. A story about time, loss and love and what it truly means to carry on.

Author's note: A completely different take on things—I wanted to write a fic that focused more on the character's emotional journey than the actual story itself.

Warning: it's a bit lengthy I know, but I didn't think it'd be as effective if I decided to cut it into pieces. Anyway, there are some mature content ahead—nothing too explicit though, but if you're not into that kind of stuff then you don't have to read it.

This is also completely AU. So you don't really have to play the game to necessarily understand this story. No spoilers, but there are various FF cameo appearances and some references to the game itself, but nothing big to get confused over.

I'm really proud of how this one turned out so I really hope you enjoy it.


Lost and Found


He was a stranger from outside of town. It became clearer that he wasn't from around their boarders with the attire he'd worn: a long black coat, fastened with a hood of the same shade; he wore dark, baggy pants that hung fastened to his waist with a belt and boots that were several sizes too big for the average man to be able to walk in.

She was the one to find him washed ashore. At first Kairi thought it was debris from a ship or perhaps some washed up bit of seaweed from the ocean, but as she'd drawn closer she was quick to realize that it was a man.

She only had a fleeting moment of fear and shock before she bolted, feet pounding against the cool surface of the sand, the basket of goods she'd bought at the grocery for supper long forgotten as she went to him.

He was lying face flat in the sand, unresponsive and still, that as she pulled him over (he was rather heavy, she'd noted) she feared that he was already dead. His dark hood fell from his head and her eyes went to his face, which was pale—deathly, ghostly pale, and so cold that it almost made her recoil when she moved her fingers to feel his skin.

She brushed a bit of damp, blond hair from his eyes, which were shut tight, unmoving—enhancing the affect of his ghastly features. If it weren't for his parted lips, where the small, but evident sound of breaths being inhaled and exhaled could be heard, she'd have thought he was dead for sure. She sighed, immensely relieved that it wasn't the case at least.

However, she was helpless on what to do next. She couldn't leave him alone—definitely not—he'd certainly die if she did, but she couldn't possibly hope to carry him all the way to her place. And it was much too late to head back into town and inform the town counsel. She was lucky a couple of locals were driving by and Kairi had called to them at once. After explaining the situation to them, they aided the unconscious man in the direction of her house.

"Lay him on the futon," she gently ordered the two men who'd accompanied her. They did as she'd told and settled him gradually into the mattress, where the stranger heaved a kind of sigh or a grunt—Kairi couldn't make out if it was from reaction to the move or if he was in pain.

She went into the bathroom and filled up a basin with hot water and took a cloth from the linen closet in passing. She soaked the cloth in the water and lightly feathered the wet material over his face—he was slowly working up a fever, she thought, biting her lip in concern.

"Will he be alright?" asked one of the men, as though reading her own thoughts.

Kairi's honest reply was 'I don't know,' but instead she found herself saying, "Don't worry. He'll be fine. He doesn't look like he's sustaining any injuries, so he should recover fast with a good meal and some rest."

The fever seemed superficial enough; she was sure (or hoped) that by morning it'd be gone.

The other man nodded. "Very well," he said. "We'll leave him in your care till then. Be sure to pay a visit to the counselors tomorrow—they'll be wanting to know about this."

Kairi nodded, somewhat distracted as she couldn't seem to take her eyes off the fallen man, before walking the two men out the door and thanking them again for their help. Once she'd closed the door and gone back into the room, she was left to wonder what the next course of action to take. She didn't know what else to do other than make sure his fever didn't spike and that he recovered without difficulty. Other than that, she was helpless and she hated herself for it.

She was a simple island girl. Her life was pretty much mapped out for her. Her parents were neither rich nor poor and had little else to offer their only daughter other than the property they'd owned since her great, great and many more great grandfathers before her time. She'd never once gotten married, although she had loved once, and only once, but that was a long time ago. She'd rather not think about the only love that had failed her. The memory was vague and distant over the years, but the recollection of pain and loss still lingered there—deep in her heart and in her dreams. It was a constant reminder of what she'd tried everyday to forget.

However, the sudden presence of this man was like a twist in her everyday life; an unexpected change in the tides—almost like she was being tugged along with the wind toward the unknown.

Kairi turned her eyes back to him again, stared at his garments carefully before she sighed with evident defeat. She supposed she'd better get him comfy and into some dry clothes, she thought—he'd catch a cold otherwise, sleeping in wet clothes.

She did her best to remove his jacket—it was a little difficult with the zipper—and then his shirt, which clung to him like sweat did on skin during hot, summer days, and when she finally succeeded she did her best not to blush or sputter at the fact that she was undressing a man. A man whom she became aware wasn't as thin or as bony as he'd looked. In fact, she'd have thought his stomach was made of stone—it was so firm and tight; his arms lean and muscular. On his right arm was a tattoo—the roman numerical thirteen like a brand on his skin. She vaguely wondered what it was supposed to mean?

She kept the pants (she'd tortured herself sufficiently with the coat and the shirt as it was) and proceeded to remove his boots.

She went into the back room and pulled out a couple blankets from the shelves. She didn't have any spare shirts that were big enough for his stature, so the blankets would have to do, she thought, and covered him up tightly so that the warmth was unlikely to escape from him. He was still cold though, she noted regretfully, and pale and unmoving—she was beginning to believe he'd stay that way forever, but she couldn't allow herself to think that way. She took his things into the back and hung them out to dry.

When she returned, she was already exhausted—too bone-tired to even fix herself something to eat, but the sudden wretch of coughing immediately alerted her and she forgot all about dinner.

The man was stirring and he was groaning again, as though in pain, as she rushed into the room.

She came to his side at once, placing both hands firmly on his shoulders so as to ease him back into the covers. The man stiffened slightly, having felt her unanticipated presence; he briefly opened his eyes to see who it was and Kairi caught the ephemeral glimpse of blue eyes just as it was clamped firmly back shut again. He was gritting his teeth and clenching his fists tightly together; that look of pain more evident on his once peaceful features.

"Shh…it's okay. It's alright…" she murmured softly, gently pushing him back against the covers—relieved that this time he didn't resist. "Relax. You aren't well—"

"Water…" His voice croaked, but she knew a plea when she heard one. "Water… please."

She went into the kitchen and poured him a glass. As she handed it to him, he nearly dropped it. She was quick to catch the glass between his hands and hold it still. Kairi could see that this man was in no state to be helping himself at the moment and took the cup and moved it towards his lips.

"Drink…" she said and the stranger did as he was told. He'd drunk the substance with a hunger that almost startled her, but she supposed it was natural for anyone to be so thirsty after nearly drinking a gallon of salt from the sea.

And then he was fast asleep again, dozing back into unconsciousness with his hands still in hers. She found it rather strange… how one could look so pale and yet emanate such warmth—not counting the fever. It bewildered her as well as fascinated her.

Without thinking, she found her hand moving again to touch his face. His hair was almost dry, she thought, as she brushed it aside from his eyes. Kairi quirked her head to the side and frowned, a little puzzled as something squeezed itself from the back of her mind—quiet, but tickling. This man… she realized, as she took a closer look at his face, looked familiar. But for the life of her, she couldn't fathom why. She'd never met him before that was for certain, but… and with this she touched his face again, something in her heart kept telling her she had.

000

The following day, Kairi awoke with a start.

She found herself lying on the futon, the sheets drawn to her waist as the morning light shone through her curtain window, bathing where she lay in warmth and sunshine. She stretched her arms, still half asleep and dreaming. She didn't want to move—she was too comfortable and too warm and—

That's when it hit her.

She sat up as if the couch had electrified her. What—what? How in heaven's name did she wind up on the futon? She couldn't honestly remember ever falling asleep that night, despite the evidence of her position and the fact that she was still wearing the clothes she'd worn the day before.

But the apparent, more nagging question surrounding the whole mystery of her sudden lack of memory was perhaps the complete absence of the man who was initially supposed to be sleeping here. She pushed herself from the futon and scrambled, clumsily, to her feet again, grabbing a light shawl as she passed the hall.

She went to the back, where the clothes that she'd hung out to dry were no longer hanging on the line. However, she noticed that the incredibly large pair of boots had remained stationary by the doorway, completely untouched. Kairi felt her heart pick up speed and she made a run back to the futon where she unexpectedly collided into something of an inexplicable force.

"Ow…" she mumbled, rubbing her elbows from the soreness of her fall. What had—?

"Sorry," said a quiet voice, startling her.

Looking upward, she realized she'd ran right into him—she felt her cheeks flush lightly, knowing full well he'd just bore witness to her incredible lack of dexterity.

She blinked a little when his hand settled before her in offering, and she hesitated only for a moment before taking it. The man gently hauled her to her feet with graceful ease, as though she was weightless like the air. At least he'd regained his strength, she thought in awe. And it looked as though his fever was gone too—which was just as comforting.

However, even as she'd regained composure and proper functioning of both feet, there was a succinct moment where they both stood at a halt, her hands still in his while her eyes slowly met his own. And she was struck for a second time by the incredible blueness of his eyes—they were startling and deep and bluer than anything she'd ever seen. Staring into those bottomless pools felt compelling—hypnotizing and calming, and she thought it wouldn't be entirely impracticable just to keep staring at them all day.

It was only a second though, a fraction of that even, before she came to her senses and finally pulled away. But that brief contact left her heart hammering like mad, as though she'd just ran a marathon up and down the beach shore at top speed—she did her best not to even think about the lingering heat that sizzled where he'd touched her. It was unexplainable. It was like lightning had struck her.

She muttered her thanks, but the man merely shrugged.

"I-I was just looking for you," she said, after a while (once she'd finally composed herself). "I see that you're okay now."

The man nodded and said, simply, "I was looking at the sunrise." He indicated out at the front, where the beach could be seen from the door.

"Ah…" she said, looking in that direction also. She smiled slightly. "Do you watch sunrises often?"

"I haven't seen a sunrise in years…" he murmured quietly, turning away from her. "In fact… I don't think I ever did."

Kairi immediately felt horrible for asking. "I'm sorry…" she said in a small voice. "I didn't… I didn't mean—"

He shook his head. "Don't worry about it," he said. "There are a lot of things I don't remember."

The statement was spoken so casually, so impersonally, almost as though he were used it. Kairi felt a remarkable wave of sadness and sympathy for him. She couldn't imagine what he could have possibly gone through to make him forget what the sunrise looked like. For her, she saw it every morning she woke up.

Nevertheless, she'd never had a full appreciation for it as this man obviously did. His eyes, as clear as it was, were clouded in uncertainty, confusion; he looked lost, like a drifting soul who'd been wandering in darkness for years.

The impeccable awe she saw in his face as he gazed up at that glowing, blue horizon made her heart tremble and ache for him. She didn't say anything, however, and just nodded; partly out of fear in saying the wrong thing again.

After a while, she glanced at him and smiled shyly. "Are you hungry?" she said, moving into the kitchen to ready something to eat. He followed her gradually, half in and half out of the kitchen, as though he were uncertain if he was allowed to come in. Although he agreed on her offer.

He didn't say much as she bustled about by the stove. She encouraged him to stay with her; however, he remained where he was by the doorway. She hummed a pleasant tune while she flipped the eggs across the pan, keeping herself busy—trying to pretend she wasn't privy to the way his eyes would watch her every move.

She caught him from time to time whenever she couldn't help it and would smile a little as he made it a point to look away from her. She didn't know what to make of it, but she found she didn't quite mind. Despite his silence, he filled a void; a kind of solitary abyss she hadn't even known was there in the first place. It was comforting, maybe even nice.

And before she knew it, she was chatting animatedly with him (well, she was doing most of the talking anyway), asking him questions—simple and random questions like: "What his favorite color was" or "What he did during his leisure"—just to pass the time.

She was sure that anybody would have been annoyed or have thought her to be a busybody—always so curious about everything—but he didn't seem to mind her constant inquiries in the least and had answered them all, even if they were rather short and slightly vague when she pushed for an explanation.

As it turned out, his favorite color was red—he said it was bright, easily noticed and remembered—he didn't have a favorite pass time though, but he did enjoy a nice, quiet stroll at night. He didn't sleep much and always woke up several hours before dawn; he wasn't much of a coffee person either but he did drink it on occasion. He was 5'7, liked fall better than summer and enjoyed watching the sun go up and go down because he thought it was reassuring—just small tidbits like that. It made Kairi feel as though he were less and less of a stranger the more she asked and the more he answered.

But something was still poking away at her.

"Was it you?" she asked, as she served them some breakfast, which now he was poking away at uninterestedly with a fork. He looked at her and she felt the need to elaborate, "Were you the one who moved me?" She gestured towards the futon.

The man didn't respond at first and for a second, Kairi thought he wasn't going to answer her. And then, in a deep, quiet voice, he said, "Yeah… you were asleep when I woke up, but I didn't want to disturb you. You looked like you'd been awake half the night."

"Oh…" Kairi said and she felt her face turn red again as the realism of his words finally dawned to her. She gaped in horror. "Y-You mean… I… did I fall asleep on you?" She could hear her voice squeak at the idea—it didn't help that he also happened to be half-naked when she'd tended to him last.

To her surprise the man smirked—it wasn't completely out there, just a small curve of his lips—but it confirmed all that she needed to know.

Kairi was mortified—oh, how embarrassing, she thought, her face glowing redder than her hair now; she half-hoped the ground would open up and swallow her. For the remainder of the meal she did not look nor speak to him. In fact, she was too absorbed in her own humiliation that whatever more important questions she may have had for him had flown completely out of mind.

After breakfast, she washed the dishes in silence—she could feel his eyes on her back as she scrubbed at the plates with more than the usual vigor. Even as she informed him she'd be running a bath she still forced herself not to look at him.

He nodded but didn't say any more. She scampered off, grateful for the sanctuary and privacy of her bathroom, where she could properly assess her humiliation dutifully on her own. She rinsed and lathered her hair with high hopes that she may somehow drown herself in the process.

Why was she acting like this? She wondered, staring at herself through her fogged mirror. She was acting as though she'd never been alone with a man before—a very, very handsome man, she reluctantly added after. Well, she had once upon a time, believe it or not, she told her reflection indignantly. She wasn't a novice to these things.

Besides, she'd fallen asleep on him, not with him. There was a big difference.

However, the idea of the latter wasn't all that unappealing now that she'd given herself time to think about it. She bet he could—stop, she thought, angrily shaking her head. This wasn't where she'd intended her mind to wander. He was already so confused and lost as it was—it would be wrong of her to think this way about him, not when he evidently trusted her.

Kairi exhaled through her nostrils, wrapped herself in a towel before slipping out. She was padding her way down the hall towards her room when the distinct sound of shuffling caught her attention. Puzzled, she turned on her heel and… immediately froze.

The blond man blinked twice at her. He clearly hadn't been expecting to catch her walking around with nothing but a towel on. He stood frozen where he was, but his blue eyes had gone conspicuously darker—they seemed to be roaming every inch of her of their own accord. As they stopped to meet her own, Kairi felt her throat dry up at what she saw there. A dark, burning heat, lazy and yet intense—a passion she hadn't thought him capable of for all the emotions he'd hardly displayed.

She felt something inside herself tingle, making her shiver, and she was certain it had nothing to do with being wet and undressed in the middle of the hall but everything to do with the way he was staring at her.

Kairi felt her cheeks flame as she reluctantly tore away from those eyes. "Uh… I didn't see you there," she laughed, nervously. "Did you want to use the shower? We have to meet the town counselors today and talk about what happened."

And just like that, his face had closed up—emotions in check. He was unmoving and as quiet as ever. However, the electricity in his eyes was still there, if not completely faded yet. His voice was short and controlled as he spoke, "Sure."

Kairi nodded. "Okay."

Neither of them seemed willing to move.

"Well, I…" she began and then cleared her throat. "Towels are in the basket. If you need anything else, let me know."

He nodded absently. "Yeah, thanks." He chanced her one more glance from beneath thick eyelashes before he disappeared into the bathroom.

As Kairi reached her bedroom, her knees finally gave way and she sank to the floor, all the while she wondered to herself just exactly what this stranger was doing to her?

000

They arrived at the counselor's building a few hours after that awkward "towel incident", which Kairi promptly chose never to speak of nor think about ever again. The stranger seemed to have agreed with her decision because he didn't brink it up, let alone say anything, for the entirety of their walk.

Needless to say, by the time she finished explaining what had happened the previous night, the town counselors became as deeply intrigued by the newcomer as Kairi had been upon his arrival.

He was a John Doe, an enigma—an anonymous someone or other, as it soon came into light. The stranger bared no identification with him or had any facts or records that may have given the counselors any shred of knowledge as to where he'd come from or how he'd managed to wind up ashore—when quite frankly the nearest island from theirs wasn't for another 250 kilometers. It was either he was an incredible swimmer or had sprouted a pair of wings and had flown there, which was doubtful.

But when posed the question, the stranger had simply shrugged and replied that from what he could remember he'd jumped boats with a couple fishermen several kilometers near their island, however, had ended up getting caught in a storm and their boat capsized. The next thing he knew, he'd concluded, he was drifting onto shore with a blank memory as to what had happened prior to those events.

The counselors sympathized with the stranger for the terrible way he'd arrived to the island, but that still didn't help them understand him any better. He couldn't tell them where he'd come from or even his own name—he couldn't recall a thing. The counselors had no choice but to leave the case be for now, however, they had told him he was welcome to stay on the island. When posed the question as to what he was going to next, the stranger merely shrugged and cast his eyes downward at his boots.

There seemed to be a dark shadow that had loomed over him as he replied, with a sullen, gloomy tone, "That's why I keep wandering. I'm searching for my name." And with a cryptic, bitter smile, he added, "I am searching for myself."

And that had been that.

Kairi had agreed to let him stay at her place for as long as he needed. He was mildly surprised at her unexpected offer, but had nodded in agreement and with gratitude.

Even though things had ended awkward between them that morning, she couldn't stand seeing that unemotional, dead look in his eyes even more—not when she saw them so blue and so alive not too long ago. If she allowed herself to admit it, she knew she was afraid… there was just something off about him she couldn't quite explain and it made her desperately want to keep an eye on him—to keep him safe. She could see the darkness slowly trekking across the contours of his face more and more and that worried her more than it frightened her—the way he completely withdrew in himself for shelter and protection, she didn't like it. She didn't want that. She didn't want him to fall away or hide or seclude himself from her.

She may not really know who he was, but she knew the gloomy atmosphere that was hovering over him like a shadow didn't suit him at all. She wanted him to be happy, if only for a little while.

She wasn't completely sure why this was suddenly so important to her, but deep in her heart she knew that this was what she wanted. So, as they left the counsel's building, walking silently side by side, she reacted out on instinct and grabbed for his hand.

Blue eyes went fractionally wide as he looked at her and then down at their closed fingers. Normally she would have been embarrassed over such rash impulses—would have pulled away with a blushing face and an apology prompt and ready—but looking at him now, his face so comically puzzled that it made him look boyish and young, she couldn't bring herself to feel flustered over her decision. Instead she tightened her grip on his hand and gave his fingers a gentle squeeze.

His features automatically softened, and suddenly there was only light and blue and wonder. It battled some of the shadows that had been over his eyes awhile ago. She gave his arm a slight tug, a small but tender smile on her face.

He looked faintly amused—he sighed in content as she tugged on his arm some more, a bubble of laughter escaping her lips, and he let her; went with her willingly. In his eyes, she saw something certain and true, something she knew would always be constant—it told her he would have followed her anywhere if it meant having her hold him like this.

Immense warmth burst from a damn in her chest where it spread from her heart and to the rest of her; she didn't know what was happening to her, but she thought it wasn't so bad—this feeling of wholeness and sense of right. It had been so long since she felt this complete, so long since she felt her life wasn't in pieces. Something inside her kept nagging when it would all end. But she didn't want to think about that, not right now; she'd bask in this beautiful wonderment and just let herself be… because, really, how long had it been since she allowed herself to be this truly happy?

She just laughed again as she lead them towards the beach—towards home, and he followed her readily, without thought or hesitation.

And they fell into habit again. She'd ask him all sorts of questions and he'd answer them, no matter how silly or how strange or how insignificant they happened to be. He certainly didn't seem to think so.

She was eager to know more about him, what he liked, what he disliked—anything and everything he could offer. He never seemed to tire from her endless needling either—he actually seemed to latch on to it, almost as though her questions were the only thing he could properly understand about himself.

And he still watched her a lot too; still with that restrained and carefully controlled electric blue in his eyes that went soft and twinkling only for her. She wasn't nearly as nervous around him as she used to be. Instead, when she was cooking or tending to the flowers in her gardens—and she learned that he often like to watch her, curious and interested in everything she did—and catch him staring she'd just smile, bright and unabashed—a smile completely reserved for him—before demanding he'd get over here and help her.

Not too long later, he was asking and inquiring about her. It kind of baffled and surprised her the first time he'd come up and asked her what color she liked—it'd been so out of the blue that at first all she could was gap at him.

He had been so shy and yet so serious and straightforward about her answer—"I like blue," she said, staring into his own blue orbs for emphasis, "because they're beautiful and remind me of the sky"—and she briefly wondered how long it took him to finally work up the courage to ask her. But it was that question alone that had become the catalyst to many others to come.

He rarely questioned her about anything before, as if he was still uncertain about whether he was allowed to or not, but she could tell he was just as curious about her as she was about him.

She always tried to encourage him to ask her things, but she didn't want to push him too much if it was too overwhelming. She was so happy that he was learning to open up more; even if it was only little by little, it was enough to send her into instant euphoria every time he went up to her and asked her another question—"What kind of books do you like?"

It made that sense of warmth and light in her heart grow more and more the longer she spent with him. Kairi was positive that this closeness probably wasn't healthy for her or even practical—surely this kind of happiness wasn't bound to last, at least not for her (never for her), but she was helpless against it, against him. Every time she thought she could reinstate the boundaries, the logic—at least some form of wall between them—it all came tumbling down the moment he looked at her with those deep blue, blue eyes of his and she'd realize she'd never stood a chance. Whether she liked it or not, she was his for the taking.

He's going to wind up breaking my heart, she thought knowingly, once, as she'd instructed him on how to plant flowers in the garden. Small things like these made him look more and more like a child and it occurred to her that they probably could never stay this way forever.

Maybe the sadness was on her face and she didn't even know it because he was suddenly standing in front of her, staring at her, concern etched on his face and even clearer in his eyes—he could never really hide anything from her through those eyes.

"What's the matter?" he asked, his voice soft, but there was caution poised behind there.

Kairi plastered a smile on her face, but it was delicate and didn't light up her eyes the way they usually did. "It's nothing. I'm fine," she said and hated that her voice had given herself away. She turned her back on him in hopes to hide this wretched, selfish, sad part of her that wanted to keep him to herself, even though she was aware she couldn't do that.

"No." His voice was firm and harsh but gentle and calm as he followed her. He reached over and curled a finger on her chin, tentatively, but with enough self-assurance to raise her face back to his. His brows were narrowed but his face was soft and worried and almost desperate. "Don't hide from me," he said, making her eyes go round and her mouth part—she'd never heard him be so forward before. She saw that he knew it too, and so much more quietly and gently he said, "Don't hide from me."

He was cradling her face, his hands broad and callused, but with an air of fragility—as though he was carrying something delicate and precious in them. This was the first time he'd ever touched her like this, and the thought made her knees tremble and she stumbled forward just before he caught her. He hoisted her into his arms with ease and she didn't protest—not that she could anyway; he was holding her against him so tightly it was like he was afraid she'd disappear if he should let her go.

And she realized she wasn't the only one who was afraid.

She wound her arms around his neck and shoulders and buried her face into his shirt, which smelt like sea, wind and ocean and soap and home. She couldn't imagine ever letting him go now.

He seemed to understand this need of hers (it was the same for him) as he lowered her down onto her bed. Without relinquishing his hold on her, he pulled the blankets over the both of them before settling down against the mattress and pulling her with him. They shifted around some more until they found a position they were comfortable in: legs tangled together, she was lying, face turned towards the wall, while he lay behind her; his arm slung possessively across her waist and his face buried into side of her neck, where she could feel him deeply inhaling her hair.

She probably should have taken time to assess this new development. It was far too intimate, too close. It'd been a long time since she had a man in her bed and the fact that she still didn't know the most important thing about him yet should have immediately made her realize that this was crossing very dangerous borders—that it was wrong. However as she moved slightly, felt the hand at her waist pull her closer to lean chest, she couldn't understand how something so wrong could feel so incredibly right.

It felt too right to be like this with him for it to be wrong—to fit so perfectly in each others' arms like they were pieces of a puzzle that had been turned in the proper direction. Well, even if this was wrong, Kairi thought as she splayed her fingers between his and held them together, even if this moment couldn't last forever, she'd relish it until it was over.

And they stayed that way, all throughout the night—just two lonely souls keeping each other warm.

000

The following morning, she awoke to blue. Kairi thought maybe she might have been dreaming—she did have a wonderful dream the night before, so calm and peaceful and so full of blue that she was literally swimming in them.

Soft blue, and deep and rich—they watched her with entire fascination. Sunlit hair tickled her forehead and absently, she brought a hand to brush them aside. A soft sigh of contentment washed over her face and she felt her lips move upward into a smile.

"Hi," she whispered, looking up at him this time. She noted that he still had his arms wrapped around her.

His own mouth curved into a tiny smirk. "Hey," he murmured back. They stayed that way for a few minutes, quiet, and simply mesmerized in each others' gazes. Kairi felt she could stay this way forever.

She was running her hand up and down his right arm until she felt the cool texture of the imprint she'd found weeks ago as she was tending to him. Pulling his sleeve upward a bit, she spotted the Roman numeral XIII—thick black and small, but bold. She always saw it there, sometimes when he was just fresh out of the shower or when he'd roll his sleeves up his arms to help her lift something. It was like a part of him, a part of who he was, and yet it seemed so wildly out of place—like a big fat question mark. He never seemed to take any interest in it like she did, seemed to have accept that it was there.

"What's this for?" she asked softly before she could help herself, and he titled his head to look at it.

He was quiet for a moment; brows slightly scrunched together in concentration, before he exhaled a long awaited breath and shook his head.

"I don't know," he mumbled. "I've had it since I woke up on this island. I don't know what it means."

Kairi sighed. "I'm sorry," she said gently. "I didn't mean to—"

"Don't be sorry," he told her firmly, squeezing her soothingly. "It's okay. If it were anybody else but you I would have minded, but it is you so I don't." He exhaled a breath and looked at her, sheepishly. "I like it when you ask me questions," he said truthfully.

Kairi felt herself smile again.

This was going to be so hard, she thought, as he toyed with a stray lock of her hair and tucked it behind her ear. Letting him go was going to be hard and she wasn't sure she could do it—she wasn't sure she was strong enough to do it.

This scenario was vaguely reminding her about the last time she had to let someone go, someone she'd desperately loved—she promptly squashed that thought down before it could make a mess out of her again. He of the past and he of the present were completely different people, she knew, and yet couldn't help the idea as she brushed her fingers over his blond hair and stared deep into his eyes that they could be so similar.

They had the same eyes, she thought. The same deep blue. It was one of the many reasons she loved her first, among his other qualities. He was upbeat and warm and always had a smile on his face like it was born that way—he could make her laugh and forget her worries. He was never shy and he never held back; he loved her the same way he'd lived life: so full and open and carefree, without inhibitions or regrets. He had made her feel alive as well, so whole and so happy. She thought their lives would stretch on forever in this kind of happiness… She should have known better.

He left, had to go someplace far away. He wouldn't tell her where, only that it was important to him. He'd stare out into that ocean—the ocean that he loved—and she knew something else greater, something far more significant than she, was calling him there.

"Well, are you coming back?" she had asked as they lay on her bed one night, tangled together in the sheets with her head against warm chest.

He was prompt in answering her, with a ready smile and his blue eyes twinkling, "Of course I'm coming back."

"You promise?" she'd whispered.

He nodded. "I promise," he replied.

And the next day, he was gone and she was alone. She waited for him for days, at first anxiously—every morning she'd get up and watch the sun rise, and hope that as she'd stared his figure would appear in the distance. Those days had turned into weeks and still she kept waiting. She'd missed him terribly. Her longing made her chest beat painfully each day she'd waited and was disappointed.

And then those weeks had rolled by into months and still she'd kept waiting. However, she grew doubtful in his absence, sometimes wondering to herself whether or not he was planning on coming back—both wondered and feared that maybe… he had found something better where he was and didn't want to return. But she believed in their promise, in his promise, to come back to her, and she knew he'd never make a promise he knew he wouldn't keep. That was just who he was… and she trusted him completely.

But then those months had gradually turned into years. During the first two years, she was still hopeful, although not nearly as much anymore. Every now and then, whether it was due to habit or if she was still somewhat optimistic, she found herself turning towards the ocean again, eyes scanning around as though in search of something. But she'd never ever find it, knew she'd never find it, and then move ahead. Then the rest of the years she simply forced herself to stop waiting, to stop hoping and thinking about him—she was more confident now that he wasn't coming back to her. And she couldn't help but wonder if he was happier where he was—sincerely hoped he was—and that he was safe and had found what he was looking for.

She didn't bear him any grudges for not keeping his promise to her. How could she? He had been a good man; so devoted and honest and always with something to say that would make her laugh. He had brightened up her life and made her so happy—even though it was short-lived, she knew without a doubt she'd been happy.

However, a part of her—that complete part of her that had loved him—knew she'd never be the same again. He had left a hole in her heart; a large gash that was ripped and jagged at the edges, making no room or giving any hopes for repair. She was broken and lost and hopeless—a lingering body who was living, but not completely and wholly alive. When he left, he had taken a huge part of her with him—a part of her that she was positive she could never get back.

Thinking about him was bittersweet—it always brought a sad but fond smile to her face. She didn't know how she could possibly love someone else as much as she'd loved him—she didn't think she could. It seemed impossible.

But at the present, being tangled and held so tenderly in the arms of this nameless man—a man who had the same beautiful, blue eyes—she felt whole again; complete. It was as though he had given that part of herself that she'd loss back to her again.

This man was nothing like her first love, that she knew for sure—their difference was so startling that she'd have to have been deranged or totally blind not to see it.

He was quiet and reclusive and shy—very, very shy, most especially around her. He was careful and practiced and calm and collected and was never entirely sure of himself; there was always something to hold back, always something to stop and think and maul over carefully to himself. He always assessed the situation, always got his facts straight and always made sure he was certain of himself before he did or said anything—nothing about him was ever half-assed. He was serious—he had always been serious about her, like everything they did was handled with a great deal of importance.

But he was warm and curious and always, always gentle. His smile was small, and his laugh was almost entirely non-existent, but they were both made in earnest and with meaning and it did wonders to her heart knowing that he was trying.

His eyes always expressed what words could not; he wasn't very conversational after all, and she usually had to be the one to coax things out of him, but mostly he could never hide anything from her when she'd gaze into his eyes. They were always honest with her, always open and willing.

He was different—so very different—and yet he made her feel both wanted and needed. He made her feel special.

He may not be very adequate when it came to expressing himself, but she saw it in everything he did. In the way he looked at her—like she was something rare and beautiful and meant to be cherished. It was in the way he was always curious to understand and get to know her more, always asking her questions and answering her own in return. It was in the way he was attentive while she'd prattled on about nothing or when she was cooking or tending to her flowers—he watched and listened like her words and actions were something profound, to be awed; he'd always look at her with that boyish expression and her heart would melt. And it was in the way he held her—she felt his strength, his confidence and assurance spilling from the tightness of his arms and the warmth of his breath.

And before she knew it, she was falling—helplessly and utterly—all over again.

When is this going to end? She wondered, because she saw the way his eyes would look across the ocean sometimes.

She knew that look all too well. It was a look that said he was leaving, that this happiness wasn't bound to last and that she'd find herself sporting another, irreparable wound in her already broken heart if she did not stop this soon. But she couldn't. She was too far gone now to stop. She was already his.

He brushed his fingers over the soft paleness of her cheek. "What are you thinking about?" he asked, and he looked so boyish and young when he looked at her like this and smiled.

Kairi hesitated a little, but she knew she was incapably of lying to him. "I was thinking about ...my first love," she admitted quietly.

He shifted in her arms. "Oh?" he said, and it sounded too casual and inquisitive that if Kairi wasn't so in tune to the slightest fluctuation of his behavior she'd never have caught the underlying tension and practiced carefulness he hid beneath it all. And if his eyes wasn't enough of a giveaway she didn't know what was—something in their depths when she'd mentioned her former love interest had shrank back, had tightened and darkened—but his face was the perfect state of neutrality and betrayed the contrary.

He looked down at where his hand was curled at the side of her hip, seemed to be battling himself with something before, finally, he braved another question, "What about him?"

"You remind me of him sometimes," she said softly, and she gazed upward. "Especially your eyes. They're the same."

If he was by any way startled by this, he didn't show it. Nonetheless, the tightness of his eyes grew tenfold. "Do I?" he said, and what he said next was even more careful, "I mean… do I really remind you of …of him?"

"You did at first. When we first met," she confessed. "But you're different." And more to herself, she said, "You're not the same."

"Does… does that upset you?" he ventured after a gradual pause, and she heard a sliver of fear in his voice, just barely there. "That I'm not… him?"

Kairi felt her heart swelled up, and she wasn't sure why. She grasped the hand that had been tracing her cheek and pressed it firmly to her face, staring at him with finality.

"Never," she said.

He closed his eyes and exhaled, relaxing a little. His lips, however, were still nothing more than a thin, hard line across his face.

"And where is he now?" he asked, and his voice sounded tired, weary…resigned.

"I don't know," she said, shaking her head. "He had to leave, but he promised me he'd come back." She sucked in a sharp breath as a flash of pain shot through her. She clenched and unclenched her fists as she said, "Well, I've stopped waiting for that…"

He opened his eyes and they were so blue, so open and so vulnerable, she thought he looked almost sad. "Why?" he said. And looking down again, he mumbled, "You obviously loved him."

Kairi nodded. "I did love him," she said, so much. "But I couldn't put my life on hold any longer. I had to move on. I had to…" she choked, unable to continue; she felt her eyes grow hot. I had to force myself to forget.

He watched her quietly for a moment before he pulled her towards him. He tucked her beneath his chin while she pressed her face into his chest; breath shaky and arms trembling. She didn't know when she started crying, but when she did it was a wretched, broken sob that had escaped her lips—the tears she hadn't shed for years seemed to be poring out of her, sucking her dry until there was nothing left. She didn't know if she'd be able to stop.

He didn't say anything throughout it all, just simply held her tightly to him. She embraced and basked in his comfort and in his incredible warmth—for once, knowing it was okay to let herself admit she'd been hurt.

When she was finished, her eyes were red, her face puffy and his t-shirt drenched. She gingerly fingered the material with her fingers.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, her voice still too raw to sound normal yet. "I didn't mean to unload this onto you…"

He shook his head and the tips of his blond hair tickled her forehead. "Don't be sorry," he said and heard as he took a deep, measured breath. "And you shouldn't give up on him either," he said quietly. "I'm sure he'll come back."

Kairi gently pulled away from him, staring at his face. He looked tired and worn, and defeated. And she realized—it clicked in her head—of what he must have been thinking. Her first love coming back would mean the end of this… the end of them… of whatever it was that they had, and he'd have to leave, for sure.

Kairi felt her heart constrict—the pain of thinking that was much more painful than the pain she'd been harboring for years. Crying seemed like a release, the focal point for her. She was able to breathe again, like she'd been living underwater all this time and was coming up for air. Thinking of her first love had hurt, yes, and if she cared to admit it she knew, in a way, it always will, but they were called memories for a reason: they were meant to be remembered, not substituted for reality.

This was the present and she'd focus on that. If what they had was meant to be a memory too then she'd cherish it until it was over. She knew, eventually, she'd be hurt again, but that didn't mean she couldn't enjoy the good times while they lasted. She'd deal with the goodbyes when that finally came.

She raised a hand to touch his face. When he looked at her, weary and with restraint, she smiled, full and with certainty.

"He was a good man," she said, "and I loved him fiercely. I always will." As he moved to look away, she held on to him and pressed, "But I need to move on. I have. There isn't any going back for me." She knew when she'd said this, she meant it, was sure of it.

He still seemed doubtful however; his brows pushed slightly together.

"What we had was short and wonderful, and I'll always treasure it," she said, running her hands up the fabric of his shirt where it stopped to the sound of his pounding heart. "But I'm here. I'm here now." She gazed at him directly; she wanted him to see, to understand. "This is where I want to be," she said firmly, "And no where else."

He looked like something heavy had been removed from his shoulders and the tension she felt in his arms seemed to ease away at the sound of her words. His eyes were bright and blue and soft, his face boyish and shy and young and his smile full and wide and relieved. He looked like a changed man—he looked like a man whole, shadows conquered and vanished and he was left simply feeling content.

He pulled her back into his arms and buried his face into her hair, sighing. "You make me so happy," he said into her ear. "Do I make you happy, Kairi?"

Kairi closed her eyes, wrapped her arms around his middle tightly and heard a sigh of her own escape smiling lips.

"Always."

000

There was a subtle but definite change in the way things were between them. They still had breakfast together, she still asked him a multitude of questions, which he answered readily, and he still liked to watch her cook and helped her tend to the gardens, but things were undoubtedly different come nightfall.

He'd stopped sleeping on the futon and half-way through the night came crawling into bed with her. At first she barely noticed—by the time she was awake he was already up and about the house, hardly any indication he'd been in her room at all, but there was a distinct warmness that she felt on her surface of her skin, which she was positive had nothing to do with the blankets.

And then it became more and more apparent as the days went on; she was able to discern the quiet dip of the mattress, the slight shift of the blankets, before she was enveloped in strong arms and pressed against lean chest.

To return the gesture, she'd sometimes turn in her sleep, snuggle close so that her nose could smell his shirt, and hold him tighter to her. And in the mornings, just before she was awake, she thought she felt his lips brush themselves lightly over her forehead, before he gently pried himself from her arms.

They never talked about it, but that seemed to be just fine for Kairi. She was happy. And from the way he'd shyly glance at her from the corner of his eyes as they ate breakfast, lips curved into a small but evident smile, she knew he was too. It was a silent ritual between them.

"I'm going to the market today," she said. "I need to refurbish on supplies." He chuckled when she gave him a pointed look, but she was smiling. "Do you want to come with me?"

"Sure," he said, readily.

It was easier taking his hand this time, not as random or as desperate. Just the sliding of her fingers in his, which he was prompt to squeeze back.

She showed him around town, pointing at particular stores and vendors. It was amusing, watching him look around—he looked like a child, who was staring at his surroundings for the first time. And she had a thrill showing him how to pick fruits and vegetables; it was rare for someone not to know what an asparagus looked like and watching his face contort between confusion and determination made a bubble of mirth and warmth and affection touch her lips.

He gave tried to give her a stern look in return when he noticed her teasing look, but it failed in contrast to the light in his eyes and the twitch of his mouth. Kairi laughed again and tugged him along.

"Maybe we should get you some more shirts," she said as they passed by a clothing store, but something else had caught her eye. "Oh!"

She made a dash towards a small store at the corner, her blond companion jogging to keep up with her.

"Let's go in here," she said, pointing at the doorway, which read "Radiant Garden" in black metallic iron. "I love this store."

He shrugged easily and followed her in.

It was a little odds-and-ins store; they always had an assortment of strange but interesting things to sell or bargain for. Hardly anyone came into this shop or even knew it was here—it was a bit old, but that was one of the reasons why Kairi was so drawn to it; it exuded mystery and rarity that every time she came in here she never failed to find something new.

Kairi wandered ahead until she was at the part of the store which she spent the most time looking through. Her blond friend stuck close beside her, but his eyes roamed around the store in evident curiosity. He seemed predominantly interested in the swords display and kept eying the blade that had been, literally, sculpted into the shape of a very large key.

She gave his arm a gentle squeeze. "Why don't you look around?" she suggested. "I'll just be over there." She pointed at the corner of the store.

He nodded and she went along her way.

The shelves were stocked in old, leather-bound books—cook books, gardening books, knitting books, old children's books, a whole variety—and small treasure boxes and trinkets all about.

She was flitting through some old jewelry when one in particular caught her attention. She picked it up by the silver chain and fingered the delicate, opal bead that hung to it. It was beautiful.

"Find anything you like?" said a voice. Kairi looked up. An elderly man was sitting by the cashier. When he saw the pendent in her hands he smiled. "Beautiful, ain't she?"

Kairi looked back down at the pendent again and nodded. "Yeah," she agreed softly. "It is."

By this time, blond hair had appeared next to her.

"Why don't you try it on?" The elderly man encouraged.

"Can I?" said Kairi, too ecstatic for words.

"The mirror is right here," said the man, pointing in front of her.

She turned to her blond friend, who was watching her carefully, and held out the necklace to him. "Do you mind?" she asked, smiling slightly, and his face softened.

"Sure."

He took the pendent from her hand as she turned around; pulling her red hair from her neck to ensure it didn't get in the way. She watched his reflection in the mirror as they looked at her, blue eyes going out of focus for a second, before he walked towards her.

She could feel his breath against her neck as he slid the chain around her and clasped it, his fingers brushing her skin and making her shiver.

"Thank you," she murmured, glad that her voice didn't shake, but inside she was trembling from head to toe. His touch was like heat and coolness—they burned and made her quiver all at once.

He clenched his jaw and nodded, still staring at her in a way that made the bottom of her stomach churn pleasantly. "No problem," he said tightly.

He seemed reluctant to step back from her and when he finally did it was with an exhalation of breath and electricity in his eyes. Kairi felt her throat close up and her heart beat faster and the knot in her stomach twist higher and higher.

A small cough brought Kairi immediately back to attention—she flushed as she turned back to the old man, realizing that in her moment of confusion she'd forgotten he was there.

"It looks good on you," he said. And turning to her blond friend, he said, much more meaningfully, "Doesn't it?"

Kairi saw the surprise in his eyes at having been addressed, but it was short and gone in a flash.

He looked at her again—blue eyes roaming across her face, slowly, as though trying to memorize it; over her eyes, her lips, where he stopped at for a little while longer, before finally settling his gaze on her neck, where the pendent lay glinting beneath faded fluorescent lights.

Kairi wasn't even aware she'd been holding her breath until he answered, quietly and deliberately, while meeting her eyes again:

"Yes."

It was just one word, but there was a quantum of things she heard and felt while hearing it.

He wanted her. Right there and now.

Kairi forced herself to turn away, because, quite frankly, she knew if she kept staring back she'd eventually give in—give in to that feeling that said she wanted him too. Just as much.

"H-How much for the necklace?" she asked finally.

The store clerk seemed faintly amused by something. "It's 800 munny," he said, and Kairi almost blanched. The man chuckled. "But for the lovely lady, I'm willing to charge 500."

"That's really nice of you, but even at 500 I still don't have enough money." Kairi sighed and unclasped the necklace. "It's okay. Maybe next time," she said, although she was reluctant to put it back down.

"I'll pay for it." Kairi turned around, eyes wide as her blond companion took a step forward.

"What? No! It's okay," she stuttered, placing a hand on his arm to stop him. "You don't have to."

He raised a brow at her. "I know," he said, as he took out a wad of cash from his pocket, "but I want to." Kairi didn't know what to say to that. He turned his eyes away from her. "I only have 350 on me right now," he told the store clerk, "but I'll give you the rest as soon as I can."

The man was still smiling that amused little smile of his. "With that kind of generosity, just pay what you have and keep the rest."

Now Kairi was gaping. "What?" she said in disbelief, looking between the both of them, "But—"

"Are you sure?" said the blond man.

"Quite," said the elder, cheerfully. "In all my years, I know you should never ever try to put a price on something like love." He turned to Kairi, wise, knowing eyes twinkling. "You've got yourself a good man here, miss—a definite keeper." He gave her a wink.

Kairi blushed up a storm. Love? She hardly dared look at her friend when she thought this—she was both fearful and anxious on what she'd find there if she did. It wasn't a complete mystery to herself that she was in love with him, but she still had yet to figure out his own feelings and what that implied. Even though he watched her, slept beside her and said things to her that would warrant an immediate indication that he returned her feelings, there was still a part of her that was afraid to acknowledge it. What if she was wrong and she'd just been seeing things? No, she couldn't possibly let herself hope for anything.

To her blond friend, the shop keeper said, "And you, sir, you're pretty lucky yourself you know that?"

Kairi didn't think there was ever going to be an end to her blushing fits, and if it was likely her face just kept getting redder and redder.

The blond simply chuckled, not the least bit ruffled or embarrassed by this. "I know," he said—and just the way he said it, so naturally and so sure of himself, as though this was an actual truth; it made Kairi feel like maybe her heart had stopped beating again.

The elder seemed to be satisfied with his answer. "You take care of her now."

Kairi sputtered helplessly, her face resembling that of a ripe tomato.

"S-Sir, please!" she said, in embarrassment, doing her best (and failing) not to think about the suggestion of those words. They weren't like that. They were just friends. Didn't he realize her blond friend wasn't from around here? That sooner or later, he'd have to leave to again?

She hoped that this didn't put pressure on her friend to have to stay here with her. He owed her no obligations to do such a thing, even though her heart wished for him to stay.

But the elderly man simply smiled and nodded at her blond companion, who was looking at him with the clearest of eyes.

They seemed to be having their own silent conversation in which Kairi was not apart of. She watched as her companion's face sobered—and he was serious, dead serious in fact, as he nodded with new found resolution. "I will."

Kairi swallowed, not knowing what else to say. She fiddled with the strap of her bag, worrying her lip, as she watched the blond man hand the elder his money.

He then turned to Kairi, who was still blushing and fumbling, smiled a small smile, and held out the necklace to her. "For you," he said, and his voice was soft and gentle, and beside herself, she was unable to stop from reaching out and taking the chain from him.

"You didn't really have to," she whispered, shaking her head as she put it on.

"Kairi," he said, and she loved the way he said her name, "I bought it because I wanted to, not because I thought I had to."

She nodded. "Thank you," she said.

She touched the opal lovingly with her fingers and felt a burst of happiness explode from deep inside her. It was so beautiful, she thought in awe. Looking at him again, she saw that he was watching her and she hoped that everything she wanted to tell him was clear on her face—she wanted him to know just how happy he made her feel and how truly grateful she was for the gift.

She whispered another, "Thank you" to him as he took a step closer to her and slid his hand in her own.

He smiled, fingers locking and giving them a gentle squeeze. "You're welcome."

000

On the way home, Kairi kept pausing every now and then to admire the necklace. She just couldn't take her eyes of it—it was so gorgeous, especially when the sun would hit off against the opal stone and make it shine a million other different colors. She didn't own a lot of jewelry at home—didn't have quite the knack for wearing them either—but this little trinket had caught her eye almost immediately when she saw it, and she couldn't ever think of turning it away.

"You should watch where you're going," said her blond friend, who was holding the basket of goods they'd bought at the market, his smirk amused and teasing.

"But it's so pretty!" she reasoned, and as if to prove this her eyes sought out the necklace again. "I'll wear it every single day—I won't take it off!" she said, beaming at him.

He chuckled softly, his blue eyes so vibrant and clear and deep. It made Kairi reach out and take his hand again.

"We should definitely go back there next time," she said as she playfully swung their joined hands together. "That man was really nice." Despite…his rather inexplicable talent for saying things that always brought up the awkward meter.

He nodded. "We should."

They walked for several minutes in peaceful silence, simply enjoying each others' company when Kairi thought she heard someone from a distance call her name. Frowning, she dropped his hand and turned around. She spotted a couple of guys she knew way back in school.

"Kairi, hey," said one guy with bright copper-colored hair; he still had a thick accent, even after all these years spent on the island. His smile was wide and affectionate on his incredibly tanned face—she always found his smile to be the most defining thing about him, they were very contagious.

"Hey, Wakka," she greeted, grinning back.

"You remember Zack, yeah?" he asked, turning to the other man beside him.

Dark-haired, blue-eyed, charming smile—how could she forget? Back in school, he was a regular smooth-talker; very flirty and friendly with everybody, specifically the ladies. It was difficult to forget someone who'd called her a babe the first time they'd met. If she didn't already know Zack was nice person beneath that all—one who couldn't help being overly friendly with people—she'd never have put up with his nonsensical flirting as much as she had over the years. Being easygoing and pleasant was just part of Zack's impeccable charm.

"It's been awhile, Kairi," he said, his smile easy as he took her hand and planted a kiss on it. He looked back at her appreciatively, "You look good."

She smiled indulgently as she pried her hand from his. "You do too. How's Aerith doing?" she said.

"She's good. Still kicking me into shape," he said, chuckling.

She felt her blond friend shift in his place beside her. "Oh, guys, this is…this is…" she bit her lip, remembering she didn't quite know what his name was either. Instead she opted for the general approach and hoped that that would be enough for Wakka or Zack not to ask questions, "He's a friend of mine."

Unfortunately, recognition seemed to have dawned on Zack's face.

"Oh, I heard about you!" he said. "You're that guy that was found washed up on shore!" Kairi could have sworn the blond flinched. Zack hardly noticed. "Damn that must have been rough, man. Are you able to remember stuff yet?"

"Uh—"was all her friend could really say in return. He shifted some more in his place and Kairi could sense that he was getting uncomfortable. She knew he was still particularly sensitive to the topic of his identity and didn't quite like anybody else—other than her—knowing he still couldn't remember his name. She felt a fierce, overwhelming need to protect him and she was in front of him before she realized her feet had carried her there.

"Zack, I don't think that's any of your business," said Kairi gently, reaching out behind her to clasp her friend's hand—he took hers, his grip a little tight but she didn't let go.

Wakka rolled his eyes. "Just ignore him," he told the blond. "Sometimes Zack doesn't know when he's about to say something stupid."

"Hey!"

"It's true," Wakka snorted.

Kairi laughed. She knew Zack didn't mean any harm by it when he'd asked, but she was still glad Wakka was there to help. Even her blond friend cracked a faint smile.

"So, what brings you guys here?" she said.

"Reno's hosting a reunion party tonight at his place," said Wakka with a shrug. "We're hoping you might come."

"I don't know," said Kairi with some uncertainty in her tone as she thought about her friend. She didn't want to leave him alone. "Maybe not tonight."

"C'mon, Kairi," Zack wheedled. "It's been years since we've seen you. At least come for a little while so that you could see everybody again."

"I'll think about it," said Kairi quietly, nodding.

"Well, you know the place if you decide to come," said Wakka, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze. And then turning to the blond he said, "Don't be a stranger; feel free to come too."

"Yeah," said Zack as he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, "Sorry about earlier," he said to the blond. "I didn't mean to pry."

The blond just nodded but didn't say anything.

"Zack, c'mon already," said Wakka impatiently. "We still gotta drop by at Selphie's."

"See you around, Kairi," said Zack, walking slowly away and grinning goofily at her. "Hey, are you sure you don't want to go out—"

Wakka caught him by the scruffs of his shirt and started dragging him along. "Let's go," he muttered.

"Hey—Wakka, I was just kidding—let go!" Zack twisted around to wave at her one last time. "Later Kairi—ouch, damnit, Wakka—"

Kairi giggled and waved at them.

As she turned back to her blond friend, she immediately took in his sullen expression—or rather, his lack of. His face was impassive, lips thin and his blue eyes deficient in their usual luster. If Kairi didn't know any better—and she did—she'd never have guessed he was upset.

Something was obviously eating away at him; she really hoped he wasn't still offended by Zack—the man was a natural goofball, but he was too much of a sweetheart to deliberately harm anyone.

Worried, she touched his face. "Hey," she said softly, "what's wrong?" He looked a little hesitant to say. "If it's what Zack said, he didn't mean anything—"

"It's not Zack," he said, cutting her off gently.

"Then what is it?" she said.

Hesitation again. Kairi wondered what it was exactly he was too afraid to tell her.

"It's nothing," he finally said, but he didn't quite meet her eyes when he said this. It clearly wasn't 'nothing', she thought, and when she told him this, he just sighed, a little tiredly, and shook his head. "It's nothing," he repeated, his voice soft and firm and final and she would have let it go if not for the fact that his eyes didn't quite match his words.

Kairi took a step closer so that they were standing so close their noses barely touched each others'.

Still cupping his face she whispered, "Do you remember what you told me that last time?" He averted his gaze abruptly—a clear sign that suggested he did remember. "Then you should know by now it's the same for me too," she pressed on, making him look at her again and his face was open, vulnerable and young while his eyes screamed for the assurance of those words. "I don't want you to hide from me either."

Her words were like a trigger. He expelled a shaky breath before crushing her against him, his face buried against her throat.

Kairi wasn't sure if she could go on having her heart repeatedly stopped like this—it felt so wonderful that she'd almost forgotten what the point was.

"What—"she gasped, but he just pressed closer to her. "What's—"

"Please," he murmured, his breath hot and harsh and almost erratic against her neck. "Please… just let me hold you for a little while," he whispered.

She could hardly breath with the way he was holding her, but she thought the way he did it felt a little desperate, a tinge fearful… almost like he thought this would be the last time he'd be able to do it. A bubble of dread and anxiety rushed through her at the sudden thought and she gripped at his shirt just as tightly—not wanting to ever let him go.

"Okay," she agreed, voice barely above a murmur. She could feel his lips at her throat and she tugged him tighter. "Okay."

She didn't know how long they'd stood this way, but Kairi didn't care. She would have held him a lot longer if it meant being able to stay with him.

When he finally pulled away, his normally calm features were in disorder, giving Kairi a window of the millions and millions of emotions he'd tried to keep in check.

It was gone the moment she blinked again, and the only evidence of his accidental slip were his eyes—always his eyes. His once lackluster gaze was sizzling, melting and electric—such a deep blue that it reminded Kairi of what had transpired back at the shop, when he'd looked at her with such an expression in his eyes as he was right now. It made Kairi's mouth go dry and her stomach do an impressive display of somersaults.

His voice was tight and rough when he spoke next, although he didn't look away from her, "I'm sorry." His face was serious—that exact same seriousness he partook when it came to everything she did. "I didn't mean to hide from you. I won't do it again, I promise."

Kairi thought he sounded like a kid who'd been rightfully scolded. Her smile was instant and winning.

"It's okay," she said.

"It's just… Zack was right," he mumbled, staring dejectedly at his shoes. "I haven't been able to remember anything since I've been here." He clenched his hands together. "Not even my own name."

"These things take time, that's all," said Kairi.

"But how much time will it take?" he said and his expression revealed his doubts. "What if I'm here forever and I still don't remember?"

Kairi was afraid he'd say something like that, but she couldn't say she hadn't seen it coming. She saw it in his eyes as he'd stare out into the ocean—it was the very same look her first love had gotten right before he went away. Kairi stared at her hands, which she hadn't realized she'd been clasping together in a death-grip. She knew if he wanted the answers he'd been searching for he couldn't stay with her.

He hadn't even left yet and already her heart was already tearing itself in two's.

She tried to put on a brave face as she said, "You're thinking of leaving… aren't you?"

He blinked at her, rapidly, evidently surprised that she'd known. Of course she'd known. She'd always known. She'd just been too afraid to admit it. She knew this would be happening eventually—she thought she'd be able to handle it when it did—but God, she was wrong. This was hard. Letting him go was going to be hard.

She swallowed. "You are, aren't you?" she said, and this time her voice sounded distant and small, hardly recognizable in her own ears.

His expression looked torn and his blue eyes, so bright and clear beneath the setting sun, reflected the heartache she knew was in her own eyes—but it was all she'd needed to see, all she needed to know, because she had known. All along.

She turned away from him, her hand automatically coming up to the chain that was wrapped around her neck. Touching the opal gem seemed, to her now, more like a parting gift than a "just because" gift which, hours before, had made her the happiest person in the world. Suddenly, she was plummeting from cloud nine towards back-breaking reality.

She felt, rather than heard, his feet move behind her; his arms wrapping themselves around her shoulders, only this time there was not any hint of desperation as before.

This embrace carried sorrow and sadness and all things that were eating away at her heart—and before she could help herself, the tears were spilling down her cheeks and dripping onto his arm. She didn't sob or make any sound, but the tears were coming down like rain.

And all he could do to comfort her was to hold her closer. But even that didn't make Kairi feel as though the ground from under her feet hadn't been swept off completely.

She was still falling.

And she didn't know when she'd stop.

000

The walk back had been silent.

Kairi thought maybe a rift had come between them now that his leaving was finally out in the open. He kept his eyes trained ahead for the most part of their walk, as though lost in thought—it made him look farther away than he was. She didn't want them to be this way with each other, especially since he wouldn't be staying for very long.

So, at home, while she stashed and put away all their groceries, she turned on her heel and faced him, determined. He blinked at her a little, but then his face was weary and guarded when he realized where this was likely headed. She didn't want that either.

She took his hand—was relieved that he didn't resist or pull away—and went straight for the point.

"Let's not be this way," she said firmly. "I don't want this to come between us."

"But I…" and he sounded like he didn't quite understand what to do with himself. He clenched his jaw and said, voice painful, "I…hurt you."

It was her turn to blink. She hadn't realized that this may have been the reason why he'd been so quiet—because he felt responsible… felt guilty. She didn't think it was ever possible for her to love him more than she did—but she did anyway. She felt the first signs of tears in her eyes again, but forced herself not to let them fall.

"No," she said, shaking her head. "You didn't hurt me—you didn't," she insisted when he began to protest. "I knew this was going to happen eventually. I just didn't want to believe it'd be so soon. That was just me being selfish." She smiled weakly at him. "But I don't regret it. Never have and never will."

His expression looked like he dared believe her.

"You've made me so happy these past few weeks," she said. "More happy than I've ever been in years. But I understand." And she did, she really did—God, even if it hurt she understood. "I understand there are some things you can't leave up to chance and you just have to go in search for yourself."

He still looked troubled and doubtful, but Kairi knew she couldn't allow him to waver—least of all because of her.

"You need to find out who you are," she said. "How else can you live with me if you can't even live knowing you don't know yourself?" She met his eyes, which were the saddest form of blues she'd ever seen. "So go. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine." Her smile grew more strained. "I'll be ok—"

She didn't get to finish her sentence because he'd taken this precise moment to lean over and kiss her.

Kairi froze, her heart unprepared—but he just cupped her face firmly in his hands and kissed her harder, deeper, slower; lips tender yet rough as they moved over her own. It made the gentle warmth in the base of her stomach rekindle and spread like wildfire throughout the rest of her, making her feel warm—so incredibly warm all over—and her heart beat faster and faster.

She felt his tongue lick the bottom of her lip, seeking and questioning, and in response she granted him entrance. Her heart soared higher and higher until she could barely breathe. Oh God, what was he doing to her? She thought helplessly as she freely allowed herself to drown in this wonderful haze. She wrapped her arms around his neck and gently tugged him closer, kissing him back with as much deliberation as she could muster in her euphoria.

His hand came up her back, fingers brushing against skin and burning her—but she reveled in it. She must have made some kind of noise—some soft, needy sound from the back of her throat, because it made him kiss her harder, tongue scraping across the corners of her mouth in an aggressive, uncontrolled fashion. She could feel her knees starting to buckle and her entire body starting to tremble—she didn't want this to stop.

He eventually pulled away—had to tear himself away from protesting lips, but his eyes glowed fierce and blue and sizzling and it made Kairi want to reach over and kiss him again with all the ferocity in the world, but she held herself, knowing somehow he was fighting hard to do the same.

He leaned his forehead against hers and Kairi barely felt the tears spilling past her face until he was wiping them away. And for just a little while that was how they stayed.

Finally, he told her to wash up while he put away the rest of the groceries, and Kairi, who was still having trouble forming coherent thoughts, complied without complaint.

As she sat herself in her tub, leaning her head back against the tiles while faraway eyes stared blankly at the ceiling, her mind kept replaying the events that had taken place just minutes before, and she briefly wondered if she'd ever be able to believe they'd actually happened.

But the bruising, tingling sensation on her lips and the part of her skin where he'd touched her still burned, indicating that it hadn't been a mere hallucination on her part. It was as real as the evidence on her face.

She pressed her hands over her eyes, wanting to block out the images, but she could still see them as though she were living it a second time. Where did this leave them now? She thought. What did this even mean? Why had he kissed her—why had she let him kiss her?

So many questions and yet she didn't know the answer to any of them.

He was leaving, possibly soon… and the more she allowed herself to be open and vulnerable the more she was going to get hurt. But she couldn't seem to bring herself to regret the kiss. She'd wanted it, way too much, to regret it.

And that was how she didn't want to live the rest of her life: in regret.

When she'd gotten out of the tub and had changed, she came back to the living room where she found him sitting quietly on the futon. He seemed to be doing some heavy thinking because he hadn't even heard her come in. She cleared her throat and he turned to her—eyes going wide when he took in what she was wearing.

A soft, black dress that stopped at her knees and hugged her slim waist; the straps at her shoulders were thin and were easy to slip off. She'd combed her long red hair back and half-tied it into a quick ponytail where tendrils fell down passed her back. The opal chain hung loosely around her neck.

She smiled—her cheeks a little pink—as she gave a little twirl in the room. "How do I look?" she said. "You don't think it's too much, do you?"

She watched him swallow, hard, as he stood up. "No," he said finally, and his eyes had gone a little darker as they observed her long, pale legs, her bare arms and shoulders before resting on her face. "It looks nice," he said, clearing his throat, and Kairi felt immensely pleased, making a mental note to wear dresses like these more often. He frowned a little. "You going somewhere or something?"

"Yup," she chirped as she bustled into the hall to find herself some matching shoes.

"Where?" he said, sounding genuinely curious.

"The party," she said as she slipped on a pair of black heels. "At Reno's remember?"

Judging from his expression, she knew he did remember and that he'd been secretly hoping she'd say something different.

"I thought you said you don't think you were going to go," he said slowly.

"I did," she agreed, as she took a glance at herself in the mirror, "but I changed my mind."

His frown deepened, leaning against the wall. "How come?"

"Because," she said quietly, and she looked at him squarely, "I don't want to live in regrets any longer."

He took a deep breath. "Kairi, I—"

"Well, aren't you coming?" she said, taking a light sweater from the closet and putting it on.

"What?" And this time, he was truly surprised.

Kairi couldn't help but laugh at his expression. "Are you coming to the party?" she clarified, her voice teasing. "Wakka said you could come."

"I know," he said and he looked down at his feet. "What's the party going to be like?"

She rolled her eyes. "Knowing Reno, something extravagant like a pool party or…a strip club—"his face had taken a slightly horrified appearance, and she hastened to add, "Of course nothing like that! No! I was just saying it's usually far out there." Although she wouldn't really put it passed Reno to do either of those things but she didn't tell her friend that. At his growing uncertainty, she pressed gently, "There's going to be food, music and some friends of mine there—really nice people. It'll be fun."

He rubbed the back of his blond hair. "I'm not very good with parties," he admitted. "I've never been to one."

"It's nothing to worry about," she said soothingly. "It's just a little get-together, that's all. Besides," she chanced him a growing smile, "there will be a lot of dancing."

"Dancing," he repeated and he looked even more nervous. "I don't know how to do that either."

Kairi pretended to be hurt, but she thought his inexperience was truly adorable. "You mean you won't even dance with me?" she teased.

He rolled his eyes. "Kairi, trust me," he said, his tone dry. "You don't want to dance with me."

"Oh, that's too bad," she said, in mock-disappointment. "Alright. I guess I'll just go back up and change then—"

"Wait," he said, touching her arm before she could remove her shoes. She feigned innocence as she looked at him again. He seemed to be having trouble with something. "Do… do you really want to go to this party?" he asked.

"Only if you want to," she said, nodding. "If you're not comfortable, we don't have to."

He sighed, resigned. "Oh, alright," he assented, staring heavenward as he shook his head, "I'll come."

"Really?" And she felt a tad guilty for teasing him too much, but at the moment she was too happy he was actually considering going. "You will?"

"As long as I don't have to do the conga or anything like that, then yes," he said in a serious, flat tone, but his lips were twitching.

"Oh that's great! But are you sure you can't spare me a dance—"

"Kairi," he cut of, looking a touch desperate now. "Please. Ix-nay on the dance-ay."

She stifled her laugh with her hand. "Oh alright," she said, sticking her tongue out at him. "Well, come on already—let's go!"

"Wait," he said again, halting her.

"What's the matter?" she said, really confused this time, because he was now looking at her with a peculiar expression, his brows slightly scrunched together. "What is it—"

"It's nothing. It's just—"and he reached over and pushed the tiny strap of her dress back onto her shoulder, making her freeze as his hand grazed her arm—it felt like someone had set it off on fire. It lingered there a little longer than normal—and the part of Kairi, the part that betrayed her intentions not to dwell on it any longer, thought maybe he was going to kiss her again—before he abruptly pulled away, his face somewhat strained as though he were in pain. "Your dress… it slipped off."

"Oh…" she felt her face grow hot, "Thank you."

Kairi didn't trust herself to speak more than that—she pressed a hand over her heart and willed it to beat at a normal pace all the while mentally battling down the disappointment she felt when he hadn't done what she'd been sure he'd been about to do. She felt a little stupid for hoping.

"We should go," he said, voice thick, as he moved to put on his boots. As he fastened the last of his laces, he turned to her and smiled, slightly, and said, "Ready?"

She simply nodded and followed him out the door.

Why did she get the feeling this wasn't such a good idea after all?

000

When they arrived at the party, there was already a whole hoard of people inside—most of whom she'd recognized from school while others she could barely recognize anymore from years of change and separation.

But they'd all seemed pretty pleased to see her, waving and greeting her from here and there: "Kairi, is that you? Wow it's been a while!"; "Kairi, how's it been?"; "We should get together sometime, Kairi!"

Her blond friend became almost like a second shadow to her, following her everywhere she went and yet not saying a word to anyone—he didn't even glance up from staring at his shoes; seemed more inclined to make as little eye-contact as possible. She could tell he was deeply uncomfortable being in a room full of strangers, all of whom had taken an immediate interest in him the moment she'd walked in.

She felt guilty for bringing him along. Perhaps this hadn't been such a good idea after all, she thought. When she voiced this out to him, he just gave her shoulders a quick but reassuring squeeze and a small smile that she could instantly tell didn't fully reach his eyes.

"I'm okay," he told her as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Don't worry about me, Kairi. Just go and have some fun."

Kairi bit her lip, wanted to say there wasn't any way she could have fun knowing he wasn't feeling the same somehow, but then she heard someone behind her call her name.

His smile was crooked as he jerked his chin the opposite direction. "Go ahead," he said, "I'll be right here when you get back."

"But I—"she started, still hesitant, but he turned her around and gave her another push.

"Go on."

She sighed, knowing she wasn't going to win this argument. "Alright," she finally relented. She took his hand for moment and looked at him meaningfully. "But you will come get me if you're feeling overwhelmed, right?"

This time a real smile was there—still small but real enough that it made his eyes twinkle soft blue. "Yes, mom," he said, chuckling. "At the first sign."

At least he was joking again—sort of. It made Kairi feel a little relieved. "I won't be long," she promised.

The blue in his eyes smiled at her. "I'll be waiting," he murmured, his thumb brushing quickly over her knuckles before she reluctantly released his hand.

She lingered at her spot for a little while, a bubble of uncertainty still eating away at her. "The bar is over there if you're thirsty," she said, almost as a lame excuse, before nodding at him and marching off in the other direction.

It was so peculiar seeing everybody again, and yet strangely nostalgic. It had Kairi feeling as though she were literally walking down memory lane—every face, every memory retold from faraway yesterdays, was like seeing someone else's life and not her own. She could hardly remember being that young, that carefree and naïve—she was almost a completely different person to her.

The music was at full blast, a DJ stationed across the living room floor while a disco ball hung, spinning, at the ceiling; crystal lights bouncing off the walls beneath dim lights. She had to hand it to Reno; the guy could definitely throw a party. People were at the dance floor, bustling at tables stands for food and waiting the bar for drinks—she could even see some people at the pool taking a midnight dip.

Kairi didn't want to chit-chat for very long and kept making involuntary side-glances at the bar. From across the room, sometimes she'd get the feel of his stare on her back—and sure enough, when she'd looked, he was by the wall, eyes fixed on her in silent observation. When he saw her watching, she'd smile and wave at him excitedly; his lips would curve upward and he'd raise a hand to wave a little in return.

"Hey, Kairi," said Yuffie, who'd probably hit her final level of patience and restraint, "are you going to explain that to us yet?"

"Explain what?" said Kairi, too quickly to sound completely innocent.

"Blond Mystery-Boy over there, that's who," said Tifa, with a roll of her eyes.

"Are you sure you're not referring to someone else, Teef?" said Kairi, quirking an eyebrow at Cloud, who raised an eyebrow at both women in return.

"Oh, hush," said Tifa, laughing, but she did lean back into Cloud, who smiled down at her softly and then wrapped his arms around her middle. "You know who I mean."

"Yeah, we all saw him come with you," said Aerith, grinning. "He's cute, Kairi."

"I definitely approve," said Yuffie cheerfully.

Kairi groaned into her hands. "You guys," she mumbled, embarrassed. "Please. You're killing me."

"And," said Zack, and his smile held more mischief than Kairi thought should be legal, "I heard he was staying over at your place."

Kairi felt her cheeks heat up. So that was why people were giving them funny looks, she thought. Figures she'd be the center of gossip.

"Y-Yeah, so?" she said, trying to sound defensive rather than flustered. "He needs somewhere to stay that's all. And I'm being a hospitable civilian to a person in need."

"Uh-huh," said Zack, not buying it.

Kairi felt her face grow redder and redder. "W-We're just friends. We're not like that," she said desperately, although that didn't sound completely honest, even to herself.

"Uh-huh," said Zack again. "C'mon. I've seen the way he looks at you, Kairi, and the way you look at him. It's so obvious you two just want to jump each—"

"Zack!" Kairi yelped, covering her face with her hands. She just wanted someone to come around and knock her out already—this was too embarrassing.

"Don't listen to him," said Aerith, who was looking sympathetic now. "He's just being silly again."

Kairi nodded, still a little embarrassed. She didn't want to think about that, especially when she knew Zack was right. There had been too many close calls, too many slip ups between them that she knew exactly what was happening. And then there was that kiss too… She still didn't understand what that meant.

"I'm going to go check on him," Kairi mumbled finally. "I told him I wouldn't be long."

She bid her friends goodbye and then made her way back to her blond friend, who was in the exact same place as she'd left him, only he was sporting a drink in his hand and… he wasn't alone. A tall red, wild-haired man was speaking with him. As she got closer, she could see her blond friend's face—it was guarded and serious, his lips pursed and thin, his blue eyes narrowing by the second. She caught snippets of their conversation:

"I know all about it," said the redhead. "If you just let me—"

"No." The blond's voice was harsh, was final. "Why should I trust you?"

There was a shuffling as the redhead lifted his sleeve. The blond's eyes widened and he took a step back.

"I told you. I can help you."

That's when the blond spotted her. He hesitated slightly between the two of them, before he pushed passed the redhead, towards her.

"Forget it."

When the redhead turned around Kairi caught the not-so-pleasant flicker of green eyes in her direction. But he didn't press on whatever they'd been discussing.

"You know where to find me if you change your mind."

The blond grunted, but didn't spare him another glance. As he approached his face automatically lit up with a smile, his blue eyes radiant—Kairi didn't know just how anyone could look that way at her… looked at her as though he hadn't seen her in years. It brought a happy smile to her lips as well.

"What was that all about?" she asked, tilting her head at the other redhead, who disappeared back into the crowd.

"It's no body," he said, smiling slightly, "Just someone who's had far too much to drink."

"Oh," she said, although she still wasn't sure if he was being completely honest.

"Your face is kind of red," he noted, touching her cheek lightly. "Are you okay?"

Kairi flushed at the remembrance and it was her turn to hesitate. "I'm fine. I think I had a little too much to drink too," she admitted.

He nodded, and the music in the background had changed its pace; slower, softer and more tugging at the heartstrings. They both watched as people began filing in twos towards the dance floor. It had Kairi squirming with the hem of her dress out of sheer awkwardness.

He finally looked at her. "Do you want to dance?" he asked.

"I…" she said, fumbling some more with the edges of her dress, "I thought you said you didn't want to dance."

His smile was small, but out of amusement, as he took her fretting hands from her dress and placed them around his neck; his own hands sliding themselves around her waist. Kairi felt her face flush red at their sudden, close proximity—she could see herself in his eyes if she looked.

"I can do this," he said softly, as he began to move them in a slow circle to the music.

Kairi drank in every moment she could get. He was never quite what she'd expected. He was so much more open, so much more different than she'd last remembered. For one, he was quite confident in being able to touch her like this; without the usual plagues of doubts that would run through his mind on whether or not he could. His smile was always something she saw regularly now; it wasn't as shy or as fleeting, but full and long-lasting. His face was more relaxed, brows less fixed together in worry, and his shoulders less tense. And he laughed more, was more playful and teasing when he spoke with her.

He took a chance to twirl her around a couple times, making her laugh at his playfulness and hold onto him for a just little longer than normal. Even as the song ended and another song—a more upbeat, not quite in the same moment type song—started to play, she still didn't relinquish him just yet.

"Thank you for the dance," she said, giving him a tight hug.

His smile widened, but he didn't let her go yet. "You're welcome."

"It's a little hot in here," she said in his ear. It wasn't a complete lie—she really was feeling stuffy and overheated being indoors for too long. Or maybe that was from being pressed so closely to him for a long period of time.

"Let's go outside then," he suggested with a smile, tugging at her hand.

They went to the patio at the back, where lights had been put up on the trees and roof, and they were given a magnificent view of the ocean. Kairi let go of his hand and skipped towards the railing.

"It's so beautiful out here, isn't it?" she said in awe, leaning farther over the railing to catch a better sight of the moon, the twinkling of stars and their silver reflection on the water. She nearly jumped when she felt a pair of arms come at either side of her from behind, chin gently propped on her shoulder. She could feel his breath tickling her ear.

She hoped her own breathing wasn't irregular or better yet hoped he couldn't somehow hear how loud and heavy her heart was pounding from their sudden close proximity.

"Hm," he said, not sounding the least bit as affected as she happened to be—she couldn't help but feel a stab of resentment at that. "Everybody seems to like you," he said after a moment's pause.

Kairi shrugged. "They're just being friendly. It's not like I know all of them," she said as she placed her hands on top of his.

He shook his head, the tips of sunlit hair sweeping across her neck. "No, they like you—maybe a bit too much," he mumbled. "I've noticed."

He sounded like a big kid throwing a tantrum, Kairi thought smiling. "So you have been watching me," she said, laughter no more than breathy hiccups.

His lips were warm against her skin and she closed her eyes. "I've seen a lot of things tonight," he said, a little darkly, "Like the way some of the guys have been looking at you this entire time."

Kairi blinked—now this was new. She hadn't noticed that at all.

"Looking at me?" she echoed; her confusion evident. "Looking at me how?" Although she had a feeling she already knew what that was.

He didn't look up as he went on to say this, "You know. That look any man gets when a beautiful woman walks into a room. I hated it," he added in subtle annoyance. "I didn't like them staring at you." He sighed. "And I can tell they didn't really like me either because I'm always with you." She felt his hands beneath her own clench the railing tightly. "But that's okay with me," he said, "I want them to see me with you."

"W-Why is that?" said Kairi, finding it difficult to swallow.

He slowly, deliberately, turned her around to face him, and she was always stunned by the fierceness and the blueness of his eyes, despite having been witnessed to it since the first day he'd gotten here. His hands held her by the waist, but Kairi thought maybe his touch was burning her through the dress. She resisted the urge to shiver on the spot.

"Because it makes me feel like you're really mine," he murmured, his face, his tone, and his eyes telling Kairi he was serious, "Because I want you to be mine."

She felt the bubble of warmth in her chest spread over her, making her melt. Damn, she was falling again, she thought with wry amusement, but the sudden burst of happiness enveloping her caused her not to care. She pressed her hand over his cheek and gave him a glowing, loving smile.

"Silly," she admonished gently, cheeks flushed, "what on Earth would make you think you had to do that? I've been yours this entire time."

The electricity in his gaze was passed sizzling at this point, and, as though to keep it from running a muck, he buried his nose into her throat with a barely concealed groan.

"Let's go home," he said, voice a little rough and tight, and she could hear his control slowly breaking beneath that. "Now."

Kairi felt her heart slam so far up her ribcage she didn't think it was ever likely to ever come back down. Her throat had closed up, permanently probably, and right now she was having difficulty gasping for breath—or maybe that was because he was holding onto her so tightly. Well that didn't matter. Her legs still felt like they'd turned into goo; she was positive that if he wasn't holding her she'd have fallen to the floor by the now.

He knew what he was suggesting and she knew it too. It'd been a long time coming. She wasn't blind or foolish thinking that all those passing glances, those near desperate and lasting touches didn't mean anything deeper than that. They did—they ran so deep that she could feel it in her bones. She had felt his passion, his desire, his need when he'd kissed her that same evening—and they resembled her own.

Yes, she's wanted this—for a very long time maybe. She was just sick and tired of convincing herself that she didn't. She wanted him just as much as he obviously wanted her. Damnit, she was in love with him—even if she didn't know his name or his past—she loved him. He made her happy.

So with an expulsion of breath she finally stopped her rattling of thoughts, her doubts, and her questions and just let herself be. No regrets, she told herself. Tonight, she was just going to let herself fall and see where that took her, without a care for the consequences.

"Okay. Just let me get my coat and we can leave."

Before she could pull away, however, he had slipped his hand through her hair at the base of her neck and yanked her in for a searing kiss that made her eyes roll at the back of her head—it was short, but it had the desired effect: intense and with enough heat to make Kairi's knees quake again.

When he pulled away, his eyes were like blue fire and his voice was low and rough and uneven, "I'll be waiting," he said.

Kairi smiled impishly. "I won't be gone long," she promised, and because she couldn't help herself she leaned over and kissed him again—and this time his answering groan made her feel like she had the upper hand this time. "I'll be right back."

Going up the steps, she felt light on her feet, giddy even, and she could barely resist a crazed, almost idiotic smile from flitting across her features.

She found her sweater in the closet, struggled to put it on in her evident haste to get back down, and then bounded down the steps—nearly tripping and bumping into people along the way.

Just as she came by the door to the back, smile at the ready, her hand froze at the knob and she took an involuntary step back.

Outside was her blond friend—or whatever he was to her now—only he wasn't alone. Another girl—she couldn't really tell who—had her arms wrapped around his neck, their faces close in an obvious embrace that said they were doing a lot more than just hugging.

Kairi felt sick—deathly, dreadfully sick, like she'd suddenly just been kicked in the gut. She felt herself inhale a sharp, very painful breath, but couldn't let herself release it. She felt hallow and empty, her heart so full that it was literally tearing itself apart.

She couldn't understand. She said she'd only be gone a minute… so why… why was he here… kissing and holding someone else?

Kairi swallowed, and felt her eyes grow hot.

Someone else who wasn't her.

Her insides coiled at the very thought of someone else in her place—no she didn't like that idea at all. She was partly tempted to barge in through the doors and interrupt them.

She'd give the other woman the telling off of a life time—"He's mine," she'd have snarled, and then proceed to drag him off someplace to prove her ownership. Like kissing him… or killing him. At the moment, Kairi wasn't sure which desire was stronger.

But she couldn't even bring herself to touch the doorknob again.

It hurt, way too much, and she'd only make herself look like an idiot if she went out there. She had her pride at least, if nothing else. He could walk all over her heart, but she wouldn't let him damage her pride.

But her pride had been damaged, she thought mournfully—if it hadn't then she wouldn't be thinking herself to be a million kinds of idiot right about now. She felt like a fool; a complete and utter fool. What had she been thinking? This hurt so much more than… than having him leave and never come back. At least her first love had the decency to let her go on believing he had loved her till the end—and even if she didn't know the reason for him not returning, at least her memories of him weren't tarnished by the mere sight of him with another woman.

Seeing her blond friend and that other woman felt like a bucket of salt pored into an open wound.

This is what happens when you let yourself feel first and think later, Kairi thought, wiping angry tears away. I'm such an idiot.

She strode from the door, ignoring as people called her name—she just wanted to leave. Right now. Her vision started to get blurry and she wasn't sure where the exit was again.

She felt herself bump into someone. "Oh… s-sorry," she said, not looking up. "I didn't mean to—sorry."

"Are you okay?"

Kairi stared. It was a tall guy with long, silver hair and sea-green eyes. He was very built, even from the pale blue and yellow t-shirt; his arms muscular and chest toned could be seen even against the fabric. He looked… familiar.

Oh no, she thought as she dug her nails into her palm, not this again. She had enough with familiar. She just wanted to be alone.

"I'm fine," she said curtly, willing her tears back behind her eyes—she'd cry when she got home. "Please—excuse me. I've got to go."

"Wait," he said, stopping her. He was frowning a little as he inspected her. "Do I know you from somewhere?"

"No, I don't think so," she said. When was this man going to let her leave? Couldn't he see she was heartbroken and didn't want to hang back?

His frowned deepened, but slowly, eventually, his green eyes lit up in recognition.

"Kairi," he said. "Kairi, it's you."

Now it was Kairi's turn to frown and squint at him. She had seen him from somewhere before, she thought slowly. But where… and then it hit her. She blinked rapidly a few times, as though she could hardly believe it, but his smile grew when he saw that she remembered.

"Riku," she gasped when she found her voice again, and her eyes widened. "Oh my… is it really… oh Riku, I can't believe it's really you!"

For a moment she forgot all about her misery and felt immensely happy again. She threw her arms around her old friend—she couldn't really reach his neck since he was so much taller than her now—and felt his laughter rumble pleasantly in his chest as he held her back.

She kept him at arms length even as they pulled apart. "It's been awhile hasn't it?

She nodded in agreement.. "It has…" she said quietly. "What brings you back here? I haven't seen you in so long."

Riku shrugged one shoulder. "Tidus called. Said Reno was hosting a reunion of sorts. Thought I'd pay you a visit."

"I'm so glad you decided to come," she said, breathlessly and she could feel her tears well up in her eyes again. "I've missed you so much."

"I missed you too, Kai." She laughed and felt her heart swell. He still called her by her nickname—even after all these years.

"Hey, why don't we get a drink and catch up?" he asked, pointing at the bar. "You look like you could use a drink anyway." He indicated at her pale face and discernible sad eyes.

Kairi briefly hesitated, recalling her reason for wanting to leave in the first place.

But this was Riku, she argued with a shake of her head. Riku, whom she hadn't seen in almost forever. Riku whom she'd missed.

Riku … who'd been his best friend and her own.

"I suppose I could stay around for a little longer," she said, smiling weakly, and allowed him to put an arm around her shoulders, tugging her along.

It turned out to be fun and bittersweet. They laughed, cried and talked about the good old days—the olden days when it'd just been the three of them: Riku, her and him, playing together, getting into trouble together, thinking they'd be together for the rest of their lives. They'd been so young, naïve and so untroubled back then; so much different than how it was now. Kairi missed those days.

"You remember that time when we tried to build a raft together?" said Kairi, giggling.

"How could I forget?" said Riku, grinning. "I was the only one doing all the work!"

"Didn't get that far though," said Kairi, whose smile was starting to hurt, "not even a mile in and it started to sink!"

Riku laughed. "Yeah. I remember pinning the blame on him—told him he needed to lose a few pounds."

Kairi laughed too. "You two were such trouble-makers back then. I remember all those times you'd make me your personal referee," she said, rolling her eyes. "I lost count of the number of competitions you guys used to do—most of them were stupid."

"Yeah, those days were great," said Riku with a sigh and Kairi fondly agreed. "I really miss him…" He glanced at his beer, lips thin and face grave.

She felt her heart constrict and not in a fond, nostalgia way. The day he left was like the day that everything fell apart. Riku had moved to another remote island—whether to escape from the fact that he wasn't going to ever see his best friend again or for other reasons—while Kairi remained on their homeland, trying aimlessly to forget the love she'd spent so long waiting for to return.

She couldn't even open her mouth and tell her friend that she missed him too. They couldn't share the grief over their loss with one another—and perhaps, thought Kairi, that was for the best. It'd been too long for them to start over again, that she knew for sure.

"So, how have you been, Kai?" he said as he took another drink of his beer, and Kairi was glad for the change of subject. "We've lost touch after… I don't know… five-six years maybe? What's been going on with you? Anything new?"

She shrugged. "Nothing really," she replied indifferently, choosing to leave out that she was now living with a mystery man. "Just the same old."

"Now that can't be true," Riku pressed. With a little smile, he said slyly, "So who's the lucky guy?"

Kairi, who'd been taking a sip of her drink, suddenly choked. "What?" she wheezed, feeling her face turn pink. "T-There's no one. I'm not interested in anybody!" Lies, lies, lies, she heard a voice chant inside her head.

Apparently, Riku wasn't convinced either. "Oh really?" he said skeptically. "Your face says otherwise."

"My face?" said Kairi, automatically touching her face to see if there was something wrong with it. "What do you mean?"

Riku chuckled. "Don't play dumb, Kai. It's pretty obvious," he said lightly, green eyes gleaming knowingly—and Kairi hated how she was so easy to read.

"Yeah, well… it's over even before it began," Kairi mumbled bitterly, remembering with perfect, heart-wrenching clarity of the kiss at the patio. The knife wound in her heart only got bigger. At Riku's concern frown, she said, with a wave of her hand, "It's nothing really."

"Kairi," he said, and his voice was quiet and delicate. "Kairi… if he's still holding you back… you know you should—"

Kairi shook her head. "No, that's not it," she said with a laugh. "I'm okay, Riku, really, it's nothing. It's just…" and she lowered her eyes down to her lap, "…when you think you've finally gotten something figured out and it turns out that you don't? Yeah, sometimes you can never prepare your heart for the worst."

Riku was quiet for a long time, until, he said, half-joking, half-serious, "Is he here right now? Do you want me to go beat him up for you, Kai? Because you know that I will."

And Kairi laughed, throwing her arms around him again. "Oh, Riku," she said and buried her face on his shoulder. "I really have missed you."

He leaned his cheek on the top of her head and squeezed her shoulders gently. "Hey, just because I'm not really around anymore it doesn't mean I've stopped looking out for you," he said, and she burst into tears.

He held her as she cried—tears she knew were for old memories, for their best friend, and for the fact that she was in love and yet heartbroken.

"When do you have to go back?" she said when she wiped the last of her tears away.

He sighed. "Tomorrow afternoon," he said quietly. "The ferry leaves after lunch hour."

Kairi nodded. "I'm going to miss you," she mumbled into his shirt.

"We'll keep in touch this time," he promised.

"Kairi…?"

She turned her head and saw her blond companion. He was staring at her with something akin to confusion, but when he shifted his attention to Riku, his eyes and brows came down to almost slits at the hand that was wrapped around her.

She quickly pulled away from Riku, realizing what this must have looked like to him, but she supposed doing that only made her look guiltier.

His eyes went back to her. "Where have you been?" he asked. "I've been waiting for you outside."

Scratch the guilt, she thought, feeling a spike of indignity at the near accusation his words made her feel. She wasn't the one doing anything that required that kind of tone.

"I bumped into Riku," she said coolly, gesturing to her friend. "I thought I'd stay and chat with him for awhile."

The blond's eyes narrowed at the other man but he quickly turned back to her. "Riku," he said, lowly. "Is that what you'd call 'chatting'? Crying and clinging onto him like that?"

What—how dare he! She thought, furiously. "Well, it's definitely more than what I could say for you," she said, putting as much resentment in her voice as possible, "you looked like you were pretty busy."

"What are you talking about?" he demanded, annoyance clear on his face.

"Oh, don't act like you don't know!" she snapped. She didn't care that they were openly arguing in the bar, where people were now starting to look at them and stare—she was just so angry, frustrated and hurt to care. "You know perfectly well what."

"Kairi. For the love of God, I don't know what you're talking about," he said, gritting his teeth.

Kairi laughed, derisive and spiteful despite herself. "Tell me something," she hissed, staring into his eyes—which were dark and clouded and angry. "Did you know it was her or did you delude yourself into thinking it was me?"

"Kairi, what the hell are you talking abo—"

"I saw you kissing that girl outside so stop acting like you don't know!" she screamed and there was silence. Dead silence. Throughout the entire hall it was silent.

Something seemed to have clicked and his face got paler. Kairi didn't know if seeing that made her feel better or worse—but it definitely had her stomach churning unpleasantly. She felt like she was going to be sick.

He tried to reach for her. "Kairi—"

"No, don't touch me!" she snapped, stepping away from him. "Don't touch me!"

She could feel the tears in her eyes right now, spilling passed her cheeks, but she didn't care. She could feel the stares of over fifty people penetrating her back, but she didn't care for them either. She just wanted to get out of there.

"Kairi," he said again, taking another step towards her, but she shrank back.

"Just leave me alone," she whispered; her voice pitiful and tired.

Without sparing him or anyone another glance she ran off.

000

She was half-way down the beach by the time she heard him calling her name. She hesitated at first, but then angrily, promptly, forced herself not to look back and went on ignoring him. She quickened her pace, although it was remarkably difficult—running blindly through her tears and stumbling on sand with her heels, it made getting away considerably difficult.

The opal necklace around her neck kept glowing beneath the moonlight, almost mockingly. She wanted to wretch it from her and throw it into the ocean so that she wouldn't ever have to look at it again and be reminded of her stupidity. But she was too weak to rid herself of it. It held too much sentimental value, too much of her hopes and dreams and feelings that it was literally a part of her now.

She supposed this was the price to pay for trying to be happy—to be stuck, virtually, in limbo until she withered away. Even as her body would decay and turn into dust, her heart would linger on, along with this necklace; both as a solitary token of her inability to let go.

She was barely passed small caves and troves when she heard him approach.

"Kairi," he said, out of breath, grabbing her arm, which she snatched back. "Kairi, let me explain."

"What's there to explain?" she said, coldly. "I saw enough to make a conclusion for myself."

He sighed. "No, you only saw what you thought had happened. That is so not what happened. The thing is—"

"Stop it!" she said, her voice hard. She stomped down at the feeling of hope that had managed to crawl its way back into her heart. No, she wasn't going to let herself get hurt again. "I don't want to hear it."

"I'm trying to explain to you what happened!" he said, as he twirled her around so that she faced him. His face was desperate and pleading and it almost made Kairi give in. Damnit, she thought, biting the inside of her cheeks, she was being overwhelmed. "Why won't you listen to me?"

"Because I don't want to!" she hissed, giving his chest a fierce push back. "I'm sick of listening to you." And in his eyes, she knew she had hurt him with those words. She looked away, knowing if she looked more she'd give in again. "Just…just leave me alone!"

She broke into a run, however, she didn't get that far because he was faster and he'd grabbed her around the waist to keep her from going anywhere else.

"Let me go!" she yelled, trying to loosen his grip. "I said let me go!"

"No." His voice was firm. "Not until you let me explain."

"No!" She struggled against his grip, pushing and shoving. Finally, fed up, she whirled around and clubbed him across the face.

He grunted and released her. Kairi gaped at her actions, suddenly feeling immensely guilty. She reached out to touch his arm. "I'm sorry, are you hurt—"

But he took advantage of her down-guard and had reached out and grabbed for her again. He gently threw her against the sand and pinned her arms above her head and her legs down with his before she even had time to process what had just happened.

She shifted, but couldn't get free; his grip was like iron. She glared up at him. "Let me go," she hissed. "Now."

"No, not until you listen," he said calmly.

Her eyes were slits. "And I told you I didn't want to listen to you anymore," she said heatedly, squirming some more—she froze when she realized this probably wasn't the wisest thing to do while he was straddling her. He was close… too close, she thought feeling her heart pick up speed. She could feel his hot breath against her face, the tips of his blond hair tickle her forehead—and there was just no way she could look into his eyes, not if they'd sizzle and flash like they always seemed to do when she looked at him. She'd give in… she'd give for sure for those eyes. So, she stopped her fussing and busied herself in trying to yank her hands back—to no avail.

He sighed, sounding both aggravated and exhausted. "Look, will you just listen to what I have to say?" he said. "If you still don't like what you hear… I'll let you go."

Kairi jutted her chin defiantly. "No. Let me go first," she said.

"You'll just run away again if I do," he pointed out dryly.

"I won't," she said and was surprised when she realized she meant it. "Let me go and I'll listen to what you have to say."

In the distance she heard the sound of thunder rumbling. The sky was growing increasingly darker by the minute, and it had nothing to do with it being almost midnight. It was going to rain—heavily, she knew. She hated thunderstorms.

He stared at her evenly, seemed to be wondering whether he could trust her enough to release her, before he let out a deep breath and his grip on her wrists loosened. Kairi wiggled out from underneath him, rubbing at her hands. He watched her wearily, a tad guarded, in case she decided to change her mind and run again, but she didn't.

The next rumble in the distance was considerably louder and closer. Sighing, Kairi gestured towards the caves, "Let's go inside. It's probably going to start raining soon."

Sure enough, not too long after she said this, she felt the trickling of water droplets touch her skin and the eventual, heavy downpour.

They raced towards the shelter of the caves, more than a little drench by the time they'd gotten inside. Kairi felt her dress soaked right to her skin and she shivered as the wind swept by the entrance of the cave. Her blond companion wasn't fairing any better; his usually spiky hair was flopped over his eyes and his t-shirt was sticking to the contours of his torso. She tried not to stare, although it was difficult when she could see the flex of his muscles underneath his shirt and the swell of his arms.

When he noticed her staring, she jerked her eyes away. If she wasn't so angry with him, she'd have laughed and teased him about it. As such, she did her best to maintain an air of clipped neutrality, even though her insides were fidgeting to look back.

"Right this way," she said, starting down the tunnel. "We can wait in here until the storm passes."

Quietly, he followed behind her.

It was a long tunnel, but Kairi knew the place by heart. If she closed her eyes, she could see a miniature version of herself, Riku and the friend they had in common, racing down this exact same tunnel, laughing loudly and scribbling on the walls with rocks.

"Here," she said as they made it to the end of the cave.

There was just enough light from outside to be able to look around. She walked to the back, where a familiar scrawl was faded but still evident—she could make out the little, badly drawn head of a boy and a girl, facing each other, and a couple of stars in between them. Her heart reacted instantly to it. A far away dream, a promise of forever, a confession exchanged without words… She touched it faintly in memory.

"So what is it?" she said, not wasting another second. She reluctantly tore her eyes from the drawings and met his from across the cave. He seemed to be vaguely curious about the drawings too, but he didn't question them.

He sighed. "Look, Kairi," he said, taking a step towards her, but she stepped back—until her back barely touched the walls.

She held out a hand to stop him. "Don't," she said tightly. "Stay where you are."

He groaned. "You're being silly," he said, but he didn't make another move, "Stop being so stubborn, Kairi."

"I'm not being stubborn," she said, flatly, even though the voice inside her head agreed that she was being a little unreasonable. Well, I've been hurt too, she thought fiercely. Her unreasonableness and anger were justifiable!

"Then why won't you let me near you?" he said, eyes narrowing.

Kairi placed a hand at her hip and scowled. "The agreement was that if you let me go I'd listen to what you had to say," she said icily. "I never said anything about letting you touch me."

He sighed again, running a frustrated hand through blond locks. "Fine," he said, flatly.

"Well?" she prompted when he didn't say anything. She crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm waiting."

He shot her an annoyed glance. "While you went off to get your sweater, I was just waiting there," he said. "Then some girl came strolling by—completely drunk and she was crying."

Kairi frowned but kept on listening.

"I didn't say anything to her at first, but she just kept sobbing. When I finally asked her if she was alright, she told me all about finding her boyfriend making out with someone else."

He shrugged his shoulders, as if trying to wind out the knots.

"So I did my best to make her feel better even though I wasn't quite sure what to do. I just kept telling her that the guy was obviously an idiot, and that he didn't know a good thing when he had it. I told her that he'd eventually figure out he was wrong in hurting her, but by that time she'd have already found someone worth giving a damn about."

He watched her carefully for her reaction, which she didn't give. She opted to stare at the ground, but the bubble of resentment was getting harder to keep at bay.

"And did this 'comforting' that you did," she said, before she could help herself. "Did that involve shoving your tongue down her throat or was that completely besides the point?"

"I didn't kiss her okay!?" he snapped. Kairi thought she'd never heard him raise his voice at her before, but he seemed to have already hit his limit. "When I told her what I did she threw herself at me. Not the other way around. I tried to push her away, but she kept holding on. And that's when she kissed me."

Kairi felt the flare—felt the sick, ghastly, acidity inside her stomach that only seemed to come alive whenever she thought of the other woman kissing him. It burned and coiled and stabbed at her heart.

"She kissed me but I didn't kiss her back," he said flatly, watching her, and this time the frustration and the annoyance were replaced by exhaustion and pure defeat. He was tired, so very tired. "The kiss was quick because she went back to crying on my shoulder. I didn't know what else to do, but hold her until some of her friends came and took her home."

Kairi found herself shaking, but the coiling momentarily desisted.

"I waited for you to come back, but you never did," he went on quietly, and then looked at his shoes. "When I went in to look for you I saw you with that guy… Riku," he said, and suddenly Kairi could see it all from his perspective. "You were laughing and crying and clinging onto him… and I… I don't know. It did things to me. It made me feel… it made me feel… I was jealous," he muttered, spitting the word out. He didn't look at her still. "All I knew was… I didn't want to lose you to him. I wasn't going to."

Kairi thought she felt her heart trip a little as she watched him. He stuffed his hands deep into his pockets, despite the fact that his pants were soaking wet from the rain.

"Then you got mad at me and I didn't know why," he mumbled. "When you said you saw me with that other girl I knew what it must have looked like… what it must have made you feel."

He looked at her this time, but she looked away—because it hurt. It hurt too damn much. She heard him take a step closer to her, hesitatingly at first, as though he was unsure if she'd stop him again. When she didn't he took another step and another until finally he standing right in front of her. He was so close to her he could probably feel her shaking.

No, don't let him come any closer, she thought, but it was halfhearted. She felt drained, exhausted, and too damn hurt to muster up the energy to remain angry.

She felt him touch her shoulder, tentatively, but she felt him relax a little when she didn't immediately pull away from him. His hands were warm and gentle and comforting and she was too tired to resist. When he finally tugged her to him, she willingly allowed him to pull her in for an embrace.

She heard him sigh, relieved. "Kairi," he said softly, squeezing her, "you know I'd never do something like that to hurt you. Why wouldn't you have let me explain?"

Kairi felt her eyes water again—damnit, why was she always crying?

She released a shaky breath. "I don't know…" she murmured. "I… I was hurt. Very hurt. A-And… jealous… I couldn't think—I didn't want to believe—"she choked on her tears. "I just couldn't sit by and watch you be with someone else."

He pulled back and rubbed at her tears with his thumb. "But I don't want someone else," he said, smile growing. "I just want you." And even softer still, he said, "I only ever want you."

Kairi clutched his hand in her own and pressed it to her cheek. Staring meaningfully into his eyes—blue eyes that she missed, she said; with a smile of her own, "I only ever want you too."

With that, he leaned over and kissed her and Kairi felt something inside her sigh. She slipped her arms around his neck and kissed him back.

It felt so long… too long, she thought as he deepened the kiss, too long since he's last kissed her, and she forgot just how much she'd been missing it—craving it. He crushed her tighter to him, mouth rough and gentle and hot as he moved them over the curve of her jaw, her neck and then lower. She moaned a little when his tongue licked and laved over the skin just above her chest; the burning flare in her stomach growing more and more hungry as the seconds ticked.

"I want you," he whispered, his voice ragged and uneven in tone, as teeth scraped over the skin on her neck. "I want you right now."

"Yes." She could barely hear hear or understand what she was saying, but knew somehow she was responding in likeness to his desires. "Yes."

Kairi shuddered when she felt his hand push the strap down one shoulder, pressing a lingering, burning kiss over the revealed flesh. Kairi closed her eyes, tilting her head up slightly in silent bliss. Her knees were starting to shake again and pretty soon she'd be a puddle on the floor, along with the puddles made by her wet dress.

As if sensing this, he shifted them over until Kairi felt her back touch the wall of the cave. Neither stopping nor relinquishing his hold on her, he reached over behind her—making sure to keep an eye on her every reaction—and tugged at the zipper with deliberate and easeful slowness that it was almost painful to wait. Kairi was met with cold and warmth just as her dress came spilling at her feet.

He looked at her once, his blue eyes intense and smoldering as they roamed around. Her cheeks flushed a bright red, spreading heat down her neck and onto bare her shoulders. She quickly avoided his gaze, feeling an inexplicable sense of shyness overwhelm her from his feasting eyes, and it was instinct when she brought her hands up to cover herself.

He shook his head, taking her hands and putting them around his neck.

"Don't hide from me," he whispered, as his fingers slid up exposed arms and smooth back.

Kairi felt her cheeks burn even hotter, but it was more from the incessant knot coiling pleasantly in her stomach than the initial embarrassment. Feeling a littler braver, she lifted her chin and met his eyes. He looked at her seriously—always so seriously, and despite the evident desire on his face, she saw something much deeper run across the blueness as he watched her. It made that pleasant feeling in her stomach twist higher and higher—the way he looked at her made her feel wanted, cherished, needed… loved.

"You're beautiful. So damn beautiful," he murmured, touching her cheek with light fingers. At his words—said so softly and true—Kairi felt something inside herself burst.

And before she could stop to think—because she was tired of over-thinking about this, so tired of keeping it hidden—she said, without any hint of uncertainty or regret, those three little words she always wanted to say:

"I love you."

It clearly startled him as he had not been expecting her to say that just yet.

"I think I've loved you since I met you," she said and knew it to be the truth because from the moment she'd first lay eyes on him there was an instant pull, a tug, a weird allure that had her heart gravitating closer and closer towards him, despite her constant struggles to get it back. She could fight it all she wanted but she knew she wouldn't be able to win, and she hadn't—this strange captivation had only grown stronger day by day.

His surprise was only fractional; short and gone in a minute, and next he was smiling—a wide, boyish sort of smile that made him look younger, happier. She'd never seen his eyes glimmer like that before until now.

"I love you too," he said, and Kairi felt herself soar, although she already knew the answer from his grin. "Always have, always will."

And without saying any more, he kissed her again, lips crushing and deep.

Kairi wound her arms right around his shoulders and pulled him close; her thoughts a million miles away and her heart lighter and fuller than ever.

He loves me, he loves me, he loves me…

His hands went up the side of her waist, her arms, and her neck and into her hair and then back down again, in all sorts of directions that felt so completely wonderful to her. Kairi could barely keep up with him, her mind could hardly think straight when he touched her; he was building up an intense heat that was slowly, deliriously, consuming her whole. The only thing she knew she had to do to hold onto him and ensure that this sizzling inferno created between them did not go out.

She balled the front of his wet shirt with shaky, tight hands while he half-haphazardly undid and threw away his pants at the corner. Just as soon as that was done, he began kissing her neck, her shoulders, her collarbone and then lower again—leaving a fiery trail of lava over the skin he'd just touched.

Her fingers went everywhere she could cover; brushing over his built arms where the number 13 was etched black on his shoulder, over the toned muscles of his abdomen, his shoulders. What she really enjoyed was his hair; already at disarray, she found immense satisfaction in sliding her fingers through thick, gold locks, giving it gentle, insistent tugs whenever he should do something she particularly liked and enjoyed. Like the way his hands just wouldn't sit still and kept running up and down the bare skin of her flesh, as though he wanted to meld into her somehow. His hands were callused, rough around the fingertips yet incredibly tender and steady.

Kairi reached down for the hem of his shirt and, momentarily breaking their momentum, pulled it over his head; it soon joined the spot where her dress and his pants had been discarded on the floor.

His eyes, electric and burning, flashed once at her, before he changed their positions, so that her back was firmly pressed against the wall of the cave and one, long leg was wrapped at his hip. She could feel him pressing up against her, and it was making her increasingly needy. When he shifted, another involuntary moan escaped her lips and in response she pulled him even closer.

"Please—"she heard herself say, and she couldn't recognize the sound of her own voice anymore. It sounded like a completely different person. "Please—"she said again, but could barely say anything else after.

Still holding that one leg tightly to his hip, while one hand splayed against the wall for support, he lifted her waist slightly, buried his face into her throat before pushing forward in one swift, deep thrust. Kairi let out a gasp upon the contact and he became immediately still—there was hardly a word she could use to call the amount of sensations she felt at that precise second, only that it filled her with a sense of completion.

The sound of rain and thunder and lightning from outside bore little or no significance to either one of them. As they started to move, they became lost in time and space, and were in their own world, where they only had each other.

Kairi clutched at his shoulders desperately, parted lips against his ear with pleads for more, as thrusts got exceedingly fiercer, less gentle and controlled and even and more spasmodic in timing. Her fingers dug into his back as he pressed her against the wall of the cave—his hands tight at her hips and his groans only stifled by her use of neck and hair and shoulders.

When she began to feel the first clear signs of her pressure building up, he brought them down to the ground, where he hovered above her and started moving—faster, harder and deeper than ever. She was close, she thought, so painfully close. Her legs locked over his as her hips jockeyed his pace, finger nails clawing at his back, his hair; her mouth parted wide while her screams got only louder and louder and were only drowned out by storm raging outside.

"I love you," she rasped, clinging onto him with a fierce kind of desperation she'd never known was possible. "I love you so much."

"I love you too," he managed to gasp out, before she arched all the way back and let out a silent cry. She was breaking, she thought. She was breaking and being made whole again; she was falling and yet flying, she was everything and yet nothing. Tiny little bursts of light flashed before her eyes as she rode the last of her climax. She heard him give out a loud cry too, before they both fell back, completely out of breath but satiated.

It took awhile for them to gather themselves.

"Wow… that was just… wow," she said, still shaking like a leaf.

He threw his shirt and pants onto the floor, creating a bed.

"Just 'wow'?" he teased, pulling her so that she lay against his chest. Next he found her dress and wrapped it over her shoulders like a blanket.

"Okay," said Kairi, grinning. "It was more than wow… it was just…it was just…" She fumbled for the right words.

"'Wow'?" he supplied helpfully.

"Exactly," said Kairi, as she pressed her cheek on his shoulder.

He kissed her lips. "You're such a wordsmith."

When he pulled away, Kairi's eyes noted the angry, red blotch just below his eyes, where she had hit him. It was faint now, but the sight still made her regret her earlier actions and behavior. She pressed her fingers over the bruise.

"I'm sorry about this. You didn't deserve it," she murmured, guiltily. "I was so angry with you and just reacted—I didn't mean to hurt you—"

"I know," he said, cutting her off gently. He took her hand in his and kissed it. "And I'm sorry too. I lost my patience with you… I didn't mean to snap at you."

"I was being a bit stubborn," she admitted sheepishly. "I should have let you explain to me to begin with… instead of jumping into conclusions."

He shook his head. "No, you were only reacting that way because you were hurt. But since I knew the whole thing I should have been more patient with you." He let out a deep breath. "I guess seeing you with Riku put me on edge…I'm sorry."

"You know Riku is only an old friend of mine," she said quietly. "I've known him since I was four. He doesn't live here anymore so I was just catching up with him."

"I know that now." Then he smiled wryly. "When you ran off, he called me an idiot."

"He did what?" said Kairi, eyes going round.

"He told me if I didn't go after you right then and there and beg for your forgiveness I was clearly an idiot," he barked a laugh. "Then he threatened to put an to end my life if I should ever hurt you like this again."

Kairi laughed and felt a new fondness for her silver-haired best friend. "That's Riku for you," she said.

"Well it worked," he stated. He snorted. "I owe that guy a beer now."

They laughed again.

"So…what are the drawings on the walls supposed to mean?" he asked as a change of subject.

Kairi smiled. "Riku and I… and my first love… the three of us were best friends. We used to come here all the time as children to draw on the walls. We called it our 'Secret Place' because hardly anyone knows about these caves but us."

"And that drawing by the wall over there?" he asked, pointing at the messy scrawl of a boy and a girl and twin stars between them. The exact spot he had made love to her on not too long ago—it was slightly weird to digest.

"Me and him," she said softly. "Once upon a time we made a promise to be together forever." She sighed. "It was a silly promise to make since we were only fourteen and didn't really know anything about love, but I believed in that promise with my whole heart."

"Oh." He stared at the drawing a little longer, his face a tad troubled. "And now?"

"And now," she said, placing a hand over his beating heart, where it beat steady and true, "…Now I have no doubts about the possibilities of forever." She smiled. "Now that I have you."

He smiled, happy and… also a little sad.

There was a moment's pause as they both listened to the sound of the rain from outside. He kept drawing lazy circles on her arm, making her sleepy. She was just about to nod off when she heard him speak again.

"Kairi," he said, and his tone had changed slightly. She noticed it though, and it made her more alert.

"What is it?" she said.

He stared up at the roof of the cave before he looked at her, his brows furrowed again—in worry.

"At the party," he said, and he hesitated. "There was that redhead guy that approached me."

Kairi quietly nodded. She remembered that man.

"He… he told me he could help me figure out who I am," he said.

Kairi eyes widened. "He did? Do you know him or something?"

He shook his head. "No, I don't know him, but he seemed familiar… He told me his name is Axel."

"Axel…" she mumbled to herself. It was an odd name. "But…" and she bit her lip. "How do you know he was telling you the truth—when he said he could help you I mean."

"Because he had the same tattoo as mine," he said, and her hand automatically went to touch the engraved 'XIII' sign on his arm. "His was the number eight."

"What does it all even mean though?" said Kairi, curiously.

"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "But he told me he knew where to take me so that I could find out. He has a boat on the mainland and he's agreed to bring me along…" he looked at her eyes directly, "…I think I'm going to go with him."

Kairi felt her breath falter, but couldn't say she was entirely surprised. Hadn't she already known this was going to happen?

"When… when are you leaving?" she asked.

"As soon as possible," he replied. "Maybe tomorrow. Axel did say he wasn't staying here for very long. I'm going to take my chances with him."

"Oh." She felt her heart drop. She tried to swallow, but it was difficult. "A-Alright then. I… I understand—"

"Hey," he said gently, as he cupped her face. "I'm coming back." When she shook her head, he said firmly, "Kairi, I'm coming back for you. I promise."

She closed his eyes. She had been through this once before, she thought. She had relived this exact same scenario from some time ago. She clutched at the sheets tightly. Not again. She didn't think she could live through it a second time.

"Don't promise me," she whispered, almost desperately. "Don't promise me anything. Please. I don't think I can take it. I…I might not…" I might not stop waiting for you if you did…

His expression was one of quiet understanding. "Kairi," he said, with a newfound resolution in his voice, "I promise I'm coming back. I'm not going to leave you. I'm not … I'm not him, Kairi…"

And her eyes shot back up.

His face was determined as they stared at her.

"You're the very best thing's that's ever happened to me," he told her. "Before I met you I was no one. I was a wandering, soulless no body with no past and no future. I thought I was doomed to be no one because I didn't have a name… but then you appeared." He smiled a little. "You were this beautiful, gentle thing, who was just as broken and as lost as me, if not more. You were kind and caring—the most compassionate and loving person I'd ever met… but it was your smile that surprised me most. Even though you've been hurt before, you still smiled at me. You smiled at me like I was your own personal ray of sunshine."

Kairi felt her eyes water again and he chuckled.

"It was what made me first fall in love with you, your smile. You showed me that I didn't have to have a name or a past in order to be a somebody—and that I can be seen and loved just as I am. You saved me from a life long road of darkness, of self-loathing… of confusion. These past few weeks I'd never been so whole, so complete in my entire life. You were—you are the only thing in my life that's ever made sense to me. The only thing I'm completely sure about.

So you can very well be sure that I'm coming back for you," he whispered as she smiled a watery smile, "'Cause I'm definitely coming back for this—"He touched her upturned lips. "And this—"he said as he kissed her, slowly, "And this—"he kissed her again, with more chaste, "—and this." Another deep kiss.

Kairi's smile widened, and despite her sadness she felt a stronger sense of hope in her heart. Even though she was still afraid, she had a greater belief in his words and that he was going to keep it.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and sighed as his lips trailed lower.

"And I'll wait for you till you do…"

000

The following morning, she walked with him to the mainland, where they found Axel, just about ready to set off, at the docks. He took one good look at her and her blond companion—the stricken look on the first and the damper but more determined expression of the other—and then at their tightly, twined hands and smiled wryly.

"Knew you'd show up eventually," he'd said. "Well, board on."

While Axel was readying the boat, Kairi attempted at a goodbye, however wasn't very successful. She just kept fussing with the front of his coat, making sure it was zipped up properly and that he was warm enough—"It'll get cold out at night," she'd told him—while she did her best not to make this any harder for him than it already was.

"Promise me you'll be careful," she said quietly, as she rested her hands on his chest.

"I promise," he said, nodding his head; his arms slipping around her waist. "Will you be okay getting back home?"

"Don't worry about me," she said. "I think I'll go see Riku off before he leaves today. I didn't really like how things ended last night. I didn't even get to say goodbye."

He smiled, but it didn't meet his eyes. "Tell him I said thank you," he said. "And that I'll pass on getting my ass kicked by him."

She knew he was trying to lighten the mood. "I will," she agreed with a soft laugh.

"Alright, Lover-boy, time to set sail," said Axel. "Say your goodbyes."

The blond sighed as he turned back to face her, face pinched in hesitation and sadness.

"Here…" she said quickly, unclasping the chain from around her neck. She dropped it into his hands, where the opal gleamed like crystal. "I-In case you happen to meet some beautiful girl on your journey, you'll at least have something to remember me by…"

"Kairi, you know there's no way I can forget about you, ever," he said, shaking his head. "I'll be thinking about you every minute of every day and of every night when I'm all alone and don't have you to hold on to. Besides… what will you have to remember me by if some attractive guy decides to come in and woo you while I'm away?" He smiled as he put the necklace back into her hands, squeezing them closed together. "You keep it. Besides, it was a gift."

She cracked a faint smile. "Alright."

"C'mon already," said Axel with a hint of impatience. "The tide isn't going to be favorable for very long. Do you want to be stuck out in the middle of the ocean with no wind?"

"I'm coming, I'm coming," the blond grumbled irately. "Just give me a damn second, will you?"

Axel rolled his eyes but left them alone, muttering something along the lines of 'teenagers—so sentimental' underneath his breath.

"Why do I have the feeling he's going to wind up driving me crazy?" said the blond sarcastically, making Kairi giggle.

Well… time to act cheerful, she thought; forcing herself to smile as brightly and as happily as she could, even though it was painful to do so.

His hand brushed lightly over her hair and her face; up her arms—his eyes roaming over her as though trying to imprint every tiny detail into memory. When he met her eyes—his own a dull blue—he didn't waste anymore time and pulled her in for a kiss.

Kairi's eyes fluttered close as she savored the taste of his lips, of the smell of his shirt and the warmth of his touches—after all, their ghosts were the only things that were going to be keeping her company until he returned. Better make the most of it, she thought, holding him closer to her, fingers twined in soft, unruly gold locks. When he finally pulled away it was reluctant; he leaned his forehead against hers, eyes closed and his face stricken.

"How am I ever going to let you go now?" he whispered with a shake of his head.

"I'll be right here when you get back," she said although she clutched fiercely at his hands.

"Either you get on or I'm leaving without you!" called Axel loudly.

He pulled her in for one last kiss. It was much shorter than the first, lips barely pressing, but still as desperate and as fierce, before he was pulling away again; leaving Kairi already missing his warmth. She watched him hop onto the boat while Axel started the engine.

As the boat started to move, Kairi took off at a run and the blond reached at the side of the boat for her outstretched hand.

"I love you!" she blurted out, feeling tears spill down her eyes. She was practically on her tippy-toes trying to keep their hands locked together. "Please be careful!"

He swallowed hard and she thought she saw tears well up in his own eyes. "I will. I love you too, Kairi. I'll come back to you, I promise."

"I know you will," she said.

And their hands were ripped apart.

000

Kairi watched as the boat grew smaller and smaller until it was only a tiny spec in the distance.

She didn't know how long she stood at he peer, staring out, but by the time she forced herself to leave the sun was already at high.

The walk back was long and lonely, and most of the time Kairi didn't know where she was going—she was just wandering aimlessly. However, as she stared at the opal around her neck, she attempted to remain positive and hopeful.

She reached the edge of town and found Riku already lining up for the ferry. When he saw her, he smiled and waved.

Yes, goodbyes were hard, she thought as she dashed towards her friend.

But not all of them lasted forever…

000

Two years later…

Kairi was rummaging through her mail box when she found another letter from Riku. She smiled fondly before placing it by her nightstand, promising to read it later.

Riku never failed to write her every month. He was doing well—his career as a Blitz Ball State coach was reaching its peak and he even found himself a steady girlfriend. A girl by the name of Naminé—Kairi had to needle at her friend to give her more information—but he seemed genuinely happy.

As she finished the last of her lunch, she hopped outside for a little walk around the beach. She walked along the water, her feet padding through sand and water—enjoying the warm rays of sunlight against her skin; the wind soft and cool as they combed through flowing red hair. Out of habit, she reached for the tiny stone hanging down from her neck and smoothed slender fingers over the softness of it. Holding it brought peace to her, especially on the nights when she felt particularly lonely—clutching at the opal piece made her remember soft smiles, sunlight, warm kisses and blue eyes as deep as the sky.

And unable to help herself, she'd look out across the sea in hopes of finding a return boat—with a blond-haired, blue-eyed man on board. She sighed when nothing but the tides came washing onto the shore; all else was silent and still at sea.

It'd already been two years—two years since she said goodbye to him… two years since he promised her he'd be back. Kairi missed him, dreadfully, and thinking about him only made it worse. In the back of her mind—the darker, more frightful part of her—feared he wouldn't be coming back at all.

What if… what if he found something better? She thought helplessly, but she didn't allow herself in the direction of these ideas for very long. She had to keep hoping. She had promised him, after all, that she'd be waiting here for him. And remembering his words the night before he'd left—words that still sang melodies in her heart and laved cures over open wounds—only reinforced her belief in him.

He was coming back.

Kairi went to the marketplace to buy herself some more supplies. As she walked around, she saw the familiar shop—"Radiant Garden"—she'd walked into two years ago. Out of curiosity she strolled in through again, a little glad to see that it hadn't quite changed in the years she'd been absent.

"Is that you, my dear?" said a voice from the back. It was the elderly man. "My, have you changed. You're even more beautiful than I remembered."

Kairi laughed. "Thank you. It's so good to see you again," she said. "It's definitely been awhile!"

The man chuckled. "It has, indeed," he agreed and he saw the chain around her neck. "Oh, I see you're still wearing that thing—"

Kairi glanced at it and smiled. "Yeah, I did promise after all," she said, more to herself than to him. She shrugged. "How's business going?"

"Same old, same old. Not too many customers, I'm afraid. The same as usual," said the man, chuckling. "And you, dear?"

"The same," she said. "Just trying to keep myself busy."

"Oh?" he said, curiously. And then he looked behind her, as if looking around for someone. "And where is that shy, young man of yours?"

Kairi felt her smile weaken. "He's not here at the moment," she said vaguely with a wave of her hand. "He had to settle… some things. But he'll be back. He said he would."

The man just looked at her, his gray eyes knowing. "And it just keeps getting harder to wait everyday, huh?"

"Yeah," admitted Kairi with a sigh. "I just can't help but wonder… if maybe this is what my life is going to be like."

"What's that?"

"Waiting all the time…" she murmured as she stared at her hands. "I've spent most of earlier years waiting for a man that never came back. And here I am again, waiting for some one I love to return to me… and it's been two years already." She bit her lip. "Sometimes I'm tired of waiting and I just want to give up. And yet in the end I know I won't," she said quietly, glancing up at him. "I just want him to come home that's all. I miss him… so much."

The man's smile simply widened. "And I'll be willing to bet my whole damn shop to say that I'm sure he's missing you too, just as much," he said.

"You really think so?" she said, even though she already knew what the answer was.

"A man who looks at you the way he does—I know so," he said, and it brought a smile to Kairi's face. "Here, let' me tell you a little secret about that opal stone of yours," he said as he gestured her closer.

Kairi stepped towards him.

"Opals are special stones—you can even say they're somewhat magical. They have special healing and therapeutic properties about them and are never the same color twice—somewhat mysterious in their own way. Opals are said to be the stones of love and of hope and of faithfulness—it will always bring luck to any lovers who are in need of it."

000

As Kairi walked back home, she took the long way down the beach path; sandals in her hands as she walked on soft, warm-cooling sand. The sun was already beginning to set in the horizon, the sky and clouds a rosy-orange hue, signaling the end of another day.

As she neared her house, something… a figure was standing by the beach shore just a few paces away from her house was, back to her as they watched the sun come down. A white shirt, dark pants, familiar boots—it made her stop where she was because she couldn't quite believe what she was seeing, what she was unwilling to let herself believe she was seeing.

What if it turned out to be another dream? She thought painfully. She'd often found herself dreaming about him so much that when she woke up she'd be quite sure she'd saw him standing beside her. Only when she was more awake did she realize her mistake.

She took a deep, steady breath and resumed her walking—although she was slow and careful about it. As she edged closer and closer, the figure became a lot more distinct, solid; she began seeing other things… more familiar things she hadn't remembered seeing in a long time: unruly blond hair, built arms and upper torso; soft lips tipped upward in a gentle smile.

Oh, God, she thought, as she squeezed the basket in her hands more tightly. Please let it be him, she thought. Please let it be him, please let it be him…

And as if hearing her thoughts, he turned around and faced her, his smile instant upon seeing her and his eyes clear and blue and full of warmth. He looked different somehow, she thought—older, taller, broader and more worn and beat around the edges, and yet he looked at her the exact same way as he'd always done. Nothing about his feelings told her were any different than her own—he still loved her as fiercely and as strongly as she loved him. She wondered if he could see that on her face the way she saw it as as clearly as it was on his.

His wide smile told her he did.

"Kairi…" he said, and her heart reacted to his voice—it was quiet, calm, deep, and yet so completely his.

"You're… you're back," she whispered, eyes growing wide and heart beating rapidly. "You're really here."

"Yeah," he said, eyes twinkling, "I'm home."

And she dropped her things and tore at him in a run, half-tripping on sand and yet not caring—he met her half way and suddenly she was in his arms and it felt like heaven.

She inhaled the familiar scent of wind, ocean and soap as she clung to him desperately.

"I can't believe you're finally here," she whispered, her eyes stinging.

"I promised you, didn't I?" he said in her ear, and Kairi had never been happier in her life. She buried her face into his chest.

"I missed you so much… it's been so long. I thought… I thought maybe—"she couldn't finish her sentence but he nodded his head in understanding.

"I know," he said, as he rubbed her hair soothingly. "It took me awhile, but I'm here." He shifted slightly as he reached into pocket, before handing her something. "Here," he said, gently, "I think he would have wanted you to have this."

Kairi pulled away and stared, long and hard. In his hands was her old charm, the one she'd made entirely of sea-shells during her earlier years of adolescence. It was old and worn around the tips; the soft pink and purple colors of the shells had long since faded. Kairi took it from him with shaky hands. There had only been one person she'd given this to, she thought, and it was someone she hadn't seen for a very long time.

"Where…" she said, struggling with herself; her voice trembled, "…where did you get this?"

"It's from Sora," he said and Kairi gasped, hearing the name of her former beloved—a name she hadn't heard herself even say for many, many years since his departure. The blond's face looked tired and incredibly sad. "He asked me to give this to you before he… before he died."

Before he... before he...

Kairi began to shake some more; she could barely process that thought. He was gone? No that couldn't be—she couldn't allow herself to believe it somehow, and yet she knew there was no way her blond companion would ever lie to her. Not about something like this.

"And… how did you know Sora?" she said, staring at him meaningfully.

The blond sighed. "The year I'd arrived here... I... I was on a boat with him," he said quietly, carefully. "Not too far from here."

On a boat… Kairi thought and her heart pounded faster. Don't tell me he…

"Axel took me to the island where we'd both been to last. They used to specialize in military ops troops—they trained an elite of thirteen highly qualified soldiers, nothing but the best were expected and brought there. I was their newest and last recruit," he said. "The number 13."

With that he lifted up the sleeve of his shirt and looked at the bran on his arm, a little resentfully and a little with indifference.

"But it wasn't very long before I started hating it there. The organization was nothing like I'd expected—they'd participated in mass exploits, blackmail, and fraud against innocent villagers—if anyone got in their way we were ordered to take them out."

His eyes darkened at the remembrance.

"I hated the things that we had to do. I even started hating myself for going along with it," he muttered. "And that's when I met Sora and a couple of his friends. They were trying to help the people on the island and he'd agreed to help get me out when I told him I didn't want to be a part of it anymore. It wasn't easy though and most of the time we winded up just trying to keep ourselves alive and from getting killed. When we finally made it off, it was just the two of us."

Kairi watched as he stared straight ahead, as though he were reliving the event from only yesterday.

"We jumped boats a lot, until we found one that was taking us across the coast to other islands. The journey was slow and at times we wouldn't see land for days. But all that time we were together, he'd always talk about needing to get back home," he said, lifting his eyes back to meet Kairi's, who froze and had stopped breathing. "He kept mentioning something about keeping a promise—a very special, important promise. I didn't really know what he was talking about most of the time because he would only tell me about it in passing or if we got stranded out at sea again. He'd never ever elaborate on anything and I wasn't the type to ask. Although there were times, at night, when he'd sometimes talk in his sleep… and I'd hear him call out a name…your name. 'Kairi,' he'd say, and sometimes I thought I heard him crying."

Kairi felt the tears in her eyes fall down her face, but she kept listening.

"And then that storm hit us and completely destroyed our boat. I somehow winded up being dragged underneath by the current. I thought I was going to drown but…he saved my life. Sora did. He got me out from underneath the fishing lines, but then winded up getting stuck in it. The storm just kept getting worse and worse and pretty soon it became difficult for him to keep his head above the water. There wasn't anyway we could use to cut the rope or yank him out of it. And the water was making the boat sink faster and faster…"

He swallowed, hard, before continuing:

"He… he knew he was a goner. He seemed to have accepted it—although I didn't know how he could. He didn't even seem afraid that he was going to die. I wanted him to keep fighting, but he told me if I stayed on the boat we'd both drown. I didn't want to admit it, but I knew he was right. Before he let me go though, he wanted me to do something for him…a favor."

"What was it?" said Kairi, whose voice was barely above a whisper now.

The blond took a deep breath and looked at her. "He wanted me to give you back that charm. To find you and tell you that he was sorry. Sorry he couldn't keep his promise. He hoped that you'd learn to forgive him… some day."

Kairi closed her eyes. Oh, Sora… she thought as she thought of the last night she'd spent with him and he had looked at her with those clear, blue eyes and told her he'd be coming back. There isn't anything to forgive.

"He hoped that you'd be happy. That you'd eventually move on and find some else…"

The same shades of blue were now full of guilt.

"I told him I'd be sure to find you. That I wouldn't forget. But I did. I did forget," he muttered painfully, glaring at his shoes and squeezing his hands together. "When I washed up on the island, I couldn't remember a damn thing. Not a damn thing." He fought for control over his emotions but it got exceedingly harder. "Then I met you… and I still didn't know. All this time his charm was in my jacket and I didn't know." He expelled a breath, and there was fear and remorse and self-loathing in on his face when he looked at her—seemed to have put it on himself to bear and accept it. "I won't blame you if you'll never forgive me for this."

"But I don't blame you for anything," said Kairi, frowning. "Why would I? It's not your fault you couldn't remember. You didn't even know your own name—so how could you have known that he'd wanted you to find me?"

"I could have tried harder to remember. Then maybe his death wouldn't have been left in vain." His brow scrunched together. "Kairi, he was on his way home. To you. And if he hadn't come down to save me… hadn't gotten stuck—he'd have… he'd have still been—"

Kairi placed a finger over his lips, shaking her head. "It's not your fault. It's not," she said persistently when he opened his mouth to protest. "I'm not very surprised that he did that," she murmured, staring out at the sea, where her best friend, her first love, was somewhere far, far away. "Sora … he was a very selfless and kind man, even till the end. He'd have gone down to save you even if you were his enemy." She met his eyes again. "That's just how he is."

"But… but I let him die," he said, regretfully. "I let him go. I should have forced him to try harder... forced him to not give up. None of this would have ever happened if I'd just—"

"If you'd just what?" said Kairi, and her eyes were blazing and fierce. "Died?"

The blond flinched.

"It would have made things a lot simpler, that's for sure," he mumbled bitterly. "I... I wasn't worth saving. I did awful, dreadful things and Sora—he should have just let me drown. I'd have deserved it. There was nothing in my life before this that I'd done and was proud of. I should have been the one to die, not him." Shuddering a little, he whispered brokenly, "I'm a monster—"

"You are not a monster!" she cried.

"If I'm not a monster than what am I?" he said, distasteful and angry with himself. "I left a good man to die. I'm not... there's no way I can be considered a human being, not after what I'd just done."

"No. You're wrong," she said with determination. "Sora saved you because he knew it was the right thing to do. It had nothing to do with your past or what you'd done. He died saving you because you were a friend. His friend."

"But all the horrible things that I've done over the years... I... I can't ever make up for them," he said, tonelessly.

Kairi shook her head. "But you have," she said, smiling gently at him. "You have made up for them. By leaving that awful place because you hated the things that they did to other people—that doesn't make you a monster, it makes you human. You didn't want to do their bidding any longer because you cared about those people. And Sora knew that too. You wanted a life... away from all the hurting, from all the hate and the pain. You just wanted to make a new start. You wanted to make things better this time." Her smile widened at his hesitation. "And that night at the cave... the first time you made love to me, and even before that... you showed me a side to you that was so full of gentlessness, so full of warmth and light and love... if there is anyone who deserves happiness, it's you. You've done so much to make up for your past mistakes, I know so."

"Your life would have gone back to normal though," he said, sighing. "If I wasn't around... you'd have been happy again; you'd have gotten your old love back—"

"But I did get him back," said Kairi insistently, taking his hands to stop his fidgeting. "You brought him back to me…he's home now. And so are you! And I couldn't have asked for anything more."

Then there was that openness, that young, boyish vulnerability she hadn't seen in years and had missed.

"And I am happy," she said as she slipped her arms around his neck. "You make me happy. My life has gone back to normal now that I have you again—"

He pressed his forehead against hers. "But, Sora—I betrayed him—"

"How?" said Kairi in disbelief. "By loving me? By making me happy?"

He glanced away. "If I'd known sooner… I could have… maybe I could have—"

"Could have what?" murmured Kairi and she stared fixedly at her hands. "Stopped yourself from falling in love with me? Stopped me from loving you? Is that it?" She stared into his eyes, feeling something in her heart constrict when he wouldn't look at her. "Are you saying you regret being with me—that you have done the right thing that night if you were given another chance to change things? Is that what you're saying?"

"I..." He faltered slightly but then shook his head. "I don't know what I'd have done if things were different, but I—"

No. No, she wasn't going to let him think this way. She just wasn't.

"Well, let me tell you something. I, for one, don't ever regret what had happened that night. I don't regret it one bit. And if I could do it all over again I'd still have chosen to do exactly what I'd done before. And do you want to know why?" She raised her chin at him in defiance, but by this time he was staring at her and she could tell her words were slowly sinking in. "It's because those choices that I've made have been some of the best things to have ever happened to me, that's why. And I don't think I stood a chance anyway. I had always yours to begin with."

His eyes were imploring, hopeful even. "You know I don't regret that night—or anything else we've been through together," he said quietly. "I've always been yours to begin with too."

She cupped his face on her hands and her gaze softened.

"So then stop hurting yourself like this. Sora said he'd hoped that one day I'd be happy," she said, firmly fixing him with the resolution of her own eyes. "And I'm sure if he were here right now he'd have wanted this for us too. He wouldn't have begrudged you if he'd known just how much you love me—just how much you mean to me and have made me happy. He'd have been happy for us, I know he would."

Her fingers grazed his cheek, softly, gently—he looked so worn and tired, but he was there. The familiar blueness of his eyes—the ones that have looked at her in nothing but awe and so much love—they were finally here where she could see them again.

"Two years ago… you said I was the best thing that's ever happened to you, and that because of me your life has been whole—complete. Well," she said gently, firmly, "it's the same for me too. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I've waited this long to have you back and now that you're here I'm myself again. I feel whole again because you're with me."

And at last, a real smile came out from underneath all the doubt and all the guilt—and she saw him again; she felt the warmth of his touch on her skin and wonderful, radiant blueness of his eyes as they gazed at her.

"You always did know how to find me again... whenever I get lost," he admitted, slipping strong arms around her waist and tugging her closer.

Her smile was ready. "It's because I love you, that's why."

He laughed because he knew. Of course he knew. "You know I love you too," he said. And she did. Oh, she did.

And what was more, she knew for sure that all the years spent waiting, of heartache, of being lost and then found again—staring at him now made Kairi see that it had all been worth it. Because he was home. He was finally home. And she was in his arms, where she belonged.

She felt the familiar spike of her heartbeat—a feeling only he seemed able to produce in her—as he leaned in, his hot breath washing over her face. He paused only to murmur against awaiting lips, "And would you like to know my name? My real name?"

"Tell me," she said, her eyes twinkling.

"It's Roxas," he said, lips curling upward and she'd never heard of anything more beautiful in her life. "My name is Roxas."

And then he closed the remaining gap between them.

Roxas, she thought, as she smiled against his lips.

Welcome home.

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END


A/N: And after 70 pages on MS word and over 30, 000 words I've finally reached the end.

Oh thank goodness. This has been the longest project I'd ever done, but I'm just so relieved it's finished.

If you made it to the end of this, congrats. You've earned yourself a cookie and a big gigantic thank you from me.

A special thank you goes out to SylverEyes, who had stuck by me throughout the entire long, painful process of this story, and was a great part of my inspiration. Hon, this fic is specifically dedicated to you :)

Anyway, please, please review! I'd love to know what you guys think of this. Feedback would be excellent!