Yes, it exists. I do get asked once in a while if this fic is still alive, and the answer is yes. It's too awesome to die. The thing is, I'm older than most of you and time moves a lot faster for me, so it doesn't really feel like it's been all that long since the last chapter. Even though it's almost been a year now. Kind of crazy. Anyhow, here we go.
The Glass Walls, Part One
Riku remembered a lot of things that he kept carefully away from his thoughts. Mostly, though, he remembered the cell.
If he really tried, he could probably recall how he had ended up in the cell, but it didn't seem like a trouble worth bothering with. The fact that it never did surprise him that he was there was explanation enough, the amount of guilt weighing down his chest proof that he belonged there, even if he didn't always remember just what he had done to earn the weight. It came and went, specters in the back of his mind, and he was more than happy to leave them there, unremembered, not forgotten but not acknowledged, either.
The cell was comfortable enough. There was a shaft cut at an angle up through the roof, farther up along slippery stones than a prisoner could climb, and it allowed in daylight and moonlight but never the barest whiff of a breeze. There was a soft cushion on the floor, periodically replaced by the people maintaining the dungeons when it went flat or started to smell moldy. He laid or sat on it more often than not, mind shutting down as he drifted into a trance and remained there, catatonic and immobile, until something occurred that forced him to think again.
Usually that thing was Vexen, or who he thought was Vexen—there had been others before him, but the one who came the last few times, he thought he remembered the guards calling him Vexen. Axcut-straight blond hair and a pinched, ratlike face, stark white lab coat over the Organization's regulation black. The man didn't need guards, and he probably knew it but he brought them just the same, just in case Riku had changed his mind about being in the cell.
Each visit was essentially identical—daylight through the shaft, the guards waiting outside, one on either side of the barred door, and Vexen came in, knelt down by wherever he was without disturbing his chosen position for that particular stretch of the extended waking comas he existed in. Vexen muttered to himself about things that Riku didn't care enough to remember, and there was a prick of a needle in his arm, and that was that. Vexen would finish with something superficially concerned, like "Get up off that floor before you catch cold," even knowing how unlikely that was, and then he left.
Riku had a vague guess as to the passage of time, based on these visits. He was never positive, though, and was never really concerned with it either. He belonged here, in this dingy cell with nothing but a cushion and a minimal light source; he deserved this fate, and that was what mattered.
Then one day, for no reason he could fathom, he blinked, and realized he was thinking again.
It was night; the light through the shaft was silver and dim and threw long, black shadows across the floor. He was sitting on his cushion, back against the cold stone wall and legs stretched out in front of him, and he noted absently, in the dark, that his shoe had a hole in the toe.
He was wiggling his toe, then, and glaring at it and wondering what had disturbed him enough to make him think again, when he heard something scuffing the floor outside his cell. A voice hissed, "Woah, what's a Replican doing down here?"
Riku blinked again in the darkness, and swung his head around to blink at the voice, and there with his hands around two of Riku's bars, face pressed between them and blinking back at him, was a boy. Spiky hair around his face and eyes wide and bright in the moonlight. The oversized scrubs hanging on his body made him look too thin, almost wispy, unreal.
He wasn't sure how long it had been since he'd spoken a word to anyone or anything, and he was surprised when his voice didn't croak or crack from disuse. "What?"
"Hi." The boy waved, and his smile was brighter than the silver light illuminating him. "Are you a prisoner?"
Riku considered this and dragged his tongue across his lips. It felt strange. Feeling felt strange, after so long. "I suppose so."
"That's too bad," the boy said, and it almost sounded sad.
"Where did you come from?" Riku asked finally, at a complete loss for how to handle this new intrusion into his blank space of existence. "What are you doing down here?"
"Oh, I came from the labs." The boy said this with such a matter-of-fact air that Riku was certain something unpleasant had been done to him there. "And I came down here to escape. There's a tunnel that goes from here to the University in Nocturne, did you know that? It's the fastest route across the bay, and you don't have Shadows to worry about. That's what the big muscle guy said, anyway."
"Really," Riku murmured after a moment of silence, breathed in a tone of wonder and disbelief. He knew that, of course—he wasn't sure how he knew but the knowledge sat right there in his mind, present and accessible.
"Yup. But you know what, there's a fork in the passage up ahead, I can see it from here." The boy leaned back from the bars, hanging onto them to hold his body upright as he dropped further and further backwards, head tilting to look. He pulled himself back upright, smiling again and crossing his arms inside the bars, fingers curling around the metal opposite his elbows. "Do you know which way to go?"
Riku searched the bit of knowledge in his memory but couldn't quite grasp it—didn't know why he was even trying, in fact. This kid would never make it. "No, I don't. Sorry."
"Well, just guess then." His smile was so bright that Riku actually felt warmer, and he couldn't explain that. "Right or left?"
Riku licked his lips. "Right."
"Okay." The boy released the bars and stepped back, offering him a wave. "Thanks! I hope they let you out someday."
And then, as inexplicably as he had appeared, the boy was gone.
A few minutes later, Riku reached up to his face to discover that his cheeks were damp, and the explanation for that was bubbling up in his memory. He didn't want to see why and flopped down on the cushion instead, turned until he was facing the wall and stared at a crack in the stones, studied every minute angle of it until his mind relaxed, and his body relaxed, and his thoughts came to a halt.
It couldn't have been very long—he was starting to notice the passage of time, even in his thoughtless trance, and he was sure it had only been a few days, maybe a week, before he blinked and found himself awake again.
Just as before, it was night, silvery and otherworldly, and just as before, a scuffing at the hallway floor made him raise his head from the cushion.
And just as before, exactly as before, the same boy said, with the same voice and the same tone, "Woah, what's a Replican doing down here?" And he stood there, at the same bars in the same way, with the same expression and the same blink.
"Hi." The boy's smile was exactly the same, a perfect imitation. Even the light was angled over him in the same way. "Are you a prisoner?"
He could barely get his voice to work this time, but not from disuse. No, his throat was simply closing around itself. "So—something like that."
"That's too bad," the boy said, sadly.
When Riku didn't say anything in response, voice caught somewhere below the lump in his throat, he moved slightly from side to side, eyes darting around Riku's cell in examination, and that little bit of difference gave Riku the will to continue. "What are you doing down here?"
"Oh, I came down from the labs." The boy was nodding now, shifting against the bars as he related the same story to Riku over again. "I came down here to escape, you know. There's a tunnel that goes from here to the University in Nocturne. It's the fastest route across the bay, and you don't have Shadows to worry about. That's what the big muscle guy said, anyway."
"Is that so," Riku murmured, voice so weak he wasn't sure if the boy would even hear him.
What in the name of the Seven was going on?
"Yup. But you know what, there's a fork in the passage up ahead, I can see it from here." The boy leaned back from the bars in the same way, swung on his arms and pulled himself back just as he had before, and Riku wasn't sure if he wanted to cry or retch. "Do you know which way to go?"
"No." His voice was almost a sob, and the boy's eyes softened when he looked down.
"It's okay," he said with a low tone and a smile, comforting. "Can you guess? Just guess for me, right or left."
Riku licked his lips, wished they would chap just so something would hurt, just a little. "Left."
"Thanks," the boy said before he disappeared again. "I hope they let you out someday."
Then it was dark, and he was alone, and Riku felt like something inside him was dying.
He thought, initially, that some horrible trick had finally been played on him and the clockwork of time was rewinding itself, repeating itself, over and over just to shove him further into the depths of hell, but after a while he began to notice subtle differences. Sometimes, when the boy appeared, he was clearly too tired to be on his mission, yawning and rubbing his eyes. Sometimes he was particularly cheerful and from time to time his conversation would vary just slightly, and after a while it occurred to Riku what was happening.
The boy was a lab experiment, and every time he attempted escape, they wiped his memory.
Over time, once he'd come to this realization, Riku began to anticipate the visits-and after a while, even enjoy them a bit. It was always disconcerting that the boy didn't remember him or the dozen or so conversations they'd had before, but he was always friendly, always smiling, and always doomed to be caught. Riku felt guilty for that much, for not warning him, but there was so little point to it, when soon enough he wouldn't even remember it.
Then one night, while he was settling back against the wall after inexplicably waking from his trance, the boy appeared outside his cell, and suddenly everything was different.
He approached the bars, spiky-haired head cocked to the side, and said, "Who are you?"
Riku was so caught off-guard by the change in the usual conversation, repeated so many times that he could hear the words before they were even spoken, that for a moment he just sat, staring at the boy with his mouth hanging open. Finally, though, he settled back against the wall, palms flat on the floor, licked his lips and said, "Riku."
The boy had never asked for his name before.
"Wow," the boy breathed, smiling softly and it was different from before—this one was sympathetic, a little confused. "Most Replicans don't have names. You're pretty lucky."
"I suppose," Riku said, and wondered what had changed. The boy, he noticed after a moment, wasn't staring at him—or not at his face, at least. His gaze was fixed somewhere lower, right around the center of Riku's chest.
The boy's expression started to fall, something pained to it as his eyebrows drew together. His voice was slightly choked when he spoke. "What... what happened?"
Instinctively, he reached up and placed a hand over his heart, like he could hide it from view, pressed against the squirming feeling on his skin like the boy could look right through him, like he was transparent as a ghost. When Riku didn't respond, the boy's expression became even more distressed, and he began feeling his way over the bars to where the door was latched, and literally jumped when it opened under his hands.
"It's not locked." The boy made this observation with a frown, hands still resting on either side of the open door, eyebrows bunched together.
Riku swallowed twice before speaking. "I know."
The boy slipped inside without commenting further, face turned towards the floor with a frown while the cogs of his mind whirred around all of this information. Riku watched him approach, something tightening in his throat as he came close enough to make out his features clearly in the moonlight, the play of silver light over his messy hair. Close enough Riku could make out the distinct smell of another human being, and wondered how long it had been since he'd been aware enough to identify it. How long it had been since he'd felt another person's body heat. Touched.
By the time he dropped to his knees on Riku's cushion, the boy was looking up at him again, smiling softly. "Hi. I'm Sora."
It was almost jarring, how the nameless boy who replayed himself outside of Riku's cell night after night suddenly had a name. Riku let it roll through his mind several times before he repeated it, slowly, as though he could taste the sounds of it on his tongue. "Sora."
"Yeah." Sora peered at him, through his bangs and into his eyes for a long moment as though searching for something, before his gaze dropped back to Riku's chest and scrunched up in confusion. "I'm from the labs, you know. They gave me a Truthsayer implant. I can't always make sense of it, still. The things it shows me."
"You weren't trained." Riku shrugged, although it was unsettling that Vexen and whoever else worked up in the lab were messing around with Arts and untrained hosts. That was a dangerous game; a bad way to die, too. "At least the implant is safe. You'll figure it out with some practice."
He didn't want to think about what Sora was watching, swirling around over the surface of his heart.
"You think so?" His smile was brilliant. Like the sun, like a million stars. Riku felt a responding tug at his own mouth and didn't resist it so much as let it die.
Instead, he tried to return to the dialogue he was used to. The one where Sora was outside his cell and not close and warm at his side, close enough that Riku could tell that his eyes were impossibly blue. He cleared his throat, turning his head, trying to create a distance that didn't exist. "What are you doing down here?"
"Escaping." Sora's mouth opened to continue, probably along the spiel of how he was going to accomplish such and how he'd learned about the tunnel, but before he could launch into that, he suddenly perked up. Straighter on his knees, head lifting, and he practically bounced forward just enough to reach out and wrap his hand around Riku's wrist.
The touch felt impossibly hot. Electric. Sora's eyes bore into his, too full of hope to be real.
"You should come with me."
For a moment, Riku thought about it. Thought about leaving this place, fighting his way through and emerging out under the open sky with this bright boy at his side, seeking out shelter and evading pursuit. Gradually letting that smile find its way onto his face.
After that moment, he wrenched his hand away and turned to face the square of moonlight on the cell's stone floor. "No. I belong here."
He didn't know why the tinge of loss when Sora murmured, "Oh," made his gut wrench. Sora barely knew him—Sora never remembered anything. Why did he care? Why did he even bother to ask?
"Riku," Sora murmured after a protracted silence that felt like the bottom falling out of the world. "It was nice to meet you."
He didn't watch as Sora got up, or as he slipped out of the cell and pulled the door closed again, latched but never locked. Didn't watch as he whispered a barely audible goodbye and padded off down along the hallway towards the tunnels and eventual capture.
He didn't watch, but after a minute or so he turned his head to take in the blank space where Sora had been and wished that he could have let himself say yes.
Sora was back a week later. Riku was starting to be aware enough to count the days.
Their dialogue was different now, but it still replayed itself in essentially the same way every time. Riku discovered that he could change parts of the conversation in the middle—sometimes he would talk about hearts instead of the Truthsayer implant, and then Sora was even more insistent that he come along after announcing his intended escape. Sometimes he mostly ignored Sora and then the offer was made hesitantly. Once, he told Sora the truth. What he let himself remember of it, at least.
"I did something terrible." Riku had his arms folded, staring down at his knees and trying not to look up into Sora's eyes too often, but he kept being drawn back there. "Something so terrible I can't even think about it. So I'm going to stay down here. Forever."
It was heartbreaking, how Sora's features turned down, how sad he looked for no reason, for the sake of a total stranger. "That's awful."
"It's what I deserve."
"It can't be," Sora insisted, fingers creeping towards Riku's arm. "I don't believe it."
"You don't know anything," Riku snapped, jerking his arm away, and was surprised to see Sora's expression harden. Jaw set in determination.
Suddenly, Sora was close. Not just near by his side but close, knees digging into Riku's thighs on either side, one hand on his shoulder and the other pressed firmly over his heart, reaching in, sinking in, the tiny bit of power the implant gave him searching and prodding so deep Riku could swear he felt it. Sora's eyes were closed, head falling forward until his forehead was pressed against Riku's.
Riku sucked in a breath. Held it, memory screaming at him.
"He wouldn't want this." Sora's eyes were open abruptly and Riku couldn't do anything but stare into them. He thought he saw stars, somewhere deep in the blue. Moonbeams passing through Sora's hair. "The one you loved. He wouldn't want you to live like this."
Riku didn't deserve forgiveness. The place in the back of his mind that remembered assured him of this and shuddered when Sora stared into his eyes and offered it to him. As though it was his to give. Riku swallowed a painful lump away from his throat, reached up and slid his palms up along either side of Sora's face, fingers curling in the hair over his ears.
(He'd always looked best at night.)
Sora made a small, startled noise when Riku kissed him, but didn't pull away. He didn't pull away, either, when Riku deepened the kiss, tilting Sora's head and moaning softly against his lips. Didn't pull away when Riku pressed him down against the cushion, bodies fitting together like practiced lovers, fingertips tracing a line down Sora's neck, over his shoulder, along his back.
Riku didn't realize he was crying until Sora's fingers brushed the tears off his cheeks.
"Stay," Riku breathed out in a rush, eyes open just enough to look down, watch Sora's eyelids fluttering. He could take this night, leave teardrops and fingerprints all over Sora's body, take him slowly and drown in it, sleep cradled in his arms until someone finally came looking for him. And then they'd take Sora away, and the next time Riku saw him, he wouldn't remember a single touch. They'd be strangers all over again.
"No," Sora countered almost immediately, eyes snapping open, and he knew this was coming, anyway. "Come with me."
Riku laughed, and it was bitter. Scathing. It was ridiculous, him sitting here and entertaining Sora, entertaining the idea of Sora and the idea of leaving the cell, his guilt and his punishment. "No." He drew back, sat up, left Sora free to leave and attempt his futile escape. "Go on. By tomorrow you won't remember any of this, anyway."
Sora froze, halfway to sitting. "What?"
"This is the thirty-seventh time you've tried to escape." Riku folded his arms, words biting, taking a perverse pleasure in the way Sora flinched, how his eyes widened. "Each time you come by my cell. You used to stand outside and ask whether you should go right or left, but after they gave you the implant you started coming in and trying to convince me to go with you."
"Riku..." Sora's voice trembled. "How can you—that's not possible."
"We've had the exact same conversation twenty-eight times. You've introduced yourself to me thirteen times. And all thirty-six times you've tried before you were caught, whether you went left or right." Riku did his level best to stare at Sora and not get drawn into his eyes, the way they were round and sad and betrayed. "And now you're going to leave here and get caught again, and in five to seven days you'll be right back here, having the same conversation with me as though it never happened before."
"Riku..." Sora's voice trailed off into a hurt strain, and then Sora surprised him again by standing up straight, fingers curling into fists and then relaxing before he stalked out of the cell, pulling the door shut behind him. His voice was cold, and the chill was startling. "Fine. Stay here in your unlocked prison with your precious guilt if that's what you want." He looked back just once, over his shoulder, one hand curled around a bar, and the fierce determination in his stare made Riku's mouth fall open softly. "But I'm going to remember you."
Riku stared at Sora's back, and then at the empty hallway he left behind. He stared for hours, not thinking of anything at all aside from the ring of Sora's voice that was louder than the metal door slamming shut.
Five days passed, and then seven, and then ten. Riku couldn't get his mind to switch off, to shut down, to accept that Sora probably wouldn't come back or at least to set aside the nagging anxiety that if he shut down he'd miss Sora if he did come. He'd said some cruel things, out of pain or envy or both, and he didn't know how he could apologize for something that Sora wouldn't even remember, but he was going to try, anyway.
Fifteen days passed and Riku lay on his cushion with eyes open wide, thumbnail between his teeth, and wondered if Sora had finally succeeded in escaping. If he was dead. If he remembered after all and never wanted to see Riku again. He tossed and turned, paced around his cell, tried to quiet his mind through stillness and focus but nothing worked. His skin itched. His heart raced.
Twenty days passed and Riku literally jumped to his feet when he heard a quiet shuffling in the hallway. Sora was a silhouette just outside of the moonlight, moving slowly until he could edge his way into view. His arms were wrapped around his body, and he stared up at Riku uncertainly, mouth softly open, eyes blinking, pausing there just outside the door and peering through the bars.
"I..." Sora murmured, halting as though it was painful to speak. "I know you... don't I?"
"Yeah." Riku nodded gently, one hand on the bars, tensing when Sora curled tighter around himself. Something was wrong.
"Please," he murmured, curled down so that all Riku could see was the top of his head, messy hair drooping over his face. "I want to leave." He let out a low whimper, and something buzzed over Sora's surface. An electric ripple, up from his arms and down the curve of his back.
Riku felt the bottom of his stomach fall out, yanking the door open and taking Sora by the shoulders. The energy crackled over his hands, curved around them and hummed against his skin in dark whirls, sliding between his fingers lovingly. Riku choked, pulling his hands away and absorbing the tendrils down, down into the pool at the center of his being that he hadn't drawn from since—
"Sora," he murmured, repeating the name until he had the boy's attention. "Did they give you something? With a needle, in your arm. Do you remember?"
He nodded once, slowly. "It hurt. I don't feel so good... Riku..." He doubled over abruptly, electric darkness crawling over his skin and Riku dropped to his knees along with him, grabbing at the Art crawling over its host, pulling tendrils of it away and sucking them in until Sora's breath evened.
Riku's hands were shaking and he had to repeat Sora's name again until he looked up, eyes wide and glassy, staring up at him in a sickening mixture of pain and hope. "Sora, did they teach you to Wield at all? Even a little bit?"
A long, slow blink was his response. "What?"
"Fuck," Riku muttered, just a sharp breath, one hand brushing over Sora's hair and down to cup his chin, every piece of his being quivering with nothing more than knowing that the boy his fingers were touching was going to die. If he tried he could feel the Art wriggling around in Sora's body, unchecked and uncontrolled, an infection in a host that was never trained to manage it. Riku took a shaky breath and let it rip out of his body in a barely formed scream.
His hands were trying to claw into the concrete under his knees when he felt Sora touch his shoulders. "I want to leave," he repeated, softly, so gentle Riku could hardly bear to listen. "Please. Let's go together."
If he had just gone with Sora to begin with, Riku thought, climbing to his feet and helping Sora back up as well, one arm under his, feeling his body warm and tense against him. If he had just gone with him, this never would have happened. They could be somewhere far away already, Sora living happy and healthy, Riku learning to do the same. It wouldn't have lasted forever-not for Riku, but at least it would have been years. Decades, maybe. All he had to do was give up and go with him.
He'd concede to it now, even though it was too late. He owed Sora that much.
"Get behind me if you see anyone," Riku instructed, assuring Sora could walk at a reasonable pace before guiding them back the way he'd come. "We're not taking the tunnel. The Organization controls the University and they'll be waiting for us." He wasn't entirely sure what they were going to do otherwise—he tried to call up what memory existed of the laboratory, ticked off the hours until dawn in his head.
"I knew you were a hero," Sora murmured, laughter whisper-soft, and Riku's heart broke.
They met with the first round of resistance in the lower corridors, just past the prison block and moving towards what Riku thought might be the underground hangar where a small fleet of vehicles were kept. He wasn't sure if there was an exit that lead from there to the surface or if it only opened to the tunnel, but Riku figured that if he had to drive an armored truck through the laboratory in order to get out, he'd damn well do it.
Faced with a small garrison of armed guards, hands tugging down blast armor visors and reaching for weapons, Riku felt his blood sing with an energy he thought he'd forgotten. He reached down into the well of darkness at his center, his Art crackling and streaming through him with practiced ease, as though it, too, was excited to get back in the fray. And with Sora hovering behind him, essentially an infection-powered antiphotology battery, there was no need to hold back.
A wicked grin spread across Riku's lips. He held one hand out, channeling the darkness down through his arm and into it, and the Art remembered the form of the weapon even better than he did. A sword in the shape of a demon's wing, tendrils of the Art curving around it, waiting to blind, silence, swallow the room in shadow. It was enough to make the guards balk, wonder if what they were seeing was truth.
The moment Riku started moving he knew how much he'd missed this. The dance, the speed, the heat and strain of motion and the rip of his weapon through the air. Through anything. The darkness didn't cut flesh; it severed the energy that kept humans alive. A slice through the shoulder and that man's arm would never move again. A stab in the belly and his will to live would slowly bleed away. A cut clean through the neck and he was gone.
He paused when the last one was on his back, mostly intact but too wounded to run or fight back. Riku held the tip of his weapon against the man's throat, waiting while he gasped and babbled about how this was impossible. "Da... darkwielder..."
"Give Vexen a message," Riku said after the man quieted, whimpering when the darkness slithered down along the blade to lap at his skin. "Tell him that the Prince thanks him for his hospitality, but will be leaving now, and trusts that he's already been sufficiently compensated." Riku licked his lips, feeling the familiar unfamiliarity of formal speech. "Got it?"
The man wheezed, and Riku ignored him, turning to find Sora.
The boy was curled up on the floor against the wall, breath ragged, black electricity buzzing over him in waves. Riku grabbed for it and pulled it away, slowly absorbing as much as he could even after Sora's breath evened out and he stopped shaking. "Come on. Let's go steal a car."
Sora chuckled, almost all breath, and let himself be lifted up.