On Growing Up
Riku always sat at the little islet connected to their island. Always, without fail, if someone were to be searching for him all they had to do was look to the paopu tree and there he'd be; staring out at the ocean as if he were waiting for the world to come undone. This wasn't really any new behavior for the fair haired boy (man?); but the very tenor of it was different.
Where as before The Incident (Selphie had yet to figure out exactly what The Incident was, only that it meant Riku and Sora and Kairi had gone away; Riku and Sora far longer, and they had all come back different yet not) he glowered at it, as if staring hard enough could make it change its shape into whatever he saw in his minds' eye. Now though, this After Picture of it all, meant Riku sitting serenely; almost meditative, if she was feeling particularly poignant with her descriptions, more absorbing the here and now and committing every hard line on the horizon to memory.
But to Selphie he looks sad, as if in the back of his mind he's replaying things that are probably better left forgotten. She's watched Sora and Kairi try to pull him out of his reveries, watched them all sit up there for hours on end to no avail. Selphie knows she isn't particularly close to Riku, but the somber atmosphere he's shrouded in pulls at her heart.
"You know, the ocean's not going anywhere." Selphie tells him one morning when she reaches the island only to discover she's not the first one there for a change. Riku normally shows up later in the day, not really announcing his presence, just appearing as a bright spot against the trunk of the paopu.
She watches as the corners of his lips quirk up, a secret amusement for his heart alone. "You're right." he agrees simply, not calling her dumb or flat out ignoring her like he might have once upon a sunrise.
Selphie takes this as a good sign, draping herself over the tree and watching the horizon for that first edge of the sun. "Then maybe you don't have to stand guard over it all the time?" The real questions, Do you even sleep anymore? Have you seen your parents in days? stay locked tightly under her tongue, beneath her pearly teeth and behind her tightly pressed lips.
He takes this moment to regard her with a long slow look, the kind she would have killed for if you counted wishes by clouds in the sky. "I know," he says in a low whisper as if asking her to keep this secret between them.
She finds herself smiling at him, not her full dreamy smile, but one of crossing familiar bridges of friendship cautiously. "Then come play with us today." she invites, nudging him gently in the shoulder.
Riku laughs at her, a deep heavy sound that makes her heart thunder suddenly in her ears. "I think I'm too old to play, Selph." But he's smiling and for a moment Selphie is too disorientated by this strange creature that walks with Riku's face to form a response.
He doesn't rush her though, doesn't push against her forehead and ask if anyone's home. Instead, he lets his gaze slide effortlessly back to the waters.
"No, you just don't remember how." She insists, crawling over rough bark to fall gracelessly next to him. She tries hard not to blush when he reaches out to steady her. "That's okay, because for a while we all forgot how to play. All you have to do is remember." She has to crane her head far back to grin up at him; he was always taller than her before but now they were worlds apart. She tries not to think too hard on metaphors.
Selphie tugs his arm, far more comfortable with him now then she has been since they were six, "Come on. I'll help."
Riku doesn't protest, doesn't yank his arm free and sigh in exasperation; he smiles instead "Alright."
It's all fine down through the seaside shack, and across the still cool sands; it's not until Selphie kicks off her sandals and wades ankle deep into the water that Riku's expression takes on a confused look like he's trying to figure out what lead him to this impromptu decision.
"You need to dance," she instructs assuredly, holding her hands out to him in what she hopes is an inviting manner. She wants to tease him about his indecisiveness, ask if he's been away from the island so long he's forgotten how to roll his jeans up; but Riku is still Riku and she's not quite sure how he'll react. Besides this isn't the time for mischief, she's working on a very delicate operation here, and Selphie is somewhat reminiscent of the time she tried to catch a rabbit on the mainland. One step too fast and she'll have him skittering off faster than she could hope to run.
"Can't you dance on the sand?" Riku's never been much for dancing, he was always too cool for that, she remembers this but thinks this new version just might give it a shot.
She feigns annoyance, "In order for this to work you have to dance with the ocean. You dance on the sand to dance with the sand. You dance right here (and she stomps her foot to give herself a splash) to dance with the ocean." Again, she's swallowing the words trying to bubble out of her mouth don't you remember?.
Selphie focuses on the present, trying desperately to keep her mind from recalling the past; because then she'll remember Riku never did take part in this particular silly ritual she had dreamed up, so many days ago when there were more stars in the sky, past the age of seven.
Despite her sudden doubts his eyes light up and she's graced with another breathtaking smile. "Ah, The Dance. Does it really help you find your spirit?"
"Only one way to find out," she grins in return.
"I don't really dance Selphie," Riku warns even as he bends to undo his shoe laces. His shaggy hair, so much longer since last time she really looked at him, sparkles in the slow dawning light.
"Well that's fine, this isn't so much about dancing as it is about feeling."
He wades in after her, closing his eyes as a shiver travels up his spine. "You couldn't do this when the sun's up? You know, when the water isn't freezing?" His smile assures her that he's just teasing, another new experience. Riku, teasing her without a hint of malice in his voice or on his face, and all Selphie can do in response is laugh gaily.
He stands somewhat awkwardly in front of her, an edge of doubt creeping into the corners of his face. "Now what?"
"Now, you dance." And she begins by swaying gently back and forth with the slow swoosh of the crashing waves before taking off in a series of leaps and twirls that sends the icy water up around them both.
"I feel ridiculous." Riku reports after performing a somewhat stilted half jump.
Selphie trips her way back over to him, the hem on her dress already soaked through and clinging to her legs. "You're thinking too hard, just let it happen." She grabs his hands without even pausing (they're warm, like beach sand at noon) to consider this action. This is the closest they've been to each other since a game of tackle-tag when they both still believed in Santa.
She tugs him forward, laughing as he kicks up the water; and begins moving him, away from her towards her away from her, until he's grinning in return and spins her into a sudden dip so low she has to close her eyes to avoid the salty water. Their joint laughter; hers loud and bright like the rising sunrise, his low and throaty like the soft roar of the water, echo around them as her hair drags the ocean water back up with her.
"Aw, they started without us!" Kairi cries from the dock, half kicking her shoes off and half running to meet her friends. She laughs shrilly when the cool morning waves reach up to greet her and she stumbles into Selphie with a smile on her pretty face.
The sun is finally over the horizon; painting the sky and subsequently the ocean a myriad of buttery yellows and soft pinks, and Selphie realizes what felt like hours alone with Riku was really only mere minutes. Sora comes crashing into the water next, scooping Selphie up around the waist and spinning both of them so quickly they crash back into the water.
"That's your punishment for not waiting!" he tells her through chattering teeth, grinning his cheshire cat grin the entire time. Kairi and Riku are dancing off to the side now, both smiling brilliantly at their soaked friends.
"Hey, share the ladies would ya?" Tidus calls, stealing Selphie away at just the same moment Wakka kidnaps Kairi from Riku. Sora merely shrugs a drippy response and wades over towards Riku where they set off in a half-attempted samba. None of them make a big deal about Riku's sudden presence in their little game, doesn't comment how strange it is to see him do something they all know is so childish. For this, Selphie is glad. She can't help but watch Riku even as Tidus pulls her around towards the deeper water where she's dependent upon his taller height to help keep her afloat.
Riku meets Selphie's eye over the top of Sora's head and flashes a quick, brilliant grin just for her.