~*Staying Strong*~

They had both gone through hard times—the difference was one was hardened to it, the other was not.

Riku often kept his own counsel. It was a trait of his that he had never lost, even when he was young. He found it far better to reserve judgment and not tell others his opinion unless he saw no harm in doing so, or it was simply time to give it to them straight and true.

Lying and deceit was no longer high on Riku's List of Things He Would Do.

It wasn't something they had expected, this letter from the King telling them all to save "those that were sad" or some such nonsense. He wished they'd not be so cryptic when sending them out into the unknown. Some adventuring and traveling had revealed the Keybearer they were searching for—a Master, Mickey had said—that was lost in the Dark Meridian.

Riku couldn't believe it. He and Sora had both been there a year ago. They might have been only a mile or two away from her. This "Aqua". A girl. Not that Riku didn't have a healthy respect for girls, Kairi and her Keyblade saw to that, it was just…surprising. He wanted to meet, very much so, this strange woman capable of surviving for twelve years in a bleak realm. Mickey had no doubt that she was still alive, absolutely none, but he had long lost track of her. He just had faith that she would one day come back.

Now, with Riku unable to open Dark Corridors, they were faced with a nasty situation that the Keybearer trio couldn't solve. Kairi wondered if it was possible to ask Naminé for help again. The Nobody witch had once saved them from The World that Never Was, after all, by opening such a pathway. She was a very strong girl, no matter how much she denied it.

In the end, Sora had to resort to asking the two Nobodies for assistance. The ethereal Roxas and Naminé had been a bit skeptical at first, especially since it was difficult to maintain their physical forms, joined to Sora and Kairi as they were. Naminé was more willing to help, and finally Roxas consented.

The black oval had clawed its way fitfully into existence, leaking cold and rippling with purple energy. It was horribly familiar to Riku, the feeling of walking through shadow, but his heart didn't recoil from the Darkness. And thus nothing of the substance entered him.

It never would again. Of this he was adamant.

The moonlit sea was strangely comforting, though Kairi had been freaked out, and along with Donald and Goofy and even King Mickey himself, they searched through the shadowy beach. Mickey said to Riku as they explored that he had never imagined Aqua could have survived what they say had happened to her. He hoped, but he hadn't expected any results. He felt horrible for not looking, he felt like he had betrayed his friend by giving up on her, the mouse said.

But, Mickey had searched for years, and there had never been even a whisper or any sign that the female Keyblade Master could still be alive.

Though Sora hadn't been trained officially, Mickey noted that he was still considered a Keyblade Master. But Aqua was someone from the old generation, the King explained. She had abilities and skills and dozens of ancient techniques that had once been passed down from master to disciple, before the Keyblade War had wiped out almost the entire Keyblader population.

Riku had never heard of such a war, but Mickey said it wasn't a grand point in the universe's history. Usually any Keybearers were spirited away for special training before their grand gift could hurt anyone. They both knew the danger a Keyblade could bring.

"Had there ever been Keybearers like me, Your Majesty? Darkness using Keybearers?"

Mickey had looked at him for a long time. "There were," he said somewhat reluctantly. "Not a lot, but there were."

"Were they all…evil?" Riku was almost afraid to hear the answer. Once again, he fought the fear, because it chanced letting Darkness back into his heart. He would not lose his body again.

"No, not all." Mickey had replied immediately, but the mouse King had not given any specific names when Riku had asked. Just changed the subject.

It unsettled him.

Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Kairi had found Aqua and none other than Ansem the Wise first. The female Keybearer had apparently been hostile and wary initially, before she suddenly lunged towards Sora as if to embrace him, then retreated and ended up just smiling, seemingly recognizing the boy.

Riku found her…peculiar.

She was dressed differently, but not totally out of the ordinary. She would fit into society, even with her silver-blue armor and matching hair of a slightly darker shade. Aqua had eyes that went along with her name, like the sea tide, compelling one's gaze to meet her own, and then pushing that same gaze away. She stood easy, relaxed, with her long white sleeves and clean, pale teal outfit. She joked, halfheartedly, that she had once had a cape to match.

Not that the teen wasn't ecstatic to see Ansem the Wise alive, but it was slightly overshadowed by Aqua's odd appearance. Riku asked, as they talked amongst themselves and caught the intelligent Keyblade Master up with the world she had missed for more than a decade, the one question that he simply couldn't resist.

"Don't take this the wrong way," he told her, speaking for the first time. Her eyes flashed to him instantly, and she smiled for an inexplicable reason, recognition in her look. "But why are you…still young?"

Aqua frowned, tapping her long fingers against one cheek, thoughtful. "I don't know."

"Time slows itself, if it even exists, in the Realm of Darkness," Ansem intoned in his powerful voice. His prudent orange eyes rested on Riku before slowly moving to Aqua.

Sora had been worrying with Kairi what would happen to them if Roxas and Naminé didn't reappear. Aqua had stepped up to the male Keybearer and had started instructing him on something, then, after a moment of thought, she called Riku over too.

She launched into a lesson on something called Keyblade Riding, which apparently transformed one's Keyblade into a vehicle. The idea was intriguing. After several futile attempts, they finally managed to actually create the machines, each one unique and metallic. It was their ticket out of the Realm of Darkness. Aqua herself could not do it without her armor and her own Keyblade; apparently, she had her old Master's Keyblade, but her protective gear was long lost.

Mickey had had the foresight to bring the Organization cloaks, which were actually not made for fashion. They protected the wearer from the Darkness. Aqua accepted the robe a little reluctantly, but nodded, and smiled at the King anyway.

Mickey had only grinned, happy, since he had finally reunited with her. Their reunion had been rather cute, the blue-haired maiden hugging the short mouse King with all of her strength, he returning the gesture.

He ignored the jealousy that pricked at his heart, for he knew it was stupid. And Riku was proud of himself. He could control his emotions at last.

It took some doing—Sora had a laughing fit when he saw Donald and Goofy in the Organization XIII cloaks—but they finally managed to depart from the Dark Meridian, with Aqua leading the way to a place that she knew, and Sora also could confirm, was still standing.

Radiant Garden. They had a lot of things to do, but Aqua needed to rest above all else, with Ansem the Wise being much the same. Those without a Keyblade were hitching a dangerous ride with those that did. It was an awkward situation that Aqua hadn't had time to correctly perform with Terra, she said, when he had fallen into the shadows. He hadn't been conscious at the occasion.

Riku envied her inner strength, to be alone for so many years and not completely lose her mind. Aqua just seemed exhausted, but determined. She kept sneaking glances at Sora, confused ones, and she smiled at Kairi when the girl suddenly remembered that she had, in fact, met the female Keybearer before.

They all had. Every single one, Donald and Goofy included. The King had been so grief stricken, they would explain, when Aqua, Ven, and Terra just up and vanished one day, leaving behind not a trace.

So they rested, for perhaps a week or so, and during that time, Riku knew he had to ask the Keyblade Master—the only true one left—some choice questions. He needed answers, to put his Darkness riddled heart at ease.

Riku had officially met, for the first time, Sora's closest friends that were not on Destiny Islands. Leon, Cloud, Yuffie, Aerith, and Cid. They had all been excited and curious to see the teen that Sora and Kairi cared so much for, and their introductions had been lively. Or, at least, in Yuffie's case they were.

"You're way cuter than Sora ever said you were," the ninja declared with an unreadable grin in his direction.

Riku took a startled step back as Sora broke into guffaws, echoed by Donald and the snickering Goofy. Mickey had vanished somewhere with Ansem the Wise, presumably back to the castle that overlooked Radiant Garden. Aerith had insisted on their staying in the home the friends all shared, giving them all their own rooms, though Aqua had said she didn't mind paying for a hotel.

"You're friends," Aerith had told her with an appalled expression. "We wouldn't make you leave, when we have more than enough space for you."

Leon had a lot of questions for the Keyblade Master, and everyone listened as Aqua retold her story. At the mention of Zack's name, Riku noticed Cloud's eyes almost leap from their sockets. It was obviously something personal, and he deigned not to bother the blonde warrior as he actually addressed the blue-haired girl, asking everything he could about Zack Fair.

Finally, after a day of waiting, Riku found Aqua alone. She had wandered out to the balcony of her room—a sympathetic Aerith had given her the best in the house, despite the blue-haired maiden's embarrassed refusal—and now she just stared out over the rooftops.

Riku had noticed her from the backyard, and he went up to her room, one slow step at a time, and hesitated outside her dark mahogany door. He knocked once, sharply, and asked, "Can I come in?"

There was a pause. "Sure."

He turned the golden rose knob and walked in. The door to the white tiled bathroom was partially open, letting light into the dark brown-russet-black color scheme of the room. There was a large bed with the same such shades, along with a thick, shaggy carpet to match. There was also a glint of gold out of the corner of Riku's eye, and he noticed the ornamental items within the chamber, such as the curtain railings, were almost glowing in the sunbeams.

Riku shook himself mentally, stepping out onto the raised porch, which was constructed of pale wood. Aqua didn't even spare him a glance, her chin in her hands, her elbows on the balustrade, her azure eyes not truly taking in any of the city.

Clearing his throat, Riku asked, "Do you want me to go?"

She slowly lifted her gaze to his, turning halfway to face him. "No. It's okay. What can I help with?"

Too selfless for her own good. We've been pestering her with questions for a while. Aloud, Riku remarked casually, "I was just wondering about…the Keyblade Masters, and how they worked." Out of respect for him, Sora had somehow avoided the worse of the Darkness in Riku's past, though his involvement with Maleficent couldn't possibly be evaded. Riku wanted to find out about the older generation, and he wanted to see if any Keybearers had walked the Way to the Dawn before.

"How they worked?" Aqua repeated, her voice dull. He thought she was bored, and then he saw that an incredible pain that he couldn't even imagine had surfaced in her eyes, her breath hitching in her throat. As fast as the agony had come, it was gone, and she was herself again. Calm and collected and poised oh-so elegantly. "They were teachers. Passing down knowledge from one age to the next…"

"And your master was Eraqus, right?" Riku prompted gently.

She blinked once, focusing on his own pale stare. "Yes, he was my Master…the Keyblade I have now, it's his." She summoned the silver skeleton key styled weapon, running her eyes over it slowly. "If Ansem is right, and my armor and Keyblade are really here, then maybe…but if that was Terra...and he doesn't remember much of anything…"Aqua frowned, drifting away into her memories and thoughts.

Riku was reluctant to intrude again, but he really wanted to know. No beating around the bush, then. "Tell me something. Were there Keybearers like me?"

"Like you?" she echoed slowly. Aqua tore herself away from her reverie and made an effort to concentrate on his question. "Darkness users?" He didn't miss the faint snarl in the word "Darkness". "There was only one I know of. Master Xehanort."

"The bad guy. Of course."

She dipped her head. "Yes, you could say that. But, Riku…no one has ever shouldered both Light and Darkness before. There has been no one like you."

"Then maybe there's hope yet," he replied with a shrug. He turned away. "I'll be going, then."

Aqua lightly laid her hand on his arm, her grip firm but gentle. "There's always hope. You'll not fall into Darkness again. Your friends absolutely adore you."

"I know."

"And they trust you."

"I know."

"You'd never betray their trust again, would you?" Her tone was reassuring.

Riku's heart balked at the prospect. "Never."

She released him from her hold, sounding satisfied. "Good. Sora seems like the type to surround himself with only the best of allies."

At Sora's name, Riku remembered another question. He faced her once more. "Aqua, why do you watch Sora like that?"

"What do you mean?"

"You stare. I'm not blind."

Aqua tilted her head towards the sky, her voice quiet. "He reminds me of someone. And if I'm right, then…"

Riku noticed that she also kept her own counsel, not giving out information willy-nilly. He was a little irked, though, especially if the knowledge affected the affairs of his best friends. Doing anything to Sora would automatically rebound across the universe, since the young Keybearer was loved almost everywhere he went.

"If it affects Sora, I have a right to know."

Aqua peeked at him past her hair. "Yes, but it's only a theory. And I won't do anything, I promise, without telling you." She gave him a shy little smile. "What are you, his guardian?" she teased.

Riku snorted. "Basically. He needs help every journey he takes."

"Everyone needs help."

"But still," the teen persisted, earning a short giggle from the female Keybearer. He appreciated her attempt to lift the intense mood.

Aqua asked abruptly, "Will you help me with something?"


"But you don't even know what it is," she said, confused.

"I trust you."

"Trust is a horrible thing to break…I want you to fight me." Aqua called her Keyblade back and pointed it at him. Riku let its tip brush his chest.


"I want to see how you taught yourself…and how bad my skills have diminished. I was in the Dark Meridian for a long time, Riku," the girl replied calmly.

Riku shrugged. "Humph. Don't cry when you lose." He put just enough of a playful lilt to his voice to dispel any angry reaction from Aqua.

Surprisingly, she blinked and rubbed at her eyes. "You all remind me of…" Trailing off, the young woman just gestured instead for Riku to follow her outside, remarking dryly about them not tearing Aerith's furniture to pieces.

They amassed quite an audience, once Yuffie got wind of their duel. Riku heaved a sigh as Sora and everyone else—even the King and Ansem the Wise—crouched on the sidelines, eagerly waiting for the contest.

Sora mouthed, "Glad it's you and not me."

Riku just scoffed and smiled a little.

Radiant Garden had sunny, warm weather almost year round. The teen disliked this world…it reminded him of his time as Maleficent's lackey. But those memories were fading fast now, to be replaced with brighter ones…

"Are you ready?" Aqua inquired. Riku felt his heart beat faster as she settled into a loose battle stance. He wanted to see how she fought. Those arms didn't look very strong…she had to get her strength from elsewhere. Reminding himself she wasn't a Keyblade Master for nothing, he braced himself for a fight worse than Roxas.

Riku nodded and hefted The Way to the Dawn over his shoulder, arching his arm into his familiar fighting pose. He blinked in shock as the girl recoiled from him as if she had been slapped. "Aqua?"

Several concerned voices emitted from the crowd, with Cloud and Leon just raising their eyebrows silently.

Mickey stood and whispered something to the female Keyblader. No one else could possibly hear, except for Riku, his senses still heightened from the Darkness that permeated his entire being like a second skin.

"It's not like that," the King informed her softly.

Aqua nodded hurriedly and once again relaxed. "I'm sorry," she apologized aloud. "You reminded me of someone again." Her eyes turned dark, tracing his frame as if searching for something else. Just as Riku was preparing to attack, she put her hand up again. "Wait."

"Aw, c'mon," Yuffie whined, only to be hushed by Goofy and Aerith. The ninja sulked to herself, drawing her legs up as she balanced on the brown barrel in the spacious backyard. It was like a large garden, with the center having once held furniture. That had all been drawn away to clear a space for the fighters.

"What now?" Riku griped, trying to ease the tension in his arms and legs.

She cocked her head to the side. "Your hand."

"What?" Sora and various other voices questioned.

Riku looked down at his bandaged hand. It was stiffer than his other, and sometimes painful to move, and thus he tried to disturb it as little as possible. He was so used to fighting one handed—his battle style had always been such—that he hadn't considered the mobility of his left arm. Roxas had injured it in a fight long ago.

"Haven't you tried to heal it?"

"I can't," Sora explained to Aqua. "I tried Curaga, that's the strongest I know."

"Tried an Elixir," agreed Kairi with an apologetic shrug. "It just doesn't mend."

"It's not a big deal." Riku grumbled.

"I won't fight a handicapped opponent, if I can help it." Aqua informed him evenly.

Sora snickered and Riku bristled. "I'm not handicapped."

Aqua tilted her head skyward again, folding her fist over her heart. "Okay, okay. You won't let me try and heal it?"

Riku snorted and extended his "injured" arm. "Go ahead."

The female Keybearer trotted towards him and wrapped her slender fingers around his. She sighed, closing her eyes and exhaling slowly. "Heal," she breathed. An emerald glow far brighter than any Riku was capable of washed over his arm. It sank into his body, passed his skin, soaked into his very bones. Muscles loosened up that Riku hadn't even known had tightened. A welcome, cooling feeling surrounded him and he sank into a gentle bliss.

She was obviously a skilled healer.

"Aerith could have gotten some herbs and—"Yuffie began, but Leon glared at her until she clamped her mouth shut.

"Nothing to do in the Meridian but practice," Aqua remarked with a smile, her hand lingering for perhaps a second longer than needed. She stared into his pale turquoise eyes searchingly before leaping unexpectedly back a few feet in one fluid motion. "Now, are you ready, Riku?"

Shaking himself, and removing the white splint on his wrist, the teen flexed the digits on his hand. "Thanks."

"It was nothing." But Riku didn't miss the slight tinge of fatigue in her voice. The male reached into his pocket and tossed her an Ether, waiting for her to drink it. She's revealed her strength. Magic.

Aqua nodded at him, dropping the empty container. "I'd like to fight Sora next, I think."

"Right," Sora agreed enthusiastically. "Pound her, Riku!"

Kairi punched his shoulder from her position beside the young Keybearer on the wicker loveseat. "Go Riku!"

If Aqua was bothered by the cheering for Riku—Leon and Cloud were soundless, probably withholding their opinions until after the fight—she didn't show it. In a single smooth movement, she bolted at him, a glimmering streak of light trailing behind her like a kite's tail.

Riku could barely get his arm up in time to block. The strength in the blow was incredible, his guard almost buckled then and there. He gasped, growling, surging forward and straining the muscles in his arms. Aqua narrowed her eyes, digging her armored shoes into the ground, breathing hard through her nose.

Suddenly, he dropped his defense and dropped to the floor, spinning deftly and knocking her off of her feet. Before he could recover from his own impromptu maneuver, Aqua flicked her fingers and launched a ball of pure Light at him.

It hit his chest and knocked all of the wind from his lungs. Riku stumbled, feeling the burning tendrils, and his inner Darkness retreated from its searing touch.

His inner Light embraced it, absorbed it, and launched it back.

Aqua hadn't been expecting that. She parried the sphere of energy, and Riku did the same, until it seemed as if they were playing badminton with the glowing globe.

Sora's eyes were following it with an astonished expression, mouth open in shock, Donald and Goofy looking much the same. Kairi was leaning forward, anxious and interested at the same time, not blinking once. Ansem the Wise wasn't paying attention, looking distracted, orange gaze fixated on the horizon. King Mickey was cheering them both. Leon and Yuffie couldn't look away, their faces becoming illuminated with every movement of the Light sphere as it passed. Cloud was standing protectively by Aerith, as if determined to keep her safe from any possible stray attack.

A sudden change in her stance alerted Riku a second before it was too late. He turned to the side and just barely escaped the curveball she directed at him, the Light exploding behind him, casting a brilliant radiance across his entire visage.

Aqua almost dropped her Keyblade, shaking her head, for a reason Riku couldn't fathom, staring at him. There was no time to think. He gathered Darkness in his free hand and fired it at her, the cold tendrils streaming through the air, seeming like octopus tentacles.

A beam lanced from her Keyblade, splitting into seven rainbow streaks that swallowed the Darkness before imploding in on themselves. She skipped toward him, and Riku hastily threw up a shield. She seemed surprised by the transparent, crystalline barrier, but only for a moment.

Riku needed no more.

He lunged past his own guard, hitting her side with more force than he had intended. She gasped in pain and blood flowed freely from her wound, trickling down her side, staining her outfit. Aqua turned on him with a look of…amusement?

"I was wondering," she gasped, dodging an attack and countering with a blow of her own that almost sent Riku backwards. "When you'd hit me!"

Riku winked. "Plenty more where that came from." It was almost like fighting with Sora. Her presence was utterly familiar to him now.

Yuffie said behind a badly disguised cough, "Trip her again!"

Ignoring the ninja just as she was ignoring Leon, Riku upped his offensive force. He went at Aqua with all the ferocity at his disposal, spearing her with both Darkness and Light, seeking to break past her guard. Her attack pattern was utterly foreign, and the magic in her system made it difficult to outmaneuver her. She tried everything from some sort of ghostly charge attack to a fire streak, to even an explosion of pure ice that forced Sora to throw up a reflective barrier around the spectators as icicles shattered everywhere.

Riku was tiring, and Aqua didn't seem to be that bothered. But the longer they pressed on, the more he noticed that she was just hiding it. Her steps were firm, yes, but her breathing was harsh and her eyes were becoming darker as weariness set in. He imagined he looked the worse for wear.

Still, it wasn't quite as bad as Xemnas, and just the mere memory of that pain after destroying the Dusks was enough to ease the current discomfort he was feeling now.

Aqua was basically shining with the Light energy she was calling. It almost rivaled Sora's. Riku gritted his teeth and gathered the strength he had stored in every cell in his body. He flicked his Keyblade sharply.

Hers clattered away. Aqua slumped, and Riku prepared to pounce.

She opened her eyes and pressed her hand to his chest, and Light shot out so strongly that he was blasted across the yard and slammed into the high wooden gate. Riku felt dizzy, but nowhere near unconscious, pushing away Kairi's hand and rising by himself.

Aqua looked mortified. "I'm sorry, I didn't—"

"No, I'm fine." Riku dismissed his Keyblade and stretched his arms over his head, marveling at the feel of the muscles stretching smoothly for once. "You win."

Sora's mouth dropped open.

"No. If you got up again, I was finished. That was the last of my energy right there."

Riku just gave her a small, crooked smile. She returned it tentatively, hers being much brighter and wider.

"Cool, can I go next?" Sora asked.

"I want to go next," Yuffie declared, springing nimbly from her perch and skipping over to the Keybearer.

"Hey, I asked first!"

"He's got a point," Goofy agreed.

"Aw, doesn't matter. Sora would win anyway, you big palooka." Donald sniffed.

Mickey was talking to Ansem again, and Riku knew they were probably discussing where to proceed to on their journey next. Aqua tapped his shoulder as Kairi ran off to pull Sora away from Yuffie as they threatened to fight one another.

"I have some Potions in my room. Let's go get them." Aqua nodded at Sora. "I guess I have to fight him next. He sounds like a fierce fighter." She turned and headed for the house, Riku following. Leon, Cloud, Aerith, and Cid—whom had just emerged from the Gummi Ship garage—were murmuring to one another with their heads close together.

"He's the best fighter here. He could take Cloud and Leon at the same time." Riku boasted.

Aqua looked uneasy. "That's just great."

As they climbed the stairs, the girl closed her eyes, and without her reopening them, they entered her personal chambers. Riku closed the door behind him as the female Keybearer opened a bag from her beside and offered him not a Potion, but an Elixir.

He downed the golden concoction in one gulp, watching her from the corner of his vision. Just as he expected, she fell back on her bed and closed her eyes.

He didn't expect the tears.

They flowed freely, silvery against the paleness of her skin. Aqua was crying.

Riku's first instinct was to bolt. He was not used to dealing with emotions and girls and emotions…and girls. It reminded him of Naminé, DiZ's prisoner, sometimes looking so horribly depressed that he had just…wanted to hug her.

So he stepped towards Aqua, and without waiting for permission, wrapped his arms around her and held her to his chest. Riku felt the shudder that traveled the entire length of her body as she sighed. She wasn't crying anymore, suppressing the tears.

Strong girl.

He tentatively stroked her blue hair, an instinct. "What's wrong?"

Aqua pulled back, but not away from his embrace, just to reposition herself so she was leaning against his shoulder. She didn't seem bothered, but Riku could almost feel the blush scorching his cheeks. But of course, nothing showed. He could control his emotions well.

"I…I miss them, so much. We have to go rescue them," she choked out, sounding as if briars had lodged themselves into her throat.

Terra and Ventus. He tried to imagine the world from her point of view. What if Sora had gone who-knows-where and Kairi had her heart lost, vanished, too? What if he had been forced to wait a decade before helping them?

"They aged, Riku." Aqua said, as if reading his thoughts. Her voice cracked, but then he could almost feel her resolve hardening. "But even if I haven't, I want to find them. To know they're okay. Terra…Ven…I promised. See?" She reached into her pocket and showed him a blue star charm. Riku let his pale turquoise eyes rest on the relic, and he was reminded sharply of Kairi's good luck trinket to Sora.

He wished, not for the first time, that Kairi had given him such an item. But he had seen the paopu drawing in the Secret Cave…he knew what they had. Something he couldn't intrude upon. Even if he wished. Sora and Kairi belonged together.

Riku remarked quietly, "Sora and Kairi have the same thing."

"But not you?" Aqua sniffed slightly, her voice so soft that he barely heard.

"No. Not me."

She didn't ask, but he could sense her confusion, the question was in the air as an almost tangible force.

He heaved a sigh, looking up at the high ceiling. "It doesn't matter," he lied, succeeding in keeping the hurt from his tone.

Aqua scoffed. "You and Terra are so alike…would you want one from me?"

Riku was taken aback, and he looked down at her, this time lost female Keyblade Master with the blue, blue eyes. Blue like Kairi's. Blue like Naminé's. Blue like…someone else…with black hair…

"I'm not your best friend. I won't say I should or can be. But I made these to bring my friends together, best or not. Would you accept one from me, Master Riku?"

"Master?" He echoed incredulously, his mind spinning too much to reply to her question.

"You could have easily passed your Qualification Exam…if you had a Master that didn't mind Darkness, and you obviously have control." Aqua's words were strangely wistful, but once more, she dragged herself back into the reality at hand. "Can you teach me something?"

"I'll try. I'm no teacher." Riku realized he was still hugging her, but he didn't release her. He just slackened his arms slightly so she could move if she wished.

Aqua lifted her head from his shoulder and stared straight at him, past his shaggy mane of hair, past the emotionless veil of his pale blue-green eyes, down into his Darkness riddled heart and the Light that healed the wounds every time they were caused. "Teach me to be strong, like you."

"You are strong. I would have gone mad down in the Meridian."

"No, you wouldn't. Sora told me you did everything you could to save Kairi and himself."

"I tried." Riku had a hint of bitterness to his tone.

"But I bet you never cried. I need to be strong, Riku." Aqua clenched her fists. "I need to be able to hold myself high and proud and walk off into the sunset until I find my friends."


Startled, the Keyblade Master gawked at him.

"First lesson," Riku drawled lazily, gently removing his arm from her shoulder. Until he knew her position with Terra or Ven, he wouldn't…wouldn't do whatever that motion meant. Embracing for longer than normal. "You're not walking into the sunset."

Aqua rose with him, wiping the last of her tears away, keeping her chin lifted and her stance steady. Her eyes bore into his, questioningly.

"You're walking into the dawn."

This…is certainly one of the most random stories I've ever written. Long one-shot, too. I'm determined to make some crazy Aqua pairings until Birth by Sleep comes out in America.

This was inspired by an idea from my brother, It's SO Wonderful, though he never told me to write it, it was far too good to waste.

But, this is dedicated to Dani-Chan-Sprite-Monster -13- since she seemed to be happy at the prospect of this "Rikua".

Am I the first to do a Rikua? I saw a SoraxAqua thing so why not an AquaxRiku?

Anyway. Er—want to drop a review? I had a ridiculous amount of fun with this…and sorry if they're OOC. I don't write Riku often, nor do I know exactly how Aqua acts. Speculation is not fun.