Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts.

Pairings: Kairi x Roxas. Actually, now that I think of it, there's very little romance at all.

Warnings: A dab of lime. Disproves KairixSora and RoxasxNamine. Extremely vague references to my preferred pairings. Oh, and Riku got a haircut.

A/N: Post-KH2. Kairi is of legal age. Romance isn't a big thing here; I was more interested in Kairi's maturity and the psychological effects of her experiences. But I guess you can call it romance if you want.

.01.

His hair was gold like the sand.

Arms folded behind his head, mouth quirked in a sly manner. His eyes were familiar, bright blue and brilliant in the glare of the sanguinary sun, but they were old—had seen all manner of darkness. He seemed so at ease lying there, cushioned by the beach, arm loosely dangling out toward her, wrist twirling lazily. She didn't know what he was reaching for until his fingers wound loosely into her long hair—for she'd grown it out since Riku made that off-hand comment about her looking too much like a boy when she had it short.

"I don't know why he only sees you as a sister," he murmured, but it wasn't Sora's voice. It wasn't Sora's hair, either. Even long afternoons in the sun could not make Sora's hair so fair.

She found she had no strength to move when his fingers drifted from her hair to her cheek, traced her jawbone, whispered across untouched lips. Her breath was jagged, hot air upon the thumb he rested across the slight part in her lips.

His fingertips were worn. His wrists bore the faintest traces of burns.

One minute Sora laid down and shut his eyes. His breathing steadied. She had turned to watch the sun crash and burn. The next minute, this boy—this man—was watching her intently, the vaguest hints of amusement playing in the contours of his face.

Her eyelashes fluttered with the butterflies swaying madly in her stomach. His hand was sliding to her ear, brushing gently against her skin—gently enough to drive her to insanity with anticipation. This man was not Sora. Sora never touched her like this.

No light. Not in his eyes, not in his fingertips. Not in that agonizing smile. The only light about him was the sun's dying reaches, glittering against his golden locks. She shut her eyes when he sat up, the sun's reflection glowing too bright for comfort. Kept them shut when she felt his breath on her ear.

"You look like a woman to me."

And when her eyes opened, Sora was snoozing in the sand beside her, head still resting comfortably on his hands. A dreary sigh escaped his lips, chapped lips resting on the face of a boy who still called her his big sister. When the sun was gone, she placed her hand on his shoulder and shook him awake. She kept her gaze steady on the horizon, as though she waited for something. Sora asked what, but she did not answer.

.02.

Her lips pressed hard together, paling in the pressure.

"Sora, did you assimilate with your Nobody?" she inquired hesitantly. Sora batted his eyelashes, wide-eyed and ignorant. His tongue worked at the baby blue ice-pop clutched in his fist. With infuriating audacity, he shrugged.

A tanned hand waved her off dismissively. Sora's sweet eyes examined his bare feet, wriggling, sandy toes.

Heat spread into her face, climbing viciously up her cheeks. It was much too hot outside. She raised a slender finger into the air, pointed it accusingly in his general direction. Sequin-blue nails glinted in the sunlight.

"Sunset," Sora murmured. His voice was uncharacteristically low. He compulsively watched the horizon as though afraid it would vanish should he turn away.

She hugged her knees against her chest, watching the ocean rush and turn in the distance. Her toes wriggled against the dock, unsure of the solidity of the wood beneath them.

Suddenly his hand was on her knee. It wasn't the bronze of Sora's beach-body skin. Rather, it was ivory, pale as death. The fingers, spindly and wiry, clung to her. Nails that had gone without proper grooming carved half-moons into her flesh. She felt fear, real fear, like the kind she remembered feeling years ago as she clung to the thick bars of a strange cell. Her heart raced.

Need as she had never felt crept into her body and she shivered, fingers trembling in their grasp on her legs. Breathing was more difficult than she could remember. It seemed excessive. Turning her head slightly, frightened, she peered through the stringy red of her wet hair.

Sun-spun hair, leering grin. His lips a whisper away.

"I like red hair." She hadn't noticed his other hand weave into her hair. His fingers, tangled, tugged roughly. The hand that once rested on her knee was now creeping dangerously up the inside of her thigh. A scream rose steadily in her throat, though she did not know what emotion evoked it.

Her eyelids fluttered shut. His hand was so close, so close. But never close enough. His mouth was at her ear, his nose buried in her hair, inhaling, and then all at once the chill of his body was gone and Sora was perched on the edge of the dock, legs swinging happily back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Kairi buried her face in her hands and cried.

.03.

Red sunset lined his form in an aura of scarlet. The golden moon haloed his head, held high and faced toward the water. His bare back was tense and strained, scattered with the memories of battles and disagreements. His arms were outstretched as though he wished to embrace the entirety of the sky.

The waves reached for him and drew back, repetitive and desperate. The bottoms of his jeans soaked, but he did not move.

She stood behind, feet planted firmly in the sand. Her sandals laid abandoned on the path, useless for trekking the beach. Hair tied against her back, shorts torn from island activity, shirt stained with dirt, she felt utterly incomparable to the beauty standing before her. And ridiculously hungry.

She wanted to hear him speak. Her legs wanted her to step forward. Her brain wanted her to step back. So much wanting and waiting. She wanted to explode. But Sora was the one who always kept her waiting, not him.

"It's like fire," he whispered. She could only hear him because she had been waiting for him to speak, had been listening closely for the voice that was not Sora's. "It's like fire, isn't it?"

"Is—is that why you like sunset?" she breathed. She felt stupid for speaking at all.

"No." His arms fell to his sides, though not in defeat. He turned toward her, eyes glowing red in the darkly setting sun. He was terrifying. "It's because nobody can find me here."

She did not know what to say to that. But she didn't need to say anything, because he was very close, then his arms were circled around her, tugging at the ribbon holding her hair in a ponytail. Her hair fell loose and his fingers combed through it tenderly.

The proximity was painful but she did not move. Her fingers twitched at her sides, her legs threatened to buckle. Her breathing slowed—it always seemed to be a luxury when he was there.

His head tilted to the side. His lips parted and crept closer to her own. She could smell his breath—ashes and sea-salt ice cream. Impulsively she jerked backwards, stumbling in the sand and falling to the ground. Wide-eyed, she stared up at him.

"You're not real," she determined. He grinned at that, an abnormal, wide grin that would haunt circus clowns. His eyes were dark, forever concealing age and despair—they had seen the darkest places of the heart.

And then his eyes dimmed. Sorrow wrapped her arms around his pale figure. His gaze stayed on her sternly, but he appeared to be far away now.

"Who am I to argue that?"

And then Sora was confusedly offering a hand, smiling sheepishly, laughing, "What, did you trip? That's not like you at all, Kairi." Kairi did not take his hand. She planted her hands in the sand and heaved herself up. Her hair cascaded around her face, a curtain hiding her from Sora's blissful ignorance.

.04.

He stood in her doorway.

The book toppled from her grip, clattered against the wood floor. The open window poured a breeze that ruffled the white curtains, ghostly arms reaching to hold her in place, to shield her.

"I couldn't find you," he said quietly. Annoyed.

The sun sank beyond the window.

"Maybe I didn't want you to."

His hands were cold around her wrists. His lips were colder. But his smile was like light, if light ever had a physical form. When she reached up to run her fingers along his fragile grin, she imagined she was touching the face of an angel.

"Is it because of Naminé?" she asked. Her hands faltered.

He grabbed fistfuls of her hair, pulled viciously. "You are Naminé." She could not understand why he looked so livid. "As she was before, separate, she was no more to me than you are to Sora." A sister, always a little girl playing with him in the sand. But when did she become too old for sandcastles?

Suddenly he was kneeling before her, arms wrapped desperately around her waist. His face buried in her stomach like a son trying to hear the baby in a mother's swollen belly. But she was too aware of his body placed between her legs to appreciate the platonic aspect of his position.

"Naminé is a girl. You are a woman."

Blonde bled into brown. Without warning, Sora was crying hysterically in her lap, puzzled and frustrated, not understanding why the tears came so strong. Kairi ran her fingers comfortingly through his hair, kissed the top of his head. A voice whispered in her head, tugged at the chords of her heart.

"Rest, Sora."

.05.

Vibrant green eyes glared down disapprovingly. Riku was much too tall.

"I saw him," he stated simply. His stance was rigid, his voice tense. "I know you did, too."

She reached out into the rain, pulled him across the threshold by his bulky arm. His hair dripped all over her floor, though luckily there was far less of it now that he had let her give him a haircut. Dropping him at the table, she swung across the kitchen to produce a mug of coffee.

"It's not cold out," Riku said simply, but he took the coffee anyway. He didn't look away.

"Sora never accepted him," she whispered. She pulled out a seat across the tiny table and then grimaced at it. She pushed it back and remained standing, leaning against the tabletop for support. Shaking her head, she wandered into the hall and returned with a towel. Riku accepted it gratefully and began to ruffle his hair about wildly.

"There's nothing we can do." He folded the towel and placed it on the table in front of him. He dropped the coffee mug in the sink and washed it, dried it, and placed it in the cupboard it originated from.

"Then why bring it up?"

Riku stood at the window. All she could see was his dark jacket, draped over his back. His fingertips traced the lines of rain running down the outside glass.

"You need to stay away from him."

.06.

"You sure you'll be okay here by yourself?"

Selphie ran her hands through her hair, combed at it, tossed it around. She puckered her lips in the mirror, tilted her face to one side and then the other. Posing, she squeaked in delight and whirled around dramatically.

"Uh-huh." Kairi leaned back in the chair, carefully examining the ring of flowers dangling from her grasp. She pulled a paopu leaf from the jar on the table. Her eyes swiveled to Selphie, then returned just as quickly to her project. "It's no use getting all pretty. The rain is just going to ruin it as soon as you step outside."

Selphie grunted angrily, sighing and waving her arm around in the vague direction of the store's front. "Yeah, gosh. What is with this rain lately?" She pouted with glittering lips. "Say, Kairi. Why are you making a necklace out of medicinal leaves?"

Kairi shrugged. Continued to weave the leaves and various island flowers together.

"Yeah, well, he's waiting for me outside by now, I'm sure. You probably won't get any customers with the storm and all, but if you do, I left the cashbox under the kukui blossoms." The tall, thin heels of her boots clacked against the floor, the bell chimed, the door fell shut.

Rain clattered against the roof. Her breathing was faint and hardly audible. All else was silent.

The bell rang.

Kairi sighed in exasperation, pulling herself numbly to her feet. She dropped the necklace onto the table, inadvertently knocking over the jar of paopu leaves. She growled in frustration and knelt on the floor, slowly scooping the leaves into a neat pile.

"I know, Selphie," she called. "Under the kukui blossoms."

When at last the jar was filled with leaves, she latched onto the table's corner and clumsily pulled herself to her feet. Seeing movement in her peripheral vision, she turned, opening her mouth to grumble in annoyance. Her expression of vexation was wasted.

His forearm pressed against the doorframe; all his weight rested against it. His other hand grasped the very top of the frame, reminding Kairi of how tall he had grown. His hair was drenched and his pants were sagging, just barely clinging to his jutting hip-bones. Crinkled and unbuttoned, his shirt gave the impression that he had been in the middle of dressing before darting out into the rain.

The rain had gotten him good, but Kairi knew who he was even with his darkened, wet hair. Agony and nostalgia gleamed in the sullen, cerulean lights that were his eyes.

Kairi sprinted forward impulsively when he began to teeter, catching him just as he would have fallen. She felt his icy hand on the back of her neck, fingers clamping down, and her head was jerked back so that his lips could take her own. Then his hands were around her neck, and squeezing.

Blue nails clawed at his bare chest, palms shoved desperately. Before she knew it they were on the floor and all his weight was crushing down, all his strength pouring into the hands strangling her.

"Stop," she rasped. She grasped at his hands, trying pointlessly to pry them away. "Stop, Roxas."

He froze, but remained looming over her. Looked down at his hands as though they were not his.

.07.

The tree was burning.

She could not count how many times she had sat there next to Sora and Riku, talked of trivial things. Or not so trivial things. She could remember the last time they had all sat there together. Riku baited Sora, Sora took the bait, she laughed. The sun set.

And now it was all up in flames.

At first, she could not move. She forgot she had a body at all. She could not tear her eyes away, nor could she cry. Then her legs began to wobble and she tried to lower herself to the ground.

But his arms slipped around her, kept her standing. She couldn't see his hair, but she knew it was gold. She knew there was death in his eyes. She stood before a fire, but everything was cold.

"You don't understand. This is what Sora wanted." His voice was poison, dripping between his lips and down his chin, seeping into her skin. Darkness slowly approached, but she thought she could feel it already. "I know, because I'm the part of him that wanted it." Apparently he found this amusing, for it was proceeded by a jagged, chilling chuckle.

His fingers traced nonsensical patterns across her stomach. Gradually, they drifted lower, toying with the waist of her skirt. She shivered. Did not struggle.

"I will destroy you, little sister," he muttered resentfully. Kairi's eyes snapped open—when had she closed them?—and she leaned forward, trying to break free of his embrace. His hands clamped down on her upper arms, forced her back. She stumbled, legs giving out from under, and drooped forward.

Helpless, scared. And then just angry.

"I'm not a little girl anymore!" she shrieked. With a surge of willpower, she placed her feet on the ground and kicked, springing backward enough for him to lose his grip on her arms. When she landed, she was behind him and he was losing his balance, slamming onto his back.

He looked up at her with only a sliver of anger. Admiration and longing took precedence. Kairi stepped back.

"I know," said he. His hair darkened, but his eyes remained weary, the barest traces of innocence creeping in. It was Sora looking up at her, but he was not alone.

"What do you know?" Kairi snapped halfheartedly. She averted her gaze, unable to tolerate looking at Sora as a man. Her feet shuffled girlishly. Fingers twirled her hair shyly. She felt ridiculously exposed.

"That you're a woman."

.08.

"I can't believe it's gone. What was he thinking? He's lucky he didn't burn down the whole island." Selphie's hip jutted to the side, her hands rested on her hips. Her head swayed in disapproval, curls bouncing joyously.

"There's no use crying over it." Riku crouched in the ashes of the memory-coated tree, running his hands through the remains pensively. Selphie harrumphed and stalked away, hand waving dismissively. Riku's tired eyes fell on Kairi as she knelt beside him. "Why did he leave?"

"He's looking for someone. Might be himself," Kairi replied softly, gingerly placing her fingertips consolingly on Riku's shoulder. "The heart of a hero never stops fighting." The sun resonated high in the sky, glimmering against the golden beach. His hair had been gold like the sand. It might never be again.

"And you're okay with that?" Riku inquired. He scrutinized her, interpreting every move of her body as a part of her response. She didn't mind it so much.

"Yes. It's something he has to do." She smiled, felt it in her heart.

"Haven't you done enough waiting, Kairi?"

Kairi stared at him, wide-eyed. He was entirely serious. But then, it was difficult to imagine otherwise. "Of course I have. I don't intend to wait."

"You've really grown up." He gently grasped her tiny hand. Smiled.

"You've really become quite the conversationalist." Her laughter glittered like the shining sea. Riku's grin widened.

Kairi stood, yanked Riku up clumsily with her, steadied him when he started to teeter over. She looked up at him, swelling with admiration and love. It was okay to be a sister, she decided.

"Well then!" she announced. She threw her arms in the air dramatically. "Let's go have our own adventure."

Riku shook his head, but chuckled. "I'm with you all the way."

The heart of a hero never stops fighting. The heart of a woman never stops loving. She felt like she could be both.