Gratitude

A/N: First KH fic. Be gentle. :)


Let's see now... Naminé paused to glance at her sketchpad, her nose scrunched delicately in deliberation. She wondered how closely her drawing mirrored the inspiration behind the squiggly lines. Unsatisfied, she attempted to rotate the pad that was lodged between her knees, perhaps hoping that the changed orientation would help.

"Is that some sort of grinning vegetable you're drawing?" a male voice remarked over her shoulders.

Naminé instinctively hugged her sketchpad close to her chest, where her heart should have been but her unusual existence deprived her of. "Welcome back, Riku," she replied evenly, silently hoping that none of her facade would betray how flustered she was of his sudden appearance.

Under normal circumstances, she would have immediately sensed him. Or his habit of visiting Sora every other day should have prepared her at least. But her mind was so singularly focused at her drawing at that time, hence he was able to catch her off-guard.

And he knew that, she decided as she sneaked a glance at the young man behind her. Despite the forbidding hood that concealed his countenance, she thought she detected a small amused smile from him.

Unlike the rest of the entities she met, Riku's treatment of her was curiously different. On the surface, he was coolly distant and perpetually polite. He stayed by Diz' side in seemingly silent acquiescence as the three of them talked about their plans for Kingdom Hearts, yet his glacial demeanor thaws slightly whenever they were alone and in front of Sora's memory pod.

He talked to her as if she were a normal person, sharing little childhood stories from the islands where he and his friends lived—and she would sit there, eagerly relishing his anecdotes. For someone like her who was born with no memories, she basked in the wonderful feeling of remembering and nostalgia.

When the stories run out, they would then share a most comfortable silence as they both gazed at the sleeping keyblade hero.

Truth to be told, he was the kindest person she had ever known, perhaps only equaled by Sora. His compassionate eyes had the capacity to regard her as someone more than a convenient device or an anomaly that should not have existed. With him, she could actually shut her eyes and imagine herself as someone like him, Sora and Kairi.

The silver-haired boy now stood hoodless in front of the pod, fondly gazing at his friend in slumber. "We'll have you back soon, Sora. Just a little more time."

She couldn't help but smile at that. If anyone was working the hardest to get the brown-haired lad back, it had to be Riku.

"How are you, Naminé?" asked Riku, making her blink. He seemed to have known she was busily watching him from her place for quite some time already.

"I-I am quite fine, thank you for asking...?" She did not understand the unexpected question from him, which was made apparent by her tone.

"Listen, there's something-" he sighed in resignation. "I'm really bad at this, talking to girls. Almost as bad as Sora, which is saying something."

"I am confused." Her forehead creased. "Is there something you need to tell me, Riku?"

"Well, that is..."He was quiet for some time as he struggled to find the best way to express what he had in mind. Finally, he turned to her, his face drawn in gentle lines. "Thank you, Naminé. Thank you for looking after my friend. Then and now, you 've always been by his side."

For the life of her, she could not explain why colors suddenly rushed to her pale cheeks. "I..." She swallowed nervously. "Sora is a good person... and so are you."

He looked surprised. Then his smile returned, fuller and more relaxed this time. "The adjective does not suit someone from the darkness."

Her eyes voiced protest, which he dismissed with a casual wave. "Have you been to Sunset Terrace?" he asked.

She shook her head slowly. She had never been anywhere outside castles, white rooms or mansions.

"I see." Riku faced her. "I want to thank you properly for taking care of Sora. And... I found a hidden flower grotto near the hills... I'm wondering if you'd like to see it."

She instinctively nodded, but then remembered Diz. Her face turned crestfallen. "I-I can't." Her blue eyes darted towards the sleeping Sora. "I-I want to...b-but... thank you, Riku..."

"I had the feeling you would say that," he said in a good-natured tone. His hand reached into his black coat.

Then to Naminé's utter amazement, the gloved hand produced a single yellow daisy. He walked towards the wordlessly stunned girl, and then knelt down before her till their faces were on the same level. Riku's fingers gingerly tucked a few strands of her golden tresses behind her ear; then with the same amount of care, he proceeded to place the flower behind her ear. His breath fanned her face, as his proximity seemed to block out the rest of her senses.

All the while, she held her breath in, wide-eyed— she was unable to make any move, unable to react. It merely took seconds in the hands of the Twilight Town's clock, but for her, it seemed to have been an incomprehensible piece of eternity.

His fingers withdrew from the side of her face. He paused, and after what seemed to have been a moment's worth of decision, he untied his blindfold to inspect her more closely. His blue-green eyes took in her appearance, approval clearly apparent.

"Just as I thought. It suits you."

Her eyes widened. "I... thank you."

To which, Riku smiled. He settled on a seat beside her. "Perhaps, someday, we can go see it together."

"I would like that." Very much, she added with mute longing.

She then noted the haggard look on his face. She could not explain what precisely compelled her, but she found herself voicing out her thoughts. "You look tired, Riku."

"Do I?" He sighed. "Come to think of it, I think i can really use a nap."

"Then please do so," she said, motioning to the bare floor. "I will watch over you and Sora."

"Sounds great," he replied, yawning. He lied down beside her, arms tucked behind his head like a pillow. Then his eyes closed. Soon, Riku was fast asleep.

Naminé watched the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, a serene smile on her face. A minute later, she returned to her sketchpad and crayons, busying herself in finally completing Riku's smiling face.

-FIN-