Author's note: Hello readers! Welcome to Chasing Shadows at Midnight. (: This is a sequel to The Approaching Night, so if you haven't read that one, you need to go back and do that before getting too deep into this one. To those of you who had followed The Approaching Night, you know that I promised this story would come out by the end of the summer. I couldn't wait that long though; I'm pumped to get feedback on this story! I believe that it's darker and deeper than the previous story, which is why I upped the rating to "T" instead of "K+".
I believe that's all I have to say, except that I would love to get reviews on my work. It's super dooper encouraging. And if any of you are going back to read The Approaching Night before this one, feel free to review every chapter you read for that as well. If you're a fellow writer, you know how encouraging it is to get gobs of reviews from people who take your writing to heart.
This story picks up where the other story leaves off. So enjoy my Riku/OC fic and remember: I own nothing. Only my OC. (:
Chapter One: The New Normal
"Stephanie Hope, get your butt out of bed."
I groaned, hearing the voice that wanted to call me out of my slumber. "You've gotta be kidding," I mumbled. It felt like it was so early; there was no way that it was time to get up now? Granted, I didn't get to sleep in much, but I had to savor whatever rest I could get.
"Nope, not kidding."
"Well neither am I," I retorted, rolling over on my bed while burying my face in my pillow. "I'm sleeping."
"C'mon, Steph, you know you gotta get up."
"Riku," I said firmly. I knew what he was thinking, because we went over this nearly every day. He didn't understand how I needed ten hours of sleep a night to feel rested, since he only required six tops. But he was a trained warrior—a Keyblade wielder. Me…I was just a princess who recently discovered her identity.
My name is Steph, and I am the princess of a land called Cadia. I always was, but you see, I didn't know it until about three months ago. Long story short, my life completely changed when I met Riku. And he found out I was a princess at the same time that I did, and ever since then, he had stuck by my side. He helped me when I was lost and ultimately helped me accept my title. I owe him more than I could ever repay him, but he doesn't care at all. He was sweet like that.
Now…We both lived in Cadia. I was receiving training to become the princess I need to be to support my people, and Riku's growing accustomed to life here. He's not just living here as some common citizen. He's a knight, ordained by my mother. And he's also the head of my security. Fortunately, he hasn't had to do anything yet with that job. Everything was peaceful here, finally.
"I didn't want to have to do this…"
"Do what?" I mumbled into the pillow.
Riku pulled the blankets off me, revealing my body that was clothed in a T-shirt and shorts. "This."
The young man reached down and grabbed my waist, holding on securely before he wiggled his fingers over my stomach. My eyes widened and I gripped my pillow the squeals immediately leaving me. I was the most ticklish person I knew, and Riku knew that as well. The uncontrollable giggles started coming, and I also started squirming to get out of Riku's grip. "Riku!" I squealed.
I heard him only laugh in amusement and continue the action. "Riku, stop!" I gasped through my laughter. "Stop it!"
"Only if you promise to get out of bed!" he said through his laughs.
"Okay, fine. Fine!" I cried. Just stop already!
Riku couldn't resist tickling me for a few more moments, but then he finally pulled back. My giggles ran off into heavy breathing, and I turned my head to the side on the pillow and looked at Riku, who looked like he was very satisfied with himself. And why wouldn't he be? He finally got me out of my groggy stupor and woke me up.
"Jerk," I said breathlessly.
He chuckled and gave me a cheesy smile, one that I loved seeing. Despite my slight anger at him, I smiled weakly at him. I sighed and pushed myself up into a sitting position while keeping my gaze on him, Riku.
Riku had changed since he first came to join me in Cadia. For one thing, he was eighteen now—an adult. I had always thought that he was mature, but he seemed even more mature to me now that I was constantly with him. He looked older as well, since he cut his hair to the length it used to be when he was fifteen. His silver locks were still ragged, but they were only down to his shoulders now. Plus, his bangs were shorter so I could see his beautiful aqua eyes. And I almost blushed a lot of the time when I looked at him, because his new clothes were more flattering for his buff figure. They were simple clothes—just jeans and a tight black shirt. But it looked really good on him.
"You're going to be late, you know. Mr. Bottomsworth isn't going to be pleased with you," Riku stated with a small smirk.
"Ugh. Mr. Butt…" I groaned, calling him by the name that Riku and I came up with for him. He was my tutor here. He was giving me history lessons on the kingdom of Cadia and the world in general. Riku also sat in on these sessions with me to learn more, and both of us found Mr. Bottomsworth to be a pain. He always acted like he was so scholarly, so intellectual. So above us. No, we weren't as smart or informed as him, but whatever.
"Class starts in twenty minutes."
"What?" I practically shrieked, looking at the clock on the wall. Sure enough, I had twenty minutes to get dressed and get to the room we had class in. So…fifteen minutes to get dressed and proper and five minutes to walk there. I'm in trouble. "Get out of here so I can get ready," I said to Riku, hopping out of bed.
"Aye aye, Your Majesty," Riku said with a smirk. He gave me a salute and then went to his adjoining bedroom to give me the privacy I needed. I heard his door shut as I rushed to the bathroom in our suite and jumped into the shower. I had to hurry; if I was late, I was sure that Mr. Bottomsworth would give me a serious lecture.
"This is not fitting behavior for a princess," he would say. "A princess must always be on time, prepared, and be ready to grace the people with her presence. Oh, what's that? You forgot your notes again? Why am I not surprised. And to think that you'll be ruling the people someday…"
I scoffed at my own imagination, though it did make me hurry with the shower. I really didn't like Mr. Bottomsworth, but my mother insisted that he had a good heart. He was just concerned about the kingdom of Cadia. After such a period of darkness under Olaf, he just wanted to make sure that Cadia had a good time. He came across a little…harsh, but he really did want what was best for Cadia and for the royal family.
I hopped out of the shower and got changed into jeans and a nice purple shirt before I returned to the bathroom and started drying the brunette hair that had gotten longer in the past few months. Now, it was down past my armpits. And I was letting my bangs grow out, too—they were too much of a hassle to deal with most of the time. Longer hair in general had advantages, since it was easy to throw up.
Grabbing a hold of the hairdryer, I got to work. I didn't have a clock in the bathroom, but I knew that my time was running short. No way was I going to be able to get my whole head dry in the few minutes that I had left.
I did manage to get a lot of it dry, though, when Riku tapped on the bathroom door and peeked his head in. "It's time," he said. Already? I thought in panic, turning off the hairdryer.
"Okay. Give me a minute," I said as I brushed my hair and started putting it up.
"We don't have a minute."
I sighed and threw it up in a bun, my hands smoothing over the top of my head as I turned to look at Riku. "Why didn't you wake me up sooner?"
"Because you should know by now to set an alarm instead of trusting me to wake you."
"Mr. Bottomsworth is gonna kill me for not looking too presentable," I murmured, putting on a little bit of mascara to make up for my messy hair.
"He'll handle it. But c'mon, we've gotta go."
"Okay, okay," I said in submission. I walked past him into my large bedroom, seeing my normal black flip-flops by my dresser. I slid those on and then Riku and I both started to class.
Riku and I walked side-by-side through the halls, this being our normal routine. Class was every week day at eight in the morning, and that always lasted until lunchtime. After we got a quick lunch, I would receive training for either archery and magic or "princess lessons". The first was fun, and fortunately for me, that was what class I was having today. Princess lessons…That one wasn't too bad, but it did make me feel pressured a lot of the time. I had a long way to go before I was a princess capable of leading her people.
Heck, I didn't even know these people. I spent my life in Twilight Town up until two or three months ago, when I found I that I belonged in Cadia. It was going to be really hard to get to know these people well enough to rule them, but what other choice did I have? I was a princess, and giving up the throne now wasn't an option. There were always other people in line for the throne, but this position was one that I was meant to have. And after all the hard work to train me, I couldn't just say I wasn't interested.
This was my destiny.
The two of us walked into the classroom, and I automatically looked up at the clock. Darn, two minutes late. And Mr. Bottomsworth is already here… He was up at the board, drawing a map.
"You're late again, Princess," he said without turning around.
"Sorry, sir," I mumbled, like I did every time I came in late. I sat down at one of two desks while Riku took the other.
"Sorry isn't going to cut it when you're queen, Majesty."
I know, I thought, looking down at my desk. I hear it all the time, Mr. Bottomsworth. But I can't be perfect, no matter how badly you or anybody else wants me to be flawless.
"Now, today's lesson is a brief recap of the history we've already gone over and the start of studying of other people groups," the teacher began. "As we've already established, not only is this kingdom called "Cadia", but that is what the world is called as well. Many kingdoms used to exist here, but now they are minor provinces compared to Cadia. Too small to be real kingdoms, they have moved to be under Queen Andrea's just rule.
"The past hundred years have been peaceful, even if Queen Andrea has only been ruling for the past twenty-some years. Aside from the trouble with the sorceress-and never trust a sorceress, Stephanie—there have been a few scuffles. While Cadia is all one large continent and several island chains, there are several ethnicities of people here. The Tylinians live here-" He pointed to a spot on the map. "—And they are a very proud people. But they also thirst for power, which is why they've tried taking advantage of other people groups."
Riku spoke up. "Sir, is that the group of people that King Olaf and his brothers were from?"
"Correct," Mr. Bottomsworth said. "The Tylinians…Stephanie, do you need me to spell that out for you?" he asked as he turned around. "Oh wait, you don't have your notebook."
CRAP! I thought in panic, glancing down at the desk. I forgot it again!
"Yes she does, sir," Riku said, setting it on my desk along with a pencil. "I was holding it for her on the way here and forgot to give it back. Sorry, Princess."
Mr. Bottomsworth accepted the excuse and turned back to the board, spelling out the name of the people group for me. But I wasn't writing it down just yet. I opened the book and looked over to Riku, a weak smile on my face. "My hero," I silently mouthed. He saved me from getting in trouble again.
Riku only winked at me before he opened up his notes and started writing, his actions advising me to do the same. I did just that, knowing that I needed to bet on Mr. Butt's good side sometime. He would grow to love me eventually, or so I hoped. I hated it when people didn't like me.
But as long as I had the mentality to call him "Mr. Butt", I knew our relationship as student and teacher wouldn't be improving anytime soon.
"As I was saying, the Tylinians aren't just a threat because of their thirst for power. They have a temper, and both those features make them susceptible to the Darkness. But the people have come a long way in the past two hundred years. The Tylinians are very devoted people, and once they have a cause, they are faithful to it until the very end. Thankfully, most Tylinians have been strong supporters of the rulers of the Light. Except for a few, obviously."
"King Olaf and his brothers," Riku said with bitterness.
"You mean King Olaf and his brother, singular, Riku," Mr. Bottomsworth said. "Olaf and Tristan were wicked until the end, yes, but Gregory has repented of his past ways and proven that he has had a change of heart."
Riku didn't say anything. I already knew how he felt about Gregory—He believed he was still a threat and we shouldn't trust him. But he was the only person that held that view, which I thought was ironic. Riku himself had a bad past that he was forgiven of…Why couldn't he do the same for Gregory?
"Anyway, the Tylinians are well monitored, as are the other peoples in the kingdom. Cadia is not just a kingdom to serve those in the main area, but all people. And as long as there is somebody with a strong will, determination, and love for her people on the throne, then the kingdom should be fine." He gave me a look, and I wanted to just sink into my seat. So much pressure…
The rest of the lesson was boring, and I barely paid attention to it. That was probably another reason that Mr. Butt didn't like me—I wasn't the best student in his class. Back in high school, I used to do so good in school, too. But all of this stuff about Cadia and kingdoms…it was all brand new, and I had no basis to start from. And besides, I never did like history.
I let my thoughts wander to the boy beside me again. Or rather, what his opinion was of Gregory. Gregory was the brother of King Olaf and Tristan, and he had been a part of the original coup to overthrow my parents. But when I returned, he saw the error in his ways and repented. Gregory was welcomed back into the kingdom and thanked for his work to set things , he was continuing to set things right by working in the castle. He was a part of the guard. Now granted, his position wasn't that high. But he did have almost full access to the castle and to the queen's resources, just like any other member of the guard. The members of the royal guard were people that Queen Andrea trusted with her life.
Riku had insisted to her at the start that she was wrong to trust Gregory. But Gregory has proven himself in the eyes of Queen Andrea…and me. We had a small uprising about a month and a half ago—The people were panicking about a potential return of Sorceress Isabella. Gregory and a few others went and spoke to the whole kingdom on my mom's behalf and told them the fate of Sorceress Isabella and her followers: They were killed. So, there was no need to worry about any of those dark people returning again to try and take over Cadia.
And of course, Gregory continues to prove himself to me every day when I see him and his smile. He is truly happier now that he is in the Light. I can tell that he isn't the same man he was when he was working with his brothers. I just wished Riku would have been convinced of that.
"That's it for today's lesson," Mr. Bottomsworth said after a while, closing the book he now held in his hands. I blinked and looked down at the notes I had been taking half-consciously. They actually weren't too bad, much to my surprise and pleasure. "I'll see you tomorrow, promptly at eight, if your Majesty can pull yourself together by then." He gave me a look and then turned around to the board and erased everything he had on there. "Dismissed."
I held back a sigh and closed my notebook. Riku and I both rose out of our seats and exited the room, entering the hall and going our normal route to the dining area where the cooks always had lunch already prepared for us. The delicious food of Chef Jack always brightened my mood after class. And the class I had after lunch always made me happy too: It was archery and magic class. Now, I never did like battle—I always just did whatever was necessary to protect myself. But…I liked feeling powerful. I liked being able to defend myself better and be a strong enough ruler that my people could depend on me as a strong leader.
In a way, I did wish that I fought with a sword still. But it wasn't lady-like for a female to get close enough to a battle to use a sword. No, a princess—who would eventually become queen—was expected to lead her troops to battle but then linger with the archers. It was less probably that the noblewoman would die, then. And I most certainly didn't want to die.
But I didn't have much reason to worry about war right now anyway. The last war that was led by a queen was so long ago in history that nobody seriously thought of sending me onto the battle field.
"Steph? Hey, what's wrong?" Riku asked softly as we turned.
"Hm?" I hummed in question.
"We've been walking for five minutes and you haven't said a word."
"Oh…I'm just thinking about stuff, that's all," I said softly.
"You've been thinking too much lately. You seem pretty down about whatever it is you're always thinking about."
I couldn't help but smile weakly. "Bold as always, Riku," I mumbled.
"I have to be bold to drag stuff out of you, dummy," Riku said lightly, nudging me with his elbow. "So, what's going on? Do I have to keep prodding, or are you gonna finally crack?"
"I think for now, I'll choose the third option: Go to lunch, archery class, dinner, and then hang out with my mom if she has time."
Riku sighed. "Will you tell me later, then? I don't like being left in the dark."
"If I ever have a moment to breathe and sit down with you, yeah," I said as I fiddled with my brunette hair. Things were hectic. But worse than that, Riku and I never had any real privacy. And why would we ever need privacy, anyway? It wasn't like we were in a relationship…As far as people knew. My mother made it clear I needed to marry nobility, so Riku was out of the question. But I still had feelings for him, so for now, we would just have to keep those feelings a secret. If we were meant to be together, it would work out.
We entered the dining room and saw two servings of lunch already set on the table. It was homemade chicken-noodle soup, one of my favorites. I smiled and looked around for Chef Jack to thank him, but then I saw the note on the table.
"Sorry I can't be there to say hello to you two, but the kitchen is shorthanded today and I need to work through your lunch. Hope you two enjoy it!
I smiled, practically able to hear Chef Jack's voice through the note. He was a terrific guy. He was a family man who had a great sense of humor, and a great ability to make food.
"Gotta love Chef Jack," Riku said, reading my thoughts as we both sat down at the table.
"Yup," I agreed with a smile.
Both of us dug into the soup, knowing that we didn't have much time to sit and talk. And this wasn't the place, anyway. Both of us were good at hiding our feelings for each other by now. I felt bad that I was lying to my mother by acting like nothing was going on with me and Riku, but what other choice did we have?
We were quiet as we ate, though I felt Riku's gaze on me a few times. He was worried, but there was no reason for him to be that way. I was just thinking about princess stuff, like I always was.
Well, I was thinking about it until I heard a sudden boom. I started at the boom and glanced out the window, seeing the rain suddenly start pouring and the sky flash with lightning. "Oh no, you gotta be kidding me," I groaned. I was supposed to have archery lessons outside! And magic lessons too!
"Guess class is cancelled for today, huh?" Riku guessed softly.
"No…Mrs. Huck will probably give me textbooks to read all day," I said with a sigh.
And that was exactly what happened. After lunch, Riku and I went to meet my teacher Mrs. Huck to figure out what was going on. Obviously we couldn't do archery when the weather was so bad, so she wanted me to read a book about magic instead. I took the book back to my room and read for a few hours before I eventually fell asleep in the middle of the dry book.
Riku woke me up for dinner, and I groggily ate my food. I woke up a little by the end of it as I prepared to possibly see my mom, but it turned out that she was too busy to spend time with me tonight. She was very, very sorry, but I understood. She had a duty to her kingdom.
After the meal was done, Riku and I returned to my suite. We both sat down on the couch, a remote in his hand and a book in mine. This wasn't unusual for us to do this whenever we had a calm night. He would watch TV and keep it on mute as I read whatever textbooks I needed to read for my classes. I envied Riku in a way; he had no real pressures. His duty was to protect me, and there was no danger to protect me from. He could do whatever he pleased while I was kept on a tight schedule.
Eventually, my book became too boring to hold my attention. And Riku and I were already sitting close, so it was easy for me to lean my head to the side and rest it on his strong shoulder. I told myself I was just going to rest for a moment, but Riku and I both knew that I was going to fall asleep soon enough. I was pretty predictable when it came to my exhaustion.
I fell asleep within a few minutes, and Riku left me be. He'd probably lay me down in bed when he was sure that I was sound asleep so that I could get the best rest I could. That..and it was risky for us to be intimate for too long. Somebody was sure to walk in on us. That was a normal fear for us, just like my routine was now normal for both of us. There were some things we just did, whether we liked them or not.
This was the new normal.