"Road to Dawn"



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Key Wielder

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  • Rising Star
This is just a one-shot set between Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days, originally posted on my ffnet and AO3 accounts.

~*~

Saying goodbye was the hardest part.

That was something he hadn’t really considered when he was little and decided that it was time to explore other worlds besides his own. He’d been so quick to write off his entire life as expendable, nothing more than a setting that could be changed at will, the pieces he missed ostensibly replaced by more valuable experiences than they could ever offer him. Yeah, he’d maintained a few meager attachments, but that had only gone so far in deterring him from his aspirations. Over the years, as his dreams grew more vivid and ambitious than ever, the slight hesitations his heart had harbored as a child drifted away. His parents didn’t matter; the house he’d grown up in didn’t matter. Even the island they’d played on for as long as he could remember became simply a means to an end. Out there, no adults would discover their plan to leave, so there was no better place to gather supplies and construct the raft that ultimately wouldn’t see any voyage. School, his peers, the path that he’d been walking lay forgotten in memories he hadn’t given much thought to for a while by that point. A piece of him—a large piece—had said his goodbyes to that stuff years ago in favor of a future drenched in unknowns.

Those were the days when the unknown hadn’t been so scary. Instead, it had smelled of adventure rather than darkness; it had been a breath of fresh air instead of an endless abyss just waiting to swallow him whole. He hadn’t guessed what was lurking inside the darkness then, and he’d jumped in without a care for the goodbyes he’d never believed he would have to say.

Because unlike his parents, his home, and his world, he hadn’t expected to lose the friends he’d planned on exploring with.

That was precisely what he’d had to do, though, and it was nobody’s fault but his own.

It was no surprise, then, that with time the words came to his tongue more easily. It wasn’t quite as hard to walk in the opposite direction and not look over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching—or following. It wasn’t quite as difficult to close his eyes and visualize the smiles his friends would wear regardless of his absence. Doors had been closed in his face, and he’d withstood it. People he should never have cast aside had forgotten him, and he soldiered through the loss. After all, did he have any right to complain after everything he’d done? After everyone he’d said goodbye to?

Sora and Kairi. DiZ and Naminé. First the light, and then the darkness. Honestly, he was beginning to wonder if maybe Ansem and that Nobody had a point. Maybe he was only good at throwing things away.

No, Riku countered firmly. It wasn’t like that, not anymore. He hadn’t thrown his friends away, just as he wasn’t running from the darkness. If anything, he was making a silent promise—a promise to get better, to be better, by their next meeting. With Sora sleeping, Kairi back on the islands, and everyone else doing their own jobs to bring down the Organization before it had a chance to accomplish whatever goal it had set, Riku had the perfect opportunity to atone so that he’d be more than simply ready to see them. When their paths crossed, he wanted to be worthy of standing in their presence. He wanted to earn the right to Sora’s forgiveness and Kairi’s smiles. He wanted to earn the right to see his parents again and tell them that he was sorry for leaving them without a word.

He wanted to earn the right to be Riku again instead of the man who had stolen even that from him. And he would earn it, no matter how long it took or how far into the darkness he had to sink.

But his determination didn’t make the goodbyes less difficult. His resolve didn’t appease the seemingly bottomless pit of creatures in his head and in his heart that prodded him to return. Instead, the weight of guilt and loneliness that lived in his chest like some kind of monster became hungrier and heavier by the day.

That was why he hadn’t said goodbye to the king—to Mickey. That was why he had left before his one true ally had a chance to notice or talk him out of it.

All things considered, Riku knew that he owed Mickey a lot more than merely vanishing into the distance without any explanation to keep him from worrying. The king had been there for him at a time when he probably shouldn’t have bothered. Why should he care about some random stranger wandering the darkness, even if he did know Sora? Why should he go out of his way to find Riku in Castle Oblivion when he had much bigger problems to be solving? Riku hadn’t quite been able to figure that out, nor had he mustered the courage to simply ask Mickey outright. Maybe it made him a coward, but he couldn’t stand to hear an answer that would exemplify all the ways in which the people around him were more deserving of salvation from their plight than he was. For all he could tell, Mickey had stuck by him through thick and thin purely because he was a good guy, just like Sora. He’d seen someone in trouble and jumped in to help regardless of the fact that Riku had been the one to land himself in that mess to begin with. Mickey had been his light in the darkness, and for that, Riku would never be able to repay him.

Telling him that he was leaving probably would have been a good start. It really was too bad that he couldn’t.

Well, perhaps that was the wrong word for it. Wouldn’t was more accurate.

They’d spent no shortage of time together after the king had arrived at Castle Oblivion. When they’d ventured forth, asking DiZ and Naminé to protect Sora while they tried to discern what Organization XIII was up to, it was side by side. Day and night, they had walked the same path; not once had Riku been forced to go it on his own like he had when he’d emerged from the realm of darkness. For a while, it had been such a tantalizing, addictive feeling—that lack of emptiness—that he had ignored the obvious signs. He’d wanted so much to remain in the king’s company and show his gratitude in the only way he could think of, yet that hadn’t been enough to stave off the inevitable. It hadn’t stopped what he’d suspected would rear its ugly head eventually.

Riku could have mentioned it any number of times. By now, he was certain that Mickey wouldn’t have thought any worse of him for it, although he definitely should have. Judgment didn’t appear to be in his vocabulary, and Riku couldn’t help but be thankful for that. It had allowed him a reprieve, however short, before more difficult choices were set in front of him.

In the end, he’d chosen to depart when Mickey was investigating a Nobody infestation in Twilight Town. If he hadn’t, he couldn’t guarantee that the king would have let him or that he would have been able to maintain his resolve to go in the face of his arguments to the contrary. That was yet another thing he had in common with Sora: Mickey was stubborn to a fault and just as reckless when it suited him. For those two, everything had worked out all right so far; following their hearts hadn’t landed them in the sort of trouble Riku courted daily. He owed both of them so much, which was why he refused to jeopardize either of their safety by sticking around. Not when the being that still squirmed around in the depths of his heart, waiting for him to let it seep into his consciousness again, would desire nothing more than to destroy all of them.

Mickey didn’t deserve that. Sora didn’t either. Riku, however, figured that there were worse things that could have happened to him after all the pain he’d caused.

Besides, he was used to being alone.

The real question wasn’t whether he should have told Mickey where he was going, much as his conscience tried to convince him otherwise. No, that was a decision he had needed to make regardless. The true conundrum lay in where he was supposed to go now. DiZ and Naminé had things covered in Twilight Town; Sora would be safe there until they could piece together his memories again. The king would continue patrolling the worlds in search of clues as to Organization XIII’s motives, frequenting both the realms of light and darkness if that was what it took to track them down. Their paths were set, but his couldn’t converge with them. After all, he had other matters to attend to, matters that wouldn’t necessarily keep him from Sora’s side so much as make it more difficult for him to let himself be there. Those whispers, those echoes that he heard when he wasn’t focusing on holding the darkness at bay… They spoke to him in a voice that he couldn’t stomach hearing, reminding him that he had no business protecting Sora when he was the reason why he was in this state to begin with. Well, partially: while Riku hadn’t been responsible for anything that had occurred inside Castle Oblivion, it was his fault that Sora was there in the first place. If he hadn’t succumbed to darkness, if he hadn’t allowed himself to fall into the dark realm, then Sora wouldn’t have come looking for him. He would have gone home and made sure Kairi was safe as Riku had asked. At the door to Kingdom Hearts, that was all Riku had thought about: getting his friends back to the islands even if that meant he couldn’t go with them. Maybe he’d find his own way back someday; maybe he’d sink into the darkness, never to be seen or heard from again. Whichever direction his fate led him, Sora and Kairi should have gotten to enjoy their victory against Ansem. Instead, Sora had followed him into the dark, and it had gone about as well for him as it had for Riku down there.

It would have been easier if he wasn’t still plagued by Ansem’s shadow, which seemed bound and determined to stick to his heart like glue for as long as it possibly could. Riku couldn’t tell if Ansem truly believed that he would give in to darkness again or if he simply had nowhere else to go, but it weighed on him nevertheless. It felt like there was nothing he could do to get rid of it—get rid of him—and that he’d be saddled with this parasite for the rest of his life, however long or short that might be. If he let Ansem have his way, probably the latter.

Sighing, Riku pulled the hood of his coat down and raised one of his feet to rest against the ledge beneath him. It was a good thing he wasn’t aiming to make himself feel better; otherwise, Beast’s castle wouldn’t have been the smartest destination. Their last meeting hadn’t exactly gone well, and when he looked back on it, he knew whose fault that was. It would have been well within the bestial prince’s rights to throw him off his property after first enacting some form of payback. Given his mood, Riku would have been sorely tempted to let him. He could picture it now: keeping his mouth shut rather than pointing out that he was a friend of Sora’s, shaking his head when Belle (yet another person he owed for his wrongdoing) inevitably attempted to intervene, lowering his weapon to his side and taking the punishment he deserved. Wouldn’t that be a kind of atonement in itself? If that was how the Beast wanted to claim his vengeance, then who was Riku to argue?

Only it never came to that, because no one emerged from the castle much less spotted him sitting out on the bridge like the interloper he was. Most of the windows remained dark, flickering candlelight drifting from one spot to the next so infrequently that he thought he may have imagined it, and there wasn’t a sound besides his own breathing and the whisper of the wind in the distance. In a sense, it was the perfect world for him to temporarily reside in: empty and dark, just like him.

The problem was that it left him with too much time to think, and it offered the shadow leeching off his heart too much time to intrude.

How long had it been since he’d elected to tread this road alone? A week—two—more? Riku lost count of the days almost as soon as he’d started, not that he had truly been keeping track. He’d already learned in Castle Oblivion that it wasn’t the best use of his time, especially when it wasn’t like he had anything he was counting down to. There was no telling when Naminé would have Sora’s memories sorted out, nor would he face Kairi before then, so looking forward to it would only result in false hope that he really didn’t need right now. He outright refused to seek Mickey out again until he had pulled himself together, which meant he had no clue when he’d be prepared for that reunion either. Therefore, time wasn’t much of a construct for Riku. It didn’t matter if it passed quicker or slower in this world than others because for him, it stood still nevertheless. Until he could separate his darkness from his light, not to mention his darkness from Ansem’s darkness, there was no going back. There was no time. There was merely here and now. So long as his friends were safe from both the Organization and Riku himself, then things weren’t so bad.

For them.

For him, it was a different story. He’d made it this far believing that in order to defeat the darkness, he would have to use light. That made sense, didn’t it? They were opposites, light and darkness. It stood to reason that getting rid of the darkness required a strong light, and to some extent, it did. Even so, it hadn’t been until Naminé suggested a different route that he’d considered it might not be the only way. She was the reason he hadn’t faded into the light; she was the reason he hadn’t fallen to darkness a second time. Naminé hovered in the narrow space between the two, and she’d guided him through with the expertise of someone who knew how to manipulate both for their own needs. Then again, that wasn’t such a surprise given how she’d done exactly that to ensnare Sora. Riku couldn’t blame her for that, of course: being at the Organization’s mercy (or lack thereof) couldn’t have been easy. Actually, it was part of why he trusted her in spite of everything. She could have run—she could have torn Sora’s heart apart like she’d been ordered to and saved herself a whole lot of trouble. Instead, she’d turned her back on the Organization and opted to help not only Sora—who she owed at least that much—but Riku as well—who she certainly didn’t owe anything. If their choices were what made them who they were, then there was no doubt in Riku’s mind that Naminé was someone they didn’t have to fear. Unlike Diz, who he still couldn’t figure out despite his best efforts, Naminé truly seemed like she wanted to help. No strings attached.

That was why, sitting atop the cold stone and waiting for the other shoe to drop, Riku wished that he hadn’t been too stubborn to visit her before he left. In his battle against Ansem’s shadow, she was perhaps the sole person who could tell him what he should do—if there was anything he could do. She’d offered him a different path than the one he’d chosen, a path where she could have sealed Ansem away so that Riku wouldn’t have had to deal with him ever again. (In theory—he was a bit leery of whether that would have worked and preferred to believe that he was better equipped to handle Ansem as he was rather than as he would be if he had accepted her proposal.) He had decided against it, and now he had to tread carefully lest he trip and fall into the same trap he had before.

When they’d parted, she hadn’t recommended anything else. She hadn’t told him there was another way or that there were options he could choose from. That was the only one she’d come up with, and a tiny part of Riku that he refused to acknowledge aloud feared that going to her would merely outline the fact that there wasn’t any other path for him—that he would be stuck with this burden forever.

Which was fine. If Ansem was busy invading his heart (or trying to, in any case), then he couldn’t hurt anyone else, could he? It was either that or he would grow tired of bothering Riku and set him free to accost a more vulnerable target. They weren’t the most pleasant scenarios to consider, but it was better than nothing.

The alternative was hopelessness, and he’d already seen where that got him in the past.

“That hasn’t changed much,” he murmured, leaning back on his palms and closing his eyes in an attempt to block out the voice that corroborated his own self-consciousness.

He knew it was trying to fill his head full of lies, that he wasn’t anywhere near as down and out as it would have him believe. Still, it was difficult to remember that when he was no closer to figuring out how to get rid of that aching weight on his heart than he had been when he’d slipped away from Mickey. He hadn’t expected to have everything sorted in a week; that would have been a little too optimistic even for someone like Sora. As the days passed without so much as a glimmer of hope on the horizon, however… Well, it was hard to keep up appearances when it felt like his façade was being ripped to pieces right in front of him.

“You have so little faith in yourself, Riku.”

Starting upright, his eyes snapped open, but it wasn’t the castle he saw. The dark parapets had been replaced by a room he was only distantly familiar with, the long table before him a facsimile of the bridge that had stood between him and the Beast’s abode. On the other end, however, wasn’t a vicious animal seeking revenge for his part in Maleficent’s plot. Riku had gotten far luckier than he deserved in that regard.

“Naminé?”

The smile he received by way of greeting was comforting, albeit much sadder than he would have anticipated. On the other hand, maybe it was simply his mind projecting his own feelings onto this figment of his imagination. That was, after all, the sole explanation for how she could be here—or, more accurately, how he could be there.

“Hello, Riku,” she replied as though it were normal for them to be sitting in this stark white room. That wouldn’t have been true even if they were both still in Twilight Town.

Eyeing the drawings that hung haphazardly on the walls and littered the floor, Riku ventured, “This is a dream…”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because I’m not really here.”

“No,” allowed Naminé, “but that doesn’t mean you’re dreaming.”

That, oddly enough, made him chuckle under his breath. “Funny. I guess I just don’t see the difference.”

Naminé shook her head, but her smile didn’t waver for an instant as she explained, “Even though they may seem real, dreams are just shadows of what your heart wants to see.”

“And you’re not?”

Another shake of her head. “I’m…as real as I ever have been.”

Riku didn’t have a response for that. DiZ’s opinion on Nobodies was absolute: they weren’t meant to exist and basically didn’t. Period. Whether they were like Naminé or the members of the Organization that Riku had met didn’t matter. To DiZ, they were all the same in theory. There had been moments since he’d left Castle Oblivion when Riku had to wonder how he could possibly hold that conviction when he seemed perfectly at ease with handing Naminé free reign over Sora’s recovery, but Riku tried not to dwell on it. He still had a few other reservations where DiZ was concerned, and they had to take precedence.

For now, however, Riku put their mysterious cohort out of his mind to subtly change the subject. “So, if this isn’t a dream, then how are we talking?”

“Your heart is connected to Sora’s,” answered Naminé. “You must have reached me through that connection.”

“But…why?”

Shrugging, she replied with an inscrutable expression, “I don’t know. I thought maybe you would.”

His first instinct was to deny having any idea, but the words tasted like lies before he had a chance to say them. Naminé had been on his mind mere moments ago, hadn’t she? Sure, it hadn’t been his intent to actually speak with her; his regret had been halfhearted at best. Apparently, his heart didn’t know the difference, which…honestly wasn’t shocking. That was what had started all this.

At that, Riku’s gaze fell to the drawing on the table between them as he struggled to come up with a passable excuse. There wasn’t a lot of detail in it, just three spots of color against the white background, yet he would know them anywhere. They’d spent more sunsets like that than he could count, after all—him, Sora, and Kairi. Those were the moments where they could talk about anything; not once had they feared the others wouldn’t understand. It was liberating, in a sense: even trapped in their world (as he’d seen it then, anyway), they were able to find an escape in those brief minutes before the sun dipped below the horizon and they had to row back to the main island in the gathering dark. Sometimes, words were spoken; sometimes, they simply enjoyed each other’s company. It didn’t really matter as long as they were together.

If Riku had told himself that he would miss them, those sunsets with the most important people in his life, he never would have believed it. His past self would have scoffed and told him that they would have plenty of chances to make memories together in different worlds. No amount of arguing would have convinced him.

Some things really do change, he mused silently. Maybe, if luck decided to grace him with its presence, it was even for the better.

More than anything else, that was what made up his mind for him, and Riku had to wonder if Naminé had kept that picture on the table for that very reason. She was pretty good at reading his thoughts, although he figured that had more to do with her power over Sora than any connection to him. Whatever it was that bound them together, however, she sat across from him with an open expression that said she was willing to listen—willing to help him if she could.

The Riku he’d been when he left the islands would never have taken her up on it. The Riku he wanted to become was another matter.

So, inhaling deeply, he cast aside his trepidation and admitted, “I did…have a question.”

Naminé nodded but didn’t interrupt. Rather, she patiently let him consider how he wanted to word his inquiry. Not for the first time, he could merely guess at what he’d done to deserve the people that surrounded him.

“You told me once that you could seal the darkness in my heart and Ansem along with it,” he began slowly.

“Yes, that’s true.”

“What I really wanna know is…was that the only way to conquer the darkness?”

For a moment, Naminé didn’t respond, her face unchanging. When she did, it was with another question: “Is that why you aren’t with the king anymore? Because you want to conquer the darkness in your heart?”

Guess Mickey’s been here.

“I didn’t want to put him in danger,” Riku replied immediately. If he thought Naminé would agree with him, though, he was mistaken. In fact, her deliberate neutrality had him scooting forward in his seat as she met his inquiry with yet another of her own.

“Is the danger in your darkness or in his?”

Huffing a shallow, humorless laugh, he murmured, “Is there a difference?”

“Of course. Your darkness is yours. If you can control it, then there’s no power that can defeat you,” she assured him. Riku couldn’t tell if she meant to repeat the same advice she’d given him in Castle Oblivion or not, but this time, it didn’t comfort him nearly as much as it had then.

“But what if…what if it’s not really me in control?”

“It will be.”

“How do you know?”

Riku didn’t realize his gaze had dropped to the table again until that moment, and he glanced up to find Naminé scrutinizing him closely. What he’d been expecting to see, however, wasn’t there. He’d thought for sure that she would be contemplating whether he had a point, whether there was a chance that Ansem could step in and play puppet master again no matter how hard Riku tried to drown his voice out. As the shadow in his chest squeezed his heart in its vise-like grip, both his mind and someone else’s asked the question he couldn’t give voice to—was she as afraid of him as he was of himself?

No answer was forthcoming, not from Naminé or the darkness that nested within him. As far as he could tell, she was simply curious, no more or less. Well, that sadness had returned, too. It wasn’t pity, though, and for that, Riku had to be grateful.

What he didn’t appreciate was the way she evaded his question yet again.

“Riku,” she began instead, “close your eyes.”

“…Huh?”

“Please?”

Really, it was a simple request, yet Riku was reluctant to grant it all the same. The last time he’d closed his eyes, he’d ended up here. Who was to say that he wouldn’t find himself right back where he’d started, staring at the Beast’s castle rather than at Naminé where she waited for him to do as she’d asked? He needed answers—he needed direction—

And he wouldn’t get either unless he followed her lead.

So, with a hesitant nod, Riku let his eyelids slip shut while his hands gripped the edges of his seat as if that would keep his heart from severing whatever connection had brought him to the mansion DiZ was using as their base of operations. If Naminé noticed the tension in his shoulders, she was kind enough not to mention it, though her voice was softer when she continued.

“Reach down deep inside you,” she ordered gently. “Find the darkness—the darkness that’s yours. Stare into it, and don’t look away.”

It wasn’t a question of saying yes or no. Either it was the power she wielded or mere coincidence, but the white light that had grounded him faded with each word she spoke until it was like he was floating in the darkness. There was nothing around him—all had been extinguished as he drifted further into the fathomless depths of the darkness that he’d never meant to allow inside him. The darkness that was both his and not.

That, at least, was what he assumed. Delving deeper, the light wasn’t the only thing that was lost to him: so, too, was that irritating voice that never failed to assault him when he wasn’t expecting it. Ansem’s taunts and jeers faded into the background until he couldn’t hear them at all, and rather than wandering through an endless abyss, Riku was suddenly aware that there was something else here. He wasn’t entirely alone.

There was warmth in the darkness—the darkness that was his.

And in that warmth, he heard words that his mind had repeated over and over until they were committed to memory.

“In your hand, take this key. So long as you have the makings, then through this simple act of taking, its wielder you shall one day be. And you will find me, friend—no ocean will contain you then. No more borders around, or below, or above, so long as you champion the ones you love.”

So long as I champion…the ones I love…

He didn’t say how or with what. He didn’t say to use light or darkness.

So long as you champion the ones you love.

Which he would with all the strength he had. Light and dark.

That was his vow as he opened his eyes, blinking rapidly until they adjusted to the light—and gave him the first legitimate idea he’d had yet.

“Light to see through the deepest darkness…”

Naminé’s smile widened. “And darkness to see through the brightest light.”

The black sash appeared on the table before him in the span of a blink, and Riku didn’t have to ask what it was for. Rather, he reached for it, smoothing the fabric between his fingers and nodding in comprehension. He didn’t need his eyes to see; all they did was leave him questioning himself and every step he took. They lied constantly, and not to the right audience. Maybe it would be better to let them take backseat for a while. In the realm of light, he’d let the darkness—his darkness—steer him instead. And in the realm of darkness, he’d let the light in.

He didn’t need his eyes to protect the people he cared about, so he’d do it without them.

And when he opened them to the shadows of the Beast’s castle, sash still in hand, the first tendrils of hope began to pry loose the icy fingers of Ansem’s influence on his heart.

“Thank you, Naminé.”
 

Howler

"Sexiest Man Alive" since 2002
Joined
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Messages
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Location
in the sky
  • No Name
  • Master Defender
  • The Foreteller
  • Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue
  • Put That Thing Back Where It Came From
  • Savage Nymph
*inhales*
THISISONEOFTHEMOSTBESTTHINGSIHAVEEVERREADINMYENTIREEXISTENCEHEREINTHEWEBSITEANDPOSSIBLYINMYWHOLELIFE. THEREISLIKENOOTHERWAYTODESCRIBEMYHAPPINESSANDMYLOVEFORTHIS. THANKYOUSOMUCHFORPUTTINGTHISHERE, THEREISSOMUCHLOVEANDRESPECTIHAVEFORTHISICOULDWRITE500ESSAYSABOUTIT. 1,000,000,000,000,000/10 PERFECTION.

 

KingdomKey

The Traveler
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  • Retired Staff
  • Graceful Assassin
  • The Gambler of Fate
  • Beauty Within
  • Cloaked Schemer
  • Whirlwind Lancer
I absolutely love this one-shot. Riku is really in character. It hurt to see him agonize over his powers of darkness, feeling like a coward for leaving without saying goodbye to Mickey, and trying so hard to be better by himself. Namine coming in to help him face his darkness was wonderful and delightful. I like how Riku kind of accepts the fact that he can't do everything by himself. Or at least it feels expressed in that way. Anyways, this was really good, and extremely well written. It was a pleasure to read this one-shot! :)
 

Key Wielder

New member
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Apr 7, 2012
Messages
885
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  • Rising Star
Sorry—I only just saw this! Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed it! And it’s definitely wonderful to hear that that is what you took away from the story; it was what I was going for :D Thank you again!!
 
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