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Rocking With What Matters

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Sora sat next to Chirithy in the Land of Departure atop a stone wall while they watched Ven and Vani play with the orphans that Aqua and Terra have taken in. Vani was teaching them the ways of the tackle and they were having a fun time bringing Ven to the ground over and over again while the raven-haired man cackled with approval.

Sora watched with a faraway look on his face. "Chirithy..."

The little creature looked up at the pensive man. "What's up?"

"What will really happen to me when it's time for me to reach the Final World?" he asked. "Or rather...what will happen to Darkness?"

It was a morbid question to be sure, but one that Chirithy knew would come one day. After all, Sora was supposed to fade away the last time they saw each other in the Final World. It's only natural that he'd have questions now that he's shouldered the burden of being a prison for Darkness as well. "It's likely Darkness might die with you...or the seal will get broken. Who knows? It might be the natural order of things for Darkness to only be sealed temporarily. After all, a balance of Light and Dark is needed."

While Sora knows that's true, he can't help but think there has to be another solution. Maybe a treaty or a compromise? Something that ensures balance is kept without anybody getting hurt. But even as badly as he wants it, he can't imagine it happening, either. What would that even look like? A future where light and dark coincide in the open? Vanitas and Ventus had said Darkness, herego heartless, seek hearts and yet they don't understand them. Vanitas is born from darkness and yet has his own heart...or is it really half of Ven's? Sora was able to give a piece of his heart away to somebody who needed it. Roxas and Xion were able to grow their own hearts and identities after "borrowing" Sora's for a while. Riku has found a way to tame darkness and wield it as his own. So maybe there IS a way for light and dark to coexist...maybe LOVE is the bridge?

The gears turned rapidly in his head the harder he thought about it. Kingdom Hearts...could be made of hearts...hearts can be filled with so many things, the strongest of which he was certain was love. And if love is the ultimate power like many say...maybe...just maybe...

What if Kingdom Hearts wasn't meant to be used to eliminate darkness, but bridge the two instead and enforce TRUE balance? Could light co-exist with darkness and create bonds that enable hearts to grow even within the darkest depths? Eliminating the need or drive for darkness to hunt down light to claim hearts for themselves that they don't understand anyway? What if eventually the two sides were no longer separate and the worlds could all finally reunite? Is it possible?

"Hmm..." he hummed thoughtfully. "Thanks, Chirithy. I'll see you guys around." He gave one last wave to everybody before summoning his keyblade vehicle to head to the Symphony of Sorcery next.

At Master Yen Sid's tower, he sat down with the wise wizard and ran his thoughts by him, in desperate need of advice and asked that this conversation be kept between just the two of them.

"You need to be careful with this line of thinking, Master Sora," the wizard warned as he poured Sora a cup of tea. "It's possible Master Xehanort himself may have been led down this same sort of path."

"You're probably right," Sora agreed thoughtfully. But he wasn't about to give up yet. After all, Master Xehanort wanted to destroy the worlds and make a new one, "pure and bright" as he put it, and be the one to lead. But...that's not what he wants. There must be a way to bring about peace without destroying what they already have.

Next he spoke to Ansem the Wise, the old scientist pleasantly surprised that Sora asked to speak with him. Again, Sora asked that this conversation be kept between them.

"You've done so much research on this topic already," Sora said. "So I thought I should ask for your opinion on the matter before I pursue it any further."

Master Ansem offered Sora a macaroon from a large pink box of confectionaries from Ven's bakery, a bakery set up to help fund the school in the Land of Departure. Sora took one gratefully to go with their tea, a beverage he was slowly learning to appreciate, emphasis on slowly. As he munched on a sea salt caramel macaron, Ansem studied the young man's face with a warm smile. The young master before him has grown so much in so little time. Even at the age of twenty-three, the fun-loving man has matured and wizened so much in the past couple of years. But he supposed it was to be expected, after everything he's gone through. With a heavy heart, he sipped from his own tea. "I'll help in any way I can," he offered cautiously. After all, he recognized the curiosity in Sora's eyes as the same curiosity he's seen in so many of his pupils in years past and it hasn't always led them down the brightest of paths.

Sora ran his thoughts past the wise man. What are the odds of beings of darkness growing their own hearts? Is it a sustainable ideal? Would darkness even want that or would it just be a few exceptions?

Ansem took in his questions thoughtfully. "Hearts are capable of many things and can be grown in the darkest of places and the most unlikely, such as the datascape, for example. But whether or not beings of darkness desire actual ownership of hearts for themselves that's a question that should probably be asked directly."

"So...I should ask Darkness, you think." Sora's brow furrowed as he stared down into his tea. "We've spoken before but it's not exactly...I'm not sure how safe it is." He bit his lower lip in frustration before looking back up to Ansem. "But SOMETHING has to be done. I don't feel right about putting future generations at risk for the same conflict we just went through. How can I even bring future children into the world and revive all those kids in the datascape knowing that they will all be at risk when I die?"

Ansem sighed. Of course the young keyblade master would feel guilty, even for something beyond his control. He's gone above and beyond and still he wants to do more. He wished he knew the answer.

"I'm not saying the solution will happen overnight, but it's something we have to start building towards NOW before it's too late. After all, I still don't know what will happen to the χ-blade, either. No Name was passed on for generations, even in hung up in Scala ad Caelum while Luxu watched over it." They knew this much about it after gathering more information over the past couple of years from multiple sources. "But can that be done for the χ-blade? It sounds too risky and definitely too much of a burden. But if it's destroyed when I die, will the pieces be separate again? Will there just be somebody to start a new war to gather them once more?"

Ansem put up a hand to calm the young man's spiraling train of thought and offered him another sweet, the brunette giving a small sheepish smile before he accepted another one. "Master Sora...just because you possess the χ-blade doesn't mean you HAVE to make a decision. You could very well just let things be, let them happen as they come. You've done so much for the worlds already. It isn't fair to expect yourself to come up with the perfect solution to everything."

Sora shook his head. "No. I think the worst thing I could possibly do is be indecisive about this. Something HAS to be done."

The master relaxed his shoulders with a quiet sigh, his own brow furrowing as he allowed himself to truly contribute to this discussion. "If you merely pass the χ-blade down, temptation will always be a risk. There's still a chance for conflict over ownership," he agreed. "And like you said, if you were to pass, would it break apart on its own if you don't pass it down? I'm afraid all these things are likely scenarios, including another keyblade war. But we can't just keep eliminating new ambitious individuals over and over."

"Right. It'd be a never-ending cycle," Sora nodded solemnly. Something just has to be done for the future. "What will it take to drive change, do you think?"

"Somebody for sure needs to guide the way," the old man answered simply.

"Yes, somebody to guide the way, to SUPPORT change, not force it. To serve, not dictate." Sora looked up with a smile. "Xehanort didn't believe people could change, so he wanted to start everything anew, to destroy and start fresh, and lead after to ensure his ideal. But I believe change can be done NOW. I believe in people and their hearts and I believe they can be shared. Yes, even with darkness."

Ansem's eyes widened slightly, stunned by the sudden determination sparkling in Sora's eyes. When his face lights up like that, it really feels as if the young master can do anything he says.

"Only with cooperation can there truly be balance," Sora continued. "Maybe in a way, everybody can be like me: give a piece of themselves to help a creature of darkness get their own heart?" He laughed, realizing how silly that might sound. "Maybe not as literally, but dedicate themselves to trying to CONNECT with something different from them. In a way, you do give a piece of yourself when you go out of your way to really connect with another person, and you get something back, too." He deflated just a smidge as he took another sip of tea, letting the warm liquid calm the quickening pace of his heart. "There will always be bad eggs here and there, I'm sure. But with the right guidance, I think we can re-unite the worlds again for a better future for ALL. At least that's what I hope for with all my heart."

Master Ansem smiles confidently. "If anybody can do it Sora, I believe you can."

Sora shyly smiles back. "I know it won't be perfect and I know I'll make mistakes, but I know with my friends backing me up and supporting me along the way, the only way I can fail is if I don't try at all. I have to believe there is a reason I ended up where I am now. I feel like I've been given a huge chance to make everybody happy and I don't want to screw it up. But...I won't do it if nobody's on board. This isn't just my decision to make, after all. This affects everybody and all those who haven't even been born yet."

Chapter Text

Sora and Riku were determined to have a blast on their honeymoon. Before they left, they found invitations to all sorts of different worlds from their friends amongst their wedding gifts and although they wanted to accept every single one, even with a three week honeymoon there just wasn't enough time!

They barely made the lantern festival in Corona where they of course danced in the town square before making a wish on their own celebratory lantern that they released into the sky with the others. After that, they visited Ariel and were given a lovely horseback tour of Prince Eric's kingdom. Then they visited San Fransokyo and enjoyed their first ever Pride Parade. Then it was back to Thebes where they caught up with Hercules and the others and had a grand time chariot racing (Riku won). In Neverland they met mermaids in Mermaid Lagoon. They sailed the high seas of the Caribbean, this time finding treasure all by themselves, but of course the real treasure was making love in a hidden cave behind a waterfall surrounded by gold and jewels (after a quick selfie <#3FoundTheBooty).

Then they visited other worlds that they've seen on their own separate missions but have yet to explore together, such as Paris where Sora stuffed himself silly and was in a food coma for a whole day afterwards. Sora even took Riku to Toy Box, which was back together as one world again. However, that meant it was repopulated with people again, so the two had to explore carefully as toys, which was nerve-wracking for Riku at first. But once they got to the toy store and waited around until after hours, Riku had to admit it WAS a lot of fun being a toy and playing around with everything.

They had been lucky enough to not run into any heartless or any other dangers during their honeymoon until they came face to face with a heartless armada while taking a shortcut to Arendelle. Their ship took a nasty hit and threw them off-course into a warp tunnel that neither of them recognized and somehow found themselves hovering near a very peaceful-looking world with a tall white castle that seemed as good a place to land as any to make repairs, not that they had much of a choice because they were falling fast!

With Sora at the controls, they made a skid landing OUTSIDE of the lush green forest and glen that Sora was originally aiming for and instead found themselves just outside a dilapidated castle surrounded by thorns. It was a stark contrast to the gleaming castle they saw before they landed. Even the sky was dark and ominous on this side of the forest. Though it was creepy to be sure, it seemed abandoned so Sora and Riku chanced getting out of the ship to assess the damage.

"I have a bad feeling about this place," Riku muttered as he looked around, keeping an eye out while Sora checked on the gummi ship. "There's...something familiar about it. It even smells familiar."

"Well hopefully we won't be here too long," Sora grumbled as he assessed the damage. "The power block is fried and the left rear panel is in pieces! I think there are some spares in the cargo bay. You okay by yourself for a second?"

"Sure, just don't be too long," Riku nodded.

The brunette chuckled and gave a thumbs up before prying open the dented door on the cargo hatch and crawling inside. There were quite a few gummi blocks stored here from the loot they collected during other gummi ship battles. Hopefully they have the ones they need otherwise they're going to have to abandon the gummi ship and fly back on their keyblade vehicles to either Radiant Garden or Disney Castle to get replacements. "There's gotta be a spare in here somewhere," Sora mumbled out loud to himself as he dug through the piles of blocks.

Riku kept walking circles around the ship as he kept a look out. It was way too quiet. Not even the twittering of birds could be heard from the nearby wood. Then again, they did just crash land. Maybe they scared everything off.

"Found them!" Sora proclaimed proudly as he climbed out of the cargo bay with the needed blocks cradled in his arms. "Wanna help me get the damaged ones off?"

"You got it," Riku smiled with relief and hurried over to help but before he could even take a step towards the brunette, there was a sudden burst of extreme heat that surrounded them with tall green flames!

With a cry of "Riku!" Sora was at Riku's side in an instant, keyblade and barrier raised to defend them against the flames that surrounded them and the gummi ship, but they never came in any closer. Suddenly a familiar voice rang out, startling the both of them.

"How dare you fools trespass here? At MY castle!?"

They knew that voice! "Maleficent!?" Riku called out.

The dark fairy draped in black stepped forth from the acid green flames, looking none too pleased to see them. "State your business before I lose my temper."

They lowered their weapons cautiously. The last thing they wanted to do was stir trouble, especially if this is her castle as she claims. "It was just an accident, promise! We're just going to repair our ship and be on our way," Sora quickly explained. He hadn't seen the "mistress of all evil" in years and he certainly wasn't exactly eager to chat.

"You expect me to believe you?" she scoffed. "What business would two keyblade wielders have out here if not to irritate me?"

"Where is here exactly?" Riku asked.

"The Enchanted Dominion," she answered curtly as she studied the both of them and their ship. Given the damage, it seems they very well may be telling the truth, but something wasn't adding up. Riku was giving her the same intense gaze that she remembered being so fond of when she first found him all alone and then there was Sora...something was different about his aura and yet familiar. She sensed something she hadn't seen in a very long time.

Riku saw the way her eyes narrowed suspiciously at Sora. "Wait, Maleficent--!"

The witch waved her staff and thick black vines with thorns the size of daggers shot up from the ground at Sora's feet and wrapped themselves around his body to hold him up painfully by his wrists, preventing him from defending himself with his keyblade. "AAGH!!"

"LET HIM GO!" Riku shouted, dashing forward in an attempt to cut him free, but Maleficent put up another wall of flame to prevent him from getting any closer as she walked towards Sora. "MALEFICENT!"

"Silence!" she demanded coldly as she glided over to Sora and grabbed him roughly by the chin. "Look at me, boy."

"That's Master Sora to you!" the brunette hissed as he tried to wrench his face from her grasp but her pointed fingers held him steadfast, her nails biting into his skin as she forced him to hold still so she could look deep into his eyes.

Deep in the depths of Sora's heart, she could see a shadow lurking within...no...trapped. Her lips slowly curled up in a smirk. "My, what a predicament you've found yourself in." Sora growled in her grasp but she let out an amused cackle before releasing his face. "I wonder how you'll worm your way out of this one, old friend."

Sora raised an eyebrow, having a feeling that she wasn't talking to him but rather...

Riku caught on quickly. "How do YOU know Darkness?" he asked.

"It's no concern of yours," Maleficent waved him off before she dismissed the thorns that were holding Sora as well as the flames that were keeping Riku at bay. "I'll ask you again. What are your true intentions?"

Sora scrambled to his feet and rubbed his wrists where the thorns nearly cut through his wrists if it weren't for his gauntlets, glowering at Maleficent the whole time. Something's different about her. Here she felt much more threatening. Maybe it's because they're on her home turf or maybe she's been up to something. Either way, if this is her home, they can't just attack her without premise as that would be a violation of world order. "It's like I said. We didn't come here intentionally. We're on our honey--"

"Sora!" Riku interrupted but it was already too late. Maleficent eyes had widened and a smooth smirk of amusement slid across her angled features as she turned to look at Riku.

"So, you finally claimed that which you wanted most. My congratulations. I must confess, I hadn't heard. I must've misplaced my invitation."

Riku didn't miss the way her hand slid over her staff as she said this but before he could assuage her, Sora was talking again. "You wouldn't have wanted to come to the realm of light anyway. But don't worry, next time we have a big celebration close by, we'll invite you and Pete. Where is he anyway?"

"He had other affairs to tend to," she huffed.

Riku was doing his best not to show how put off he was by what Sora just promised. Did he seriously not think she would hold him to that? He tried to open his mouth again to speak, but Sora was apparently not done!

"Well now that we know where you are, we know where to send your next invitation," Sora chuckled nervously. "Can we get back to fixing our ship now? Then we'll be out of your...horns."

Maleficent's lip curled up in a snarl, but she rolled her eyes and turned away. "Fine. Fix your ship and begone, both of you! Don't let me catch you lurking in my domain again!" she shouted coldly before disappearing in another burst of green flame.

"Well, you heard the lady!" Sora smiled as he bent down to gather the blocks he dropped. "Let's hurry up so we can get out of here."

Riku rushed over to check on the brunette. "Are you okay? Were you hurt?"

"I'm fine, honest! I just want to get out of here before anything else happens," Sora insisted as he set the blocks in place. He then turned to grip Riku's hips and stood on his toes to give him a deep kiss to help ease his worries. "And then we can get back to other things~"

Riku let out a small snort through his nose as he retaliated with a firm grasp at Sora's ass. "Fine by me. Chop chop, Mr. Fix-It."

"Alright, alright!" Sora squealed before turning back around and fixing up the rest of the ship. Repairing a gummi ship was a lot like playing with building blocks, just a lot heavier. In a few short minutes, the ship was whirring back to life, all power back online, and they scrambled to get inside so they can take off for their next destination.

Chapter Text

Sora and Riku had a blast for the rest of their honeymoon but as they started to wind down, they edged back into the more familiar worlds, the ones closest to home, eventually ending up in Radiant Garden. But even then, they didn't tell their other friends they were there yet, choosing to stay in one of the local inns and keeping to themselves as they rested from their trips. At least that was the idea, but even though they were closer to coming home, they still weren't out of the "honeymoon mood" yet. So much so that when they woke up the next morning, Sora was covered in little red kissy bite marks that wouldn't go away with even a curaga spell, especially around the neck, so he was forced to wear one of his white turtleneck-esque muscle shirts to cover up and paired it with a red vest hoodie and black cargo highwaters. Riku was also in casual clothes, but his was a cropped gray hoodie with the sleeves cut off and a loose pair of jeans with one knee worn through. Said silverette really liked Sora's outfit, even as casual as it was. He loved seeing the tanned brunette in white, but especially in that shirt and couldn't help admiring how it accentuates his abs and how it's just tight enough to ride up and show a hint of skin on his hips.

So as they walked down the neatly kept cobblestone streets of Radiant Garden, he couldn't keep himself from slipping an arm around Sora's hips and sliding a finger over that little sliver of skin which never ceased to make Sora blush. "Rikuuuu..."

The taller male snickered and leaned down close to kiss Sora's burning face. "What can I say? You look good in white."

Sora's eyes got impossibly wide. Did he just--???? "R-Riku!!" he gasped.

The keyblade master threw his head back in a loud laugh before quickly covering his mouth with his free hand and dragging Sora away to a fountain before the other could throttle him, but that wasn't enough to keep Sora from jabbing him in the side with two fingers. "Ow!"

"I wouldn't have to wear this shirt if you weren't so rough last night," Sora hissed between his teeth.

"I didn't hear you complaining. All I heard was a lot of--"

Sora quickly covered Riku's mouth with both hands. "Don't you dare!"

Riku stuck his tongue out to wetly lick Sora's palm, making the brunette quickly retract his hands. "Ugh! That still feels weird!"

The silverette snickered and pulled Sora close to him again apologetically, but he also just couldn't let it go. "You were just as rough, by the way."

Sora smirked and stood on his toes to nuzzle into Riku's neck before biting playfully just low enough that the hood's fabric would cover it. "Yeah, but at least I leave marks where they can be covered," he purred.

Riku shuddered but also couldn't help grinning at how openly affectionate Sora was being. Once the honeymoon was officially over, it might be hard to tone this back again. Sora's chocolate locks brushed his cheek and he couldn't help inhaling his sweet scent; citrus and ocean breeze. He held him tighter, fingers daring to graze that sensitive spot on Sora's lower back. "I love you."

Sora shuddered against him but he didn't bother reprimanding Riku this time, only melting against his broad chest. "I love you, too~"

"Would you like to buy some flowers?"

The two broke apart slightly and looked down to see a little girl with a basket full of flowers, a fistful of them clutched in her hand as she held them up for them to see.

Riku couldn't help smiling and let Sora go to grab his wallet. "How much for this one?" he asked, pointing to a bright pink cosmos in her basket.

The little girl's face lit up happily. "Three munny!"

"Oof, you strike a hard bargain," the silverette chuckled, pulling out three munny to hand her before she gave him the flower in exchange. He then proceeded to slip it into Sora's hair. "What do you think? Looks good on him, right?"

The little girl giggled. "It does!"

Sora giggled too. "I want to buy one, too. Which one do you think would look good on him?"

The little girl studied Riku thoughtfully for a moment, seemingly very pleased that Sora asked for her expertise. "Yellow!" she exclaimed proudly before picking out a yellow daisy.

"Pefect!" Sora praised before handing her ten munny and taking the flower to tuck behind Riku's ear. "Keep the change. Thank you!"

"Thank YOU!" she cheered happily before skipping away, leaving the two to chuckle.

"Adorable," Sora giggled.

"She looks like a tiny Aerith," Riku snickered.

"She doooooes~" Sora practically cooed. "I want five just like her."

"Pbbbt, you mean you want your own flower-peddling army?" Riku snorted.

"As funny as that would be, no, I mean I hope our kids are just as cute as her," the brunette elaborated.

Riku smiled gently though he was reddening at the thought. "Aren't all kids cute, though?"

"Sure, but you and I were EXTRA cute," Sora chuckled.

"Ha! Maybe you were," the silverette snickered.

"You were, too! Don't be modest!" the brunette giggled while gently poking Riku's reddening cheek.

Riku turned away from the intruding finger. "H-have you thought about it, though?"

Sora settled back on the balls of his feet. "About what? Having kids?"

"Yeah..." Riku crossed his arms as he kicked at an invisible rock on the ground with his boot. "I mean I know it's a little soon but..."

"Oh sure!" Sora grinned unabashedly as he laced his fingers behind his head. "Especially now that Aqua and Terra are talking about opening up a school and everything. I mean I know it's probably too soon, but I think about it."

Riku felt his chest get warm at Sora's white smile. Raising a family with Sora would be so... "Heh...well since we're spit-balling..."

"Hehe," Sora offered his hand and Riku took it, the brunette swinging it between them as they continued their little aimless walk. "How many would you want?"

"Depends on how hard it is to get the first one, I think," Riku answered honestly.

"That's fair," the brunette chuckled. "Obviously we'd have to adopt. But..."

"Well, yes, but there's also surrogacy, you know," Riku pointed out.

"I guess...but...I dunno...the thought seems a little..." he trailed off, not really sure how to explain himself.

Sora didn't have to say, Riku knew what he was thinking. "It'd require a lot of trust."

"Right, I think that's it," Sora nodded. There's more to it than that, but yes, trust was a big one.

Riku could see the brunette's brow furrowing so he tried to lighten the topic a little more. "It is funny to think, though, what would a kid between us look like?"

"He'd have your attitude, for sure!" Sora teased without skipping a beat, grinning widely as he playfully nudged the taller male with his elbow. "Or she!"

"Imagine a little girl with your messy hair. Which one of us would have to be the one to help the poor thing untangle it every morning?" Riku snickered.

"Omigosh, if my daughter had hair like my mom's she'd probably resent me for her whole life! She'll have to have YOUR hair," Sora nodded.

Riku laughed. "My hair? But..."

Sora's eyes widened. "Shit, you're right! We'd have to beat the boys off of her with a stick!"

The elder keyblade master let out a loud laugh. "She'll just have to be homeschooled."

"Noooooooo! Us homeschooling our kids? We couldn't subject them to that! They'd hate us!"

"They'd hate ME. You would probably let them slack off!"

"Heh heh, I'll be the cool dad. You can be the strict dad."

"No way!" Riku scoffed. "That's not fair!"

"Well SOMEBODY has to be the tough guy!" Sora argued.

"I'll just have to spoil them so much that you would look like the mean dad in comparison," the elder man grinned.

"NO WAY! It shouldn't be a competition! RIKUUUUU!!"

"Sora? Riku?"

The two turned around to see Even behind them carrying a woven basket full of ingredients. He must've been shopping. "Are you finally back from your honeymoon?" the blonde asked.

"Eh-heh," Sora chuckled sheepishly while rubbing the back of his head. "Kinda? But not really?"

"Oh, I see," the scientist smirked. "Well, since you're here, there's something I've been wanting to show you two for a while now."

"Something to show us?" Sora questioned.

"Yes, at the lab. I promise I won't try to take up too much of your time."

Sora looked to Riku who gave a little shrug. "Uh, sure. But...it's nothing weird, right?" Sora asked nervously.

"Well I don't think so," Even grinned in a way that looked almost unnatural to the couple. "Please, follow me."

The two walked in relative silence as they followed Even, the blonde not really one for idle conversation, they've noticed. It also appears that Even was taking care to lead them to his own lab on a route that avoided other people, which the two were grateful for, given that they still weren't up to socializing with everybody yet. They've met up with a LOT of friends on their honeymoon and were still a bit tired. Heck, Riku was STILL exhausted from socializing with all those people at their wedding.

In Even's lab, the man set down his basket of groceries before typing a few things into a laptop in the center of the room and a larger screen behind him lit up, showing a side by side view of what appeared to be Sora and Riku's data.

Riku frowned almost immediately. "What is this?"

"THIS is the data I've compiled of the both of you. Everything from your personalities down to your very genetics," the scientist explained proudly.

Sora tilted his mouth. He was about to ask where Even got their genetic data from, but he recalled the time both he and Riku came to get their blood tested. He hadn't thought that the research scientists would actually KEEP it. "And...?" he asked.

"You know all about the replica project. But I've also been developing a new idea...a way to combine the data and genetics of two people to create a new person!" he explained.

Riku's jaw dropped. "Wait, are you saying..."

"Yes, Riku. I'm offering you and Sora a chance to have your very own child, one that's truly made from the BOTH of you," the excited scientist finished. To Sora, he looked as giddy as he's ever seen him.

"Wow...Even...I don't know what to say," Sora gaped.

"No need to thank me," Even grinned.

"Wait, how would this work, exactly?" Riku asked skeptically.

"You simply tell me which traits you both desire your child to have and using the newest replica form I have developed, I input the data and genetic material and when it's ready, you'll have an infant that will grow up just like any other child."

It sounded almost too good to be true. Something worried the brunette. "Where would its heart come from?" Sora asked.

Even crossed his arms in front of himself as he tried to think of the best way to answer that question. "That...I think, would depend on the both of you."

Riku thought back to when he interacted with Ansem the Wise's data inside of Sora's heart during the Mark of Mastery exam. Hearts are quick to grow, he said, and when Sora sees the heart in something it becomes real. "Are you saying that they would awaken with a new heart once we see them for the first time?"

The scientist nodded, "Yes, that is what I believe."

Sora smiled with relief...a new person...made from him and Riku...something that he never thought would ever be possible and it was being offered to them just like that. But still the way he describe the process felt so strange. "While that sounds amazing, Even, I don't know how I feel about picking and choosing things. Like...I don't know...I don't want to DESIGN a baby."

Riku bit his lower lip to keep from laughing at the way Sora worded it, but it was a very good point. He wouldn't feel right about that, either. Plus they would never come to agree, he knew. The two of them would just argue that their child should have the other's traits.

Even raised an eyebrow. He hadn't expected this. "Perhaps...would you two prefer the results be randomized?"

Sora brightened, "Can that be done?"

Riku also felt his enthusiasm growing. "That WOULD be the most true-to-life way, would it not?"

"Hmm...I suppose for authenticity's sake, I could try to make it possible. A randomizing program shouldn't be too hard to write. Perhaps when you're ready, you two can come back and be the ones to push the button and finalize the results for yourselves," Even suggested.

Sora couldn't help giggling at the way he said "push the button". "Sure! When we're ready, we'll come back to push the baby button!"

Riku snorted. "But that might be a few years from now," he quickly added before either of them could get too excited.

"Of course," Even nodded. "I expected you two would want to wait. But I wanted to give you two plenty of time to consider it as an option. As a new couple, I'm sure you have many future plans you'll be discussing."

"Yes," Riku nodded. "Thank you, Even. We'll definitely be taking this into consideration."

Sora smiled and squeezed Riku's hand. "Just...do us a favor and not tell anybody about what we discussed. I think we want to talk about this between ourselves for the time being."

"Of course. I do not plan to make my work public knowledge either, not just yet anyway," Even nodded. "I do not think the worlds are ready for just anybody to have this chance yet. If there is anybody that is worthy, however, I could not think of anybody better than you two."

Riku was sure Even was trying to sound genuine and complimentary, but he couldn't shake the feeling that in between the lines he was actually saying he couldn't think of two better specimens to make a new person from, but even that could be considered a compliment if he squinted hard enough.

"Well, thanks again. I hope the offer is still on the table in a few years," Sora grinned. "In the meantime, I think we're going to get back to our honeymoon."

"Certainly. But how much longer is your honeymoon going to take? The wedding was over three weeks ago," Even smirked.

"It's been THAT long? Oh shit, Kairi's going to kill us!" Sora exclaimed.

"Rox is going to be pissed!" Riku slapped a hand against his own forehead.

Even's eyes widened with concern. "You...honestly didn't know?" he asked but the two were already sprinting out the door.

Chapter Text

4 months later...

Sora was heading home in his own gummi ship after finishing off his latest mission. What a strange one it was. He was the size of an ant in a forest fighting off a full-sized Soldier heartless that may has well been a Darkside with how big it was. As much easier it would have been to just reverse the magic and fight it head-on, it was too risky to the world's inhabitants which were bugs. He had become good friends with the ant colony's inhabitants and a circus full of colorful characters so now he can't help thinking about the bugs he's squished in the past.

"I'll never squish a fly again!" Sora bemoaned as he kicked the thrusters into overdrive. He was exhausted after his mission and he knew he should've taken one day to rest but he was too excited. He hadn't seen Riku in two weeks and desperately wanted to get home and sleep in his own bed. The new gummi ship he built was nice and all with the latest in amenities that plundered heartless ship pieces could provide, but it just wasn't home, especially without Riku beside him. As he popped his sore shoulder, his mind wandered back to his husband who had his own mission to contend with.

"I wonder if he's home yet?" he wondered aloud. "I should call him and tell him I'm on my way."

Being the totally responsible gummi ship driver that he is, Sora found an empty spot of space to slow down and kill the engine so he could call Riku. As he waited through the dial tone, he rubbed at a bit of dirt stuck to the back of his hand. He's going to need a hot bath when he gets back. After the eighth ring, he groaned as he got Riku's answering machine.

"You reached Riku, please leave a message. If you're Sora, I miss you."

"Awwww~" Sora blushed. Riku usually changes the answering machine message whenever he's gone for a long trip but it never ceases to make him smile. He couldn't help wondering what other people thought when they heard Riku's answering messages. "They prolly jelly," he giggled to himself. "WAIT, I'm supposed to leave a message. Shit. Um let me do that over!" He hung up and called again. "Uh, Riku! Ignore that last message! I just wanted to let you know I'm on my way home. Uh...I miss you, too. Can't wait to see you. And..." He paused...he hated leaving messages. He never felt like he could make them quick and to the point but no matter what, he wanted to make sure all messages ended the same way. "I love you." He smiled before hanging up and turning the engine back on.

But just as he was about to turn on the thrusters again, he glanced out the side of the cockpit where a large swirling black mass caught his eye. "What the..." He squinted to see it through the darkness of space, but there was definitely something there. "Nope nope. Curiosity killed the cat, Sora." He shook his head and instead chose to pull up the intercom. "You there, Chip?"

"We're here, Master Sora!" the chipmunk answered over the radio.

"Can you see my coordinates? There's a thing at my 3 o'clock. It kind of looks like a warp tunnel, but...creepier. I don't see it mentioned on the Nav."

"Checking now. Dale! Get over here!"

Sora chuckled as he heard the rodents scramble. It was only a few more seconds before they responded but he could already feel himself growing impatient and wishing he never bothered. But if there really was something bad over here, the responsible thing would be to report it so none of his other fellow keyblade wielders get potentially caught in something nasty.

"I am getting some strange readings next to you, Master Sora. We're recording the coordinates, but for now I advise you stay far away from it!" Chip reported.

"Copy that. I'm heading back home anyway! Thanks, Chip!" the brunette smiled as he hung up, eager to get back to what he was doing. Once again, he reached for the thrusters when suddenly his gauges started flashing on his console. "Whoa! What's going on!?" He banged on the corner of it a couple of times in order to get the alarms to stop and suddenly they were all silent but they also stopped working!

"Come onnnnn!!" he banged it again and flicked the power switches on and off. "This thing is practically brand new! I wanna go home!" he shouted impatiently as he waited for everything to reboot.

When it came on, the radar started going off like crazy and lit up with a hundred blue dots. "Huh!?" he looked up and sure enough a heartless fleet had shown up from completely out of nowhere. "SHIT!" he hissed and hurried to turn on the thrusters and flicked the controls to release his teenie ships. "I don't have time to play!" he growled as he planned to gun right through them as they were in his direct path home. But as he hit the throttle it quickly became apparent that his ship wasn't moving forward at all!

"What's going on!?" He pushed the engines as hard as they would go and the gauges clearly showed they were operating, but something was holding him back and the enemy ships were coming in closer! He spun his head around to see that the black mass that was originally far on his right was now directly behind him! Had it moved or had he been slowly falling into it this whole time!? The engines were straining to make any progress and he could see them overheating the longer he pushed them but it was the only thing keeping him away from the mass that was looming closer and closer. "Come on come on come on!" he begged as the armada also started to close in on him.

Suddenly the ship started rattling violently as he was being shot at from all sides. He activated the teenie ships and began shooting and dodge rolling to deflect the enemy lasers all while the engines kept going at max capacity to keep him free from the pull of the swirling black mass threatening to suck him in. The longer he struggled the more his gauges began to flicker and the louder all of his alarms blared. It wasn't looking good!

Outside he could hear his shields failing and entire pieces of his ship coming off! With one last kick to the console to urge it back to life, he flipped on the intercom again. "MAYDAY MAYDAY!"

"Master Sora!" Dale responded from the other end!

"I'm getting sucked in! There are heartless everywhere! I can't break free!"

The ship shook violently once again, nearly slamming Sora face first into the wheel. Preparing for total failure, he slapped the gold heart emblem on his shoulder plate to activate his keyblade armor. As soon as the visor of his helmet was over his face, he felt a huge LURCH in his chest as suddenly the ship completely lost power and his ship was sucked into the swirling black mass.

He held on for dear life, clutching at the arm rests with a white knuckle grip as his ship spun out of control. There was a roaring in his ears as he heard his teenie ships slam against the hull before they too disappeared from sight. Everything was pitch black and then suddenly there were streams of blinding white light that threatened to blind him! He scrunched his eyes closed tightly as he waited for the end to come, hoping and praying that it would all just stop already! He was spinning so fast he couldn't move his arms or legs! He almost couldn't even breathe! "JUST STOP ALREADY!" he cried out painfully as he felt himself about to be sick.

Finally, it all came to a stop and Sora went from feeling impossibly heavy to weightless. It made sense. Without power there wasn't any gravity to hold him down. Out the window he could see swirls of purple and black and...pictures? He undid his seatbelt and floated to the top of the glass bowl to see better. It was like being inside a dark and depressing snow globe and instead of snowflakes it was like peering into windows of other worlds or moments of time. It reminded him a lot of when Xehanort opened keyholes to teleport around when he was attacking, but instead of keyholes it was like looking into holes of frayed fabric that drifted aimlessly through the sky and disappeared. If he strained hard enough to listen he could swear he could hear voices outside of the ship but for now it sounded like a thundercloud in the distance that made the glass vibrate beneath his fingers.

He pushed away from the glass and hurried to check on the control panel. Using his gummi phone's flash as a flashlight, he desperately tried to get everything back online but it was no use. There wasn't any power. "I'm a sitting duck like this!" he growled with frustration. He seriously considered ditching the ship for a second and just flying out on his own but if the gigantic engines on his gummi ship couldn't escape the pull of this thing, what are the odds that his keyblade glider could? And where would he end up without a navigation system to guide him home?

Plus the atmosphere of this place was just...it made his chest feel tight. He took a few deep breaths as he turned the flashlight off his phone to conserve battery. He only had thirty percent left and it was draining fast as the phone was busy searching for a signal. "TRON, are you there?" he asked.

The friendly AI's face popped up on his screen, sending a wave of relief through Sora. That's right. He just has to remember that no matter what, he's never truly alone. "I'm here, Sora."

"TRON, I'm in a bit of a pickle. My ship's not working and I'm stuck somewhere weird. Do you think you can run a dia...dia..."

"Diagnostic?" TRON offered helpfully.

"Right!"

"Well from the looks of things you don't have any power. I can't run a diagnostic if the ship isn't running. But I can help walk you through potential solutions so you'll at least be able to fix that much."

"I just don't understand. Sure, I got hit a few times, but even before that, everything was acting weird. This is a brand new ship. Why isn't anything working?"

"Based on the data from the most recent scan of your location, it appears the electromagnetic field of this area is potentially reversing the polarity of the--"

Sora's brow furrowed in frustration. He'd be rubbing his temples right now if he wasn't wearing his helmet. He didn't have time to pretend he understood anything the program just said. Instead he curtly shouted, "TRON! PLEASE!"

The AI sighed and said, "Weird black cloud make your electronics go BRRR!"

Sora stared at the screen in complete silence for a whole two seconds before suddenly bursting into a fit of laughter. "PBBBBBBBT!!! Wa-was that a joke?"

"Yes, did it work?" TRON asked hopefully.

Sora sniffled as he felt tears of mirth forming in the corners of his eyes. "Yeah...yeah, that was pretty good." He smiled gratefully at his friend for lightening the mood.

"But we need to hurry. You're running low on battery," the program reminded him urgently.

"Is there any way we can extend it?" Sora asked desperately. He knew he should've plugged it in when he had the chance, but there was no point in crying over it now.

"Your phone's still searching for a signal over the gummi network, which I'm sure we won't be able to reach. So I recommend disabling the wifi and the mobile capabilities. That should buy you some time."

"Alright, do that, if you don't mind," Sora nodded.

"Right. Disabling signal search."

"What next?"

"If we can't find an internal solution, you might have to go outside the ship."

"Either way I'll need to find spare parts, but it's so dark in the cargo bay. I don't even have any emergency power. But wait, there's gotta be a flashlight around here somewhere," he mumbled to himself as he squinted around in the dark. "Wait! My camping lantern! Duh!" he gave a cheesy grin before digging into his hip satchel in the side pocket of the captain's chair. "Good thing this didn't fall open while we were spinning around," he chuckled to himself as he dug out his trusty lantern. "Okay, hang tight, TRON, I'll be right back."

"Copy that."

The screen went blank and he stuck the phone to his hip before wrenching the below deck doors open. Without any power, they were really hard to open manually. In the cargo bay, it was a complete mess as all the collected parts had fallen off the neatly stacked shelves during impact. Gummi blocks were incredibly durable for the most part, so he wasn't too worried about anything being broken, but it sure makes it hard for him to check his inventory for replacement parts, especially when there wasn't any GRAVITY!

After digging for about half an hour, he found a few parts that might come in handy, internally and externally, and heaved them up one by one to the places he knew were damaged. Some of it was as simple as replacing the busted blocks and throwing them out. But some required a little more hardwiring that was a bit beyond his limited expertise and his gummi phone battery was running out fast! "TRON, there's so much damage, I don't know what to do!"

"It'll be okay, Sora. I'll walk you through it."

"But...the battery is at 15%. It won't be enough! I mean...can I plug you into one of these power blocks?"

"I wouldn't advise that. You could end up frying your phone," the program warned.

Sora felt his anxiety building up. His heart was racing and he wanted so badly to take off his helmet, but for all he knew it was the only thing keeping him breathing and from freezing up entirely. He reached into his hip satchel again and dug around for his music box to calm himself down so he could think. Though he couldn't see the silver pieces moving inside the box, he could see it in his mind's eye as he listened to the song of his and Riku's hearts, his eyes closing as he allowed the nostalgic tune to calm him.

TRON could hear the music box. "Sora, what's powering that box?"

"A gummi battery," Sora shrugged. "Geppetto really likes playing with gummi tech."

"Sora...I hate to suggest this..."

The brunette's eyes widened. "N-no, I can't! I'm sorry, I can't!" He shook his head and held the box to his chest protectively as he felt himself on the verge of tears. "Anything but that!"

"Do you have anything else that runs on gummi batteries?" TRON asked gently.

Sora racked his brain desperately. He didn't really have much else except..."Wait, I might have something else." He put the music box away and dug around. "Please be in here..." he muttered as he scraped all around the inside until his hand found another small box that meant a lot to him...the red music box that held his engagement ring. With a heavy heart, he withdrew it from the satchel and turned it over in his hands. It was a simple box, unlike the other intricate work of art that Riku gave him, but he hoped he'd be able to get the battery out without hurting it. However, after studying it under the glow of the lantern, it appears the box was sealed tight with wood glue. No screws or anything to be found. "I'll have to force it open, I guess," he announced sadly.

"I'm sorry, Sora. Maybe we can find an alternative."

Sora shook his head. "There isn't enough time." He sniffled deeply and grabbed his hammer. "Forgive me."

Chapter Text

"What do you mean Sora's missing!?" Riku shouted over the gummi phone. He had just gotten signal again only to find his phone blowing up with notifications of missed calls and messages.

"We tried to call you!" Dale explained. "He sent out a distress signal four hours ago but we haven't been able to locate him! We sent Masters Aqua and Terra to his last known location, but the anomaly he reported before he disappeared is gone!"

Riku ran his hand through his hair in frustration, his patience wearing thin as his heart raced at the thought of Sora missing in some unknown place. "Never mind that, just send me the coordinates of his last location. I'll look for myself."

Not satisfied until he personally looked into Sora's last known whereabouts, Riku combed the entire area four times over. It was just as they said. Whatever was here, whatever swallowed Sora up, wasn't here anymore.

Exhausted from his search and his heart feeling as heavy as lead, Riku had no choice but to call it a night and landed at Disney castle. At least there, he could talk to Chip and Dale directly and hopefully get some better answers.

Mickey himself was there to greet him in the hangar when he arrived and immediately deflated when he noticed Sora wasn't with him, giving Riku a sympathetic smile and a pat on the side of his knee. "We'll find him, Riku."

Riku could only sigh and nod, his shoulders hunched as they ached from leaning over a gummi ship steering wheel for the past six hours. "Have Chip and Dale found anything else?"

The king shook his head as he walked with Riku out of the hangar. "I'm afraid not. All they have is the data from the original scan that they got from Sora's ship and from his ship's computer log. They said the readings were very similar to a warp tunnel but on a much more massive scale and--" he stopped when he saw the horrified look in Riku's eyes. "Well..."

"It was very unstable!" Dale finished, one of the two gummi ship engineers now walking in what little space there was between Riku and the King. "He could end up anywhere!" he exclaimed before Chip bopped him on the noggin for his lack of tact.

Riku's stomach twisted into tighter knots but he tried to keep his voice and temper calm. None of this information seemed very helpful, if you could even call it information at all. "But...there is a chance he ended up SOMEWHERE, right? Can't we ping for his ship's location once he's out?"

"We could," Chip answered cautiously. "IF he ends up somewhere near our gummi satellites. But if he's too far away, we'll have no way of knowing."

"He wouldn't even be able to call for help!" Dale realized.

Riku clenched his fist so hard it shook and Mickey sure didn't miss it. "What it sounds like to me, fellas, is that we need to get to work launching more satellites as quickly as we can. We'll have a team in charge of looking out for Sora, someone to keep an eye on the airways, and of course a team to launch the satellites. As far as we can go!" the king decided.

"How long would all of that take?" Riku asked.

Chip and Dale looked at each other nervously. "Well, if we can get all the resources we need..." Dale started.

"And a skilled enough team to help us build..." Chip pondered.

The two chipmunks looked back and forth at Mickey and RIku's faces before answering. "The first new satellite can be up in a few days. But we're going to need help. To get the best range possible, we'll probably need to launch twenty more!" Chip estimated.

"In other words, it's a needle in a haystack," Riku sighed.

"Yes, but with new satellites, it'll be like having a giant magnet to help us find the needle. It'll just take time!" Dale explained.

"Well if I know Sora, I'm sure he'll be fine for a little while. Right, Riku?" Mickey asked.

Riku gave a small smile. "Yeah, if he's not hurt." He put his trembling hand over his chest. "I can feel him still, but I'm not getting much else. If anybody would know if he's in any pain, it'd be Roxas. What did his last transmission sound like?"

The two gummi engineers winced and shrunk down with their ears bent low. Mickey put a hand to his mouth. "Oh gosh."

"I want to hear it," Riku said firmly.

"Master Riku...are you sure?" Dale asked. "We've already analyzed the audio. There isn't much else to gain from hearing it."

"I am," the silverette nodded. Chip and Dale looked to King Mickey who gave a remorseful nod before the two agreed and led the way to the gummi lab.

Despite the rodents' small stature, the lab was filled with gigantic computers and normal-sized keyboards but also tiny ones hooked up to those. This couldn't be an efficient way for them to work, Riku thought to himself, but now was not the time to think about chipmunk ergonomics. All over the giant screens he could see maps and radar and so many other oscillating measurements that he couldn't wrap his head around at the moment. What he was most concerned with was what Dale was now pulling up on the screen as he and Chip scurried across the keys. An audio file was pulled up alongside a video of the radar output Sora's ship was giving before his ship went offline. The two engineers hesitated before going any further but Riku gave them another firm nod and they hit the spacebar to play the audio file, the sound waves jostling rapidly as Sora spoke, meanwhile there was a strange reading looming on the right side of Sora's radar.

"You there, Chip?" Sora's voice crackled over the audio feed.

"We're here, Master Sora!" Chip's voice answered.

"Can you see my coordinates? There's a thing at my 3 o'clock. It kind of looks like a warp tunnel, but...creepier. I don't see it mentioned on the Nav." Even as crackled as the audio sounded, Riku could hear the uncertainty loud and clear in Sora's voice, which was very unusual for the normally space-adventurous brunette.

"Checking now. Dale! Get over here!"

"Heh heh."

Riku couldn't help smiling as he heard Sora chuckle. Even as worried as he was, Sora's laugh always manages to calm his heart, at least a little bit.

"I am getting some strange readings next to you, Master Sora. We're recording the coordinates, but for now I advise you stay far away from it!" Chip's voice reported.

"Copy that. I'm heading back home anyway! Thanks, Chip!"

Riku waited for the click that should have followed signaling the intercom being turned off, but Sora must've forgotten because suddenly the audio blew up with the sounds of alarms going off that made him and even Mickey jump a little.

"Whoa! What's going on!?" Sora's voice yelled. There was a sound of banging and suddenly the audio cut out abruptly as did the recording of the scanner's feed.

Typical, Riku thought to himself, smiling helplessly as he imagined Sora banging the crap out of his console instead of properly seeing what the actual problem is. However the smile immediately fell from his face as the audio and the scanner feed came back on, alarmingly lit with what must've been over a hundred pings, which were clearly heartless ships and directly at the top of the screen there was now an even bigger black smudge, undoubtedly the unknown anomaly that Sora had pointed out just seconds ago.

"MAYDAY MAYDAY!" Sora's voice shouted, high-pitched and crackled as his shouting nearly blew out the mic. "I'm getting sucked in! There are heartless everywhere! I can't break free!"

Riku's heart clenched and cold sweat ran down the side of his face as he heard Sora struggle to gun down the heartless surrounding him. On the screen he could see he was taking a lot of the little blue dots out, but for every one he got rid of, two more seemed to take their place, all the while the strange black reading took up more and more of the screen until everything cut off entirely. There was nothing else.

Even after it was over, Riku could still hear the blaring alarms in his ears and the sound of Sora's panicked voice as he sent out a distress call. His heart raced and his body started trembling.

"Riku..." Mickey said the other's name gently. "We'll find him. Everything's going to be okay."

"R-Right," Riku swallowed hard. He could hear Mickey trying to shake him out of it, but he couldn't listen. His mind was racing to think of other ways to reach Sora. The Dream Eater link? Could he even reach Sora where he is? If he can, that means he's near by, but what would be the odds? Plus he needs to sleep and how can he sleep knowing that Sora is out there lost and alone?

"Riku," the king called the other's name a little louder, this time getting the silverette's attention. "It's late. There's nothing else we can do now. Let's get you something to eat and after you've had a good rest, we'll start on a plan, okay?"

Riku nodded and followed Mickey wordlessly out of the lab, giving Chip and Dale a hollow thank you before they left.

Eat he says...yeah right.

Sleep? Fat chance.

But Mickey was right. He had to try.

As he followed the king through the castle gardens, he looked up at the night sky and whispered a plea to the stars. "Please be safe...Sora..."

* * *

The gummi battery Sora pried out of his engagement ring music box fit snugly into the back of his gummi phone. He hurried to reassemble it and breathed a sigh of relief when TRON's face came back on screen.

"Whoo, that did it."

"Yup! You're at 100%. That should be more than enough to last until we get the ship's power running," TRON confirmed.

"Right. Let's get to work," Sora nodded determinedly.

With TRON walking him through it, Sora managed to repair the wiring on the ship but even with everything looking fine internally, it wouldn't do any good until they fixed the external problems and reinstalled a new power block.

"That part I can do," Sora told TRON as he attached the magnetic back of the gummi phone to his hip. "Just stand by."

"Roger that, Sora."

Cautiously, he pried open the hatch. Down below he could see sparking in the cloudy black expanse beneath the ship but at least there didn't seem to be any debris that could hit him. However, that being said, he's never attempted repairs on the gummi ship in the vacuum of space so he grabbed a rope and tied it to himself, just in case, and lowered himself out with a couple of gummi blocks tucked under his arm.

Needless to say, it was difficult to attempt the repairs when his tools and blocks were floating around in zero gravity, but he had to make do. While keeping the most important blocks clamped tight between his legs, he used his arms to pry off the damaged blocks on the outside of his ship and scrambled to install the power block. As soon as it was inserted in place, the ship hummed back to life and Sora let out a cry of happiness. "YES!" After that, he scrambled to repair the hull and was relieved to find that he wasn't leaking any fuel.

After the last block was shoved into place, he was ready to pull himself back into the ship when he suddenly heard a familiar voice.

"Fancy seeing you here!" the Master of Masters greeted.

Sora felt his blood run ice cold as he recognized the voice. Was his mind playing tricks on him? He summoned his keyblade and spun around to face the source of the voice but there wasn't anybody there.

Cold sweat dripped down his chin. "I'm...I'm hearing things."

"Not quite!"

He spun around again to see a figure cloaked in black sitting on top of his ship, sitting casually with his legs crossed and leaning back on his hands as if they were having a friendly chat and not floating in the zero gravity of space!

"What are you doing here?!" Sora spat.

"Well you see I'm not actually here. I mean I am, but I'm actually not. Look, it's complicated. I'd try to explain, but it'd go way over your head," he waved dismissively.

Sora scoffed. "You're trapped here too, aren't you?"

The cloaked man flinched as if offended. "Nooooooooo!" He huffed with his fists on his hips, wagging his shoulders as he silently tut-tutted at Sora for his sass. "I just come here as a go-between. Time and space is like swiss cheese. Sometimes I also just like to chill." He explained as he went back to lounging with his fingers laced behind his head as if he were about to lean back for a nap against the cockpit window.

"Where is HERE exactly?" Sora asked, though as the question left his mouth, he had a feeling the answer he was going to receive was going to be less than helpful.

"Oh yes! Let me be the first to welcome you to The Void!" The Master of Masters waved an arm out dramatically as if to introduce Sora to the swirling black chaos all around them.

"The Void?" the brunette asked. "What's...the void?"

"The Void is a lot of things...but you could also say it's a lot of nothing."

Sora sighed with frustration. Of course he'd speak in riddles. What else did he expect? "Riiiiight...well, I'm just...gonna go, then."

"How?"

Sora stopped and looked back up at the cloaked man. "I'll figure it out."

"Well how do you know you'll end up when and where you want to be?"

"Huh?"

"This Void exists in part because of what you've done, Sora. But thankfully, you haven't screwed up anything yet."

"For me or for you?" Sora growled.

"Neither, as far as I can tell. But you're really pushing it, I'll tell you that much."

"Ha! That's rich. You don't know anything about the person I am NOW. In my timeline, you're toast. You can't see what's in MY future."

"Oh can't I?" he asked innocently.

"That's right, you can't tell anymore without your keyblade, can you?" Sora mocked.

"Oh no, I've seen plenty. But I admit, not for a few more years," he admitted while acting like he was examining his fingernails even though he was wearing gloves.

Sora's eyes widened. "How? Your apprentice is gone!"

"I have another one!" the other stood, fists clenched at his sides as if affronted, but then he relaxed and turned around with his hands clutched behind his back as he kicked at an invisible pebble. "Or rather I will."

"How?" Sora asked cautiously.

The cloaked figure halfway turned. "Heh. Don't worry, you'll meet him in a few years."

Sora's eyebrows furrowed in thought before he realized. "So wait...if you haven't bequeathed it yet, that means I still have time to stop you!" He clenched his fist at the other with determination.

"Good luck! Haha! Tell me, Master Sora, why do you do the things you do? Shouldn't you be back home enjoying your quaint little island?" he asked in a mocking tone.

"My friends and I are trying to preserve peace! Maybe even unite all the worlds one day!" Sora answered. "Not that it's any of your business."

The man lowered and shook his head as if out of pity. "Peace is only temporary."

Sora growled angrily. "What is your deal!?" He hopped onto the wing of his ship to come face to face with the cloaked man he and Riku had dubbed the Bastard of Bastards in the past. "Your apprentices looked up to you and believed that the path you were leading them on would bring about peace. But everything I've seen you do says otherwise! What's the point of all of this if that's how you really feel?!" he demanded.

"To win, obviously," BoB shrugged.

"You think this is some kind of game!?" Sora spat angrily. "Well too bad! The game's over! You lost!"

"Oh no, Sora. It's not over." The cloaked man shook his head again, finally turning completely to look at Sora, his stance menacing and though Sora couldn't see his face, he could feel the man smirking beneath that black hood of his. "You've merely stalled the game. It's not over until the players have decided who's won."

The tone he used sent a chill down Sora's spine, but he won't let himself be rattled. "The players?"

"Yes. Me, Darkness...and by extension, you, Sora."

"If that's the case...I won't lose to either of you. Just you wait. I'll put an end to this game of yours once and for all!"

"You can't do much of anything if you're in here," the man shrugged but then leaned his head heavily to the right. "I mean you caaaaaaaaaaan, but it wouldn't be good...for either of us. But if you're eager to play, then I'll let you in on the rules of this place. Think of it as a preliminary round. Or rather a qualification round."

Sora swallowed as he listened tensely. "Go on."

"You see all these visions are things actually happening across all timelines and dimensions," he waved a hand towards all the "holes" floating around them, visions flashing within like pieces of a torn projector screen. "Wait long enough and you should find a hole that will lead you to where you're meant to be. Of course, you might accidentally fall into one. I mean look at this place, it's almost unavoidable. But don't worry, should that happen, DON'T interact with it. Don't move, don't touch, and it will fade away. The moment you reach out, you're a part of it. There's no going back, not until you find another void, maybe."

His warning was stern and thus Sora took it seriously. "So I just gotta wait for the right one?" the brunette asked.

"Yep, but I wonder if you could be that patient? Would a heart like yours be able to resist~?" BoB leaned as he eyed Sora curiously.

"Whatever it takes," Sora stated firmly.

"Then best of luck! And remember~" He waved a gloved finger. "Don't screw it up." He said those last words darkly before fading away, leaving Sora alone once again.

Chapter Text

Back in the gummi ship, Sora and TRON tried to formulate a plan. There were so many "visions" floating around the ship, so many windows out of here and yet there was only one TRUE door out. How could they possibly find the right one? What if they miss it?

"I don't think I can keep any eye on all of these at once," Sora sighed as he pulled his helmet off and looked outside the cockpit window. "There are so many."

"And finding the right one that matches your timeline and your dimension might be near impossible," TRON added.

Sora shook his head and placed a hand over his own heart. "No, I'll know the one. Riku will be calling for me on the other side. I just have to listen for him. My heart will know."

"In that case, it would still put less strain on you if we can improve your visual capabilities. Let's take some time to add some upgrades to the ship so I can help you look, too," TRON suggested.

Sora was hesitant at first. After all, taking time to modify the ship could mean missing their window, but he also had faith that he'd hear Riku and his friends so he went along with TRON's plan. In the cargo bay, he had tons of spare parts salvaged from destroyed enemy ships, including consoles and monitors and even a few extra sensory parts. After TRON gave him some instructions for putting it all together, he then asked to be downloaded directly into the ship's computer to help control everything. Within a few hours, Sora had multiple screen set up that gave a live feed of everything that was happening all around the ship, covering what he couldn't see if he were facing forward. It was a bit of a cluttered mess, but it was good to know that they had all their bases covered, visually at least. With TRON inside the ship's computer, he too could look at the feed and keep an eye on the scanners and sonar to watch and listen for anything helpful so Sora would be able to take breaks. This also meant less strain on the gummi phone, which Sora could now keep plugged in. There was just one problem.

"Now we just gotta worry about power," Sora sighed. "I have six power cells. That should be enough to run a ship for the next year and a half, but I've never run the ship 24/7 before. I think the longest I've spent without powering down was maybe 2 days?"

"I can think of other things you should be thinking about. But as for power, as long as you conserve where you can, such as the lights and the shield generators, you should be fine."

"You're right," Sora mused as he bopped his shoulder pad to deactivate his armor. There doesn't seem to be anything dangerous in here. So lowering the shields shouldn't be a problem for the time being."

"Deactivating shields," TRON said.

Sora saw the icon light red on the console, confirming the shields have been turned off. "Okay, what next--AH!"

"Sora???"

Sora suddenly didn't feel so good. He felt a stabbing sensation in his left temple, like he had just been struck with a migraine. His vision was going fuzzy and there was this awful itching crawling all over his skin and a tugging sensation...like he was slowly being pulled apart. "Something's wrong. I don't feel right!" Panicking, he activated his armor again and as soon as the helmet covered his face, he felt better. He could breathe properly again and the pain stopped. "That was so weird!"

"What was it?"

"I don't know..." He described the sensations he felt to TRON.

"I have a theory, would you risk testing it out with me?" the program asked.

"Uh, sure."

"I'll activate the shields. After that, take your armor off."

"You got it."

TRON did just that and this time when Sora took his armor off, he felt nothing.

Sora scratched at his head in thought. "So...whatever's going on out there...affects me if I'm not protected?"

"It seems that way. Perhaps it's to be expected. After all, even Darkness would have an effect on you without you wearing protection."

"Yeah, I guess so," the brunette sighed as he collapsed into the captain's chair. "So while the shields are down, I need to wear my armor. Great. I guess I can wear it to conserve power. We'll just have to have the shields on when I sleep, which I guess we should be doing anyway."

"Affirmative."

Sora felt around in his satchel for his other supplies. He frowned as he felt around his personal food supply. Thankfully he was fed well on his last mission, so he didn't have to delve too much into the food he brought with him, but he only had enough for maybe a month and then he'd have to use the reserves that were in storage down below. He wasn't too worried. If rationed properly, the food in the storage bay could last him a year, easily. But they were foods that could be preserved on the shelf...canned foods, freeze-dried and the like, stuff he'd like to avoid if at all possible. "Why did I pack my ship with food I don't like?" he asked himself.

"At least you packed food at all," the program chuckled.

"Oh, yeah I guess," Sora chuckled. He was so deep in thought he almost forgot TRON could hear him. "But it's okay!" he again said out loud. "I have enough food for a year, but I don't plan to be here that long! Right, TRON?"

"Right!"

Grinning and full of determination, Sora popped some popcorn and got comfortable in the captain's chair, turning on the shields so he can take his armor off to eat. "Let's get started!"

Sora leaned back in his chair, munching popcorn as he caught glimpses of all the fluttering visions outside the window and on the badly connected television screens in front of him, TRON also assisting in keeping a look out. Most of the things he was seeing were pretty mundane. It was like watching a hundred tv channels at once...the most boring channels you could think of, such as "Watching the Paint Dry" channel, or literally "Grass Growing". But maybe that was a good thing. Nothing wrong with peaceful scenes, he decided. After all, that's what they're fighting for every day. It was nice to look into all these different windows and not see heartless stomping about, or not yet, anyway. He even cracked a smile as he caught sight of a group of kids walking to school in their fresh-pressed uniforms. "Jeez, high school feels so long ago now."

"Do you miss it?" TRON asked.

"Not really. Well, I take that back. I had fun. I could've done without the homework, though."

"I remember," TRON laughed. "You hated writing term papers."

"I hated ALL of the homework!" Sora laughed.

The minutes ticked by and Sora was quickly running out of popcorn, now taking to sucking the salt off of the un-popped kernels as he tried not to let his mind wander too much. He was starting to see a few familiar places, such as what MUST have been Agrabah because all he saw was sand.

"Sora!" TRON called out. "One of them is coming this way!"

"Wha--!?" Sora sat up and immediately bopped his shoulder plate to activate his keyblade armor. The moment of hesitation prevented him from reaching the steering wheel in time and he looked up just in time to see a "vision" fluttering over his ship to engulf it in the span of a breath. Remembering Bob's warning, Sora sat extremely still as everything became dark. Like before when he had his armor off, he felt this pulling sensation at his skin and something akin to white noise filled his ears. He clenched his eyes closed as his senses were overwhelmed. He wondered if he even dared breathe as everything began to feel cold. Soon he couldn't even feel the seat beneath him. He could no longer hear the ship's gauges or even TRON in front of him.

When he dared to open his eyes again, he found himself floating above what must be Wonderland. He'd recognize that hedge maze anywhere. What he didn't expect to see was Alice crying in the dark woods surrounded by all sorts of bizarre creatures. It was like he was there but he also wasn't. His own body was fuzzy, like a picture losing its clarity, but he didn't dare move to make any further observations about himself. Bob told him if he waited and didn't move the vision would disappear on its own. But that was proving hard to do as he wanted nothing more than to console Alice as she wept about her current plight. But as quickly as it came, the vision of Alice disappeared and Sora found himself back in his ship.

He clutched the armrests of the captain's chair for a few moments as he tried to calm his breathing, his eyes darting about as he tried to confirm that he was in fact clear of the vision that he just endured.

"Are you alright, Sora?" TRON asked.

"Yeah...yeah, I'm fine," Sora swallowed hard and sat up straighter in his chair before leaning down to pick up the popcorn bowl he dropped. "I made a mess."

"Don't worry, I won't tell Riku," the program joked.

"Heh, thanks," Sora chuckled as he haphazardly swept the spilled kernels into the bowl with his hand while trying to keep his eyes on the monitors. "Let's not do that again until we find the right one. That wasn't fun at all."

"Roger that."

As the minutes turned to hours, Sora let out a long yawn, his head resting on his fist as he continued to stare out the window. He couldn't get the vision of Alice out of his mind and how she cried about not taking her own advice. "Me too, Alice. Me too," he muttered.

"Sora?"

"Sorry, I was just thinking out loud. You know, I didn't even want to stop to look at this damn space hole, but I wanted to map it so nobody else would run into it. I should've took my own advice and kept going."

"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, Sora. You were trying to be responsible. This could've happened to anybody."

"Yeah, I guess I should be glad it wasn't one of my friends stuck in here," the brunette shrugged. "Riku would probably have an easier time of this, though. He's much more patient than I am."

"It probably will get boring after a while," TRON admitted, already very familiar with Sora's attention span or lack thereof.

"It's okay, I can take it. I once spent a whole month stuck inside my house during monsoon season!" he declared proudly.

"Oh really?" the program laughed, not having the heart to point out that this probably wasn't the same.

"Yeah, it rained so hard the streets were flooded. Mom wouldn't even let me go see Riku. Neither of us were in school yet, either. So it was sooooo boring." A smile crept up on his face. "But then one day, Riku snuck out of his house and used his wagon and a big stick to get through the water with a giant umbrella over top of him to keep from getting wet. He got in so much trouble. But it was okay because he got to spend the night with us."

"That does sound like something Riku would do. He cares about you very much."

"Yeah," Sora grinned fondly but then his smile fell. "I hope he's not too worried. He's probably heard about what happened by now."

* * *

As the days dragged on, Riku and the others were firing all cylinders in an effort to find Sora. Launching more gummi satellites seemed to be their best bet, but they weren't easy to make. Though he felt terrible for asking, Riku found himself going to San Fransokyo to ask the Big Hero 6 team for help. It took a lot of time negotiating with the king on the matter, considering sharing gummi block technology might be considered breaking world order, but gummi blocks fell from the sky just like any other rock, so Riku didn't see why they couldn't share that knowledge with them. After Mickey agreed, Riku took a large supply of the blocks and presented them to Hiro's team who were FASCINATED by the materials, to say the least. Of course, they were more than happy to help if it meant looking for Sora, but now having some new things to experiment with was more than a fair trade-off.

The Radiant Garden Restoration Committee also lent their expertise and Ansem's researchers lent their ears to help moderate all of the new satellite activity. But as the days turned into weeks without so much as a blip from Sora, Riku grew increasingly impatient, irritable even. In between satellite launches, he spends his time in Master Yen Sid's library looking for any clues that might help. Naminé was a frequent companion as a Keeper of Knowledge in training, often exchanging encouraging smiles with Riku as they both tended to whatever they were researching.

One day, she found Riku sitting on the floor surrounded by a pile of tomes regarding space enigmas, both fictional and factual and it looked like he was a hair's width away from throwing the next book in frustration at not finding any answers about the mysterious thing that swallowed Sora up. He looked like he was in serious need of cheering up. But what could she say that would help, really? She hadn't seen him this sad since Sora was asleep for a year. No...this was worse. At least before Riku knew where Sora was. She knelt down beside him with her own books, carefully tucking the hem of her dress beneath herself as she did so. "Hey there."

"Hey," Riku attempted to greet her but he lacked any enthusiasm as he did so, barely even able to lift his head to look at her.

"So you're even looking at the astrology books this time?"

"Yeah. Not much help."

She couldn't help grinning a little. "Did you really expect to find anything in there?"

Riku let out a quiet snicker. "No, I guess not. I guess I just wanted something else to look at."

"I can understand that. The history that I'm looking through is fascinating, but every now and then I find myself preferring to look at fairy tales instead."

The silverette let a small smile tilt his lips. "Sora likes those too. I mostly like reading them with him."

"You know, you two remind me of a fairy tale I found about a month ago. I'm surprised I'm just now thinking of it, actually."

"Sora says a lot of tales remind him of us," Riku chuckled.

"That might be true, too. But no, I mean really specifically."

The keyblade master raised an eyebrow. "How specifically?"

"You even share the same names as the characters!" she giggled.

Riku stared blankly for a moment before letting out a laugh. "That's a pretty big coincidence but I also wouldn't be surprised. Our names are kinda...you know."

"Hehe. What were you named for, Riku?"

"My father thought giving me a strong name would keep me down to earth, I guess. Sora was named because his mother said looking at the sky made her happy. Plus with those eyes of his, how could he not be named after the sky?"

Naminé smiled as she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "That's something I never asked Kairi about, too. She's from Radiant Garden, a world without a sea to speak of, and yet she's named after it."

"Yeah, I never asked her about that either. But then again, she probably wouldn't remember."

"That's true."

"So are you going to tell me about this fairy tale of yours or...?"

"Oh yes! It's just that, it's about a King with black hair who falls in love with the god of the sky. They spend one night together, only for the king to find out that the handsome boy was not just the god of the sky, he WAS the sky and thus had to leave. But before he left, he gives the king a silver crown made of stars. It turns the king's hair the color of starlight so the god of the sky can find him anywhere."

"A crown of silver, you say?"

"Oh...wow. I didn't think that deep into it. I was just thinking about your hair. It's such a pretty color."

"Thanks, I got it from my grandmother. I'm the only one in my family with it, though. My grandfather used to joke that my grandmother came from the sky, you know."

"He did?" Naminé giggled. "Do you think it was true?"

"He used to say "Well, she never told me I was wrong!" as if that made it true," Riku chuckled.

The blonde was pleased to see Riku smiling. He seemed to be cheering up. "Well maybe it really was true."

"Yeah, maybe. So...does the king get to see the sky god again?"

Naminé's posture stiffened as she averted her gaze. "He does...but the story doesn't have a happy ending."

Riku straightened up. "It doesn't?"

"No...it's more than a fairy tale. It's a creation story, I guess you could call it. It explains how the world fell to darkness and how the worlds were created as we know them today, or rather an interpretation of it. There's no way of knowing if it's true."

"I see. Could I...see this story?" he asked.

"Are you sure? It might just make you sad," Naminé warned.

"Hey, I'm already down. Can't get any worse," Riku pointed out.

"I guess not..." Naminé admitted cautiously before standing up. "I'll get it for you."

"Thanks," he smiled appreciatively.

After a few moments of rifling, Naminé found the old book and handed it to Riku. It wasn't a very big book, almost the thickness of a magazine with a paper-thin black leather cover. It could've easily been mistaken for an old file. Flipping through it carefully, he could see the print was hand-written and there were even a few ink-painted illustrations. He opened it to the first picture he saw: a half-human half-eel god amidst a sky bedazzled with stars and bright blue eyes descending upon a king standing on a beach. "It's so old," he commented.

"It is," Naminé nodded. "It's strange, though. The story that's written says that the relationship between the sky god and the king was only known between them and one other person, who perished. So who wrote the story?"

Riku let out a half-hearted chuckle. "That's the mystery of fairy tales, I guess. Thanks for the suggestion, Naminé. I'll have it returned soon."

She smiled and rested a hand on Riku's shoulder. "Keep it for as long as you need. And...I hope..."

"It's okay, really. I'll be fine," Riku assured her so she wouldn't have to say it. "I know we'll find him soon."

"Right."

* * *

The weeks dragged on and Sora still hadn't seen any visions that seemed viable. What he had noticed is that time seemed to pass strangely here, but he wasn't sure if it was because of where they were or if it was just how he felt about it.

They had fallen into a couple of visions by mistake, but as Bob had said, it might be unavoidable. Most were pretty bland. Some were familiar. It was almost painful being sucked into a vision in the first place, but when he recognized one particular place that he'd seen in his nightmares, his chest felt incredibly tight. A city with tall buildings lit at night, one building in particular standing out prominently with a giant red 104 lit in front of it. When he came back out, he had to rip his helmet off and turn on the shields to catch his breath.

"Everything okay?" TRON asked. It clearly wasn't, but he didn't know a better way to ask.

"I know that place...kind of," Sora tried to explain but words were escaping him at the moment. "It's...never mind."

"Maybe you should take a break. You haven't gotten up in four hours," the program reminded him.

"It can't have been that long already!" Sora huffed. "You sure you're not just saying that because you're worried about me?" he asked cheekily.

"I wouldn't lie to you, Sora," he smiled gently. "I'm not programmed to."

"If you say so~" the brunette snickered. "I'm just teasing. But really, I'm okay. Have you really been keeping count this whole time?"

"Of course. I know you didn't ask me to, but I thought it'd be helpful to keep track of things."

"Right. I'm kinda glad. But don't tell me how long we've been here. I don't think I want to know."

"Roger that."

Sora smiled and turned his attention back to the window. "It's really like watching paint dry, isn't it?"

"I don't know, I think the one with the flying elephant was interesting," TRON commented. "There's no way that should work."

"That HAD to be Dumbo. I found him in a summon gem when I first got the keyblade," Sora recalled. "I'd shrink really small so I could ride on his hat."

"That's...wow."

Sora chuckled. "Yeah."

"Incoming vision!"

"Shit! AGAIN!?" The brunette hissed, quickly flipping his helmet back on before another vision fluttered down and descended upon them. They haven't had two this close together before. He shut his eyes tightly as he felt everything get cold again and behind his eyelids everything seemed to get dark.

He could hear the faraway sounds of clashing weapons. Steel on steel and thunderclaps in the sky. He cautiously peeled his eyes open and let out a gasp as he saw Kingdom Hearts looming in the sky casting a pale light like the moon over a battlefield; the Keyblade Graveyard. Beneath the light of Kingdom Hearts, hundreds, if not thousands, of keyblade wielders clashed, the hearts of the fallen drifting up into the air in large quantities.

No, this can't be...

The tight feeling in his chest was back and the pulling sensation at his skin felt ten times worse than before as he witnessed the devastation continue. Why don't they stop? Aren't they all on the same side? He wanted to scream. He wanted to just jump down and tell them all to stop. But he couldn't move and he couldn't make a sound. This wasn't his place. He could only watch and pray for it to end.

When it ended and he found himself back on the ship, Sora wanted nothing more than to be sick. "There were so many...and they were so young!" he choked out as he finally let the tears stream down his face.

"Sora..."

"I just don't understand," he cried as he angrily fisted the tears away from his face, his helmet once again discarded. "They're keyblade wielders! Why would they use their weapons on each other!? That's not what they're meant for!"

"I don't suppose we'll ever know for sure."

"No, we NEED to find out. If we're to have more keyblade wielders in the future, we need to know how this happened so that it won't ever be repeated. It CAN'T be repeated," the keyblade master stated firmly before standing up. "I'm going to grab something to eat."

"I'll keep a look out," TRON assured him getting a little wave of thanks before the young man hopped down the hatch to go to the kitchen.

Though he was in the kitchen, Sora didn't grab any food. Rather he dug around in the cabinet for a bottle of water, but he found none. Instead he found an empty thermos to cast a small water spell into to fill it up and chugged it down greedily before gripping the edge of the countertop as he tried to calm his still rapidly beating heart. How many more of these will he have to endure? "And Bob acts like he comes here for fun...this place really sucks."

"Incoming Vision!" TRON shouted from above.

"AGAIN!?" He shouted in frustration before putting his helmet back on and re-bracing his hands against the countertop. This time it was even scarier than before because now he's not sitting. He willed his feet to stay perfectly planted as he prepared for impact. The kitchen disappeared and he heard the sounds of a bustling city in ears before a wall of graffiti came into view and somebody very familiar walked into his line of sight, a boy with orange hair, headphones, and a purple shirt.

Neku?

He met Neku in the sleeping worlds during the Mark of Mastery exam. Was this his real home world? He resisted the urge to call out to his friend and greet him, elated to see a familiar face. But then another boy walked into his view, somebody he also recognized.

Joshua! Wait...what's he...?

He watched on in horror as Joshua points a gun at Neku and pulls the trigger. Shots rang out like thunder in his ears and as quickly as the vision came, it was gone.

Sora fell to his knees, his body shaking as he struggled to hold down the water he just drank. "He...that can't be right...that can't be..."

"Sora!" TRON shouted from the cockpit.

"JUST GIVE ME A SECOND!" Sora shouted back, flinching from his own harshness as he clutched at his head. "Just please...give me a second."

. . .

The nights...or rather Sora's sleep time...were not much better than his waking moments. When he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer, he'd turn on the shields and turn in to sleep, leaving TRON to keep an eye on things while he rested. He had hoped if nothing else he'd be greeted with pleasant dreams to distract from his current reality, maybe even see Riku. But each time he was disappointed and instead taunted with nightmares of the things he's witnessed. For every awful vision, the nightmares grew increasingly worse. His six hour rests dwindled to four hours and then to two. Now instead of having restful sleep, he was taking frequent naps, which only served to irritate him further.

He was convinced Darkness might have something to do with it, not just the visions. After all, Darkness had threatened him with nightmares before if he didn't release the seal on it in his heart. But he had Riku to keep those threats at bay. Now, it seems Riku can't reach him here and Darkness might be making good on its promise.

So the next time he decided to attempt a deep sleep, Sora dove into his own heart. Though he was happy to feel the warm sands beneath his feet in the play island representation of his heart, he couldn't let himself enjoy it, stomping past it in favor of the secret cave beside the waterfall where the door of Darkness's prison resided. He knocked on it angrily. "Explain yourself!"

We don't have to.

"You most certainly do!" Sora shouted angrily. "You're stuck in this hellscape with me! The least you can do is keep your doom and gloom to yourself!"

You assume we're the cause of your nightmares?

"Well who else??" Sora spat back.

You're weak.

"What did you just say?" the brunette growled.

If your heart is that fragile, just use the χ-blade.

Sora took a step back. "What?"

The χ-blade can tear holes through time and space, which is essentially what the Void already is. What's one more to get you home?

"Yeah right. I am NOT using that thing. You just keep those great ideas to yourself!" Sora huffed about to turn around leave.

You'll never find your way out by just waiting.

"Yes, I will. I'll hear Riku calling for me and I'll know the way. You'll see! In the meantime, you better stop messing with my head!"

. . .

When Sora next awoke, it wasn't because of nightmares this time, but rather many alarms were going off upstairs. But they weren't the blaring alarms he had come to expect. It was the sound of the radar! He scrambled up the ladder and looked out the window. A satellite just barely passing by the ship!

"What the heck is that!?" he asked TRON as he pressed his hands against the glass to look.

"Analyzing now. It appears to be a gummi satellite, the kind that powers the gummi network! There's a wifi signal coming from it!"

"THERE IS!?" Sora scrambled to grab his phone off the charging station and quickly turned the wifi back on. Sure enough, he was getting two bars of signal! He scrambled to pull up his applications, his messages, anything! His phone started filling up with message notifications as the texts started piling in. He hovered his thumb over the text application just as TRON called out for him.

"Sora! It's drifting away! You won't have much time!"

Sora bit his lower lip and held the phone away from himself to snap a quick picture before opening Kingstagram. It was the best thing he could think of to contact everybody at once. Very quickly he uploaded the photo he just took and sent his thumbs flying over the screen to type as fast as he possibly could.

Im ok. Dont look for me.

He then hit send and waited anxiously as the rotating symbol on the screen indicated everything was uploaded while he clenched the phone tightly in his hands. "Why did I send a picture? I'm so stupid. It's not going to upload in time!"

TRON said nothing. Both waited in anticipation. With a DING the phone indicated the message had been uploaded. TRON expected to see a look of relief on Sora, but the young man didn't look too happy as he collapsed into his chair.

"Sora?"

"I did what was best," he simply explained.

* * *

Riku heard a ring come from his phone and fumbled around on the nightstand. He was back at the treehouse with Rox the cat sleeping heavily on his chest, making the reach difficult. He didn't even know why he was bothering reaching for it, but he was already awake, so why not? With the barest tips of his fingers, he managed to nudge the phone off the nightstand and into his hand. From there, he clicked the screen back on and winced as the light of the phone's screen nearly blew out his pupils.

"They really need to come up with a dark mode for this thing," Riku grumbled as he squinted at the notification he just got. It was a kingstagram notification...from Sora?

"SORA!?" he shot up, nearly sending Rox flying who meowed loudly as he flopped off of Riku's chest. He paid the howling feline no mind though as he hurried to scroll through kingstagram to find Sora's post. What he found made his brow furrow in confusion. It was definitely Sora, he recognized the pajama bottoms he was wearing, but other than that, he couldn't make out much else. Half the picture was digitally scrambled and the text read nothing but "Im ok. Dont look for me."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean!?" he shouted angrily, tossing the blankets off of himself. "What's he playing at!?" he growled as he haphazardly tossed on his clothes to run to the gummi ship. He was going straight to Disney Castle to see what other information they could get from the gummi network. There has to be more to the message than this!

Chapter Text

At the gummi ship hangar, Riku was frustrated to find Disney Castle's inhabitants were very much still asleep. Chip and Dale have made little beds next to the computers to keep an ear out for any incoming radio activity and were snoring quietly with tiny little nightcaps covering their heads. Riku inched closer, torn between letting them sleep and just screaming for them to wake up.

"Don't wake them!" A female voice warned him from somewhere on his left, though it wasn't quiet either.

His eyes darted around to look for the source and landed on a lady field mouse dressed in a purple jump suit with goggles perched on a head of sandy blond hair. "The name's Gadget. Nice to meet you!" she offered her hand.

"Uh...Master Riku," he answered automatically, carefully taking the offered hand between his thumb and forefinger to give a gentle shake.

"So YOU'RE Riku! His majesty told me you might be storming in here. Don't worry, I got things covered."

Riku blinked rapidly. "So...you know about the post already?"

"The post isn't important," she waved him off as she jumped across the keyboard before him, tapping on keys left and right.

"I beg to differ--" Riku tried to argue but a beep from the computer as she hit the enter key interrupted him. Sora's mysterious kingstagram post popped up on screen as well as what appeared to be a text file full of code, but it wasn't anything Riku could understand.

"We got a ping on Sora's ship, Excalibur, and a data dump from TRON," she explained.

"A data dump?" Riku blinked.

"Sora may not be the best at sending messages, but thankfully TRON is," she grinned, seeing the lost look on Riku's face. "TRON can't directly communicate to the servers because he and Sora are somewhere where the gummi network can't reach them. So when they made contact with one of our satellites for a brief moment, TRON uploaded everything he could so that he could communicate with us himself. The only way we can know what the data says though is if TRON himself tells us what it is. So I sent the data dump to the datascape for TRON to use directly. We should hear from him soon."

"Wait...I don't understand. You're going to have to break it down for me," Riku clutched at his head tiredly. She was saying so much and he could barely follow any of it.

The lady mouse deflated and sighed before she tried to explain it a little slower. "TRON is in your phones."

"Yes."

"And he's in Ansem's computer."

"That I do know."

"Okay, the TRON in your phones is the same as the one in Ansem's computer, in his datascape. As long as your phones can communicate with the datascape which is connected to the gummi network, the TRONs are the same. You still following me?"

"Yes."

"Okay, but if your phones go offline, the TRON in your phones is no longer the same TRON in the datascape. He's not up to date with himself. He has limited capabilities. Whatever TRON you got is the TRON you get until he can recommunicate with himself."

"But most of himself is in the computer, right? So how much capability does he really have if he's offline while he's a phone app?"

"Not much," Gadget answered bluntly. "TRON is a fascinating program and can do many things, but even he has his limits. But, the TRON that has awareness in Sora's phone seems to have uploaded himself into the ship's computer, according to the ping we got. He then made a data file of his--" she saw Riku getting lost again. "Think of it as him sending a letter with his memories up to this point in time to himself. Once TRON in Ansem's lab reads it, he'll be able to update us...I hope."

"You hope?" Riku repeated.

"It's just...a lot of it looks corrupted. I don't know how much he'll be able to get from it," she explained.

"Just like his kingstagram post," Riku deflated, holding up his phone to look at the half-digitized picture again. "Why would he say don't look for me?" he wondered out loud.

"Well that's obvious, isn't it?" Gadget asked, now sitting on the space bar like a bench. "He's in a dangerous place. Anybody else who tries to look for him in there will need rescuing too."

"Wait, do YOU know where he's trapped?" Riku's eyes widened.

She shook her head. "I have a really good theory. Nothing else."

"Hey, at this point, I'm all ears," Riku huffed as he pulled up one of the office chairs to sit in and leaned in so the were almost eye level.

"Are you sure?" she asked. "It's been long written off as a fairy tale at this point."

Riku smirked. "In my line of work, I've found it's wise to take more fairy tales to heart."

Gadget smiled. "Well, I'm a mouse of science. But in my space travels, I have come across some things I can't explain. There one minute and gone in the next. It's an enigma I've followed for years but with very few answers. I think it's responsible for Sora's disappearance.

"And what might that be?" Riku asked cautiously, the suspense already killing him.

"They call it The Void."

"They?"

"The animals, of course. Humans don't notice much of anything."

"No, I guess they don't..." Riku agreed with slight trepidation, unsure if he should be offended or not.

"It's a hole in space that swallows everything. One way in, no way out, as far as I know. They say it's as old as the universe itself. In fact, there's a story behind it."

"Dare I ask?" Riku smiled.

"Why stop now?" Gadget grinned.

The silverette couldn't help chuckling. "What's the story?"

"Long ago in the age of fairy tales, there was a mystical being who ruled as the god of the skies. They say one day he was torn from the sky and The Void is the hole left behind."

"Torn...from the sky? Why?"

"It's a tragic tale," Gadget sighed, propping her chin on her palm. "Supposedly he died protecting somebody he fell in love with."

Riku's eyes widened. This sounded very similar to the story Naminé told him about. He dug into his jacket pocket and pulled the thin volume out to look at it.

"Well, anyway, I'm going to get back to analyzing the data. You should sleep," she told him.

"How can I sleep now?" Riku huffed.

"Fine, don't sleep," she shrugged. "Get some fresh air for the both of us. I'll give you a holler when I'm ready for ya."

Riku conceded with a nod. "Thanks. I'll be back soon."

She waved him off and went back to scurrying across the keys and Riku left her to walk the castle gardens. The moon was still high in the sky and the night air was warm. Nights like this, he'd be out on the deck stargazing with Sora. With a soft grunt, he took a seat in the grass and turned on his gummi phone light to read the sky god's tragic tale at long last. He had been putting it off since Naminé lent it to him, not eager to learn about the deity's fate but according to Gadget, it seems this story might have a clue to Sora's whereabouts. The coincidences were stacking up and it was time to face the music.

The tale starts off simple enough. A raven-haired king with a fondness for stargazing meets the god of the sky one fateful night. The god descends to earth in a human form in a robe made of the fabric of time and space. The two hit it off and fall in love, something that Riku wasn't used to seeing in the fairy tales he grew up with. It's a bittersweet meeting, however, as the god of the sky has to return to where he came from, but first he adorns the king with a crown made of starlight so he can find him wherever he goes. It transforms the king's hair silver and dawn arrives, the king is left alone.

With a hard swallow, Riku turns the page. After all, this story has two parts. However, this next part speaks of an ominous prophecy. "It has been foretold eons ago that once a man discovered he was a god, man would want to become god, and the age of fairy tales would end." Riku blinked after he read the line aloud. As he read on, it became more and more obvious that the king of the land that the sky god fell in love with was definitely not a mortal man. He was a god who believed he was a mortal king, who loved his people so much that none suffered under his rule...or the passage of time. Centuries of living with nothing to strive for caused unrest amongst the people. They yearned for something else and began to envy the gods and goddesses that made up their world.

So when the sky god and the king of land were reunited once more, a man who bore witness to their friendship became enraged and attacked the king, accusing him of being a traitor. The king was too kind-hearted to defend himself properly, instead pleading for the other to come to his senses, but it was too late. The attacker transformed out of the darkness unleashed from his heart and threatened the king's life. It was then that the sky god rushed to the king's aid and took a fatal blow.

Riku wiped at his eyes, shaking his head as he attempted to mentally block out the names on the page. "Why...why did he have to be called Sora?"

The story continues to say that King Riku in his grief took Sora's body to the cliffs where Kairi, the goddess of the sea, watched over them. The people fought each other as the bright sky bled into perpetual night. The earth cracked and fell apart around them as they squabbled and fought bitter wars, one side blaming the other for their plight, their hearts falling to darkness until only the light in the hearts of children remained. King Riku, the god of the earth, called out to Kairi and pleaded for her aid. The goddess took pity and drowned the earth. These became the waters of sleep. The light in the hearts of children survived to become the worlds as they are now, all separate beneath one big sky.

"So there's the realm of darkness...the realm of sleep...and the realm of light..." Riku thought out loud. When falling into darkness, it's like drowning. He never thought about it this literally before, but things were starting to make too much sense.

"What I still don't have are answers," he sighed as he slipped the thin book back into his pocket. "A hole in space where the god of the sky used to be...a god who ruled over time AND space. A god named Sora..." He couldn't help it when a laugh escaped him. Just the thought of Sora being in charge over something so intricate...it made him smile. Then again, it too almost made too much sense. "His heart's connections are many...as numerous as there are stars in the sky. Who better to rule over the skies, really?"

He turned the phone over in his hands to turn the light off and pulled up Sora's latest kingstagram post one more time. It's been three months and all he gets to see is Sora's lower half...in pajamas no less. How he longed to hear his voice. But all he had was Sora's last messages; the ones he left before he was sucked in by whatever this Void thing is. Despite himself, he loaded the voice mail app and scrolled down to pull them up. With his knees pulled up to his chest, he played Sora's last words to him once more.

"They prolly jelly." he giggled. "WAIT, I'm supposed to leave a message. Shit. Um let me do that over!"

A tear escaped Riku's eye, unable to not laugh as he imagined Sora frantically redialing.

"Uh, Riku! Ignore that last message! I just wanted to let you know I'm on my way home. Uh...I miss you, too. Can't wait to see you. And..." A pause. "I love you."

Click.

"I love you too," he whispered back as his shoulders shook, burying his face into his knees as he played the messages once more.

* * *

"Promise me if things get bad, we'll run!"

"What happened was not your fault."

Sora had fallen into yet another vision. Two teenage keyblade wielders in Scala ad Caelum were talking, one of which he recognized as young Master Xehanort. But this vision was hopping all over the place. One second the dark-haired boy he was talking to was talking about running and the next they're in a graveyard. There are flowers in front of four graves.

The vision stuck with Sora long after they've left it. For the longest time he said nothing. He cursed the fact they couldn't dodge these things as he's forced over and over to see things he didn't want to while possibly being distracted from the ones he DID want to see. But he had no choice. If they tried to dodge and fell into the vision anyway, their ship would be moving and who knows what could happen? It was better to just stay absolutely still. This last one hit differently than the others. It wasn't just one moment in time, but two. He hadn't seen any visions like that yet. "It's like Master Yen Sid said...they lost people they cared about." He could relate...young Xehanort couldn't bring back his friends like he could. He had to live with their loss.

Sora sat trembling in his chair for several more long minutes. What-ifs and whys racing through his mind. Finally the words began to spill out, but no more comprehensible than they were in his own head. "I feel...I feel like I'm supposed to be learning something from this. But what...I just don't know."

"Sora..."

The brunette swallowed hard and removed his helmet to dab at his forehead with a handkerchief to rid himself of the cold sweat that was running into his eyes. "There's so much here...it makes sense why Bob hangs around but how does HE find his way out?"

"My hypothesis based on what we know about his character is that he may not care where he ends up or how he messes things up," TRON stated in a voice that almost sounded bitter.

Sora couldn't help smiling, "You could be right."

"Incoming vision!"

"URGH!" Sora growled as he quickly re-equipped his helmet.

This time he saw himself lying in bed...in the Land of Departure. What...? Suddenly Ven walks into the room, his eyes gleaming yellow in the dark. Sora's voice catches in his throat as he watches his friend straddle his waist while he sleeps and then put his hands around his throat. He resists the urge to cry out as he watched himself struggle in the blonde's grasp, horrified as the other forced his mouth on him, growling as he kept him pinned down while he screamed and cried.

He wanted to throw up. His stomach twisted in knots as he clenched his fists until they felt numb. When was this going to end!?

Finally, it was over and he threw off his helmet to stomp down to the lower quarters to empty his stomach into the toilet. He hadn't eaten much, so he mostly heaved water, but every time the image of what he just saw flashed through his mind, he retched again. When there was nothing left, he crawled into his bunk to collapse.

"TRON! I need a break!" he called up to the program.

"Copy that!" he replied and the ship hummed as he raised the shields.

Sora immediately dismissed his armor when the coast was clear and allowed himself to slip into unconsciousness. But there was no rest for his weary mind. Not yet. First he had a bone to pick with Darkness.

"What did you do to me!?" he shouted at the door that locked Darkness away in the secret cave of the play island that represented the depths of his heart. He knew that was Darkness taking control of Ven. He KNEW something was up!

We needed your fear, your hurt, your darkness to revive Vanitas, the one we were to inhabit next. But this time, Vanitas had a will of his own and escaped us before he could be completed.

Sora grit his teeth as he struggled to remember. He can recall a deep-seeded feeling of helplessness, something he has forgotten. What Darkness did was very similar to how he helped Vanitas, but worse...so much worse. Vanitas ASKED for help. He was rough, but he never went out of his way to REALLY harm Sora. Darkness...Darkness just took.

You were weak then, too.

"SHUT UP!"

You cried.

Sora chose to ignore that last statement. Clearly Darkness was trying to rile him up, but to what means he didn't know. "One thing I don't understand, since you're feeling so chatty. Why does Vanitas still look like me? I took back the piece of my heart that I gave Ventus. It doesn't make any sense."

It makes perfect sense. When Vanitas separated from Ventus a second time, he was made of YOUR fear that we took from you.

Sora frowned. Darkness was right. Even after Vanitas separated and ran away, he still came to Sora on his own accord and asked for his help in his own Vanitas way, which still involved consuming Sora's fear and anger until he felt whole again. So according to Darkness, Vanitas is made of Ventus's darkness but his body is made of Sora's negative emotions.

"This is messed up," Sora huffed and slid to the ground, crossing his arms and legs in a grumpy posture. "Why did I even ask?" He gleans over the drawings on the rock walls and lets out a heavy sigh. "What's to stop me from just opening a door to light or a darkness corridor?" he asked out loud, not just to himself but hopefully to Darkness, too. He would take any offered insight at the moment.

You'd be falling right into his trap. This is a game of patience. You may have strong connections to the light and everybody you meet, but in here, you are separate from them in every way. You don't know what's going on out there or where or when. If you merely make a portal out of here, you could end up where you don't want to be, or even cause a paradox.

* * *

Riku stirred in the soft grass of the Disney Castle courtyard, having fallen asleep with his gummi phone clenched tightly to his chest. His heart ached to see Sora so much that he played his husband's last messages over and over until he could no longer keep his eyes open.

At least in dreams, there was somebody to give him a small comfort. Before him in a field of grass surrounded by fireflies was a vision of Sora traced out of starlight. A familiar dream, one he welcomed very much as he tore through the grass to embrace the dream sprite version of the one he loved most. It's a bittersweet reunion. After all, the Sora in his dreams is not connected to the true Sora, having been born out of the loneliness Riku felt when Sora had been asleep for a year in his memory pod. But even so, his smile lit him up inside just like Sora would. It would have to be enough.

The sprite can't speak. He can only brush his translucent fingers through Riku's hair as he held him close.

"I miss him so much," Riku mumbled into the other's shoulder. "Months and not a word and then suddenly he says not to look for him. What am I supposed to do?"

The star sprite gently pulled away and put his hands over Riku's chest, over his heart. His smile is soft and sympathetic, almost apologetic even.

Riku nodded. "I know. I know but...what if it's not enough? What if I'm not strong enough to wait for him?"

Starlight Sora tilted his head with his mouth turned in a frown as if to say, "Really?" and blew air out of his mouth in a silent PFFT motion. He crossed his arms before throwing them on his hips and leaning forward with an exaggerated expression as if to say Riku was being unbelievable right now.

Riku sighed, but he couldn't help the smile edging on the corners of his lips. The star sprite may be taunting him, but he sure looks cute while doing it.

The translucent being also sighed and took both of Riku's hands into his own. He held them there for a moment, studying Riku's face before grabbing his left hand specifically and holding it up. Riku let him, bewildered by what the sprite was trying to convey this time, but then he fingered the pretty stone bracelet on his wrist, the white stone glinting in the moonlight.

"You're right...he promised me," Riku conceded. "I know he'll come back. But what should I do in the meantime?"

The other's face lit up in a smile before he let go of Riku's hands and started dashing through the grass, sending fireflies flying through the air in his wake. Riku watched him run around, his arms held out like he was a kid pretending to be an airplane as he ran every which way. "What are you doing?" he laughed.

He ran back to Riku, his hands clutched in front of himself in a ball. He smiled up at him and opened his hands to release a large number of sparkling fireflies who flew from his outstretched palms to escape high into the sky above their heads and join the stars. Sora continued to smile at Riku as the ascending fireflies cast their light upon his sweet face. He thinks he understands now. "Just keep lighting the way...right?"

Starlight Sora flashed a toothy grin and nodded before standing on his toes to leave a soft kiss on Riku's cheek.

* * *

Sora awoke to his mouth feeling dry. Dried tears were caked to his face and his pajama top was soaked through. With a dismissive grunt, he tugged it over his head and tossed it into the corner before climbing up the ladder to retrieve his water bottle from the cockpit, still half-asleep as he fumbled through the dimly-lit area.

"You should sleep a little longer," TRON suggested gently. "You were only out for a couple of hours."

"Yeah...I was just...thirsty..." Sora mumbled hoarsely as he wiped the crust from his eyes. Once he blinked away the sleep, he noticed something floating in the monitors. A green bottle with a letter inside.

"Do you see that?" Sora asked as he walked to the window to see it drifting through space.

"I do," TRON confirmed. "It looks like it's heading for one of the visions.

Sora sat down to grab the controls and turned the ship to face the direction of said vision, not to go through it, but just to watch, like peering through an open window.

"Sora?"

"Look, TRON! It's us!" Sora pointed.

Sure enough, he was seeing a vision of him and Riku in the Realm of Darkness, having just defeated Xemnas, they sat together as they accepted their fate. He watched as the bottle they just saw drifted through the water to land at Riku's feet, a bottle with a letter from Kairi.

Silent tears streamed down Sora's face as he watched with his hands planted against the glass. "I remember...I remember...thinking that as long as I was with Riku that I didn't mind staying in the darkness forever. Just as long as we were together...I didn't care..." he choked. His fingertips dragged and squeaked on the glass as he clenched his fists, his body trembling as he tried to hold back his sobs, but the tears kept coming. They felt lava hot as they dripped down his face, down his chest where his skin ached, stretched tight over bones that were becoming more and more prominent with each passing day.

"We...we were talking about having a family," he cried. "I can't give up now!" he shouted while angrily pounding on the glass. It would be so easy! So easy to go through that vision and just WAIT. Wait until the time would come for him to leave the Realm of Darkness to see Riku. But it wouldn't work. He'd risk ruining everything. There's no way his presence would go undetected for so long while he waited. And plus...would he really be able to stand by and do nothing while he watched his friends die? Would he really be able to just LET things happen as they're supposed to, even if it meant he could save them?

"DAMNIT!" he shouted again, kicking at a box of spare parts as he tore at his hair. "I just...I can't...I can't do this!"

"You can, Sora! Everybody's counting on you to come back. I know you won't let them down."

Sora peered up at the phone on the console, ashamed to look at TRON after his outburst. "Thank you...I'm sorry...I just...feel like I've really bit the big one this time."

"So...a family, you say?"

A grin slowly crept to Sora's face. He chuckled despite himself and wiped at the last of his tears. "Y-yeah," he hiccupped as he moved to sit into the captain's chair. "But don't tell anybody. It's our secret."

"So I'm the first to know? Lucky me!"

"Hehe!" Sora winked. "When I get out of here, we might have to appoint you godfather."

The program laughed. "I'd be honored. But maybe...I should just stick to being their first phone app. How's that?"

Sora snickered. "Uncle TRON!"

"How much time do I have until I should start incorporating nursery rhymes into my database?"

"Not for a few years, yet!" Sora assured him. "But Even told us it's possible. We just have to give him the call."

"That's so exciting. We'll need to get you out of here fast so you can prepare. This also means you need to keep eating. You can't be a dad without a proper dad bod. I'm pretty sure that's a rule."

Sora laughed. "Where did you hear a rule like that?"

"Moogle.com has all kinds of strange articles. I like to read them to learn more about users. But I get the feeling most of them are best forgotten."

"Yeah, probably," the brunette snickered.

"Want to hear about the top 20 ways I read to please your man?" TRON joked.

"Oh like I need help in THAT department!" he laughed. "Unless one of those tips is how to not go missing for months at a time?" Sora smirked.

"I'm afraid not. But there were tips on how to keep your legs silky smooth."

Sora blinked and felt at his scraggly beard growing in. "Think those tips can be applied to one's face?"

"I wouldn't recommend it."

Chapter Text

Riku awoke to the sounds of birds chirping in the courtyard. His face was damp with dew and his left side hurt from sleeping on it. The dream he just had slipped from his memory just as the night itself had. With a long yawn, he stretched and scratched at his face which was itchy from lying in the grass and the bumps on his skin told him that he had the imprint of several blades of grass on his face. "Great," he muttered. "Grass is so over-rated. At least sand doesn't leave imprints."

With one last yawn, he got to his feet and shook out his legs before getting a quick stretch in and heading back inside. The castle seemed to be busy once again. Brooms were walking this way and that to start their morning chores. Tiny mice were running around with stacks of papers balanced on their heads. He ducked to avoid a troop of parrots with sombreros flying through the main hall and side-stepped out of a lady cow's way as she carried a large serving tray of food in her arms. He never realized how noisy this place could be sometimes. When he made his way back to the gummi hangar it was almost a relief. At least the whirring machines and gears didn't need much dodging. Back in the main computer room, he wasn't too surprised to see Gadget was still at the computer.

"Any news?" he asked her as he sat back in the desk chair that he had occupied before, his arms resting on the backrest as he watched her with interest.

"TRON will be calling us any minute! Have you eaten yet?" she asked without looking at him, still busy hopping away at the keys.

"Have you?" Riku smirked.

"Fair enough," she huffed. "You should ask the brooms to grab us something while we wait."

"I have a granola bar if you want?" he offered.

"A granola bar!?" she stopped and turned to him as if insulted. "You're in a castle with anything you could possibly want and you'd settle for a granola bar!?"

"Okay okay!" he laughed and stood up. "I'll be right back."

After braving the longer than necessary journey to the kitchen, Riku came back with a decent spread for the both of them of toast, bacon, eggs, and breakfast potatoes, unsure of what the gummi engineer's preferences were. Though now that he sat down and thought about it, the answer should've been obvious, but she had no complaints as she munched on a toast triangle and continued browsing over the data on screen and he quietly ate while he watched her.

Suddenly a ring tone came from the computer, startling Riku into almost dropping his plate.

"Wow, jumpy, aren't you?" Gadget shot him a look as Riku scrambled to sit upright again before she hit the button to pick up what was apparently a video call.

Before Riku could even retort, TRON's face appeared on screen and Riku hastily set the plate aside to greet the program properly. "TRON!"

"Good morning, Master Riku! And to you too, Miss Gadget," the program greeted.

"Good morning! Have you had any luck with the data dump I sent you?" Gadget asked, relieving Riku as she cut straight to the chase.

"Yes. It's like you said in your message, though. A small amount of it was corrupted during the transfer. But I've been able to compile most of it properly into a comprehensible state."

"Fantastic! So what have you got?"

TRON paused for a moment. To Riku it looked like he was taking time to think carefully. Usually TRON was pretty prompt with his answers so he wasn't used to seeing him process things this slowly before.

"TRON?" Gadget asked a little impatiently.

"My apologies. The data that was sent is written in a way that only makes sense if you're a program like myself who lives in the Grid. I assume I've sent the message to myself this way in order to transmit as much as I could with what limited time and signal there might've been. I'm trying to think of a way to translate it in a way that users like yourselves would understand," he explained.

"What's not to understand?" Riku asked. "Isn't it like any other programming code?"

"The way that programs perceive their own reality isn't exactly one to one with how users view theirs. The language I used says a lot with very little, like a shorthand or slang with clues that would have no context or meaning unless you were a program."

"I see," Gadget nodded. "Take the time you need."

TRON paused for another moment before he spoke again in an uncertain tone. "It's hard to explain, but in the message, I've compared The Void--"

"WAIT!" Gadget stopped him right there. "So it really is called The Void!?" she asked excitedly.

"That's what the message says," he answered.

Riku watched as the little field mouse quivered with excitement. Her tiny clenched fists were shaking in front of herself as if she wanted to scream with excitement but he wasn't about to give her the chance to distract TRON. "Please, continue," he urged gently.

TRON picked up where he left off, "I've compared The Void to the internet, as in an infinite source of information in one place. To you users, it's information on a screen. However, to us programs, it's like a giant space with windows to all kinds of different worlds, windows we can look into or enter at will. But from the way I phrased it, it seems the windows are randomized and Sora is waiting for the right one."

Riku took a moment to wrap his head around this. A black hole in space with windows to other worlds? It made him think of the keyblade war when they fought against Master Xehanort's duplicates. They used keyhole portals to separate them from each other as well as use them to teleport and attack. Something didn't add up, though. "Why wait?" he asked. "Why not just pick one?" Sora has shown more than once that his heart can lead him out of unknown places easily. Plus, once he's in a world, he can open a pathway to another one either by darkness corridor or a path of light. So what's the issue?

TRON pauses, again processing the data and attempting to translate. The data mentions time stamps and save states. There's a list of statistics, namely probability of repetition, and more slang: the number i and a slash and a zero. i/0. "I think I'm implying that the windows do not all lead to the same timeline. To enter one unwittingly could cause a paradox," he said grimly.

Riku swallowed hard as he felt a heavy weight land in the bottom of his stomach. "What are his odds?" he asked, knowing TRON has probably already calculated them.

"I'm afraid some of the statistical data is corrupted, but if I filled in the calculations for myself...Master Riku, the windows could be infinite...I don't think the numbers matter at this point."

"No, you're right. Sora always finds a way to beat the odds. But how much time does he have?"

"The data says there are enough supplies for the next year, but also notes Sora's the one who counted the rations."

"Oof..." That did NOT make Riku feel any better. But he hopes the data is right. A year to find Sora...or a year for him to find his own way out...can it be done with an infinite number of ways to get lost?

"Master Riku...?" Gadget looked to him with worry.

The man clenched his fists and looked up at the both of them. "He'll make it. I know he will. His heart is tied to ours. We just need to keep lighting the way."

Chapter Text

The changes were almost unnoticeable at first. Riku was growing increasingly irritable, but that should've been normal. He missed Sora. But in his older and supposedly wiser years, he should be more level-headed. After all, he's a keyblade master. Even in the face of adversity and hardship, he should keep his emotions in check so he can lead and make proper decisions.

For the most part, he's done that. But it was the little things. A loud noise would startle him much more than it used to. If food didn't taste just so, he refused to eat it...or he couldn't bring himself to, even if he wanted to just to be polite. If it was too dark, he felt uneasy. If it was too bright, he squinted and scowled in irritation until somebody drew the shades. If somebody didn't answer his texts in what he deemed a timely manner he immediately assumed the worst. Maybe it was anxiety. Maybe he wasn't getting enough sleep. There were so many explanations.

But when he woke up from yet another nightmare, his body slick with sweat and his sheets torn asunder, he found what he really needed was a cold shower. He felt hot and angry and so, so hungry. It was a deep hunger that clawed at him from inside. It was the hunger he felt when he knew Sora was having nightmares. His instincts were shouting at him to tend to the one he's bonded to. Sora's calling for him but he can't answer, and the hunger's just getting worse.

He's unsatisfied and he's angry too, angry at himself; ashamed, even. Ashamed for being unable to fulfill his purpose, or at least his purpose as far as being a dream eater mandated. It hurt so much, and after all these months it kept getting worse.

After his shower, he still felt too hot and made one last attempt to douse his face with cold water from the faucet before he went back to bed. When he looked up again at the mirror, he could see his eyes gleaming pink, even in the fogged up mirror. There shouldn't have been fog. The shower was cold. So how...? His mouth suddenly felt dry and he swallowed, but something felt different about the way his lips rested over his teeth. He put his fingers in his mouth to feel his incisors have grown! Alarmed, he wiped the fog off the mirror to get a closer look.

He looked like he had fangs! Small fangs...but fangs, nevertheless. "That's new..." But as he leaned in to look more closely, they shrank until they looked like his normal teeth again and his eyes faded to cyan, which he knew would be aqua again by morning. "Maybe...I imagined it..." It was a small hope, but not a convincing statement.

As the weeks dragged on, he noticed more things in the middle of the night. Something was happening while he slept. He didn't know what, but he's torn through multiple sets of sheets and he's had to put Sora's pillows away for fear of destroying them too. But not having something around with Sora's scent while he slept seemed to make things worse. He found claw marks on the bed, which he had to sand and re-stain. Said bed had even moved a couple of inches and made drag marks on the floor, which again he had to sand and re-stain. He didn't want Sora to come home to a destroyed bedroom after all.

When he found the herb pots knocked over one morning, he decided to sleep in the den on the yellow monstrosity instead, after he moved out all the breakable things, of course. It felt weird sleeping in a room with practically nothing in it, but what choice did he have? He knew he had to be the cause of the weird things happening in the middle of the night, he just didn't know HOW or WHY.

Then one night he woke up to find his hands felt huge. Rox was yowling loudly in the corner as if he was trying to alert him to something. His skin felt hot. He touched his own arm and felt a texture he didn't recognize but he could feel himself touching it so he knew it was definitely his skin. He hurried to turn on the lights and stumbled forward as he felt something heavy on his lower back that got tangled underneath the large cushion he was sleeping on. "Don't tell me..." he muttered as he pulled himself to his knees, but the voice that left his mouth didn't sound like his. It was...but it was raspy and deep.

He made it to the light switch and winced as the lamp illuminated the room with a harsh light. He could see in the dark, but he would never have believed what he was seeing unless he saw it in the light. His hands were bigger and his nails were black and as sharp as talons. He could see a long purple tail curled upon the floor at his feet with a pattern of pink and yellow diamonds down the spine. His skin was scaly on his forearms and shimmered purple and aqua green as he turned his elbows in the light. The fangs were back and there was something on his upper back, something that actually felt familiar: a pair of bat wings. He imagines they probably look like the ones he sprouts when he dual links with Komory Bat.

He looked at his hands again and tried to remain calm. "I can fix this..."

"Mrow~" Rox meowed from the corner.

"Yeah, it is a little weird. Maybe if I--AAAAAA!!" He cried out and fell to his knees as pain shot throughout his body. His skin felt tight, like it was being torn away! He forced his eyes open as he clutched at himself to see his skin emitting a strange, soft glow that flickered in and out. Before his very eyes the scales appeared to be glitching out, like a fuzzy picture flicking on a television with bad antennae reception. His hands began doing the same thing and every "flicker" caused another wave of pain so intense that curled in on himself and laid in a fetal position on the soft rug while he waited it out. "Haaaaa...Aaaaa...AAAAAA!!!"

It only lasted maybe a minute or two, but it felt like an eternity. When it was over, he was a heaving, sweaty mess on the floor and his skin continued to tingle for several minutes afterward. "Sora...where are you?" he whispered just as he passed out from exhaustion.

It seemed wherever Sora was must be a place where the rules as Riku knew them didn't apply...or rather they were thrown into a blender. After a few more weeks of these bizarre transformations, Riku surmised that The Void must be a mixture of light, darkness, and everything in between, maybe even the realm of sleep. It was the only explanation Riku could think of given what very little they knew about The Void. Hiro had given him some books on theoretical physics regarding research into things such as black holes, worm holes, and interdimensional travel. Apparently they've encountered the latter a few years ago. Riku had a hard time wrapping his head around the logistics, but he had a theory that The Void was like a hole that tore so deep it went through all realms and twisted them together in one spot and if Sora is really trapped in something like that, his transformations might make sense.

Through their connection, if Sora is phasing in and out of realities or realms, Riku might be changing accordingly. So if Sora's phasing through the realm of sleep, Riku's body might be transforming to match, maybe even overcompensating. It was just a theory, but it made some sense...to him at least. But what he didn't understand was the new changes. His eyes changing and his mood swings were one thing, but the other stuff...that was hard to explain. He can only change physically if he links with another dream eater after all, or so he thought. Maybe Sora's dream eaters were reaching out to him too? It seemed very possible, especially when he began noticing the forms were different every night. The fangs were consistent, as were the claws, but other than that he'd have a mishmash of all kinds of things.

He also found that if he slept through the changes, things tended to get broken. Whatever was happening, he needed to be awake or he'd have no control. But being awake was easier said than done. Rox was good at alerting him. Even the crows outside have lent their assistance. But if he didn't want to risk hurting the loyal feline, he needed to find an alternative. So now he sets an alarm for 2 am every night. It seemed to be the time he usually transforms.

But just when he thought he had a handle on things, they got worse. The transformations lasted longer. He found it harder and harder to control these strange, violent urges that had him clawing at the rug. He just something to dig his nails into, ANYTHING! He bit at himself. He just wanted to sink his fangs into nightmares so badly! He screamed and shouted and cursed at anything that came to mind as he curled up on the floor until it stopped and he could go back to sleep again.

He needed it to be warm, so he started piling blankets in the den, mostly the ones that were already shredded. Soon the den was beginning to look like a nest. He even reinforced the windows with plywood, just in case.

Every time it ended, he felt empty, maybe even emptier than before if that were possible. Perhaps what he hated the most, however, was that he was starting to get used to it.

In fact, on nights where it didn't happen, he got worried.

As painful as it was, it had become a comfort to him. His pain meant that Sora was still alive, and so he endured.

No matter how bad it has gotten or how tired he is, when it's all over, he whispers one last thing before he closes his eyes once more.

"Good night, Sora."

Chapter Text

Sora sees hearts are in everything. And when Sora sees them, they become real.

Though he has TRON to keep him company, he thinks about the hearts in other things that keep him company as well. The music box from Riku is one good example. As he holds it in his hands, he can almost feel Riku's heart as if he's right there next to him. Then there are the rings on his fingers, the paopu charm on his phone from Kairi, the satchel at his side from his parents...so many things, and he can feel the hearts of the people he loves through them.

He thinks back to his time in Halloween Town when Sally explained the act of giving and essentially giving a piece of your heart to another. Though he could feel their hearts and their warmth, he couldn't help wishing to see them and hold them close. He thought about summon gems and heartbinders, all the things he's used to summon his friends to his side, or a projection of them, at least, when it comes to heartbinders. The ones that were in charms or stones have long since returned home. TRON was an exception, too, his gummi phone working as a heartbinder for the program. But even so, he's only ever used that power once and that was against BoB. He looked to TRON on the gummi phone screen resting on the charge station of the console.

"You saved me, you know," he murmured quietly.

"Pardon?" the program asked, unsure if this was one of those times where Sora was just thinking out loud or was genuinely trying to start conversation.

Sora shook his head apologetically. "Against BoB," he clarified. "If it weren't for you, we would never have gotten communications back. You saved all of us. And even now, you've saved me."

"Of course, Sora. You're my friend."

"I just can't remember if I've ever thanked you. Like truly thanked you."

"Every day I sense gratitude from you. That's more than enough. As a program meant to serve users, I'm not to expect praise or gratitude. You and the others have truly given me a gift. If anything I should be thanking YOU."

"Thanks for being my friend, TRON." Sora smiled.

"Heh, and thank you for being mine, Sora."

They sit in silence for a little while. This was normal. Energy needed to be conserved. Eyes needed to be focused on what was going on outside the ship. Even with eyes peeled, Sora's mind inevitably wanders again. Summoning inside the ship was risky. There wasn't a lot of space for the friends he had, except maybe Stitch, but the fuzzy blue alien tended to be destructive. Magic needed to be conserved for cure spells to keep him sustained. He knew he shouldn't be thinking about this; tempting himself. Plus what would be the point? It would only be a brief moment, but it would also be potentially long enough to distract him from a possible way out. Would he really risk the chances of literally missing his window of opportunity just for a brief moment with a projection of a friend?

As he continued to stare longingly out the window where he sees a vision of school friends playing, it seemed more and more likely he WOULD take that risk. Whenever he felt tempted, though, he decided it was just better to talk TRON's ear off about a happy memory instead. Reliving these moments made them feel like they were there. Each story or thought was like a spark of warmth in his heart from each connection he had with his friends, their chains of love and protection wrapped around his heart like a warm blanket. But then sometimes, such as with Riku, they squeezed too hard. His heart would ache and the longing would come back. It'd hurt so much that he couldn't stop himself from crying, the salty tears streaming unabated from his eyes as he continued to silently stare out the window.

This has become normal, too. TRON had long since learned not to react every time. He knew what was wrong. So he stopped asking. If Sora said nothing, neither did he. There was a certain kind of cry, however, that he did watch out for. The one where Sora trembled and sobbed and hyperventilated if he didn't do something. As if Sora had sunk so far into his own thoughts that he was drowning. TRON would call out his name, tell him he's safe, to breathe, and together they'd count and he'd tell Sora to drink some water. Eventually Sora calms. Most of the time they try to find something to laugh about afterwards, usually with a bad pun from TRON's limited offline personal database. But other times it was back to their comfortable silence.

What would he have done if TRON weren't here? Would he have risked going into the unknown by now, taking what he could get and risking everything? Or whould he have let himself starve to death? He wants to tell himself neither. After all, he made a vow, an oath, and a promise. But he also knows he shouldn't be thinking about this at all. No use getting himself worked up over what-ifs that haven't happened. But as the months drag on and TRON's voice continued to keep him functioning, he couldn't help thinking of the likelihood that he would not have lasted this long otherwise. And as more time passed, he thought back to his summon magic and wondered how much longer seeing one of his friends would keep him going. If he could just hold Riku...even for a moment...he'd even settle for a bonk on the head from Kairi.

Just thinking of the redhead scolding him for taking a nap on the beach brought a smile to his face. He reached for the gummi phone to finger the little paopu charm dangling from it, a gift from before he and Riku started their first real journey together. Smiling fondly, he could almost imagine her working on it with the same quiet intensity she had when she made her good luck charm from Thalassa shells, the one she lent him and that he used to transform his keyblade into Oathkeeper. If he squinted hard enough, he could even see her fingerprints in the craft clay, which he matched up with his own fingers, his over hers.

If only she could see him now. She would never believe how long he goes without sleeping these days.

"Kairi..."

He said her name softly and he could see her smiling at him. The vision was so strong he smiled back without thinking about it, the warmth in his heart spreading all across his chest. But it wasn't just warmth, there was a familiar glow and his keyblade automatically appeared in his hand, the tip glowing too with a golden light that was blinding in the limited lighting of the dark cockpit. When he opened his eyes again, Kairi was standing before him, or rather an ethereal projection of herself, pink and glowing.

"Kairi..." He said her name again, the tears choking his throat as he realized what he had done. It wasn't really her, of course, but her heart was definitely shining through this brief connection. He reached a hand out for her, but his body felt so heavy, so weak from lack of pretty much everything. She met him part way, her hand grabbing his as she fell to her knees to embrace him in his chair. He wrapped his arms around her and dared to bury his face into her shoulder. Her hair felt so soft against his cheek and her small frame felt so warm. Her hands brushed through his hair and he cried, mumbling apologies and promises to be home soon. She didn't speak. She probably couldn't. But that's okay. This was enough.

The glow of his keyblade dimmed and Kairi was gone in a burst of sparkles. The cockpit was empty once more. He stared at the spot where she was once standing for several long seconds before he realized with a start that he hadn't been watching the monitors. "Oh no!" he cried out but TRON was quick to calm him.

"Don't worry, Sora. I've been watching. You haven't missed anything."

The brunette let out a heavy sigh of relief. "Thanks, TRON." After his heart settled, he found he did feel better after the brief encounter, well enough to even make the effort to eat. "Keep an eye out. I'm going to grab some food."

"You got it."

In the days following, Sora had idly thought about trying it again, but as he held the paopu charm in his fingers, he knew he couldn't pull it off again, not with this object anyway. It just wasn't meant to be used this way. It was like a channel that could only be opened once; a match with a temporary flame. Only one strike and that's it. Though the warmth from Kairi's touch still lingered, he craved to feel that same warmth again from his husband. He had a few items from him, too. Mournfully he thought of the box he had destroyed. One less treasure to summon Riku with.

He had limited items. When would be the right time to use them? He had taken to wearing his keyblade armor all the time now to hide how thin he had gotten. He couldn't stand seeing how frail his wrists looked and how bony his knees had become. But even with the armor on, he knew...he felt it get heavier by the day, felt how loosely it hugged him when it should've been tight, and with less body fat to cushion his bones, the hard armor hurt. Then again, everything hurt. Even the cushioned captain's chair hurt. But the armor made him feel safe, so he endured, even if his longer hair trapped inside his helmet itched like mad. But if he were to attempt a summon, he knew he wanted his armor to be off. If he were to summon Riku, he wanted to hold him and feel him completely.

One day, he just couldn't take it anymore. He pulled one of his rings off, the gold one. "TRON, raise the shields for me, please," he requested but didn't even wait for the hum of the shields before dismissing his armor before standing and holding the ring close to his chest. "Give me strength!" he called out, keyblade at his side and looked up hopefully. A burst of light answered his call and the warmth that filled him threatened to overwhelm him. Tears sprang from his eyes as the golden image of Riku stood before him. His light. With a sob he fell forward into Riku's chest, clutching at the projection of his husband as he held him tightly. Strong arms wrapped around him and he muttered over and over how much he missed him and loved him, all the while Riku rubbed comforting circles into his back.

"I'm coming back to you! I promise! Wait for me, Riku. I promise...I promise..."

As quickly as he appeared, Riku was gone. But Sora wasn't done. He didn't want him to be gone! Not yet! He grabbed an ether to replenish his power and used another ring. The silver one this time. "LIGHT!" he called again.

Over and over he summoned Riku. Begged him to stay. Told him he loved him. Promised he'd be home soon. He had the smallest hope that maybe Riku wherever he was could hear it, how much he loved him and how desperately he wanted to come home and to not give up on him. For a few minutes he forgot about watching for a way out, forgot about the possibility of a vision overtaking the ship and how he might waste a summon if he got caught in the middle of one. The fates must've granted him the tiniest of mercies this one time because he managed to summon Riku many times until he had no more gifts from Riku to use...except one. He used his other music box, all his rings, the earrings Riku gave him, the pretty stones he's always kept in his pockets for luck, even a few sea shells. The charm around his neck was the last one. His hand hovered over it, tempted to use it...but...he forced himself to save it.

Exhausted, he collapsed back into his chair, his summoning frenzy having wiped him out, and he equipped his armor once more. "You can lower the shields, TRON..." he muttered hoarsely. His voice raw from his cries.

. . .

He doesn't feel hungry these days. TRON tells him to eat, but he drinks a lot of water and crunches ice cubes to conserve food. He's getting weaker all the time. He barely speaks out loud anymore and whenever he does, he tends to trail off on tangents.

"I've had so much time to think. I guess I've been avoiding thinking for the past few years. Always felt like too much, you know? Just following my heart felt easier."

"I don't think following your heart is as easy as you think it is," Tron argued. "Many want to, I'm sure, but feel like they can't. I think to others you make it look easy."

Sora smiles. "Maybe that's the case."

"You should eat."

"I'm not hungry."

"You should be. You haven't eaten in a long time."

Sora sips a potion instead, just a little to take the edge off. "You know, it's funny. I used to down these like they were nothing back when I was trying to get my scar to heal. Funny how situations drastically change perspective."

His eyes glaze over as he continues keeping his sights on what's happening outside the window. Is he even seeing anything anymore?

"You should rest, if nothing else. I'll keep watch."

"Just a little longer," he murmured, though his head rolls forward as he says it. "I'm fine."

TRON suddenly appears in person, the gummi phone glowing as is Sora's heart in his chest. "TRON...how?"

"Your heart must've summoned me. Plus...I really want to help you."

"TRON, I--"

"No buts." The program lifts Sora from the captain's chair and takes him down below to lay him in his bunk. Even with his armor on, he felt impossibly light. "Sleep for now. I'll wake you in a little while."

Sora's too tired to protest, tears in the corners of his eyes from his friend's devotion as he felt the warmth of the other's intentions in his own heart. TRON straightens up to leave, but he reaches up and grabs for him, clutching him tightly as a dam breaks loose inside of him, suddenly feeling more than he has in weeks. "Please! Stay!"

TRON disappears eventually, just like the others. But it comforted Sora knowing he was still at the console. He wasn't completely gone. The hum of the shields turning on told him so and thus he dismissed his armor and allowed himself to sleep at long last.

Something about TRON reaching out for him relit a fire in Sora that had been flickering in and out for a while now. It was a faint flame, but one that kept him going. He hadn't ever given up hope but it had wavered a few times, there was no doubting that. He even found the energy to eat a little bit and left the shields on for a little longer so he could lounge a bit longer in his pajamas. He wasn't sure what it was, but he just felt...happy? It felt weird to be happy considering the situation he had been in for who knows how long. But he let this little spark continue, laughing merrily as he and TRON spoke over a breakfast of two granola bars and a box of apple juice he had been saving.

"Sora!" TRON suddenly called out.

"Another vision?" Sora asked as he prepared to equip his armor.

"No! A signal!"

"A SIGNAL!?" Sora grabbed the gummi phone off the console. He had three bars of PHONE signal. Without hesitation, his fingers automatically called Riku. "Please pick up, please pick up!"

It took one ring.

"SORA!?"

"RIKU!" Sora choked. "I'm so glad to hear your voice!"

"SORA! Where are you? Are you safe???" his husband asked frantically and Sora could hear the tears in his voice as well.

Sora clutched the phone tightly in his hands as he trembled with the force of so many emotions. "I'm safe, I promise! I-I don't know when I can come home. But I will! Please wait for me! I love you so much!" He said it all fast. He had thought many times what he would say to Riku if he had just one minute to talk to him. He didn't know how long he had to talk to him. He just wanted to let him know how much he loved him if nothing else.

"I love you, too! So much! I'll wait forever for you! You know that!"

"I know!" Sora sniffed loudly, his face wet with tears but he was smiling. "I love you so much...I wanna have all your babies!" he joked as he cry-laughed.

Riku snorted loudly on the other end. "Well you have to get back first. I can't be a single father."

Sora laughed even louder. "You'd be a great father no matter what, Riku."

"So will you, Sora. I'll keep the light on for you. And...you're sure you're safe? Is there anything I can do?"

"Just keep doing what you're doing. I'm okay. I haven't fought one heartless or anything since I've been in here," Sora assured him.

"You're going to be SO out of shape," Riku joked.

"Hahaha! I am!" the brunette laughed. "I miss you so much! I love you. I love you so much," he repeated it again.

"I love--"

"Riku?" Sora looked down at his phone. Signal lost.

TRON reappeared on screen. "Sora...are you okay?"

"Y-yeah," the brunette nodded and wiped his eyes on the back of his arm before carefully setting TRON back on the console. "Let's go back to our search."

Chapter Text

Sora has been gone a long time. Too long. Riku had stopped counting the days.

Riku's dream eater instincts are getting more and more berserk, his traits leaking into the waking world as he senses Sora's nightmares but is still unable to reach them. Every day that passes by has made him moodier and more frantic for any clue of his husband's whereabouts, and Roxas being the closest direct link besides himself usually bears the brunt of his frustration. Riku constantly asks him for updates on how Sora's feeling. At first it was just a text every now and then, but as more time passed and as Riku grew more frustrated, he bothered Roxas more. Roxas didn't mind at first, but the more time went by the more Sora was in pain and the more unbearable it became for him to reach out through their connection. Even so, Riku never became less demanding, his texts more frequent and agitated until Roxas can't stand it any longer and muted him to hide away.

"Why isn't he answering!?" Riku growled as he sent another text. He was in the Mysterious Tower's library yet again. This time accompanied by Naminé, Vanitas, and their dog, Reacher, a large black canine with piercing blue eyes. It was a very lean and muscular dog, one that put Riku at a bit of unease with how un-doglike it seemed. It stood proud with its tail straight up, was very obedient, and just seemed to know how to stare holes into your soul with the way it studied your face, like a disapproving teacher. Said dog was sitting loyally at Naminé's feet.

"Isn't it obvious?" Vanitas huffed from where he was sitting at the top of a ladder. "You're so needy."

"Watch it," Riku growled again.

"Truth hurts, doesn't it?" Vanitas rolled his eyes.

"Vani..." Naminé warned quietly.

"Somebody needs to say it," Vanitas argued, though in a more gentle tone since he was talking to Naminé, after all. "You'd want to know if you were pissing everybody off, wouldn't you, Riku?"

"I...I guess I would," Riku answered hesitantly.

"Well, you're pissing everybody off. You're not yourself," the man told him bluntly.

"Well how am I supposed to act!?" Riku stood up suddenly, fists clenched and teeth clenched as his eyes flashed pink for a brief moment. He saw Vanitas flinch and Reacher stood up and took a step back. He's slipping again. "Never mind. I'll see him myself!" he threw his book on the table with the others and stomped off.

"Wait, Riku!" Naminé stood to go after him but Vanitas was quick to hop down from the ladder and put a hand on her shoulder to stop her. "Just let him go."

Angry that he was being ignored by Roxas of all people, the keyblade master flew to Twilight Town and made his way to mansion. Still seething as he shoved past Axel who tried to keep him at bay, only to find Roxas curled up in bed with a blanket over his head and sobbing his eyes out.

"Stay away!" the blonde shouted vehemently. He didn't even look up to see who it was. It was if he already knew who would come charging into his room like this.

Riku froze in his tracks at seeing the younger man act this way. "Roxas, what are you--"

"I can't do this anymore! It's too much!" he cried as he gripped at his head, his fingers tugging at his blonde locks as he tried to block everything out, especially Riku.

Undeterred, Riku grabbed Roxas by the shoulders in an attempt to snap him out of it. "You need to get a grip! Sora's counting on us!"

"Shut up! What do you know!?" Roxas snapped, looking up to glare at Riku with a piercing blue gaze. "You saw that post. He said he doesn't want us looking for him!"

"But that was so long ago! Things could be different now!" Riku yelled. "If you could only just--"

"MY HEART ISN'T LIKE SORA'S!" Roxas shouted, finally reaching his breaking point as he violently shoved Riku away, the silverette landing flat on his back in shock. "I can't handle all the hurt he's going through! So stop trying to make me!"

Riku grit his teeth, wincing as he got off the floor. That's right, Roxas's heart is still very young. It wasn't fair to expect him to keep up with all of this. "Roxas..."

"Just please, let me block it out. I'm sorry. I really am. But I don't see why I have to hurt too! It's not doing any of us any good!" the blonde pleaded as tears continued to stream from his puffy red eyes.

"No, you're right. I'm sorry. If there's anything I can--"

"Go! Just please, go!" Roxas sniffled loudly as he wiped his face angrily on the back of his sleeve. "I just want to be left alone."

"Roxas, please--"

"Get out of here before I break your other arm!" the blonde snarled.

Riku was taken aback, not just by the threat, but by the look on his face. The last time Roxas looked at him like that, they were in the woods on their way to fight the Master of Masters, when he told Riku to promise him not to leave Sora's side.

"I don't want to feel that pain ever again."

"That pain of loneliness...suffering. I don't want to feel it from him OR YOU ever again! Do you understand me?"

"You promise me. You stay with him. Promise me!"

He clenched his fists at his sides, trembling as he stared holes into the floor. Not only has he broken his promise, he was now rubbing Roxas's face in it. He looked up again, but this time he saw Sora glaring at him with that same intense look, this one reminding him of how angry he was in Arendelle, so full of pain and yet so enraged he took out a swarm of heartless despite being extremely injured. The twin looks of anger drove a hot spike of guilt through his chest. He heard a sharp intake of breath from Roxas and watched him suddenly reach out for a figure on the nightstand.

Instinctively, Riku raised his arms to block and ducked just as Roxas hurled the figure at his head and spun around to see the figure shatter as it hit the wall behind him.

"STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!"

"I'm sorry, I just--"

"JUST GO!"

"I think it's time for you to go," Axel stated coldly, now glaring at Riku from the doorway. "I'll look after him."

Riku swallowed hard and gave one last look to Roxas who had buried himself under the blankets again before taking his leave. As Axel closes the door behind him, he could hear the blonde whimpering, "I'm not Sora. I'm not Sora!" before it shut.

Even after the door is closed, Riku can't bring himself to tear his eyes away. "How long has he been like this?" he asked Axel.

The redhead huffs. "You'd know if you ever asked him how HE'S doing."

"Right..." the silverette slumped.

Axel sighs. "What are you getting at anyway? Roxas doesn't have any answers and he won't have more just because you keep asking him over and over."

"I just...want to know if Sora's...you know..."

"Of course he is! You of all people would know if he wasn't."

"It's not just that...I guess...I want to know what Sora's feeling; if he's fighting or if he's safe. Is he hiding or is he lost? I thought knowing what he's feeling could clue us in."

"Well why didn't you just ask THAT? If you're not specific, all Roxas will be able to tell you is the same thing he always tells you: that Sora is lonely and miserable."

"You're right, I just...don't know what's come over me lately."

"Look, man, I get it. Isa and I lost somebody important to us too, years ago. We swore we'd do anything to find her. We're still looking, in fact. Point is, we've already figured out that losing yourself isn't the way to do it. Got it memorized?"

Riku swallowed hard and nodded before apologizing one more time and taking his leave, now feeling thoroughly ashamed of himself as he headed home.

"I've been a terrible friend," he muttered to himself as he pet Rox at the door. "I've been so worried about Sora I haven't made time for anybody else. I know they're all suffering too, but I all I keep thinking about is how much I'M hurting."

"Mrow~" Rox meowed.

"So much for keeping the light on, huh?" he smiled sadly as he scratched the kitty beneath his chin. "Can always count on Vanitas or Roxas to let me know how big of an asshole I can be." He sighed heavily as he kicked his boots off and flopped into the living room couch, head resting on a red and gold patterned pillow that Sora made. He stared up at the branches in the ceiling as Rox came over and settled into his lap. "I thought I had put this anger behind me. I thought I had grown. But I guess...when pushed far enough, anybody can fall back into unhealthy habits," he mused as he idly scratched Rox behind the ears.

The kitty purred and closed his eyes as he melted beneath Riku's hand, bucking his head into his fingers until Riku rubbed all the right spots.

Riku felt his eyelids getting heavy. "I need to make it up to Roxas. But I don't know how...it'll be hard if he doesn't want to talk to me."

"Mowwwwww~"

"Maybe I should take a break...but I'd feel guilty, you know?"

Rox purred even louder and rolled onto his back in Riku's lap so that Riku can rub his belly next.

The movement made Riku smirk. "Are you a cat or a dog?"

"Mrow."

"Wonder how you and Reacher would get along," Riku chuckled before looking up at the clock, a lovely cuckoo clock that Geppetto gave them as a wedding present that had different bird songs depending on the time of day. Right now it was almost time for it to hoot. "Maybe it's time for bed."

"Meow?"

Riku shook his head. "I'm not hungry. Think I should sleep in the den tonight, what do you think?"

The kitty walked up Riku's chest and gave his face a sniff, his wet nose tickling Riku's. "Mowwwwwr~"

"Alright," Riku laughed and stood up, holding the kitty to his chest for one last cuddle before setting him down to change into his pajamas. Before bed, he did make himself a mug of hot chocolate before he settled into the giant yellow cushion with his phone and a book. By the time he had finished the cocoa and read four chapters, he was asleep under a thick quilt, prepared for the changes he knew were going to happen tonight.

. . .

"You okay?" Axel asked, gently rapping on the door to Roxas's room before he came in with a tray of tomato soup and grilled cheese for the blonde.

Roxas looked up from his cocoon of blankets. "I shouldn't have yelled at him," he muttered quietly.

"Don't feel bad for standing up for yourself. He needed to hear it and you needed to say it," Axel shrugged as he sat the tray down on Roxas's desk where the pieces of figure he threw earlier had been gathered and placed carefully.

Roxas saw him stare at the pile of pieces. "It was the magitech armor...Sora liked that one..." he sniffled.

"Roxas..."

"I just...I don't know..." he sniffed again as he wiped angrily at his eyes that were raw and puffy. "I know Riku didn't MEAN to look at me that way. I just...it just makes me so mad. But it also shouldn't. It's not like I'm angry that I resemble Sora, because of course I do. It's just..."

"You want to be seen as you and not just a Sora surrogate or telephone. I get it."

"Yeah...and I know Riku doesn't see me that way. But sometimes...I think he gets so desperate to see Sora he sees him in places whether he wants to or not. Is that a thing?" Roxas looked up at Axel.

"Yeah, it kind of is," the redhead answered as he pulled up a chair and scooched over to Roxas. "It's a part of grieving. Sometimes you wish so much to see somebody that you start to see them everywhere. Your mind plays tricks on you. Even if you know that they're long gone or that there's no way that they'd be around and not tell you, you see them whether you're intentionally looking for them or not." He sighed and stared at the floor guiltily.

"Hm?" Roxas tilted his head.

"I...did the same thing to Sora...after you were gone. And even with Kairi...I didn't know it at the time, but sometimes when I looked at Kairi, I would see Xion," he admitted.

"Axel..."

The redhead gave a hard sniff. "Point is, you're both hurting. So it might help if you both talked about it," the redhead suggested.

"Yeah...you might be right. Thanks, Axel," the blonde gave him a smile.

"Anytime. Do you want me to wait up for you to come home?" he asked with a grin, knowing Roxas will go bother Riku right away.

"Nah. I think I should give "Master Riku" a taste of his own medicine," he grinned back.

After he ate dinner and had a quick shower, Roxas used a darkness corridor and the warp sphere to get to Riku and Sora's place. Night had already fallen and the stars were out, but it wasn't THAT late, so why were the lights out? Above him in the treetops a swarm of crows were cawing loudly. "How can anybody sleep through that? Is he even home?" he wondered as he climbed the stairs. On the way up, he noticed some of the windows appeared to be boarded up from the inside, but the glass was perfectly intact. "That's weird..."

The crows continued to caw loudly. They didn't even disperse when he got close. "What's the big deal?" he blinked. He didn't see any other animals around or any food for them to be fighting over and they seemed to have very little interest in him so what was the commotion all about? With a shrug he knocked on Riku's door. "Riku? Are you in there? It's Roxas! I just want to talk!"

He suddenly heard a ROAR from inside that actually rattled the windows! "GO AWAY!"

Roxas was so startled he nearly stumbled off the deck. "Riku!?"

"GO HOME!" the voice roared again.

"Yeah right!" Roxas scoffed and summoned Oathkeeper to unlock the door. "I'm coming in!" When he entered, he nearly tripped on Donut who was immediately rubbing against his legs and meowing loudly. "Where's your dad?" he asked the cat.

"Mrow," was all the kitty meowed before dashing off down the hall.

Being a treehouse, the halls weren't exactly very wide, but since Roxas helped build the place, he knew how to get around decently enough, even in the dark. But it was very creepy the way the house moved in the wind and how the crows kept kicking up a fuss as he heard growling the further he went in. "Riku?"

Donut stopped in front of a closed door and began pawing at it. "Mowwwwwwwwwrrrrr!"

"Okay, got it. Thanks! Step back, kitty!" the blonde warned before raising Oathkeeper again.

"Mow wow woowwr!" the cat yowled before rushing away to a safer distance.

A beam of light shot out of Roxas's keyblade and with a resounding CLICK the door opened. Almost immediately Roxas felt this wave of heat waft from inside, like he just opened a sauna or something. "Riku?" he whimpered, afraid of what he was going to find as he opened the door the rest of the way and turned on the light. He didn't know what to expect, but it certainly wasn't this!

Curled up on the floor was a creature with large bat-like wings that iridescently shined with blue, green, and purple colors. It was dressed in gray sweats and a loose yellow t-shirt and had pink and yellow feathers growing out of it scaly forearms. Its hands were purple and curled like talons with sharp black claws. The rest he couldn't see because half of it was buried under a pile of rags and blankets. But he definitely recognized the long head of silver hair it had. "R-Riku?"

The creature looked up at Roxas. It was definitely Riku, but with sharp pink glowing eyes and protruding fangs. "I told you not to come!" he growled.

"Riku! What the hell happened to you!?" Roxas reached a hand out, but Riku shrank away. In doing so, he could see the pink dream eater sigil glowing on his back through his shirt. "Why...why didn't you say anything!?" he shouted angrily as he dismissed his keyblade, tears that he didn't know he had left forming in his eyes again.

"What is there to say?" Riku asked, quieter this time as he curled up in the corner with his knees pulled up to his chest.

"You're hurting, Riku!" Roxas walked over to him and knelt before him to brush the hair out of Riku's eyes, but Riku turned his head away. "Please, look at me."

"There's nothing you can do," Riku told him. "I shouldn't have tried to...to make you feel like that...like there was something you could be doing that you're not. I'm sorry."

"Riku...I...I could've tried to be more understanding too, and maybe told you how it was affecting me, instead of expecting you to figure it out. You're in pain. It wasn't fair for me to expect you to figure it out when you have so many other things on your mind."

"No...I really should have known. And not just you...the others, too. Somewhere along the way I started acting like I'm the only one who misses him. I don't know why. Because I know that's not true."

"Well gee, you think maybe this," he indicated to Riku's body, "might have something to do with it?" he smirked.

Riku let out a bitter laugh. "Yeah, maybe."

"Just maybe?" Roxas grinned and Riku finally looked up before they both started laughing. "So...how long does this usually last?"

"Not much longer," Riku assured him as he flexed his hands. If he could start wiggling his fingers again he knew control was coming back. "Used to only last a couple of minutes. But it's been getting longer and longer."

"How much longer?" Roxas asked as he sat next to him, careful not to touch the bat wings flanking Riku's sides, though he was super curious and wanted to feel them badly.

"An hour, tops? I'm not really sure. I stopped counting the minutes a long time ago."

"Riku...have you told anybody about this? Merlin? Master Yen Sid? Ansem?"

Riku shook his head. "No. I guess...I just felt like it was something I had to deal with on my own. Nobody else has ever turned themselves into a Dream Eater. So how would anybody know how to help? Besides, I think I...just started taking it as a sign that Sora's still okay. If he's still having nightmares, then he's still alive."

Roxas sighed loudly and leaned his head back against the wall. "If you knew that, why did you keep bothering ME?"

Riku let out a laugh. "I'm sorry. Even if he's having nightmares, it doesn't tell me how he's feeling while he's awake." His wings started shrinking and his talons started retracting. "I don't know if he's actually hurt or if he's scared or running away or if he's been captured...I figured you would know better. Sure if he weren't trapped in that place, I could feel that through our connection. But I don't get anything...just this. I thought if you knew if he's feeling scared or angry that it would give me a clue."

"Yeah...but even if it did...what good would it have done? We still can't find him, even if we did know," Roxas pointed out.

"I know you're right...but still...I want to know."

"Well, I hope you'll one day forgive me, but I can't give you those answers," Roxas sighed and stood up to brush himself off now that Riku was back to normal. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah," the silverette answered hoarsely. "I'm glad you came by...do you want some tea or something?"

"Nah, I gotta get going. I'll see myself out," Roxas smiled. "Good night, Riku. And listen...if you need someone to talk to, I'll listen."

"Same to you, Roxas," Riku smiled back. "Good night."

"Later," the blonde gave a little two finger wave before he left but not without giving Donut a little scratchy-scratch behind the ears first. "And good night to you, too, you little nugget. Look after him."

"Mrow~"

Riku chuckled to himself and waited for the sound of the door closing before getting up too and crawling back over to the yellow cushion to get comfortable again. It was a while before he felt tired enough to fall asleep, but just as his eyes were about to close, his gummi phone rang. It startled him and he sat up with a jolt, grabbing it quickly to see Sora's name on the screen!

"SORA!?" he answered!

"RIKU! I'm so glad to hear your voice!"

"SORA! Where are you? Are you safe???" he asked frantically as he swallowed back tears. He almost couldn't believe it! It was Sora!

"I'm safe, I promise! I-I don't know when I can come home. But I will! Please wait for me! I love you so much!" He said it all fast. It was almost hard for Riku to understand him.

"I love you, too! So much! I'll wait forever for you! You know that!" Please don't be a dream.

"I know! I love you so much...I wanna have all your babies!"

Riku snorted loudly. What a thing to say! Then again, it was one of the last things they talked about before Sora left for his last mission. "Well you have to get back first. I can't be a single father."

Sora laughed even louder. "You'd be a great father no matter what, Riku."

A warmth filled Riku's chest and he rested a hand over his own heart which felt better than it had in months. "So will you, Sora. I'll keep the light on for you. And...you're sure you're safe? Is there anything I can do?"

"Just keep doing what you're doing. I'm okay. I haven't fought one heartless or anything since I've been in here," Sora assured him.

"You're going to be SO out of shape," Riku joked as the tears leaked down his face.

"Hahaha! I am!" the brunette laughed. "I miss you so much! I love you. I love you so much," he repeated it again.

"I love you, too." He wanted to say something else, but then a loud beeping from the phone told him he lost connection. "Sora?" He pulled the phone away from his ear to see the call had been dropped. He tried desperately to call again, but it didn't go through. That was it.

"Meowwww~"

Riku looked down to see Rox batting his kneecap and leaned back so the cat could hop into his lap. "Daddy says hi, Rox."

"Mrow~"

"You're right. It's time to go to bed."

Chapter Text

It has been 10 months, 11 days, 8 hours, 42 minutes, and 15 seconds since Sora turned the phone on with a battery from his precious keepsake; a heart to keep TRON alive. The program spent many microcycles watching over his dear friend acting as his only companion in The Void.

Sora was definitely not like other users. Even when he was like this...emaciated...tired...lonely, he never ceased to smile at TRON or thank him for anything. Sometimes he would lose his temper when he didn't understand something, but TRON knew there was no real malice or hurt intended in his outbursts, which were far and few in between to begin with. In fact, any show of emotion was beginning to be a less frequent occurrence, something that troubled TRON immensely.

Sora's bright eyes were beginning to look empty and the effort to even smile began to look almost strenuous. Under the dim glow of the gummi ship controls and monitors and the light of the visions that poured in through the window, TRON watched as Sora slowly began to waste away. He missed the days when Sora would talk about whatever random thought came to mind, how he'd light up when he talked about his friends, his husband, his family. They reminisced about their own adventures together. Sora would even ask him questions and he'd answer back with what limited memory he had stored in Sora's device. After all, he'd been offline for quite a while now.

He even missed seeing Sora cry. At least then he knew Sora was feeling anything at all. Sora would say over and over that he'd know the right vision because he'd feel Riku calling for him, but now TRON wondered if he'd be able to. Watching out the window has become an obsession to the point Sora barely devoted the energy to anything else, especially sadness, or even taking care of himself. So Sora became TRON's new self-appointed purpose, his functions revolving around ensuring Sora's needs were being fulfilled.

At first, things weren't so bad. Sora was confident there was enough food to survive for a year. However, beyond his personal food items, the only food available were non-perishable items, bare amenities, protein bars and canned soups and the like. When his favorite foods ran out, Sora took to rationing much more seriously. Even now there wasn't a shortage, but at least three months ago, TRON noticed Sora had seemed to stop eating, claiming to not be hungry and choosing to sip water or potions instead. But TRON knew he was hungry. He would count the hours between Sora's meals and he could hear his stomach, whether he wore his armor or not. He wondered if it was because the food tasted bland, but even before, Sora had done this or that to mix things up. But then he realized Sora had come to the realization that the longer he spent worrying about what he ate, the longer he was away from the window. After that, it was like a switch had been turned off. No more experimenting with protein bar flavors. Then he spaced the time out between meals, then he only bothered eating one a day. Then TRON had to start reminding him to eat.

The program began to wonder if he had begun to starve just to feel anything at all, but he couldn't bear to ask about it. All he could do was keep gently pushing him and remind him. Not long after he stopped eating on his own, Sora stopped other things to, or at least he tried. Anything that would be a distraction had to go. He showered less, held it in until he couldn't stand it anymore, even sleeping stopped being a priority. But TRON also figured it had something to do with the nightmares. Sora used to be much more agreeable about sleep, even taking naps. At least in dreams he could be out of the ship and be with his friends. But as the nightmares accumulated and the realization that Riku wasn't coming sank in, his enthusiasm for sleep became less and less. Now he goes for three or four days at a time without sleep, even if TRON does his best to coax him.

Holidays were another distraction that had to go. When Sora's 22nd birthday came around, TRON surprised him by singing happy birthday and gifted him a remix of his two favorite songs and even suggested they make him a pretend cake out of protein bars and what was left of the peanut butter. It seemed to do the trick...for a little while. But soon after Sora remembered the other birthdays he was missing, the holidays with friends...so after that TRON stopped. Even "Talk Like a Pirate Day" was just a painful reminder of how much time had passed.

It also didn't help that Sora's hair was getting longer. He even had a beard growing, the razor well-worn beyond salvaging three months into "the game". It was a patchy beard to be sure, and at first Sora was amused, using his comb to idly play with it while he kept an eye out the window, joking about his hair and comparing himself to Rapunzel. Then he thought about Riku's long hair and then suddenly it wasn't as amusing anymore.

Everything was numbers now. For every 467 visions, 1 would pertain to Sora's lifetime with a 24% chance it even pertained to HIS timeline. There was a 3.7% chance he'd see one of these in a day. The first satellite Sora sent a kingstagram post on appeared 7 months, 6 days, 4 hours, 10 minutes, and 4 seconds ago. There was a 1.3% chance of one ever showing up again.

Sora hated the numbers.

37 hours since he ate.

31 hours since he had a full 6 hours of sleep.

10 minutes since his last sip of water.

47 hours since his last shower.

4 hours since he last got up from his chair.

3 weeks since he's laughed.

2 weeks since he's cried.

"You need to sleep," TRON reminded him again.

"I'm fine," Sora insisted quietly, his head rolling forward as though defeated.

He's not fine. TRON knows this. Users need sleep, food, water, space, and sunlight. The inside of a cockpit is no place for anybody, not for this long. The program's heart ached to see him this way. He desperately wanted to help, to do something other than be a voice to remind Sora to keep moving. He needed to keep him going some other way, even if just for a moment. He knows Sora will succeed, but he needs to hang on.

Sora's chest glowed as did the gummi phone, and TRON found himself standing before Sora, who looked up at him with teary eyes.

"Why...?"

"Your heart summoned me," the program answered. It was the only explanation he could think of. Sora needed him.

He's only been summoned once before. The user world was much different then what he was used to. Moving feels different. There's smell. There's weight. There should be light, too, but not here.

"I really want to help you," TRON said as soon as he saw the look of weak protest on Sora's face. Why were the words hard to say?

"TRON...I--"

"No buts." TRON wouldn't let him speak, instead choosing to gingerly lift him from his chair in a motion that made Sora wince and TRON faltered for a moment. Despite the armor the young man was wearing, Sora felt incredibly light in his arms. Too light. He's never lifted him before, but he knew this wasn't right. TRON's heart clenched, but he steeled his resolve to carry Sora down to the sleeping quarters.

The brunette suddenly starts crying softly, his armor dismissing itself as he clings to TRON's shoulders.

He's so thin.

He tries to set him down, but Sora holds on desperately. "It'll be okay. I'll keep watch. Trust me, Sora," TRON pleaded.

"Please, don't go!" His voice was raspy, choked despite all the water he had been drinking, as if his voice was weak from a lack of use. "Stay!"

TRON knows he has about 30 more seconds left. He sits down and holds Sora for every single one.

A phone call was made the day after that. 3 months, 2 weeks, 3 days, 2 hours, and 15 minutes ago. A phone call lasting 2 minutes and 47 seconds. It kept him going.

* * *

Sora found the way out after 1 year, 6 days, 9 hours, 37 minutes, and 17 seconds of looking.

"TRON, can you turn on the auto-pilot?" he asked while lowering his keyblade, the guiding beam having lit their way and led them out.

"Activating auto-pilot. What's our heading?"

There was silence.

"Sora?"

The brunette appears to have fallen asleep, a peaceful smile on his face.

"Sora?" TRON tried to call out one more time, but still the man would not rouse.

"MASTER SORA!" Dale called over the radio. "Is that you!?"

"It's us!" TRON responded on Sora's behalf. "Sora's out! We need a heading."

"Turning on remote navigation. We'll take you home!" Chip shouted.

It was 5 minutes and 22 seconds before Sora's ship, Excalibur, arrived in the hangar. All the while TRON called for him to wake up.

Riku came clamoring into the gummi ship almost immediately upon landing.

"Sora! Sora!" TRON could hear him shout and watched from the console as Riku deactivated Sora's armor and try to wake him.

He could only watch as Riku gently shook him. If he had breath, he'd be holding it.

Then finally, Sora opened his eyes. Relief washed over everybody in the cabin, including TRON.

"Hey, handsome," he heard Sora murmur.

"Hey, beautiful," Riku cried.

The ship hummed as it was shut off and TRON went offline.

Chapter Text

When Sora found the vision to take them home, it felt surreal. There was no fanfare, no "A-ha!" moment, nothing of the sort.

He felt Riku. He summoned his keyblade. The light of their hearts connected, just like so many paths he has opened before, and he went through the Vision. It didn't even look all that special. In fact, if he hadn't felt Riku, he wouldn't have paid it any attention. It just looked like any other expanse of stars.

But once he was on the other side, he felt like he could finally rest. After he saw Riku's smile, he slept for a week.

When he awoke, it felt almost business as usual, to him, at least. Everybody else was fussing over him a lot. He just wanted things to go back to normal.

He told them about seeing BoB, how he claims to have a new apprentice lined up. All they can do is keep an eye out. But in the meantime, Sora has been benched.

This was fine, he decided. He missed home. He missed tending to his garden, petting his cat, reading on his couch...he missed Riku.

The anxiety wasn't as bad this time. This time... He hated that. Hated that this has happened multiple times.

Riku wasn't okay. Too long without Sora had affected him on a deeper level. Facing the fact that there could be dangers that even he couldn't save Sora from was almost too much for him to accept. He benched himself.

It was nice, the two of them recovering together, but Sora couldn't shake off his shame.

"I'm the worst husband ever," he chuckled bitterly. "Only married for four months and I disappeared."

"Four months and three weeks," Riku corrected. "And you didn't disappear. You came back. It's...part of the job."

"This job sucks," Sora snorted.

The two of them laughed. They had to.

Riku noticed Sora thinking to himself a lot. He'd get out of bed on his own, sit alone, stare at the ocean alone. When Riku joined him, he would smile brightly and scoot close, as if he knew Riku would show up anyway. It was a while before Sora talked like himself again. He'd start many times, but stop himself as if he wondered if it was too much to say what was on his mind.

The things he saw...Riku could only imagine how heavily they weighed on Sora's heart. The nightmares he was finally able to see were enormous and plenty. But Riku prevailed, and in a few months Sora was sleeping more soundly.

"When are you going to cut your hair?" Sora asked him one day.

With an amused chuckle, Riku realized both their ponytails were pretty much the same length. "When are you going to cut yours?" he asked cheekily.

"Together?" Sora asked.

"Together," Riku agreed.

At the top of the cliff beside their house, they took turns cutting off each other's ponytails and threw them into the sea. It was like saying good-bye to the sadness they each carried, the tide washing it away just like time inevitably will. Of course, after that they immediately went to Sora's mom to get it fixed.

Getting Sora to give up his short beard was a different sort of struggle. "Trimming it is a lot harder than growing it," he complained.

Riku wasn't sure that's what the problem was, however. If anything, he was almost certain Sora didn't want to shave it off because he didn't want people seeing how gaunt his face looked until he had put on more weight.

"How are you going to give me kisses if you don't shave, though?" Riku asked.

"You saying you don't want to kiss me if I have a beard?" Sora asked mournfully, the puppy eyes on at full blast. "Am I hideous?"

Riku covered his mouth as he tried to hold back a laugh. "No, of course not. But it's itchy and scratchy! Wouldn't you feel better without it?"

"I think it makes me look very distinguished," Sora argued while playing with the two inch length on his chin.

"You can't be the only one of us with a beard. I won't allow it!" Riku huffed.

"Then grow yours!"

"No way! My cousins will call me GRANDPA Riku!"

Sora bent over cackling. "Okay, okay! I'll get rid of it. But you better give me a billion kisses when I'm done."

"I'll give you a billion and one," Riku grinned.

Riku thought rescuing Sora from BoB the first time was the worst he'd ever seen the brunette. Even then, Sora had gotten pretty skinny, but it did nothing to prepare him for how frail Sora looked when he got back. Even now Riku can't shake the image from his worst nightmares, but maybe that was also because he had so many questions. It didn't make sense. There were still plenty of rations on the ship. Why didn't Sora eat? The brunette couldn't answer him. Even now his appetite appears to be affected, which is to be expected. He's eating and he enjoys cooking, but he seems to get more enjoyment out of watching Riku eat that he does actually eating it himself. "I just don't feel as hungry..." he would say quietly if Riku caught him staring.

When Sora finally REALLY started talking again, he had ideas: Plans for a future where the worlds would be reunited. He spoke to their elders, had long discussions with the King, and eventually held meetings with all the masters. Riku watched in awe as his best friend and partner flourished into a determined leader before his eyes, on and off the battlefield. Together all of them made plans for the future of the worlds, determined to support Sora's vision. Aqua and Terra's school wasn't just going to be a school for keyblade wielders. It was going to be a school for the next ambassadors of peace, advocates of world order and union.

It was going to be a long journey, but Sora thinks they're well on their way and Riku believes him.

With all his heart.

Chapter Text

While still recovering from his ordeal, Sora thought he owed it to everyone to figure out the next move, or at least predict what might happen next. But that's the thing, he's not a wizard like Yen Sid or Merlin or an all-knowing fairy godmother. There was only one thing he seemed to be good at, and that was making friends...and getting into trouble. Okay, so maybe two things.

In front of him in the den he had a lot of paper, his gummi phone, and lots of colorful pens. Once he settled into his favorite cushion, he felt ready to work.

"So...what are you doing, exactly?" Riku asked as he eyed the stationery supplies the brunette had spread out.

"Predicting the future...I think," Sora answered without a lot of confidence.

"Oh...I see. Um...how?" Riku didn't want to discourage Sora, but this behavior was a little strange.

"I don't know. I'm just going to start from the beginning and work my way up!"

"Okay. I'll just make some lemonade, then."

"Thank you~" Sora grinned and blew a kiss to Riku before getting down to work. First he wrote down what he knew. "Time traveling can only happen when somebody knows you in the time period you're traveling to and your heart needs to have a place to go." He wrote BoB on a piece of paper and drew six lines, each representing the foretellers. "We know most about Luxu, AKA Xigbar. Xigbar is how BoB and the foretellers got to the present. But what about Ven? How did Ven come across Xehanort?" Already he was at a dead end, and Ven was in no state to answer, even if he wanted to, having had his heart broken and repaired TWICE. Vanitas wouldn't know either. "This sucks. I'm at a stalemate," he growled as he dropped his marker and gripped his hair in frustration. It's just like BoB said. "All I've done is stall everything. I don't know what to do." He pressed his palms into his eye sockets as he groaned. "If Bob were to come back, he'd need somebody here who knows him. Ven doesn't know Bob directly but...wait...we ALL know Bob now. If anything, even I have made an unwilling connection. Or...does it only work if I knew him from back then, too?"

He sighed and fiddled with another piece of paper. "Ven knew Master Gula...so if Gula came back, he could then call Bob...I guess. But would he?" His eyes widened as a thought occurred to him. "Darkness acted like it knows Bob..."

By now Riku had come back with a glass of lemonade for Sora and can see the man had become pale. "What is it?"

Sora accepted the glass with shaky hands and took a sip before answering. "Nothing...just...I think we made the right call. I feel like Ven is the key to so much. With Darkness sealed away, whatever plans Bob may have are stalled, I'm sure of it. But for how long, I just don't know. He mentioned an apprentice, but said we don't know them yet."

"Maybe now isn't the time to think about these things," Riku suggested gently as he looked down at the pile of blank paper saved for the hastily written foreteller names and a bunch of question marks. He gently shoved them away and sat next to Sora to wrap an arm around him. "You're still recovering. You shouldn't push yourself."

"I know, but I saw so many things...there has to be a reason why."

"You'll figure it out. But you can't force yourself," the silverette pleaded softly before kissing Sora's cheek. "Now what do you want for dinner?"

"I'm not hungry."

"Fine, what do you want to watch me eat until you DO get hungry?" he teased.

Sora giggled. "Maybe spaghetti?"

"Sounds great," Riku smiled.

. . .

"Love comes in many forms, but I think the most powerful love is unconditional love. The one where you love no matter what. It's a love that I only have for one person at the moment, but to have unconditional love for everybody, that would take a strong heart."

But you have the capacity. You love practically everybody you meet, befriend them, even try to call them back once they had fallen.

Sora knew Darkness wasn't praising him. "That's just being a good friend."

If that's how you see it, we think this grand plan of yours might be doomed to fail.

"I don't want people to think it's going to take much for change. The easier it sounds, the more likely it will happen."

Or it will sound so unbelievable that nobody would give it a chance.

"There's that too," Sora admitted with a sheepish grin.

We can't wait to see this ugly paradise of yours.

"What makes you think it will be ugly?"

Most might call it that. Mix water with dirt, you get mud.

Sora quirked an eyebrow in confusion. "You're calling darkness dirt?"

That's how they see us.

"No, more like...oil, maybe."

Darkness grunted with annoyance. Still doesn't help the metaphor.

They had a point; oil and water don't mix, and oil kills things living in water, but it's useful, too. Sora let out a sigh. "There was this story I heard as a kid. A fairy tale of a princess who planted flowers of every color in her garden. Not a weed to be found. But the more beautiful flowers she planted, the duller her kingdom became, until the garden appeared to be nothing but gray."

Darkness says nothing.

"So a pure bright world would lose its color. You can't appreciate light without the dark. Having darkness without overwhelming the light would be best for both, I think."

You keep saying that, but not everybody would agree with you. They don't want conflict, strife...they want everything easy.

"Do they? I don't think so. Not from what I've seen."

You have your work cut out for you.

"Hm."

Xehanort chose darkness because he didn't think the light could win. He tried to use it a as a means to create his perfect world. You think you're any different?

"Yes. I'm not picking either side."

* * *

At the Land of Departure, Sora was spending time with Aqua who kept adding changes to her wedding gown. The wedding was in three weeks. She and Terra have been putting it off until Sora got home. The brunette felt incredibly guilty when he found out, but Aqua assured him that they wouldn't have felt right having the wedding without him. After all, if it weren't for him and the others, she and Terra probably would never have been reunited. She really wanted him and Riku to be there.

"It looks beautiful, Aqua!" Sora gasped at the gorgeous blue and white gown that glittered with delicate beading that he could tell was made from crushed synthesis materials that made it sparkle brilliantly.

"Thank you, Sora. I think it's almost done. Then I can finally give my fingers a break!" she giggled.

"Terra's going to love it! I hope he's putting as much work into his outfit!" he laughed.

"Anything he makes would fall apart at the altar," she snickered. "The fairies offered to help." She smiled but as she fingered the beads, her smile faltered ever so slightly. "I found my master's diary."

"Oh?" Sora tilted his head at the subject change. Then again, Aqua must be sad about her master not being here to see his students get married.

"He was in love, once. I...had no idea. After I figured it out, everything seemed to make much more sense."

"What made more sense?" the brunette blinked.

"He...loved Master Xehanort," she said in a voice barely above a whisper.

Sora swallowed hard. That must not have been easy information for Aqua, Terra, or Ven to process either. It only further supported the fact that the man they all hated may have once been a good person if their Master really cared for him that much...and still cared for him if he managed to deceive him even after all those years later. "Aqua..."

She wiped a tear from her eye. "It's fine. I'm sorry I brought it up. I just...I think about him all the time, you know? I wonder if he'd be proud of everything we're trying to accomplish."

"He is proud! I know he is. How could he not be?" Sora smiled.

"Thanks, Sora," she smiled back before looking her dress over. "Do you think it needs more?"

Sora snatched the box of rhinestones from her hand. "GIVE YOUR FINGERS A BREAK!"

She laughed as she tried to snatch them back. "Sora!"

"No way, I'm cutting you off!"

* * *

Terra and Riku were outside "supervising" two of the first new students that have come to their school as they played with Master Ventus. They hadn't meant to start teaching this soon, but Ventus found them in a bad situation and asked to bring them. They haven't gone through the keyblade ceremony yet, since they're both only eight years old, but for the time being they are training with wooden ones when they aren't asking Master Ventus to play with them.

Terra watched the three play as the sun was beginning to set. "Riku..."

"Hm?" the silverette turned his head to look at the elder Master.

"This plan that Sora has...what do you think of it? Truly?"

"Where's this coming from?" Riku asked suspiciously. Did Terra have an issue with the direction Sora was suggesting they go in? If he did, why hadn't he said anything?

"I just wonder if it's truly what you think is best or if..."

Riku's eyes narrowed. He doesn't like what he's implying. "You think I just blindly do whatever Sora says? Is that how you think of me?"

"I'm just asking, in the heat of the moment, are you SURE that Darkness didn't influence Sora in some way in order for him to make that decision? The decision to imprison Darkness in himself?"

"I'm positive!" Riku answered firmly. "Darkness was just as surprised as I was. Even Sora didn't know until that moment. In fact, Darkness had counted on us not having our combined keyblade at all. It thought it knew Sora well enough that it was confident that it convinced Sora earlier to break our bond, thereby destroying our ability to summon it. It bet wrong."

"Your dream eater connection...and you're still not breaking it off?" he asked.

"No, especially not now when Darkness is threatening Sora with nightmares. If it's where it wants to be, why would it have threatened Sora?"

Terra says nothing.

"I get it. You were possessed for over a decade. But that hasn't and won't happen to Sora. I won't let it."

"My own master was deceived. I don't want what happened to him to happen to you as well. Xehanort may have been good once. My master would not have cared for him so much if he wasn't. But something happened to change him. That something could happen to Sora too. If you just ignore that possibility, you're both doomed to follow the same path as those two."

"It won't happen that way. I won't let it. We're not...we're not like those two."

"I know," Terra smiled. "You're better."

Chapter Text

"I wasn't sure how long I was going to be stuck there...conserving food and power made me feel like I was winning somehow. The more I saved, the more I thought I was ensuring I would see Riku again. I guess...somewhere along the way I got mad at myself if I gave in to my hunger. "I could've lasted a little longer." or "I wasn't that hungry." or "I didn't need to sleep, the shields could've stayed off for a few more hours."...these were the kinds of thoughts I would have."

Sora is 25 now and is still going to therapy, as is Riku, now 26. Fairy Godmother is a wonderful and patient listener. While not a licensed therapist by any means, she had a warm and comforting presence without judgement. They saw her separately once a week. Sometimes they went together, but some things were easier to say without the other there. Admitting that was hard at first. In fact, they both felt guilty for feeling that way, but it was easier when they admitted it to each other and found out the feeling was mutual. Fairy Godmother assured them it was perfectly healthy to feel this way about some things. After all, they're their own people, and not wanting to share some things NOW doesn't mean they won't want to share them in the future, nor does it mean they love each other any less.

Even after doing this for nearly a year now, Sora still continued to feel lighter after every session. It took a long time for him to open up after he got back. He thought time on its own would be enough to heal, but when his eating habits still didn't improve, something had to change. The knowledge weighing on his heart felt lifted knowing that somebody else knows what he does. It was different from talking to Master Yen Sid or Riku. Both were good to talk to, of course, but Fairy Godmother didn't clench her fists with worry, nor did she close her eyes and stroke her beard while considering the ramifications of such knowledge or his actions.

His heart is burdened with much knowledge now of other worlds, of other futures beyond this one. He had seen so many pasts, presents, and futures, seen the struggles and triumphs of so many. Not only has he had glimpses into the stories of so many people, but he's felt the sorrow of so many hearts, their sorrow, their joy, their pain, their love. There was so much that he didn't dare let himself process in the moment, not after he struggled so much with it after the first six months. It would've been easier to just turn it all off, to not care, to not allow himself to feel. But doing that would mean cutting himself from feeling Riku, and then he would've really been lost. To feel for Riku meant feeling for everybody else too. Somewhere along the way, he really might have stopped feeling for a while if it weren't for Tron reaching out to him. He can't remember that month. He's pretty sure that's how long it was. A month of bleak darkness amongst a seemingly never-ending sea of despair. He had hurt so much for so long that he had become numb. But it took the warm touch of a friend to snap him out of it and it kept him going.

But now knowing what he does now, he feels a sense of responsibility, a responsibility to use it wisely to aid in the future he wants to build. But these things take time and first he needs to get his strength back. He's been recovering at a good pace. Body fat slowly returning at a healthy rate. Appetite slowly improving. But there was a long period where he unintentionally hoarded food in the kitchen, buying extras for missions and overstocking the gummi ship "just in case". It wasn't just eating normally, either. He needed to regain the muscle he had lost. Turns out sitting around in a ship for a year isn't very good for your keyblade-swinging arm. He had tried to combat this in the first month of being trapped, but he became so obsessed with making sure he kept an eye on everything that he just skipped it, opting to exercise again when he was finally free of that hell hole.

After each session, he liked to go home and tend to his herb garden. Basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme...all had wonderful smells that helped bring his appetite back. He would then go and make a lunch for him and Riku. Sometimes they would talk, but other times they wouldn't and lounge around, enjoying each other's company while fighting off the urge to nap. Today Sora wanted to talk. He wanted to talk like they did during their honeymoon, when they were happy and anything felt possible. It was only four years ago, but it felt so long ago now.

Lovemaking was another thing that suffered a smidge when Sora had gotten back. He was so skinny and frail that even being held by Riku hurt, no matter how badly he wanted to be wrapped up in his arms. Riku knew it, too, and handled him like glass. He was so sweet and gentle that Sora would often cry and also be so frustrated because he missed when they could just passionately bury themselves in each other with abandon. But they were patient with each other and built themselves back up. Over time becoming more in tune with each other than ever before.

Their love was deeper and more complete than it's ever been but maybe it was finally time to share it with another, Sora wondered.

"Riku..."

"Hm?"

"I've been thinking..."

"Sounds painful," Riku joked playfully as they idly swung on their bench swing.

Sora couldn't help giggling, though he was hoping to approach this topic a little more seriously. "Do you ever think about Even's offer?"

"Mm-hmm. You?"

"Yeah, especially lately."

Riku nodded and squeezed Sora's hand with a soft smile. "Do you think..."

"I mean, I'll admit I'm a little scared. But they say you're never REALLY ready to be a parent. You just go for it. And I think...I think I want to. But only if you do, too!"

"I think...I think we are ready. I know we have plenty of love to give. That's all you really need, right?"

Sora smiled happily at his husband. "Right!"

"So...are we going to make the call?"

"Yes!"

"We're doing this?"

"We're doing this!"

Riku pulled him closer into a deep kiss, his heart so full he thought it was going to burst. Sora was so overwhelmed with joy that he cried as he held Riku tightly.

Both were so overjoyed they almost forgot they still had to make the phone call. They decided to call the next day after they calmed themselves down a bit. After all, this was a big decision. For tonight, they made a lavish dinner and opened a bottle of wine, talking all about it as they walked around the house and imagined sharing it with a baby. It was like seeing their home in a whole new light as they tried to decided which room would be the nursery.

"How long do you think it takes to make a baby?" Sora asked.

Riku sipped his wine with a chuckle. "Usually nine months."

"No, I mean for Even to make one, obviously. We'll need time to prepare."

"I'm sure it'll take some time. After all, this isn't a replica. It's a whole new person, a BABY person at that."

"We'll have to be sure to ask him."

"Just be glad you don't have to carry it for nine months like a typical child," Riku snickered.

"Wait, why would it be ME carrying it?" Sora huffed while taking another sip. "You're stronger than I am, so it'd make more sense if YOU were the baby carrier."

"Yeah, but you have better birthing hips," Riku grinned while wrapping an arm around Sora's waist. "And you have a cuter butt," he added before giving said butt a firm squeeze.

Sora reddened. "What does my butt have to do with any of that?"

Riku shrugged, "I heard a bigger butt means your kids will have a better immune system."

Sora snorted and playfully shoved Riku away. "Imagine either of us being pregnant. You'd be grumpy all the time," the brunette predicted.

It was Riku's turn to huff this time as they walked to the living room to sit on the couch. "Yeah, well you'd probably whine all the time."

"Of course I would! Being pregnant is hard!"

The two broke down in a fit of giggles. "Well thankfully we get to skip that part," Riku smiled as he grabbed the wine bottle and topped off both their glasses. "I have a feeling the baby might sleep in our room for a little bit, so that might give us more time to set up a nursery."

"No way! There's no working on a nursery when the baby's here. We wouldn't have the time or energy!" Sora pointed out.

"So which room then?"

"Maybe the empty room beside ours? The one we've been using for storage?"

"I guess that's as good as any. But when they're older we should move them further away, I think."

"Definitely," Sora agreed.

Riku looked around the living room. "We have a LOT of baby-proofing to do."

Sora's face fell, "You're right. We'll need baby gates everywhere, too."

"This is going to be a lot of work!" Riku laughed.

"Changing your mind?"

"Not a chance," the silverette grinned as he gave Sora a kiss.

Sora giggled and returned the sweet kiss. "So when do we tell everybody?" he asked as he nuzzled into Riku.

Riku hummed thoughtfully as he wrapped an arm around him. "Hmm, maybe a few days after we talk to Even. Let's allow ourselves some time to celebrate by ourselves, first."

Sora nodded. "I like that idea. So...baby shower before or after?" he giggled.

"How are these things done? Usually it's before, right? So everybody can give you baby stuff?"

"Yeah, but part of me kinda wants to do it after? Maybe the day after so we can get a chance to be acquainted before everybody else sees them?"

"Maybe...we can bring everybody to Radiant Garden so they can be with us and have the party then?"

"Hmm...like they would be if they were in the waiting room for a typical birth?"

"Yeah, something like that. And then we can have the party at our place later."

"Yeah, I think that would be fun. Plus, I don't think we would want to share the news with EVERYBODY right away, you know?"

"Right, I was just thinking that, too."

"What about names?" Sora asked while he sipped his wine thoughtfully.

"Something simple like ours," Riku replied quickly.

Sora nodded, "Unisex, too. I don't want to know the gender until we see them. I want it to be a surprise."

"I like that idea. Come to think of it, our names are unisex, too.

"Mm-hmm. Maybe we should name them after a star."

Riku smiled at the thought. "I like the idea, but a lot of the stars have long names."

"That's true, and named after animals. Hmm..."

"Flower name?"

"Don't things named after flowers die young?" Sora blinked.

"That's morbid."

"Tree? Fruit?"

"Nuh-uh."

"Hmm...I'm still stuck on star names."

"How about just that? Star?"

"Just star?" Sora blinked.

"Hm...needs work."

"We'll think of something. Maybe we just have to feel it."

"You think we'll know when we see them?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. Plus, we can look for ideas in the meantime. There are tons of books, after all."

"That is true."

"But let's not overthink it, either."

"Agreed."

"I like two syllable names," Sora smiled up at Riku.

"Two syllables sounds perfect."

"That should narrow it down," the brunette giggled.

"Totally," Riku snorted.

A comfortable silence fell between them for a time as sipped their wine, both flushed with excitement and their minds reeling as they imagined raising a child together...and so soon! It was going to become a reality. The more they thought about it, the more they scooched together until Sora was in Riku's lap and Riku's arms were wrapped around him, holding him tightly while Sora idly played with the fabric of his shirt. "So...what about everything else?"

"Everything else?" Riku asked quietly.

"You know, the traveling...the plans...all of it."

"I guess the practical thing would be to take turns working until the baby is old enough to come with us."

"And school?" Sora stared down into his wine glass. "Do we want them to pick up a keyblade?"

"I think that should be up to them."

"Yeah...that seems fair. So until then, normal school, you think?"

"Middle school on the islands?"

"Maybe grade school and then decide? It would be EASIER if they could go to Aqua and Terra's school. At least we'd know they're safe. But then again, I'm sure our parents would love to look after them if we needed to be away."

"We'll figure it out," Riku sighed. This was a lot to think of at once.

"Terra and Aqua make it look so easy," Sora pouted.

"At least our little one will have plenty of friends to play with," Riku smiled.

"For sure," Sora grinned.

"We may be getting a baby differently than everybody else, but I want everything else to be as close to..."

"Normal?" Sora asked.

Riku shook his head. "Not normal. Just...I want our baby to know they're loved and not have to feel like they're any different."

"Well they're going to be special, no doubt about that. They'll be ours, after all," Sora laughed.

"Of course," Riku smiled. "But what do we tell them when they inevitably ask?"

The brunette giggled again, surprising Riku a little bit. "We lie like all parents do!"

Riku laughed. "Of course!"

Sora laughed harder, "But our lie will be the BEST lie. Something fantastical so they'll feel special but also the truth."

"So no stork or cabbage patch for our kid, huh?"

"Definitely not! Maybe something like your grandpa said about your grandma."

"That she came from another world?"

"Yeah! But if we're naming them after a star, we can say they came from the sky. Another world is technically the truth, and the worlds are in the sky. So we'll just tell them we wished upon a star and POOF!"

Riku laughed. "And then after? How old before we tell them?"

"Guess that depends on whether or not they can handle the truth," Sora answered a little more solemnly. "Fifteen? By then they might understand better and they'll be able to ask questions."

Riku nodded. "It sounds easy enough, but I worry about other people asking too."

"Other people?" Sora tilted his head.

"Sora, two married men just showing up with a baby that looks either/or both of us? They'll ask questions."

"Right. They're not adopted. They're ours. And that's what we'll tell them."

"Just like that?"

"That's all anybody needs to know," Sora answered firmly. "There is no mother. He has us. He's ours."

"He?" Riku chuckled.

"Oops!" Sora laughed. "Or she!" he corrected himself.

"I know we're doing this randomly, but what are your guesses?" Riku asked.

"Boy," Sora answered honestly. "Plus, if we have more, I like the idea of our kids having a cool older brother," he chuckled.

"Of course you would," Riku rolled his eyes playfully.

"Well what's your guess then, wise guy?"

"I think you're right. But I'd be thrilled to have a girl, too."

"I know our moms sure would," Sora snickered.

The two continued to talk for hours, long after the bottle of wine was empty. By the time they got themselves to bed, the sun was coming up, but even then, they found it hard to get settled. Fueled by giddiness and good wine, Sora found himself straddling Riku's hips as they got into bed. "I can't wait to have a baby with you," he whispered as he stared down at the gorgeous love of his life.

Riku hummed appreciatively as he stirred his hips beneath Sora's and gripped his hip bones in his hands. "You know, we might be skipping the pregnancy part, but we could still do the fun part."

Sora's face flushed as he ground his hips back into Riku's. "So...I guess I'm carrying after all, huh~"

"We can take turns," Riku smirked before turning the light off. "But you're first!"

Chapter Text

Riku ran his tongue over Sora's lower lip as his fingers traced constellations into the scars on his husband's back, causing the other to moan wantonly, his hot breath intermingling with his. Sora was whining and pleading for him, their sweaty bodies flush as they gripped and writhed against each other. Sora reached his tongue out to meet Riku's and they swallowed each other again, their kiss messy and lips barely staying connected as their bodies bucked into each other.

"So tell me how you felt when you first saw him in the gummi ship," Fairy Godmother inquired gently.

"I was so happy but then I was so scared when I saw he wasn't awake. I thought I had lost him just as he had gotten back. But then he smiled at me and it was like the light had come back in my life again."

Fairy Godmother hummed fondly with a soft smile but said nothing as she waited for Riku to continue.

"But...I still have nightmares...about how he looked. He was skin and bones..." His voice wavered as he wiped at his eyes. "He had sores all over from sitting in his armor...and he was so pale. He had these dark circles under his eyes. I had never seen him that tired before. His hair had gotten so long. I almost didn't recognize him. I even thought...had he not had greeted me the way he did, would I have even thought he was my husband at all?"

"Oh dear."

"The fear came back when he slept again. I didn't leave his side the entire week. I devoured his nightmares so he could rest. The things I saw confirmed he had seen things that I could never imagine. Nightmares of children slaughtering each other. Thousands of hearts drifting up into a black sky. Homes being raided by bloodthirsty creatures. I tore the nightmares apart. I was so angry. I ripped them apart vengefully so he could rest. I didn't want him to cry anymore. And when he finally woke up...I felt useless."

"Useless? Why, dear?"

"Riku...Riku..." Sora moaned his name breathlessly as he clutched at his shoulders, his hips bouncing as he rode his hips, Riku's manhood sheathed deep inside of him.

"Sora...Sora!" Riku moaned in kind as he jerked his hips up to meet the bouncing brunette's movements, thrusting as deep as he could go just to watch Sora throw his head back as he cried out in pleasure, his chest thrust forward and his spine curved magnificently, an image that Riku wanted to have forever burned into his memory.

"Before...when he was hurt...my touch made him feel better. I could hold him and make his pain go away. This time...it hurts when I touch him...No matter how badly he wants me to, I can't bring myself to hold him as tightly as I want to because I know it will hurt. This time there's nothing I can do to help him and it scares me."

"I see."

"He's not the same as he was. But...that's okay, because neither am I. None of us are the same people we were yesterday or the day before, so we're definitely not the same as we were a year ago. But I think he wants to move on like it didn't happen and I'd like to give him that...but I also don't. I can't pretend that I didn't just spend a year worrying about whether or not my new husband is alive no more than he can pretend that he didn't go through what he just did. I think to do so...would just be a waste. Is that selfish of me?"

"I don't think so," she shook her head. "Pain is one of the ingredients for growth. There's no getting around it. But what you CAN decide is where that growth will take you. You can let let it take you into a dark corner or towards the sun."

Riku smiled. "You're absolutely right."

Riku poured his love into Sora and the brunette collapsed against his chest in a messy heap, their breaths racing as they wrapped their arms around each other. Hearts pounded against one another, beating loudly in their own ears as they recovered. "I love you," Riku whispered as he carded his fingers through Sora's sweaty locks. "I love you so much."

"I love you," the brunette whispered. "But...Don't...fall asleep..." Sora demanded as he breathed hotly into Riku's ear. "You're next."

. . .

After staying up all night and several rounds of "baby-making", the two were so exhausted they slept well into the afternoon. It wasn't until after Sora finished making them each a stack of pancakes that they remembered they were going to call Even today and then the giddy stomach butterflies were back in full force. They didn't want to just call and be all "Make the baby!". This was a big moment. So they went outside to calm their nerves, sitting on their favorite rug on the deck as they took in the afternoon sun.

It was a little chilly today. Spring had just sprung.

"Are we ready?" Sora asked, holding out his gummi phone with Even's name highlighted in his contacts.

"Yeah," Riku nodded. "Let's do it."

"Okay!" Sora smiled and hit the green icon. They held hands while the phone rang. Sora put it on speaker so they could tell Even together, their hearts racing together with every passing second.

"Hello?" Even picked up.

Sora felt his voice catch in his throat as he tried to speak and hurried to clear it. "Ahem, Even?" His voice squeaked and he slapped his palm over his face.

"Master Sora? Everything alright?""

The brunette dragged an embarrassed hand down his face. Riku was trying so hard not to laugh. "Want me to...?"

"Please!" Sora grumbled as he handed over the phone.

"Even, it's Riku."

"Good afternoon, Master Riku," Even greeted politely, but it was clear by his tone of voice that he was growing impatient, so Riku decided to cut straight to the chase.

"We've done a lot of talking, about your offer, that is."

"You have?" The tone of Even's voice was excited now and hopeful.

"Yes," Sora quickly chimed in. "If the offer is still on the table, we've decided to...to..."

"We've decided we're ready," Riku finished for him. "We want to start our family."

"Fantastic news. Then we better get started. How soon can you get here?"

"Uh..."

"If I drive, ten minutes!" Sora answered before dashing off to grab the keys to Excalibur parked down below.

"Wait, Sora--"

"See you in ten minutes," Even chortled. "Meet me at the gate when you arrive."

"Sure, thanks, Even!"

The scientist barely hung before Sora was back with keys in hand, who then grabbed Riku's hand and pulled him after himself to force him to jump off the deck with him. "Let's go!"

* * *

One quick gummi ship ride later, Riku was doubled over at the gate as he tried not to be sick. "You...promised...me..." he panted.

"yes, but this is a special occasion," Sora simply stated unapologetically as he patted Riku on the back.

After a moment, Riku straightened up. "If you weren't the father of my future children, I'd throttle you."

"Hehe," Sora giggled and gave Riku a kiss. "Lucky me~"

Even arrived and opened the gate to let them in. "My apologies. Normally you'd be able to open the gate on your own, but the security system has been a little uncooperative today."

"No worries," Sora assured him, though he was thinking to himself that locked doors don't really matter when you're a keyblade wielder as they followed him to his private lab, he and Riku's hands clasped between them.

On the giant monitor that took up most of the back wall, Sora and Riku could see both their data had been pulled up. On each side of the screen were rendered images of themselves that resembled blueprints, their characteristics mapped and bulleted and a constant stream of other data was listed in text boxes below those images. Between them was a blank box and one button that simply said "Go". Even proudly led them over to the keyboard. "If you're ready, both of you simply need to hit the space bar and the program will do the rest."

"Easy as that, huh?" Sora asked as both he and Riku hovered their fingers over it.

"Even, how long does it take to you know...make the baby?" Riku asked.

"If all goes well, three months from today, you'll have your very own child on July 31st."

"A Leo, huh?" Riku grinned.

"How do you know that off the top of your head?" Sora asked.

"I did a lot of reading while you were gone."

"Ahem," Even cleared his throat impatiently.

"Oh, right. We wanted it to be a surprise, right? So we should probably look away from the screen," Riku suggested.

"Oh, right!" The two of them turned away. "Wanna count us off, Even?" Sora asked.

"Certainly. On three. One, two...three!"

The two hit the space bar and they could hear beeping and booping from the computer as it randomized and compiled their data. Sora threw himself at Riku! "We did it! We did it, Riku!"

"Right!" Riku caught him and hugged him tightly. "In...in three months!"

"Hopefully you'll be prepared by then?" Even quirked an eyebrow.

"Yeah! Three months is plenty of time!" Sora cheered. Just then there was one last resounding eep from the computer behind them.

"Your data is compiled. Do you want to know the biological sex before I get started?" Even asked.

They both shook their heads. "We want it to be a surprise," Sora answered.

"If you're sure. Though it might be easier for you to pick a name if you narrowed it down."

"We're already picking a unisex name. So it should be fine," Riku nodded.

"Although..." Sora pondered. "Our moms are gonna want to know what cute clothes to splurge on."

"All the more reason NOT to know. We're not backing out now!" Riku laughed. "They're just gonna have to deal."

Even gave an amused smirk. "As you wish."

"And don't tell anyone either, Even," Sora grinned.

"My lips are sealed," he assured them. "I'll call you in three months."

With the two being dismissed, they thanked Even one last time before they let themselves out and made their way back the courtyard. The two walked in relative silence to the town square, hands clutched as they practically vibrated with excitement. "I know we said we'd take some time for ourselves before we told anybody the news..." Riku started.

"I know, I wanna tell them too!" Sora finished for him. "But who do we call first!?"

"Right!? I can't decide! This is just...it's so...!" Riku couldn't even find the words!

"I know!" Sora let go of Riku hands to clutch at his own hair in disbelief, his eyes as wide as saucers as if it was just now hitting him.

"We're...we're having a baby!" Riku almost shouted, his voice breathless with excitement. His own eyes were wide as was the smile on his face as he grabbed Sora's hands again, resisting the urge to bounce on the balls of his feet.

"We're having a baby!" Sora shouted loudly, smiling so broadly he was showing teeth. He for one could NOT stop bouncing as he gripped Riku's hands.

Riku couldn't hold it in anymore and held his arms out for Sora, who leaped at him with complete abandon. The two laughed giddily as Riku caught him and spun them both around happily. "I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!" he shouted.

"I love you too, Riku! I can't wait! AAAAAAAAAA!!!!" he screamed gleefully. "WE'RE HAVING A BABY!!!!"

"Wait, what?" Yuffie's voice rang out from behind them, stopping them dead in their tracks. "You two? Really!?"

Sora looked up at Riku. "We should call Kairi first!"

"Hey! Don't ignore me!" the ninja demanded, but Sora and Riku were already on their phones.

"What's going on?" Aerith asked, walking by with a basket full of flowers.

"Apparently they're having a baby," Yuffie told her with her arms crossed as she watched the two continue to freak out in the square.

Aerith clutched her basket. "A baby!? REALLY!?"

"Kairi!" Sora called. "We got big news!"

"What?" the redhead's voice answered, a little alarmed by the volume of Sora's voice.

"Riku and I are having a baby!"

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!" she screamed, her voice loud over the speaker. "OMIGOSH, WHERE ARE YOU!? Have you told anyone else??"

"No, you're the first," Riku told her.

"A baby!!!" Aerith squealed and ran over to hug the both of them. "I'm so happy for you!"

"Aerith!" they called out in surprise!

Kairi was still freaking out over the phone. "DON'T MOVE, I'LL BE RIGHT OVER!"

"We're in Radiant Garden!" Riku quickly told her before she hung up.

"Omigoodness, have you told your parents yet?" Aerith asked.

Sora shook his head. "Not yet, we were just going to call and--"

"You can't just say that over the phone!" Aerith gasped. "You need to announce it! Take them out to dinner, throw a party! It's your first baby, you need to make it big!"

The two looked to each other nervously. They've never seen Aerith this excited before. Suddenly they heard the whir of an engine above their heads. Kairi had arrived in her keyblade glider! She didn't even bother making a proper landing, her rose gold armor clanking as she jumped down and dismissed it, ripping off her helmet to greet the two with a face flushed with excitement. "BABY!" she shouted, throwing her arms around her two best friends and almost knocking them over. Happy tears streamed from her eyes and the boys found themselves crying too.

"Who died?" leon asked, walking by with Cid with boxes of spare gummi parts for the shop.

"They're having a baby!" Yuffie filled them in.

"Who?" Cid asked.

"Sora and Riku!"

"Wha--?" he gawked in disbelief, his toothpick falling from his mouth.

"That's great news," Leon smiled.

"Yeah, but they're causing a scene," Yuffie laughed.

"When's the baby due?" Aerith asked.

"Three months!" Sora and Riku answered excitedly.

Kairi and Aerith gaped. "That's not a lot of time!!!" they shouted, panicking on their behalf. They both grabbed Sora and Riku and dragged them to Aerith's place. "We got work to do!"

* * *

Kairi, Aerith, and Tifa helped them make a plan. Every detail was planned out for the next three months. But first, a party to announce the baby. They decided it would be best to prepare a dinner at their place and invite their families over. A nice picnic dinner on their beach sounded easy enough.

"Do we give out cigars or something?" Sora asked.

"Chocolate cigars, maybe. I don't think my parents have ever touched a cigar," Riku pondered.

"Mine neither," Sora laughed.

They shot ideas back and forth on how to make the announcement fun. They considered themed dishes or maybe a cake, but without the gender, they didn't know what colors to use.

"Maybe I can shoot fireworks or magic up a stork with a letter to interrupt dinner?" Sora suggested.

Riku hummed in thought. "Whenever my cousins make announcements, they showed off positive pregnancy tests or sonogram pictures, or they'd give little gifts that hinted at the news and let the parents figure it out. We don't have pictures or pregnancy tests though."

"And I'd feel weird asking Even to take a pic of the baby cooking. We know what blank replicas look like. They're not exactly..."

"Might be a little jarring, yeah," Riku agreed.

"Maybe we can set out little rattles? Next to the silverware?" Sora chuckled.

"How about..." Riku grinned. "They haven't been to the house in a while. They'll want to look inside. What if we left baby items laying out everywhere and have them figure it out?"

"OOH! Moms love to snoop! That'd be so fun! Now we just need to do some shopping!"

"Right! Let's go! We're burning daylight."

They had to go to the strip mall to find a baby supply store. On this side of the island, toys and things were traditionally homemade with a few exceptions so there wasn't a lot to choose from without going the extra distance to the inner "city". But they found a cute pair of baby shoes, baby bottles, a bib, wooden rattle, a few small stuffed animals, a couple of pacifiers, and a yellow onesie. After that, it was a rush to buy ingredients for dinner.

"Should we make deviled eggs?" Sora asked.

"Uh..." The idea of serving eggs at a baby announcement dinner...something about the imagery didn't sit right with Riku. They had talked about attempting a theme with the food. Sora even thought it'd be funny to serve baby food, like applesauce, peas and carrots, pureed things, and maybe even rice pudding. But Riku knew if they attempted to serve their families something like that, they'd invade the kitchen themselves and throw them out. So they decided on a meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and steamed veggies on the side with homemade dinner buns.

"Hey, Riku," Sora grinned as he put the buns in. "Bun's in the oven."

"Pfft, just don't burn them. I'll go hide the toys."

"Leave the bottle next to the sink," Sora laughed.

"Definitely," Riku grinned.

"Ooh! Maybe leave the onesie in the bathroom! On top of the hamper!"

"Perfect!" Riku gave a thumbs up and ran off to do just that while Sora finished making dinner. One by one, he hid the items in plain sight, places that one would normally find baby items but would make somebody do a double take if they actually noticed them in the house. He put the baby shoes with their own shoes by the front door. He put the bib on the outdoor picnic table where they'd be having dinner. He put the new stuffed animals next to Sora's childhood otter and the baby penguin he gave him for Christmas in the living room. He pulled out their childhood fairy tale books and stacked them on the end table with the wooden rattle resting on top. He even left a pacifier on the couch and one on the floor and he put the onesie on top of the clothes hamper as per Sora's suggestion.

Hopefully it'd be enough, but if they couldn't catch on, that's still okay. Before they knew it, they heard Riku's family car pulling up outside. Riku hurried back to the kitchen and Sora clasped his hands. "Are we ready?"

Riku smiled and kissed the tip of Sora's nose. "We're ready."

They ran down to greet their parents, exchanging hugs and pleasantries before inviting them up to the treehouse for a drink before dinner. The group happily agreed, though Sora could already tell Riku's mother was holding back questions about the decor of the place. It's been a while since any of them had actually been inside their home. Sora's mom just looked like she wanted to play with everything, her eyes wide and excited as she took in all the bright and colorful items they've decorated their home with. Riku's dad, however, had this look on his face that screamed to Riku that he knew something was up. He even saw him elbow Sora's dad and nod towards the shoes, who blinked quizzically. But if they were suspicious, they didn't let it on, so Sora invited them all to have a seat in the living room while Riku fetched the wine.

Sora made small talk for a little bit before excusing himself to go check on the meatloaf, leaving the parents alone for a minute. Riku was still in the kitchen struggling with the cork. Apparently he broke it.

"Just open another bottle," Sora giggled.

"That'd probably be a good idea," Riku huffed, frustrated with the shredded cork that would no longer hold the bottle opener screw.

"AAAAAAA!!!!"

The two heard the scream and hurried to the doorway to listen. "Your mom wins," Riku grinned.

"I knew she wouldn't let me down," Sora laughed. They could hear the other parents scrambling to check on her, but stayed back so they listen a little longer.

"What is it!?" Riku's mom asked. It sounded like they were near the bathroom.

"It's a...It's a..."

Sora tip-toed over to peek around the corner. Sora's mom was holding up a tiny yellow baby onesie and Riku's mom couldn't even seem to form words. Riku peered over top of Sora's head, leaning over him so he could see too. That dads looked toward the doorframe suspiciously, as if they felt they were being pranked. "Should probably grab some champagne instead," Sora whispered.

"Good call." Riku hurried to grab it from the fridge, one of the bottles they've saved from their honeymoon.

"Maybe they were babysitting," one of the dads argued to which Riku's mom retorted, "The tags are still on!"

Sora bit his fist to keep from laughing as he waited on Riku who hurried over and handed Sora some of the champagne glasses to carry. With one last nod to each other, they came out of hiding. Sora's dad noticed them first and smiled widely. he already looked like he had tears in his eyes. "That doesn't look like wine."

Sora and Riku laughed. "You're absolutely right...grandpa," Riku grinned

The moms SCREAMED and nearly caused Riku and Sora to drop all the glasses they were holding. They hurried to set them down so they could exchange bone-crushing hugs. The moms were squeezing them the hardest as they bawled their eyes out. Even Riku's dad was looking emotional. Finally the crying and hug mobbing stopped long enough for them to start pouring the champagne.

"Well come on! Don't keep us in the dark!" Sora's mom pleaded. "Tell us the details!"

"Yes, please," Sora's dad urged.

"I know I have a few questions," Riku's dad smirked.

"More than a few!" Riku's mom spoke up.

Sora laughed, "We can talk about all of it over dinner. For now let's have a quick toast to the newest member of our family!" The group clinked glasses together and shouted their congratulations. After a few sips, it was a rush to get dinner served outside so they can eat and talk.

Out on the beach, the area was lit with torches and candles while they ate at the picnic table. The meatloaf was a hit and the warm, filling meal seemed to calm them all a little as they filled their bellies. But when it came time to serve dessert (a pudding), they couldn't seem to hold back their questions any longer.

"So where's the little tyke coming from?" Riku's dad asked first.

Sora and Riku took a long sip of champagne. They had forgotten to discuss how they were going to explain this to their parents. "Well..." Sora started. "Um...they're coming from both of us."

Riku's mom raised a questioning eyebrow. "You got a surrogate?"

"Eh...kind of?" Sora looked to Riku for help.

Riku swallowed a bite of pudding before he answered. "We have a friend who...well..." he looked back to Sora, panicking a little, unsure if he could answer the question any better, but Sora gave him a little flick of his head to continue. "I guess we should explain some other things first."

Sora's eyes widened. He's right...they'd have to explain what replicas are, but is now really the time? "Umm...well...let's put it this way. We know a scientist and he umm...he offered to make us...a baby?" Sora explained cautiously.

"One that would have both our genetics," Riku quickly added. "It's a new science."

Sora's dad's eyebrows went really high. "A test tube baby? You know there's still an egg needed for that, right? So who's the egg donor?"

Riku and Sora blinked. This was going to be tricky. "There is no egg donor. The baby isn't...made that way," Sora tried to explain.

"The baby starts as an empty shell. It will grow just like any other person," Riku elaborated. "But the traits it has are given to it as data, like programming a computer. Sora and I...well, the scientist we know has data from us, down to the finest detail. We went to him today and randomized it, and whatever the computer came up with is what's going to determine the baby's DNA and what it will look like. So in every sense of the word, they're ours."

Riku's dad had the beginnings of a frown on his face. He looked puzzled and conflicted, to say the least. "Has...this friend of yours made others this way?" he asked carefully.

Sora looked to his mom. "Not specifically THIS way. But you have met people already who are here with us today thanks to his work. Before...their hearts and who they are would've been lost or trapped forever if they didn't have bodies of their own. Our friend made them vessels so they could live normal lives. And they're all doing great. So we have confidence that this baby will be just as amazing," Sora assured them.

"Others?" Sora's mom asked. "That we know?"

"What Even makes are called Replicas. They're copies of people that are close to the real thing. When they don't have a person to replicate, they're just empty shells. Naminé, Xion, Roxas...these are all people whose hearts now reside in replicas."

"But what happened to..." Riku's mom stopped herself. She wanted to know what happened to their original selves, but maybe this wasn't the right time. After all, this is supposed to be a celebration. "I mean, when can we expect the newest member of our family?" she asked instead.

"I think he said July 31st," Sora answered.

Their parents gasped. "That's not a lot of time!" Sora's mother cried.

"So we keep hearing," Riku smirked into his champagne glass.

Over dessert, the moms and dads made plans, offering to get them the required reading, helping with the nursery, and of course to dig the old baby furniture out of their attics. Sora and Riku were pleased to see them all excited again. This baby was going to be loved, that's for sure.

Chapter Text

Word had gotten out quickly that Sora and Riku were expecting, on and off island. Aqua told them that she too was expecting and was due that winter, of which Sora and Riku were overjoyed to hear. It was great having another new set of parents to talk to. Ariel had even sent news that she's had her own baby just over a year ago, and hopes they would bring their little one to meet baby Melody sometime.

The excitement was palpable and every day felt like a frenzy as they filled their days making preparations for the baby and reading books on the subject. "You know, I don't think I've ever held a baby," Sora realized.

"Well we gotta fix that quick," Riku laughed. He gave one of his cousins a call, one he actually liked. After screaming for joy, she was more than happy to invite them over so they could "practice" on her own new baby. They brought her a cake as a gift and congratulated her since they hadn't gotten to do so properly before. When she came out with her little boy, a tiny thing only three months old with a head full of fuzzy black hair, Sora suddenly felt really nervous. "He's so tiny!" he almost sobbed.

Riku's cousin giggled. "You want to hold him?"

"I uh...how?"

Riku couldn't keep the smile off his face as he watched his cousin show Sora how to hold the tiny, wiggly bundle; how to cradle him while supporting his head. Riku's cousin was very patient and kind as they spent the whole day with her asking questions as they "practiced" with her baby. She seemed very pleased to have an extra set of helping hands for the day, even trusting them to look after the little one while she took a long, much-needed nap.

Sora was in awe of the cute little guy. Even learning how to change his diaper made him laugh a little. Riku had a little trouble with that one. It smelled pretty bad. When the baby cried, Sora was quick to make him smile again while they figured out what he wanted. They took turns feeding and burping him and playing and by the time the baby was put to sleep, they felt like THEY needed a nap too!

"You two are naturals!" Riku's cousin praised.

"Nah, I think he went easy on us," Riku chuckled.

After that, they helped babysit a few more times, just to get the hang of it. In the meantime, their dads were excitedly restoring some of the old family baby furniture, cleaning, sanding, and re-painting. Their moms were crocheting and sewing all sorts of clothes and stuffed animals, so many that Riku and Sora weren't even sure they'd have room for all of it! Sora's mom especially had become a cloth diaper-making machine! Apparently she knows how to make THE best ones. At her insistence, Sora and Riku scrambled to get the fabric she needed. They even contributed some of the fabric they had intended for other things, the softer ones, at least. She informed them that babies grew really fast, so they needed to be prepared with lots of different sizes in advance.

Kairi also told them they needed to put up a list of things they still needed on kingstagram so their friends would know what they could get them for the baby shower. The two felt a little bad about asking for things, but three months was not a lot of time for them to find EVERYTHING they needed by themselves, especially on their tiny island world, so they did what they were told.

Of course, since they are on such a small island, people took notice when they saw Sora and Riku's dads airing out the old furniture and grew curious. Not long after, rumors spread like wild fire about Sora and Riku expecting. Their dads were hounded with plenty of questions, but all they said was yes, they had a grandchild on the way. When asked who the actual father was they simply said Sora and Riku both are. It's their child. Of course, this did nothing to quell the whispers, but Sora and Riku didn't have time to pay the rumors any mind.

The nursery was coming along great and Naminé had even come by to paint a lovely mural for them with cute and colorful dream eaters playing on a jungle gym made of rainbows. The furniture their dads brought looked amazing. Each brought a cradle, one for the living room and bedroom, a crib, rocking chair, changing table, dresser, and even a high chair.

"I can't believe you guys kept all of this stuff!" Sora exclaimed as he took in the sight of the nearly finished nursery.

"Well of course," Sora's dad chuckled as Sora gave him a hug. "It's tradition."

"Also we're too lazy to make new furniture," Riku's dad chortled.

"You just mean you're not that good at it," Sora's dad smirked.

"Thank you both," Riku smiled gratefully. "We wouldn't have been able to do all of this without your help."

"Nah, you definitely could've," Riku's dad smiled.

"But thanks for letting us help out anyway," Sora's dad snickered.

The two also had the baby shower plans to look over. They decided on July 31st that they and their families would arrive at Radiant Garden together via gummi ship and they would go to the lab together. Sora and Riku will meet the baby first before bringing them out to meet their families and they'll spend the first half of the day getting acquainted while everybody else gets everything set up. Then the party will start early evening if all goes well.

With the plan settled upon, they had scrambled to make announcements and send out invitations. As they added more and more names to the list, there was one name that they kept going back and forth on.

"Are you SURE we should invite Maleficent?" Riku asked one more time.

"We promised her. It'd be worse if we didn't," Sora pointed out.

"You mean YOU promised her," Riku corrected.

"Sure, but she would've found out about it anyway and be offended we didn't invite her regardless. At least this way, it'd be bad manners if she crashed a party she was invited to." Riku wasn't entirely convinced. "I have a good feeling about this," Sora assured him.

"I suppose it WOULD be pretty stupid if she decided to pull something with so many keyblade wielders around," Riku conceded. "Plus, she might not even come."

"Exactly! But she'll be satisfied because she got an invitation. Win-win!"

Two weeks to go and the two hoped by now they could breathe a little easier. They even accepted a few missions, just some quick ones, and then took the last week to make sure the final touches were in place. The invitations have been received. The baby shower preparations were finished. The nursery was finished. The baby seat for the gummi ship will be there for them in Radiant Garden. They did tests to make sure it'd be safe for a baby to even fly on the gummi ship. Vanitas and Roxas even volunteered their own services to escort the ship on the way home so they can take out potential heartless for them.

All that was left now was to wait. Their excitement was clearly written on their faces, no matter how tired they were. Sora and Riku each thought the other was glowing with bliss and kept exchanging fond looks and happy kisses whenever they got the chance. So when they went to the market at the usual time to grab some eggs, it shouldn't have been a surprise when the old lady vendor gave them a huge, knowing grin. "Could it be the rumors are true?" she asked.

"Which ones?" Sora asked almost a little cheekily.

"My old ears have heard you two are expecting a little one soon?"

Riku smiled, "You heard right. Just one more week."

"That's wonderful news! You keep that little darling fat and happy, okay?" she chortled.

"Oh, we will!" Sora snickered.

"Take some extra eggs, dear. We need to fatten you up, too!"

Sora laughed and tried to refuse, but she slipped some extra eggs into his shopping bag anyway. Riku chuckled but out of the corner of his eye, he caught a couple of other people starting and whispering. He could feel more eyes on them and noticed there were more hushed voices despite the market getting more crowded by the minute. He turned and could see some of them quickly averting their gazes. Sora could hear them too, probably better than Riku, but he kept a smile on his face as he politely bowed his thanks to the kind old woman.

"So it's true?"
"Where'd they get a baby from?"
"Whose do you think it is?"
"Do you think they paid someone?"
"Poor kid."

"We should go," Riku grabbed for Sora's hand.

"Yeah," Sora agreed and the two left to get themselves out of sight. But before they could get to their usual secluded place, Sora's eye caught the pre-school playground and he stopped and stared at the kids playing with each other in their cute little uniforms without a care in the world.

Riku looked to see why Sora stopped and watched too, squeezing Sora's hand tighter. "It'll be okay," Riku assured him.

"I know," Sora murmured in a voice barely above a whisper. "I just hope...they'll be kind. People can be so cruel."

"Even if they are, our baby will have us."

"Right."

When they got home, they marked another day on the calendar. July 31st circled in red.

"Their birthday is almost exactly halfway between ours," Riku mused.

Sora counted on his fingers but gave up on the math, choosing to take Riku's word for it. "Great timing," he grinned. "And you said they'll be a Leo?"

"Yeah, a little lion," Riku grinned proudly but saw Sora giving him a cheesy smile. The bridge of his nose reddened just a smidge. "I did a lot of reading while you were gone," he explained.

"Yeah, you said that. But astrology?" Sora snickered.

"I got bored," Riku huffed.

"Hehe," Sora slipped his arms around Riku's waist. "I'm sure it WAS boring without me around, huh?"

Riku hugged him back. "SO boring," he snickered. "You know, when the baby gets here, we won't have a lot of time for...other things."

Sora's eyes widened. "Shoot! You're right! We gotta get busy while we still can!" He giggled before yanking Riku's hand to drag him to the bedroom.

Chapter Text

The day had finally come. Sora and Riku had the hardest time falling asleep after Even called to confirm that their new bundle of joy would be ready to meet them in the morning. Sora was snuggled into Riku's back and holding him tightly, randomly squeezing and making excited eeps into Riku's ear until the Riku almost couldn't stand it anymore.

"Soraaaaaaa, you're squeezing too hard..." Riku complained as Sora almost gave him the Heimlich for the 20th time.

"I'm so excited! I can't sleep!"

Riku playfully rolled his eyes and turned around in Sora's arms to give him a kiss. "I'm excited, too. But we need to sleep while we still can. It might be the last full night's sleep we'll get in a while."

Sora returned the kiss before burying his face into Riku's neck. "You're right." He sighed and closed his eyes. "Do you think they'll like us?"

Riku's eyes closed as Sora slotted perfectly into him, their limbs inevitably sliding together like a puzzle. "I sure hope so," he teased.

"Whaaaaaa?"

"They will. How could they not?" Riku murmured with a smile. "Go to sleep."

Sora chuckled. "Good night, Riku."

"Good night, Sora."

During breakfast the two munched on toast while Donut-Rox wove in and out of their legs, purring non-stop as he sensed their excitement.

"You're gonna be a big brother, Donut!" Sora giggled.

"Mrow!"

"Yup," Riku chuckled. "Once the grandmas, grandpas, and Aunt Kairi get here, we're getting you a new brother or sister."

"Mroooow~"

When said future grandparents arrived, it was a rush to get them on the gummi ship. Riku insisted on driving Highwind with the parents and left Sora and Kairi to drive Excalibur so Sora can fight any potential heartless mobs, though Sora was pretty sure Riku didn't trust Sora to drive without freaking out their parents. Vanitas and Roxas have supposedly already combed the route and taken out the heartless already, but better safe than sorry. Obviously, they don't want to be fighting heartless with their families on board, especially since they were nervous about flying as it is.

"Riku will take good care of you," Sora assured his parents. "Kairi and I will be right outside the window."

"Roxas and Vanitas will be with us, too," Kairi added. "Be sure to wave to them!"

Sora and Kairi took off first and Riku followed after. They already decided to not use warp tunnels, but even without them, the drive should only be half an hour. In the sky, Roxas and Vanitas joined them in their own gummi ships, and they flanked Riku on both sides as Sora took the lead. Both the ships were clearly very fighter jet-inspired, Roxas's being black and white with checkerboard on the wings and Vanitas's being black with red and purple accents. Side by side, the ships looked pretty intimidating compared to the colorful Highwind and Excalibur.

"Thirteen to Highwind," Roxas called over the radio.

Riku smirked. "Thirteen, this is Highwind. How are we looking?"

"You're still clear. You can also speed up a little, you know. There aren't any meteors for a while."

"Roger that, Thirteen, but I have the parents with me, remember?" Riku rolled his eyes.

"Flood Hawk to Highwind, don't be a pansy, over."

Riku frowned at Vanitas on his left. "Highwind to Flood Hawk, keep the trash talk to a minimum, over."

"Flood Hawk to Highwind, I'm sure they can take it. Right, everybody?"

Sora's mom shouted from the back. "Yes! Let's go faster!"

The other parents laughed and cheered Riku on enthusiastically. Now that the initial takeoff was over and done with, they were ready to pick up the pace. Roxas, Sora, and Vanitas laughed over the radio.

"Give 'em what they want, Riku!" Sora cheered over the radio.

Riku laughed and shook his head before flipping a couple of switches. "Alright, alright. Hang on, everybody. You asked for it!" He kicked on the thrust, much to everybody's delight and soon they were well on their way to Radiant Garden, the pretty flower-covered world coming into view very quickly. Of course, Sora, Roxas, and Vanitas couldn't resist pulling off some aerial stunts as they surrounded Highwind, much to the parents' delight.

In no time at all, Riku was landing Highwind in the courtyard and the others landed elsewhere. Once Sora caught up, Even was there to greet them all at the gate. Some of their other friends were already in the town square and waved at them with thumbs up as they walked past to greet him. Roxas, Vanitas, and Kairi stayed back to help with the party preparations and Sora and Riku's families followed after Riku and Sora as Even led them inside the castle.

Their parents were in awe of everything they were already seeing, rubbernecking at the gorgeous town and all the colorful people who resided there but their jaws dropped at the castle to be sure. Inside, Ansem the Wise greeted them warmly.

"Welcome, my esteemed guests. Please allow me to escort you to the library while we wait for Sora and Riku," he smiled.

Sora and Riku left them in his hands and followed after Even. The young men's tightly clasped hands were trembling with excitement. The lab looked the same as the last time they were here, except for a small glass basinet in the center. Ienzo was sitting in a chair nearby, keeping watch. He smiled at the two and nodded in a silent greeting before taking his leave. Even then leaned over the basinet and retrieved a small bundle wrapped in a soft, white blanket. Sora gripped at Riku's waist tightly as he tried not to cry. Even gave them a small smile as he walked towards the both of them who looked like they had forgotten how to walk.

"So...who gets to go first?" the scientist asked.

"Go ahead, Sora," Riku managed to say before slowly releasing the brunette.

Sora looked up at him hesitantly, but after a firm nod from Riku he nodded and removed his arms from his strong waist to hold his hands out as he tried desperately not to cry.

Even's smile grew wider. "Allow me to introduce you to your new son."

"A-A-A--" Sora stammered.

"A boy?" Riku's voice cracked.

The blonde nodded. "A healthy 9 pound, 20 inch long boy at that," he said proudly before handing him over to Sora who gasped immediately when he finally took in the sight of the infant's face.

Riku slid his arms around the both of them as Sora cradled the tiny baby, his eyes also tearing up as he laid his eyes on him for the first time. He could tell right away that he had Sora's nose and peeking out from under the blanket he could see little wisps of silver.

"He's perfect! R-Riku, he has your hair!" Sora sniffled.

"Have you picked out a name?" Even asked.

Sora sniffled again and both of them nodded.

"Yeah, I think we have," Riku smiled.

The two looked at each other and then back down at their new son, saying his name in unison. "Hoku."

And just like that, Hoku took his first breath, and a new heart was born right in their arms. His eyes opened, a pair of eyes as brilliantly blue as sapphires.

"Sora...he has your eyes," Riku cried happily.

"He does!" Sora broke down, shaking as he sobbed tears of joy. "I'm so happy. Hi, Hoku! We're your daddies!" He cooed before he handed baby Hoku to Riku to hold and then ran over to Even and to give the startled scientist a hug. "Thank you so much!"

Even was clearly a little uncomfortable, but he smiled and gently shoved Sora back a step with his hands on both the man's shoulders. "It has been my pleasure," he assured them before placing a hand over his heart and giving a small bowl. "And my honor."

Together, the new family walked back to the library where Hoku got to meet his grandparents for the first time. They walked slowly, Riku so busy staring down at the bundle in his arms that he could scarcely pay attention to where he was walking. Already his new son was gripping his pinky tightly and he wondered if he'd ever be able to let go of him again. But no worries, Sora was leading the way, except the brunette was also standing really close and gazing down at him. Needless to say, the walk took a lot longer than necessary and by the time they reached the library, their parents were practically beside themselves with excitement. Doesn't help that by now they were hyped up on sugar from the macarons that Ansem served them (from Ven's bakery, of course).

When Sora opened the double doors he could barely contain himself as he greeted their families. "Everybody, meet your new grandson, Hoku!" he introduced proudly.

They threw their hands up with joy and practically leapt out of their seats as they ran up to them and took turns meeting and holding the tiny bundle, cooing over his little wisps of hair and all ten of his tiny fingers and toes.

Ansem smiled at all of their excitement. "Congratulations. Hoku is a fine name."

Even stood beside him, taking in the scene as well. "I'm not familiar with it," he admitted.

Riku smiled over at the pair. "It means Star."

"It's perfect," Even praised, pleased that his creation could be gifted with such a name. "Plus the symmetry is a marvel in itself."

Sora blinked, "Pardon?"

Ienzo chuckled. "I think he means it's a nice name because it's also close to both of your names."

"Oh! Yeah, that's why we liked it too," Sora chuckled.

"You'll need to dress him!" Sora's mom brought out the baby's first outfit, a soft, white, sack dress onesie with blue mittens, teeny tiny white socks, and a blue crocheted cap complete with a new cloth diaper with a chocobo pattern.

Together Sora and Riku dressed him for the first time. Hoku watched them all with bright eyes as he made little gurgling noises and spit bubbles, much to Sora's delight. "He's soooo cute!" Already he was kicking out his little feet and grabbing for Riku's fingers as he tried slipping on his little mittens. "I can already tell you're going to be trouble," Riku snickered as he used a soft blue burp rag to wipe away the baby's spittle.

They spent a couple of hours in the library giving Hoku his first bottle, his first diaper change, and so many other firsts. Sora burped him like an expert but Hoku puked so hard it actually landed on Riku who was sitting in a chair behind where Sora was standing. "You aimed for me on purpose!" Riku accused!

"Did not!" Sora cackled.

"You're going to have to get used to that," Sora's mother warned with a giggle.

"Might have to ask the fairies for puke-proof clothes next," Riku mused with a helpless smile as he mopped himself up.

"Nuh-uh," Riku's dad chided. "You wear that puke with pride!"

Hoku blew more bubbles and Sora wiped them away happily. "Are you ready to meet the rest of the family, Hoku?" he cooed.

Riku smiled. "You might have to let go of him, you know."

Sora cradled Hoku protectively. "Who says?"

"Well aren't you going to let me hold him sometime?"

"You had your turn!" Sora whined.

Just then, there was a knock on the door before Kairi walked in with a baby buggy. "Special delivery!" Said buggy was bright yellow with bunnies on the sides and had a lovely set of lace cushions lining the inside with soft blankets and a crocheted moogle plush (made by Riku's mother).

"It's soooooo cute! Look, Hoku, you get to be pushed around in style!" Sora squee'd.

Kairi's eyes got big at the little bundle in in Sora's arms. "Did you say Hoku? Is that him!?" she squeaked, as if there were more than one baby in the castle.

"Would you like to hold him, Kairi?" Riku asked.

She nodded rapidly and held her arms out. "B-baby!" she sniffled. Sora smiled and handed him over, the redhead cradling him like he was the most precious thing in the world. "H-he's beautiful!" she sniffled. "He really does look like both of you! Hi, Hoku! I'm your aunt Kairi!" she cooed. "I'm going to spoil you so rotten. You're going to meet so many aunts and uncles, but just remember, I'm the best one, okay?"

Hoku blew more bubbles. Riku snickered. "Already so expressive." At long last, Riku was the one to finally lay Hoku inside the buggy and he and Sora pushed him outside to meet the whole gang and were eagerly waiting in the courtyard. Once he was brought out it was clear to see everybody was struggling to keep their cries of joy contained so as not to scare the little one, but the coos and awws could not be contained as one by one everybody took turns meeting Hoku.

The town square had been decorated for the occasion with banners of congratulations. As soon as they announced his name, Merlin changed the banners with a flourish of his cane and they now read "Happy Birthday, Hoku!" Ven provided a giant yellow cake for the occasion and the piles of presents were ENORMOUS! King Mickey and Queen Minnie gushed over the little guy.

"Gosh! He looks so much like Riku! Welcome to the world, Hoku!" Mickey chuckled and offered a hand out and Hoku clutched at his gloved finger. "D'awww~"

Sora and Riku exchanged so many hugs and thanked everybody for coming. Their parents had a blast getting reacquainted with some they met at Sora and Riku's wedding. Ventus, Naminé, Roxas, and Xion took turns holding Hoku. Roxas was trying so hard not to cry as he cradled the little bean. "He has your eyes, Sora," Roxas murmured.

Sora smiled widely. He's heard that over a hundred times today, but he hasn't gotten sick of hearing yet. "They're your eyes too, Roxas," he chuckled. "I know you'll be a great uncle."

"Of course. The best," Roxas sniffled.

Sora's mom overheard and quirked an eyebrow. "Sora, honey, what do you mean by "your eyes too"?"

Sora froze and Riku stiffened. "Uh..." the brunette looked to Riku for help but all he could do was shrug. "Guess you might as well spill the beans." He gave a little thumbs up and took Hoku back from Xion as if to give himself an excuse to not get involved, much to Sora's dismay. Sora's dad also raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Well, mom...dad...Roxas, Xion, Naminé, Vanitas--"

"Wait, which one is Vanitas?" his mom interrupted. She knows Vanitas helped escort them and she's heard his name in passing, but she's never been properly introduced.

Roxas pointed at Vanitas and waved him over, the man having no idea what he was walking into only to freeze when he saw Sora's mom, who he's avoided talking to this whole time, even at the wedding.

"Mom, this is Vanitas."

Sora's mom flew her hands over her mouth as she finally took in the sight of Vanitas, who she's only ever seen from afar. Now up close she could see the resemblance to Sora. "You...I knew it! You look so much like Sora!" She had her suspicions that they might've met before when she heard Vanitas over the radio on the way over, but as of when, she can't recall.

"Well, there's a reason for that," Sora tried to explain. He then went into detail about how it all started with Ventus and then his sacrifice for Kairi, how Roxas and Naminé were born, and why Vanitas looks like him, and where Xion came from. Sora's parents were quiet the whole time while Riku gently bounced Hoku and the others searched their faces for a reaction. When Sora was finally finished, nothing was said for a moment, until finally Sora's mother said, "So what you're telling me is that with you, Riku, and 1, 2, 3, 4...I have six babies now instead of one!?"

Sora laughed, "Mom, that's not what that--"

"Yes," Vanitas interrupted Sora. "That's exactly what that means."

Sora's mom opened her arms wide. "BABIES!"

"MOMMY!" Roxas, Naminé, Xion, and even Vanitas shouted before mobbing her with hugs.

Riku laughed at the hug pile while he cradled Hoku. "You've just joined one crazy family, little guy."

After a few rounds of peek-a-boo with Goofy and Donald, Hoku was fast asleep in his buggy and cake was being served.

"Can't wait to do this all again when it's Aqua's turn," Sora grinned at the master enjoying her cake.

She smiled warmly, "To think they'll be so close together. I hope they become good friends."

Riku smiled too. "I'm sure they will. Have you thought of names yet? We had quite a time picking one."

"Terra and I really like the name Era."

Sora smiled softly. "Sounds like a perfect choice."

Suddenly there was a loud BOOM and a green flash followed by a giant plume of purple smoke. Sora nearly choked on his cake, having a good guess as to who it was before the smoke even cleared. "She actually came!?"

Half the guests fled from the surrounding area. Those with keyblades summoned them and stood guard, but Maleficent merely glided towards the buggy with a smirk on her face. "My apologies for running late," she grinned slyly. "All of this light doesn't agree with me."

"What are you doing here?" Leon asked, gunblade at his side.

"I was invited," Maleficent's grin grew even wider.

"Glad you could make it," Sora strained to be polite.

"I won't be long," she promised as she gave Riku a look. She then noticed the banner before peering into the buggy. "Hoku, is it?"

Said infant woke just now woke up and rubbed at his eyes with mittened fists before peering up at Maleficent with his bright blue orbs. She reached a long finger inside to gently play with one of his soft silver curls. Riku wanted to protest, to snatch him away before she could do anything further, but he held his tongue when he saw the sincere, soft expression on her face, an expression he's certainly never seen her wear before. Hoku suddenly giggled and both Sora and Riku's jaws dropped.

Maleficent gave a small chuckle. "He's smart. And very bright. I dare say even more radiant than either of you." She then gave Riku a forlorn look. "A shame he doesn't have your eyes."

Riku frowned. "He's perfect the way he is."

She smirked down at the infant who giggled again. "You amuse me. I shall grant you a gift, dear child."

"Wait, that won't be necessary," Sora spoke up.

"Oh, but I insist~" She raised her staff and pointed it at Hoku. "First child born of two keyblade wielders, fair and radiant, the gift I give you...the gift of protection." Before Sora and Riku could ask, the little white outfit Hoku was wearing turned into a dragon onesie that looked very much like Maleficent's dragon form. It even had scales! Its little hood formed the head and Hoku's face poked out of the mouth. It had feet and hands with little green claws made of cloth and an adorable stubby tail. "As long as you wear this, you will have my protection," she promised before retrieving a small black object from inside her robes attached to a thin silver chain. She tossed it to Riku who caught it and held it up cautiously. "Give that to him when he's old enough," she instructed. "The gift I gave him will grow with him. Do NOT throw it away." She looked at Sora when she said this. "Wash in cold water only," she grinned again.

"When you say protection...?" the brunette asked suspiciously.

"From the darkness...and other things. One day it will even resemble that armor you all wear. But his will be beyond compare, I assure you."

Hoku giggled again and flailed his little limbs.

"You're very welcome, little one. I know we shall meet again very soon." With a smirk and one last puff of green and purple smoke, she was gone.

Sora quickly picked up Hoku to check on him and Fairy Godmother rushed to Riku's side to investigate the object she gave him. "What is it?" Riku asked.

"Oh my, it appears to be a dragon scale. One of hers, I dare say!"

"Why!?" Sora asked as he held Hoku protectively to himself, but it seems the infant was perfectly fine.

"Well, I might be mistaken, but it seems she's infused it with summoning magic."

"She offered HERSELF as a summon?" Sora gasped.

"Hopefully he'll never need such a thing," Riku sighed but he pocketed it anyway when Fairy Godmother handed it back to him. Maleficent didn't appear to have any ill will, but something wasn't adding up.

"Well, she certainly gave him some cute pajamas," Sora cooed. "You're adorable, Hoku!"

The baby giggled happily and Riku huffed. "I can't believe she got his first laugh, though."

Sora's jaw dropped. "OH NO! You're right!"

"So evil," Riku shook his head.

Hoku blew bubbles.

Chapter Text

Sora and Riku thought they were decently prepared for welcoming a new baby into their home but Hoku sure proved them wrong. When he wasn't demanding cuddles or crying to be fed, it was poop poop poop. When it wasn't poop, it was puke. Sora had called his mom out of fear the baby was having a bad reaction to the formula they had been giving him and she recommended they take him to a pediatrician. So that's how Sora and Riku ended up taking Hoku to his first appointment with their own childhood pediatrician who looked after them when they were little. Needless to say, it took some explaining as to why Hoku had two dads on his birth records, but the blood tests Even had included with the documents he gave Sora and Riku proved that Hoku was 100% theirs so the doctor had no grounds to push any further. Turns out Hoku is just fine, but he did get an immunization schedule to look forward to.

Back at the treehouse, Sora kissed all of Hoku's little ouchies. "I'm sorry. I didn't think about shots. I wish I could've warned you!"

"Yeah, that was our bad," Riku apologized as he kissed Hoku's cute little toes. "But you were so good. Took it like a champ."

By the third week, Hoku was on a decent schedule. He was really good at going down for naps. At night, however, it was a different story. Usually he woke them up every four hours to feed. That was manageable. But sometimes it was two hours. On nights like these, neither could get any sleep. It was a rocking marathon to keep him from crying and if they did finally get him to sleep, he'd cry if they put him down. On nights like these, Sora would pace while he gently bounced him, rubbed his back, and sing whatever came to mind.

"All the flowers..." he yawned. "Have extra special powers. They would sit and talk to me for hours..."

If Hoku didn't fall asleep listening to Sora, Riku sure did, usually passing out in the rocking chair while waiting for his turn. Sora smiled at his snoozing husband and sat in the rocking chair with him, the old piece of family furniture having been built for dads much bigger than the two of them. Riku yawned and wrapped his arms around the both of them, rocking all three of them together.

"Pick the next song, Riku," Sora yawned as Hoku began to fuss again.

"Whackity woo la flickedy doo la wickity wonkity woo..." the silverette drawled making Sora giggle. Together they sang the last part, "Put 'em together and what do you got? Wickity wonkity woo!"

Hoku giggled, but he was clearly not sleeping yet. "Another," Sora yawned even louder this time as he gently patted Hoku's back.

Riku gently brushed his fingers over Hoku's tiny silver curls as as he fought to keep his eyes open. "Somedaaay....my sleep will come..."

Hoku started kicking up another fuss, clearly not amused. "Shh shh shh, it's okay," Sora pleaded.

"Sorry, not that one," Riku apologized as he picked up the pace of the rocking with his foot. "What about Cinderella's heart station?"

"Ooh yeah! Hey, Tron!" he called towards the phone resting on the end table.

"Another late night?" the program responded with a chuckle as he greeted them with a little grin.

"Yeah," Sora chuckled. "Could you play Cinderella's heart station for us?"

"Certainly."

The song began to play and the two dads hummed along as they urged their little one to finally fall asleep. "A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you're fast asleep~" The second playthrough seemed to do the trick and Sora carefully got up to lay Hoku down in his crib. They each gave him a little kiss on the top of his head and waited to make sure he was finally down. With the coast clear, both tired dads retreated to their bedroom, tip-toeing the whole way before collapsing into their bed to sleep like logs, not even bothering with pulling the blankets over themselves as they both knew they'd be up again shortly.

The grandmas were frequent visitors, giving the boys a chance to clean up, grab groceries, and get a good nap in every now and then. Kairi liked to visit often as well, conveniently showing up whenever Sora and Riku seemed to be their most frazzled.

"So...how you like being a dad?" she asked Riku as she cuddled Hoku.

"Oh, it's great. Especially love it whenever he decides to pee on me when I'm trying to change him," Riku grumbled sleepily, the dark circles under his eyes very apparent.

Kairi laughed and Hoku giggled just as Sora brought out the tea and cookies. Again, tea is not Sora's favorite beverage, but he's started to rely on the caffeine it provided. "You need to give your dads a break, Hoku," Kairi cooed. "You're working them half to death."

Sora laughed. "It's not so bad, the waking up, I mean. It's just when he cries for a long time and we don't know what to do. I can't speak for Riku, but to me it makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong."

Riku reached for his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. He had to admit, he felt the same way sometimes.

"You guys are doing just fine," Kairi assured them. "Someone once said that babies cry and scream bloody murder because every slight discomfort is literally the worst thing they've ever felt in their life."

Riku's eyebrows went up really high before he laughed. "I guess that's true, isn't it?"

It took Sora an extra distraught moment before he figured it out too. "Omigosh!" he laughed.

Hoku gurgled.

At about four months, Sora and Riku started taking turns going on missions; short ones. After all, they were trying to unite the worlds under Sora's plan. Many meetings need to be had with world leaders, and sometimes favors needed to be done in order to get an audience, even if you were accompanied by King Mickey. On nights by himself with Hoku, Sora found himself talking a lot as he waited for Hoku to fall asleep.

"There are so many worlds, Hoku. So many people. Some of the worlds are small, some are big, but they're all really important. Every star out there is a world, and a world holds the light and hopes and dreams of all the people who live there. And someday, we'll build a world where you can see them whenever you want, where you can pursue any dream you want and not feel trapped because of where you come from. A world where you don't have to be afraid of the unknown, either. I know, too, that no matter what, you'll have a friend wherever you go. I don't ever want you to feel alone." Smiling down at the precious bundle in his arms, the words of a new lullaby came to his heart, one just for Hoku and he'd sing it softly for him.

When all hope seems gone
Just remember that all hearts are
Connected
The Worlds will always answer your call

. . .

Riku's favorite dad thing to was probably wearing the baby carrier. Having Hoku attached to his chest while he did things throughout the day was not only a good workout, but apparently very entertaining for Hoku as well. Whether it be weeding the garden, cleaning the bottles, or sweeping the leaves off the deck, Hoku enjoyed every bit of it. The funniest thing had to be when he made grabby hands for the crows and one actually landed nearby. Hoku kicked his little feet and cooed so loudly it startled the bird which only made the baby squeal even louder with delight.

Rox was a great big brother...for a cat. More than once, while Riku had Hoku playing on the floor, Rox had brought him a live cricket to play with and Riku had to chase it down to let it out. "Rox, he has PLENTY of toys," Riku scolded. It was the truth. In the middle of the living room, Hoku had a large, soft mat to play on and it was covered in rattles, toys, and every stuffed animal you could think of, most of them crocheted by Riku's mother. The noise makers were his favorite. Nothing entertained him more than lying on his tummy and banging around a couple of rattles and squeakers. His favorite rattle had to be the one that had a kingdom key keyblade handle and a lucky emblem-shaped rattler. Riku doesn't know who gave him that one, but he has a suspicion that it was a gift from Master Yen Sid, given his strange sense of humor.

For naptime, Riku didn't sing, but he'd read Hoku stories. Hoku was beginning got take an interest in the pictures and he loved the voices his daddy made up for the different characters. He was especially good at coming up with the voice for the evil fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Hoku liked that one a lot.

"Don't trust anything that lady ever says. Insincere flattery is just another form of dishonesty," Riku warned as he pointed to the dark fairy illustrated in the book.

Hoku gurgled.

"Yes, even if she gives you the coolest onesie ever."

As busy as Hoku's daddies were, they managed to be present for his big moments. Sitting up on his own was a big one. Rolling over made them do a double-take. Crawling! They couldn't get enough of seeing him crawl, or rather it was scooching, but definitely the cutest scooch they've ever seen. But being somewhat mobile meant it was time to get serious about baby-proofing their home as Hoku was grabbing everything he could possibly reach and scooching really quickly. Baby gates were installed everywhere and all sharp or hard corners were wrapped in cloth.

Hoku was growing so fast (to them) and his appetite seemed to know no bounds. Now a far cry from the nine pounds he weighed when they first brought him home, he sucks down formula as if it were air!

"You were the same way, Sora!" Sora's mom laughed when Sora expressed his worries about whether they were feeding him too much or too little. "We had to put rice cereal in your bottle."

And that's exactly what they did with Hoku. After that, the night-time "hangries" reduced dramatically! But before they could celebrate, Hoku was moving on to baby food, and then it was a fight to see what he would and wouldn't eat. After a few days of rejected food, Sora was getting a little frustrated. "See! Daddy's eating it!" he tried to coax during breakfast with Hoku in his high chair. "Come on, open up for daddy!" Hoku stubbornly refused to open his mouth, instead shaking his head from side to side so that the food from the spoon just smeared on his face instead.

"Come on, it's yummy! See?" Sora decided to finally take a bite to show him and nearly GAGGED! "UGH!"

Riku looked up from the report he was writing as he heard Sora sputter. "Oh great, now he'll DEFINITELY eat it," he remarked sarcastically.

"I don't think I WANT him to anymore! This stuff is gross!" Hoku clapped his hands down impatiently on his high chair tray. "Maybe I should try making some food for him myself?"

"Go for it," Riku encouraged.

After that, lots of taste testing was done in the kitchen with daddy as he pureed baby food for Hoku himself. He was one happy camper after that.

Then came the teething, a fresh circle of hell for the first-time parents. The fevers, the screaming, the sleep-deprived nights...

"Who thought it was a good idea for humans to be made this way!?" Sora practically cried in frustration and helplessness as he gave Hoku a cold squishy toy to gnaw on.

"That reminds me, I need to get these wisdom teeth removed," Riku growled in sympathy with Hoku.

"Can we get wisdom teeth magically removed?" Sora asked as he bounced Hoku.

"Maybe? But do I want to take the risk?"

"Do you want to be put under and deal with blood and gauze and not being able to eat for a couple of weeks?"

"Good point."

"You could always eat the baby food Hoku refused to touch."

"No thanks."

. . .

Babies could be scary, Sora quickly learned. They grabbed HARD and with no abandon. Their little fists and feet really pack a punch and Riku found out the hard way that those little fingernails are SHARP! One morning, Hoku grabbed Riku's face while he was putting him in his high chair. Next thing Sora saw, Riku's lower lip was bleeding heavily and gushing blood all over the top of Hoku's head!

"Riku!"

"He got me!"

He was fine after a quick cure spell, but after that, they clipped those little daggers much more often.

At least bath time was still fun. Hoku giggled the most in the bath tub. Both daddies loved getting him clean and giving him little soap mohawks. His little wispy baby curls have turned into a full head of wavy silver hair that nearly covered his ears. When wet, it looked a littler darker at the roots, but once it was combed and dried it practically shimmered.

"I'm going to lose it when it's time for his first cut," Sora wailed as he ran his fingers through it.

"It grows back, you know," Riku reminded him.

"Baby hair doesn't! It won't look this curly and cute later!"

"All the more reason to cut it and save a little bit for the baby book," Riku laughed.

"Oh, that's true!"

The baby book was a gift from Riku's parents. Sora and Riku have gone a little overboard with its contents, taking and printing pictures for every event and milestone instead of just writing down the date. Eventually, in the upcoming winter, Aqua and Terra's little girl, Era, would make it into the baby book as "Baby's First Play Date".

But for now, at barely five months old, Hoku's baby book was already nearly bursting and they haven't even gotten to the other milestones such as...well...walking...or first words.

"Maybe we need to get a second book," Sora chuckled nervously as he tried to cram another picture of Hoku into the full pages of Hoku holding a spoon for the first time.

"I think you're prematurely filling a few of these out," Riku laughed. "I'm pretty sure "first time holding a spoon" means the first time he actually uses it to feed himself, not flail around with it."

"Oh...well I'm keeping it anyway. It's a cute picture!"

"And how about this one? "Buh-guh" is not a word."

"Sure it is! It sounds like booger!"

"We are not recording that our child's first word is booger!"

"Fine!" Sora laughed and erased it. It still didn't solve the issue of all the pictures falling out, though. So they narrowed things down to ONE picture per event and just put the rest of them in another album. "How long until this one's full, too?"

"I'm sure it won't be long," Riku smiled.

Chapter Text

Beep beep beep beep!

The baby monitor beeps from the night stand, alerting Sora and Riku that Hoku has decided it's time to wake up. Riku wakes first, squinting through the dark as the sun had yet to come up. With a groan he swats at the beeping monitor before kissing Sora's forehead and attempting to slide his other arm out from beneath him. "Your son's awake, Sora."

The brunette groaned and rolled over. "Before sunrise, he's YOUR son."

Riku snorted and threw a pillow at him before getting up to attend to their little angel. Sora snickered as he rolled out of bed too, wordlessly heading to the kitchen to get a bottle ready while Riku tends to the morning diaper situation. The two developed a turn system with their morning routine where they switch up who does what every other day. In the nursery, Riku has Hoku on the changing table already, strapped down too so he doesn't roll off. Sora's mother had bragged that the cloth diapers she makes are the best and every day Riku finds himself agreeing with her as Hoku never ceases to amaze with how much he expels. "You just love making it difficult for me, don't you?" Riku sighed as he wiped away all the poo that completely coated Hoku's backside and nearly went up his back. Hoku gurgled and then Riku felt something warm on his wrist that was holding Hoku's feet up. He was getting peed on.

Riku let his legs down and sighed again. "Why is it ALWAYS me?"

Hoku giggled and kicked his feet.

"Whyyyyyy?" Riku playfully growled while he tickled his tummy, earning squeals of giggly delight from Hoku who flailed his little hands and feet. "Well, at this point, I guess I should just save myself the trouble and get you a quick bath. What do you think?"

Hoku gurgled again.

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

He then wrapped the smelly baby in the blanket he already peed on and took him to the other bathroom where a baby tub was already inside. He started filling it with warm water while he played with Hoku to distract him from the fact that he hadn't eaten yet. "Who's a stinky baby? You are!" he cooed as he nuzzles his nose against Hoku's, the little baby squealing and giggling happily at daddy's funny voice.

Once the water was all set, he got to work making the stinky baby un-stinky. "Seriously dude, do you hate me? You have YET to pee on Sora. All I'm asking for is a little more equality in the work place."

Hoku blew spit bubbles.

"You're lucky you're cute."

"Riku?" Sora called out.

"In the bathroom!" Riku answered.

Sora came in with a fresh onesie, diaper, and warmed bottle. "Stinky baby?"

"Not anymore!" Riku declared proudly as he lifted the sopping infant out of the tub and swaddled him in a soft towel. "Now he's springtime fresh baby!" he snickered as he made om-nom noises on Hoku's chest, making the little one squeal.

Sora laughed. "His squeals are getting so loud!"

"Working those lungs!" Riku praised before handing Hoku over to Sora who worked on getting him dressed while he cleaned the tub.

Hoku flailed and kicked as Sora tried to dress him, his little fists refusing to get into the sleeves. "What, are you too big for these already?" Sora asked in dismay. "You're supposed to stay small and cute forever!" Hoku blew spit bubbles. "Fine, you can have your favorite," Sora groaned playfully before grabbing the dragon onesie from the clean laundry basket and dressing him in it. The little outfit has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion. As promised, it seems to grow with Hoku, coming in handy whenever he seems to have a growth spurt. Plus, he seems to really like it and even seems to be more chill when he's wearing it. "Dragon baby has returned!" Sora announced dramatically!

"Oh no!" Riku grinned. "Run for your lives!"

Hoku gurgled and squealed.

"So fearsome!" Sora laughed and kissed his wittle nose. "Is the scary dragon ready to feast?" he asked as he carried him back to the nursery so he can rock him while he gives him his bottle. Once they settled in, Hoku began sucking it down almost immediately. "Jeez, slow down! It's not going anywhere!"

Riku laughed. "He eats like you." Before they knew it, Hoku was already finished.

"Maybe another half bottle?" Sora asked?

"I'll make it," Riku offered, taking the empty bottle from Sora so the brunette can keep rocking Hoku who was already starting to fuss for more.

"Shh shh," Sora soothed. "Daddy's making it, hold on." He tried giving him a quick burping but that only upset Hoku more. "Okay okay! We'll wait!" Riku was back in just a couple of minutes with a fresh half bottle and the angry baby was sated. "Good save, Riku," Sora laughed.

"Guess we should start arming ourselves with two bottles every morning, huh?"

"Guess so..." Hoku finished and didn't cry for more, so Sora burped him, his efforts rewarded with spittle and a large burp. "Good one," Sora laughed as he wiped the baby's chin clean. "All better?"

Hoku gurgled and began nomming on his little fist.

"Great, now daddies get to eat!"

Sora liked swaddling Hoku in a cloth wrapped around his body while he cooked. It freed his hands up and he could bounce to keep the little one entertained while keeping him secure.

Hoku liked being against daddy's chest. It was warm and he could hear his heartbeat and other noises. He really liked it when daddy hummed. His chest vibrating was the best. Plus, he gets to see everything! So many things were happening! So many smells!

Riku leaned in close to give Sora a long kiss. Hoku giggled between them so he kissed the top of his head too. Sora leaned in for another kiss and hummed appreciatively. "Mmmm~ love you."

"Love you, too," Riku smiled warmly. Hoku let out a high-pitched squeal. "And we love you, too~" Riku snickered.

Sora playfully scoffed. "The attention doesn't always have to be yours, you know. You have to share."

Hoku stuck his tongue out and drooled.

"Well then..."

Riku laughed and snapped a quick pic with his gummi phone. "You're right. He's definitely mine."

"See, called it. I knew he'd have your snark."

"You were right," Riku laughed again.

Together the two made oatmeal with cinnamon sugar and sliced fruit to go with it. Riku made lemonade with a little mint from the planter on the windowsill to wake them up. They knew they were going to want naps later so they didn't want coffee just yet. While Sora rocked Hoku and ate, he asked Riku to read both their messages.

"Mickey wants a conference call at noon tomorrow, Master Yen Sid wants another copy of your proposal, Aqua says your new accessory will be shipping soon. Terra wants to invite us over to give a demonstration to his students, Ven sent that recipe you asked for and..." He checked his own messages. "Roxas and Vanitas are in Wonderland."

"Busy busy," Sora nodded. "I wonder what happened to the first copy of the proposal I sent?"

Riku checks Sora's phone again. "Says the brooms threw it out."

Sora rolled his eyes. "Everyone's a critic."

After breakfast the two played with Hoku on the floor, giving him time to play on his back and stomach while they laid with him and multi-tasked. Sora was scribbling away at a copy of his proposal, making sure it's perfect so it doesn't get "accidentally thrown out" again. Riku answered his texts and took pictures for kingstagram to then read the comments aloud for Hoku. "Xion says you're the cutest thing to ever exist," Riku chuckled. Hoku gurgled and flailed his legs.

Sora hummed in thought. "Gotta hand it to Terra and Aqua. How do they handle taking care of all those kids at once?" he wondered out loud. "When their baby arrives, it's going to be nuts!"

"Well, they have Ven, and I heard Vanitas was going to help out, too, as are Naminé and Xion."

Sora sat up, "Wait, are you telling me that the only keybladers that will be on duty are Roxas, Axel, and Kairi?"

"Well, there's us, too...and Mickey."

"Still not a lot," Sora frowned with concern.

"Isa helps, too. It'll be fine. If we need to, we'll recruit a few other fighters. No big deal," Riku tried to reassure him, already seeing the worry in Sora's eyes.

"Glad you're not worried," Sora smiled. It did reassure him, though. If Riku's not worried, then he won't be either.

Riku smiled as he noticed Sora's demeanor relax. Just then, the chime of the cuckoo clock (a chicken cluck) reminded Riku about grocery shopping and he sat up. "I need to go to the market."

Hoku cried! How dare Daddy leave and not bring the baby!? Hoku goes wherever daddy goes!

"Aw, can we go with you, daddy?" Sora asked with a grin as he tried to comfort Hoku.

"It's only a quick trip," Riku tried to protest but Hoku continued to wail and flail on the play mat.

"Then we can use the warp sphere if you're only grabbing a few things," Sora reasoned. "Plus it's a beautiful day. Hoku would love it!" He stood up and wrapped his arms around Riku before speaking in a quieter voice. "And then we can put him down for a nap and then you and I can...you know~" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"Okay, okay," Riku laughed and put his hands up in surrender. "Let's get ready."

A convenient thing about a baby buggy is the fact that you can carry other things besides a baby with it. After they packed the diaper bag, they used the warp sphere to get to close to the market and walked from there. This time, Hoku's dressed in a plain blue onesie so he wouldn't get too warm in the summer heat. He looked like he wanted the dragon onesie back, but with the excited promises of adventure from his daddies, he didn't put up too much of a fuss. Sora and Riku were also a little reluctant to change out of their comfy pajama bottoms, each opting for shorts and t-shirts. Glancing over at Riku, Sora could tell Riku's muscles had somehow gotten bigger again as they strained against his yellow t-shirt and couldn't help smirking just a smidge. Riku caught the look and frowned. "You shrank it in the wash."

"Uh-huh, sure."

"You did."

"Nuh-uh!"

"Did too!"

"Look, you can't keep blaming me whenever your shirts stop fitting!"

"I can if you keep shrinking them!"

Hoku giggled and squealed in the buggy, the flap open halfway to keep him shaded. As it was early afternoon, the market wasn't as busy, the early morning sales were over and the people that were left are haggling over leftovers or just grabbing lunch. Being new parents, Sora and Riku were way too tired to haggle anyway, not that they really needed to. Plus having an adorable baby seemed to be getting them discounts regardless.

As they shopped, everybody kept sneaking peeks into the buggy as they went, wanting to ogle at the gurgling adorableness that was Hoku, who squealed loudly at all the attention as if he somehow knew it was all for him. They marveled at his stunning hair, cooed at his bright blue eyes, and laughed with delight at every little noise he made, which was great and all, but Riku REALLY wanted to get his shopping done. More than once, Sora got held up with a chatter passerby and Riku was forced to go off on his own to get the item he wanted.

He should've expected this, he thought to himself. After all, everybody loves babies. But he knew why they were getting so much EXTRA attention. For this small island, Hoku was just another thing for them to marvel at. He knew they didn't mean it maliciously, but he couldn't help being reminded of all the extra attention he got when HE was little because of how he looked. He was proud of his son, but he didn't ever want him to feel like he was a spectacle for other people gawk at. With a shake of his head to get rid of these negative thoughts, he turned his focus back to grabbing the cereal he came for.

"He's mine!"

He heard Sora use a defensive tone and hurried to return to his side. He was only gone for about a minute! When he came around the corner, his eyes narrowed as he noticed Sora had taken Hoku out of the buggy to hold protectively against his chest while an older woman inched uncomfortably closer. Too close. Riku hurried over and gently touched Sora's elbow. "You okay?" he asked quietly.

Sora tore his eyes away from the approaching woman, relief washing over him with Riku at his side. But as he opened his mouth to answer, the lady interrupted. "Oh so YOU'RE the father, then. It makes more sense now." Sora took a cautious step back, just slightly behind Riku as he growled, "I'm his father, too."

"It's none of your business," Riku stated coldly.

"Oh, but it is, young man!" the lady turned her nose up. "You see I run the announcements column in the paper and I'm afraid I haven't seen an entry for this little one."

"Probably because we chose not to announce him," Riku hissed.

The lady put a hand over her mouth in a silent gasp as if Riku just said something horribly offensive before whispering, "Is it because he's...?"

"No," Sora growled again. "He's ours. That's all anybody needs to know. So if you'll excuse us."

Riku grabbed the buggy and started rolling it away and Sora walked alongside him, still clutching Hoku close to his chest who started whimpering as he felt his daddy's distress. "Shhhh~ it's okay," Sora soothed as he gently bounced him. "Nosey lady is gone~"

"Sora! Riku!"

The two froze as they were approached by none other than Tidus and Wakka who were also joined by Yuna and Lulu! Both breathed a sigh of relief as the four caught up to them, the tension from earlier melting away as they exchanged greetings with their old friends. Suddenly Tidus pointed at Sora. "What is THAT!?"

Sora huffed. "He's a baby. What's it look like?"

"Aye ya! A baby!?" Wakka cried out. "When did you two become daddies!?"

"July 31st," Riku smiled. "Would you like to meet him?"

The group nodded excitedly and Sora reluctantly showed them Hoku who of course knew how to please an audience by now with loud gurgles and squeals that had them all cooing in awe.

"What's his name?" Yuna asked.

"Hoku," Sora answered with a smile.

"Perfect name!" Wakka praised. "He looks so much like you, Sora!"

Sora brightened. "You think so?"

"Definitely! Look at those arms, ya? And your eyes, of course!"

Sora beamed proudly. Usually people point out that he looks like Riku first.

"So where'd you get 'im?" Tidus asked. Wakka elbowed him hard! "What!?"

"From outer space," Riku answered flatly, making the group laugh while Tidus deflated. He's learned by now not to push his luck if they didn't want to answer his questions.

The group walked with them as they finished their shopping, the couple grateful for their company as it seemed to ward off the nosey people. Nobody else stopped them to look at Hoku who was still cooing and gurgling happily in the buggy without a care in the world. Together they caught up since they hadn't seen each other that much since high school. Yuna and Tidus are dating now. Lulu and Wakka are planning their own wedding really soon. They've all moved to the inner city a couple of years ago for the professional blitzball scene. They just happened to be in town right now visiting friends and to catch a break.

"It's a little loud sometimes, ya," Wakka explained. "I miss the sounds of the waves outside my window."

"I come back to see my mom a lot, but I haven't seen you guys around. You been hiding?" Tidus asked.

"Working," both replied.

"You look so tired," Yuna said sympathetically.

"That's new parent life for ya," Sora chuckled good-naturedly.

"Indeed," Lulu smiled.

After their shopping was done, the group stopped by the smoothie stand and ordered themselves some drinks to enjoy. Together they found a table and chatted some more until Hoku started to get fussy. "Oop! Feeding time!" Sora said.

"My turn!" Riku quickly volunteered and grabbed Hoku from the buggy while Sora prepared the bottle.

"How often does he eat?" Tidus asked curiously as he sipped his smoothie from a coconut.

"About every four hours," Sora answered while shook the bottle to mix the powdered formula. "Sometimes two."

Riku took the bottle and cradled Hoku as he fed him and everybody marveled at how quickly the baby started sucking it down.

"Holy cow, little guy!" Wakka laughed.

"We tried everything to slow him down, but he's a machine!" Sora laughed.

"He's soooo cute!" Yuna cooed.

"Thank you," Riku chuckled genuinely. "Did you hear that, Hoku, you little charmer~"

Hoku finished with a little pop as he released the nipple and let out a big yawn, rubbing at his eyes cutely as he scrunched his feet up towards himself.

"Almost nap time," Sora whispered.

"Burps first," Riku stood up with the rag draped over his shoulder and started patting Hoku's back. "So how long are you in town for?" he asked casually.

"So weird watching you do that..." Tidus commented under his breath, earning a small shove in the shoulder from Yuna. "I mean we're heading back tomorrow."

"Be safe when traveling. I heard it's going to rain hard tonight," Sora said.

"Will do," Wakka nodded with a grin. Sora and Riku really were acting like a couple of dads now.

Hoku burped fantastically all over the burp rag...and down Riku's back. He felt the warm weight splash on his back and sighed defeatedly.

Sora tried to hold back a laugh. "Time to go home anyway." He hurried with another clean rag to wipe Riku off but the spit up was already caking into his t-shirt.

"That's so gross!" Tidus laughed.

"It is not!" Lulu scolded. "That's just what babies do."

"A lot..." Riku grumbled as he laid Hoku back into the buggy and started putting everything away.

Sora laughed. "I keep telling you! You gotta aim him better!"

"I think he does it on purpose," Riku huffed.

"Just means he loves you," Yuna giggled.

With Hoku starting to settle for a nap, the groups said their good-byes before parting ways and heading home. Back at the treehouse, Hoku went down for a nap easily. Once he was fast asleep, the two each gave him a kiss and went to their bedroom for a little alone time. It was quick fun before they too passed out for a nap.

When Hoku woke them up again, it was nearly dinner time. But first, it was Sora's turn to do a diaper change while Riku warmed up the bottle. Hoku was really kicking his legs this time and it took a bit of extra effort for Sora to keep those little ankles gripped in his hand as he got him cleaned up. "Did you have fun meeting everybody today?" he cooed. Hoku let out a high-pitched squeal! "I know! Everybody said you were the cutest thing ever! And they're right!" Hoku giggled and balled his little fists as he gave a wide gummy smile. "That one lady was so nosey, though. Just remember, if anybody like that gives you a hard time, you don't have to take it. You can just walk away. Sometimes people can't be reasoned with and that has nothing to do with you. People are just weird sometimes."

Riku heard this as he came around the corner with the bottle. "What did she say to you before I got back?"

Sora shook his head as he finished putting Hoku into a fresh diaper and tossed the other one into the hamper with the others. Time to do another load of laundry. "I don't really remember. She looked at me weird and just stared at Hoku like he was a stolen puppy or something. I don't know how else to describe it. She asked me so many questions, like she was accusing me of something. I didn't even get a chance to answer and then she tried grabbing him, or at least that's what it looked like to me," he explained as he dressed Hoku back up. "She was trying ot reach into the buggy, so I just scooped him up. I should've just taken the buggy and walked away but--"

"Hey," Riku interrupted, already seeing Sora beginning to doubt himself. "Don't beat yourself up about it. You did fine," he assured him.

Hoku began to fuss so Sora lifted him off the table to feed him. "I know, I know, daddy didn't forget," he chuckled and took the offered bottle from Riku as he sat in the rocking chair.

Riku smiled fondly at the two. It was still so crazy to think he had a family now. The two most important people in his life were right here...Maybe it was from the lack of sleep but he suddenly felt very emotional and also extra protective knowing that somebody dared to get in his husband's personal space.

Sora caught the smile and fondly smiled back, his cheeks flushing with adoration and love for his husband. Hoku finished and Sora praised him, "Good job!" before getting a fresh burp rag draped over his shoulder to burp him. "I think what pi--" he stopped himself. "CHEESED me off the most was when she asked who he belonged to. Like who asks something like that!? If he's with me, a full-grown man, he's more than likely MY baby, right!?"

"That would be the logical conclusion, yes, unless she thought you were a babysitter or something," Riku frowned.

"Somehow that feels worse," Sora grumbled as he gently pat Hoku's back until he was rewarded with a good beclh. "Good one!" he praised and lifted him away so he can wipe away his spittle. Hoku gurgled happily. The baby has been sated! "You wanna help daddy make dinner? Yes you do~" Sora cooed. Hoku squealed and flailed his little chubby limbs. "Oh goodness!" Sora chuckled. "Cutest assistant EVER!" he declared as he wrapped Hoku in his carrying cloth to attach him to his chest. Riku snickered as he assisted. "What would you like for dinner?" Sora asked.

"We still have some of those dumplings left over, right? I can make a quick salad to go with it," Riku suggested.

"Sounds like a plan. I'm still a little full from that smoothie anyway," Sora agreed as he and Riku headed for the kitchen.

"Yeah, they ARE kind of rich, aren't they?" Riku concurred.

"They are! Or maybe we're getting old!" Sora laughed as he got the dumplings out of the fridge.

"Now don't start that!" Riku laughed. "The more you say it, the more your bones will hurt. That's what my dad says."

"Think my dad says that too!" Sora chuckled.

After feeding Donut, Sora got to work boiling the dumplings that they made the previous night, letting Hoku hold a wooden spoon while he stirred the water to let the infant think he's helping. Nearby, Riku chopped the lettuce and other vegetables for their salad, which Hoku watched with great interest, squealing excitedly whenever Riku brought out a colorful new vegetable to chop. When Riku finished and began putting it all into a bowl, Hoku suddenly got really fussy and began screaming, startling Sora and Donut who ran away from his food to hide under the table.

Sora gently started bouncing in an effort to calm him down, but it wasn't working. "What? What is it?" he asked as he tried to hush him. "Are you bored? Does your tummy hurt?"

Daddy Riku came to the rescue with a pacifier, gently popping it into the fussy baby's mouth. Hoku is now appeased.

"Thank you, Riku," Sora laughed with relief as he gently wiped Hoku's tears away. His original thought was that he somehow splashed him or something, always quick to blame himself first. They haven't really had to use a pacifier very much, so it never really occurs to Sora to reach for one whenever Hoku throws a fit.

"No problem," Riku chuckled and gave him a kiss. "Don't let the dumplings stick."

"Oh right!" Sora resumed his task. "They should be ready soon."

When they finally did get to sit down and enjoy their dinner, Riku mused over the size of their hideaway table. "We're going to have to build a third chair for him when he gets big enough."

Sora smiled. "You're right. Maybe that's something we can all build together."

Riku nodded. "That'd be fun."

Sora sighed wistfully. "He'll be that big before we know it, won't he?"

Riku laughed. "Don't think too hard about it. Just enjoy it while it lasts."

Sora booped Hoku's little nose. "Stay tiny and cute forever."

Hoku made gurgling noises around his pacifier.

Riku smirked with amusement. "Do you want to change his diapers forever?"

"Maybe I'll learn magic where I don't HAVE to change diapers!" Sora laughed.

"Yeah, nice try. Besides, I'd like to hear him talk eventually."

"Careful what you wish for!" Sora grinned.

"Do you want to watch a movie tonight?" Riku asked as he finished off his salad.

"Sure! But you know which one Hoku's going to pick," Sora warned as he stabbed at a dumpling with his fork.

"Maybe we can watch The Little Mermaid this time."

"He might like that!"

Hoku spat out his pacifier and proceeded to make bubbles.

After they cleaned the dishes, the three headed to the den. Kairi had gifted them a lovely bowl-shaped wicker chair with a large cushion inside, big enough for all three of them to pile into comfortably. The cushion even doubles as a play mat for Hoku, albeit a rather bumpy one at that. They still had the giant yellow cushion of course, but the new bowl chair provided more support. Plus there was just something fun about the three of them being piled in a giant bowl.

Riku popped the movie in and tilted the bowl just so before taking a seat and Sora climbed in after him with Hoku nestled against his chest. Riku cuddled the both of them and hit play with the remote. The two know Hoku can't exactly see what's going on, but he can definitely hear and when he didn't recognize the movie, he squirmed as if he was getting ready to kick up a fuss. However, he calmed when he heard the sailors' sing their sea shanty. The two relaxed as they could tell Hoku was enjoying it. They knew it wouldn't be long before Hoku would fall asleep, but they still enjoyed sharing these movies with him.

Ever since Sora found out that you can order movies via moogle post and Scrooge's courier service, they've amassed quite a collection of DVDs. But something was strange about them, such as the case with The Little Mermaid. When they watched for the first time, Sora was a little disappointed to see he wasn't in it, even though he was there helping Ariel. Turns out moogles make the movies based on data available in the datascape and edit out the keyblade wielders' interference to preserve world order. So basically, the tales as Sora and the others know them are heavily edited. When he found out, Sora decided he liked it that way. After all, these are his friends' stories, not his. Sure, he helped, but what was important was the telling of THEIR stories, of their friends and their adventures, adventures he'll be able to show Hoku one day, a little at a time.

As Sora mused over this, he suddenly felt a sharp tug at his neck! Hoku had grabbed his necklace and was yanking on it hard! "EEK! Let go!" Sora tried to pry his little fingers off, but they wouldn't budge! Riku looked down to see the struggle and laughed, pausing the movie just as Ariel was about to meet a shark. "Maybe we should change into our pajamas anyway," he suggested.

"Good call!" Sora agreed as he finally got his necklace out of Hoku's grip.

Together they changed into their pajama bottoms and rid themselves of any grabbable jewelry before they got back to the movie. This time, it's Riku's turn to cuddle Hoku and Sora made sure to turn down the volume for the shark attack. "Mean shark," Sora pouted.

"Shark's gotta eat," Riku shrugged.

Sora rolled his head to give Riku a look but stopped and smiled softly instead as he took in the sight of his gorgeous shirtless husband cradling their infant son against his chest. Hoku has his sweet little face nestled into his pec and his tiny hand pressed against it, almost as if feeling for Riku's heartbeat. The sight made Sora melt and he so badly wanted to take a picture, but he'll just have to burn this moment into his memory instead. "I love you."

Riku tore his eyes from the movie to see Sora smiling and smiled back. "I love you, too."

Sora gave a cheesy grin. "Dink~"

Riku smirked. "Heh, dink~" They leaned in for a kiss but then Hoku began to fuss.

"Oh! I forgot to turn the volume back up. Sorry~" Sora apologized before bumping said volume back up, just in time for Ariel to sing "Part of That World".

"We forgot something else, too," Riku remembered.

"What?"

Riku nodded down at Hoku. "We didn't give him HIS jammies."

"Oh no!" Sora gasped dramatically and lifted Hoku up. "We can't send you off to dreamland if you're not properly dressed!" He took a big sniff. "And changed!"

Riku laughed. "Want me to?"

"Nah, I got it," Sora chuckled. "We'll be right back. Don't watch without us!"

"Don't worry," Riku snickered as he paused the movie. One thing they've gotten good at is dropping things and picking them back up in stride; to not let interruptions ruin how they enjoy things...well, most things. When the two returned, Hoku was dressed in his cactaur pajamas, an adorable green onesie with feet and gloved hands so he wouldn't scratch himself as he slept. "Sooo cute!" Riku cooed.

Immediately Hoku fussed for his other daddy, making them both laugh as Sora handed him back to Riku. Once they settled, they turned the movie back on. It was a cool night, but with the three of them snuggled up like this, it was very warm, even if both men were shirtless. One trick they learned was that at night time Hoku felt comforted by skin contact. Sora's mom said that babies find the sounds of heartbeats comforting, which made sense. After all, he and Riku liked listening to each other's too. It seemed to work at first, but then he got fussy when Sora wore pajama shirts. When Riku held him WITHOUT a shirt, it was no contest. Sora couldn't blame him for that either. Riku's chest is definitely comfy. But when Riku's away on his missions, it's a disaster and that's when Sora started singing lullabies. So yeah, Hoku knew how to play them both like fiddles.

Hoku was asleep by Ursula's song, which suited them just fine. Sora carefully took Hoku from Riku so he could stand up and together the two took him to the nursery to put him down. Once he was settled, they took turns kissing him on the top of his head and wished him good night before tip-toeing back to their own room where they crawled into bed themselves. They switched the baby monitor on and the screen illuminated with the live feed of their precious sleeping cactaur in the next room.

"He's so cute," Sora whispered as they watched him together for a few minutes.

"The cutest," Riku agreed as he wrapped an arm around Sora.

They watched until they couldn't keep their eyes open any more and Sora set down the monitor before snuggling further into Riku. Riku held him close and buried his face in Sora's hair. They both smelled like baby powder and formula, and that was just fine.

Chapter Text

Riku was getting ready to leave on a mission with Mickey, but first, the king had a few things to give Sora to try on. Now that Sora was leading a movement for world order reform, he needed to look the part. He shouldn't go around trying to advocate for peace when he's dressed in fighting clothes after all.

While he tried on the different outfits, Mickey and Riku hung out together in the living room with Hoku, who was having tummy play time on the floor. Mickey played with him adoringly. "Aww~ He reminds me of my nephews when they were this little!"

Riku looked up from the mission briefing he was reading. "You have nephews?"

"Yeah, three! They're my sister's kids."

"You have a sister!?"

"Gosh, have I never mentioned them?"

Riku could only laugh. At that moment, Sora came out dressed rather formally in a black princely raiment with red and gold detailing. Riku was struck speechless. Sora definitely looked stunning and regal, but he could also see the brunette felt uncomfortable and unsure.

"Isn't this a little much, your majesty?" Sora asked timidly as he adjusted his cuffs.

"You look great, Sora!" Mickey chirped. "It's perfect. I'm sure it seems like a little much now, but trust me, it'll help boost your confidence when you're speaking with the other world leaders."

"If you say so," Sora chuckled sheepishly.

Riku finally found his tongue. "You look amazing." He flashed Sora a white smile as he saw a blush grace the other's cheeks. "You'll have everybody's attention at the conference, that's for sure."

"Thanks, guys," Sora blushed even redder as he rubbed the back of his head.

"We'll have yours ready soon too, Riku," Mickey assured him. "The good fairies got into an argument again so yours is taking a little extra time."

Riku smirked. "I see."

"Let me get out of this before you go!" Sora requested, hurrying back to the bedroom to get undressed before it could get messy. When he got back, it was time to time to say good-byes.

"I'll be back in two days," Riku promised as he picked Hoku off the floor. "Be good for daddy. I'll miss you! Mwah mwah mwah!" He gave the baby three big smooches who squealed happily as he gummed his little fist. Unable to resist, Riku blew a loud raspberry into Hoku's cheek just to make the infant squeal again and giggle adorably. "Love you~" Hoku cooed and grabbed at Riku's hair, which Riku expertly dodged before setting him back down so he can give Sora three good-bye kisses too.

"Two days?" Sora asked.

"Two days," Riku confirmed. "I'll call you when we get there," he promised.

"You better," Sora grinned. Riku then blew a raspberry into his cheek too, surprising Sora who cried out and fwapped him on the arm. "RIKU!"

Hoku let out a high-pitched squeal and flailed his little limbs.

"You better go," Sora laughed. "Love you. You two be safe."

"Love you, too," Riku gave him one last kiss before he and Mickey left and Sora watched out the window with Hoku until Highwind was out of sight.

"Just you and me, little man," Sora kissed his head before putting him back down on the floor. "Can you play while daddy gets some work done?"

"Pbbbt..." Hoku blew spit bubbles.

"Hehe, good boy~" Sora chuckled. He reached for his notebook on the table when suddenly hear hears a loud clatter from the kitchen, startling the both of them!

"WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!" Hoku screamed loudly, frightened as they heard Donut hissing followed by more clattering.

"MROOOOOOW! HISSSSSSSSSSSSSS! YEEOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWW!!"

Sora scooped up Hoku and ran to investigate, just in time to see the tail of a raccoon escaping through the cat door in the kitchen and Donut hot on its heels. The kitchen was a MESS! The greedy raccoon had apparently gotten into the cabinet with the baby formula before Donut chased him out. The powder was spilled EVERYWHERE and there were little footprints all over the place from where Donut chased the thief all around the kitchen. "What the..."

Hoku cried even louder and Sora made half-hearted attempts to bounce and soothe him as he looked over the damage. The raccoon also seems to have knocked over the drying rack with water glasses on it which had shattered all over the floor. He took a deep breath and gave Hoku his pacifier. "I hope there's still formula left somewhere or you and I are going to have to go shopping." But first thing's first. "RUFUS!" He called for the loyal little trash can who came clattering out of his home in the kitchen cabinet. "Gonna need your help, buddy."

With Hoku squirming impatiently in a baby carrier on the kitchen table, Sora got to work sweeping up all the debris with Rufus following him to swallow up whatever he gathered in a dust bin. "These glasses were a gift from Xion," he grumbled to Hoku. "Why was a raccoon digging around in the daytime anyway?" Hoku cooed in response.

Unfortunately, it appears what the raccoon spilled was indeed the last of the formula. So after Sora got everything cleaned up, it was time to pack the diaper bag to get ready for a trip to town. "Ready for a little trip, Hoku?" The infant gurgled with excitement.

Sora wasn't thrilled about using the baby buggy, but he didn't want to carry Hoku on such a warm day, fearing he might overheat the little guy. Plus, the diaper bag was a little cumbersome too. "You don't mind if I pull the top down, do you?" he asked as he pushed Hoku towards the warp sphere, adjusting the canopy so that Hoku was in the shade but he could still see Sora through the plastic window, so he didn't fuss.

"You're so good!" Sora praised before they warped. This time they were going to the strip mall, the same place they bought Hoku's other baby toys. After the last time they went to market together, Sora decided he wanted to come here instead, hoping fewer people would stop to bother him so they can just grab the formula and go. "I should ask the moogles to start stocking formula in the moogle shop," Sora grumbled and made a note for himself.

They made a it to the baby supply store without a hitch, but it seemed a little crowded today, so Sora had to be careful maneuvering the buggy around the aisles. Along the way to the food and formula section, he came across the clothing aisle and nearly DIED from the cuteness overload they had on display! "Must...resist...you're going to outgrow them in a week anyway!" he tried to argue as if it were Hoku who were begging for the clothes and not himself. Despite his resistance, he found himself walking down the anyway, just to look.

There were so many cute colors and designs, but one in particular caught his eye: a fleece moogle onesie complete with hood with a red pompom on top and little purple wings sewn in the back. Hoku WOULD need something for winter... Without a second thought, he grabbed one, size eight months. "Might be a little big, but we'll see," Sora chuckled, confident that it will fit by then with how fast Hoku's been growing. "Don't tell daddy. We'll surprise him later," he cooed at Hoku who flailed and giggled.

Sora lifted the hood really quickly to check on him and Hoku smiled happily with the gummiest grin. "You're the sweetest little booger, aren't you? Yes, you are!" he cooed quietly as he made funny faces to get him giggling again. Hoku squealed with delight and Sora giggled, about to put the hood down again when he heard a soft voice behind him.

"Boy or girl?"

Sora looked over his shoulder to see a little old lady standing behind him with several tiny onesies in her basket. "Boy," he answered with a smile before closing the hood.

"How old?"

He counted the months on his fingers. "He's almost four months," he smiled. "Shopping for a baby shower?" he asked in an attempt to be friendly.

"My daughter is expecting this winter," she answered with a big smile.

"Congratulations! First grandchild?"

"Third. We're very excited. Hoping for a boy."

Sora chuckled. "Kids are great."

"Yes. Being a grandparent is the best job ever. I can now spoil them without consequence."

Sora laughed. "Hoku's grandmothers are the same way."

"Hoku, eh? Such a wonderful name." By now the old woman had gotten closer and could see Hoku through the little plastic window. "He's beautiful~"

"Aw, thank you very much." Hoku squealed and squirmed inside the buggy, undoubtedly because he heard his name. Sora snickered and lifted the flap. "Did you hear that? Say thank you, Hoku!"

Hoku gurgled and kicked his feet, making the old woman chuckle with delight. "Ho ho ho! Cute as a button! I hope I'm not keeping you. It just warms my heart to see young men spending time with their children."

"Oh, not at all!" Sora assured her. "We're just grabbing formula, we're in no rush."

"That's good. Your wife taking a break?"

Sora chuckled. "No, my husband just left for work. He'll be back in a couple of days."

The woman blinked but kept smiling. "That must be hard."

"Oh, it's fine. Besides, our moms are always happy to help if we need it. As they say: it takes a village!"

"Indeed, ho ho!"

"Sora, is that you?"

A familiar voice sent an awful chill down Sora's spine. He found himself gripping Hoku's buggy tightly as he slowly turned his head to see none other than Xindy. Just great. "Uh...hey, long time no see." Xindy was a girl from another class that took her crush on him way too far in his junior year of high school. He turned her down on more than one occasion and he hadn't seen her since graduation. He always thought she'd be one of the ones who'd have moved to the inner city by now.

"I see you've been busy," she commented, flipping her long wavy hair over her shoulder as she sauntered over to peer into the buggy. Hoku gurgled but not in a happy way. In fact, he scrunched his fists up towards his face and curled his knees up. Sora went to push the flap back down, but Xindy stopped him with her hand over his. "Don't be shy~ I wanna see~" she said sweetly.

"We're in a bit of a hurry," Sora lied.

"Too big of a hurry to say hello to old friends?" she pouted.

Sora sighed. "Hello."

Xindy giggled loudly and airily as if Sora said the funniest joke ever, once again flipping her hair over her other shoulder. She didn't look any different than she did in high school, save for her slightly more revealing clothes. As usual, her assets were straining against her low cut top and Sora felt like she was intentionally aiming them at him as she stood closer and closer. He looked down where her hand still hadn't left the buggy and noticed a lack of wedding ring on her finger. "You shopping for someone?" he asked cautiously, since she pretty much had him trapped the aisle with the sweet old lady he was chatting with.

"Yes. As it turns out, I'm going to be an aunt in the spring."

"Congratulations," Sora said in an attempt to sound cheerful, but he didn't like the way she was studying Hoku. He then saw her eyes glance down at the three rings on his left hand.

"Did I hear you right a moment ago when you said you had a husband?" she asked.

Sora kept a neutral face. "yes."

She let out a gasp. "So it's true then? You married Riku after all, didn't you?"

"Yes." Again, he answered neutrally. Traditionally events like marriage and babies are announced in the local paper, but Sora and Riku opted out for both occasions. The wedding was kept quiet due to the fact that their guests were from "out of town" and they didn't want to attract too much attention for the sake of preserving world order. Also being the first gay married couple on this side of the islands in twenty years was sure to cause a stir, which neither of them really wanted to deal with while they were planning the wedding. It ended up working in their favor when Sora disappeared for a year. And as much as they wanted to announce Hoku so they could save the newspaper clipping for his baby book, it didn't seem worth the trouble of risking violating world order either.

"So he's Riku's then? I can tell by his hair~" she cooed.

"He's mine, too," Sora said defensively before he could stop himself.

"Such pretty eyes. They DO look like yours." She then whispered, "Did you use your mother's eggs?"

Sora's eyes narrowed into an icy glare. "No, he's mine," he stated again firmly. She studied his face to see that he was 100% serious and Sora could already hear her questions before she even asked. Hoku suddenly began to cry, startling all three of them. Sora immediately sprang into action and gently shoved Xindy's hand out of the way to scoop Hoku up so he could soothe him. "It's okay. You're okay."

"Aw, you scared him!" the old lady scolded Xindy.

"Me!?" Xindy took a step back, affronted by the accusation.

Sora swallowed back a smile as the old lady clearly sensed the tension and came to his rescue. "Bothering a sweet baby like that! Shame on you!"

"I haven't done anything!" she insisted. "Though I am concerned about how the baby's going to feel when he grows up and figures out his dad is his brother."

"Shut. Up." Sora hissed quietly as he held Hoku protectively. "He's not my brother. He's mine. He came from me and Riku. It's as simple as that."

"Plus, that's none of your business," the lady also spat.

Hoku wailed louder into Sora's ear. His heart began to ache as he felt himself getting emotional. He was so tired. He didn't have the patience for this. He tried giving him his pacifier but he wouldn't take it, continuing to scream bloody murder as Xindy and the sweet old lady argued. "Shh shh shhhhh, it's okay," he murmured sweetly as he tried not to cry too. He felt bad that this perfect stranger was standing up for him and he felt bad that Xindy still managed to get under his skin. "Please..." he whimpered. "That's enough." He tried to calm the situation but more concerned moms were peering over to check and Hoku was still screaming his little lungs out.

"Let's settle this!" Xindy looked to Sora again. "Where did he come from, Sora?" she demanded.

"That doesn't matter!" the old lady defended. "What matters is that he's loved and cared for!"

"Two men can't make a baby. So who's the mother?"

"They can, and we did!" Sora answered, a little louder than he meant to. Now everybody was staring. "There is no mother. He's mine and Riku's. That's it!" he shouted over Hoku's cries.

"That CAN'T be it!" Xindy shouted over Hoku.

"He's MINE!" Sora shouted and Hoku wailed with a high-pitched scream before all the lights began to flicker and the store was suddenly immersed in darkness, save for the light coming in from the windows. In the confusion, Sora pushed the buggy past Xindy, apologizing to the old lady before hurrying to the fomula aisle, grabbing what he needed and quickly going to the counter where he slapped a pile of munny down for the onesie and formula, probably overpaying but he didn't care. He just wanted to get out of there and the manager didn't seem to want to stop him either, simply shouting "Come again!" as Sora made his speedy exit.

Hoku cried and whimpered but Sora kept going until he found a secluded bench to sit on, away from prying eyes as he soothed his baby while trying not to cry himself. "Shh...it's okay. Not all people are like that, I promise. She is scary, though, isn't she?" Sora chuckled as Hoku's whimpers died down to hiccups. "Oh goodness," Sora giggled at the cute little hiccups, gently drying his tears with a burp rag while tears threatened to fall down his own face. "That other lady was nice, though. I think more people are like her than not. And that's how it should be. You should always be kind first, even if you don't always understand. Just remember, no matter what anybody says, you are mine and Riku's and you'll always be loved no matter what. Your daddies will always love you and be here for you. If you know nothing else, remember that always."

He pressed his lips to Hoku's temple as he patted his back and gently rocked him to help soothe his hiccups. Once he calmed, Sora wiped away his own tears. "Let's not tell daddy about this. Deal?" Hoku gurgled. "You're the best." With one last deep breath to clear his head, he set Hoku back down in his buggy. "Ready to go home?"

"Found you, dearie!"

Sora looked up to see the kind old woman from the store. "Oh, hello again!" Sora greeted. "Uh, thank you for before." He stood and bowed politely. "I'm sorry about all of that. You didn't have to--"

She put up a hand to stop him. "Oh don't worry about it, sweetheart." She smiled and joined him on the bench. "So strange about the lights. Ho ho ho. And you got out of there so quickly, too. Your little star lit the way, didn't he?" she chuckled.

Sora laughed. "He sure did." She was right, though. The timing was a little weird. He knows HE didn't do that. He glanced suspiciously at Hoku who was busy trying to grab his own toes. "Can I buy you a drink or something?" he offered.

"That's so kind of you, dear, but no thank you. I must be going. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"Thank you. You've been very kind. We're fine. That woman's just somebody I knew from high school. I didn't like her very much," he frowned.

"Can't blame you, dear."

The two of them laughed together before saying their good-byes and going their separate ways. After he was sure he was out of sight, he found the warp sphere again and went back home. It was time for Hoku's feeding and a well-deserved nap. Once he was put to sleep, Sora considered napping himself, but then Fairy Godmother suddenly appeared in his living room!

"GUH!" Sora jumped back. "Fairy Godmother! You startled me!" he exclaimed with a hand over his chest.

"I'm so sorry, dear!" she chuckled. "But you didn't respond to my message about your session today and I got worried."

"I'm sorry!" Sora facepalmed. He totally forgot to cancel since Riku had his mission today and he had to stay home with the baby.

"It's quite all right. But since I'm her, we can do it now if you'd like," she offered kindly.

Sora felt his eyes welling up with tears. It's as if the kind woman already sensed he was having a bad day! "That'd...that'd be great, actually. Let me make some tea."

His tea-making skills weren't as good as his cooking, so he pretended not to notice when she waved her wand over the tea kettle when she thought he wasn't looking. "Your home is so lovely, dear. Very colorful," she chuckled as she took in all the details of the strange aesthetic they had going.

Sora chuckled. "Thanks, we try. Hoku's nursery isn't as busy." She chortled and sipped at her tea and Sora did the same. Yeah, it definitely tastes better now. "Thank you again for coming," he finally said. "I'm sorry you went through all the trouble."

"No trouble at all. You have a new baby! Things are bound to slip your mind!" she assured him as he patted his hand gently.

"Heh, you wouldn't believe the day we've had already." He told her all about the naughty raccoon (Donut purred proudly beneath the tea table), and everything that happened at the store. "This happened in the market, too. People asking about his mother. I expected disbelief, obviously, but why do they get so..." he searched for the word, "Confrontational about it? As if they're OFFENDED that Hoku doesn't have a mother to speak of. Then they give me this look...like...like I'm a bad father or something. He DOES look like me, doesn't he? Our friends say so, but others just notice his hair, or maybe...that's all they WANT to notice?"

"Oh my. I'm sorry that happened. But you're doing an excellent job. Don't ever doubt that for a minute. Because of you and Riku, that little boy is going to grow up happy and healthy and that's all that matters."

Sora smiled and stared down into his cup as he wiped at his nose with his wrist. "Thank you. I just...I'm a little worried. I don't want other people making him sad. But I guess all I can do is make him strong so that their words don't have to hurt."

Fairy Godmother smiled. "How is everything else?"

"Great! I like being a dad. It still feels so surreal to say that, though. Sure, I'm really, really, really tired but it's a good kind of tired. Like, I feel rewarded whenever he smiles at me, and he has the cutest laugh. I can't get enough of it! And Riku..." He stopped and blushed a little. "Seeing him with Riku and the way Riku lights up and interacts with him...I didn't think I could love him any more than I already do but gosh..." He covered his burning cheeks with his hands, now suddenly feeling bashful.

Fairy Godmother giggled. "My, both of you have been glowing. It warms my heart to see you three looking so happy."

"D'awww," Sora continued to blush.

She smiled warmly and poured herself another cup. "So, your ambassador meetings are coming up. Are you nervous?"

"A little," Sora admitted. "I've been writing notes for myself whenever I get the chance. I keep rehearsing in my head...like...imagining questions they'll ask and what answers I'll give. Then I write down the good ones."

"That's very good, dear. An excellent way to prepare. You don't have an easy task ahead of you. But remember, you have all of our support. "

"Yes, thank you."

"And you've been working on your magic, too?"

Sora brightened. "I have! Er...when I get the chance. Been practicing a lot of new stuff and trying to perfect what I already have. I'd love to have Hoku ride my merry-go-round attraction magic some day when it doesn't spin at top speed."

Fairy Godmother put a hand to her mouth as she chortled. "Oh my, yes, you better get that one under control."

"But the meetings, I worry about coming off as a bully," Sora frowned.

"How do you mean?"

Sora bit his lower lip as he considered his words carefully. "Bullies...they sometimes manipulate their victims, promising "protection" if you do as they say, claiming that you need them. If you deny them, they ensure the bad thing happens, either by their own hand or somebody else's. I worry that by coincidence, I'll show up, leave, and then something bad happens, and they'll think I had something to do with it." Before he fell into The Void, he was on a mission where something very similar happened. A grasshopper and his gang threatened the ant colony, claiming that they would "protect" the colony as long as they provided food and if they refused "somebody might get hurt". No matter what, he never wanted to give off that impression when talking with the other world leaders but he wouldn't blame some if they were wary of what he was offering them.

"There is always that chance," Fairy Godmother nodded solemnly. "But if you present yourself as best you can, I'm sure they'll know you mean no ill will. So if something does happen, they wouldn't think it was your doing. You have a good heart, Sora. They'll see that."

"Maybe...but don't worry. I'm not going to let it stop me. It's just another scenario I've been trying to prepare for."

"Of course." She smiled and grabbed a cookie from the tin on the coffee table. They were little heart-shaped sugar cookies specially ordered from Ven's bakery...strawberry-flavored at Riku's request. "Do you still hear the calls of other worlds?"

Sora nodded. "I do. But not as often, which is a good thing. It means we're doing our jobs, right?"

"Of course."

"Even when I do hear them, I have to remind myself that I'm not the only keyblade wielder so that I don't make myself worry so much. But I often wonder why I seem to hear them more than the others."

"You have a very special heart, Sora. There's no telling, really. All of you are very unique. What makes YOU special is how deeply you connect with others and how easily you do it. It's no wonder the worlds might think you're just the easiest one to talk to."

Sora laughed. "Well when you put it that way, I guess it makes perfect sense."

The two chatted for a little longer until Sora heard Hoku fussing over the baby monitor. "Oh, Fairy Godmother, I forgot to mention. In the store, the lights went out but the other stores didn't seem affected and I was wondering..."

"Do you think you caused it?"

"N-no. I was actually wondering if maybe...never mind. That's actually silly now that I'm trying to say it out loud."

"Hoku?" She tilted her head.

"Do you think that's crazy?" Sora asked.

"No, not at all, dear. Couldn't hurt to take a look."

Sora wasn't sure what she meant by take a look, but he went to fetch Hoku anyway, who was much happier now that he was back in daddy's arms. He returned to the living room and handed him to Fairy Godmother who cooed and made funny faces that made Hoku squeal. Trust instantly achieved!

"Well well, what a happy little boy~ So sweet and so bright! Oho!" She tickled all of his little spots, making his face break into a huge gummy smile as he gurgled and curled his little limbs. "He's going to be talented, that's for sure! But I don't detect a magical trace. Not from him."

Sora blinked. "Not from...?"

Fairy Godmother studied him carefully with her mouth slightly tilted. "I think...your instincts to protect your child might have stirred your magic," she pondered.

Sora's eyes widened in alarm. "But...he wasn't in any real danger. I knew that...So why?"

"You've been through so much, dearie, and you're exhausted. Even if you know you're safe, adrenaline and deep-rooted fears can manifest. But don't worry. I don't think you were a danger to anyone. I think your aura just messed with the wiring, that's all," she assured him.

"My...aura?" Sora blinked with further confusion.

"Mm-hmm. But that's a lesson for another day. In the meantime, keep doing your breathing exercises and go easy on yourself. You're doing a great job!" She smiled brightly and handed Hoku back to Sora.

"Thank you, Fairy Godmother," Sora smiled.

"My pleasure, dear." She booped the end of Hoku's nose playfully and with a sweep of her wand, she cleared away the tea set so that the busy dad would have one less thing to clean up. "Same time next week?"

Sora chuckled. "Definitely."

"See you then. Bye, Hoku!" She gave a little wave to the tiny baby.

Hoku gurgled and Fairy Godmother was gone in a poof of sparkles.

"Well, time to change you, stinky boy," Sora snickered. "Wanna watch daddy practice his magic while we wait for daddy to call? Would you like that? Yes, you would~"

Sora and Riku had borrowed many books from Master Yen Sid, self-studying on different magic and techniques to incorporate into their personal arsenals. Sora had a gift for the fantastical. Riku had unbridled power over light and darkness. The two have been training together, helping each other with what they lack. Riku's especially been helping Sora with his limited use of darkness. There's no mistaking that his darkness-based attacks have grown incredibly strong. It was just about controlling it, using the light to keep it in check, in perfect harmony like Riku's.

What Sora enjoyed was elemental magic, and the beach where he lives is the perfect playground for it. Of course, it's a little messy, so Hoku's buggy has to remain covered, but once he gets going, there are no holds barred. When he swings his keyblade, the sand moves like water before him, like orchestrating the waves of the ocean itself! Sure, he's tired and he's had a crappy afternoon, but when he's practicing magic, he can channel all of that negative energy into something that just makes him feel like he's in control again. The brief spells giving him the freedom to just vent without words.

The sand piles high into tall pillars, swirling in miniature cyclones to form towers until at long last he's built a very rudimentary sand castle that collapses back into a giant mound of sand when the spell wears off. But like most of his spells, everything fades back to how it was before. No mess to clean up. "Starting to get the hang of it," he rubbed the tip of his nose proudly before brushing the sand off of himself and checking on Hoku. "Wanna help daddy with the garden?"

The day went on pretty quietly. Sora managed to get a lot done despite everything. Hoku was pretty chill, all things considering, but Sora assumes he might be worn out from all the excitement earlier. Riku called sometime after dinner while Sora was trying to rock Hoku to sleep. With a smile he put him on camera phone and rested him on the end table so Hoku could see. "Say hi, daddy!" He waved Hoku's little hand at the camera.

"Hey, you two," Riku greeted. "We just got settled in. I tried to text when I landed but we had trouble right at the gate."

Sora nodded. "No worries. It happens. I'm just glad you have signal." One good thing about Sora going missing is that it pushed them to expand the gummi network further than it's ever gone before, forcing them to create an even more reliable system.

"I am, too. Would hate to miss telling Hoku good night."

Sora smirked. "And?"

"And what?" Riku gave a teasing grin.

"Aren't you forgetting someone?"

"And you, of course."

"Hehe."

"So how was your day?" Riku asked.

Sora hesitated but he sighed and told him about the raccoon.

"Wow, that's weird. Rox must be slacking off."

Said kitty huffed and rolled on the floor, meowing in protest.

"He chased the raccoon out, at least. But jeez, it was such a mess."

Though Sora was smiling, Riku could see that it was forced. "I felt something earlier. Did something happen?" he asked gently.

Sora looked guiltily down at Hoku who didn't look like he was sleeping anytime soon. "I...ran into Xindy." He told Riku about everything that happened. "Fairy Godmother came a little after that. So i feel better, don't worry. I just wish I knew how I could've handled it better." Hoku began to fuss and Sora held him up to his shoulder to gently pat his back while he rocked him. "I'm sorry. Daddy's okay, I promise."

Riku sighed. "I don't think you should pay it any more mind. You did a swell as either one of us would've done in that situation. Definitely better than me."

Sora chuckled. "Thanks, babe."

Riku smiled. "You're doing just fine. Seriously, don't sweat it."

The brunette nodded, smiling fondly at his husband. Riku always knows how to make him feel better. "You sleeping soon?"

"yeah, we have a lot to cover so I need to get up early. The faster I get this done, the sooner I can get home."

"Yes, but don't push too hard and get yourself hurt," Sora warned. "We're not sixteen anymore."

"Yeah, but we aren't old either."

Sora laughed. "No, but you still have a baby at home to take care of."

"Yes, that's true. No down time for us."

"Hehe, I wouldn't say that~"

Riku gave a flirtatious smirk. "Anyway, I think it's time to say good night."

"Right," Sora grabbed the phone and held it closer to Hoku. "Say good night to daddy."

Hoku gurgled and made grabbies for the phone.

"Good night, Hoku. Daddy loves you."

Sora then put the phone to his own ear. "Night, handsome. Love you."

"Night, beautiful. I love you too. I'll call you tomorrow."

"Okay." Sora smiled and made a kissy noise into the phone and heard Riku do the same before they both hung up. As soon as he set the phone down, Hoku started squirming and fussing again. "Shh shh shh," Sora hushed softly as he grabbed a pacifier. "it's okay. Daddy will be home in a couple of days." He inserted the pacifier into his mouth but Hoku spat it back out and cried louder instead.

Sora groaned quietly and rocked him faster while rubbing soothing circles into his back. "Are you still upset about today?" he asked. Hoku SCREAMED! Sora's eyes nearly fell out of his head. That was a new volume level for sure! "Ooh boy, those lungs of yours are really coming along great," he praised through gritted teeth. When the rocking didn't seem to appease him, he stood and started pacing with him instead, humming little songs and bouncing him gently, but still he fussed. With a sigh, Sora shook the sleep out of his head and grabbed an extra blanket. "Wanna do daddy's favorite thing?" he asked. Hoku quieted just a smidge. "I'll take that as a yes," the tired brunette laughed, wrapping him in the blanket before taking him outside to the deck.

The stars had just come out and were glittering brightly. "Look how late it is, you silly boy. See, even the sun had gone to bed." Hoku had stopped screaming, but he was still fussing. Sora wiped his tiny tears away as he gently bounced him and started to sing softly.

Come stop your crying
It will be alright
Just take my hand
Hold it tight

I will protect you
From all around you
I will be here
Don't you cry

He rocked Hoku gently as he danced in a lazy circle, a large yawn escaping him as he nuzzled his cheek against Hoku's soft baby curls.

For one so small,
You seem so strong
My arms will hold you,
Keep you safe and warm

This bond between us
Can't be broken
I will be here
Don't you cry

'Cause you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on
Now and forever more

You'll be in my heart
No matter what they say
You'll be here in my heart always

Hoku started hiccupping and Sora smiled at the cute little noises before adjusting his grip so he can prop him up to give him more pats. "I'm sorry, I ended up telling daddy. I always manage to spill my guts. But I didn't tell him about your new outfit. So that's still our secret." His smile fell as he thought back to Xindy and how trapped he felt. All the uncomfortable stares...he knew they were probably giving Xindy all the disapproving looks but maybe he shouldn't have raised his voice at her. It did seem to just make things worse...

Why can't they understand the way we feel?
They just don't trust what they can't explain
I know we're different but deep inside us
We're not that different at all

And you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on
Now and forever more

At long last, Hoku started falling asleep and Sora continued to sing softly as he carried him back inside, carefully stepping on the floorboards so they wouldn't creak.

Don't listen to them
'Cause what do they know?
We need each other
To have, to hold.
They'll see in time
I know.

They reached the nursery and Sora lowered him into his crib. He smoothed away his tiny curls and moved the blankets around him just so.

When destiny calls you
You must be strong.
I may not be with you
But you've got to hold on
They'll see in time
I know
We'll show them together

'Cause you'll be in my heart
Believe me, you'll be in my heart
I'll be there from this day on,
Now and forever more

Oh, you'll be in my heart. You'll be here in my heart.
No matter what they say. I'll be with you.
You'll be here in my heart.

"Always," he whispered bore kissing the top of his head. "Good night. Love you." He waited until he was sure Hoku's breathing was deep and even and carefully checked that the baby monitor was on before backing out and heading to his and Riku's bedroom. After he crawled beneath his own sheets, he checked the baby monitor one more time before allowing himself to finally drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Sora and Riku had planned this for two weeks. Just one night with the two of them. Hoku was at Sora's parents' place and they had a full case of wine specially imported from Corona. At first they debated if they should just sit around at home or whatnot, but Sora had the bright idea of just setting up a tent on their beach.

"Why would we do that when we have a perfectly good bed in our house?" Riku asked.

"BECAAAAAAUSE!" Sora insisted.

"Because why?"

"Because it's a great idea, that's why!"

"Have you already drank some?"

"HIC! I mean, no!"

So that's how they ended up in a tent with hotdogs grilling over an open fire not even 100 feet away from their actual house. Or at least Riku was trying to grill hot dogs. Sora was already going for the marshmallows to make s'mores with.

"You're burning them!" Riku scolded.

"AM NOT! You're SUPPOSED to cook them this way, RI-KUUUUUUU!" Sora huffed.

"How much have you had?"

"None of the bottles had labels! I had to sample them!"

"How many "samples" have you had?"

"Enough to tell you that THIS one is the good one!" Sora hiccupped as he held one of the bottles up in the air.

"I think just one bottle would've been fine between us."

"PSH, for DINNER, maybe!" Sora scoffed. "But what about after?"

"So...what? Are we binging the whole case? There's only two of us!"

"Just the good parts of the case."

"Sora...babe...I only ordered three kinds."

"NUH-UH!" Sora's jaw dropped. "I swear, they all tasted differently!"

Riku facepalmed and handed him a hot dog. "Just eat before you pass out. You weirdo."

"You're the weirdo!" Sora huffed but accepted the hotdog and began stuffing his face.

Riku smiled and sat back in his chair as he ate his own hot dog and gazed up at the stars. Sure they could've enjoyed this same view on their deck, but there was something nice about sitting next to a campfire and staring up at the stars again. It made him think of their past missions together. Camping under the stars after a tough mission was completed was so satisfying, even if the food wasn't always that great and the sleeping bags were lumpy. Though...was it the sleeping bag that was lumpy or was it cuddling with Sora that made it feel lumpy? With the way that man sleeps, it's amazing neither of them don't have back issues.

"Rikuuuuuuuuuuuuuu..."

Riku looked over to see Sora staring at him. "You got that pretty look on your face."

Riku felt his face redden. "What do you mean?"

"The one where you're thinking sweet things," Sora giggled and offered to top of his glass. "Red stuff for your thoughts?"

"Heh." Riku held out his glass and let him pour him some more. "Just thinking how sleeping with you might be bad for my back."

"Well if it's so bad, I guess I can top for a while, but I don't see how that'd be any better."

Riku spat out the wine he was drinking, causing Sora to cry out in disdain as the flames flickered. "THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT!"

"YOU'RE WASTING IT!" Sora scolded.

"YOU'RE THE ONE THAT'S WASTED!"

"NUH-UH!"

Riku rolled his eyes and finished off his second hot dog. Sora meanwhile grabbed another stick smugly, thinking he's won the argument and slides the freshly burnt hotdog onto a bun from the bag. "Do you ever think why they sell 10 hotdogs but only 8 buns in a bag?"

"To sell more buns," Riku answered boredly.

Sora gasped. "BUT THAT'S SO MEAN! AND WASTEFUL!"

Riku laughed at how genuinely offended Sora sounded and leaned over to kiss his wine-flushed cheek. "You're so cute."

"Nuh-uh," Sora giggled and grabbed his collar before he could pull away to kiss him fully on the lips, smearing ketchup on Riku's cheek. "YOU'RE full of cute," he snickered as he pulled away.

"Bleh," Riku groaned in irritation as he wiped the ketchup off his face.

""BLEH"!? BLEH!? You've mama-birded me strawberry cake before and ketchup on your cheek is bleh!?" Sora gasped, now especially offended.

"DON'T CALL IT MAMA-BIRDING! THAT'S WEIRD!"

"It WAS weird! WE'RE weird!"

"No, just you!"

"NO YOU!"

"YOU!"

"YOU!"

"WE!"

"ME!"

"HA!" Riku pointed.

"SHUT UP!" Sora shouted before leaping from his chair to pounce Riku, tumbling with the both of them to the ground and spilling the food AND wine as they tussled playfully in the sand.

"SORA!!!" Riku scolded, shouting the other's name as they rolled in the sand. "OUR DINNER!"

"I was already finished!" Sora argued as he tried to pin Riku down, but the other wasn't having it.

Riku rolled over and began attacking Sora's sides with his fingers, deftly slipping his hands under his shirt to attack just below his ribs where he knew he'd inflict the most laughter. The brunette cry-laughed while he frantically tried to push the older man off but to no avail as Riku had his legs wrapped tightly around him so that he couldn't be pried off. "RIKU, STAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWP!"

"TELL ME WHAT I AM!" Riku cackled as he continued his onslaught, reaching up for his pits next.

"A PRETTY PRINCE!" Sora cried out defiantly as he tried to shove the other's hands away.

"YOU KNOW THAT'S NOT IT!"

"I SAID STOP!" Sora squealed, suddenly reaching up to rake his fingers down Riku's back.

"AH!" Riku squeaked and retreated his hands. "NO FAIR! THAT'S PLAYING DIRTY!"

Sora took the opening to sit up and shove Riku down. Riku still had his legs locked around his waist, but he was on top now and that was enough for him as he leaned his head down to start wetly omnomming on Riku's neck. He tasted sandy as hell but it was making Riku squirm and that's what he needed!

"SORA! STOP!!! I MEAN IT!!" the other threatened as he tried to shove him off. "IF YOU DON'T STOP, I'LL MAKE YOU DO THE DISHES!"

Sora popped his mouth off. "YOU ALREADY MAKE ME DO THE DISHES!"

Riku hurried to put his hand over Sora's mouth so he couldn't attack him with it again and flipped them over. "Pinned ya again!"

"MMPH!!" Sora flailed as Riku's abrasive hand slapped itself over his face. That was not cool!

"Now tell me again. What am I?" Riku smirked as Sora continued to flail beneath him.

"MMPH PPHMMM MMPPH!"

Riku removed his hand. "What was that?"

"PRETTY PRINCE!" Sora grinned cheekily before shoving Riku so hard that he flipped the other onto his back and then tackled him again, crushing his mouth in rough kiss as he raked his hands down his chest.

Riku moaned under the rough treatment and eventually gave in. Was it really worth fighting anymore? But then he felt Sora go for his belt buckle and decided YES, IT DEFINITELY WAS WORTH FIGHTING BACK! He broke the rough kiss and turned them over again. "We are NOT doing that here!"

"But whyyyyyyyy?" Sora giggled as he was shoved back into the sand.

"I don't want your sandy balls against my ass. No thanks!"

"I DON'T HAVE SAND ON MY BALLS!"

Riku grabbed a handful of sand and shoved it down Sora's pants. "NOW YOU DO!" He then took off running while Sora cried out and stood up to shake it out.

"YOU'RE SO MEAN!!!! RIKUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!"

Riku hurried to cast a water spell over the fire to put it out and ran for the treehouse. "Maybe if you shower I'll change my mind!"

"YOU! GET BACK HERE!" Sora made chase, but not before grabbing the last of the wine and hurrying after him.

Chapter Text

It was Sora's turn to go on a mission but he was a lot slower getting out the door this time around.

"He's getting so big!" Sora whined. "I'm afraid I'll miss something!"

"Then just hurry back," Riku reasoned with a chuckle. "Don't worry. Soon we'll be able to take him with us and you won't have to worry anymore."

"That's true. Okay, one last kiss for daddy! Mmmmmmmmmmmwah!" He kissed Hoku one more time on his chubby cheeks and then kissed Riku about five more times. "Two days."

"Two days," Riku smiled and gave him one more kiss for good measure. "Call me."

"Yup!"

"Be careful."

"Yup yup!" Sora giggled and nuzzled his nose against the other's. "Dink~"

"Dink~" Riku snickered and gave him one last kiss on the tip of his nose. "Now get going," he laughed, forcefully turning him around and giving him a swat on the butt.

"EEP! I'm going, I'm going!"

As soon as Sora's ship was out of sight, Riku hurried to get Hoku ready. They were going to spend the day with Riku's mom today.

"Are you excited to see gramma?" Riku cooed as he put on Hoku's little socks.

Hoku blew bubbles and kicked his feet to make it difficult for Riku.

Riku's mom wanted to start gardening again now that she was home more often and wanted Riku to come with her to the garden nursery. "Watch her make me do all the heavy lifting," he chuckled. "But don't let her fool you. Gramma is very strong. So you make sure to be a good boy."

"Weh!" Hoku cooed.

"Yes, you!" he snickered. "Don't think you'll get any special treatment just because you're cute." Hoku lifted his foot to his mouth and pulled off his sock. Riku sighed and Hoku burst into a fit of giggles. "Just for that, you're wearing shoes, young man."

Once Hoku was loaded in the buggy with a fully-equipped diaper bag, the two were off to the warp sphere to grandma's where they ended up just a little down the street so they had to walk a little ways. Hoku waved his little chubby limbs at all the birds as they flew by and squealed with delight at all the new sights and sounds he was hearing, such as passing cars, bicycles, and lawnmowers. Nearby Riku could see a bunch of kids getting together with their own little boats, presumably on their way to the play island. "Heh, we'll have to take you there someday."

When they had arrived at Riku's family home, he wasn't surprised to see the garden looking a little torn up, the old flowers moved to the backyard in favor of making room for new ones. His mother came out and greeted Riku with a short hug before picking up Hoku and fawning all over him. "There's our little man~ Did you miss gramma?" she cooed. Hoku squealed happily and tried reaching for her earring, but she was quick to dodge. "Silly boy~"

"You ready to go?" Riku asked.

"Yes, let me just grab the cart." She disappeared back into the garage and pushed out a large flatbed cart and it was then that Riku knew...they were getting mulch today

"Here, let me push the cart and you can push Hoku," Riku offered politely, but he knew this was his mother's plan all along. His dad HATED helping with the gardening because the nursery was a few hills away, which meant pushing the cart took twice as much work. Now with a baby to push, his mom doesn't have to help.

Together, the two made the walk, catching up as they went. Neither were very big talkers, but it was a lot easier to find things to talk about with a baby. But once they were at the store, things got boring again. Just as he predicted, he was stuck with the cart while his mom asked around for advice. It was just like when he was a kid, only this time his own kid was along for the ride. While she debated mulch with the store manager, Riku rocked Hoku. He wasn't fussy, but Riku could tell he was getting bored. "Me too, buddy." As he did so, he felt eyes on him again. he was used to getting stared at, but he underestimated how many more stares cuddling a cute baby would get him. He could see why Sora felt anxious, as if they were all judging his performance. But how could he be doing anything wrong? He's just playing with his baby.

He decided to ignore them and show Hoku the different flowers on display. "What do you think of these? These are daisies. Just like the ones at home, remember?" Hoku cooed and grabbed one of the buds and tried to eat it. "No no no no no!" Riku quickly pried it out of his fingers. "I'm pretty sure daisies aren't edible." Hoku began to fuss and throw a fit. "Oh come on!" Riku laughed and tried to bounce him. "Now I'm the bad guy. I see how it is."

His mom came over. "What'd you do?"

"I told him he couldn't eat stuff," Riku shook his head as he tried to soothe his fussy little guy.

"Typical," she laughed. "What'd he try to eat?"

"Right?" he snickered. "Daisies," he answered, nodding over to the flowers he just showed Hoku.

"Oh, well that's fine. Daisies are edible."

"They are??"

"Yes. They're in teas," she reasoned.

"If I drank more tea, I guess I would know that," Riku couldn't help smirking. They didn't keep a lot of tea at their place because Sora wasn't exactly the biggest fan of the stuff. Really the only tea they have is for guests and the special sleepy tea that Anna and Elsa made for Sora when he was injured from all those years ago. They should probably have thrown it out by now, but neither knew when tea actually expires and Sora hates the idea of throwing away gifts from friends. He looked to Hoku, "You still can't eat the merchandise, though." Said infant continued to fuss, so Riku reached into the buggy to hand him his stuffed chocobo. He stopped crying immediately and proceeded to nom on its beak. "There you go. So vicious," he laughed.

"Thinking about a vegetable garden. What do you think?" his mom asked.

Riku blinked. "Why are you asking me?"

"You have a garden, don't you?"

"We grow herbs, that's a little different, I think."

She hummed thoughtfully. "Maybe herbs would be a good start," she pondered as she wandered off. "Which ones do you think would blend nicely with the other flowers?"

"Well, I uh--" he was suddenly interrupted by a SQUEAL from behind him.

"He's cute AND he gardens? Oh my!"

Riku's face started turning pink as he resisted the urge to facepalm. Must be tourists.

"Look! He has a baby, too! Aww~"
"Hottest dad ever!"

Riku grimaced and his mom snorted quietly into her hand. "Reminds me so much of your father."

"Wha--?"

"Big strong man like your father with an itty bitty baby? Lots of attention," she grinned as if it were obvious.

Riku frowned. "I see."

His mother patted his arm. "Don't let it get to you."

"Yeah, sure," Riku huffed but then was struck with an idea. "While we're here, want to help me take some pictures?" he grinned at his mom whose face lit up with delight.

Together they almost forgot about their shopping as they took turns taking pictures with Hoku and the flowers. Hoku even got some solo shots! After the manager started giving them looks, his mother eventually went back to shopping and picking what she wanted while Riku idly rocked the buggy with one hand as he uploaded the new pictures to kingstagram with the other. "We'll need to take more pictures with daddy when he gets back," he mused to Hoku.

"Bubbbbbbbbb," Hoku gurgled.

Riku chuckled. "Weird tag, but I'll add it."

In the photo description he typed "Hoku: Bubbbb" (<#3Hoku <#3Flowers <#3MyBabyIsTheCutest).

"Should've dressed you in your cactaur onesie. But the chocobo rancher look works too," Riku snickered as he cropped another image to fit properly and added a filter.

"Still shop with your mom, Riku?"

Riku's spine stiffened. He glanced cautiously over his shoulder to see it was one of his older cousins. This one in particular tried to antagonize him at his graduation party. This guy really had a lot of nerve trying to pick a fight with him in a flower shop of all places, in front of his kid, no less. "Is it weird to help your mom?" he asked boredly, not really knowing why he was bothering giving this guy the time of day as he continued to rock Hoku's buggy forward and back.

"What's weird is you disappearing for a few years and now you have a husband and new kid," he scoffed, annoyed that Riku still hadn't completely turned to look at him.

"I didn't disappear," he argued flatly. "I've been here the whole time." He peered back into the buggy to smile at Hoku. "That's called object permeance. You don't have it yet, and apparently neither does he~" Hoku giggled at daddy's funny voice.

"What did you just say?" his cousin growled.

Riku sighed. "Just because I haven't ran into you doesn't mean I disappeared. I've been busy. Besides, isn't it a little early for you to be on mainland?"

"The boat's in for repairs. I'm here grabbing some bug spray."

"Well, don't let me keep you."

"You're not going to introduce me?" he huffed.

Riku turned completely, quirking an eyebrow at the other's actual interest in his son. He was hesitant at first, but he did stand aside so his cousin could take a look. "This is my son, Hoku."

The man smirked as he looked into the buggy. "So he is yours, then."

"Of course he is," Riku frowned.

"At least you did one thing right. He's a good-looking boy."

"Thanks," Riku responded flatly.

Riku's mom returned with a couple of potted plants. "ready? I have a whole list picked out!"

"Sure thing," Riku took the flowers from her and helped lower them into the flat bed cart while she took the reins of Hoku's buggy. She regarded her nephew with a sweet smile. "I saw your wife by the daisies. She was looking for you."

"Uh, thank you, ma'am." He bowed his head politely and ran off. The smile fell from her face as soon as he was gone, making Riku smirk just a little.

The two fell into a comfortable silence as Riku loaded the plants she selected, along with several bags of dirt and mulch. On the way back, Riku's thoughts began to wander as he pushed the heavy cart uphill. His mom pushed Hoku's stroller with ease, but she kept her pace even with Riku's. "Was...it a mistake...not announcing Hoku?" he asked between breaths.

"In the paper?" she asked.

Riku nodded.

His mother hummed thoughtfully. "I know why you didn't. But...even though all your off-world friends know, I think your friends here would have liked to congratulate you, too."

Riku's shoulders slackened and he rolled the cart to a stop on a flat part of the path. "Were we being selfish?" he asked as he wiped the sweat from his eyes.

"I think you were just scared, honey. You wanted to protect your baby. But...there are good people here and I must say...It does come off as odd when you don't announce your child to the world he's going to grow up in."

That stung. It's true...he invited the mistress of all evil to Hoku's baby shower and yet he couldn't even announce his existence in the local paper like all the other kids. He felt awful. "Is there...is it weird to announce afterwards?"

Riku's mom smiled. "You're new parents. Just say it slipped your mind."

Riku smiled a little and began pushing again. "I'll ask Sora about it tonight."

The two spent all day with gramma. Hoku had a blast getting dirty and playing with the flowers while Riku and his mom tried to get everything planted. By the time the last bag of mulch was spread, the sun was going down. His mom invited him to stay for dinner, so Hoku got to have his bottle at the old family table with Riku and his parents. During dessert, Hoku babbled whenever he could just to be part of the conversation as Riku's dad told them all what happened at work today at the docks, or not so much babbling as squealing and buh noises. Apparently it wasn't just his cousin's boat that got damaged. Two others have docked for repairs at Sora's dad's shop for "inexplicable damage to the hulls".

After dessert, Riku's dad got a few cuddles with Hoku in before the infant began to get fussy. "It's somebody's bedtime," Riku chuckled. After Hoku got at least a million good night kisses from both grandparents, Riku took them both home.

"Think we both need a bath, little man. Wanna have bath time with daddy~?"

Hoku kicked his little feet and squealed his approval.

In the bath tub, Riku joined Hoku while they both got cleaned up, Hoku's baby bath propped on the sides of the tub while Riku bathed in the actual tub. "Look at you~ If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were the one carrying the mulch. So dirty!"

Hoku squealed and splashed the water with his feet.

Riku laughed and tickled at his neck. "Did you have fun helping gramma? Who helped gramma? You did!" Hoku squealed even louder, giggling happily at daddy's silly voice and clenching his little fists close to his chest as Riku tickled him. Riku laughed with him. He couldn't get enough of that gummy smile of his. "Next time YOU can push the cart."

"Buh?" Hoku blinked with wide eyes.

"What? You're strong enough!"

"B-b-bpt!" the infant stuck his tongue out and made spit bubbles.

"Of course you are!" Riku laughed and finished bathing the both of them, giving Hoku one last warm rinse before lifting him out of the tub to blow wet raspberries onto his clean tummy. "PBBBBBT!"

Hoku squealed and kicked his little legs, knocking Riku right in the chin!

"OW! Yeah, see? Super strong!" he winced and clicked his jaw back into place. He got a towel that was still warm from the dryer and dried them both off. After a few rounds of peek-a-boo with said towel, it was time to pick some jammies, arguably the best part of the night. This time Riku chose a lucky emblem patterned onesie and Hoku fought him every step of the way. "Come on! It's Mickey! Don't you like Mickey?"

Hoku fussed.

"You can wear the dragon onesie tomorrow," Riku bargained. They used to make a game out of picking Hoku's jammies by holding up different kinds and letting the infant choose. Bu t when he started picking the ones Maleficent gave him every time, it was getting a little worrisome.

Once he was finally dressed, Riku settled them both into the rocking chair and pulled out his gummi phone. Sora texted an hour ago to say he was available if they want to call him so he did just that. It only took a couple of rings before Sora answered on the camera phone. "Hey!"

"Hey yourself," Riku smiled and held the phone up so Hoku could see.

"Hi, Hoku! Daddy misses you! Were you a good boy today?" Sora cooed.

"Bah!" Hoku babbled before blowing a bubble and shying his face away from the bright screen to bury himself into Riku's pec instead.

"He just had a bath," Riku explained.

"Ohhh~" Sora nodded in understanding. "He should go down quick, then."

"We can only hope," Riku chuckled. "How was the mission?"

Sora's eyes went downcast. Riku could tell now that Sora has definitely had a rough day. His hair was disheveled and he had trace remains of a blue bruise on his left cheek. "The main mission was fine. We took out this weird wolfman heartless thing but I didn't get an audience with the leaders like I had hoped. They said we'll have to schedule for another time."

"Well, that's fine then. It's not a no," Riku gently reassured him.

"Yeah, I guess."

Riku tilted his head with a small smile. He could tell Sora was still feeling really down. "Just means I might get to be there with you next time," he added.

"This is true!" Sora brightened and grinned happily, cheering up almost instantly. "I WOULD feel a lot more confident if you were with me."

"I know, it's intimidating," Riku smiled sympathetically.

"Yeah," Sora smiled softly back, the two locking fond gazes for a moment. "So did you guys have fun? I saw the kingstagram posts. He's soooo cute! The two of you are so photogenic together!" he gushed.

Riku chuckled. "Yeah, I guess we had fun for the most part. But that does remind me. I wanted to ask you something....about Hoku's announcement." He told Sora how he was having second thoughts about not announcing him in the local paper and what his mother had said. "I know I was the one who said it wasn't necessary, but...I'm starting to see things a little differently."

Sora smiled. "I see. Well, better late than never. We'll have to draft one up and send it in."

"What do we say, though?"

"Hoku, born to Sora and Riku July 31st, nine pounds, 20 inches. That's all," Sora simply shrugged.

Riku grinned. "Vague enough to work. I like it."

Sora snickered.

"You're getting sneakier and sneakier," Riku praised.

"Eh, just finally learning how to use words to my advantage." Sora shrugged again, but his cheeks reddened with appreciation all the same.

"Heh, so what's on the agenda tomorrow?"

"Checking on everything and then making our way back. Hopefully we'll get that meeting scheduled before we leave."

"Well you be safe. Wanna say good night to Hoku?"

Said infant was already asleep and practically snoring into Riku's chest.

"Good night, Hoku. Daddy loves you~" Sora whispered.

Hoku scrunched his fists and wrinkled his nose, earning a smile from Riku before he returned his attention to Sora. "I'm going to go ahead and put him down. Hang tight." He set the phone down for a moment so he could carefully lay Hoku down in his crib. The little guy was down for the count and didn't even stir. "Night, Hoku. Love you," he whispered and pressed two gentle kisses to his head, one for him and Sora.
After checking the baby monitor was turned on, he grabbed the phone and headed to the bedroom where Rox had already made himself comfortable on the bed.

"So what's your mom planting?" Sora asked once he was sure Riku was in the clear.

"Honestly, I have no idea. I didn't really pay attention. Too busy spreading the mulch and watching Hoku play in the dirt," Riku answered honestly as he got into bed.

Sora laughed. "Valid."

The two talked for several more minutes as they both settled in for the night. Riku got comfortable and watched Sora change into his pajamas with one hand while he held the phone with the other, a slightly impressive feat. Both of them were quickly getting sleepy and soon had their heads propped on their pillows. "Ready to say good night?" Riku asked.

"Yeah. You?" Sora asked quietly with a hint of a stifled yawn in his voice.

"Mm-hmm," Riku hummed.

Sora smiled.

"Love you."
"Love you."

They both said it at the same time and chuckled at themselves.

"Good night," Riku said and blew Sora a kiss.

"Mwah! Good night," Sora kissed back before they both hung up.

Chapter Text

Sora, Riku, and Hoku celebrated a wonderful Christmas with their family and friends this year. Hoku, of course, probably having the best time out of all of them. In their treehouse, the place was beautifully decorated and the tiny tree with baby-safe ornaments twinkled in the corner of their living room. Hoku was playing on his tummy on his play mat, surrounded by all of his new toys, including a jack-in-the-box from Santa and Jack Skellington himself. In fact, the "jack" in the box was the Pumpkin King himself dressed in his "Sandy Claws" outfit. When they opened the present for Hoku, Sora proceeded with caution to say the least, but even HE was startled by the likeness of his friend that popped out when he turned the crank. He expected it would frighten Hoku, but rather the infant laughed his head off, and now it's become one of his new favorite toys. Thus Riku was on the floor cranking it for him over and over while Sora tried to tune it out.

Everything about their holiday season has been perfect...except for the rain.

Outside the storm made their treehouse sway as the rain pummeled the roof. The sounds of rolling thunder could be heard in the distance, or at least they would be if Riku wasn't cranking that box over and over. After the twentieth time of hearing the "POP Goes the Weasel" tune followed by the actual POP, Sora was beginning to lose his patience. "Maybe...it's time for another toy?" he suggested with a twitchy eyebrow.

Riku smirked over at his husband on the couch. He wasn't used to seeing him so strung tight but then again, he did have a big meeting coming up in a week. He scooched over on his knees and popped the box in Sora's face one more time for good measure. "What, don't you like Jack?"

Sora rolled his eyes and shoved the toy out of his face. "Maybe Jack needs a break," he suggested through grit teeth.

Hoku began to fuss on the floor, wondering where his favorite toy went. "BUH BUH BAAAAAH!"

Riku reached over and set it down in front of him so he could at least play with it by himself for a moment before turning his attention back to Sora. "You okay?"

Sora rubbed his own temples. "Sorry, I just--"

There was a loud clap of thunder outside that shook the entire house, scaring Hoku who could feel the vibrations through the floor. Immediately Sora jumped up to comfort him even though Riku was obviously closer.

Riku pulled the curtain back to take a glance outside. It was so dark you couldn't even tell it was only late afternoon. The waves were really high and he could already tell the garden was going to need some TLC once the storm was over. "It's really coming down."

Sora bounced Hoku and wiped away his snotty tears. "You're going to have to get used to it, little guy. That's the raining season for you."

Hoku blubbered and turned his head away from the rag that Sora was trying to dab his face with, choosing instead to smear his face all over Sora's front.

"Thanks, buddy," Sora sighed but laughed. At least Hoku wasn't crying anymore, even as the house continued to creak and sway. They weren't worried, though. The house was VERY well-anchored and was allowed some flexibility for the natural inevitable sway and growth of the tree. But sometimes it did feel like they were on a boat rather than a hundred feet up in the air. He finished wiping his face and set him back down, pointing him towards the tree so he could watch the pretty multi-colored lights blink. Hoku's face broke into a gummy grin and he flailed his limbs in appreciation. "You're soooo cute!" Sora giggled and whipped out his gummi phone for a quick picture. Hoku was dressed in his fleece moogle onesie so he took the opportunity to pull the little hood up so his little red pompom stood up just so before he snapped the picture.

Riku grinned. "Send me a copy of that one, too."

"Yeah, yeah, hold on," Sora waved him off playfully as he carefully selected the filter and then picked a different angle to take another picture that really showed off the wings sewn on the back.

Riku waited until he was about to take the picture before playfully shoving him in the arm.

"RIKU!" He wasn't really mad, having got the picture right before Riku shoved him, but still!

The silverette laughed and gave him an apologetic kiss on the cheek. "Want something warm to drink?"

"Not tea," Sora stuck his tongue out.

"Hot chocolate then?"

Sora broke into a wide grin. "With marshmallows?"

"Of course."

"And some chocolate syrup?"

Riku rolled his eyes. "Want whipped cream too?"

"Nah!" Sora shook his head and kissed Riku back. "But real marshmallows! Not strawberry ones."

"Just for that, I'm giving you strawberry ones," Riku grinned deviously as he grabbed at Sora's ass.

"EEP! You will NOT!"

"Will too!"

"Then I'll make my own hot chocolate!"

"Fine."

"Fine."

"...Please make me hot chocolate?" Sora whimpered.

Riku snickered and kissed the tip of his nose. "Coming right up."

"BAH BAH BAH!" Hoku squealed on the floor.

"And a warm bottle for you?" Riku asked.

"BAH BAH!"

"Right away," Riku laughed.

* * *

Lea and Isa watched the snow fall outside the mansion from their bedroom window. The fireplace was crackling quietly nearby and the two were sharing a blanket as they watched the giant snowflakes slowly drift down outside the frosted glass. The blanket probably wasn't needed, after all, Lea always felt like a human furnace to Isa, but the redhead insisted he was still cold.

"Feels a little empty without the others, huh?" Lea commented as he leaned into Isa, his soft pajamas comforting against his cheek.

"Hm. Aren't we a little young to moan like empty-nesters?" Isa asked as he adjusted his grip on Lea's waist.

"We ARE empty-nesters," Lea reminded him.

"Last I checked, Roxas hasn't moved out yet," Isa pointed out.

Lea looked up at Isa. He had a very subtle look of concern on his face. "He will soon. I'm sure of it."

"I wonder sometimes...if we failed him in some way. He doesn't seem as ambitious as the other two," Isa admitted.

Lea's eyebrows raised slightly. He didn't realize Isa felt that way. "Roxas isn't...we haven't failed him. He's always had a mind of his own, you know that. Besides, there's nothing wrong with the path he's chosen. It's just a little...rockier than the others."

"Hm."

"Hey, look at us. We chose one of the ickiest paths to take and look where we are now. He'll be fine," Lea assured him.

"I suppose...you would know best," Isa admitted.

The redhead grinned before cupping his cheek to give him a long, heated kiss followed by three more quick ones. Isa tightened his grip on him to pull him close, the blanket falling forgotten from their shoulders and pooling at their feet. Lea broke away to trace his thumbs over the other's cheek bones. "Let's grab something to eat and then we can find a better way to warm up."

Isa smirked. "Thought you'd never ask."

* * *

Xion tucked a pencil behind her ear as she stretched at her desk, a rickety wooden thing shoved in the corner beside her tiny twin-sized bed. Even at 25 (kind of), she was still living in a girls-only dorm while she finished her doctorate. Unfortunately, she wasn't allowed a kitchen, but like all sneaky students, she did have a mini fridge and a hot plate and even the forbidden MICROWAVE that she kept badly hidden in a cupboard. As she stretched she realized her feet had fallen asleep while she was finishing up her homework and decided it was probably a good idea to get up and walk around. Once she did, she also realized how COLD she was.

"BRRR!" she shuddered and walked over to the window to see it had been snowing. A fresh blanket of white powder covered the campus and it immediately brought a smile to her face even as she blew hot air into her hands to warm them up. As she warmed them up, she saw her breath fogging the window and giggled, lifting her index finger to draw a heart into the frost. She was about to close the curtain to retain some heat when she noticed a dark figure standing in the snow. "Roxas?" She lifted the window to see more clearly, the cold air immediately biting her cheeks as she leaned to take a better look. Sure enough, it was Roxas in a black hoody with white cargo pants. She waved happily at him and took a step back, knowing what was going to happen next.

The blonde broke into a grin at seeing her and took a quick look around before running up the side of the building and swiftly landing inside her room where Xion awaited him with open arms. He gathered her up in his own arms, giving her the tightest squeeze before politely turning around to close the window. He shuddered as he adjusted to the warmer temperature of the room before hugging her again and giving her a kiss. "Hey there."

"Hey yourself," she giggled and returned the kiss with one of her own. "You're freezing!" she practically scolded as she held his red cheeks. "How long have you been out there?"

"Long enough to grab you dinner," he grinned before reaching inside his hoody to retrieve a crumpled paper takeout bag. "Sorry, it got a little squished, but I was trying to keep it warm for you."

Xion smiled and shook her head before kissing him again, accepting the food gratefully. "You didn't have to do that~"

"Sure I did. I never see you have food in here." Now it was HIS turn to scold her.

"Food is for the weak!" she playfully protested.

"Then I guess you don't need it then," he smirked and grabbed for the paper bag which she kept protectively out of his reach.

"MINE!" She stuck her tongue out as she clutched the already rumpled bag. "So what'd you get me?"

"What else?" Roxas laughed as he peeled off his hoody and kicked off his shoes.

Xion was about to wrinkle her nose at his snowy boots but brightened as she felt the contents of the bag. "Burgers!"

"Of course! There's one for me too, though, so--"

"I'm eating both!" Xion teased as she grabbed a french fry.

"Oh come on!" Roxas patted the bed beside him. "You have to share or I'm taking it all back."

"You can't do takesie-backsies! That's against the rules!" she huffed before taking a seat next to him and handed him one of the burgers before grabbing her own. She set the bag between them so they could share the fries that had spilled out anyway.

They both dinked their burgers together in a cheers before biting into the burgers that were a little messy but still warm. "Soooooooo good!" she hummed appreciatively. "Thank you~"

"You're welcome," Roxas smiled before he bit into his own. "Bleh, they left the pickles in."

"I'll take 'em!" she happily volunteered, opening her burger so he can place them on hers.

Roxas didn't need to be asked twice, quickly unfolding his burger and putting the offensive green things on hers. But before he closed it, he took a few of the fries and put them in the pickles' place. "Much better!" he munched happily.

"How'd your last mission go?" Xion asked.

Roxas wiped a little ketchup from the corner of his mouth and sucked it off his thumb. "Alright, I guess. Vani left early to be with Naminé. He's been doing that a lot lately. I guess he's worried about her but he won't tell me what's up."

"That's so sweet," Xion giggled. "He really turned out to be such a softy, didn't he?"

"Yeah, but don't tell him that," Roxas snorted. "Oh crap, I forgot to get drinks."

"Ooh, those I DO have!" Xion giggled cheerfully and hurried over to the mini fridge. "Orange soda for you?"

"You know it!" Roxas held his hands open and Xion tossed him the can which he carefully opened, the soda letting out a satisfying amount of fizz before he gulped it greedily.

Xion grabbed a root beer for herself and joined him on the bed, taking a big gulp before getting back to her burger. She regretted it slightly because it definitely didn't pair well with her extra pickles so she set it aside to enjoy after she finished eating.

The move wasn't lost on Roxas who smirked around his food but he didn't say anything. "So how's your homework coming?" he asked in an effort to change the subject.

"Almost finished and then I need to study for my exams," she shrugged as she grabbed another french fry.

"Exams?" the blonde blinked. "Aren't those a month from now?"

"Yeah, but I want to be prepared!"

Roxas snorted and playfully gave her a little shove. "Surely you can leave it alone for tonight, right?"

The raven-haired woman blinked in confusion. "Why, what happens tonight?"

Roxas's face fell and he softly rapped his knuckles on the side of her noggin. "Hello? Your birthday?"

Xion's eyes widened. "My birthday's not until tomorrow!"

"Today WAS tomorrow! Have you even looked at your phone?"

"I...don't even know where my phone is, actually," her eyes getting impossibly wider.

Roxas shook his head and felt around the bed, looking for the familiar lump that was her phone. He found it tucked in the corner next to the outlet she usually charged it at, but of course it was unplugged and therefore the battery was dead. "Xionnnnnnn..."

"I'm sorry!" she squeaked and grabbed it from him to plug it in herself, flopping on her stomach to reach the outlet. "I got caught up in my calculus homework and writing my dissertation and then I had to go to the store and--"

Roxas flopped on his back to rest his head on her butt. "Yeah, yeah. Just read your messages."

Xion let out a huff as Roxas got comfortable on top of her and kicked her feet idly as she scrolled down the many "Happy Birthday" greetings. Her thumbs flew over the keys as she quickly typed back all of her thank yous and apologized for not seeing them earlier. Sora had sent her like three pages of happy birthday gifs with puppies and each one made her giggle more than the last. When she was done, she squirmed under Roxas and he let her back up so she could finish her food before it got cold. The blonde smiled as he watched her stuff her face before finishing off the rest of his own and munching on a couple more fries. "You work too hard, you know."

Xion swallowed and tilted her head to give him a quizzical look. "Where'd that come from?"

"Nothing. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. Just...you need to take care of yourself more, is all."

She smirked and scooched a little closer to bump her elbow against his. "And if I don't?"

"Heh, guess I'll have to take care of you then," he grinned and leaned in to give her a kiss.

"Damn right," she leaned in, the burger wrapper laying forgotten between them as they kissed.

After several long moments, Roxas pulled away and nuzzled his nose affectionately against hers, delighting in how she giggled as her cheeks reddened. He smiled fondly at her for another moment before he remembered. "Oh! Can't forget the birthday cake!" he laughed and pulled out a chocolate chip cookie from his pocket.

Her eyes lit up with delight as she accepted the cellophane-wrapped treat. "Thank you!"

"Sorry, I forgot the candles," he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly.

"Well, at least you didn't forget my birthday kisses," she grinned cheekily.

"Hmph, how could I ever forget those?" he smirked as he wrapped an arm around her.

She broke the cookie in half and offered it to him, the blonde accepted but only after playfully snatching it from her hand with his mouth.

"Nom nom nom!" he bit around the cookie dramatically just to make her laugh again.

After they finished enjoying Xion's "birthday cake", Roxas had one last surprise for her, reaching into his discarded hoody pocket to pull out a flat package wrapped in newspaper. "Present time!"

"You got me a present too?" She gasped and clapped her hands with delight, accepting the small package and giving it a little shake. It flopped over in her hands and almost immediately she was sure she knew what it was. She quickly unwrapped the paper to reveal--"DINOSAUR STICKERS!"

"These glow, too!" Roxas grinned, happy that she liked them.

She ran her fingers over the embossed dinos, they were drawn to look cute with oversized heads, cartoony expressions, and tiny little limbs. She giggled at the tyrannosaurus rex sticker with a speech bubble that said "RAWR means "I love you" in dinosaur!" and looked to the wall where she had all of her other glow-in-the-dark stickers on display. "I love them! Hope there's enough room."

"Well, you can always put them elsewhere, I guess," Roxas suggested.

"No! They need a place of glory!" Xion laughed and crawled over the bed to stick the little dinosaurs carefully onto the wall. "I think that one's my favorite," she pointed to the rex.

"Rawr~" Roxas grinned.

"Rawr!" she laughed before tackling him to smother him with more kisses!

* * *

Naminé and Vanitas have a small cottage by the sea, but not too close. Vanitas had grown fond of the sounds of the waves from his short time living on Destiny Islands, but just the sound. So they were closer to the main kingdom than anything else, but they could still hear the rush of the waves outside. Out the window they could see the lighthouse in the distance, a welcome sight in what was sure to be another cold evening. Naminé hung up the last of the flowers that she had gathered in the fall to dry so that they'd have flowers all winter. From their loveseat in the tiny living room, Vanitas watched her work while Reacher sat at his feet.

"Is it crooked, Vani?" Naminé asked while she stood on a stool.

"Crooked in what way?" Vanitas asked. He didn't understand what she was going for. To him she just seemed to be hanging them wherever there was a spare hook. If anything he was more concerned about the way she was standing on the stool and got up to brace his hands on her hips so she wouldn't fall. "You need to be careful."

"I'm fine, Vani," She giggled and hung the last bushel of flowers before turning in his grip to brace her hands on his shoulders and leaned to give him a kiss.

"Sure you are," he grinned and lifted her by her waist to get her off the stool. "The flowers look great. Now get over here and cuddle with me. I'm cold."

She laughed and hung onto his shoulders. "Fine, but you have to carry me."

"I have no complaints," he grinned before tossing her over his shoulder to dangle her over his back.

"AAA! Vani!!" she laughed, playfully kicking her feet while she clung desperately to his back. "I thought you didn't want me to fall!"

"I won't drop you!" he laughed harder and gave her a quick spin for good measure as if to prove it, Reacher quickly running out of the way.

"VANIIIIIIIIIIIII!" she continued to squeal.

The raven-haired man cackled before setting her down on her feet and settling on the small couch, giving her arm a quick tug so that she'd fall into his lap and snuggle her close.

The blonde couldn't keep herself from giggling giddily as she flopped into his lap and felt him snuggle close. The both of them were wearing knitted sweaters and pajama bottoms, but the one she was wearing was three sizes too big for her...because it was Vani's. "What do you want to do tonight?"

"Hm...You still have that book, right?" he asked, though he made no other effort to move.

"Oh yes! I can grab it if you want," she smiled and brushed one of Vanitas's stray bangs from his face so she could see his eyes properly. She couldn't get enough of the darkened rosewood red his eyes had become.

"You can, or you can just sit here with me, I have no complaints either way," he smiled and turned his head up to kiss the finger that brushed away his bangs.

"I can grab it, but you'll have to let go," she reminded him playfully.

"I can spare you for three seconds, so you'll have to be quick."

"Oh wow, a whole three seconds? You're feeling generous tonight," she quipped.

"And they're ticking~" he teased.

"Eep!" she squeaked and hurried to move, playing along with their little game as she ran for her bag.

"One thousand one~"

"I'm getting it!"

"One thousand two~"

She found the book and dive bombed back into Vani's lap before he could finish counting off one thousand three. "VICTORY IS MINE!" she cheered with a triumphant fist in the air.

"I'm proud of you," he groaned. "But you landed on the goods."

"Omigosh, I'm so sorry!" she quickly sat up.

"It's fine," he croaked and reached down to rearrange the furniture while Naminé looked away with a scarlet blush on her face.

"Well to be fair, you shouldn't have left the goods in my landing zone," she muttered as she continued to stare at the other wall.

"What was that?" he growled playfully and wrapped his arms around her again to playfully nom on her neck. "What did you just say?"

"Nothing!" she squealed and kicked her feet out as he tickled her neck. "VANIIIIIIIII!"

After a few more moments of them playfully tickling each other, Vani let up so they could get comfortable again. Now breathless with giggles, Naminé let Vanitas lay back so she could lean back against him, her head settling on his broad chest and pulling a blanket over the both of them and propping the book up on her knees so they could look through it together. It was a book they borrowed from Master Yen Sid's library which he claimed was on loan to him by Merlin so they promised to take extra good care of it. It was a book full of paintings by an artist named Georgia O'keeffe and her specialty was apparently flowers, deserts, and cow skulls. Both really loved her use of color in all of her paintings and decided they wanted to take the time to peruse this book together, as they often did when they found a book they both liked. Naminé would flip through the pages and they would both discuss whatever pictures caught their eye. Vanitas didn't have much to say about things such as technique, but he did like talking about how the pictures made him feel and Naminé would go on and on about that and so much more. To be honest, he could spend hours listening to her gush about art and never get tired of it just because of the way it made her face light up with joy.

Just as they got settled, they felt another weight join them on the loveseat. Reacher had jumped up to settle between both their legs. "Reacher!" Vanitas scolded. "You're not a puppy anymore! You're going to squish her!"

Naminé laughed. "It's fiiiiiine! You can sit with mommy and daddy~" she cooed while she reached to scratch him behind the ears. Said canine snorted happily and rested his large head in her lap contently.

"Fine, just this once," Vanitas rolled his eyes because he knew he'd just do it again tomorrow. But since it's so cold, he supposes having the extra heat definitely couldn't hurt.

Naminé giggled and propped the book back up. "I wonder if one day we could see these paintings in person?"

"Maybe," Vanitas smiled and nuzzled his nose into her soft blonde locks. "If I find a place that has one, I'll take you there right away."

"I'd like that," she smiled brightly and turned to kiss his cheek and nuzzle into his warmth, the other tightening his grip around her in kind.

* * *

Terra and Aqua had just put their own little one to bed and were enjoying the rest of the evening in the library, cuddled up next to the fireplace. Ven waved at them as he passed by, having just got back from the bakery, but Aqua wasn't about to let him walk by without a proper good night.

"Ven!" she sat up. "How are you just now getting back?"

Ven sheepishly shook the flour out of his hair. "Got backed up on orders," he said simply.

Terra looked up with concern. "I thought you finished all of them?"

"Yeah, all the CHRISTMAS ones," Ven groaned as if it should be obvious. "Now we got the ones for new years!"

Aqua frowned sympathetically. "Make sure you grab dinner before you go to bed."

"Don't worry, I'm not hun--" His stomach growled loudly, interrupting him.

Terra frowned. "Vennnnnnn..."

"Alright, alright," Ven laughed. "But don't you two stay up late either," he pointed before saying good night and making his way to the kitchen.

The two masters said their good nights and leaned back into each other, Aqua snuggled into Terra's side as he idly brushed his fingers through her hair. A blanket was pulled over both their laps as they quietly enjoyed the cheery flames of the crackling fire. It was rare that they got a quiet moment to share, what with the school and raising their own new baby.

"What are you thinking?" Terra asked quietly.

"Hmm...nothing at the moment," Aqua admitted with a soft hum.

"I don't believe that," the brunette snorted.

"What's that supposed to mean? You don't think I can let go?" she looked up, slightly affronted. "I can relax too, you know!"

Terra smiled, slightly apologetic that he riled her up. "Of course you can, that's not what I meant," he tried to soothe her by rubbing her shoulder instead. The motion seemed to work because she settled back into him, albeit with a slight huff.

"Well what are YOU thinking then?" she asked.

"Me? I was just thinking...how beautiful you look."

She scoffed but her cheeks reddened all the same. "Nice recovery, but really, what are you thinking?"

Terra laughed quietly, "Okay, I was just thinking that maybe we could let the students have the day off tomorrow. Maybe let them play in the snow?"

"Hm?" she blinked up at him in surprise. "I'd expect that suggestion from Ven."

"Well, why not?" he smiled gently. "It's not like they'd sit still anyway knowing that there's so much untouched snow outside."

"This is true," she considered.

"Besides, maybe we can convince Ven to take a day off and play with them and we can spend the day with Era," he added.

"There's no way," Aqua shook her head. "Ven's too dedicated."

"I can convince him. Lauriam is more than capable."

"Good luck," Aqua laughed. "If you can convince Ven to take the day off, then sure, we can let the students loose."

"Deal," Terra grinned and sealed the deal with a kiss. "I love you."

Aqua blushed prettily as she returned the kiss. "You too."

* * *

Ventus grabbed dinner just like he was told, a heaping bowl of beef stew still hot on the stove and took it back with him to his room. He had been working with Lauriam and Elrena in the bakery for a good portion of the day until they went home and then it was just him "finishing up" but "finishing up" spiraled into "prep for tomorrow" and the next thing he knew he was trying out a new frosting concoction and the sun had already gone to bed for quite some time.

In his room he kicked his shoes off and tore off his outer jacket to sit as his desk and eat. He'll have to take a shower before he goes to bed but he almost feels too tired to bother. Then again, flour in the sheets would not be pleasant. While he shoveled the tasty stew into his mouth, he checked his gummi phone for any messages he might've missed and to scroll through kingstagram.

"Awww~" he cooed as he saw the post of Hoku dressed in his moogle onesie. He quickly added a like to it and kept scrolling. Looks like everybody has been posting pictures from their holidays. Sora was complaining about the rain. Naminé's posts weren't much better. She never says WHERE they're located, but the picture she provided looked like a darkly-colored ocean with sleeting rain, so that didn't look like much fun. Xion posted a pic of her and Roxas making a snowman, but they both seemed to be in their pajamas. "Wow," he laughed shaking his head before taking a bite and scrolling down. Lea had the largest social media presence by far out of all their friends but even he kept the posts from the winter season to a minimum, merely posting pictures of the snow and the fireplace...with a picture or two of Isa posed in a puffy winter jackets. "That looks comfy," he snickered.

What he didn't see were any posts from Kairi. "Hm..." he checked his messages. The last time he said hey was only last week but still.

Chirithy suddenly appeared on the desk and grabbed a potato from his bowl to munch on. "'Bout time you stopped!"

"Stopped what?" Ven blinked.

"Ugh...working? Duh!" Chirithy scolded as he pushed his soft paw chidingly into Ven's cheek. "You could have quit hours ago!"

"Yeah, but--"

"But nothing! You're going to make everybody worry again," Chirithy pointed out and hopped into his lap. "So whatcha looking at?" he asked, peering at the phone in Ven's hand.

"I was thinking about texting Kairi," the blonde shrugged.

"Well good! I'm sure she'd like that."

Ven tilted his head. "But...it might be a little late. Maybe I should wait until tomorrow?"

"If she's already asleep, she probably won't hear it. So you might as well. It's not like you'd be bothering her by leaving her a message, right?" the little creature reasoned.

"I guess not," he shrugged and took another large bite of stew before using both hands to type a message.

Ventus: Hey, Kairi! Hope you had a good Christmas!

Chirithy watched and then looked disappointed as he saw Ven send the message. "That's it?"

"What do you mean?" Ven quirked an eyebrow.

"I dunno, when you said you wanted to talk to her I expected...never mind," he shook his head, as if out of pity.

A little DING from Ven's phone went off, notifying him that Kairi answered back.

Kairi: Hey, Ven! I did have a good Christmas. A little busy, tho. How was yours?

"Well well well," Chirithy giggled. "I'll leave you to it~" he snickered before disappearing in a poof of blue smoke.

"Huuuuuh?" Ven squinted one eye in confusion before shaking his head and going back to texting Kairi.

Ventus: I did! I got all the orders finished on time! :D
Kairi: That's great but did you do anything else?

Ven blinked. What DID he do? He almost couldn't remember. After deliveries...he DID come home in time for Christmas dinner and unwrapping presents. So there's that.

Ventus: Yeah! We all celebrated Xmas together too.
Kairi: That's good! You've been working too hard. I was worried for a minute.

Is EVERYBODY worried about me? Ven shook his head and took another bite of stew before texting back.

Ventus: What about you? Spend time with your family?
Kairi: Yup! I actually got to make Xmas dinner for my family this year. It was a lot of fun! And I hung out with Sora and Riku. Hoku is sooooo cute!
Ventus: Did you see Sora's latest post? :D
Kairi: YESSSSS! Omigosh!
Ventus: Wait, I just realized, you're probably stuck inside from the rain too, right?
Kairi: Yes. >[
Ventus: LOL So you must be bored, too.
Kairi: You have no idea. I could scream.
Ventus: How about you swing by the Land of Departure? Sure, it's snowing here, but that might be more fun than rain, right?

He hit send before he actually stopped to think about what he suggested. What...what WAS he thinking?

Kairi: That'd be fun! I'd love to see how everybody's doing. I'll come by tomorrow!

Ven let out a sigh of relief, but he wasn't sure why.

Ventus: Sounds great! I'll let everybody know you're coming. See you then. I'm heading to bed.
Kairi: Me too! Good night!
Ventus: Night!

He set the phone down and ran both hands through his hair. "Why am I so flustered??" he asked himself. "Guess I'll have to take the day off tomorrow. It wouldn't be right to invite her and not be around, right?" He finished off the last of his food. "Yeah...a day off...that'd be fine." He smiled brightly and grabbed a towel before heading to the bathroom. "What's the worst that could happen?"

Chapter Text

Spring has sprung! In a secluded corner of the Land of Departure, there is a small cottage with a chimney that was almost always lit. It was surrounded by a beautiful garden of flowers and plans were already underway to expand the little building if the current occupants could ever slow down long enough to get it done. Though this may seem like a cottage from a fairy tale, there were no princesses or little dwarves here. No, this was a bakery, a bakery that makes sweet little wishes come true. This is where Ven spends all of his free time making confections to be sold to fund the school that Terra and Aqua have built. But he's not the only one.

Lauriam has joined the cause, as well as Elrena (though begrudgingly). Together the three work around the clock fulfilling and delivering orders to all the different worlds. When they're not doing that, Lauriam tends to the garden and Elrena goes to the school to burn off excess energy sparring with the kids. Though she'll have you believe she just enjoys picking on weaker opponents, they can see her softening up to them, even lending advice to help them get stronger...just so they'll pose a better challenge next time, of course.

But amongst all of the kids, there's one child all of them have really taken a shine to, especially Elrena, and it was one that can't even talk yet: Baby Era.

Baby Era, even as small as she was, just oozed charm with her smile and laughter and the way her eyes followed you around the room made her appear as if she were studying your every move.

"I can already tell," Elrena mused as she packed a cardboard carton full of macarons, "That is going to be one sassy little girl."

"What makes you say that?" Ven asked as he iced a tray full of cupcakes.

"Call it lady's intuition," she smirked.

Ven tilted his head but said nothing. Lauriam just chuckled. "Sensing a kindred spirit, are you?"

"You might say that," she shrugged.

"How can you tell? She's just a baby," Ven pointed out.

"What, you can't see it? Plus, how can she not be?" Elrena's green eyes were practically twinkling.

"What do you mean?"

The blond woman sighed with exasperation. "The only daughter of two keyblade masters in a castle full of orphans and students? She'll want to stick out. That's just how it is."

"Hm," Ven smiled. "You're really observant, Elrena."

"And you're messing up that frosting," she pointed out.

"Oh shoot!" Ven silently cursed as he attempted to fix the mess he made while Elrena smiled softly at his back.

The three worked late into the afternoon until it was time to make their deliveries. Elrena and Lauriam took their stacks of boxes and headed out while Ven stayed back to clean up and plan for tomorrow. After they took off, Ven heard the sound of a familiar engine as a ship landed nearby. Not two moments later, there was a knock on the door before Vanitas entered with a sketchbook in his hand.

"Hey, Vani!" Ven greeted cheerfully.

"Hey. Got the sketches you asked for," the dark haired man explained before dismissing the rest of his jet black armor. He was wearing a gray knit turtleneck with a black utility vest on top and black slacks underneath. Almost immediately he rolled up his sleeves as it was much warmer in here than it was outside.

"Oh great!" Ven sat up and stretched before accepting the pad of paper from Vanitas. he had commissioned Naminé to design the next round of cupcakes for him as he was running out of ideas. "Wow! These look fantastic!"

"I like these too," Vanitas smiled. "I might order a round of these when you make them."

"Are you kidding? You guys will get the first batch for free," Ven chuckled. The design was themed after a starry night sky with glittery purple frosting and star and crescent moon chocolate inserts.

Vanitas let the small smile linger on his face. "You look tired," he observed.

"Yeah, I could use some fresh air," Ven admitted. "Wanna take a walk with me?"

Vanitas shrugged. "Sure, I got time."

Ven's face lit up happily and he hurried to turn everything off, ripping off his apron and walking outside with Vanitas. Together they walked the dirt path that went through the gardens and wrapped around the hillside overlooking the main castle and school. The air was slightly damp and cool as it was still only the early beginnings of spring, but it was refreshing to Ventus who had been inside the warm bakery all day. They walked in relative silence for a while before Ven inevitably began talking. "How is Naminé?" he asked.

"She's...okay. I feel like something's on her mind, but she insists it's nothing," he answered a little solemnly.

"Hm, well, I'm sure she'd tell you if it's important. Girls can be weird," Ven chuckled. Together they came across a broken stone wall, the perfect place to sit and enjoy the view. Wordlessly, they took a seat and dangled their legs over the edge. "How about you?" Ven asked.

"Hm? Oh, I'm fine, I guess. I feel better knowing I can leave Reacher with Naminé."

The blonde smiled. Vanitas was so protective, it's heartwarming. "You have a really good dog. I'm glad he can put your mind at ease."

Vanitas smiled. "Yeah, it's like...with me, Naminé, and Reacher, it feels like I have my own family. It's...strange. It's different somehow than living with the others in Twilight Town."

Ven nodded. "Right, you have an extended family and now you have your won little family that you two are making."

"Yeah. It's a little scary, too. I don't know why," he admitted.

"Could be a lot of things," Ven shrugged. "But you gotta remember to focus on how happy they make you. After all, that's what matters."

Vanitas nodded. "Now what about you?" he asked.

"Me?"

"You've been a little off lately. Are you working too hard?"

Ven shook his head and sighed. "I'm worried about Sora."

Vanitas raised an eyebrow. "Are you still beating yourself up about the whole Darkness thing? That was all Sora's choice."

"No, I know. It's just that I feel like I've dumped a burden on him that wasn't meant for him. Me, Lauriam, Elrena, all the others, did we really go through all of that just to sit back and watch?"

"Peh," Vanitas scoffed. "You're NOT taking a back seat. You're all working together. It's just Sora's turn to carry the torch, that's all."

"You really think so?"

"Would you really be this tired if all you were really doing was sitting on your ass?"

Ventus laughed. "No, I guess not." He sighed again and slackened, letting his head rest on Vani's shoulder.

"What is it?" Vani asked.

"Just...I dunno. Guess it still feels kind of lonely sometimes. I don't know why. I'm surrounded by so many all the time."

"You think it's from your heart hopping around so much and being turned into swiss cheese?" Vanitas asked.

Ven let out a half-hearted laugh. "Maybe, but I dunno. Maybe I'm just a little envious of Terra and Aqua...Sora and Riku...You and Naminé..."

Vani rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay, I get it. Sorry, I don't know any hot singles in your area."

Ven snorted. "It's fine, really."

"Hm," Vanitas hummed thoughtfully as he lifted an arm to rest on Ven's shoulder so he can play with the ends of his spiky hair between his fingers.

Ven frowned slightly because he knows those ends are going to catch in his comb later but doesn't swat him away. This is just something Vani does when he's trying to be affectionate...he thinks. After a minute, he asks, "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking you need to get out more," the dark-haired man said simply.

"I get out all the time!" Ven grumbled.

"Out as in doing something not work-related," he elaborated with yet another eye roll.

Ven whined and buried his face into Vani's shoulder. "What would I even do?"

"See the sights? Go skateboarding? I dunno. Maybe check out Arendelle and snowboard for a bit. You might even get some new ideas for your baking instead of begging Naminé," he said pointedly.

"Heh, maybe," Ven conceded and slipped his arms around Vani's waist to give him a hug. The other man stiffened in his grip only very slightly but didn't pull away. "Thank you, Vani."

The other man relaxed and tightened his grip on Ven's shoulders to return the embrace with a half-hug. "Don't thank me, idiot. I didn't do anything."

The two watched the sun go down before Vanitas had to go home. Ven waved him off before making his own way down the hillside, using the last remaining rays of light to find the path until he found the lanterns and made the rest of the way back to the castle. From the windows, he could see all their little students gathering at the table for dinner. He smiled as he watched Aqua wipe dirt off of one of their faces and as Terra wrestled with a pair of twins to get them into their seats. He should probably hurry in there and give them a hand. But just as he opened the door, he felt a vibration in his pocket and pulled out his gummi phone.

Kairi: Got plans for tomorrow?

Ven smiled brightly and hurried to answer back.

Ventus: Ever snowboarded before?

Chapter Text

Sora felt cold. He couldn't move. His chest felt like it was being torn apart.

His gaze was forced to look towards the sky where Kingdom Hearts loomed above him ominously, the rest of the night sky washed out by the glow of the city lights. Rain began to fall and splashed on his skin to intermingle with the tears that already streaked his face.

"Please...just a little longer, I know he'll come!" he begged, gasping around the pain in his chest. His vision was fading fast.

A warm hand brushed over his face in a comforting caress before it moved to his hair. "I'm sorry. We can't."

Blue and red eyes.

He let out a short sob as the grip on his hair tightened and forced his head back. He could feel the hot tip of his blade on the back of his neck.

"Riku...Riku..."

A shrill cry stirred Sora from his sleep. Cold sweat plastered his bangs to his face. I hadn't had a nightmare that bad in a while, he thought to himself as he struggled to open his eyes. Darkness must be trying to mess with me again. I know everything's going to be okay. Yozora said so....but why...? And where was Riku? Hoku's crying stopped and he sat up to see Riku calming their son. For a split second he was envious, almost angry but then he rapidly shook his head. No...how could I...? Just the thought that he was jealous of his own child for even a second made him feel sick to his stomach.

"Sora?" Riku called his name softly.

"Right, a bottle, I'll get it," Sora answered apologetically and hurried to do his part of the job.

They were staying in Corona Castle for the time being. Today they had a meeting with the royal family who had generously invited them to stay for the evening. They had intended to either stay on the gummi ship or maybe at an inn but had Hoku gotten this fussy at the inn, he'd probably disturb everybody else. In fact, both Sora and Riku were nervous he might wake everybody up NOW as his shrill cries could be heard carrying out down the hallowed halls. After Riku changed his diaper and Sora handed him a bottle, let out a loud yawn. "How about we have a morning picnic?" he suggested.

Riku smiled helplessly as he shook his own hair out of his face in an effort to wake himself up. "I think that sounds like a great idea."

It was a beautiful spring morning. Sora and Riku were due back at the castle in a few hours for a meeting with the royal family regarding the new world order initiative. The plan was to talk to the individual leaders and then st up meetings with them as a group before continuing further. Sora was a little nervous, having never met the royal family before, save for Rapunzel and Eugene. But he had several meetings go well already and he has Riku here with him. On top of that, supposedly the king is a family-oriented man so it probably didn't hurt their chances that Hoku was with them as well. After all, it was when they learned of Hoku that the royal family insisted they stay in the castle.

The two were already dressed in their finest as they had their early morning picnic in their favorite flower glen. The dew had just barely dried and Hoku was itching to practice his walking. Even after his morning bottle, he was super fussy until they quietly creeped out of the castle, the guards smiling sympathetically as they watched them go. But the little one immediately brightened and changed his tune once he felt the soft, tickly grass under his feet. He squealed with delight as Riku held his hands and helped him toddle through the flowers all while Sora snapped lots of pictures with his gummi phone.

"Think today might be the day, Hoku?" Sora asked as he wrapped up their picnic basket to put away. He had pre-packed breakfasts, lunches, and dinners stored away in there for their trip to make their lives a little easier as they traveled.

"Bwah-bah!" Hoku babbled excitedly, his body rising up and down as if he were trying to bounce while Riku kept a gentle grip on his hands.

"I think that's a yes!" Riku laughed. Sora quickly walked a couple of feet away, parting and flattening some of the grass to give him the best chance before he kneeled with his hands out. Riku tried letting go, but Hoku protested, keeping his grip tight on Riku's fingers.

Sora chuckled. "Take your time. Don't be afraid." He kept his arms out and waved him over. "Now step forward. Can you do it? Come to daddy!"

"Go to daddy! You can do it!" Riku encouraged and slowly let go of Hoku's hands.

"Da da da da!!!" he shrieked excitedly and with determination as he toddled to Sora, slowly moving one chubby leg in front of the other while he kept his hands up and wobbled to and fro.

"Come on! Come on, you got it! You're so close!" Sora couldn't hold back his tears of joy as he watched his son toddle through the flowers and into his waiting arms while Riku cheered behind him. Hoku clumsily fell into his arms and he hugged him tightly to his chest. "You did it, Hoku! I'm so proud of you!"

Hoku squealed happily and let Sora turn him around. "BA BA!" He bounced his knees up and down again excitedly, ready for another go!

"Now back to daddy! You can do it!" Sora encouraged and repeated what Riku did, gently giving him a little start before letting go of his hands and letting him do the rest.

This time Riku kneeled and waited for Hoku with his hands out. Hoku was now filled with even more confidence, squealing even louder as he stumbled over to Riku with cries of "DA DA DA DA DA!" that echoed in the quiet wood along with the joyous laughter of his two dads as he made it into Riku's embrace. "You did it!" Riku praised proudly and lifted him high in the air and above his head to nuzzle his little nose. "Look at you! We'll be teaching you flowmotion in no time!"

"Whoa, slow down!" Sora laughed as he ran over and hugged them both.

Riku reached to thumb away Sora's tears. "You sap."

Sora reddened but made no moves to wipe away his own tears. "Shut up, I'm happy!" he giggled.

Riku smiled fondly. "I know, me too."

"Ba ba buh!" Hoku babbled as he tugged one of Riku's buttons.

"Ah ah, daddy needs those!" Riku lightly chided and put a rattle in Hoku's hands instead which Hoku proceeded to use to bat at him with cries of "Da da da da!"

Sora burst into a fit of giggles as Riku took the abuse while patiently trying to tell Hoku that he shouldn't hit people with things. "We'll definitely be giving him mixed signals later, won't we?" Sora snickered.

"No, just more bylines," Riku said simply.

A butterfly fluttered over and landed on Hoku's nose. Sora cooed, "Aw look, Hoku, it thinks you're a flower."

Hoku sneezed and the butterfly flew away, making both parents chuckle.

Riku let Hoku go so he can play some more. Sora draped his arms around Riku's shoulders as they watched him explore the flowers. "You nervous?" Riku asked quietly as he leaned back into Sora.

Sora nuzzled into Riku's cheeks. "Only a little. Just got the usual pre-speech jitters, you know."

"Understandable," Riku smiled and turned his head to kiss Sora's cheek. "You'll do great. I know they'll listen. It's the next one you gotta worry about."

Sora slackened. "I knooooooow," he whined. "I want to really do well. King Triton's going to be there. I don't want to let him down."

The silverette chuckled and brushed a stray bang from Sora's face affectionately. "I know, but you'll be at Master Yen Sid's, so at least you'll be on your turf, kind of."

"These virtual meetings somehow feel worse. Like, it's harder for me to tell if I'm really connecting with them," Sora muttered quietly.

"You will. Trust me. But for now, let's focus on this one."

"You're the one who brought it up!" Sora pointed out.

Riku snickered sheepishly, "You're right, I'm sorry."

"Bwah-baaaaaah! Pbbbbt!" Hoku blew raspberries at a ladybug perched on a daisy.

"So confrontational!" Riku laughed and broke away from Sora to wipe away at the spittle leaking down Hoku's front.

"Might need to grab him a bib," Sora laughed.

"Hear that? Now you've done it," Riku teased as he tickled Hoku's sides. Today Hoku was dressed in a purple onesie with a silver heart pattern. Now he gets to wear a moogle bib to go with it. "We'll need to get him more clothes soon," Riku mused as he fastened the bib's buttons. Immediately Hoku tried to rip it off. "No," Riku scolded. Hoku started throwing a fuss. "If you don't wear it, you're just going to make yourself damp and then you'll cry regardless. Be a good boy," he tried to reason. Hoku reached for Riku's cuff links in protest and the silverette let out a sigh.

Sora snickered and picked Hoku up. "Be nice, Hoku, or we'll start talking about time outs."

"Ooh, time outs. You won't like that," Riku grinned deviously.

Hoku looked nervously between them. Their tone didn't sound good! "Bweh?"

Sora snickered and looked to Riku. "Should we start heading back?"

Riku checked the time on his gummi phone. "Yeah, it's nearly time." He stood up and put on the baby carrier. Sora helped load Hoku into the pack on Riku's front and grabbed their picnic basket before they started walking back to town. Together they traversed the path through the wood side by side. "It'll be so much fun to flowmotion with him when he's big enough," Riku mused out loud as he looked up at the tall tree branches shading the path, recalling how he and Sora raced each other here last time they were here for a mission.

Sora laughed. "You keep bringing that up. Are you getting tired of carrying him already?"

"Never," Riku grinned.

Sora smirked. "By the time he's big enough to be whipped around like that, he'll be too big for you to carry."

"Not true," Riku insisted. "Maybe too big for a carrier..."

"You're so cute," Sora giggled. "But you're kind of scaring me, too."

Riku laughed. "If monkeys can carry their babies while they swing through the trees, why can't I do that with Hoku?"

Sora was taken aback. "I hope you're joking!"

"People toss their kids in the air all the time!" Riku insisted.

Sora pursed his lips together as he considered it. "How old until he's able to support his head properly?"

Riku paused and considered. "Well, his head IS pretty big," he looked down.

"Think you gotta wait 'til his neck is stronger at the very least. Just because he took a few steps today doesn't mean you can play Tarzan with him yet," Sora laughed.

Riku looked down at Hoku again and kissed his forehead. "Soon, though," he whispered playfully.

Hoku gurgled.

Sora rolled his eyes with a grin. "You're too much."

"Says the one working on slowing down his attraction magic."

"Fair."

"Did you remember to bring the crystal?" Riku asked as they got closer to town.

"Yup!" Sora patted the leather satchel at his side. To enable the leaders to communicate, Master Yen Sid, Merlin, Fairy Godmother, and the good fairies put their magic together to create crystals that worked as projectors for the user, allowing them to be part of the meetings when they're summoned so that they don't have to meet in person. The magic was very similar to a summoning gem, except it allowed the user to see things happening on the other side as well. Master Yen Sid said these would probably appeal to the world leaders much more than gummi phones. So far they've been well-received. "How did the bad guys working with Maleficent communicate?" Sora asked.

Riku frowned slightly. He's been a little more open about his time spent with Maleficent, but it still puts a sour taste in his mouth. "They met in person, but they gathered around either a table or a cauldron of some sort that projected what was currently going on, like whatever it was you were doing."

"So villains have been violating world order this whole time...it shouldn't surprise me and yet...it feels backwards."

"Hm?"

"The leaders know about other worlds but don't communicate much at all. The king has been their only go-between this whole time."

"You're right, it does feel strange," Riku agreed.

"Well, that's going to change soon, hopefully," Sora grinned confidently.

The three of them attracted a few stares as they made their way through town. The two dads were dressed in very formal clothes as part of their ambassador image. Sora looked rather princely in his with black slacks, scarlet red jacket, and black shoulder cape lined with gold and Riku was dressed similarly with a very dark blue jacket and silver lining his cape. They both had gold cufflinks and cape buckles and other little accessories to go along with the usual jewelry they always wore. Today they were wearing matching slayer earrings. Of course, the cutest accessory HAD to be Hoku, even if his outfit was still being worked on by the good fairies. Sora brushed himself off one more time to make sure he didn't have any grass or pollen on himself. "Am I wrinkled?" he asked.

"Even if you were, there's nothing we can do about it now," Riku pointed out. "You look great." If anybody should be worrying about wrinkles, it should be himself because he's the one carrying a baby on his chest, but he said nothing.

The two headed to the castle entrance and were let in by the guards. Rapunzel was already there with Eugene to greet them since the two weren't at breakfast. "Good morning, everybody!" the princess greeted them cheerfully.

"Good morning, your highness," Riku greeted, giving a little half-bow while Sora bowed properly.

"Good morning! Hope we're not late!" the brunette greeted.

"Not at all!" she assured them. "You ready to get started?"

"Absolutely," Sora smiled, though he gave Riku's hand a quick squeeze when the others weren't looking.

The three were escorted through the castle, a bright open place with the royal sun motif everywhere from its purple tapestries to the marble floors. Hoku let out a very long yawn and nestled his head into Riku's chest, already tired from all the walking practice from earlier.

"How'd the little guy sleep last night?" Eugene asked.

"Pretty well, but he was fussy this morning. Probably antsy from being in a new place," Riku answered as he gently rubbed the back of Hoku's head to encourage him to doze.

"He's soooo cute," Rapunzel cooed quietly as Hoku let out another long yawn and closed his eyes. "No fair bringing your baby. How are we going to focus on the meeting?" she joked.

Sora knew she was joking but he felt the need to apologize anyway. "I'm sorry. Normally we'd get a babysitter, but both our parents are really busy and--"

"It's fiiine!" Rapunzel giggled. "He's more than welcome anytime. He's so well-behaved!"

"For now," Riku snickered.

Finally they made it to the study, a more cozy and intimate place to have their meeting than the throne room. Regarding the subject matter, the king and queen thought a more private setting was best. Sora had to agree as he felt much less intimidated discussing matters over a cup of tea than in a throne room with a potentially larger audience. Said monarchs were already there waiting and Sora and Riku bowed politely as they were invited in. Sora kept his head down as he thanked them once again. "Thank you for granting us an audience, your majesties, and for your hospitality."

The king acknowledged them with a nod and bid they have a seat, which they took gratefully. They were all in large cozy armchairs arranged in a circle with tea tables between each pair and each were already arranged with a tea set, which a servant went ahead and poured for them. As they each politely sipped their tea, Sora waited for the king and queen to start. It was only polite to begin when they deemed it was time, he had learned. Pleasantries first, then business.

Sora politely pretended to sip at his tea. He could already tell from the scent that it was going to be bitter and he didn't want the taste in his mouth distracting him while he spoke. Plus caffeine gives him nervous jitters and that's the last thing he wants. Even if two of the people in front of him are friends, he needed to maintain a "professional presence" as his father might say. They spoke casually for a few minutes, discussed the previous night, how their breakfast was, what their plans were for the evening, and so on. Hoku was fast asleep and Riku was content to sit quietly, semi-grateful that he wasn't expected to participate in the conversation too much since he has the baby to contend with.

After the conversation slowed, the king straightened up and Sora found himself doing the same. It was time to get to business. "I have concerns."

Sora nodded. He expected this. He's been prepared for it. This is usually how things start. "Of course."

"Your letter was very straightforward but what you're proposing sounds..." he trailed off as if he were trying to find a way to spare Sora's feelings.

Sora smiled softly. "You don't have to make a decision now." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the blue communication crystal. "I can answer your questions. But for now, all I want to know is would you like to be a part of the meeting with the other leaders? What I'm offering is an invitation for now. If you accept, then in a few weeks time we will gather and I will go into more detail about the plan and why it would benefit everybody."

The king took the offered crystal with a skeptical eyebrow. "Just a meeting?"

Sora nodded. "Yes. Because even if nothing else, I think we would all agree communication is needed between our worlds and that we should all be in on the decision-making process. I will not proceed with anything unless everybody is in agreement, this I promise you. Everybody will have an equal say."

The King and Queen smiled before looking to Rapunzel and Eugene who also gave their nod of approval.

His Majesty looked back to Sora with a twinkle in his eye. "Well then, let us begin, shall we?"

* * *

It was a long meeting, but Sora left feeling hopeful. Rapunzel gave him a huge thumbs up and a hug telling him he did wonderfully, which brightened his spirits considerably. This wasn't the first time he's had to answer a lot of questions, but he wanted to make sure he gives each world leader the same respect and consistent responses, no matter how friendly he's been with them in the past. But this was just the preliminary round. The big events have yet to come. For now he's been extending the invitations. The actual presentation of the plan has yet to be given.

For now, he allowed himself to relax and shook out his hair. He's been keeping it parted in a certain way to reveal more of his face in order to show his sincerity (more than usual) and it's been struggling against the gel he's used to keep it in place for the past hour. Just one comb through with his fingers made his hair pop back to life like a blooming flower, making Riku chuckle beside him.

"You should check out the town before it gets dark!" Rapunzel suggested. "It's so lively at this time of the day."

"Bah beh!" Hoku babbled as if in agreement.

Riku laughed. "That sounds like a good way to wear him out for the evening. What do you think, Sora?"

"Definitely! But first, I want to get out of these clothes."

After a quick wardrobe change and a feeding and changing for Hoku, the three headed to the town square in the hopes of tiring out their little one who had slept really good for the first half of the meeting only to need to be excused with Riku for the second half. To be fair, it wasn't his fault. They had been in there for at least four hours. Even cuddling Daddy Riku can only keep a baby entertained for so long. Sora and Riku were incredibly hungry, too and Sora was PARCHED! He tried sipping the tea but it just wasn't working out and the offered sandwiches and cookies for lunch just weren't enough to keep him sustained.

So naturally the first thing Sora and Riku wanted to do was find some local food to try. Vendors were still selling their wares in the market and there were smells of fresh food wafting in from all directions. The spring festival was coming up soon, so decorations were also being put up in anticipation of the season and musicians were practicing in the streets. After a short bout of indecisiveness, Sora and Riku settled on finding the shop that sells their favorite meat pies and feasted as they walked around town, Hoku babbling happily as he took in all the sights. He especially loved watching the boats from the pier and the lighthouse really seemed to capture his attention as he kept reaching for it until they got permission to go inside and climb to the top.

Sora smiled. "The view up here gets me every time."

"Beh bah booooooooooooop," Hoku babbled, grabbing his toes as he watched the boats drift across the water and the seagulls circle in the sky.

Riku laughed and adjusted his babbling pack before wrapping an arm around Sora and leaning into him. "Bet the sunset is really nice up here, too."

Sora tore his eyes away to fondly gaze up at Riku. "Hm, maybe we'll get a chance to see it."

"Da da da daaaaa!" Hoku squealed and flailed his limbs. He's ready to move on now.

From there they returned to the town square. The two thought about avoiding the musicians, afraid the music might be too loud for Hoku to handle, but Hoku made insistent noises and started bouncing in his carrier to the beat. "I think he wants to dance," Riku laughed.

"Then let's go!" Sora cheered and took Riku's hand.

Hoku bounced excitedly in his carrier until Sora helped Riku get him out. After that, they were taking turns holding his hands as he bounced to the music, squealing excitedly and moving his hips and stomping his little feet with the biggest gummy smile on his face.

"Look at you go, Hoku!" Sora laughed as he took a picture.

The three danced together until the sun started to go down, Sora and Riku each taking turns balancing Hoku on their toes and dancing with him until his little legs couldn't hold him up anymore. When Riku picked him up one more time, he let out a long yawn and a sneeze, making both parents giggle as he buried his face into Riku's soft shirt. The two looked to each other with a grin and made their way back up to the lighthouse to watch sunset, Hoku cradled in Riku's arms and sleeping soundly as the two sat on the edge.

Sora hummed contently and wrapped an arm around Riku before nuzzling into his shoulder. "Thank you for today," he murmured.

"Hm?" Riku looked down to see Sora smiling at him so fondly he thought his heart was going to melt from his gaze alone which was lit with a brilliant fiery orange from the setting sun. "I didn't do anything."

Sora giggled shyly and felt his cheeks reddening which only prompted him to squeeze Riku tighter. "I mean...I feel like I should thank you every day...for being here with me."

Riku smiled softly and leaned his head down to kiss Sora's forehead. "It's I who should be thanking you."

"Riku..."

"Sora..."

The two exchanged a sweet kiss and brushed noses until they each broke into wide grins and shook with quiet giggles as they tried not to wake Hoku. They gazed at each other affectionately until the sun could no longer illuminate their faces as it descended below the horizon.

"I love you," Sora whispered.

"I love you, too," Riku whispered back. "Always."

Chapter Text

The three were in Radiant Garden today for a very special reason. This time it wasn't about meetings or resupplies or visiting the lab. Nope, today was the annual Spring Festival! And not just any spring festival, a festival specially run by moogles!

Aerith had invited them to the event, as it was sure to be a big one in honor of the tenth year of Radiant Garden's restoration. The moogles have gone all out with flower decorations as far as the eye could see. The gardens were in full bloom and even the trees seemed to be celebrating as cherry blossoms drifted lazily through the air.

The moogles had a very special tradition. Every year, legend has it that the spring moogle leaves colorful pompom capsules for children to find and collect to celebrate the arrival of spring. Their own pompoms are specially painted for the occasion and for the festival, there was a "pompom capsule"-hunting event where you could gather capsules for the prizes inside. Normally they'd be filled with candy or other small prizes, but this year they are filled with either kupo coins or ku-pons (coupons) that could be exchanged at the stalls for food and prizes (along with actual munny, of course).

Sora and Riku have Hoku dressed up for the occasion in his own moogle costume, the infant squealing happily and flapping his arms as he tried to catch the petals flying through the air. Ever since he's started learning to stand upright on his own, he's been demanding more and more that he be allowed to walk on his own, despite constantly falling on his face. After a little more fussing, Riku and Sora conceded, letting him out of the carrier so they can walk with him, letting him toddle as they each held one of his hands.

Aerith ran up to greet them alongside Yuffie, and by them, mostly she was greeting Hoku. "Don't you look cuuuuute!" she cooed and pulled a purple flower crown to set upon Hoku's hood. "Now you're ready to meet the spring moogle!"

"MOO MOO!" Hoku shouted with glee, already distracted from Aerith in favor of the giant moogle plushes at one of the stands.

Sora laughed. "Don't be offended. One of his favorite toys is a moogle back at home."

"Not at all!" Aerith giggled.

Yuffie snickered. "You'll have to make sure to win him one before the festival is over."

"Moo moo!" Hoku shouted yet again.

Riku snickered and lifted Hoku up to set him on his shoulders. "You're going to have to wait just a bit."

"MOO. MOO." This time Hoku spaced out his demand in a way that had both parents blinking in surprise.

Yuffie cackled, tears practically streaming out of her eyes as she pointed. "The sass is strong with this one!"

"Yeah, he's definitely yours," Sora snickered behind his hand.

"We're going to need to teach him please and thank you really soon," Riku huffed, though a smile was tugging at his lips too, almost a little proudly.

"Should we grab something to eat before the hunt starts or--?"

Before he could actually finish the question, there was a gust of wind that tossed up more petals as a large gummi ship landed in the furthermost courtyard.

"Whoaaaaa!" Sora's eyes widened. "That one's huge!" Two more ships arrived, these two Sora and Riku recognized. "Look! It's Roxas and Vanitas!"

"Well would you look at that," Riku smiled and pointed Hoku in that direction so he could watch the ships land. "Look, Hoku, it's your uncles!"

"RA-RA!" Hoku bat at both sides of Riku's face excitedly as he recognized Roxas's ship, making Riku wince as the little one nearly hit him in the eye.

Sora laughed and grabbed Hoku from Riku so he could have a turn carrying him around, much to Hoku's displeasure since taller daddy is much more fun to ride. Curious about the larger ship, Sora started wandering that way to take a look. When the ship's doors opened, six children spilled out, dressed neatly for the festival, followed by Terra, Ventus, Lauriam, Elrena, and Aqua with little Era in her arms.

Beside their ship, Xion and Roxas exited Roxas's black and white checkered gummi ship and Vanitas was offering Naminé a hand to disembark his own. Sora's heart soared at seeing all of them and almost forgot himself as he walked faster to greet them with Riku following after him and reminding him to be careful with Hoku who was squealing at the top of his lungs as he was just as excited to see all of his aunts and uncles.

The tight-knit group exchanged lots of hugs and greetings, the students standing around a little impatiently as they waited for their teachers to escort them through the festival. Baby Era was still asleep, completely oblivious to all the noise going on around her. Roxas was the first to ask if he could hold Hoku and said little boy was more than happy to separate from Sora so he could tug at Roxas's blonde locks. "RA-RA!" he greeted.

Roxas took the abuse in stride, laughing as he gave Hoku an affectionate boop. "Hey, little man! You ready for your first spring festival?"

"Moo moo!" Hoku squealed excitedly.

Xion laughed. "He's so smart!"

"Smart alec, maybe," Riku smirked to himself, thinking of the tone Hoku used earlier.

Hoku made grabby hands for Xion next. "EEEEE!"

The raven-haired woman laughed as Roxas felt dejected, handing him over so Xion could give him cuddles next. "Look at you in your moogle finery!"

Sora and Riku greeted all of the students, whose eyes lit up as they were being acknowledged by the two masters. All of them were of course enamored with Master Riku, but the twins loved nothing more than hanging off of Master Sora, already begging that he demonstrate his attraction magic for them while each clung to one of his legs. "Wait wait wait!" Sora laughed as he playfully tried to shake them off. "Maybe later. But for now, maybe we should all go to the festival first? I'm sure you're excited to see the Spring Moogle, right?"

The students cheered and Ventus laughed, taking that as his cue to lead the students over to one of the stalls so they can all pick out a basket. Lauriam and Elrena followed behind to help corral the large group and of course the rest of them took a little time to fawn over baby Era for a moment, though very quietly so as not to wake the tiny brunette up...except for Hoku. Hoku was very vocally pleased to see her, flailing so hard in Xion's arms that the small woman was afraid of dropping the little bugger.

"Okay, that's enough out of you," Riku laughed as he took Hoku back and gave Sora a pointed look. "Yeah, he's definitely yours."

"What are you trying to say?" Sora laughed. "Of course he is! Where else would he have gotten his charm from?"

"Yeah, charm, that's what it is," Vanitas snerked.

"Buh-gah!" Hoku pointed at Vanitas.

Sora covered his mouth with his hand to contain his laughter and gently moved Hoku's hand. "It's not nice to point at people!"

Vanitas blinked. "What did he just call me?"

"Don't worry about it. He just makes random noises sometimes," Riku tried to assure him but Hoku kept babbling "buh-gah buh-gah buh-gah" while Riku was trying to talk.

Roxas meanwhile was doubling over with laughter, making the entire group turn to him in confusion.

Vanitas raised a suspicious eyebrow. "What did you do?"

Xion also gave him a shove. "Fess up, Roxas. What did you teach Hoku?"

"Ow! Nothing, I just showed him Vani's picture and taught him his name."

Sora gasped. "YOU taught him booger?"

Vanitas double-gasped. "You told him to call me booger!?"

Riku looked at Sora. "You left him ALONE with Roxas?"

"I took a nap for like 10 minutes!" Sora insisted.

"I think it's kind of cute," Naminé tried to quell the small argument but it clearly wasn't helping.

Vanitas approached Hoku and pointed at himself with as much patience as he could possibly muster. "I'm not booger, I'm Vani. Can you say Vani?"

Hoku totally ignored him in favor of pointing at Naminé instead and squealing, "Ni-mi!"

Naminé giggled with delight. It was a vast improvement over the other name he had for her. "He's learning so fast!"

"Yeah, I'm happy for you," Vanitas grumbled quietly. "Now back to me, little dude. What's my name?"

Hoku studied his face and scrunched up his nose as if concentrating. "Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh..."

"No no, Van. Ni. You can do it," Vanitas encouraged while everybody watch on with amusement.

Riku swallowed back a laugh as he waited for Hoku to reply. This was just way too funny.

"Baaaaaaaaaaaaaah...Biiiiiiiii..."

"No no no no, YOU'RE the baby. I'm Vani. Let's try that again!"

Sora laughed. "Don't worry, Vani, he'll get it. Why don't we go enjoy the festival?"

"No way! If Roxas can teach him booger, surely I can get him to say my name right!" Vani protested.

"WEH!" Hoku squealed.

The group laughed before Vanitas slackened in defeat. Together they headed back to the festival with Naminé patting the man consolingly on the back.

"Has he actually said any words yet?" Terra asked as they walked.

Sora shook his head, "Not yet. But I think he's pretty close. He's good at putting his own names on things but I don't know if that counts."

Vanitas broke away from the group, leaving Reacher to follow Naminé as he went over to check on Ventus and to let off a little steam.

Ven greeted him with a smile. "Hey. What were you guys all laughing about?"

"Apparently Roxas taught Hoku to call me booger," Vani huffed.

Ven's cheeks puffed out as he tried not to laugh. One of the youngest students only heard the word booger and began laughing. "Haha! You said booger!"

"Eavesdropping is bad, kid," Vanitas quickly scolded, unamused.

Ventus snickered. "He's right. Why don't you go pick out a hunting spot with the others?" They watched the little one run off to rejoin the twins before Ven spoke again. "This gives me bad ideas."

Vanitas smirked. "Bad ideas, you say?"

"Wouldn't it be hilarious if we got Hoku to call Sora and Riku momma?"

Vanitas smile broke into an even wider grin. "That's just plain evil. I like it! But how would this help me get back at Roxas?"

"Easy, we blame Roxas for it later."

Vani looked like he was about to choke up. "I'm so proud of you."

Ven gave him a playful shove. "Now we just gotta convince them to let the three of us babysit Hoku..."

By the time Sora and Riku picked Hoku a basket, the event moogle announced over the loudspeaker that the pompom hunt was about to begin! The three hurried to find a good starting spot amongst the others in the open field that was chosen for the event. Supposedly the pompoms were hidden EVERYWHERE, but for the kids, this was the easiest place to start. Just looking around, Sora thought it felt surreal to see all of his friends here dressed in casual clothes armed with colorful baskets. If he let his eyes unfocus, he would've thought he was back home on the islands celebrating one of THEIR spring festivals. The thought brought a smile to his face. But he also couldn't help wondering how long they could keep up this double-life thing for Hoku's sake.

"Sora."

Sora looked up at Riku who gave him a gentle smile as he set Hoku down between them. "Maybe we should let him hold his own basket?"

"Oh! Yes, of course!" Sora laughed.

"Ba-ba!" Hoku cheered excitedly as he made grabby hands for the colorful basket which Sora handed him.

"Hold on tight, Hoku!" Riku grinned. "It's about to start."

"Ready, set, GO, KUPO!"

At the POP of a giant pompom filled with streamers, the hunt was on! All of Aqua and Terra's students giggled excitedly as they practically tripped over each other to find the nearest pompoms. Sora and Riku steered clear of the rowdy bunch, guiding Hoku by his hands to his first one hidden in the grass. "Look, Hoku!" Sora pointed. "What's that?"

Hoku leaned down carefully and picked it up, holding it up to his face like it was a precious orb, his eyes widening with pure fascination. "Po-po!"

"Very good!" Riku chuckled. "Now put it in your basket, and we can find more!"

Hoku did just that, gently dropping the red ball-shaped thing into his basket before giving Riku his hand so that he can be lead to the next one. It took a couple more pompoms before Hoku got the hang of it and soon he was urging Sora and Riku around urgently to grab all of the colorful round things he could possibly get his little hands on. All the while, Uncle Roxas kept slipping a couple of extra pompoms into his basket when Hoku wasn't looking. Of course, Sora just had to get plenty of pictures, too, failing miserably at not squealing his head off as he snapped photos of his tiny baby moogle picking up shiny round objects with Daddy Riku amidst a field of flowers. These were definitely going in the album when they get home.

When they couldn't find any more, the two hurried to carry Hoku over to get a new basket so the daddies can play. With a new basket between them, they combed the town for the little capsules, eager to not only win a prize for Hoku, but to grab some kupons for free food as well. Sora was especially excited about the prizes that could be bought with kupo coins. Not only were there accessories from the moogle shops up for grabs but special seasonal items like the rare moogle wine were also on the prize shelf for 50 Kupo Coins. Of course, if he really wanted to, he could just hand over the munny, but what would be the fun in that?

Hoku had a blast riding in the carrier on Riku's back as they dashed through town, competing with all the other adults now as they combed everywhere for the elusive pompoms. But amongst all the excited participants, Sora noticed Leon wasn't one of them.

"You're not playing, Leon?" Sora asked while Riku used flowmotion to hop onto a rooftop to grab a pompom from a bird's nest.

"I don't like how commercial the festival has become," he muttered quietly.

Sora's face broke out into a grin, but before he could comment, Riku grabbed his arm and they were off to find more! Their biggest competition had to be Xion, who was just as driven to find as many as she could, but not for accessories or plushies. Nope, it was all about the free food!

"Doesn't your boyfriend ever feed you?" Vanitas joked as he watched her snag a blue pompom from the topmost branch of a very tall tree.

"Hey!" Roxas glared.

"Nothing beats free food!" Xion called down cheerfully before she leapt down, landing gracefully on her feet before grabbing Roxas's hand and dashing off for the next spot. "See you later, Vani!"

The man chuckled and looked over at Naminé who had Reacher beside her carrying her basket in his muzzle. "You about done?" he asked.

She giggled and nodded, clasping her hands together excitedly. "Yeah! Let's find a spot to see what we got!"

Ven, Lauriam, and Elrena had a heck of a time keeping all the students in check as they kept running off in different directions. It wasn't like Radiant Garden wasn't safe or anything, but the twins had a habit of getting themselves into trouble and the older ones liked to hide, most likely to get a break from the younger students. But with one stern look from Master Terra or Aqua, they usually snapped back in line. Said new mom was enjoying the shade of a tree while she fed Baby Era, a basket of pompoms already gathered next to her on the grass while she hummed happily to herself.

Terra came over to check on her and was surprised to see her basket full. "When did you--?"

"If you blinked, you missed it~" Aqua winked.

"I guess I did," Terra smiled, clearly impressed.

Kairi at some point swooped in to help settle disputes amongst the younger students who were getting upset that others had found more than they did and contributed some of the pompoms she found to their baskets to help even the score.

"Thanks, Kairi," Ven smiled gratefully.

"Of course!" Kairi giggled. "Have you had a chance to find any on your own?"

"Nah, I gave mine away," Ven laughed. "But even then I only found two."

"I have half a mind to just buy all the prizes so you little brats can't get ANY!" Elrena threatened after the twins reappeared somehow covered from head to toe in mud and what appeared to be blue frosting?

"Is Lady Elrena rich?" the smallest one gasped with wide eyes, completely missing the point of the threat.

The blonde facepalmed as Lauriam laughed. "Time to get you silly potatoes rinsed off."

"WAAAAAAHH!!!!" twins cried out and ran away as fast as they could, but they were too late. Lauriam was already casting a water spell at them to hose them off.

Elrena cackled as they fell sputtering to the ground, now completely clean, but also soaking wet. Ven could only chuckle and cast Aero to get them dry so they wouldn't catch cold. "Now behave!" he scolded yet again. "Or the Spring Moogle won't let you get your prizes!"

Kairi giggled into her hands. These three really had a way of dealing with kids.

Soon the hunt was coming to a close, but the golden pompom has still yet to be found! Everybody was scouring the gardens to find it but in the end, it was Axel who found it, who arrived late with Isa to the festival. "Well would you looky here?" the redhead grinned.

"No fair, Axel!" Xion pouted, even though she had two baskets full of pompoms at this point.

"Congratulations, Kupo!" one of the moogles cheered as he fluttered over to Axel. "Finding the golden pompom means you get to lead the Spring Jamboree!, kupo!"

"The...spring...jamboree?" Axel repeated.

Isa smirked. In other words, Lea gets to lead the Moogle parade and dance alongside the Spring Moogle. "Have fun."

And thus, Axel was dragged away to get his own moogle wings and pompom so he could dance alongside the spring moogle, which was one GIANT moogle with a colorfully painted pompom carrying a basket full of pompoms that it tossed out to the spectators while they and the other moogles led the procession around the square.

Everybody watched and applauded Axel's efforts as he tried to be a good sport, cheering on the parade as they sat in the grass and counted their pompom loot. A lot of the pompoms that were easy to find were filled with candy and small toys, which Sora and Riku unfortunately had to confiscate from Hoku. But between the three of them, they found more than enough kupons and kupo coins to get Hoku the giant moogle he wanted as well as the wine that Sora had been eyeballing with just enough leftover for Riku to grab food for all of them. Xion made the most bank, practically exchanging all of her kupons for food to take home to her dorm room. Roxas found just enough to exchange for a special accessory to give Xion later. Naminé and Vanitas found enough to win Naminé some new art supplies from the moogle shop. Aqua exchanged hers to grab food for all the kids, and the kids of course splurged on all the stuffed toys that they could possibly get their hands on.

As the sun began to set, Demyx made an appearance, playing alongside the moogles for their spring concert which was a lovely performance of traditional moogle music that seemed to make all the kids extra playful as they danced with each other in the town square. Hoku even insisted on being allowed to dance, bouncing up and down excitedly in the carrier on Riku's back until Sora helped him down so he could toddle and dance with the others, with Riku and Sora holding his hands, of course. As night fell, there of course had to be fireworks provided by the moogles themselves. During which, Kairi had meant to watch them with Sora and Riku but found herself enjoying them with Ven instead.

All scattered amongst the grass, the friends watched with awe at the brilliant display. It had been a while since they were all together like this and just knowing that they had more friends with them than ever before made the day feel all the more special.

Sora glanced over at Riku and Riku glanced back, a content smile on his face that had Sora grinning, too. Between them, Hoku babbled excitedly, cooing as he pointed up at the bright and shiny colors exploding in the sky. As they watched his face light up with delight, the two were both thinking how much they were looking forward to sharing even more moments like this in the future to come.

Chapter Text

Taking things slower was getting easier.

Slow was nice. Quiet was nice.

With how crazy things have been, Sora was beginning to appreciate the slow and quiet moments more and more.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, Sora had forgotten how nice those moments were on the beach where he could lay without a care in the world and fall asleep to the quiet sounds of the rushing waves. Maybe it was because of his many brushes with death, maybe it's because everything got so frantic, but he had gotten caught up in filling every moment with activity as if any one could be his last. Somehow naps became a waste of time. Somehow any moment not spent with the people he loved felt like a moment lost. He was anxious for a long time.

Riku taught him how to be slow again.

Riku quieted the frenzy.

Things were busy now...and loud. But the appreciation for the quiet was back.

So when Riku softly traced his fingertips over Sora's skin, gentle and slow, Sora reveled in every bit of it. He allowed himself to lay back and let the warm touches make him shudder, to feel every wave of tingles all the way down to his toes. He'd return the slow and sweet touches in kind, kissing Riku's fingertips one by one slowly, gently sucking on each digit before moving onto the next until he's tasted all ten of them.

When they leaned in for kisses, they took the time to adjust their angles, to allow for the gentle brush of their noses and the warm waft of breaths on their faces before they connected. Fingers traced and memorized each others' faces as they caressed each others' lips with their own. Even as they devoured each other the pace was slow and gentle. As tongues met, they took turns going back and forth while down below their legs began to intertwine. If Sora were an instrument, Riku had him strung up so tightly and skillfully that every pluck of his fingers made his body sing. Sora couldn't help smiling as he thought about how shy they both used to be about their bodies and what they did with them. Riku would try to play it off, of course, just so that Sora wouldn't be nervous, but it meant so much to him that they learned new things together each and every time they made love. Now they knew each other inside and out and it was so comforting to know that whenever they tried something new, they always knew each other's limits. Sora didn't think he could love Riku any more intensely than he already did but each day he's proven wrong. Every kiss, every soft sigh, every nuzzle against Riku's soft skin sends him to new heights.

It was almost scary sometimes how intensely he felt. So when they occasionally go soft and slow like this, it's almost like a breather. Every touch was still intense, but in a gentle way. As much as that probably didn't make any sense, it's just how he felt. It was like he was given time to enjoy the intensity to its fullest at his own pace, like enjoying beautiful scenery on a casual stroll. Sure, sprinting through a field of flowers is nice and thrilling and the colors can still be dazzling, but you enjoy it differently while walking. The scents of the flowers fill your nose because you're not panting for breath. The wind tickles and caresses your face because you're not dashing through it. The sun gently warms your body instead of the heat of exertion. When they're slow, Sora can really enjoy the scent of Riku's sandalwood musk and how sweet his hair smells after a shower. His skin sparks with electricity as Riku's warm breaths cascade over him. Every quiet moan and sigh is music to his ears and they only escalate as he pulls him closer to bury himself in his warmth.

"Sora...Sora..."

Sora lets out a shuddering moan as Riku whispers his name in his ear, almost akin to a whimper but not quite. "Riku...Riku..." he whispers in kind and nuzzles his cheek against the soft bangs that frame Riku's face. The sound of the cap clicking off the tube of lube sounds so far away, but it's the only warning he gets before he feels warm, slick fingers probing his entrance. Before he can even gasp, Riku captures his mouth again in a deep kiss, drinking down his mewls as he gently penetrated him. His fingers slid in so easily these days, another thought that brought a fresh wave of flush to Sora's cheeks as he reached between their melding bodies to touch Riku's rock hard length. The other nearly broke the kiss as he moaned appreciatively, only parting their lips for a brief second before plunging his tongue back into Sora's mouth.

All the while, Riku's fingers plunged deeper into Sora, touching and rubbing all the right spots that had Sora aching with need and he expressed it by adjusting the intensity of his ministrations on Riku's sex. Both of them were dripping and he used it to aid his movements, gently twisting his fist and flicking his wrist up and down at different speeds, slow, fast, then slow again, often coinciding with the jabs of Riku's fingers at his prostate until neither of them could hold back any longer.

"Riku...please..." he begged in a broken whisper.

"You're...ggh...gonna have to let go first..." the older male growled softly, eyes squinting as a wave of pleasure from Sora's teasing had him shuddering and his grip tightening on Sora's body.

"Nnngh!" Sora trembled as he felt Riku clench and unconsciously curled his fingers inside of him, yet again brushing his spot. "Y-you first," he breathed.

"Heh." Riku smirked and gently licked the sensitive shell of Sora's ear before whispering, "Guess you don't want it, then?"

"A-a-aaah!" Sora let out a tiny, cry and quickly released Riku's length in favor of bracing his hands on his shoulders. He tried to calm his breathing but the sound of Riku's squelching fingers as they exited his body had his heart racing as he immediately bemoaned the loss and craved for something else to fill it.

"Sh-sh-shh," Riku soothed with sweet, indecipherable whispers as he slid into position between Sora's thighs. He could tell by how Sora's fingers were digging into his shoulders that he was already really close. However, he wasn't going to let him get there yet. After all, why hurry when drawing it out feels so good? He waited until Sora's breathing calmed, watching the rising and falling of his chest intently until Sora's gasps returned to quiet mewls once more. Only then did he finally enter him, all the while watching Sora's face screw up in pleasure as he slid in inch by inch. Sora let him in easily, but he still felt so deliciously snug; the perfect tightness that made them feel like they were made for each other. Even though he knew Sora could take it if he picked up the pace immediately, he always went slow first so he could enjoy the heightening look of ecstasy and flush of impatience on Sora's face. The way he peers up at him with half-lidded and tear-sparkled eyes with reddening cheeks with his mouth curled up in an expression that just screams "MOVE!" is just too adorable for him to ever pass up. Plus there's something about the way his mouth gets wider and wider and his eyes get darker as he escalates that is indescribably beautiful to Riku. The way the sweat trickles from his brown into his hair, the escaped bit of saliva on his chin, the tiny white glint of his teeth, his ragged pants; he loved every bit of the masterpiece that was Sora that really seemed to light up and come to life beneath his hands time and time again.

Sora writhed and gripped the bedsheets as he felt Riku's gaze upon him. So many times he's tried to lock eyes with him but always finds himself shying away first. It was maddening, sometimes, like an unspoken challenge. But when they do manage to lock gazes for long enough, it's so intense and so hot that Sora almost feels trapped in his eyes until the only thing freeing the both of them is their shared release. This time he felt himself getting entranced yet again as Riku built up his pace, only to slow down again and build it back up, getting him closer and closer each time only to pull back and build up again until he couldn't take it anymore. It only took a few minutes of this sweet torture before tears stung at Sora's eyes. He hadn't touched himself yet, but his sobbing member was throbbing on his stomach, the bouncing and gentle slapping of the head against his own abdomen the only stimulation he's received thus far. After Riku grazed his prostate yet again, he let out a choked sob and reached for it, only to be scolded by a quiet order from Riku. "Wait."

Sora nodded helplessly and resumed wringing the sheets in his fists again, whimpering as Riku slowed the pace with short, shallow thrusts deep inside that shook him to his core. "Ah ah ah ah!"

"So good..." Riku moaned breathily as he gripped his hips tighter. "Mmm...nnh...so good, baby..."

A hot, searing wave of pleasure rolled over Sora, melting him from the inside out as he listened to Riku's moans. "It's so good...I can't...please..." he begged. "I need...AGH! Riku! Please!" His last plea was much louder, his spine arching back as he forced his hips to buck hard into Riku. He's hit his limit!

Riku grunted and let out a low moan as Sora's bucking hips forced him impossibly deeper and felt his walls clamp desperately around him. With the last of his energy, he adjusted his grip on Sora and began thrusting rapidly, long, hard, and deep building them both up even higher than before and this time he wasn't stopping! He reached down to grab Sora and with a few good tugs, Sora let out a cry signaling his release and he followed him in kind, giving one last deep thrust before his orgasm took over and he lost himself to the white hot feeling of his release spilling into Sora, burying himself in his tight warmth as wave after wave of pleasure shook him to his core. "Haa...haa...haaa..." He kept his eyes open as long as he could as he watched Sora moan and writhe beneath him as he spilt his seed all over his hand until another hot burst of pleasure burst inside of him and forced him to lose himself in the fireworks going off behind his eyelids instead, his body trembling as one last aftershock nearly had him collapsing on top of Sora.

It was hot! Too hot! Sora gasped breathlessly as he swallowed back screams from his own orgasm that felt almost endless as he felt Riku spurt inside him again and again until finally neither of them seemed to have anything left. When it was all over, he almost laughed at how out of it Riku looked as his body trembled with the effort of holding himself up. His eyes looked like they were seeing into a whole other plane of existence altogether. With a grunt, Sora moved his hips so that Riku slipped out of him and sat up to reach for him and guided his blitzed-out lover down so that he lowered his body halfway on top of him so they could hold each other while they regathered themselves. "Thatwassogood," Sora practically slurred as he ran his fingers through Riku's sweat-strewn hair. "I love you. I love you so much."

Riku gripped Sora with noodle arms and nuzzled into his sweaty chest, not really caring or registering that it was slick with his own release. "I love you," he whispered breathlessly. "You're so amazing. I love you so much."

They were exhausted and messy, but they can deal with that in a moment. For now, they indulge in their slow pace for just a little while longer in each others' arms.

Chapter Text

Riku and Roxas were on a mission together. Today they had been tasked with exploring Scala ad Caelum, or at least a section of it. After loads of research done by Master Yen Sid, King Mickey, and even Sora himself, they theorized that all the different yet identical land masses that made up Scala may have been world hubs just like the ones Sora is hoping to make, as in they were midpoints that connected other worlds and the keyblade wielders that resided there were in charge of whatever worlds each island was connected to. If his theory is correct and if they could re-establish those connections to other worlds, it could make their overall mission to unite and protect the worlds so much easier. After all, they may have a few candidates to designate as "hub worlds" on the table for now, but it's not nearly enough. So they'll either have to find a way to CREATE more (of which they have a few ideas for, but are unsure if they should test) or hunt down uninhabited worlds which was a tricky task in itself. After all, uninhabited worlds doesn't mean they'll STAY uninhabited, as they could merely be sleeping or coming into being so it wouldn't be right to just go around and assuming empty worlds were right for the taking. Of course, the exception is Scala ad Caelum. It's clearly very empty and has been for some time.

Master Yen Sid said this is where he, Master Eraqus, and Master Xehanort attended school and trained to be keyblade masters. But even he had very limited knowledge of its history. The only one who might've known the most was Master Eraqus, having been considered a blue-blood with the most connections to the founders of Scala. It seems that there were many things kept secret from the students until they achieved certain roles. But even having achieved master status while he lived there, Master Yen Sid claimed to not know much at all as things were kept even more secretive following an incident that happened to Master Eraqus and Master Xehanort's classmates.

With not much to go on, the only thing left to do was explore for themselves. Unfortunately Sora and King Mickey couldn't be here, what with their diplomatic duties and all (not to mention taking care of Hoku), and Ventus and Vanitas were also way too busy, as were all the others. In fact, Riku would've been here alone if it weren't for the fact that they had established a new rule amongst themselves that there would be no more solo missions and Roxas was the only one without dire plans to attend to. While he didn't mind tagging along on Riku's missions, this place gave him the creeps and frankly it creeped Riku out as well.

The tall buildings were pristine and white. There HAD to have been magic at work here. How else would there not be moss or ivy or what have you growing on sides of the buildings after all these years? On the roof tops the found boxes meant for housing messenger pigeons and although there were plenty of birds flying around, Riku hadn't seen any bird droppings whatsoever. The trees were perfectly trimmed. The windows were sparkling. The only thing that would be considered messy was the maybe the stalls that were littered throughout the town, stalls full of books and other items that neither Riku or Roxas recognized. There were even a few cafe tables with dishes left behind as if their occupants had just gotten up. On the walls they found a few areas where posters for all sorts of things were plastered, some thrice covered over. Riku eyed one of the most faded posters but he couldn't make out what it said. "I don't recognize this language."

"Do you think Master Yen Sid knows? Or maybe Ven or Vani?" Roxas asked. "Then again, might not be worth the trouble. I mean this one looks like a missing cat poster."

"Yeah, and I think all of these are advertising a concert...maybe? It's so weird. I can't tell if these are heartless playing the instruments or if they're tadpoles." Riku pointed out a row of red posters that indeed looked like they had pictures of tadpoles playing trumpets and other instruments displayed on them.

"Maybe...it was a pun on the band's name?" Roxas pondered. Beside those were ads for what appeared to be milk. He pointed it out to Riku. "Isn't that a little weird? I have yet to see any pastures for cows to graze on since we've been here. Where would the milk have come from?"

"I haven't seen ANY animals except birds and fish. But it's really strange. Just the fact that there are any animals here at all means this world is definitely alive. But everything here suggests that something happened very suddenly and the people have just disappeared...or they all escaped in a hurry. But I don't see anything that shows that anybody left in a panic," Riku observed.

"To do that, we'd have to look in the homes," Roxas pointed out. "If they're in disarray, then they've definitely left in a hurry."

Then again, maybe there weren't that many people left here to begin with. Sure there are a lot of houses and buildings, but from what Master Yen Sid told us, there weren't many occupants around even when he lived here."

"Something's not adding up," Roxas grumbled. "In fact, NONE of it is adding up. There's something Master Yen Sid isn't telling us. He's either holding back or he's forgotten. And if so, then how? And also did Master Eraqus really never tell Aqua and Terra about his home world? This is all kind of nuts."

"You're right," Riku nodded. "But it must be important if this is the place that Master Xehanort's heart led us when we extracted that portal from him. Wait...hold on..."

"What is it?" Roxas tilted his head.

"Sora told me that Master Aqua found Master Eraqus's diary a while back. I wonder if..."

Roxas crossed his arms in thought. "Might have clues. But don't you think Master Aqua might've said something if there was anything important in there?"

Riku shook his head minutely. "I don't know. If she wanted to keep her master's memories private...maybe...hmm...It couldn't hurt to ask her later, right?"

The blonde nodded. "Yeah, and if he's got one diary, he probably has others. A guy that old probably didn't stuff everything into just one book."

Riku laughed. "It's worth a shot. But for now, which building should we start with? I'll let you pick."

"Hnn..." Roxas looked up at the tall buildings. "I know it was my suggestion, but I still feel guilty about snooping. There's something ominous here...or...like...sacred? I'm not sure if that's the word. I feel like I'm trespassing on a graveyard or something. In fact, I'm pretty sure I did see a graveyard as we were flying over."

"I know what you mean. But we're going to have to get over that. If this world is what Sora suspects, it could be crucial to our efforts in uniting the worlds. There's no point in pussyfooting about it now."

Roxas's face broke into a childish smirk. "Heh, pussyfooting."

Riku rolled his eyes but gave a quiet snerk at Roxas's amusement. "So you don't want to pick?"

"I mean, I guess if I had to pick, I'd say we go for the biggest one." He pointed at the centermost building, of which he recognized as the spot where they met up with Sora after he defeated Master Xehanort and where they all combined forces to close up Kingdom Hearts. "It's got that fancy stuff all over it. So it must be important, right?"

"Sounds good to me," Riku agreed.

Together they walked up to the building which felt even bigger up close and attempted to pry open the large wooden doors but they were locked tight.

"How do we get it open?" Roxas cried out with exasperation.

Riku simply raised his keyblade and a beam of light shot out from it towards the door. Then a loud series of clicks were heard as if a large mechanism had been activated before the doors rumbled as they slowly slid open and allowed them entrance. Roxas curled his lip in a pout, expecting Riku to come up with a smug remark, but the other said nothing, just simply walked inside with a stride that somehow ticked Roxas off even more than if he had spoken. "Wise guy," he grumbled as he followed after him. But this did beg the question...how do you keep anything secure in a world filled with keyblade wielders? Who were they trying to keep out with these gigantic doors? He noticed there were giant wrought-iron gates separating the different plazas as well.

Riku noticed Roxas trailing behind. They had been walking for several minutes and he hasn't said a word. "What are you thinking?" he asked.

"This place...this whole world just feels so sterile and cold...I guess. It reminds me a lot of The World That Never Was. Sure the sun is shining here. But it's empty and everything is so pristine. Not to mention all the locked doors, giant gates, and the gigantic walls. Like I feel as if there must've been strict rules here. Maybe it's because of the access they had to other worlds. Maybe the gates were there in case something came through that wasn't supposed to if this place really acted as a hub world? I dunno..."

Riku stopped and considered. "I noticed the same thing. I think it's more than likely people could exit this world, but others couldn't come in. It may not have been a two way street like Sora's hoping to achieve. More like a dispatch sort of area, perhaps."

"Like Daybreak Town? That place that Ventus said he came from. The place where all those keyblade wielders used to live?"

"Perhaps...very similar. A place for keyblade wielders to live and thrive and a place that allowed them to see other worlds, but people from other worlds can't reach."

"But something clearly got to this place," Roxas pointed out as they kept walking. "Unless...everybody just died out. Master Yen Sid never told us how he ended up living in the Symphony of Sorcery. We don't know how Master Eraqus found the Land of Departure. And we know even less about Xehanort. As keyblade wielders it's not hard to figure out HOW they left, but WHY? I mean this place is empty, but it's pretty nice. Why leave?"

"Maybe it's what Keyblade Wielders are fated to do? Become masters and leave to spread knowledge?" Riku wondered.

"But then who would be left here to teach? And where would new keyblade wielders come from?" Roxas asked, though he had a feeling Riku was wondering the same thing.

"Yeah, something's not adding up," Riku raised his fist to his chin in frustration. As they walked, they found there were many doors and staircases in all directions but continued going straight. Eventually they found themselves in what appeared to be a large common area filled with plush couches and chairs and bookcases lining the walls. Golden coats of arms made of keyblades, pennants, and tapestries with writing they couldn't decipher were hanging on the walls wherever there was space. Giant crystal chandeliers dangled from the ceiling. Sunlight poured in through the massive windows that went from floor to ceiling, barely shaded by the fluttering white lace curtains draped over them. It looked almost grander than the king's own library.

"Holy cow," Roxas looked around in awe. There were a lot of books, but somehow he had a feeling this wasn't exactly the library. Surely a place this large and extravagant place would have many more in its collection somewhere, if this building is a place of learning as he's starting to suspect.

Riku wandered over to one of the intricately-carved wooden tables and ran his hands over it. Not a speck of dust to be found. But there was a small pile of books, the topmost one propped halfway open with a few scrawled-on pieces of paper hanging out of it as if somebody were here studying not too long ago. Again, there wasn't anything he could read. In fact, many of the couches and chairs had tables with similar contents on them along with tea trays or board games. He found himself drifting over to one of the chess boards and picked up one of the white pieces. It shined like silver in his hand and felt heavy, almost like it was carved from stone. "So...even the board games look luxurious."

"Luxurious? I guess that's another good word for fancy-shmancy," Roxas huffed as he too wandered around. "I feel like I'm in a museum or something. I'm afraid I'm going to bump into something and break it." Keeping his arms close to himself, he looked up at the tapestries and giant coats of arms. They definitely had a vibe of the stuff he's seen in a university, only fancier. He wouldn't be surprised at all if the school motto or something was what was written here. Looking around, most of them appeared to say the same thing. He kept seeing the same groups of symbols being repeated over and over, especially on the purple tapestries. The largest of them appears to have different spacing than the rest, almost like bullet points. "That one must be the rules," he decided.

"Hm?" Riku looked over.

"Nothing, I'm just getting university common room vibes," Roxas shrugged. "You know, school memorabilia on the walls, rules, slogans, past honored graduates..."

Riku looked at him a little blankly. He never went to university so he was having a hard time making the connection, but he'll take Roxas's word for it. "So we must be in the right place."

"I guess," Roxas shrugged.

"Well, college boy, where should we look if we wanted to find the most dirt?" Riku grinned.

"Psh, give me a break. You know I only went for one year," Roxas rolled his eyes and tried not to let the bitterness show in his voice. "But my guess would either be a faculty office or...if the teacher's lived on campus, maybe their room."

"I'm very curious as to what a keyblade classroom looks like," Riku mentioned quickly. The closest thing he's seen is the classroom in the Land of Departure where Aqua, Terra, and Ven studied and now teach.

"Well let's go find one!" Roxas grinned and ran for a random staircase.

"Right behind you!" Riku laughed and hurried after him.

As they laughed and ran through the halls, the heavy atmosphere of the place seemed to lift slightly. The echoes of their laughter made it easy to imagine this place being filled with students chattering and laughing as they headed to their classes and somehow it made the place feel a little warmer...as if the building itself was happy to have people in it again. Roxas continued to lead the way, dashing so quickly that his shoes squeaked on the spotless marble floors as he turned this way and that and Riku was right behind him, grinning widely as Roxas seemed to have fun jumping the wooden railings and randomly opening doors, none of which qualified for what he was looking for. Running and goofing around like this, Riku couldn't help imagining what it might've been like if they all attended school here like their keyblade-wielding forefathers had. He might've actually enjoyed school more if that were the case. As glad as he was that he got to experience high school at all, he still felt like he was living a lie the whole time. To be here with others just like him, without having to hide who he was or the things he's seen...it might've been nice.

"Keep up, slowpoke!" Roxas shouted at him, rousing Riku from his thoughts as he sped even further on ahead.

"So much for feeling like a museum, huh?" Riku laughed.

"Yeah, well, WAIT!" he suddenly skid to a halt, his shoes squealing loudly on the floor as he came to a dead stop.

Riku nearly collided into him, but before he could comment, he saw exactly why Roxas stopped. They had made it to maybe the fourth or fifth floor. He wasn't exactly sure and ended up in front of a wide set of open doors that opened into what was very undoubtedly a classroom. Eight large wooden desks were arranged in neat rows of two in front of an even larger desk piled high with books with a moving chalkboard behind it. More coats of arms decorated the walls which were also lined with bookcases and what appeared to be potion bottles and other strange gold and silver instruments not unlike the ones they saw in the booths in the plaza. There was a staircase that led up to a second part of the classroom also lined with books and the large room was lit with the natural light pouring in from the giant windows that had similar curtains to the ones they saw in the common room. But these windows had cushioned seating nooks, perched upon which appeared to be a chessboard with a half-finished game with intricate pieces colored black and gold and silver and white. But the pieces didn't look like any chess pieces that Riku's ever seen and the black and white checkered board ran diagonally with some of the squares elevated above the others. So perhaps it was inaccurate to call it a chess board.

"Jeez, these guys must've had a lot of homework!" Roxas commented from behind him and Riku turned around to see him fiddling around with one of the desks.

He could see where Roxas might have gotten that impression. Each desk had at least four to five books stacked on them in various degrees of messiness to neatness along with quills, half-written charts, rolls of parchment, and smaller versions of the instruments they saw earlier. At least their chairs looked comfy enough. But wow, the things these desks might've seen...just imagining the kind of students that must've used these...it was kind of awe-inspiring. But if the student desks were impressive, then the teacher's desk must be mind-blowing. Eager to follow Roxas's suggestion, he tried not to look too eager as he wandered over to the largest desk in the room and looked over the desk's contents. It was so messy and piled with books and papers that it reminded him a lot of Merlin's work desk, which made him imagine a wizard-esque sort of teacher; old, long robe, huge beard, mysterious gaze...but hopefully more like Master Yen Sid than the slightly ruffled and absent-minded Merlin. But as much material as there was on this desk, he couldn't decipher any of it!

With a sigh, Riku flopped into the large leather chair behind the desk. What had he expected to find, really? Unless they knew what they were looking at, how could they hope to glean any information from any of this? Looking at all the books lining the walls...now their presence seemed to taunt him. They were surrounded by a potential wealth of information but unable to read it.

"Heh, this one has a doodle of some guy named "Tardy Fleetfoot"," Roxas chuckled.

Riku hummed, barely acknowledging what Roxas had said until it hit him. "Wait, you can read what it says?"

"Well yeah, it's written in--WAIT!" Roxas's eyes widened in realization and he hurried to rummage through the other desks.

Riku hopped over the teacher's desk in his haste to reach the one Roxas was looking at originally. "Are they--?"

"All the other papers are written in Scala-ese!" Roxas confirmed.

Riku let out a laugh. "Scala-ese?"

"You got a better name for this gibberish?" Roxas snorted.

Riku snickered but turned his attention back to the matter at hand. "So this person...whoever was at this desk must've come from one of our worlds!" He dug through the other papers on this person's desk. There WERE some written in "Scala-ese" as Roxas so eloquently named it, but compared to the other scribblings he's seen thus far, this person's looked a little...behind. Their penmanship didn't look nearly as neat as the others. So maybe Scala-ese wasn't their first language. He dug inside one of the desk drawers next and found a small book with dented edges squished to the side beside much larger books. "Looks personal to me~" Riku grinned before he gently wrenched the squished book free and flipped through its contents. It appeared to be a cheat sheet sort of book. There were definitely notes in here regarding schoolwork, but NOT written in Scala-ese, undoubtedly to make it easier for this person to study. But at some point the notes became less meticulous until it ended up just being used for doodling. There were little cartoons of what could've been his teacher and classmates. They all wore funny clothes that kind of remind him of Terra and Aqua's outfits, very layered and exotic. There were a lot of doodles of one boy in particular with long black hair half-tied in a ponytail. "Tardy Fleetfoot", he presumed.

Roxas peered over Riku's arm, curious as to what he had found. "Do you think his real name was Tardy?"

Riku chuckled as he flipped through the pages. "Who knows...sounds dumb enough to be a nickname..." He found another page with hash marks on it, not unlike ones meant for marking wins and losses. Looks like X had a lot more wins than E.

Wait...

Roxas noticed Riku seemed to have froze. "You okay?"

Riku swallowed hard. "I think...this might be Master Xehanort's desk."

Roxas blinked a couple of times, stunned by that conclusion before he blew out a raspberry in disbelief. "Huh? No way! What are the odds? It can't be!"

Riku flipped through more of the pages and that's when he saw it. A doodle of a paopu fruit. A loud breath escaped him and he felt his knees turn to jelly as he gasped in shock and fumbled for the chair to sit down. "There's no way...there's no way..."

"That's what I said. There's no way that's Xehanort's desk--"

"No!" Riku swallowed hard as he tried to calm his voice. "I mean...it's..." He shook his head as he tried to find the words. "Whoever used this desk is from my island."

"Huh!? There's no way! You said so yourself that nobody's ever left your island--" he stopped himself, recalling the memory of Sora's that he had witnessed. "Except..."

"Except one," Riku nodded. "A kid had supposedly left the islands years and years before Sora and I were even born. Legend has it that one day he just left and was never seen or heard from again. My grandfather told me that story. Told me that was one of the reasons why he believed other worlds existed and why he thought it was very possible that my grandmother came from another world."

"So you think some kid found a way off your island all those years ago, mysteriously found his way here, and became a keyblade wielder? And that it might be Xehanort?" Roxas summarized.

Riku nodded.

"And you got all of that from a doodle in a notebook?" Roxas raised an eyebrow.

"Well...I mean...why else would it not be written in Scala-ese?" Riku pointed out.

Roxas didn't have a good answer for that one. But that still doesn't prove it was Xehanort. All this proves is that the one who used this desk was a foreigner to this world. "Well, keep looking. This guy has probably written his name down SOMEWHERE."

Riku nodded and resumed flipping through the book.

"Wait! What's that?" Roxas stopped him with his hand and flipped a few pages back. "There!"

"Huh?" Riku squinted. "Shit...I need my glasses." He hadn't gotten his prescription updated in a while so even with his contacts in, small things were a little fuzzy. From what he could make out, it was a tiny doodle of a heart. He had been flipping through the pages so fast that he missed it. Something was clearly written inside the heart but he couldn't make it out.

"Give it here," Roxas sighed sympathetically and snatched the book from him so he could look. "It says...X E H A...and I think that's a plus mark...and E R A. Xeha...and Era?" he sounded out the words, unsure if he was saying those names right. "Or maybe they're just initials..."

Riku facepalmed. "Xeha...as in Xehanort, perhaps?"

Roxas gasped and shook his head. "No way! Don't say it!"

"And Era...as in Eraqus?" Riku hissed.

"EW, NO!" Roxas gagged and dropped the book on the floor in disgust. "NO NO NO NO NO!"

"Master Aqua told Sora that Master Eraqus was in love with--"

"DON'T FINISH THAT SENTENCE!" Roxas begged as he again gagged dramatically. "I don't want to imagine those two old men making out!"

"Oh grow up!" Riku scolded before he leaned down to pick up the book he dropped. "This has to be Master Xehanort's desk. How much more proof do you need? Besides, if anybody should be freaking out, it's ME! There's a chance that Master Xehanort came from MY island!"

"Well...it would explain a lot," Roxas crossed his arms with a surly frown.

Riku clenched his fist, nearly crinkling the small notebook. "Yeah...it would."

Roxas sighed and gently bumped Riku's shoulder with his fist to snap him out of it. "Regardless, I think we're just getting more questions than answers."

Riku sighed and put the book back in the drawer. "You're right. Like how did Xehanort get here?"

"Is it...really worth looking into at this point? We at least know that they could access other worlds from here as keyblade wielders without gummi ships. We still have all those other islands to look at, too. And we've confirmed that this place at least is definitely deserted and has been for years. So how about we call it a day?" Roxas suggested.

Riku looked up at him. "Giving up already?" he asked.

"I just think this is more than a two person job. Plus we're walking blind, and I don't mean just you," Roxas joked playfully.

"Very funny," Riku grumbled.

"We can't read anything. This place is huge. And you got a baby back at home to look after. I say we should ask Master Aqua about her master's diary and try and get more information out of Master Yen Sid before we come back here. And also ask Ven if he can read Scala-ese!" He added at the end, eagerly grabbing one of the books off of the desk. "Let's take one of these back to him and see if he can make heads or tails of it."

"I guess that's a start," Riku conceded before standing up and stretching. Roxas was right, though. They had been wandering just this small section of the world all day and he was really tired as he was still harboring new parent exhaustion. "I guess you're right. Let's report back."

Roxas grinned, happy that Riku agrees. Now he can be home in time to take Xion out to dinner. "Oh right, I almost forgot. This is YOUR mission," he smirked and shoved the book into Riku's hands. "So you'll have to be the one to ask Master Aqua and Ven all those tough questions. Oof. Masters have it rough!" the blonde snickered as he started walking away, leaving Riku bewildered.

"Huh...? Wait!" He chased after Roxas. "All of that was your idea!"

"It's your mission. You get to do all the leg work, big guy! I'm just the escort!" Roxas cackled as he leapt from one of the open windows to land gracefully on the ground below.

Riku chased after him, also leaping from the window. "HA!" he shouted. "ESCORT!? That's a good one!"

Roxas gave a huge, cheeky grin as he summoned his gummi ship from the nearby warp sphere and gave Riku a little good-bye wave. "Good luck with that, MASTER Riku! See you at the next mission!" He grinned one more time before he boarded his ship and flew off, leaving Riku to roll his eyes and summon Highwind next.

"Sneaky little twerp," he sighed though he was also smiling just a little at the other's silliness as he boarded his ship. He should've expected Roxas wouldn't want to participate in such conversations. It's just as well. These matters needed to be handled delicately as it is. With that in mind, he set his destination for home.

. . .

Once he got back and confirmed with Roxas and Master Yen Sid that he made it back safely, Riku eagerly kicked his boots off and flopped onto the living room couch, so glad to be home. But now that he was comfortable, he wished he hadn't sat down because he would have rather gotten out of his traveling clothes first. With a groan, he pulled himself up and walked to the bedroom. On the way, he could hear what sounded like Sora giving Hoku a bath in the bathroom and tapped on the door. "Honey, I'm home!" he shouted through the closed door.

"Welcome back!" Sora shouted back.

"DA DA DA DA!" Hoku squealed loudly.

"I'm gonna get undressed real quick," Riku told him.

"Cool! We're almost done!" Sora informed him. "I'll warm up dinner for you!"

"Thanks!" Riku smiled at the door before turning away to head to the bedroom to get changed. Along the way, though, he decided he should take a quick shower while he was at it.

By the time he was dried and dressed in his pajama bottoms, Sora had dinner ready and set at the table and Hoku was in his high chair feeding himself loose baby puff cereal. It looks like Sora made some sort of creamy chicken and pasta dish. He could never remember what all these different French foods were called but it also didn't help that Sora mispronounced them differently every time he named them. Nevertheless, he can't get enough of how much Sora smiles and how excitedly he talks about the dish whenever he asks about it before they dig in. He savored these meals. He knows it might be an odd thing to feel emotional about. Then again, it wasn't long ago that Sora had trouble eating anything at all and it wasn't that long ago that he wondered if he'd ever be able to have dinner with him again. So yes, he treasured these moments, even more so now that they have a new member of their family to share them with.

"Those look yummy, Hoku," he smiled at the little one who was exerting extreme concentration as he lifted each cereal piece to his mouth one at a time.

Hoku looked up and grinned widely and proudly extended his chubby arm to offer Riku a piece.

"For me? Well thank you very much!" Riku snickered and leaned his head over to grab the slightly-mushed and slobbery piece of cereal with his mouth, making exaggerated nom nom noises to make Hoku laugh and squeal with delight.

Sora gasped and pretended to look affronted. "No fair, Hoku! You never share your yummy cereal with ME!"

Hoku swung his head around and gave Sora a cheeky gummy grin before grabbing another piece and again offering it to Riku while still looking at Sora.

Riku cackled and again accepted the offered piece of cereal while Sora scoffed. "I see how it is."

"Looks like I'm his favorite after all!" Riku snickered.

"Yeah, well don't forget, you have diaper duty in the morning. Let's see how much he likes you then!" Sora smirked smugly.

"Well joke's on you, he hasn't peed on me in three days!"

"You were gone for two of them!" Sora reminded him.

"Yeah, but this time I'm sure of it! He won't pee on me this time!" Riku declared. "Right, Hoku?" he looked to the infant for confirmation.

"Da daaaaaaaaa~" Hoku gurgled and kicked his feet out.

Sora laughed. "Bet you breakfast."

"You're on!" The two shook on it and went back to eating. It was delicious of course and Riku could tell Sora used herbs from the garden. Somehow that made it seem even tastier.

"So...how was the mission?" Sora asked cautiously.

Riku looked up. Usually they avoided talking about work during dinner, so if Sora's asking, he must be anxious. He chewed his food slowly and swallowed before speaking, taking the time to choose his words carefully. "There's...not a lot to go on just yet. It's definitely empty and we definitely found the school. But there are a lot more questions than answers." Did he dare tell him about Master Xehanort possibly having come from Destiny Islands? He couldn't see a reason to, not yet anyway. "There are lots of books and stuff but it's all written in a language we couldn't understand. So we brought back a book in the hopes that maybe Ventus of Vanitas might be able to read it. If they can, it could help us a lot."

"Hmm..." Sora hummed thoughtfully. "Wouldn't Master Yen Sid be able to read it since he studied there too?"

"I guess so...but...I guess..." he stared down at his food and twirled his fork in his pasta as he tried to find the right words to say. He could feel Sora studying his face as he did so.

"You think Master Yen Sid is holding back?" Sora finished for him.

Riku nodded. He felt awful doubting the man who has given them so much guidance and who has lent so much support in Sora's efforts to unite the worlds, but something just wasn't sitting right.

Sora let out a small sigh and Riku looked up to see him fiddling with a piece of chicken with his own fork. "I...kinda feel the same way. Either he wants us to figure out something for ourselves or he doesn't remember himself. Either way I find it kind of...irritating. I got my hands full enough playing diplomat with what little information I can provide as it is."

"Hey," Riku murmured gently and reached across the table for Sora's hand, sensing the brunette's rising frustration and anxiety. Sora set his knife down and gave him his hand, reaching for him and squeezing which Riku returned reassuringly. "You're doing great. Don't worry. You keep doing what you're doing and let me worry about the leg work. Together we'll make it happen. You, me, and the others...we'll unite the worlds and Hoku and so many others will have a brighter future for it. We just need to have faith."

Sora set his fork down and put his other hand over his, smiling that sweet smile that Riku adores so much. "I do have faith, Riku. I know together we can do anything. I just wish...that I knew how to make it easier for everyone."

Riku chuckled and leaned forward to kiss the back of Sora's knuckles. "Babe, if it were meant to be easy it would've been done by now. But it's not easy. That's why you're the one leading the way."

Sora's face reddened as his eyes sparkled with unshed tears, slipping his hands from Riku's grasp to cup his cheeks. "WE'RE leading the way," he corrected. "I can't do this without you by my side."

Riku smiled and returned the gesture, gently thumbing away the tears that threatened to flow before pulling him forward into a kiss over the short table. "Together," he whispered against his lips.

"Together always," Sora whispered back.

"Always," Riku reaffirmed.

Chapter Text

It was another restless night. Poor Hoku was teething and his dads were at their wits' end. But it was a beautiful warm night, so they wrapped Hoku in a comfy blanket and took him out on the deck to stargaze while they took turns holding him until his pain medicine from the pediatrician kicked in. Riku's mother recommended some other home remedies but neither were really sure about giving their infant son a drop of booze, no matter how small, so when Hoku's cries started becoming really intense, they caved and went to the doctor instead. Now armed with lots of cold toys for Hoku to nom on and medicine, the two thought their sleep troubles were over. But no...no, it's never that easy.

So as they lounged together on their two-person lounger, they looked up at the stars and took turns cuddling Hoku as they tried to think of how to soothe their fussy son better.

"Maybe we should start giving his medicine BEFORE he starts crying," Riku suggested. "Give it time to kick in?"

"Yeah, I suppose we COULD do that. It's not like his teeth are going to stop growing any time soon," Sora agreed wearily.

Hoku continued to fuss and cry while he drooled all over Riku's pajama shirt. Riku gently tried to soothe him by rubbing circles into his back and giving him little bounces. He felt awful for him and sympathized because once again, his own wisdom teeth were starting to bother him. Sora was lucky. Turns out he doesn't have any. He grabbed one of the cold teething rings that Hoku dropped and offered it to him. Hoku grabbed it and nommed on it with fervor, quieting a little bit as he gnawed on it.

Sora leaned his head on Riku's shoulder and pulled a quilt over both their laps. Even though it was a warm summer night, the ocean breeze was very persistent up here in the treetops. It was a great way to cool a fussy baby suffering with teething fever, though.

"Don't fall asleep yet," Riku murmured as he rested his head on top of Sora's.

"Don't worry, I won't," Sora assured him quietly as he reached to run his fingers through Hoku's hair. "Poor little guy."

"First walking and now growing teeth...he's growing too fast, I'm not ready," Riku grumbled.

Sora could hear the pout in his voice and giggled. It's very rare that he ever sees Riku pout. "Are your teeth still bothering you?"

"Mm-hmm. I'll need to make an appointment soon," Riku scowled.

"I should, too. When's the last time either of us went to a dentist?" Sora snickered.

Riku hummed. "Way too long."

"Wonder if Dr. Bri still has her practice open..."

"I'm sure she does," Riku chuckled.

Sora looked up at the stars and smiled, fingers idly moving up to touch his crown pendant. "We should make Hoku his own charm."

"Hm? Where'd that come from?" Riku asked.

"I dunno. I just think we should make him one."

"His first birthday is coming up. But what sort of charm?" Riku asked quietly. Hoku had stopped fussing and seems to finally be asleep so he didn't want to disturb him.

"Maybe like the one you've given me. But a star!"

The silverette smiled. He liked that idea. "I think that'd be perfect."

Sora grinned and lifted his head to give Riku a kiss and plant another one on the top of Hoku's head. "I think he's asleep now," he whispered.

"Good, let's get him inside," Riku whispered.

"Here, I'll take him," Sora stood and gently took Hoku so Riku could get up.

Together the two walked back inside and put Hoku to bed. After they each gave him a kiss, they watched him sleep for a moment while they clasped each other's hands.

"He really is growing too fast, isn't he?" Sora whispered.

"Yeah," Riku nodded. "But I am looking forward to the other stuff, too," he whispered as they quietly crept out of the room.

"Do you think he'll remember any of this?" Sora asked as they headed back to bed.

"Who knows? But if he does, I hope he just remembers the good stuff," Riku admitted before flopping into bed with a sigh.

Sora snickered and flopped into bed next to him. "What are you talking about? It's all been good stuff."

Riku chuckled. "Sure."

The brunette gave him a gentle prod, knowing that Riku was probably thinking the opposite of what he was agreeing to. Riku snorted at the prodding and Sora smiled despite himself, curling his body around Riku as he got comfortable. "Good night, Riku."

"Good night, Sora."

Chapter Text

Roxas was left babysitting Hoku while Sora took Riku to the dentist to get his wisdom teeth removed. At first Riku was vehemently against it, not wanting Roxas to be the one of all people to be home to greet them when he comes back drugged out of his mind. But Kairi was busy and both their parents were at work. Besides, Roxas had a gift he wanted to give Hoku anyway. A while ago Vani came to visit which gave Roxas a little free time to grab lunch but he then left in a hurry, saying Naminé called him or something.

It was a little weird, but Roxas wasn't complaining because now he's fully armed with a sandwich from the local deli. Besides, what's the harm in letting Vani have a little alone time with Hoku?

"Buh-guh?" Hoku asked as he banged away on the keys of his new baby piano that Roxas had gifted him while dressed in his dragon onesie from Maleficent. It was a cute little wooden piano that had colorful keys that struck on little chimes, so it was more like a piano-shaped xylophone than anything else, but when he saw it in the toy store in Twilight Town, Roxas knew he HAD to get it for Hoku.

Roxas snickered at the name he taught Hoku for Vani. Apparently Vani hasn't managed to get him to call him anything else yet. Maybe that's why he stopped by. "He had to go home," he answered for the little one.

"Ni...Ni-mi?" he babbled as he awkwardly slapped his little hands against the giant rainbow-colored keys, delighting in all the little DING DING DINGs he was making.

"That's right. He went home to Naminé," Roxas chuckled. "You're so smart~" he praised with a little boop on the tip of Hoku's nose that made the infant giggle.

"You know, if you like the piano enough, Uncle Roxas can teach you when you get older," he offered as he sat behind Hoku and draped his arms beside him so he can play with him on the little piano.

"Bbbbbbbbpt~" Hoku blew between his lips to make a raspberry while he played alongside Roxas.

"What? It might be fun!" the blonde laughed. "Then in the future you can write songs for me to play so I don't have to work so hard."

Hoku raised both hands and slapped at the keys. Ding...da-ding. But then he paused with a face that Roxas swore looked like a pout. "That was good, Hoku!"

Hoku shook his head so hard that Roxas thought he was going to fall backward so he scooched closer to act as a support so the little one can stay upright. Hoku then shoved Roxas's hands away from his new toy, making the blonde laugh again. "Okay okay, you got it. Play a song for me, then," he snickered.

Hoku raised his arms in the air again but it seems this time he was trying a different note to begin this three-note sequence he was doing. Dong...da-ding. "PBBBBBBBBBBT!! EYEEEEEEEEEAH!!" Hoku suddenly howled with frustration that surprised Roxas. He was having such a fun time a second ago!

"What is it, don't like that note?" he asked.

Hoku shook his head and tried again. Again, different note to begin with. Dink...da-ding. Then he went back to the other note. Dong...da-ding. Roxas smiled helplessly as he watched the little guy stare at the keys as if in deep thought. "A perfectionist already, huh?"

"Ga buh...bah...BAH BAH!" Hoku babbled.

"Oh! Is that so?" Roxas asked, though of course he had no idea what Hoku was trying to say this time.

He raised his chubby little arms again, this time with determination and slapped his little hands against the keys once more. Dong. Da-ding. Dah-ding. Dee-ding.

Roxas tilted his head as he listened. To anybody else watching, Hoku might've just looked like he was slapping the keys randomly, but Roxas could tell there was definitely an intentional tune going on here. In fact, he thought it sounded very familiar. But the little toy piano only has eight keys so who could say, really?

"DA DA DA DA DA DA!" Hoku babbled loudly.

"Huh?" Roxas looked up towards the window. Sure enough, he could hear Sora outside trying to get Riku up the stairs. "You're right. Your daddies are home!"

"DA DA DA DA!" the little one again squealed happily.

After what sounded like a few minutes of struggling, Sora finally called out "We're home!" while kicking his shoes off in the entryway and dragging Riku to the living room.

"Whosh housh ish thish?" Riku garbled around a mouthful of gauze as Sora deposited him onto the couch.

Roxas snorted into his hand and scrounged up every bit of willpower he had to not grab his phone and record Riku. "Ha-how'd it go?" he snickered.

"It's ours, Riku," Sora answered with exasperation while he tugged Riku's boots off. "They had to give him a liiiiiiiiiiiiittle extra because the third one didn't want to come out without a fight. So he's really enjoying himself right now."

"Num not!" Riku growled as he blot at his own mouth with a handkerchief.

"I see," Roxas laughed.

Riku narrowed his eyes at him. "Howsh you get outta da box?"

"The...box...?" Roxas blinked. He then frowned with annoyance as he gathered what Riku meant. "Oh yeah, he's out of it." As was Roxas's desire to behave, so he whipped out his phone. "Smile for the camera, Riku!"

Riku sputtered as if he was going to say something but ended up drooling a lot of blood on himself instead which Sora hurried to mop up with one of Hoku's burp rags that were lying around. "Okay, just sit back and relax, big guy. If you try to talk too much you'll mess up your stitches! And Roxas, please don't tease him!"

"He started it," Roxas huffed.

Ding ding da-ding!

"Hm?" Sora looked down to see Hoku batting at his little piano. "Awww! Look, Riku! He's playing!"

"Heesh nob berry good, ib he?" Riku mumbled, earning a fwap on the arm from Sora. "Owwwwwwwwwwwwww!" he whined dramatically.

"Oh stop, I barely touched you!" Sora laughed.

"Airbovy'sh sho mean do me!" the silverette whimpered as he hugged one of the throw pillows to his chest.

Riku sounded so pathetic that Roxas almost felt bad about recording him...almost. "So how long until the stitches come out?"

"Supposedly they'll dissolve in a couple of weeks on their own. In the meantime they prescribed him plenty of painkillers. That'll be...interesting. I don't think I've ever seen Riku on painkillers," Sora pondered.

"Hopefully it's not like...this?" Roxas gestured to Riku who was now trying to catch the colors from the windows shining on his hands.

"I sure hope not. I can't take care of TWO drooling people by myself," Sora snickered.

"Nob dwoolin. I'm beeding," Riku protested.

"I know, I know," Sora rolled his eyes. "You kept telling me on the way home, remember?"

Riku gave Sora the biggest oogly eyes that Roxas thinks he's seen to date. "Yer cube. Be should geb mawwieb."

Sora laughed as his cheeks reddened and brushed Riku's hair from his face. "We ARE married, silly."

"Do who?" Riku blinked.

"To you," Sora sighed.

"Do me?"

"Yes, you!"

"Who'b mawwieb me?"

"I DID!"

Riku gasped as if heartbroken. "Yer mawwieb!?"

"YES!"

"Do who!?"

"RIKU! You and I are MARRIED!"

Roxas recorded this whole exchange while he struggled to keep his laughter contained so as to preserve this moment for all time.

Riku gasped again. "Ah mawwied you?"

"Yes!" Sora laughed.

The silverette sighed dreamily. "Loogy me."

Roxas facepalmed and slowly slid his hand down his face as he groaned. Sora on the other hand was trying to hide the blush on his cheeks with his own hands. Jeez, even when he's drugged out of his mind he has Sora under his spell!

Hoku slammed the keys on his piano again as if he was trying to show off what he could do. DING DING DING DING!

"Wow, look at you go, Hoku!" Sora praised.

"You should've seen him earlier," Roxas chuckled as he put his phone away. "I think he might actually have an ear for it."

"Oooh, do you want Uncle Roxas to teach you piano, Hoku?" Sora asked playfully.

"RA RA!" Hoku answered.

"By the way, I never asked, but how did you end up getting into music, Roxas?" Sora asked.

"Actually, I kind of wondered myself. I actually wanted to ask you if you have had any musical experience that maybe I picked up on?" Roxas asked.

Sora shook his head. "No way. It's definitely all you. I mean sure I sang with Ariel and I performed in high school but before that I've never really been musical." Sora hummed in thought. "Wait, no, I take that back. I did take piano lessons when I was little."

"Wait, you did? I didn't know that!"

"Me neeber!" Riku exclaimed!

Sora sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. "I mean, none of it really stuck or anything. There was this old lady who lived on my block. Her husband died and she was offering piano lessons to pay the bills so my mom sent me to her place every Tuesday to learn."

Riku gasped dramatically. "You tobe be you ber helbing yer dahd!"

"Eh-heh, well I uh--"

The silverette whimpered and looked like he was actually about to cry. "You...you lieb to be!"

"I was five! Sheesh! I thought the other kids would've make fun of me if they knew. Besides, nothing ever came out of it. I wasn't very good."

"Ah wool-bent hab mabe fud ob you..." Riku pouted.

Sora smiled and reached over to squeeze his hand. "I know~"

"Wait, so you didn't like it at all?" Roxas asked.

"No, I liked it! I mean, learning was hard. But I enjoyed listening to her play. She seemed to really like having me over and she even gave me cookies. I think she might've been lonely, honestly. But I remember wondering how her fingers could move so quickly when her hands looked so wrinkled and old and just being amazed at how beautifully she played. But I feel kind of bad...I've forgotten about all of that until now," he chuckled guiltily. "I only had lessons with her for a year before she went to live with her son's family."

"I haht no ivea..." Riku mumbled. He seemed in awe that there was actually something about Sora that he didn't know about.

"What's so weird about it?" Roxas asked. "Surely you had your own interests growing up?"

"Oh he did! He took ballet!" Sora answered with a cheeky smile.

"SOWA!" Riku shouted.

Now it was Roxas's turn to gasp dramatically. "Ballet!? Really!? No way! It takes forever to get you to dance!"

Riku rolled his eyes and removed a bloody piece of gauze from his mouth to put in his handkerchief. "Dash dibberent."

"How?" Roxas raised an eyebrow. He wasn't buying it. Riku doing ballet? He just couldn't picture it. Then again...the way he moves and spins when he's fighting...no way...it's unbelievable and yet it makes too much sense. "Wait wait wait, back up, I need the whole story! How does someone like YOU end up doing ballet!?"

"Hey, ballet is really tough! I've seen Riku stand up on nothing but his bare big toes for a whole minute!" Sora defended.

Roxas couldn't help the half-grin on his face. Of course Riku doing something like that as a kid would've seemed really cool to Sora.

Riku pulled out another piece of gauze. The bleeding seems to have stopped but he spoke slowly because he still felt very numb. "Mah mom used to do ballet when she was young. Shaw her dance shumtimes when I wash little and wanted to try, too."

Sora grabbed a wastebasket so Riku could dump his bloody gauze into it. "Yeah, but he was so stingy. He never invited me to his recitals so I could see!" Sora pouted.

"Datsh cuz I never dib any," Riku huffed.

"Why not?" Roxas asked.

"Dibn't wanna perforb for people. Jush do it for me," the drugged keyblade master explained simply with his arms crossed over the pillow he was still hugging to his chest.

Roxas gave a tiny smirk. Knowing Riku, he probably didn't want to wear the costumes in front of people. He could see that. Then again, maybe Riku had a little stage fright when he was younger. It doesn't seem too out of character for the older male, especially given how he nervous he gets right before he has to perform on ceremony. "When'd you stop?" he asked.

"The dance studio closed when we were in middle school. Sooo...Riku was 13 and I was 12," Sora answered for him. "But man, he got so muscular~"

Great, now Roxas was picturing pre-teen Sora ogling pre-teen Riku's dancer muscles. How did it take them so long to figure out how gay they were for each other!? Oh well. As they say: hindsight is 20:20. "Do you still know any moves, Riku?" Roxas grinned.

"No," Riku answered bluntly.

"Oh come on, Riku! I'm sure you do!" Sora egged on, almost forgetting that Riku is still heavily drugged. "I bet you can still do the toe thing!"

"By body hash changed a lob dince den," Riku protested.

"Oh, that's right. You're an old man, now!" Roxas laughed.

"DA DA DA DA DA!" Hoku clapped.

Riku pouted. "Ahm nob old 'nuff do be a dab."

Hoku pointed at Riku and gave a huge gummy smile before suddenly squealing, "MAMA!"

The three men gasped and stared at the child in stunned silence who clapped his hands happily at their reactions, mistaking it for a gasp of amazement.

"Wha...what did you say, Hoku?" Sora asked.

The little one giggled and made grabby hands for Sora. "Mama!"

Riku groooooaned. "Ahm confused! Dis IS our baby, right?"

"Yes, Riku, he is our baby!" Sora answered irritably as he quickly scooped Hoku off the floor to sit him in his lap. "What did you teach him, Roxas???"

"I didn't do anything, I swear!" Roxas insisted. "What makes you think I had anything to do with this??"

"You taught him to call Vani booger, didn't you?" Sora pointed out.

"Yeah, but that's--" He stopped himself when he realized what might've happened. Ohhhhhhh, Vani's going to get it when he sees him again. "Maybe he got it from the TV or something?"

Sora thought for a moment but decided that doesn't make any sense because most of the movies they watch don't even have mothers in them. "Nope. Try again."

"Mama?" Hoku asked while nomming on his fist. His daddies seemed to be in distress.

"Nuh-uh, Hoku," Sora attempted to correct him. "I'm da-da, remember? Da da da?"

"DA DA DA DA!" Hoku squealed!

"That's right!" Sora praised and pointed at Riku. "Who's that?"

"Da...da...da?" Hoku answered cautiously.

"Yes!" the brunette cheered with relief and kissed him on the nose. "There we go. All better."

"Mama!" Hoku giggled.

"No! NO MOMMA!" Sora quickly corrected.

"Maaa...ma!" Hoku repeated cheekily because daddy's having funny reactions!

"Okay, now you're doing it on purpose!" Sora accused.

Roxas laughed and pulled out the phone again to record. "Ask him again!"

"Don't record this!" Sora hissed.

"Come on, it's for Riku to see when he's lucid again!"

"I ahm lucid!" Riku insisted.

"Sure you are. Tell me what happened to your teeth," Roxas asked.

"Dat witch took 'em!"

Sora sighed. "I told you, Riku, she wasn't a witch, she was the dentist."

Riku whispered behind his hand at Roxas. "Witch."

Sora focused his attention back on his son. "Come on, Hoku. Be a good boy. Who am I?" he asked while pointing to himself.

"Mama!" Hoku giggled.

"NO!" Sora cried out and clasped Hoku's little hands in his while he stared him down intently. "Come on, sweetie. What's my name?"

"Daaaaaaaaaaa...daa," Hoku answered.

"That's right! Very good!" He then turned towards Riku. "And who's that?"

"DA DA DA DA DA DA!"

"Yes! You got it!"

"Mama!"

Sora buried his face in his hands. "Noooooooooooooooo..."

Hoku giggled and gurgled at daddy's funny noises while batting at the backs of Sora's hands to see where daddy disappeared to. "Da da da da!"

"I think you're right. He's doing this on purpose," Roxas laughed as he recorded Sora's misery.

"Ahm bleeding," Riku said matter-of-factly as he indeed started bleeding from his mouth again.

"ACK! Hold on!" Sora quickly handed Hoku to Roxas so he could grab some more gauze for Riku. "Open up!"

"No!" Riku resisted by blocking Sora with a pillow.

"Open up or we're getting a divorce!" Sora threatened.

Riku lowered the pillow and gasped. "We're married!?"

Sora took the opportunity to stuff the gauze into his face. "For now," he grumbled as he pressed it into place.

Roxas watched with disgust as he gently bounced Hoku. "Jeez, I should ask Even if replicas get wisdom teeth because I don't want any part of this!"

Hoku blew bubbles.

Chapter Text

Sora and Riku both had very important missions.

Riku was to investigate the heartless threat in Deep Jungle and Sora had a meeting with the world leaders at the Mysterious Tower. Unfortunately, both sets of their parents weren't able to watch Hoku, so Hoku was along for the ride and was to stay with Sora. The pair left for the Mysterious Tower so they could be there by early evening to meet up with their mission partners, Roxas and Vanitas. Ever since Sora went missing, solo missions have gone out the window, so Roxas had teamed up with Sora and Riku had Vanitas. It seemed a little silly to need an escort while in the Mysterious Tower of all places, but Roxas reminded Sora that he needs to play the part of diplomat, and that means having an escort.

But just as soon as they arrived, Riku and Vanitas had to leave for their own mission so that they could be in Deep Jungle by morning. But just before they leave, the two say their good-byes to Naminé, Sora, and Hoku. But as Sora gave Riku a long good-bye squeeze, he felt a tightening in his chest and found he REALLY didn't want Riku to go. He had a bad feeling...but if he tells Riku to stay, then it just means somebody else would have to go in his place and that's not fair to anybody.

Riku senses the brunette's hesitation and pulls away slightly to gently run a knuckle against Sora's cheek. "Hey...what's wrong?"

"I just..." Sora bit his lower lip. "I'm worried."

Riku gives a helpless smile and touches his forehead to Sora's while he caresses both of his cheeks. He felt a little guilty. He wanted to be here with Sora to support him during his big moment. But he knows Sora can do it. He's been practicing for weeks. He's confident this mission shouldn't take too long and hopefully he'll be back quickly to celebrate with Sora and King Mickey once both their missions are complete. Nevertheless, he can tell Sora's nervous and not for himself. "It'll be okay," he assures him. "I have Vanitas with me."

Said raven-haired man heard this and his cheeks pinken slightly with appreciation at the show of confidence while he's giving Naminé one last extra tight squeeze.

Sora smiles and kisses Riku one more time. "Come back safe," he whispers.

Riku's slightly taken aback by the request. After all, this was just like any other heartless extermination mission. But he chalked it up to Sora's nerves once again and gave him a reassuring squeeze. "Of course. And you do your best. You'll do great. I know you will." Riku kissed him back and finally released Sora to give Hoku his own good-bye smooches, hugs, and tickles. "You be good for daddy and Uncle Roxas!"

"BA BA!" Hoku squealed as he grabbed for Riku's hair to give him a good yank.

Sora hurries to give Vanitas a quick hug and whispers to him, "Look out for each other, okay?"

Vanitas stiffens a little at the contact, still getting used to how freely this friend group gives out hugs, especially lately, but he doesn't pull away. Instead he affectionately raises a hand to gently grip the left side of Sora's neck, his own special way of expressing affection to Sora. His fingertips gently trace the wispy chestnut hairs on the back of his neck as he gives him the smallest of reassuring smiles. "Of course. I have to get paid, don't I?" he chuckles when Sora's lips pucker out in a tiny pout. "Knock 'em dead, Sora. We'll be back soon." Sora nods and he gives one last affectionate squeeze before releasing him to look at Naminé who looks like she really wants one last hug. With a grin he holds his arms out and gives her one more lift in the air to give her a quick kiss. "I'll be quick," he promised as they nuzzled noses.

"I'll be wearing that dress you like~" Naminé murmured with a tiny blush on her cheeks.

"Mm, can't wait," he murmured back before setting her down and giving Reacher one last pat on the head. "You know what to do." Reacher huffed and gave a slight nod as he sat obediently at Naminé's side. Vanitas gave a satisfied grin before looking over at Riku. "We need to go."

"Right," Riku agreed and gave Hoku and Sora one last kiss before the two of them left together in their own gummi ships, Sora and Naminé waving them off through the window.

* * *

The next day, Sora was incredibly grateful that he had Roxas. Having Uncle Roxas around to help babysit while he rehearsed his notes was really helpful, even if Hoku hadn't stopped crying since Riku had left with Vanitas.

"What's your deal, little guy?" Roxas asked as he gently bounced the 11-month-old. The three of them were in one of the many rooms of the tower a little removed from the main meeting room. It was a small, cozy sitting room with a plush loveseat and tea table with small shelves lined with books and soft carpet, a rarity even in this tower. They thought it would help stifle the noise that Hoku kept insisting on making, but said little one had a lot of stamina.

"DA DA DA DA!" Hoku screamed in Roxas's face, his face red and streaked with tears as he balled his little fists to his chest.

Poor Sora looked like he was at his limit, hunched over on the loveseat as he fought off the urge to sleep. Hoku had screamed all night and he barely got a nap in. Tiredly, he set aside his notes and held his hands out for Hoku.

Roxas sighed and handed him over. "Sorry..."

"Don't be," Sora yawned.

Roxas took a seat next to him while Sora hushed and soothed his son. He had hoped to distract Hoku enough so that Sora could get some work done, but Hoku just wasn't having it. Some uncle he was, he thought bitterly.

"Daddy will be home soon. Be a good boy," Sora murmured as he gently bounced him. Hoku's cries eventually died down to sniffled fusses and Sora breathed a sigh of relief, leaning his head to rest on Roxas's shoulder while Hoku buried his face into his blanket. Roxas wrapped an arm around Sora's shoulder and fixed his tousled hair for him. The keyblade wielder was all dressed for his presentation and had a little trouble keeping his hair neat while trying to tend to Hoku. Sora murred a quiet noise of appreciation and let his eyes drift closed.

"Jeez, Sora, maybe we should re-schedule, you think?" Roxas suggested quietly.

"Ngh, it's fine," Sora insisted. "Part of the job."

Roxas sighed and scooched so Sora can get more comfortable. "You still have twenty minutes. You should sleep."

Sora nestled against Roxas's chest while Hoku rested on his without protest. Roxas could only smile as both of them fell asleep, but regretted the decision slightly as his leg was already starting to go numb...

Meanwhile, Riku and Vanitas were having a not-so-fun romp through the jungle. The wet heat felt almost unbearable to Vanitas and Riku was growing annoyed with all the pink powerwilds stealing his munny. The two were a decent enough team. Vanitas was quiet and that suited Riku just fine. However, there was a strange tension between them. Vanitas has been known hate authority, not that Riku could blame him after what Master Xehanort put him through, it was starting to show he didn't like the idea of following Riku around. But he was getting well-paid, so he stayed quiet. Right now they were following Riku's nose to find the big heartless; the ring leader. But due to the density of heartless activity, it was proving hard to track.

Eventually the two ended up in the trees and at an abandoned treehouse where Riku decided it was time to take a break. Vanitas wouldn't say it, but he was grateful for the stop as he ripped his shirt off to wring the sweat out of it, only to give up and toss on a new shirt altogether. Riku offered a bottled water but the other man politely declined with a wave of his hand before pulling his own bottle out of his side satchel. Riku shrugged and sipped his on water and looked out the window, the glass amazingly intact despite all the vegetation that has taken root here, not to mention the other animals. "Everything's too quiet..."

Vanitas raised an eyebrow.

"There aren't any birds or other animals around," Riku further elaborated.

Vanitas frowned. "Is that so surprising with the heartless around?"

"They usually don't have much to fear from the heartless that we've run into. I think they sense something bigger in this area, which means we're on the right track."

"Good. Then we can finish it off and get out of here. I got dinner plans."

"Oh?" Riku asked. This is the most conversation Vanitas has contributed all mission.

Vanitas paused for a brief moment and took a sip of water before going further. "Its our anniversary. I'm taking Naminé to Le Bistro."

"Happy anniversary," Riku gave a guilty smile. "I'm sorry you're out here."

Vanitas dismissed his apology with a wave of his hand. "Naminé would've been mad if I didn't come with you anyway."

The silverette smirked just a little. "Well, for what it's worth, I appreciate the help."

"Yeah, yeah."

Suddenly the house feltlike it was swaying. Riku didn't think too much of it at first. After all, his own house does the same thing, but then the windows started to rattle and they could hear all the surrounding trees swaying strangely.

Vanitas suddenly stood up. "There isn't any wind."

Riku nodded. The two summoned their keyblades and ventured outside only for the house to jostle up and down so violently they nearly fell off their feet! The trees suddenly started parting and falling down all around them, the sound deafening as the ground shook over and over. The sky started turning black and hoards of heartless started shooting up from the cracking earth down below.

The two jumped down before the treehouse collapsed and got swallowed up by a black fissure in the ground, dodging debris as they jumped from branch to falling branch. But the ground wasn't any safer than the trees! The two raced to find stable ground as it split apart beneath their feet, the dense jungle around them disintegrating before their eyes.

"This world is collapsing!" Vanitas shouted over the din of the trees snapping and the rumbling of the ground.

Riku stopped and looked up. "It's falling..." Before them stood the biggest Dark Side he's ever seen. It made the shadows scattered all over the ground at its feet look like ants in comparison. Vanitas stumbled as he hurried next to him and Riku barely had the sense to catch him by his arm before he fell to the ground. His clenched fists were shaking as he looked around at all the devastation. The world was being torn asunder, just like his own island when it fell to darkness so many years ago. Dark crystal spires shot up from the ground and more shadow heartless appeared. Three more Dark Sides came up from the ground and surrounded them!

"Well...might have to cancel that reservation," Vanitas huffed as he straightened up, gathered his bearings, and summoned a small army of Unversed.

Riku gave himself a little shake and prepared to strike as well. "I'll pay you overtime," he promised as he equipped his armor.

"Overtime and dessert," Vanitas grinned minutely as he summoned his own jet black armor.

"Deal!" Riku smiled before they lunged for the Dark Sides.

Chapter Text

The short nap helped, but Sora still felt ill at ease. It didn't help that Hoku was being stubbornly fussy. He wasn't screaming or wailing, but he was tossing and turning and whimpering and no amount of funny faces or cuddles would calm him. Roxas tried calling Riku while Sora was prepping his notes, but he wouldn't pick up.

"Do you mind...?" Sora asked tiredly as he held up Hoku.

Roxas nodded and accepted the wriggly infant. "Don't worry, I'll watch him."

"Thanks," Sora smiled as he nervously adjusted his cuffs on his ambassador's raiment and smoothed out his medals. Many of the kings were unaware of all the keybladers' various exploits and achievements so King Mickey had commissioned and awarded all of them medals to wear for formal occasions so that while they're performing diplomatic work others would know of their achievements and status. Sora felt a little embarrassed and weighed down by all of his, not only sporting various medals of honor and bravery but for his gummi ship missions as well, all of them pinned over the left side of his chest. He also had another gold medal around his neck with a deep red ribbon signifying his master status. At the very least, they gave him a little confidence as well, hoping they'll earn him a gaze of respect if nothing else. He felt a little tug on his red cape and turned around to see Hoku had gotten ahold of it.

With a soft smile he gently pried the infant's fingers off who gave him the biggest pouty lip as he was forced to let go. Normally he'd have Hoku in the same room with him but if he's this fussy it could look...He shook his head in an effort to shake out his anxious thoughts, only to regret it because he had to fix his hair again. Roxas reached over with Hoku in one arm and helped Sora fix his bangs. "Hey," he said softly, feeling how anxious the brunette is. "You're going to do great. Everything will be fine."

Sora smiled gratefully at his former nobody. "Thank you, Roxas. I really am glad you're here."

"I know," the blonde grinned cheekily.

It was just then they heard a soft knock at the door before King Mickey entered the room, also dressed in business formal with a modest gold crown perched atop his head between his ears. "Ready, Sora?"

Sora nodded and gave Hoku one quick kiss on the top of his head. "Be good for Uncle Roxas. I'll be right back." Roxas gave him a quick elbow bump for good luck before Sora followed after the king.

They had set up a meeting room with seats facing the communication crystals and the other half was empty so that the visions of the other world leaders would be projected on the floor. Master Yen Sid was already in his chair waiting and gave Sora an encouraging smile which Sora tried to return but it was shaky at best.

"Everything okay, Sora?" Kink Mickey finally asked.

"It's just...I'm worried about Riku," Sora answered while avoiding looking either of them in the eyes. The other two masters breathed twin sighs of relief and Sora finally glanced over to give them an amused look. "What, you thought I was getting cold feet?"

"Not at all," Mickey laughed, though he wasn't fooling anybody.

Master Yen Sid chose instead to avoid eye contact. "Master Riku is with Vanitas. I don't think you have to worry," the kind old wizard tried to assure him.

"Can't you hear it, though?" Sora blurted out.

Master Yen Sid raised an eyebrow. "Hear what?" Mickey asked.

Sora bit his tongue and clenched his fists. he could hear them. Now that he wasn't tending to Hoku he could hear the cries of a world calling for help. Riku... He clutched at his chest. If Riku's fighting then...No...He shouldn't worry. Riku's strong. He'll be alright. "Nothing. Don't worry, I'm ready for this," he said confidently before smoothing his clothes one more time and taking a seat in the chair beside the king's while resisting the urge to look through his notes one more time.

The room darkened a little and one by one the world leaders appeared, projected with blue light across from them. The first projection to arrive was King Triton, who gave Sora a warm smile in greeting. "I believe this is the first time I've seen you with legs, Master Sora."

Sora grinned as he sheepishly rubbed the back of his head, unsure of what to say as everybody else in the room chortled.

King Frederic of Corona appeared shortly as well as King Fergus and Queen Elinor of Scotland. King Phillip came next as well as Queen Elsa and Queen Anna. The recently-crowned Queen Atta made an appearance next, though the ant queen was projected to look the same size as the other world leaders.

It was an interesting audience to be sure. Each of them exchanging casual greetings as they waited for everybody to arrive. Once they had all gathered, King Mickey stood up, the first to speak. "Good day, everyone! I'd like to thank you all for coming."

First he made the introductions, mostly introducing Master Yen Sid since this was the first time they've seen him in person. After that, the leaders took turns formally introducing themselves. All the while, Sora could hear Hoku kicking up a fuss in the next room, earning a few concerned stares from the group. "Apologies," he grinned sheepishly, slightly shrinking into his collar as Hoku let out another loud wail. "My son misses his other dad."

The group chortled good-naturedly.

"Wee lad's got a set o' lungs on 'im!" King Fergus laughed.

His queen smiled kindly, her eyes sympathetic but also amused. "Aye, our triplets were the same."

Sora smiled appreciatively. The air in the room did feel a little lighter and he could hear Roxas taking Hoku to the next room where his cries were a little more stifled. King Tritons eyes were also sparkling with amusement. After all, he has seven very unique daughters. Sora's going to have to compare notes with him sometime. But now was not the time for pleasantries. It was time to discuss why they were here. He cleared his throat and stood. "Thank you all again for coming. I just want to start off by saying I know change is hard and the subjects we are about to discuss may be unpleasant. I'll even say that it's likely that not all questions will be answered today. But the goal here is to take the first step, which I think we're doing very well. After all, you being here has already given me hope that we're going in the right direction."

"Aye, those are pretty words, lad. But I think the big question is WHY do we gotta change NOW?" King Fergus asked in a thick accent as he shifted in his throne a little impatiently.

"I have the same concern," King Triton spoke up. "It's always been the keyblader's duty to protect the worlds from darkness. If you are fulfilling your roles, then there is no reason we should be involved."

The other leaders nodded, except for Queen Anna and Queen Elsa. They hadn't seen the direct influence of the New Organization XIII, but they have seen darkness and what it can do.

Sora expected this and he knew it wasn't as simple as saying there aren't enough keyblade wielders to go around or anything of that sort. After all, he can't give them any reason to doubt their capability. But he does have to drive the point home that it's not just them or they or somebody else's problem. The problem is not just "out there" but "in here" too. To do that, he needs to deal a dose of reality.

With a deep breath to steady himself, Sora closed his eyes and concentrated, holding out his hands until an orb of darkness appeared in one hand and an orb of light appeared in the other. The room got darker so that Sora was the center of everybody's attention. "Light and Darkness, in perfect balance, they can co-exist." He smashed the orbs together into one so that light was still shining brightly on the inside with darkness on the outside. "You can't have one without the other. We all know this. But this isn't how things are right now."

He separated the two orbs and threw the light orb into the air where it burst into hundreds of much smaller ones that spread throughout the room like tiny stars scattered in space. "This is how it is now and darkness is everywhere. There's much more darkness than light. Sure things are fine...as far as you know. But our current problem is that darkness works and thinks almost as one entity. The light, on the other hand, is scattered. Maybe once upon a time this was a good thing, to potentially lose one light instead of all of it," Sora reasoned rhetorically as he released the orb of darkness and let it go about swallowing the the lights one at a time. "But the lights don't communicate. So the others don't have a way of knowing what is coming. So darkness spreads while none are the wiser. That's the difference between us and the darkness. It should be the opposite! Our connections as people should make us strong, but instead we've been content to just fight our own battles. But it's not just about Darkness."

He pointed to the different lights. "Not all worlds are the same size! Some are new and defenseless. Some don't have room for the people they have! Others are just dying off because they have nothing else. This hopelessness is what attracts the darkness. Despair breeds it. When it gets strong enough, that's it! Even for keyblade wielders..." He took a breath to steady himself and looked into the world leaders' eyes. "Sometimes we're faced with choices that...we feel we shouldn't have to make. Such as: Do I destroy this person who wields darkness because they're actually evil or do they not know what they've become? We're not police, so we can't interfere with a lot of things. In turn, the lines get blurred. But it doesn't always have to be that way. In fact, with what I have in mind, we can not only recruit more keyblade wielders, but also create a safe haven for worlds in trouble, as well as potentially provide a hub for world interaction without disrupting world order; or in other worlds, changing your ways of life, changing what makes each of your worlds so special."

He paused and looked to each of them. He had their attention, so he continued. "So the plan is to open up the pathways again but connect them at singular points." He pointed to one cluster of lights and made it bigger to demonstrate, the cluster of six or so connected to a singular light in the center with smaller beams of light representing the pathways. "There are some worlds already that can work as go-betweens, or hubs. Radiant Garden, for instance, is already used to seeing outsiders from other worlds and the people have been very helpful to each other, even establishing trade with people from other worlds. Twilight Town is another such example. If we find Traverse Town again, that would be another good one. You get the idea. The plan, instead of connecting all the worlds at once is to instead unite them in clusters at one singular "hub". From the hub, they can interact and trade, maybe even live, spend some time, before they go back to their world. We can station keyblade wielders here so that they can respond to their cluster of worlds faster. But of course, rules will have to be established so people from one world can't enter another in order to preserve the sanctity of the worlds. But once again, I must iterate that even though keyblade wielders and/or ambassadors may be stationed at these hubs, they are not police. They can not interfere with how things are run in the other worlds. Their only purpose is to to keep the heartless in check."

"But the keyblade numbers are limited, are they not?" King Philip asked. "How will you have enough to look after all these "hubs"?"

"Well, that's the other thing: the hubs will also work as a place to recruit those looking for work...those interested in...the cause. They might create other jobs too, but for those who really feel ambitious enough, it would be a good alternative. Of course, there would have to be screenings. We can't give keyblades to anybody who asks. Last thing anybody wants is individuals going on a keyblade power trip."

Queen Atta nodded knowingly.

"How would you choose the worlds to be designated as hubs?" Queen Elsa asked.

"Well, that's another thing...we think there's one world that can work as a hub for all of them. But first we want to try this plan with the two we already have established as well as Disney Town. The Land of Departure right now is too small and is working as a safe haven for keyblade students. If this other world works out, it could solve all of our problems, but more investigation is needed. For the time being, I'm afraid I can't disclose which one it is." Sora swept the light and darkness orbs away with a flick of his wrist since he felt the visual was no longer needed and the room got a little brighter once again.

"While the light show was entertaining, lad, all I'm hearing is that there are a lot of undecided thing. Who's going to be leading this new order?" King Fergus asked.

Sora felt a little taken aback. "Well, your excellencies, I felt that your input should be given before I plan the next stage and then from there I expect a cooperative effort as we agree on the changes and plans going forward."

"Democracy is fine, the issue is who is the forefront of the new world order? you still need a leader, a leader to direct the representatives and to organize these delegations," King Triton pointed out.

Sora looked to King Mickey. If anybody's the leader, it should be the king, right?

King Mickey stood up. "Master Sora has been at the front of this movement. In fact, the reason we're all here today is because of his efforts. And so...I nominate Master Sora lead."

"Wait, so are we voting now? Without the others? We haven't even agreed to this idea yet," Queen Atta spoke up.

"I agree," Queen Elinor also chimed in. "We haven't even decided on the process or a plan, or the laws that will have to be established. Not to mention, we have to communicate with our own kingdoms before we can come to THAT decision. It wouldn't be right to just DECIDE for our worlds; to expose them to such knowledge and expect them to accept there are other worlds beyond the one they've always known."

"Well why not?" Queen Anna asked. "As children, we all knew there was something out there, didn't we? How could confirming that belief and giving hope to those who don't have it be a bad thing?"

"There still needs to be a leader, and there needs to be rules. We can't just put anybody in charge of all of this! Without a way to regulate, there could be a gross misuse of power!" King Frederic argued.

"But why SHOULDN'T Master Sora lead?" Queen Anna asked.

"Him!?" King Fergus scoffed. "What's so special about 'im?"

"He's a hero," Queen Elsa defended coldly. "It's thanks to him that our worlds are even standing now."

"Well how would I know? I sure didn't see it!" he retorted. "In my world, you SHOW your mettle."

"Perhaps we should get back to the matter at hand," Master Yen Sid spoke in an effort to get them back on track.

Sora, on the other hand, was at a loss. Though he could hear the leaders arguing, his mind was somewhere else. Hoku's screaming down the hall was elevating. No matter how much further Roxas moved him, he could still hear it. And...and Riku. His heart pounded in his chest, wishing he were here right now. But he had to get it together. He had to speak. He could feel King Triton's eyes on him, studying his face intently. They all were.

"Why do we even need all of this?" King Fergus asked. "Let's just join forces and wipe the darkness out in one go!"

"No!" Sora said firmly, his head snapping up. "We didn't risk our lives ending the last two wars just to start another one. You can't wipe out darkness. We need BALANCE." He emphasized that last word. "We can chip at it all we want, but without light, there will always be more darkness. Which is why we need to unite, even if it's only a little bit at a time!"

* * *

Riku slammed across the ground, the dirt scraping at his face until he came to a halt.

"Get up!" Vanitas shouted, surrounding them with a wall of unversed while he tossed Riku a potion.

"Sorry!" Riku got back up and wiped the blood from his eyes. The giant Darksides were still looming and a Demon Tide circled their hard-won perimeter, taunting them with its proximity.

"We need to get out of here!" Vanitas shouted over the noise, his back against Riku's.

"We can't just leave the people here!" Riku shouted over the roar of the incoming heartless.

"Look around you! They're gone!"

It's true. The panicked trumpeting of the elephants disappeared a while ago, along with the stampedes of other animals. There were no longer any trees. The ground now looked as broken and barren as a desert. It reminded him so much of what his own island looked like when...he grit his teeth and gripped his keyblade. "We still have to try! We don't really have any other choice!"

Vanitas looked around. This was also true. Opening a portal would be suicide when they're already hip deep in darkness. They also had no way back to the gummi ships. The only way out was to keep fighting. Ignoring the pain as one of his Unversed got taken out, he steeled his resolve . "Fine, just make sure you can keep up!" he goaded Riku before the two leapt for the second wave.

* * *

"If things keep going this way, there will always be more darkness than light," Sora said solemnly, looking each of them in the eye. His voice was steady, but his words were slow and intense. He needed to get through to them. "Conflict only breeds more darkness. We will always be out-matched and underpowered. There will never be peace. Even if we take out the big ones, Darkness rejoins itself to overpower the light. That's why we need to unite and communicate NOW!"

* * *

Riku and Vanitas join their power, together they rain a barrage of dark firaga orbs upon the growing demon tide. It broke apart into two and circled them again. They then separated to slash at each of them, sending large portions of it flying as they attempted to tear it asunder. But more shadows emerge from the cracks in the ground and replace the fallen numbers. Meanwhile the Dark Sides swipe at them as if they were mere insects which only serves to infuriate Vanitas more. "You're NOTHING!" he spat as he air-stepped and knocked one across the face with his keyblade.

* * *

"And so...do you intend to lead this change, Master Sora?" King Triton asked.

Sora hesitated only briefly before answering. What did he want? "I...I want to guide and support and--"

"I asked do you intend to lead?" the merking repeated.

Sora took a breath. "Yes..."

* * *

A Darkside swiped at Riku, sending him flying yet again as he tried to quell the Demon Tide. Giant spiked orbs of darkness were now raining from the sky as the Darksides launched hem from their open chests. Once again, Vanitas was at his side, but he couldn't hear him. His shoulder and face were burning!

"I said...get...up..." Vanitas panted, though his own stance was weakening as he tried his best to defend Riku from the Shadows skittering about.

Riku's limbs shook beneath him, his armor rattling as he tried to push himself up by his arms. "Vani...just get out of here," he pleaded.

"Idiot, that's not part of the deal. You can't pay me if you're dead!" the raven-haired man shouted angrily. "Now get your ass up!"

Riku struck his keyblade into the ground to pull himself to his feet. He cast a curaga spell on the both of them but it did very little to stop the burning in his right side. "Sora...." he whispered. "Sora..." He can't die, not like this. He promised. "SORA!" he cried out and lunged forward again with Vanitas hot on his heels.

* * *

Hoku SCREAMED and Sora clutched his chest. Riku...Riku needs him.

"Your majesty, I need to go!" he told King Mickey before fleeing the room, tearing off his cape as he went.

"Sora!" Roxas poked his head out of the room he and Hoku were in.

"Roxas! Grab a ship and meet me at Deep Jungle!" Sora instructed without stopping until he leaped out the first open window he could find. With his keyblade out in front of him, a door of light opened below! "RIKUUUUUU!!!"

* * *

Vanitas had Riku propped up on one shoulder, but they were both on the ground. Riku took out three Darksides and Vanitas took out half the Demon Tide, but the darkness kept coming. It was so thick and heavy around them that even Vanitas felt himself struggling to take breath. He wasn't even sure Riku was conscious anymore. They both had taken many severe hits. Their armor was in shambles. He had his unversed rejoin him in an effort to maintain the last bit of strength he had but it wasn't looking good.

"Sora..." Riku choked out, his body trembling with the effort to even speak.

Vanitas didn't know what to do. Was this really it? If it is...he decided that it wasn't SO bad. At least this time around he had a chance at happiness. Or...did that make it worse? At least...at least he go the chance to FEEL happiness. Yeah...at least he had that. He coughed hard and vomited black bile, nearly collapsing and bringing Riku down with him, not that it was a far way down. They were both already on their knees. But as hopeless as it seemed, he knew Riku hadn't given up. He was still gripping his keyblade. Vanitas tightened his own grip on his. If this was how it was going to end, going down fighting suited him just fine.

Just as the remaining Demon Tide threatened to swallow them up, a blinding light pierced the sky and a giant white door appeared in its wake!

"RIKUUUU!!!" Sora's voice rang through the chaos. "VANIIII!!"

Relief washed over Vanitas as he struggled to stand taller. "Riku! Get up!" he tried to rouse the other man, but he barely stirred. "Riku?" Suddenly another bright light forced Vanitas to shield his eyes. Sora was slashing through the darkness with Oathkeeper and Oblivion, trying to make a path for them. "SORA!" he shouted. Could Sora even see them?

Sora's heart flared with sheer adrenaline when he fell through the sky to see the world collapsing before his very eyes. Heartless were scuttling everywhere like an infestation of cockroaches. Darksides were shooting out gigantic spiked orbs of darkness left and right and the Demon Tides were crawling around like giant caterpillars! But somewhere in there, he could sense Riku's light. "Hang on!" he shouted, using everything he had to slice his way through the mobs, just enough to land on the ground where he plunged his keyblades into the earth. "Rise!" he shouted as he cast his earth magic, rune rings appearing on the ground at his feet. He then used his hands to manipulate the earth, sending giant stone pillars plunging into the chests of the Darksides. They howled and roared as they were skewered, flailing their massive arms as they stumbled forward before disappearing in bursts of black miasma.

The pillars shattered and collapsed and Sora then used the falling pieces to barrage the Demon Tides but it wasn't enough. The ones that were left, he used as footholds to air step and slash and hack some more until he could regain his MP. Finally he could see them, Vani was with Riku and he looked...

"No...NO!" He felt a hot wave of anger surge through him, blades of light and darkness elongating from his keyblades until they were triple their usual length before he cut through the thick mobs like a hot knife through butter. "WHY!? Why is this happening!?" he shouted in frustration as more numbers appeared through the cracks in the earth.

It's the fastest way to shatter your heart.

Sora's eyes widened as the voice of Darkness whispered to his inner senses. "NO! RIKU!" He abandoned the fight and ran for Riku and Vanitas instead, lifting Riku off the other's shoulder to get a good look at him. "Heal!" he shouted desperately, the flowery spell hovering over all three of them. Vanitas breathed a sigh of relief and got to his feet, resuming his battle stance. Riku, however, didn't stir. "Riku, please, say something!" Sora begged as he cradled him in his arms.

Vanitas clenched his fists as their brief window began to close. "He called for you," Vanitas told him. "He'll be okay, if we can get out of here."

Sora looked around. For all his efforts, the darkness was fighting back twice as hard. He was reminded of how the darkness swallowed his own world before. The devastation somehow felt worse. He could feel the world's pain as it was being ripped apart. He could see the faces of his friends who inhabited this place. And Vani...and Riku...what's going to happen to them if they can't get out?

Time seemed to stop as Sora struggled to figure out what to do. He took a deep breath and looked within himself for the answer, asking his own heart what to do next. There, Darkness loomed as if peeking through the window of its prison in his heart.

"Why!?" he asked. "I thought--"

He's already made his move. We won't lose to him.

"What do you mean?"

You failed. There's no more time.

"How can that be? If you know something, you should tell me!"

There's no point. Even if you know, you can't change what has happened.

"But I can alter the course! We haven't lost yet!"

You could...but you won't. Your heart won't let you.

"What!?"

Darkness made a dismissive noise. It's time for you to leave the game.

Sora clutched at his chest. Time had sped up again. He knew...he knows he can stop this. But was he brave enough? He clenched his teeth and breathed hard through his nose one last time before calling for Vanitas who had been diligently picking off any heartless who dared approach. "Vani!" he shouted over the din of he earth rattling beneath their feet. "Please look after Riku!"

Vanitas rushed over and took Riku from him, using the last of his strength to summon a wall of Unversed to defend them since he needed both hands to lift him. "And what about you?"

"Hang tight!" Sora gave a thumbs up and a smile. "Roxas will be here soon!"

Vanitas reached out for him. "But--!"

Sora didn't let him protest. Instead he leaped high into the sky and rode atop a wave of Shadows before calling forth the χ-blade, the weapon appearing in a burst of light with a heavy weight in his hands.

Down below, Vanitas's eyes widened as he witnessed the forbidden blade appear in Sora's hands. "NO! STOP!" he shouted, no, PLEADED.

"Hear my call!" Sora shouted towards the heavens with the χ-blade held high above his head. In the span of a moment, the light of Kingdom Hearts pierced through the black clouds and parted the Demon Tides which frantically scuttled away from its rays. As the light shined down on him, Sora could feel something...something surging through him, but it wasn't from the χ-blade, it was from Kingdom Hearts itself. It was warmth but also something else that felt very familiar. He remembered how sure he was when he first saw the door to Kingdom Hearts...that it was light. But now...he's sure, now more than ever, that it's much more than that. The Demon Tide he was standing on was long gone, but still he stayed floating with the χ-blade held aloft. Silent, conflicted tears began streaming down his face as his heart struggled with the weight of the decision he was about to make.

"Please..." he pleaded in a voice barely above a whisper, knowing it would be heard. He pleaded, with all his heart, that Kingdom Hearts save this world and its inhabitants from plunging into darkness. "Please, save them." He swallowed back his tears and spoke louder, choosing his words carefully before calling out to the glowing enigma above him. "Help this world's light shine again!"

At his command, Kingdom Hearts appeared to pulse and waves of light erupted from it, like sonic waves. With each pulse, more of the heartless were destroyed. Sora panted hard as he kept his grip steady. His heart was racing as he prayed everything would be okay.

He prayed Riku was alright.

He prayed the world would survive.

He prayed...that he didn't make a big mistake.

Vanitas watched in awe as Kingdom Hearts blew the darkness away in massive waves, like a tsunami of light. He clutched Riku tightly so they wouldn't be blown away by the aftershocks, the silverette dead weight on his shoulders. Suddenly he heard a familiar noise above his head: the whir of an engine!

"Hope on!" Roxas shouted from the open doors of his gummi ship's cargo bay, his hand reaching for them as the ship hovered.

Vanitas didn't need telling twice and hefted Riku over his shoulders before air-stepping onto the ship, Roxas hurrying to help keep Riku steady as he stumbled from the landing. With them safely on board, Roxas hurried to get them to a safe distance off-world.

"Wait! Are you just going to leave him!?" Vanitas asked.

"Well what else am I supposed to do!? I can't get close enough!" Roxas shouted.

Just as he said this, the world was engulfed in another wave of light before the cracks in the earth started healing and the remaining darkness melted away. In its wake, the trees sprouted almost violently from the ground, spreading across the world in a burst of color until Deep Jungle was restored to its former state. From the cockpit, they watched Kingdom Hearts fade from the sky and all was quiet again. The two gawked with held breath, concerned for their friend. Nobody really knows what happens when you invoke the power of Kingdom Hearts. All they could do was wait.

Suddenly, a beep from the console indicated somebody was coming aboard with the aid of a warp sphere and that was the only warning they got before Sora came barreling into the cockpit and frantically gathered Riku in his arms.

"SORA!" Roxas and Vanitas both shouted with relief.

Sora couldn't hear them. He was too focused on Riku. His keyblade armor looked cracked and shattered beyond repair. Whole pieces had fallen off and half his helmet was missing. Desperate to see him clearly, he carefully removed the head gear so he could wipe the mud from his face. But when he wiped it away, he nearly dropped his handkerchief in shock.

Riku had burns on the right side of his face, specifically his ear, and down his neck where they also splayed across his shoulder. The wounds had closed from the cure spells, but there were still dark feathery marks left behind. "Riku..." Sora sobbed his name as he bopped the gem on Riku's remaining shoulder plate to dismiss what was left of his armor. "Oh Riku..."

"It's my fault," Vanitas choked out at long last. "He took a lot of big hits for me and..."

"No!" Sora shook his head. "It's not anybody's fault." Even as he said this, his shoulders trembled as he blamed himself while cradling Riku's head to his chest. "I'm sorry, Riku, I should've come sooner." He sniffled hard and finally looked up at Vanitas. His armor was just as torn up, but he certainly looked better off than Riku. He was happy to see his friend was in better shape and knew Riku would be happy, too. "Are you okay, Vani?"

"Yeah," Vanitas nodded though his clenched fists were trembling. "I'm fine. I just...I should call Naminé." He fisted at the dried bile caked on the corners of his mouth before excusing himself to the lower cabin.

Roxas kneeled beside the brunette. "Sora..."

Sora looked up at him. "Hoku?"

"Left him with the king," Roxas answered as he gently squeezed Sora's shoulder to steady him.

Sora sighed. "Some dad I'm turning out to be."

"Hey, don't say that. Riku needed you more."

"I guess," Sora sniffled as he brushed a thumb over Riku's bruised lip. He could feel he was still breathing. In fact, if it weren't for his disheveled state, he'd almost look peaceful.

Roxas squeezed his shoulder one more time before standing up. "Let's get him back to the tower ASAP."

Sora nodded and continued his efforts to clean Riku up while Roxas drove the ship. His hands shook as he clipped away torn clothing so he could clean his wounds better. For the most part his injuries were shallow, but there was a lot of bruising. His hands hovered over the burns on his right shoulder. Though he hesitated, he gently touched them. They felt ice cold! So cold that it almost burned him! He pulled his hand back quickly, suddenly struck with an idea. He dug into his side satchel for a wad of gauze; the gauze that Elsa made for him so many years ago. He then cut a strip and laid it over the large shoulder would where it flattened into a shimmery strip of white with the firmness of freshly packed snow. He waited a moment before peeling it off experimentally to see it had been stained black. When he inspected the wound, the burn looked lighter than it had before.

Sora's face brightened and he hurried to wrap up the injured shoulder. As he struggled to move Riku's body properly he couldn't help chuckling. "You always made this look so easy." Once he got him wrapped up, he prepared to wrap his head next but he hesitated once again. He swore he saw Riku's lips move.

"Sor...rah..."

"Riku!" Sora gasped with relief, the tears flowing again and splashing down on Riku's face. "I'm here, Riku, I'm here!" He cried as he cupped the other's cheeks in his hands.

Riku's eyes slowly fluttered open and a smile graced his lips as he blinked up at Sora.

Even battered, bruised, and burned, Riku's face is still the most beautiful thing Sora's ever seen. "Riku!"

"Hey, beautiful," he whispered hoarsely.

"Hey, handsome," Sora choked around the happy tears clogging his throat. "A-are you in pain?"

Riku shook his head minutely, his eyes drifting closed again. "Just...tired."

Sora nodded and ran a hand through his hair. "It's okay. You can rest. I'll be here when you wake up."

Riku let out a breath that sounded like a sigh and then his breathing turned deep and even as he slipped into sleep once again.

As much as Sora wanted for him to be awake, he knew now that Riku would be okay. "Take it easy, my love. I got you."

Chapter Text

The night before...

"So you agree with Master Sora's decision to not share his memories of the things he's encountered whilst in the Void?" Master Yen Sid asks Naminé, whom he's consulting with regarding Sora's knowledge of the potential future. The meeting with the world leaders is tomorrow and Sora has decided not to include any information about the things he's seen during his ordeal as evidence to support his case regarding the need for a new world order. When Sora first started showing signs of recovery three years ago, they had attempted to debrief him, hoping to glean information that might help them in the future. Sora gave insight to past events, such as the past keyblade wars, but as for everything else, he refused to speak, claiming there was no way of knowing their relevance and that most of it was a blur anyway. Naminé had offered to help him unpack these things he's seen but once again he refused and they weren't about to force him. But even so, with these important events approaching, Master Yen Sid asks Naminé for consult in the hopes that maybe she can provide further insight so he can decide whether or not it would be beneficial to probe further.

The blonde sat uneasily in her seat before Master Yen Sid, hands interlocked in her lap as she resisted the urge to straighten the hem of her dress just to have something to do with her hands. Though she couldn't look directly at Master Yen Sid, her voice was steady and unwavering, though cautious. "His heart is very scarred yet still shines bright. But he's seen so much. So many things have been etched into his heart. I worry sometimes that he might find unhealthy ways to cope," she confided.

"To cope?" the master inquired gently. He knew this concern wasn't easy for Naminé to address. Though her power over Sora's memories and thus his connections has proven very helpful to their cause in the past few years, it's something she rarely ever wants to discuss, as if she wants everybody to forget that it's even something she can do. As of late, the most she's ever used her power for has been to check in on Sora to see if his therapy with Fairy Godmother has been helpful, but even those reports have been kept vague so as to respect Sora's privacy. Even so, the progress has been extremely optimistic, so this concern has taken him slightly aback.

"He's made promises that he still hasn't been able to fulfill and he feels guilty, maybe even believes he's failed. I think sometimes his own mind tries to cope by giving him dreams that to him seem real, to assure him that the outcome has been favorable to keep him from falling into despair," she elaborated while tucking a strand of stray hair behind her ear.

"Dreams?"

"Mm-hmm," she nodded. "He..." She worried her bottom lip for a moment, afraid to say anything, but she felt this was important. "Even in his earliest memories, he's had dreams where he's wandered to the other side for brief moments. Since his...death...he's wandered that edge more freely, or so he thinks. Judging by what I've seen, it's not clear if he's reaching the other side or if he's dreaming that he is."

"So there's confusion as to whether he's having prophetic dreams or if they're truly fantasy," Master Yen Sid surmised.

The young woman nodded, finally looking up from her lap to study the old wizard's face.

"And you're concerned of the possible negative ramifications..."

"Yes. If his mind can convince him that things are okay, maybe it can make him think something is really bad, something to make him doubt his heart. If he can't trust his heart, Sora's lost."

"So you support his decision?"

"Yes," she nodded firmly. "He doesn't want to repeat what BoB did; to make us think the future is set in stone. He doesn't want to cause panic...or fear and doubt. If he does reveal things and they turn out bad anyway, he might think it's his fault; that he meddled. He's already broken taboos before. His confidence is shaken and he doesn't want to accidentally do something like that again."

* * *

The past few hours have been a blur. All Sora could focus on was Riku. When they made it to the Mysterious Tower, Kairi and Naminé were there to receive them. Naminé tended to Vanitas and Kairi hurried to help Sora and Roxas get Riku off the ship so she could tend to his darkness-inflicted injuries. The bandages Sora used helped a lot and Kairi was able to "fire cup" even more of the darkness that had infected his wounds. By the time they were done, Riku's ear was looking much better. With the wounds cleaned and purged of darkness, they could heal much better without much scarring. Though his ear and chin were now free of marks, three deep scratches on the right side of his neck remained as well as the feathery-looking scorch marks on his right shoulder. These they wrapped for now with the hope that he could still show improvement without too much heavy scarring.

For now they tended to everything else. He didn't appear to have any broken bones, but he was battered and bruised. He still hadn't woken up yet, but Master Yen Sid surmised it's from exhaustion. At this, Kairi snickered. "See, you do have a hard head after all, Riku."

"Well we kinda already knew that," Sora laughed.

Vanitas's injuries were about the same. He was battered and bruised, but unlike Riku his cuts didn't need darkness purged from them and he didn't take any direct blows to the face. However, he did look slightly thinner? Sora wasn't sure how else to describe it. He just looked ever so slightly smaller. He must've used a lot of his power in the fight. He even noticed Vanitas's hands slightly trembling as he clutched Naminé's, the blonde worrying over him and checking to make sure he wasn't seriously hurt anywhere else while she kept her lower lip tucked in. He still wouldn't directly look at Sora and the brunette knew it was because he felt guilty but even now Sora didn't have the energy to bring up what had transpired. He just wanted to get Riku and Hoku home.

Without even looking, Sora could feel Master Yen Sid's eyes on them, about to implore for answers as to what happened. That's when Vanitas offered to stay and give the mission report so Sora can get everybody home. There will be time for more questions later. After that was settled, Kairi offered to go home with Sora and Hoku to help them figure out what to do next. Sora gratefully accepted the help but before he left, he gave Vani and Naminé one last fleeting look. Roxas gave him a gentle shoulder bump. "Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on him," he promised.

As they got ready to leave on Sora's gummi ship, Naminé caught Sora before he boarded to thank him and gave him a small paper-wrapped parcel. "It's for Riku," she explained quietly. "He asked me to make it. Please keep us updated."

Sora nodded and accepted the package. "I will. Same goes to you and Vani. And if you don't mind, tell the King I'll update him as soon as I can."

"I will! Have a safe flight back!"

* * *

Even back at home, Sora still felt in a haze; his focus on Riku the only thing keeping him grounded as he tried to figure out what they were going to do. Kairi kindly offered to look after Hoku while Sora tended to Riku.

The keyblade master gratefully accepted before he carried Riku to the bathroom to get him properly washed and dressed, his hands moving automatically while his eyes and mind were unseeing. He didn't want to think about how limp and heavy Riku felt or how he hadn't stirred even a little since he last closed his eyes. Before he knew it, he had Riku dressed in comfortable sleeping clothes and lying in their bed without knowing how he managed it. The whole time he tried not to think about how Riku and the others must've felt while they did this for him years ago. With tears threatening to burn his eyes he swallowed them down and tried to focus on the task at hand. This isn't like what happened to him. Not at all. Riku's just resting very heavily. He's going to be fine.

He let the haze cloud his mind once more, though he was way past letting optimism blind him completely. Once Riku was tucked in, Sora brushed a few stray silver bangs from his eyes and fondly gazed at him as he soundly slept. He looked so sweet and peaceful. With a sheepish grin, he couldn't help giggling as his cheeks flushed with affection. "You're still my pretty prince," he smiled and gave him a kiss. But as he pulled away, he felt an aching in his chest that he desperately shoved down as his breath got caught in his throat.

Everything's going to be fine.

Riku's fine.

He just needs rest.

Sora steels himself with deep breaths, allowing the haze to take over again before he returns to the living room but when he sees Kairi with Hoku, it's like the lights in his head were all turned back on at once. There was so much he needed to do now. He had to call King Mickey and reschedule upcoming meetings. He needed to figure out how to take care of Hoku and Riku. And what are they all going to think when they find out what he did? The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to shut down again. His heart began to race as he felt his anxiety shoot through the roof. His head began to hurt and his vision felt blurry.

"Sora?"

At Kairi saying his name, he gave his head a little shake before shooting her a shaky smile. "He's settled in now. Thanks for all your help." He held his arms out for Hoku who had been whimpering quietly this whole time, no doubt exhausted from all the excitement today.

Kairi smiled back and gently handed the infant over to his father. "Of course, just let me know if--"

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!"

Hoku suddenly burst into a fit of wails that really startled Kairi, but the princess of heart was even more startled that Sora didn't react much at all to the sudden outburst. In fact, he didn't look all there. His smile was strained as he tried to comfort Hoku and his eyes looked empty.

"Shh shh, I know, you wanna see daddy. But he's sleeping. You need to be a good boy now so he can rest," the brunette quietly pleaded with the little one who was clenching his fists and keeping his arms and legs curled tightly to his chest as he continued to scream bloody murder.

Though Sora was speaking softly, his voice put even Kairi at unease. He looked as strained as a rubber band that was going to snap at any moment. She gently raised a hand to say something when--

"Hoku! Please!" he suddenly spoke in an even louder tone, not quite yelling, but clearly at his limit.

The redhead quickly offered her hands out, wordlessly offering to take him back. She watched as Sora tightened his grip ever so slightly on the crying bundle in his arms, his eyes quivering as he looked between Hoku and Kairi before sighing and gently handing him over. Hoku calmed almost immediately, though now he had the hiccups. As she held him, she could see Sora deflating, now running a hand through his hair as he avoided looking at Hoku. He was still dressed in his formal wear and had patches of dirt on his suit and dust in his spiked locks that were currently slightly drooped, a sight Kairi doesn't think she's ever seen before. Beneath all the medals and layers of fine clothing, he looked so weighed down at the moment. Her heart ached for him. She knew that look, having seen it so many times before on Riku's face...maybe on all their faces at some point, but this was worse. After all, this was Sora. To see him so frazzled and tired like this...she knew she shouldn't leave him alone tonight.

"You know...maybe I could stay over? We haven't had a sleepover in a while," she offered. "How about it, Hoku? Wanna spend more time with Aunt Kairi?"

Sora looked like he was about to refuse, but then he smiled again, genuinely this time. "I think...that would be great. Thank you, Kairi."

"Of course," she smiled, happy to see that he did seem relieved. For the moment, Sora still seems to be having a hard time looking at Hoku which she supposes is understandable if he's feeling guilty, but why should he? "Sora...?"

"I'm fine," he said quickly. "Er...well...since you're staying, how about I get changed and make us some dinner?"

"Are you sure? I mean, you're probably tired, aren't you?"

"Never too tired to make a meal for friends!" the brunette insisted. "Just give me an extra minute to get cleaned up and I'll be right down."

"Sure, take your time. Hoku and I will play until you get back."

The brunette hurried back to his bedroom to rip off his clothing, not even bothering to hang it up, leaving every piece splayed across the chair next to the wardrobe, not caring if it wrinkled. It needed to be cleaned anyway. With an almost angry growl he ripped the polished black and gold armored shoulder pad off and tossed it to the floor where it landed on a pile of socks that still needed to be mated with a soft clatter. He tried not to cry as he fumbled with the medals around his neck before practically ripping the heavy jacket off, the metals jingling loudly as he struggled before tossing it in the chair along with his side satchel, sash, three belts, and then finally his shirt and pants. He felt relieved to have all of it off but still there was something that made him feel slightly suffocated. He was about to walk past Riku to use their bathroom but stopped to kiss his brow and affectionately stroke his cheek. He was still sleeping soundly and looked as peaceful as ever. It made a smile tug the corners of his lips. Now slightly reassured, he picked up the pace to the bathroom so he could shower.

The sounds of the waterfall outside and the familiar rushing of the water subtly vibrating the stone wall of the shower is comforting. The splash of the water on polished-'til-smooth stone floor of the shower is a welcome noise to drown out the unpleasant thoughts threatening to creep in. As he tries to keep his mind empty, he wrings his hands through his hair almost painfully while the cascading water washes away the dirt on his face. As he rinses off, he looks down to see the grime pooling at his feet before it goes down the drain. Most of it was just in his hair, he was certain. It was a reminder of how dirty his clothes most certainly are. The bathtub of course looked just as bad when he washed Riku.

Riku...

He clenched his eyes closed and shook his head roughly, unpleasantly getting water and suds in his ears. He's fine. He's fine. Everything is fine.

* * *

Back at the mysterious tower, Vanitas sat in Master Yen Sid's study while he gave him and King Mickey the failed mission report while Naminé and Reacher sat beside him, the blonde having not let go of his hand since he's gotten back. His right arm was in a sling and wrapped close to his body to keep him from moving it. Apparently he broke it and hadn't realized it because his armor kept the break set in place. It's since been healed, but the newly-healed bone was still malleable so he had to keep it immobile for the time being. He was no longer in any pain, but he was exhausted. Nevertheless he wanted to give the mission statement before he took Naminé and Reacher home, still dead-set on treating Naminé to SOMETHING for their anniversary before the day is out. As he rubbed his thumb over Naminé's hand clutched over his, he recalled the previous events in detail. Though Deep Jungle is now saved and heartless-free, he personally still sees the mission as a failure on their part...especially given how it...and they...ended up being saved in the end.

Riku had fought hard, unlike anything Vanitas had ever seen. He recalled how Riku form-changed his keyblade into a motorcycle and drove over the heartless like they were nothing, obliterating them with his bike's razor-sharp wheels until he drove up the Darksides and rammed his bike into their faces as he used them as platforms, hopping from one to the other as he plowed over them. Of course, Vanitas wouldn't let himself be shown up either with his spiked glider ripping through the heartless like a chainsaw. But when they joined forces they felt unstoppable, maybe even a little cocky, their link attacks engulfing acres of heartless in black flames before forming a spiraling tornado of light and shadow to blow them away. However for every inch they gained, over time they lost two more. Like a wound that just wouldn't stop bleeding, the world cracked further and further and more heartless made their way in.

Even with Vani's small army of his strongest Unversed, they weren't prepared for the numbers they were facing. They were in too deep before they finally realized they were fighting a losing battle.

"Riku fought with all his heart...with everything he had. Even protected me a few times with his barrier magic. But he took too many hits and it caught up to him. He was using more power than his body could keep up with and when he started slowing down he slipped up more. I...wasn't much better. I summoned too many Unversed. I underestimated how strong our enemies were...no...it wasn't that they were strong on their own. There were just too many. They fought for hours but it felt like minutes. Everything was just happening way too fast. Before he knew it, he was begging Riku to get back up and was pulling him to his feet, but he wasn't responding...just whispering Sora's name.

He squeezed Naminé's hand at the memory of the limp man leaning over his shoulder, unable to see most of his face due to his helmet, but through the broken portion he could see his blood-soaked hair stuck over one of his eyes. He could also see his lips moving, and though he couldn't really hear anything over the noise going on all around them, it wasn't difficult to figure out what he was saying...and who he was calling for. His heart clenched because in that moment he was also thinking of Naminé. Remembering it now, he's almost angry with himself because during that moment of weakness he can recall how he almost resigned to his fate...very nearly accepted defeat. Thankfully, it was around that time when Sora showed up.

He paused and took a deep breath, swallowing hard before he told them how Sora burst onto the scene through a door of light...

How he fought through the thick of darkness...

And how he summoned Kingdom Hearts...

* * *

Kairi played with Hoku in the living room while they waited on Sora. Thinking ahead, she went ahead and changed his diaper and though she tried to put him into pajamas, he made grabby motions for his dragon onesie instead so she dressed him in that instead to appease him. He seemed much calmer after that, though he was still stricken with a case of the hiccups. Together they played on the play mat on the floor and he walked to his favorite toys to toddle back to her and show them off one by one.

"Thank you for showing me your toys, Hoku," she giggled. "You're so sweet."

He gave a small smile, just barely showing off the white tiny nubs of his two front teeth growing in. But he was still very quiet, only making small noises of discontent in between hiccups as he occasionally glanced up at the ceiling. Kairi guessed he must've been worried about his two daddies upstairs.

"Kai Kai..." he whimpered at the redhead quietly before looking up again. "Da da da da da?" he babbled quietly in a voice the nearly broke Kairi's heart.

"Aww..." she cooed and offered her arms in a hug, which the little guy happily accepted, toddling into her arms where he went limp as he rubbed his face into her shoulder. "It's okay, sweetie," she assured him as she hugged him against her chest and supported him in her arm while she patted his back comfortingly. "Daddy is resting and your other daddy is going to make us a yummy dinner as soon as he's done getting clean. Doesn't that sound fun?"

He didn't make much noise, only clutched at the soft fabric of her shirt with his tiny fists while he continued to hiccup. She held him for a few more minutes as the infant didn't seem to want to be put down. In fact, she almost thought he fell asleep but he suddenly pushed off her chest and looked toward the stairs when he heard Sora come down dressed in an oversized white tank top and loose red joggers, his expression brightening at the sight. Kairi greeted him with a smile and stood up with Hoku. "You look much better," she said playfully.

"Heh, thanks," he smiled and finally looked at Hoku who was now making grabby hands for him. The brunette's eyes seemed to light up just a little and happily took Hoku back into his arms. Before he could comment, he watched Hoku's nose twitch as he gave a little sniff before he wrapped his tiny arms around Sora's neck to hold him tightly in a hug. "Awwwww, sweetheart!" Sora practically melted as he hugged him back. That's when it clicked and he couldn't keep himself from laughing a little. "Does Daddy smell better now?"

"Huh?" Kairi tilted her head. Sure, Sora was a little dusty before, but he didn't smell bad.

Sora chuckled and looked up at Kairi. "I thought he was mad at me before. But I think he smells darkness and just got scared," he explained.

That did very little to help Kairi understand. "Huh?" she said again. "Come again?"

"Oop...did...Riku never mention he can smell Darkness?" Sora asked quietly.

"Not to me!" Kairi shook her head. "Or...not that I can remember."

"Oh...well...he can. And I'm starting to think Hoku might, too. Riku always tries to shower immediately after a mission, especially if he's been in the Realm of Darkness, because he says he can smell it on himself afterwards. So I think Hoku could smell all the darkness on me from the heartless I fought," he explained.

"So does Riku think we all stink whenever we come back from our missions?" Kairi asked, unable to hold back her laughter as she covered her mouth with the back of her hand.

"I mean we all get sweaty, Kairi. There's no doubt in my mind that we stink!" he laughed as he grabbed a long length of cloth to wrap around himself and Hoku.

"Speak for yourself!" Kairi slapped his arm playfully in mock offense. "Now chop chop. You promised me a yummy dinner!"

"I know, I know, I'm on it!" he laughed as he led the way to the kitchen.

In the kitchen, Kairi watched Sora slip into silence as he got to work. His hands moving fast as he grabbed ingredients from the fridge. Hoku attempted to reach for each one, so Sora stopped moving only once in a while to let him feel whatever he was holding before getting back to the task at hand. When she offered to set the table, he only nodded towards the silverware, so she took that as a yes. After she set everything, she sat and watched him. He seems to be detaching himself, just focusing on the task in front of him rather than attempting any conversation, so she decided not to push it either. If he wants to to talk, he'll talk...hopefully.

In what seemed like no time at all, Sora prepared a wonderful stir-fry. Once it was done, Kairi offered to plate it while Sora unwrapped Hoku to put him in his high chair so he can eat with them. Hoku got his own plate of mushed peas, rice pudding, and mushed bananas, an interesting selection to be sure, all of which came in their own small Tupperware containers. Once everybody was settled in, they dived into their food.

"Thanks for the meal!" Kairi clasped her hands together before digging in. "Mmm! It's delicious!" she praised after she took several bites. It had just the right amount of spicy and savory flavors that just made her want to keep shoveling it into her mouth. It's no fair that Riku probably gets to eat like this every day!

"Glad you like it," Sora smiled as he fed Hoku his mushy food. "Say aaaaaahhh~"

"Aaaahhh~" Hoku opened his mouth eagerly as his daddy fed him and made mmm mm mm~ noises as he enjoyed the mush daddy made for him. The din-din mush daddy makes is always the best!

The way he spoke sounded kind of empty. Kairi figured he was upset that Riku couldn't join them, but she didn't know how to lighten the mood. After several minutes, Kairi noticed Sora hasn't taken one bite of his food. "Do you want me to feed him so you can eat before it gets cold?" she offered.

"Hm?" Sora looked at her and then down at his plate as if he realized he forgot it was even there. "Oh, don't worry about it. We're almost finished."

"Aaaaahhhhh!" Hoku opened his mouth impatiently.

Sora chuckled as he hurried to feed the hungry baby dragon. After a few more bites, all three tiny tubs were empty. "Are you all done?" he asked.

Hoku put his fists together in an awkward bumping motion before opening his mouth again. "Aaaahhh~"

"More? Okay!" the brunette chuckled and got up to make Hoku a half-bottle of formula. "You're going to sleep like a log tonight."

Kairi blinked at the hand signal Hoku made. "Was that sign language?"

"Riku taught him a couple of things. He knows "more" and I don't remember the other one," he chuckled sheepishly as he shook the made bottle to mix it. "But he's pretty verbal already. I guess it's better than hearing him cry when he wants food."

"You're so smart, Hoku~" Kairi cooed.

"Kai Kai!" Hoku babbled proudly with a cheesy grin.

Sora shook his head with a chuckle as Hoku tried to show off and gave him his bottle before sitting down to finally eat. The two made small talk, carefully avoiding talking about work. Kairi finished long before Sora did, obviously, but she noticed he was having a hard time getting through his dinner. Finally, they both finished and Kairi helped wash and put away the dishes while Hoku practically drank himself to sleep in his high chair.

"Hey Sora, I know you're tired so how about you let me take care of Hoku tonight. You get some rest."

"You sure?"

"Sora, you just saved a world from falling to darkness. I know you're exhausted. Get some sleep tonight."

At the suggestion, she swore she saw Sora flinch, but again he smiled. "Well, if you're offering, I'll take it," he accepted with a chuckle.

After dinner, Hoku went down easily and Sora put him to bed with two good night kisses, one for him and Riku. "Good night, Hoku. Love you~" he whispered. "See you in the morning."

Once Hoku was settled in, Sora lent Kairi some pajamas (they had a meow-wow pattern on them) and took her to the guest bedroom; an adorable and cozy little room with a full-sized bed and a lovely view of the ocean. The quilt on top was colorful and looked handmade with little star-shaped patches and shells stitched into the individual squares.

"If you need any extra pillows or blankets, they're in the closet and you have your own bathroom," Sora pointed, though he felt a little sheepish pointing it out because he probably remembered Kairi knows the layout since she helped build the place. "So uh...good night!"

"Sora," Kairi grinned and called his name and held out her hand. "Baby monitor?"

"Oh, right!" he chuckled and handed it over.

Kairi laughed and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Good night."

Sora returned the little peck. "Good night."

Kairi watched him leave and once he closed the door behind him she changed into the borrowed pajamas and got into bed. Sora's pajamas were loose and comfy on her and the mattress was soft enough to sink into. She made sure the baby monitor was close by and checked the screen one more time. Hoku was still sleeping peacefully with his little dragon butt sticking straight up in the air and the little tail on his onesie swishing minutely. With a smile she set the monitor on the night stand and let herself get comfortable. She hoped Sora will feel better after a good night's rest. Same goes for Riku. With those two in her thoughts she allowed herself to drift off to sleep.

Sora felt drained by the time he slipped into bed with Riku. The older man didn't stir once even as the bed shifted which made Sora's brow furrow with concern. He scooched in closer and moved Riku so he could spoon him from behind and nuzzled into the soft wispy hairs on the back of his neck. He felt so heavy. It was different from how he felt when he normally slept.

"You fought with all your heart, didn't you?" he murmured knowingly. "That's why you're so tired."

His heart clenched and he squeezed Riku tighter in his embrace, his own words sounded bitter even to himself. He was angry, but not at Riku. He pressed a kiss to the nape of his neck and sighed. he knows Riku just needs rest and that he was awake a few hours ago, but he really wants to know if he's okay. He's not a dreameater like Riku, but he can at least make sure he's resting peacefully, right?

Unable to get the idea out of his head, he disentangled himself from Riku and got him back into a comfortable position on his back before standing and summoning his keyblade. He took a breath to steady himself. He's just going to check really quick. If Kairi weren't there to watch Hoku, he would never attempt this. So if he doesn't check now, he might not get another chance. He aimed his keyblade at Riku and made the dive.

It wasn't a long dive. Maybe it's because their hearts are so close together. Before he knew it, he was diving through the bright light of Riku's heart station and when he opened his eyes again he found himself in an unfamiliar place. It was night time and the moon was strung high amongst a dazzling sea of stars. All around him he could see waist-high grass that rustled softly in the gentle breeze that carried with it the scent of lemon. He could make out trees in the distance and in his ears he could hear a babbling brook and the sound of a small waterfall. Everywhere he looked he could see fireflies drifting lazily through the grasses. But what he couldn't see was Riku.

He took a few steps through the high grass, disturbing more fireflies as he went. They fled the grass and flew over to a small clearing where the grass appears to have been parted and folded down. In fact there were a LOT of fireflies there. Curious, Sora made his way over there, carefully parting the grass as he went so as not to further disturb the peaceful atmosphere. When he reached the clearing, he did a double-take! He had found Riku sound asleep with his head resting in another person's lap, a person that appeared to be made of a soft blue light.

He squinted as the translucent person's form flickered between solid and unsolid until he finally recognized the person's face as his own! This must be the dream Sora Riku mentioned to him all those years ago. his heart relaxed and he took a breath to steady himself as he inched closer. Finally the other Sora looked up from Riku to give him a gentle, reassuring smile. It was a little weird seeing a copy of himself smile at him. It's not the first time he's seen a copy of himself, but usually they're not friendly. Before he could let himself mentally delve into that irony any further, he attempted to talk to the starlight being. "Is he okay?" he whispered so as not to disturb the silverette in his lap.

The other Sora nodded and looked back down to affectionately brush his fingers through Riku's hair. Said male's nose twitched cutely, but didn't stir otherwise. It's just as Sora thought: Riku's in a really deep sleep. "Is he...Do you think he'll wake up soon?" he asked. The other Sora nodded confidently. Sora couldn't help smiling at the cheerful enthusiasm on his doppelganger's face. He believed him. He looked back down at Riku, a little envious that the other got to hold him like this. But he also felt better too knowing he was being comforted and looked after here. He'll just have to make sure Riku gets the same treatment in the waking world, too. He was hoping to talk to Riku here but he's not a dream eater so really all he can do is observe, even if Riku were able to speak.

The brunette looked around. This place sure is peaceful, but again it was a place he didn't recognize. Some parts seemed familiar. For instance, he was sure he could hear the gentle rolling of the waves in the distance, even if he couldn't see the ocean past the trees. The waterfall even seemed similar to the one next to their own home. But he's almost certain he's never seen a field of grass like this before, at least not on their island. Then again, it's Riku's dream, so it doesn't have to be based in reality, he supposed.

Despite being out in the open, it does feel safe. The tall grass surrounding them made the little clearing feel like a nest, in a way. He was almost tempted to curl up next to him and fall asleep himself but he knew he shouldn't. Instead he knelt down and pressed a gentle kiss to Riku's forehead. "Sleep well, my prince. I'll see you when you wake up." He stood and looked to the other Sora. "Look after him for me." The other Sora gave him a broad smile and a thumbs up which Sora returned before aiming his keyblade at the sky and making his exit.

Back in their bedroom, Sora was relieved to see he's only been gone for a few minutes so he had plenty of time to get some actual rest. He quickly dismissed his keyblade and snuggled back up to Riku, burying his face into his neck. "Good night. Love you," he whispered before his eyes fluttered closed and sleep finally claimed him as well.

Chapter Text

For Sora, it was nice falling into a deep sleep for the first time in a long while. But with deep sleep came dreams, which he found himself in very shortly after he closed his eyes. His body felt heavy as he blinked his eyes open. Wherever he was, it was dark save for a lone spot light pouring in from the ceiling. He was sitting upright in a black throne and clothed in the clothes the king had given him. His head felt heavy and he reached up to feel something that felt like a crown perched on his head. His left wrist felt heavy too and he looked down to see it bound in a golden shackle which was chained to the left wrist of a sleeping figure kneeling at his feet.

"Riku!" he gasped and tried to shake him awake, but he didn't stir, the figure remaining motionless as he slept with his head resting on Sora's knees.

Sora peered further down to see they were perched precariously on a mountain of colorful broken glass. Bewildered, he looked up again to see that there were tons of round metal frames above them that looked like they once housed stained glass windows. Some still had remnants of their glass barely holding on to their frames. The keyblade master swallowed hard as he felt dread fill his stomach. This was getting weirder and weirder. He tried to shake Riku again, but he continued to sleep, also dressed in the regal finery that the king had given him, but his clothes hung off of him in rags. There was much more skin than fabric.

Sora couldn't bring himself to disturb him any further and leaned back into the soft, velvet-lined throne. "What is this place?" Even with Riku here it feels so lonely. Everything he was wearing felt heavy, and not just the chains. "Not exactly the most exciting dream I've ever had," he huffed. But no sooner had he said that, he wished he hadn't.

Suddenly he felt something cold slither around his waist followed by the wet sounds of slimy black tendrils manifesting from the darkness to wrap themselves around his legs and wrists. He struggled against the bindings, ripping free from one only for another to take its place until he could no longer move! His stomach churned as the grotesque sounds of even more tendrils came into being and wrapped themselves around his neck, threatening to strangle him as their grip became tighter and tighter. All the while he fought and struggled until he could no longer move, flailing and tugging as their tight grip threatened to tear into his skin. He almost couldn't even see anymore as the dark things binding him wrapped around his head to to anchor him against the back of the throne. As he struggled for breath, he could feel his whole body getting covered in the slimy, tar-like tendrils. He felt his body get heavier with their weight and get colder as they constricted tightly around him, cutting off circulation to his limbs.

He was losing breath. It continued to get harder and harder to breathe. Even as he told himself over and over that this was just a dream it was getting harder not to panic as the pain of his limbs being constricted started to register and his rib cage felt as if it were cracking. He gasped loudly as he wriggled against his bindings, but just as everything started to go black...he could only laugh.

"He's only been out for a few hours...and already..." he wheezed before he started laughing again.

It sounded crazy, even to him, but once he started he couldn't stop.

"A-all we have to do is wait~" he mocked. "That's what you said, isn't it!?" Even as the grip tightened on his throat, he laughed and wheezed. "Haa Ha ha HAAAAA!!!"

The louder he laughed, the looser his constraints became until they finally retreated. He watched them slither away with a smug smirk and stood up, waving away the dream until he was back at his familiar sunny island "home base" and marched straight to Darkness's door which he banged on impatiently.

"Nice try!" he shouted.

He waited for a moment. But when Darkness didn't respond he spoke in a quieter tone, but it was cold. "Look, about what you told me earlier...I get it. You got scared. I just wanted to let you know I forgive you. But next time, think more carefully about who you should really fear before you decide to mess with me or my family again."

His tone came out in a tone that was chilling even to himself. But he meant every word of it. Darkness continued to say nothing but he had a feeling they were at an understanding. After that, he slept okay. It was a dreamless sleep but he wouldn't exactly call it restful. The sun from the skylight woke him up and by habit he rolled over to wish Riku good morning but the other male didn't stir, not even a little. It was quite the unpleasant wake-up call to start the morning; remembering the state Riku was in. "Guess I should...change your bandages, huh?"

His first thought was to mimic their old routine from years ago when Sora got hurt, only this time it was Sora tending to Riku. The brunette removed Riku's bandages and was pleasantly surprised to see they were not stained with dark matter, which means the wounds had been successfully purified. With another cure spell, the wounds were completely closed, though they were still very raw-looking. So for the next step he put a little ointment on them before giving him a fresh set of bandages. Rufus was back on duty disposing of the other ones and for good measure Sora dumped a potion on Riku so he wouldn't go hungry. After that, Sora wasn't sure what else he could do at the moment so he gave Riku a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'll be back in a bit," he promised and hurried to check on Hoku.

When he wasn't in his crib, he nearly had a heart attack until he remembered Kairi was still here, so she's probably taking care of him already. he breathed a long sigh of relief and took the chance to wash his face, shave, brush his teeth, and get dressed before finding Kairi in the living room. "Good morning!" he greeted.

"Good morning!" she smiled back.

Hoku was playing on the rug so Sora knelt to give him a kiss on the top of his head. "Good morning, Hoku!"

"Weh bppt!" Hoku greeted with spit bubbles, not to be deterred from his perilous journey of crawling to his piano.

"How's he doing?" Kairi asked quietly.

"Sleeping peacefully. Injuries look good. No dark matter," he answered just as quietly.

"That's good!"

"Yes! I'm sure he'll wake up really soon. In the meantime, have you had breakfast, yet?" Sora asked with a gleam in his eye.

In no time at all, he whipped up breakfast for the three of them: paopu-shaped waffles with banana mush (with a tiny smidge of whipped cream), mashed apples, and a bottle for Hoku. Sora knew Kairi would have to leave soon, but if he were honest, he dreaded it. What if Hoku...what should he even do? Should Hoku even see Riku like this? As if sensing his worry, Kairi gave him a gentle smile. "It'll be okay. I'm sure seeing him will put Hoku at ease if nothing else."

"Maybe you're right. He does seem to be aware that something's up. No point in keeping it from him. Plus taking care of both of them would be easier if I can have them both in the same room," Sora conceded.

After breakfast, Kairi stayed a little longer to give Sora moral support. Hoku had stopped fussing when he held him but something still felt a little off that he couldn't put his finger on. Maybe it was just himself that was off. He hesitated on the way to the bedroom, his hand hovering over the doorknob as he he supported Hoku on his hip with his other arm. "it'll be okay," Kairi assured him with a hand on his shoulder.

"He's never seen either of us hurt before. I don't...I don't know how he'll react," Sora murmured.

"He'll have to see it sometime, Sora. Maybe it's better now before Riku wakes up," she pointed out gently.

Sora sighed. "Yeah, maybe you're right." He nodded and took a deep breath before opening the door. Upon seeing Riku on the bed, Hoku immediately squealed and made grabby hands in his direction while shouting "DA DA DA DA DA!" but when Riku didn't stir or acknowledge him, he began to whimper. Sora felt his heart break at the look on his face and tried smiling to reassure him. "It's okay. Daddy's just resting," he explained and sat with Hoku on the bed. "See? Daddy's tired."

Hoku reached out for him insistently, so Sora gently sat him down so he could crawl to Riku. Kairi gently touched Sora's elbow as they watched Hoku take in Riku's appearance. The infant appeared puzzled and curious about the bandages wrapped around his neck and shoulder and began crawling on top of Riku's chest. Sora hurried to make sure he didn't topple or fall off the bed, but Hoku remained determined to reach Riku's face, which he proceeded to bat with his palms. "DA DA DA DA DA!" Sora winced as he watched Hoku bat at Riku's face, but Riku didn't even twitch. "Mnnn....." Hoku's eyes welled up with tears and his face began to redden. Sensing a meltdown on the way, Sora made to pick up him up, but instead of a scream, a bit of throw-up escaped Hoku's mouth instead, landing in a small puddle on Riku's chest and neck.

"Oh no!" Kairi gasped but couldn't hold back a laugh.

"Sorry, Riku!" Sora apologized as he hurried to clean him up, thankful that he at least didn't get hit in the face. "Blame Kairi, she fed him."

"Hey!" Kairi playfully shoved his arm. "I only fed him the food YOU made for him."

Hoku didn't seem amused in the slightest, looking more and more bewildered by the second as again, Riku didn't move at all. "Buh...bah..." he babbled sadly.

Sora patted him on the head and pulled him off of Riku to hold him in his lap. "Daddy's going to be resting for a little while. But he's okay, I promise."

"Goooooo...."

"Aw," Sora cooed and cuddled him close to his chest.

The cuckoo clock struck away the hour in the living room, reminding Kairi of the time. "Do you need anything?" Kairi asked. "I can go to the store if you need it."

"I think we'll be fine. Thanks, Kairi," Sora smiled appreciatively.

She ruffled his hair and gave Hoku a kiss on the cheek. "You two be good." She also gave Riku one more onceover before giving him a quick peck on the forehead. "Feel better soon, Riku. I'll call to check up on you guys. Text me if you need anything."

"Will do!"

After Kairi left, Sora felt a stupor begin to take hold of him again. He got lost in his thoughts as Hoku impatiently wriggled in his lap. The reality of the situation and what he had done was almost too much for him to take. Finally a loud meow from Donut snapped him out of it. "Oh, sorry, did I forget to feed you breakfast?" he apologized and hurried to feed him with Hoku in tow, though the little one didn't look like he wanted to leave Riku's side. However, Sora decided he should probably make things feel as normal as possible for Hoku's sake. So after he fed Donut he did the morning chores with him, letting him play on the floor in between tasks while he did laundry, cleaned the dishes, swept the dust, made the beds, etc. After that, he strapped Hoku to himself so they could tend the garden together. Hoku loves sniffing the mint the most.

After that, they went back inside so Hoku could play in the living room and Sora occupied himself with his computer and phone, downloading all of his new pictures and printing out his favorites for Hoku's albums. The photos from his first steps definitely needed to be put in the baby book, along with the picture of the first pompom capsule he found all by himself. When he was done, he probably printed about thirty, but some were copies he wanted to give their parents, too, which was its own special pile in the side table drawer that was already near bursting. On his phone, he could already see the notifications of missed messages piling up, but he put off checking them just for a little longer. He just wasn't ready to be back in the present yet. But with lunch time drawing near, he was going to have to tend to Riku soon, as well as take care of Hoku and put him down for a nap. Maybe he'll check his messages then.

Amazingly, Hoku went down for his nap easily, which gave Sora an opportunity to check on Riku. But just as he thought, the man hadn't moved a muscle. He leaned over the sleeping silverette to give him a kiss on the cheek and fondly traced along his jaw with his fingertips. He looked so peaceful, yet it tore him up inside to see him like this. "Is this what it was like for you, Riku? And the others?" he murmured before biting his lower lip to fight back his tears. Instead he occupied himself with giving Riku a potion and casting a curaga spell for good measure. He listened intently to his breathing for any sign of change but detected none.

This is fine though, he told himself yet again. Riku deserves a rest. He can sleep for as long as he needs. "But don't rest too long," Sora joked. "You're not getting out of diaper duty." With a chuckle, he straightened up and tried to decide what to do next. He didn't like the idea of not being by Riku's side, so he started gathering things to put in the bed with them. He grabbed his laptop, phone, notebook, pens, Hoku's favorite toys, a few snacks, and a couple of extra pillows and piled them all into the bed as if he were preparing a nest, somewhat inspired by the dream he saw.

Satisfied that there was enough to keep him busy, he then opened the top over the bed so that sunlight could pour in through the skylight and then opened the window so the fresh ocean breeze could enter the room. This way Riku could hear the sound of the nearby waves. The gentle breeze wafted the scent of their hanging flowers through the air, making the atmosphere all the more relaxing. "Perfect!" Sora smiled with satisfaction before going to the kitchen to get something to drink. He chose the mint lemonade that Riku had made, pouring himself a tall glass with some ice before going back to the bedroom to lounge next to Riku, comfortably propping himself up on the pillows and taking a sip before finally grabbing his phone.

As the gentle breeze made the retired keychain mobile tinkle its chimes quietly above them, he started reading through his notifications. First was a notification from Naminé which prompted him to remember her package for Riku. "I almost forgot! Let me go get it for you!" he told Riku before scrambling out of bed to track it down.

It took him a minute to remember where he left it before he returned to Riku's side. The weight of the parcel felt familiar; like one of the picture books Naminé always sends them to read with Hoku to see what they think before she finalizes it for the other young keyblade wielders. He was about to open it, but he hesitated. What if he wasn't supposed to read it? She did specifically say it was for Riku, not Hoku, so maybe he shouldn't? He felt around the edges of the paper parcel. Yup, it definitely felt picture-book shaped. "Do you want me to open it for you, Riku?" he asked. Just then, Hoku started fussing on the baby monitor. Nap time's over. "That was quick," Sora muttered to himself as he checked the time on his gummi phone. Nope, Hoku was right on time. "Man, I should've caught a nap too," Sora moaned as he went to retrieve Hoku.

Once the little guy's immediate after-nap needs were taken care of, he took him to the bedroom and set him on the bed. The little one's eyes lit up when he saw all his favorite toys were here and immediately grabbed to play with them. Donut came in curiously from around the corner. "Mrow?"

"Want in, Donut?" Sora asked as he pat the pillow behind him. Donut immediately hopped onto his favorite spot and kneaded it with his claws to settle in. Once they were all comfy, Sora cast a barrier spell around the bed, essentially turning it inot a play pen so Hoku couldn't fall off if he wasn't paying attention. This gave Sora enough peace of mind to resume checking his messages.

Vanitas sent an update. He's doing fine, but also resting for a while, undoubtedly on Naminé's orders. Roxas asked for updates and also said he'd be checking on him soon if Riku didn't wake up fast enough. King Mickey had a long string of messages updating him on the meeting while of course asking if Riku's doing okay. Sora updated him on Riku, but he couldn't bring himself to look at the updates regarding the meeting. Somehow he felt like he let everybody down and he didn't want to be face it, not just yet anyway, not when he needs to keep it together for Riku and Hoku's sakes. Fairy Godmother also sent him a message regarding his next session. He debated how to answer. he knew he should talk about how he was feeling before things got out of hand but...with a sigh he opted to tell her he'll update her later and that he needs time to think. He hopes it didn't come off as cold. With texts he's never really sure if his feelings come across as intended. But he's sure she'd understand.

He scrolled through Kingstagram for a few minutes while Hoku played and decided to post an update there so everybody can see it at once and not worry. He took a pic of Riku sleeping and used the photo editor app to draw a cartoony mustache on him before posting it, telling everybody Riku's resting peacefully and his injuries are healing nicely (<#3SleepingBeauty <#3Who'sthelazyonenow?). After he finished posting it, a crinkle of paper near his feet caught his attention. Hoku had gotten his hands on Riku's package and was trying to get it open.

"Not for you, Hoku," Sora chuckled as he took it from him.

"Bweh!" Hoku huffed and continued to crawl and make grabbies for it. After all, he's seen these parcels before and they usually hold books from Aunt Ni-Mi! Therefore it must be for him!

Sora chuckled at his insistent grabbing motions. "I'm curious too," he admitted. Naminé didn't tell him he COULDN'T open it, so it should be okay, right? With a shrug, he opened the paper envelope. Sure enough, there were two books inside. One was clearly written and illustrated by Naminé, the other was more like a photo-copied pamphlet of another book entirely. He flipped through the pamphlet first. Often Naminé sent along the original inspirations for the books she's making, usually historical texts, excerpts, or whatnot for context. This didn't appear to be historical documentation, however. It had illustrations and looked like it was a short story to begin with. "The Tale of Land and Sky?" he read out loud. Normally he'd try to read the historical context before the picture book but Hoku has already seen the colorful cover of the other book so now he's impatiently demanding to be indulged by slapping Sora on the thigh. "BOO!"

"Alright, alright!" Sora chuckled and set aside the photocopied version in favor of the picture book. The cover depicted a beautifully painted white beach beneath a starlit sky with a silver-haired man standing on the edge and looking up, his back turned to the viewer. Well, Sora's interest is certainly piqued now. With a smile, he scooped up Hoku and set him in his lap like always so he can see the pictures. He took a sip of his drink and cleared his throat. "Ahem. Once upon a time, there was a king who loved the sky. He was the king of all the land, but to him there was no greater beauty than the stars at night." Pictured was the same man as the one on the cover except he had black hair in this image. When Hoku looked ready to move on he turned the page and continued. "His favorite thing to do in the whole world was to watch the stars at night and he had a favorite spot to watch them beside the sea."

"Boo-ba!" Hoku babbled excitedly and bat his hand against the illustrated beach scene.

"You're right, it's just like home!" Sora giggled. He turned the next page. "Then one night he saw the sky come to life in the form of a god that was half man and half eel. His lower body was made of the sky itself; all the stars, galaxies, and wonders that the sky had to offer. The King called out to the mysterious being and asked for his name. "My name is Sora--"!?" he stopped himself in surprise. "Wait, what!?"

"Goo!" Hoku urged impatiently.

"Sorry. Ahem. And the King said, "My name is Riku."..." Sora blinked in confusion, the wheels spinning rapidly in his head. Well, the title DID say Land and Sky, so the names made sense. He didn't want to scream CONSPIRACY yet so he shrugged once again and continued. The story goes on to say that Sora came down from the sky to be friends with Riku and even fell in love. Sora thought that was refreshing. He hadn't seen many fairy tales about boys falling in love. Actually...he couldn't think of any at all. The story continues to say the two spent the whole night together but Sora had to go home. He couldn't stay with Riku, but he promised to come back as soon as he could. He also said as long as they think of each other, they'll never truly be apart. All Riku has to do is look up at the stars. To seal the promise, Sora gave Riku a crown of silver and it turned his hair the color of starlight, that way Sora can find him anywhere. After he read this, Sora fingered his own silver crown necklace in thought and glanced over at Riku. There sure were a lot of coincidences in this story. Hoku was really enjoying it, though, so Sora continued. Both of them really hoped Sora and Riku would see each other again.

"It has been foretold eons ago that once a man discovered he was a god, man would want to become god, and the age of fairy tales would end..." Sora read.

With that ominous line, the story continued. It seemed happy at first. It spoke of how people continued to prosper, how they lacked nothing, and how the king loved his people so much that none suffered in the least, not even of old age. Then one fateful night, Sora returned to Riku after a brilliant meteor shower announced his arrival. Hoku bat excitedly at the illustration of the sky god descending from the heavens with a long black skirt bedazzled with stars and galaxies as he visited the now silver-haired king. Sora tried to ignore the fact that Naminé had chosen to illustrate the Sora in the story with spiked hair very similar to his own. Maybe she was going for star-shaped hair... "DA DA DA DA DA!" Hoku squealed excitedly.

"No!" Sora laughed. "I mean...well...kinda?" He wasn't sure how to correct Hoku in this situation.

"...Momma?"

"NO!" Sora facepalmed.

"GOO!" Hoku retorted impatiently. Daddy should stop arguing with him and continue with the story!

Sora let out a sigh and continued. The next page was considerably less colorful, showing a mysterious figure with glowing yellow eyes in the bushes. Sora felt his heart sink into his stomach as he read on cautiously. It says that although everybody hurried inside their homes during the meteor shower, one man ventured out after seeing Riku on the beach and wanted to warn him to get to safety, but instead caught the two. It was at this point that Sora wasn't so sure that this was a story meant for Hoku to understand for quite a while. The man felt enraged that their king was fraternizing with a god, who the people had begun to hate. The people of the land have lived for so long with everything they could possibly want that they had become dissatisfied and felt the gods might have been mocking them from their own places in the world as they knew it. The people have wanted more but didn't know what that more was, just that gods seemed to have it. So seeing their beloved king speaking to a god was maddening, even more so when he realized that if their king was speaking to a god, then he must've been a god as well. The darkness in his heart corrupted him, turning him into a beast and he attacked the king.

Hoku began to whimper as he saw the scary picture on the page and shrank into Sora's side.

Sora looked down and brushed his fingers apologetically through Hoku's hair. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. Maybe we should pick you a different story."

Hoku shook his head and batted the book again, reaching to grip the next page in his uncoordinated little fist to urge Sora to continue.

"You want to make sure this story has a happy ending, huh?" Sora smiled. "I sure hope so."

It was by the next page that Sora knew he had royally messed up. This was a hard lesson in pre-screening content for your children. He could only hope that Hoku wasn't really understanding everything he was reading and just more invested in the pictures as he continued. King Riku pleaded for the attacker to stop and the sky god fled back up to the stars while the ocean roared with fury. But even when King Riku was in danger, he couldn't bring himself to hurt one of his subjects. So Sora shot down from the sky to protect him and was felled by the attacker's blade. The next illustration shows King Riku wrapping Sora in his coat while cradling his head. His eyes were closed.

Hoku's eyes began watering up and he scrunched his fists, shaking his head back and forth as if to say NO NO NO!

"Awww," Sora hugged him close and turned the page. "Maybe it'll get better." Hoku didn't cry, only sniffled. He was going to be a brave boy so daddy will keep reading. The story goes on to explain that King Riku really was a god after all. So as he sadly held Sora atop a cliff, the world around him began falling into chaos. Without the sky god, the day seemed never ending. On land, wars broke out as darkness grew in everybody's hearts. The land split and fell apart and as the darkness grew, the sky turned black without any stars. The ocean served as Riku's only companion and one day he called out to her.

"KAI KAI!" Hoku squealed excitedly as Sora turned the page to reveal the illustration of the sea goddess standing before Riku and Sora. Sure enough, she really did resemble Kairi!

"Huh...well what do you know?" Sora chuckled despite himself. Big surprise, the ocean goddess revealed her name was Kairi and that she considered the three of them to be friends. Riku asked if there was any way to help Sora and Kairi decided the only thing that could be done was to wipe the slate clean. With her might, she washed away everything, including Sora and Riku. The only light left alive on land in the hearts of children rose from the waters and became new stars, stars that became worlds. After a short sleep, the hearts of Sora, Riku, and Kairi left the dark waters and were reborn on an island where they were reunited once again.

Hoku's face lit up at the illustration of the island where the three children played together and clapped his hands together happily. Sora smiled with relief, glad to see that Hoku was satisfied with the ending. "Well, that was fun," he chuckled and kissed the top of Hoku's head. "Now why don't you play so I can get some work done, hm?"

Hoku didn't need telling twice, and crawled to the end of the bed to play with his toys near Riku's feet. Donut followed after him, biting at the hood of Hoku's dragon onesie whenever Hoku got too close to the edge, even though there was no danger of Hoku falling off thanks to the barrier. Sora watched him play for a few minutes before reading the pamphlet that came with the book next. Sure enough, it was twenty times more graphic than the story that Naminé made. He was starting to piece together quite a few coincidences that tied his stomach up in knots. It sounded like an explanation for how the worlds were actually separated in the first place. In fact, in one of the illustrations, he could see what appeared to be crudely-made keyblades being used in the wars that broke out.

"People living forever and becoming discontent...and darkness grew in their hearts once they had something else to be jealous of..." He sighed. Whether this story was a myth or fact, he wasn't sure. But it was definitely a story with a warning. There was definitely a lot to be learned here. But...it really bothered him. He was upset that him and his friends' likenesses were used for the story. It was bad enough that the original story actually had their names. But Naminé said Riku asked for this story...so why?

"You have some explaining to do when you wake up," he huffed at the sleeping silverette before slipping both versions of the story into the bedside table drawer.

After that, he opened his laptop to draft an apology speech for running off during the last meeting. He wonders if Vanitas or Roxas told the others about him summoning Kingdom Hearts yet. Surely Vanitas has by now since he'd have to give a mission statement. Then again, knowing Master Yen Sid, the wizard probably already sensed it as it was happening. As he fingered the keys he tried to shove down his guilt again. His typing still wasn't very fast but it was improving. However as time dragged on, his mind kept wandering back to the story and he felt himself getting angry. Just...why? Did Riku not think that the tragic reunion between the two lovers would remind him of their own keyblade war experiences? On one hand he could see WHY this story might be important but at the same time he also couldn't. It just...it really bugs him!

A brief memory of Riku taking on the demon tide flashed before his eyes and he grit his teeth as he blocked it out. Instead remembering his breathing exercises and closed his eyes to take deep breaths, just like Fairy Godmother taught him. "I have to text her soon..." he mumbled to himself, remembering he needs to reschedule their next session. But when? He doesn't feel right doing anything else while Riku's still asleep. With a shake of his head he got back to work, shoving his mixed feelings aside so he can focus. But when he blocks out his own feelings, he feels others creeping in.

He blinked as he felt the sensation of butterflies in his stomach and paused his typing to focus on it. "Roxas...?" he blinked further in confusion but then his face broke into a smile as he understood. "Heh, good luck," he snickered and got back to typing.

Chapter Text

The days were chaotic in the Mysterious Tower. King Mickey and Master Yen Sid have been doing their best to quell the worries of the world leaders, and not just the ones who were at the meeting that Sora had to leave. Almost all of them had noticed the summoning of Kingdom Hearts, albeit briefly and even those who hadn't seen it caught wind of the rumors rather quickly. Needless to say, the summoning of Kingdom Hearts had stirred quite a panic amongst all the worlds. Once King Mickey explained that it was Master Sora who summoned it in order to save Deep Jungle, they were mostly relieved. But there was also an even number of leaders who found it worrisome. They didn't feel comfortable knowing Sora could wield such power so easily.

"Nobody even knows what Kingdom Hearts can really do! How could he use it so rashly!?" Queen Elinor asked.

"Are the people okay?" King Philip asked.

"And Sora?" Queen Anna and Elsa asked.

Master Yen Sid stood up and the barrage of questions was silenced. "Master Sora did what he thought was best to save Deep Jungle and the other keyblade wielders. We sent others to check on Deep Jungle and its inhabitants and I am pleased to report that everything is as it should be. Master Riku and Vanitas are still recuperating. As for Master Sora, he expresses his regrets that he couldn't be here at this time to speak with you personally as he is looking after Master Riku. As for the possible repercussions for using Kingdom Hearts...we have yet to detect any."

Everybody breathed a sigh of relief. But there was clearly still an air of tension amongst the leaders.

"There will be...much to discuss when Master Sora returns," King Triton stated.

"I agree," Master Yen Sid responded with a firm nod.

The demure Snow White spoke up. "We all trust Master Sora and the other keyblade wielders, surely. But I think everybody would feel better if there was more say in how he uses Kingdom Hearts...if ever?"

"Aye! Can't have the King of Hearts go flinging it around willy-nilly!" King Fergus cackled, earning a rough jab in the elbow from Queen Elinor. "Fergus!"

The title "King of Hearts" earned a chuckle from the group, though most of the princesses were trying to stifle their giggles.

"Ohh~" Snow White cooed while clasping her hands together". "I love that for him."

"I think I do, too," Cinderella grinned.

King Philip raised a suspicious eyebrow at King Fergus. "Why do I get the feeling it's not entirely complimentary, though?"

"'Ey, I didn't come up with it!" King Fergus defended, though he couldn't hide the amusement in his own voice.

King Triton's eyebrows furrowed helplessly, "We're not...actually calling him that are we?"

King Mickey chuckled. "Haha, no! I don't think Master Sora would like the sound of that too much."

Queen Anna smirked, "Even if it might be true."

"Anna!" Queen Elsa hissed.

Master Yen Sid raised a hand to speak and once again the room fell silent. "I thank you all for your concerns and for meeting today. But for the time being, I suggest we adjourn."

* * *

"Sora?"

Riku forced his eyes to open only to find himself in a large expanse of white. It hurt his eyes to even keep them open. His head hurt. "What...what happened to me?" he groaned as he shut his eyes again to relieve them of the blinding white. His hands groped around and he found he was lying on something soft. "Where am I?" he muttered as he tried opening his eyes again, this time raising his arm to shield his eyes, but even that took effort. His limbs felt so heavy.

This time he could see another person standing before him. He blinked away the bleariness clouding his vision to see Sora standing before him...but was it really him? The brunette was dressed in a black version of the long-sleeved button up pajama shirt that he's always liked to see him in. "Sora?" he asked again, though his voice came out in a whimper that he didn't recognize. The brunette kneeled beside whatever it was he was laying on and brushed a hand through his hair, calming him significantly. He almost wanted to fall asleep again. "Sora...I..."

"It's fine," Sora said.

"Huh?"

"It's fine."

Riku pried his eyes open again to look at Sora's. His brilliant blue eyes seemed dark somehow and even as his vision adjusted, the white surrounding them wouldn't go away. His hands groped around. He was lying in a bed of some sort but the sheets felt strange. They were too soft, too silky. Definitely a material his calloused fingertips couldn't recognize. None of this felt real. But if this is a dream, then...

"I need to wake up," he murmured.

"It's fine," the brunette insisted once again as he gently stroked his fingers against Riku's cheek.

The warm gesture made Riku feel tired again as it soothed him. "I'm so tired..."

"It's fine," Sora assured him and Riku felt warm lips press against his forehead. Maybe...sleeping a little longer would be okay.

* * *

The days creep by slowly.

Sora has kept a watchful eye on Riku for any sign of movement but sadly has detected none, just his soft, even breathing. In and out. In and out. He's finally taken off the bandages. The wounds were no longer raw-looking. The scars were starting to heal, so he kept them unwrapped so they can be exposed to the open air. He's done everything he possibly can to possibly stir Riku awake. He speaks out loud to him, plays music for him, even brings his meals into the bedroom to eat beside him hoping the scent would maybe spur some kind of reaction out of him. But still there's been nothing. Even now, he has the music box with their heart song playing on the bedside table while he strokes his fingers through Riku's hair while Hoku plays with his little piano in his playpen on the floor. Sora barely even notices that Hoku is trying to play along with the familiar tune, too wrapped up in trying to reach Riku with his heart. He can feel Riku through their connection, but he can't hear his heart sing with his like it normally does. He feels so alone.

"Do you like him better than me?" Sora muttered, thinking of the Sora he saw in Riku's dream. He tried to laugh at himself but a tear leaks from his eye which he shoves away angrily. "I'm being stupid."

A loud DONK startles Sora from his thoughts and he looks over to see little Hoku has fallen asleep at his piano. "Aw, sweetheart," he chuckled and quietly scooched off the bed to lean into the playpen and carefully lift the sleeping child. "At least the two of you are getting sleep," he murmured quietly, gently rocking him as he carried him to the nursery where he put him to sleep properly in his crib. Once he looked comfortable, he grabbed the baby monitor and returned to Riku's side, snuggling close to rest his cheek against the soft skin of Riku's inner bicep. Unlike the other two members of his family, Sora hasn't been sleeping well at all. Every time he closes his eyes he's plagued by voices. They're all too quiet and yet too loud for him to make anything out. There's worry and concern, maybe even some anger. Perhaps it's his own guilt bubbling to the surface, or perhaps it's the worlds. He doesn't know anymore.

All he knows is that he's stopped looking out the windows. Every time he looks at the sky all he sees is the vision of Kingdom Hearts looming ominously in the heavens. Even now it taunts him as he clutches at Riku, his eyes tightly closed as he wills sleep to take him, even for just a little while. He doesn't want to think anymore. He's done too much of it. But behind closed eyelids he can see Riku hanging off of Vanitas, blood dripping from his cracked helmet and landing in the dirt. He can hear Darkness's voice taunting him in his ears. His heart begins to race as he tries to fight off the memory of Kingdom Hearts looming above him, the weight of the χ-blade heavy in his hands...

"URGH!!!" he cried out in frustration, rolling away from Riku to tumble out of the bed, grabbing the baby monitor on his way out and clipping it to his waist band before running outside. He didn't know where he was going, he just wanted to get away, but not too far. The afternoon sun was blinding and yet he could feel a shadow looming over him. A strong breeze shook the branches of their home and he looked towards the cliffside. It seemed as good a place as any.

With bare hands and feet he climbed the cliff. The sun-warmed rocks practically scalded his calloused hands and feet but he didn't care. He could've scaled this cliff easily by air-stepping or double jumping but that's not what he wanted. He just wanted to claw away at something, to pull himself up, to run away. When he reached the top, he groaned as he pulled himself over the edge and rolled onto his back, his limbs on fire as he caught his breath in the soft grass. Up here the cliff plateaus as this is the source of the small waterfall, the cool stream babbling nearby. On his back with his eyes tightly closed he greedily gulped air as he panted. He scaled the cliff a lot faster than he thought he would have. He thought he'd feel better somehow but instead tears streamed from his tightly closed eyes and he allowed himself to cry ragged sobs.

The brunet clutched at the dirt with his sore hands as he pulled himself upright and tried to stand on his feet. But as he angrily fisted at his tears, cursing himself for his weakness, he suddenly felt an icy chill and finally opened his eyes to see his nightmares come to life. The sky was steaked with gold and blue and Kingdom Hearts loomed eerily amongst the clouds. He shivered all over despite the warmth of the sun on his skin and fell to his knees. It's not real. He knows it isn't. But why...why does it taunt him like this?

"WHY!?" he called out. "WHY WON'T RIKU WAKE UP?" He tore at his hair before slamming both his fists into the ground. "Is it my fault?" he croaked as his throat clogged with more tears. "Is this punishment for what I've done?"

Of course there was no answer, just the ever-looming cold draping over his body like a heavy, wet blanket. The uncertainty, the guilt, it was eating him alive.

A true leader knows that destiny is beyond his control and accepts that!

His own words were beginning to haunt him. "But why? I know what I said before...but my heart KNOWS Riku and I are always destined to be together. So why is this happening? What did I do wrong? I DID WHAT MY HEART TOLD ME!" he shouted angrily at the sky. "I'M NOT SORRY!"

The closer you get to light, the greater your shadow becomes.

But don't be afraid.

He choked back more sobs as the realization slowly came to him. "Why am I so scared? Maybe...maybe it isn't Kingdom Hearts I'm afraid of. Maybe I'm just afraid of losing what matters most to me." He dares to look up at the sky again. The hallucination of the heart-shaped moon was fading away to let in the afternoon sun. "That's it, isn't it?" he swallowed and wiped away the last of his tears. The more he puts himself out there, the bigger the dangers will be. "Even so...I can't stop what I've started. I need to see this through. I may be the only one who can...I see that now. I just...I can't do it alone."

* * *

"Why can't I wake up?"

"It's fine."

"Are you mad at me?"

"It's fine."

"Am I really not needed?"

"It's fine."

"Is this my fault?"

"It's fine."

"Please...Sora..."

Riku's limbs felt heavy. Whenever he asked too many questions Sora would silence him with kisses until he drifts into slumber again. He wants to believe him...believe that everything is fine. But he just can't. It's a struggle to open his eyes. He doesn't know why he bothers. All that awaits him is the endless expanse of white that he seems to be trapped in. But then again, there's also Sora, still dressed in black and giving him a sweet, enigmatic smile. "Sora...I need to wake up..." he pleaded.

Sora says nothing, only straddles Riku's hips, his silky nightgown riding up high on his thighs. Riku knew he was being baited, but to what means, he wasn't sure. Nevertheless, he allowed his hands to roam his supple thighs, kneading the muscles in his hands as they traveled upwards to discover that of course Sora wasn't wearing anything underneath. He couldn't help grinning at the other's soft hitch of breath. "Is this okay?" he asked.

"It's fine," Sora responded dismissively as he submitted himself to Riku's exploring touches.

It's fine, It's fine, It's fine, that's all he ever says! Riku was beginning to lose patience. It stirred something in him...anger, perhaps? Frustration? Definitely. He just wanted him to say something, ANYTHING else. He gripped the brunet's ass hard, his fingers gripping the globes of flesh hard enough to bruise, causing the other's mouth to open up in a silent cry. "Still fine?" he smirked.

"I-it's fine..."

Riku's smirk fell and he let go, retreating his hands from beneath Sora's gown and letting them fall to his sides. This wasn't right. None of this was right. Sora scrambled to grab his hands and place them back on himself. "It's fine!"

"No, no it's not!" Riku growled angrily. "Why don't you want me to wake up?"

"It's fine!" Sora insisted.

"You keep saying that, but I know it's not true! I'm tired of being here!" the keyblade master practically yelled, forcing himself to sit up to grab the other by the shoulders. "What is even with you? You've never spoken like this before. This isn't like you at all."

Sora shoves him back down with enough force that Riku felt himself sink into the bed. Warm hands cup his cheeks and the softness of the gesture forces twin tears to slip from his eyes. He felt so helpless...hopeless...useless. He wonders if it's even possible to get up or if he should even bother. "I failed...didn't I?" he whispered.

"It's fine."

He swallowed hard as the other's thumbs caress his jaw. Though the other man was light, he felt like he was being smothered beneath his weight. What was supposed to be a soft, loving presence felt like a heavy blanket that was becoming stifling and almost too much to bear. "Why...why is this happening?" He searched the other's eyes for an answer, but they didn't have the same sparkle as the real Sora's. In Sora's eyes he can see stars and galaxies. This Sora's eyes were like blue holes; seemingly bottomless sinkholes in blue waters. The longer he stared, the more he swore he was losing himself to them, and not in the good way.

With the last of his resolve, he reached up to grab the other's wrists. "Where is he?" he demanded in a firm voice.

Sora barely blinked. He only smiled as if to reassure him before repeating, "It's fine."

"Is it...is it really?" Riku sighed. He didn't know what to believe anymore. He felt he was being lied to, but by who? Sora or himself?

Can you hear me, Riku?

"Sora...?" Riku blinked away the haze that was threatening to take him over again. It was definitely Sora, but it sounded so far away and warbled. The Sora on top of him leaned down to kiss him, as if to distract him from the voice he just heard. He tried to push him away, but he felt his body surrendering to the sweet softness of the other's lips pressed against his own. Once again he felt himself melting beneath their warmth and he could only clutch onto the other as he tried to hold on to whatever plane of reality this was. As he held on, he could hear Sora's voice again, just rambling away like white noise.

Sora must be talking to him while he's asleep. He can barely hear it, but it gave him hope. He found the strength to slowly push the other off. "You're not Sora," he whispered harshly.

Before the other Sora could utter those two words again, a burst of light appeared behind them. Once Riku blinked the stars out of his eyes, he saw the blue, translucent form of Starlight Sora standing at the foot of the bed, his arms crossed and his face twisted in a pout.

"This isn't what it looks like--" Riku stopped himself, wondering why he felt the need to apologize. He still didn't even know what was going on!

* * *

"...whickity-wonkity-woo!"

Roxas stirred from his sleep as the nasally voice of one of Sora's former classmates rang from his gummi phone. Xion whined with displeasure in his arms as she attempted to burrow herself further into the pillows. With a sleepy chuckle, the blond apologetically kissed her bare shoulder before reaching back behind him to grab the phone off the nightstand and hitting the answer button. He knew who it is without even looking at the screen. After all, he programmed that tune just for her. With a stifled yawn so he didn't breathe into Xion's face, he propped the phone on the side of his head before sleepily wrapping his arm back around Xion. "Hello?"

"Roxas, dear, I'm so sorry to bother you, but given the circumstances I'm afraid I couldn't wait any longer," Fairy Godmother answered on the other end of the line.

"Circumstances?" Roxas asked sleepily.

Xion's eyes drifted lazily open, her gaze falling upon the new ring on her finger (a petite black diamond perched on a thin band of white gold), watching it glint as it caught the morning light while she curiously listened.

"Yes, it's about Sora. I'm afraid he hasn't been answering my calls and I think you're the only one who can really reach him at this point," she explained.

Roxas sat up abruptly. "Something's wrong with Sora?"

Xion sat up too and parted her dark hair from her eyes while keeping the sheet pulled up to her chest with her other hand.

"I think you'll know what I mean when you see him. Won't you please check on him?" the kind woman asked.

"Of course! I was meaning to see him today, anyway. But I'll go right now," he assured her as he threw his side of the blankets off of himself.

"Thank you, dear! I'm glad to hear everything went well for you two!"

Roxas blushed. "Thank you very much. I'll have Sora call you once I check on him. Good-bye!" She said good-bye as well and he hung up and hurried to pull some pants on, Xion watching him from the bed as he rushed to find clean clothes to wear.

"Do you want me to come with you?" she asked timidly.

Roxas leaned over the bed and gave her a kiss. "It'll be fine. I feel like this is something I should do alone. I just...I feel terrible. I promised I would check on him but I--"

"Hey," she shushed him gently by placing a soft hand on his cheek. "He'll understand. Just get going."

He nodded and smiled before giving her another kiss. "But it'd probably be better if I called him, first."

"Oh yes!" she giggled.

"Heh," he chuckled to himself and sat on the edge of the bed as he pulled out his phone again to call Sora, Xion draping her arms over his broad shoulders for a few more cuddles as he did so. It took a couple of rings, but he finally heard a click to indicate Sora answered.

"Hello?"

Roxas almost didn't recognize his voice. He sounded exhausted! "Sora?"

"Congratulations, you two."

The blond's eyes widened. "Wait, how did--"

"I could feel...and I know, because it's the same way I felt when..."

The blond could barely hear him. He sounded like he was drifting off. "Sora?"

Suddenly a panicked sob came from the other end of the line. "He...he won't wake up. He won't wake up."

Xion covered her mouth with her hand as she held back tears and Roxas's grip tightened on the phone. "I'm coming over."

"Wait, no, Roxas--"

"No buts."

"...okay."

"I'll be right there!" he told him before hanging up and quickly getting off the bed to grab his shoes. "He sounds terrible!"

"He really does," Xion bit her lower lip out of worry for their friend. "I need to go back to the dorms, but keep me updated, okay?"

"I will," Roxas promised her and gave her one last good-bye kiss. "Be careful on your way back. I'll call you soon."

"Mm-hmm," she nodded and returned the kiss. "You better get going."

"Right."

* * *

When Roxas arrived at Sora's place, he knocked on the door but found it was already unlocked. "I'm coming in!" he announced before stepping inside and sliding his shoes off. He took a quick look around. Everything seemed to be okay. Knowing Sora, he half-expected the place to be a lot messier, not that he would blame him under these particular circumstances. Donut greeted him first, weaving in and out of his legs and meowing loudly.

"Hey, buddy. Are they in the bedroom?" he asked.

"Mrow!" Donut replied and led the way.

In the bedroom, the first thing Roxas noticed was Hoku batting at his play piano in his playpen on the floor. Said little one noticed Roxas and squealed excitedly. "Ra-Ra!"

"Hey, little man!" he greeted cheerfully and tousled his silver locks. The little guy seemed to be doing alright and he was dressed in his dragon onesie. He then turned his attention to the bed where Sora was definitely NOT looking okay. Plates of uneaten food were stacked up on the bedside table. His computer, phone, and other odds and ends were scattered all over the bed. Sora himself was still in his pajamas but he obviously must've gotten up at some point to take care of Hoku. Said brunet hasn't even acknowledged his presence, sitting upright and staring out into space as if in a daze with Riku's head in his lap while his fingers were slowly stroking through his silver hair. He had bags under his eyes, his hair was messier than usual, and judging by the plates, he hasn't been eating very well. Riku, on the other hand, looks perfectly fine. Clearly Sora had been taking better care of the other two than himself.

"Sora...you haven't been eating..." Roxas murmured.

Sora shook his head as he continued to stare down at Riku. "Neither has he...he doesn't do anything...he just sleeps..."

Roxas felt his heart break and leaned over to kneel on the bed beside him. "Sora...oh Sora..."

The keyblade master's shoulders shook as if he were coming apart. "It's my fault. It's all my fault."

"Sora, no. No no no." The blond hurried to wrap his arms around Sora and hold him close, brushing his fingers through his hair as the other broke down and cried against his chest. "It's okay. You cry as much as you want. I'm here."

Sora clutched at Roxas's shirt as he whimpered in a desperate voice, "I can't let them see...I can't let them see..."

"See what?"

"Me freaking out. If they see they'll think they've won...they'll think I can't do it..."

"They?"

"Darkness...BoB...the worlds..."

Roxas felt taken aback by the mention of BoB. "Sora, they can only see what you let them see. And BoB is gone, remember?"

"No, no he isn't. I saw him, he said he isn't. He's somewhere watching, I know he is."

He sounded so sure, but he also sounded halfway out of his mind. These past five days have clearly taken a toll on him. "You're safe here. You don't have to hide, not from us. It's okay to cry. Darkness won't see, not unless you let it. But that doesn't mean you have to pretend. It just means you gotta block it out."

"But I can't--"

"Yes, you can. I know you, Sora. I know your heart. You've made a prison for Darkness, but knowing you, you also left it a small window of communication as an olive branch, didn't you?"

"..."

Roxas held back a knowing smile at Sora's silence. "I'm not telling you that it's a bad thing. But I am telling you that you should close it when you need to. I think this is one of those times."

"I need Riku...I need him," he whimpered.

"I know. But remember, you are strong, too. Riku may want the strength to protect you always, but he's also done everything to build you up too, hasn't he?"

"Yes..."

"He believes in you. We all do. The reason he is resting so peacefully now is because he knows you're okay. That's what I believe. He wants you to believe in yourself, too."

"I know you're right...I'm sorry, I just...I feel terrible."

"For what? If anything, I should be sorry. I should've checked up on you sooner. I'm so sorry, Sora."

"No, Roxas. It's fine, it really is--"

"No, it's not! You shouldn't have to go through this alone."

Sora looked up at him with a watery smile. "Roxas, everybody has their own problems to worry about. I know that. We all have our own lives. Kairi wanted to be here too but she's out there picking up the slack for me and Riku. So please, don't blame yourself for any of it. Besides, you had your own thing to take care of. Congratulations again, by the way. I'm really happy for you two."

"Thanks," Roxas said softly. He still felt guilty and he knew Sora could see it.

"What is it?" Sora asked.

"I just..." he stumbled before sighing and finally letting it out. "It should've been me with Vanitas. I also know that there's no way I would've lasted as long against the darkness as Riku did and I would've..." He shook his head. He didn't want to say it, not in front of Sora. "Point is, it made me think, you know? I don't want to have any regrets. I wanted to tell Xion how I felt before I never get another chance. It's...kind of morbid now that I'm talking about it out loud. And thinking on it now, I feel like that might've been selfish of me to think about how I MIGHT HAVE been lost instead of checking on you and Riku as often as I should have. I feel like a terrible friend."

"No, Roxas. Not at all. Riku would be very happy for you. I know right now he'd be so glad that it WAS him there and not you so that you could have your chance and so that you would still be here with us. And...I'm glad, too...that you're both here, I truly am," Sora assured him as he squeezed his middle.

Roxas returned the squeeze tightly and buried his face in Sora's hair as he held back his own tears. "You're too good, Sora," he murmured softly before pulling away to look at him again. "But I have to know, why are you beating yourself up over this? You haven't done anything wrong."

"Because of how I'm handling it," Sora confessed, letting go of Roxas to look down at Riku again. "Here I am freaking out while Riku has probably kept it together much better every time I was...you know. I feel like I'm letting him down."

Roxas couldn't keep the smirk off his face, causing Sora to raise a questioning eyebrow. "Don't let anybody fool you," he snickered. "We all freaked out just as much, Riku especially."

"Huh?" Sora blinked.

"It's not just you, either. Once, Xion was out cold for two weeks. But I couldn't take care of her like we did for you, or you for Riku. I visited her every day, but I still had to do missions for the Organization. I wasn't allowed to stay by her side for long. It killed me to leave her alone like that, but at the same time, I had work to distract me. So in your shoes, it's a lot different."

Sora's mouth formed a thin line, seemingly at a loss for words, so Roxas continued.

"Also, remember when you were asleep for a month WE put you in that coma. So in a way, this is much scarier. Of course you're freaking out. You don't know when he's going to wake up. Could be today, could be tomorrow, but not knowing would drive ANYBODY crazy," Roxas explained sympathetically. He knows Sora knows this, but he needs Sora to know that it's okay for him to feel what he's going through and that it's perfectly understandable. "And when you were asleep for a week after you got back from space, Riku was just as clingy and attentive as you are now, afraid that you wouldn't wake up and that he lost you just as you got back."

Sora reached for the box of tissues that was laying around in the mess of random things in the bed and blew his nose loudly. He felt better but it was also a reminder of how much pain he's put Riku through; how much pain they've ALL gone through.

* * *

Things were getting stranger and stranger for Riku. The Sora dressed in black was back in the bed with him and had him resting his head on his thighs and Riku's arms lazily wrapped around his waist. The brunet's fingers were caressing and smoothing his hair in a soothing scalp massage that made it really hard not to fall asleep again but he kept his eyes pried open as he tried to focus them on Starlight Sora who still stood at the end of the bed looking very cross. However, Riku wasn't sure who the star sprite was glaring at, him or the other Sora.

He was happy to see the Sora made of starlight but he couldn't bring himself to get out of the bed, either. Every little touch from the other Sora had some sort of irresistible hold on him. He felt warm, safe, and relaxed. The only worries he had were the ones he imposed on himself and even those he was letting go of one by one until he found he had very little to care about. But not having something to care about made him sad, too. Everything felt so empty here, even himself.

"I need Riku...I need him..."

He could hear Sora again. His voice pierced through the fog in his head and he found himself clutching at the bedsheets in his clenched fists as he tried to lift himself out of the other's lap. "He needs me..."

"It's fine," the other Sora assured him once again and gently shoved Riku back down by pressing in between his shoulder blades. Though it was a gentle press, he may as well had dropped 40 lbs onto Riku's back for as heavy as he suddenly felt before his arms gave out and he collapsed again.

Starlight Sora stomped his foot angrily with his fists at his sides, giving the other Sora the stink eye with clear disapproval. While Riku appreciated him being angry on his behalf, he was beginning to feel like his efforts were futile. "Maybe...maybe this is just how it's meant to be."

Starlight Sora's jaw dropped and he flinched, taking a step back as if he had been burned. Riku immediately felt bad, knowing his words seemed to hurt Sora in some way. But before he could apologize, the little stars that made up Sora's frame split apart and separated, the tiny blue orbs floating around the room for a moment like fireflies until they each took on their own separate forms. Riku watched mystified as one by one they transformed into many different Soras, all different ages.

The youngest Sora stepped forward, dressed in a white shirt and red shorts. He looked like he was three? Maybe almost four? "It's not fair! You can't go without me! You promised we'd do everything together!" he cried, fists clenched angrily as fat tears rolled down his cheeks.

Riku gasped and sat up a little. He recognized that face. "I remember...I was going to pre-school and you got so angry at me. You didn't want me to go without you," he smiled fondly at the memory, remembering how touched he was that Sora wanted to follow him so much but he also felt bad that there wasn't anything he could do about it. These Soras...they must all be snapshots of Sora from his memories, all of them together form the vision of Sora he sees in his dreams, the version of Sora that lives in his heart. He gets it now...Starlight Sora can't speak, so he's using his memories to speak to him instead.

"So, you don't think I should stay?"

The little Sora angrily wiped at his tears. "What if you get lonely, Riku?"

"I'm...so torn."

"Feeling indecisive? That's not like you at all, Riku!" quipped fifteen-year-old Sora, dressed in the clothes the Good Fairies made him when he woke up from the pod. When was that? Was that before the Mark of Mastery exam?

"I don't think I can get out of this one..."

"Yes, you can!" five-year-old Sora cheered. "You're Riku! You can do anything!"

Riku chuckled and lifted his head up though he was shaking his head from side to side in amusement. Sora was always so easy to impress. With Sora following him around and cheering him on, he really felt like he could do anything. Still does, in fact. "Maybe it was my own ego that got in the way. I didn't just fail that world, I failed Vani and you too..."

"Gee, Riku. You say weird things sometimes," young Sora said with a quizzical expression.

Riku laughed. "Yeah, I guess I do."

* * *

After Sora has calmed down a bit, he and Roxas sit with Hoku and show him how to finger-paint. Hoku was hesitant at first, but once he got his fingers in the color and watched as Roxas and Sora transferred the color onto paper he got really excited to try it for himself, giggling with delight as he bat his hands against the once pristine pages, now marking them with his hands with all the colors he could ever want! Sora and Roxas laughed as they watched him go nuts. It looked like a lot of fun, so they couldn't hold themselves back from making their own little paintings beside him. As Sora dips his finger into the red paint, he recalls a very distant memory, amazed that he even remembers it at all.

Roxas catches the faraway look in his eyes and waves a hand in front of his face. "You still with me?"

"Yeah, I was just remembering something from when I was little," Sora explained as he put his finger to the paper to draw a little heart. "When Riku first went to pre-school I was so mad and upset because I couldn't go with him that my mom tried to distract me with finger-painting." He could see it clearly now. He had red, yellow, and blue tubs full of paint but he only used the red paint. Yellow and blue were Riku and Riku wasn't with him. So Riku didn't get to be in the pictures. Such was three-and-a-half year old Sora's logic.

"You and Riku met when you were REALLY little, right? Do you think Hoku will make any friends before he goes to pre-school?" Roxas asked. He was using yellow to paint a happy sun.

Sora pondered for a moment. "I hope so. I'd like it if he became friends with Era. But on the islands...I dunno. Maybe we should start taking him to the park more often so he can meet other kids. I know once I met Riku I almost lost all interest in playing with other kids until we met Kairi. But even then I mostly played with her and Riku during recess. With the other kids it was...I guess I kind of became the one they played with when they couldn't get Riku's attention. Obviously I got along with my classmates and stuff. But they used to tease me about how much I hung out with Riku, too." He paused his painting, realizing he was rambling a little bit. "I don't know where I'm going with this."

"It's alright!" Roxas chuckled good-naturedly. "I like hearing about this stuff, honestly. I mean I saw a few of your memories, but it's different hearing you talk about it."

Sora smiled sympathetically. Roxas didn't really get to have his own childhood. Naturally he'd be curious. It'd explain why he's been so invested in Hoku, too. "We're a little separated from the rest of town, so it might be slightly difficult for Hoku to run and meet his friends, but I'm sure Riku and I will make the effort to make sure he sees other kids before preschool."

Hoku blew spit bubbles and landed a huge SPLAT of a hand mark on Sora's paper, splashing green as his tiny palm landed and spattering it on Sora's pajama bottoms. "Hopefully by then we'll have taught him manners by then, too!" he growled playfully before reaching over to tickle Hoku in his sides, the little one giggling his head off as his daddy attacked his ribs.

"Hopefully," Roxas laughed into his hand.

* * *

Riku has managed to pull himself free from the soft bed and the other Sora's grasp. Actually, it was more like they all melted away. Now he's taking steps toward the end of the white abyss. With every step he's wondering if he's making the right decision or if he's going the right way. What if this just leads him into an even deeper sleep?

He hesitates and comes to a stop. Almost immediately he regrets it because his legs feel heavy again. He can almost feel that soft bed crawling towards him, beckoning him to turn around and come back. But then he sees a younger version of Sora again, this time being chased by his younger self. He watched in stunned silence as the two played their game of pretend, their voices echoing in the abyss.

"What should I draw this time?" his younger self asked.

"A king!" Sora cheered.

The younger version of himself laughed. "Okay, but what should he look like?"

"Ummm...you! King Riku!"

Riku blushed sheepishly at the memory just as his younger self visibly reddened. "W-why me?" the boy asked.

"Cuz you're the best! You're strong and you always look out for me!" the young brunet explained unabashedly.

The older boy shook his head and drew as Sora asked. Once he was done, he stood back and smirked, crossing his arms as he watched Sora study the drawing with glee. "You know, the king doesn't have to be strong because he has knights do all the fighting for him," he pointed out.

"Huh?" Sora blinked.

"So next time, how about you be the king and I'll be your knight?" the younger Riku suggested.

"Me? No way!" Sora giggled, though he was grinning widely from ear to ear while he clutched the bottom of his shirt bashfully. "You really think I could be king?"

"Hm..." Riku looked him up and down teasingly as if assessing his kingly-ness. "I think you can. But you'll definitely need my help!" he grinned.

"Haha! Okay, then! I dub thee, Sir Riku!"

The visions fled from Riku's line of sight and the silverette found himself tearing up. "I forgot all about that." He remembers the drawing in the cave, but couldn't remember the context until now. Looking at Sora now, it's hard to believe he ever was a shy kid. But when he was really REALLY little, he was so shy around other people. But around Riku, he was a bubbly ball of sunshine. Maybe he opened up because of the attention Riku gave him? Or maybe Riku was just the first to notice how special he really was? Who could say, really? All he knew is that even back then he wanted to protect Sora and be somebody he could count on and he wanted to lift Sora as high as they both could go because Sora already made him feel like he was on top of the world with that precious smile of his.

"Come on, Riku!" A twelve-year-old version of Sora beckoned him to follow, interrupting his thoughts and leading him further through the white expanse where he could see a small beam of light shining at the end. The rest of the room was so blinding it was almost impossible to notice the light shining there had the memories of Sora not drawn his attention to it.

"Race you!" More Soras ran past him, laughing and smiling brightly as they too ran for what he could only hope was the exit. All of them wore the goofy, playful grins that Sora always wore whenever he challenged Riku to a race. They were all different ages, but their smiles and bright eyes were identical.

"I'm coming!" he chuckled as he tried to pick up the pace, only managing a half-run with how heavy his legs felt. It was slow-going, but the light was getting closer and closer all the same with his memories of Sora cheering him on the whole time in their own special way. By now, he wasn't just seeing their childhood memories. His more recent ones were smiling at him, standing patiently as they awaited his approach. There was Sora in his keyblade armor. There was Sora from when he proposed. There he was on their wedding day. Each one filled him with joy and pushed away the fog that had been plaguing his brain. All the sad thoughts, the feelings of hopelessness and failure, they didn't matter anymore. He just wanted to get back to Sora!

He was almost there. At the end he could see Sora holding Hoku on his hip and beaming at Riku. He nearly stumbled these last few steps in his haste to reach him when suddenly he felt something on his left wrist. He stopped and looked down to see a black shackle attached to him, connected to a black chain on the floor. He turned slowly to see the chain ending at Sora's feet, the Sora who has been his bed companion for however long he's been here. He was still wearing that black night gown and had his arms wrapped around himself as if struggling with uncertainty, his face was concerned but he didn't look like he had any malicious intentions. Upon closer inspection, the links of the chain appeared to be in the shape of dream eater sigils. It was starting to make sense now. With a sigh he looked the other dream Sora in the eyes. "I need to go," he said firmly.

Dream Sora bit his bottom lip and took a step forward in protest. "It's fine!" he cried out.

"You know I don't like being controlled, even if it's you," he reminded the other coldly.

The brunet flinched at the implied threat and took a step back. He stared forlornly at the floor for a moment before daring to timidly look up at Riku again, this time with apologetic eyes.

Riku couldn't hold back a soft smile. "Thank you for looking after me. But you can't keep me here any longer. It's time for me to wake up."

The pajama'd one nodded in defeat and picked the chain off the floor from where it lay at his feet. He then pulled the chain between his hands until it broke apart, the other links shattering at once and falling to the ground where they faded and disappeared. Riku was free. He looked forward to see the light was still waiting for him and then looked back at the other Sora. "I'm leaving now."

The other Sora smiled warmly and waved good-bye. "It's fine," he said before fading away, leaving Riku to keep moving forward where the last Sora offered his hand to walk him to the light.

* * *

Roxas had stayed with Sora and Hoku all day. His visit really cheered Sora up and brought him out of the dark place he had sunken into. He thought that the way he was acting was shameful, that he was weak for falling apart like he had. But when Roxas shared his own experiences, especially the behavior he witnessed from Riku, he felt much better. Not because the others had gone through all of that, too, but because he knows how strong all of their hearts are, including Riku's. So if they felt these things too, then what he was going through wasn't a sign of his heart weakening.

After that, Roxas talked more about his engagement to Xion. "I waited because I wanted to make sure that my love for her was enough...that I was enough to make her happy. I want to give her everything, but I've already broken one of the first promises I ever made her. I promised that we would all live normal, quiet lives together once the war was all over. But it's been years now and we're still far from normal. But I guess...I decided I loved her enough to ask her if she'll make a new "normal" with me," he chuckled at himself with a toothy grin, his eyes squinting with slight embarrassment. "I look at you and Riku, Axel and Isa, Terra and Aqua...there's so much history there between you. It's something Xion and I don't exactly have. Sure we were born around the same time and we've spent the majority of our lives together, but it's still...different. So I guess I didn't feel qualified? But then Axel said, "You're already putting her happiness before yours and you want to give her everything. That's really all the qualifications you need. Got it memorized?" Heh heh." He laughed again and put a finger to his temple with a little wink as he imitated his best friend. "Took me forever to save for a ring and it's not the flashiest thing ever, but I knew it was something she'd like. After that I was just waiting for the right time. What happened at Deep Jungle just...it felt like a wake-up call. So I finally told her I wanted to build a whole new world with her."

Sora thought over Roxas's words that night as he snuggled against Riku. Though their circumstances were very different, it was amazing how much Roxas's journey of exploring love mirrored his own. Sora had compared his and Riku's relationship to that of so many other pairs throughout his adventures to see which best defined their relationship. He just didn't know that falling in love with his best friend was an option. Only when Riku gave him permission to be selfish did he reveal his honest feelings to find that Riku felt the same. It felt too good to be true and it certainly didn't help that the confession occurred while he was dreaming. So when he was awoken from his deep slumber with a kiss from his dearly beloved he knew for sure he never wanted to be without Riku ever again.

Reliving the memory prompted Sora to give Riku a kiss. He's given him so many, hoping he would awaken the same way he woke Sora all those years ago. He wasn't going to be deterred, however. Sure, his kisses may not be the exact cause for Riku to wake up, but if he kept trying, chances are Riku would wake up just as he was receiving a kiss and then Sora can steal the credit. Yet again, Riku didn't stir, so Sora could only sigh and wish him good night before drifting off to the first deep sleep he's had in six days.

As he slept, he slipped into a very familiar dreamscape. Years ago, the keyblade first appeared to him in a dream where he traversed pillars of stained glass representing the princesses of heart. Now he knows they were heart stations and that they represented the hearts of the princesses calling out for help. But he wasn't getting that feeling in this dream. This time he was standing on a very large stained glass platform with many heart stations represented. But before he could take it all in, the floor started moving. Large shards of colorful glass stood up on their own and put themselves together in the forms of the princesses and their significant others. Before he knew it, he felt like he was at a ball as they all paired off and danced together in a beautiful display of shimmering glass while dreamy music played from an unknown source.

He watched in wonder as the spectacle continued, his own body swaying to the gentle, yet upbeat melody. But soon he began to feel envious that he wasn't amongst them with his own dance partner. How he longed to be swept away in the music with the others. He glanced up at the light pouring in from above where he knew Riku's heart station would be, as it's always directly across from his own. The little beacon of light felt so far away, but he knew it was shining brightly. It always does. He cast his eyes back down to the sea of dancers, once again wishing he could join them, to be amongst the happy numbers gazing lovingly into each other's eyes without another care in the world. It was then that he saw not glass, but a familiar fluffy head of silver across the way.

"RIKU!" he cried out and ran through the crowd, dodging the dancers left and right as he scrambled to reach the other. "Riku! Riku's here!" he gasped happily, almost in disbelief as he stumbled in his haste. He dared to hope. He dared to believe it was really him!

"Sora!" the other's voice called over the sounds of the music.

Sora's heart leaped in his chest, urging him to hurry until he finally made his way through and grappled for Riku, the other wrapping his arms around him tightly as he caught him and lifted him off the ground in a bone-crushing hug. "Sora!"

"Riku!" Sora cried happily as he nuzzled his nose against the other's, their foreheads pressed together as they babbled sweet nothings at each other incoherently. The tighter he held onto Riku, the brighter everything became. All around them the scene dissolved, the colored glass crumbling into white sand at their feet. Soon the light engulfed them until he could no longer see anything at all.

He felt a stirring in the bed, rousing him from his sleep. He was so tired he was tempted to ignore it, choosing instead to bury his face further into Riku's side in an attempt to block out whatever it was that was disturbing his slumber. But then he felt the bed shift and a warm hand brush over his cheek to entangle itself in his hair. "Wuh...?"

"Sora?" Riku whispered.

Sora shot up like a rocket, nearly hitting Riku in the process! "RIKU!" he shouted in surprise only to immediately clamp his hands over his own mouth as he feared that he might've waken up the baby.

"Ughhhhh!" Riku groaned in pain and clutched his head while Sora scrambled to check the baby monitor to make sure Hoku was still asleep. "What hit me?"

Satisfied that Hoku was still sound asleep, Sora put the baby monitor back down and turned his attention back to Riku. "Riku..." he whimpered the other's name again before grabbing him by the front of his shirt to pull him into a deep kiss.

"Mmm!" Riku let out a noise of surprise, but leaned into the kiss, sliding his arms around Sora to hold him close. When they finally broke apart, Sora's hands were on his face, caressing his cheeks as his eyes sparkled with unshed tears in the moonlight pouring in from the skylight. "Sora..."

"Riku...Riku I'm so glad you're finally awake," Sora whimpered and swallowed back his tears to smile at Riku. "I missed you."

Riku smiled back. "I missed you, too." His stomach then let out an awful noise and he let go of Sora to clutch his middle. "Don't suppose...you left me any dinner by any chance?"

"Of course!" Sora giggled. "Come on, I'll feed you all you want!" he giggled as he dragged Riku out of bed by his hand. "I'm actually very hungry, myself."

Riku smirked as he let himself be dragged by Sora. "Don't suppose we have some dessert afterwards, too? I'm craving something sweet as well," he jested before catching up to grab Sora by the ass.

Sora squeaked and nearly jumped a foot in the air but he giggled into his free hand so as not to wake Hoku as they passed the nursery. "You can have anything you want, my love~"

Chapter Text

The two ate a late night dinner, laughing together as they prepared their meal just like any other night. They even had their usual soap bubble fight while they cleaned the kitchen afterwards. But as the hours drifted by, Riku just didn't want to go back to bed.

"It figures you would wake up in the middle of the night," Sora grumbled with a yawn.

"What, are you complaining?" Riku gasped in mock hurt.

"Not at all!" Sora quickly insisted. "But if you don't want to go back to bed, how about we...um..." He gave Riku a suggestive look, reaching for his hand.

Riku grinned and squeezed it. "Outside?" he asked.

"Under the stars?" Sora grinned shyly.

"You got it."

They grabbed the baby monitor, a futon, quilt, and a couple of throw pillows and head outside to the back deck to watch the stars. One thing leads to another and the two make love beneath the endless sparkling sky. Riku seemed insatiable even after a couple of rounds, leaving Sora a heaving, sweaty pile of limbs beside him as the skies started fading into purple, indicating the rise of the morning sun.

"You...you sure aren't acting like somebody who's just woken up from a coma..." the brunet panted as he nuzzled into Riku's pec.

"I suppose you would know," Riku said before he could stop himself.

"OUCH!" Sora gasped and swat him on the arm. "Too soon!"

"I'm sorry!" he quickly apologized with kisses on his brow. "I didn't mean it."

"That was so mean!"

"I'm REALLY sorry!" he apologized.

Sora rolled his eyes and pulled back to blow his own sweaty bangs out of his face. "What's got you so pent up anyway?"

"Uh..." Riku wasn't sure if he should tell him about the Sora dressed in black that kept kissing and coddling him in his dreams while he was asleep. "I just missed you."

"Uh-huh..." Sora wasn't entirely convinced, but he let it go.

"So what happened while I was asleep?" Riku asked, desperate to change the subject as he got more comfortable and settled against the pillows, one arm wrapped around Sora as they both turned their faces to look up at the stars and watch the changing colors of the sky.

"Hm...well, Roxas and Xion are engaged now."

"Really? Good for them!"

Sora chuckled and tried to think of what else had happened, not really that eager to tell Riku about the meeting or Kingdom Hearts, but he knew he couldn't avoid it forever.

Riku frowned as he sensed Sora's hesitation. "How's Vanitas? Is he okay?"

Sora nodded, "Yeah, he broke his arm, though. They were able to heal the break but Naminé's making him rest so he won't be on missions for another week or so."

Riku reached up to rub his neck, remembering where he was struck and felt the grooves of scarring on his neck for the first time. "Wait, what happened to me?"

Sora bit his bottom lip. That's right, Riku hasn't seen himself yet. "You have a few scars, too." He sat up and gave him a kiss. "But lucky you, your handsome face is perfectly fine."

Riku smirked. "And what if it wasn't?"

"You know I'd still love you, dummy," Sora scoffed and flopped back against the pillows again.

The silverette snickered. "I know."

"Hmph."

"And Deep Jungle?" he asked quietly.

"I..." The keyblade master hesitated, gripping at the quilt wrapped around them. "I...didn't know what else to do..."

"What? What is it?" Now it was Riku's turn to sit up and look at him.

"I...I summoned Kingdom Hearts."

He told him all about what Darkness told him amidst the struggle against the Darksides, how he did everything he could to hold back the tide of heartless, but it just wasn't working. So he did the only thing he could think of to save him and Vanitas. Thanks to his decision, Deep Jungle and its inhabitants were saved. But he also ditched the meeting with the world leaders to reach him in time. So at the moment, not only does he not know if there are unintended consequences of using Kingdom Hearts, but there's a stir amongst the leaders now that they know what he's fully capable of.

"Well for what it's worth...thank you. I know that wasn't an easy decision to make," Riku murmured genuinely as he held Sora even more tightly in an almost protective grip.

"You're welcome," Sora responded lamely. "I don't...really want to talk about it," he told him honestly.

Riku pressed a chaste kiss to his forehead. "Alright. We don't have to."

"But there is something I DO want to talk about," Sora's tone changed as he rolled on his stomach and propped himself up on his elbows to look at Riku who laid back against the pillows.

"Oh yeah?" Riku asked, gently running a finger affectionately on the outside of Sora's arm as he caught the change in tone.

He told Riku all about the book Naminé made for him and how he accidently read it to Hoku. "I guess I just want to ask: Why?"

Riku blinked. "What do you mean "why"?"

"I don't understand why you would want it. Why does it imply that we're the same people from the fairy tale in the end?" he demanded. He feels enough mounting pressure as it is, fear of being seen as a king. Sure, as a kid it seemed cool. But he's not a kid anymore. He knows how much risk and responsibility there is involved with such a thing. Responsibility he can probably handle. Risk to his loved ones? That's...

The silverette sighed and brushed Sora's sweaty bangs from his brow to look him in the eyes. He can see the bags under his eyes very clearly and the worry darkening his irises. "I wanted to show you how much I believe in you...to show you that everything you've gone through isn't an accident. Yes, even you getting stuck in space."

Sora scoffed. "Come on..."

"I mean it," he stated firmly. "The Void is thought to be where the sky god was torn from the sky. From the sky, the sky god kept watch over all and connected everything, just like like you do now. With all these coincidences, I think you must truly be following destiny."

Sora felt his cheeks turning red and averted his eyes from Riku's, their intense sincerity felt like they were burning holes into him. "I don't connect everything..." he protested quietly.

"You shouldn't doubt yourself."

Sora tells him what happened at the meeting, how he was already sensing some doubts. "I thought everything was working in my favor. And then they started talking about assigning a leader. I don't know why, but they suddenly started pushing for me to lead. Even though this is my idea and I'm the one pushing for all of this, just putting a label on it scares me."

Riku just smiles. "I had a feeling something like that would happen. Which is why I was hoping to give the book to you afterwards."

Sora still isn't convinced. He stares down at the pillow in front of him and fingers the threading of the intricate pattern on the cloth. Reds, yellows, blues, a tangled mess of a pattern highlighted with gold and silver threads throughout that turns chaos into a design of beauty. "I'm not a god, Riku. I'm just me. I'm an ordinary man."

"That's exactly why you're perfect for the job, Sora." He nods up at the sky and waits for Sora to turn back around to look up at the stars too. "Look at all of them up there. So many stars and worlds...even as far as we've been we've barely even scratched the surface. Imagine being the god of all of that, how busy he must have been and yet he still stopped to greet the king because he called out to him." He turned to Sora. "Just like you would have."

Sora slightly pursed his lips in confusion, not entirely sure where Riku was going with this.

"No matter where you go or how busy you are, you stop to help people and make friends with anyone as you meet. But the difference is that as a god, that Sora was still unreachable, or at least perceived to be unreachable, hence the eventual discourse. The king was a god, but thought to be a man, and thus he was loved."

"Yes, but once he was thought to be a god, they tried to hurt him," Sora pointed out.

"Only because they felt trapped and betrayed. You are the best of both. You're larger than life on the inside, but on the outside, you're still the friendly, approachable person that everybody adores. You make people feel seen, Sora...and safe. You truly inspire and connect people."

Sora's embarrassed but appreciative. The coincidences where huge, even the way Sora-god stripped himself of the stars to protect King Riku mirrored him ditching the meeting (and his cape) to save Riku. The self-sacrifice, the pining of separation, it all fit. But there was one thing that bugged him about the story: gods are immortal. Sky Sora ripping himself from the heavens might strip him of his powers, sure, but King Riku...Did Sky Sora not know the king was a god? It seemed he did know as he was unfazed when the king started glowing in the story. Did Sky Sora react impulsively? It seemed so, considering he could've done a number of things to deter the attacker...then why?

When Riku didn't hear Sora say anything, he glanced at him to see the brunets forehead was furrowed in thought. "Sora?"

"I was just wondering why Sora had to die that way..." He explained his train of thought to Riku. To be honest he wasn't entirely sure why it was bothering him so much. Normally he took fairy tales at face value and didn't question the logistics, but this felt very personal. He had to know.

Riku gave it a moment's thought before answering. It wasn't an easy question, that's for sure...or at least not easy to answer without his own face reddening. "Do I...really need to say it?"

"You do if you know the answer," Sora pouted.

The silverette sighed. "Well, I think it's because the king in the story derived his powers from love. He loved the sky and he loved his people. His love protected the people, all of the land's inhabitants. So the sky god wouldn't have been able to directly harm the attacker and the king didn't want to fight one of his subjects. So Sora broke free from the sky and knocked the assailant away and got hurt. When Sora died, so did the king's love and without it, he lost his power. I think Sora might've known that if the king lost his love for his people during the fight he would've been vulnerable at any moment, so he dived in. Maybe it was also out of impulse, but the king's protection would explain why Sora couldn't use his own powers against the attacker."

Sora pieced the rest together for himself. "So Sora's power was derived from the connections he had to the universe. Once he severed the connection, he was helpless. And Riku's power came from his love," he concluded. He smiled warmly at Riku. It fit the silverette to a T. He idly thought if--hypothetically--he and Riku really were reincarnated that maybe the reason the Riku with him now doesn't really open up to people is because of that past trauma? He could see it: a god who loved so intensely and overprotected everything to the point of resentment reincarnating into someone who loves cautiously but still protects with intensity and learned to not go too far. "It really fits you, too," Sora smiled.

"I admit nothing," Riku replied stubbornly, redness blossoming across the bridge of his nose.

The younger keyblade master snickered and snuggled further into Riku. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too," Riku murmured, burying his face in Sora's hair as he held him close once again, the two drifting into a light snooze just as dawn began to peek over the horizon to welcome the new day.

Chapter Text

Time flew by in a whirlwind. Before they knew it, they had celebrated Hoku's first birthday. It was quite the affair at their home on Destiny Islands and Even himself even made the trip to celebrate with them along with all their family and friends. Xion and Roxas were married not long after that. They chose to have a courthouse wedding not unlike Isa and Lea, but held a reception at the Twilight Town Mansion. Sora's parents were even invited as special guests. It was a good time for everyone, though Sora got fed up with the "How's it feel to see your kids married?" jokes really fast.

In between the happy moments and celebrations, work was almost constant. They were pouring more resources into Scala ad Caelum to establish it as the centermost hub world, dispatch area, and school for keyblade wielders and masters. When it came to interpreting "Scala-ese", Ventus and Vanitas had a little trouble remembering the old language. All hope was not lost, as it was coming back little by little, but Ventus was stretched thin as it was with being a keyblade master, helping with the school at the Land of Departure, AND running the bakery. So plans were underway for some new changes.

Sora and Riku helped out at the school in the Land of Departure whenever they could between their missions and it was a great time for Hoku to begin making friends with Era. However, it seemed the only interest the little girl had in Hoku at the moment was yanking on his hair, which the toddler did not appreciate. As for the missions, politically things were feeling a little rocky so it was back to performing good-will missions in an effort to strengthen the bonds between the worlds again. Sora and Riku have decided they should avoid splitting up at all costs, not just for their sakes, but for Hoku's as well. Said infant comes along for the ride whenever he can as well. Of course his grandparents would be thrilled to watch the toddler whenever, but Riku felt it was important that Hoku come along with them whenever possible. After all, he spent a great deal of his childhood waiting around for his own parents to come home from their fishing trips while he was left behind at his grandfather's and it was the root of some bitterness he had during his early adolescent years. He didn't want that for Hoku, not if they could avoid it.

Once Hoku hit the terrible twos, he seemed like an unstoppable ball of energy and destruction that kept Sora and Riku on their toes at all times. When they weren't on missions, they tried to burn off his energy by taking him to the beach to play but it soon became apparent that the only match for a two-year-old is other two-year-olds. So they added trips to the park to their routine to let him run around with the other kids his age, or at least as well as a toddler COULD run. Hoku was still very attached to his outfit and still can't seem to learn that running full speed will always end up with him falling on his face and wriggling to get up. The soft belly of the onesie cushions his falls but it makes getting upright again a little difficult. Trips to the park seem to be the only occasions where they've been able to convince Hoku not to wear it...or...maybe not so much convince as bargain with.

Hoku

Baby and Toddler Hoku sketch by Joan Joan

It's at the park that Sora and Riku have gotten a chance to interact with other parents as well. At least, Sora ATTEMPTED to make interactions. There still seems to be an invisible wall of separation that they can't seem to get around. Some of the other parents they recognized as upperclassmen they went to school with, but never really interacted with. The others were originally from the inner city and moved out to their quiet town just to raise their children someplace quieter. The couple keep hoping that they'll meet parents they actually went to class with just for some familiarity but they haven't had much luck.

"Maybe we're just not coming at the right time?" Sora asked as they watched Hoku run laps around the sandbox with another kid.

"Or maybe they've all moved to the mainland?" Riku shrugged. He glanced up and noticed a couple of the moms on the other side of the playground giving them side glances. Come to think of it, he didn't see any dads here today. Actually, they don't often see dads here with their kids at all, not during this time of the day, at least. Suddenly things were making a little more sense. "You know...maybe we should teach Hoku a few things before we take him out again."

Sora blinked in confusion. "Hm? Like what?"

Thus along with potty training, Hoku was taught several important lessons about strangers, what to do in an emergency, and made to memorize key information such as his home address, their phone numbers, and their names, of course. It was pretty standard stuff that they'll keep having to work on because he's only two after all, but when it came to stranger danger lessons, Sora was a little more hesitant.

"You sure we should be telling him about people in black coats this soon?" Sora asked.

"I'm not taking any chances," Riku answered firmly. He had already made flashcards for Hoku with pictures of black coats and basic species of heartless and nobodies. "Remember how young we were when we first met Aqua and Terra?"

"Uh...no...actually," Sora grinned sheepishly.

"You were only a couple of years older than Hoku is now and your dad had no idea. I'm just saying it can't hurt to be prepared."

"Yeah, I hear you. But if he gets nightmares from this stuff, I'm blaming you," Sora stuck his tongue out.

"If we prepare him now, he'll be fine...I think. He's going to see heartless eventually if he's with us. There's no getting around it," Riku pointed out.

He wasn't wrong, either. The first Heartless Hoku saw in person was unfortunately in Radiant Garden. It was a shadow, only there for a moment before the security system, Claymore, took it out, but when Hoku saw it from the carrier on Riku's back he screamed so loud that the keyblade master was sure he was going to be deaf in that ear. He was fine after he was given his chocobo plush to hold onto but he was a little shaken nonetheless. Even after that little mishap, the two weren't deterred from keeping Hoku with them unless it was sure to be a dangerous mission. However Riku was in charge of carrying him (like always) since he was better at blocking. For the most part, however, Sora had everything well under control with his attraction magic so fighting heartless became fun for Hoku to an extent as well (the teacups were his favorite).

Along the way, Hoku has gotten to see and experience so many new things. For Sora and Riku, seeing their child's eyes light up made them feel like they were experiencing things things for the first time all over again. The most exciting of which had to be in Arendelle when now three-year-old Hoku saw snow for the first time in his life. He was bundled up so tightly that his limbs stuck out like a starfish as he rode on Riku's back. The entire walk to the village of Northuldra where they were meeting Queen Elsa he was squirming and throwing his weight to bounce against Riku's back in an attempt to capture the snowflakes.

"Whaz this!?" he babbled.

"It's called snow!" Sora laughed and scooped up a ball of it from the ground to form a ball and held it up to Hoku's mittened hand to touch. "It's just like the snow-cones we eat back at home, see?"

Hoku felt the cold ball but he didn't seem convinced. The gears in his head turned as he eyed the sphere skeptically. If this stuff is like a snow-cone...where's the loud machine that makes it? And where's the flavored syrup? Does a giant machine make all of this "snow" or do many small machines make it? Neither option seemed plausible. Therefore daddy is pulling his leg again. "Nuh-uh!" he called out, shaking his head to show how much he doesn't believe daddy.

Riku felt him shake his head and laughed. Sora dropped the ball of snow in a huff. "You tell your kid ONE TIME that trees have feelings and then he doesn't believe anything you say anymore."

"Could also be because you told him there are monsters in the closet that will tell him bad jokes if he doesn't go to sleep," Riku pointed out.

"Hey! I wasn't lying! Those are real!" Sora protested.

"You also told him that vegetables will give him super powers."

"THEY DO! My ice resistance goes way up whenever I eat--"

"Or how about the time you told him that crabs can make pirate ships and he ended up getting his finger pinched at the beach chasing after a hermit crab?"

"Okay, but that was true, too! I just didn't specify what KIND of crab!" Sora admitted guiltily.

Riku chuckled and shook his head. Hoku reached and wrapped his arms around Riku's neck gently or as best as he could with his arms struggling against his stiff jacket and rested his chin on Riku's shoulder to indicate he still wanted an answer. "Hoku, do you remember what water from the sky is?"

"Rain?" he asked.

"Very good. Do you remember what daddy said rain is?"

"Gum dwops?"

Riku laughed. "No, the real answer."

Sora chuckled sheepishly. Maybe he needs to curb his dad humor just a little bit.

Hoku thought for a moment. "Cloooouds...ged heavy?"

"You got it!" Riku praised. "Well snow is like frozen rain. Instead of the cloud raining because it got heavy, the cloud freezes from the cold and falls as snowflakes which is why they look like tiny falling crystals instead of rain drops."

"Fawling ice dwops would hurt," Hoku concluded.

Both men laughed. "You're right, they would," Sora snickered.

Satisfied with this explanation, Hoku reached up to catch more snowflakes. "Why are we here?" he asked. But as he did so he noticed his breath making clouds and gasped. "Dragon!"

Sora and Riku immediately broke into a defensive stance, whipping around so quickly that Hoku cried out "WHOA!" and giggled as Riku spun around. "Where?" he asked.

"Me, daddy!" Hoku giggled again and demonstrated by exhaling super hard to make the biggest cloud possible. "Shee?"

The two relaxed and laughed again. "You sure are!" Sora chuckled, playfully punching Riku in the arm for being jumpy as if he himself didn't just nearly summon his keyblade too.

"Am I scawy?" Hoku asked playfully as he let out another breath. "HAAAAAAA!"

"Absolutely terrifying," Riku snickered as they kept walking.

"Hab you seen weal dragons, daddy?" the little one asked.

"Yup," both answered.

"Big ones?"

"Very big!" Sora smiled.

The tot's eyes grew big with fascination. "Bigger dan our howse?"

"Way bigger!" Riku answered. "Speaking of big things, maybe we should keep it down until we get to the village."

"Oh, yeah, that's right," Sora lowered his voice. "It's quiet time now, Hoku."

The little back-rider nodded and whispered, "Okay!" before reoccupying himself with catching snowflakes.

Northuldra had been trapped in a magical mist for many years, so other creatures such as the heartless haven't been able to get inside. Now that the magical barrier has been released, the heartless have slowly started to creep into Northuldra even with Queen Elsa there to defend it. One large heartless in particular was bothering the earth giants, sending them rampaging through the land and causing untold amounts of damage. Thus, Queen Elsa requested their help. "Something big enough to startle earth giants must surely be too big for us to handle on our own," she reasoned. Of course, the two couldn't say no, very eager to explore this part of the world that they haven't seen before. They were given a map with instructions to follow to get to the village. As far as what they were up against, Elsa didn't have any information that could be helpful so Sora and Riku had to be prepared for practically anything. But even with the possible threat of a giant heartless possibly looming around any corner, Sora and Riku couldn't help being swept away by the beauty of Northuldra's lands as the snow made way for a colorful forest. Come to think of it, the two wondered if the snow was conjured by Elsa at some point as a means of protecting the village. Nearby they could hear a waterfall and a slow river. In the thick of the trees they can hear the thundering of hooves as reindeer playfully bounded between the trees.

"We must be getting close," Sora surmised quietly.

"SORAAAAAAAAAAAA!!" a voice rang through the air, startling the three of them. It belonged to the friendly snowman, Olaf, who came barreling at them from the trees with a flower crown on his head.

"Olaf!" Sora greeted as he kneeled to Olaf's level. "How are you?"

"Guess being quiet is out of the question," Riku muttered as Hoku giggled with a playful kick of his feet.

"I'm just peachy! How about you? Looking old, I see!"

"Old!?" Sora nearly fell back in surprise. "Who are you calling old?"

"You have a beard!"

"I forgot to shave this morning!" Sora scoffed as he self-consciously scratched at some of the stubble on his cheek.

"What is that thing, daddy?" Hoku whispered into Riku's ear.

"That is a snowman. They usually don't talk, though. Just this one," Riku quickly clarified.

"Oh," the little one nodded in understanding.

"And wait! Is this Riku? Did he sprout a conjoined twin since I've last seen him?" Olaf asked as if he just now noticed Riku was here.

Sora groaned. "Yes, that's Riku. And no, that's actually our son, Hoku."

"Nicetomeetyou," Hoku politely greeted but he shyly hid his face in the back of Riku's head, still unsure of what to make of this talking snowman that's not supposed to talk.

"Well it's very nice to meet you, too! Oh, but how silly of me, there will be time for introductions and fun talk in a bit. Me and Gale are supposed to be showing you the way to the village!"

"Gale?" Sora asked.

Just then a swift swoop of wind billowed around them, playfully kicking up the hems of their coats and swirling the fallen leaves around them.

"This is Gale! The wind spirit!"

Hoku was beyond confused now. Wind has a name? He tapped on his dad's shoulder again to request an explanation but Riku just shrugged this time.

"Well, uh, nice to meet you, Gale!" Sora greeted cheerfully. "Lead the way!"

"Righty-oh!" Olaf stood at attention, saluting with his twiggy hand before waddling in front of them to lead them the rest of the way to the village.

It wasn't much further to the village after that point. During the rest of their journey Olaf regaled them with all the changes that have been going on for the two nations of Arendelle and Northuldra. Of course, he couldn't help himself when it came to all the details concerning Queen Elsa's transformation and how she tamed the nature spirits and so on and so forth, all with dramatic story-telling devices such as loud voices and exaggerated expressions that reminded Riku how Sora's mom likes to tell stories.

The whole time Hoku was listening intently, rather entertained by the jolly snowman until they saw the tents up ahead where Queen Elsa awaited them beside a giant steed that appeared to be made of water.

"Elsa!" Sora waved happily and ran to greet her, practically leaving Riku, Hoku, and Olaf in his dust as he eagerly approached the queen. "It's so great to see you!" Startled, the horse disappeared into the nearby creek.

The queen greeted him with a warm smile. "It's so nice to see you in person again, Master Sora."

Sora caught on to the little cheek she displayed in those words. It's true, they hadn't directly spoken in a couple of years, having relied on the communication crystals up to this point. He grinned sheepishly as he took in her splendor. He's seen her new look during their meetings, but it was quite a sight to behold in person. She just looked so happy with her long hair spilling freely onto her shoulders and her clothing sparkled just like her eyes.

Riku caught up a few paces behind. "Warn us next time you want to race, Sora," Riku huffed before bowing politely to Queen Elsa. "Your Majesty."

"Master Riku," she greeted back. "And this must be Hoku!"

Said toddler gave a timid wave from Riku's back. "Hello, your majeshty. Your dress is pwetty."

"Well thank you very much," she smiled. "Please, allow me to show you around before we get started. I'm sure you must be tired from the trip."

She introduced the three to the village elder as well as some of the other villagers. All the while, little kids were running around and gawking at them with curiosity. All the while, the two started shedding layers as it was much warmer here in the main village than on the outskirts that were under Elsa's snowy protection. Hoku wiggled eagerly in his carrier, so Sora let him down so he can play with the other kids after unequipping some of the heavier items of clothing that were weighing him down as well.

"You look so happy here, Elsa!" Sora smiled.

The queen's face reddened appreciatively as she tucked a stray hair behind her ear. "I am. It's been...invigorating. And I see my family every weekend."

"Really? That's great!"

Riku noticed a woman with a basket smiling in Elsa's direction with fond eyes. Honeymaren, he thinks Elsa called her. He recognized that look. It's the same look people say he gives Sora. Wonder if she knows? The woman seemed to notice him and began walking in their direction. He hopes he wasn't caught staring.

"Excuse me, you're about to have your meeting, aren't you?" the woman asked. "I'm in charge of watching the kids. I'd be happy to watch your little one for you while you three talk."

Elsa could already sense the hesitation from the couple. "He'll be in good hands with Honeymaren. It'll just be a minute," she assured them before they could say no.

Riku relaxed a little. "That'd be very kind of you. Thank you."

"Sure!"

Sora waved Hoku over. "You be good for Honeymaren. We're going to talk to Queen Elsa for a few minutes."

The toddler nodded obediently before running off to rejoin the others in their game.

Elsa chuckled into her hand before leading the way into the community hut. "He's quiet, isn't he?"

"Sometimes," Riku chuckled as the entered the cone-shaped wooden hut. Inside there was a small fire going and soft rugs were circled around it. They waited for Elsa to take a seat first before they sat across from her.

"I want to thank you all for coming. I wish I could provide you with more information about this threat but all we've managed to do is pin down its approximate location," she explained.

"Hey, it's no problem. You know you can ask us any time for help, your majesty!" Sora smiled brightly.

"I know but I also have one other request. I want to go with you," the Queen asked.

Riku quickly jumped in before Sora could answer. "I'm afraid we can't allow that, your majesty. You're strong, there's no doubt about that. But something this big can't be felled by your magic. It'd just be putting you in unnecessary danger."

"But Master Riku--"

"I'd feel better leaving our son here," he interrupted, "If you were here looking after the village. You said the threat was disturbing the giants, right? If anything should go wrong, we'll need to rely on you being here to get everyone to safety."

The queen sighed, but she knew she couldn't argue. The two keybladers were putting a lot of trust in her with their precious son, after all. "Alright," she conceded. "But I must warn you, the spirits would be much more accommodating if you went forth with a female presence in your party."

"Then I know just the person!" Sora eagerly stood up. "I'll make a call."

"Just don't say it's because we needed a girl," Riku warned him. "She'll be mad if we called her for such a contrived reason."

Elsa smirked but nodded to dismiss Sora before he went outside to make his call.

"Thank you, your majesty," Riku smiled. "I know looking after this place means a lot to you."

The queen straightened up. "It's fine. I know the two of you won't let me down."

Sora poked his head back into the hut. "Kairi's on her way!"

"Excellent!" Riku held out the map that they were given earlier to find the place. "Could you mark the heartless's location for us?"

"Of course. Will the three of you be heading out right away?"

"Yes. We shouldn't wait any longer than we have to," Riku nodded.

"Right. We want you guys to sleep easy tonight," Sora grinned.

Kairi arrived within the hour and they met her outside the village, leaving Hoku in the care of the Northuldrans. She landed on her Keyblade glider dressed in her rose gold armor and quickly disarmed it, her outfit changing to match this world's dress code, an outfit colored in dark lavender with violet accents and a long dark green coat. "Sora! Riku!"

"Kairi!" the two greeted and gave their friend a warm hug. They hadn't seen her in a couple of months as she was busy helping out in Scala ad Caelum.

"I was so surprised when you called!" the redhead grinned. "This heartless too hot for you two to handle?"

"Uh--"

"We don't know, yet," Riku quickly answered. "We decided we'd rather be safe than sorry."

Kairi raised a surprised eyebrow but she bought it. "I'm so proud of you two. You're being careful!"

"Uh-huh," Sora quickly turned towards their destination. "We should get going. Elsa says the earth giants roam at night. We should find that heartless before it starts getting dark."

Along the way to their destination, the three friends kept quiet so as not to disturb anything, only occasionally running into heartless here and there.

"So...we have an approximate location, right?" Kairi asked. "Why don't we just fly there?"

Sora and Riku gave each other a look. Kairi hadn't been on too many of these missions before so it made sense that she didn't know the ins and outs of these sorts of things. Come to think of it, Riku sometimes wasn't too sure himself. Usually he just follows Sora. So what's the logic behind how Sora does things?

Sora got the feeling he was supposed to be the one to answer. "Sometimes you gotta disturb the little ones before the bigger one shows up," he said simply.

"Oh, I guess that makes sense," Kairi shrugged.

Sora kept taking pictures of the landscape as they went, completely enthralled by the beautiful mountains and springs. Of course, he couldn't resist taking selfies with the three of them, but after a while, Kairi was getting annoyed by the shutterbug just a bit. "Sora! Whatever happened to being quiet?"

"I AM being quiet!" Sora insisted as the phone made yet another shutter noise.

"No you're not! Your phone is still--" Just then the ground started rumbling beneath their feet.

"Good job, Kairi!" Sora scolded as he shoved his phone away and summoned his keyblade.

"I didn't--"

"Stay on your guard, you two!" Riku commanded as he summoned Braveheart. Something big was coming their way!

Chapter Text

The three keybladers took a defensive stance, preparing themselves for whatever may be approaching as the ground shook beneath their feet. The trees swayed ominously and birds fled for the skies. It was then that they could see them: giants of stone towering over the trees as they emerged from the waters of the deep river that they were previously sleeping in. The three quickly dismissed their weapons before they could be noticed by the earth giants who seemed to just be casually strolling along and paid them no mind. Even if they seemed peaceful now, they made no sudden movements so as not to attract their attention. Eventually they were far enough away that the three felt they could relax and the ground stopped shaking as hard beneath them as they got further and further away.

Sora let out a huge sigh of relief. "That was close! I thought Elsa said they didn't wander until nightfall?"

"Something must've disturbed them enough to want to find a different place to sleep, but thankfully not enough to send them on a rampage," Riku surmised.

"Yeah, luckily. So does that mean we're close?" Kairi asked.

Riku nodded. "If we stick to the map, I don't think it'll be much longer until--"

"Shh shh shh!" Sora quickly hushed them, waving a hand at them to pipe down while he held the other up to his ear. He can hear a voice!

"Sora, wha--?" Kairi meant to ask but she was shushed again by the brunette whose eyes were now frantically darting all over the place. She gave Riku a questioning look as she couldn't hear anything unusual at all, but Riku only gave a half shrug before watching Sora intently.

Sora searched desperately for the source of the voice, straining his ears to listen for it again.

"It's hurting the forest."

"THERE!" he exclaimed and ran before he lost track of it again.

"Wait up!" Riku called out from behind him as he and Kairi hurried to keep up.

Sora couldn't pay them any mind. He was focusing on the voice, darting between the trees until he came across the rushing river. Along its banks there was tons of stone rubble. Clearly there was a structure of some sort here before. A dam, maybe? He can see evidence of where a sudden rush of water caused devastation but everything seems to be settled and peaceful now. Never mind that, he needed to find that voice. Something told him it would take them where they needed to go. He was afraid he wouldn't be able to hear it now over the sound of the rushing water but then he caught a glimpse of translucent white and took off running again.

"Sora! Wait!" Kairi huffed as she and Riku trailed after him. The brunette was clearly onto something. She only wished he could fill them in. This felt familiar, somehow, like similar to how he behaved in The World That Shall Never Be when they were trying to find the way to the clock tower. Sora suddenly took off running as if following an invisible guide. Was this just like then?

Sora could see him now. A man with long hair dressed just like the Northuldrans...a man no longer of this world.

"It's cutting off the North!"

"I see you," Sora whispered as he sprinted faster to catch up to the cliff where the man was standing. "What do you want to show me?"

"Let's not discuss this here. Let's meet on the fjord. Have tea."

A second voice? He couldn't see a second person, but the man he can see is now kneeling on the cliffside.

"Hang on, I'm coming!" he shouted.

"Sora! Who are you talking to?" Riku asked from just a few feet behind him.

At the sound of Riku's voice, Sora turned his head away for just a moment but suddenly heard a loud cry. In the split second it took for him to look again, the man was gone. Nevertheless he kept running until they reached the spot he was kneeling and desperately searched for another clue while Riku and Kairi panted to catch their breath.

"Care to...fill us in...Sora?" Kairi asked between pants.

Riku would like an explanation too. They were way off course now. He kept quiet, however, when he saw Sora still searching. Clearly he saw something or someone that they couldn't.

Finally Sora looked back at them and wiped the sweat from his brow as he allowed himself to breathe. "Sorry, it's just I thought I saw--"

"GET DOWN!" Riku suddenly shouted before summoning a large barrier to block the three of them from an incoming fire ball!

Sora and Kairi quickly sprang into action, summoning their keyblades and charging for the cliff as soon as the smoke dissipated.

"Where did it come from!?" Kairi shouted as she stared down the edge.

She didn't have to wait too long before she got her answer as a gigantic heartless sprang from the earth below. It was just as tall as some of the biggest darksides they've ever seen and looked more human-like than they were used to. It appeared to be made out of brick and dressed in a formal green and purple military-esque uniform with a styled curly mustache and glowing yellow eyes beneath thick and menacing-looking eyebrows.

"Magic makes people feel too powerful. Too entitled. It makes them think they can defy the will of a king!"

Sora grit his teeth as he glared down at the giant. This was the second voice he heard. "Think we found our heartless!"

Riku nodded. "Right! Let's go!"

"Right!" Sora and Kairi both nodded.

Together the three jumped down from the cliff and prepared to charge the giant heartless. For now they wanted to stick close together and feel it out. To keep the damage to surrounding land at a minimum and prevent it from possibly escaping, the three combined their magic to form a large barrier to keep it contained within its perimeter. It saw them approach and summoned a giant stone sword in its right hand. However, instead of swiping at them like they expected, it raised its left arm and summoned a giant wall of water to throw at them like a tidal wave!

Sora was quick to react with a large burst of blizzaga, freezing the wall of water before it could reach them. "RIKU!" he shouted.

"On it!" Riku called back. "Kairi, back me up!"

"Right!" the redhead answered. Together the two ran up the wall of ice to use it as high ground to launch an assault on the heartless from above.

"RAVEN'S FLIGHT!" they both shouted as they performed a team attack together. Riku's darkness fused with Kairi's light-based wings, giving them each a pair of black wings with which they used to fly and divebomb attacks at the heartless in a lightning fast crisscross pattern of strikes of both light and darkness from their keyblades. Each strike left blinding white slashes followed by residual dark firaga damage. The Heartless let out a deafening roar as it was assaulted by their blows and as soon as the barrage was over it knocked them both out of the way with another wall, this one made entirely of flames.

The two hurried to dodge the incoming wall at a fair distance but Kairi was not to be deterred. Following Sora's earlier example, she raised Destiny's Embrace to cast a wateraga spell! "Wa--"

"WAIT!" Riku shouted as soon as he noticed her intention. Sora was on it much faster, however, and used his earth magic to conjure up a giant wall of dirt to push back at the dam of flames to smother it and put it out.

Kairi felt slightly taken aback. "Wait, what was I doing wrong?" she asked nervously.

"With that much fire, extinguishing it with water would've resulted in steam that could've scalded us all," Sora explained as he waved his keyblade in a horizontal slashing motion to send another wave of dirt over the last of the flames to give them an opening.

Kairi gasped. "I'm so sorry! I-I didn't even think of that!" She felt her confidence from earlier begin to falter.

"Don't worry about it," Riku assured her with a hand on her shoulder. "You've just never been up against this big before. Shake it off, you're doing great!"

Sora was about to argue that the time they fought against Xehanort together there was quite a lot of fire, but now was not the time to bring that up. Their window of opportunity was fading fast as the heartless was preparing to send up another wave of attacks. "Our turn, Kairi!"

"Right!" Kairi smiled and rushed to Sora's side. "You got it, Riku?"

"On it!" Riku nodded and rushed for the heartless to distract it with a blitz from the ground. The tactic worked and the heartless halted its magic wall attack to focus on swatting at Riku instead, who dodge with lightning fast speed thanks to his dark teleportation skill.

Meanwhile, Sora and Kairi charged up their "One Heart" team attack, once again taking flight together to attack with a barrage of light-based slashes.

After that, the heartless became more erratic, now resorting to picking up nearby boulders and uprooting trees to throw at them with surprising speed and accuracy! The three dodged as best as they could, occasionally blocking debris for each other. When there was nothing left on the ground for the heartless to throw, it manifested more boulders and bricks out of thin air to chuck at them.

"Watch your back, Kairi!" Sora shouted as he slashed at a thick tree trunk that nearly hit the young woman. To be fair, she was too busy dodging another flying boulder to realize a tree was being thrown at her from another direction.

She huffed indignantly as she gracefully spun and swung her keyblade to cast a light barrier around the both of them to block another large log before air-stepping the flying debris in an attempt to get to higher ground. "I'm a princess of heart, remember? You two are supposed to be keeping me OUT of danger!" she reminded them snarkily.

"She's got us there!" Riku laughed just before casting a stop spell on another pile of flying vegetation.

"Hey, I did my time. I think it's your turn, Riku!" Sora cackled before he cast magnega on the debris that Riku froze in midair to form a large ball and swung his keyblade to launch the compacted collection of rocks and logs right back at the heartless.

"Hey, I'm already looking after ONE princess, I don't have the energy for two!" Riku retorted with a smug grin at Sora.

The brunet caught the look and scoffed as he swat away at a flying branch. "I played princess ONE time. You, on the other hand, will always be a pretty prince!"

Riku growled as his cheeks reddened and chose to channel his mixed feelings into much more violent tree-thrashing. But before he could even retort, Kairi cackled at the both of them. "Focus, you two!"

If they kept this up, they were never going to get close enough to get another hit. So they decided to use long range attacks on its arms to disable it and deal the final blow once it's down.

This time Sora served as the distraction, casting grand magic thundaza to stun it just long enough to leap high into the air so it can attack at its head from above. Then just before the heartless could summon its sword to strike at Sora, Kairi and Riku each attacked one of its arms until it could no longer move them.

"Now! Together!" Riku shouted as his body began glowing with a black smoky aura in preparation for their combined team attack.

"Right!" Kairi nodded as her own body emitted a feathery white aura.

"Ready!" Sora called as he rejoined them, golden flames licking off his own body.

Together the three raised their keyblades together and performed their combined team attack! "Call of Destiny!" they shouted in unison before they rose high into the air and shot off like comets, their respective auras streaming behind them as they slashed back and forth at their foe for the first stage of their attack.

"Ties of Friendship!"

The three united again, this time joining their free hands together by their wrists and swinging their keyblades outward as they spun rapidly like an edged top, again each keyblade emitting their own unique power that inflicted different types of damage as they sliced through the howling heartless like a buzz saw. Once they separated, they were ready to deal the final blow with the last stage of their attack.

"Starlight Bonds!"

The sky suddenly grew dark and filled with glittering stars before suddenly spilling meteors onto their enemy, wave after wave of shooting stars cascaded down upon the dark being until at long last it disintegrated in a giant black cloud of mist and a heart disappearing into thin air signaled that the battle had finally ended! They won!

"Woohoo!" Kairi celebrated, wrapping an arm around each man's neck as she pulled them in for a victory hug. "We did it!"

"You guys were so great!" Sora cheered as he returned the victory hug.

"We all did good. Great job, team!" Riku grinned and returned the crushing hug despite himself.

Once they separated, they looked around to see the damage repairing itself thanks to their magic. All the thrown boulders and trees returned to their original places and the dirt that had been kicked up restored itself to its proper home in the ground. It was as if the battle never happened.

"I never get tired of seeing that," Kairi grinned.

"Tell me about it. I don't think keyblade wielders would be very well-liked if we kept leaving collateral damage wherever we went," Sora agreed.

Riku smirked. "Yeah, especially considering how trigger-happy you are with your magic."

"What's that supposed to mean!?" Sora flinched back, affronted by the implication.

"You'd cast thundaga just because a shadow heartless sneezed funny!"

"Shadows don't sneeze!" the brunette retorted.

"Can we head back now?" Kairi asked. "My feet hurt from chasing Sora around. What was that all about, anyway?"

"I think the way back is this way!" Sora pointed in a random direction, completely ignoring the question as he hurriedly marched away.

"Wait, Sora! It'd probably be faster if we flew!" Riku hurried after him.

"No need! Warp sphere is over here!" Sora pointed at a glowing blue sphere in the distance between the trees.

"How does he always find those!?" Kairi asked in exasperation.

Riku shrugged. "I've learned not to question it."

. . .

The sun had nearly finished setting by the time they returned to the Northuldran village. Queen Elsa and the tribe elder greeted them warmly. They had heard the noise and feared the worst but once everything went quiet they said they knew the three were successful and already took the liberty of preparing a celebration feast. Hoku of course was eager to see his dads and aunt return safely, even if they all smelled funny to him. The celebration went on well into the night until they were stuffed to bursting and could no longer stand from exhaustion. The trio were offered a hut to spend the night in and they happily accepted.

With Kairi in her own bed, Sora and Riku took the second bed with Hoku sleeping between them. Each dad took turns singing quiet lullabies to lure Hoku to sleep, keeping their voices low so as not to disturb Kairi who was already out like a light. But it took a fair amount of time before the toddler closed his eyes. He might've been tired from playing with his new friends all afternoon but he was too eager to tell his dads everything that happened and wanting to hear all about his dads' adventure. With the promise of sharing stories tomorrow, Hoku finally let himself fall asleep and Sora and Riku were out like lights.

Scritch scritch scritch~

Hoku stirred from his sleep. He heard something scurrying around on the floor. He wanted to get up and look but his smaller dad's arm was draped over him and it was heavy! The toddler thought briefly about ignoring it but then he noticed the far wall light up like a purple night light had just been turned on or something! Curiosity made him squirm to wake up his dads but the two men were so tired they didn't even stir. As quickly as the weird light appeared, however, it disappeared. The little one sighed in disappointment and closed his eyes to go back to sleep, but then he heard something else...something that made his eyes pop wide open.

Can...wait...on...knock...ssss...

"Wuh?" Hoku blinked as he heard something whispering into his ear. He couldn't make out what it was saying. As he strained to listen it sounded like it was getting further and further away. He knows he's heard this whispering before. It always happens at night. Maybe this time he can finally figure out where it's coming from!

Determined not to let the mysterious voice elude him again, he wriggled out from beneath his daddy's arm and scooched like a worm under the covers, slipping out between both their bodies and popping his head out on the other end of the bed before quietly climbing down. He's gotten really good at sneaking. He's gotten as far as the kitchen before getting caught! So he's confident he can get to the door without waking anybody up.

The dirt floor felt cold beneath his bare feet. He wanted to find his shoes but he can't see except for the moonlight coming in from the crack beneath the door. The night air is cold too. He was very tempted to crawl back into bed, but his curiosity was just too strong! He clenched his tiny fists in resolve and carefully took big steps toward the door. Eventually his feet felt the soft rugs on the floor and he began to feel more confident with each step. Finally he reached for the handle, standing on his tippy toes to make himself as tall as possible to reach it. It's just right there! He almost grunted with the effort but held his breath as he paused and waited to make sure his dads were still snoring softly. Relieved that they hadn't stirred, he gave one last push with his toes to wrap his tiny fingers around the wooden handle and gave it a firm tug. The handle turned and the heavy door opened just wide enough for the toddler to slip outside.

Being outside all by himself beneath the stars was exhilarating and a little scary. He was almost scared enough to forget about this little excursion and just go back inside by then he heard the whisper again and spun around to find the source of the voice.

"Hello?" he meekly asked the darkness.

Skitter skitter skitter~

He looked down to see a little blue lizard with big eyes smiling up at him, its body lit with a tiny purple flame!

"Ooo! Are you a dragon?" the little one asked as he bent down to look closer at it. "A baby dragon?"

The tiny lizard just tilted its head and licked its left eyeball with its long tongue, causing the little one to giggle. "That's so weird!"

The small creature ran around in a quick circle before darting away. "Wait!" Hoku called out quietly before chasing after it. "Wait for me, baby dragon!"

By the time his little legs carried him to the pile of rocks that the lizard hid behind, it was already out of sight. "Aww," he whined in defeat. "Where'd you go?"

"Hoku?"

Hoku gasped and turned around. He'd been caught by Queen Elsa! "Um!"

"What are you doing out here?" she asked quietly so as not to disturb the other sleeping villagers.

The toddler wrung the bottom of his night shirt in his hands as he stared down at his bare toes guiltily. "I...I heard a voice..." he mumbled.

"Did a voice wake you up?" the queen asked kindly and offered her hand to the little one.

"Mm-hmm," he sniffled, the cold already making his nose run a little as he took her offered hand. It felt really cold. "Did something wake you up, too?"

"Sometimes I just have trouble sleeping," she answered softly as she walked back.

"Me too," Hoku admitted. "The voice keeps me up sometimes. But I don't understand it. I can't find it, either. I thought I could find it this time," he rambled.

Elsa's surprised at how talkative the silver-haired boy is all of a sudden. Ever since she first met him, he's been pretty quiet. Even when he was playing with the other children he didn't talk much. The mention of a mysterious voice intrigued her and she could tell it was really bothering the little one so instead of walking directly back to the hut, she took him on a little detour to a bench nearby and have a seat. "You're usually quiet. Are you shy?" she asked.

Hoku stood on his tip-toes to climb onto the bench, but proudly got up on it all by himself. He shook his head. "I like making new friends. But my daddies say there's a lot of stuff I'm not supposed to talk about," he whispered. "Sometimes I forget what I'm not supposed to say. So I just don't say anything."

"That...makes sense," Elsa responded with a slightly raised eyebrow, amazed at how much she was relating to this small boy. "Hoku, about the voice, what does it say to you?"

The little boy shook his head again, nervously kicking his dangling feet back and forth. "I dunno. It's whispery and quiet." He demonstrates by putting his hands around his mouth and making whispery nonsense noises. "Pspspspspsps~"

The blonde chuckled at the adorable demonstration. "Have you talked to your dads about the whispers?"

Yet again, he shook his head.

"Why not?"

"I dunno if it's supposed to be a secret or not. My daddies told me that sumtimes secrets are secret because they're too hard for other people to understand or cuz people could get hurt if they know. What if this is that kind of secret?" he whispered as if afraid something might overhear.

"You're worried that they wouldn't understand or they might get hurt?" the queen asked with concern. This was quite a heavy conversation to have with a three-year-old. Clearly he was a very special child...or maybe he's just seen too much already for somebody his age. She gave him a warm smile and lifted the small child into her lap to give him a comforting hug. "You should be able to talk to your daddies about anything. In fact, I'm sure they'd be very happy."

Hoku sniffled as he leaned into her and returned the hug. Her hands might be cold, but her hugs are warm. "They will?"

"Of course. Because it means you trust them. Trust is a very wonderful thing to have."

"I'll tell them," he promised. "But not yet. I want to find the voice first."

"You do?"

"Yeah. I want to see if it's a bad voice or good voice. Maybe it's just lonely!"

The queen smiled helplessly. "Yeah, maybe..." She fondly ruffled his silver hair, making him giggle beneath her hand. It was then she noticed a glint of silver around his neck. He appeared to be wearing a silver star-shaped charm on a ball chain. "I like your necklace."

"Thank you!" he smiled broadly and held the little charm in the palm of his hand so she can see it better. Elsa could see that there's a safety clasp on the chain so it can come off easily if it gets snagged on something. A perfect little treasure for a small child to have. "It's a good luck charm my daddies gave me!" he explained. "Looky!" he excitedly flipped it over to show her the back of the star where she could see a tiny heart and crown symbol etched into it. She recognized the crown as Sora's, of course. The heart she's sure she's seen on Riku's clothes a few times. "It seems to be very special. You make sure you take care of it," she smiled.

The boy nodded and clutched it protectively in his fist before letting out a tiny yawn. The queen chuckled quietly. "Are you ready to go back to bed?"

He shook his head. "Not sleepy."

She smirked at his protest. "Okay. Well what do your daddies do to help you fall asleep?"

"They sing to me," he answered honestly.

"Oh they do?" she blinked, a little surprised. Riku certainly didn't seem the type to sing his child to sleep. She could see Sora doing it for sure, but Riku seemed more the story-telling type, like her own father did.

"Do you know any songs? Daddy says you sing nice!"

The queen's cheeks reddened a little. She's positive he meant Sora. She did sing a little for him ONCE but that was years ago. She cleared her throat as she shook off the memory of that night. "Well, I know one song that my mother would sing to me when I was little. Would you like to hear it?"

"Yes, please!" he answered sweetly.

Elsa sighed a little as her heart melted at the eager look on his sweet little face. His eyes were just like Sora's and his eager smile reminded her so much of Anna. "Okay. Scooch in, cuddle close," she instructed as she pulled him in closer, just like her own mother would've done. She felt Hoku settle more comfortably in her arms and waited for his cute giggles to stop before she gently brushed the tip of his nose with her finger in soft, swooping motions, forehead down to nose, over and over as she began to sing.

Where the north wind meets the sea
There's a river full of memory
Sleep, my darling, safe and sound
For in this river all is found

In her waters, deep and true
Lie the answers and a path for you
Dive down deep into her sound
But not too far or you'll be drowned

Yes, she will sing to those who'll hear
And in her song, all magic flows
But can you brave what you most fear?
Can you face what the river knows?

Where the north wind meets the sea
There's a mother full of memory
Come, my darling, homeward bound
When all is lost, then all is found

With every verse she felt the little one relax more in her lap as he started drifting off to sleep. When he began snoring quietly, she carefully lifted him and cradled him in her arms, his head resting on her shoulder as she continued to quietly sing and started carrying him back to the hut. By the time she reached the door, he was sound asleep and she quietly crept inside to slip the sleeping child between his fathers once more and put another smaller blanket on top of him before slipping back out.

After she closed the door behind herself, she looked down to see the fire spirit at her feet. "And why aren't YOU in bed?"

The lizard licked his eyeball.

"I see," she smiled and helplessly shook her head. "Don't go luring any more children out of their beds. I'm going to sleep."

The lizard watched her disappear into her hut before scuttling away to his favorite spot where he'll catch the first of the rising sun's rays come morning.

Chapter Text

"But I'm a dragon!" Hoku protested, fleeing from Riku as he ran around the treehouse. The four-year-old refused to get dressed in proper clothes before their next trip, preferring to keep his dragon onesie pajamas on instead.

"You can be a dragon while you sleep but when we need to go on trips, you need to be a little boy!" Riku argued as he dove under the dinner table to grab the little one by his ankles.

"YEEP!" the squirmy tyke cried out as he was caught. "RAWR! You will pay!"

Riku rolled his eyes and dragged him out from under the table and dangled the giggling kid upside down. "I'm absolutely terrified. Now let's get you dressed. Your dad's already on the gummi ship."

"No he's not!" Hoku flailed. "He's on the deck again with his phone!"

"Then I'll grab him after I'm done with you," Riku chuckled as he threw the boy onto his shoulders. "Come on, let's get ready."

Hoku giggled as he rode on his dad's shoulders and played with the top of his head. "Do I really have to leave my dragon at home?"

Riku sighed and took him back to the nursery and set him back on the floor to get him dressed. "Tell you what, how about I let you take a piece of it with you?"

"Huh?"

He reached up for the mobile hanging from the ceiling. It had many good luck charms and accessories that were gifted Hoku by their friends for all his birthdays. He doesn't have much use for them at the moment, but they make for colorful decoration in his room. One of the items in question was a gift from Maleficent, a black dragon scale on a thin silver chain. Fairy Godmother said it was imbued with magic, but he doesn't see how Hoku would be able to do anything with it yet, so what was the harm? "Here, if I let you have this, will you feel better about leaving your pajamas behind?"

The child took the small shiny black scale with fascination and held it up to see it reflect with green iridescence in the light. "Oooh...okay!" He easily agreed and threw it around his neck to join the star charm he always wore.

"Great, now let's get you dressed!"

Meanwhile, Sora was indeed outside on the phone with Vanitas. "I got it. And you're sure you two don't need anything else?"

"Just be there on time. Naminé has been having trouble standing for long periods of time."

"I'll be fine, Vani!" the blonde could be heard giggling in the background.

Sora smiled helplessly as he heard the two quietly bicker. "Alright, alright. I'll see you two at dawn."

"Before that!" Vanitas scolded.

"Right right, just before that!" Sora corrected himself.

"You're going to be late, I can already tell," the other grumbled.

"I won't! I told you. You can count on me!"

"Count on you to be late, maybe."

"Vani! Don't be mean!" Naminé giggled in the background and Sora could hear her snatching the phone from Vanitas. "We'll see you there, Sora. Thanks, again!"

"Not at all! You two get plenty of rest. I'll see you then!" He hung up and double-checked his side satchel to make sure he had everything packed. "Am I forgetting anything?"

"How about getting your son ready?" Riku teased as he showed up behind him with said giggling child dangling from one arm while he carried their traveling bag in the other. "Ready to go?"

"You seemed to have it under control," Sora grinned at his husband. "Ready to go?"

"I'm ready if you are."

"You sure?" Sora smiled and walked over to brush a stray hair out of Riku's face and tuck it behind his ear. The silverette was letting his hair grow out again and Sora definitely wasn't complaining. "Didn't forget anything?"

"Heh," Riku smirked and gave Sora an affectionate peck. "It's not me I'm worried about."

"I got everything!" Sora assured him. "Let's go!"

"Let's go!" Hoku cheered!

* * *

Upon landing, the first thing they noticed was the giant wall that had been erected around King Eric's castle.

"Where's the castle?" Hoku asked.

"Behind the wall, I guess," Riku frowned. The giant white wall certainly was an eyesore in his opinion compared to the opulent castle that used to be very visible from the seaside.

"Weird. Maybe King Triton can fill me in," Sora shrugged as he walked to the beach and started stripping his clothes off.

"We'll wait for you up here," Riku told him as he caught Sora's thrown clothing.

"Daddy's going for a swim? Can I come?" Hoku asked.

"Not this time, little man!" Sora smiled apologetically and ruffled the pouting 4-year-old's hair. "I'll be right back!" he promised before diving in.

Hoku ran to the edge of the water, but Sora seemed to have disappeared without a trace. "How deep is he going?" he asked Riku.

"Pretty deep."

Hoku gasped. "Can he even hold his breath for that long?"

"Magic helps him do lots of things," Riku chuckled as he reassured him. "Do you want to play with your sword while we wait?"

"Okay!" Hoku grinned eagerly and held out his hands for his meow-wow bag, a gift from the three fairies that magically stores all his favorite things, not unlike Sora and Riku's magical pockets. Riku handed it to him and he dug inside for the wooden swords his fathers gave him as a fourth birthday present. "En garde!" he called out as he tossed the other one to Riku. They made him a pair so he could play with friends.

"En garde!" Riku gave a twin grin as he caught the sword. "Give me all you got!"

Sora meanwhile swam as fast as he could for Atlantica. But once he got to the palace, King Triton was nowhere to be found, nor could he find Sebastian! The only one he could find that he recognized was Flounder and the blue and yellow fish seemed to be busy with his own family so he didn't want to bother him. "Well, I wanted to pay my respects, but it looks like he isn't here..." Sora pondered. "Guess I should go back. I don't want to draw too much attention to myself."

Back on the surface, he found Riku and Hoku sword-fighting on the beach. The two were so engrossed in their own fight that they didn't acknowledge his arrival. The brunet only chuckled as he dried off and got re-dressed. Hoku appeared to have Riku on the ropes!

"Take that and that and that!" Hoku shouted as he jabbed at Riku until he got him right in the side.

"AH! You got me!" Riku held the sword under his armpit and fell dramatically to the sand while gurgling a death roll.

Sora laughed at the display. "I couldn't find King Triton."

Riku sat up quickly. "Was he just out?"

Sora shrugged. "I dunno. I couldn't find Sebastian either."

"That's a shame. Guess we'll just have to head straight on in."

Hoku put his toy swords away. "You're done swimming?"

Sora chuckled and lifted Hoku onto his shoulders. "Yup, all done. Let's get going."

Within the great wall, King Eric and Queen Ariel greeted them warmly but seemed a little tight-lipped around their daughter Melody who Hoku became fast friends with.

"Let's talk about everything tomorrow," King Eric offered. "For now, let's just celebrate old friends coming to visit."

"If you insist," Riku agreed.

"At uh...what time, exactly?" Sora asked nervously.

"Oh, you have plans elsewhere, Sora?" Queen Ariel asked.

Riku raised an eyebrow at his husband. "No, just, I just have an errand to run super early in the morning," Sora explained

Ariel laughed quietly into her hand. "Well we're not early risers either. Don't worry, we can discuss everything after lunch tomorrow."

"That'd be perfect!" the brunet grinned.

The keyblade masters had a lovely time catching up with the couple but whenever they tried to bring up the wall, there was a dead air of silence if Melody was in the room, so the two decided not to push it. Instead they were given the grand tour of all the new additions to the castle and a horse and buggy ride through the kingdom. The sprawling little city was beautiful and quaint with its white buildings and red roofing. The cobblestone streets were pristine and the stalls were bustling with people going about their daily business. Of course, there was still room for merriment as there was music playing in the town square where people danced and sang to their hearts' content.

After a fantastic dinner in the gigantic dining hall with floor to ceiling windows that would've shown the ocean had there not been a giant wall in the way, the three turned in for the night in the comfy bedroom provided for them.

As per usual, it was proving hard to get Hoku to sleep as they got ready to settle in for the night. But Riku couldn't really blame him. Sleeping in a new place was always hard, even if the bed was super squishy and comfortable. While Sora furiously texted away on his phone, Riku sat up against the pillows with Hoku cuddled into his side as he read him a storybook from the small collection they brought along with them. However, he's so distracted by Sora being distracted that he's been slow at turning the pages.

"Daddy!" Hoku pouted. They had been staring at the same page for The Frog Prince for too long.

"Sorry!" Riku apologized and turned the page.

"Okay, okay. Done and done!" Sora muttered to himself and smiled at his phone before setting it on the bedside table. But instead of coming to bed with them, he proceeded to dig some clothes out of his bag to lay out for tomorrow.

Now Riku was really concerned. That's usually something HE does. "Sora?"

"Daddy!" Hoku groaned again and turned the page himself.

Sora smiled over at the two as he set out his clothes. He went ahead and set out Riku and Hoku's clothes too, though that wasn't hard to do. After all, Riku had them labeled. After he was done he hurried with his night-time routine before crawling into the bed with them to assist in the bedtime cuddles. "Sorry, where are we at now?"

"The Frog Prince has requested to sleep in the princess's bed," Riku told him.

"Wait, how old is this princess???" Sora asked in alarm.

"Daddy!" Hoku yet again urged impatiently.

"Sorry!" both dads apologized.

Eventually the three fell asleep with Riku having completely forgotten about Sora's strange behavior. Hoku slept soundly between them and the sound of the ocean easily kept them lulled to sleep.

* * *

The next morning, upon a secluded hilltop overlooking the sea, Vanitas and Naminé awaited the arrival of dawn. Between them, Reacher had a small parcel clutched protectively in his muzzle. The couple have come to elope. All that was missing was the one to marry them. But for now they were content in holding each other's hands and sharing a quiet moment together before the sun came up. Vanitas was dressed in a white button-up shirt with black pants and high black boots. It was simple attire, but then again, they wanted a simple ceremony in the place they loved most. Naminé had a cloak pulled around her so Vanitas has yet to see the dress she made for the occasion as she wanted it to be a surprise. Clutched in her hands was a small bouquet of white roses, blue forget-me-nots, and baby's breath. Her ears were adorn with pearl earrings and she wore a single pearl necklace, but that was all he could see at the moment.

She smiled sweetly at him and he smiled fondly at her as he reached to gently touch her elbow. "Are you nervous?"

She shook her head. "No. Are you?"

"I'm terrified," he said honestly with a laugh.

She burst into a fit of giggles. "Are you really?"

"No, because I'm here with you," he smiled but then turned slightly serious. "Are you still feeling alright?"

"I'm more than alright," she insisted. "I think I'm the happiest I've ever been!"

"You know what I mean," he said pointedly.

The blonde looked down and placed a hand gently on the top of her stomach. She's into her second trimester and it's been really hard for her, but her smile remained on her face. "Everything's fine. I'm just excited for the cake you promised."

The raven-haired man snickered. "Ven made it especially for you. I know you'll love it."

"I'm sure I will!" she grinned. A brief burst of wind prompted her to fix her hair. "I wonder where Sora is?"

. . .

The brunet woke at the first ring of his alarm and quickly shut it off before tip-toeing to his clothes to change. He had picked out his black slacks, white shirt, and black vest for the occasion. His heart pounded as he dressed quickly and quietly so as not to disturb the rest of his family. After checking one more time to make sure he packed his fancy camera, he was nearly out the door when Riku's voice quietly stopped him. "And where are you going?"

Sora froze and put a finger to his lips. "I'll be back before breakfast, I promise. I'll tell you all about it when I get back."

Riku sighed and laid back against the pillows, too sleepy to honestly care that much and waved him off with his hand. "Be quick."

Sora gave a cheesy grin and hurried over to give Riku a quick kiss. "Love you!"

The silverette returned the smile and kissed him back. "Clock's ticking."

"Right, right!" Sora bit his lower lip to keep from laughing before scurrying out the door.

It was still relatively dark outside but he could tell the sun was due to be up any second. Vani wasn't very specific about the hilltop so he dashed to the tallest tree he could find and scoped out the surrounding countryside. From there he easily spotted a speck of blonde hair on a hilltop and took that to be them. With a quick glide he was over there in no time.

"I knew it," Vanitas huffed as Sora arrived. "You're late!"

"Am not!" Sora insisted as he picked a stray leaf out of his hair. "Congratulations, Naminé," he quickly said and gave her a peck on the cheek.

"Thank you, Sora!" she giggled.

"Let's get this party started, huh?" Sora grinned before taking his place. The sun was coming up now. "Wait, are we forgetting something?"

"Oh! Yes!" Naminé blushed and removed her cloak, which Sora quickly offered to hold for her. She wore a beautiful flowy white gown with bits on the sleeves that fluttered in the wind behind her like angel wings. Sora's eyes went wide as the sun came up and caught like fire in her golden hair. His first instinct was to hurry and take a picture but first he looked to Vanitas for his reaction.

Vanitas had forgotten how to breathe as he took in the sight of his bride. "Y-you look..." he stammered, at a loss for words. Suddenly none of the words he knew felt right. Beautiful, heavenly, angelic, gorgeous, magnificent, stunning, dazzling, none of them were right. They weren't enough! She continued to smile at him sweetly as she waited patiently until he finally said, "You take my breath away."

"Oh Vani..." she clutched his hand tightly as her eyes threatened to overflow with tears.

Sora couldn't contain himself any further. "Hold it just like that!" he demanded as he hurried to the other side of them to take a picture of the rising sun behind them. He got the perfect shot!

"Sora!" Vanitas realized like four seconds too late what Sora was doing. "What are you--!?"

"The lighting is perfect, just give me a sec! You'll thank me later!" Sora insisted.

He was very quick, true to his word, but about 20 pictures in he realized something and his jaw dropped. "N-Naminé! You're--"

"You just now noticed?" Vanitas huffed.

Sora didn't even hear Vani, he was too busy trying not to cry as he hurried to hug his friend. "Omigosh, I'm so happy for you!"

The blonde laughed as she returned the hug. "Thank you, Sora! But can we...?"

"I knew this was a mistake," Vanitas smirked.

"Right right right. But after this, I'm taking your maternity photos. No questions asked," Sora stipulated as he put his camera away and got back into position. "Ready?"

"We've BEEN ready!" Vanitas nearly facepalmed.

"Go ahead, Sora," Naminé smiled.

The brunet grinned and cleared his throat as he read from his notes. "Dearly beloved, we're gathered here today..."

As Sora read from his script, Vanitas took the parcel from Reacher and unwrapped it to reveal their rings. A gold band for himself and a gold band with a tiny blue sapphire for Naminé. As the sun rose high into the sky, they exchanged the rings. Their vows were short and sweet. The birds from the nearby wood serenaded their union and the rise of the sun marked the beginning of their journey together.

"And so with the power vested in me as keyblade master and ambassador of the worlds, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride and you may kiss the groom!" Sora finished.

The two exchanged a long kiss, Vanitas cupping Naminé's cheeks adoringly as she carefully leaned into him, her bump just slightly getting in the way while Sora hurried to take pictures. If he's ever going to officiate a wedding again, he'll have to make sure that he isn't playing photographer as well, this feels a little awkward.

"I'm so happy for you two!" he sniffled and gave them both a hug. "Thank you for letting me be a part of this."

"Thank you for...helping..." Vanitas gruffly thanked him with a tight hug and a squeeze on the back of his neck.

Sora grinned and hugged Naminé again. "Of course. Now it's time for more pictures!"

"Why?" Vanitas asked.

"Trust me, you'll want them for later! I'll print them for you myself!"

"Thank you so much, Sora!" Naminé clasped her hands together happily.

"No problem!"

"Fine, but let's hurry. She won't say it, but I know her feet are already starting to hurt," Vanitas glanced over at his new wife protectively.

"Vaniiiiiii..." Naminé reddened because he was certainly right.

True to his word, Sora got the perfect photos and Vani even let him post one on kingstagram to announce their elopement, a picture of their hands clasping with their new rings. After that, Sora watched as Vanitas walked Naminé home before dashing back to the castle before his family woke up.

Sora's back before breakfast. While they got Hoku ready, Riku noticed the kingstagram post. "Oh."

"I'm sorry. They asked me not to tell anybody," Sora apologized with a kiss.

"No, I get it. I think. But why do I feel like there's another secret?" Riku asked suspiciously.

Sora practically squealed before he quickly covered Hoku's ears. "Naminé's pregnant!"

"WHAT!? That's fantastic news!" Riku's face lit up.

"I know, right? But they haven't announced it yet so we gotta keep quiet!"

"Why haven't they told anybody??" Riku asked.

"I'm not sure. Vani seems to be very cautious around her? I wonder if it's been rough for her?"

Riku's face turned slightly solemn. "Oh...I see."

"I-I'm sure it'll be fine," Sora assured him. "It looks like they're being very careful. I'm sure the small ceremony was to prevent her from going through too much excitement."

"That makes sense," Riku nodded, recalling how stressful putting together their own wedding was. "Well, I'm glad you could help them. Now we just have to get through this next meeting."

"Right!"

"Daddyyyyyyyy..." Hoku huffed impatiently. Sora's had his hands over his ears this whole time.

"Oh! Sorry, Hoku!" Sora quickly released him and smoothed out his hair.

The small boy grumbled as he grabbed his meow-wow bag. "Can we eat now?"

"Yes," Riku laughed. "Come on, let's go."

. . .

As they had planned, the meeting was to take place after lunch. Sora and Riku were hesitant to leave Hoku alone, but the four-year-old and five-year-old appeared to be very engrossed in their game in the playroom and were under the watchful eye of the maid so they were convinced that it was okay to leave him under her watch for a little while.

However, it wasn't long until after the adults left that the maid had fallen asleep in her chair in the playroom, prompting the dark-haired princess to tug on Hoku's arm and lead him out of the playroom. "Shhhh~" she whispered before leading him down the hall.

Hoku didn't question anything until they were outside, standing right next to the gigantic wall that loomed around the entire perimeter of the castle. Here there was a very small shoal of sand and sea water was coming in through grates in the wall. It didn't look like a very fun place to play. "Why are we out here?" he asked.

"Can you swim?" Melody asked.

"Yeah," he answered.

"Can you swim good?" she asked with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

Hoku put his fists on his hips and smirked proudly. "Yes~"

"Wanna see something fun?" she goaded.

"Yes!"

"Mom and dad won't let me see the sea, but I know a way to sneak out!" she explained as she ditched her poufy cream-colored dress in favor of a shirt and stockings with little green bows.

"Why won't they let you see the sea?" The concept was strange to him, having lived next to the ocean his entire life.

"I don't know. They just tell me it's dangerous!" Melody explained as she grabbed a satchel that she had hidden behind a rock. "Do you think it's dangerous?" she asked.

"I dunno. I guess it can be if you're not careful," Hoku shrugged. How strange, he thought, to have the sea right outside and not be allowed to see it. The sea is like a whole other world in itself! This whole thing makes Hoku grateful that he doesn't have to live trapped inside walls. He wouldn't want to be safe if it meant he couldn't see his friends.

"But we're going to be careful, right? So it's okay!" she reasoned.

"Right!" Hoku agreed as he couldn't see a flaw in her logic.

"So you coming?"

"Yes!"

She dived into the shallow water near the grate and he dived after her. She showed him where a loose iron bar had come completely disconnected and swam through the gap it created and waved for him to follow after her. He fit through the gap easily and frog-kicked after her until they both came out the other side where the only surfaces they had for footing were the rocky shallows.

Melody giggled with glee as she swam around the rocks. "Sebastian! Are you out here?"

"Sebastian?" Hoku asked as he sat on top of a rock to catch his breath.

"Melody!" a crab with an accent Hoku hadn't heard before popped out of the water and crawled onto the rock beside Hoku. "What are you doing out here?"

"Oh Sebastian, you ask me that every time. Look! I brought a friend!" Melody giggled nonchalantly.

"Nice to meet you!" Hoku quickly greeted the crab as politely as he could so as not to reveal how taken aback he was. He didn't want to offend the crab having already seen how nasty their pincers can be.

"A friend, huh? Say, you look familiar, mon. Do I know you from somewhere?" the crab asked.

Hoku quickly shook his head. "My name's Hoku."

"Hoku...wait...Sora and Riku's boy?" Sebastian asked with wide eyes. "Yes! I can see it now! You must be!"

"I am!" Hoku grinned, happy to know his dads are apparently famous and therefore he must be famous too. "We're here visiting."

"Wonderful! I'm glad to see you two are friends--WAIT WAIT! You should be back inside the castle where it's safe!" the crab suddenly shouted as he had forgotten himself for a moment.

"Oh come on, Sebastian!" Melody whined. "What's the big deal? The water is calm!"

"Maybe we SHOULD go back," Hoku said. He felt a little uneasy now that he's starting to realize what they have done. He's never been this far away from an adult before. "The adults might worry about us."

"Sebastian is an adult, so it's okay! Right, Sebastian?" Melody asked.

"I am! But...the boy is right! Your parents will worry!" the crab stammered.

"They don't even know we're gone! They'll be talking forever. We'll be back before they're finished."

Hoku considered this. It's true. He's sat in on these meetings many times already and they do seem to go on forever. "Okay, maybe we can play for a little bit."

No sooner had he spoke, however, they were suddenly surrounded by shadow heartless who came into being on the rocks all around them. Their little bodies skittered and twitched as they struggled to keep their footing on the slippery rocks, their beady yellow eyes trained on the young princess.

"AAAAA!!!" Melody screamed in terror.

Hoku knew immediately what they were and grabbed her hand, tugging her back into the water. "Go back! I'll protect you! Find my dads!"

"I'm not going to leave you!"

"Go!" the small boy insisted and shoved her down, forcing her to take a breath and do as she's told.

With her out of sight, Hoku regained his footing on the rocky shoals and reached into his little blue bag to retrieve his wooden sword, clutching it tightly as he prepared to fend off the little shadowy vermin. "Go away!" he shouted. As the numbers began to increase, he knew this would be a terrible place to fight, so he dived under to the tunnel and followed after her. No sooner had he emerged on the other side, the shadows appeared once again, surrounding him on all sides in the sand. Luckily it seems Melody had already gotten away, but for now he was all alone.

The creatures were nearly the same size as he was and he was incredibly frightened. He clutched his sword and swung at them. They merely bounced back or shrunk to the ground and skittered around as if taunting him. Tears sprang to his eyes as they inched closer and closer. All the bravery he felt a moment ago was gone. He tried to remember how he saw his dads fight. Whenever his dad wanted help, he would just put a fist over his chest and call out for strength. Would that work for him? He tried doing that, but when he put a hand over his chest, he felt the dragon scale there and gripped it tightly in his little fist. How he wished he could turn into a big scary dragon right now. "Give...give me strength!" he shouted as loud as he could!

The heartless took a step back, startled by his shouting for a brief moment. It was just long enough for a crackle of green lightning to shoot out from the sky, darkening everything with dark purple clouds before he was surrounded by acid-green flames! He stood frozen in fright as a voice cackled somewhere from within the flames. In the next moment, a tall woman in a black cloak stood before him and stabbed her staff into the ground, blowing away the smoke so she could glare down the offending heartless.

"Pitiful! You're not even worth my time!" she sneered. "No matter. I'll find a way for you to be of use to me," she scoffed before waving her staff and the heartless disappeared. She has taken them under her employ, which was probably for the best. Hoku didn't really want to see them get destroyed, afraid of the further commotion it might cause if the fire and lightning wasn't already bad enough. Once they were gone, he finally looked up to get a good look at his rescuer. She smells like darkness but it isn't bad. It's familiar and it's not a scary smell that invokes instinctual fear. It's like burning earthy logs that are still a little green, overdone eggs, like breakfast, and burnt dark chocolate brownies.

"You saved me! Thank you. I remember you, but I don't know your name."

"Then I suppose proper re-introductions are in order. My name is Maleficent, the mistress of all evil!"

Hoku doesn't really know what that means. She just saved him from those smelly heartless so how can she really be evil? Her name rang a bell, though! "I'm Hoku! Nice to meet you! Daddy told me about you. Is it true you're a fairy?"

She sneered at the small child but answers curtly. "Technically. It's not my favorite label as I don't have wings anymore. I prefer sorceress or perhaps maybe even empress."

Hoku's still caught up in the fairy part. "So are you my fairy godmother? Is that why you saved me?"

She looks disgusted, offended even by the notion at first but senses opportunity and smiles sweetly instead (or as sweetly as an evil witch can achieve). "Why yes, dear child. But we have to keep this between us. I can only protect good boys who know how to keep a secret."

"Okay." Hoku blinked. Does this mean he can't even tell his daddies? Before he can even ask, she disappears in a puff of green smoke, or rather a large blast of green smoke with a loud boom. By the time it clears, Hoku can hear his dads running frantically down the castle steps. "Daddy!" he shouted just as they scooped him up in their arms. "Daddy!" he cried as he clutched at both of them tightly.

"Are you okay?" Riku asked frantically as he searched him over while Sora held him and tried to calm him down. The two frantically looked everywhere, but there were no heartless in sight. Hoku didn't seem to be hurt either, except for a couple of scrapes on his knees and elbows.

"I'm okay," Hoku finally answered as he released Sora's shirt to fist the tears from his eyes. "I-is Melody okay?"

"Melody's fine," Sora assured him. "Let's all go inside."

The parents talked to their children separately, but Hoku had already figured that Melody would get in trouble if he spoke about going under the wall, so he kept tight-lipped until Sora and Riku took him back to the bedroom they were staying in and told him that they already figured out that Hoku must've gone on the other side with Melody.

"How did you know?" Hoku sniffled, afraid that he just got his new friend in trouble.

"You're soaking wet, sweetheart," Sora snickered as he grabbed some new dry clothes for him.

"Oh. Sorry."

Riku chuckled as he helped him get undressed and dried his hair with a towel. They told him he's not in trouble, exactly, but they have a very long talk about right and wrong and stuff concerning following your friends and how breaking the rules is not good, even if it might seem fun and even if your friends are doing it.

Sora and Riku were only just informed of the wall's purpose during the meeting. Had they known Melody had a sea witch after her, they wouldn't have left Hoku alone with her. Chaperone or not, Riku could've sat out the meeting. So they felt just as responsible for the whole affair. However, they also promised Hoku they wouldn't tell Ariel and Eric that they went under the wall and just let them assume that this all happened in the backyard. Hoku was so relieved he had no trouble whatsoever going down for his afternoon nap.

Sora sat on the bed and gently rubbed Hoku's back until he fell asleep. Once he was out, he looked worriedly at Riku. "Do you think he'll be okay?"

"Yeah...I have a feeling he had some help," he looked suspiciously at the black scale glinting next to Hoku's star charm.

"So you sensed it too, huh?" Sora smiled helplessly. "Do you think we should take it away from him?"

Riku shook his head. "I don't see the harm in letting him hold onto it for a little while longer. We just need to watch him closer."

Sora smiled at the big softy. The meeting they were having was about the possible looming threat to Eric and Ariel's kingdom as well as Atlantica. Apparently they didn't want to talk about it virtually in front of the other leaders in case of potentially causing discourse if they're going to need extra attention from the keyblade wielders in the near future. This in turn prompted the discussion that perhaps individual world affairs should be kept secret to prevent each world from thinking the other is getting special treatment, unless the issues in question impact other worlds of course. It was definitely a good conversation to have with the other world leaders, especially King Mickey and Master Yen Sid at a later date.

Riku brushed some of Hoku's hair out of his sweet face, watching the little one snore quietly for a moment. Poor little guy is tuckered out. "Just imagine what it's going to be like leaving him at school..."

Sora bit his fist to keep himself from letting out a wail. "Nnnng, no, I don't even want to think about it," he hissed.

Chapter Text

Sora and Riku were in San Fransokyo today and were due to leave tomorrow. They were here for an ambassador meeting with the mayor and other local politicians and leading scientists, since there isn't exactly a king or assigned "world leader" to this modern world. Things were still being researched at Scala as far as reconnecting the routes that would otherwise make it a perfect hub world for all the worlds so in the meantime, there had been discussions for the modern and innovative world of San Fransokyo to act as potential hub world. The discussions were going well since Riku had already shared gummi technology with the Big Hero 6 team and thus it's been widely shared and studied at the leading tech university and therefore shared everywhere within San Fransokyo's scientific community. It's proven very beneficial so naturally they're eager to see what other innovations cooperating with outside worlds could inspire.

In the meantime, Hoku's at home with Riku's parents. Normally they would try to work the different time rules of the worlds to their advantage so that they'd be home on time to pick up Hoku after they were done but this time it didn't work in their favor, given the distance and how similarly time runs on both their worlds. Regardless, Riku's parents were more than happy to have Hoku spend the night and have some extra visiting time with him, Riku's dad especially. So tonight they're staying in one of the nice hotels nearby provided by their hosts.

They both wore very nicely-fitted three-piece business suits for this meeting, Sora's was black with very thin red pinstripes and Riku's blue with thin white pinstripes. In an attempt to fit in better, they accepted the provided limousine ride to the embassy. Neither had ridden in a limo before and both were dying to look around inside and push all the buttons but given that they are full-grown men and ambassadors with embassy escort, they kept their hands awkwardly in their laps and sat stiffly the whole time in an effort to not look too excited about the whole thing. At least the seats were comfy.

So after the meeting when they were offered a ride back in a normal car, they politely declined and said they wanted to enjoy the city. Once they were out of view and earshot of any politicians and the like, the two breathed a huge sigh of relief and walked to the nearest restaurant they could find for some chow. The embassy provided lunch, of course, but it was all dry sandwiches and tea, just stuffy food that didn't exactly whet the appetite nor fill them up, not that they could eat much anyway in these suits. But now that they were free, the jackets were off, the ties were loosened, and sleeves were rolled up as they enjoyed the local sushi.

It was only after they've eaten that they noticed the increased traffic out in the streets and realized that they didn't exactly have a normal way of getting back to their hotel. If they called a cab it'd be forever before they got back and it was too far to walk. Sure, they could air step and glide past the buildings, but that's not exactly keeping a low profile. Suddenly Sora's face broke into a grin. "What about the subway?"

Riku raised an eyebrow. He was getting the feeling that turning down the car was intentional now. "The subway? Really?"

"Why not? I've never been on one!" the brunet insisted as he sipped at the last of his soft drink.

"You've been on a tram," Riku pointed out as he paid the bill and left the tip for their waitress.

"That's not the same thing," the other protested.

Riku quirked his eyebrow even higher. "How is it not the same thing?"

"Because...the subway is faster!" the blue-eyed man contested.

"It's going to be crowded!" the silverette pointed out. "Like jam-packed!"

Sora simply shrugged. "So? If it's fast, it won't matter."

Riku couldn't help feeling there was more to it than that, but their options were limited so he gave in to Sora's whim, just like he always does. Before he knew it, they found themselves on the subway and as he predicted, it was packed! Not only was it packed, it was incredibly warm. Bodies were pressing on them from all sides, even though they had gotten on in time to grab two of the handles against the wall. The older man didn't like this at all. This was all way too close for comfort. Sora, however, seemed to be having a great time, seemingly reveling in the fact that they were forced to be pressed close together as he kept his backside to Riku's front while he kept his eyes glued to the cityscape that was zooming by outside the window.

If this was Sora trying to be playful, he had terrible timing, Riku thought. But the more the car rattled and swayed with every turn, the more he felt the brunet "accidently" grind against him, and the more he felt his own resistance waning. Again, it was very warm on the train. Both had their ties loosened and top buttons undone. As tall as he is, he can perfectly see down Sora's collar where that tiny white star-shaped scar on the nape of his neck practically begged him to tease it. Down the front of his shirt he can see a bead of sweat roll down his exposed clavicle and his eyes couldn't help following it until it was out of sight. Gods, Sora looks amazing in his suit. Everything fit him so snugly and accentuated everything he had to show off. The vest hugged his taught abs and the cut of the pants fit the curve of his ass perfectly so that it continued to tease the imagination even when he had the jacket on. The silk shirt was thin and soft and fitted just right to show off the squareness of his shoulders almost even better than the jacket did. But Riku might argue it hugged him just a little too tight as he demonstrates to himself by blowing cool air onto the back of Sora's neck, causing the brunet to involuntarily shiver and Riku gives a satisfied smirk as he watches Sora's nipples harden and strain against the shirt and thin vest.

He felt the other's heart flutter through their connection, but that wasn't the only thing he sensed. Before he could get a firmer grasp on it, however, the train lurched to a stop so suddenly that Sora stumbled further into him, forcing Riku to catch him with his free hand. He wanted to comment on how unsteady Sora to be on his feet but kept the comment to himself because it was probably partially his own fault. More passengers shoved themselves into the already crowded car, so much so that they somehow managed to shove Sora away from the handle he was gripping on. Before he could react, somebody had already grabbed it. With a sigh, Riku wordlessly grabbed Sora's now free hand and moved it to his own handle. "Don't let go of it this time."

"I didn't do it on purpose," Sora grumbled. "That guy shoved me!" he hissed.

Riku glanced over at the vague direction that Sora was glaring at and saw any number of people that could've been the culprit. Sora looked like he was ready to pick a fight with whoever, though, so put himself in Sora's line of sight, perfectly eclipsing the brunet from anybody else's view and keeping him turned toward the window to distract him. The tactic seemed to work but now Sora was really flush against his body. He could still feel the other pouting and nuzzled his face into the top of his spiky hair until he felt him relax. He put his own hand on top of Sora's on their shared handle. He didn't have much trouble standing, but he wanted something to do with his hands. The other one he rested on Sora's hip where he teasingly dipped a finger underneath his waistband, his digit just long enough to caress his prominent hip bone over his tucked-in shirt.

Sora blushed happily at the sneaky contact and leaned back further into Riku, knowing the other would support him even if he let all of his weight lean on him. As crowded as the train was, this was kind of nice. It's just unfortunate that cozying up together like this was making the heat borderline unbearable. He kind of wished Riku would blow on his neck some more. That felt really good.

The train stopped again, but it still wasn't their stop. According to the app on his gummi phone, they had four more stops. Some people got off, but just when Sora thought they had a reprieve, even more had boarded than before. This group was a little noisier, a few of them carrying on with their conversation even as they got on the subway. At this rate, Sora thought he was going to be forced against the wall. He probably would be if Riku wasn't here, but the silverette was doing a good job at keeping his ground and not getting shoved around and he kept one hand protectively on Sora's hip to keep him from getting shoved, too, even as more people crowded in around them. He felt bad for the taller man. Riku didn't want to be on this thing in the first place, so Sora didn't dare complain lest Riku say "told you so". Nevertheless, he did feel he should maybe apologize, but before he could open his mouth, his ears picked up some of the boisterous conversation going on nearby.

"So whattaya think about those guys on the news? The ones at the embassy?"

Sora strained harder to listen and he could feel Riku's posture stiffening behind him as he clearly heard it, too.

"I dunno. Since when do you care about politics?"
"I care when they're aliens!"
"Come on, they're not aliens!"
"Don't you pay attention to the news? They're from another world!"
"They don't look like it."
"Wait, how do you know?"
"There's a picture of them on Tweeter."
"So you DO pay attention?"
"Do not. Anyway, they don't look like space ambassadors to me."
"What's a space ambassador supposed to look like?"
"Like this, apparently."
"Whoa! The tall one is hot!"
"The twink there is supposedly the lead ambassador."

Sora choked on the air he was breathing. "Twink!?" He coughed hard enough to earn a gentle pat on the back from Riku.

"They're both hot."
"Think the little one is more my type."
"Yeah, I'd like to get a piece of that ambASSador~"

Sora hissed between his teeth as a furious blush began to appear in his cheeks. "I thought they said there weren't going to be any pictures of us allowed!?" He was glad Riku was blocking him from view now so that he couldn't see who made that comment otherwise he'd have some choice words for sure. Riku seemed to sense it too as he resumed gripping his hip with a gentle firmness to steady him. Sora calmed but he still stuck his tongue briefly in disgust at the "ambassador" pun. He wanted to comment but he felt a rumbling in Riku's chest as the older man let out a small, deep chuckle. The next thing he knew, Riku had removed his hand from Sora's hip and was now groping his ass instead!

"Riku!" he hissed quietly, though he made no effort to pull away. It wasn't exactly like he had a lot of room to move and he couldn't turn around with his hand still on the handle and Riku's hand on top of his. He expected Riku to just laugh and let him go, but instead the silverette persisted, now thoroughly groping his backside and gripping it in his strong hand. The brunet let out a small gasp and backed up to grind his backside against Riku's hips, hoping to pin his hand so he'll cease, but instead he felt Riku's waking arousal press right back against him. He scrambles to grab Riku's hand with his free hand. He'll admit he was teasing Riku earlier, but he didn't mean for it to get this far! "Riku?" he whispered.

Just then Riku takes his hand and guides it above his head to grip the handle with both hands. Before he can even question it, Riku leans to whisper into his ear. "Don't let go." Sora shudders at the sultry tone of his voice and does as he's told, but it feels a little awkward for him. With both hands on the handle, there wasn't exactly much room for Riku's hand now. As the realization came to him, he felt Riku's other hand splay across his chest and the other move from his backside to wrap around his hips. The smaller man held his breath as the hand on his chest explored his front with slow, lingering touches, tracing circles around the approximate areas where his nipples would be before stroking his sternum, his fingers catching on the tiny buttons there. Sora took in another breath as tingles shot through all of his nerves. Was he really doing this in public!? What if somebody notices? He wanted to protest but he was so curious to see how far Riku would go. Was he just teasing him? Perhaps for forcing him to get on this crowded train? He didn't want to give in if that's the case so he kept his mouth shut, but it was proving hard to do as Riku fingered another one of his buttons open and slid his hand inside the front of his shirt!

He sharply inhaled through his nose and arched minutely against Riku's hand as his calloused fingertips caressed his skin and inched toward his nipple at an agonizing pace. His hands felt so cool against his heated skin and the contrast was absolutely divine so when the tips of his fingers finally reached his nipples he could barely contain the cry that nearly escaped his lips. It was a tiny mewl, but Riku scolded him immediately, shushing him sharply in his ear which only served to make Sora shudder all the more. This shouldn't feel new. After all, he and Riku have touched each other everywhere by now. But this was in public! In front of people! Nobody seemed to notice for now, but it's only a matter of time before they do, right? The what-ifs and chance of being caught, of being noticed was...thrilling. He wasn't sure if he liked it...but he was definitely warming up to this bold and daring side of Riku. Truth be told, he had been fantasizing quite a bit, ever since this morning when he saw Riku in his suit. His shoulders looked so broad. His pecs looked fantastic, slightly straining against his blouse and vest. The way the vest cinched his waist further accentuated the perfect slight angles of his abdomen to his hips. And don't even get him started on how damn fine those fitted pants make his lower half look. He'd be drooling shamelessly all over the floor if he stared or thought about it for too long. And if this was any indication, Riku must've felt the same way about him.

As if to confirm what he was thinking, Riku's hand boldly moved from Sora's waist and moved much lower to palm the front of Sora's pants with a gentle yet insistent pressure. Sora let out a small gasp as Riku's hand moved in slow circles to generate enough friction to fully awaken his arousal. He can practically feel the other smirking against his neck as he began kissing and sucking to make a small mark. Sora whimpered and felt his knees begin to quake, making him clutch the handle tighter as it felt like it might soon be the only thing holding him up. "Nnngh~"

"You look so amazing in that suit~" Riku practically purred into his ear as his fingers moved to gently grip and twist Sora's nipple, sending sparks shooting down his spine and making him clench his toes as he did his best to not cry out. "I know everybody else was admiring you, too. It made me jealous."

Sora buckled as Riku's sultry and possessive words made him melt, but Riku held him up firmly. He weakly attempted to protest. "Th-that's not--"

"It is," Riku interrupted, his words a sharp hiss that sent tingles shooting through Sora's brain. "You're mine. And I want them to see~"

The smaller male couldn't tell if Riku was being serious, but if the treatment to his nipple was any indication, he certainly seemed like it! "A-a-ah, Riku--"

"If you don't want them to notice," he whispered. "You better keep quiet."

"But--"

"Unless~" Sora could hear the smirk in his voice as his hand moved from his front to grip and rub the top of his thigh instead, his thumb dangerously close to where the fabric concealed his sack, just barely grazing it as he rubbed him up and down. "Unless you want me to stop."

Sora whimpered again. How could he ask Riku to stop!? He was already so hard and Riku had teased him past the point of no return. He wouldn't be able to forgive himself if he stopped him now without seeing how far Riku was willing to go. Public indecency be damned, he was already in too deep to pull out now! With a small whine he minutely shook his head no.

Riku's hand move to his other nipple and gave it the same treatment, teasing and twisting it until it became rock hard while his other hand cupped his crotch once more. "Can I touch you~?" he asked in a silky voice that had Sora giving like putty in his hands. Riku knew he had him. Now he just wanted the satisfaction of hearing Sora say yes...and Sora was going to give it to him. "Y-yes," he whispered.

"Yes, what?"

"Touch me, please," he let out in a small voice akin to a sob as Riku gave his nipple another twist. At his compliance, the teasing hand left his chest and moved to cover Sora's mouth instead, as well as partially cover his nose while he pressed more kisses to Sora's neck, his lips ravaging the sensitive skin all over until they settled on the nape where he gently nibbled and sucked at the white star-shaped scar that resided there. Immediately Sora was grateful for the hand on his mouth because it was the only thing muffling his cries as sparks of pleasure erupted from that spot and traveled in waves all the way to the tips of his fingers and toes.

The train continued to rattle and shift, making Sora sway and further grind back into Riku who rubbed himself against Sora's backside in kind. Sora could feel every inch of his hard sex sliding up the seam on the back of his pants and it lit a fire in his middle that ACHED! His desire for Riku was overwhelming, but it wasn't the only thing that ached as his pants felt incredibly tight and Riku's teasing palm on his front was making it worse by the second! He struggled to breathe hard through his partially covered nose, feeling pleasantly light-headed as Riku shamelessly continued to grope him, seemingly only satisfied when he no doubt began to feel that Sora's pants were dampening, because only then did he move to unbutton and unzip Sora's pants and stuff a hand down his underwear to grip him properly. Sora jolted as he felt that hot hand wrap around his length and bucked his hips into his grip wantonly, BEGGING for relief, but Riku didn't move. He just held him while he continued to nibble the back of Sora's neck, no doubt enjoying how much he was making Sora fall apart.

Sora moaned against the hand on his mouth, tears of need forming in the corners of his eyes as his hips begged for more, bucking until Riku loosened his hand only just a little so Sora can do the work himself. The brunet huffed, feeling slightly undignified as he's forced to chase his own pleasure, but his shoulders slacken as he gives in, keeping his grip on the handle as he bucks into Riku's waiting hand. His efforts are rewarded with more teasing in his ear. "Look at how desperate you are~" Riku whispered. "I love seeing you beg for it."

The younger man's heart pounded in his chest and he felt that coil in his stomach get unbearably tight. He almost lost it right there as Riku's dirty talk sent another wave of pleasure and chills down his entire being. His sweet, romantic, and (usually) gentle prince really knew how to be mean sometimes (not that he was complaining). But what was the end game? Was he going to make him cum himself right here? He was really close and his body felt unbearably hot. He thought he was going to explode in more ways than one! But before he could reach that peak, Riku gripped him firmly, trapping him in his hand and forcing him to cease his movements. He whined against Riku's hand as his orgasm was denied but Riku merely shushed him again and began pulling down Sora's pants and underwear so that the fabric rested on his thighs and just below his butt.

The keyblade master immediately began to panic! He felt so exposed! The only thing keeping him from being bare-ass naked in front of everybody was the bottom of his shirt, but Riku was already pushing it up and he felt something hard and moist prod his backside. Was Riku seriously about to--!?

"Hand it over," Riku demanded.

"Hmm!!?" Sora twisted his head to look at him.

"I know you have them. I could sense your little fantasy ever since we got on this train. No point being coy now~"

"Mmph!" the brunet protested.

"Would you rather get on your knees and suck me off instead?" he whispered.

Sora's eyes practically rolled into the back of his head at the mental visual Riku's voice provided. He couldn't deny that he wanted it and he was already way past caring. Against his better judgement, he released the handle with one hand to dig into his jacket pocket, which he's had draped over his upright arm this whole time and retrieved a tiny bottle of lube and a pair of condoms. He glanced down to see Riku's outstretched hand waiting and deposited them into his palm before reaching back up to grab the handle once more. He hoped hoped HOPED that Riku would at least do him the courtesy of wrapping him up too so that he didn't cum all over himself. He didn't want to have to get this suit dry-cleaned!

At long last Riku removed his hand from Sora's mouth and he could breathe normally again but the first thing he did was groan as Riku slipped two lubed fingers inside of him. He waited with anticipation as they slid inside and heard an amused noise from Riku before the older keyblade master started mercilessly scissoring his fingers inside of him. "Look at you~ Already prepped for me." He used his free hand to force Sora to turn his head so he can give him a deep kiss. "Good boy~" he grinned.

Sora's knees buckled again at the praise, his weeping cock leaping beneath his untucked shirt as he shuddered again. It's just not FAIR how much Riku's words affect him. He wanted to bend over and beg to be taken right there but then Riku suddenly slipped his fingers out and slipped something else much bigger inside, filling him with one swift movement! Before he could cry out, Riku used his clean hand to cover his mouth again and wrapped his arm around his thin waist to hold him in place before he started thrusting, fucking him upright in front of everybody! Nobody seemed to be the wiser as he plowed into his ass, his shirt still covering himself and Riku, not that it was entirely necessarily as Riku's much larger body shielded the petite man from view regardless. In fact, if it weren't for his hands reaching up for the handle, nobody would probably ever guess that Sora was standing there in the first place, let alone getting fucked out of his mind! It was so thrilling, so dirty, and so unlike anything they've ever done before! It sent Sora's brain to new heights, his mind crashing through planets and galaxies as his pleasure soared to astronomical levels! He was terrified of being caught but he was getting off on it so hard! He wanted it to end, but he also didn't! The tight quarters kept Riku constantly pressed against his prostate and the man knew it! His thrusts remained hard and shallow, every movement though quick was intense and precise. Sora wasn't going to last another second!

Sora could feel Riku fumbling one-handed with the other condom and heard him rip it open with his teeth without ever ceasing his thrusts. But just as he lowered his hand back down, he heard another voice in his other ear that startled his heart into stopping for a brief moment.

"Mind if I join in?"

Sora froze, his eyes snapping wide open. He wanted to curl up into a ball and die right there on the floor from embarrassment. But he was also pissed at the audacity! He was not something to be shared and passed around--

"Sure."

He swore his brain just broke. So shocked he was by Riku's answer he could only gape with his jaw on the floor as Riku nonchalantly slipped out of him and moved to reposition himself in what little space there was between Sora and the wall to kneel down and take his Sora's cock into his mouth instead.

"Ri-Riku--MMPH!" Another hand was put over his mouth and this time he felt himself struggling against somebody whose stature felt VERY similar to Riku's, but this person was quick to wrap his free arm around Sora, keeping his arms pinned against his body in a powerful grip as he slipped inside his already well-stretched opening with minimal effort. Sora groaned and whined pitifully into the stranger's hand as he felt the other's engorged length fill him up. At least he was wearing a condom, but he couldn't get over the fact that there was a stranger inside of him! He wriggled and writhed in the other's grip, wanting to cry and kick out, but Riku was still kneeling in front of him, gripping his hips firmly as he engulfed his cock to the tip. Sora leaned his upper body forward, almost caving in on himself as he felt himself sink into the hot, wet cavern of Riku's mouth. He was sobbing pitifully into the stranger's hand now, completely lost in his throes of pleasure as he clenched around the organ invading his backside. He could hear the other hiss appreciatively before he began to move but it didn't take more than a few thrusts and a few hard swallows from Riku before he lost himself entirely, shamelessly spilling his seed down the other's throat with abandon as he secretly hoped Riku would choke just a little for allowing the other man to take over like this. But alas, as he watched him greedily suck down every drop, Riku seemed nothing but amused. If it weren't for the fact that his arms were pinned, Sora thinks he would've grabbed Riku and shaken the smug man senseless right there.

He dared to glance around to see if anybody was paying them any attention through tear-blurred eyes. Amazingly nobody seemed to be giving them a second glance, but Sora wasn't sure how much longer their luck was going to last. After all, the man behind him was still gently stirring his overstimulated insides and had yet to cum. Neither has Riku for that matter, his red condom-wrapped length standing prominently through his open pants. Just looking at it made Sora ache for him again. He gave his husband a pleading look, too tired to struggle anymore against his captor. Maybe when the other finishes he'll finally get to feel his husband again. But now that the post-orgasmic fog was beginning to clear, something did feel familiar about the man inside of him. But how was that possible? All he could see when staring down was a pair of white sneakers and acid-washed jeans. He tried to turn his head, but Riku gripped his chin and brought his attention forward to give him a deep kiss, his tongue probing deep as his hands worked to get Sora back to attention, freeing the other's hand to grip him with both arms firmly as Riku was now smothering his moaning with kisses.

Sora allowed his eyes to drift closed as he lost himself to the hot pool of pleasure that he was being soaked in once again. He was sandwiched between the love of his life and a complete stranger and it was getting harder and harder to care. He felt so good! He and Riku haven't had the opportunity to be this intimate in weeks and now it was like it was all coming down on him at once. He was relaxing into their hold, melting at their touches, losing himself as he got drunk off of Riku's kisses. His body felt sensitive to everything and yet nothing outside of their passion-filled bubble mattered. He didn't even know where he was anymore!

But then the other loosened his grip and Riku guided his hands back up to grip the handle. He complied with a whimper, not daring to open his eyes lest he snap out of this weird zone his brain was now in, afraid that once he was out of it he would come crashing down to earth in a very catastrophic way. The man behind him slipped his hands under his backside and suddenly he felt Riku lift him by his thighs to wrap them around himself. He was now being supported in mid-air between the two of them!

Sora tore his mouth away from Riku's. "Waitwaitwaitwait," he pleaded in a breathless stream of whimpers.

"Do you want me, baby?" Riku whispered in a voice so sinfully sweet that Sora wanted to cry.

"Y-yes," Sora sobbed. "But--"

Riku interrupted by kissing both of his eyes closed. He felt hands on his ass pry him wider and a set of index fingers join the cock that was already inside of him, pulling him further apart than he's ever been before. "Breathe for me, baby."

With a shuddering gasp, Sora did as he was told, breathing slow and deep as his body trembled with anticipation. He was scared but an even bigger part of him was excited. He knew Riku would never hurt him, but this better not become a regular thing or he fears he'll never be able to walk again! With one last deep breath, he felt Riku's well-lubed length slide inside to join the other. It was achingly slow and he gripped the handle above him until his knuckles were white but he did his best to stay relaxed. He breathed through every inch of it as Riku whispered praise into his ears but it was all a big mess of sweet sound at this point. Finally both were completely sheathed inside of him. Never before had he felt so full! He felt almost numb but he was also feeling so many things, mostly that he wanted them to MOVE! He used the handle to give himself leverage, wriggling impatiently between them and they took that as an open invitation! But first, Riku was kind enough to finally cover Sora's dripping length with a condom so he doesn't mess himself up any further. Apparently he found the third one in his jacket pocket by himself this time.

Once he was sufficiently prepared, the two men began moving. It was slow at first, each one struggling slightly to slide out and slide back in as they took turns thrusting. Each movement made wet squelching noises that made Sora's face red hot with embarrassment but it was also so arousing when he heard their balls slap against his backside from the force of their re-entry. He kept his legs tight around Riku, afraid if he were to let go he'd fall off the face of the planet entirely even though the other had a very firm grip on his backside and seemed to be holding him up without any trouble whatsoever. As they picked up their pace, he almost felt weightless. It was almost an out-of-body experience, his senses were getting hammered so hard! His body felt like it was on fire! He was so full and the strikes to his prostate were unyielding! They went in so far and so deep he wondered mournfully if he could ever be this satisfied ever again! The two men panted hard, their hot breath cascading over Sora's chest and neck as they pounded up into him at an increasingly breakneck pace. He couldn't take it anymore! He was going to come a second time but he wanted them to finish first!

He pried his eyes open to look at Riku, to tell him to hurry up, but before he could form the words, he saw a reflection in the window behind him. Two heads of silver hair and one set of pink eyes was staring back at him. But wait...that's...

"RIKU!?" Sora's eyes widened so far it was amazing his eyes didn't pop out of his head, especially as the one behind him began fucking him harder, almost throwing off their rhythm entirely!

"Jig's up," the Riku behind him chuckled.

"Yup," the Riku in front smirked.

"Oh fuck!" Sora moaned, not even caring who hears anymore. "FUCK! I'm going to cum!!"

"Not yet!" the Riku behind him snarled as he fucked him even faster.

"Wait!" the Riku in front hissed, reaching between them to grip the base of Sora's cock with his thumb and index finger.

Sora sobbed openly as his orgasm was stalled. He was in a state of pleasure limbo, stuck between climax and release! It was like a rollercoaster that was in a constant loop-de-loop and he just wanted down! "PLEASE! PLEASE!" he begged the two, clenching as hard as he could around the both of them until they both roared with their own climaxes, thrusting up into him one last time as they spurt inside of Sora's stretched channel. Alas Sora could only feel the warmth of their release as they were both wearing condoms but it brought him to his peak again nevertheless as Riku finally released him and let him cum as well.

"FUCK FUCK FUCK!" he screamed, his whole world coming undone as he released the handles in favor of collapsing in their arms instead, letting them catch him so he can wrap his limbs around them instead as his hips bucked in the throes of his of his climax. He really felt like he was falling and flying at the same time. He felt a lurching in his stomach as the two pulled out of him and clenched his eyes closed as they held him tight. But then suddenly all of it was gone and he opened his eyes to find himself not in a subway car, but in a large, soft bed with crisp white sheets and Riku curled into his side.

He glanced over at the clock on the bedside table. It was only half past midnight. With a grown he pushed away the bangs that clung to his sweaty forehead. His whole body felt warm in an unsated sort of way. He glanced down at Riku who looked just as warm as he did, a faint glow on his cheeks that was visible even to the one of them who could NOT see in the dark. Slowly he came to his senses and realized what had just transpired. Riku invaded his dream!

With a scoff, he swiftly sat up and grabbed one of the extra pillows to bash Riku in the head with. "YOU PERVY PERVY PERV!"

Riku woke up with a start and instinctively shielded his face with his hands as Sora continued to bash him with the pillow, but far from alarmed, he found himself unable to contain his laughter as it wasn't too hard to guess what the brunet was so mad about. "ME!? It was YOUR dream. I just joined in!" the silverette cackled.

"You couldn't let me know that it was you??? I thought you...I thought you...!" he couldn't even finish, his face was so hot with embarrassment he thought he was going to faint.

"Well what fun would that have been?" Riku snickered.

"RIKU!!" Sora growled the other's name shrilly and climbed on top of him like he was about to strangle him.

Riku quickly calmed the other by cupping his cheek and stroking it with his thumb, a gentle touch that felt soothing on Sora's hot cheek. "You know I would never do anything to hurt you."

"I know," Sora murmured, his anger abated. "And I knew that. Otherwise I would've kicked your ass."

Riku chuckled. "I'm sure you would have."

"I'm still mad at you, though," Sora pouted.

Riku looked taken aback. "But...you said I could--"

"I did," Sora interrupted. "And you still can. But hiding your identity was not part of the agreement!"

"Didn't you hear my voice?"

"I...I...Oh come on, Riku! I was being fucked six ways to Sunday! You think I could hear anything?!" the brunet raged with exasperation.

Riku laughed. "Okay, fair. Next time I join in, I'll announce myself before participating, how's that?"

Sora's face got impossibly redder as he considered this agreement. When all was said and done, the mystery WAS kind of hot in hindsight, especially now that he knows it was a dream. "Well...now that I know it's a possibility...I guess you don't have to if you don't want to," he muttered.

Riku grinned and shook his head, deciding not to push it. But then Sora swooped down and started nomming roughly on his neck, growling hungrily as he ground his hips against his. The older man gasped at the rough treatment and could feel the other was rock hard!

"I'm still going to make you pay," Sora growled into his neck.

"Please do~" Riku moaned. He can tell Sora seriously wants revenge. He's animalistic and growling, biting and clawing at Riku as he roughly tugs off what little clothing they're both wearing. He isn't used to Sora being so rough but damn it if it doesn't feel so good right now. Fingernails dragged in all the right places that sent goosebumps all over his skin. Teeth pulled and bit just hard enough to almost bruise but not quite. It felt so cathartic that he found himself craving more. He cried out as Sora tugged his hair and forced him to roll over. He complied happily and moaned into the pillows beneath him as Sora dragged nails and teeth down his back, tracing the invisible dream eater symbol there that had his eyes lighting up a dangerously pink color. He bit into the pillow to hold back a loud, pleasurable growl as Sora bit the back of his neck.

"Don't hold back. I want to hear you," Sora whispered hungrily into his ear. His voice traveled straight down to Riku's groin and made him release the pillow to moan again and Sora rewarded his honesty with hot, wet kisses all over the bits of skin he had abused.

"Sora...please..." he begged. He was already incredibly turned on after the dream they both experienced and now with this treatment from Sora he didn't need much more coaxing. He was ready and willing for whatever Sora wanted to do to him. He didn't care that he was coming apart and begging for it. He trusted and loved Sora more than anyone else in the world. He's the ONLY one he'd ever show this side of himself to and he knows Sora would never make him feel ashamed for it.

"Yes~" Sora whispered hoarsely as he reached for the lube. Sat atop Riku's thighs he prepared his fingers and proceeded to plunge them deep inside. Two fingers because he knows Riku can take it and because he knows the other is getting just as impatient as he is. As much as he would like to draw it out, to truly punish him for what happened, Riku was right. He was only there for the last half. He wasn't responsible for anything that Dream Riku did, so he couldn't be too mad at him. Not that he was really mad. He was just pent up and was now reveling in how loud and shameless he can be with Riku right now. It felt like their honeymoon all over again. Before they had extra responsibilities, before the added trauma, before having Hoku, when they would tear into each other and build each other back up again at newer heights. It felt fantastic and he was going to enjoy every bit of it! "I fucking love you," he moaned into the back of Riku's neck as he plunged a third finger inside of him. "I want to hear you beg for me!"

"Fuck, Sora!" Riku moaned wantonly, lifting his hips desperately to meet Sora's thrusting fingers. "Just fuck me already!"

"Beg me!" Sora demanded as he curled his fingers up to prod Riku's prostate, causing the other to cry out as a spurt of pleasure escaped his cock.

"Sora!"

"Beg me!" he insisted again, this time twisting his fingers in that spot.

"Please! Fuck me!"

"You want me?"

"Yes! I want you!"

Thrilled, Sora quickly pulled his fingers out and grabbed a pillow for Riku's hips. The older male would've refused but he was too appreciative of the brief reprieve from the assault on his prostate. Before he knew it, he felt Sora's cock sheathe itself inside him and his hand was in his hair tugging on it and forcing him back to engage in a lip-smashing kiss. Riku was more than happy to duel tongues with the other, the two fighting to devour each other as Sora bucked into him from behind. It was slightly straining on his back, but he found he just didn't care. There will be plenty of time for regrets regarding his flexibility later.

Eventually Sora pulled away and began pounding at Riku's ass, leaning far down as he roughly gripped his hips so he can nip and bite at the silverette's back, decorating him with even more love bites and bruises. This was good, but he wanted more! He wanted to go as deep as he could. If he could get even a fraction as deep as he felt Riku inside him in his dream he could fall asleep happy! Without warning, he pulled out and forced Riku to turn on his side, lifting his leg over his shoulder and straddling his other thigh before shoving himself inside again.

Riku groaned and threw his head back at the change in position. Sora was now striking his prostate at a completely different angle and it was SO INTENSE! If it's one thing he's always admired about Sora it's his stamina! He doesn't know where the other has found this much energy at 1 a.m. but he couldn't bring himself to complain. But oh when Sora bent down to bite at the scars on his neck and shoulder did he moan! His tongue felt so hot against the scars where darkness had burned him, like an electrifying kind of hot that had him curling his toes and grasping at the sheets for purchase. But just when he thought he was going to cum, Sora pulled out AGAIN! He didn't recognize the cry that escaped his throat when he felt the other slide out, but he didn't have time to be embarrassed as Sora was rolling him onto his back again! Was he just trying to see how many positions he could fit into one session or what!?

Suddenly Sora lifted both his legs and pushed them so far up that his back was forced upwards. Next thing he knew his ankles were on either side of his head and the smaller man was JACKHAMMERING INTO HIM! "FUCK, SORA!" he screamed as he felt the other go deeper than he has ever felt him go before. His outcry seemed to please Sora very much as he picked up the pace. Riku was so glad that Sora was smaller in stature than he was because if this were anybody else, this position might've been murder on his back, but the spry male was bouncing with little to no effort on Riku's part and the angle was just right to allow Sora the height he needed to thrust quickly and deeply. It was a slightly bizarre sight from Riku's point of view, not that he hasn't seen him in this position before, just at a much less drastic angle. But he quickly learned there was one other advantage to this position as Sora easily reached to grab his cock and began pumping it with his thrusts. "Riku, Riku! RIKU!" he cried out between breaths. "I'm gonna cum!"

"Do it!" Riku encouraged. "Do it, please!" He doesn't think he can handle one more position change!

With a roar, Sora came into him and Riku threw his head back in a silent scream as he felt Sora's release pour into him a way he's never felt before, like it was going straight for his stomach! It was so deep and so hot, like liquid metal and gods that was all he needed before he came all over his own chest and face. He didn't even realize what had happened until he opened his eyes again and reached up to feel the mess that nearly hit him in the eye.

"Whoops," Sora blushed sheepishly before pulling out of Riku and carefully unfolding him and helping him lie back down.

"Agh!" Riku cried out before he could stop himself. Yup, here comes the regret.

"Sorry!!" Sora apologized before quickly using a curaga spell and rolling off the bed to find a towel to clean Riku off.

"Forget it," Riku tried calling after him. "I'll just take a shower."

"I can get it!" Sora insisted from the other room.

"It's already in my hair!" the silverette insisted. "It's fine, really."

Sora poked his head shyly around the corner. "You sure you don't want to cuddle first?"

Riku smiled fondly and invited him back to bed with an open arm. "Come here."

Sora ran back to bed with glee, a complete 180 from the lust-driven maniac he was acting like a moment ago. He brought a hand towel with him and softly wiped away the cum off of Riku's face and chest before engaging in soft kisses. "Did...did I hurt you?"

"Of course not," Riku smiled as he kissed him back. "You were amazing."

"Really?" Sora blushed. "I...I'm glad. You were amazing too, of course."

Riku chuckled and brushed his hands through Sora's hair, making the other coo appreciatively. "I love you."

"I love you too, Riku," Sora murmured as he leaned into Riku's touch.

"So am I forgiven?" he grinned.

"Of course," Sora giggled. "Happy anniversary~"

Riku blinked but then broke into a wider smile as his afterglow-filled brain remembered the other reason why they were here in San Fransokyo. "Happy anniversary."

Chapter Text

Today, Sora and Riku, their dads, and all the other island dads were meeting up on the play island in a group effort to fix it up for the kids. A lot of things needed repair from the storms over the years and many of the dads were eager about adding some new wooden additions such as rope bridges, better stairs, and rope swings. Of course, this was also a great opportunity for them to all bring their kids and let them play together while they were hard at work. Hoku had so much fun riding in a rowboat with Sora's dad and of course wanted one all for his own, which his grandpa said he'd definitely help him build one day when he's old enough. Sora and Riku were filled with nostalgia, recalling how their own dads would bring them here to play when they were too little to come to the island themselves and they were just as excited as the other dads to make it better for the next generation of kids to enjoy as well.

Hoku ran off eagerly to play with the other kids as soon as they hit the beach and the dads went straight to work. Riku's dad used the fishing boat to bring over all the lumber that was donated to the cause and they hurried to help unload while the other dads contributed things like nails and tools. Sora and Riku of course brought their own tools but Sora also brought food and drinks to prepare for all of them to enjoy later once their work was done.

As they got to work putting down new planks, Riku caught sight of Hoku approaching a group of kids who were surrounding a little girl he hadn't seen before. But before he could give it another thought, his dad nudged him with another plank to straighten and nail down.

"Hoku doesn't seem to have trouble making friends," Riku's dad chortled. "He definitely gets that from you."

"Thanks," both Sora and Riku responded at once, making the other dads laugh while the two keyblade wielders playfully shoved their elbows into each other.

"By the way, how is Naminé doing?" Sora's dad asked.

Sora and Riku paused for a moment as they considered how to answer. Naminé had given birth one month prematurely. As it turned out, her replica body while containing important memories was damaged from the keyblade war and so carrying her child proved incredibly taxing on her. In the end, they almost lost her. But by some miracle she and her child survived. Despite being early, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl they named Vera who was just as beautiful and petite as her mother and Vanitas looks after both of them VERY closely. Even though it's months later, Naminé is still on the mend, but she's coming around. "She's walking again and her energy is starting to come back," Sora answered. "Vani says she's still sad a lot because she feels like a burden when they should both be focusing on the baby. But he says the baby is doing just fine."

Riku's dad tutted in sympathy. "Postpartum depression is really tough. She might need to see a doctor."

Another dad nodded. "It hit my wife pretty hard with our first-born. Talking helps, but if she really is taking a long time to recover, it couldn't hurt to see a doctor."

Riku and Sora looked to each other. Neither had considered that possibility. Plus with a traumatic birth, it's very possible that Naminé could very well be going through postpartum depression. Unable to get the thought out of his head, Sora whipped his phone out to text Kairi to have her talk to Naminé instead. This feels like a thing the two of them should talk about.

In an effort to lighten the subject Sora's dad asked, "How's Vanitas like being a daddy?"

Riku's face broke into a wide grin. "He won't admit it, but I think he secretly loves it. She has him wrapped around her little finger."

Sora giggled. "He calls her his little bunny~"

The dads chortled. "Yeah, daughters will do that to you."

On the beach, Hoku noticed a bunch of other boys seemed to be making fun of a girl around his age with green eyes and black hair. No...not black. It was the darkest purple he's ever seen, so dark one would've assumed it was black had it not reflected purple when the sun hits it just right. To Hoku it was the most amazing thing ever, but to the boys it was something to be made fun of? That didn't make any sense to him, so he stepped in. "What's wrong with having purple hair?" he asked.

"It's weird!" one of the boys said.

"It's weird because it's different?" Hoku asked. "Why?"

"It just is!"

"Then...do you think I'm weird, too?" Hoku questioned, standing between the girl and the three other boys. He's gotten along well with all of them in the past but he's never seen them act this way before.

"That's different!" one of them protested. "Yours looks cool!"

"So does hers!" Hoku stomped his foot defiantly. "You shouldn't make fun of her because her hair is pretty! Making other people sad just makes you a bully!"

The other three boys looked at each other. They did feel bad for angering Hoku, who was the nicest kid they knew. So if he's mad, then they must've really done something wrong. The three mumbled apologies and ran off to explore another part of the island, leaving Hoku to check on the sniffling girl. Her face was wet with tears and the tears kept flowing because her hands were covered in sand and she was hurting her face trying to wipe them away. "Here," Hoku offered his handkerchief from his meow-wow bag. "Are you okay?"

She took it gratefully, her lower lip trembling as she wiped her face. "Th-thank you."

Hoku smiled brightly. "I'm Hoku. What's your name?"

"Kila," she responded shyly before handing back the handkerchief, now covered in snot and sand. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay!" he laughed and stuffed it back into his bag. "Wanna play with me?"

"Play wut?" she sniffled.

Hoku gave a cheesy grin before reaching into his bag and offering her one of his toy wooden swords. "Here!"

"M-me? Are you sure?" she asked as she tentatively held the wooden toy and gave it a few swings by the handle.

"Yes! Hehe!" he giggled excitedly as he grabbed his other one.

"But I don't know how!" she protested as she held it up tightly with two hands.

"I'll teach you! It's really easy! Just do what I do!" he encouraged. "En garde!"

Sora watched the whole scene play out and couldn't be happier to see Hoku making a new friend. Riku saw it, too. Apparently her dad is the one that's busy on the other side of the island making the rope swings. He's one of the kids who grew up in their neighborhood, went to a private school in the inner city, and then moved back to start his own family. They never really talked to him before, but then again, he was two years older than they were and graduated before Riku and Sora got back. It was cute seeing her slowly open up to Hoku and in no time they were having a blast playing with the swords. With the tension out of the way, the two men turned their focus back on their work.

But just as it seemed like everything was going well, they heard a blood-curdling scream come from the little girl Hoku was playing with and snapped their heads back to see Hoku clutching his mouth. "Hoku!" Sora shouted and dashed over without even thinking.

"Sora!" Riku called after him and hurried to catch up.

"I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!!" Kila cried, wailing as blood gushed out of Hoku's mouth.

"Ib fine! Ib fine!" Hoku insisted, more concerned that he made Kila cry than anything. He wasn't worried. His daddies can fix any booboos. He was just worried he scared his new friend! "Pleash dob cwy!"

"Hoku!!" Sora cried out as he kneeled before Hoku and tried to pry his hands away from his mouth. "What happened? Let me see!"

Riku was behind him just a second with a towel. It was hard to see around all the blood but clutched in Hoku's bloody fists were his two front teeth and his lip was purple and bruised from the impact of the other sword. It seems that Hoku was distracted by one of the boys asking to play the winner in the next sword fight and Kila tripped up on the sand and lunged forward with the blunt tip and sent it straight into Hoku's mouth. The other boys watched in awe and fascination as Sora and Riku mopped up Hoku, seemingly in more distress than their little boy was. They also looked at Kila with immense respect. Nobody has EVER beaten Hoku in a sword fight before and she did it on her first try!

Riku's dad was right behind them. He could already tell the two new dads were at a loss as far as what they should do. "Get on the boat. We're taking him to the dentist."

"Right!" Riku nodded and scooped Hoku up. "Keep the towel in your mouth, Hoku."

Sora hurried to call the dentist to let them know they were on their way but patted Kila's head to reassure her. "He'll be okay, sweetheart. You didn't do anything bad." He winked. "You two can have a rematch next time." With that, he gathered the stuff Hoku dropped and hurried onto the boat after them.

The little one began sniffling in the boat as he sat between his two dads, towel pressed against his bloody mouth. Sora sympathetically wrapped an arm around him. "I'm sure it hurts, huh?"

Hoku sniffled harder. "Do you dink she habes me now?"

Riku blinked as he tried to piece together what Hoku was even talking about. "Oh, that girl you were playing with?" He laughed and gently pat him on the head. "I'm sure she doesn't hate you. She's just upset because she got scared. Once we get you all cleaned up, you two can talk it out and play together again."

Sora reached into his pocket to pull out a handkerchief and blot at the little boy's tears. "Soooo, what's her name?"

"Keeya," he mumbled. "She's nice."

"Keeya or Kila?" Riku asked.

"Sheh-cund one," Hoku answered before he started crying again. "MY TEEF!"

Sora fought back a laugh. Did he seriously only just now notice he lost his teeth? "It'll be okay! We're taking you to the dentist."

"I CAB BE A DWAGON WIFFOUT MY TEEF!!" he wailed.

The two did their best to comfort him by telling him all about the tooth fairy on the way to the dentist's office. Even as Riku hurried to fill out the paperwork in the waiting room while they waited for the dentist to squeeze them in on short notice, Sora told Hoku all about the mysterious fairy that leaves munny under your pillow in exchange for teeth. Once again, Hoku was slightly skeptical. But he at least knows what munny is. To teach him about numbers and saving (and also keep him distracted during heartless battles) they've given Hoku the small munny drops for him to count and taught him how to divide it into three parts: one for his piggy bank, one for school, and one for charity. They've been really proud to see him mostly divvying his "earnings" so that most of it goes toward the school/orphanage that Terra and Aqua were running and they weren't actually too worried about how much he put towards school because he's obviously set. But it was nice to see him putting careful thought into how he divides his share, and counting very well too! With this in mind, Sora decided to add to the tooth fairy perk just a little bit.

"And you know what else?" Sora asked.

"Whub?"

"When the tooth fairy gives you money, you get to keep ALL of it."

The little boy gasped! "All ub it?"

"All of it!"

"Whoa!"

Sora snickered and ruffled his hair. That seemed to cheer him up. In fact once the dentist finally saw him, Hoku couldn't contain his excitement and began telling the dentist all about this tooth fairy he just learned about while he was getting examined.

The dentist gave an amused chuckle and kindly listened to Hoku's babbling as he carefully checked his bloody gums for any sign of serious damage. "So what are you going to do with all that munny?"

"Shtuff for mah bahke!" he answered around the gentle gloved fingers in his mouth.

"Very good! Are you riding by yourself yet?"

"No," Riku chuckled. "He's ambitious."

"Wanna dwagon bike!" Hoku exclaimed as soon as the fingers were out of his mouth.

"What's a dragon bike look like?" the dentist asked while he finished up.

"Wings! And teef! And fire!"

"Wow!" the kind old man laughed.

Sora tugged at his collar a little out of nervousness. He keeps trying to remind himself that kids are ALLOWED to say outlandish things because they have active imaginations they can blame things on, but years of being told "ORDER!" have really started to make him paranoid, even when it comes to his child's seemingly innocent ideas of grandeur. "So does he need dentures?" he asked playfully.

"I want dwagon fangs!" Hoku contributed. If he was going to need new teeth, they better be dragon teeth!

The dentist chuckled and put Hoku's fallen front teeth into a tiny tooth-shaped container for him. "It seems to me his adult teeth aren't far off anyway, so he should be fine. There doesn't appear to be any damage besides a little bruising. I'll prescribe you a pain relief ointment to rub on his gums if it starts to hurt him. But I'm sure he'll be fine. Come back if anything changes."

"Got it. Thanks, doctor," Riku shook the dentist's hand. "I'm sorry we had to come after hours."

"Don't worry about it," the dentist chuckled and gave Hoku a free toothbrush and a tiny dinosaur toy. "Sorry, I don't have any dragons. But will a dinosaur do?"

Hoku nodded excitedly as he accepted the small toy. "A tyranto resh!"

Riku nearly choked on the air he was breathing as Hoku mistook the tyrannosaurus rex toy for a dream eater named Tyranto Rex. "Well, let's get you home, little man."

Hoku held his arms up and Riku gladly lifted him out of the dentist's chair to effortlessly sling him over his shoulders. They all thanked the dentist one more time before heading back home. By now the sun was going down and the dads felt a little bad that they couldn't finish up the work on the play island with the others, Sora especially since he promised to make everybody food.

Riku gave Sora a reassuring smile. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure they were perfectly capable of cooking the hamburgers and hotdogs you left for them."

Sora laughed. "We can only hope."

Hoku meanwhile was playing with his new toy and marching it through Riku's "forest" of hair. "Raaawr raaawr~"

"How are you feeling, Hoku?" Riku asked.

"My fashe hurtsh," he answered simply.

"I'm sure it does," Sora patted his knee sympathetically. He hated seeing his poor baby boy's face all swollen and bruised, but he had to wait until the got home to heal it. "When we get back, daddy will make it all better."

"Why not now?" Hoku pouted.

"Because we're still walking," Riku answered, though it really wasn't an answer.

Hoku grumbled and went back to playing with his dinosaur. "When'sh the toof fairy coming?"

"She's going to come while you sleep tonight," Sora explained. Eventually they made it to the nearest warp sphere and used it to get back to their place. As soon as they got back, the brunet cast a cure spell on the tot and the bruising faded away.

"Mush better!" Hoku exclaimed happily but then his face fell with disappointment. "My teef aren't back!"

"Sorry, sweetheart. I don't think cure spells can put baby teeth back in."

Riku set him down on the floor once they got to the living room and pondered that thought for a moment. "Can curaga heal busted ADULT teeth?"

Sora crossed his arms as he thought about it. "I...think? Curaga mostly works as like a reversal spell, right? But obviously it can only reverse so much."

"Right...so I guess if your teeth did get knocked out you could probably get them back in if you cast curaga fast enough," Riku concluded.

Hoku stomped his foot angrily. "SHO YOU COULDA GWOWN MY TEEF BACK AND YOU DIDN'T!?" he screeched.

"Hey! No yelling!" Sora scolded.

"And don't you stomp your foot at us, young man. Apologize right now."

The toddler stood his ground. "No! You shay shorry firsh!"

Sora was quite taken aback. The only time Hoku ever talks back is when he doesn't want to go to bed and even then he doesn't exhibit this level of boldness. "Sorry for what?"

"For my teef!" Hoku pointed at the gap in his mouth while angry tears started forming in his eyes. "You jush shaid you coulda fished them!" He sniffled hard as he tried not to cry but he couldn't hold back his meltdown any longer and began bawling at the unfairness of it all.

Riku quickly scooped him up again and hugged him, patting his back gently as he let him cry it out. "Shhh, it's not like that. You have BABY teeth. They're going to fall out anyway. That's why we didn't heal yours. Now you're going to get big boy teeth instead!"

Hoku continued to sniffle loudly. "But...but now I talk funny!"

"It'll only be for a little while," Sora assured him. "Don't worry, all the other kids will be talking funny too when their teeth fall out. You're just ahead of the game!"

"Sho...I'm winning?" he asked hopefully.

Riku couldn't help smirking. That was definitely one way of looking at it. "Yeah, you're winning."

"Oh...okay." The little one gave one last sniffle and wiped at his eyes with his fist. "I'm hungry."

"Don't worry, I'll make you something yummy," Sora promised. "How about you let daddy help you get your pajamas on?"

"Bath first, I think," Riku pointed out. The poor boy was still covered in quite a bit of blood.

"Want bubbles," the small boy pouted.

"All the bubbles you want," Riku snickered and carried him that way.

Sora chuckled and hurried to the kitchen to make sure they had the right ingredients to make something soft enough for Hoku to eat. Even with a cure spell he's probably going to be a little sore in the gums. After going over all their current options, he landed on hotdogs and french fries, some of the food he ended up not bringing along to the cookout because he bought too much. But instead of buns, he sliced the hotdogs so that Hoku could eat them with a fork and eat with the sides of his mouth. Same goes for the french fries. It wasn't exactly fine dining but something simple was probably best for now and it'd be done cooking by the time Hoku was done with his bath.

Just as he was pulling the pan of fries from the oven, Sora heard a shriek from the bathroom that startled him so much he nearly dropped the hot pan all over the floor along with the golden crinkle fries! "W-what!? What is it!?" he shouted, hurrying to set the pan on the stove and turn off the oven to rush to the bathroom where he found Riku trying to console Hoku.

"M-my dwagon!" the tot cried.

"Huh?" Sora looked to Riku who was holding up what appeared to be a child-sized hoody he had never seen before.

Riku it up for Sora to see. It looked just like Hoku's dragon onesie, just now in zip-up hoody form. "His pajamas changed."

Sora tried not to smile as Hoku was clearly distressed. Poor little guy lost his teeth and his favorite pajamas all in one day. "Aw, it's not so bad, Hoku. This just means you can wear it anytime you want now!"

"Weally?" Hoku asked.

"Wait, really?" Riku asked, now just as surprised.

"Yeah, I don't see why not," Sora shrugged.

"Sho...sho I can wear it anywhere?" he asked excitedly.

"If you don't think you're going to be too hot, sure!" Sora smiled.

"YAY!" Hoku squealed happily.

"Okay, fine, but now I need to find him pajamas," Riku shook his head before walking back to the nursery. He found some lucky emblem pajamas to dress him in and for once the child had no complaints.

"But why did it change?" Hoku asked.

"Because you're growing," Sora answered simply. It was as good a guess as any. Maleficent did say it would grow with him. Maybe the garment felt it was time to move on from cute pajamas and turn into more practical outerwear. He had to admit it still looked pretty cute. It was shiny with black scales and still had the green stuffed spines on the hood that continued down the back and the pockets in the front were purple like the dragon's tummy was before. He wasn't sure that Hoku would be able to wear it to preschool in a few days but they'll cross that bridge when they get to it. For now it was time to feed their hungry little dragon.

Chapter Text

As it turns out, applying Hoku for pre-school was just as difficult as it was for them getting back into high school. As the official start of his educational career, there was a lot of paperwork to fill out and strict requirements that had to be fulfilled. Riku sighed in exasperation as they filled out the things pertaining to Hoku's background, specifically the part where they describe Hoku's hair color and have to provide proof that it's his natural coloring.

To this, Riku simply wrote "See father", earning a laugh from Sora.

They had to take Hoku to get a professional photo taken for his records as well. To this Sora hotly debated as he couldn't see why he shouldn't be allowed to take the photo himself as they have a perfectly acceptable white wall that looks identical to the stupid white backdrop they would use at the photo studio. But Riku told him to relax and that it's probably the school system's way of supporting the local photography studio. After that Sora quit his pouting. However this meant waiting in line behind all the other parents who also left the photo to the last minute. Hoku had a great time hanging out with the kids outside, but he also got dirty so he ended up looking a little rumpled in his school photo. At least Riku managed to get the dirt off his face.

Hoku has been blissfully unaware of the scrambling his fathers were going through to get him prepared for school. While they were busy worrying about whether his school uniform will arrive on time, he was asking when his new friend Kila would be allowed to come over to play and whether he can wear his dragon hoodie to this new "school" place or not. The school uniforms were little blue smocks with paopu fruit badges on the front chest pocket and black shorts. For outings they were required to have yellow rain hats with green straps that were also very paopu fruit-inspired. Unfortunately Riku and Sora couldn't find any possible way that Hoku would be able to incorporate his favorite item of clothing into the uniform but they convinced him that he could probably wear his two lucky charms under his smock as long as he never told anybody otherwise he'll get in trouble with his new teacher.

Along with the uniform came with the requirement of indoor shoes and outdoor shoes, which they have completely failed in telling Hoku anything about. Hoku always took his shoes off inside the treehouse, of course, but having to wear a different kind of indoor shoe was a completely foreign concept to his little four-year-old brain. Learning how to hold chopsticks was already hard enough and he just learned how to drink from a big boy cup without spilling juice on himself. Comparatively, remembering to switch shoes wasn't nearly as hard in comparison, but still!

Sora and Riku were also slightly panicking as to whether or not they properly prepared Hoku for school. He was good at counting, no problem. His manners were good, so they were confident in that department, save for the occasional meltdown. Letters, however, they had unfortunately landed on a rather unorthodox method of teaching him. Besides counting munny drops, they had also distracted him from heartless encounters by teaching him letters and naming the heartless. Normal kids probably learn their ABC's with Apple, Ball, Cat, and Dog, but Hoku learned with Air Pirate, Blue Rhapsody, and Crescendo...as well as Cat. On occasion, if they came across one that wasn't named in their journal logs yet, they'd let Hoku name it. The most recent new find he named "spitzygrom" because it spits mud and shoots out of the ground.

He knew his colors. He knew what letters looked like. They've read him plenty of books and probably too much from Jiminy's Journal whenever they were in a pinch. Somehow they forgot to teach him how to tie his shoes so Hoku had a crash course in that as well.

"There's too much to learn!" Hoku pouted at his fifth failed attempt to learn how to tie a bunny knot. "What kind of world is school anyway?" he asked as he kicked his shoe back at Riku.

Riku caught the thrown shoe and was struck dumb for a moment. "Did Sora not--? SORA! GET IN HERE!" he called for his husband.

Sora jumped in through the open window as he was just outside watering the plants. "What!?"

"First of all, use the door! You're teaching him bad things. Second, didn't you tell Hoku what school is?"

"No, I thought you did!"

Hoku looked between his two dads in bewilderment. The two are usually much better at communication than this. His silver-haired dad groaned and shoved Hoku's shoe back onto his foot for him to try again. "Sho school ish not a world?" he asked again.

Sora sighed and pulled up a cushion next to the blue one Hoku was sitting on. "No, Hoku, school is not a world. Well, it CAN be. It's more like a--"

Riku smirked at the brunet's attempt to make school sound like a magical place. "Try to keep it simple this time, Sora."

Sora flinched minutely but gave a sheepish smile before continuing. "Right. Okay, so it's a place where you get to learn all kinds of things. But we won't be there with you."

"Why not?" Hoku asked as he struggled with making the bunny ears again. "Do you hafta work again?"

"Well, we might be away working while you're at school," Riku answered honestly. "And sometimes your grandparents might pick you up when the day is over, but we'll mostly be back in time to pick you up every day."

"I haff to go EVERY DAY!?" Hoku cried out in so much shock that he accidently spat at Riku through the gap in his teeth.

Riku sighed and wiped away the spittle that landed on his forehead as he patiently guided the laces through Hoku's fingers again. "It's really important that you go. Every kid has to start school eventually."

"For how long?"

"Until you're a grown-up, basically," Sora answered.

"But what if I dun like it?"

"You will," Riku smiled at him and ruffled his hair. "If not, your dad and I can talk about taking you to the same school that Era goes to in a few years. Would you like that?"

"I'll twy it," Hoku conceded.

Sora smiled and kissed Hoku on the forehead. "You're such a good boy. I'm so proud of you."

Hoku giggled happily and hugged his daddy around his neck. "Will I learn how to be a dwagon?"

Riku laughed. "No, unfortunately. But you'll learn all kinds of other things. And you'll be with all your friends. You might even make new friends."

"Oooh!"

Hoku was much more excited about school after that. What really sealed the deal was when they took him shopping for his own backpack. He wondered why he couldn't bring his meow-wow bag but his daddies explained that this bag was supposed to be special; something you only get to take to school. He also got to pick a cute bento lunchbox! He chose a purple one with silver stars on it.

When Hoku's uniform arrived, Sora of course went into a picture-taking frenzy while trying so hard not to cry. Kingstagram actually put him in timeout to keep him from flooding his page.

"THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!!!" Sora wailed. "MY CHILD IS GOING TO SCHOOL, THEY CAN'T DO THIS TO ME!!!"

Riku tried half-heartedly to console his sobbing husband. "Just give it a minute."

Hoku sighed. "Theesh shorts are ishy."

Even the night before the big day, Hoku slept perfectly fine. However Riku was the one having a hard time resting.

"Did we get everything?" he asked Sora, who was spooning him from behind and nuzzling into his back.

"We got it," Sora groaned. "Every last thing."

"Should we read the schedule again?" Riku asked as he gripped the pillow beneath his head.

The brunet let out a yawn and couldn't help the amused smile from forming on his lips as he felt Riku's anxious heartbeat beneath his hand. "You already have it memorized and so do I. We arrive in the morning, we stay until 10 AM, we leave, we come back at 3 PM. Easy."

"What if we memorized it wrong? Do we have the alarm set?"

"All three alarms are set, my love," Sora chuckled.

"I'm being serious! Our child's future is on the line! We can't have him show up late to his first day of school ever!" the silverette groaned into his pillow.

"Tron, is the alarm set?" Sora sleepily asked the phone on the bedside table.

"Your three alarms are set across all your devices," the program confirmed. "Would you like me to set a fourth one?"

"No--"

"Yes! Thank you, Tron!" Riku interrupted.

"Setting alarm for 7:01 AM," the program chuckled.

"Wait, that's not what I meant--"

Sora slapped Riku playfully on the arm. "Just relax. If you set any more alarms, you're just going to wake up cranky when you have to turn them all off."

"Daddy?"

Both looked up when they heard the timid voice of their child in the doorframe. He had a blanket wrapped around him and half his night shirt bunched up in his sleeping shorts. "What is it, Hoku?" Sora asked. "Everything okay?"

"I heard daddy being loud. Do you need me to shleep with you?" he asked.

Riku's face flushed while Sora snorted in an ill attempt to hold back his laughter. "I think your daddy would like that very much. Come here, sweetheart," Sora held his hands out to lift the toddler into bed with them.

Hoku crawled in between them and clung to Riku's chest to pat his head just like Riku would do with him when he can't sleep. "It'sh okay, daddy."

Riku could only smile and hug the little one close. "Thank you, Hoku. I feel better already."

"Hehe! Good night, daddy!" Hoku giggled as he got comfy.

"Good night, Hoku," both dads said in unison and cuddled up together for the night, Sora's arm around Hoku to hold Riku's hand while their little star snored softly between them.

Chapter Text

The big day had arrived and Sora had made lucky emblem pancakes for the occasion while Riku struggled to get Hoku dressed. Somehow his socks had mysteriously gone missing. By the time he found them in Rox's cat bed, Hoku was growing impatient and already deciding if every day was going to be like this then maybe school isn't such a great thing after all. "Ish it like dish every day?" he asked.

"I sure hope not," Riku laughed as he watched Hoku attempt to tie his shoes. It took him three attempts, but he got it. "Good job!" He gave the little one a high five and rewarded him by giving him a piggy back ride to the table.

Upon their arrival, Sora squealed at seeing Hoku in his cute smock and ran over immediately to snatch Hoku from Riku and bury his face in little smooches. "YOU'RE SOOO CUTE!!!"

"DADDY!" Hoku squirmed as he tried to shove his face away. "YER GONNA BURN BWEAKFASHT!"

"EEK!" Sora set him down and immediately hurried back to the last of the pancakes which indeed burned on one side. "Oof...well...at least it's true to real life?"

Riku waved the smoke away with a towel as he opened a window. "That one's yours."

"Yeah," Sora deflated. "Nothing a little extra syrup can't fix."

After breakfast, Riku summoned his keyblade vehicle with its new sidecar addition for them to all climb onto. Hoku had his own special helmet to wear while he sat in Sora's lap and Riku of course drove them to Hoku's new pre-school. It wasn't so long of a drive that they couldn't do a half-hour walk or anything, but they wanted it to be special for Hoku.

Upon their arrival, they stopped around a nearby corner to dismiss the bike and Riku let Hoku ride on his shoulders as they walked the rest of the way. On the sidewalk, they could see Hoku's other classmates walking with their parents towards the small building. Sora recalled when he went to pre-school here. He was so excited because he thought he'd finally be in school with Riku, but didn't realize that Riku had already moved on to kindergarten so it would be yet another year before they were even in the same building. At least it seems Hoku won't have to deal with that sort of dilemma, as his new friends are all his age and he was already excitedly bouncing on Riku's shoulders as he saw Kila walking with her mom and dad.

"Do you remember your manners, Hoku?" Sora asked as they walked.

"Yes, Daddy," Hoku nodded. "Nice to meet you. I'm Hoku. Please. Thank you. Have a nice day!"

Riku chuckled. "You got it, kiddo."

For the first day, the parents are going to hang out until around 10 A.M. or so and then leave so as to make the transition easier and for the parents to see what a typical day might be like for their kids. Then they'll be back to pick them up at 3 P.M. Looking around, Riku could already tell some parents couldn't WAIT to be free of their kids. There was a mother of twins who looked like she hadn't slept in days and Riku could only smile sympathetically as they made eye contact while each of her boys yanked on her hands and bounced up and down. Kila saw Hoku and gave a friendly wave and Hoku waved back. Sora meanwhile was trying not to gush at how cute all of the kids looked in their uniforms and adorable yellow hats.

Hoku was already excited about the little playground that had a jungle gym shaped like a turtle and another play area themed like a pirate ship with swings, slides, a clubhouse underneath, and a deck with toy canons complete with climbing ropes and stuff, of course. Sora had to break it to him that he had to wait until the teacher said it was playtime before he could go on it, though, so he'll have to be patient.

Inside the classroom, there were colorful rugs and tiny chairs surrounding very short tables. Tiny cubbies lined the walls for the children to hang their bags and change their shoes. Calendars for teaching days of the week and seasons were on the walls next to charts with numbers and ABCs and there was another small area with cushions surrounding a chair for story time. Lastly there was an ancient TV on a tall TV stand with wheels tucked in the corner. Their teacher was a woman about Sora's height with long brown hair tied in a thick braid that draped over her left shoulder and wore a peach-colored apron with big pockets over the teacher's uniform which was a blue polo and black slacks, the same colors that the students wore. On her apron was a paopu-shaped patch with her name: Ms. Cici.

On the tables, Ms. Cici had assigned all the students seats with little nametags and Sora and Riku dropped Hoku off at his designated spot. Happily, Kila ended up being assigned next to him. The parents were directed to sit on the story-time rug. It was a bit of a tight squeeze with all the adults sitting with their knees pulled to their chests. It seems for the most part, most of the kids only had one parent with them, which was probably a good thing given the limited space on the rug. Sora couldn't help giggling as he scooched close to Riku (probably closer than necessary). "See, this was what I was hoping pre-school would be like."

Riku smirked and playfully nudged him. "What, you trying to get me in trouble?"

Sora snickered. "Probably. But you know, sitting next to each other in class, coloring together, partnering up on field trips...maybe napping next to each other," he added that last part quietly.

"So...basically what we did every day, except in a classroom setting?"

"Yeah!"

Riku chuckled and shook his head. "I think you would've been a distraction."

Sora pouted by was quickly distracted by the other parents joining them on the rug before he could retort. It felt a little silly for them to all be huddled together as they introduced themselves and such but Riku supposed the point was to keep them somewhat out of the children's line of sight so that the kids would focus on the teacher instead of them. Once all the little chairs were filled, Ms. Cici started the class by introducing herself and had all the kids go around and introduce themselves. There were twelve children in total but it wasn't just Ms. Cici looking after them, as she had an assistant as well who appeared to be a young college student.

Hoku was a little shy about introducing himself when it was his turn. He hadn't had to say his name in front of so many people before and he was a little self-conscious about not having his front teeth. If he speaks slowly enough his lisp isn't too bad but when he's nervous his tongue slippage very noticeable. "Nithe to meet you. My name ith Hoku," he said very quickly before sitting back down, his cheeks already starting to redden as he shyly kicked his legs under the table and clenched his hands around the seat of his chair. Kila introduced herself next and she was just as shy and quiet, saying "Hi-I'm-Kila" so quickly it sounded like one word before she immediately sat back down. Riku and Sora smiled at the two of them. At least Hoku was in good company.

Neither were sure what to expect during this "observation period" but it sure wasn't that they'd be sitting around watching kids color for an hour. The teacher gave flexible instructions and let the kids be kids as far as coloring whatever they wanted with little direction except for not coloring on the tables and just walked around to get to know each child and see what they were doing and how they were interacting with each other. She explained to the parents that every other week the seating arrangements change so that they can get to know all the other students as well to help them develop their social skills. On one of the boards she showed a schedule of their lesson plans, such as letters, colors, numbers, etc. and then showed a giant cardboard clock where she had things mapped out such as lunch time and nap time. Then there was a board for hanging up their drawings and another board for tasks the students have to complete at the end of the day such as cleaning the play areas and gathering papers and stuff. Clearly a lot of thought went into all of this as Sora and Riku could see lots of little things that would be a precursor for the stuff the students would be expected to do in elementary school, such as keeping the classroom clean.

As cute as it was watching the kids in their element having fun, Sora's butt was starting to fall asleep. Finally at 10 a.m. Ms. Cici told everybody to say good-bye to the mommies and daddies because now it's time to watch a movie. All of them starting waving good-bye automatically without realizing what that actually meant as the parents quickly filed outside. Sora and Riku gave Hoku a quick good-bye wave as they left, not wanting to be the parents that dawdled too long. However, there were a couple of parents who DID dawdle too long and they could hear their kids running up to them and clinging to their ankles as they begged them not to leave. Sora and Riku could only shake their heads sympathetically, glad that they went over all of this with Hoku first. Hoku was already sort of used to being left with a caretaker, but this might be the LONGEST he's been with a caretaker that isn't family and as Sora and Riku walked home, Sora began to wonder if this was harder for him or Hoku.

Every step away from the school Sora felt his pace get slower and noticed Riku was slowing down too. They looked at each other and gave a nervous chuckle, neither wanting to admit how they both were feeling about leaving their baby boy with perfect strangers. Instead they squeezed each others hands as they walked back to their treehouse. At home, Riku thought Sora might want to watch a movie, take a nap, or maybe get a little frisky, but instead the brunette started doing something he never expected: cleaning!

Almost immediately Sora tended to his garden before heading to the kitchen to clean up the mess from breakfast and all without whining at Riku to help him. The silverette wasn't about to question it, so he decided he'd check on the laundry while Sora cleaned. While he was folding the clothes, Sora came in and grabbed the ironing board and iron and left with it, making Riku do a double take! He's never seen Sora iron anything! Does he even know how to iron clothes!? Worried that the brunet might ruin something, he hurried out to check on him to find Sora ironing his formal ambassador clothing!

"Wait, Sora!" Riku quickly hurried over to grab the iron from him before he can do any damage. "Those are silk. You can't use an iron directly on them."

"Oh..."

"Are you okay?"

The brunet looked up at him. "NO!" he cried, eyes already filling with tears.

Riku quickly turned the iron off and gathered Sora in his arms in a tight hug. If he were being honest, he missed Hoku terribly as well. It hasn't even been an hour and already he's thinking of how quiet it will be without carrying Hoku on his back during their missions. He's really going to miss his cute babbling while they travel.

"I miss him!" Sora sniffled as he buried his face in Riku's chest. "I miss our baby boy!"

"I know, I know," Riku soothed as he brushed his fingers through his chestnut locks. "I miss him, too."

"It's going to be weird traveling without him!"

"I was thinking the same thing. But hey, he'll travel with us during our weekend missions."

"Yeah, but weekends are also our time off," Sora reminded him. "That's family time."

"Yeah..." Sora was right. It's not exactly the same. Yes, they're still spending time with Hoku and of course they're going to see him at the end of the day, but it's not the same as having him along on their adventures. Hoku's childlike wonder at all the worlds they went to made each trip feel so bright and lively, no matter how mundane or routine the mission might be. To think that this is how it's going to be for now on...He squeezed Sora even tighter and buried his nose into his hair and Sora squeezed him right back.

The two took their minds off of things by cleaning up all around the house and doing things they've been putting off. They found themselves doing stuff like matching missing socks, cleaning the dust off the tops of the doors, dusting their knick-knacks, sorting through their fabric scraps, thoroughly cleaning cat hair out of all the cushions, buffing out the ring in the tub they just hadn't bothered with until now, and so on. When they finally ran out of things to do, there was still an hour left until they had to pick up Hoku so Sora suggested they go through the albums and add their newest pictures and also reminisce on the older ones.

In Hoku's baby book, they added the envelope with Hoku's front teeth, snickering as they recalled how they snuck into Hoku's room to slip the munny under his pillow only to find that Hoku was gripping the envelope in his tiny little hand as if he were trying to catch the tooth fairy in the act. Riku had to peel his fingers apart one by one while Sora held the pillow with Hoku's head on it just elevated enough so that the little tyke didn't notice. It was a close call for sure. After that, they decided they were going to have to come up with a new tooth fairy plan because clearly their son was too smart for them. For Hoku's trouble, they gave him fifty munny. Riku was a little hesitant about leaving so much, wondering if they would have to give him that much munny for every tooth but Sora said they'd just have to tell Hoku to not expect the same amount for every tooth. After all, the two front teeth are the biggest and most important ones so obviously they're worth more, which was the logic they put into deciding on fifty munny in the first place.

The two of them smiled at the photograph they included of Hoku proudly showing off the fifty munny he got while grinning proudly with his big gap. "Did you believe in the tooth fairy, Riku?" Sora asked.

"I pretended to just so my parents would have to keep giving me more munny," Riku said simply.

Sora snorted. "I see how it is."

"Just making the system work for me," Riku grinned.

"Watch, he'll probably pull the same thing with us," Sora laughed.

"Of course he will. He's my son after all."

"That he is. Just don't ruin Santa for him, too."

"Wouldn't dream of it," the older man snickered.

Sora flipped back to Hoku's second Christmas when they took him to Christmas Town to meet Santa Claus and Jack Skellington. Hoku was overjoyed to see his favorite toy come to life but if anything he seemed a little taken aback by Santa for some reason. Santa had a good laugh about it, though, insisting that many small children have similar reactions when they meet him for the first time. Then there was Hoku's second spring festival, which they attended on Destiny Islands that year. The younger keyblade master remembered how much fun it was celebrating with their families but it was almost soured when they ran into some of Riku's cousins who asked little Hoku where he came from to which Hoku proudly exclaimed, "From outer space! I'm a star!" earning a laugh from everybody. Sora traced his fingers over the picture and Riku noticed his smile fell. "What is it?"

Sora sighed. "I'm just worried. Did we...have we shown him too much? Will he be okay?"

"We didn't show him too much. We gave our son the best gift any parent could give their child. We gave him the worlds. No matter what happens, I don't regret one bit of it. And you shouldn't either."

The brunet smiled and kissed his husband's cheek. "You're absolutely right. We promised him and we promised ourselves. No matter what, no hiding from each other...just everybody else," he snickered.

"Exactly," Riku laughed.

Hoku didn't have any trouble saying good-bye to his daddies, or at least not as much trouble as some of his classmates did. Some looked absolutely surprised to see their parents leave and it led to a lot of crying. Once things got settled down, they were all given modeling clay to play with before lunch time.

Sitting down for long periods of time was where Hoku had trouble. He was used to things being busy and exciting. The only time he's ever had to sit for a long period of time was when they were on the gummi ship. Quiet time was for waiting out heartless or when his daddies were having a chat with Fairy Godmother or those other important people they always seem to be talking to. But even then, he was allowed to get up and walk around or play with his toys. This was a lot different. He loves learning and the teacher seems really nice, but sitting for too long quietly made him overthink things. One of the things that stuck out in his mind was that he didn't see anybody else with two daddies. Besides him and Kila, everybody else had brown or black hair. When it came time for lunch, he seemed to have the biggest lunch box. He ate every bite of his, but it took him longer to finish so he was the last one to go on the playground with the others.

Kila was still waiting for him and they played together with the others. Ever since their sword fight, it seems she's made lots of friends. The other boys now respected her for being the only one to beat Hoku in a sword fight and decided she must be really tough. Kila was really grateful that Hoku helped her open up so they've become the tightest of friends. Hoku thinks she might even be his best friend.

He learned all kinds of new games during playground time and then when they went inside for story time, he got to hear new kinds of stories; stories that took place on Destiny Islands! He's never heard these stories before and he couldn't wait to tell them to his daddies when he got home. But first was naptime. They took their little pillows and blankets out of their backpacks and rolled out sleeping mats on the floor and were told to go to sleep. This was the easiest part of the day for Hoku.

When naptime was over, they were given more paper to draw on. While Ms. Cici was talking, Hoku felt that itchy whispery sound in his ear again. He glanced around for the source but once again he couldn't find it. With a frown he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and tried to pay attention again but everybody was already drawing. As he stared down at his paper he felt a little stumped. Earlier he just scribbled as he tried out the different colors of crayons but looking around, it seems everybody was trying to draw actual shapes this time. Even so, he didn't know what he wanted to draw...or rather what he was allowed to draw. Do these kids know what snow men are? Has the teacher seen one? He knows they've never seen the colorful nocturne heartless or the funny walking prize machines and probably not giant fields of violets like the ones in Corona.

With a quiet sigh he drew Doxas the cat. He's black and white with a little pink nose. Not very exciting. He tried drawing the flowers from daddy's garden, lots of colors but there were so many tiny flowers that he got bored. So then he drew a dragon. A big black one with green spikes, purple tummy, giant wings, and yellow eyes. Doxas and a dragon, the two best animals in the worlds! He figured it was okay because dragons are in fairy tales all the time and even he hasn't seen a real one yet.

The teacher passes by and praises him for his imagination and for the pretty colors of the flowers. Hoku is pleased with himself. But when coloring time was over and the papers were gathered, he was surprised to see that they didn't get to take their drawings home. Instead, Ms. Cici hung them all up on the corkboard so they can see each other's drawings. That's when Hoku notices how different his looks from the others. Everybody else drew their houses, their families, and their pets. Did he miss something? He wasn't sure how he felt about his looking different from the others but nobody corrected him either, so maybe nobody else noticed. But still, it bothered him a little.

When his daddies came to pick him up, Hoku was overjoyed to see them. He had so much to tell them, but he also had so many questions! This time he rode on his brown-haired daddy's shoulders as they walked back home. As they walked he told them all about the stuff they did and the things he drew and the caterpillar he made out of clay. He even told them about the volcano goddess that supposedly lived on the islands like a bajillion years ago, he was pretty sure and how she was the one who gifted people fire. He went on and on until he ran out of thoughts to think. Instead all he had left were questions.

"Hey, daddy..."

"Yes?" both dads answered.

"Why does nobody else in my class have two daddies?" He watched his taller daddy give his smaller daddy a look. Was this one of those questions where he wasn't going to get an answer right away?

Sora shrugged his shoulders a bit and adjusted his grip on his Hoku's ankles. "Well you know how most people write with their right hand?"

Hoku nodded. His daddies write with their right hands. He can color with both hands. He hasn't decided which one he likes better.

"Well, two boys marrying each other is like being left-handed. It's less common but not any worse or better."

"Ohhhh. That makes sense." Hoku smiled, giggling as he squeezes the top of his daddy's spiky head in a hug. "Can two girls marry, too?"

"They sure can!" Riku answered.

"Do you know any?"

"Not personally, but we have seen them," Riku answered. "There's a world we haven't taken you to yet that has a parade every year where they celebrate couples like us."

"Wow! A daddy parade?"

The two dads laughed. "It's more like a parade that celebrates people loving who they want. You see there are some places where it seems weird for two boys or two girls to be in love. The parade is about showing that it's not weird and that you should be allowed to love who your heart wants as long as it's safe and consensual, of course," Riku answered.

"It shounds fun! Ith there a parade like that here?" Hoku asked.

"You know...I'm not sure. There might be one in the inner city? But if there is, I haven't heard of it," Sora answered honestly.

"Will I get to see thish love parade?"

Riku smiled and ruffled his fluffy silver hair. "One day when you're old enough, we'll be more than happy to take you."

"Hehe," Hoku giggled as he tried to get daddy's hand out of his hair. It tickled!

"So, did you have fun?" Sora asked.

"I sink so," Hoku nodded. "How many more daysh are left?"

Both parents laughed as they walked the path towards their house.

Chapter Text

Hoku seems to be doing fine in school for the most part but his teacher told Sora and Riku that he seems a little distracted sometimes. He does what he's told and his lessons are going well but he seems lost when it comes to following certain directions. Sometimes he needs them repeated twice. For instance, when she instructed "draw your family's favorite activity", Hoku drew what he called a space ship.

After some gentle coaxing with Hoku's favorite dessert, strawberry cake, Sora and Riku found out that Hoku apparently was trying to illustrate "traveling" but didn't think to draw a boat or a car. To that, the two dads could only smile and tell him maybe next time he should just say they like playing on the beach instead. As for the being distracted part, Hoku's used to things being lively, so maybe he's got his mind on other things. They couldn't see a reason to chastise or discuss that part with Hoku. If he's asking for directions to be repeated, then clearly he's TRYING and not flat out ignoring the teacher.

Then another couple of weeks later, his teacher had more concerns. When Officer Cherry gave his "stranger danger" presentation, Hoku seemed to be extra confused compared to the other students, especially the part where Officer Cherry explained that bad guys can look like everyday people. When asked "How to know if somebody is bad?" Hoku said "see if they smell bad". It took everything Sora and Riku had not to laugh and to keep it together with a straight face as the teacher expressed her concern. To be honest, they thought that was a stupid question anyway. After all, if bad guys can look like everyday people, how the heck are pre-school children to be expected to detect villainy? They were just secretly glad that Hoku didn't say anything about Heartless. Nevertheless, the dads sat Hoku down yet again to talk to him to make sure the poor boy wasn't confused.

"Were you distracted again during Officer Cherry's Stranger talk?" Sora asked gently as he sat Hoku in his lap while they both sat on the yellow monstrosity in the den, Riku kneeling on it as well with his chin on his arms resting on Sora's knees so that he was on level with Hoku.

Hoku stared down at his hands, a little ashamed. He wasn't sure what distracted means, but clearly by Sora's tone it sounded serious. "What's dishtwacted?"

"It means something was keeping you from listening as well as you should?" Riku explained.

Hoku picked at a little scab on one of his knuckles as he avoided eye contact with his silver-haired dad. "I twied to lishen, I weally did."

"Oh, I'm sure you did, sweetheart. You're not in trouble. We just want to know if you understood everything he was talking about," Sora explained as he brushed his fingers through Hoku's soft hair.

Hoku brightened a little and looked up as he answered honestly. "I didn't underthand."

Riku pat Hoku's knee. "Okay, so a stranger is somebody you don't know. You meet lots of people when you're with us, and that's okay. But when you're alone, you need to be careful."

"How do you know if they're bad, though?" Hoku asked. "I said I can thmell bad people, but Officer Cherry said that was wrong!"

Sora bit his bottom lip to keep from laughing and took a deep breath through his nose before speaking calmly. "Other than your unique sense of smell, there are clues. It's okay if somebody just waves and says "Hi, good morning!" or something like that. But if for any reason they stop you and ASK you for something or try to give you something, they're probably not somebody you should talk to."

"Ashk something? Like what?" Hoku blinked.

"Anything that adults ask other adults that would seem strange to ask a young child like you. For instance, asking for directions. Adults normally wouldn't ask pre-school kids that kind of question. If they do, they're most likely trying to get something else from you. If that happens, you need to ignore them and get away quickly," Riku explained.

"Does that make sense, Hoku?" Sora asked.

"Kinda...I think..."

Riku smiled gently and elaborated. "Bad people might try to trick you by giving you compliments or asking you questions to make you feel smart or like you're a grown up to earn your trust. Once they gain your trust, they might try to hurt you. So if they ask "Can you help me?" they probably don't actually need help."

"But what if they really do?" Hoku asked.

"Then you run and find another adult, like any of the ones running the shops or any other adult you know or any of the officers like Officer Cherry. Tell them what the person looked like and where you saw them. That way if somebody really did need help, you found an adult who can help instead. But if that person was a liar, at least you'll be safe and the other adults will be able to keep a look out for whoever it is that's trying to trick kids. Understand?" Sora asked.

Hoku nodded. That did make him feel better. He'd hate to just run away if somebody truly needed help. But he also knows he's not big and strong like his daddies. So it really would be better to run and find somebody who CAN help anyway. He smiled at his fathers to show them that he really did understand. His dads smiled back and squished him in a hug sandwich, making the little one giggle. Then they both gave him kisses and raspberries on his cheeks, making him SQUEAL! "DADDY!!" he giggled and kicked his little feet, making the other two laugh. The talk must be done now because his silver-haired daddy said they should have ice cream before they go to bed and that made him very happy.

But after his daddies tucked him in, he wished he remembered to ask about the voice and whether or not that is considered a "distraction".

He hears it whenever the teacher happens to be talking and he can't understand what's going on with two voices at once. He tries his best to guess her instructions by following everybody else and filling in the gaps. It doesn't work all the time. Kila tries to help him but sometimes the teacher says it's "no talking time" and so she can't. So he's forced to raise his hand and ask for the instructions again, lest he be embarrassed yet again for not completing the same tasks as everybody else. He also sees something lurking outside the window sometimes. But it's gone whenever he takes another look.

There were other things he had trouble understanding. Like aunts and uncles when talking about families. he knew he had a lot of aunts and uncles. But aunts mean sisters of your parents and uncles mean brothers of your parents. His aunts and uncles mostly look like his dad, but he's not sure they're brothers and sisters and Aunt Kairi is definitely not a sister because she has her own mommy and daddy. When he asked his dads about it later over dinner they explained that their friends are LIKE family so they are ALMOST like brother sand sisters which is why they call them his aunts and uncles.

This made sense, but they wouldn't explain to him why they looked alike. The more he thought about it on his own, the more confused he made himself. He learned everybody has a mom and a dad and if aunts and uncles can be aunts and uncles without REALLY being aunts and uncles, does that mean one of his dads might not ACTUALLY be his dad? The idea upset him very much to the point that he began to cry one night and ran to his parents' bedroom, banging on the bedroom door demanding answers otherwise he wouldn't be able to sleep!

Needless to say, his daddies were both very startled to hear him screaming for them in the middle of the night, but they quickly scooped him up and gave him cuddles until he was calm enough to ask his questions, Riku holding him close to his chest as he cried and sniffled while Sora rubbed gentle circles into his back.

"Did you have a nightmare, little man?" Riku asked sleepily.

"No. Didn't shleep yet," Hoku hiccupped.

"Aw, something keeping you awake?" Sora asked.

Hoke hesitated at first, not wanting to hurt his daddies' feelings, but he wanted to know, so he asked. After all, he knew they wouldn't lie to him, would they? Their awkward silence made him worried for a moment, but his dads continued to console him as they answered his questions.

They told him that dads are the male figures in your life that take care of you as a parent should and they are the ones that help make you, but not always. Yes, they are his dads and yes, in every sense of the word. No, there is no mommy. They told him he's special. He's made from two daddies...in outer space. That made him feel better.

Numbers and letters were easy. Coloring was easy. Days of the week and months and seasons were easy. But when it came to talking about jobs, it got hard again. Fireman, policeman, teacher, chef, they all had pictures that described what they were. Hoku didn't see one that described his daddies. Kila didn't know either, just that her dad is called an "accountant". The teacher explained it's somebody who's really good with numbers. When it was Hoku's turn in class to say what his dads do, he avoided the question by saying his grandpa makes boats. The teacher repeated herself patiently so he caved in and admitted he didn't know, WHICH IS A LIE! And he felt awful for lying! But he knows he's not allowed to say what his daddies do. Even so, that didn't make him feel any less guilty. He liked his teacher, so he didn't like lying.

So when they were told to draw pictures of what they imagined their parents do at work, he once again was at a loss for what to draw. He didn't have to "imagine". He knew perfectly well what they did because unlike the other kids, he was with them while they were working. With a sigh, he decided to draw his daddies in their colorful clothing, hoping that would be enough. But even then, he wasn't satisfied, so he drew mountains, trees, and a castle.

Kila saw what he was drawing and drew her own dad as a wizard with numbers floating all around him. The other kids at their table noticed this too and jumped on the bandwagon to join in on the fun. They drew a vet taming a tiger, a tailor making a magical gown for a princess, and a hen farmer collecting golden eggs covered in colorful jewels. This time, Hoku was glad to have his picture on the wall with everybody else's. At least having friends didn't have to be complicated.

. . .

Recess was definitely the best part of the day. They were free to do whatever they wanted, really. They had balls and jump ropes to play with and sometimes the teachers taught them new games to play. One day, however, when they were playing hide and seek, things took quite the turn. He had picked a good hiding place behind a fallen tree branch next to the fence. It was still attached to its tree but it hadn't completely severed, merely dangling there by a thin piece of stripped bark, its leaves still green and vibrant for the time being and perfect for a small 4-year-old boy to hide behind. While he hid, he giggled into his hands as he watched the others hide, knowing they'd all definitely be found before he did.

Kila was picked to be the seeker this time and he waited patiently as she finished counting and shouted "Ready or not, here I come!" He leaned against the chain link fence behind himself to help him stand still for even longer as he didn't think he'd be hidden enough if he dared to crouch. It was then that he heard somebody behind him.

"She'll never find you here."

Hoku felt his blood run cold and looked up to see a man in a black hooded coat standing behind the bushes on the other side of the fence. His jaw dropped and he immediately screamed and the man screamed back too, jumping back in fright with his hands flying up into the air, further terrifying Hoku who fled his hiding place. "RUN! THERE'S A STRANGER IN THE BUSHES!" he screamed as he ran for the teacher.

The other kids fled from their hiding spots, panicked because Hoku was panicking and ran for the teacher as well, who hurried to get them all inside where they sat with the assistant while the teacher went to investigate. It was tense for a few minutes as they all peeked outside the window to see the man that had scared Hoku who he described to the assistant.

"He was tall and wore a black coat and I couldn't see his face!" he explained. "My daddy says to stay away from men in black coats!" he added fearfully. The last part seemed to concern the assistant and Hoku immediately felt like he said something wrong because she gave him a weird smile and gently patted him on the head and told him everything was going to be all right.

Moments later, the teacher came back inside and told everybody it was okay and they can go back outside and play. There was nobody there. Hoku was reluctant, but they went back outside. He could feel the teacher looking at him strangely as he followed the others and tried not to cry. He wasn't sure why he was upset, though. He should be happy that there wasn't a man after all. But when he rejoined the other kids to continue their game, they didn't seem happy at all.

"You ruined the game, Hoku!" one of the twins yelled before shoving him so that he landed in the dirt.

"OW! What do you mean?"

"Don't be mean to him!" Kila yelled.

The other twin backed his brother up. "You can't talk, Kila! He only did that to scare everybody out of their hiding places so you can win!"

"Thatsh not true!" Hoku insisted as he got to his feet. "I weally did see a man! My daddy says--"

"SHUT UP!" the other twin shoved him again. "You can't play with us anymore!"

Those words stung. He didn't even really play with the twins that much, but their words still hurt! He tried so hard not to cry as he clenched his fists in the dirt. Before he could say anything, Kila stood in front of him and pushed the twin back. "Nobody wants to play with mean kids like you, anyway!"

By now the teacher was hurrying over to disperse the children but the twins weren't having it when the teacher and the assistant took their hands to drag them to time-out and threw themselves on the ground, kicking and screaming about how it's all Hoku's fault and how he doesn't play right. The silver-haired boy ran past them to hide behind the tree branch from before, unable to look at all the other kids in the play yard as they were all distracted by the scene.

Now back in the safety of his new hiding place, Hoku made himself really small with his knees pulled up to his chest and cried. Even when Kila called for him he didn't come out. He doesn't want to see anybody until recess is over. Wiping the dirt from his face, he didn't realize that the cloaked man had returned and was once again standing on the other side of the fence.

"You could've fought them off if you had a keyblade."

Hoku gasped and looked up angrily.

"Daddy says keyblades can't be used against people!" he sniffed. "He also said to not to talk to people in black coats!"

"You're very smart. You're a good boy for listening to your daddies."

"My other daddy also says fwattery is another form of dishonesty," he sniffled as he debated running away again.

"Aw, how cute! You have a lisp!"

"Do not! My big teeth haven't grown in yet, thass all!" he opened his mouth to show he was missing his two front teeth. "Why can't the others see you?"

"I'm your fairy godmother."

Hoku scoffed and played with one of the leaves that was hiding him from view. "My fairy godmother is a dragon lady named Maweficent. You're not Maweficent."

The man laughed. "I am too! I've been with you since the day you were born."

The more the other man spoke, the more Hoku realized how familiar his voice sounded...it was the voice that he's heard in his ears this whole time. He finally looked back up at the man. "Are you the voice?"

"Ding ding ding!" the man applauded.

Hoku was really confused by this man's behavior. He sure didn't act like the other adults in his life, that's for sure. "Why couldn't I see you before?" he asked cautiously.

"Probably because your brain didn't have enough wrinkles yet."

"Huh?" Hoku blinked rapidly and confusion before he shook his head and glared at the confusing man instead. "Why have you been following me?"

Amused, the cloaked man leaned on the fence to peer down at Hoku. "Do you really want to know why? Because you're like your dad. You're strong. You should have a keyblade."

The young boy huffed and pulled his knees closer to his chest. "My daddies said they'll give me one when I'm ready."

"I think you're ready now." The man says ominously before reaching over the fence and materializing a black keyblade with a blue eye on the hilt to plant firmly into the dirt next to Hoku. "Touch it."

Hoku inched away from the scary-looking blade. "I don't want to. It's scary and it smells funny. Like smoke!"

"So you can sense darkness too, huh? Very interesting. Just touch it. It won't hurt you, I promise."

"NO!" Hoku screamed. "I DON'T WANT TO TOUCH IT! STAY AWAY FROM ME!" he shouts as he scrambles to his feet to run to his teacher.

The teacher looks up in alarm when she hears Hoku screaming and when he runs to her, he practically flings himself at her, completely terrified as he tugs on her apron and points back at the bushes. Miss Cici once again doesn't see anybody there but Hoku is clearly distraught and after what she heard him scream, she felt like a call to the police and his parents were in order, so she asked the assistant to watch the rest of the children in the classroom while she carried Hoku inside to the main office.

First she called Officer Cherry, informing him that one of the students insists there's a man outside the fence bothering him. At once, the officer responded and began circling the school and the block, looking for a man that fit Hoku's description. Meanwhile, the teacher called Sora and Riku who rushed over right away.

Together, Miss Cici and Hoku waited for Sora and Riku to come. She dried his tears for him and gave him some apple juice to distract him so he could calm down. It seemed to help as Hoku occupied himself with sipping every last drop of juice from the little cardboard box through the thin straw. When his dads arrived, he recognized they were dressed in their traveling clothes, meaning they were at work when his teacher called them! The teacher looked a little taken aback at the manner they were dressed in as Hoku ran into their arms and hurried to tell them everything that had happened, now upsetting himself all over again as they held him tightly.

It took a fair amount of time, but it finally got to the point where they were all sat down quietly while they waited on word from Officer Cherry who came to the office personally to tell them that no man fitting the description Hoku gave could be found. Relieved, they decided to call off the search and Riku and Sora took Hoku home early.

At home, Hoku tells the whole story about the cloaked man and his weird keyblade. Sora and Riku looked at each other. They want to believe him, but the teachers claim they didn't see anything. Riku wonders for a brief moment if maybe they've told him too many stories and he's saying this for attention. Sora believes him. The keyblade he's describing sounds like No Name, something Hoku definitely hasn't seen before!

"No Name?" Hoku asked.

Sora looked to Riku. "He must've seen Bob. I can't think of any other explanation for this."

Riku ran a hand through his hair and growled with frustration. "I just can't believe it. I don't WANT to believe it."

"We can't take any chances," Sora said firmly. "I told you what Bob said in the Void. If he really intends to--"

"You don't have to say it!" Riku snapped harshly, startling Hoku who clung to Sora's waist on the couch.

Sora wasn't fazed. He knew it wasn't him that Riku's mad at. "Then what should we do?"

"Maybe..." he looks to Hoku. He doesn't want to believe it, but Hoku means the world to them. They can't take the risk. "Maybe it isn't safe for Hoku to go to school here anymore," he said sadly.

Hoku whimpered. "No..."

Sora hugged Hoku tightly. "Hoku..."

"NO!" the little boy cried, breaking both of his fathers' hearts. "Please don't take me away!" he begged. He immediately thought of his friend Melody and how her parents hid her behind tall walls so that she couldn't go to the sea that she loved so much. Would his parents do that to him? "I-I made it up! I made it up! Please let me stay!"

Riku sighed sadly, knowing that this time his son was definitely lying, something he never does and that made his heart clench all the more. "Hoku..."

"I wanna see my friends!" the toddler sobbed into Sora's shirt. "Daddy, please!"

Sora gently pulled Hoku away from himself to wipe at his tears, trying hard not to cry at his son's distress as he blotted them away with his handkerchief. "You'll always have your friends. But you can travel with me and daddy and make new ones too! I promise we'll come back and visit so you can play with them. You just won't be going to school with them, that's all."

"But I LIKE school!"

Sora looked helplessly at Riku. What were they going to do?

Riku hurried to Sora's side on the couch and hugged the both of them while he tried to think of a solution...or at least a plan. "Maybe...maybe there's another explanation."

Sora looked up at his husband as he ran a comforting hand through his sniffling son's hair. "Like what?"

"I don't know. But maybe we let him go to school and we just watch over him for a few days. If we don't see anything, maybe we can take him to Even. He hasn't gone for his check-up in a while anyway," he suggested.

Hoku looked up at his dads hopefully. He wasn't so crazy about the idea of seeing Mr. Even, but anything was better than not going to school.

Sora nodded. Every six months or so, they take Hoku to see Even in Radiant Garden so the scientist can check on Hoku's progress. Being the first of his kind, Even wanted to ensure Hoku was developing properly and as normally as any other child. If it turns out that Hoku's hallucinating, Even might be the only one who could have an explanation as to why. "Then that's what we'll do."

Chapter Text

The boys spent that weekend at home, doing their best to cheer Hoku up and give him plenty of attention. To ensure that he continues to be honest, Sora and Riku assured him he did the right thing by saying something and praised him for being so brave. Telling the teacher and yelling at everybody to get to safety was the right thing to do in that situation and they were very proud of him, even if the situation turned out to be very strange in hindsight. No matter what, he would've been safe because he did the right thing and that's what matters in the end.

Riku sat with Hoku in his lap and hugged him tightly. "You mean everything to us, Hoku. No matter what, above all else, we just want you to be safe. So if even something seems only a LITTLE weird, just run away. Don't ever doubt yourself. It's better to run and feel silly later than to doubt yourself and end up getting hurt because you hesitated. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Daddy," Hoku nodded against Riku's chest, returning the hug just as tightly. "Love you."

"We love you too, sweetheart!" Sora gushed as he joined the hug pile. "SO MUCH!"

Sora and Riku had debated whether or not they should tell Hoku more about BoB, but eventually decided against it so as not to scare him further or possibly add more to his delusion if that's what it is. The two of them felt so torn. On the one hand, they don't want to believe their son is lying as a way to get attention and it certainly seemed very unlikely. But on the other, that would mean that BoB is back and he's going after their son, which was terrifying to think about. Of course they alerted Master Yen Sid, King Mickey, and all the other keyblade masters and wielders about the situation so now everybody is on high alert for any other signs of his return. It was then decided that a team of three would go to The World That Shall Never Be to investigate and Sora and Riku will be off-duty for the next week to keep an eye on Hoku and the school for anything suspicious.

With all of that decided, the two dads kept a watchful eye on Hoku as they interacted with him to make sure he's alright. As they played with him and practiced his letter-tracing with him, they kept an eye out for any sign of him becoming distracted like his teacher mentioned but they didn't see anything of the sort. Once he sat down and got started, he was very focused, following their instructions the first time. In fact, if anything he seemed to like showing off how he can trace with alternating hands, which Sora had to admit was pretty impressive.

Riku then took Sora aside for a moment. "Maybe he's only listening because it's us? I mean, surely an experienced teacher would know more than us if he's truly more distracted than a typical kid, right? Why else would she say anything?"

Sora frowned in thought. "If he truly didn't care or just didn't want to listen to the teacher, he wouldn't ask her to repeat it, right? We talked about that."

"That's true. So maybe we should try asking him to do something he's never done before and see what happens then?"

"Ooh! Good idea!"

So after Hoku finished his letters, they all went outside to tend to the herb garden. It was harvesting time so they gave Hoku simple instructions on which herbs to pick and put in the basket to dry, even telling him how to distinguish the ones that were actually ready. Sure enough, he followed the instructions perfectly the first time and picked all the correct herbs. Impressed, Riku stole Hoku away to leave Sora to do the weeding so he could show Hoku how to fold laundry next! Again, he picked it up very quickly and folded everything just fine!

"You probably fold better than Sora does!" Riku praised. "You're going to be my new little helper!"

"Does being a little helper get me munny?" Hoku grinned mischievously.

The man snorted and ruffled Hoku's hair. "One day your dad and I are going to have to teach you what chores are."

To reward Hoku's good work, the three of them put on their wetsuits and gave Hoku his first surf lesson using one of the smaller boards from Sora's family's collection. Of course, the two of them mostly held the board for Hoku in the shallows and let him practice balancing himself and then showed him how to paddle out before they pushed the board for him. Or rather, it was mostly Riku doing the leg work. Sora was having a good time taking pictures of the two of them whenever he got the chance.

The next day they took him to visit his grandparents. Both sets of grandparents gathered for a family breakfast at Riku's family home. They caught up on all the goings-on but of course Riku's dad was mostly interested in playing with Hoku. The very large muscular man was having a ball tossing Hoku as high into the air as he could and catching him with expertise, making the small boy giggle wildly as he cheered grandpa to keep tossing him higher. At one point he was getting high enough to make even Riku nervous! "Let's let grandpa have a break!"

After breakfast, Sora's mother refused to give Hoku up for a good while as she fussed over his soft hair. Sora and Riku did take a lock of it when he still had his baby curls for the baby book, and it was a good thing because after Sora's mother cut it for the first time, Hoku's hair had a mind of its own! It was soft and silky like Riku's but it spiked out in sections like Sora's when it was short. At the moment they've kept it about the length Riku's was when he was Hoku's age, so it's on the fluffy side, but it's a little flatter, the only parts spiking just a smidge are a little ways in the front and a little in the back. Sora's mother was having too much fun parting it into little spikes where it would stay for a moment before it poofed out again. "You're soooo cute!" she squealed as she hugged him for like the hundredth time.

Hoku of course was enjoying all of the attention. "'mnot cute, I'm handsome, grandma!" he corrected with a giggle.

"Of course, sweetie. I meant handsome," she giggled. "So proud of our little man!" she cooed as she playfully squished his cheeks and gave him a raspberry kiss, making the little one squeal and kick his feet as he squirmed to escape, making his silly grandmother cackle.

Sora and Riku watched them and laughed but they were honestly a little worried that they might not get Hoku back in time for them to go to the market together. Riku was the one who finally decided to get the good-byes started. "We're heading to the market next. Do you guys need anything while we're out?" he offered.

"Actually, before you go," Riku's mother smiled. "We all got Hoku a little present while we were shopping the other day."

"A preshent?" Hoku looked up.

"Guys, you didn't have to do that!" Sora gushed.

"You don't get a say," Sora's dad laughed. "I'll go get it."

Within a few moments he returned with what appeared to be a small electric piano for beginners! Hoku's face immediately lit up as he recognized what it was and scrambled to give all his grandparents appreciative hugs and kisses as he thanked them for their gift. Ever since he saw Uncle Roxas's piano he wanted one for himself but his dads hadn't been able to find one!

"Where did you get it?" Riku asked in amazement. Even in Traverse Town these smaller pianos were hard to find. Getting Hoku a full-sized one wouldn't have been too hard, but Hoku really wanted a small one that he could also take with him on trips.

Riku's dad puffed his chest out proudly. "A friend of a friend let me know that they had one on order at the instruments store next to the electronics shop. So we might have camped outside the store a little early so we could be the first ones in when it opened."

Sora and Riku also thanked them all. Hoku's fifth birthday was coming up really soon and their gift really saved them from having to disappoint the little guy. After promising to practice and learn as fast as he can so he can play them all a song someday, the trio went home to drop it off in Hoku's room before they headed out to the market. By then, the sun was starting to beat down, so Hoku grabbed his now sleeveless dragon hoodie to wear to block out the sun. Sora had worried that the black-colored garment would be too hot for Hoku but apparently it actually kept him cool, much to their surprise. "Might have to ask Maleficent if she could give ME one," Sora pondered.

"You do and I'm asking for a divorce," Riku threatened. He was mostly joking of course, but he had to admit he was a little envious too. Hoku not only stayed cool, but he LOOKED cool...at least as cool as a four year old can be. The little dragon-headed hood was quite the fashion statement and was just big and stiff enough to act as a tent to protect Hoku's face from the sun but not enough to fall into his eyes.

So of course while they were doing their shopping, Hoku was instantly recognizable to all the vendors even without showing off his silver hair and he waved and smiled at every single one as they gushed about how big he was getting and how cute he is. While dragging around a child at the market may be a hindrance to some parents, for Sora and Riku it was a perk because their little ball of sunshine got them lots of discounts with his adorable smile and good manners. Nobody could resist the little guy's charm! Except maybe for...

"COME ON! I'm tellin' ya! I'll get you the money next week! You know I'm good for it!" a familiar voice shouted from one of the nearby shops that made Sora's ears perk up just before a large brown-haired man in baggy clothes with a brown jacket tied around his waist was tossed out onto the street where he landed flat on his back.

"Yer a good-for-nothin', that's what you are!" the shopkeeper in question shouted as he closed the door to his establishment. "You got a week!"

Sora recognized the man immediately as he rose to his feet and brushed himself off. It was his uncle! He's caught sight of him a few times but thankfully he's avoided talking to him directly since high school and Hoku certainly hasn't met him yet, nor is he even aware of his existence and frankly he'd like to keep it that way for the time being. So he quickly scooped up the little boy who was staring at the scene the two men caused, just as bewildered as everybody else was, and hurried to carry him away and find Riku who was checking out the produce just a few stalls further down.

"Daddy, wait!" Hoku protested as he was carried away. "Daddy told you to get the bread, remember?"

"Bread can wait," Sora quietly told him so the other man won't hear his voice. "We gotta find daddy."

Riku sensed something was up as he finished his purchase and looked up to see Sora quickly approaching him with Hoku held tightly to himself. "What is it? What's wrong?" he asked as Sora came up to him with a frantic look in his eyes. "Something happen?"

"My U N C L E is here," Sora hissed. "We gotta go."

Riku tried to calm him with a hand on his shoulder so he doesn't worry Hoku. "Hey, it's fine. He didn't see you, right?"

Sora shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Then let's just take a break. We'll grab a smoothie and wait it out. I'm sure he'll be gone soon and then we can get back to our shopping."

"So he DOES exist!" a sharp voice rang out from behind them.

Sora stiffened and clutched Hoku tighter. Riku's eyes darkened and he held out his hand for Sora but the brunette found his legs unable to move.

"Daddy, who's that?" Hoku asked timidly, peeking over Sora's shoulder at the man who was undoubtedly the same one he saw get thrown to the ground earlier. "Are you okay, mister? That looked like it hurt."

"Don't talk to him, Hoku," Sora told him in a gentle but serious tone that the little one recognized and nodded obediently.

"What? 10 years and you're not even going to say hi to your favorite uncle?" the man cackled. "After acting so tough last time, yer still just a puss--"

"That's enough!" Riku stepped forward. "I won't have you talking to him that way or speaking like that in front of our son."

Sora took a deep breath. He found his feet again and started walking away. He told Hoku a long time ago that it's okay to walk away from conflict and he's not going to go back on that now. He wordlessly pulled Hoku's hood back over his head so his uncle can't see and Riku followed after him while his uncle continued to rant at their backs.

"What? I'm not allowed to see my great nephew!?" he yelled as he made to follow them. "You'd turn your back on your own family!? Answer me, boy!"

Sora stopped in his tracks and looked down at Hoku who was looking up at him timidly with his giant blue eyes, clearly full of questions but also frightened. He steeled his resolve and glanced over at his husband. "Riku...take Hoku."

"Sora..."

"He's causing a scene. I want to talk to him alone. I'll meet you at the smoothie place."

Riku sighed but nodded before taking Hoku from Sora. Sora kissed Hoku on the tip of his nose and smiled at him reassuringly. "Keep your hood on until daddy says so, okay?"

The little one nodded and kept a grip on his hood as Riku carried him away into the crowd and out of sight. Finally Sora turned to face his uncle, glaring daggers into the taller man with his piercing blue eyes. "You want to talk? Fine. Let's talk." He nodded toward an area away from the market where there won't be any people for them to bother if they make a scene and the man followed as Sora kept a brisk five steps ahead of him.

The moment they were alone, the man ranted about things that Sora couldn't really bother to keep up with, but apparently he's heard all about how he and Riku were married and heard the rumors from Riku's side of the family that he and Sora had some cushy jobs and therefore were loaded, and he saw the announcement of their child in the newspaper and demanded to know why he wasn't personally informed and why he hadn't been allowed to see him.

Sora rolled his eyes. "Isn't it obvious? You think after the way you've treated me growing up that I'd let you within ten feet of my son?"

"How much did you have to pay to get some girl to let you knock her up?" the man grinned.

Sora grit his teeth and clenched his fists. Why did he even bother? "Nobody. There is no girl. Where Hoku came from is nobody's business but our own."

"Yeah, I saw the announcement. "Born to Sora and Riku", it said. You really think you can get away with that shit?"

"It's the truth," Sora stated firmly. "But cut the crap. You don't really care about my son at all, do you?"

His uncle took a step back and legitimately looked stung by Sora's words. Once again, Sora couldn't bring himself to believe anything 100% when it came to his uncle. No doubt he's been ostracized from his family in the past 10 years as even his father had started turning him away as he continued to spiral into debt from his gambling habits, but did he really give any flip about knowing Hoku? He wouldn't be surprised if his uncle started threatening to do a DNA test in regards to Hoku's legitimacy so that he wouldn't be entitled to Sora's inheritance which Sora was prepared to say is a ton of crap because even if Hoku was adopted, he'd still be his son and therefore perfectly entitled, DNA or not. But what he wasn't prepared for was seeing the man avert the gaze and rub the back of his neck as if he were genuinely ashamed.

"I know...I've made mistakes. And I know that I've been a horrible uncle to you and a terrible brother to your father. I've gambled away everything. My family is all I have left and I don't know if I even have that anymore. I didn't think I could sink any lower until I found out I have a great nephew that I might never be allowed to see."

Sora could hear the other's voice choking up as he said this. If he was faking it was a really good act. He even thought he could see genuine shame in the other's green eyes as he finally looked back at him. He wished so badly that his uncle was actually sorry and that he felt any genuine remorse. After all, he wanted his son to know all of his family. But he couldn't ignore all the years of drama that his uncle had put him and his family through while he was growing up. He chose his next words carefully. "Would you really want him to see you like this? The way you are now?"

The large man took a step back. Sora half expected him to reach out and grab him or threaten to pick a fight but instead he seemed to buckle at the knees as if he had been shoved, again surprising the brunet. "I...I know you're right. I just don't know what to do anymore."

Sora sighed and leaned against a nearby tree with his arms crossed. If this is an act, he's falling for it. But his mercy won't come without a cost. "You need help."

"Yes..."

Sora quirked a wary eyebrow but continued. "How much?"

"How much...?"

"How much debt are you in?"

The man clenched his fists, looking torn. Either he didn't want to reveal how bad things really were or he didn't want to actually accept help from the nephew he's tormented as a child. Taking things by force was a lot easier than asking. He looked like his pride was on the line either way. Finally he hissed the number. "About 40k..."

Sora sighed and tapped his fingers against his arm as he considered the number. It's not as big of a number as he was expecting but then again, it's WHO he owes this money to that would determine how serious of a debt it actually is. "I'm going to give you a deal. Just this one time and you better listen very clearly."

The man appeared to be humbled but he listened, now apprehensive. "What?"

"You will give me a list of who your debts are with and what you owe them. I will not give you the money directly. I will hire somebody to deliver the money so it can't be traced back to me. If you DARE tell anybody that I'm the one who helped you I will make you regret it. I will NOT have your debt collectors coming to me or my home, do you understand?"

The other nodded slowly, but he grit his teeth as he swallowed back his protests, clearly a little upset that he would not be given the money directly. "And then?"

"In exchange, you're checking into rehab, one that I choose and that I'll be paying for. If you try to skip town I will have no trouble hunting you down and dragging you back kicking and screaming. You will only be released by the doctor. Once you're cleaned up and on track again, ONLY THEN will you be allowed to meet my son."

The man was stunned to say the least. Had this been a few years ago he would've told the kid to shove it all up his ass and stomped away. But he wasn't lying when he said he was at rock bottom. He hadn't had a place to stay for more than a day at a time for four years now. Even in a rehab facility he'd at least have a place to sleep. "Okay..." he answered quietly.

"Alright. Meet me next to the preschool tomorrow at 10 am. Have your list ready and I'll take it from there."

"Right, but why the pre-school?"

"I have some business there to take care of," Sora told him shortly before he stood up and started walking. "Don't be late. Oh, and one more thing." He reached into his pouch and tossed 50 munny at his uncle who scrambled to catch it. "Get yourself something to eat. You look terrible."

"Thanks..." he mumbled bitterly as he watched Sora walk away.

Sora kept walking and didn't look back. The further he got away the quicker he walked until he reached the smoothie place where Riku and Hoku were waiting, each holding coconuts that they were sipping smoothies from. Upon seeing him, Hoku happily waved at Sora, happy to see that he's okay. Riku also smiled and waved him over, giving Sora a one-armed hug as he offered him a sip of his own smoothie. "We wanted to get you one but we weren't sure how long you were going to take."

"It's okay, I'm not really in the mood for a smoothie anymore," Sora smiled but he gratefully took a long sip of the cold beverage. He gave a small shudder as the smoothie pleasantly chilled his insides for a brief moment.

"Daddy has an uncle, too?" Hoku asked, or more like blurted out. Clearly he had been holding in his curiosity for when Sora got back.

Sora helplessly smiled at Hoku. He had hoped that Hoku didn't hear any of that. "Yes, he's your grandpa's brother. He's...not in a good place right now. When he's ready, maybe you can meet him one day if you want." Actually, he had two uncles on his mother's side, too. But he saw them even less often. Not that they were bad people, they just did their own thing and only checked in every now and then.

Hoku nodded. He wasn't entirely sure what his dad meant by "not in a good place" but he figured it must have something to do with why he was getting thrown around and yelled at. He didn't know the man, but he felt sorry for him. He seemed lonely. But if his dad wanted to stay away from him, there must be a good reason. "Okay. Maybe you can tell me about him later."

Sora chuckled and ruffled his hair. "Yeah, someday."

While they're sipping their smoothies, Kila and her father show up. The dads invite them to join them at their picnic table while they enjoy the drinks that they just bought and catch up since they hadn't seen Kila's dad in a couple of weeks. Of course the kids are quick to finish their small beverages and run off to play while the dads chat. Kila's dad naturally had questions about the incident that happened at school and asked if Hoku was okay.

"He seems to be okay," Sora answered. "But we're still trying to figure out if the whole incident was...real..." he admitted.

"Hoku has never lied or made something up for attention before," Riku added. "So we don't want to think he's starting now. But we also wonder if it's something we might've told him that sparked his imagination? We're really not sure."

"I get it. You want to believe your kid but at the same time you don't want to believe there's a monster peeking into the playground," Kila's dad said. "But it got me thinking, does Hoku sleepwalk?"

Sora and Riku blinked and looked at each other. Hoku does sneak out of bed on occasion for a snack, but they've never noticed him sleepwalking. Even now he still has a camera baby monitor feed in the nursery and all they've seen him do is maybe toss and turn a bit. They both shook their heads minutely and looked back to Kila's dad. "Don't think so," they answered in unison.

"Why do you ask?" Riku inquired.

"Well, my oldest son started sleepwalking around this age. I hear a lot of kids do, or they have waking night terrors, you know, like a boogie man. I was just thinking since their play time is right before nap time that maybe Hoku had a waking night terror because he was tired."

"Hm..." Sora looked to Riku and gave a little shrug. "It MIGHT make sense."

"Could be worth looking into," Riku agreed before he took a thoughtful sip of his smoothie. It still doesn't explain how Hoku was able to describe No Name, but then again, he could've saw a glimpse of it in Jiminy's Journal at some point.

"Thanks for the suggestion," Sora smiled at Kila's dad gratefully. "I hope that's the answer."

"You never know with kids," Kila's dad chuckled. "But regardless, I AM happy that Hoku's first thought was to tell everybody to get to safety, according to Kila. Even if it turns out his imagination got away from him, you have a smart boy on your hands."

"Thank you," Riku smiled gratefully. "I'm really glad to hear you say that. We had a talk with him about that earlier, actually."

"Well that's good," Kila's dad chuckled. "I know I had to clarify a few things after Officer Cherry gave his stranger danger speech myself. I wouldn't be surprised if it's made all of the other kids a little paranoid, too."

"Oh yeah!" Sora laughed. "I remember the same presentation from when I was in pre-school. He had puppets for ours, though."

Kila's dad laughed, "I remember those! But those things probably got so old that they turned to dust!"

Kila and Hoku meanwhile are chatting about something called a sleepover. Apparently her dad just picked her up from a sleepover at a cousin's.

"You get to spend all day AND ALL NIGHT together?" Hoku asked.

"Yeah! It's a lot of fun!"

"Wow! Hey daddy, can me and Kila have a sleepover?" Hoku yells over at Sora and Riku.

Riku chokes on his drink, smoothie coming out of his nose and Sora chokes on the air he's breathing. Kila's dad lets out a loud laugh while Riku scrambles for his handkerchief to clean his face.

Sora hurried to think of a good excuse as to why that would probably never happen without saying it's because Kila's a girl. They don't want Hoku to think that befriending a girl should be any different than befriending a boy. "Um, sweetheart, that might be difficult because you know daddy and I sometimes have work on the weekends, remember?"

Kila's dad caught on quickly to the direction that Sora was going with and gave a subtle nod that he was giving a good answer.

"But what if it's a weekend you're not working?" Hoku asked.

"Well, you get to see Kila all week while you're at school. Maybe her family wants time with her on the weekends," Sora added.

"But what about just ONE weekend?"

"Er...Kila's dad doesn't know us very well and he might not be comfortable with letting her stay with us," Riku finally added.

Sora saw Hoku about to open his mouth again and quickly stepped in. "BUT, maybe Kila's family could come over for dinner sometime instead?"

Riku coughed hard again and mumbled that he must still have smoothie in his throat as he excused himself to walk off and clear it.

Kila's dad shrugged non-committedly. "That sounds fun! I'll have to ask the wife of course, but how about we exchange numbers?"

"Of course! We might as well. I can already tell the two of them are thick as thieves," Sora snickered as he pulled out his phone.

Kila's dad snickered quietly as he pulled out his own phone to add Sora's number. "Well she DID draw first blood, didn't she?"

Sora snorted. "That she did."

Speaking of which, dinnertime was fast approaching, so the group decided to start walking back home. It was along the way that they realized Kila's family practically lives next door, or at least their place is the closest neighboring residence to their land. The group walked together for a little while and once Kila's dad realized where the other group was going he was really surprised.

"Wait, you guys live in there?" he pointed to the thicket of trees that hid their home from view. There's a dirt path connected to the main row that would lead directly up to their home if it wasn't enchanted to keep out potential trespassers. Any unwanted or undesirable visitors would find themselves on a dirt road maze that would eventually take them back to the main road and even if you tried to traverse on foot, there was a barrier that when interacted with would turn the person right around without them knowing it and sending them back in the direction they came. It's already well-known by the locals that Riku's grandfather lived there for years so they know there's a residence SOMEWHERE in there, but what they haven't figured out is why it's suddenly gotten so hard to find one's way around in that little patch of woods in the past decade.

"Oh! Yeah, it's in there, but when you guys come over for dinner we'll just meet you at the main road and show you the way in," Sora quickly explained.

"Sounds like an adventure," Kila's dad laughed. "We'll look forward to it."

The groups parted ways and Riku carried Hoku on his shoulders for the rest of the way while he and Sora also carried the groceries. Sora noticed Riku was pretty quiet for the majority of the walk and decided to address what was probably the reason why. "I'm sorry, I panicked."

Riku sighed and glanced up. Hoku had fallen asleep and was resting limply with his head resting on top of Riku's. "It's not that I don't want Hoku having friends over," he said quietly. "But you know we're going to have to clean things up before they come, right? We can't risk leaving anything out that might give us away."

"Right," Sora nodded. "Well on the bright side, our kitchen's so small, we'll have to eat outside anyway. We can just entertain them out on the deck!"

"Sure, but you can't expect them to see we live in a treehouse and not want a tour. We'll still have to be careful," Riku pointed out.

"I get it. You're right," Sora sighed. "But you sense it, too, right? Hoku and Kila already remind me a lot of you and I when we were little. I want him to be able to have a good friend like you were to me."

"I know," Riku smiled. "And there's no doubt in my mind that they'll be good friends. Just...Hoku may or may not get to experience the same things we did and that's not a bad thing. It's just going to be different."

"Yeah, I guess," Sora smiled, cheering up a little. He and Riku's parents were already close friends and the two took turns sleeping over at each other's places all the time. It MIGHT be nice if Hoku got to experience that, too, but Sora's already pretty sure that he and Riku can't see themselves letting Hoku stay with friends until he's a lot older. It just feels too risky, especially now. And as far as having friends come over to THEIR place...that was also risky.

Riku gently nudged him out of his thoughts with an elbow bump. "Hey, it'll be alright. Hoku's going to have a wonderful childhood. We're going to make sure of that."

"Of course," the brunette smiled fondly. "But what if--"

"We're just going to have to figure it out one day at a time," Riku interrupted as they arrived at their home and began walking up the stairs. "For now, we have to give this guy a bath and be ready for school tomorrow."

"Oh, right. I also have some calls to make," Sora added as he followed after him.

"Calls?" Riku asked.

"Yeah...so...about my uncle..."

Riku huffed. "Oh yeah. Can't wait to hear about this one."

"Okay, so you're going to think I'm crazy, but..."

Chapter Text

Things have been busy in Scala ad Caelum. Along with preparing the world to be the main hub for other worlds as well as a potential escape route, just as Traverse Town had been for those who had lost their home worlds, Terra and Aqua were preparing the main school building for new students. First and foremost, however, they needed new teachers.

At the time being, the recently graduated Dr. Xion has agreed to move to Scala to teach all the academic subjects as well as magic. Roxas followed her to teach combat based on Master Terra's lesson plans. Both are going to be earning their Masters titles really soon before they get new students, hopefully. Master Ventus is pulling double-duty with not only the bakery but in teaching a class that makes healing items alongside the moogles. So essentially, he's teaching how to make potions and healing cupcakes while still raising money for the school with his bakery. Masters Terra and Aqua are still at the Land of Departure with the kids that are still not old enough to wield a true keyblade just yet, but soon some of their students will be old enough to assist at the school as well. The arrangement has involved a lot of hopping back and forth for everybody involved. Lauriam and Elrena have done their best to assist in the bakery while Master Ventus has taken on the mantle of teacher.

With all the insanity, it's hard to believe that Ven has had any time for a social life whatsoever but it so happens he's somehow made time for Kairi whenever he can. The redhead has been acting as local ambassador/go-between for Destiny Islands alongside her father, the mayor so naturally she gets to visit Scala quite often. But she's also just as busy. So any spare moment they get to spend together is treasured.

Even when Ven is covered in patches of flour and Kairi has a bad case of helmet hair, the two are all smiles as they lean against the outside wall of the new bakery. They had found the building, like all the others, abandoned but in fantastic condition with fully-equipped ovens so Ven has turned it into his new home base. Inside Lauriam and Elrena diligently work away, carefully placing cupcakes into cardboard boxes to tie up with twine for their next deliveries.

"Kairi...I was wondering..."

"Hm?"

Ven suddenly feels nervous and bashfully rubs the back of his head, ruffling some flour out of his spiky blond locks. "Do you think...you'd consider moving to Scala?"

The redhead blinked softly in confusion but smiled gently. "Why do you ask?"

"Just that...well...I'm here and...we could definitely use you. You know?" He scrunched his toes in his boots as he felt himself losing his nerve but looked into her eyes anyway so he could read her face.

Kairi's face reddened slightly. "Well...I mean...Destiny Islands is my home. And I have so much going on there. They need me too. My father needs me."

"But...Sora and Riku live there too. Can't they--"

"Sora and Riku," she interrupted curtly, "Have enough on their plates without having to worry about the politics of Destiny Islands on top of that."

Ven flinched slightly. "No, you're right. I didn't mean for it to sound...I just mean...Well, Roxas and Xion have already made the move and I just thought..."

"Thought what, Ven?" Kairi asked softly, her eyes more forgiving.

The blond relaxed his shoulders a bit and reached to tuck a stray hair behind Kairi's ear before cupping her cheek and leaning in close. "I just thought...maybe you'd like to be here with me?"

Kairi trembled at their proximity. They've had several moments of intimacy before, but nothing beyond heavy making out. That wasn't why she was trembling, though. "Ven...I...just don't think..."

Ven retreated his hand. "Sorry, forget I said anything." He put on a wide smile. "I was just thinking, is all. You still up for our reservation in Le Bistro next week?"

Kairi feigned a smile as well before taking a step back. "Uh, yeah, I think so. I'll let you know. But I need to get going. Master Yen Sid needs that report and I gotta take those things to Queen Minnie, right?"

"Things? Oh, right!" Ven remembered the cupcakes Queen Minnie ordered and hurried inside to grab them, not looking at Lauriam and Elrena as he grabbed the stack and hurried back outside to give them to Kairi.

Elrena pretended that she wasn't just eavesdropping as Ven quickly went in and out. "Ouch," she muttered in sympathy under her breath.

Lauriam nodded as he kept his eyes down on his own task, only looking up once Ven was safely outside again. He watched out the window as Kairi gave Ven an awkward hug good-bye and a kiss on the cheek before flying away on her keyblade glider, leaving Ven smiling as he waved her off. But once she was out of sight, his smile instantly fell and he ran a hand sadly through his hair before heading back inside.

Lauriam looked up to see Ven looking quite down, as if all the exhaustion from the past couple of days had just hit him all at once. "Ven..."

"So...we still got those other ones for Merlin to send out, right?" the blond asked, not looking up from his clipboard, though he wasn't really looking at it.

"We already sent those," Lauriam assured him. "In fact, we're done for the day."

"Huh?" Ven gave himself a little shake and looked through the list. "Are you sure?"

Elrena smiled and reached over to give his shoulder a little shake. "Sorry, no work for you to bury yourself in this time, kiddo." Before Lauriam could scold her for her choice of words, she got a call on her gummi phone and excused herself. "Ooo~ Sorry, boys, I don't want to miss this one."

After she excused herself, Lauriam sat on one of the stools next to Ven and smiled at him sympathetically. "If you don't have anything to do tonight, how about you let me take you out to eat, hm?"

Ven grinned. "You know I'd hate to say no, but look at me, I'm filthy!" he joked.

The pink-haired man laughed. "Then clean yourself up and meet me at my place. I'll make you something myself."

The blond blinked. "Aw, I can't ask you to do that."

"Then don't. I'm offering. Be there in an hour. I'm not taking no for an answer."

"Well, alright, then!" Ven grinned. "Should I--"

"No, don't bring a dessert. Please."

The keyblade master laughed. "Okay, you got it!"

Outside, Elrena relished hitting the little green button on the gummi phone to pick up a call from none other than Master Sora himself. "To what do I owe this pleasure, Master Sora?" She could hear the brunet sputtering on the other end of the line from her tone and grinned wickedly to herself before granting him mercy. "Come on, out with it. I haven't got all day!"

"Right, sorry. Look, I need a favor."

"A favor? From me?" she blinked with genuine surprise. "Why? What's the catch?"

"No catch." He went on to explain the trouble with his uncle and how he needed her to be the one to deliver the munny to the ones his uncle is indebted to.

"Sounds easy enough. But why are you asking this of me?" she probed as she boredly inspected the backs of her nails.

"Because you're the scariest lady I know. If they think my uncle is indebted to an even scarier loan shark, they won't go digging around for a benefactor," he answered simply. "And you also know how to keep quiet," he added.

The blonde grinned, now tapping her nails against the windowsill as she considered his request. It would be fun to play the bad girl again. "Flattery will get you everywhere, Master Sora," she chuckled. "What's in it for me?"

"Whatever you want," Sora answered.

"Whatever I want? Come now, surely you don't mean that~"

"Come on, Elrena, there's gotta be SOMETHING you want? Maybe a day off? I can offer to do the deliveries for you for a day or whatever?"

"Oh, now you're talking my language. Hm...how about the next time you're in San Fransokyo you give me a call and we go on a little shopping detour? Nothing too crazy, I promise~"

There was a pause on Sora's end of the line but finally he answered. "Sounds fair. You got yourself a deal."

"Done! Now when's the drop-off?"

"We're meeting my uncle tomorrow at 10 am. I'll let you know after that."

"Okay then. Toodles~"

"Thanks again, Elrena. Catch you later," the brunet thanked her gratefully before hanging up, leaving Elrena to ponder what she was going to wear on this new mission of hers. As she glanced back into the bakery, she could see Ven and Lauriam closing up for the day. "Hmph...might also be a good opportunity to talk to li'l Miss Princess Kairi, too..."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Back on the islands, Sora and Riku dropped Hoku off at preschool and hurried back home to change into "disguises". Riku tied his hair back and wore a sun hat and a pair of thick dark sunglasses he borrowed from his dad along with a white undershirt and dark gray cargo shorts and--

"You're really pulling off the flip flops!" Sora giggled.

"Shut up! The point is to not look like ourselves, remember?" Riku reminded him.

"I know, I know! It's just I don't think I've ever seen you wear flip flops before!" the younger man laughed. "At least you're not wearing socks! But seriously this is the most DAD I've ever seen you look!"

"Shut up, wise guy, and go get your clothes. We'll see who's laughing then!" the silverette scoffed as he made sure his hair was tucked properly underneath his hat so nobody would notice. Arguably his hair was his most identifiable feature so as long as it stayed hidden he figured he'd be fine. Sora on the other hand could blend in much easier, or so he thought.

When Sora came back out, he was dressed similarly to Riku, but with an open button up flannel shirt over a white wifebeater, his hair tied back in a tiny ponytail under a green bandanna and wearing Riku's reading glasses, also wearing thong sandals.

"No fair. Why does it look cute on you?" Riku huffed.

Sora adjusted the borrowed glasses playfully. "I can make anything look good, that's why."

"Heh, sure, we'll go with that," Riku laughed.

"I'm not sure how to take that," Sora grumbled. "Anyway, we ready to go?"

"Ready when you are."

At 10 am sharp, Sora and Riku were back at the preschool where they found Sora's uncle wandering around the block as promised. Frankly Riku was surprised that he stayed true to his word, but then again Sora's uncle would have to be a complete idiot to not take the deal that Sora was offering. Before they approached, Riku leaned into Sora. "So you're sure about this?"

"Absolutely not, but if he screws up, it's on him, not me. I mean, sure, I'm losing a few thousand munny but on the other hand I might gain a somewhat sane uncle by the end of it," Sora reasoned.

"You're a much more forgiving guy than I am," Riku smiled warmly and gave his hand a quick squeeze before they approached.

Sora's uncle saw them come around the corner and froze in his steps as he took a second to recognize the two men walking towards him. Had they walked seperately he probably wouldn't have recognized them as quickly but together they stood out enough for him to realize they were badly disguising themselves. "What's with the get-up?" he asked.

"You recognized us!?" Sora hissed.

"Not...entirely?" the uncle answered honestly. "But when you two are walking together..." He looked eye to eye with Riku, or at least as best as he could with those dark sunglasses, and chose his next words carefully. The man looked much more intimidating this way. "It's a little more obvious."

Riku crossed his arms. "Then I guess we'll be walking separately."

"Fine," Sora huffed. He expected as much. Plus, if the uncle he hadn't really seen in 10 years managed to recognize him, then anybody else in the neighborhood was sure to do the same so he might as well take the criticism constructively.

The uncle looked between them. "Seriously, what's the deal?"

Sora sighed and filled him in on the situation. "So we think it's somebody we know, but we're not sure. Anyway, you got that list?" His uncle hesitated but produced the list of names. Sora glanced over it, satisfied enough with the amount of detail to give his uncle a nod and pocket the paper. "It'll be taken care of. Meanwhile, you will be packing up and going to this facility first thing tomorrow," Sora added and handed his uncle a brochure along with a bus and ferry ticket. "It's a little out of the way, but I figured this way you can really get away from all your distractions and temptations and what have you so you can do things properly," he explained. As the other man accepted the items, Sora realized how small and defeated he looked. Sure, the man was his dad's older brother, but he never thought of him as elderly. He was only in his fifties for crying out loud, but it was clear in his face how much he had been through with his lifestyle choices. Suddenly he felt more sure that he was doing the right thing in giving him one last chance. Despite himself, he gave the man a small, reassuring smile.

At the gentle smile, Sora's uncle felt himself getting emotional and barely managed to mumble a thank you before pocketing the papers and clearing his throat. "So...you think somebody's bothering Hoku?" he asked.

"We're not sure," Riku answered. "So we're going to walk around town to see if he shows up again."

"I can help!" he quickly volunteered. "I can ask some friends and--"

"Whoa, whoa," Sora quickly stepped in. "I appreciate it, I really do. But you gotta get ready for tomorrow. No distractions, remember? Besides this guy is somebody you don't want to get involved with, trust me. It'll only cause more trouble. I'll write you when I have an update, I promise."

Sora's uncle nodded firmly. "You be sure to do that. I'll work hard. I promise."

"Good," Sora smiled. "We're going to be off now before it gets too late."

"Right, I'll see you around." He shook Sora and Riku's hands before leaving them to it.

After they said their good-byes, Sora and Riku took off in separate directions, Sora staying close to the block of the pre-school while Riku took a much further radius.

Eventually Sora got tired of walking around so he just hung out in a tree with his knees curled up to his chest while he watched the playground from afar. Riku's reading glasses really helped him see for some reason and he was loving it. But then Riku gave him a phone call and he nearly fell off the branch, wondering if Riku had caught sight of him. "Riku?"

"I'm BORED!" the man answered.

Sora giggled into his hand as he tried to keep quiet. "What do you mean? You're on patrol!"

"Yeah, and people are staring at me! It'd be different if I had a dog to walk, maybe. Can a cat walk on a leash? Should we borrow Reacher?"

"You know Vanitas would never let you borrow Reacher. Would he even listen to you?" Sora snickered. He can tell Riku's bored. The silverette rarely ever acts this way.

"He might! Me and Vanitas are practically pals now. He asks me stuff about Vera all the time."

"He does?" Sora blinked. This was the first he's heard of it.

"Yeah, us dads have to stick together," Riku said proudly.

"Well why hasn't he asked ME anything?" Sora asked, now offended.

"Um...so anyway, what are you doing?"

The change of subject wasn't lost on Sora, but he let it slide. "Uh, same as you. Walking."

"Doesn't sound like you're walking."

"Doesn't sound like you're walking, either!" Sora scoffed just as a seagull started squawking loudly in the branches above his head.

"You're in a tree, aren't you?"

"NO!"

"No fair! I want the tree next time!"

"You can't even fit in this tree, Mr. Muscles!"

There's a pause. "That's hurtful."

"You know I didn't mean anything by it, babe," Sora snickered.

"Yeah, sure, half pint. Anyway, see anything weird yet?"

"Not at all," Sora answered. "I mean, Officer Cherry has come around quite a few times, but I haven't seen anything that screams BoB, you know?"

"Same here. But did we really expect to find him on day one?"

"No, I guess not. The heat getting to you?"

"...How'd you know?"

Sora snickered. "Did you remember to put on sunscreen?"

"I was TRYING to work on my tan!" the silverette insisted.

Sora laughed so hard he nearly fell out of the tree. The sun was DEFINITELY getting to Riku. "You're going to have circles around your eyes from the sunglasses!"

"Not true! I'm wearing my hat!" Riku hissed over the phone.

"Stawp, you're killing me!!" Sora cry-laughed as he dangled from his legs in the tree.

"You're going to blow your cover!" Riku scolded as he tried so hard not to laugh too.

"My cover's already blown, let's get out of here!" Sora laughed before hanging up.

The two met up at their favorite smoothie place with just a little over half an hour left until school was over.

"I think there's something we need to talk about before we pick up Hoku," Riku said seriously.

Sora sipped his smoothie. "Huh? What is it?"

"...I thought you liked my muscles."

Sora nearly choked on his drink. "OH COME ON!! Of course I do! Are you seriously still mad about that?"

"I mean here I was, thinking that--"

"Babe, I love your muscles, I promise!" Sora cackled and took his arm to lead him away. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, I promise. You're my big strong guy, and I love you."

"Yeah, sure you do. Me and my giant muscles that can't fit in tiny trees."

"Okay, let's get Hoku and get you out of the heat, how's that sound?" Sora rolled his eyes playfully.

"Fine, I guess," Riku responded with a hint of a pout still in his voice that made Sora giggle.

The days continued like this. Sora did receive word from the treatment center that his uncle DID arrive on time and he told his parents about it. His dad was surprised to say the least, but did ask for the address so he can send his brother letters while he's in treatment. As for Elrena's progress...

The blonde had too much fun dressed in all black going around to all these local businessmen and giving them the stink-eye as she paid back the debts that Sora's uncle owed them with the munny satchel Sora gave her. If keyblade masters were this loaded, then why was Ventus working so hard, she wondered. Then again, raising a castle full of little brats can't be cheap, she can tell that much, and more were sure to be on the way. But now was not the time to worry about such a thing. She was having too much fun being the bad bitch she knew she always wanted to be. Making men quiver in fear was one of her favorite things...at least that's what she thought. After the last delivery was made, she decided she much preferred being someplace much cooler!

"GUH!" she moaned as she leaned in the shade of a nearby tree while she peeled off one of her stiletto heels. "It's so hot! How can they stand living here!?" she growled as she let her sore feet relax in the cool grass. "And the roads here are terrible!"

She took a deep breath and peeled off her jacket. "Steady, girl. Remember why you're REALLY here," she grinned to herself as she eyed the small "mansion" across the way where she happened to know a certain Mayor and his family lived. "Wonder if she'll answer if I just knock on the door?"

She didn't have to wonder for too long as Kairi came out of the house dressed in a pink summer dress and white sandals with a straw satchel as if she were about to go shopping. Bingo! "Hey! Princess!" she shouted.

"What?" Kairi looked over to see Elrena in the shade. "Elrena? What are you doing here? Wait, aren't you hot in that?"

"Why thank you very much, your highness," she smirked. "No, but seriously, I'm dying."

Kairi couldn't help giggling and hurried over to help her. "Come on, let's get you some better clothes."

"What can be better than this?" Elrena scoffed.

"Fine, different!" Kairi snickered as she lead her away to the shopping center. Originally she was going to help stake out BoB, despite the boys insisting they have it handled, but she can still keep an eye out while they go shopping, right?

Unexpectedly, Elrena actually had a lot of fun hanging out with Kairi. She could see why Ventus liked hanging out with her so much. She was kind, but no