It’s one month before Riku manages to escape.
That’s how long it’s taken him to convince Sora to give him just a bit of freedom - a month of letting Sora kiss him, stroke his hair, press his body against the sheets and go pliant and submissive while Sora does whatever he wants. He’s even learned how to play along: to smile at Sora and kiss him back, arch into his touch and press his lips against Sora’s ear to whisper that he loves him, adores, will never ever leave him…
And it finally, finally pays off.
It’s a beautiful day outside. Bright sunshine streams in through the tower’s single window directly on to the overstuffed armchair where Sora flips idly through a fat, leather-bound volume. Every once in a while he drops his hand to where Riku’s head rests on his knee, fingers combing gently through the silver strands and scratching at Riku’s scalp.
Everything feels sweet and tranquil, and Riku knows he won’t get a better moment. He catches Sora’s hand and brings it to his lips, tilts his head to look up at him as he presses gentle kisses against his fingertips. Sora smiles and laughs, the sun bringing out golden highlights in his hair and turning his eyes an even brighter shade of blue, and Riku’s heart twists. When he’s relaxed and content like this, the madness almost entirely gone from his eyes, he looks so much like his Sora…
“Sora,” murmurs Riku, letting his tongue flick lightly against Sora’s warm skin. “Sora, you’re so beautiful in the sunshine.”
“Oh?” Sora lets his book fall to the floor with a thud and turns his body so that Riku is nestled between his knees, then leans down and cups Riku’s face in his hands. “Funny. I’ve always preferred moonlight. It turns your hair to spun silver.”
Riku smiles. “Maybe I can change your mind.” He turns his head just enough to press a kiss against Sora’s palm. “Let’s go outside.”
Sora’s hands immediately curl into fists, tugging Riku’s hair hard enough to hurt. “No.”
“I said no, Riku.” Sora’s eyes are turning dark. “I have to keep you safe, and this is the safest place for you. Why can’t you understand that?”
“But we’ll just go in the garden!” Riku keeps smiling, even though Sora’s grip is ripping strands of hair from his skull. “For a few minutes, that’s all. I’ll stay by your side the whole time. But Sora, please. I miss the sun. I miss the wind on my face. Just ten minutes. Five, even.”
Sora’s eyes narrow. He stares at Riku for a full minute, his grip on Riku’s hair growing tighter and tighter. Then, something gives way. He sighs and shakes his head, and drops his hands to Riku’s shoulders.
“Fine. Five minutes. And you don’t leave my side.”
Riku reaches up and pulls Sora into a kiss. He wants it to be sweet and soft, an expression of thanks, but Sora immediately turns it into something deeper, his tongue pressing against Riku’s lips in a demand for entry. Riku surrenders immediately - keep him happy, keep him happy - and lets Sora take as much as he wants.
“Let’s go.” Satisfied, Sora gets to his feet and pulls Riku after him. “Don’t let go of my hand.”
The portal Sora opens is different from the ones Riku used summon: a delicate shimmer of silver, rather than a chaotic swirl of midnight blue and purple. His own magic - including the Keyblade - has been completely inaccessible to him ever since he woke up here, and his attempts at managing even a simple fire spell leave him with nothing to show for it except nausea and debilitating headaches that linger for the better part of a day. He’s not sure if that’s because the magical energy he’s accustomed to working with just doesn’t exist in this particular reality, or if there’s something in the tower itself that inhibits all magic other than Sora’s.
“Come on.” Sora pulls him into the portal.
It’s like falling into a void, nothing around him but empty space and endless black. He can’t feel Sora’s hand in his, can’t hear his own heartbeat, can’t feel the air in his lungs. It’s a total absence of sensation, terrifyingly similar to how it felt when Ansem controlled his body and kept him locked away deep inside his mind, helpless to do anything but watch as his body attacked his friends over and over. Panic swirls inside him, thick and choking, and he’s sure that this is just another trick of Sora’s -
And then he’s outside, standing in the open air for the first time in a month, and it’s glorious.
For a moment, all Riku can do is gaze at the vast expanse of sky and marvel at the sight. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d gotten used to a life defined by the four walls of his prison, and how quickly the lack of freedom became normal. But now, with the sky above him and his lungs full of fresh air, his spirit stirs tentatively back to life.
He doesn’t even realize he’s crying until Sora’s fingers brush the tears from his cheeks. “Don’t cry,” he says. “You know I hate it when you cry.”
Sora’s touch wrests Riku back into his body. He steps away from Sora, ignoring the slight frown that stretches across his face, and turns his head to get a good look at his surroundings.
This place doesn’t feel all that different from any of the other worlds he’s visited. The sky is a perfectly acceptable shade of blue, the air smells fresh and sweet, and the sunshine is warm against his skin. The garden they’re standing in actually reminds him of the ones in Radiant Garden, or maybe Disney Castle: a swath of verdant green grass covered with artfully sculpted hedges and brightly-colored flowers. It’s the kind of place Kairi or Naminé would like to visit - or at least they would if it weren’t for the tower itself.
Riku has to tilt his head back to get a good look at it. Its alien appearance is discordant in such a refined landscape. It reminds him a bit of the Castle That Never Was, but while the Castle was a complicated interlocking puzzle of silver and gray, the tower is almost harsh in its simplicity. The four walls meet at razor-sharp corners to make a perfect square, then thrust straight up into the sky, so high he can barely see the top. They’re made from a material Riku’s never seen before: perfectly smooth, unmarked by any of the tiny imperfections that inevitably appear in stone or concrete, and such a deep black that they absorb the sunlight. When he concentrates, he can almost sense something emanating from them, a low ripple of energy that sets his teeth on edge and makes the space behind his eyes throb with irritation.
Sora squeezes hand. “Are you happy now?” He presses the length of his body against Riku, slow and sensual. “Is this what you wanted?”
Riku doesn’t answer. He pushes harder at that ripple of energy, trying to discern its nature. He hadn’t sensed it when he was actually inside the tower, so it must be some sort of barrier, and if it’s a barrier ...
He closes his eyes and stretches his consciousness toward the place where his Keyblade dwells, the place he hasn’t been able to reach in so long. And yes, there it is, a tremolo of magic so faint he’s afraid that it’ll vanish if he tries to touch it. He scarcely dares to breathe as he focuses, struggling to complete a task that should be as easy as thought, but now feels like reaching through mud. He’s terrified it won’t work at all.
Braveheart materializes in his hand.
For a moment, both he and Sora are frozen. Then Sora’s eyes narrow in fury, but Riku is just a bit faster. He brings his arm up and slams Braveheart’s pommel into Sora’s temple with a sharp crack, and Sora crumples to the grass like a marionette with its strings cut.
Riku lifts Braveheart for another blow. He has to make sure that Sora won’t come after him. But the sight of Sora’s body, limp and helpless, makes him hesitate. He knows this isn’t his Sora, the Sora he grew up with and fought for and would give anything to protect, but they look exactly the same, and Riku can’t...he can’t do it. He can’t hurt him anymore.
He turns his back on Sora’s body and runs as fast as he can can, and hopes it will be enough.
* * *
He hasn’t been running for long - maybe only twenty minutes or so - when the landscape changes.
It’s subtle at first. The grass isn’t quite as green, the flowers aren’t as vibrant, and the sky fades from bright blue to a sickly pale gray. Then the differences become starker - the trees are twisted into grotesque forms, rather than growing tall and straight, and the wind carries a fetid scent. By the time he stumbles into the village, he’s wandering through a landscape that’s been stripped of its beauty and fertility, with nothing left but lowering skies and barren fields.
The village is just as miserable as its surroundings. It’s nothing more than a few dilapidated huts clustered around a dirt clearing, and the only sign that anyone lives there at all is the thin tendrils of dirty gray cook smoke rising out of holes in the straw roofs. Riku looks from one hut to another, unsure of what the best course of action is. Should he risk asking for someone for help, or are the people here in alliance with Sora? Or… or is Sora the reason that this place is so devastated?
He’s standing in the middle of the clearing, paralyzed by indecision, when a girl steps out of one of the huts. She’s short and skinny, with the kind of hunted look that Riku remembers seeing on the faces of some of the refugees in Traverse Town, the ones who remembered the trauma of their homes being torn apart by Heartless. For a second, the two of them stare at each other, caught equally by surprise. Then she points at him and screams.
Riku raises his hands. “Hey, no, wait -”
“Wraith!” Her voice cuts through the air like a sword.“Why are you here, you can’t be here, you’re dead, you’re dead, you’re dead.”
Riku’s heart skips a beat. “What?” He shakes his head. “No, I’m...I’ve never even been here before. I’m lost, and I’m trying to find my way home.”
“Wraith!” screams the girl again.
More villagers emerge from the huts, all of them with anger in their eyes and their mouths set in grim lines. When they see him, some of them shriek, some hiss, others freeze in place. Riku doesn’t know what he should do. Run, perhaps. He doesn’t want to use the Keyblade on these people and make the situation worse, but the mood is turning ugly, and he has no desire to see how it plays out.
“How have you come back?” A man steps forward, his hands clenched tight around a long, sturdy pole whose tip has been whittled into a sharp point and hardened in fire. A humble weapon, but one that can do serious damage in the hands of a skilled combatant, and this man has the look of someone who knows how to fight.
“Why are you here?” he asks again, taking another step forward. “We burned your body and scattered the ashes to the wind. What sorcery resurrected you?”
“What are you talking about?” Riku holds his hands out before him, palms up, trying to show he’s not a threat even as icy terror races through his veins. “I told you, I’m not whoever you think I am. I just woke up here, in that tower, with...with…” He thinks of Sora, lying motionless on the ground, and his voice falters.
“With the monster,” says the man. “With that offspring of demons who sinks his fangs into our land and drains it of life. You should have let us kill him when we had the chance. But you were always his lapdog, weren’t you, always defending him no matter what he did, and dogs need to be put down.” He shifts into a battle stance, and the part of Riku that isn’t putting the pieces together and growing more horrified by the second is looking frantically for an exit, but the other villagers have formed a loose circle around them. He doesn’t want to hurt any of them, not when they’ve clearly suffered so much, but he needs to get out -
In the space of a heartbeat, everything changes.
The man in front him explodes in a shower of gore, gouts of crimson blood and sticky chunks of flesh showering the onlookers. It spatters across Riku’s face and arms, warm and tacky, and his nose fills with the tang of iron. He stares blankly at the viscous mass of what used to be a human (yellowish globs of fat, an intact eyeball peering up at the sky, bits of bone gleaming white against all the pink and red), the shrieks of the villagers pounding against his eardrums in a cacophony of terror, and tries to comprehend what just happened.
Riku drags his gaze away from the carnage and looks at Sora. Sora, who still looks like sunshine personified even after reducing a man to nothing more than a pile of pulpy flesh and shards of bone.
I should have killed him. The thought strikes Riku with the force of a thunderbolt. I should have killed him when I had the chance.
Braveheart leaps into his hand, gleaming bright and deadly. Sora looks at it, then at Riku, and smiles.
“All right,” he says. “You want to attack me? Go ahead. We can turn it into a game. Every time you swing at me, someone else dies.” His smile grows wider. “Let’s see which one of us is faster.”
Riku’s grip tightens around his Keyblade’s hilt. “You’re joking.”
Sora’s eyes are cold. “Are you sure?”
Riku looks around at the villagers. They’re pressed against each other, pale and trembling, eyes wide with fear. Someone is sobbing: a pathetic, broken sound. And Riku...Riku can’t do it. Keyblade Masters don’t gamble with the lives of helpless bystanders. He slowly lowers Braveheart, then banishes it with a flick of his wrist.
“All right.” The words are bitter on his tongue. “What do you want?”
Sora holds his hand out. “Come to me, Riku,” he says, soft and coaxing. “Come home.”
And Riku knows. He knows that if he gives in to Sora now, it’s over for him. He’ll be locked away in that tower and never be free again. He’ll be Sora’s, forever and ever, and it will be a living death. But if he runs, or if he kills himself, Sora will… Sora will…
Flies are already gathering on the man’s bloody remains. Riku averts his eyes as he steps past them to slide his hand into Sora’s, and he hates himself, hates himself, hates himself.
Sora’s grip is like an iron vise. He yanks Riku against him and presses his lips against his ear.
“Sleep,” he whispers, his magic wrapping tightly around Riku, and Riku slumps into Sora’s arms as darkness claims him.
* * *
When he opens his eyes, the tower’s black ceiling looms above him. It’s not a surprise, but it still makes his stomach lurch and the acrid taste of disappointment flood his mouth. His fingers flex, but it’s pointless - the Keyblade is cut off from him, trapped by whatever barrier Sora’s woven into the bones of this place.
“Do you understand now?” Riku turns his head and sees Sora sitting on the edge of the bed, shoulders slumped and head down. “It’s not safe for you out there, and I can’t risk losing you. Not again.”
Riku rolls slowly onto his side and flicks his tongue over cracked lips. “You’ve already lost me,” he says. Sora’s shoulders tremble, but Riku presses on. “I’m not your Riku. He’s dead, and I’m not...I can never be him. I could never look away from the things you’ve done. That man, in the village…” The memory of flesh and blood spattered across the dirt rises unbidden in his mind, and Riku’s voice trails off.
“They took him from from me!” Sora lifts his head, eyes blazing with a mixture of grief and madness. “Riku did nothing to them. All he ever wanted was to keep me safe, but they killed him anyway.” The air feels charged with electricity, the way it does in the wake of a Thundara spell, and the hair on Riku’s arms stands on end. “They deserve to ripped apart.”
“No,” says Riku, desperate and afraid. “No, they were just scared and I don’t blame them, not after what you did -”
“But I have you now,” breathes Sora, staring at Riku with that horrible mixture of madness and devotion. “I forced the universe to give you to me, and I’ll never let lose you again, not ever.”
“I’m not yours,” snaps Riku, sitting up. “And you’re not my Sora, and I can never love you, not like you want -”
Sora’s backhand catches him across hard across the face, and Riku’s protests die in his throat.
“Sorry,” says Sora, breathing heavily. His eyes are overly bright, and he’s breathing heavily. His fingers clench and a glass vial appears in his hands. “I know how to fix this. I should have done this earlier, but I hoped I wouldn’t need to. A mistake, but that’s all right.” He holds the vial out toward Riku. “Drink this.”
Riku stares at it. The liquid inside the vial is a rich purple-black that reminds him of the Darkness. He shakes his head. “No.”
Sora’s eyes narrow. “Drink it.”
“Why don’t you tell me what it is?”
Sora tilts his head to the side, considering. “Think of it as medicine. Something to help you be happy.”
“I don’t want it.” Riku sits up, his gaze darting from one corner of the room to the other in the futile hope that an escape route has miraculously appeared. “And I’m not sick.”
Sora shrugs. “You can drink it willingly, or not. I’d prefer it if you just agreed, but -”
Riku lunges toward the edge of the bed, desperate to get away, but Sora is fast. Arms like iron bands wrap around his waist and wrestle him back down, then Sora’s weight settles across his chest and pins his arms to his sides. Riku tries to buck him off, but Sora is both strong and determined, and he looks more amused than anything else at Riku’s attempts to fight.
Riku spits in his face.
“All right.” Sora’s expression doesn’t change. “Have it your way.”
Fingers clamp his nose shut. Riku keeps his lips pressed tight, glaring up at Sora as he continues to struggle, but they both know it’s only a matter of time. His lungs ache with the need for air and starbursts streak across his vision. His legs kick out last time in protest before his body finally gives in, lips parting to suck in a desperate breath.
And Sora’s ready. He immediately tips the contents of the vial into Riku’s mouth, and even though Riku coughs and sputters, the liquid slides down his throat and into his stomach. It’s as vile as he suspected: viscous and cloying, with a sickly sweet taste that reminds him of rot.
It’s also powerful. Within seconds, Riku’s limbs grow heavy and his eyelids start to flutter. He tries to push back against Sora, but he feels like he’s in free fall, drifting helplessly and unable to control his own limbs.
“It’s all right.” Sora brushes his fingers through Riku’s hair. “Don’t fight it. Just relax, and go to sleep, and everything will be better when you wake up. I promise.”
“Sora,” breathes Riku, unsure whether he’s pleading with this Sora to stop, or calling on his Sora for help, and then he falls.
* * *
Riku likes his tower room best at night, when moonlight streams in through the window and everything is quiet and peaceful. He and Sora curl up close together on the bed, and Riku rests his head on Sora’s chest and closes his eyes while Sora strokes his hair and sings to him.
Sora usually leaves during the day, and his absence makes Riku restless. He spends the hours pacing from one side of the room to the other, trying to figure out why he feels so anxious and unsettled. He knows that he shouldn’t - the only thing he needs to be happy is Sora, and Sora showers him with so much love and affection that he should want for nothing. But there are times when he can’t shake the feeling that he’s forgetting something vital, like some integral part of him has been smothered and is yearning to break free...
Those are the days when Sora comes back and finds Riku curled up on the floor with bloodshot eyes and tears sparkling on his cheeks. If it’s been an especially bad episode, his arms and fingernails are bloody from where he’s clawed at his own skin in a mindless attempt to drive the nagging confusion out of his body by any means necessary.
But Sora always knows how to make it better. He holds Riku, and kisses him, and gives him medicine that leaves him calm and pliant and washes away that sense of wrongness that disturbs their idyll. But even when he lies in Sora’s arms, safe and warm and adored, there’s a tiny kernel in his heart that still grieves for something he can’t remember, and even though it hurts, he’s not sure he wants it to leave.