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Before the Dawn
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts is not mine.

AN: You might want to do some refresher reading, because this takes place immediately following Chapter 12 of Returning, Resuming.

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She's taken a long, meandering path back to the house from the beach, trying to let her thoughts settle, trying to will the taste of lies off of her tongue, and when she slides through Kairi's window at last, there's a spray of flowers lying on the desk, next to a... papaya? and a sleepy-eyed boy lounging against the bed and idly flipping through one of the books that Kairi's father has yet to reclaim.

He'd still been sleeping when she'd left, distracted from her drawing by a pervasive sadness that all but dragged her to the beach; but then, he doesn't sleep all that much anymore. He's clearly been out wandering: the flowers are the holdouts from his father's old garden, and the papaya is merely the latest in a string of offerings he's been bringing them at odd hours, all the overflow from the garden that's replaced the flowers that once grew there.

"Hey," Riku says softly, tilting his head up with a shy, sweet smile, the kind he doesn't share with anyone else but them and the king, and Naminé smiles back at him.

"Hey," she greets him in return, toeing off her sandals and leaving them beneath the window. The carpet isn't as plush as it used to be, but it's still soft underneath her feet, and she idly hopes that she's not scattering any sand into its weave as she crosses the room to settle down at his side.

He's busy tucking a bookmark into the ledger when she does--not even Riku wants to endure Hiromasu's wrath should any of the old records be damaged, especially when he's already kind of on the warpath--and when he looks up again, his smile has deepened, but his eyes are thoughtful.

It's hard to stay still when he reaches over and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear--he's always been almost unbearably gentle with her--and he doesn't move his hand away once he's done, just settles it on her shoulder as he asks, "How'd it go with Roxas?"

Different. Strange. Sad. "Lonely," she says, and wonders if she should be feeling more guilty as she leans into his touch.

"Mmm," he agrees, "are they okay?"

She wants to shrug, but also doesn't want to dislodge his hand. "As okay as we--as they ever are, I think."

He blows out a gentle sigh between his teeth. "Awesome," he murmurs, but the sarcasm is soft, and the look in his eyes softer.

"I think they're talking now," Naminé offers, because it is an improvement, of sorts. "That should help."

"I guess so," he says thoughtfully, "the more they do, the calmer it should get inside his heart."

She tilts her head, watching his eyes. "That darkness still bothers you," she says, and bites the inside of her lip--but gently, gently, it's still Kairi's body and she mustn't damage it, no matter how anxious she feels.

He's nodding though, gaze a little distant, looking through the surface of the world to the light and shadows beneath it. "We both know it's not his, and it's definitely not Roxas, I'd be able to--wait, hang on. Do you know whose it is?"

Naminé freezes, because of course he'd be the one to figure it out, because he's the one that's most like her, he's the one that's always been the most dangerous because he's the most willing to push and push until everything shatters.

She could deny it, of course, because things are so fragile, and she'd been surprised too, when she'd found him there, tucked secret and safe in the deepest recesses of Sora's heart, too delicate to touch when everything else was in pieces.

The not knowing is awful, and there's not really a way to answer him, not really, because she doesn't know what happened to them, not really, not when she can't reach Kairi's memories any more than Kairi can, not that any of them would have even been able to understand, since they were all so small when it happened.

But Riku just huffs out a little laugh before shaking his head. "I'm not stupid, you know," he says gently, sliding the hand that's still on her shoulder up to tap lightly against her chin. "Just 'cause Sora and Roxas can't remember whose it is doesn't mean that you don't know. Did you find it when Sora was sleeping?"

Her hands have curled into her lap without her noticing. It's Kairi's gesture, not her own, and she wonders why it's happened. Riku has never made her feel unsettled before, not like this, a queasy feeling in her stomach and her skin a little too tight.

He would never leave them, never, and being tucked inside Kairi means he'll never leave her, either. He won't, he wouldn't, not ever. He can't leave them and maybe that's even worse, because he's not bound to her, not really, not in any way that matters.

He's theirs, and she shouldn't forget it.

"...you've suspected this for a while," she says, and wonders why she's staring down at her clasped hands instead of looking at him. She should be braver than this, braver than anything, with Kairi's heart an endless blaze inside her. "Why haven't you asked?"

He makes a soft sound, somewhere between a sigh and a laugh, but it's a resigned noise, a familiar one. "You're keeping it secret 'cause it's safer that way, right?"

She thinks of Ventus, still so alone in a place nobody knows, his shattered heart still hidden beneath Sora's light. Still safe, but for how long? "...they're not ready yet. Those memories... they'll hurt them."

"So when the time is right, they'll know."

She looks at him, the calm certainty in his eyes, and thinks of the boy she left at the side of the road, still cloaked in Sora's skin, still himself in a way that still seems out of her reach.

They'll know when the time is right. It's the least she can do for all of them.

"When they're ready--" she starts, but pauses when he leans a little closer and tugs softly on a lock of her hair, and she can't not look at him then, no matter the unease under her skin, no matter the shyness keeping her frozen.

And Riku smiles at her, a little shy, a little wry, a little tired. "You aren't the only one keeping secrets to keep us safe, you know," he says gently, and she blinks once, startled.

Of course he understands.

Of course he does.

She has to close her eyes for a moment, squeeze her fingers more tightly together and focus on breathing, because Kairi's heart is doing something strange in her chest, and it's making it hard to think, hard to understand, because there's a feeling like tides tugging at her insides, an endless rush that she doesn't have the words to explain. Maybe there aren't any words at all, and maybe that's why there's this silence, soft and warm and full, maybe that's why she's feeling so still now, sitting here and listening to him breathe.

When she opens her eyes again, he's looking out past her, maybe to the heart of this world, maybe out to the skies and worlds beyond it, and she just looks at him for a moment, unsure of what it is she's feeling, unsure of what it means.

"You know his name, don't you."

Like a stone dropped into water, she thinks abstractly, and then blinks and tries to focus, frowning slightly as she tries to parse his meaning. "Whose?"

He blinks once, slowly, and that's where he's looking, not out but in, the endless depths of his heart. "That guy in my memories."

Naminé smiles. "There are a lot of people in your memories," she points out, unable to resist the urge to touch him, to spread her fingers against his chest and revel in the warmth beneath. "A lot of people in your heart," she continues, and as much as DiZ hurt them, he helped them too, and maybe that's enough for forgiveness, maybe.

Riku ducks his head, because he's so much shyer than he pretends to be, but he's smiling softly, shifting to curl his fingers through hers. "You know what I mean," he mumbles, but he's pleased, she can tell. "I remembered something he said right after the thing with the Door, when we were..."

She does know, and hums a little in agreement, remembering his unease, remembering the glittering edges of his heart shifting, a soft echo to the restlessness of his world's heart, and if she did unlock that darkness, what would they find within? Precious things, certainly, held deep and protected, but there were terrible things there too, and some of them are one and the same.

The softest whisper in the dark, nearly drowned out even now, but his heart remembers what it once held even if his head can't, and looking through him at Ansem always made her feel slightly sick, too many layers and too many missing pieces, too many shards and too many lies, even before she knew why.

What happened to you all? she wonders, and there's nothing to do but wonder, at least for right now, when they're hobbled by chance and circumstance and all the things that the others have left unsaid because there was no time for any of it, any of it at all.

"Uh-huh," she agrees, because there's no point in hiding it--Riku hoards pain even though he hates it, and maybe that's what makes him stronger, maybe that's why the darkness has never been able to swallow him whole, because he looks at it and calls it his own without being afraid. "I... know who he is, but..."

"But you can't tell me?" he interrupts, and maybe his words are a little sharp, but she can't take offense, not now and not ever, not with him.

"No," she says, because she can't tell him, not this, not anything. "I know him, but I don't, not really. I just... I recognized who he was, that's all."

He's quiet for a moment, clearly thinking it over, but when he looks back at her again, his eyes are bright and clear. "It's okay," he says softly, carefully, and it's not fair at all, not fair to a single one of them.

Naminé bites her lip. "I could try--"

"No," he says immediately, because he always does, because he always will. "I'll figure it out on my own, when the time comes."

"You keep saying that," she says carefully, "but--"

"We both know something's starting to happen," he says quietly. "The weather, the world's heart getting that restless--it's not gonna happen now, but things are starting to move, or are, I dunno, getting ready to start to move."

No matter how hard anyone tries, she thinks, it's always impossible to hide things from Riku.

"I know," she says, because how could she not? "I think--we'll need to sleep once it starts, so Kairi and Sora can use all of their power without keeping us awake all the time."

Riku frowns. "I don't like that," he mutters, squeezing her fingers a little more tightly, "what if they need you?"

"We'll still be there, in their hearts, if they need to wake us up--but supporting us like they've been doing here, when there's a--" she stumbles, not wanting to say "war" even though she knows that's what's coming, "a battle going on..."

"Not just a battle," he agrees quietly, eyes half-lidded as he looks somewhere beyond the soft, comfortable confines of Kairi's room, and she's not sure what world he's looking at, Disney Castle or Radiant Garden or Castle Oblivion or The World That Never Was, the worlds still asleep and the worlds barely hanging on.

"No," she says softly, "not just a battle at all."

"Mnph," he grumbles, and rakes his free hand through his hair, the other squeezing her hand once more, a little too tightly, before letting her go. "This sucks."

"It does," she sighs in agreement, "but we're stuck waiting until the shift happens, and until then..."

"Until then we're trapped here, doing nothing."

There's more bitterness there than she was expecting, so she tucks her hand over his again and resettles it over her chest this time, where Kairi's heart resides. It catches his attention, like she knew it would, and when he blinks over at her, she smiles softly.

"Not nothing," she says gently, pleased at the soft flush that steals across his face, the way his gaze drops low.

"That's... not what I meant," he mutters, chagrined, and his shyness is a pretty thing too, for all that it's brought on by discomfort.

"I know it's hard for you to be here," she murmurs after a moment, "but we're managing, aren't we?"

"I guess," he says, but it's more of an unhappy grunt than an agreement, so she squeezes his hand a little harder.

"Aren't things better now than they were?" she asks, and if she's being insistent, it's not only on her own behalf, it's for all of them.

"Of course they are," he says immediately, because this place used to crush him, when now it's only just a little too painful, "but--"

He cuts himself off there because he doesn't want to say it out loud, so she has to do it for him, she'll just... change the words he was going to use to make them less harsh, less angry.

Naminé thinks of Hiromasu's simmering unease, Chihoko's impossible tangle of emotions and Yasuhiro's weary resignation, and the sharp, brittle edges of Shina's concern. And she thinks of Donald, bright and brilliant, Goofy's gentle, solid warmth, and the king's endless, shining light.

They will be the ones with the congratulations, the teasing, the happy laughter and the gentle blessings that they all crave.

They are all so very far away.

"But it would be nice to have somebody approve of us," she says at last, and watches as the tension in his shoulders immediately relaxes.

"Exactly."

"Aren't you forgetting a few people?" she teases gently, trying to make him smile, and he blinks a few times before chuckling.

"Is it really approval or just Selphie being smug that she got us to 'fess up?" he drawls, and she has to stifle a laugh before poking him in the side.

"Be nice," she scolds gently, because it actually had been pretty funny, no matter how incredibly awkward it was to explain, even though she'd only been listening in and failing at offering Kairi anything useful to say.

Riku rolls his eyes and huffs a little, but he's smiling slightly. "What's not nice about that?"

She pokes him in the side again--she's been picking up a lot of Kairi's habits--and he pokes her back, grinning, but there's still a little distance in his eyes.

It's not like it's a surprise, the restlessness ever-present beneath his skin, but his melancholy always makes her feel wistful, and he misses the king desperately. Even now that he's no longer the heir, his parents still make him incredibly uncomfortable, and despite the fact that he rarely stays on the property for long, going back to his house always unsettles him.

A world so bright, yet so full of shadows. She can't imagine him being from anywhere else.

"Don't forget that she's proud of Kairi for managing to wrangle two boyfriends at once," she says, trying to distract him. Then she has to move closer while he laughs, to tuck herself against his chest, because their friends have been amazing and DiZ had been harsh and the king nothing but kind, and he hadn't minded her then, even after all she had done, he'd just smiled at the two of them and grinned at Riku to make him blush. "And that Wakka and Tidus are happy that you two aren't competition anymore."

"Pff, this whole island should be proud of both of us for wrangling Sora," Riku says, and then makes a soft, surprised noise when she slings herself all the way into his lap, but his arms curl around her automatically, and it's not fair at all, not really, that he should offer her so much when all she's done is lie and hide and break the things he loves.

Not fair, and yet he sits here on the floor in Kairi's bedroom and laughs with her, lets her tease him and curls into her like it's all okay.

She's so selfish, and Roxas is so sad. It isn't fair to him, and she doesn't deserve it at all, and maybe if she weren't so weak it would be easier, maybe if Kairi didn't love them so desperately she wouldn't hold the echo of it in the void that used to be the space where Kairi's heart belonged--

Maybe, maybe.

Riku's got his hand in her hair again, a habit he's picked up from Sora and Kairi's incessant messing with his own, and he's gone quiet again, not distant, just thoughtful.

"We'll figure it out, someday," he says slowly, and she frowns slightly, unsure of what he means. She pokes him again, this time seeking clarity, and he glances down at her, considering. "Or maybe we're already on our way there."

Naminé blinks a little, pulls a little farther back to look up at him, because even when they're both sitting he's still taller, because there's a strange note in his voice that she recognizes, and that means it's important.

He blinks rapidly, several times, before looking back down at her. "...that's what we're supposed to do next," he breathes, eyes widening, "that's why we're here now and why we'll leave, so we can get the information we need and take out the ones who are standing in the way so we can fix it. The stuff we can't remember, the stuff that we are remembering, the secrets we're keeping... it's all building towards something, and we need right now to be ready for it."

--yes. Yes. That's what it's for, that's what all of this is for, what it's always been for, all the secrets and all the lies, so they can be ready, and they need to settle into each other, into their comfort with each other, because they'll need it for the battle ahead, they'll need to be unbreakable and comfortable and able to let each other go, they'll need to know as much as they can about Xehanort and what they've been keeping safe inside their own hearts, they'll need to know as much as they can about their keyblades and the darkness and the War and the light and the forgotten ones and the places that were and haven't been, the slumber and the waking, the blurred line between humanity and all of the things that aren't, and the hearts, all of the hearts lost and found and broken and still alive--

"Hey," he says softly, and leans down to rest his forehead against her own. "Why are you getting all flustered like that?"

I love you, she thinks desperately, even though she can't, even though Kairi's heart is a heavy warm thrum in her chest that still doesn't make it her own, and there are things that she can never, never have and it's not fair.

"Because we figured it out," she manages a tremulous smile, "and so now we know."

"You already knew," he responds, and then seems to get it, blinking rapidly as realization dawns. "Oh. Oh."

Riku knows his own strength better than most people ever will, so he's unfailingly gentle even when he squeezes her tighter, pulls her fully into his lap again. "Don't be upset," he says, bending his head down to brush a brief kiss against her cheek. "You'll keep their secrets safe until it's time, and then we'll help you set them free."

It isn't fair at all that she's allowed to turn her face up and kiss him breathless, but she can and so she does, because he's the most beautiful boy she's ever seen, and there are so many apologies to make and no one to make them to, not yet, but there will be.

There will be, and she'll give all of her power to Kairi, give it all up, to make sure that they'll all be saved.

Not now, but some day.

Not now, but soon.

She's never been destined to be a grown-up anyway.

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The rising sun is catching on the brilliance of Riku's hair as he dozes in their bed, and Kairi's light and warmth and arms are wrapped around her, an insubstantial hug that's realer than anything, realer than the air that she breathes and the beat of Kairi's heart, so bright in her chest.

It's okay to keep secrets as long as they're keeping us safe, Kairi says, you shouldn't ever feel bad for protecting us.

Naminé tilts her head, looks at her other. "Us?"

Kairi rolls her eyes good-naturedly. Yes, us. All of us. And that includes you--don't feel bad for protecting yourself, either.

I don't deserve protection, Naminé thinks, but hides the thought, because Kairi would scold her for it, because that's what Kairi does, warm support and gentle abrasiveness, because her heart's so bright that she's not afraid to get angry, not afraid to shout it to the heavens, because if she's going to get mad it's for a reason, and if the rest of the world resists, then she'll change that world to better suit her.

"Okay," she says instead, and leans back into her other, closing her eyes and smiling. "Let's all save each other, then."

Like we always do, Kairi agrees, and Naminé reaches out, past the thick tangle of chains looped all around her towards the one that binds them all to Sora, skims a gentle wish across to the one that's so like her but not.

It'll get easier, Roxas, she thinks, letting them take some of the burden makes it so much easier, you'll see--we can't get crushed by it if we share.

Kairi squeezes her then, right where they're both ticklish, and it isn't fair at all that their laughter wakes Riku, that they're here in the sun with each other and with him, but in time, maybe, maybe Roxas will understand, maybe he'll forgive her for what she's done.

It still won't be fair, but then, it never could be, not with an existence like theirs, not ever.

But maybe someday they could all be free.

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