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Concept of the Land
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts is not mine.

AN: Riku!Daddy's name is Yasuhiro. Can be considered a sort of prequel to rayemars' Resuming, Returning.

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He's back late again, uniform crumpled and sand in his hair, dinner a distant memory and the sun already an hour past setting, and you watch him as he stands at the door and toes off shoes barely three months old and already scuffed into near-uselessness by salt water and sand and carelessness. You'd open his mouth to scold him for it but you know he'd never listen, and so you make a mental note to go shopping tomorrow and hope that the next pair will at least last out the last few weeks of the semester. It's not a question of expense, or of waste, and not for the first time you wonder where your child went, and why he left this stranger to take his place.

Riku's glance is quick and assessing and dismissive, a flicker of vibrant blue-green through a soft curtain of silver, and that's the only thing that's familiar, the coloring that's not from your side of the family, but from hers, the thing that made you huddle down over genealogies three centuries old and trace out intermarriages and clan weddings and cross-tribal negotiations between twelve of the fifteen islands and the mainland long enough that even just the memory of it makes your head ache. You'd finally managed to track it down, guessing at a founding matriarch more folk legend than real human, because she was the one to unite the tribes, that warrior woman with hair like moonlight and eyes like the sea, and you'd stared at your beautiful wife and the soft little bundle tucked in her arm and wondered why after a dozen generations and political marriages a child like that had been born again.

"...you were out late," you say, carefully nonjudgmental, because at least he had the decency to come in the front door this time. You don't know how he's managing to slip in and out without Chihoko or you noticing--just because your wing is separate doesn't mean you can't see his balcony from your own--but you know it happens often enough to be grateful that he's right here right now.

"Not really," he says, deliberately misunderstanding, "it's almost summer, the daylight's lasting longer."

"You still have school," you remind him sharply, and he straightens up and tilts his head to the left just a little, and you think of the way Chihoko's brow furrowed at that first report card since his return, the carefully averted eyes of the teacher as she murmured "He could be doing so much better..." and all the unspoken apologies for not pushing harder, for not expecting... but there's no way to blame any of them for something you can't even bring yourself to do, much less expect it of anyone else.

"I'm doing okay," he says, and it's not quite a bald-faced lie, because he actually completes the work so long as it's assigned in class, and he's bright enough that two years of non-attendance have barely touched his test scores. Or he learned other things while he was gone, and the amnesia he keeps claiming is exactly the kind of lie that you suspect it is.

"That's not the point," you say, and he shifts his weight and hooks a thumb into his pocket and shrugs, but none of that is an answer, and he's still not looking at you. He never does, not really, and with those bangs in the way all the time, he doesn't even need to bother to pretend.

Riku won't get a haircut, snapped at you the only time you'd pressed, so there's no way to really tell which way he's looking unless he's staring straight at you. On those rare occasions when he does, he almost looks like he did when he was a child, bold and unafraid of anything, but still nearly impossible to see. He doesn't stand up straight, either, or move with the same purposeful stride you'd drilled him on since his first fumbling steps across the nursery--except that one time a few weeks past, a comment in passing that you didn't quite catch, and you couldn't hear his low-voiced reply, but the sudden intimidated silence in its wake was unmistakable, and he'd strode past you again without a word, cool and calm and so tall now, nearly a man. A block and a half later it had melted back into a teenager's casual slouch, but in that moment, you hadn't known your child.

"...you're getting too old to keep playing around like this."

He snorts softly, rocks back on his heels, and casts you another quick glance. "I'm not eighteen yet. Besides, I'm not that eligible--"

"...there are other islands," you interrupt, because two years spent missing ruined his marriage prospects with the mainland girls, but you're not any more willing to say it out loud than he is. Chihoko knows exactly what she's doing, and it's not your place to disagree with her, not when she's trying to salvage his chances. "It could work out better this way."

Riku snorts again. "Doubtful."

If this were two years ago, you think, he would have smiled, laughed it off, because he was comfortable and confident and careless back then, but now all of those things have shifted form, and even though they're still present, he doesn't flaunt it anymore. There's none of the causal arrogance of his childhood in him now, no cocky laughter and no mischievous smile, and you wonder if that means if it's gone forever or if it's just not for you to see any longer. The thought stings, a little, and you wonder if you should have been more attentive before, if you should have--of course you should have.

"Come eat," you say, and wish the words didn't sound so clumsy. "Your mother claims that the papaya's not quite ripe enough, and I want you to disagree with her."

You also wish he weren't so obviously hesitating, but you've made the offer and it's going to stand, and he'd looked so confused to see the gardens lush with fruit instead of flowers, and openly balked the first time you tried to coax him out to collect fresh herbs. It only makes sense, after all, that something you picked up in his absence would startle him now that he's here again, but you wish he'd stop avoiding you, even if these passing encounters feel smothering and alien and strange.

You can only hope Riku doesn't feel quite as suffocated as you do, but you're also not foolish enough to believe it, either.

"...okay," he says, after far too long a silence, and you smile at him and turn to go to the kitchen, hoping he'll follow. It takes a moment, and his footfalls are disturbingly quiet, but you know he's actually coming, and that's more than you expected.

You've already lost him once, and your dreams and hopes crashed with him, but he's here now, and you'll never be able to keep him. You're a little grateful, now, that the law's still in place, that he came back before he could be officially declared lost at sea, that the stone you carved by hand has gone mysteriously missing from the little graveyard meant for those whose bodies had never been found. Chihoko bites her lip sometimes when no one is looking, presses a hand to her flat belly, but she's always been more willing to understand necessity than you, always more willing to swallow the grief and carry on regardless.

"You ate on the beach?" you ask the refrigerator, because you don't want to look at him when he tries to arrange too-long legs to fit on the same stool that he always perched in as a child on those rare times when you took dinner in the kitchen instead of the formal dining room. It always makes something in your chest hurt when you look over to see him there and you don't know why, because if you'd never lost him then this wouldn't have changed either, because it's infinitely better to have a child sitting where a child belongs even if you don't recognize him anymore.

"Yeah," Riku says, and you swallow down the urge to comment on habits that aren't fitting because he'll never listen, and the last time you dared say anything about the company he keeps he got up and walked out the front door and didn't come back for three days.

That didn't help the gossip any. It certainly didn't impress the parents of the girl that Chihoko had been negotiating with, and didn't do much for your blood pressure or her stress levels, but Riku never cared about those things before, and you see no reason for him to start now.

If you're honest with yourself you don't even know why he came back, but if it's because of them--those two--you don't like that boy, he's too loud and takes up too much of Riku's time, and the girl's so much better but she's demanding too, and that was one thing when they were small but now Chihoko's scrambling to mend relations and seek out suitable matches, and Riku can't be spending all of his time with them when you're trying to build him a future--but if he came back because of what they said to him, you can't--you can't not be grateful, no matter how much the feeling rankles.

"That's good," you say, which is a lie, and put the fish back because he won't need it. It's half a miracle that he's sitting here at all, so you put the plate of papaya on the counter and slide it over, then reach for the guava juice and pour him a glass just to give your hands something to do. If you pretend to be occupied you can watch him in peace, and even though you're halfway sure he's aware of the subterfuge, he doesn't say anything about it, just stretches over the counter to reach the drawer with the chopsticks inside, and you bite down on another comment when he grabs the cheap ones instead of the carved bamboo.

He looks so much like his mother when he's focused like this, quick and graceful, but the image is ruined by the ragged edge of his hair, the crude cutlery and slouched shoulders, and the worst part is that you know he knows better than that but can't bring yourself to correct him anyway.

You'd been so proud when he'd been born, the final step in Chihoko's plan to salvage what her father had nearly wrecked, a bright beautiful little boy who would be the first of your children, a way to flesh out the dimmed family line and ensure the future of all of the land that she'd fought so hard to hold on to, to improve and save and keep in the hands of native islanders. And then the years had rolled on, and your son remained an only child, and then the storm came and left you with nothing at all.

It's scarcely been eight months since you had one blazing moment of hope, a brief flash of joy for a child that could have been, but it came to nothing, and the pain from the loss of that hope is still fresh--but then maybe it was a sign that your missing child would return a few months later, or maybe it was a sign that you'd never deserved a child at all, because even Riku's return isn't quite the miracle you know it should be.

You haven't told him about his not-a-sibling. You never will.

"Drink your juice," you remind him, because he used to get dehydrated, playing for all those long hours on the beach, and the sour look he shoots you is blessedly familiar, and you lean against the counter behind you and duck your gaze down low and wonder what you're supposed to do now.

Your son is still Chihoko's heir, so carefully planned for, so carefully groomed, and you wonder if you'd be able to start again, if he'd ever forgive you for giving up, for yielding to inevitability and letting him go again, or, worse, if he'd be so relieved and happy that--

If the family were larger, it would be easy enough to adopt in another heir, but you're an only child and all of her siblings are dead. There might be a cousin somewhere, if you're lucky, but they'd come from your family, not hers, and even though it doesn't matter that you'd be breaking the direct line of descent, it still doesn't feel right when your heir is sitting right there and halfheartedly poking at his dessert.

"Well?" you ask, gesturing to the half-empty plate, and he flashes you a quicksilver hint of a smile that hits your heart like a knife.

Riku is such a beautiful child. He always has been. Maybe you just didn't appreciate it for the right reasons, before. Maybe you don't now.

"Sorry, dad. Mom's right."

You shake your head with a little more emphasis than you actually feel. "My poor wife and child, cursed with nonworking palates."

"More for you," he says, and pushes the plate back across the counter, dropping the chopsticks with a light clatter, and you give him a smile you don't feel at all.

"Lucky me," you say, and he looks away and takes a sip of his juice, and of course barely a moment passes before he's staring out the window again.

He'll leave you in an instant. You know that. You've always known that, both of you have, and though Chihoko's tried so hard, done so much, he's always been a strange thing, but you'd thought that he was finally starting to listen, finally starting to understand what it meant to be her child, finally starting to accept--

And then the storm came, and he was gone, and you'd sat in a room you didn't understand and watched your wife cry over a book of fairytales you hadn't seen in nearly ten years, and wondered what you did wrong, because normal people didn't lose children to night storms, normal people raised their children to know when to huddle down for shelter, normal people raised their children to be attentive and cautious and wary of the dangers of the tides and thunder, especially in those families that had been so devastated by the monsoon of sixteen years ago, and Riku knew he would have had an aunt and uncles if not for that, so why would he risk--?

But you also remember Riku at three years old, starlight in his hair and in his eyes, wide awake on a long moonless night, one hand stretched out and reaching through carved marble to the ocean and skies beyond him, and you remember a kind of bone-deep terror that left you frozen still and then shaking, that made you snatch him up and scold him harshly, made you lock the balcony door and jam a chair in front of it, and all of it was for nothing because you'd slipped in the next night and watched him press tiny fists to the glass and stare right through it out into forever.

He'd looked at you like that on the day he came back, standing in the middle of the greatroom like a stranger, not your son at all, and you'd never realized that relief could feel like heartbreak, that you actually froze in the doorway because you thought the child that had been born in this house--the child that had been born for this house--could actually be an intruder.

Unworthy thoughts of an unworthy father, because he's never felt less like your son, even as you can finally see yourself in him, in his silence and his stillness and the breadth of his shoulders, but he's not yours, and maybe he never has been.

Your mouth is surprisingly dry. "Where'd you go when you were gone?"

That makes him look at you, another one of those abrupt glances that slides from your head to your toes like a razor, and you won't squirm because this is your own child. He's yours, you held him and taught him to walk and brought him to swordfighting lessons and carved his first toy sword and chased him down when he was still a toddler wandering by the ocean's edge. He's still your child.

"I already told you I don't remember," Riku says, slow and deliberate, but there's a sound like a whipcrack when he sets his glass down on the counter, or maybe that's just the rush of your pulse in your ears magnifying every echo. "None of us do."

You don't want to know about them, even though you know you should, even though they've got him in a stranglehold and you know that it's willing, but they aren't your children and you hope to every one of the old gods of the islands that he won't spurn everything you've ever worked for by claiming them as his own. You won't lose tenants over it--being the largest landholder on the island has its benefits, they have nowhere else to go--but it will effect the business, and if they decide to have children... the girl has no land to speak of, and the office of mayor isn't inherited, but the boy's the heir to a small fishing operation, and you can already predict the headache that will doubtless occur if everything goes the way you're dreading it will.

The girl has nothing to offer, and that would be fine, all you need is a grandchild, but that boy--

You'll have to tell Chihoko to go ahead with the plans for the festival on the northwest island. The girl's nowhere near the best pick, but Riku is rapidly running out of chances, and being the biggest landowners on the island means nothing if you can't even keep your own heir where he belongs.

"Please don't treat me like I'm an idiot," you say, "I know you haven't been spending your nights here. I haven't told your mother yet--" and you still feel guilty, but she's working so hard and is always so tired at night that you don't want to stress her further, "but you need to be careful. I'm protecting you as best as I can, but you owe me an answer."

Riku is very still.

You lick your lips and try to pretend you aren't afraid, because that's absurd, this is your son, and he's moody and strange but he'd never hurt anyone on purpose unless they hurt him first, and you're trying to protect him. He must understand that. He has to, he's far from an idiot and he's been raised knowing that this is what has to happen, and even if you've been keeping things quiet that doesn't mean that they're not happening, just because you haven't pulled him out with you for maintenance and surveying doesn't mean that he's forgotten how to do it.

"I won't tell you to stop what you're doing. Your dalliances are your own until we find you a suitable match, but we haven't worked this hard to watch you walk away from your responsibilities."

He shouldn't have any dalliances at all, but he's young, and people will keep their mouths shut as long as he remains discreet, and there will be talk, of course, a fishmonger's son and the mayor's adopted daughter from the gods only know where, and not for the first time you wish he had better taste in friends.

"...responsibilities?" he echoes, and you don't like the undertone in his voice. You don't like the way his fingers are curling, and you don't like the way he's shifting his weight, and you don't like the fall of his hair in his eyes. "You're going to lecture me about what I should--no. Forget it." He shoves off the stool in a swift graceful motion and you have the utterly bizarre thought that he's going to slip, but of course he never would, not your boy. Never your child.

"Riku--"

"No." He cuts you off with a raised hand and an expression so blank that it's almost frightening, and you shouldn't be intimidated in your own kitchen by your own son, and maybe this is worse than before, when his temper burned white-hot instead of cold.

"You'll get your answers when and if we decide to tell you. Not before."

"Riku..."

"This isn't open for debate," he snaps, like it's an order, like you're the child who doesn't understand, and he's always been willful but this is different, this is strange and sharp-edged and you don't like it. You don't like any of it, that boy and that girl and all the secrets and all the lies, the silence in his footsteps and the restrained grace in his motions, the way he always scans doorways and windows for an escape even though he grew up in this place, the way he tenses every time you try to touch him. The way he won't let anybody but those two touch him.

"...you're seventeen," you say, and you know the words are meaningless as soon as they pass your lips. "You should be focused on school right now, on our business, on your duties to our family. You can even play around with them until you're officially engaged as long as you're careful to keep things secret. But I want you to stop lying to me."

Riku looks at you for a long, quiet moment, hooks his thumb back into his pocket, and shakes his head. "Sorry, dad," he says softly, and maybe he really is sorry. Maybe. You can't tell. "That's the one thing I could never do."

It's all you can do to swallow down an exasperated sigh, because you don't know what you're supposed to do with this child. "Riku. I'm not being unreasonable."

"No," he repeats, and you're suddenly struck by the notion that he's trying to be kind, for your sake. He's angry and he's defensive and he's still trying to protect you, and you don't know why. "Don't ask me for that. Just don't."

You're angry, suddenly, for all of those things he won't tell you, for whatever it is he feels he needs to protect you from. "I deserve an answer."

You're keeping secrets from your wife for him. From Chihoko, who you loved since she first approached you with a proposal of marriage and a plan for salvation and improvement, for her stubbornness and cleverness, for her grace and calmness, and she's always been everything to you, and she always will be. Lying to her is wrong, feels wrong, and maybe it's the guilt that's making you push so hard, or maybe it's because Riku inherited every inch of her stubbornness, all her beauty and all her razor edges, and it's one thing when that's coming from the love of your life and very much another when it's coming from your teenage son.

Riku straightens up suddenly, and you're struck again by how tall he is, by the strength evident in his arms and shoulders, by the coolness in his expression. He looks so much like his mother, nothing like a child, and nothing at all like you. Never anything like you.

"No," he says, calm and clear and sure, and he's always had a particular penchant for cruelty, your boy. "You don't."

You want to scream at him, you want to shake him, you want to scold him, but those things never worked when he was a child and they would never work now, so you watch him turn and leave the kitchen in silence, because you don't have anything at all left to say.

---

"Chihoko," you say later that night, hating the sludge of the words even as you speak them, "What do you think of that girl, Solada?"

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