Riku and Sora have a conversation one evening on the island.
All his childhood, he heard of monsters lurking in dark things like bedrooms: in the closet or under the bed, vampires or bogeymen which were invisible during the daylight but after twilight, became so realistically solid in the shadows. He heard of kids being afraid of these shadows, knew of kids being afraid of them. His best friend Sora was one, Riku privately thought, because whenever he slept over at Sora’s house the boy would adamantly refuse to turn out the nightlight, no matter how tired the pair became or how hard his mum yelled about their skyrocketing electricity bills and poor kids in Wutai needing the refined mako energy more then they did.
Point being, Riku always dismissed these rumours as unreasonable, on the basis that if there were shadows, plural, (and not just one big shadow of night-time dark) then the scared kids’ darkness wasn’t quite dark enough, because real dark had no light to make more than one shadow, and if they had more then one shadow, they must have more than one light, which defeated the point of dark.
He often found this point hard to convince, however, because his mind was still young and he had trouble with big words, and long explanations, and because most people couldn’t see the difference between dark and darkness.
It was all about plurals in the world of Riku.
Sora never noticed Riku’s secret insomnia, just like Riku’s parents never noticed him dismantling all the glowing digital clocks in the house, replacing his thin curtains with thick bedsheets and doona’s, or on warm summer nights sleeping under his bed with the apparent monster that lived there, but it was one of the first things that Kairi first noticed about him.
Riku could remember her noticing, the day that they met, when Sora’d gone over to visit the mayor’s daughter one faithful day – Riku’d changed his mind about meeting her last minute – and she’d been brought back to their special island. She’d been introduced to Tidus, Selphie and Wakka respectively, and gotten off on a bad start with them by asking Wakka why he wasn’t playing with friends his own age. Riku had been kneeling in the insides of the Big Tree-house at the time, squinting to find a message scrawled in a place where a staircase would later be, and in a rare act of inscrutable countenance Sora asked Kairi to go find him there, so he could explain to the others that they did things a bit differently in the big city (and so he’d lecture them on being extra nice to her, not thinking on an apology).
Riku couldn’t remember the first thing she said to him, hazed and black as his memory still is and was, but at some point or another Kairi had giggled in the same pitch of tone she always would later and said, “Reading in the dark-- well I don’t know about you, but my mother always said that was bad for my eyes.” He’d turned to give her a weird look because she’d said mother, not mum like the rest of the kid population, and because somehow he’d mistaken her for Selphie, who sometimes came to hang out and chatter idioms of small talk at him while he did something more important. But now Riku really, truly looked at her.
“You’re not from around here,” He noted. It came out like an accusation.
“No,” she agreed, “I’m not.”
“Double negative,” Riku deadpanned, and for some reason Kairi found it hilarious: she collapsed into a fit of more of her own off kind of giggles and smiled at him, genuinely. Riku could’ve flinched: no one but Sora had looked at him like that for a long time.
“Come out into sunlight with me, I want to see if your eyes still work.” Riku did, which was unusual for him (he was the type of rebel that never listened to anyone’s orders ever, especially orders from someone years younger than him) and when he later looked back on Kairi’s words, they didn’t make the sense they did at the time. How would’ve she been able to tell and why would she even want to? Why did he follow her?
The image of the sparkling blue water and bright yellow sand still burned in his mind, and probably still in hers, when she turned it meant he related her deep blue eyes to the sea, compared and contrasted them with the sky blue of Sora’s, and she was looking at his own eyes too, she moved up close and fingered the dark bags just beneath his eyelids and let her eyes flicker again to his, with sadness. In that moment Riku knew that Kairi knew about him.
As quickly as it had the feeling appeared it disappeared, and Kairi was suddenly bouncing about like Selphie, annoying him with a million all too personal questions and wondering what plaything she should use as a weapon when they all fought or if she should just sit out. Eventually Sora got jealous and stole him off her, and the rest of the afternoon they spent playing in the water and teaching the new girl how to swim.
When time came to go home, Riku opted to stay on their special island a bit longer to train. Wakka raised an eyebrow, and drawled something about doing enough training already and Tidus looked a bit wistful. Riku didn’t have the nerve to look at Kairi.
Then Sora surprised Riku, by deciding, “If you’re staying, then I’m staying too. I can’t have you getting any better than me at fighting, after all.”
But for some reason, they didn’t fight. Riku simply surmised that that day wasn’t a day for fighting and neither could muster the nerve to move from their spots on Riku’s Papao tree, once they sat down there to watch the sunset.
The sun reflected so that the water shone, but that wasn’t the real focus then. It was the sky, with its swirls of pink cloud on an orange backdrop, covering golden white mist overlayed by faint streaks of purple.
Something so natural and so beautiful, and Sora rested his head on Riku’s shoulder, moved. It didn’t seem fair that people as insignificant in life as them could bear witness to something so pretty.
It ended, and they were just two boys sitting on a tree on an island again.
“I need to pee.” Sora said, and went off to do his business someplace Riku hoped he would never accidentally step.
It went without saying that they wouldn’t be able to rowboat to the mainland in the sudden offspring of darkness. With saying, Sora and Riku agreed to get back as quickly as possible at sun up the next morning, and hopefully their parents wouldn’t notice. (What was Riku kidding? It was really only hopefully Sora’s parents wouldn’t notice, because Riku’s parents wouldn’t notice a skinned chocobo if it danced to techno in their morning breakfast cereal.)
Taking the picnic blanket from the Big Tree-house, Riku decided to go sleep in the dark of The Secret Place. It wasn’t that late yet though, so Riku was still awake when Sora joined him with the tablecloth, even though he pretended not to be.
“Riku,” Sora’s teeth chattered. “I’m cold.”
“And I’m hungry.” Riku replied, moving to share the picnic blanket.
“Go eat Papua then.” A pause. “I can’t see my hand when I bring it up to my face, Riku.”
Riku didn’t voice his solution for that.
To Be Continued