Everyone Who Casts a Shadow

by llamajoy

and i'm
afraid of the dark
without you close to me
(magnetic fields)

You were my first surprise.

I sought to learn the world, I had no doubt in my mind that I could know everything. The darkness bent before me, parting and opening, welcoming me in. Each unfolding shadow gave up its secrets with a willing whisper, each new missing heart breathed intoxicating promise to my curiosity.

Perhaps, had I the mind to see it, I might have realized that you were always something I could not predict. I saw in your heart a yearning for the worlds beyond, a craving for something nameless and magnificent.

You wanted something more than the sky. I gave it a name. I gave you darkness.

And you blossomed in it, as I had known you would; your lovely pale face shining among the heartless like the moon in the night sky. You saw through the shadows, you saw a way off your island and into your dreams.

I let you think you were using me. I wanted to watch you trying to master the darkness; I wanted to witness the collapse of your fine glimmering heart into the blackness that surrounds us all.

Instead, you watched mine.

Kingdom Hearts is every heart. Every heart contains some darkness. A simple syllogism; even in my younger, foolish days, I would have known the answer to that one. Kingdom Hearts is darkness.

And yet, at some moment, my logic failed me. One step mistaken, one guess straying from the truth. How can it be so, that I have been mistaken all along? Each experiment flawed, and every new conclusion false...

Kingdom Hearts is every heart. Is there then, necessarily, light in every heart?

There is no light within me.

For the first time in ages, I wonder what has become of my children, my own kingdom. There was a time when I loved them as my own, those people in my charge. I believe it may have been my duty to them that drove me, seeking nothing so much as to know the world so that I might carve them a place in it.

Now, it is too late to say.

Faced with terrible truth and believing, now at last, that nothing might again surprise me-- You closed that door before you, yourself on the wrong side. I saw the sweat standing on your face, or was it tears? My beautiful boy, locking yourself forever behind an ancient immovable door. Away from your dream, locked in Kingdom Hearts with your own heart beating beyond the door, warm and running the opposite way. Eternally unreachable.

What foolishness. So unexpected, from such a pupil. And yet, so fitting.

And so here we are, your sweet betrayal behind us, trapped on the same side of an impenetrable world-door. Now, that I should die, in the Heart of hearts, the core of the world, as it is eaten from the inside out by the minions of darkness that I thought I might control... how appropriate that I dissolve into the night, weak as an infant and with no words to shape my defeat.

there is little enough left of me, myself and my strength and my glorious darkness all withered before the glare of that young one, your precious friend.

he eluded me. you understood him. this, in the end, will be your victory.

and as i disappear, i will nurture evaporating dreams, and wonder what went wrong... i will fade into the writhing mass of heartless, a shadow of a shadow.

i have said you were my first surprise.

you may yet be my last

How long had he been falling? Lurching sickly from world to world, the shadow-stain of the heartless on his blade, Riku could not remember.

There was little he could remember, his life measured between heartbeats as he careened through worlds. There were people he had to find, he would tell himself, in the dark behind his eyelids. Two reasons to tumble headlong across another threshold, into another world. (There were days when his own name was a dry taste in his mouth, a word unspoken; and he would be breathless clinging to it, to keep it his own.)

This time when he opened his eyes, it was different.

Or rather, it was the same.

He blinked away the fractal colors of between worlds that hovered in the corners of his vision, alarmed at just how familiar this place seemed. With the rushing sound of his passage fading from his ears, the sudden noise of his shoes startled him, ringing loud against polished marble floorstones.

He stopped running, for the first time since he'd closed that door, and listened.

The tone of silence told him nothing; the light falling through high narrow windows made his eyes sting.

But all unexpectedly he knew where he was.

The Hollow Bastion? He spun, hair falling into his eyes. He'd never been to the same place twice. He lifted his face to the broad carved door, felt the weight of the place growing close around him. The grand hall. Memories filtered through his mind like sunlight struggling to illuminate the deep sea: the time-blurred image of a best friend's face (It's mine-- it's not yours-- I'm not yours), the promises in the echoes of a shadowed voice (why don't you bend to the darkness, little boy?).

His hand found the broad curve of a column, leaned heavily against it. How had he found his way back here? Why--?

With a gurgle and the pop of displaced air, the darkness coagulated around him. More heartless; he could not be surprised. He took a step back, not as steady as he should have been. He swore under his breath. His own fault for allowing himself to become disoriented. Kill them quickly, he thought, relapsing into the pattern of world-travel. Remember to breathe, keep your feet under you. Dispel the darkness fast as you can, find shelter. Sleep until the between-sickness passes.

He dropped his blade when the dizziness hit him, found himself on one knee before he knew he'd stopped fighting. Always like this, after changing worlds: the intense vertigo of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He lifted his blade in nerveless fingers and stumbled blind through a wall of clawing darkness; one arm up to protect his face, he was deaf to the restless shrills of the heartless behind him, denied their prey.

All he remembered was a door-- he was always closing doors behind him-- and managing a desperate hope that the heartless following him might not be able to pass through it.

He tried to rest his head on his knees, and lost his balance even then. (I'll fight you, if that's what it takes! Words betray the distance in that seashell-curved smile. Drown in the richness of layered shadow, whispering: you can be weightless, peerless in the dark, if you follow me...)

The green tile beneath his face was blessedly cool, the weight of the bastion lifting beneath him to buoy him up and up and--

He lost the battle with unconsciousness.

Later, worlds away and without the that familiar music in his ears, he could not say if it had only been a dream.

There was a time of dreamless sleep, of mending wounds, of fingers (his own?) curled warm against the bloodstained fabric at his side. Even with his eyes closed, he knew the light through those high, thin windows: golden, and rich, and heavy to touch.

Idly he wondered if he were caught in time, to find the Hollow Bastion uninhabited-- to find this world again, at all. He seemed to float, running a careful fingertip across a hundred colorful book-spines, mapping his way through a place he knew by heart. The lengthening shadows of the bookcases were like his friends, quiet and unobtrusive, but listening always.

"Where is everyone?" he might have said aloud.

And then, with the gentle ease of night falling, or of melting ice, he knew that he was not alone.

With this realization came an amusement that was not his own.

every thing has a shadow, said a bodiless voice, and Riku swallowed. it is simple. they cannot be separated.

"Who's there?" he said, hands gone cold.

...your shadow. The breath of darkness against his cheek was more than familiar. you remember.

"You," he breathed, startled that he should feel more surprise than contempt. The world that had proved his undoing seemed unanchored below his feet, spinning on an axis of unforgotten feelings: broad guiding hands, a knowing smile, a huge and thirsty Darkness. With an effort he found his voice, "Where are you?"

inside, the voice said, and Riku shivered to realize it was true. He might have turned away, but that the presence was all around him... and worse, as Riku searched the darkness behind his eyelids, he knew that it had always been so-- since that first moment, on Destiny Island, when he had first opened the door.

Outside there may have been enough left of sky for it to rain, water against the windowpanes. But if the thunder purred beneath the foundations of the castle, and if the windows shook and strained with the wind, why should he care? It was just another kind of storm to weather. Another kind of darkness. He had no reason to be afraid of the dark.

And yet, he had every reason in the world.

He wet dry lips, and no longer wondered why this Hollow Bastion had not been locked, why this place had not ended as it should have. "What are you doing here?"

The word was not a sound, hovering around him in the stillborn air. dying.

He shivered. Hadn't he yet learned, through all these ever-changing worlds, only to say the words he meant? "Why are you here?"

there is something that i have yet to learn, said what-had-been-Ansem, as though against a great weight. i cannot fade.

Futiley, Riku lifted a hand, reaching through the tide of surging understanding as though to brush his fingertips against the face of nothing. He struggled for a moment, knowing that with his words, something would be lost forever-- and surprising himself by wishing it were not so. He had never thought to regret ridding himself of his past.

But he bore a keyblade for a reason: the promise of no door carelessly unshut, no lock unsecured. This was not something that could go unsaid.

"Every thing has a shadow," Riku said softly, with no malice in the echo of his tone. From the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a candle flickering. He lifted his gaze just in time to see it dance and light completely. While he watched, another one came to life, and another. "...But only in a world of light."

A soundless sigh, and the Hollow Bastion seemed to shrug its weary shoulders under the weightlessness of the dawn. In the newborn, unsteady brightness, he might have whispered thankyou as he evaporated into the light.

Or it might only have been an echo of Riku's own voice, the murmur of his shadow casting itself across the floor.


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