~Prolegomena To Any Future Redemption~
Afterwards, Riku lay on the mattress staring into the beam of dust and sunlight that was the bare room’s only illumination.
That’s us, he thought. Dust and sunlight. Even now, it still felt wrong, thinking of himself in that way, as a part of something. Me, You. Always me, and you. But us? How can we be us?
For nearly a year now, Riku has been alone, a me without either a you or an us, and he had quite deliberately set himself apart from the world, apart from everyone and everything that threatened him. Alone, he could be strong. Apart from the world, no doubts could assail him, no ties of friendship could trick him into weakness; into failing; into darkness. And now this.
Propping himself on one elbow he looked down at the silhouetted figure sleeping beside him. Through the gloom he could only see the long tangled hair where the light caught its gloss, sparking in the dark. Brown, in this light it was raven-dark.
Can it be real? Riku sighed, and glanced back into the stream of sunlight. Is it really you making me feel like this? Like a million motes of dust dancing in a beam of golden light? Squinting, he pushed the silver hair out of his eyes, shaking his head. What did you do? How did you do this to me? I should hate you…
The figure on the mattress shifted and sat up; a thin sheet falling away from a shoulder blotched with red crescents. Riku stared at the fading marks, aghast.
Are those my teeth? What was I doing?
“You bit me again.” Knowing blue-green eyes; hollow eyes; sharp-faced; eyes that darkened now in the presence of pain; of Riku’s pain.
“Riku.” A strong hand closed on the boy’s shoulder, raised like a shield between him and whatever this was. Riku gave a start.
“Riku, please… let me try… I really think you should…”
“Shut up!” A sudden savage kiss silenced the speaker. Shut up! Don’t make me! Don’t! Just do what I need and shut up!
The ferocity of Riku’s need was frightening, and for a moment Leon fought against it, but only for a moment.
“It’s okay,” he murmured, “it’s okay”. But the wire-taut, breaking-point tension in the boy told him it was anything but.
Afterwards, Riku dreamt of yellow-eyed, empty-eyed faces; lush-lipped; the taste of rot in their mouths; empty, darkened, shadow creatures; heartless.
“It’s raining again,” Leon turned away from the window, tightening the straps around his forearm. “They’ll be out soon.”
“I know.” Riku shrugged. “I’ve been smelling them for an hour now.”
Leon frowned. “You really smell them?” He reached out towards the scowling boy, taking the thin chin in his gloved hand and tilting it back, peering into the glacial blue eyes that glowered from under the silver hair. Ice and ice and ice and ice; a mantra tied into his heartbeat.
“No,” Riku shook his head, shuddering as he felt the rough drag of the gloved hand slide across his cheek. “Not really. It’s not a smell.”
“Then how…?” Leon dropped his gaze. Let me in, Riku; let me help you. Had his eyes always been this colour? Leon tried to remember the first time he had seen the boy – it seemed like an eternity ago. Had his eyes been this cold then? But rather than how the boy had looked, Leon remembered the feeling of encountering him. It had been as though a vast and powerful machine had suddenly begun spinning; as if the two of them were standing in the silent eye of an insane shrieking hurricane; like a maddening electric charge building up in the empty air. A sound so loud it could not be heard, but which numbed the senses, silenced the senses; a blasting turbine roaring.
“How do you think?” Riku sneered, and yet again Leon was reminded of another boy, scarcely older than this one; an emotionally deadened, introverted boy, whose only goal was to go through life alone, and free; a boy called Squall. It had taken the love of a soul greater than his own to show him that his detachment, his defence against pain, was not a crutch but a shackle, and now – faced with this distorted mirror of his younger self – he wanted desperately to help Riku see the same thing.
“I don’t know.” Leon shook his head.
“Because they’re here!” Riku jabbed an arm towards Leon, catching him with stiff fingers in the pit of his stomach. “And here!” His other hand shot forward, but this time Leon was ready, and caught him around the wrist. “And here,” Riku poked himself between the eyes, “and here”, whispering now, and thumping himself over the heart. “Because they’re inside me, Leon. Because I was weak and stupid and… and I tried to use them and they took everything from me and took hold of me and they ate my heart!”
Still holding onto Riku’s wrist, Leon pulled the boy towards him and held him trembling against his chest. “But you beat them, Riku,” he murmured. “They took you and they tricked you and they used you, and you beat them. You, a boy, against the whole lot. They thought you were weak – all of them – and you beat them all. They tried to control you and use you and defile you, and despite everything they did to you, you survived. You survived, Riku.”
“Do you think you know about it?” Riku muttered, and pulled away. “Used me? I let them! I wanted them! I wanted to know that there was more than that island and I was so stupid and jealous and hurt that I believed everything they told me. I believed them! How could I have listened to them, Leon? Even then I knew they were lying, but I wanted what they said they could give me, so I believed. And do you know what? When they had me, I enjoyed it! When I wasn’t me, when that was me”, he spat the word out, as if it tasted of filth, “I felt more alive than I’ve ever felt. The darkness, Leon… oh, you can’t imagine how it feels. To have that in you and to know it and to use it, it’s like nothing else you could ever know.” Except… the unspoken thought… dust, and sunlight… “And imagine… imagine knowing that you have to give it up, whether you want to or not, and then… oh, then, when you finally decide to be rid of it, come what may… imagine learning that you can’t! I can’t get it out of me, Leon!”
“It doesn’t matter.” Leon looked at the boy, who was shaking with a pent-up fury and despair. “So what if you can’t? Who can? The important thing is that you beat it. Even though you wanted it, and asked for it, and enjoyed it, you learnt from it, and rejected it, and beat it.”
Riku stood looking at him in silence for a long moment. “No. You don’t get it. There’s no going back now.”
“So let’s go forward.” Leon picked up a long black coat from the untidy heap of clothing on the floor and held it out towards Riku. “Come on. There’s still Heartless to kill.”
Utter silence. A deserted city, illuminated by a thousand lighted windows and the neon reflecting off the relentless, senseless rain. A dark city, flat and colourless in the steel-grey glare of light on water. Nothing moving except the rain falling. And then, a figure.
A dark figure; hooded, silent, centred. Blindfolded. Walking out into the silent soaking streets.
A world without you.
A small, quiet smile, of infinite regret. A movement like lightning, and in the same instant the empty streets were full, the darkness roiling into life from out of the dancing water.
Above him, images he could not stand to see and could not hope to forget projected on screens that brightened the night. Images that taunted and accused him; that took the tattered remnants of his heart and twisted them into choking knots; acrid, bitter knots of guilt and loathing. Around him, the hate and emptiness made manifest; a hundred thousand hollow dancing fragments of what he was, what he chose to be, mocking him with vacant yellow eyes.
The eyes will close.
And so, again, on night after endless night, a savage ballet, the choreography of his self-loathing and redemption. After months without feeling, or of feeling only pain, he had discovered a way to a new sensation. A delirious abandon that came from slaughter, that came from giving himself utterly to the acrid joy of destruction. Blind and blindfolded, uncaring, made untouchable by his scorn. Night after night, carving a path through the rain. Through the heartless. A path towards…
Behind the Darkness, a door to the Light. The secret place. A world between. A forgotten world. The End of the World. Maybe our journey meant nothing after all…
His voice… it’s left me. This time… I’ll fight.
This time, someone else was there.
After an unguessable time alone, Riku – blinded still by hate, and blindfolded – had sensed someone there among the emptiness. At first it had appeared to him only as an absence, or rather as a lack of absence. He knew where the emptiness was, without seeing it, for it was a part of him, and in him, and all around him. And it was all there was. Until this new thing appeared, this shape, moving through the darkness. An unthinkable thing; a forgotten, almost undreamt-of, unbelievable thing. A heart.
He’d fled from it. A heart! He had embraced his own emptiness; chosen to live with his own sacrifice; had learned to feed on the guilt and pain. He had become resolved to never again not being alone. And now this. This heart, this beating, living heart. Leon.
And once he was there, Leon seemed to be always there. Alongside him, killing with him, as if he too came with the rains. And although Riku ran from him, wherever he ran, there was Leon. Never coming near him, never acknowledging him, never speaking. Just, there.
What do you want from me? Riku screamed silently into the rain, as more and ever more heartless fell beneath his need to feel something other than pain. The scoriating drive of killing was a euphoria; but beneath it a new feeling was growing.
Beneath the emptiness, Riku knew that Leon was there for him. Almost never did he allow himself to hope that this strange unlooked-for protagonist could feel his pain; that he would be able to understand it, lead him through it, succour it. For admitting to that hope meant risking opening a door that he had thought sealed forever. Admitting the possibility of healing meant loosening the chains he had bound about himself; meant allowing the chance of friendship, and with it the chance of loss. And he was not sure that loss was a thing he could bear again.
And yet, far more than he dared to hope even in his most desperate of weak moments, Leon’s thoughts were of Riku. Ever since he had found him, blinded by despair and blindfolded, Leon knew that Riku needed him, and that he needed Riku. Beyond anything, he wished that this tormented, anguished boy would accept him as his friend; would sense in him his opposite and completion. Leon longed to see into Riku’s heart, to heal it, and to lead him out of the darkness.
Many things held him back. Most of all he recalled those who had tried to make a favourite of him, their pupil and novice. Often enough, in the academy at Balamb Garden, he had felt the longing eyes of older men upon him, and had countered their proffered friendships with dumb rejections. But he knew that he could help Riku; could bring him some relief from his rage. How can it be wrong? Leon could not still the doubt, but neither could he silence the imagining of Riku’s never-heard, almost unimaginable, clear, untainted laughter, nor the never-felt sensation of his moonlight hair under his hand.
Until, almost inevitably, without either of them having planned it, they stood face to face in the silent soaking streets, surrounded by the still shadows of the heartless they had slain, Riku’s blindfold dancing in his trembling hand like a blackened flag of surrender, tears staining his cheek.
“Don’t be afraid. Weep, it’s alright.” Leon held out a hand to Riku who, unable to reply, fell to his knees. Leon sat on the wet street beside him, holding Riku against him as he shook and sobbed, one arm around his shoulders, the other cradling his head. Riku’s arms encircled his waist, his cheek pressed against Leon’s chest.
Utter silence. Until the roaring of his own blood in his ears and, beneath it, the beating of a living heart. Only then did Riku know what Leon felt for him; that he loved him, and had him in his thoughts; him, the abandoned, vagabond boy. And Riku wept before him, exposed, shamed, unable to speak.
On a whim, Leon took a strand of Riku’s hair and very gently began to twine it into his own, raven-dark in the rain. Riku’s silver lay amongst his like the play of sunlight across water. He felt Riku shift against him, and then his breath against his neck. The muscles of Riku’s back had become rigid, and both of them were trembling. It was, Leon knew, both fear and desire. Slowly he lowered his head and as he felt Riku’s mouth rise and trail across his jawbone he shuddered and then their noses came gently together, and then their mouths opened against each other. For the first time, Riku’s face became wet with another’s tears.
Afterwards, as Leon lead him along the empty street, Riku glanced up at the skyline. There, high above him, where he had not been able to look for so long, the pale flickering images of his lost companions gestured to him, not in censure, as he’d thought, but in entreaty. “I’m sorry, Kairi,” he whispered, and felt Leon’s fingers tighten momentarily around his own. Behind the image of the girl, the first pale beams of sunlight were beginning to break through the clouds.
~The Blind Shall Lead the Blind~
Leon awoke very early from a troubled sleep. He had been dreaming – of what he could not recall – and the dreams had drained him so that he had gained no rest. And now he lay awake in the blackness, trying to breathe the stifling, foetid air filling the room.Lifting himself quietly from the bed he padded across the room, to where the heavy shutters were fastened across the window. Everything about this place was overdone – the concrete walls too thick; the many-windowed buildings too tall; the lights in them too bright. Everything grandiose and looming and portentous, as if plucked from the mind of a narcissistic depressive. It’s the kind of place Squall would’ve loved, he thought, but then he’d be telling me to go talk to the wall.
Freeing the bar, he lifted the shutters to the ground and leaned into the opening, straining for the coolness of the early morning air beyond the room, hoping for some breeze to find its way in and stir the dank stillness. He was already hot, and could feel the sweat beginning to gather at his collarbone. Lifting the shutters had been enough. Waking had been enough. Beyond the window, the rain fell.
Drawing a hand across his chest he turned from the window towards the chair where he had thrown his clothes the night before. Picking through the pile he discarded one by one the black leather things he habitually wore, shuddering at the thought of the thick stuff against his skin. Cursing, he threw the clothes to the floor. His temper shortened daily, as his desperation to escape this heat grew.
Returning to the window he leaned again into the lightening air. The stone sill beneath his hands was damp and warm, as if the room itself were sweating in the oppressive heat. Pressing down on the ledge, he lifted himself over the sill and sat with his legs hanging over the emptiness, gazing over the town spreading below him. A thought came to him: if I were to jump, then there would be a wind. He ran a hand through his tangled hair, feeling a vague irritation at its unfamiliar length. I need to get this finished. I need to be me again.
The wrongness of the place oppressed him. When he’d been a child, in the orphanage in Centra, his one escape had been to wander in the pouring rain; to sit by the pounding ocean staring into the teeth of the storm, and to feel the lash and sting of the gale-driven water cleanse him. Always Edea would find him and scold him, but she knew his name and nature almost better than he did. Exasperated and at once afraid and proud for her dark, brooding charge, she would tell him that he had the breath of spirits in him; that base flesh was no vessel enough for the soul he bore. Cid, hearing this, would pace the floor, worry twisting his face, and tell his wife not to fill the child’s head with such nonsense. He’d just had a rough time of it, he said, and would settle down when he was grown.
Gazing now over the soaking, steaming city below him Leon shuddered, the longing for the cleansing blast of the storm strong upon him. The scouring rain had become more than a comfort for a solitary, moody child: as he grew older and left the orphanage to train in Balamb Garden, he had come to need it as others needed far-off places, or women. And at times like this, times when he was trapped in a place where the air did not move, where the rain just fell, he would fret and rage at himself, feeling the grime and sin of the world about him like a shroud. On occasion he would run until he collapsed, or fight, savage and insane, until, bleeding and sore, he would limp away to nurse his anger in solitude. At these times the names he was called would be terrible, and most of them came from his own mouth.
And now here he was, grown, but not settled, and still the yearning to be out of the room – out of the stillness, into the storm – began to beat in his ribcage like a second heart. A bead of sweat swelled and broke at the base of his throat, coursing slowly downward between the muscles of his chest. Angrily he dashed it away, cringing at the feel of his own slick flesh beneath his fingers. For too long he had been here, in this place where the water just fell from the sky, and where the air never moved.
Suddenly he drew his legs up and turned on the window ledge, dropping lightly back into the room. For a short while he stood motionless in the half-light, his chest rising and falling in rapid, short jerks. Then, crossing to the bed he pulled back the covers and saw what had woken him. Riku was gone.
Cursing himself for a fool, Leon grabbed the coat hanging on the back of the door. His cloak… Even in his anxiety for the boy, Leon was momentarily taken aback. Why would this be here? Surely…
He was surprised at the feel of it. It looked so heavy, like oiled wool, and yet it weighed nothing, as if it were silk. Pressing it against his face, Leon inhaled a great lungful of it’s scent – of Riku’s scent – and pulled it on. The cool cloth brushed against his naked flesh as if there were wind woven into the fabric.
What are you doing? he scolded himself. This is hardly the time to be getting off on his coat! Crossing to the door he pulled it open and hurried from the room.
Descending the dark staircase at the end of the passage, he began to move more carefully, wary of disturbing any of the building’s other occupants. He actually had no idea if the building had any other occupants, but if it did, the chances of them being friendly were rather slight. At the foot of the stair he hesitated, as if uncertain of how to proceed, before crossing to the thick door guarding the front entry to the building. As he pushed it open, the wood clung to his fingers momentarily, before peeling free with ugly slowness. He hands were, he realised, still drenched in sweat, although beneath the coat he was dry.
Stepping out into the street, Leon glanced quickly around. At the feet of the buildings shadows massed, and any of them could be Heartless. But of Riku there was no sign.
But then, there, at the end of the street, a flurry of movement and the flash of neon on steel. Leon’s heart quickened at the sight of the familiar dark figure, the lonely boy surrounded by hordes of squat black shapes, the ringing song of blades.
Suddenly Leon was filled with panic. That wasn’t Riku. How could it be Riku? For one thing, he had two keyblades. For another, he was wearing the coat.
“Odd, isn’t it?”
Leon span around. Riku was sitting on the wet ground by the side of the doorway, his back to the building.
“What? I mean… who?”
Riku looked up at him, grinning. “It suits you,” he smirked, “but you can’t keep it. Sorry.” He stood up, and Leon saw that he was naked, and dripping wet.
“What are you doing out here?”
“Watching him,” Riku gestured to where the figure had been. The street was empty again, and there was no sign that anyone had ever been there. “He arrived just before you did. We fought together once or twice. I don’t know who he is.” He looks just like…
Riku’s expression was unreadable, but suddenly it began to crumple, and tears slid down his already wet cheeks. Leon took a step towards him, but the boy shook his head.
Leon hesitated, uncertain.
“You’re pleased I’m like this.”
It was a statement, not a question, and for a moment Leon was dumbstruck. Riku glanced towards him quickly, a small cruel smile twisting at one corner of his mouth.
“What? No! I…” Leon began to protest, but Riku wasn’t looking at him, wasn’t listening.
“You think I deserve it.” Riku’s voice was flat, totally without malice or hurt. “You think that I did it, and that I deserve it. You think it makes me weak and you like it because you think that you can control me because of it. You’re just like everyone else. You’ll abandon me, too.”
“No!” Leon reached for the boy’s shoulder, but Riku shook him off. “I don’t think that! I hate that you feel like this!”
Riku turned away, scowling, and Leon let out a long sigh. “Riku…”
“What?” The boy span around, eyes wide and blazing with glacial intensity. “What, Leon? What do you want from me? Why are you here? I didn’t ask you to come.”
“No.” Leon shook his head. “But I came anyway.”
The small smile flickered again, and this time Leon saw it, and flinched.
“You’re quite the hero, aren’t you? Make a habit of it, do you, saving poor, defenceless, kids from themselves? Does it make you feel better?”
“So what do you think? Do you think you’re the only one who made mistakes? Who can’t forget?” Leon was pale-faced and trembling now, struggling to keep himself under control, wanting more than anything at that moment to drive his fists into the grinning face, to eradicate the challenge and mockery in the smile. “I gave up my name, Riku, because of what I couldn’t do when I was him. When the Heartless came, and took Radiant Garden, I failed, Riku. Everyone who depended on me, I failed, and we lost our homes and our lives and our loves.”
A head of violence was building up in him. All the impatience and rage that he felt, all the guilt and bitterness, was about to spill out of him. In front of this boy, who he thought he had come here to help. Maybe it’s not him that needs helping.
Riku had glanced back to the floor, and was edging uncomfortably forward. “I’m sorry, Leon, I know you’ve been through a lot. But I just don’t understand why you’re here.” He was shaking now, with cold, and emotion.
For you, idiot! Because you make me feel like there’s a future worth building as well as a past to avenge. I love you! Are you stupid? “I’m trying to work out how to make things better.”
“That’s simple though, isn’t it? Don’t we just kill the evil guys?”
We… “It’s more complex than you think. An enemy that’s pure evil only exists in children’s stories. Right and wrong aren’t what separate us and our enemies; it’s our different standpoints, our perspectives that separate us. Both sides blame one another. There’s no good or bad side. Just two sides holding different views.”
Leon paused, and shook the sodden hair out of his eyes. “And I can’t believe that you’re doing this to me now! We’ll catch our deaths out here. Are you trying to get us killed?”
Riku grinned. “No. I just like seeing you in that coat.”
Leon shook his head. “Well, I’ll wear it for you, then, but you’re going to look very odd in my jacket.”
“Oh, I don’t know. You’re not that much bigger than me, old man.” Riku dodged the backhanded cuff Leon aimed at him. “And I’ve got to warn you, I don’t know what they were thinking when they had those made. Black shows everything and they’re an absolute pain to get clean.”