Author's Notes:

I'M BACK! Been trying to get out of my year-long writing slump. Please excuse any inaccuracies with the medical stuff. None of my knowledge comes from first-hand experience.

Also, with the uncertainty of my current writing style and life events, I've now lost track of how many chapters are left in the story. I'm estimating five... But I'm probably wrong. Enjoy anyway!

Chapter Twenty: Into Kingdoms Unknown


The sun hovered on the horizon like a slice of grapefruit, bleeding the morning sky shades of coral orange to pink to blue. The sparkling line of the sunrise stretched across the sea, glimmering with the gentle waves of dolphins playing in the distance.

Gulls circled the lone shrimp boat casting its nets into the calm, and their hungry cries chased the ferry as it cut through the green bay of Port Dollet.

The ferry was littered with early risers, only a few vehicles carried over on this trip; none of them were from Destiny Islands itself but from its larger neighbors, Balamb and Besaid. Riku and Sora had been up for three hours already, and this had been their fourth ferry this morning.

Even though he couldn't see much of the shore yet, Sora could already tell Destiny Islands was much prettier. The salty tang of the air was different here, too. Sora hadn't been this far from home since a blitzball tournament three years ago—one he had gone to watch with Tidus, back before Tidus had tried out for the team.

Riku was resting alone on one of the benches far away from the edge of the ferry. Gull droppings littered almost every surface, so he was huddled in the cleanest corner of the bench. Wearing an expensive pair of sunglasses even at daybreak, he looked like some kind of creature of the night. Sora couldn't blame him, though. Riku was running on painkillers, bananas, and four hours of sleep.

Sora smiled over at him, and Riku lifted his face as he noticed Sora watching him. Tired but definitely there, a smile was returned.

The bruise beneath Riku's eye had darkened significantly since last night, visible even with a tad of concealer, hence the sunglasses. Riku had even pulled his long bangs over the cut on his forehead to minimize attention to himself, but there wasn't much he could do about his split lip or the wounded way he held a hand to his ribs whenever he moved.

Likewise, Sora had long ago given up trying to hide his sling. Even though Squall had made him a new one, this one from a white sheet, it still stood out against his red hoodie and jeans. A couple of girls on the previous ferry had asked him how he had gotten hurt, and Sora had been too embarrassed by the attention to come up with a decent lie, stammering that he had been hit by a baseball bat—which just made him sound like a klutz, not a victim.

A victim... Ugh, he hated thinking about it that way.

Before putting on the new sling, he and Riku had taken pictures of their injuries. "Just in case," Riku had said. Sora had gotten a better look at his shoulder and arm, which had gone numb in some spots. His skin was discolored around the shoulder, and a bruise had begun to form where the bat had slammed into him. It only hurt when he moved it, but Cid had given him some more of his pain meds just in case.

Nearby, Cid was getting an earful as Sora's mom chatted away—what she did whenever she got nervous. Whether or not he was actually listening to her, he still grunted an agreement every so often.

Sora was surprised she was awake enough to have motor-mouth, considering she had slept at the kitchen table all night. She had decided to tag along to Atropos, at least until she found out what the doctor had to say about their injuries. Cid was only accompanying them until they got to Dollet so he could pick up some supplies Calm Bounty needed.

Squall and Cloud had been left in charge of the house, but Sora kept worrying something might happen to them while so many people were gone... If Sora had been attacked on his own front porch, what was stopping the assholes from targeting Riku's friends next?

A sudden clang-clang-clang signaled the approach of the ferry to the dock, and the clamor was enough to startle Sora out of his thoughts. Even the sleepy patrons in their cars began to stir back to life.

Eager to get back on dry land, Sora left the railing and returned to Riku's side. Maybe it was his imagination, but now that the sky was growing lighter, Sora thought he could see a hint of red along Riku's cheeks and neck.

Sora pressed a finger to a warm cheek. "Looks like you got a little sunburned after all."

Swatting Sora's finger away, Riku mustered a crooked smile. "Yeah, and I'll get you back for it, too. I'm a mess..."

"Nah, you're still the prettiest little princess on this boat," Sora said with a small grin, then danced back as Riku reached to grab him. He probably would have succeeded if not for the sedatives.

Riku's eyes narrowed behind his sunglasses as he muttered, "I'll get you back for that, too."

Just glad to be off the island, Sora laughed and leaned in, grabbing a fistful of Riku's shirt as he kissed him. It was gentle, Sora careful not to agitate the split lip that brushed against his own.

Riku relaxed beneath his lips, seeming grateful for the touch of affection. He probably needed it—the reassurance, the knowledge that Sora wasn't going to back down, the warmth of another person to help chase away the pain.

Sora was aware of people all around them, maybe or maybe not watching, but he didn't care. He wasn't home. Even if someone might recognize him, he wasn't going to hide how he felt for his boyfriend, and he especially wasn't going to be ashamed anymore.

Shame meant Bickson and Ryan's gangs had won. Shame meant that their fists and baseball bats and words were stronger than his feelings for Riku. They weren't.

So what if he and Riku were running from the conflict for now? Sora wouldn't let the memories of their attacks haunt him into fearing them. Those bastards would get what they deserved. He was sure of it.

Sora slowly pulled out of the kiss, hesitating long enough to peck Riku's lips again, and then separated from them completely. Riku's warm breath washed against his jaw, smelling like toothpaste and banana—their hasty breakfast.

Sora's fingers traced Riku's feverish cheek as he smiled down at him. "Gonna get me back for that, too?"

And when Riku quirked a smirk of his own, Sora felt a telltale tumble of his heart.


He knew right then that this getaway was what he needed.

Not only to find his footing again, but to test the foundation of their touch and go relationship.


With Seiya insisting on carrying their small bags "So your ribs won't fall out, Riku, and your arm won't pop off, Sora-sweetie," the three of them said goodbye to Cid and boarded the elevated railway departing for Atropos.

It was Sora's first train and his first adventure into a big city. The biggest he'd ever been in was Port Dollet, which probably only took up a hundredth of Atropos's population—though that could have just been an excited exaggeration.

Sora found a seat in a less crowded part of the train and stared out the window at the station's passersby, spotting college students, vacationers, and businessmen alike. He wondered if it was like this all the time, and if it was, how many oddballs passed through the station.

He and Riku still stood out—Sora with his homemade sling and Riku with his shades and perfect hair and stylish clothes, now looking less like a creature of the night and more like a movie star as he lounged in the seat against Sora's good shoulder.

Sora's mother, after stashing their bags in the compartments overhead, was giving them some space and had chosen to strap-hang instead of sit. She, too, turned a few heads—for once not because she was embarrassing Sora. Compared to the smartly dressed business women sitting stiffly with their briefcases and laptop bags, and the college girls in their short-shorts and halter tops giggling on their cell phones, she looked like she had come from another world.

Sporting a pretty pale yellow sundress with tiny blue flowers and wearing her long hair only half braided, Seiya was like a princess who'd run away from home, a tranquil smile on her face as she studied all of the advertisements and notifications posted along the ceiling. Sora just hoped she didn't get herself into trouble by sticking out too much in a crowd.

The train moved much faster than Sora had first anticipated, speeding through Port Dollet in what felt like seconds once it left the station. The port itself wasn't too impressive, bigger than Besaid or Balamb by far but mostly full of tourist destinations and too much housing—but as the railway passed into the city beyond, Luca, the differences were night and day.

Billboards streamed past the windows, some stationary and others scrolling with advertisements or warnings. Buildings only seemed to grow larger and larger the deeper they went into Luca, towering high and gleaming in the morning sky, earning their rightful name as skyscrapers.

Down below the railway were hundreds and hundreds of cars clogging the streets in their rush to get to work on time. Even more surprising to Sora was the foot traffic as the train passed over the heart of the city, people outnumbering vehicles as they poured onto the pavement in organized floods, following the changing lights and crosswalks in a perfectly synchronized dance.

The elevated train even took Sora past the pride and joy of Luca: the blitzball stadium—the place Tidus hoped to play in one day soon. And if Tidus followed through with the deal he had with Sephiroth, Sora had no doubt he'd make it there.

Just past the stadium, the train made a stop at a new station, letting off a handful of people only to make way for a swarm of newcomers, and Seiya had to take a seat next to Sora so she wouldn't get so crowded. More students crowded the seats and handrails, and Sora assumed they were on their way to summer class.

A few of them pulled out laptops, portable games, music players or cell phones, making him marvel at how backwards his small island community really was. Was that guy with the pierced nose actually watching a movie on that tiny screen?

"Having fun?" Riku murmured near his shoulder. He hadn't lifted his head from its resting place against Sora's arm, but those green eyes were gazing up at him over the edge of his sunglasses, amused but drowsy.

Sora must have been pretty obvious about his staring if he had warranted a tease from his half-asleep boyfriend. Answering with a grin, Sora asked, "How long 'til we get to Atropos?"

" 'bout another hour," Riku said as he half-heartedly glanced at his watch. "Still gotta switch cars at the Timber station. Then it's a straight shot through some nowhere towns."

Judging from his slurring, he'd be out in a few minutes. Sora was too excited to nap. Deciding to let Riku rest, Sora returned to staring out the window and let his mind wander.

He kept imagining the worst about Riku's ribs and his arm—if it was bad, how long were they going to be in Atropos? Not that that was a bad thing, but he didn't want to suffer through surgery or a hundred different shots... Geh, needles. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been to a doctor's office.

By the time Riku fell asleep, Sora was in the middle of envisioning a wrinkled doctor slapping on a pair of blue gloves and telling him not to worry, that the giant scalpel he was going to use on Riku wasn't going to hurt a bit.

The gentle weight of Riku slumping against his shoulder roused him from the daydream, and though Riku's hair was in his face and his sunglasses were still on, he seemed peaceful in his sleep. That calmed Sora, as did the awed smile on his mother's face as she too stared out at the city's sprawling buildings.

He relaxed in his seat and let the drone of the train and the chatter of its passengers soothe his nerves, but nothing beat the comfortable weight of his boyfriend dozing against his good arm.


Riku's doctor was not in fact a wrinkled creep with blue gloves and a giant scalpel.

She was younger than Sora had expected and carried a maternal air about her. Her smile was genuine as she delicately handled Sora's shoulder—and emotions—and chatted with him about where he was from and how he knew Riku. She hardly batted an eyelash when he told her the truth about them dating. She knew Riku well enough to know his sexuality, Sora gathered, and that was all it took for him to relax in her presence.

A trip to radiology confirmed what they had hoped: no breaks, no fractures. Riku only had bruised ribs, and Sora didn't have any bone fragments in the injury. The doctor said he was lucky; he wouldn't need surgery at all. The weird numbness he felt was from stretched tendons and nerve damage because his arm had been dislocated so long.

It wasn't long before Sora was sedated, sitting on a hospital bed, and clutching his mother's hand as the doctor firmly grasped his dislocated arm and, with an expert jerk, set it back into its natural place.

Even sedated, Sora felt it—like a red hot spike being driven into his shoulder.

He bit down on the gag they had provided him, his eyes stinging with tears, and he gripped his mom's hand until his own were bone-white.

The pain ebbed gradually, leaving a throbbing ache in its place.

His mom brushed her fingers through his hair and murmured soothing things to him, and for once, Sora didn't protest the kiddie treatment. As Riku gently wiped his wet lashes for him, he was just grateful it was over.


Sora shook his orange pill bottle and made a face at the number of painkillers inside.

"Can't believe we have to come back in four days..."

Nice doctor or no, he still hated hospitals and needles and pain. He was starting to feel kinda lightheaded from the new medicine, too.

"It's just for a follow-up," Riku said. He squinted and slipped his sunglasses back on as they stepped into the mid-morning sun. "Makes sense. Your arm needs time for the swelling to go down. Then you can start physical therapy for it."

Whether or not Riku had a point, Sora still sulked. He tucked his pills into his cargos and then ran his fingers along his new sling—a real sling, hospital blue and smelling faintly of antiseptic.

Four whole days in Atropos with Riku... And only Riku.

Now that the hospital visit was over, they only had one more stop to make before his mom left them to go on a solo vacation. When Sora had asked her where she would be going, she'd replied with: "To see what's changed," and that she trusted Riku to take care of Sora for a few days. (Sora had a feeling she just wanted them to be alone together...)

Their next destination was an electronics store, where Sora left his mom and Riku to talk to the clerks while he ogled all of the expensive shiny toys lining the walls. He didn't even know what half of them did. The digital cameras, however, definitely caught his eye.

He fiddled with one of the demos that actually worked, impressed with the quality of the previews he was taking. Too bad he didn't have a job or any real cash to his name... Playing with these cameras only fueled his interest in them.

Well, that settled it! He would hold Axel's camera hostage until he could afford one of his own.

Sora was just getting the hang of setting the smile detection when Riku called for him.

"Yo Sora—come pick a color!"

He, his mom, and the clerk were all staring at him as if he were a kid in a candy store. He sorta felt like one. Grinning, he put the camera back and approached the counter, wondering what the heck Riku was talking about.

"A color for—wuhhhh...? What is that?"

Sora blinked down at the row of colorful rectangles sitting on the counter. Were those cell phones? They didn't have any buttons! Looked more like they belonged in a sci-fi movie... Sora had seen Sephiroth with something like this.

"It's the new Gravija," Riku said—not like that actually explained anything except that it was probably super expensive. "Pick a color."

Too drifty from his pain meds to think much about it, he picked the sleek red one with a black keyhole decal on the back. "This one's nice."

Riku picked it up and handed it to the clerk. "All right, this one, too. Give both of them unlimited plans, on my bill."

Wait a sec...

On painkillers or not, Sora understood that.

He gaped at Riku. "What are you doing? You can't spend all that money on us!"

Riku's lips curled into that infuriating smirk that made Sora's heart melt like butter.

"Watch me."

Stunned, Sora could only blush as the clerk laughed at them and rang everything up.


Sora was more choked-up than he thought he'd be when he saw his mom board the train to Clotho. It wasn't like she was going away forever, just a mini-vacation, so it didn't make sense for him to get even a little emotional.

But he did.

He figured maybe it was because of all of the things he had learned about his mom recently that he hadn't cared to ask about before. Things about her past, his absent dad, what she would do when he moved out...

Maybe those talks had gotten her thinking, too. Maybe that was why she was going back to her home town.

"You alright?"

Sora finally looked away from the departing train. Riku was watching him with a concerned frown from behind his sunglasses.

Swallowing hard to find his voice, Sora nodded. "Yeah... Don't know what's wrong with me." Maybe it was the meds.

Riku's arm wrapped around his shoulders and tugged him close, his fingers slipping into Sora's hair to give him a gentle pet. "She'll be fine. Didn't you say she was from there?"


By the time the train had disappeared behind a distant cluster of buildings, Sora relaxed, soaking in the comfort Riku didn't seem to mind giving him.

Then his pants vibrated and gave a happy chirp.

Jumping, Sora reached into his pocket to grab his new cell phone. "What was that?"

"Text message," Riku said with a smirk, taking Sora's hand in his so he could help him navigate the phone. He tapped the screen and helped Sora open the message. "Well, picture message."

It was from his mom.

Worried something had happened, Sora held his breath as the menu opened, and a picture loaded onto the screen.

Fish-kissies! Miss you already!

His mom was cross-eyed, making a puckered fish face at the camera.

Oh jeez. All of his worry eased out of him as he sighed.

Riku actually snerked at the photo. "She's already having way too much fun with that thing."

"You're the one who got it for her," Sora pointed out. He started to lower his phone, but Riku took it from him. "Gwah! What are you doing?"

"Sending her something back." Riku gave him a crooked smile. "S'what you're supposed to do, dork."

But as Riku pulled him in for a kiss, and he heard the click of the phone's camera going off, Sora felt more ridiculous than anything.

Riku laughed as he previewed the snapshot, and then showed Sora.

"Aww, you're so cute."

Sora was staring wide-eyed at the camera as Riku smooched him.

Gah... How embarrassing. Was he really going to send that to his mom?

Judging from how Riku quickly started typing things on the touchscreen, yes—yes, he was apparently sending it to his mom. Well, at least they knew she'd like it.

Sure enough, just when they were leaving the train platform, Sora received a new message. This time he navigated the phone by himself and opened it.

TOTALLY using that as my wallpaper!

Sora mock-glared at Riku. "Great... I think you created a monster."

"Believe me," Riku said with a laugh. "She's probably just getting started."

Still embarrassed but strangely happy, Sora formed a small grin. "As long as she doesn't get herself into trouble."

As he tucked his phone back into his pocket and Riku fondly mussed his hair, he realized how easily the two of them had gotten him to cheer up. He was beginning to understand just how well his mom understood him, even more than he understood himself. Even though she always liked to embarrass him, he saw now that she only did it to keep a smile on his face.

And Riku... That must be why he liked to tease so much. Sora would have to go easier on him from now on.

They headed out of the station together, and when Riku almost tentatively slid his arm around Sora's waist, Sora didn't protest. Riku turned to glance at him in question, but Sora already had a pleased smile waiting for him. I'm okay with this, it said.

When Riku returned his smile with a warm one of his own, he knew he'd gotten the silent message.


The hotel clerk didn't even bat an eyelash at them when they bickered over whether or not to get a one bed or two bed room. Sora kept telling Riku it didn't matter, that he didn't mind sharing a bed and that it would be cheaper, but for some reason Riku kept zeroing in on the two bed option.

It wasn't until Sora pouted at him that Riku surrendered.

"Single bed, it is," the clerk said, completely disinterested. She smacked her gum as she rang their room up with Riku's information.

A few minutes later, Riku pushed open the door and handed Sora the extra cardkey.

"Here, just in case I lose mine."

Sora took the key, but instead of entering the room, he leaned in the doorway and blocked it so Riku couldn't pass him. He raised his brows at his boyfriend. "So what was the big deal about one versus two beds?"

Riku paused in the middle of slipping his sunglasses off, and Sora wasn't sure if it was his imagination or not, but for just a second, he seemed almost nervous. "Do I really have to explain?"

"If I could cross my arms right now, I'd do it," Sora said with a frown, gesturing at his sling. "C'mon, what's eating you?"

Sighing, Riku raked his free hand through his hair. "Alright, alright. Let's get inside. It's hot out here."

Sora let him usher him inside, and when Riku closed the door behind him, the frigid air and the darkness of the hotel room greeted them. Riku shuffled to the wall to find a light switch.

"So?" Sora asked.

Riku sighed at his impatience. "There's a couple of reasons." The lights came on, and he dropped their bags onto the large bed in the center of the room. "For one, I didn't want to hurt your arm by rolling over onto you or something." But he hesitated there, lowering his gaze. "And, um..."

His fingers wiped at his sunglasses as if searching for a good distraction. Riku didn't seem to know what to say, so Sora moved to stand closer and peeked up into Riku's face to give him an encouraging smile.

"And, um?"

Riku averted his gaze again and set his glasses onto the night table. "I don't mind us sleeping in the same bed together. It's been nice, the few times we've done it. But..."

Wondering why he was getting shy all of a sudden, Sora gently prodded his chest. "But?"

Another sigh, but Sora's persistence worked. "But it's frustrating," Riku admitted. His fingers rested over his bruised ribs as he glanced back up at Sora through his bangs. "I really like you, Sora. It's not easy sleeping next to you when all I want to do is touch you, okay?"

Sora didn't shy away from his eyes. Honestly, knowing that Riku was that worried about touching him made him kind of... giddy. Sora didn't want him to be frustrated, but the fact that Riku was frustrated—it was exciting. That, and the two of them were going to be all alone in a hotel room for three nights. Sora would have been concerned if Riku hadn't been frustrated in some way.

He reached up without thinking, wanting to reassure Riku somehow. His fingers slid into his silver hair and brushed it out of his eyes.

Though Sora hadn't said anything, the hint of intimacy seemed to spur Riku's anxiety on. "And I know I shouldn't move too fast for you because you're so new to all this. So..." His voice fell into a mumble. "Yeah."

When Riku put it like that, Sora could see the appeal of two beds. Whoops.

But even after digesting Riku's worries, Sora still didn't mind the bed thing. He kinda thought it was cute that Riku kept complicating things that should have been super simple. If they ran into any problems, they could deal with them then. Til then, he'd just have to show Riku that he wasn't scared of being near him.

He inched closer, curling his fingers in Riku's shirt. "Well, I'm glad you're honest with me," he said, careful not to touch Riku's ribs. "But we're in this together, right?"

Nodding, Riku started to lower his face, but Sora leaned in to bump noses with him.

"I mean it, Riku!"

Unable to hold it in, Riku released a quiet laugh. "Yeah, we're in this together." He nuzzled his nose back against Sora's.

Sora's smile spread. "Right—so it's okay to do some of the things you want." He slowly pulled back to study Riku's face. "Okay?"

Riku lifted his gaze back to Sora's, silent for several moments, before he formed a subtle smile of his own.

There was acceptance in his eyes—a quiet love. And that, to Sora, was worth whatever embarrassment Riku may put him through as they grew closer.


The hotel room wasn't large, but Sora took his time exploring it, admiring all of the fine details that made it as refined as it was: tiny packages of soap in the bathroom shaped like roses, a black coffee maker so pristine and polished it looked like obsidian, a row of water bottles in the fridge that had names he couldn't even pronounce... Everything seemed kinda untouchable.

Rather, Sora was worried that if he did touch something, it would cost Riku extra.

The bed, though—that seemed safe enough.

While Riku stepped onto their balcony to make some calls, Sora bounced on the large bed, surprised at how pillow-like it was, like his butt was sitting on a cloud. It sure beat his old rickety mattress! Riku's bed was nice, but this one was even better.

Sora lay flat on the bed and stretched his good arm out, sighing deep and relaxing in the pure comfort of the cool, cushiony heaven.

Riku's voice drifted through the slightly ajar sliding door, along with a hint of the summer heat.

Atropos was much hotter than Destiny Islands. It didn't have the humidity that the islands did, so the air wasn't nearly as wet—but Atropos didn't have the cool sea breeze to dampen the heat. That would take Sora some getting used to, but he didn't mind. He already loved Atropos from what little he had seen.

The skyscrapers, the hubbub of the streets, the countless shops with everything in them, the vast selection of restaurants and foods Sora had never tried before, the way residents didn't seem to care at all about anyone but themselves—it was all so different from his quiet island community. No, it wasn't as friendly or familiar, the air wasn't as fresh, the streets were noisy and the people were rude... But it was new. Exciting. Maybe it would wear off in a few months, but for right now, Sora was in love with it all.

By the time Riku was done with his phone calls, Sora had kicked off his shoes and made a nest of all the pillows and was searching the hundreds of channels on the flat screen TV for something he might like. The sound of the balcony door closing made him look up.

"Hey Riku, some of the movies on here haven't even left Balamb's theater yet!" he said with a grin.

But then he saw the irritated edge to Riku's frown.

"What happened?"

Riku slowly approached the bed, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Sephiroth wants me to come in tomorrow... for our Big Talk, since I'm in town anyway."

So Sephiroth wanted to do business even though Riku was still on vacation? No wonder Riku was miffed. Plus—Sora had a good idea what the talk was going to be about. He hadn't forgotten what Sephiroth had told Riku before he'd left; Riku's "expiration date" as a model must have been a touchy subject. He wondered what Sephiroth had planned for him...

"Anyway." Brows knitted, Riku looked away. "It's probably not going to take long, so..." Hesitant, but hopeful, he gave Sora a sidelong glance. "Do you want to go with me?"

Sora's heart leapt.

Him? Go see Riku's work? With all those models and photographers and Sephiroth's empire?

Sora broke into an excited grin. "Totally!"

Though Riku seemed ill at ease about Sora's eagerness, he laughed at him anyway. "You're so cute," he said with a fond smile. "All right. But I'm gonna have to give you a small makeover. Otherwise I'll never hear the end of it..."


What was that supposed to mean? Never hear the end of what?

Oh, but Sora did dress too casually compared to Riku. No doubt Riku wanted to make sure Sora didn't seem like a bum in comparison.


That left Sora with only one concern.

Pursing his lips, he decided to ask. "I don't have to wear makeup, do I?"

Riku's smile twisted with amusement.

Without gracing him with an answer, he curled a hand in Sora's shirt and pulled him in for a kiss. It was sweet, a gentle glide of lips and a teasing nibble on his bottom lip, and it left Sora both wanting more and wondering what it all meant.

Then Riku pulled back, his fingers trailing through Sora's messy hair, and murmured to him.

"Get some rest. I'll order us some food, okay?"

Placated by the prospect of food and sleep, Sora forgot all about the makeover thing. Gimp arm or not, he was feeling on top of the world.

Flopping back onto the cushy bed, Sora smiled and closed his eyes, feeling his heart soar inside of him.


Sora obeyed the doctor's orders and got plenty of rest and tried not to strain his arm too much. Being lazy was easy. He spent the rest of the afternoon sprawled out in the bed watching TV, with or without Riku, who often got up to make calls.

They ate pizza for lunch and "something different" for dinner, as per Sora's request—and Sora had no idea what it was that he ate, because he sure as heck couldn't read whatever name was on the takeout box. It was delicious, just spicy, and Riku laughed at his efforts to soothe the fire in his mouth by chugging water.

When the sun had finally set, Sora was feeling restless. Riku promised him that he wouldn't keep Sora indoors for the next three days, but Sora understood why they had wasted today in the hotel. Riku's ribs needed time to heal, as did Sora's arm. Sora doubted that Riku would be completely better tomorrow, either, so he'd have to keep a close eye on him to make sure he got enough rest during the day.

"When we're done with Seph, I'll take you to my favorite spot," Riku said, stifling a yawn. In the background, the weatherman was droning on about tomorrow's sunny skies. It would be raining on Destiny Islands. "It's a small coffee shop. I used to go there all the time to get away from it all—from my aunt, from school, from my problems..."

Sora rested on his good arm, watching his boyfriend's sleepy expression. Though they had shut the lamps off, the light of the TV flickered across Riku's face, and Sora saw the faraway look in his eyes.

"I'd like that," Sora said, hoping to encourage him. He liked it when Riku opened up to him. Dragging answers out of Riku's friends and ex-boyfriends was fun, but he found it far more satisfying hearing things straight from Riku.

Riku's eyes slid shut. "Me, too..."

About that time, the weatherman had moved on to the weekly forecast, highlighting the rising temperatures. Sora couldn't believe August was almost over. Soon, the new school year would be starting, and Sora wouldn't be attending it. He'd be moving in with Riku...

"You know..."

Sora blinked out of his sleepy reverie as Riku's quiet voice filled the silence.


"Squall's birthday is in a few days. I... almost forgot it. We might miss it..."

The way Riku said it, he sounded so sad.

Sora mulled over those words and his tone, trying to figure it out. Sora knew Squall was really important to Riku, but he still didn't know their story. No doubt there was something in their past that had made them super loyal to each other, at least as friends. Whether or not Squall really did love-love Riku, he had stuck around, even after Sora had gotten with Riku. He was a good friend...

"We can get him something special while we're here," Sora suggested. "And try to make it back in time to see him on his birthday."

Squall didn't seem like the type to make a big deal about his birthday. He probably didn't like telling people. But Sora couldn't shake the feeling that Squall would have been upset if Riku had forgotten.

"Yeah. We'll head back to the islands right after we get your arm checked out," Riku agreed. He sounded more confident now. "We can get him something from you, too..." He turned to meet Sora's gaze, smiling a secretive little smile. "He pretends to get annoyed when people give him gifts, but he secretly likes it."

Sora couldn't help grinning at that. "Then let's tell everyone, so he gets lots of gifts!"

Riku's lips spread into a matching grin. "He's gonna kill us."

Then the two of them broke into sleepy chuckles, imagining Squall glaring at a giant pile of presents.


Something woke him. He didn't know what.

When Sora stirred awake, he wasn't even sure where he was, but everything came drifting back to him when he saw the silhouette of his new phone sitting on the bedside table.

Right. Atropos. Hotel room. Riku.


He stretched his good arm out to feel the sheets beside him—empty—and then squinted into the beam of light that was coming from the bathroom. Riku was probably going pee...

Rolling over, Sora snuggled into the spot Riku had been sleeping. Mmm, the sheets were still warm from his body heat. He breathed deep and let his eyes drift closed, trying not to think about anything at all.

Basking in the ultimate comfort, he teetered at the edge of sleep for minutes before another sound startled him back into awareness.

The sink?

Moments later, the bathroom light switched off. Feet shuffled towards the bed.

Sora pretended to be asleep when Riku slipped back under the sheets with him, and as he lay down, Sora caught a waft of generic soap and something else... Lotion?

Then Riku curled up with his back towards Sora.

Earlier, they had fallen asleep with Riku's arm around him, and Sora was a little disappointed Riku's arm didn't slip back around his waist. Riku probably didn't want to risk waking him.

Deciding not to think much about it, Sora let the rhythmic sound of Riku's breathing ease him back to sleep.


Sora woke up the next morning to the warmth of Riku's breath gusting over his neck. Humming, he snuggled close to the warm body beneath his own, too sleepy to realize what was really going on, and his fingers curled more tightly into the sheets he was clutching.

Only... they weren't sheets.

A leg shifted beneath his hand, and that was when Sora groggily lifted his face to look.

His hand was clenched near Riku's inner thigh, grasping a handful of his sleeping pants, and Riku was pinned beneath him.

Sora had no clue how they'd ended up like this, but one thing was for sure—

Riku's blush was extremely cute.

The look on his face was somewhere between trapped and turned on.

Sora sleepily grinned down at him. "Morning?"

The embarrassed edge to those green eyes softened with affection, then acceptance. "Do you have any idea what a tease you are?" Riku asked in a husky voice.

Thrown off by the question, Sora blinked. "No?"

Riku averted his gaze. "Didn't think so."

Now that Sora was awake, Riku shifted out from beneath him and stiffly got out of bed.

Sora watched his every movement, openly studying his toned body, from the muscles of his lean back hidden by the bandages, to the dip of his abdomen leading into the sleeping pants sitting dangerously low on his hips, his firm thighs moving beneath the thin material...

And his prominent hard-on.

Suddenly, the pieces fell into place.

All the hints Sora had found strange about his behavior—Riku's worry about sleeping in one bed together, his mysterious visit to the bathroom last night...

Riku had told him he was frustrated, but hearing it and seeing it were completely different. It looked like Riku hadn't slept a wink last night, and Sora realized then that was probably his fault again for liking to take up the entire bed. Somehow he must've taken over Riku's side of the bed, too.

Oh man, poor Riku.

Sora eyed Riku's tented pants and felt guilty for accidentally being such a—well—tease, as Riku had said.

Riku shuffled towards the bathroom, avoiding Sora's gaze. "Be out in a few."

He disappeared into the bathroom and left the door open just a crack.

An anxious flutter grew inside of Sora as he wavered, silently debating with himself about how to breach this problem. He'd already told Riku it was okay to be honest and do some of the things he wanted to do, but Riku still seemed hesitant to draw Sora into things too quickly.

Sora sucked in a deep breath and held it, trying to calm his racing heart, before he slid out of bed to follow him.

He had to admit: he was nervous. But there was a first for everything. If Riku was too concerned to take the initiative, Sora would have to prove to him it was okay.

He quietly pushed open the bathroom door with his good hand and hesitated in the threshold.

Riku's heavy breaths punctuated the air. Bowed over the sink basin, he clutched the edge with a bone-white grip, the outline of his other hand stroking with a clear rhythm beneath his loose sleeping pants.

His back was towards the door, but Sora had seen all he'd needed. If he'd had any doubts before, they vanished at the sight of Riku's frustrated quickie.

This was it.

Filled with resolve, Sora was silent as he approached Riku at the bathroom sink.

The heat of Riku's body was almost feverish as Sora pressed close behind him and cupped his hand over the hard lump trapped beneath the soft material of Riku's pants.

Riku jumped, a husky gasp leaving him, and the surprised look on Riku's reflection as he gaped at Sora was priceless. Sora peeked over Riku's shoulder and offered him a small grin in the mirror, too nervous for much else. He was blushing almost as much as Riku was.

Then, just as Riku seemed to be working up the coherency to say something, Sora slipped his hand into Riku's pants.

Riku's entire body stiffened, but he didn't fight the tentative fingers that brushed against the head of his hard-on.

Their eyes met in the mirror.

The heated green of Riku's gaze sent Sora's pulse racing.

Riku swallowed hard, and Sora knew then he was just as nervous as he was.

He pushed Riku's hand away and closed his fingers around his erection.

Riku's breath caught, and he felt his own heart flutter with excitement.

So many thoughts spiraled through his mind in that moment—that this was his first time touching someone else let alone another guy, that Riku looked really hot when he looked at him like this, that there was something surreal about actually feeling Riku's pulse beneath his fingertips—but it all brought Sora to the same conclusion.

As new and nerve-wrecking as this was, he liked seeing this side of Riku.

He stroked his thumb against the heated skin, just to feel Riku shudder against him, and fell in love with the quiet gasp that left his boyfriend's lips. Another stroke, adding more fingers, and he felt his confidence rise with every twitch Riku made, both of those pale hands gripping the sink basin now.

A third stroke, this time with his whole hand caressing the areas he liked to be touched.

For the first time, he witnessed the complete meltdown of Riku's defenses as he freely gave in to his arousal—the wanton look on his face, the trembling of his arms as he clutched the sink, the full blush on his cheeks, the eagerness of his hips as he tried to thrust into Sora's fingers, and the low groan that resounded deep inside of him.

Heat blossomed inside of Sora like Riku had just punched a hidden on-switch, filling him with that same intoxicating feeling he got whenever Riku touched him.

There was nothing else like it in the world—the unexpected realization that something like this was real. He was touching Riku and Riku liked it.

It was a boundary that couldn't be uncrossed, but Sora didn't care. He wouldn't deny that he was getting turned on by all of this. Exhilarated, he tightened his grip around Riku and continued to stroke, creating an easy rhythm for him to rock his hips into.

And experienced or not, Riku was still clumsy in his excitement, trembling hard with each thrust as if fighting off an early climax. His soft groans echoed in the small bathroom, fueling the thrill of it all, and Sora lost himself in those amazing sounds, wanting to hear more.

Having all the control for once, Sora didn't waste a single opportunity.

His hand glided against his hot skin, stroking, squeezing, tracing all of his own favorite spots, trying to draw Riku wherever he wanted him, and it worked even better than it worked on himself. Certain areas with just the right amount of pressure had Riku squirming in anticipation and encouraging Sora with heady gasps.

Sora lost himself in admiring Riku's reactions, so spellbound by his boyfriend's rare vulnerability that he was completely caught off guard when Riku actually climaxed.

He bucked against Sora's hand with a husky cry, the sound sending heated shivers through Sora's body.

Then all of the tension melted out of Riku, his arms going slack, and Sora yelped as his boyfriend collapsed against the sink. He pulled Riku close so he wouldn't crack his head against the faucet.

Riku relaxed there against Sora's chest and took his time catching his breath.

Wordless, Sora just held him until one of them gathered his wits. He was still reeling from making the first move, but if this is how Riku felt whenever he cornered and touched Sora, Sora couldn't blame him for doing it...

The empowerment and satisfaction of being the one responsible for driving Riku wild and bringing him to completion? Yeah, Sora understood now. Not to mention how cute Riku could get, hehe.

As Riku's breathing gradually evened out, it occurred to Sora to find a towel and help clean him off. Unfortunately, the towels were closer to his sling-bound arm. When he pulled away from Riku to get one, a hand closed around his wrist to stop him.

Once again, Sora met Riku's gaze in their reflection, and Riku formed an unusual smile—tentative, maybe a little embarrassed, but with definite fulfillment and pride. Pride for him.

If Riku was happy, so was he.

Sora returned his smile. "Feel better now?"

A somewhat lazy smirk was his answer. "I could get used to this."

Yeah, I bet he could.

That must have been written on his face because Riku laughed at him and released his wrist, beginning to take off his loose pants. "Could you order some breakfast from room service?" Off came the underwear, too. "Gonna take a shower."

Sora didn't hide his staring as he drank in the sight of Riku's completely nude body.

Oh man, and Riku was still smirking at him. He was doing this on purpose!

Sora swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat as his body reacted to Riku's shameless stripping.

"Uh... y-yeah. Enjoy your—um—shower."

Riku just chuckled and stepped into the shower stall, closing the glass door behind him. He knew what he was doing to Sora. He didn't even have to tease him to get a reaction anymore.

Once he heard the water start, Sora quickly washed his hands and left the bathroom, all the while hoping Riku hadn't noticed how hard he had made Sora.


Breakfast was delicious and, thankfully, uneventful.

Sora had been expecting some sort of tension between them after the bathroom encounter, but Riku didn't bring it up. Because of that, Sora felt no pressure from what he had done. He was just glad he had been able to do Riku a favor. He seemed more laid-back than he had been in days.

Once Sora's belly was full, Riku ushered him to take a shower, "So I can spoil you rotten!" he told him.

Sora didn't know what else Riku could possibly spoil him with besides being his boyfriend, buying him a sexy phone, and paying for his not-so-sexy medical bills.

How little he knew.

Riku dragged him to what must have been a dozen stores (alright, maybe just four), where all of the clerks knew Riku's name and seemed to take great pleasure in poking and prodding at Sora like he was a prime specimen of fresh meat. They made him try on countless outfits that Sora was even afraid to touch because of their lofty price tags.

He recognized the designer names from the magazines he had been drooling over for the past two weeks—Dogstreet, Starberry, Destiny'woven, even Ars Arcanum... He couldn't believe Riku trusted him enough to even breathe on some of this stuff!

But aside from frowning at some of the Arc-brand stuff ("It's the designer that bothers me, not the price," Riku reassured him), Riku let Sora pick out the items he liked the most. Sora had to admit: he did feel spoiled rotten, like a fat gull being hand fed by tourists.

He didn't even fight Riku when he dragged him back to the hotel to do his hair.

Sora couldn't name some of the gadgets Riku expertly swept through his hair, tugging and pressing and parting the clumps in ways that made absolutely no sense to Sora, who honestly saw nothing wrong with his hair in the first place.

When Riku was finally done, Sora blinked at himself in the mirror.

He hardly recognized himself.

Riku stood behind him, adding finishing touches to his straightened hair.

Sora had never had his hair this straight before, and he hadn't had a clue it was long enough to put into a squat ponytail. His bangs and eartails had been left loose to frame his face, but that only made him look—


In their reflection, Riku was wearing a crooked smirk as he fixed Sora's smoothed bangs.


Sora frowned.

Cute. That was the last thing he wanted to be.

But Riku seemed to like it, so he tried to put up with the subtle torture.

That is, until Riku reached for what looked like a pencil. Sora had spent too many sleepovers with the girls to still be clueless about make-up. He knew what was coming next.

"Ack! No way, Riku!"

"Yes way."

When he saw the resolute edge to Riku's expression, he knew he wasn't gonna take no for an answer. Was this payback for making Riku squirm earlier this morning?

Wilting, Sora accepted his fate with a pout.

However, judging from the affectionate kiss Riku pressed to the crook of his neck, giving in to Riku more often might not be such a bad fate after all.


When Riku led him up the polished steps leading into Jenova Enterprises, Sora felt like he was walking into a trap.

He knew—knew—he stood out like a sore thumb. He wasn't meant for glamorous clothes or hairstyles or make-up. He was Sora. Just Sora. Still, he did his best to hold his chin high and walk with confidence and sophistication as he followed Riku through the gleaming revolving doors.

But all of that feigned narcissism seeped right out of him when he froze to gape at the sheer luxury of the foyer.

An elegant chandelier cascaded from the ceiling, making the glossy stone floor and dark walls shimmer with its beauty. A fountain stood in the very center of the atrium, water delicately arching around a beautiful marble statue of a goddess-like woman caught in mid-dance, her delicate hands lifted as if trying to catch the stars.

Ginormous photographs spanned sections of the curved walls, some taller than Riku and Sora combined, depicting a myriad of different but striking subjects—an athlete on his knees with his arms spread towards the sky, his face caught between pain and bliss as he basked in a hard-won victory; an intense close-up of a hawk, its mottled wings spread as it sank its talons into its unsuspecting prey, a rodent twisted on its back in its struggle to escape; an ethereal woman in a flowing white gown sitting peacefully on an old swing in an abandoned, decaying playground; an aged couple holding hands as they passed through a colorful, crowded open-aired food market; and a gorgeous nude man lounging shamelessly on a mountain of different magazines, many of which Sora recognized as belonging to Sephiroth's company—maybe even all of them.

A wide reception desk, circular and made of flawless wood, sat close to a grand staircase that had photographs for steps and curved up to a second floor of the atrium where more large photographs spanned across the dark walls. The waiting area, which was tucked in a stylish nook created by the impressive staircase, was complete with a large flatscreen television, leather sofas, and an entire wall of magazines.

About a dozen people were in the foyer—some waiting, others wandering and admiring the décor, and a few passing through. It was obvious, even to Sora, who worked there versus who was just visiting; it was all in their style—their hair, their clothes, their shoes, their walk. Sora had never felt so out of place in his life.

Riku also stood out, but only because he was Riku. He'd reverted back to his usual city style—dark designer pants from Ars Arcanum, an elegant shirt that probably cost more than Sora's state-of-the-art phone, short boots that looked like they belonged in an issue of Pumpkinhead.

Yeah, Riku was Riku, and not only did he look great and natural in everything he wore, he wore it with confidence as he headed straight for the reception desk, ignoring all of the appreciative glances aimed in his direction. On the other hand, hardly anyone glanced at Sora, and for that, he was grateful.

The receptionist was an angelic young woman with short black hair, porcelain skin, and lips as glossy red as a washed apple. Her short-sleeved yellow top was simple yet professional, and Sora had to wonder if being good-looking and stylish was a requirement to work here...

Riku was only halfway across the foyer before she spotted him, and her face lit up with the friendliest smile Sora had ever seen, rivaling even Aerith's.

"Welcome back, Mr. Edenbrook!" she said with genuine cheer. Then, spotting Sora, she added, "And with a cute guest, I see!"

When she flashed him her warm smile, butterflies danced through Sora's gut. And he had thought Kairi was adorable! Maybe he had a soft spot for girls with really nice smiles?

But then Riku returned her greeting with a smile that could charm the devil, and Sora felt his insides turn to mush. All right—girls were cute, but there was still no doubt in Sora's mind that Riku would always, always be his favorite. Was it possible to fall head over heels for the same person over and over again?

Caught in an admiring daze, Sora watched Riku and the receptionist exchange words and smiles with each other, Riku complimenting her on her new hair, the receptionist teasing him about his slight sunburn. By the time the pleasant conversation was over with, Sora was being handed a laminated visitor's badge, and she was cheerfully waving them off and wishing them luck.

Sora had no idea what really had been said between the two of them—most of his attention had been on how downright sexy Riku could become at the drop of a hat, and he did it so naturally it was scary!

As Riku led him away from the circular desk, Sora realized he couldn't even remember the receptionist's name—Flower? Star? Snow? Snow sounded right...

"She was really nice," Sora noted as they climbed the grand staircase together. He hoped everyone else was as welcoming, but somehow he had a feeling reality would have some surprises for him.

He was right.

"She is," Riku agreed with a laugh. "And you know, she totally flirted with you while you were zoned out."

Wait a sec—

"Wha—she did?" Sora asked, blinking in confusion. "When? Huh?"

How had he managed to miss that?

Riku just smirked at him from over his shoulder, and Sora tried not to blush. He was definitely out of his element. And why would Riku tease him with something like that when they were together?

Once on the second floor of the foyer, Riku was stopped by a pair of people leaving the elevator. Judging from the supplies they were carrying, they were hair stylists, and neither of them spared Sora a second glance as they began chatting with Riku as if they'd known him for years.

Wondering why he was being ignored, Sora figured that maybe he didn't stand out as much as he'd feared.

Granted, he looked tame compared to Riku, wearing just a designer hoodie beneath a casual blazer (that effectively hid most of his sling), expensive dark jeans, and name-brand shoes. Maybe he was too normal for most of the people here to care, even if this "normal" was a completely different style for him.

Thankfully, Riku didn't chat long with the hair stylists. He was as charming as usual, but he quickly dropped Sephiroth's name into the conversation and mentioned his encroaching meeting.

The discussion came to an immediate halt, and the stylists exchanged serious looks with each other. Apparently, that's all it took to end the conversation—they understood not to make Sephiroth wait.

They wished Riku luck and left together.

Though Sora expected Riku to say something about them, he didn't.

It wasn't until they were inside the vacated elevator that Riku finally sighed and relaxed against the wall. The doors swooshed closed, and he stared down at the row of numbers for a long moment before he punched in the number for the top floor, reluctantly, as if sealing his fate.

The elevator purred to life, and a soft orchestrated melody filled the silence between them. The number of floors climbed on the digital display, and Riku's eyes were trained to those red numbers as if they counted to his doom.

After a few seconds, Sora couldn't stand the tension anymore. He didn't know what the impending appointment with Sephiroth was all about, so he didn't know what to say to ease Riku's nerves... But that didn't stop him from talking.

"Hey—I was wondering."

Drawn out of his reverie, Riku glanced at him. "Hm?"

"What was the point of all of this if almost everyone's just gonna ignore me?" Sora asked, gesturing at his clothes. "After all that work this morning..."

At that, Riku cracked a small smile. "Goof. I dressed you up so they wouldn't look at you." His attention returned to the Sephiroth Countdown. "Trust me—anything more or less than that, you would've gotten a lot of unwanted attention."

Ohhh. In other words, Riku would have gotten a lot of unwanted attention. He was covering his own butt as well as Sora's.

As the elevator rose higher, Riku began to fidget, his hands smoothing out his clothes as if he didn't already look perfect. Sora would have teased him if the elevator hadn't begun to slow down.

Riku scowled as the car came to a stop just a floor below their destination. "Damn it..." He stood straight and shifted closer to Sora, his entire posture suddenly rigid.

Somehow, Sora sensed Riku wasn't disgruntled because they hadn't reached Sephiroth's office; rather, there was something on this floor that had him spooked.

The elevator gave a happy ding as the doors slid open, and Sora froze, eyes wide, as he realized where Riku's tension had come from.

He'd only seen one picture of him before, but it was hard to forget someone as distinctive as the man waiting to step onto the elevator.

That serious, handsome face.

Long silky hair even whiter than Sephiroth's.

Milk chocolate skin.

Relatively young and dressed to kill.

Sora immediately recognized him.

The creator of Ars Arcanum, and Riku's fifth (evil) ex-boyfriend.

Ansem's lionlike eyes focused on Riku, and a darkly delighted smile curled at his lips.

"Welcome back... Riku."


(The Scott Pilgrim-ish reference at the end was entirely accidental at first. Then after I wrote it, I burst into laughter and decided I had to keep it.)

I know it's been a long time... But let me know you still exist! Comments, Critiques, Review?