AN: This is a fic I've been dying to post! It's pretty cliché at the beginning, very fluffy and upbeat, but it eventually takes a deliciously sinister turn. Because my other fic is essentially all sap, I needed another darker project to work on, just so I can get rid of all my pent-up angst. Please stick with this story. If I write it correctly, it'll be a really emotional and romantic ride. Not beta-ed, though. Sorry!

Warnings: RikuxSora, LeonxCloud, and it's Vegas, so there'll be a fair share of violence and stripping and clubbing. :D Future rape, and buckets of angst; it's not a happy tale. Also requires a basic knowledge of Vegas, the hotels and all...though I'm taking creative liberties and adding restaurants and clubs where needed.

Comments adored. I'm still a KH-fanfic Newbie; any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Evening, Softly
By azneyez

Having just flown in from Manhattan, Las Vegas wasn't as much of a culture shock as it could've been: same tall buildings, same hustle-and-bustle and teeming streets, same load of bitchy, superficial people who cared solely about their own cheap needs. The only difference was that Vegas tried to cover it up. It disgusted him. Under a layer of beautiful flashing lights, extravagant hotels, and gaudy tourist shows, one could almost believe that the city was a good place, a fun place--and it was, to the naive newbies. But Riku could see the faces of residents...they were sick, haggard. Exhausted.

"Riku, this place is fantastic," his dad had insisted, sweeping open his curtains to display the vast, glittering aerial of the Strip. "Casinos. Musicals. Places to drink, get incredible about the Excalibur? The roller coasters?"

"The dumbshit tourists," Riku responded, peering up from his easel, which he'd set up as far away from the balcony as he could. "The lewd flyers that people shove into your face when you walk down the street. The mothers with seven children who spend their food money playing the slots. Yeah, dad, really goddamn fantastic. If you like living in the nine levels of hell, this is definitely the place for you."

Of course, his dad had smacked the shit out of him for that, but it was worth it to get it off his chest.

For the first week, every night was the same--Riku would shower, go downstairs for a drink, and wander idly around the city with his sketchpad in search of inspiration. For such a busy area, there certainly was a lack of insightful material. Everything was like cardboard...flat, insipid, two-dimensional. He avoided the attractions, opting to stay in the casino areas of the hotels--no way was he going to get suckered into paying a fortune for some stupid show. He quickly found a home in the Luxor. The hotel wasn't quite like the others. It was gaudy, to be sure, and it was constantly brimming with the same pathetic people--but something about its glistening black exterior was alluring...classy. The Luxor's Egyptian theme had a rare elegance that Riku appreciated.

Even the employers seemed stylish and friendly. As he wove through the maze of cheerful slot machines, he could see the sophisticated table dealers, clad in sleek black pants and matching vests. Their white dress shirts were always ironed free of wrinkles, the cuffs turned up cleanly at the wrist, and their bowties were almost comically straight. One of these dealers--an attractive blonde man with cheery eyes--smiled and waved him over as he passed.

"Seen you come through here before," he said. "Try your luck?"

"No, thanks," said Riku. "I've got money in my pocket, and I'd like to keep it there."

"Toldja he was too smart." The blonde man laughed, turning to his right. For the first time, Riku noticed the man's companion--a sweet-faced boy who could've almost passed for sixteen or seventeen if they hadn't been in a "21 " area of the casino. He was wearing the same pants as the dealer, but no vest, and he was swimming in his dress shirt. The sleeves went well past his knuckles. His cheeks turned a little pink as Riku glanced at him, and he smiled expansively, peering back with the prettiest blue eyes Riku had ever seen.

"Well, what are you doing here, then, if not to gamble?" he asked, winking. "If you're interested in Cloud, he's taken."

Riku looked at the blonde--Cloud--who just rolled his eyes and grinned. "That's okay," said Riku, beginning to smile as well. "No offense...I guess I just go for a different type."

"What's your type?"

"Brown hair, sort of small," said Riku lightly. He shot a sideways look at the boy, who met the gaze shyly. "And...I like sweet smiles. Cute faces. And beautiful blue eyes."

Cloud's grin broadened. "Sounds like you want the whole package. Geez, Sora..." he pointedly nudged his companion, who swatted at him and blushed. "Where do you think we'd find someone like that? The only people I know who look like that snore really loudly. And they borrow other people's clothes and don't give them back."

Sora hit him playfully with one of his oversized sleeves. "If you're talking about me, I don't have beautiful eyes. And would you rather I walk around naked?"

Riku coughed involuntarily. Cloud glanced at him, then snickered.

"Tell you what, sir," he said, whipping out a pack of cards and waving them enticingly before Riku. "Let's just play one game. One draw each, high card wins. You're supposed to be betting chips or cash, but since we're having a slow night, I'll make an exception. You play against Sora. You each pick a prize. It can be anything you want, okay?"

"If you agree, I'm playing for thirty bucks," said Sora. "I know that's kinda steep for a high draw, but I really need a new microwave. Is that okay?"

"Yeah," said Riku. An idea flashed in his mind, and he grinned. "Yeah, that's fine."

"Not even a blink," Cloud observed. "This one's a keeper, Sora. He must be rich out his ass."

"I'm not sure about that visual, but yeah, pretty much."

Sora beamed as he dragged his chair around the table so he sat next to Riku. He put a hand on Riku's knee, sending about a thousand volts of electricity through him. "Thank you so much for this," he said sincerely, leaning over. Riku struggled not to look down his shirt and failed miserably. "I know we just met and all, but thanks for being so friendly."

"It means a lot to a prostitute without a microwave," Cloud added sweetly.

"I am not a prostitute!" Sora turned to Riku, sulking. "Do I look like a prostitute?"

"Stripper, my bad," said Cloud. "I forgot, prostitutes don't dance."

"Some of them do, for an extra twenty," Riku pointed out, and they both burst out laughing.

"I'll spare you a lecture on the nuances of stripping and whoring, on account of my really wanting that microwave," said Sora. He was still pouting. The expression was oddly drew attention to his lips. He turned to Riku. "So what do you want if you win? I have no cash, sorry. But I have coupons! You can have as many green beans and Little Debbie cakes as you want!"

"No sexual favors, either," Cloud added. "My calling him a prostitute is completely ironic--he's a virgin."

Sora turned red again, punching him in the arm and sending cards everywhere. "Cloud Strife!"

"Whaaat? Shouldn't your future husband know of your dainty nature?"

"Way to disclose personal information! Why don't you just buy a huge, glittery billboard on the Strip that says, 'Come bang Sora, the world's poorest, loudest snoring, microwave-less virgin stripper?'"

"It'd spark the interest of too many perverts," said Cloud, making a face, and despite himself, Sora began to giggle.

"You're one to talk, Mr. I-Do-Not-Have-a-Shoe-Fetish!"

Cloud pretended to drool. "Nnggh...Reeboks..."

"Are you two dating? Or maybe related?" asked Riku. "Both?"

"Eeew!" Sora went into another giggling fit. "We're not from Arkansas."

"Ouch, Sora, political correctness? But on both counts. We've just been friends forever. We did date for a year or so, but it really wasn't meant to be. I mean, I used to baby-sit him when he was eight. Kinda sick, huh?" Having finally retrieved the deck from the floor, Cloud began shuffling with that practiced Las Vegas flair, flipping the cards so quickly that they almost seemed to disappear. He gathered the deck and fanned it across the table in a neat arc. "Indicate your card, sir."

Riku pointed to a card near the center of the curve. Cloud plucked it out and slid it facedown to Riku, then nodded at Sora.

"Your go, Snoring Virgin."

"That sounds like some weird tribal name," said Sora, tapping a card.

Cloud extricated the card, and Sora scooped it up. "Okay, so we don't have any cheaters, pick up your card and show it to me. Angle them so the other person can't see what it is. Sora first."

Sora turned his card towards Cloud.

"The virgin has the Queen of Hearts," said Cloud after a moment. "You, sir?"

Riku hesitated, then showed his card—the eight of clubs.

"Ding ding, we have a winner!" Cloud cheered, winking. "The ace of spades."

"Hey, I don't have--"

"No way," Sora argued, pouting again. "His beating my Queen of Hearts goes against the odds...I was feeling so lucky tonight, too!"

"You may still get lucky tonight," Cloud pointed out, wriggling his eyebrows, and Sora swept up the deck of cards and sprayed them at him. "Hey! The game's not fifty-two card pick-up!"

"Fair's fair," said Sora, sighing, turning to Riku as Cloud dipped down to retrieve the cards for the second time that night. "What do I owe you?"

Deep breath. Riku took the plunge: "How about a date?"

There was a long pause, broken only by the thwuck of Cloud banging his head soundly on the table. Sora blinked at him, blue eyes shining. The pink patches had return to his cheeks, making his face glow. It made Riku's heart pound heavily in his chest. He's beautiful, Riku thought helplessly. God help me, he's so beautiful.

"That would be nice," Sora responded at last, treating him to a soft, shy smile. "Even better than a microwave."

Riku grinned wildly at him, repressing the urge to jump up and down and scream with happiness. "Great! That's...this is great!"

Sora's smile widened. "When are you free?"

"Um...right now? Is that too short notice, or--"

"Oh, no! No, now would be perfect!"

"Sora, I refuse to let you go until your date answers me one question," Cloud declared, emerging from under the table.

Riku swallowed. "Yes?"

"What's your name?"

"'s Riku," he said, relieved. "Riku Marshak."

"Well, pleased to meet you then, Riku Marshak." They shook hands, then Cloud glanced cautiously to the side. Sora had turned around and was quickly examining his appearance on one of the mirrored columns near the slot machines. "Mr. Marshak," Cloud continued more quietly, solemn for the first time since they'd met. "Treat this one well, please? Sora's...he's just very special to me. To a lot of people. Right now he's just a pretty face, but when you get to know him better, you'll realize that the most beautiful part of him is his heart."

"I've known him for two seconds, and I already think he's more than a pretty face to me," Riku confessed, his voice low with embarrassment.

"Great answer. Just keep everything in mind, okay? You break his heart, I break your neck. That whole spiel."

"Should I run home and change?" asked Sora nervously, rejoining the group.

"No," said Riku. "You're perfect."

Cloud brightened at this response. He met Riku's gaze significantly, as if to give him a mental nod of approval. "You kids have fun, then. No excessive drinking. Avoid dark alleys. And if you decide to do the dirty deed, make sure you have the proper Sunday supplement coverage."

Sora winced. "Cloud."

"--but I don't have to worry about that with you, Sora, do I? Because you never sleep with someone on the first date. Or the second. Or the sixtieth."

"Time to go," said Sora, laughing, seizing Riku's hand and dragging him across the room to the exit in a sprint. And Riku just grinned, perfectly content to be dragged--as long as Sora's soft fingers were intertwined with his, it seemed he could put up with just about anything.

"What do you do, Sora?"

Sora smiled at this, lowering his fork and shrugging. "Cloud told you, I strip," he said. His dignified professionalism almost disguised the sad notes in his voice, but his eyes, which were suddenly overbright, betrayed him. "Pay's pretty good. And it's easy work. I just do a few choreographed dance numbers, try to look more sexually experienced than I really am, and cash a big fat paycheck every Tuesday. It's a good life, huh."

"For some people," Riku agreed.

They were sitting across from each other in a booth at Mauna Kea, a Hawaiian restaurant set a block or so off the Strip, so the prices were more reasonable. The tropical décor made for an invigorating, romantic atmosphere, and everything was softly set aglow by tiki torches. Sora looked so gentle in the sunset-ish lighting. Riku just couldn't believe he was a stripper, and he told him as much. Sora giggled.

"What do I look like, then?"

"A adorable country singer," said Riku with a grin. "You look to me like the sort of optimistic type, with a beautiful, deep soul of secrets...someone who sings the songs of his heart."

"Wow," said Sora.

"Yeah, that was a little over the top, but you get the picture."

"No!--well, maybe just a bit, but it was cute! But I'm surprised because I was actually born in Louisiana, Southern drawl and everything. My family moved to Nevada when I was seven. I've been losing the accent ever since. You can only hear it when I'm pissed or drunk off my ass, but hopefully you'll never see me under any of those circumstances."

"And you're obviously optimistic, so I was right on a couple of counts! Dude, I should be charging for this!"

"Yeah, better than any fortuneteller I've ever been to," Sora added, snickering. "The only inaccuracy is that I could never make it as a country singer."

"You don't sing?"

"Not well, no. I mean, I love to's truly my passion...but I can't so much as carry a tune. I'm strictly a shower-singer."

"Great, when can I see you perform?"

"Riku, you're such a pervert. It's wonderful."

They both laughed again, taking a minute or so to catch up on their cooling meals. Riku spooned soup into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully as he watched Sora sip at his soda. "Hey Sora, you said singing is your passion...but when I asked you what you did, you immediately said that you were a stripper. Why?"

"I just thought you were referring to my profession," said Sora.

"Yeah...but I don't want to hear the all-purpose 'about me' that you give to all your other dates. I want to know your favorite ice cream, if you're afraid of the dark...the workings of your souls, if you will. I...I want to know your passions, and everything about you."

For one terrible second, Riku imagined Sora rolling his eyes and sliding out of the booth, muttering that he was an over-analytical dullard. It had happened before. That was why Riku never made dating a habit. His mouth would just bolt from him, running on and on until he felt as if he'd properly expressed his feelings...and then, in the awkward silence that followed, he would realize that he'd made a complete ass of himself.

Sora was quiet for a long time after this admission, fiddling with straw. His face was unreadable.

Riku finally found his voice, choked with uncertainty. "I'm a rambling fool. And far too sentimental for my own good. I'm sorry; please forget I said anything...I don't mean to get on that soapbox."

"On the contrary," said Sora softly, "I owe you an apology. For assuming you were the type who just wanted to hear shallow things like, 'I'm a stripper.'"

There was another long pause.

Sora smiled his dazzling smile suddenly, straightening with newfound confidence. "So, my name is Sora H. DeMaverick. I had my twenty-first birthday three months ago. I had a garden back in Louisiana, but now all I have to my name is a spider-infested hotel room and a beautiful cat named Todders. When I'm not at work or chopping coupons from newspapers, I play the piano and sing. It's actually my dream to be a famous country singer. I've never told that to anyone before, Riku. Not even Cloud."

"And you can do anything you want to," Riku said with a grin. "You're incredible. Not only are you drop-dead gorgeous, you're the first person who actually understood my 'I want to know you' speech."

"And you're the first person who cared to know." Sora reached across the table and squeezed Riku's hands. "So, tell me about yourself."

"Well, my name is Riku Marshak...and I think I'm in love."

For the first time in nearly five years, Sora DeMaverick fell asleep during a date and woke up without a desperate feeling of panic. He was comfortable, and his head was oddly clear--there was no need to check his drinks for surreptitiously placed drugs or alcohol, and his clothes were untouched. He must've fallen asleep at the movie theatre--terribly rude, he scolded himself, who conks out on their first date?--but Riku had been a perfect gentlemen. Of course, he expected nothing less. Riku...Riku was special. Riku was amazing.

There was a note taped to his nightstand, over the digits of his alarm clock. Sora rolled over in his bed to grab it, opening it and losing himself briefly in Riku's scent. He smiled as he scanned Riku's messy cursive.

Adorable Singing Sensation,

You passed out during the movie. Did you drink before dinner, or something? You were out cold. Found your address in your wallet. The manager (I think you must know him?) let me in, but told me I was not to stay in there for more than a minute. Seemed to be rightfully worried about what could happen between an EXTREMELY deep sleeper and a creepy old guy like me.

I admit to accidentally brushing your leg as I fished the wallet out of your pants pocket, but that's ALL; I nearly killed myself carrying you to your bedroom without touching any sensitive body parts. Don't want to be Chester the Molester, heh. Props to me.

You look like an angel when you sleep.

Love from Riku

P.S. I got you a present on my way to your apartment. Left it with the nice manager at the front desk, along with my number. Call me sometime and make my day, won't you please?

Laughing, Sora hugged the letter and scrambled out of bed, nearly stepping on Todders as he rushed to slip on his shoes and hurry out of his room. Not waiting for the elevator, he skipped down the stairs two at a time. Leon, his handsome hotel manager, glanced up at him as he burst into the room.

"Were you drugged?" he asked sharply. "What happened?"

"I went to a movie, and I guess I fell asleep," Sora admitted timidly. "Thank goodness it was Riku. That could've been bad."

Some of the anxiety melted away from Leon's expression, and he shrugged, brushing chocolate-brown bangs out of his eyes. "As long as you're aware of what could've happened. I understand you're not stupid, Sora. You wouldn't let your guard down around someone you don't trust. This Riku...?"

"He's the one we met yesterday night," said Cloud, emerging from the back room and giving Leon a good-morning kiss. "The rich boy. Does he have as many brains as dollar bills, Sora?"

"He's wonderful," said Sora, closing his eyes and smiling dreamily.

"If he didn't jump you last night, I'm impressed," said Leon.

Cloud smirked. "Yeah, and he left you a gift. Oh, Sora, you'll laugh your ass off when you see it."

Leon brought a large cardboard box from behind the desk and set it carefully on the counter. Frowning, Sora stepped forward and shuffled curiously through the bubble wrap. He hit something hard and gripped the corners, tugging it free of the package.

"It''s a microwave!"

Cloud burst out laughing at Sora's delighted expression. "See? Now you both got your prizes for the high-draw!"

"Yes," said Sora, hugging the microwave. He grinned shyly, suddenly overwhelmed with an urge to cry. "But in all honesty...I think getting the chance to meet Riku was the real prize."

"Tacky," remarked Leon.

"Yes, and you just love it, don't you?" Cloud teased.

Leon just smiled.

End of part one! Does it suck? I even appreciate flames; flames are reviews, right?