'Open Ended'

When Riku had first found himself relocated like he was, tossed up into what he considered to be the 'northern woods' of the world-- he had already had a plan in the making, though even he himself was unaware of it. He had already decided to lock himself up--just a man in a tower in a nowhere hell-zone, iron bar at the door and no way out. He'd figured he was as good as done, that without the sands and Destiny shores, without his dad's too-loud laughter and without his mom's wicked tendency of overcooking pancakes-- without that, without those, he was done for.

For who could live with Mayako's perfectly balanced meals and her husband's silent, shadow of a self roaming the halls of a house no one really, really lived in?

Yes, Riku had condemned himself to die well enough before his day. But what he hadn't counted on was Kairi. What he hadn't counted on was Roxas. What he most certainly hadn't counted on was Sora.

...And what he most certainly, certainly hadn't counted on, was the worst psychiatrist the east coast had to hack up for him.

"So. You two have been having... sexual relations?"

Roxas seemed to squirm slightly in his seat at that, but was cool enough about it to make it seem like he was just trying to get comfortable. "Not lately," he corrected Jones.

If he had given a damn about the entire ordeal, Riku might have bothered to step in. He might actually have bothered to correct Roxas with a loud and obnoxious-- "BUT WAIT! What about that hand job you gave me last night? Was that not sexual enough for you?" But as it was, Riku didn't really give a damn. He just smirked. 'Not lately.' Right. Whatever, Roxas.

"Riku. Why don't you take it easy for a while, hm? Try not to think about your parents."

What the hell kind of psychiatrist are you? 'Oh, well, you can't handle your problems, so just don't address them at all!' My ass. A goldfish would be a better counselor than you, you sonofa--

"I'm going to up your prescription for Prozac and I think it would probably benefit you if you took some sleeping pills for a while. Nothing heavy, mind you. Just enough to get you a good night's sleep, enough to calm your nerves somewhat. The last thing we want is a relapse like what we saw--" Jones coughed. His fingers came together, index and thumb from each hand forming a perfect A. He coughed again. "Well, you understand."

No. Actually, I don't.

"Are you listening to me, Riku?"

Not especially-- no. Fucktard.

"Yeah, I hear you," Riku said.

You're making my ears bleed, Jones. Bleed.

"Alright. Take this slip out to your aunt and your medication should be ready at the pharmacy in half an hour or so."

x x x

A knock at the door. It opened even though Riku hadn't even said anything. Hadn't even bothered to acknowledge the knock to begin with.



"You're not mad, are you?"


"I was just trying to--"

"What, to help?" Riku rolled his eyes and when they'd finished rolling, they weren't even focused on the kid in front of him, but off to the side, somewhere by the laundry basket. "Look, Roxas," he snapped. "I don't know what good you think you being here is doing. It's not doing anything. Okay? You make things worse. Wherever you go. You just can't keep your goddamn nose out of other people's lives, can you?" He was tilting the desk chair, one arm slung over the back of it, the other resting on the desk. "You're not a help, Roxas, okay?"


And then Riku felt something pressed into his hands, a lightweight piece of paper he could almost see straight through. Riku didn't think to focus on it. He looked to Roxas instead, curious and angry and not much else.

"It's a gravestone rubbing," Roxas explained slowly. Noticing Riku didn't take his eyes off him, noticing Riku was waiting on more of an explanation of sorts, Roxas sighed. "I talked to your aunt," he said. "Maybe you should, too."

Snorting, Riku's hands curled around the paper, crumpling it up into a fine ball which was promptly deposited on the guest room floor.

"Thanks, but no," he said.

Roxas had gone stiff with something that was probably akin to rage, but not exactly identical in nature. There was too much sadness in his expression for it to be any sort of true rage. Mulling over all this, Riku almost missed Roxas snap, glare, hiss-- "You know, Riku--" and then stop. Roxas closed his eyes, breathed in slowly. And he shrugged. "No. Nevermind. Sorry. It was--"

"Why don't you just go home, already, Roxas?" Riku asked suddenly. He hadn't originally meant for the words to sound so harsh. Really, they were supposed to have stayed inside his head, a quiet question never posed. But there they were, out in the open like, and seeing Roxas so hurt and so angry and so not quite enraged... Riku only got more fired up. Only got more insanely motivated to break the boy down and send him packing. So he sneered, said-- "Scamper on back to Naminé so you can tell her I'm absolutely goddamn peachy, would you? But just get out of my face already."

Feeling satisfied and sickened, Riku turned to face a wall. He didn't want to stare at Roxas' confusing face anymore. But all he found to face him on the wall was a myriad of drawings and smiling stick figures. All he found to face him on the wall were confusing memories of Sora he didn't feel like facing either.

Did I really scare him away that much? It wasn't like it meant anything. Doesn't he get that?

"This is why you're all alone, Riku," Roxas said from behind him.

What's why? Riku blinked at the slam of the door at the shuffle and bang of feet on the stairwell, sneakers on the tile, hand on the door. Slam. Over. Riku stared at his shoes, where a pair of familiar laces-- now crusted with dust and dirt and rain and sun-- looked up at him with a thousand multicolored smiles twisted and wrenched upside down. It took Riku a moment to realize that all the upside down smiles were frowns, but when he realized it, he really started feeling bad. He felt bad for the rest of the day, until he slipped into a sleep where he didn't sleep much, where he dreamed more and smiled less.

x x x

When Riku woke up, he was alone. Who knew where Roxas had spent the night. Mayako told Riku that Roxas had come by early that morning and gathered his things. Riku hadn't even stirred. Roxas was going home. And he was staying with his aunt.

By the time Kairi got around to strolling on over to Mayako's house, Riku had done a fair amount of thinking. He had come to the conclusion that he was a complete, total, utter jackass who had some kind of warped and twisted character that was absolutely undeserving of any other sort of living partner the world might have to spit up into his arms. He'd scared Sora away, driven Roxas away, and quite frankly, he was pulling straws out of his hand faster than he could replenish them and they ripped and burned and tore through skin.

Even more so when his foot crushed against something on the guest room floor.

Even more so when he smoothed out the surface of the paper, only to find a very, very eerie sight spreading out before him.

'Riku Wataya'

- February 10th, 1989 -

Kairi's light tap on the door startled him so much he nearly tore the sheet clean in two, oblivious as to how rigid his entire body had gone. He just stared at Kairi and Kairi stared back and he prayed, hoped that she would have some kind of explanation, if for no other reason than because she was Kairi. And Kairi always had explanations.

"Is this some kind of sick joke?" His voice shook and broke on 'joke' and it probably would've been funny and ironic if Riku's mind wasn't still paralyzed in a time setting two minutes too old. He watched Kairi come forward, he watched her throat move as she swallowed the piece of gum she'd been chewing on when her eyes settled on the paper Riku still clung to. The girl raised one curious little hand, almost as though she were to attempt to touch the paper if only to prove its reality. But she set her hand on Riku's shoulder instead and gently shoved him backwards into his desk chair before carefully plucking the paper from his hands. She studying it again, this time more closely, this time more slowly, until her brows were furrowed and her faced screwed up with confusion and not much else.


Riku told her. "Roxas gave it to me. He's gone now. He said he talked to Mayako. But how did he get this?"

"How does anyone get a grave rubbing, Riku?"

"Why is it my name?"

"What makes you think I know?"

Honestly, Kairi had just wanted to know if Riku wanted to swim with her in her pool. She had wanted to ease him back into some kind of normalcy. She had wanted to talk to him about Sora. She had wanted to do the things normal teenagers do on summer weekdays, before the sun got too high, before the pressure built too much. But Riku's very nature made that too difficult. He just sat and stared and didn't think the thoughts Kairi thought. She knew he wouldn't want to go outside. She knew he wouldn't want to talk about Sora. Now he was fixated on another thing once again, and it wouldn't leave him alone.

She knew that much at least.

This will keep bothering you, she thought, until you see it through to the end, won't it?

Riku swallowed. He took a deep breath and clutched at his head to keep it from coming off because that's what it felt like it wanted to do, he could swear on it. Let it go and it'll spin off on me. All I wanted to do was get over this shit. I didn't need to know that much about my fucking family. I don't want to know about them anymore. I don't want to know about anything anymore. I'm just tired. I want this shit to be over, I want... He wanted for things to make sense. So he made sense of them as best he could under the time constraint at hand, for even though there really was no constraint, Riku forced one upon himself.

Kairi doesn't know anything.

He labeled it. Put a name and conclusion to it, other than coincidence. It was so he said, "I guess, in the end like this, everything revolves around death after all."

Kairi stilled.

"...Who says this is the end, silly?"

"No one, I just... It feels. Kind of like it might be. Maybe it's just a weird feeling that comes with seeing your own--"

"That's not your grave, Riku," Kairi said. Her hands were cool on his neck and Riku couldn't quite figure out why her hands were there, but they were smooth and comforting and he let his eyes slide closed and tried to breathe again. Kairi was saying something, but he couldn't bring himself to listen-- not until she was halfway through. Not until she had paused and then started up with: "You know, I'm sure some really smart guy somewhere once figured out that death isn't the end of one life and it isn't the beginning of another. It just is, you know? And it's a part of something so big and so unavoidable-- why should we fear it? Or hate it. Whichever it is you do."

"You surprise me, Kairi."

"How's that?"

"You must actually read books."

"Wh-- Hey!" Kairi's desperation and the room's seriousness melted into something easier to stomach and easier to handle. Riku was breathing freely, even when Kairi was laughing and tackling him in his chair, making some feeble attempt at whacking him multiple times on the back of the head. So when he was laughing, it felt genuine. And when he was laughing, it felt like he was okay. But when he was grabbing her wrists and twisting them backwards, he knew it was wrong. Possibly because of the strength he used against her and possibly because of the way she didn't put up any resistance.

So when he laughed again it didn't feel so genuine and all he wanted her to do was leave.

"God, you're a fucking twig," he said. "Come on, get off."


"No you're not."

And thinking it was still a game, Kairi giggled. Leaned in, poked him in the nose with her fingertip before tweaking his chin. "Aww, you saw through my poorly concealed bit of a fib." Her grin faded to a small curl of her small mouth and she straightened up back to stretch her full, small size. "Come on, Riku. Let's see a smile, huh?"

And for her, Riku forced a smile.

"There you are," she whispered. She knocked her forehead gently against his-- smiled, said, "You know. You're eventually going to have to accept it."

"Accept what?"

"Death. The people who strive for it and the people who avoid it."

When Kairi clambered off of Riku and slid on her flip-flops, she almost looked like the same girl who had surprised Riku out on the back porch some weeks ago. But this Kairi was smaller. This Kairi was weaker. She still had the same tan, still wore the same skirt, she reach out for Riku's hand when she wanted to drag him somewhere along with her. But she held onto both of Riku's hands-- not just one-- and she smiled a different smile, cocked her head in a different manner. She seemed fragile and Riku didn't quite know why. And perhaps he thought to ask her, but you should know he didn't. And perhaps you should know why he didn't. But perhaps you know already.

There are some days you don't want to know that people are weak. Because there are some days when you're not sure if you can take care of them while you try and take care of yourself.

"Which are you?" Riku asked. And when Kairi didn't understand-- be it out of denial or genuine confusion-- Riku almost didn't have the patience to explain. But he tapped a hidden reserve of the stuff, of the patience. Took his time and said, "Which are you? Someone who... someone who strives for it or someone who avoids it?"

Kairi stopped laughing and just sort of stared slowly and stupidly at him, like the words didn't quite register, or like if they did register, they only glanced off the side of her perfect little ears instead of seeping to the insides. She blinked, sat on the guest bed and drew her knees up to her chest. Riku sat back down in his desk chair and for a long, long while, neither of them made a move. Riku picked at the wood-grain of the desk. Kairi studied the ceiling with a kind of intrigue Riku hadn't figured the girl possessed for much of anything. A real space cadet, he thought to himself. How could I have missed that?

"Why don't..." Kairi started. And the way she trailed off, someone might have figured she'd up and changed her mind. But really, she was just watching the cobwebs on the ceiling move in the pulse of some kind of summer heat. "Why don't we go to the graveyard?" she said. "It would help, I think. It would let you figure some things out, I mean. It would give you an out. And you could piece all this together."

x x x

It had almost been too easy, the way it had all fit together. Mayako asked no questions as to where Riku went with Kairi. Kairi's parents weren't home to ask any questions to begin with. It was just a matter of walking a few close yards away and letting Kairi slide behind the wheel and power the car down the lanes and drives and parkways to reach the site.

Throughout the entire ordeal, Riku pretty much kept quiet. Kairi had her mix CD in and for once he was happy for the cavity-inducing pop sweetness that oozed out of the speakers-- anything that would rot his brain at that point was happily embraced. About three fourths of the way through the drive, a fine rain picked up. By the time they reached the graveyard, the fine rain had become a heavy downpour that drove against the windows and threatened to kill off Riku's only source of mental numbness he found in Kairi's music.

Kairi flipped her wrist, put the car in park. Turned to face the passenger's side, turned to ask, "Riku...? Riku, what made you say that?"

"Say what?"

"What you said back there. About... about whether I look for death or try to get out of it." Her tongue flicked out, licked her lips, darted back in. She cocked her head, moved one hand to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. She studied Riku with a sort of intensity Riku was quite prepared for and with a sort of intensity Riku wasn't entirely sure he wanted to be subjected to. "What made you ask me something like that?" she went.

"Look, it's not like... nevermind."

"No. Please?"

"I just said it-- I..." Riku shrugged. Slumped against the door like he didn't know what was going on, like he didn't know how he'd gotten there.

"May's really worried, Riku," Kairi said. She was leaning towards him and her seat belt was off and Riku could smell toothpaste on her tongue. "She's really, really worried. You've got your aunt worried, you've got your uncle worried, Roxas worried, Sora worried-- and heck knows you've got me worried, too. We thought you were getting better, but."

"But now you're not so sure." When Riku laughed then, he was so surprised by the sound he nearly slammed his head backwards against the glass. Instead he just swallowed the sound and gulped around the noise. Cleared his throat and fixed his friend with a stare to match her own intensity. Went, "So let's say, Kairi, that you actually were-- on some off chance-- really, really concerned. That you really, really wanted me to tell you what I think-- what I know-- is wrong with me."

Kairi blinked, sniffed, shifted in her seat. In Riku's head she was a scavenger suddenly, waiting for him to die so she could pick at all that remained. She was putrid, vile. Riku hated her and he couldn't begin to understand why. Couldn't begin to understand why-- for all that he hated her, loathed her, wanted to shove her out the car and scream and kick and curse her-- he felt so incredibly needed by her. It was this needy, whiney compulsion he silently accused her of having-- that compulsion that made him hate her so right then, though all her eyes could do was care and all her mouth could do was form a concerned little puckered pout that would not, could not be pushed from her face.

Fuck it.

"Well fine, Kairi," Riku said. "I'll tell you. Okay? I'll make things easy for you. Here it is, just for you. It's that I am now just so depressed that everything I used to love about this fucking world-- every stupid little thing I used to think was great and good in this stupid fucking world-- it all looks like crap to me. It is all absolute crap. And people, who I used to think there were so many of-- you know-- 'never be fucking lonely because of all these people'... All of these people are nowhere. If they haven't gone, if they haven't died, all they are is dust. And all they want is info and fucking analysis. The only people left are people who want to dissect me. In one way or another. Those who aren't gone and those who I don't push away-- they're just people who want to feel good about themselves by pointing out what's wrong with me."

What Riku had really wanted to say was that Kairi depressed him. Kairi with her hollow eyes and bony shoulders-- Kairi depressed him. What Riku had really wanted to say was that Sora depressed him. Because Sora and Kairi and everyone else seemed to have such a sad story for kids their age, because Sora and Kairi were the good guys and nothing bad ever happened to the good guys. Because Sora and Kairi were living proof that not everything would go according to plan.

If everything could go according to plan, they would be a couple. If everything could go according to plan, Kairi would be full and beautiful and happy looking. No one would call her a slut.

Kairi's arms around his neck, Kairi's head buried against his shoulder, her minty breath hot and coming in jagged little gasps because of course she was crying. But she was talking, too. She was saying something.

Of course she was saying something.

"I'm not just here to analyze you, Riku."

"Aren't you though? What the hell do you think you were just doing? How is that-- how is that not?" Riku's voice was getting louder, getting to rival the rain and quiet and Kairi was all sniffles and shivers and clinging to his shirt. "And now I'm yelling and you're crying again. And you'll probably leave just like everyone else. So go on, dammit. Just leave."

Kairi clinging to him like she'd die without him. "I won't," she kept saying. "I won't, I won't, okay? I won't. I won't... You can say all the horrible things you want, Riku. But I'm not going to go away."

Kairi, Riku thought, was quite possibly the strangest person he had ever met. She was bright, cheerful, ditzy, and yet painfully introspective all at once. And yet of all the people knew, Kairi was the only person Riku knew who could pull it off. Kairi was the only person Riku wouldn't change for the world. For all that he could hate her, want to hurt her, he would never change her. Not really.

At that one serious moment, with her hands on the wheel and her wipers squeaking across dry surface, Kairi was, in Riku's eyes, completely beautiful and hideous-- opposites at one time.

After a moment, after Kairi had stopped shaking and after he'd stopped wanting to hate her, he exhaled. He said, "...Okay."

And Kairi righted herself, slipped out of the car. Came to Riku's side and open the door, held out her hand.

"Come on. Let's go."

Riku never thought to ask how exactly Kairi knew where they were going. There were a lot of things he never thought to ask. Like why the stone angels in Destati looked so different from the stone angels on the Islands. These were older, sadder, more bent over their ground-bound little charges. None of them had lanterns and none of them looked to short of anything but miserable.

When they reached the grave, Riku wasn't sure he felt quite alive. Immediately following that thought-- 'What the hell, am I dead?'-- came 'Of course I'm not. Fucking idiot. This is just a dead cousin. Just a dead baby cousin who no one gives a rip about anymore. That's all it is. That's all this is.'

There was no angel over this grave and for that, Riku was glad. This way, he figured, I won't feel guilty for hating on the dead.

Kairi hesitated for only a split second, and Riku would've completely missed it if he hadn't been watching her out of the corner of his eye. He still hadn't figured out why she'd thought it would do him any good in coming with her to a graveyard, for crying out loud. What a quick fix for depression-- a little side trip to a grave that looks remarkably like your own will when you do finally kick the bucket. Kairi, you're an absolute genius. Bravo.

That occurred during Kairi's hesitation. After Kairi's hesitation? Both were kneeling by the grave, Kairi having tugged Riku's unsuspecting arm down along with her, bringing the boy to his knees. She cleared her throat. Nodded her head. Said, "Hey kid. ...Um. ...I'm Kairi. I guess you don't know me. ...You have no reason to, I mean. I'm, like... I'm not in your family or anything and I really didn't know about you until just... really recently. For someone so little, you sure did do a lot of damage, you know. But it's okay. I'll take care of it. I'll make sure Riku knows how to take care of it, too. I'm sorry we could never be neighbors."

Kairi smiled. Nodded like she'd done a grand old thing. And when Riku just stared quite stupidly at the stone in front of him, she cleared her throat a little again, nudged him with her elbow.

"This is dumb," Riku said.

"No it's not. You'll feel better. Trust me, Riku. Look. If you were him, wouldn't you want to know people cared about you? Graveyards are lonely places. So?"


"Don't be like that, Riku Wataya."

Riku rolled his eyes. He almost cursed, but thought better of it. There were probably better places to be swearing that didn't involve dead people and disrespect and whatnot. So he rolled his eyes, wriggled his hands into his pockets. "...Fine, fine," he said. Something of a belated response, but good enough for Kairi as she smiled, nodded, rose to her feet.

"I'll be waiting in the car, m'kay?"

"Yeah, okay."

And then there was silence.

Riku blinked.

Riku sighed.

Riku chewed on the inside of his cheek and tapped the roof of his mouth thoughtfully with his tongue and dug at the dirt with the toe of his sneaker and shifted on his knees to feel the dirt seep into the denim.

"This is stupid," he muttered. He waited a moment. He sighed once more for good measure. "Okay. Uh. Your mom and dad, they... Yeah. Look. Um. Damn. ...Look. Your parents miss you. And... and I miss my parents. So. I guess we're kind of... not on the same page or anything. Maybe we are. ...Stupid, stupid, stupid... I'm sorry for not taking care of your parents. I've done a pretty shitty job of it, huh? I made your mom cry. I know that much, at least." Riku sighed. Things not going well was becoming more of a frequent kind of occurrence with him. "...Why'd you have to go and die, you stupid little brat? You were just a goddamn kid. You had it so easy."

And then Riku stopped. Not because he felt stupid and not because he felt embarrassed. He just ran out of things to say. And no matter how long he stared at his shoelaces, no matter how long he ran his eyes over their stamp-on smiles and round little faces-- no matter how much time he spent there, he knew he probably wouldn't be able to come up with much else to say. After all, there's only so much one-way dialogue that can go on between a teenager and a dead baby. There was only so much healing Riku would let himself be open to, and he'd just about reached his limit.

No going back now.

So he stood up, dusted the dirt off his knees, scratched the back of his neck, studied the headstone a bit more. He let out a quiet, contemplative sort of "Huh," let one hand linger on the stone, and then left. He wasn't lame enough to look back and he wasn't enough of a bleeding-heart to start crying over it.

He just left.

x x x

"Roxas stayed with me last night, Riku. He told me. About you. About him. About what your life was like back on the islands. Do you miss it?"


"...I didn't go behind your back, Riku. It wasn't like that."

"Yeah. You just fucked Roxas."

"Please don't say that."

"It's the truth, isn't it? Go on, then. Tell me you didn't sleep with fucking Roxas."

"I didn't! I didn't sleep with him, Riku. I just... I just wanted to know you were going to be okay."

"Well here's a news flash for you, Kairi. I'm not going to be okay. And not you, not Roxas, not anyone can change that."

"What about Sora?"

"Not Sora."

x x x

Night fell like slow-motion deadweight in a zero gravity kind of an atmosphere. Riku sat and stared out the window and pined away for the hour when he could roll over and pretend to be asleep. It was a familiar feeling and it was one he wasn't the least bit comfortable in tackling, but there it was and there it was to be dealt with and handled in his own immature, teenage kind of way. He sighed. He wondered if he would ever walk through the door, look Mayako in the eye, and say, "Hey, I'm home."


Because it seemed like such a simple thing that he shouldn't have had any desire to say it. But it had popped up and taken root in his brain and wouldn't go away. "Hey, I'm home."


Unmistakable that time-- the sound of someone throwing some small something-or-other at Riku's bedroom window. And really, there was only one person it could possibly have been.

"Hey you."

Leaning out the window a little, Riku didn't quite know what to make of it. He was either delusional or high or simply very, very lucky. "Sora?" he said.

And for lack of anything better to do, Sora nodded. Sora smiled. Sora hooked his thumbs through his belt-loops and let himself ease back into a thoughtful slouch, let himself start speaking once he had at least thought of something to say. Not much else aside from that, but the saying was something it and of itself.

"So I've got this friend," Sora started. "And he's a real complete moron of a guy. He's kind of a deserter, on top of that. Maybe you've heard of him. Anyway. This friend's a total sap, too." He smiled, he shrugged. He was trying, more than anything, to not look like he wanted to turn tail and run-- which, in all fairness, he absolutely did. "I don't have much of a right to ask you anything, but it'd be great if you came down so we could talk. Just for a while."

Not knowing what else to do, Riku shut the window. And maybe, for half a second, he considered leaving it at that. A closed window, nothing more. But he felt his feet rolling across the carpet, pushing him down the stairs, propelling him towards the door. It was the unstoppable action-reaction sneak attack his body had built up and stored away from him. Action: Sora seeks attention. Reaction: Riku gives attention. Action: Sora asks to see you. Reaction: Your body asks to see Sora.

Outside the house it was warm and humid and promising a thunderstorm later. Even the lightning bugs were frenzied, bulbs bursting and blinking in the thick black air. Riku, arms folded, head bent, knees collapsing in so he was just sitting, just flopped down on the front steps, down before Sora. Down before Sora, who stood and stared and said nothing for a good minute or so.

Sora blinked. Smiled. Laughed and choked and coughed it up.

"Okay. Uh. This is gonna sound totally retarded," he said, "but now that you're here, I have no idea where to start."

Riku wanted to smile. He just didn't. "Well, how about coming off and saying who your friend is, huh?"

"Ha ha. Very funny." Sora sighed, rubbed his neck, chanced a peek at Riku through a heavy fray of bangs. "You're mean, you know that?" he asked. "That obvious, huh?"

Riku smirked. Couldn't help it. "Where've you been all my life, Sora?"

"Right here?"

"Okay, so where've you been the past... you know."

"...Roxas came to see me. Did you know that?"

"No." Roxas has a habit of getting around. Roxas has the biggest goddamn habit of getting everywhere and getting around. "He did?"

"Mmhm." Mouth hung open a moment, Sora tongue flicked out to wet his lips. Was he nervous or just bored of thinking? Either way, it was enough to pull a lazy, awkward smile from him. "I like him," he told Riku.

"Well, that makes one of us."

"Why are you so hard on him anyway, Riku?"

"I think I asked you a question first."

"...Right." A sigh, a fidget. Sora sank down to sit beside Riku, careful not to touch him, trying not to look at him. "Look," Sora mumbled, "I just... I just got a little... weirded out."

"Weirded out? You mean scared, right?"

"No, I don't mean 'scared', Riku. I mean what I mean."

Silence. Crickets were getting lazy and sloppy and all it was was watery air and tired bugs and confused kids on steps with nowhere to go and nowhere to be. And it was bad and getting worse and Riku feared it coming. So what if I don't fix things here? So what if this is it? What if I go through this year and what if it's hell? What'll it do to me? Will I even make it through it? If not my heart, what else could go wrong? What else could possibly get fucked up now?

"This isn't working, is it?" Riku's question was quiet and he wished he'd voiced it louder. Wished he hadn't voiced it at all, but easier to wish a fact different than to wish a fact gone.

"Not the way I'd planned..." Sora said.

"Try again?"

So Sora did. "I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean it like that."

"Like what?"

"Like... you scare me. You don't."

"Always good to hear."

Eyelids at half-mast and a tired little sigh. It had never occurred to Riku that Sora might possibly be tired, might possibly be losing sleep over all this. Riku slept sadness away, Sora stayed up through it, all through the night. There was probably some important difference between the two of them there that Riku just wasn't picking up on. That he still didn't pick up on, even when Sora's voice cut straight and clear and tried to be demanding. "Riku... don't just joke about it when it's serious, okay? You're so drop-dead serious all the time-- don't go changing on me when I need you to be like that!"

"Sorry," Riku said. It sounded lame, even to him, but there wasn't much else he could do or say.

"You don't scare me," Sora said again. More for his benefit than Riku's.

"Did what happened scare you? Was that it?"

Sora shrugged, hung his head. Sighed again. "I felt really, really bad, Riku," he said. "You could be dead."

"So could you. How does no one get that? A bomb could drop on us right now and we could all be dead. I mean, what does it really matter?"

"It matters to me, Riku. Maybe it doesn't matter to you because you think different from me. But it does matter to me. I don't want you dying just because you didn't take control of something you could have. Or should have. Or--" Sora's mental train derailed and powered itself down into the metaphorical ditch below. He grit his teeth, rubbed his temples, tried to pull it back together-- What do I mean, what do I mean?-- "Grrr..." He could have possibly meant to say that he didn't want to get his heart broken-- too cliche-- or perhaps he could've meant to tell Riku not to waste the life given to him-- too holier-than-thou-- and yet maybe, really, all Sora meant to say was exactly what he said. "It's not going to be okay between us anymore. You know that, right?" Swallowed, continued with, "I mean, this isn't something can just be forgiven and forgotten."

"What is there to forgive?" Riku asked.

"Me and you," Sora said. "You and me," he corrected himself. "Whatever," he tried. Saying and correcting and trying and pretty much failing. But it was the trying that was key and Riku's hand was reaching for his shoulder, shaking him around, grabbing his attention.

"So we made a mistake. And it was a... kind of big mistake. It was--"

"My idea."

"But I went through with it."

"So we're partners in crime now?"

"Exactly," Riku said, smiling. It was only half-forced, really, so it had to mean something. It had to be some kind of a good sign. Sora tickling patterns into the concrete surface and Riku only half-forcing a smile beside him. It had to be some kind of a good sign.

There was, what some would call, a sort of companionable silence after that. A short-lived companionable silence, both boys trying to get things in order so as not to end up sounding like a complete moron in front of the other when they actually did return to talking like normal people. And after the silence was an awkwardness, where Sora would open his mouth to speak and Riku would catch his voice in his mouth and back down and Sora would see this and shut up and Riku would almost jump in but figure at the last moment that Sora would want to speak first and Sora would figure it would be more polite to let Riku go and Riku didn't care about politeness but he did care about politics and politics was telling Riku that Sora should go.

So Sora went. he sighed and huffed and said--

"So how do you expect us to fight it, huh? Don't you ever think about anything but you, Riku? What would we all do if our entire stupid, pathetic lives came crashing down on us? How the heck do you think we would fight that? If there was no one who cared, if it felt like we'd done something so horrible and so wrong that we'd screwed up our lives and there was no fixing it-- that we'd messed things up so bad that there was no way out, that-- that--"

"What would you do?" Riku asked.

"What would we do?" Sora asked.

"You'd... fight it any way you could. Wouldn't you?"

"Then what are you doing?"

"I'm trying."

"Well you're not trying hard enough. I want a friend, Riku. I want a good friend. So can you handle that or not?"

'Can you handle that or not?' I don't know. I'd like to say I'll try, but I don't know if trying is even good enough anymore. Are we past trying? Or is that just all we've got left now?

"Well," Riku said, "friendship with you sure isn't something to be taken lightly, huh?"

"No. It's not. And if you ever even wanna hope to be more than friends with me, you better be willing to give it alllll up, buddy."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"I meant it though."


"When I asked what to do. I don't know what to do."

"Well. If people are going to make... that... like, suicide and all that... if they're gonna make it, like, trendy... if they're going to twist it in ways it isn't, I mean. If they're going to take it all wrong. That's just culture, man."


Riku nodded. He didn't actually know what he was talking about, but improvisation was talent you could develop, or so he'd heard. What he was saying was making sense to him, at least, and he'd known Sora to make sense out of some pretty nonsensical things, so Riku figure he was set enough. He propped himself up on his arms, nodded his head, said, "So. You don't like the culture? That means you join the ranks of the counterculture. And if the counterculture doesn't have it for you, you counter the counterculture. And you keep countering and countering until you've countered the bad and held onto the good. And then, I figure, you'll probably be set for life. Sound good?"

"Yeah. It sounds really good."

Riku moved again, had his arms looped over Sora's shoulders and his chin rested atop the ruff of messy brown hair he found on the kid's head. It was mutually decided then that they would stop talking for a while, if only to do nothing else than cool off, simmer down, try and let be all that wouldn't just be and be alone. Sora leaned back into Riku's hold, head slipping back and locking in the curve of Riku's neck and when Riku chuckled Sora felt his head shake and the boy's Adam's apple shift against his skull. It was a silly feeling, a weird feeling, but in spite of it all, it felt perfectly placed.

There could be no better way to carve out the end of a summer evening-- no better way than patching things up and making things better than they'd been before. Sora smiled. Sora figured he'd done well. Sora figured it would only get better. Sora figured... and he figured and figured and drew lines between the stars to make all the little pictures that danced in his head, pictures from the year ahead-- Riku and Sora and Kairi.

Sora turned his head to hear a heartbeat and breathe in Riku-- a faint smell of deodorant and freshly-washed flannel that had Sora torn between wanting to giggle like an idiot and wanting to bury his face deeper. He understood that doing that would make Riku think things were okay. And while Sora, more than anything, wanted for things to be okay, he refused to let himself play the role of laissez-faire lovebird anymore.

I'm going to be like Roxas, he decided. I'm going to face this head-on. Like... arm-wrestle problems to the ground and-- and kick them in the shins! All for Riku. Just for Riku...

That was ironic. But Sora didn't know. Roxas was already gone.

And yet when Sora began talking, he was talking, truly, for himself and no one else. Maybe he spoke partially for Riku's benefit, partially to clarify, to clue the boy in, to shed a little dirty light on an even dirtier situation. But really, he talked to release it all. If I'm going to face it head-on, I'm going to face it with a clean slate, too. I'm going to make it all right.

Sora turned himself around, faced Riku, his own arms twining around Riku's shoulders while he felt the other's encompass his waist. He opened his mouth, closed it again, opened it once more, and closed it when Riku smiled. I'm going to make it all right. Taking in air, Sora told his story to Riku, from beginning to end. He watched Riku's eyes the entire time. He refused to break that contact because if he did, who knows what Riku would think. Sora's eyes showed he was ashamed. Sora's eyes showed that he knew better now. They showed he learned his lesson and they showed he would be a better friend.

I'm not afraid.

That was why Sora didn't look away.

I'm going to make it all right.

"I'm going to make it all right," he said when he was done. His voice was cracked and sore and his throat felt like it'd been ripped wide open with a razor blade. He was aware Riku was gaping and he was aware his face was burning, but the words wouldn't leave his head and they kept pushing on. I'm going to make it all right all right all right all right all--

"Riku?" he asked.


"Do you think I'm a bad person? For all that? Do you hate me?"

"No. Never."

"This could be the hardest time in your life, you know. Wouldn't it be great if this was as hard as it got? If it only got easier from here on out?"

"Yeah. It would."

They stayed like that until they were comfortable with one another once again, until the silence gave way to some other breed of the stuff, softer and soothing and with some kind of bizarre healing properties that both kids had figured only existed in legend. The air didn't feel quite so stifling, the atmosphere didn't seem quite so heavy. For the first time in what felt like the longest time, the two of them could breathe just a little easier.

"Hey Riku?" Sora said.


"There's a faire coming to town tomorrow. We should go while it's here. Cotton candy and corn dogs and stupid, cheap, old rides. Sound good?"

And because he really couldn't think of anything else to say, Riku just smiled a little stiffly and shifted closer, just enough so he could slip an arm around the boy's shoulder. Sora eased into the hold like it was something natural, and because of that, Riku said, "Yeah, Sora. It sounds really good."

They had backtracked from a fancy Italian dinner to a carnival ride, but Riku didn't really care. If Sora was there, Riku was naive enough to think that everything would play out alright in the end. He had faith enough in the boy to follow him doggedly and blindly to wherever he wanted to go-- to the top of the world or to the top of some wild ride or another-- it didn't make the slightest bit of difference.

x x x

Mayako was sitting at the kitchen table, elbows bent, head poised over a heavy mug of tea. Riku walked in, plucked a package of crackers from the cupboard, munched away quietly in the corner, up against the counter. His aunt didn't move and he almost chanced a guess that she'd gone and fallen asleep. That at any second she would pitch forward, face in her mug and tea up her nose and Riku would have no choice but to laugh stupidly and helplessly.

But she wasn't asleep. She was just there, tired and drawn and old.

"May?" Riku asked. When she didn't seem to answer, he shoved two more crackers in his mouth. Waited in the silence, made an effort of chewing loud and slow to let her know he was still there, still waiting for some kind of acknowledgment. And finally, she did look up. She did turn to face him. But Riku was caught off guard because she wasn't angry, she wasn't annoyed. She just looked... sad.

"Your baby," Riku said. Swallowed. "What were you going to name him?"

"...Riku," she said. And it was something in the way she said it-- the hesitance of it, maybe-- that made Riku think that either wanted to smile or cry. "We were going to name him Riku."

We were going to name him Riku and they didn't know what they were going to name you. They didn't know what they were going to name you because they did know what you'd be. We were cautious, they were wild. We had to know, they had to sit in for the surprise. But oh, imagine the surprise when it was us with the stillborn, them with the beautiful, beautiful baby boy. We'd been so excited. Like sisters. Our children to be born within a week of each other. Our children to be born within a few days of each other. So close, we imagined you'd grow up to be so close, like siblings, not cousins.

They named you Riku in honor of my dead baby boy.

None of it was spoken. Riku had stopped eating crackers, Mayako had stopped pretending to care about tea that had long since lost its warmth.

She either wanted to smile or cry, but she couldn't decide which.

So Riku left before he gave her the chance to make up her mind.

And in the guest room, he closed the door and was silently glad that Roxas wasn't there anymore. Riku needed time to sit and time to think and time to try and digest everything that Sora had just told him. He listened to sounds of the house for a while after and thought to himself how different the sounds seemed from what they used to be-- what they used to be back on the islands.

Back there, nighttime brought along his father watching Mary Tyler Moore re-runs and his mother laughing loudly at all the wrong times. Back there, nighttime meant the ocean quieted and stilled and hushed itself down to a quiet plop against the dock, a smooth swish against the shoreline. Back there nighttime was relaxing and a time for sleep. Here, Riku found that sleep didn't come so easily. That night brought thought and thought brought uneasiness.

Still or not, calm or not, he replayed Sora's words in his head as they came to mind, in order, starting from beginning of Sora's story and drawing it out until the very, very end, until Sora's brutal question, until Sora's "--what is it that's going to make us--"

x x x

--okay? I'll just... I'll just tell you what it was, okay, Riku? And if I tell you, you won't have to worry anymore. And we won't talk over your head anymore and we won't keep secrets from you anymore. My 'n Kairi 'n you. We're going to be fine, so I'm going to tell you everything, okay? And then we can stop worrying about it and we can stop being sick about it all the time. So I'll just start talking and... and you can hear it if you want. That's why I came here. To explain. Or to try and explain. I think. So I'm trying. I'm trying right now, okay?

"God, my fuckin' dad... I hate him. Man, I hate that guy." I told you that I thought you were like Hayner. Or maybe I didn't tell you. I told Roxas. Because Roxas came to see me and you didn't.

"Don't say that."

"What, don't tell me you're one of those people who, like... Just because they're your parents-- doesn't mean you have to love them or anything, Sora. Man, get... get real. The crap some people put their kids through-- the shit they--"

Hayner was... he was kind of... wired. Emotional. Strung up all the time on being wronged, because people wrong each other a lot and never even know or care about it. You couldn't do something bad to Hayner and not know it. That's what I mean.

"Hayner, come on, it... it's not that bad?"

"Yeah. Whatever. Whose side are you on?"

"I'm not on anyone's side, I'm just--"

"Okay, Sora. See ya Monday."

"...I'm just trying to help."

And it was like, he was always so melodramatic, you know? He was always a little over-the-top. He always exaggerated. Always took things as more than they were.

"...Hayner. What's that?"

It was stupid to ask. I could read. And so this one day, on his wrists, he'd carved out 'FuCK yoU', sharp and bloody and... sad. Scabbed.

And I didn't say anything.

I stared at his arms and he laughed and laughed and I didn't say anything because I thought... like, I thought it wasn't my place, you know? I thought Hayner was overreacting again. And again and again... It's funny, I guess. When we're little, people say things like... they say things like, "When people are in trouble, you know who you call, right kids? You call the police. You call 9-1-1. The police are there to help you." All the police ever did for Hayner was bust him for smoking when he was sixteen. They didn't even think to look at his parents. But then, no one ever does. Not really.

'My old man pushed me down the stairs,' he'd say. 'So I punched him and he twisted my wrist.' He'd just say it. And I thought-- I thought, like, oh, he must be lying, because no one would be so open about their problems. People who scream for help scream in quiet ways. Hayner just wants attention. Hayner just wants people to notice him. Hayner just wants people to think he's cool because he takes pain like he takes drugs.

And I couldn't accept the idea that maybe Hayner didn't scream for help in quiet ways. That maybe, what everyone else picked up-- the drugs, the pills, the cutting, the... the, just, the way people hurt themselves now like it's some kind of-- like they wanna be martyrs, all of them. The way people do that-- maybe that's fake, but maybe part of it's real. I don't know, but I didn't realize it then. Hayner was with everyone else in that stupid fad that kills stupid kids because they can't get over their stupid problems.

If you do that to yourself... if it's real or if it's fake... something has to be wrong inside no matter what. That's what I think, anyway. That's what I think now. Fad or not, it's like this contagious germ that makes people hurt themselves. And it makes them sick. Because to hurt yourself, you have to be sick, right?

But... people were so mean to Hayner. They'd do what they do best-- teenagers I mean. High school. They were mean, but they were mean in quiet ways. I keep saying that... you know. That whole 'quiet' thing. We're all so loud, but we keep the real stuff so silent, I guess. That's what I'm trying to say. Everyone is usually so loud about the obvious good and the obvious bad-- you know, "Fuck, I failed a trig test," or, "We won this, we won that, isn't it great, isn't it great?" And no one is ever open about real things... like... what worries them all the time. What doesn't leave them alone. What grates away at them until it's killing them inside, but it's so deep down that they can't pull it out and they can't explain and they can't...

I don't know. They just can't.

And people have gotten so used to the quiet, they don't know what to do when someone screams.

Like Hayner.

"God, that fucking emo prick," I'd hear them say. They'd call him a fag, a druggie, even though all he'd really ever done was smoke a pack of cigarettes-- okay, maybe two. They'd make up all this shit about him and they'd just pass it around between themselves and feed off it like they were starving. "Hayner does this, Hayner does that. Did you see his arms? He's so fucked up, he's so fucked up. He's going to O.D., he's going to kill himself, that pussy, that fucking pussy."

...Why did they get so mad about it? Why did they get so wound up about it, but not help him at all? Why did they just watch and gossip? I mean, just why? Why the hell are we so--so--

I don't know. Horrible, is what I was going to say. Hayner would've agreed. He always thought the worst of people, anyway. Maybe it was just him or maybe it was his parents, too. He had no siblings, so it was just him and the thing that pushed him so hard and dug inside him. One of those things. And he didn't shut up and he told people, I'm sure, because he wasn't ashamed of the fact that there was something wrong in his life and because he wasn't that confident in his own... his own strength to take it himself. And I'm not saying Hayner's not strong or Hayner doesn't think he's strong. He can be stubborn and stupid like everybody else, but for once he thought ahead and for once he realized this one big, important thing. And everybody trashed him for it.

Even me. I just listened to him and thought he was going through a phase or that fad. That he made stuff up so he had an excuse to join everybody else in the cutting craze, in the self-mutilation party that rose up out of nowhere.

And then he got emaciated from his parents. He stopped going to school. People said he was in a mental ward because he'd tried to kill himself. They would've said stupid shit like that. They did. But they were all lies. Hayner had just... dropped things. His parents, his school. He got a new school, a new place to live. But that's about the time I realized that I had completely, totally failed him as a friend and as anything else. You can't just pull one over a judge, I mean. You have to have proof that your life with your parents is so miserable, you would be better on your own, you would be so much better on your own. They don't make it easy and they don't make it nice.

Hayner must have had something big and something concrete. A heck of a bruise, a video tape, a recording, a mark of some huge kind that must have been real that his dad had caused or his dad had done or-- I don't even know. Where was his mom during all this? I don't know. Where were his friends? That's the big question. We were there. We thought he was lying. I thought he was lying.

The day Olette told me about Hayner-- how he was okay, he wasn't sick, he wasn't dead, he wasn't in a ward-- I was... I felt so low. I can't even describe it. I had just let him down so completely. He had told me about all this crap, he had trusted me with it and I hadn't done a thing. I hadn't even taken him seriously.

So, when I was walking home, I was waiting at the intersection and I wondered what would happen if I walked into the street. Just-- then. 'Just walk into the street, Sora,' it was like. 'Just walk into the street and see what happens and see what everyone starts to say about you. Because you deserve it anyway. Because you put Hayner through it. Because you're faithless and you're selfish and you didn't give what you needed to give and you didn't...' It just went on. So I walked into the street. So I got hit by a bus.

And so, sure enough, people talked. And they hated. And I was right where Hayner had been. "God, that stupid little emo prick. All he wants is attention. 'Oh, look at me, I'm so cool, I kill myself.' Hahaha..." The thing was...? We weren't bad kids. Hayner, me-- we weren't outcasts. We had friends. We were normal. But people just hate quick. That's all it is, I guess. People hate quick and point fingers quicker.

"You. You're messed up. You're screwed up so bad. You are, you are, you, you, and you." That sort of thing.

When my mom found out I'd done it on purpose, she cried even more than she did when she found me in the hospital to begin with. And when Kairi found out? ...When Kairi found out, she didn't cry. She hit me. And she kept hitting me. And she wouldn't stop until the nurse came in and pulled her out of the room, but she was kicking and screaming and going, "You're so stupid, Sora! You're so stupid!"

She hit me later, when I was home, when she came to visit. She brought me flowers and put them in a vase and I said, "I'm not sick or anything," which was something of a lie, so she slapped me. And then she started crying and she was crying so hard that she fell over and knocked the vase she'd just set down onto the ground. It didn't break, but she spilled water all over herself. She was crying anyway-- getting her shirt soaked anyway-- so it didn't matter so much.

"How would you like it if I did that to myself, Sora?" she said.

And I told her, "I wouldn't like it. I know I wouldn't like it. I didn't do it to make you mad, Kairi."

"Well guess what, Sora? You did. You really, really did and it hurts, okay? You didn't just make me mad, you really, really hurt me. So I'm going to hurt you, Sora. I'm going to hurt you really, really badly, too."

She raised her foot and smashed the vase and took the glass and cut her hand and I started screaming and Kairi kept crying and Mom had to come in and pull her away again.

The next time I saw her was at school two weeks later. I don't know where she was during that time. I have my guesses but I've never asked her about it, really. I've never wanted to know. But when I saw her again, I saw her feet first. I was sitting against the wall eating lunch alone and I saw her feet come and stop. For a minute I thought she was some jerk who was going to ask me to move, to get off the floor because it was no place to be. But then she sat next to me. She put her backpack in her lap and she rested her head on my shoulder and she just didn't move. And I just didn't move. I didn't want to break her. Like she broke the vase. I didn't want to hurt her like she hurt herself.

Our parents met with one another and talked about whether or not they wanted to let us be friends anymore. That sounds weird now that I say it. Whether they'd let us be friends or not. Like they could've stopped us even if they'd really wanted to? But Kairi and I were listening at the door and Kairi swung it open and told them all-- told all our parents-- that they were idiots if they thought that would help. She told them all that were friends from the start and we'd be friends until the end.

And it was kind of cryptic, her saying that, but I'd never loved her more.

And even later in that week when neither of us could sleep without the other being there, even later in that month when Kairi told me she wanted to have sex, even later in that month when we tried, but failed, but still loved each other anyway...

Even then, I thought it'd be okay. That no matter what the kids at school said, Kairi and I understood. Kairi and I would be okay. We'd make it okay.

Heh. And it was... that time, you know. When we tried to have sex. When Kairi found out I was gay. She started laughing like nothing I'd ever seen before and I hadn't even heard her laugh in a month or more. She just kept laughing and laughing and when she was done, she said, "That's okay. Because if there'd been a mistake, we would've been some godawful parents, Sora. You know why? Because our parents don't know what to do with us. We wouldn't know what to do with our kids. We'd get old and stupid and we wouldn't know what to do with those kids we'll never have."

That's where you come in, Riku. And it was about your parents, too, wasn't it? You were hurting, too. You didn't keep it quiet-- if people asked, you told them. Kairi asked and you told her. You didn't lie, you didn't hide from it. But it was killing you and anybody could see it. And Kairi told me about you, you know. She said how sad it was, how sad it was that someone so cool and so amazing was being ripped to bits by so many things. And it's like, I remember-- I clearly remember her saying:

"It's weird. He's been put through so much and he's hurting so bad. He's killing himself, but don't look at me like that, Sora. He's not killing himself like you think. He's not one of them. Or if he is, it's different. He's like that problem, personified."

I guess I remember a lot of things Kairi says. It's hard not to. Sometimes they make sense. Those are the things I remember.

But what she meant, really, was that all the little kids who slice up their wrists, all the little girls and boys who pop seven pills to push a fad or an issue or a genre or anything-- all of them were you. Kind of. They hurt themselves and you hurt yourself. Your body did it to you and, really, their bodies did it to them, too. It's not a fad, like people think... You made me realize that, you know. It's not a fad. It's not meant to be a fad. You had no control over the pain, and I pretty much think that no one else has control over the pain, either.

And I remember thinking... it was like in the fifties. Don't-- don't get all annoyed or anything, I mean it. And it's relevant, so listen. The fifties. Jack Kerouac. The Beat Generation. Riku, I'm serious, here. Listen, okay?

Kerouac and his Beat Generation. You know how it got the name, right? It got the name because all the kids of middle-class suburban America-- they were all so sick of perfection and so sick of the way things were moving. They were bored in that life and they were bored with what their parents wanted from them. They'd go against their parents, wear clothes that made their moms cringe, read books that made their dads angry. They'd go cross-country, they'd write, they'd sing, they'd do whatever they could to find this invisible 'it' they were looking for. They would do dangerous, stupid stuff. They felt the need for that danger and they felt the need to put themselves on the line to try and defeat whatever it was weighing them down.

They didn't want white picket fences and green lawns or pearls or vacuums. They wanted enlightenment. That was the it. And they were all trying so hard to get it and they were all striving so damn much for it. And they all wore themselves out. And that's what Kerouac said about them. That they were tired. That they were beat. The Beat Generation was no more than the generation that got so worn out in trying for what they really wanted.

If the fifties was beat, I think we are, too. Maybe we're just starting again and maybe it won't get any worse. Maybe I'm completely wrong. We don't want the perfect household anymore. We just want. And we're going to get so tired in trying to get. Maybe our cuts and our bruises we put on ourselves-- maybe that's how we push up against society. Maybe with drugs and sex and alcohol, we'll be enlightened and happy, just like the beats wanted, and just like we want now. Right? Because if it's not drugs and if it's not sex and if it's not alcohol and razor blades and pill bottles, what is it that's going to make us okay?

x x x





"It's terrible... Oh God, I'm sorry, Riku. I'm so sorry."

"M-Mayako? What is it?"

"The phone... on..." "Kairi's dead."

'What? Um. No', was the only thought that surfaced in Riku's head at first. Just 'No,' plain and simple.

No. That's not possible. I saw Kairi a few hours ago. She dropped me off. She took me to the graveyard earlier and we talked to headstones. She was fine. She was laughing and acting just like she always does. There was nothing wrong with her. There is nothing wrong with her. Dead? Like hell. That doesn't even make sense. Why would she be dead? Nothing's wrong with her.

"She's dead?" Riku heard himself ask.

"Riku, I'm so sorry."

"Wait, no. What?"

Nothing happened, that's what. What a dumb question. She's asleep just next door.


"She's dead?"

"Yes, Riku. I'm--"

"What happened?"


"Her heart."

She's not okay.

"Her heart failed."


Riku shuddered. For a moment, Mayako thought he was crying. She wept along with him, reached out to cradle him in her arms-- Please, she thought. Please take my comfort, it's all I have to give you. Please, please. She was delighted when he did not push her away, when he allowed her to hug him, to soothe him, to whisper to him it would be alright. She cried harder, her own heart swelling and filling with such love while Riku's own heart fluttered wildly and then stilled in his chest.

"It'll be okay, Riku. God, I'm sorry. Oh God, I'm so sorry, baby. I'm here. It's okay. It'll be okay."

For the second time, Riku was whisked away to the hospital in the back of ambulance.

x x x

There would never be a third time.

x x x

There was one funeral held for both Kairi and Riku. They combined them-- the two families-- because they figured that the children would have wanted it that way. It was a small ordeal that took place on a hot day when it didn't rain, when everyone lined up in the graveyard donned their black grudgingly. Riku's coffin stood in the graveyard as a matter of principal. Mayako and her husband had arranged for Riku's body to be cremated and his ashes to be buried alongside those of his parents.

No one could get ahold of Roxas or Naminé. But then, no one had really tried, either.

The priest in charge of the funeral knew nothing of either child other than they had both died of heart complications. The girl, because she had starved the life out of herself and worn down the muscle in the process-- the boy, because he had some sort of strange stress disorder. Such was the focus of his speech.

"The heart is a fickle thing..."

It may once have passed for bad poetry, but it was painfully obvious to anyone who cared that the words existed only to take up time, only to conceal the holes and the gaps in a story that one supposedly holy man knew nothing of.

"...we will grow stronger through these trials and tribulations..."

He was wondering, while all this was going on, what he would be having for dinner that night.

"...may they find peace among those already departed."

For a long time, Kairi's parents stood alongside Mayako and her husband. And then, gradually, they shifted away. Both parties somehow knew that it was over. That there would be no more dinner parties, no more recipe exchanges. Each blamed the other side accordingly and each took their own place in a position of denial.

Sora didn't go to the funeral. Sora went to the used bookstore. He went to the parking lot in the back. He was only shaken from his trance when he realized that there was no more school bus and that where the bus had rested for all those months there was now a vacant space only holding the burning asphalt that made it and nothing more. So Sora pressed his hands against the asphalt until he thought he could feel skin not his own, until he thought he could feel Kairi's soft hands and Riku's hard flesh. Until he thought he could feel muscle and blood and pulse and life.

But in the end, it was really only asphalt. Asphalt and nothing more.

x x x

"Kerouac is all that," Sora explained-- careful, calculating. "But the indians are old and ancient and pure. They didn't talk about regret," he said, "because they knew nothing about it. No hookers, no cities, no drugs, no pollution. Anything and everything was minor and natural. They had honor."

x x x

Whether Kairi understood or not, Riku didn't know. But when she bent down again, all Riku saw was her tiny little hand, somewhere between the color of mocha and porcelain, outstretched and perfectly calm. Her voice was demanding when she said it, when she spoke. "Let's go now." But she smiled and that was what made it okay. Not that Riku saw it, but that he felt it through her fingertips as they slipped around his wrist.

x x x

And on his wrists he'd carved out 'FuCK yoU', sharp and bloody and... sad. Scabbed.

x x x

And I didn't say anything.

x x x

"It'll be okay."

x x x

The next day, Sora went to the faire in the mall parking lot before it opened, before the rest of the world had really woken up at all. He slipped a man a twenty and asked him to stop it at the top.

"Just for five minutes," Sora said. "Please."

And the man, even though he knew he'd get chewed out for it, could only do as Sora asked. For there was something in Sora's manner, in the way he asked just so, that didn't leave room for refusal as an option.

Sora rode the ferris wheel as high as it would go, and he hung there, suspended in air, until the sun came up on suburbia.

(x) (end) (x)