A.N. All scientific names are in italics.
My Kind of Guy
Roxas decided to ask his boyfriend about it the first chance he got. Though that was the very next day, unfortunately, the dueling team had a meet with the team from Bevelle. Between cheering for his teammates and fighting in his own match, it was a while before he found a moment with Sora.
Right from the beginning of the meet, Roxas had had the supreme misfortune of running into Wen Kinoc, the very same snide jerk he'd fought against in the tournament, effectively spoiling the cheerful mood he'd been in that morning. Roxas had since beaten out Chappu for the third sword position, so he didn't have to duel Kinoc again, but he did have to endure the jerk's arrogant leer grate on his teammate instead. Chappu let it get to him in the first round and lost as a result, but after a pep-talk from Auron and Sora during the break, the red-haired freshman got himself together and thoroughly clean Kinoc's clock in the next two rounds to win the match.
Unfortunately, the change in positions also meant that now Roxas and Sora fought their matches at the same time. The blond was a little disappointed he wasn't able to watch his boyfriend pull off yet another resounding victory. But winning against his own opponent, some dark-haired kid named Maroda, went quite a ways toward cheering him up, and earned Roxas a nod of approval from Auron, a congratulatory one-armed hug from Sora which he returned, and a knowing smirk from Cloud.
In the end, though, it really wasn't all that surprising that Twilight Town walked away with the win. Bevelle had fought hard to boot, but the likes of the Strifes, the Leonharts, the Three Kings, and the rest were just too much for the poor big city boys to handle.
Or that's what the exuberant victors told themselves on the bus ride home, anyway. Amid hearty cheers and verbal replays, one of the guys in front jokingly asked Nooj if this meant the team could throw another party at his house again.
"Like hell I'm letting your smelly asses near my couch again!" Nooj called back, provoking many laughs and friendly jeers from his teammates.
"Man, can you believe that party was a month ago? Feels like last week," Sora said to Roxas, who was sitting next to him as usual.
"Actually, I was just thinking about that," the blond replied quietly. "It's a milestone for us, kinda. I thought we could do something to celebrate."
"Celebrate?" Sora echoed, adorably confused. "You mean, about beating Bevelle?"
Roxas rolled his eyes. "No," he told Captain Oblivious, "it's been a month since…"
With a meaningful look, the blond carefully trailed a finger across Sora's hand. They were sitting in the back together again, but he was still cautious with so many people around. Sora blinked at the contact. "Oh," he said quietly, "I guess it has. Heh, guess it just snuck up on us."
"You wanna do something?" Roxas repeated, giving the other's hand a gentle squeeze then letting go.
Sora reached forward so their pinkies were still touching. "Did you have something in mind?"
Tucked away on the east side of town, outside of the wall and on the edge of the great grass plains that stretched from the town all the way north to the distant mountains, was the Twilight Arboretum. Though the hamlet was not lacking in greenery, the local institution, Bugenhagen University, had created the Arboretum decades ago as a park for residents and as a living laboratory for horticultural and botanical research and education.
It was Roxas' favorite place in all of Twilight Town.
Unlike the compact and scattered little parks around town, the Arboretum was wide and open space, broken up only here and there by trees or a hill, the grass unchecked by cement or brick. There were gravel bike paths, a one-and-a-quarter mile jogging trail, a small wood, wildlife ponds, some hills that made for wicked sledding during the few times it actually snowed in the winter, and an oriental tea house. Nearly one hundred and sixty acres in all.
But what Roxas truly loved about the Arboretum were its gardens- and he wanted to share them with Sora.
There were four gardens. The first was the modest Zen garden next to the tea house on the south side, with an impressive collection of miniature bonsai trees. A patch of gravel in the center was raked to look like waves on a lake, and the path leading up to it was lined in cherry trees, though the spring blooming season was long since over.
The second and third were the rose and idea gardens. So close they were almost right on top of each other, these two were more traditional. The rose garden especially was the least ornate, despite being the most common variety of garden in the Arboretum. Most of the roses were of the more modern kind and various shades of pink, red, yellow, orange, and white, though there was one that was lavender. It was small too, easily crossed in a dozen strides.
The idea garden, as the name suggested, was a place to display the latest styles and trends in home gardening, and for the master gardeners of the university to show off their talents. Surrounded by a white wood picket fence and divided into four sections with a white gazebo and benches in the middle, there was the sensory garden, a vegetable garden with real produce of all kinds growing in it (and signs requesting visitors not eat anything). Then there was a theme garden, this season's themes being a tropical section, a rock garden, jewel box garden, medicinal plants, topiaries, and a bog, and a children's garden.
Sora got a real kick out of this last section. Not only was there a small sandbox (in which Sora insisted on writing his name as a memento to passersby), but also a collection of figurines from the nursery rhyme of the lady who lived in the shoe (including a five foot tall shoe) to a miniature wooden bridge over a dry, artificial brook. The brook had smooth blue-gray stones on the bottom, a good mimic for ripples on water, and a sculpture of a crocodile just beside the bridge, as if waiting to snatch the toes off any feet foolish enough to step on its creek. The croc was even divided into three segments to imitate being partially submerged.
The true gem of the Arboretum however, and the crown jewel of Bugenhagen's horticulture department, was the Memorial Garden.
As they passed the six foot evergreen shrubs that bordered the garden proper, Sora whistled softly. "Wow."
Hidden from view by a double line of tall birch trees, the garden was a full three acres squared. The main beds, three concentric diamonds with the edges rounded off, were sunk a meter or so into the earth, with stairs descending at the middle of each side and points of the diamond leading down to it. In the center was a patch of grass in the shape of an eight pointed star. Off each of the broad sides of the main diamond was a small triangular bower. Wooden awnings had been erected on the outermost sides over the beds of those flowers that required shade. Thick boxwood shrubs and maple trees provided further shade and seclusion. Though already autumn, almost all the flowers were still in full bloom. The entire complex was simply rows upon rows of color, like Mother Nature had dropped her paint box here.
For such a special and beautiful place, the garden was surprisingly unknown amongst the populace of the town. Horticulture wasn't exactly widely advertised, so it remained a kind of open secret.
Roxas preferred it that way. This place was special to him. Even though it was open to the public, this was his secret place. This was where Roxas went when he wanted to be alone or needed to get away for a while. The beauty and tranquility of the garden seemed to seep into him, and Roxas knew he could always find peace here, no matter what.
Of course, Roxas had only ever been to the gardens during the height of summer when all the flowers were in bloom. But this year, busy as he was, between schoolwork and dueling, Roxas hadn't been by since moving to Twilight Town. He was usually very particular about being alone here. Roxas didn't even come with Hayner, Pence, and Olette all that often. But it felt appropriate to him somehow to have Sora here with him the first time he came to the garden outside of summer.
So he thought it was just really fitting for their one-month date to be here. Because like seeing the garden in a new season for the first time, being in a relationship with Sora was allowing Roxas to begin to see himself in a new light for the first time. It was a new season of his life Roxas was coming into, because of Sora, and the blond wanted his boyfriend to be there.
He'd really been hoping his boyfriend would be impressed. It had been a bit of a gamble, taking him here. With the kinds of gorgeous tropical landscapes Sora was used to, there was a good chance a place like this would come off as… less impressive.
So he was immensely pleased, though, as Sora went quiet, his blue eyes becoming thoughtful at seeing the garden for the first time.
"You like it?" Roxas asked him.
The cinnamon haired boy nodded slowly, looking around. He started down the steps to the garden proper. Roxas followed right behind him, and they passed a sign that read, "Research Area – No Dogs Beyond This Point."
"Guess that means you, puppy," Roxas teased. Sora grinned and reached over to tickle his boyfriend, the blond quickly dancing out of range.
Not wanting Sora to try again, Roxas distracted the other boy by telling him about the kinds of plants that were grown here. Though they looked to be no different that the kind found in any typical nursery or garden center, all the plants here were germinated from experimental seeds cultivated by the university and other institutions it was affiliated with. Whether they be just new color combinations or more resistant to disease, all the new strains of plants that the biologists could come up with were tested here. And at the end of every summer, representatives of the universities as well as garden centers and nurseries from around the country gathered here to select which varieties would be grown commercially next season.
It also made figuring out which flower was which something of a challenge. As a self-respecting research facility, the plants were identified only by their scientific names on black rectangular plaques that accompanied them.
Roxas and Sora spent the better part of an hour wandering around, trying to match the flowers to more familiar names. The ones they did manage to identify were pelargonium (geraniums), digitalis (foxglove), chamaesyce (a type of poinsettia, also called "akoko" on the Islands, according to Sora),), celosia (cockscombs), dianthus (carnation),), verbena (vervain), rudbeckia (coneflower), myosotis (forget-me-not), lathyrus (sweet pea), antirrhinum (snapdragon), and bidens (tickseed sunflowers, or "koko'olau" or "ko'oko'olau." Kairi and Namine's grandmother used it to brew tea).
There were the more common varieties; zinnias, dahlias, sedum, petunia, gardenia (almost every green space back on the Islands had some), cosmos, hibiscus the size of dinner plates, begonia, impatiens (the mascot of tropical resorts the world over), and many others Sora said Aerith would kill for. She was big on flowers, Roxas remembered.
There were also a few little yellow-orange morning glories climbing up the shade awnings, but it wasn't clear if they were supposed to be there or not.
Sora lamented the noticeable lack of true blue flowers. "I guess since there's so much blue in the sky, Mother Nature though any more would be too much."
It wasn't just all flowers, though, either; there was salvia (known as sage, from the mint family), buxus (boxwood), hosta (day or plantation lily), colocasia (colloquially called elephant's ear, and very appropriately so), lauraceae (laurel), solenostemon (formerly and still commonly called coleus, and seemed to come in every color), and papyrus. Specimens of eggplant and tomato plants were also featured.
Roxas was a little surprised to discover they grew nicotiana here- which most Latin-ignorant people called the tobacco plant. It was perfectly legal, of course. But growing it unprotected on a college campus did seem like asking for a little trouble. Still, it did not escape his notice that the garden also featured a selection on lobelia plants next to the nicotiana. Lobelia was often used in quit-smoking programs.
Sora was genuinely delighted when he found the ornamental capsicum (chili pepper plants). The peppers themselves ranged in color from bright yellow to deep purple in color, and came in a multitude of shapes from thin and kind of gnarley, to fat and bulbous ones that, combined with the deep green leaves, looked not unlike a mini tropical Christmas tree. Roxas was only able to dissuade Sora from testing some for their worthiness on the Scoville scale by firmly pointing out that there were no water fountains nearby should reprieve be necessary.
Finally, after over two hours of running around and having fun, they both collapsed on the patch of grass at the center, tired but happy.
It was truly a gorgeous day and the weather was perfect. It was autumn now, and while it was rarely truly cold here, being so close to the tropics, the light northerly wind coming down from the distant mountains was just this side of cool. Sunset was approaching now, and with everyone likely gathering in the west side of town to watch, the east was mostly deserted. Indeed, the two boys had the entire vicinity to themselves, concerned with nothing more than enjoying the garden, the weather, and each other's company.
Sora leaned back against his elbows, staring up into the sky that was his namesake, watching the lazy white puffs of clouds drift by above. Beside him, Roxas dozed lightly, curled up under his boyfriend's jacket. He was still tired from the grueling dueling match against Bevelle the day before.
Roxas felt a finger brush his cheek and opened his eyes. The bright periwinkle sky dazed him for a moment but then saw Sora gazing down at him peacefully.
"This is really cool, kupo," he said, smiling gently. "Thanks for bringing me here."
"You're welcome," Roxas murmured, and could be forgiven for feeling like the luckiest person in the world as Sora leaned down to kiss him.
Even after a month, he still hadn't gotten used to this. To that tingling, floaty feeling he got whenever Sora kissed him like this. It was still just so new to him, each time was just as magical as the first. Roxas returned the affection as earnestly as he could.
When they pulled back again, Sora asked, "How did you even find this place? I'm amazed I never heard of it before."
"A lot of people actually have heard of it at some point or another," Roxas said, sitting up. "But not many really bother to come and see it for themselves. This place is one of Twilight Town's best kept secret hideaways, and those of us that do appreciate it like to keep it that way."
"So how'd you find it, then?"
"Well," Roxas' smile dimmed a little. "It's… not a happy story, actually."
Sora frowned slightly, cocking his head to one side like he always did when he was curious about something. "Yeah? How so?"
The blond hesitated, not wanting to spoil the moment. "You know I only stayed here with my aunt and uncle during the summer before this, right?"
"Well, one summer when I was like nine or ten," Roxas told him, "I accidentally killed Cloud's pet goldfish and he got really pissed at me. Like really, really angry, so... I ran out of the house."
Sora immediately reached over to draw the other boy into his arms. "What happened?" he asked gently.
Roxas leaned against him, appreciating the gesture. It wasn't one of his happier memories of his brother. He explained that, since their mother was pretty allergic to animal hair, Roxas and Cloud never really had any pets growing. So when Cloud won a goldfish in a game at the festival that summer, both of them were pretty happy to keep it. But then, one day, they got into a snit about… something or another.
"So Cloud goes off and sulks in the basement and I'm sulking in my room -what's my room now, but we were sharing it back then- the fish is in a bowl on the dresser and it's starting to stink because Cloud hadn't cleaned it in a while. It only made me even more irritated with him at first, for not doing his fair share to keep our room clean and take care of the thing-"
"I would have dipped his toothbrush in it to teach him a lesson," Sora interjected, grinning. "But that's just me."
"Wish I'd thought of that," Roxas snickered a little, then sobering. "Really wish I'd thought of that. But... then I cooled down, and decided to clean it for him as a peace offering. It was a really stupid argument."
"Only… the water I'd used to refill the bowl was too warm, and about an hour later, when Cloud came in, the goldfish was floating belly up."
Sora winched in sympathy. "Ai..."
"Yeah, he was pissed. Cloud had never yelled at anyone like that before, nevermind me," Roxas said, the memory sending a small shiver down his spine.
Sora's expression darkened. "Roxas, the fish they keep at festivals are so poorly taken care of, they always die off in like a week," he mutterd softly, drawing the blond even closer to him. "Cloud should not have gotten so angry with you."
"Yeah, that's what Aunt Shera said. But Cloud told me later, after we'd both calmed down, that he wasn't angry because the goldfish died. He was furious because he thought I'd killed it out of spite."
"Because you two'd been fighting?"
Roxas nodded. "But before that, just after he'd yelled at me, I was so upset, I ran... straight out of the house."
"Don't worry," he added, seeing the slightly hard look on Sora's face. "All this is water under the bridge between Cloud and me now, puppy, I promise. We sorted everything out later, after I got home again. And to be fair, I don't think he'd really called down from before when he yelled at me. Uncle Sid grounded us both for a week, either way. He had us cleaning so many engine parts, I thought my arms were gonna fall off."
"Still...," the brunette mumbled. Sora was nothing if not protective of those he cared about. Part of Roxas was supremely happy the brunette was getting defensive on his behalf. It meant Roxas was among those lucky people.
"Anyway," he went on, "I meant to go over to Hayner's house, but I'd only ever ridden there on my bike before, so... I got lost. Then I wandered around for a while, and-"
"And you ended up here?" Sora asked, incredulous. "Doesn't Hayner live over by school?"
"To his eternal displeasure, yes," Roxas smiled. If he had a dollar- no, a quarter. If Roxas had a quarter for every time he'd heard Hayner complain about his home's close proximity to their current educational facility, Roxas could afford to buy his best friend a new place of residence elsewhere. It'd be worth it just to get him to shut up about it.
"But… that's how I found this place. I'm actually kinda glad about it, too," he replied, and explained to Sora about the garden's significance to him, about how peaceful it always was for him and all the times just being here had helped him; like when Roxas found out Cloud was moving, or he'd gotten into an argument with one of his friends (or, back before they got together, trying to come to terms that Sora probably wouldn't return his affections, but Roxas didn't mention that particular example to the brunette). And it wasn't just dealing with negative emotions, either. Sora grinned as Roxas told him about all the times he'd come here trying to get his head to stop swimming in circles after watching the latest episode of Lost.
"That's really cool, kupo," Sora said, smiling gently, looking at the incredible beauty surrounding them before gazing down at the golden-haired boy still snuggled in his arms. "I'm really glad you brought me here. Thanks."
"You're welcome," the blond replied, suddenly feeling a little shyly. "I… this place is special to me, so I wanted you to see it."
"Quiet, dignified, absolutely beautiful. Fits you perfectly, kupo," Sora mused aloud, smiling at the rosy glow on Roxas' face and brushed a soft kiss against his temple, which he then gladly returned.
It occurred to Roxas then that the Arboretum gardens was probably the only place in Twilight Town he could be so comfortable with being affectionate with Sora out in the open like this. Roxas was in no way ashamed of his relationship with the cinnamon-haired young man, just shy about his personal life in general. He disliked the scrutiny.
But it wasn't just the place that helped him set aside his usual reserved demeanor, Roxas realized. It was his present company, too. Sora helped him to just... let go and be himself. The epiphany warmed him, and he kissed Sora all the more deeply because of it.
After a few more long, quiet moments, Sora pulled only a breath away, murmuring, "Roxas? Did I ever tell you-"
Unfortunately, whatever the brunette was going to say was cut off by a loud growl from the boy's stomach, startling them both and ruining the moment. Sora grinned apologetically and Roxas sighed.
"You really are a bottomless pit, you know that, puppy?" he said, exasperated but still smiling. They'd just had lunch before this, though to be fair that was over two hours ago.
He sat up and Sora let him with obvious reluctance. "I can't help it…," he whined, still a little sheepish.
"I know," the blond reassured him, smiling. He stood up, dusting the bits of grass off of his pants.
Sora also got to his feet. "I guess we should be going, anyway. 'S getting late."
Roxas hummed a little sadly in agreement. As much as he treasured every minute alone with Sora, it really was time to go. Still, it wouldn't do to end the evening on a down note.
"C'mon then, you. I think there's still some taco salad left at home that might last you the trip back to the Islands," the blond teased. He took the other boy by the hand, leading the way to the exit.
"Ha ha, very funny," Sora deadpanned, and Roxas threw a smirk over his shoulder and Sora smiled back.
But just before they left the garden proper, Sora pulled on his arm, halting him. "Wait," he said, frowning. "If you were lost on the first time here, how did you get home then?"
"A cop found me a little while later over there-" Roxas motioning back to one of the benches. "-and he took me home. No biggie."
After a moment, he snickered. "You know what the funniest part of all that was?"
"Hayner was so mad that I got sent home in the back of a squad car before he did, ha ha!"
And Sora laughed along with him.
That evening, sometime after dinner when everyone in the household had dispersed to their own activities, Roxas found Cloud at his desk, finishing some homework. Though the door was open, he knocked anyway. Cloud looked up. "Hey," he greeted before returning to his books.
"Hey," Roxas returned quietly, wandering into the room but still staying mostly by the door. "…You remember that time we had a fight about your goldfish and I ran away?"
Cloud paused again. "Yeah…," he replied, uncertain where his brother was taking this. It wasn't something he liked to dwell on, understandably.
The younger blond looked equally uncomfortable for a moment. "Well, it's just... Sora and I were talking about it today, and I… um, well…"
"It got me thinking about stuff, and I just wanted to say that... I know I've put you through a lot of crap since... well, I'm sorry," he said, looking down at his socks. "And I really appreciate you still being there for me."
Cloud was silent for a moment, then stood up from his desk and walked over to his brother, placing his hands on the younger blond's shoulders.
"You're welcome," he said simply. "And you will always be welcome."
Roxas looked up at him then, and his eyes shined brightly with what may have been tears for a moment before hugging Cloud around the middle, burying his face in the other's shirt.
Likewise, Cloud wrapped his arms firmly around his younger brother, and rocked him gently.
A.N. The above is a mostly faithful depiction of the University of Illinois Arboretum, specifically the Miles C. Hartley Selections Gardens, as they appeared last fall (except the bonsai trees; those are from the Morikami Gardens in South Florida). They're probably bare right now, but while in full bloom that place never fails to quietly take my breath away. If anybody's ever down in Champaign during the late spring to early fall, I strongly encourage you to go see them.
And as for what the heck was going on with Cloud and Roxas in that last scene, well, I'll just say that there'd more parallels to Roxas' life in MKoG and his life in the games than current appearances would suggest. And that's all I'm going to tell you for now, because I'm evil like that. :D
Oh, it feels so good to be updating again! And Happy Easter!