Author's note: I decided to try writing an AU for once, just to 'broaden my horizons', so to speak. I didn't want to go with the usual high school scenario (especially since I was brought up in the British system and thus know nothing about the way that Japanese/American schools are taught) and decided to try for something different. I wanted to go for something longer (but didn't want it to be multi-chaptered, hence the insane length) and a bit more layered, so… here you go. I fear that I may be being just a little bit ambitious with this one, but meh. It has Roxas/Axel, Sora/Riku, and… well, a few other pairings.
The book that Pence refers to is a real one. It's titled Sybil, by Flora Rheta Schreiber. The disorder is a (debatedly) real one, though I took some liberties with it so that it could fit the story. Please don't shoot me.
Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts and all related characters aren't mine. I only pair them up and give them mental disorders. -.-;;
Roxas awoke with a yawn, a throbbing pain in his ass and an anonymous leg and arm thrown over his naked hip and chest. Not thinking too much about it, he snuggled back into the other person.
Then his eyes snapped open, and with a yell of horror he rolled off the bed, dragging the sheets down around him.
"Sora?" mumbled the other male sleepily.
"Who're you?" Roxas demanded. He gathered the sheets around his waist, quickly covering himself up.
The other male wasn't quite as shy. He rolled lazily over onto his stomach and propped himself up by his elbows, not caring that he was naked from head to toe. He brushed long, silver strands of hair from his face. "Very funny," he smiled.
Roxas narrowed his eyes at him. "Are you on something? I'm serious!" He dragged himself to his feet, clutching the sheets around himself. "Where am I? Where are my clothes?" Roxas' glare turned into a look of horrified realization. "You raped me, didn't you?"
"What?" Now the other male looked more awake, aquamarine eyes wide and startled. "Sora, what're you talking about?"
"My name's Roxas!" Roxas snapped. He saw the doubting look on the other teen's face and scowled. "Where are my clothes, damn it!"
The other male pointed at something black, red and yellow lying on the other end of the room. Roxas walked over and picked up a pair of puffy knee-length trousers. He eyed the apparel critically.
"You've got to be kidding me."
"My name is Roxas!" Roxas shouted. The other teen flinched. Roxas glared at him. "Don't watch!"
Dubiously, the other male buried his head in his pillow as Roxas dressed himself in the trousers, barely suppressing a snort at the ludicrous outrage to fashion.
"I mean, who puts a patch of color right at the crotch?" Roxas muttered.
"Sor—Roxas," the other teen quickly amended, "what's going on?"
"You tell me," Roxas said. He found a shirt and jacket with a similar design to his trousers; he assumed that they were his and pulled them over his head. He was surprised to find that they fit, seeing as how he honestly couldn't recall ever buying the strangely-designed clothing. He spied a matching pair of gloves and decided to put those on as well. "Why did I wake up next to you? I don't remember you." He paused and closed his eyes, then opened them. "I don't feel like I was drunk or drugged." He looked around. "Where am I?"
Cautiously, as if in a room with a dangerous animal, the other teen got up and walked to a discarded pair of jeans. Roxas turned his head quickly aside, not wanting to look at the other male's nudity. "I didn't rape you," the other teen said as he pulled his jeans on, in a hesitant tone that hovered between watchfulness and unease.
Roxas glared at him. "I guessed that after a while. If you really were a rapist, you'd be a really stupid one to hang around and get caught."
"Sora," the other teen winced slightly when Roxas flinched at the name, "what's wrong with you?"
Roxas looked around the room. It looked like a typical teenaged male's room, complete with a desk, a bookshelf, a closet and various different posters. "Where am I?" he repeated.
"You're in my house."
Roxas noticed a sliver of sunshine pouring in through a break in the curtains. He frowned at the slice of blue sky. Twilight Town did have its sunny days, but its skies were never blue. They were always either gray during the day, reddish-purple at dawn and dusk, or navy at night. "Where's your house? Where are we?"
The other teen gave him a strange look as he first zipped up a sleeveless black shirt and a similarly sleeveless yellow jacket. "Destiny Islands."
Roxas started. "I'm on the beach?" He had a sudden surge of hope. "Are Hayner, Pence or Olette here?"
The other teen looked blank. "Who?"
"Hayner, Pence and Olette. Hayner's about this tall," Roxas held his hand out to somewhere about his height, "messy blond hair, always wears khakis…" He saw the confused expression on the other male's face and sighed.
"Tidus, Wakka, Selphie and Kairi are here," the teen said. He looked hesitant. "I'm Riku."
"Do I look like I care?" Roxas retorted rudely. He ran a hand through his hair—and halted. His hair felt longer than normal. He looked at the color of his bangs and felt his heart sink in dread. "Is there a mirror around here?"
Riku wordlessly led Roxas down the hallway to a washroom. Roxas looked at himself in the mirror then leaned heavily on the basin for support. He took in his long, spiky, brown hair, completely unlike the shorter, messier blond hairstyle that he was used to. He whirled to Riku, anger flashing in his aquamarine eyes. "What's going on?" he demanded furiously. Not waiting for an answer, he shoved past the taller boy and stormed back down the hallway, turning sharply at the staircase and walking down to where he spied a telephone sitting on a small table next to a beige leather sofa in the living room. He punched in some numbers and waited.
An unfamiliar voice came through. "Hello?"
"Hi. This is Roxas. Is Axel there?"
There was a sickeningly long pause. "I'm sorry, but I don't recognize your name. The previous owner of the house passed away two years ago. Were you a friend of his?"
Roxas froze. He'd forgotten. It was bad enough waking up sans clothing next to a complete stranger. It was worse hearing those words, which seemed to come through the phone and resound suddenly in Roxas' head like a bombshell smashing a metal plate. Shocked, Roxas dropped the phone to the floor. He stood frozen to the spot for what seemed like the longest time before sinking down onto the sofa, trembling. From the upper landing, Riku made his way down the staircase and approached him slowly, cautiously.
"Hello?" The unfamiliar voice sounded tinny coming through the phone. "Hello?"
"Sora… Roxas," Riku said tentatively. "Are you okay?"
Roxas clasped his hands together, shaking hard. He hadn't heard Riku's question, hadn't noticed anything since hearing the news. Images crashed into his mind like a flood from a dam: him and Axel laughing together, him and Axel sneaking into Demyx's room and removing the strings of the dirty-blond's sitar, him and Axel running; a bang, a wet SPLUTCH, a sudden splattering of crimson warmth, then, darkness.
"Roxas?" Riku asked again.
Roxas lurched forward, placed his head between his knees, and vomited.
Roxas swallowed his mouthful of peanut-buttered sandwich and took a deep sip of the thick, orange-yellow iced drink sitting beside him. He gulped it quickly down. "This is good. What is it?"
"Paopu fruit juice." Riku took a bite of his sandwich as he brought a fresh plate of toast to the kitchen counter. He had a strange expression on his face which was a mixture of concern and wariness and amusement. It was the look of someone who obviously hadn't a clue of what was going on and was somewhat disturbed by the turn of events, but was willing to play along for the time being. "It's… Sora's favorite."
"Hmm." Roxas had never tried (or heard of) the juice before. Being born and brought up in a city meant that he hadn't much of a clue about island life aside from tossing around beach balls and eating watermelons or pretzels. He felt a strange sense of déjà vu, as if he'd heard of the fruit being mentioned once before, but couldn't quite recall when or where, or why it was significant. He took a slice of toast and eyed it warily before deciding that someone who was willing to mop up his puke despite having been accused of being a rapist couldn't really be that bad. He slathered a thick layer of peanut butter onto the toast, then folded it in half and took a bite. He caught Riku staring at him, and returned the look with a glare. "What?"
"Nothing. It's interesting." Riku's mouth lifted slightly at the edge, though there was a trace of caution to his amusement. "Sora would eat it without folding it."
"Yeah?" Roxas scoffed and took another large bite. "Well, I'm not Sora."
"So you keep telling me. I know. You're Roxas. From…"
"Twilight Town," the blond-turned-brunet stated matter-of-factly.
"Mm." Riku sounded obviously skeptical of that fact.
Roxas scowled at him. "Whatever you're thinking, you're wrong. I'm not Sora… whoever Sora is. I don't know how or when I got to the beach, and I still don't know anything about who you are except your name. I think I've lost a huge period of time, so after breakfast I'm going to go straight to the train station and I'm getting on the next train home."
Riku looked affronted at this. "You came to Destiny Islands two years ago. We met on a train coming here from Twilight Town."
"Hayner, Pence and Olette weren't with me?"
"You weren't with anyone else."
Roxas snorted in disbelief. Riku continued. "You said that your name was Sora, and that you were returning home after years of traveling around."
"You don't believe me?"
"You know what I think?" Roxas said. "I think that you're lying. I think that you're a member of Organization XIII, and you drugged me and brought me here, and messed with my memory and raped me."
Riku crossed his arms, aquamarine eyes flashing in anger. "Stop fooling around. I told you, I didn't rape you. And you were the one who said that you didn't feel like you'd been drugged."
"It makes a lot more sense than your explanation," Roxas retorted. He was about to hop off the chair and head to the door when the aforementioned door opened, revealing a beaming redheaded girl in a pink and white dress.
"Hi Sora! Hi Riku! Are your parents still out of town?" The girl noticed the stony look on Riku's face and the blank expression on Roxas'. "What's wrong?"
Riku shrugged at the shorter male, clearly infuriated. "Ask him."
The girl turned to Roxas. "Sora?"
"Apparently," Riku interjected before Roxas could answer, "his name is Roxas." He got a clean plate and knife and slammed them along with a small pot of jam onto the kitchen counter.
The girl winced at the blatant display of temper. She walked up and took a seat next to Roxas, taking a slice of toast for herself and smeared jam over it. "Well, what's wrong with Sora changing his name?" She smiled at Roxas. Roxas immediately liked her. "I think Roxas is a nice name."
Riku tore open a fresh pack of teabags and threw one moodily into a cup. He poured hot water into it and set it in front of the girl with a small teaspoon and a carton of milk. "He doesn't remember being Sora, Kairi. He doesn't even remember who we are."
Kairi turned to Roxas, a shocked expression on her face. "You don't remember me?"
Roxas shook his head, eyebrows knitting in frustration. "I don't know either of you!" He hopped off the stool he had been sitting on. "All I know is that I was in Twilight Town…" he paused and shook his head briefly at the memories that threatened to flood back, "and then I woke up naked next to this guy."
Kairi whipped her head around to look at Riku, who determinedly avoided her stare, his cheeks tinted faintly. Kairi was quite tempted to blush as well at the newly revealed information, but firmly willed it away, sensing that the current events were of somewhat greater importance. "Sora… Roxas," she said gently, "maybe we should take you to see a doctor later."
"No thanks," Roxas scoffed. "Thanks for the breakfast, but I'm getting the next train back to Twilight Town."
"But you live here," Riku said.
"No, I don't," Roxas insisted. He walked to the hallway at the front of the house and stared at the many pairs of shoes. He made a rough estimate and went for a pair of sneakers.
"Those are mine," Riku said irritably, following him. He pointed at a larger, clunkier pair of shoes. "Those are yours."
Roxas stared at the shoes. "Great. I turned into a fashion victim while I was busy blacking-out."
Kairi walked up to stand beside Riku, nibbling worriedly at her toast as Roxas pulled on the alien pair of footwear. "Do you have enough munny for the train?" she asked.
"Are you serious?" Riku asked Kairi, his voice full of disbelief. "You really expect him to leave?"
"I trust in him enough to figure out what's going on by himself," Kairi said pointedly, smiling at Roxas and adding: "if that's what he wants."
Riku scowled and fished a small, black pouch out of his pocket, tossing it to Roxas. He crossed his arms, obviously unhappy with the situation. "Kairi, Sora's obviously suffering from some kind of amnesia. Do you really want him going so far away by himself?"
"I don't have amnesia!" Roxas shouted.
"You don't remember anything from the past two years; you don't remember who either of us are—"
"That's because I've never seen either of you before!"
"We're your best friends," Riku said. He didn't raise his voice like Roxas did, but anger was still evident in his tone of voice and in his narrowed aquamarine eyes.
"You are not my best friend. Hayner, Pence and Olette are." Roxas stood up and glared into Riku's eyes, challenging him to retort.
Kairi came between the two and held her hands up in a pacifying gesture. "Please don't argue," she pleaded. "It seems important to" she paused, not quite knowing which name to use, "him, to get to Twilight Town, so he'll go to Twilight Town." She turned and regarded Roxas sternly, hands on hips. "But Riku's right. We can't let you go by yourself."
Roxas gave up. "Fine," he muttered. "You can come with me to Twilight Town, and I'll prove to you two nutjobs that I'm really not the person you think I am." He paused then glared at Riku. "But he's not coming with us."
For a moment, Riku's eyes looked wide and vulnerable, hurt. Anger quickly returned and cloaked the exposed emotions. He made a noise of derision, turned on his heel, and stalked moodily off. Kairi stared worriedly after him. Roxas shook his head disparagingly then fiddled with the doorknob and opened the door, stepping outside.
"Come on," he said impatiently to Kairi.
"You're the ones who wanted to supervise me like I'm some child. So?" Roxas gestured. "Take me to the train station."
The ride to Twilight Town was unnecessarily uncomfortable. Kairi sat next to Roxas and, in the spirit of friendship, had attempted to strike up a conversation about homework, television programs and how ridiculously good Wakka was getting at blitzball. Roxas, of course, hadn't had a clue about what she was talking about, and had told her as much. Conversation turned into awkward, shallow niceties about the weather, before petering off completely. Roxas had spent the rest of the trip gripping the edge of his seat as Kairi not-so-discreetly eyeballed him as if he were a raw piece of steak in a vegetable farm run by anthropomorphic rabbits. It didn't help that his ass and other muscles ached, likely from whatever that rapist-or-not did to him. His face burned, suddenly realizing how he'd really been so unknowingly violated, and he instantly hated Riku just a little bit more. He had leapt off of his seat as soon as the train had stopped, and bolted for the door, just to get away from the intensity of the girl's concerned stare.
Twilight Town had barely changed from the way that he'd remembered it. Leaving the station, Roxas was greeted by orange skies and reddish clouds, which cast their dusky glow on the buildings and floor, giving them a lazy sort of charm. He was about to head to his friends' hang-out (which over time had quickly become simply known as 'The Usual Spot') but hesitated, remembering that he still had some munny left over from the train ride. Riku had been too angry to think about giving Roxas an exact amount of munny, meaning that Roxas now had a decent amount left, more than enough to treat himself to clothes that – he grimaced – didn't make him look like such a dork. He turned and walked to where he remembered the nearest clothes shop was, hearing Kairi follow quietly behind him. As he shuffled through a rack of the newest style of clothes, he finally heard Kairi break the silence.
"What're we doing?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Roxas replied.
"But…" Kairi looked hesitant. "I don't think that Riku would like you spending all of his munny without him knowing about it."
"He did know about it." Roxas pulled out a pair of baggy, full-length trousers that were gray and black, and held them to his body to check the size. "He gave it to me."
"I think he only meant for it to be for a train ticket, though."
"Don't worry about it." Roxas pulled out a black shirt and a red and off-white jacket. "I'll work and earn the munny back, then you can go back and return it to him." He walked to the cashier and paid for the clothes, then went into the changing rooms and changed into them. He snorted at his large shoes, but decided not to worry about them too much for the moment. Spotting some jewelry on display, he decided to add a plastic checkered bracelet and a white and black ring to his attire, sliding the jewelry onto his left hand.
"I can go back?" Kairi trailed hurriedly after him as he walked briskly out of the shop toward the Usual Spot. "Aren't you coming back too?"
"Why would I?" Roxas had wanted to snap at her but the words came out a little softer than he'd intended. After all, the girl had really done nothing wrong—unlike that pervert back on Destiny Islands.
Kairi frowned. She wasn't as short-fused as Riku and was more willing to entertain her friend, but enough was enough. She ran in front of him, blocking his path and putting her hands on her hips. "Stop it, Sora. It's not funny anymore."
"Roxas," Roxas corrected, sidestepping around her and continuing to walk.
"What is it that we're here to see?" Kairi pressed.
"We're not seeing anything," Roxas said irritably, walking into the Usual Spot. "I live here."
"Sora…" Kairi trailed off and shook her head sadly.
Roxas was about to retort when he heard another, familiar girl's voice. "Oh my… Roxas?"
He spun around. The moody expression on his face rapidly melted into a gleeful smile. "Olette!"
"Roxas!" The short brunette jumped off the sofa and ran into Roxas' arms with a happy squeal. "Where have you been? We really missed you!"
"Yeah, man. You think you can just leave for two years without saying anything to us?" A short, chubby boy walked up, his hair kept in check by a headband that made the brown locks stand up and gush over, making him look rather like a haphazard mushroom. The teenager grinned as he said, in a joking voice: "No calls, no letters, nothing? That's love for you."
"And what did you do to your hair?" A blond boy with an even messier hairstyle than his chubby friend walked up and mussed Roxas' brown locks. "It looks like someone dyed it then beat it with a Struggle club."
"Oh, thanks," Roxas said dryly, grinning and knocking his fist against his friends' outstretched ones.
"Who's this?" Olette asked, looking at Kairi, who was staring at them with a stunned expression on her face.
"She's…" Roxas frowned and looked at Kairi.
"Kairi," Kairi finished.
"So that's where you've been for all these years!" The blond punched Roxas in the arm. "Got a girlfriend and didn't want to tell us, huh?"
"She's not my girlfriend," Roxas said quickly.
"I'm Olette," the brunette introduced herself, smiling. "And this is Hayner and Pence." She noticed Kairi gaping at her and cocked her head slightly. "Is there something wrong?"
"She doesn't think that I exist," Roxas said scathingly.
"Huh?" Pence looked confused. "Don't you two know each other?"
Kairi looked at Roxas, then looked down at her hands, fingers intertwined and fiddling together. "I thought I did," she said quietly.
Olette frowned. Sensing a story, she moved to sit back on the old, beat-up green sofa. Hayner and Pence picked a wooden crate each; after some hesitation, Kairi chose a seat next to Olette. Roxas stood, crossing his arms.
"When did you meet Roxas?" asked Pence.
"Two years ago, on Destiny Isla—"
"You were at the beach?" Olette interrupted.
Kairi looked startled. "I live there."
"Wow," Olette breathed.
"I thought only rich people could afford to live there," Hayner said.
Kairi smiled modestly. "My dad's the mayor."
"Wow," Olette repeated in awe. "You must—"
"Guys," Pence interrupted. "Would you let her finish her story?"
"That's okay," Kairi offered. She took a breath and tried to shake the strange sensation of weirdness she had from talking face-to-face to the people who she had been certain to be fictional figments of her friend's imagination. "Where was I?"
"You met Roxas…" Olette supplied helpfully.
"On Destiny Islands. Right." Kairi smiled at the orange-clad brunette. They barely knew one another, but Kairi could tell that she would like her immediately.
"Two years ago?" Pence was frowning, lost in thought. "Well, that sounds about right. Roxas disappeared at around that time." He grinned apologetically at the teen in question. "I guess the beach was the only place that we didn't think of going to look."
Roxas and Kairi spoke simultaneously.
"But I don't remember—"
"But he said that—"
Kairi shot Roxas a glance. The male shrugged unhappily. Kairi continued. "But he never said that his name was Roxas," she said. "He introduced himself as Sora and said that he'd grown up on Destiny Islands and that he'd just returned from years of traveling around."
The other three teenagers blinked then turned their eyes to Roxas, silently demanding an explanation. Roxas sighed in weary aggravation and flopped down onto a vacant apple crate. "I don't remember saying that," he said for what seemed like the millionth time that day. He looked down at his new rings; black and white, two polar opposites co-habiting one hand and clashing. His eyebrows furrowed. "I don't even remember leaving Twilight Town."
There was a pregnant pause. Hayner voiced what was on everyone's minds. "Well, this is weird."
Kairi nodded in agreement. She looked down at her lap, her hands placed neatly together. "I came with So—Roxas, because I thought—"
"That I was delusional?" Roxas finished with a wry laugh. "Well, you were wrong, weren't you?"
Kairi looked confused. "But you live in Destiny Islands, you have a home there…"
"I live here," Roxas said insistently. "With A—" he faltered, "with Hayner."
The three other teenagers exchanged guilty glances with one another at the half-mention of the older man's name. Pence was the one to break the silence with a tentative, "Uh, Roxas? You do know that Axel—"
Roxas' was quiet in his response. "Yeah."
a shout and running, stumbling in confusion. Fifty seconds; too short to even begin feeling tired; a BANG—
Roxas felt that churning, queasy feeling return to the pit of his stomach. His legs sudden felt as if they'd turned to jelly, and he was glad that he was already sitting down. Kairi noticed that the teen suddenly looked very pale and, curious, made a mental note to ask someone about Axel later. Roxas made a brave attempt to keep the wobble out of his voice when he turned to Hayner and asked: "Do you still have that old sleeping bag that I used to use when I stayed over?"
"Duh." Hayner rolled his eyes, grinning. "You know my mom likes collecting junk. She never throws anything away."
In light of better memories, Roxas found himself easily grinning as well. "Yeah," he said in a teasing tone of voice, "like all of your baby toys…"
"Shut up!" Hayner said in sudden alarm.
"Especially that sparkly pink teddy bear…"
"I said shut up!"
"And your mom said that it was your favorite…"
Hayner leapt off his crate and stalked over to Roxas with a fist held up, although judging by the grin on his face it was evident that he wasn't intending to use it to cause harm. Roxas chuckled and ducked, then got off of his box and ran around the Usual Spot to the sound of Pence and Olette laughing, holding his hands up in defense to avoid being bopped on the head. It was as if any confusion or unease caused from the two years of Roxas' disappearance had instantly dissipated and the four had immediately returned to the way they were before: simply best friends.
Kairi watched the scene in a mix of confusion and amusement. It was impossible not to feel uplifted when in the midst of people who were so cheerful and who obviously shared a very close friendship—yet in a sense it was this which added all the more to her confusion. Sora had never mentioned anything about the other three before, and neither had he ever mentioned living in Twilight Town. It was of course possible that Sora had been lying… were it not for the fact that it was Sora. Sora never lied; in fact, he always seemed to show great enthusiasm when he was telling his other friends of one of his adventures overseas.
Watching Roxas, it was as if Sora had been taken over by another being entirely. This… this imposter masquerading in Sora's form was barely like the teenager that Kairi knew. He was far more reserved in his play and far more vicious in his tempers, and although he did have a nice smile, it didn't escape Kairi's notice that it was nothing compared to Sora's cheeky, lighthouse-in-a-storm grin.
Or maybe it was Sora who was the imposter, and the person that they had known had been Roxas all along. Maybe it was Roxas who had had amnesia, not Sora. Kairi shuddered. That, the thought that Sora was gone now, was almost too much to bear. She pondered on that for a moment. Amnesia did seem to make sense, save for the fact that Roxas didn't seem to remember anything while he was Sora, and Sora didn't seem to have remembered anything that had happened in Roxas' life. Kairi frowned and placed her head in her hands. This was too confusing.
On that note, she was suddenly reminded of Riku, angry and – knowing him – probably now sitting on the trunk of his beloved paopu tree and sulking at the ocean. She remembered the hurt look on his face when Roxas had rudely told him that he didn't want him coming along. And, with Roxas' admission to having woken up naked beside him…
Kairi hadn't known that they were that physically intimate, but she did know that Riku harbored very deep feelings for the boy. It was never something that had been verbally aired (Riku and Sora had kept their relationship a secret from even Kairi), but Kairi knew her friends and could tell from the looks on their faces.
Looking at the three strangers around her and at Roxas, who was now and all-too-suddenly a stranger to her, Kairi realized that she was at a loss for what to do. Almost as if psychic, Olette looked to her and smiled. "You're on summer vacation too, right? You can stay for a while if you want," she offered. "There's a spare room at my house. It's probably not as nice as yours back home, but—"
"Oh, no, it's alright," Kairi said. She smiled weakly. "I was supposed to be going home sometime tonight."
"Aww, stay for a while," Pence wheedled.
"Yeah, c'mon," Hayner said. "We've only just met you and you want to go away again?"
Roxas was slightly more reluctant, fending Hayner away from his long, spiky brown hair, but agreed. "You should stay. For a while," he added quickly. "Until I've earned enough to pay Riku back for the clothes."
"Riku?" Hayner gave up on Roxas' new hairstyle and playfully punched the teen in the arm instead.
Memories of the older teen sprawling lazily like a blanket over the bed, totally naked and looking at him through sleepy aquamarine eyes shielded by long eyelashes and a curtain of silver hair flashed into Roxas' mind. The memory was helped by a lasting throb in his ass that seemed quite comfortable with not going away. Roxas shuddered in disgust and resisted the urge to rub his butt, or at least scream at how he'd been so unknowingly violated. "Some guy I met this morning," he said. He quickly changed the subject. "Hey, are any of you hungry? I feel like having an ice-cream."
"Good idea!" Hayner made for the wire gate exit of the Usual Spot. "Got any munny on you?"
Roxas groaned as he followed Hayner through the door. "I do, but it isn't mine. Don't you ever have any munny of your own?"
Kairi could hear Hayner's voice return. "I do, but you know how Pence likes to eat…"
"Hey!" Pence cried indignantly. Roxas and Hayner pelted off down the road, laughing as Pence spluttered and chased after them.
"Do you get sea-salt ice-cream on Destiny Islands?" Olette asked, following the three males at a casual walk.
Kairi shook her head.
"Ever try any?" Olette continued.
"Nope." Kairi shook her head again.
"Wow." Olette smiled as she closed the door behind her. "You don't know what you've been missing."
Kairi stood in the kitchen, clutching a beige-colored telephone to her ear as she watched Olette finish off the rest of her ice-cream and toss the stick into the bin. The redhead curled the telephone cord around her index finger nervously. The light pouring in from the window above the sink was red and offered little warmth.
There was a long pause before the person on the other line answered. "What?"
Kairi fidgeted. "I said—"
"I heard what you said," Riku said, his voice full of barely suppressed anger and disbelief. "He's not coming home? Why?"
"I told you, he—"
"Come on, Kairi!" Riku said, annoyed. "You don't really believe him, do you?"
Kairi faltered. "I don't really know what's going on… but he wasn't lying about his friends, Riku."
"We're his friends!"
"His other friends," Kairi amended. "Hayner, Pence and Olette... just like he said."
There was another long pause. Riku said, in a small, quiet voice: "How could he do this to us?"
"I don't think Sora meant to do anything." Kairi noticed Olette looking at her with a confused expression on her face, head cocked slightly. Kairi sighed, curled, and uncurled some of her long red hair around her finger. "I don't think Roxas meant to do any harm either."
"Roxas doesn't exist! Sora—"
"He does," Kairi said sadly. "I don't know how to explain it, but he does. He's… he's not Sora anymore."
"I don't think Sora was lying. I don't think that Roxas is either." Kairi sighed and closed her eyes, feeling them brim with tears. "Riku, it's like they're completely different people. I don't know where Sora's gone to, but—"
Kairi brushed a hand across her eyes then opened them and looked at the phone for a second before replacing it on its wall-hanging cradle.
"How was the ice-cream?" Olette asked, trying to pretend for Kairi's sake that she hadn't noticed the stray tear that had trickled down the redhead's face.
Kairi looked up at Olette. "It was okay, I guess."
"Just 'okay'?" Olette echoed concernedly. Anyone who thought that sea-salt ice-cream was just 'okay' obviously had to be either insane, or very, very upset. She changed her tone to a softer one. "Who was on the phone?"
"A friend," Kairi said.
"He sure doesn't seem like a friend," Olette frowned.
"He's just upset," Kairi defended.
"That gives him the right to make you upset?"
Kairi caught the worried expression on Olette's face. She looked down and chuckled softly. "It's not like that. I just… thought that I was going home with Sora today."
"Ohhh," Olette said in realization. She opened her mouth to say something comforting then closed it again. What was there to say? She couldn't very well tell Kairi that everything would turn out alright, because that would mean losing Roxas again. She was frankly having a hard enough time trying to understand how Roxas could have masqueraded under another name for two years, going so far as to even change the choppy blond hairstyle that he adored, without remembering having done any of it.
"We were even going to take Sora to see the doctor," Kairi murmured, more to herself than to the other girl. "After he—I mean, Roxas, said that he didn't remember us."
Olette walked silently over to the sofa. Almost as if following an unspoken Girl Code, Kairi trailed obediently behind and seated herself beside the shorter brunette. "Do you mean like a therapist?" Olette asked.
Kairi hesitated then nodded. "He'd been acting weirdly lately," she admitted. It was an observation that she alone had noticed and had up until a few days ago had kept from everyone, even Riku. "Like, sometimes he'd be normal… and then he'd go blank."
"What d'you mean?"
"It's hard to explain," Kairi said helplessly. "He'd just stop talking, and his eyes would look kind of glassy. I guess he never did this around Riku, but sometimes when I was out with him it would happen, and then…" she hesitated.
"What?" Olette pressured, curious.
"He'd just… something would come back into his eyes, and then he'd look around really quickly, like he was scared. Sometimes he'd start to say something, but the glassy look would then come back and then Sora would be back to normal again."
Olette's eyes widened. "That's scary."
Kairi nodded small, sad little nods. "Sora would always come back," she said miserably. "But now…" She felt the tears returning and she buried her face in her hands.
Olette wasn't entirely sure of what to say. To sympathize would seem as if she were betraying Roxas by agreeing that he was, in a strange way, not real. Yet, watching Kairi's body convulse softly with sobs, Olette knew that she couldn't not sympathize. It broke all the rules of the Girl Code. She hovered between sympathizing and not sympathizing, and settled for gingerly nudging Kairi's knee with a box of Kleenex instead. Kairi sniffled and pulled out a clean, white tissue, wiping her eyes and the tear tracks on her cheeks. Olette shuffled closer to her and put an arm around her, patting her back gently. Suddenly, out of the blue, she felt the urge to say something.
"You know," she said softly, "we once thought of taking Roxas to see a counselor too."
Kairi dried her eyes again and didn't verbally respond, but she did turn her ocean-blue eyes to Olette. Feeling encouraged, Olette continued. "This was after Axel died."
Kairi's voice was shaky when she talked. "Who's Axel?"
"He was Roxas' best friend when Roxas wasn't hanging around with us," Olette explained. She was unsure about whether or not to divulge further information, but she felt like she trusted Kairi and decided that there couldn't be any harm in it. "Roxas denies it if I ask, but I think that Roxas used to like him." She paused, noting Kairi's blank expression. "In that way."
"Oh," Kairi said. She felt slightly confused as to why Olette was telling her this. She supposed that maybe Olette was trying to tell her something—maybe that Roxas had selective amnesia and gave himself a new identity and made friends with her and fell in love with Riku because… Kairi shook her head. No, it didn't make sense. "What happened to Axel?"
Olette's eyes dropped to her lap. "He passed away."
"Oh." Kairi's hands flew to her mouth. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. Neither of us knew him. Only Roxas did. They used to be in some sort of gang together."
"A gang?" Kairi tried to picture Roxas being in any kind of gang. It didn't help that her image of Roxas was heavily clouded by her memories of Sora. Sora was definitely not gang material.
"I don't know much about it. Roxas never really talked about it. He said that he was trying to forget it."
"They were still friends." Olette twiddled her thumbs. "He went to visit Axel once, even when he was living with Hayner."
"Axel was still in the gang?"
"I think so," Olette nodded.
Kairi's voice turned soft. "How did he…"
"He was killed by his own gang members." Olette caught the shocked expression on Kairi's face. "The newspapers said that it was an accident."
"Poor Roxas," Kairi exhaled.
"That's why we were thinking of taking him to see a counselor… only he disappeared on exactly the same day." Olette kicked her legs idly. "The last time we saw him was in the morning when he left to do his poster duties."
The five teenagers had stopped by a shoe shop upon Roxas' request, where he quickly discarded his large, bulgy shoes for a smaller, flatter pair of black and white sneakers with red laces that complemented the collar of his jacket. The boys had returned to the Usual Spot, slowly enjoying their ice-creams, as the girls had split off to go to Olette's house. While in the Usual Spot, Hayner had produced Roxas' old silver skateboard from behind the green sofa, much to the other boy's delight. Now walking through the back alley, Roxas slowly skateboarded beside Hayner and Pence, who were busy finishing off the last of their ice-creams.
"Man," Hayner said, looking at the bare popsicle stick held loosely in Roxas' right hand, "you eat faster than Pence."
"I'll pretend that you didn't just use me as an insult," Pence retorted, licking at a droplet of ice-cream which threatened to dribble down over his hand.
Roxas shrugged. "Guess I was hungry," he said. The three headed down the alleyway into Market Street. Roxas looked at the steep slope heading down from the station plaza through an archway into the tram common and fondly remembered using the slope on many occasions as skateboarding practice, often performing tricks for the younger citizens of Twilight Town.
"Roxas?" A familiar-looking man struggling with a heavy-looking orange bag of cargo paused to gasp for breath and wave at him. "Long time no see! Nice hair!"
Roxas immediately ran a hand through his long, spiky hair warily, not quite sure that he liked it, and waved back, smiling.
"He's just being nice," Hayner said, playfully jostling his friend.
Roxas' hand quickly found its way back to his hair. "Is it really that bad?"
"Oh, that's right. I totally forgot that I was talking to the vainest guy in Twilight Town," Hayner grinned.
"Seriously, though," Pence said, biting off the rest of the ice-cream and letting it slowly melt in his mouth. "How do you keep it defying gravity like that without using any hair gel?"
Roxas' hand worried at his hair, pulling it this way and that. It stubbornly refused to style itself to Roxas' demands. "Y'know?" he said, giving up. "I really don't know."
"It's the eighth wonder of Twilight Town," Hayner teased.
Pence burst out laughing. Roxas did his best to look annoyed, but couldn't help the edges of his mouth curling up a little. "Thanks a lot," he said with a forced sulk, which only made the two other boys laugh all the more.
When the two calmed down a little, Pence tapped his chin thoughtfully with the end of his popsicle stick. "Speaking of the wonders of Twilight Town," he said, "do you think that maybe we could investigate those for our independent studies homework?"
Hayner groaned. "Man, summer's only just started and you're thinking of homework already?"
"Well, we should at least propose the idea to Olette, before she gets too attached to her idea of cutting our hair and writing essays on why you'd look dumb in a bowl cut."
"Anyone would look dumb in a bowl cut," Hayner scoffed, but looked thoughtful. "Your idea does sound better than Olette's, though."
Roxas felt rather left out. "What homework?"
"Independent studies." Pence smiled at him. "Don't worry; you won't have to do it since you weren't in class when we were talking about it."
"Lucky you," Hayner muttered.
Roxas frowned. "What are you doing in class now?"
"Probably the same stuff that you were doing while you were living by the beach," Pence said.
"Lucky, lucky you," Hayner muttered, even lower this time.
Roxas looked blank. "I don't remember going to Destiny Islands, remember?"
"Oh, that's right." Pence's chocolate-brown eyes widened in realization. "Wait. Does that mean that you didn't go to school at all?"
Roxas frowned, trying desperately to remember. "I don't remember."
Hayner stomped off toward a nearby trashcan, snatching Pence and Roxas' finished popsicle sticks from their hands, shaking his head and muttering to himself. "Lucky, lucky, lucky…"
"But… that means that you're two years behind," Pence said, still shocked.
Roxas felt a surge of irritation. The day had been tiring and confusing and harassing enough without having to think about how much catching up he had to do. It was strange enough to think that he even needed to catch up, since he had barely really registered his time loss. It didn't feel as if he had been sleeping or been in a coma—rather, he had just closed his eyes, and when he'd opened them again, two years had passed. As if that wasn't strange enough, there was the fact that he had woken up next to that other boy… Roxas shuddered at the memory. That, plus the unfortunate little event of Kairi having followed him to Twilight Town and now serving as another additional confusing factor to his temporary amnesia by her insistence of his two year charade as another boy named Sora… Roxas shook his head. He was certain that, if he ever were to rename himself, he certainly wouldn't name himself anything as girly as Sora.
"I guess I am," Roxas said coolly.
"Oh well," Pence shrugged. "I'm sure you'll catch up. I'll help you with the stuff that they give you and you should be able to catch up quickly." Pence grinned. "After all, it's pretty easy stuff."
For a moment, Roxas wanted to shake the optimistic look off of Pence's face. It wasn't possible for him to catch up on two years' worth of work, it just wasn't. He would have to go and finish off the years that he had yet to finish, meaning that he would be two years older than all the other kids in his class. He'd be the only full-grown teenager in a group of short, whiny, barely-adolescents. Roxas took a moment to take a breath and calm himself down. He was just feeling uptight from the weirdness of the day. All that he needed to do was spend the rest of the day winding down and having fun with his friends. He could deal with school and Kairi and her as of yet unproven claims later.
Sadly, walking into the tram common after his khaki-clad blond friend, Roxas quickly discovered that he wouldn't be getting much of a chance to wind down today.
"Roxas? Roxas!" A fat man in a yellow jacket waddled up to him. Roxas recognized him as the man who would often hire him to stick posters up around town. Roxas was one of the fastest runners in the whole of Twilight Town, and eventually the man had learned to ignore the rest of the job applicants and simply call for Roxas when he had posters that he wanted tacked up. Roxas was about to wave to him when he noticed the annoyed look on the man's face.
"Well!" The man huffed, stopping in front of Roxas and Pence. "I see that you're finally back!"
Roxas was uncertain of what to say. "Uh… yeah."
"Two years and no response from you," the man said. Roxas wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, so he didn't.
"Hey." Hayner sauntered back to the three, having disposed of his popsicle stick in the trashcan. "What's going on?"
"Now, I get that you must have been upset about the shooting. I read in the paper that you were partially involved." The man raised his hands. "I can understand that. But," he added, "that doesn't give you the right to run away without at least returning the posters to me."
"Posters?" Roxas asked blankly. "What posters?"
"You know what posters. You were on a run on the morning of the shooting."
Roxas felt ill at the return of the memory. He pushed it firmly away and wracked his brain for a memory of his last poster run. He could remember slapping up a few of the brightly-colored advertisements, but couldn't remember anything afterward that didn't involve something that would make the teen's knees literally go weak.
"Is there actually a point to what you're saying, or are you just bothering Roxas for fun?" Hayner inquired in his typical I-know-I've-got-a-bad-attitude-but-I-don't-give-a-damn voice.
The man ignored him. "Now, I don't want to cause trouble, but you lost quite a bit of munny for me. All I'm asking is for you to pay me back."
"How much?" Roxas asked.
"What?" Roxas and Hayner yelled simultaneously.
"How can Roxas owe so much munny from not finishing one poster run?" Pence asked, shocked.
"Printing those posters cost me a lot," the man explained. "The client wanted an especially large number printed and posted by a very strict deadline, and I gave all of those posters to you," he looked at Roxas, "because I thought that I could trust you."
Roxas looked horrified. "But—"
"The client was especially angry when those posters didn't go up. We had to print out a whole new batch for free just to avoid a law suit."
"But fifty thousand!" Pence exclaimed.
"That's robbery!" Hayner yelled.
The man looked affronted. "That's what it's like in the business world. Roxas had a simple job to do, and he didn't do it. The posters going up were obviously very important to the client. Ink costs a lot of munny, you know. And I even had to compensate the man for not having the posters up by the deadline!"
Despair welled up within Roxas. The day had been harrowing enough without this recent news. How on earth was he supposed to raise fifty thousand munny? For what seemed like the millionth time that day he said, in a harried tone tinged with frustration: "But I don't remember leaving Twilight Town."
"A likely story," the man said, crossing his arms over his round belly.
"It doesn't matter whether or not you remember leaving. The fact is that you owe me fifty thousand munny."
"How am I supposed to pay you back that much munny?" Roxas just about yelled.
The man shrugged. The his credit, he did look a teensy bit sympathetic. "Find a way," he said.
"Are you crazy? I'm in school! I don't have a job that would pay me enough to pay you back!"
"Are you sure that it's fifty thousand munny?" Pence asked seriously. "Could you have miscalculated?"
The man shot him a sharp look. "I didn't," he said firmly then turned his attention back to Roxas. "As for your financial situation… well, you'd better start saving now, haven't you?"
Roxas stared in horrified disbelief at the man. The man shrugged back.
All the stress and weirdness of the day came crashing down upon Roxas like a blindingly red tsunami. He did his best to blink it away, clenching his hands in fists, his fingernails digging painfully into the flesh of his palms.
"This is so unfair," he gritted through his teeth. "You're accusing me of running off with your posters when I don't remember doing anything like it."
"You still did it," the man said.
"I didn't!" Roxas exploded. "I don't remember! I don't remember anything that happened over the past two years! I don't know why people keep telling me that I did things when I don't remember doing them! I didn't take your stupid posters! What would I do with so many posters?" Unconsciously, Roxas took an incensed step forward; alarmed by Roxas' outburst, the man took one step back.
"Roxas…" Pence said, trying to calm his friend down.
"And now you're asking me to repay a ridiculous sum of munny for something that I don't remember and therefore didn't do?" Roxas clenched and unclenched his fists, more out of a way to stop the tears of rage from appearing in his eyes than out of an actual physical threat. It was getting to be too much for him. "You're just… you…"
Something strange happened right in front of Hayner and Pence's eyes.
Roxas' head inclined slightly. His eyelids fluttered, and his eyes went blank. They then widened, not in a look of shock but in an expression of child-like innocence and naïveté unsuited to the rougher, tougher Roxas of Twilight Town. His pose relaxed, and he stood just a little bit straighter. He blinked and looked around.
"Riku?" he said in a puzzled voice.
Seeing the boy back off, the man regained some of his composure. "Okay. Okay," he said to the confused-looking teen. "I'll ask you to pay me back twenty-five thousand. Okay? I can't let you off the hook for this, but I've dropped the amount you owe me by half."
The brunet looked blankly at him. "Owe?"
The man looked exasperated. "For the posters."
"Oh! So that explains it. You must be the guy who gave me all the posters. I was wondering where they'd come from." The teenager put a hand behind his head apologetically and grinned an embarrassed and cheeky grin that neither Hayner nor Pence had ever witnessed on their best friend. "I don't have that much munny on me… but maybe I can work it off?"
The man relaxed. "That sounds reasonable," he said. "You've got a deal." He clapped his hand onto the teenager's shoulder. "Luckily for you, I've got a new batch that needs tacking up. Be here at 10am tomorrow, alright?"
"Okay," the teen nodded. The man smiled, pleased, and walked off.
"Well," Pence exhaled, "that went better than I thought it would."
"Yeah, Roxas," Hayner said, grinning. "For a minute there I thought you were really gonna punch the guy!"
To their conjoint horror, their friend turned and regarded them with clueless stares. "Who's Roxas?" he asked.
It had taken some arguing to convince the brunet not to board the next train back to Destiny Islands. It had amused, then angered Hayner when the brunet had claimed to not know them, and it had frightened Pence to see the earnestness in his eyes and face when he had said it. The brunet kept saying something about "Riku, where's Riku, he was just here, why am I in Twilight Town", and when Hayner had asked who Riku was, remembering hearing his name mentioned before, the brunet had merely replied: "My b… my best friend."
"But we're your best friends," Pence had said, hurt.
"Really?" The teen had put a hand behind his head again, a move unfamiliar to the two other boys. "But… I don't remember you."
"What're you playing at?" Hayner had snapped. He'd crossed his arms and waved a hand angrily as he talked. "You've known us for years!"
"Wait." Pence had a sudden flash of inspiration. "If you're not Roxas, then who are you?"
The other boy grinned and stuck a hand out. "The name's Sora."
Pence and Hayner exchanged glances. Simultaneously, they grabbed the proffered hand and dragged the protesting teen all the way to Olette's house and shoved him into the living room, where a startled Olette was caught somewhere between patting Kairi's back and offering the distressed girl another tissue.
"Kairi?" Sora's voice was caught between surprise and concern, seeing the redness of the girl's eyes. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, don't mind me," Kairi wiped at her eyes and attempted a smile. "I'm sorry about this morning, Roxas. I didn't know… I'm really confused about it, but I guess you were right."
"Why does everyone keep calling me Roxas?" Sora questioned. He looked at Kairi's slowly widening eyes, and at the three other teenagers staring at him in the room. "And who are you guys?"
Olette blinked unintelligibly at him. It was enough to have to comfort an almost-stranger about her strange delusion (Olette had almost been certain that it had just been a delusion, that Kairi was somewhat mentally impaired, and she felt kind of sorry for her because Kairi really did seem like a nice girl); to have her best friend come in and prove that Kairi's delusion wasn't a delusion after all was really a bit too much. "Huh?"
"That's Sora," Pence said strangely.
Olette frowned. She tried to make sense of it. She failed. "Huh?"
"Sora?" Kairi stared.
"What?" Sora looked unnerved at being gawped at as if he were an animal on exhibit at a zoo.
Suddenly, the brunet found his arms full of a warm, smiling redhead. Kairi retracted herself from his arms slightly. "But… I don't understand. Weren't… aren't you Roxas?"
"Who's Roxas?" Sora asked. He looked, puzzled, at his friend. "Where's Riku? Is Riku here?"
People often get inappropriate thoughts or flashbacks at the most inappropriate of times. The memory that skated through Kairi's mind was that of Roxas that morning, unwittingly revealing the full extent of Sora and Riku's relationship. Kairi wasn't sure whether to feel sorry for Sora, continue being confused or to just laugh. It must be strange having sex with someone and then waking up to find oneself in an entirely different place.
"Riku's back at Destiny Islands," Kairi said, repressing the urge to let Sora know that she knew. It wasn't much of a surprise to her that the two were together, despite them hiding their relationship from the public eye, but it did surprise her a little that their relationship was that far along.
"Then what are we doing here? Let's go back!" Sora started for the door.
"Wait, Sora." Kairi grabbed the brunet's hand. "I don't… I don't understand. You're you again?"
Sora looked thoroughly and utterly confused. "Well… yeah. Who else would I be?"
"Roxas," Pence voiced.
Sora fleetingly wondered if there was a point to asking who Roxas was again, seeing as how his friend and the three strangers seemed adamant on bringing up his name and not explaining who he was.
Hayner flopped himself down onto Olette's sofa, next to Olette. "Okay. Now I'm really confused."
Pence furrowed his brows, absently placing a hand on his hip and scratching his head as he thought. "This reminds me of a book I read before."
"Huh?" Olette said.
"It was about a woman with a mental condition where she had more than one personality."
"Oh," Kairi exclaimed in recognition, "I think I've seen that book before." She and Pence exchanged knowing smiles.
Sora looked just about as blank as everyone in the room who wasn't Kairi or Pence. "Huh?"
Kairi and Pence both started at the same time. "It's like…" The two exchanged looks again. Pence nodded, and Kairi continued. "It's like having more than one person living in your head at once."
"You mean like hearing voices?" Hayner asked.
"Not really. In some cases, the person doesn't know that they have another person in their head. They kind of… take turns coming out," Pence said. "They control the body for a while."
Sora looked stunned. "You're saying that I have a mental disorder?" He looked at Pence, then at Kairi, not entirely comprehending what bizarre world it was that he'd woken up in, where sex with your boyfriend led to a black-out, then to being harassed by fat men and blond and chubby boys and, consequently, being told that you had a mental disorder where someone else took over your body. It sounded a little like an alien sci-fi to him.
"No," Kairi said, unable to imagine Sora – happy, cheerful, virtually spotless Sora – being mentally disordered. Weren't disorders for people with bad pasts, with bad biology, with faulty neurochemicals or genes or something like that? Then again, Sora did suddenly turn into Roxas, and then seemingly turn back. "Maybe."
"So Roxas is… my other person?" Sora sounded disbelieving. It was understandable really; as far as Sora was concerned, Sora was just Sora. He had never met Roxas before.
"Maybe," Pence said. "I mean, I just read about the disorder. It doesn't mean that you have it."
Hayner had his arms crossed, and had sunk back into the sofa when Pence had started his explanation. He now glared slightly at Sora, muttering: "Maybe you're the other person."
Olette elbowed Hayner sharply and looked quickly at Kairi. Kairi, too, was staring at Sora in a strange light.
Sora was certain that he didn't quite like the blond boy, who had thus far simply been rude to him without even offering a name. "That's impossible."
"Not necessarily," Pence said. "Some of the woman's other personalities in the book seemed to have their own pasts, their own backgrounds. Maybe yours is made-up."
"Maybe Roxas' is," Kairi argued, defending Sora.
Both sides stared at each other for a while, both unwilling to imagine that their respective best friend wasn't real. Eventually, Sora looked to Kairi and took her hand, a sure sign that he was nervous. "Can we go home now?"
"That wouldn't be a good idea," Pence said. "It'd be better if we could figure everything out first."
"But—" Sora protested.
Almost as if psychic, Kairi instantly knew what he was thinking. The look of worry was apparent on his face, although the concern barely seemed directed toward himself. Sora was worried about Riku, still on Destiny Islands, alone and sans Sora. Kairi looked from Sora to Pence, to Hayner's annoyed expression to Olette's confused, worried one.
She got an idea. She squeezed Sora's hand as if to say trust me, it'll be okay. Sora squeezed her hand back in response.
"Okay," Kairi said. "We'll stay."
"I don't want him at my house," Hayner muttered.
Olette elbowed her friend again, who yelped indignantly. "Don't be such a baby, Hayner. He's still Roxas."
Pence held up a finger. "Well, actually—"
"Besides, you two barely know one another," Olette continued.
Kairi smiled uneasily at the lot of them. She wasn't actually very good at lying, but since these people barely knew her, it would be highly unlikely that any of them would be able to discern a lie from the truth. "Olette, can we use your phone again? I think we should call Riku and tell him what's going on."
"Sure," Olette nodded.
Sora was about to ask another question when he felt Kairi squeeze his hand again. He kept his mouth shut until they walked into the kitchen, where Kairi released his hand and walked over past the refrigerator. "What're you doing?"
Kairi silently leaned over the sink and opened the window.
Riku had been prepared to be angry with Sora. The way that the brunet had behaved that morning had been almost unforgivable. Sora did like to play games, but normally their games entailed laughter, not him calling Riku names, puking in the living room then running off and getting Kairi to call and say that he wouldn't return. Riku had been prepared to be angry with Sora… but all irritation melted when Sora came running through the door and hurled himself at Riku, giving him a huge – albeit friendly – hug. Riku was about to question why Sora's hug was so platonic when he noticed Kairi walking up to the house behind Sora. The silver-haired teen decided against grabbing Sora's ass and placed his hand up higher instead, returning Sora's enthused hug in an awkward way before stepping back a bit. "I thought you weren't coming back," he said, making an admirable effort to sound annoyed.
"Who told you that?" Sora asked, surprised.
"Roxas told me. I told Riku," Kairi explained, coming up behind Sora.
"Roxas?" Riku looked confused. Since when was there a difference between Sora and Roxas? He directed his gaze to Kairi, his eyes silently demanding an explanation. Roxas had just been Sora's idea of a bad joke, hadn't he? Why was Kairi treating the two like separate people?
Kairi sighed, not wanting to tell the same story for what seemed like the thousandth time that day. Besides, she was quite exhausted from following Roxas (and Sora) around, from having to explain and have things explained to her, from crying and from having to tell a horrified Sora where his normally clunky clothing had disappeared to. She placed her hands on her hips instead and leaned forward slightly. She would never have asked the question under normal circumstances, but she was tired and just a teensy bit cranky. "And when," she said in a tutting mother's voice, "were you going to tell me that you two were having sex?"
Sora stumbled, tripped, and fell flat on his face. It was really quite an admirable act, seeing as how he had only just been pretty firmly planted in Riku's arms.
"How did you…" Sora's eyes widened and he looked at her as if he'd just realized that his other best friend wasn't the innocent girl that he'd thought she was and was, in truth, some kind of weird voyeuristic pervert.
"You told her this morning," Riku said, sounding a bit amused despite his attempts to look annoyed.
"Roxas did," Kairi said.
Riku's confused expression returned.
"I blacked-out after last night and when I woke up I was in Twilight Town and three other people told me that I have another person living in my head called Roxas and you met him this morning," Sora explained. He looked to Kairi for affirmation.
"Oh. Okay," Riku said, as if it explained everything even though, judging by his expression, it clearly didn't.
"And we only had sex once," Sora added.
Both Riku and Kairi's eyes twitched, thinking that Sora meant that he'd had sex with Roxas (impossible as it was). They both rewound the conversation and realized that Sora was referring to Riku.
"You didn't even tell me that you were going out," Kairi said indignantly. She had a right to be—she was their best friend, after all.
"We thought that you still had a crush on Sora," Riku said.
"So?" Kairi asked. She had had a crush on Sora, that much was true, but she had stopped liking Sora as anything more than a very good friend almost a year ago.
"So… it might hurt you to hear that Sora was with me?"
Kairi stared. It was quite possibly the most ludicrous explanation that she had ever heard. Did they really think that she was that easily hurt? Besides, it wasn't exactly as if their love for each other was that covert, especially not to someone who knew them so well. She laughed. "I wouldn't have been hurt," she said. "I don't like Sora."
Sora looked mortally wounded.
"In that way," she added hurriedly.
Sora still looked a bit hurt.
"Anymore," Kairi added.
Sora looked pleased.
Riku scowled, obviously not liking the fact that Sora seemed to care about whether or not Kairi used to like him 'in that way' or not. He was sorely tempted to hook a thumb over Sora's many yellow belts and covertly tug the boy toward him, when he realized, slipping an empty hand across the teenager's ass, that Sora wasn't wearing his usual, customary clothing.
Sora turned and gave him a strange look. Kairi stared at him too.
"Changed your clothes," he said, trying to make it sound like an aloof observation when he was in fact trying to cover the embarrassment of having been caught blatantly swiping his boyfriend's ass.
"Roxas did," Sora corrected. He was disturbingly unconcerned by the fact that he seemed to have another person in his head and seemed more interested in his sneakers, which were considerably smaller than his usual pair of shoes. "I don't like these," he said. "There isn't much space to move your toes."
"Roxas is… someone else living in your head?" Riku asked, puzzled.
"Yep," Sora said cheerily.
There was a long, pregnant pause. Riku looked at Sora's new trousers. They were similar to the old ones; granted, they were much simpler in terms of design, but there was still something about the colors and the placement of fabric that seemed to deliberately point at the teen's crotch. Riku wondered if Sora chose trousers like that on purpose.
"Nice trousers," he said offhandedly.
"Kairi!" Sora said suddenly to the redhead. "It's getting pretty late now. Shouldn't you be getting home?"
Kairi glanced behind her to where the sun was setting over the ocean. She yawned, tired out from the day. "I guess so," she said.
"We'll see you tomorrow," Sora promised. Kairi nodded. The three needed to sort something out. The recent (re)appearance of Roxas left her not knowing exactly what to do, but knowing that something had to be done. She felt mildly guilty about bailing out on the teens in Twilight Town, but knew that they would have insisted that Sora stay, much in the way that Kairi and Riku had tried to make Roxas stay on Destiny Islands that morning. For the meantime though, Sora was back, and she was too tired to try and explain things again. It was enough for the day that Sora was home. She smiled at the two of them then turned and walked away from Riku's house toward her own.
Sora closed the door as soon as Kairi turned the corner and left their view. He had Riku spun and pressed against the door before it even clicked shut, kissing him passionately, sliding his arms around Riku's neck and pulling the taller boy down. Riku seemed to resist for a moment, wanting to uphold his façade of being annoyed with Sora, but quickly gave up and returned the kiss, his hands darting to Sora's lower back, toying with the hem of his shirt and the warm flesh underneath. Sora grinned, a grin that Riku could feel spreading across his own lips. Sora pushed closer to Riku, parting his lips and dragging his tongue across Riku's teasingly. As he did this, he ground his hips once, heavily, across Riku's.
The door closed behind them with a loud click.
Sora quickly disentangled himself from Riku, grinning cheekily, and turned and fled up to Riku's room, leaving the other teenager looking somewhat lost, his arms still held out. Sora returned noisily back down the stairs, throwing something to Riku. The teenager looked at it. It was a large, long key.
"Now?" Riku said. He sighed and walked over to the sofa. "You're such a tease," he grumbled.
Sora ignored him. He held a hand out. Riku sighed again and walked to the kitchen. He took some chopped paopu fruit out of the refrigerator and tossed it into a blender, pouring in some water and dropping in a few ice cubes before turning the machine on. When the juice was ready he poured himself a cup, then added some syrup to the mix to sweeten it even more so that it was just the way that Sora liked it. After a few more seconds he stopped the machine and poured another glass of juice for Sora then made his way back to the sofa with the two drinks, placing the juice into Sora's outstretched hand. Sora took a deep sip and sighed happily before going straight into storyteller mode. In his hand was another key, shorter than Riku's and far blunter.
"Where was I?" he asked.
"We're on the island…"
"Oh yeah." Sora held his key upright on the small coffee table in front of him. Riku did the same, but Sora slapped his hand away. "You went missing, remember?"
"I did? Why?"
"So I can look for you," Sora said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"Why are you looking for me?" Riku asked. "Why can't Kairi go missing?"
"Kairi's already gone missing. I found her two months ago. Remember?"
Riku sighed. "Fine."
"So I go off on my mission again." Sora lifted his key like an airplane taking off.
"Are you by yourself?"
"Nope. I'm with…" Sora's eyes shifted, as if he were thinking of something, "a duck and a dog."
Riku wrinkled his nose. "You're trying to find me with a duck and a dog?"
"It's a story, Riku. It's a magical duck."
"And I suppose the dog can fight."
Sora shrugged. "We get on this big, colorful ship called the—"
"Highwind," Riku finished.
Sora looked doubtful. "I don't like that name."
Riku leaned over and started nibbling on Sora's earlobe. He slipped his hand down the front of Sora's trousers, thankful that Sora – for once – hadn't chosen an outfit with quite so many belts.
"We get on this big, colorful ship called the Highwind," Sora quickly agreed. He moaned softly when he felt Riku's hand slide down his torso to his crotch, long, boy-thick fingers skating teasingly down its length. "It… ahh… takes us to new worlds."
"Like the places that you've been to?" Riku murmured into the shell of Sora's ear. Sora shivered.
"Y-yeah. Except different. One—" his breath hitched slightly as Riku's mouth moved from his ear to his neck, nibbling and gently suckling, "one world's a bit like Venice, in that it has a lot of water. Except… except we're under the water." Sora closed his eyes and arched a little into Riku's hand with a small gasp as Riku flicked his thumb across the slit of Sora's shaft. "You'd like it there. The water's cool and clear and blue, and there's loads of fish of different colors. You can kinda hear a song while swimming around."
Riku paused. "How can you swim around?"
"I'm a merman."
"How do you wear your trousers?"
"I'm a clothes-less merman."
"What about the dog and the duck?"
"The duck's magical, remember? He turned himself into an octopus and the dog into a turtle."
"Am I there?"
Sora shoved at Riku slightly. "No, you're not. I'm looking for you, remember?"
"Maybe I'm there, swimming around with you. You just can't see me because I'm hiding in the shadows."
"I don't think so," Sora said.
Riku leaned over to Sora again, nudging the other teen gently down onto his back. "That's a pity," he said softly. His warm breath was ticklish against Sora's ear. "I think I'd like to see you naked."
Sora shivered again. "I can't find you yet," he complained. "I haven't even fought any bad guys."
"You're fighting them with a key?" Riku asked, even though he already knew the answer. The storytelling game was one that Sora liked to play, the brunet's head always somewhere in the clouds, in the sky that was the color of his eyes.
"Keys are important, Riku," Sora said earnestly. "You can lock and unlock things with keys. Open and close them."
"Like hearts," Riku stated.
"Well," Riku curled his fingers around the brunet's stiffening erection and sliding his hand up and down once in an agonizingly slow, teasing movement, making Sora gasp, "I guess it's a good thing that you decided to get new trousers, since I never could seem to 'unlock' the belts on your old ones."
Sora was sorely tempted to explain to Riku how belts and keys were totally different; that belts were 'unlatched', not 'unlocked'; that belts could be 'opened' and removed by anybody while locks (and hearts, for many people) could only be opened and removed (or closed and sealed) by one key, one special type. He resisted and continued with the story. "And while I'm under the ocean, I… ahh… I meet a mermaid princess."
"Mmhmm," Riku murmured. He pulled his hand out of Sora's trousers, making the brunet's hips arch a little after it, hungry for more, and slicked his hand with saliva from pinky to thumb before slipping it back under the elastic of Sora's boxers.
"And…" Sora jerked and moaned as Riku did something entirely wicked with his thumb, "and then I…"
"You," Sora gasped, "are evil."
Riku found himself being violently shoved off the sofa. He landed on his back with Sora kneeling over him and his hand bent in a somewhat awkward position, still in Sora's boxers. He rolled so that he was on top, and Sora rolled them back, and Riku rolled them again so that they were both lying on their sides on top of a light peach carpet, a color that Riku despised but his mother had loved and thus bought. Riku moved his leg onto and over Sora's hip, firmly pinning him so that the brunet wouldn't try and roll them again; Sora retaliated by shuffling forward, nudging a knee between Riku's legs and rubbing at his crotch with his thigh, and running his hands under Riku's yellow jacket and black shirt and up the teen's smooth, muscled back. Riku moved his head forward. Sora slowly moved to meet Riku's mouth in a manner usually seen in romantic scenes in movies, his eyes flicking from the teen's aquamarine eyes to his partially parted lips. Because Sora was Sora and because they were moving slowly, Sora missed and planted his lips on the side of Riku's mouth instead. Riku laughed softly and placed a hand on Sora's cheek, firmly re-directing the teenager to the right spot. Sora lifted his hands, pulling Riku's shirt up slightly.
"Bed?" he suggested, his cheeks colored brightly red.
Riku responded by thrusting his tongue into Sora's mouth and dragging it slowly and deliberately against Sora's before worrying gently at Sora's lower lip. He pecked Sora on the lips again and trailed his wet fingers teasingly along the underside of Sora's erection, causing the younger teen to moan and arch, then suddenly pulled back, got up and walked toward the staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms.
"Hunh," Sora muttered to himself as he got up, "and he says I'm a tease."
Riku awoke, groggily blinking his eyes at the slumbering brunet lying spooned in front of him. He poked Sora hard in the ribs, and smiled when Sora warbled something unintelligible and swatted clumsily in the air. He went to the bathroom and washed up, only putting on his jeans when he was done and was passing his room. By the time he made it down to the kitchen Sora was already sitting on one of the kitchen stools, munching a slice of peanut-buttered toast and chatting happily to Kairi.
Kairi eyed Riku, amused. "Do you always walk around half-naked in your house when your parents aren't around?"
Riku headed to the refrigerator and passed Kairi her normal pot of jam before taking out a chilled paopu fruit. He skinned it, tore it into messy bits, and dumped it casually into the blender.
"Do you?" Sora asked.
Kairi giggled. "Touché," she commented with a small blush to her cheeks. Riku slid a glass of juice to Sora, then a cup of hot tea to Kairi over the kitchen counter. He set a carton of milk in front of Kairi. Sora held up his half-eaten toast; Riku obediently took a bite out of it before reaching for his own.
"Y'know, I wouldn't mind some paopu juice sometimes," Kairi said, pouring plenty of milk into her tea.
Riku and Sora exchanged glances. "Well, you know the island legend…" Sora started.
"I don't really believe it," Kairi said, "but I know." The paopu's fruit's legendary powers of love and shared destiny were well-known to anyone who had lived for over a month on Destiny Islands. The fact that the legend was well-known didn't mean that everyone believed it though, which meant that the fruit was very often shared between non-believers and people who frankly didn't care much for myths and fairtytales.
"You'll find someone someday," Sora said supportively.
Kairi shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I'm not in a hurry to find someone. If it's meant to happen, it'll happen eventually."
"Sweet," Riku commented, though it was unclear as to whether he was referring to Kairi's statement or to Sora's drink, which he was currently holding to his lips. He grimaced slightly, putting down the overly-sugary drink, and took a deep bite of his toast, licking away excess bits of peanut butter from the corners of his mouth. Sora stared at him hungrily as he did so, and took a bite of his own toast, deliberately getting peanut butter all over his mouth. Riku looked at him.
Kairi sighed. "It's okay if you guys want to kiss, you know. I won't cry or scream or anything."
Riku stretched out and grabbed a box of Kleenex, pushing it to a somewhat disappointed Sora. "It's not weird for you to have two male friends kissing?"
"It's weirder to watch you two fighting and losing to Selphie and her skipping rope," Kairi said truthfully.
"We only lost because Wakka was throwing blitzballs at us from the sidelines," Sora grumbled.
"And Tidus kept tripping us up," Riku added.
Kairi tried her best not to snort. She really tried.
"It's not that funny," Sora sulked.
Kairi giggled. "Losing in a two-versus-one fight against Selphie isn't funny?"
Sora's sulk slowly spread into a smile. "Well…"
Riku picked up the last piece of toast and placed it on Kairi's plate. The girl immediately took it and ripped it into three, offering the other two pieces to her friends. The three spread either peanut butter or jam onto their pieces of toast. After eating them, Riku collected the plates, knives and glasses, and put them into the sink. Sora moved to wash the plates; Kairi moved to dry them. Riku took the cleaned crockery and stored them away.
"Y'know," Kairi brought up hesitantly, "we probably should call Olette, Hayner or Pence."
Riku vaguely remembered their names from yesterday's bizarre morning. "Roxas' friends?" he said. He said the name 'Roxas' like it was alien, not quite believing the 'Sora has an alter-ego' theory. It seemed impossible to him, completely ludicrous; and besides, Sora was here with him now, making yesterday merely seem like a strange dream.
Kairi nodded. "They wanted us to stay for a while when Sora came back… when Roxas turned back into Sora."
"We kinda escaped through the kitchen window," Sora added.
Riku immediately had the mental image of them being locked in some kind of prison, where they'd had to make a break for the kitchen and shimmy out of the window in order to make a break for freedom. He frowned slightly. He'd been in Twilight Town before, had lived there for almost a year before returning to Destiny Islands, where he'd been born and raised. He'd hated the orange-lit city and its inhabitants, the shadows that fell from every building and tunnel and alleyway.
"It wasn't that bad," Kairi said quickly, noting Riku's dour expression. "They're actually really nice. We should at least apologize for running off like that."
"Why not?" Riku said. "They've seen that Sora is Sora now, not… not Roxas or whoever."
"It's not that easy, Riku," Kairi sighed. "As far as they're concerned, Roxas is the real one."
"'Real one'?" Sora echoed.
"The therapist of the woman in the book I read called it the 'core personality'. It's like… the real, original person in the person's head. The person who was biologically born into his or her body. The other person is…" Kairi hesitated.
"Fake," Riku finished. "Like Roxas."
Kairi smiled uneasily. She hated the idea that either Sora or Roxas could be only a made-up person. Granted, she barely knew Roxas, but he seemed like a nice guy beneath all the anger and displays of toughness. And the thought that Sora could be the one who didn't really exist… it made her feel sick to her stomach. It didn't seem possible that Sora could be 'fake'. He did, after all, have a past, one that he had often regaled to his captive audience, Kairi and Riku. He claimed to have visited various parts of the world, to have eaten the food in Asia and to have seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Roxas on the other hand didn't seem to have ever left Twilight Town. It didn't seem feasible for him to have made up a persona who seemed to know the world as well as Sora did.
"We should call them," she said instead, and went to the phone in Riku's living room.
When she left, Sora turned to Riku with a troubled expression on his face. "What if I'm the not-real one?" he said.
"You're not," Riku said immediately.
"How do you know that I'm not the not-real one?" Sora asked, blue eyes dancing with worry. "What happens to people who aren't real? Do they just disappear?"
"Maybe that's what happened to me when I was in a coma. You remember when I said I was in a coma for seven years, right? Since I was four?" Sora looked panicked. "Maybe I wasn't in a coma. Maybe I was Roxas."
"I don't think—"
"That's what happened yesterday," Sora said. "I fell asleep… it was black, like I'd disappeared, and then when I woke up I was in Twilight Town."
"It keeps happening to me!" Sora was in a full panic now. "I keep falling asleep and waking up in different places. I woke up from my coma in Twilight Town, too. No one falls asleep for seven years for no reason, Riku!"
"You told me that when you were five you almost drowned—"
"But I got out of the water! I swam past the ice and pulled myself out."
"Then you fell asleep," Riku said. "It makes sense. You were probably hypothermic by then, and you were just a kid."
"I didn't fall asleep then," Sora argued. "Some woman came up to me and started scolding me. Then I fell asleep."
"You were probably really tired," Riku repeated.
"No one sleeps for seven years!"
"You were in a coma."
"Maybe I was Roxas," Sora said unhappily. His hand stretched out to take Riku's, and Riku couldn't help but note the strange absence of the brunet's usual black, fingerless gloves. "I don't want to disappear, Riku."
If Riku were a girl, this would have been the part where he took Sora in his arms and patted his back, and encouraged him to cry out all of his woes. However, Riku wasn't a girl, and boys didn't have a Boy's Code the way that the girls did—not when it came to emotional distress, at any rate. That section of the Boy's Code was somewhat shady and wrought with wormholes. He wavered awkwardly in his kitchen, holding onto a shaking Sora's hand and hearing Kairi's voice waft, muffled, through the kitchen door. As sunlight poured warmly in through the windows and lit up Sora's chocolate-brown hair, Riku had a sudden flash of inspiration.
"Come with me," he said simply, and led Sora out through the back door of the house.
"D'you feel better now?" Riku asked.
Sora fiddled with the freshly-picked paopu fruit held in his hands, one of the pointed ends bitten off and gone. He sat on the rough, curved trunk of Riku's tree (they called it Riku's tree even though it really belonged to all of the islanders; Riku was always sitting by the tree, and no one had really wanted to challenge the name besides) and stared out to the horizon, to the cheerful blue sky and the little glimmers of light reflected off the ocean water. Was this unreal too, the way that he could be? Of all the places that he had visited in the world, he had decided that Destiny Islands was undoubtedly the most beautiful. If he were to disappear, did it mean that he would never see this sight again, never again see anything so pretty?
"Not really," Sora mumbled his response. He offered the fruit to Riku, who declined it, aquamarine eyes shimmering with concern.
"You're real, Sora," the silver-haired teen insisted earnestly.
"I hope so," Sora said glumly.
Riku felt a twang at his heart. It wasn't right for Sora to look so miserable; Sora, the one who was always smiling, always ready with a silly face or a laugh. It just wasn't right. He sighed and gathered up his bravery. Riku didn't have as strong a belief in male machismo as some of the other boys on the island did, but he didn't want to sound cheesy or, well, too girly. He put a hand on Sora's, appreciating the fact that Sora was, for once, gloveless, as it meant that he could feel the soft warmth of Sora's skin against the heat of his palm. "You're real," he said firmly. "You're Sora. You're not Roxas. Roxas is just a nobody. He isn't real."
Sora sighed, a long, sad sigh. He gave Riku a sad, hopeful smile. "Thanks," he said, and Riku could feel the genuineness, the strength behind the word. He returned the smile, although Riku's was a lot smaller than Sora's natural, ear-to-ear one; and leaned up slightly because it just seemed like the right thing to do, and because he was standing, not sitting, next to Sora. Sora shuffled himself so that he was laying stomach-down on the tree and leaned his head down at the same time, still clutching the paopu in his hand. He closed his eyes, and kissed Riku.
Roxas awoke to the sensation of someone's tongue gently but insistently running along his lips. Startled, he parted them to speak, but found his mouth being invaded by that tongue instead. He was aware of two hands that skittered like ghosts across his cheeks and face, tracing his neck, his jaw and flicking at his earlobes before entangling themselves into his blond – no, brown, a horrible mousey-brown – hair. He was aware of the roughness of bark beneath him, of the shortness of his breath from the angle that he was laying at and the passionate kisses being planted at his mouth, licking and nibbling wetly, and of a burning sensation in his ass that seemed somewhat more pronounced than it had the day before. His eyes opened to the blurry sight of a face that was too close for comfort, of eyes that were closed and covered by long eyelashes and a curtain of soft, long, silver hair.
Roxas wasn't sure whether it was instinct or curiosity, but he found himself kissing the other person back for just a moment, mashing his lips hungrily against the other person's in a way that made their teeth grind and made the other person gasp a little for breath. The other person's lips were firm, not soft like the way that he suspected (and it really was only a suspicion, since he'd never actually kissed someone before) a girl's lips would be. The other's person's hands felt callused against the skin of his nape, the fingers boy-thick, not at all delicate or effeminate.
He jerked back. When he saw who it was, he almost crushed the… the thing he was holding in his hand, to pulp. "You again!"
Riku looked startled. "Huh?"
Roxas roll-jumped off the tree and made a wobbly landing on his feet, momentarily supporting himself with his hands on the trunk. Once he was firmly righted, he shoved Riku furiously. "What do you keep doing to me?"
Riku stumbled backwards in surprise. "What?"
"Why do I keep waking up here?" Roxas stormed forward and shoved Riku again, forcefully enough to push the teen to the ground. "Why do I keep waking up with you?"
Riku's eyes widened in realization, and then narrowed, glittering with annoyance. "Roxas."
"What do you keep doing to me?" Roxas shouted. He straddled Riku's stomach, and raised his fist as if to hit him. Riku jerked suddenly, making Roxas fall off, and quickly rolled to his feet.
"Where is Sora?" Riku demanded.
"I don't know!"
Roxas had underestimated Riku's speed. The silver-haired teen was standing in front of him before he could even respond, holding his arms in a vice-like grip, and staring searchingly into his eyes, as if he was searching for a whole new person hiding there.
Roxas felt a combination of mild fear and sickness. This Riku wasn't just an antagonistic rapist. He was also completely insane.
"Sora?" Riku said. He shook Roxas hard. "Sora!"
Roxas shoved Riku forcefully away and took a few steps back. "What's the hell's wrong with you?" he said. "My name is Roxas. I told you yesterday, remember?" Vaguely, he wondered if it had really been such a good idea to leave the gang all those years ago after all. It had been hard being in Organization XIII, but leaving had led to Axel being killed. The artillery that they carried would've been pretty useful too—not that Roxas really remembered how to use most of them, being that he had left the Organization such a long time ago.
"You're not real," Riku said angrily. "You're Sora."
Roxas didn't remember ever liking any of the kills that he'd made while he was in Organization XIII, but was certain that he could certainly appreciate a good semi-automatic right about now. He could probably just shoot Riku in the leg, then run and call the police, and disappear back into his normal life before they could catch him, his life as Roxas-of-Twilight-Town and not Roxas-of-Organization-XIII, a.k.a. the only one as of yet not interviewed about the shooting and the death of his best friend Axel, where there had been running and shouting and blood and, oh God, he was really starting to feel sick. He looked down at the somewhat mashed star-shaped thing in his hands. Somewhere in his foggy mind he could smell the sweetness of the thing's juice, and deduced that it was some kind of fruit. It reminded him a bit of the carambola – also known as a 'star fruit' – something that Demyx had brought for him and Axel one day and sliced open using one of Axel's chakrams, revealing its star-shaped cross-section. The fruit that Roxas held was flatter and reminded him a little of an oddly-shaped stone, and he briefly wondered what it was called and why one of the points were missing and why, amongst the fading taste of peanut butter, he could taste something sweet and not completely unlike the scent of the sticky liquid dribbling out and over his palm and fingers.
Roxas obviously had spent a longer time than intended staring at the star-shaped thing, because when he looked up Riku had relaxed his tense stance, glancing momentarily at the fruit. "That's a paopu," he said.
Roxas snorted, remembering something from the previous day. "Sora's favorite. Right?"
Riku nodded. Roxas let the fruit drop to the ground. He reminded himself that he was better than his Organization XIII days, or at least that he was trying to be, that he was trying to be normal and had been succeeding up until Axel's death, when the world had suddenly gone black and then very confusing. He banished the thoughts of which gun would be better to momentarily paralyze a man without blowing the man's entire leg off, and tried to calm himself down instead. He opened his mouth to speak, but someone else beat him to it.
He whirled on his heel. "Pence?" he exclaimed in surprise.
"See?" Olette said triumphantly, coming up behind the chubbier boy. "I told you we'd find him back on the beach!"
"Are you sure that he's Roxas now?" Hayner said skeptically, standing beside Olette. "We don't want him climbing out of any more kitchen windows."
"What're you talking about?" Roxas asked, crossing his arms.
Hayner blinked at him, and then grinned. He clapped Roxas on the shoulder. "Yep. You're back."
Roxas suddenly felt very tired and lost, and not just because he had – yet again – inexplicably turned up on Destiny Islands. "Hayner. What's going on?"
"It's a bit of a long story," Pence said.
"Let's go home," Roxas said. "You can tell me about it on the train back."
Olette squirmed. "Well, that's the thing…"
"You kind of promised the poster guy that you'd meet him at 10am today," Pence said. "Or… Sora did, but the poster guy thought that he was you."
"What time is it now?" Roxas asked.
Olette tried her best to look sympathetic. "Eleven-thirty."
Roxas exhaled slowly. His head drooped a little. "I lost time again."
"And the poster guy is steamed," Hayner said. He looked amused. "I almost thought that the fat old guy was going to have a stroke."
"Hayner," Olette said, her voice sounding like a reprimand.
"So, what?" Roxas asked. "We can't go back because the poster guy is mad at me?"
Pence hesitated. "Let's just say… it would be better if you took a vacation for a while."
Roxas frowned and looked aside, his angry blue eyes almost closing with weariness. He hated being left in the dark, hated that he had no idea what was happening and was so entirely clueless about everything that was going on. Everyone else seemed to understand but didn't seem to want to tell him, which was really just like a slap in the face. "What's going on, guys?"
Riku had been watching the conversation with folded arms and narrowed eyes. Now he walked toward them, as if he were about to say something, then changed his angle slightly so that he was headed off his island. His voice was cold and unwelcoming when he tossed, over his shoulder: "You can talk later. C'mon, I'll take you home."
Roxas was relieved to find that he actually did have a 'home' of his own—or, at least, Sora did, since everything in the house seemed to be addressed to him or labeled as his. After a lengthy explanation by Pence, aided by Kairi who came over as soon as Riku called her at his house, Roxas could only find himself feeling strangely thankful that he – that Sora – didn't live with Riku or anything. The silver-haired teen obviously disliked him, constantly glaring at him and making it obvious that Roxas wasn't welcome in Sora's home. Roxas found the feeling to be a little bit weird, considering the circumstances, but hadn't Axel told him of something like that once, that people dissociate in particularly traumatizing periods to protect themselves?
He felt like laughing. 'Dissociate'. That was what was happening to him now, wasn't it? Except that it wasn't as simple as just numbing himself. No, he had another person living in his head, an alien, a bug dancing and kicking in the hollow of his cranium, taking over his body and controlling it the way that the extraterrestrials in sci-fi movies did. This other person (the 'Other', as his friends had taken to calling it), this 'Sora', put Roxas to sleep. As far as Roxas was concerned, Sora abused his body, making it have sex and make out with someone that Roxas despised, returning it to Roxas dirty and used. It seemed strange to Roxas that, while he was completely virginal, his body was most certainly not.
"Okay," Roxas said when Pence had finished his explanation, his voice strangely calm, despite being laden with frightened (because he was afraid, it was difficult not to be) tension. "How do I get rid of it?"
"Sora's not an 'it'," Pence corrected, just in the nick of time as it looked as if Riku were about to explode. "Technically, he's a part of you." He glanced at Kairi. "Or, you're a part of him."
Roxas scowled. "You're saying that I don't exist?"
Pence looked helpless in his response. "I'm not saying that. I don't know." He looked to Olette for help. Olette just shrugged at him. "The personalities of the woman in the book knew that they weren't real, even though they had their own histories. In this case, both you and Sora seem to think that you're the real ones."
Roxas didn't know how to respond to that. Sitting on a worn, red sofa, he put his head into his hands and took a breath.
Kairi felt sorry for him. He wasn't Sora – she was in fact quite convinced that Roxas was the fake one – but that didn't mean that she couldn't be sympathetic. She sat down next to him, smiled hesitantly, and patted his knee, leaving her hand there. Roxas didn't stop her.
"So now what?" Hayner asked. He sat slouched on the other side of Roxas, squished between Roxas and Olette, one foot put lazily on the small coffee table in front of them, and waved a hand in the air as he spoke.
Riku glared at him and swatted the foot away. Hayner returned the glare with an arrogant expression that clearly said, 'Look, you rich snob, I don't care about your hoity-toity rules about not having feet up on the table, I'll put my feet wherever I damned well want to and you can't do a thing about it'. To finish the look, he put his foot back up on the table again, almost bringing it down onto Riku's fingers as he did so.
"You're not going back to Twilight Town," Riku stated coolly, eyeballing daggers into Hayner's forehead.
"Think we already covered that," Hayner retorted snidely, returning Riku's daggers with lightning bolts of his own.
Kairi and Olette exchanged glances, sighed, shook their head slightly, and then giggled a bit at having unconsciously matched each other's actions so perfectly.
"I guess I could stay here for a while," Roxas said. He made sure to put an emphasis on "here", meaning in Sora's house, not on islands next to curled trees or in – heaven forbid – Riku's bed. He looked around. "I think it's big enough for all of us."
"Or you could stay at my house," Kairi offered. "It's bigger than Sora's." She said it without a trace of braggadocio and stated it as a modest fact.
Olette smiled at her. "I'll take you up on that offer," she said. The two girls grinned at each other, already planning some kind of impromptu sleepover.
"I think I'll stay here with Roxas," Pence said.
"Me too," Hayner declared, his eyes still steadily fixed on Riku's. Olette slapped the back of his head so that he started forward, blinking. He rubbed his head and shot an indignant look at Olette.
Riku jerked his head to the side once the eye contact was broken, obviously troubled. With his parents away, he had been planning for Sora to stay over at his house. He still wanted Sora to stay over, but he definitely didn't like Roxas enough to let him stay anywhere near him. He crossed his arms and tried to look more like he was angry as opposed to hugging himself, which he was, a bit.
Olette noticed the sullen expression on Riku's face. She ignored the betrayed look on Hayner's, and said in a faux bright voice: "Does anyone want to go down to the beach?"
As the only one of the three (or two, depending on the situation) islanders who wasn't either swapping into another personality or trying to play the 'my-glare-is-scarier' game, Kairi appointed herself the unofficial tour guide for the rest of the teens from Twilight Town. Although Hayner, Pence, Olette (and Roxas) had been to the beach before, the beach had been just about all they'd seen on Destiny Islands. Kairi took them around, pointing out Tidus' spot on the raised platform ("Tidus isn't here right now but when he's here he's normally training, the guys on the islands like fighting"), the Secret Place ("though it's not really a secret, we just like to call it that"), Wakka's area near the Secret Place ("Wakka's the island's blitzball champion, I'll take you to see him later"), Selphie's pier ("she normally just sits here looking out to the horizon") and Riku's island ("it's the only place on the whole island with a paopu tree"). They found Tidus, Wakka and Selphie wandering across the other side of the island, Selphie munching messily on a watermelon slice while Tidus and Wakka chowed down on salted pretzels. Hayner immediately took a liking to Wakka and showed a great interest in how the redhead was able to use the blitzball as a weapon, eventually borrowing a wooden sword off of Kairi and running to the beach with Wakka to pit their abilities against one another. Olette and Selphie chatted about hair maintenance, and how Olette's hairstyle was "so neat" and how Selphie's hair required her to dangle it in curlers every night ("for that extra flick at the bottom"). Pence eventually bored of the conversation and followed after Hayner to watch how the fight was progressing (Hayner was losing), which left Roxas and Kairi standing alone under a coconut tree, as Riku had staunchly refused to go with any of them and was now sitting at home, likely either sulking or sulking in front of the television.
"So," Roxas said.
"So," Kairi said.
Roxas stuck his hands into his pockets. "Nice island. I didn't know that there was so much to see."
"Not really," Kairi admitted. "It's not as interesting as Twilight Town."
"We normally just come here for a day," Roxas said. "Olette swims. Sometimes we play volleyball." He looked at the half-eaten pretzel in his hand, which Hayner had snatched from Wakka and shoved into Roxas' palm before running off with the redheaded teen. "The price of pretzels has gone down."
"Not really. Tidus and Wakka just bought theirs further inland. That pretzel stand," Kairi pointed out a small cart standing near the beach, "sells pretzels for almost twice the price to all the tourists."
"Most of the people who come here only come for the beach. No one really wants to look around."
"Mm." Roxas didn't really seem too interested in what Kairi was saying, as he was somewhat lost in thought. Eventually he spoke again. "Twilight Town's not that interesting."
"But you have all the shops, the people, the city lights…"
"Have you ever lived in Twilight Town?"
Kairi shook her head, no. Roxas continued. "It's okay for people who go there for vacation, but when you live there…" He looked around. "It's nicer here."
"Because of all the space?" Kairi guessed. She remembered one of Riku's comments about Twilight Town being too cramped when he had returned to the island.
"The sky's actually blue here," Roxas said distantly. "It's bright. No shadows here."
Kairi remembered an earlier conversation with Olette where the brunette had brought up the fact that one of Roxas' best friends (slash a possible crush) had been killed in some kind of gang shooting. She wanted to ask him about it, decided against it, then thought 'Oh, whatever' and asked, albeit very gingerly: "You mean like gangs?"
Roxas inclined his head slightly. Kairi continued slowly, cautiously, like she was treading on glass. "You were in those shadows too, weren't you?"
Roxas jerked back as if stung. "Who told—" he laughed coldly and shook his head. "What am I talking about? It was in the newspapers."
"Olette told me, actually," Kairi said carefully. To her relief, Roxas didn't really look too upset about that. She continued. "Is Twilight Town really that bad?"
"It's okay." Roxas gave her a wry smirk that looked completely out of place on Sora's face. "If you keep away from the shadows, it's okay."
Kairi didn't want to ask why Roxas had gone to the shadows in the first place. She was curious about it, but didn't want to ask when and why. It just didn't seem appropriate. "What happened?" she asked instead, softly.
For a moment, she feared that Roxas had misunderstood her question because he didn't respond. Then, Roxas' pose stiffened slightly, and Kairi noticed him clench his fists to his sides. "They didn't want me to leave," he said. "I left anyway. I knew that they would kill me if I left, but I left anyway. Axel tried to stop me. He died instead."
Kairi felt a tug at her heart at the tale. She personally could never imagine being in a gang, but she knew that she would be heartbroken if she lost one of her friends, even more so if she knew that the loss was because of her. Quietly, she stepped forward, and took a startled Roxas' hand, squeezing it firmly.
There were some things that didn't add up in Roxas' story. Olette had told her that Roxas and Axel were best friends when Roxas wasn't with Hayner, Pence and Olette, and had made it sound as if Roxas had been friends with all of them during the same time period; yet, from Roxas' tale, it sounded as if Axel had died before Roxas had ever met the other three teenagers. Kairi wanted to ask Roxas about it, but again it didn't seem like an appropriate thing to ask, so she just held Roxas' hand and smiled a small but warm smile.
Roxas looked down at their hands, fingers intertwined as if they had been close companions since childhood. Were all the girls of Destiny Islands so friendly? Maybe it explained why Riku was such an asshole: the girls took all of his friendliness and left him as an empty husk of malice. No, no, that was an unfair assessment. Riku had never actually been nasty to him, only angry, and it had made sense why after Pence had explained the whole 'Sora' thing to him. It crossed Roxas' mind that it was somewhat ironic, that he and Riku had technically had sex, even though he hadn't really been present. He felt a sudden weight in his chest thinking about the way that Riku had been so cold to him earlier that day, next to the paopu tree. Axel probably would have felt the same way that Riku had, even if his methods were a little less 'ice prince' and a little more 'beam you a shit-eating grin, then embed a chakram somewhere into your left kidney'. He felt somewhat queasy thinking about Axel and quickly banished the redhead from his mind, bringing his other hand up and pressing his palm to his face, his rings making a slight indentation into the skin of his forehead.
He felt his hand being squeezed again, and he looked up to see Kairi still smiling sympathetically at him. He felt his hand being jerked forward, and before he knew it, Kairi was hugging him gently.
"It's okay," she said quietly.
Was it okay? Roxas didn't think so – the fact that even thinking of Axel was enough to make his knees weak seemed to indicate that it wasn't – yet Kairi saying so seemed to make it just a bit better, seemed to make it just a bit less painful, seemed to make his knees just a bit stronger. Tentatively (he had never done this before), he brought his arms around her and placed his hands slowly on her back, not hugging her but just holding her, as if his physical presence was enough to thank her for the support that she was giving. She was girl-soft, not at all like the lean, hard muscle of boys and men like Axel and Demyx (Roxas had often been in close contact with them when they were playing one of their games, or when they'd lain sprawled all over one another on the couch in front of the television). Her hair smelled of apples and that sweet shampoo that Roxas had once used, to the effect of being laughed at by Demyx and Axel for 'smelling like a boyband-loving, pre-teen girl'. Gingerly, Roxas inclined his head and laid it, forehead-down, on Kairi's shoulder, where her soft red hair, almost similar in color to another person he'd once known, tickled his nose and skin. When she didn't try to move him he exhaled, feeling a small, grateful twist in his heart; when she patted his back gently he suppressed a choking sensation in his throat, swept up all of his memories of Axel and Demyx and Organization XIII and placed them in large cardboard box sealed with duct tape, which he pushed to a dusty corner of his mind where he resolved never to look again.
Riku wasn't unfriendly by nature. Granted, he was a bit of an intimidating person to get to know: he had been a precocious toddler, a cocksure and self-possessed child (although Kairi would swear that the 'better-than-you' vibe that he so strongly gave out was merely to protect the fact that he was also somewhat paranoid and fearful of losing his loved ones and friends), and although his time spent off the island had mellowed him out, he was still able to unnerve people with the way that he could appear to look so cold, not helped in the least by his intense, sharp aquamarine eyes. Unlike Sora and Kairi, Riku had been born smirking, not smiling, and in his adolescence there was always this somewhat dark air that followed him around, a sense of shadowy mystery held in his eyes curtained behind a protective layer of silver fringe that didn't quite seem to match the sunnier dispositions of the rest of the island's inhabitants.
Riku was, however, not entirely unfriendly by nature. He was merely cynical.
Which was why, when Olette had suggested that they head to the beach, Riku had decided to return home by himself (not to sulk, because sulking was for children and Riku wasn't a child, thank you very much Kairi). He knew that Roxas wasn't real, he wasn't interested in entertaining people who didn't exist, and although Olette and Pence had seemed somewhat decent Riku wasn't too keen on having to go anywhere on the island with Hayner or with (Riku made up the name just as he flopped irately onto his sofa, flicking the television on moodily) 'the Nobody'.
Some soap opera was on. Riku identified it as the one which made Kairi and Selphie cry, and the one that had made Tidus snort Cola out of his nose once, which had sent Riku, Sora and Wakka into paroxysms of laughter. He settled morosely back into his sofa, watching the soap without actually processing any of it in his mind.
He wanted Sora. Everything was going wrong. Sora was meant to be with him right now. His parents were away, and Sora was meant to stay with him, and they would do couple-y stuff without having to hide, and Riku would attempt to be mushy because Sora seemed to like that kind of thing even though it mortified Riku beyond words, and they would have pillow fights and tells stories and kiss and maybe have more sex. Riku had never been interested in anyone before Sora, save for a brief, fleeting crush for Kairi during his childhood which had been quickly doused when Riku discovered that Kairi had a hobby of wandering aimlessly over the beach collecting thalassa shells. Kairi was a great friend, but a boring girlfriend. Sora though, Sora was interesting. Sora liked to run around, unlike Kairi, who was slightly more mature and didn't have quite as much fun charging up and down the beach like a rhinoceros on crack. Sora was competitive, Sora challenged Riku, Sora didn't care that Riku's past in Twilight Town was a shady one, that he had been involved with a gang called the Heartless (and what kind of self-respecting gang called itself 'the Heartless' anyway?) and had pushed drugs, one of many explanations why Riku was now so rich despite only being a teenager. Riku had met Sora on the train back to Destiny Islands, and although he had been annoyed by the perky then-blond when Sora had joined his carriage, by the end of the journey he was quite enamored with the other teenager and had invited him over for dinner and, in a strange way, to meet his parents.
Riku wanted Sora. Sora was meant to be with him right now. Riku wasn't meant to be watching soap operas that had the magical ability to make girls cry and boys burst into raucous peals of laughter. If Sora were here, the two would likely be sparring on the island, being cheered on by Wakka and Tidus while the girls giggled and nattered on about nails or hair or something horrendously feminine like that. They'd be clashing swords (there was something decidedly Freudian about that, but Riku had never really been too interested in Psychology; that was more Kairi's forte), their skin and hair and clothes drenched with salt-sticky sweat and ocean water, and Sora would grin at Riku in that adorable way that he did and look at Riku with forget-me-not blue eyes laced with beautiful thick eyelashes, and Riku would lose just so that he could have an excuse to run home with Sora and make out with him in the shower. Sora wasn't meant to be Roxas, Roxas wasn't meant to exist. Roxas messed things up.
It was no surprise, then, that when Riku met Roxas again two days later purchasing two watermelon slices from a snack shop further inland, the two almost instantly started to fight.
"Sora?" Riku inquired.
Roxas jumped. "Geez, man, you scared me," he said in an accusing tone, as if Riku had done it on purpose. He shifted the slices of watermelon to one hand.
Riku glared. "How long are you going to stay here?"
"Olette's having fun at Kairi's place, and Hayner likes fighting with Wakka, so we're probably going to be here for at least another few weeks." Roxas casually paid for the watermelon slices (with munny from Riku's black munny pouch, Riku didn't fail to notice) and turned to leave.
Riku grabbed Roxas' wrist. "You know what I mean," he said irritably. "When's Sora coming back?"
Roxas snatched his wrist back, rubbing it with his other hand. "Hopefully never," he snapped. He hated being pushed around, and he certainly didn't know anything about this supposed disorder that he had. It was bizarre, and since his friends seemed not to think that it was anything too serious he had decided to put it out of his mind. He saw the look on the taller boy's face. "Get Sora out of your head. He isn't real. I am."
"You don't exist," Riku said, semi-echoing the words that he had said to Sora just a few days ago, except that this time it was said stonily with eyes that were icy and harsh. "You're just a Nobody."
Sora would have stared at Riku, then laughed disbelievingly, and asked Riku if he was feeling alright. Roxas, however, was not Sora. Unlike Sora, Roxas had a quick and fiery temper, one which he had (in his opinion) been suppressing rather well. Unlike Sora, who took time to try and reason things out, Roxas had the ability to become unutterably violent when he was angry.
Roxas tightened his hold on his bag of watermelons, swung it, and whacked Riku in the face.
"Hey! Hey, take it outside! No fighting in here!" the shopkeeper yelled in alarm, which hadn't really been much of a problem because Riku, after staring in shock at Roxas, had retaliated by shoving the boy backward so that he stumbled out of the door, and socked him hard, his fist connecting with Roxas' cheek. Riku had stopped then, gazing in horror at his fist and at the bruise that threatened to blossom on Roxas' cheek. On Sora's cheek.
Roxas took the opportunity to catch Riku off guard. He threw the bag at Riku's head; then, when the teen raised his hands to catch it, Roxas charged at him and pummeled him in the chest and torso and stomach.
"I exist! I exist! I'm alive," Roxas shouted, which was a bit of a strange thing for one to be yelling, in Riku's opinion, but he didn't dwell too long on it, dropping the bag of watermelons with a wet splutch and quickly drawing his arms up to defend himself.
"I'm alive," Roxas yelled again, and Riku briefly wondered why Roxas' eyes had been somewhere else, as if he'd been thinking about someone else, and why his voice had cracked on that final word, making him sound as if he were broken. He didn't have much time to think about it as Roxas kicked at Riku, toppling the taller teenager. Roxas wasn't much of a fist-fighter (Riku suspected that the boy would be miles better with a sword in his hand) but what he lacked in ability he made up for in emotion, leaping on top of Riku and preparing to hit him again. Riku decided that Roxas really was quite annoying, and used his superior body mass and muscle to roll them over, quickly changing their positions so that Riku was straddling Roxas' chest. He raised a fist.
The movement was so fast, so fluid, that Riku didn't register Roxas' eyelids fluttering, his eyes going blank.
"Riku?" Sora said, before he was punched straight across the face, right where his cheek was already forming a yellowish-purple bruise. He slapped a hand to the spot in shock.
"Sora?" Riku clambered off of Sora immediately.
"I was fighting with Roxas, and then you… I'm sorry," Riku said anxiously. "Are you okay?"
Sora worked his jaw and rubbed his sore cheekbone. "You must really hate him," he said in awe. "You never hit me this hard."
"I'm sorry," Riku said contritely. He got up and held a hand out to Sora, which Sora accepted. The brunet looked down at the bag of squished watermelon slices.
"Was that supposed to be for us?"
"If you mean for me and Roxas, then definitely no."
Sora looked relieved, and treated Riku to one of his wide, cheeky grins, though it was a bit lopsided considering that one side of his face was aching. "Hey, Riku?"
"How about we go back to your house and make some juice?"
Riku's mouth twitched. "You mean you want me to make juice for you."
Sora grinned at Riku, eyes sparkling happily. "You make it really well," he admitted, which made Riku feel an inexplicable surge of happiness, as if juice-blending was yet another competition held between the two boys that Riku had won. "But," Sora added as an afterthought, "can we have watermelons this time instead?"
Riku grinned and put an arm around Sora's shoulders, casually, the way that friends did. The two turned to walk back into the shop.
"Hmm," Sora mused.
"Roxas has three friends, right?"
Riku scowled involuntarily, remembering Hayner. "Yeah."
"So why'd he only buy two watermelons?"
Riku frankly didn't care much about the matter. "Maybe his friends weren't hungry."
"Maybe he was only meeting one other person today," Sora said. He pushed open the glass door, his hair gusting back with a small blast from the air-con. "I wonder who it was."
Sitting on the edge of Selphie's pier, Kairi pondered why Roxas would ask her to meet him alone then be late by over two hours. He had sounded kind of skittish when he'd asked her, which she'd thought had been quite strange, as it wasn't as if they were dating or anything. Resolving to go and look for him, Kairi put down her bracelet of thalassa shells, which she had been stringing while she'd waited, and walked to Sora's house. It wasn't exactly empty, but it didn't have the teen that she was looking for.
"Hey, Kairi!" Tidus called.
"Yesss!" Hayner suddenly crowed, leaping up and doing a strange kind of victory dance in the middle of the room. "Oh baby! I rule at this game!"
Kairi turned to the television sitting on one end of the living room. On the screen danced a heavily-muscled video game character, standing over another video game character that appeared to be bleeding from every orifice of his body, including his… oh, dear lord. Kairi averted her eyes in disgust.
"Whatever man," Wakka groused in his thick accent. "Just because you can beat me in a video game doesn't mean that you've won."
"Does so!" Hayner said delightedly and held up a hand to high-five Tidus.
Pence looked wearily at Kairi from where he lay spread-eagled on the couch, taking up most of the space so that Wakka had to sit on the floor. "They've been at this for hours," he complained.
Kairi laughed. What was it about boys that made them so damned competitive? Something about their hormones, she supposed. "Have any of you seen Roxas? He was supposed to meet me earlier."
Pence jerked into an upright position. "Do you think he's Sora now?"
Kairi thought about it. It was a possibility. She turned to leave.
"Wait," Pence said, clamoring off the sofa. "I'll come with you."
"Me too," Hayner said immediately. He faked a yawn and stretched his legs. "I'm getting tired of beating this guy over and over."
"Just wait until we fight for real again, ya?" Wakka warned.
"Yeah, whatever," Hayner grinned. Wakka snorted and picked up the controls again, a look of determination on his face as he restarted the game, intent on getting good enough to knock the satisfied smile off of Hayner's face.
Kairi, Hayner and Pence walked out of the house. "Where would Sora normally be?" Pence asked.
"Usually he goes to the beach to spar with Riku, otherwise he's at Riku's house," Kairi responded.
"Tell us about Sora," Hayner said, in a decidedly cheerful mood after having beaten Wakka at video games for the twentieth time that day. It was payback for every time that the redhead had smacked him into the sand with that accursed blitzball with a victorious crow. "Is he like Roxas?"
Kairi thought about the two. She had hung around with Roxas for quite a bit during the past two days and had to admit that she had grown quite fond of him. Although Sora had the capacity for maturity he was in a sense almost child-like in his innocence and good nature. Roxas wasn't as optimistic, not as easy with a laugh or a happy sparkle in his eye, was more inclined toward seriousness. Sora made Kairi want to laugh; Roxas made Kairi want to talk. She shook her head with a smile. "Not really."
"What's he like?" Pence asked inquisitively.
"He's… more cheerful," Kairi said. She hoped that the two wouldn't take what she said as an implication that Roxas was morbid, because he certainly wasn't.
"Roxas can be kinda quiet," Pence agreed.
"Why does Sora hang around with Riku?" Hayner asked with a scowl. He gestured slightly, an action that Kairi had learned to understand to mean that he was annoyed. "He's a jerk."
"Riku isn't really like that," Kairi defended. "He's…" she faltered. What could she say? Riku and Sora had tried to keep their relationship a secret, even from her. She couldn't betray their trust and blab it out to Hayner and Pence, especially since neither of the two Twilight Town boys really seemed to know either Riku or Sora. She did in a way understand their reasons for not telling her in the first place. Kairi would have loved to believe that bigotry didn't exist, but she knew that it did. Fortunately for her, Riku's house was only up the street from Sora's, and she didn't have to answer as she approached the door, twisted the handle, and pushed it open.
Unfortunately for Riku and Sora, their actions finished Kairi's statement for her.
They weren't doing anything particularly explicit. They weren't even kissing, though they had been looking at each other before Kairi had opened the door, causing them both to snap their heads round to her. They were sitting side by side on the floor, legs touching, backs leaned against the couch. An empty cup hung limply from Sora's left hand, red with watermelon residue. Sora's legs were folded in a lotus position. Riku's legs were sprawled out.
Sora's right hand was (very innocently) down the front of Riku's jeans. Riku's face was frozen between mortified and orgasmic. Sora's face looked like an elephant had just pirouetted past him dressed in nothing but a very, very large g-string.
Kairi went bright red and, slowly, closed the door.
Hayner slammed it back open again.
"What the heck?" he exclaimed.
"Kairi?" Sora said in shock. His withdrew his hand like it was on fire.
"Kairi," Riku said in an embarrassed-frustrated voice.
Pence blinked at the two boys sitting red-faced on the floor, then slapped his fist into his palm. "Oh! That explains why Sora kept asking where Riku was when he was in Twilight Town!" he said cheerfully, as if he had just made a great discovery.
Hayner didn't share the same amusement. "Does Roxas…" he trailed off when he saw the look of dislike on Riku's face. Hayner scowled. "Then why?"
"I don't need Roxas' approval to do anything," Riku stated.
"You're using his body!" Hayner shouted.
"Guys…" Pence started.
"Hey!" Sora exclaimed, outraged. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You're his Other. It means what it means." Hayner crossed his arms, furious.
"Roxas is the one using Sora's body," Riku retorted.
"Riku…" Kairi started.
Hayner clenched his fists, semi-crouching into a fighting stance. "Say that again?"
"Hayner—" Pence tried.
Riku glared Hayner defiantly in the eyes. His expression said it all for him. The only thing that betrayed Hayner's next move was a slight curl of his lip before he lunged at Riku. Riku sidestepped easily, and would have spun to push Hayner to the ground if Sora and Kairi hadn't grabbed onto his jacket. Pence, in the meantime, grabbed both of Hayner's arms.
"Hayner, stop it," he said.
Hayner shook his friend off roughly. "You're wrong," he spat at Riku. "You're taking advantage of Roxas. You're so messed-up."
Sora looked shocked, as if he'd been hit by a sudden memory. His wide, blue eyes were frightened as he suddenly mumbled to himself: "No… I didn't… I'm not messed-up. No."
"Sora?" Kairi asked in concern. The brunet's sudden outburst made the other three boys stop and look at him.
"Get out," Riku said coldly to Hayner. Not waiting to see if the blond followed his order, he turned his attention to Sora. "What is it, Sora?"
Sora looked at Riku with such an uncharacteristically fearful expression that the silver-haired teen was momentarily stunned. "I…"
Sora halted then suddenly shoved past Riku and Hayner, ignoring Kairi's questioned "Sora?" and bolting out of the door. Riku pushed Hayner aside (with considerably more force than Sora had), ignoring the stunned expression on the blond's face and following after Sora. By the time Riku had reached the door, Sora was already gone.
Roxas looked down at his empty hands, then at Riku. He touched his cheek, which was bruised, and his lips, which tasted of watermelon. He looked at Kairi, Pence and Hayner, who emerged from the house behind a wide-eyed Riku. He frowned at them, puzzled.
"Did I… win?"
When things reach a stalemate, it often takes a catalyst to get things moving again. Kairi opening the door on Riku and Sora was the catalyst.
Hayner and Riku's already tense relationship only seemed to get worse. Hayner refused to talk or apologize to Riku, and Riku refused to even look at Hayner. Sora… Sora became edgy for a reason that no one seemed to understand. While he still acted the way that he would normally act, he seemed to shy away from Riku at the first inclination of intimacy. While joking around and getting into another one of their play-fights, Riku would duck in to steal a kiss; Sora normally would have laughed and jokingly puckered-up like a fish, but now he just grinned in a way that was blatantly apologetic (he never was one to effectively hide his emotions) and dodged, pretending that he'd thought that Riku had been lunging to hit or tickle him. In irritation, Riku would ask what was wrong; Sora would deny any faults with a vehement shake of his head and a smile that didn't quite seem to belong to him as it didn't quite reach his eyes. Pressing him for information only seemed to agitate him, and then his eyes would go inexplicably fearful and he'd turn back (to Riku's frustration) into Roxas, who would blink, see Riku, then scowl and walk away to find either Kairi or his Twilight Town friends. It wasn't obvious (Riku was a master at keeping his face carefully blank, even when his intense aquamarine eyes betrayed his true emotions) but each time it happened it chipped away at Riku so that, piece by tiny piece, Riku began feeling increasingly irritated with Sora and less forgiving on the occasions where Sora would apologize sheepishly to him after pushing him away. Riku was getting increasingly tired of wanting to see Sora, of wanting to touch Sora, but only getting Roxas instead. Kairi kept apologizing profusely for having opened the door, feeling guilty for even though she wasn't sure what exactly she'd done she knew that she'd done something, while Pence did the best he could to keep up everyone's spirits. Olette, who had been shopping with Selphie at the time, had no idea of what had gone on, only that when she had returned from her shopping excursion she had been greeted by sullen faces and tension that was thick enough to choke on.
It would have made sense to have ended the impromptu 'vacation' right there and then, but while Hayner, Pence and Olette were unwilling to leave without Roxas, Riku and Kairi were unwilling to let the three leave with Sora. It was thus that the vacation dragged on for weeks, leading into a month, then a month and a half. Sora's hair grew longer, exposing long, blond roots that he couldn't be bothered to dye brown, being too preoccupied with simultaneously placating and avoiding Riku. Roxas, on the other hand, was quite glad to see his blond hair returning.
While Olette was fretting about their independent studies homework and Pence was beginning to miss his sea-salt ice-cream, Roxas didn't really seem to mind having to spend the time on Destiny Islands. He discovered that the less time he spent around Riku the less likely he was to lose time again, as any kind of overwhelming emotion seemed to push him into reverting back into Sora; and thus Roxas avoided the angry teenager with a staunch determination, opting to hang around with Kairi instead. She was strangely sympathetic toward him, and he liked the fact that she seemed to just be of an easygoing sort who got along with everyone. He would seek her out when Hayner, Pence and Olette were preoccupied with teaching Wakka, Tidus and Selphie how to Struggle, and talk to her about the world that he had seen, the worlds that she wanted to see. He would, upon waking up from a fugue, firmly disentangle himself from a perplexed, infuriated Riku's arms, and seek the redhead out, bringing watermelon slices or pretzels to munch on while they talked. If he noticed a certain shine going out of Riku's eyes, making them more serious and distant, he certainly didn't think much about it, choosing to look instead into pretty, happy, ocean-blue eyes. He noticed, but tried to ignore a sad, bleak depth welling in Riku's eyes that had been there before but had always seemed to be stoppered by something that had now apparently disappeared. While Riku's eyes told all, the teen himself rarely said a word, only frowning or making soft noises of frustration when Roxas got up and left. There were times when he would say a word, making as if to call Roxas back, but would then halt, look aside, and mutter an annoyed "never mind."
Then there was a day when it was different. Roxas awoke with Riku's hand slipped under his shirt and pressed on his abdomen, warm fingers tickling the sensitive skin there. He looked at Riku with eyes that were typically impassive and cynical, and Riku wordlessly withdrew his hand, mouth twisted in a small scowl. As Roxas got up to leave the house, Riku stopped him, holding a mug in his hand.
"Here," Riku said. His voice sounded strangely weary, his scowl gone. It was the first time, aside from that first day, that Roxas had seen him without it. Riku jiggled the mug a little before pushing it toward Roxas. "You forgot this."
Roxas looked in at a familiar yellow, sweet substance. "Uh… thanks," he said. Riku didn't reply and merely turned his back, so Roxas left the house, holding the mug of paopu juice and not quite knowing what to do with it. He went to the shop and bought a bag of pretzels then headed to Kairi's house to see if she was in (which she was), and offered her the snack and the drink. Kairi helped herself to a pretzel, but declined the drink with a strange look.
"Is that Riku's cup?" Kairi asked curiously.
Roxas shrugged. "Dunno." He took a bite out of his pretzel then sipped down a mouthful of the sweet juice. "He gave it to me when I was walking out the door. He probably made the drink for Sora." Roxas licked a stray grain of salt off his lip. "It's apparently my Other's favorite."
"It is," Kairi nodded. "Riku gave it to you?"
"Don't ask me why," Roxas said. "The guy's been acting weird lately."
Kairi found that statement a little ironic, considering the person who it was coming from. She idly curled her hair around her finger, not noticing that Roxas watched her as she did it, marveling at the way that the sun seemed to pick out the highlights of her deep red locks perfectly. "I feel kind of sorry for him."
"I don't," Roxas snorted.
Kairi giggled and shoved his arm playfully. "Can't really blame you, I guess."
"Sora and Riku must be some kind of sex fiends," Roxas muttered. "Every time I wake up, Riku and I are… doing something together."
The mental image of Sora dressed in a kinky leather dominatrix outfit flew unbidden into Kairi's mind. She waved it quickly away with a slight blush. "How is Riku?" she asked, then hurriedly amended, when Roxas gave her a weird look, "I mean… not like that. How's he doing? I haven't seen him in a while."
"Okay," Roxas said casually. "At least he's stopped being mad at me."
Kairi had often been the sympathetic audience to a full-blown rant about Riku and his temper and the repetitive arguments that he and Roxas had gotten into. Those rants had gotten fewer and fewer as either Riku or Roxas (or both) eventually stopped initiating fights, and Riku had just turned to sulking. "Oh?"
"Yeah." Roxas' tone changed, sounding more thoughtful. "Today he just seemed kind of tired."
"Well... you haven't been blacking-out as much recently," Kairi said.
"So?" Roxas said defensively, not liking the implication that there was something wrong the fact that Sora wasn't constantly coming out and using his body.
"So…" Kairi tried her best to sound gentle, but couldn't help the pointed tone that snuck into her voice, "its hard when you love somebody and then lose them, isn't it?"
Roxas' mind was inadvertently drawn to that sealed, dusty cardboard box in his mind. The one labeled, in huge, messy markers: AXEL. He shook his head, staunchly refusing to think about it.
"You should talk to Riku someday," Kairi said. She nibbled delicately at her pretzel. "He isn't as bad as you think."
"I seriously doubt that," Roxas said cynically. He took another sip of the juice and couldn't suppress a satisfied smile as the flavor exploded into his mouth. He looked at the mug. "Sora has good taste," he commented before holding the mug out to Kairi. "Are you sure you don't want some?"
Kairi looked hesitantly at the mug, then at the blond-brunet in front of her. "Roxas…" she said, nibbling her lower lip nervous, "do you know about the legend of the paopu fruit?"
Sora woke in Riku's house, opening his eyes to Riku, who was standing stiffly in front of him. He grinned widely. "Hey," he said.
To his surprise, Riku merely crossed his arms and turned from him. The older teen silently knelt and started to pick up the shattered pieces of a black mug from the floor. There was a thick, yellow substance pooled around them.
Sora looked down. "Did Roxas do that?"
No response. Sora frowned and tried again. "Riku?"
Riku's breath caught. He exhaled slowly. "What."
Sora sighed in relief. He walked around to the other side of his friend and knelt down. He couldn't see Riku's face past the older teen's fringe. "What happened?"
"What do you think, Sora?" Riku said. Sora was taken aback by the weariness mixed in with the irritation in his voice. Riku picked up a handful of the broken pieces and walked to the kitchen, disposing of them in a rubbish bin. Riku turned to the shorter boy, his eyes strangely cold. "Try to remember."
Sora's frown deepened. He remembered walking over to Riku's house. He remembered the strange look on Riku's face, sad and somewhat vacant. He remembered trying to cheer up his friend by pulling a silly face and initiating a tickle fight. He remembered feeling surprised as Riku tensed up and gently told him that he wasn't in the mood. He remembered requesting a paopu fruit drink, and getting it. He remembered going off to find their keys, tossing the long one to Riku and continuing his story, where he ran through a huge castle, which was cold and empty. He remembered laughing inside when Riku finally cracked a small smile when he got to the part where the two fought, Sora battling to save Riku while Riku's body was possessed by an evil entity. Riku had eventually joined in with the storytelling with one question:
"So?" he'd questioned when Sora had paused for breath. "Do you save me?"
Sora had grinned a wide, ear-to-ear, cheeky grin. His eyes had sparkled. "Of course," he'd said, and pecked Riku on the mouth. Riku had smiled warmly, leaned in and kissed Sora again, deeper and longer this time, his thumb stroking gently over the back of Sora's hand. Sora's lips had parted, and Riku's tongue had slipped in with more tentativeness than Sora was used to, but Sora took what he was given, tilting his head and nibbling a little on Riku's lower lip. It had only been when he'd felt Riku's hand leave his and sneak to the hem of his shirt that Sora froze and broke the kiss.
"I… I can't, Riku."
"Why not?" The older teen had sounded frustrated. "We've done more than that before."
It was a valid point, but it had only served to make Sora feel worse. "I just don't want to."
"Why?" Riku asked. His aquamarine eyes had taken on a hint of anger. "Why won't you tell me?"
Sora had closed his eyes. He had forgotten… he'd suppressed the memories so well, until Hayner had come in and said something, triggered them back again. He remembered – tried not to remember – pain, humiliation… "It's nothing," Sora insisted. He'd laughed a bit to make his words sound more like a truth, despite the blatantly guilty look on his face. "I don't want to talk about it."
"What's it?" Riku had demanded. He'd swiped his fringe out of his eyes, annoyed. "Since when did you care about kissing?"
"It's not that." Sora had inwardly winced at the painful memories that Riku had evoked. "I don't mind that. It's something else."
"What is it?" Riku was mildly aware of the soap-operatic turn of events, and felt a mild surge of irritation at the irony. He felt a bit like Kairi, with tears threatening to well somewhere deep behind his eyes. He forced them back. Boys laughed at soap operas; they didn't cry. "You used to love everything we did before, and now you're lying to me and telling me that there's nothing wrong even when you jerk away every time I touch you."
"I just…" Sora had closed his eyes, inhaled deeply. "I don't want to talk about it, Riku." He didn't want to open his eyes to the hurt expression in Riku's aquamarine orbs. "I… I want to just be kissing you. Please."
Riku had sighed, and when he did, it had sounded like he'd just been defeated. Sora's eyes had been closed, and so he hadn't seen Riku lean in, but he'd felt the electric warmth of the other teen's mouth just seconds before it pressed to his, kissing him so softly that it was like a whisper, and Sora had had to press in a little just to deepen the kiss. Sora had shuffled closer and licked gingerly at Riku's lips, but hadn't entered when Riku parted them; instead spotting kisses on and around Riku's mouth and trailing down his cheek, jawbone and neck. He had tried not to twitch when he felt Riku's fingers at his shirt and had tried not to feel a sudden jolt of fear when Riku had skated a palm feather-lightly over his abdomen, because Riku was being so uncharacteristically gentle, because Riku was trying so hard to make Sora feel safe, because he knew that Riku was so stubborn and wouldn't give in just because Sora asked him to, especially when Sora couldn't tell him why he'd been acting the way he did, the reason that burned his cheeks and heart and mind and…
Sora had blacked-out then. He now looked at Riku, back in the present, a guilty expression on his face. "Sorry," he offered.
Riku didn't look placated in the least. He walked moodily to the living room and collapsed down onto the sofa.
Sora felt just a teensy bit indignant. "I said I was sorry."
"Apologies don't always make things right, Sora," Riku said quietly.
"I mean it, though."
Riku let out a short laugh that seemed totally devoid of mirth. He shook his head slightly. "Things are always so simple to you, aren't they?"
Sora frowned. "What're you talking about?"
"You're sorry about blacking-out. You're not sorry about not telling me what's wrong."
"There isn't anything wrong."
"And you're not sorry about lying to me, either."
Sora inclined his head. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Why." Riku's voice was strangely devoid of emotion, as if he were too tired to bother even trying to sound angry.
"Hey, people can keep their secrets," Sora said defensively.
"But you don't," Riku pointed out. "You're not like that."
"I told you everything about me. I told you about the Heartless. I told you about Ansem."
Sora winced and looked to his feet, guilty. "You thought wrong about me."
"Sora." Riku's tone of voice made Sora look up at him. Sora had never heard that voice from his friend before, breaking slightly with desperation. "I'm just a friend… hopefully still something more. I know I'm not a therapist. But there's something wrong, and I'm trying to fix it. Can't you see that?"
Sora felt suddenly, inexplicably annoyed. "I don't want to talk about it, Riku. Can't you see that?"
There was a long, tense silence. Finally, Riku spoke. In a quiet, sad, wry voice, he said: "I guess you're really not the person I thought you were."
Sora could have sworn that he just felt his heart break. Feeling immeasurably guilty, he lowered his gaze. "I'm sorry," he said contritely.
Sora's head jolted up. "What?"
"Get out." When Sora refused to move, feet glued to the floor in shock, Riku looked up at him, aquamarine eyes blazing in fury. "Get out!" he just about shouted. Riku, who had always seemed to show a cold sort of anger, was now almost burning in rage as he stormed off of the sofa and shoved hard at Sora, causing the blond-brunet to stagger back a few paces. Sora stared wide-eyed at him, hurt.
Riku hit him. Sora reeled a little with the punch then clapped a hand to his face where the bruise that Riku had given Roxas had almost finished healing, stunned. His eyes flicked momentarily to Riku, then he spun on his heel and walked to the door. He opened it slowly and closed it behind him with a loud click. He was breathing heavily although he didn't quite know why, and he clenched his eyes shut, long-repressed memories returning, like water from a broken dam, into his mind,
big clammy sweaty strange hands holding him down laughing pain humiliation, why, stop, please, stop
Roxas awoke and briefly noted that, for the first time, his awakening hadn't been in Riku's arms nor with Riku's hands down his trousers or anything so humiliating. He balled his hands into fists. He hadn't finished shouting at Riku yet for having given him the paopu juice. He'd stormed back to Riku's house after hearing Kairi's explanation of the legend of the fruit's mystical properties, not stopping to hear the alarmed girl's assurances that very few people actually believed in the legend nowadays. How dare that long-haired pervert give him a drink like that without telling him what it meant? Roxas had only gotten angrier and angrier as he'd walked up to Riku's house, so that by the time he'd reached the place he'd been so infuriated that he'd started shouting as soon as he'd opened the door, his fury not aided in the least by the distant look on the older teen's face. Roxas now opened the door again, inwardly cursing himself for having yet again lost time, and walked into the living room, fully intending to continue where he'd left off.
His anger had crumbled when Riku looked up. Sitting on the sofa, the teenager's shoulders were slumped, his entire posture no longer proud and self-assured but small and defeated instead, and even though his face was still the same color his eyes, like two traitors in his head, were slightly red. Riku quickly brushed a hand across his eyes, but it didn't hide the fact that his cheeks were still wet.
"What happened?" Roxas asked, feeling strangely sympathetic (and just the tiniest bit alarmed).
Riku laughed mirthlessly. "I just lost a best friend," he said dryly. He roughly smudged the tear tracks off his cheeks with his left hand.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, a large spider gave the box labeled "AXEL" a small push out of the cobwebs. Roxas ignored it, at a loss for what to do. Comforting people had always been Olette's specialty; it was something that girls just seemed to have a natural aptitude for. He felt inexplicably sorry for the teenager, who up until now had seemed incapable of expressing deep emotion, yet couldn't say as much because he certainly wasn't sorry for anything that Sora had done, anything that Sora had used his body for. He looked instead at the bandage wrapped around Riku's left hand. Riku always seemed to have it on, like a strange fashion accessory. "What's with the bandage?" Roxas asked. He lied a lot better than Sora did. "I've always wondered about it."
Riku didn't respond for a short while, silently unwilling to talk to Roxas, and then relented, silently unwinding the bandage to reveal two small, ugly brown scars, one on his wrist and the other on the rounded flesh of his palm. Both were spotted with red around them, making them look a little like decayed blossoms.
Roxas moved to the sofa and sat down beside Riku, impressed. He knew gunshot wounds when he saw them, but he'd never seen any that looked so bad before. "Whoa," he said as the older teen wrapped the bandage back around his arm. "Where'd you get those?"
"I got into a fight once," Riku said tersely. "I never healed back right."
Roxas felt an unexpected surge of interest in Riku. He'd always assumed that Riku was just a spoilt rich kid, living an idyllic islander life. He found himself asking, unable to stop himself: "Have you ever shot anyone before?"
Again, Riku took a while before responding. When he did, Roxas was surprised to see the older teen incline his head and nod, slowly.
"Ever kill someone?"
Roxas looped his fingers together loosely, suspending his hands between his legs, elbows propped on his knees. "I never would've guessed."
"It's not something I like to talk about."
The spider in Roxas' mind gave the cardboard box another nudge. Roxas sighed and waved it away. "I hear you on that."
Riku snorted derisively. "What would you know," he said emotionlessly, phrasing it more as a statement than a question.
"Hey, I know stuff," Roxas said indignantly.
Riku made a cynical, scornful sound in response.
"Like," Roxas said. He was surprised to find that he actually wanted to tell Riku about himself. "Like I used to be in a gang."
"Oh," Riku said. Again, Roxas was surprised by the lack of an impressed, horrified or even inquisitive tone in Riku's voice.
He felt compelled to continue. "Ever heard of Organization XIII?" he asked.
"Aren't they all in jail now?"
Roxas cringed. "Well, I left a bit before then."
"One of the members was killed, wasn't he?"
Roxas froze. "Yeah," he said then quickly changed the subject. "What about you? Why'd you kill someone? Wait, no, let me guess. It was self-defense."
Riku chuckled wryly. "I was one of the Heartless."
Roxas started. "Are you serious?"
"Traverse Town?" Roxas asked inquisitively. The Heartless was a gang far larger than Organization XIII and was rumored to be spread over various parts of the world.
"Hollow Bastion," Riku said. "I left after a while, same as you. I went to Twilight Town after that."
Roxas nodded his head. Twilight Town was one of the few places in the area that was Heartless-free, mainly because the Organization was so quick in seeking them out and killing any that encroached on their territory. It was a good place to hide for a while if you were running away from the Heartless. "And?"
Riku held up his left hand. "I got these while I was living there," he said. "I moved back here pretty soon after that. I hated it in Twilight Town."
Roxas laughed. "Well, that's because you haven't tried the sea-salt ice-cream," he joked.
"'Sweet, yet salty'. I remember," Riku said, recalling the popular ad on TV.
"I kind of miss them," Roxas admitted. "They don't sell them here."
Riku made a small noise of affirmation. The two teens sat in a mutual, calm silence for a while.
"This is so weird," Roxas said.
"We're actually sitting together." He cracked a small smile. "You're actually not being a jerk."
"I'm not in the mood," Riku said.
"You have to be in a mood? I thought being a jerk was something that came naturally to you."
Riku banged his knee against Roxas'. Roxas grinned good-humoredly, but quickly sobered again. "I once lost a best friend too," he said quietly.
"I thought Hayner was your best friend," Riku said. He grimaced slightly. "He defends you like a best friend."
"I had another." The spider in his head pushed insistently at the cardboard box. "His name was Axel." Roxas dropped his head. "He… died two years ago."
Riku put the pieces together. "He was the one in Organization XIII," he stated. His voice lowered, became conciliatory. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. It was my fault." Roxas clenched his hands into fists, digging his nails into his palm. The locked-up memories trickled out of their now-unlocked cage and returned in slow increments, like water droplets eroding a rock. He'd wanted to suppress them before but now for some reason he felt… safe with Riku. It was all just intuition, but Roxas knew that Riku would in a way understand him. Riku may have been a perverted asshole before, but he wouldn't look at Roxas weirdly if Roxas told his tale.
"You shot him?" Riku asked.
"I just as well as shot him." Unconsciously, Roxas began to shake. The idea of pushing the painful memories back crossed his mind, but it was too late now, memories of Axel laughing and bleeding mixed in with any really coherent thought that he had. "I didn't pull the trigger, but I killed him."
Riku did something that he never thought he'd do in a million years. He shuffled closer to Roxas, put a concerned look on his face and asked, in a low, sympathetic voice (à la the girls on the soap operas that he obviously had been watching too much of): "Do you want to talk about it?"
Sitting next to Riku, this almost-stranger who knew Roxas' body on an intimate level, this almost-stranger who knew what it was like to be in a gang and what it was like to lose someone, Roxas found, to his surprise, that he did. It was a strange kind of companionship founded on a strange sense of trust gained by the knowledge that, despite having been 'enemies' (if you could call it that) for so long, Riku was probably the only one on the whole island who would really get the blond-brunet. Roxas found that he didn't just want to tell Riku about Axel. He wanted to tell Riku everything.
He didn't tell Riku about his childhood, because there was very little that he could remember about it, and from what he could recall, it had been a painful and bewildering experience at the hands of his father. He didn't tell Riku about when he had been playing with his friend Demyx, who had dared him to run out over the lake in the winter even when the sign had warned that the ice was thin, because even though he remembered screaming as he'd fallen in and sinking deep down into the watery darkness, lungs burning from the lack of oxygen, he couldn't remember ever coming back out. He remembered closing his eyes, then opening them to his mother, who was screaming something incoherent at him before bundling him up and rushing him to the hospital to have him treated for hypothermia. He couldn't remember having escaped his watery prison, but he remembered that Demyx had visited him once in the hospital and told him, with an awestruck expression on his face, of how he'd suddenly resurfaced and swum strongly to shore, like the cold didn't even bother him anymore. Roxas didn't tell Riku about his childhood because even though he remembered being pushed heavily down into bed sheets that were stained with his tears and even though he remembered his father murmuring "that's it, take it like that, you sick boy, you sick, messed-up boy" as he forced Roxas to do things Roxas had never wanted to do, after the day when he'd almost drowned and supposedly swum to shore Roxas had never had to experience anything like it again. When his father appeared in his room like a looming shadow, his large, sweaty hands creeping under soft bedcovers into places that they shouldn't be in, Roxas had simply closed his eyes and gone back to sleep.
What he did tell Riku about was the day when his parents had moved to Traverse Town by train. Roxas, only a pre-teen at the time, had seen it as an opportunity to escape. He had stolen a large sum of money from his parents and, in the middle of the night, snuck back to the train station and bought a ticket back to Twilight Town. Not knowing where to go, he'd sought out Demyx, his childhood friend, and asked if he could stay the night. Demyx had been impressed with what Roxas had done and, being somewhat older than Roxas was, he'd introduced Roxas to one of his 'grown-up' acquaintances the very next day.
Roxas had liked the other boy as soon as he'd met him. The teenager had fiery red hair and lined his intense emerald eyes with black eyeliner, which flicked up at the corner of his eyes, making him look kind of dangerous and exotic. The redhead had stuck a hand out to him. "'Roxas', huh?" he'd said. "My name's Axel. Commit it to memory."
Axel, Roxas had discovered, had parents who were always "away, probably being boring in some boring place", leaving him in a large, lonely apartment by himself with a sizeable allowance that came once a month via a transfer of money into his bank account. It wasn't very long before Roxas moved into Axel's house, into the spare room which was strangely neat and very much unlike Demyx's room, which had plastered from wall to wall with posters of singers and various assorted rock stars. Roxas' room was quickly decorated with warm, brown colors and flashing five-pointed stars, as the blond had an inexplicable fondness for them. When Axel wasn't ditching class Roxas was either reading the textbooks that Axel left at home or watching the television; when Axel did ditch school the two would either spend the day pranking people, play-fighting (Axel had an affinity for a twin set of chakrams that his parents had bought for him as a souvenir from India) or just lazing on Axel's parents' large, queen-sized bed, limbs spread-eagled and entangled all over one another, both not bothered to move.
Roxas didn't know when his feelings toward Axel changed. One day they had been sniggering as they climbed out of Demyx's window after de-stringing the dirty blond's sitar, and the next day Roxas was gripping tightly onto Axel's hand as the redhead had twin tears tattooed onto his cheekbones and feeling a tightness at his chest every time Axel hissed or winced in pain. Roxas had felt immeasurably relieved when the process was over and had teased Axel about how the marks made him look less cool and more like a court jester, which had earned him a punch on the arm before Axel took Roxas to the shop across the street to celebrate his new ink with sea-salt ice-cream. Roxas hadn't known why he felt the way he did at the time, only that Axel made him feel happy and that he didn't like being too far from the fiery redhead. He'd smiled when Axel had dragged him to a barber shop and forced him to change his hair from the floppy, dull cut of his childhood to a choppier, spikier one. He'd liked how he looked: tougher, stronger, more mature. He'd liked the way that Axel had made him look and feel, and although he never voiced it Roxas felt that he, too, had changed Axel just a bit, brightening those sharp, cynical emerald eyes that were sometimes (albeit less often, now that Roxas was around) clouded with loneliness and pain.
Organization XIII had been something that had slipped into Roxas' life like a banana peel on an oil slick. Axel had returned from school with Demyx and something that he had rolled up and told Roxas to smoke. Roxas, not thinking a thing about it, had choked on it at first but had then gotten used to it, liking the way that it relaxed his body. Over the music of Demyx's sitar, Axel mentioned how someone had come up to them and proposed that they join a group of people. He had been vague about the details at the time, only saying that the group would protect them and that the group was called 'Organization XIII'. Roxas didn't care what he was doing so long as Axel was there, and so he'd agreed. They did small things at first, such as stealing and jacking cars, but eventually moved onto larger things. Roxas recalled, for a nodding Riku, how he had been there when Axel had been ordered to kill his first person, a member of the Heartless who was wandering around in Organization XIII territory. When the person had fallen with a wet sound onto the pavement, Axel had stared down at .45 caliber pistol in his hand then started walking silently, as if in a daze, up the street. Roxas remembered feeling momentarily afraid, as his friend wasn't one to hold a silence, and had vainly attempted to start conversation before giving up and trailing beside Axel, worried. Roxas remembered them stopping at a gas station. After a minute's pause, Roxas had looked up at Axel. The redhead was holding up a box of matches, his usual devilish, shit-eating grin back on his face, emerald eyes sharp and glinting. He struck a match and threw it.
Roxas would always remember the way that the gas station had exploded in a deafening mess of metal and heat. Roxas had been thrown back by the force of the explosion and had landed roughly, scraping his arms and shredding his clothes. He had turned angrily to Axel, only to see (only see; there was a ringing noise in Roxas' ears that blocked out nearly all sound) the redhead laughing manically as the flames danced over the remains and in his eyes, and for one awful moment Roxas had feared that Axel was on fire before his mind clicked and he registered that it was just the light playing on Axel's hair, almost making it seem like it had had a life of its own. Axel had shouted something to Roxas that Roxas couldn't hear, and in the confusion and adrenalin of the moment, Axel had grabbed Roxas by the arms and kissed him firmly on the mouth before letting go and returning his attention to the fire, clapping his hands and pumping his fist. Roxas had staggered back, wide-eyed and shocked, and had stared at his friend in a mix of awe and mild fear, but hadn't been able to stop the smile that crooked the edges of his mouth. Axel was wild, he was unpredictable, he was somewhat dangerous, and Roxas loved him for it even though he didn't know that he did.
Leaving Organization XIII, Roxas explained to a captive Riku, had been as simple a decision as it had been when he'd first joined. He had been a member for a few years now, and although he didn't love what he did he didn't actually care too much about it. It was only on one day when Axel had been busy and Roxas had been sent to find and get rid another one of the Heartless (they insisted on creeping into Twilight Town, the bastards) with Demyx by his side that the realization of what he was doing hit him like a proverbial sack of potatoes. Like Axel, Demyx was a fun-loving character, but he always preferred the party to the preparations. He had been his usual self, skittish and muttering "I don't know why the Superior keeps sending me along on these missions. I'm totally the wrong guy for the job. I don't know why they don't just send someone else" in about a hundred different variations until Roxas had lost his temper and told him to kindly shut the hell up, which Demyx had replied to by going silent, then humming one of the popular songs on the radio at the time, knowing that it would annoy the boy. This had the unfortunate effect of Roxas being in a silent fury by the time that he'd spied the other person, dressed in black trousers and a black hooded jacket, the hood covering his face. The hoodie was standard Organization XIII garb (everyone who'd lived for at least half a year in Twilight Town knew this, and thus wore jackets that either weren't hooded or weren't black), but Roxas hadn't recognized the figure of the person beneath it, and he had guessed that the guy was the Heartless member that they had been looking for. Too irritated by the antics of his friend to think too much about it, he'd stormed up to the other man, leaving Demyx to hide himself behind a wall and watch ("as back-up," Demyx had claimed). Roxas hadn't expected the other man to be armed, and had only just narrowly dodged a punch to his face. Now totally irate, he'd ignored the man's shouts and pulled out his own weapon and shot twice. The man had quick reflexes; he'd jerked his body aside and taken both hits to his arm instead.
Roxas had watched as the man had fallen to the floor in agony, blood spurting from an artery and splattering clumsily onto his clothes and face and matting in his long, silver hair. Roxas had watched, and for once he saw, without Axel by his side, the torn flesh, the hint of ghastly white bone under the muscles and the look of someone's life as it gushed out of their arm onto the dirty stone floor of Twilight Town. Horrified, Roxas had backed away, then run all the way back to Axel's house, locking himself into his room and refusing to answer to Axel and Demyx knocking inquisitively on his door.
In the present, Roxas paused from his story to clear his throat. Riku got up and went to the kitchen, opening his refrigerator and pouring a fresh glass of paopu juice, left over from the batch that he'd blended that morning. Roxas was too wrapped up in his story to remember that the drink had been the reason why he'd stormed over to Riku's house in the first place. He wordlessly accepted the glass, easily gulping down half of the sweet, yellow juice. He inhaled deeply then continued.
Axel hadn't taken the news well when Roxas had revealed his plans to leave the gang. "Why?" the redhead had demanded.
"I want a new life."
"What's wrong with the one you have here?"
Roxas had merely shaken his head. Axel softened his voice. "Don't do this. Don't leave. If you do, they'll kill you."
"No one would miss me."
"That's not true," Axel had looked inexplicably sad, as if the cheerful curtain that Roxas had drawn over the lonely depths of Axel's eyes had been lifted. Roxas had wondered at the point what it was that he had said to erase the usual mischievous grin off of his friend's face. "I would."
"Hey, it's not like I'm leaving you," Roxas had quipped.
"You can't live here if you leave," Axel replied. "They'll find you if you do."
"You don't have to tell them I'm here."
"They'll order me to kill you."
"They'll find you if you live here," Axel stressed.
"What're you saying? If I leave the Organization, I can't live with you anymore?" Roxas had immediately jumped to the obvious conclusion, hurt. The blond was all-too-familiar with the feelings of pain and betrayal and was immediately defensive about it.
Roxas scowled. He'd thought that Axel would help him. He hadn't known at the time of how vicious the Organization really could be. He'd only seen Axel, the friend who grinned in the face of danger, now wavering and quaking at the threat of Organization XIII. "Fine," he'd snapped and stormed out of the house. Stuff Axel. Stuff Axel, stuff Axel's charm, stuff Axel and his glittery eyes and razorblade smile, and stuff the horrible, throbbing ache that he felt in his heart. He'd slept on the street for a night then enrolled himself into high school with the bits of money that he'd sneaked for himself from his work dealing drugs for the Organzation. He had attended classes like normal kids his age did, and quickly made friends with normal kids like Hayner, Pence and Olette, and quickly found himself a new, normal home and bed in a sleeping bag in Hayner's room. He had made sure to stay away from areas that he knew Organization XIII frequented, stuck to the main parts of town and the more highly policed areas. He took up jobs that were laborious and paid a relatively small salary, and lived under the orange-purple sky and streetlights, away from the shadows. Eventually as time passed the ache in his heart began to subside and he'd started enjoying his new lifestyle.
Back in the present, the blond-brunet halted his story once again. He clenched his fists slightly. Riku looked at him. "Then?"
"Demyx came to me one day," Roxas said, his voice low. "He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans."
Roxas related the tale of how Demyx had approached him when he had been alone in the Usual Spot. Roxas had leapt to his feet, only to be ushered to sit by the other blond. "Quiet!" Demyx had hissed. "D'you want me to get caught?"
Demyx had looked around nervously. "I'm not meant to be talking to you. Everyone in the Organization wants you dead."
Roxas had eyed Demyx suspiciously. "And you are…"
Demyx had looked wounded. "Roxas! I'm your childhood friend! I wouldn't kill you," he said. He glanced around again, then had taken a backpack off his shoulders and pushed it at Roxas.
Roxas had opened it. Inside was the flashing blue star-shaped light that he had hung up in his room in Axel's house. He'd frowned at it. "What's this?"
"Axel wanted you to have it." Demyx had twisted at the hem of his shirt. "He would've given it to you, but he thought that you'd still be mad at him."
"So he sent you here instead?"
"No," Demyx grinned, "I went into your room, stole it, then came here myself."
Roxas had stared, not believing that his friend was capable of doing anything as daring as defying the Organization without being under the express instruction to do so by somebody else. He'd looked at the star-shaped light and couldn't quite suppress a smile.
"Hey, can I get a thank you here?"
"Thanks," Roxas had said appreciatively.
"Hey," Demyx had said nonchalantly, "no problem. Besides," he added, "I had to do it. Axel's been driving me insane, the way that he keeps talking about you."
"Man oh man, the guy never shuts up about you. It's getting really annoying, y'know?" Demyx groused. He suddenly looked skittish again. "I gotta go. Better get back before anyone notices I'm gone."
"Yeah," Roxas had said as Demyx hurried through the entrance of the Secret Place, keeping to the shadows of Twilight Town. "Thanks."
Roxas had gone to Axel's house the next day. He climbed up the ivy to the outside of Axel's room. Axel was laying stomach-down on the bed, idly tossing a red rubber ball at the wall and catching it on the rebound. The redhead had shadows around his already heavily-lined and eyelashed eyes, making him look all the more exotic, yet haunted, like a highly-poached endangered animal. Roxas rapped on the window. Axel had looked up, and was slamming the window open a split second later.
"What're you doing here?" he'd exclaimed. Roxas wasn't sure, but he thought that he'd heard a pleased tone in the redhead's voice.
"I wanted to see you."
"Man, I wanted to see you, too!" Axel had beamed. "Does this mean you're coming back to Organization XIII?"
Roxas had shaken his head; no. Axel had slumped and walked back to the bed, flopping himself down onto it, spread-eagled, face staring at the ceiling.
"I wanted to see you," Roxas said, "not the Organization." Seeing Axel brought back happy memories of them together, and he'd felt his heart quickening despite himself, bringing a flush of warmth to his face. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed his friend, too busy trying to assimilate to his new life.
"You're in danger by being here," Axel had said.
"That's okay. You can protect me with those chakrams of yours," Roxas had joked.
"That isn't funny, Roxas." Axel had paused, then sighed. "Look at what it's come to. I've been given these icky orders to destroy you if I find you. We've all been told to kill you if you refuse to rejoin the Organization. And here you are."
The blond had paused. He'd regarded the redhead with a long, hard stare. "Axel," he'd eventually said, hesitantly. "We're best friends. Right?"
"Sure, but I'm not getting turned into a corpse for…" Axel had trailed off. He'd looked at Roxas, then thrown an arm over his bright, emerald-green eyes, and chuckled. "Geez, you're really annoying for such a small guy, d'you know that?"
Roxas had smiled his usual, small little smile. Wordlessly, he'd crawled onto Axel's bed and lay on his back beside the redhead, head cushioned by Axel's extended arm. The two had been close enough for Roxas to feel the lean muscles roped to Axel's form through their combined clothing, could feel the warmth and the gentle rise and fall of the redhead's chest. He spread his legs to make himself more comfortable, throwing a leg unceremoniously over one of Axel's. Axel's arm had curled toward Roxas so that his fingers lightly touched Roxas' forearm, and Roxas could've sworn, at that moment, that Axel's touch had felt electric. The two had just lain there in silence for the rest of the day, immersed in the warmth of the sunlight sneaking in through Axel's open window, watching as shadows fluttered over Axel's ceiling. Just once, when a car-shaped shadow had crept and elongated over the room, Roxas had felt the urge to just roll over and kiss Axel, the beautiful, dangerous redhead, or at least just ask what Axel had been thinking when he'd kissed Roxas on that night when he'd danced gleefully in front of the gas station, watching the flames burn. Fearful of ruining the idyllic moment, Roxas has placed the urge out of his mind. He'd left when the sky turned dark, and had snuck back down the ivy-covered wall, but not before receiving a mischievous grin, a hair-ruffling and a teasing about being a midget from Axel, which had made him grin in return and give Axel a punch on the arm.
The next day had started out as a happy one for Roxas. He had gone to school, chatted with Olette, goosed Pence and had a mock-fistfight with Hayner before leaving for his poster duties with a promise that he would see them after work to practice for the upcoming Struggle championships (they both vowed to get to the finals; failing that, they would at least get to a position to beat Seifer up a bit). He had met up with his boss, who had loaded him with an unusually large stack of posters, enough to almost make him stagger and fall over. He had wobbled out into Twilight Town, wishing that he'd had the common sense to bring his skateboard with him to spare him the weight on his legs.
That had been when he'd heard the familiar voice.
Roxas hadn't even had the chance to turn around when he'd felt himself being forcefully pushed in one direction. Automatically, he'd begun running, looking up to see a flash of panicked emerald and a shock of spiky, fiery red hair.
"Someone saw us yesterday," Axel panted. Incredibly, the redhead was grinning. Roxas spied a manic glint to his eyes, not unlike the look he'd had when he'd blown up the gas station, laughing and crowing about it afterward. Roxas felt his arm being jostled, and he looked down to see that the redheaded idiot was, unbelievably enough, carrying chakrams in each hand.
"What're you still holding those for?" Axel had said, and Roxas had taken a second to realize that Axel was referring to the thick stack of posters that Roxas was still clutching onto, as if they were a buoy in a storm. Axel had whirled around and sent one of his chakrams spinning then stumbled back, laughing breathily. Roxas had glanced back to see a bunch of people in black hooded jackets and trousers running after him; fleetingly, he wondered if Demyx was one of them. He heard a woman dialing the police as he ran past her—there was
a shout and running, stumbling in confusion. Fifty seconds; too short to even begin feeling tired; a BANG—
In the present, Roxas began to tremble, and clenched his eyes shut, willing the tears away as he remembered being shoved hard and falling, skidding to the ground, still clutching those damned posters to his chest. He lowered his head, digging his nails into his palm hard enough to break the skin as he remembered rolling over to get to his feet, only to watch, with wide-eyed horror, as a bullet ripped through the chest of his friend, spattering his life onto Roxas' face like sick, red rain. Roxas remembered the taste of copper in his mouth and the sound of a scuffle between the men in black and the Twilight Town policemen in the background as he ran to his friend, who had somehow flopped over onto his back.
Axel ghosted a hand over his chest and stared at his fingers when they came away red. "Hey. I'm fading away," he'd said conversationally, as if his blood hadn't been pumping like a geyser out of his chest and staining his pale skin and fiery-red hair, turning it the colors of life and death. "Funny. Always thought I'd go out with a bang."
"There was a bang." Roxas remembered pressing both hands desperately onto Axel's wound, as if covering it would somehow stop the redhead from bleeding further. "You got shot. Don't move."
"You're playing nurse now?" Axel had smiled weakly.
"Shut up," Roxas had hissed. His hands had skimmed over Axel's chest as he desperately tried to remember what he'd learned from his Science lessons and the time he'd found one of Axel's old high school biology textbooks lying around. "I think they hit a lung." That was operable, right, a punctured lung? How was Axel still able to talk? Roxas had shaken his head. Axel was a stupid, obstinate man. That was how. "They missed your heart, I think. Stop moving around!" he'd yelled, tears welling in his eyes as Axel tried to sit up. Axel had turned his head to his side and coughed. Droplets of red spattered Roxas' trousers.
"Geez, someone's uptight." Axel had muttered before rolling his head back so he was looking at the sky. Roxas remembered Axel's eyelids fluttering, dark, long eyelashes flickering over those brilliant green eyes one, twice, thrice. He remembered grabbing Axel's hand, at a loss for what to do.
"Just hang on. Just wait," he'd urged, "an ambulance should be here soon."
"'Wait'?" Axel had turned to Roxas and coughed once then grinned that wide, devilish, annoying shit-eating grin that had made Roxas want to kiss him, hit him, save him, punch the smile off of the dying redhead's face and shake him because he was dying, damn it, he shouldn't look so happy, so flippant about it. "Don't think I can. My heart just wouldn't be in it, y'know?" His eyes glinted, despite dulling from pain and death. "I haven't got one. Not anymore, anyway."
It had almost felt like the bullet had pierced through Axel's heart and in turn sent an invisible brother through Roxas'. Axel had parted his lips to speak but couldn't, only wheezed instead, dyeing his mouth and cheek and chin in a bright cherry lipstick. Seeing the pained, panicked look on Roxas' face, Axel had turned his grin to him, as if it would make the boy feel better, and then turned his face skyward. His grin had metamorphosed into a small smile that was at once sad, happy and rueful, and then his hand had becoming heavy and leaden in Roxas' and he'd closed his eyes and slipped away without a sound, shutting long eyelashes to painful, black court-jester teardrops that streaked like twin burns down his cheeks.
"Axel?" Roxas had whispered in a small, scared voice, then: "AXEL!" he'd screamed, as if noise was all it would take to wake the older male up, remove the ghostly blue pallor that was now creeping over Axel's already fair skin. Roxas had felt his world spin, he'd felt blood thump in his ears, he'd felt himself becoming larger and smaller with each loud beat, as if he, too, were leaving the world and returning, still too attached by the strings of his mortal life. He'd faintly heard someone yelling his name, someone telling him to calm down, while he'd shouted his friend's name over and over to the heavens, demanding him to come back…
"That's when I fell asleep," Roxas concluded his story in barely audible gasps. His entire body was tense and he was almost curled in on himself, head facing his feet. He was shaking hard and obviously trying not to cry.
Somewhere into the story, Riku had unconsciously starting stroking Roxas' hair in a way that he'd often used on Sora, knowing that it calmed the sometimes-hyperactive brunet. His fingers moved soothingly down the curve of Roxas' head to his nape and back again, providing a small warmth that made Roxas' heart ache. "It sounds like he really loved you," he said quietly.
"What?" Roxas jerked his head to look at Riku.
"You didn't think that he did, did you? That's why you never did anything, even when you wanted to. That's one of the reasons why it hurts so much. You wanted him to be more than a friend but you never did anything about it," Riku said. His voice was calm and thoughtful, and lacking in the soft, sympathetic and higher-pitched tone that most girls had after listening to someone's sob story. Roxas was thankful for it. Riku continued, his voice still in the same tone. "He died for you."
"I killed him."
"You loved him," Riku stated. "That's not the worst thing a person can do."
"Yeah?" Roxas smiled wryly. "Don't tell me you've done worse."
"Well…" the edge of Riku's lips curled slightly, "there was a time when I used to wear tie-dyes with hula skirts."
Roxas stared at Riku. His lips twitched, and he brushed a hand across his dry eyes before punching Riku in the arm. "You jerk," he laughed.
It was dawn. Riku sat perched on the curled trunk of his paopu tree and watched the sun rise. He had sat there almost all night. After Roxas had left, Riku found himself unable to sleep. He didn't know why, but even though he'd been drained by the emotional day he'd found himself gazing at his ceiling, lying in a bed that was too cold, feeling strangely bereft of emotion, too full of thoughts to feel. The past month-and-a-half had been a trying one, and although it hadn't been his intention, Sora had slowly torn away at Riku's heart, leaving a Sora-shaped hole behind. Riku had grown so tired of trying to fix everything and being pushed away, but had thought that it would've been worth it in the end, and thus was surprised to find, after Roxas' story, that he wasn't actually thinking that much about Sora anymore. Roxas' story had answered a few of the questions that Riku had asked of Sora, and although Riku could understand Sora for not telling him, it still was painful to think that Sora hadn't trusted him enough to tell him, hadn't felt safe enough in the silver-haired teen's presence. After hours of tossing and turning, Riku had put on his day clothes and padded out to his island at dawn, waiting patiently for the rising ball of heat. By his feet lay a plastic bag of supplies which Riku had brought down from his house. He gave the bag a light kick as he frowned, deep in thought.
"Pen—oh." A familiar, snide voice came over his shoulder. "Didn't think you'd be here."
Riku turned. When he saw who it was, he turned back.
"Hey!" Hayner exclaimed, annoyed. He held a rubbery blue bat by his side and two bags, one bulging full of something orange and the other bulging full of something blue. He put the bags by his side. "I was talking to you!"
"No," Riku stated, "you were goading me."
"Yeah, so?" Hayner crossed his arms.
"You're not very good at comebacks, are you?"
"Shut up!" Hayner snapped.
Riku's lips twitched. "Nice one."
Hayner scowled, but didn't retort. After a while, Riku turned to look at him. "You're still here?"
Hayner didn't respond.
"Pence isn't here."
Riku sighed. "I talked to Roxas yesterday."
Hayner turned frowning, chocolate-brown eyes to him. His frown dissipated and he burst into a cheeky grin. "You're still thinking about that Roxas-Sora thing? Man, you've gotta learn to get over stuff already."
"Then what're you still standing here for?" Riku asked, puzzled. "It can't be because you like me."
Hayner looked mildly horrified at the prospect. He rubbed a hand into his hair then gestured at Riku as he talked in a casual tone of voice. "Nah, I still hate your guts. I just figure that we haven't finished our fight from last time."
"Yeah." Hayner rubbed a fist. "You dodged."
"I remember." Riku paused then asked, in a mildly amused tone of voice: "Is this because you can't beat Wakka?"
"Hey," Hayner said indignantly, "I can so beat him."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hayner scowled.
"I can beat Wakka, Tidus and Selphie put together."
Riku hopped off of the tree and eyed Hayner casually. "Are you sure you want to fight?"
Hayner frowned for a moment. He grinned. "Nah. I got a better idea. Let's Struggle."
Riku vaguely remembered something about the favorite game of the inhabitants of Twilight Town, but wasn't too clear on what it was, having been too preoccupied with his new life away from the Heartless and, later, the bullet wounds in his left arm. "What's that?" he asked.
"It's like fighting," Hayner said, "except we try to grab each other's balls."
Riku looked horrified.
"I mean, orbs."
"That… isn't really much better."
Hayner upended the two bags that he'd brought along with him, scattering blue and orange balls over the small island. Riku walked to the other side of his tree, where his wooden sword lay on the ground, then moved over to the majority of the glowing blue orbs.
"Get ready," Hayner grinned. He crouched forward into his fighting stance, waving his Struggle bat out in small circles front of him. Riku gave him a small smirk and steadily held his sword out in a similar pose, his back slouched casually and his hand poised over the wooden play-weapon. This was something that he was familiar with, this competitive display of aggression to work over old issues, covering past grievances.
Both moved at the same time.
On the other side of the beach, Roxas and Kairi were talking, oblivious to the fight taking place on Riku's island.
"Okay, so he isn't as bad as I'd thought," Roxas admitted.
Kairi was swinging her legs idly over Selphie's pier, feet dangling just inches from the surface of the cold ocean water. In her lap was a collection of thalassa shells, which she strung up onto a thin, black, leather cord as Roxas talked. She turned and stuck her tongue out playfully. "Told you," she giggled. "What did you talk about?"
Roxas shrugged evasively. "Guys' stuff."
"I like your hair," Kairi said. "It kind of suits you."
Roxas ran a hand through his hair, newly cut that morning so that all traces of brown dye were gone. He had his hair gelled and spiky, just the way he liked it. "This is the way it was before, y'know."
"It's weird," Kairi said, cocking her head slightly, "but your hair suits you better than Sora's hairstyle did, even though you two look the same."
"That's because I'm not Sora," Roxas answered easily.
"Did you talk to Riku about that?"
"A bit." Roxas leaned back on the palms of his hands and looked out to a fluffy cloud in the horizon. "Actually, we talked about Axel."
There was a loud yelp followed by a splash. Both Roxas and Kairi turned their heads to see Riku leaping cleanly off the island after a spluttering Hayner, who promptly started to beat the silver-haired teen on the head.
"Oh." Kairi fell silent and waited to see what Roxas would say next.
Roxas turned his head back. "It was… it still hurts, but it's not as unbearable anymore. Isn't that weird?" The blond smiled slightly. "The last time you and I talked about Axel, I pushed him into my mind so far back that I could've sworn that I'd never think about him again. I didn't want to think about him."
Kairi put a sympathetic hand over his. Roxas squeezed her hand slightly.
"But I think there's one thing I learned from it," Roxas said. "And that's not to let chances go."
"That's good." Kairi smiled and nodded.
Roxas returned her smile and held her gaze, as if it were something that he had decided on and rehearsed. He looked at her beautiful, long red hair and her clear, happy ocean-blue eyes. "I think I like you, Kairi," he said deliberately. "Like, in that way."
Kairi froze. She retracted her hand slowly. "Oh, no."
"Roxas…" she looked like she was searching for the subtlest way to say what she wanted to say, "thank you, really, but you don't like me in that way. You don't."
"How do you know?"
"Trust me," she smiled gently. She picked up her shells and continued threading them.
"I do. That's why I like you. I can trust you. You're…" Roxas visibly struggled for the right words, "kind. You're willing to listen to me even though my existence means that you don't get to see Sora. You sympathize with me even though I've caused trouble for you. You understand me."
Kairi ducked her head, grinning modestly. "You know, most boys would just tell me that I was pretty and leave it at that."
Roxas chuckled embarrassedly. "I'm kind of new to this."
"That's okay." Kairi strung the last, remaining thalassa shell onto the leather cord and tied the two ends together, forming a bracelet. "It was very sweet… but I'm not the one you were thinking of."
Roxas frowned. He looked at Kairi, puzzled. He followed her gaze out to the ocean. Then, his eyes widened marginally. "No! I don't…"
Kairi cocked her head slightly.
Roxas looked deep in thought. He brought his hand up and ghosted it over his heart. He inclined his head. "Why are girls always right?"
"Women's intuition?" Kairi suggested. She took his hand and laid it, limp and palm-up, on her lap.
"What's there to be sorry about, silly?"
"I said that I liked you when…" Roxas shook his head.
"I like you too, Roxas." Kairi smiled. "You're a good friend."
Roxas looked at Kairi. He couldn't help laughing. "Yeah, 'cept that everything I do seems to be done better by you and Riku."
Kairi giggled good-humoredly. She took his hand and wriggled the thalassa shell bracelet onto his wrist. "Here," she said.
"Another one of your island legends?"
"Kind of," Kairi said. "It's been said to protect sailors."
Kairi smiled. Roxas returned the smile and nodded. "Thanks."
On the beach, Riku and Hayner were staggering up to shore. Riku was at a slight disadvantage due to his waterlogged jeans. Hayner took the opportunity to strike at the taller teen, causing Riku to stagger and trip.
"Hah!" the blond crowed, grabbing one of the orbs as it slipped out of Riku's grasp. "One more and I'll win!"
"Not likely," Riku muttered as he rolled away and swept his sword at Hayner's legs. This only served to make the blond yelp and collapse headily onto Riku. Hayner grabbed at the orb clutched in Riku's arms.
"It's mine!" he yelled.
Riku tried to wrench the orb away from Hayner, but to no avail. He tightened his hold on the slippery blue sphere, hugging it to him like a petulant child with a teddy bear. Hayner, determined to win, shoved his arms between the ball and Riku's chest and hugged it vertically, rolling to try and snatch it away.
"It's mine!" he repeated.
"No it isn't." Riku rolled in the other direction and kicked at Hayner, causing the blond's orbs to scatter across the beach.
"Yes it is!"
"No it isn't."
Hayner kicked Riku's leg. "Let go!"
Riku kicked back. Hayner clutched the orb tightly to him and rolled viciously, trying to shake Riku off. Riku spun like an out-of-control Ferris wheel up and onto Hayner, where he determinedly dug a knee into Hayner's thigh. He contemplated shaking his head to make his hair fall into Hayner's eyes, but found the action unnecessary when the blond hollered in pain.
Roxas walked up to the two of them. "You two look like you're having fun," he commented, amused.
Hayner and Riku looked at each other. It suddenly seemed to click in both their minds that they were lying in rather intimate positions, Riku on top of Hayner, their faces only a hair's breadth apart. They both looked equally horrified and simultaneously narrowed their eyes at each other, unwilling to lose the match. It was a surprise that smoke didn't start gusting out of their noses, as what had started out as a fight turned into a glaring battle, both clenching their arms around the orb and staunchly refusing to let go.
Roxas watched both for them for almost a minute. He sighed and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Man, would you guys just kiss already?"
Riku's head whipped to the side. "What?" he said.
Hayner took advantage of the brief lack of attention and snatched the orb away from Riku, rolling in the sand to his feet. "I win!" he crowed, pumping his fist.
Riku shook his head in disbelief. He got to his feet and brushed the crusted sand off his jeans.
"Hah! In your face!" Hayner shouted gleefully. He did a strange kind of whooping dance for a bit then turned and ran off in the direction of Wakka's house.
Riku scowled after him.
"That means he likes you," Roxas said. "He beat me up the first time I met him, too."
Riku shook his head. "City people," he said in a long-suffering voice. He went over to Roxas. "I've got something for you."
"Me too," Roxas admitted. He reached into his pocket and produced a small black pouch, which he tossed to Riku.
Riku shook his munny pouch and opened it when he didn't hear a responding jingle. He looked blankly at Roxas. "It's empty."
Roxas shrugged in response.
Riku looked to the sky. "City people," he repeated then turned to walk away.
"Hey! Didn't you say you had something for me?"
Riku nodded. "I have to go back and get it," he said. "Meet me at the train station."
"Where are we going?" Roxas asked.
Roxas took a lick of his dripping popsicle and stuck a hand into his pocket. "Didn't think you'd ever come back here, seeing how you said you hated it so much."
Riku looked with distaste at the concrete buildings, the orange-tiled walls and billboards and lazy, red sky. The two perched on the roof of the tram, which they'd both scrabbled onto at Roxas' insistence that the tram was the fastest mode of transport around Twilight Town.
"Want some?" Roxas offered his ice-cream to Riku.
Riku hesitated at the color of the frozen snack, but took an obliging bite anyway, licking the remainder off of his lips. His eyes widened in surprise. "It's good."
"Aw man, you're meant to take a bite from the bottom, not the top," Roxas complained.
"Sweet, yet salty."
Roxas sighed. He looked at where Riku's teeth had left marks in his beloved sea-salt ice-cream, shook his head, and bit over it, ignoring everything Hayner had ever joked before about sharing saliva and indirect kisses.
"Can I have some more?"
"Get your own!" Roxas exclaimed, but grinned and gave up his ice-cream anyway when Riku reached over and took it from his hand. He looked out to the town, blond hair ruffling in the wind. "I can't think of a place that you'd be taking me where I haven't been before."
Riku was strangely silent at that. Plastic bag bracketed between his legs, he brushed a few stray long, silver hairs away from his face and mouth as he put the iced popsicle into his mouth and licked. Roxas watched him as he did it.
"This is our stop," Riku said suddenly. He got up and leapt off the tram, landing cat-like on his feet. Startled, Roxas followed suit, stumbling a bit on his landing. Riku grabbed his arm to steady him.
"Funny," Roxas said, eyebrows knitting slightly, "I don't remember this part of…" he trailed off when they turned a corner.
"Come on," Riku urged. He walked past the iron gates, plastic bag in hand. Roxas followed him, not quite sure if he liked where this was going. He silently walked behind Riku, who was maneuvering himself past various small granite and marble headstones, his feet crunching over grass and dirt, arms swinging slightly as he pulled himself up the gentle slope of the hilltop. They finally reached one headstone that was gray, large and imposing, with a bunch of withered roses at its foot.
"Why'd you bring me here?" Roxas asked, his voice low.
Riku responded by turning his head to look at the headstone. Roxas soon followed suit.
"'In memory of Axel'," Roxas read slowly. "'Beloved and loving son'. Yeah, right." He shoved his hands into his pockets and toed the roses in disgust. "His parents didn't even bother to change these for him." He paused. "He didn't even like flowers."
"He must've been really lonely before you came along," Riku commented, his voice carefully blank as he gazed casually at the depressing gravestone.
Roxas felt a small pang at his heart. "His parents were never home. He didn't love them." He waved a hand furiously, feeling something well in his eyes, which he fiercely tried to suppress. "This whole thing's a lie."
Riku didn't respond.
"He would've hated it," Roxas said. His chest ached, and he clenched his fist and teeth, staunchly refusing to cry. He glared at the headstone, refusing to look down at the dirt where it stood, where his best friend lay, dead and rotting. "Look at it. It's so colorless. So boring."
Riku frowned slightly. He held the bag up and opened it. He hesitated then handed an empty cereal box to Roxas, who took it with a confused frown, blue eyes shiny with unbidden tears.
Riku silently rustled around in the bag and produced a paintbrush and a box of paint.
Roxas stared at him then laughed in a way that was more out of disbelief than mirth. "Are you serious?"
"You're his friend," Riku stated simply. "I figure you'd want to do something for him."
Roxas felt pained. He looked at the objects in his hands then sat himself down on the soft, green grass. He popped open the paints and, after a moment of thought, he covered the cereal box in a layer of black. After the paint dried, he opened another tube and started painting bright red flames onto the bottom of the box. Roxas was no artist and the flames looked a bit crude and childish, but he didn't seem to care, totally engrossed with every stroke of his paintbrush.
"I know it's tacky," he murmured to Riku, "but Axel would've liked it. He had a thing about fire."
"He sounds like a pyromaniac," Riku stated. His voice was blank, without malice or humor.
Roxas chuckled. "Something like that." He flicked a splash of red onto the side of the box. "It was our joke, before I joined up with Organization XIII. We were like Captain Planet." He didn't wait to see if Riku recognized the name of the once-popular children's show before he continued. "Demyx was water, Axel was fire."
"What were you?"
"Heart," Roxas said. He smiled sadly. "It was funny at the time because I didn't really feel anything. Not really. I didn't care about anything. I only felt for Axel." He felt another pull at his heartstrings, and his mind flicked to a funnier incident, making him chuckle quietly. "I remember teasing Demyx about being water. The one with water powers in Captain Planet was a girl."
Riku smiled, recalling one of Sora's stories, where Sora was a naked merman swimming in the ocean and helping out a scantily-dressed mermaid with two clamshells for a bra. Sora had gasped the story out amidst long, passionate kisses and frantic, eager touches and thrusts. It was strange, but Sora seemed so far away now. Sora had been pushing himself away ever since Riku's fight with Hayner, and although Riku missed him, it wasn't the recent Sora that he missed, the one who was secretive and scared and untrusting.
"We were all so stupid." Roxas applied a layer of orange over the red, going up to – but not quite touching – the tips of the flames that he'd been painting. "I mean, joining up with a gang?" He looked up at the gray headstone in front of him. For a moment, it was as if it were just him and the headstone, because it was all that he could see. Riku was somewhere else; he barely registered in Roxas' mind. "What were you thinking?" Roxas said to the slab of granite and continued painting, murmuring softly. "And you pulled me into it too. Not that I blame you for it." Roxas blew gently on the cardboard box to help the paint dry before turning it on its side and continuing the flames. "I mean, I always knew that you were stupid. Who gets tattoos on their face? There are easier ways to say 'Hey, I'm a lonely guy and my parents totally ignore my existence' without having to draw that much attention, y'know. Besides, teardrop tattoos?" Roxas snorted, though it wasn't certain whether it was out of derision or to cover the small waver in his voice. "Please."
Riku was silent while Roxas talked. He looked at the headstone once again then sat down beside Roxas, his presence lending warmth and support.
"That's not even the worst of it," Roxas continued. His heart clenched, and he inhaled deeply to soothe the pain. He squeezed a dollop of yellow onto the paint box lid and dipped his brush into it, not caring that the orange was mixing with the yellow. "Remember when you blew up the gas station? That was dumb. Like there isn't a better way to say 'Wow, I just killed somebody, I now feel officially insane'. We could've been caught. We could've been burned." He slashed a yellow flame onto the cereal box. "Drama queen."
He paused. "You know what?" Roxas continued, his voice quaking and soft as he continued coloring yellow fire around the box. "I think you were just stupid in general. You were stupid for taking me in, you were stupid for getting those stupid tattoos, you were stupid for blowing up that gas station, you were stupid for not leaving Organization XIII with me…" Roxas faltered, and his voice actually broke as he talked, "you were stupid for kissing me and making me… making me like you."
Roxas choked down something thick in his throat. He reached for the white paint and wrote, in big, messy letters:
Beloved best friend.
"Got it memorized?"
He stuck the cereal box next to Axel's headstone then got up and glared, icy blue eyes glimmering, at the large, gray slab of granite, as if the thing were Axel himself. "But most of all," he said, fists clenched and shaking by his sides, "you were stupid for making me like you, then dying, with your stupid, stupid court-jester tattoos and, and your smile, and…"
Riku looked up at Roxas. "He really loved you."
Something broke. Roxas fell to his knees, curled over, his elbows and forearms in the dirt, head inclined and his forehead touching the ground. Riku got up and quietly walked out of the cemetery, pretending, for Roxas' sake, that he didn't hear the blond crying, even though the tears and sobs were ripped out of his eyes and throat loudly enough to send some nearby birds flapping away.
When Roxas finally walked through the iron gates, only slightly red-eyed and blotchy, his arms soiled and damp from the tears and grit, Riku walked up to him and handed him a melting sea-salt ice-cream, this time holding an ice-cream of his own. Roxas took the iced popsicle without a word and licked up all the stray droplets. Riku turned. Roxas followed him silently. He raised his eyes to see Riku put the popsicle into his mouth and suck on it, his cheeks hollowing as he did so. He watched as Riku brushed long, silver strands out of his eyes and away from his face, where they inevitably stuck to the frozen blue snack.
Roxas walked up so that he was moving beside Riku. "That," he stated, "was a terrible present."
"You gave me back an empty munny pouch," Riku returned.
Roxas licked his ice-cream thoughtfully. He chuckled and shook his head. "Man, you always have to beat me, don't you?"
"I'll try and look upset the next time you give me something," Riku said dutifully.
"Who said I'm ever going to get you anything?"
Riku smiled slightly. The two walked out into the street. Roxas heard the ringing of the tram first, and jumped up onto the side as it passed, clinging onto the roof with his fingers and hauling himself up. There was a thump behind him. Roxas didn't have to turn to know that it was Riku.
"Thanks, by the way," he commented.
Riku shrugged. He sat himself down on the roof of the tram, feet planted firmly down, his knees crooked at chest-level. "What're you going to do now?"
"You mean you're not dragging me back to the island with you?"
"You're not Sora."
"Well… yeah." Roxas sat down, cross-legged, next to Riku. He closed his eyes slightly, enjoying the feel of the breeze whistling through his short, blond locks. "When has that ever stopped you?"
"D'you want to come back with me?"
"Do I…" Roxas stared at Riku. "What about Sora?"
Riku looked down at his knees. "I think I just killed him," he said quietly.
"Never mind." Nearing Station Heights, Riku jumped off the tram, long hair flowing behind him. Roxas landed next to him, only stumbling a little this time. The two walked up the slope toward the station.
"Man," Roxas suddenly laughed, "Hayner'll be ticked when he hears that we came back without telling him."
"I can't believe you lost to him. I thought you islanders were meant to be better than us at everything."
Riku grinned slightly. "I was distracted by his comment about grabbing his balls."
Roxas did a double take. "What?"
"I mean, his orbs."
Roxas looked weirded-out. "Y'know, that isn't really much better."
Riku laughed. It was a warm laugh, soft but heartfelt, and Roxas couldn't help but smile in response. Riku bought them two tickets back to Destiny Islands and got into a carriage when the train pulled up to the station.
"I've never Struggled before," Riku admitted as he took a seat on a plush, coffee-brown chair. "It's harder than it looks."
"You've never…? And today was the first time you tried sea-salt ice-cream?"
Roxas snorted. "And you said you lived in Twilight Town."
"You've never tried blitzball," Riku retorted.
"I never claimed to have lived on the beach though, did I?"
"It's called Destiny Islands," Riku said, "not 'the beach'. None of us live on the beach."
"Yeah, whatever." Roxas drummed his fingers on the seat and glanced out of the window at the scenery zooming by to the gentle chug-chug-chug of the train moving down its tracks. "I'm bored. Got any music?"
Riku looked blank.
"Y'know, CDs, MDs, mp3…"
"I brought a Walkman," Riku offered. He took a large, black square-shaped device out of one of his enormous pockets. A cassette rested in one of the sides.
"Is that…?" Roxas stared in horror at it. "Man, that thing must be a decade old."
"It plays music," Riku said defensively.
"Yeah, from a cassette. Who uses those anymore?"
"It plays music," Riku repeated. "That's all I need."
Roxas stared in disbelief at him. He slumped back into his seat and put a hand over his eyes. "Great," he moaned. "I'm in love with a hick."
Riku shuffled over to Roxas and put one of the earpieces into the blond's ear. A song that had been floating around since the sixties (Roxas could've sworn that it was the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night", but he couldn't be certain) started playing gently. It was strangely soothing, and Roxas soon relaxed, leaning lightly on Riku's shoulder, his hair tickling the flesh of Riku's neck.
"About what I said just then?" Roxas criss-crossed his fingers, propped his hands up on his stomach. "It's just a feeling. I got it after you let me talk to you."
"I'm not an expert on feelings. Obviously. But," Roxas turned and gave Riku and friendly punch in the arm, "I know that I like you enough to not want you to die. So don't. Okay?"
Riku regarded him with a look that was solemn and thoughtful. He reached into a pocket and produced a long, large key. He placed the point against Roxas' temple with a small smile and turned it, as if locking something.
"Click," he said.