Author's Notes:

Though this is the prequel to my other fic A Complete 180°, it can be read without reading it. This story follows Riku's life story through most of high school and after, up until he moves back to Destiny Islands to find Sora. It will include his relationships with the people in Atropos in elsewhere, including Axel and Leon and Sephiroth. :3 That's all I can really say without spoiling anything! The title is taken from the Mondo Grosso song "Like No One's Looking" (though the song has nothing to do with the story—I just liked it ;o;).

Since this fanfic explores Riku's journey through puberty and his experiences as he explores his sexuality, the version you are reading right now is the CENSORED VERSION. To read the full, uncensored version, visit my site.


This fanfic contains excessive sexual themes, including sex between two males, masturbation, attempted rape, sexual harassment, and other mature themes that should not be read by those who are not comfortable reading them.

all the boys' voices cracking
oh, the moaning halftones
come summertime
we're all the same age here

all the tension and the terror

thin limbed gorgeous green eyes smiling
and i'm going straight to hell
all the possibility and promise just
weighs on me so heavily...

"the tension and the terror"
Straylight Run

Like No One's Looking
Part One




The disgruntled sound came from somewhere underneath a mess of blue sheets and pillows where one unhappy little rich boy had been trying to sleep. The abruptly buzzing cell phone on his nightstand obviously had other plans for him.


"Who the... rrgh..."

Before the cell phone could be spiteful and vibrate itself off the surface and commit electronic suicide, a slender hand shot out from under the sheets and snatched it from its resting place. The boy buried beneath the blue silk nest slowly rose onto his elbows and squinted at the glowing numbers of his digital alarm. 2:32 AM. Riku knew immediately that he was going to kill whoever was calling him this late before his final.

Or so he thought, until he saw who it was.

Olette calling.


"H..Hello...?" he rasped into his phone, his pubescent voice rising in pitch at the end, but he was too tired to care at the moment. "Olette?"

Loud sniffling and a sweet voice choked with tears came through the other line. "R-Riku, St-Stiltz...Stiltzkin d-died!"

Oh dear lord.

Riku's irritation fizzled away immediately, leaving him groggy and grumpy but no longer ready to snap his friend's head off for interrupting his precious sleep. He wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and relax back into his pillows, but if he did, he knew he'd just wind up dozing off while Olette sought his comfort for her dead pet rabbit. Stiltzkin had been awfully cute...

"Oh," he breathed, realizing he was expected to respond. And he knew how to do that. He wasn't sure why the girl called him with her problems, but it was becoming a daily occurrence now. "Oh, that's horrible... I'm sorry," he said, sounding slurred. Clearing his throat, he lifted a hand to rub at one eye. "How did he die?"

Olette didn't seem to notice his disinterest. She gave another loud sniffle, then a short sob. "W-Well... it's kind of... complicated," she managed to get out, calming down a little now that she knew she had someone to listen to her. How a rabbit's death managed to be complicated, Riku was scared to know. But he was going to find out, it seemed.

Despite how much he wanted to hang up and deal with this later, and despite how much he'd later regret not doing so because he had to wake up hellishly early to study for his government final, Riku had a serious soft spot for crying. Just one lip quiver and hurt look, and he always caved in. One day, he had a feeling it'd be his downfall. Besides, his aunt always told him he needed to start being nicer to people. Not that he listened to his aunt very often.

"Go on," Riku said quietly, stifling a sigh.

It was going to be a long night.



The shrill yell cut through the right upstairs hallway, piercing his ears and intensifying his already unbearable headache. He was rushing through his room in a blur, stuffing things into his satchel without hesitating—government books, the notepad he scribbled his notes on during lecture, his cell phone—crap, it was already 8:39! With no time to get dressed, he stuffed in his neatly folded uniform and closed his school bag, shouldering it as he slipped on his athletic shoes and made a run for the hallway.

His family's large home—well, not his family's, but his aunt's—was separated into three main sections based on the staircase design in the atrium: the left wing, right wing, and the middle. The stairs led up from the left and the right and joined in the middle to create a balcony-like mezzanine, and from that balcony branched the two colonnade-lined upstairs galleries—the left led to Aunt Rena's bedroom, the right led to Riku's.

When Riku reached the mezzanine, Rena was at the left gallery, leaning over the marble railing to yell at him again in her oh-so-helpful way. "Reeeeeeeeku! You're going to be late!"

He suppressed the urge to outright roll his eyes at her as he flew down the stairs, raking his hands through his hair, hoping he didn't look as sloppy as he felt. He could only imagine the circles under his eyes from getting only two hours of sleep. Shit, shit, shit! He was going to hurt Olette!

"You're fourteen—!" Rena shouted at his back.

Almost fifteen, he silently added, knowing she'd probably forgotten.

"—you should be more responsible than this!"

He hadn't even heard his alarm go off this morning, but it had been turned off as if he'd hit it himself. No time to eat breakfast, no time to shower—nothing—couldn't even study for his damn final—he'd have to do that on the bus, which would be a later bus than he was accustomed to catching. But he couldn't miss this test and he couldn't be late or he'd be locked out because Professor Kramer was anal about tardiness and—gah!

"I had better not get any notices from your professors today!" she added. "Do you need me to call a driver?"

"My uniform is in here!" Riku called back, managing not to sound as snippy as he felt. "And no—I'll be fine!"

Definitely no drivers. They were slower than public transport, believe it or not, and his first class was closer to the bus stop than it was to the porte-cochere where he was usually dropped off. And he hated being dropped off in any of his aunt's luxurious vehicles. He went to a high class high school, yes, but he liked to keep his wealthy heritage and his average lifestyle separate.

Hurrying down the stairs before she could nag about anything else, Riku breezed through the front doors, hoping upon hopes that he wasn't forgetting anything critical. He had it figured out. He'd study on the bus, rush to the nearest restroom once he got to school to change, and run like hell to class and hope his stomach decided not to growl during his final—though that was the least of his problems. Olette was definitely going to be hearing about this, dead rabbit or not!

Still wearing the silk, indigo pajama pants and white designer muscle shirt he'd worn to bed, he tried not to feel embarrassed while running to the bus stop. He'd never felt so self-conscious before, like he could feel people from their cars and on the street just staring at him as he sprinted by, a frazzled fourteen-year-old still wearing his pajamas, clutching his school bag to his side, silver hair sleep-mussed as if he had just rolled out of bed. Well, he kind of had.

As he approached the bus shelter, the bus was already there and loading passengers, and he panicked, picking up his pace even more as he slipped his hand into the front pocket of his satchel where he kept his ID wallet. He made it just in time for the female driver to begin closing the door on him, to which he promptly stuck his arm through, gasping for breath as he gave the driver a pleading look. He must have come out of nowhere, for the driver regarded him with surprise before laughing and opening the door back up, letting him in once she saw his school ID.

Riku Edenbrook, Freshman Class A, Shinra Academy. The rest of his personal information was detailed on the back, along with a magnetic stripe for swiping at tellers for food and whatnot. The Shinra family owned half of Atropos, so Shinra students had special privileges, such as free public transportation when everyone else had to pay at least forty munny.

"A bit late there, Mr. Edenbrook," the driver said with an affable grin. He didn't know this woman since he usually had a different driver because of his earlier time, but she seemed reliable enough.

He flashed her his winsome smile and tucked his ID away as he climbed onto the bus, glancing for a seat near the front so he could make a quick exit later. At this hour, the bus was pretty packed—not completely full just yet, but it probably would be in a little while when they got closer to his stop.

Riku took a seat on the right sidelong bench, setting his satchel at his feet to dig out his notepad. When the bus made a sudden lurch forward before pulling away from the shelter, he had a bad feeling about the woman's reliability after all. He'd do his best to study, erratic stops or not. He had a government final to ace and keep his grade up.

Ten minutes passed without incident, the seats around Riku filling as he had expected, and soon people were forced to stand in the aisles and hold the assist straps overhead. He kept his notes up to his face, avoiding eye contact with anyone he possibly knew, focusing solely on his government notes for his last minute cramming.

He still had three pages to cover, the parts he was worried about the most, when his peace was finally shattered. While he could handle the rattling of the bus and the quiet chatter of the people around him, he couldn't ignore the sudden, loud singing of a nearby ringtone.

Do dodo, do dododododoooo, do dodo, do dododododoooo, do dodo... doDOdodo...!

Riku slowly lifted his gaze over the edge of his notes, narrowing his eyes at the teenager holding onto the assist strap right above Riku's seat. The guy had fiery red hair pulled back into a ponytail that stuck straight out, and he was wearing the black Shinra uniform, though the neck was unbuttoned low enough to show off skinny, pale clavicles and a hairless, faintly freckled chest. His shouldered backpack was artsy, covered in colorful curlicues and cheap, witty pins like "I'm so great, I'm jealous of myself."

Oh well do you, do you do you want to?

The redhead had started to rummage in the front pocket of his backpack to find his cell phone, his face turned downwards to see what he was doing. Riku took that moment to study him, noticing his fine furrowed brows, dark eyeliner around vibrant green eyes, a pointed but attractive nose, full lips pursed in concentration, and a slender, feminine chin.

Oh well do you, do you do you want to...

He seemed both expressive and eccentric, just at first glance, and Riku knew immediately that this guy was a talker. When the other boy pulled his thin, red cell phone free, Riku dreaded what was coming next.

...want to go... where I've never let you—

"Y'ello," the redhead answered as he put the phone to his ear, still holding onto the strap overhead with his other hand. "Hey sexy, whatcha want?"

Riku lifted his eyebrows at the greeting and made it a point to go back to studying, trying to ignore the conversation that was about to ensue hardly two feet away from him. Government. Must concentrate on government.

"Hehe, no way, it was more like four. Yeah, but I got it done."

Couldn't the guy call back later?

"Ahh... I dunno, I bullshitted. You know how that goes."

Couldn't he see Riku trying to study?

"Hell no! I'm not letting your poisonous pink enamel fingernails anywhere near my baby, so don't even think about it!"

Didn't he know it was rude to carry private conversations in front of total strangers?

"Pfft. It's too late, anyway. I'm on the bus. Uh-huh. We're almost there."

Riku glanced up again, pointedly glaring at the redhead, who was grinning out the window, listening to whoever was chatting away on the other line. Though it was faint, Riku could hear a girl's high-pitched voice talking animatedly into his ear.

So much for last minute studying on the bus. Sighing loudly, Riku shuffled his notes, trying to focus on the words in front of him, but they kept slipping away with every syllable the redhead easily drawled in his slightly nasal, cloying and candid voice.

Neither of them was expecting what happened next.

With a sudden, loud screech, the bus lurched to an abrupt stop, jerking its passengers roughly in their seats, and the teenager above Riku lost his grip on the hoop and went sprawling on top of Riku, crumpling his notes. The redhead had a split second to catch himself as he landed in Riku's lap, one of his hands still holding the cell phone to his ear, and his other hand...

In Riku's crotch.

Not just in Riku's crotch, but grabbing it as if it were a bus grip.

Riku's eyes went wide, the redhead's eyes went wide, and they both gaped at each other for that one fleeting moment. Then the bus jerked forward again, startling them out of their shocked expressions.

"WHOA!" the redhead cried, laughing loudly as he pulled his hand back and grabbed the overhead rail, only looking mildly embarrassed now. "Oh my—haha—I'm sorry, man!" Then, to the person on the phone, the guy snapped, "Not you, you bitch—I just grabbed some kid's crotch! Call you back!"

Riku, who had turned a fine shade of red, promptly tucked his knees together and held his notes in his lap defensively, still trying to digest what had just happened. At the redhead's loud comment, though, now everyone on the bus was faced towards them, grinning and laughing to each other, and Riku hoped again that he didn't know anyone.

Sinking into his seat, he held his school notes up to his face, hiding from the world. And for the rest of the trip, he didn't read a single highlighted line on the paper, his mind focused instead on the lingering feel of fingers against him. Somewhere above him, he could feel the redhead gauging his reaction.

When the bus pulled into the shelter next to the academy, Riku gathered up his satchel and, avoiding the other teenager's gaze, he hurried to the front as the doors slid open. He leapt down the steps and started to walk quickly towards the nearest building, knowing he had to rush to the first bathroom and change into his uniform so he could make it to his final on time.

But when he was clear of the shelter and the bus had pulled away from it to turn back onto the street, Riku slowed down, feeling a presence at his back. Glancing over his shoulder at last, he spotted the redhead a few feet behind him beginning to turn down a different breezeway to another building.

Their green eyes met then, and Riku felt his heart give an odd shudder as the other boy winked, and those full lips laughed at him.

Shooting him a glare, Riku pointedly looked away and broke into a run.


"Hey Riku!"

He lifted his head just in time to see skinny rainbow sleeves slip over his shoulders as Olette hugged him from behind. With a jolt of surprise, he realized that the warm cushion pressing against his shoulder blades was actually her boobs. When had they gotten so noticeable?

Feeling something uncomfortable clench in his stomach, he hoped his face wasn't pink when turned and pulled out of her embrace to face her. She was just being friendly and probably didn't even realize how a simple act like that could turn a normal boy into a puddle of hormones. Except, Riku realized with certain dread, he hadn't felt anything except awkward.

"Hey," he greeted normally, offering a faint smile.

Though the chipper girl had kept him awake all night to cry about her rabbit, she looked good today. It was after school and they had decided to meet somewhere and relax now that they were all done with finals and had no homework for the next two days until their freshman year of high school ended. They were at their favorite spot—a café situated exactly halfway between both of their homes. They'd begun spending a lot of time here to hang out or do homework. At first, Riku used to come here alone, but now Olette and sometimes Pence tagged along.

Today she was wearing a rainbow-striped sweater that cut off low and bared a line of skin before her low-rise jeans started, giving Riku a perfect view of her smooth, pale stomach and cute belly button. She really had developed a lot over the last year, but Riku had yet to make any moves on her. If he did. He had a feeling it was expected of him, but... she didn't interest him. He didn't know what interested him. He found things attractive but not attractive enough to... well, do anything for him.

"So how was the government final?" she asked, curling a hand around the strap to her messenger bag as she took a step back, giving Riku room. He had been waiting outside of the café for only a minute before she had shown up, apparently out of nowhere. "I'm sorry for keeping you up last night," she added, her voice taking on a soft tone, her glossy lips pursing a little.

He hadn't had any classes with her today, so he hadn't had a chance to nag at her about stealing his studying time away from him last night. But now that she was actually here and he had his opportunity, he let it slip away. It wasn't worth it.

"It's okay," he said, tucking a lock of his silver hair back. "And the test wasn't as bad as I had thought it was going to be." He held a bent arm out for her, his smile turning more genuine. "Come on."

Grinning, she hooked her arm with his, and he steered her towards the café entrance, pushing it open and welcoming the rush of coffee and chocolate. It was Spring time and colder drinks were more in style at the moment, but Riku never grew tired of this place, no matter the season. It was his own little sanctuary away from his aunt's house—a place he liked to avoid as often as he could. Though it was technically his home, he'd never considered it a permanent residence for some reason. It always felt like he was still trying to get settled in there, and if he ever did, he'd get whisked away by another unfortunate incident that would throw him onto another relative he disliked.

He and Olette ordered their drinks—and Olette with her added apple crisp cake slice—and they took their usual seats, a set of two high barstools with backs and a matching tall table situated near the back, out of the way, in front of the window that faced the adjacent street.

As Riku poked his straw around his chocolate shake, Olette paused with a small forkful of cake halfway to her lips to speak. "So what are you going to do this summer when you can't rely on school to escape Rena?" she asked.

Count on Olette to always read his mind.

"I don't know," he admitted, keeping his gaze lowered.

"Pence invited me to Besaid Beach with his family," she said, her voice turning thoughtful as if she couldn't figure out why Pence would do that. Riku hadn't been invited, which mean Pence wanted Olette and no Riku there to distract her from paying attention to Pence. Smart move. Beaches were romantic. Go Pence.

"You should go," Riku found himself saying. And not for the first time, he realized that a normal guy would have told her otherwise, that she shouldn't go, because if Pence really did have plans to worm his way into her heart this summer, Riku should have felt defensive or even jealous. Yet he felt no need to win Olette over.

Pence and Olette... they'd make a nice couple.

"I'm still thinking about it," she said, and something about her tone had changed, a hint of disappointment there. Maybe she had been expecting Riku to fight for her, too. "Didn't you used to live around there?"

This made Riku blink and look up. "Besaid Beach?" he asked.

Her question triggered a small wave of nostalgia through him, faces of his past floating to the forefront of his mind, scenes of the beach and the old seawall and the worn cobblestone road, and also the memory of a promise—a promise he still hadn't forgotten, but now wondered of the significance.

"Don't you dare kiss any boys except me!"

A small, fond smile pulled across his lips, and he nodded at Olette. "Yeah, it's pretty close. A little more south, though."

Whether or not Olette noticed the look on his face, she giggled. "That's cool. I've never been over there," she said. "Just the main lands. It was a series of islands, right? What was it called?"

Riku's fingers curled around his straw again, lightly twisting it in its chocolate prison as he thought back to his childhood days where every day had been an adventure, a warm light always hanging over his shoulder and smiling down at him, even when it had rained, because his best friend had always been bright as if he'd carried the sun itself in his sand-dirtied pockets.

"Destiny," he said, his smile spreading. "It was Destiny."


The day before school ended, Riku broke the freshman track record for the 200 meter dash. During the 25.41 seconds he had been sprinting, Riku had thought about four clear things: he would probably be bumped from the top of the student ranking because of his government test he had surely failed; he was going to spend the long, boring summer stuck at home with his aunt; Olette's breasts had felt weird against his back and would feel weirder in his hands; he had really liked the feel of that boy's hand between his legs.

In the locker room after class, he found himself being repeatedly clapped on the back by his classmates, and a bare-chested, sweaty Denzel even pounced on his back with a strange hug to congratulate him. As the tan-skinned boy talked about how he was glad that Nida hadn't kept the freshman record this year, Riku hardly paid attention to the other boy's words, his mind honing in on how Denzel's hard body felt against his. Much different from Olette's softer form.

Heat filtered through him, spreading to his cheeks and gathering inside his gut, threatening to put him in an incriminating situation if he didn't distract himself from it first. Oh God—why here and now and when he was wearing track shorts?

Riku stammered as he thanked Denzel, his voice thankfully sounding more shy than anxious, and he breathed a sigh of relief when Denzel backed away, flashing him a happy grin. Usually the other boy was quieter than the others, so Riku was surprised he had even been approached by him.

When Riku started to return the grin, he noticed the flush on Denzel's cheeks and wondered if the color had to do with the heat in the room, the excitement, or him.

Suddenly aware of all of the boys around him—the basketball players showering nearby, some wandering into the locker area wearing only towels, the martial arts students just arriving and pulling off their uniforms, the other track students teasing and picking on each other in their various states of undress—Riku's eyes picked up on everything. Sculpted abs, toned thighs, firm biceps, the teasing pelvic line and hip bones, flushed cheeks and sweaty necks and chests and backs and tousled hair. The gathering steam in the room, dampening Riku's hair and clinging to his skin, wasn't the only thing that was making Riku feel feverish.

Kou Leifoh, the Tae Kwon Do guy, passed right by him with a towel hanging loosely around his hips, and his arm brushed Riku's, sending a shock through his body, making him too aware of the things around him. Riku gave a small jerk of surprise at the feeling, his breath catching, and this caught Kou's attention, who paused to glance back at him, lifting an eyebrow and giving him a subtle smirk. Riku's damp lashes flickered as he turned his gaze away, but not before his eyes disobeyed him and briefly scanned Kou's backside, noticing a black tribal tattoo leading from the small of his back downward, disappearing beneath the white towel.

Swallowing thickly, Riku wet his lips and turned away, closing his eyes and feeling the room spin around him.

"You okay, Riku?" he heard Denzel asking.


Masculine and boyish voices swirled through the humid air, surrounding him, filling him, most of their words indistinguishable.

I'm not gay.

"Haha, yeah, did you see Rikku today?"

The sound of his name jerked him out of his stupor, his eyes snapping open and focusing on a group of basketball players nearby, his heart beginning to race as he listened.

"Dude! Mm, now that is hot."

Riku found himself staring at the group of boys, his mouth opened partially as he tried to piece together what he was hearing. One of them noticed his gaping and nudged the boy next to him, nodding towards Riku with a laugh.

"Edenbrook looks a little jealous there."

The basketball player who had mentioned Riku's first name also looked towards him. "Rikku Tschirhart, man, is out of your league," he snorted. "Rikku and Riku. Wouldn't it be weird having sex with her and calling your own name?"

Riku closed his mouth, eyes narrowing as he realized they were talking about the other Rikku.

He mentally cringed at the thought of himself in bed with Rikku Tschirhart, the bouncy blonde cheerleader who somehow managed to remain just one spot below him in the student rankings. She may be ditzy, but the girl had brains. And after Riku's government test, Rikku was likely to steal his place as first in their class. The thought of having sex with her made him queasy, especially here.

"Whatever," he snapped, turning away just as the basketball player started to make humping motions and cried out in a high-pitched voice that totally didn't sound anything like Riku—

"Ooohh, Reeekku!"



1. Edenbrook, Riku

2. Trepe, Quistis

3. Tschirhart, Rikku

Riku hadn't lost his place after all.

Staring up at the bulletin, he smiled to himself, remembering just earlier that day when he had gotten his government final back. Only one question had been wrong, but there had been a curve so he'd gotten a perfect score anyway.

His last day as a freshman had ended well.

Scanning the lengthy list of first-year students, he searched for another familiar name.

32. Penber, Olette

In junior high, Olette had been in the top ten. She was slipping, and Riku's aunt would begin questioning Riku's casual friendship with the girl. According to Rena, friends were influences, and if those influences weren't perfect, Riku would be soiled.

He hated living with that woman. He was her prized little bird, a delicate thing that couldn't think for himself except when he excelled, and had to have his life dictated for him or he'd end up like his parents had—wild fires blossoming into a conflagration of greatness, only to plunge flame-first into the ocean, snuffed out. If only they hadn't died...

Summer had come again, and all he wanted to do was break away. Where other students found freedom from school, he found a cold, hollow cage. He'd never had his aunt's love. He had her guilt. All because his aunt hadn't been able to stop his father from ruining his life by running off with his mother to Destiny Islands.

As he turned away from the bulletin to head home, he wondered if he really would have to sacrifice friends for the perfection she wanted from him, and if that loneliness would even be worth his aunt's satisfaction.

He received his answer when he walked through the front door. He had been hoping to make it to his bedroom or at least the stairs before she realized he was home, but as the door shut behind him, he glanced up and saw her descending the staircase from the left gallery. Her blonde hair was neatly pulled up, making her seem erudite.

"Your grades?" was her form of greeting as she paused on the last stair. Not, "Welcome home," or "How was your last day of school?"

Adjusting his satchel on his shoulder, he slowly turned his gaze away and made his way forward to the right staircase, wondering if he could still make a quick escape. "Perfect scores in all of my classes," he replied. "I'm still first on the student ranking for my grade."

He didn't look at her to measure her reaction, but if the content hum he heard from her was any indication, at least he wouldn't have to spend his entire summer listening to her insinuate he could have been perfect, could have studied more, could have spent less time with that Penber girl and her overweight friend, that they had surely soiled his excellence.

She asked no more questions, thank goodness, though he had a feeling he'd be drilled about other student rankings later, including his 'acquaintances.' The ones who influenced him, who had the potential to taint him. He wished someone would hurry up and do it already. He wanted to be dirtied.

Escaping to his room, he tossed his satchel onto the floor as he unbuttoned his uniform, kicked off his shoes, and flopped onto his bed, letting out a long, exhausted sigh. Even his ceiling felt unfamiliar, though he had spent the last six years tracing invisible maps out of the blemishes in the polished wood grain.

As he turned onto his side to get comfortable, his eyes landed on a tiny picture frame on his nightstand, one of those cheap plastic souvenir shop things that had remained in his life since his childhood. The picture was old, about seven or eight years ago, but still one of his favorites.

It was of him and his best friend on the beach where he had used to live. The day had been cloudless and hot, and his mother had dressed him in her usual eccentric style, giving him clothes that made him seem more like a girl than a boy. That afternoon, Riku had worn a yellow halter top tied in a loopy bow behind him, a girly yellow sun hat to protect his face, and short blue swimming shorts. He seemed tame in comparison to the boy next to him, who wore baggy beach shorts and no shirt, showing off his boyish pudge. Riku remembered that wild brown hair and those vivid blue eyes perfectly. He could almost still hear his laughter.

Riku had been smaller, both thinner and shorter, than his best friend at the time, whose sun-tanned body made him seem so frail in comparison, even though Riku had been the older of the two.

Studying the picture, Riku smiled at their young faces. He and his friend were standing in the low tide, Riku holding onto his sun hat and gaping at his friend as the sand-covered, shirtless boy poked at a dead man-o-war with a stick.


Sora, with his crazy adventure ideas and his never ending fascination with getting dirty or physical, would be thirteen by now, or somewhere around there. Riku had always admired his freedom. He probably still had it even now.

Closing his eyes, still faintly smiling, Riku pictured the younger boy in his head, wondering if by now he had managed to tame those crazy spiky locks of his, wondering if his eyes were as bright of a blue as Riku remembered—beach ball blue, he remembered calling them one time. He also wondered if Sora had grown out of his boyish pudge, wondered what puberty was doing to him like what it had done to Riku—how much deeper his voice had gotten, how much taller than Riku he still was, how much muscle he had gained. He was probably really masculine now. Sora had always been so active that Riku could easily picture him with a body like Kou Leifoh's, the Tae Kwon Do kid, with those sharp hips and round ass...

Feeling a familiar stir in his groin, Riku abruptly cut his thoughts short, realizing his cheeks weren't the only thing that had grown warm.

Annoyed with himself—and scared—that he'd been thinking about other guys again, he rolled onto his other side, blocking the images out of his mind. He needed to stop. He needed to breathe and think like a normal boy. He couldn't be gay. He couldn't.

He wasn't.


A secret part of him had always known he was, but he had spent most of his life denying it. On one hand, it meant he'd never be perfect in his aunt's eyes. On the other hand, it would mean he was perfectly tainted already.


Warmth licked up his body at the pressure against his dick, sending jolts of pleasure right through him. His world spun, tendrils of heat curling and bundling inside of him, making him gasp and push mindlessly forward for more, seeking more direct attention there. Even the slightest friction sent nice shivers up his spine, the pleasure sharp and quick, flirting with him, giving a taste of what he really wanted. He spread his legs, grinding against that surface, trying to feel more, desperate for the experience and for the attention.

His mattress, unfortunately, was a frigid lover.

He woke from the half-dream with a disappointed groan, slumping forward onto his stomach and relaxing against the cool sheets, feeling his aggravating arousal throbbing under him.

"Not again..." he grumbled into his pillow.

This was the fourth or so time that he'd waken up this summer to a dream like that. While he had the frequent morning wood, this was different and had only started recently—no subject, no fantasy, just the stimulation and the want for pleasure. They couldn't even be considered wet dreams without a fantasy, could they? At least then it wouldn't be as embarrassing and he'd have more material to daydream about later.

Working a hand under himself, he slipped it into his pajama pants and pushed his briefs down—aunt wouldn't let him have boxers, the bitch—enough to free himself of the tented prison.

It was a routine by now, almost a morning ritual, relieving teenage tension—if one could call it tension when he had to wipe it up when he was done.


That summer, Riku had a special white towel he kept at his bedside at all times. When it was being cleaned, he substituted it with another.





Olette calling.

Snap. "Hello?"

"Hey, Riku."


"Heehee, your voice squeaked. Were you sleeping?"

"Kind of... How's Besaid Beach?"

"Huh? Oh... great. Um... I wanted to ask you something."

"...okay. What is it?"

"Um... it's about Pence."

Here it comes. He kissed her or something, didn't he?


"Y-Yeah... I... I think I really like him."


"Oh. Well. Isn't that good?"

"I-I don't know how to tell him."

Why does she always come to me with her problems...

"Just tell him what you feel. He'll get it."

He'll probably cream his pants.

"But... what if it makes the trip awkward?"

"It won't."

"You sure?"


"...a-alright... Thanks, Riku... How's your summer been so far?"

Long. Boring. Lonely. I think I might be gay.

"...okay, I guess."

"You're lying."

"Yeah. It sucks."

"Oh. I'm sorry. Oh—! Pence is here. Um—um—! I'll call you back later, bye!"




Olette and Pence. They'd make a good couple.

I didn't like her boobs anyway.

It wasn't until Riku looked at his alarm clock that he realized he had turned fifteen thirty-two minutes ago.

No one remembered. He wasn't sure he cared.


Deep down, he actually did.


When the end of summer neared, Riku had mixed feelings. Any other time, he'd be eager to begin school again just to have the opportunity to escape his aunt for eight hours a day. But now...

With Olette occupied with her new boyfriend for the remainder of the summer, Riku had been practically forgotten. Olette had tried a few times to keep in contact with him, but after he had given her short, disinterested replies about her trip with Pence, her first date with Pence, and then her first kiss with Pence, she had eventually given up on talking to him about her budding romance. He only blamed himself.

So when he started the new semester, fresh of fifteen years and now a sophomore, number one in his class, Riku had no friends. He had no memories from his summer to share with anyone had anyone been interested—well, except for how sinfully great his silk sheets felt against his bare thighs when he was jacking off. But he doubted Quistis Trepe or Rikku Tschirhart would be interested in that tidbit.

He'd spent all summer cooped up in the gym avoiding his aunt, doing laps around the pool and pretending he couldn't hear her when she came to talk to him, or in the music room with his "devil's music" playing loud just to keep her away. And when he hadn't been at home, he'd walked the streets, had gone to the bookstore to read amongst the silence, or had taken the bus to the café just to watch people.

After three months of solitude, he felt changed. Foreign.

When he had tried on his uniform, he had found it too small for him—the arms were slightly too short, a little tight around his biceps, and even his pants had gotten a little high-water. And when summer had started, his hair had come to his shoulders, but now it felt like it was everywhere, getting in his face, the corners of his mouth, catching on his clothes.

He'd changed so much. Would anyone even recognize him when he walked into the classroom next week?


As soon as he stepped off the bus, he felt the stares.

At first he minded his own business, determined to make it to the main office to pick up his official schedule with ample time left over to find his classes, but then he began to catch onto what was happening around him.

He noticed how people kept turning to look at him, he noticed when friends leaned towards each other to whisper and discreetly watch him, he noticed as girls caught his eye and quickly looked away and blushed and giggled, he noticed how other guys glanced at him only to glance back and do a subtle double-take, and he definitely noticed when a few—then more than a few—then a lot of people waved and greeted him, sometimes by name, as he passed through the crowd.

He felt like the world was watching him, which was more than a little disconcerting. Did he have something on his face? Toilet paper stuck to his shoe? A hole in his new pants?

Ducking his face, letting his long bangs shield his eyes, he kept his gaze in front of him, feeling and knowing that he was being examined and talked about. He'd hardly been at school for ten minutes, and already his sophomore year was looking to be strange. Even the lady who handed him his schedule seemed overly friendly.

Yet, when he got to his first class, no one wanted to sit next to him, and he heard whispers at his back all period. By the end of the hour, he was beginning to think he was being paranoid, that maybe they weren't talking about him after all.

His second class was something called "Introduction to Professional Ethics," and though he had a vague idea of what ethics were, professional ethics sounded like a whole new level of challenging. His aunt had made him sign up for upper-level division courses, and this one was for seniors. Not only would he stand out even more, he'd also work a lot harder than other students his age. At least it was lecture-based, which meant he could hide in the back.

The room, which was small in comparison to the large lecture halls that could hold almost two hundred students, had stadium seating curved in a semi-circle, and it was only a quarter full by the time Riku got there. With a quick count of the rows, Riku figured that this place could hold about sixty people. Ethics was a required class for graduation, but with Shinra's high expectations (and therefore high withdrawal rate for upperclassmen who could make decisions without their families' say), it was likely that only forty or so would have signed up for this semester.

Avoiding eye contact with anyone, he turned right from the doorway and headed up the low stairs to find one of the vacant seats in the back where he could take notes without being distracted by whispers and stares. He had climbed the third step without looking when he felt his foot catch on something.

He felt a split second of weightlessness as his momentum carried him forward, and then he hit the carpeted stairs with a small crash. In the next moment as his senses returned to him, the first thing he heard was laughter. It was about that time that his brain caught up with the news and he realized he had just fallen on his face. In front of a bunch of seniors.


Over the sound of chuckling, Riku heard the surprised voice next to him, and for some reason he pictured vibrant green eyes and fiery red hair. He was in for a shock when he raised his face and saw exactly that, that and laughing, full lips. He knew that face.

"I'm sorry, man—you okay?"

A hand—the hand—reached out to help him up. Without thinking, Riku shoved the arm away, blushing, remembering the last time that hand had gotten anywhere near him. He picked himself up, avoiding the redhead's face. The redhead, the one who had accidentally groped him on the bus. A few months had passed since then, but Riku still remembered the details perfectly like it had happened just yesterday. The pressure of those fingers, the warmth of his palm, the surprise in those eyes.

"Hey—sorry, sorry. Didn't mean to embarrass you," the redhead said, lifting his hands in surrender. As Riku glanced at him, maybe even to apologize for being rude, he saw the other boy studying him closely, one red brow furrowed as he asked, "Hey—do I know you?"

Shit! I hope he doesn't recognize me.

"N-No," Riku stammered, knowing full well how obvious that had just sounded. Before the other boy could get in another word, Riku hurried up the rest of the steps to reach the back row, knowing he was being watched the whole time. He dumped his satchel onto the desktop and slumped into a seat, waiting a full minute before risking a look back at the redhead.

He was still watching him, and when he met Riku's eyes, he gave a little grin and waved before turning to the boy next to him to talk, obviously about him. Riku's cheeks felt flushed. The redhead nudged his friend, a boy with sandy blonde hair styled into spikes and a slight mullet, who also glanced at Riku. Then they both turned around and talked until class started, and Riku sat there the entire time with his heart racing a little, wondering what the heck they were saying about him. Had he told his friend about the accident on the bus?

God, now the whole school will know!

Feeling sick to his stomach, Riku had a hard time keeping his eyes from wandering over to the redhead, even when the professor entered the classroom and introduced herself. Professor Kramer. Riku'd had a Professor Kramer last semester, his government teacher, except that one had been a slightly balding, overweight man. This woman was tall and elegant even in a plain black skirt and white blouse, her long black hair pulled behind her shoulders but kept loose. She had a very motherly air about her, especially as she called roll and took special care to pronounce everyone's name correctly.

"Croft, Axel?"

"Yo!" the redhead called, and Riku's eyes focused on him as he lazily lifted a hand to greet the professor.

Axel Croft, Riku recited, memorizing it. He'd never heard of him before...

A few names later, "Edenbrook, Riku," was called, and Riku found himself raising his arm without hesitation. Professor Kramer studied him, her smile spreading slightly in approval, before she nodded and moved on down the list. When Riku turned his gaze a way, he noticed Axel was also looking at him, as if memorizing his name in return.

The only other person who caught Riku's attention was the boy who sat next to Axel, a "Kale, Demyx," whose voice was slightly nasal and reminiscent of Axel's, but more mousy, not as... cocky.

Riku only paid half attention to Professor Kramer as she went over the syllabus, most of his focus going towards glaring at Axel every time the redhead turned to glance at him, which was often.

After class, Riku was eager to escape to lunch, hoping to find Olette to help take his mind off his weird morning. But even when he took the stairs opposite of Axel's position, Riku wasn't surprised when Axel went out of his way to stop him from leaving.

"Hey—Riku—yeah, Riku—wait a sec—"

Sighing, Riku paused before reaching the door, letting Axel and Demyx catch up to him. Axel still had his artsy backpack from the bus incident, and his friend was carrying a guitar case covered in quarter-machine stickers.

"Meet you outside," Demyx said, and then shot Riku a friendly grin before leaving. He seemed nice enough, and he was pretty cute up close.


He mentally slapped himself for doing it again. Stop thinking about guys like that.

Meanwhile, Axel had slowly approached Riku, a smirk in place, his eyes narrowed. He had one hand on his hip as he tapped his chin with his other, humming loudly as he purposely raked his gaze down Riku's slender figure as if to dissect him. "I think I know where I know you from," he announced, giving the sophomore a sidelong look as he circled him.

Oh great, here we go. Riku watched him, silent, his stomach twisting.

Axel paused at his side and suddenly pointed, finger almost touching Riku's nose, and he grinned proudly. "The pizza shop!"

Backing away from the finger, Riku gave Axel a perplexed look, wondering if he was being serious or not. Still, a hint of relief filtered through him. "," he said, lifting a hand to brush Axel's aside, not appreciating the pointing.

Axel then crossed his arms, still smirking. "Damn," he said, not sounding disappointed at all. "I thought I had it." In fact, he sounded pretty damn knowing.

That was when Riku realized that Axel was just messing with him, that Axel knew where he knew Riku from, and was playing. Rolling his eyes, Riku turned to leave, but not before a sweet voice called out to him.

"Mr. Edenbrook, I would like to talk to you."

So much for his escape. He lifted his gaze as Axel passed him, winking as he pushed open the door, and then disappeared. He had a feeling that he'd be seeing a lot more of that guy, inside of class and out, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that.

The professor was regarding him with a patient but careful look, and he nodded at her request, crossing the room to her. "Yes, Professor Kramer?" he asked, keeping his tone straightforward.

She folded her hands in front of her, her dark eyes leveled on his. "Are you sure you're capable of being in this course so early?" she asked. It wasn't said degradingly, or confrontationally, or even curiously. Professionally.

"Yes," he answered without hesitation. Besides, his aunt would hurt him if he tried anything easier. "I'm more than capable."

She studied him for a moment more before nodding, extending a hand. "Well, Mr. Edenbrook, welcome to Professional Ethics," she said. And as he took her hand and she shook it, she continued, "My husband has said a lot of positive things about you." Riku blinked, confused for a second, until he connected the two Kramers and realized they were married. She must have seen the look on his face because she gave a soft laugh, amused, as she loosened her grip. "For being such a bright student," she said, "that certainly took you a moment to piece together."

Blushing, Riku pulled his hand out of hers. "S-Sorry, it's been a bit of weird day." Not only that, but his government professor totally didn't seem like the type to get married to an attractive woman like her. Had it been a marriage of convenience, brains, or actual attraction? What an unlikely couple.

"Well," she smiled, "I look forward to having you in class for the rest of the semester."

"I look forward to learning," he replied, but it felt mechanical, unlike him. His mind was preoccupied. As Riku left the classroom, he felt an uneasy feeling building inside of him as he thought about the Kramers, wondering if Aunt Rena had thought the same thing about his mother when his father had run off to marry her. He didn't want to judge people or couples based on their looks or brains. He didn't want to be like his aunt.

After all, if Rena had her way, he would be dating someone like Quistis Trepe. From then on, Riku made it a point not to judge people as critically.


Riku couldn't find Olette or Pence during lunch and wound up eating outside, by himself, where hardly anyone could stare at him or whisper or giggle behind their hands.

He idly wondered where Axel and Demyx ate lunch, and if their choice of food was any different from his, or as peculiar as their hair.


His English class for this semester was something called Critical Approaches to Mythology, also an upper-level course, but this one he was eager about. Though he knew it'd have nothing to contribute to his future professional life, and though his aunt had scowled at the course name, it had reminded Riku of his childhood adventures with Sora and the way Sora's mother had sometimes made stories up for them about mermaids and lost treasure, and so Riku had fought to keep this class on his schedule.

And when Riku's professor walked into the room, he knew immediately that this was going to be an excellent class. The man was pretty, and not in a feminine way—just the way his face was structured, it was almost feline, his skin moon-pale and his eyes a soft golden brown. His hair, fluffy and downy, fell to his shoulder blades, and was the coolest shade of royal or denim blue Riku had ever seen. His bangs hung in his face, covering the bridge of his nose where Riku saw scarring, and his mind immediately began formulating stories about those scars—wild animal? Accident? Self-inflicted? Whatever it was, it was a story Riku wanted to know.

When the man introduced himself as Professor Saïx DeLuna, he did so in a calm, soothing voice that had a dangerous lilt to it as if he'd bite off the head of the first student who fell asleep in his class. Riku found himself internally grinning at that, and then went on studying how Professor DeLuna's muscles moved under his dress shirt, hinting at silent strength and well defined muscle. Though he wore a simple white dress shirt and black slacks, with slender black lace for a necktie, he seemed like he should be wearing something more refined.

He hardly realized he was staring, like his mind had suddenly gone numb as soon as his professor had walked in. The last time he had come anywhere near ogling someone like this had been right before Axel had accidentally grabbed his dick.

His mind snapping out of its little stupor, Riku felt his cheeks coloring as he looked away and breathing deeply as he tried to gather his loose thoughts. He was glad he had decided to sit in the front for this class, despite the stares and whispers at his back. Now he got to see this professor up close.

It didn't even occur to Riku until after class that he had been ogling a man for over an hour. By then, it hardly seemed to matter. As long as it was look-don't-touch, what harm could it bring?


It was first day back in track shorts in public since before summer, and Riku felt self conscious. He could feel people's stares branding into him, tracing his developing body, eyeing his firm thighs, mentally loving the line of skin he showed whenever he used his shirt to wipe sweat from his forehead.

And after class, when the team was filing into the locker room at the same time as the other classes meeting at that time, Riku knew he wasn't imagining the hand that kept purposely brushing the bare skin of his thigh. In the rush of people, he couldn't see who was doing it. Riku wasn't sure he wanted to know.


The bus ride home was packed, people squished together on benches, some unfortunates standing two hands to every assist strap, back to back, overcrowded and uncomfortable. Riku, as one of those unfortunates having to stand in the aisle, knew from the start that he was going to have to take a later bus home or deal with this every day.

The person behind him was right behind him, as in pressed flush against his backside as if they had no room to move, though Riku was pretty sure there was more space than that. Trying not to feel too uncomfortable, Riku tried to shift away from the man, his grip tightening on the assist strap.

His heart began to race when he felt the stranger behind him press even closer. Riku stiffened, his instincts telling him to pull away again, only he had no where to go, someone else's back in front of him.

When he felt the stranger's hand loosen from the assist strap he'd been sharing with Riku, Riku held his breath, biting into his lip as the hand slowly skimmed down his arm, so natural and easy that no one even noticed. No one except Riku, who felt the man's other hand pushing in between his legs, caressing his inner thighs and upwards, making Riku's eyes widen in shock.

Heart pounding now, Riku felt his cheeks coloring, and he immediately tried to close his legs, balance be damned, but the man's knee was already between his, keeping them opened. Riku swallowed hard as the caresses grew more shameless, outright aggressive, the first hand skimming down his side, cupping his hip and pulling his ass firmly against the guy's huge erection, as the other hand squeezed upward and stroked the underside of Riku's crotch before sliding to the front to undo his fly.

Mentally panicking, Riku tried to jerk away from the guy without anyone else noticing, but he bumped into the man in front of him, who shot a glare back at him, and he stammered out a quick, nervous, "S-S-Sorry!"

The sound of his voice made the pervert behind him hesitate, but when Riku made no further move to fight back, the groping continued, fingers sliding into Riku's open pants to touch him through his underwear.

That's when Riku felt the breath against his neck, a low, husky voice whispering into his ear. "A briefs boy, huh? They get cuter every year..."

Riku squeezed his eyes shut, heart hammering, unable to believe this was happening to him. He wanted to scream and kick the guy in the balls, but the fear of someone he knew seeing him like this—that was more terrifying, more embarrassing, and—he couldn't just let him...

Riku sucked in a shaky breath, clenching his jaw, feeling tears sting his eyes. He couldn't let the pervert win, but he couldn't draw attention to himself, either.

Cracking his eyes open, he made a quick move, grabbing for the nearest stop signal, triggering it before the man could stop him. The ding and the yellow light went off, signaling his freedom, even though he was still so far from home, even though no one else was getting off. If the pervert followed...

"Tsk, pretty wants to run, does it?"

Riku bit down on his lip, gathering his courage. Bringing his foot up, he slammed it downward, digging his school shoe's heel into the man's toes, earning a small cry of pain and his dick's freedom, just as the bus rolled to a stop to let him off. Riku swung his satchel down in front of his open pants as he pulled away from the pervert and maneuvered through the mass of people to the open door of the middle of the bus, hopping down the steps to his escape.

The doors shut behind him with a hiss, and the bus began to roll away. No one had followed him.

Relieved, Riku relaxed, but only as much as his nerves and erection would let him. He found the first secluded area he could find—the empty bus shelter—and righted his clothes before he slumped, trembling, onto the cold bench, and began to cry.


The next day, Riku told his aunt that he wanted to be driven to school. Though she was shocked at the abruptness of the request, considering Riku had never accepted her offers before, she arranged her driver to accommodate Riku as well.

Riku figured that anything was better than riding the bus again.


Axel quickly fell into the habit of visiting Riku in the back of the classroom to talk to him before class, while Demyx occasionally glanced at them, amused by Axel's antics. He seemed used to them, which told Riku that those two had been friends a while.

"Edenbrook, your name's pretty popular," Axel was saying, purposely lounging a bit close against the desk's edge, his thigh touching Riku's arm. "You're first in your class."

"Yeah," Riku said, sounding distracted. And he was. By Axel's thigh. Axel's pants seemed a bit too tight for him, a little like girl's jeans, actually. Wait—were they girl's jeans? ...they looked really good on him.

"Heard you beat the freshman track record last year," the redhead continued conversationally.

Ah. Track.

The reminder pulled Riku back to the present, his tone turning guarded. "Yeah."

"Going to keep up with that?" Axel asked, and Riku could hear his grin. Axel was always grinning, like he found Riku incredibly amusing no matter how many times he tried to annoy him.

It didn't help that Riku didn't discourage it, either. In a lot of ways, he liked the attention. And a large part of him liked Axel and his unconventional behavior, despite how uncomfortable he made him feel sometimes. Riku wasn't used to near-strangers being so interested in him, and Axel was... strange. Riku liked it.

"I quit," he told the redhead. He had quit, knowing he wouldn't last another year in those track shorts, especially if those caresses along his thighs might turn into something more, like what had happened on the bus.

Axel didn't seem surprised. For some reason, he never seemed surprised. "Why?" he asked, lowering a hand to grip the desk edge, his wrist against Riku's arm. The casual, subtle contact sent a little flutter through Riku's gut. Axel's wrist was warm, bony, his skin not quite as soft as Olette's. Riku found himself wondering if Axel's fingers were callused or would feel rough like the bus pervert's had.

"Dunno..." Riku said, trying to sound bored, not attracted, definitely not attracted. (Damn it, he knew he was.) A part of him was mulling the question over in his mind, floundering for the real reasons he had just quit track.

Running fast won't help me when a pervert has his hand shoved down my pants.

I was beginning to like the guys on my track team a bit too much...

I don't want to be perfect.

"Taking any sports now?" Axel asked, cutting through his thoughts.

"Self defense," Riku replied. He hadn't been to it yet, but he knew the teacher was a woman, not likely to distract him or put him in an embarrassing situation, as sad as that was to admit.

"Ohh, sounds fun."

That last statement was said in a tone that sounded too interested. Riku lifted his gaze to Axel's, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. "Did you go around asking people about me?"

Axel seemed pleased that he had made Riku ask that. "Well—" he said, crossing his arms and looking up at the ceiling, pretending to be thoughtful, "sorta, but I didn't have to do much asking, honestly." He lowered his face back to meet Riku's eyes, smirking.

That hadn't been what Riku had been expecting. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, not meaning to sound as alarmed as he probably did.

"Like I said," Axel laughed, leaning forward as he lowered his voice, bringing his face right up to Riku's, "your name's pretty popular."

Not wanting to let Axel know how much his proximity affected Riku, Riku tried to stifle the urge to pull away from Axel's close face. He kept his gaze level with the other boy's, though they were blurry this up close, and he could feel Axel's breath brush against his lips, mingling with his own. It made another little layer of Riku's protective shell melt away. What would it feel like to kiss him? What would he taste like? Axel wasn't just teasing, was he? Riku didn't know what to think with all of these mixed signals.

Swallowing against his dry throat, Riku finally pulled his face away, realizing how fast his heart had begun beating, how hard it had gotten to breathe.

"So," Axel said cheerfully, not sounding affected at all, "can I copy off your tests this semester?"

Riku's head whipped around, the spell broken, and he glared at the redhead. "Quit stalking me," he snapped, and then promptly shoved at Axel's side, trying to remove him from his desktop. Axel's body was firm and skinny under his uniform top, and also unyielding. But Axel got the hint.

Pushing away from Riku's desk space, he grinned, unfolding his arms. "I'll quit stalking you when you quit fantasizing about my rose garden, Mademoiselle Belle."

It was said playfully, but as Axel turned away to head to his own seat, Riku gaped after him, wondering if he really was that obvious about his staring.


Before Riku reached the lunch line, he heard someone unfamiliar call his name.

He turned, letting Pence and Olette pass him to get their lunches, and he spotted Denzel working his way through the crowd towards him. When Riku'd had that one day of track, he remembered he had eyed how much Denzel had grown over the summer, how nice he looked in his track clothes. Then he had realized that that was probably how the others had been eyeing him as well.

"Riku—" Denzel said as he caught up to him, his voice much deeper than it had been last semester, "why did you quit track?"

Riku had an answer, he really did, but as he opened his mouth to speak, he met Denzel's gaze and faltered. His steel blue eyes were focused on Riku's, troubled, questioning. He'd obviously been really disappointed when Riku had switched to self defense.

"I... I'm sorry," he said, knowing how lame it sounded. "I just... felt like I had to."

Denzel's auburn hair slipped forward into his eyes as he bowed his head, contemplating Riku's words, and gave a small nod. "Well..." He lifted his face, mustering a small smile. "I wish you were still in it."

Riku sensed unspoken words, but he didn't push Denzel. Instead, he offered a smile back, a silent thank you.

When he saw the faint redness to Denzel's cheeks, Riku thought he knew who had been touching his leg that first day of school.


Pence and Olette seemed to share everything, even their lunches. When Olette would only eat half of her sandwich, Pence would polish it off on top of his own lunch. They also shared private moments that Riku didn't understand. Those lingering looks, soft smiles, and the giggles where Riku found nothing funny. He was beginning to think he preferred eating alone after all.


At the start of Riku's second week in self defense class, Instructor Leann Caldwell announced a new student.

Axel had his red hair tied back like the first time Riku had seen him. He admittedly looked good in the black muscle shirt he wore, despite his lack of muscle, the low bow of the shirt showing off those clavicles that Riku had eyed months ago on the bus, faintly freckled, skinny. He was tall and lanky, more bone and skin than defined curves, though the clinginess of his shirt did hint at more physique than Riku could see. His sweatpants, however, did nothing to hide the slenderness of his waist, the elastic barely clinging to his sharp hip bones.

When Riku finally did meet Axel's eyes, he knew he was blushing like a fool again, and Axel had a smirk ready for him. Riku wasn't sure how he was going to survive the semester now with the redhead in his class, volunteering to partner off with him, all of that close contact, and Axel's voice lowering in a sultry, secretive way to speak into his ear when it seemed like no one was looking.

"I know what you're thinking..." he whispered, a hint of playfulness there, "and you should be ashamed of yourself."

Riku couldn't hold back a smile at that.


Being driven to school wasn't as bad as he thought it would be.

He sat slouched in the comfortable leather back seat, arm propped against the door, and stared dazedly out the window, watching the people and other cars on the street, wondering where they were all going and what they were thinking at this very moment.

Occasionally, Riku would glance up and catch sight of dark eyes watching him in the rearview mirror. His driver seemed to watch him more than he did the road. Unsettled, Riku just returned his gaze to outside, trying to ignore the creeping sensation he felt whenever he knew someone was studying his body.

Sometimes, at moments like this, he wondered if he should risk taking the bus again.


It was the third or so week of school and autumn was beginning to creep in, already bringing cooler weather. Riku had settled into his routines again, had started getting used to Axel's strange style of flirting, and had adjusted to the difficulty of his classes.

Riku still frequented the café by himself, sometimes with Pence and Olette when they weren't busy, but never Pence or Olette. They never seemed to want to spend time alone with him, one without the other. That was fine.

The quiet afternoons were nice, he thought.

Until Axel found him.

Riku was sitting at his usual spot in the high bar stool near the back of the café when he heard the blender go off and the telltale crunch of ice and wondered who would be ordering iced coffee when it was chilly outside. Riku glanced up and spotted a jagged red ponytail under an army green beret, and the familiar lankiness of Axel's backside, even though Axel was wearing green cargos and a long black t-shirt, not his school uniform.

At first Riku wondered if Axel had followed him here, but after observing the other boy, it seemed Axel hadn't seen him yet. The redhead was alone, though, which made Riku think he might have been on his way to meet with Demyx or one of his other friends. Before Riku knew what he was doing, he had opened his mouth and raised his voice.


The pale face turned, green eyes scanning the café before catching sight of Riku sitting there. His first expression was confusion, then surprise, before he finally broke into a grin. Without saying anything, Axel turned back to the counter to get his finished crushed ice coffee, whipped cream and everything, and then started to make his way towards Riku. He was so tall that he hardly had to boost himself up on the foot bar to slide into the stool opposite Riku's. His coffee was perspiring. Riku's warm latte had long since been finished.

"So," Axel began, and Riku watched as the other boy started tapping his straw against the tabletop to scrunch the paper at the end, "now you're stalking me?"

Riku narrowed his eyes, knowing Axel was teasing him, but it still raised his defenses a little. "I always come here," he said without thinking, and then realized he had just let Axel know where to find him in the afternoons. Great.

Laughing, Axel finished taking the wrapper off his straw, leaving the ring of scrunched paper there on the table as he slipped the straw into his drink. "Well, Edenbrook, you didn't strike me as the coffee type of person."

"It's just Riku."

Axel's lips quirked at the automatic response. "Riku," he corrected himself.

Playing it cool, Riku eyed him with a calm, scrutinizing expression. "Why don't I seem like a coffee type of person?" he asked.

"You're so clean," Axel replied, not even having to think about how to word it, not worrying about hurting anyone's feelings. Cloying and candid, like his voice. "Pristine. Your hair's always like perfect, and you always sit all proper, and... just the way you act. You're totally a tea person."

Riku wrinkled his nose, looking down at his empty latte. "My aunt made me despise tea as I grew up," he admitted.

Axel grinned at that. "Your aunt, huh?" he said, leaning in to take a drink, his gaze still on Riku.

Riku's eyes followed Axel's lips as they curled around the black straw. "She's the proper one," Riku heard himself say, though his brain was currently memorizing the sexy way Axel's tongue darted out to lick his lips when he was done drinking.

"Sounds like a prude," Axel commented, sitting back. His fingers slid down the straw, a completely normal gesture, but for some reason, it sent a spark of heat to Riku's groin.

Before his body could betray him, Riku turned his gaze away. "You have no idea," he murmured. "She's a control freak."

"You know what you should do?" Axel said, his voice taking on a mischievous tone, and then clarified, "To piss her off." He was holding a finger over the top of the straw to hold some liquid at the bottom. "You should get a really noticeable facial piercing—or better yet! A tattoo, and leave it bare to where she can see it."

Riku's jaw dropped. "Are you nuts? She'd kill me!"

"Maaaybe," Axel acknowledged, "but it's a tattoo. There'd be nothing she could do about it, and it'd always be there to remind her that she doesn't have total control over you."

Looking away again, Riku tried not to admit to himself that it sounded like a good idea. "Well... I'm not much of a tattoo person," he said quietly.

"I am," Axel stated proudly. He paused to pull his straw out of his drink, globs of whipped cream sticking to the black plastic, and he brought the bottom to the scrunched paper straw wrapper. Then, lifting his finger off the top, he let a little bit of liquid brown drip onto the paper. As the coffee spread through the wrapper, the paper began to move, unfurling from its crumpled state like a crawling worm. "Damn, works better with soda," Axel sighed in disappointment, stuffing his straw back into his drink. "Anyway." He focused at Riku again, smirking that smirk of his. "After Christmas, I'm getting tattoos right here." He lifted his forefingers to point to his cheek bones. "Think it'll piss off the school administration?"

Riku wasn't sure whether to be amused to weirded out, so he gave Axel a bemused look. "Yeah, it will. Why on your face?"

"Well, why not?" Axel countered, grinning wide.

Riku could think of plenty of reasons why not to have facial tattoos, but he remained silent, Axel's outspoken nature still making him feel a little intimidated. He seemed to have no shame. But then—maybe that was also what made him seem so free? Wasn't that what Riku wanted?

As if sensing Riku's reticence, Axel changed the subject. "Do you still take the bus?"

It was asked casually, no obvious underlying tease there, but it still made Riku's heart leap into his throat. This was the first real mention of the bus incident, and the first real proof that Axel did remember him from that time on the bus. Well, Riku had suspected that anyway, but here Axel was confirming it.

"I... have a driver now," Riku replied hesitantly, hoping Axel didn't ask why. He was unable to help remembering the feel of Axel's hand on him, and more recently, the pervert on the bus. Wasn't it wrong to keep replaying those moments in his mind? To look back and even enjoy them? To get aroused even now by them? He was so sick. Shameful.

He wanted to be like Axel. Shameless. Free. Comfortable with sexuality, whichever it might be.

"A driver, huh? Wish I had someone to chauffeur me around," Axel mused. "But things will get better once I get my jeep!"

Now curious, Riku gave him a faint smile. "Your jeep? Got a license?"

"Yup, and I've been saving up for my own ride," Axel said, leaning in for another drink.

"Why a jeep?" Riku asked. Honestly, he could already see why. It was easy to picture Axel behind the wheel of a jeep littered with bumper stickers, his wild red hair rustling in the breeze from an open window.

As Axel finished drinking, he licked his lips again, that flick of tongue catching Riku's attention again. "Dunno, I've just always wanted one," Axel said with a small grin, which had turned slightly fond. "A green one. I was going to name it something goofy like Cactuar, but then I thought it'd be awkward having sex inside of a cactus, y'know?"

When Riku released a snerk, both at the cactus statement and the implications of Axel fantasizing about having sex in his future jeep, the sound surprised both of them. It had been sharp, disbelieving, and it seemed to echo in their sudden silence as Riku gaped at Axel as if it had been his fault that Riku had made such a sound. Then his face gained that usual blush of his and he had to duck his head to hide it.

"One day," Axel snickered, not even trying to hide his amusement, "I'm going to get you to really laugh."

Riku peeked up through his long bangs to give Axel a confused look.

Playing with his straw, Axel continued to regard him with that never ending smirk of his. "You just don't seem like you laugh enough. Or at all."

Or at all.

Those words struck Riku as almost insulting, and his first instinct was to deny them. Of course he laughed! He wasn't a machine.

But as he thought back through the last few days, not one instance came to mind, not even as he thought further back, months, years... Was his memory that bad? Had he not found anything amusing enough to laugh about recently? Or... had he never really been happy? Happy here, at least. He used to laugh with Sora. The photo by his bed was evidence enough that he had used to be happy, before his parents had died and he had been taken away from his only real friend.

Axel was right. Riku honestly couldn't remember the last time he had laughed. He knew he'd give those faintly amused chuckles for another person's benefit, like during school or when his aunt was actually being sociable. But not a real laugh, not any from inside of him.

It was at that moment that Riku realized, somewhere along the way, he had actually stopped enjoying life.

Though self-conscious, Riku forced on a smile for Axel. His hands itching for something to do, he leaned heavily against the table, his fingers creeping forward to play nervously with his plastic stirrer from earlier. At the movement, his hair slipped over his shoulders, tickling his collarbones, and he was about to brush the silver strands back when he snuck a glance at Axel, whose green eyes were fixed on the curve of Riku's neck and his long hair.

"Axel?" he prompted.

Without warning, the redhead reached out, his fingers catching a few ends of Riku's hair, slipping right through the silky strands. Riku instinctively pulled away, his heart thumping at the strangely curious gesture, but something about it had struck him as almost affectionate.

"It's long, I know," Riku murmured awkwardly, pulling his hair back behind him. "I want to cut it."

"Why?" Axel asked, sounding taken aback. "It's beautiful!"

Not seeing Axel as the type of person to consider too many things beautiful, Riku tried not to seem skeptical as he gazed at him again, but there was sincerity on Axel's face. He really didn't want Riku to cut his hair. Then again, Axel's hair was pretty long, too, when it wasn't up.

"It's annoying," Riku said. "It's easier when it's short."

Axel frowned, gave a loud tsk, and started to slide off his chair, reaching up to take off his beret. He set it on the table and, as he stood and moved towards Riku, his long fingers caught his hair tie and pulled his red hair free. Axel moved behind him, slightly shorter than him with Riku sitting on the high barstool, and Riku tensed as Axel gathered his silver hair back into a ponytail and used his own hair tie to bind it. He noticed that Axel hadn't included his long bangs, which seemed to frame his face on their own. Biting his lip and trying not to feel uncomfortable, Riku closed his eyes, letting the other boy finish the job. When he felt Axel's fingertips run over his scalp to smooth out the bumps in his bound hair, a shiver ran down Riku's spine, pleasant and warm.

Then Axel was done. He stepped back to admire his work, and Riku was glad he still had his bangs to shield his eyes when he was feeling ill at ease.

"There. Now you don't have to cut it," Axel said proudly. "Just keep it up when it bugs you. I like it long, though... when you have it down. It looks good on you."

Riku tried not to smile at the compliment, but his lips betrayed him, quirking a little at Axel's honesty. "Alright," he said. Maybe he'd keep it long after all. He turned to look at Axel, expecting him to return to his seat.

Disappointment filtered through him when Axel only grabbed his drink and didn't make a move to sit down again. The feeling intrigued him, though, because he hadn't realized how much he had unconsciously begun to like Axel and their little conversations.

"Wheeelp, I gotta go," Axel announced, confirming Riku's hunch. As he stepped back, he offered an apologetic grin. "Sorry for running out on you so soon, but I was supposed to meet with Demyx a few minutes ago." He started to reach into his pocket.

Oh, so that was it. It wasn't that Axel wanted to leave him. Riku had been holding Axel away from his other friends, that's all.

It didn't make Riku feel any better.

"Oh, okay," Riku said hastily, trying to make it seem like he wasn't let down. He smiled and everything. "I'll see you in class, then."

Axel pulled out his thin red cell phone and flipped it open before pushing two buttons. Then he held it out for Riku. "Put your info in," he said, and it was stated in such a way that Riku knew Axel knew he would have shied away if given the chance. He wasn't secure giving his number out to people, but...

He took the phone and obeyed. Why? Because, deep down, he knew he wanted Axel to keep seeing him like this, he wanted Axel to bother him. He wanted to see how far Axel would go to make him laugh.

As he punched in his name and number and email with one hand, Riku reached into his own pocket to pull his out for Axel's information. He wasn't expecting Axel to meet him most of the way there. Riku's heart jerked as Axel grabbed the top of the black phone from under Riku's fingers and slipped it the rest of the way out of Riku's pants. At the forward move, Riku felt his ears burn and a fluttery sensation in his gut again, but he said nothing. He finished with Axel's phone and closed it, setting it on the table.

Axel sipped at his drink as he filled out Riku's phonebook, and he once again licked his lips as he pulled away from the straw. This time when Riku watched his tongue, Axel looked up and caught Riku's stare. He actually laughed, snapping Riku out of his daze, and then handed the black cell back.

"Expect a call," Axel told him with a grin, and Riku knew he had lost track of how many times he had blushed in front of Axel. Somehow, he felt it didn't matter anymore.

"Okay," he said, smiling a little as he cradled his phone with both hands.

Axel grabbed his from the table and, before he turned to leave, he lifted the phone with two fingers raised—a casual thing of a wave. Riku returned the wave exactly the way Axel had done it, and kept his gaze on Axel's form as he walked out of the café. Slurping that cold coffee of his, he passed by Riku's window and disappeared down the street. And even after Axel had left his sight, Riku continued to smile.


To be continued...