Chapter One
Sora: Master Detective

The redhead in the corner was staring at him.

He was seated at the bar on a tall wooden stool with a red cushion, body angled slightly toward the booth where Sora and Riku were sitting, looking a bit out of place in a long black leather coat, low-riding black pants tucked into a pair of military boots, and a tight black v-neck shirt. To be honest, Sora had stared at him for a while after they'd walked in, but it wasn't anything like this. The redhead was just looking at him, bright green eyes never straying, not even when he picked up his glass and held it to his lips to take a sip.

It was pretty creepy, actually. Sora felt distinctly uncomfortable, and he scooted closer to Riku, their knees bumping as he hunched his shoulders and tried to ignore the prickly feeling on the back of his neck.

"You okay?" the silver-haired boy asked, giving Sora a concerned look.

"Yeah." He internally winced at the lie and took a drink of his soda to cover it. "I don't know why Roxas always tells me not to come here."

I'll bet it's because of the scary ass redheads lurking in the corners, he thought to himself.

Shrugging, Riku swirled a french fry in some ketchup on his plate and looked contemplative. "He probably doesn't want you anywhere near alcohol," he guessed with a nod toward the bar.

"Hey!" Sora bristled. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Riku hid a smile and popped the french fry into his mouth. "Nothing."

"Hmph," Sora said and pretended to be horribly offended, crossing his arms over his chest and turning his head to the side with a pout. Of course, turning his head meant looking right at that guy in the corner, and he nearly jumped out of his seat when he realized that the stranger had paid his bar tab and was sliding off his stool.

"What is it?" Riku asked.

"Um." If possible, he scooted even closer to Riku, their thighs now touching, and ducked his head to whisper frantically into the shell of Riku's ear, "That guy has been watching me all night, and now I think he's coming over here."

Indeed, the stranger was walking over to their table, grinning a bit drunkenly as he did so. He stopped with his fingertips on the table, leaning down to peer closely at Sora's face.

"Can we help you?" Riku asked bluntly, half-scowling.

Axel promptly ignored him, still grinning at the slim brunet. "How ya doin', Sora?"

Sora visibly balked. "Do… Do I know you?" he stuttered eventually.

"Not exactly," laughed the other man, finally pulling back to give Sora a bit of space. "I know you, though."

Riku looked about ready to punch him. "Okay, buddy, you're getting kinda creepy. Are you gonna back off or what?"

"Er." The redhead actually had the nerve to look contrite. He held up his hands and waved them around defensively, shaking his head. "Sorry, that must have sounded pretty weird. Let me try again. I'm Axel," he said, pointing to himself. At Sora and Riku's blank faces, he continued, "Uh, you know. Roxas's boyfriend?"

"Roxas doesn't have a boyfriend," Riku pointed out with a glare.

Axel's face fell. "What?"

"Yeah," Sora said, growing increasingly more freaked out by the minute. "Roxas has been single for like, three years. He won't even look at girls." He paused with a squint at the redhead. "Or boys, for that matter."

Furrowing his eyebrows, Axel seemed to take this into consideration. His expression perked as he leaned in closer to Sora with a quirky grin on his face. "So, he hasn't looked at anyone, then? For three years?"

"No," Sora insisted as his back pressed against Riku's shoulder. "No one."

"Well, I guess that's at least good news." Relief showed in his emerald eyes. "So, what," he said with a small twitch of his mouth, eyes darting down to take in the way they were pressed up against one another, "are you two on a date or something?"

Sora stared blankly. Riku glanced at the brunet, then turned back to Axel and hastily answered, "No, we're not. We were just up late studying and this is the only place open after eleven that serves food." In his nervousness, he found himself detailing to Axel their upcoming midterm in calculus. Surprisingly enough, Axel listened to the silver-haired boy intently from start to end.

"So, then," he said once Riku had finished, "it's not a date?"

Riku sighed exasperatedly. "No, it's not."

"So, if I asked Sora out on a—"


That one word froze the redhead mid-smile as a tall blond stalked toward him.

As the two boys in the booth looked up and Sora fell back even more against Riku, and in the response, the silver-haired boys hand gripped Sora's shoulder securely. The unnamed blond stopped menacingly behind Axel, and both Riku and Sora felt an icy chill sweep over them.

"Cloud," Axel muttered as he spun around and slapped a lopsided grin on his face. "'Sup?"

"What are you doing?" he asked stonily.

"Talking to Roxas's friends."

Cloud eyed Axel warily, then folded his arms over his chest, fingers drumming lightly against his upper arm. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"It's a great idea," Axel boasted with a razorblade smile, just before he did a double-take. "Wait a minute. What are you doing here? Don't you live…?" He glanced over his shoulder at Riku and Sora and frowned, looking like he wanted to say something he couldn't. His head swiveled back to Cloud. "I mean, shouldn't you be…? Is everything…?"

"We should talk somewhere else," said Cloud.

Riku could see Axel's eyes widen just a fraction, and he took this opportunity to tighten his grip on Sora's shoulder and say, "You can talk here. We were just leaving."

"But Riku," Sora whined and looked down forlornly at the remainder of his grilled cheese sandwich and french fries.

Riku pushed him forward lightly. "Come on, Sora." Then he dropped his voice to a near-inaudible whisper and added, "You were the one freaking out because he was staring at you. Do you really want to stick around with these guys?"

There was a snort above them, and Sora looked up to see Axel and Cloud frowning at them. He forced a nervous laugh and slid out of his chair. "Um, we'll see you later."

"Or never," Riku muttered under his breath, steering Sora toward the door.

Behind them, Axel cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled to Riku as they made their way across the pub, "Or really soon, since I'm dating your boyfriend's half-brother!"

Ignoring Sora's stumble and Axel's unlikely good hearing, Riku practically sprinted with Sora all the way back to the campus dormitory.

Sora debated the ethicality of what he was about to do. Searching Roxas's dorm room – although it was the dorm room that they shared – seemed a little on the shady side. He was only doing it for Roxas's benefit, however, in order to determine the importance of 'psycho stalker redhead' as he had so kindly deemed him.

He also neglected to mention his plan to Riku.

"I'll see you later," Riku said softly so as not to disturb the other occupants of the floor. "Call me in the morning?"

Sora nodded, sending his brown spikes sweeping across his eyes. Before Sora could brush them out of his face, Riku did it for him, fingers delicately pushing his bangs behind his ear. Sora filled the split second of awkward silence with, "Okay."

Riku gave him a little nod and stuffed his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. "Later."

And with that, Sora disappeared into his room, quietly shutting the door behind him. He felt somewhat sorry for Riku, who still had the ten minute walk to his apartment in front of him, but the silver-haired boy had insisted on walking him to his room. Like there was anything dangerous nearby.

The town was so small that it scarcely took ten minutes to drive through the entire thing. Its population consisted almost entirely of college students and professors, and the remainder worked in the surrounding motley of convenience stores and restaurants. There honestly wasn't much to do there for anyone except students, which Riku, Sora, and his half-brother Roxas all were.

And in such a tiny town, Sora found it odd that he'd never seen that redhead before… or at least he thought he hadn't. Now that he thought about it, he did look kinda familiar.

He shook himself out of his thoughts and shuffled forward toward Roxas's side of the room, feeling somewhat guilty as he reached forward and tugged open his top desk drawer. Peering inside, he saw a typical collection of pens, pencils, erasers, and loose staples and heaved a little mixed sigh of relief and disappointment.

On one hand, he was glad there wasn't anything indicative that Axel actually was Roxas's boyfriend, but on the other hand, he was growing increasingly concerned for his half-brother's safety. If crazed men in pubs past midnight were claiming to date him, then Roxas was probably in trouble.

"Okay, next drawer," he mumbled to himself, then mentally gave himself a swift kick in the head, because he was on a covert operation, dammit, and he wasn't supposed to give himself away by talking out loud.

Good thing Roxas is never home at night, he thought as he pulled open the second drawer, where his gaze immediately zoomed in on a pile of photographs. He picked them up with care and began curiously sifting through.

Each one was an off-center photo of Roxas, just Roxas, smiling and waving at the camera while looking incredibly happy. Somewhat puzzled by the odd assortment of pictures, he replaced them in the drawer and continued shuffling around. Underneath the photos was a stack of plain white computer paper, which Sora idly pushed aside. He was just about to close the drawer when he saw a colored drawing at the bottom of the pile.

"Huh?" He pulled it out and his eyes immediately widened. It was a portrait-style drawing of Roxas, in the same pose as the top photo, but in the empty space next to him stood a very familiar redhead.

"Holy crap," Sora said, holding the drawing up to his face and staring. Axel's hand was on Roxas's shoulder in a way that could have either been friendly or romantic, but Sora was betting on romantic. He couldn't believe it. Why hadn't Roxas said anything?

Maybe it was a new thing, he told himself. Yeah, that was definitely it. It was a new thing, and Roxas was afraid to tell him he was gay – which was stupid, but Roxas was only his half-brother, so it was understandable, at least. But still… what if they'd been together longer?

Sora worried his lower lip in between his teeth, glancing down at the photograph on the top of the pile again. Roxas looked younger, and he was wearing an old thalassa shell necklace he'd bought at some surf shop years ago. He'd lost it about two years ago.

Well, hell, Sora thought, carefully replacing everything in the drawer just the way he'd found it. His half-brother was dating another boy – no, not even a boy, because he'd looked almost thirty, and holy shit, Roxas was dating a pedophile!

He had to save him!

Sora had just shoved the drawer closed and was striding across the room to grab his cell phone and call Riku to share the news when the doorknob began to turn.

"Eep," Sora squeaked and dove into his computer chair, hurriedly turning on his laptop in an attempt to look busy.

"Hey, Sora," Roxas greeted tiredly as he trudged into the room, dressed in plain khakis and a white polo, dragging a giant festive sombrero behind him. He worked at a nearby Mexican restaurant, and it was part of his uniform. Sora was convinced that Roxas secretly liked wearing the sombrero, even though he bitched about it almost constantly.

"You're home late," Sora commented as casually as possible. Which wasn't casually at all, because Roxas was never home at night…which made him think about Axel all over again, and his new mission to save his poor victimized half-brother. Or so he told himself.

"You mean early," Roxas said with a quizzical look. "I haven't been home this early in months."

Sora laughed nervously. "Oh, really? I hadn't noticed."

Roxas's expression turned into a frown. "What kind of brother are you?"

"The concerned type!" Defensively, he rose from his chair and put his hands on his hips in an authoritative style. "You didn't walk home by yourself, did you? You should use the buddy system!"

"Uh." The blond could only stare. "What?"

"Yeah," Sora said heatedly, glad to finally have a topic to cover his lingering anxiety. "I heard about this girl scout who got struck by lightning because she didn't use the buddy system."

"…That doesn't even make sense," Roxas mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck.

"It totally does," he said with a nod of his head. "So use the buddy system next time, or you'll get struck by lightning!"

"Whatever, Sora." Roxas finally cracked a grin. "You're crazy, you know that?"

I'm not the one dating a crazy old man, Sora thought to himself. A perverted, crazy, pedophile of an old man. But what he said was, "Yep, I know."

"Good." Tossing his sombrero atop of a pile of dirty laundry in the corner, Roxas's grin faded into a scowl as he muttered, "Fucking sombrero."

"Hey, it never did anything to you."

"It exists," Roxas huffed. "And I have to wear it to that godforsaken hell hole everyday." He whirled to face Sora, bristling with anger. "Did you know I had to stay after for three hours today?"

"What?" Sora balked. "Why? That's not fair!"

"Tell me about it," Roxas bit out. "All because they just had to shampoo the carpets. And then my stupid friend canceled our plans, so now I'm stuck here doing homework for the night."

"Who's your friend, anyway?" Sora asked as discreetly as possible. He folded his arms behind his head and fell back into his chair, slumping bonelessly against it.

"You wouldn't know him."

Sora raised an eyebrow at Roxas's suspiciously quick dismissal. "Actually," he said thoughtfully, "I haven't met a lot of your friends."

"They're not your kind of people," Roxas said, sounding somewhat annoyed now, and sat down in his chair. He went to open his top desk drawer and Sora froze, hoping he'd remembered to put everything back in its proper place. Thankfully, Roxas didn't seem to notice anything, and he grabbed a pencil and shut the drawer without saying another word.

"Are they older?" Sora asked innocently.

Across the room, Roxas's eye twitched tensely. "What's it matter?"

I'll take that as a yes, Sora thought smugly. Sora: Master Detective and Pedophile Destroyer Extraordinaire. "I guess it doesn't," he said with what he hoped was a relaxed shrug. He was careful to sound as nonchalant as possible with his next question: "By the way, you wouldn't happen to know any redheads, would you?"

Roxas actually fell sideways out of his chair. He landed in a sideways heap on the floor, looking wild and hunted for a moment before he propped his head up on his fist, the other hand resting casually on his hip, struggling to look suave and composed as he responded, "Redheads? What do you mean? Like, Kairi redhead? Natural redhead? Or what?"

Frazzled, much? "I mean like, red redhead. Like my shirt." He pointed to his crimson top.

"Nope, not a one," Roxas chirped.

You are a liar! Sora thought furiously.

"Oh," Sora hummed and leaned back further in his chair. Behind his head, he wrung his hands in annoyance at Roxas's obvious lies. "You know, that's kinda funny, 'cause there was a guy at the pub tonight—"

"The pub?" Roxas interjected and leapt to his feet. "The pub I told you to never go in?"


"Why'd you go there?"

"Only place open past midnight other than Starbucks," Sora explained. "Riku and I were studying for our calc exam and we were hungry. Coffee makes my stomach hurt."

Covering his face with his hand, Roxas took a deep breath and asked, "Did he happen to say what his name was?"


Roxas peeked out from between two fingers with a pained expression. "Did he say anything else?"

"Ohhh, not much." Happy that he was getting somewhere, Sora looked up at Roxas and grinned. "Only that you were dating."

"He was just joking," Roxas rushed to explain. "Seriously. He pulls that shit all the time. It's like a retarded game he plays."

Glancing behind Roxas, Sora pulled a thoughtful face and asked, "So those pictures in your desk…?"

"You went through my desk?" Roxas shrieked and practically dove on top of Sora, grabbing him by his hair and putting him in a gruesome headlock. "I will fucking kill you!"

"Ow!" Sora whined and batted at him uselessly. "Lemme go, I was just trying to save you from the creepy pedophile!"

"Creepy – creepy pedophile?" the blond sputtered. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Axel!" Prying his half-brother off while he could, Sora rolled away and backed up against the door. "He looks like he's thirty or something!"

"He's definitely not thirty," Roxas said, still looking murderous, and stalked closer to the brunet. "And you had no business looking through my stuff. What exactly did you see?"

"Some really bad pictures of you," Sora squeaked, then practically squished himself against the door as Roxas's glare intensified. "I meant badly taken, badly taken! You looked great in them, you were practically glowing! Please don't kill me!"

"That's not what I'm pissed about," Roxas grunted.

"Oh." He relaxed a little. "Well, that's all I saw. That and a drawing of you and Axel."

Roxas seemed to relax too. "That's it?"

"Yeah." Cautiously looking up at Roxas again, he asked, "So are you guys really just friends?"

He nodded. "Just friends."

Somehow, Sora didn't quite believe him, but Roxas obviously didn't want him to know any more than he already did. "Okay."

Roxas smacked him on the back of the head. "But don't you ever go through my shit again, you got that?"

"Oww." Rubbing the back of his head, Sora was the absolute picture of contrition, and he stuck out his lower lip in a pout. "Okay, I'm sorry."

"…It's fine," Roxas said eventually, then sauntered over to his bed and flopped himself down on his back, staring up at their blank white ceiling. "So… did he say where he was going?"

"Huh?" Sora scuttled to his dresser and pulled out his pajamas, only half-thinking of an answer to Roxas's question. He wrestled with his ridiculously tricky belt, then dropped his jeans to the floor and neatly folded them atop his dresser. Then he held up his pajamas and gave them a tentative sniff just to make sure they were clean. He had the tendency to fold all of his clothing, clean or not, and place them on top of his dresser, so a pair of dirty sleeping clothes easily could have gotten misplaced inside the drawer.

"Sora, did you hear me?" Roxas snapped his fingers to get his brother's attention. "Did Axel say where he was going?"

"Um, I don't know. When we left he was with some blond guy."

"Blond… a blond guy?" Roxas stuttered, then quickly recovered with, "A friend of his, then?"

Sora shrugged as he pulled his pajama pants on – they were his favorites, white and blue striped flannel – and replied, "I guess so. He seemed to know him."

"What did this blond guy look like?"

"Why do you care?" Sora spat back in annoyance as he tied the drawstrings on his pants. In the back of his mind, he knew it was a bad idea to tie them, since he always had trouble unknotting it as he rushed to the bathroom in the morning. At the moment, however, he couldn't really bring himself to care. His brotherly spidey-sense was telling him that Roxas was jealous, and he absolutely despised being lied to.

Roxas didn't seem to notice the tone in Sora's voice. "I'm curious who it is."

"Blond guy," he repeated, then paused to think. "Spiky-headed blond guy, with scary blue eyes, and sort of pale, and… military… ish?" he crinkled his nose in thought as he tried to describe Cloud as best he could. "Oh yeah," he added as he smacked the palm of his hand against the side of his head. "His name is Cloud."

Roxas's face faltered, although Sora couldn't see it from across the room. "Cloud, huh?"

"Yeah," Sora said, turning to look at his brother with interest. "You know him?"

Roxas smirked as he let his eyes close. "You could say that..."