Standard Disclaimer: KH not mine

Notes: Ugh…my head hurts…

Warnings: Sick people…

-:-finem-:-

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By Proxy

.III.

About an hour and a half after Riku arrived, both boys were laying lazily in Sora's room staring off into space as music blasted from Sora's stereo. Riku was relieved that so far he hadn't had to block any food consumption as they were munching on some of the beef jerky he had brought. No…everything was going quite smoothly except for the fact that there was absolutely nothing to do.

"Sora, I'm bored," Riku said from his place on the floor.

"Well what do you want me to do about it?" Sora replied. "There's a reason we always go to your house to do stuff. Money's been tight these past few weeks between dad and then me being sick…"

"But you're supposed to be the creative genius, here. Entertain me, damn it!" Riku was quick to make light of the situation, not wanting to turn their comfortable silence awkward.

"And exactly how am I supposed to do that?" Sora asked, rolling to look down at him from the edge of his bed.

"Oh, I don't know," Riku all but purred. "I'm sure you could think of…something." What was it Riku had been trying to avoid? Something about awkward silences? Well, he realized too late that the slightly teasing, slightly serious comment was definitely not the way to go about doing that. Sora stared at him a little shocked at the clearly suggestive comment before rolling back to lay on his bed again.

Riku scrambled up, heart pounding as he realized that he might have really just screwed up. Sora's back was to him now as he curled into the wall. Riku could see that the smaller boy's shoulders were shaking. Was he really so upset by the comment that he was crying now?

"God, I'm such and idiot," Riku growled at himself as he reached out to his friend. "Sora, I'm sorry. I was totally jok—" he froze when Sora rolled on his back, tears streaming from his eyes as he…struggled valiantly to keep his laughter in check. "You must be shitting me."

That was apparently the last straw. Sora closed his eyes, rolling back and forth on his bed as loud guffaws burst from his chest. Riku glared down at him trying to figure out what the big joke was. After a few looong minutes, Sora seemed to finally calm down.

"Sorry," he gasped, a huge grin still splitting his face, "but that has got to be the funniest one-liner you've ever delivered! Your voice," (chuckle) "and then your face!" (chuckle chuckle) "Oh man!" And then he was rolling again.

"Well I'm so glad to be a source of entertainment," Riku growled down at his friend. "At least one of us is having a good time."

"Oh, come on Riku, don't be like that," Sora said looking up at his friend as he finally calmed down. His hair was tussled, shirt hiked up to reveal a couple of inches of stomach, cheeks flushed from his laughter…Riku found that he was suddenly not so bored anymore and could think of a few things he wouldn't mind doing to occupy them both.

"Well…I guess I can forgive you," he said, crossing his arms and smirking to himself. "But don't think you can get away with not entertaining me now!" and without any warning, he pounced on Sora, fingers flying down to tickle his sides. Sora was laughing again, struggling desperately to get Riku off of him. With a buck and a shove he did manage to roll Riku off the bed, but unfortunately, the older boy was holding on to him quite firmly and they both ended up going over the edge.

Riku released a loud 'oof' as his back hit the floor and Sora landed on top of him. They both lay that way for a moment chuckling and gasping, faces inches apart, breath mingling as they slowly mellowed.

"Your breath smells," Riku said softly, eyes focused on Sora's mouth.

"Yeah, well so does yours," Sora said, and it seemed as though the space between their faces was shrinking…

Then the doorbell rang.

The moment was suddenly a little awkward, but Sora smiled brightly before he pushed off of Riku and crept quietly out of his room to spy as his mother answered the door. Riku let out a loud sigh, running his hands through his hair before following after. What had just almost happened?

He made it out to the banister just as Aerith was opening the door.

"Leon! Jecht! What brings you here?" she asked a touch of concern in her voice. Sora and Riku looked at each other a bit startled. Leon was Aerith's brother so there was nothing odd about his presence, but Tidus' father was a police officer. Why would he be there? Riku of course already knew, but he played dumb all the same.

"Good to see you Aerith," Jecht offered casually. "I'm sure that this is just a misunderstanding, but Sephiroth came down to the station a while ago with some…" he seemed to be struggling to find the right word, "interesting observations."

"Did he, now?" Aerith said, and there was no mistaking the anger and irritation in her voice. Her usually warm exterior melted away as her temper spiked. "And you actually think he might be right? That there is any validity to his claims at all?!"

"Now calm down Aerith," Jecht said raising his hands in a placating gesture as Leon made his way into the house to stand at his sister's side, offering silent support. "The accusations are pretty serious. We're just trying to make sure that Sora is safe." Sora tensed at hearing this.

"What's this got to do with me?" he whispered to Riku in alarm. Riku just hushed him as the conversation downstairs continued.

"Safe? Safe?! Do you honestly thing that I would ever do anything to harm my son?! After losing Adam, do you really think—" she broke down then, sobbing into her hands and burying her face in Leon's chest as he glared daggers at Jecht.

"That's enough," he snarled, and that in turn broke Sora from his silence. He got to his feet a little clumsily and made his way down to his mother and uncle's side.

"Mom, what's going on?! What are they talking about?!" Aerith couldn't speak; she just turned from Leon and threw her arms around Sora who held her tightly looking from Jecht to Riku in confusion. Jecht released a sigh as he raised a hand to massage the bridge of his nose.

"Your Uncle Cloud is down at your place," he said speaking to Riku. "Why don't you and Sora head there while Leon and I get her calmed a bit." Riku just nodded, looking to Sora. Sora looked very concerned, but with a final squeeze, released his mother, agreeing to leave the house with Riku. Leon placed a hand on his shoulder to get his attention.

"We'll get this straightened out," he promised. "I'll look out for your mom, so don't worry." Sora nodded once then turned to follow Riku out the door.

"What the heck is going on?" he asked the universe at large, not really expecting an answer. Imagine his surprise when Riku was able to offer one.

"My dad has a theory about why you keep getting sick," Riku replied simply. Sora froze staring at his friend in shock.

"Your dad?" he paused a moment thinking before the pieces suddenly clicked in his head. "You knew!" he accused angrily. "You knew this all along! That's why you came over!"

"My dad just told me to visit you and not let you eat anything—"

"Because he thinks my mom is poisoning me?!?"

"Sora!" Riku hissed grabbing his wrist and pulling him so that they could continue to their destination. It was still broad daylight and Riku was pretty sure Sora wouldn't want the whole neighborhood hearing about this.

"He's nuts!" Sora hissed angrily. "Your dad is a complete psycho!" Riku pulled his friend into his house to find Cloud waiting for them in the entry way.

"Sora, for your sake, I hope you're right," the older teen said, closing the door behind him.

"How'd it go?" Cloud asked looking at Riku. Sephiroth must have clued him in to what was going on and what he had requested of Riku.

"No problem, food never even became an issue," he said grimly. This whole situation was just too weird. "Where's my dad?" he asked.

"Sephiroth went to the lab where he's having Aerith's soup tested," Cloud told them. "Preliminary results show nothing really amiss. Everything there is organic so it's going to take a little more time to break it down to find out exactly what's in it.

"Because you all think my mom is a nutcase who poisons her own kid for kicks?" Sora growled angrily. "I can't believe you guys are actually doing this. This is my mom we're talking about! She loves me! She would never do something like that!"

"Sora, calm down," Cloud said in a placating voice. "None of us want to believe it's possible, but we have to be sure. You both have been through something extremely traumatic. Things like this can change people. We just want to be sure."

"Don't tell me to calm down!" Sora screamed tears starting to fall from his eyes. "My dad just died, Cloud! And now you guys are trying to take my mom away from me too?! I hate you! I hate you all!" With that, the small trembling brunet stormed from the room leaving Riku alone with his uncle.

"My dad better be right about this," Riku sighed walking to their couch and flopping down on it. "All of this is seriously fucked up."

Cloud, ignoring the bad language in light of its accuracy in the situation, vanished into the kitchen for a time, banging around dishes and cutlery. There was the occasional buzz of a blinder. After a short while, he reemerged holding two tall glasses of bright orange liquid.

"Cloud," Riku groaned, "I'm really not up for one of your paradise punch smoothies right now."

"Then humor me," the blond said, setting the drink on the table in front of his nephew. "Maybe I just needed to make it for you. They used to be able to fix everything that ailed you."

Riku didn't protest further, picking up the beverage and swirling the straw through it idly.

"I know this sucks," Cloud began at length, "but you realize that Seph wouldn't be doing this without good cause."

Riku sighed and set his untouched smoothie back on the table. "I know that, but I can't figure it out!" Riku dropped his face in his hands pressing his palms into his eyes as he tried to relieve the pressure headache he was getting. "I mean seriously, Uncle Cloud. How do you get from Sora's a little sick to Aerith is poisoning him?"

"I'd actually like to know that, too." Riku and Cloud looked up to find Sora standing in the doorway of the living room, eyes a little red and swollen, but otherwise calm. "Where does Sephiroth get off accusing my mom of something this crazy?"

Cloud sighed gesturing to the chair beside the couch for Sora to sit. He did so, face set in a cold mask. After a small pause where Cloud seemed to be gathering his thoughts, he set down his glass, sat back and began speaking.

"Me, Seph, Leon and Aerith go way back, you both already know this." Sora and Riku nodded. "We met in high school, Seph was picking on Aerith and Leon stepped in to defend her. I stepped in to defend my brother and…well we weren't fast friends, but we got over that eventually. Even back then, thought, Aerith was really shy…almost too quiet. We didn't think much of it at first, but we probably should have.

"Years went by and Aerith started getting sick a lot. It was nothing major at first; headaches, dizzy spells…things like that. Looking back on it…she always was worse when she was feeling really lonely." This was mumbled, almost as an afterthought.

"When it came time to go to college, we all had decided on the same school and moved away from home. Sehp was a year ahead of me and Leon, Aerith a year after. I think it was really hard for her when we all left, even though we visited all the time, that year when she was home without us changed her. We didn't notice how much so until she came to HBU with us.

In the beginning, everything seemed fine. She struggled a little, but everyone does their first few weeks of college. It didn't get better for her thought. About two months into her first semester, Aerith started getting really sick. She kept going to see doctors, but no one could figure out what was up. Her symptoms just didn't make sense. She had a lot of the same problems you've been having, Sora."

"Then that just proves that whatever is wrong with me is probably hereditary or something!" Sora snapped. "She got better didn't she?"

"Let me finish," Cloud told him darkly. There was no argument.

"It was actually Leon who started watching her more closely at first. He noticed that she would usually only get really sick around stressful times of the year, which made sense, but no one else got sick like Aerith. It was just weird. He usually went to the hospital with her when she had to go and he would tell me how she almost seemed to enjoy the time she spent there.

"He figured he was just being paranoid…and then he walked in on her, one day, downing a cup of bleach. She tried to cover it, but everything came out then." Cloud breathed a long sigh before speaking next.

"There's a psychological disorder called Munchausen's Syndrome where a person will fake illness to get attention. After a lot of evaluation, Aerith was diagnosed with it." Silence descended upon the room shivering through them like a chill wind.

"Why didn't anyone ever tell me about this?" Sora whispered, voice shaking just slightly as his eyes bore into Cloud's.

"She was better, Sora," Cloud told him, fighting to keep his own voice steady. "We got her the help she needed, and she hasn't done it since. When she met and married Adam, we thought that she might even be over the feelings of loneliness, and when she had you…we'd never seen her as happy as she was after you were born, Sora. We thought that is was all in the past."

"Then why are you doing this to her now?!" Sora was on his feet again, raging. "If what you say is true, then she would be hurting herself, not me, and I think I would notice if my mom were slipping bleach into my food!"

"We have to be sure, Sora. She may not be in her right mind."

"I think you're the one's not in you right minds! Why am I even here?" he asked to no one in particular. "I should have gone home as soon as you guys started ranting about this shit. I'm getting out of here."

"Sora!" Cloud called leaping up as Sora ran for the door. He needn't have bothered. As Sora flung the door open, he was greeted by a firm chest covered in a white t-shirt.

"Going somewhere?" Leon asked looking down and raising and eyebrow at his nephew.

"Uncle Leon!" Sora said, relieved to have family present. "Tell me you don't believe any of this! Tell them they're all nuts! I wanna go see mom!"

"You can see her tomorrow Sora, after the test results get in," Sora seemed to deflate at these words, Leon being his last refuge in a world that was steadily going insane. He couldn't believe any of it. Wouldn't believe it until someone gave him solid proof.

Too angry and frustrated to speak any further, Sora stomped up the stairs, fleeing to Riku's room and slamming the door behind him. The living room was left silent in his passing, Riku curled silently into his corner of the couch staring blankly ahead of him in a state of shock. He had never known his own mother as she had died in childbirth, and Aerith was the closest he had ever had. He loved her like his own, and always thought that she viewed him like a second son.

"Do you really think it's possible?" He asked the room. Leon sat down in the chair that Sora had vacated with a loud sigh, running a hand through his hair.

"I really hope to God it isn't."

-:- -:- -:-

Sora woke for school the next day alone in Riku's room. For this he was grateful as he wasn't ready to face his so called best friend just yet. Everything that had happened the day before seemed like some kind of twisted dream, and even as he sat up blinking a strange cloudiness from his vision, he hoped that maybe somehow it had all been a dream and things would be back to normal when he got up.

He walked into the living room to find Riku stretched out on the couch, Cloud and Leon awake in the kitchen speaking softly. There went the dream theory…he was stuck with the shitty reality.

Still feeling more than a little upset, he stalked into the kitchen to fix himself a bowl of cereal. Riku's place was a second home to him and it was perfectly natural for him to treat the food there like his own. He sat down across from Cloud preparing to pour his cereal but paused.

"Am I allowed to eat these," he sneered moodily, "or do you think maybe the Trix rabbit has a hit out on me?" He got a pair of silent glares from the two men but was otherwise ignored. He was pouring milk over his cereal when Riku entered the room in sweats and a tank top stretching broadly. He grabbed a bowl and sat beside Sora pouring milk and cereal for himself.

Sora noticed that his friend didn't look like he'd had a very restful sleep. There were still dark circles under his slightly puffy eyes and there seemed to be permanent worry lines etched into his features. Odd for the average sixteen-year-old. Sora's heart softened slightly. He wasn't the only one who was having difficulty dealing with the situation, and really, none of it was Riku's fault. It was the grown-ups who had gone nuts.

Sora casually tossed a supposed-to-be-grape cereal piece at Riku's head effectively startling the other boy from his slightly dazed state. He glared up at Sora who offered the best he could manage along the lines of a smile. Cloud chose that moment to clear his throat and speak.

"So I think it would be best if you both stayed home from school today just to be safe." Sora felt his anger return full force.

"Just to be safe," he repeated with a growl. "Just to be safe from what? You think the lunch lady's got it in for me, too? How is me going to school even remotely dangerous?!"

"Sora—" Cloud was cut off by Leon.

"If he wants to go to school let him go to school," the older brunet said. "Who are we to keep a kid from his education?"

Realizing that he'd just talked himself out of a free day off, Sora stood to his feet more irritated than ever and went to rinse out his bowl before once again leaving the room. Maintaining his somber silence, Riku quickly followed suit leaving Cloud and Leon alone again.

"Do you really think that's such a good idea?" Cloud asked rubbing a hand roughly across his face. He hadn't slept too well the night before either.

"He's already touchy about the whole situation," Leon shrugged, "and he's right. What could happen to him at school?" Cloud sighed.

"Why do those sound like famous last words?"

-:- -:- -:-

Sora was even more irritated by the time he got to school. He'd had to stop by his house to get his books before heading out. Jecht was still there, his mother busy in the kitchen. It looked as if she were not going to work that day. Cloud and Leon had come too and of course, Riku was there since they'd be walking together. Sora had felt everyone's eyes on him as he ran over to his mother, giving her a tight hug as he told her that he didn't believe for one second that she would do anything to hurt him. Aerith looked at him with tears in her eyes and just gave him a tender kiss on the forehead before shooing him off to school.

Everyone else had been watching like she would pull a butcher knife on him or something.

Even more irritating was the weirdness that had been going on with his eyes since he'd woken up. There was this odd haziness to his vision that he just couldn't seem to blink away. He didn't think much of it, figuring it would dissipate sometime during the day, but it didn't help his mood any.

And then, of course, there were his friends. They all knew him well enough to know that he was really upset about something. He was eternally grateful when Riku chose to break his silence and come up with convincing stories about why Sora was so pissy. Sora wasn't really sure what the story was, but it seemed to work for most everyone as they finally left him alone.

Everyone but Kairi that is.

"So what's really going on?" She asked as they walked together during their Nutrition break.

"Seriously, Kai," Sora said blinking his eyes rapidly. The weird cloudiness was back and seemed to be getting worse. "I really don't feel like getting into it. It'll all be straightened out by the end of the day, but if you really want to know, you can ask Riku." He paused, swaying as his vision went double for a moment and his balance did a weird little flip.

"I think I will," Kairi said watching the crowd ahead of them and not Sora. "I think I see his hair heading this way." She smiled over at Sora expecting him to share the small joke with her only to realize that he wasn't really paying attention. "Sora?" she asked, an edge of concern coloring her voice. Sora's only response was to stumble over to a wall and lean heavily against it.

It was almost routine by now. Sora slowly slid himself to the ground as he felt hands grab on to him and someone call out for the school nurse. It was Kairi beside him this time, but shortly after, he heard Riku's voice joining hers as they both tried to make sure he was okay.

"What's hurting, Sora?" Riku asked tensely, crouching low next to him. Sora managed to open his eyes and look up at his friend with still blurring vision and he quickly squeezed them shut again.

"Head," he said, finding speech far more difficult than it should have been. "And eyes. Everything…blurry." He gasped out slightly as his muscles seemed to give out on him completely and he fell, bonelessly, against the wall. "hurts…" he hissed as a familiar wave of nausea washed over him.

"Sora," Riku said suddenly very serious. He leaned in closer so that the next question would just be between the two of them. "Before I came over yesterday, did you eat or drink anything given to you by your mother?"

Sora tried to be angry at the question. Now even Riku was accusing his mom of being crazy, but he was feeling more and more ill by the moment and couldn't gather the will to get to full out rage. Instead he thought back to the previous day.

"Juice," he whispered, cringing as pain shot through his abdomen. "Just juice."

Riku swore violently as the nurse arrived shoving through the crowd of students that had formed, including several of their other friends. She knelt down checking Sora's forehead for fever before bending over to question him. He seemed to be having even more trouble stringing words together as time went on. Riku told her what little he'd managed to get out of Sora and also pulled her aside to let her know there could be foreign toxins involved. She looked at him oddly for a moment before thanking him and calling for a teacher to call an ambulance. Riku showed her his cell phone stating without words that he had it covered and quickly dialed 911.

"Riku, what the hell is going on?" Kairi asked quirtly from his side as he waited listening for an operator to pick up.

"Something bad," he told her looking down at a sluggish and trembling Sora, who was now being supported by a worried Roxas, as the nurse checked his pupils and pulse. "Something really bad."