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Cinnamon: (noun) Aromatic bark of the Ceylon cinnamon tree used as a common culinary spice; often ground into a powder.
Powder: (noun) Any dry, solid substance that is reduced to a state of fine, loose particles by pounding, grinding or crushing.
Cinnamon Powder: (noun) It's what Cloud's apartment smells like, if you really wanted to know. Weird, I know. But you see, the previous owner of the flat (some crazy old geezer known only as C. Highwind) had hidden an envelope of cinnamon powder under a loose tile somewhere. To this day, Cloud has yet to successfully locate it.
It was the end of a long, exceedingly eventful day. A long, exceedingly eventful Sunday (which was rare, in any case). The rainstorm had more or less dissipated some time in the afternoon, clearing the now-purpling sky of its heavy cumulonimbus, leaving the streets damp, muggy and just mildly desolate. The suburb of Sundown got relatively quiet by the time evening came around and all of the neighbouring stores down this end of the street had already closed several hours before, with the exception of Caffeine Fixation, the I Killed Kenny convenience store, xxxALCOHOLiC Liquor and the gaudily neon-signed Adults Anonymous that sold all sorts of interesting toys and paraphernalia pertaining to the tastes of kinky adventure-seekers.
Sometime after the final customer (a shady individual with dodgy golden eyes and a serious penchant for elongated, time-consuming conversations that went nowhere) had exited the coffee bar and disappeared into the cold lonely night, Leon decided that enough was enough and gave his faithful staff specific instructions to cease operations and put up the 'I'm sorry. We're CLOSED!' sign for all the world to see. Following this, the routine wipe-down and till count ensued. Demyx had left a while ago (just after the whole Starbucks Invaders fiasco had ended), claiming he had an early class the next day. Of course, he could've left whenever he wanted. Sunday was his day off, after all. It still mystified some as to why he stayed in the first place.
Cloud Strife was, at this moment, sluggishly clearing out the register, whistling softly to an erratic tune that sounded vaguely like the Macarena. Sora Vaïve and Roxas Montana were diligently cleaning up in the kitchen. Axel Onér was, strangely enough, nowhere to be seen. Five minutes ago, he'd pleaded with Leon for a "much-needed cigarette break". Leon didn't really care and let him go. He didn't think the redhead would be coming back into the bar until the sun rose again. And for the record, he was right about that.
Everyone could very well hear Sora's loud singing from within the kitchen whilst he performed his simple task of stacking glasses and storing mugs in the cabinets. He was belting out strange lyrics—something about not needing stupid books because they were meant for petty crooks. His voice was slightly off-key, but he didn't seem to notice because he was on cloud nine, with a huge ass smile on his face that was right now freaking Roxas out.
"Imma troublemaker, never been a faker. Doin' things my own way, never givin' uuuuup."
After painfully enduring Sora's odd behaviour for almost a record full minute, the blond very quickly decided to throw out the garbage to inadvertently escape his best friend's verbal torture. He excused himself for a moment as he emptied the bin, dragging the bag of rubbish out through the back door, slamming it behind him and cutting off Sora's incessant crooning. ("I'm gonna be a rockstar, and you will go to bed with me—")
Sighing in relief at the sudden muted silence out here in the narrow, semi-lit alley, Roxas traipsed the short distance over to the dumpster and flung the cumbersome bag full of used plastic cups, chewed straws and milk cartons over the edge of the huge container. A frumpy black cat hissed irritably at him from the shadows and streaked past his legs, darting out of the way and around the corner onto the main street.
And that was when Roxas realised that the alley smelt strongly of cigarette smoke.
Which was not a good sign, if you think about it from his perspective.
"Hey there, sexy."
Roxas fought the overwhelming urge to kick the unoffending dumpster in front of him (he decided that displaying a violent tantrum was somehow immature and beneath him and would most likely take twenty respect points off his metaphysical point-collecting system). Instead he turned calmly on the spot and squinted through the darkness, spotting none other than his worst nightmare, in all his pale and beanpole-tall glory, leaning against the gritty brick wall of the back alley, a glowing cigarette between two slender fingers. The posture he exhibited made him look very much like a tacky male prostitute to Roxas.
"Oh. It's you," the blond managed apathetically, eyes dimming.
Axel smirked, flicking ash to one side. Oh yes, the kid was warming up to him alright. Or maybe he'd just given up trying to fend him off. Either way, he could sense a change in demeanour in the boy. Very soon, the redhead figured Roxas would throw in the towel and somehow discover that he couldn't get enough of the irresistible Axel Muriel Onér¹. Whatever the case, the kid didn't seem to want to rip his arm off and use his fingers to strangle him to death after he'd just called him 'sexy'—a threat previously mentioned a few days back.
"C'mere a sec. I wanna talk to you."
At this, scepticism lit up like fire in the boy's brilliant blue eyes. "How about no?" Roxas deadpanned.
"I don't bite, you know?"
Roxas raised an eyebrow. "Sure fooled me."
Axel grinned as he regarded the boy silently for a moment from the corner of his eyes. Then, he took one last drag on his cigarette, threw it to the floor and crushed it under his shoe. Turning abruptly to face Roxas, he moved and closed the distance between them in four quick strides.
"Let's play a quick little game, shall we?" the redhead said as he came to an abrupt stop a little ways away from the boy. "Truth or dare, Roxy?"
Roxas Montana frowned. Truth or Dare? He hadn't subjected himself to the horrors of this juvenile pastime in years. The last time he played, he'd had to eat out of Pluto's bowl as an impromptu dare. That had been at his sister's thirteenth birthday party. Of course, being the then-overconfident pubescent teenage adolescent he was, he attempted the challenge without much thought. He discovered pet food tasted like unsalted popcorn and aluminium foil. He then spent the following three minutes throwing up the entire contents of his stomach whilst everyone just watched, pointed and laughed like it was the funniest thing they'd ever witnessed.
Once bitten, twice shy. Roxas would never pick Dare again.
He subconsciously wondered why he was even playing along with this self-confessed flexisexual freak. Of course he had nothing against homos/bis/trans/whatevers. He did have something against Axel, though. The guy was an entirely different matter altogether.
Either way, it was obvious that Axel seemed to read Roxas' mind, figuring him to be the Truth type. The redhead grinned a wicked grin. "Okay. So… yes or no?"
Roxas blinked, waited for a few more moments, gave Axel a strange look. "What's the question?"
"Yeeees? Or noooo?" Axel repeated slowly.
"That was the question?"
"Yes," Axel bobbed his head in confirmation, then added, "Or no?"
"That doesn't even make any sense!"
Axel sighed mock-exasperatedly. "Don't be difficult, kiddo."
Roxas glared, wanting very much to stamp his feet indignantly. "Fine. No."
Axel nodded and took a small step back. "Okay. Fair enough. Your go."
What? Roxas crossed his arms, eyes narrowing. There was some kind of catch here. He was pretty sure he was being played. "Truth or dare?" he said through gritted teeth.
"Good. I dare you to leave me the hell alone."
"Can't," Axel shook his head. "Sorry. I forfeit. Make me sing."
"Complicated. Avril Lavigne," Roxas all but snarled.
"Oh? You really wanna make me sing that?"
"… On second thought, no."
"WHY'D YA HAFTA GO'N MAKE THINGS SO COM-PLEE-KAY-TED—"
"Oh, dear Lord," the poor boy whispered to himself, looking to the heavens above. He hastily pictured the face of an old, bearded man with flowing white hair and an appearance similar to that of Gandalf the Grey and thought, if there is a God up there, please, I implore you, sir, smite this outrageous jackass down.
"—SEE THE WAY YOU'RE ACTIN' LIKE YOU'RE SOMEBODY ELSE—"
Roxas snapped. He stepped forward, grabbed Axel by the collar, sharply yanked him down to eye level and growled rather dangerously into his face in an I-will-now-prooceed-to-extort-twenty-million-in-cash-from-you-you-dirtbag voice.
"I. Want you. To shut. The hell. Up."
He rather hoped it would work the way it should.
However, Axel, oblivious to the more-than-threatening lilt in Roxas' voice (or maybe he just didn't quite care too much because it sounded so goddamn erotic coming from his mouth), grinned rather stupidly. This was mainly due to their current physical proximity, which made Axel's brain whir with all sorts of strange ideas. Said brain was now entertaining certain thoughts about which one of them would be the dominant one in a relationship. Because, to be honest, Axel didn't see the kid being the submissive type.
"Y'know Roxy, you make things so complicated," he barely whispered.
Roxas scowled and pushed him away. "Ditto," he muttered darkly.
Axel smiled and adjusted his shirt pointlessly. "Your cynicism makes you insanely attractive."
"I'm so glad you think so."
"See what I mean?"
Roxas glared. "Are we still playing or can I go back in so that Sora can make my ears bleed and skin crawl?"
"Mmm," the redhead hummed lightly. "My turn, isn't it? Truth or dare?"
"Truth," Roxas groused.
"Yes or no?"
"What the fuck, man?" Are you freaking retarded? What is this yes or no crap?
"I'm sorry. 'What the fuck, man' is not a valid answer. Yes or no?"
Roxas didn't know what else to say. He'd already gone with 'no' and nothing actually happened. So he went the other way and said very cautiously: "Yes…?"
And that was when Axel swooped down and mashed his lips against Roxas' in a determined kiss.
It was impressive and spectacular and passionate, all at the same time.
The very first thing Roxas registered was the fact that he could quite suddenly taste the lingering hints of burnt tobacco and cigarette smoke. Now, Roxas had never tried puffing on a cigarette in all the years of his youth, so it wasn't unusual to say that he found the aftertaste rather interesting and well, different. And then, when his brain finally caught up with him, he realised (with a rather large dose of horror) exactly what was happening and he figured this wasn't the best time to be pondering about the fascinating taste of tobacco. After all, there was a terrible, terrible man locking lips with him right now in a highly provocative manner.
And Roxas, to put it very mildly, wasn't amused by this. No, no he wasn't. Actually, he was quite positively livid. Largely due to the fact that the redhead was now relentlessly trying to slip him some tongue.
Instead of inflicting some pain by slamming his jaws down on the warm, slippery length of muscle (which, in retrospect, he totally should have done, but Roxas wasn't thinking very straight (no pun intended)), the blond shoved Axel away, turned his head to one side, spat viciously and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, all the while glaring at the redhead in an I-want-to-smash-your-face-in-just-so-that-smirk-of-yours-turns-into-the-ultimate-grimace-of-pain-and-agony manner. His face burned hotly and he hoped to Gandalf that Axel couldn't see that.
"You asshole! That was sexual harassment."
"You said yes."
"TO A QUESTION THAT MADE ENTIRELY NO SENSE WHATSOEVER."
"Oh, shush. Just admit it. You enjoyed it."
Roxas managed to look incredulous for just a split second.
"You were kissing back, after all," Axel was blabbing madly, nervous triumph running through his veins like sparks and fireworks. "Like, before you decided you had enough and pushed me away and all. Too much for you, huh? Yeah, I totally have that effect on people."
Now, Roxas looked on the verge of killing something.
"I WAS NOT KISSING BACK."
"I'm pretty sure you were—"
"Oh, jeez, Roxy. Chill! Don't make a fuss!" the redhead chided. "It's just a game, after all. It didn't mean anything."
There was a suspended silence that could've meant the world stopped for a couple of seconds.
Then Axel laughed a short laugh and backpedalled abruptly to check his watch. "Well," he said slowly, "time to knock off, I reckon. S'getting late. Catch ya later, sugar lips. Nighty night." And smiling an infuriatingly broad smile, the redhead sauntered off down the alley and turned the corner that led out to the main street, leaving Roxas standing alone, in the semi-darkness, breathing heavily and feeling undeniably peeved.
Very, very undeniably peeved.
So, 8:40pm found everyone parting ways. Leon and Cloud were the last to leave, really, Cloud being the one with the keys to lock up because of his early shift the next day and Leon just moping around as though waiting for the earth to swallow him up (and that possibly had connotations of Hell, but he didn't quite mind brimstone and ash right now).
In the end, the boss was quite belatedly mortified to find that, upon finally reaching his beloved car, someone had let all the air out from his tyres. Every single one of them.
They were all flat.
Cloud, already seven-and-a-half paces away from the vicinity of The Fix and on his merry way back home, cast a look back at Leon curiously. He didn't want to say anything to the man, just in case he managed to say the wrong thing that would make him want to shoot himself in the temple later on, but there was just some vulnerable and I-need-some-fucking-Prozac quality about the way Leon had mumbled that expletive. It drove Cloud to open his mouth and speak. "You seem to be saying that a lot today. What now?"
Leon gestured helplessly at his Volvo. Cloud sauntered over to take a closer look. Despite the obvious fact that the car was illegally parked over double yellow lines on the ground…
Oh, wait, I see the other problem now. Wow. Some fucker has it in for the Leonhart. Honestly, that's just low. Looooooow.
"Oh," the blond finally said, mouth catching up with his brain.
Leon threw his hands up into the air irately. "Oh? Oh is not a suitable reaction to this atrocity, Cloud Strife."
Cloud blinked. Then he remembered that Leon was not quite himself and was going through a decidedly unstable phase of depression and general self-loathing. So, he sighed and figured he should at least be a little helpful and supportive of his boss, despite the fact that he was terribly in love and/or infatuated with said boss and thus wanted nothing to do with him lest he endured further personal shame and disgrace.
"You know what I think?" he said after a moment's inner conflict. "I think Larxene and that ugly Almasy guy are the bitches to blame."
"Assholes," Leon muttered.
Leon shook his head miserably and cast his eyes to the floor. "I live ten miles away. I don't even have a phone to call a cab because I murdered it. This is the worst day of my entire fucking life." The man's frame collapsed against the side of his sedan and his shoulders sagged jadedly. "I think the Big Man up there hates me and my sad existence."
Cloud looked a little uncomfortable at Leon's sudden bout of hopeless admission. The boss never really had many direct conversations with him outside of work. And the boss never seemed like a religious fellow either, so it was extremely weird that he was talking about God (or at least he figured 'Big Man' equalled 'God' in Leon's dictionary). The blond looked down the dark street and thought for a moment, then finally decided to dig his own grave by being chivalrous. Hey, it couldn't get any worse than this, right? Besides, he couldn't let his employer suffer unnecessarily. It wasn't in his partially-humanitarian nature to do such an awful thing. Also, he got his much-needed salary from the guy, too. And that counted for something.
"Look, uh, Leon?" he said at last, tactfully keeping his voice emotionless and taciturn. "My place is like, a ten minute walk from here. Do you... d'you wanna crash there tonight? I've got room. You can have the couch. And… you can… you can call up some people tomorrow morning to, uh, fix up your car, or something. Yeah?"
Leon looked up at Cloud, a strange expression crossing his face.
Cloud swallowed. "Yeah. Seriously. It's no big deal," he heard himself say, and he wondered if he'd just deepened his metaphorical tomb.
There was a short, contemplative silence. Cloud held his breath for what seemed like eternity.
Then Leon spoke again.
"That's… real cool. Thanks, man."
"Yeah. Yeah, no problem."
They lingered around the injured Volvo for a few more awkward moments before wordlessly setting off in the direction of Cloud's rundown apartment.
No problem? Cloud was reprimanding himself. I am such a fucking moron.
Meanwhile, Sora and Roxas were now well on their way towards their million-dollar homes in the opposite direction. They were engaged in a Highly Intellectual Discussion whilst they strolled along the intermittently-lit sidewalk. Actually, they were just talking about aptitude and intellect in general. Both boys weren't quite paying attention to the conversation anyway, being somewhat lost in their own little worlds at the moment.
"I am seriously beginning to doubt your intelligence, Sor," Roxas was saying distractedly as they jaywalked across the street blindly without looking for oncoming traffic (because they believed themselves to be Supermen and didn't need to obey stupid things such as simple road rules). Sora had just previously been prattling on about the solubility of candy canes in sodium bicarbonate and how they tasted exactly like peppermint gum.
"Aren't you always doin' it anyway, Rox?" Sora retorted, skipping ahead a few steps like he was halfway through a major hopscotch tournament.
Roxas looked wary for a split second. "What's got you so happy-yappy, man?"
Sora nearly tripped as he rounded on Roxas. "What's got you so crossy-wossy?" he countered.
Roxas slowed to stare incredulously at his friend. Crossy-wossy?
Sora turned to look back into his friend's face in an unnerving manner. "Uh-oh. I recognise that sullen, housewifey look from back in grade six, when you fell in love with that Olette girl and she ran off with that Gayner guy."
"Hayner Gai," Roxas corrected, frowning, wondering just what the hell Sora was getting at.
"Whatever," the brunet said, waving Roxas' silly comment aside. "Point is, your lack of disagreement towards my shameless claim portends the indisputable fact that you are, in all probability, head over heels with a forbidden individual. Tell me, Roxas, are you, perchance, in love?"
This was the last straw. Roxas couldn't take it anymore.
"WHO THE HELL ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH SORA?"
Sora giggled. "I ate him, spat his bones out and turned them into model airplanes."
"Well that explains everything."
"Word," Sora nodded wisely. "So, dude. Like, seriously. You in love or what, my good man?"
"That should be the question I should be asking you, seeing as you're totally speaking in tongues and acting like you've just won the lottery."
Sora grinned happily. "Woooord."
"Oh God," Roxas muttered. "You are in love."
The brunet ignored him and continued to skip. "I'm a troublemaker, KEEP IT ON THE UP!" he sang randomly.
The blond sighed at his Best Friend Forever. Yep, he's definitely gaga over somebody.
"Shut up, Sor."
Sora twirled on the spot. "I love you too, Rox."
Cloud frowned as he poked around the linen closet and got out some sheets and a pillow for his new guest; the first guest to ever actually sleep over at his insignificant little hovel he called home.
He came back to the living room. Leon hadn't moved an inch from where the blond had left him on the semi-clean red-black textile couch in front of the television. In fact, Leon was staring disinterestedly at his knees.
Leon grunted and looked up blearily.
Cloud pursed his lips uncertainly and handed the sheets over to Leon. Their fingers made contact for a split second and Cloud, in a sudden fit of surprise and alarm, almost decided to relinquish his hold on the sheets altogether by throwing them at the man. Thankfully, he wasn't such a freak and calmed down fast enough to be able to proceed to mope inwardly about it.
Leon, of course, didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, mainly because he was quietly wondering to himself, at that precise moment, if his car was even covered by insurance. Also, he was trying to figure out if his girlfriend—pardon me, ex-girlfriend—went for guys with prominent scars on their foreheads or something. Because it seemed to be the trend nowadays for women to go after men with visible facial blemishes and/or deformities.
Cloud took a seat tentatively next to Leon, careful to leave enough of a gap between them on the couch so he could think semi-coherently.
The two young gentlemen sat in silence for awhile, thinking separate thoughts. Very different subject matter floated around in each of their heads lethargically, sure, but the general theme was there: Life sucks right now for me. Boo hoo. Fucking hell, get a grip on yourself. You're a grown man sitting next to another grown man. Don't want him to start thinking you're weird now, do you?
Cloud snapped out of his self-conscious reverie first, glanced aloofly at Leon from the corner of his eyes, registered that Leon was swaying a little on the couch, shrugged absent-mindedly and, eventually, opened his mouth to speak.
"You, er, want some dinner? I've got some leftover KFC in the fridge."
Leon took a long while to answer, as though he were pondering the question very carefully (actually, he was just running the question through his mind several times because he didn't really understand it the first time). Finally, he came to a highly complicated conclusion. "I'm… not hungry."
"Oh. Oh, right." Cloud fidgeted awkwardly. "Sure."
The blond figured it was a good thing Leon refused, because he believed the leftover KFC to be about two-and-a-bit weeks old and was probably now the home to a garden of mould and a plethora of other assorted kinds of fungi. He figured he should really throw it out or something.
Two minutes of utter silence stretched between them.
Finally, not being able to help himself, Cloud coughed delicately and asked, "Hey. You okay?"
"No," Leon snapped quite abruptly, looking annoyed. "Stop babying me."
Cloud recoiled slightly, feeling like he'd been kicked.
Leon looked away sheepishly. "Sorry."
"S-s'okay." Cloud thought hard for a moment, scratched his head uneasily. "Er, I have… um. I'm gonna go get something. Wait here."
Cloud stood up and lumbered over to his kitchenette. There were sounds of a cupboard opening and some light clinking of glass on glass.
He came back with a dusty bottle of cheap tequila and two slightly-chipped shotglasses, settled himself down onto the floor and placed them on the coffee table by the couch. Then he looked up at Leon. "Couldn't find salt or lime. But I think we should be able to manage."
Leon wordlessly watched as Cloud unstoppered the tequila bottle and the poured out two shots gracefully.
He gave one to Leon, who took it without question, then held up his glass with purposeful reverence.
"Here's to fucked up relationships and botched luck," the blond declared to no one in particular.
Leon slowly raised his, too, a resolute glint in his eye. "Here, here," he agreed.
And without further prompting, they both downed their shots in one go like professionals.
It was half past nine, or somewhere thereabouts. Sora was in his room, getting ready for bed.
Well no, that's a big fat lie. He was actually bouncing up and down excitedly around his room. In one hand, he held the piece of scrap paper he got from Demyx this afternoon, in the other, he held his phone. He was vibrating with visible excitement.
For the record, Sora didn't waste any time with internal debates and private What-Am-I-Going-To-Say-To-Him? pep talks. He just wasn't the type of person to do that. He was the kind of person who just rushed headlong into situations, and no matter how much he bumbled and fumbled, he somehow always ended up getting away with murder. Too many humans of this world believed Sora was the child of Lady Luck herself. So, inhaling once, the brunet quickly dialled the number and put the phone to his ear, then impatiently threw himself onto his king-sized bed (covered in yellow stars and blue rocket-ships) and waited with bated breath.
It rang several times. Each passing second got Sora more and more anxious and edgy. It was like waiting for the final card in a Poker game to be flipped when there was a Royal Flush at stake.
Finally, he got someone's voicemail inbox.
"Hiiiii. You've just reached Haley J. Osment. I'm like, not available right now, probably out drinking with McCartney or Gallagher somewhere. Please hold and record your message after the… beeeeeeeeeep." ²
"Damn." Sora ended the bizarre call, figuring his fingers had dialled the wrong number.
He tried again.
This time, someone picked up on the second ring.
"Hello?" It was a low, husky voice. A low, husky and familiar voice. Bingo!
"Hiiiii. This is Sora Vaïve. Is this, uh, Riku… Mesna?" he asked, squinting at the tiny writing on the piece of paper in his hand and hoping he got the last name right.
There was a brief silence on the other end, and then the ambiguous sound of someone doing a complete three-sixty on a roller chair. Then, there was discernable relief in the words that followed. "Sora. Man. And here I was thinking you'd never call me back. That, or I figured the weird guy at the counter didn't bother giving you my number."
Sora grinned madly, completely falling in love with the guy's voice all over again. "Yeah, well he kinda forgot. But he finally remembered."
"Well, it's a good thing he did."
Sora laughed as butterflies fluttered around in his ribcage like a snowstorm of insects on Red Bull. He absently twiddled with the corner of his pillow.
"I never really got to thank you properly. For saving my life."
"All I did was bully another bully."
"Meaning you saved my life," Sora insisted. "At least, in my book it is. So thanks, man."
"Honestly, it was my pleasure."
"Soooo, what're you up to?" Sora decided to start on a safe topic on conversation. Who knew where this could lead?
"Studying up on the lymphatic system. Really boring stuff."
"Oh. Right. You're doing medicine at UT."
"Wow, you've got an amazing memory," Riku marvelled. "And yeah. Gonna be a doctor. Hopefully."
"I don't know many people in the medical field…" Sora mulled this thought over and racked his brains. "Does Gregory House count?"
"Hugh Laurie? He's an actor, not a real doctor."
"That's a brand name."
"But it was developed by a guy who was a doctor in the 1940s… so I guess you're half right."
Sora beamed. Roxas didn't need to doubt his intelligence after all. He heard Riku shift around some books from across the receiver and disjointedly realised that the two of them were talking like they've known each other for years and years and were über-best friends.
"Y'know, I'm still really surprised you called," the older boy said.
Sora snuggled his face into his pillow. "It'scuzyou'reinsanelygorgeous," he garbled into the soft padding of the cushion. He recalled the day Riku came to his rescue and pictured him posing majestically in a superhero outfit—just like in his comic books—his cape and hair flowing behind him in the well-timed, non-existent breeze.
"I really like your hair," Sora covered up instantly.
"Your hair," Sora affirmed.
"Well, you've got craaazy hair," Riku said.
"I don't use L'Oréal, or whatever shampoo you use to make your hair all shiny and pretty."
Riku tsked. "Don't start. Your hair looks awesome the way it is, in my humble opinion."
Sora grinned and rolled over, staring up at the ceiling. He considered his following question very carefully before asking it out loud.
"So, what made you so sure?"
Riku obviously didn't understand his cryptic question, so he tried again. "What made you so sure I wasn't some straight twelfth grade kid who'd flip out and think you're a huge homo freak for giving me your number together with a suggestive note that could've meant anything from 'I like you, please be my boyfriend' to 'I know you're outrageously rich therefore being friends with you might benefit me'?"
There was a short pause on the other end as the listener took this all in and digested it. And then, said listener burst out laughing. It sounded like music to Sora's ears.
"Okay, okay. So," the older boy said, now calming down and trying to sound as serious as possible. "In other words, I believe you want to know what made me so sure you were a crazy gay kid who, by the way, totally enjoys confusing other people with his extremely long questions. Am I right?"
"Something like that," Sora nodded, then realised Riku couldn't see him nodding. "Yeah."
"I knew," Riku replied. "Well, about the part where you're gay, anyways, not that other bit. I mean, I read your shoes."
Sora whooped. "I knew it!"
It should now be made known that Sora wore a pair of black Converse chucks wherever he went. Even to school. It was customized with his very own pastel pink-purple graffiti. It said 'G.A.Y.' on the left side of the left shoe and 'P.R.I.D.E.' on the right side of the right shoe. And there were little doodles of overlapping male gender symbols all over the front. This was possibly the sole reason why Roxas felt the over-protective need to follow his friend everywhere. Because Roxas believed that some people out there were just too backward to realise homophobia was stupid. (In the actual words of the knowledgeable blond: "Homosexuality is not a disease. It's the other way around, man. Homophobia is the fucking disease." True facts.)
"Yeah. They caught my eye, and I really liked them," Riku said truthfully. "Very artistic."
"Serious? My best friend thinks they're way too ostentatoes, or whatever that word he used was."
"Yeah! That's the one."
Riku laughed again. "You're really cute, you know?"
Sora blushed at this. "So… you're definitely a homo too, then?" he mumbled.
"I'm still not sure," the boy went on quickly. "Like, you haven't actually told me outright."
"Would you like me to be gay?"
"Uhhhh, am I allowed to be selfish?"
"Then I don't want you to be gay. Nor do I want you to be straight."
"Huh. I can see where you're getting at. Vaguely."
Sora smiled. "What I want is for you to be—"
"… Close enough," Riku said.
The brunet put two and two together. "That settles it! Riku, I'm yours, you're mine. You're happy, I'm happy. So let's be boyfriends," he almost shouted. His next-door neighbour probably heard him. (It was a good thing Roxas lived at least three doors down).
"Wow. You get straight to the point, don't you?" Riku responded. "When you're not deviating off track, that is," he added.
"Sorry, I'm uh, not one for all the beating around the bush stuff," Sora said, abashed. "Y'know, foreplay."
"Mmm. So, yes? No?"
"Yes no what?"
"Oh God, yes."
"Sure? Don't want you backing out and dumping my cute, juvenile ass."
"… Sora? Seriously? I think I'm in love with you. And every time you open your mouth to say something, I fall even more in love with you."
"Aren't we full of cheese today," Sora teased.
"It gets worse," Riku said, voice taking on a serious tone. "Do you like flowers, Sora?"
"Huh? Yeah. I do. Especially pretty, flowery ones."
"What's your favourite?"
"Sunflowers. I can so see that as your type."
"Really? Wait. Why are we talking about flowers?"
Riku sighed. "Never mind, Sora."
"… You're gonna get me some, aren't you?"
"Shhh, you'll ruin the surprise."
"Surprise? What surprise? I don't know nothin' about no surpise," Sora said innocently.
And then, the young brunet involuntarily glanced at his Mickey Mouse clock—the one that was meant to be Roxas' Christmas present last year but he figured he'd keep it for himself because he really liked it (he got Roxas a stuffed Winnie the Pooh toy instead).
"Oh. Dang. S'late."
"Hmm? Oh. You're right. And it's Monday tomorrow," Riku muttered. "You've got school, don't you?"
"Will you be at The Fix after?"
"Yuppers! Around four-ish."
"I'll come 'round to visit," Riku promised.
"See you, sunflower freak."
"Crazy bed head."
"Damsel in distress."
"Hot piece of ass."
"Too far?" Sora quipped.
"No. Not at all," Riku assured him. "Damn, you're way too adorable, Sora."
Sora grinned. "Go work on your lympathetic system, doc."
"Good night, Rikuuuu."
The call ended. And Sora was bursting with happiness.
An hour later found both Cloud and Leon on the floor, sitting opposite each other at the coffee table, just a tad bit intoxicated and woozy in the head. More than half the bottle of tequila was gone. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. For one, the alcohol had loosened their tongues, so they weren't just sitting in pathetic silence like they were before. Secondly, their thoughts were becoming increasingly incoherent.
Right about now, their conversation was taking a turn for the random.
"Parents more or less threw me out of the house once I dropped out of university," Cloud was saying smartly. "Okay, no, they didn't throw me out. Not really, I just decided to leave because they didn't seem to like me there anyway. My big bro took care of me a li'l awhile after that – he let me bunk with him for a few months or sm'thing. Then, I wanted to get out of Zack's hair 'cuz I felt kinda bad. Plus he was this real weirdo of a fella, y'know what I mean? So… so I went solo after getting enough money to pay for a one-room apartment. And—" he gestured languidly around him with one free hand, "—here I am."
"Sorry to hear that, man," Leon said dreamily. He took another look around the tiny apartment for the hundredth time and vaguely wondered how Cloud managed to survive here.
"S'okay. I've learnt to fend for myself," Cloud bubbled brightly. Maybe a little too brightly.
There was a few minutes of silence as another two shots were poured (with slight difficulty). Cloud thunked the bottle back down and squirmed a little. The silence stretched on. The blond looked at Leon through a few stray wisps of his hair for a moment. "Well, uh, sorry 'bout Rinoa, man," he said and downed his shot, dropping his hand limply to stare at his glass. He felt a little dizzy. "Sucks to be you." And me.
"I… yeah." Leon slurred bitterly as dry tequila slid down his own burning throat. After awhile, he continued. "I loved her, man," he confessed brokenly. "I should like, like… like, I should just call her right now, like… just to hear her voice, yanno?" Leon fumbled for his phone in his pocket. Then he realised he threw it out his window that morning and heard it smash to pieces three storeys down. He made a frustrated noise that was halfway between a sob and a howl. Then, he remembered something and looked slowly and deliberately up at Cloud like he were some kind of saviour. "Hey. Can I, can I buh— boil your— uh, burrow— er, just- just give me your phone. Please?" he asked, blinking owlishly into Cloud's face.
Cloud was momentarily at a loss for words.
"Gimme it," Leon insisted.
"Leon," Cloud deliberately lowered his voice, suddenly feeling a lot more sober than he should actually be. "I don't… I don't think calling her would be such a good idea… right now."
Leon stared. Then, sighing in despair, he hung his head and stared down at the coffee table solemnly.
"You're right, man. Fuck. I'm so screwed over. Fuck."
She screwed you over, Cloud wanted to say.
Another long silence took over. The blond busied himself by dispensing more shots, unintentionally spilling some on the surface of the table.
They both tilted their heads back and drank in unison.
After downing his shot, Leon slammed his glass down on the table, making the blond in front of him jump a foot into the air. "Yooou got a girlfriend, then?" the older man demanded, vision misty and distorted.
Cloud fidgeted and toyed with his shotglass, poking at it and watching it slide around the table. "Meh. Just recently found out that… that maybe I don't really swing that way. Girls, I mean." Probably aaall Axel's doing, right from the start. Stupid buffalo queen³.
Leon blinked, expression morphing into a highly perplexed frown. His brain was processing this new fact with utmost difficulty. Then, he finally spoke up. "You… you're… you're a… hemoglobius… thing. Er, hmmm…" He momentarily lost his train of thought. His mind was currently catching fairies in a field of flowers and plucking fruits from multi-coloured trees. "Rainboooows," he drawled, tracing patterns in the air with his half-lidded eyes. And then, his head slumped onto the coffee table, nearly bashing his face into his empty tequila glass.
Cloud looked tremendously amused at this display for a split second. Then just as quickly, he began freaking out and choked. "Are you dead?!"
He was rewarded with silence.
The blond leaned forward and cautiously poked at Leon's head. "Heeeey. You there! Mister Sir. Too much t-tuhkillah? Are you? Dead? Answer me, man."
Leon groaned, head throbbing. "Whu-where's the bathroom?" he managed to outwardly convey his thoughts into the table.
Cloud backed up. "There's one d-down the… the hall thinger to your left. Er, right. No, left. Left. Yeah. Left."
Leon slowly, very slowly, dragged himself upright and got to his feet unsteadily, rocking back and forth on his heels a little. He reached out to support himself on the arm of the couch. "You know what, Cuh-Clouuud?" he mumbled. "I think I'm… uh, I'm drunk."
Cloud somehow or other managed to find this outrageously funny, so he giggled. "No shit, Shirley. I think you aaaare."
Leon looked over at the blond. "So are you."
"How can you tell?"
"You're all ha ha ha giggle stort and snuff."
"Hah. Drunk. Me? Hah!" Cloud cackled, slapping a hand against the table loudly.
Leon took a shaky step toward the hall. "M'goin' to the… the… m'gonna go have a piss and wash up."
The older man regarded Cloud for a suspended moment. "You… you should probably go get some sleep," he said finally.
"Thanks for… for…" Leon gestured implicatively towards the sheets and pillow on the couch and then at the tequila bottle and empty shotglasses. "Y'know, babying me."
Cloud shrugged. His face went pink, but he figured it was just the alcohol. "Yeh."
Leon stumbled off to find the bathroom on his own to have a long shower.
¹ Axel Muriel Onér – If anyone wanted to know, I stole his middle name from Chandler Bing. Chandler Muriel Bing. Whoever saw that episode of Friends gets massive props and a freaking huge candy cane.
² Haley Joel Osment, Jesse McCartney, David Gallagher. Go figure. If you can't, you fail. Epically.
³ It should be obvious that at this point, Demyx has rubbed off on Cloud. So much so that Cloud thinks it's okay to steal Demyx's peculiar terms of endearment.
Author's note: See, there's a whole new side to these oddball characters. There's Drunk Leon and Cloud. And Cutesy, Non-Gangsta Sora. And then there's Sneaky Bastard Axel. Oh. Wait, Axel was always a sneaky bastard. My bad.