Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts. I do have a plate of warm, fudgy internet brownies ready and waiting at the end of the chapter, though.

Casey would like you to note: This is it, guys.

So, I started working on this back in April, which means that a large portion of my free time has been dedicated to this fic now for just one month shy of a year. That's a lot of dedication. xD For most of you guys, though, it didn't start until months later, in July, but even so a lot of you have stuck with me for the last eight months, and a lot of you joined in somewhere along the way. This has been a pretty awesome journey, and it's been a blast sharing my fic with you guys, getting to know all of you and making some new friends in the process. I'd like to thank absolutely everyone who has been reading this, whether you've commented here or on LJ or not, because being read by someone is all any writer really wants. I still boggle at how popular this fic has become, and sometimes I wonder if it really deserves it, but it's pretty awesome just the same.

I would like to particularly thank one unsung hero in all of this, and that would be my good friend, longtime coauthor and otherwise fandom better half, cards_slash who not only encouraged me to start writing for KH, but also read every chapter of Boys as it was written and provided me with feedback at a time when I had no one in the fandom to bounce the story off of. (This being even more impressive as she's not even involved in this fandom and only knows about it at all via her sisters' fangirling.) You have been such an awesome support through all of this, babe, and I can't thank you enough. At least not without involving a wall. *wink wink nudge nudge*

Long final author's note aside, here is the last chapter, in all its glory. I hope you all enjoy it; all good things, as they say, must come to an end. I hope you all come back and join me again when I start posting my next piece, 6,581 Miles to Luma. *pimps!* Otherwise, take care. Peace out. Rock on.

26: All Apologies

Sometime between the fade of sunset and before the silver of moonlight began to wash over the grass and wood chips, the slide and the monkey bars, it started to get cold. Roxas didn't move, though, staring down at his toes where they were dangling over the groove in the sand worn from years of kids using the tire swing, arms crossed over the thick tread, chin nestled in flannel sleeves, the chain holding the contraption aloft cold against his cheek.

There was a time when this had been his spot, back in the years before Roxas had decided he wanted to hang out in the skate park with the big kids instead. Back when things were simple, when his father's mansion housed a complete family, when the biggest obstacle he had to surmount was whatever kid had decided to hog his tire swing. Back when he still remembered why Hayner still wore that snap bracelet.

It had to do with fourth grade, and Hayner's birthday, and the cupcakes that his mother didn't have the time or money to bring to their class. Roxas only had a vague understanding, at that time, of what money and poverty and those kinds of things meant. He did understand that Hayner got angry when he was upset about something, because Roxas did the same thing--so he gave Hayner a snap bracelet, because he was the only kid in their class who didn't have one, and if you couldn't have cupcakes for your birthday then you should at least get a present. That was what Roxas figured, anyway.

Roxas figured, now, that he was a fucking idiot.

Maybe Riku had trusted the wrong people, but at least he trusted them at all--he had a right to trust his friends, didn't he? It was their duty to stand by him, wasn't it? It was their failure for not doing so, not Riku's for believing they would.

...did he still trust Sora, after all this? Whether it was for his own good or not? (Had he ever really trusted Sora to begin with?)

Friendship was never meant to be so complicated, he was sure. It was supposed to be easy and profound, not fraught with these little doubts and uncertainties. At some point, though, everything had started changing, and that was around the point that Roxas started digging in his heels.

The chain creaked a little when the breeze disturbed him, making the swing sway from side to side, just slightly. The sand under his feet turned in a lazy half-circle, the moon began to provide just enough illumination that Roxas and his swing cast a dim shadow that moved with him.

Maybe it was Axel that started everything.

He'd been... so cool, a real, badass junior high kid, larger than life, messy red hair and bright green eyes and at twelve years old Roxas had never had a crush before but this boy made his stomach do flips. There was nothing in the world more important than finding a way to make him think that Roxas was cool, too, and that had to have been the point when everything changed.

Naminé had been eight--a very mature eight, unfairly, but it made her easier to talk to sometimes. He'd made a comment offhand, sometime between commercials one Friday night waiting for Full House to come back on, about finding a way to get Axel to notice him. And Nami had laughed a little, nervously, and said, "I don't think you're supposed to want boys to notice you, Roxas. You're supposed to want girls to notice you."

It had ended with a squabble over girls and how crazy they were; she countered with knowing that he'd been sneaking into her room to steal her New Kids on the Block tapes and that normal big brothers were supposed to be reading her diary or something. He countered with how did she know he wasn't and what did that have to do with anything anyway. She asked who his favorite was; he answered "Jordan" without a pause to think, and she sighed like that was supposed to explain everything. Right before the commercial break ended she had finished him off with a blunt, "Well, Roxas, if you like boys that much and want them to notice you, that means you're gay, and people don't like that."

That was the last real conversation they had before the summer ended and she went back to Seattle.

He didn't think she'd meant to be so discouraging; their world view had been so small and gossip-ridden, back then. But she'd planted the seed of an idea in his head that he wasn't normal, and it only grew as he moved into the world of junior high and things like sex and deviancy became the hot topic of conversation.

Axel had been the beginning of all this--the thing that had drawn him away from this tire swing to begin with and the thing that drove him right back here, to this same place on Saturday night, still in frozen denial that it had really happened. That Axel had just walked away, left him. Ended it. There had been something tense and unhappy between them for a while, he thought, but he figured they'd work it out and it would go away sooner or later.

He didn't want to think that he was the one being unreasonable. He didn't want to think that he was the one who caused this, like Zexion said. Didn't want to think he was the one unwilling to compromise but if he really thought about it, it he was honest, that was the truth. Axel had always deferred to him, always done things Roxas's way because Roxas was afraid of the world and the unknown and losing everything the way Riku had lost everything. Axel had been reasonable and patient and compromising and had come away from Roxas with nothing to show for it.

Would it really be that bad? (Yes, yes it could be.) But could it be worth it?

The sound of sand crunching underfoot made him stir for the first time in hours, lifting his head just enough to turn and look. Roxas wasn't sure who he expected to see walking across the playground towards him, wasn't sure who he would have thought would arrive first to try and snap him out of his daze, but...

Riku, hands in his pockets and too coordinated with the moonlight, silver hair and safety pins and breath coming in tiny white puffs, would not even have come into consideration. Yet there he was, slowing as he got close enough to murmur a "Hey," then stopping entirely to drop and sit on the edge of the slide, arms crossed over his knees.

Everything was quiet for a few minutes, both of them turned to contemplate the sand under their feet, then Riku broke it with a loud breath, white in the air, something self-effacing in the non-sound. "Goddamn, it's cold out here."

Roxas felt the instinctive urge to tell him to just fuck off, then, but something was startled enough by his presence to quell it. He hissed softly instead, slight movements making him more aware of the cold air around himself, and he muttered finally, "What are you doing here?"

Riku looked up from his contemplation of the groove at the foot of the slide, rubbing one foot in the sand, and there was something... raw in the way he stared at Roxas, like he'd never seen him before, like he'd just wandered into a park with a stranger and wasn't sure how to start a conversation. He turned back down to the sand, apparently a safer place to look, and reached up to push his overgrown bangs back behind his ear. "I've been talking to Sora a lot the last couple of days."

"Well, at least he's talking to someone." Roxas leaned back a little, dug in his flannel pocket for the pack of cigarettes there and flipped it open--and fuck if it wasn't empty. He cursed under his breath, crushed the offending box in a fist and flung it away, resuming his previous position with new determination. He was going to brood, dammit, and he was going to brood hard and if Riku was going to be there he could just sit and watch.

Roxas was determined to ignore. So determined, in fact, that he almost missed what Riku said next.

"I'm sorry."

The night was so quiet, not even the sound of traffic from three streets over broke through it. Roxas froze in place, fingers curled around the rim of the tire, not sure if he was really hearing what he thought he was hearing or what it was really in reference to until Riku's voice broke around the quieter echo of it.

"I am so fucking sorry."

His head filled with images of angled sunlight and a leaf strewn sidewalk and staring at Riku's hunched shoulders, the safety pins on his backpack, watching how his hair moved when he walked. Clenching his fists around sweaty palms. Balking when sea-green eyes glared over his shoulder, wishing they'd look at him with something other than annoyance, heart pounding in his ears and trying and trying and trying to get the words to form in his mouth--

For a minute, it was like it had just happened. Like he was still standing there in the middle of the sidewalk, scrape on his cheek, bruises on his knees, skateboard on the lawn, learning for the first time what it was like to feel your heart rip itself into pieces. Watching Riku walk away, watching him disappear down the road and knowing despite all the anger and denial swirling around himself that he'd blown it.

But he was staring at Riku as he was now, sitting at the bottom of the slide, watching his toes nudge clumps of sand around. Older, wiser, tamer version of the wild, unpredictable thing he'd been back then.

Roxas swallowed around the lump in his throat, felt his voice betray him and waver. "You really thought it was a joke?"

"I... fuck, I don't know what I thought." Riku shrugged and deflated, both hands over his face, then running back through his hair. "Just... every time you were following me, things got worse. A lot worse. And whenever you stared your friends all laughed. It just--" He paused, voice caught, let out a breath like wishing it all away. "It all built up in my head, I guess."

The breeze caught the tire swing again, moved it back and forth and for a moment he did his best to see things from Riku's perspective. It was strange, stepping outside himself, trying to pinpoint those moments, trying to remember what was really going on when he was wrapped up with himself and this idea of Riku. The possibility, bright and golden and forbidden, right in front of him. He laughed, softly, sharply--self-deprecation, shaking his head. "Fuck. I should have said something."

It was all he had to do. All he had to do, that day, just open his mouth, and say something.

Riku was shaking his head, toe finally kicking the sand away and resettling on his knees, a bit lower, hunched around himself. "No. If I hadn't been so pissed off at the world, so fucking wrapped up in myself, I would have seen it."

"I was gonna tell you." Roxas murmured it to the fabric covering his arms, chin settling back on the tire. "That day, on the sidewalk."

"Yeah." Riku's voice was tired, breath heavy in the cold. "I figured that out."

"I should have said something."

He heard Riku move without seeing it, the creak of the slide, crunch of sand, and then the swing stopped swaying, one hand on the tire steadying it. Riku stood there, quiet and present, until Roxas gave in and looked up.

It was really too dark to see properly, but even with the gray and shadows Riku had never looked that serious before--not for him, anyway. His voice was low and strangely sympathetic. "You didn't deserve that."

There wasn't really an agreement, or a verbal handshake, or any other kind of special moment where wounds healed, egos reformed, and everything was magically better. Just the point at which Roxas decided he was going to accept that and not argue anymore, and Riku understood this, and they both felt rather like they'd just let out a breath they'd been holding far too long. It was simple that way; unspoken.

And then Roxas said, "We'd've killed each other within two weeks, anyway."

Riku paused, just for an instant, then his face broke into a dazzling smile and he laughed, just briefly, one hand reaching up to push his hair back. "Got a point, there."

Roxas didn't really laugh, just made a humming sound behind his arms that approached a chuckle, wondering why he'd never seen Riku like this before. It was like meeting him for the first time, like the look Riku had worn when he arrived at the park. Strange, new, uncertain.

He sobered soon enough, licked his lips and returned his hands to his pockets, checking the sand under his shoes before regarding Roxas again, thoughtfully. "I know it's none of my business, but Sora said you and your boyfriend had a fight on Saturday. Which explains a lot, but--"

"Axel broke up with me." Roxas's voice was muffled, and he had to remind himself to say the name instead of dodging with a pronoun--he was going to try this out, talking about it candidly. Why he chose Riku as the guinea pig for this experiment, he couldn't explain, but it was strangely easy. Maybe because they were relative strangers, maybe because he and Axel both played similar roles in his life.

Riku blinked. "Axel? Seriously?"

Roxas glared at him.

"Okay, just... I wouldn't have guessed that, is all." He shrugged a little, rocking on his toes and it really was cold out here, now that Roxas was paying attention. Riku cleared his throat, broaching the subject with a sideways look. "You love him?"

Roxas swallowed and stopped looking at him. "Yeah."

"Can you fix it?"

"I dunno." He considered the space of air over Riku's shoulder, the trees beyond it, and wondered if he could. If he could steel himself enough, if he could be willing to try. If he could prove he was willing to try, that he wasn't going to let this one go without saying anything. Without making a stand. "Maybe."

"Well, you probably should. You look pretty pathetic." Riku shrugged when he looked up sharply, shook his head in apology. "I'm not saying that to be mean, okay?"

Roxas reflected, in the silence that followed, that he felt pretty pathetic, but he wasn't about to say so out loud. After a minute or two the sand was crunching underfoot again and he thought maybe Riku had said his piece and was ready to leave, but the steps moved closer, the tire steadied again and he could almost feel the warmth from how close Riku was standing.

"I really am sorry."

The voice was close, and it startled him enough to look up and Riku... he looked honestly sad, just there, inches away from him. Roxas swallowed that lump away again, felt his breath shiver. "Yeah."

"Just one," Riku murmured, and before he could ask what the hell that meant or even wonder it they were kissing.

Riku's hand cupped his cheek between it and the swing's chain and both it and his lips were warm--so warm that Roxas didn't realize how cold it was until they were there. For a second it didn't even register, aside from the warmth, he didn't even have the presence of mind to move or react and in the next second his nerves connected, his mind kick-started and informed him that yes, Riku was kissing him, and sent a spark of electricity down his spine.

Roxas shivered and blamed it on the difference between the warmth and the cold around him. He tilted his head, because he had to do something and the idea of pulling away never occurred to him. He slid his fingers into Riku's hair because he'd always wondered what it felt like, and for twenty brilliant, soft, slow seconds, Roxas did something he'd never done before.

He closed his eyes. He pretended, for those seconds, that he was sixteen and everything had gone right. Maybe he'd forced those words out after all, maybe, after Riku got over the moment of shock they caused, he'd let Roxas follow him home. Maybe they'd talked, joked a little to relieve some of the tension in the air and that worked until they were alone together, somewhere, struggling against the absolute terror at what they were doing to get out one slow, shivering kiss. Riku's hands hot on his cheek and his shoulder, Riku's hair like silk between his fingers, Riku's lips making his tingle and both of them almost but not quite daring to deepen it. Hovering right on the edge and not quite ready.

And that was it, right there. Twenty seconds, the entirety of the relationship they never had.

It ended in that lingering way that kisses did sometimes, when both parties involved knew it wasn't going to happen again soon (or ever, in this case). Little taste, brush of tongue, lips caught together and drawing back so, so slowly, millimeters at a time, until finally breaking apart.

When Roxas's eyes fluttered open, Riku was smirking, thumb brushing his cheek for a moment before he stepped back, out of the past and into this new idea. That maybe, possibly, they could be friends. And maybe, possibly not kill each other, either. He put a finger to his mouth, licked his lips in a kind of contemplation before shaking his head dismissively. "I'm not the one you need anymore."

Then, before Roxas could respond or even recover from the little tingle running through this entire body all the way from toes to fingers to the tips of his hair, Riku spun the tire swing around and dragged him off of it, leaving him to stumble to his feet in the sand.

"Come on, you're gonna freeze to death out here."

Roxas had come back to himself (mostly) by the time they were halfway to the dorm, walking along side by side in a comfortable silence that could never have existed before, even with someone else between them. And with that in mind, Roxas shivered in the cold, tugged his flannel tighter and said, "Hey, about the other night."


"What I said. About Sora." Roxas looked up and sideways, just long enough for acknowledgment, that Riku was really listening. He figured he would be from now on. "I didn't mean it. I take it back."

Riku smiled a little, maybe it was more like his smirk but Roxas figured he'd get to know the differences soon enough. "Yeah, I know."

Sora was deeply involved with Roxas's music collection, methodically going through each CD in the many stacks covering his roommate's desk, examining the covers, turning them over to read the track list, then setting them aside for further review at a later time. He was perched on Roxas's desk chair, boombox silent beside him, and this is where he was when the door opened and Roxas wandered in.

He looked up and nodded, murmured an obligatory but warm "Hey," and resumed his cataloging, eyes roaming over the set list for Nirvana's Unplugged in New York album. Roxas said nothing, wandered across the room and leaned back against the windowsill, within Sora's line of sight but not looking at him. He stayed there with his arms folded through several more CDs, thoughtful look on his face, staring at the linoleum, then straightened, finally.

Sora looked up, and waited.

Roxas's eyes were narrow, his teeth clenched behind his lips and he hissed a little, shifted against the window and resettled his shoulders, moved from side to side until he could relax enough to speak. "You're way the fuck out of line, man."

He nodded a little.

"That wasn't fair to me." Roxas's hands were shaking, just a little; he shoved them in his pockets to keep them still, hunched down and rested all his weight on the sill to keep from moving anymore. But his eyes were still in a slitted glare, ice blue watching Sora with a kind of mistrust. "You had no right to make that decision for me."

Sora kept nodding, because it was all true and it might mean that their friendship was over, now, but that was okay. He would have done it again. "Yeah, I know."

Roxas stopped looking at him and stared across the room, silent for long enough that Sora turned back to the jewel cases in his hands, turning one over and over without really seeing it. Roxas stared, and stared, and eventually his attention jerked back to the side and he said, "You know what really isn't fair, Sora?"

The question threw him off, made Sora pause in his stoic acceptance of Roxas's anger, nearly letting the small stack of CDs slip and tumble to the floor. "What?"

Roxas's face was drawn into a frown, not quite a scowl and he turned it on the floor under his feet, like the yellowed linoleum was somehow at fault. "That this even has to be an issue to begin with."

Sora toyed with the CD in his hand, looking down at the back of it for a long moment before flipping it over and opening the cover, carefully removing the disc inside. "Yeah."

The room was quiet for a moment--comfortably so, while Sora placed the CD in the boombox, clicked the cover shut and pressed the buttons to shuffle it forward a few songs. He was getting better at operating the contraption, largely due to watching Roxas. And asking for help, occasionally, but that wasn't worth his pride for admitting.

Roxas sounded kind of tired, and Sora figured after the last few days he had every right to be. He was stepping away from the window, one hand scratching the back of his head, considering Sora and the room around him before dropping his arm to his side and asking, "You still want to switch rooms?"

Sora pushed the play button and looked up to meet his blue stare, not so much ice in it now, and smiled. "Nah."

The response was almost drowned out by the music starting, low and fast as it was, like it wasn't meant to be heard. Roxas moving past him, back towards his wardrobe, as dismissive as forgiveness for a lesser slight.

"Thanks, man."

Sora licked his lips, leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, listened to Robert Smith's voice insisting that boys didn't cry. Smiled at nothing, because Roxas wasn't looking or listening anymore; the entire controversy was over that easily. "No problem."

On Wednesday, Roxas skipped detention for the first time.

He wasn't entirely sure he'd done something to warrant being there, to begin with--it had just become habit, going to the library after school every day, because even if he hadn't been directed to do so by a teacher or administrator, he probably had something in mind that would result in that. So, some days he just took the lazy route, skipped actually doing the bad deed his brain was concocting, and went to serve his punishment regardless. The monitor never batted an eyelash.

Today, though, he had more important things to do than penitence for misdeeds he may or may not have committed.

He took a shower, first. Brushed his teeth, washed his face and scowled for roughly ten minutes at a zit on his chin, then scowled harder when that didn't make it flee from his face in terror. Spent maybe a half-hour trying to get his hair just right--not as long as usual, maybe, but he didn't want to look like he was trying too hard. He slapped on a little aftershave for effect, then went to the wardrobe to get dressed in the clothes that he'd picked out the night before, assuring they were clean and fresh and he'd even crept down to the communal ironing board just before lights out to press away all the wrinkles (and Sora probably thought he was crazy, now). They were hanging on the door and he pulled them on quickly and tied on his shoes (the green ones, today), sure that it wouldn't be long before detention would be letting out and Sora would be on his way home, wondering why his roommate had ditched. He didn't want to explain anything.

He made sure he had his wallet, his keys, checked and double-checked himself in the mirror, straightened the collar of his flannel three times, then grabbed his skateboard and headed out.

It was maybe three miles from the dorm to the community college campus, which was both too far away and far, far too close. Every thump of his skateboard in the dip between sidewalk squares was like ticking away the seconds, each second tightening the knots winding up in his stomach, then his throat, then his chest, until his entire being was like a lumpy ball of twine that a bunch of hyperactive kittens had discovered. He tried to go faster, get it over with, then slowed down because he didn't want to get all sweaty and ruin all the trouble he'd just gone through. Hovered in between wanting to get there and wanting to be as far away as possible.

He stopped, finally, in front of the brick and glass building, the sign out front denoting that it contained a number of student facility services, including--in what seemed to be letters five times as large and bold as the rest of them--the housing office. He kicked the skateboard up into his hand, stood there and stared up at the building like he expected it to turn into a giant and stomp on him for roughly two minutes, then swallowed hard, squared his shoulders, and walked inside.

The little birdlike woman behind the front counter looked up when he walked through the doors to their suite, blinking owlishly through her glasses for a moment as she processed his presence--and she remembered him as well as he did her, remembered her holding up the neat white-and-blue paper officially banning him from the college dormitories. Not that it had kept him away, but still.

She pursed her lips, staring him down, and when he stopped in front of her desk she said in the sharpest polite tone he'd ever heard, "Can I help you?"

Roxas didn't bother saying anything--he reached back into his pocket to dig out his wallet, flipped it open to retrieve his driver's license, and dropped the little card on the counter in front of her.

She spared it a glance. "What's this supposed to be?"

He swallowed again and took a deep breath, because he was really going to do this. Yes, he was going to. The knots in his stomach twisted painfully. "You can lift the ban. I'm not a minor, I never have been. Look at the date."

She was frowning at that point but picked up the card, stared at it for a long moment then looked back up at him with an uncertain but thoughtful stare. "Have a seat."

Roxas sat in their waiting area for what felt like hours, watching other students trickle in and out, watching the housing staff back by their little cubicles mulling over his ID and discussing things with each other that Roxas both wished he could hear and was glad he couldn't. After an interminable amount of time the woman behind the counter finally settled back into her chair, called his name out and waved one finger in indication that he should come over, card in her other hand.

The first thing she asked, when he paused there with his hands gripping the edge of the counter, was, "Why didn't you say so to begin with?"

He shrugged a little, taking the card back when she slid it across the formica surface. "I didn't want to get in trouble, I guess."

"Well, you caused enough of that, either way." Her voice was firm, mouth pursed primly, but the paper she passed across next had the word 'waiver' across the top and looked less imposing than the blue-and-white monstrosity she'd shown him before. "Once this is signed we'll call the advisers and student security. And you are not to stay for more than two nights in a row or we'll have to take action again, understood?"

Roxas let out a breath, felt himself deflating as some of the knots loosened just a bit. Something in his chest felt lighter, even, as he picked up a pen to scribble his name on the bottom of the form. "Yes ma'am."

All the knots came back, though, steadily, the closer he got to Axel's building.

What if he wasn't there? What if he said no? What if it wasn't enough? What if he got there and right in the moment that he most needed to say something the words just wouldn't come? What if he blew it again?

Roxas put his head down, grit his teeth and forced himself to walk, because if he didn't he was going to chicken out and run all the way home. He clutched his skateboard at his side, reminded himself of early summer, saving up his pennies with Hayner so they could buy their first skateboards at the thrift store. Roxas didn't have to save his pennies, of course; his dad could have bought him a shiny new board in whatever brand or style he wanted, but what Roxas wanted was to save up his money with Hayner--both of them together, working towards the same goal. Picking up pennies off the sidewalk, searching for change under the stands at the rodeo grounds, helping Hayner mow his neighbor's lawn and then, finally, emerging from the thrift store triumphantly, both of them toting beat up old boards that they barely knew how to use.

They made a beeline for the skate park that day. Had paused just at the edges of it because there were older kids there, the tough looking kind, and that was the first time he'd seen Axel.

Fourteen, gangly and perfect, he was sprawled out in the grass behind the halfpipe, talking with one of the other kids and grinning, one arm behind his head and the other waving in the air while he explained something, red hair hanging in his eyes, worn out band t-shirt and black jeans just slightly too small in the wake of a recent growth spurt. Roxas had just stood there staring at him until Hayner socked him in the shoulder, asking if they were going to go try the ramps or what.

Roxas held that image in his head, gut twisting as he stepped into the dorm's lobby.

The resident adviser--the one who had escorted Roxas from the building weeks ago--was standing a little way in with a telephone handset wedged between ear and shoulder. He noted Roxas's presence, nodded a little and waved him on and Roxas suspected it was the housing office on the other line, approving his visit. His heart began pounding steadily as he climbed the short flight of stairs to the first floor, reflecting that it was easier but less interesting than climbing through the window. By the time he pushed open the door to the hallway, his ears were ringing.

A small group of students were congregated at the far end of the hall, a few clubs resting against the wall as they each took turns attempting to putt a neon-yellow golf ball into strategically placed styrofoam cups scattered in various places across the carpet, held in place with blue painter's tape. A few of them looked up curiously as he made his way down the hall and paused, finally, just outside of Axel's door.

Just as he was settling in to steel himself, though, one guy piped up over his shoulder, "Hey, didn't you get banned?"

Roxas tried to relax, shrugged a little under his flannel and waved dismissively. "It's cool, I worked things out with admin."

"Oh, okay." The guy shrugged a little in response and returned to his game, the others following suit, either satisfied with the answer or not really concerned enough to care that much. He let out a breath and turned his attention back to Axel's door.

He was going to do this. He had to do this. There were people in the hall and they would probably hear--hell, they might already know or guess what was up with him and Axel, and... that was okay. It was, really. It would be, he could deal with it.

Roxas raised his hand and knocked three times, and felt like he was going to puke.

He stood his ground through the shuffling he heard beyond the door, stood his ground when he heard the knob turning, heard the squeak of hinges as it swung open. And he stood his ground when Axel appeared there in the doorway, hair disheveled, shirt wrinkled, still in the flannel pants he slept in when he wasn't sleeping with Roxas. His eyes looked kind of red and tired and they blinked in disbelief upon finding Roxas at his door, mouth dropping open a little. He even turned and looked back at the window for a moment in confusion, before turning back and taking in Roxas in the hallway one more time. Processing, slowly, the fact that Roxas had just knocked on his door like a normal person.

Axel wasn't going to say anything. Roxas figured this out after something like a small eternity had passed (he guessed it was maybe a minute, maybe less but it felt much, much longer) and he finally cleared his throat, clutched his skateboard a little tighter, ducked his head and stared nervously at his toes and tried not to think about the kids down the hall, whether or not they had paused their putting again and were watching this.

Say something. SAY SOMETHING.

"So--" Roxas choked out, finally, clamping down on his entire body just to get his mouth to move and please, god, let it say the right thing. "You want to go get some dinner?"

There was an instant of horrible, yawning silence where even his heart stopped and everyone present ceased breathing for a fraction of a second. His eyes squeezed closed, fingers curled into fists and he waited for that door to slam in his face. He figured if it did, he probably deserved it.

But what happened after that instant was that he was suddenly moving forward, propelled by a hand on his shoulder and the door was swinging closed behind him, and he might have heard a whistle from out in the hall but he wasn't sure. And an instant later it didn't really matter because Axel's arms were tight around him, Axel's nose was buried in the hair just over his right ear and Roxas could feel him breathing, feel his heartbeat, feel how warm Axel was and how cold he didn't realize he'd been until now. All the knots in his body uncoiled at once, all the tension eased and he relaxed into that warmth, let his skateboard slip down to rest against his leg, curled his fingers in the hem of Axel's shirt.

It might have been hours before anyone moved or spoke, but that was fine. Roxas was good with this sort of thing taking hours, could probably have spent days or an eternity right here, like this. Eventually though Axel shifted just a bit, slid one hand up to curl in Roxas's hair and said, "Yeah, I'd like that."

Roxas's voice was muffled by t-shirt, lazy with warmth. "Is Z working tonight?"

"I think so, yeah."

He smiled privately from his muted, darkened space in Axel's arms and figured he could probably float away just on this feeling. He didn't think he'd ever been this happy and relieved and exhausted all at once and it made him laugh softly for no reason. Eyes closing and just feeling the body against him, the fingers in his hair.

Presently, he murmured, "You might wanna take a shower first."

"Just a tip, Rox," Axel drawled, pulling away just enough that they could look at each other, and he didn't look as tired anymore, some of that redness gone from his eyes. "You probably shouldn't imply that a guy stinks on the first date."

"Well," Roxas shrugged in response, feeling his mouth tug into a smile for the first time in days, "if I ever have to ask you out for the first time again, I'll remember that."

On Wednesday, Sora decided he was tired of this detention business already.

He dropped his backpack by the desk and flopped down on his bed without ceremony, small 'oof' of breath and huff of blankets as he landed. He figured, though, that if he could get through the rest of the week of boring, then next week his suspension was over and he could play the last two games of the season, and then the district tournament. It would be worth it, ultimately.

And it had been worth it tonight, because after the monitor finally released them from the library, he and Riku had raced each other to the little park, and then to the drive in, and they sat there for hours eating burgers and ice cream and for a while it seemed like nothing else in the world really mattered that much. That all the big things could take care of themselves for a little while and Sora would just exist here, in the company of the boy he loved, and not worry about anything else.

While he was collapsed on his bed and contemplating these things, a second bag hit the floor, the door swung itself closed and another body dropped onto his bed with another 'oof' of breath and huff of blankets.

Sora rolled onto his side and glared playfully at Riku. "What d'you think you're doing?"

Riku shifted his head on the pillow, returned the playful glare with a playful grin for a moment before sobering a bit, hesitant smile on his lips, one hand up to reach over and smooth back Sora's hair. "Are we okay?"

He made a show of considering this, rolling his eyes upward and humming in thought until Riku smacked him, which started a small war of exchanging small socks and love-taps until Sora finally laughed and twined his arms around Riku's shoulders. "Of course we're okay."

Riku took a deep breath and let it out, like he really had been afraid that maybe the relationship part of their relationship was over. Sora figured, shifting closer to him, that after they'd known each other longer Riku would learn to tell when he was really mad, and when he was temporarily mad. And Sora would learn more about Riku, too, and that was what made all this exciting.

When Riku kissed him, he remembered that they hadn't kissed at all since that long, slow parting kiss on Saturday morning. That they hadn't touched any more intimately than a hug since then, and that after Friday night the idea of making up was more thrilling than previously. So when Riku's tongue teased at the seam of his lips, Sora shivered, clutched Riku's shoulders and then abruptly pushed him onto his back, climbing up to tangle himself with Riku, press warm and close over him, feel hands roaming over his back. It was too good and right, what they had together. Too deep. And it was far, far too soon for it to just end, now.

Riku had nothing to worry about.

Sora pressed closer, hunched up on his elbows and tugged gently at Riku's hair to get him to tilt his head back, shivered at the moan in his throat and shifted his legs to settle his knees on either side of Riku's waist, deepening the kiss until he arched up beneath him, hands curling in Sora's shirt, both of them gasping and breaking apart. Breath fast against each other's lips.

Riku's eyes were glazed, and they fluttered closed as Sora nuzzled his cheek, licked his lips and asked--because practicality was a good thing, "You know where Roxas is?"

"Nope," Sora replied against Riku's neck, contemplating this for about two seconds before his mind returned to priorities, those being making out with his boyfriend and all the things that involved.

A few minutes later, sometime after another long, warm involvement with each other's tongues, while Sora was running hands under his shirt Riku murmured something like, "You know when he's gonna be--" but then it ended with a stuttered, "Oh, god," so really, who knew what that was about, anyway.

Sora liked this, these long, hot moments of slowly torturing each other, this kissing and touching and moving together and hands slipping under clothes without ever really pulling them off, the uncertainty of should we try doing something or shouldn't we. It made warmth pool in his stomach, hands dragging down over Riku's chest and imagining the smooth dips of muscle and warm skin underneath and he sat back for a moment, idea slipping into his mind as he felt backwards with one hand to make sure he didn't hit his head. He reached up with both hands instead and wrapped them around one of the wood slats, mattress light on his knuckles without a body to weigh it down. Riku's eyes fluttered open to see what was going on and why the touching had stopped, and Sora shifted to adjust his newfound leverage, and rolled his hips.

Sparking pleasure that this caused aside, he didn't think he'd ever seen anything as hot as the sight of Riku writhing under him. It made him think of other things that they might be doing, in this position. With fewer clothes, perhaps, and those ideas made him shiver more, made him think that maybe they should stop being uncertain and just go for it. Before he could think too hard about this, though, Sora heard his own voice moaning of its own accord, husky murmur of "Mm, want you," as he rolled his hips again, watching Riku's eyes darken with lust, fingers curling tight around Sora's hips, pulling them harder together. "Just like this."

And right there, right when Riku was growling, "Oh, fuck yes," just under his breath and Sora, despite his higher brain functions being a few steps behind, was prepared to start ripping clothes off--didn't matter whose, the end result would be the same--the door opened and Roxas walked in.

And, having walked in, he promptly flattened himself against the wardrobe with hands over his face shrieking, "Oh, god, my eyes!"

Riku, when he was in a state where he could breathe almost normally again, threw a pillow at him.

Sora was laughing--at Riku, at Roxas dodging the pillow, at the ridiculousness of the scene in general, and after the glare he got from Riku for that he figured that probably wasn't the best reaction. So he kind of shrugged, still tittering, rolled away to let Riku compose himself and committed the previous activity and position to memory, for revival at a later date.

Because that was really, really hot.

Roxas threw the pillow back in the general direction of the bed, as he still refused to look directly at them, and Riku caught it. With his face, mostly, but he did catch it. "Can't you guys keep your hands off each other for five minutes?"

"How were we supposed to know when you were going to get back from--" Riku paused mid-tirade, pillow clutched to his chest, blinking and taking in Roxas's appearance. "Were you on a date?"

And to the shock of everyone present--not the least of which being himself--Roxas blushed. Just a little, slight hint of pink across his cheeks. Then he scowled and stalked into the bathroom, slamming the door behind himself.

A second later, just as Riku had abandoned the pillow and Sora had scooted back closer to him, and their noses were rubbing together and the previous kissing was a hair's breadth from resuming, the door jerked open and Roxas stormed back out, one hand pointing at the near-kissing in accusation.

"No sex allowed while I'm in the room!"

He disappeared back into the bathroom, and the door slammed again.

Then opened one last time, just a crack, so he could yell, "And that includes the bathroom!" before it slammed a third and final time.

Sora was laughing too hard for any kissing after that. For a few minutes, at least, and at that point he and Riku were laying on their sides facing each other, warm and close but touching more casually now that the mood was pretty well dead. Except for Riku's smirk, because that always seemed to promise good things in the future. He ruffled Sora's hair fondly. "He was totally on a date."

Sora hummed in response, and figured they were both thinking the same thing so it didn't need to be talked about. If Roxas had come this far on his own, that was what mattered. That justified everything in its own way--both the good and the bad.

On Friday, the sun was out. It wasn't really as warm as it could have been, and it barely managed to melt the cover of frost and little corners of snow here and there that never quite went away, but it raised the temperature of Riku's lunch spot a degree or two and that much was welcome. Sora had begun wearing his Carhart jacket to school every day, and had been introduced to the concept of long johns a few days into winter proper when the school proved that its heating system was as antiquated as all its other facilities.

He was getting used to it, he supposed. He wasn't sure that he agreed with the idea of eating outside in this sort of weather, but Riku had laughed and assured him that he had clearance to eat lunch in the sign language classroom once the weather got bad.

If this wasn't bad, Sora wondered what was.

Roxas was under the tree on his skateboard, basket of fries he'd braved the cafeteria for perched on one knee, the other acting as a resting place for an open paperback while he gnawed on a fry and considered the text within, lounging back against the tree trunk.

Riku had started a new hemp project, and was leaned against the fence working on it, something in a more complicated weave, alternating black and white beads. Sora watched him for a while, fiddling with the bead in the center of his necklace and chewing on the apple from their shared lunch bag--Risa had started writing both their names on the brown paper, now, and Riku habitually turned the bag so that no one could see it, but Sora knew it was there, anyway.

After his brief contemplation of his boyfriend (it was one of his favorite spare time activities), Sora returned his attention to the ground, fingers prodding at the grass that was beginning to go stumpy and brown as the weather grew colder. A few moments of this and he sighed again, slumping onto his knees, and Riku finally looked up from tying a bead in place.

"What's up?"

Sora grumbled against his knees, then straightened enough that the others could hear him. Riku, of course, and Roxas pretending to not be interested from behind his book. "I haven't seen Dan and Jimbo for days."

Riku blinked at him for a moment, and then something seemed to dawn on him and he nodded to himself, eyebrows drawing down as he opened his mouth and pondered a response. Sora liked that look on him; it was cute, how his tongue pressed against his lower teeth. "You know, Sora, it did snow last week. And it dropped below freezing over the weekend, so I hate to tell you this but they're probably--" His voice ground to a halt at the same time his eyes raised to meet Sora's, and he paused there, halfway to saying something, before his voice squeaked slightly and he concluded, "hibernating. Like bears, you know, only... underground, or something."

There was a strange, choking noise from somewhere in Roxas's general direction.

"Really?" Sora considered this, wondered if he'd ever heard anything about hibernating ladybugs before, then figured that biology had never really served him well if he didn't even know that the red ones were male. "So, they'll come back out in the spring?"

"Yes," Riku nodded vigorously as though to prove this, returning his attention to the hemp in his lap after shooting a glare towards Roxas, who seemed to be snickering. "Yes, they will, and then they can hang with us again."

"Only until we graduate." Sora pointed this out and leaned back into his knees, sighing again. "In May. Crazy, huh?"

Lunch continued in silence for several minutes after that, ostensibly in contemplation of Sora's point, all three boys quiet and attuned to their own thoughts and activities. At the end of those minutes, however, Sora perked up and straightened. "We should go on a road trip! It'll be awesome, we can take Riku's car and go down to California and hang with my homies. Cloud will totally put us up at his place, and then we can chill on the beach and celebrate being grown up. Whad'ya think?"

The consideration this induced was followed by Roxas chuckling behind his book, and Riku pulling a face.

"See, the problem with this," Riku explained, setting aside his hemp for a moment and digging through the lunch bag for his juice box, "is that if we go to California, Tidus is going to want to come. And I'm not riding for sixteen hours anywhere with Tidus."

"So, we'll take Axel instead, then you can say that the car is already full." Sora nodded to himself, increasing in confirmation as he considered all the factors. "And Roxas would want to take Axel anyway, right man?"

Roxas responded without looking up from his book. "Damn straight."

"See, foolproof." Sora grinned.

Riku, though, sighed and shook his head, punching the straw into his juice with a kind of resignation. "You don't know Tidus. He'll strap himself to the roof of the car if he has to."

Under the tree, Roxas finally slapped his book closed and rolled his eyes, shifting all attention to his fries for the duration of the conversation, stabbing one into the ketchup on the side as a kind of punctuation. "That's why you don't tell him about it, genius. Jeez, I can't believe you didn't come up with that one on your own."

"You cannot comprehend his deductive powers." Riku sipped on his juice, regarding the two boys in front of him with a world-weary expression of certain doom. "The man has the school rumor mill at his command. One hint of the possibility that we might be going somewhere and he'll be on us like a fly on honey."

Sora was silent in the wake of this, twirling the bead at his throat some more and turning the facts over in his mind, weighing possible options. Finally, he smacked a fist into his palm triumphantly. "Wait, I've got it! We'll distract him. With..." He paused for a moment while the idea caught up with him, eyes turning upwards, ignoring the stares from both sides, waiting. "A guy! Ah..."

Roxas chuckled darkly, popping a fry into his mouth and resettling against the tree. "Z would do it. For a price." His gaze darkened, eyes narrowing to match the evil smirk spreading across his face. He was getting ideas. "And conditions, man, lots of conditions."

Riku got that same look on his face again, pondering, tongue against his lower teeth and Sora enjoyed staring at it while it lasted, right up until he sighed, and leaned forward, almost resigned to this crazy idea and whatever it spawned. "...that seems kind of extreme. And complicated."

"Well," Sora observed with a grin, "That just means it's worth doing."

Bright, Oregon still sits in the bowl-shaped center of an irrigated patch of desert, and in its own bowl-shaped center is County High School, sand-colored brick surrounded by desert grass, and somewhere in one of its small courtyards is a tree by a fence where two ladybugs may or may not be hibernating. If time and life change the world and the people in it, if rock musicians and skateboarding laws come and go and return again as memories, then it might be worthwhile to note that sometime in May of 1996 a small carving was made in the bole of that tree, and all that it declares is the mangled date, and the phrase:

All in all is all we are.

And that is probably enough for history to note.