Disclaimers: Kingdom Hearts and the rest of the amazing franchise © Disney and Square Enix; everything else © their rightful owners.
Ratings/Warnings: M—profanity, graphic themes, AU
A/N: So here I am, finding myself using the redundant cliché of high school AU. I agree that the setting of high school AU is incredibly overused, but I had to succumb to it for the sake of the story. Some people can pull it off while some people butcher it. I hope I do the former.
I promise that there's more to this than a story of high school students, so please bear with me. :D
Riku knew it was a black day when he garnished his slim, tan wrist with a checkered wristband, and a blue day when he was all nervous grins and flinches.
But he didn't automatically know the difference between abysmal azure and smoldering obsidian. That intimate knowledge came later, after a stumbling start and a rocky path, the one less traveled by that made all the difference in the end. A short but oh-so long while later.
A chance encounter can impact a life forevermore—but let's backtrack to the beginning, to the origin of it all, to the days when he could easily define who he was talking to because the two were not wrestling for his attention, something he never before imagined he'd have to handle.
Back up, retrace, retreat to the beginning, when there was not even one pair of two—there were just two ones, and singular, lonesome ones they were. And the boy with the silver hair was very much so aware of this, as was the brunet with the bag of Swedish Fish clutched tightly in his fist.
It was raining again. No, it was fucking pouring. It was raining cats and dogs, and they were thunking on the roof like there was no tomorrow, thudding and pounding and ripping across the thin shelter of his house.
But they weren't really animals—it was just torrential precipitation, pattering down on the coastal city, relentless. He was lying on his back with a palm gently cradling his neck, staring up at the ceiling as its exterior was assailed by water, with sea-green eyes at half-mast; he otherwise was entirely blasé, as if bored with the world around him and thus retreating to the sanctity of his bedroom to busy himself with his own thoughts. Things such as the English paper he still, as of yet, needed to write, how beat he was because of soccer practice today, that dinner had really sucked because it wasn't Saturday for a few more days which meant the shopping list was still being built, how he was thoroughly enraged because the dryer was acting up again, he'd hurt his wrist when he'd angrily assaulted it via his frustrated fists, and now wet clothing was draped in every possible spot throughout the house, drying and filling it up with the cloying stench of wet cotton and fabric soap, and oh, look, now it was eight forty-five at night and he was just lying here on his bed, gawking up at the blank ceiling with an equally blank face.
His dad had demanded that the dryer be repaired by Friday evening, or else. "Or else" had become the old guy's favorite words over the past few years, ever since Riku had reached an age capable of housework and other such labors, free and completely legal; the "or else" stupidly chased the tails of his sentences like an attention deficit dog's mouth, run together into one word. It was a subtle threat that was never solidified, never given a reason to be feared—and yet somehow, it was just abhorrent enough to hear that it was successful.
Until then, Riku opted to use the Laundromat. He didn't think he could last two more nights with sopping clothes hanging on the chair-backs and doorknobs. He'd already loathed the smell of damp laundry, and of course God thus, most likely, found it captivatingly hilarious to poke the rickety contraption of a dryer with one holy finger and watch it utterly go kaput.
Thunder rolled overhead, probably God's guttural hysteria at Riku's growling dismay, and his dim room lit up with the flash of lightning and then again, thunder. He rolled limply onto his side, one arm still tucked beneath his head, the other flopping idly upon his stomach. His thighs were already beginning to ache and pulse, agonized by the intense routines the soccer team had endured after school. Run, run, run, strategize, strategize, strategize, rush, rush, rush, pass, pass, pass, kick, kick, kick. Cardio, strength, tactics. Get a drink of water and begin again. He was the only one who didn't drink Gatorade; they teased him gingerly, but shut up at his scalding glance, and knew that water was really better than Gatorade anyway. And he'd snicker at that.
Through the thin walls, he heard his parents' bedroom being shut off from the hall, the slam of the door voluble perhaps not only because the architecture of the house was weak. His uninterested eyes locked onto the wall, his lips twitched in disgust, and the elbow draped over his hip shifted as his fingertips clenched into his cool gray sheets. Were they starting up already? God, it was only...nine o'clock?
It was easy to ignore the muffled whispers and voices, because they were incoherent and never anything else. Almost inaudible but not, just not, quite there yet. But it was always the bedsprings creaking, the repetitive brush-brush of the mattress onto the dead plaster of the wall, that made him cringe at the rancidness, alone in his room. It was those unbearable noises, the weary and the predatory, that made him stumble to the bathroom because just a few times he seriously thought he was going to be sick.
Though, that only happened on those nights when he was old enough, brave enough, to imagine the scene that played out in his parents' dark bedroom.
For years, it was simply defend your conscience with other things, and the proverbial routine began once more this night. Block it out, block it out, think things that should normally concern a fifteen-year-old. School, sports, chores, driver's-ed in the spring and after that a summer job. Things that should not concern you are the things that go on between your pathetic mother and your ugly father. That is their own shitty business, business that does not concern you. How are you going to manage to fix that goddamn dryer, hunh, Riku? Get Tidus to come over and do it? You never were a mechanic.
It was nearly two hours later that the noises really ceased, and by that time, Riku had wrapped himself within a cocoon of crisp sheets, his face buried into the pillow normally slammed up to his wall. He'd wriggled out of his basketball shorts to completely settle in, comfortable in just a T-shirt and boxers; he let them fall, neglected, to the clean floor of his room, listening to the lifeless fwump as they hit the carpet. Lashes lowered, Riku jabbed his nose further into the pillow, exhaling to try to soothe the annoying pinch in the middle of his chest. He was so tired, so sore, so worn out in every sense of the phrase but something, just something, was keeping him from finally clutching the silence and falling into its placidity with enthusiastic ease.
What did he have to wake up to tomorrow?
Anything besides a breakfast grabbed as he ran to school?
Anything that might draw a genuine smile out of him, a real drop of happiness?
And where the hell were these lousy thoughts coming from? Sprawled on his stomach, he was fine with the way things were—he was fine with the storm still prattling around outside his window, with the silence on the other side of the wall and throughout the house, with the fact that the dryer was broken and he had to fix it, with the exhausted muscles and the paper due next Wednesday he needed to start. That was all nothing but it was all still something.
Once upon a time, there was a little house between the edge of the woods and the edge of the village. In this house lived a little boy and his mother and father. They loved him very much, and he loved them, too. He was a very good boy, always doing his chores and playing safely. One day, while his mother and father were out, he got bored. He was bored with everything and everyone around him because nothing ever changed and it was the same, same, same every day. So he disobeyed. He went to explore the forest that his daddy told him to never go in alone. There he found a beautiful clearing with a crystal-clear pond, and in this pond he examined his reflection. All of a sudden, his reflection started talking to him. He was frightened but it said: 'Don't be scared. Why are you out here?'
How did it talk, Mom?
It's magical, Riku. Don't you believe in magic?
Not really. That's all in books and movies.
The boy answered, 'Because I'm bored.' His reflection became very sad and then it said, 'How can you be bored? There is so much to see around you. You just aren't looking.' The little boy got offended and told his reflection, 'I DO look. Perhaps you're lying to me. What is there to find, anyway?' As his reflection started to ripple and fade away, it spoke one last time: 'You're bored because you don't know anything yet—but you'll learn. You'll learn that you have to look for the good things. They may be hard to find and you might want to give up, but there's always something good...' The boy was confused, but went about playing with sticks and pebbles and climbing trees. But his reflection's words troubled him. When he got back to his house... Riku? Riku, are you awake? ...I love you, honey.
A small part of him began to grow a very anxious fear.
Would he be alone like this forever?
They were loserish thoughts, stupid, stupid, ultimately stupid thoughts, and Riku closed his eyes completely to force them away because that bleak gray wall gaping back at him was enough to make them return.
He was fine. Riku was fine with everything. He was fine with being the only son, the only one who did the household work, the one who cooked dinner while his mom sat in the hand-me-down recliner reading the latest paperback she'd bought at the grocery store, the one who obeyed every command his deadbeat father spewed as he kicked up his feet and turned on the tube; he was fine being on the honor lists at school, at being one of the top members on the soccer team, utterly and completely fine with being popular even though he didn't try to be, didn't want to be, and didn't even put forth efforts to maintain his state of being so.
But there was a small voice in him, perhaps the romantic that lives lonesomely within each individual's heart, and it whispered to him in fright that he was missing something.
Riku snorted, shrugged, and denied the voice. He turned to his side, and he fell asleep carelessly because he—really, honestly—didn't give, nor want to give, a flying fuck, shit, or rat's ass about being alone.
A wafting scent of chicken, potato wedges, and other classics filled the vast left wing of the building, blending together to create the oh-so familiar and oh-so loathed stench of school lunch. The cafeteria was crowded and noisy as always, even with nearly a quarter of the students milling about through the air-conditioned hallways or out on the grounds in the stead of settling down at a table. It was a mess hall of bored adolescents trying to cram vital socializing time into an irritatingly short twenty-five minutes of freedom—as well as cramming in food, whether it was the school's or their own.
Riku wasn't entirely sure of what it was that compelled him to sit down with the lone boy at the long lunch table.
It wasn't pity because he was eating by himself, and it wasn't charity because the brunet was eating food from the vending machines, but before he could comprehend exactly why, Riku was sliding onto the built-in bench of the white table, dropping his backpack near his ankles and setting his tray of food down before him. What he did not know was that it had been his conscience acting on a sudden spark of attraction, confusing thoughts that only filtered into the maelstrom of other confusing thoughts that filled his brain day in and day out, thoughts that ran together indifferently.
What Riku did know when the brunet boy's head shot up in surprise, blinking at the unknown student across from him with a demanding frown, was that he was suddenly very, very glad that Wakka was absent today and Tidus had lunch detention—otherwise the silver-haired teen wouldn't have plopped down across from the isolated boy in the light blue T-shirt that made his dark blue eyes all the more mesmerizing. His mission had been to save himself the hassle of sitting with people he didn't want to sit by because they'd start talking to him, and something had magnetized him when he saw this student, just the one and only kid at the table, drawing him in with the safety of a vacant spot.
But this one looked talkative. He looked as though he were about to wet his pants in absolute joy that someone was sitting across from him, someone had noticed him, and he was going to start babbling away, pouring out his entire heart and soul to Riku, so maybe this wasn't the best of choices but he wasn't leaving because at least he could tell the kid to shut the fuck up and no one was sitting around them to chastise him for such a bitter indignation—
"Why are you sitting by me?"
Riku blinked, completely blindsided. "E-excuse me?" he spat back, furrowing down into an incredulous glower. The boy in the blue shirt had curdled from enthusiasm to utter introversion, hunching up and encircling his arms around his three bags of snacks and a Coke can, guarding them as though Riku were some type of humanoid vulture. The two eyed each other, silenced, one pair of deep blue eyes inquisitive and rightfully perplexed, and a pair of sea-green eyes startled and slightly put off.
"I asked, 'Why are you—'"
"I heard you. I was leaning more to why the fuck did you just say that?"
"Geez, you're nice." Those perfect little lips skewed into an obstinate scowl that was still somehow entirely sad. Regarding Riku through his lashes rather moodily, he continued, "You'll never make friends with that attitude."
"I don't want to make friends." It wasn't a lie; it was so painfully true that Riku's snarl had softened somewhat. He was notorious for his rudeness, his nonchalant words and seemingly lack of any care at all—it was simply saving people the trouble of being misinformed. When Riku didn't like someone, he let it be known. He didn't hide it. And yet so many students wouldn't leave him alone, obsessing and talking even when he asked them—kindly and then not so kindly—to stop. Was this loner kid the first to react normally to him?
No, not intriguing. Not intriguing at all. I don't need any more friends. I can barely manage Wakka and Tidus bringing out the good in me, and I don't even try with them.
"If you don't want to make friends, then why did you sit here? Usually, that's a big red flag that someone wants to be your friend. To me, at least."
Riku's jaw fell gently slack. The little brunet sitting across the table, absently digging out a pretzel from one of the bags in front of him and pressing it through those pink lips and onto a pinker tongue, was so quiet and seemed so coy, but he had such...such an attitude. Still entirely dubious that someone was playing the petulant sarcasm right back at him, and so smoothly at that, Riku closed his mouth and blinked a few times, trying to regain his composure.
"I had nowhere to sit." Pathetic. Outright pathetic. Is it storming again, or is God laughing at you even more?
"I bet you have plenty of friends to sit with."
"Not really my friends."
"Well, then people. You have plenty of people to sit with. There's that boy with the funny headband who drinks protein shakes, the blond one who buys doughnuts a lot for lunch, the—"
"Are you a stalker or something?"
"No, I—I just notice. I...watch people a lot." Roughly, the brunet snatched for his Coke but took a contradictorily dainty sip, casting his gaze elsewhere as a cloud of some foreign emotion smudged his face. Riku picked up his plastic fork, not really directing it to an item of food in particular but instead letting it drift around his tray; a stab of guilt had suddenly clenched onto his chest, and he didn't like that. What was the hold this boy had about him? Riku wasn't going to let someone so simple knock him into a state of feeling disconnected. That was dumb.
"Well, if you must know," Riku murmured, settling his gaze on his food now and realizing he'd been prodding rather relentlessly at the assortment of lettuce leaves and varying vegetable chunks the school liked to call a salad. "Mn...my friend with the protein shakes is absent today and the one with the pastry problem got busted for a fight."
"So I dodged out on sitting with people I didn't want to sit with. But don't think that means I wanted to sit with you. You're not anything special." Denial, denial. It rode out on his breath and into his conversation, as if saying it aloud would make it true. "By the way, my name is Riku." And that offering of his name proved it all to be just that: denial that he'd found someone...intriguing enough to make him stick around and talk.
"Oh," the brunet said again, blandly, head hung and his fingertips fiddling with the opening of his bag of cheese puffs. Stab, stab, goes the guilt in his chest. Did no one else but this strange kid notice how much of an asshole he was? "Well, don't think I was sitting alone," the boy defended, straightening up somewhat but still avoiding eye contact, "because I wasn't. I was sitting with my friends Kairi and Selphie, but they went to the bathroom." He was met with a silence from the boy with the lunch tray. Laughing nervously, he felt as though he needed to add something to make it acceptable, and he did. "You know how girls are. They always have to go to the bathroom in big packs." More silence. More frantic, vocal duct tape, sloppily applied. "Like...animals or something."
"You're weird," Riku grunted effortlessly, stabbing some stiff iceberg lettuce with the plastic utensil and maneuvering it into his open mouth. Those big blue eyes gaped at him, pained and anxious, then quickly fluttered away as if they knew they had just given him an open peek into the brunet's soul.
"No. I'm Sora." Blunt, nervous, weak, scrabbling for that bead of sarcasm but only sounding innocent.
"Sora? That's your name?"
"That's a nice name."
"Thank you. Maybe you should go before my friends get back."
"Why? Don't you want a guy friend?"
"I thought you didn't want to make friends."
Oh. Well, shit, the kid caught him. And he was right. That was what scared Riku.
"I think maybe you don't want to make friends."
Smooth catch, Riku. Smooth catch—
"I don't want a guy friend."
Riku paused for just a second, blinking dubiously, before he soured into a dark scowl. No one ever denied him like that; they welcomed him. Who did this strange guy think he was, anyway? Copping an attitude with him? He took a slow breath, blazing eyes hooded as his chest tightened with something offended, something that was subtly scared of rejection. And he didn't know why. So he retorted:
"Why not? Are you afraid one might come along and steal away one of your girl friends?"
"I just don't want a guy friend. Maybe you should go now."
"I'll go when your girl friends ge—"
"I don't want a guy friend!" Sora shouted, slapping his palms to the tabletop. Riku's tray jumped, rattled. His eyes widened. Sora's can of Coke echoed the lunch tray. And their private lunch table fell agonizingly silent, but the rest of the cafeteria buzzed away. Thus are the goings-on of students so easily ignored by the rest of the lot.
Clearing his throat, feeling as though it was seriously his blunder here, Riku awkwardly took a bite of the breaded chicken speared on his fork and then pointed the naked utensil in the direction of the snacks spread out before the brunet's hanging head and fidgeting knuckles. Desperately blowing off the sight of Sora's shoulders trembling, Riku swallowed and grunted, "You're eating a lot of junk food."
Sora blinked, slowly looking from one item of "junk food" to the next as if not even realizing it. He examined his half-empty can of cold Coke, his bag of pretzels, bag of cheese puffs, and bag of mini-cookies. Then he blinked again and settled a spacey stare upon Riku's adamant, righteous frown.
"It's all I eat."
"...Because I eat junk food?"
"No, because you're so slender."
Sora stared at him again, blankly at first, and Riku pondered on whether or not it would have been better to use the simple term skinny. But Sora wasn't skinny, he was just...petite. Here I am telling myself over and over that I don't care, I don't care, and now I'm trying to mend it with this kid. I'm a loser. But he's not annoying, and he's not loud, and he doesn't seem to care only about popularity—
"Thanks, I guess."
"I was just making sure I had it right."
"Why do you eat a lot of junk food?"
"I don't do it on purpose."
An unsteady silence blanketed the lunch table and Riku frowned. They were too alike for the good of a friendship; he was brutal and Sora was tetchy. Neither were extroverts so it was awkward.
But something just tugged and tugged at his heart. Something made him want to keep talking, and he did so because he'd never felt that way with anyone before. Sure, hanging out with Wakka and Tidus was relaxing because the three knew each other's boundaries and interests and what-not, but this was new and fresh and risky. It was exciting.
It was intriguing.
What kind of kid didn't eat junk food on purpose?
Riku forced a light smile, but it felt as though it curdled on his face so he rid of it hastily and turned his tray sideways, offering Sora some of his food.
"No," the brunet said curtly, and pushed a mini-cookie into those pink lips and onto that pinker tongue again. And at the startled, offended scowl darkening Riku's sea-green eyes, those piercing aquamarine irises that had struck him speechless at first and made him shiver, Sora added hurriedly, "But thanks, though, Riku."
Riku quickly filled his mouth with a forkful of food and looked somewhere else as he chewed. So...Riku. I was just making sure I had it right. But thanks, though, Riku. Riku, Riku, Riku. Riku. He liked the way it sounded, falling from those lips.
"Are you a junior?"
"No." Those same lips smacked on fingertips, cleaning the residue of cheese powder that dusted his skin there. And then Sora laughed suddenly, endless blue eyes squinted in his mirth and drawing Riku's attention to just how dark his lashes were, and he leaned back, holding his stomach and laughing as if it were the most hilarious question in the world.
"Do I look like a junior to you?" Sora snorted when he finally eased back into a calm, slouched against the table with his elbows propped on its surface. Flippantly, he took a sip of Coke.
"Well, uh, no. I guess," Riku mumbled in response, frowning sharply. It wasn't so much because he didn't want to be laughed at as the fact that he liked the laugh. That he wanted to hear it again, that there was an anxious little happiness inside him that he was responsible for sparking that laugh. "Then are you a sophomore?"
"I can't believe you think I'm older."
"You're a fucking freshman, aren't you?!"
"Ahahah!" Sora smacked the tabletop, doubling over and hugging his belly again, in total stitches at Riku's speculations. Riku angrily finished his lunch and crossed his arms on the surface of the lunch table, turning his glare and settling it on the floor, waiting for Sora to come to a halt.
"Yes," he finally replied, a sudden innocuous flare to his disposition. It was as though his shyness had melted away.
And, Riku considered, perhaps his own hostility was beginning to fade. Perhaps he...
"You're a freshman?"
Sora wiped his eyes from the laugh-induced tears. "Yes."
"I'm a sophomore."
"Why are you asking me, anyway?"
"Because I want to be your friend."
Sora froze. Wide blue eyes searched out truthful green ones in a panicked stupor. "What?" he murmured, obviously disbelieving. "You do?"
"That is, if you want a guy friend."
The bell rang and the buzz of the cafeteria exploded into a full-blown roar of disappointment as trays clattered and bags were gathered, conversations racing to an end before tardies were handed out. Sora remained where he was, gawking up at Riku even as the older boy climbed to a stand, hoisting his backpack onto his shoulder and picking up his empty tray.
Sora stood as well, avoiding the other boy's gaze, lifted his bag and draped the satchel strap over his chest, ate the last mini-cookie, crumpled the bags, and snatched up the rest of his trash. "We'll just have to see about that," Sora said then, casting Riku a stealthy glance from the corner of his lowered lashes, letting the words drip off his mouth invitingly but warningly. And the last that Riku fully comprehended was the incredible, depthless blue of his eyes, intensified by the color of his thin cotton T-shirt, before Sora whipped his face in the direction he was going and the confusing little freshman threaded into the crowd of students, disappearing like a pro.
Stunned and not entirely positive why he was so affected by the coy yet oh-so sarcastic kid, Riku scowled. This was so unlike himself that it was kind of frightening, but—there was that goddamn word again.
Sora was intriguing him to his very core.
Suddenly Riku recalled his dryer problem—he wasn't aware of where the memory had spurred from, most likely to stubbornly distract himself—and he spun on his heel, dumping his trash, leaving his tray at the window, hurrying out of the cafeteria and hoping he could catch Tidus coming out of detention so he could inquire upon mechanic skills, or the lack thereof.
But he couldn't get that last luscious impression of Sora the strange junk-food freshman who didn't want a guy friend out of his head.
"I can't believe you got Riku to sit there—"
"Have you been talking to him and you didn't tell us?!"
"Shut up, you guys." Sora flung open his locker and shoved his nose into it, leaning in as far as he could—which was all the way until his shoulders bumped the frame, so he sagged down to prop his chin on his textbooks, slumping into the pocket of cool air and closing his eyes. He took in the placidity of the tiny area, uninterrupted by the commotion of the school hallway or the two girls beside him. It smelled like Swedish Fish in his locker; he opened one dark blue eye to reassure himself that the yellow bag of red candy was still in the left corner with his extra pens. Yup, still there.
"Oh, don't be like that, Sora," Selphie chastised with her normal air of stifling femininity. As he pulled himself out of the comforting locker womb, feeling rather put on the spot and not enjoying it one bit, she leaned in towards him and her bubble-gum pink lips perked in a teasing grin. "It's about time you got a boy friend."
"Say 'guy friend' or 'friend who's a boy', or even 'male acquaintance'," Sora instructed moodily, avoiding the cloying smell of too much perfume that had accompanied Selphie's breach of personal space by waving his locker door to and fro as a pseudo fan. Remotely, he wondered if it really wasn't that apparent by the skewed pout on his face that he was very annoyed, or if it was just the tenacity of fourteen-year-old girls and their universal state of boy craze. "If you say 'boy friend', everyone will think the wrong thing."
Selphie sighed quite dramatically and shifted her weight to the opposite foot, professionally cocking one hip out to the side as she countered, "I thought Sora didn't care what other people thought about him."
Sora stopped swinging his locker door and he stared at the girl challenging his veracity with a look both irate and petulantly incredulous. Blinking in silence, he licked his lips, before he opened his mouth further to retort back that Sora was well aware of the codes and secrets and unspoken rules of high school conduct and Sora didn't want to hassle with any apathetic student's wrong assumption and the ridiculously immature rumors following such, and Sora would much rather speak in first person instead of third person, but he was cut off by Kairi's sense of bad feelings and her prompt interference:
"Will you two stop it? Selphie, you're not helping at all. Sora, she's just teasing."
Sora very well deflated in defeat, all his tetchy words exiting in the form of a long exhalation as he turned back towards the contents of his locker; Selphie twisted into an injured frown, readjusting her backpack to a more comfortable position. Sora got the vibe that there was some kind of tension between Selphie and he. She too often seemed close to belittling him, treating him like a baby brother she needed to protect—perhaps because she sensed the sisterly way he looked at Kairi and vice versa, and that made her envious. But Selphie was Kairi's friend so Sora dealt with it, no matter how redundant and sly it became.
"You're so lucky," the other girl started up again, stepping closer to the line of lockers so as not to obstruct anyone's path. High school students had a general lack of the phrase Excuse me. "You should introduce us."
"I'm not going to introduce you, Selphie...and what do you mean?" Sora mumbled. He had to admit, he was slightly—and just slightly—interested in the girl's feedback of lunch and what had happened while they had been chatting in the restrooms. It wasn't because of popularity, because he'd definitely heard the name Riku come from more than one person's mouth since the first day of school, and it wasn't out of selfish desires either. He just...wanted to know. It was high school: ulterior motives and general reputations were what everyone except Sora seemed to care about, but would it hurt to be curious at least once?
Kairi's eyes almost bugged after the inquiry had left Sora's mouth, though she didn't blame him—he was a boy after all, and she knew how much of a space cadet he could be. Painfully withdrawn at times, too. "It's Riku. Riku Hayate? He's a killer soccer player, and he's a real smooth guy, too."
"I love his eyes," Selphie added with a dreamy flicker of her own.
Kairi ignored her. "He's quiet and I heard from one girl that he's really—"
"Quiet?" Sora reiterated in disbelief, recalling his conversation with the apparently notorious Riku, which had been anything but quiet and smooth. The guy had been societal turmoil. "I know who he is, and I know how he is, Kairi. But I want to know why I'm lucky."
"He's hot!" Selphie cried as though it were the most sufficient explanation in the world. Which, to her as well as the rest of the female population of the school, it appeared to be.
And, unfortunately, Kairi agreed: "He is. A lot of people wish they could talk to him like you were, but he blows them off."
"Then why the hell is he so cool?" Sora slouched back a few inches from the enthusiastic girls with a quite passionate scowl, pulling books from his locker and then closing it harshly, slipping the texts into his open backpack. Kairi caught a glimpse of his dark frown and she nudged Selphie's wrist as inconspicuously as she could. The other girl wasn't stupid at all; she understood exactly. Whether this was because it was a collective skill of passing on unspoken thoughts that every girl possessed, or just the established fact that Kairi was the only one who knew how to soothe Sora's attitudes, or both, it went unsaid.
Selphie pursed her lips and peered contemplatively at the brunet fastening his backpack and snapping his combination lock shut, and then she began to weave her way into the hallway traffic, excusing, "I'll just see you guys later." She waved apologetically at Kairi. Sora didn't look up.
Sora hoisted his bag up to drape comfortably on his shoulder, turning and trotting off in the direction of his next class. Kairi anxiously shifted from foot to foot as she slammed her locker shut and scooped up her bag, waving in return to Selphie and hurrying after her other friend before he was lost in the student body jointly making its way to the next period. She dodged an accidental bump into other students, calling, "Sora! Hey, Sora, stop!"
He cast a disinterested glance at Kairi through his lashes as she caught up to him, brows knotted above turbid blue eyes. Kairi almost opted not to say anything more as they hurried down the linoleum and rounded the corner with the broken drinking fountain, because after years of knowing him they were as closely tied as brother and sister, and she knew the look on his face.
But her woman's intuition urged the words out:
"Sora, does he know about Roxas?"
His dark lashes fluttered as he blinked rapidly, seemingly blind-sided by the familiar name, and then he pinched into a distraught frown that pleaded to be left alone, left to his solitary, coy self, but he answered her anyway. He answered softly and yet his tone cut right through the noisy hall, "It doesn't matter. That was the first time we've ever spoken and I doubt we ever will again."
Kairi frowned, deeply, and reached out to clutch Sora's hand. Out of habit, he squeezed her thin fingers with the nails painted light pink in response, and then he diverged to the side and entered the classroom there, leaving Kairi out in the hall as the bell overhead rang to announce the beginning of fourth period.
Riku considered fleetingly that to anyone other than him, the night-time sidewalks in this part of town would be rather frightening. They were dark, the space between municipal street lamps was too broad, the houses off the pavement seemed to mock the lonely civilian who believed they were of any protection; as he walked with the bulky laundry bag cinched shut, slung over his shoulder and bumping against his back in rhythm with his footsteps, he did not glimpse at the overflowing or overturned trash cans, or the littered sewer grates, nor did he acknowledge the tire swing that lay, dead and neglected, in someone's lawn because the rope had been severed or snapped. The neighborhood actually looked worse in daylight, and it seemed rather peaceful to Riku when the sun had set and the moon was rising.
It wasn't dangerous at all. There were no alleys between houses or street corners, and even if there were, it wasn't a city slum so there were no bad men slinking along in the shadows to offer drugs, favors, or communicable diseases, no sudden violence to be wary of. Everyone was locked up in their tiny houses, setting up dinner on their coffee table, T.V. trays, minute dining tables, and turning on sitcoms or the local news; and what occurred behind each and every closed door gaping at Riku as he trundled by remained behind each and every closed door, within the privacy that sometimes leaked out into the public by the living room windows that revealed little snippets of supper on the couch, a nagging parent, child victims of sugar highs, and other mundane evening routines. Much like a muted movie, he guessed.
Riku thought it was peaceful, out in the crisp October night air, jacket zipped up and the collar brushing his chin. The dull echoes of his foot-steps, rubber soles greeting concrete softly, the chirping of crickets and the occasional rush of a car turning somewhere a few blocks away, all greeted him comfortably and they were sounds he preferred after exiting his own house and its usual seven o'clock customs. When the door had closed behind him, the television had been on and the volume had been cranked up, the dishwasher was running and his father was bellowing about something or another, a beer clutched properly in his hands. His mother had been seated on the couch beside him, finishing her dinner because she was always the slowest eater out of all three, and the only lights on were the ones Riku had turned on in the kitchen and his bedroom.
So the fresh air was better than the stuffiness of his home, the pad-pad-pad of his sneakers and the noise of cars driving by on the main road were better than the sitcoms and the bitching, and the fact that Riku was walking alone across the street towards the Laundromat made him feel a bit more at ease. It was disgusting how his parents were content with it, content with the sloppily built house that would be sloppily managed if Riku wasn't there to do it for them, content with nothing to do but sit on their asses and watch sitcoms they rarely even laughed at, content with barely scraping up enough money to keep the television they stared at while they ate dinner on the couch and behind them Riku ate dinner at the table in the corner of the kitchen.
He could hear Tidus in his head, rebuking him with that sheepish grin that told him he was right and Riku knew he was right and even if Riku denied it, he'd still be right: You're just not content with anything, are you, Riku?
What was contentment, anyway?
Riku grunted as he swung the bag of dirty clothes down onto the concrete outside the Laundromat, quarters jingling in the pocket of his jeans. The bag made a substantial fwump as it hit the ground. Pushing open the glass door of the building, the roar and the heat of running machines rushing out in one great burst of laundry-smelling air, Riku maneuvered a secure grip on the top of the thick cloth sack, hoisting it up and stepping through the threshold into the Laundromat.
And the first thing he saw as he looked up again froze him where he was, one step inside and one step outside, gawking right into the eyes of the only other person using the public utility—they were eyes that pierced right into him, wonderfully profound cobalt that seemed just as surprised and yet somehow not, staring in direct return. The gaze was mysteriously clouded in a fashion both casual and anxious, guarded by long, dark lashes and accentuated by a light blue T-shirt.
"What?" Sora demanded suddenly from where he was leaning against one of the metal tables that stretched from one end of the Laundromat to the other.
Riku blinked a few times as if it were really an illusion and it would melt away if he continued trying to clear his vision, but he knew it was real and he tossed the bag straining his arm muscles inside the building, letting it hit the door of an unused machine and flop to the tile flaccidly. He continued walking in, closing the door behind him. Not once did he take his eyes off the other boy, examining his entire presence from his folded arms to the black hoodie tied carelessly around his slender waist, the duffel bag at his feet and the house key, bottle of Coke, and bag of Fritos spread atop the table behind him.
Great. He was alone with this—If anything, intriguing, something like his conscience bit at him—eccentric kid in the Laundromat at seven P.M., and he was already getting an attitude from him.
"Nothing," Riku finally replied, and unfastened his jacket as he shuffled to the side and tended to his laundry. He could feel the weight of Sora's gaze on his back as he opened up a dryer and began to shove damp clothing into it. He still felt it even as he slammed the porthole door shut and withdrew the coins from his pocket—
And, like a jackass, accidentally dropped a quarter.
Riku watched, in impassive, cynical amazement, as it rolled directly under the machines and out of reach, destined to forever be misplaced with the dust bunnies and dead bugs. He waited for it to thunder outside, because God had to be laughing at him right now—oh, yes, holding His big belly and rolling around up there laughing His ass off because Riku had possessed exact change and had now lost twenty-five cents of it.
"Do you need a quarter?"
Riku edged a glance over his shoulder, peeking at the brunet across the room from below his lashes. That ridiculous freshman looked like he wasn't sure what to be at the moment—amused or cautious. Riku turned slightly, nodding as he exhaled heavily in defeat.
"Yeah," he murmured, and then he couldn't help himself, "if you have one left after putting the vending machine out of service."
Sora's brows knit together faintly and he shifted from one foot to the other, glanced at his snacks, and then flicked a stormy gaze back over to the silver-haired sophomore. "I didn't get those from a vending machine. I bought them at 7-11 on the way over here," he responded blankly, as though the greater part of the sarcasm in Riku's previous statement had gone totally over his head. Which wouldn't have been too improbable. There was a difference of a few inches between the both of them.
"When did you get here?" Did he really care? No, but he might as well start some conversation. It wasn't like him to start conversation though, but Riku hid from this recognition and trudged over to Sora, holding his hand out for the quarter. Sora tilted his head, pursed his lips, rolled his eyes up to the ceiling in contemplation, rummaged in his back pocket for a quarter, and as he placed it delicately into Riku's waiting palm, he guessed:
"Five minutes ago, maybe."
Riku sighed through his nose in exasperation, but then decided that he'd rather deal with Sora than with his folks, and he crossed the room again to slide the quarters into the dryer. Sora watched him silently, slipping the coins in one by one, and he wondered momentarily about asking why Riku was at the Laundromat. He reached for his Coke, unscrewing the cap and lifting it to his lips as his common sense reared the fact that if he asked that, he would be revealing that he, himself, went to the Laundromat more often than that particular night, and then what would Riku think of him?
But Sora didn't care what people thought of him—and especially not what Riku Hayate thought of him—but couldn't Riku be worrying about the same things at the same moment because, after all, he was popular and—
"I hate the smell."
"Hunh?" Sora sputtered gently at the mouth of his Coke bottle, and Riku peered curiously over his shoulder at the sudden choking sound.
"I hate the smell," the taller boy repeated.
"You get used to it, I guess."
"Do you not have a washing machine or something?"
Sora blinked, stopping mid-twist as he replaced the cap of his soda pop. "What do you mean?"
"To get used to it, you have to come here often."
Sora almost dropped his bottle of Coke. Heart sinking to the pit of his frame, brows furrowing in shamed embarrassment, he realized that he'd just stumbled into a second way of admitting he went to the Laundromat regularly, and he had done so in complete ignorance. What a dope.
"...Yeah," he murmured, flicking his gaze elsewhere. He couldn't stand the way Riku was staring at him, because he couldn't discern if it was pity in his wonderfully aquamarine eyes or something else—
Wonderfully aquamarine eyes? Sora's embarrassment deepened as he remembered Selphie's ecstatic squeal of, I love his eyes!
"We don't have a washer and dryer," Sora resumed to break the sudden silence, concluding that he'd already grabbed the shovel and started digging his own grave, so why not lie down in it? He really didn't care what people thought of him, but he couldn't shake that slight disappointment, that slight yearning to impress the sophomore across the room.
"My dryer is broken," Riku offered in return. He shrugged off his jacket, dropping it to the surface of the opposite table; it was too hot in the little building to be wearing it.
"Riku, why are you out here at seven?"
"I've been busy until now. Why are you?"
"I don't like being at the house alone, so I try to find things to do until my mom gets home."
Riku glanced at Sora from the corner of his eyes; he was seemingly unaware of the depth of what he'd just said, innocuously examining the ceiling as he munched on a few corn chips. And Riku didn't really mind either way that a small concern began to grow in the recesses of his chest, concern growing from Sora's obvious insecurities and fears, so he prodded, "What time does she get home?"
That was when it hit the other boy. That simple question was what reminded him of what he'd just said. Sora stopped chewing for a few seconds, then resumed and slowly turned to stare at Riku with a look something like a calm version of a deer in headlights. But he was silent, only chewing and staring. A number of minutes passed, long minutes like eternities that Riku spent gawking into the dark blue of Sora's eyes as Sora gawked right back, and while he did so Sora ate slowly and Riku stood stock-still, knowing he wasn't going to get an answer to his inquiry, and that was a rather poignant realization that made him frown softly.
The buzzer on the running washer went off. Sora broke the stare-down, walking over to the machine and switching the wet laundry into a nearby dryer. Riku watched, observing the way that the light blue T-shirt moved on the younger boy's lean frame, how his thin arms managed to maneuver such a big load in only a few moments, and then Riku soundlessly walked over to sit on the table beside Sora's Fritos and Coke. He picked up the single key lying beside the snacks, on a black lanyard dotted with little white silhouettes of Mickey Mouse's head, and he was idly turning it over and over in his fingertips when it was abruptly snatched away from him.
Sora cast him an undecipherable glance as he shoved the key into his pocket, lanyard hanging out, and picked up his bottle of Coke, unscrewing it for another drink. The dryer was running. Riku blinked at him, hands falling limp to his lap. "Is that your dinner?" he asked.
"Pretty much," Sora responded complacently, lashes lowered as he picked up his said dinner and popped a few corn chips into his open mouth. His disposition clearly demanded that all pity be discarded, and Riku wondered how Sora would act if he only knew that Riku came from a similarly imperfect situation. A smile perked at his lips as he watched Sora eat, the brunet seeming to ignore him but most likely doing just the opposite. The empty Fritos bag was being crumpled up and tossed into the trash bin in the far corner when Riku's dryer buzzed upon completion, ending his intrigued contentment. His smile faded and he slid off the tabletop, answering the call and flinging the door open, shoving all the clothes back into the laundry bag as he seriously considered leaving the dryer at his house broken for a few more weeks.
"See you tomorrow. Have fun tonight," Riku grunted dryly as he cinched the opening of the laundry bag, tugged on his jacket, and slung the heavy bundle over his shoulder, pushing open the door and nodding at the other occupant of the Laundromat. Sora stood exactly where and exactly how he had when Riku had entered forty minutes before, but he nodded in turn and replied:
"Yeah, see you later."
He didn't want to acknowledge it completely for fear of ruining it, but from his peripheral vision, Sora saw Riku glance at him from outside the glass facade of the building, and it warmed him up inside because Riku had enjoyed the forty minutes enough to look back a second time. Not that Sora cared what Riku thought of him, that is. It was just nice to crawl out of his shell and enjoy forty minutes with someone, especially when that someone mutually enjoyed them.
When his laundry was done, Sora folded everything up neatly, creating two separate piles, one for his clothes and one for his mother's clothes. Then he packed them carefully into his duffel bag, slipped his hoodie on, and grabbed his bottle of Coke as he draped the strap of the bag on his shoulder, exiting the Laundromat and hurrying in the direction of his house. He didn't like being out at night; the chance of something or someone lurking in the shadows frightened him even though he knew it was a mere fear and a rare possibility. But it was still a possibility and he was acutely aware of that. He just really didn't trust the world, even for twenty minutes of fast-walking home.
So Sora locked the front door immediately after closing it, put his mother's laundry away in her drawers and closet and tossed his own at the foot of his bed, opened a can of Spaghetti-O's because he was still hungry and ate about half of it, then curled up with his blanket on his mom's bed and watched the television that sat on her dresser until he began to drift off. Sprawled atop her bedding was how she was accustomed to finding him when she returned home, and never any other way.
A/N: I really can't wait to get all this out of my mind and onto paper. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
It's moving along, I swear. xD
Reviews much welcomed: let me know if there's something you didn't like, something you're wondering about...reviews help a lot. For real.
As far as Riku's surname:
Hayate — smooth