...another man's Treasure
Author's Note and Disclaimer: Don't own it.
This story arose out of a section in my sociology textbook. It's also the longest oneshot I've ever written. And Riku and Sora's surnames might seem familiar to you... I don't know if I owe you an additional disclaimer, but if you catch it consider it implied here.
Riku recognized the hoodie first. Or maybe this started because he noticed that the boy always wore oversized clothes. His pants were a little too loose for fashion's sake, and the shoulder seams on his shirts drooped over his shoulders, the collars revealing a little too much collarbone. He was just a nameless person that Riku had grown used to, always sitting at that one small table in front of Cid's Café, and he was nearly always reading The Tao of Pooh. He'd probably greeted Riku once with a casual "hi" or something, but Riku didn't remember. He went to Cid's for the coffee and especially for the pumpkin muffins. But today he saw the boy again, and there was something more to the curiosity of him wearing oversized clothing. He recognized the hoodie. It was a dark gray color, marked along the right sleeve and on the back with a few ivy blue designs. At first Riku figured that it was just a coincidence, anyone could have that same hoodie. But then the boy put down his book and reached for his coffee, a fold in the long sleeve coming loose. Riku stared. That was his hoodie.
Last winter Kairi had attempted to mend the rip in it, but ended up covering the aggravated hole with that Keyblade Hero II patch. He probably wore it once or twice after that, but sometime in March it had disappeared. And now here it was. Riku took his pumpkin muffin and coffee to his usual booth in the corner and tried not to think about how this boy could have come to be in possession of his hoodie. Not that Riku wanted it back. It was early September and therefore not quite cold enough for him to need one. And he probably had two or more in his closet for when October came. The thing was, Riku didn't even know the boy's name. For all he knew the kid sat behind him in Sociology or something. Maybe one day in February Riku left class without his hoodie and this guy saw it, needed it because it was cold, and never attempted to return it.
"Do you remember last January? When we went ice skating?"
Kairi looked up from her English assignment – marking the meter of a sonnet or something – and smiled lightly. "I remember."
"You tried to do a figure eight and fell, so I tried to help you up, but we both fell over. And your skate got caught in my sleeve and ripped it."
She nodded. "And then I tried to fix it," she continued, pushing a lock of auburn red hair out of her face. "But I made it worse."
Kairi had been his friend since middle school, and she was the girl his friends saw him with and assumed he'd marry someday. Riku found himself imagining it sometimes. It didn't look too bad.
"Whatever happened to that hoodie, do you remember?" he asked, furiously erasing the answer to the Statistics problem he thought he'd solved, only to find that the variables were unbalanced.
"You probably threw it out," Kairi said, getting back to her work.
"Like... threw it away?" he asked, raising his voice a little louder than was acceptable in the library.
"In the dumpster below your window? You do it all the time. Like last February, when you were going to spend the Spring Break with Sephiroth at Destiny Islands? You threw out a lot of stuff and put what you wanted to keep in the dorm storage."
Cid's was frequented by a lot of kids from the University, their dark purple RGU sweatshirts and their converse shoes, all of them pouring frantically or lazily over an open textbook, lines colored in different highlighters, a cup of hot coffee in front of them. The boy was sitting there again, and this time he shared his table with a couple. They seemed to be too engrossed in each other to know that he was sitting in front of him, and every now and then he glanced up at them and smiled around his dog-eared Taoism book. He wasn't wearing the hoodie, but again, Riku was stunned. The pants. Those were his, too. It was clear they fit the boy too big; he rolled up the legs a few times, and Riku couldn't imagine what could be holding them up. A couple of belts, maybe. But there was the ink stain just under the knee where Riku's pen decided to explode on him in the middle of a particularly difficult critical thinking exercise. This pair he distinctly remembered throwing out to the trash, not two months ago.
When Yuffie put his coffee and pumpkin muffin on the counter, the couple sitting across from the boy gathered their coffee and left, arm-in-arm, distracting Riku from the pants long enough to feel a longing pang.
For a brief second he imagined himself and Kairi like that. Only a brief second, and then he returned his attention back to the boy wearing his pants.
He was actually looking straight at him, and Riku almost laughed out of relief to know it was because the boy had been watching the couple leave, and doubtless he too had felt something like that... what a relief. He was not alone. The boy smiled sheepishly, understanding the inside joke. His eyes were so blue.
"...T-that's... sweet, isn't it?" he said, an attempt at conversation.
"I guess." He couldn't think of much else to say except You're wearing my pants, which probably wasn't the best thing to say. "Mind if I sit there?" he said finally, feeling the weight of the uncomfortable silence.
The boy looked startled for a minute, then ducked his head down, nose in the book, and muttered an affirmative.
"Pumpkin muffins," he said after a few minutes, glancing over the edge of his book.
"I always get them," Riku responded automatically. "Cid only sold them for a while last year… so I try to get as much of a head start on them as I can."
To his surprise, the boy smiled a genuine smile, chuckling a little. "I didn't know they tasted that good to anyone," he murmured, eyeing the ones Riku has in front of him.
Homeless. The word drifted across Riku's mind in a quick fade in and out. The instant he tried to banish it he knew it was true.
"Do you want a bite?" he offered, mentally knocked off balance. This kid had to be no more than two years his junior.
"Oh… thanks, but it's okay." The boy smiled again and put a worn square of paper between the pages of his book, closed it and stood. "I'd better get going."
And he was gone, pulling slightly at the waist of the pants that weren't' his, whistling a bar of music.
Came Yuffie's voice from the back of the kitchen. A moment later she emerged, tying her apron strings and waving an envelope. "That dunce!" she practically screeched. "He always makes some excuse to duck out on us."
"Did he leave without paying?" Riku asked, his recent hunch kicking him in the shin. Somehow he felt responsible.
Yuffie crossed her arms over the glass counter and leaned forward. "No!" she said, laughing. "He just never lets us pay him for his work." She pulled out a clipboard and began checking things off with a pen. "Every month he bakes us stuff to sell here. Like the pumpkin muffins."
Growing up on Destiny Islands, Riku had been very unaware of poverty. Coming to Radiant Garden and realizing that some people were forced to live on the streets was a shock. It was an issue he would have rather not had to deal with. But since this situation arose, he was starting to feel intrigued as well as guilty. He'd been throwing out clothes without thinking about it, replacing them easily while other people had to endure the embarrassment of digging through trash to keep themselves warm.
And that boy.
He was so young.
The next day he stayed on campus for lunch, not wanting to run into him again.
"You seem down," Kairi commented as they shared a bowl of Red Dragon fried rice.
"Did you know that there were homeless people in this city," he asked, then felt stupid for the wording.
"Of course. It's sad. But we do have a couple of shelters, you know." She frowned. "Riku, what's wrong?"
He wasn't' sure how he was supposed to explain that he'd had some sort of awakening to it by seeing Sora in clothes he'd thrown in a dumpster. "I was just thinking about… maybe I take stuff for granted."
It was a pathetic way to sum up his feelings, but she nodded, understanding.
"You probably don't want to hear it… but I think you do. You grew up pretty privileged, Riku. You're lucky. Other people really aren't. So when you waste your money on stuff and then throw it out a few months later…" she trailed off, as though to end it with you should know what a jerk you're being. They ate in silence for a few minutes, and then she spoke up. "How about for your next Birthday, instead of buying yourself something expensive, do something meaningful. Volunteer atone of the homeless shelters or something. I'll even go with you."
"I'll think about it," he said, smiling even though his stomach turned at the thought of entering a building where more people might be wearing things he'd carelessly dumped.
Sora wasn't' at Cid's the next time he entered, when it was windy enough to tussle his hair so that Yuffie laughed at him when she looked up from the cash register. He bought a pumpkin muffin with that guilt tugging at him. But then, if Sora was indeed homeless, why would he duck out on pay like that? Maybe he just preferred dumpster diving to shopping for clothes. After all, not everyone who rummaged through garbage was homeless, right?
As he was contemplating it and hoping that it was a valid theory, Sora walked in, wearing the hoodie again. His hair was thrown about by the wind, too, but since it was naturally unkempt it didn't seem to make much of a difference.
"Pumpkin muffin again?" he said cheerfully when he saw Riku.
"They're Riku's favorite," Yuffie announced, grinning.
Sora glanced at him, almost smiling, but there was something about the look that made Riku feel uneasy. At the same time, it eased the guilt slightly.
"Yuffie told me you bake other things for Cid's," he said.
"I like to try my recipes out here." Sora shrugged. "The amaretto crème and fruit tarts... the raspberry chocolate poundcake... the sugar cookies..."
"And you never let us pay you for it," Yuffie interjected.
Sora looked embarrassed. "I just like baking, Yuffie," he said quietly. "That's not something someone should pay me to do."
He only stayed long enough to get a small cup of hot chocolate and left, Riku noticing the red paperback book tucked under his arm as he walked.
The guilt rose up again, along with a sort of curiosity. Riku waited until he saw Sora cross the street to pick up his things and start following. There was no way Sora could be without a place to live. It was unfair. Riku as going to follow him to a house, and Sora would walk in. When he saw that he could feel better about all of it and forget about it.
But Sora kept walking.
And since Riku had never followed anyone like this and he was focused on the anticipation of seeing Sora walk up to a door and pull out a key, he didn't notice that he was closing the distance between him until Sora turned around and saw him. A moment later he slowed his steps and turned around.
"Are you following me?" he ventured.
Caught, Riku turned his head enough to get the wind to blow his hair all over his face.
"Maybe I was just going this way," he said convincingly. "Do you live around here?"
Sora favored him with that look again, the one that made Riku uncomfortable but relived at the same time. "Yeah..." he said, and shrugged. "Around here..." They weren't too far from the campus, farther north of it than Riku's dorm was east of it. Still, it wasn't a very decent looking neighborhood. Maybe that was as bad as it got. Sora could be relatively poor but not homeless. As he thought it, Riku wondered why he felt such a need to confirm it.
"Masaki," Sora said suddenly, tearing his eyes away from a group of high school aged kids across the street.
"How do you know my name?"
Sora held up the book. "Riku Masaki. You turned twenty one this January and your friend Kairi gave this to you for a present. And you threw it out." He rifled through the pages. "You threw this out too, didn't you?" he asked, fingering the hoodie. "Is that why you followed me?" the blue of his eyes seemed to darken, and Riku was reminded clearly of Roxas. "Fine. I admit it. I took it from your trash. So what? I don't think you want it back." The wind whipped around him sharply.
Not knowing why he had followed Sora in the first place, Riku stood there, wanting to ask why but knowing that he'd probably offended Sora in some way.
Sora frowned. "I guess I should thank you," he said slowly. "If you didn't throw things out..." his tone softened. "But forget about it, okay? I'll find another dumpster to dig through or something."
And he was gone.
The first week of October were cloudy, moody days, more often than not drizzling rain. Riku didn't know how he was supposed to feel about what Sora had said, but for the past two weeks he'd been avoiding Cid's and religiously recycling and throwing out less trash.
And then it stormed.
"This is bad, Riku," Kairi said over the phone. "I know I promised to come over and cook us dinner, but I don't think I can leave my building." It was raining terribly, and Riku was sure that his dorm was going to lose power soon, especially if a thunderstorm started up.
"Don't worry, Kairi. I'll make my own dinner." He grinned. "Just stay in your room and be safe, okay?"
He thought of Sora just then, and the thought began to itch. Where he said he lived. Riku wasn't terribly familiar with the neighborhood, but he did know there were only two apartment buildings in the area and one of them had been condemned a few months ago.
"Why do I care?" he muttered, putting on his shoes and a jacket.
Outside was dark and the ground was almost entirely flooded in some places. There were no cars out at all, and he could see that one of the dorms on campus had lost power. He was soaked by the time he crossed the street, but he kept running.
The apartment building that was occupied had its power out, too, and Riku was cold when he burst through the visitor's entrance. A few people were huddled around the front desk, holding up candles to someone trying to fix the circuit breaker.
"Excuse me," Riku said. "Does anyone named Sora live here?"
The guy fixing the circuit breaker, a man with an eyepatch and a scar along the same side of his face, scowled at him.
"Are you crazy, man? Going out in a storm like this?" He waved a wrench at a petite blonde girl holding up a flashlight for him. "Ask Naminé. She's the landlord's daughter."
The girl frowned softly.
"I'm sorry," she said. "We only have about five families living here, and none of them has a Sora."
The rain went down on him in buckets as soon as he stepped outside, declining the offer to stay with Naminé and the rest.
"Sora... where are you?" he muttered to himself, then shouted. It was ridiculous. He was going to get sick. He had no idea where to even look.
He was starting to think about giving up and wondering where exactly he was – in the rain and dark it was hard to distinguish the streets – when he saw a dog bolt out from behind the building he almost recognized as the Youth Recreation Center.
"Pluto, wait!" a voice called out from the narrow alley between it and the next building.
Having no other ideas, Riku ducked under the tin awning from where the dog had emerged. The rain pounding on the flimsy metal stabbed into the headache that he was starting to feel, but when he looked up he saw another sloping awning that looked as though it was about to collapse, and some wood flanking one side of it. Under it all was a ratty couch, where a figure sat, swathed in thin blankets with only their eyes poking out. Blue eyes.
"Sora!" Riku shouted, and part of the blanket fell away to reveal a pale face that most certainly belonged to Sora.
Cursing himself because he realized the boy must have been sick for days if he'd been sleeping here Riku waded through the puddle sunk into the alley and forced the rough wooden planks aside, gathering the mass of blankets and Sora in his arms. Sora was alarmingly light enough for Riku to drag out.
"What do you think you're doing, Masaki?" Sora's voice hissed hoarsely.
"Shut up," Riku retorted. "If I don't get you out of here you're going to die."
When Sora woke up, he was warm. It was a feeling he had almost forgotten, and he decided at once that he was having a vivid dream.
"Oh, good. You're awake."
He sat up, feeling a slight throb in his head. "Masaki?"
Riku peeled off a wet coat and threw it over a chair and then rummaged through a plastic bag, pulling out a bottle, which he shook quietly. Pills.
"Time for your medicine."
Sora groaned and fell back into the bed. "Are you crazy?" he asked.
"No. I think I'm your hero or something. You've been out since last Thursday."
Sora's eyes widened. "Thursday? Then... what day is today?"
Riku shrugged. "Monday. I think you were showing signs of pneumonia. Of course, I couldn't take you to a doctor, considering where I found you." He held out two pills and a glass of water. "Your fever broke yesterday, but you're still going to need rest."
Sora looked at the pills. "Why should I trust you to give me medicine?"
Riku fisted them and downed the water himself. "I know," he said. "But hey. You're still alive after everything else I gave you. Though I'm sure you don't remember much of what happened after I got you here."
Truthfully, he himself still couldn't remember how he had got them both back to the dorm safely. It had been Axel who'd found him dragging the boy up the steps to help get him settled in Riku's bed.
Sora frowned again but held out his hand and took the medicine easily.
"Don't you have class?" he asked suddenly.
Riku laughed. "Yeah... in about an hour. But I'm not going." He pulled out his cellphone and hit a number on speed dial. "Kairi... I can't come to class again. Sora's finally awake so I'm going to be nursing him until Wednesday at least. Can you take notes for me and stuff?"
When he'd hung up, Sora looked at him suspiciously. "Did you tell your friends about me?"
"I told them that you were sick and I was looking after you. No one knows where I found you, and even Axel – he helped carry you upstairs – he didn't' ask any questions." He rummaged though the bag again and wandered over to the kitchenette. "I'm going to make you some soup."
"Because you need nourishment. And soup is what you feed sick people," he muttered, turning on the stove and filling a pot with water to boil.
Sora shook his head. "No. I meant... why are you taking care of me?" The was an uptilt of anger in his voice. "Is it because you feel sorry for me?"
Riku sighed. "Yeah. Honestly. I feel sorry for you. You shouldn't have to live like that." He shrugged. "That night, I felt that you were in trouble, so like an idiot I went out looking for you. But I found you."
Wednesday morning Riku woke up to find that Sora had left. There was no note of explanation, no sign that he would return.
Riku knew that he must have felt well enough, but it still didn't solve the problem. Kairi said that there were homeless shelters in Radiant Garden. Why didn't Sora go to one of them? Where was his family? Why didn't he go back to them?
"Actually, I was reading in the paper that two of the three shelters we have had their funding cut by the government. They can't afford to house over a certain number of people, and they don't have enough to feed daily more than a certain number of people who don't live there."
She gave him that look she's been giving him lately. "Something happened to you recently, Riku... I don't know what it is... but I don't think it's bad at all that you're looking around at the world." She smiled. "So I take it you want to volunteer at the homeless shelter?"
"Yeah... that sounds good."
On Sunday morning Riku slept in. He'd washed the sheets and blankets after Sora left, but there was a faint scent of vanilla in them that couldn't be scrubbed out. He was waiting for Axel to come over when there was a knock on his door. Since it was open and Axel usually didn't knock, he knew immediately that it must be Kairi or Olette, who insisted on knocking of out politeness.
It was Sora.
He was wearing some secondhand clothes that thankfully Riku didn't recognize as his own, and his face looked healthier.
"I brought this," he said suddenly, shoving a box into Riku's hands. "To thank you." A faint warm vanilla smell was coming from within it, and when Riku opened the box there were a variety of cookies.
"I figured that since you like everything I bake..." Sora shrugged, taking a step back as if to leave.
"Aren't you going to come in and share these with me?"
Sora smiled that genuine smile that made his eyes bluer. "I kind of have a weird thing about not eating what I bake."
Riku grinned. "Well, come in and keep me company while I eat them," he said, stepping aside. Sora seemed to hesitate, then came in and sat down on the couch.
"I've been feeling better," he said automatically. "I went to the free clinic this morning and they said I'd be fine."
He looked down at his shoes – surprisingly they looked fairly new – and was silent.
"What's your last name?" Riku asked finally. "You know mine, but I don't know yours."
"Harada," Sora murmured. His hands curled into fists. "Look, Riku... you don't have to pretend you care anymore, okay? Yeah. I'm homeless. But I don't always sleep in that alley. I crash at Tidus's apartment sometimes, when it's not so crowded. I eat okay. And they let me shower and stuff at the Recreation Center. So the next time you think I'm in danger, don't worry about coming to look for me."
And for the third time he was gone before Riku could think of the right thing to say.
Tuesday he found himself walking into Cid's, and Sora was there, still thumbing through The Tao of Pooh. Riku bought a pumpkin muffin and sat across for him.
"You could sleep on my couch sometimes, you know," he offered weakly.
"Thanks," Sora said after a moment, but he didn't' smile.
He had a late class that day, and Kairi kept poking him with her pencil to get him to snap out of his thoughts.
"Okay, Riku," she said when they were walking back to their dorms. "I haven't been able to guess what's eating you, so you're going to tell me. Tomorrow I'm coming over to cook us dinner, and I want to know all about it."
As she walked away he wondered again about their relationship. She certainly treated him like he was her boyfriend, though without all the romantic complications.
"You look down."
Sora was standing in front of his door.
"Girl trouble..." Riku replied shortly. "You need a place to crash?" he asked then, trying to make it sound casual.
Sora shrugged. "You offered."
Riku pulled out extra blankets and dug leftovers out of the fridge. "You could at least tell me about yourself," he said as they polished off a few Styrofoam boxes of Red Dragon special.
Sora poked at a piece of cabbage with his chopsticks. "I grew up on the west side of Destiny Island, Hope's Bay. My mom died, and I got kicked out of culinary school after I got kicked out of the studio I couldn't pay for anymore. Then I lost my identification papers. So I live wherever now." He fixed a dark blue gaze on Riku. "That good enough?"
He was gone the next morning again, this time leaving behind a scrawled "Thanks, Riku" on a half sheet of notebook paper.
Riku smiled to himself, knowing that it wasn't a permanent goodbye.
"And that's it, I guess," he said to Kairi that evening.
She gave him an odd sort of half smile.
"So do you think he'll come back?"
"I don't know... but if I feel like I've got to go rescue him again..." he shrugged. "He told me not to. But I would, I guess."
Sora did come back. On Monday he followed him from Cid's and they ordered pizza.
"So can I meet her?" Sora asked of Kairi. "She's your girlfriend, right?"
Riku tensed. "I don't know," he confessed. "We've been friends forever, and people sort of assume... but I don't know if there's anything really there."
"So ask her on a real date?" Sora suggested. "Put yourselves in that situation and see how it would play out."
"What about you?" Riku asked cautiously.
"Drop it," Sora said tersely.
They'd discussed it earlier, how Riku should approach certain aspects of Sora's life without offending him. And he could understand that, being in the position he was, Sora wouldn't be thinking about dating. Still, Riku was resolved to try what he'd suggested.
They'd finished the pizza and Sora was setting up the couch to sleep on when the door opened and Axel waltzed in.
"Riku, I owe you," he said, unaware that there was a third person in the room.
"So it went well?" Riku asked, referring to a blind date he'd set his friend up with.
"Well, the kid beat the crap out of me and I burned dinner. But I think I'm in love."
Riku grinned. Axel had weird ideas about love. Which is exactly why he'd chosen to set him up with Roxas. Initially it had been a joke, but once he'd gotten to know the boy, he figured he'd be perfect for Axel.
"So... do you think Roxas feels the same?" he asked lightly.
"I don't know... but I'll be sure to ask him in the morning."
Riku gave him a puzzled look.
"He's waiting in my room for me," Axel explained with a smug look before heading back out.
"You know Roxas?" Sora said as soon as the door shut.
"Kind of... I just met him a few of months ago..." Riku trailed off. He was remembering how Sora's angry glances reminded him of the other boy.
Sora nodded, seeming to read Riku's mind.
"He's my brother," he said.
"There's certainly a resemblance," Riku said at last. There was too much to ask. The main question, of course, was why Sora was in the situation he was and Roxas wasn't.
"We have different mothers," Sora explained. "I figure you're going to bother me about it so I might as well tell you." He shook out a sheet and tucked it around the couch cushions. "My dad was... unfaithful. He was married to my mom... but I guess he was in love with Roxas's mom, too. Or he was just..." he shrugged. "Roxas was born in December, about six months after I was born. Of course, dad couldn't let anyone know about his illegitimate kid, so... Roxas blames me for not having a mom and dad both. And then dad sort of skipped out on all of us. Then my mom died after I started school. I... I wanted to find Roxas and ask him to forgive me. I don't think he will, though."
Strangely, even with all of that on his mind, Sora fell asleep faster than usual, leaving Riku awake.
He had an older brother himself, and he started to wonder if that could ever happen to them.
Sephiroth seemed cold and distant to people who first met him, but he'd been the one to raise Riku when their dad had to move to Hallow Bastion and then to Midgar for his company with their mother following him. He'd been fourteen then, living in Destiny Cove. No. He was sure that nothing like that could ever happen between him and his brother, even if Sephiroth was his half brother. Maybe it helped that Sephiroth was quite a bit older than Sora was older than Roxas. They were five or six months apart. Sephiroth was five years Riku's senior.
Mind at ease, Riku fell asleep, waking up early enough to where Sora still hadn't left. He had a bad habit of doing that, sneaking off in the dark hours of the morning. But today he'd actually slept past the sunrise, which meant Riku could at least start on breakfast and insist that Sora eat something.
"Hey... what time is it?" Sora stirred before the pan on the stove was hot enough.
"Still early. Unless you need to be somewhere?"
There was something surreal and calm about the space between them and the words. Like Riku was going to wake up the next morning to find Sora there or having just left. As though it was meant to be that way.
"Riku... why are you looking at me like that?"
They ate breakfast in relative silence until Sora managed to wheedle him into calling Kairi and asking her out on a "real date". And then he had gone, not saying that he'd be back. But Riku knew.
"I'm never going to get rid of him..." he thought.
He had three classes to go to, but he decided to skip them all in favor of thinking up a decent place to take Kairi. They'd done everything together. Would it have to be a fancy restaurant?
Just when he finished making reservations at Bella Bête, his phone rang. "Roxas" the screen read, which was unusual. Riku never received calls from Roxas. It was always – if rarely – the other way around.
"...About Axel..." the voice on the other end was blunt. "I owe you."
And that was it. Riku grinned, recalling that Axel had said the exact same thing.
How did they know?
Axel wasn't the kind of person who was serious about a lot of things, and he'd never been in a relationship for longer than a month. How did he know after being with Roxas for less than a day that he was in love? And how was it that Roxas mutually felt it? Was he supposed to feel that way for Kairi? After one night where there would try to be more than best friends?
"Complicated," he muttered, pulling out some nice clothes for later.
Not nearly as complicated as that morning, though. He and Sora had eaten bacon and eggs and toast while watching the morning news, and Riku felt oddly comfortable.
"Cottleson Pie," Sora had said randomly. At Riku's confused expression, he explained: "Things are as they are," and shrugged. Maybe it was because he felt it, too, the peacefulness and the sense of right that was there. For some reason, Riku was finding it hard to summon a Cottleson Pie memory with Kairi. True, they were best friends, and had always been at ease with each other, but Riku couldn't recall ever feeling so happy with who he was and everything around him when he was with her.
Regardless, he put on his best pants and dress shirt and waited for her in front of her dorm building.
She was wearing a modest dress in dark rose and looked happy to see him.
"How's Sora?" she asked as they began to walk.
"Kairi..." Riku said suddenly. "This isn't going to work, is it?" He watched her face for any sign that he'd hurt her, but found none. She smiled and laughed.
"I can't believe we almost went through with this!" she said. "You... you don't love me like that, do you?"
He shook his head sheepishly. "I guess... I love you, Kairi. But not like that. I'll never stop loving you this way, but it's not the kind of love everyone expected us to have."
They stood awkwardly, dressed up for a romantic evening in the middle of the sidewalk.
"It's getting cold," she commented at last, and it was unspoken that they wouldn't be going to the restaurant.
"Yeah... Do you want to go get some hot chocolate?"
She smiled. "That sounds good. But I meant... it's getting colder, and if Sora doesn't have any place to be during the day he'll need a coat."
They put their money together and bought him a dark red one lined with soft, warm quilted fabric, and as they walked back, Kairi slowly pulled the Cottleson Pie memory out of him.
"Riku... be careful," she said finally. "Sora's... I haven't met him. But he knows you because you were sort of ignorant to the reality that he lives. If you think that you might care about him and you say it the wrong way..." she trailed off. "I want to meet him, though."
Sora wasn't waiting for him when he got back, and he realized that he must have thought that if the date went well, he would be bringing Kairi back with him. It was a strange thought. Not because of Kairi in the equation, but because Riku rarely thought about intimacy. Maybe it was another product of growing up on Destiny Islands. People there seemed happy with their relationships, and the acts of physical love, while known to him, weren't as prominent as they were in the bigger mainland cities. There were urges, but as he took off his clothes to go to bed, he wondered why his urges were never directed at a certain person. Rather, he concentrates on what it would feel like to have anyone that close.
What if it was Sora?
He fell asleep actually imagining it. Waking up with Sora in his bed beside him instead of on the couch across the room. Sora's body pressed lightly against his, maybe his fingers in Riku's hair. What would it be like to kiss him?
In the morning he felt pressure between his legs and soothed it to the deep blue color of Sora's eyes.
"How did the date go?" Sora himself asked later in the afternoon. "I didn't hang around, thinking that you might want..." he shrugged. "Crashed at Tidus's place."
"It didn't go," Riku replied shortly. He was very aware that he didn't like the thought of Sora sleeping at someone else's place, especially since Sora had mentioned that the studio apartment in the Burrow was usually crowded.
"Not bad exactly... we just figured it out at the same time that we were never going to be more than friends. We ended up shopping for a coat for you."
Riku pulled it out of the shopping bag. "I should have wrapped it, maybe," he offered.
Since all of Riku's clothes fit Sora loosely, they'd found a coat a size small, figuring he would have time to grow into it a little.
"You didn't have to, you know," Sora said lamely, fastening the buttons.
"It's getting colder..." Riku shrugged. "And I can't leave my door unlocked all the time while I'm at class. Didn't want you to get sick out there. Again."
"If I do..." Sora began, fingering the lining, "Would you take care of me again?"
Riku was pretty sure it wasn't a simple question.
His heart tightened. Was Sora feeling this, too?
"...yeah..." he replied slowly. "I would take care of you again."
If they were having a moment, it was quickly extinguished by the door opening. Axel never knocked. And for once – as soon as Riku caught sight of who was with him – it posed a sort of problem.
The look on Roxas's face betrayed more emotion than he would normally let on in front of others, save for perhaps Axel. Riku was used to seeing him angry, of course. But for all the times he'd seen him angry it had never been quite like this.
He stared at Sora for a brief instant before charging into the room. "You!"
Axel grabbed him from behind, and after a moment of resisting, he actually relaxed into the grip, but continued to glare in that more than angry way.
"You owe me," Riku reminded him, standing between the brothers.
"Riku... let me," Sora insisted, pulling his friend to the side. "Roxas... I came looking for you. To ask that you forgive me."
"Roxas," Axel chided calmly. "Can't you just hear him out?"
Roxas reached up and twined his fingers in Axel's hair, breathed as though he was trying hard not to explode and said, "Too simple."
"What do you want me to do, then?" Sora almost pleaded.
"We'll Struggle," Roxas said.
"Are you sure about this?" Riku asked later, once Roxas and Axel had left.
"I think it's the only way he'll listen to me."
"But... have you ever Struggled before?" The game originated in Twilight Town and was known for being somewhat brutal.
"Well..." Sora admitted sheepishly. "No." He laughed nervously. "But on the island Tidus and I used to spar with practice swords and his bo staff. Shouldn't be too much different."
Riku sighed. "I'd better teach you the rules, at least."
"I guess that would be helpful."
Struggle could best be defined as fencing combined with boxing. The bats were the length of fencing foils, but made of a firm substance. A fighter was not allowed to strike below the belt. Sweeping motions at the ankles to knock an opponent to the ground was one of the exceptions, of course.
Like in boxing, the goal was to knock out your opponent, and this was best done by unarming first.
"Look," Riku said carefully. "I've never seen Roxas Struggle, but he's won formal and informal matches enough times for anyone to take notice."
Sora looked pensive.
"Riku... you'll come watch, right?"
"Of course. You're allowed a second."
Sora looked at him strangely. "So if I get knocked out, you'll fight for me?"
They were sitting on the couch in the same relaxed way they had a few mornings before. Breifly, Riku wondered what would happen if he were to embrace the other. He had a sudden vision of leaning his cheek against Sora's hair. But he had to remember what Sora was going through. And how Sora would react. How he felt about Riku. That was something complicated, since Sora discouraged talking about his too personal life, accounting for his situation. Riku didn't even know if Sora had ever been in a relationship, much less if he would be accepting of Riku's feelings.
Sora shifted uncomfortably, weather it was from the silence or the thought of a Struggle grudge match against Roxas.
Or maybe he was somehow sensing what Riku was thinking, because he shifted again, as though to stand, but paused, closer to Riku than normal. Once again, Riku was aware of how blue Sora's eyes were, and that thought barely registered when Sora leaned closer, carefully and almost too fleetingly pressing his lips to Riku's. He pulled away quickly, though, embarrassment evident on his face, and Riku was dizzy with the thought that if the kiss had lasted longer, he would have been giving into an urge he was largely unfamiliar with.
"S-sorry!" Sora said quickly. "I didn't – "
" – try to stop you," Riku finished abruptly, grabbing Sora's arm and drawing him closer. Sora's eyes widened slightly.
"W-what?!" he said, his voice pitching upward.
"I wasn't going to make a move to stop you," Riku explained, his tone oddly even.
Sora relaxed visibly and leaned closer again, meeting Riku's lips with his own, loosely draping his free arm over a shoulder and responding to Riku's hands settling along his shoulder blades, first sharpening with tension and then relaxing. Riku was aware that up until now he'd only had very vague thoughts about touching and being touched by someone, being kissed. There had never been a specific person in mind. Maybe Kairi once. But at that moment he was so full of Sora it was nearly overwhelming.
"Stay with me," he gasped lightly when they broke apart.
Sora's eyes were bright. "Stay?" he said quietly.
"Just for tonight," Riku began, eager to hold Sora close and wake up with the other boy in his arms. "I promise I'll – "
Then Sora pulled away, not speaking, and was gone in much the same way he had left those first times that he knew Riku.
"What did I do?"
"Riku... you need to choose your words more carefully. And Sora... needs to stop thinking of himself as social garbage," Kairi reasoned.
They were sitting in the library, the same place they had been sitting when Riku brought up his hoodie again, after seeing Sora wear it.
"You shouldn't have said it like that. Sora probably thought you meant that you... wanted him, and just for one night. And that afterward you'd throw him out, like you used to throw out a lot of stuff."
"Sora isn't 'stuff'!" Riku hissed. "And I do want him... but not just for one night."
Kairi looked thoughtful. "Riku... I think you care about him. A lot. But it doesn't do you any good sitting here and telling me about it. Go find him and tell him."
Riku buried his face in his hands. "I want to. But he's probably getting ready to face Roxas right now. I was supposed to be his second... but I'm betting that after the other day, Tidus is going in my place."
Kairi frowned. "Riku. I think he cares about you, too. At the very least, he has the right to know that you didn't mean what he thought you meant. Let's go." She put away her homework.
"But you have class!" Riku whispered loudly.
"It won't kill me to skip for once. And besides, I still haven't met him." She shoved all of his books into his arms and pulled him to his feet. "Come on."
There were quite a few people at the match, and Riku wondered how many of them were there specifically in support of Sora or Roxas or how many of them just wanted to see a Struggle. When He and Kairi managed to wrestle their way to the front and nearest to where Sora was on the edge of his stance, the fight had already begun. Sora, despite no experience with Struggle, was holding up fairly well because he seemed to have good reflexes and fluid wrist movements. However, he still hadn't landed a point against his brother.
"I don't think this is a good time to explain myself to him, Kairi," Riku muttered as Sora took a hit.
"Just wait until after the match. He's going to need someone, one way or another," she replied, chewing on her bottom lip and watching. They both exhaled in relief when Sora swept his bat around and landed a point at Roxas's shoulder, but if Riku knew Roxas at all, that was going to be the defining moment for him to get serious. And he did, knocking Sora down three times before calling out to Axel, who threw him another bat from the sideline. Riku had heard that Roxas often competed with two bats at once, being ambidextrous, but he didn't think he'd use it against Sora. Both bats crashed down firmly against Sora's defense again and again until Sora dropped to a knee and lost his grip on his bat, sending it spiraling and thrashing out to the edge of the field.
"Sora!" Riku called, pushing past a knot of people gasping and crowding together to get a look at the finishing knockout. He scooped up the weapon and threw it back to Sora. There was never a change in Sora's eyes as he snatched it, scissored in momentum to stand and brought the bat down hard in a three strike combo, collarbone, gut, ribs. Roxas crumpled backward and dropped both bats, falling over a second too early for Axel to catch him.
"You..." he said a minute or two later when he came around, reaching out to grasp Sora's shirt. Most of the crowd had dispersed, so Riku and Kairi were able to edge forward and hear the last: "You make a good other." And Roxas smiled, a slightly darker one than Sora's genuine one, but enough to ease the atmosphere. It was gone too quickly and he turned to Axel. "Take me home."
Axel flashed Riku a relieved glance and allowed Roxas to clamber onto his back.
Kairi nudged Riku forward.
"Thanks for the help," Sora said in a monotone voice, then walked away, immediately joined by who Riku assumed was Tidus and two other girls. They all wore clothes that were slightly too big for them.
"Now what?" Riku breathed.
He did what he normally did when he wasn't feeling well. Cid's was packed with RGU students pouring over notes in preparation for finals week. Riku himself wasn't too worried about his exams, as he'd been spending the past few days holed up in his room studying when he wasn't' in class. He hoped that all Sora really needed was that time, and that when he tried tot talk to him again it wouldn't be too late.
"I haven't seen you lately, Riku," Yuffie commented when he got to the front of the line. "Or Sora. We thought that since you knew he made the pumpkin muffins you were making him bake them for you night and day." She laughed. Riku smiled wryly.
"No. Not really... but I'd like one right now, and my usual coffee."
"I'll have the coffee for you in a minute, but you'll have to wait for the muffin. We're out, but Sora just put another batch in the oven."
"He's here?" Riku asked quickly, nerves bundling.
"Yeah... in the back. Do you want me to call him...?"
"Don't bother," Riku said shortly, moving around the group of people blocking the higher counter by the coffee machine, climbing over the gate that blocked the employee's area from the café and ignoring Yuffie's cry of protest.
He'd never been in the scullery of the café, but followed the familiar scent of vanilla wafing from the large back kitchen. The café used to be a restaurant, and when Cid bought it he insisted on keeping the kitchen, mainly because it had a stairwell leading up to the second floor, where he had made himself an apartment of sorts.
Sora's coat was laid over the sink, and he was sitting on a stool, sifting flour.
He figured that since the Struggle he'd been staying with Roxas because the look in his eyes was even more venom filled then he remembered.
"You're not allowed back here, Masaki," he said shortly.
"Sora, listen to me." He pulled the bag of flour away, spilling a little on himself. "Please."
Sora cast his gaze down. "Look, I'm sorry," he said stiffly. "Sorry for watching you all that time and thinking that I could be... something to you. I'm sorry I talked to you and imposed on your hospitality – "
"Shut up," Riku said. "You're not sorry," he insisted. "And I'm not. And when I said what I said... I know I made you angry. But I didn't mean it like that, not how you think."
"And what do you think I thought?" Sora looked up.
"I thought... maybe you thought that I meant... when I asked you to stay like that, that in the morning I wasn't going to want you anymore."
"You've thrown out some pretty valuable stuff, Riku. I was living off of your garbage."
"Sora," Riku said calmly. "When I met you... I stopped doing that. Because you made me realize what I was doing was wrong. And anyway... I... I care about you. I might even love you. If I had you... if we could be together I would never do that to you."
Carefully, in case Sora decided to resist, Riku kissed him with pronounced tenderness.
"Riku... we can't," Sora murmured, pushing away.
"Stay with me," Riku repeated. "I mean it. Look. I'm not going to live in the dorms next semester. My brother's letting me have his apartment. It has two rooms and a kitchen with an oven. You could stay. If you have an address you can get your identification papers back. And Cid would hire you to bake here. Stay with me."
"You mean it?" Sora's gaze became softer.
"I mean it."
"Even if... even if I couldn't love you back, and we couldn't be more than friends?" his voice was small.
"...Yes." It was hard to imagine, not being able to touch Sora, even without much intimacy. "But would you give us a chance, at least?"
Sora finally looked at him, and Riku couldn't have remembered that this was the boy he saw a month and more ago, smiling at him over a worn paperback book. Their third kiss was much easier, warmer than the first two and longer. Sora's lips parted and Riku slipped his tongue past them, coaxing Sora's into a slow movement. Sora's hands tightened around his neck, the tips of his fingers brushing the thin hairs at the nape. Riku stepped closer, pulling Sora's body against his own.
"R-riku... touch me," Sora murmured, crimson dancing briefly across the bridge of his nose. He took Riku's hand in his own and carefully guided it from his knee into the gentle length of his inner thigh. Control, Riku scolded himself, stroking the slight bulge in the fork of his legs. He wasn't sure if Sora wearing his pants was helping his control at all, so he sealed the building urge with another kiss, Sora arching into his hand at the intensity of it.
"I'm going to... to want you inside of me," Sora murmured, resting his forehead into the curve of Riku's neck.
Riku smirked. "So you'll stay with me?" he asked, moving his hand to encircle his waist, pulling him down from the stool so that they were against each other, Sora firmly pinned against the table. Sora nodded, grinding softly against him as he stood on tiptoe to pull him into another kiss.