Los Angeles – Sugarcult


Riku woke up when it was still dark; he could feel the sun approaching. The heat was already building within the tiny apartment he shared with his girlfriend, trapped between close walls and windows without screens, so that you had to choose between the stifling airlessness or the swarms of bugs and blood-suckers the travelled the air at night. Since Naminé had such delicate skin, it was always the former that won out – the pair of them lay naked under a single thin sheet, night after night, tossing and turning as the temperature stayed steady and hot during the midnight hours, before growing to choking levels with the morning.

Lying on his stomach, bare legs spread out so the skin of his thighs wouldn't stick together, the silver-haired twenty-year-old lifted his face from its crushed position inside the pillow, blinking blearily at the glowing numbers of the alarm clock. Four-thirty a.m. Not long at all, and the golden peak would be rising, ready to burn L.A all over again, on this glorious fucking fourth of July.

Beside him, Naminé shifted, her golden hair sweaty at the roots, and all he could do was wrinkle his nose in distaste at the sight. God knew he wouldn't be looking any better, especially since she hadn't let him in the fucking shower last night because of their fight, and with the price of everything on the rise, their plans to save on the water bill meant only one fucking shower per night between them.

Riku was torn between getting up, getting some distance between he and her, pouring some water into the cup of his hand and scraping it through his hair and over his face, and the fatigued temptation of just drifting back into the thick fog of heat and falling back asleep until the alarm went off in another hour. It took him fifteen minutes of listless deliberation to decide to rise, the mattress sinking and then springing back as his weight rolled and vacated, feet touching the thin, worn carpet. He reached out, took hold of the edge of the curtain, twitched it to one side and gazed out for a moment at the dark city. Yep, there it was – he could see the grey line across the horizon.

Fuckin' sun was coming.

He sighed sharply, let the curtain go and shuffled across the bedroom to where his clothes lay in a messy pile on the floor, bending slowly like an old man, gathering them up into his arms. In the bathroom, he washed himself sparingly, desperately trying to get some feeling of freshness going, but the instant the droplets touched his skin, they flattened and evaporated – he was left feeling as dry as he'd been before he'd started.

Pulling on his uniform, flipping down the collar and yanking the long hair out of the back of his to settle at his shoulders, Riku tried to muster up some energy for the day ahead, tried to pep-talk himself into some enthusiasm that might've been left lying around somewhere. It didn't come. There was nothing. His mind and heart were as parched as his skin and tongue. God damn it, but he was dying out here.

For a long minute, he folded his arms over the sink, bent over and touched his forehead to the deceptively cool porcelain, wondering when the hell this would all be over. He was trapped here, he could feel it, as trapped in this apartment and couple and life as his legs were trapped in the long black pants that his boss insisted on them all wearing, come Hell or high water – and God only knew the Hell part was being fulfilled with every day he drew breath in this pit-like fucking place. Teal eyes slid shut, despair welling thickly in his chest, heavy.

When the alarm finally went off, Riku was in the tiny, cramped kitchen, sitting on the counter next to the window, which he'd cracked open an inch to get some air in, as stagnant and breath-warm as it was – you just never knew when a fresh breeze was coming, though, it was like the Earth's lottery, and you had to be in it to win it. He was crunching down a small bowl of muesli as the shrill beeping erupted in the bedroom, and he waited, waited for Naminé to roll over and turn it off.

He waited.

He waited for ages. He pulled the spoon from between his lips, saw himself in the spit-shining metal surface, and yelled, "Naminé, are you dead or just deaf?"

Her voice travelled back thinly, "I'm not fucking turning it off – it's your alarm, you set it, you woke me up – if you were already up, you should've unplugged the stupid thing."

Riku smacked himself between the eyes with the spoon. Teeth pressing together, he raised his eyes to the ceiling, hissed, "God, give me strength," and pushed off to land on the linoleum. He stalked into the bedroom, snatched up the clock and flicked off the alarm, resetting it for the next morning. He almost threw it back onto the nightstand, but restrained himself – just.

"I thought you were gonna break it," Naminé muttered sleepily. "I was hoping you would."

"Yeah, well, unlike you, I need it to wake up in time for work," Riku snapped back, straightening, glaring over at her.

"Oh, fuck you," she replied irritably. Her hand worked its way out of the sheet, one perfect middle-fingernail flicking up into the air. "It's not my fault you have to work on a holiday, so don't take it out on me. Just make sure you pick up some milk on your way home tonight, I invited Kairi over to watch the fireworks from our window, and I want to make pancakes in the morning."

"You know something, Nami, sweetheart? You really don't make life easy." Riku kicked the bed, moodily stomped back out, went to fridge, wrenched it open. He grabbed the milk, swilled around what little there was left of it, popped the top open and gulped it down.

Naminé appeared at the door, dragging the sheet, and made a face. "Gross, Riku. Use a glass. You're not an animal, so don't act like one."
"Baby, I've never seen an animal drink from the bottle, okay?" Riku flashed her a sweet smile. "So keep the fuck off my back." Rolling her blue eyes broadly, the girl trailed the sheet into the bathroom, shut the door on its corner. The sound of the faucet going on hard made the silver-haired male throw up his hands in exasperation. "Just use as much as you like, Nam, it's no problem," he yelled through the door.

Deciding he couldn't take any more of this for one morning, he grabbed his keys from the counter, jammed his wallet into his pocket, and left early without a word. Who cared if he got to work before anyone else? Maybe, for once, Ansem wouldn't chew him out for being useless. What a nice change of pace.

As he exited into the sun, he paused, threw up an arm to shield his face from its savage burn. Trudging to the edge of the road, he unlocked the car, its white surface dull, undulating waves radiating from its metal roof. He dreaded climbing into it – it was going to be painful. His hand was seared a total of three times on the blistering handle before he managed to wrench it open, letting out a swirl of trapped, sizzling air. He lowered himself in, choking a couple of times, sucking in the heat, cranking down the window. He got the engine going, keys swaying and bumping his knee as he pulled away from the curb, already sweating rivers, eyelids blinking away the salt.

Half an hour later found Riku stranded in the middle of traffic, the radio blaring out a traffic report through all four open windows as he hauled himself out onto the street in amidst a blare of horns, jamming his hands against the hot metal of the roof and doorframe, bending low and pushing hard, getting the car rolling, dead from overheating. The needle on the gauge was taunting him, half an inch past the hottest measurement. As he thrust an arm in, hand gripping the wheel and guiding the hunk of metal off the highway, onto the narrow tow-away lane, he shot the gauge a dirty look through slitted eyes, hissing curses under his breath.

He leaned in, wrenched the handbrake up, and slumped against the steering wheel for a long minute. Behind him, the cars and buses continued buzzing past, a constant draught of baked air rushing through his hair. As tempted as he was to stay there until he melted away into the seat-cover, though, if he didn't fix this fast, he'd be late, and he sure as shit couldn't afford a tow.

Sucking in a sharp breath through his nose, Riku straightened, pushed himself back out into the full brunt of the light, yanking the lever to open the hood. Going around, hands on hips, he squinted at it through one eye, already knowing how impossibly scorching the steel would be to touch. Shoulders lifting in a resigned shrug, he wrapped his hands into the bottom of his polo-shirt, the perforated fabric little protection as he grabbed the hood's edge and just about threw it up. Frantically, he wrenched up the stand as it came crashing down, jumping out of the way as it let out a deafening bang, hands snatched close to his body. The hood shivered, shuddered, bounced a little, and fell still. Cautiously, Riku approached, peering into the engine's depths. The radiator cap was jammed on tight, burning him through his shirt when he tried to undo it. He reared back, kicked the stupid car, and a voice from behind asked, "Does that make you feel better?"

Riku whirled, breathing hard, frustration tight. Throwing a hand through his hair, he snapped, "Yeah, actually, it makes me feel like a fuckin' daisy. Car therapy, never heard of it?" He turned back, gave it another savage boot. "It's good for the soul," he snarled. The newcomer laughed softly, Riku twisting again to look at him, shielding his eyes. The guy was of average height, had a nice face, brown spiky hair, a massive bag on his back, various straps holding its weight comfortably against his body, no vehicle of his own in sight. "If you're after a ride," Riku said wearily, "you've come to the wrong person. I'm not going anywhere for a while. Not until this bitch cools down enough for me to open the radiator." Another kick, a little half-hearted this time. The boy nodded.

"That's okay, I was just coming to see if everything was alright."

Glaring at him, one eye pressed shut against the sun, Riku demanded, "Are you gonna mug me?"

The brunet blinked enormous blue eyes, kinda like Naminé's in hue, but otherworldly in their expression. "No, man," he said, surprised. "I told you, I came to see if you were okay. I mean, I can help, if you want."

Riku looked him up and down critically. "How?"

The boy sighed, shrugged. "Well, nothing major, but if you don't have a cell-phone, I can hitch a ride down the highway for you and call a tow…?"

"I can't afford a tow-truck," Riku said bluntly, cutting him off. He blew out a short, sharp breath. "But thanks, I guess."

The boy came up to stand beside him, unbuckling his bag, swinging it around onto the asphalt at his feet, looking down at the motor. "I've got water if you need to refill the radiator." He smiled. "I don't mind waiting til it cools off."

Riku eyed him uncertainly, hot and fed up, but finally recognising that whoever this guy was, he at least wasn't going to compound his problems. "…Thanks. I appreciate it."

"No problem," the guy chirped. He held out his hand, adding in the same tone of voice, "I'm Sora."

Riku hesitated, grasped his sweaty hand. "…Riku." They leaned against the slowly cooling car, under the shade thrown by the hood, and he asked, "So, Sora, are you the kind of hitchhiker that wears a friendly mask and then murders people in their beds, or are you just genuinely nice?"

"My current lack of police record," the brunet replied thoughtfully, pulling a large bottle out of his bag and taking a gulp of water, "indicates that either I am genuinely nice, or just really good at hiding the bodies."

Riku snorted. "What are you even doing in this shit-hole city, anyway?"

"Passing through," Sora said easily. "I've still got three-hundred miles to go before I reach my mom's house." He passed the bottle to Riku, who took it, swallowed a long mouthful, wiped it off and handed it back.

"No car?"

The boy shrugged. "Not at this point in my life. Back home, I usually bike around. It's a small enough place to be able to."

Riku let out a noise of distaste. "Not here, man. Here, it's your car or the bus, and public transport in this weather is ridiculous. I wouldn't step foot into one of those mobile men's locker rooms if you paid me."

Sora laughed, a musical, carefree sort of sound that struck a chord in Riku's chest. He hadn't heard anything that… clear… in a while. "I noticed. Me either! I'd rather stand for three hours on the highway." He noticed Riku staring, tilted his head to the side, the other male blinking and shaking his head, glancing away. "You okay, Riku? You seem… stressed."

Riku snuffed a short laugh, shifting his feet slightly. "Life is stressful." He sighed dully, gazing out at the passing lanes of traffic. "Quite frankly, it basically sucks. Yay, life." It was Sora's turn to stare, Riku noticing, squirming slightly. "Forget about it," he mumbled.

Sora shook his head. "You know, it's easier to leave it all behind than you'd think," he said, studying him. "I did it, I moved to Destiny Island – you know that place, it's on, like, travel brochures and stuff? I just picked up and left. I still see my mom and all, and I come home like I'm doing now, but, honestly? It wasn't hard. Like, at all."

"Well, some people have jobs and girlfriends and leases that don't expire for another three months," Riku growled. "It's hard to just 'pick up and leave' when the world has hooks sunk into every fucking piece of your flesh."

"…Oh." Sora sounded disappointed. "Yeah, I guess so." For a while, there was silence between them, before the boy lifted his head once more, that smile back in place. "But you know, if you ever do get a chance, you should go for it. Come to Destiny Island and just forget about L.A. It's a good place for that sort of thing, new beginnings and all."

Riku gazed at him, an emptiness in his eyes. "I don't know. Maybe." He looked down, eyelids sinking halfway. "But probably not," he said softly. "Probably never."

They waited an hour, until the radiator cap was cool enough, and unscrewed it with their combined strength. Sora emptied an entire giant bottle into it, the glugging loud between them, and Riku gave him a lift as far as the next gas station. He left him there, a dwindling speck in his rear-view mirror, and got to work late enough to give Ansem a field-day of Riku-screaming.

Whether Riku and Sora ever met again… well, that depended on Riku.