Disclaimer: I do not own Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts, nor am I making any money off this fanfiction.


Author's Notes…

I owe an explanation for this, so I'm going to give it now and try to keep it short. Basically, I really love this story, and I know everyone wants to see it finished… but the only way that's going to happen is for me to rewrite it.

There's several reasons. Here are a few: I started it about four years ago now. My writing's improved a lot since then. There's inconsistencies. I wasn't satisfied with how Sora behaved the first half of the story. There were a few plot devices I brought in that I shouldn't have that drove me nuts in the end. Bad decisions. I didn't know the precise details of the plot until toward the last few chapters. I couldn't keep up with the details, how many days had passed, et cetera… I was losing my drive on it, becoming unhappier and unhappier with each passing chapter.

So this is the end result. I'm sorry, guys! I'll totally understand if you want to give up now and be done with it. But if you have any faith in me or this story at all, please give it another chance? I love all of you! I'd be sad to see you go.


Frog Prince

Chapter One

It's Just So Unrequited


Sora where are u?

I hissed out a breath between my teeth and snapped my phone shut, looking around to Riku. It was already half past eleven, and from the looks of things, despite the "brief stop" we were supposed to have made, we weren't going to be leaving anytime soon. Riku had his hand on some girl's hip, his lips on her ear, two empty shot cups and a beer bottle on the table in front of him. She wouldn't stop giggling. Whatever he was telling her must have been so amusing.

"Riku, come on," I said at last, unable to contain myself anymore. I was having trouble sitting still. My foot tapped impatiently against a steel peg of my stool, and I kept plucking at the sweatband on my wrist. I really wanted to get up, leave my friend here, and head out to where I was supposed to be. The only thing was, I didn't have a car, and Riku had driven us.

Kairi was going to kill me.

"Sora, will you just knock it off?" Riku's eyes were glazed with the liquor he had drunk, and I frowned to see it there. I hated it when Riku got to this point—he turned into such a total asshole. He was completely different than when he was sober, not that he really stopped the whole asshole part… he was just less of an asshole. "Relax, have some fun. Drink. That's the whole reason I took you out, remember? You were whining about being stressed out from school—well, now you can lighten up. Okay? Chill."

We weren't even supposed to be here. Riku was suave enough to pull off the twenty-one look when he really worked at it, and the bouncer had barely spared his fake ID a glance. I'd been scrutinized and twenty-questioned and only saved by another bouncer coming out and telling him something urgent. I'd had my ID thrust back at me and was ushered inside while my bouncer bent his head to hear his companion better.

God, why the hell had I been stupid enough to come? I'd known Kairi was having a party tonight at her house—if a somewhat more supervised one with less alcohol and not as much techno music. Her parties tended to involve no more than ten friends, movies, and… well… pretty much what consisted of a sleepover. I was the only boy allowed.

I didn't like the idea of never showing up. She was my friend, and I'd already blown her off twice now in the last week because of Riku. Enough was enough.

A familiar song that had been grating on my nerves all month came on through the speakers. Strobe lights scattered over the room, switching their rhythm constantly. It was enough to give me a headache, as I'd taken to staring at them for long periods of time and wishing that the minutes would inch by a lot faster. It was packed in here, but then, it was a Friday night.

I hated this. I just knew my sinuses were going to be screwed over to hell and back the next day from all the smoke inhalation. And… what… that girl was lighting up, asking Riku for a lighter, who said he didn't have one—and was turning to me.

"Hey, Sora, could you go and find Mikki a lighter?"

"No." I set my jaw, hoping that I looked suitably peeved. Maybe if Riku took me seriously enough, we could go. "God, Riku, just drop me off and come back."

"You're supposed to be hanging out with me. Forget that bitch."

That was entirely the wrong thing to say. My temper already having been on thin ice for the last half hour, I slipped off my stool and settled on my feet, hands clenched at my hands. Riku couldn't give it a rest! I'd told him again and again not to call her names, and he did so regardless, usually with that infuriating smirk on his face like the one he was wearing now.

It was all so stupid. Kairi had turned him down back when she'd been a freshman and Riku a sophomore. Two years later, and he still hadn't let it go, reminding me at every opportunity that she wasn't a good friend, that she didn't know me like Riku did, she was a goodie two-shoes who didn't know how to have fun, blah blah freaking blah. None of it was true—well, she was a goodie two-shoes—and I hated how biased he was because his ego couldn't handle being turned down.

"She's not a bitch, Riku, and you're being a real jerk." I dropped my phone into my pocket and sighed as I made my way down the slight platform our table was on and into the main mass of bodies. I was going to have to take a shower once I got to Kairi's house and wash my clothes there to get rid of the overwhelming smell of smoke, or my mother would notice the second I got home. She hated cigarettes.

"Sora, c'mon!" Riku's fingers snagged over my wrist. I paused in surprise. When had he leapt off his stool? "I'm sorry about what I said about her. But you're going to have way more fun here. Tidus is about to be here, and so is—"

I wrenched away from him. But of course. It was all about saving face. "I don't care, Riku, I want to get out of here."

"Stop being so stubborn. I thought you liked Tidus. You guys get along great."

That was only because I thought Tidus was extremely hot—not that I could convey this to my very best friend. Riku pretended to be oblivious to things that weren't immediately obvious or didn't directly concern him, and that was that.

"Look, Riku, I'm glad you gave me a ride here, and secured that ID for me and stuff, but… I just—I don't like this, this isn't my thing." I gestured to the club at large. "I've already blown Kairi off enough. I'll talk to you later."

Riku's lip curled. He never looked very pretty when he did that. "How the hell are you going to get there?"

"I'll walk, Riku." Disgusted with his behavior, I strode away from him. I had to push my way through a lot of writhing bodies who seemed endlessly tangled together, but eventually I made it toward the front of the club. I exhaled in relief. I loved Riku, I did, it was just… lately…

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it free to see that Kairi was trying to call me. Placing one finger against my ear to hear better and trap out the sound, I placed my cell up against the other ear and hurried out the front doors into the cool evening. It was like a slap against my face, and I breathed in the crisp mountain air, not cloyed by nicotine.

"Sora!" Kairi said at once. "Where are you? Why haven't you replied to my texts? C'mon, you know if you're going to bail, you just have to say so! I don't like being ignored!" I could hear giggling in the background from her friends, and then a particularly loud shriek. They were either watching a movie or playing some sort of game.

"Um… well, you see…" I glanced over my shoulder, even though I knew it was futile. Riku never chased after me. He made a point about it. Riku didn't chase. Every girl knew it. I, even though a boy and his best friend, was no exception to this rule.

Shit.

Kairi was going to kill me.

"…Could you come pick me up?"


"…already have to wake up at the crack of dawn for drum line practice, and then he went and kept you out so late, and if you had just listened to me in the first place…"

I sighed as we pulled into my driveway. Kairi had complained all the way from down in the valley to up around the mountainside to my neighborhood. Not that I blamed her. This totally was my fault. I should have known from the start that going into any club with Riku wouldn't be a short affair. But—sometimes it was so hard to say no to him…

Kairi tucked a strand of her pretty red hair behind her ear. "All right, Sora, well. It's a shame you couldn't come hang out with us, but seeing as how the party did start at seven and it took you til midnight to get a hold of me…"

"I'm sorry," I said again. I'd already apologized twenty times. "Please forgive me?" I put my hands together and fixed her with my most pleading look, making sure my eyes were really wide. I had been told that I had mastery over the puppy dog expression, and by Riku nonetheless. "I won't do it again."

That made her roll her eyes, but she laughed. "Sora, we both know that's not true."

"Yeah, well…" I dropped my eyes, mostly because I didn't know what else to do. She was right. Riku would crook his finger, and I'd come running. It had always been that way, for as long as I could remember, and so far I hadn't found anything to do about it. Until I did, I supposed I'd always be there when he told me to.

"Why are you friends with him?" Kairi softened her tone. It made my shoulders draw up straight, defensively. I didn't want to continue this conversation anymore, not that I was rude enough to climb out of the car just yet. Kairi had a right to state her opinion. I'd listen, and then I'd be gone.

I plucked at my sweatband. "I've known him since we were kids. Five and six. You remember."

Kairi twisted around in her seat so she could rest her cheek comfortably against the headrest and studied me from beneath lashes clear of make-up. Kairi was very pretty, and it surprised me that she didn't wear any, but she didn't really need to, did she? Natural beauty and all that.

"Of course I remember, Sora. You've told it to me hundreds of times."

"Then why do you ask?" I countered. I did my best to keep my voice even. I didn't want to snap at her. She didn't deserve it. But honestly, she kept bringing it up lately, and I didn't know what to make of it. I wasn't going to drop Riku. And likewise with Riku, I wasn't going to shoo Kairi out of my life, either. The two of them were just going to have to deal.

"He treats you like crap all the time," she murmured.

"Not all the time…" I protested.

"You always do what he wants you to do, but the minute you ask him to do something in return for you, he blows you off."

I shook my head. "He's busy…"

"With what? His social life? Please, Sora." She brushed her bangs out of her eyes. She'd gotten them cut recently so that they slanted a bit across her forehead, and she didn't like it. It was more of a nuisance to her than anything else. "You can do better than that."

"But you sound just like him." I unlocked the door.

"I do not!" That drew her up straight in her seat. Being compared to Riku for Kairi was like being compared to a slug. She found him absolutely repulsive. It didn't matter how good-looking he was, she couldn't get past his personality, which she found vile. I disagreed obviously.

"He tells me that all the time," I said, and I stepped out into the crisp air. The thing I loved about the mountains was that it was a high of eighty for maybe two weeks in the summer, and as soon as autumn hit, you could see your breath in the evenings or after a good rain.

"Tells you what?"

"That I can do better than that. About everything he doesn't like." I leaned back into the car, one hand grasping the roof of it. Kairi drove a blue Neon. "He's my friend, Kairi, and I'm not getting rid of him, and I tell him the same thing about you all the time." She needed to think about that. They both did. Kairi, fortunately, would at least consider it. Riku? Not worth his time of day.

"You're twisting this around on me. That's just a way of deflecting it because you don't want to talk about it." Kairi sighed and pulled her car out of park. "All right, Sora, I'll drop it for now." She sent a faint smile my way. "Text me after practice?"

"Yeah." I smiled back, more widely. "Thanks for the ride. See you." I tapped the top of her car and then departed. Her lights flashed over the garage doors as she backed out onto the street. I stood by the door to the mudroom and watched her until she disappeared around the corner.

On the plus side, my parents weren't expecting me for another hour, and they were deep sleepers. The house could come down around them, and I'd sleep on. That shower I couldn't get at Kairi's? Manageable now. Thank God. My mom could be the sweetest lady in the world until she thought you were doing something you weren't supposed to be.

I suppose one might think that my hanging out with Riku would therefore make me receive a lot of twenty-questioning from the parental unit. But that wasn't true in this case. One thing about Riku was that he totally had Mom wrapped around his finger. She thought he was an angel. The way she gushed about him was sickening—even disturbing, at times. Riku just found it funny. But of course he would. It wasn't his mom.

My shower went unhindered, and the parents were still sawing logs downstairs when I made my way to my room. The master bedroom and two guest bedrooms were downstairs, along with a den, living room, kitchen, and dining room. The upstairs portion of the house had been added later, and there was a bathroom, a study, and two bedrooms up there. I'd claimed one of them for my own.

The closet door was open. My uniforms for school were pressed and hanging up. I tossed my dirty clothes from the club beneath some things in the closet with the mental promise to head down to the basement later while the parents were at work and get some washing done then. I couldn't lie at all, and if Mom saw me actually doing my own laundry… Well, needless to say, she'd confront me about it.

I ignored my computer and collapsed on my bed, phone in my right hand. I knew I needed to get under the sheets and curl up, plug my phone at its charger, but I was just so freaking tired… The world was growing dark around the edges… My lashes were falling shut… Couldn't keep them open… so sleepy…

Girl you know I, girl you know I, I been feelin', wake up in the late night dreamin' about you girl, and, girl you know I, girl you know I, don't need candles or cake, just need your body to make birthday sex, birthday sex…

I groaned and fumbled for my phone. Someone was calling me. God, what time was it? I'd fallen asleep? I was on my back now… Oh, there was my phone.

"Nngh," I said.

"Soooraaaaaaa." It was Riku's voice. Oh, of course. He'd programmed that ringtone for when he called. That explained everything. "Sora, are you awake?" Giggles.

"Wha," I said. I blinked hard and sat up a little to spot my alarm. With another groan, I fell back on my covers. "It's five in the morning, Riku…"

What was he doing, calling me…?

Oh, right, he'd been drinking…

A lot…

Was this drunk dialing?

I had to be up in two hours for drum line practice.

Shit.

"Riku, not now, okay?" I flipped my phone shut and smartly shut off the ringer. I tossed it and heard it thump on the carpet overlaying the hardwood floor beneath my bed. With a mumble, I curled up on my side and pulled a pillow over my head.

I hoped one day he got in trouble with the cops. Then it would make all of this worth it.


Water…

Water everywhere…

"Hey… my ball… where did it go?"

His ball, his ball… where did it go…?

Where did it go?

Where?

…where…

I couldn't see very well. The water rippled, and it was dark, as though it were evening. I had the sense that I was propelling myself up through a type of cavern, except that wasn't quite it… it was more like a well of some sort. The walls were closed in on either side, comprised of stone, or at least that's what it looked like.

Someone bent over the well's edge. I kicked my feet harder, eager to reach them. Green eyes were peering down at me. Well, not directly… more like past me… as if they were searching for something. Thin lips were pursed in distaste. The water kept moving, so I couldn't make out his features too well beyond that except for also his hair… Silver strands. Lovely silver strands. They framed his face.

I breached the surface of the water. Those green eyes blinked, refocused—on me. Silver brows drew together.

I could see him clearly now. He was so beautiful… How could a boy look so pretty? And it was definitely a boy. His jaw was too firm, too set to be feminine. It was the only masculine feature on his face. I was almost proud of myself for spotting it. At least I hadn't been fooled! Not that it would have mattered…

-Sora, wake up!-

No, not yet, I didn't want to.

So beautiful… I thought again, wondering why the boy looked so familiar. Well… not necessarily a 'boy.' He was more like a young man. He looked regal, even—dressed in shades of black and deep emerald green, a sash around his waist and a ring of silver around his forehead. A circlet.

I felt pained suddenly. Royalty…

But why so familiar?

"Great…" he said sourly. "Just what I need. A damned—"

That's Riku! some distant part of me realized with a jolt.

My eyes came open to stare up into a shade of blue to match my own. My mother was bent over me, her hands on her hips and eyebrows raised. For a long time, I could only look at her, a lump lodged in my throat.

"How fair thee, Mother…" I murmured at last.

Those eyebrows pinched. "Sora?"

I shook my head and sat up. Well, that had been weird. I bumped my hand against my head a few times to clear it. "Sorry. I was—having a strange dream…"

"Where you talked Shakespearean?" Chuckling, my mother seated herself beside me. "Look, Sora, you want me to wake you up, and then you don't. What time did you stay out last night?" She swatted me lightly. "We never heard you come in. You can't be doing that when you have practice. Now, come downstairs, I have breakfast ready…"

I wondered where my phone was, then remembered I'd tossed it away last night. I didn't have the energy to go under the bed to locate it. There were probably three or four missed phone calls and no voicemails. He never left a voicemail if he could help it.

I sighed. He probably wouldn't even remember this when he woke up later this afternoon.

"Come on, Sora, up, up!" Mom clapped her hands as she got to her feet. "Breakfast! Your father's waiting to drive you to the stadium."

Right, right. Practice.

"All right, Mom, let me get changed first, geeze…"


It felt good out, which was fortunate, considering we were decked out in full uniform today and running our routine for the homecoming game in a week. The air was dry, not that it was ever really anything else, and there was a breeze going. Perfect conditions for practice. Could have used a pair of sunglasses, though.

I let the rhythm of the drums center me. Riku had made fun of me more than once for my chosen elective, but I didn't care. I loved it, and plenty of people thought it was cool. I didn't need Riku's approval for something like this. Well… I had at first—then I'd realized I wasn't ever going to get it for this, and if I did everything he wanted me to, I'd never have anything fun for myself. That was all there was to it.

See, Kairi, I can stand up for myself when I need to…

The birds in the area had long taken flight. We usually practiced at the high school in the band room, but with the game so close, Mr. Clueball had really wanted us out here on the field. Not that we were complaining. It felt good to be out of that stuffy room for once. And we could move with our routine much easier in the wide open.

We took a break an hour in, and while my classmates drew together and chatted, I let my eyes scan the area. The only real friend I had besides Riku was Kairi. Riku liked to hog all of my attention, and I never usually had any leftover for anyone else. It didn't bother me too much… after all, Riku was my best friend… I didn't really need anyone else, right…?

That was when I first saw him.

Him, not Riku.

He was walking down from the bleachers. He had to be a college kid, since we were at the stadium for the university. I wasn't sure what initially struck me about him. I couldn't see him all that well from where I stood. Something about the way he walked, maybe, more a prowl than anything else—or the way the wind was tossing his bangs into his eyes…

Brown hair the color of chocolate in the sun. Long legs. Jeans. A simple Graphic-T. Black. I wasn't close enough to see the designs on it. He had a pack on one hand. It was missing a strap, and the one it did have was wrapped firmly in his fist. Chain bracelets were on his left wrist, a leather band was on his right. No other jewelry decorated his person.

He was—well—amazing, he—

…had… a blond man following him…?

I tilted my head to the side to get a better view, having to squint through the sunlight. Another breeze kicked up. The blond had on a suit and was pressing a phone to his ear. Why was someone out here in a suit? His pace quickened, and he grasped a hold of Brunet's arm. Brunet gave a visible sigh and drew his fingers through his bangs to get them out of his eyes.

Curioser and curioser…

What were they doing out here so early in the morning? There weren't any classes on Saturday, and Brunet had a broken back pack anyway.

Blond pocketed his phone and bent his head to speak into Brunet's ear. Brunet gave a stiff nod, and Blond's hand dropped from his elbow. They reached the track and angled along it toward the parking lot instead of back to the school.

I had to twist all the way around to see them better, and that's when I saw the ear piece in Blond's ear, just like he was a federal agent or something. Hm… Brunet didn't look like he was in trouble… It was odd.

My eyes lingered over Blond's hair. It was about as spiky as mine, and a hoop was in his right ear. I only noticed because the sun caught the silver. He was an inch or so shorter than Brunet and just as slim. His lips were moving, but I couldn't catch a feedback from that, so he must have been murmuring.

"I've got it already!" Brunet snapped a bare second later, his voice whipping out through the chilly morning.

Blond said something indistinguishable.

Brunet waved an aggressive hand and pressed his lips together.

"Hey, Shiozu!"

I jerked to attention and turned back around to find Mr. Clueball pointing at me.

"You ready to join us now, or would you like another minute to get your head out of the clouds?"

"No, no, I'm fine!" I said, and lifted my drum and sticks before rushing to join my place in line.

I couldn't help sneaking a quick glance back over my shoulder. That guy was already retreating into the distance with his companion. Well, whoever he was, I hoped I saw him again, though the chances of that were unlikely. He went to college. I was still in high school…

"Shiozu!" Mr. Clueball barked again.

"Sorry, sorry…"


The afternoon found Riku and me walking through our neighborhood. I'd been surprised when Riku had called to ask me to "take a stroll" with him. We hadn't hung out just to hang out without any destination in mind for a while now. Ever since we'd been in high school, actually. It was nice. I missed it being just the two of us.

I told him about my dream, since he'd been in it. I didn't dream all that often, and usually when I did, the dreams were intense to the point where they felt real. Even still, I'd never exactly had one like this before. Nothing fantastical. This one, though, was definitely in that realm. I still didn't know what to make of it. Riku would probably only laugh—yup, and he was laughing.

"So you dreamed about being in a well and seeing me waiting on the other side?" Riku shook his head and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "What's that even supposed to mean?"

"I dunno," I replied. "I just thought it was weird enough to talk about, I guess…" I shrugged my shoulders, embarrassed. Why had I even bothered? Then again, maybe there wasn't much he could say to that. Even I might have only been able to come up with, "Oh, okay, that sounds… cool…"

I glanced over at him. He had on a dark pair of sunglasses and his hair was back in a high ponytail. He hadn't shaved all day, and stubble was a shadow on his jaw. The polo he'd thrown on was wrinkled in places like it had been crumpled up into a ball and stuffed somewhere, and his pants had a hole at one of the knees. His shoes were tattered.

His mother didn't clean his room—and he didn't exactly upkeep it—so clothes were usually strewn all over the place. It looked exactly like he'd just reached down and thrown on whatever was there. I probably wasn't too far off from the mark, either. When Riku was hungover, he didn't really care about his appearance, something he fought hard for when he was feeling one hundred percent healthy.

"Ugh, why is it so bright out," he groaned. "It's like ungodly."

"It's not that bad," I said. It was mostly overcast.

"My head's killing me… that Tylenol didn't do shit…" We crossed the street away from my house. The sycamore trees were providing shade enough that in all actuality, Riku shouldn't have been complaining about the sun at all. A testament to his headache, I supposed. Why did he have to go drinking so much? Why couldn't he just find other methods of entertainment, like I did?

He glanced over at me. "Did you want to do anything in particular tonight?"

I hesitated. Riku's idea of fun these days involved his other friends, and I always felt like… not the third wheel, but just an unneeded presence in general. I didn't know how to have fun around them. If anyone picked on me, Riku quickly reprimanded them—mostly because Riku thought he was the only one allowed to pick on me—but then they didn't know how to talk to me without picking on me, and… anyway, it was just a fiasco I liked to avoid.

"I don't…" I trailed off as my eyes tracked a familiar figure walking on the sidewalk across from us.

It was that guy! The one from the university!

What was he doing here?

He had a sketchbook under one arm, headphones over his ears. I wondered who he was listening to, what kind of music he liked, then shook the thought free. I didn't even know him… but I wanted to. He was just a cute guy—there were tons of them. This was ridiculous! But…

Brunet hit the corner of the street we were on and went to the driveway of a house directly across from it. Coincidentally, that house was only a block away from me. I passed it all the time when I went on walks. Did he live there? Maybe… It would be cool if he did. I could maybe accidentally-on-purpose run into him one time.

A black-haired woman came out of the garage to meet him. She was clutching onto a dog and was dressed in a pair of heels and skinny jeans with a billowy teal-colored tank top. Brunet paused when he saw her, and the two exchanged words. She was really pretty. Probably his girlfriend.

I felt my heart sink in my chest with disappointment. Of course he had a girlfriend. Why wouldn't he? Someone that gorgeous was bound to have one.

Beside me, Riku adjusted his sunglasses and sniffed once. "Who's that?"

"Uhm… I don't know… I saw him earlier today during practice." I shrugged my shoulders. "Guess he lives here."

"No, not him. The girl." Riku nodded his head to her. "She's hot."

I sighed.

Just then, a shiny black limo pulled up to the curb. The woman waved good-bye, and Brunet gave her a set of keys. She hopped up onto her tiptoes and placed a kiss to his cheek, her hand on his shoulder. He spared her a brief smile that lit up her whole face and made my heart pound. I didn't even know his name and already I had it bad.

Brunet climbed into the limo. Pretty Girl disappeared into the garage, heels clacking, and I heard a car purr to life. Moments later, and she reversed onto the driveway in a 5 series BMW. I felt the cavity in my heart grow. If I'd been disappointed earlier, it was nothing compared to now. I'd never even had a chance!

What kind of life did these people live? Okay, so Riku and I lived in a good neighborhood—in fact, it was the wealthier area. But these two? A limo and that kind of car? They could have been elsewhere, somewhere much more luxurious than this burned-out town that wasn't going anywhere because the Union wouldn't permit anything new to build here.

A song rose through the air that I didn't recognize. I turned around to see Riku opening his phone to a text message.

"Well, I've got to roll out," he said.

"Oh…" Our time together was over already, huh?

"Want to come?" Riku put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I tried to ignore the usual fluttery feelings in my stomach that accompanied touches like that. He wasn't good for my health. Neither was being his best friend when the feelings I had for him had gone beyond mere infatuation a long time ago. In fact, most days it was a modern form of torture.

"Come where?"

"I'm goin' to Tidus's." He grinned. "Tidus's parents are holding a barbeque, and their pool's heated, so we're gonna go swimming since it'll be okay. Tidus's dad is pretty lax on underage drinking, too. You should go since last night was such a bum. Come on."

"Um…" I quickly shook my head in the negative and stepped back. Riku had left his car at my house, so he'd have to follow me back home, but at least I could put some space between us. "I don't know, I don't think so." I didn't want to go drinking. It just wasn't my thing. Everyone always seemed to act like total idiots on alcohol. Why would I want to do something like that?

As expected, Riku wasn't happy with this answer. He frowned hard at me and caught my elbow before I could get too far. "Please? Come on, Sora, have some fun for once…"

"No, Riku, I…" I rooted around in my mind for some reason that would appease him. Well, nothing would appease him. It was more like I needed to find something that would make him let off, get off my case.

An idea lit. "Mom and Dad, you know… It's Saturday, and they like to rent movies, and it's been a while since I just sat down with them just to hang out with them." Not everyone hated their parents. At least, I didn't hate mine. I liked them most days. We never had any real problems. Riku knew that. He'd buy it. Maybe.

Riku gave me a long look. After thirty seconds, I started to fidget and had to look away. Even from behind sunglasses, Riku knew how to stare me down into submission.

"You're totally lying," he said.

Crap.

"Sora, come on. What do you have to do this afternoon, really?" He didn't give me a chance to answer—I got as far as opening my mouth, that was it. "Nothing, that's right. So why don't you come with me? Tidus likes you, he thinks you're cool!"

"No one else does, though…"

He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "That's because you never hang out with us! What's up with that, anyway? You never want to hang out with me anymore. They don't know you. You gotta give them a chance before they can form a real opinion, you know. Come on, what's the real reason you don't want to go?"

I scrunched my nose up. He wanted to hear it? Fine. "I don't want to be around alcohol. The idea of getting drunk isn't fun to me—"

Bursting into a laugh, Riku wrapped his arm around my shoulders and steered me down the sidewalk back to home. "That's so fucking sissy, Sora. Really? Come on. You're sixteen! You should at least be curious about it!"

Nope, and never had a drop of it in my life. Not that Riku would care. He'd probably just use it as more ammunition against me.

"All right, we're going to get you dressed, then we're going to my house so I can shower and dress, and then we're going to this party. I'm not taking no for an answer!"

"Yeah, but you never take no for an answer," I muttered.

"Hm, what was that?"

I didn't bother responding. Another thing about Riku was that he always heard what I said. By pretending ignorance, he gave me a chance to bite my tongue and not get beat. Riku could and would win against me in a battle of strength or wit. I was scrawnier than him, and when I was angry my thoughts didn't work quite as fast as his did. It was annoying. I'd learned to cope with it ages ago.

While I showered, Riku dinked around on my computer. I had a moment when I came back into the room to study his profile yet again. I did that often. Riku never took notice. Maybe he was used to getting stared at for his looks, I didn't know. I just knew he was painfully beautiful, and it wasn't fair to be around him constantly when he had no idea how I…

Well, whatever.

My eyes falling away from his pretty silver hair, I trailed over to the closet and began sorting through clothes. Riku heard the racket and hopped up to join me. Between the two of us, we found a suitable pair of khaki cargo shorts and a sky blue polo Riku had handed down to me when he outgrew it. I hadn't minded. Riku's things were never worn out. His mother bought him new things all the time, so in turn, the polo had also been practically new when I'd received it.

"Looks good," he said approvingly. He took my sweatband off and then put his fingers through my still damp spikes. "We'll gel these up better when we get back to my place. And get you some cologne. The girls like that. Ready to go?"

I bit back a remark about how I didn't care about what girls thought of me. He'd look at me funny, and I was in no way ready to explain myself to him. I valued Riku's friendship. I wasn't about to lose it over something as trivial as my sexuality.

My phone dinged from my bed. Brightening, I picked it up and thumbed through a few files. Oh, it was from Kairi. She hadn't responded to me for a few hours.

Hey sora sorry i was busy with my little sister do u wanna do anything tonite?

A way to wrestle out of this ridiculous evening out I was about to spend with Riku and his friends had just presented itself, and I seized it. Or, at least, I was about to, until suddenly my phone was snatched out of my hands. I whirled to see Riku backing away, his fingers moving over the keypad before he shut the thing and pocketed it.

"Hey!" I said, seriously peeved. "What'd you do that for, Riku?" Had he been reading over my shoulder?

"You're spending tonight with me, not that—"

"Riku, don't call her names!"

"Yeah, whatever."

I held out my hand. "Give it back to me."

"I will." He grinned and strolled toward the door, hands in his pockets again. "After we're done hanging out with everyone tonight."

I was so angry by this development I couldn't even form words. I knew I was sulking now, and I didn't care. It wasn't fair that he did that! And who even knew what he'd said to Kairi… God, and the worst part was, I knew if I fought him for it, I'd come out the loser, just like always. It wasn't even worth exerting the energy. With Riku, I couldn't ever prove my point. He'd just laugh at me and call me a weakling.

"Oh, come on, don't pout," he chuckled as I followed him out. "We're gonna have fun, I promise."

Then why did I have such a bad feeling about it?