A Stone's Throw in the Dark

The warmth of the sun was a rare comfort against his chilled face- a luxury in the late winter- and he counted his blessings: it was Valentine's Day, for one, and Aqua was sitting passively at his side, enjoying her lunch and picking through the various chocolate boxes she'd received, Terra standing not too far away. It was a Monday, sure, and a school day at that, but he liked to think of it more as the beginning of another great week than the first noisy day back after the calm of the weekend. The slightest hint of sunlight peeked meekly through the canopy of trees that hung high above them and the private little nook they'd claimed as their lunch spot. It was free period, and Ven had just finished passing out the last of his Valentines, and while Lea's thankful smile had held the slightest hints of something less than innocent and Isa had acted as if he could have just as soon thrown the tiny box of chocolates into the nearest trash bin, he'd dubbed the holiday rather successful.

It was a good day, he decided, grin tugging at the corners of his lips as crows crooned from the branches overhead. It was calm and peaceful and altogether—

"What the Hell is your problem? Stop looking at him!"

"I'll look at whoever I goddamn want!"

"Go look at someone else then!"

"Come at me, bro! I dare you!"

Oh yeah, scratch that. Maybe the day wasn't so flawless after all.

Terra vaguely resembled a feral mountain lion- or possibly a smaller but still intimidating and extremely agitated domesticated cat: teeth bared, shoulders stiff, ready to attack. His eyes were alight with the most malicious of hatred that not so much dripped as sputtered from each word he spat at the teen before him—a slender, dark haired boy with a wicked smile and sunshine irises that Ven admittedly had much trouble not getting lost in, who was currently standing in a stance quite similar to Terra's: arms outstretched in mock invitation, imaginary fangs bared as his metaphorical tail wagged to and fro.

"Why don't you just back off, freak? He's not interested!"

The brunette hissed, still oh-so catlike, trembling with poorly concealed rage as Aqua sighed heavily, muttering darkly about useless pride and "muscle-headed idiots". She made no move to stop their bickering, however, and Ven supposed she hoped Vanitas could knock some humility into Terra, and maybe Terra could knock some sense into Vanitas in return. Although, he decided, it would take far more than a few punches to knock any type of reason into their "all brawn, no brains" of a best friend, and the dark haired teen who was known to hit on teachers and pick fights with the janitorial staff, who even at that very moment, couldn't resist egging Terra on in the middle of lunch, even though everyone knew very well that he frequently dined alone under the bleachers in the gymnasium, halfway across campus.

"It's easier to have a smoke when the P.E. teachers are too busy necking in the locker room, and besides, I like the snotty looks on the cheerleaders' faces when they bitch about the smell of smoke, you know?"

Vanitas had told him one morning in early October, over the meager flame of the Bunsen burner in Chemistry as they tested various materials and the teacher eyed them with a helpless, forlorn expression. Vanitas was a renowned troublemaker after all, whose reputation for lighting parking lot fires preceded him, and Ven, well, Ven was slowly gaining fame for his knack for causing accidental accidents, like the time he tripped the mascot and broke her collar bone, or the night of the homecoming bonfire when the loose fibers of his jeans ignited and the fire department was forced to douse their effigy and send everyone home… so their partnership must have nearly given the poor teacher an aneurysm.

Ven had wondered briefly who used words like "necking" anymore, but even long-retired slang sounded like poetry when spoken from Vanitas's slender lips, so he disregarded it, too caught up in his partner's golden eyes and the ups and downs of the conversation to realize that, for the first time in history, Vanitas hadn't even tried to light a fire.

""Back off?" Oh, so you're afraid to cuss in front of him now, are you pussy? He seems to really like it when I talk dirty to him!"

Vanitas drew out, his words coated with venom as Aqua gaped and snapped her head in Ven's direction, eyes reflecting her shock as he wondered just what the two were arguing about and why it had gotten her so bothered. Terra flushed, fists clenching tightly, veins swollen beneath his heated skin as Vanitas cackled, doing something with his tongue that Ven found entirely too naughty to decipher, but way too hypnotizing to tear his gaze away from.

"You are so full of it!" Terra screeched, voice cracking, muscles tensed. "He wouldn't be caught dead with someone like you!"

And Ven wondered who Vanitas did hang out with, if this mysterious boy wouldn't dare be caught dead with him. Of course, he'd hung out with the dark haired upperclassmen a few times before—for tutoring (because albeit how troublesome Vanitas went out of his way to be, his grades were shockingly impressive), and pizza every so often after school, and maybe to see a couple of movies when Aqua was out on a date (with Zack, usually—her lovable but persistent admirer, or one of the plethora of guys who always seemed to be tailing her) and Terra was away at football practice or an out of town game.

He wondered if he and Vanitas could be considered friends, or even if their outings could be considered dates (with a mad blush and the incessant trembling of his heart, he realized that Vanitas always paid, no matter how much he begged to split the bill).

"Oh, really?" Vanitas sneered, cocky, "Well, for your information, he gave me chocolate too, asshole. So don't think you're so special!"

Terra flinched, fists shaking.

"Boys—" Aqua interjected desperately, picking nervously at the corner of her chocolate box. Her plea was ignored, however, as Terra lunged, like a jack-in-the-box when the music stopped, faster than Ven could comprehend, grip intent to close around Vanitas's throat as the raven haired teen snarled and easily dodged him, pulling back his fist and striking him hard between the shoulder blades.

Terra had the advantage of strength, sure, but Vanitas was fast, and cunning, and more than willing to fight dirty.

"You're such a dick!" The brunette choked, words echoing through the treetops and scaring away the crows as he shoved Vanitas backward with such force that the boy nearly lost his footing. "Just get lost! He's not gay; especially not for you!"

And Vanitas barked a laugh, sick mirth taking residence in the shadows of his irises as perspiration beaded at his brow. There was a crazed glimmer in his eyes, something akin to hurt that sent a painful twinge straight to Ven's heart.

"And what the Hell do you know anyway?" He screamed, literally screamed—voice guttural and raw as his triceps jerked and his lips pulled back to reveal clenched, pearly teeth. Ven's eyes traced the contours of his arms and the pulsing muscles beneath his faded crimson flannel, down the torn and tattered jeans that revealed strong but slightly knobby knees, to the worn out soles of his age old Chucks, black of course, with smeared and weather-washed sharpie bleeding in the fabric and smudging the once glossy toes.

He recalled the very first time he ever laid eyes on Vanitas—two years prior in the crowded English hallway as he and Terra shoved passed gaggles of giggling girls and boastful football players who clapped Terra on the back and eyed Ven in a way that, had he been less humble, may have offended him. He was but a tiny, scrawny freshman after all: short even for his meager age and already struggling in the majority of his classes, regardless of it being September, and school having only been in session for a single month.

Terra was trying to convince him to try out for the football team ("or even soccer, anything!" he had suggested, growing desperate when Ven turned down every offer. It had been the first time that he'd ever wondered if his weakness was bad for Terra's reputation as a tough guy—if maybe his football buddies made fun of them during practice and if Ven were to be good at something, at least, if they would stop.) as they attempted, in vain, to scope out Aqua amongst the crowd. Terra had been outlining the finer points of the boys' tennis team, and doing a worthy job of bullshitting it, since Ven was positive he knew nothing at all about tennis, we'd he'd spotted him.

He, who he would later learn was named Vanitas, was tall and unfamiliar, with thick, inky hair that fell over shocking golden eyes in a way that Ven dubbed "just right". He had been wearing flannel back then as well—dark blue that brought out the porcelain qualities of his skin and made his eyes glow. His jeans had been practically demolished, his legs nearly tumbling out from the roomy holes each time he took a step (and Ven noted with interest that he glided more than walked, really), but his shoes had been new. At least back then, there had been no rips or tears or stains. There were no sharpie scribbles or safety pins holding them together. Ven supposed he had been just itching to destroy them.

"W-who is that?" He'd found himself asking shakily, gaze following the dark haired "hottie" as he slid through the crowd with such ease that it should have been alarming, but he was just so pretty and nothing else registered in Ven's hormonal brain.

"Him?" Terra drew out sarcastically. "I don't know… I think he's a sophomore; I've seen him around…" Ven had wondered, bemused, how Terra could have been in the same grade as such a breath taking being and not even know his name, but before he could reply, the brunette scoffed, and just loud enough that Ven was positive Vanitas could hear him, announced,

"Hasn't anyone told him that the 90's are over? No one does grunge anymore."

There had been snickers then, and Ven could have sworn he saw Vanitas's ears redden before he smirked, middle finger upturned and with a scowl that could melt rainbows, he jeered,

"I'm sorry I don't spend all my time fondling balls like you, asshole."

And since that day, they'd constantly been at each other's throats.

Ven really just wished that they could see each other the way he did, or, at the very least, that anyone could see them the way he did.

Terra was strong but fair and he never picked on anyone who couldn't take him in a fight. He'd been Ven's best friend since they were eight years old, when Aqua still had cooties and the neighbor's dog had been the most frightening thing they'd ever laid eyes on, and Terra had never judged him.

Ven found Terra growing into a strong man, while he stayed small and weak. When he had finally gotten around to joining a team, it had been cross country, because he'd never been good at anything but running away, while Terra was always the hero that stayed behind and fought. He never accused Ven of dragging him down, although he was positive that the brunette would be far more popular if he had a cooler best friend. And he never berated Aqua for turning down his teammates' offers for dates, regardless of how many hearts she seemed to break on a weekly basis.

It seemed that no one believed that he could really be so kind, however, as if Terra's good nature was entirely too good to be true, and it also seemed that the brunette had an aversion to nice girls, as his dating life seemed to perpetually lie in tatters and he couldn't get into a stable relationship if his life depended on it.

Terra was a tower of a man: tall and muscular and safe, but girls were afraid to touch him. Everyone assumed that with such strength, he must have been mean; must have had a violent streak and Ven wanted to scream every time someone turned him down, "It's not true! He'll be the best thing that ever happened to you!"

Vanitas, however, was mean and he would rough you up regardless of if you could take him or not, but there was something in his eyes that told a different story—something hidden, something silent and barely noticeable in all the white noise of his stare. It was something feeble, like the meager flame of the Bunsen burner, which resembled sadness and loneliness and the need for human contact.

He'd heard the rumors, just like everyone else, that had been circulating since Vanitas's freshman year, of a careless, fleeting mother, who set off in search of bigger and better things, leaving her child—barely old enough to walk—in the hands of her husband who, rumor had it, loved the bottle and the parties far more than the helpless toddler in his care. There were stories of the days before parking lot fires and janitorial fist fights; days of shoplifting just to eat and the deep blue of bruises that grade school teachers had the innate ability to overlook.

And there were darker stories, the kind that made tremors run up Ven's spine—goose pimples budding under the flesh of his arms as he told himself over and over again, 'It's a rumor! It's probably not even true!'

These rumors were mere whispers, uttered between classes below the steady chaos of the halls as news of Vanitas's latest shenanigans raged throughout the student body.

The tales consisted of blood and violence, of days spent in the home of a hoarse-voiced grandfather with a sharp stare and wandering hands, with no supervision and an eye for his young grandson.

"Molested?" A girl would hiss, all heads and voices low as she and her friends knitted into the tightest group possible. "I heard he was raped!"

There was very little proof that any of the stories were true, however, aside from the widely known fact that Vanitas was one of the school's only foster children (as he had revealed once during the spring of his junior year when a teacher had threatened to talk to his mother and he'd howled, "If you can find the bitch, be my guest, but maybe you should try calling my foster-mom instead, dumbass!"), and Ven could never bring himself to ask, but there were times when he thought no one was looking when Vanitas allowed himself to gaze out the giant picture windows of their cramped classroom at the pastel blue of the skyline and the tiny spark that was a constant resident in his eyes would ignite into a flame that rivaled his most impressive parking lot fire, that ate away at all the mysteries that once shadowed his expression and exposed him for what he really was: lonely and desperate to survive in a world that had chewed him up and spit him out on multiple occasions.

Ven was determined to smother that flame, to bring back the glittering promise and determination to live and not just survive that had made Vanitas so famous, which made him beautiful and more human than anyone Ven had ever had the pleasure of meeting.

And Vanitas was funny.

He was funny in a way that Ven had never experienced. He could unwind a tale that had anyone who would listen unable to stop the laughter from escaping them until their eyes ran ceaselessly and their sides ached. He was funny in a way that no matter how snide his comments could be—no matter how rude or hurtful—Ven found himself stifling a giggle.

He and Terra weren't really so different. Sure, they came from different walks of life (he'd known Terra's parents nearly as long as he'd known Terra. They were strict and tight-lipped people, who strove for greatness and could never quite fathom why their beloved son kept such mediocre friends), but they both had their share of problems, and they both put on a strong front when faced with the world.

And, most important of all: He considered both of them very close friends.

There were also less important parallels—one being that both were known partiers. It was rumored that after winning the homecoming game his junior year, Terra had proceeded to win beer pong six times straight and bed three girls simultaneously, (Ven had missed that party in favor of seeing a new horror film with Vanitas, and only vaguely knew the rules of beer pong, but he was sure that the dark haired senior had a few good zingers about slurping balls, or something like that) while Vanitas was a rumored male prostitute. (Although Ven did have hard evidence that this particular rumor was untrue, as Vanitas had once told him that he actually made his money working as a part-time grease monkey at his foster father's auto repair shop and that he would never dream of letting himself be controlled by some pimp. "If anything," He had snickered, "I'd be the one ordering the bitches around.")

"Ven, dammit, stop spacing out!"

Vanitas's voice tore him from his musings and he flushed, squeaking, embarrassed, in the depth of his throat. Terra scoffed, muttering something along the lines of, "Don't order him around" but for the most part, behaved.

All eyes were suddenly on Ven: Aqua's, a shocked and curious shade of cerulean, while Terra's were narrowed with anger and Vanitas's were twinkling condescendingly, translucently, even in the dark of the shade.

Ven swallowed thickly, put off by the sudden attention he was receiving before stuttering a reply, "W-what did I do?" He murmured, fretting mentally that maybe he'd been thinking out loud unintentionally (again). Oh God, what a disaster!

Terra huffed, glaring daggers at Vanitas as the inky haired teen chuckled coyly, hands folded across his chest.

"What do you think of me, Ventus?" he asked soothingly, voice absent of any previous aggression.

Ven blinked once, twice, then three times. He wiggled his trapped toes within the confines of his tennis shoes, eying his intertwined fingers with much interest as they shook nervously in his lap and the seconds ticked by.

"W-well, uh, I don't know what you mean, V-vanitas…" He stammered and it was Terra's turn to chuckle as a sullen frown crossed Vanitas's features. He sighed heavily, drawing himself forward a few paces (Terra not far behind) before reiterating his question.

"We're friends, right?"

Hand outstretched, eyes flickering golden slits, and Ven could nearly feel the waves of agitation rolling off of him.

"Of course!" Ven cried, just a tad too eager and a devious leer broke across Vanitas's face. Terra's brow knitted. Aqua cleared her throat.

In two or three more long strides, they were nose to nose, Terra making discomforted jibes behind them as Vanitas's warm breath ghosted over Ven's reddened cheeks.

"Do you know what I think of you, Ventus?" He purred, voice low and sultry as Ven's face burned under his intense gaze.

"I-I, uh, n-no?"

He struggled to form a coherent sentence; Vanitas's lips were just too close, and they looked so soft, like velvet, and Ven wondered, not for the first time, what a kiss really felt like.

Vanitas had a predatory air to him, smile wolfish, eyes hungry. Ven couldn't even muster the strength to swallow the reforming lump in his throat, to stop the resilient jittering of his hands.

"Would you like to know?" Vanitas nearly moaned, breath hot with the heavy scent of nicotine.

Ven croaked, feeling he could die then and there, eyes locked with Vanitas's as the boy ran chilly fingers over his fiery cheek. He nodded dumbly, insides crawling as Vanitas's face came ever-closer and Terra snarled. For the life of him, he couldn't bring himself to turn his sights to Aqua, but he was sure she would be nearly as frazzled as he was, maybe shocked, maybe disgusted, but definitely red as a tomato.

"Well, you see, Ventus" And Ven loved the way he drew out his full name in one long, low drawl that sent electricity through his veins. "I don't really see us being very good friends."

And Ven gasped because it was so completely unexpected and it hurt, but before he could even consider his retort, Vanitas was moan-speaking once more.

"Actually, I've always thought of you more as a potential lover."

Which caused Ven to momentarily resemble a gaping fish: open-mouthed and crimson-faced as Vanitas cupped his blazing cheeks in cool palms.

"Don't touch him!" Terra fussed, but Aqua hushed him. The sound was barely audible above the rushing of Ven's blood in his ears and the pounding of his heart.

Then, everything seemed to move in slow motion as Vanitas's face crept closer and closer toward his own, fingers freezing against his skin. His muscles were lax, useless as he felt a moist softness against his lips, warm and smooth and bitter as something slick slipped against his tongue and his breath caught in his throat.

At that very moment, in all the heat and nicotine-scented confusion, only four things registered in his brain, rising slowly to the surface of his conscience before slipping into the shadows of all the delicious sensations he was suddenly able to feel:

Vanitas was touching him.

Vanitas's lips were touching his.

He was being kissed.

And he was being kissed by Vanitas.

He started at the sudden realization, panic overriding the utter happiness that overtook him as he jerked forward, knocking his teeth against Vanitas's as the senior heaved a curse and pulled away.

"What the fuck, Ven?" He screeched, Terra howling with laughter behind him as Aqua struggled to calm the brunette down.

Through the thick fog of bliss and the horror of what he'd just done, Ven fought to find an answer, rambling nonsensically and hoping for the best.

"Well, you see, I, uh, that was my first kiss and it was with you and I've always thought you were really attractive and it was so totally unexpected and I—"

And Vanitas's face broke into the most amused of smiles, eyes bright and mischievous as Terra's laughter died down to a few mere giggles. Somewhere in the distance, the warning bell rang, signaling the end of free period as the sun disappeared behind a curtain of ashen clouds.

Ven pulled away then, gathering his books hurriedly as Vanitas watched, transfixed. Just as he was rising to leave, however, the dark haired teen grasped his wrist, holding his gaze as Terra and Aqua took off in the direction of the school, Aqua dragging the unruly brunette all the way.

"I'll be at your place after school. Your mom works late tonight, right?"

Vanitas breathed, and Ven could still taste the nicotine of his kiss. He nodded, too caught up in the bizarre moment to reprimand the older teen for inviting himself over, and Vanitas released his wrist, shoving his hands in his pockets and striding leisurely in the opposite direction of the school building.

Over his shoulder, just as Ven was about to bolt to his next class, Vanitas called, "I'll show you the perks of being Vanitas's Valentine!"

And with little more than a wink and a smirk that held tainted promises, he was gone.

Ven felt his heart skip a beat, palms sweaty as he gripped his books tightly to his chest. He thought of Vanitas's eyes, golden oceans that held so much knowledge of the ugliest aspects of the world. He thought of Vanitas's smile, sharp and confident as he told a joke or carried on about some sort of rare car he was repairing. He thought about the silken texture of his lips and the warmth of his kiss—Ven's very first, and he didn't regret it in the least.

Then, without a second thought, he turned on his heel, following Vanitas's path out into the sunny parking lot…

Just in time to see the most magnificent of fires erupt.

Fin

Happy (early) Valentine's Day everyone! I hope you like Vanitas/Ven!

Also, special shout-out to MeeShee MuhFFin who has sat up many-a-night writing back to me and subtly inspiring the sweeter aspects of this story, and Keir, who I'm one-hundred percent sure won't read this, but is a long-time fanfiction buddy who returned recently to agree to be my cyber-Valentine~

Also, a quick note for anyone not familiar with American public school culture: many schools hold a bonfire the night before their homecoming game in which they burn an effigy (or symbol reminiscent) of the opposing team's mascot, sort of in the same way that many fans of professional sports teams do.

So, thank you so much for taking the time to read this! I really hope you enjoyed it, and please don't hesitate to send a review and let me know what you thought!