Life Stops For No One

I'm still alive.

Good. I wasn't planning on dying yet. I trusted Kairi to know what to do. Seemed to work out well the last time this happened. And even if she panicked, there were plenty of people around to help. Either way, I'm safe and sound.

I'm in a hospital room with no idea of how I got here. Faded floral patterns creep along the walls and checkerboard tiles cover the floor. It's cozier than I imagined. I've done a great job of avoiding hospitals so my luck was bound to run out.

I may have underestimated my allergic sensitivity. I didn't swallow anything, but one bite was enough to knock me out. This wasn't entirely unexpected, but it's scary to go from school to the hospital in the blink of an eye. How long has it been since I passed out?

You must be wondering why I did something so crazy. It was a Hail Mary. One traumatic shock deserves another. Poison against poison was the idea. I needed something drastic to reset my mental wiring. Now that I know the cause behind everything, perhaps my symptoms can be detached from Kairi, and by extension, all girls.

I have no idea if it worked. It was a long shot and if I failed, at least I don't have to worry about it anymore. If I had considered the risk before biting in though, I would've wisely backed down and spared myself the pain—which is why I couldn't let the chance pass. I had to bite the bullet now or never. I'd rather regret the path taken than the path not taken.

The scent of antiseptic lingers and the constant beeping of my heart keeps the silence at bay. It's interrupted by the rustling of clothes beside me.

"You're an idiot," says Kairi. I struggle to turn my head and I'm greeted by a weak glare. Her eyes are red and puffy and her cheeks are stained with dried tears. Seeing her like this gives me an odd sense of hope, only because I'm not vomiting. She narrows her eyes. "What the hell were you thinking?"

"I..." Dried mucus is lodged in my throat. I gulp it down with some difficulty. "…I had to give it a shot." There's no scientific justification for what I did. It was plain and simple desperation. In the heat of the moment, anything seems possible—at least until cold reality slaps you in the face.

"You're a freakin' idiot." Anger doesn't hold for long as her frown surrenders to concern. "How are you feeling?"

"Dandy." There's only the pounding in my head, the aching in my joints, and the mild dizziness, but they're minor compared to my usual symptoms, which are nowhere to be found. I'm either dreaming or it's a side effect of the medication. For an allergic reaction, I'd be given antihistamines and steroids to counteract an overactive autoimmune response, which, incidentally, are the very same symptoms as my love sickness. She can probably take advantage of me right now if she wanted—wait a sec— "You didn't do anything to me while I was out?"

"What?" Her eyes widen, granting me clear view of those violet irises. I'm spellbound by the subtle shift in her eyes. They're even more beautiful than I envisioned. The trance breaks when she opens her mouth, "What are you talking about?"

Whoa. I almost lost myself there. I'm a bit loopy from the drugs, but at the same time, things have never been so clear. I massage the lump in my throat. It's tough to move. I lift the sheets to see my body without its usual proportions. Everything is freakishly swollen. I must have ballooned like a plump sausage on a hot grill. I glance out the window. Dim glimmers of daylight signal a dying afternoon. So much for rehearsal.

"How long was I out?"

"A couple hours." That's longer than I wanted.

"All the time in the world to steal my lips," I explain jokingly.

"Don't be stupid." Seems she's the kind of gal that'll attack when I'm well and awake instead of in my sleep—not that it matters since I'll be knocked out either way, and I can't argue with what she said, because I'm the very definition of stupid, and the past confirms that with a messy exclamation mark. I only have myself to blame for everything that's happened, and I'm not just talking about this hospital trip, but to the very beginning when I clumsily stole her first lips and shared paopu fruit in hopes of sealing our Destiny in some childish fantasy. I'd ask myself, "What the hell was I thinking?" but I already know the answer—I was thinking that I liked her. Who knew such a charitable thought would prove so dangerous?

"When you bit into that fruit," Kairi says, her voice shaky, "it all came back to me. I remembered everything. I thought—I thought I had lost you again."

"You don't have to make it sound so dramatic." The cause was known and help was readily available. She would never let me die in front of her. I had faith.

"You don't get it," she whispers, shaking her head. "It was... It was like waking up in a bad nightmare again. Ten years ago, I had no idea what happened. I was helpless and couldn't do a damn thing. You went down and... I thought it was my fault."

"But it was mine," I acknowledge firmly. "All of it. You didn't do anything. I'm the one who's responsible here. So you can stop blaming yourself now."

She offers a regretful smile. "Maybe not entirely, but I'm still partly responsible."

"What do you mean?"

"This whole thing never would've happened if you didn't fall for me." She levels me with a grateful smile. Hey, don't act like I just professed my love for you!

"W-what makes you say that?"

"Because you kissed me." The hospital window becomes very interesting and I eyeball the careful trajectory of a lone bird in the sky. It's gliding in place from too much wind.

"That never happened," I declare solemnly. I thought I told her to close her eyes.

"Except it did. I opened my eyes at the last second." That's cheating! Finally caught after all these years, and I would've gotten away with it if I didn't remember.

"That was a long time ago," I excuse lamely. "Don't read too much into it."

"How much did you like me?" she teases, ignoring my reasoning. She has all the ammo in the world and I'm lying out here in the open. No point in resisting. I watch the wispy clouds in the darkening sky before raising the white flag.

"Enough to kiss you?"

"More than that," she corrects. "You tried to fulfill the legend of the paopu fruit, which meant you wanted to be with me forever."

I laugh nervously, keeping my face away from her. "Come on, I was a kid. I didn't know what I was doing or what it meant."

"I know," she concedes, albeit reluctantly. "We've grown up and things have changed, but...by how much, I wonder?" She locks onto me with her sparkling eyes; I'm dead square in her cross hairs. "Tell me, Sora... How do you feel about me now?"

I didn't think she'd have the courage to ask since we've been dancing around the topic for so long. It's high time she got an honest answer from me. I turn from the window to face her head on. My reply dies before it ever gets a chance to be said. She shouldn't look at me with that much excitement. How am I supposed to compose a proper reply with that face on me? She's way too beautiful. I say it all the time but I seriously mean it this time. It's almost shocking how pretty she is. How the hell did I never notice?

It's because I can finally see her now—truly see her—without cause for fear and pain. No more obstacles. No more walls. No more filters. Just us. And I tremble. I credit the drugs for keeping me stable and relish this rare moment of delirious clarity. Under the full force of my own prolonged stare, her cheeks begin to heat up. Only confident when I'm not. Amusing. Her expressions are endlessly entertaining in all its unique and wonderful permutations. I don't think I can ever get bored of watching her. I wonder what face she'll put up after my answer.

"I don't know."

The faintest hint of hope in her smile sputters out and her shoulders drop with heavy dismay. She bites her lower lip out of frustration. "Seriously, Sora? Stop playing around and just tell me how you feel about me already."

"Believe me, I wanna know the same thing. I don't want to say anything without being 100% sure." My brain's been fried after operating at full steam without a break for an entire week. I'm getting by on fumes, and I'm starting to get weird ideas that may or may not resemble deep affection for her. It's gotta be the stress.

"How can you not know? I thought you of all people would be more in touch with your feelings."

"It's only been hours since we learned everything" —more like minutes for me, since I sorta blacked out and everything— "and there's a lot to sort through." I'm very self-aware, which is why I'm aware I'm very unaware about my feelings. There was no need to consider them thus far. It's been neglected in favor of bodily self-preservation.

"How you feel is how you feel," she argues. "It's not something you think about. The past shouldn't make a difference. No matter how much we've learned about each other, the way I feel about you hasn't changed at all."

"And what's that?" It dawns on me that she's never told me how she feels. I can speculate all I want but nothing is set in stone until I see it etched with my own eyes.

Her jaw tightens visibly. "Do I really have to spell it out for you?"

"I'm an idiot, remember?"

She declines by shaking her head. "I asked you first."

I don't know what to say. My feelings are buried too deep under complex rationalizations. They're encrypted for my own protection. It'll take hours, if not, days to peel off every possible excuse. Emotion won't be found with logic. To find the answer to an illogical question, I must answer illogically in kind. I reach out towards her...and on instinct, grab her hand. So that's what that feels like.

"You're warm," I comment casually.

She stares at our hands in shock. She struggles between pulling away for my sake and clinging on for hers. She settles on staying still. "Sora."

"Hm?"

"You're holding my hand."

"So?"

She balks at my reply. "Are you cured?"

That's what I'm trying to figure out. I wait for an onslaught that never arrives. I must be on some good shit. "Or it's the drugs."

"Oh. How do you feel?"

It's not like I've never held hands before. I got plenty of that in elementary school, but this time, it's a little more complicated than "don't get lost, kids!" On its own, holding hands doesn't mean much, but with Kairi, there's something intangible to go along with this very tangible feeling—that's when it hits me: I'm not alone anymore.

Granted, I haven't been "alone" for a while, but there was always a distance between me and the others, a distance imposed for my own safety. That gap has finally been closed. I feel...complete and connected, like one piece of a greater whole.

Her warmth, pulse, and feelings are transmitted directly as electrostatic tingles over my skin. She squeezes my hand hesitantly, testing the contours of my hand and seeking the perfect fit. It's a delicate, hard to describe sensation. My muted response encourages her other hand to join in with a two-handed grip. This better not be some bogus delayed reaction and I end up exploding five minutes later. Trusting in the moment, I let go of my worries and focus on this new world of touch I've been deprived of.

"You didn't answer my question." Damn. I thought a touch of a hand would be enough to distract her.

I look at our intertwined fingers. My brain can't register that what I'm seeing and what I'm feeling are one and the same. "I'm thinking about it."

"What is there to think about? It's either yes or no."

"You didn't ask a yes or no question."

"You know what I mean." Only Kairi can turn open-ended into binary.

"In that case, it's yes and no—OW!" Can't she take a joke?

"Stop stalling," she warns.

"Even if I give you an answer, I'm not thinking straight. Can't you wait until I get out of the hospital?"

"Absolutely not. It has to be now. I won't let you run away this time. Just give me an honest answer." Despite the stern warning, desperation belies her plea. If not now, then probably never is what she's thinking. She might even be right. Any extra time I get will just go towards scheming escapes. With nowhere to go, how can I refuse? For once, I suspend my brain and go with my gut.

"If I had to say one way or another, then it's a...quiet yes." Her eyes light up dimly. "I like you, Kairi, but..."

She deflates at my last word. "Why does there have to be a but? Don't make things more complicated than they have to be."

"But they are complicated! I don't-I don't know anything about liking someone other than what you see on TV, and I can't do any of it. I can' touch you. I can't hold you. I can't kiss you—I can't even look at you. I can't give you what you want—what you need." That's why I was afraid to think of the impossible, because I'll only be torturing myself with thoughts that have no shot in hell of becoming true. It's over before it ever started.

"Have you given up on finding the cure?"

"If this didn't work, then what will? My love sickness won't disappear overnight. This right now," I raise my hand with hers, "this is an exception among exceptions. Once I'm off the antihistamines, I'll be back to square one. If you're looking for something more than what we already have, then things aren't going to work out. You'll resent me for it."

"That's not true."

"Then I'll resent myself for it."

Her grip gets even tighter and her disappointed face devastates my soul. That's why it'll never work out, because of that face—I'll be seeing it for as long as we're together. Every time we see a couple holding hands, see them leaning on each other, or see them do something that we can't, she'll only be reminded of my worthlessness. I can't subject her to that.

"I don't need it. As long as I'm with you—"

"Don't lie," I say curtly. "If that's true, why aren't letting go of my hand?"

"That's not fair to say..." Her hold weakens in defeat, but then she doubles with renewed vigor. "If anyone's lying, it's you, Sora. Even if you can't do something now, you'll always find a way to get it done eventually. That's the kind of person you are."

Her faith in me is admirable, but "What's impossible is impossible."

"It's not," she says fiercely. "Otherwise, how could they do it?"

"Who are you talking about?"

"Everyone else. People get together all the time without those things you brought up, like people separated by long distances, people who don't speak the same language, who can't talk, see, hear, or even feel. If they can do it, why can't we? I know we could make it work with or without a cure. It can't be about that. It's something else. It has to be." She pierces me with a probing gaze. "What are you so afraid of, Sora?"

Everything she says is true. In the event I can't overcome my condition, I've looked into the alternatives and who better than those physically unable to touch their partners? I've come across amazing stories and they somehow make it work. Kairi knew I was making an excuse, and she finally honed in on the uneasy feeling that's plagued me since waking up—or perhaps ever since we met. It wasn't the drugs or the aftereffects of anaphylactic shock, but something much more profound: fear.

Unfortunately, I don't know what it is and I don't have the time to figure it out. Blacking out is not like taking a nap. I didn't get to wander in a dream where I have all the time in the world to come up with a satisfying conclusion. I'm figuring things out as I go along, which is why it's annoying to have her breathing down on my neck like this. Perhaps this pressure is exactly what I needed. I've come no closer to the truth being left to my own devices. A bit of urgency might do the trick.

"If you think about it, it can't be anyone else but you," she says, her tone light.

"Huh?"

"Because of your love sickness, you've never been with another girl, have you?" Way to rub it in. That much was obvious. "Even though I tried going out before, it never worked out. I always backed out at the last second. With you, it's different. It's almost like we were meant to be together."

"Did you conveniently forget that you're the worst offender when it comes to my love sickness?"

"You seem fine to me."

"That's because—"

She pulls me forward and I fall into her embrace. I freeze, my breath trapped in my lungs. My senses are overwhelmed by the fruity scent of her shampoo and body wash. Her arms wrap around me tightly and she buries her face in my shoulder. The heartbeat monitor is going crazy. "Stop being logical about it. It's not about being perfect, ready, or anything else. It's just how you feel. The rest comes afterward. You asked me how I felt about you, and I'm sure you already know this but..."

She likes me, right?

"...I love you."

I knew—

Wait.

Isn't she using the wrong L word?

Too heavy.

I'm flat lining.

I need shock paddles, stat!

"I don't care about how it happened or why," she says, continuing. "You may think it's infatuation, that I'm confusing admiration and gratitude for love, but for me, how I feel about you has never changed since the day we met again. Now that I remember everything, I can say it confidently: I love you, Sora."

She went from one to a hundred in an instant. I can hardly think right now. She can't be serious, because it is literally unbelievable. Were it anyone else, I can laugh it off as a cheap adolescent stunt, but Kairi knows the score better than anyone. She understands the gravity of her words, and her delivery leaves no room for doubt or misinterpretation. She truly means it, and knowing that, my brain is blank.

"You..." I can't speak properly. "You shouldn't say such irresponsible things."

"It's the irresponsible truth."

There are easy arguments like how we're too young to understand true love or whatever excuse an overprotective father might throw out, but they all fall before her fierce determination and passionate gaze. Maybe some of us are just ahead of the curve. Just because it's rare to find our destined partner in our teens doesn't mean it's impossible. Who cares when you find it? People can fall in love whether they're fifteen or fifty.

"How can you know what love is? We're still kids."

"Because I've never felt this way about anyone or anything. You make me...me."

With one sentence, the equation that's been driving me crazy has been solved with the most elegant solution possible. "That's what love means?"

She nods against me. "As long as I'm with you, I can be who I want to be. I just want you to give me a chance. The past doesn't matter, even the future doesn't matter. What I care about is right now. I know the legend of the paopu fruit is a coincidence. There's no magic except for what we make for ourselves. I don't want to waste this chance. So... Will you go out with me?"

I was on a ten year plan. That's how long I've been living with this condition. I should've been cured by now, but before I knew it, it seemed like it was always going to be ten years before I got better. I wasn't able to move forward. With each passing year, the finish line remained at the same distance. What was the finish line, I wonder? Was it to be okay around girls or something more? The thought of love never entered my mind. If getting cured took ten years, then finding love would take another ten. For all the things I couldn't control, the last thing I expected was for someone to fall in love with me of all people.

I raise my arms hesitantly and rest them against her back. I can feel her breathing on my neck, the heat flowing in and out rhythmically. This is what it means to be together. I've never experienced anything like this. If I thought holding hands was mind-blowing, this took it to a whole new level.

Ah.

So that's what I was afraid of. It's not that I wasn't ready; it's that I didn't want to be. Humans are creatures of habit. No matter how terrible our situation, we adapt, get used to it, and become comfortable. Even if we suffer, feel pain, and regret, we don't move, because certainty is peace. Some are too afraid to leave an abusive relationship because they don't want to be alone, and that's what's stopping me from moving forward.

I've lived with myself for the last ten years. I am who I am because of what happened to me and what I've gone through. I got used to being me, to being alone, to making others hate me, to avoiding contact, to doing everything I could to separate myself from these morons. I learned to be content with my unenviable circumstance. It meant that I was stronger, smarter, and better than them, because I can endure what they can't.

If I got a girlfriend, I'd just be like them, a shallow fool following society's script. I've long deluded myself into thinking that I wanted to be normal when normal is the last thing I wanted. The desire to be special is what connects all of us. I was afraid that I would no longer be myself, that everything I've built in these last ten years would crumble to dust. If I fall apart that easily, then I just wasted my time.

Even if I was love sick, I could've had friends. I didn't have to be alone. I could've told them everything and they would've stayed—at least the true ones. It's like Kairi said, there are those who have it much worse than us that have found happiness. They didn't let their handicaps stop them. They thrived where most would surrender, if only out of necessity. If Kairi had come to Destiny Islands earlier, or if she had never left to begin with... Where would I be? If I accept Kairi now, it'll be the same as admitting that everything I did was wrong.

That...was what I was afraid of. As we hold onto each other, sharing in each other's warmth, I realize how silly I've been acting. The past doesn't matter. The future doesn't matter. Only now. I had everything backwards. I always thought I should find the cure before searching for love, but perhaps love is the cure itself. It's not the finish line I should've been chasing, but the starting line. It's time to say goodbye to the loner who rejected the world and welcome the girl who accepts me for being me.

"You're really devious, you know that?" I finally say.

"Whatever do you mean?" she teases. Something tells me she isn't going to let go anytime soon.

"Everything has gone exactly your way." There's not a more perfect moment to strike then when I'm at my most vulnerable. "It's almost like you planned this."

"Don't be silly. You did this to yourself. Maybe it's just...Destiny."

My life has been dictated by the smart play. I've restricted myself to the low risk route, inching back and forth, always breaking even and never going anywhere. The stakes have risen significantly. No more playing at the kid's table. It's win big or go home. This is one gamble I can't afford to pass up. "Please take good care of me."

"Then this means…?"

"Yeah," I confirm. "Let's go out."

And she kisses me.

I'm too shocked to process.

There she goes again, skipping all steps in between.

She's supposed to squeal in delight, draw back, and ask permission with her eyes, not dive in like a thirsty...

How am I supposed to react?

This is kinda...

I'm being kissed right now.

Ha.

Only thing on my mind is what's on my lips, and that's the moist sensation of hers against mine. It's not what I expected. The books and movies hyped it up too much. It's raw and somewhat anticlimactic, but it's not like I can tell the difference between a great kiss and a bad one, and with two beginners like us, I don't expect either of us to be fainting from overwhelming passion, although fainting may very well be in the cards since my love sickness has a way of ruining the romance.

I wait for this scene to fade into darkness like a wonderful dream cut too short, but it goes on...and on...and wait, is this really happening? Ah, I get it now. I'm not waking up because I'm already dead. In the real world, my body must be slumped in her arms. This is my brain's final gasp, a fantasy formed from oxygen deprived neurons misfiring.

In contrast to our abrupt start, she ends it by pulling back gently and tenderly. It's more agonizing when does it like that, and I barely stop myself from whimpering. My eyes open and I can't remember when they closed. She smiles shyly at me, her cheeks colored in embarrassment. "How are you feeling?"

"Well—"

She cuts me off with another kiss. "You seem okay to me."

"You didn't let me—"

Any attempt to speak is thoroughly silenced by her drinking bird assaults on my mouth and I'm not offering much by way of resistance.

"Can I talk now?"

"Make it fast," she whines.

"Fine. I..." Totally forgot what I was trying to say. I thought I had some important to say but it totally doesn't matter anymore.

"Got it." And she kisses me again. Part of me wants to push her off and tell her that she can't do whatever she wants, but it's too late, I already don't mind her doing whatever she wants. I don't know what's going to happen to me at this rate. I only meant to give an inch, but she's taking the whole yard—and then some. Somebody save me!

As if in response to my plea, the door opens on cue. We freeze as Roxas stares blankly at us from the door crack. "S-sorry for interrupting." The door shuts with a clack.

"Wait, don't go!" I yell. Did he hear me? After a brief pause, the door opens again slowly, revealing an uncertain Roxas. He's slightly overdressed as usual with one too many layers. Get rid of the sweater, man, we're on a tropical island! "Come on in!" I invite.

He enters awkwardly with a shuffle.

Kairi, having realized what she had just done, clears her throat unconvincingly and stumbles out of her chair. "I'll...go get myself a drink or something," she says, giggling nervously. She scurries out before becoming anymore exposed. I suppose she'll be conducting a walk of shame for assaulting a poor helpless patient. She totally lost her mind there. Funnily enough, I'm fine with it. These kinds of chances don't come around often. I don't blame her for taking it. It'll probably be a long dry spell after this.

Roxas takes the now vacant seat and offers a tight smile. Looks like he's not comfortable with what he saw. I'd probably feel the same if I barged in on him making out with...uh, I guess Xion's the only one that comes to mind. I'm glad he's here though. I need some time to recover after Kairi's attack. Physically, I'm fine, but the mental damage has turned my brain to mush—I mean, did that really just happen?

"Um...congratulations?" Roxas says, confirming that yes, it did indeed happen. I wonder how it looks from his perspective. I see couples making out all the time at school. The feeling I get is equal parts disgust and envy. For Roxas, it might've been a little unpleasant to witness, especially since he liked her earlier. Sorry you had to see that, but you definitely came at the right time.

"It's not what you—" Wait, what's the point in covering it up? I should be more honest since I'm no longer speaking for myself. I wonder if Kairi would be okay with me revealing this. Actually, would she be okay if I denied it? "It's as you saw, we're official, Kairi and I are together now."

He shakes his head in stupendous wonder. "Your technique is beyond me. I wish I got a girlfriend for attempting suicide."

It's awkward when someone makes fun of their skeletons. The line between self-deprecating and authentic self-loathing makes the appropriate reply a catch-22. If I laugh, I'm an asshole, and if I don't, I'm a humorless asshole.

"I wasn't trying to kill myself."

"I know. You're not the kind of person who'd do that but... Isn't that basically what you tried to do?"

"Hey, give me a little more credit. I was trying to cure my love sickness with a shock. It just happened to have the unfortunate side effect of possibly killing me. Totally different circumstances."

He humors me with a practiced smile. "Looks like it worked."

I chuckle at his optimism. "I wouldn't say that yet. I think it's the drugs. I'll probably back to throwing up like usual once I get out." It sucks when being realistic is synonymous with pessimism. "Surprised to see you here though. Thought you didn't care?"

He leans forward and folds his hands between his legs. "That's why I'm here, because I do care. That's always been the problem—I cared too much."

"Oh?"

He leans back and scratches his scalp nervously, keeping his eyes on the floor. "When I heard what happened to you, I was shocked, and then I felt really bad about myself because Mom must've felt the same when she found me. No... It's probably worse." He lifts his head to meet my eyes. "I wanted to tell you the truth before you uh... Before I might not get another chance to talk to you again."

The part of my brain that doesn't trust anybody is smiling smugly, telling me "I told you so!" I knew there was something off about his I don't feel emotions spiel.

"You make it sound like I'm gonna die soon. I just ate paopu fruit, it's not like I got cancer."

"The point stands. I lied to you. You deserve the truth."

I had taken his explanation at face value and buried any suspicions. I didn't want to waste time thinking about him so it was easier to accept his logic, even if didn't make sense. "I had a feeling it was something like that. So what's the real reason you tried to kill yourself?" He winces as I ask bluntly. Maybe I should've been more delicate with the delivery.

His eyes glass over as he looks deep into his past. "I got exposed." I wait for him to continue since I have no idea what that means. "I think...people are morons. They're so dumb it makes me want to scream sometimes." That's not surprising. Everybody thinks they're better than everyone else. I've learned the hard way that the truly smart ones are those who understand they're stupid.

"What makes you say that?"

"Because I've seen it. People cheat, lie, and hurt each other and they do it for no reason. It makes no sense to me. How am I supposed to deal with that?"

"Hey, join the party."

"You're different. You know what you're doing. You don't try to hide it, not like me."

I guess it's hard to shake off years of open and obvious contempt, but it's not like I wanted to be a life consultant. Roxas sorta thrust that role upon me. "Are you saying I don't give good advice?"

"You do." He cracks a wry smile. "But you're not nice about it. That's the difference. I admire that kind of honesty. Everybody tries to stand out here so they don't hide anything. Not like me. All my life, I've smiled. As long as I was smiling, I was safe. It kept me away from the pointless drama. You do something long enough and it becomes natural, and my smile became just that, something to protect myself with. If I smiled, I didn't have to worry about being betrayed."

"Is that really something you have to worry about?"

"Of course. Betrayal can be anything. Like when your best friend asks out the girl you like, or when someone turns you down and you see them hanging out with someone else. People who were friends in elementary school split because they're not cool anymore. People get self-aware. They start to see who's ugly, who's fat, who's desperate, who's a try hard, and who's lame. I wanted to avoid all that, so I stayed the same—a nice guy. And because of that, people approached me. They must've thought, this guy is always smiling and happy, maybe he could help me with my problems. I couldn't turn them down; that'll be too rude. And that's when they tell me about their stupid lives."

"Harsh." I used to think that way since everything's obvious from the outside, but feelings are complicated. That's what I've learned firsthand. Everything is simple until it happens to you. Then you start running in circles just to cross the street. "What kind of problems we talking about?"

"How do I get laid?" I stop myself in time when I realize he was only using that as an example. "How do I get him to notice me? How can I get back at her? What's the best way to make someone sorry for they've done? Why can't I make any friends? Why do people hate me? They lie about themselves and try to keep up appearances. It all started to blur together. I couldn't tell them apart anymore. They're all selfish. If they stopped thinking about themselves, everything could be solved and there'd be no more misunderstandings. But it doesn't take one person, it takes everyone for that to happen, but nobody realizes this, so they stay cooped up in their heads, worrying themselves to death."

I string together the implication. "When you say you got exposed, you mean…"

"They found out what I was really thinking about them, and not only that, but they even got their secrets leaked. When people go to you for advice, you hear a lot of bad stuff. This one guy felt bad about rejecting a girl who was...who wasn't the best looking girl around. But she was so desperate that he let her...um, do things. And since he let her do that, she won't leave him alone, and he goes to me and asks how to get rid of her. What am I supposed to say to that? It's the same thing for the girls. They string these poor guys along, and they know they're being misled, spending all their money and doing nice things for the girl, getting their hopes up only to be crushed. These awful people go to me hoping to be bailed out for being terrible. They wanted me to cover for them. And then you have those who can only make themselves feel better by making others feel worse. Blackmail, harassment, hazing, just brutal assaults, physical and psychological, and I see it from both sides, the bully and the victim."

And here I thought Destiny Islands was filled with insane youth. That's the folly of adolescence; we think we're special when we're really all the same. Everything is blown out of proportion because every little thing can make or break us. Are we selfish? Of course we are! Because that's what being a teenager is. We don't think of anything except ourselves even though our entire existence depends on what someone else thinks of us. It's the ultimate contradiction. In the ideal world, we grow up and mature from this and that's where we begin separate ourselves. That's not always the case though unfortunately. And that's how a shitty adult is born.

"Was your school a zoo? They sound like a bunch of animals."

"It wasn't that bad now that I think about it. Everyone has a dark side, but I ignored the good and only saw the bad. That's my fault more than anyone's. Maybe that's what drew them to me. Despite seeing their worst, I just went along with their requests and listened without judging, even though I was screaming at them in my head. I just didn't want to get involved." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a cell. "I wrote everything on my phone. I kept a private blog, for appearances sake. Everybody could see that I only wrote good things about them. But I'd also write private posts. That's how I dealt with it, I guess. I couldn't tell anyone else about it, so I just wrote it down. Looking back, I should've been more careful. I had a record of everybody who went to me for advice: the cheater, the bitch, the jerk, the loser, the loner, and everyone else you can think of. I shouldn't have used the phone, but...it was convenient."

He grips it with both hands.

"One of my friends—at least I thought he was—stole my phone to play a joke on me. I don't know what he was planning. Taking a dick pic, maybe? I wish that was it. But he discovered my real thoughts. I didn't write anything about him, so he didn't do it out of revenge, he simply did it because he thought it'd be funny. He made my private posts public and that was that. I went from being everyone's friend to everyone's enemy overnight."

His knuckles turn white from clenching too hard.

"Everybody hated me. They truly, honestly, and completely, hated me. What's worst, I became just like them. I tried so hard to stay out of it, and then I found myself being dragged through the mud. I was the liar, the biggest phony on campus. The ones who got exposed gave me everything they got. They tried to hide their problems by piling on me. I gave them a reason to turn up the heat, to become even worse. I brought it upon myself."

It's one thing to be ostracized for something you can't control—physical attributes, family circumstances—but when it's justified, that's when things get into dangerous territory. It steps into that legal gray area where it's not outright murder, but it might as well be, and fault is spread across dozens and justice can't do a damn thing because no one person is completely responsible. So they're let off the hook.

"I hung onto their every word because it's true. When you hear people say that you should die enough times, you start to believe it. It was my fault. It was totally my fault. I have no excuse for it. Sure, my friend published the posts without my permission, but I was the one who wrote those posts, not anyone else. Anybody would be mad if they were called stupid, worthless, or a piece of shit like I did to them. The one guy who they thought was nice turned out to be a filthy liar. I hurt them. So I deserved to be hurt. They were only putting me through what I put them through. So I thought...the only way things could be set right was if I died like they wanted me to."

That was devastating to listen to. I think I prefer his nonsensical explanation from before, because my blood is boiling. People are shitheads, and this story confirms what we already know. He was clearly at fault, but that doesn't give the mob permission to kill. But society is hard to change. There are people in this world that would defend anything, even if it caused immeasurable pain. So they support discrimination, inequality, oppression, and everything that keeps them on top and feeling good about themselves. No right can ever come from a wrong, and this sounds like a whole mountain of wrong.

"It's because I betrayed them. If I didn't act like a nice guy from the start, this never would've happened. If I didn't care so much, I could just brush everything off like it was nothing. Then I'll never have to worry about being hurt again. At least... That was the idea. I came here to change myself but... I wanted to become numb. I didn't want to feel anymore, because that's what got me into trouble. They pissed me off, I got angry, then I got hurt, then I got depressed, and then... I tried to kill myself. I guess we can't change who we really are, huh? I'm still afraid of being hated." He slides down the chair in defeat. "I wish I was more like you."

I know the feeling since I'm pretty awesome, but nobody's perfect. We're all flawed in some way. There are things we can take from each other to become even better. "I feel the same about you."

"No way," he says, shrugging it off.

He envies me for my weakness and I envy him for his. I wish I could act that nice to everyone I hated. Despite the immense amount of bullshit he had to put up with, it was only because of a practical joke that he got exposed. If that never happened, they wouldn't know a damn thing. He has the perfect facade. I'm too obvious. For my all my tactics and stratagems, I'm fundamentally a novice when it comes to dealing with people, and I don't have a lot of practice yet. I admit there are certain things I don't like about myself, things I wish I could fix or replace, but when he lauds me for those very same qualities, it gives me pause.

So what if Roxas wrote shit about those people behind their backs? He still listened and gave them advice, didn't he? What defines someone isn't what they think or what they do, but both things together. In his case, action won over thought. Isn't there value in that? I find it much more admirable for someone who despises people to be nice to them—it's probably because he hates them that he can be so nice.

"You're a good guy," I conclude.

"I'm no good at all," he protests weakly.

My definition of good is different from most. What Roxas did was detestable, and what happened to him was even worse, which is why he has something unique to offer. Despite what he's gone through, he has the chance to change. There's no point in kicking someone when they're down. People who act nice either have the luxury of having never been hurt or the misfortune of being hurt too much. Roxas has experienced both. He's walked the edge and come back, and it's up to us to keep him here.

"If I say it enough times, won't it become true?" He sits there quietly, allowing my words to bounce. "I've only just realized that the past doesn't matter. Whatever's in the future will be in the past soon enough. If you don't like your past, change it. As long as you can accept what happened, then it's fine."

"How am I supposed to do that? Even though I'm gone, they still hate me. They can't forget—they won't ever forget about what I did."

"The world ends with you. Accept their hate. Make up for it, ignore it, or whatever. As long as you can accept it, it can't drag you down anymore, and if they can't let go, then that's on them."

I was hesitant about my decision to accept Kairi, but what is love if not the ultimate form of acceptance? There's no good or evil in this world, only what's acceptable. I was afraid that my entire life up until this point was a waste, but after accepting it for what it was, I'm at peace with it.

"If you care too much about what people think, then here's what I think: you're a good person. Keep acting the way you do because that's who you are. You may have pretended to be nice before, but it's a part of you now. Accept it. Don't forget that we've got plenty of time. It's too early for either of us to die. Keep living and find an answer for yourself." I think I've truly managed to reach him this, and if I don't, well, I can accept that.

His mask crumbles, revealing a bitter smile. "You're the only guy who can make me feel this dumb."

"Ditto."

"Now that I know what I'm supposed to do, how do I do it?"

It never ends with this guy. "I'm in the same situation. I'm sure we'll figure it out eventually. I've found a girlfriend; maybe you should do the same."

"I don't think I'll make a good boyfriend."

"Remember who you're talking to."

"Ah, sorry about that," he says apologetically.

"Maybe not a girlfriend; how about finding a hobby? Work on your guitar skills or something."

"I guess..." He's gonna need a lot of work. We all do.

"It doesn't matter what you do. The only thing you need to know is that I've got your back—Kairi too. As long as you've got friends, take advantage of them. I may not like it, but if you need me, I'll swallow my irritation and help you out."

"Got it," he says, laughing with more energy. His mood seems to have picked up. A comfortable silence settles. He stands up suddenly. "I just wanted to tell you that and get it off my chest, so uh…"

"Before you go, you said you thought everybody around you was a moron. Does that include me?"

"Well..." That's all I needed to hear.

"Feeling's mutual."

"I don't think that anymore," he assures. "At first, I thought you were a coward. You wouldn't leave your house. I've met people like that. They were...pathetic. When we went to that beach, that's when I changed my mind. I thought you must be one of those guys, the kind who would lie to get whatever he wants. Yet, the way you spoke, the way you acted, and everything you did was too honest. You'd say something nice but your true feelings would be showing. It was too interesting. Every time I went to you, you'd show me something new. I guess you can't really judge a book by its cover."

"Speak for yourself."

"I knew what you thought of me but... Somehow, it didn't feel too bad. It was nice actually."

"You're a masochist. Now get outta here. I'm sure you've got more important things to do than worry about this idiot."

"Don't worry, I'll get out of you guys' way. Good luck!"

And he's gone. I let out the sigh I've been holding back and look out the window. Night reigns supreme over the city. He's cleverer than he looks. People used to go to him for advice. You don't get that kind of credibility without decent results, and when he gets here, what's the first thing he does? Ask me for advice. I've been dancing to his tune since day one. He was probably testing me, seeing how I handled things. He wanted to find an alternative. He brought me people who needed help because he wanted to see if there was a way forward without getting involved. It's impossible. He won't find the answer from me because we're too different. The only thing I can do is stay by his side until he does.

The door squeaks open with soft steps following in. I turn to Kairi with unusual excitement but it's choked by an all too familiar feeling when my eyes land on her. My skin turns hot and I grip the sheets, fingers twisting deep into the fabric with my insides squirming uncomfortably. I avert my gaze before things get worse.

"I-I'm sorry for getting carried away earlier," she announces loudly. "I wasn't thinking straight. You were holding my hand and I kinda lost my mind there for a second. I didn't mean to...take advantage of you like that." I like how she subtly blamed the victim with her apology, like it's my fault she can't control herself.

"It's fine." Because that was her last chance to do something like that without me throwing up all over the place.

"R-really?" She can't hide her intentions. She totally wants to do it again. "Is something wrong?"

"You finally noticed."

There's a pause and the room temperature drops. "Then you're still…"

I take another look at her and my body protests strongly. "The drugs must be wearing off."

"I guess that's what I get for getting my hopes up. It really is impossible then. This is bad..." She lets out a sad laugh filled with regret. "I shouldn't have kissed you. Even though I said we could make it work, I don't think I can be your girlfriend without being able to..."

"Molest me?"

She coughs. "Maybe it's best we forget about all this. I practically forced everything on you and you weren't in any position to turn me down and... This is all my fault. I'm sorry for—damn it. I'm such an awful person!" It's amazing how she can swivel from being so bold and forceful to meek and excessively considerate. I realize that neither is truer than the other, they're just two parts of the same girl.

"Is that what you really want?"

"Of course not, but I want us to be together because you want to, not because you have to. If you want to wait until your love sickness is cured then I'm okay with that," she offers.

"That's awfully kind of you."

"It's the least I can do after being so selfish. I just want you to be comfortable."

I let out a loud and misleading sigh of relief. "You're an idiot."

"What?"

I face her head on and my symptoms make a tight grip on my stomach. She looks at me with confusion. "Don't think you can run away from me. We're official now. I already told Roxas, and knowing him, news is going to spread fast." I'm sure all the guys at school are going to get a real kick out of this. I'll be the nobody who stole the girl of their dreams. Suck it, losers.

"B-b-but what about your love sickness?" She's trying hard to temper expectations. She must be thinking there's a catch somewhere.

"You were willing to wait until I found the cure. Well, the thing is... I already did." I put out a genuine smile. "It's you."

She looks at me like I've lost my mind. "But aren't you still sick?"

"Yeah, but nobody said the cure was easy to swallow. It might take some time to get over the symptoms, but if we take it day by day, I know I can overcome this. I have to. I mean, if I can't kiss the girl I love, I might as well not be alive." Oops.

"Did you just—"

"Yeah," I say, cutting her off. "You didn't hear wrong."

When I was a kid, I got sick a lot at school, and it was always around girls. Eventually, I got fed up and decided to look into it. I went into the school library and used a computer to look up my symptoms: nervousness, anxiety, increased temperature, excessive sweating, headaches, numbness, elevated heartbeat, stomachaches, shortness of breath—all of this only when I'm around a girl. The first thing that came up was the phrase "love sick," and that's what I've called this ever since. I searched for a solution and the answer I found on the internet for overcoming love sickness was to "gather your courage and confess your true feelings."

"I love you, Kairi."

Her face goes blank as if she had just been shot in the chest. She backs up unsteadily until she hits the door. She finds the handle, fiddles around with it, opens the door, and leaves the room, closing it very carefully with a soft click. A burst of rapid footsteps echo in the hall as she runs away.

Uh, what just happened there? Was it something I said? I stare at the ceiling, stewing in uncertainty until I hear an earth shattering roar from the heavens.

"YEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!"

I lie in awe as that one scream reverberates throughout the entire building. She had gone to the roof to celebrate apparently. I burst out laughing. A couple minutes later, the door swings open to reveal my heavily breathing and newly established girlfriend.

"…you're crazy," she says happily.

"Says the girl who just screamed lungs out. The whole island probably heard you."

"Because I'm happy." The sheer joy in her face brings about a strange sensation that almost overpowers my symptoms. I only called her the cure in a figurative sense but seeing her this happy brings about mild relief, suppressing the worst of my condition. "The only way this can be any more perfect is if you—ah, never mind!"

Normally, I'd let it go, but emboldened by this new development, I encourage her instead. "Don't hold back. Say what you want to say."

"I was wondering if you could… I mean, since we might not have another chance after this, maybe now is the best time for…one last kiss."

I close my eyes and tilt my head. "Whenever you're ready."

"Seriously?!"

She once joked that a kiss might be the cure. I rejected the idea immediately, but she might've been onto something. Even though we already kissed, I consider this our first real one. The last couple ones don't count, just like the one while we were kids doesn't count. Could this kiss be the answer? There's only one way to find out.

"Ready or not, here I come..." Way to draw out the tension.

"We're not playing hide and seek," I joke.

"Sorry, I'm just nervous."

"Whatever you're feeling, it's tens time worse for me."

"Then you must be really happy then."

"Quit stalling," I warn. "Or I'll retract my offer."

"Okay! Just give me a moment to prepare myself." She takes what feels like an eternity. "I love you, Sora."

And we kiss.

My entire life has revolved around one problem, but when one problem gets solved, two more will inevitably take its place. Life is a never-ending series of problems. The day we have no more problems is the day we die. It's funny because the answer I've been looking for is just another problem to solve. Getting together isn't the hardest part, now we have to learn how to stay together. It's hard enough for regular people, so I have no idea how it's gonna go with two half baked cookies like us.

It's going to be long and tough road, but we've got a good head on our shoulders and we've got plenty of people around to support us. If things don't turn out the way we want, and statistically speaking, there's a very high chance of failure, I'm sure our friendship is strong enough to withstand the drama, and if it all ends horribly, I hope my love sickness is gone by then.

It's nice to be thinking about all the different ways our relationship could go wrong instead of how my body can go wrong. Then again, she still makes me nervous, she makes my stomach churn, she makes me sweat, she makes me stupid, and makes me feel like I can die at any moment. No matter how you look at it, I'm still completely, totally, and unfortunately—

Love Sick.

But I accept that.

She accepts that.

And you should too.


AN: I know, I know. I've been dragging my feet on this one, but since it's the last chapter, whatever! To make up for it, this is easily the longest one in the entire story. So think of it as a two in one deal.

Metal Gear Solid V did a real number on my time management. I've already poured over 100 hours and I still haven't beaten the game. Just goes to show that I'm slow in all aspects of my life, not just writing.

I want to thank all of you and everybody for following me on this crazy journey that started over four years ago. I'm glad to finally get it out of my head, and it's incredibly rewarding to see this story to conclusion. Much kudos to everyone who reviewed. You pushed and dragged my ass across the finish line. Without you, there is no story.

I warned in advance that not every loose end will be tied up and that's because real life isn't so neatly arranged, and considering the stream of consciousness narrative, having everything wrapped in a tidy bow would be a little too convenient. The show goes on even when the curtain closes on one stage.

I wanted to make a conclusion that was thematically satisfying. We all reach stages in our life where everything finally makes sense, only for everything to fall into disarray again. We should treasure those rare moments because they don't come around too often, and that's what I want this ending to feel like.

Whether you've reviewed from the beginning or not at all, I humbly request that you at least leave a thought for me to chew on for my effort over the years. I deserve that much, don't I? If you don't know what to put down, I suggest telling me how you discovered my story. I'd love to hear how you came across me, and if it's not too much trouble, I'd like to hear what your takeaway from Love Sick is.

Am I asking too much? Guess it doesn't matter because I AM DONE.

Thanks for reading and peace out, everyone!


Someone knocks on the door.

Not who could that possibly be? I've already seen Kairi, Roxas, Mom, Rikku, and even Laguna dropped in for a brief spell. Shit, don't tell me it's—

"Hello, Sora."

And there she is, the bane of my existence, dressed in a breezy white summer dress, the one and only—

"Naminé." Even her name leaves a bad taste in my mouth. "What are you doing here?"

"I've come to say hello to my new castmate, of course!"

I should've known. Assume the worst from the start and I'll always be right. "So this was all part of your plan too."

"You didn't think you could escape from me that easily, did you?"

No. If there's anything I've learned about life, it's that things are never easy. That's why it'll be a while before I can kiss Kairi again. I blacked out, which is pretty embarrassing. I don't want to deal with another headache in the same day.

"How did you do it?"

"I made an offer that was impossible to refuse. When Stella Star offers to join your show, you don't turn it down, but I wouldn't join without a certain condition being met."

Me. So that's how she did it. Since I signed the contract and there's no escape, I think I finally deserve an explanation. "So why me?"

She plops down on my bedside, forcing me to turn away and shuffle towards the opposite edge. "It didn't have to be you, it just happened to be you." That makes it even worse, because there was the possibility that it could've been someone else. "You fit all the requirements I needed."

"For what?"

"There are only two types of people in my world: those you can't trust and those you can control. I don't trust anyone, which leaves me with one choice."

"Then why not Roxas? Or anyone else? I'm sure with your beauty, fame, and money, finding a puppet would be simple."

"The smarter you think you are, the easier you are to fool." That line hits me particularly hard. "You were the perfect candidate because you won't be swayed by fame or money. You're not part of my industry—even better, you wanted no part of it. You were easy to find, because you're the only one who didn't want to stand out."

To think my own habits would work against me. "Why's that so important?"

"Because fame corrupts. I needed someone who hated the attention, someone who wanted nothing to do with the spotlight."

"But you brought the spotlight on me for this damn show. How are things supposed to go back to normal for me after this?"

"Don't think so highly of yourself. Even the biggest stars can fade to irrelevance. Have you ever heard of Stella?"

That's a funky question. "Are you talking about yourself?"

"I thought so." I sneak a glance and catch her staring at the floor. This is the first time I've seen her looking...sad? "I took my stage name after my mother, Stella. She was one of the biggest stars in her day, but now you can't find any trace of her. You know why that is?"

"No."

"She was blacklisted," she says plainly. "Being blacklisted is the same as being erased. All traces of you disappear, even on the internet. Nothing is left but a fuzzy memory. That's why if you do what I ask, I'll blacklist you and then you can return to your normal life."

"You can do that?" I remain skeptical. The internet is the ultimate record of everything. "I don't believe you. How can you erase someone?"

"It happens all the time. How many names are sacrificed so that the few can shine brighter than the rest? Dozens, hundreds? No, Sora, it's thousands. And I'm offering you a choice to join them."

Not the most appealing offer I've received, but a necessary one. "You bring me in only to kick me out. What if I don't want to be blacklisted?"

"Don't say things you don't mean." She's got me there. "If you want, I can blacklist Kairi too." Of course she knows, because she knows everything. "Relationships are notoriously difficult to maintain under media scrutiny. All that attention can't be healthy. Think of all the...temptations and scandals."

"Are you threatening us?"

"Maybe, maybe not. Either way, you don't have a choice. I'm only asking for formality's sake, so nod your head and accept it." As much as I wanted to lash out and go through the typical "don't threaten my loved ones" routine, I can see a lost cause well in advance.

"I don't even know what you want me to do."

"Don't worry, it's not much. I just need someone to connect me with the outside world, someone who can't betray me. That's why it was important that you hate me."

"So you were being a bitch on purpose."

"Your so-called love sickness made you the perfect candidate. As long as you had that, I didn't have to worry about you falling in love with me, and since you're going out with Kairi now, I'm safe—unless you're a cheating bastard." I feel sorry for anyone interested in this girl. If these are the conditions for becoming a puppet, I can't imagine the insane challenges for an actual lover.

"I'm not, and wouldn't it be easier to control someone who is in love with you?"

"No. Someone in love is the opposite of controllable." I don't want to read too much into her bitter tone, but I'm guessing stalkers and obsessed fans haven't exactly left her with a good impression of "love." She lives in a different world. The same words have different meanings. I don't know what hate and love means to her, but it's clear she has a unique perspective on it, one I probably can't possibly fathom...yet. She's dragging me into her universe after all.

"Okay, so you needed a lackey like me who can't do anything against you. Can we get to the reason of why now?"

"I was just getting to that." She gets up from the bed and walks over to the window, resting her elbows on the sill. She did it with such grace and elegance that I couldn't keep my eyes off her, despite my love sickness. That's the power of an A-list actress for ya. "My mother... Stella, committed suicide when I was a little girl."

"S-sorry to hear that." I wasn't expecting such a huge bomb to drop. If any tabloids got wind of this, it wouldn't be a field day—it'd be a field month.

"Don't be, because she didn't kill herself. She was murdered." And that bomb was upgraded from megaton to gigaton. Those combination of words is so foreign that it doesn't register. It sounds too fantastical like it was lifted straight from a script, but if that's the reason she's giving for everything' she's done to me, then it's gotta be true.

"How do you know?"

"Because she would never leave me," She holds a hand close to her chest and her eyes cloud over. "It was too sudden. Mother wouldn't do that." Suicides are often confuzzling, especially when the only one who can offer an answer is dead. "The one responsible has to be someone close to me. It could even be my father, which is why—"

"Are you talking about the man who drove us around the other day?"

"He's not my father."

"Of course not." Jeez, is anything about this girl true? It's just layers and layers of deception with her. Maybe she's just a product of her environment.

"My real father is a heartless man who wants to control everything. I'm always being watched by his men, that shadow you saw on the ship, and my bodyguard, Cloud. I can't do anything on my own without him knowing."

Somehow I'm both relieved and annoyed. This all but throws Kairi's theory of Naminé liking me into the garbage, but this means that all of this trouble, pain, and misery was so that I could become a glorified errand boy. The worst part of it is that I can't say anything back to her, because she's got everything covered. I can be angry all I want but it won't change a damn thing. She's got me pinned from every angle.

"I've found a private investigator who can help, but I can't have any direct contact with him. Everybody in my world is connected. I can't risk anything. I needed someone that I could meet and not look suspicious with, and who better than you, an acquaintance on set? Nobody would ever bat an eyelash."

"You could've just asked. You didn't have to put me through all this shit to get me to help."

"You and I both know that's not true." We'll never know now, will we? "Besides... It was fun." That's probably the real reason. Man, why do rich people got nothing better to do than jerk around plebes? I think I can understand though. A murder mystery ain't no joke, especially when it's her mom, and that calls for the highest level of confidence. She needed to take every possible precaution to ensure that I could never, ever, even think about betraying her. I have no idea what kind of circumstances surround her, but I get the impression that it's stupidly complicated and the best thing to do is follow orders like a good boy.

"You're a real witch."

She gives me a star studded smile that dazzles and blinds. Even though my heart belongs to Kairi, I gotta admit, I'm a little shaken. It's obvious why people would fall for her. Her rigorous screening procedures, while cruel, might also be necessary. Despite her malicious grins, it sounds like she has it rough. Here I am complaining about running on a hamster wheel while she has to jump through flaming hoops.

Truth has a way of destroying fear. We're afraid of what we don't understand, and now that she's laid out her intentions, the uncertainty has lifted. The monster is no more and its wake is a caged bird—well, still a monstrous kind of bird. I suppose I could see kindness in her scheme. If all goes according to plan, I'll be back to my normal life relatively unscathed if blacklisting works like she says it does. A messy induction but a clean exit. Tidy.

"I'll go along with it only on one condition."

She looks at me with steely eyes, making me feel an ant trying to avoid being stomped. "You know you're not in any position to be making demands?"

"It's for formality's sake."

She thinks about it and her eyes soften in amusement. "Go ahead then."

"No more lies, no more games, and no more blackmail." That isn't too much to ask for. She's already got me corned on every account, and it seems like the fastest way out is to follow her word. "I'll do everything you say without a single word of complaint. Agreed?"

She humors me with a gracious smile.

"I look forward to working with you, Sora."

When one story ends, another begins. There's no end to the nonsense, the trouble, and the excitement, because life...stops for no one.

And I love it.