Chapter 9: Our Hearts Are Connected

Someone pushed Sora's personal sleep cycle reset button. The groggy teen wakes up bright and early the next morning, around eight. The camp alarm will ring in about an hour anyway, but the brunet doesn't want to return to his personal dreamland. He sits up, thankful that he is short enough to rise all the way to avoid bumping his head on the bottom of the top bunk. He winces, though, when the old mattress squeaks.

One of the other boys shifts positions. Sora is too groggy to see who, but he silently apologizes for being noisy. It's strange, having to worry about that. With Riku, he could blast a tuba or even screech on a violin and the slumbering teen wouldn't even twitch. Nonetheless, the brunet can certainly respect others' light or deep sleep.

Sora clambers out of bed as tacitly as he can. He tiptoes across the wooden floor, mapping out his route to the bathrooms in his head. However, when he reaches the cabin door, he feels a tap on his shoulder. The brunet twitches violently when his heart lurches in his chest; it is way too early and dark to be feeling taps on the shoulder. Whirling around, he comes face to face with Ventus. Smiling in a content sort of way, the boy greets, "Hullo."

Sora releases a breath he held too long. "…Good morning," he replies awkwardly, smiling back. "Sorry, did I wake you?"

"Yeah, but I was going to wake up soon anyway. I hardly ever sleep more than 8 hours because I sleep so lightly." The boy's openness surprises Sora, bringing Riku to mind yet again; to get anything definite out of him is a task within itself.

Nevertheless, Sora replies sympathetically, "I know what you mean… Well I need to use the restroom so I'll be back..." He takes a step back slowly, closing his hand over the doorknob.

"Oh, so that's where you were going…. Mind if I follow you? It is morning after all." Normally Sora would find the request flat out strange, but he decides that this socially awkward kid is going to be his friend. Ventus had a point anyway; every guy needs to use the loo right after waking up. He couldn't really expect Ventus to stay behind when there are several 'stations' in the bathrooms of the camp. Thus, Sora nods, laughing a little bit.

Although Sora and Riku were obviously the closest of the group, Axel is the one that brings the breakfast club together. The flaming redhead had woken his cabin-mates up two minutes before the tocsin sounded and had single-handedly managed to drag them out of the beds and get them to dress, stumbling out of the cabin for breakfast before the other cabins managed to organize themselves. When they reached the cafeteria, they sat together out of convenient affiliation.

A few minutes afterward, Sora and Ventus entered the room. Axel called them over; when Riku turned, both the brunet and Ventus looked surprised to have been called. However, Riku smiled lightly and waved over to Sora, hoping he'd sit across or next to him. To justify this, Riku told himself that it was too early to be torturing himself by pushing Sora away. He watches, hopeful, for a sign. Blushing, the blue-eyed wonder sits across from the silverette, allowing Ventus a place next to Sora on the next table. Axel happens to sit on the other side of the brunet, causing Riku's insides to spark a little flame of jealousy again.

"Good morning, sunshine," Axel says sarcastically to Sora, "Where's your other cabin people?"

Sora replies, discreetly glancing over to Riku a few times, "Oh, I let them sleep. I left a note saying they could sit with us if they needed some friends though."

Axel cackles with laughter, "There's the social butterfly!"

Roxas immediately scowls, still grouchy from waking up, "You are so fucking creepy."

Immediately turning to give his attention to the sour blonde, Axel smirks and retorts, "No, I'm friendly. You haven't seen creepy….yet." Roxas glares back, too irritable to say anything back.

Riku decides to butt out of that conversation, finding no interest in their weird, abrasive version of flirting. He catches Sora's eye and smiles. "Sleep okay?"

Smiling a little bit, bashful, Sora nods. "I managed to make a friend. Remember Ventus?" He tilts his head to the sour blonde's twin who is too busy gaping at every detail in the room to notice the others. Riku nods. "Yeah, surprisingly your redhead friend is…stand-able. Though his face isn't exactly the first thing I wanted to see this morning." Sora giggles, replying, "Yeah, my friend from the last camp, Demyx, hated that 'cause he'd stay up so late playing his guitar."

"Ergh, then my night owl schedule is doomed for sure." Sora nods, smiling again. Riku suddenly feels like it's that first night all over again, where him and Sora talked to each other as nice as they could manage, trying to break the ice and be friends. It all seems out of order now though.

Sora catches Riku's attention again as he looks to the Japanese blonde at the far end of their table, sitting across from Roxas. "So, who's that?" the brunet asks.

"We aren't entirely sure. All he does is dance and speak random Japanese phrases. We think his name is T.K."

Sora raises his eyebrow, "Japanese?"

Ventus intercedes, suddenly noticing their presence, "Oh, Japanese?! I've taken Japanese for three years in a row now; I bet I can talk to him!"

Chuckling, Riku looks over to the happy blonde, "You can take a shot at it, though I wish you luck." The silverette is amused by the polar opposite personalities of Roxas and Ventus, perpendicular to their perfectly replicated looks. However, before the silverette can register anything else about the bubbly blonde, Ventus is up and away, coming to sit between him and T.K.


"Aahhhh, konnichiwa!"

And thus, the weirdest friendship ever is formed.

Sora watches the doors for Xion and Chris to come in. By the time Chris arrives, he has already found others to sit with so he merely waves to Sora and then gets into the food-line with a couple girls he obviously knows. They look very similar, so he assumes they must be relatives.

Xion however comes in towards the very end, wearing tan cargo shorts and a black jacket with the hood up. Somehow, he still looks undeniably girly to Sora. Nevertheless, he calls out to him, hoping to somehow catch Xion's attention. Success of the intention is hard to confirm, considering his hood is up all the time.

But, fortunately, Xion ends up sitting next to Sora quietly. Riku glances over to him and sends a questioning glance Sora's way.

"Uh, this is Xion. Xion, this is Riku." Xion nods. "Err… he doesn't talk much."

Riku smiles understandingly. "I went a whole month without speaking before. I get it… Nice to meet you, Xion." The mute nods, and Sora catches a small smile back from under his hood.

Suddenly, Axel bursts into the conversation, "Looks like we got the whole gang! Anyone got a lighter?"

Sora half-glares back, "Axel, a lighter? What for?"

"Hey, don't look at me like that. I have my reasons."

"You would end up starting a forest fire," Riku counters disapprovingly.

"Well it's not like there's anything else to do, is there?" Sora and Riku share a knowing glance. There's a lot to do here, not that they'll illuminate Axel (of all people) of the infinite options. They chuckle at each other.

"Woah, woah, there. Don't get all awkward buddy-buddy on me," Axel says, suspicion in his eyes and face.

Sora, being witty for once retorts, "Well excuse me, I thought you wanted me to make friends, hmmmmm?" Riku heartily laughs when Axel's expression falls into shocked thoughtlessness and then pouting, an expression truly unbecoming on a teen so 'hardcore'.

"You guys are fucking mean!"

Roxas, who had been listening in, replies, "You deserve it, you wuss." Axel sticks his tongue out at his offender, earning another snide comment, "So mature."

"You know it, Roxy," Axel smirks back, returning to his badass façade. Riku rolls his eyes.

Then, finally, the bell rings to end breakfast.

The group immediately agrees that staying inside is the best course of action. Most of the other kids anxiously sprint out of the cafeteria, excited to try out all the different sports options. As soon as the cafeteria is relatively empty, Axel starts spouting random activity options, like cards or chess or his personal favorite, pyromantics. Unfortunately for him, burning random paraphernalia did not sound appealing to anyone but him, though Roxas and Xion didn't seem to care one way or another. Ventus translated T.K.'s dance-off suggestion, but he seemed to be the only one confident in his dancing abilities. Ventus apologizes, "Gomennasai, T.K."

Just then, a big bowling ball of a man saunters up to their table. Riku and Sora look up, slight dread equal on each face. Coach clears his throat and asks, "What are you boys up to today? Sun's shinin'."

An awkward moment of silence ensues, as they all assume Axel would take over the conversation. However, the redhead doesn't tend to cooperate with authority well (go figure) so he stays quiet. When the lack of response becomes unbearable, Sora stutters, "W-we, uh, we aren't sure yet, sir."

"Humph," Coach says, reproachful, "There's plenty of things to do outside." The brunet barely catches Riku's quiet sigh. They all know where this is going. Coach continues, "Why don't you guys go start a basketball game? The court has a few kids who want to play but they don't have enough people."

They all collectively glare at him. How old are they again? Doesn't he think they can figure out what they should do? However, they know arguing would be pointless. Refusing him would be like signing a contract with the Devil without reading the fine print.

Sora, being aware of this, awkwardly replies, "Er.. yes, sir." The man smiles, though the expression somewhat looks like a grimace, and nods. "Besides," Coach grunts, somewhat to himself but also to the group, "you boys are too pale." And thus, he meanders away towards the kitchen.

When they reach the empty court, Axel exclaims, "Pfft, what a hypocrite. He sends us outside, saying there would be people here, and then heads to the kitchen… Annoying."

Ventus, trying to lighten the mood, replies, "Maybe he's just trying to make sure we stay healthy… like he doesn't want us to end up like him. And maybe the people that were here before left."

Axel hesitates, but still comes up with "…Meeeh," to compliment his attitude.

"Come on, Axel, it'll be fun. You're tall anyway," Sora joins, defending Ventus's spirit.

Before the redhead can continue his grumbling, Riku exclaims, "Okay girls, we need team captains."

T.K., who seemingly understood the statement, says with a Japanese lilt, "Riku, one." The silverette glances to the twitchy dirty blonde, eyebrows raised.

Roxas smirks, "Yeah, Riku, how about you be the team captain like you were in soccer?"

"Don't be a douche," the silverette glares jokingly. But he sighs in submission soon afterward, realizing that he is probably one of the best people to be such a captain. But who could be his worthy opponent…? He smirks.

"Alright, well, if I'm team captain, Sora has to be the other one."

They all turn to Sora, who immediately blushes and looks skeptically around at the group. "Me?" He points to himself, and they all smile.

"Yes, this'll be perfect," Axel says, laughing almost maniacally. Ventus giggles. Both Xion and Roxas show a small smile. After a moment, the brunet's blue eyes catch Riku's turquoise ones. The silverette gives him a genuine, reassuring smile. Sora smiles back.

"Okay, Riku, you're on!"

Despite himself, Sora is appreciative of Riku's recognition as a combatant. The assertion was true to their experiences the past two weeks, being with him alone. It had been a constant competition between the two of them, compassionate and friendly, yet fierce and glorious fun. However, with the added twist of others, the brunet felt dragged along with the group, rather than the reason for half of its creation. The idea may simply be a default suspicion in his head, or genuine. Nonetheless, it scared him. Remembering how he had been picked last almost every single time last semester (until the month came close to an end because the girls finally realized that Sora was a worthy, and quite frankly needed, addition to their team) was enough to make anyone nervous.

But Sora's captain title brings closure to those memories. So perhaps, the truth of the matter is that he feels homesick; but sick for his place with Riku, not his parents. Even though it's only a few hours into the second day, the loneliness is creeping onto him. He hopes that his new friends will remove the urgent longing, and that his and Riku's relationship will adjust and blossom again.

They stand side by side. He finds himself distracted, inwardly analyzing how before, being within inches of the silverette would not stir him. However, now, the brunet is flustered. He knows so much about the silverette that at least part of him feels as though he ought to 'own' Riku by default. Only Sora can be the friend Riku needs; true, and honest, and fun, and… he is aware that this arises from his inherent anger at fate; Riku's permanent friendship is the price that Sora has given to God. But he knows that the silverette is no toy, no object to be bought and sold. That is where his frustration and loneliness creeps in to sow doubts. Why should he have to share when he, surely, connects with Riku better and more than anyone else?

But another part of him is simply bewildered by his own urges and feelings. They are foreign and strong, reminding him of the Mongols; strong in military and fresh disease. This isn't a normal invasion of amiable love for someone new he has allowed into his life. It has doused his whole heart in a way he cannot explain, cannot even begin to compare it to anything he's ever felt. The closest emotional experiences to this are the nights he's mourned his parents. It's a sharp and lasting pain akin to plucking the strings of a guitar; the sharp twang of the string and note, followed by the resonating sound extending out. But it still isn't quite the same, just because Sora isn't despondent. Instead it is almost a pleasurable kind of torture.

Ugh. It really doesn't make sense.

"I guess I'll start. Alright, Roxas," Riku beckons the blonde to his team. His voice jolts Sora out of his personal trance; he blushes when he catches Riku's inquisitive glance yet again.

"I pick Xion," Sora says, knowing that if he didn't pick him, no one would.

"Axel," Riku chooses.

"Hmph, that's surprising," the pyro comments. Riku shrugs, and gestures back to Sora. The blue eyes watch Axel pace over to stand next to Riku.

"T.K," Sora decides.

"Right on, Starry Heaven!"

"Is that the only English you know?"


Sighing, Sora gestures for the language-confused teen to come over. Smiling, T.K. complies while Riku and Axel chuckle. Patting Sora's back, Axel says, "I betcha he's great at basketball… just don't try to plan out tactics."

Laughing, Sora sticks his tongue out. "We'll still win."

Riku tilts his head to the side, wondering what to do about Ventus. It's obvious the boy won't be even slightly useful in basketball (he's practically a cheerleader already) but he knows Sora might be miffed about his hesitance to pick him. Another issue is the simple fairness of the game. There are only three people on each team, but Ventus is literally the odd one out. The silverette has no desire to find someone else to join in on their game, but he supposes that if Sora insists, he won't complain.

"Well, Ventus, I'd gladly put you on my team, but it'd be kind of unfair." The sickening smile never leaves Roxas's twin's face. It doesn't unnerve or annoy Riku, but it strikes the silverette as extremely out of place. It reminds him of when, at his high school, an autistic kid was assigned a spot at his lunch table. The kid wasn't annoying, just different and a little awkward in his very rebellious group. They didn't relocate tables because one, that'd be a little cruel, and also there was simply no room anywhere else.

He looks to Sora, hoping he'll interject to make a decision. The brunet contemplates the situation, but then Roxas, for once showing compassion for his brother, asks, "Would you like to keep score for us?" There is no scorn in his voice, or even in his face. Riku watches as Axel's face is transformed into shock, and something softens in his eyes.

But the usually temperamental blonde isn't paying attention to the redhead; he walks over to his brother who is still at least a little distracted by the lines on the basketball court. Ventus looks up, still beaming. "Oh, do you guys need a score keeper?" The silverette is surprised to realize that Ventus wasn't even aware that he was the last to be picked.

"Mhmm," Roxas says, reaching into his pocket to procure a pencil and notepad. "Here," the blonde offers. Ventus takes it. Some of the discipline returns to Roxas's voice, "Now remember, you have to pay attention to the game, okay?"

"Sure! It'll be fun!"

Roxas smiles, "Yeah, thanks bro."

"For what?" The blonde pats him on the back, sending a significant glance to the others. "Nothing," he says, "Just go find a place to stand or whatever."

The game is 4-3, with Riku's team in the lead. However, Sora is still optimistic. T.K. made the first basket, flawlessly understanding what Sora needed from him. The second he himself made, aided by Xion's death stare on Axel.

"Damn, he's scary." This actually earned him a feminine giggle from the mute male(?), which further distracted the redhead as he stared incredulously. That's when Sora slid around Riku easily with the ball and made a slam dunk despite the silverette's adamant protests and desperate calls for Axel's assistance.

"Damnit, Axel!"

"I'm sorry, Xion freaked me out, it's his fault!"

"I don't fuckin' care, you owe me a basket."

In ten minutes, the redhead managed to even out his debt. Unfortunately that gave them the one-up. Really, it came down to Xion to make up the difference as Axel blocked T.K. and Riku courted Sora. Roxas was an aggressive but also slightly clumsy player. His main card was intimidation against Xion but unfortunately for Riku's team, it progressively lost affect. Xion, after weaving around Roxas enough to make anyone dizzy, took a couple shots and missed once, but made it the other. Sora ran up to him and high-fived the smiley male immediately afterward. His eyes sparkled with enthusiasm, and Sora smiled, satisfied.

Then suddenly, Ventus called, "Okay, half-time break! The score is 4-3, Riku leading!" The blonde prattled on about individual contributions on each side; anyone listening would have been amazed at the detail, but for the most part they were all too exhausted to do anything but focus on recuperating.

They keep to their teams, though since the dark-haired male does not speak, and the blonde on his team does not speak English, Sora ends up looking on to Riku longingly from across the court. He can't help but notice that Riku and Axel are quickly connecting… Not necessarily like him and Riku, but still bonding in the way that only two dark-siders can do. Although Sora wishes himself to be happy for their newfound friendship, in reality, he only feels jealous. A small tendril of self-hatred rises from the soil of his heart; how can he be so selfish to be jealous of Axel? He deserves a good friend like Riku just as much as Sora does.

The brunet sighs and turns to T.K. and Ventus' conversation.

And then he hears a whisper, so quiet and strange that he's almost certain it originated in his head: "He's still yours."

Riku distracts himself from the adrenaline rush induced by playing so intensely with Sora by focusing on Axel. Although the silverette becomes jealous whenever the redhead so much as glances at Sora, the feel between them is completely different and it reassures him. After all, if Riku is preoccupying him, how can Axel take Sora's attention away from the silverette? As for Axel and Riku's friendship for each other, it easily reminds him of home, though in a better light. He can easily imagine drinking the night away, club-hopping, and partying with Axel while not even blinking twice at any shocking thing the redhead could come up with. The aloof vulgarity of Axel to complement Riku's cool facade creates the perfect distraction from the silverette's soft side.

So when the game starts up again, Riku makes it a point to joke around with Axel, purposefully making openings for the redhead to insult him or joke back. Desperate times call for desperate measures; normally allowing such harm to his pride would haunt him in Riku's sleep. But, in all fairness, this ploy at friendship is really a form of using the pyromaniac. Despite himself, the silverette's insides receive a pang of guilt. These underhanded dealings are exactly what Riku didn't want Sora to see in him. If only it could be simple. If only Sora didn't have to remind him of everyone he has loved and lost. If only Sora could reassure him… of what, he isn't sure. Riku, in all his self-knowing glory, still isn't even certain what exactly he wants out of Sora. Does he want to be told Sora will never die? Does he want to be told that Sora loves him back? Is it a combination of both?

Yet again, the silverette can't understand the person he currently knows the best, nor his own soul.

A/N: Yay! Everyone is pretty much friends at least, even though it's all complicated. Hehe, hopefully there was enough comic relief to make up for It though :) Tell me what you think!:D

Thank you guys, yet again, for your continued support of this story, and I will be updating as soon as I can! Until next time,