Squall hated himself for it, truly he did. But still. He dared another glance at the object of his attention and was once again filled with guilty pleasure.
It was still empty. Riku’s unoccupied seat in the class stood out like a glaring beacon declaring none other than that most convenient form of punishments, suspension.
Once again Squall had to stifle a grin at Ansem Hightower’s brilliant sense of justice. Three whole days of peace. He sighed and continued to watch the progress of the students as they worked quietly on the study guide, preparing for the upcoming test on chapter five. Once over the initial bump with The Pearl, they’d progressed swiftly through the Gift of the Magi, The Monkey’s Paw, and The Game. The students had finally grown accustomed to him, it seemed. I think I’m getting the hang of this teaching thing. Except… He shot a look at the other object of his attention.
Sora worked quietly, pausing every so often to cough or sneeze. He rubbed absently at his eyes with one hand while scribbling answers with the other. Not once had he looked in Squall’s direction or spoken to him since the day before, after the fight.
Squall wasn’t sure if he should be relieved or disappointed, but he knew what he felt. An aching sense of loneliness and a growing amount of self-reproach. He dreamt about Sora again last night, and in some ways he found himself missing the Rinoa dreams. At least those nightmares only showed things that had already happened, these new dreams showed something that was wholly out of his reach.
An explosive sneeze broke through the silence, and Sora covered his mouth in embarrassment. I should’ve stayed at home. The irony of catching Squall’s cold was not lost on him. But there’s no one to come take care of me, since Squall and I are barely on speaking terms, and Riku is on punishment. He grimly reflected on the call he’d gotten last night.
“She grounded me, Sora. We’re talking complete house arrest here.”
“Then what are you doing on the phone?” Sora had asked, around a mouthful of toothpaste.
“You know that one phone call that inmates get to make? This is it.”
“And you called me? I’m so flattered.”
“Who the hell else was I supposed to call? My dad, so he could bitch me out? Maybe Jake? Ask him how he liked his taste of ass-whooping, and if he wants a second helping?”
“Not funny.” Sora had responded, frowning. He heard Lillian’s voice in the background, telling Riku to wrap it up, kiddo.
“Sorry.” Riku amended. “Well, the reason I called is because I need you to get my homework assignments for me. I don’t want to be stuck at that lame school by myself while you’re away at some brainiac college next year.”
Riku had gotten off the phone soon after that, leaving Sora to wonder just what he was going to do with so much time alone. Recuperate, by the looks of things. He stole a longing glance at the box of tissues sitting on the edge of Squall’s desk. He was dying to get a few, but that would mean approaching his teacher, and he wasn’t willing to risk it. What if I go over there, and he looks at me, and I make a fool of myself? I can’t. He sneezed again, this one louder than before. He ducked his head, mortified.
“Ugh! Sora’s getting mucus all over his book!” squawked Tidus gleefully, glad for any distraction from the monotony.
That’s it! Squall pushed back his chair with a loud scrape, and snatched the box of Kleenex off of his desk. He strode over to Sora’s desk and stood directly in front of it. Look up, damn you. Look at me.
Sora sensed the shadow fall over him even before he caught a glimpse of long slack-covered legs standing in front of his desk. Gradually he lifted his gaze, wondering what Squall was doing now.
“Here.” Squall set the box of Kleenex down on Sora’s closed textbook with a loud thump. I got him to look at me, but it only made me feel worse. It was so empty… meaningless.
Sora dropped his eyes to the Kleenex. “Oh. Thank you, Mr. Leonhart.” He could feel the eyes of his classmates on him, and he was eternally grateful that he didn’t slip up and call him Squall.
In that moment Squall could’ve strangled him. He nodded curtly, and returned to his own desk. Irked by his childish behavior, he opened his teacher’s edition and began to browse, forcing his mind back to work.
Every few minutes, one of Sora’s muffled sneezes reached Squall’s ears, and he winced. I’m the reason he’s sick, in the first place. He sighed. Who would think so much trouble could come from one little kiss? Except it wasn’t one little kiss, it was the best damn kiss he could ever remember having in his life, and that terrified him. I told him to leave me alone, and he did. But now I can’t leave him alone. I miss him, for fuck’s sake, and I want him back in my company. Distantly he heard the ringing of the bell and abandoned his musings. “No homework. Just keep working on your study guides, so that you’ll be ready for the test on Monday. I know you may be tempted to slack off, but don’t. We’re covering a lot of material, here.”
“No shit.” Tidus muttered under his breath.
Squall decided Tidus wasn’t worth the effort to discipline. “Class dismissed.” He watched as the students packed their belongings and left the classroom. Again his eyes wandered to Sora.
Sora looked up, somewhat surprised to see Squall staring at him. What is his deal? Oh yeah, I have his tissues. Slowly, he stood and picked up the box of Kleenex. He weaved his way through the chairs to Squall’s desk. “Here you go.”
Squall looked up at Sora, his expression carefully neutral. You’re killing me, you know. Driving me right up the goddamn wall. “Keep them.”
“Oh.” Sora blinked, feeling rather awkward. Why does he keep looking at me like he wants something from me? “Thank you, Mr Leonh-”
“Don’t call me that.” Squall interrupted, irritated. “You never really called me that before, so don’t bother to start now.”
Sora blinked again. Then what am I supposed to call you? You’re not making any sense. “Okay…”
Squall sighed and ran his hands through his hair. I don’t know what I want anymore. “Sora,” he began, still unsure what to say. I’m sorry I’ve been such an ass to you. I know I’m your teacher, but I really like you, and if it’s not too creepy, can I take you out on a date or something?
Sora felt his heart give a squeeze. He’s acting so weird. Could it be that he misses me? “Yes?” What would I do if he said that? What would I think? He swallowed.
Forget it. “I’m sorry I gave you my cold.” Squall finished, feeling disgusted with himself for the millionth time. I must want to go to jail, not to mention get fired and possibly run out of town. What the hell is wrong with me?!
Sora stared at him strangely for a moment, and then smiled. Well, even if he doesn’t miss me, I miss him. I’ll always love talking to him. “Don’t worry about it. It was worth it.” He said, and then blushed.
Squall looked up, oddly pleased. “Was it really?”
Sora nodded shyly. “In some ways, yes.” He studied his hands for a moment, before finally meeting Squall’s eyes. They were unreadable, but he continued anyway. “But not in other ways. I miss hanging out with you.” It felt really good to say that. He looked away, his face red. “Well… I’ve got to go. Thanks for the tissue.”
“Anything you need.” Squall replied. “I mean that.” He watched Sora’s hesitant nod, and silent retreat, the words of his former roommate invading his mind.
“I know you, Leonhart. When you fall, you fall hard. You’ll be sitting in your room writing love letters soon enough.”
Squall groaned. Oh, fuck you, Strife. Fuck you for always being so damn observant. Against his will, he found his eyes drawn to the top drawer of his desk. He opened it, his gaze roaming over bright yellow highlighters, green post-it notes, scattered paperclips, and the roster. Are they even still in here? He reached far back into the drawer and found what he was looking for. Leaning back in his chair, he examined the thick stack of rubber band wrapped index cards. Family cards, Miss Hall called them. They were collected on the first day of school, and contained the addresses, phone numbers, and parent’s names of every student in the class. Absently, he unwound the rubber band, and began to flip through the cards, his eyes roaming over the names. When he found the one with Sora’s information, he pulled it from the stack and replaced the other cards in the drawer. This is uncomfortably close to stalking, he mused as he tucked the card safely into his bag. I’ll probably never use it, but just in case I finally get my thoughts together, I could give him a call…
“No shit?!” exclaimed Tidus. He clapped a hand over his mouth and slumped over the lunch table, laughing uproariously.
Sora sighed. “Yeah. They suspended Riku for three days.” He shook his head. “Him and Jake both, which was only fair, I guess.” He picked dejectedly at his salad. “I just wish I could’ve stopped them.”
“You tried, ya.” Wakka assured him, patting him on the back. “That’s good enough.”
“Yep, and you even got yourself a badge of honor.” Tidus teased, sitting up. “How’s that eye holding up, anyway?”
“The swelling has gone down, but it’s still so dark.” Sora grimaced. “My mom had a royal fit.” He sighed again, wondering if things would’ve turned out differently if he hadn’t kissed Riku in front of the lockers. I kissed Squall and destroyed our friendship. I kissed Riku and got him suspended. Maybe I should keep my lips to myself.
“I’ve got some good news that might cheer you up.” Tidus announced. “Selphie Tilwitt is going to throw a huge party this Friday night to get everybody revved up for the game.”
“Oh yeah, homecoming. It’s next week, right?” asked Sora. The game kept slipping his mind. I guess I’ve had enough to think about as it is.
“Right.” Tidus confirmed. “Although, we’ve got it in the bag.” He leaned closer and spoke in a confidential whisper, his eyes sparkling mischievously. “Wakka had it fixed for us. It’s all been arranged. We can’t lose.”
Wakka rolled his eyes. “Oh shut up, ya.”
“What do you mean?” Sora asked, interested.
Tidus smirked. “He’s dating a girl from our rival school, Midgar High. She’s a cute little thing, too. Kind of flat-chested, but she has these big brown eyes-”
Wakka reached over and mashed Tidus’ head down onto the table. “I’ve heard about enough, ya.”
Tidus squirmed free, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Oh ugh! Could you do me a favor, and warn me the next time you go ballistic and shove my face onto that nasty ass table? I had my mouth open and everything!”
“Your mouth is always open, ya.” joked Wakka, chuckling. “That’s your problem.”
Sora laughed. “Why didn’t you tell me you had a girlfriend, Wakka?”
Wakka shrugged. “It didn’t seem like a big deal, ya. I mean, I’m not that public, like you and Riku.” He winked. “I’ve heard all the stories, ya.”
Sora blushed. “Ha, I guess you have a point.” He took a sip of fruit punch to cover his embarrassment.
“Oh shit, he’s blushing!” teased Tidus. He leaned close again and wiggled his eyebrows. “So, did you and Riku do it, yet?”
Sora choked. “Geez,” he said after a moment. “You never give up, do you?”
“Nah.” Tidus admitted. “So, did you?”
“Of course not!” Sora protested. “What do you think I am?”
“Riku’s boyfriend.” Tidus explained. “I mean, it’s practically mandatory that you give it up. It’s your civic duty to protect the rest of us from his sex-crazed ass.”
“Oh come on,” Sora argued. “I’m not really that interested in that sort of thing just yet.”
“He must be a virgin.” stated Tidus, exchanging a knowing glance with Wakka.
Wakka shrugged. “To each his own, ya.”
Sora’s face flamed. “So what?! Maybe I am. That doesn’t mean anything!”
“It means that Riku is going to have a hell of a time. You’ll be his hardest conquest yet.” Tidus replied, laughing.
Cheeks burning yet again, Sora decided that it would be in his best interests to finish his meal and remain silent. He munched on the salad, pondering Tidus’ words. Is Riku really expecting me to sleep with him so early? I mean, I’m not sure that I even want to. I know I’m not ready. His mind traveled back to the afternoon at Squall‘s apartment, with Squall’s hands on his skin and in his hair as he kissed him on the leather sofa. He had felt ready enough at that time. Sora blanched. That was different. I feel differently with Squall, than I do with Riku. I’m sure if Riku give me time, though…
Riku scrubbed frantically at the dishes, wanting to finish them so that he could start on something else. Strands of silver hair fell in his eyes, and he swept them back with a bubble-covered hand and groaned. “I hate housework.”
Riku had been cleaning since he’d woken up, hoping on some level to get back on good terms with his mother. Sure enough she’d given him the Look of Disappointment that he hated so much, and grounded him without hearing his side of the story, but at least she hadn’t lectured him. Yet. Possessed of guilt for upsetting his mother, Riku had awakened early as though he were going to school, and proceeded to clean like a madman, wanting his mother to feel that he hadn’t been completely useless today. He thought back to Sora and sighed. Sora had looked so out of place in Principal Hightower’s office, answering questions and giving his own version of the incident. Miraculously, Sora had been able to explain everything so well that Riku and Jake both got off with only a three day sentence, as opposed to the two week suspension that Ansem had been dangling over their heads before Sora arrived.
Three days still isn’t enough for Addison, Riku thought bitterly. The sight of Sora’s black eye had triggered another outburst from him, prompting Ansem to threaten him with mandatory anger management classes. I still can’t believe he hit him so hard. Addison must be psycho. Riku had wanted to stay for the remainder of the day and check on Sora, but Ansem had been adamant that the boys leave with their parents immediately. Thank God the secretary called ma, and not my dad. He grimaced. That could’ve been unpleasant.
Riku finished the dishes, and pulled the plug. He watched the water drain for a few moments, and then dried his hands with a paper towel. “Now what can I do?” He glanced around. He had already cleaned the kitchen, bathroom, and living room, even deigning to vacuum although he hated his mom’s Dirt Devil with a passion. He glanced at the clock. She’ll be home soon. There’s nothing really left to do. His stomach grumbled. Oh… well, I could make dinner. That might impress her. “It’s worth a shot.” he mumbled, and walked over to the fridge, opening it. He took a long look inside. “...Shit...”
“Dominos Pizza.” the voice answered on the second ring.
“Yes, I’d like to order for delivery.” Riku replied, embarrassed. I really did want to cook, but I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do with a pack of raw chicken breasts? I don’t know how to cook that! He told the person his order and address, and hung up the phone. At least I’m paying for it. He jogged upstairs to get his money. Upon entering his bedroom, he stripped out of his damp shirt and changed into a comfortable jersey. Today was such a waste of clothes. He found his wallet and carefully removed a twenty bill, tucking it into the pocket of his jeans. He shot a glance at the clock. His mom would be home soon. I just hope the pizza gets here before she does, or I’ll be looking pretty stupid.
Thankfully, the doorbell rang thirty minutes later. Riku bounded down the steps, grateful that something seemed to be going right for once. He opened the door.
A bored-looking teenager with blue hair stood on the step holding out the familiar red bag as though he were allergic to it. “Did somebody order a large pizza with everything on it and an order of cinnastix?”
“Yeah,” Riku began, and then blinked. What the hell? He burst into laughter as he recognized the delivery boy. “Shit Seymour, why didn’t you tell me you worked for Dominos?”
Seymour groaned. “Come on, give me a break. It’s bad enough working for Dominos without every damn body at school knowing about it. People keep asking me for hook-ups and shit.” He opened the bag and handed Riku the pizza and cinnastix.
“I would’ve asked too, if I knew you were bringing it.” Riku admitted, grinning. “Come on, how about you let me have the cinnastix for free?”
“How about I kick your ass and then leave?” Seymour replied. His blue eyes lit up. “That reminds me, everybody was talking about you and Jake today. Selphie’s pissed off, because you two stole her thunder.”
“What thunder?” Riku asked, rolling his eyes.
“She’s throwing a huge party Friday night. You know, for homecoming.” Seymour replied. “It’s going to be wild. But of course, all anybody could talk about was how you owned Jake. He’s my teammate and all, but whatever.” He shrugged. “Anyway, your total is 18.45”
Riku graciously held out the twenty. “Here you go. Keep the change.”
“Wow.” Seymour responded dryly. “A whole dollar and fifty-five cents. I can quit my lame job and retire, at this rate.” He turned and walked down the driveway to his parked Honda.
“You just keep up that good mood.” Riku called after him, snickering. “I’ll bet you’ll be the manager in no time.”
“Manage this.” Seymour drawled, lifting his middle finger. “Later.”
Riku closed the door and carried the food into the kitchen to wait. A party, huh? I’ll definitely be there. Who knows, maybe I can even get Sora to go with me. People always get laid at parties... The sound of a key turning caught his attention. Here we go, he thought darkly, walking back into the living room. He stood by the kitchen door, not sure what to do. What will I say to her? Should I lie or tell the truth, or just stay silent?
The door opened and Lillian stepped in. As she closed the door, her blue eyes met his for an instant and then she looked away. Does she have to look so unhappy? “Um, hi.” Riku started.
“Hi, Riku.” Lillian answered, walking over to the closet.
“How was work?” He questioned, trying to make some sort of conversation.
Lillian took off her coat and hung it up in the hall closet. “It was fine.”
The lackluster tone of his mother’s voice frightened Riku. I think I really upset her this time. “I bought pizza.” he offered sheepishly.
“How thoughtful of you.” Lillian responded, sighing. “But you’re still grounded.”
“But ma,” Riku argued. “I don’t think it was right how you just grounded me without hearing my side of the story!”
“Kiddo, the last thing I want to do after having to leave work to pick you up from school, is to listen to your justification for beating up some poor classmate.” Lillian looked at him, and her face seemed drained of it’s vitality. “Look Riku, you’re in trouble, and I think you understand why, but apparently we still need to talk about it.” She sat down on the couch.
“Okay, I’m willing to talk.” Riku agreed quickly, sitting down beside her. Anything if she’ll stop looking so sick of me. He glanced at her somewhat anxiously.
“Your father seems to think that I haven’t been raising you right, that I’ve been too lenient, and I’m starting to agree with him.” Lillian began. “Before I had thought that his opinion was ridiculous and self-serving, but now I’m wondering if maybe he was right. Maybe he could’ve done a better job with you.”
What, is she going to give me to dad?! I’d go insane! “But ma,” Riku pleaded. “You can’t give me to him-”
“I’m not, but let me finish.” Lillian cut him off. “I’ve been tolerant of your somewhat spirited behavior, and your disinterest with school, but I cannot tolerant violence, Riku! That boy could’ve gotten seriously hurt because of you! Think of how his mother must feel.”
“I didn’t start the fight, ma. You know I’m not like that.” Riku insisted.
“But Riku, why did you finish it? Why get into a fight at all? Didn’t I teach you to be better than that?” Lillian sighed and shook her head. Sephiroth is going to have a field day if he finds out. Good thing Riku is almost eighteen, or he’d be dragging me to court.
“I did it for Sora.” Riku said quietly, staring at his feet.
“What?” Lillian asked, startled.
“I did it to protect Sora.” Riku said, louder this time. “Jake found out about me and Sora and he left a crude note taped to his locker. It pissed me off, so I went to confront Jake, but Sora talked me out of it.” He shook his head. “He has so much control over me, it’s scary.”
Lillian watched Riku as he talked, her suspicions about her son’s feelings for his best friend confirmed. “I see.”
“Well, what happened next is that Sora was leading me away, when he looked back at Jake. And then Jake just snapped and went after Sora.” Riku clenched his fists. “You don’t understand what it was like to watch Jake trying to attack him. I just lost it, and the next thing I knew, I was attacking Jake. I wanted to hurt him so much, because of the way he tried to hurt Sora. I might’ve really messed him up if my teacher hadn’t broken up the fight.”
“Maybe I should send this teacher a thank you card and a gift basket.” Lillian quipped, trying to lighten the mood.
Riku frowned. “No way. I can’t stand him, and he doesn’t like me either. He hates the way that Sora and I feel about each other.”
There it is. “And how do you feel about Sora?” Lillian asked gently.
“I love him.” Riku said simply. He looked up, and the honesty and emotion in his eyes was mildly frightening. “I’ve always loved him. Ever since we were little kids.”
Lillian nodded. “I’ve suspected as much, myself. I just wasn’t sure if you knew it. Does Sora know how you feel?”
Riku nodded reluctantly. “Yeah… he’s my boyfriend now. That’s why Jake was so mad at him. He likes me too.” I wonder how this changes things.
“Ah, I see.” Lillian said sagely. “Love triangle, that age-old problem.” She rose to her feet. “I suppose it isn’t entirely your fault, then. These things can happen to anybody.”
“If you knew how I felt about Sora, why didn’t you ever say anything?” Riku blurted out suddenly. I can’t believe she’s okay with it! Dad would probably disown me if he knew! Maybe I should tell him…
“I figured that it wasn’t any of my business, Riku.” Lillian replied, shrugging.
The release from pressure to conform was too great. Riku grasped at straws, unable to believe it. “But you’re not disappointed in me?”
Lillian shook her head, blonde hair swishing gently. “Of course not! Why would I be?” She leaned down so that their foreheads were touching. “Let me tell you something, kiddo.” She smiled warmly. “You’re my son, no matter who you like. I have loved you since the day I felt your tiny kick in my womb, and I always will love you. Nothing can change that, sweetie.”
This was the kind of love that he craved. Love free of judgment and conditions. The kind of love his father was afraid to give him. Riku surged to his feet, and clutched his mother, hugging her fiercely, taking in the scent of her perfume. “I love you too, mom.”
“I know, Riku.” she said, softly stroking his hair. “By the way, you’re still grounded.”
“Ma!” Riku cried, stepping back. “What do you mean I’m still grounded? Didn’t you say it wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t do anything wrong?”
“Well yes,” Lillian admitted. “But still, I’m not about to reward you for beating up your classmate. You know I don’t approve of violence.”
Riku scowled. “Aww man! That’s so fucked up-”
“Riku!” warned Lillian.
“I mean, that’s such a crying shame.” Riku corrected, still frowning.
Lillian couldn’t help laughing. “I suppose it is, but it won’t be too bad. All I ask is that you keep the house spotless while you’re on suspension.”
“That’s it?” Riku asked, brightening. This’ll be a breeze!
“And that you don’t watch television, talk on the phone, play video games, listen to music, or go out until your suspension is over.” Lillian added.
“Jesus Christ!” Riku exclaimed, clapping a hand over his face.
“Has nothing to do with it.” Lillian replied. “Next time you think about getting into a fight, you remember your punishment for this one. Besides, it’s only for a few days. Your last day of suspension is Friday, so that’s when I’ll let you off. Relax, kiddo.” She ruffled his hair, and turned to walk into the kitchen.
Riku sighed heavily. “Is that Friday night or Friday afternoon?”
Lillian turned around. “What’s the difference?”
“There is an extremely important party that I have to be at Friday night.” Riku explained, his expression grave. “It is essential that I show up. It’s not about the fun, ma. It‘s a social political thing, really.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Riku.” Lillian replied thoughtfully. “I mean, what kind of message am I sending you if I let you go to a party the same week you beat up somebody?”
“Fight hard, play hard?” Riku suggested, snickering.
“No way.” Lillian answered, turning back to the kitchen. “You’re not contrite enough. I don’t think so, kiddo.”
“Wait, please ma.” Riku begged. “If I don’t go, my rep will be ruined! Everyone will say I’m hiding with my tail between my legs like a little bitch-”
“Alright now.” Lillian interjected.
“Like a punk.” Riku corrected. “Plus, Sora will be with me.” I hope. “He’ll keep me out of trouble.” he added, knowing that his mother considered Sora to be the responsible one, and rightly so.
Lillian sighed. “Well, if Sora’s going, then I guess it’ll be okay.”
Yes! Riku sighed with relief, pumping his fist in the air. “Thanks, ma!”
Lillian smiled at her son‘s theatrics. “You’re welcome. Now let me eat, dammit.”
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