The brisk November wind stung against Riku’s exposed face as he walked, causing him to jam his hands further into the pockets of his jeans and grimace. His adidas jacket, though fashionable, was hardly adequate protection against the rapidly falling temperatures that signaled the approach of winter. He was struck by a gust of wind nearly strong enough to knock him over, and he gritted his teeth, continuing his slow trek to school. He staunchly refused to hurry his pace, having no desire to face the chaos that was lying in wait for him. They’ll all be waiting for me. Judging me.

By now Riku knew that the news of Jake’s unfortunate demise must’ve been relayed throughout the student body. There had been only the briefest mention of it on the local news, with the names omitted, since they were all minors. He was just a kid, Riku reflected. We’re all just kids. Mostly everyone had fled as soon as Selphie’s scream alerted them to the serious trouble that had manifested. Wakka and Tidus stayed, both of them listening with horror while Riku told them the entire sick history of the various lapses in judgment that had led to the final culmination of tragedy. Riku hoped that he never again had to see such an expression in Wakka’s eyes. It was as though he had looked directly into Riku’s soul and seen not a single thing worth redemption. Tidus had been dazed but responsive, offering to accompany Riku to the police station if needed. In the end, Riku went alone, Selphie’s hysterical cries ringing in his ears as she was comforted by one officer and he was led outside by another.

Selphie will have told everyone by now, Riku thought bitterly. She never could keep her mouth shut about anything. His dislike of Selphie was one thing that strengthened his resolve for the thing which he must now do. The other thing had been somewhat anticipated, but made no less devastating by the foreknowledge.

Tentatively, Riku had walked to Sora’s house that morning, in the hopes that Sora would not be too furious to walk to school with him, at least. Sonja had met him at the door with an unreadable expression and grimly informed him that Sora and Kairi had already left. She offered no apology or further information as she closed the door, and Riku knew that it would be a long time before she ever warmed back up to him.

If Sonja was angry with him now, Riku did not want to know what she would think if the entire truth about Jake’s suicide got out. Selphie wouldn’t be stupid enough to tell the whole school her boyfriend was gay, yet, but eventually someone would figure it out. And then… Riku shuddered. He didn’t want to put Sora through all that. He didn’t even want to go through all that. What he had come up with was the best for all involved, although he knew convincing Selphie of that fact would be a little hard, especially considering the situation. With a determined look, he took notice of the school now looming in front of him, and crossed the threshold.

If any of the students had harbored any doubts about the authenticity of the rumors surrounding Selphie’s party, they were surely put to rest upon arrival at the high school. An enormous white banner with black satin ribbons hanging from it was draped up in the school’s lobby, just inside the main doors. Several pictures of Jake had been enlarged and printed on it, along with the words “Jake Addison, You Will Be Missed.” A notice on the wall nearby stated that the banner would be held in the main office after school each day of the week for anyone who wanted to sign it and leave their condolences for Jake’s family.

That must’ve cost his parents a small fortune, Riku thought, squelching the small pang of guilt he felt at the finality of it all. He could already feel the eyes of the other students as he crossed the hallway, their unspoken thoughts taking an almost tangible form. I wish Sora was here with me. He sighed. Actually, it’s better that he’s not. I don’t want to see his eyes. He hadn’t heard a word from Sora since he’d fled the party Friday night, and even though he was supposedly grounded, it was still disconcerting. Sora had been grounded before and still found a way to contact Riku. He’s just not trying. Maybe he doesn’t care anymore. Maybe I fucked it all up for good. The fact that Sora hated to get up, but had still managed to leave early enough to avoid him today didn’t help to ease Riku’s fears. Still… Even if I did lose him forever, I still owe him this much. Now, where is she? He glanced around, and finally his eyes fell upon the one person he truly did want to see this morning.

Selphie stood in the midst of a cluster of girls just inside of the cafeteria doors. She was dabbing at her eyes with a tissue and murmuring something incoherent. Riku was not surprised to see that most of her friends seemed somewhat disinterested in whatever she was saying. Only that cousin of Sora’s seems to actually give a shit. Pathetic. Well, here we go. Riku strode over to the cluster of females and rudely elbowed some unknown brunette flunkie out of the way. “Selphie.”

Selphie looked up, her eyes widening and then narrowing just as quickly. “Get away from me!” she hissed. Her circle of friends echoed her demand immediately, with only Kairi looking warily at Riku.

Riku rolled his eyes. I don’t have time for this shit. “Save it.” Quickly he reached forward and grabbed a hold of Selphie’s arm just above the elbow. “Come on. We need to talk.”

“Let go of me, or I’ll scream!” Selphie threatened, trying uselessly to wriggle out of Riku’s grip. Her friends shifted anxiously, finally interested. Kairi opened her mouth as if to say something, and then closed it.

Riku stared into Selphie’s eyes. “Go ahead and scream, Selphie. I’ll scream too. I’ll scream out the truth about Jake, in front of the entire school. And in the end, we’ll see who the other kids can hear better.”

Selphie’s eyes widened. “What?”

Riku yanked her. “Come on.” Without another look at her friends, he dragged Selphie away from the cafeteria, down to the deserted music hallway.

“Where are we going?” Selphie snapped, not actively fighting anymore, but not helping either.

“Somewhere quiet.” Riku griped. He pushed open the doors to the stairwell and dragged Selphie behind the stairs. He was immediately disgusted to find two younger students already there, engaged in questionable behavior. “Hey!” he snarled. “Will you two shits stop making out and get lost! We’re trying to talk here!”

The guy turned to Riku with irritation, his blonde hair long and unruly. “Hey man… Be cool.”

Riku let go of Selphie, and grabbed the kid by his face, steering him towards the doors. “Do I fucking look cool to you? Now, fuck off!” He shoved the kid into the doors, and was gratified to see the look of horror on his face before he scrambled down the hallway. Almost immediately the brown-haired girl he was with ran after him, casting a fearful glance back at Riku and Selphie with wide eyes.

“Fucking freshman.” Riku spat, as the doors swung closed. He turned back to Selphie. “Now look…”

“No, you look!” Selphie shot back. “I don’t know what you’re up to Riku, but whatever it is, it won’t work! Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to class!” She brushed past him.

Riku grabbed Selphie by both arms and spun her around. I am not in the mood for this! He pulled her close enough so that their faces were almost touching. “You listen to me, you spoiled little bitch, and you listen like you’ve never listened to anybody in your whole useless life.” His eyes narrowed. “You know, and I know the real truth about why Jake killed himself.”

Selphie averted her eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Riku shook her. “Spare me the bullshit! Selphie, you know I was fucking him. You know because that was right around the time we both stopped fucking you.”

Selphie jerked in Riku’s grip and glared at him hatefully. “You’re a liar.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you, Selphie. I’m not like Jake. I never cared enough about your feelings to lie to you. All you had to do was ask, and I could’ve told you. Hell, I would’ve let you watch.” Riku sighed. “But Jake was so worried about hurting your feelings, he didn’t want you to know. But you knew anyway, didn’t you? I know that you did.”

Selphie faltered slightly. “So what if I knew?! You’re sick! You’re both sick! You deserved each other!” She tossed her curls defiantly, as if to show how unconcerned she was with the whole business.

“Is that really how you feel?” Riku questioned. “I doubt it, but if that’s how you want to play it, fine. I couldn’t care less what happens to Jake’s reputation. If he goes from football hero to psychotic fag in the eyes of his peers, it’s no problem for me. Everybody already knows that I’ll chase anything that moves, but Jake on the other hand has something to lose.”

“You can’t prove it!” Selphie snapped, realizing what Riku was hinting at doing. “If you try to spread rumors about Jake, I’ll just deny everything!”

“Go ahead.” Riku offered. “I’ll just make my own little banner in Jake’s honor. Except, instead of pictures of him in his uniform tossing a football, they’ll be pictures of him in his bare skin, tossing my salad.”

“You have pictures?!” Selphie screeched, her eyes enlarged to comic proportions. She began to tremble in Riku’s arms.

“I have several,” Riku lied, knowing that he had no such thing. Jake may have been crazy, but he wasn’t crazy enough to let me take pictures, anyway. “I’m sure the school newspaper team would like to see my little collection. They’d definitely be blurred when published, but I’m pretty sure the student body would get the gist of them.”

Selphie closed her eyes and shuddered, the implications of what Riku was threatening to do making her feel sick to her stomach. After a moment of quiet breathing, she slowly opened her eyes and stared back at him. “Alright… What do you want from me, Riku?”

Riku sighed. “You and I, are going to have to take the fall for this one. Everyone knows that Jake shot himself, Selphie. But only we know why. It’s the why that’s killing everybody out there right now. It’s the why that’s going to get the rumors flying, and it’s the why that’s going to finally uncover the truth. One of us will crack under the pressure, and then Jake’s reputation is fucked. We have to conquer that why, Selphie. Before it eats us both alive.”

“What are you suggesting?” Selphie asked, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Riku released his hold on her arms. “We need to convince the school that Jake killed himself because of us. That he was jealous of the two of us, seeing each other.”

Selphie recoiled. “You can’t be serious.”

“What do you mean I can’t be serious?!” Riku snapped finally. “I was fucking you long before I even considered Jake, and I know your shitty little cheerleader friends already know about that. Hell, they were probably just waiting for the confession. Fucking vultures.”

“I don’t see how that will solve anything.” Selphie protested, shaking her head.

“It will satisfy everyone’s curiosity.” Riku explained. “It’ll give them someone to blame. You and I will take a lot of shit for it, but Jake will go down in the yearbook as some kind of saint or something. It’s the only way. It’s the only believable answer to the why. Except for the truth, of course.”

Selphie realized that as sick as it sounded, Riku’s solution probably was probably the only way to keep Jake’s secret from becoming public knowledge. Riku, you bastard! I hate you for this! And I hate you Jake, for putting me in this position! She pounded a fist on Riku’s chest and let out a strangled cry. “Oh God, what’s going to happen to us?” She groaned, her eyes filling with tears.

“Nothing.” Riku assured her. “A lot of ragging, maybe some name-calling. Your fake friends will probably disown you, but you’re better off without them. Believe me.”

“Why the hell should I believe you?! You’re like a snake!” Selphie growled, tears streaming freely down her face. “You lie, and twist, and hurt, and mess things up for other people! You don’t give a damn about anybody but your-”

“Did you love Jake?” Riku interrupted. “Because if you didn’t then I guess you probably don’t really care what happens to his reputation. But if this gets out, then instead of being the girl who drove Jake crazy by cheating on him, you’re going to be the girl who was too stupid to know that her own boyfriend was gay. The whole damn school is going to throw you a pity party, and they’ll be snickering behind your back the whole time.”

Selphie sighed deeply, her mind grudgingly accepting the truth of Riku’s words. “I’d rather be hated than pitied. If somebody hates me, I can just hate them back. But if someone feels sorry for me…” She trailed off, her body shaking slightly. “I don’t want people to pity me.”

“And they won’t.” Riku assured her. “You’ll get plenty of hatred, but absolutely no pity if we go through with this.” The warning bell for students to head to class sounded, its trill adding a finality to the discussion. “So, what’s it going to be?”

“I’ll do it.” Selphie whispered. “I suppose I owe Jake that much. If I had never started with you, maybe he and I would’ve been together more. I could’ve changed him.”

Riku seriously doubted if Selphie’s increased presence in Jake’s life would’ve helped. Probably would’ve had the opposite effect, really. Still, he knew better than to say otherwise. “Maybe, you’re right. We’ll never know.” He patted her on the shoulder. “Look, we’d better get to class.” He headed for the doors. That was easier than I thought. Maybe she really did love Jake.

“Riku…” Selphie murmured.

Riku turned.

Selphie hauled back and slapped him forcefully across the face. “That was for Jake.” she hissed, her palm stinging.

Riku stood motionlessly, glaring at Selphie with barely restrained rage in his eyes. “You get that one for free bitch, one more and-”

“And this is for me.” Selphie leaned back and spit in his face.

“The fuck?!” Riku brought his hand to his face and wiped at it. He stared at his wet palm in utter disbelief. She spit on me! I ought to strangle the slut, right here, right now! He advanced on Selphie, his fists clenched. “You little bitch…”

Selphie scrambled backwards and lost her footing. “Ah!”

Riku took advantage of Selphie’s stumble, wrenching her forward and then shoving her brutally through the doors so hard she hit the tiled floor and slid on her back. Groaning, she sat up, rubbing the back of her head and glaring balefully at him.

The few students now in the music hallway looked up from their lockers in alarm.

We’ve already got ourselves an audience. Might as well give them a show. Riku laughed heartily. “Damn, Selphie! Have some shame!” he called loud enough for everyone to hear clearly. “Your boyfriend isn’t even in the ground yet, and you’re already trying to give me head! Why don’t you shake your silly ass down to the funeral home and see if you can get in his pants real quick before they finish embalming him. Fucking slut.” He strode past her without a second glance and walked down the hallway.

The mouths of the students gaped at Riku as he passed, their young eyes reminding him of a ping pong match as they seemed undecided whether to watch him or to watch Selphie climbing to her feet. He absently heard Selphie’s cry of rage, and saw a tube of lipstick whiz past his head. I don’t suppose she and I will ever speak to each other again. Some loss. He heard the trilling of the late bell and groaned loudly. Great! Now Leonhart will give me detention. Just what I needed. He reached his classroom and opened the door.

The class was quiet, their attention fixed on the television sitting on a black iron stand in the corner of the room. A photo montage of Jake was being shown on the screen with “Amazing Grace” playing in the background. Riku stared for a moment, taken aback, before he realized he was standing in the doorway. Quickly, he closed the door and made his way to his seat, fully expecting a dirty look from his teacher. When he was safely seated, he was somewhat surprised to see that Squall Leonhart was watching Sora with a concerned expression, almost as if he already knew the whole story. Fearfully, Riku glanced at his estranged boyfriend.

Sora was watching the television presentation with a wistful expression on his face. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had registered Riku entering the classroom, but he had no desire to look at him. The photo montage pulled at his heart, and he couldn’t help feeling that there must’ve been a better solution to the problem that had brought the three of them together in the bedroom that night. Thank goodness for Squall, I don’t know if I could make it without him. He could feel Squall’s eyes on him, and was greatly pleased by the concern and support he seemed to radiate towards him. Still, I can’t make too much of it. I wouldn’t want to get him in trouble. There’s already enough going on in the school today as it is.

Sensing that Sora had no intentions of looking his way, Riku glanced around the room, trying to gauge everyone else’s reactions. Everyone was watching the presentation, except for Tidus, who briefly met his eyes before looking away. I wonder how he feels. Jake was his captain, after all. Riku sighed. It’s all so fucked up.

After a few minutes, the presentation ended, and Squall turned off the television. With an air of resignation, he leaned against the front of his desk, and addressed his class. “First of all, the administration has requested that I inform all of you that grief counselors will be on hand throughout the week to offer consoling and comfort for those of you who wish to see them. In addition, the funeral and internment will take place tomorrow, starting at nine in the morning in Saint John’s Catholic Church, downtown.” Squall gave the students a chance to write down the information before proceeding. “In the event that you should choose to attend, or find yourself too distraught to come to school, your absence will be excused, without question.”

Riku nodded solemnly. Staying at home tomorrow would probably be a good idea, once Selphie’s story took effect. He didn’t look forward to people asking him how he dared to show his face after what he did.

Squall continued. “Now, I understand all too well what some of you are going through. I myself, am no stranger to loss. You may find that hard to believe, but it’s true. So, I’m not going to bother assigning work today, because I know that some of you just aren’t up to it.” He crossed his arms. “Instead, I want you to consider this a free period. If you want to put your head down and take a little nap, go ahead. If you want to draw or write something in your notebook, feel free. If you want to cry quietly to yourself, you can do that too. Of course, if you just want to get started on the next chapter, that’s fine as well. I will tell you this, however. One, don’t expect the rest of your teachers to be as lenient today, and two, we will still have our test. It will be on Wednesday, so that anyone who is attending the funeral will not have to worry about missing it.”

Sora had to struggle to keep his eyes from shining with admiration for Squall once he’d finished his speech, and seated himself behind his desk. He’s just so incredible! His sensitivity, his insight, his beauty… Sora knew he was losing his battle and lowered his eyes to his desk. With Squall at my side, I just might be able to make it through this. If one good thing could come from this, it’s the way that Squall and I have bonded. He spent the remainder of the class trying vainly to read the textbook, and instead reflecting on his night with Squall.

Riku watched Sora intently, his mind churning with possible things to say. Apologies, excuses, accusations, and proclamations of love-induced stupidity all seemed to have their merits, but somehow he knew that it would prove useless. I just hope that the deal with Selphie shields Sora from the worst of it. Even if he never talks to me again… His chest constricted at the thought.

·<>·§·<>·

From the moment he entered the cafeteria, Sora was painfully aware of the sudden interest in him. Everywhere his eyes landed, people avoided his stare, whispering amongst themselves. He felt as though he were adrift, floating aimlessly towards the table he shared with his friends. Wakka met his eyes. “Hey.”

Sora felt a little better as he sat down. “Hey Wakka.”

“How’s it going, ya?” Wakka asked softly. He reached across the table and put a hand on Sora’s shoulder.

Sora smiled weakly, glad for the comfort. “Not too bad. I’m just feeling a little anxious. Everyone keeps looking at me, like they know.”

“They don’t know jack shit.” Tidus interrupted, sitting down. He clapped a hand on Sora’s other shoulder. “Me and Wakka know everything, but we wouldn’t tell anybody else. Jake may have been an asshole sometimes, but he deserves to keep his pride.”

Wakka sighed. “You’d better prepare yourself, ya. Here comes Riku.” He removed his hand from Sora’s shoulder and signaled for Tidus to do the same. Tidus rolled his eyes, but complied.

If Sora thought the cafeteria had been interested in him, it was nothing compared to the attention that Riku received. The somber mood vanished, and the place seemed to come alive with conversation, all eyes following Riku’s progress. Sora felt a knot forming in the pit of his stomach as Riku made his way to the table.

“Hey.” Riku said quietly.

Wakka acknowledged him with a curt nod. Tidus waved. Sora drew in a little on himself and concentrated on his lunch.

Riku sat down beside his boyfriend with a sigh. “You know guys, I already feel bad enough without my best friends giving me the silent treatment.

“No one’s giving you the silent treatment, ya.” Wakka replied, stirring his soup.

“Well, you’re not saying anything!” Riku shot back, irritated and hurt at the cold reception he was getting.

“What the hell do you want us to say?” Tidus snapped. “That thanks to you, we’re going to get our asses crushed in our own homecoming game?”

Both Wakka and Sora groaned at the sheer inappropriateness of Tidus’ remark.

“Let’s just drop it.” Sora suggested softly, after a few awkward moments of silence. “It’s all over now. We have to go on.”

Riku put a hand to his head. “I know, I know. I just… I don’t want to lose you guys. Any of you. You’re the only real friends I have.”

“You won’t.” Wakka responded. “You might not deserve to keep us, ya, but you’re not going to lose us either. Not this time, anyway.” Grudgingly, he reached across and patted Riku on the shoulder.

Tidus followed suit, cooing. “You going to be okay now, little baby? You need mommy to come and change your diapers, too?” He lovingly patted Riku’s other shoulder.

Riku seized Tidus’ hand and squeezed. “Do that again, and you’ll pull back a stump, Goldilocks.”

Sora found his mind fading away from the conversation, as the volume of the cafeteria seemed to amplify in response to Riku’s every shift in movement. Everyone was in a fluster of activity, and he kept inadvertently meeting eyes that were looking in his direction. People that he had never really seen before were staring boldly, their eyes skeptical and suspicious. None of this matters. I still have my friends, but all the whisperingThe stares. Fragments of discussion drifted within his earshot. They’re saying Jake’s name… Riku’s name… my name… Sora felt dizzy for a moment, and placed a hand on the table to steady himself. I can’t take it.

“Sora? What’s wrong, ya?” asked Wakka, his eyes concerned. He had noticed Sora looking as though he were about to fall over in the midst of Riku and Tidus’ squabble.

“Everything.” Sora blurted out, his voice shaky. “This. Me. Him. Them.” He pointed directly at the table where the cheerleaders were sitting.

The girls didn’t bother to avert their eyes, instead raising their voices now that they had been pointed out. Only Kairi had the good grace to look ashamed.

What does she have to be ashamed of anyway?! Sora groaned. “See! It’s too much. It’s just too much right now!”

Riku reached for Sora, wincing when he recoiled at his touch. “Sora, you’ve got to calm down. It’s going to be fine.”

“I thought I was ready for this, but I’m not.” Sora stammered, rising to his feet. “I have to go.”

Riku jumped up, and took hold of Sora’s arm. “Look. You have to relax! Everything is going to be okay. I’ve got it under control. Listen…”

Just then, a loud slap rang out. All heads turned to see Selphie holding her cheek. She was fleeing the cafeteria, while the other cheerleaders threw food and called insults after her. Kairi gathered her books quickly, and immediately ran out after her friend.

Riku felt a rush of relief. Thank God. I was afraid she’d chickened out on me. If only Kairi doesn’t fuck it up for us. “Now Sora…”

“What did you do?!” Sora shouted. “What now? Huh?” Sora wrenched his arm away from Riku and tore across the room. He could hear people talking, not just whispering anymore, but outright shouting about them. He left the cafeteria and ran madly down the hallway. Why do I always go to him with my troubles? He must think I’m so weak! Breathless, he stopped in front of his English classroom door and yanked it open so hard it hit the wall.

Squall looked up as the door to the classroom slammed open. “What the hell?!” He was stunned to see Sora run into the room, his face wet with tears. “Sora, what’s wrong?” Leonhart you jackass, it’s probably because he’s just now realizing what you did to him that night.

“I can’t take this!” Sora blurted out, his eyes wild. He wrung his hands frantically as he paced in front of the door.

Quickly, Squall was on his feet. He closed the door and ushered Sora over to his usual seat. Gently he pushed down on his shoulders until he sat. “Take what?”

Sora looked up at Squall and shook his head. “The staring! Everybody is always staring at me! And whispering!” He ran his hands through his hair, savagely yanking at it. “They know, Squall! They know!” His breath hitched. “Somehow they must’ve found out! They know that I had something to do with what happened to Jake! They think he killed himself because of me! I thought I could handle it, but I was wrong!”

Squall pulled Sora to him. “Shh.” He felt Sora’s arms go around him and sighed with relief. He doesn’t hate me yet. “It’s okay.”

“But Squall! They know!” Sora buried his face in Squall’s shirt. “And I can’t help feeling like it was my fault…”

“Alright, that’s enough.” Squall interrupted. “Just shut the hell up.”

Sora looked up, stunned. “But Squall…”

“I mean it.” Squall said firmly. “I don’t want to hear that kind of talk from you.” He lifted Sora’s chin in his hand. “You listen to me, and you listen well. What happened to Jake was not your fault. It wasn’t even Riku’s fault, no matter what role he played. The only one who killed Jake was Jake. That’s all there is to it.” He caught and held Sora’s eyes with his own, refusing to let go. “Bad things happen in life, but it’s not always someone’s fault. Whose fault was it that Seifer and Rinoa died? Was it my fault for arguing with Seifer? Was it Seifer’s fault for speeding in the rain? Was it Rinoa’s fault for making us late?”

Sora shook his head slowly. “No… How could any of you have known that would happen? None of you meant for it to happen!”

The simple truth in Sora’s words sank in, and Squall felt as though he had just passed through a crucial checkpoint in his life. All this time, I had been blaming myself, blaming Seifer, blaming Rinoa. I hated all of us for what happened, all this time. I hated them for dying, and I hated myself for living. That’s why I was always having nightmares… He swallowed. And I was so in love with my guilt, with my grief that I could never let go. I was too busy playing the stoic martyr.

“Squall?” questioned Sora, forgetting his own problem in his concern for Squall.

Squall blinked. It took Sora to make me see that. He’s changing me in so many ways. “Sora… I want you to say it. Say it wasn’t your fault.”

Sora’s eyes lowered. “It wasn’t my fault.” he mumbled.

Squall raised Sora’s chin again. “Not good enough. You look me in the eyes, goddammit. And you say it with some fucking conviction. It’s not your fault. Believe it.”

Sora stared at Squall in surprise for a long moment. He’s so serious. “It’s not my fault.” he offered.

“Again.” Squall ordered.

“It’s not my fault.” Sora said, a little more firmly.

“Isn’t it? Because I don’t quite think you believe it.” Squall taunted, deliberately malicious.

“It’s not my fault.” Sora gritted out, his eyes flashing.

“Even though you were there? Even though Jake was jealous of you? Even though you stole Riku’s affections from him?” Squall goaded viciously.

“It’s not my fault!” Sora shouted, and meant it.

Squall stared back at him, stunned. He is so much stronger than I was. “Sora…”

Sora jumped to his feet and hugged Squall fiercely. “Squall…” He planted a firm kiss on his lips. “Thank you.” he whispered.

Squall hugged him back, his heart surging with some forceful emotion that he couldn’t identify. “No… thank you.” You chased my nightmares away. For good, I think. He returned Sora’s kiss with desperate intensity, feeling the lust rise up within him. This is not the place. Nonetheless, he found his lips drawn to Sora’s throat, his hands holding onto him as though he owned him.

Sora proved to be the more sensible of the pair. He pulled away gently. “Squall, not here. You could get in trouble.”

Squall let him go, his hormones protesting furiously. “I know, but… Sora, I can’t help it. I want you.” It’s been three whole days.

Sora blushed, immensely pleased. “I never thought I’d hear you say that.”

Squall sighed. “Well, you have. And you’ll hear it a million times over, until you come back.” He forced himself to retreat to his own desk, putting distance between them. “I missed you, you know.”

Sora blushed again. “I missed you too… It’s not like I want to stay away.” He groaned. “But my mom, she’s so worried about me now, it’s impossible to get out. I’m grounded for a whole month! And then there’s Riku to think about.”

At the mention of Sora’s rightful boyfriend, Squall involuntarily pounded his fist down onto his desk. “Oh, for fuck’s sake!”

Sora stared at him, startled. “What’s your problem?”

“Sorry.” Squall amended grudgingly. “I understand, really I do. And I don’t mean to sound so demanding. It’s just, I don’t want what happened between us to be a one-time thing.”

“Neither do I.” agreed Sora. “I gave you my virginity, after all. I just need a little time to collect myself. And then I’ll come back. I promise.”

“I know you will.” Squall admitted. “I’m just being impatient.” He glanced at the clock. “You’d better get back to the cafeteria before that bell rings. Imagine what types of rumors might start flying around if the students think you’re having some sort of affair with me.” he teased. “Think of all the looks and whispers you’d be getting then.”

Sora paled. “That would not be cool at all.”

Squall smirked. “Teacher’s pet, indeed.”

“I’m glad you think it’s so funny.” Sora shot back, still pale. “Since you’d get fired for sure, and probably go to jail.”

Squall crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. “So? I’ll let you in on a little secret, Sora. This job isn’t all that hot anyway, and the pay is inhumane. As for jail, it’s free room and board, cable television, a gym, and best of all, you don’t have to work or pay taxes.” He yawned. “So, what’s your point?”

“Oooh…” Sora scowled. “You’re terrible. Really.” He walked around the side of the desk and stood there, glowering at Squall.

“Really?” Squall teased. “I mean, really really?”

Sora suddenly smirked. I’ll fix him, alright. Without giving himself time to chicken out, he quickly climbed onto Squall’s lap, straddling him. Spurred on by Squall’s panicked expression, he leaned forward, until his hands were resting on Squall’s chest, and their lips were almost touching. He smirked again. “Really.”

Squall felt his pulse launch upwards. This little punk… For a moment he simply sat there and stared back into Sora’s dangerously flirtatious blue eyes. Then for some reason, Sora shifted. It was an accident to be sure, but Squall’s hormones quite frankly didn’t give a damn. Knowing that this was not the time, and sure as hell not the place, Squall moved.

Sora felt the hard surface of the desk on his back, instants before Squall rose over him, looking down at him with unmistakable hunger. Uh oh.

Squall descended on Sora, kissing him sinfully as he settled his hips between Sora’s splayed legs, pinning him to the large desk. There is no time! I know, I know! But fuck it. He caressed Sora’s skin beneath his shirt, his hands reacquainting themselves with it’s delightfully smooth texture.

Sora arched beneath Squall, his own body responding. His hips rolled sensuously and he held Squall to him, taking his kisses and offering his own. I missed him too, and if he wants me here, now, on this desk, he can have me. He drew his short nails down Squall’s back, vaguely remembering having it done to him at a time that seemed so long ago.

Squall growled and ground his hips against Sora, their tongues deftly entwined. He lowered his hands to Sora’s buttocks, kneading them and pulling their bodies together even tighter. Lord help me… if something doesn’t stop me… I am going to take him right here, right now.

Sora’s clothed erection was grinding against Squall’s in a way that stamped out all coherent thought. He swiped blindly at the desk, feeling like he would just die if he couldn’t hold on. A box of paperclips went flying across the room and broke, scattering the metallic objects everywhere. Sora gave up on the desk, and held onto the back of Squall’s neck with one hand, while he clawed at his back with the other one.

Squall felt Sora’s legs lock around his waist and shuddered. He knew that in a few more moments, zippers would be coming down, bare skin would get involved, and scandal would ensue. Nonetheless, this new certainty didn’t stop him from continuing to move against Sora, and dimly he offered a plaintive mental cry for divine intervention. Something… Anything… Please stop me, because I can’t stop myself anymore…

The bell rang, its sound painfully shrill to their over heightened senses. It seemed almost to say “Alright, now break it up, you two. Break it up!”

Thank you! Squall fell back into his chair, breathing heavily. Shit… His back stung from where Sora had scratched him, and he remembered the very first dream he’d had about him. I lose control so easily when it comes to him. He looked over at Sora, who had sat up on the desk, a bewildered expression on his face, one hand tentatively touching his lips. Squall felt a surge of pride. Serves him right. “That’s what you get for sitting on people’s laps.”

Sora blinked, and then seemed to return to his senses. “Shut up.” he panted, sticking out his tongue. Squall’s raised eyebrow caused him to close his mouth in a hurry. “Man… I’d better get out of here.” He eased down off of the desk and gathered his book bag, his legs shaky. Oh wow.

“That’s right.” Squall affirmed. “Hit the bricks. Get out there and show the bastards you aren’t afraid of their rumor mill.” He smiled warmly, resisting the urge to run from the school building with Sora slung over his shoulder. “And when you leave this room, I want you to hold your head high, and remember what you yelled at me. Don’t forget it, okay?”

Sora made his way to the door and then looked back over his shoulder. “I won’t. Thank you.” He opened the door and moved out into the hall, glad to see that only a few students were roaming just yet.

Squall stared after him, pleased. He’s going to be okay. He really is. He sighed and tried his best to ignore the racing of his blood. But as for me, I don’t know. For the first time his eyes fell on the paperclips. “Aww shit…”

Sora reached his locker and laid his head against it, the cool surface inviting to his heated skin. Squall… we almost did it just now… on his desk. The thought struck him as hilarious and he laughed, despite the war still raging in his blood.

“Sora, there you are.” said Riku, with obvious relief.

Sora turned slightly to see his boyfriend approaching, concern in his eyes. He turned back to his locker. I can’t let him see me like this! How can I explain it?! “Yeah, I’m here.” he murmured. “Sorry for running out like that, but I couldn’t take all of the whispering and the stares.”

Riku laid his head on Sora’s back and put his arms around his waist. “I understand. But, you can’t run away from it. Don’t you think it bothers me too?”

“I didn’t think anything bothered you.” Sora confessed, relaxing slightly in Riku’s embrace. He laid his face against the locker again and let the tension melt out of his body. He was conscious of people moving and talking all around him, but he kept his eyes closed and eventually the sounds of footsteps faded away. The late bell rang, divulging the reason for the sudden quiet. “You’re going to be late.” he warned.

“Like I give a fuck.” Riku replied, his words muffled by Sora’s shirt. “If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll drop clean out of school.”

Sora sighed and lifted his head. What are we doing? Slowly he turned around and met Riku’s eyes. “Riku…”

“Don’t!” Riku pleaded. “Don’t say it! Whatever it is you were going to say, just stop!” You can’t leave me now, Sora! I need you. I love you… I’d just die if you left me now…

Sora turned away and began to gather his books. “Actually, I was going to say that I should be getting to class now.” I refuse to let myself feel guilty over Squall after what happened with Jake. Riku and I… He closed his locker and picked up his book bag. “That’s all.”

“I’ll walk you.” Riku offered. At least he’s talking to me! That means there’s hope right? He’ll forgive me someday. We can still be together.

Sora shrugged. “If you want.” Sooner or later, I’m going to have to come to terms with how I feel about Riku… and Squall. He shot a sideways glance at his English classroom as they passed.

Squall had some poor kid picking up all of the paperclips, a sour expression on his face.

Sora burst into laughter before he could catch himself.

“What?” asked Riku. Dear God, please don’t let him be losing his mind.

Sora shook his head, quickly getting his snickering under control. “Nothing. Just a private joke.”

“You never used to keep things private from me.” Riku grumbled.

Things change. “Well, it’s not really important anyway.” Sora lied. “I’ll see you in class, okay?” Without waiting for Riku’s response, he hurried off to his next class, reflecting on what Squall had told him. It’s not my fault…

By the end of the day he found himself believing it. Strangely enough, he didn’t have to think about it much. All of the strange looks from earlier seemed to have evaporated completely. There were still whisperings, but he didn’t hear his name mentioned anymore.

Riku, on the other hand was still a popular topic of discussion. If the constant dropping of his name bothered him at all, he didn’t show it. He had dozed throughout their entire Physics lecture, refusing to allow the scandal to deter him from his normal behavior.

Walking home with his boyfriend, Riku couldn’t help being unnerved by Sora’s silence. He kept stealing glances at him, wishing he could read his thoughts. What is he thinking about?

Sora kept looking around as he walked, his senses attuned to everything around him. I take this for granted. Just being able to walk home from school every day. He sighed. It’s so simple, but it’s something Jake can’t do anymore…

“Sora?” Riku questioned, wondering if he should just stay silent.

Sora turned to look at his companion. “Yeah?”

Riku shrugged. “What are you thinking about?”

Sora looked upward. “Just about being alive and stuff. And how lucky we are to be alive.”

Riku let the words sink in, and felt his mood spiraling out of control. Oh fuck…

Sora heard the choked sob and stopped mid-step, his eyebrows raising. Did that just come from Riku? He turned to look at his friend.

Riku had both hands clapped over his face, his shoulders shaking. Tears were leaking out from between his fingers while he muffled his sounds of pain into his damp palms. Oh fuck… ohfuckohfuckohfuck…

Alarmed, Sora quickly went to him. I’ve never seen him break down and cry before! He put a hand on his shoulder. “Riku?! What’s the matter?”

Riku shook his head fiercely, still not removing his hands. “Sora…” He sobbed, his words muffled by his palms. “You’re… the only one who can make me feel this… fucking low!” he ground out, each word sounding as though it had been wrenched from him.

“Oh Riku…” Sora wrapped his arms around his friend, and Riku clutched at him gratefully. “I wasn’t trying to make you feel low.”

“I know!” Riku choked, pulling back a bit. “And that’s what makes it so bad.” He dropped his eyes. “I didn’t think about it much, you know? I tried to block it out, act like it never really happened. But I knew. I knew all the while that Jake was never coming back and I’m the reason why.” He swiped angrily at his tearstained face. “You brought that all home to me and made it sink in.”

Sora rubbed Riku’s back. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize!” Riku snapped. “You’ll only make it worse.” He lowered his eyes again. “Besides, it’s not your fault. I’m the one who should be sorry. And I am. I am so sorry, Sora.” He sighed weakly, looking every bit the frightened adolescent that he tried so hard not to be. “If I could take it all back, I would. I swear I would.”

Would you really? Sora thought, and then immediately felt terrible. “I know you would, Riku.”

“Can you ever forgive me?” Riku asked, the pleading in his voice impossible to hide.

“I already have.” Sora assured him. I have my own crimes to be forgiven for, after all.

Riku smiled weakly. “I’m glad.” Hesitantly, he leaned forward slightly and kissed Sora on the lips. It was brief, but sweet.

Sora returned the kiss before Riku pulled away, his mind now churning with his own thoughts. All this time, I just assumed Riku was completely unfazed. I never considered that Jake’s death might be eating away at him too. It was pretty selfish of me… He absently licked his lips, tasting the salt of Riku’s tears.

Riku gave his hand a light squeeze, and they started walking again. “So, ma tells me you’re grounded for a month.” he offered, a few minutes later.

Sora groaned. “Don’t remind me! I can’t even have dessert! No ice cream! No cookies!”

Riku snickered. “Sucks to be you.”

“What about you?” Sora asked. “How long are you in for?”

Riku looked away. “Well, they didn’t punish me, actually. I guess they thought being taken to the station was punishment enough. Plus ma says that grounding you is as good as grounding me, since I won’t get to talk to you.”

“Oh.” Sora replied, disappointed. “That’s so not fair. I’m always getting punished instead of you. Just like when I got detention with Squa-,” Oh shit! “I mean Mr. Leonhart.” He corrected, his face flaming.

“Hey hey! What was that I just heard?” Riku teased. “You and Leonhart on a first name basis now?” He elbowed Sora in the side. “Just what went on in that week-long detention session of yours?”

Sora fought vainly to keep the blush out of his cheeks. “Nothing, Riku! I did my homework, that’s all. He ignored me, and I ignored him.” He sincerely hoped that Riku couldn’t hear his heart pounding. If he ever found out…

Riku patted Sora on the back. “Chill out, Sora. I’m just fucking with you.” He lowered his voice confidentially. “Although, I do know, Leonhart is fucking hot, and I would so smash him, if I wasn’t with you. It’s cool that you feel the same way.” He grinned. “Just don’t ever forget that you belong to me now.”

Sora forced himself to smile back. “How could I?” Maybe Squall could forget, but I can’t. Sooner or later I’m going to have to deal with all of this. I just hope I know what to do when the time comes. His sense of relief at seeing his house directly ahead was somewhat tainted by his apprehension that Riku was going to follow him right up to the door.

Riku sensed Sora’s unease, and stopped at the sidewalk. He really doesn’t want to be with me right now. “So, I guess I’ll see you in school on Wednesday.”

“You’re not coming tomorrow?” Sora blinked. Jake’s funeral. “Oh… right.”

Riku shook his head. “No way.” He ran a hand through his hair and kicked at the ground. “I’m not that much of a bastard to be strolling around the school while Jake is getting… you know.”

“Yeah, I know.” Sora sighed. I wonder if anyone will go to school.

“Later.” Riku turned and walked off.

Sora watched him for a moment. He’s dealing with this in his own way, I guess. I have Squall to help me through it, but I’m supposed to help him through it. Once his friend was gone, he walked up to his door and inserted the key. But I just can’t help him right now. You’ll have to deal with it on your own, Riku.

<--- Back to Change My Stripes