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illuminate the nos

Chapter Text

In Catholic School, as vicious as Roman rule,
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black.
And I held my tongue as she told me,
'Son, fear is the heart of Love,'
So I never looked back.

The air, heavy from the peculiar mix of cleaning agents' mists and the stench of oppression, settled over the auditorium. Professors lined the large enclosure, eyes trained dedicatedly on the suffocating audience in front of them. The two hundred or so teenaged students tried their best to sit still and endure the grueling seminar; alas, even the threat of receiving a month's worth of detention was not enough to deter their fidgeting. At least a fourth texted endlessly to others in the hall and another third had slipped on their earphones if only to drown out the slightly disturbing speech drawled out by a portly octogenarian on stage.

But really, what else could be expected? Yes, the dramatic rise in sexual activities amongst the junior and senior classes—as well as the related increased risk of sexually transmitted infections—was of utmost importance. Both the parents and teachers called for action, and even the students agreed that something should be done to increase awareness of the potential dangers of "hooking up" and any other kind of intimate activity. However critical it was to raise awareness, having the aged principal stand up before the school's eldest classes and speak… about sex… was not the way to deal with the problem. Nothing about her was fit for this presentation: her stiff black dress complimented her muffed voice too precisely; her bare, shockingly pale legs and arms nauseatingly contrasted her cheap, magenta blush. The hooligans she ordered about on a daily basis could deal with her bimonthly announcements with an amazing amount of tolerance—but an entire hour (after school!) devoted to sex? To give her some credit, she might have been able to pull it off if only she had talked genuinely to the six-, seven- and eighteen-year-olds, speaking as though she were a savvy and knowledgeable grandmother who was simply concerned about her beloved kin. Unfortunately for both her audience and her reputation as a competent leader, her mind was stuck in the 'olden times when candy was only a single munny piece and censorial conservatism reigned.

"…and I know there is no need to explain any further what happens after that point: by now, you have taken at least two years worth of Health and Sexual Education and already understand the mechanical processes of intercourse." The purportedly limited edition Parsifal Pink lipstick she bought on a whim at the pharmacy had begun to dry up the second she began her speech, and now her tongue quickly seeped out from between her teeth to moisten her thin lips. The subtle yet disturbing action was noted by all who still paid her attention, causing another quarter of the teens to shiver and lapse into a comatose state of absentmindedness.

"As I have discussed extensively at the beginning of this assembly, no one here should ever find themselves in this position—not until you are of a mature enough age to understand what it means to give consent. However much I (or any other superior, for that matter) preach the benefits of abstinence until marriage (of which there are many), you all, an entire generation of"—She harshly sucked in her next word, sinners, before it left her mouth, knowing it would anger the students' parents if she spoke the truth about their so-called precious darlings—"youth who want to act twice their age, could never commit to such a difficult, yet noble, vow. That is why your teachers, parents and I have written up a few modest guidelines that you can follow to keep your body, mind and spirit safe. One…"

There was no end to Lady Ifrit's words. No relief. No salvation. Only an endless drone of exceedingly irritating suggestions laced with an obvious bias toward the speaker's moral beliefs.

Yet, of the remaining five twenty-fourths of the audience that somehow still managed to absorb and retain the principal's speech, one listened with an especial amount of attentiveness. Sitting in the last row in the last seat, he was flanked by an aisle on his left and his best friend on his right (actually, his friends filled the entirety of this row but he always felt it important to distinguish the brunet he shared an armrest with as… different from the rest). He pointedly watched the woman talking as if he alone was being addressed. On his lap rested a used and yellowed notepad, onto which he scribbled notes when he found something particularly interesting (if the word "interesting" could even be used in this situation).

Beside him, movement accompanied a jaded sigh. The teen continued his steady stream of listening and jotting down random phrases until he received a harsh jab to his side. Looking around to make sure no teachers would catch him speaking, he turned to his companion and seethed, "Yes, Sora?"

Not at all taken back by his friend's snippy tone, Sora smiled and lightly poked Riku's writing hand. "Calm down. You look like your face is about to implode from contemplation, concentration, or maybe… constipation?"

"Very witty."

"Just relax, Riku. It'll all come to pass in"—Sora glanced at the ancient clock hanging on the back wall, making a face when he saw the time—"another thirty minutes."

The now identified Riku shook his head, knowing he should get back to taking notes. As the writer of "Life as a Paradox: Musings from Saint Yunalesca's Lone Liberal," the school newspaper's only editorial column with its own cult following, he had a duty to cover potentially politically heated and morally bigoted events. Although (contrary to his column's title) there were plenty of students who swung left, Riku was the only one whose political stance had been "outed," and the burden of dealing with the many, many conservatives in the school was a fate Riku wouldn't wish onto anyone. So, no matter how much time and energy he invested into his articles, he had an obligation. Besides, this assembly was too good an opportunity to miss. An entire ten minutes devoted to abstinence, and another five to the routine "Wait until you're married" spiel? Lady Ifrit's speech was practically a droll goldmine; an editorialist's wet dream.

However, with Sora's presence came much distraction—not to say that Sora wasn't supportive of Riku's endeavor. The spunky teen could often be seen helping propagate the liberal love amongst Saint Yunalesca's captives—ergh, students. It's just… to Riku, Sora was distractingly… distracting. And no matter how… distracting Sora was, Riku could never distance himself from Sora, or even Kairi, for that matter. How could he? Although it had been years since his mother… Even years later, Riku would never forget his friends' absolute dedication to helping him through it all. Sora was especially kind: even if he was in the middle of something, Sora would come running if Riku needed him; and whenever his father had to work overtime at the clinic, Sora would always let Riku come over. Without Sora's support, where would Riku be? It scared Riku to think about the answer to that question.

Riku mentally shook his head, understanding that his thoughts were leading him to a dark place. "I really need to pay attention."

"Please! You have enough there for at least an article and a half. Besides, all she's doing now is reading from the list the health teachers wrote and the Student Government approved. And as the best secretary the Stud Gov has had since forever, I made sure to get a copy before it left the office. I'll send it to you tonight."

Riku smirked: typical Sora, always so efficient when it came to the most random of things. "I was kind of hoping to hear it from Ifrit. Knowing her, she might 'accidentally' forget to say something."

"Impossible. She has to read it all, exactly as we okayed it. But since you're being such a stickler today, you can borrow my hardcopy. Don't lose it." Sora dug through the book bag at his feet. Taking out a clear, green folder neatly labeled "STUD GOV," Sora handed Riku the guideline for sex safety before turning to Kairi who sat on his other side. Riku immediately felt a bit guilty for being so impatient with Sora, momentarily considering giving in and spending the rest of the assembly joking around with his friends—but Riku had a duty! A responsibility!

Riku brushed some of his sleek, white bangs away from his eyes as he began to read the two double-sided pages. The text, marked up in red pen, was legible, but it quickly became clear why Sora did not originally offer it to Riku: along the side were several of Sora's beastly doodles full of sharp angles and disproportional limbs. Riku bit back a chuckle, knowing that his friend would throw a fit if Riku laughed at his infamously clumsy drawings.

Trying his best to ignore the scribbles, Riku focused on the guidelines. Always use protection and lubrication (Thankfully, Riku missed Lady Ifrit reading that one aloud; just the thought of her uttering the word lube was enough for Rik to consider never having sex again… ever). Have yourself and your partner tested before engaging in sexual activities. Avoid casual sex with strangers. A blow job is still sex. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Riku was somewhat surprised how much he approved of the list; that is, until he read a note Sora wrote next to a ghastly rendition of a smiley face: Paradox Power! A burst of (healthy) conceit ran through the teen. There was no way the note did not relate to his column, which meant that Riku was actually inspiring change! Riku managed to contain his glee successfully until he reached the final bullet point.

"Are you kidding me?" Riku gasped uncharacteristically, earning him at least one teacher's glare.

Kairi leaned forward to get a better view of Riku. "What's wrong?"

Riku was speechless, making Sora giggle in his barely masculine way. The paper transferred from Riku's hands to Kairi's, and in a matter of a few seconds, the redhead's shock was equal to that of Riku.

Smiling triumphantly, Sora took back the guideline sheets and placed them in their proper, green folder. "I knew you guys would get a kick out of Clause Twenty-one, or, as Stud Gov has affectionately deemed it, the 'Queer Testament.' QT for short."

"This is absolutely amazing," Riku gasped, breaking his omnipresent stoicism for such a joyous occasion. Albeit forced, Lady Ifrit was going to address something completely out of her little conservative bubble! This was huge, for both the queer community in the school and the underrepresented minorities (including but not limited to liberals) within Saint Yunalesca.

"QT?" Kairi repeated slowly. "Like C-U-T-I-E cutie?"

"Let me guess, Sora, you came up with that one?"

"Actually," Sora replied, "Tidus did."

"Oh, right," Riku remarked, poking Sora's forehead. "You aren't nearly clever enough to come up with something like that."

Milking the playfully said insult for all it was worth, Sora melodramatically gasped, pouted, and turned to the redhead. "Isn't he so mean, Kairi? How does he even have friends?"

"I think he puts something in his shampoo."

"His hair does have an unnaturally clean scent to it. But would it be enough to make us forget about his cruelty?"

Even as Sora spoke of his alleged wickedness, Riku shifted his right arm so his elbow no longer shared the armrest with Sora's forearm. His fingers blindly reached out, the tips grazing against Sora's palm before falling limp. The action went largely ignored, but definitely not unnoticed, by Kairi, who left Sora's question unanswered as she turned to chat with whoever sat to her right. Because there was no immediate reaction to his touch, unnamed insecurity effervesced within Riku's extremities, which Riku did his best to dispel with a heaving inhale. Just as he was about to retract his hand, Sora's noticeably shorter fingers intertwined with Riku's before pulling both hands off of the armrest to between their knees.

Sora relaxed, slumping in his seat with a succinct smile on his lips, but he never met Riku's eyes, instead settling his gaze toward the stage. Riku did his best to ignore this fact and just enjoy the warmth of the other's hand against his, but a creeping sense of rejection stirred within Riku, as it always did. Because, although Sora would occasionally allow Riku to hold hands, run fingers through his russet strands, hug, or even offer a chaste kiss (after making sure absolutely no one was around to witness it), they were not a couple.

And the list went on, and on, and on. The eighty-two-year-old surprised herself a bit: even in her youth, even in private, even in her youth in private, she would never have said half of the things typed so officially on the pile of notes in front of her. Imagine her, Lady Bertha Drambuie Ifrit, the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Sir Jacques Ifrit of Spira's Twelve Noble Guardians, describing the dangers of not disinfecting one's sex toys!

As she reached Clause Twenty-one, the woman's watery eyes flashed to the watch hanging precariously on her wrist. There was not enough time to finish the list and say the entirety of her concluding statement. She felt beyond relieved, and the slight smirk that appeared on her lips caused a series of wrinkles to crease one side of her mouth. Shuffling the papers on her pedestal so the page with her conclusion was on top, she told her audience about the "unfortunate" situation before quickly continuing onto the ending paragraph. (Even she, the presenter, could not wait for this ridiculous event to be done and over with.)

But before she could get a complete sentence out, from the corner of her eye, she saw, and heard, shuffling from several students in the back row, and even a false cough calling for attention. Interesting enough, there was a hand raised from the same area. The teachers who saw the student were staring at her expectantly, waiting to see just how she would handle herself. As the principal of Saint Yunalesca, the best school on all of Destiny Islands, she had a reputation to keep. She had to appear strict but considerate, firm yet manageable, to make sure the parents would continue to send their children—and with them, tuition money—there. So, despite her better judgment, she called, "In the back." Within an instant, several of her pupils regained just enough consciousness to turn around in their seats. "I felt like I made myself perfectly clear, but if you do have a question, feel free to ask it. I will do my best to answer."

The boy stood up rapidly but awkwardly (it seemed as though another student next to him was attempting to keep him seated). Lady Ifrit could barely see the teen's face, but for some reason, she had the feeling she knew who he was. Due to the strict uniform policy (white shirt, blue plaid pants and tie for the boys; white shirt, blue plaid tie, and the option of either a plaid skirt or pants for the girls), only a tuft of white hair on his head gave some clue as to who it might be. There were only three or so upperclassmen that had such an unusual hair color, which must have been why she vaguely recognized him, even from a distance.

Much to the old woman's chagrin, the brunet student next to the boy kept the latter distracted, tugging on the standing teen's shirt. The two seemed to be bickering—or, in more accurate terms, wasting Lady Ifrit's precious time. Out of sheer curiosity, many students began turning in their seats to see who dared to interrupt the old woman's speech. Sucking on her teeth—all of which were real—Lady Ifrit sharply coughed, "If you have a question, ask it or please sit down, young man."

Several snickers reverberated throughout the auditorium, getting the fair-haired boy's attention. He turned away from the other. "Lady Ifrit," he queried with voice determined and true, "do you mind offering some suggestions to the lesbian, gay, bi and queer students in your audience?"

With his one line, not only had Lady Ifrit identified the young man, but the teen had retrieved the attention of all of his peers as well. A collective murmur reverberated throughout the auditorium as Lady Ifrit's emotions flared from momentary amusement, to exasperation, to irate irritation, to, finally, unadulterated incensement. Of course, of course, Lady Ifrit called on him. That troublemaker. That rebel. That… damned Riku Amano.

Her clammy tongue ravaged her ever-drying lips once more, smearing her lipstick until it was barely noticeable, before replying (as calmly as she could), "Mister Amano, I do not feel it necessary, or proper, to single out any group of the student body. The guidelines are vague enough to apply to any couple, whether it is made up of a boy and a girl, or any combination otherwise. Now, if you may sit down and allow me to continue…"

Next to Amano, the brunet (who Lady Ifrit knew must have been that sweet-tempered, but equally bothersome, Hikaru boy) tried to pull his friend into his seat, but was greatly unsuccessful. "Excuse me," Amano called, and Lady Ifrit could now distinctly recognize the distaste written in the teen's voice. "I really do not think that your queer students would mind being specifically addressed. I think they would prefer it."

"Well," Lady Ifrit snapped, causing the students who had been whispering to stop and the teachers who had remained indifferent to begin shuffling up and down the aisles in uncertainty. "If they want to be addressed, then they can speak up for themselves. Until then, sit down, Mister Amano!"

He hadn't meant to, and he certainly hadn't planned it. He would have never, ever let have it happen like that if he had had a choice.

But, at that moment, all that was on Riku's mind was a strange, deadening sound that drowned out all noise around him. It entered his ears, sheared the tiny bones hidden within before diving deeper, and deeper, and deeper, and deeper until he felt like shouting. And he did shout, if only to tell Lady Ifrit—as well as the entirety of the junior and senior classes—that he was gay and he would greatly appreciate hearing what she had to say concerning how his fellow queer classmates could keep themselves safe.

He would have never publicly exposed such a private matter purposefully.

He was just so livid, so aghast.

It was people like her who scared Sora and kept him hesitant; who made Sora think that it would be better to stay something akin to affectionate friends. It was people like her who made Riku's life incomplete; who made Riku's happiness always just within reach.

He should have just let Sora pull him down into his seat.

But—honestly—Riku was done with surrendering.

Lady Ifrit, lips pursed, thumbed the edge of the page she was reviewing. She felt Amano's calculating eyes bore into her. In a few years, his glare might be extremely intimidating; but for now, he was a mere teenager trying to seem more significant than he actually was. It was so… sad, and desperate. In her many years, Lady Ifrit had seen the same quasi-smug, quasi-fearful face plastered on so many students. Some part of her had hoped Amano would not be as cliché as the rest, but what more could she expect from a child.

Placing the page into the open manila folder on her desk, Lady Ifrit straightened up in her seat. "Do you know why you are here, Amano?"

Riku blinked absently and began to lightly tap his foot against the worn, wooden floor.


Still, no response.

"Do not play games with me, boy."—Amano flinched at the condescending tone the woman used—"I am willing to have you sit here until you give me an appropriate answer."

Refusing to completely subdue the rebellion in him, Amano tilted his head, asking through clenched teeth, "Can you repeat the question? I was not paying much attention before." He paused before adding, "Sorry, ma'am."

"Do you, Mister Riku Amano, know why I brought you to my office?" The teen considered the query, and after a brief moment, he opened his mouth to speak. But before any words fell out from between his lips, Lady Ifrit interrupted. "If you dare to be smart with me from now on," she threatened, shaking a knobby finger at him, "I will give you two month's worth of detention and strip you of any and all privileges I see fit."

Instantly, Amano translated the second half of Lady Ifrit's warning; by privileges, she could only mean attending prom and/or the graduation ceremony, both of which were too precious to him to miss. Lady Ifrit felt a minute smirk come across her mouth as Amano, defeated, muttered, "I lost my temper and caused a disruption during the assembly."

Lady Ifrit nodded slowly. "Good boy."—Yet again, the teen bristled at her tone—"Now, do you have anything to say about your… disruption?"

"I apologize for my misbehavior. It will not happen again."

"Good, good. Good," she repeated again with an especial amount of antagonism. "As you are well aware of, Mister Amano, Saint Yunalesca has a reputation of nurturing some of the most brilliant minds in all of Spira. We employ only the best teachers, equip the classrooms with only the latest technology, and expect nothing less than excellence from every student. Why, just last year, over half of the graduating class left Destiny Islands to attend the most distinguished of universities. But intelligence is only a part of what makes Yunalesca superb. Our students have dedication, respect, camaraderie, and, most importantly, heart. They must excel not only as intellectuals, but as individuals with individual talents and dreams. We want to encourage anyone and everyone who comes through the threshold of the school; why else would we offer so many different classes, clubs, and sport groups?"

"I am sorry to interrupt, Lady Ifrit, but I am not sure why you are telling me this. As you can see from my record"—he held out his hand toward the papers she had been previously looking at—"I am one of the highest scoring students in my grade. I also have plenty of extracurricular activities, including…"

"I know all about your extracurricular activities. Hardly a year on the swim team and the coach and all your teammates consider you to be the honorary captain. You also are part of the yearbook committee, the prom organizing committee, the drama club and," she paused pointedly, "the school paper." The teen noted the emphasis with a frown. "Yes, Amano, you sure use your time productively. And you are doing exceptionally well… considering all you have been through."

Amano tensed, his eyes flashing away from her face for the first time in their conversation. The movement caused the old woman to stop mid-thought, giving the teen an opportunity to ask, "Lady Ifrit, do you mind me asking where you are going with this conversation?"

Lady Ifrit was taken back by the question, or, rather, the tone the boy used to ask it. In what must have been less than a minute, all the rebellion that had laced Amano's speech deflated into plain exhaustion. She almost commented on the abrupt change when realization came over her. The boy was… genuinely upset. Instantly, the woman's own aggression waned. Yes, she was frustrated with the boy because he was constantly criticizing her conservatism in his column; and yes, he had made a huge disruption in her assembly. But… Amano was not like the other hooligans that she needed to show "tough love" to. Unlike them, Amano met hostility with an equal amount of enmity. And… more importantly, maybe he deserved some compassion. Maybe…

She stood up, an action which was so unexpected that Amano jumped in his seat. His eyes trained on her, Lady Ifrit walked to the other side of her desk. She leaned up against the table's wooden edge. There was only a foot between the boy and the woman, and the proximity definitely unnerved the former. In a voice too gentle to be hers, Lady Ifrit said, "Mister Amano, I know that you have the potential to be great. As you said, you get excellent grades; you participate in many of school activities; and not including this… incident, you have no reports of misbehavior. From the very beginning, you have proved yourself to be a remarkably resilient person. After your mother died—"

"Lady Ifrit…"

"—the entire staff was concerned about you. It just seemed so unfair that such a tragedy should befall on one of the most promising of our students. We were prepared to cushion your grades and give you leniency—"

"Lady Ifrit, don't…"

"—on every assignment. But you surprised us all with your perseverance. You managed all your grief and put it into energy to surpass everyone's expectations. That was years ago. Now you face another trying time." She reached out and clutched onto the boy's hand. The touch startled Amano, who tried to pull away but was too… distracted to free his hand. "Amano—no, Riku, I understand that you have been through so much pain and confusion—"

"That's not—"

"—and now you are afraid that you may have changed more than you can handle. I've read enough of your columns to know that a part of you is terrified of what is to come. But just because you are unsure of yourself, do not make errors in judgment. Do not give up on what is good and moral."

The teen, face clenched as he held back all the emotions brought up by the woman's speech, combed his fair hair with his free hand. Just as Lady Ifrit was about to let go of his hand, Amano said, "I don't understand. How am I 'giving up on what is good and moral?'"

Lady Ifrit sighed, and bent down so her eyes were level with Riku's. "Although I may not always show it, I believe that you are more just and good than most of the students here, even if I do not agree with your political views. And because I believe in you, I do not want to just let you be coerced down the wrong path. Do not let your insecurity and fears lead you into a life of sin, Riku."

Without a second of delay, the teen's face contorted into a mix of fury, abhorrence… and hurt. "Lady Ifrit, I think I am misunderstanding you. Are you honestly saying that my being…" the teen demanded, "my being… the kind of love I feel for another individual of the same sex is immoral and a mere product of my supposed fears?"

Remembering herself, Lady Ifrit offered only a simple, "What I may or may not have said is not of importance. I only want you to be sure of yourself before you make any more rash decisions." With that, the woman let go of the boy's hand and stood upright again.

After a moment of deadening silence, Amano asked, "May I leave?"

To which Lady Ifrit replied, "Yes. We're done here."

Riku pressed his headphones against his ears. There was no need to; he was lying on his bed, surrounded by silence. The only other occupant of the house, Riku's father, was still at the clinic. (Apparently, some insurance company served poorly prepared burritos at a fundraising function, and now Riku's father had to put in some overtime to deal with the food poisoned attendees.) Riku had no siblings, no pet, no broken radiator that buzzed so loud that its drone could be heard throughout the house, and his bedroom was the farthest room from the street.

So, silence.

And yet, as he thought of his afternoon, Riku pressed his headphones even closer. The action stifled the haunting stillness that bothered the faired-haired teen whenever he was home alone; however, the music could do little to muffle the confusion and unwanted fear that churned Riku's innards.

Everyone knew that there had to queer students in the school, and everyone suspected Riku as being one of them. But all suspicions were discussed in whispers with the closest of friends. Even within Riku's circle of intimates, who were aware of his and Sora's almost relationship, all talk about who was or was not queer was hushed. So to have Riku blurt it out like that… Riku groaned. What was he thinking? Or better yet: was he even thinking? Did he even stop to consider how much danger he put himself into? Riku had no doubt that someone would try something; and although Riku could defend himself, there was always the possibility that his friends could be targeted. What would he do if Sora got hurt simply because he could not control his anger?

But what was Riku even angry at? Lady Ifrit? It was not like Riku never witnessed bigotry as blatant as hers before. So… how did one octogenarian manage to set him off like that? One minute he was holding Sora's hand and the next—


That was it, wasn't it?

Sora. Riku had been annoyed with their relationship (or lack there of), especially in light of QT, which Sora must have advocated for. Something just seemed so contradictory about the situation. Sora was comfortable enough to support queer rights to everyone, but could not really kiss Riku in private. Not that Riku wanted a relationship only for the physical benefits. He could have renounced sex forever if only Sora would offer something Riku missed dearly: chaste sensuality. Yes, Riku loved the brief touches here and there, but they always felt so forced; so superficial; so staged.

Riku understood what he wanted, but how well did he really understand Sora's intentions? Riku thought he knew everything about his friend, but now, he was not quite sure of anything anymore. After all, he had thought that he would never come out at Yunalesca; and yet, here he was, having to deal with the consequences of doing just that. Was Sora just… leading Riku on? Riku hated to even think that of Sora, but he couldn't disregard the thought. The more he reviewed the situation, the more convinced the teen became. Riku had been the one to initiate the pseudo-relationship. Maybe Sora never planned on it lasting for so long, and if he had known, he would have let Riku down right then and there.

From within his pocket, Riku's cell phone began to vibrate. It was only a short burst of action, meaning that someone had texted him. The teen pulled the cell out, sliding it open to read the message.

It was Sora. Where are you?

Riku twisted his headphones' wire as he read the text, pondering. Should he bother to answer it? Was he even ready to talk to Sora? Although he knew he shouldn't have, Riku selected Text Reply. I'm at home. Why?

As he waited for Sora's next text, Riku twisted the wire on his headphones, regretting his reply. He had not thought through all his emotions and thoughts about the situation; what was he doing talking to Sora?

Sora's response came in a succession of many short texts. Condensed, they said, Here I was, worried sick about you. I thought Ifrit had murdered you in her office or something. (As a note, both Riku and Sora wrote in full sentences in their texts. They both felt that anyone who wrote "r" for "are" was extremely lazy, especially if they had a phone with a keyboard.) Did you not think it polite to, I don't know, TELL ME WHERE AND HOW YOU ARE? Whatever. I'm willing to ignore your rudeness. Just… Riku, what happened? Are you suspended? She can't suspend you for something like that. Can she? Did she call your dad? No, she definitely can't do that. I think it's actually illegal to tell parents that. She knows better than to do that. Right? I mean, not that your dad wouldn't understand. He's too nice. Why aren't you speaking? I know I'm rambling here, but I'm just so worried, Riku. Are you there? Please, Riku, answer at least one of my questions!

Riku silently read Sora's frantic texts, unsure of exactly what to do. It was his insecurity again. Riku knew Sora would always be his best friend, but it was all the other things that pained him. Confused him. Sora didn't seem willing to offer Riku the committed relationship he so desired. And if Sora was unwilling, why was Riku even trying?

Deciding to be brutally direct, Riku slowly punched in, Do you love me, Sora? and sent it.

After the first few seconds, Riku's anxiety heightened to a level he had never previously felt. An acknowledgement of love would be short. Possibly Of course I love you! or You aren't wasting your time with me, Riku. I love you. If Sora loved Riku, Sora would not be able to contain his exclamation. And because it was Sora, a rejection would be long. The younger boy was so kind, and polite. There would be an explanation that was as apologetic as it was honest and firm. The ending note would be gentle, but heartbreaking nevertheless: I really wish I could, Riku, but I don't love you. I'm sorry.

Putting the phone down on his stomach, Riku once again pressed his headphones harshly against his ears. That was it. He lost Sora. Actually, he never even had Sora. The past few months had been a mere illusion. How pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. Pathetic, that's all Riku was. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic—

Riku's cell began to vibrate again. There was his rejection. Readying himself for the worst, Riku read the message: Why do you ask?

"What?" Riku reread the text several more times until he firmly decided that Sora's response was not a real answer. But no matter how annoyed he could be at Sora for asking his own question, Riku knew he brought it on himself. So, even as the "Pathetic" mantra continued to ring through his mind, Riku texted, It's a simple yes or no question. Do you love me?

There was another long pause. I still don't understand why.

Riku frowned. Don't play dumb.

I'm not.

Riku wasn't hesitating anymore. He was working on impulse, and on impulse, he wrote, You're so distant, Sora. I can barely touch you without you jumping. I just… need to know if I'm fooling myself into thinking you want me as much as I do you. Immediately after he sent the text, the teen realized what he had just written. He didn't want to be the first to say something so… embarrassing, especially since he wasn't sure whether his feelings would be reciprocated. And even worse, now that Sora knew everything, their friendship wouldn't, nor could, be the same. Everything was ruined.

The cell vibrated. Out of sheer masochism, the devastated teen picked up the phone again. When he slid it open, he was caught off guard when the screen did not show the text menu. Instead, it showed that the line was connecting to "Sora cell." Horrified, Riku sat up as cusses flowed from his mouth in one, steady stream. Fuck. Riku had about three seconds to come up with something to do, and unfortunately, instead of hanging up, he pulled his headphones off and replaced it with his phone.

As soon as he did, he heard the last thing he would have ever, ever expected to hear from his younger friend: "I had syphilis."

At first, Riku thought that he had imagined it. He knew that Sora was no virgin. Neither was Riku. Apparently, they had reacted to discovering they were queer in exactly the same way: with a year or so of "experimenting." Then, once tired with the closeted life, they finally confided in each other, and within a week they arrived at their current arrangement. It took Riku two days after their first kiss to get tested. He knew everything would come out negative (he carefully screened all his partners, always was protected, and had routine tests), but he just wanted to be sure. Never in his wildest dreams would Riku have thought it necessary to question whether Sora was clean. That day's assembly was making him hear things. It must have been, because Sora with a STI was ridiculous. It just couldn't be.


It had to be true. It...

Sora had had syphilis.

Riku couldn't formulate words, but Sora waited for him. Eventually, after a silence that must have lasted a few minutes, Riku managed to breathe, "You're serious."

Letting out a lame laugh, Sora muttered, "Yeah. Serious."

"Do you still…"

"No! Not for a couple months."

Relieved to hear that Sora had been treated, Riku whispered, "How?"

Another laugh. "How else, Riku? I've done a lot of stupid, foolish"—Sora let out a hollow sigh—"unprotected things. I was so scared, and—and stupid! I let them take advantage of my confusion and… I knew it too! I just wanted someone—some boy—any boy to want me. I didn't know how to say no to them. And then, that day, that amazing day, you came out to me… I was so happy. And although I knew I shouldn't make assumptions, I assumed so much for us. For about an hour, I had everything planned out for us. Everything seemed so great!" Sora paused again, but Riku was too flabbergasted to take the opportunity to say something. "And then I remembered. I remembered that I had done all those stupid, stupid things, and that I could have had anything. I thought telling you I was gay would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do, but I was so wrong. I kept imagining getting the results and finding that I had something incurable, like HIV or something. I was absolutely terrified."

Realization hit Riku. "Is that why you didn't let me get close? You thought you might… pass something onto me?"


"Why didn't you tell me, Sora? You know me better than to think I would abandon you for something like that."

"I wasn't exactly rational at the time."

"I still deserved to know."

"I know. I—I know I screwed up. I was going to tell you, but when I finally built up the courage and went over your house, you were at swimming practice. It was so embarrassing that I started to cry just as your father walked in. And he was so sweet, and I couldn't help but tell him."

"Wait, you told my dad and not me?"

"He's a doctor! And he happened to be there. And he knew how to help. He made some arrangements at the clinic and had the tests performed without telling my parents. Don't be angry with him."

"I'm not. But I still don't understand something. You said you've been treated. Why are you still uncomfortable being affectionate with me?"

Sora let out a disgruntled hiss. "Hey, this isn't all about me. I had a reason to be distant, at first. You just never tried. I thought that you either were scared to be too forward, were too respectful to do anything first, or—worst case scenario—you were too polite to tell me you didn't actually want to be with me and all those kisses didn't mean anything to you." The older teen shook his head, hearing that Sora thought the same things of Riku that Riku had thought of him.

"This is crazy."

Riku could hear Sora hesitate before Sora asked, "Are you angry with me?"

"No," Riku answered automatically.

"Are you… disgusted with me?"

"Of course not, Sora. I'm not that kind of person."

"Good, good. But do… do…" Sora said the rest of his sentence so quietly that Riku needed to ask the younger boy to repeat himself. "Do you still want me?"

Riku smiled. "I'll answer your question if you answer mine." "What?" "Do you love me?"

Sora groaned. "Don't make me say it."

"I think you have to," Riku teased. His mirth was short-lived, however, when he heard the line disconnect. The teen looked at his cell incredulously until it began to vibrate again for the umpteenth time. It was another text.

Is your dad home?

You hung up on me!

Is. Your. Dad. Home?

NO, but that isn't the point. No one hangs up on me!

Riku expected some witty comeback, but was surprised when he received no response. Riku, now irritated, slid the cell back into his pocket and brought his headphones back over his ears. Interestingly, the same song he had heard some time ago was playing again. It was an eerie coincidence, so much so that Riku was half-convinced that he had imagined everything that had happened between this and the last time he had heard the song.

But… no. It all happened. The conversation actually happened, Sora actually had a STI, and Riku actually came out to all of Saint Yunalesca.

So lost in his musings, Riku didn't hear his bedroom door open, shut and lock. It was only until he felt his bed dip as someone sat on it that Riku's attention was brought back to reality. He happened to be looking at the other's shirt, and immediately recognized him as Sora. Sora sat on his knees in front of Riku, both of whom were still wearing their school uniforms. When he finally made eye contact with Sora, what Riku saw caught him off guard. Spiraling within Sora's crisp, blue eyes was a determination that the older teen had never witnessed from Sora. Riku had no clue how to respond to, or even how to feel about, the other's sudden appearance; but something within him—something deep, deep, deep inside—knew better than to question it.

When Riku began to pull his headphones away from his ears, Sora shook his head, stopping Riku in his tracks. Taking an exaggerated inhale, Sora blushed as he said something—something short. Riku couldn't really read lips, but still felt the gravity of what had just transpired. He smiled and began to mouth what he thought Sora had said, but was cut off by Sora's lips.

Just as they always did, Sora and Riku separated after a few seconds of contact. It was such an automatic action that Riku shook his head, chuckling. Deciding to take the initiative, Riku brought his previously sedentary hands to either side of Sora's neck to hold it in place. Eyes half-lidded, Riku watched as Sora's eyes slid shut before following the other boy's lead. Both artificially blind and deaf, Riku leaned forward and captured the other's lips once again.

Their mouths moved slowly—experimentally—against each other as if they had never kissed anyone before. That is not to say their kiss was amateurish: both teens knew how to breathe correctly; how to control their lips for optimal enjoyment; and how only a little tongue action was required for a good kiss. Still, something felt so… new. Maybe it was because they had been waiting for so long, or maybe it was because they knew that their attraction to one another was so much more than anything they had ever felt before. Whatever the cause, the two teens continued their kiss enthusiastically, allowing their hands to thread through hair and wander under shirts.

They eventually ended up with Riku lying on his back and Sora on top of him, both with shirts undone and pushed open. It was an interesting experience for them both, but for Riku, it was especially strange. Because of the music that still blasted in his ears (he attempted to take off his headphones multiple times, but Sora refused to let him), Riku could not hear anything that escaped from his or Sora's mouth. Every gasp—sigh—moan—breath belonged only to Sora. Yet he couldn't find it in himself to be upset with Sora's greediness; no, he was far from upset. Riku would have been too self-conscious to make any noise if he could hear himself, and he suspected Sora would feel the same way if Riku could hear him. So, instead of worrying about how vocal he was, Riku let himself get lost within Sora's languid embrace. It wasn't that hard of a task, especially once Riku decided to keep his eyes shut. All he could sense was Sora—Sora—Sora. Riku continuously moved his hands around Sora's lithe body—from the brunet's inner thighs to his shoulder blades to the small of his back—to assess its shape and movement. Actually, it was Riku's touch that influenced change in his companion; just a breeze of Riku's fingers against his flesh was enough for Sora to shiver and somehow alter his position. To be able to influence those minute transformations was invigoratingly sensual for Riku, who had grown accustomed to raw dominance in intimate settings. He knew that this—this kiss, this relationship—was not about control; or who was on top. Neither he nor Sora cared about such frivolous things.

It was—and always had been, and always would be—just about this: teasing each other's lips; a gentle touch to the hip; and the succinct sense of unity the two teens felt as they exchanged muffled breaths.

Riku knew that if he didn't want things to escalate, he would have to stop soon. Not out of moral obligation, per se, but because he could feel his control at the edge of its threshold. His heart was already racing, and that singular embarrassing warmth was building in his stomach. There were just too many sensations to stifle; too many emotions to keep in check. The romantic in him wanted to just get naked, lube up, and throw everything to the wind; but Riku, too levelheaded, knew he could never do that. Many months ago, he set up rules for exactly this kind of situation, and even Sora wouldn't be enough to tempt him.

Even without Riku giving some sort of terminating signal, Sora understood that his companion's mood had changed, and that with it came the end to the possibility of the kiss intensifying, or even lasting much longer. Sora slowed his movements in anticipation as Riku turned off his music. With one last stroke to the seat of Sora's pants, Riku brought one hand to his headphones and removed them, simultaneously opening his eyes. The shock of having both his hearing and sight restored was momentarily dizzying, but Riku had enough sense to continue moving his lips in time with Sora's—knowing it wouldn't last for long, but still loving every second of it.

Slowly—ever so slowly—the teen still straddling Riku pressed one last kiss onto the older boy's lips. As Sora shifted so he could lay his head on his companion's chest, Riku mumbled, "It has nothing to do with what you told me. I just… have a certain procedure when it comes to things like this. I can't make an exception, even for you."

Sora ran two fingers down Riku's side. "Don't worry about it. I understand. Was kind of hoping you would stop it."

"Really? Why?"

"I want to do things right with you—especially since I'm, like, kind of hoping to spend the rest of my life with you," Sora said casually into Riku's skin, as if muffling his declaration would be enough to make it a little less… humiliating. Riku, glad he wasn't the only one with high hopes for their future, decided not to comment on Sora's wishful statement, letting it gain credibility as it sat in the air around them.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, and out of his own curiosity, Riku asked, "Sora?"—"Yes?"—"What would you have done if I hadn't stopped?"

Sora laughed, "You really want to know?" Riku smiled. "Well…" Sora rolled off Riku, who turned onto his side to give the other teen more room to lie down. As Sora put his head on Riku's pillow, the older boy relaxed, enjoying the intimate proximity that was so radically different from that which they had shared only a few moments before. "I'm not the type of person who calculates everything I'm going to do, so I would just go with plain, old instinct. I guess, um, I would have let the kissing continue a little longer and—and… uh… You know what? Never mind. This is too weird."

Riku did his best impression of a pout (he wasn't one to pout), saying "Come on. I want to know how you were going to blow my mind." Sora groaned and plugged his face back into Riku's chest, going so far as to cover part of his face and hair with the edge of Riku's shirt. "Fine. I would be better at telling the story anyway. I'm the journalist, after all."

Riku made the comment as a joke and was surprised when he received a hesitant nod of approval. Unwilling to deny Sora, Riku took a moment to think of what he was going to say before clearing his throat. "Okay. So… we're kissing, and, uh, we've been kissing for so long that I can barely imagine breathing without quickly returning to your lips again. Your hands have barely moved from the place they were when we started—one's in my hair and the other's at my neck; but my hands can't stop exploring, moving to the beat of whatever song is playing in my ears. Eventually, they end up right here"—Riku dragged his fingers up the back of Sora's thighs until he felt Sora shiver—"and we know that we want—need more. Neither of us can say it, but we know.

"You press your body closer and closer until I can almost feel the blood begin to rush down…. down… down… and concentrate just above where my body is collecting its own warmth. I'm…" Riku inhaled in an attempt to extinguish all the awkwardness he felt from his voice. "I'm hard first. We try to ignore it, but you shift in just the right way to make me go crazy. I thrust, I hiss, and I tell you things I can't hear and can't remember a second later. You stop. Your lips move away, as does the rest of your body. I'm afraid; did I say something wrong? I consider opening my eyes to see where you've gone, but before I do, you return, sitting between my legs instead of on them. You take too long to come back and kiss me again, so I sit up and find your lips. You're enthusiastic but something's different, and I think it's about whatever I said. I apologize into your mouth, asking what I did wrong. The music suddenly stops, and I open my eyes. You're serious and I'm scared again—horny, but scared. You ask me if I really want you, and I can't help but laugh. 'Of course. Always.'

"The music's back on, my eyes close, and we're pulling our clothes off as quickly as we can. Next time, we'll take our time, savor each shirt—sock—tie as it hits the floor, but now, we rush. Would have taken less time if I didn't have the headphones on, but now I refuse to let you take them off. You're frustrated, so I admit that I don't actually think we're doing this. That I could be making a fool out of myself in front of the entire school one second, and then be with you the next. The music—the beat, drums, guitars, the songs I don't really pay attention to—keeps me from being overwhelmed.

"Closing my eyes is just me being kinky.

"Not sure if what I say makes sense, but eventually, you don't care anymore because we're both fully naked. I reach out to embrace you as the pads of your fingers trace the V of my pelvis. We sit for a while, kissing, touching, teasing each other's cocks. I want to look at you, at the body I've craved and dreamt about for so, so long, but I don't peek because the temptation is so damn erotic. Everything's erotic. I want more. I want everything. I want you.

"I beg. We kiss. I tell you to get my lube—it's in the far right corner of my top drawer. You don't even get up, but it's in my left hand, along with two condoms. Must have been what you got before, when you left me for a moment an eternity ago. We kiss again, quick and to the point; seems we're both getting desperate. You begin to spread your legs, lay back, ready for me to take you and make you scream 'til I can hear you even with the music blasting in my ears. Barely get halfway down before I stop you. This isn't what I dreamt about, not for the first time.

"Surprise. 'Cause when I said I wanted everything, I meant it. I want you to fill me and make me feel whole, because I don't know what it's like to be complete. Even before I slept with a bunch of guys 'cause I thought I could never get you, even before I lost my mom, I was missing something, and I know you can make me feel right.

"I hold out the bottle of lube, but you don't take it. I wonder if I'm being greedy. Maybe you dreamt the same thing I did; only positions are switched. I'm ashamed and embarrassed, and am about to open my eyes and get dressed when you take the lube. You lean toward me, and with your hand on my shoulder, I'm pushed back.

"I'm on my back again, now naked, hot, and mostly erect. My body's curved, and one leg drapes over your shoulder. I'm shaking, and I can't tell if it's because of anticipation, nerves, pleasure, or something else entirely. I beg again. I shout that you can barely know how much I want you to fill me, love me. I barely finish speaking when two, slick fingers reach for me. I shiver, but I'm sure I make no sound other than a deep exhale. I'm silent as you trace the ring, and even when you slide your fingers in, I only gasp. You must think it odd. I was so vocal before; why be quiet now? I'm just so lost in the sensations, and lost in the music that still blasts in my ears. You scissor, and I shiver some more. Once another finger is added, I break my statuesque stoicism. I rise so that the whole length of your three fingers fills me. I need more, so I clutch the bed sheet as I lift even higher. Still no moaning, but my breathing is erratic and heavy. You're greedy too. You want to hear me cry out, so you stretch and scissor until your fingers breeze very, very close my prostate. I spasm and scream; you make me feel so complete. Did I tell you that? Absolutely complete.

"You're satisfied now, and you remove your fingers. Your hand is at my left one, trying to open it. Trying to get at the condoms. I laugh, and throw them across the room. You must be annoyed, so I quickly explain myself. See, Sora, I don't plan on using them with you. Ever. I don't want to, and never will if I can help it. Besides, I'll tell you as I lie naked in front of you, do you honestly think I would have let you prepare me without some sort of glove if I had been planning on using a condom?

"You hesitate to continue, but I need you to fill me. Don't make me beg again. Please don't. I hate begging.

"I stutter your name when the thick head of your bare erection enters. You clutch onto my right hip and left knee, your nails already digging into my flesh. I want everything immediately and try to rise up again, but you hold me down. I need more, more, more—You press a little deeper. Just fill me already. I'm so broken and alone, and I don't know what it's like to be whole. Teach me. Teach me. Love me. I know you don't want to hurt me, but I'm so impatient. Later I'll thank you for your restraint, but for now, just move a little quicker. Please, please, please. And then you do. You don't wait to hasten the pace, and you're so hard and fresh.

"My cock is slick with pre-come as I cry with delight, but it goes forgotten for some more time: you're too busy keeping your balance and pace as you pound me, and I'm too busy keeping my eyes shut. But I'm getting close, and think you are too. I tighten around you and tell you to touch me. You ignore my request, and I'm so desperate that I detach a hand from the bed sheet and reach to relieve myself. I barely pump before you capture my wrist and pull it away. I try with the other hand but you collect it with the same fingers that trap its companion. You pin them somewhere next to my neck, and I'm too excited to offer much resistance. Your name spills out of me again and again. I can't stop. I'm such a mess. Hope you don't think poorly of me.

"I suddenly hear your voice, my moans, and your erratic breathing. You pushed off my headphones with the hand by my neck. I freeze and tense up, which causes me to tighten around you even more, which excites you and causes you to call my name, which excites me and causes me to moan your name. You tell me to open my eyes; we're almost done; it's time to feel everything. Frankly, I'm terrified, but I do as you suggested. Everything's so overwhelming, blurred, and still very, very erotic. You release my wrists, and my hands fly—one to your bicep and the other to my erection. Your hands clutch onto my shoulders, giving you all the leverage you need to bury yourself deep, deep, deep inside.

"And then, we come. And it was over."

There was silence in Riku's room. The television downstairs wasn't on; Riku's father still hadn't come home yet; and there was no broken radiator that buzzed so loud that its drone could be heard throughout the house. Just… silence. Sora still had his forehead pressed against the other teen's bare chest, and Riku's hand was still on Sora's thigh. Nothing had really changed since Riku started his tale, except that Sora's face and breaths burned against Riku's skin. They stayed like that for what seemed like an eternity, until Sora began to shift, move away, mumble a quick goodbye, and leave.

Riku smiled as he looked out at the audience in front of him. The two hundred or so teenaged students tried their best to sit still and endure the grueling seminar, and they actually succeeded. There were a plethora of emotions written on their faces, but no matter what they thought of the special assembly, they all were hanging onto Lady Ifrit's every last word. She stood at the podium again, this time to give a different kind of speech than she did just three days before.

Three days ago, the story of Lady Ifrit's response to Riku's question spread like wildfire. Three days ago, Riku came out to his father, who already knew because Sora had told him he was with Riku.

Two days ago, Riku's father, among other outraged parents, came to the school to talk with Lady Ifrit. Two days ago, the entire school knew Riku was gay.

Yesterday, not much happened.

Today, there was an assembly after-school in which Ifrit was to apologize for her behavior, and Riku was to sit, on stage, as the junior and senior classes watched with rapt attention. So when he felt a short vibration from his pocket, Riku jumped. Who in their right mind try to text him now? And he knew he should have ignored it, but… he was so tempted. As discreetly as he could, he slipped his cell out of his pocket and opened it.

It was from Sora, a fact which made Riku's breath hitch. You're terrible, reading a text onstage. For shame, Riku, for shame.

Riku frowned, looking out at the audience again. He could see where all his friends were, in the furthermost left row in the back, but could not find Spra. As he scanned the auditorium in a vague attempt to find Sora, he received another message. I'm in the front row, right in front of you." Taken back by the message, Riku's eyes flashed to where Sora had directed him.

There Sora was, smiling and giving Riku a small wave. It saddened the older teen more than it cheered him. After three days of awkward avoidance, how could Sora just… smile at him like that? Especially after the stupid, stupid, stupid, pathetic things Riku told him.

Riku began typing something but was interrupted by a new message. I already know what you're going to do. Don't. Riku shook his head and tried to finish his text when he was interrupted, again. Stop it!

Riku turned to Sora as he sent his completed message. I'm so sorry I freaked you out. I overdid it. I don't know what came over me. Sorry.

Sora rolled his eyes and shook his head just as exasperatedly as Riku did. Don't assume things about how I feel. It's annoying. Although—yeah—I was freaked out, don't blame yourself. You're intense. I knew that way before three days ago, and way before we started this, whatever "this" is. I walked away because I was scared about something else.


It took Sora a couple of minutes to respond, and by the look on his face, Riku regretted asking the question. When he tried to retract his last text, Sora responded with something that hit a chord deep within Riku's core: I didn't know if I can actually complete you. Riku froze, unable to come up with anything in response to such a personal fear. Luckily, Sora sent another text, saving him the opportunity of thinking up something to say. I've thought and thought about it, and maybe I won't be able to give you what you deserve, but I want to try.

It seems we both hold each other in a rather high esteem. He sent it and without waiting for Sora's reply, he continued. Look, Sora. You're my compliment. You're why I can love and be loved. My secret isn't shampoo. It's you.

Although Riku would have liked nothing more than to watch Sora read his message, he was brought back into the reality that existed outside of him and Sora when he heard Lady Ifrit turn to him and drawl his name. Riku slid his phone back into his pocket as he stood and approached the podium the old woman had just surrendered. This was what he was here for, yet he suddenly felt a wave of stage fright. He looked to the first row again, and was once again greeted with a smiling Sora. Riku could do this. He could.

Because—honestly—Riku was done with surrendering.