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Twitterpated

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Twitterpated

Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime. For example: You’re walking along, minding your own business. You’re looking neither to the left, nor to the right, when all of a sudden you run smack into a pretty face. Whoo-whoo! You begin to get weak in the knees. Your head’s in a whirl. And then you feel light as a feather, and before you know it, you’re walking on air. And then you know what? You’re knocked for a loop, and you completely lose your head!

    Sora sat at the kitchen table with his head leaning on a palm. He was cast deep in thought, absently swirling his cereal around the bowl. The owl’s words and the events that transpired afterward were what occupied him so thoroughly. Bambi, Flower, and Thumper each had a lady that caused them to feel those things, to be twitterpated. Sora had once had a lady who made him feel that way, too. But he didn’t feel those things around Kairi anymore, even if she was still beautiful. Somewhere along the way she’d become only his friend, more a sister than anything else. He trusted her with all his secrets and even his life, but twitterpated…he just didn’t feel that way for Kairi.

    Even so, he was still feeling those sensations. Shaky knees, dizzy, floating on clouds, a bit lost…

    Sora’s cheeks heated the more the logic of his thought process brought him back to the cause. He was mad about it, really. Why did he have to be feeling these things now? Why couldn’t his body just leave him alone, or not change in the first place? His life would be less complicated if he didn’t feel anything at all. But that was a dangerous thought to track. It was better to love than not, right? Sora knew he’d be miserable without his friends—his family. His life would be empty without them, or without feelings, and he’d seen what happened to people whose lives were empty. He didn’t want that.

    He also didn’t want to be so confused. Why was he feeling those things toward…toward…ugh. No. Maybe there was someone else and he was misreading things, because people didn’t just fall in love with their best friend after knowing them for years, right? Yeah, that had to be it. There was no way he could like—.

    “…Riku?”

    Sora startled so hard, milk spilt from his bowl in little white dots. He blinked up at Kairi and gave himself a shake to try and root himself in reality. She was standing by the door with a hand on her hip and a worried frown on her lips.

    “S-sorry. What did you need?” Sora was painfully aware that his cheeks were still red if not redder thanks to Kairi’s timely interruption.

    “I’m trying to find Riku. We’re supposed to be sparring right now, but he’s late.”

    That wasn’t like Riku. But as far Sora knew the man of interest was still in the tower. The two of them had stayed up late playing checkers, so maybe Riku had forgotten to set his alarm. He suggested as much to Kairi.

    “Wanna go wake him up with me?” She asked, a sly smile forming.

    Sora’s mind immediately jumped to pillows, and his grin matched hers.

    Kairi was kind enough to wait for him to finish his cereal, then the two went up to Sora’s room where they fetched his pillows before continuing to Riku’s. They slunk inside with socked feet, leaving the door open behind them to avoid more noise. Riku was asleep on his bed, blankets pulled up almost entirely over his head. Sora’s heart twinged. He felt a little lighter knowing Riku was in fact here and hadn’t gone off on some mission during the night.

    He and Kairi took position on either side of the bed, then with pillows raised and a silent count-down to three they began to mercilessly beat Riku into consciousness. There was a harsh spluttering, then Riku shot up-right and began throwing his fists at them. Kairi and Sora retreated and huddled at the end of the bed, doing their best to reign in their giggles while Riku figured out he wasn’t under attack. Well, anymore at least.

    Bleary teal eyes first glared at Kairi, then Sora. He felt his blood rush when Riku looked at him, and was glad he was so close to the bed because it gave him an excuse to both steady himself and sit on it a bit to be closer to Riku. He swung his pillow at Riku’s chest once more for good measure but Riku caught the end of it and yanked hard enough that Sora almost fell against him. Luckily, Sora threw both arms out at the last second and caught himself. Unluckily, he was now leaning well into Riku’s personal space.

    Damnit, there was that blush again.

    “Morning Riku!” Kairi sang, and Riku’s gaze shifted to her once again.

    Sora remembered how to breathe and wondered why it was that time passed so quickly even though he felt some moments should last forever.

    “I’m going to get a lock on my door.” Riku threw Sora’s pillow at her.

    Kairi cackled as she caught it. “Try to be on time and you won’t need to.”

    Riku frowned and leaned away from Sora to pick up his phone. He leaned right back which made Sora realize that he probably looked like a weirdo for not having moved, so he quickly readjusted his position to sit up properly. Riku glanced at him as he fiddled with the device.

    “My alarm wasn’t set.” He announced.

    “Called it!” Sora cheered.

    He and Kairi high-fived. Riku grumbled something along the lines of why am I friends with these people.

    “Since you skipped our morning practice, I’m going to hunt down Lea.” Kairi handed Sora’s pillows to him.

    “I haven’t technically skipped it, we could—.” Riku started arguing, but Kairi shook her head.

    “You’re not going to be competition ten minutes after waking up. We’ll find another time. You guys enjoy the day!” She waved a hearty goodbye and skipped out the door before Riku could further protest.

    Sora wondered if Kairi had noticed his change in behaviour around Riku, too, and was creating an excuse to leave them alone. Then he wondered if Riku had noticed and his heart rate tripled.

    A silence stretched between them as Sora panicked and Riku rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Then Riku poked Sora’s arm. Sora tried his best to act as though he were his perfectly normal self who definitely was not twitterpated for his best friend even though his heart jumped at the contact.

    Riku’s frown had softened into a smile. “You’re trapping my legs.”

    In example Riku attempted to lift his legs, one of which was half-stuck under Sora’s butt. He squeaked an apology and hopped up, making for the door to give Riku privacy to change. Before he took two steps, though, Riku caught him with conversation.

    “Anything you want to do today?”

    Sora ignored the hormone-driven response that first came to mind. What did he want to do today? The King had taken Donald and Goofy back to their world for some important mission, so Sora had no obligations to be anywhere. It seemed that Riku no longer had any, either. The universe was their oyster…Yet the only other thing Sora’s useless brain could come up with was to go swimming. Though, there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with that idea. It would be relaxing, fun, and Sora constantly missed the beach. Riku did, too, even if he didn’t admit it as freely as Sora. Plus Sora would get to see Riku’s chest, so wins all around, right?

    “Swimming?”

    Sora paused in the doorway and turned around, only to find he didn’t need to go to the beach after all. Riku was in the process of changing shirts.

    “Yeah, sounds great. Any place in particular?” Riku’s voice got partially smothered by cloth.

    “Um. I haven’t been to Motunui in a while.” Sora averted his eyes to his socked toes.

    “That place is beautiful, let’s do it.”

    Sora watched Riku’s feet approach his, and stop inches away. His stomach fluttered.

    “You feeling okay, though? Seems like something’s bothering you.” Riku poked Sora’s forehead, making him look up.

    “Mhmm! I’m okay. Just thinking about the big picture a bit too much, lately. That’s why this’ll be fun.”

    There was that smile again. Sora wondered if Riku knew that that smile melted his bones.

    Riku poked and prodded Sora out of his room and up to the fairies who provided them with swimsuits and towels. Then they packed lunches from the kitchen before heading to the Gummy Garage. Sora insisted they take his favourite, the purple octopus-shaped one that Riku was completely weirded out by. Riku relented, of course, because Sora had at least one weapon against him and that was puppy eyes.

~

    The water of the lagoon was so, graciously warm Sora could stay in it forever. He could stay here with Riku forever, too, if the day’s progression was anything to go by. They’d started with games like shark-tag, catch, and who could dive after an object the fastest. But they’d tired out after a few hours, and took some time to eat lunch. Then they’d loused around on the sand, soaking in the sun, talking sparsely about nothing. Sora had nearly forgotten everything weighing on their shoulders.

    He imagined he’d gotten a taste of Heaven.

    Now he was caught up in that train of thought from this morning, sitting on a rock that jutted out into the water with his toes dipped in it, watching Riku swim laps in the lagoon. The glide of his body through the water was seamless as though he’d been carved by the sea itself. His creamy skin glinted in the sun like a beacon, and Sora imagined that the Earth had built a man from sand then given him to the Ocean as a gift so that they might always be connected. Perhaps the people he’d met on this world were like that, too.

    Sora felt like he didn’t belong, however much he had in common with Riku and Moana. He felt more like an observer, cast up in the air to watch but never to fully partake. With Moana that made sense, because though they were both native islanders Sora truly was an imposter on her planet. But with Riku…

    Nothing made sense with Riku right now. Sora was feeling too much about him, had been feeling too much for him for at least a year now, if he thought hard about it. He’d narrowed it down to a few times his feelings could have changed. During those harrowing months where he had no idea if Riku was alive or not. When he’d finally found Riku only to nearly lose him to Xemnas. When he’d promised to stay in the Dark Realm with Riku forever, just the two of them, because he genuinely didn’t want to be anywhere without him. During the year they’d all been at home, trying their best to catch up on the school work they’d missed—with Kairi’s help—in which Sora had spent many, many nights on Riku’s floor. When Riku had saved him from the Dream Realm.

    Or maybe it had been all of those events that had lead him to be here, sitting on this rock, having an existential crisis because he was twitterpated for Riku. What did it mean for him, that he felt swirly, light, and weak for Riku? He’d never paid much attention to sexuality things like the other kids had in eighth grade. He’d just known that he’d liked Kairi and that was that. Those feelings didn’t have big words attached to them.

    Was Sora supposed to attach big words to how he felt for Riku? Aside from best friend, he didn’t really want to. Nothing had truly changed between them, it was just that Sora cared about him more than he had before. Maybe that would go away some day and Sora would care deeply for someone else entirely. But he didn’t like that thought. If he had to be twitterpated over someone, he’d prefer Riku.

    Maybe that was a word he could stick with. It hadn’t been a word he’d known until last week, so it didn’t feel big. The owl hadn’t made it seem like twitterpated was meant for any particular sexuality, so it could be applied to any of them. Sora liked that. It simplified things.

    Sora suddenly found himself dripping wet from head to toe. Well, his toes were already wet, but still. He shook his head to find that Riku was half-submerged, his legs braced outward as his torso was heaved up onto Sora’s rock. Between his legs, no less, but Sora had bigger problems. Riku was laughing at him.

    “What’d you do that for!?” Sora whined, pushing his soaked hair from his eyes.

    “You’re spaced out, doofus. Had to get your attention somehow.” Riku made a show of crashing a wave against the side of the rock. This one only tickled Sora’s leg, but now he knew why he was drenched.

    “You’re so mean!” Sora lightly kicked Riku’s shoulder with his foot.

    “I’m saving you from your own brain, how is that mean?” Riku retorted.

    Then he did something that made Sora’s already racing heart trip. Riku grabbed Sora’s ankles and hauled himself entirely up onto the rock. This involved Riku’s face being a hair’s breadth apart from Sora’s for a whole two seconds before Riku sat heavily next to him. The rock was too small for both of them to fully fit, so Riku’s side was still flush with Sora’s by the time he’d stopped moving and Sora remembered why air was important. The image of teal-green eyes so close was still burned into his retinas.

    “We’re supposed to be having a relaxing day, but you don’t seem so relaxed right now.” Riku commented when Sora said nothing.

    Really, Sora was just trying to breathe like a normal person and hoped that his blush looked like a bit of sunburn. He hadn’t meant to leave Riku in silence.

    “I am! Just…rabbit holes, you know?” Sora tried to brush the conversation away, but Riku wouldn’t let him.

    Riku was looking at him, now, but Sora didn’t dare take his eyes from the opposite side of the shore. Maybe if he counted the trees for a while his body would calm down. But Riku’s skin felt searing and sticky against his own, as though the two were trying to melt together with sea water as the adhesive. It made counting trees and talking to Riku very challenging to do at the same time so Sora gave up after four.

    “You know you can tell me what’s bothering you, right?” Riku asked, voice small.

    Did he think Sora didn’t want to confide in him? That wasn’t right at all. Sora wanted to tell him everything because he trusted Riku with everything, especially his life.

    Sora pushed his shoulder lightly against Riku’s. “’Course, Riku. It’s just, um…”

    But how was Sora supposed to tell him about this? And why couldn’t it just be easy? Why did his body feel like it was seizing up as though letting out the words would let out Sora’s life force, too?

    “Is something hurting? You’re tense. There were a few sea urchins, did you accidently touch one?” Riku’s words became faster and before Sora could stop him Riku was picking up first his hands, then his feet, looking for potential injury sites.

    Sora grabbed Riku’s hands before he got any bright ideas to look anywhere else. When Riku made no move to let go, Sora tightened his grip. He took a deep breath, then looked up to meet Riku’s eyes. He felt the anxiety fade, and suddenly the world was simple again. He could do this, it was just Riku after all. They were best friends and would love each other no matter what, even if things were awkward for a little while.

    “I’m fine. It’s just…what I’ve been thinking about is hard to say because it’s important.”

    “I can wait until you’re ready. Sorry if I’m being pushy, I just,” Riku let out a huff, then admitted with a smile, “worry about you.”

    Sora felt a wave of relief about being let off the hook, but then immediately feared that he might not be brave enough to broach the subject again later. But then again there were still a few hours of the day left and it would be awful if they had this conversation now and then Riku wanted to leave…What to do? Sora shouldn’t let his feelings get in the way of them enjoying the last hours of daylight. Plus, he didn’t want to worry Riku. That was the last thing he would ever want—no matter how many times it unintentionally happened. He would wait.

    “Thanks, Riku. I’ll tell you later, okay? And you’d better worry, ‘cause I’m gonna…”

    With that, Sora used every ounce of his strength to haul Riku off the rock and toss him back into the water. It only worked because half-way through Riku realized his choices were to throw himself into the water or get a scraped shin.

    “Sora!” Riku spluttered when he came back above water.

    Sora lost himself in a fit of hysterical giggles, fueled by the comedy of the situation and his on-edge nerves. Then Sora dived into the water beside Riku, sending a wave over his silver head in the process. They chased each other around the lagoon and soon after began another game of diving. Sora noticed the sea urchins this time and made sure to stay away from them just in case.

    Eventually they settled down and played a game of hide-and-seek amoung the rocks along the most in-land part of the lagoon. The water was shallower there, but deep enough that some places were still up to Sora’s chin when standing. Currently he was tucked between a few rocks where he could brace his back and butt against them while letting his legs float, like a modified chair. He knew he’d be cornered when Riku found him but at least he wasn’t a centimeter away from drowning.

    Sora listened to Riku splashing just a few feet away, searching around some other rocks which might have concealed him a bit better. But he would’ve been getting water in his mouth. Ick.

    “If you used an invisibility spell I’ll kick your ass.” Riku called out.

    Sora bit his lip so he wouldn’t laugh. Riku was a lot closer than he’d imagined, based on how loud his voice was. Then the water made a quiet noise, and Sora imagined that Riku had dived back under. He crossed his fingers in hopes that Riku would go the opposite direction of where he was. Sora waited for what felt like too long for Riku to be underwater. He was just starting to get worried when something slimy and cold touched his foot.

    “Ah what the fu—?!” Sora leapt upward onto the rock.

    Or, he’d started to, but the slimy monster had its hands wrapped around his legs now and was holding him down. Then the slime crawled up his torso, then his chest, then—.

    Sora hadn’t been aware he’d closed his eyes, but when he opened them he found teal green staring back. Then a sopping wet piece of seaweed was draped over Sora’s nose. Sora shoved Riku’s chest, trying and failing to create some kind of distance between them because wow Riku was right there. And of course Sora’s cheeks were traitors.

    “What the hell was that!?” Sora barked as Riku started cackling.

    “Payback.” He gleamed with triumph.

    “I thought there was like, an eel heartless or something trying to eat me!” Sora pouted, reaching out to try and snatch the seaweed from Riku’s hand.

    This only resulted in him being pressed up against Riku, who could stand perfectly fine and not worry about water getting in his mouth while holding the seaweed out of Sora’s reach. Sora made feeble grabbing motions and whined. If his earlier behaviour was anything to go by, Sora should be freaking out right now. But Riku was still chuckling at him, which was making him more annoyed than anything—even if his heart was beating a bit too fast. The fake seaweed monster could be blamed for that, though, if he were asked.

    “I wouldn’t let the heartless get you, dummy. Besides, there aren’t any on this world.”

    Sora pushed himself off Riku’s chest and sat back on his sort-of chair.

    “Uh-huh. Sure you would.”

    Riku set the seaweed on top of Sora’s head and began arranging it. Sora couldn’t see it, but he felt the circular pattern on top of his hair. When he finished, Riku bopped Sora’s nose.

    “I dub thee, Ocean King.”

    “You made a crown?” Sora reached up to touch it, but Riku grabbed his hands and held them captive.

    “Don’t, you’ll mess it up.”

    “The Ocean King does what the Ocean King wants.” Sora stuck his tongue out.

    “But sire, I worked so hard on your crown.” Riku grinned.

    Sora didn’t come up with a response fast enough, so they remained in silence for a few moments while Riku admired his handiwork and Sora…admired Riku. His bangs were pushed out of his face, breaking the “cool” demeanor he usually had and allowing Sora to fully see his face. Growing up really suited him, with the sharp angles and overall toned appearance. Sora felt like his body was still that of a squishy teenager. He knew Riku was a year older and Sora had plenty of time to become more of a grown man, but nonetheless, Sora wondered if he was even attractive. It hadn’t mattered much, since he was a bit preoccupied with stopping a crazy old bald man from destroying the universe. But now that Riku mattered, Sora wanted to know. Did other people think he was hot? Or cute? Or even just nice looking? Surely he wasn’t anywhere in Riku’s ballpark.

    “Sora.” Riku drew out every syllable, as though calling his name to get his attention.

    Sora blinked and looked up from where he’d inevitably ended up staring at Riku’s chest. Oops.

    “You’re spacing out again.” Riku accused.

    “Sorry.” Sora gave his hands a squeeze to assure him he’d come back to reality.

    “It’s okay. That stuff from earlier?”

    Sora vigorously shook his head and said the first thing that came to mind so Riku wouldn’t worry, “Nah, thinking about how you’d make a pretty mermaid.”

    Of course, Sora just had to admit he thought Riku was pretty. He may as well have not lied at all. What would Riku think? Would he notice and think Sora was being weird?

    Riku fake-gasped as though he’d been insulted. “How dare you. I’m a handsome merman, thank you very much.”

    They laughed, and Sora felt a bit relieved. He also noticed that Riku’s cheeks were a bit pink and wondered if he’d put on enough sunscreen.

    Though their hands were still joined—how had Riku not noticed that?—Sora reached out and poked Riku’s chest.

    “The Ocean King demands that his merman fetch him shells for his crown.”

    Riku raised an eyebrow. “His merman, huh?”

    “Right, like ‘servant’.” Sora covered up quickly.

    How could he have let that slip? Riku had to have noticed how Sora had originally meant it, or he wouldn’t have repeated it that way. If Sora wasn’t careful he was going to give himself away before he could properly explain.

    “Mhmm.” Riku tilted his head, eyes searching Sora as though he might find a secret on his skin, “Any specific shells, sire?”

    Sora pretended to think, tilting his head back and forth. “How about…the biggest one you can find?”

    Riku nodded solemnly, as though this were the most important task of his life. But suddenly he took a step forward, once again flush with Sora. Their hands were still clasped between them, and Sora felt his heart leap into his throat at the sudden proximity and intimacy. What was happening?

    “Will I be rewarded, sire?” Riku asked, his serious act giving way to a sly smirk.

    Did Riku know? Oh no he totally knew. Why else would he—?

    Sora’s hands were freed and the next thing he knew he was being tickled to death.

    “Riku!” Sora shrieked, gasping for breath because of the swirly feelings in his stomach and his laughter.

    Riku cackled but didn’t stop, forcing Sora to battle him away. They ended up with Riku a few feet away, kept at bay by Sora’s feet placed firmly on his chest.

    “I’m getting a new merman.” Sora announced, sticking with their earlier charade.

    Riku pouted. “No, sire, please, I’ll behave. I’ll find you the biggest shell in the universe!”

    Once again Sora pretended to think. Then he shrugged, but absolutely did not move his feet. He didn’t trust Riku not to try and tickle him again.

    “Alright, that will be your reward then: to stay as my lead merman.”

    “Sir yes sir!” Riku gave a bow, then disappeared underwater.

    He resurfaced far out in the lagoon, turning around to throw a peace sign at Sora. Then he dived again, and Sora began to wonder if he was actually trying to find a shell. Sora hadn’t seen any while they’d been playing their games, so Riku would have to…uh oh.

    Sora launched out of his hiding spot and hurried over to where he’d seen Riku last surface. Obviously he wasn’t there, but when Sora dived he searched the nearby water. He caught a glimpse of silver about twenty feet away and swam toward it. There he found Riku clinging to the bottom as he made his way toward the opposite edge of the lagoon—the ocean edge.

    Catching up, Sora grabbed Riku’s arm and tugged to indicate they should surface. Riku followed him.

    “I haven’t found one yet.” Riku said as soon as he could talk.

    Sora shook his head. “I don’t remember seeing any, I don’t think they can get over the rocks.”

    Riku frowned. “Damn, I was actually going to get you one.”

    Sora’s heart did a flip and he grinned. “You’re the best, Riku!”

    Riku scoffed, but didn’t protest when Sora looped his arms around his shoulders in an awkward try-not-to-drown side-hug.

    “Yeah, well. It’s getting late anyway, we could dry off and see if there’s any along the shore.”

    “Okay, then I can find one for you, too!”

    They raced to their towels, then spent some time lounging around again. Sora got bored and made some sandcastles, sand-crabs, and even a sand-pig. Once he’d finished that, Riku had declared an official shell search in the name of the Ocean King, so their search began. It didn’t really take all that long now that they were next to the ocean. Small, gleaming shells would flip over and over as the waves receded, and the two would race after them to try and find a suitable shell before the tide chased them back to dry ground.

    The first Sora found reminded him of Riku’s hair. It was a muscle of some kind, with streaks of silver along its black, crusted outer surface. The second reminded him of Riku’s eyes because it shimmered in different shades of blue and green. The third was simply small and spiraled, but Sora liked the pink dots splattered over the white so he held on to it.

    Once they each had three they sat back down on their towels and traded. Riku had found Sora a muscle of his own, his reason sappy but nonetheless reminded Sora once again of his…twitterpation. Could the word be changed like that? Sure, why not. Owl had probably made it up anyway.

    “A muscle because you’re the strongest person I know.”

    Sora’s grin was dopey. “Ack, gross, Riku.”

    Riku laughed, then Sora handed him his own muscle and said, “My reason is dumb, but it reminded me of your hair.”

    Sora had to point out the silver streaks. Maybe they weren’t actually that obvious, then. Oh well.

    Riku then handed him a broken sand dollar. “These represent good fortune, and you can’t laugh at me because I didn’t make that up.”

    “I would never laugh at that, that’s serious business Riku.” Sora made sure to puff out his chest like a stuck-up businessman.

    He passed over the white and pink-dotted one next. “This one’s just cute.”

    Riku hummed, and gave Sora that searching look again. Sora was about to ask what he was looking for when Riku handed him a dried up barnacle.

    “Because I’m stuck with you.”

    “Hey! Or I’m stuck with you, jerk.”

    A pushing match ensued but quickly stopped because they didn’t want the shells to get smashed. Then, with butterflies in his gut, Sora handed over the final shell.

    “It’s like your eyes.”

    Riku held it up at different angles in the setting sun, causing the colors to change. Sora noticed Riku’s sunburn again. It was a good thing they’d brought aloe.

    “Abalone, right?” Riku murmured.

    “Yeah.”

    That soft smile, the one that could melt Sora if it existed for too long, returned.

    “Do my eyes really do that?”

    “I think so.” Sora stated matter-of-factly.

    Riku set the shell down beside the others and gave Sora a long, unreadable look.

    “Thanks, Sora.”

    “Y-yeah. Thank you, merman.”

    Riku’s smile became his normal smirk again. “You ready to head back, sire?”

    This time Sora began the salute. “Lead the way!”

    Once they had packed everything up and set it all in the Gummy Ship, the pair took one last minute to take in the scenery. The palms were beginning to sway in the evening breeze, the birds were chirping about their nighttime feast, and the heat of the day had cooled to cozy temperatures. With the sound of the ocean, Sora imagined he could fall asleep then and there. A day of play had worn him out, and a nap like that sounded like the cherry-on-top of this paradise.

    A hand on his shoulder drew Sora’s attention to Riku. The orange sunlight gave his skin a bit of a glow, even if he was still ghost-white. It made him look like a spirit who’d gotten lost on its way to winter and instead found eternal summer, then chose to never leave. Sora imagined that he was a summer spirit, brown skin like the coconuts he feasted on, who’d successfully tempted Riku to stay.

    Stuck. Ha. If only.

    Sora wondered if Riku would ever get bored of him. Sure, there were times they were far apart and didn’t see much of each other. But would Riku actually…leave? Find someone he liked, then rearrange his life so that he could spend more time with them? The idea made Sora a bit sad. Riku’s happiness was important…but he’d miss him.

    Riku was looking at him, now, surely waiting for Sora to come back to reality. Abalone shells searched the deep ocean, but what they were looking for…

    Sora’s heart felt like it was in his throat. He should tell Riku now. It would be okay, in the end. Riku would be weirded out at first and put those big words to Sora’s feelings to make sense of them for himself. Maybe they’d go a few days without talking because Riku wouldn’t know how to respond and Sora would be terrified to say anything more. But Riku would come around. They had bigger fish to fry than Sora’s attractions being out of whack.

    But then, Riku derailed him. “Let’s go. We’ll miss dinner if we don’t.”

    Unable to argue with food, Sora followed him inside. Riku drove because Sora was tired of always having to drive with Donald and Goofy—as soon as he’d turned sixteen Sora had refused to get in the ship unless he drove because Donald was a terror behind the wheel. Riku never complained because Mickey always drove when it was the two of them, so going out with Sora and-or Kairi was his one true opportunity.

    They set the music to some interesting instrumental techno, then left Motunui behind.

~

    Driving gave Sora time to think, and thinking right now was only going to get him in trouble. Sora was a bit embarrassed by how implicative his shell-gifts had been, which he hadn’t thought of in the moment. Maybe Riku had looked at him like that because he’d thought Sora was going to call him cute? Sora had already said he was pretty once today, so it really wouldn’t have been out of the blue. Had Riku wanted him to say that? Or had he hoped Sora wouldn’t?

    Ugh, being twitterpated was so confusing. Did he have to like Riku so much? Where was it going to get him, anyway, because Riku couldn’t possibly like him back! That was a line of thought Sora generally avoided, but he’d followed it a few times and it only lead to sad thoughts and feelings. Riku doesn’t need you, Riku doesn’t want you, Riku will go away and forget about you one day because he’ll meet someone else and become their best friend and other things and…yeah. Bad thoughts, bad feelings.

    Sora sighed and leaned against the window, watching the defeated heartless ships and rocks that existed in the between-worlds go by. He’d always been amazed that heartless existed even here. Darkness was prolific beyond his imagination.

    “Did you have fun today?” Riku’s voice cut through Sora’s thoughts, halting what he realized was about to be another depressing thought pattern.

    Sora forced himself to brighten up. He didn’t want Riku to worry, damnit! He turned and caught Riku’s eye, giving him a smile.

    “Yeah! I really did, I wish we had more days like that.”

    “Me too, it’s nice to forget about everything for a while.”

    “It is.”

    Ah, there went the cheer. Even the insinuation of what they had to deal with in the near-future was depressing. Sora tried to think of something else to say, something to lighten the sudden, thick atmosphere between them. But he could sense Riku’s brain turning itself inside-out with thoughts. What was he thinking of? The fight against Xehanort? The Chi-blade? Aqua? Roxas?

    Or…was he debating whether or not to press about Sora’s spaced-out tendencies today, since he’d basically promised Sora he would wait? Well, that was one thing they could talk about, though it would do anything but make either of them feel better.

    Sora shifted around in his seat, bringing his legs up to his chest and locking his arms around them to defend his heart from what was sure to make it crack.

    “I could tell you now. What I was thinking about.” He offered, hating how small and unsure his voice sounded.

    Riku’s glance conveyed the exact worry Sora didn’t want to cause, but he simply nodded. Sora’s arms tightened around his legs, and he directed his gaze at the gear shift between them. Where to begin…

    “Last week I went to Bambi’s forest, right? Well, Bambi’s gotten older and now he’s…The owl told us about this thing called twitterpated, which is basically about having feelings for another person. Romantic feelings.”

    Sora could feel his cheeks warming with each passing second. Ugh, why did this have to be embarrassing? There was nothing wrong with him feeling this way about Riku. Right?

    “Bambi and all his friends have people they care about and…are twitterpated for, and it’s been making me think about who I care about like that.”

    Riku shifted in his seat and Sora reflexively glanced up. Riku was sitting straighter, a frown working its way onto his face. That wasn’t good. Had he guessed where this was going and was trying to think of how to let Sora down easy? But Sora needed to finish what he’d started. Even if it suddenly hurt so much he felt he could cry.

    “I used to feel that way about Kairi. Weak knees, light and whirly, like I could walk on air. I still feel those things, just not for her anymore. Someone else became more…” Sora let out a shaky chuckle as he imagined Kairi’s playfully hurt face at his next words, “don’t tell her I said this, but, more important.”

    Riku made some kind of noise and Sora wondered if he was imagining Kairi’s reaction, too. This time he didn’t look up to check.

    “I’ve been feeling this way for a while. The owl’s word just kinda got me caught up in it, because I hadn’t put other words to it before.”

    Really, it surprised Sora that it had taken this long for Riku to interrupt him.

    “Wait, like crush? Doting, enamored, lovesick, head over heels—.”

    “Yes. Even with Kairi I didn’t think about those kinds of things. The way I felt—feel—is just a part of me, I guess.”

    Riku hummed in what sounded like thoughtful agreement, then asked, “So you were thinking about her today?”

    “Kairi?”

    “No, the new girl you like.” Riku flashed a smile and rolled his eyes.

    Sora had to pause for a moment, because he well and truly felt like the air had been stolen from his lungs. It was now or never. He didn’t want to hide any of this from Riku anymore, even if he was going to be rejected. Sora’s stomach didn’t like that Riku thought he liked someone else.

    “Well, I was thinking about…you.”

    He had more to say, but the look on Riku’s face made him pause.

    Riku looked like he’d been given an impossible Rubik’s cube to solve. Okay, so he was just confused. Sora needed to clarify because with the way the conversation had gone it was definitely unclear who exactly he was twitterpated for. But Riku spoke first.

    “You…what?” His voice was crackly like he hadn’t had water in hours.

    Had Sora made him uncomfortable? Oh no, that wasn’t okay, why hadn’t he just kept his mouth shut? Ugh this was so awkward.

    “I’m sorry.” Sora murmured, withdrawing more into his already defensive posture.

    “No no no. It’s okay, I just think I’m not following. You couldn’t…you don’t…” Riku huffed, annoyed with his phrasing.

    Sora wished he had a hat to hide under.

    “You were talking about that word…twitter something. Like birds…not important. You’ve got a crush on someone and the owl made you think about her. Then today you were thinking about me…instead of her?”

    Sora shook his head and tried to clarify but Riku stopped him again.

    “Sora you can’t…I’m not…Do you…?”

    Riku took a deep breath and all of Sora’s hope with it. Riku had figured it out. He knew Sora liked him without Sora having to explicitly say it. But that wasn’t right, Sora was supposed to say it! What was the point of feeling anxious if he couldn’t let it out?

    “Have a crush on me?”

    “I like you!”

    They’d spoken at the same time. Sora deflated as though his soul had indeed gone with them. Now he had to wait for Riku’s response. Except, really, Sora knew what Riku would say. Those things Riku had said…Sora you can’t like me. I’m not gay. I’m not into guys. I’m not into you. Any of those endings hurt, but there couldn’t be other variations. Riku didn’t feel the same way, because how could he? Sora was nothing compared to him.

    The thud of his heart filled the heavy, awkward silence between them. If Riku could hear it Sora would tear it from his body himself, the traitorous organ. He could sense Riku staring at him and used the last ounce of hope he had left on the thought that Riku had switched the Gummy Ship into autopilot.

    Eventually, Riku returned his attention to driving. He still hadn’t said anything, which was making Sora nervous, but he didn’t know what else to say either. Really, what happened next all hinged on Riku. Would Sora get his hopes back, or would Riku keep them hostage forever? Now sure would be a nice time for Riku to say something.

    The next song was halfway over before Sora gave in. If Riku was going to give him the cold shoulder now, he wouldn’t be able to stand it. He may as well get in whatever words he could before Riku disappeared for the next week.

    “Sorry.” He whispered.

    “No, Sora, don’t say that.” Riku’s voice was strained, like he didn’t mean it.

    Like Sora should definitely be sorry. He felt his heart sink.

    “Well I am. I made you uncomfort—.”

    “Woa, hold on! Sora I’m not—.” Riku huffed, “I’m not uncomfortable, I’m just trying to figure out how to hug you without crashing us into an asteroid.”

    That didn’t make sense. Wasn’t Riku mad at him? Sora dared to look up, only to find that Riku was smiling at the windshield. That didn’t make sense, either.

    “Wait, why?”

    “I thought you still liked Kairi.” Riku said instead of answering.

    “I…it’s been a while since I liked her. Probably not since we got separated at the door.”

    Riku gaped. “That long? Why didn’t you tell me?”

    “It wasn’t important?” Sora offered.

    “You said I was important.” Was…was Riku teasing him?

    That was unexpected but not unwelcome.

    “Well you are.” Sora defended lamely.

    Riku laughed, and Sora’s chest felt a little lighter. He wasn’t mad. That was good. That meant that this would be easy, that the knowledge of Sora’s feelings would fade into the background and they could both move on. And still be best friends. But what had Riku meant by those other phrases then? Sora you can’t like me. I’m not worth that. Yeah…that sounded more like Riku. Sora was going to have to reassure him at some point before the end of the day that Riku was worth every ounce of Sora’s love and affections, both friendly and romantic. Just because he made one mistake didn’t mean Sora wanted to kick him out forever. It was nice that Riku didn’t want to do the same just because Sora liked him.

    Anyway, back to the present, before Sora trapped himself in another rabbit hole.

    “Is that…am I…?” Sora really was out of his depth today, but he needed his own reassurance, “Are we okay?”

    Riku laughed again, and glanced over at Sora. “Yeah, more than okay, Sora. I like you, too.”     

    Once again, time forgot that it was appropriate to let moments last. Sora wished he could feel that moment of realization forever. Riku liked him? Felt weak, whirly, light for Sora? How was that even real?

    When he didn’t respond, Riku explained, “I’ve always liked you that way, it’s just kinda…a part of who I am.” He teased again, stealing Sora’s words, “I kinda thought you knew.”

    “Why, how, how would I know that, Riku?!”

    Sora couldn’t believe him. Did Riku think he was a mind reader? There was no way he’d know something like that without being told, because Sora was awful at reading people as Kairi was so kind to always let him know…wait a damn second.

    “Because I told Kairi? Thought she would’ve said something.”

    “Oh my god she did.” Sora said his realization aloud, for Riku’s benefit.

    Because Kairi had indicated about a thousand times that Riku liked him, Sora had just never noticed. She’d always asked him where Riku was, and he’d always have the answer because Riku always told him. She’d always asked him what Riku’s clothing sizes were. She’d pushed him to go after Riku more often than not those times when everything had become too much for Riku, both as kids and as adults. She’d been the one to suggest Sora share the paopu fruit with someone, and Sora had immediately ran off to tell Riku about it. He hadn’t intended to share it with Riku, and Riku’s reaction when he’d mentioned Kairi…had been interesting. And Kairi…Kairi was the reason he’d gotten to spend today, and probably countless others, alone with Riku.

    Sora owed her, but would absolutely never tell her. That wasn’t the kind of power someone gave Kairi.

    Riku laughed. “Didn’t pay enough attention, huh?”

    “Nope.”

    But then he remembered a key point of what Riku had said.

    “Always?” Sora repeated, awed by the very idea.

    Riku had liked him this whole time. Had felt those sensations that owl talked about this whole time and hadn’t said anything? Sora felt like he’d gotten the easy side of things by only feeling this way for two years. And he’d been the first to crack. Had Riku just planned on never telling him? That made Sora a bit angry. Riku wasn’t supposed to suffer because of Sora!

    Now Sora became aware that Riku had no sunburn, and had been blushing all day, just like he was right now. He really needed to work on his read-people skills.

    “Um, yeah. You’re my best friend, Sora, and I…I love you.”

    Riku gave him that soft smile again, and Sora felt like he was made of goo. For other people, like the kids who’d gotten to live normal lives without the risk of losing their best friend to death or pure evil multiple times, it probably would’ve been a bit off-putting to hear those words right after acknowledging how they felt about one another. But for them it made perfect sense. Sora loved Riku, too, always had and had told him as much until they’d become awkward teenagers and “too old” for that kind of talk. They’d known each other their entire lives, had loved each other their entire lives. It was just that that love had morphed, changed with them over time to better fit who they were along every step of their journeys. And now they loved each other in a way that was new and fit them perfectly.

    The phrase brought with it Sora’s biggest smile.

    He held his hand out to Riku, who adjusted to steer one-handed before linking his fingers with Sora’s.

    “I love you, too.”