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by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: Squeenix and Disney.

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One of the biggest problems with going back to school, they find, beyond the blank expanse of two years of missed classes and knowing only those things they shouldn't, between Sora's inability to sit still and Riku's tendency to doze off during the middle of the day, is the uniforms. Sora isn't used to anything without at least three belts and Riku keeps squirming over how tight they are, and neither of them can stand the fact that the pockets in them are made out of plain ordinary fabric. Because of this, they can't keep them stuffed full of potions, ethers, armor, keychains, munny, synthesis items, and in Sora's case, whatever shiny thing happens to catch his eye on any particular day.

Despite how many times Kairi has pointed out that it is very unlikely that they would get attacked at school, of all places, she still glanced over one day to catch the bright green glow of a hi-potion tucked in among the disaster area that the rest of the world politely calls Sora's school briefcase, and she's pretty sure it's a fat little munny pouch that jingles every time Riku chucks his own briefcase into his bedroom without looking to see where it falls.

Since the first day they got them, Riku has never stopped making faces at the color and pattern of the tie and pants, Sora has been convinced that his tie is plotting to strangle him when he's not paying attention, and both of them have become very creative at hiding jewelry under their clothes. The necklaces are acceptable: Sora leaves the crown dangling in plain sight over the tie no matter how weird it looks because that is what he's always done, but Riku keeps a sleek black feather on mythril chain carefully tucked beneath his shirt, because gifts from Sephiroth are never meant to be taken lightly, and they all have a sneaking suspicion that it might actually work as a summon charm.

Boys at their school aren't allowed to have pierced ears, though, and both of them complained for a week straight about being stripped of some of their strongest armor because of it. Gold and diamonds and mythril and orichalcum are known on the islands for their beauty and rareness, not for their magical properties, and so they're forced to leave their favorite rings behind, too, and even though nobody here is going to attack them, they both fidget with their fingers when nobody's looking. Sora is much worse than Riku, in that respect - after two years of constantly wearing gloves, he complains that being without them makes him feel naked, and they're always the first things he pulls on when he gets home in the afternoon.

The school loosened the rules about boys' hair a generation ago, so Riku's still falls all over the place and Sora's still looks like it's trying to escape from his head, and they're allowed to personalize things a little more now, so nobody cares that Sora's tie hangs loose and that a short chain dangles from his hip. Everyone cares about what Riku's wearing on his left arm each day, but that's only because it changes with his mood, and even some of the teachers' gazes linger on him longer than they should, nowadays.

But even that makes sense, sort of, because Riku is also the only person in the history of Destiny Islands High School to actually make the uniforms look good. Selphie once pointed out that Riku could probably make wearing a paper bag look good, and Sora and Tidus had both pouted about it for an hour before finding that they couldn't actually disagree with her assessment. Riku had, mostly by saying "Argh" and refusing to talk to anybody for the rest of the afternoon, but whatever his vendetta against blue plaid is, it doesn't change the fact that it actually looks disturbingly flattering when he wears it.

They both complained for two weeks straight about the shoes. Sora hates anything that isn't two sizes too big, Riku hates anything that could possibly slip off in a fight, and both of them hate the fact that boys' dress shoes don't have anything that's even remotely like traction. Kairi keeps pointing out that they live on an island, that most of the footpaths are made of clay, and that the roads are made of brick, but Sora remembers fighting in snow and Riku remembers fighting on rain-slicked streets, and so as soon as school lets out, Sora kicks off his shoes and walks barefoot back to his house no matter how many people stare, because most days the beach route is too long to be practical. Riku doesn't, but he tends to shuffle more than walk nowadays, so his shoes are a scuffed mess but at least they stay on the ground.

Most of the boys personalize their briefcases, and Sora and Riku are no exceptions, and if you don't look too closely, their accessories almost look normal. Sora has taken to dangling keychains from the strap, changing them out week by week, and she's been trying to convince him that the bag doesn't actually need a zipper on the bottom. The only reason that one isn't already there is because Sora is utterly helpless when confronted with constructing anything that isn't made out of gummi blocks. There's a little blue crystal set in orichalcum dangling from the buckle, the setting a gift from Riku who had held it out with a mumbled apology and a resolute stare at the wall behind Sora's left shoulder, and when Sora's fingers had closed over it he hadn't thanked him, but there was a glitter in his eyes that was all Roxas, wary, but willing to try.

He'd been exquisitely careful with the etching on the side, asking Naminé for the designs in a low whisper, then tracing them out with delicate edge of a scaling knife, a crown and a thassala shell charm and what she'd initially mistaken as the Heartless symbol--and then she'd noticed the lack of thorns crisscrossing the middle, and wondered where she had seen it before, and thought oh as she glanced back through her lashes at Riku's very careful lack of expression.

Riku had asked for the same designs a day later, and Kairi had been a little surprised at the gentle sweep of sweet sadness that thrummed through Naminé even as she sketched on the leather, and at the way he watched her, soft and cool and infinitely gentle. When their fingers brushed, the sudden tingling thrill that shivered down her spine was enough to make her take a second and then a third look from where she was tucked away back in the corner of their mind. Even though she'd noticed the change--it was hard not to, given that no matter how much Riku slouched, it couldn't quite disguise just how ridiculously tall he had gotten--it was still a little startling, the way Naminé's artists' eyes were drawn to the precise fall of his hair and the vibrancy of his eyes, the sweep of his lashes, the curve of his lips, and the graceful shape of his features. She had to stifle a desperate giggle of breathless wonder and rueful amusement as the idea fully sank in that her very tall, very male best friend of as long as she could remember was prettier than she was.

Riku still looked at her like she'd grown a second head, but Naminé just giggled and whispered Prettiest boy we've ever seen and then she did laugh out loud, and promptly dissolved into helpless giggles as Riku discreetly scooted away from her, eyes a little bit wider than usual.

She carved out the designs into her own bag a day later under Naminé's careful instructions, and it made Sora grin wildly in a way that made her heart flutter, and Riku give a sort of smirk that made her cheeks heat, because now that she'd looked she couldn't stop looking. A day or two later she caught Sora staring too, in the same sort of dazed stupor, and their gazes met and they both turned bright red before smiling sheepishly at each other. Right then and there they made a silent pact to keep everyone else's eyes away, because Riku was and is ridiculously oblivious about his effect on anyone who has eyes, now that the ones who are looking aren't out for murder or worse, now that people are drawn to the way he looks instead of what he is. is.

It probably doesn't help the stares and speculation and outright gawking that there's a black ribbon wound around the straps of his briefcase, sometimes curled around his wrist, or that he's practically flaunting hinted-at riches with a heavy black carving of the king's symbol dangling from the end of his bag. Most of the time it looks just like a highly-polished stone, but if the light hits it just right and you know how to look, it glitters in a way that makes it easy to tell that it's been carved out of dark crystal by a moogle's careful paw. He's like that with a lot of things, now, if you're looking right, little flashes, here and there, of shadow and silver, just enough to hint at what he is, cleverly disguised as an ordinary teenage boy. An ordinary teenage boy who admittedly kind of looks like a supermodel, but still an ordinary teenage boy.

It's easier with Sora, all threaded with sunshine, in his hair and in his eyes and in his laughter, in his callused fingertips and his careless grace, because that's even more of a disguise than Riku's studied coolness, and it makes up for the fact that he's much more of a showoff, precious things shared and covered up with summer smiles and little evasions of the truth that aren't quite lies, gummi pieces and paopu leaves and songs on his lips that don't come from their world, a way of yawning and flopping in the sun that is entirely and completely feline, a way of swimming that is blatantly not quite human.

Sora doesn't hide it at all, so there's no way to tell that there's something to hide, so he charms without thinking and bowls common sense over with chatter. Once, she looked over and met Riku's eyes, all amused exasperation and an exaggerated smirk, and she'd flashed him a bright smile and right then and there they had made a silent pact to cover for him, to keep anyone from looking too closely, because Sora's oblivious in all the ways that Riku isn't, and people here won't just accept what he does with a smile and an understanding that there will always be another road to drag him away.

Kairi tucks her hair behind her ear and smiles into the mirror, smiles at the pretty blonde girl looking back at her, and smooths down her skirt. Her hair is long enough now to help disguise the unnatural glitter of her earrings, armor she doesn't think she needs, but both boys insisted, and by now they've all earned the right to be paranoid. She looks like every other girl, tanned and tough and pretty, because no one on these islands, not even the mayor's daughter, has soft hands.

There's a gentle chime of metal when she hefts her briefcase into her hands, and she smiles down at the spool of ribbon that she's finally managed to lace along the strap. Sora's belongs to Roxas and Riku's is the king's, and she's not quite sure how she managed to do it, to give it to her, but Naminé insisted that this was the only charm she wanted, and until she gets to a moogle shop she can't make things otherwise.

Her shoes are squeaky and the uniform skirt is too short even though she kind of likes the way it makes their eyes wander whenever there's a stiff breeze, and she doesn't really like the tie, but it looks right, not like a princess at all, save for the little hints that hide in plain sight, and whoever manages to see them deserves to know, if they work up the courage to ask.

Keybearers, after all, are nothing if not adaptable.

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Coda: Make sure you've read Subtle Grace before proceeding, or the following will not make any sense.

When he picks up her briefcase after school, there's a hint of pink touching Riku's pale cheeks, and she thinks oh very quietly to herself, and doesn't quite know if she should be feeling jealous or not, or of who. That night's dreaming is soft and hot and slow, and in the wispy moments between sleep and waking she kisses Naminé's cheek and whispers her apologies as she clutches the memories close and cries, because he wasn't hers, and never could be, and it hurts so much more now than it did then, when all she felt was yearning.

She kisses Riku for the first time outside of a dream in an empty classroom that afternoon, stretched up on her tiptoes like the girl in her memories, and he holds her like she's a delicate thing while she cries.

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