AUTHOR: Amet (amet)
FANDOM: Kingdom Hearts II
SUMMARY: Pence is all about the normal until he takes a dare one step too far.
PAIRINGS: Vague Riku/Sora, several other blink and you'll miss 'em moments you can take however you like.
WARNINGS: Beloved fandom characters being creepy? There's not even any swearing in this one, frighteningly enough.
SPOILERS: Spoils pretty much the entire timeline of the games. Beware and all that.
ARCHIVED: Fallen Icons
FEEDBACK: ♥-ed all over.
THANKS: To Sephy for the beta-as-we-go over G-talk.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I'm writing like three KH fics simultaneously right now, and this is the first one to make it to the finish line. It is of course, the most random. Beware characters acting like total freaks because this takes place during the part of the timeline when everyone who knew Sora had Swiss cheese memories.
A Kingdom Hearts II Fanfiction
By Amet (amet)
"Hi, my name is Pence, and I'm an idiot."
He's whispering under his breath, talking to shadows and he's not sure why he's bothering, almost practicing his introduction to the monster he swears he's seriously convinced is lurking under the stairs. It's probably because they're not normal stairs, the thing that happens when a staring statue makes you want to finish off an asymmetrical little doodle that eats the floor out from under you. The thought doesn't make any sense, but then neither does this place, the spooky old mansion in the spooky old forest you can only reach by climbing through a jagged hole in the wall in Tram Common nobody can remember making. He really shouldn't be here, but it's Seifer's weekly Pick On The Fat Kid Day and he wanted just once to show that stuck up jerk that he was just as brave as any pumped up, overly gelled pretty boy Seifer thinks is cool. Pence is a lot of things, but he's not afraid of a few dust bunnies and loose floorboards.
Except when they move by themselves, but he thinks that's fair.
Hayner's going to murder him when he finds out, probably get Olette to make that puppy dog soulful face that's melted Pence into a squishy ball of goo since the third grade, the kind of über cuteness that's just all wrong because it makes him say yes to just about anything Olette wants. He'll have to sit through the inevitable lecture (and he swears sometimes his friend is so much worse than his Dad it's messed up), nod at the appropriate intervals and hum along agreeably until Hayner's made his point, a chore that would be way harder if he didn't know it meant his best friend cared enough to drop the cool façade he's adopted lately to ward off Seifer's insults. It's all about the evenness, what one of them has the others share and he's lucky, Pence knows, to have such loyal friends, that even when he's spazzing out six ways from Sunday Hayner gets pissed when he doesn't tell because if Pence is hurt, he's supposed to hurt.
But anyway, stairs. Creepy, creepy stairs that lead into semi-darkness, an antechamber of sorts sunken into what used to be the floor of the library. The walls here are metallic, smooth surfaces that look too sci-fi to seem right in context with the antique feel of the rotting mansion above, and Pence runs a hand over the oversized rivets in the wall beside the stairs, fingers catching in the grooves. It's cold to the touch, cold like the tepid light filtering in from above, the only light down here until he makes it to the landing and somehow trips a computer system into flickering to life, scaring the crap out of himself in the process.
He's proud of himself when he doesn't do much more than gasp and freeze up, and really, he's totally proving Seifer wrong being down here, poking around where he's likely to piss someone off but good. There's a few hundred thousand munny worth of equipment in this room, a veritable smorgasbord of monitors all cobbled Frankenstein-like together, reading out figures in snowy, indecipherable text. Encoded, his mind supplies, staring at the figures scrolling across the screen, recognizing the challenge and he wonders if he could crack it if he had the time to sit and meddle. He knows he doesn't so he moves on, throwing a last, longing look at a monitor hanging high up against the far wall, reading what look like vital signs on a person-shaped graphic that looks like it's stuck its finger in a light socket with that hair.
It's the little touches that really make the freak show.
The door slides open on its own as he approaches, automated hinges whooshing at him as he passes through into another room that looks like storage space for all that there's nothing here, crossing to another door at the far end and hoping it leads somewhere more interesting. It does, opening on blinding white, high fluorescent lighting making everything stand out in relief against the walls, almost painful after the darkness of the rooms beyond. The hallway is narrow, curving gently to the right, empty but for the strange lotus-shaped pod things set in random intervals on the walls. They each have a console attached, dark and lifeless, but he can imagine they would be scrolling readings like the monitors outside if there were something in them.
Or someone, more like. It's an uncomfortable thought, makes his gut twist a little as he realizes that he really just thought that, staring at the empty glass petals of the pod in front of him for a long moment as he struggles to compute that this is real and not some crazy dream after too many hours of Captain Alien reruns with Hayner. The glass almost chimes when he reaches out to touch it -- thin, flimsy material so delicate it reacts and his hand jerks back on reflex like he's burned himself. He resolves not to touch anything else until he's out of here, really starting to freak himself out now but he can't seem to make himself turn back, needing to know what's back here even if he can't fit the pieces in what he's seeing together to make a big picture.
He kinda freaks a little when he finds people in the last two pods, over by the inner doorway like someone wanted them away from the entrance, to protect them or keep them here, he's not really sure. The monitors are exactly what he thought they were, reading the same freaky code as the others, little sketched out man-graphics blinking in time with the readings. Except that these aren't men, they don't really look human, more like anthropomorphic animals trying to dress up like teenagers so no one'll notice they're different. One's clearly a bird, tongue lolling out the side of an oversized duck beak as he -- sleeps, maybe? -- white feathered and webbed footed, with a jaunty little hat perched on the side of his -- its? -- head. The other's all droopy, with long, hanging ears and a long muzzle, nose as big and black as an olive perched on the end. His body's more human, taller and ganglier than the other, but the face is all wrong, sharp and canine despite prominent buck teeth that seem wrong on something that's supposed to be a carnivore.
Pence decides his brain's on vacation or something, because he cannot make sense of what he's seeing.
He turns to the door beside the pods in a daze, eager to be away from the not-men, blinking rapidly as he walks into a large room with no other exits. It's actually brighter in here, if that's even possible, a pale path leading to a raised dais on which sits--
It's not really remarkable after the hallway, exactly like the others in every respect but for some reason he can't take his eyes off it, staring in rapt fascination as the monitor throws sickly green shapes across the walls. The figure with the light socket hair is back, blinking in static on the monitor and in the pod, a boy around Pence's age suspended inside like he's floating, ridiculous yellow clown shoes pointing downward. He's small, face slack and peaceful, kinda roundish like he's still got some baby fat around the edges, the kind of face Seifer would make fun of for being girly. He feels kinda bad thinking that, approaching the dais on shuffling, quiet steps, like he's afraid to wake the kid up but then that's stupid, isn't it? Somebody's gone to a lot of trouble to see that he stays asleep.
When he finally makes a real noise it's the hair that does it, makes him crack a smile at the way it defies gravity, sticking out at deliberate angles like the kid spent a long while making it do that, and that's gotta be the funniest thing he's seen all morning. He laughs into the silence, shattering the stillness of the room but he figures it's okay, there's no one else around and he's pretty sure the kid doesn't mind, reaching out to touch the surface of the pod with the palm of his hand.
"You shouldn't touch that," a voice rings out behind him, clear and resonating as a clarion bell. "He'll be damaged if you wake him."
He whips around so fast his shoes squeak against the floor, turning to find a frail slip of a girl bouncing on the balls of her feet behind him. She's barefoot, wearing a thin cotton shift that barely counts as real clothing, as white as the walls behind her and only slightly paler than her near-translucent skin. Her eyes almost look too big for her face, wide and blue like the ocean, pale like the yellow-blonde of her hair hanging in an almost ponytail over one shoulder. She looks too young and too old at once, this girl, knowing and wan, staring at him unblinkingly until he fidgets.
"Who?" he asks, barely managing to stop himself from smacking his own forehead at how intelligent that sounds.
"My name is Naminé," the girl answers, nodding as if to prove it to herself, a shy, half-smile spreading across her face as she nods at the tank behind him. "That," she says, and falters, gold eyelashes fluttering against her cheeks as she closes her eyes and seems to bolster herself, "Is Sora."
Something in the way this Naminé says the word tells Pence that she's just told him the kid's entire life story in a name, and it's a sacred text, with laws and protocols he's smushing into the grating at his feet in his ignorance. He has the sudden feeling that he's not supposed to be here, really not supposed to like there was an 'enter on pain of death' sign back there somewhere he missed, because he's staring at something not many people get to see and if this Sora deems him unworthy he's in for a world of trouble.
He wants to ask like a bazillion questions, but what comes out is a hushed, "What's wrong with him?" that makes him want to bang his head against a wall. Why can't his mouth ever work when it counts?
Naminé throws him a shrewd look, curling her arms behind her back as she steps up beside him, smiling at Sora-the-sleeping-kid fondly. "He's sleeping. Until he remembers."
Which is cryptic, and Pence understands that she knows he's not supposed to be here. Naminé is only humoring him, though why she'd bother is beyond him, he's nobody special. They stand together in companionable silence for a few moments, staring at the pod and she's meditating on the meaning of life for all Pence knows, face on the verge of rapture as she closes her eyes and bathes in the glow from the tank. O-kay, Pence thinks, this chick may be a few crayons short of a full rainbow assortment, but she seems to really like having Sora around. It's harmless.
Except where it might not be. Naminé almost looks like she's getting off on standing here, and that's really starting to disturb him, wondering if Sora likes hanging around until he 'remembers,' whatever that means. If maybe he'd rather just be a kid, eating ice cream and taking stupid dares, making the puppy dog face Pence is sure he can duplicate to force his friends into the service of all that is über cute and goo-creating. The bird-dog people in the hallway look like someone's science project gone horribly awry, but this kid -- he's just a normal boy, suspended in time like somebody wanted him out of action, and the more Pence thinks about it the more he realizes that that's just not right. He'd want someone to ask him what he wanted if he were in Sora's place. He starts to think that someone should really rescue the kid when Naminé throws him another Look, the canny, I-know-what-you're-thinking kind that's only freaking him out more as he realizes that crazy barefoot chick aside, he's the only one here. If there's going to be a rescue, it's gotta be him that does it.
Color him three shades of idiot, but he's not a coward when he knows he's right. It won't take much, just a mashing of a few keys on the pad in front of him, tantalizingly close and he can feel Naminé eying him but he's pretty sure he can take her, smaller and skinner than Olette even, and that's just not healthy. She's not quite so sickly when she slaps his hands away, face pinching in alarm, trying to get between him and the monitor, but he's always been good at this and the code's not half as difficult as he thought it would be, only another moment before--
Naminé screams her head off, battering at him, yelling at him to stop because "Sora!" and "You don't understand! This isn't what he wanted!" She's bawling, and he feels bad about that, but she wouldn't be a match for Hayner's little sister so she's pretty much out of luck. He wants to ask her why Sora would want to be asleep if, as she hinted, there's nothing wrong with him, but he's busy trying to get the codes entered with one hand while the other holds her at arm's length, a painful arm that's getting furrows scraped in it by the second, but that's okay, because he's almost--
--slamming into the wall headfirst.
His skull meets metal and says a jaunty 'Hello!', a sharp crack against the junction of wall and floor that may be a concussion in the making, it's all a little fuzzy in Pence's head. It hurts like a mother when he raises it anyway, snapping up to track the slam of heavy footsteps against the grating in alarm, just in time for his eyes to focus through the encroaching fogginess on a tall, dark figure settling in stark relief against the pale backdrop of the room before it reaches down to hoist him up, tossing him like a rag doll when it goes to slam his head back against the wall just in case the damage wasn't done the first time.
"What is going on?" the figure demands, voice sibilant and dangerously calm as Pence groans, trying to focus on the rapidly deteriorating scene before him, feeling like a moron for assuming that no one would come when Naminé screamed just because they hadn't bothered to stop him yet.
The guy holding him is paler than Naminé if that's possible, silver-white hair falling in choppy lengths to obscure a sharp-featured face, spreading over his shoulders in an odd contrast against the cloak he's wearing, dark as midnight and that just seems weird in this place, like it's not supposed to be here, but has to be anyway. The guy's not little, a full head taller than Pence and definitely not sickly for all he looks albino-pale, a sketching of blue veins visible beneath the surface of the wrist that's connected to the hand bunched up in Pence's collar, holding him off his feet and kinda choking him a little. He's angled like he's staring Pence down, though Pence can't really be sure because the guy's eyes are covered, a band of black material wrapped around his head just below his eyebrows and wait -- is the guy blind? He's getting beat up by a blind albino? What the...?
"Riku!" Naminé shouts, all giddy-happy like it's Christmas and she's just gotten a pony. "He's trying to wake Sora!"
Pence has all of .5 seconds to process his attacker's name before his head slams into the wall again, like this Riku guy is trying to batter the will to fight out of him and if he'd been able to get more air into his lungs, Pence would have told him it had fled the building a full five minutes ago.
"Sora," Riku says, whisper soft and there's another novel in the name, one of those harlequin romances Olette likes so much that have all the angst and pain in the middle, where the hero has to save the heroine from some bumbling slob who's only in the story to get jilted and try to kidnap her or something. Pence has a hard time thinking of the blind kid as a hero. He's busy being scared of him, because everyone knows what happens to the bad guy in those stories and Pence is pretty sure he's just cast himself in the role.
He looks up to throw a pleading look at Naminé, reeling when he sees her. She's not crying anymore, and more than that, she doesn’t look like she was ever crying, face smooth and almost curious as she watches her -- friend? -- poised to beat the snot out of him like she's running an experiment. Riku just looks pissed, Pence can guess from the way his eyebrows are slashing down that if his eyes are open, they're narrowing at him, lips thinning and great, he's pissing the guy off more.
He draws enough break to speak, croaking out broken syllables. "Look man, I--"
The hand at his throat tightens, yanking his collar more securely around his windpipe and okay, fine, he can take a hint already. "Shut up," is all Riku says, hand staying firmly in place as he half-turns to speak to Naminé, watching her closely. "How did he get in here?"
She blinks, a slow, deliberate movement before she glances at the door and Riku huffs. "I know that, why did you let him close enough to touch the thing? You're not helpless, Naminé."
She shrugs, toeing the floor and avoiding eye contact, sulking like a little kid. Pence wants to ask how she's gonna fend anyone off with that attitude, but it's taking all the energy he can muster just to breathe through the pressure at his throat, Riku's arm braced like an immovable object and this is one of those moments where guys like Pence are supposed to learn what real panic is. He feels surprisingly calm, watching this odd little shadow play unfold in front of him like he's not even in the room, wooziness detaching him from the scene in front of him until it's like watching a really weird movie where violence is exciting in that totally-can't-kill-you kinda way and you end up squinting at the screen, wincing in sympathy and eagerly awaiting the next twist just to see how far the train wreck will go.
Riku doesn't sound terribly impressed. "Now is not the time to pull that noncommittal crap with me," he tells Naminé. "You think I don't know who left half a doodle upstairs just waiting for some moron to come along and mess with it? Or the convenient sketches taped up all over the walls in the white room just in case said moron can't figure out how to finish off a symmetrical design with the crayons you so helpfully left out right on top of it? Tripwires and half-hidden spells do not help, Naminé. You are supposed to be making sure he stays hidden from crap like this, not inviting it down here because you're bored. This is not a game."
There's a weird urgency in the air down here telling Pence that no, it's really not and if they hadn't wanted anyone to find this place they needed to do a lot more than start stupid rumors about a ghost standing in the upstairs window. He'd be agreeing with Riku if he could breathe, a little annoyed that he's 'some random moron' and a little afraid of what'll happen if he lets himself actually bristle at a guy with no qualms about giving him a concussion when not even Seifer is that much of a jerk. He turns to Naminé, attempting to at least figure out if she's the good cop in this scenario, but she's busy sulking.
"They weren't for him," she says quietly, half nodding at Pence.
"Yeah well, whoever you were hoping to see, he's here now," Riku scoffs, turning to study Pence for a moment before he goes back to ignoring him. "He knows how to get back here too. You made the mess, you clean it up. Fix it now, before the old man gets down here and starts preaching."
Pence doesn't think he wants to meet this old man if he can make someone like Riku sound like he's trying to avoid detention from his least favorite teacher. Naminé is silent, but when he looks up she's actually looking Pence in the eye, real hesitance seeping into her movements as she wrings her hands and murmurs, "I... can't."
"What do you mean, you can't?" Riku demands. "You brain sucked Sora and me just fine, didn't you? Either you fix it, or I will. My way is less pleasant and a lot more permanent."
Pence wants to be afraid, really he does, but his brain sort of freezes on brain sucked and refuses to lurch into motion again. There's a sword in the guy's hand, one that just appears out of nowhere and that's enough to get him moving, scrabbling at the hand on his collar, managing to loosen the fabric enough to protest. "Hey wait a minute, I was just trying to--"
"What?" Riku snaps, swinging around to start at him again and Pence quails a little at the intensity there, the way his voice seems to echo and then flatten out into something deeper like there's something trying to claw its way up his throat. "You were what? Trying to help? Like you have any idea what's going on here, what's at stake. You think we're hurting him, don't you? Don't you?"
His head hits the wall again and for a moment his vision splinters. It's crazy but he thinks he can see the guy's eyes through the blindfold, a sinister orange-red with lit coronas around dilated pupils, glowing against his skin as it darkens, features broadening until he's looking at someone else entirely and that person is seriously terrifying.
"You understand nothing!" the man bellows, eyes flickering as he pushes even further into Pence's personal space.
It's weird. He's always kinda figured if he got into a situation like this (in a totally hypothetical way during one of those train wreck movies), his life would flash before his eyes like one of those cheesy montages Olette swoons over, where everything you never got to appreciate about your life comes back to taunt you before you take the Big Plunge. He's almost disappointed when it doesn't happen, not one measly epiphany popping in to say hi as he waits for the blow he knows is coming. Mostly he just wishes he'd punched Seifer for being a jerk this morning when he'd had the chance.
Salvation comes from out of nowhere, a deep, cultured voice echoing unexpectedly across the chamber like the crack of thunder before a storm. "Riku! Control yourself!" the voice roars, then softens slightly as a figure makes its way towards them. "My readings are off the charts. You're upsetting Sora."
The change is instantaneous. The horrifying man with the glowing eyes seems to flicker out of existence, melting into Riku's smaller form until there's nothing left but his normal, creepily blindfolded appearance. Pence doesn't even have time to kick himself for thinking of anything about these people as normal or even catch his balance before Riku's halfway across the room, pressing a hand against the glass and throwing Sora a look like he'd climb inside and cuddle the kid if he could, which is kind of creepy. Pence figures he'd dwell on that more if he wasn't tipping forward now that Riku's not oh-so-considerately holding him up by his lapels.
He falls heavily to his knees with a grunt, looking up in time to go into shock all over again. There's a third figure in the room now, standing tall and proud by Naminé, throwing occasional glances over its -- his? -- shoulder at Riku. The new man fits right in with the rest of the freak show, an intimidating figure in red and black robes that billow around him, strange symbols etched over his chest. His face is covered, bands of red fabric wrapped mummy-like around his entire head, and Pence wonders if he's deformed somehow or just really, really shy before he notices the eyes -- bright, yellow and narrowed with contemplative malice as he looks Pence over, mouth turning up in a toothy, not so friendly grin.
What is wrong with these people?
"Now, now, children," the man says, voice lilting charmingly beneath his twisted exterior. "I'm sure we can all find a way to get along if we but try."
He's the picture of reason nobody's buying, but what's really painful is that he's not even what shocked Pence in the first place, he's just the bonus round. No, what actually sent chills up Pence's spine is behind the glass Riku's half-pressed against, eyes moving restively beneath closed lids. Sora-the-religious-figure is moving, fingers curling in his sleep, turning slightly towards the sound of Riku's voice as he croons incoherent comfort at the figure behind the glass. For a moment Pence almost swears he can see a sliver of intense blue beneath fluttering lashes tracking the movement beyond the glass, his heart seizing up when those eyes fall on him.
Then it's gone and he laughs nervously, reminds himself that his last biology teacher taught half a unit on states of consciousness and said that comatose patients respond to stimuli without ever being aware of them. It doesn't help when the noise calls the attention of three very freaktastic people, Naminé creeping closer to the tank with a look of wonder as Riku speaks, voice low and tightly controlled, forehead pressed to the glass.
"He almost woke Sora."
There's a thousand flavors of condemnation in the statement, Riku frowning as Naminé sidles up beside him to peer up at Sora through the frame of his fingers on the glass, head tipping this way and that.
"Ah yes, our young friend," the masked man says, "Pence, is it?" He doesn't wait for an answer or the inevitable questions that raises, smile widening into something Pence can't quite decipher before he half bows in Pence's general direction. "You must be very resourceful to 'accidentally' find your way down here."
Riku snorts. Naminé smiles at Pence encouragingly before she goes back to contemplating the figure in the tank. Sora is silent, stilled with the end of the shouting and Riku's "ministrations," whatever they were worth.
The masked man turns to look at them. "He would make a fine companion for our subject, don't you think?"
Pence jerks to attention. "Whoa, whoa, whoa," he manages, backing away as the man's jaundiced gaze swings back to him again, the figure advancing to look him over, walking around him as if to take him in from all angles. "Companion for--?" He gulps, eyes straying to the boy in the tank and that is not how he wants to spend the rest of his summer vacation, thanks much.
"We're not putting him in there to play," Riku snaps, and maybe that's a good sign, because Pence is pretty sure Riku's never used that tone to describe his buddy the sleeping kid.
The red man isn't listening, still studying Pence with a gaze that's way too intense for his liking, waving a hand at Riku without bothering to look his way. "Riku, I believe I gave you an assignment."
"I told you," Riku growls. "There are complications."
The man freezes at that, a dangerous stillness that gives way to a pregnant pause. "They had better become uncomplicated," he says, voice all calm reasonableness, "Or Sora will never be restored." He throws the boy by the tank a cynical glance, hammering his point home. "Unless you don't want him to awaken...?"
Riku looks like someone's just accused him of treason, or blasphemy, or eating the last sea salt ice cream bar -- pretty much the worst thing ever. "I would never--!"
"Then you had better settle things, hadn't you?" the red man says blandly.
Riku looks like he might actually attack, a gloved hand fisting against the glass, shaking with rage before he shakes himself, seems to shove it down with a last, lingering glance at Sora. "I'll be back soon," he murmurs to the sleeping boy, remaining a moment more before he straightens, sweeping off the platform with his cloak billowing behind him purposefully. He holds up his hand and--
Pence isn't really sure what, but it involves a vaguely door-shaped hole opening in the wall, all black and swirly as Riku steps forward and lets it kinda swallow him whole.
"Are you sure you want him to go?" Naminé asks, stepping up beside the red man as he goes, flipping through the pages of a notebook Pence can't remember her reaching for in the first place. "You know what he'll become. Sora wouldn't approve."
Pence thinks of the wild eyed man who'd transposed himself over Riku's form back there and shudders, understanding better than they probably realize how that would be very, very bad.
"He wouldn't dare," the man says, voice almost choking with rage on the last word before he stalks towards the door, pausing to get in a parting shot over his shoulder. "I think you've been spending too much time sifting through Sora's memories, Naminé. You've forgotten that not everyone is so unconditionally self-sacrificing."
She watches him go, hands slipping against the fabric of her shift. "Perhaps I have."
She turns to Pence, eyes impossibly wide and impossibly blue, frighteningly emotionless as she studies him. She looks so small and harmless, doe-eyed and innocent, it's impossible to believe she could actually hurt him but there it is, remembering the resentful line of Riku's back as the boy stalked from the room like he had no other choice but to do as these strange people said. He has a moment to be frightened before she picks up her pencil, and the world slips away.
When he wakes, he's teetering over on the ratty couch in the usual spot, blinking muzzily at the flurry of movement almost on top of him as his friends play keep away with Olette's ice cream bar. He scratches at his head, fingers slipping beneath his headband, surprised to find his forehead beaded with sweat like he'd been working out, or really worried or something.
"Hey man, you don't look so good."
A hand waves in front of his face. Pence's eyes cross trying to follow stubby fingers wrapped with black and white tape, throwing Roxas a confused look as the blonde's brow furrows worriedly. He thinks for a moment that his friend looks wrong, that his spiky hair ought to be darker, but that's stupid, isn't it? Roxas is Roxas, and he's always been just the way he is.
"Weird dream," Pence says, automatically and that actually makes Roxas' face scrunch up more. "I'll be fine in a minute."
Hayner and Olette aren't playing anymore, inching closer behind Roxas and they're giving him this look, all shifty like they can't quite bring themselves to tell him he's stepped in something rancid.
He blinks. "What?"
"You... kinda weren't sleeping," Olette says, ice cream forgotten as she exchanges worried glances with the other boys. "Just zoning out. And dripping." She nods at the ice cream he hasn't even realized he's holding, dripping sap-like liquid all over his shoe.
He winces, lets Roxas take the offending sweet and toss it in the trash. "Daydream, maybe?"
They do that glance thing again before Roxas sighs, sitting down next to him, half-hanging over the lip of the couch as his friend throws him that puppy dog soulful look that's melted Pence into a squishy ball of goo since the third grade, the kind of über cuteness that's just all wrong because it makes him say yes to just about anything Roxas wants.
"Pence," he says, "I know you're bummed about the way things went down yesterday, but Seifer's a jerk. He's just talking trash to get a reaction out of the nearest target, it doesn't mean anything's wrong with you. You can't let him get to you like this."
"Huh?" he says, which is very intelligent and he blames it on Roxas, close enough that he can make out the subtle shifting of the intense blue in his friend's irises. "Yesterday I--" His brows draw together. "Did I go to that creepy old mansion on the edge of town?"
Olette actually coos at him, patting him on the shoulder and stuffing her reclaimed ice cream into his hand like that'll make it all better -- whatever 'it' is. Roxas is staring at Hayner, unblinking like they're having a conversation entirely in silence, and whatever's going on Hayner's had enough of letting them deal with it the gentle way, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest as Roxas' expression devolves into a scowl.
"You didn't go to the mansion, Pence," Hayner warbles, almost laughing at the absurdity of the thought and Pence wants to bristle at that, like his friend's calling him a coward but Hayner's already waving a hand in dismissal. "You're not stupid enough to take a dare that insane. You'd probably fall through the old floorboards or something if you tried and then where would you be?" He flicks Pence's forehead with a forefinger. "Dummy. You think we'd let you go in there and get yourself killed like that?"
He wants to protest, but they all look so earnest, Hayner in that you-are-only-allowed-to-waste-my-time-be
He can't help but laugh as his friend pokes him in the side. "You were zoning again, man. Stop it. You're creeping me out."
He slaps Roxas' hands away, sighing overdramatically when he can breathe again, brandishing the ice cream bar threateningly at Olette when she looks like she's about to take her shot, ready to smush it against her face if he has to. Dirty tactics, but it gets her to smile as he makes it dance close enough to frost her nose.
"Alright, alright," he says, biting a chunk off his snack-cum-weapon to prove he's okay and they can stop staring. "You're right. I must've just been zoning for too long."
It's the right thing to say, Roxas grinning at Hayner as if to say I-told-you-so-punk, wide enough to light up the room. Olette giggles and pulls out her purse, hefting the embroidered sack in her hand for a moment until Hayner nods, her cue to haul it out the entryway, probably on her way to get more ice cream now that they're down a bar. It's all about the evenness, what one of them has the others share and he's lucky, Pence knows, to have such loyal friends.
He wonders, as Roxas gleefully presses a handful of darts in his hand, shoving him towards the board Hayner's helpfully pinned a large photo of that jerk face Seifer to, why the thought makes him feel so funny today.