Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts 2.
Axel swears allegiance to nobody.
It's a neat trick, since, after all, they were all nobodies, but Axel has never trusted the Superior any further than he can throw him, and he places similar faith in the rest of his colleagues. He pays lip service with a smile and a snarl, fingers flying like birds whenever he talks, and perhaps if one had bothered to decode their meaning they might have learnt more about Axel than they ever thought they would.
Axel knows a lot about that. When he isn't talking but just watching, listening, learning, well, he sees a lot of things the others don't appear to notice. And it's easier to see things that way, really see the cracks and the flaws in the system, how easily it can fall under the slightest pressure. He can laugh at the false bravado and the web-thin lines that bind all of them together, near intangible and easily broken. The Order will fall, sooner or later, slowly and imperceptibly, but it will still fall.
He isn't sure if he'll have a hand in it, but he thinks he wouldn't be terribly surprised if he did.
He's no traitor, if he can even be called that in the first place, since he never really believed in the Superior's ideals about the darkness being perfect, and how can you be a traitor to a cause you never professed to have followed? He isn't one of those goody-two-shoes either, can't be, not with that devil smile and the shocker of red hair and the blue tear tattoos under his eyes that he couldn't remove and wouldn't have if he could do it anyway. He's always contrary like that.
Maybe that's why he likes contrary boys, boys like Demyx and boys like Roxas, boys who don't fit into the mold of the Order. It's easy to make Demyx laugh and easier to make him blush red and yell furiously at him, easy to steal a kiss or two here and there and claim that it's all jokes, nothing else, nothing serious. Besides, it's hard to be anything more than joking when Saix looks at them all the time, tawny yellow eyes like wine burning in his scarred face.
With Roxas it's easier to escape Saix's gaze, but it's also harder, much harder doing other things with him. Axel's never seen a kid so...cheerless before, cupid-bow mouth set in a tight, sullen line, eyes darting everywhere except at the faces of the people who called themselves his colleagues and his elders.
When he first meets him, Roxas' expression is flat and disinterested, unimpressed that he's at the center of the attention in the painfully formal white room. And it stays that way, through and after the long and lengthy introductions were over and all but two had filed out of the room in their own ways, and Demyx is dragging him down to meet the "new kid" and extends his own personal welcome, a water clone conjured to take Roxas' hand.
Axel remembers that Roxas doesn't smile, instead simply looking up at them with the same aloof, almost lofty expression in his youthful face before hopping off the white pedestal and taking his own exit.
It's funny, really, cruelly funny, how Demyx crumpled a little then, the water clone collapsing more spectacularly into a puddle of water. And perhaps Axel should have felt a little more guilty, leaving his junior behind to stare at the pool and struggle to put himself together again and smile once more, but he only had eyes for the interesting new boy who wouldn't smile.
Or scowl, or look upset. Or look like he was feeling anything at all.
Roxas isn't like Zexion, Axel thinks. Zexion feels like the undercurrent of a river, on the surface it's mirror-smooth, deceptively so, but underneath it's boiling and churning and if you're not careful and you break that surface he'll pull you down quietly and drown you like it's a nobody's business.
Which it was.
There are a lot of 'don't's to being a Nobody. Nobodies don't have hearts. Nobodies don't have feelings. Nobodies don't care about things. Nobodies don't have happy endings. Nobodies don't have many, many things.
But Axel never bought the shit about how Nobodies don't have no hearts and therefore no emotions, and all the neophytes were doing were just simulations of "feelings", because obviously he was a nobody and he had enough anger in him to keep the fire burning and scorching his skin and that was no simulation. He laughs that they have to lie to themselves, and tell others to lie to themselves because they didn't want to retain any scrap of their humanity, and the irony makes him double up because aren't they the ones searching for their hearts?
Cowards. Cowards. If they were truly heartless like the Superior they wouldn't even bother to care about whether the rest of the Order had feelings or not. If they were truly heartless, well, Axel suspects that the Order wouldn't have even been formed.
You need to care about something if you had a goal, and if you could care then you have a heart. That's how Axel's logic works. If you didn't care, well, that's what a true nobody is.
And Roxas moves and breathes and lives like one, like he really has no heart, no feelings, no anything. And somehow, it bothers Axel, tears his attention away from Demyx, and he finds himself dogging after the smaller boy, talking to him, dragging him into the games the neophytes play, trying to figure out what made Roxas tick. Eventually, even Roxas had to notice the extra attention being paid to him, blonde messy hair being molested by gloved hands, green eyes dancing below a brilliantly white upside down grin, the occasional arms being wrapped around his shoulders as Axel literally leaned into the smaller boy, bony chin (usually but not always) resting on the blonde mop. Sometimes he leans back, much to Axel's delight, tight tense frame relaxing just a tiny fraction into his heat.
Somehow along the way Roxas had already begun recipocating, in his own terribly, terribly subtle way, so subtle Axel actually hadn't expected it when it happened, the touch of a gloved hand on his face, lightly tracing the blue tear tattoos under his eyes. He remembers freezing, just feeling the butterfly graze of Roxas touching him, as though if he moved he'll break some strange spell woven over the two of them.
And then Demyx banged in in his usual boistrous way and the moment was gone. Axel thinks he should have strangled the other man there and then, if Roxas hadn't backed away and if Axel hadn't seen the slightest tinge of pale pink on the youngest's cheeks, so damn noticeable on such fair skin.
Roxas still won't smile though. It's as though he's forgotten how to, forgotten everything.
And Axel doesn't know how he can make Roxas remember.
It feels alien to him, the knowledge that he wants something, because he hasn't wanted anything for nine years, nine years, not even his own heart, and that ambivalence is what had kept him from following the Order like a pet dog, jumping to the Superior's every single whim and fancy. Sure, he's still in the Order, but that was mostly because in (reluctant) gratitude to the powers that brought him back to this sickening half-life, and hell, he doesn't know what a dead man should do after he's brought back to life anyway.
However, if there's one thing he knows, it's that dead men aren't supposed to fall in love with other dead men. Or dead boys.
But to tell the truth, he doesn't care. Not when he gets to worm under Roxas' skin, slowly but surely, searching for the heart hidden in the nobody, looking for the smile.
Sometimes he's tempted to drag Roxas to a mirror and dig fingers into the corners of Roxas' mouth, pull the pale lips up, and hold them there in a grotesque parody of a smile, and then they'll grin at their reflections, except that both their smiles are just as fake as their lives. The idea fizzles at that point and Axel's both glad and annoyed, because really it's a good idea to get Roxas to smile, if he could be sure that Roxas had a sense of humour.
And bad parody or not, fake or not, forced or not, it's still a smile that's on Roxas' face instead of his own.
Axel wonders if he can kiss Roxas and get away with it.
He hasn't tried, not because he's scared that Roxas'll deck him if he did, but because he isn't sure how Roxas will react. He can't read Roxas, not like how he can read the others, no matter how closely he watches Roxas interact (or, to be more precise, not interact) with the rest of the Order, he can't tell if Roxas would be furious one moment (not that he ever was) or apathetic (which he was all the damn time) the next.
Above everything, he doesn't want to destroy the scant beginnings of a relationship he has begun building with the other Nobody. One kiss isn't worth all of that.
So Axel settles for tight, meaningful hugs and careless hair ruffling, heads in laps and fingers on lips, and he helps fill up Roxas' daily, unused quota of laughter and words with his own. Demyx sometimes joins in, playing on his sitar and they watch him dance and get wet and they forget, numbers eight and nine laughing while thirteen looks on and maybe he smiles.
Axel doesn't dream of a future, he doesn't dare to. He leaves the castle-building to Demyx, who sings of distant lands and skies and seas and stories of made-up people with hearts to anyone who would listen like a true bard, and Axel can see that Demyx truly believes with the simple faith of a child. It's funny, how Roxas is like the man and Demyx the boy, and Axel isn't sure where he fits in this equation anymore, though he doesn't care to think on it for long and wraps the two in his arms, Demyx's breatheless laughter mixing with Roxas' silence.
They don't belong here, they're not children of darkness, and while they're not children of light either, Axel is fire and Roxas is light, and Demyx reflects them both because he's water and surely all of that has to count for something, even if they didn't have hearts. It wasn't even their fault in the first place to become Nobodies, it's just the luck of the draw and they collectively got the short end of the stick. Axel privately thinks it might be even shorter than short because they keep getting derision, and flak, and veritable shit from the Elders.
So they're nobodies in a group of nobodies, they're stalemates, but Axel doesn't care that they will be the ones who'll drag the Order down with their incompetence and their fake feelings and their lack of seriousness towards finding their own hearts and don't blame the Order if we finally found the key and we won't give you back your hearts because you did nothing.
But Axel knows something they don't.
Axel knows that Roxas isn't a nobody, Roxas has a heart somewhere, hidden underneath the unhappy mouth and the cornflower blue eyes and the sun-bright hair, and Axel be damned if he can't find that heart and give it back to Roxas, and maybe in the process he'll find his own as well, in a different way from how the Order searches for their lost hearts, and together they'll tell Demyx their secret so Demyx didn't need to search too, and maybe, just maybe, Axel thinks, maybe they'll get their happy ending after all.