By that point I figured out there really was no point in lying to myself. I liked him. Plain and simple. I liked him a little too much and things were starting to feel a little too much, but I didn't know how to put on the brakes or what I really wanted from all of this.

I thought I should have tried to figure it out myself, if only because letting other people meddle with my affairs usually got messy.

The real problem was that I had no idea where to even start.

I'm not sure what time Axel left, but the next time I woke up he was gone and I was shivering all over again even under the throw blanket and his hoodie. Everything was off-kilter and I was too disoriented to even process much beyond my base response of "it's too cold." A series of forceful sneezes punctuated the silence and the pressure in my head shifted enough I collapsed face-down on my mattress again.

"Roxas?" Sora's voice was somewhere in my room which was weird since he should have been at work or at school. It was getting harder and harder to pin him down without booking in advance. There was a slight rustle and the bed dipped again. "Hey dude. Are you feeling any better?"

"" My voice sounded awful to my own ears and trying to use it sent a wave of agony up my throat. It was a huge mistake but it gave Sora the chance to slip his hand beneath the hood of my sweater and up against my forehead again.

"Axel didn't make you take anything for your fever, did he." He sounded pretty annoyed even as his hand moved from my forehead down to my cheeks, jaw and neck, checking for swelling and heat. This probably would have been weird if it weren't someone I'd grown up with my entire life, and also if Sora wasn't planning on becoming a doctor and already had a few basics under his belt. If it made him feel better to play pretend and let him think he knew what he was doing, fine, whatever.

"Aren't you supposed to be at work? Or somewhere else?"

"Traded shifts with Riku, brought my donation drive posters home and I can do my homework wherever. I was worried about you." He finally removed his hand and got up from the bed. "Can you sit up? Sleeping in your jeans probably isn't that comfortable."

I know I called Axel a mother hen, but Sora's maybe a little worse than that. He has a tendency to nag and needle and pry if I'm not feeling well or if he thinks I'm too depressed or whatever. I gave up on trying to stop him years ago. Besides...I can't say I don't appreciate it, and it was sort of nice to hear he ditched everything to come home and check in. I wasn't answering his question though and he sighed to himself.

Sometimes I just let things happen around me. If I don't move at all, everyone just proceeds as though I'm not there and life moves on. In this case, I didn't move and Sora headed for my dresser, grabbing a pair of pajama pants and dumping them on my head before he started moving around the room. The aspirin was still on the bedside table and the water was untouched. Axel...tried...but Sora was right. He didn't really make me do anything except sleep.

"Seriously, please change. I'll be right back." And the whirlwind known as Sora walked out the door and down the hall to the bathroom we shared. It took effort but I figured out how to kick myself out of my jeans and into the pajama pants without actually getting up and I was a little too proud of that feat. By the time Sora came back I was more awake and less mobile. He had a bottle of orange juice in his hand and two blankets draped over his shoulders along with what looked like actual cold medicine. There was a thermometer tucked between his fingers, too, as he approached me and automatically spread the blankets over my bed.

"This is the drowsy stuff. Sorry." One hand was busy popping open the blister pack of pills and one was shoving a thermometer in my mouth while he wasn't even looking. In a way, I guess becoming a doctor made sense for him since it meant he could multitask all he wanted. Judging by his expression seconds later when he read the display, my fever wasn't doing that great. I was hoping he didn't expect a huge response or anything because all I could do for the most part was watch in a daze as he coaxed me through swallowing pills and burying me in my covers. "I texted your mom, she'll be home as early as she can. Do you need anything?"

"...besides the sweet embrace of death?" It got him to laugh a little at least, worry lines easing up.

"Good to know you're not actually dead in there." He settled back on my bed again, hauling his gigantic backpack up into his lap to start digging through it. "Go back to sleep. I think you probably got hit with that flu that's starting to go around."

"Doesn't that mean you're going to get it, too?"

"If I was going to get sick, I would have already gotten sick." He made a good point. Our house isn't exactly the best quarantine zone, especially considering we know, everything. He found what he was looking for (his calculus book from the looks of it) and gave me a slight smile instead. "I hate to say it, but you're stuck with me."

I tried to say "I'll be fine", but I inhaled a little too much and sent myself straight into a coughing fit, doing absolutely nothing to prove the point that I could handle myself. He wordlessly leaned over to hand me the lukewarm glass of water and waited until I could breathe again. "...there are worse people to be stuck with, I guess."

It wasn't really doing that much damage anyway. Sora could make himself feel better by standing guard and I could have someone making sure I didn't choke on my own mucus in my sleep. It was sort of a win-win situation for both of us.

Sora didn't move much through the course of the afternoon. Not that I was really conscious for most of it, but for the parts I drifted in and out of sleep I remembered him working while seated on my bed before moving to my floor as he created posters to advertise for the school's canned goods drive over the next couple of weeks. At one point I blearily stared down to watch him rotate in a circle, reading a few pages of each of his textbooks and working on admissions stuff for TU before finishing a line on a poster and starting over. I still had my own reservations about how much Sora was taking on, but he wouldn't listen even if I said so, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. At another point he must have gotten bored because the TV was on and he was watching the Disney Channel at a low volume. Judging by the fact he was singing along to the theme song under his breath, it was the Kim Possible Power Hour.

It was dark the next time I bothered waking up for longer than thirty seconds and my mom and Sora were speaking in hushed whispers. I heard talks of a one-hundred and two degree fever and no school the next day and "Sora you're going to get sick" and a bright little laugh even as Sora finally cleared out of my room. I wasn't awake enough to say anything to my mom but it was the third time that day someone felt my forehead even as she fluffed my bangs a little with her fingers so they weren't matted to my face. I might have imagined her asking me if I wanted to take off my hoodie for something warmer, but ignoring her was a better plan.

And that's how things went for a few days. Waking up periodically in a feverish daze and too tired to do much but lay in my room and sleep. Every now and then I checked texts on my phone and it was the only way I knew what day of the week it was.

On Tuesday, the day I'd gone home sick, Kairi texted me three times a couple of hours apart.

feel better babe :(

hey is everything ok? axel never came back to school after he went to drop you off

i'm going to come over after school tomorrow with your homework and to see your face

Tuesday night, Axel texted me a few times back to back.

you're probably asleep and if you're not go back to sleep

or text me back? that'd be cool too

nope, definitely asleep. probably still in my sweater, aren't you. keep it, it looks better on you anyway

I slept through most of Wednesday, too, waking up to sip some water, suck down some pills and roll away from the window. Kairi came over that afternoon as promised but I was still asleep when she showed up. At one point I opened my eyes and found her and Sora on my bedroom floor making more posters. Kairi's art skills are a lot better than his so I couldn't say I was too surprised. I could hear them talking to each other in low whispers and I briefly wondered where Riku was and how Sora was able to be home after school two days in a row. But there he was side by side with my best friend, heads ducked together as she drew an outline that he designed.

I'm not sure why, but I slept a little easier with both of them there.

Wednesday was another slew of texts I squinted at somewhere around 2am.

Demyx texted a picture of him and Sora pouting at the camera with "miss ya buddy!" attached which was nice and somehow very Demyx-ish. There was another stack of texts from Kairi, too.

mornings aren't the same without you. hope you're feeling better today xoxo

selphie sends her love and "super duper well wishes" too

he keeps looking for you. it's pretty cute

i'm still coming over! i'm bringing soup too because knowing you you haven't eaten yet

i didn't want to wake you but i couldn't stay very long...sora has your soup and your homework's on your desk. i'll come back tomorrow, promise

There was only one text from Axel though.

there are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.

I didn't even want to try to puzzle that out.

Thursday was a little better. I was still pretty immobile because every time I tried to get up longer than five minutes I ended up nearly blacking out, but I was also starting to get bored being on strict bed rest. I figured there was some kind of progress though since I was awake for longer chunks of time. I managed to text Kairi back to assure her I wasn't actually dead and at some point Sora came home during lunch to microwave some of Kairi's soup for me and bring it upstairs.

"Looks like your fever's finally going down." It was so casual and conversational I almost found it funny. Sora sat at my desk and had an energy drink in his hand as he flipped through some notes on his phone. I was sitting upright and holding a bowl of soup so I guess he decided to ease up a little.

"Good. This sucks." It was hard to breathe and the pressure in my sinuses made my head throb steadily. "How long is this supposed to last anyway?"

"A week's about average, but you've been sleeping so much you might be able to come back to school Monday. Kairi's gonna come over to help you catch up with everything from third period and your math class. I can get you updated on chem when I get home. You're kind of on your own for your art and English classes though."

"I'll ask Axel. He's probably paying attention for once now that I'm not there." I was too busy sipping my soup to catch the first half of Sora's reaction, but the second half meant seeing him staring at me with an unreadable expression, can halfway to his lips as he hummed in thought.

"So you guys are finally getting along, I see." It was an understatement and we both knew it. "About time."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that, again, I was right and Axel's pretty harmless once you get past how annoying he can be sometimes."

"You say that like there's anyone in our group that isn't a little annoying every now and then."

"True." There was a slight smirk as he downed the rest of his drink and put his phone back in his pocket. Class started in fifteen minutes, which meant he had to get going soon. "You've been hanging out with him too haven't you? That's where you were on Halloween."

It was supposed to be a statement, but the way Sora said it made it sound like a question. I took my time in answering, letting soup coat my throat and ease the swelling a little. "Yeah. I don't know, he usually knows about some cool things to do and I get invited along. No big deal."

He gave me another look, allowing himself to glance at Axel's hoodie that I was still wearing days later. Even though I could tell he was trying to work something out, I don't think he knew exactly what to think about that statement and Sora being Sora knew how to pick his own battles. I'd already won in this case; he wasn't going to try and pick apart what I was saying when he didn't have any proof.

"At least you're making some new friends." He settled on that and grinned, getting up from my desk chair and taking the empty soup bowl from my hands. "Need anything before I head back? Kairi's going to come by after school but I have to stay for a bit to work on a few articles for the paper."

On top of everything else, Sora was also the editor of our school paper. I'm pretty sure he's not even sure how he got the job, but he's taken it in stride. Waving him off I crawled back under my blankets and grabbed my remote for the TV.

"I'm good. Thanks though."

"Okay. DayQuil's on the nightstand if you need it again, and maybe try to consider doing some of your homework before Kairi gets here? You know she's just going to make you focus on catching up." I couldn't help but roll my eyes and throw a small pillow at him.

"Go back to school, Sora. I'll see you later." The pillow sailed across the room and landed in my lap as Sora scooped up his binder and calculus book from my desk.

"Text me if you need me!" And just like that he was gone.

I only had a few hours between lunch and when school let out and it gave me enough time to work my way through some of my homework, mostly graphic design. I had sketches that were due next week and even though I kept having to stop to blow my nose I made some sort of progress by the time I heard the front door open and delicate footsteps thunder up the stairs. They stopped just outside of my bedroom door and lingered in the hall, and I couldn't help but laugh under my breath.

"I'm awake, it's okay." Kairi pushed the door open and left it cracked halfway, immediately striding across the room to throw herself onto my bed. I know I've said before that I'm not the kind of guy to wax poetry, but if I were I'd liken it to a breath of fresh air that blew away the smog of yesteryear, a bright new dawning and something something something.

I was just glad to see her.

"You must be feeling better." She seemed chipper and she smiled at me, picking up one of the drawings I was working on.

"A little, yeah. I think I'm still staying home tomorrow but I don't want to fall too far behind." There was a sympathetic click of her tongue as she looked at her schoolbag she'd abandoned on the floor. It was almost as if homework had betrayed her and she kicked it over with her foot, turning back to face me and ignore the books for a while.

"I'll be here for a little while. I traded shifts with Axel so I could come here and see you and get you caught up on everything."

It hadn't even been five minutes and she was already bringing him up. It was both impressive and depressing all at once but I also found myself wanting to ask anyway.

"And he was just okay with that?"

"Yeah." She cut me a glance as she reached inside my blanket nest, unearthing my phone and holding it between two fingers. "Will you do me a favor and text him back already? He's starting to get a little needy."

The idea of Axel being needy wasn't one I'd ever considered, and it almost sounded fake even as I took the phone from her. "He's been asking about me?"

"Obviously." She made herself comfortable and side-stepped the used tissues littering my bed. "He keeps asking me if I've heard from you and how you're doing since you aren't talking to him. I think he's still worried? You were not looking great when you left."

It was a sweet thought, I'd admit that much, but I also was perfectly happy to ignore the skeptical look Kairi was throwing me as I reached for my phone to check my messages.

"Have you been sleeping in his sweater since Tuesday?"

"Uh. Sort of. I've been pretty out of it since then and also it's kind of mine now. I think he gave it to me."

There was a handful of texts from Axel that had come in that morning. Most of them were idle conversation and updates about class and how boring the day was and how terrible Mr. Teitzel's class was without me. Some of them were pictures of things including the beginnings of a painting he was working on (and that looked like streaks of colors to me and nothing else.) And the last one…

kinda weird that i miss you, huh? don't make me come over there

I quickly shut my phone once I realized Kairi was reading over my shoulder, going as far as to bury it into my pillows. I still had no idea how to handle the very purposeful flirting. There was no denying that's what it was this time. For both of us. We were both flirting with each other and I knew there was some kind of tension we weren't ready to cut into yet, but it was a step in the right direction. At least I hoped so.

"I'll text him later."

"What's going on with you guys?" It was the question she really wanted to ask, but even as she did so she was grabbing her law book to start laying out my assignments I needed to get caught up on. It was an out if I wanted it.

"...I have no idea." I pushed myself to sit up and lean against my headboard, grabbing a stack of notecards to start writing things down. "I think we're still sort of feeling each other out."

"Wouldn't it just be easier if you felt each other up?"

"Kairi!" The worst part was that I could feel half of my brain agreeing with her and I had to shake off the idea before it made itself comfortable. "That's. Come on."

"I don't know if you've noticed, Roxas, but it's starting to get a little obvious if people know what they're looking for." Her tone was still light and friendly but her expression was serious as she tabbed through pages. "Nobody's said anything yet, but it's starting to look a little…"

She didn't have to finish her sentence for me to know what she was getting at. It was starting to look a little suspicious behaving the way I was around Axel when I've been presenting as straight for as long as possible. I knew she was looking out for me and trying to warn me, but I still felt myself bristle a little at the topic. I wasn't ready to be out yet, but why did I have to be? Why couldn't I just figure this out with Axel and then go from there? The two things shouldn't have been mutually exclusive, but Kairi had a point. With our friends it would have been and the thought was just enough to shut my ideas down completely.

"...I don't think I'm ready for that." There was that sympathetic smile again the moment I said it.

"I know, babe. And that's okay. You know that, right? It's okay if you want to wait, but if that's the case you really need to think about what you're doing and what you're going to do with Axel." It was the reality check I didn't ask for but the one I sorely needed. Everything with Axel was going full speed ahead even if I didn't know what we were doing or what he thought this was, but it also meant coming to terms with the fact that people would start asking questions if we weren't careful.

"What'd I miss in class so far?" I knew I was avoiding the subject, but I didn't want to think about it right then and there. I wouldn't have to see Axel in person until at least Monday, and even if I knew it was useless I could stall for a while. Kairi, thankfully, had enough sense to drop the subject and showed me the pages she had flagged in her own book.

"We've got a lot to go over."

Kairi stayed at my house for several hours but somehow we only talked about school and homework and watched a rerun of Supernatural to prepare for the following week's episode. She stayed for dinner and I felt more awake and alive than I had in days. The problem with that was the crushing sense of responsibility and consciousness I didn't actually want to deal with at that moment. Even while we were keeping ourselves busy and even after Sora and Riku joined us that night my thoughts kept drifting like swiftly tilting planets, circling around me but never quite touching anything.

Kairi went home at about 11pm and Sora and Riku absconded to his room for a while. It was still technically a school night and we're usually not allowed to have overnight guests during the week, but I had a feeling Riku was going to keep Sora occupied for several hours.

Fine by me. Kairi left and I found that I could finally stand up for a while and hauled myself into the bathroom for a shower. The steam at least helped unclog my nose a little and while it was disgusting I felt a lot better after that. It also meant that my thoughts were sharper and more clear now, fixated on the Axel thing and the fact that I still hadn't texted him back.

The truth was that I didn't know what to say next. I didn't know how to flirt back in a way to say I was interested but not too interested, that I liked him but I wasn't sure how to handle dating yet. Thinking about it, it was maybe the stupidest problem in the world but when your options for opinions are limited you get stuck in a vicious cycle of thought.

I'd finished a lot of my homework by then, so for a while I sat up watching late-night cartoons on Cartoon Network and Disney. Keeping the TV on I found that sitting up was still treating me okay and I chanced the move from my bed to my desk.

I hadn't checked my email in a few days but it wasn't like I got a lot on a good day anyway. Mostly a few stray Myspace comments or forwards from my friends. The internet was a weird, quiet place this late at night and signing into my instant messenger proved the same thing. Mostly everyone on my friends list was either signed out or had an away message. Kairi wasn't signed in, Sora's away message consisted of a heart (his usual when he was with Riku), and Selphie wasn't signed in either. Demyx's away message was actually a string of lyrics from one of our songs which I found kind of funny, and I didn't let myself linger on the idea of asking Axel for his next time I saw him. I was supposed to be doing something else, not thinking about how to talk to him.

As my thoughts continued to shift and I stared blankly at my screen, something floated to the front of my mind. My options for opinions were maybe low, but as I came back to myself I remembered something I'd been trying to figure out for the last week. There was someone who was important that I hadn't seen for weeks. Someone who usually stuck to the background because his own schedule was erratic. Someone I could rely on anyway even if I rarely saw him these days, and it was someone I knew would be signed in this late at night even if he was set to invisible. Double-clicking on the screen name CoinOperatedBoy, I sent a message seeing if I would get an answer.

Hey, you there?

I didn't even minimize the window before I got a reply back.

of course.

about time you said something, bonehead

I couldn't help but snort as I read the words and pulled my keyboard closer.

Well excuse me for being busy. And also dying? I've definitely been dying and this is how you treat me. Some friend.

lmao shut up

are you still dying?

Lowkey. This is the most I've been awake for the last couple of days.

you're bored as shit, aren't you?

That's not why I messaged you…

yeah, okay. I'll take you on a field trip. Cid's in ten minutes?

What? Are you kidding me?


Are you buying?

whatever. just get your stupid ass downstairs

CoinOperatedBoy is away at 3:23:16 am.

Wait a minute!

Auto response from CoinOperatedBoy: bros before hoes

I knew Dr. Tanaka would bar me from leaving the house, but if he was busy being wrapped up in his boyfriend he couldn't exactly stop me. Without a second thought I grabbed my phone and my keys, slipping back into Axel's hoodie and heading downstairs.

His beat-up piece of shit car was sitting in front of my house by the time I locked up and he leaned over to open the door for me. I didn't bother looking to make sure Sora wasn't watching through the window or something before I ducked into the passenger seat.

"I can't believe you want to eat this late." The window was rolled down on his side and he barely looked at me, cigarette rolled between his lips as he gave me the most languid shrug.

"And I can't believe you aren't used to this by now."

"Are you drunk?"

"Not right now."

This is Hayner.

Once upon a time I didn't have Kairi as a best friend and I lived in Twilight Town. When I was in preschool, I met a boy who had a major attitude problem but decided he liked me enough to take me under his wing. Hayner and I have been friends for a really long time and even after I moved to the islands we kept in touch with emails. I took every chance I could to see him when we visited the city, but before sophomore year Hayner had never been to the islands.

The problem with Hayner is that he's a hothead with issues, someone who needs someone else to help him control his temper and his wild ideas. Without me, he kind of became a local problem and in the end his parents decided trying to enroll him in the military was a good idea. He made it through boot camp, but afterwards managed to somehow strike a deal so he wouldn't have to enlist. If he agreed to their orders and allowed them to take him out of the city, he wouldn't have to be sent away. They were still getting what they wanted, but uprooting him seemed like the kinder option. So that's how he ended up here with us.

It's been years and he still won't tell me what he did to get in so deep in the first place. He also won't tell me how he managed to work out that deal either. But we never really talk about it. Hayner's relationship with his parents has always been a little strained but he does what he can to get by and avoid them as much as possible.

Hayner and I fell back into the same easy friendship we've always had, but the problem was that Hayner himself changed. He was what my mom would call rough around the edges and someone who needed a little TLC. I wasn't exactly the best person for that, and the adjustment period was pretty hard, but he's doing better these days.

That's what he'll tell me, at least. Some days I don't even know how to approach him anymore, but days like this one meant letting Hayner call the shots and going along for the ride.

The drive to Cid's diner wasn't that long and Hayner parked in an alley behind the place before snuffing out the cigarette and heading inside. Leading me to a back booth, he gave Cid a wordless wave before snagging two glasses of water and two menus for us.

"You're off the clock, aren't you?"

"Call it a habit." He settled across from me, barely glancing at the menu before pushing it aside. Hayner's been working at the diner almost full-time since the middle of last year. He says he likes that it keeps him busy, and Cid pays him under the table anyway so it's not a huge deal, but I had to wonder to myself when he ever found the time to sleep. There were prominent bags under his eyes but he was wide awake and drumming his fingers on the tabletop. One of the other waitresses came by and took our order before disappearing to the back and leaving Hayner and I uninterrupted.

"So hey. I haven't seen you since, like, August. What the fuck's up with that?" There wasn't a lot of bite in his tone but the message was pretty clear to me. 'Where have you been and what's wrong with you?'I wasn't sure why I felt a little guilty about that. It wasn't like it was only my fault.

"I know. Things have been busy." The answer sounded lame to my own ears and I couldn't meet his eye when he gave me a scrutinizing look. Hayner's always been a better bullshitter than I am. I don't know why I thought I'd try.

"Busy huh? Too busy for me?"

"You're the one who didn't come to my birthday party." The answer sent him into silence and I looked up again. He almost looked apologetic, but mostly it was barely restrained frustration. He's worn that look a lot in recent years.

"I tried. Olette told me about it and we were gonna show up together but some stuff came up. Do you really think I would have agreed to wear a wolf tail for anyone else?"

At first I didn't get what he was saying, but the memory of Olette from the Halloween party resurfaced. A red hood. Waiting for someone. It suddenly made sense. Olette and Hayner have known each other for a while, too, and she always manages to somehow have his balls in a vice grip any time she looks at him. He's pretty hopeless, but maybe I wasn't one to talk anymore. He would never blow me off on purpose, and with the added addition of Olette I knew there had to be a good excuse for why he bailed. I sat back to give him another curious look.

"Absolutely not. But...what happened? Is everything okay?"

There was a bitter sort of smile and he traced his finger around the rim of his water glass. Something was up. I didn't know what to do with that sort of knowledge but before I could press again Hayner raised his other hand to lazily wave the question off.

"I'm more interested in what you've been up to that's got you so busy. I've seen more of Kairi this year than I've seen of you."



Whatever had happened was heavy. Whatever he wasn't telling me was too much for him to say right at that moment and he was begging for a distraction. If I didn't know him as well as I do, I would have missed it entirely. Our waitress came back with a cheeseburger and fries for Hayner and a plate of fruit for me. As much as I was tempted, I wasn't sure I could stomach something that greasy yet anyway. It was sort of the same way that as much as I was tempted to push Hayner again, I wasn't sure I was ready for the consequences yet.

"...senior year, man. You know how it is."

"Sure. I'm there, too." He passed some of his fries to me. "Classes, Olette tutoring me to make sure I don't fail everything and being captain of the basketball team this year's taking up a lot of time. But there's you. Aren't you the one who kind of prides himself on not doing extracurriculars?"

I couldn't say he was wrong. While most of my friends had jobs or sports or clubs, I had a skateboard and a guitar to occupy my time. Music was sort of everything to me and I spent most of my free time focusing on that and just doing whatever I wanted. Being on the yearbook staff was about as school-spirited as I got and even though Sora's tried to get me to join one of the bands and Kairi's subtly hinted I should do something else, I've never bothered.

Hayner, on the other hand, has been playing basketball for years. His goal's been to be good enough to be scouted by a college for a scholarship out of here. I don't know much about sports, but even I can tell he's good at what he does.

I was proud of him, but I was also mildly insulted.

"I've got stuff." He lifted an eyebrow but didn't verbalize what he was thinking. "No, I do. I have classes and stuff, plus I'm working on new material for this year's Battle. Writing a love song takes time."

"A love song?" Somehow everyone I've told has met me with skepticism and I had to wonder what that really said about me.

"It's this stupid bet I have going with Sora and Demyx. I have to write a successful love song before Battle of the Bands."

"Battle's in May, you've got plenty of time. And I've seen you pump out songs in thirty minutes, what're you so worried about?"

I found myself chewing on a piece of starfruit instead of replying right away. I hadn't even told Kairi what I was worried about when it came to my music. "...Sora and Demyx said I wouldn't be able to do it. I'm starting to think they're right. Love is this weird, complicated thing and I never really realized it and I'm just thinking about it and coming to find that everything I write isn't quite right."

"Little hard to write a love song when your love life's dead, isn't it?"

"...yeah, about that."

It was something that got his attention and he paused halfway between taking another bite of his burger. I almost laughed but the topic was something I had to play safe. I trusted Hayner, but I also wasn't sure how to approach the subject.

"You datin' someone?"

"Not exactly." The interest didn't waver, so I took that as a good sign. "I mean maybe? We've never said anything about it or agreed or anything but it's...a thing I'm thinking about."

"Is it really that hard to figure out?"

"I don't know. I didn't really think about the fact that it was a possibility until recently, and we haven't come to the point I think it has to come up. I wouldn't mind, I guess, but it's still so...complicated. Like I said."

He paused then, finally putting his food down and giving me a critical look. "You're doing a really good job avoiding pronouns, Rox, so why don't you just tell me who he is?"

...I promised I would be truthful in this story. There are secrets I've kept from a lot of people for a long time, but things were starting to unravel and come to light whether I wanted them to or not. And maybe it's ironic that I gave Hayner a shitty, untruthful introduction, too, considering I'd given Olette a similar one. Let's backtrack a bit.

This is Hayner. He's a boy who was one of my best friends and also a boy I found myself attracted to enough that we've made out a couple of times.

I've never told Kairi because I know she'd be furious if she knew exactly what happened. She didn't need to know about sixteen year old me and seventeen year old Hayner at my birthday party where he was drunk and I wasn't as he kissed me locked in Kairi's closet. She also didn't need to know the part where I've kissed him a few times since then where he was drunk and I wasn't and I was desperate enough to latch onto feeling something because that's what it was. It was feeling something I wasn't getting before and it was crazy-addictive.

Hayner himself can be a little crazy-addictive, but he's always told me he only kisses guys when he's drunk because everyone's fair game. I'm still not even sure I believe him, but it doesn't matter. He walked out of that situation with a nice little memory and I walked out with a sexuality crisis. No big deal.

I'd stalled too long that I couldn't even deny the statement. "Are you jealous?"

"As if." He wasn't quite looking at me which was fascinating, but I couldn't do much about that. "I'm just curious about what your type is now. Not that I get much say on what your type is because, I mean, I'm your type."

Did I mention that Hayner's never let me live down the fact we've made out? I don't ever get to mention it to him, but he likes to hold it over my head every chance he gets.

"You probably don't know him. Name's Axel, he's new this year-"

"Really tall, red hair, has a tendency to follow your guitarist around. I know who he is." He shoved another couple of fries into his mouth. "Seriously, Roxas?"


"He's so...not what I'd picture you with. And before you say it, I know enough. We have a couple of classes together. I can never tell what his motivations are."

"Does it matter if you get it?" I never really had to worry about being rude to Hayner because that's just how our friendship operates. "It's just a thing and I'd be the one dating him, so I should be the one who knows what his motivations are."

"Yeah, sure, but do you? You're the one who just said it was complicated."

"...I'm just not really sure what to do. That's all." Either he had a change of heart or I really looked pathetic because he gave me another level stare before he rolled his eyes.

"Are you seriously asking me for relationship advice? I'm so bad at that."

"I'm not asking you for relationship advice." I answered probably quicker than he expected, but I wanted to clear the air right away. "I'm asking you for advice because I've always trusted you to be honest with me and you always have something to say whether I want to hear it or not."

"Thanks a lot." But there was a slight grin. "Okay. Fine. Catch me up to speed. What've I missed in the saga known as Axel and Roxas?"

The diner was empty enough I didn't have to worry about being overheard. Cid was behind the counter reading the paper and the few waitresses still around were keeping themselves occupied. It gave me the time and space to tell Hayner everything I needed to say from the first time I met Axel to our phone conversations to our weird form of flirting to the events of last weekend and now. It felt like I'd been talking for an hour non-stop but he was patient enough and thoughtful enough to listen even as it edged closer toward 1am.

"So. I'm going to ask you something," he said once I'd finished explaining myself. "Why haven't you kissed him yet?"

"I don't know. Do you kiss everyone you flirt with?"

"Most of the time."

"'re a bad example, never mind. But fine, same question. Why haven't you kissed Olette yet?"

"This isn't about me and Olette." It should have been, frankly. Hayner's been in love with her since before Olette and I tried dating. He's never been great at taking what he dishes out, and I knew I'd hit a sore spot when he threw a fry at me. Watching it bounce off of my forehead he narrowed his eyes and folded his arms over his chest instead. The perfect picture of sulking. "Anyway you know why, so let's go back to you. Don't be a dumbass. It's pretty obvious he feels something for you. Wait, god, hold on. Are you doing that thing where you have to plan everything to a T before you actually make a move? You can't do that!"

"Why not?"

"Because it doesn't work that way, Roxas. Plans aren't always going to go the way you want them to. Look I know you're kind of a control freak but if you don't break out of your comfort zone you're going to end up in the friends zone instead."

"Friends zone…?"

"The friends zone. It's that place you go to when you like somebody but they don't see you as more than a really good friend and you get stuck in a cycle where they won't even consider dating you, period."

I was pretty sure he and Olette were in the friends zone, but I wasn't going to be the one to point it out.

"Okay. So if I don't want to be there, then…?"

"Step it up. Surprise him. Surprise yourself, shit, I don't know. But you have to expect the unexpected sometimes. That's just what growing up is." He seemed to have run out of steam for that conversation, throwing money down on the table before gesturing for me to follow. "Come on, I'll take you home. I've got class tomorrow and Sora's eventually going to notice you're gone."

He was right. It was still technically Thursday night bleeding into Friday morning and just because I was still skipping out didn't mean everybody else was. Wordlessly following him back to the car I didn't bother saying anything as he rolled down the window and lit a second cigarette.

"...what's going on with you?" I finally broached the question as we drove back to my place, determined not to let it slide. "You're being weirdly mature about stuff and more MIA than usual." His jaw was tense in the moonlight and I knew he was grateful for an excuse not to look at me. He stopped at a traffic signal halfway home, drumming his fingers on the wheel.

"They kicked me out, Roxas. So. Like I said. You have to expect the unexpected sometimes and surprise yourself."

"Wait they...what? When? Why?"

"About a week ago? Maybe two now. I've lost track, and it doesn't matter why. It was a good excuse to leave anyway. Cid's letting me stay in a room above the diner and Olette's been helping me keep up in school until I can get off of this dumb island."

I knew his relationship with his family was always on the rocks and that Hayner's been trying to keep his head above water for the last couple of years, but I couldn't help but entertain a bunch of thoughts to why he got kicked out. Knowing them, they could have just kicked him out because he wasn't doing what they wanted. Hayner's not exactly the best example of obedience, but it was still hard to wrap my head around. My mom's been mad at me plenty of times, but never enough to throw me out like that.

But mostly I think I was just surprised he never said a word to me, and again I wondered what else I'd been missing while focused on my own problems.

"Why didn't you call me? You could have stayed with us for a while." I didn't know that, actually, but my mom likes Hayner enough and it's not like anyone in the family would turn away someone who needed help.

"Please. Your house is a little too Disney squeaky-clean for my blood." He was joking, but the tone fell flat and he let smoke unfurl from the corner of his mouth. "This is something I have to figure out on my own. I would have had to figure it out next year anyway, so really I'm just getting a head start. They should be proud."

I didn't know what else to say to that and the rest of the ride was spent in silence. Pulling up to my house, Hayner didn't move and I made no moves to exit the car.

", I don't need your pity." He finally looked at me. "I didn't tell you so that you'd feel sorry for me."

"That's not it."


"...I kind of feel stupid coming to you with my own stuff when this was going on. A heads up would have been nice."

A derisive snort followed. "Why, so you could beat yourself up in private and not tell anyone except maybe Kairi? Forget it. Your shit's still important." There was a pause. "Axel's the first guy you've actually really liked, isn't he?"

I didn't even have to think this time. I knew my answer without hesitation. "...yeah. He is."

"Then we'll make sure you don't fuck this up." Holding up an arm, his hand curled into a fist and waited for me to fistbump on that agreement. It was a deal. I had Hayner in my court now and I'll be honest, having another guy's perspective (even if it was Hayner) was helpful. I'm sure you're wondering why I didn't just ask Sora if that's what I wanted, but it was different.

Sora's always been so involved in all aspects of my life by obligation and by blood. This time, I wanted this to be for my own doing. I'd tell him later, maybe, but he didn't need to get wrapped up in this, too. He had everything else in his hands as it was and I...wanted to take my own journey instead of the comparisons of his relationship with Riku.

It wasn't a perfect solution by any means, but it did make me feel better knowing I had someone else to rely on. I was going to need it a lot sooner than I thought.

The adventure with Hayner tired me out pretty fast and by the time I got back to my house I sneaked back up the stairs and into my room. I could hear Sora and Riku talking still and while it occurred to me Riku was breaking the rule about guests on school nights I didn't bother seeing what they were doing. It was their business and I didn't need to draw attention to the fact I'd left in the first place.

The next time I woke up it was to the sound of my phone buzzing next to my head. A quick glance at the time said it was at the end of third period and without the sound on I didn't recognize the caller right away. I had to look at the display first and as I blinked away the sleep I found myself freezing again. I hadn't given enough thought to what I wanted to do or say to Axel's last text, but I was starting to think I was running out of time. Just as the phone was about to stop ringing, I flipped it open and clamped it between my ear and my pillow.


"You're a real hard person to get ahold of, you know that?" His voice was smooth and teasing all at once and it was a little too easy to imagine his stupid self-assured grin. "I was beginning to think you didn't like me anymore."

Blatant flirting again. It was a lot and Hayner's words from the night before were still resonating with me, but I found myself grasping for straws on this one. I liked Axel a lot and I was okay playing this game, but Kairi's words were still echoing in my head, too. It was becoming noticeable.

"Don't flatter yourself. I never said I liked anything." It was a risk, blatantly blowing him off like that, but Axel's always surprised me before. I had to hope he'd surprise me this time, too. He didn't even seem to miss a beat after the words were said.

"Ouch. You wound me, Roxas." I could hear the grin in his voice. It was hard not to grin right back. Maybe it was a good thing he couldn't see me. "How're you feeling? I haven't heard from you much since Tuesday."

"Better." Talking to him put me at ease despite my best intentions, and everything I was supposed to be thinking about went out the window. It wasn't so important now. I didn't think about sitting up and instead curled up in his sweater again and kept the phone pressed to my pillow. "I'll probably be back to school on Monday. Am I missing much?"

"Well, since you clearly aren't missing me, no."

"Shut up." He was being smoother than usual. "That's not what I meant and you know it."

"So you do miss me."

"Still not what I meant…" He didn't respond, clearly waiting for me to continue that thought. Did I have a continuation of that thought? It was hard to say, and silence wrapped around us. "So maybe things are a little quieter and more boring without you around. Happy?"

"Ecstatic." There was a little laugh from him and I was more than happy to take credit for that. "What if I said you could see me sooner than Monday?"

"You mean like coming over after school today?"

"Uh." He finally sounded a little embarrassed. "I mean more like I'm actually in your driveway?"

"-you're what?" I sat up suddenly and looked down through the window, spotting Axel's Mustang parked below. Axel was leaning back in the driver's seat on his phone, doing his best not to look up at me.

"You didn't answer my last text so...I wanted to make sure you were doing okay."

'Don't make me come over there.'

"Oh my god you were serious about that." I don't know why I thought he wouldn't have been serious, but sometimes Axel just says things and I never really make the connection. "Just...get out of the car, I'll meet you at the door." I didn't wait for a response before hanging up, scrambling out of my bed to head downstairs. If he was here that meant he only had the duration of our lunch period to hang out. It would have been shitty of me to waste his time.

...and I guess I was a little excited to see him.

Nobody needs to know how fast I booked it downstairs, kind of like no one needs to know exertion was only half of the reason my face was pink when I got to the door. Axel stood on my doorstep with his backpack slung over his shoulder, awkwardly hunched with a hand in his pocket and the other clutching the strap. His fingers fluttered in a light wave but he made no other movements.

"You look a little flushed." He raised an eyebrow and I felt myself blush further before turning away to let him come into the house.

"Shut up. You only have until fourth period starts don't you? That's not a whole lot of time."

"I still get to see you, don't I? I'd call that a win either way." He grinned again and ambled toward through the front foyer to the kitchen. Axel knew the layout of my house enough to navigate himself, waiting for me to follow before he began digging through his backpack. Meanwhile there was me who was too dumbstruck by the fact that he was so openly talking about just wanting to see me it didn't matter he'd only get to be at my house for about twenty minutes. I didn't actually clue in to the fact that Axel was still moving around until I found him opening our cabinets and digging through our drawers.

"What are you doing…?"

"I brought lunch!" The cheerful note in his tone wasn't lost on me and I watched as he finally found two bowls and two spoons, taking note of the two cans of soup on the counter near our microwave. It was a wordless five minutes as Axel busied himself with microwaving soup for us (chicken and stars, because what the hell else would Axel have) and I sat at the table watching him and trying to understand if this was real.

He was fairly self-sufficient. He didn't bother asking me where to locate things or what to do and he focused on his task while I coughed into the sleeve of his old hoodie. He didn't seem to have anything to say about that either and as I followed his movements with my eyes I took the time to think about what Hayner and Kairi were saying. Again.

There was obviously something going on. Axel had been far too lenient and far too open for this to just be a friends thing. On the other hand, I thought about a lot of the things Axel had done for me and that we'd done together and every time I allowed myself space to think, I found myself thinking that these were also things Kairi would do.

That realization came about the time he set a bowl of soup in front of me, sitting in the space across from me and sipping from his own bowl like I wasn't having an aneurysm from this onslaught of information. I must have been making a weird face at the bowl because he gently kicked me under the table.

"I promise I know how to microwave soup. Demyx leaves me to fend for myself all the time."

Picking up my spoon, I gave myself another excuse not to really talk to him. You'd think that'd bother him, but he genuinely seemed happy just to see me in person as we silently ate lunch and just shared the same space. He didn't try to force conversation with me and he didn't do much besides occasionally eye me and eat his soup. It was slightly awkward in the way it always is when silence lingers for too long, but I suppose I was equally okay with just being together. It had been about three days since we'd spoken and that was the longest amount of time since we met in August.

I'm not going to lie and say that my days felt empty and meaningless without Axel. That wasn't true and that was giving him a lot more credit than he deserved at that point. My days would have been empty without Kairi or without Sora or without music. But I could at least admit that my days always felt a little better now when I saw him or spoke to him. Like making an okay day into a good day. Knowing his ins and outs a little better, I found myself less frustrated and more engaged with him.

I needed to know what he wanted out of this too though. So far I was lost and suddenly had new questions to answer, but maybe it wasn't so complicated for Axel. Maybe he already knew exactly what he wanted from me, and if I asked he could help me figure it out myself.

"...hey Axel." The bowls were nearly empty and he only had another five minutes he could stay before he had to head back to school. I told myself I'd clear the dishes later but he was already up and rinsing out his own bowl to put in the dishwasher.

"What's up?"

This was it. This was my moment of truth when I could finally start getting some answers. This was the time for honest answers, something to clear the air. He stood near the dishwasher and I sat in my seat still, a wide distance between us as I tried and tried again to rephrase the question.

"What do…"

...I couldn't do it. Every time I tried to force the words past my lips, they got tangled up and refused to form. He gave me another look before I looked away toward my soup again.

"What do you have planned after school today? Or anytime this weekend. I still need to get caught up in AP."

There was a barely-there sort of laugh as Axel came back to me, taking my bowl once he noticed I was done eating.

"I can come by after my shift at the café tonight. How's that sound?"

Terrible. It sounded terrible because it wasn't the only thing I wanted, but I nodded in agreement and got up. My bowl joined his in the dishwasher and he grabbed his backpack, noticing the time and turning toward the front door. I followed to walk him out, letting my thoughts drift aimlessly.

"That sounds good to me." We reached the door and I grabbed the handle to open it, allowing Axel to bypass me for the front step again. We stood there facing one another, Axel waiting for me to continue and me waiting for my brain to wake the fuck up and quit stalling.

It felt like paralyzation. I couldn't think, I couldn't move and I couldn't breathe as I wrestled with the heaviest question I had. We didn't have enough time for me to explain. So...I didn't try.

"Thanks for coming by. I'll see you tonight?"

He nodded slowly, words kept to himself before a hand reached forward to ruffle my hair. For whatever reason instead of feeling like "our thing" it just made me feel like a child again.

"I'll text you when I'm on my way." There was a fleeting smile as he pulled away, backing up to step off of the front step and walking toward his car. He didn't turn away from me as he did, retracing steps toward the vehicle and keeping his eyes on me. "Think about what you wanna go over first when I get back though."

I couldn't tell if the phrasing was coincidental or if Axel was aware there were other things I needed to say. It didn't matter though. All that mattered was that I had a tangled web in my hands and only a few hours to figure out what to do next. I knew what needed to be done, but I also knew I had to get over myself first and also delve into this new discovery I had made. It was something that needed to be addressed before the Axel thing as much as I didn't want to, and as I closed the front door to head upstairs I could only think one thing.

'Fuck my life.'