AN: Wow. First off, let me apologize for taking literally two months with this. A lot has gone on that's made it exceedingly difficult to finally get this chapter fully written (including the demise of my beloved laptop, which should have a cliche, quirky nickname, but doesn't). As usual, thank you all so much for the reviews, favs, alerts, as well as the PM's I've recieved between the posting of the last chapter and this one. If I didn't manage to reply to yours, I apologize, and feel free to send me a PM if you had a question you wanted answered that I missed. XP
A couple of things I've been asked about - links to fanart will be up on my profile. If you have a question about anything that you have asked me before and I did not respond, please send me a PM asking again - there was a massive pileup of things I needed to answer that got DELETED by my email, so if you're still wondering about something, (such as song titles or artists, which I distinctly remember having a number of questions about) don't worry about asking twice, it's all good.
And guys, it's been a long ride, I've been working on this since August 2006 and it's now March 2007. Thank you so much for bearing with me and reading, it really means more to me than you'll ever know. To everyone who has reviewed, faved, alerted, or just plain read this story: thank you. To anyone who's drawn fanart or dedicated a fanfiction, thank you. And to those of you about to read this chapter, to any of you who do any of the aforementioned, er, things, (XD) thank you!
Without any further ado (I daresay that was enough ado XP), Chapter 29.
Roxas let out a long sigh, attempting to catch his breath as he toppled into the surprisingly scratchy grass, having just missed the Frisbee thrown in his direction. He could hear Demyx shouting something out at him, Sora laughing in response, and beyond that, the river flowing ceaselessly somewhere off to his left. He spread his arms out across the grass; even the ground beneath him felt warm, the late August sun still hot enough to drench their town in sweet summer heat. Staring straight up at the cloudless sky, his friends' voices ringing out through the air around him, he thought he might like to stay in that moment forever.
Then again, he thought, maybe not. Everything was great – perfect, really, save for the unstoppable feeling of uncertainty, a sort of bittersweet emotion he had been shoving to the back of his mind for the past week and a half.
Sora and Riku had already packed all their belongings. He'd pointedly avoided looking at the disorganized mess in Sora's room for the past few days when he'd walked by, unwilling to think about how boring home would be without Leon or Sora around. It had been different when Leon had left; easier somehow, for Roxas anyway. The age gap between the two had kept them from getting particularly close when he was younger – Leon was way ahead of both him and Sora, and it wasn't until the two younger brothers had been well into high school that they'd really been able to relate to Leon at all.
Plus, I still had Sora. The house is gonna be so… quiet.
Despite their closeness in age, Roxas and Sora hadn't really shared any interests, and for years they hadn't been particularly close either, sharing sibling moments and liking each other just fine, but not really having much to do with each other. Over the past school year though, they'd grown infinitely closer, and Roxas had been almost surprised when he'd finally realized he thought of Sora as a friend.
We actually just hung out together this year. We went to movies together, and I can swear around him and make jokes and act like myself, instead of that sort of polite, acquaintance-ish relationship we used to have, with the occasional real conversation at some family gathering or something.
And not only that, he thought sharply, almost as if he was arguing with himself, but Sora had really been there for him when he needed him, none of this fair-weather friend business. Sora was the one to suggest that they all clean up Axel's place when Roxas had been prepared to spend a miserable Christmas afternoon there himself. Sora was the one who he'd made that deal with in the first place at the beginning of the school year, the one who'd given him enough reassurance to even consider confessing his feelings to Axel. And who had been there for him when he'd broken up with Axel? Who had listened to him vent angrily, had coaxed him away from his nest of Axel memories in his room – for God's sake, who had freaking held him while he tried to hide his tears that evening, and put up with the livid, miserable, needy blond for an entire restless night?
And who, Roxas thought, feeling vaguely defeated as he studied a single fluffy cloud, Who's leaving today in just a few hours? Who won't be around to make quesadillas at 3 in the morning because we both just happened to be awake? Who won't take so damn long in the shower in the morning, and who won't be driving with me to school, belting out whatever song comes on the radio? And… being there when I have to bitch and moan about Ax being late to pick me up again, and- and crashing, drunk, into the house late at night with Riku in tow, and having noisy karaoke sessions with Zexion when they have their weekend-long baking marathons. Who the hell is going to make cookies?
Picking at the grass by his hand, he surfaced again from his thoughts, blinking a few times and idly wondering if he'd still have a tan when school started in a couple of weeks.
It's only a few more hours before they're leaving, and then I won't see Sora or Riku until Thanksgiving, unless they come home for a weekend. I feel like I should be doing something special now, like we should be doing something, anything different, but at the same time, I like this. I like that we can all just hang out, just one more time before everything really changes. And, while unrelated, I'm glad the river's clean enough to swim in, because it's really damn hot out, and it'll be nice to get in the water after a little while.
A large shadow moved over his view, and a moment later, Axel was standing over him, a quizzical look on his face as he stepped over the blond's body. He leaned down a little, one foot planted on either side of Roxas before giving up and sitting down on the smaller boy's chest, kicking his flip-flops off into the grass and poking the blond in the forehead with an emphatic "you!"
"You," Axel said again, leaning back nonchalantly on Roxas's bent knees, "Have been lying here for a good 10 minutes, not moving. The general consensus was that you died, but I wanted to make sure, you know, so I can get a new sex slave."
Roxas snorted, toying with a blade of grass he'd mercilessly ripped from the ground beside his head.
"Just relaxing," he said slowly, sitting up and attempting to brush the grass off of his shirt as Axel climbed off of him. "You smell good," he added, having caught a whiff of Axel's usual Old Spice in the rush of air his movement had caused. He imagined the heat made the scent stronger; either that or Axel had a lot on.
"Eh, I'm kinda sweaty," Axel admitted, wrinkling his nose as he settled into a comfortable sitting position beside Roxas. He watched with interest as Roxas shrugged, then picked a piece of grass he'd missed from the blond's shoulder. "You sure you're ok? You're awful quiet for someone who's just relaxing."
Roxas simply shrugged again, watching Riku dive to catch a pass blown off its path by the gentle breeze. He missed it by what looked like mere inches from far away, and Roxas could hear the dull thud as the Frisbee hit a tree instead. Zexion's tinkling laugh carried over, and Roxas realized as he studied the slight boy that it was the first time he'd ever seen his bare legs – Zexion hadn't worn shorts all summer until today, and he'd chosen a loose, gray tank top to wear on top.
Turning to Axel, he raised his eyebrows. The redhead looked openly concerned now, and he nudged Roxas's arm a bit as he spoke.
"What's going on? You sure you're ok?"
Roxas nodded, leaning into the nudge and feeling a bit needy all of a sudden. "Yea, I'm just, you know, having an end-of-summer moment."
"Ah. Yea, I've been trying to avoid those, but they keep popping up when I least expect it. I… it's why I haven't really talked to Demyx, you know, about… this coming year."
Axel looked uncomfortably down at his feet, having finally admitted to the denial he'd been in. Throughout the summer, Demyx had made numerous attempts to tell Axel about his plans for the coming year, but the redhead had refused to hear any of it, cutting him off mid-sentence or simply stalking out of the room. Demyx had finally given up, a little dejected, and the summer had passed without any real mention of his plans, but Axel was aware that he'd have to talk to him sometime, and he had the sinking feeling that that time was going to be sometime in the next few hours, before Sora and Riku had to go. Demyx would be leaving around the same time; he was giving Zexion a ride to a restaurant downtown for coffee with his roommate (Zexion would be attending a prestigious art school in the city, only about a 20 minute drive from where they all lived).
Roxas made a noise of assent, watching the others continuing their game of Frisbee. "You know, you should really talk to him. It's not what you're expecting, I can guarantee it."
"You don't know what I'm expecting. Hell, I don't know what I'm expecting. Maybe it's exactly what I'm expecting."
"Yea, I know what you're expecting."
"Yea? What? What am I expecting?"
Roxas sighed, smiling a little at Axel's indignation. "You're expecting him to run off and leave you in the dust and forget about you because he's too busy being a sophisticated adult to think about his old buddy Axel back home."
Axel was silent for a moment before speaking. "Yea. I guess. I mean, I… yea."
"I'm telling you," Roxas said lightly, his eyes moving now to Demyx, who had rolled up his jeans to his knees to stay cooler. "You should talk to him. It's really not what you think. And honestly, I hope you don't really think he could forget about you. Sometimes I think you forget that he needs you just as much as you need him."
"I don't need him," Axel said defensively, picking at the grass as well. "I mean, I don't need him to be around all the time. I'd be okay without him here."
"You're only saying that because you think you have to," Roxas replied, shooting him a knowing look before leaving a light kiss on one of the redhead's sun-kissed cheeks.
Axel narrowed his eyes, a curious look overtaking his features. "What's that supposed to mean? 'Because I think I have to…' What, is he staying here? I mean, he's going to college, right? He's the smartest guy I've ever met."
Roxas simply grinned and shrugged. "It's not my information to tell."
"Man, fuck you!"
"Later, if you want. We should do it outside, I bet it'll still be pretty nice out once the sun starts to go down."
Axel simply laughed in response, leaning over to kiss the other boy. He had the impulse to pull him into his lap as well, but decided it was too hot out, and he'd rather just sit side by side, watching the breeze gently teasing messy, almost platinum-blond bangs across that summer-tanned forehead. Roxas had worked a part-time job at an outdoor coffee stand for the summer, and the constant sunshine had bleached out his hair even more than it had in previous years.
Lying back, Roxas closed his eyes and reveled in the sunshine, smiling as he felt Axel's head come to rest on his stomach.
"It's almost three…."
Sora was unsurprised to hear Riku's murmur in his ear; the older boy had been almost obsessively checking his watch the entire day, obviously anxious. Instead of responding, Sora simply stretched his legs out a little more, letting his feet rest in the cool river water. Their game of Frisbee had ended long ago, and having completely exhausted themselves, they had opted to sit in the shade by the river for a while. Demyx had managed to drag Zexion into the water, and Sora was enjoying watching the two of them splashing around. A few yards further downstream, Roxas was attempting to coax Axel off of his sunny rock and into the water, too, but the redhead would have none of it.
"It's almost three o'clock."
Sora finally looked up, splashing his toes in the water a little. "I know, I heard you."
Riku sighed, watching Roxas splashing water up at Axel. The redhead threw small rocks in retaliation, and Roxas ducked as one almost hit his head, grinning as Zexion joined him in his quest to get Axel wet. Sora was now digging his feet into the soft, gravelly riverbed, then pulling them back out and watching the sediment pour through his toes. Riku blinked and checked his watch again.
"2:58," he said slowly, mid-sigh again when he felt Sora's hand clamping around his arm and unfastening his watch. "What are you doing? Stop it, that's my-"
"I'll give it back to you later," Sora replied lightly, slipping the watch into his pocket. "You need to relax. Seriously, if you keep freaking out like this it's gonna get me all freaked out too, and-and then neither of us will be good drivers and we'll get in car crashes and die on our way to college!"
"No one's getting in a car crash, I just want to know what time it is-"
"Why?" Sora asked fiercely, digging his foot ferociously into the sand.
"We have to leave pretty soon. I don't want our parents to get pissed off."
"They're not going to be mad if we stay out here a little longer. We're only driving to Columbia tonight anyway, Riku, we could leave at 8 and still make it there before midnight. They don't care when we leave."
Riku was silent, staring at the sand rolling off of Sora's foot. The leaves above him rustled in the breeze, and if he looked up, he could see Demyx hanging up his, Zexion's, and Roxas's shirts in the branches of the tree to dry. Axel appeared to be making a daisy chain.
"I've been so ready for this for so long," Riku said quietly, attempting to pick up a shiny rock with his toes. Smiling, he turned to Sora. "So, aren't you excited? I feel like I could drive all night without stopping in Columbia, you know? I want to- I want to see where we're gonna live, and put all our stuff in the room and get everything all set up. I want to push the beds together once our parents leave and put up posters and-and order Chinese food or something. And meet all the other people in the dorm, and… you know. Do stuff."
Sora nodded, then grinned and looked away, blushing. "I, um, I made sheets. That'll fit the extra long beds when they're pushed together, because… well, because it just seemed like we might need them."
"Yea? That's great, I didn't think of that. I just… I can't wait, you know? It's not that this isn't great too, but I mean, I just… I want to be there already."
"There's time for everything," Sora replied, scooting a little closer. "Once we're there, we'll be there for a while. Right now… right now, this is the time to just be here a little longer. Look," he commanded, pointing at Demyx in the river. "You want to leave now, but once we've been there a few weeks, you're gonna miss him. And Zexion, and Axel, and… Rox. So while we still have time, just… soak them up. Be a- be a sponge."
"A sponge. Soak up everyone's… presence. And then when we're away from here, and we miss them, we can squeeze our metaphorical sponges and-and not miss them so bad!"
Riku sat back, resting his weight on his hands, and tried to focus on being a sponge.
Axel was careful to avoid the drips of water as Demyx clambered up onto his rock beside him.
Demyx pushed his wet hair back out of his face, laughing a little as Axel shrank away from his dripping arms. "Warm up here, huh?" he observed, purposefully slinging a soaking wet leg across the redhead's lap and laughing again at the cry of protest he received. Removing his leg from Axel's body, he let out a long breath and hesitated before speaking again. "Rox said you wanted to talk to me?"
Axel sighed, studying his feet. "Yea? I guess. If you want. I mean, it's not like there's much to say. You're going off to have the rest of your life somewhere, and I'm staying here. That's all. And I mean, it's not like I can't handle it or something. I'll be fine. I'm happy for you. Go, by all means, the world is your oyster, or some… or some shit like that…"
A small smile was creeping its way across Demyx's face as he watched the redhead rant. Curling his toes a bit, he leaned back nonchalantly. "Well, don't you want to know where I'm going?"
Axel swallowed, eyes glued to his knees. "Yea."
"Well… I got accepted into this awesome program in Spain, where you learn about, um, about Early Childhood Education, um, specifically in terms of music, and integrating the arts into their program. For the kids, that is. It's really innovative."
At the word "Spain", Axel's head shot up. He swallowed again, studying Demyx's smiling face, and tried to say something, anything, to no avail.
"It's really a once in a lifetime opportunity. The only downside is that in order to get the full scholarship they've offered me, I have to stay in Spain for the full four years, nonstop. As in, I can't come home for any breaks or anything."
Axel wheezed a little, unable to make any real words come out of his mouth. "I…. Uhh…"
"Are you ok?"
"I, um, that's great, Dem. That sounds… that sounds really, really… really… um… I'm… happy for you…" he choked out, unable to comprehend the idea of four Demyx-less years.
Axel was aware that Demyx was now staring at him, and a loaded silence ensued for a moment before Demyx snorted, watching Axel's forced smile crack. "God, you're gullible! I can't believe you fell for that! You seriously think I'd go to Spain for four years? I'd miss you way too much, babe! I would call you, like, sobbing, every night. No, no, I'd call Zexion sobbing, because I wouldn't want you to know I wasn't happy."
"What? You're not- son of a bitch!"
Axel couldn't help but laugh in relief as he pushed Demyx off the rock, pretending to be angry. He kicked the blond's hands away as he attempted to climb back up, not bothering to hide his grin anymore. "No! Hell no! You're no longer welcome on my rock, not after that! You're a complete dick, you know that? Get the hell away from my rock!"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, oh god, you should have seen your face…"
After a few more apologies, Axel allowed Demyx to pull himself up onto the rock, feeling vaguely nervous again as the blond prepared to speak.
"Alright, alright, ok. You wanna know what I'm actually doing?"
"I swear to God, if you pull anything this time…"
Demyx laughed, shaking his hair from his eyes once more. "Nah, that'd be too mean. Oh man, you're gonna love this."
Intrigued, Axel looked up. "Well, come on, are you gonna tell me or should I push you off again?"
"No no no, don't push me off again. Alright. Ok. So, first of all, I'm not going to college. Well, ok, this is where it gets complicated. Basically, the people over at Kennedy told me they wanted to hire me on full-time, like, as staff at the school. I tutor a fair number of kids over there, and they all kept begging me not to leave, but they grudgingly understood that I had to, you know, get a job or go to college or something. Apparently though, they all got together and started putting pressure on everyone in the SSC, err, the Student Support Center, which has this whole department of-of people within the school, and so they all had a meeting – the staff, not the kids, that is… Um, long story short, they said they'd hire me full time, and they'd pay for me to take some classes over at State, especially over the summers, and by the end of four years, they arranged it so I can have a degree in Bilingual Education. So that's… that's what I'm gonna be doing."
Demyx nodded, his smile growing with Axel's enthusiasm.
"And if you're working at Kennedy, then you don't… you don't even have to leave. At all. I mean, you're still going to be here!"
"I knew you'd like it," he said, nodding again. "It means I can stay with Zexion, too, which is great. I'm actually, well, I have to give Zexion a ride to meet up with his roommate, but right after that, I'm gonna be moving the bulk of my stuff to um, to my new place. I found an apartment that's like, a 10 minute walk from the school, so it's really, it's been turning out really well. Everything has."
"Jeez. Wow. Congratulations, man!"
Demyx simply grinned in response, resting his elbows on his knees and tugging idly at the hemp "friendship" bracelet Zexion had made for him over the summer. After a few moments of satisfied, comfortable silence, he looked up at Axel again, giving him a playful shove as he spoke.
"You really think I'd just leave like that?" he asked, dodging Axel's counterattack and scooting closer instead, close enough for their knees to knock together as he swung his legs back and forth off the side of the rock.
"Well, maybe if you hadn't looked so damn serious about it!"
"I was obviously joking!"
"Obvious my ass, you fucking planned that, with your little details about some innovative program…"
"Hey, I made that up on the spot! Jeez, if I'd been planning it, I'd plan something a little bit more plausible!"
Axel didn't even bother to fight back with words, choosing instead to simply lean against the blond's shoulder, nuzzling his neck and mischievously nipping his ear, enjoying the small yelp of surprise and the resulting kiss on the cheek.
"Does it bother you?"
Roxas let his eyes un-focus a little, his blurred gaze positioned vaguely in Demyx and Axel's direction. He could tell that Demyx had told Axel the news; the two were grinning in the dappled sunlight shining through the leaves, and even from far away, he could see their arms and fingers intertwining, gently touching and reassuring each other. He could remember when he hadn't understood them, memories of the jealousy Demyx's roving hands had inspired in him, the way his chest would get tight every time Axel would kiss the other blond's cheek. It was unavoidable, too. The two would exchange light butterfly kisses at every opportunity, it seemed: greeting each other, saying goodbye, after one of them had made a particularly funny joke – anything was liable to prompt their easy, gentle shows of affection, and it had been absolutely infuriating to Roxas until sometime around when he'd gotten that nasty flu bug in the winter.
He'd sort of understood it after his conversation with Axel on Christmas, but the redhead's explanation of his deepest, longest friendship could really only go so far. The way the two interacted defied verbal explanation. You could try to capture it with complicated descriptions and metaphors, but Roxas had, in the end, had to come to understand it himself. It had been a slow process – watching the two together, listening to the ease with which they communicated, learning the stories that comprised the most memorable parts of their history. He'd looked at his own memories, then tried to apply the feelings he'd had to different experiences – Axel's experiences. He could remember the first time he and Namine stayed up all night, that magical feeling of being 13 years old and eating ice cream at four in the morning, four o'clock in the morning! He remembered the feeling and imagined the nights Axel and Demyx had spent, curled up in Axel's big quilt as the redhead quaked and shook in Demyx's arms, terrified of whatever misfortune he imaged he would have encountered alone before his friend's arrival. The time he'd made Namine a get-well card when she got Strep Throat in third grade translated to the time Demyx had told him about when Axel had tried to fashion a band-aid big enough for a scrape the blond had by sticking a number of smaller ones together in a complicated, interlocking design.
He could remember the way he'd looked away from Namine's tear-streaked face as he handed her his sweatshirt at school, desperately wishing to end her humiliation as she'd tied it around her waist to hide the bright red stain on the back of her new jeans, and the silent agreement never to talk about it. Axel had told him, once, as he spread peanut butter over bread for sandwiches, about a time in Jr. High when he'd woken up with Demyx still asleep beside him. He'd gone to shower, and when he was done, he'd stepped into the kitchen in his towel to find Demyx sobbing in Steph's arms, begging her not to make him attend school with matching black eyes that had bloomed the night before beneath 30-year-old fists. When Axel had come home from school that day, he'd simply joined Demyx in his room, where the blond had spent the day doing schoolwork with a bag of frozen peas resting on his swollen wrist and soothing aloe smeared around his eyes.
The way their friendship had developed, Roxas eventually concluded, it was no surprise that their interactions were so physical. What it really came down to was the thought that all people need to be touched, an idea that Roxas had contemplated for hours on end, and tried to postulate about with Axel on the night they'd gotten back together. The contact that Demyx had received largely consisted of being beat up, so it was only natural that he would gravitate to, and crave, Axel's caring embrace. On the other side, Axel's anxiety over being alone could easily be mollified by Demyx's compassionate touch, the feeling of his friend physically alongside him calming his panicked psyche. A touch between the two was healing for both parties, and over time, they developed a profound need for each other.
And while Roxas had initially found it all the more intimidating that the two had shared all their first sexual experiences –that their relationship had expanded to include that- he was almost comforted by it now. It was inevitable, as the boys reached puberty, for them to want to push the limits and boundaries associated with touching another person, specifically, each other; to make each other feel good. For Axel, to see how far he could get from being alone; to not just be close to another, but to be inside another person, and for Demyx, to be fully, completely vulnerable, to let another in, and not be hurt. They'd had their phase of exploration, but they'd ultimately chosen to remain in a, for the most part, nonsexual relationship, their friendship more like that of brothers than lovers. At a certain point, Roxas had realized that because they'd already gotten past that phase, he would never have to worry about Demyx seducing Axel – their inevitable sexual relationship had already dissipated, and even while it had lasted, it had been more about finding the right way to communicate their feelings to each other and to themselves than any particular attraction.
When all the observations, theories, jealousy, information, everything had finally converged in Roxas's mind, he'd actually stopped in his tracks, the sudden clarity sinking in as he stood on the sidewalk downtown, other pedestrians pushing past him. The first thing he saw when he looked up was the bright pink neon sign for Lola's, a shop famous for its 18+ section in the back. Blinking, he'd watched as a girl with a green mohawk exited the store, a small, pink bag in her hand.
The man behind the counter hadn't been shy at all, and Roxas could remember how his face had burned bright red as he'd slipped the little bottle into his backpack, assuring the man that it was really okay, he didn't need a bag, and God, had the guy taken long enough to get him his change? The girl behind him in line had given him a saucy wink on his way out of the store, and as soon as he'd gotten back to his room at home, he'd pushed the bottle to the back of the drawer in his nightstand. The next day, he'd started to come down with a cold, and by the end of the week, he'd been sure he had the flu, the bottle laying, as if waiting, in the back of his drawer as he sipped the chicken soup Axel had made for him, the redhead unknowingly working through math problems beside him.
"Are you ok? Hello?"
Feeling a sharp jab in his arm, Roxas blinked and ripped his eyes away from the two boys on the rock. Zexion was beside him, looking at him as though he were insane.
"What? Sorry, I wasn't paying attention."
"Yea, no kidding, I thought you were in a coma or something," Zexion remarked, laughing a little as Roxas feigned a comatose expression. Nodding towards Axel and Demyx, he looked a little embarrassed. "I just, well… I just asked if it ever bothers you, you know?"
"What, the touching?"
When Zexion nodded, Roxas smiled, watching Axel arranging Demyx's wet hair into large spikes. "It used to," he said eventually, turning back to Zexion, who watched the same scene with a look of dismay.
"I guess you just get used to it after a while," he added, knowing there was no way to explain what had taken him months to comprehend. "Try not to let it bother you too much. If Demyx means enough to you… talk to them, both of them. Just watch them for a while. I can promise you, there's nothing… romantic going on between them."
"Oh, I know it's not romantic, it's just…" Zexion trailed off with a sigh. "I just wish…"
"That they'd stop?" Roxas guessed, finishing the other boy's sentence for him. After receiving another nod in response, he smiled again, recognizing his exact sentiment from a few months ago in Zexion's face. "I did too. But when you really think about it, Demyx and Axel without their little ritualistic cuddles would be… unnatural."
Zexion made a vague noise of grudging agreement, and they both turned back to watch the others again; each fascinated, but for different reasons.
Axel looked down again at his feet, examining the small blister his flip-flops had given him and wondering why this had to be so weird. He could feel Roxas beside him; they weren't touching, but he could feel how close the boy was, the slight trembling in his posture and the uneasiness in the air as they stood around on the sidewalk by Sora's car. The sun was beginning to set, and if he turned his head a little it was almost blinding. Thus, he couldn't really look at Demyx or Zexion without squinting, since they were standing in that direction, and when he looked up at Sora and Riku, the two leaning awkwardly against the dirty, silver car, they looked like something out of a photograph, all rosy hues and golden light and summer.
That's what it is. Summer. Summer dripping off their hair and down their shoulders, summer seeping out of every pore, evaporating from the tips of their fingers, blowing away in the breeze or maybe just- maybe just flowing, pouring into empty… empty pockets, somewhere in those memories, in those hearts, those minds – somewhere in there, empty pockets of air, filling up with overflowing summer to be sealed away and saved for later use. All the summer they've absorbed is slipping away, and they've suddenly grown up. Just now.
Sora was laughing a little, hands dug deep into his pockets. "This is when the music would start. You know, like… in the movies or whatever. Something acoustic-y that makes you tear up because as soon as it starts, you know the movie's almost over and you're gonna miss all the characters so much…"
Everyone laughed. It was the sort of joke you laughed at because you didn't know anything to say, because you were just too busy thinking and feeling and processing your own shit to come up with something good to say. They lapsed into silence again, and Axel could see Demyx's foot kicking idly at Zexion's foot in his peripheral vision. After another agonizing moment of silence, he sighed and looked up.
"Alright. Well… we didn't really come out here just to stand around in the parking lot, so… I guess we should go ahead and get this whole thing over with, yea?"
Murmurs of assent circled around the group, but once again, they lapsed into a sort of Everyone's Standing Around and Nodding predicament, and this time Riku would be the one to break the cycle.
"It's been a hell of a year," he said, running a hand through his hair. After no one seemed to have anything to add, he continued. "I mean, you know… none of us were really friends this time last year."
"Oh, Riku, I'm sorry, did you think we were friends? I hope not, because actually, I think you're really gross. Roxas agrees," Axel said sarcastically, grinning as he avoided the kick Riku aimed at him. Stepping back to where he'd previously been standing, he let out a long sigh as he finished laughing, his smile remaining as he shook his head. "Seriously, though… As inarticulate as we all are, we're all gonna miss you guys. Like, a lot."
"Yea, you too," Riku replied, eyeing Sora, who was now making slight whimpering noises. "You doing ok?"
Sora looked up then, his wounded expression finding each of the others. Finally, as it landed on Axel, he seemed to break down, a tear sliding from the corner of one of his eyes as he dragged the redhead into a dramatic hug, launching into a soliloquy of how he'd miss the others so much he 'thought he might just curl up and cry every night at college.' Axel ran a hand through soft, chocolate spikes, holding the brunet tightly to his chest and smiling faintly as the goodbyes began. Sora's declaration had started the process for real, and over the shaking shoulder he could see Zexion, Demyx, and Roxas each saying goodbye to Riku.
Sora's crying into my shirt. Crying out any summer left, and even so, even though he's crying entire fucking oceans into my chest, when I look at him, he's not a little kid anymore. Throw a university hoodie on him and maybe add a can of cheap beer to the picture and he looks like a college kid, like someone old enough to live on their own, someone with posters and a laptop and a bottomless pit of laundry, someone with a boyfriend and a major and probably a big essay due Monday, or a lab to be on time for on Tuesday, a party to be at on Friday night and a hangover to nurse on Saturday.
Over Sora's loud sniffs and shaking breaths he could hear Riku telling Zexion about one of the professors he was looking forward to taking classes from.
"Ax, I'm gonna miss you so bad…"
"Pshh, you're gonna forget me as soon as you get there! Kid, you're gonna make so many new friends you won't even have time to miss me, alright? Me, on the other hand, wasting away here in town with no one to bake me cookies…"
Sora looked up, wide-eyed, and took a step back. "What makes you think I won't bake you cookies?"
"So, you won't have an oven."
After a moment of consideration, Sora's eyes narrowed with determination. "Then my first job will be to befriend an old lady in town who has one!"
Axel snorted, hugging the spiky head to his chest again with a quiet "c'mere" and eventually stepping back, leaving a hand on each of Sora's shoulders as he leaned down to speak.
"Here's my advice, ok? Take it or leave it, except if you leave it, don't tell me, 'cause I'll be pissed."
Sora laughed, wiping his tears away from his eyes with the back of his hand as the redhead gave him a stern look.
"Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor then beer, you're in the clear."
As Sora's eyes narrowed again, this time determined to understand Axel's rhyme, the redhead stepped back, turning to Riku, who had finished his other goodbyes and was standing by.
"You," he said, pointing to Riku, "You make sure this guy doesn't party too hard, ok? He's too cute. Someone'll take advantage of him if no one's around to take care of him."
Riku smiled, ignoring Sora's protests of "I can take care of myself!" and nodding in agreement with Axel's statement. "I'll take good care of him, no worries. Even if he hates me for it," he added, leaving a light kiss on the brunet's cheek before turning back to Axel. "And myself, of course. Since I'm sure you were about to tell me that next."
Axel laughed quietly, looking down for a moment before meeting Riku's eyes. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Sora smothering Zexion with a hug, and he laughed again at that, unsure of what to say to the silver-haired boy in front of him.
"Riku. Riku, Riku, Riku…"
Riku. Come here – let's go back and sit by the river, and talk the way we do best… indirectly, that is. You know, when I saw you crying, my first thought was that you must have washed your face and forgotten to dry it off. I was shocked all over again when I saw another fat, salty tear come rolling down that cheek… I can still remember the taste of your skin, the way your tongue felt pushing against mine and the way you touched me, right afterwards, gently, almost hesitantly, as if to thank me. Sometimes, I wonder if you remember; and when I look at you and you stare straight back, like this, just like this, I know you do. You're the only one I ever let inside, the only one. You know… when you told me I needed to stop smoking pot and get my shit together, it never even occurred to me that I could say no. It's hard to believe you really did all my grocery shopping for me for those few months… Hundreds of dollars worth of food, and when I offered to pay you back, you laughed at me.
"So, what do you think? Do I know you yet?"
"Huh?" Axel blinked, shaking his thoughts to the back of his mind again and attempting to figure out what the hell Riku was talking about.
"Don't you remember?" Riku asked, his smirk growing.
"Maybe you knew me in second grade, but don't think that means you know me now."
Axel felt his face break into a smile too as he remembered his own words. "I dunno, I mean, it's not like you've seen me in any embarrassingly helpless states, or hung around my place after bringing over groceries, or, you know, talked to me at all."
Riku laughed a little, but they lapsed into silence for a minute, the sounds of Sora and the others going on behind them as they caught each other's eyes again.
"You know," Axel said slowly, "I never really thanked you for all that rice."
He held his hand out for Riku to shake, but when the other boy took it, he pulled him into a tight hug instead.
"And to answer your question…yea," he said quietly, his chin resting on Riku's shoulder, "Yea, I think you know me now."
As the two pulled away from each other, they were distracted by the sound of Roxas choking – Sora's embrace appeared to be inhibiting his ability to breathe, and Axel couldn't help but laugh as Riku gently pried the brunet's arms from his brother.
The rest remained a little hazy for Axel, or at least, he assumed it must – he couldn't imagine how they could have left so fast, both Sora and Riku making the rounds for looser, quicker hugs before climbing into the car, Riku waving out the window and Sora pulling up for what seemed like forever at the stop sign on the corner, and –
Four boys in the parking lot, shuffling their feet in the melting sun. After a minute, only two are left. They stand for another few minutes, talking quietly, and as the bugs start to come out for the night, they turn away from the river to walk home.
These two boys lie on the bed, the lights from the parking lot and the moon shining in enough to illuminate their faces, their bare, sweaty skin and their thin, light-weight shorts. The window is open and a small fan's been turned on, but the room is hot anyway, and humid. It's the humidity that really does it, Roxas thinks, as Axel's fingers run through his hair again, and he lets his heavy eyelids fall shut for a moment until Axel speaks; his tired voice quiet near Roxas's ear.
"Life's a tease, you know that?"
Roxas sighs, blinking slowly as he laboriously sits up to grab his glass of water from Axel's bedside table. He takes a slow slip, and another relaxed breath before lying back again.
"Hmm," he says, figuring the other boy can take his response however he'd like.
After a moment, a slow reply makes its way from Axel's mind to his lips, and despite his closed eyes, Roxas sees he hasn't just fallen asleep.
"Seriously," he says, opening an eye to look at Roxas. "Life's a big fuckin' tease."
Roxas wonders why Axel has to wait until midnight, when it's this hot, to start philosophizing. He's too sleepy to contribute anything worthwhile, and he rolls onto his stomach instead, resting his head on his arms and managing to croak a "How so?" before his eyes are closed again.
"So and Riku," Axel murmurs, a slight breeze raising goosebumps on his arms. "Life, or fate, or whatever the hell you wanna call it… it brought all these people into my life, and just when I'm gettin' used to having them all around, they're gone."
His eyes are fully open now, and he glances at Roxas, who appears to be asleep. The blond wrinkles his nose and takes a deep breath in.
"Wha bout me?" he mumbles, his words obscured by exhaustion and the fact that one side of his head is resting on his arms.
"You? What about you?"
" 'm still here."
"Well, of course you're still here," Axel says indignantly, whacking the blond lightly upside the head and ignoring the vague groan of protest he receives in response. "You don't count. Not even fate, or destiny, or any of that shit can keep me away from you. I mean, it seems like fate likes us anyway. How else would we have ended up together for the fundraiser? Maybe there's two fates, you know? A nice one and a bitchy one, and the bitchy one tried to manipulate you into breaking up with me, but the nice one thinks we're pretty good together, so she got us back together. And it was the good one that helped me out when I fucked things over with Demyx, and brought Sora and Riku into my life, and-and Zexion. And brought Mom home. But then the bitchy one decided too much good shit was happening to me, so she took away Sora and Riku!"
Roxas cracks an eye open and looks sideways at Axel with mild confusion. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
They're quiet for a moment, and Axel listens to the train whistle as it goes by a few blocks away, the ebb and flow of traffic on the street outside and the cicadas in the trees in the parking lot. Roxas must be asleep, he thinks, the blond is so still and quiet, and he wonders if Sora and Riku and Demyx and Zexion are all sleeping somewhere now, too. He imagines Sora and Riku watching TV in their hotel room in Columbia, the volume low so they don't wake up their parents in the next room over. Next is Demyx, sprawled out with a pillow and a blanket on the floor of his new apartment amongst the boxes of his stuff, and Zexion – probably still awake, Axel thinks, since it's his first night in the dorms.
"You are so full of shit," Roxas mumbles, and Axel looks away from the spot on the ceiling he's been staring at to look at the boy. Roxas is smiling, and he laughs a little at Axel's expression.
"What do you mean? How am I-"
"You can't just say you're sad that Sora and Riku are gone, so you start rambling on and on about some weird fate shit, just… I dunno, maybe it just seems funny to me 'cause usually you make fun of people who blame shit on fate."
Axel doesn't respond, staring at the shine of the moonlight on his pale arm. After a moment, he looks up, and Roxas is still staring at him, his smile gentle and his eyebrows slightly raised.
"Hey," he says, somehow managing to shrug despite the weight of his head on his arms. "I miss them. I miss Sora like hell, and it hasn't even been a day. Hasn't been a single night. I cried my fucking eyes out last night when I realized it was So's last night at home. He came into my room to say goodnight to me and we sat there and sobbed like a couple of middle aged women watching a romantic movie or something, it was fucking ridiculous. We stayed up until 4 in the morning talking and finally just fell asleep, we were so tired…"
Axel laughs a little, thinking of Sora. Eventually, he sighs. "You always… you always catch me when I'm being a dumbshit, you know that? There's no getting around you. Every damn time!"
Roxas grins, closing his eyes again as Axel leans over to kiss his shoulder and the back of his neck, shivering a little as he feels long, thin fingers weaving through his hair. Axel is sitting up now, leaning back against the wall, where the headboard would be if his bed had a headboard. He hears Roxas murmuring something again, and soon the blond has shifted over to rest his upper body across the older boy's legs, nudging Axel with his shoulder until he gets the point and lowers a hand to rub his back.
The cicadas are louder than ever and Axel can feel those slim, strong fingers toying with the edge of his shorts by his knee, tracing tiny shapes across the skin of his leg, slower, slower, until he realizes he's all but stopped rubbing Roxas's back, his hand moving in vague, lethargic circles as he notices Roxas has completely relaxed, his shoulder twitching a little as Axel brushes his hair back from his face.
"Rox… you sleeping?"
Moving the limp boy from his lap, Axel scoots back down until he can lie down comfortably, head resting on his pillow, then pulls the sleeping form back to his chest, smiling to himself as the blond subconsciously rearranges his limbs to his comfort.
It's 12:17, and Axel's eyes fall closed. The boys are asleep and somewhere, like clockwork, summer quietly slips away, the world left still for a single moment before the autumn breeze takes its place. Axel smiles in his sleep – he holds Roxas close, then relaxes with a sigh. The last breath of summer air exhaled, he breathes in the blond's familiar scents – sweat and soap and cinnamon sugar – and autumn begins.
Thanks again for reading, all. Stay healthy, recycle, be nice to people... that's all I got. XD Oh, and if you liked this one by chance, keep an eye out for "Dig," which should be showing up sometime vaguely soon and may or may not be quite as impossibly long as this one. Con mucho cariño...