(A/N): So, yes, I realize I'm uploading a lot in a short period of time, but I didn't realize I'd have to wait three days after joining to put my fics up, so I filled the time with... writing! Yep. This is the first chapter of a three-part AkuRoku fic that started gnawing on my brain and insisting that I write it. Weak soul that I am, I gave in. Remember, reviews are like crack - be an enabler and feed my addiction.
Disclaimer - I do not own the characters or the world they are set in. If I did, well, the world would be a happier place (for me anyway).
Breathing Deeply: Turmoil
"Oh, we do too have hearts!" – Demyx, Hollow Bastion
Axel watched Oathkeeper and Oblivion flash in Roxas's hands as the Key of Destiny spun around the enclosed courtyard, destroying the targets flailing around him like he had a personal grudge against each and every one of them.
Axel hadn't said a word when Roxas had barged into his room, eyes bright and chest heaving. His friend had fixed him with a withering glare, snapped, "Gather some Dusks and meet me outside," turned on his heel, and marched back out of the room. Axel had raised his eyebrow at the spot the blonde had so recently filled.
"What the hell?" he'd wondered aloud, but there was no one to answer him.
So he'd gathered a small party of Dusks and gone in search of Roxas. He'd finally tracked the younger Nobody to a neglected courtyard tucked away in the corner of the Castle That Never Was. Marluxia had actually overlooked the small enclosure – there wasn't a single flower in sight.
Roxas had been standing in the middle of the paved courtyard, glaring at the ground like it had just insulted him.
"Took you long enough," he'd muttered darkly.
Axel hadn't answered. Roxas was in a mood, and Axel had acquired enough painful lessons to know that he should just let his friend work through whatever was eating at him.
Without a word, he'd sent the Dusks flocking to Roxas. The blonde had kneeled, whispering instructions to the pale Nobodies as they writhed and danced around him. When he'd straightened, the Dusks had disappeared to fulfill whatever Roxas had asked of them.
Roxas had gone back to glaring at the ground, and Axel had leaned against a wall, folding his long arms around himself with a silent sigh. Roxas didn't actually want him to do anything; Roxas just wanted him there.
Because they shared what any other two people might have called a close friendship. What they would have called a friendship, if they'd had hearts.
The Dusks had reappeared, grasping small black bodies in their serpentine arms. Axel had bolted upright at the sight of the Shadows clutched in the Nobodies' embrace.
"Uh, Roxas – "
The look Roxas had fixed him with had clearly promised pain and possible dismemberment if Axel didn't shut up. Axel had closed his mouth so fast his teeth had clicked together. He wasn't in the mood to dodge Roxas's Keyblades.
He'd eyed the tiny Heartless warily. Though the small Shadows weren't a threat, it made him uneasy to know there were any Heartless inside the castle walls.
Roxas had dismissed the Dusks with a brusque wave of his hand. The tiny Shadows had stumbled around the courtyard for a moment, then their heads had risen almost in unison to the heart-shaped moon hanging in the perpetual twilight of their world's sky.
With mindless tenacity, they had tried to climb the courtyard's walls. Roxas had watched them for a moment, smiling mirthlessly. Then Oathkeeper and Oblivion had appeared in his hands with that high-pitched ring of metal and he'd launched himself at the enemy.
Axel winced as Oblivion came crashing down on a Shadow's skull, tearing through the small black body with no resistance. He was glad Roxas hadn't decided to work out his frustration on him for once.
He couldn't help but follow the tiny heart that burst forth from the decaying black body, rising toward the pale moon – their uncompleted Kingdom Hearts. It was patently unfair, he thought, that the Heartless could collect hearts so effortlessly while they – Nobodies, desperate to have hearts again – could not, when hearts would've completed them and allowed them to become whole again.
It just proved that Fate was a bitch and enjoyed screwing them over every chance she got.
Axel dragged his attention back to the courtyard, where Roxas was making quick work of the remaining Heartless. The Keyblades flashed and sang in his hands, and the last of the little black Shadows released the hearts they'd held captive for who knew how long.
Roxas was clutching Oathkeeper and Oblivion tightly, glaring at the courtyard's wall instead of following the flight of the released hearts. With a low oath, he summoned the Dusks back to him.
Axel expected the younger Nobody to demand more Heartless. He didn't expect Roxas to start ripping through the Dusks, teeth bared in a silent growl.
Axel didn't say anything. There wasn't exactly a shortage of the lowly Nobodies and, well – there was no way in hell he was going to wade in there and try to make Roxas stop. Not when the blonde looked like that.
Axel felt something in his heartless chest tighten at the expression on the young Nobody's face. He felt like he wanted – he wanted something, damn it, but he didn't know what. All he knew was the expression on Roxas's face – he would've called it a cross between pain and anger if it had belonged to anyone but a Nobody – was making his empty chest ache.
Roxas stabbed both Keyblades into the final Dusk, then ripped the weapons out through the pale Nobody's sides. Axel winced again. Roxas raised Oathkeeper above his head, clearly intending to bring it crashing down on the already-dissolving Nobody's skull.
Axel pushed himself away from the wall.
"Oi, Roxas," he said calmly. His friend spun around to look at him, eyes wide, trembling. Axel locked his green eyes with the blonde's blue ones, his arms still crossed over his chest. "I think it's dead," he commented dryly.
Roxas stared at him a moment, still tense, trembling. He threw a glance behind him to where the Dusk had almost completely vanished. And suddenly, his manic energy deserted him.
"Yeah," he said hoarsely, slumping forward and allowing the Keyblades to fade away. "Yeah, I guess it is."
Roxas looked so defeated in that moment that Axel had the irrational urge to wrap his arms around the younger Nobody. Only the thought that Roxas would probably stab him with a Keyblade stopped him.
Axel blinked. Where the hell had that come from?
"C'mon," he said, shaking off the strange thought. He allowed his customary smirk to cross his features. "Let's get out of here, ok?"
Roxas glanced up at him, and while he didn't exactly smile, he no longer looked so distraught.
"Sure," he said, straightening and running one gloved hand through his mess of damp hair.
Axel waited for the boy to walk over to him, then he turned and fell in step beside him as they left the empty courtyard behind.
"So what's up?" Axel asked. Roxas had already worked off the majority of his aggression – he should want to talk soon. But Roxas tensed beside him, casting a wary glance around the pristine white hall.
"Not – not here," he mumbled.
Axel cocked an eyebrow at him, confused. Roxas flushed angrily, turning his face away from the redhead.
"I don't wanna talk about it here," he muttered. "Let's go back to your room."
Axel blinked, but he didn't press Roxas any further. Something was definitely bothering the kid.
They continued on through the twisting halls in silence, Axel stealing surreptitious glances at the Key of Destiny out of the corner of his eye. He only half-heard Demyx's cheery greeting, waving a distracted hand in the sitarist's general direction.
When they were finally behind Axel's closed door, the Flurry of Dancing Flames frowned down at his friend in confusion.
"What the hell was that about?" he asked. Roxas didn't answer him right away. Turning away from him, the blonde threw himself onto Axel's bed, burying his head under the pillow. Axel huffed in annoyance.
"I sleep there, ya know," he complained. Roxas didn't respond.
Axel repressed the urge to sigh again. Uncrossing his arms, he sat on the edge of the bed, staring at Roxas's back.
"What's wrong?" he asked, trying to make his voice gentle. "If all you wanted to do was kill Heartless, there are better ways to go about it than bringing them inside the castle."
"Doesn't matter, does it?" Roxas finally responded, his voice muffled. "Doesn't matter where I kill them, as long as they release the hearts. So everything can move forward according to the Superior's plan."
The venom in the young Nobody's voice made everything fall into place.
Roxas didn't answer, burrowing his head more deeply beneath Axel's pillow. Axel reached out and grabbed one of the boy's hands, prying his grip away from the pillowcase.
Roxas batted his hand away savagely. He threw the pillow to the side, flipping over and sitting up so abruptly he almost smacked into Axel's nose.
"I asked him if there was a chance the things we sometimes feel might be more than memories," he grated out harshly, his eyes drilling into Axel's as if daring the older Nobody to laugh at him. "Because I don't remember my Other, but I still feel the same echoes you do, and he does, and – " Roxas paused, his throat working furiously as he choked on his words.
Axel didn't stop to think. He reached out and wrapped his arms around the younger Nobody, pulling Roxas's head against his chest. He felt the boy stiffen in surprise, but he didn't try to pull away. Axel threaded gloved fingers through Roxas's hair, stroking the blonde tresses until Roxas relaxed marginally, leaning into him the slightest bit.
"It doesn't matter, Roxas," he said gently. He felt the kid tense at his words, but he tightened his grip on the blonde's shoulders and kept running his fingers through his hair. "Even if they're more than memories, we're still not complete. We have to get our hearts back, or we'll fade again."
He could only imagine what the Superior had said to the kid. Xemnas had to be the least tactful bastard Axel had ever known.
"Don't worry about what Xemnas said," he whispered, kneading the base of Roxas's skull. "Even if they are just memories, they're memories of something real."
Roxas's hands reached up and latched onto the front of Axel's dark jacket. The kid didn't say another word, but he leaned forward, burying his face in Axel's chest, and Axel felt as well as heard the deep sigh issue from his lips.
Axel continued to pull his fingers through Roxas's hair, his eyes fixed on nothing in particular, a small smile on his lips.