(A/N): It's been a journey, guys. I can't thank you enough for sticking with it. I seriously love you all - you've made this entire process worth every stupid second. I hope you enjoy this, the last chapter.
Disclaimer: Right. Twenty chapters later, I still do not own any of this.
Hanging by a Moment
Time slowed to a crawl. Roxas finally managed to break out of his paralysis – he took a step back, raising his arms in front of his face in a hopeless effort to protect himself from the vehicle bearing down on him. The car closed the distance between them with frightening rapidity, and Roxas squeezed his eyes shut, inanely hoping it wouldn't hurt.
And suddenly Axel was there, arms wrapping around Roxas's shoulders and pulling the blond into his chest. Roxas froze, mind blank with shock, and Axel tightened his arms around him and dragged him around so that his own body stood between Roxas and the coming car. Panic drummed through Roxas's body and he shoved blindly at Axel's chest, trying to get the redhead to release him, but Axel refused to be shaken off. Roxas wanted to scream at the unfairness of it all, but before he could open his mouth, the car struck them.
The bone-jarring impact forced them up and back, on top of the car's hood. They teetered there for a few precarious moments, and Roxas could only squeeze his eyes shut again and fist his hands in Axel's jacket.
The car's brakes shrieked as the driver slammed down on them again, and the car began listing to the right as he lost control of the vehicle. Axel and Roxas slid off the side of the hood and fell back toward the sidewalk. They struck the pavement and rolled once, twice; Axel's arms fell away from him and Roxas rolled free, coming to rest in a tangled heap on the cracked concrete.
For long moments all he could do was lay there with his cheek pressed against the wet pavement, tasting the blood in his mouth and hazily worrying about internal bleeding. He couldn't really feel his body, but he wasn't sure he really wanted to. The world seemed to contract and expand around him, and he let his eyes fall closed, only peripherally aware of the rain beating down on him and the buzz of worried conversation above him.
Everything came crashing back down on him when someone laid a tentative hand against his shoulder and squeezed gently.
Roxas's lips skinned back from his teeth in a silent scream as pain shot from the top of his skull down the length of his spine. Suddenly everything snapped into jagged relief – the pain beating a steady tattoo against his skull; the cold rain seeping into his clothing, making each small abrasion sting; the worried mutterings above him…
And Axel's continued silence.
Roxas ran a bloody tongue over equally bloody lips and tried to take a deep breath. Fire flared through his lungs, and he curled into a ball on the pavement, clutching his hands to his head. Hands descended on him from above, trying to keep him still.
"You shouldn't move."
Roxas managed to crack an eye open far enough to peer up at the faceless voice. A man with startling golden eyes and a neatly trimmed goatee was kneeling above him, expression shadowed. A wide-brimmed hat rested on the pavement next to him. "You," Roxas mumbled numbly.
The man flinched and drew his hands back. "You shouldn't move until the ambulance gets here," he said quietly. Roxas's features twisted in a snarl as he tried to push himself up.
"Please, you shouldn't –"
"It was your fault!" Roxas shouted, wrapping an arm around his aching ribs. The stranger winced and glanced away from Roxas. Roxas followed his gaze, his heart quailing in his chest when his eyes fell on Axel, lying still and silent on the sidewalk a few yards away from them.
"I'm sorry," the man murmured, so softly Roxas almost missed it. "I didn't see you – I'm so very, very sorry."
Roxas ignored him, his heart hammering painfully against his ribs as he tried to stand. His legs refused to support him. Grinding his teeth together, Roxas kept one arm wrapped securely across his chest and used his other arm to crawl the short distance to where the redhead lay.
Axel was lying on his back, arms flung wide and head lolling to the right. His eyes were closed. Roxas paused next to him, his pulse beating a punishing rhythm in his ears. He tried to speak; couldn't. Clearing his throat, he spat out a bloody wad of phlegm and tried again.
The redhead didn't respond to his voice. Roxas reached out and laid a hand against Axel's cheek, silently urging him to open his eyes. "Axel." He let his fingers trail to the side of Axel's throat, trying to remember where you were supposed to be able to feel the pulse. "Axel!" Giving up on trying to find the jugular, he gripped the redhead's shoulder, shaking him slightly. "Axel, dammit!"
Axel groaned in the back of his throat before his eyes fluttered open. "Roxas?" Roxas's fingers tightened spasmodically against the redhead's shoulder, and Axel winced. "That really – that really fucking hurts," he muttered with a grimace.
Roxas's mouth dropped open as a shaky smirk spread across Axel's lips. Ignoring the redhead's shout of pain, Roxas shoved at his shoulder before he drew back. "You…you fucking asshole," he breathed, sitting heavily on the ground.
"Sticks and stones, Rox," Axel chided in a weak voice. Roxas groaned and leaned forward, wrapping both arms across his chest.
"Moron," he whispered, voice trembling. Axel's lips twisted up in a grin as he cast a glance down the length of his body.
"Can't argue with that," he breathed, resting his head back on the pavement. Roxas opened his mouth only to close it again; tightening his arms around his chest, he hunched forward, trying to ignore the rain seeping into what felt like every article of his clothing. After a few moments of silence, Axel let his eyes slide closed.
Axel cracked an eye open and peered up at him, expression blank. Roxas ducked his head and cut his eyes to the side. "You could've gotten killed," he muttered, struggling to keep his voice even. Axel stared at him for a moment before he tried to laugh, but it quickly devolved into a violent fit of coughing.
"You're killing me, kid," he wheezed, raising one hand and tangling it in Roxas's hair. He tugged the blond's head down closer to him, ignoring Roxas's thin hisses of protest. He waited until Roxas met and held his gaze before he spoke again. "It's not the same, Roxas, you hear me? It's over. I can't do this shit again."
Roxas blinked at him, a watery smile spreading across his features as Axel's face split into a strained grin. The redhead gave him a gentle shake before he unwound his fingers from Roxas's hair. Roxas reached up and grabbed Axel's hand, tangling their fingers together as he slowly lowered it back to the ground. Axel's expression eased before he let his eyes fall closed again.
Sirens rose in the distance, and Roxas tilted his face up into the rain and waited, tightening his fingers around Axel's.
Roxas was taken to the hospital in a separate ambulance from Axel. He was kept overnight for observation and walked out of the hospital under his own power twenty-four hours later. He walked away from the accident with a mild concussion and a plethora of other minor sprains and abrasions.
Axel's left leg had been reduced to so many splinters of bone and required several pins to piece it back together. He underwent surgery an hour after being brought in. Roxas visited him every day, smuggling him food and soda until the redhead was wheeled out a week later, sporting a long leg cast and three cracked ribs.
Demyx met them at the entrance with a rented car.
None of them looked back as they pulled away.
Four months later
Roxas tugged self-consciously at the collar of his graduation gown, clutching his diploma to his chest and attempting a smile that came out looking more like a grimace.
"Oh, c'mon, Roxas," Sora huffed, frowning at him over the top of his camera. "It's your graduation – act happy." Roxas scowled at his cousin, but Sora only grinned and snapped the picture anyway. "There's one for the scrapbook," he muttered, straightening and rolling his eyes at Roxas.
"I'm dying in this thing," Roxas grumbled, picking at the shoulders of the gown. The day was unseasonably warm and humid, and the concept of an outdoor graduation had lost its appeal barely twenty minutes into the ceremony. Sora sighed and slipped the camera into his pocket, scratching idly at his hair as he came to stand next to Roxas.
"So how's it feel?"
"Hot," Roxas groused, waving his rolled diploma at his face in a vain attempt to cool himself off.
"Not that," Sora complained, smiling in spite of himself as he poked at his cousin's temple. Roxas's face broke into a grudging grin as he batted his hand away.
"I dunno," he sighed. "Hasn't sunk in yet, I guess." Sora made a small sound in the back of his throat and rocked back on his heels, watching all the activity around them. There was a short silence, both boys wrapped in their own thoughts. Finally, Roxas cleared his throat. "Did Riku graduate yet?"
Sora nodded distractedly, reaching up and tugging on a strand of his hair. "Last week. The day before I flew out." He ducked his head and scuffed a toe against the ground. "It'll be weird without him at school next year," he mumbled.
"Where's he going?"
"But that's still in Destiny Islands," Roxas protested. "He'll be right there, won't he?" Sora shrugged and stuffed his hands in his pockets.
"Yeah, I guess," he muttered.
"And you've still got Kairi," Roxas pointed out, smirking as he smacked Sora's arm with his diploma. A soft smile stole over Sora's face before he tilted his head up and stared at the sky.
"Yeah," he sighed. "I've still got Kairi."
"It's just another year," Roxas pressed. Sora blinked before he glanced over at his cousin, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Are you trying to cheer me up, Rox?" he asked, tilting his head to the side.
Roxas rolled his eyes and glanced away, frowning. "I'm just saying Riku graduating isn't the end of the world," he muttered.
Sora stared at him for another moment before he smiled and glanced away, rubbing sheepishly at the back of his head. "Yeah, I guess it isn't," he chuckled. There was another short silence before Sora turned back to face him, bending down to peer up at his face. Roxas scowled and crossed his arms over his chest.
Sora blinked before he grinned and straightened, running his hands through his hair. "Nothing."
They both looked up as Namine jogged up to them, one hand clapping her graduation cap to her head. Sora's grin gentled into a smile before he clapped Roxas on the shoulder and turned away. "I'm gonna find Cloud, okay, Roxas?" he called over his shoulder. "We'll see you later."
Roxas frowned after his cousin's retreating back until Namine laid a hand against his arm. She smiled up at him as she pressed a cloth-wrapped parcel into his hands. "Happy graduation, Roxas."
Roxas stared at the parcel, his throat tight. "Namine – we said no gifts," he muttered. Namine shrugged, her eyes bright as he laced her fingers together, twisting them nervously.
Roxas held the package for another moment before he undid the string, carefully pulling the cloth away from the object underneath. His eyes widened.
It was a small, lightweight canvas, one he could easily hold in his hand – Namine had painted the image so exactingly it almost resembled a photograph. Roxas stared at himself and Axel, sitting on the edge of some sort of high tower, overlooking a town drenched in perpetual sunset. They each held a bar of sea-salt ice cream.
He glanced up at Namine – she was biting her lip, studying his expression closely. "Do you like it?" she asked, a nervous smile trembling on her lips. Roxas stared at her for another second before he wrapped her in a tight hug, carefully holding the painting out of harm's way.
"Yeah," he breathed, burying his nose in her hair and smiling when she wrapped her arms tightly around his shoulders. "Yeah, I do."
He felt her smile against his neck before she pulled back, landing a quick peck against his cheek before she linked her fingers with his. "Olette wants us to come over to celebrate," she said softly. "Are you coming?"
Roxas smiled and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Yeah."
Axel opened the door at Roxas's knock, grinning when he found the blond standing in the hallway. "Your party over?" he asked, draping an arm over Roxas's shoulders. Roxas shrugged and let the redhead drag him further into the apartment.
"Yeah." He wrapped an arm around Axel's waist when he noticed the redhead was limping slightly. "How's your leg?"
Axel waved a hand dismissively, tugging Roxas down to sit next to him on the couch. "Still attached," he grinned. "Doctor says in another couple months it'll be just like new." Roxas nodded, his finger trailing over Axel's jeans, unconsciously tracing the circular scars that remained on the redhead's leg. "So," Axel sighed, running a hand through his hair and raising an eyebrow at Roxas, "now what?"
Roxas shrugged and ducked his head. "Dunno. College, I guess. Cloud's pretty insistent on that point."
Axel hummed in the back of his throat, threading his fingers through Roxas's hair. "Okay," he said slowly, a crooked smile spreading across his face when Roxas glanced up at him. "But I was talking about right now." Roxas couldn't help grinning as he rolled his eyes.
"I thought your leg hurt."
Axel snorted, sitting up and moving to straddle Roxas's lap. "It doesn't hurt that damn much, Rox." Roxas huffed as Axel sealed their lips together; Axel only grinned and slid his fingers up into Roxas's hair, pulling back far enough to quirk an eyebrow at the blond. "You staying tonight?"
Roxas shook his head in exasperation and pulled Axel back down for another kiss.