AN: Hello, all! Hope you're all well - despite technical issues, I've managed to get the first chapter of this thing to upload before heading off to Seattle for a bit, so... cool. I'd like to point out one last time that this is not a sequel to Tease, or related to Tease, or... yea. It's its own deal. Hope you like it!
Riku Evans squeezed his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to remain asleep, the insistent rustling of sheets intruding on his previously peaceful consciousness, or lack thereof. Determined to regain his restful state, he furrowed his brow, on the cusp of sleep when the sheets moved again, the crinkling and swishing carried across the room accompanied by a long sigh and the familiar creak of his brother's bed-frame. A deceptive minute of silence followed, in which Riku thought he might just be able to…
Swish, swish, rustle. Rustle, swish, crumple, crinkle, sniff, creak-
Rolling over to face Axel's side of the room, Riku opened his eyes enough to glare at the redhead, whose alert expression revealed him to be wide awake, his pale face illuminated in the streetlights and moonlight filtering through the blinds.
"What?" he said again, pushing long fingers through disheveled, burgundy spikes.
"Can you not?"
When Axel simply stared back, confused, Riku imitated his previous actions, grasping his sheets and making as much noise as possible with them as he shifted to a more comfortable position.
"Oh, that," Axel replied, waving his hand as if to dismiss Riku's request. "Sorry, it's just – I had to toss and turn. It's traditional, you know, when one's trying to make a decision. Tossing and turning."
Riku blinked slowly, squinting at the neon blue 1:46 shining out from the clock beside his bed. "Decision about what?" he mumbled.
"Well, I was trying to decide if I should wake you up or not. You know, because it's pretty late, and I was thinking that on the one hand, I really should, and on the other hand, you might be pissed off at me if I woke you up when it's roughly two in the morning. But I was really pretty sure I would just go ahead and do it."
"How convenient," Riku muttered, burying his face in his arms as he lay on his stomach. "I'm awake. What do you want?"
Another rustling of sheets indicated Axel's movement into a fully sitting position, and after a few moments of silence, Riku looked up. "Go on, what do you want?"
"You don't remember what today is? Err… well, yesterday, I guess, since it's technically tomorrow now. I mean, it's today. But it's-"
Axel nodded, fixing an expectant stare on Riku's bleary-eyed expression. "Which is…?"
Riku closed his eyes again, letting out a sigh as he tried to remember something special about the previous day. "Namine's birthday," he said finally, opening his eyes. "She's 17."
"And she can go to R-rated movies? I don't know, Axel, what are you expecting? It's two in the morning, either get to your point or go to sleep."
"September 15th, Riku, it's the day we moved in here," Axel said indignantly. "12 years ago today. Err…yesterday. Tonight. You know what I mean!"
Riku took a minute to think before speaking again. "Shit, you're right."
"I can't believe you forgot," Axel muttered, leaning back against the window and ignoring Riku's pointed glare. "It's a tradition, we always stay up, and you just finished your homework and went to bed."
"It's been a long day, ok?"
"Mmhmm. A long day. Good reason to compromise our-our brotherhood!"
Riku snorted, recognizing Axel's joking voice. After 12 years of living with the redhead, he'd become well accustomed to the subtle variations between his serious tone and his more common, sarcastic tone.
"We're not brothers," he challenged, willing his weary muscles to wake up and move him into an upright position. "We just have weird fucking parents."
"Yea, yea, you say that every year. The fact remains… 12 years. I think once you pass the decade mark of two families sharing a house, you've pretty much merged into one, big, happy family, yea?"
Riku nodded slowly, giving up his argument, as he did every year on that night, and leaning back against his headboard, although he did still think he had a point about having weird parents. The two boys had heard the story countless times: their fathers had been good friends in college, and had only gotten closer after graduation. Over the course of a few years, they'd both gotten married, and when Riku and Axel were born mere months apart, their mothers had started to become closer to each other as well, getting the kids together to play and getting to know each other more than they had in previous years. After 3 years of watching the boys play, fight, and above all, grow up together, the two couples had tossed around the idea of moving into a nicer house in a better neighborhood together, and by the time the boys turned 5, they had made that idea a reality, picking a neighborhood with a good elementary school and a lower crime rate than the rest of the city. 12 years later, the two families still lived in the same house, and Axel and Riku continued to have good times, continued to fight, and continued to aid each other in the ever-present process of growing up.
"Do you remember the first night still?"
Riku nodded again, smiling a little as he turned to face Axel. "There were boxes everywhere," he said slowly, erasing their furniture in his mind and replacing it with memories of cardboard boxes – they'd seemed so big at the time. "And we didn't have beds yet."
"My mom came in with a bunch of blankets…"
"And we curled up on the floor," Riku continued, "And you were scared."
"I wasn't scared, I was apprehensive!" Axel protested, lying back again. When Riku simply raised his eyebrows, he sighed. "Fine. It was scary, ok? I always had a nightlight, and you were like, obsessed with sleeping in absolute pitch-black darkness."
"It was not pitch-black. It was like this, with the light from outside coming in!"
"That's not the point!"
"The point is," Axel said definitively, "The point is… it's been a long time. And… as weird as it may be… I'm glad that we're here. It's good to have a brother."
The two boys lapsed into another silence, broken only when Axel let out a massive yawn. Riku eyed his clock again.
"Ok, so since it's actually 2:00 now…"
"Yea, we should go to bed."
One last rustle of sheets, then silence, sweet silence, and Riku Evans let a smile spread across his face as he felt sleep finally overtake him for the night.
The next morning proceeded as usual for Axel; he was awakened around 6:45 by his backpack, dropped by Riku onto his sleeping form to remind him that there was school to wake up for. Groaning, he attempted to move out from under the monstrously heavy bag of schoolbooks, eventually managing to pull himself into a sitting position at the edge of his bed, his toes curling in the navy blue carpet beneath his feet. He gave Riku, who had apparently already showered, a woeful look before rubbing his eyes and heading for the bathroom. He turned on the shower, then stepped back into the bedroom to search the laundry hamper for a clean-enough towel. Recognizing a familiar purple towel (peppered with large stains from the last time Namine had insisted on the boys helping her put blue streaks in her hair), he pulled it from the pile and closed the bathroom door behind him, wondering idly if anyone could ever come up with a legitimately good reason for him to ever leave his room.
After all, he thought as he shucked off his pajama pants, they had outfitted it pretty well. When you walked in from the hallway, there was a sort of corridor of empty space down the middle of the room, leading to the bathroom door directly on the other side. Axel had the right-hand side of the room, with the window, and Riku had the left. A few years back, their parents had gotten them a shared computer, which inhabited a desk at the foot of Riku's bed, and the previous summer had seen the addition of two plaid bean bag chairs, a mini-fridge, and a small TV, which the boys had bought with money saved up from summer jobs. Much to Riku's chagrin, the TV lived at the foot of Axel's bed, and the walls on Axel's side housed a collage of photographs, magazine ads – anything, really, held to the walls with incredible amounts of scotch tape, as well as any quotes that Axel, or any of his friends, found memorable, scrawled in black sharpie in any empty spaces. Riku's wall was home to a few band posters, accompanied by magazine or newspaper articles he found interesting or entertaining, and an ongoing To-Do List, which held anything from "get toothpaste" to "Go to Europe before age 30."
By the time Axel made it downstairs, haphazardly threading his belt through the belt loops on his jeans as he went, Riku was already mostly done with breakfast, his fork scraping the remnants of pancakes from his plate as he carried on conversation with Axel's mother.
"We were thinking they'd come over around 5:30, so we have plenty of time for dinner and coffee, and you guys can go off and do your thing, you know…"
"Who's coming at 5:30?" Axel asked, finally finishing buckling his belt and reaching for a pancake.
"Tomorrow night," Riku said. "The Jacobs."
"Mm. I see."
Axel and Riku exchanged a less-than-enthusiastic look; Axel's sarcasm more pronounced than Riku's. Sora Jacobs was in their grade at school, and his family had been family friends with theirs for as long as they could remember. Despite their parents' urging, neither Riku nor Axel had ever gotten particularly close with Sora, and every time they were forced to hang out, they ended up awkwardly watching a movie or playing cards until their parents were all done catching up with each other. What made it even more awkward was the fact that, all things considered, they really should have been friends; all of them were Theatre kids, and had been working together on school productions for the past 3 years. Many of Axel and Riku's friends were also Sora's friends, or at least knew him better than they did, which struck Axel as kind of ironic when he considered how many times he'd sat for 2 hours in silence with the brunet, eyes glued to some action movie or other. Their differences lay in that Sora was an actor – a singing, dancing, makeup-covered, costume-clad actor, and Riku and Axel were a different breed of Theatre kid – Tech Theatre kids. In fact, Riku was considered pretty much the top dog in the techie community at school ("Not like computer-techie, like lights-techie. Building stuff-techie. You know, plywood and screws and climbing around," he'd explained to their parents). He called almost every show, and was granted by Ms. Lockheart, the school's Technical Theatre teacher, his own set of keys to the building, to the lighting cage, the booth, the dimmer closet, every storage closet in the theater, makeup rooms, dressing rooms, the greenroom – everything; as well as the honor of being one of very few students allowed to call the teacher Tifa. He had a knack for being a hardass without making people hate him, and managed to get everyone working for him without complaint, a skill that Axel had always been mildly jealous of. Axel himself had picked up Tech at the same time Riku had, hoping he could get his Arts credits out of the Tech Theater class without actually having to do any 'art'. He had found himself actually having fun one afternoon, crawling through the trap-door on the theater roof to the catwalk, where a number of lights were hung out above the audience, and as he'd focused another 30-pound lamp, tightening the bolts into position with a bright orange wrench, he'd decided he'd just go ahead and keep on tech-ing. Since then, he'd generally been the one to run the counterweights, a job that didn't require extreme attention to detail (not one of Axel's strengths), but still required the ability to actually pull a rope with a fair amount of resistance on the other end. In any event, neither of them had ever found any real connection with the cheerful brunet, and the prospect of a Friday evening spent playing game after game of Spoons in silence was vaguely disheartening.
Axel chewed his pancake slowly, only half listening as he heard his mom tell Riku that one of Sora's friends would be coming along; his parents were out of town so he was staying with Sora's family, and she hoped that Axel and Riku would be friendly. When questioned further, she revealed herself to be utterly uninformed as to who that friend would be, and after determining that there was no further information, Riku stood up from the table.
"We should go," he said shortly. "It's almost 7:45."
"Gimme a second? I'm not done yet," Axel protested, attempting to stuff all of his remaining breakfast into his mouth at once.
Riku, however, waited for no one, and Axel was forced to run 3 blocks, his backpack thudding against his back, to catch up to him.
Axel was unsurprised to find most of the Tech Theater class already congregated in the theater by the time he arrived, a few minutes after the bell for 6th period had rung. Ms. Lockheart was usually about 5 minutes late or working on something, but for some reason, Axel was one of few students in the class who actually took advantage of the opportunity to meander through the hallways, stop to get a drink of water, look at the identical still-life paintings from 3rd period Draw/Paint displayed on the walls, etc. Locating his friends, he headed for the front of the house, where he dropped his backpack and slumped down in his usual spot between Namine and Xigbar.
"Late again," Namine noted, pulling his backpack close enough to use as a footrest. Tucking a piece of soft, blonde hair behind her ear, she fixed him with an expectant look.
"I'd like to look at it more as you guys all being early," he replied, shooting her a smile as he nodded hello to Xigbar and, one seat further down, Riku. "Lockheart here yet?"
As if on cue, Tifa emerged from the shop, jogging apologetically across the stage and sitting down at the edge, her legs dangling down into the orchestra pit.
"Sorry, sorry guys, I was just, um, I was having an issue with the band saw, but that's all figured out now, and I'm just a couple, ah, a couple minutes late, right?"
Most of the class nodded, including Axel, who personally thought Ms. Lockheart was pretty cool. Over the past couple of years, a group of sort of core techies had emerged – those who were generally running every show, didn't suck at building, and actually liked tech. This generation, the core techies were Riku, who was pretty much the head of everything; Axel, who did odd jobs and ran the counterweights during shows; Namine, who insisted upon running everything to do with lights; Xigbar, whose main strengths lay in building, but generally helped out with props or running crew during shows; and Marluxia, who didn't take the Tech class, and in fact, would probably not be able to effectively decipher a piece of 2x4 from a handsaw, but was strangely gifted in the arts of both costuming and makeup, and was arguably the straightest male on the crew. Ms. Lockheart had come to appreciate and befriend the core techies, as well as the others, who joined any given show as something to do, or a way to stay involved when they didn't make the cut to be in the show. Likewise, Axel was one of the kids at school who was well aware that while Ms. Lockheart was a young, pretty, female teacher, she knew her power tools. On his first day of class, Axel had thought she was joking when she'd told him to "show that table saw who's boss." He'd soon learned that she was not only dead serious, but she really did know how to show a table saw that it was not, in fact, the boss of her, and it was kind of scary. Either way, the group of core techies was missing one member – Larxene, who had run sound for the past 4 years, had graduated; quite a blow to the team, which was now looking for someone slightly more on the creative side than Riku to design and run the sound for the Fall Musical.
The Fall Musical had been fairly controversial this year in other ways, too. While Tifa was the Tech Theatre teacher, Leon Leonhart, a hard-faced man in his late 20's, was the regular Theatre teacher. Leon directed every show, although he and Tifa generally collaborated on choosing which ones they would do. It was in choosing the Fall Musical that the controversy had emerged. Leon and Tifa had narrowed it down to three choices by the beginning of the school year, and had planned a meeting with the principal to decide which it would be. Unfortunately, the meeting had taken a different turn, and the principal of the school had thought it might be nice for the production to be an original one – namely, the musical written by the summer school Playwriting class, which was an elective taken by students who wanted to get their arts credits out of the way during the summer. Tifa had thought it sounded cheesy, and Leon had been outright infuriated, but the principal's mind was not to be changed easily. They'd arranged for another meeting, and today would be the day that Tifa and Leon would announce to the Tech class, and the school, what the Fall Musical would be. Cast the show any later, and there wouldn't be enough time to build the set and rehearse enough before they'd have to open, so September 16th it was, and judging by Leon's expression as he entered the theater, the musical was not going to be first-rate.
Tifa sighed from her spot on the stage as Leon strode to the front of the house, ever-dramatic.
"Well, guys, looks like Mr. Leonhart's here, so, um, he's gonna just give a sort of summary of what the musical is," she announced, picking wood shavings off of her jeans. "We don't have scripts for you guys yet, but I've got a pretty good idea of what the set is gonna be, so you can start pulling platforms and flats today. We've really cut our preparation time short fighting over what show we'd do, so it's going to be a lot of work, and a lot of coming in on Saturdays- don't make those faces at me! Um, I'm sure the musical will grow on you guys after a few weeks…"
Leon gave a curt nod before turning to the class. "We lost," he said, brow furrowing as he leaned back against the stage. "We're being forced into putting on a show written by 15-year-olds. It's cliché, and sappy, and romantic, and everything you would expect, but Dr. Highwind has apparently promised this class a show, and parents got upset when we tried to suggest a few legitimate alternatives, so there it is."
Sighing, he hung his head for a moment before looking up to continue. "So, the assignment that this Playwriting class had over the summer was to write a musical… centered around a song that they liked. An actual, copyrighted, on-the-radio song. Part of the experience was that they had to go about figuring out how to do this legally, which, unfortunately, they did. Believe me, I tried to get out of it for legal reasons – there are none. They picked…" he trailed off for a moment, flipping open a copy of the script he'd brought in with him. "They picked 'Dig.' I don't know this song, but they managed to get sheet music and arrange it for their awful, flat, predictable characters. Hence the name of the musical, Dig."
"Like… the Incubus song?"
Axel didn't turn around to see who had asked the question; he didn't recognize the girl's voice, so he knew it was one of the freshmen he didn't know.
Leon sighed again, checking the script for the credits. "No, it's not like the Incubus song, it is the Incubus song."
After a moment of awkward silence, Namine raised her hand. Receiving a nod from Leon, she straightened up in her chair a bit before speaking. "So, what is it about?"
"It's a love story," he replied brusquely, dropping his script onto the stage behind him, where Tifa began to fiddle with the pages.
Clearing her throat, she let out a small laugh before smacking Leon lightly on the back of the head.
"What Negative Nancy isn't telling you," she began, ignoring the daggers Leon was glaring at her, "is that it's the story of a guy named Theo, as in, Theodore. It says here," she continued, opening the script, "It says here, Theo is an aspiring young actor who wants to make it in showbiz. So he goes to California with his friend Teddy, also short for Theodore, as his manager, and his other friend Camilla. He wants to be a big star, and at an audition for a TV show he meets another young, aspiring actor, although this one is a woman, named Lola. Oh god, could they have possibly picked a more cliché name? Moving on, surprise surprise, Theo falls in love with Lola. Neither of them makes it onto that TV show, but they meet again at an audition for another TV show, which they both, coincidentally, are cast in. Teddy the manager runs off to get married to Camilla… Then, let's see… Oh, here's a good name, Chantal, she's the producer-slash-director of the TV show, and she has a thing for Theo, so she convinces both Theo and Lola that if they get the other written off the show, they'll get a, and I quote, a 'massive pay raise.' She wants them to break up, because she wants to be with Theo. So they each befriend a writer on the show, Theo befriends Tommy and Lola befriends, oh man, Lola befriends Lilith. And eventually, Chantal's nefarious plot is revealed, and they all sing and realize how much they love each other and they're all such good friends. It says, Chantal is fired, and they end with the song."
Looking up, Tifa appeared to be trying very hard not to laugh, and Leon was shaking his head, cursing under his breath. In an attempt to be polite, the class remained silent, save for Axel, who was chuckling loudly from his seat, despite Namine smacking him on the arm as if she were trying to kill a large mosquito.
Leon cleared his throat and checked his watch, then looked up at the class. "Well, auditions will be after school next week, and the show will be cast by next Friday. If any of you are… somehow… interested in being in it. Either way, I'm late for a parent meeting, so… get to work."
After Leon had finished stalking out of the theater, the class slowly began to get out of their seats, Tifa assigning small groups to different tasks. Namine and Axel were sent to a storage area in the stage left wing to pull flats, and as they examined the various pillars, streetlights, roman columns, and doorframes they'd have to move, they each contemplated the play. Axel thought it might be nice to try doing it as if it were making fun of itself, although, not having read the dialogue yet, he wasn't sure just how bad it would be.
Watching Namine move a large column, he contemplated her instead. He'd met her doing tech as a freshman, back when her hair had been short, choppy, and dyed purple. He had thought about talking to her a few times early that year, but she always seemed to be hanging out with Kairi, and she always seemed to know exactly what she was doing, which was fairly intimidating for him. Their first conversation had occurred when Axel had learned the hard way he had been hanging all the lights backwards. He'd nearly fallen off the catwalk in fright when she'd appeared behind him, eyes flashing and purple hair blowing in the wind from the open trapdoor as she ripped the wrench from his hand to smack him in the head with it. When he'd apologized profusely, she'd told him to stop being such a baby, and a beautiful friendship had been born, thus widening Axel's circle of friends significantly.
Namine and Kairi had been best friends since middle school, and, while Kairi had less tempestuous mood swings, they could be remarkably alike at times. Kairi had befriended Luxord, an exchange student from London whose parents had sent him to the US for high school, as had Xigbar, and the four of them had become quite close. They played poker regularly, and Luxord was less than subtle about his attraction to Kairi. As Axel and Namine had grown closer, he had been accepted into their group as well, making hanging out backstage at shows a lot less boring than it had seemed it would have been. The way it worked out, Xigbar and Luxord would play cards with Axel by the counterweights backstage during shows; Xigbar since he was a techie, and Luxord so that he might catch a glimpse of Kairi changing costumes between scenes. As it happened, while Namine had been building her empire of lighting, Kairi had taken to the stage as an actress, and had at least a small role in almost every school production.
Namine wiped her hands on her jeans before reaching up to put her hair into a ponytail. During sophomore year, she'd grown her hair out, and over the summer before junior year, she'd dyed it back to its natural blonde. Axel almost hadn't recognized her when he saw her with blonde hair, but by September, he'd gotten used to it, and enjoyed making dumb blonde jokes at her expense (although he didn't enjoy the resulting violence directed at him).
"Who do you think is gonna be Theo?" he asked, looking away as she caught him staring.
Namine snorted, grabbing another column to move out of the way. "Who's always the male lead?"
Axel nodded, reaching for a flat that had finally been exposed. "Sora Jacobs. I dunno why I even asked, you're right."
"He's pretty good friends with Kairi," she noted, stepping back to allow Axel room to maneuver the flat out of storage. "I've hung out with him a few times. He's a nice guy. Pretty cute, too. Big, blue eyes, athletic-ish build, although no more muscular than you…"
"You should date him," Namine said matter-of-factly, grinning at Axel as he dropped the flat to floor behind them. Axel stared at her skeptically, somehow managing to narrow his eyes and raise his eyebrows at the same time.
"What?" she said, shrugging. "He's gay, you're gay. He's cute, you're… interesting…"
Giggling at the glare she received, she reached for another flat. "Stop pouting, it makes you look like a girl! And you know I'm just kidding…"
Axel made an extra-pouty face for good measure before moving to help her with the flat, which seemed to be stuck on something. "How do you even know he's gay? Jeez, I can't even imagine him being either way, straight or gay. Sora Jacobs just isn't a sexual being, you know? He dances around and snaps his fingers during the whisper sections of songs and has dramatic stage-kisses with girls like Kairi, where they're both wearing so much makeup their lips don't technically touch each other."
Letting go of the flat, Namine poked her head around the side to give Axel a sarcastic look. "Hun, he's a theater kid, and he's a guy. So…"
"I resent that! You know, there are plenty of straight, male theater kids! Xigbar, for example?"
Namine paused, apparently deep in thought. "Xiggy's not really a theater kid, though."
"Uh, he takes the class, Nam."
"Yea, because he likes the power tools," Namine retorted, finally pulling the flat free of whatever had been hindering its movement.
Dropping it behind them again, Axel sighed. "Uh, Riku?"
"Riku is questionable," Namine said, raising one eyebrow. "I would suspect – don't give me that look! I would suspect, that Riku is hiding something."
"And why is that?"
Namine simply shrugged, a high pitched sort of 'nnnnn-I-dunno" sort of noise emanating from behind her thin smile.
"Great reasoning, that is," Axel said sarcastically, getting behind a doorframe to push it out of the way. "You know, his first kiss was with Kairi. I don't think a guy can get any straighter than kissing Kairi. Except, of course, by kissing you, you know, the epitome of femininity…"
Namine snorted, striking a model pose in her cargo shorts and wifebeater. "I would urge you to remember that said first kiss was in the 8th grade, and they went out for a few brief months before breaking up. And since then? Which girls has he been dating since Kairi? Ohh, that's what I thought, none that either of us knows of. And you cannot claim that Riku's a nonsexual being. I haven't seen a body like his since the Abercrombie & Fitch models were standing around topless at the mall, leeching money from girls like me and Kai who wanted to take pictures with wickedly beautiful men."
"So take pictures with Riku, then."
"Aha!" she exclaimed, pointing emphatically at Axel's face. "You're changing the subject, because you know I'm right! The first kiss may have been Kairi… but the second? The third?!"
"You are such a creeper, you know that?" Axel shook his head and grinned as he kicked a fake plant further back into the storage closet. "Riku's… a very focused kind of guy. Which is not to say that he's no fun! I mean, you know that, we hang out all the time. He's just… I mean, you know. He's just not really into romance, or sex, or anything."
"Your naïveté is killing me, Axel. Nobody isn't into sex."
Axel narrowed his eyes. "You're not into sex."
"Oh, I'm into sex," she replied, giving Axel a sultry look from behind a roman column.
"…you're a virgin, Nam."
Namine stuck her tongue out. "I know you are, but what am I?"
Shaking his head, he plunged further into the storage closet, tugging at a piece of wood that he thought might have been attached to a flat until it splintered and fell off of whatever it had been attached to. From outside the dark closet, he heard Namine's voice continue.
"I'm not talking about actual sex, here, Ax, not real, complete, intercourse, per se, but more… just… sexual things. It's not like I haven't done anything!"
"Nam, I really don't care what you have or haven't done," Axel said, emerging empty-handed from the back of the closet. "Moving away from the topic of my brother's sexuality, though…. Marluxia! Marly's straight, and undeniably a theater kid. He does makeup."
Namine looked vaguely interested at the mention of Marluxia, scuffing her sneakers against the floor. "Marly's straight, yea."
"No argument?" Axel said, pushing her jokingly out of his way as he moved to another section of the closet. "The kid has pink hair. He makes dresses and organizes the school's makeup, and you would sooner believe he's straight than Riku, who has absolutely no suspicious hobbies, tendencies, mannerisms…"
"Well, I have solid evidence than Marly's straight, whereas Riku? Not so much."
Axel stopped shifting set pieces for a moment to stare at Namine. "Solid evidence? What the hell's that supposed to mean? Are you blushing?"
"Namine's blushing! Oh my God, you're blushing! What did you do with him? What did you do with Marly?"
"We hooked up once over the summer!" she blurted out, kicking Axel in the shins to quiet him. "But you can't tell anyone! Kai will have a fit if she finds out, she… likes him too."
Nursing his injured shin, Axel raised his eyebrows. "Competition?"
"I never said she was competition," Namine replied, picking at her ivory-colored nail polish. "I just don't want to hurt her feelings. I'm very competitive, though. If I thought she was any real threat, well… I dunno. We're best friends, we're not going to stop being friends because of some boy."
Axel gave a sagely nod, and Namine nodded back, and they stood there in nodding silence for a moment.
Taking a deep breath, Namine turned back to the second storage closet, grasping the edge of a flat to pull. "Either way," she said determinedly. "Sora Jacobs and you. I vote yes."
Axel sighed, helping her disentangle a fake vine from the flat. "I don't even know him. Really, like… he's come over to our house a bunch, but like… I don't even remotely know what he's like. Who does he hang out with, anyway? Just Kairi and the other actor kids, or…?"
Namine hesitated for a moment before tugging hard, pulling the flat from its confines. "Um… yea, he hangs out with me and Kai, and then other actor kids, I guess, like… Tidus, or whatever. But he's not really close with most of the other actor kids. I mean, they're good enough friends, but they just know him as like… Cheerful Gay Sora Who Sings Good, you know? They don't really get him."
"Yea, I mean like, close close friends. You know, like you and me."
"Well, Kairi. And Luxord, he and Luxord get along surprisingly well. He has some close friends from that acting school he takes classes at in the summers, and then, um…"
"And then what?" Axel asked, studying Namine's suddenly guarded expression. "What, who else?"
"No one," she said quickly. "That's it. I dunno."
"You don't know? Why are you all weird all of a sudden?"
"No, no, no, I didn't want this to come up," Namine moaned, resting her head on a fake streetlight. "I don't wanna say. You're gonna get all weird and tense and you'll be in a bad mood for the rest of the day, and I was gonna ask you to get ice cream with me and Xiggy after school, and you're gonna pull that 'I'm so tired, I'm just gonna go home' shit, and-and-no…"
Axel narrowed his eyes. "Who is it?"
"Just tell me, Nam!"
"It's not important!"
"You're making it important by refusing to tell me, if you'd just say it and get it over with, I can't imagine who it could possibly-"
"Roxas Casey," she said quietly, looking away.
"Oh." Axel stiffened a little, his face unreadable. After a moment, he reached for a column he had been meaning to move. "I dunno why you'd think I'd get pissed off over that," he said, his tone indecipherable.
"I just… didn't want to bring his name into the conversation if I didn't have to, you know?"
"Why? You think I can't handle it?"
"No," Namine said, sighing. "It's just… you guys have…history."
Axel paused, having set the column down out of the way. "Yea, but it was a long time ago, we were freshman when it ended. I'm over it, really."
"I believe you."
The two stood quietly again for a moment, Axel looking at the floor, Namine looking at Axel, until finally, Axel looked up.
"Just out of curiosity, though, they're… close friends?"
Namine nodded. "Yea."
"Um… they hang out a lot. Like, every weekend. Sora brings him with sometimes when he goes out to eat with me and Kai. They laugh a lot."
"What, like a date?" Axel asked fiercely, his head snapping up to meet Namine's eyes.
"No no no, not like a date," Namine said hastily. "They're not going out or anything. If they were, Sora's parents would never let Roxas stay at their house."
Axel turned to the storage closet, his shoulders sagging a little. "He's staying at Sora's house? And Sora's… gay. And he's… Wait, he's the one staying with Sora right now?"
Namine nodded again, helping to pull the last flat from the closet as Axel stood by, arms hanging limp by his sides.
"Yea, his parents are out of town, so he's staying at Sora's for a few days. Why?"
"I talked to him once last year," Axel said slowly, moving Namine out of the way and holding onto the flat. "I just…" He paused again, gripping the edge of the flat tightly. "We're having dinner with Sora's family tomorrow night, and mom said Sora was bringing a friend." Sighing, he pulled hard, wrenching the flat from its familiar storage spot and dropping it with a loud clattering noise onto the others behind him as the bell rang to end 6th period.
"You know, I'm feeling pretty tired," he said, refusing to meet Namine's eyes. "I think I'm just gonna head home, if that's all right. I'll get ice cream another day."
AN: Thanks so much for reading! Please feel free to leave a review and let me know what you thought! Next chapter will be up sometime pretty soon - exciting spring break, yea? XD