AN: Hey everyone. As usual, I'm sorry it took me so long to get this one out. If anyone is still reading, here it is! Heh. Anyway, this is, as you can probably tell, the last chapter of Dig. It always was going to be, I didn't just cut it short because I got tired of it or anything. Might write something else to go with it, or after it - this story is like my baby, even though it took me forever to finish it up!
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed the story! Thank you very much for reading, and don't hesitate to let me know what you thought!
Axel closed his eyes, lying back on the roof. He inhaled the scent of gunpowder and coffee and charred hot dogs, exhaled white steam into the dry winter air. Down below, on the driveway, something green and pink and white fizzed and crackled and popped, and Axel opened his eyes to watch the smoke twisting gently into the night sky. He shivered.
"Axel, come on, don't you wanna do one?"
Riku was staring critically up at him from the driveway, and Axel took a deep breath before grinning and climbing down from the roof.
"Alright, alright, get outta the way! You're doing them all wrong, anyway!"
"Oh, whatever, Axel!"
It was the night before opening night, and Sora had brought over a box of little fireworks to celebrate with on the driveway. In the spirit of "Fourth of July in December", the boys had made hot dogs and set out blankets and sleeping bags on the roof outside Axel and Riku's window, though it was proving to be colder than previously expected.
Approaching the box, Axel knelt down beside a shivering Roxas.
"What have we got left?" he asked, nudging the other boy's elbow out of his way.
Roxas sniffed, his nose bright red in the cold. "Looks like… a tiger or a bee. And like, 40 sparklers. Take your pick."
"Sparklers, pshh, whatever! I'll take the tiger!"
Roxas laughed, tossing Axel something square and orange and black. "Go for it."
"Hang on, hang on! Wait one sec!"
Looking up, Axel spotted Sora clambering onto the roof behind Riku, his chocolate spikes pressed flat against the sides of his face by a snug-fitting ski cap.
"Are you serious? It's probably a better view from down here, anyway," Axel muttered, heading to the center of the driveway with his lighter and his cardboard tiger. But he waited anyway, until the three other boys had all settled in at the edge of the roof, feet hanging over the gutter.
"Ready?" he called out, and then there was smoke, and a few sparks, and then nothing.
After a moment, Sora yelled "Kick it!" And after another moment of hesitation, Axel took a few tentative steps toward the ostensibly dead firework.
"Are you sure it's not gonna like, blow off my foot or-"
Axel leapt back as the tiger began to spark again, and for the next thirty seconds or so it whistled and steamed and shot a fountain of yellow-orange sparks into the air. Afterward, Sora clapped and cheered and Riku sipped his coffee and Axel went and set up the bee.
Sora looked up. He'd been watching Roxas and Axel on the driveway, drawing smoke pictures with sparklers. Riku looked very… controlled, Sora thought, but he shrugged it off.
"It's December," he replied, smiling. "Isn't that normal?"
Riku stood up. "I'll get you another blanket."
"That's okay," Sora said quickly, standing up as well. "I got it. Where are they?"
"I'm already up," Riku mumbled, and he climbed through the window. Sora climbed in after him, following him through the boys' bedroom and halfway down the hall to a linen closet. Riku pulled out a heavy, old quilt, forcing it into Sora's hands without making eye contact. When Sora didn't move, he sighed.
"What's wrong with you?" Sora asked slowly. "You've been acting really weird, ever since the party."
"I- no I haven't," Riku said, leaning back against the wall. The hallway was dark, all four of the resident parents were in bed for the night.
"You have. You have, and no one will tell me what happened. I can't remember anything after we smoked, and I know something happened, and no one will tell me!"
"Nothing happened," Riku growled, pushing past Sora and heading back toward the bedroom.
"If nothing happened, then why won't anyone-"
"God dammit, Sora!"
Riku stopped in front of Axel's bed, the light from outside illuminating his pale face through the window.
"Close the door," he added, defeated, and Sora dropped the quilt on Riku's bed before doing so. Riku had taken a seat on Axel's bed, and after closing the door, Sora sat down beside him.
"Are you going to tell me now?"
Riku closed his eyes, rubbing his temples. "You said some things to me," he began slowly. "When you were… you were really drunk."
Sora's chest tightened, and he stared at the floor. "What things," he said, monotone.
"You said, I mean, you said that… You said that you, I mean, that you… liked me. Look, I- the whole- the whole thing is stupid," Riku stammered, watching Sora's expression change. "Just forget about it, we can pretend it never-"
"-happened," Sora whispered, finishing the sentence for him. "No, I don't think it works that way. I think now that we both know it happened, I should probably, um, I should probably go, or something. This is, um, this is really awkward. And humiliating. And-"
And Sora never finished what he was saying, because then Riku was kissing him, tense and stiff like he didn't really know how.
"I thought you were straight," Sora murmured, pulling back a little.
Riku paused for a moment, looking down. "So did I," he said eventually. "But you're- I- I don't wanna talk about it."
"I'm irresistible," Sora said, grinning. "You want to kiss me, and hold me, and take care of me. You want-"
"You want to make me soup when I have a cold. And buy things for me. And take me out to dinner."
"Sora, shut up!"
"Or maybe you just want to have sex with me. Since, after all, what was it? Relationships in high school are just a vehicle for hooking up, right?"
Riku blinked, and Sora was sure he looked just about ready to explode.
"It's not like that," he huffed, turning to wrench the window open. "Just forget it, okay? If you're gonna be like that."
And he climbed back out the window to the roof, and Sora just laughed.
We all have a weakness, but some of ours are easy to identify. Look me in the eye.
Roxas felt his body move on autopilot to the front of the stage. For a fleeting moment, he was terrified. Terrified of the full house in front of him, of the bright lights shining in his eyes, of the costume binding him and the microphone amplifying his voice, his breath.
And ask for forgiveness, we'll make a pact to never speak that word again. Yes, you are my friend.
And then he wasn't Roxas anymore, was he? He was Theo, and he was in Hollywood, and the redhead in the shiny dress wasn't Kairi, she was Lola.
We all have something that digs at us. At least we dig each other.
And then he was singing, and his voice was louder and clearer and more perfect than he had ever heard it. He wondered if it was really coming from him, he wondered how he memorized all the lines he heard himself say.
So when weakness turns my ego up, I know you'll count on the me from yesterday.
And then the adrenaline rush found its way through his veins and into his heart, and he felt his eyes gloss over as the song rang out from his throat. He stared out over the crowd, 500 shadowed faces, without really seeing.
If I turn into another, dig me up from under what is covering the better part of me.
He let his eyes focus past the lights, and he could see Zexion and Riku and Namine in the booth. Kairi's voice brought him back to the stage, the harmony tugging his focus back to her face, caked with stage makeup. He felt himself move forward to take her hand, the familiar blocking burned into his muscle memory, and behind her he could see Axel standing in the wing, hands in pockets, muttering something inaudible into his crooked headset and shaking his head with a casual smile.
Sing this song; remind me that we'll always have each other, when everything else is gone.
He let his eyes fall closed, and when he opened them they locked onto Axel's. He had no idea what he looked like, and honestly, he didn't care. But Axel was looking at him differently than he ever had before – he had fixed Roxas with a look of utter admiration and adoration, and as Kairi began to sing her verse, he shook his head again and looked down, laughing gently. When he looked up again, Roxas could swear he was trying not to cry.
And before Roxas got another chance to really think, he found himself swept back into the music. The musical was drawing to a close, and then the rest of the cast was there, and Rikku was carefully nudging him back into place as he tripped over a dance move, and then the curtain was down and Xigbar was in the wing signaling that their mics were off, and Kairi was grinning at him as she dragged him into the center of the line, and the curtain was going back up, Kairi stepped forward and all Roxas could hear was his own blood rushing through his ears, Rikku whispering something, and then Sora was shoving Roxas forward because it was his turn to bow, wasn't it? He was the other star, wasn't he?
And all at once the roar of the crowd overpowered the rush in Roxas's ears, and he couldn't stop laughing because all of those people were standing up and cheering for him.
"You know, when you're up there on stage and everyone's cheering for you, maybe you'll see what I see in you, and maybe you'll see that there's no reason to… I… well. That's all, I guess."
It wasn't until the curtain went down for real that Roxas truly regained his sense of who and where he was and what was going on. He was immediately engulfed by the other actors, all of whom seemed to want to give him hugs and congratulations and in Kairi's case, kisses on the cheek. Breathlessly, he attempted to reciprocate, and over the crowd he saw Axel for a fleeting moment in the still-dark wing removing his headset before disappearing behind the curtains.
He didn't see him again, and Sora soon herded him down to the dressing room to wash off their stage makeup and change. His parents hadn't made it to the show, but Sora's had, and they were waiting in the hallway to take the two boys out for ice cream.
"Unless there's anything else you need to do here…?" Sora's mom asked, and Roxas looked back over his shoulder for a moment before shaking his head. The green room was still packed with other cast and crew, and he had no idea where he'd find Axel, or if he did, what he would really say to him.
"I'm good if you are," he said, looking to Sora, and they followed his parents out to the car.
The second night felt almost better than the first, Roxas thought, if that was even possible. He didn't fumble his steps in the dancing sections, and there was only one major slip-up when Kairi inexplicably skipped an entire page of dialogue.
So when sickness turns my ego up, I know you'll act as a clever medicine.
The post-show crowding was considerably less crazy on night two, and Roxas took his time in the bathroom scrubbing off his makeup. No one was waiting for him that night; his mom had called him mid-day to tell him they would have to catch the third and last night, their plane was delayed. They had left the keys to the BMW with him and trusted him to drive himself home without scratching it, and they would probably get home around 2:30 in the morning.
By the time he hit the dressing room, there were only a couple boys left in it, both freshmen he didn't really know. He nodded an exhausted "thanks" to them when they offered their congratulations, and after shucking off the tight jeans and shirt from the finale, he pulled on his own, looser jeans and stood still for a moment of quiet decompression. Eyes closed, he inhaled slowly before letting out a deep sigh and reaching for his shirt.
On his way out to the car, he ran into Riku, who was driving out of the parking lot alone. He rolled down the window as he saw Roxas approaching.
"Hey, nice job tonight," he said, turning his music down.
"Thanks," Roxas replied, grinning. "You too, of course. Where's Axel?"
Riku raised his eyebrows. "He wasn't here tonight. Woke up with a fever and a headache, so Luxord covered for him. He'll be back tomorrow night, though – he only stayed home tonight because his mom wouldn't let him out of the house. Nothing too serious."
A knowing smirk began to spread across Riku's face. "Why do you ask?"
Roxas returned the smug look, shrugging. "Oh, no reason. Just, ah, I didn't see you guys after the show last night, thought I'd… you know, congratulate him. It's his show too, after all."
Roxas laughed, and he watched the cloud of steam float away under the parking lot lights. Then a car was pulling up behind Riku's, so they said goodnight, and Roxas trudged through the salty slush to the BMW, somehow unable to stop smiling.
The third show was bittersweet, as closing nights always are. Roxas felt he was finally getting the hang of this crazy theatre beast, and yet he knew this was the last night he'd get to perform.
Mr. Leonhart took him aside in the deserted hallway outside the green room before the show, gazing down on a costumed and made-up Roxas with what looked like pride.
"Look," he said, "I dunno if you know this, but the past two nights you've gone out there and absolutely blown everyone away. I know it's, well, high school theatre, and I know you usually have an athletic schedule to work around, but I really hope you'll consider auditioning for the Spring Play."
"I, uh, I- thank you," Roxas stuttered, looking down. "I… I never thought I'd be doing this," he finished lamely, unsure of what to say.
"Well, you're pretty f-king good out there," Leonhart responded, half-assedly censoring himself by skipping a key vowel. "We could really use more people like you, that's all I'm gonna say. Anyway, whatever you end up doing, break a leg tonight. I dunno how or when it happened, but this disaster of a musical actually turned into something halfway-good with you guys behind it."
Roxas laughed, adjusting his mic to comfort. "Thanks? I think?"
"Of course. Now go out there and make me look good."
And before Roxas could respond with anything more than a nod, he was gone, off to check on the booth situation.
Marly did a final makeup check, and before he knew it, Roxas found himself back on stage, sweating under the hot lights and singing his throat raw.
About halfway through the play, he found his parents in the audience, directly in the middle of the auditorium. Moments later, after rushing through a costume change backstage, he looked up to find Axel standing in front of him.
"Chill," the redhead whispered, placing a hand gently on his shoulder. "You've got a good minute before your cue. I heard you were lookin' for me."
Roxas felt a blush rising in his cheeks, and before he could respond, Axel spoke again.
"Don't sweat it, Theo. I'll be around after the show."
Pushing Roxas up to the edge of the curtain, he leaned over the shorter boy's shoulder to whisper in his ear.
"Knock 'em dead, babe."
Axel sat alone on the steps outside the theater, watching the crowd slowly dissipate into the quiet night. Snow was falling, but it didn't feel too cold, and staring down at his all-black stage crew ensemble, he tried to fight off the familiar Closing Night feeling. Riku had already headed home – Axel was content to walk tonight, and though he still had a slight fever, his parents had agreed to allow it. A scuffed pair of sneakers stopped in front of him, and he looked up to see a shiny, fresh-scrubbed Roxas looking down at him. They stayed like that for a moment, silently regarding each other, until Axel coughed a little and finally spoke.
"You were great up there," he said, smirking. "Nice job, man."
Roxas' neutral expression broke into a knowing grin. "Yeah, yeah, okay. Thank you."
"No, really," Axel continued, "You were really good. Like, ah, like nothing I've ever seen. You're a natural."
Roxas simply stared at the falling snow, his grin softening into a subtler smile.
"I heard at least four freshman girls saying they wanted to make out with you, so, y'know, if that's any measure…"
Roxas snorted, then looked back at Axel. "You were right," he said quietly. "In the bathroom, at Sora's party. You were right about everything."
"Yeahhh, I know."
They fell into another comfortable silence, and Roxas shuffled his feet around in the slush before speaking again.
"Man, all those people were cheering for me. What a trip, you know?"
"Yeah, because you were fucking amazing. I don't know what part of it is so hard for you to understand – you're… arrestingly talented."
Roxas looked away again, unsure of how to handle the overload of compliments he'd been receiving. He could feel Axel's eyes on him, and he spotted Kairi in the parking lot waving goodnight to him. He waved back, then allowed himself a contented sigh before turning back to Axel.
"So, are you gonna stand up soon or what?"
"Uh, excuse you, I'm extremely sick, maybe you didn't notice in your diva dressing room," Axel replied jokingly.
"Don't be facetious," Roxas retorted, amused. "But if you are as deathly ill as you'd have me believe, I guess I can just drive your sick ass home and kiss the shit out of you some other time."
"Kiss the shit out of me? Is that what you had planned?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
Axel slowly got to his feet, brushing himself off as he drew himself up to full height. "Well, let's see. That would be… not very subtle, but quite a gesture considering your past opinions on the issue. Unnecessarily risky, since I am, in fact, mildly sick, thus you risk your own health in the process. Leaves a lot of unanswered questions, for example, would it mean we're together? Are you truly still in love with me or are you just overcome with emotion due to the end of your first major foray into the theatre? But overall, not a completely reprehensible idea."
"Dear lord, shut up," Roxas muttered, and, wrapping his arms around Axel's neck, he captured the taller boy's lips in the first kiss he'd really meant in years.
If I turn into another
Dig me up from under what is covering
The better part of me
Sing this song
Remind me that we'll always have each other
When everything else is gone