Sorry for the utter lack of updating. Anyhoo, thanks to combo-bass for beta-ing this! Yay!

And I recently reread some of the earlier chapters of Musica, and I'm somewhat embarrassed. XD (I'm also kind of amazed that so many people like it, and have stuck through the countless chapters of insanity.) But yeah, I started reading some of the chapters, and the author's notes (oh God, the author's notes…), and the main recurring thought I had was, 'Man, I'm a real dork.' And 'Hmm, not enough band to really call this a bandfic…' And also, 'Damn, I wish I'd worked Zack more into this.'

Enjoy? It's like a late St. Patrick's Day gift, or an early Easter one, if you go for that.

"Your hands hold roses always in a way that says

They are not only yours."

---Richard Wilbur

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"How was your day?"

"Alright."

The redhead sounded angry, miserable, and on the verge of breaking down-- the exact opposite of 'alright'. Roxas exhaled heavily and flopped down onto his bed, the little blue cell phone still pressed against his ear.

"Sounds like a lie to me."

"What the fuck do you care? Huh? So what if my day was shitty, what's it to you?"

Roxas chewed his lip; over the past few days, this had become normal behavior for the redhead. He was snappy and abrasive, and Roxas didn't like it. He missed the normal Axel, his Axel, the sweet and quirky and sexy and goofy one.

The other end of the line was quiet for almost a minute. "Sorry about that, Rox. I had a bad day."

"I figured. You can just say it, though. There's no need to lie and tell me it was okay."

"I know, I just… frazzled nerves, y'know? I'm this close to strangling Demyx, I swear."

"Wow. If you're that angry at Demyx, then what about Gippal?" Roxas snorted.

"Gip-- fucking, Gippal. I'd just-- no, wait. You're still relatively innocent, Rox. I can't tell you the horrible, unspeakable things I'd like to do to Gippal right now," Axel said acridly. "…But they do involve a lighter and some hairspray."

"It's okay, Ax. I can put two and two together."

"Do you know what that ass did? He tripped me while I had my tenor on. While I was holding sticks. I could've lost a fucking eye! I bet that was his plan. 'If I can't have both eyes, then NO ONE can! Hahahaha!' Yeah. That's it. What an asshole. So, anyway, I fall all over the place, and I'm already pissed to begin with, and that just made it worse… Then I had my jacket on inside-out for about two hours before Demyx and Gippal stopped fucking snickering long enough to tell me. Yeah."

"I'm sorry your day sucked."

"Nah, I just… well, how was yours?"

"Same old, same o-- oh, wait, no, it wasn't the same. I didn't tell you this yet… Sora and Riku are like an item or something now, and they're all like, 'Let's suck face!' every chance they get, which gets really old really fast. I was talking to Sora about chemistry homework and then Riku just swooped in like one of those massive hawks in Africa that you see on Animal Planet and hauled him off into the bathroom. So I just stood there and waited, cause I did not want to go inside and see what was happening. And I waited. And I waited. And then they came out ten minutes later and said they had a really important "report" to finish tonight, so they left me. Liars."

"Aw, is Roxie jealous of Riku?" Axel teased, making cooing sounds and kissy noises over the phone.

"No, but I am kind of worried about my own boyfriend implying that I have a crush on another guy."

"Wha-- oh… wow. Yeah, I think you're right… for once. Scratch the, um, kissing sounds I was doing. I don't want you to get the idea that I condone any kind of romance outside of our relationship. Cause I don't."

"Gee… thanks for letting me know, because I was sooo interested in Sora. Right."

"Shut up. I'm so used to mocking Gippal, I guess I just kind of slipped into it with you. Sorry. Anything else happen? Something un-Sora-and-Riku related, just to change the awkward subject?"

"Yuffie broke her nose when she ran into a bass drum, and then it started raining during practice… I had to haul ass back to the school so my clarinet didn't get wet. I swear, if the pads are messed up now, I'll freaking kill someone. I can't afford to get those things replaced."

"Ouch."

"Big ouch."

"Hm." The redhead was silent after that, making Roxas wonder if he'd hung up.

"Axel?"

"Yeah?" He sounded tired.

"Just making sure that you're still there."

"I am. I'm… really messed up right now. Stressed. Working on the show, doing papers… Ma coming here soon. Probably tomorrow or the day after, actually," he mumbled.

"Tomorrow? Or the day after tomorrow?"

"That's what Reno said. I guess that douche can actually be useful on occasion… at least I have a heads up now. It's better than her walking in while we're half-dressed or something."

Roxas winced at the thought. "I suppose." He chewed the end of his thumb. "You know what you need, Ax?"

"Hm?"

"A mental health day."

There was a pause. "The fuck? What does that mean? What are you saying? I'm fine," the redhead shot back defensively. "Look, I appreciate that you're trying to help, really, I do, but no. I don't need you to feel sorry for me, or whatever. I'm just dealing with some shit right now, and you don't need to worry about it."

"I think I do."

"I think you don't."

"Well then, it's a good thing that I don't give your opinions much credence, right? I'll be at your dorm tomorrow morning, and you're going to do what I say, and we're going to destressify you before your mom shows up and before you rip off Gippal's head. God knows you're probably close."

"Destressify? That's not even a goddamn word. And I refuse to go along with it."

"I'll drag you if I have to. I really will. Night," Roxas whispered, ending the call with a click. He set the phone on the desk beside his bed and crawled under the covers. He made sure to set the alarm extra early; he had a lot to do before starting the long drive down to the campus.

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Roxas could not have anticipated the trouble that the stubborn redhead would cause.

"Axel, I did not drive all the way down here just to watch you mope around in bed. Get up. Now. As in, immediately."

"No. Go away before I hit you."

Roxas stiffened and looked affronted. Oh, hell no. It was not going to go down like this. "Excuse me? You get your ass out of bed before I hit you," he said with a tone of authority, pointing to himself and Axel in turn.

"I'm not getting up. You might as well go home, 'cause I'm really not in the mood to be around anyone right now." Axel rolled over, wrapping himself tightly into the messy sheets and blankets. "Just go away."

The blonde was taken aback at the redhead's words but covered his surprise and slight hurt with an impassive look of resolve. After all, he had told the redhead he would drag him if it came down to it.

And dragging Axel anywhere proved to be a monumental task. He was petulant and sulky and refused to cooperate with his boyfriend. Roxas had to pull the older man from the bed, which wasn't easy given how fiercely he was clinging to the sheets. Then Roxas practically dressed Axel himself, none-too-gently stuffing limbs into clothing after the older man childishly went limp in an effort to discourage the blonde. After that, Roxas slung the redhead over his back and headed out the door, letting the man's long legs drag along the ground behind him. And Axel whined all the way.

Axel's rotten mood over the days before was nothing compared to his attitude now; he was snappy and sullen and seemed to spite everyone around him. By the time the young blonde made it to the art room door, he was exhausted, grouchy, and out of patience.

"What are we doing here?" Axel griped once he realized that this was Roxas' intended destination. He stopped digging his heels into the ground and stood up on his own two feet. Roxas simply grabbed the man's hand and pulled him inside.

"We're here," the boy said through gritted teeth, barely containing his desire to strangle the man beside him, "because you need to get out. No more pity parties in your room. No more scaring Gippal and Demyx or annoying me with your bad attitude. Get happy."

The red haired man stuck out his lower lip and turned away. "No. Why should I?"

Roxas grabbed Axel's chin and roughly pulled his face back toward him. "I'm tired of dealing with you like this. You're not being mature. I understand that you're upset about your mom and your brother and whatever, but you need to stop taking it out on me. I've only been nice to you. How long are you going to sulk and bitch and moan? You need to accept it and deal!"

"I am dealing with it! This is how I deal. You just don't like it. And I don't think you understand," Axel protested, grabbing Roxas' hand and ripping it away from his face. "You don't know shit--"

"I don't know because you don't tell me anything! I don't know why you do half the things you do, or why you say what you say. You give me the most vague information possible about you that you can and then you expect me to understand." The blonde shrugged and shook his head. "But I can't. I know next to nothing about you, and your family, and why it's such a big deal. I guess you don't trust me enough to explain. Or something. Whatever, though." Roxas grabbed his jacket off of the table and stormed out of the room, letting the battered metal door slam shut behind him.

Axel inhaled deeply through his nose. "Damn it," he muttered angrily as he ran a hand through his hair. Fighting with Roxas left him feeling worn out and empty, and his rage quickly began to dissipate, much to the redhead's frustration. Without the anger, he was just left with shame and guilt as he thought over his recent actions. Being so pissed that he could forget the feelings of others was much easier, much less complex and worrisome.

Axel huffed and wrinkled his nose as he heard familiar footsteps approaching.

"Buck up, Cherry! Get that goddamn stick outta your ass!" Cid said somewhat encouragingly, clapping the redhead on his shoulders.

"No. The stick stays," Axel said sourly, sitting down in a scratched, paint covered chair and propping his feet up on the heavily graffitied table.

"Eh, asshole," Cid mumbled, his hands on his hips. He sniffed and rubbed at one of the many bright stains on his paint splattered shirt. "You can be a real piece of work, you know that? I've seen you like this before, but your little boyfriend hasn't. You could at least spare him your fucking attitude, even if you keep attacking everyone else around you. He's just trying to help you. Stop being such a self-absorbed bastard, MacKenna."

"Easier said than done," the redhead sighed as he plunked his head down on the table. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck… I can't do anything right, can I?" He peeked up at the unshaven blonde man with one eye, his forehead still pressed against the cool gray of the table. "Even when I've got the best thing I've ever had, I still can't keep myself from being an ass."

"Nope. But it happens to the best of us-- and hell, MacKenna, if it happens to the best of us, I can only imagine how hard it is for you, being the piece of shit you are." Cid chuckled and started fiddling with the toothpick between his lips. "We take the people we love the most for granted the most. We shouldn't, but we do."

"Right."

"You get what I'm throwin' out, right, dipshit? Now go make amends before I beat the living Irish out of you."

"Wow. 'Dipshit' and 'amends' in the same breath. Now that's talent," a chirpy voice said from across the nearly empty room.

Axel immediately sat up bolt-straight. "Rikku. How long have you been listening?"

"I was making macaroni art up in the loft. I heard everything. Ooooh, the drama! The romance!" Her numerous bracelets clanked and jangled as she flipped a braided chunk of blonde hair back from her face. "This is just like watching one of those teen dramas where everyone's like, freaking out and--"

"Rikku, do me a favor."

"Yeah?" The spunky girl looked at him with wide, swirling green eyes, bouncing from foot to foot enthusiastically.

"Go find Roxas and bring him back here, would you?" Axel looked down at his hands, looking thoughtful and more than a little embarrassed.

"Aw, sure thing, Ax. I'll be back in a flash! And with Roxie!" She gave him a thumbs up as she pranced out the door, scanning the hallway for any signs of the missing high schooler.

"What are you gonna say to him?" Cid questioned with a cocked eyebrow, his arms crossed as he leaned against the table.

Axel shrugged and let his head loll to one side. "You know, I'm not really sure. I'm not usually the kind of guy to be out of words."

The man nodded and patted the redhead's shoulder approvingly. "I'll be in my office. And I have a fire extinguisher, just in case things get out of hand." He gave Axel a knowing look and pointed sternly. "Don't let it get out of hand. I'm not technically supposed to aim that fucker at you kids."

"Right-o." The junior gave him a little salute and then grimaced, not particularly looking forward to his impending reunion with Roxas.

Axel put his elbows on his knees and leaned forward heavily, staring at the splatter-covered grey of the floor. He stayed hunched like that, pulling the loose threads on the ends of the sleeves of his hoodie until the fabric began to fray and split. He grabbed an Exacto knife from a box on the table and working it into the material, tearing along the seams. He did it absentmindedly, without even realizing he was close to splitting the side of the sleeve. When he sat back and saw what he'd done, he frowned and put the blade back into its box. He'd have to get Demyx to raid Zexion's room for safety pins later. Emo boy had plenty.

A few minutes later Rikku returned with Roxas and half a dozen other people in tow. "I ran into some people while I was looking for Roxas! Cid won't mind if we goof off in here. It's not like he has a class right now or anything." With that, she shoved the blonde toward the table where Axel was sitting and then watched anxiously, obviously hoping for a teary eyed apology followed by a steamy make-up kiss.

Axel couldn't help but smile at the sight of the boy, with his light gold hair looking ruffled and a heavy pout in place. He held a slightly smushed white box in his hands; Roxas gave Axel a sour look as he walked over to the redhead's table.

The blonde set the box down and then crossed his arms. "You have something to say?"

"Yeah, I do," Axel admitted with a shy smile. "I'm sorry."

"Really." Roxas looked skeptical.

"Really. I've been a total ass."

"You have." Roxas sighed and looked away, linking his arms behind his neck and stretching. "Okay. I accept your apology. But just so you know, I'm letting you off easy, because I like you."

"Okay." They smiled at each other.

"That's it?" Rikku asked from behind them, looking crestfallen. "All of that, for this? You didn't even-- there was no… ugh. Men. Even if they're gay, they're all the same." She put her hands on her thin hips and walked away, muttering about people wasting her time and not taking advantage of perfect romantic opportunities.

The redhead grinned, and Roxas felt a little guilty. He could see darkened bags under his boyfriend's eyes, and, if it was possible, he looked even thinner than before. Clearly, he wasn't coping well. He really was going to kill himself if he kept stressing like this.

"Thanks," Axel said with a slight blush. "I really am sorry. It's like… when you do something really stupid, but you don't realize how stupid it was until someone else points it out," he mumbled, burying his face in his hands. "I think back over the last few days and I want to slap myself with a two-by-four."

"I wouldn't stop you," Roxas said honestly. He quavered a little under Axel's pouty glare. "Look, I'm sorry, but I'm still a little upset. I usually hold grudges much longer. I'm just not used to letting things go without getting the chance to watch that person wallow in their guilt for a while."

"You really do have a dark side," Axel laughed, looking a little surprised at the blonde.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm sick and cynical, blah, blah, blah. I get it plenty from Sora," Roxas said with a sigh, waving it off nonchalantly. "Now let's eat." Roxas popped the lid off of the thin white cardboard box and revealed several rows of brightly colored cupcakes. "Some of them got squished when I was getting them out of the car," he said as he pointed to a number of flattened cupcakes in the corner of the tray, "but they still taste just as good. I made them myself this morning." He smiled and licked neon frosting from his hand.

"These look great," Axel grinned. "What did you make them for?" he asked as he picked out a yellow topped one and took a bite.

"For you," Roxas said with a blush. "I thought they might make you feel better. You know… food does that. Especially the kind with copious amounts of sugar and artificial coloring."

"Ooooh, cupcakes!" Demyx said in a high voice. He homed in on the treats within seconds, swooping down over them with greedy eyes. He frowned as Axel stopped him with a firm hand.

"These are Roxie's cupcakes. Ask him first."

The sandy blonde looked pleadingly to the younger boy. "Please, Roxas? Pretty, pretty please? I need a cupcake really, really, really badly," Demyx implored, leaning closer and closer to Roxas.

"I'm fine with sharing, if Axel is."

The redhead nodded. "Go for it, Dem. But the limit is one," Axel told him flatly. "One."

"But which one, that's the problem," Demyx muttered, his eyebrows knitted together as he contemplated which cupcake to choose.

Axel rolled his eyes, looking over to Roxas with a grin. Numerous others flocked to the table to get their own taste of the treats, among them Gippal, Baralai, Cloud, and a busty brunette named Tifa. "Y'know, Rox, I think your cupcakes are turning out to be a big hit," the redhead laughed, gesturing to the group that was crowded around the box. "And I want-- OH MY GOD, GIPPAL!"

Axel leapt sideways off of the table he'd been sitting on and spun toward the one-eyed blonde. He frantically wiped at the side of his face, cursing unremittingly, and then looked at his hand, which was covered in garish pink frosting.

"What's your problem, Gippal? Did you think I wanted a frosting facial?"

"But Axel," Gippal said amiably, his arms opened wide, the offending neon pink-covered cupcake still in one hand, "pink is so your color."

The redhead growled and lunged for the tanned blonde man; he ripped a purple frosted cupcake out of Demyx's hand as he went, much to the mulleted boy's disappointment.

"Nooooooooo! That was my cupcake! I claimed it!" he wailed, reaching desperately toward his red haired friend, who was savagely chasing Gippal.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before Rikku joined in, followed by Demyx, Cloud, and Tifa. The room dissolved into chaos, the six running around the room, dodging tables, jumping over chairs, and attacking each other with cupcakes.

"They're all insane," Roxas commented offhandedly. Baralai, who had pressed himself to the wall to avoid being run over or covered in frosting, nodded in agreement.

"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?"

All action stopped at Cid's bellow. Tifa froze with her arms around Gippal in a chokehold and Rikku immediately ceased massaging green frosting into the blonde man's hair, casting a guilty look at her partner in crime. Cloud and Demyx stopped chewing, their mouths still full and their faces dotted with various colors of frosting, and exchanged worried glances. And Axel, standing in the middle of the floor, his hair streaked with orange frosting and his face smeared with pink and blue, was the most obvious target for Cid's fury.

"MacKenna! I leave the fucking room for five goddamn minutes--"

"It's not my fault!" The redhead protested. He gestured to the thick covering of frosting on his face and clothes. "I'm the victim here!"

"No, you're not. Not yet. But you're about to be," Cid growled, rolling up his sleeves.

"Oh, come on, Cid," Axel pleaded, throwing out his arms in a defeated gesture. He took slow, cautious steps toward the man. "You know this isn't my fault. Gippal started it, and I just--" Axel lunged forward at that moment and smeared the frosting on his hand across the unsuspecting man's stubbly face, leaving a trail of glowing pink across his cheek and chin. The redhead jumped back just as quickly, dodging the older man's clawing hands and taking off toward the side door, bounding over tables and other obstacles like a deer. Once outside, he sprinted across the green, narrowly dodging pedestrians and couples lounging on the grass.

Cid was tempted to chase the fleeing redhead, if only to force feed him the last three cupcakes, but decided against it. He cursed continuously under his breath as he walked to Roxas' table.

"You!" He grabbed a rolled up piece of paper and smacked Roxas' head. "Give that to MacKenna the next time you see him. And good cupcakes. Think about going into the culinary arts." He grabbed one of the few that remained and retreated into his office, wiping the frosting from his face with the hem of his shirt as he went.

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Roxas didn't know how to pass the time. He'd talked with Demyx for a good twenty minutes, which was… interesting, and then the mellophone had remembered a paper he needed to write and left to hunt down Baralai for help. And then Roxas was left alone in the room with nothing to do until Axel showed up. If he showed up.

So the blonde busied himself with attempting to organize Demyx's side of the room, which had only gotten more and more unkempt and swamp-like as the year went on. Just as he was readying himself to look under the bed, the door clicked open.

"Hey. Hey, Rox," a careful voice whispered. "Is Cid in here? Is he waiting for me?"

"No, Axel. Cid never even left the art room. You've been running around covered in frosting for the last hour and a half for no reason at all."

Axel frowned and stepped into the room, shutting the door and locking it behind him. "Surprising," the redhead drawled thoughtfully, his brows knitted as he processed this. "Last year he chased me for over an hour just because I drank his coffee. Maybe he's getting weak in his advanced age…"

"Or maybe he just thought that the punishment you'd inflict on yourself was so great that he didn't need to bother. Where did you hide?"

"Bushes, behind a dumpster… I tried to get into Zexy's room, but he used his hair straightener to beat me out. And Demyx… Demyx just laughed." The redhead looked betrayed.

"Aw, well… where'd all the frosting go?" Roxas frowned as he turned around and actually got a good look at Axel for the first time since he'd arrived.

"Um, I washed it off in a fountain."

"You smell bad." The blonde wrinkled his nose and shook his head. "You need to go take a shower, a good one. Oh, and here." He walked over to the man and hit him on the head with a ruler he'd found buried in Demyx's side of the room.

"What was that for?" Axel hissed, holding his head and glaring at Roxas angrily.

"Sorry, I was on orders to do that," Roxas said with a smile. "Now really, go take a shower. Reno kind of left a message… He said he's about halfway to your mom's house, so, uh, your mom's going to get here in a few hours. You might want to start getting ready and… cleaning up." He gave a pointed look to the haphazard piles of clothing and trash that littered the floor.

While Axel took his shower, Roxas set about picking out clothes for him to wear and tidying up the man's room. As time wore on, he resorted to kicking as much crap as he could underneath their beds and then shoving what was left into the closets. It worked for his mom, after all.

And after his boyfriend emerged from the shower, the blonde combed and blow dried his hair, trying his best to make it lay flat rather than flaring out in random directions.

"You know, you look a lot like your brother when you have your hair like this," Roxas commented as he brushed the taller man's bright hair, which now fell softly around his face.

Axel leaned back in the desk chair, intent on balancing it on two feet. "Gee, thanks." Axel tilted his head and gave the blonde a desperate look out of the corner of his eye. "Roxas, I don't care how much my brother and I look alike-- promise me that if you and I ever break up-- God forbid," he added quickly, noting the scandalized look on Roxas' face, "you won't ever, ever, ever date my brother. Please. Swear to me that you wouldn't."

"Don't be ridiculous," Roxas scoffed. "First of all, I don't intend to break up with you, even if you are a monumental jerk sometimes. Secondly, you and Reno may look alike, but you act completely different. I don't just like you for your looks, you know," Roxas said shyly, a pink blush touching his cheeks. "And thirdly, is Reno even gay?"

"He's not picky," Axel muttered, looking venomous. "If we weren't together, or if we stopped being together, he'd be all over you. Well, I'm not sure that our dating is even going to deter him. But let me tell you something," Axel said seriously, turning to Roxas and wagging a finger at him. "If he flirts with you, or comes on to you at any point in time, you tell me, okay? And I'll kick his ass. Cause he doesn't get you. You're mine. And only mine."

"I can take care of myself, thank you very much."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, really," Roxas said with attitude, his hands still busily working in Axel's hair.

"How?"

"Y'know, that movie," Roxas muttered embarrassedly. "Miss Congeniality or whatever. S-I-N-G. Solar plexus, instep, nose, groin. I'd go for the groin first, of course. Nothing says 'hell no' like a good, swift kick to the groin."

"Remind me never to make you too mad," Axel chuckled, leaning his head back to look up at Roxas. "What do I tell her?"

"About what?"

"Us."

"Oh… right." Roxas sat down on the edge of the bed behind him and thought for a moment, looking down at his lap intently. "Tell her whatever you want. I don't mind."

Axel rotated in the chair so he could see the blonde's face. "I don't… it's not like I'm embarrassed or anything, you know that, right? And it's not that I don't love you, and it's not that I don't want to tell her, because I do, eventually." His jaw tightened as Roxas continued to avoid looking at him. "It's just that I think it might be best if she doesn't find out the second she gets here. Maybe… give her some time to adjust. Who knows, she might even realize the truth herself and accept it and spare us the trouble," he laughed weakly, quite aware that that idea had a snowball's chance in hell.

Roxas lifted his head and smiled softly at the redhead. "Axel… I understand, really. We'll just tell her we're friends." He shrugged and then stood. "It's not going to hurt my feelings. Besides, I'd rather avoid the drama. When you think she's ready to hear it, you can tell her."

Axel hid his face behind his large, thin hands and shook his head. Then he opened them up and looked up at Roxas with a smile. "You're way too understanding for your own good, Sunshine. And you're definitely way too good for someone like me."

"No," Roxas protested softly, shaking his head. "You just haven't given me the opportunity to make myself look like a total dickhead yet. Believe me, I can go there."

"I don't believe that," the lanky man laughed, rising from the chair and picking loose strands of red hair from the clean white of his turtleneck. He caught the blonde staring and chuckled. "What?"

"I don't want to make you upset, or make you think about bad times or anything, but why does your family upset you so much?"

"Oh. Well… it's not so much Reno as it is my parents-- though Reno is an annoying, slick bastard. Don't forget that," he warned Roxas, wagging a finger very seriously. He sighed, letting his shoulder slump forward and his head to nod down. "See, my family has this tendency to take everything I value-- every fragile shard of happiness, every moment of self-understanding and purpose-- and make it seem stupid and silly, and make me question it, or just outright ruin it."

"Really?"

"Really." Axel assured, nodding glumly. "But even with all of that, I still can't hate them, because as messed up and derogatory as they can be, they're still my parents. And that makes me so angry sometimes, I just want to explode."

The redhead sat on the other end of the bed and crossed his legs. "You know, my dad came and visited me here last year. You remember that painting that I never finished? Well, he was part of the reason. Sophomore year… I had a lot going on. It was good for me, though. See, in high school I was kind of a jerk; I had friends, but they mostly just hung around me cause they were scared of me or because they were jerks like me. My freshman year was a continuation of that, only this time, I didn't have those friends. And believe me, being an asshole like I was is no fun when you're all alone.

Sophomore year was when I decided to turn myself around. I'd finally started to get over my own ego and join clubs, and get to know people, and really develop myself. I blossomed," the redhead gave him a silly grin. "I'd also started to take my future seriously, and I finally decided on my major. Of course, my dad heard about that not long afterward, and he came to "set me straight"-- as far as my dad's concerned, studying anything other than math, medicine, or science is a waste of time and money, so he didn't take well to my going in for anthropology." The redhead blushed. "He calls it glorified grave-digging."

Roxas half-grimaced and rubbed the red headed man's shoulder comfortingly. "You're way more sensitive than you let on. You don't take disapproval very well, do you?"

"No, I really don't," Axel said with a smile, his eyes wide and surprised looking. He stared at Roxas for a moment before continuing. "Everyone wants their parents to be proud of them. Including me. And just knowing that they both thought so lowly of the choices I made-- of what I wanted to do with my life-- really got under my skin, to the point where I went into self-destruct mode and started hurting myself… and the people around me. I'm pretty bad about that."

"Yeah," Roxas agreed honestly. "You are. But I kinda understand that," he said with a nod, scratching the side of his blonde head thoughtfully.

"Yeah. Well, needless to say, most people did not have the patience to stick by me through my asinine behavior at that time. Unlike you," he added with a wink, tilting his head toward the boy. "I lost a lot of the friends that I'd just made because of how stressed and pissed he made me. Before I knew it, I was plunged right back into that place of being almost alone and it was painful, because I had known what it was like to be well-liked and cared for. He just dogged me, finding me after classes, calling me nonstop, trying to convince me that what I was doing wasn't smart or financially sound or whatever. It got to the point where I hardly ever left my room, and everything I did suffered for it-- band, art, classes, friends, eating. I lost like, fifteen pounds over those few weeks."

"Is that why you're so skinny?"

"Psh, no. I've always been thin. I just got a whole lot thinner for a while."

"That's a scary thought," the blonde admitted, his eyes wide as he tried to imagine an even skinnier Axel.

"Yes, I looked like a skeleton," the redhead laughed, burying his head in his arms. "Too bad it wasn't close to Halloween," he added weakly. "Dad eventually left me alone, but I'm not sure if it was because of me, Ma, or Cid."

"Cid?"

"Yeah, Cid. He tore Dad a new one so fast he didn't even know what to do with it. Ma took up for me, too. She chewed him out every night until he went home. And before he left, I gave him a pretty good tirade on why I wanted to do this and why I thought he should back off. He hasn't said a word about anthropology since then."

"Oh. Well, I'm glad that got worked out. And just so you know, I think anthropologists are cool."

"Yeah, you'd better," the redhead laughed. "Hey, close your eyes for a sec."

Roxas did as he was told, snapping them shut and listening to the footsteps as Axel crossed the room toward the door and then returned, stopping just inches from the short blonde.

"Go ahead and open 'em now."

A single, long rose was in his pale hands. He carefully passed it to Roxas. "Watch out, there are still some thorns." He smiled and wrapped his hand around the boy's smaller one, positioning the fingers so as to avoid the barbs.

"A while back I asked you what your favourite flowers were, remember? You should, cause that was when I first started harassing you with floods of text messages." The redhead grinned and looked away with a blush, and Roxas had to laugh. "Yeah, I'm a texting addict. What of it? Anyways, this is for you."

He took a step backward and shoved his hand into the pockets of his dark jeans, watching with a keen smile as the yellow haired boy pressed the rose against the tip of his nose. "Smells nice… feels nice. Did you pick this up while you were on the run from Cid?" he asked amusedly, chuckling at the older man's pout.

"Yeah. I--" A high, sharp ring interrupted him, and Axel pulled out his cell phone and checked the screen. He sighed and flipped the scratched red cell shut. "Reno says they just pulled up. C'mon." He exited the room quickly and headed for the closest parking lot; Roxas followed closely behind him, trying and failing to match the redhead's long, quick strides.

Roxas had to jog a bit to catch up to the redhead, who had stopped just around the corner from the nearly empty lot, trying to maintain his cover behind a tall, well-trimmed hedge. Axel took a few deep breaths and began shaking himself out, looking as though he was preparing to run a ten mile race, or maybe to enter a boxing ring with a three-hundred pound contender in the other corner. Then he patted down all of his pockets, and straightened out his sleeves, and started nervously clicking the clasp of the watch on his left wrist over and over.

Roxas shook his head and grasped the bigger hand in his own and gave it a firm squeeze, quietly reassuring the near-frantic redhead. Axel nodded to himself, biting his lip, before releasing Roxas' hand and emerging from behind the hedge.

Roxas followed some distance behind, unsure of where he fit into this equation; according to the story that Axel's mother would hear, they were nothing more than friends. Roxas didn't know what a friend would do in this situation, so he decided it would be better to hang back and avoid intruding on a personal family moment.

He watched Axel's mother pull him into an awkward half hug, and despite the trouble she was causing for the redhead, Roxas had to laugh. Clearly, Axel and Reno had gotten their height from their father. Their mom was barely five feet tall, he guessed, with wide hips and strong-looking arms. Axel had to stoop down to hug her, and she was so small and his arms were so long that they wrapped nearly completely around her. As he pulled away, she put a hand on top of his head and rubbed the hair there, making the ruby spikes jut out at odd angles. He frowned as she walked toward the back of the car to collect her bags from the trunk and tried to smooth down the errant pieces of hair.

Spotting Roxas, Axel waved for the boy to join them.

"So…" Roxas nodded as he fell into place beside the tall redhead. "That wasn't as explosive as I thought it might be." In reality, Roxas had been imagining something along the lines of what he'd seen on Jerry Springer. Or maybe Cops, depending on how out of hand things got.

"No, no, it's always alright in the beginning. It's just painfully awkward." Axel stuck his hands into his pockets and nodded sagely. "I really need a smoke--"

"No, you need to quit, that's what you need to do," his mother said as she walked toward them, searching through her purse as she came. "I heard about this hypnotist doctor on the radio a while back, so I tried it, and it worked wonders for me, Axie. You should try it, especially with how expensive cigarettes are now-- who's this?" She had finally looked up from her purse and seen the young blonde next to her son.

"Uh…" Roxas' mind went blank under the stare of the little woman; on the surface, she seemed to be pleasant and friendly and curious, but her voice was tight when she asked and something in her eyes looked apprehensive. "Well, I'm--"

"Ma, this is Roxas," Axel said loudly, covering up whatever the blonde had been about to say. "He's a friend of mine."

Roxas felt a warm arm wrap around his shoulders and looked over to Axel in surprise, fully ready to scream at him for blowing the whole 'just friends' cover straight to hell, but saw Reno instead. Reno, standing way too close with an arm draped over his shoulder. Reno, who had shoved Axel away and taken the opportunity to get touchy-feely with the ruffled blonde. Reno, who was about to lose an arm-- and quite possibly some other valuable appendages-- if he didn't back up off of Roxas.

Axel was glaring daggers-- great, big, flame-covered, poison-laced, jagged-edged daggers-- at his brother. Roxas was pretty sure that he saw his boyfriend's eye twitch, as well.

"Yeah, Ma. This is Roxas, and he's totally cool," Reno drawled, ignoring the snarl that Axel was giving him and the none-too-subtle way that Roxas was edging away from him. He gave his mother a wide grin and pulled the blonde right back against his side. "He even plays in band, so, y'know, Axie and him can bond and geek out over that lame stuff together. He's hella smart and he has a pretty decent car, and he's never been arrested. And the girls just loooove him," the redhead concluded, giving the boy a sly wink and stepping away.

"Oh, is that so?" the woman asked, visibly relieved at that last piece of information. "It's great to meet you, Roxas. Call me Alana, alright?" She grasped Roxas' hand and gave it a firm shake, grinning just as widely as Reno. She had large, square hands that felt too warm around his own. Her eyes were green but paled in comparison to Axel's; her frizzy hair was a graying red. It was knotted into a loose bun in the back, and thick pieces that had come loose fell over her shoulders and around her face. "I hope these two aren't corrupting you, you poor thing."

"Oh, no, they're okay."

She grabbed his elbow and steered him away from the parking lot. "You two, carry the bags. Roxas is gonna show me to the room. Don't take too long, now." She turned back to the blonde, resuming their conversation as they walked.

"Really? Really? You know, hun, if they ever bother you, just tell me. I'd tear them a new one so fast they wouldn't know what to do with it." She looked back over her shoulder at the two lanky redheads. "Isn't that right, boys?" she called.

"Yes, ma'am," they said in unison.

"See?" Alana asked as she and Roxas turned the corner. She smiled brightly. "So, Roxas, you're in band, right? What do you play?"

"Clarinet." He gave a half shrug, unsure of what else to say. "It's okay."

"I tried to get Axel to play a wind instrument," Alana sighed. "Preferably brass, like a French horn or a trumpet. But he was so stubbornly set on the drums…"

"He's really good," Roxas said with a smile. "I wish the percussionists at my school had half as much talent."

The woman turned to him in surprise. "You don't go here?"

Roxas stopped and gaped for a second. "I-- uh, no, I don't." He made fists inside his pockets, his nails cutting into his palms, as he panicked over whether or not it was bad that she knew he was in high school. Was it weird for a junior in high school and a junior in college to be good friends? He hoped not. "I go to Twilight High. In Twilight Town. I'm in eleventh grade. Yeah. I… yeah."

Alana made a small noise and nodded. She cleared her throat. "So, how did you and Axel, er, meet?"

"At a band workshop," Roxas said miserably, glancing behind him when he though that Alana wasn't looking. He needed some serious saving right now. He would be thankful to anyone, anyone, if they came and rescued him from the awkwardness of being alone with Axel's mother. "He was my assigned instructor… and we got along pretty well. It was a lot of fun, except for when he elbowed me in the face while trying to win the three-legged race."

She snorted and shook her head. "That sounds like him. He used to run back in high school, you know." She nodded, her thin lips stretched in an amused smile. "He got kicked off the team for deciding to run two legs of the relay race himself; instead of passing the baton, he shoved his teammate out of the way and kept running to the finish line. He got there first, but, you know, that's against the rules," she chuckled, elbowing the blonde a little. "He's really sour when it comes to losing."

"Yeah."

"So, what are your parents like, Roxas?"

Oh, uh, well," the blonde muttered, caught off-guard by the question. "My dad's ex-military, and my mom is a homemaker. My mom is from Twilight Town, where we live, but my dad grew up in a really small town out west. He doesn't like living in such a populated place."

"They sound like good people. Are you planning on coming to Radiant Garden?"

"I haven't really thought about it yet. It's an option, if I can get enough money for it."

They walked in an uncomfortable silence the rest of the way; Roxas almost jumped for joy when he turned the corner in the hallway that led to Axel's room. His relief was short-lived, as he remembered that Demyx wasn't inside and Axel, along with his key, was still hauling baggage. He came to a stop in front of the door and stared at it.

"Yep. This is it."

"Well, the hallway certainly looks nice," the woman said brightly, studying the glossy floors of the wide, door-lined hall. "Much better than the college I went to… So, Roxas, sweetie," she said suddenly, turning her attention back to the boy. "Do you have a girlfriend?" she asked with a coy look.

The blonde gulped. "Well, no. No. Uh… But there is someone that I like a lot. We're not… boyfriend and girlfriend though." Well, it wasn't a lie, technically.

"Oh! Well, that's better than nothing, right?" Alana seemed instantly pleased. "What's she like?"

"Um, really funny, really sweet. Looks nice, too." He'd avoided mentioning any genders, so it still wasn't a lie or anything, right? It was more along the lines of letting Axel's mother believe what she wanted; that wasn't a crime…

"You're kind of shy, aren't you?" Alana laughed, patting on the shoulder. "Alright, I'll leave you alone. But you'll have to show me a picture of this girl! She sounds great. Maybe you could help Ax or Reno find one. God knows they need the help."

"Find one what?" Axel asked suspiciously as he rounded the corner with Reno just paces behind him.

"Oh, nothing," his mother chuckled, giving Roxas a sly look. "Just chatting with Roxas here."

The redhead squinted suspiciously as he shuffled past and opened the door. "Sounds an awful lot like you were trying to get us set up with some chicks, Ma," he said with a perturbed frown, his lower lip jutting out. "Don't use Roxas like that. We're grown men. We don't need his help to get dates. Come on, you think we're that pathetic?"

"I'm not using him, Axie, I'm just hoping he'll rub off on you a bit," she explained slowly as she followed him inside and looked around the room with surprised approval. "And apparently he has. You could never keep your room this clean, after all. Look! I can see the floor and everything." She gave the blonde a confident smile, and put her hands on her hips. "Put the bags on the bed, boys. Better get to unloading them, eh?"

Roxas watched with wide eyes as they set the stuffed duffel bags on Axel's bed and stepped back so Alana could start unpacking. "You're staying h-here?" he asked suddenly, his voice unexpectedly loud; he nearly covered his mouth afterward out of embarrassment.

Alana laughed at the bewildered looking blonde. "Oh-ho-ho, of course not, no. I have a four-star hotel room waiting for me after this," she snorted, looking appalled at the thought of staying in the dorm room. "These are just some things that I brought for Reno and Axel-- and you, too, I guess," she added with a grin. "I mean, I hadn't planned-- I didn't know-- Axel never tells me anything, so I… but there's plenty," she mumbled more or less to herself as she began unzipping a large blue bag and picking through its contents. She removed numerous folded articles of clothing, some obviously handmade and others that looked store-bought and new. There were knitted hats and a few sets of earmuffs, scarves, sweaters, a thick jacket, piles of socks, a stack of shirts, and numerous packs of underwear, which Axel snatched up and shoved into his drawer upon seeing.

"Ma… do we really have to do this right now? I have stuff to do, and so does Roxas," he complained

"You can take a little time out for your own mother," Alana huffed. She handed a blue knit cap to Roxas, which he tentatively took, unsure of why she was offering it to him. "That'll go great with your eyes, hun. And it's getting close to winter, so take this as well." The woman pushed a white and green striped jacket into his hands and patted him on the shoulder. "And since you're being so anal about this," she said with a glare at Axel, "I can just leave the other bags here for you two to go through on your own time. Oh, and make sure you tell that weird roommate of yours-- the one with the hair-- to keep his hands off."

"Right Ma--"

"Oh! The food! I nearly forgot. I'll just do that and then I'll leave you boys to it-- get me the cooler bag," she ordered Reno, snapping her fingers impatiently.

The redhead quickly grabbed the bag and handed it to his mother, who promptly unzipped it and began shoveling out the contents; there was so much food contained in that one, single pack that Roxas couldn't believe it. There were all kinds of frozen, microwavable snacks, as well as pre-cooked meals in Tupperware containers, and plastic bags filled with cereals and chips and trail mix and Chex. Axel grabbed a tall, wobbly stack of containers and bags and carefully walked to the minifridge.

Roxas raised his eyebrows, interested in seeing how on earth the redhead was going to make all of that food fit into such a small space-- granted, the fridge was already nearly empty, but there was still no way that the sheer volume from Alana's bag could fit into it. He watched Axel kneel before the fridge and begin stuffing as much as he could inside, with little to no regard for the well being of the food.

"Now, Roxas," she caught the blonde's attention while the other two boys were across the room. "Make sure that Axel eats. He's skinny as a rail-- the only reason I can see him when he turns sideways is because he's got that massive hair. Everything in there is meant to fatten him up--"

"Ma," the man whined from the fridge, giving her a pleading look.

"--but feel free to help yourself to some if you get hungry. You're awfully small yourself," she added, shaking her head. "No girl wants to marry a stick, Axie," she chided, clucking her tongue at her son as she zipped up the empty bag and handed it to Reno.

"I have a fast metabolism. It's not my fault," the redhead muttered as he crammed the last bit of food into the tiny freezer and slammed the door shut before anything could topple out.

"I guess it's time I get going. Goodnight, Roxas, it was great to meet you. I should talk with your parents some time," she said with a wave to the blonde. He smiled and nodded weakly. "As for you, O stubborn child of mine," she sighed as she walked up behind the still-kneeling Axel. "Sleep well. Come by the hotel once you're done with classes. You can show me around the town."

"Sure thing."

"Reno, I'll be waiting in the car. Hurry up, and don't forget the bags." She left with a wave, closing the door as she backed out of the room. Then it was quiet.

Axel punched his older brother hard on the shoulder, catching the other redhead off-guard and making him yelp. "That's for touching Roxas, pig."

"Hey, hey, I was just trying to help, y'know," Reno whined, rubbing his injured shoulder sourly. "If you were paying attention, I was drawing attention away from you two and your sordid relationship."

"It's not sordid," Roxas pouted in the background, ignored by the arguing brothers.

Axel rolled his eyes. "Yeah. 'Blah, blah, blah, and all the girls love him and want to have his babies!' Real subtle. Nice. Nice."

"My voice does not sound like that," the older man scoffed, scowling at the high-pitched voice Axel had used when impersonating him.

"And you were-- you were hanging all over him! Like--"

"Oh, stop your worrying. I'm not gonna steal your boy or anything," Reno sighed as he flopped onto Demyx's bed and shut his eyes, "and Ma's not going to think I'm queer just cause I put my arm around him. I mean, look who's talking!" He threw a superior look toward his brother. "At least I have some credibility-- I actually dated girls back in high school, unlike someone." He raised a brow at his younger brother.

"Shut up. The point is, Roxas is mine. Don't get any crafty ideas."

"You're so paranoid--"

"Night," Axel said with a false, overly cheerful smile as he put his hand against Reno's back and pushed him toward the door.

"You're so mean," he sniffed as he picked up the bags along the way. "Night, Axie. Night, Roxie. Have fu--"

Axel slammed the door shut mid-sentence. He pressed his face to the door. "Good night, Reno."

A muffled 'asshole' was all he got in reply.

"Whew." Axel exhaled as he exaggeratedly wiped his forehead. "That could have gone so much worse…"

"Probably." Roxas smiled as his boyfriend sat next to him, the side of Axel's right leg touching his left. It was a little touch that made him lean against the tall man, yearning for the contact that he couldn't have when Axel's mom was around.

"Definitely. So…"

"She thinks I have a girlfriend."

He looked over at the blonde and snorted, leaning heavily against the smaller boy, almost pushing him over. "You? A girlfriend? Wow, Ma's gotten soft. She was never that gullible when I was a teen."

"Hey, I could get a girlfriend if I wanted. It's not that unbelievable," Roxas sniffed, trying to pull away and getting abruptly tugged back.

"Don't be silly, I know that. That's why I'm lucky to have you. You're awesome, Roxie."

"Wow. I'm 'awesome'. How romantic." Roxas took Axel's hands, entwining their fingers and putting his head against his shoulder. "You're pretty kick-ass yourself, Ax."

"Thanks."

"What's in the other bags?" The blonde asked curiously, casting a look toward the remaining few bags on the floor.

"Oh, more clothes, maybe some shoes, cleaning supplies, blankets, and any random junk that Ma wanted to get rid of."

"She seems pretty nice."

"She can be." The man looked down at his lap with a thoughtful smile. "It's complicated, disagreeing with someone you love. I mean, she's my mom, you know? No matter how much I dislike what she says and thinks, I have to live with it. I think she feels the same way, but that doesn't make it any easier."

Roxas shook his head. "It doesn't."

The redhead turned his head toward the boy and blew tiredly at the fluffy blonde spikes. "So, Roxie, how do you like your new hat?" he grinned, looping an arm around Roxas' shoulders and coming up to play in his hair.

"It's actually kind of cool looking. I'm going to wear it. And the jacket, too. I want… I would like your mom to like me. So… she'd like that, right?"

"She'd love it."

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I wrote the first half of this chapter twice, and believe me, it was horrible the first time. I like it much better now, and it's longer than it was initially.

I can't remember if I already said this, but I just got a new laptop for Christmas. It's a Dell Inspiron, and I love it, but the keys are killing me. They randomly just stop working. First it was the shift key, then random letters like 'w' and 'h', and now the spacebar seems to hate me. If anyone happens to know what's wrong or a way to fix it, I'd be really thankful. I came very close to stabbingthe keyboard with a screwdriver while writing this chapter...

So review and tell me what you thought, please:D And then go read The Forest's Creatures by lackofname, because it rocks.