For Constance Greene. Happy belated birthday!

Well, yes. Ahaha. Let's just say I'm, well, back with a bang? (shot) Oh God, I'm so sorry about this oneshot. Honestly. It's so freakin' long! My longest oneshot ever, and one that you'll probably want to die a long and painful death due to its length and maybe utter pointlessness of its entirety. (grovels) I'm really sorry.

And Constance? Please don't kill me.

Disclaimer: Nah.

-- - --

He was almost flying.

In his senior year of school, when everything mattered and decisions made haunted an entire existence, he just wanted to break away, to just not try, to get above the air and forget responsibility. And, as the air rushed past and his feet struck pavement, peers and acquaintances rushing close and fading away in a blur of color and sound, for one small instance he was untouchable, ahead of the swarm, wading through the impossible.

He was the fastest on the track, and so he was that much closer to the sky, that much closer to the escape route from the ties that held him fast. He was rounding the corner, his heart was beating faster, louder, louder did the blood pulse in his ears as his sneakers scraped against ground, and he shut his eyes tight.

But when silence blanketed him for that split second that he crossed the finish line, for that one instance where he took a breath and opened his eyes as nothing at all echoed, he found that he was still rooted to the earth, and then the explosive cheers tore across the sky, ripping his small, unimportant dream to shreds.

He was just a track star who'd won another race. That was all.

Heaving a sigh and tossing his head wearily, he flashed uninterested smiles at his congratulators and then shrugged off their advances. Walking to the sidelines then and wincing at the abrasive cheers and abrupt slaps on the shoulder, he gave a weak smile to those he passed and then heaved another sigh full of annoyance, stooping low to root through his duffel bag and produce a towel and water bottle. Uncapping the drink thus and draping the white fabric over his head, he weaved around bodies and ignored the next event that was about to start, standing off to the side and hating the fact that winning didn't feel good anymore. He couldn't get anywhere, after all, so why was it so important?

"Amazing!" came a sharp cry, and the blond jerked and looked over his shoulder just as someone slammed into him, making him stumble over his footing and accidentally spray himself with his opened water. Gasping and standing stiff with shock, he shook his head once as he closed his eyes and then felt the person pull away, their feet shifting over the grass to come before him. "You're incredible, Rox! I'm so glad that I could make it to one of your final races!"

Jerking his head up in surprise, Roxas choked again, this time from astonishment at seeing a shock of brown hair and always-brilliant blue eyes that somewhat mirrored his own. "Sora?" he asked, a smile working its way onto his face as he grasped his towel with one hand and lowered it to fall around his shoulders, cocking his head an instance later. "No way. You came?"

Clasping his hands behind him and leaning backwards on his heels, the brown-haired boy grinned broadly. "C'mon. Even I wouldn't be able to miss one of the last of my cousin's races!"

Smiling fully now, Roxas moved forward and embraced the boy; Sora, in turn, enthusiastically hugged him back, laughing a bit and commenting on how it had been a while, hadn't it?

"But really," Sora gushed, pushing back and holding the blond's shoulders at arm's length, "you were phenomenal, Rox. I've never seen anyone run so fast. You blew them all away!"

Rolling his eyes, the blond sighed and grasped the ends of his towel, pulling it over his head again. "Please. You're even faster than me," he commented lightly, jerking his head to the right as he walked that way and onto the grass, glancing idly at the bleachers where his friends Hayner, Pence, and Naminé no doubt were still watching the other races. "But I'm glad you came to visit, Sora," the blond said with a smile, inclining his head gently, looking to his left. His cousin, for his part, was already calmly walking next to him, hands behind his head and eyes taking in the encompassing surroundings. "It's been too long."

"Well, I had other reasons for coming," Sora admitted, grinning sheepishly as he stopped, hands still at the back of his head, elbows jutting outwards. "I…came to tell you that I'd be gone for a while, Rox."

Arching a brow, the blond leaned forward, giving his cousin a dry expression as he poked him sharply in the forehead. "Uh, Sora…we already live worlds away, you know. Destiny Islands isn't exactly right next door to here."

Grinning somewhat, he waved his hand, shaking his head. "Not what I mean. I'm…well, I'm applying for college farther away from here than I originally planned. What's more, I'm going to be taking different courses that'll keep me busy for a while, and then, first chance I get, I'm gonna travel abroad and see even more places. You know…to…travel the world?"

From how tentatively Sora finished his small speech, Roxas could gather that the crest-fallen feelings that had surfaced within him had made it to his face. Sighing, summoning up a smile, the blond patted his cousin's shoulder encouragingly, trying to shake off the dread roiling within his chest.

"That's great, Sora. I'm happy for you."

His cousin lowered his eyes and rubbed guiltily at his neck. "We won't be able to keep in touch often…"

"It's fine," Roxas said with a shrug, turning around. "You have dreams to accomplish. Don't let me hold you back."

"I'll write, at least. Y'know, when I can. And it won't exactly be the best letters ever, but---"

"Sora," Roxas interrupted gently, ruffling his cousin's hair as he shrugged. "Give it a rest. You're going to go find yourself out there, we clear? And you'll have fun. So no worrying about me." Looking off to the bleachers, which were a good distance away from them now, Roxas sighed and pulled at the ends of his towel. "Y'know, Naminé's thinking of leaving us. She wants to go to this prestigious arts academy in a place called Hollow Bastion?" The blond shrugged. "All the luck to her, I guess."

"Good for her," Sora replied gently, smiling. "She was always so good at art, anyway." Nodding, smiling somewhat, Roxas made to reply when his cousin cut in suddenly. "Oh! Speaking of friends, that's another reason why I'm here. Axel called me. Told me this was one of your more important races. And I'm glad he did, because, you know me, I would've forgotten if---"

"Axel?" Roxas groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose wearily. "Great. So that means he's here, right?"

Sora laughed. "Probably, Rox."

Heaving a sigh, the blond shook his head. "That idiot…"

"You're happy," his cousin teased, elbowing him as he walked past, sending him a grin over his shoulder. "Admit it. You wanted him to come."

Roxas sent him a dry look, which his cousin grinned at and then turned away from, walking back to the bleachers to most likely catch a glimpse at the passing racers while moving to congratulate Naminé. They'd been friends since Sora started visiting eight summers ago, when he was ten and his family could afford the expenses of such an expensive and lengthy trip.

Now, of course, with Sora orphaned and working whatever part-time jobs he could find, his visits were rare, and he could never stay more than a day. So he'd always make the most of it, sometimes – like now – taking whole days off of school to take the gummi ship to Twilight Town.

Running his fingers through his hair, Roxas sighed and stopped under the shade of a tree, leaning his shoulder against it tiredly. He'd always aspired to be as open-hearted and idealistic as Sora, because the boy always seemed so happy with life, despite such horrible conditions that had been unfairly thrust at him, and what was more, Roxas looked up to him like he would a brother. Unfortunately, however, he'd never succeeded.

"You've done it, Rox. No one can ever catch you out there anymore."

Lazily lifting his head, the blond flicked his eyes to his left, catching sight of vibrant hair and sharp eyes approaching his direction. Tilting his head, smiling slightly, Roxas greeted his long-time best friend silently, and then his countenance hardened and he looked off to his right, leaning against the tree as he listened to the cheers sounding for the present runners.

"A sign of a good track star, right?"

"Nah," Axel said easily, coming to stand before him and flicking him teasingly on the forehead. Roxas's lip curled into an agitated snarl, but he said nothing; it was only a warning, after all. "It just shows that you're an expert at distancing yourself from anyone who might want to get close to you."

Rolling his head against the bark and sending his friend a dry look, Roxas sighed. "Attempting to be enigmatic again, Axel?"

Smirking at him, the redhead slapped his palm against the blond's forehead and then ruffled his hair gently. "For someone who just won another race, you sure are being a cold bastard today."

Shrugging and turning his head away with a grunt, Roxas fixed his eyes back on the racers and crossed his arms sternly. "I've just decided something. I'm gonna get away," he announced softly, finally. "I've no clue what I want to do, after all, so why not, right?" He flicked his eyes Axel's way, shrugging carelessly. "College isn't for me, anyway."

Arching a brow, Axel crossed his arms, as well. "When I called Spiky, I didn't mean for this to happen," he drawled, gesturing nonchalantly at him with a flick of the wrist.

Roxas looked back to the right. "Well, thanks for that," he said, head bowed slightly as he slumped against the tree, eyes searching through the grass. "I've missed him. 'Course, you knew that, didn't you?" And then, shrugging, he replied, "And anyway, I've been thinking along these lines for a while now. I'm sick of here."


Roxas gave a small smile in reply, but he let the silence stay, content in just staring vacantly ahead. Pulling at the ends of the towel again, he inhaled deeply, drumming his nails against the water bottle still in his possession. It really was time to break away from Twilight Town. The memories he had were expendable, and his friends were being scattered all across the worlds anyhow, so there was nothing for him in such a place. Besides that, he wasn't a person meant for college. He could feel it deep down; he was a person not meant for ties, a person who didn't appreciate authority. He just wanted to live life the way it most satisfied him. And what he really liked to do…was run.

So he would run. The track season was almost over, after all, and when it ended he would go to different places, acquaint himself with new faces, and perhaps never look back again.

After all, he was good at running. He had a scholarship to prove it.

-- - --

Sitting on the steps, holding his chin in his hands absently, he spared his home yet another silent goodbye.

The weeks upon weeks had passed, but finally the day had come, when he would leave without regrets. And it felt strange, Roxas decided, to be staring out at the things he'd always known and realize that he might not be coming back for a while, if ever, and yet the experience was not unwelcome within him. In fact, he felt rather anxious to get going, as if, should he wait any longer, something, anything, could go wrong.

So when a red car, so familiar to him, came cruising down the street as he waited beside his suitcase, Roxas perked up considerably, grinning as Axel swerved into his driveway recklessly. Getting to his feet quickly afterwards, he dragged his luggage with him and started towards the car, Axel only halfway out by the time the blond had shoved his bag into the trunk.

Jogging back to retrieve his travel backpack as Axel shook his head, grinned, and lowered himself back into the driver's seat, Roxas spared his house a fleeting glance and then turned away, more than ready to get going, abandon responsibility, and live life to its fullest, Axel at his side. So, stopping on his way to the passenger's side of the car, Roxas lowered the trunk and then patted it sentimentally, and then he walked to the front of Axel's automobile, opening the door and leaning down.

"All ready to g---?"

The sputter of a car caught his attention as it cut off the last of his sentence, and, blinking in confusion, Roxas pulled his head out from the interior of the car and looked about in search of the source of such a raucous noise. And as Axel impatiently questioned what could possibly be the matter, the blond caught sight of a frustrated brunette fisting strands of hair between her fingers as she worried over her broken-down automobile, only some feet from where he was presently standing.

As he made no further motion than to just absently stare at the girl bemoaning her smoking vehicle, Axel heaved a loud sigh. "Rox, can we get goi---?"

"One sec," he interrupted abruptly, holding up a hand to silence his friend. Distractedly, he took a step forward. "I'll, uh, be right back."

"Ro-ox…" Axel groaned, but the blond ignored him now, casually shoving his hands into his pockets as he stepped off of the sidewalk and dragged his shoes over the pavement, walking down the road to where the brunette was sighing in exasperation and hitting several different spots on her car with her fist.

Coming to a stop, he leaned forward, hoping he'd successfully keep his smile at bay as he asked, "Can I…help you?"

Turning around, she started, her mouth slightly rounded in surprise as her fingers stilled by her ear, making to push fallen bangs out of her vision. Flushing in embarrassment soon after, she hastily swiped her hair back and smiled gratefully, nodding and introducing herself as Olette.

"I'm terrible with cars," she admitted sheepishly, turning away from him quickly and leaning over the sorry excuse for an automobile; he grinned at her all the while, gently coming to stand by her side. "They always give me grief, y'know? And this one decided to break down right in the middle of nowhere on me. And I had somewhere to go to and I…" Suddenly she stopped, and he tilted his head at her, brow arched. "And…I'm…rambling, aren't I?" she said with a sigh, soon after meeting his confused expression with a tentative smile. "Sorry. I doubt you really care."

Grinning in amusement, he moved forward to examine the front of her car, lifting the hood as she followed behind him curiously, green eyes attentive on his every movement. "Um…you live around here?" she asked, surreptitiously moving closer to his side as he leaned down, gripping the front of the car absently.

"White house a way's down," he murmured. "Can't miss it."

"Ah…" she replied, and then she fell silent for a time; he, however, was too busy concentrating on her rather pathetic car to ruminate on how awkward of a situation it really was turning out to be. "Well," she tried again, and he glanced up distractedly, arching a brow again; she jumped, fumbled about for words, and then lowered her eyes, fiddling with her hands as she fell silent.

Both brows raising in surprise now, Roxas pushed himself up so that he was leaning comfortably against the car, and then he stared at her for a long time, waiting for her to speak. She glanced up after several moments of silence passed, too, instantly biting down on her lip in embarrassment when their eyes clashed.

"U-um…" she tried desperately, and he felt the beginnings of a smile on his lips as he started to detect just how much effort she was putting into their attempted conversation. "Are…are you doing anything now?" she blurted out, before wincing in embarrassment and turning around quite quickly, raising one hand to hold her forehead in disbelief.

Giving a small chuckle, Roxas turned back to her car and leaned down, this time finding the problem almost instantly. "Fixing your car," he commented easily, his smile wide; and then, as he pulled back, he said, "See? All set."

She turned back and gave him a brief smile of relief before looking down again, continuing to fiddle with her hands. Shaking his head, grin softening, he gave an absent wave. "Well, it was nice meeting you."

"Y-yeah!" she commented, looking up abruptly as she did so and then stepping forward, stilling herself immediately when she realized what she was doing. Cheeks flaring again, she chewed her lip and looked away as he hesitated, looking over his shoulder questioningly as he took one or two steps forward; then, deciding that she'd given up on trying to talk to him, he nodded distractedly and looked ahead, shoving his hands into his pockets as he made his way to a no doubt very irked Axel.

"U-um…hey. Wait." Stopping once more, he looked over his shoulder at her, expectant. "Do you…I mean, would you like to…maybe…get something to eat?" she asked with a small blush resurfacing as she blinked wide, innocent green eyes at him.

He winced and turned around. "I…would…but…I'm going somewhere and…"

"O-oh. Right," she said, nodding rapidly and stepping back, offering a shaky smile. "Of course."

"…and you have to go somewhere, right? So…"

"No, no, right. I get it."

"It's not that I---"

"No, it's fine!" she said, smiling and opening her car door. "I shouldn't have asked. It's my fault."


"Well, it was nice meeting you, um…" She looked at him questioningly as she paused and leaned against the open door, but then shook her head and slid into her driver's seat. "Never mind. Just…good-bye."

Hesitating, Roxas winced guiltily and looked over his shoulder, to where Axel's car was sitting. Then, looking back at the brunette, he took a deep breath. "Hold on," he finally sighed, and then he turned around, jogging back towards his house.

As expected, when Axel looked up and caught sight of him, cigarette already between his lips and lighter at ready in his hand, his eyes narrowed viciously and he didn't seem to be in the best of moods – which, Roxas found, was quite an understatement. "Mind telling me why you just ditched me for fifteen friggin' minutes?"

"I can't go," he stated bluntly, cradling his forehead wearily as he stood before his older friend, unable to meet his eyes. "I…can't go today."

"Uh, and why the hell not, Roxas?"

"It's…it's this girl. She's really nice, and I just fixed her car, and I think she really wants to have lunch with me---"

Axel sighed and gave up on trying to light his cigarette, jamming the lighter impatiently back into his pocket as he leaned forward and glowered at the blond. "Christ, Rox. This was your damn idea in the first place. And now you're just not running away? La-ame."

Roxas spared his best friend a reproachful glare, but then he let up on it and sighed once more, nodding grudgingly. "I know, I know, all right? But I just feel bad." Rubbing the back of his neck, Roxas scuffed his shoe against the ground weakly. "I'll make it up to you, though, Axel. I'm really sorry about this."

This time Axel was the one to heave the sigh, and, tentatively, Roxas glanced up at the redhead. Catching sight of the small smirk, however, the blond was slightly more heartened. "Forget it, Blondie. It's fine. Some other time, we'll do this road trip together."

Wincing, Roxas hunched his shoulders defensively. "You're…sure you're not mad." Axel grinned widely at him; at his look, Roxas shot him a suspicious glare, lowering his arm back to his side. "Positive, right?"

"Rox, just stop worrying and go back to the date you're kinda standing up right now."

Rolling his eyes, Roxas gave his friend a smile nonetheless and then walked forward, hugging his friend abruptly around the middle. Axel stiffened – most likely from surprise – but before he could react further Roxas was ducking out of reach and grinning at the redhead, sending him a careless wave.

"I swear I'll make this up to you!" he called, smiling happily even as the redhead protested. Then, turning around, he jogged back to the brunette, prepared for nothing more than a friendly lunch date to momentarily side-track his plans.

-- - --

Life, he found, was full of surprises; and it was soon after he'd met Olette that he'd discovered this.

In retrospect, meeting her was one of the worst and best things of his life. The bad part was, because he'd stopped that day and had helped her out – months ago now – and then had consequently accepted her invitation to lunch, he'd had a good time with her. Such a good time, actually, that he'd let her take him to the play she'd been headed for in the first place, which her best friend, some redhead named Kairi, starred in. And then, in the following days, he'd started getting together with her more frequently, so that his plans to get away from everything kept being pushed back further and further and further.

And then she, being the education stickler that she apparently was, brought up the dreaded topic of colleges and which ones he was interested, and thus he was obligated to confide in her that college wasn't exactly his thing.

That was where the good part of his life began. Though pushy and obstinate – overbearing, even – Olette managed to force him to apply for colleges. Together they would even tour nearby campuses, talking about dreams each had and getting to know one another as each thought of their own separate futures. And, more and more, Roxas came to realize that his future was becoming less and less of a pointless existence; instead, he had a plan for his life, and he wasn't just acting on a whim anymore.

However, he didn't like it whole-heartedly, and he probably never would. Deep down, he knew that he wasn't truly meant for campus life and scholarly aspirations, so when his acceptance letter came in the mail, only Olette beside him gushing praise about it kept him from burning it to ashes, taking a kind of pyromaniac delight in seeing the flames destroy the detour that had been thrust between him and the kind of life he wanted – the delight being Axel's influence, he'd argue. After all, his life was following yet another track, only now he just couldn't run anymore; it wasn't an option given. And, truly, that scared the hell out of him.

Oftentimes he'd consult Axel about it, make sure that that road-trip was still an option, that, should Roxas want out, the redhead would be there to help him get away. But, as his relationship became more serious with Olette, where he would actually go on real dates with her – and not just lunch dates and campus-hopping activities anymore – Axel withdrew himself somewhat from Roxas, and the blond found himself facing a wall.

No, he wasn't scared. He was petrified. Responsibility didn't do it for him. He didn't trust close relationships. And the only friend he truly had started saying that he was leaving a week before Roxas went off to college, because he might as well not waste the trip they'd planned together.

And, though Axel said nothing about it, Roxas knew that he couldn't go anymore. The invitation was no longer extended to him.

He thought it over a lot. He considered that maybe, had things been different, had Axel arrived just a little earlier, then he never would've discovered Olette struggling on the side of the road. That, maybe, had he gotten in the car quick enough and they'd passed her, he would've been too distracted talking with Axel – or just not have cared about his surroundings – that he wouldn't have felt the need to reach out to her. But, as it was, now months had passed since then and Roxas was going to college with the girl he met on the side of the road, and his best friend was deserting him, too, when the blond had thought he'd always be there right by his side.

And honestly, he just wanted to run right along with Axel, because he felt even more burdened than he had when he was still in high school and wanted nothing to do with reality.

When the day came, and Axel was preparing to leave, Roxas canceled his activities with Olette for the day. He didn't give her a particular reason, instead he claimed that he was just busy, and then he drove around with his cell phone off for a couple hours before he ran low on gas and decided that he might as well face his best friend before he left. And as he neared the driveway, hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel and shoulders too stiff, he caught sight of Axel haphazardly throwing his bags into the trunk of his car and he almost drove right on by, hardly able to take such a sight, let alone stomach the reality that it might be a long time before Axel showed up again. But, regardless, he managed to pull into the driveway and force himself out of the car, silently moving to help his best friend with his luggage, never saying a word.

When the trunk closed, and Roxas rested his hands silently on the red paint, Axel finally decided to speak. "You'll be fine," he remarked nonchalantly, pinching him in the shoulder slightly in an attempt to get the blond to look his way. Roxas, however, only winced and further lowered his head, shrugging. "Rox…"

"I shouldn't have waited. I should've just slid into the seat and---"

"Blondie, relax. You'll be fine in college. You just hate change, that's all."

"Axel," he growled sharply, hands fisting on the trunk of the car. "Just shut up, okay? You won't even be there, so how the h-hell…" When he choked, he clenched his jaw tight and refused to speak anymore, looking off to his left as he hid his burning eyes from the redhead.

Sighing affectionately, the redhead lifted a hand and smoothed it over Roxas's honeyed locks of hair, an action which had never failed to sooth the blond's rage before. "I won't be gone forever, idiot," he chided gently. "Plus, my cell phone number won't magically change on you, I promise."

"It's not…f-funny," Roxas growled, gaze misting over more insistently the harder he fought not to cry. Axel, more than Sora, had always been there, to help physical and emotional wounds with sarcastic remarks and a playful tousling of his hair. Now, when Roxas was forced to grow up, when so long he'd been selfish and childish and had reveled in it, his closest companion was disappearing, a phantom on the road with no address and only a cell phone to stay in touch. And it wasn't enough; not for Roxas, who, for all he hated of relationships, got too attached when he finally bonded with someone.

It wasn't enough at all.

"Aww, Rox. It's not forever, so don't hate me, 'kay?"

"Hard not to," he snarled, voice thick with emotion, but he didn't mean his words, and he knew that Axel was aware of this, too.

Physically turning away from him when Axel leaned against the car and tried to catch a glimpse of Roxas's face, the blond held his ground stubbornly and crossed his arms, staring at the neighbor's yard without interest as tears coursed down his cheeks. "Anyway, just get going, huh? Seeing as you won't miss me and all. Stupid jerk…"

Heaving a good-humored sigh, Axel slung his arm around Roxas's shoulders and used a good deal of strength to pull the blond's resisting body against his own, immediately ruffling his hair calmly with his other hand and giving a small, soft laugh. "Get it memorized, you idiot. It's not true; I'll always miss you."

Roxas laughed bitterly. "Yeah. Right."

Snorting in impatience, the redhead leaned back against the car and pulled Roxas with him, the blond averting his gaze crossly all the while. And his friend remained that way, too, saying nothing as he just held Roxas captive and ran his fingers idly through the blond's locks of hair, so that he found himself relaxing when all he wanted to do was stay furious with his best friend.

After all, didn't he have a right to loathe the man who was leaving him stranded? And if he stayed mad, it wouldn't hurt as much to see the car disappear from sight so finally, leaving the blond in its wake.

"Forgive me yet?" Axel teased, ruffling his hair playfully as a wind simultaneously stirred up, sifting through the trees so green from the summer season's passing.

Momentarily distracted as he let his oceanic gaze follow the movements of lively branches, Roxas failed to answer, only allowing himself to ease absently into his friend's half embrace. The wind was dragging autumn closer, its breath of life swirling slowly around them as the trees whispered their warnings, and soon Roxas's new life would begin, with Olette to replace Axel's presence. And it felt all wrong, like the world was tilting off its axis and everything he found comfort in was falling away, and he just couldn't run straight anymore. He was at a standstill now; nothing could change it.

"---ou okay, Roxas?"

Blinking, he pulled his gaze away from the distance and looked up, noting that the wind had dried the tears on his cheeks. And as he met his friend's curious stare, he knew that he had his own metamorphosis to go through, that he had to change, just as the seasons were shifting right before his eyes. He couldn't rely on Axel any longer.

So he would have to lie to him, because nothing else could be done.

"Yeah," he said with a small grin, shifting imperceptibly closer and then moving to rest his head against his best friend's chest, squeezing his eyes tight as he willed his body not to shake at the breezing wind's touch. He hated himself now for letting go, but he had to; he just couldn't run anymore. "I'm okay," he murmured, one tear slipping down his cheek and disappearing into the dark fabric of Axel's shirt, never to be noticed by the redhead.

With one last pat on the head, Roxas was pushed away at arm's length by his red-haired companion, left to stoically take in the shaky smirk on Axel's countenance. Then, as he spared the blond some kind of good-bye the blond couldn't register from the buzzing in his ears, the redhead swept him up into an awkward hug, and Roxas blinked rapidly, mouth twisting in a fight to ward of tears. He wasn't a baby. He wouldn't cry anymore.

"Jerk," Axel laughed as he pulled back, smacking him lightly on the back of the head as he pulled away and stepped out of reach, awkwardly shifting from foot to foot. "Tell me good-bye and say that you'll miss me."

Tilting his head indifferently, Roxas let his eyes stray, because he couldn't meet that brilliant, cat-like gaze any longer. "G'bye, Axel. I'll miss you." And his stare dropped to his feet, shoulders falling weakly.

"See ya, Blondie," he replied softly, nodding as Roxas finally managed to look up briefly. Stiffening at the nickname, Roxas turned around, straight line of his mouth trembling as he glared intensely at the street stretching before my eyes. "I'm sure you'll forgive me one day," he commented airily, mistaking the blond's surge of sadness for anger and betrayal; maybe he wasn't too far off.

"Until that day, then," Roxas commented, and then he walked down the driveway, one hand shoved into his pocket, the other hand absently waving good-bye. And as he started walking down the sidewalk, unable to look back, the door of Axel's car slammed in the distance, the ignition started, and then his car pealed out and off into the other direction, getting farther and farther away from him.

It was then that Roxas felt it safe to let his tears fall, because now he couldn't be seen any longer. And though his vision was blurry, and though he had sworn not to anymore, Roxas started running, because it was a thing Axel had always encouraged him to do.

-- - --

College was an experience, one that he didn't necessarily enjoy but forced himself through nevertheless. Besides, Olette was there, helping him study, keeping him company, so it was as okay as he would let it be, and that was enough.

He wasn't entirely lonely, either, like he'd expected himself to be. During his freshman year, while he was going through a rebellious phase – nearly getting himself kicked out due to excessive partying and instances where he got himself dangerously drunk – he received his first letter from Sora, asking how he was doing. And as Roxas rolled out of bed, recovering from yet another hangover and ignoring Olette's worried messages after he checked his cell phone for any signs of Axel – he hadn't heard from the man yet – he found himself laughing softly over his cousin's words, cheered more and more to the point where he recognized how disgusted he should be with himself, scowling even when he checked his visage in the mirror. And as he sat down at his desk, idly glancing at his pile of schoolbooks before taking up a pen and paper, he swore to himself that he'd stop such self-destructive behavior as he began to write back, commenting little about him and asking much about Sora as his letter increased in length.

Olette was thrilled to see the change in him, that much was for certain. And the teachers, who'd taken an instant dislike to his character and so hated him the minute he'd strayed broadly from the appropriate path, settled back into a general distaste for his attitude and demeanor when he began showing up sober and on time again to his courses. He eagerly kept in contact with Sora all throughout the first semester, comparing progress in subjects with his cousin and explaining in detail the campus and its student body. And he thoroughly enjoyed reading and writing these letters, sitting under a tree to pour his every mundane event onto the stationery or laughing with Olette over some mishap or another that Sora had emphasized to him.

However, whenever the topic of Roxas's track career came up, the blond just lied, instead of admitting the fact that he was not applying himself to it and was going to leave the team at freshman year's end, when he'd spend the summer working to pay off his next year of school. He just had no heart left in running, a thing Olette never understood and a thing he would never explain. It was just final, and there was no going back.

Second semester came, and as Roxas buckled down more finally, paying proper attention to Olette's study sessions and attempting to try harder in each class he took, letters from Naminé began to arrive. Her writing wasn't as all over the place as Sora's – rather, it was more of a collected account of everything, without too much interest stressed in any area – but still he felt overjoyed to read them, because, just as Sora's spirit was soaked into his letters, Naminé's presence was there. She talked with modesty as she recounted her success in her programs, gently sifted over recounts of campus, and even briefly brought up the fact that Riku, a friend of Sora's who'd also lived on Destiny Islands, was going to school near her, and they were getting together for lunch and friendly conversation every so often, and he felt even more heartened, as if his friend was back with him again, despite being worlds away.

When freshman year ended, Roxas kept up his letters with Naminé and Sora, though he never heard any word from Axel. He hadn't had much hope in the redhead in the first place, anyway, but still it hurt when he'd turn on his phone in the mornings and discover that the redhead's voice wasn't recorded in his messages. Still, he had Olette to stay by his side, and as they applied for jobs together – Olette needing the money just as much – he got closer to her, allowing himself to have a little more fun in the three months off from college life.

When sophomore year fell upon them, Roxas entered the school without a track scholarship and yet with a friend he now considered himself very close to. Granted, they still weren't dating that seriously – though the blond suspected that she wouldn't mind it if they did – but his feelings for her were growing with each passing day. In times when he would write his letters under some tree on campus, he would invite her to come along, and then he even let her lean against his shoulder and talk of everything and nothing all at once until she drifted off to sleep under his guard. When the first snowfall swept across Twilight Town – which he explained in full to Sora, who didn't get snow (only rainstorms) on Destiny Islands and possibly still didn't know what such a thing looked like, despite being stationed in a whole new world – he went for a walk under the falling flakes hand in hand with the green-eyed brunette, keeping himself close to her side since she always got cold faster than he. And when the first semester wound to a close and they spent hours cramming for the upcoming exams, he would always be the one to force her into a state of relaxation, pulling her from the dead and taking her into his arms as he turned on the television, his roommate studying at another's anyhow. And he was content with living in such a way.

Second semester went by faster than freshman year's did, and it started off easily due to the better marks Roxas received this year. And when it came to a close, with another year come and gone, the blond was feeling a little more comfortable in his decision to stay behind, because he was having a good time experiencing the different courses he took and acquainting himself with new friends. He thought less of Axel, too, with his days spent with Olette to occupy him and his letters from his cousin and Naminé to further revive his spirits.

So by junior year, instead of going abroad like he had wanted to do whole-heartedly in freshman year, he stuck around and proposed to Olette a more serious relationship, which she agreed to ecstatically. Maybe because of that decision, too, the year went by faster than most, and before he knew it summer had come to meet them and he was having the most fun he'd yet had in his three years with the brunette, surprising even himself at his joy.

Olette was sad to see senior year arrive, however, that she told him when they walked beneath the trees one day, hand in hand and taking in the autumn foliage. "It's always hard to say good-bye, anyway," she commented softly, taking in the surroundings like she'd never seen them before, drinking in the softened beauty of the trees and overshadowed pathways with her brilliant green eyes, reminiscent smile on her lips. "So much has happened here," she murmured, looking up to smile at him thankfully, all the while leaning lovingly into his arm. "So much bad, sure, but so much good, too."

"Well, you'll always have the memories," he commented simply, flicking his oceanic eyes about, somewhat envious that she could feel so attached to such a gorgeous setting when he could not. But still, he knew a part of his heart would miss this peaceful school when he graduated, and so he felt content, taking in the late afternoon scene with peace left within him.

"Roxas…" Olette murmured softly when he started walking again, she directly in step with him and letting her gaze rest on the concrete walkway covered in scattered leaves. "I just…felt…y'know, standing here…that I should tell you…"

Idly he listened, briefly glancing over couples engrossed in one another under the towering trees and singular students studying over some subject or another, and he waited for her to pick up from where she'd trailed off.

"Well…I…care about you, Roxas. A lot. A…a whole lot, actually, and I…"

Stopping, blinking, the blond looked down at her, meeting her shy and yet still determined gaze. Smiling hesitantly, he felt that smile fade away too quickly, and then he ran his fingers through his hair, opening his mouth uncertainly. "I-I…"

She held up one hand, smiling sincerely, eyes warm as she regarded the trouble he was having. "Just thought you should know. It's kind of soon, anyhow. I can wait for you."

Regarding her with a gentle gaze, Roxas leaned down and brushed his lips against her forehead, holding her shoulders lightly with his hands. Then, pulling away, he jerked his head towards the path once more, intertwining their fingers as he led her along with him, content to rest in silence as she roused up another subject.

And when the time came for graduation, Roxas finally achieving for himself an almost perfect GPA for the year due to his strenuous studies and Olette's watchful gaze, he finally had an answer for her confession.

-- - --

"Congratulations! You made it out alive!"

Laughing softly, Roxas winced as Sora pounced on him, roughly ruffling his hair as he grinned enthusiastically and doted on him with an abundance of praise. Pushing at him insistently, the blond grumbled in a teasing manner that his cousin was too heavy and was suffocating him, but the brown-haired boy only stuck out his tongue playfully and moved so that he could still sling his arm about the blond's shoulders.

"Here's to a promising future," Olette, who'd squeezed her way through the crowds at last, commented breathlessly as she positioned herself at Roxas's other side, the blond grinning at her and taking her hand as Sora removed himself an instant later and made his way towards someone beckoning him. Shaking his head, Roxas laughed at the boy's cheerful antics and then weaved his way through the mass of bodies towards where Naminé stood, Olette attached to his side the whole while.

"Roxas!" she exclaimed softly when he snuck up behind her playfully, covering her eyes and whispering in her ear. Of course, his antics gained him a glare on the part of the girl's silver-haired companion, but as Naminé spun herself around and smiled brilliantly, he only made a face at the aquamarine-haired man. Following his gaze when he didn't look at her again, Naminé sighed, too, gesturing towards her friend. "I see you remember Riku, Roxas?"

Scowling in disdain at this point, Roxas shrugged indifferently and then looked back to her, not even sparing that remark a response. "So, how've you been, Naminé?"

Eyeing him wearily, no doubt annoyed by his childishness, she waved her hand nonchalantly. "Okay, Rox. And you?"

Shoving his hands into his pockets and leaning back on his heels, he shrugged. "Okay."

Olette was looking back and forth between them uneasily, shifting from foot to foot, when Naminé took notice of her. Smiling with polite disinterest, as she wasn't one to go out of her way to make friends, the petite blonde extended her hand and introduced herself, with an added, "And you must be Olette, Roxas's girlfriend."

On her part, the brunette started in surprise, no doubt shocked that Naminé knew of her. But then she smiled cheerfully, nodding. "And you're Roxas's close friend who went to art school, right? How well did that go for you?"

Smiling slightly as Naminé blushed and waved her hand, rattling off some modest reply, Roxas excused himself and headed away from the small group, hands shoved in his pockets and his destination the outdoors. He'd noticed, from the few moments that he'd spent getting reacquainted, albeit awkwardly, with Naminé, that an engagement ring now decorated her finger. In truth, it surprised him to see that she was moving on so quickly from her old life, but there was no doubt about it that she would be happy. Obviously it was Riku's ring, and, from just being in their presence, it was evident that the guy really cared for Roxas's old friend. And, for all his hatred for the silver-haired jerk, the blond trusted that Naminé would be happy with him, which was all he'd really cared to know.

Finally stepping outside, Roxas ran his hands through his hair tiredly, settling himself down on the back stairs. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, he arched his head back and took in a quick view of the sky, hardly interested in the stars strewn across the heavens, and then let his head fall down weakly, shoulders slumping tiredly as he rested his forearms on his thighs and folded his hands.

He felt foolish that he could be so disappointed now, when all of his friends were back inside, celebrating theirs or else another friend's graduation. It was honestly stupid of him, to so get his hopes up and actually expect to see a flash of vibrant red hair in the midst of the party. After all, Axel was long gone, no doubt no longer thinking of him, and Roxas was now officially tied down to Twilight Town, as Olette was considering settling down for good and rather wanted him to stay. Why come back when he had the open road, the boundless sky, the thrill of never having to come down and find himself rooted to the earth?

No, Roxas had known somewhat those four years ago that Axel was never coming back, so he really should just give up on him and settle down with Olette. After all, he loved the girl…he thought. He couldn't live without her…probably.

Sighing in exasperation, Roxas doubled over and gripped blond strands of hair between his fingers, glaring at the gray steps overshadowed by darkness that his feet rested on. And as he grumbled to himself, trying to reassure himself over and over that one day he would settle down, too, would live with Olette, would find happiness absolutely, the door behind him swung open, a pool of light spraying his shadow over the grass before it disappeared again and footsteps replaced the golden presence.

With a grunt the newcomer sat down, clumsily knocking against him as he splayed long legs over the stairs, comfortably leaning back against the stoop. "Kinda wish you'd let loose and party for once, Rox. You always worried too much."

"I'm fine, Sora," he commented, shaking his head and then sitting up, though he didn't bother to offer his cousin a grin. He could only lie to the brown-haired boy for so long. "I just needed time to clear my head."

"I'm sure he meant to be here," his cousin stated softly, voice lowering. As Roxas heard his breath stutter, the surprise overtaking his body for a moment, raucous laughter echoed from inside, and he suddenly felt so far away, so out of place. His happiness was only a mockery of theirs.

"Just…don't talk about it, Sora," Roxas responded coolly, turning his head to glower into the distance, taking in the forests stretching far into the distance beyond Hayner's house. He'd decided to come back, having traveled to Traverse Town for college, and Roxas and Olette both had been ecstatic to see him – apparently Hayner, Pence, and Olette had all known each other at one time. "I'm doing fine now," he thought to add, shrugging. And then, since he'd been thinking about her, "I'm happy with Olette, y'know?"

Sora hummed thoughtfully. "She's a nice girl, Rox. I'm glad that she had a good influence on you, and that you seem to really care about her." He fell silent for a time, and Roxas hoped vainly that that was the end of it. But he knew that Sora didn't just drop meaningful conversation, so he wasn't surprised when his cousin again spoke up. "But…happy with her, Rox? Y'know, you don't really seem to be."

"I love her, Sora," he growled in a warning tone, though he couldn't meet his eyes.

"I know you do. But maybe that's not enough."

Running his hands through his hair once more in agitation, he sighed. "What do you know? You're never here, remember? Everything and everyone else is just too goddamn important for you."

He didn't truly realize his words until he finally uttered them, and then he stiffened in dread, instantly regretting all that he'd said. Turning swiftly to face his cousin, he winced painfully at Sora's figure, catching sight of his head bowed low and his bangs shadowing his eyes from sight. Trembling sorrowfully, Roxas leaned forward, shaking his shoulder gently and yet urgently.

"S-Sora? I…I didn't mean it, y'know? I'm…I'm sorry. I'm just mad as hell right now and I shouldn't have said those things and---"

"…sorry," Sora whispered softly, leaning heavily into Roxas in a sudden action. Jumping in surprise at first, the blond instantly relaxed and then quickly slung his arm around his cousin's shoulder, leaning his head against the brown-haired boy's and letting his tears fall freely. "I'm so sorry, Rox. I'm as bad as your parents, aren't I? I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"No…" he murmured, tightening his hold around his cousin's shoulders. "No, Sora. It's my fault. I just don't know what I want. And I'm mad, Sora," he sobbed, squeezing his eyes shut. "So mad. But can you forgive me?"

As both fell silent, the brown-haired boy's trembling subsiding and Roxas's tears falling more slowly now, the laughter echoed loudly was more back in the house, and the blond suddenly felt dreadfully lonely. Sobbing once more, withdrawing his arm to press him palms against his eyes, Roxas leaned forward and attempted to cry silently, but Sora, who'd recovered with the blond's remorse, patted his back and assured him that it was all right, that he could sob if that was what he really wanted.

But all Roxas truly wanted to know was why the hell he just couldn't be happy.

-- - --

It came as a surprise to Roxas, to learn that Sora had taken up residence in Twilight Town and wouldn't be going back to his home for a while. He was even going to stay in Naminé's house, because she was moving away with Riku, as he had no love for here and she was rather indifferent about the matter. So it was an eventful two weeks after the graduation party, when all the preparations were made and he and his other friends helped with the packing and then unpacking, and finally he was standing at the airport and readying himself to spare Naminé, his longtime friend and almost-sister, good-bye.

"Write if you feel like it," he said with a shrug, grin crooked and forced on his expression as Naminé shifted awkwardly before him, not meeting his eyes. They really had grown apart the four years they'd been separated, which was a shame to Roxas, but he still loved her as strongly as he always had, which he hoped she knew. To prove such, too, when she couldn't think of anything to say he enveloped her in a warm hug, whispering that he'd miss her into her ear.

Her body started shaking, and he knew her to be crying before she even pushed back, forcefully wiping her eyes. Then, sighing in impatience, she looked at her feet. "I love you, you idiot," she accused softly, sniffling. "So stop being so sad and making it so hard to get close to you. Be relatively happy again, okay?" Lifting her head, she offered a weak smile. "So that when I come to visit, it'll be the old Roxas that I see."

Allowing himself a small smile, he inclined his head and patted her on the shoulder, promising that he'd try. And, satisfied, Naminé squeezed his other hand and then moved on, rushing to embrace Sora tearfully as the boy hugged her back, whisking her off her feet and twirling her about as Riku stood beside him, sharp aquamarine eyes somewhat softened, a melancholy smile on his lips.

Olette arrived last, rushing breathlessly towards them as Sora held a brief conversation with Riku, laughing bitterly and rubbing the back of his head. A redhead, the girl he vaguely remembered as Kairi, trailed behind her and stood off to the side and waited as Olette moved to talk with Naminé, and Sora, who'd given Riku a brief hug and pat on the back, walked back to Roxas's side wearily, giving Kairi's appearance a double-take in surprise as he did so. The redhead, on her part, smiled slightly at him, and the brown-haired boy flushed awkwardly and practically hid by Roxas, watching as Riku alerted Naminé that they had to go.

Roxas and Sora both were extremely quiet – though Sora's silence was more surprising – when they drove back from the airport, Roxas at the wheel, Olette in the passenger's side, and Sora and Kairi crammed in back. Kairi, absorbed so in a book she'd brought along with her, only distractedly involved herself in the conversation Olette had stirred up, and Sora was too busy staring out the window to really be embarrassed about the pretty redhead's proximity. Finally Olette gave up on speaking entirely, weakly staring at the folded hands in her lap, and Roxas took the opportunity to turn on the radio, from then on concentrating on the road. The whole hour it took to get back, the tension remained, with no one saying much of anything until they pulled into Olette's driveway and the two girls piled out of the car.

Walking over to Roxas's side, Olette leaned down, kissing him on the cheek through the open window. Distractedly looking over at her as she mumbled a good-bye, he watched as she weakly walked towards her door, Kairi hurrying after her while hesitantly glancing back, waving somewhat in confusion. She stopped once, when Sora opened his door and stepped out, and even smiled somewhat – which brightened as she lingered there, probably meaning that Sora had offered a genuine smile back – but then she too disappeared inside the house and there was silence, the blond's cousin sliding into the passenger's side as Roxas leaned heavily back into his seat, expelling a heavy sigh.

"Well, today was incredibly painful," he drawled, turning his head to Sora as the boy nodded, offering a rueful smile as he crossed his arms over his chest and slumped down in his seat.

"It's hard to see them go. I mean, we're so close to them – well…you're close to Naminé, at least – and it feels like our hearts are being ripped out to see them disappear, right?" He turned to look at Roxas, and he, in turn, nodded thoughtfully. "Olette just doesn't understand that, not having known them as long and as closely as we have. She feels left out, I think."

Roxas pinched the bridge of his nose. "God, relationships suck."

Again, Sora gave a rueful smile. "I wouldn't know."

Sighing, yet allowing a small smile to touch his face, Roxas leaned forward and turned the key, the engine roaring to life soon after. "That's your fault. Plenty of girls seem to like you," he commented as he pulled out of the driveway, turning onto the street. "And hey. That redhead's pretty cute, and she doesn't seem to dislike you."

Sora flushed. "We can change the subject now."

Roxas grinned maliciously but complied nevertheless, falling into easy conversation with Sora when he changed the subject. And for the whole fifteen minutes that it took to get to Roxas's house, they didn't stop talking once, the blond even laughing once in a while at something his cousin had said.

And as he pulled into his driveway, he was laughing again, not really paying attention as he closed his eyes and shook his head at Sora's joke. So, when his cousin stopped laughing and fell mysteriously quiet, Roxas found himself calming quickly enough and let his stare rest on the brown-haired boy, the car still running as it remained stopped.

"Sora?" he questioned, arching a brow at the way his cousin was staring so attentively ahead.

"Rox," he commented idly, inclining his head forward. "Look."

Sending him a dry look, Roxas then looked forward, wondering what could possibly have the brown-haired boy so surprised. When he saw it though, unable to be missed as it stood out so starkly against the white of his house, the blond stiffened, eyes wide in incredulity as he stared at the paint, the license plate, the familiar dent on the bumper of the car. Hands clenched tight on the wheel until the whites of his knuckles showed, Roxas swallowed, eyes darting to the door of his house, and then he choked, catching sight of a flare of red hair and a lanky body propped lazily against his door, the person idly raising a cigarette to his mouth as he looked off to his left, no doubt waiting for his arrival.


Swallowing painfully, narrowing his eyes in sudden rage, Roxas growled and switched the gear of Sora's car into reverse, pealing loudly out of the driveway and then jerking to a stop in the street, Sora crying out in alarm as he pitched forward and slammed backwards, Axel brought to attention and staring wildly after him, confusion in his features. Mouth curling into an ugly grimace then, Roxas snarled and slammed the gear forward, driving away as Sora desperately questioned him, voice hysterical with alarm as Roxas sped away, his destination anywhere but where Axel could search him out.

He finally decided on Sora's, thinking it a good place to start.

As the car screeched to a stop, Roxas breathing heavily as he pitched forward slightly and grasped the wheel more tightly between his hands, Sora slammed his hands against the dashboard. "Roxas!" he shouted, voice incredulous. "What the hell?! That's your best friend, remember? The one you've been waiting on for the last four years? Why did you just drive away?"

Ripping the keys out of the ignition, unbuckling his seatbelt rapidly, Roxas pulled himself out of the car, shoulders slumped as he slammed the door and stared absently at the pavement. Sora leaping out soon after, he slammed his own door and then rounded the front of automobile, stomping over to him – actually angry – and finally giving his shoulders a firm shake when he stopped to face the blond, expression cross.

"What's wrong with you?"

Sighing, Roxas glanced up, giving his cousin a tired stare. "I dunno, Sora. Just knock it off, all right?"

"Go home. Get back in the car. I'm not letting you stay here, you hear m---?"

"Sora…" Roxas sighed tiredly, giving him a look that clearly stated that he didn't want to talk about the incident any further. And, as he allowed himself to calm, Sora grudgingly took back the keys the blond was extending his way and then turned around, walking towards the stairs and the entrance to his home, Roxas at his heels.

"Can't believe you," he murmured, shaking his head disbelievingly. "Your best friend, Rox."

Leaning against the railing, Roxas let his eyes stray, not in the mood to pay attention to his cousin's words. In truth, that had been the biggest shock of his life, to see Axel suddenly back in his driveway, waiting for his arrival, acting as if four years had never happened and that it was just another day, the two of them with some sort of event planned. And Roxas had freaked, without the knowledge of how to face him, without the words to say. Most likely, he would've started screaming at Axel, had he given himself the chance. So, the way he saw it, this was better, Roxas trudging through the house and trailing after Sora, ignoring all the reprimands his cousin tried to give him as he made his way to the spare room the brown-haired boy was currently leading him to.

With a sigh, Roxas flopped down on the bed as Sora lingered at the door, eyeing him warily as the blond groaned and then fell back, nestling himself deep into the sheets. "Sora," he commented lightly, dragging the pillow close to his head, "I just want to sleep now, 'kay? Today sucks, I'm mad as hell that Axel was enough of a prick to show up on my doorstep without so much as a friggin' phone call, and I just don't want to hear it right now. So rage about my reckless behavior later, all right? Tell me how I could've killed the both of us then. But for now, just let me sleep."

Heaving a sigh, Sora forced a soft laugh, nodding his head when Roxas rolled over and flicked his eyes towards the brown-haired twenty-two-year-old. "Jeez, can I even say how much of an idiot you are?"

Grinning tiredly, Roxas nodded. "If you want."

"All right, then," his cousin replied softly, though the cheer was back in his voice. "G'night, Rox. Hope you're feeling…better, I guess."

Roxas gave a tired wave and then rolled over, kicking the sheets over his legs and then settling down into the mattress. When Sora closed the door behind him, signaling his exit, the blond removed his gaze from the window looking out onto the neighboring yards still alive in the daylight, closed his eyes, and let himself drift off into sleep.

-- - --

"You have to go back sometime…"

Looking back at Sora over his glass of water, Roxas rolled his eyes and took a sip. Then, setting the drink back down onto the table, he lounged back into his chair and crossed his arms. "What? Getting sick of me?"

"Kinda," Sora said with a sigh, though the slight smile on his lips indicated the joke behind his words. Detaining himself from smiling, however, Roxas moved his stare about the kitchen, finding that he rather missed his own house anyway.

"Yeah, I will," he replied absently, but he didn't move from his seat. "Besides. Olette must be ticked at me."

"I'm driving this time," Sora replied as he nodded at him and walked out of the room, deciding to gather up Roxas's belongings since the blond seemed to have no motivation towards moving. Watching him go, too, Roxas sighed, and then he let his head fall back, eyeing the ceiling tiredly.

It was going to be one hell of a confusing reunion, whenever Roxas summoned up the courage to see Axel again.

Groaning irritably when Sora showed up in the doorway again and ordered him to hurry it up, Roxas rose slowly out of his seat and abandoned his water, walking after his cousin. As he followed the boy down the steps, too, sparing a glance back at the house idly, he realized that it was the first time in a long time that he'd entered it. Already it felt different, too, Sora's personality having completely taken over every aspect of the quaint, two-storied home. And, Roxas thought, he kind of liked it better. Sora's presence was far more comforting than any other person's whom he'd met.

Sliding into the passenger's seat, crossing his arms after he'd pulled the seatbelt across his torso, Roxas leaned against the door and rested his forehead against the glass, staring at the grass resting a few feet from where the vehicle he was presently in rested. Then, as Sora started up the car and pulled out of the driveway, he watched the surroundings speed by in a rush of color, mildly reminded of how it felt to run, to fly, to get away from his problems.

God, if only he was running now. Then he could get far away from the predicament that was presently coming closer and closer.

Silence this time filled the fifteen-minute car ride, Sora content to leave him in his thoughts, ever the one to be easily satisfied. Roxas was grateful for that, too, for the silence allowed him to relax his agitated nerves, and by the time they were nearly at his house Roxas had calmed considerably, his body resting easily in his seat as he closed his eyes and kept his forehead bowed against the window.

The car turning a corner and slowing down pulled Roxas back to attention, and he watched houses pass as his neared, oceanic eyes distantly attentive as he let his gaze linger on children playing the streets or houses passing on by. Then, finally, his white house appeared past a handful of trees, and Roxas sat up, reaching for his seatbelt as Sora came to a stop.

However, as he lifted his head and reached for the handle of his car door, Roxas stiffened, eyes again finding the familiar red car in his driveway, its owner this time expectantly propped against it, cigarette between his lips. As Axel caught sight of them, too, he hastily pushed away from his vehicle, Sora groaning as he fell back against his seat, slapping his forehead. Roxas, who had been halfway out of the car, pulled back and slammed it in alarm, locking it as Axel slowed his progress, arching his brow as he stopped just at the driveway's mouth, arms crossed and expression dry.

"That idiot," Sora commented with a sigh, which rather surprised Roxas, as the brown-haired boy hardly talked bad about anyone. Perhaps it was the blond's sour temperament that was rubbing off on him, however. "God, for one day could he just leave you alone? You kinda made it clear the last time that you wanted nothing to do with him."

"So run him over," the blond stated bluntly, which gained him a startled glance on Sora's part, to which he merely shrugged. "It'll put him out of his misery," he argued.

Covering his eyes with his hand, Sora heaved a sigh. "Rox, c'mon. You have to get out of the car. He's not gonna leave you alone just because you keep driving away."

Narrowing his eyes stubbornly, Roxas snorted. "The moron left for four years and then suddenly showed up on my doorstep as if nothing happened. He can goddamn wait if I want him to, all right?"

"Glad to see you don't hold a grudge," Sora commented wryly, smiling slightly. Roxas tilted his head at him, too, grinning at the sarcasm found in his voice. It surprised him, to realize how much his cousin had grown up. That childish innocence and naivety were still there, sure, but the boy was so much more mature now, and the realization floored the blond. Things really weren't as they used to be.

"Well, get out," Sora prodded, pocketing his keys as he crossed his arms, matching Roxas's stubbornness as he leaned back in his seat. "We're not going anywhere, so you might as well just get this over with."

Glowering at his cousin, Roxas heaved a sigh of resignation. "Fine," he groaned, flipping the lock up on his door. "I'm getting out, see?" To emphasize this, he opened his door with a flourish, sending his cousin a look.

In response, Sora leaned against his own door, waiting with a pleasant smile. "After you, then."

Eyes narrowing further, he grumbled and unbuckled his seatbelt, stepping out and slamming the door in his week. Smiling widely, satisfied that Roxas wasn't making too much trouble for the both of them, Sora followed, closing the door less obnoxiously and heading towards the house as Roxas hesitated, watching him go. His cousin looked back at him, too, pleading with his eyes for the blond to follow, and Roxas found that he had to comply, hating himself as he moved his feet and got closer and closer to where Axel stood with every step.

Sora walked on past the redhead, sparing him a "hello" as he walked down the driveway and stopped a way's down, giving Roxas no choice but to follow his course. Rather irked by the brown-haired boy's insistence, too, Roxas hesitated, stopped, and then started walking again, his progress slow going as he refused to meet Axel's eyes, who was no doubt watching him as if he something was incredibly, incredibly wrong with him.

Finally, fed-up and feeling as if he'd walked far enough, Roxas stopped completely, crossing his arms angrily as he stood rooted to the spot and lifted his gaze, finding that he was only a few feet from where his friend now stood, watching him with disbelieving eyes. Scowling, Roxas glared at him, and Axel cocked his head, honestly without the slightest clue as to why the blond was so irked.

"Uh…hey, Rox. Long time no see, huh?"

"Yeah. No shit, Sherlock," he growled, looking away stubbornly and landing his heated glower on a patch of flowers some distance from his feet.

"What? Are you mad at me?"

"No, dumbass. This is my happy, positive side you're experiencing."

Heaving a sigh, Axel pinched his nose. "Christ, Rox. The hell're you being so bitchy for?"

Stiffening furiously, he refocused his menacingly glare on Axel's countenance, this time not finding the slightest hint of humor in the man's stoic expression. "God, I don't know. Why would I honestly be mad at a guy who abandoned me for four years straight without so much as a fucking phone call? It's sure a mystery to me."

His hard stare focused on the blond for a long time, Axel finally tilted his head, glare softening slightly. "That's the reason? You're upset with me because I didn't send you a postcard or call you up for a 'how do you do?'"

"Shove off," Roxas snarled, tossing his head to the side in embarrassment and stomping towards him, with every intention to storm right past and spare him not even the briefest passing glance. But before he could even make it towards Sora, who was watching their falling out from a safe distance, Axel quickly caught his arm, stopping the blond in his tracks.

Protesting against his hold furiously, Roxas let out an enraged growled. "Let…go!"

Axel was unable to suppress the chuckle that slipped past his lips, which only served to piss Roxas off even more, he livid at the fact that the redhead could find such enjoyment in the blond's anger. However, as Roxas thrashed more insistently, he suddenly found himself pulled against Axel's just, facing a wall of fabric as he struggled futilely, the redhead's hands moving to hold his arms still as he leaned down, head moving closer to his own.

"'m sorry, Rox," he murmured into the blond's ear, and Roxas stiffened, all fight within him dispersed. "I'm a jerk and a liar, I know. I promised you one simple thing and didn't own up, and I'm sorry. You have every right to be mad."

"Tch," he muttered obstinately, not wanting to admit that he was weakening the more Axel spoke. "I don't want your stupid apology."

Hand moving to rest against the back of the blond's head, Axel hugged him closer, laughing softly. "I missed you, Roxas. You and your pissy attitude both, can you believe that?"

Feeling a slight tremble run through his body, Roxas pushed against the redhead's chest, succeeding in breaking from his hold as he stumbled back and looked away, bangs fallen over his eyes as the line of his mouth twitched and he fought to keep himself composed, hands fisted before him. "Just leave me alone," he muttered, unable to meet Axel's eyes.

"I've screwed up a lot of things, huh?" he drawled, moving forward slightly and lifting his hand to ruffle Roxas's hair; the blond winced and cringed away. "Are you able to forgive me, Blondie?"

Mouth twitching again at the nickname, Roxas clenched his jaw tight against his sobs, though the tears still burned trails down his cheeks. Arms shaking before him, shoulders trembling terribly, he viciously lowered his head and stepped back, away from Axel's touch as he fought with himself, trying to make a logical decision while the surge of emotions confused his mind. And then, all at once, he gave up trying to think, gave up trying to keep himself safely distanced from the redhead, and he flung himself against Axel's chest, weakly clutching his shirt as he buried his face into the fabric, desperately forcing himself not to cry.

But it was Axel's surprisingly gentle touch on his shoulders that made him fall to pieces, and then he was choking against the tears that just kept coming, his body weak and violently shaking as the redhead stroked his hair, never saying a word.

Roxas had an impressive amount of pent-up emotions locked up within his heart, so, now that they'd burst forth from their confines, he feared that he'd never stop crying. And he felt so horribly embarrassed, since he preferred to be distant and aloof rather than wild and emotional like his cousin, so to be reduced to the mess that he presently was was nothing short of mortifying. But as he kept on sobbing, shivering over the strain of his feelings and the pain that kept opening new wounds within him, Axel kept running his fingers through his hair, never complaining once, though he had ample reason to do so. And for that Roxas was grateful.

The blond cried until he was weary, his eyes dry and aching and his throat sore from the sobs that had cracked past his lips. Body still shuddering from the aftershock, hands seemingly permanently locked around fistfuls of shirt fabric, Roxas remained collapsed against Axel's body, not willing to pull back and face the reality that he'd cursed and broken down in front of his best friend.

"Mind if I take that as forgiveness?" Axel finally asked, after another moment had passed and Roxas still hadn't moved away. Gasping weakly, leaning more forcibly against the man's chest, he clenched his jaw, preparing himself to answer.

"T-take it…however you want," he rasped, wincing at the grating sound of his voice as choked on the emotion still lodged in his throat. Still, though, Axel chuckled, ruffling his hair once more.

"Ever the one to be a hard-ass, aren't ya?" he teased affectionately.

Sniffling, Roxas finally pulled back and dragged the back of his hand over his eyes, feeling quite like a small child as Axel patted him on the head and then ran his fingers through his honeyed locks once more. Looking away as he lowered his hand, too, Roxas murmured his thanks upon swallowing his pride, thinking that, with his dignity dashed to hell as it was, it wasn't much of a sacrifice.

As Roxas struggled to recover from his emotional hysterics that had just transpired, however, Axel easily relaxed before him and then grasped his wrist, dragging him along in his wake as he made his way towards Sora, who'd been watching with concern the whole time. Glancing up awkwardly as they passed, Roxas only locked eyes with his cousin a moment, but in that time the brown-haired boy smiled, seeming satisfied with something Roxas wasn't aware of. Then, as Axel pushed the blond down onto his front stoop, crouching down at his side to idly chatter to him about the other worlds as he took the edge of his sleeve and rubbed it against his moist cheeks, Roxas watched as Sora waved and turned away, walking back to his car so that he could drive home.

Dazed, Roxas glanced back at Axel, too, blinking as the redhead grinned cheekily up at him and teased him about something that didn't register exactly in his mind. All he knew was that, despite his body shaking uncontrollably and his mind buzzing loudly from such an emotional shock, he suddenly felt extremely comfortable with Axel back in his life.

And at last, as Axel poked him idly in the forehead, questioning whether Roxas was still in there or not, he managed the smallest of smiles, the beginnings of his former happiness resurfacing.

-- - --

"Axel? Who's that?" Olette questioned in confusion, setting the dishes she was cleaning down on the counter and turning to face him, curly brown hair falling into her eyes.

Settling himself down into a kitchen chair with a sigh, Roxas let his chin fall into his hands, meeting her green gaze with his own bored one. "A friend of mine. He came back recently from a four-year trip. So, I was wondering, do you think we could cancel our plans tonight so that I could hang out with him?"

She stared at him incredulously for a moment, and then her expression turned indignant. "Roxas," she scolded, picking up a towel idly just so that she'd have something to twist between her hands, "we haven't gotten together in ages," she emphasized this with a sharper twist, expression darkening as she became more upset. "Does it have to be tonight?"

He crossed his arms, tilting his head at her as he sighed once more. "I haven't seen him in four years, Olette."

"I know. You said th---"

"So why can't I just spend a little time with him, huh? We can always go out to dinner tomorrow. It's not like it's gonna be any different."

"That's not the point, Roxas."

"What is the point?!" he exclaimed in exasperation, throwing up his hands as his temper began to wane.

Olette, apparently, was having similar problems. Slapping the towel angrily against the kitchen table, she shouted, "I just wanted to spend time with you. That's the goddamn point, Roxas! I was really excited for this night, you know, and so it'd be nice if you were actually excited, too."

Glaring at her in distaste, he crossed his arms again and then looked away, not appreciating the fact that she was trying to guilt him into going. It was a horrible lie, to say that he hadn't looked forward to eating out with Olette. He enjoyed spending time with her, it wasn't like that had changed since Axel's arrival, and it was unfair that she could so thoughtlessly accuse him of being that cold-hearted. But God, they could have dinner together any other time, and it would still be as if they went tonight, so he saw no point in being mad over such a small detail.

"So now I can't see my friends," he countered angrily, deciding that if she'd try to guilt him into something, he'd do it right back. "You can see Kairi and have a good time, but I can't see a friend of mine who I haven't seen in forever. Great. Just great, Olette."

"Don't pull that crap on me, Roxas," she snapped, slapping her palms down on the table and leaning forward imposingly. "I don't just out-of-the-blue announce that I'm going to visit one of my friends and effectively ruin a whole night planned days beforehand. I, at least, am considerate."

Standing up abruptly, Roxas scowled and turned away from her, walking towards the door. "Fine! Seeing as how inconsiderate I am, I won't even bother asking for permission anymore. I'm going to meet up with Axel, so good night."

Storming through the other rooms, Roxas finally walked out onto the steps and slammed the house door behind him, jogging down and towards the sidewalk, wishing not for the first time that he had a car as he started walking towards the park that he was meeting Axel at. But perhaps the fresh air would do his temper good, if nothing else, and so he hoped that to be the case as he started walking, hands shoved into his pockets, head bowed thoughtfully.

In truth, he preferred spending time outdoors, relaxing under the stars, to dining in stuffy restaurants where he had to dress up more nicely than he would have liked. He had a predilection for simpler things, that was all, and decorating himself to the point where he was someone else just didn't do it for him. So he wasn't exactly disappointed that the dinner – and opera to follow – wasn't going to happen, no matter how much he enjoyed Olette's company. Therefore, at the moment he couldn't exactly feel remorseful about his actions. And, besides that, Axel and he hadn't really gotten off on the right foot the last time; he wanted to rectify that thus.

Lifting his head to find that his feet had carried him quite rapidly to his destination, he smiled and tilted his head, sneakers scuffing against the gravel pathway as the trees near the entrance swished from above. Shoulders easing, the lingering tension within his body fading away, he traversed slowly through the park he hadn't visited in ages, oceanic eyes flicking about indifferently and taking in the familiar setting doused in darkness.

It was on this path that he finally caught sight of Axel, too, propped up against a tree and allowing his gaze to fall onto the pond a way's from his location. Grin fluttering to his lips, he felt the sudden urge to run as his heart skipped a couple beats, but then he shook himself of the feeling and strolled casually on, feeling that the excitement in seeing his best friend once more was completely unnecessary.

"Axel," he called out gently when he was within a close enough distance with the redhead. Surprised, he jerked his head up in response, and after a second of two he lounged more lazily against the tree, pleased smile softening his countenance. "Hey," Roxas continued, walking up so that he was standing only a small distance before him, body hunched slightly as he leaned forward and kept his hands buried in the depths of his pockets, head turned to the right so that the pond fell into his vision.

"Took you long enough, Roxy. Thought you'd ditched me for a prettier date. Of course, how that's possible is entirely baffling to me."

Grinning despite the awkwardness the blond felt, Roxas looked up at his friend, his cat-like gaze nearly glowing in the bluish darkness that coated the park. And under the powerful stare, the redhead's eyes a melted emerald due to his good humor, Roxas bowed his head and laughed softly, feeling incredibly comfortable back in the redhead's presence.

"You're an idiot," he mocked as he looked up again, smirk dancing at the edges of his lips and oceanic gaze taunting.

With a Cheshire grin as his response, Axel lifted his hand and gently hit his palm against Roxas's forehead, fingertips resting against few strands of blond hair. And Roxas's smile widened, so that he bowed his head against the touch and then stepped the several feet forward that it took to close the distance between them, leaning against his best friend casually and nestling himself into the folds of his dark jacket.

"I'm…glad you're back, Axel," the blond finally commented, moving back slightly to rest his forehead against the man's chest, his eyes searching the ground for things to say, for the apologies he needed to stress. "It was hard…trying…to---"

"Just say you missed me horribly, Rox," the redhead teased, pushing the blond at arm's distance and leaning down, grinning in amusement. "Is it really that hard?"

Rolling his eyes in annoyance at the red-haired man's arrogance, Roxas sighed and slipped out of his hold, running his fingers through locks of hair as he glanced at the man idly and then jerked his head to the right, moving that way and towards the pond soon after. Faithfully Axel followed, lingering a few steps behind as he waited for Roxas to do something, say something, and then the blond stopped, leaning over and searching to see if his visage would be reflected in the black surface of the water; he saw nothing.

"I hated you," he said with a weary laugh, looking over his shoulder to see the redhead eyeing him curiously, arms hanging at his sides. "Thought you didn't give a shit about me anymore, y'know? While I'm stuck in a place I'd give anything to get out of, nearly failing out of college but without enough courage to actually do so." He shrugged then and lowered his eyes to his feet, kicking at the grass bitterly. "Because I knew that then I would have nowhere to go, and wondered if you'd even care if some day I showed up on your doorstep, allowing that I even found you first."

"Rox…'course I---"

"So to say I missed you….no. I didn't. That couldn't even cover a fraction of the betrayal that haunted me for four years. Everywhere I looked, I expected you to be there, and you weren't. I don't know what to call it, but I know missing someone doesn't cause that kind of pain." He turned his head to the side, features masked with a look of indifferent as his gaze skated over the water and the grass. "Get it yet?"

Footsteps crunched behind him, and then a heavy hand landed on his hair, forcing his head forward into a slight bow as Roxas braced his shoulders, blinking in surprise. Turning his attention to the left then, searching out Axel's face, he arched a brow to see his friend smiling easily, looking not in the least affected by his words.

"Rox, why you felt the need to explain that, I have no clue," he drawled, playfully slinging his arm around the boy's shoulder. "I knew you were more than pissed at me. You don't just thoughtlessly swear at…" He stopped for a second, grinned broadly, and then continued, saying, "Well, you don't just burst out crying for no reason, right?"

Roxas flushed and looked the other way, eyes narrowing in embarrassment.

"Aww, don't be shy about it, Roxy. It was cute, to see you so worried."

"Shut up," he said with a heavy sigh, trying to shrug out of his best friend's half embrace. Axel, however, wouldn't let him, instead pulling him closer with a laugh as the blond struggled and then fell limp, allowing a smile grudgingly as he let his head fall back against the redhead's side.

"You li-ike me," Axel teased gently, fingering the strands of hair on the back of Roxas's neck as he chuckled. "You ca-are, Roxas."

"Shut up!" the blond laughed, shoving him away as he colored slightly and attempted to glare at his friend.

Smirking back, the redhead tapped his temple casually, an action painfully familiar to the blond. Smiling brightly just at the sight of it, he shoved his hands into his pocket and leaned backwards on his heels.

But as a thought flashed through his mind, the extent of the darkness making him aware of how late it actually was, he let the smile flit away from his countenance, and his shoulders fell wearily.

"Axel…I gotta go," he said with the inclination of his head, regretful of the fact that he still hadn't been able to spend a great deal of time with the man. Drawing forth one hand as he stepped back, giving a tiny wave, he uttered a soft, "See ya," Axel's smile fading as he watched him leave so suddenly.

"Hey! Rox!" Already on his way home now, the blond had to stop his progress, stilling his footsteps as he glanced over his shoulder curiously. The redhead, staring after him in confusion for a second or two longer, finally sighed heavily and scratched the back of his head nonchalantly, giving a small shrug as he closed his eyes. "Don't be a stranger, 'kay?"

"Sure," he responded easily, waving one last time and then turning around, shoving his hand back into the depths of his jeans.

The walk back to the house was longer than the walk to the park, and everything was darker, eerie in the pressing hours of the night. But, at last, Roxas's feet scraped the driveway of Olette's house, because he knew her to not be sleeping, and he thought he owed her at least an apology for ruining their night. So, sneakers scuffing against the stairs as he carried himself to her door, he removed one hand and rang her doorbell, shifting weight on his feet as he waited for her to answer.

Minutes passed, and then a light flickered in the hallway, footsteps sounding soon afterwards. Almost immediately then the door swung open, and Olette met his expression with an angry stare, no signs of sleep found in her visage; most likely she'd been awake the whole time, rather expecting some word from him.

"What?" she snapped, tone frigid as she made him stay outside, her normal cheer having not recovered since their fight.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Roxas removed his eyes from hers, lowering his stare to his sneakers. "I'm…sorry," he replied guiltily, looking off to the left as he kept his head bowed. "I…shouldn't have done that to you. It was unfair and---"

"Cruel, Roxas. Really cruel of you. But God," she cried, voice lowering and thickening with emotion, "do you know how late it is? I was really worried. I called your house and everything, but you wouldn't pick up, and I didn't know if you just weren't home or were still mad at me or…"

She stifled her sobs as he glanced up in pain. "Hey…don't cry. I'm sorry, Olette. I didn't mean to scare you."

Letting her head droop, she shook it sorrowfully. "But it's my fault, isn't it? I drove you away, right?"

Roxas heaved a sigh. "Olette…"

Sniffling, she lifted her hands and wiped the tears from her eyes, drawing in a deep, calming breath in an attempt to compose herself. Then, stepping away from the threshold, she eyed him pleadingly. "Will you…come in, Roxas? I'm really sorry."

Offering a tentative smile to her, he nodded, stepping into the house and stopping before her. She cringed, immediately looking down, but he placed his hands on her arms gently and kissed her on the forehead, letting his lips feather down to hers as she looked up hopefully, eyes fluttering to a close every so often at his touch.

"Roxas," she finally breathed, clutching to his jacket smelling of spring and leaning her face against his neck. "Please. Stay."

Nodding softly, he smoothed his gloved hands over her hair, every so often curling his fingers around stray strands. Then, as he felt her pull away, he watched as she gave a tentative smile, strengthening when he smiled back at her. Extending her hand to him, she closed her fingers around his when he took it, and only hesitated long enough for him to push the door to a close and lock it before she led him to her room.

-- - --

Scratching at his cheek in confusion, he tried to make sense of Sora's discomfort as he looked from Olette at his side to his cousin.

The brown-haired boy – well, man, Roxas had to keep reminding himself, because, despite his cousin's remaining innocent visage and demeanor, he was now almost twenty-three – kept shifting imperceptibly, fiddling with his hands as he hardly touched the lunch before him. Even the girl at his side eventually keyed in on Sora's strange behavior, reaching out her hand to touch his awkwardly and voice her concerns.

"I'm fine," the youth merely replied, turning his head rapidly to eye the crowd of people dining in the comfortable little luncheon, though no smile ever touched his eyes no matter how hard he forced one to his lips. So lunch was a tense one, with Roxas placing all his baffled attention on attempting to figure out what was ailing Sora and Olette no doubt again feeling like the third wheel, hardly saying a word the whole time.

Finally, when the bill was paid, Olette excused herself, leaning down to kiss Roxas on the cheek and thank him for lunch. She was off to meet Kairi again, as the girl was debuting in her first big performance, and she was going alone, because Roxas had made plans to spend the day with his cousin. So, after watching the brunette wave and then exit the restaurant, the blond turned agitated eyes onto his cousin and propped his chin back on his hand, expression bland.

"Spill," he ordered immediately, and he was relieved to see Sora finally meet his eyes, somewhat less fidgety for some reason as he sighed and fiddled his hands on the tabletop.

"Rox, what're you still doing with Olette?"

His eyes widened incredulously, the blond hardly able to believe what he was hearing. "Wh-what?"

Lowering his eyes, his cousin sighed quietly, moving one hand to support his chin while he drummed the fingers of his other hand absently on the wood. "It's been…what? About five years now, give or take a few months? I mean, can you really say you're getting anywhere in your relationship, Rox? You told her you loved her when you graduated, but it's not like you've made any steps towards the future. Look at you. You don't even have a job yet."

"So…?" Roxas snarled, eyes hardening as his anger began to rise within him. "What're you saying, Sora? That I don't deserve her, is that it?"

"Don't put words in my mouth, Rox," his cousin replied wearily, glancing up from the table to fix his serious gaze directly on the blond's. "God, if I thought you wouldn't be better suited with someone else, Olette is exactly the person I would choose for you. As it is…" But he trailed off, removing his gaze to stare out the window, shoulders falling tiredly as he eyed the crowds bustling through the shadowed streets of one of Twilight Town's shopping alleys.

"And who's this someone better suited for me, huh?" He couldn't help it; Roxas just couldn't control his temper with Sora pressing him like this.

Flicking his eyes back towards the blond, the brown-haired youth's expression cooled, from guilt or anger, though, Roxas wasn't sure. Still, Sora leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms as he maintained a stoic countenance, adapting a poker face that Roxas would've been proud of, had he not been so pissed off. "You honestly don't know. You don't know who the hell it is you are being extremely unfair to by forcing yourself into a relationship that you don't wholeheartedly want?"

Balling his hands into fists on his knees, Roxas snarled. "And who're you to tell me what the hell I do and do not want, Sora?"

"I'm your cousin, dumbass," the brown-haired youth said quietly, eyes softening quickly as the emotions he fought to suppress forcefully shown through the more he spoke. "Family, remember? Someone who wants to make sure you have happiness above everything? Someone who cares?"

"Yeah? Well, you have a crappy way of showing it," the blond snapped lowly, mouth contorted into a derisive sneer as he matched Sora's expressive stare with his own furious one.

Ignoring the comment, however, Sora murmured, "You're not happy with her, Rox. So you'll never be right for her."

"I don't need a goddamn lecture about relationships, Sora! Especially from you," he finally snarled, anger erupting in his chest and eyes blazing from the injustice he felt. "After all, how many relationships have you been in, huh? You don't know the first thing about love. You're just a kid who cares too much for everyone else and won't take care of his own needs because he has an inane fear that everyone he cares for will just disappear, just like his mother did."

When Roxas inhaled shakily, anger still mildly taking hold of his mind, he looked back at Sora and caught his cousin sitting stock-still, eyes wide and expression twisted into one of severe pain. Shaking his head slowly at first, then more insistently, he opened his mouth to deny the accusations as a tear or two slipped from his eyes, and that was when the realization struck him head on. Floored by the words echoing in his head, Roxas stuttered apologies as Sora squeezed his eyes shut and angrily pushed out of their booth, walking away in a hurry as Roxas finally managed to call after him, tone remorseful and vulnerable.

"Shit…" Roxas whispered, falling back into his seat as he leaned his forehead into his hands, disbelief at his words shocking his whole body so that he was completely immobile. He was a jackass. The worst kind of jackass. How he could say such things about Sora – Sora, of all people – and dredge up such a sensitive subject so callously mortified the hell out of him. So he was angry. His cousin hadn't deserved such verbal abuse, and the knowledge of that deeply wounded Roxas, so much so that he was sick with himself.

So he wept disgusted tears as he couldn't bring himself to move, trying to understand where in the last for years he had started acting so cold.


Jumping, startled, Roxas looked up with a gasp and caught sight of Axel staring at him in surprise, eyes wide and tattoos prominent beneath his gaze. Looking away in embarrassment, the blond mumbled something of a greeting and made to collect himself, fumbling for the light, white jacket he always wore that rested at his side at the moment, when Axel slid into the seat across from him and leaned forward, pinching his arm.

"Slow it down," he said gently when the blond jerked his head up in surprise. "Calm down, Rox, and tell me what's wrong."

Shaking his head insistently, the blond began pulling one arm through the correct short sleeve. "'m fine," he argued, dragging his palm forcefully under his eyes and clearing away the tear marks. "Just…something…in my eye," he finished lamely, shaking his head and pulling his arm through the other sleeve, his white sleeveless now nearly covered.

"'course," Axel replied with a laugh, propping his chin on his hand. "And that's why Sora fled out of here like his tail was on fire, stuttering lame-ass excuses just like you are now."

"S-Sora?" he stammered as he glanced up, and then he narrowed his eyes and looked away, crossing his arms. "Well…forget him."

"Christ," the redhead murmured, eyes widened incredulously. "What the hell happened between you?"

"None of your business," the blond muttered, shifting closer to the end of his bench, hoping somehow he could make a run for it and still catch the redhead off guard. The reality was unlikely, but he didn't see why he shouldn't at least try.

"Rox," Axel warned, prodding him in the arm with his finger lazily as his cat-like eyes glinted. "Stop being childish. I'm trying to help you, got it memorized?"

Blinking at the use of the redhead's catch-phrase, which the blond hadn't heard in such a long time, Roxas looked up and felt a smile flash for a second onto his lips, shoulders easing a fraction. Then, lowering his head, he heaved a sigh, moving to bury his eyes in his hands. "Sora's just not letting up about my girlfriend. Thinks I'm not happy with her or some---"

"Girlfriend?" Axel asked lowly, and Roxas looked up from his hands in surprise, brow cocked in confusion.

"Uh…yeah. You know, girls whom you date?"

"I know what the hell a girlfriend is, Roxas," Axel snapped, the line of his body tense as he leaned forward, glowering at the blond with a lethal glare. "What I want to know is, who the hell is she and why haven't you told me about her?"

"Is it really any of your business?" the blond asked in disbelief, hardly able to comprehend the fact that now a second person was pestering him about his relationship with Olette. One time was more than enough, by God.

"Yeah, Rox. It kinda fuckin' is, considering you failed to clue me, your best friend, on such a key bit of information!"

"Oh, yeah. Some best friend you are, never calling me once in all of four years and then suddenly coming back and thinking you're still part of the closest inner workings of my life!" he snapped as he rose to his feet, glowering back at the redhead.

Cursing darkly, Axel bowed his head and fished out a cigarette in his pocket, the fight no doubt strengthening his cravings. Irritated to no end, however, the blond claimed the object from the redhead's lips seconds after he lit it, crushing it into his plate angrily.

"No smoking in the goddamn restaurant," he growled. "Why don't you actually care about one thing in your life and friggin' quit, huh?"

Before the redhead could snap a reply, however, Roxas shoved his hands into his pockets and stormed out, wanting more than ever to run and leave all his troubles behind. But, as ever, he hadn't the heart to do such a thing.

-- - --

Wearily, Roxas pushed himself up on one elbow, blankets falling to his middle as he blinked in the darkness. He couldn't sleep. Two weeks had passed since Sora had walked away from him, and still the rift remained, so choking and tangible that Roxas was torn up inside, unable to forgive himself. And tonight, like so many nights, he just couldn't sleep, a thousand different things plaguing his mind, the most prominent things being Axel, Sora, and his relationship with Olette.

It seemed that every part of his life that he cared for most, he screwed up. He'd chased Sora away. He'd walked out on Axel. And, lately, time with Olette had been stiff and awkward, as if their relationship really was dying, as much as the blond wanted not to believe. Anything and everything was going wrong, and again he was scared, because now it was his fault, and so he couldn't simply turn his back. He had to fix things, and, honestly, he'd never learned how.

Life had never been a field of roses for him. He'd had Sora to cheer him up and Axel to protect him, but when they were gone there was no one else around for him. He was completely alone, his mother and father dead (and worthless to him even before such), his house empty and cold, his life a sham. So to say that he was lost now, caught up in the workings of a web he'd never been trained to fight through…it was a severe understatement.

As he continued to think, eyes lowered and focused on the bunched up sheets of Olette's bed, the brunette stirred in her sleep, trying to shift closer to him and not finding him right away. Sighing softly, she moved her head and then blearily blinked open her eyes, searching him out in the darkness until her gaze trailed up towards his in confusion.

"…Roxas?" she questioned, smothering a yawn with one hand and reaching out to touch his bare arm with the other. Cringing slightly at her touch, he moved the arm she was gently stroking, his left one, and smoothed her hair from her face affectionately, expression never changing.

"Go back to sleep, Olette," he murmured, voice gentle, soothing.

She nestled back into the mattress, but still her eyes didn't close. "Are…you okay? I'm worried, Roxas. You're…you're not yourself."

Nodding distractedly, Roxas replied, "Just go back to bed."

"Are you not happy?" she pressed on tiredly, never one to back down when she had questions to ask. "Is that the problem?"

"Olette…" he breathed wearily, sitting upright. "I just need to clear my head. That's all. I'm going for a walk."

Rolling over onto her back, lifting one arm to splay over her forehead, she eyed him as he stood up and dressed himself in his clothes piled on the floor, running his fingers through his hair after he'd pulled on his white undershirt. "Going to meet Axel?" she murmured bitterly, but he didn't hear all of it and thought the better of asking, so he only lingered at her door for a moment before closing it behind him and descending down the stairs.

He didn't know where he was headed, as he walked out the door and down onto the sidewalk, but he couldn't say that he was surprised when, the more he walked, the more his surroundings began to reminisce of scenery belonging to Twilight Town's park. So, when the path loomed in his view, he just shoved his hands into his pockets and turned the necessary right, thinking it would be nice to lose himself to the surroundings and just sit beneath some random tree for endless hours, thinking of nothing as he made to rest his mind.

As his footsteps carried him onward, though, something did surprise him. In his direction, looking out across the pond in a sort of trance, there stood a tall, lanky figure with a flare of red hand and a cigarette blazing and burning in the darkness, the man's only company. Stopping momentarily, wondering if it wouldn't be best to just turn and walk away, now that he remained still unseen in the open area of the park, Roxas shifted from foot to foot and swallowed, weighing his options. But, as it was, he needed some closure, needed forgiveness – less, even – on Axel's part, and so he had to move forward; and that was what he did.

Tentative steps carried him the distance, and he kept his movements silent, wanting the upper-hand on the situation. So, as he came to a stop a few feet from his best friend, hands in his pockets as the redhead lifted the cigarette to his lips wearily, Roxas replied, "Guess you'll never quit such a despicable habit, huh?"

Fumbling in alarm at the sound of Roxas's voice, Axel dropped the cigarette with a yelp and whirled about, eyes wide as they met his in shock. Giving the smallest smirk of amusement then, Roxas turned his head away and walked to his right slowly, keeping the distance wide between them as he also walked close to the pond, leaning forward once more and catching sight of the moon reflected in its recesses.

"What're you doing here, Rox? Thought you made it clear that I was hardly a friend you could rely on," he commented easily, reaching back into his pocket to retrieve the pack of cigarettes in his pocket.

Catching sight of this from his peripheral vision, Roxas growled, "Dammit, Axel. Can't you just stop that?"

"Why?" he drawled, lifting one white stick to his lips. With a sardonic grin, he asked, "Does it gross you out?"

"No, but it makes me disgusted with you," he shot back, holding his ground as he refused to remove his glare from the malicious sneer on Axel's countenance.

"Oh. Big surprise there," he said with a bitter laugh, playing with the lighter in a crueler kind of teasing. "But then who're you to mother me, Roxas? If I want my lungs as black as my apparent black heart, I'll smoke as much as I want, got it memorized?"

Wincing painfully at the redhead's words, Roxas finally stepped back, hating so much about that one bit of conversation. So, turning his back on the man to shield his hurt, Roxas heaved a sigh and started walking, thinking it stupid of him to believe he could so easily reconcile with the redhead. Axel was nearly as hard-headed as he was; of course he wouldn't forgive the blond so soon.

"Sorry to ruin your night, then," Roxas called back, though his troubled gaze remained fixed ahead.

"Rox? Roxas, wait a minute!" came the impatient call when he started walking away, and the blond deliberated stopping, but he wondered if he'd only just get into a fight with the redhead once more and so he just kept on track, keeping his pace as he left Axel in his wake. "Hey! C'mon, Blondie, don't just leave." He heaved a sigh of frustration. "Dammit, Roxas!"

The hand on his shoulder swinging him around surprised him. Sure, part of him believed that the redhead wouldn't just let him go, but he didn't expect him to catch up so fast, not even giving the blond a chance to get some distance away. However, as he glanced up, warily preparing himself for the cold remarks and furious expression, he was unprepared for the remorseful expression that met his stare, and he tripped slightly, attempting to back away.

"Don't walk away, all right?" he pleaded, hands fastened securely to the blond's shoulders as he leaned down. "I'm sorry. Really."

Sighing, taking hold of the redhead's forearms, Roxas pulled out of his grip and turned around, crossing his arms. "Don't apologize, you idiot; it's my fault anyway."

Axel snorted in disbelief, but he only ruffled the blond's hair in reply, soon after dropping his arm around Roxas's shoulder and pulling him along in a casual stroll. Tiredly the blond complied, leaning heavily against the redhead's body for support, and for the first time in two weeks he felt content, sheltered as he was in Axel's hold.

"I don't think I'm happy, Axel," he murmured softly, exhaustion taking control of his senses as the two walked, the redhead teasingly ruffling the blond's hair now and then. "But I dunno how to fix it. And Sora was right about it, but I don't know how to tell him. And I took it out on you, and I don't know how to apologize. I---"

"Rox, Roxas, easy now, all right? It's done. It's okay. I'm not mad."

"You say so," he muttered in reply, shaking his head in disbelief. "But you were pissed, Axel, you can't deny it. And it's my fault, because I always push people away, and---"

"Roxas, shut up," the redhead laughed, stopping and turning to take hold of the blond's shoulders again. This time he merely swayed in his hold, though, weary from lack of sleep. "Rox," he tried again, this time more gently. "Really. It's okay."

"You should hate me," he argued stubbornly, eyes falling to a close even as he attempted to stay alert. "Why…don't you?"

Roxas waited for a reply, which was long in coming as he struggled with the reaches of sleep, but before Axel could give him an answer he slumped forward, arms falling weakly to his sides as he nestled his face into the fabric of Axel's shirt. The redhead stiffened, too, no doubt as surprised as he always was when Roxas reacted in a way that was more affectionate than usual, but then wrapped his arms securely around the boy's shoulders and ruffled his hair playfully, leaning his head closer to Roxas's.

"'cause I care about you too much," he replied, patting the blond on the back gently. And Roxas smiled, nuzzling his cheek comfortably against his friend's chest as he closed his eyes in contentment.

-- - --

"…always going to you, isn't he? Because I'm only his girlfriend, so why the hell should I know that he's depressed?!"

Blinking blearily, Roxas pressed his face closer against the cushions of the couch beneath him, slightly roused to consciousness due to the voices arguing somewhere in the house. However, he didn't necessarily care about what was going on, and so he let his head fall back easily onto the pillow he'd dragged closer, eyes heavy with sleep falling closed once more.

He never truly fell into a deep slumber, however. He was out of it for most of the conversation, but bits and pieces floated in and out of his mind, so that oftentimes he'd struggle to pay attention but just not be able to.

"…want him. Admit it. That's why you're so mad at me, when I've done nothing wrong." His brows twitched in confusion. That was…Olette's voice. So was he in her house, or was she in his?

"Bingo, sweetheart," drawled another voice, and Roxas weakly opened his eyes. Axel? "And while you take him to bed every night and try to lure him into your life, he doesn't stay around, does he? Feel a little jea---?"

"Mmnn," Roxas mumbled to himself, rolling over, sighing heavily. Honestly, who the hell were they talking about? All he wanted to do was get to sleep, not key half-way in on their little soap opera drama that kept waking him up.

"…ve him more, ever think of that? After all, I've never touched him, and yet I'll never leave him."

"You did, though, didn't you? For four years, you abandoned him. He almost killed himself because of you, getting himself drunk day after day just so he wouldn't have to deal with the stress. Where were you for that, if you care about him as much as you say? Why weren't you the one to take the bottle from his hand and get him into bed; after all, he cried for you all the time when he was so far gone, asking why you weren't there, why you didn't come back. He thought you hated him, you jerk! He thought you had given up on him, said you didn't want him just as no one else wanted him."

"Roxas…" Axel tried, his soft voice carrying all the way to where the blond lay, now wide awake and staring at the checkered cushions of his couch, he attempting to swallow away the emotion wedged forcefully in his throat.

"All Roxas wanted was you," Olette pleaded with him desperately. "But I was there. I was always there. So why can't you just give me that? You've had your time with him, and you let him go. But I can love Roxas. I can." She choked, most likely crying, and then whispered, "Please…"

Roxas clenched his fingers tightly around the fabric coating the cushions of his couch, wedging himself desperately closer as he braced himself for the redhead's answer. He felt the shake in his shoulders, and he realized this was fear that was affecting him, that he was terrified that Axel might leave him finally, never attempt to contact him again. So, waiting with bated breath, the blond squeezed his eyes tight, hoping to God that Axel wouldn't answer the way that Roxas thought he would.

"Sorry. But I don't take orders from anybody, and definitely not from you."

Letting out a breathless gasp of delight, laughing softly as Roxas opened his eyes, he rolled over and looked up just as Axel swaggered through the doorway. Blinking as the redhead stopped, dread flashing for an instant over his features, the blond shot up eagerly in his seat, stumbling to his feet soon after and then nearly falling over in his weariness.

As Axel rushed forward to catch him, though, the blond jerked backwards and caught himself, smiling shakily. "Really, Axel?" he asked. "You're not leaving anymore?"

Arching a brow in disbelief, gaze suspicious for a moment, the redhead finally allowed a smile to spread across his lips, and then he grinned widely, ruffling the blond's hair as he walked on by. "'course, kid," he replied over his shoulder, and Roxas turned and watched him go, rubbing the back of his neck. "Would I really let you go?"

He blinked in surprise as Axel closed the door behind him, but, shrugging the comment off soon enough, he fell down onto the couch and laughed tiredly, thrilled that his friend wasn't so easily chased away. As he glanced up, however, prepared to fall back onto the couch and collapse into a dead man's sleep, he caught sight of Olette watching him with pained eyes, leaning heavily against the doorway for support.

"So…you care about him that much, Roxas?" she asked, attempting to mask her sorrow with a false smile.

Confused at her words and too tired to search his mind for a reply, Roxas only held her stare, lids lowering every so often as he struggled to remain alert. Finally, nodding at something, Olette walked forward and came to a stop before him, leaning down and kissing him gently on the forehead.

"Sleep well, Roxas," she murmured softly, brushing strands of hair out of his eyes with her fingers before she pulled away, smiled weakly, and walked out his door, disappearing into the darkness.

Alone now, and infinitely confused, Roxas slumped against the cushions of his couch, closing his eyes to deliberate Olette's actions but instead achieving sleep at last.

-- - --

Surprisingly enough, it was Axel who dragged Roxas and Sora back into close quarters, most likely fed-up by now with the dejected way the blond would always talk of his cousin. Roxas hadn't been clued in on the redhead's plan, however, so, when he'd trailed loyally at the older man's heels expecting a quiet lunch, he came to a sudden and utterly shocked stop when he saw Sora shifting awkwardly in the booth that Axel immediately slid into, knowing instantly that he'd been tricked.

After several long and painful minutes of avoiding his cousin's stare, Roxas coaxed himself to slide in next to his best friend, muttering "asshole" as he did so and slumping down angrily in his seat, arms crossed stubbornly over his chest. As much as he wanted to reconcile with his cousin – truly, he wanted to do so – the circumstances Axel had provided didn't exactly prepare his mood for such an occasion.

"Uh…so…" Sora attempted, as Roxas sent the traitor beside him yet another death glare. Axel, however, was craftily and teasingly ignoring his best efforts, every so often lifting his glass to his lips and drinking calmly as Roxas growled softly under his breath. "H-how…how've you been, Rox?"

Sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose when Axel just wouldn't pay him any mind, the blond faced forward, smiling weakly as his cousin ducked his head down and fiddled with his hands once more, obviously far more uncomfortable than Roxas felt. Sighing, an affectionate smile making its way to his face, the blond leaned back, tilting his head.

"I'm sorry, Sora. I was an asshole."

Glancing up in surprise, the youth stared at him incredulously, as if he could hardly believe the blond's words. "You're…apologizing?"

Roxas eyed him dryly. "I only gravely insulted you, remember?"

Slowly, as the discomfort in Sora's frame eased away, a small, amused smile fluttered at his mouth's corners, and then the blond's cousin was beaming, sitting straighter than he originally had. "So…you're not mad anymore?" he questioned tentatively, hopefully.

Roxas stared at him in astonishment, and then laughed softly at the irony. "Sora, I haven't been mad this whole time. Weren't you the one mad?"

Smiling sheepishly, the brown-haired youth leaned back as well, interlocking his hands behind his head. "I haven't been mad, either."

For the first time, Axel alerted them of his presence with an annoyed sigh. "It's official. You two are the stupidest human beings on the face of the planet."

"H-hey!" Sora exclaimed indignantly, albeit with embarrassment coloring his face, and Roxas merely glared, what he felt was the more effective route to go. And Axel, in reply, smirked at the two of them, lounging lazily in his corner as he appraised them with arched eyebrows.

"Not my fault if it's true," he teased, ruffling the blond's hair playfully as Roxas winced and growled in what he hoped was a threatening manner. Across from them, Sora laughed softly, and as the blond tossed his head to the side and crossed his arms, scowling bitterly, he turned on Sora.

"Jeez, I get attacked by this…this…thing," he exclaimed, gesturing wildly at the redhead, who eyed him quite indignantly at such a reference, "and you laugh. What kind of cousin are you?"

Smiling still, Sora leaned his chin on his hands, wrinkling his nose. "You're happy," he commented playfully, resorting to the signature teasing he would always use when they were kids and Roxas grew flustered by Axel's overbearing attention. "Admit it."

Grunting noncommittally, Roxas tossed his head to the side, sending a broad glance around the whole of the restaurant. He came to when Axel nudged his side in an irritating manner, however, and he sent him an ill-tempered glower as the redhead laughed and then moved on to tease Sora about his love life.

Glancing in alarm at his cousin's face for a moment, remembering his words, he was surprised to see the blush on his cousin's features. Leaning forward suspiciously, the blond prodded Sora's forehead with his finger. "Sora…" he warned, and the brown-haired youth fidgeted. "Spill it."

Rubbing the back of his head, Sora looked into his lap, smiling goofily as he shrugged. "Well, remember how you said that I didn't know much about relationships?" Roxas cringed, but nodded all the same. "And do you also remember the redhead Olette hangs out with? Kairi?"

The blond stared at him with disbelief as Sora glanced up, still rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. "No…"

"Uh, I've kind of been dating her in secret," his cousin said with a small smile, tilting his head to the side. "Olette doesn't even know." For an instant, however, Sora panicked. "Uh, don't tell her…though. Kairi would kill me."

Snorting in amusement, Axel leaned back as Roxas continued to gape at the boy, hardly believing his ears. "God, you're whipped, aren't ya, Spiky?"

In response the boy colored and shot him a resentful glare, until a grin that could fairly rival an evil smirk crossed his lips. "And you're not, Axel?"

Spluttering indignantly, it was enough to break the blond free from his stupefied trance and give the redhead a long look, a grin soon breaking out on his features. "Really? Who's the lucky guy, Axel?" he teased, leaning forward with interest.

Casting him a startled glance, the redhead immediately looked away, folding his arms over his chest crossly. He blinked at the loathing glare that the man was sending his cousin, and Roxas moved his curious stare the brown-haired youth's way, just as surprised to see Sora glancing down guiltily.

"Uh, guys?"

"Forget it, Rox. It's nothing. There's no one."

The blond snorted impatiently, lifting his gaze to glower at the man avoiding his stare. "So now it's a big secret, huh? Am I not mature enough to know?"

Smiling weakly, Sora shook his head. "That's not it at all, Rox. Honestly. I was just joking. But you know how moody Axel can be." As if to prove the youth's point, Axel sent him another glare. "He just doesn't like to be teased. Plus, I guess his masculinity is kind of a sensitive subject?" he finished lamely, rubbing anxiously at his arm as Roxas stared hard at him, instantly knowing that his cousin was lying.

Heaving a heavy sigh, however, Roxas shrugged and decided to give up. "Whatever you say." Leaning back in his chair, the blond stared pensively into his lap, noting the tension surrounding them uncomfortably as he began to bounce his leg in agitation, a habit of Sora's that had rubbed off on him some time long ago.

As Roxas removed his gaze from his lap and made to look around the restaurant again, a hand suddenly came to rest on his leg and stilled its incessant movement, so that Roxas jumped and swung his gaze to the right, eyeing Axel in surprise. "Stop it," he said sternly, eyes narrowed with remaining agitation as he stared the blond down, Roxas swallowing in response and finally dropping his eyes to his leg in confusion.

As if burned, the redhead immediately snatched his hand away, and the blond gave him a quizzical stare. But when Axel forcefully faced away from him, Roxas heaved an impatient sigh and leaned forward, leaning his forehead against his clasped hands as he closed his eyes and thought for a long moment, wondering if now was really the appropriate time to bring up news he'd been deliberating since his fight with Sora.

But as his eyes fluttered open, and he considered that the tension couldn't really get any worse than how bad it was right now, Roxas lifted his gaze and let it fall on his cousin, tilting his head slightly. "Sora…"

Looking up at once, eyes wide and attentive, he answered with a questioning, "Yes?"

Smiling in the smallest amusement, Roxas pressed his clasped hands near his mouth as he eyed the youth before him, hoping that his cousin wouldn't hate him for his decision. "Y'know…how you said that I wasn't happy with Olette?"

Slowly the brown-haired boy nodded, no doubt wondering where this was going.

"Well…I figured you were right. I've just been pushing her away, with no thinking of the future, and I have to stop acting this way," he continued, closing his eyes for a moment and then reopening them, this time faced with a hopeful expression on Sora's part. Encouraged, Roxas smiled. "So, I've decided…that I'm going to stop living like this." Axel perked up considerably beside him, this his peripheral vision caught, and distractedly he looked over for a moment before shaking his head and looking back at his cousin; Sora was beaming. "Tonight, I'll propose to Olette."

The reaction he received was far from what he'd expected. Axel, beside him, had stiffened abruptly, hands curling into fists on the table. And Sora, who'd been smiling so approvingly moments before, held now a blank expression, eyes blinking rapidly as if he was assuring himself that he'd heard wrong. As if that was exactly his thought process, too, he voiced weakly, "P-propose?"

Leaning back in surprise and laying his hands flat on the table, he regarded his cousin incredulously. "Is this a bad thing?"

"Of course it---"

"---isn't!" Sora hastily cut in, sparing him a weak smile as Roxas moved his gaze to stare at Axel, the blond's brows arched warningly. "That's…that's great, Rox. I'm…so happy for you."

Looking back at his cousin, he searched his expression for a long time, and then, somewhat satisfied now that the youth wasn't eyeing him in such alarm, he sighed in relief. "You think she'll say yes?" he questioned worriedly, looking at his folded hands once more.

"In a heartbeat," Sora responded softly, and Roxas gave the softest of smiles, thinking that good to hear.

-- - --

Olette responded with an ecstatic yes the minute he produced the ring.

Their wedding, now, was only three months away.

He'd thought that things would go more smoothly after he'd proposed. And, in truth, his girlfriend – fiancée, now – was happier than she'd ever been with him. However, he, instead of being overjoyed with the changes to come in his life, was more worried and anxious than he'd ever been, and so he often desperately consulted his cousin and best friend for guidance, becoming more of a nervous wreck the closer the impending celebration loomed.

Plus, Axel was being especially difficult.

"I want you to be my best man."

Eyeing the blond indifferently as Roxas twisted his hands before him, nearly on his knees begging for the red-haired man's consent, Axel rolled his eyes in annoyance and turned away, flicking his arm out in a nonchalant wave. "That's what you have Sora for," he chided easily, strolling away. "After all, shouldn't blood come first?"

"I can have two best mans," he insisted, but as his best friend refused to stop, Roxas ground his teeth in agitation. "Axel!" he shouted, jogging after the obstinate man, trying to catch his arm. Lowering his gaze at the blond, however, Axel gave a sneering grin and pulled away, changing his direction. "I want you to be my best man, ya idiot!"

"Sorry, Rox. I'm not into all of that glitz and glamour."

"You liar," he accused, chasing after the ever-stubborn redhead. "You love attention. I'm surprised you're not fighting Sora to the death for this position."

Tossing the blond a bland look from over his shoulder, Axel sighed. "No, you just wouldn't get it, would you, Blondie?"

"Axel," he said sternly, stamping his feet impatiently as he came to a stop, crossing his arms impatiently over his chest. "Stop being a prick. Best man. Best friend. Do you see why I want you to be there for me?"

"I'll be there, kid," he laughed, turning around and waving his arm with a flourish. "Honest I will. But just not as your dressed up, pansy-looking best man. That's Sora's job."

Scowling, the blond crossed his arms and tapped his foot impatiently. "You're an ass."

"Thank you kindly," he said with a grin, whirling on his heel soon after and swaggering on, arms resting at his sides, long cloak billowing in the mid-summer wind.

Shaking his head at the red-haired man as he watched him progress onward, Roxas gritted his teeth at what he was about to do, knowing it was a lot of pride that he would have to swallow to get Axel to accept such a responsibility. However, it wasn't just an obligation that Roxas wanted to fill before it was too late. He truly needed Axel there, standing by his side, coaching him on as the blond took his final vows. He'd relied on Axel for everything before, and if he wasn't there in one of the most crucial points of his life, Roxas didn't know what he was going to do.

So, swallowing painfully and then walking quickly after the redhead, Roxas called his name urgently and at last got his friend to stop, Axel sending him an annoyed stare as he turned around and heaved a sigh. But as Roxas kept walking, rubbing the back of his neck, he finally came to a stop before the redhead and looked away in embarrassment, immediately after wrapping his arms tight around the redhead's middle.

"Please," he begged softly, ears burning and face flaring as he tried not to imagine Axel's reaction, hoping to God that the man wasn't sadistic enough to hang this moment of Roxas's pleading over his head forever. "Axel, I need you there, so please do this for me."

He sighed wearily. "Rox-as…"

"Please…" he murmured desperately, clinging to the redhead with all his might, burying his face within the folds of his jacket.

"Oh, fine," the redhead finally growled, taking hold of Roxas's shoulders and shoving him back as he looked off to the side in discomfort. "I'll be your damned best man. Just…stop that."

Beaming in excitement, Roxas laughed brilliantly and then, ignoring Axel's request, wrapped his arms back around the man's middle in an ecstatic hug. "You're the best!"

"H-hey…hey! I said…said stop…" but the scolding in his voice faded away as he sighed again, giving a small chuckle as he smoothed his hand over Roxas's hair affectionately. "You're a pain, you know that?"

Pulling back, Roxas grinned mischievously, tilting his head. "Of course."

Smirking, Axel ruffled his hair playfully as he walked on past, headed back the way the both had come from originally, where the rest of the group was having a summer barbeque in Sora's backyard. Smiling contentedly, he fell into step with the redhead, giving him a small shove when Axel attempted to toy with his hair again and then laughing exuberantly when he slung his arm stubbornly around his shoulders, pulling the blond close to his side.

"God, you're almost twenty-three, aren't ya, Roxy?" Axel breathed in amazement, though a reminiscent smile lit his face.

"Feeling old?" the blond teased, grinning as he glanced up into his elder's face, countenance still as young and confident as it had been when Roxas was still eighteen.

"Pfft. Don't give me that crap," he grumbled, though the smirk was there as he ruffled blond locks of Roxas's hair in retaliation. "I just can't believe you're not such a shrimp anymore, that's all. Though you're still as short as ever," he commented with a laugh, Roxas's glare only adding to his amusement.

"Whatever," he grumbled, looking away. "I'm getting married, so what do I care?"

"So now who's getting old?" the redhead said, though his voice was softer and more serious than it had been moments before.

Tiredly, Roxas leaned back into him, staring at the ground beneath his feet with a kind of weary acceptance. With every step he took and every minute that passed, that day when he'd grow out of his youthfulness grew closer and closer still. And, he realized, the moment that he married Olette, things between Axel and him would never truly be the same.

Glancing up at the redhead, dread and fright suddenly roiling within him, he wondered if his best friend knew that, too. And, even more, he wondered if he was truly ready to let go of the years and years of friendship and companionship between them that had always been most important in Roxas's heart.

-- - --

Mid-fall had finally come. That meant that three months, full of anxious preparation, mounting tension, and mind-numbing self-doubt had passed, and now the day of the wedding was upon them, with the little church that Olette had picked out packed with friends from all over. Naminé was there, with Riku at her side and a baby in her arms, smiling weakly as she talked with him and kept on asking if he was truly happy. Sora was fidgeting in the corner as Kairi scolded him time and again and tried to fix his tie, which was in as much of a mess as the brown-haired youth presently was. Hayner and Pence were there, Hayner inquiring on how Roxas was doing and then asking twenty thousand questions on Olette's state of mind. And then countless more mulled about or sat apprehensively in the church pews, too great in number for Roxas to pay attention to as he excused himself from Naminé's pressing questions and went off in search of Axel, who was the only person he hadn't seen.

As he fretted over his friend's location while anxiously pulling at the cuffs of his tuxedo, feeling increasingly uncomfortable about everything and wondering if he'd truly be able to go through with this if Axel wasn't there, he stumbled outside and walked around the corner of the church, finding the redhead leaning casually against the wall of the building, cigarette between his lips and keys idly swinging in a circle as he looked into the distance with a detached expression. Heaving a sigh of relief at the sight of the man, Roxas walked on the grass and over to the redhead, who'd taken notice of him quickly enough and had jammed the keys back into his pocket immediately, removing the cigarette from his lips soon after.

"You nervous, too?" Roxas asked as he fell against the wall beside his friend with a heavy sigh, moving his hands to run through his strands of hair in a shaky gesture.

"Why? Are you?"

Nodding reluctantly, lowering his arms so that he could twist his hands in a nervous motion, Roxas stared down at his feet and swallowed painfully. "But it's just a case of cold feet, I'm sure. I'll get over it quickly. Nothing to worry about."

"…Sure, Rox."

Tiredly, the blond leaned over and slumped against Axel's shoulder, closing his eyes as an autumn breeze swept over them, lifting up strands of hair from his eyes in a relaxing gesture. "I'm glad you're here, though," Roxas murmured, closing his eyes tiredly as he sighed. "I don't think I could do this without you."

Axel cringed beneath him. "Roxas, look…"

Suddenly, however, music sounded from within the church's hall, and Roxas stiffened in fear, looking up into the redhead's face for support. And Axel, looking down at him with a troubled expression on his countenance, finally managed a warm smile, patting his head gently as he moved away. "You'll be fine," he urged, giving the blond a push. "Go on."

Smiling, nodding, Roxas began to walk towards the doors, only to find that Axel's presence was missing from his side. Halting, he looked back and found that the redhead was looking away from him, cigarette back between his lips and keys turning in his hand thoughtfully.

"Axel, come on…" he encouraged, turning around and crossing his arms over his chest.

"Rox…" Clenching the keys tightly between his grasp, he sighed and looked up, giving the blond an awkward grin. "Sorry. I am. I really am. But I can't."

If he wasn't so terrified at that very instant, with the practice music beckoning him back inside the edifice they stood in front of, Roxas would've been furious at the redhead's words, at his best friend's betrayal. But all he could do was choke and shake his head, not even able to speak.

"I'm just a liar, Rox. You can't rely on me. I should've never promised you anything, not that I could be your best man, especially not that I could stay here."

"Sh-shut up," Roxas plead desperately, stepping forward. "J-just…you're joking, that's all. You won't…l-leave me behind again."

"Roxas, I can't stay."

"Why not?!" he finally shouted, a sob loosing past his lips soon after so that he had to clamp his hands over his mouth, body shaking, eyes wide.

Bowing his head, Axel let his arm fall, keys clenched between his grasp and taunting the blond's gaze. "I just can't watch you get married, that's all."

"…makes no sense. It makes no sense!" he cried, stepping forward angrily, pushing at Axel's chest in a surge of rage. The redhead stumbled back, too, allowing himself to be treated in such a way. "You're my best friend. Why wouldn't you be happy for me? Why would you just run away on one of the most important days of my life?!"

"…cause…ve…ou," was all Roxas heard him mumble, and, trembling hysterically, he fisted the fabric of Axel's suit between his hands, shaking his head.

"What?" he snapped, frustrated and impatient with the humbled man before him. "Speak up, dammit! Why don't you give a shit about me? Why don't you care? Huh?"

Snarling savagely, a sound which startled Roxas out of his tears and rage and had him looking up, he yelped when Axel pushed him violently against the wall, cigarette gone from his lips, remorse burned up from the fire in his eyes. "Because I love you!" he growled, and in the minute Roxas lost his breath in surprise, when the world came crashing down around him and he wasn't certain about anything around him anymore, Axel seized his lips in a desperate kiss and slammed him further against the wall, fingers digging into the blond's shoulders in a hopeless gesture to keep Roxas close to him for just one moment longer.

But the blond couldn't run any longer, a thing surely the redhead had picked up on? And, as horrible as it was, Roxas found that, exposed as he was to any passersby and as strange of a situation he was in, he wanted this, more strongly than he'd wanted anything before. So as Axel's lips crashed over his and his weight continuously crushed him against the wall of the church he was to be married in, the minutes counting down the very event, Roxas grasped the front of his best friend's jacket and kissed him back, needy for such a feeling of completion he'd never been given before.

Unfortunately, the gesture was enough to snap Axel back to his senses. Pulling away, holding his forehead as he groaned in regret, he shook his head and released himself from Roxas's desperate hold, the blond collapsing against the wall as Axel stepped backwards, holding the keys within his grip tight enough so that blood could be seen pooling out of a cut in his palm. With one final glance, one final hesitant step forward, Axel cursed and turned away, leaving Roxas to slouch over his knees in a grand display of weakness as he touched the back of his hand to his lips, breath shuddering and chest heaving as his blank stare didn't lift from the grass.

He didn't move, either, until the sound of Axel's car pealing out of the parking lot stirred the furious flames within his stomach, and then he stumbled to his feet, swaying uneasily as he scrubbed at his face and then righted his tuxedo, hoping to express the epitome of happiness as he walked through those double doors and took his place at the altar. And as he walked around the back, giving himself more time as he avoided the majority of the guests and finally slipped into place, Roxas didn't remove his eyes from his feet, hating himself suddenly for ever proposing to Olette in the first place.

"Hey," Sora whispered, and Roxas turned his head slightly at his voice, though he never looked up once. "Where's Axel?"

Heart clenching at the name, jaw tightening, Roxas looked back down, shaking his head. "Gone," he replied simply, and Sora asked nothing further, no doubt detecting the warning etched neatly into the blond's somehow composed voice.

He was really…gone.

Roxas did look up at last, when the music began to sound and the front doors opened, revealing Olette, looking like an angel in her wedding gown, glowing beneath the sunlight streaming in.

And he hardly smiled, because his heart kept focusing on Axel, who was already well on his way to God-knows-where by now. And as his eyes trailed after Olette, watching her, so beautiful, walk up onto the altar and face him, face lost behind a veil only temporarily, he knew this was a mistake, and his heart twisted painfully within him.

Sora had been right all along. People could be in love and still not be happy together. And marriage…well, that was the worst remedy for it.

"Do you, Roxas, take Olette as your lawfully wedded wife, to…?"

The words fell away as he met her eyes remorsefully, Roxas hating himself for what he was about to do. He shouldn't be doing this to her, to a girl he loved quite dearly, to a girl whom he'd treated so unfairly.

He loved Axel, that he'd finally realized.

"I do."

So he shouldn't be marrying Olette.

-- - --

Sitting on the steps of his house, Roxas twisted the ring on his finger, idly glancing up as he watched his cousin stand before him. "Hey."

Sora sighed, offering a weak smile as he walked over and sat himself beside the blond, patting him encouragingly on the shoulder. "You're still hung up about it, aren't you?" he asked softly, knowing instantly what was troubling Roxas without needing to ask.

Nodding, he eyed the silver piece of jewelry once more, noticing the empty ring finger on his hand yet again as he replied the events of a week ago. "She said…no," he murmured in confusion, letting his head fall tiredly. "Why?"

"'cause she knew, I think," Sora replied gently, nudging him with his shoulder as he leaned forward and attempted to get Roxas to look at him. Sighing, however, the blond looked away, guiltily avoiding his cousin's stare. "She knew that Axel had so much more importance in your heart."

Roxas groaned. "I'm such an asshole," he complained, holding his head between his hands in self-pity.

"No, you're human, and you were just trying to keep her happy and find happiness at the same time. Besides, Hayner will take good care of her."

Roxas gave a bitter laugh at that. "God, am I a prick. I can't even be jealous, Sora. I lost a beautiful, amazing girl and a good friend of mine takes my place, and I can't even be the least bit angry."

"You shouldn't be complaining," Sora told him sternly, poking him in the arm. "She gave you another chance, Rox. Most…well, break-ups don't happen this cleanly. And, anyway, imagine if you'd gotten married, and it didn't work out. You could've hurt her by having an affair – or she could've hurt you that way. Or you could've just stopped loving each other completely, and you'd have to go through a divorce. Just…think of it as a blessing in disguise."

Giving his cousin a dirty look, though accepting his words as truth, the blond closed his eyes again and sighed, pressing his palms against his eyes tiredly. "Did you know?"

Sora was silent for a moment. "Did I know what?" he finally asked with curiosity obvious in his voice, that innocence of his shining through once more.

"About…Axel…and me."

Sora laughed softly, shaking his head. "Rox, I'm telling you right now, a blind man could've seen how much Axel cared about you." The blond turned and glowered at his cousin, and the brown-haired youth gave a lopsided smile, not too distressed by Roxas's anger. "And, well, concerning you…I knew you cared deeply about Axel, Rox. You always have. But, about caring that much…I'd hoped, at least, but wasn't too certain."

Sighing, Roxas nodded, letting his chin rest in his hands as he shrugged carelessly. "Well, like it matters now, right?"

"Huh?" his cousin asked, tilting his head at him in confusion.

Roxas glanced over at him dryly. "Axel's gone, remember? Ran off? Abandoned me again?"

"No he's not," Sora commented in surprise, sitting up and eyeing his cousin with an odd expression. "Who told you that?"

Rolling his eyes, Roxas looked down at his feet. "Sora, he drove like a madman out of the parking lot, swearing beforehand that he was leaving for good. It's hard to mistake that as anything but a farewell notice."

"Well, Axel's a liar, remember? He didn't leave."

"He did, Sora. Just let it go."

"Then why is his car still in the driveway, smart one?"

Straightening warily, Roxas turned his head in his cousin's direction, arching a brow in question. "You're certain he's here still."

Sora smiled slightly. "If you need more proof than that, I saw him sulking in the park yesterday when I was jogging with Kairi."

Getting quickly to his feet, Roxas gave a hasty good-bye, waving distractedly as Sora began to laugh at him, and then he hurried down the driveway, wishing yet again that he had a car and, moreover, that Axel's house wasn't fifteen minutes away. It was too slow, the pace he was going, and he had a lot of things to say, to shout, to curse at that stupid redhead, so he started jogging at an easy pace, hoping he'd be satisfied with such a speed.

He wasn't.

The anticipation itching in his legs, the will to just see Axel again when he'd thought him to be gone burning in his mind, Roxas clenched his teeth and then, all at once, he was running, flying across the sidewalks and streets as his breath quickened, his heart pounded, and he found himself gliding once more. Apprehension fueled him too much to greatly reminisce on such a freeing feeling, but as he swerved around pedestrians and darted around cars he knew that he'd missed this too much, and he wasn't going to let go of such a feeling a second time.

Faster and faster he forced himself to run the closer Axel's house loomed, and then he was on his street, near his house, in his driveway, at his door. Coughing, propping himself up against the railing as he gasped for breath and ordered himself never to do such a stupid thing again without first being in shape, he pounded desperately on the front door, eyes falling onto Axel's red car that was still faithfully sitting in the driveway.

Encouraged further, Roxas continued to knock insistently, legs trembling and chest heaving as he tried with all of his power to be as annoying as hell towards Axel and summon him to the door more quickly. And, upon hearing the shouted curse from within and the stomping of feet, Roxas knew he'd succeeded, and so he let up just as the door swung open, swaying dangerously on his feet as he jerked his attention upwards and met Axel's pissed-turned-shocked expression.


"Nice to see you, dumbass," he said with a weak grin, though his eyes were slightly guarded. "Oh, and thanks for lying to me again."

Leaning against the doorway to his house, Axel crossed his arms, staring him down; Roxas, however wouldn't let himself be intimidated, and so he glared right back.

"Where's the wife?" Axel finally drawled in disinterest, waving his hand with a flourish. "I'm sure she'd be glad to insult me, too."

"Would be, if I was actually married, you idiot," Roxas breathed tiredly, lifting up his hand to show him the ring finger quite devoid of any rings.

At this Axel blinked in surprise, tilting his head in confusion. "Well…congratulations on your reigning bachelorhood, then," he finally responded, stepping back and shrugging at the blond. Then his hand moved to rest on the door. "But, if that's all…"

Narrowing his eyes, Roxas stumbled forward, reaching out and grasping the tail end of the redhead's shirt weakly, legs still shaking and burning as he tightened his grip on the fabric in his clutches. "Stop leaving me," Roxas snapped, looking up to glare into his best friend's cat-like eyes. "You said you cared. Then prove it. I didn't run those fifteen fuckin' minutes and nearly kill myself just so you could slam a door in my face."

Arching his brows, Axel leaned forward, smile smoothly spreading across his lips. "Wow, Rox. You've got it bad for me, don'cha? Fifteen whole minutes running just to confess your undying l---"

"Shut up!" Roxas shouted, yanking the end of his shirt harder, so that Axel stumbled onto the front stoop and nearly sent the blond tumbling down the steps. Groaning in annoyance, Roxas leaned his forehead against Axel's chest as the redhead laughed softly, no doubt thoroughly enjoying the blond's suffering. "And stop enjoying this," he snapped, looking up again when Axel continued to chuckle.

"You just make it too easy, Roxy," he commented slyly, leaning forward and pressing his nose gently against the blond's, lips hovering over his.

"Shut up," he mumbled softly, without anything else to say, and the redhead gladly complied, pressing his lips insistently against the blond's as an alternative to talking.

And Roxas was finally flying, wanting never to come down again.

-- - --

So, again, another oneshot of mine that sucked throughout and sucked more so at the end, only with pointless length to make it worse. (sigh) Well, review please, and please, no death threats.