(A/N): I think you guys are officially allowed to stone me at this point. I'm sorry, I know I still haven't updated Waiting - I have been trying to work on it, but I have writer's block, lyke whoa. And I keep getting sidetracked, but they say writing's cathartic, so hopefully this dumps everything out there and I can get on with other things. Reviews are always welcome.

Disclaimer: Not in this universe.

Fading Embers

Axel knows he wanted his heart once. He knows this, but lately, he just can't seem to give much of a damn. Lately, all he wants is Roxas.

He laughs, the sound bitter and empty, as he drags a hand through his hair. He never should've let himself go so soft, so fucking soft that without the stupid kid, he doesn't – can't – feel complete. But he shouldn't feel at all. He wipes one hand tiredly over his face before a smirk slips across his lips – it's just another performance, just another play. The last time he'll have to wear this confident, comfortable mask he's had since he burned his way back into existence. The last time he'll have to contemplate that empty ache in his chest, hurting when all logic says it's not possible.

Somehow, that idea is soothing.

Stepping through the portal into Betwixt and Between, Axel closes his eyes against the memories. He never would've believed, in the early days of the Organization, that he'd ever sacrifice himself for someone else. Especially not this naïve brat. All he'd wanted was his heart. It's embarrassing, now, to remember how desperate he'd been to gain one. But that was the beauty of the Organization – they all were. Had been. Whatever.

Desperate to drive away the feeling of emptiness, to deny the truth of what he was – who the hell wanted to be nothing? – he'd honed his powers and his nature until both were razor-sharp. Biting and acidic, both could wound. Both could burn.

But he'd still been empty.

Axel still remembers Demyx's startled grunt – the first sound he'd ever heard out of the younger Nobody. Demyx hadn't been in the Castle That Never Was for longer than a day when Axel had pinned him to the wall, mask still in place. He was bored, and Demyx was something new with which to keep the emptiness at bay. The sitarist had regarded him with wide, ocean-colored eyes, biting nervously at his lip, reluctant to speak out against his superior so soon after joining. Smirking, Axel had brought his face close to the Melodious Nocturne's.

"So how do you like it?" he'd asked, voice genial. Conversational, even. Demyx's face had screwed into the most convincing facsimile of confusion Axel had ever seen on a Nobody. Axel's chest had twisted a little, but he'd ignored it.

"Like what?"

The sitarist's voice had been quiet, cautious as he tried to draw his face away, but he was trapped between Axel and the wall. Smirk widening, Axel had moved forward until their noses were touching, grinning at the way Demyx's breathing hitched as he tried to jerk his head away, thumping it against the wall.

"This," he'd said coolly, as if nothing were wrong. "Being a Nobody. The whole 'no feelings' deal." Demyx's pupils had dilated as Axel had unzipped the black Organization cloak, tapping gloved fingers against the blond's chest. "Not having a heart."

"I – I don't know," Demyx had stuttered, face twisted in a mockery of some emotion Axel couldn't even name. Axel had felt a flash of what might've been annoyance before he'd lowered his head and nuzzled the blond's neck, laughing at the distressed whimper he evoked.

Stepping back as suddenly as he'd grabbed him, he'd fixed the Melodious Nocturne with a condescending smile. "You know, when you want to get away in a tight spot –"

The sitarist hadn't given him time to continue. With an enraged cry, he'd thrown himself at Axel, wrapping his arms around his superior's waist and tackling him to the floor. "Why did you do that?" he'd cried angrily, sitting up and punching the floor next to Axel's head. Axel hadn't blinked.

"Because I did," he'd shrugged, grinning widely at Demyx's flushed face.

"You bastard." Demyx's voice had been choked and small, and Axel had frowned when the blond's face fell.

"Hey, hey, what's your problem?" he'd grumbled, pushing the sitarist off him. "You can't feel, kid. Quit making that damn face." Demyx hadn't answered; turning his back on the redhead, he'd summoned a portal and vanished, features still twisted in what should've been pain.

Sighing, Axel had pushed himself up and wandered off to find something else to drive away the emptiness. He didn't even think of the sitarist again until they were thrown together for a scouting mission.

"God, you're a useless shit!" Axel had cried, his chakram tearing through the few remaining Heartless. "I thought Xemnas said you were ready for combat!" Demyx had leaned on his sitar as he glared sullenly at the redhead.

"I don't like fighting," he'd muttered. Axel had whipped around to face him, the chakram bursting into flame in his hands.

"You can't like it," he'd hissed, eyes narrowed. "You can't dislike it. Get it through that thick skull, kid – you can't feel."

Demyx's face had crumpled, and he'd let his sitar dissolve back into water as he turned away from the redhead. "I feel like I can," he'd mumbled. He'd cried out as one of the chakram tore its way through his side. Falling to the ground, he'd regarded Axel with large, fearful eyes as the redhead had stalked up to him.

Axel had fought down the false flares of irritation – kneeling in front of the injured Nobody, he'd slipped back into his mask, smirking at the convincing counterfeit emotions flashing through Demyx's eyes. "Don't be so fucking tiresome," he'd chided, ignoring the way Demyx clutched at his leg. With a groan, Demyx had pulled himself up and wrapped his arms around Axel's shoulders. Axel had stiffened. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Demyx hadn't answered him; instead, he'd pressed his lips to the spot below Axel's ear, where his pulse should've been. Axel had been too shocked to remember to set him on fire. The next second he'd found himself coughing up water a few feet from the blond. Demyx had been laughing his ass off at him, clutching his sides. "Now we're even!" he'd choked out, grinning.

Axel knows he can't mourn, but he likes to think he would if he could. Demyx had almost been a friend; with him, Axel had been able to pretend that he wasn't empty, wasn't nothing – Demyx "felt" enough for the both of them. Axel would've given anything to be able to mimic those emotions – so damn convincing – that would dance across the sitarist's eyes. Instead, Demyx found (or was found by) Zexion, and Axel had been alone again.

Axel knows that if he was less of a heartless bastard, the faux happiness Demyx had shown around the Cloaked Schemer would've been enough to make him spare the man. He didn't. If they hadn't been Nobodies, Demyx would've been able to hate him the way he should've. He couldn't. In the end, Zexion was in the way, just one more traitor to be disposed of, and Axel knows Demyx knew that – but Axel also knows that if Roxas had never come, he'd still be able to look back on that action without an echo of guilt.

Axel steps out of the darkness, trying to shake his mind out of the past. He watches the Keybearer battle the Dusks with detached interest. The kid can't win – there are just too many of the pale Nobodies. Axel cocks his head as he studies the brunette. He's not Roxas – and yet he is. He's what Roxas should've been allowed to be. Axel wonders if he might've had the chance to be something more.

Doesn't really matter now.

When he thinks about it, Axel can't, for the life of him, explain how or why he and Roxas got along. But they did. Maybe if they hadn't, none of this would've happened. That was the thing about Roxas, though – Axel couldn't ignore him, couldn't relegate him to some dark, dusty corner of his mind and just forget about him. His nonexistence would've been so much simpler if he could've just walked away.

Axel raises a hand and rubs absently at his nose, where Roxas smashed a Keyblade against his face the first time Axel kissed him. Axel had just been curious; he and Demyx had never kissed, and he'd just wanted to see what it was like. It wasn't like it meant anything, anyway.

Roxas had actually been at a complete loss for about three seconds after Axel had pressed their lips together – then Axel had found himself bleeding on the ground as Roxas stalked away silently.

Sometime later (who knew how much later when the sky never changed) Roxas had stalked back up to him; grabbing a fistful of Axel's collar, he'd dragged the redhead all the way back to his room. Turning and glaring at him, Roxas had crossed his arms and scowled fiercely. "Why'd you do that?"

Axel had blinked at him, his mask slipping through his fingers when he reached for it. "Because I did." Roxas had continued to glare at him, and Axel had pulled his hands through his hair. "Look kid, it's all I can give you." He'd laughed hollowly. "And even that's nothing." Turning, he'd left the room, slamming the door behind him.

Roxas had tracked him down, however many hours (days) later; tilting his head to the side, he'd regarded Axel narrowly before he'd uttered one word: "Okay."

And just like that, Axel was fucked. Figuratively speaking. Roxas had actually turned out to be something of a prude in that department.

Roxas was the only one who saw. Saw right through him, in a way that was the most intimidating thing Axel had ever experienced. When Roxas spoke, Axel listened. Eventually, if Roxas wanted to fuck to drive away the emptiness, Axel did his best to make the blond forget. And somehow, Axel wrapped himself so far around Roxas he could no longer stand without him. Which was just the best damn joke he'd ever experienced. Too bad he was on the receiving end.

Axel sighs heavily as he waits for the Keybearer to tire. He knows he could jump in at any time, but he can't help wanting to watch the brat suffer. He took Roxas from him, after all. Axel's still sore about that.

His chest still clenches in an echo of pain when he remembers the blank look Roxas fixed him with that day. It frustrates him, because it should be actual pain. Axel's thrown over the entire Organization for the stupid brat, and he still can't honestly say he misses him in more than the most abstract of senses. He just knows he feels like some vital part of him's been chopped off, and he still experiences phantom pains. If he were stronger, he'd truly be able to regret Roxas's leaving. If he were stronger, he would've refused Xemnas's orders to destroy him.

Axel had tried that day, he really had. He'd filled the air with empty, useless chatter, trying to drive back the disquieting thought that, if he'd had a heart, it would've been breaking at Roxas's vacant expression. Look at me, Roxas, look at me, recognize me, see me, Rox, see me, know me, remember me. Roxas hadn't. He'd launched himself at Axel with a defiant shout, and Axel had been glad, for the first time in his nonexistence, that he didn't have a heart. He didn't think it would've stood the pain.

Because he'd known then that he'd be ordered to kill him.

He's still thankful Roxas was always stronger than he was. So he didn't have to go through with it. So that he has this one last chance to do something for Roxas. The Organization won't stand for much longer, and Kingdom Hearts will never be completed. Better to go in a blaze of glory than to cling to this half-existence. Besides, Roxas would appreciate the irony.

It's just so Roxas to completely fuck him over and then leave him to deal with the aftermath.

Sora's tiring. Axel can see it in the way he stumbles under an unexpected counter-strike, in the way he reaches desperately for a potion before he's struck from a different side. Axel straightens, calling his chakram to his hands, smirking. He's got one last show. He only hopes Roxas is watching.