(A/N): Well...this is obviously not the next chapter of Waiting. Sorry. I'm trying to work on it, honestly I am. In the meantime, these little plot bunnies continue to breed. Reviews are always welcome!

Disclaimer: How many ways can I say the same thing? I don't own any of this.

In Absentia

Roxas let Oathkeeper and Oblivion fade as he watched the freed hearts float up into the deepening twilight. Pushing his dark hood back, he studied the glowing objects that hung suspended against the sky until they vanished in a small burst of light, called back to the ever-growing Kingdom Hearts.

As he dragged his attention away from the disappearing hearts, he caught movement in the corner of his eye – turning, he found a small crowd of people from the village huddled warily out of the reach of his Keyblades. One little girl stepped forward shyly, thrusting a bent flower she held clutched in one grubby hand toward him. Roxas frowned at the faded blossom.

"I don't want that."

The child's face fell, and she clutched the flower against her chest as she stepped back, biting at her lower lip. Roxas's frown deepened, and he pulled his hood back up around his face. Turning away from the crowd, he wondered idly if the little girl would've held out her offering if she'd known that just last week he'd stood aside and watched a world be swallowed by the darkness.

A portal to the darkness tore a hole in the quiet desert landscape, and frightened gasps and cries rang in his ears as he stepped into the comfortingly familiar corridor. He glanced back before he let the doorway close – the little girl was gone, and the flower had been trampled into dust.

Axel was sprawled across his bed with one arm thrown loosely over his eyes when Roxas stepped out of the darkness. Axel shifted his arm enough to peer at him with one green eye before he sighed. "What's wrong with you?"

Ignoring the question, Roxas stalked up to the Flurry of Dancing Flames and grabbed the zipper of his dark coat firmly between his thumb and forefinger. Axel studied him blankly as Roxas unzipped the dark jacket, but Roxas didn't miss the way the redhead's jaw tensed. Roxas knew he was pushing the boundaries of their pseudo-friendship, and that Axel would've set anyone else on fire by now, so he only slid the dark leather aside instead of trying to wrestle the jacket from Axel's shoulders. Peeling the glove from his right hand, he climbed up and straddled Axel's lap, pressing his palm against Axel's chest, where his heart should've been.

"There's nothing there," he muttered, almost to himself. Axel blinked at him, shifting underneath him as he propped himself up on his elbows.

"You expected something different?" he asked sardonically, arching an eyebrow at the blond. Roxas didn't answer; he pressed down harder, until his fingers laid flat against Axel's skin, as if he could force the rhythm he knew should exist there to rise if he only applied enough pressure.

"I saved a village today," Roxas said tonelessly. "A little girl tried to give me a flower." An amused smirk curled the edges of Axel's lips as he stretched beneath the Key of Destiny, trying to relieve the muscles cramping in his shoulders.

"Did she now?" he drawled, eyes glinting. "Should I be jealous, Roxas?" He laughed at Roxas's scowl, tilting his head back, and Roxas stared at the side of his throat. He couldn't see a pulse.

"They were only grateful until they saw what I was," Roxas continued, ignoring Axel's comments. Axel's eyes met his again, glittering strangely as he grinned up at him. "They wanted –"

A champion of the Light.

"– something else," Roxas finished quietly, frowning at the intrusive thought.

"You should be used to that by now, kid," Axel scoffed, arching his back slightly until Roxas shifted his weight. Roxas kept his hand against Axel's chest, staring down at it thoughtfully.

"What was it like?"

Axel cocked his head to the side, eyes narrowing. "What was what like?"

Roxas's eyes rose to meet his, and he pressed his hand firmly against Axel's chest. "Having a heart." Axel stared at him silently for a moment, expression thoughtful, before he shrugged.

"Like living," he muttered, a wistful smile flashing across his face almost too quickly for Roxas to catch. Roxas lowered his eyes back to his hand, studying the way his fingers splayed over Axel's skin.

"I don't remember," he said quietly. He felt Axel take a deep breath, and the redhead's voice was uncharacteristically gentle when he spoke.

"I know."

Roxas frowned. He hadn't told Axel about the dreams – visions of a hero who was him and yet not him, with something in his chest that throbbed and pounded painfully in a steady rhythm. He wondered if that was what having a heart was. There were times he thought he might be that person, or should be that person, but that didn't make any sense at all, and any attempt to unravel the meaning behind it led him in useless circles.

Axel shifted underneath him again, and Roxas tore his mind away from his musings. He glanced out the window at Kingdom Hearts hanging against the inky sky, an echo of an emotion he couldn't name resonating in the empty space his heart should've taken.

"Did it hurt?" he asked quietly, curling his fingers the slightest bit. He glanced up when Axel didn't answer right away and was somewhat taken aback at the bitter smile on the redhead's lips.

"More than anything," Axel murmured, glancing down at Roxas's hand against his skin. He chuckled softly before he pushed himself up, Roxas's fingers ghosting over his skin as the blond sat back, resting his weight on Axel's legs. Axel brought his face close to Roxas's, and his grin looked almost feral. "Why all the questions, Roxas?"

Roxas managed to keep his expression neutral as he shrugged. "I was curious, that's all," he muttered, rising to his knees. Before he could get away, Axel caught the back of his neck with one hand. Roxas's fingers tightened, and he summoned Oathkeeper and Oblivion on blind instinct before he relaxed, the Keyblades resting on either side of Axel's body. Axel didn't flinch.

"Don't do anything stupid, Roxas." Axel's voice was calm and unaffected, but he squeezed Roxas's neck forcefully before he released his hold, sinking back down to rest on his elbows. Roxas stared down at him for a moment before he dismissed the Keyblades and rested once more on Axel's legs.

"Do you believe the Superior?" Roxas asked roughly. "Will Kingdom Hearts make us whole again?" A wicked grin curved Axel's lips, but his eyes narrowed as he studied Roxas closely.

"You don't believe our benevolent Superior?" he asked, voice lilting, eyes hard. Roxas glared down at him, itching to summon the Keyblades and beat a straight answer out of him. Axel stared at him silently for another moment, still grinning, before he gave another half-shrug and shifted so that he could press a hand against Roxas's chest. "It's the only chance we have, Roxas," he said quietly. He pressed his palm firmly over the area Roxas's heart should've resided, and Roxas blinked the redhead's tone. "Xemnas is a complete bastard, but he wouldn't lie about something like that."

"What will you do when you get your heart back?" Roxas asked, swallowing against a throat suddenly gone dry. A mischievous smirk flashed across Axel's face as he raised his hand and brushed it idly against Roxas's collarbone.

"Break yours," he grinned, "first chance I get." Roxas rolled his eyes, batting Axel's hand away absently as he watched the redhead's expression turn pensive. "I dunno," Axel murmured, laying back and lacing his fingers behind his head. "What about you?"

Roxas shrugged and glanced to the side, a wry smile tugging at his lips. "Play hero," he muttered, smile widening when Axel scoffed. He bent down, bringing his face close to Axel's. "You could always be the damsel in distress." Axel's eyes narrowed before he flicked Roxas on the forehead.

"You're lucky I like you, kid," he huffed, grinning. Roxas laughed before he turned his head and gazed back out at Kingdom Hearts. "Quit worrying, Roxas," Axel sighed, reaching up and wrapping an arm around Roxas's shoulders. "It'll work."

"How do you know?" Roxas demanded softly, curling his hands into fists against Axel's chest. Axel shrugged, running his hand up into Roxas's hair.

"Because it has to," he muttered, eyes sliding closed. Roxas studied his face for a moment before he ducked his head and closed his eyes. In his mind, a boy with unruly brown hair laughed brightly.