For tyco622, my best friend.

'Kay. So, Rachael. Oh my goodness. Happy sixteenth birthday, with love! Ah, I'm so excited. You're completely awesome, and a kickass kind of person - and writer, if you'd update (poke) - so I hope you have a blast. And yes, I'll have an actual gift-wrapped present for you, haha.

And secondly, oh my freakin' God, I hope you don't despise this. xD It's so, so long, y'know? So long that I had to split it into three parts. But it's done now, and I hope you like it. There's Zemyx, like I promised, and Akuroku, because, frankly, I can't resist it. So, without further ado, if you're still reading my random tangent eating up more space on this page, please enjoy the story!

Disclaimer: Nah.

-- - --

Happiness was a particularly elusive thing.

Well, he thought so, anyway. So seldom was he truly overjoyed, and never did he allow himself a genuine smile, because he saw such acquaintances with excessive happiness pointless. He enjoyed instead the cool, sultry side of knowledge, where he could immerse himself for hours in texts, left alone to his own form of enjoyment, never bothered to engage in conversations or frivolities.

Really, he was only content when he was alone, and he found company to be a disdainful thing to have around, because people were rowdy, unbearable, and got in the way of his quest for knowledge. Thus, he never stayed in one place.

Change was his only true companion. By traveling frequently he learned, he experienced, and he didn't have to shoot the breeze, so to speak, with any pest of a person who thought they'd be a good scout that day and decide to take up a conversation with him while he was shopping for food, or paying for a book at the register, or just simply walking the streets. No, instead he could be by himself, live for himself, and settle comfortably within himself, with his hands on the wheel as he passed through a new town or with a book in his hands as he read far into the evening in the new hotel of the week.

This was the reason why he was now leaving his current residence, ignoring questioning glances sent his way, brushing off offerings of help – because surely he couldn't carry his own damn luggage with his frame so short or scrawny, correct? – as he jogged down the steps and breezed out of the lobby, dark hair falling over one eye and shielding him halfway from the impossibly nosy onlookers who wouldn't know common courtesy if it slapped them repeatedly across the face. He was sick to death already of the old surroundings and undulating seas of people, and the atmosphere in his room, he found, was just not right for losing himself deep in the summer nights to morbid tales of murder and mystery.

Of course, by the end of his stay he always had several things that didn't suit him, if only to serve as an excuse for his leaving, so that fact that his room was just not appropriate was not much of a surprise.

Dropping a cardboard box loaded with read-only-once or newly purchased tomes into the back of his trunk, he wiped his hands free of invisible dust and then turned briskly on his heel, footsteps measured, deep blue eyes sharp and uninterested. He walked straight past a stranger who'd lifted a hand and opened his mouth to address him, and he narrowed his eyes at the chimes singing cheerfully and announcing the opening of the door as he strolled across the carpet and towards the hall, only his suitcase needing to be retrieved now. The minutes were racing away underfoot, and soon enough only the open road would meet his eyes, no godforsaken little paradise to hold him back and no scout-like smiles to war against his patience.

He wasn't one for insincerities, and, as he found people to be the most impossibly cruel and insincere of all of God's creations – or whoever the hell created anything and everything; he was hardly a person of faith, instead a man of science and logic and fact – he thus wasn't one for people. Enough said, that was that, he was moving on.

And thankfully, as he crossed that lobby for the last time, himself struggling with a suitcase in hand as he kept his head bowed and didn't bother to memorize his three-star surroundings, he was, in fact, moving on.

The passenger seat open for his suitcase, he opened the door, threw the offensive luggage in, and just as quick shut the metal barrier and rounded the front of his automobile which he'd driven close for convenience that morning, keys clasped loosely in hand, expression one of suppressed pleasure. Hollow Bastion would be a fine new start, for he'd never been there before, and so the promise of it still rang true.

The car revving to life as he twisted the key into the ignition and slammed the door to his left closed, he rolled his shoulders back, lifted his chin, and then tilted his head in a kind of pleasant awe, detached smile on his lips as looked at tiny little Twilight Town for the last time. It hadn't held what he was looking for, nothing did, and so he was moving on without remorse, the twilight bleeding as always across the sky and melting towards the horizon. He would miss the selfish beauty the town harbored for itself, with the clouds suspended heavily and broodingly in the sky, the cobblestone streets spreading anciently forward to touch the explosions of sun that coasted downwards at the day's end. But in the end, he was a scholar, a scientist, not a tortured artist, and so the beauty glanced off of him and he was turning the staring wheel and driving down the street, prepared to speed right past that horizon and get to where new opportunities awaited.

Hollow Bastion was only a twelve-hour drive away.

-- - --

He was hardly used to days not brought to life by seawater and screaming gulls. Having lived on Destiny Islands all of his life, Sora, upon moving to Hollow Bastion to attend the college of his dreams – literal translation being to reunite and possibly goof off with his cousin whom he hadn't seen in years – had been rudely awaken by the business-like atmosphere of the town's center, with market places alive and stale with small talk and packaged goods.

Wrinkling his nose now, he strolled with his hands in his pockets, tossing his head idly, eyes taking in the crowds and street vendors with calm disinterest.

It wasn't that he hated Hollow Bastion. He just missed home. An island boy at heart, he sometimes dreamed about the sand beneath his feet, the open sun brushing across his face, the water swirling around his hands as he bent down at the waist and tried to catch fish. There were waterways at Hollow Bastion, sure, and alleyways and ancient fortresses and high walls galore to provide entertainment to an adventurous mind like his, but there was no salt, no spray, no palm trees or paopu fruits, and he missed it. Sometimes mildly, oftentimes terribly.

He'd never really thought of the price of adventure until he'd taken a risk and had come to understand what leaving what you love behind truly meant.

"Sora! Hop to!"

Jerking his head up, his feet still carrying him and swerving him around crowds even as his mind wandered, he jumped in alarm when he realized he was about to walk into someone and skittered by fast, rubbing his head afterwards with a sheepish smile as he called his apologies. Then, looking ahead, he caught Roxas, his long-lost cousin oh-so dear to his heart, standing with one foot on his skateboard yards ahead, impatient look on his face as he rolled his eyes in exaggeration and then groaned, kicking off and starting back down the street.

Scowling a moment, he stuck his tongue out at the ill-tempered youth. Yes, this was the darling kin whom he'd dropped paradise for and had traveled miles in a gummi ship to see. Never mind that he left lifelong friends back home and the only memories he had left of his mother perched loyally on his bedroom desk in the form of picture frames. No, Roxas had to be a pissy, I-hate-the-world-screw-this-shit kind of character, who didn't give a damn about anyone and still held it against him that he had to put up Sora in his home.

Snorting, Sora then sighed and allowed himself a small smile. Well, you can't pick family, right? That one he and Roxas alike knew.

Jogging to catch up to his ever on the move cousin, he swerved around people with quick, half-hearted apologies, laughing somewhat as people brushed against him and shot him grumbled insults. It was another thing he missed about Destiny Islands, when trying to get wherever in the heart of Hollow Bastion; in his home, he knew people, and they were a friendly, fun-loving bunch. Here, people were stiff, dry, and always in a rush, so God help you if you got in their way, that was for sure.

Finally stumbling into an open square, Sora's eyes lit up, as he was witness to Roxas's rare displays of skill on his skateboard. No doubt bored waiting for his cousin to catch up, the multi-talented eighteen-year-old was now skating off of a nearby railing, flipping in the air and then landing with a flourish, starting over once more. People lounging around a fountain or talking in small crowds sometimes lifted their eyes to watch, too, occasional applause following a particularly daring move on the blond's part, and Sora felt immensely proud, even though Roxas could probably care less.

The problem was, Roxas just didn't go for things. He had limitless potential, and he just refused to grasp it, maybe because he felt he was better than recognition, probably because he didn't give a damn about other people's opinions of him. He did things his way, was infinitely stubborn, and didn't listen to others' opinions, only opting for his own. And Sora, being the extrovert and wanting to help everyone, only served to ruffle his feathers and stir up the boy's short temper.

Still, that didn't stop him from clapping and laughing right along with the crowd. He loved Roxas, regardless of the blond's feelings for him, and would do whatever he could to gain the boy's respect before his time's end in Hollow Bastion.

And hey, he still had three more years of college to go.

Leaning his elbows against one railing behind him, lounging comfortably as he watched Roxas become completely absorbed in his new sport, his eyes strayed just in time to catch the rather strange-looking fellow clad in a black cloak and with a head of oddly-styled dark hair stumble with books into the square, apparently on his way to somewhere in a very hurried fashion. And his path, executed with quick, calculated steps, brought him right into the way of Roxas's oncoming skateboard – and the blond, as always, was not paying attention.

"Rox! Look out!" Sora called, dashing forward hurriedly as both his cousin and the stranger glanced up, the blond looking startled, the other man not really seeming to have much of a reaction. Just in time, though, Roxas swerved out of the way, consequently nearly colliding with Sora, and as he tripped off of his skateboard the brown-haired youth caught him, laughing softly and pushing him away fast before the blond flipped.

"Sorry, man," he apologized then, turning towards the older male who was regarding the scene coolly, Roxas in the meantime paying him no mind as he bent over and brushed himself off. Turning to his cousin then, Sora sighed and elbowed him sharply, the blond looking up in agitation as he hissed a sharp, "What?" "We're sorry, aren't we, Roxas?"

"Whatever," he grunted noncommittally, waving his hand at the third figure and then turning around, bending down, and claiming his skateboard. Walking away without another comment, he left Sora on his own to walk home, and the brown-haired boy sighed wearily, running a hand through his hair.

"That Roxas," he murmured, and then he laughed softly, shaking his head. "Listen," he began, turning towards the other man, but he blinked in surprise when he found the previously occupied spot empty, the stranger already walking away. Whirling around, he watched wide-eyed as his head of dark hair disappeared in the shadows and then emerged further on in the crowds swarming the market-place, Sora running his hand again through his brown locks, he wordless for a few moments.

Then, sighing, he tilted his head back and rolled his eyes to the heavens, wishing dearly once more that he was home.

-- - --

Dropping his belongings carelessly with a sigh, he tossed his head, flicking his dark hair out of his vision for a moment, and trained his gaze on the wall, bangs falling back into place neatly over his right eye. So far, he could honestly say there was nothing to get attached to in the vicinity of Hollow Bastion, which was a good thing, for certain, because he didn't plan on taking up roots any time soon.

Of course, it was certainly more…surprising than any other place he'd been before, one could put delicately. That little hellion on a skateboard and his dimwit minion had made for an interesting five minutes of his life, which had as well been wasted so that he'd never get them back.

Falling back with a sigh into the cushioned chair, he leaned his head onto its back with a soft groan, eyes trained on the plain white of the ceiling. How joyous, to find a town as loud and headache-provoking as the previous one had been at daylight. Oh, he would grow to love this place.

Deciding, however, that his thoughts were far too sardonic for his weary mind to take so late into the evening, he leaned down and fished free a tome he'd been reading since yesterday, considerably thick in both pages and plot. Fingers idly turning the front cover for a moment, his sharp eyes catching the scrawled six-letter name Zexion neat in the upper right corner, he grunted and then opened cleanly to the middle of the text, picking up his spot almost immediately and settling comfortably into his chair soon after.

His life was ordinary, his frequent, obsessive trips to new and foreign places aside. He had no one to call when the nights grew restless and weary, only had the pages and sentences and dialogue of a new tome to engage him in activity. He was far from lonely, however, more of a creature of solitude than a glutton for attention, and so the excitement that registered in his existence was a bare minimum, which satisfied him, because inane behavior only served to agitate him.

He enjoyed calculations. He relished in facts. People themselves were far too unpredictable and unruly to manage, and so he just didn't bother, they a waste of his precious time, anyway. He always got what he was looking for from books, the small bit of satisfaction (barely a whisper in his body) which still managed to change his entire opinion of the day. And, as it was the minute, fragile things that counted to him, that was all he could ask for, the tiny, invaluable shift of mood that he could distinguish as pleasure enough for him.

Thus, he could bear long, silent evenings, such as the one that affected his small hotel room that night. The traffic of people far off celebrating in the square, he could keep his windows open, the curtains breezing slightly from the summer wind, and as he read he could glance up every so often and listen to things stir, or perhaps settle down, and he felt not the least bit disconcerted. Nights he liked best, because the darkness could be a familiar, comforting thing.

Eyes falling back to glance over lines and lines of words, he tilted his head in contemplation once and then sighed, with one hand snapping the text to a close and then resting it neatly in his lap. Leaning backwards then, he lifted one hand to his face and pressed his fingers against his forehead, staring deliberately at the wall branded with ugly, peeling wallpaper, his concentration eluding him. He didn't know what he wanted in Hollow Bastion, nor did he know why he'd decided to stay upon nearly getting run down by some miscreant on a skateboard, but, as of the moment, he wasn't satisfied. The nights seemed perfect yet still somewhat tiring, and so already something was wrong, was spurring him back towards the horizon.

Of course, he'd wait a week, see if maybe, by some slim, impossible chance, something could hold him to the crowded squares and dank alleyways of such a hopelessly large town, but the probability of something ever making him stay was far too unlikely for him to even joke about such. It was predestined that he would move on before he even entered the town, so he wondered why he bothered to find enjoyment outside the walls of the numerous hotels he stayed at. Was it because he knew, sooner or later, there would be no new place to go?

Whatever the reason, though, he did it, and he would do it tomorrow, the likelihood of getting crushed between crowds and shoved and trampled certain and very displeasing. He would need his rest for such tiresome, bothersome activity, too, so he slumped down, having not the energy to drag his feet towards the made bed in the corner and next to the window, and crossed his arms over his chest, closing his eyes.

In no time at all, he was asleep.

-- - --

"Sea salt ice cream?"

Waving his hand in impatience, he flicked oceanic eyes upwards once as the lanky, awkwardly graceful form of his best friend loomed over him, cunning grin in place, mischief flashing in his eyes oh-so green and beautiful. Grunting, tossing his gaze further on then, he leaned forward and looked broadly to his left, right arm falling to rest limply over his right thigh, feet resting on the steps leading up to the old barracks. He enjoyed this place; ancient legends of heartless and ghost stories of deceased soldiers made it an unpopular place, so privacy was assured.

"Care to tell me why you're in such a precious mood today, Roxy?"

"…ut up," he mumbled lazily, too careless to utter two words that would command the redhead to close his mouth. Amused at this most likely, the older male snorted and leaned down, ruffling his hair brutally as he then fell onto the steps beside Roxas, long legs stretching down the stairway, arms falling to hold his body up on either side of his torso.

Tilting his head back, glancing at the gray of the sky, Axel hummed contentedly as Roxas glanced over at him, bored expression remaining even as his eyes trailed in interest across the male's face. With his eyes closed, the redhead was smiling with satisfaction, ice creams melting in his right hand resting against the stair as his left brushed against the blond's waist.

Unexpectedly then, Axel laughed and opened one eye, opting to stare lazily at him. "Hey, stop checking me out. I feel so embarrassed."

Snorting, Roxas pushed him and then promptly fell against his chest, rolling his eyes as he finally retrieved the frozen snack and cuddled more comfortably into Axel's arms. "Please. You're an attention whore. What do you care if I look at you?"

"Y'sound jealous, Roxy," he purred happily, lifting a hand to stroke his blond locks as he leaned still against the stairs. "Am I not paying enough attention to you?" A suggestive grin played on his lips, and when Roxas looked up to catch it, he sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Idiot," he grunted, looking down and idly biting off a bit of popsicle, shivering afterwards as his teeth ached. Rolling the salty-sweet substance around in his mouth to lessen the throbbing sensation, too, he cast his gaze out across the expanse of Hollow Bastion, hating yet again the dull, dreary background of the ever-cloudy civilization.

Twilight Town had always been more colorful and beautiful, and it better suited his liking than the stiff Hollow Bastion did.

Swallowing at last and choosing his words carefully, he finally leaned heavily back against Axel with a sigh. "Sora…thinks I hate him," he said with difficulty, brows furrowing as he glanced down at his ice cream, misplaced anger making him glare at the innocent treat.

Barking a short laugh, Axel slung his arm under the blond's neck, pulling him close so that the redhead could lean down and brush his lips against Roxas's ear; a shiver of pleasure in him followed the redhead's actions. "Do ya blame him, Blondie?" he drawled playfully, taking a nip thereafter at Roxas's skin to distract him from his temper; it didn't work. Narrowing his eyes, the blond hissed out a frustrated breath, fingers tightening around the popsicle stick. "C'mon, you hardly say two words to the kid, besides ordering him around or calling him a doofus."

"You call him that, you moron," he snapped, jerking his head up to glower at the amused redhead now holding him captive.

"Yeah, but you silently agree, you know you do," he laughed, nuzzling his face into Roxas's locks of unruly hair.

Shaking his head and not even bothering to deign his childish teasing with a response, Roxas grunted and tilted his head to the side, concentrating on the rocks near his feet as he tried to formulate exactly what was bothering him about his situation with Sora into words. The good thing about Axel was, though hopelessly immature and self-absorbed, as well as sadistic and ever-amused when it came to him torturing the blond, he listened, and cared, and tried to help. That was more than anyone in his life had ever done for him – partly because he wouldn't let people get close to him, partly because he'd had an unbelievably shitty family – and he appreciated it more than Axel probably knew, simply because he just couldn't find the words to tell him.

Sighing now, he sucked in a breath, just trying to find the words to explain his frustrations, which was hard enough. Before he could even form a complete sentence, though, Axel's lips were tracing patterns along his neck, so that he yelped in alarm and jumped in his hold, forgotten ice cream falling to splatter on the stairway.

"St-stop that!" he hissed, jerking his head up, but Axel was looking thoroughly entertained at his reaction, Cheshire grin firmly in place. "I mean it. Cut it out."

"Didn't know you were so sensitive, Roxy," he purred, tilting his head and then lazily pressing his lips against Roxas's throat again, so that the blond blushed furiously and struggled against the arms folded across his stomach, pinning him down. "And hey," he whispered, smile evident in his voice as his breath tickled the blond's skin; swallowing painfully, Roxas tried to tilt his head away. "I have a solution for you."

Lips quivering in embarrassment, he narrowed his eyes and swallowed, a stammered, "Wh-what?" tumbling past his lips and making him feel all the more foolish.

Axel, glancing up, eyes glimmering with some secret he was withholding, parted his lips in a lazy grin, and then he tilted his head coyly, tension lingering in the air as he prepared to utter his form of a solution to the blond. Suddenly, Roxas wasn't so sure he wanted to hear it. "You should have sex."

Blinking, utterly dumbfounded, the blond stared at the man holding him captive for a long, long moment, wondering if he'd heard correctly. But no. He was right. He didn't want to hear it. He shouldn't have asked.

"WHAT?!" he exploded, jerking angrily in the redhead's arms as he burst out laughing and buried his face in Roxas's shoulder. "Are you kidding me?! Did you think I'd actually agree to such an asinine solution?!"

"Hey," he laughed, grinning happily. "It's completely reasonable."

"What part of I should have sex with you because I don't get along with my cousin is reasonable?! It doesn't even make sense!"

"Well jeez, Roxy. I am your boyfriend."

"For two freakin' months," he muttered, glowering darkly at the redhead. "And you've been my best friend longer. So I know how you can be."

Taking on a look of mock hurt, Axel nuzzled his face against Roxas's in an attempt to soften him, the blond snarling in retort. Lips ghosting against his finally, Axel grinned and leaned back, Roxas blinking in shock for a moment before narrowing his eyes once more. "No," he growled.

"To be fair, I've been in love with you for, like, ever, Roxy."

"And I haven't," he drawled dully, point blank.

Another look of mock hurt washed across Axel's countenance. "How cruel. You've broken my heart, Roxy. I'll never recover."

Snorting, Roxas lifted his chin, grabbed the redhead's hair gently, and pulled his face close, capturing his lips briefly in a passionate kiss. As he pulled away, too, face slightly colored with red, breath coming noticeably short, Axel had a look of severe satisfaction on his face, eyes glazed over.

"Oh look," he drawled, tilting his head as blond bangs fell into his eyes. "You've recovered."

Blinking, Axel shook his head. "Hey! Not fair!"

"And anyway," Roxas snorted, waving his hand in front of Axel's face to both gain his attention and possibly agitate him; from the way his green eyes crossed and a frown fell upon his lips, he decided that at least the agitation worked. "I didn't find out that I was bi until about that time. So gimme a break, huh? Whereas you…well, you've been flaming since birth."

Axel slapped his palm against the blond's forehead, and Roxas laughed, mood from earlier now completely dissipated. Moving his legs out from their position, he grunted and pushed away from the redhead's loosened hold, standing and shaking out his limbs as he ran one hand through his mussed locks habitually.

Glancing over his shoulder, sighing at the redhead who was still sitting and glancing up at him in interest, he rolled his eyes. "No undressing me with your eyes, perv."

Instantaneously, a lecherous grin crossed his features. "Well there's a thought."

Unable to help himself, he laughed softly and turned, shoving his hands into his pockets as Axel labored to his feet. He didn't have to wait long, either, before the redhead casually slung his arm over the blond's shoulders, leaning down to capture his lips thereafter in a long-lasting kiss that Roxas closed his eyes to and smiled against. No matter what his best friend did to irritate him so, he always made him happy in the end.

Pulling away, Axel sighed. "Sora still doesn't know…does he?" he murmured into the blond's ear, affectionately nestling his nose against the side of his head afterwards. Shoulders falling, eyes lowering tiredly, Roxas shrugged and pulled away, walking on with his shoulders hunched and his hands still in his pockets. "You gonna tell him?" the redhead inquired curiously, not insulted at all, as he hastened his step and quickly matched the blond's stride.

"When I can talk to him," he murmured tiredly, tilting his head and scanning broadly the surroundings of the alleyway they were walking into. "If it comes up."

Chuckling softly, Axel landed his hand heavily on Roxas's head and ruffled his locks of hair in an adoring fashion. "Just be nice. Hard as it may be for you, I'm sure Sora would appreciate you not giving him death glares for every little thing he does."

"I do the same to everyone. You get the brunt of it," he argued bitterly.

Mildly, Axel responded, "Does he know that, though?" patting his head then happily and leaning down at the waist as he walked on, trying to catch a glimpse of Roxas's countenance.

Glancing at him idly, he scowled weakly and then looked away, smile spreading across his lips soon after impossible to detain. "No…"

"Well there you go, genius. So quit being a sissy and talk to the kid."

Glaring at him impatiently now, he raised his brows incredulously when Axel laughed and took off running. Gritting his teeth, rolling his eyes in annoyance, he shouted his best friend's name and chased after him, ready to draw blood as a result of the redhead's insults.

Still, it wasn't long before he was laughing, the chase turned more into a game than anything else.

-- - --

Summer was a living dream in Hollow Bastion. Lots of newcomers, he found, didn't enjoy the rush of people, the skies threatening rain but always bothering to hold back until a more convenient time, the ability to pursue anything without being stopped abruptly that was represented in the area. They talked of prettier worlds beyond the gray-washed walls and swirling skies, of sunsets suspended instead of muted by drizzling rain, of palm trees waving instead of wooden planks boarding up closed businesses. But he, an inhabitant of the merchant town where cultures clashed and opportunities presented themselves, loved Hollow Bastion, and didn't mind at all that, come spring, summer, fall, or winter, the sun hardly showed its face.

He more preferred water and cool temperatures than the blazing sun, anyhow.

Plus, summer was the most flourishing of times in any part of the town, be it its heart, be it the outskirts. And in the outskirts he rested presently, plastic chair grounded permanently into the earth as his form of business stand, his body lounging in the seat lazily as he rested his sitar against his legs, head bent pleasantly, fingers strumming cords idly as he warmed up his instrument.

"Demyx," a quiet voice said gently, and momentarily he raised his eyes, attentions not thoroughly absorbed in his instrument yet.

Gaze trailing slightly to his left to see the girl so much younger than he poised artistically, back facing the street as she looked out onto the dreary bay, he smiled as he recognized her as Naminé, the petite, blonde artist girl whom he'd befriended shortly after he'd taken up root next to her for the sake of street-performing. Theirs was a kind of symbiotic relationship, too, he attracting people their ways with his music so that they as well fell in love with the beauty of her art, and she looking out for him as a loyal companion and supplying him with conversation when the days were bad.

"Yeah?" he asked innocently now, head tilting, sea green eyes watching as she smiled in suppressed amusement and glanced down at her palette of colors.

"Your munny can," she reminded gently, eyes now trailing to her canvas in thought. "You forgot to put it out again."

Flushing, he stuttered, "O-oh. Right," and hurriedly reached into the deep pockets of his jacket, withdrawing the small, beat-up can he used to collect any tips charitable strangers might grant him. Surprisingly enough, his business was fairly generous currency-wise, as people seemed to regard him as gifted with music. Honestly, he didn't have any opinion of himself; he just loved to play. And, whether he was good or bad, he'd play every day, just because it helped him meet new people and never had him stressing over any troubles.

Of course, the munny did help, especially when he could hardly hold a job with his other limited skills.

"Oh! Naminé…" he replied absently, leaning down to place the can at his feet and then tapping it affectionately with his hand. Sitting abruptly back up, eager to tune his sitar, he looked off to the blonde who was not looking straight at him but was listening all the same, evidence of this the patient smile on his lips as she swirled her paintbrush with practiced twirls on the palette. "Is Roxas coming today? I thought, y'know, that maybe he'd visit and---"

She giggled softly and looked over at him playfully, hand stilled. "You want him to sing again, don't you?"

Fidgeting in embarrassment, he offered a sheepish smile. "That's not so bad, right? He's got such a nice voice."

Sighing wearily, Naminé smiled and shrugged, lifting her paintbrush idly as she tilted her head in thought. "Honestly, Demyx, I just don't know with Roxas. He had so much fun a few days ago, dancing with those people---"

"---and you," he interjected with a laugh of amusement, remembering how red Naminé had colored from embarrassment when she'd been dragged away from her paints for the purpose of dancing in front of so many strangers with her best friend.

Now she laughed mildly, nodding. "And me. And he had so much fun, and I'm sure he'd love to do it again, but he's just too stubborn to admit that he liked something new." Sighing heavily, she shook her head and then pressed the tip of her brush against the canvas, eyes flicking for a moment towards the bay. "Roxas does what he wants when he wants to, y'know?"

Nodding, slight disappointment settling within him, Demyx smiled sadly at the strings of his instrument. "Well, maybe next time," he replied brightly, forced cheer making him pluck a sour note accidentally. Wincing, he shook himself of the feeling then, wanting to play his best as always, and so he drew his sitar closer and bent his head down once more, Naminé already focused entirely on her paints when he started strumming a few simple notes, the melodies intertwining and growing more complex as time wore on.

He never noticed the crowds that gathered until he glanced up for a momentary intake of breath and saw them all there, entranced, smiling, occasionally applauding when he grinned back in embarrassment and rubbed the back of his head. Such was happening now, Demyx coloring pleasantly as he blinked back at the numerous faces he didn't know, laughing softly to himself as children ran forward with munny handed over by their parents to place into the can.

He loved people. He loved sharing in people's happiness. And so, to know that the thing he loved to do most – playing the sitar – brought happiness to anyone and everyone who bothered to stand in a circle and watch him perform…it made him glow with such contentedness and enjoyment, because it was through them that he felt truly gifted. The compilations of music his fingers plucked on a whim were merely sounds until people came to appreciate them; only then, truly, were they masterpieces.

Tilting his head, dirty-blond locks of his hair falling obtrusively into his salty-water gaze, he closed his eyes for a short moment and grinned, laughing against clenched teeth as his onlookers applauded and laughed along with him, just relishing in the moment. If travelers could see this side of Hollow Bastion, immerse themselves in the activities and interests of street vendors and their arts, he was sure they'd find the old, rundown barracks a more enthralling place to vacation. As it was, people hardly found beauty when it was hidden from sight, because the prospect of working for it and looking to discover it was less than ideal.

Blinking his eyes open now, ready to strum a new song and perhaps get the whole crowd dancing like it had at one point a week ago, when Roxas was there, clapping his hands, switching from foot to foot, and laughing more exuberantly than Demyx had ever seen as he sang frivolous little tunes, the dirty-blond-haired youth bowed his head a fraction and then jerked it back to attention, surprise making him blink quite rapidly. A new face, not necessarily surprising, now held his complete focus, but the fact that the small youth was in such a hurry to get somewhere, face buried completely in the pages of his book, interested him so. Tilting his head, he played with a whim in his head for a short time, not even noticing the shift of the crowd as they waited for him impatiently to begin again, and then Demyx straightened his back and squared his shoulders, grinning wide.

"Excuse me, sir!"

The young man kept on walking even as heads turned, attention rapt and absorbed on his near-finished novel, and Demyx wrinkled his nose in good humor, scratching the side of it as he didn't allow the male's disregard ruffle him. Leaning over his sitar instead, he cocked his head fully to the side, and Naminé, turned from her painting, caught his gaze momentarily and arched her brows delicately, amused smile soft and almost imperceptible on her pale lips. She was always amused by his sudden, spontaneous actions.

"Excuse me! You, reading the book!" He made sure to raise his voice a whole fraction this time, and tittering giggles rippled through the crowd as his voice rang out, some squirming in embarrassment at his boldness, others enjoying the scene. And the only person that mattered, the anonymous sir with the book in his hand, paused mid-step and cautiously lifted his head from his text, looking first to his right and then swinging his gaze to the left, dark blue eyes immediately locking on Demyx's.

A shiver of something curling and then shooting through his body as the one visible eye narrowed dangerously, Demyx felt his smile weaken in size under the stranger's harsh scrutiny, almost detecting the heightened irritation of the man rolling off of his shoulders in waves. Unwilling to be so discouraged, though, Demyx brightened his smile once more and plucked a chord of his instrument mildly, his manner open and friendly.

"Would you like a song dedicated to you?"

Foolish giggles trailed the fringes of the crowd and slowly rippled towards its center, Naminé even allowing herself to smile mildly at the pure-hearted gesture as she tilted her head the dark-haired youth's way. Demyx, still watching him intently, nervously even, though the smile on his face masked his anxiety, noted that the man had now rounded to face him, bangs cloaking one blue eye in a curtain and countenance persistently stoic.

Tilting his head lazily to the side to take in the crowd momentarily, he then let his head fall in a kind of exhaustion, lifting his chin minutely so that his gaze trained fully on the book in his hands as he turned a page absently. "I hardly waste my time," he drawled uncaringly, and at the tone Demyx flinched, hearing a much more scathing rejection in the tone rather than in solely the words, "on the flight of fancies of mediocre street performers such as yourself." Then, without another comment, with not so much as a mutely smug glance up from his text, he turned on his heel and continued on the path he'd previously taken up, leaving a horrified silence in his wake.

Cringing, hunching his shoulders sheepishly, glancing down at his hands as the words rebounded in his memory, he, for the first moment of his life, doubted himself. All because of that one man's words, which he'd accidentally taken to heart due to his nature, he wondered if he could trust his fingers to create beautiful sounds simply by plucking strings, and so he hesitated in playing, mouth twitching into a kind of sad frown, eyes boring nervously onto the pavement.

But, as his fingertips by chance ghosted over the strings and the sounds he so loved floated from his sitar to his ears, the line of his mouth curved upwards in a light-hearted, almost romantic kind of smile, and he laughed softly, taking up playing so immediately that it was almost as if in his mind that scene had never actually happened. He found that he should hardly worry over the words of a stranger, one whom he'd most likely never see again, and so he didn't bother to reflect on the scathing gibes and instead completely immersed himself in music.

As easily as that, too, the sounds, beautiful and gentle to his ears as he closed his eyes to listen, soothed the injuries away.

-- - --

Arms spread wide, poised foot moving to step exactly in front of the other, process repeating itself slowly in a heel-touching-toe kind of balance, he tilted his head and heaved a tired sigh, bored with his day so quickly. Walking along the highest wall of Hollow Bastion, one that looked expansively out across the whole area, along the road leading towards the marketplace, and immediately down into the bay that the high walls dropped into just wasn't dangerous enough to capture his full attention, it seemed, and so, perching his hands moodily on his hips, he hung his head and shifted his feet apart, kicking at a pebble as he opted to stand normally.

Roxas, again, wanted nothing to do with him today.

He was getting tired of this dancing-on-eggshells relationship he had with his kin. Sure, he'd just dropped in to say hello so suddenly when he'd moved from Destiny Islands to Hollow Bastion a year ago, it for the purpose of salvaging some small relationship with the boy as he spent his four years in college. But it had been Roxas's insistence entirely that he take up room in the boy's lavish apartment, though he'd argued fervently for himself that he could surely find decent board…somewhere. The blond, he'd soon found, though, was as stubborn as he was temperamental, and so there was no refusing, and in the span of one short visit his bags had been stuffed into a spare room and Sora had been left alone on the couch, Roxas leaving him be as he strode out of his abode and didn't reappear for hours afterwards.

"And this is the kid who has trust issues," he muttered to himself, laughing softly as he swung his arms at his side and the leapt onto the cobblestone road. Then, dragging his hand through his wind-ruffled locks of hair, he shifted step and started town the trailing road that led towards the town's center, his time not much better spent anywhere else, anyway.

"He-ey! Sora!"

Jerking his head off to the side in mild surprise, he let his arm fall and a smile break out on his countenance as he caught sight of old acquaintances – more of Roxas's friends than his own – whom he'd learned had come to visit just a few days ago. Stopping, lifting his hand to wave a wild greeting to the pack of three, he laughed and waited as Hayner, Pence, and Olette stumbled down from the top of the craggy hill that signified Hollow Bastion's end, weeds uprooted and pebbles dislodged from place as they stumbled along.

Finally, laughing at the thrill of adventure that rush no doubt gave him, Hayner stumbled over-foot and moved to embrace him, Sora clapping him on the back with a laugh.

"How've you been?" he asked jovially as he pulled away, tilting his head and crossing his arms as he took up a questioning stance. Hayner, on his part, laughed and rubbed the back of his head as he moved to stand with his friends who'd finally caught up, all three of them taking in his appearance as Sora grinned nervously under the scrutiny.

Finally, Olette clapped her hands together and smiled. "Well, we're all a little tired from the train ride. Who'd have thought it would take so many stops to get here!" Closing her eyes, she giggled somewhat dreamily, the familiar cheer he remembered of her still present.

"Well, have…you seen Roxas?" Sora inquired somewhat delicately, moving his gaze to his feet as he scuffed at the cobblestones, leg swinging broadly back and forth as he tried to distract his uneasiness.

"Well…" Pence began, and Sora glanced up with an arched brow, tilting his head. The stout boy smiled a wide, nervous smile at him for a second and then jerked his gaze down, laughing weakly as he scratched at his cheek. "Ya see, Roxas…he's…"

"Changed," Hayner spat bluntly, bitterly, and Sora sighed with a smile, nodding as he rested his hands behind his head. Even as Olette hissed, "Hayner!" and Pence argued, "Hey, man, that's not true," Sora felt that they both knew that Roxas had distanced himself from almost everyone around him, and he himself couldn't even deny it as truth.

"Don't hold it against Roxas, though," Sora said happily enough, walking around them as he shot each puzzled gaze an optimistic look and started back along his path, noting that they were following his pace a bit dubiously. "He's just adjusted to a life he never wanted. He hasn't been in your world since he was fifteen, remember? That's almost four years for him." Tilting his head back, he looked peacefully up at the sky, the grays and whites nearly blending into the lightest blue, and he sighed reminiscently, remembering the times when Roxas and he had laughed together on Sunset Hill, before his parents had ripped him so unsuspectingly from the only world he'd loved. "Give him time, and cut him a little slack. Maybe, if you try hard enough, he'll warm up to you guys!"

"Has he warmed up to you yet?" came Hayner's voice, cutting in words, loathing in sound. It was enough to bring Sora to a startled stop, his arms easing from their place at the base of his head, his gaze trailing to glance over his shoulder as he blinked at their faces, taking in Olette's encouraging nod and hopeful smile, Pence's confused countenance, and Hayner's doubt and lack of faith. Sighing, wishing he could give them the right answer, he let his stare fall then to the cobblestones, eyes sad, laugh cheerless.

"Not yet," he murmured with a shrug, and, without waiting for smug words and pitying comments, he started on again, waving over his shoulder momentarily and then shoving both hands deep into the pockets of his pants.

"And I'm his cousin," he whispered softly, words no doubt mirroring their thoughts exactly. As selfish a feeling as it was, he felt rather cheated, to realize that he'd made as much progress with his kin as the friends the blond had left behind when he was fifteen years of age had. He, willing to give up going to school with Riku and…and Kairi on his home island, with the people he loved and cherished, had no more warmed Roxas's heart than anyone else had.

Letting his head fall wearily, he felt sad more than anything else.

It was just…he wanted common ground with his cousin again. He wanted smiles and endless days, memories stirred up by pointlessly long conversations, hysterical laughter sending the both of them tumbling to the floor as they mused on some ridiculously funny situation. Roxas was the closest thing he had to a brother. In fact, he was the only family he had. And, once upon a time, the near-sophomore in college, with the tousled blond locks and oceanic blue eyes, with the soft smile that showed just how kind-hearted he could be, had been Sora's best friend in the world.

Now, Roxas was nothing but a ghost in the apartment and a face in the crowds, without the time to spare his cousin a greeting.

Shouldering his way through the crowds now as he reminisced, countenance wincing as he was brutally shoved to the sides and his feet were trampled, Sora sighed, hopeful smile dancing at his mouth's corners. A year had gained him nothing, had reaped him only few grains of conversation from the impossibly silent and stoic blond with whom he now shared his entire life, but this summer going into their sophomore year, which had started not even a month ago and still held so much promise, could possibly change the relationship between them. He'd hold onto that dream anyway, and he'd try for happiness, because friendship was dear to him, and family was even more important.

Weaving through the homing districts as his thoughts of kinship drove him forward, Sora hiked the hill that led him on a cobblestone path towards his the apartment buildings, such skyscrapers surrounding him on both sides on this Illusory Lane. Finally turning into the one he'd called his home for a good long time now, door giving at his pushing and leading into the lobby, he shoved his hands into his pockets and headed towards the stairwell, the steps leading him in a winding fashion to the third floor, feet then carrying him the short distance to room thirteen. Fishing the key out of his pocket, idly unlocking the barrier, he opened the door and walked inside, closing it behind him.

"Rox?" he called absently, thumb running along the smooth, metallic surface of his key, eyes trailing along the white walls that remained in place as he carried on, interest lingering on pictures of the blond smiling, one of the few testaments remaining as evidence to Roxas's brief period of happiness. "Roxas, are you home yet?"

"Quit shouting, Sora. I heard you the first time," a voice grumbled from the living room, and, bowing his head, he smiled softly, eyes softening from under his brown locks.

"'Kay," he commented gently, slipping off his sneakers a little later and kicking them aside, socks softly padding against the pale carpet as he walked into the room Roxas was now lounging in, spread over the couch, one arm thrown over its back as the other rested behind his head, gaze trained on the television.

Settling himself into the chair a way's off from Roxas's seat, Sora propped is elbows on his thighs, pleasant smile in place as he let his gaze glance off of the glowing screen, eyes not taking in the fleeting images. "Have a good day?"

"Eh," Roxas grumbled, shifting and sighing heavily as he brought his arm thrown over the couch's back towards his body and drove his fingers through his hair. "…guess."

Nodding gently, Sora let his head fall, squared his shoulders, and pushed off of his chair, eyes hesitantly flicking towards his cousin. Roxas, staring persistently at the television, shifted, and briefly the blond's stare met his, countenance as passive as ever. Smiling softly, Sora said nothing, and instead he ducked his head down once more and turned on his heel, padding towards the kitchen, ready to prepare dinner.

Roxas was in a mild enough mood, it seemed. That was good enough for him.

-- - --

The café was noisy and utterly packed, and with disgust he lifted his eyes from his text for the third time within the half-hour. Normally he prided himself with being able to take any situation with a cool mindset, able to read on crowded buses, in the train stations, when he was walking through bustling streets. But here was the exception, the impasse that thwarted his efforts towards mild pleasure, and his irritation was mounting with every abrupt, boisterous interruption that occurred.

He felt no remorse in leaving, then, when the pleasant-faced woman clad in a pink dress arrived with his bill, which he paid as he rose to his feet, slapping munny unceremoniously on top of the receipt and grasping his new tome carefully in his left hand, to be opened and read the moment he stepped into open air. Letting the waitress's goodbyes glance off of his back as he turned and walked away, too, he allowed the click of his boots and whisper of his cloak to lead him towards the doorway that trilled bells when someone beat him to the entrance and walked inside. Striding quickly out when the stranger was courteous – or just mindless – enough to hold the glass barrier ajar for his oncoming body, he spared no form of gratitude and continued forth, eyes downcast now, bangs obstructing the vision of his right eye as he casually turned to the page he'd left off on with his right hand and took up reading, body slipping and threading around hasty forms his vision sharply caught as if he blended into the shadows himself. Being near invisible was an advantage he greatly relished in, as confrontation only served to frustrate him and his apathy was better contained when he wasn't troubled to exercise it. People were bothersome to him. All he needed was his texts, wrought with characters he wouldn't mind seeing alive or dead, rich with mysteries and murder and thrills his less-than-enthralling life rather lacked.

His books were a safe haven that granted passage to intelligence, a one-way ticket out of stupidity.

Boots striking against the cobblestones, body swallowed into the push and pull of the center's crowds as he merely weaved around nameless, faceless forms, attentions trained raptly on pages and words, he cared not for where the current was taking him, only traveled along with indigo eyes uninterested and dull. The only thing that attracted his attention was the bristling sound of paper turned beneath his fingers, and the only destination he cared for was where the stereotypical dark, dangerous tunnel led the daring, borderline stupid character next, and if death or heroics thus lurked around the corner.

Oh, how his adrenaline was just racing from anticipation.

Well, he was in the mood for something amusing, something to smirk at, so he rather hoped the moron died; it would serve him right, really, for searching out a psychopath on his own in the foreboding setting of a waterway.

He never figured out the fate of the oh-so unintelligent one, to his slight displeasure; for, as he was walking, his course had taken him far beyond the marketplace without him being aware of such, and music, soft and sweet and subtle, had coaxed his attentions away from the gripping thriller in his grasp and had urged him to lift his eyes in curiosity. The arts hardly interested him, because he saw no merit in wasting time idling the day away with pointless objects, dreaming of unattainable futures that would no sooner crush a dreamer than grant them their greatest desires. But the sound that melted away the common noise so effectively, that was tangible and luxurious in form, stopped him momentarily in his tracks, head tilting to the right, dark locks falling slightly out of his vision.

Tucking the book into the folds of his cloak, he took up his pace again, keeping his steps calculated and his movements slow. He wasn't too interested in the mystery of the music's origin, of that he was certain, and so he had no qualms with his slow going, arms crossed casually over his chest as he lowered his gaze once more, blue stare boring into the material of his boots.

Laughter and clapping attracted his attention again as he continued to climb the hill, and as he forced through the ring of bodies towering over his smaller form, slightly agitated as he did so, he allowed the feeling of surprise to flash through his body as he rooted himself to an open space, visible eye widening a fraction as his strands of hair fell back into place and made him half-way blind.

It was that imbecile, the mediocre guitar-whatever player who'd so stupidly posed the idea of dedicating to him, a passing stranger, some frivolous little tune which his mind had convinced him was a carefully crafted song. And the music he was playing, not the thoughtlessly-strummed strings from before, was, in a simple, overused word, beautiful. Perfect, even, almost magical in quality from the way it stirred thousand-watt smiles to foreign faces and stirred stationery people's feet to life, twirling them about in dance. Head cocked to the side in slight astonishment, hand moving to hold his chin in thoughtful musing as he stared straight at the bowed form of the musician, he was sincerely surprised that his judge of character had been wrong. No doubt the lad was an idiot, of course, but the fact that he could give life to such harmonies and melodies intertwined left him inarticulate.

The song ended before his thoughts did, but the emptiness throbbing in his chest at the absence of sound brought him from the recesses of his mind, he blinking as he stepped away, half hiding behind the human masses pushing and shoving to request a song, speak with the musician boy, or reward his efforts with a monetary prize. He played with the idea of doing such, the munny in his pocket burning a whole against his thigh as he tapped his finger against his lower lip, but then he shrugged the notion off, thinking that he was guiltless, so long as that sea-green stare didn't single out his presence.

The excuse that the youth could search him out, should he move from his spot, kept him firmly in place, too, though he looked around broadly so as to appear like he wasn't all that absorbed in the playing. During the brief break of a performance, where the dirty-blond-haired male shared his apparent innocent charm with his admirers, his efforts to remain detached subsequently attracted one of two familiar stares, though it was not the musician who was eyeing him curiously. The artist, his petite little partner in the money-making industry, had looked over her shoulder at him as she paused in her work, dainty smile on her lips, gaze knowing as she flicked it from him to what's-his-face. She said nothing, but he message was clear. She didn't buy what he was selling.

Narrowing his gaze under her intrusive scrutiny, he removed his stare from hers and looked ahead, taking one step back as he did so, ready to leave at will. The flood of music paralyzed his movements, though, and unfortunately the sudden break in the crowd shocked him, so that when that youth with the ridiculous instrument, naïve nature, and beautiful musical talent glanced up, he was rendered helpless underneath the shocked gaze, unable to shift foot, unable to turn his head, unable to offer a biting retort.

For one long, drawn-out moment, his eyes widened under the mesmerizing spell he was bound into, and then the musician smiled, said not a word, and lowered his head as his fingers toyed with the strings, tempo quickening, beat livening, mood lightening. And still Zexion stayed in place, though as those around him got caught up in celebration, laughing and clapping once more, he leaned back easily and watched, calm mood dulling his previously agitated demeanor.

He allowed himself to get caught up in the spell, and he simply watched, the whispers of a smile just barely hinted on his lips.

-- - --

"Sun…" he mumbled tiredly, rubbing the back of his hand against his eyes momentarily and then glumly opting to stare out the window. "Christ, just a little sunshine, hmm?"

He rooted himself before the glass, eyes narrowed impatiently, shoulders stiff as his gaze flicked indifferently after the raindrops chasing down the cold, wind-battered panes, wetness trailing in visible paths and meshing together inevitably as it collected against the glass. It was times like these, when he was trying to avoid the vacancy and frostiness in his oceanic gaze reflected back to him, staring down onto the darkening pavement that dropped off from the spiraling heights of the apartment building, that he longed again for warmth and sunsets, such luxuries Twilight Town provided loyally every day. Shivering, teeth chattering as he rubbed at his arms covered by his casual jacket, he tore his frustrated stare from the spell cast by the window and turned, trudging over to where Sora had slumped over onto the couch again, half on, half off the seat as he breathed deeply in sleep, lost to reality as he fought for warmth within the cushions.

Because the boy was in an unconscious state, too, Roxas allowed himself a reminiscent smile, toes curling into the carpet as he leaned back on his heels, arms crossed over his chest, brow arched sarcastically. He'd roused Sora for a purpose, had dragged him out of bed – disregarding both the hour and the weather – so that they could trudge the abandoned streets of Hollow Bastion together for once, and his cousin had so thoughtlessly fallen asleep on him. In so many aspects, he was still the innocent island boy full of hopes and dreams he'd brought with him from his home. He was still soft, happy, cheerful.

He wasn't hardened like Roxas, who'd closed himself up at the first threat of emotional injury.

Collapsing into the seat Sora normally occupied now, deciding to allow the teen a few more blessed moments of slumber, the blond leaned back, propped his feet onto the coffee table, and trailed his gaze towards the wall, which was bare and uninteresting to his sight. These were the walls, the boring, plain, picture-less walls, he'd erected for himself when his parents had abandoned him mere days after his sixteenth birthday, lost in a town he'd hated instantly upon arrival a year ago, without the security to support himself. He'd had to abandon the house, his possessions, and the priceless valuables Sora had brought over from Destiny Islands on summer visits when he'd still been living in Twilight Town. Everything he'd grown to get used to over the year he lost, and he hit rock bottom, his trust for others following the same exact route. He spoke to no one, smiled for no one, cared for no one.

His greatest moments of happiness were when he was completely alone.

Naminé was the only one for a long time who didn't let him push her away. She a girl in all of his classes at the school he'd continued to go to, (despite his poverty, despite his new home on the streets) refused to shy away when his once gentler attitude froze over, no matter if he scared her or not. And her efforts were commendable, that she tried so hard to befriend him, worried over his constantly black and blue hands, and shared her lunch with him so he wouldn't have to resort to terrorizing his peers just so he could have enough money to buy himself lunch. But Naminé wasn't the first person he'd warmed up to. In fact, he would've just continually pushed her away until she broke and gave up, he never tiring from such efforts.

Truthfully, Axel, then one of his co-workers who'd taken an interest in his bitter outlook on life and his cruel treatment of those who tried to get to know him, was his first real friend, simply because he never backed down. Naminé, for all her soft words and healing touches, never told him off quite like Axel managed.

Laughing at the thought, bowing his head, the blond realized that he was lucky to have found the redhead, despite all of his…quirks.

There was a lot for which Roxas was grateful of Axel; but when the time came for his confessions, when he was brave enough to show the redhead how much he truly cared, Axel would know, if he didn't already.

Grunting, tilting his head tiredly to the side, Roxas forced out an exhausted breath. He'd idled enough minutes away dwelling in the past. Pulling himself to his feet decidedly, he grumbled as he stretched his tautened leg muscles and then trudged the short walk to the couch, lowering his gaze to catch Sora mumble some indiscernible something, sprawled across the couch on his right sight, left arm and leg brushing against the carpet as he slept on. Smirking softly, scoffing a small laugh, the blond lifted his foot and kicked his cousin gently – but not too gently – in the stomach, the teen jerking awake as a consequence with a gasp.

"Wh-hnn-what?" he spluttered unintelligibly, and Roxas snorted in good humor as Sora fell off of the couch and onto the seat of his pants, shaking his head in surprise.

"Let's go, stupid," he drawled as he looked over his shoulder with a lopsided grin, and for a long second Sora merely stared after him, looking greatly confused. At last, however, as he slowly drew himself up to his feet, first tucking his knees beneath him, then planting his hands on his thighs as he vaulted himself up, he started snickering softly, good mood as always at hand.

"You really scared me there, Rox," his cousin teased, mocking himself more than anything as he grinned broadly and carefully maneuvered himself around the blond's body, apparently wanting to keep himself mindful and not accidentally bump into Roxas. Hesitating, however, the blond lifted his hand and let it hover by Sora's shoulder, wanting to clap him on the back, to compliment him for something, to insult him even to keep open the opportunity for conversation.

On last minute impulse, though, he lifted his hand higher and ruffled his cousin's locks of unruly brown hair, the strands coarse beneath his fingertips, opposing the softness of Roxas's blond locks and thus chalking up on the list more differences resting between them.

Sending him a surprised look as Roxas walked on, Sora touched his head, blinking, wordless. As the blond moved to impatiently held the door open, though, slipping his sneakers on last minute and then training his gaze outside as he kept his stare glowering on the open hall in embarrassment, not used to open displays of familial – or any – affection, he jumped when Sora laughed, and he flicked his gaze towards the nineteen-year-old, only months older than himself, who was scratching at his cheek absently while bearing a thousand-watt smile.

"So where're we going?" Sora ventured to ask, knowing better than to bring up a topic that so obviously embarrassed him and opting to keep the mood light. A grateful grin almost touching his lips, he allowed for a lopsided smile instead, closing the door behind him as he strode out and fell beside Sora, hands shoved into his pockets, head bowed uninterestedly as the carpet trailed underneath him.

"Wherever," he mumbled, fingertips running along the cool metal of the spare key in his pocket, the one that was twin to Sora's. "Your choice," he added then, tone more gentle.

"Are…" Sora hesitated, uncertain, and then, as Roxas caught with his peripheral vision, he nodded confidently. "Are there docks here?"

Lifting his head in surprise, the blond flicked his gaze towards his cousin, a smile flickering at his mouth's corners. "Yeah…"

Excitedly, Sora turned to him now, blue eyes brilliant, grin hopeful. "Fishing?"

Snorting a laugh, Roxas ducked his head down to hide his amusement, hands moving deep into his pockets, blond bangs falling into his vision. Sora was still so childish, so naïve, so like the cousin he'd always looked up to and admired. So, in that aspect, fate was looking out for them, it seemed. Sora was not yet slipping farther and farther from reach.

"Fishing," he said contentedly, and with that Sora glanced at him with a devilish grin, taking off in a run that signified the start of a race. There was allowance for him to only stand and watch, the game not so open of an invitation, and he could stand on the fringe and watch his chances for reconciliation with his cousin fade to gray and disappear.

Instead, he finally allowed himself a whole-hearted grin, and he took off running, wanting to see if Sora was still as fast as he used to be.

-- - --

His life achieved perfection in the spot looking out onto the bay, where he could strum his chords without a care and share experiences with new people day by day. It was his own little shining utopia, seeming radiant in its simplicity consisting of a beaten-up chair stationed into ground that was nothing more than a patch of weeds, but he thought it was beautiful in its own way, with the wind breezing by and the music ever flowing.

So, the fact that Axel was insulting his personal rendezvous at the present as he tried to coax a very pissed-off Roxas into his hold had him pouting quite unhappily.

"Well, I like it here!" he whined in response to Axel's condescending response, and for a moment the redhead glanced over at him with sarcastic amusement, turning away soon enough with a casual flick of his wrist. "And if you don't like it, you can leave, you know!" he huffed indignantly, sitar juggling alarmingly between his legs before he lurched and caught it, pressing it to his chest as he glowered at his friend while simultaneously worrying over the instrument.

Scoffing, Axel struggled with the persistent blond in his grasp, smirking as he pressed his arm against Roxas's stomach and forced his head into a bowed position with his free hand. "As much as I'd love to frequent places classier than this patch of dirt here, Dem," he sneered, green eyes glittering as the sitarist let out an offended breath, "Roxy here promised me a song with his oh-so lovely voice, and I want to hear it."

"I did not promise you anything, you goddamned---"

"Temper, temper," he teased as he bowed his head down, nuzzling his face against the blond's cheek and thus provoking the poor, captured teen to thrash in the older male's hold, legitimate snarls tearing from his throat as he practically clawed at Axel's eyes.

Smugly smiling as Axel had quite a deal of difficulty handling his enraged boyfriend, Demyx trailed his gaze sideways, catching sight of Naminé. She was holding herself away from the two, smiling placidly as she tilted her head and no doubt searched for something to take from their interaction and then turn into a painting. Naminé's greatest inspiration, after all, was Roxas, she'd always told him. He was her first real friend.

"'m not friggin' singing! For the last time, Axel, get your perverted hands off me!"

"But I like to touch you, Roxy," the redhead purred coyly, and as Demyx, who'd removed his questioning stare from the blonde artist to his left, watched the struggle with interest, he noticed Roxas stiffen in embarrassment and even blush as he attempted to escape Axel's prying hold. Uttering no words at the moment, undoubtedly speechless from mild mortification, the blond finally managed to push his friend's hands away from his stomach and crouched down, slipping from the redhead's grasp immediately after and tripping away, maneuvering himself around Naminé once he'd gained distance and placing his hands on her shoulders.

"Keep this psycho away from me," he ordered of her, hiding warily behind her frame as he narrowed his eyes. The sheer absurdity caused the girl to burst into soft giggles, too, and Demyx grinned widely, strumming a light-hearted tune on his instrument as Axel crossed his arms in impatience, tilting his head to the side as he crossed his arms.

"Oh, but you sang for Naminé," he growled, a protective note catching in his words. At the light in his eyes, too, Demyx caught the poor blonde trapped in between the males shift uncomfortably, glancing over her shoulder at last to silently ask Roxas for help. Wringing her hands in alarm, she bit her lip, and the sitarist smiled to see the hard, closed-off eighteen-year-old weaken under her pleading, so that he finally sighed impatiently and grudgingly pushed away from her, not even meeting Axel's eyes as he stomped over to where Demyx now sat.

"Play something," he grumbled with a dark, loathing tone. "I'll pick up."

"See?" Axel sang in a sweet voice. "It's not so ha---"

"As of right now, I'm not talking to the jackass across from me," Roxas announced loudly in interruption, and Demyx laughed, Naminé herself smiling; the redhead, in reaction, leaned back on his heels and arched his brows in surprise, sarcastic grin a little delayed in coming.

"Oh," he finally drawled, leaning forward arrogantly, movements fluid as his hands remained stayed in his pockets and his chin tilted upwards, leering smile on his countenance and eyes brilliant with mischief, "so I'm the bad guy."

"You always are, Axel!" Demyx chirped cheerily, and the blond at his side bowed his head to hide his smile, covering up the action by pointedly burying his hands in his pockets, frame relaxed, eyes trained on the tops of his shoes.

Straightening, the redhead rolled his eyes, removing his right hand to run it tiredly through his hair, and the sitarist, blowing offensive dirty-blond locks from his vision, concentrated all of his attentions then on his musical instrument. Gingerly playing with a few strings at first, he continued until he had comfortably immersed himself into the beginning measure of the song toying around with his mind.

Glancing up cautiously, he caught Roxas staring off into nothing, counting the beats with the twitch of his fingers and slight movement of his lips, and, assured, Demyx lowered his soft gaze onto the ground, his blond comrade's voice suddenly filling his ears as the song radiating from his sitar came to life.

An excited rush raced through him at the recognition of talent. Roxas, though coarse and guarded on the exterior, had a hidden gem of musical talent, he a diamond in the rough with a voice soft as an angel's. The blond did, admittedly, confess to feeling embarrassment for his voice, he always fidgeting under the compliments he received and dodging glances when people tried to catch his eye and cheer him on, but Demyx felt that it was one of the purest, most innocent sounds he'd ever heard. If Roxas were more confident, more prideful of his talents, he knew the blond would recognize such. As it was, it was on rare occasion that the teenager parted his lips and blessed his surroundings with song, and that he was able to experience such more than most made Demyx exuberant with joy.

The applause tended to startle Roxas more than even himself, and as the cheers rose up now, whistles and laughter and clapping sounding from the crowd he again hadn't realized had collected, the blond at his side gasped and glanced up, somewhat choking on his modesty and surprise. Smiling cheerfully, he caught the blond fumble, at a loss for a response, and noticed that he was searching out a route of escape, always one to flee when found in an overwhelming situation.

Following his line of vision when the blond stiffened uncertainly, he caught Axel casting a withering glance at the throbbing, pushing mass of people who'd gathered on the dirt path before them, arms crossed in annoyance over his chest. No doubt he was indignant at the knowledge that he alone hadn't been able to witness Roxas's obvious talent, and instead a good number of Hollow Bastion's had to watch right alongside him.

Scoffing in agitation now, Roxas clenched his fists and started off, Demyx yelping in alarm when he started walking away. "H-hey, Roxas! Aren't you gonna---?"

"'m goin' home," he muttered, throwing his arm up in an annoyed wave, cutting off the sitarist's sentence while simultaneously cutting down his hopes. Pouting glumly, keeping his sea-green eyes trained on the teen's back as the blond shoved his hands into his pockets apathetically, signaling that their calls and cheers could just glance off of him for all he cared, Demyx sighed regretfully. He could be such a difficult person.

He was pleasantly surprised, though, when Axel caught the blond before he could walk off completely and disappear from sight. Slinging his arm around the boy's shoulder, bending low to whisper into his ear despite the perilous pitch of Roxas's fist towards his skull, he affectionately touched the boy's left hip with his right hand as he smiled and said whatever form of congratulations he thought was due to cheer the blond. And from the agitated bowing of his head, the exaggerated batting away he commenced in doing to dislodge Axel's hands from around him, and the twist out of the redhead's arms as he grudgingly looked away with his cheeks colored and trudged back to his original spot beside Demyx, the musician gathered that Roxas had been easily enough persuaded by the now triumphantly grinning redhead to continue singing.

And he smiled happily his thanks, Roxas tossing him a look to continue and inspiring his music to flow.

-- - --

It was not an obsession, that he whole-heartedly insisted to himself. Obsessions required care, reliance on the object of desire. He, however, remained willfully apathetic, only taking such a diversion in his regular route every day because the music remained faithfully foreign and pleasant.

The musician was nothing to him.

Honestly, the strangely-upbeat sitarist only provided background melodies to his musings, so that he could take up a spot and read contentedly away from the uproarious crowd that so rapidly cluttered in the same spot daily. He cared not that every so often his laughter trilled in the open air in an infectious quality, paid no attention to the way he welcomed everyone into his conversations and spoke of himself in a sincere, albeit modest, light. Such characteristics were simple acts to him, of that he was assured, so when his sharp eyes developed the tendency to stray from his reading whenever the musician spoke in that ebullient tone, he corrected himself with bitter reprimands, finding it ludicrous that he should even act interested in the mere pleasantries exchanged between musician and entourage.

As much as he fought to remain withdrawn every day his calculated step brought him to his regular spot, however, he found himself keying in on every new detail, noticing things out of place or particularly striking. As was the case now, when settling stubbornly on the farthest spot away from the writhing mass of onlookers, where he drew himself up tall, extended his book comfortably before him, and scanned briefly the familiar persons of the artist and the musician, only to find a third, quite unwelcome, body. Eyes narrowed, mouth pursed, he snapped the book shut and momentarily tucked it safely within his dark outer garments, then moving his pensive stare back to solve the mystery that was the blond youth.

He seemed, to Zexion's small, hardly existent satisfaction, highly uncomfortable with his position beside the happily chattering musician, taking the time to glower pointedly at all watching whom he could see. Messy blond bangs that fell into eyes as cold and unforgiving as an ocean were tousled away momentarily from his vision by a frustrated hand, and he gritted his teeth, biting some retort that had the effect that the sitarist should get on with it already.

Zexion blinked in surprise as he watched the addressed male glance up, idly realizing that he'd frequented the spot for the past four days of his one week stay – disregarding his arrival date – and he still hadn't gathered the man's name. However, he brushed aside the minute desire to hear it spoken as he watched the youth with dirty-blond hair (styled in an impossibly ridiculous fashion) then grin sheepishly, almost foolishly, in response to his companion's snap, and he felt his steely eyes narrow viciously when the musician leaned over and affectionately tousled the boy's locks of hair. It was nothing of consequence, he bothered to assure himself as he watched, but the agitation within him increasing at the musician's open display of fondness seemed real enough to feed his discomforts.

It was when the blond glanced up again with a look of utmost annoyance and forced himself away from under the musician's hand that he finally recognized the youth. As if he couldn't be more displeased, his temper waned considerably at the remembrance, and the lips he pursed curled into a scowl, dark-colored bangs falling into his eye once more to signify his darkened mood. He held no neutral feelings for the boy standing before the audience; instead, he rather despised the blond.

His recognition of the skateboarding miscreant should've been persuasion enough for him to gather up his person and leave. Admittedly, he was well on his way to doing such, fishing out the book hidden in the depths of his coat while casting his hardened stare away from such a display of idiocy he didn't know why he'd allowed himself to get absorbed in, when the first soft strains of music caught him by surprise and he stilled in his actions, glancing up again. The sitarist, head bowed and loving smile on his lips, had his concentrations back on focus with the instrument he so seemed to cherish, and the blond, relieved of his impatience with a calm expression washed across his countenance, held himself back on his heels as he avoided the eyes of all onlookers, parted his lips, and began to sing.

A presence brushed against him and bothered his privacy as he watched, but Zexion felt himself to be too awed by the display of raw talent on both ends to be bothered with the minor distraction. Thumb running circles on the cover of his book, analytical stare measuring every pulse of sound and reaction from the musicians, he felt his gaze widen a fraction, only half hidden by his veil of hair.

"Amazing, aren't they?" a voice said cheerfully, and due to such surprise he jerked his head downwards to the right, at first catching sight of only a shock of brown hair. The male, however, similar in height to himself, finally glanced over with a compassionate smile, and Zexion felt another rush of recognition race through his body, though he said not a word, spared not a greeting. Wanting not to even be bothered by the talkative brat, he turned his head away, training his newly narrowed stare back onto the performers.

"The singer," the boy continued softly, heedless of Zexion's efforts to ignore him, probably aware that he was more-so talking to himself than anyone else, "is my cousin, Roxas. 'Course," he said with a laugh, but Zexion ignored the slightly sad note in it, "I didn't know he was so good, because he doesn't tell me much. He's so secretive."

The teen's presence was grating on his nerves, especially as he was trying to listen to the notes of the sitarist. Shifting impatiently, crossing his arms over his chest as he huffed out a frustrated sigh, book tucked under one arm, he fixated his stare ahead and tried to make himself forget the other male's presence.

"And Demyx, well, I don't know him that well," the boy continued, and suddenly Zexion's eyes were wide with disbelief, his attentions fully on the words that the stranger beside him was speaking, "but he comes here every day to play that sitar of his. Turns out, he never was fit for the business world – not a fighter or something – and so he plays every day to reach his dream. He wants to become a musician so badly, but on his own terms." Glancing sidelong at Zexion, he smiled happily, youthfulness vibrant in his eyes and warmth glowing from his countenance. "He's a regular optimist," he claimed, and Zexion shifted his attention slightly to the boy, flicking his eyes to dark, cloudless-sky's blue and away again.

The music died away when he finally glanced ahead once more, applause and cheers livening the patch of ground they stood on as the dirty-blond-haired youth, this Demyx, bowed his head humbly and smiled in embarrassment. And the boy called Roxas crossed his arms and rolled his eyes at the excitement, huffing softly as he only spared the onlookers indifference.

"Roxas!" the boy beside him cried so suddenly when the uproar died down, so that Zexion jumped in surprise and the crowds shifted away. Dread blossoming within him in a whispering way as the eyes from those the center of attention immediately locked on their position, he flicked his stare downwards and took up reading the book in his grasp as the youthful teen beside him laughed and ran forward, the blond he'd so raucously addressed stuttering in surprise upon sight of him.

Clenching the book covers apprehensively between his hands as he held up the façade that he was merely reading, he wondered if he'd truly get away unnoticed, if the sitarist was oblivious enough to just look right on by him. It was what he hoped, because he needed not the patronizing remarks of what a loyal fan he was to such "mediocre flights of fancies," as he'd said to some effect to the musician days upon days ago. He'd much rather get out scot-free, allowed to slip back unnoticed on following occasions and then leave unmissed and forgotten about.

"Oh! Book guy!"

Cringing, squaring his shoulders in impatience as his efforts to remain unseen were dashed to hell, he glanced up with a reproachful stare, watching with mild satisfaction when the musician Demyx flinched.

"H…hi," the sitarist finished lamely, awkwardly half-rising from his seat as he deliberated extending some kind of warm greeting and just as quickly decided not to, settling back into his chair nervously. Fingers drumming on his instrument, he gave a hesitant smile, dirty-blond strands falling into his eyes and remaining when he was too self-conscious to brush them away.

Uttering a contemptuous noise, Zexion snapped the newly opened book in his possession to a close, right hand then holding it more tightly within his grip as he tossed his head and ground his boots into the dust. Bowing his head and letting darkened bangs swish into his line of vision and at last settle comfortably over his right eye, he spared not a comment and instead headed directly away from all of them, homeward bound in his destination.

"A-at least…" came the musician's voice, weak in confidence as he stuttered but still beautiful in sound; footsteps stilling, dust rising up with the emphatic swish of his cloak and then settling down, he sighed and with exaggeration tilted his head to the right, staring straight ahead, humoring the pathetic excuse for a man by listening. "A-at least…you came back!" The call was chipper, alluringly persuasive to Zexion's ears, and a pleasuring feeling crawled along his arms and towards his neck, so that he was truthfully embarrassed to meet this Demyx's eyes. Instead, he nodded a wordless reply, one not guaranteed to be caught by sea green gems and a romantic smile, and spurred his feet into a calculated stride, mind dwelling on the curious feeling that soft, admiring voice had stirred within him once heard.

He dared not deliberate on it further until he was well on his way into the heart of town, but, upon tucking the book into the folds of his jacket and rolling back the sleeve cloaking his right arm, he found goose-bumps trailing patterns along his skin.

-- - --

End of part one. Please review!