I present to you the last part of the story. It's a quicker update, because I'm going on vacation, so...yeah. A treat for you guys! xD And again, thanks so much for sticking with this fic, what with its insane length and all. I have to get better about that. (sigh) And Rachael! I'm so glad that you enjoyed this, and I hope you'll like this final part!

Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Nuh-uh.

-- - --

"…the hell."

The door slamming at his back, eyes glowering past bangs plastered into his face, he violently shook one of his legs upon lifting it off of the dampening carpet, sending flicks of water against the walls and back at himself as he seethed silently. Having returned from the train station where he'd bid his good-byes to Hayner, Pence, and Olette – promising, albeit awkwardly, that he'd keep in touch – he'd been unfortunate enough to be caught in the open square, still a ways from home, exactly when the skies decided to open up and let loose a downpour. So he'd run the long distance to the apartment, freezing, soaked to the bone, and it had done nothing for his temper.

He was beginning to loathe the customary weather of Hollow Bastion. Being around the trio who'd brought back memories of his own home only served to make him long for Twilight Town more, even when those days were long gone and his personality didn't clash with such a peaceful setting anymore. Perhaps because he didn't belong he missed it so at the present, but, whatever the case, it didn't change the fact that he'd much rather have sunsets cresting rolling hills and warm nights out in the town set alight by the afterglow of the sky than rundown barracks and rain-soaked streets.

Sora knew how he was feeling. No doubt the kid, admittedly so new to the sights of the town, would much rather have the spray of salt water against his face instead of the smell of damp earth after a tumultuous thunderstorm, or the feel of sand beneath his feet instead of moss-overgrown cobblestones. And the thought lifted his darkened spirits slightly, to think that he finally had an ally, a friend, in all of this, and Roxas allowed himself a lopsided smile, he awkwardly running a hand through his soaked locks as he gazed about the apartment.

They were a team, two cousins facing the trials and tribulations of minimum wage, a highly competitive college, and the overall unsatisfactory atmosphere of a town neither wanted to be in – together. It had been a long time, the blond mused, since he'd had someone like that.

He had Axel, true, but the redhead was independent enough – and arrogant enough – to survive through any troubles thrown his way; besides that, he never failed to insist that he would always be fine, so long as Roxas was by his side – which always embarrassed the blond into silence. And yes, he had Naminé, too, his best friend who'd taken his silence and his temper without so much as a complaint, but, though she was his age and just as inexperienced, she was vastly more mature and thus able to do well on her own, and she had her paints to fall back on. So it was nice to know that, when he didn't desire to rely so heavily on them, he had his kin resurfaced in his life to lean on and be encouraged by, who could also find the same amount of support in him. It was a foreign feeling, to actually trust someone in his family, but Roxas rather liked it, he found; Sora was one in a million.

Slipping out of his sneakers, looking for his cousin now, he padded across the carpet, wincing at the cold sensation of his drenched clothing biting into his skin as he progressed. But Sora, he found, was not lounging on the couch before the television as he so normally did when no other opportunity presented itself to him, nor was he mulling about the kitchen, idling looking for things to snack on or even to cook. Thus, Roxas hesitated in the room's center, feet sticking to the linoleum tiles as he crossed his arms and tilted his head contemplatively. He knew the boy to not be outside, as he'd left only an hour and a half ago and his cousin had been nearly dead in his bed, soundly asleep. His only form of good-bye was a playfully tousling of the dark-haired boy's locks before he'd eased himself over the floor and across the threshold, closing the door in his wake.

Assuming it was his best place to check, Roxas wondered if the boy was still asleep – though the hour had passed noon already – and so he pulled at his hair absently while heading out of the kitchen, feet carrying him down the short hallway to the guest room coming up on his right, which was stationed directly across from his own bedroom. Hand falling easily on the golden knob, he hesitated, leaned his head against the wood, and wondered if he should knock, but then pulled back with a shake of his head and decided against it, pushing the barrier open quickly enough.

Hand at his neck, head bowed, he started, "Hey, Sora, looks like our plans for today a…" Blinking, gaze now raised from his feet, he focused his eyes blankly on the suitcase, comprehension not dawning even as he almost bore holes into its bulky frame with the intensity of his stare. "…are canceled," he finished numbly, stare finally flicking up to catch the profile of his severely discomforted-looking cousin sitting limply on the bed, one hand clasping his suitcase's handle as it clenched and unclenched uncertainly, arm shaking. "What're you doing?"

Head falling, arm dropping away from the suitcase as he withdrew his hands closer to his frame and clenched the fabric of his pants sheepishly, his cousin hunched his shoulders, cringing before Roxas as if he had been reduced to a child who'd broken his mother's favorite vase. Bangs overshadowing his eyes, Sora tilted his head down somewhat, teeth biting into his lip as he shrugged almost indiscernibly.

"Remember…when I first got here?" his cousin began, and the blond narrowed his eyes suspiciously, glare moving to train on the bag resting by the boy's legs. "And…you looked at me like…like I had just tried to kill you or…or something?" Sora laughed uneasily as he swung his legs against the carpet, ankles crossing and then moving apart as he squirmed. Roxas looked back at him, however, aware of what he was talking about, having remembered how the day Sora appeared in his doorway had made him almost sick to his stomach with rage. "And…you said…that I didn't belong here?"

The blond flinched and looked away, wondering what he could possibly be getting at. That was over now. Time had passed since then, a lot of time, and he now cherished his time with Sora just as much as he used to. Why his cousin was acting so curiously now made absolutely no sense.

"Sora," he groaned with a sigh, leaning heavily against the doorframe, eyes closed as he impatiently crossed his arms over his chest. "What are you getting at? And why the hell is there a suitcase at your feet?"

His cousin sighed as well, softly, fragilely, and the blond glanced up at him again, countenance stern, head cocked to the side. The boy was avoiding his stare at all costs, hand rubbing at the back of his neck before it stilled and stayed, shoulders seeming to fall as he parted his lips and opened his mouth, closed it as he floundered for words, and hesitantly opened it once more, throaty syllables making it past before any articulation did. "Maybe…" he finally managed, shutting his eyes tightly. "Maybe…you were right."

Stiffening, though saying not one thing, Roxas stared hard at the boy seated at the edge of his bed, seemingly lost in the swirl of the sheets around him as he looked everywhere but at the blond standing rigid with shock. 'What are you talking about?' he tried to get himself to demand of the brown-haired boy, nails digging into his palms as he clenched his fists, but for a long time silence fell, tense enough to make both shift in unease but not coaxing enough to get either to speak.

It was Sora who sucked in his breath first, leaning forward as he finally stared imploringly at the blond. "Please, Rox. Listen to me, okay? Don't take this the wrong way, because…because I---"

"Sora!" he, in reply, snapped in frustration, and hurriedly his cousin nodded, clasping his hands to calm the nerves that were presently being agitated by whatever worries were in his head and heart.

"…I…bought a gummi ship ticket…Rox."

His voice was so soft and pathetically small that, for one long, achingly drawn out moment, the blond found himself not understanding that the words spoken were so damagingly important. The realization, however, did not take long to set in, his eyes widening as he drew himself up further, arms shaking at his sides, water trailing down his back as his chin jerked up in alarm. Eyes, having been averted as the blond fell into a distracted kind of contemplation, clashed with his cousin's gaze as blue and wide as a summer's sky, and his jaw tightened as his nails bit more painfully into his palm, gloves not dulling the effect.

"You're…going home," he commented stiffly, stare never faltering, feet never shifting. "You're…you're going back to Destiny Islands!"

He scoffed a short laugh of incredulity, eyes widening, he completely numb to all of the words somehow tumbling past his lips it a composed manner. There was no way that this was happening; he refused to believe it. The cousin whom he'd learned to live without, his best friend who'd so ungracefully stumbled back into his neatened, collected life, who'd somehow torn down the walls Roxas had erected – and, in Sora's case, fortified – with his foolish mannerisms and optimistic smiles, was just as rapidly walking out of his life? The irony hurt, that the person he'd learned to rely on most could wound him so easily, and so he refused to believe this was anything but a lie.

Sora was too kind to be so cruel.

"Rox…" Sora whispered, finally removing himself from the bed so that he was standing on unsteady legs, eyes flicking away in discomfort for a brief moment before they trained on his face once more. Tilting his head, taking a ginger step forward, the brown-haired boy projected all of his remorse without any words, perhaps because he had nothing to say. There was nothing he could say, to ameliorate the situation, to rectify the wrongs he was committing now in leaving Roxas on his own. Sora knew that, and, more importantly, he knew that, and so stare narrowed viciously as his mind finally kick-started once more, rage brewing uncontrollably in his chest.

"Fuck you," he whispered softly, and his cousin faltered, crestfallen expression washing over his countenance as he looked away, not even bothering to defend himself, to plead, to bargain against Roxas's words. And that hurt most of all, because Sora thought himself so low right now, thought himself not worth as much as the mud caked underneath the blond's boots, and Roxas knew that wasn't true.

But he couldn't reassure him of that, because the betrayal had branded him far too badly.

"Who the hell do you think you are?!" he snapped in outrage, turning on his heel and rushing from the room as his cousin yelped in alarm, crashing against something in his room as his feet then padded after the blond's retreat. Still soaking wet, still unbelievably cold, Roxas headed towards the door, jerking his feet into his shoes with exaggerated twists of his ankles as he scratched at the wood, trying to get a hold on the handle as his hands kept slipping.

"Roxas, wait! I---!"

Wrenching the door open, the blond snarled, turned, and rounded completely on the brown-haired boy not two feet away from him. Stumbling only slightly in surprise, he recovered faster than Sora could blink, drawing himself up as he slammed the door against the wall. "Go back to your goddamn island paradise and leave me the hell alone."

Turning around, he made to rush out of the room when desperately Sora clutched at his arm, holding him fast to the white of his carpet ending before the deep red of the hallway's floor. Baring his teeth, he jerked his head to glare at his cousin just as the boy pleaded, "I'm sorry. Please, Roxas, I swear that I---!"

"Fuck…you."

Tearing his arm out of the stunned boy's grip, he started off in a run, taking advantage of Sora's shock so that he could get as far away as possible. Gripping the banister, swinging himself onto the top stair and promptly running down every flight, he didn't stop his pace as he raced across the lobby and out of the doors, onto the street before he knew it.

He never heard Sora's cries at his back, never met anything to prompt him to pick up his pace, but still he raced on, eyes stinging not from the wind or rain but the tears in his eyes pricking more painfully the further he distanced himself from the only family he'd ever loved. The rain pounded at his back, and his footsteps slapped against the cobblestones and through the puddles, but though he tired quickly and his lungs burned and his side ached, he never stopped.

He had to get away as far as possible as fast as possible, no delays accepted.

His palms were slamming against the familiar door before it registered in his mind that he'd stopped running, and his breath was hitching dangerously, so that he struck his hands more insistently against the wood before he fell apart. The curse inside made his heart leap, but he didn't let up, not as the footsteps neared, not as the doorknob toggled. Only when the barrier flew away from beneath his hands and familiar red hair and widened emerald eyes appeared did he stop, but only so that he could throw his arms around Axel's waist and shiver against his body, weight nearly crumpling underneath the weakened support of his legs as silently the tears blended into the fabric of the redhead's cloak.

"Rox!" he breathed in astonishment, hands fisting the soaked and freezing locks of blond hair that were now matted to Roxas's skull. "What in friggin' God's name are you---?"

"Let me stay!" he cried desperately, choking on his words as he pushed himself more insistently against the redhead's frame, the man stumbling over-foot in shock. "P-please, Axel," he whispered helplessly. "Let me stay."

"Roxas, what…?" There was a sigh above him, but the blond didn't dare look into Axel's face, afraid of the questions, afraid of the accusations. Gasps catching in his throat, body trembling fiercely as the wind howled against his exposed frame and reminded him just how cold he really felt, he shook his head against the redhead's chest, feeling sick, feeling worthless. He wasn't enough. His cousin had been homesick since the day he'd stepped foot in Hollow Bastion, and he hadn't been enough to keep the boy happy – he hadn't been enough to keep the most annoyingly cheerful and good-hearted boy happy.

"Don't leave me, too," he whispered, choking again though refusing to sob, no matter how raw his throat presently was, no matter how his eyes burned even with the few tears leaking from their recesses.

Two hands running through his matted hair, the blond suddenly found his head jerked up, widened eyes trained on emerald green as he squirmed and fought to avert his gaze, lips quivering as he struggled to make up some excuse with that look focused on him, tried hard to think of a lie to cover up the bitter truth that he was nothing. But the redhead's warm lips suddenly on his that coaxed him so sweetly to relax, that urged the frantic shaking of his body to calm, also stole his words away, so that all that he could utter was pathetic whimpers as he wound his fingers into the neckline of Axel's shirt, kissing back with desperation as gently his friend wrapped an arm around Roxas's waist, drawing him closer to his body.

Finally, removing his lips to press them against the blond's hair, the boy panting as he pressed his cheek against Axel's jacket and closed his eyes tightly, the older male sighed and grumbled, "Don't be a jerk. Like I'd leave you, Roxy."

Casting his eyes downward, the blond laughed without humor. "Right. I'm just that much of a catch."

"I think so."

Nuzzling closer against the redhead's body, rain still gusting inwards though the open doorway, the blond shivered, feeling horribly empty. Soon enough, he would have to go back home, away from the comfort of Axel's arms, divided by a good distance of time.

And all that he'd have to greet him would be an empty apartment.

-- - --

He wasn't ashamed to cry.

To lay it out straight, that was the one thing that separated his grief from the bitter anguish that had made Roxas so ill and angry, no matter the circumstances surrounding both of their cases of heartache. The blond simply refused the warmer lifestyle he'd grown into, now that his cousin was gone; he would not open up anymore, instead walking away from Naminé's advances when he climbed the slope, rejecting her persuasions to sing – to no doubt lift his spirits as well as the blond youth's – and keeping himself standing in a corner, eyes averted, countenance clouded over. It was only Axel who resurrected some of that light shoved deep into the caverns of Roxas's locked-up heart, Axel who appeared so suddenly and would then so sharply slap some sense into him upside the head.

But Demyx, though just as torn apart inwardly as Roxas undoubtedly was, allowed himself the tears the blond would never shed. Lacking inspiration to even play music anymore, he climbed the hill that brought him to the gusty promontory, collapsed into the familiar feel of the plastic chair, and just leaned forward over his legs as his shoulders began to tremble, tears falling at a fast pace down his cheeks. It was because the cliff-side brought him comfort, though, that he endured the seemingly pointless walk up the slope, that he couldn't deny himself the spot overlooking the bay that he'd made a ritual of visiting every day.

Even when his back was bare of its sitar, despite the fact that he wanted no reminders of Zexion's presence, wanted no prodding or jabs to push him towards the instrument he just couldn't bring himself to play, his feet carried him along the same pathway daily, his heart breaking apart the instant he sat himself down.

He apologized through his tears whenever Naminé stopped her artwork and came to kneel at his side, feeling guilty for disrupting her painting and bothering her, feeling responsible that the crowds weren't attracted to this spot anymore and no potential buyers were asking about her work. But the blonde girl was kind, always had been to him, and she merely stroked his arm as he dissolved into a pitiful mess, wondering always why it hurt so much when he hadn't even fallen in love.

"Some people just captivate you," Naminé said softly when now he accidentally voiced his thoughts aloud, her fingers moving to intertwine with his, her lips curving into a gentle smile when he gasped and glanced up with tears clouding his eyes. "They're hard to let go."

"H-h-he…was a g-g-good friend…" Demyx insisted, even when she hadn't accused the dark-haired traveler of anything, even though the claimed friend of his had managed to rip his heart into bloody shreds. And as she crouched down and looked at him now, strands of golden hair falling innocently into her face, she nodded soothingly, patting his hand, never stating any disparaging comments against the man, though the darker color of her normally icy, crystalline eyes gave it away that she held much against Zexion and was absolutely furious. "H-he was…kind to m-me…"

"He was, Demyx," Naminé murmured, head tilting to the side, smile becoming strained. "He liked you. We could all tell."

Lower lip trembling, head dropping as he twisted his hands and then dug his nails into the wrinkles of his pants, he pleaded of her, "Then why did he l-leave?" in a small whisper, tears falling from his lashes as he tilted his head and cringed, desperately trying to stop his sadness before it escalated into hysterics. He would be good today; he wouldn't go over the edge.

"If you want, Dem, I can hunt him down and burn his sorry ass." In horror, the sitarist looked up to see Axel lingering off to the side, arms crossed over his chest, body tilted slightly as he cocked his head in a contemplative manner, the glitter of his eyes and grin on his face anything but innocent. "I promise I'll do a good enough job so no one can ever know."

"D-don't---!"

"He's joking…Demyx," Naminé murmured calmly, so that he was coaxed to look back at her, panicked gaze focused on her softened one, frame shaking as he bit his lip. "But he shouldn't tease you." Her head turned and she leveled her stare on the redhead, nothing in her countenance shifting but manner seeming somewhat more imposing. "You're not in the right state of mind."

"Oh, stop babying the kid. He's twenty-freakin'-four years old. He'll get over this little puppy-dog crush in a week, you'll see."

This time, Naminé's brow arched. "Oh?" she said calmly, expression softening and confident smile relaxing his lips. "You didn't."

The redhead snorted, looking away as he closed his eyes and shrugged. "That's different. I just secretly wanted to get into Roxas's pants." Scoffing somewhat, he allowed himself a smirk even as he looked away from them. "'Course, my intentions got side-tracked, but even the best-laid plans go awry."

Twisting in discomfort, catching Naminé's wrist before she could spare the stubborn male across from them any more words, he captured her gaze with his pleading one and she sighed, nodding as she pushed herself up from the ground and patted him gently on the shoulder.

"I'll go now then, Demyx," she murmured, smiling as she stepped back and held her hands before her, head tilted as she composed herself neatly under his gaze. Struggling to smile, the sitarist finally nodded back, though he was anything but back to normal. "You take care, all right? And don't listen to Axel. You know better."

Laughing softly at her words, slightly cheered, he watched as she flashed him an encouraging smile and then turned back to her paints, gathering them, her canvas, and its easel in a professionally quick manner. Upon managing to hold everything in her grip, too, she looked back to smile at him once more, and weakly Demyx waved, watching as she paused, sighed, and walked off, slightly delayed in her exit as Roxas crested the hill, hands shoved into his pockets, eyes trained on his shoes. He hesitated for her, too, the first time in several days, but from the look of disappointment on her features it appeared as if a close conversation between them was still a long way's off.

Eyes traveling with Roxas as the blond-haired boy finally started towards them upon sparing the blonde girl a few mumbled words, Naminé sighing, nodding to herself, and then heading out of sight, Demyx noticed Axel watching the boy even more keenly, an almost nervous expression contorting the man's elegant features. It surprised the musician, though, to realize that the blond was not heading off to meet the redhead; instead, Demyx blinked – tears trailing down his cheeks once more as he did so – to find the blond come to a stop before him, head still bowed, hands still lodged into the depths of his jeans.

"Hey," he began, and the sitarist jumped, eyes widening in surprise. Roxas was talking to him, civilly and willingly; honestly, the dirty-blond didn't know what to make of it – was it an improvement or not? "Sorry…about that bastard," the blond finally muttered, and Demyx, for lack of knowing what else to do, simply shook his head and laughed painfully, tears spilling from his eyes again. Finally glancing up, Roxas forced a smile, lifting his hand to hit him lightly in the shoulder, the gesture somewhat hesitant. "Dunce that you are, you're still cool, Dem; and if he so much as bothers you again, I'll kill him, 'kay?"

"Axel's a…b-bad influence on you," he joked in reply, forcing a short laugh, his words even encouraging a smile on the younger boy's part. Efforts dwindling down fast, however, Demyx bowed his head and choked softly on his tears, pressing his palms to his eyes as he sniffled, struggling against the overwhelming grief surging up once more. "And I'm okay!" he whined, shuddering gasps tumbling past his lips as his face seared red, the realization that both males, so much more proud and confident than he, were there to watch his magnificent collapse into nothing more than a whimpering fool – as Zexion would say, at any rate.

He yelped when suddenly his hair was fisted harshly, and as he sucked in a breath when his head was jerked up, cringing at the pain, he blinked open his bleary gaze to stare at Roxas's calm countenance in bewilderment, wondering what had gotten into the blond.

"No crying," he demanded, voice smooth but eyes narrowing. "He's not worth the heart you wear on your sleeve."

"I-I---"

"Demyx, cut the crap." Upon sighing in annoyance, the barest hint of a smile ghosted Roxas's lips, and the musician watched as the boy gave a half-shrug at him, tilting his head. "He was nobody; just a heartless bastard who wouldn't know a relationship from a one-night stand. Let him go."

The sitarist cringed at this, the absent comment striking truer than the blond had meant, most likely. Braving a smile, though, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand as finally Roxas eased the grip he held on his hair, Demyx calmed in a gradual way, the blond in front of him letting his head loll lazily to the side as his stare traveled, though it was obvious from the way he kept in place that his concerns for the sitarist's condition were still present.

"You're just stronger than I am," Demyx finally managed, laughing slightly as he sniffled, lowering his arm to his lap as he hesitantly raised his watery, sea green gaze towards Roxas's wandering one.

Stiffening, flicking that biting oceanic stare back at a fast enough rate to cause the dirty-blond-haired youth to flinch, Roxas narrowed his eyes, mouth curling into a bitter frown. "'m a coward," he muttered in self-loathing, kicking at the ground as his eyes then focused on the dust, he jamming his hands further into his pockets.

"That's not---"

"I'm going to claim back Blondie now, Dem, 'kay?" Axel's voice cut in suddenly, reminding the musician that he was still there. Looking up, he watched as Roxas started in surprise as the redhead wrapped his arms around his upper torso, beaming as he rested his chin on the blond's left shoulder, Cheshire grin in place. "He is my toy, after all. You're making me jealous, talking to him as much as you are."

"You have issues," Roxas muttered, but, curiously enough, he didn't resist Axel's advances, even looked off to the side as Axel lifted his head and kissed him teasingly against the chin, and, in Demyx's opinion, the light seemed to dim from the redhead's eyes. No doubt he wanted the regular Roxas back as much as Naminé did, as much as he did. But the blond was just a difficult case; he had so many problems he wouldn't share, and so many layers you had to unravel before you could even touch his heart.

"C'mon, Roxy. Back to my house we go."

Tiredly the blond complied, falling against the man's chest for a second of rest before he stepped out of the embrace entirely, running his hands through his blond locks, gaze focused far away from either of them. Piteously, Demyx glanced up at Axel, biting his lip in regret, but the redhead only glanced at him, no doubt judging his sympathies as unimportant, troublesome even. Clapping his hand on the blond's shoulder as his emerald eyes glanced away, he steered Roxas in the opposite direction, tousling his hair afterwards in a friendly manner as he pushed his closest friend and treasured lover towards the home he'd always keep open for the boy.

Demyx was envious of them, he realized when his eyes wouldn't stop watching their retreat. Roxas's heart was as broken as his was, and yet he still had someone – above the regular people who loved him – who adored and cherished him in such a more filling and healing way. The sitarist only had his instrument, which at the present he had no desire to play, and the friends he treasured were suffering from the domino effect of pain that had fallen onto their shoulders with Roxas's withdrawal and Demyx's rejection of music. Suddenly, the dirty-blond-haired male felt so alone, so abandoned, and he wished, more than ever, that Zexion was standing just a way's from where he sat, that composed expression cooling his eyes, that faint smile almost flittering to his lips. He'd made Demyx feel wanted, feel desired, no matter the multiple times he'd at first pushed the musician away, and, no matter what Roxas ordered of him, the sitarist could never push the man from his heart.

Folding his hands now, propping his elbows against his thighs as he rested his intertwined fingers against his lips, the youthful male stared off into the distance, vision wavering every now and again as he sucked in shallow breaths, chest heaving despite his efforts to calm. But again, as he did every day, after every attempt to strengthen himself against the memories, after every effort on his friends' parts to convince him that he didn't need the dark-haired man anymore, Demyx allowed the tears to course down his cheeks, regret coming back full force as he bit into his lip.

It was just another day in Hollow Bastion and he was crying, missing Zexion more than he'd ever missed anything in his life.

-- - --

Plainly put, life was a living hell.

The feel of the wheel beneath his hands should've been comforting, just as the road stretched before his windshield and the books juggling inside the box resting on the passenger's seat should have lulled him into a calmer state than presently he was in. But with every mile he put behind, some small part of him called him back to the place he was running from, making him wonder if he'd made a mistake.

And the farther he traveled, the more convinced he became that he had.

It seemed impossibly ridiculous, that the farther he fared from that miserable little import and export town, the more agitated he, in turn, became. That he would drive right on through more welcoming looking settlements now, staying for only a day or two in some cheap motel just to ease his mind of so much traveling and rest himself with sleep, seemed superfluous, pointless, and he cursed himself again and again for running from ghosts that would never reach him. He was safe, with nothing but the sky and earth to catch his eyes and keep him held to the present. He needn't dwell in the past; in fact, he hated dwelling in the past, as he'd told Demyx in the last conversation he'd had with the musician. So why was he only thinking of memories?

Perhaps it had been the music that triggered it, though. When the hum of the engine had gotten to be too much for his irritated nerves to bear upon first exiting the urban area he'd inhabited for two long, soon-to-be-forgotten weeks, his hand had acted on its own accord and had switched the radio on, music flooding his senses immediately. But the calculated tunes of the classical greats didn't register in his mind as his gaze narrowed further on the road, hands clenching to hold the steering wheel tight, body stiffening mildly as he gritted his teeth. Instead, a flash of Demyx's grinning countenance in his mind's eye startled him, and one of the frivolous melodies the youth loved to play and have that blond-haired miscreant sing to became stuck in his head, so that a growl tore from his throat as he finally cut the music off, body trembling only slightly as he increased the speed of his car.

Frazzled by such a shocking surge of emotions, he argued nonsensically that he could escape the binds of the sitarist's spell if only he drove faster. But days had passed since then and always he had driven the automobile far beyond the legal limit, and he hadn't been able to turn on the radio once.

It was frustrating, to realize that all his efforts to distance his heart's influence from that of his brain's had become null and void with the appearance of one utterly naïve dirty-blond in a town he could never find himself embracing. He'd always been a sensible person, well-read and intelligent, and yet he'd been stupid enough to let his fascinations be captured by a person so imperfect in nature it should've irked him otherwise. Yet, instead of hating the youth as he'd originally set out to do, Zexion had become captivated, and now the effects, it seemed, were irreversible.

No matter how many miles he covered or how many days he traveled, it would always be Demyx in his mind.

He wished it was otherwise. He wished that, with every promising civilization he passed and every comfortable café he lingered in for hours, wasting the days away reading books at a table – alone for once – and drinking his coffee in peace, he didn't think back to cafés where waitresses were far too kind and didn't leave him be like the rest did, to rambunctious crowds that trampled his feet and didn't know to avoid him as he walked absently down the road, and to distractingly infectious laughter that never failed to make him glance up in curiosity. But he couldn't deny, no matter how hard he tried, that that place was calling him back more intensely the farther he distanced himself from it.

The road before him and the places he happened into couldn't change it; Hollow Bastion just kept getting closer and clearer in his mind wherever his travels landed him next.

And as always, though he drew himself away from people and allowed only his texts to keep him company, Demyx just kept becoming more important in his heart.

Now, as he drummed his fingertips against the wheel, eyes narrowed in response to his frivolous musings, body agitated into a ramrod-straight position as the dusk glimmered over the trees and a few scattered cars sped past him in the opposite direction, he felt restless, discontent. He was just driving for the sake of it now, without a place in mind to go, without a pressing need to be anywhere at the moment. So when his car slowed its hazardous speed, pulling over to the side of the road, he was surprised, the engine still growling as he stared at the endless route before him, two cars drifting past as he spiraled in and out of his daze, ad he was uncertain. It seemed the will of his heart and mind had driven him towards a perilously-weighed impasse, only the turn of his wheel significant enough to decide what he wanted once and for all. And he toyed with the notions in his mind, fingertips skimming the steering wheel in thought as his eyes wandered down the road, dissatisfied with the way it suddenly seemed to just go on pointlessly forever, never bringing himself towards a way of life beneficial to him. So when he eased out from the side of the road as another car sped by, opening up a stretch of space for the next car, still in the distance, to travel, he on impulse crossed into opposing lane, turned around in his direction and headed back slowly towards the place he'd fled.

Strangely enough, too, the decision felt impossibly right, he burning daylight up to get back to the place Demyx was.

-- - --

Axel, being Axel and thus difficult, wouldn't let him go home.

He, in retort, always insisted that he was fine, because he was Roxas and he was stubborn. And, every day, he always tried to walk out that door unnoticed, telling himself that he could stand the silence, that he could take the abandoned memories that would meet him when stepping into the empty atmosphere of his own apartment home. But upon every attempt, he either stalled at the entranceway and convinced himself that it wouldn't be so bad to stay, or he was caught before that same thought process could kick in once more and promptly pushed far away from the tempting wiles of his house door, as Axel so outrageously put. Either way, the blond could never get himself beyond the front hall, and, no matter that he always felt that he was imposing on the redhead's hospitality, Axel's was where he always remained.

That was why, presently, he was camped out on the couch, brooding as he crossed his arms over his chest and propped his feet unceremoniously onto the coffee table, eyes trained on the glowing face of the television but attentions anywhere but the humming box.

"What?" Axel laughed now, placing his hands on Roxas's shoulders as he leaned over him from behind the blond, fingers gently kneading against the tensed nerves. "God, kid, is there ever a time when you don't PMS?"

Grunting in annoyance, he leaned forward, thinking that just avoiding the redhead would take less energy than offering some biting reply, but Axel didn't take to being ignored, and he pulled Roxas back against the couch, hands still in place on his shoulders. "Tch," he muttered in response, tilting his head as he directed his glower towards his lap, wishing that he could just muster up the courage to face a life where he was almost completely alone again.

"'m not in the mood," was all he replied when Axel leaned down, not taking kindly to the blond's silence. Sighing into Roxas's ear now, the redhead grumbled unintelligibly, the whisper of his breath causing the blond to shiver in reaction as a provoked smile rose and fell from his lips. Tilting his head away, he ordered, "Stop it."

The blond felt slightly triumphant when he sensed the presence of the bothersome redhead pull away, but then he jumped in alarm when the man leapt over the couch, the cushions bouncing beneath the both of them as Axel leaned back on his hands and grinned, Roxas unnaturally stiff in his seat as he shot a bewildered glance towards his companion.

"Hey, gorgeous. Is this seat taken?"

"By your butt now, yeah," Roxas grumbled, slumping down into the cushions again with a pissed-off expression, legs back on the wood of the table, arms crossing over his chest. Narrowing his stare on the television, he made a valiant effort to tune into the carpet cleaning commercial, thinking maybe when his life grew to be so pathetic he could fall back on such useful information, but, in his defense, he was too distracted by Axel's suddenly pestering hands to give it a whole-hearted try. "Shove off! I'm watching TV!" he exclaimed as the redhead teasingly poked him in the ribs.

Hesitating, sending him a dry look, Axel then looked over his shoulder and scoffed a laugh. "Didn't know you were so interested in the engaging practice of celebrity dating," he drawled in amusement.

"It's truly enthralling," Roxas quipped in response upon giving the show that had just come on a quick glance, voice devoid of all enthusiasm, and his best friend stared back with a wicked grin, leaning down as he placed his hands teasingly on the blond's sides once more.

"You know, you don't have to be such a recluse, Roxy. You have your very own boyfriend to play with; I'd like to think I'm far more interesting."

Letting his head fall back, the blond laughed softly in response, Axel's fingers tickling his sides mercilessly to encourage a more hysterical reaction out of him. Writhing, Roxas twitched and kicked his legs against the redhead's body, protesting against the torture and struggling to fend the redhead off. Finally, after the blond resorted to pulling at his assailant's hair just as ruthlessly, Axel eased up, now kneeling on the floor as his upper body stayed sprawled over Roxas, he grinning as the blond panted and pressed against his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, agitated sigh escaping his lips.

"A-Axel," he groaned with a disbelieving laugh, shaking his head as his hand fell away and his stare leveled on emerald gems twinkling with mirth as they stared back at him. "Get off, you idiot."

Arms wrapping around the blond's waist, the redhead smirked, leaned back, and promptly dragged Roxas's protesting person off of the couch. With a yelp the boy landed in his lap, his back then pushed against the cushions he'd previously been sitting on as his boyfriend leaned forward, sardonic expression surprisingly in place.

"You," he began seriously, arm snaking around Roxas's back as he leaned forward, mouth tauntingly hovering just a short distance away from the youth's lips, "are going to cut the crap, too, my adorable, moping, blond friend; just like you told Demyx. Or else you'll be kept my prisoner." With that he tilted his head and smirked, left hand gently resting against Roxas's hip, their noses brushing as Axel leaned forward.

"Freak," Roxas mumbled with a short laugh, leaning forward to kiss Axel gently before he then broke away with a sigh – the redhead moaning no doubt accidentally as he did so – and leaned his forehead against the older male's chest. Snuggling closer to his body, he pushed his cheek against the softness of Axel's shirt and wrapped his arms around his waist, content to stay like this, feeling that, even if his mind wandered, he'd be protected. "But I guess I'll have to live with it."

"You love me," the older male prodded teasingly. "You adore me. You can never live without me. Admit it."

"Whatever," the blond mumbled with a laugh.

Tousling his hair affectionately, Axel began to trail his fingers along Roxas's back just as the doorbell suddenly rang, and in question the blond glanced up, arching his brow at the unresponsive man. Scowling in discontent, the redhead stubbornly wrapped his arms around Roxas's waist, back against the coffee table, eyes challengingly clashing with his own oceanic blue. Appraising him with two raised brows now, Roxas snorted, tilting his head.

"You going to get the door?"

"Don't wanna," he drawled, lips quirking into a grin. "'sides. Maybe if we ignore whoever-it-is, they'll go away."

"You're full of crap," Roxas laughed, pushing at his chest, struggling to free himself from the male's persistent grasp. "Just answer the door." As if in an effort to prompt the redhead, the doorbell rang again, and the blond shot Axel an I-told-you-so look, head tilted to the side, brow arched.

"And relinquish my hold on you, Roxy?" the redhead grinned, pulling him back; Roxas winced as his back scraped against the couch's edge. "Don't be crazy."

Again the doorbell rang, and, annoyed, the blond pushed himself back into a standing position, stepping over Axel's crossed legs, heading down the hall. "Fine. If you won't answer it, then I wi---"

"Sit your ass back on that couch," the redhead said with a smirk, pushing him to the side as he passed, tapping his forehead idly as he advanced towards the doorway. Huffing indignantly, Roxas scowled at his smug countenance. "I'm the gentleman of the house, dear."

"Bastard," the blond bit, but grudgingly he complied with the request, trudging back towards the couch and slumping into the cushions. With a heavy sigh, too, he again propped his feet onto the coffee table, eyes trained immediately on the screen, brain shutting down as he allowed himself to be lost in the heavenly abyss of thoughtlessness as Axel dealt with no doubt another door-to-door salesman; it was that, anyway, or Naminé, and it was good that the redhead answered, because Roxas wasn't ready to face the petite blonde yet.

Head tilting lazily against the cushions as the familiar padding of Axel's boots across the floor managed to register in his mind, the blond glanced up into the redhead's countenance as he walked into the living room, brows raised, one hand tangled in his fiery locks. Blinking at the male's look of surprise, he leaned forward, forearms resting against his sides as he cocked his head.

"Rox…" Axel began, laughing slightly in disbelief, but at the movement behind him the blond looked abruptly away, eyes trying to make out the distant figure as the person stepped closer. When he stepped into full view, though, eyes darting about the room in mild interest, hands shoved into his pockets casually as he strolled before the bewildered redhead, Roxas leapt up, shaking his head, pointing furiously.

"Get him out!" Finally looking back at him, the male arched a brow, aquamarine eyes flashing beneath silver bangs as a cool grimace hardened the line of his lips. The youth said nothing as tension stretched and crackled in the open space before all three figures, and in rage Roxas rounded on the speechless redhead, clenching his fist in the air. "He's not welcome here!"

"I see you remember me, then," the silver-haired teen remarked placidly, leaning back on his heels as the blond bared his teeth and flicked his eyes back towards him. "Not that I honestly care. I'm not here for heartfelt reunions, after all. Just trying to get your half-brained cousin to stop sulking all the goddamn day." Tilting his head to the side, silver bangs falling into his vision, he motioned with the flick of his wrist. "So hurry up."

"Why're you here, Riku? Shouldn't you be wasting away in your secluded little island home and remain as far away from my life as possible?"

"Thought it was obvious, stupid," he muttered, and Roxas snarled in contempt. "And trust me; it's a grim day indeed when I have to come to you for help."

Before he could snap any scathing retort, Axel leaned forward, hands on his hips as he interrupted by asking, "Er…mind telling me who your blast from the past is, Roxy?"

Glancing over distractedly, he waved his hand in feigned nonchalance, trying to act as if the very sight of Riku looking so relaxed in the threshold to Axel's living room didn't irk him in the slightest. "Sora's best friend. We didn't hit it off too well when I visited him on Destiny Islands."

The redhead snorted in disbelief. "Wasn't that years---?"

"Now that introductions are over," Riku muttered, shrugging, "can you get your lazy ass out that door, Roxas? I don't want to be the delivery boy any more than you want me here."

"'m not going anywhere," the blond spat.

"So you're still as much of a stubborn ass as ever, aren't you?"

"Say that again, I dare y---!"

The doorbell rang once more, effectively cutting him off, and Axel groaned irritably. "Was just getting good, too," he grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest as he swaggered out of the room, leaving Roxas and Riku to stare each other down threateningly as neither budged from their position. Arms stiff at his sides, the blond clenched his fists as his temper flared, wanting more than anything to beat all of his rage, frustration, and uncertainty out on the smug-looking youth directly opposite of him. But he couldn't, that he knew, and it only served to infuriate him more.

Axel's footsteps sounding once more momentarily distracted him from the silver-haired problem bringing down his mood, and as he glanced up warily he was surprised to see a pretty red-haired girl at his heels, gliding around him when he stopped and raised his brow at Roxas in disbelief. Coming to halt beside Riku, she touched his wrist and he leaned down, she murmuring something in his ear as her countenance shifted into that of a stern expression. Rolling his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose as he nodded calmly, the silver-haired youth glanced back finally to meet Roxas's oceanic gaze and the male gritted his teeth for an instance, then relaxing his features.

"We can't wait all day, Roxas. So come along or not, I don't really care. Sora's losing his nerve, and---"

"---he really wants to see you," the girl cut in, placing her hands on her hips defiantly, and Riku had the grace to look amused, irritation fading as he shook his head at the girl. Roxas, however, merely arched his brows, glancing towards Axel in surprise; the man, on his part, looked close to laughing. "Now quit being such a baby and hurry up. I'm sick of all you men being such idiots!" With that, she whirled on her heel, sparing a quick word of thanks to an extremely amused Axel lingering in the doorway still, and headed out. Riku, snorting as he shook his head, turned as well, making to follow.

"I wouldn't piss Kairi off any further if I were you," he warned, and then he was walking out, as well.

"Kairi…" Roxas mumbled in a daze, looking towards his friend for help as he lingered in a stunned manner in the same place he'd been standing for such a long time, and then it clicked. Blinking, shaking his head, he found himself following after them despite his great reluctance, Axel grabbing at his shirt before he could make it past his lounging figure and slinging his arm around him when he looked up with a questioning expression.

"You okay about this?" he asked, dubious look on his features.

"No," he admitted, but he eased himself out of the half-embrace anyway, now jogging towards the front door and through the open entranceway before the redhead could convince him against his actions. Immediately he stopped when he caught sight of Riku pressing one fist into his cousin's skull in an absent form of scolding, free arm slung around his shoulders to hold him in place; hesitating, uncertain look washing over his features, he stepped back just as the redheaded Kairi glanced up from watching them mildly, soft smile spreading over her lips.

"So?" she asked, and at her voice both boys looked up, Riku sighing in perhaps relief, Sora yelping in shame and ducking down. "What's that look for?"

Tensing his jaw in agitation, he stared for a long moment at his cousin, ignoring Kairi's questioning words, ignoring Riku's increasing annoyance, and then he shook his head, stepping back. "Go away. Stop bothering me. All of you." Turning on his heel, he made to walk back to Axel's house, glowering angrily as the man lingered on the threshold and tilted his head curiously at him.

"Wait! Rox! I'm sorry!"

Stopping, looking downwards, the blond merely shrugged. "Don't care."

"I…I know. But---"

"You can't just abandon me and expect forgiveness, Sora. I don't care. Stop screwing me over and just stay out of my life for good."

"I…but…!" There was a weary sigh, and then his cousin spared no more words, perhaps hanging his head in defeat, undoubtedly knowing that, no matter what he said, he couldn't redeem himself in the blond's eyes. Faced away from the boy, though, cringing as he replied with a broken, "Yeah…" Roxas let the full extent of his emotions flood across his countenance, shallow rage replaced with utter desolation and grief; Axel, watching from the doorway, stared pointedly at him to speak the truth, but thankfully the man didn't try to fight his battle for him, and so Roxas could get away with lying, no matter what the cost.

"You're honestly going to let him incriminate himself?" came an unfamiliar voice, and it took Roxas turning around and searching out the speaker to realize that the feminine tone came from the Kairi girl staring straight at him, hands clasped behind her back as she leaned her weight on her heels. "Sora's human, you know; like you. And I'm sorry if he wasn't brought up under the same circumstances that you were, but he did lose his mother – we were there; we saw his grief." Narrowing his eyes at her, he silently begged her to stop, to quit trying to coax him to open his heart again, but the girl was too proud, and she only stared right back, tilting her head as she smiled slightly. "What if it had been you, there on Destiny Islands, away from your friend over there," she gestured towards Axel with a wave of her hand, "and with only us," she brought her hand back to her chest and gave a slightly piteous look as she smiled still, "to keep you company? Would you have been happy?"

"I would have stayed!" he protested.

"That wasn't my question," Kairi murmured softly, lowly, and Roxas cringed and looked away, refusing to answer.

"Truth of the matter is," Riku broke in impatiently, not willing to let another long silence fall between them, "we asked Sora to come back." Jerking his chin up, he swung his stunned gaze towards the silver-haired teen resting his hand on an uncomfortable-looking Sora's shoulder, the brown-haired boy unable to meet his inquiring gaze. "He didn't show you the letters, of course, 'cause the kid's an idiot and thought he'd bother you, but yeah, we kept in touch, and so we knew he was hurting. And we knew what a jackass you were to him, though he was too optimistic to admit that and too kind to embellish the details." Snorting contemptuously, Riku momentarily slapped the boy upside the head, making Sora smile sheepishly in reply. "The doofus really loves you, whether you care or not; and, though he wanted to come home more than anything, it took us a year and a half to convince him to make one little visit home. One." Looking up with a glare, he bared his teeth in a growl. "You know – how he only took a single suitcase?"

Face flaring in embarrassment now, the blond ducked his head, gaze focused on the tops of his sneakers as he shook his head in disbelief. To say that it was all just a huge misunderstanding would be a vast understatement; to put it bluntly, even crudely, he'd royally fucked up, and he'd severely wounded the one person who'd been by his side, trying to make him a better person, from the minute he walked back into the blond's life. He'd resisted the temptation to just go home for a whole year and a half, just to be with Roxas; no matter that the whole time his existence had been ignored, that his feelings had been disregard, Sora had stayed through it all, and, first chance he'd had to reunite with the friends he'd so sorely missed, Roxas had torn him apart.

Digging his nails into his palms now, gritting his teeth as he exaggeratedly shook his head, he wanted badly to just thrash his temper out on something, hopefully hurting himself and thus slamming sense into himself in the process. He'd never thought lower of himself until this moment.

"Hey."

Glancing up, staring wide-eyed at his cousin suddenly smiling hesitantly before him, Roxas stepped back, biting his lip, finally averting his gaze. "I didn't mean it," he pleaded of the boy, feeling like dirt to think that he had the gall to ask for forgiveness from his cousin. "You didn't deserve such treatment. I…you can go home, Sora. You can be happy there. Really. I'll…I'll manage, I promise. Don't---"

"If it's all right…" his cousin replied, and in pain Roxas nodded, bowing his head as his eyes began to burn. Right; as open-hearted as his cousin was, it was expected that he would choose the home he loved and the people he cherished over the technicality of flesh-and-blood. The blond wasn't worthy of a second chance. "…I'd…like…to stay here, Rox."

Jerking his chin up, breath catching as a tear coursed down his cheek unheeded, he parted his lips, making to question him on the intelligence and overall sanity of such a decision, but no words made it out of his mouth. Finally, unintelligibly, he stammered, "Wh-what?" making Sora laugh slightly as he lifted his hand and rubbed the back of his head.

Gritting his teeth, the blond tilted his head to the side, small grin resurfacing on his lips, he about to agree with what his cousin asked of him. But then he remembered the boy's misery, the months upon months Roxas had simply ignored him, the loneliness the dark-haired youth had had to deal with when he just couldn't make new friends in Hollow Bastion. And Roxas realized that he couldn't submit the boy to such a life again; he would look out for his cousin this time, even if it hurt him severely.

"Sora, no," he stated firmly at last, eyes narrowing, countenance grave as he watched his cousin's smile fall from his lips. "Just…go home. I'll---"

"---be absolutely miserable again and hate the world and blah, blah, blah, Roxas," Axel cut in from behind them, and in agitation to blond swung his attention over his shoulder, glaring at the man who smirked back cheekily at him. "Save it, hmm? Your martyr act is exhausting."

Sora gave a short laugh, interrupting any words he was about to spare the green-eyed man holding his stare smugly, and tiredly Roxas glanced back, rubbing at his neck hesitantly as he shook his head. "I don't know what to tell you, then. You don't want to be here, right? And I'm not gonna just let you get hurt like that again. So why should I let you stay when you're only going to want to leave again?"

"I'm not, though," Sora remarked cheerily, and doubtfully the blond glanced up, brow arched as he leveled his cousin with a dry stare. In reply, the boy laughed once more. "I mean it, Rox. Riku and Kairi said they'd be able to visit during the summers, now that they've started saving up enough money for it."

The blond blinked, startled, and glanced over his cousin's shoulder to give the pair a dubious look. Surprise fading away into a look of grim resolve, he grumbled bitterly, "They're not staying in my apartment," and ecstatically Sora grinned, shaking his head, agreeing easily enough. Lopsided grin grudgingly coaxed into place with his cousin's brightened mood, Roxas then sheepishly scratched his cheek, giving a shrug of his shoulders as he mumbled, "And I guess I kinda missed you, Sora." There was a disbelieving snort from behind him, but the blond merely rolled his eyes, choosing to ignore Axel entirely.

Beaming, the brown-haired youth didn't hesitate to throw his arms around the blond, the affection quite startling Roxas as he stiffened in alarm, unaware of what to do. Lingering away from the two, Kairi giggled, no doubt amused by his facial expression, and Riku shoved his hands into his pockets, glancing away in a bored manner as he kicked at the cobblestones, momentarily grimacing at its feel beneath his sneaker. And as the blond just remained still and startled in the embrace, he realized that this was the first time he'd fully hugged his cousin, and that knowledge was enough to encourage him to tentatively circle his arms around the boy's back.

"You're staying, right?" he murmured cautiously, eyes downcast, hold still delicately loose.

"'course! Destiny Islands'll always be there, Rox. And after college, maybe you can go back to it with me."

"Maybe," he muttered, and then, relaxing his muscles, he brought his hands to his cousin's shoulders and pushed him away, head tilted as he took in the cheered countenance of the boy. "Hey, Sora? How'd you know to look for me here? Or even where Axel lived?"

"Oh!" Laughing sheepishly, rubbing at the back of his head, the brown-haired youth shrugged. "That artist girl? Naminé? We ran into her walking away from your apartment; she told us to come here."

Rolling his eyes, Roxas grinned ruefully. "Of course she did."

"Anyway, Sora? Can you hurry it up? I think it's gonna rain."

Simultaneously, both cousins looked over to see Riku glowering impatiently at the sky, Kairi curiously holding her hands out to test for water droplets. From the corner of his eye, the blond caught his cousin smiling fondly at them, linking both hands behind his head as he lingered at Roxas's side for a moment, and then Sora looked over, wrinkling his nose in good humor. "You gonna be at the apartment later tonight?"

Pausing, pulling at his hair slightly in thought, the blond finally shook his head. "Tomorrow. You catch up with them a little more."

As the boy nodded, wide smile on his face, a soft downpour suddenly fell down from the storm clouds, making Riku growl in frustration and Kairi laugh softly, arms held out at her sides, head tilted upwards to experience the feel of the water on her face. Starting off, waving with exaggeration, Sora then jogged to the two and grinned, walking backwards as he pulled at both of their wrists and warned that they'd better seek shelter before it really started to rain. And as Roxas watched them leave, feeling Axel come to stand beside him and drape his jacket over his shoulders as the blond didn't move from his spot, he leaned into the man's chest, contented smile on his face.

On the one hand, he was letting his cousin go, watching him disappear with his friends to find happiness in this town that Roxas could never bring him. But, on the other hand, he was keeping Sora that much closer, because the boy had chosen to stay, and he always kept his promises.

And for Roxas, that his cousin would always chose to be there no matter what…it was really enough.

-- - --

Naminé, determined spirit revived now that Roxas had opened his heart to her again, had become convinced to cheer Demyx up at all costs. That was why, at the moment, she was pulling him up the hill by hand, the musician toting his instrument along with him against his will as the blonde smiled calmly back at him, assuring the sitarist that this would help him get over his heartache if he simply fell back into doing what he loved. The dirty-blond was doubtful, nervous even, but he smiled weakly for her all the same, having always found her quiet resolve to be cute.

Cresting the hill, not surprised at all to see both cousins already there, Roxas bickering as always with an amused Axel, Sora laughing with the friends from Destiny Islands who'd accompanied his travels back to Hollow Bastion. The sight was a heart-warming one, that much Demyx admitted, but he was still deeply rooted in his melancholy and couldn't find it in himself to be completely cheered by the sight of all of them; instead, he was admittedly somewhat jealous at their happiness.

"Dem!"

Laughing cheerfully, Sora leapt up from the ground, jogging over to meet him. The musician, standing before his seat, arms halfway behind him in his paused struggle to lower the sitar from his back, glanced up to see the more youthful of the two cousins beaming at him, looking positively thrilled to be back. It was the first time in a while the musician remembered seeing such unbridled joy filling every inch of the boy's countenance, and reluctantly Demyx gave a smile, because the teen's optimism was as infectious as the sitarist heard his own was.

"I heard you haven't been playing much," he tried now, calming as he crossed his arms over his chest and gave a knowing grin. Demyx, in turn, winced, smiling back, thankful that Sora wasn't the kind of person to prod about personal matters; he left it as it was, only slightly treading on dangerous territory to extend his sympathies before helpfully stepping away. "Well, I know how much you like to hear Rox sing and all, so I thought that this would kind of cheer you up, too." Glancing over momentarily, the boy stared at his two friends talking, oblivious to his attention; then, looking back, he grinned sincerely. "Kairi, she sings, too. She's got a beautiful voice, y'know. And imagine if Roxas and she sang together?"

Smiling sadly, the dirty-blond finally eased the instrument from his back, collapsing thereafter into his seat. "I know what you're trying to do, Sora, and thanks for that, but I'm kind of not ready yet."

Grinning genuinely still, the boy nodded, shrugging his shoulders. "Sure. Just tell your friend Naminé that I tried my best."

Laughing slightly as Sora waved and turned around, walking back towards the silver-haired male and redheaded female and standing over them as he shoved his hands into his pockets and grinned, Demyx shook his head, resting his sitar against his legs casually. It was remarkable, how quickly the kid bounced back. He always saw the good in everything, and he always composed himself calmly, thinking rationally for the most part, taking uncertainties in stride.

Unlike the boy, Demyx took everything too personally, holding injuries close to his heart, unable to let them go. He became too attached too fast, while Sora valued slowly-formed, genuine friendships, and so the musician was far too idealistic and naïve when it came to real-life matters, thus taking a long time to recover from shock and heartache. He wanted to have that sense of pride and confidence, like Roxas with his ability to push all issues out of his path and deal with troubles with an air of anger or indifference, or like Sora with his ability to always manage a smile despite anything, but Demyx was weak, simply said.

Zexion was right to call him pathetic.

Thoughts wandering, fingers idly plucking at random notes on his sitar as his gaze wandered, he watched Roxas struggling as Axel wrapped his arms around his stomach, the boy laughing and kicking half-heartedly, and then flicked his attention towards Sora, the boy plopping down beside his friends at last and slinging his arms around each of their shoulders, the female giggling, the male rolling his eyes in playful annoyance. Smiling ruefully, wishing for their happiness, he absently trailed his fingers on the strings of his sitar and thought of when Zexion was there, making him feel more alive than he'd ever felt before, allowing him to smile brightly without being concerned with repercussions and just gradually get attached. The male, for all his issues with companionship and closeness, had been kind in a subtle way, gradually allowing Demyx to take him by the hand and lead him around, slightly opening up to reveal emotions in his eyes which he'd pushed behind a façade of sharp indifference. And the sitarist missed his presence.

Unfocused gaze snapping back to reality as he made to escape such a self-hazardous thought process, Demyx noticed that all of the attentions of his friends and their friends were trained intently on him. Blinking, tilting his head skeptically, he directed his gaze to the left, catching Naminé's relieved smile as she pressed her brush against the canvas; puzzled, he furrowed his brows in contemplation, and then, suddenly, the sound of his music caught up with him, so that he paused to be sure that he was really playing once more, too dubious to believe that it was his music resounding in his ears. The melody halting, Sora calling after in a joking whine for him to keep up the pace, the silver-haired teen at his side commenting that it wasn't half bad, Demyx trailed his fingers along the strings again, song instantly picking up once more, and he laughed in startled delight, lowering his head as the music swept around him.

Suddenly, completely unprompted, his inspiration had returned.

Well, not necessarily unprompted. His optimistic thoughts of Zexion's person had lessened the throbbing of his heart, so that, with the pain somewhat dulled, he'd been able to push forth the melodies he harbored inside. But to his friends gathered around him, to Roxas, Naminé, and even Sora supporting him in his battle to recover from a broken heart, they probably assumed that this was a sign that he was getting over the traveler, when clearly he was just falling deeper and deeper.

But he was content to let them believe what they wanted, just like Demyx was content to believe that Zexion would come back. And, with such renewed faith, the sitarist played on, hoping that one day he would again spot the dark-haired traveler's face in the crowds that trickled in.

-- - --

He carried himself with an air of indifference as always, though inwardly the thought of his calculated steps leading him around Hollow Bastion so soon tore him apart. Book as always perched loyally in hand, pages splayed out as he directed most of his attention on the story unfolding before his eyes, he had to remind himself multiple times in his slow course that he was headed towards the café, not the promontory. He had to retain his dignity, after all, and not be some fool rushing off to grovel before the musician's feet in a spectacular display of helplessness. He would figure this predicament out, decide when the time was right to present himself before Demyx in a reunion of sorts, and all would be carried out calmly and efficiently, no hysterics to hinder either of them.

Thus, it was with fluid movement and carefully averted eyes that he walked now through the town square, in search of the café he'd been trying to relocate for the last hour, derailed in his attempts due to distraction averting his thoughts from the establishment's whereabouts. His boots scraped against cobblestones and his cloak ruffled around his ankles as he glided through the open plaza, and with no real interest he simply walked around, eyes every so often skating his surroundings for any telltale signs of the café, attentions for the most part on Demyx and on his text. It was a frustratingly circuitous path that he'd embarked on, always seeming to end up in the place he'd started in as he progressed, and in time he came to wonder what exactly he was doing, simply walking with a book in his possession and no real desire to either settle down far away from the musician's current location or muster up the strength to visit him.

So, decidedly tucking the book back into his jacket's folds as he heaved a sigh, Zexion glanced up, thinking he'd simply retire in his hotel for the day and try harder to voice his apologies to Demyx the next. Before he could even get several steps away, though, a familiar figure from ahead raced rapidly towards him, and the dark-haired man let his head loll to the side, arms crossed impatiently, he knowing that it would be futile to just walk another way, as the skateboarder stopped himself inches before he rammed into Zexion's chest.

"Son of a bitch," he muttered with a humorless smile, sharp gaze narrowing into slits when he bowed his head momentarily and stomped his foot on to the end of his board, the object flipping up so that his hand stationed it to the ground as he leaned his weight to the right. Arching his brows to indicate even surprise at the blond's words when the teen glanced up once more, Zexion's manner subdued as he watched the agitation in the boy increase, he felt himself quickly boring with the hateful stare he was getting leveled with and glanced over the boy's shoulder, catching sight of a red-haired male he vaguely remembered seeing hang around the youth step closer, malicious grin on his features as he shook his head, arms limp at his sides. "The hell're you doing back here?"

"I wasn't under the impression that I couldn't go wherever I pleased," he mumbled dryly as he flicked his stare back to the person before him.

In contempt, the blond snorted. "You can go where you want, but you can't just fuck up lives that are finally getting back to normal after days of depression, dumbass." To emphasize his outrage, too, he reached up and fisted the front of Zexion's shirt between his hand, the dark-haired man sending him a look of disgust as he edged backwards under the grip.

Still, at his comments, Zexion's heart twisted; his cool mask of indifference didn't reveal his inner turmoil, but inwardly the blond's words scathed his pride. In retort, thus, he said in a clipped tone, "And I suppose a runt like you is going to attempt to convince me to leave, then?"

His words provoked injury to the blond's pride quite obviously, because in no time at all his expression darkened furiously and his forcibly cool manner snapped. "Sonuvabi---!"

Before he could lunge, the redhead, with green eyes sparkling quite brightly in amusement, clamped his hand over the boy's mouth and hauled him back, the blond struggling against the hold and clawing at the air as he breathed erratically through his nose. In appearance he was absolutely savage, and Zexion quirked a brow in detached amusement, noting the animalistic way he was still fighting at the bonds of his male friend's arms in an effort to probably either tear out the dark-haired scholar's throat or beat his fists into his frame. He was hardly perturbed by the behavior, however, instead boring of the consistent surges of rage and flicking his gaze upwards into amused emerald.

The redhead grinned at him cheekily, several times wincing as he tried to tame the insanity-plagued youth in his arms. "You'll have to excuse Rox," he replied nonchalantly, voice more of a leer than anything, smug and not holding any sympathy. "He didn't take his medicine today." That prompted a good kick in the shin from the blond, so that the redhead muffled a curse and momentarily glowered at the growling teen. "Anyway," the man continued, flicking his green eyes back into Zexion's dark indigo, "he's normally the kind who doesn't give a damn, so sorry, guess he despises you."

Rolling his eyes, crossing his arms carelessly over his chest, he shrugged in response, clearly not ruffled by the behavior. "And I care why exactly?"

Momentarily freeing his mouth from behind the redhead's hand, the blond spat, "There is no goddamn way you're stepping anywhere near Demyx, you fu---"

"That's enough of that," his captor cooed with a large, cat-like grin on his features. "Easy, now, Roxas. Maybe Demyx wants to beat the shit out of him? Hmm? Ever think of that? So inconsiderate."

Zexion's brow twitched in agitation. Clearly, Hollow Bastion was the gathering place of all idiots.

Jerking his head away, though calmed slightly, the boy Zexion had been reminded was named Roxas tensed his jaw, flicking his eyes off to the side as he grumbled, "You know Dem couldn't hurt a fly."

Snorting in amusement, the redhead pushed him out of his arms and tousled his hair with affection, and the blond kept his stare pointedly averted, he doing all that he could to forget Zexion's presence. The dark-haired male found that fine, too, he preferring not to have to exchange words with the emotionally unstable brat, and, certain that he wouldn't be stabbed in the back with some conveniently placed sharp object the blond got his hands upon, Zexion turned around, feeling no farewell would be needed seeing as his disappearance wouldn't be missed.

"Guys! Why'd you run ahead! You know I'm so much slower with this instrument I have to carry!"

Freezing, the dark-haired man stopped mid-step just as the blond grumbled, "Your loss, Dem. Now let's get going to that stupid café you were tal---"

"Slow your roll, Blondie. Let Demyx catch his breath, huh?"

"Axel…" Even not facing them, the dark-haired man could sense the anger on Roxas's face, the warning tone enough to absolutely make one's blood run cold. His only response was a chuckle, the redhead no doubt enjoying this perilous game of sorts that he was putting into play.

Hopefully, however, Demyx could remain oblivious, and they truly would just walk away. Lord knows that was what Zexion would gladly be doing, if only his godforsaken legs would budge from the spot they held fast to.

"Thank you, Axel," the musician claimed indignantly now, the quiet shuffle of his clothes rippling through the air as the dark-haired man listening imagined the youth leaning over. "I mean jeez, Rox, you just set off like your tail was on fire. You know how far I had to run? What got you going anyway?"

"What indeed," Axel drawled smugly.

"Shut up, Axel," the blond growled through his teeth.

There was another softer ruffle of clothing, Zexion this time expecting Demyx to be rising slowly from his bent-over position, sending dubious looks to the pair. Fisting his draping locks nervously, the scholar darted his eyes around, knowing himself to be somewhat concealed by distance and passersby, so he didn't feel like a dimwit just idly standing in place. However, if the three of them didn't depart soon, or if he didn't encourage himself to shift his feet into gear rather than standing around and acting as if he wanted to get caught, he would be caught, and he couldn't yet handle that kind of confrontation.

"Guys…?" Demyx asked cautiously now, and Zexion closed his eyes, hoping that same kind of freak miracle would distract their attentions and send them in some separate direction than the one he was presently situated in, only several feet ahead of the confused sitarist. "What's up with you two?"

"Oh, just a little distracted, I guess," the man called Axel drawled, and the dark-haired male narrowed his eyes, thinking that whatever the redhead had to say would not be beneficial to him in the long run. "You know, taking in the sights and sounds and people---"

"Axel, I swear to God---!"

"Aren't you an atheist, Blondie?" the redhead laughed, tone joking. "Tell me; how does that work?"

There was a light sigh that belonged to neither of their voices, and then, "You guys are weird," was mumbled by Demyx, the innocent words provoking a smile onto Zexion's lips just barely no matter the gravity of the pressing situation. How his departure could have ever dampened the light spirit of the musician's for so many days, the scholar didn't know; in his opinion, the youth seemed as life-loving as ever, surrounded by friends who would never hurt him.

It made Zexion dread having ever come back.

"Can we go now? There's really nothing redeeming about standing in the middle of the street looking like a bunch of morons, Axel."

The threat was ever present in Roxas's tone, the blond overly anxious to keep Demyx as oblivious to him as was possible, and, staring at the tops of his boots broodingly as he decided it truly was for the best, Zexion began walking, wondering what good he'd done himself in turning around. All he'd achieved was a masochistic kind of relief, pain sparking in the wells of his heart every time he heard the beautifully musical voice of the sitarist whisper against his ears. It was pointless, to come back and expect to reconcile with the youth he'd so callously wounded days before; he would only further muddle the musician's life if he stepped back onto the scene again. So, with firm resolve to leave without being noticed and gradually rid himself of the insistent ties of miserable Hollow Bastion, he took step after calculating step forward, making to put the past behind him once and for all.

"Yeah, all right. Just let me…fix…this sitar here and…"

There was a sigh. "I got it, Dem."

"Heh, thanks, Rox. Like Zexion would say," he froze again, eyes uncharacteristically wide, breath hitching in his throat, "I'm so pathetic. Can't do anything---"

"Don't talk like that," the blond snapped.

"It doesn't bother me, though. It's true!"

"Shut up, Demyx!"

"Roxas, calm down. The kid's oblivious anyway."

"Oblivious to what? Guys, this isn't funny. I hate it when you leave me in the…" There was a long, painful, drawn out pause, and Zexion fisted his hands, hoping against all hopes that Roxas had for some reason clamped his hand over the musician's mouth, perhaps to get him to stop talking. "…dark." Swallowing, immensely frustrated that his shallow wish had not been granted, he squared his shoulders and continued walking, pace fast, head bowed as his narrowed gaze focused on the cobblestones. "Z-Zexion?!" Jerking to a stop again, he tilted his head exaggeratedly to the side, closing his eyes tightly as he gritted his teeth, hating the human instinct that forced him to react at his name's call. If only he could've been more detached than this; then he wouldn't have cared that Demyx's voice had even sounded at all, wouldn't have felt anything at the innocent air and sweet sound his words made. He could've been gone by now, having never been discovered at all.

"Zexion, wai---!" When his voice was cut off, the addressed man curiously turned around for the first time, catching through the thin threads of walking pedestrians Roxas clamping onto the musician's arm with furious determination, eyes downcast at the incredulous youth's look, teeth clenched.

"Don't," the traveler heard him mutter, and he flicked his eyes to gauge Demyx's reaction, catching sight of Axel rolling his eyes to the heavens as he ran his hand through his fiery locks helplessly. Demyx, on his past, looked entirely bewildered, undecided between the emotions of anger and understanding. "He'll hurt you," Roxas insisted, glancing up with flashing eyes, the will to protect his friend noticeable even from Zexion's distance. It seemed odd to him, that so suddenly the blond was acting on a whim rather than being apathetic to all situations, but perhaps things Zexion had missed while he was away had changed the blond for the better; it was doubtful, but not impossible. "He doesn't deserve your stupid, forgiving heart, remember? He's just a nobody who doesn't care for you as a person, Dem. He doesn't deserve you!"

Grinning easily enough, patting the reluctant blond on the head with his free hand, he laughed softly. "Thanks, Rox, but I can take care of myself, right?" The blond muttered some intelligible something, but Zexion would bet everything that the teen was disagreeing with the musician's words; after all, he had a hard time believing them, himself. "'sides. You gave Sora a second chance, right?" he commented lightly, confirming the dark-haired male's suspicions of the boy.

"It's different," he muttered stubbornly, though now he was staring awkwardly at his feet, hand suddenly ripping away from its hold on the sitarist's arm. "But whatever. Go get hurt again. I don't care."

Demyx fumbled for words, Zexion narrowing his eyes curiously as the musician lifted his hand and hesitated, lips moving but no speech stumbling forth, and finally his pains were relieved when Axel gave him a teasing push to the side, resting his hand playfully on the grumbling Roxas's head, ruffling his locks of hair. Saying nothing, though jerking his head in the direction the dark-haired male was currently standing in, the redhead slowly wrapped his arms around the seething blond still agitated by Demyx's decided course of action, resting his chin on the top of Roxas's skull.

And then, needing no other form of encouragement, it seemed, the sitarist waved eagerly and jogged off in Zexion's direction; stepping back uncertainly, watching as Demyx neared where he stood and then slowed his pace, troubled look crossing his features, the scholar stayed stiff in attention as finally the musician kept at an uneasy walk, taking his time in coming before where Zexion stood. Turning his head away, crossing his arms over his chest in an attempt to ease his discomfort, the dark-haired man avoided Demyx's face entirely, not wanting to see the pain he'd caused the youth still lingering in beautiful sea green eyes.

Footsteps stopping, the sitarist fumbled with his hands, pulling once at the sleeve cloaking his left arm. "I…" he finally began, voice timid, meek, "I thought you said you weren't co---"

"I lied," was his terse reply, and then silence dropped between them, effectively smothering any words Demyx might have been meaning to say, swallowing up all good intentions and heartfelt apologies and leaving nothing but raw, throbbing tension. It was near unbearable, and in discomfort Zexion closed his eyes, waiting for retreating footsteps; that or the accusations that were due to him.

Still, silence remained dominant in the space between them as the traveler memorized the blackness meeting his eyes, the discomfort brushing insistently against his consciousness and begging for a change of pace.

"I…don't think you did," the dirty-blond murmured at last, and in surprise Zexion glanced over at him, lips slightly parted, eyes widened a fraction as he blinked.

Tilting his head, closing his eyes as he grinned somewhat hesitantly, Demyx then shrugged. "No, I think you had every intention of leaving and never coming back," he replied, sounding thoroughly convinced with his assessment; teeth gritting, Zexion was reluctant to admit that he was right. "You changed your mind," he continued, blinking open his eyes once more, confident grin gentling into a smile. "Why?"

Tossing his head in agitation, turning his body away from the musician, the dark-haired man replied nothing, not wanting to appear an emotional basket-case in front of the other male. Instead, he grunted noncommittally and shifted his feet, instincts screaming to move his feet and start walking once more, his body protesting against his better judgment.

And before he could fully make up his mind, Demyx gently touched his shoulder, causing his head to whip towards the youth's face as the dirty-blond beamed somewhat, smile twitching and widening as his sea green gaze darted over Zexion's countenance, searching. Head tilting finally, he gave a soft laugh. "It's because you care, right? Even though you won't say it?"

"You're an idiot," he grumbled reproachfully, expecting shock, expecting injury to register from his words; but that stupid smile never fell, and the scholar honestly felt somewhat scared, because he didn't want to agree with Demyx's words. "I just came back. I'm allowed to take whatever course I please."

"But you never go to the same town twice," the musician playfully chided him now, confident grin on his features, and Zexion scowled in disdain. "You don't have to be ashamed of not hating me, y'know."

That he knew, but it was so much more than simply not hating the musician. It was the fact that just being in the youth's presence now – dark eyes caught up in a mesmerizing spell, skin aching for just a simple touch from the sitarist's skilled fingertips – so affected him, clouding his mind with foreign desire; it scared him, because it was testament to the fact that he cared more about one human being than he'd ever wanted to, and it made him wonder about the dangerous possibilities of his actions ever bringing the dirty-blond harm. Already he'd broken Demyx's heart; he didn't want to again.

"It's not shame," he replied simply now, trailing his gaze away so that he wouldn't be tempted to speak truthfully with those sea-glass gems focused so intently on his countenance. "I don't care whatsoever. You've been made delusional by your optimism, thinking that I would ever be concerned enough with your well-being to come back. I simply felt that something was…missing. That is all, simply put."

The last bit wasn't a lie, he assured himself, but his shoulders didn't relax any from his frustration directed towards his dishonesty. Only when Demyx's fingertips rested against his jaw-line near his chin and guided his head to face forward did his body slump any in relaxation, eyes fighting not to focus on the musician's face but inevitably looking up as seconds passed in insatiable curiosity. And the sitarist was smiling, regarding him calmly.

"You can't look at me when you're lying, you know," he teased playfully, and Zexion started in shock, unable – or unwilling – to pull away from Demyx's hold on him.

Sighing, closing his eyes and resisting the urge to press against the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, the dark-haired man shrugged. "Go away, Demyx. The blond brat's right. I'll hurt you again. I'm unreliable and---"

Placing his fingertips on Zexion's lips, Demyx beamed when the scholar blinked his eyes open in surprise, shaking his head. "No."

Narrowing his eyes, he growled sharply, "Demyx---"

"No, Zexion. I want to be with you, and frankly you're being stupid. I mean, you're just pushing down your feelings when really you just won't admit that you care about me as much as I care…about you." Ducking his eyes down sheepishly, quite obviously having lost the confidence that had filled him so surprisingly for the whole time he was actually ordering Zexion around, the sitarist chewed on his lip, lowering his hands sheepishly to fumble with the cloth of his shirt. "U-uh…I…don't get mad, Zexion. I just…I thought it needed to be said and I---"

"If I stay here," he drawled, holding his hand up to cut the musician off, finding it near impossible to press down the smile fighting to flit across his lips at the sitarist's look of open-mouthed shock, "then what, Demyx? Your friends clearly do not like me, as has been established," the musician ducked his head down and grinned sheepishly as he rubbed at the base of his skull, "and I'm sure apartments are too expensive here for me to afford."

"You can live---!"

"I will not live with you yet, Demyx," he drawled wryly, arching a brow, shaking his head as the optimistic light provoked by his fix-all solution faded from the youth's countenance. "We're not even certain how long this…fling between us will last."

"…is not a fling," the youth muttered softly, and then he sighed, tilted his head, and gave a short laugh. "And why do you think things through so much, Zexy?"

A brief thrill rushing through his body at the name, the dark-haired male snorted derisively, inclining his head only slightly as the bangs veiling his right eye brushed against his skin. "Because apparently I care."

Enthusiastically Demyx grinned at him, stepping forward to intertwine their hands, instigating the smallest form of affection the musician could manage, most likely not wishing to scare Zexion away again. Of course, despite his words and constant warnings, the dark-haired man doubted that happening, and so he took the liberty of freeing his hands to fist them into dirty-blond locks of ridiculously styled hair, identifying the smiling youth before him as his Demyx, and moved to claim musical lips possessively, so that, for a rare occasion, the rest of the people surrounding them could identify him as such, too.

There was smug, slow applause in the background, Axel giving cheeky catcalls, but before Demyx could pull away in embarrassment Zexion captured his stuttering lips again, gloved hand stroking against the musician's flushed cheek as he slowly relaxed. And he felt content to just live in the moment, as always ready to forget the past, where he'd been nothing but a wanderer, visiting from town to town without ever looking back.

Now, he was home, and he didn't think that such a thing was soon to change.

-- - --

End of part three. Yay! This horrendously long story of doom is complete, with a rather corny ending to top it off. (sigh) Well, here's hoping you'll enjoy and review.