How To Do Nothing At All

'The Second Coming of Luxord'

Xigbar woke up the next morning in much the same fashion he woke up every morning. There was a brief interval between the time in which he came stumbling on into consciousness and the time in which he actually got around to opening his eyes. During this interval, he recounted the previous night's events in fast-forward motion, with little characters zinging around his brain, much as they did in old black and white films that had little to no plot, poor dialogue, and a pitiful music score. Such, he figured, was his life these days. As if on cue to a pitiful score request, his cell phone let out a few chirpy chimes of 'The Man That Got Away,' thereby alerting Xigbar to both an incoming call and a desperate and growing need for a better ring tone.

Of course, the very second he hit flipped open the phone and grumbled a greeting, he realized he would've gladly traded the incoming talk for more of Judy's thin, high voice.

"Goooood morning!" Kairi said.

Xigbar rolled onto his side, blinking his eyes a few times before coming into focus on his bedside table and the clock it held. "It's eight," he told her.

"I know! Happy new year!"

"It's eight in the morning."

"How was your date last night?" Kairi was clearly missing the point that eight o' clock was an ungodly hour for calling on anyone. Especially Xigbar, who had very little patience for the girl to begin with, especially after last night's betrayal. So he could hardly be held accountable for his thumb slipping suddenly over the END button and then slipping on up to the top of his phone and shutting the sucker without another word. In some backwoods corner of his brain, he justified these curious muscle spasms of his hand with being sleep-deprived and it sounded like a mildly educated conclusion to reach.

Three seconds later, as Xigbar was more or less patting himself on the back for his own cleverness, Judy took to singing again, and three seconds was all it took for Xigbar to fail miserably in his fist fight with his bastard of a conscience. He opened the phone again and didn't have to say anything this time—

"You hung up on me."

"Yes."

"So it didn't go so well?"

"Define… well."

"Did you have fun?"

Did I have fun? Xigbar thought about this. And he thought about it some more, and when he was done thinking he thought about it a bit more still just for a good measure. All things considered, the answer had to be yes. He'd been fed, watered, walked around town—hell, he'd even gotten to watch things explode and he had even, even gotten to play pranks on unsuspecting, moronic women. That evening couldn't be anything other than what it was, and that was a raging success, for the most part at least. If you factored out surprise gay kisses and brain-bashing on midnight asphalt, of course.

But Kairi hadn't asked him if it was a scarring experience (which it most certainly was—don't kid yourself.) She had simply asked if he'd had fun. Xigbar smiled. "Well. Damn, if that's your only standard," he said.

"So you did. Wow. Even though you broke the news to him?" she went.

Xigbar was poking Virtue's nose with his big toe, so Kairi had to repeat her last sentence to get his attention. Virtue then started gnawing on said toe and Xigbar decided this was a terrible game to play with one's cat and Kairi asked her question a third time, yet again, and Xig just said, "What news?"

"…The news that you're not gay, Xigbar."

"Oh. Yeah. That news." Xigbar tried to scroll through the night's events and find a time in which he could've just slid that little piece of information on in there with little to no awkwardness whatsoever. It was a time that seemed nonexistent, the more he thought about it. You just don't tell a person who spent upwards of a hundred dollars on your date that they're not your type. 'Your type' being the type with boobs and sans penis. Xig cleared his throat. "Well, yeah, I mean, we didn't, like, yanno. Do anything. We ate food and watched fireworks—it's kinda the New Year's tradition, straight, gay, or amphibian—whatever it is you may be, that's kinda just what you do, man."

"…So you didn't talk to him," Kairi said.

"I talked to the guy all freakin' night! What is it you want, woman?"

"Are you leading him on?"

"I don't even know what the hell that even means."

"I mean, like, are you pretending to be something you're not? Like, are you letting him go on liking you just so you can have someone to like you? Because that's not even… I mean, that's not even respectable. I mean, that's just… that's terrible. If that's what it is, there's just, there—well, there's no real excuse for it."

Xigbar flapped his gums around for a few seconds, trying to comprehend that Kairi—sweet little dumb-as-bricks Kairi had just insulted him like that. And he replayed her words in his mind and started getting the vibe she wasn't kidding and that she might not be dumb as bricks (titanium alloy, perhaps, but not bricks) and he waited on the line for her to laugh and be kidding and the laugh never came, so he really started to get the vibe she wasn't kidding and that she might have a bit of a point. And then like a light going on in slow-mo, it dawned on him. This girl thinks I'm the scum of the earth.

"I'm not leading him on," he insisted lamely into his phone.

"Are you gay or aren't you?"

"You are worse than any mother I've ever had in any life! And I don't even fucking believe in living multiple lives, but you make it seem possible because there's no other logical way I could've built up enough bad karma to deserve knowing you. Why do you care?"

"Because I know what it's like to be led on." Kairi's words were like the proverbial dose of medicine—the damn-near-literal glass of cold water to a tired and sleeping face. Xigbar could've kicked himself had he been just two inches closer to the edge of true, unbridled guilt. As it was, he toed the line and surveyed the other side and decided he was just fine and dandy where he stood. But still. He did feel a little bad, especially seeing as Kairi had gushed all over him about what a decent human being he was the last time he saw her. Nothing makes for a shit feeling like a dumpload of disappointment.

"Sorry. Forgot that. Tactless," he muttered. Axel's face popped into his head and he wondered what Kairi had ever seen in that twerp to begin with. His face was pointy, Xigbar thought. Too pointy. Like a battle-axe skull.

He might has taken the opportunity to ease her pain and point this out, but at that very moment Kairi took on a tone that struck a familiar chord in the very deep pit of his stomach. It was the voice his mother used when trying to have a serious discussion with him, and years of training had forced him into silent submission whenever said tone came about.

"Xigbar… I'm not trying to be mean," Kairi said. "I know you probably don't feel like I have any clue what I'm talking about because I'm younger than you and I see things through some—some frilly, foofy, feminine vision where everything is made alright in the light of romance. …Well, I don't. Just… so you know. It's not okay to do that to people."

"He led me on first! He made me think we were friends. For years, he did that. I mean, hell, Kairi, if you wanna get on someone's case—"

"I'm not talking about getting on anybody's case and I'm not talking about getting even with him for whatever wrong you think he did to you. I'm talking about being nice, Xigbar."

The response seemed so obvious, he could've flat out laughed in her face had she been remotely present. "I'm not nice," he told her simply.

And the silence that followed this simple statement was full and flat enough to tell him that he'd done absolutely everything wrong. He knew nothing about handling women and women knew nothing about handling him—this much was becoming clearer every day. When Kairi finally did speak, he at least expected her icy tone and sharp words—"Well I kind of figured that one out, thanks. Remind me not to call you again. I don't like mean people, and I definitely don't like talking to them, either." At least it wasn't a surprise then. At least it didn't catch him off guard. It just made him feel doubly shitty, and he felt he probably deserved it.

Kairi's dial tone did its job of screaming in Xig's ear and kicking his ego in the balls, and proceeded to keep up this job until Xig mustered up the nerve to flip his cell phone shut once more. "All women are idiots," he declared, and for once it looked like Virtue agreed with him, especially in wake of the voice that suddenly came bounding up the stairs, around the hall, and through the cracked opening in his bedroom door.

"Xigbar! Time for your surgery! We don't want to be late!"

In light of the previous night's events, Xigbar's cosmetic prospects had been completely forgotten. He'd been up until nearly four in the morning replaying the events that led up to and followed the dreaded evening's kiss and each and every time the replay seemed to go a little differently. Luxord's hand seemed to move closer or feel warmer, the girls by the trees looked uglier or taller, the fireworks looked brighter and hotter and closer and stranger than any fireworks should rightly look. And Xigbar couldn't figure out if he'd really just hit the pavement that hard or if it was he himself tweaking events. Once he was back on that train of thought, there was little that could be done to steer him away from it, and so his mother bustled on into his room rambling some obscure nonsense and rifling through his clothes like a closet master, throwing them onto his bed and chirping one last command before closing the door behind her.

Xigbar's brain finally caught up with him. "Time for your surgery!" Xigbar dumbly fumbled into his clothes and then down the steps, where his mother was already waiting with her face aglow and with a pride and pleasure Xig couldn't understand. Pulling on his jacket he muttered things like, "Who the hell even says that? Time for your surgery? Like it's lunchtime or something," all the while playing out Luxord's face as he pulled away from him last night, contentment and sheer joy ablaze in blue eyes. If Xigbar didn't start watching himself, he'd puke from the cute of it.

"Xigbar!" his mother yapped.

"Save me, cat," Xigbar said to Virtue, who had followed him to the bottom of the stairs, ever faithful creature of man that he was.

"Mrow," Virtue replied, remaining ever faithful but still ever useless.

"We don't want to be late, sweetie! Out and out we go! Come on now! Don't forget your mittens—it's cold, cold, cold!"

x x x

Axel had been doing an abnormal amount of thinking as of late—that much he was dead sure of—and what was more was that he was also fairly dead sure of the fact that such a level of thought couldn't be anything but unhealthy for him. But thinking was tragically unavoidable all the same. He didn't know how he managed to get on like he did without a thought so often, for now it seemed as though every time he so much as closed his eyes to blink, another question arose from the woodwork of his mind to clobber him upside the head, a blatant reminder of stupidity and ignorance and other various undesirable traits of his. The questions were big ones. Important ones.

Where did he stand with Roxas now? What was safe with that kid and what wasn't?

Was Demyx to be held personally responsible for the whole mess? Possibly. In fact, just as Axel was certain that thinking was a filthy, nasty habit that people bought in to in order to look good, he was also certain that Demyx wasn't much interested in men. Or women for that matter. In fact, if Demyx had a sexual preference, it may have leaned less towards humans in general and more towards dusty old LP's lurking in the back of old thrift stores. Decidedly unfortunate for Roxas, but Axel saw some hope in the situation for himself and he was almost content to live with just that. Almost being the key word there.

Then there was the whole mess with Kairi… All emotionality aside, who would Axel copy from now without Kairi's constant attention and adoration? He would be doomed to fail class entirely, most likely held back another year. Eventually Roxas was bound to catch up to him and then there would be no escape. The kid would never let him live it down and he would be driven to insanity—possibly suicide. His epitaph would read: "Here lies Axel. He never amounted to much, but we'll pray every day that he might amount to something in hell."

Clearly Axel was a shining example of optimism in a sea of unavoidable despair and angst.

Which is precisely why that particular day was of no concern to him. He had been milling around the neighborhood originally sent out by his mother to pick up half a gallon of one percent and a loaf of bread, both of which he'd forgotten in his tour of the town, and somehow he'd ended up in front of Xigbar's house. The sudden hunger he felt for a game of Halo was almost too much, and if there was one thing Xig was good for, Axel knew, it was for blowing up virtual shit.

Xigbar's house still had Christmas lights clinging to the porch rail and looped around the bush and leaping over the doorway and across the garage, but they stood lame and unlit in the grey afternoon sky, which smelled of more heavy snow and cold to come. Pressing the doorbell once, Axel watched his breath fog up around him and wondered for the thousandth time at least why he couldn't have been born a dragon with real smoke jetting from his mouth all the time. It was a true and honest misfortune and he would never forgive God for it and that, he knew, was why he was going to hell. Because God hadn't made him a dragon and he'd never get over it.

Kurt answered the door, quite evidently savoring his day off work in a flannel robe and fleecy slippers, still holding the TV remote in one hand while he fixed Axel with the standard expression he usually had on reserve for Axel and Axel alone. Mostly his expression was trained on Axel's hair, whose neon red spikes never seemed to make a wit of sense to poor Kurt.

"Heya, Xigbar in?" Axel finally asked him after standing around, waiting to be greeted, and then discovering that said greeting wouldn't come without some definite prodding.

Kurt blinked three whole times and shook his head, smiling choppily, awkwardly. "Oh, not today, Axel. He probably won't be out and about until you all start up with school again. That's in a week or so, right?"

"Uh. Yeah. He get the chicken pox or something? Strep? Mono?"

"He didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"He's getting surgery."

Axel knew of many kinds of surgery, for if there was one thing Axel was, it was a knowledgeable gent, and such gents knew a great many things about surgery. But for some damned awful reason, the first image of surgery to leap out from the depths of his mind consisted of a transgender operation gone severely awry, rather like Hedwig and the Angry Inch sprung to life, only infinitely worse because Xigbar would never become a fabulous transgender rock star—ever—never—so long as man breathed oxygen and walked on earth. All the same, picturing Xigbar in a corset on an operating table sent shivers (and not the good kind, either) down Axel's spine.

"What kind of surgery exactly?" he asked hesitantly.

"I—just—well—surgery! I don't know!"

"You know, Kurt. Oh, you know." Kurt clearly didn't know and his mouth hanging open more or less conveyed this. And so Axel elaborated in his polished and plain manner: "He's still gonna be a dude, right?"

"Wha—of course!"

"Of course, of course, or are you just sayin' of course?"

"It's not that kind of surgery!"

"Mm." Axel and Kurt regarded each other with the most opposite of stares—Axel was waiting for Kurt to stand aside and let him in, though what exactly it was he would do once he was in, he hadn't quite figured out. Kurt, on the other hand, was trying to figure out how to properly coordinate his face into a mixture of "Everything about you disturbs my Midwest sensibilities" and "I'm really quite busy right now" as well as "I have no idea how to deal with you, so you could save us both some trouble and just leave right now and that'd be just wonderful."

Axel didn't quite get the message—none of the million of them flitting across Kurt's face—but he did get tired of standing around outside like a lunatic, and so he bade Xigbar's stepfather farewell and turned to go. He walked a block or so, tried to remember why it was he didn't have a car, and then rummaged around in his pocket as a sort of afterthought, pulling out his cell and digging through the numbers and hitting a few wrong buttons before managing to get a few right ones.

"YO, Lux," he said to the phone.

"Axel?" the phone said back, in a rather Luxord-esque voice.

"Xig's not chopping off his dick, is he?" Axel asked him.

"…Not as far as I know? Why? What's going on?"

"Kurt's tellin' me he's getting' surgery."

"Fuck!"

Ah, Axel thought to himself, that's what I was afraid of. He couldn't understand why someone would want to cut off their dick, really. It was, all things considered, fairly handy to have around. Without his dick, Axel wasn't sure how he would get through life, and he was fairly certain that he and Xigbar couldn't be all that different from one another, so how Xigbar would fair without, Axel couldn't be certain. The mere thought that he could be a hair's breath away from castrating his own self damn near sent Axel into fits on the spot, but instead he just let out a full-body shiver that might have half-stemmed from the cold. Purging his mind off all dick-chopping thoughts, he then realized how quiet the line had gone. "Hullo?" he went. "Lux," he tried. "Yo, Lux."

There was nothing.

"Goddammit. No one ever tells me anything."

x x x

Once upon a time in a land some years old and living now only in the farthest, dustiest corner of Xigbar's mind, he'd gone to a slumber party for one of his elementary school friends. Whether because of his eye patch or his funny ears or his foolish tendency to hit the rack early, Xigbar somehow had become the target for a series of pranks, the worst of which revolved around rainbow Sharpie attacks to his poor, sleeping body. He'd awoken with stick figures and peeing dogs and dancing chickens drawn on his face, as well as the letters "P-I-N-U-S" written diagonally across his cheek, for no one at age seven apparently knew how to spell the word penis—or at least, no one among the seven-year-olds Xigbar kept company with at the time.

Since that miserable morning when his mother had picked him up from said slumber party with an utterly horrified expression marring her then quaint and reasonably endearing face—well, since that day, Xig had been pretty protective of his face. He didn't really like people touching its skin and the kisses Luxord had given him gave him the creepy crawlies, all gender aside. (It was largely a gender issue, he assured himself, but a certain degree of it was bound to be due to that facial-phobia-type-thing.) You can imagine, then, how Xigbar's stomach felt like it was pole-vaulting into a pit of raptors as two middle-aged nurses crowded around him with markers, poking and prodding and pulling at skin, examining his ears, drawing lines and dots every which way and all the while maintaining a decidedly dull conversation about townhouses between them, securely excluding Xigbar and thereby leaving him to ponder his discomfort further. One of them smelled like fruity tic-tacs and the other like a dead squirrel and the overall effect was so repulsive that his gag reflex felt like it was doing overtime. Every time he blinked, Luxord's eyes were staring right back at him.

It was, all things considered, the worst day of Xigbar's life. And it was only bound to get worse, he knew. But he did not know then just how much worse it would get.

The doctor—Doc Vexen—eventually came in and walked him through the process in the span of maybe a minute and a half. His bedside manner was decidedly lacking and his eyes had a very strange way of focusing on Xigbar as one would focus on a plate of steak and potatoes, but Xigbar tried to assure himself that Luxord had just scared him into believing everyone was gay. His mother had left him and planned on returning for him in several hours, but never in his life had he wanted her there more. There was a sinking feeling of something vaguely like regret, and it started in his stomach and spread rapidly, crisscrossing across his body and hit his brain with a frenzy. He was, he could be, and he might possibly be making a terrible mistake.

What if Lux was right? What if coming out of it all with a new face gave him a new attitude, a new self? What if his physical appearance really was so closely linked with his mental and emotional appearance? And what if, after all was said and done, Luxord didn't like the Xigbar that exited the hospital? But most importantly: Why in God's name was Xigbar worried about that?

He was so petrified by these last two thoughts that he completely forgot to voice his concern to Vexen, who had set his patient up in a gurney and had started wheeling him down the hall. His arms and legs were strapped securely in place and he'd never been more terrified—never had more reason to be terrified in all his life.

"Do you really have to strap me down?" he sort of squeaked, sort of mumbled.

"Protocol," said Vexen.

"…Are you sure you have to follow protocol?" asked Xig.

"That's why it's called protocol."

"…But what does protocol—what does protocol really mean anyway, right?"

"It means we do it this way, period."

And then, like a sign from above:

"XIGBAR!"

There at the end of the hallway shone a beacon of light casting around a lone silhouette—Holy Father or lone ranger or both combined into one supremely super supernatural being. It was, in fact and as you may have guessed, only Luxord, but he looked so righteous and empowered that even the mighty Doc had to double take. And Xigbar, clearly moved by The Passion of The Luxord, could but utter three astonished syllables, which were:

"Jesus H."

"What do you think you're doing, you fatheaded dullard?" Luxord demanded of the doctor as he started down the hallway, doors slamming behind him with a thud that was nothing short of epic. "Are you trying to land yourself ears-deep in a lawsuit?"

"What was that?" asked Vexen, for Luxord was too far away for him to hear what it was he'd said quite properly.

And, "What was that?" asked Xigbar because he refused to believe he'd heard Luxord properly.

"Well, I can't say I'm surprised!" Upon closer inspection, Luxord no longer looked sent from heaven above, but rather furious and desperate all at once and very much from the turmoil of earth's surface. Those eyes Xigbar could so clearly remember as being filled with so much affection were now near boiling over with a strange fury and Xigbar didn't even want to look at him when he turned to face him. "I can't believe you'd stoop this low, Xig. For shame. Sir, I need to take him home."

"Why, exactly?"

Without skipping a beat, Luxord told the fattest, ugliest lie: "He's suicidal."

"I'm what?!"

"He's trying to kill himself, sir—I swear it—I do. I've seen him. I've even got a letter right here from him. A suicide note. He's allergic to… he's allergic to drugs."

"To drugs," repeated Doc Vexen, seeking revelation or maybe just clarification.

Luxord hadn't quite managed to recover from his brilliant lying stunt, nor had he quite planned out his whole course of action, apparently. A steady grumble started deep in his throat and rose up to become slow, awkward and confused words that made little sense to Luxord and even less sense to Xigbar.

"Ann—ann—he's allergic to anesthesia, you ass."

The doctor turned and screwed up his eyes staring so hard at Xigbar, who still had a map of a new face upon his old one. "Are you?" the doc asked him.

"NO!" In spite of his little outburst, the thought then dawned on Xigbar that he wasn't so sure. The truth was, he'd never had anesthesia. For all he knew, he could've been allergic. But he had the distinct feeling that there was no way for Luxord, of all people, to know of Xig's hidden allergies without Xig himself knowing. He coughed. "I—I, well okay, I don't really know, but no! I'm not trying to kill myself."

"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Naturally, the second someone gets in your way… You'll do anything to put yourself out of your misery, won't you?" crowed Luxord. "Well I won't have it! Especially not when it'll weigh on the shoulders of this poor gentleman here!" Luxord flung his arm out quite beautifully, quite theatrically to his left, thumping Vexen in the chest and knocking the man's glasses off his nose and onto the ground. If Luxord cared, it was barely so—his face remained harsh and dead-set and all kinds of serious that Xig had never seen there before. "Xigbar, we're leaving this instant," Lux declared, taking hold of the gurney whilst Vexen still tried to find his lost specs. "We're getting you help. I mean it this time."

Luxord took two steps forward, pushing a shocked Xigbar along in front of him, and then appeared to have a sudden sympathetic stroke for the man on the ground. He stooped, picked up Vexen's glasses, and put them back in his searching hand. Once Vexen could see again, Luxord gave him a startlingly sharp salute, said, "Thank you, good doctor. You have saved a mighty, mighty life today," and turned to go.

"What're you doing?! You can't let him take me away!" Xig howled. "I'm not fuckin' suicidal, dammit! Doc! What're you doing, man?" But no one cared. Xigbar tried hollering a few more times, but all he succeeded in doing was making himself look like a mental patient rather than a poor, pathetic boy who had just been robbed of his only shot at being remotely handsome. Life hated Xigbar. The feeling was mutual. And Xigbar was only made more aware of this fact as Luxord pushed the gurney out and into the frigid winter air, banging against the door and nearly giving Xigbar a concussion on the way by. That would be the second time in the past twenty-four hours, Xigbar thought rather loopily to himself, right before picturing half a dozen blue jays in a conga line.

Perhaps he was, indeed, very much allergic to drugs and Luxord was right after all.

And then Luxord went and started talking and Xigbar regained his senses and remembered why he hated his best friend right then. "It's a good thing they've strapped you down, Xigbar," Lux was saying. "Why, I imagine you wouldn't hesitate to take the nearest needle and jam it down your throat with… with toxins and… and contamination and God knows what else. Good help is what you need, that's right." And then, more to himself he said, "Fuck his hellhole. You don't need this, Xiggy."

Vexen burst from the door they'd just left and Luxord drew up to an abrupt halt that sent Xigbar's stomach halfway north and up his throat. His arms were riddled with goose bumps and he promptly bit his tongue as soon as the shivering and chattering got going and he couldn't help but wonder why Vexen had to stop them when they were outside. Couldn't he have done so before they hit the ice and wind and all around hideous outdoors? Couldn't he have been a responsible doctor-type-fellow inside? Where it was at least warm, if overpoweringly sterile?

"Now wait just a minute—his parents brought him in here," Vexen was saying. Luxord leaned confidently and possessively against the gurney like it was his old car, his baby Saab. "His parents need to be the one to check him out. This appointment's been made weeks in advance and if they knew he was allergic to—"

"They didn't, sir. And they shouldn't have." Abandoning the gurney to stride menacingly over towards the doctor, Luxord seemed to grow taller with each and every step. "Look here. What are you, forty years old or so? Wouldn't look a day past thirty—don't ask me how I guessed. You went to Woodstock? You look like the Woodstock type. Listen, I know all about you and your drugs, so when I tell you that we've done some experimenting ourselves, well, I trust you'll know what I mean."

"…You mean to tell me you've been experimenting with anesthesia."

"Ever seen that movie Blow, with that Johnny Depp character in it? Well, all that has got absolutely nothing on general anesthesia."

Vexen looked more intrigued than he plausibly should have. "…Oh really?"

"Yes. Really. Now if you'll excuse me, I'd best get him to a psychiatrist. Say goodbye, Xigbar." Luxord looked up at Vexen with what some would call a slightly manic grin and then said the word for Xigbar: "Goodbye!" And so it was that he began manhandling his supposed charge off the gurney, with no small protest from Xigbar, either.

"What the hell're you doing?" he hollered. "You're an idiot! You're an asshole! What the fuck are you doing?"

But no amount of cursing or flailing around could help Xig right then. The straps on the gurney had put both his legs to sleep and he was a hopeless dead weight for Luxord to fumble onto the back of his motorcycle. In fact, he was such a hopeless deadweight that Luxord was driven to his knees on the asphalt three times before finally managing to heft the bulk of his friend up and onto the cycle in what seemed to be a moderately safe enough position to make do. He nodded triumphantly and Vexen stood by and watched—his mind lost somewhere in thoughts on general anesthesia —while Luxord's foot came out suddenly, sharply, victoriously kicking the gurney out of the way with a clatter.

It was quite the commanding role he played, and when he donned his motorcycle helmet, he was so caught up in the moment that he almost forgot to jam one on poor Xigbar's own head.

"What are you doing?" Xigbar asked again, right before he was muffled and silenced by the hard plastic around his face.

"Saving face," Luxord told him. "Yours, specifically. Look at me now, I'm so witty, it's remarkable." But the wit was all lost on Xigbar, who couldn't make out a word Luxord was saying between the (now numbering two) thick layers of head-protection between them.

"You're just fuckin' scared shitless 'cause you think I might look better than you, even, if I went through with it!" he shouted.

Xigbar's anger and rage and pent up angst were quite enough to be audible through the helmet this time. Luxord managed a hurt expression, a loud and offended, "Oh don't belittle me like that, Xiggy. Don't even," and then he promptly made with the ignition, forcing a shivering and thoroughly embittered Xigbar into submission as the pair rolled on away from the hospital.

Xig's utterance of "You bastard" was lost in the roar and hum of the engine.

Not so very far from Xigbar's house, Luxord's master plan grew a kink in it when he had to stop for gas. He half expected Xigbar—who had since regained the feeling in his legs—to make a bolt for it, and he was half right. When he turned back from swiping his debit through the machine, Xigbar was nowhere in sight. Not twenty seconds later, however, Luxord saw him rounding the bend from the gas station's Kwik Mart, upending a box of Nerds into his maw. Luxord was completely unaware of the doopy, dopey, dung-eating grin that stretched across his face right then.

But that was quickly shot to pieces when Xigbar chucked the now empty box into a nearby trashcan, crunched his mouthful of candy for several long and awkward moments, and finally said, "You know you're taking me back there, right? I mean, dude, great show of good intentions and whatever, but you're not stopping me."

"Actually, I think I already did stop you. From making the biggest and most painful mistake of your life." Luxord directed his rage at a better outlet: the pump before him, slamming the fuel dispenser back in its handle and scowling as the damn little machine pended the damn little transaction. Meanwhile, Xigbar kept talking.

"Lux, look, I know you're probably pretty keen on staying the most dashingly charming gent that ever was, but I don't really give a flying fuck. And I don't really give a flying fuck about this whole surgery shit, either, but Kurt—"

"I don't care what Kurt thinks or what your mom thinks or any of that! Is this really what you want, Xig?"

"I'm sick of always being your wingman."

"You're not my wingman! We're partners in crime!"

"I'm your goddamn wingman. I've always been your goddamn wingman."

"You've never been 'my goddamn wingman', you goddamn idiot. You don't even know what a wingman is."

"And I'm not a fucking idiot, either."

"Would you stop bitching at me? I just did you a huge favor and all I get is your bitching."

"You sound like an uppity British black woman."

"And you sound racist, you self-mutilating pig. Christ!"

"Yeah, well fuck you. I'm going home. And I'm getting my car and going back there."

That was when Luxord damn near lost it and grabbed Xigbar by his coat collar, making to slam him into the side of his car before quickly realizing that he no longer had a car and that slamming him into the side of his cycle would be the beginnings of a very bad idea. All the same, he still had the other by the coat and so he made an awkward shuffling, dragging grunting maneuver that wound up with Xigbar being awkwardly pinned against the gas pump, pressing up against all the buttons on the keypad and making the poor machine more than a little confused.

What Luxord lacked in finesse, he tried to make up for with pure passion and drive when he hissed, "You don't get it, do you? There is no competition between us! There never was!"

"Yeah, because you wipe the floor with me when it comes to living," Xigbar grumbled. "Thanks. You slimy shit."

"That's not the case here at all. What am I saying—that's not a case anywhere—at any time, let alone this one. I don't wipe the floor with you. Alright? I don't. And I don't intend to. I can't help who I am and you can't help who you are, and the sooner we can both get over this one stupid, moot little point, the better off we'll be."

"What've you got to get over?! You've got everything great!"

"That's where you're not quite right, Xig. You're smart. Well, maybe not genius-smart, but you're far from stupid. Now don't go and look for ways to prove me wrong on it. Please. We've had this conversation thousands of times before. Don't be a dumbass now and make me regret saving you."

"FROM WHAT?! What the hell are you so damn sure you were saving me from?"

"From not being yourself anymore!" Xigbar's eyes were somewhere close to popping right out of his skull when Luxord closed the gap between them once more and placed both hands on Xig's face, causing a lurch in Xigbar's gut that he momentarily mistook for the beginnings of an upchuck. But nothing came out of his mouth except for a curious little noise caught somewhere between a grunt and a "Zur?" sound of confusion, and Luxord refused to back off. He said, "This is who you are, Xig, eyes and ears and face and all. And this is who I am, stubbornness and stupidity and gayness and all. So let's just shut up and deal with it because we aren't likely going to be able to change it any time soon. If I have to deal with my character flaws—guess what? You have to do it, too."

The two of them stood there blinking at each other like dumbstruck owls at midnight and Xigbar wondered when Luxord was going to let go of his face while Luxord wondered why he hadn't let go of said face already. A single snowflake descended from the sky and fell on Luxord's nose, where it proceeded to melt, become a drop, and ever so slowly slide down and then fall away. Xigbar, who had been so transfixed by the wonders of nature (or something like them) that he completely lost track of his place in the time-space compendium, stopped caring whether he moved or not because somewhere in some otherwise vacant corner of his mind, he realized that he was warm. And several moments later, thinking back one what Luxord had just said—some intended-to-be-moving speech of acceptance and understanding—he realized it called for a response on his part.

And like a pro, he said it. "Being gay isn't a character flaw."

"Funny how you only think that when it's convenient for you," Luxord said, one eyebrow raised. More snow began to fall and with the pad of his gloved thumb, he wiped a few of the melting flake from Xigbar's face. Never mind that Xig stood a good three inches taller than the other—at that moment, he hadn't felt more like a child since he'd dressed up as Leonardo (the mutant turtle as opposed to the genius) for Halloween when he was ten. And though the record books don't care much about it, you ought to know that that year, Luxord went door to door dressed as Raphael. Turtle to turtle then, Luxord leaned in and, embarrassingly enough, lifted himself up on his toes just enough to touch his forehead to Xig's, and once it was there he said, "It terrifies me to think that I might lose you. That's what made me do it, Xiggy."

"I wouldn't fucking die."

"But some part of you would. Or it would change so… so damn much that it—it wouldn't be you anymore. See? You would just… You wouldn't understand what it's like to be you. And right now—the way you are now—you do understand that. You know what it's like to not fit quite right, you know what it's like to stand in the back, and you know what it's like to, well, to just… bum around town with me. If you were different—if you came out 'normal'—you wouldn't be…" Luxord wavered here for a moment before forcing out the next words, agonizingly, awkwardly. "You wouldn't be mine anymore."

Xigbar snorted. "You're psychotic. I'm not yours, you idiot."

"I meant that you're my best friend, Xigbar. First and foremost—before all else. Don't act like you take it lightly because I know—I know you don't."

"Well you're a dumbass, aren't you?" Never having been gifted at one-liners, that was the best Xigbar could come up with and he was determined to leave it at that. His head was filled with glorious images of him heading home, getting his car, getting the damn surgery, and emerging a stud from it all, after which he could start wiping floors with Luxord, for once. But be it out of some freak form of fate or something else entirely, Xigbar's feet landed on a thick patch of ice not ten feet away, and those feet then flew out from under him quite comically before his skull cracked against the pavement. "FUCK," was all he heard, including a sudden rush and humming sound between his ears, though whether it was he or Luxord or both who said it, he didn't know.

But there Luxord suddenly was, hovering over him, head lit up like a beacon against the winter sky and thinking back to that remarkable entrance into the hospital, Xigbar was sure—in that one dazed moment—that it had to be true. Luxord was undoubtedly a holy prophet from heaven and if he said Xigbar wasn't his wingman, then it was about damn time that Xigbar accepted that he wasn't his wingman.

And you and I both know perfectly well that Luxord was about as far from a prophet as one can get, but for Xigbar—who had just come within a hair of quite the concussion—this logic made perfect sense.

"Xigbar. What did you do that for?" was all he could make out of whatever it was Luxord was babbling.

"I DON'T KNOW, OKAY." Instantly, Xigbar regretted the yelling, which made his head feel like it really had split wide open. Palms to forehead, Xigbar winced from the pain and grumbled and cursed and said, "Fuckin'… hell, man."

Before he could say which way was up, he was dimly aware of Luxord's arms around him, trying once more to move him from Point A to Point B, though with significantly more tender love and care than before. "Come on then," he was saying, and he said it again and if Xigbar hadn't been suffering from a near-concussion, he might have thought to wonder at the gentleness in Luxord's voice. Now in a sitting position, Xigbar blinked numbly at the hand Luxord presented him with, intended to help pull him up, but thoroughly ignored. Xigbar hadn't clocked himself on the head that hard—not hard enough to wipe away the heated discussion of only moments past.

"I'd rather walk myself, thanks," he said.

"You just brained yourself on ice. Not even black ice, Xig. Just ice. Really, really visible ice."

"Then I'll wait to make sure I don't suffer brain trauma and then I'll get up and then I'll walk home."

"I'll wait with you," Luxord offered quickly, sitting down beside him on the pavement. Xigbar tried to shove him away but Luxord could not be budged. Xigbar, in a fit of defiance, moved to stand up and just walk away, but all it took was one more dizzy, slight slip on the ice for Luxord's hand to fly up and keep him from falling, though in doing so, said hand came to rest right on Xigbar's teetering ass. Neither of them, though they were both pink in the face, bothered to acknowledge it, though it only added fuel to whatever fire it was that had Xigbar so angry in the first place.

It probably had something to do with the new fact that Luxord was the only person to ever so much as touch Xigbar's ass. Ever.

"When are you gonna get the picture?! I don't want you here! I don't want you fucking with my life and I don't want you turning everything I do into this shitty, crazy pile of adventures! Okay? It's my life. It's not a fuckin' theme park for you to run around in."

Luxord looked genuinely hurt right then, in a way Xigbar couldn't recall him ever having looked before. His head was tilted off to one side so he looked just short of clueless, like he couldn't quite fathom what was going on or what Xigbar was getting at. "I never said it was…"

"Go away." Xigbar sighed. "Just go the fuck away."

"You're going to freeze to death." And then, when Xigbar didn't seem to be caving in anytime soon, Luxord stood up, too. The fact that he didn't slip at all on the ice was just another blow to Xig's ego. "Fine. Alright," he said. Luxord exhaled once, then again, still rooted to the spot. And Xigbar didn't dare move when Luxord leaned in, and touched his hand to Xig's face again. Both of them closed their eyes and only Xigbar instantly regretted it because when he opened them Luxord had pulled away and Xig couldn't for the life of him come up with some biting comment that made half a wit of sense.

"Call me. Please," Luxord whispered.

x x x

"We are advancing constantly and we're not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We're going to hold onto him by the nose and we're going to kick him in the ass. We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we're going to go through him like crap through a goose!"

Patton was a good movie. When Xig had been a kid, he often fantasized and romanticized his adult life, which was basically a sexless existence of endless excitement, playing the ever-masculine war hero, and buddy-buddy adventures with Lux at his side. Occasionally such adventures would involve talking animals, and there was about a nine month period following his first exposure to Babe in which Xigbar really, truly did believe that animals conversed in their own secret dialect that we humans remained perfectly oblivious to. If, he figured, he could befriend the right sort of animal in the right sort of way, he could pull a Dr. Doolittle and make history, after which he would make like Patton, form a terrific army and rouse them all to victory with manly speeches that used inappropriate words and politically incorrect jargon.

It was, as Luxord had once told him, an absolutely brilliant plan that, despite its brilliance, was doomed to failure.

"Xiggy…?" His mother pattered down the basement steps, her pointed face peering around the wall and into the room where Xigbar lay sprawled across the carpet all at an angle, eyes fixed to the army on screen.

"What."

"Are you alright, sweetie?"

"Yeah."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. …Do you want something, Ma?"

"…No. What about you?"

"No."

And then came the astoundingly awkward silence in which so much lay waiting to be said that no single item could be picked out and dealt with. They were all of equal importance and lay spread out before Xigbar's mother like so many different buttons on an endless grid. It had taken her years to master a computer keyboard. She wasn't sure she would ever be even remotely competent with the switchboard of her son's mental and emotional workings. It was a sad thing, just as it is a sad thing for all mothers to deal with. You have this beautiful baby boy and you think, for just so long, how amazingly perfect and loving he is and you take him fully and completely into your heart, despite all his flaws, because at the end of every day he is half of you, plain and simple. And then the boy reaches a certain point in his life—maybe as early as eight, perhaps closer to the age of thirteen—when it no longer serves him any well to love his mother openly as she does him.

Xigbar had been in that stage for years, blissfully unaware of the adoration and constant worry his mother poured all over him, even right then as she turned mutely and ascended the stairs once more.

Of course, as the teller of this backwards tale, I should make it clear that I by no means desire to make you the slightest bit unhappy. All mothers endure similar loving pains for their children, and if it is any consolation to you, dear reader, most normal children come full circle and grow up to openly and fully love their mothers once more. And while Xigbar was certainly a strange youth, he was not quite strange, nor nearly heartless enough, to ever lose the ability to love his mother. It was just that at that particular moment, the poor woman was on the backburner.

Several minutes later, there came an obnoxious scratching sound from above the TV, which—once Xigbar brought himself to detaching his eyes from the screen and looking six inches upwards—he discovered to be the sound of Virtue's pesky kitty teeth gnashing against the bracelet Luxord had given him. His tail lay curled around a half empty glass of water and the look he shot Xigbar was nothing short of mocking as he chewed, chewed, chewed away. Xigbar realized one of the many benefits of eventually investing in a flat screen television right then—it would have certainly made cat perching damn near impossible.

"Virtue get off the TV, wouldja?" he grumbled. But the cat continued to chew away and be it because of the noise or because of the presence of the bracelet in his mouth, Xigbar suddenly felt his blood boil and his temper draw near its absolute limit. The day was ridiculous. His one chance at anything bearing any sort of resemblance to handsomeness was send flying out the window by his gay, doting best friend whose probable trinket of affection was then caught up in the tiny jaws of the kitten they had shared—hell, rescued, practically, with the unbreakable friendship he'd thought they'd once had. Life was a cruel bitch, Xigbar realized.

"Cat. Get off."

Virtue continued to stare blankly at him, and after another few moments of this, he closed his eyes altogether, reveling in the simple heat of the television set. Xigbar clearly didn't speak cat—there was no hint of understanding in Virtue's reaction, and that simple lack of connection was the final straw. It was suddenly so frustrating for Xigbar that he didn't speak cat, so frustrating that he didn't speak gay, and so painfully, horribly, unbelievably frustrating that everything in his life was going twelve different, terrible directions at once that Xigbar was moved to do something drastic. He grabbed Kirk's leather moccasin slipper from the floor and he chucked that sucker at Virtue for all he was damn well worth.

Contact was made—"MREOW!"—and Xigbar felt a good two second's worth of adrenaline and accomplishment before it all came flying back at him in bits and pieces—the literal boomerang from hell. Virtue leapt to his feet in surprise, took one look at Xigbar, and proceeded to pee furiously all over the TV set. (If you thought the glass of water was going to be the culprit, you should probably be informed that the glass stood there just as harmless and immobile as ever.)

There was a moment's heavy silence of shock and awe before there came a crackle of electricity and the house went dark and silent.

From upstairs there came a vague and distant crash of pans and a very high-pitched squeal. And then from somewhere else in the house, Kirk's thick, masculine voice hollered out something that Xigbar didn't have the time or patience to make sense of. He just sat there in the dark, wondering where that damn cat had run off to, hoping the damn thing was still alive, and breathing in the stench of damn cat piss. And when he came around enough to his senses, only one word made itself clear and present in his brain-stage.

"…Fuck."

"XIGGY, WHAT WAS THAT?!"

The jingle of a collar nearby reassured Xigbar that the cat was, at the very least, still alive. Alive and no doubt lucky that the house was pitch black, for if he'd so much as been able to lay eyes on the little hairy bastard, Xigbar—he—well—he didn't know what he would have done.

As it was, what he did do was ignore his mother's question and fumble and bumble his way over towards the stairs, stepping on Luxord's bracelet along the way, letting out a curse, and then slowly but surely bending down to pick it up before making his way upstairs.

x x x

"Xigbar?" Was that a note of surprise in Luxord's voice, Xig wondered, or was it merely something akin to sheer terror?

"I was watching Patton and the cat killed the TV," Xigbar said. Luxord nodded slowly as though it all made perfect sense. Grudgingly, Xigbar figured that Luxord was the only soul on Earth's good surface to whom that statement would make perfect sense. "Can I finish watching it over here?" he asked.

"Sure! Alright, yeah. I assume I can watch it, too?" asked Luxord, stepping aside from the open door to let Xigbar on in.

"Your house, isn't it?"

"True. But you are very territorial. I wouldn't want you marking it with your scent and thinking it was yours."

"Har, har, har. You're the wittiest son of a bitch I know."

Inside it was abnormally dark and abnormally quiet. Marluxia's Jag was missing from the front drive, Xig had noticed, but unless Larxene had gone with him, which seemed doubtful—they were the only married couple Xigbar knew who curiously never drove in the same car—she was still lurking around somewhere. Which might account for the dark silence. Perhaps both she and Luxord were knee deep in self-pity over something, though that too seemed doubtful. They never saw eye to eye on anything. Xig tapped his shoes on the doormat, shaking off snow. He wondered how long they could skirt around the mammoth-elephant taking up all the air in the room and threatening to stomp on their puny human bones at any given second.

The solution, it seemed, was to simply vacate said room. He and Luxord headed downstairs to the basement, which seemed the same as ever in spite of Luxord's growing gayness. There was still a heap of junk in the corner, still odds and ends seeping out from that corner, still the TV on mute and the couch laden with blankets. There was an empty cereal bowl and a spoon nearby, a plastic cup knocked sideways across a copy of National Geographic, but all in all nothing too crazy. Xigbar kept his eyes peeled for a pair of pumps and a feather boa and swore to himself he still wasn't a close-minded bigot. It was just different now was all, and that was the best way he could reason it. He had his reasons for being a jackass and we'll leave it at that.

The two of them sat there on the couch at opposite ends, watching Patton in the king of austere silence usually reserved for graveyards, funeral homes, and the produce section of the supermarket. After some time, however, Luxord cleared his throat.

"Say," he said.

"Say what?" Xigbar asked.

"Say let's play a game."

Not bother to break his gaze away from the TV, Xigbar let out a chuckle and just shook his head. "It's a gay game, I can tell, dude. I'm not a fuckin' dip."

"Darn. I thought I had you going." Luxord let a half smile creep onto his face, and for a moment he was content to return his attentions to the movie. It didn't help, though, that he knew all the lines like a pop song he couldn't get out of his head, or that he knew for a fact that Xigbar wasn't paying much attention to it either. Having watched enough movies with Xigbar to truly know what the guy was paying attention, Luxord could plainly see by the way Xigbar's face wasn't entranced, his eyes weren't flicking from here to there or there to here—it was obvious his mind was elsewhere. He barely even noticed when Luxord scooted very slightly down the couch. But he did look up when Luxord spoke again.

"Let's say we flip this coin and the winner gets what he wants. Say, I win and I get kiss you all I like, and you win and we can to watch the rest of Patton in peace and I'll even buy you a box of Oreos."

For about a minute Xigbar looked like he was on the verge of saying a flat out no and laughing hysterically in Luxord's face. But it was a tempting wager, especially because Xigbar had always—for reasons unknown to just about everyone—considered himself one lucky bastard.

"An entire box?" he asked.

"Heads I win, tails you lose. Sound up for it?" Luxord said with a beaming grin.

Never one to trust that grin, Xigbar hesitated, but not enough. "I guess," he said. And then, "That's not a two-headed coin, is it?"

"Heads…" Luxord showed him the fine noggin of Washington, "And tails," revealed the blazing eagle. Xigbar shrugged his shoulders in agreement with the bargain, assuring himself that either way he'd win because if Luxord thought he would get a rise out of him just by giving him a peck on the lips, he was dead wrong and Xigbar was going to prove that one way or another. And besides which, he freaking loved Oreos.

Up went the coin, flipped expertly from Luxord's thumb and into the air, round and round and round again before landing flat in his palm and then being ceremoniously flipped onto the back of his arm. Smirking, Luxord held out the coin for Xigbar to inspect.

"And you lose," he said. But then again, you all knew Xigbar was bound to lose, didn't you?

"It's tails!" Xig more or less squawked, and damn did he feel stupid for doing it.

"Yes? And?"

"And you said—"

"I said, word for word, Xig: 'Heads I win, tails you lose.'"

Xigbar blinked and ran over those words again, face darkening as he did so. He should have known. Damn, but he should have known. Scowling so hard his pirate patch dug into his eyebrow, Xigbar muttered, "Goddammit. I knew you were a scheming bastard."

"Give it up, then!" Luxord said with a laugh, arms outstretched jokingly, face moving dangerously close…

And then in a surprising bout of quick thinking, Xigbar's arms flew up to block Luxord's advance and he babbled something that may or may not have sounded like, "Butit'snotheads. Soyoudidn'twineither."

Straining up against Xigbar's arms, Luxord frowned. "So? I win by default," he went. If Xigbar's I-kill-you-dead-now face didn't say it enough, his lack of response clearly conveyed the fact that he wasn't buying it. "If you came in second in a race of two, Xig, that means you lost and I won. See now?" he insisted.

"No, I don't. You specifically said, man, that you won if it was heads. It's not heads. It's tails. So it's a stalemate."

"There is no stalemate in a coin toss!"

"Don't blame me, Lux. You're the one who set it up funny."

"Touché."

Having conceded defeat more or less—at least for the moment—there was little else for Luxord to do but return to where he was on the couch. Granted, he was now six or eight inches closer to where Xigbar was, but there was still a sizeable void between the two.

"You don't have to sit over there by yourself," he said.

"Meaning?"

"Meaning come sit over here with me."

Had Xigbar actually listened for once and had he actually bothered to scoot closer to Luxord, further events might have been completely avoided. You have to understand that all Luxord really, truly wanted right then was to feel Xigbar be close to him. He had no other desires, questionable or otherwise. His motives were just about as pure as they come—he just wanted to feel someone beside him. But Xigbar made the fatal mistake of laughing it off and staying put, and for those of you who aren't familiar with Patton, it is a very, very long film.

Luxord sat there in isolation for what felt like half an eternity. He'd never felt so alone in his life and he couldn't help but look back on the night before and damn it all to oblivion and back again. Had he not been so stupid, had he not nearly rendered his best friend brain-dead with his sudden onslaught of affection, then Xigbar might have seen nothing wrong in sitting closer to Luxord right then—hell, they might even have laid down on the couch like old times with hardly a care as whether it was awkward or not. But now it had no choice but to be awkward, to be painfully and irredeemably awkward, and this was all that Luxord could think about for the next hour.

It was shortly after that hour that his lonely mind reached a confusing conclusion and he rolled over onto his knees and crawled to Xigbar until the gap between them was utterly closed and every question and protest Xigbar could come up with was swallowed whole and unspoken in Luxord's mouth.

What started out as a kiss—Xigbar's eyes wide open in shock and mortification—quickly became more, because due to some error in his programming, Xigbar began to find it rather difficult to shove Luxord off and start cursing up a storm as he should have. When he told his hands to push Lux off him, the hands misunderstood—clearly—and dragged him closer. When he told his head to turn away, turn left, get air and start hollering, his head refused to budge and instead had the gall to pop wide on open and let Luxord's tongue right on into his mouth. Luxord's hands were find their way towards places they'd only previously fantasized about going before—all the very slight and forgettable places that were so easily forgotten and yet so prominently on Luxord's mind. These places were, in no particular order:

The inside of Xigbar's wrist, up and down slowly and delicately along the blue veins, which caused Xigbar to shudder and sigh like a boat on open water—

The underside of his jaw, just two inches above Xig's Adam's apple where Luxord ran his tongue and which made Xigbar say "fuck" three times fast—

Behind Xigbar's left earlobe, which was curiously clean even though one would expect boys to be bad about washing behind their ears—

The back of Xigbar's neck from where his shoulders sprouted and where Luxord placed two fingers from each had and pressed and had Xigbar shaking his head and saying something deliciously incoherent and probably stupid.

The front, then, of Xigbar's pants, which made him stare and gape and try to talk and fail so hard. And to think that Luxord had the nerve to look him in the eyes when he pressed his hand where he did. Just to think.

For Xigbar came the overwhelming, unbridled pressure that started somewhere in his belly and branched outwards in a quick and deadly terror: it petrified him. He was a teenage boy, you see, and he had obviously, well, masturbated like a teenage boy and his most intimate partner up to that point had been his right hand. And for his most intimate friend up to that point to suddenly take the place of his hand? It was all very discombobulating, as you surely understand. Xig saw this, feared this, and registered this all, breathing sharp and hot into the crook of Luxord's neck as he did so.

"What are we--?" The "doing" went unsaid.

"To hell with it." Luxord clamped his teeth down near Xig's shoulder blade, where he could get around his collar and where he tasted like nothing but skin.

"Can't breathe," Xigbar gasped.

"You can," Luxord spoke into his neck.

"Hot." He tried to push Luxord up and off, to get away from the heat he was so sure came from the other boy, when it fact it was coming from himself, from that thing inside that was still scaring him somewhere near shitless. Luxord, at the very least, knew where the heat came from.

"Off," he said simply, and while Xigbar was staring stupid up at him, Luxord struggled to remove Xig's shirt with a startling lack of finesse, largely due to his shaking hands and awareness of Xig's eyes trained on him, fixed on him. He leaned down to kiss Xigbar, to try and make himself look less of an idiot, his face red and aflame and his hands shot numb—he couldn't get the last two buttons done without busting them off it seemed, so Luxord just used the open part of Xig's shirt to get at his chest, a chest that thudded with blood and fear and something else which Luxord undeniably and unmistakably loved to pieces. It was trust or faith or something like it. Luxord didn't want and didn't think to name it. He just put his hands there to feel it, kissing Xigbar senseless while he did so.

How Xigbar had been placed at the bottom of this two-person heap, he didn't know. Or rather, he did: he'd simply let Luxord crawl on top and hadn't bothered to move. But the problem was that he couldn't even bring himself to care about that, what with the way Luxord's mouth felt on his, the way every touch and sound and smell that came from the other boy was pumped with feeling and devotion, like Lux had kept a series of perfect kisses on reserve for him—uniquely and distinctly him. Luxord's hands felt like warm butter and his lips could feel like nothing other than what they were because what they were was good and perfect enough. And those smooth hands pressed and pulled and passed over that burning chest and those lips stayed riveted to his and it was only when those hands started to wander elsewhere that a problem arose.

Or rather, the problem had already arisen some time before the wandering hands. It was just that Xigbar didn't want Luxord to know—he was terrified that he should know.

"Stop-stop…"

"No."

"Lux—"

"Xigbar." The fact that Luxord had just managed to growl Xigbar's name was highly disturbing, though not nearly as disturbing as the way Xigbar felt his body respond immediately to it. Half blind with something he refused to admit was desire, Xigbar's hands clumsily fumbled on between the two of them, grabbed hold of Luxord's shoulders and pushed, held Luxord at bay, though barely.

"Stop," Xigbar said again. Goddamn, he thought, I sound like a horny Dirty Harry. Someone just fucking shoot me. "Lux, just stop."

"No."

It was approximately at that moment, when, two floors above them, Larxene accidentally tipped over a bottle of liquid death nail polish and cursed twelve times in a row and when, outside, the mailman dropped a letter to the ground only to rip the rear of his pants open trying to pick it up—it was at that moment of unfortunate events that Xigbar's merry road appeared not so merry anymore and Luxord slammed into the ground with an abrupt thud. Xigbar was standing up, arms akimbo, looking positively menacing if you chose to ignore the raging boner that was very much apparent in his pants. But if any man ever kept a straight face under such conditions, let it be known: that man was Xigbar.

"Dude," he said, "I'm not a chick. You don't say no to me."

Somewhere, in the graveyards of the nation, one thousand feminists turned over and cried into their coffins.

"I'm sorry." Luxord was still on the ground looking hopelessly and tragically traumatized and suddenly Xigbar couldn't shake the feeling that he'd gone and done a bad thing. Lux looking like a kicked puppy was never something he'd seen or ever intended to see, but there the sight was before him. Luxord said he was sorry again and when Xigbar didn't say anything—what could he say, after all, that it was okay? It wasn't—when Xigbar didn't say anything he said it once more: "I'm so, so sorry, Xig. I don't—I have no idea."

"Yeah, well. I don't know where the hell that came from either." The two of them sat down on the couch again, resuming their places at their respective ends. Xigbar was resisting fixing his pants with every bone in his body, minus one, which was at that moment yelling profanities in his head in languages Xigbar didn't even think he'd known. Laughing nervously and completely moronically, Xig then said, "Boy, that brought the awkward on real fast."

Because he was right. It had.

The rest of the film was lost on them, wreck of sweaty palms and sideways glances that they were.

"For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph - a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting."

"Movie's over," Lux said.

"Yeah. Look at that."

"Xig?"

"Huh."

Luxord sat on the edge of the couch, staring at his hands like they either had all the answers within them or prompted him to provide explanation and answer enough for himself. He took a deep breath, let it out, and then started again, sounding tired and perhaps the tiniest bit afraid. "Xig, I've been hopelessly in love with you for a really, really fucking long time. I'm sorry if I'm… if I seem a bit psychotic."

To this, Xigbar opened his mouth to try and respond in at least five different ways, but none of them seemed like they would work. None of them seemed understanding but not condescending, approving without encouraging—Xigbar didn't know how to put it or what he wanted to say and he was pretty sure that being a smart ass here would do him no good. But, unable to fall back on anything else, that was all he had. "A bit psychotic?' he joked. "Try potential sexual predator. We'll start there and work our way up." Yet it came as no surprise when Luxord wasn't laughing. "Sooo… How long?" Xig asked.

"Remember that picnic? The one where we hiked five miles out, wound up in a farm, and ate about six apples each? Your mom packed us peanut butter. Celery sticks. Cookies. You wore those Velcro strapped shoes that made you look like the second dumbest person on the planet, but I loved those, too."

"Dude. We were nine. And I'm pretty sure you had a pair of shoes exactly like those."

"I know."

Xigbar, too, now stared at his hands. "You've been in love with me. Since we were nine."

"That is what it sounds like, isn't it?"

"Wow," he said. "Wow."

"It—you know. Obviously I didn't up and look at you and just know. It just. I mean. I knew eventually. I'd felt it all along, I just didn't quite know what it was. Until then." Xigbar said nothing and both he and Luxord continued to stare and their fingers. Lux let out a deep chuckle that came up lost from the memory, that summer afternoon in some stranger's orchard, the kind of idealistic day from childhood that one often thinks will stay in their mind forever, but which often is left to fade away over time. He swore to himself, as he'd sworn upwards of a thousand times before—he would never forget. The moment when—

"But when did you know? How did you, even? We were kids. Tiny, stupid kids. Just—when?" Xig asked him.

"The exact moment?" Lux said. Xigbar nodded and Luxord could feel his eyes on him from three feet away and he desperately wanted three feet to be two feet, one foot, and zero. "You were climbing this one tree and you got yourself an apple. Then you grabbed another—the reddest, brightest one—and you threw it down to me."

"I thought that one hit you in the head."

"Well it did, but I knew right then that I was also madly in love with you and I couldn't stay mad at you long because I was in love with you and because twelve seconds later you fell out of the three from laughter anyway, so my revenge was had."

"That sounds perfectly healthy, Lux. You deranged lunatic."

"Well that was a bit redundant, wouldn't you say?"

"Nah, being deranged and being a lunatic are completely different things. If you're a lunatic you go crazy sometimes—yanno, lunar. Moon. The moon makes you nuts. If you're deranged you're just disturbed. So being a deranged lunatic means that even though you're always a messed up son of a bitch, you have recurring moments of even crazier craziness."

"I love a smart man."

"That you do."

"No, I mean—"

"Dude. Sarcasm is not appreciated. That you do."

The two of them exchanged an awkward smile before their hands called their attention back and their pink faces turned and obeyed. Xigbar knew that in normal situations, under the normal conditions, this would be the part where he confessed his love for Luxord, too. The only problem lay in the fact that his love wasn't really there. Luxord meant a lot to him, true, but only as a best friend—and that wasn't a lie he was telling himself. He knew, with every ounce of who he was, that he had never been in love with Luxord, and he was hardly about to do the boy the disservice of lying to him now.

So when Luxord asked so cautiously and hesitantly, "Then where does this leave us?" Xigbar's answer was as honest as he could make it.

"I dunno," he said.

"I would say that I know you thoroughly enjoyed our little couch adventure, but—oh, lookit, I already went and said it," Luxord said with a snap of his fingers and a forgetful sigh, something like a feigned apology written on his face.

"Yeah, alright, I enjoyed it. But I'm a horny teenager. I enjoy anything I can get." Realizing how that sounded, Xigbar wished that words were food that he could just swallow so as to have them never see the light of day again. "And I mean that in the absolute least offensive way," he tacked on.

"It's cool, I get it," said Luxord, though it was painfully obvious that it wasn't cool and that he didn't get it.

"If you were a chick, man, there'd be no second thoughts." Xigbar tried to look like he was pleading innocent because he felt he was—he was innocent and had to be, innocent of ever feeling anything more than blindingly platonic adoration for the rock-solid and stellar friendship alone that existed between them.

But "What difference does it make?" asked Luxord.

And "How can you even ask that?" said Xig.

The two sat there at a perfect impasse. Luxord couldn't let Xigbar off the hook and Xigbar flat out refused to stay on it. It may well have been the one sole issue that the dynamic duo could not see fit to compromise on. "I just don't understand," Luxord said. "I mean. There should be no difference. If you care for someone, you care for them. If you're attracted to someone, you're attracted to them. I know—I felt, Xig. I know—"

Both of them thought back to what had transpired just minute ago, that thing roaring and blazing and heating Xig up like he was plugged into the fires of hell itself and damn did hell feel scorching-good. He scratched a non-existent itch on the side of his head just to give his right hand something to do. It'd started to twitch and that was probably about as far away from a good sign as you could get.

I felt, Xig. I know—

"Well you felt wrong," was all he could say in his defense. Even that, though. Even that and he couldn't bring himself to look at Luxord because it felt too much like lying and Xigbar had never before told a lie or anything like it to Luxord. He refused to start then. He would find some way to make it not be a lie and it would be Luxord's fault, he reasoned, because Luxord forced his hand and he forced Xigbar to defend his honor and he forced him to lie—it had to be his fault.

Luxord looked at Xigbar out of the corner of his eye. He saw a guilty eighteen year old who was the most distinctly impressive looking person Luxord had ever known and it was hardly a matter of free will when he felt himself being pulled towards the other until his mouth hovered inches from Xigbar's strange, pointed, curiously touchable ear. "You wouldn't let me get this close if you didn't," Luxord said in something that could barely even be called a whisper.

"I don't." Don't what? What am I defending this time? Xig wondered. He tried to remember, tried to figure out where the hell their conversation had gone and what it was Lux was accusing him of now, but the other boy's mouth was blowing warm air down his neck and there was still that bonfire going on in his gut, complete with scantily clad tribal dancers and the distant and heavy thud of a drum beat that sounded suspiciously in time with his heart.

"You wouldn't let me do this if you didn't." Luxord's hand was sliding further down his chest again, and came to rest—Xigbar was horrified to notice—palm to his belly button, fingers splayed dangerously close to the button of his jeans.

"I defini—I definitely don't." Shit. Fuck. What don't I?

"But you do."

"I don't."

"You do."

"Don't." It wasn't a comeback, it was a command. Luxord's fingers had moved for the button and it was a line Xigbar just wouldn't or couldn't have him crossing. He stood up again, pulse roaring in his ears and chest on fire again and Luxord tried to reach after him—"Luxord, don't! Jesus Christ, man! Three weeks ago you were normal. What the hell had to change?"

"I wasn't normal, Xig, you were just ignorant," Luxord countered. "And if you storm out of my house again you'll just reaffirm my growing belief that you're an immature preteen girl. If you're going to get pissed, get pissed, but get something. Don't just run away like a—"

"What, a pussy? You can't even say the word, can you?" Xigbar barked an incredulous laugh and leaned down, putting his face too close to Luxord's for his comfort but refusing to back down all the same. "Dude, don't you miss just being the kickass, badass guys we were? I mean, no shit could bring us down. Now we're these whiny sacks of just—just, I don't even know. All we do is bitch. Why'd you have to go change everything?"

"We're still badass," Luxord insisted.

"No we're not. We're just as sappy and pathetic as everyone else now. Yanno? I was so awesome just not giving a damn about anything."

At that—at those words—Luxord's expression changed. Xigbar couldn't quite say how, but that flicker of a certain something that had been burning in them all night suddenly went out. He couldn't fathom why. He couldn't even identify the flicker. He felt as though he'd never known Luxord less than he did right then.

And Luxord, whose next words came out flat and empty, appeared as though he didn't care whether Xigbar knew him at all. He said, "I know you probably think that your 'I-couldn't-care-less' attitude made you awesome like that, but it really just make you look like a colossal prick."

"…What?"

"Nobody buys it anymore. You're too invested. You've been that way for a long time, you've just been denying it." He started to reach one hand up towards Xigbar's face where a stray lock of hair hung down onto his cheek, but something stayed his hand and returned it to his lap. "Look," he said. "Xiggy. You've always lived under the impression that you'd die before you'd turned thirty and you'd never have to amount to crap in your life or do much of anything. Face it. That's just not who you are anymore. You're an outstanding friend. To everyone. Really. And to me. And I think…" Luxord shook his head. "I thought we could—could be more than that."

"Well you thought wrong. You're kinda forgetting one key fact. I'm not gay."

"You know why I had to go to Bridges in the first place? Why Mom pulled me out of public?" Luxord asked. "It was because she thought I was way too close to you."

"Lux, that's not even—"

"It's true. Ask Larx if you don't believe me. She may be a bitch, but you know she doesn't lie for anyone."

Never before in the history of their friendship had a day ended so badly. When Xigbar accidentally kicked over the three-foot Lego tour Luxord had spent three days constructing—it was bad. When Luxord had forgotten to tie Xigbar's surfboard to the hood of the car properly and they drove a mile and a half dragging and scarring the thing against the roadside behind the car—that was bad. But they had never had nothing to say to each other and they had never just wanted so strongly to will the other into not existing anymore. Lucky for them, and for all of us, just willing someone to disappear never amounts to much. If it had—had the boys been successful in their wishing—there isn't a shadow of a doubt that they would've lived to regret it not two minutes later. Even on that day, the most awkward, unfortunate day of their friendship.

At the front door where they parted ways, Xigbar got his voice back and pieced one and a half thoughts together to form some kind of speech, if you could call it that.

"I'm sorry about today," Xigbar forced out. "About earlier today. Yanno. I, uh. I said some pretty shitty stuff, man."

"Doesn't matter."

x x x

Winter break is hard to let go of.

With the end of the holiday season comes the realization that the world will not be merry forever, that lights must be put back in boxes, trees laid out on curbsides, and presents worn into normalcy, no longer shining and sparkling new. The most self-conscious among us realize just how much butter there is in holiday cookies. New Year's resolutions are made and broken like cheap pottery. Children of all ages return to school, adults return to work, and they feel this time the weight of understanding that they are in it for the long haul now—that it will be months before they are anywhere near smelling that sweet air of freedom again.

Demyx found a way to suffer through it to the best of his ability. He sat down to lunch, tore into his brown paper bag and pulled out—

"Fuck, I love rice cakes," he said.

Kairi looked at him curiously, kindly informed him of how weird he was, and returned to sipping her strawberry milk and flipping through last month's print of Interview. The whole gang was all there, it was just that most of them were comatose. And it was precisely because of this curious comatose state that Kairi had even decided it was safe enough to sit at that table anyway. She still resented Axel for what he'd done, but a little December R&R seemed to have done her some good. At least she was back to wearing normal clothes and hadn't so much as mentioned a hostess gift since the dreaded nightmare that was Roxas' Christmas party.

"It's like eating air," Demyx continued, still completely on and into his rice cakes. "From heaven, man. Heavenly air, compressed oh-so-gently into this tasty tidbit before me." He took an absurdly loud, huge, crunchy bite and grinned only to find that no one else was either listening or watching. "Want some, Roxas?" he asked. Roxas didn't seem to hear him, so Demyx asked again. Finally, on the third try, Demyx not-so-accidentally delivered the smallest of all kicks to Roxas' shin under the table.

"Huh?"

"You okay, man? You've barely said anything all lunch and your pudding cup is shocking untouched."

"Yeah, I'm cool."

Demyx shrugged, took another bite of rice cake, and looked over to his left. "You Axel?"

"Huh."

Clearly not amused, Demyx polished off his rice cake and looked to his right. Xigbar was in the exact same deadened state of being and Demyx was just about ready to smack them all stupid, he'd just had that much of it.

"What's with all you guys? Are you all sick?" he asked. "Pig flu? Foot in mouth? What the hell is it?"

Shortly after that, Xigbar reached the conclusion that love was not a good thing. It was hyped up nonsense—something someone devised long ago to try and get a rise out of people, to try and ruin people's lives. It was, all things considered, clearly not worth the trouble. Xigbar would much rather be a cold-hearted bastard than a hyper-emotional fucktard any day. He had made his decision then, and as far as he knew, he was going to stick with it.

(x) (x) (x)

LOVELY READERS:

So. I have not updated in over a year. I have received PM's I've never gotten back to, LJ comments I've completely forgotten about—even reviews wondering if I was dead. Oh. My. God. Could I be a more terrible person? There's no eloquent way for me to stress this enough, so I'm just gonna try to condense all my blather down into three syllables for you to savor and enjoy responsibly:

I'M SORRY.

(Now make sure there's a designated driver nearby—them's weren't Jell-O shots, tyke.)

The long and short of it is that I'm in college (still), trying to become a teacher (still), now looking at grad school options to also try and learn to write better (still?). I am living the life I'm pretty sure I've always wanted, pursuing some hazy, stupid-sounding dream that never seemed like it would amount to anything more than just that—a dream. Years ago, I never would have thought that I would want to be published. You have all changed my mind. …I mean, other things built up on top of that to change my mind, but you were all the foundation. That doesn't sound as awesome as what I first said, so scratch that add-on and pretend you never read it.

A big part of the reason I've been MIA for pretty much ever is that I've been working on original shit. It's radically different from the fanfiction I write here, but I hope to polish up a few short stories I've had for a while and get them up on FictionPress eventually. The link will appear on my profile whenever eventually rolls around. The longer thing I've been working on is at a crossroads, which is why I just happened to detach myself from it long enough to look at again, to look at fandoms again, and to remember: Oh yeah, I used to do things there. Please refer back to those stressed three syllables above. I still mean them.

The long story short is that while I am not "back" in the sense that I'll be updating nearly as often as I once did, I—well, I'm trying. But I'm also trying to figure out my own original work and I guess that all I can really do is twiddle my thumbs and hope for your support no matter what crap it is I'm spewing out onto the computer screen. (Speaking of crap: OH LORD, re-reading this fic to remember all of it was so painful. Somewhere on my to-do list is rewriting the complete and utter bull that was the first third of this fic, I swear.)

I will still try to write fanfiction! But it will be like the secret midnight doughnut to my original work diet of celery and carrots. Also, I'll probably only read things if they're rec'd to me, so if you want me to read something or think I will look completely stupid haunting the outskirts of the fandom now that I have not reach such-and-such, please tell me. There are so any fics on here now, I don't even know.

To wrap up a heinously long author's note: THREE SYLLABLES, thank you for being understanding, I'm not dead, but thank you for your concern, I apologize for letting you down, I will make an honest effort to not to go missing for another whole year like that, and I hope I haven't scared you all away.