Title: My Girlfriend, Who Lives In Canada
Disclaimer: The Kingdom Hearts franchise and its characters do not belong to me.
Summary: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single high school boy in possession of a good libido, must be in want of a girlfriend — or a pretend one.
A/N: Oh my God, I never thought I'd see this day...
Eventually, their Lifetime movie moment had to be interrupted when Roxas finally remembered that he had in fact promised his dad to be within easy reach. That had been a good couple of hours ago, so they hopped back into the car and drove faster than humanly possible—so you know, normal-Axel—back to the hospital. Roxas debated making Axel hide in the car, but then figured that if he was going to be keeping Axel around on anything like a regular basis, he might as well start easing his loved ones into it now before the crazy hit them in the face full-throttle.
So he brought Axel up to Naminé's room and made up some A-plus lies about meeting him at some college open-campus event, which miraculously seemed to work. It was lucky, he reflected, that Axel was still wearing his nice-if-wrinkled preppy ensemble from the night before. His hair alone was still questionable in spite of the ponytail's best effort, but that was hardly unusual for a college student. Even more astoundingly, Axel managed to turn on the charm Roxas hadn't previously known he possessed, and lay it on thick enough to smother any suspicions Roxas's father might have been harboring regarding the veracity of their account. Before Roxas knew it, they were discussing test scores and admission statistics, which would probably disturb him a lot should he dwell upon it for any length of time.
At one point, his sister did shoot him a slightly skeptical look, but considering the fact that their relationship was still on the rocks, Roxas figured she would be too cowed to ever call him on it.
It turned out that Naminé wouldn't be discharged for at least another day, so Roxas and his father fought the requisite battle over who got to stay with her, which Roxas ultimately lost when his dad pulled the Someone Has To Mind The House And Prepare For Her Arrival card. Roxas put up the token huffy protest, but in the end allowed himself to be packed into Demyx's car for the journey back. He loved his baby sister, but he also loved the idea of finally hitting the sack after the harrowing experiences of the last two days.
It was already dark when they strapped themselves down and prepared to leave. "How about some ambiance for the ride back?" Axel asked, popping a CD into the player.
Momentarily, the car was filled with the uneven beats of a song that Roxas realized, to his horror, might be rap. Axel seemed incredibly proud of his eclectic taste, bobbing his head along to the music while the inebriated-sounding singer rambled something about two zigzags and going down to the park to "smoke dat tumbleweeds".
"Where do you even find these songs?" Roxas asked. "And does anyone actually drink the troll vomit that is Colt-45?"
"Oh?" said Axel, raising an eyebrow. "One college party, and he thinks he's a liquor expert."
"I just don't think you should be talking about music," Roxas said. "After all, your country is responsible for Nickelback."
"Don't even start," Axel said darkly. "Those losers would never have gotten half as popular if it hadn't been for the brain-dead suburban teens of this country eating up their shitty albums. That late 90s early 2000s period was basically a musical wasteland of popular grunge turds. Goddamn American emos."
"I don't know," Roxas mused. "I kind of liked Linkin Park."
Axel stared at him in unbridled horror. "Dude."
"No, seriously," Roxas said, smirking. "I think their lyrics are deep."
"That's it," Axel said as he threw the car into reverse and rolled out of the hospital parking lot—pedestrians scattering in panic, narrowly avoiding being pancaked under the wheels. "As soon as we're back in Amherst, I'm giving you a thorough cultural reeducation, and none of it will involve bad nu metal with unsubtle references to cutting."
He made a face at the steering wheel, and muttered, "Their lyrics are deep. Jesus."
Somewhere out on a particularly deserted stretch of I-90, Roxas almost had a heart attack.
"Oh fuck," he muttered, clawing his hand in his hair. "I completely fucking forgot."
"What?" Axel said, eyes wide. "What's the problem now?"
Roxas turned to him with an expression he hoped was an appropriate medley of imploring and tragic. "I'm going to need to borrow your phone again." He paused, and added, "Also, would you mind making a little detour when we get back to Amherst?"
"Are you 100% sure about this? Because I'm okay with taking baby steps in the beginning—well, maybe not baby steps. Teenager steps. Rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations."
Roxas resisted the very compelling urge to roll his eyes. "Yes, I'm sure. You sound like you're the one who's about to shit himself."
"Oh please, you wuss." Axel made an unflattering snorting sound through his nose. "Don't lie and tell me you're not this close to a full-on freak out sess. You didn't make a peep the entire drive up."
"If you're at all aware of the enormous potential for this to go horribly wrong, you wouldn't be shooting your mouth off right now," Roxas said, glaring out the car window. They were parked a block down from his school, and even from here he could make out the distinct soundtrack that customarily accompanied the merrymaking of hormones-driven teenagers finally allowed to cut loose for one night in the entire academic year.
"So you gonna send that text or what?" said Axel.
Taking a bracing breath, Roxas pressed down on the 'Send' button his thumb had been hovering over for nearly fifteen minutes, and didn't exhale until he was certain the message had gone through. This was it. No going back now. He unhooked his seatbelt, praying to Jesus, Elvis, and Buddha that this venture would pay off and not go up like the Hindenburg, causing his entire life to fall apart around him. Again.
"Hey," Axel said just as Roxas was reaching for the door handle. "It'll be okay." He didn't sound quite as confident as usual, which Roxas realized was becoming something of a running theme. He probably shouldn't find that endearing, but did.
"Yeah," he said, and in what was clearly a spontaneous lapse in sanity, raised himself up and leaned over the gear stick to drop a kiss on Axel's cheek.
There was a moment of complete silence.
"Oh my God," Axel said finally. "Oh my God, did that really just happen? Tell me that didn't really just happen." He was evidently on the edge of a rib-fracturing laughing fit. "I'm sorry, did I fall asleep on the wheel because clearly I missed the part where my boyfriend swapped bodies with a twelve-year-old girl."
"Give me shit about it later, okay?" Roxas said with a grimace. "This is totally a big deal. I need every ounce of support I can get."
The exquisitely mean expression on Axel's face softened. "You can stop pouting now," he said, voice indulgent. "I get it, okay? Now go do your thing. I'll see you at Black Sheep afterward, as agreed."
"I still think we should have gone with Lone Wolf," Roxas said, just to be a giant tool.
"Maybe next time," Axel said affectionately, and practically shoved Roxas out of the car.
All in all, Roxas was feeling rather grateful for a lifetime's education in feeling awkward and out-of-place, because it had totally prepared him for the crushing humiliation that was rolling up in front of the school looking like a Depression-era tramp while everybody in a mile-wide radius was decked out to the nines in the best the local prom-slash-pageant boutiques had to offer. It was becoming clearer than ever that Axel was having an erroneous influence on him: the more time Roxas spent in his immediate company, the lower his grooming standards became, deplorable as they were.
He was distracted from this line of distressing thought by a brief flash of another familiar red-haired figure. Kairi was standing at a street corner, dressed in a pink, strapless gown of a full, shimmering material that, under the pale light of the street lamp, looked like it would feel really nice to the touch. Roxas craned his neck for a look, and saw that she was in medias a huddled conversation with Sora and Riku. Judging by the looks of things, Olette hadn't been the only one aiming to double-up the number of her JP escorts.
In a sudden fit of nosiness, Roxas surreptitiously ambled his way over, and as he did so, saw Kairi take a step back and give her friends a playful push, saying something to them in a low voice. Twin uncertain looks flitted across both boys' faces—Sora even opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced by Kairi's quelling hand. She leaned forward and hugged him briefly before stepping away again, giving Riku a firm nod. Granting permission of some kind.
By the time Riku and Sora were walking away from Kairi—Riku placing a tentative hand on Sora's back, sliding lower as they walked—Roxas had cleared the distance. He had a feeling he had walked in on a private moment, watching the lonely bow of Kairi's shoulders as she drew them into her chest, wrapping her thin arms around her ribs. Portrait of a girl left, for once, out of the trinity to which she had always belonged. Roxas felt a stab of epiphany regarding the nature of that little pantomime he'd just witnessed.
Roxas, despite crippling social anxiety, had what he fancied were chivalric tendencies, which were probably what made him clear his throat and say, "It's their loss."
Kairi wheeled around in surprise. "Roxas," she said. "That wasn't what you think—"
"Of course not," Roxas said quickly. "I was just, you know, trying to be funny. Sticking my tongue in my cheek. Guess I suck at it."
Kairi grinned at him. "This is the only chance they have," she explained. Her smile turned mischievous. "You know, before Riku chickens out again and runs away to college without breathing a word."
"For the record, I am totally filing that information away to use against him in the future," Roxas said.
Kairi laughed lightly. A few strands of her auburn hair had slipped out of their elegant knot, falling to frame her heart-shaped face. She was beautiful like that, light and unguarded, a milky, insubstantial light tracing the slim curve of her collarbones, the graceful arch of her neck. Her laugh was the open, capacious kind; it invited you in, made you want to get to know the girl behind the smile, made you want to smile back.
"Save the last dance for the loser who missed out on the Prom?"
He reached out one hand to Kairi, palm up in an internationally-recognized gesture, and even though he looked like something fished out of a dumpster and she was a Homecoming Queen in the making, she still took his proffered hand and allowed him to pull her into a clumsy spin that would have made Roxas's former ballroom dancing teacher cry. One hundred hours plus of lesson apparently only amounted to him managing to dip Kairi without dropping her headfirst on the pavement.
People were turning around to stare at them, whispering among themselves. Roxas ignored them, and spun Kairi again in a dizzying swirl of pink satin, her bright laughter melodious in the muggy night. Haters to the left. Like any of them would have a chance with a girl like her in a million years.
"There's my ride," Kairi said, slightly breathless, and tipped her head toward the opposite sidewalk, where a group of her cheer squad friends were waving at her from the back of a large Jeep.
"Have fun," Roxas said, releasing her hand. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do." Then again, considering all the sketchy activities he'd gotten up to in the past few days, this advice probably didn't carry as much weight as it might have once upon a simpler time.
Kairi gave him another crinkle-eyed smile, and squeezed his shoulder in solidarity before running over to her friends. Roxas rode that warm gooey feeling all the way back to the school entrance, arriving just in time to see Olette and Pence spill out the front door—Olette bright-eyed and lovely in a flowy orange silk number, Pence mildly uncomfortable in a rumpled powder blue tuxedo with a stiff collar that appeared to be choking his airway.
Really, Roxas reflected, he had no room to be judging Riku at all, because the mere sight of his friends and their identical ear-to-ear smiles was doing all sorts of scary things to his innards.
On the way to the coffee shop, Olette ran the gamut of a comprehensive range of emotions verbally translated to, "Oh my God," and, "How could you not tell me?" and, "Wait, did you try to tell me?" and finally, "Oh my God, why did you not tell me?" Pence just blinked away his initial wide-eyed amazement and busied himself with the task of tearing his shirt collar apart. Roxas couldn't help but feel a little irrationally insulted by that.
By the time they arrived at Black Sheep's storefront, Roxas was on the cusp of yet another attack of onset cowardice, and began to entertain the futile hope that the same ailment had befallen Axel and that he had backed out at the last minute. This was, of course, not to be, as he could clearly see Rosalina parked outside the café, her gleaming frame familiar and dear—reminding Roxas that what he should really be worried about was the endlessly likelier possibility that Axel had returned to his asshole baseline and had shown up wearing Doc Martens and a ballet tutu over striped tights or something equally awful. He had yet to make any overtly mocking remark after learning via one shamefaced confession that he had, for the last few weeks, stood in as the default muse for Roxas's Ballad of the Fictional Girlfriend, but at this point, he'd be stupid to put anything past Axel.
Thankfully, Axel had refrained from any cross-dressing douchebaggery. The most questionable item of clothing he was sporting was the t-shirt under his fleece scarf that read, charmingly, I DON'T LIKE BUSH, I LIKE SHAVED. As usual, he was lounging vegetatively at a corner table radiating glazed affection at the jumbo cup of cocaine-laced Black Sheep coffee in front of him, looking like someone who had found his zen center and wasn't about to vacate it any time soon.
During the walk over, Roxas had spent a worrisome amount of time envisioning how this meeting was going to go, running through all the horrible outcomes his highly active imagination had cooked up, and yet for some reason, he had still failed to account for the unspeakable atrocity that actually unfolded.
Axel and Olette liked each other.
Axel and Olette liked each other.
"Olette and Pence?" Axel said in a thoughtful voice Roxas was certain he had never before used. "You two must be really close with Roxas, huh?"
"Oh we are," Olette said, grinning. "We're his best friends."
"Totally BFFs," Pence added dryly.
"Is that so?" Axel drawled, arching an eyebrow as he brought two fingers to his lips. Roxas tried not to look him in the eye. "Apparently, fickle Roxas here has many, many of those."
Olette nodded knowingly. "I think he just keeps up the loner act because he likes the attention."
"Hello?" Roxas asked, waving his hands in an impressive imitation of avian death throes. "Am I not still in the room?"
"Hush, baby," Axel said dulcetly. "Us girls are talking now, isn't that right, Olette?"
Olette muffled her laughter in one fist. "You know," she said, "you don't really look like an 'Anna'."
Roxas used every ounce of strength in his soul not to bolt for the door. Bloodshed of some kind was imminent. He sipped his organic green tea, and silently formulated a plan to pen an epically vindictive limerick titled Ode to an Eminently Canadian Young Woman to be anonymously distributed across the Amherst campus. The challenge was meshing the anapestic meter format with choice imageries such as "hair the color of autumn maple leaves" and "eyes like the Yukon Trail".
"Looks like I need a refill," Axel said, shaking his empty cup. "Does anyone else want anything while I'm up?"
"I'll come with you," Olette said—brightly, but sinisterly. "I want to take a look at those cupcakes."
At this point, Roxas ran out of question marks and despair, so he decided to just roll with the punches. He did not look up from his cup until he was certain Axel and Olette had left the table, at which point he found Pence staring at him intently.
"So," Roxas said, pointing vaguely at Pence's unfortunately colored suit. "The Junior Prom?"
"Yeah," Pence said wearily, fingering the wreck he'd made of his white bowtie. "Thanks a lot for bailing out on me, by the way. It was a lot of fun being on the receiving end of the resident star quarterback's death glare the entire night."
"Rai was there?" Roxas said. "Who'd he go with?"
"His friend Fuu. I'm pretty sure she only took him as a pity date. The guy is pretty pitiful these days."
"Someone should tell Olette that before Fuu's name ends up on her list of people to destroy socially," Roxas said darkly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Olette had had Axel backed up against the pastry displaying case. She was looking rather feral. Roxas was deeply glad that he couldn't hear what they were talking about over the din of the coffee house, because there was a distressingly high chance that the conversation was of the And What Are Your Intentions Toward My Friend variety.
"Thanks for not making a big deal out of this whole thing," he told Pence. "It's actually kind of freaking me out how chill you're being about it."
"I wasn't really surprised, to be honest," Pence said. "You were always pretty questionable with your strangely sexual fascination with T.S. Eliot." He smirked at Roxas's rude gesture, and added, "Have you told your family yet?"
Roxas sighed. "I'm working myself up to it. I think I'll test drive on Hayner first. On a scale of one to disastrous, how badly do you think that'll go?"
"You're such a drama queen," Pence said. "As long as you have Olette and her unholy powers backing you, I'm sure you'll be golden. If you require even more handholding, I'll be glad to continue lending my wise guidance in this time of your sensitive need."
"Right," Roxas said. "That's it. That's exactly what I want. You as my designated life coach. My cruise director for the rest of it all."
Pence shrugged. "Well, if you want to stay in the closet, I have no real objection to that either. I'm starting to think that if you retain your chick magnet status until graduation, there might be some fringe benefits in it for me. I fully believe in the trickledown effect."
Roxas rolled his eyes. "I never had that status until Olette started spreading onerous lies about my love life in the girls' locker room. And that term doesn't mean what you think it means. Reaganomics is a lie."
"Lies indeed," Pence said, stirring his coffee solemnly. "The descriptions you fed me were way, way off. We totally agreed on classic redhead, and Axel's not that at all. He's really more… the exotic type."
"I will kill you with this mug," Roxas said. "Seriously, you're the first on my list."
"That actually went a lot better than I expected," Roxas mused as Rosalina rolled to a stop at the corner of East Street.
"Told you Axel Knows Best," said Axel. He braked the bike, and pulled off his helmet, shaking out his flattened hair. "The truly amazing part is how a freak like you managed to score such sweet little friends."
"Seriously, do you even hear yourself talk?" Roxas said. "What was it like when you first came out to your friends?"
"What friends?" Axel said. "Well, there was this one guy who got all weird and judgmental about it, all because of one harmless little kiss in the mall. He's kind of an anal-retentive dick, that guy. Name starts with an R, you might know him."
"I'm sure he had his reasons," Roxas soothed.
Axel looked thoughtful for a moment. He raised his eyes, and said, "I don't want to jinx everything, so don't take this the wrong way, but—are you really okay?"
"What are you talking about?" Roxas said, frowning.
"It's just that trying to get through to you all this time has been like pulling teeth, but now all of a sudden you seem to be pretty cool with the way everything went down. You took to this idea suspiciously fast."
Roxas smirked. "What can I say? You're just something of an acquired taste."
"Fuck you," Axel said wryly. "I'm serious."
"So was I," Roxas said, and pretended to dodge when Axel made as though to box his ear. He sobered up in time to say, "Well, it's like, you know, how sometimes you spend a long time resisting something, and by the time you finally give in, you kind of forget why you were fighting it so much to begin with?"
"I don't know anything about that," Axel asserted with confidence. "I never give in."
"I'll bet," Roxas said, smiling slightly. Giving in wasn't so bad. Sometimes.
"You know," Axel began, low and tense, "I could kill you."
"What?" Roxas squeaked. An irrational twinge of panic shot through him like a bolt—obviously those dark criminal suspicions from the early days had never quite dissipated.
"For today," Axel clarified, in a way that managed to explain exactly nothing. "What I mean is, I haven't forgotten the long, ridiculously detailed list of reasons why this wouldn't work that you gave me last night on the drive up. Granted, none of those reasons made any damn sense, but you still gave them. And then you turned around and took it all back, just like that."
Roxas felt his ears burn. It took an astronomical amount of effort to keep his head still, but he couldn't look away. Visible guilt was a sign of weakness in the animal kingdom.
Axel continued to stare darkly into the distance. Then he shrugged and said, "But it's okay, you know. I know it's because you're so young. It's in your blood to be fickle and wanton."
"Please," Roxas said with immense relief. "There are grade-schoolers more emotionally mature than you." Baby steps, right. Just watch for the bumps in the road as they came.
"So, um," he said awkwardly. "Guess I'll see you later?"
"You sure?" Axel said, eyes gleaming. "Don't want to drive up to the top of the hill and make this a night to remember or anything?"
Roxas immediately snapped his mouth shut. His entire head was starting to feel like a nuclear power plant on the verge of critical meltdown—but only for a minute, because right then the sound of Axel's awful braying laughter galloped in and saved him from probably hemorrhaging something out of anxiety.
"Please, Goldilocks, don't flatter yourself. You haven't showered, your clothes reek, your hair is matted sideway, and your breath smells like a public latrine. Even I don't have the testicular fortitude to go there."
"You know, I think I'm starting to lose that acquired taste," Roxas snapped. Before he could stomp away, however, Axel had reached out and reeled him in by the front of his shirt. His breaths came warm and fast on Roxas's cheek. He felt only half-awake, feverish, and there were at least a dozen reasons why this couldn't work, he was well-acquainted with them all and shouldn't even try. This might just be another disaster in the making, but Axel's lips were soft and wet at the corner of his mouth, long fingers curled into the hair at the back of Roxas's neck, and somehow that made it seem alright.
"Well, goodnight," Axel said easily, ending the sudsy moment. As he sped away on his scooter, he looked over his shoulder at Roxas and shouted, "There's always next year, baby! By my decree, Cinderella, you shall go to the Prom!"
Roxas put his face in his hand. He could only hope that his neighbors were deep sleepers.
By the time he managed to unlock his front door and drag himself into the foyer, Roxas came to the realization that he was clinically dead on his feet, everything hair down numb and leaden. The house was cool and dark, wrapping its roomy hush around him like a soothing blanket. He staggered down the hallway and up the stairs without bothering to turn on the lights, allowing sense memory to guide his steps, and before he peeled off his clothes and fell into bed in a dead faint, spared just enough time to remember that, pretty soon, his entire family would be under the same roof again.
Really, he couldn't wait.
There were a million and one things Roxas should be doing on Sunday, most of which involved cleaning out the cluttered house in preparation for Naminé's homecoming, but early Sunday afternoon instead saw him loitering on the sidewalk outside a certain Amherst dormitory. There were simply no limits as to how pathetic he allowed himself to get these days.
"Is that you, Abercrombie Kid?"
Some part of Roxas jerked, like his viscera had developed a Pavlovian response to the sound of that voice. He dully reminded himself that running for his life was not an option, and sucked in a long breath before turning around to face Larxene and her scary, drink-lacing smile.
She was sitting behind the wheel of a gorgeous onyx Bentley, and Roxas had to take a moment to boggle at the students of this school and their conspicuous consumption. Seriously, what was up with this unnatural bubble-like upper-crust existence? Suddenly he understood his father's obstinate need to drive Ford Tauruses and stick it to The Man—even though, technically speaking, Roxas's dad was The Man.
"Not even second base," Larxene said, eyes flashing like the predator she was. "That's pathetic. And I gave you my best mix, too, what a waste."
"In some places, people can press charges for that," Roxas pointed out.
"I was just trying to do you a favor," said Larxene. "Judging by the fact that you're skulking out here at this hour of the day, I'd say that I made a good call. But be careful now—with prolonged exposure, the crazy might get on your pretty face." She blew him a disdainful kiss, and then threw her car into reverse, leaving Roxas behind in a cloud of perfumed dust.
In the hallway, he ran into Zexion, who was armed with coffee and his laptop case and therefore was evidently on his way to the sim lab. On a Sunday.
"I heard from Axel," Zexion said. "I'm glad to hear that your sister's alright. Send her my best."
"Thanks," Roxas said with a smile. "So Demyx stayed over last night?"
This wasn't a real question, as he'd already passed the communal bathroom on his way in—Demyx was apparently a sing-in-the-shower kind of guy. He really knew how to carry a note.
"And you're here to see Axel," Zexion replied coolly. "You might want to watch your step in there. We're moving out, so the place's kind of a mess."
But in fact the common room did not look like any kind of mess whatsoever, the walls lined with boxes neatly stacked and labeled in a clear, erudite hand that could only be Zexion's. Axel's room, when Roxas entered, did admittedly resemble war-torn Bosnia, half-packed cardboard boxes covering nearly every inch of the floor—including one filled with what appeared to be mini versions of the homemade rocket he and Axel had set off back in April. Where had those been hiding during Roxas's last visit? Clearly he hadn't looked closely enough for signs of the crazy.
"Go sit on the bed before you trip over something potentially hazardous," Axel said seriously. His hair was pulled back from his face, and he was wearing a scruffy white t-shirt that said I CAN'T AFFORD TO HEART NY, probably because he wanted to cause Roxas mental pain.
Almost in spite of himself, Roxas tilted his head to look at the ceiling, and was slightly startled to find that all the postcards were gone. Further inspection revealed that they were piled into a small box sitting at the foot of the bed. Without these colorful accoutrements, the spiraling quote looked strangely bereft, a black, ungainly flotsam all swallowed up in a sea of white.
Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
"I like that quote too," Roxas said.
"What?" Axel said distractedly. He followed Roxas's gaze. "Oh, that. Yeah, I might have been a little drunk when I put that up there."
"Where'd you first read it?"
"I saw it spray-painted on a men's room wall in some nightclub in… I think this was like, San Francisco. The Castro, maybe. Anyway, it caught my eye. Cool, huh?"
"It's Vonnegut. He was on my high school reading list, freshman year."
Axel blinked at him. "Are you for real? I don't actually remember most of my high school years, but I'm still pretty sure we never had to read shit like that."
"Yeah, well, maybe things are different up north. You also didn't go to Collegiate on the Upper West Side, so count your blessings."
"Figures," Axel said, and went back to sorting clothes. "Somehow I always knew you were a poor little rich boy. Say, you never did any of that crazy Gossip Girl shit, didja? You just never know with you quiet types…"
Roxas pulled a pained expression. "Every day, I discover something else about you that kills me a little bit inside," he said, and almost in the same breath, blurted out, "Why'd you choose me?"
Axel whipped around and stared at him incredulously. "Jesus Christ. It's only been two days, and you're trying to back out of this already?" He dragged a hand over his face in a manner Roxas found to be needlessly melodramatic. "Roxas, listen, I haven't even had coffee yet. It is way too early in the morning for this shit."
"You're full of lies," Roxas said, pointing out the paper cup sitting on one of corner of the desk. "It's one in the afternoon, and you've clearly been up for awhile." He paused for a moment, and added, "And this is not a meltdown, I promise. I'm asking you seriously. I—I really need to know."
"Know what, exactly?"
"Why me? Do you just enjoy making things difficult for yourself?"
Axel pointed a finger at his face. "Hey, don't try to pin your neuroses on me." He rolled his eyes, and went on, "Though, since you asked, you could say that I tend to selectively veer toward the challenging cases."
"Because you're a masochist?"
"Maybe it's more about making sure whatever you're going for is really worth all the trouble."
"So you're saying if I were easy you'd immediately lose interest?" Roxas said skeptically.
Axel made a face. He jabbed his finger at Roxas with greater emphasis, stopping just short of squashing his nose. "Believe me, easy is not a word that comes to mind when I think about you." He stopped, and shrugged lightly. "But I don't know, that's sort of the charm. Just think of that saying, goes something like 'I don't want to join any club that would have me for a member.'"
"That's Groucho Marx, and the line's actually…"
"Really? I thought that was from Annie Hall."
Roxas's mind reeled for a moment. Was this how it was going to be? Would their relationship be forever plagued by association with relentlessly neurotic rom-coms?
"It is," he soldiered on. "But see, Woody was quoting Groucho, who might have been quoting Freud. What he said was…"
"That it was the key joke of his adult life in terms of his relationships with women? Yeah, I remember. Wow. Cheerful stuff."
At this point, Roxas recognized the dull aches he had started experiencing for what they were—pangs of remorse. If this was going to work out in any shape or form that wasn't complete dysfunction, he was going to have to do something he had never before attempted in his life: he was going to have to try.
"Well," he began contritely, and decided that sounded passable. "It's a great movie, but that doesn't mean we should use it as a primer for relationships or anything."
"Yeah, especially given what we've already agreed on regarding scripts," Axel said. "But we can reenact the scene with the lobsters sometime, if you'd like."
At a temporary loss for words, Roxas let his eyes wander, and almost immediately found himself looking at the box of postcards—like he was always searching out for them. Perhaps when Axel moved into his new lodging, wherever that was, he might let Roxas help tape them up again. Idly, he picked one out of the box at random. Nova Scotia. Instead of writing, the card had a single curl of gold hair taped to it.
"Why postcards?" he asked, fingering the lock of hair. Tragic attraction to small, bossy blondes indeed.
"What's with you and all the questions today?" Axel said. "I used to have a Polaroid camera, but I broke it fighting off a mugger in Rio. Then I figured, why take my own pictures when I could buy them and contribute to the tourism industry."
"That sounds so wrong coming from your mouth," said Roxas. "And you really see yourself as a tourist? Do you have a fanny pack too?"
"Why? You want me to model it for you?"
"I'd rather sandpaper my eyeballs. So have you really been to all these places?"
Axel laughed. "Are you crazy? Do I look like I'm made of money?" He bent down and rifled through the stacks of postcards. "Look, most of these are still blank—and that's because I plan on eventually going to all these places. Once I'm there, I'll give the card to a local and ask them to mail it back to me, and that way I get the postmark too. It's totally fucking genius."
In the smallest voice his mind could manage, Roxas had to admit to himself that it was, in fact, kind of genius. Surely he'd get over the shock any day now.
"So where are you staying this summer?" he asked, just to have something to say.
Axel made an indistinct gesture at the air. "Demyx asked me to housesit for him while he's off being a bleeding-heart psycho in Cambodia or whatever." Demyx, Roxas decided, was a terminal masochist. "I just need a dumping ground for all my shit—I'm gonna spend the summer on the road too. Trying to hit some of those landmarks in my collection, right?"
"Yeah," Roxas said glumly. His own summer held engaging prospects such as taking standardized tests and drafting college essays. With his spotty records, he knew he needed all the application padding he could get, but he was still seventeen and it still sucked a whole bunch.
Axel cocked his head, and gave Roxas a considering look. As though reading his mind, he said, "Hey. Maybe—someday—you could come along with me on one of these trips, yeah? No marriage certifications required, I promise."
Roxas smiled back at him. "That'd be nice." Frankly, if there were one place he would like to visit, it was a certain mystical land up north known as Toronto, setting of The Cunning Man, a Canadian cipher shrouded in mystery that Axel had spoken of in tones alternately reproachful and besotted.
"You bet," Axel said, grinning and loose and relaxed. He reached over his shoulder and pulled off his t-shirt, tossing it onto the pile of dirty laundry he'd just finished sorting out. The light from the window glanced and caught the faint sheen of sweat on Axel's chest. Roxas's mouth went a little dry.
"You ever noticed how girls take off their shirts from the front, but guys pull theirs off by the back of the neck?" he said, flicking his tongue slowly over his bottom lip.
"What?" Axel asked, bewildered. A glint of interest flared in his eyes. He placed one hand on his hip, sliding his fingers over the smooth bone peeking out of his waistband, skimming the light trail of hair on his lower belly. "Seen a lot of girls take off their shirts, have you?"
Roxas smirked, and pulled Axel in by his endearingly crooked wrists, fully intending to show him exactly how much he knew about the fine and subtle art of shirt-removal.
Exactly three weeks from the day Olette had marched into the cafeteria and set into motion a chain of events that would ultimately change his life, Roxas found himself walking to school without feeling, for once, like a hunted animal. His head felt light in the softness of June, and he was thinking of sunny days and having Naminé home for the summer. She would probably like Amherst, like the quiet, tree-lined streets and pretty storefronts, and maybe when she'd had time to settle in he would take her out to the Dickinson Homestead, to the cemetery to find Emily's grave and lay a pebble on her tombstone.
In his heart, Roxas knew that it was far from over—just the previous night, he had sat up until two in the morning perusing the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's website, bookmarking links and looking up information on how to care for MS sufferers. To say that their family had had a rough couple of years would be an understatement of the criminal kind. He had to be ready, had to keep his head above water. Before I could raise my Heart from one, another has come.
But for now, the grin on his mouth felt right and perfect where it was, and he knew better than to mess with a good thing.
On the steps of the entrance, Roxas saw Pence. His face held that blurry, owlish look that meant he had spent the entire night coding again and fallen asleep on his keyboard around five in the morning. Roxas knew Pence was probably on Google's shortlist or something, but if he kept this up, no hypothetical amount of trickledown popularity from Roxas could possibly get him through senior year in one piece.
"Is the binary numeral system the new language of lovers?" Roxas asked sweetly.
Pence shot him a dirty look. "Good morning to you too, jerk face," he said—and that was about all he managed to get out before a hulkish blur tackled him flat, screaming, "I'm gonna rip your head off, motherfucker! Stay the hell away from my girlfriend!"
By the time someone thought to fetch Olette, Roxas had already sustained an elbow to the ribs in a heroic attempt to pull Rai off of Pence. As Olette strode into the fray yelling about how stupid they were and how she was going to kill each of them dead and then learn black magic to resurrect them just so she could kill them again, he helped Pence to his feet, and reflected that, really, he should have known the cycle of pain would have just begun afresh.
For some obscure and difficult to explain reason, Olette did not seem at all offended by her ex's attempted assault on her supposed best friend. She was, as a matter of fact, rather taken by his action, and the Great and Terrible Olette-Rai Rift finally came to an end, to the vast relief of the general populace.
"I'm sure she'll give him hell for it later," Roxas consoled Pence, once Olette and Rai had scurried off to do whatever reconciliation-related things that heterosexual people did.
Pence snorted. "I wouldn't bet on it." He wiped at his bleeding lip, and said, "Do you think any girls saw me sock him in the eye back there?"
"Dozens," Roxas said facetiously. He had, in fact, seen Rai's Prom date Fuu send a mildly impressed look Pence's way when he'd got in his one lucky punch, so maybe it wasn't all in vain.
He knew life had completely returned to normal when he walked into homeroom and found Hayner slumped over his desk, wearing an ominous expression that only an early morning encounter of the Seifer-kind could have engendered. Pence was still making proud noises about his latest display of masculine brawn, and when Olette whirled through the door a few minutes later, humming a cheerful tune under her breath, Roxas found it difficult to believe that so much had changed.
And right on cue, his phone began belting Katamari on the Rocks at him.
SEVEN PERCENT OF AMERICANS DON'T KNOW THE FIRST 9 WORDS OF THE AMERICAN ANTHEM BUT KNOW THE FIRST 7 OF THE CANADIAN ANTHEM.
Roxas snorted. He scrolled to the bottom for the usual pictorial depiction, but then almost snapped his phone in half when he saw what Axel had sent. Somehow, he'd always known that he would one day take up with a ravening pervert. (But he'd save that picture for later, more private perusal anyway.)
While waiting for the teacher to show up, Roxas decided once and for all that a) he really needed to find a less obnoxious ringtone, and b) even if he couldn't yet take Axel up on his offer to take Roxas far and far away, that did not mean that they weren't allowed to take field trips every now and then. In fact, he knew just the place.
With a smirk wide enough to break his face, Roxas flipped out his phone again and began punching in a new message.
how do you feel about muppets and musical theater?
The Last A/N Evar: And that's it. The end. It took over three years, but I've finally made it here - I could sob right now. I'd like to thank everyone for your fantastic patience and support. I totally understand how frustrating it must have been to wait on me at times, especially if you're one of the very few unfortunate souls who've been around since day one. In a way, the end of this fic also serves as a coda of sorts to my time in Kingdom Hearts fandom. I started writing it right after posting my first KH fic, and now it's all grown up and going to college :( I'm still going to be around, but it's probably sort of obvious at this point that KH (and Axel/Roxas) isn't where my main interest lies these days.
Then again, you never know ;)