(A/N): It's the return of the never-ending one shot! Oh my God, this thing is so long. It just refused to be finished. As usual, when I should be working on something else (say, new chapters of Waiting or long overdue challenge fics) I get blind-sided by plot bunnies. Vicious buggers. Another ridiculously long one shot inspired by listening to music at ungodly hours of the night (sleep is for the weak).
Disclaimer: Insert witty disclaimer here.
Like Feeling Alive
Roxas squinted against the pervasive sun, ducking his head and letting his bangs shadow his eyes. Hands buried in his pockets, he studied the sand underneath his sandaled feet, distantly aware of his cousin running ahead, his brown spikes stirred by the breeze coming off the ocean. Sora's enthusiastic shout echoed in his ears, and Roxas spared a quick glance in the direction his cousin had run.
Two other forms were silhouetted against the glittering water; Roxas felt the corners of his lips lift grudgingly as Sora bounded up to them, a beaming smile on his face. Sora's smile gentled as Kairi reached out and took his hand, tugging him into a quick hug. Sora wrapped his arms loosely around her slim waist before he stepped back, laughing and pulling a hand through his hair at something Riku said. Ducking his head again, Roxas fought down a scowl.
A reluctant grin spread over his face as Roxas lifted his eyes – Sora was waving him over impatiently, flanked by his two friends. Stifling a sigh, Roxas drifted over, keeping his hands buried deep in his pockets. He'd tried to tell Sora he didn't feel like going out, but Sora had adamantly refused to leave him in the empty apartment.
Sora stepped forward with a quick, nervous smile, standing next to Roxas and facing his friends. "You guys remember Roxas, don't you?" He twirled a strand of hair nervously in his fingers. Kairi nodded and smiled, stepping forward and wrapping her arms around Roxas's shoulders.
"It's nice to see you again, Roxas," she murmured, resting her cheek against his. Roxas nodded and cut his eyes over to Sora, arms circling her body in an awkward hug when the brunette smiled quietly at him.
"Yeah," he muttered, wincing slightly at his tone. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Same here." Squeezing him gently, Kairi stepped back, and Roxas winced again at the look in her eyes – cutting his gaze back to Sora, his eyes narrowed as he took in the way Sora was biting at his lip.
"Roxas." Roxas scowled up at Riku, annoyed at the interruption of his thoughts. The silver-haired man's eyes were cool, appraising as he extended his hand, and Roxas squeezed it with a little too much force as he shook it, smirking internally at the way Riku's eyes narrowed.
Sensing the tension between the two, Sora stepped forward, laying a hand on Roxas's shoulder and drawing his cousin away from the other man. "I thought we could all go out to the island," he said quietly, keeping his eyes on Roxas's face. Roxas grimaced, glancing away and schooling his features back into a neutral expression as Sora's face fell. He tilted his head back, gazing into the sky.
The light here was all wrong. Closing his eyes, Roxas concentrated on the feel of Sora's hand on his shoulder, trying to drive back a headache. His cousin was trying so hard, when Roxas had done nothing to deserve his kindness. Blowing out a small breath, Roxas opened his eyes and turned his gaze back to Sora. "Sure. I'd like that."
Sora's face split into a wide grin, and he pulled a hand through his hair as his eyes swept back to the other two. Riku nodded once and turned away, Kairi falling into step behind him as they headed for the docks. Sora ducked his head, peering at Roxas from the corner of his eye. "You sure? You don't have to, you know." Roxas frowned at him, and Sora tucked his chin into his chest, a small smile on his lips. "All right, Roxas."
Grabbing the blond's arm, Sora took off after his friends, dragging his scowling cousin behind him. Letting his eyes fall back to the sand, Roxas allowed Sora to pull him along, wiping a hand distractedly against the back of his neck. He remained behind as the other three argued loudly over how many boats to take out, finally settling on two. Riku and Kairi climbed into the first, and Sora returned to Roxas and dragged him into the second.
Roxas gripped the sides, eyes narrowing at the way the small craft rocked beneath him. Sora smiled at his expression, settling easily on the other seat and taking the oars confidently in his hands. "Relax, Rox," he grinned, laughing when Roxas scowled at him.
Roxas remained silent as Sora pulled away from the pier, the brunette rowing with easy, measured strokes. The boat sped across the open water, and Roxas didn't miss the small smirk that flashed across Sora's face as they pulled even with Riku and Kairi's boat. Aquamarine eyes flashed at the unspoken challenge, and Riku threw himself behind the oars, Kairi gripping her seat and laughing as the two boats sheared through the water. Roxas tightened his grip until his knuckles were white, closing his eyes in an effort to appease the queasiness in his stomach.
His eyes popped back open as an embarrassing groan crawled up his throat, and Roxas clapped a hand over his mouth. Noticing his distress, Sora immediately stopped rowing, carefully bringing the boat to a standstill. It didn't help – small waves still lapped at the hull and rocked the boat, and Roxas impatiently gestured for his cousin to continue on. Biting his lip, Sora took the oars in hand again, rowing gently toward the sandy shoreline.
Roxas didn't wait for the boat to reach the beach – throwing himself over the side, he stumbled until he found his footing in the knee-deep water, taking deep breaths as he squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for his head to stop spinning. Hands braced on his thighs, he strove to beat back the nausea, smiling weakly when he heard Sora splash back out to him. His cousin's hands braced themselves on his shoulders, and Roxas heard the quiet panic in the brunette's voice. "Roxas? Are you all right?"
Roxas swallowed thickly before he cracked his eyes open, shaky smile spreading at the expression on the brunette's face. "I'm fine, Sora," he muttered, stepping out of Sora's hold and running a hand through his hair. Sora tugged at a strand of hair, expression unconvinced.
"You never got seasick before," he murmured, peering at Roxas worriedly. Roxas scowled and glanced away. Sighing, Sora reached out hesitantly and laid his hand against Roxas's arm. "You feel okay?" Roxas nodded, straightening and wiping a hand over his face.
"Sorry," he muttered. Sora smiled softly and turned away.
"You don't have to apologize, idiot," he sighed. Roxas shoved his hands back into his pockets as he waded to shore, head bowed. Riku and Kairi were waiting at the shoreline, features etched with worry, and Roxas stifled a sigh.
"What happened?" Kairi asked, stepping forward and trying to get a glimpse of Roxas's face. Sora sighed and gently pushed her upright, grabbing her hand as he drew his friends away from the water.
"He got a little seasick," he muttered. Roxas lingered at the edge of the water, eyes fixed on the way Sora and Kairi's hands were clasped together, fingers intertwining. He felt a sharp twinge in his chest, and he kicked his sandals off with a scowl. Leaving them in the boat to dry, he trailed after the three friends, gaze trained on the water.
Sora grew increasingly excited as they approached the small stretch of beach Roxas remembered so well, glancing back at Roxas with a wide grin before he grabbed his two friends and broke into a jog. Riku and Kairi flowed behind him, and Roxas felt his chest clench again before he reluctantly followed them, eyes sweeping the sand for broken shells that might cut his bare feet.
He paused when he saw where they were headed, hands tightening into fists before he turned his head away, moving to sit at the edge of the water instead of following further. The bent tree was special to the three of them; besides, four didn't fit comfortably around the twisted trunk. Running one hand absently against the warm sand, Roxas unearthed a dry twig. He rolled it lazily in his fingers, tracing abstract lines in the sand that were repeatedly washed away by the gentle lapping of the waves.
Jerking his head up, Roxas found Sora standing off to his right side, bottom lip caught under his teeth and hands stuffed in his pockets. "Are you really okay?" Roxas's eyes slid past him, and he saw Riku and Kairi sitting together on the old tree – he wasn't sure, but he thought they were watching them.
"You told them."
It was a statement, not a question, and Sora flushed before he nodded. "I'm sorry," he muttered, rubbing a hand against the back of his head. "I just… I thought it would be easier if they knew – so they didn't try to ask a-and upset you or something." Roxas ducked his head and studied the sand at his feet, wrestling with the tightness at the back of his eyes. "I'm sorry," Sora repeated softly, taking a step closer before he paused, shoulders stiff. "I should've asked you first."
It took more effort than it should've to swallow the lump in his throat, but Roxas forced a smile to his face before he glanced back up at his cousin. "It's fine," he managed, pressing his lips into a thin line when he heard the unsteadiness in his voice. Sora's eyes softened, and Roxas turned his eyes back to the ocean as his cousin sank down into the sand beside him.
"I really am sorry, Rox," he said softly. Roxas sighed and glanced at the brunette out of the corner of his eye, a wry smile on his face.
Sora ducked his head, eyes sliding closed as a gentle smile spread across his face. Roxas lifted his face and let the ocean breeze stir his hair, leaning back and resting on his hands as he waited for Sora to rejoin his friends. His gaze flicked back to the brunette when Sora made a soft sound in the back of his throat.
"We were gonna visit the secret place," Sora said, glancing at Roxas and then back to where Riku and Kairi were waiting for them. "Did you wanna come?" Roxas shook his head, forcing a smile to his face to try and soften the refusal.
"You guys go ahead," he muttered, pushing the stick through the damp sand. "I'll just sit here." Sora's shoulders drooped for a moment before he nodded and pushed himself to his feet, wiping the sand from his clothing as he stood.
"We shouldn't be too long," he offered with a thin smile. Roxas nodded, smile still in place, but it cracked and fell away when Sora turned and headed back toward Riku and Kairi. Sighing, Roxas broke the stick in half and threw it into the waves.
Roxas felt a sense of immeasurable relief as he stepped out of the small boat and onto the dock, relishing a surface that didn't roll beneath his feet. He heard Sora clambering out behind him, the brunette laughing a little breathlessly as he stumbled on a loose plank. Roxas stiffened slightly when Sora threw an arm over his shoulders, forcing himself to relax when Sora's expression flickered uncertainly.
"That was nice," Roxas offered, pulling a hand through his hair. Sora regarded him with a hopeful smile.
"Really?" Roxas nodded and grinned, ruffling Sora's hair in a rare display of affection.
Sora's smile was infectious, and Roxas couldn't help mirroring his cousin's expression as they headed back to the rental office. Sora let his arm slide from Roxas's shoulders, lacing his fingers behind his head as he beamed in perfect contentment, and Roxas ducked his head as Riku and Kairi ran up behind them.
"What do you guys say to dinner?" Riku asked, flicking his bangs out of his eyes. Kairi peered up at him, hands clasped behind her back as her violet eyes glowed mischievously.
"Are you buying?" she asked, her voice lilting. Riku rolled his eyes before he shrugged, a crooked smile on his face. Sora spun on his heel, regarding the older man with a wide grin.
"I'd call that a yes," he laughed, hands dropping to swing at his sides. Riku groaned in mock exasperation and put his hands up.
"Fine, I'm buying," he grumbled, a smirk flashing across his face like quicksilver when Kairi laughed and pecked him on the cheek.
"You spoil us," she assured him, smiling when Sora reached out and tangled her fingers with his. Sora glanced over at his cousin, a hopeful light in his eyes.
"Did you want to go to dinner, Rox?" Roxas shrugged and cut his eyes to the side.
"I'm not very hungry," he muttered, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I'll just wander around downtown for a little while, okay?" Sora's face fell, but he shrugged and nodded, his grip on Kairi's hand tightening.
"I'll see you at the apartment?" His voice was quiet, and he smiled a little when Roxas's eyes met his. Roxas nodded, and Kairi stepped forward and wrapped him in another hug.
"We'll see you later?" she asked softly, once again resting her cheek against his. Roxas shrugged, wrapping one arm around her and staring at the ground. He felt her sigh before she pulled back, eyes soft. Sora took her hand again and they moved away, Riku trailing behind them and throwing a lazy wave over his shoulder. Roxas watched them walk away for a moment before he turned in the opposite direction, eyes trained on his shoes.
Ignoring the people that jostled against him, he left the beach behind and headed further into the town, seeking the hills set back from the water. Destiny Islands didn't have a Sunset Hill, a place with a perfect spot to watch the sunset, but some of its hills offered a vantage point with minimal obstructions between himself and his view of the sun setting over the water.
He liked this time of day best – the light was warmer, softer, more like the light he had grown up in and which he desperately missed. It was always too bright, too vibrant here, and the way it reflected off of the ocean for miles dazzled the eyes. Roxas would be glad when his time here was over and he could return to Twilight Town.
He scowled at that thought and scuffed his feet against the pavement. That was unfair to Sora – his cousin had been unbelievably supportive since Roxas had shown up, practically unannounced, on his doorstep three weeks ago. Sora had left him to himself for the most part, rarely insisting Roxas leave the confines of the apartment, only recently becoming adamant that the blond join him in his expeditions outside. Roxas knew he would never have come as far as he had without the brunette's quiet understanding.
Sighing, Roxas shook himself out of his thoughts as he arrived at his favorite hill – set behind a bustling open-air market, it offered the clearest view of the ocean Roxas had been able to find. His lips turned down in a slight frown when he saw someone was already seated underneath the tall tree, a lit cigarette hanging from his fingers and his eyes trained out over the water. Roxas paused, debating turning away and finding another vantage point, but the sun was already sinking toward the horizon behind him, and he continued forward with a scowl.
The man looked up at his approach, and his eyes flared like emeralds in the light of the setting sun. Roxas inclined his head before he leaned against the rough bark, eyes trained on the water. The stranger's eyes lingered on Roxas's face before he nodded back and turned his head away. Roxas felt the tension in his shoulders easing, and a small smile crossed his face as he sighed heavily.
"Like the sunset?"
Roxas glanced down at the stranger, a little taken aback. The man's head was tilted to allow him to peer up at Roxas from the corner of his eye, a small smirk playing around the edges of his lips. Roxas frowned before he shrugged, turning his eyes back to the water.
The redhead nodded distractedly, pulling a hand through his hair, and Roxas noticed the small tattoos inked on his cheeks. He winced slightly and shifted his weight. Catching the movement from the corner of his eye, the stranger's smirk widened as he brought his cigarette back to his lips. "You live around here?" Roxas's frown deepened as he glowered at the ocean.
"That's none of your business," he grumbled. To his surprise, the redhead laughed, a warm, rasping sound, and Roxas wavered between being annoyed and giving in to the grin that suddenly tugged at the corner of his lips.
"True," the redhead grinned, exhaling a thin plume of smoke. He twisted to face the blond, arching an eyebrow. "So do you?" Roxas rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, shifting slightly when the bark dug into his shoulder.
"Axel," the redhead supplied, a sharp grin flashing across his face as Roxas glowered at the interruption.
"Axel," Roxas growled, eyes narrowing at the man's arrogance, "I don't really want to talk to you, okay? I just came up here to watch the sunset." Axel's eyebrow rose a little higher before he shrugged, a small, secret smile playing over his lips as he turned away from the blond again, flicking his cigarette out into the grass.
"Fair enough," he muttered, lapsing back into silence. Roxas sighed and readjusted his position against the tree, smiling in spite of himself as the sun began to sink beneath the horizon. Axel remained mercifully silent as it disappeared beneath the water, and Roxas felt a fleeting regret that his friends couldn't be there to witness it with him. Namine would've been able to capture the way the light reflected and refracted over the waves perfectly.
Finally, as the sun slipped completely beneath the horizon, Axel pushed himself to his feet, shaking his clothing free of the dry grass that clung to him before digging out another cigarette. He glanced over his shoulder at Roxas, a sardonic smile on his lips. "See you around, kid." Without waiting for a response, he shoved his hands in his pockets and walked away.
Roxas watched him leave with a frown before he straightened, running one hand through his hair distractedly before he headed in the direction of Sora's apartment.
The brunette was already there when he arrived, glancing up from where he was sprawled across the couch, remote resting on his stomach. "Hey, Rox. Are you hungry?" Roxas began to shake his head before he realized he hadn't stopped and eaten anything on the way back. As if on cue, his stomach growled, and Roxas frowned at the gleam of amusement in his cousin's eyes. "I got you a doggy bag," Sora grinned, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the kitchen. "It's in the fridge."
Roxas stared at him for a moment before he ducked his head and scratched at the back of his neck. "You didn't have to do that," he muttered. Sora shrugged and bent one arm behind his head, turning his eyes back to the television.
"Yeah, yeah – it's on the second shelf." A self-deprecating grin spread over Roxas's face before he moved past the brunette, heading for the kitchen.
"Thanks." Sora hummed a response at him, lips tilting upward just slightly as Roxas swept past him.
Roxas stripped out of his shirt, tossing it into the small hamper in the corner before he dug his cell phone out of his pocket. Setting it on the nightstand, he grabbed a pair of pajama pants and stepped into the small bathroom just outside his bedroom door. He could hear the muted sounds of the television, and he let a soft smile slip across his face before he closed the door behind him.
Turning the spray on in the shower, he studied his face in the mirror as he waited for the warm water to kick in. The dark circles he'd worn beneath his eyes for months were finally fading, and the sallow tint had finally relinquished its hold on his skin. He looked, he realized with a small shock, almost like he had before the accident. Tracing the thin scar across his chest, he ducked his head before he turned away from the mirror, stripping out of the rest of his clothes before he stepped underneath the heavy spray, closing his eyes as the water pounded against his skin.
When he was finished, he dried himself quickly, leaving the towel draped over the shower rod and opening the small window to let some of the steam escape into the evening air. The television was still on in the living room, and Roxas padded down the short hallway and stuck his head into the room.
Sora was still sprawled across the couch, one arm tucked behind his head – his eyes were closed in a light doze, and the remote had dropped to the floor beside him. Roxas cleared his throat noisily, grinning when the brunette jumped and bolted upright, brown spikes mussed from his unexpected nap. Turning to face the blond, a sheepish smile spread over Sora's face as he rubbed at the back of his neck. "Hey, Rox." Roxas's grin morphed into a playful smirk as he arched an eyebrow at his cousin.
"Just thought you might like to know the shower's free," he chuckled, pushing his damp bangs out of his face. Sora nodded and unfolded himself from the couch, stretching before he flicked the television off.
"You going to bed?" Roxas nodded, and Sora grinned and stifled a yawn. "Night."
"Night." Roxas rolled his eyes at Sora's expression and moved back down the hall, pulling his door shut behind him. Biting back a yawn of his own, he moved over to the bed, sliding beneath the sheets and propping himself up against the headboard before reaching for his phone. He punched in the number he knew by heart, bringing the phone to his ear and listening to it ring on the other end.
Roxas blew out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and smiled into the receiver. "Yeah, hi, Namine." He heard the petite blonde sigh softly, and her smile was evident in her voice.
"How's Sora?" Roxas shrugged and tilted his head back, eyes resting on the thin cracks in the plaster of the ceiling.
"He's…Sora," he muttered, grinning at Namine's soft laughter. "He's good," he amended, trailing his fingers through his hair distractedly. "He's been a lot of help, you know?"
"I'm glad." Namine's voice was soft, gentle, and Roxas found himself smiling at the relief he heard in her voice.
"How are things over there?" Roxas asked, pushing himself up a little straighter. Namine hummed quietly as she considered the question.
"They're good," she said slowly. "Everyone asks about you all the time. They asked me to tell you they said hi." Roxas's brows knitted at the hesitation in Namine's voice.
"Namine?" The petite blonde sighed heavily, and Roxas could picture her tucking her hair back behind her ear as she searched for words.
"They're worried about you," she murmured. Roxas ducked his head and sighed, scratching at his temple.
"I'm fine, Namine," he insisted gently. "I'll have Sora send you a picture if you don't believe me." Namine's laughter was quiet, edged with melancholy, but Roxas smiled all the same.
"All right," she sighed. "How are things in Destiny Islands?" Roxas shrugged, a small frown slipping over his features.
"It's not Twilight Town," he muttered. There was a short silence on the line before Roxas spoke again, trying to force some cheer into his voice. "Sora took me out to that little island today – did I ever tell you about it?"
"It was…nice." Roxas struggled to sound upbeat, but from the silence on Namine's end, it was a wasted effort. "He's trying so hard, Namine," he muttered tiredly, leaning forward and resting his head in his free hand. "And I –"
"You're adjusting, Roxas," Namine interrupted quietly. "You're healing – and he knows that. Just give it a little more time, please." Roxas sucked in a shaky breath, holding it for a moment before he released it in a rush, his shoulders slumping.
"Yeah," he murmured, a soft smile ghosting across his lips. "I…" He trailed off, biting his lip and rubbing at the back of his neck.
"I miss you, too," Namine smiled, and Roxas's eyes slid closed as his smile spread.
Sora was gone when Roxas got up the next morning. A bright sticky note was pasted to the bathroom door, and Roxas rolled his eyes before he pulled it down, trying to rub the sleep out of his eyes so that he could read it.
Hey Rox –
Sorry, but I had to go in to work early. Help yourself to whatever you'd like in the fridge. Don't forget that we're supposed to go downtown later today. See ya later!
Unable to stifle his grin, Roxas ambled into the kitchen, dropping the note in the trash before he pulled a box of cereal from its resting place in the bottom right cabinet. Going through the automatic motions of preparing breakfast, Roxas let his gaze travel over the cheerful yellow walls, his brow marred by a slight frown.
Usually, without his cousin to drag him from the apartment, Roxas would retreat to his room and lose himself in his books, headphones fixed firmly over his ears to shut out any distractions. As his eyes skimmed over the familiar contours of the small apartment, Roxas felt an unexpected rush of cabin fever, a fervent desire to be outside with the sun beating down on him. Frowning thoughtfully, he finished his cereal and set his dishes in the sink.
He lingered over the counter, one hand resting atop it absently as he trained his gaze out the window, chewing at his lower lip. Finally, with a mental shrug, he turned away and retreated back to his room. Dressing quickly, he grabbed a dog-eared paperback from the top of his bag, curling up against his headboard and turning to the appropriate page.
He couldn't concentrate.
His eyes kept slipping from the pages of the book to the window, gaze lingering on the strip of ocean barely visible between the assorted buildings. Finally, with a disgruntled groan, he dropped the book back in his travel bag and slipped his sandals on. Making sure he still had his spare key, he locked the door behind him and headed for the beach.
He kept his eyes down, hands shoved deep in his pockets, grumbling at the number of people crowding the sidewalk. The sun beat down, too bright to his eyes, and Roxas scowled as he wondered why this had seemed like a good idea. His mood only soured when he saw the beach – he could hardly see the sand for the number of people spread across it.
Pausing on the sidewalk, ignoring the complaints of those who had to step around him, Roxas glared at the ocean as if it were responsible for his strange mood. Finally, he spun around and stalked away, hands tightening into fists at his sides. He considered returning to the apartment, picking up his book again, but his mind shied away from the thought. Growling in frustration, Roxas cast about for something to distract himself.
A small café up the street caught his eye, and Roxas's stomach growled its hunger as he eyed the menu hanging from the doorpost. Fingering the money in his pocket, Roxas debated with himself for a moment before his stomach growled again, deciding the issue for him. With a heavy sigh, he entered the cool shop and slid into the small booth he was led to without a word.
Roxas started and glanced up – green eyes glinted in amusement, and then Axel was sliding in across from him, lips curled in a self-satisfied smirk at Roxas's expression. Roxas stared at the man, throat straining to produce sound as his lips worked uselessly. Finally, irritation rising at the redhead's expression, his mouth snapped closed and his face twisted into a fierce scowl.
"What are you doing here?" he bit out, hands curling into fists in his lap at the smug expression on Axel's face. The older man shrugged.
"Eating," he replied, arching an eyebrow and grinning at Roxas's furious expression. He sighed melodramatically when Roxas continued to glare at him. "Look, I saw you come in and came over to say hello. No harm in that, right?"
Roxas felt confusion cloud his anger – brows knitting together, he stared at the man suspiciously. "Why?" Axel shrugged.
"I was bored," he grinned, eyes glinting when Roxas growled in irritation.
"Go bother someone else," Roxas grated out, snapping his menu open and raising it in front of his face.
"But you're the only one who seems interesting," Axel drawled, settling further into his seat. Roxas's scowl intensified, and Axel laughed softly.
"Go. Away." Axel only smiled, crossing his arms loosely over his chest. Roxas glared fiercely at the menu, not seeing it all. Finally, when Axel didn't move, Roxas slapped it back down on the table. "Would you just leave me alone?" he hissed. Axel tilted his head to the side, regarding the blond with an inquisitive air.
"Why?" he asked at last, sounding genuinely curious. Roxas stared at him, slack-jawed, before he propped his elbows on the table and cradled his head in his hands. He never should've left the apartment – no amount of cabin fever could be worse than this.
"Fine. I'm leaving," he muttered, scrambling out of the small booth, hating the amused glint in Axel's eyes. He expected the man to object, to try and persuade him to stay, but Axel only grinned and gave him a mocking little wave.
"I'll see you around, kid," he drawled, grin widening at the look Roxas shot him before he bolted for the door.
Roxas kept his eyes glued forward, paying no attention to the storefronts flashing past in his peripheral vision. His teeth were grinding together so hard his jaw ached, and he ducked his chin into his chest as he broke into a run, ignoring the indignant cries of the crowd he was shoving through.
He ran all the way back to the apartment, tearing through the small rooms and slamming the door of his bedroom behind him. Throwing himself down on the bed, he buried his head under the pillow as he waited for his heartbeat to slow.
That stupid, arrogant asshole.
Tearing the pillow off his head and pitching it to the side, Roxas curled on his side, glaring at the wall. While the redhead was aggravating in and of himself, Roxas knew what annoyed him most was how hard it was to sustain his anger at the man. He'd felt it last night, as well – it was dangerously easy to let himself relax around the stranger, and he didn't like it. Squeezing his eyes shut, Roxas groped for his headphones, slipping them on and turning up the volume until his eardrums felt like they might start bleeding.
He was still curled on his bed when Sora came home. Roxas's eyes shot open when the brunette's hand rested on his shoulder – bolting upright, he scooted against the far wall as he twisted to scowl at his cousin. Sora's expression was apologetic, and Roxas choked down his irritation, offering him a thin smile as he lowered the headphones to his shoulders and turned the music down.
"Hey," Sora said softly, an uncertain grin on his face. "Sorry, I didn't mean to –"
"It's fine," Roxas interrupted, forcing his smile to widen. "I just didn't hear you come in." Sora's eyes remained shadowed.
"Don't see how you could," he muttered, lips tugging down in a slight frown. "I could hear the music from the door, Rox." Roxas scowled and glanced away, pulling the headphones off and tossing the whole thing back into his bag. Sora waited for a moment, but when Roxas didn't speak he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Did you still want to go tonight?" he asked softly. "Kairi and Riku said they'd come with us, if you want."
Roxas stared at him blankly for a minute before he remembered his cousin's note that morning. Flushing and cutting his eyes away from the brunette's face, Roxas hunched his shoulders as he stared out the window. "I'm sorry, Sora, I really don't want to go out." He saw Sora's face fall further from the corner of his eye, and he scowled fiercely, hating that he was disappointing the cheerful brunette yet again. "You go ahead," he growled, resting one hand over his eyes and massaging his temples.
"Rox…" Sora's voice trailed off unhappily, but Roxas refused to look up. Silence settled between them until Sora sighed softly. "All right," he murmured, and Roxas heard his feet scuff against the carpet as he turned away. "I'll se you later, okay?"
Roxas waited until his cousin had left the room to lash out, punching the wall so hard he worried distractedly about breaking something. Grinding his teeth together, he collapsed back onto the bed, cradling his injured hand against his chest as he glared at the ceiling. At least here he couldn't unintentionally hurt the only family he had left.
He heard Sora leave the apartment about ten minutes later, and he pushed himself up on one arm, peering out the window. Kairi and Riku were waiting on the sidewalk, and Roxas winced guiltily at the defeated set of Sora's shoulders as the brunette trudged out to meet them. Kairi's eyes were sympathetic as she wrapped him in a warm hug, and Roxas's heart clenched when Sora buried his face in her shoulder with a heavy sigh. He couldn't see the brunette's face, but his shoulders were straighter when he pulled back, and he laughed shakily at something Riku said, the older man smiling and ruffling Sora's hair before he grabbed the younger boy by the back of the neck and began steering him down the sidewalk, Kairi laughing and trailing behind them.
Sighing, Roxas sank back down on the mattress, staring at the ceiling, feeling his hand throb in time to his heartbeat and wondering bitterly when he'd become such a bastard.
Roxas's eyes snapped open and he jerked upright, disoriented. Breath coming in ragged gasps, he gazed wildly around the room until his senses returned and he recognized the small bedroom. Curling into a ball, he tangled one hand painfully in his hair, squeezing his eyes shut as he waited for the vivid nightmare to recede back into the realm of dreams.
Finally, the hysterical screams and jagged squeal of tortured metal faded back to the dark recesses of his mind that had spawned them. Roxas drew a deep, shaky breath before he pushed himself up, biting back a cry as he put too much weight on his injured hand. Cradling it against his chest, he stumbled into the bathroom. Scowling at his face in the mirror, he yanked the medicine cabinet open, searching for a bandage and bottle of painkillers.
Downing two Tylenol and winding the bandage around his hand and wrist, Roxas wandered into the living room, throwing himself onto the couch with an aggravated sigh. He reached for the remote, pausing with it still in his hands as he stared blankly ahead. He felt out of sorts, tense and uneasy while sitting still, and the thought of losing himself in mindless shows suddenly held no appeal.
Tossing the remote back on the coffee table, Roxas grabbed his key and cell phone and left the apartment, slamming the door behind him.
He paused on the sidewalk, eyes skimming the street as he considered where he could go and still be left relatively alone. His hand still throbbed, and just the thought of trying to keep the crowds from jostling him exhausted him. Tearing his good hand through his hair, he turned and trudged toward the hill he usually watched the sunset from. The sun was already sinking toward the horizon – he'd sit there and let the familiar sight soothe him and hope that his strange restlessness would dissipate on its own.
Tucking his hand carefully against his chest, he settled at the foot of the tree, leaning back against the trunk and resting his eyes on the water, the tension already draining from his shoulders. Closing his eyes, Roxas dug for his cell phone, turning it over in his fingers as he let the light wash past him. He was just beginning to consider flipping it open and calling Namine when a familiar voice spoke close to his ear.
The rough bark of the tree scraped Roxas's back through his shirt as he jumped violently, jerking away from the redhead, eyes flying open before they narrowed at the amused tilt to Axel's lips.
Axel shrugged easily, grinning around the cigarette pinched between his lips. "Came to watch the sunset," he muttered, eyes dancing at Roxas's scowl. Roxas edged away from him, fingers curling around the grass in frustration.
"What, are you following me?" he demanded, eyeing the redhead distrustfully. Axel rolled his eyes, holding one hand to his heart.
"That hurts, kid." Roxas snorted, feeling his shoulders relax and hating the reaction, clinging to his anger.
"Like I care," he snapped, turning his face away from the redhead. Axel sighed and pulled a hand through his hair.
"Anyone ever tell you you're a bastard?" Roxas winced a little at hearing his earlier thoughts thrown back at him, glowering at the ocean as he entertained himself with the mental image of Axel being crushed by a stray meteor.
"So stop talking to me," he muttered, hunching his shoulders irritably. Axel grinned and rested his head back against the tree, peering at Roxas out of the corner of his eye.
"I'm bored." Roxas blew his breath out noisily, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.
"Look, could you just please shut up? I really don't wanna talk to you right now." Axel hummed in the back of his throat, tapping his knee thoughtfully.
"Tell me your name." Roxas whipped his head around, eyes narrowed.
"What?" Axel shrugged, a crooked grin spreading over his face.
"Tell me your name," he repeated.
"Tell me your name and I'll shut up," Axel amended, grin widening at Roxas's frustrated groan.
"Roxas," the blond spit out, eyes fixed stubbornly on the sunset. "Now shut up."
To his surprise, Axel did, though the redhead kept sneaking glances at him when he thought Roxas wasn't looking. Finally, Roxas turned and caught him – Axel didn't even have the grace to flush. "What the hell are you looking at?" Roxas demanded. Axel shrugged.
Roxas's eyes narrowed. Sensing the direction of his thoughts, Axel threw his hands up. "Hey, not like that, kid. Relax." When Roxas continued to glare at him, the redhead sighed and turned his gaze back to the sunset. "You're…interesting," he muttered, lips tilting up in a small smirk.
"And you're annoying," Roxas snapped, hating the grin that tugged at his lips when Axel threw his head back and laughed.
"I think I like you, kid," he grinned, flicking his cigarette away.
"I'm thrilled," Roxas muttered, rolling his eyes. Axel's grin only widened as he settled back against the tree and crossed his arms over his chest. He didn't speak again, and Roxas pushed himself up when the sun finally disappeared beneath the horizon, pulling one hand through his hair distractedly as he hesitated, finally shaking his head and walking away.
"I'll see you around, Roxas," Axel called after him, and Roxas was shocked to find himself smiling at the note of assurance in the redhead's voice.
"Wanna get something to eat?"
Roxas turned his head away to hide his grin as Axel threw his head back and laughed, shifting his weight on his elbows as he cocked his head to the side, eyes trained on the sunset as his laughter died away. It was the third day Axel had been waiting under the tree, and Roxas was irritated at how he'd come to expect him to be there in such a short time.
"C'mon, kid, not even you can be that anti-social."
Axel swung his head around to regard him with an amused air. "Why not?"
"I'm not hungry," Roxas lied, leaning back against the tree. Axel snorted.
"Sure, that's why your stomach's been growling for the past five minutes," he scoffed, crooked grin flashing across his face when Roxas flushed and glanced away. "What's the matter, Rox, don't you like me?"
"No," Roxas growled, irritated at the easy familiarity of the nickname on Axel's lips. Axel's grin only widened as he lay back, pillowing his head on his arms.
"Liar," he smirked. Roxas clenched his teeth and glared at the sunset. Axel finally fell silent, though Roxas knew he wouldn't stay that way for long. "So what are you doing here?" Axel asked suddenly. When Roxas glanced at him, surprised, the redhead's expression was unusually serious, his eyes locked on Roxas's face. Roxas's stomach clenched before he turned his face away, shrugging.
"Watching the sunset."
Something flashed across Axel's eyes too quickly for Roxas to catch, but he let it slide, expression still sober as he turned his gaze back to the ocean. Mood decidedly darker, Roxas glared at his feet, the silence suddenly heavy and uncomfortable. "Do you like ice cream?" he asked abruptly, feeling foolish as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Axel glanced at him, wide-eyed, and Roxas scowled and tucked his chin into his chest. "Never mind," he growled.
"You want ice cream, Rox?"
Roxas refused to look at the man, scowl deepening at the soft laugh that issued from the redhead's throat. "You're an interesting kid."
Roxas glared at the ocean. "Shut up."
Roxas was halfway out the door when Sora called him back. Beating back his irritation, Roxas glanced over his shoulder at his cousin, eyebrow arched in silent question. Sora bit at his lip as he studied Roxas's face.
"U-Um, we were gonna go shopping in the market," Sora mumbled, scuffing one toe absently against the carpet. "Did you…?" He trailed off as Roxas shook his head and turned away. The blond bit the inside of his cheek when Sora called after him again. "Rox?" Gripping the doorknob tightly, Roxas struggled to keep his voice level.
Sora flinched slightly at his tone, tugging nervously on a strand of dark hair. "I, um, I know I haven't been much help," he began softly, "a-and I wish I could do more, Rox, I really do –"
"Idiot," Roxas interrupted sharply, wincing when Sora flinched again. "Idiot," he repeated, voice gentler. Stepping away from the door, he walked up to his cousin, stuffing his hands in his pockets and glaring at the carpet. "You just – you can't even see it, can you?" he muttered, studying the tops of his sneakers. He sighed noisily, shoulders dropping. "You're such an idiot," he muttered, a soft smile on his face.
He alternately stiffened and relaxed when Sora wrapped him in an awkward hug, resting his head against the brunette's shoulder as he fought the sudden constriction in his throat. He felt Sora sigh before he stepped back, eyes bright. "Sorry," the brunette muttered, laughing a little as he ran a hand across his eyes. Roxas shrugged and cut his eyes to the side. "I'll see you later?"
"Yeah." Turning away from his cousin, Roxas opened the door again, sighing heavily when Sora stuttered behind him. Throwing a glance over his shoulder, not bothering to try and conceal his irritation, he scowled as Sora grinned and ducked his head.
"Where do you go all the time?" Sora asked, peering at him from beneath lowered lashes. Roxas shrugged, fidgeting impatiently.
"To watch the sunset."
"Oh." Sora's voice was soft, and Roxas frowned at the small smile that spread across his cousin's face.
"What?" Sora shrugged and grinned, running a hand through his hair.
"Nothing. Have a good time." Roxas's frown deepened, but Sora didn't say any more, and he turned away with a small shrug.
He kept his head down as he navigated the streets blindly, ignoring the people that brushed against him. He had to make an effort to keep a steady pace as he drew closer to the hill, hating the way his heart began to drum in his chest.
Axel was already there, a lit cigarette hanging from his fingers. He grinned and gave Roxas a mock salute when he saw him, and Roxas ducked his head in an effort to conceal the grin that rose unbidden to his lips. As he drew closer, his features pulled into a frown at the smirk on the redhead's lips, stomach sinking at the way the man was hiding his hands behind his back.
"What?" he asked warily, pausing in front of the redhead. Axel's smirk widened before he held a stick of ice cream out to him, the sticky blue treat already melting in the heat. Roxas couldn't keep the shock from his face, peripherally annoyed at the amused glint in Axel's eyes.
"Well, take it," Axel finally scoffed, pressing the melting bar into his hands. Roxas sank to the ground beside him, still stunned.
"How the hell did you know what flavor I like?" he demanded, but there was no strength behind the words. Axel shrugged, looking entirely too pleased with himself.
"A hunch," he grinned, leaning back on his elbows. Roxas stared at the ice cream, wondering why, of all things, his eyes were suddenly stinging.
"Thank you," he choked out. Axel's eyes softened before he shrugged, laying back and resting his head on his arms.
"Yeah, yeah. Just eat it already." Roxas laughed weakly, bringing the salty treat to his lips and taking a bite of the rapidly melting ice cream, and a warm smile spread over Axel's face as he stared into the sky.
Roxas sighed and stared at the bags stacked neatly next to the door. Only his overnight bag remained open next to the bed, ready for the last-minute addition of his toiletries in the morning before he bid good-bye to Sora and Destiny Islands. He jumped when his cell phone rang, digging it out of his pocket with a small laugh at his own skittishness.
Roxas couldn't help the smile that stole over his face at the sound of the girl's voice. "Hi, Namine."
"Are you all packed?"
Roxas nodded, eyeing the bags piled next to the door, pulling a hand through his hair. "Yeah, I'm all set," he murmured.
"Are you okay?" she asked softly. Roxas grinned at the soft concern he heard in her voice.
"Yeah," he breathed. "Are you still meeting me at the airport?"
"Mm-hmm. Everyone's coming," Namine smiled, laughing a little when Roxas groaned.
"I said not to make a big deal out of it," he insisted, grinning in spite of himself.
"It's been five weeks, Roxas," Namine reminded him, shrugging his argument aside. "They've missed you." Roxas's expression gentled.
"Yeah, I've missed you guys, too," he admitted, moving to sit on the bed.
"We'll see you soon," Namine assured him. Roxas smiled into the receiver before he said good-bye.
Sora remained in the apartment all day – he brushed off Roxas's questions about work, explaining distractedly that he'd asked for the day off. Roxas knew his cousin was depressed about their impending seperation, but by the middle of the afternoon he wanted to scream.
Sora flicked his eyes from the television, fingers twitching against the remote as he focused his attention on his cousin. Roxas frowned and glanced away as he steeled his resolve. "Did you wanna get something to eat?"
Sora's radiant smile was all the answer he needed.
"What are you doing here?"
Axel glanced up, surprised at the soft question, and Roxas scowled and cut his eyes back to the sun setting over the water. The redhead studied him thoughtfully for a moment before he shrugged. "Just passing through," he muttered. Roxas considered his answer for a minute before he spoke again, voice tight.
"I killed somebody."
Axel's eyes flashed back to his face, but his expression remained neutral. Roxas swallowed thickly and ducked his head. "It was an accident," he muttered. "He ran the stop sign – I couldn't stop. I –" His throat tightened, his voice dissolving into a choked sob. He stiffened when he felt the redhead drape an arm over his shoulders, but Axel only pulled him into his side, Roxas's face buried in his chest.
Roxas held himself stiffly for another moment before he collapsed, tangling one hand in Axel's shirt as he screwed his eyes shut, body wracked by silent sobs. Axel rested his back against the tree trunk and let Roxas cry against him, raising his hand to run his fingers soothingly through the blond's hair. Finally, when Roxas had cried himself dry, Axel wrapped his arm around his shoulders again, cradling him against his side as they watched the sun disappear beneath the horizon.
When the stars began to wink into existence above them, Roxas pushed himself up, avoiding Axel's eyes. "I'm leaving tomorrow," he muttered, wiping self-consciously at his face. To his surprise, Axel just nodded, digging in his pockets for a cigarette.
Roxas hesitated as Axel lit his cigarette, watching the way the flame reflected briefly in his eyes. Finally, biting at his lip, he turned away. "I'll see you around, Axel." He heard the redhead chuckle dryly behind him.
"See ya, Rox."
Roxas stared moodily out at the rain pounding against the street. He'd been back in Twilight Town for a month, and it had rained practically every other day – at least it felt like it had. Sighing, Roxas turned away from the window, trying to force his mind to concentrate on the worksheets spread across his desk. Scowling down at the simple math problems, Roxas mentally cursed the fact that he'd struggled through trigonometry and calculus in high school only to be forced to take the most basic math course available to fill his credit requirements.
Sighing in disgust, he abandoned the problems and padded into the living room, considering immersing himself in mindless entertainment for an hour or two. His friends had barely left him alone when he'd first returned, but as they became more confident that he was in fact, fine, they began respecting his desire to be alone. For the first time in months, Roxas didn't wake to echoes of screams and buckling steel ringing in his ears.
And if he occasionally dreamed of glinting eyes and fire dancing through his nerves, well – that was his own damn fault.
Feeling ill-tempered and out of sorts, Roxas abandoned the living room for the kitchen, rummaging blindly in the fridge and through the cupboards, not finding anything that appealed to him. He almost clipped his head against the counter when he jumped in surprise at the sound of the doorbell echoing in the empty house. He considered ignoring it, but a quick glance out the window showed that the rain had picked up, and he moved toward the front door with a scowl.
Roxas froze in the doorway, mouth dropping open as he stared at Axel dripping on his front porch. The redhead rolled his eyes at him, trying to shake the water out of his hair. "Can I come in? It's kinda wet out here." Roxas didn't move.
"What are you doing here?" he asked weakly. Axel sighed and shoved past him, dripping all over Roxas's entryway.
"It's nice to see you, too," the redhead grumbled. Roxas felt his habitual irritation with the man resurfacing, and he reached out and yanked at Axel's hood to keep him from moving any further into the house.
"How did you find out where I live?" he growled, closing the door when a stray gust of wind swept the rain under the eaves. Axel shrugged.
"Your cousin seems to be under the impression we're good friends," he replied thoughtfully, grinning at Roxas's expression. "Come on, kid, don't tell me you didn't miss me."
"What are you doing here?" Roxas asked, tearing his fingers through his hair in exasperation. Axel shrugged again, a crooked smile spreading across his face.
"I was bored."
Roxas groaned and tangled one hand in his hair. "You followed me?"
"Not exactly," Axel replied off-handedly. "It was damn hard figuring out where the hell you disappeared to." Roxas ground his teeth together, glaring up at the man responsible for the small puddles currently forming in his entryway.
"Do you even know how creepy and stalker-ish that is?" he demanded. Axel's smile sharpened as he moved forward, backing Roxas into the door and bracing his hands on either side of the blond's head.
"I wouldn't have had to do it if you hadn't been so damn close-lipped about everything," he pointed out, voice playful, eyes hard.
"Why are you here?" Roxas whispered, hating the flush that spread across his cheeks. Axel shook his head with a sigh, a few droplets of water spattering Roxas's face.
"Is your entire family this dense?" he asked. Before Roxas could form a coherent answer, he leaned down and pressed his lips to the blond's. Roxas froze under the mouth softly caressing his own before he shoved the redhead back.
"What the hell was that?" he cried, wiping a hand over his mouth. Axel arched an eyebrow at him.
"Most people would call it a kiss," he responded dryly. Roxas glared at him as he sagged against the door.
"I know that," he growled. "Why did you do it?" Axel's eyes narrowed before he pinched the bridge of his nose, muttering something under his breath.
"Roxas." The redhead's voice was quiet, but there was a smirk playing around the edges of his lips. "Please don't be an idiot."
Roxas frowned and cut his gaze to the side, stiffening slightly when Axel stepped forward again, resting his hands beside Roxas's head. "So you're here," Roxas muttered.
"I'm here," Axel agreed, eyes glinting. "Got a job and everything." Roxas ducked his head to try and hide the grin that flashed across his face.
"So I guess it wouldn't do much good to throw you out," Roxas mused, flicking his eyes back up to Axel's face. "Not if you live in the area – you'll just follow me around until I talk to you."
"Pretty much," Axel grinned, shifting a little closer.
"So now what?" Roxas asked softly, head resting against the door. Axel only smirked before he leaned down and caught Roxas's lips in another kiss. Roxas stiffened again, but Axel cupped his jaw in one hand, running his thumb soothingly over Roxas's cheek until the blond relaxed. Fingers tangling in Axel's dark coat, Roxas kissed him back, his heart beating frantically in his ears.
When Axel drew back, Roxas managed a genuine smile. "Did you want something to eat?" Rolling his eyes, Axel gestured at the mess he'd created in the entryway.
"I think a towel would be more appropriate," he drawled, laughing at the look Roxas fixed him with before the blond pushed past him. Grabbing a large towel from the bathroom, Roxas found Axel had stripped out of his dripping trench coat, most of his clothing mercifully still dry. Grinning, Axel accepted the towel and began to dry his wet hair.
"Just, uh, hang your coat on the – yeah," Roxas muttered, trailing off when Axel spotted the coat rack in the corner. He turned and headed for the kitchen, jumping when Axel wrapped his arms around him from behind. "What are you doing?" He felt Axel shrug as the redhead buried his face in Roxas's hair.
Roxas held himself stiffly for a moment before he relaxed into the older man's warmth, leaning back tentatively against the redhead's chest. Axel heaved a small, satisfied sigh. "I think I like you, kid," he murmured, tightening his arms around Roxas. Roxas smiled and let his eyes slide closed.
"Yeah. I think I like you, too."