Axel wasn't quite sure what to make of the new kids in his class. Sora's cousin, Roxas, arrived on the same day as Kairi's new step-sister, Namine. It was far too freaky for him to believe it mere coincidence. He'd thought, after ignoring the actual subject matter of his first class in favor of staring at the newbies, that they were from the same school previously. Now that would have been one hell of a coincidence there. But Roxas and Namine were from different islands, each on opposite ends of the archipelago.

It made sense, he finally reasoned, that the two newbies would stick together. Shared experiences and all that psycho-babble. In chemistry lab they were automatically paired together since everyone else was already had a partner they were used to. Roxas and Namine, the new famous duo of the school.

Coincidence aside, Axel did have to admit that Namine and Roxas did make a rather striking pair - both were fair-haired, pretty in a very girly way, and quiet. At least they were quiet when the rest of the class would leave them alone. Kinda funny that the girl was the leader of the pair - though not surprising considering who she was now living with.

There was a whole five seconds where Axel thought those two were going to hook up - Roxas and Namine that is, not Kairi and Namine, though he'd pay good money to see either - and wouldn't that have made family reunions funny with Sora dating Kairi (and Riku but he doubted their families knew about that) and Roxas with Namine. But then Namine caught Axel watching them and she smiled - like she knew.

It didn't take him long to figure out that she really did know - about Axel and Roxas and a whole lot more that she wasn't letting on. Thankfully, whatever it was she knew, she kept to herself.

The night after Roxas showed up, he dreamed of fire and sea-salt popsicles, sweet and bitter at the same time. They tasted like tears.

After Namine had caught him watching, she stopped pairing up with Roxas for everything. Instead, she grabbed Demyx, Axel's usual lab partner, and drug the gapping musician off to a table. Axel and Roxas were left staring at each other and wondering what had just happened.

"Your name's Axel, right?"

He couldn't help the cocky grin that slid across his face, and in his head there was a faint jazz beat starting up. "Yeah. Not that hard to remember, is it? Get it memorized."

Roxas looked at him like he was a particularly odd kind of fungus and opened his textbook without comment. He turned out to be a lot better at that whole science thing than Demyx, but even a genius didn't stand a chance against Axel's propensity for blowing things up.

Accidentally, of course.

He dreamed that he died for Sora. Only it wasn't really Sora. It wasn't the Sora he knew. It was, and it wasn't, both at the same time. But he didn't really die for Sora, he died for Roxas - it only worked out that way because Sora was Roxas. Or Roxas was Sora.

Axel woke up incredibly confused.

Popsicles had become 'their thing'. Roxas had mentioned once about how he always used to eat popsicles with his friends at his old school. It took Axel two days to find someplace in town that sold sea-salt popsicles. That became their detour on the way home from school, despite the fact that it wasn't really on their way home.

Axel's parents never complained, even if he did get home rather late sometimes. His grades in chemistry were going up and his homework was usually done by the time he got home - though sometimes with smears of popsicle syrup on it.

He dreamed that he didn't have a heart.

The first time that happened, he woke up breathless and immediately checked his pulse. Still there.

As the dream came back - every night for almost a month - he slowly started to understand what it meant. He had no heart because it had been stolen - off to Kingdom Hearts, and he was dead and alive at the same time. Unalive, kind of like a vampire. Who he was, who he had been had been taken away with his heart and instead it had created something new. He was a mind that wouldn't let go inhabiting an empty shell.

Even without a heart, he'd fallen in love, fought to defend that love, and died again.

Was it possible to regrow a heart?

Somewhere along the way, it seems he had.

His first kiss with Roxas tasted like sea-salt popsicles. It was cold, reminding him of clocktowers, sunset, and rain that wasn't. Then Roxas smiled at him and it was better than any of his memories.

He dreamed that memories were a deck of cards sealed inside a strange castle. The people in charge wore black robes. He was one of them. They called themselves Organization XIII.

Axel had heard that name outside of his dreams.

Namine was the obvious choice to ask. She seemed like she'd know.

"Memories can't stay locked away forever," she said with a cryptic smile. "Eventually they have to come out."

There was an Organization XIII, a long time ago. They'd had no hearts and one of them... one of them was named Axel. He too had red hair and a kinship with fire.

He read every ancient history book in the school library, then moved onto the town library. He read and he learned.

Roxas was also part of the Organization - and a Keyblade wielder. A lot of his friends' names appeared, but that wasn't entirely surprising. There were five Mickeys and seven Donalds in the town. Soras were even more common. A lot of parents named their kids after storybook heroes, but the storybook heroes sounded too much like people he knew.

It couldn't be coincidence.

"Don't worry," the Namine in his dream said, looking slightly younger, with longer hair and a simpler taste in fashion. "This is a second chance. You earned it. Enjoy it. Your duty will come later."

He didn't really know what that was supposed to mean, if anything.

Roxas was yawning when he arrived at school, and he looked like he'd slept as poorly as Axel had. Namine smiled at him, at both of them, as she walked in and winked on her way to her seat.

"Did you..." Roxas looked at him expectantly. "...Nevermind."

His mind said it was just a silly dream. His heart didn't believe it.

The strange dreams stopped coming. He was fairly sure they'd be back. Until then he dreamed of Roxas and waited.