AN: Another oneshot. Only rated M for language. Stylistically, this is, I think, a little different from what I usually end up posting. This may or may not be influenced by the fact that I am doing so at 4:30 AM. Annnyways, not much else to say here, but I hope you like it!
Roxas had never quite gotten used to working nights. Elbows resting on the conveyor belt in front of him, his eyes flicked back and forth across page four of his Spanish homework, his mind absorbing little to no information. The wide entryway to the grocery store gaped open to his left, and despite his attempts to focus on Alberto's conversation with Rosa, the thought of someone slipping through that entryway preoccupied his brain. So much so that when the occasional customer arrived – a young woman maybe, or a man who needed more beer for his party – he could hardly keep still, his mind conjuring rogue visions of an empty cash register, a gun in his face; sometimes police, but they were always too late in his mind.
Me gusta mucho viajar. Me voy para España el 30 de junio. ¿Te gusta viajar, Rosa?
Roxas swallowed slowly as a pair of lights turned toward the parking lot. He blinked purposefully and stared at page four.
Me gusta mucho viajar.
Hadn't he already read that? He blinked again, ostensibly searching for his spot on the page but in fact following the lights in his peripheral vision. The only other car in the parking lot belonged to him: a '99 black Mazda Protégé which he had been instructed to park at a distance so as to leave the closer spaces for the valued customers. He had bought it used, or rather; he corrected himself, pre-driven, with two bumper stickers on the back, both of which embarrassed him. The first, completely unoriginal, read: "I swear to drunk I'm not God"; the second: "Cowboy Butts Drive Me Nuts", complete with jaunty pink font. The dealership had informed him that it would cost him extra to have them removed. Roxas did not have extra.
The lights pulled sideways and stopped. Roxas felt his shoulders tensing up. Women always parked as close as possible. This car had slowly wound its way to a spot near the far end of the lot; near Roxas's car.
gusta viajar. Me voy
Roxas glanced up at the clock on the wall. 2:40 AM meant that it was past the cutoff time for selling alcohol, which meant that if this person, who was inevitably a man due to his choice of parking, wanted liquor, Roxas would have to say no to him. Roxas would have to–
Me voy para España el 30 de junio.
–have to say "I'm sorry, sir, we only sell alcohol until 2:00 AM." And if the man wanted alcohol at what was for all practical purposes three o'clock in the morning, he was probably already drunk, right?
Me voy para
The other possibility was that the man in the car had come to break into Roxas's car. Why else would he park back there? Roxas noted the sudden absence of the headlights to his left. The car had been turned off. He hoped half-heartedly that the thief would scrape off the stickers somehow in an attempt at making a speedy getaway. There was nothing of value in his car. Except, of course, the car itself. But, Roxas thought, that wasn't so much in thecar as-
Me gusta viajar. Me voy para-
"Shit," Roxas muttered, skipping to the next line. After ten minutes, he had vaguely established that Alberto liked to travel and was going to Spain on the 30th of June. Did Rosa like to travel? This was the real question.
Si, también me gusta viajar. He visitado muchos países.
A tall figure had emerged from the car, and he stood for a moment under the streetlight, pulling a hood over his head. A hood was not a good sign, Roxas decided, and neither was the lazy gait at which the tall man now wandered toward the store. The lot was shiny with rain, and while this provided slight comfort on the topic of the hood (hoods keep the rain off), it all but convinced Roxas that this man must be drunk to park so far and shuffle so slowly through the rain.
He visitado muchos países.
Rosa has visited many countries, Roxas thought, and he hesitantly picked up his pen to jot this down next to the line. He stared at the next line for roughly 40 seconds, completely unable to absorb the words, then stood up from the conveyor belt and set down his pen. The man had stopped directly outside the store to look at the outdoor display of watermelons, and Roxas decided, judging by his clothes, that he must be in his twenties. No one much older would be wearing a hoodie (navy blue), and no one much younger would be looking at watermelons at the grocery store at 2:42 in the morning on a Wednesday. Roxas tried to pretend he wasn't watching the man while still keeping his tough, don't fuck with me, bored yet badass cashier face on. The navy hoodie turned away and picked up a watermelon, and Roxas noted too-big, dark green sweatpants emblazoned with a high school and a sport and a year, and simple, black flip-flops.
Roxas cringed as large, tan hands tossed the watermelon back and forth a few times. He did not want to have to wash splattered pink watermelon off of the sidewalk and into the drain. Not now. Not at six in the morning, when Shawna and Rob and Liz and Jonathan and the old guy were all scheduled to arrive, or 6:05, when the first of them would actually arrive (probably the old guy, Roxas thought), not ever. He did not want to get the hose out and turn on the water. He did not want-
Navy Blue set the watermelon down carefully on the pile and reached into his pocket, extracting a clump of keys attached to a long university lanyard. University, Roxas assumed, because it was purple and white, and he didn't know why else anyone would have a purple lanyard with white "W"s on it. He reminded himself to breathe as Navy Blue swung his keys around, and quickly looked down at his hands (as if he were actually doing something) as the man sighed and wandered into the store.
Of course the dynamic changed now, as Navy Blue noticed Roxas behind the checkout counter, looking bored yet vaguely challenging and doing something indecipherable with his hands. He nodded a bit, and Roxas nodded, and then he took his hood off because he was inside; another good sign. School associations had been the first good sign.
It was only when Navy Blue, who Roxas now thought of as Weird Redhead Guy due to his messy, maroon hair, had turned to the soda shelves that Roxas's muscles relaxed a little, and he decided to take a seat on the uncomfortable wooden stool provided behind the counter.
His Spanish packet caught his eye again, and as he spotted his note about Rosa's travels, he felt suddenly tired, inexplicably and oppressively tired, and deeply saddened by his embarrassing bumper stickers, and desperate, hopelessly desperate for sound. Something other than the never-ending half-volume stream of oldies that poured out of the store's speakers. Something more organic, something more human, something like-
"Is this everything?"
-speech. Weird Redhead Guy had selected Root Beer in a plastic bottle from the soda shelves and seemed to be deeply engrossed in the covers of the various celebrity gossip magazines they carried at the counter. Roxas had only been mildly aware of him approaching, but had sprung into Dutiful Employee mode upon noticing. He received no answer. Weird Redhead Guy had Weird Little Tattoos under his Weirdly Green Eyes and Roxas had to say "Sir?" to get his attention after close to 30 seconds of silence.
He looked up expectantly, and when Roxas repeated his question, he sighed.
"No," he said finally, turning to examine the candy and gum positioned beside the magazines. "I guess I'll get gum or something. Altoids. I dunno."
Roxas set the plastic bottle full of Root Beer into a plastic bag and pretended to be interested in his Spanish homework again. "Take your time," he said idly, picking up his pen.
"Yea, no rush, right? Not too busy this time of night, I guess."
Roxas made a vague noise of assent, eyes fixed on page four, pen poised and ready. As if he actually needed to write anything, he thought, underlining a line at random to make it seem as if he was actually working. He heard Weird Redhead Tattoo Guy picking up a container of Tic Tacs, then putting it back. He did this a few times before finally speaking again.
"Man, I hate cinnamon mints."
Roxas looked up, unsure of what to say. He smiled and nodded.
"You know what I mean? They're nasty, right?"
Roxas loved cinnamon mints. "They're okay," he said. "Some are better than others."
"The only good cinnamon mint is a dead cinnamon mint," Weird Redhead Tattoo Guy said, and then laughed at his own joke. "I'm just kidding. I dunno what to get. I'm considering these tangerine things, but I don't even remotely know what the fuck that's gonna taste like, so it's really anyone's guess."
Roxas nodded again. The back of his mind wanted to scream at him that he was not tense right now, and that this was an important matter to take note of. Roxas was never not tense when he worked nights. He thought about cinnamon mints instead.
"What is a tangerine? Is that like, those little circular dried out things, or what? It occurs to me now that I don't even know what the hell a tangerine is."
Roxas looked up. "I think those are apricots. Tangerines are like oranges."
"Like oranges? What, like… clementines, or whatever?" Weird Redhead Tattoo Guy said, gesturing to the large display of clementines outside by the watermelons.
"I guess," Roxas said. "Sort of."
"Sort of," Tattoo Guy repeated, nodding. "Okay. Do you like these?" he asked, holding up a small tin of tangerine candies.
Roxas shrugged. "I've never had them," he replied, and he set his Spanish homework down then, realizing he was now in a conversation.
"You've never had them?" Tattoo Guy asked, seemingly incredulous. His face broke into a grin though, and Roxas was about 85 sure he was joking. "What is this? You fucking work here, you're supposed to know this shit, aren't you?"
Roxas allowed himself to laugh cautiously, unsure of what to say once again.
Weird Redhead Tattoo Guy was laughing too, and he shook his head as he put the tangerine candies back and picked up some sort of Strawberry-Kiwi-Mint combination candy that Roxas had always consciously avoided.
"What about this? Recommend these?"
Roxas laughed again, shaking his head. "I dunno. I haven't had those either."
Weird Redhead Tattoo Guy's grin widened, and he smacked his hand down on the conveyor belt. "What the hell is this?! Have you had anything?"
Roxas felt stupid for laughing so much, but at least he wasn't laughing alone. "I dunno," he said, and something in the back of his mind asked him why, if his chest and his shoulders and his arms weren't tense, why was he blushing?
"You don't know? You don't know? Oh man, I'm gonna have to report you to your manager or something, mister… mister…" Weird Redhead Tattoo Guy leaned in to read Roxas's nametag. "Jesus, what the fuck! How do you even fucking pronounce that?"
"Roxas," Weird Redhead Tattoo Guy said, trying the name out every way he could think of. "Roxas, Roxas. Rahhhhcksiss. Rocks-ass. Racks-ess."
"Roxas," Roxas said again, nodding.
"Axel," said Weird Redhead Tattoo Guy, and he stuck his hand out across the conveyor belt.
After a moment of hesitation, Roxas lifted his hand to shake.
"So… why are you up so late?" he asked slowly, attempting to contribute something worthwhile to the conversation.
Axel grimaced. "Got in a fight with my roommate. Actually, he doesn't know yet, but we will be in a fight tomorrow morning. I had to get outta there. Driving me nuts."
"Oh. How so?"
"He invites his fucking boyfriend over, right? And they have dinner and that's fine, and they fuck and that's okay, and then it's 2:30 in the fucking morning and they decide to go at it again. I've talked to him about this before. It's really not cool. Fucking woke me up."
Roxas felt his face turning redder than before. "That sucks," he stammered, eyeing the bag with the Root Beer and wondering if Axel was actually planning on leaving or not.
"Yea, I'm sure he does," Axel muttered, eyes swinging back to the candy shelf.
Roxas felt the tension grow. I'm bisexual, he thought. I'm bisexual, and I don't know if you're a completely homophobic asshole. I don't know if that was meant to be offensive toward your roommate or what. Eek.
Now Roxas was tense again.
"Ehhh, I shouldn't have said that. I guess I'm probably just subconsciously jealous, haven't been fucking laid in like, a month."
Roxas nodded weakly, nervousness tripling when Axel's eyes snapped up to meet his. "I can say this to you because I'm pretty confident that neither have you," Axel said, gesturing in Roxas's direction. "I mean, you work in a fucking grocery store."
"I have a car," Roxas mumbled, staring at his fingernails.
"Oh yea, is that yours? Cowboy butts drive you nuts?" Axel said, grinning.
"I- it's not mine. I mean, the car is, but they were, I mean, the stickers were already there when I got it and I couldn't- it was gonna cost-"
"I'm serious, it's not mine!"
"You really think I'd buy that sticker?"
Axel narrowed his eyes, still grinning, and looked Roxas up and down for a moment before nodding. "Yea. Hell yes. I think you're doing this whole 'I'm so quiet and polite and I work in a grocery store' thing because I'm a customer and you're at work. But I see it, you know, hidden behind your Good Boy façade, you're just waiting to cut loose and go fucking crazy on some cowboy."
Roxas snorted. "Yea, right, that's me."
"Hey, I just calls 'em like I sees 'em," Axel said, shrugging. "And you know, that's okay. I'm cool with that. If you dig cowboys, you go and wrangle yourself some cowboys, you know, ride the ones you like. Personally though, I'm more into the grocery boy type."
Roxas went silent, his social skills thrown way off course by the sudden flirtation. He wasn't sure whether to be creeped out or flattered or both.
"And librarians," Axel added, plucking the tin of tangerine candies from the shelf again. "Librarians are hot." Looking up at Roxas, he continued. "Alright. I tell you what. I'll buy a thing of tangerine freaking candies on one condition."
"You gotta sit down and eat 'em with me. I mean, if someone comes in, it's okay, you can get up and let them buy their shit and everything, but let's face it – I can't go home yet unless I wanna lay there listening to 'Faster, Riku!' and 'Ahhh, Sora' through the wall, and it's not like you've got anything else to fuckin' do here."
"I dunno," Roxas said uncertainly. "It might be against policy or something."
"Man, that is weak."
"No, I mean, it's just, I have to be right here all the time…" Roxas trailed off, eyeing his Spanish homework. "And I have this, um, this Spanish homework."
"Spanish homework? You have Spanish homework so you can't eat candy with me? That's the lamest fucking excuse I've ever heard. What are you, 16? Fucking Spanish homework!"
Axel was already around the other side of the counter, dropping a five dollar bill into Roxas's hand and pulling up a cracked lawn chair from the Returns section.
"Well, eighteen, that's just wonderful. I'm twenty-two in a week. We can celebrate," he said, exhaling loudly as he relaxed in the damaged chair. "If I can get this fucking plastic off, that is… Pull up a chair!"
Roxas grudgingly complied, pulling over the partner of the cracked lawn chair and sitting down at Axel's urging beside him.
He swallowed hard as Axel managed to unwrap the tin and get it open, and he noticed that it was three o'clock on the dot as they each held a tangerine candy in their fingers.
Axel set the tin down on one of the armrests between them, and they decided that on the count of three they would both eat their first one.
When Roxas thought back on that night later on, he remembered the candy being the most delicious thing he'd ever tasted. It was sweet, but not too sweet, and it turned sour as the top layer wore off. Axel had been absolutely enthralled by the subtle flavor, and Roxas had to admit he'd loosened up after a while of talking to the redhead, who seemed to have an opinion or at least some observation on almost everything.
They talked about the candy, of course, but soon moved on to other things. Axel attempted to read the Spanish dialogue from Roxas's homework, his butchered pronunciation of some of the words causing Roxas to practically choke on his candy. The memory of this would prompt him to break into a wide grin during Spanish class the next afternoon, much to the surprise of his teacher and classmates, who viewed him as a quiet, stoic kind of guy. Axel knew a lot about cars, and he knew a lot of old myths and stories, which he told to Roxas whenever any remote connection occurred. They talked about coyotes and raccoons, and Axel warned Roxas not to hit any on his way home.
"Raccoons are the worst!" he'd exclaimed, pounding his fist against his armrest. "They come out of fucking nowhere, and they just fuckin' stand there. And they throw your trash all over the fucking alley. Ridiculous."
They elected not to bite the candies, but to slowly let them dissolve so they'd last longer. Roxas wondered how he usually survived the dull hours with no one to talk to, and Axel told him stories about his roommate Sora and his friend Demyx who had a band but had to work at a computer company because "I guess they aren't really professional quality, or whatever. But I think they're pretty good," Axel had explained, sucking thoughtfully on his candy.
Roxas had nodded, glancing up at the clock, which at that point informed him it was close to 5:00 AM. The sky seemed a bit lighter.
"So… what about you? Who are you, Roxas of Quickstop on Main Street?"
"I'm a senior," Roxas had said. He couldn't think of anything else to say, and he swallowed the last dissolved sugar from his piece of candy and avoided Axel's gaping stare.
Roxas shrugged and popped another candy into his mouth. He started with "I dunno," as usual, but soon he found himself talking endlessly, and Axel seemed genuinely interested, about what he liked to do, about the people he used to be friends with and his friend Hayner who moved away last year, about Olette who used to hang out with him but fell in with the popular girls and tried to pretend she was rich when she wasn't and turned fake, so fake. He talked about the old guy who worked at the store and how he hoped that when he was old he would never be "the old guy" anywhere, and how he always got nervous when he worked at night because he was afraid that someone would try to rob the store and he would be completely helpless. He talked about how he used to be really into school but now not so much, and how he wanted to be a doctor when he was little but he couldn't imagine ever being one now, because he hated all that kind of disgusting medical stuff. He said he might like to be a teacher someday, but he also thought it might be nice to be a writer.
Axel was intrigued by the writer comment, and they branched off into writing territory for a while. Axel liked to read, but he could never write, he said, he just wasn't the writing type. He said he wanted to read something that Roxas wrote, but Roxas said he didn't have anything with him and anyways it was more of a future thing because he didn't think his writing was very good yet.
"That's okay," Axel had said, shaking his head. "People think their shit is bad, but it's like, everyone has to start somewhere, right?"
At 5:45, Roxas reached down to pick up another candy and found just one left, and Axel's hand.
"Last one," Axel said, picking up the tin and slowly getting out of his lawn chair.
"I tell you what," he continued. "You can have it. I'll survive."
Roxas shook his head. "You paid for them."
"Ehh, I guess that's true."
Roxas put the lawn chairs back, and Axel threw out the tin from the candies. Then they stood, Axel holding the candy, near the entrance to the store, and they looked out at the pink and orange sunrise, and Axel turned to face Roxas.
"We can share, right?"
"Here, like this," Axel said, and he handed the candy to Roxas.
"Eat it," he commanded, and when Roxas popped it into his mouth, he smiled. "Good, right?"
Roxas nodded. "Just like the others." He prepared to spit it out and hand it to Axel, assuming that, while it was kind of gross, that was what the redhead had meant by sharing.
"Alright, my turn."
Roxas moved the candy to the front of his mouth and lifted his hand to catch it. Before he could spit, though, Axel's hands had each found one of his, and Roxas's eyes widened as soft, dry lips met his own.
One of Axel's hands moved, and then it was touching Roxas's face, his cheek, tracing his jaw, and Roxas finally managed to close his eyes and move his mouth a little. He felt Axel's tongue in his mouth and then, as quickly as it had all began, Axel was stepping back, and Roxas's mouth felt woefully empty, lacking in candy and Axel both, and the redhead was waving goodbye as he walked slowly backwards towards his car.
"You're a good kid, Roxas," he called out, biting down on the candy. "You take care, now, alright?"
Roxas nodded numbly from the entryway, raising a hand to half-heartedly wave goodbye, and Axel let out a sort of smirking laugh and turned away, looking back once more with a smile before heading for his car.
When the old guy appeared at 6:04, he asked how Roxas's night shift had gone.
"No troublemakers, right?" he asked, winking.
"It was good," Roxas said.
He bought a tin of tangerine candies with his employee discount, and he went home and fell asleep.
He dreamt of Axel, walking beside him in an endless orchard of tangerine trees, his breath sweet on Roxas's eager tongue and his cinnamon-mint hair warm and soft beneath a perpetual sunrise.
AN: Thank you so much for reading, and I really hope you liked this! Please don't hesitate to leave me a review and let me know what you thought!