(A/N): A wise teacher of mine once said everyone should be forced to work at least one truly shitty job in their lifetime. Thankfully, I've already paid my dues. This fic was inspired by an innocent question about a certain scar, and the fact that truth is often stranger than fiction. And I really needed humor to get me through the hell that was the week before the Harry Potter release. Tip your housekeeping, people. And review. Reviews are good.
Disclaimer: Insert witty disclaimer here.
Roxas was regretting taking this job more and more by the minute. It had seemed simple enough – how hard could it be to clean a room? Especially since Cid was paying him ten dollars an hour to do so. And Roxas needed the money. His first semester at Hollow Bastion University had left a deep, lasting impact – it was fucking expensive.
So expensive, in fact, that Roxas had watched his carefully hoarded savings decline so rapidly he'd wondered if it would've been worth the crippling debt to take out a few more loans. One thing was certain – he couldn't afford another semester.
And so his search began.
And ended in near defeat roughly a week later with the blond slumped dejectedly over his kitchen table. No one was hiring, which had to be a statistical anomaly at the very least and proof the universe hated him besides. He'd been trying unsuccessfully to drown his sorrows in a beer when his brother had walked into the room.
Cloud had taken one look at him, deftly removed the beer from his hand – ignoring Roxas's indignant squawk – poured it down the sink, and lowered himself into the seat across from his younger brother.
Scowling, Roxas had slumped down further, cradling his head in his hands. He hadn't been anywhere near as drunk as he wanted, and the fact that Cloud was already long out of school with a job and benefits of his own wasn't helping his mood any. "I need a job," he'd muttered sullenly. "A good job, that pays more than minimum wage. For school."
"Cid needs some help," Cloud had mentioned off-handedly.
Roxas had stared at his brother with something very like worship.
That feeling had soured quickly when he'd torn over to the Highwind Hotel only to find the position that needed filling was that of a housekeeper. Cid had stared him down, arms crossed over his chest irritably as he chewed on his ever-present cigar.
"Do you want the job or not?" he'd growled. Roxas had hesitated, torn. On the one hand, there was nowhere else to go. On the other – housekeeping, for fuck's sake.
"How much does it pay?" he'd muttered, flicking his hair out of his eyes. Cid's lips had lifted in a sardonic smile.
"How much do you want?"
Cid had snorted. "Dream on, kid." His expression had grown pensive as Roxas's face fell. "Ten." Taking a moment to swallow his pride, Roxas had nodded mutely. "Fine. Be here bright and early tomorrow."
Roxas had flatly refused to wear the bright orange apron, and Cid had laughed at him before he'd slapped a list of rooms into his hand and told him to see Kairi. With no further instructions, he'd thrown the boy out of his office.
Which left Roxas standing in the lobby, glaring down at the list in his hand and repeating Ten bucks an hour over and over in his head like a mantra. There was still time to turn around and leave. Ten bucks an hour.
With a heavy sigh, Roxas stuffed the list in his pocket and went in search of Kairi.
His career in housekeeping almost came to an abrupt and violent end when he careened into a large cart with precariously stacked rolls of toilet paper and bath towels as he rounded the corner. Stumbling back and falling flat on his ass, Roxas stared wide-eyed as the whole thing shuddered, one of the toilet paper towers tilting perilously before a slim hand shot out and steadied it. Thin red brows lowered over violet eyes in irritation before the girl forced a sunny smile to her face, bending and offering a hand to Roxas.
"Are you all right, sir?"
"S-sorry," Roxas stuttered, mildly surprised at the ease with which the slim redhead hauled him to his feet. "I, uh, wasn't watching where I was going." The girl's smile didn't waver. It was starting to creep him out. Stuffing his hands in his pockets and trying to suppress a scowl, Roxas studied her out of the corner of his eye.
Her hair was tied back in a loose knot, and she was wearing one of the hideous orange work aprons Cid had tried to force on Roxas. "Can I help you, sir?" she inquired woodenly. Roxas winced. Her face was going to freeze like that, it really was.
"Do you know where I can find Kairi?" he mumbled, pulling the rumpled list out of his pocket. The girl's eyes widened as the creepy smile fell away from her face, quickly replaced by a real one, warm and inviting.
"You're Roxas?" At Roxas's hesitant nod, the redhead's smile widened and she reached out and shook his hand vigorously. "I am so happy to meet you," she beamed. "Cid's been promising to get me some help for months now – no one would take the job." She paused, allowing Roxas to pull his hand back. "Have…you ever worked in housekeeping before?" she asked, brows drawing together as she looked him up and down doubtfully. Roxas scowled and glanced to the side.
Kairi looked downcast for a moment before she shrugged and smiled thinly. "Well, this'll be…interesting, then." Roxas narrowed his eyes at her. Before he could give voice to his many questions, the loud crack of a whip sounded from somewhere further down the hall.
Roxas's face went slack when it was immediately followed by a loud scream.
Kairi tittered nervously, smoothing her hair out of her face. "Um…you get used to it?"
Roxas said nothing. His left eye, however, began to twitch violently.
Kairi insisted Roxas tour the hotel at her side his first day. "You'll get your own cart tomorrow," she promised him. Roxas managed to contain his glee at the thought.
Kairi rolled her eyes when she found out Cid hadn't given Roxas a master keycard, muttering something under her breath about "useless men."
"Okay, see this?" she asked, waving what looked like a plastic square under Roxas's nose. "This opens any door in the hotel. You still have that list Cid gave you?" Roxas nodded, reaching for the abused piece of paper. Kairi tapped her index finger against one of the rooms highlighted in red. "See that? That means they already checked out. These rooms have to get done first, so Cid can rent them out again."
They drew even with one of the red-colored rooms, and Kairi swiped the keycard through the slot, shoving the door open with her shoulder as she motioned for Roxas to follow her. Immediately moving over to the bed, Kairi began stripping the sheets, throwing an impatient glance over her shoulder when Roxas hung back. "Well, help me."
Dragging his feet, Roxas came to stand across from her. "Okay, the bedspread doesn't get washed unless it's visibly stained," Kairi instructed, throwing it to the floor. "Strip the sheets back one at a time to check for anything that might be, I dunno, shoved in there and forgotten." She glanced at Roxas's hands. "You, um, might wanna wear gloves." Rolling her eyes at Roxas's expression, she tore the sheets from the bed and gathered them in her arms.
"Okay, so these go out on the cart," she muttered, breezing past him. Roxas trailed after her as she dumped the laundry into the large hamper affixed to the leading edge of the cart. Twirling around, Kairi almost slammed into him. "You have to be lighter on your feet than that, Roxas," she laughed, grabbing his arm and dragging him back into the room.
She entered the bathroom, pulling him in behind her. "All the towels go, whether they look like they've been used or not," she told him, already gathering them against her chest. "Before you leave the room, turn the air conditioning off."
"But it's hot," Roxas protested, scowling at the bemused look Kairi shot him.
"And Cid's cheap," Kairi sighed, pushing the towels into his arms. "Put those on the cart. I'll get the air conditioning." Grumbling, Roxas dumped the towels into the hamper, Kairi exiting the room behind him and blocking the door open. She grabbed the cart, and with a mighty heave, they were moving further down the hall.
"Aren't we gonna clean?" Roxas asked in confusion, jogging beside her. Kairi smiled and shook her head.
"Remember all those red rooms? We have to get all the laundry first." Roxas swallowed a groan.
Fifteen minutes and a mountain of dirty sheets later, Kairi pushed the groaning cart to the end of the hall. "This is the laundry room," she panted, wiping one arm across her forehead. Roxas nodded dully, cringing when he followed her into the small room. The temperature jumped at least fifteen degrees, and sweat quickly beaded on Roxas's forehead.Ten bucks an hour, ten bucks an hour…
Kairi was already slinging the mess of tangled sheets and towels into the largest washer Roxas had ever seen. Grabbing down a box of powder detergent, she flung the contents haphazardly at the washer, slamming the door before she pressed the appropriate cycle button. "Okay," she breathed, wiping her damp bangs out of her face. "Now we clean."
Roxas tried not to cry.
To Roxas's immense relief, cleaning the rooms wasn't that bad.
The first few rooms he simply shadowed Kairi's footsteps. Kairi whirled through the rooms, dusting, polishing, scrubbing, and vacuuming until Roxas's head spun a little. The only thing she asked Roxas's help with was making the beds. "Are you paying attention?" she'd ask occasionally, throwing a glance over her shoulder at him. "You'll be doing this yourself tomorrow." Roxas nodded mutely, trying to pretend the very thought didn't twist his innards into a pretzel.
Kairi's face lit up in the fourth room.
"Finally," she crowed excitedly, snatching up a pitifully small pile of bills – all singles. Despite the paltry amount of the money clutched in her hand, Kairi hugged it to her chest as if it were a rare treasure. "Geez, no one leaves tips anymore," she sang happily, folding the money and preparing to shove it in her pocket. "Um, did you want to split it?"
Roxas shook his head. "I haven't done anything all morning," he pointed out, unable to quell his grin at Kairi's bright smile. Kairi's expression grew thoughtful as she moved over the mini-fridge.
"I love these people!" she cried, emerging with two beer cans. She looked Roxas up and down skeptically. "Are you old enough to drink?"
"Yes," Roxas lied desperately, throat suddenly uncomfortably dry. Kairi laughed and handed him a can.
"Liar." Roxas couldn't help returning her smile before he downed the beer in three long swallows.
Finally, all the rooms marked in red were finished. Slumped against the wall, Roxas sent a silent prayer of thanks to whatever deities were watching out for him. He was snapped out of his contemplation of celestial beings when Kairi gave the cumbersome cart another violent heave. "We're not done yet," she reminded him.
Roxas would later claim the tears that coursed down his cheeks were the result of the irritation all the dust had caused his eyes.
"'Do Not Disturb'," Kairi intoned, pointing at the small sign hanging from the room door's handle. "You will learn to love that phrase." With a small smile at Roxas's expression, she continued on down the hall. Roxas resisted the urge to drop to his knees in thanks.
He hadn't even really done anything, and he was exhausted.
Kairi threw a glance over her shoulder at him, pulling the cart up short before she turned back to him. "Look, Roxas, you don't look so good," she said kindly, bracing her hands on her knees and peering up into his face. "The first couple days are the hardest, okay? Why don't you just go home today? I've only got a few more rooms to do, anyway."
Roxas managed a weak grin in thanks before he turned and stumbled down the hall. "Hey, did Cid tell you?" Kairi called after him. "Employees get unlimited access to the pool!" Roxas closed his eyes.
Oh fuckin' yay.Ten bucks an hour, ten bucks an hour…
He was doomed.
Roxas took a deep, steadying breath as he entered the room. Cid had smirked at him when he'd arrived before he'd slapped a new list into the boy's hand, informing Roxas he had the second floor all to himself.
"You're moving up in the world, kid," he'd grinned, laughing at the look Roxas pinned him with.
He'd said a silent thanks for Kairi's thoughtfulness when he'd found the large cart waiting for him at the end of the hall, taken the keycard and the accursed list, and entered the first room marked in red.
He wondered if the tic in his eye would become permanent.
Reminding himself that he didn't have to clean the room yet, he carefully stepped over the piles of trash and…other things and tore the sheets savagely from the bed. Refusing to allow himself to contemplate just what sort of strange diseases the soiled bedding might be teeming with, he slammed the laundry into the hamper, returning briefly for the towels before he blocked the door open and moved down the hall.
Collecting the laundry automatically, Roxas cringed whenever people left their rooms, hating the curious looks he always drew. When he reached the end of the hall, he gladly escaped into the swamp-like confines of the laundry room, wrestling the heavy piles into the large washing machine.
Poking his head cautiously into the hall, he was immensely relieved when he saw there was no one to stare at him. Wresting the cart into motion, he trudged back to the first room marked in red. His eye twitched in protest, but Roxas grabbed a large garbage bag and stormed in.
Refusing to dwell too long on what he was shoveling into the bag, Roxas cleared the floor, nearly weeping when he found a used condom tucked behind the curtains. What was wrong with people?
Setting the garbage bag in the hall with a little more force than was strictly necessary, Roxas grabbed the vacuum and savagely attacked the carpet. The trick, he told himself, was to not think about it.
Which worked for all of two minutes.
The vacuum abruptly began to sound as if it were dying. Cursing, Roxas pulled it out from underneath the bed and flipped it over.
He could almost hear his brain shutting down in self-defense.
A shredded condom was tangled in the vacuum's belt. Latex was scattered all over the floor, and Roxas found himself really hoping the damn thing hadn't been used.
His eye twitched violently.
Roxas took a deep, steadying breath, gathering the last of his severely abused dignity close to his heart before he knocked on the door. "Housekeeping."
There was no answer. Roxas knocked again for good measure before he used his card and cautiously pushed the door open. He blew out an aggravated breath at the mess all over the place, wiping one hand over his face as he reminded himself that at least these people hadn't left yet and he didn't have to be quite as thorough in his cleaning.
Grabbing fresh towels from the cart, he stomped into the bathroom and changed the used towels for the new ones. Surveying the small room, he stepped carefully over the loose blankets piled at the end of the bed closest to the door, turning the air conditioning to its lowest setting before he began picking up what was obviously trash and tossing it into the garbage bag he'd tied to his belt loops for convenience.
Dropping the garbage bag out in the hall, Roxas snagged the glass cleaner from the cart, digging the old rag out of his back pocket and heading for the television.
To his consternation, the pile of blankets squawked when he stepped on it. Falling onto the bed with a startled shout, Roxas brandished the glass cleaner as the blankets shifted and finally fell away, revealing a head of impossibly red spikes and green eyes narrowed in irritation over dark tattoos. Roxas stared at the man silently for a moment before the stranger's eyes narrowed even further.
"Who the fuck are you?"
Roxas's mouth opened and closed silently a few times before he managed to get the word out. "H-housekeeping," he stuttered, waving the glass cleaner at the man. The redhead's expression soured as he pushed himself up, scratching idly at his stomach.
"Aren't you guys usually girls?" he asked. Ignoring Roxas's indignant spluttering, he turned and headed for the bathroom. "And don't you usually skip the rooms with 'Do Not Disturb' on the door?" He glanced back and arched an eyebrow at Roxas before he disappeared into the bathroom. "You're not so great at this, Blondie."
Roxas sat up straight, his throat straining with the insults he was dying to fling at the bastard, his hand clenching around the bottle until it ached as he chanted Ten bucks an hour over and over in his head. The redhead looked torn between amused and irritated that Roxas was still there when he emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later. "'Do Not Disturb', Blondie," he reminded him, jerking his thumb at the door.
Fuck ten bucks an hour.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Roxas snarled, flinging the glass cleaner at the man's head. He was peripherally impressed that the redhead managed to dodge it, but Roxas was already on his feet and barreling toward him – he wrapped his arms around the man's waist as he knocked him to the floor, quickly moving to straddle his hips, one fist drawn back and ready to deck the bastard.
With a heavy sigh, Roxas lowered his fist and tilted his head back. "Shit," he laughed weakly. Rising slowly to his feet, he refused to look at the redhead still sprawled on the floor. "You forgot your 'Do Not Disturb' sign, jackass."
He bent and retrieved the forgotten bottle of cleaner, stepping over the redhead as he headed for the door, hating the glint in the man's eyes.
Roxas paused and shot a poisonous glare over his shoulder. The redhead had pulled himself into a sitting position, grinning maddeningly as he tilted his head back. "It's Axel."
Roxas turned away, resisting the urge to flip him the bird. "Whatever." He heard Axel laughing softly behind him, and he slammed the door as he left.
He wasn't surprised when Cid flagged him down as he tried to leave. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Roxas braced himself for what he was sure was coming.
"What the hell did you do to the guy in 205?" Cid demanded, brows drawn low over his eyes. Roxas scowled and glanced away.
"I'm not apologizing to that bastard –"
"He's requested you clean his room every day," Cid cut in, lips curling in what Roxas was sure was amusement at his expense. For his part, Roxas could only stare at the man, mouth open and throat straining uselessly.
"No," he finally got out. Cid's smirk widened.
"No," Roxas snarled, hands clenching into fists at his sides.
"Yes, or you're fired," Cid shot back, smirk widening so much Roxas was afraid the man's lips might split. Roxas glared at him for a moment before he twirled and stomped out of the office.
Ten bucks an hour.
It wasn't worth it, it really wasn't.
The phone dragged Roxas out of sleep. Muttering unintelligibly into the pillow, he groped blindly across his night table until he finally snagged the offensive noisemaker. Rolling onto his side, he burrowed a little further beneath the covers before he brought the phone to his ear.
Roxas froze at Kairi's voice, wincing guiltily as he tried to disappear beneath his comforter. "Are you there?" Kairi asked worriedly, and Roxas winced again.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm here," he muttered.
"Oh, good," Kairi sighed. "Are you sick? Cid said you didn't come in this morning. Roxas?"
Roxas muffled a miserable groan in his pillow before he spoke. "I'm sorry," he muttered.
"Oh no, it's fine," Kairi said hurriedly. "Just, um, remember to call in next time, okay?"
"I'm sorry," Roxas repeated. Kairi laughed lightly, but Roxas could hear the strain in her voice. Shit.
"We'll see you when you're feeling better?" she asked, and Roxas found himself nodding.
Roxas hung up, glaring at the phone before he buried his head underneath the pillow, idly wondering if it was possible to suffocate yourself.
"Missed you yesterday, Blondie."
Axel only smirked and brought his plastic cup to his lips, flicking the ash from his cigarette into the ashtray – which Roxas had just emptied, dammit.
"Is that any way to talk to the guy who dragged himself out of bed just for the pleasure of your company?" Axel asked petulantly, grinning and blowing smoke in Roxas's direction when the blond glared at him.
"You shouldn't have," Roxas grated out, slamming the microwave with more force than was strictly necessary – or advisable. Roxas's already dark mood darkened exponentially when the door immediately sprang open again. Cursing under his breath, Roxas shoved it closed, with the same result – the latch wouldn't fall into place, and the door hung crookedly on its hinges. "Shit, shit, shit!"
"You know –" Roxas jumped when Axel spoke close to his ear; he hadn't heard the man get up, but the redhead was standing over his right shoulder, bending down and squinting at the microwave. "That could've happened last night." He glanced at Roxas, eyes glinting as he smirked. "If a certain blond housekeeper can get the stick out of his ass."
Roxas scowled and glanced away. Axel laughed softly, the sound low and raspy, and Roxas's scowl intensified as he crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the door. "All right, have it your way," Axel drawled, padding over to the beat-up black phone on the nightstand. Roxas's stomach dropped as he pictured Cid's face when he found out Roxas had already destroyed company property.
"Don't," he growled.
"No?" Axel asked, grinning at Roxas's frustrated expression. He paused with the phone next to his ear, fingers poised over the buttons. Roxas closed his eyes, wondering if the cleaning solvents in his cart would be strong enough to dissolve a human body. Why didn't anyone clean with lye any more?
"No," he grumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose. He heard the redhead set the phone back in its cradle, and when he opened his eyes Axel was standing in front of him again, hands on his hips and head tilted to the side. Roxas frowned and took a step back – the man had no concept of personal space. "What do you want?"
Axel shrugged. "To apologize about the other day, for one thing." Roxas blinked at him.
Rolling his eyes at Roxas's expression, Axel turned and threw himself back into his seat. "Look, I'm usually not that much of an asshole, all right? But I work the night shift at the Shinra power plant, I forgot to put up the 'Do Not Disturb' sign, and well – you stepped on me. I think I was justified in being a little pissed, don't you, Blondie?"
Scowling at the eyebrow Axel arched in silent question, Roxas crossed his arms and glanced off to the side. "My name's Roxas. Quit calling me Blondie."
The grin that stretched Axel's lips made Roxas's stomach sink. "All right, Roxas," Axel chuckled, pulling a hand through his hair. "We friends yet?" Roxas snorted and turned away, grabbing the rag from his back pocket.
Axel just laughed.
The next morning there was a bright sticky note pasted to the bathroom door of room 205. Roxas arched an eyebrow at it, staring suspiciously at the lump at the foot of the bed before he pulled it down.
Hey Blondie –
Just change the towels or whatever it is you do. No vacuuming. Don't step on me. Grab a beer if you're thirsty.
Roxas rolled his eyes at Axel's postscript.We friends yet?
Roxas couldn't keep the grin from his face as he stuck the note back on the door, changing the towels and carefully stepping over Axel to grab a drink from the fridge. Popping the tab, he stared at the stray red spikes peeking from beneath the blankets before he shrugged and set the beer on his cart, snagging the red highlighter from its resting place.
With one last glance at the sleeping Axel, he scribbled one word on the small sticky note:
And so the next few weeks passed uneventfully. Though there were still occasions in which Roxas's eye twitched rather violently – he couldn't even fathom the endurance needed for the amount of used condoms he'd come across in his short career – there was always one bright spot in his day.
He came to look forward to the ten minutes spent in Axel's small hotel room – he'd change the towels, carefully step over the sleeping lump on the floor, and collapse at the small table, the drink of the day set in front of him as he rested his head in his hands. On the rare occasions Axel was still awake, the redhead would take the seat across from Roxas and listen to the blond grumble about what he wanted to do to half the bastards that checked out and left their rooms looking like a bomb had gone off.
Axel, being Axel, would sometimes aggravate the issue by pointing out that the sheets needed changing or the windows were getting a little grimy, grinning and blowing smoke at Roxas when the blond glared murderously at him.
And then Axel discovered, in a roundabout way, that the time Roxas generally finished cleaning the second floor coincided with the time the redhead usually woke up.
Axel would later blame the entire incident on the microwave. Roxas would blame it on Axel.
On the day in question, Roxas had shoved the accursed cart into the closet with a little more vehemence than was strictly necessary – one of the guests had gotten sick all over the carpet, and made the mistake of offering Roxas an easy twenty bucks if he'd take care of it. Roxas had offered to let the man keep his privates if he had the mess cleaned up in time for Roxas to vacuum the room.
He was tired, sore, and stank to high heaven, and no one had left a tip in two weeks.
And Axel, that bastard, had been fast asleep when Roxas had finally stumbled into the redhead's room. Shoving his hands in his pockets, Roxas glanced up as the door to room 205 banged open and the man he'd been so vehemently cursing stumbled out into the hall, coughing violently.
Roxas noticed two things in rapid succession – firstly, Axel was barely dressed. It was hard to miss, really, with his boxers hanging off his hips like that, and Roxas wondered irritably why the man couldn't have the decency to at least throw on a pair of jeans before he went traipsing around where anyone could see him.
Then he noticed the smoke.
He froze for a moment, disbelieving gaze traveling between the black wisps flowing along the ceiling and the hacking redhead; then he turned and ran back to the end of the hall, wresting the fire extinguisher from the wall and lugging it back toward Axel's room. Axel was still trying to draw a deep breath, wiping vainly at the tears streaming down his face. Ignoring him, Roxas stumbled into the room, eyes narrowing as he took in the microwave. What had once probably been food was a ball of fire, flames licking at the upper edge of the microwave, a few stray showers of sparks erupting from the abused appliance every few seconds.
Roxas yanked the pin out and threw it aside, pointing the hose at the mess and squeezing the lever. He wrinkled his nose at the smell as the foam blanketed the remains of the microwave, keeping the lever depressed until the extinguisher stuttered and spit, finally losing pressure. Dropping the now-empty canister to the floor, Roxas glared at the foam-covered counter.
Roxas glanced over his shoulder as Kairi rushed into the room, the girl's hands going to her mouth as she took in the mess dominating the far wall. "Cid's gonna flip," she whispered, horrified.
Ignoring Kairi's startled gaze, Roxas stormed into the hall. Temper rising by the minute, he locked a hand around the man's forearm, dragging him back into the room. "What did you do?" he demanded, flinging Axel's arm down and jabbing a finger accusingly at the microwave.
Axel shrugged, dragging a hand that shook slightly through his hair. "I was just trying to make breakfast," he muttered, rolling his eyes at Roxas's expression.
"What the hell were you making?" Roxas seethed. The ghost of a grin stole over Axel's face before he shrugged and glanced away.
There was silence in the small room for a moment; Roxas's mouth opened and closed uselessly a few times as he stared at Axel, truly dumbstruck. Axel, for his part, managed to look everywhere but at the two housekeepers regarding him with the same consternation. Finally, Kairi laughed – it was a high, nervous sound, but she only laughed harder when the other two looked at her, Axel with a raised eyebrow and Roxas with a scowl.
"I-I'm sorry," she gasped out, tears starting to roll down her cheeks. "Just…" Kairi dissolved into a fit of helpless giggles, hands clapped over her mouth in a futile attempt to staunch her mirth. Axel glanced at Roxas, the corner of his lips quirking. Roxas stared back and forth between the two of them, anger rapidly dissolving as the absurdity of the situation sank in.
When Cid stormed into the room a few minutes later, they were all caught in helpless fits of laughter. Cid took one look at the counter, jabbed an accusing finger at Axel, and said, "That's goin' on your bill." When they all just continued to giggle wildly, he scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. "All right, that's enough. Everybody get out." Axel opened his mouth to argue, but Cid's scowl intensified and he jerked his thumb at the door. "Out. You can move your stuff into another room later."
Kairi nudged Roxas with her elbow, and they each took an arm and dragged Axel out of the room. Cid exited behind them, slamming the door and stomping back toward his office. Roxas and Kairi glanced at each other, then at Axel, who was scowling and glaring at Cid's back. The lanky redhead was still in his boxers.
Roxas felt another upwelling of hysterical laughter building, and he hastily turned away from Axel, sighing as his gaze fell on the myriad garbage bags still dotting the hall. Kairi stepped forward, smile still on her lips, and grabbed the one closest to them. "Come on, I already took mine out," she said, grinning over her shoulder at him. "It takes less time with two."
Roxas's smile wasn't blinding in its gratitude, but it did hurt his cheeks quite a bit.
To his consternation, Axel stepped forward and grabbed a garbage bag as well. "Guess I'll help, too," he muttered, still looking slightly sulky.
"Uh, Axel?" Roxas scowled at the inquisitive glance Axel shot him, gesturing at the man's lack of attire. "You're not exactly dressed," he reminded him, jerking his head at Kairi. Axel glanced at Kairi before he smirked at Roxas – Kairi didn't seem at all bothered that one of the hotel's guests was standing in the middle of the hall in nothing but his skivvies.
"When'd you get so shy, Roxas? You never minded before," Axel drawled, grinning when Roxas's mouth fell open. Spluttering, Roxas glanced at Kairi – she'd already moved down the hall, hopefully out of hearing range of that little comment. Axel laughed as Roxas continued to choke on his indignation, ruffling the blond's hair as he moved past him and grabbed up another bag. "C'mon Rox, you can't tell me boxers are the worst thing you've seen on this job."
Roxas's mouth snapped closed as his eye twitched.
Not giving Axel the pleasure of knowing how right he was, he turned and threw a bag of garbage over his shoulder.
Kairi was waiting at the front door when they caught up. The petite girl only lifted an eyebrow at Axel before she shrugged and pushed the door open with her shoulder, leading the small group around the building and to the large dumpsters set behind the property. Axel didn't seem to notice the scandalized looks that followed him. Roxas was torn between laughing and beating the man with the first heavy object that came to hand.
Axel wrinkled his nose as they approached the dumpster. "Just throw the bags over the top," Roxas advised, smirking at the man's expression. Axel grinned as Kairi easily hoisted the bags up and into the dumpster, the slim redhead stepping back and dusting her hands against each other as she glanced at them with a small smile.
Stepping forward, Axel threw the first bag in with no problem. The second bag caught on the edge, and Axel ignored Roxas's amused smirk as he shoved at the bag, trying to push it all the way in. He flinched and snatched his hand back as the bag finally shifted, frowning down at his finger.
"What'd you do?" Roxas asked, slinging his own bags into the dumpster. Axel shrugged, showing Roxas the blood welling from a cut on his finger. Roxas rolled his eyes. "Good job. You need to rinse that out when we go back in."
"Really?" Axel drawled, frowning down at his finger. His steps faltered as the blood continued to pour from the cut, rapidly flowing down the side of his arm. Roxas frowned, moving closer to the redhead.
"Are you okay?" he asked. The concern in Roxas's voice caught Kairi's attention, and she threw a quick glance over her shoulder, eyes widening at all the blood. "Shit, Axel, I think you really cut deep," Roxas muttered. Axel didn't answer, frantically cupping a hand below his left elbow to keep the blood from dripping to the ground.
He looked a little sick. Roxas couldn't blame him.
"We have to take him to Cid's office," Kairi urged, grabbing Axel's arm and ignoring the way he flinched.
Even Axel managed a weak grin at the expression on Cid's face when his two housekeepers dragged the bleeding redhead inside. "What did you do now?" he growled. He didn't wait for an answer, grabbing Axel's shoulder and pulling him back to the large sink. He stared uncertainly at the blood coursing down the man's arm. "Where're you cut?"
Roxas moved to Axel's other side, turning the cold water on and sticking the redhead's fingers beneath the spray. Axel hissed and wavered a little, grabbing at Roxas's shoulder for support. Kairi held back, quietly answering Cid's questions as Axel rinsed the blood from his arm.
Cid checked on Axel once more to make sure the man wasn't going to bleed to death in his office before he returned to the front desk, closing the door behind him.
"Are you okay?" Kairi asked quietly, stepping forward and peering at Axel's hand, still stuck under the spray.
"Yeah," Axel muttered, frowning slightly at the expression on the girl's face. "Sorry 'bout this." Kairi laughed softly, but before she could say anything, Cid stuck his head back into the room.
"Your idiots are here," he grumbled at Kairi, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. Kairi frowned at her employer before she stepped away from Axel and Roxas.
"I'll see you guys tomorrow, okay?" She hurried out of the office, voice rising to compete with the argument that had apparently started over Cid's remark. Roxas was given a brief glimpse of startlingly silver hair and a head of brown spikes before the door swung closed again.
Jumping, Roxas turned his attention back to Axel. The redhead was still bending over the sink, but the bleeding finally seemed to be slowing. "Gimme a paper towel, would you?" Roxas nodded and pulled down a couple, handing the wad to Axel. The redhead wrapped them tightly around his finger, pressing down where he was cut, wincing as he applied pressure to the injury.
"Do me a favor, would you?" Axel hissed between his teeth, grimacing as he grabbed for more paper towels. "Cid's got my credit card number on file. Call out for pizza or something, okay?" Roxas stared at the redhead, slack jawed. Axel rolled his eyes at the blond's expression. "Kid, I am bleeding in my underwear. I think the least you can do is order me breakfast."
Roxas stared at him for another moment before he spun on his heel and stalked out to the front desk. Cid only rolled his eyes when Roxas told him why he needed Axel's credit card number, waving the boy away after he scribbled it out for him.
The bleeding finally stopped about ten minutes before the pizza arrived, and Roxas wound up sharing the pie with Axel, the two of them sprawled across the floor of Cid's office, surrounded by bloody paper towels. Roxas was still sweaty, sticky, and in desperate need of a shower. Axel was still in his underwear, with a clumsily constructed paper towel bandage wrapped around his finger and held in place by a rubber band.
It was the best damn pizza pie Roxas had ever tasted.
And so months passed, and it seemed to Roxas that Axel was never going to check out of the small hotel. Whenever he asked, Axel shrugged and said finding a decent apartment was next to impossible, and he wasn't sure he was going to settle in the area, anyway. After discovering that Axel woke up right as Roxas finished his shift, the two fell into a habit of eating together before Roxas headed home for a shower and his evening classes, and Axel headed for his night job.
Roxas reached an almost Zen-like detachment about some of the more unsavory aspects of his job. Used condoms no longer sent him into fits of hysterics. He only threatened three guests in five months. And if he occasionally still had the urge to hunt down people who destroyed their rooms and rend them limb from limb, he managed to resist in admirable fashion – though Cid did occasionally wonder just how so many holes appeared in the walls.
Summer came, and Roxas finally appreciated the fact that employees were granted unlimited access to the pool. Axel let Roxas and Kairi use his shower when their shifts were over, and the three would spend the rest of the afternoon swimming. Roxas met Sora and Riku, whom Cid referred to as "Kairi's idiots" at every available opportunity.
Axel had taken one look at Roxas and Sora side by side and voiced his opinion that there had to be some shady secrets somewhere far back in the both of their families. Roxas had voiced his opinion that Axel was an idiot and could shut up at any time. He and Riku developed an instant dislike of each other, and Kairi and Sora derived more pleasure than they probably should've watching the scathing volley of insults the two could hurl at each other.
Axel's finger didn't require stitches, as the cut had been deep, not wide, and when it healed he was left with a tiny, diamond-shaped scar. For a while he delighted in the juvenile practice of flipping people the bird when they asked to see it. Finally, Roxas threatened to break his finger if he didn't stop.
Things finally seemed to be going well.
Roxas should've known the fates would never cut him that much slack.
Roxas was sprawled across the second bed in Axel's room, eyes fixed on the television. His second year of college had just commenced, and the homework he should've been working on was spread around him. Axel had cajoled the blond into watching a four-hour marathon of his favorite show, "The Upside of Insanity", which, for reasons Roxas couldn't fathom, he insisted on referring to as "T.C."
Axel was spread across the other bed, happily munching on his third bag of popcorn. Roxas had been the one to pop it – Axel was forbidden from operating the microwave by the management.
Roxas grunted and pulled himself upright as the credits rolled across the screen. He scowled down at his homework before he shoved the mess into his backpack and stood, slinging the bag over his shoulder.
"So?" Axel asked, eyebrow quirked as he paused with his hand buried in the popcorn bag. Roxas rolled his eyes and grinned.
"Alex is madly in love with a kid who did his best to turn his internal organs into paste," Roxas muttered. "He's a masochist or an idiot." Axel snorted and chucked a handful of popcorn at Roxas's head.
"You don't have a romantic bone in your body, do you, Blondie?" he scoffed. Roxas frowned and kicked at a kernel that landed near his foot.
"You better clean that up," he grumbled. Axel grinned and got to his feet, and Roxas backpedaled as the man advanced on him. His legs hit the bed, and he fell on his ass with a startled shout. Axel leaned over, grinning and bracing his hands on the mattress as he brought his face close to Roxas's.
Roxas froze. Axel had a problem with respecting his personal space, but usually it was unconscious. He didn't like the way the redhead was smiling one bit.
"I like you, and you're a downright bastard to me," Axel pointed out in a singsong voice. "What does that make me?" There was a hard light in the redhead's eyes that didn't match his teasing tone, and Roxas tried to scoot backward.
"An idiot," he mumbled.
Axel held his gaze for a second longer before his usual smirk plastered itself across his face. With a small laugh, he pushed himself up and ruffled Roxas's hair.
"Guess so," he muttered before he turned away.
Roxas grabbed his backpack and headed for the door, throwing a terse wave over his shoulder as he exited the room. He made it to the end of the hall before he threw a glance over his shoulder and collapsed against the wall, one hand tangling in his hair.
What the hell had that been about?
Axel was a friend – a good friend – but for a second Roxas would've sworn Axel had been talking about something else. Troubled, Roxas pushed away from the wall and left the hotel, head bowed.
And so it began.
Roxas glanced over at Axel for what felt like the hundredth time. Scowling, he tore his eyes away from the redhead's profile and back to the television.
Axel's behavior hadn't changed in any way toward Roxas since the day he'd forced the blond to watch his marathon, but once the thought that Axel's simple declaration – "I like you" – had gone deeper than mere friendship had entered his head, the idea had affixed itself stubbornly to Roxas's brain and refused to be shaken. Over time, Axel's simple phrase morphed from "I like you" to "I like you" to "I want to pound you into the nearest horizontal surface" in Roxas's mind.
It was making him crazy.
Nothing in Axel's behavior supported Roxas's speculations about that stupid, simple phrase. But the fact that Roxas knew his assumption was built on nothing couldn't quell his thoughts.
And, well, for some reason the thought of Axel thinking of him that way caused something to click over in his own brain. And he couldn't switch it back. He started noticing things he'd never before – the fact that Axel had a habit of chewing at one side of his thumbnail when watching television, for instance.
Biting back a frustrated groan, Roxas tore his eyes away from the redhead again and glared at the television.
This was insane. He was insane. Axel was his friend. And a guy. Which, in the grand scheme of things, probably didn't bother Roxas as much as it should. He'd never been attracted to anyone the way he was attracted to the lanky redhead. Did that make him gay? Or did it make Axel the exception to the rule?
And God damn it, he was staring at the man again.
Before he could convince himself to look away, Axel glanced over and caught him. Roxas froze.
"What?" Axel asked, brows lowering. "You want some popcorn?" Roxas blinked at him, eyes focusing on the bag of popcorn resting in the redhead's lap. It took more effort than it should've to meet Axel's eyes again.
"So…" Axel arched an eyebrow in silent question, and Roxas shrugged and glanced away.
"Nothing." He could feel Axel looking at him. He stared stubbornly at the wall, trying to pretend the weight of the other man's gaze didn't feel like it might crush him at any moment. Swallowing thickly, he whipped his head around, confession on his lips, ready to clear the matter up once and for all –
Axel had turned back to the television, munching contentedly on a handful of popcorn in lieu of his thumbnail. Roxas expelled his breath harshly, collapsing back onto the pillow.
Insane. Definitely insane.
Roxas had had enough.
He hadn't slept properly in weeks. Mostly because when he slept, he dreamed of Axel. And doing things to Axel and letting Axel do things to him that not only crossed the boundaries of friendship but shattered them into infinitesimal pieces.
Which made seeing Axel every day very awkward, indeed. But Roxas wasn't going to quit his job – not when he'd finally received a raise. And it seemed Axel wasn't ever going to leave. Obviously, something had to be done.
It was with this thought in mind that Roxas wrestled his ungainly cart into its too-small closet at the end of his shift one afternoon in late October. Giving the rusted contraption one last vindictive kick, Roxas closed the closet door firmly behind him and abused the master keycard in his possession for the first and last time.
After the fiasco with the microwave, Axel had been moved to room 213; it was to this room that Roxas stomped, and it was at this room that he used his keycard, ignoring the 'Do Not Disturb' sign hanging from the door handle. He shoved his way through the door, froze in the entryway, and promptly fell prey to a bout of hysterical blindness.
Two men he'd never laid eyes on before were tangled together in the sheets of one of the single beds, and, well – Roxas didn't know a person could bend like that. Feeling numbly for the door handle, Roxas sidled back out of the room, unnoticed by its occupants.
Roxas stared blankly at the door as Axel jogged up to him. "Hey, I'm talking to you," Axel grinned, poking at the blond's temple. He frowned when Roxas didn't respond, taking him by the shoulders and turning him gently. "You okay?"
Roxas nodded woodenly, slipping out of Axel's grip and plodding down the hall. Axel strode after him, ducking down and peering worriedly into his face. "You sure? Maybe you should sit down. You got your key?" Before Roxas could respond, Axel deftly plucked it from his pocket. The redhead arched an eyebrow when Roxas didn't attempt to hit him. "Yeah, you really need to sit or something," he muttered, grabbing the blond by the arm.
Roxas let Axel lead him to an empty room and push him into a chair. Axel leaned over him, brows lowered as he studied Roxas with a worried air. Roxas sank back in the seat, wishing desperately that he had a beer.
"You're not in room 213 anymore," he mumbled, wiping a hand over his face. He tried to picture the list in his mind. Had room 213 been marked in red? Roxas had been so distracted, he couldn't remember. Axel nodded, grinning as Roxas's eyes cleared.
"I checked out this morning," he said, flicking Roxas lightly on the forehead. "Finally found an apartment."
"An apartment," Roxas repeated dumbly.
"Yeah, an apartment," Axel grinned, rolling his eyes. "You know, that thing I've been looking for for almost a year now."
"Oh." Roxas's tongue wouldn't work properly. He swallowed and tried again. "Oh."
"Your enthusiasm is overwhelming," Axel said dryly, throwing himself into the seat next to Roxas's. Roxas tried to quiet the roaring in his head long enough to come up with an appropriate response.
"That's nice," he muttered, leaning forward and resting his head in his hands. "Congratulations." There was a moment of silence; then a hand was manacling his wrist, and Roxas was jerked upright and face-to-face with an irritated redhead. Roxas froze.
"All right," Axel snapped, far too close for Roxas's comfort. "What, exactly, is your problem all of a sudden?"
"I like you," Roxas whispered desperately. Axel's brows lowered in confusion, but instead of pulling back, he pressed forward; Roxas closed his eyes and tried to draw away, but his back was already pressed to the chair.
"What?" Roxas could feel Axel's breath on his face. The man never did seem to realize when he was invading Roxas's personal space.
"Back up," Roxas hissed, doing his best to meld with the chair. To his surprise, Axel did draw back, but it wasn't enough – Roxas could still feel the man's breath on his face and smell his aftershave.
Roxas shook his head violently, gripping the chair's arm with his free hand. Axel was still too close, and weeks of wondering and what-ifs were being fueled by the delayed adrenaline rush in response to the rutting he'd just been witness to. To his horror, Roxas felt a stirring between his legs, and he tried desperately to wrench his arm out of Axel's grip.
Roxas broke. Eyes flying open, he surged forward and slammed his lips against Axel's, the movement catching the redhead off-balance and sending them both tumbling to the floor. Roxas froze for a moment before he was scrambling desperately to disentangle himself from Axel and get up. He'd almost succeeded when Axel grabbed his arm and yanked him back down.
"And what," Axel asked, sounding highly amused, "was that?" Face burning, Roxas looked anywhere but at the man holding his arm captive in a steel grip.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled, trying to shift his weight so his sudden problem wasn't quite so obvious. The worst part wasn't what he'd just done to ruin their friendship – the worst part, the part that made Roxas truly despise himself, was that he still wanted it. Wanted Axel. And the man couldn't even let him leave with his dignity somewhat intact; no, the bastard had to hold him here and watch him fall apart.
Axel snorted, the abrasive noise somehow managing to sound gentle before he grinned. "Idiot." Roxas had exactly four seconds to ponder the myriad meanings that word could take in their current situation before Axel sat up and kissed him.
Well. That was…unexpected.
But then again, it was Axel.
The redhead drew back, arching an eyebrow at Roxas before he glanced down to where the blond's arousal was poking his stomach. "Didn't know I was that good," he smirked. Roxas turned a shade previously unknown to man before he punched Axel in the shoulder.
"Shut up," he growled, mortified. "These guys in room 213…"
"Ah," Axel grinned, wrapping one arm around Roxas's waist. "That would explain your near-catatonic state earlier?" Roxas squirmed uncomfortably and tried to push himself away from Axel's body.
"Could you let go?" he demanded, scowling when Axel only tightened his hold on the blond's waist.
"After how long you made me wait?" he asked, smirking. "Not likely. You can be incredibly thick, you know that?"
"What?" Roxas pushed insistently against Axel's shoulders, hating the smug expression on the man's face. Axel heaved a long-suffering sigh.
"'Upside'? Alex? Ring a bell?"
"You expected me to figure it out from that?" Roxas protested. Axel shrugged, shifting his legs, and Roxas squirmed and pushed against his shoulders again. "Could you please let go?" he grumbled.
Axel grinned again and captured Roxas's mouth in an insistent kiss. Roxas took a second to mourn the day's cleaning before Axel pried his lips open with his tongue, one hand unbuckling Roxas's pants, and Roxas stopped worrying about anything but what the man was doing with his fingers – and God damn, but was he good at it. Axel smiled into the kiss, and Roxas wrapped his arms around the redhead's neck.
And so the next three years passed in relative peace. It turned out the apartment Axel had spent nearly a year searching for was situated a block from the Highwind Hotel. Roxas was a frequent visitor, and in the summer he'd use Axel's shower before they walked the block back to the Highwind and spent the afternoon in the pool with Kairi and her "idiots."
Roxas's yearly raises eventually procured him a paycheck of thirteen dollars an hour. He successfully managed to work his way through four years of housekeeping without killing anyone. At the end of those four years, he took a job in Twilight Town, a couple hours' drive from Hollow Bastion. Axel followed him.
After all, Shinra was opening a new plant in the area.