(A/N): Fair warning - long author's note. Feel free to skip ahead if you prefer. Okay, first and foremost, I have not abandoned Waiting. I'm just having serious issues with writer's block where that story's concerned. It is still my first priority. Secondly, I'm as surprised as anyone that I'm doing another multi-chaptered fic. And I'll state right upfront that I have only a very vague idea of where I'm going with this. And the obligatory 'updates will be sporadic at best' disclaimer. Still, if you can forgive the fact that this isn't the next chapter of Waiting and review anyway, it's always appreciated.
Disclaimer: I totally owned the glory that is the Kingdom Hearts franchise. And then I woke up.
Roxas was pretty sure the road was dark enough to qualify as pitch black – he'd always thought the saying was an exaggeration, but he could barely see his hand when he waved it in front of his face. Apparently the people of Hollow Bastion didn't believe in streetlights. Scowling, he hitched his duffle bag up on his shoulder and buried his hands in his pockets.
Not only was it was dark, if was fucking freezing. Roxas didn't think he'd been able to really feel his face for the last half hour. He raised a hand and tapped a finger experimentally against his cheek. The sensation was very remote – hardly there at all. He heaved a sigh and stuffed his hand back into his pocket.
All in all, he had to admit the night was pretty much sucking at this point.
He paused on the corner, squinting as he tried to decipher the street sign by the weak light of the quarter moon. He'd made out D-I-S when a pair of high beams rounded a corner further down the road and reduced his vision to a wash of white. Belatedly clapping a hand over his eyes, Roxas ground his teeth together and shrank away from the road.
Great. This was just what he needed. He turned away from the light, lowering his hand and blinking experimentally into the darkness. Ghostly images swam across his vision, and he scowled as the light grew brighter behind him. He closed his eyes again, pressing his fingers lightly against the lids. He didn't have time for this. Hunching his shoulders irritably, he waited for the car to pass him.
Roxas almost tripped over his own feet as he whipped around. The car with the obnoxious high beams had paused in the street next to him, and a man was poking his head out the driver side window. Roxas wasn't sure, but he thought his eyes looked green in the backwash of the headlights. "What the hell are you doing out here?" the stranger asked. Roxas glared at him as he crossed his arms over his chest.
The man arched an eyebrow and glanced at his dashboard, and Roxas decided the marks on his cheeks were tattoos, not shadows. "Walking," he said dubiously.
"That's what I said," Roxas grumbled, rolling his eyes. The other man ignored him.
"Walking," he repeated, sweeping his gaze back to Roxas's face. "At one in the morning." Roxas scowled and glanced to the side, wishing the guy would just hurry up and get to whatever point he was trying to make so he could continue on his way. "In dark clothing. You realize you're just about begging to be another hit-and-run statistic?"
Roxas glared at the street sign; now he could make out the N-E-Y at the tail end. His shoulders slumped in a silent sigh as he mentally consulted his directions. He still had at least a mile to go. If this guy would just get on with it and leave him the hell alone, he could get to the motel and –
"Where are you going?"
Roxas dragged his attention back to the stranger, blinking. "What?" The man heaved an exaggerated sigh and pulled a hand through his hair.
"I said where are you going?" Roxas's eyes narrowed as he stiffened, his hands curling into fists in his pockets.
"None of your damn business," he snapped. The guy just regarded him with poorly concealed impatience.
"Look kid – it's dark. It's fucking freezing. If you don't get frostbite, you're gonna get run over. If you had a lick of sense, you wouldn't be wandering around town with no car this late –"
"I have a car," Roxas interrupted heatedly, wincing at the derisive snort that issued from the other man.
"Yeah, I can see how much good it's doing you," he drawled, smirking at Roxas's expression. Roxas remained silent, glaring at the man. The stranger blew out a quick breath, tilting his head to the side as he studied the blond. "Get in."
The guy rolled his eyes at Roxas's expression. "Get. In. Even I'd feel bad if I left a kid like you to die on the side of the road."
"I'm fine," Roxas grated out, hating the way the other man's eyes glinted as he grinned.
"I can see that. Are you getting in or not?"
Roxas hesitated another minute, glaring at the man in complete and total frustration. He didn't need this, not on top of everything else. Tearing his eyes away from the man, he glanced up the street and consulted his mental map again. It was still at least another mile to the motel. He shivered as a dry gust of wind chased itself down the sidewalk. The guy in the car just smirked at him. Shoulders slumping, he stepped off the curb and trudged over to the passenger side door, wishing he had a Struggle bat with him.
Or a two by four.
"If you try anything…" He trailed off into a grumble, throwing his bag into the backseat. The man rolled his eyes, flicking the heat up.
"Please. You're not that damn cute, kid." Roxas glowered and sank down in the seat, staring out the window. "So where are you going?"
"The Highwind." The man nodded and put the car in gear, pulling a U-turn at the next intersection and heading in the direction he'd come from. Roxas couldn't help a small, satisfied sigh as he sank further down in the seat, eyelids drooping as delicious waves of heat from the vents washed over him. "Thanks." The other man didn't respond, but Roxas saw the smile that tugged at his lips from the corner of his eye.
The drive was silent; Roxas rested his head back against the headrest, reveling in the tingling sensations spreading through his extremities as the blood began to flow freely again.
The neon sign for the Highwind was like a beacon in the eerily dark street, the steadily burning Vacancy sign the most pleasant sight Roxas had laid eyes on in what felt like a long while. The glow washed over them as the stranger pulled the car into the lot, and Roxas noticed the guy's hair was almost as vibrantly red as the neon sign. The redhead pulled up in front of the manager's office, leaning forward to peer inside. "Light's on," he offered. Roxas nodded.
"Yeah." He paused, biting at his lip as he stared absently at the front of the hotel. "So…thanks." The redhead nodded, another quick smile darting across his face before he reached in the back and hauled Roxas's bag forward, dumping it into his lap.
"Get out of my hair, kid." Roxas laughed and opened the door, pushing himself up and out of the car. The redhead nodded at him, grinning as Roxas closed the door, before he pulled the car into a parking space so he could turn around in the narrow lot.
Roxas reached a hand out to push the door of the office open – and collided with it, a startled gasp whooshing out of him as he staggered back. Behind him, the redhead's car slowed and then stopped. "What's wrong?"
Roxas glanced over his shoulder at the man, expression skewed into something between annoyance and disbelief. "It's locked."
"What do you mean it's locked? They don't friggin' lock motel offices – it's like, illegal or something." Roxas shoved against the door again before tearing a hand through his hair in frustration. He should've just stayed with his car.
"It's locked." The man stared at him for another moment before he threw the car back into gear, pulling into the parking space again. He shoved the car door open, leaving the vehicle running as he jogged to where Roxas stood. Nudging the blond to the side, he reached out, grasped the handle and pulled. The door opened easily. Roxas could feel the heat flooding his cheeks as the man turned to stare at him. "Oh."
The redhead arched an eyebrow. "You okay, kid?" Roxas scowled and glanced away.
"It's been a bad day," he admitted grudgingly. The redhead's eyebrow traveled a little higher.
"Clearly." When Roxas continued to avoid his eyes, the redhead shook his head and grabbed the back of Roxas's neck, gently shoving him through the door before following and pulling it closed behind them.
"H-hey! What the hell –"
"Relax, kid," the redhead drawled, rolling his eyes. The front of the office was deserted. Clapping a hand on Roxas's shoulder, the stranger steered him toward the counter. Roxas scowled and tried to shrug his hand away.
The redhead glanced at him and smirked before he let his hand fall away. "You know, you could be a little nicer to me," he pointed out. Roxas ignored him, stalking toward the counter. The redhead tagged behind him, hands buried in his pockets. "What were you doing on the road so late, anyway?"
There was no bell on the counter. Roxas leaned over the ledge, craning his neck to try and see if anyone was in the small inner office. It looked deserted. "My car broke down."
"Where were you going?"
Roxas turned and glared at the man – the redhead only offered him a crooked smile and ran a hand through his hair. "I don't see how that's any of your business," Roxas growled, trying to brush past him. The redhead looped an arm over his shoulders, ignoring the way Roxas shouted and mussing his hair with his free hand.
"I'm making it my business," he stated, grinning. "Whatever the hell you're doing, kid, you're clearly in over your head."
"Get off of me!" Roxas growled, shoving himself away from the other man. "I don't need your help, you moron!" The redhead only smirked at him.
"Do I look like I believe you? No."
"What the hell's all that racket?" an irritable voice demanded from somewhere behind the counter. Roxas whipped around and felt immeasurably relieved to find the manager finally emerging from somewhere beyond the inner office. He cast a baleful eye over Roxas and the redhead, crossing his arms over his chest. "I don't need any trouble tonight," he growled, gaze passing back and forth between them.
"I just want a room," Roxas said hurriedly, stepping forward and setting his duffle bag on the counter. Doing his utmost to ignore the redhead, he reached into his back pocket for his wallet. His fingers met only the fabric of his jeans. Frowning slightly, Roxas tried the other back pocket. Still nothing. His frown deepened as he patted the front of his jeans and rooted through his jacket pockets. He shot a tight, apologetic smile at the manager, but the man only narrowed his eyes and regarded him with poorly concealed irritation. Trying to beat back a rising sense of panic, Roxas unzipped his duffle bag, shoving things aside haphazardly. He jumped when the redhead slapped a credit card down onto the counter next to him.
"You were saying you didn't need my help?" he asked, tone mocking. Roxas's fingers curled into fists as he glared down at his bag, refusing to look at the man. He should've stayed with the car. He shouldn't have tried to keep going after the engine had started to rattle like that. Hell, he should've just abandoned the whole thing from the get-go –
The redhead sighed, reaching out and ruffling Roxas's hair as he nodded at the manager. "Looks like we need a room." The manager glared at the both of them for a moment before he grabbed the card and disappeared back into his inner office. The redhead blew out another breath in a sigh before glancing down at Roxas again. "Hey."
"What?" Roxas's voice was little more than a frustrated snarl as he attempted to put the contents of his duffle bag back into some semblance of order. It wasn't supposed to be this damn hard. He wiped a hand tiredly over his face before noticing that the redhead was extending his hand.
Roxas stared at the man's hand for a moment before his eyes traced their way to his face. The redhead was regarding him quietly, eyes resting patiently on his face. The blond sighed heavily before taking the man's hand in his own, giving it a curt shake. "Roxas." Axel grinned and drew his hand back.
"Okay." He stuck his hands back in his pockets, glancing back at the door. "So. You gonna tell me about it?" Roxas sighed heavily before pulling his duffle bag off the counter and slinging it over his shoulder again.
"No." Axel's lips just twitched up in another smirk.
"Okay, then – be like that."
Before Roxas could respond, the surly manager shoved his way back into the small area behind the counter. "You're in room seven," he muttered, sliding Axel's credit card and a keycard across the counter. The redhead nodded in thanks and pocketed both items before turning and grinning at Roxas.
Roxas just glared at him until Axel chuckled and swept past him, reaching out to poke lightly at his forehead. "Your face'll freeze like that, you know." Roxas didn't bother dignifying the comment with a response – he just shoved his hands in his pockets and trailed the redhead back out of the office.
Axel paused at his car, plucking his keys from the ignition and pulling a beat-up overnight bag from the back seat. He glanced back to make sure Roxas was still following him before digging the keycard out of his pocket and heading for the row of doors facing the parking lot. Roxas trailed behind him silently, moving past him once Axel found their room.
They both froze in the doorway.
"That moron." Axel's expression wavered between annoyed and amused. Roxas stared for another moment before he bit back a groan and began to turn away.
"I'm gonna sleep in the car." Axel snorted and caught him by the arm.
"You're not sleeping in my damn car." Roxas tore his free hand through his hair and glared at the man.
"Well I'm sure as hell not sleeping here," he shot back, jabbing a finger at the single bed. A sharp grin flashed across Axel's face.
"What's the matter, Roxas? You shy?" He laughed and sidestepped the punch Roxas threw at him, ruffling the blond's hair. "Jesus, chill out, would you? Take the bed." Not giving Roxas a chance to reply, he grabbed him by the back of the neck and shoved him further into the room, tossing his bag into the corner and closing the door behind them. Roxas watched him with narrowed eyes as Axel threw himself down in one of the uncomfortable-looking chairs at the small table. When Axel noticed him watching, he flashed a sharp grin. "What?"
Roxas shook his head and dumped his bag on the foot of the bed. "Nothing." Axel arched an eyebrow at him, but just shrugged and settled a little more deeply into the chair. "You gonna be okay sleeping there?" Axel smirked, eyes flashing across Roxas's one last time before his lids slipped closed.
"I'll live. Go to sleep, Roxas."
Roxas frowned and slid his shoes off before crawling under the covers, not even bothering to remove his jacket. He curled up on his side, staring at the wall and wondering how the hell he was supposed to just go to sleep with a man who, for all he knew, might be an axe murderer sitting no more than two feet away from him in the dark.
He was still mulling over the situation when his exhaustion revoked any choice he might've had in the matter – before he was quite aware of it, his eyes had slipped closed and his conscious mind had surrendered to darkness.
Roxas woke to the sharp scent of fresh coffee soured by an underlying odor of mildew.
Rubbing a hand against his eyes, he rolled onto his back with a groan and stared blearily at the ceiling as he tried to remember where the hell he was.
Roxas twitched and cut his eyes to the side, taking in the sight of Axel sitting, fully dressed and apparently ready to go, at the small table. Two cups of steaming coffee and a greasy paper bag rested on the tabletop next to his elbow.
Green eyes flashed as Axel grinned at him. "'Bout time you woke up." Roxas found he didn't have the energy to respond – he settled for flipping the redhead the bird before staring back up at the ceiling. Axel chuckled, the sound low and raspy, and Roxas felt his lips curving down in a frown.
Of course the man was a morning person.
"So you gonna tell me about it yet?" Axel asked. Roxas scowled and pulled himself into a sitting position, running his hands through his hair.
"What the hell do you care?" he grumbled. Axel shrugged and tipped back a sip of coffee.
"I told you last night, Roxas – I'd feel bad leaving a kid like you – a kid who obviously has no idea what the fuck he's doing out on the road –"
"Fuck you," Roxas muttered, glaring at the redhead. Axel ignored him.
"– to die a horrible, probably very violent and messy death," he finished, the sharp grin Roxas already hated flashing across his lips again.
"Stop calling me a kid," Roxas growled. Axel arched an eyebrow at him.
"I call 'em like I see 'em, Roxas."
"Nobody asked you," Roxas grumbled, pushing himself up from the bed. His eyes were drawn inexorably to the second cup of coffee. He paused, running his tongue over his teeth. "Is that for me?" Axel shrugged.
"Knock yourself out."
Roxas nodded in thanks before dropping into the seat opposite Axel's, taking a large swallow from the Styrofoam cup before digging a greasy breakfast sandwich out of the bag. He got about halfway through the sandwich before he glanced up and found Axel watching him. "What?"
The redhead stared at him a moment longer before he snorted and gestured at the food in Roxas's hand. "This is why I don't believe you when you say you don't need help," he grumbled. "I could've put anything in there, kid, and you wolfed it down without a second thought." Roxas's brows drew together as he stared at the sandwich in his hand with dawning horror before dropping it back onto its wrapper, glaring suspiciously at Axel. Axel smirked at his expression. "Oh please, Roxas. You wound me, you really do."
Roxas grumbled something unintelligible and shoved the food away from him, hunching over his cup of coffee. Axel chuckled at his expression before digging a beat-up pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. "You mind?" Roxas shook his head, keeping his eyes glued on the Styrofoam cup gripped tightly in his hands. The redhead lit a cigarette and tipped back in his chair, apparently studying the way the smoke curled against the low ceiling. The silence stretched out between them, tense and awkward in Roxas's ears.
"What do you want?" he asked abruptly, fingers tightening convulsively around the cup. Axel glanced at him, expression unreadable. "You did your good deed, right? Why don't you just…go?" He glanced up in time to catch the fleeting smile that graced Axel's lips for a moment before the redhead shrugged.
"I don't know," he mused, returning his gaze to the ceiling. "Guess I like you, kid – Roxas," he amended, grinning at the blond's scowl. Roxas snorted, feeling his shoulders relax in spite of himself.
"Yeah, that's not creepy at all," he muttered, grinning. Axel rolled his eyes and laid a hand over his heart.
"Ouch, Roxas. Just ouch."
A startled laugh ripped its way out of Roxas's throat; he only laughed harder when Axel arched an eyebrow at him, bending further over his coffee as he tried to wrestle himself back under control. Axel just grinned and blew smoke at him, waiting for his laughter to die away. "Better?" he asked sardonically when Roxas's laughter finally trailed off. Roxas couldn't help grinning as he wiped the tears out of the corners of his eyes.
Silence settled between them again, but it was comfortable. Roxas glanced up quizzically when the legs of Axel's chair thumped back to the floor. The redhead stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray and pulled a hand through his hair, glancing at his watch. "Time to go," he announced. Roxas arched an eyebrow at him.
"Excuse me?" Axel held his wrist out and tapped his index finger against his watch, as if that answered Roxas's question.
"We've gotta turn our key in before noon or he'll charge us for another night. And I don't know about you, sweetie," Axel drawled, grinning at Roxas's glower, "but I don't want to spend another night sleeping in the damn chair." Scowling, Roxas pitched his near-empty cup into the trash and grabbed up his duffle bag, grumbling under his breath as he retreated to the bathroom to wash and change his clothing.
When he came back out Axel was standing at the door, tapping a heel idly against the frame and staring out at the road. He glanced around at Roxas with a lazy smirk. "You ready?" Roxas didn't bother to answer, only stalked past the man and into the bright morning air. Axel only chuckled, reaching out and ruffling the blond's hair, ignoring his fierce scowl. "Wait here."
Roxas set his duffle bag on the pavement, stuffing his hands in his pockets and staring down the length of the road that surely met up with the highway again somewhere up ahead. He could leave now, with Axel detained in the manager's office, and there wouldn't be a thing the redhead could do to stop him. He'd have to hike back up to his car and pray to God he'd left his wallet in the glove compartment, but after that…after that…
Well, who cared?
Roxas traced the curve of the road with his eyes again before he sighed and plopped down on top of his bag, resting his chin in his hand as he waited for Axel.
The redhead didn't say anything when he emerged from the office, but a slow grin stole across his face when his eyes fell on Roxas sitting on his duffle bag, staring moodily at nothing. Green eyes glinted in amusement when the blond scowled and swatted Axel's hand away when the redhead tried to ruffle his hair again. Axel only smirked at him as he shoved his hands into his pockets. "Well. Let's go." He turned and headed for the car, and Roxas didn't stop to think, only slung his bag over his shoulder and followed.
Axel slipped behind the wheel, glancing over at Roxas as the blond threw his bag into the back seat. "Where to?"
"I need to check on my car," Roxas muttered, curling in his seat and propping his feet on the dashboard. Axel nodded, resting a hand against Roxas's headrest as he backed out of the parking space. The trip was silent save for Roxas's curt directions. Finally, Axel pulled up behind the rusted tan station wagon Roxas had abandoned at the side of the road the night before. The redhead arched an eyebrow.
"This is your car?" Roxas shrugged, already undoing his seat belt and pushing himself out of the car. It had been the only thing he could afford, but he didn't bother to share that information with the redhead. He was dimly aware of Axel getting out behind him, the sound of the door slamming almost startling in the clear air, but he ignored him, digging his keys from his pocket as he jogged forward. Axel circled Roxas's poor excuse of a vehicle as Roxas opened the passenger door and began pawing through the glove box, mumbling an incoherent prayer. His breath escaped in a harsh sigh as his fingers closed over the familiar contours of his wallet, and he tucked it into his back pocket with a grim smile.
Axel attracted his attention again when the redhead kicked his right front tire, his expression incredulous. "It would cost more than this junk heap's worth to get it running again," he mumbled, almost to himself. Roxas scowled and leaned against the car, crossing his arms over his chest.
"I know," he sighed, glaring unhappily at his shoes. Axel's gaze flicked to his face for a moment before he glanced down the road, eyes clouded with thought.
"So leave it." Roxas whipped his head around to stare at him, eyes narrowed.
Axel shrugged and kicked at the wheel well, almost losing his balance when the rusted metal dented inward beneath his boot. "It's a fucking death trap," he grumbled, resting a hand against the hood. "Just leave it."
"And do what, exactly, Axel?" Roxas growled. "Hitchhike?" Axel narrowed his eyes at him before flicking his gaze aside again, head tilting to the side as he studied the road stretching away from them.
"Where are you going?"
Roxas shrugged, hunching his shoulders. "Doesn't matter."
"Dammit, kid, would you just answer the fucking question?"
Roxas heaved a defeated sigh, tilting his head up to stare at the cloudless sky. "Destiny Islands," he mumbled, steeling himself for the moment Axel would laugh in his face and return to his car, leaving him standing on the side of the road. There was a moment of silence before the redhead spoke again.
"I'll take you."
Roxas's arms tightened over his chest for a moment. "Why?" A sharp smile flashed across Axel's face, but it didn't touch his eyes.
"Yes or no?"
Roxas turned his head and met Axel's gaze. The redhead was standing at the head of the rusting contraption, arms hanging loosely at his sides and eyes flat and unreadable. Roxas chewed at the inside of his cheek for a second before he nodded, keeping his eyes locked with Axel's.
Axel's face creased into another smile, this one lighting his eyes as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "Okay." He strode past Roxas, reaching out and ruffling his hair. "Let's go." Roxas dragged a hand through his hair, trying to make it lie flat again before he rolled his eyes and followed.