(A/N): I hate this chapter. But it's over, and we will never speak of it again. Those of you still reading and reviewing this fic continue to blow my mind. Sorry for the delay.
And I'm All
"He just left you there?"
Roxas sighed and sank lower in the seat, pressing a hand over his eyes. "Sora..."
"No, Roxas – I'm serious," Sora said, scowling. "It was a stupid, dangerous thing to do. What were you supposed to do if you couldn't get hold of me – did he ever think of that?"
"It wasn't like that," Roxas said, bracing an elbow against the car door. "I wanted him gone."
Sora glanced over, his expression softening at the sight of Roxas' slumped posture. "Sorry," he said. "I guess I'm really not helping right now, huh?"
"It's fine," Roxas muttered. Sora didn't look convinced, but he let the subject drop, turning his gaze back to the road.
They were twenty minutes out from the crappy little motel where Roxas had given Axel the slip the night before. He'd walked back after he'd called Sora and slipped the guy manning the counter an extra fifty bucks to ignore the kitten under his arm, getting the location of the nearest supermarket and picking up a cheap litter box to replace the one the redhead had driven off with in his backseat and enough food for the next day. Then he'd returned to the room and crawled beneath the covers, not even bothering to undress.
Sora must've gotten up before dawn to begin the drive out, because his cousin had pulled into the parking lot thirty minutes before the cut off for check-out. Roxas had stood up from the chair he'd placed in the open doorway, muscles stiff after hours of inactivity as he flagged the dark-haired man down. Sora had immediately pulled into the closest empty spot, bounding out of the driver-side door and enveloping Roxas in a tight hug. Roxas had stood, stiff and uncomfortable, until Sora had stepped back.
"Are you okay?" Sora had demanded. Roxas had nodded, spared any further questions when the kitten had meowed behind him. Sora's eyes – so like Roxas' people had once mistaken them for brothers rather than cousins – had widened when he'd caught sight of the white ball of fur, and he'd glanced at Roxas with a disbelieving grin. "Is he yours?" Roxas had nodded again, and Sora's grin had gentled into a smile before he'd helped Roxas pack his few belongings into the back of his car.
Sora had waited until they were on the highway to glance over at him. "So what happened?" Roxas had blown his breath out in a heavy sigh and given him an extremely condensed and edited version of everything that had happened to him since he'd left Twilight Town...including Axel.
"You didn't seem all that surprised to hear from me," he said, stubbornly wrenching his mind from thoughts of green eyes and a sly smirk.
Sora shrugged, swiping his hair out of his eyes. "When you went missing your folks called around to pretty much the whole family, asking if anyone had seen you or knew where you were. They were worried." He flashed the blond a quick glance, brows drawn together. "Sorry, I didn't mean for that to sound so...guilt-trippy."
Roxas couldn't help the way he stiffened. "Did you call them?"
Sora bit at his lower lip. "Not yet," he said slowly. "I probably should've, but I guess...I sort of thought, well – you left for a reason, and it's between you and your family, right?"
Roxas glanced back out the window. "Thanks."
Sora nodded. "Listen, you can crash at my place while you catch your breath, okay? As long as you don't mind sleeping on the couch."
Roxas squeezed out a laugh. "The couch is fine," he said.
"Okay. Good," Sora said, glancing over at him with a smile. "I'm just really glad you called before anything serious happened," he added with a sigh.
Roxas rested his temple against the window. "Yeah," he said, watching the stripped fields flash by.
The afternoon had bled over into early evening by the time they pulled up in front of Sora's small apartment. Sora cleared his throat as he removed the keys from the ignition. "So, welcome home. Well, for now, I guess. As long as you need it or..." He trailed off, running one hand absently through messy brown spikes. "D'you need a hand with your bags?"
Roxas shook his head. "I'm good, thanks."
"Well, I'll grab the litter box, at least."
Roxas shrugged and grabbed his duffel, opening the door before he grabbed the plastic bag containing what was left of his groceries and pushed himself out of the car. On the other side of the vehicle, Sora opened the back door, stepping quickly back when the kitten jumped to the curb. "Hey, you," he said, laughing a little as he grabbed the kitten and scratched it under the chin. He glanced over the car roof at Roxas. "So does this guy have a name?"
Roxas shrugged again, rubbing at the back of his neck. "I didn't really...get that far," he mumbled.
"No?" Sora gave the kitten one final scratch behind the ears before he motioned Roxas over to take it. "Well, you should think about it," he said, transferring the kitten to Roxas' waiting arms. "Before it gets used to 'Hey you' or something."
Roxas made a noise that might have been assent as Sora bent and grabbed the litter box, balancing it against one hip and closing the car door with his free hand. The blond trailed his cousin up the short set of stairs to the front door, waiting as Sora dug the key out of his pocket, then unlocked and held the door for him. "It's number twelve," Sora said as Roxas moved past him. "Go up two flights and it'll be on the right." Roxas nodded, heading for the stairs. "It's unlocked," Sora called after him.
Roxas mounted the stairs and pushed through the door Sora had indicated, pausing just across the threshold when he noticed the unmistakable scents of someone cooking. "Sora?" someone called from the kitchen. "You're back early. Is everything all – " The woman cut herself short as she stepped into the hallway and her gaze fell on Roxas. "Oh." The slim redhead gave him a quick once-over before she stepped forward, hand extended. "You must be Roxas. I don't know if you remember me – I'm Kairi."
Roxas dropped his bags to the floor, reaching out and clasping her hand. "Um, yeah. Hi. It's been a while, I guess." The minute it was out of his mouth he knew it was a massive understatement – he had only vague memories of a skinny little girl who'd used to always be at Sora and Riku's side.
Kairi laughed. "You could say that, yes," she said, grabbing up his bags. "Well, come in – dinner's almost ready."
"Thanks," Roxas mumbled, stepping farther into the room as Sora came up behind him.
"Hey, Kairi," he said, grinning. "Smells good."
"Let's hope it tastes good," Kairi said, smiling when Sora brushed a quick kiss across her cheek as he moved past her. "That stove's on its last legs."
Sora nodded. "I know," he said good-naturedly, stowing the litter box in a corner of the living room. "Everything around here's falling apart." Roxas stuffed his free hand in his pocket, shifting self-consciously from one foot to the other until Sora glanced over at him with a distracted smile. "Sorry, Roxas. Make yourself at home."
Roxas smiled thinly. "Yeah. Thanks." The kitten meowed and began to wriggle in his grasp. "Um, where can I set up his food dish...?"
"The kitchen's fine," Sora said, shrugging.
Roxas glanced at the bags in Kairi's grasp, and she smiled and turned back toward the kitchen. "This way," she said. "He's so cute," she added, glancing back over her shoulder at the kitten. "What's his name?"
Roxas shrugged. "He doesn't have one yet," he muttered.
Kairi's smile grew slightly quizzical, but she only set Roxas' bags on one of the chairs at the small table and turned to the pot simmering on the stove. "Well, I hope you like stew," she said.
"Stew's fine," Roxas said, setting the kitten down, where it proceeded to wind frantically around his ankles as he dug out its food dish.
Roxas dumped some dry food into the kitten's dish, pretending he wasn't excruciatingly aware of the awkward silence. "Can I, uh, help?" he offered weakly.
"If you want to grab some bowls, that'd be great," Kairi said, nodding at a set of cabinets to her left. "They're up there. Sora'll help you set the table."
"Okay. Thanks." Roxas winced a little at the puzzled smile Kairi flashed him, turning and opening the cabinets she'd indicated. He pulled down three bowls, then almost tripped over the kitten when he turned back toward the table. It skittered sideways a few steps, hunching over into a ball and crying up at him. "God – !"
"You okay?" Kairi began to turn toward him, and her foot came down on the kitten's tail. It yowled, and Kairi jerked backward in surprise, upsetting the stew pot – and slapping her palm across the hot eye. The moment seemed to stretch – Roxas felt as if he watched the blood drain from Kairi's face for hours. He registered the stew slopping over the edge of the pot behind her as if in slow motion, and thought, absurdly, that at least it was splattering across the stove-top and not her bare arm. The kitten scrambled across his foot on its way out of the room and it seemed he could feel each claw catching in the shoe leather. Kairi inhaled, the fragile sound like a hurricane in his ears. "Oh god," she said, voice small, and time rushed back in.
"Shit – Kairi, are you – Sora!" Roxas fumbled the bowls in his hands, shoving them on to the counter as Sora barrelled into the room.
"Kairi!" Roxas shrank back against the counter as his cousin shoved past him, reaching for Kairi as she snatched her hand off the eye and curled in on herself. "What happened?"
Kairi's breath hissed out between her clenched teeth. "She stepped on the cat," Roxas said faintly.
Sora gently cupped Kairi by the elbow, stepping her away from the stove. "Okay. We've gotta go to the ER." He glanced at Roxas when the blond didn't move. "Roxas?"
Roxas shook his head. "Someone's gotta stay here – clean up," he said, gesturing at the mess on the stove-top.
"But..." Sora glanced from him to Kairi before he sighed. "Fine. Will you be okay by yourself?"
Sora nodded, wrapping an arm around Kairi's shoulders and shepherding her toward the door. Kairi stilled in front of Roxas; ignoring Sora's quiet "Kairi," she reached out to touch the blond's arm with her good hand. "Hey." She waited until Roxas glanced up at her. "This wasn't your fault, okay, Roxas?" she said, voice thin. "It was an accident."
Roxas nodded brusquely, keeping his eyes on his shoes as they swept out of the kitchen. "I'll be back as soon as I can," Sora said as he draped Kairi's jacket over her shoulders. "If it gets late, there are sheets in the bathroom closet – you can make up the couch however you want."
"Okay." Sora grabbed his keys from the peg by the door and they were gone. "Bye," Roxas whispered into the empty air. For long seconds he only leaned against the counter, staring blankly at the floor. The scent of the food burning on the eye was enough to rouse him, and he took the few steps necessary to switch off the stove. Wispy, foul-smelling smoke rose from where the food continued to bubble in a blackening mess. Roxas grabbed the pot by the unsoiled handle, setting it on an adjacent eye before he stared helplessly at the stove-top. If he tried to touch anything now he'd only burn himself.
Behind him, the smoke alarm began to shriek. "Shut up!" Roxas snarled, tearing his hands through his hair before he turned on it, ripping it open and snatching the battery out. He paused in the act of flinging it across the room, trembling slightly. The kitten poked its head around the doorway, emitting a cautious mew, and he deflated. Tossing the battery onto the table, he threw himself into an empty chair, propping his head in his hands and squeezing his eyes shut. He felt the kitten rub against his leg, but he only blew out a breath that shuddered slightly and nudged it away from him.
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
He was just beginning to feel in control of himself again when there was a knock at the door. He started a little, jerking his head up and swiveling it toward the sound. When there was no answer, another knock came, louder. "Sora?" someone called, their voice muffled by the wood. "You there?"
Roxas didn't move.
Abruptly, a cell phone began ringing in the living room. Roxas scrambled to his feet, the kitten darting away from him and toward the back hall. The person at the door knocked again. "Sora? I can hear the phone – what's going on?" There was a short silence. "I'm coming in." Roxas started for the door, but the tumblers clicked and the door swung inward before he was half-way across the living room. A silver-haired young man stepped across the threshold, cerulean blue eyes narrowing when he caught sight of Roxas. "Who are you?"
Roxas hesitated, trying to reconcile the gap-toothed kid he remembered with the man standing in front of him. "Riku?"
Riku's eyes narrowed further before they widened in recognition. "Roxas?"
Roxas nodded, eyeing the other's silver strands. "What happened to your hair?"
Riku's eyes narrowed again, in irritation this time. "Some kind of chemical reaction with my dye," he muttered. He glanced around the small room before bringing his gaze back to the blond. "Where's Sora? Why didn't you answer the door?" His nose wrinkled. "What's that smell?"
Roxas bristled at the other man's tone, but set his jaw and kept his voice even. "Sora didn't tell me you were coming over. He had to take Kairi to the emergency room – "
Roxas glanced away from Riku's face. "There was an accident in the kitchen."
"What?" Riku took another step into the room. "Is she all right?"
"She got burned pretty bad," Roxas said quietly. Riku gazed at him for another few seconds before he turned on his heel and walked out, the door clicking shut behind him. Roxas sagged, pressing one hand to his eyes before he grit his teeth and turned back toward the kitchen.
The kitten crept back into the room as Roxas grabbed a roll of paper towels from beside the sink, crouching next to its food dish as the blond ripped off a thick wad and scooped up the edges of the stew spattered across the stove-top. Roxas dumped the still-warm mess into the trash, coughing a little as the smoke tickled the back of his throat. He ripped off another couple sheets, mopping up the dribbles of food he'd missed on the first go-round, avoiding the still-smoking eye. He returned the paper towels to the counter beside the sink, dropping the soiled sheets in the trash; then he spared another glance at the stove-top before he turned and left the kitchen.
The kitten trailed him to the couch, jumping onto the cushion beside him when Roxas threw himself down. The blond exhaled heavily, reaching down to scratch it beneath the chin when it butted its head against his arm and meowed. It began to purr, and Roxas rubbed the base of its ear as he kicked his shoes off. Scooping it into one hand, Roxas stretched out across the couch, cushioning his head on his free arm and settling the kitten on his chest. It wobbled for a moment, claws little pinpricks through his shirt, before it found its balance and began to knead.
"That hurts," Roxas muttered, cupping his hand over the kitten's paws and forcing them to stillness. It meowed at him again, rubbing its face against his fingers when he didn't remove his hand. Roxas sighed and glanced around the room, wincing when the kitten's claws dug in a little further. "Quit it," he said, grabbing it by the scruff and depositing it next to him on the couch cushion. It meowed reproachfully, batting at his side. Roxas gently but firmly pushed its paws away, and it gave one last mew before it turned and jumped to the floor, scampering back toward the kitchen.
Roxas closed his eyes, massaging his temple and listening to the silence. He needed to call his sister, his parents. He needed to finish cleaning up the mess in the kitchen. He wanted –
He rolled onto his side, hiding his face against the back of the couch and trying to ignore the sudden ache in his chest. It didn't matter. He curled a little tighter into himself, waiting for the sensation to pass.
The next thing he was aware of was the front door opening. He started upright, blinking owlishly in the dark. Sora spoke quietly from the doorway. "Roxas? You awake?"
"Yeah," Roxas said, voice hoarse as he scrubbed his hands over his face. Sora flicked the overhead light on, and Roxas shielded his eyes as his cousin stepped fully into the apartment, closing the door behind him. "What time is it?"
"A little after midnight," Sora said, sinking into the adjacent arm chair. "Sorry I woke you."
Roxas shook his head. "How's Kairi?"
Sora sighed, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "She's okay. They gave her some pills for the pain and showed her how to change the gauze and sent her home. I helped her get her things ready for tomorrow so she's not trying to juggle everything herself with just one hand."
"Yeah." There was a short silence. "Did you call your parents?" Sora asked, glancing over at him.
Roxas shifted uncomfortably. "Not...yet. I fell asleep."
Sora tried for a smile. "Well, it was kind of a long day."
"Yeah." Roxas' gaze fell on the cell phone. "Is that yours?" he asked, nodding at it.
"Oh. Yeah. Sorry, I forgot it in the rush," Sora said, sitting forward far enough to grab it. "Did anyone call while I was gone?"
Sora winced a little. "Sorry about him barging in on you. I forgot he was coming over."
"It's fine," Roxas muttered.
The cell phone spun slowly between Sora's fingers. "Did you want the sheets?"
"I'm all right."
Sora studied the carpet between his feet before he nodded. "Okay. Then I'm gonna say goodnight." He pushed himself to his feet, slipping his phone into his pocket. "I've got classes in the morning and work after, so you'll have the place pretty much to yourself," he said, tugging absently on a stray spike of hair. "Help yourself to whatever you want while I'm gone, okay?"
Sora hummed a response, fixing him with a fleeting smile before he moved past him, pausing at the light switch. "Should I leave the lights on?"
"No, it's fine," Roxas said. "Night."
"Goodnight, Roxas." Sora flicked the light off, swamping the room in gloom once more. Roxas listened to his cousin's footsteps padding down the hall, then lay down across the couch cushions.
"Cat?" he whispered, lightly snapping his fingers. "Hey, kitty." A sleepy mew sounded from the far side of the room, and Roxas sighed and settled an arm beneath his head, staring blindly up at the ceiling. He tried not to wonder if Axel had made it back to the Lake Shore Inn, but he could see it so clearly it hurt – the redhead seated at the small table, shoveling down another lukewarm microwave dinner, pack of cigarettes at his elbow for his after-dinner smoke.
Roxas inhaled sharply, turning onto his side.
It didn't matter.
It took a long time for him to fall asleep again.