Roxas was walking home from work when he bumped into the redhead the first time. The strap of his schoolbag over one shoulder, feet heavy with weariness, he didn't see the guy step in front of him until too late. As exhausted as he was, he just fell straight back, landing on the pavement before his mind even had a chance to catch up. One second he was upright, the next, hissing at the blood seeping from his grazed palms. His books had scattered from his unzipped bag, and Roxas was pretty much cursing life in general for getting him here.

The guy whose brick-wall of a chest he'd collided with crouched down and chuckled. "Kid, you look tired."

Roxas shot him a dirty look. "Yeah, maybe I am. Thanks for laughing at my misfortune, asshole."

The guy's eyebrows shot up, a low whistle coming from his lips. "Wow, did I get you on a bad day, or what?" He started scooping up the books, placing one carefully atop the other, while Roxas curled into a cross-legged position and sulked. The redhead – insanely red – flashed him a toothy grin. "No need to thank me, you bucketful of sunshine, you."

"Ugh!" Roxas' mood plummeted further. He snatched the books away and jammed them messily into his bag, ignoring the pained noise the stranger made at seeing his hard work demolished. "You don't even know me," the blond fumed, "so just leave me alone, okay? You don't know shit about my life, or my mood." He gave the papers one last, violent shove, then stood. The guy followed suit, straightening slowly, a cautious expression on his face.

"I apologise, I guess," he ventured. "My bad."

"Yeah, just piss off," Roxas muttered, pushing past and continuing on his way.

He got several feet, before the guy suddenly yelled, "Axel!"

Roxas jerked to a halt, shoulders hunching, and half-turned irritably. "Excuse me?" he sighed.

"My name. It's Axel." Crimson eyebrows lifted, another broad, amused smile. "Got it memorised, yet?"

"Okay, fine, Axel, who cares." Roxas rubbed at his forehead impatiently with his knuckles. "Nice to bounce off you and fucking cut myself."

The guy laughed, a rich sound that echoed along the street. "Pleasure's all mine, Blondie."

Roxas stomped away.


Okay, so maybe the asshole in that exchange had been Roxas, and not the redhead – but, damn it, long, hard, boring days should not be capped off with pain and/or blood. He supposed he should have made more of an effort – after all, how often does someone new come to Twilight Town? And speak to him, no less.

Oh, well. No doubt the guy was only passing through. Twilight Town wasn't the sort of place people moved to in a permanent way. It had its regulars, the ones who had been there since forever, and that was about it. People only ever left.

Roxas didn't mind, as such, living in a dull little town. Home was home, after all. But on days like this one, the last thing you needed was a bright red reminder that your life wasn't exactly panning out the way you'd planned it at five years old.

What the hell had possessed him to get a job at a toy store, anyway? Maybe that had been left over from the five-year-old dream, but it definitely wasn't how he'd imagined it to be. Toy shops, you figure that's got to be a fun profession, right? Wrong. If you thought you'd be playing with the cool new toys, you'd be incorrect. Nooo. You stock shelves, you deal with electronic dolls stuck on 'demo' mode that every sticky little finger in sight feels the need to activate, you have mothers with squalling things attached to their hips and a two-dollar budget trying to convince their shit-on-a-stick seven-year-old that it's not necessary to have the most expensive toy in the shop simply because Timmy has one, and the resultant tantrum that ensues.

Add that to a whole day of school, the pain that is learning, and you find yourself in not-very-happy Roxas mode.

Of course, now that he was almost home, he was starting to feel guilty about biting the guy's head off like he did. The redhead – Axel? – hadn't meant any harm, he'd even helped him pick up his books. He'd tried to be nice, and Roxas had spat that lovely little sentiment straight back in his face. He hoped, with a pang, that the guy wouldn't assume all of Twilight Town was as pissy as him, and never come back again.

He reached his house, and fumbled through his pocket for the keys. The door gave its customary creak as it opened, Roxas leaving the cool, dwindling evening behind as he shut it again. He unhooked his bag and dropped it by the entrance, kicking off his shoes and calling, "Mom? I'm back."

"Roxas, honey." His mother emerged from the kitchen, bringing the scent of tomatoes with her, wiping her small hands on a dishcloth. She smiled at her only son. "How was your day?"

"Oh, you know, mom," Roxas sighed, running a hand through his hair and throwing himself into an armchair. "Same old, same old. Nothing to complain about." He lay back, hooking his legs over one arm of the seat, resting his head against the other, and closed his eyes.

"Honey, what happened to your hands?" she asked, concerned. She came over and picked up his wrist, turning it over to reveal the scraped palm. Roxas shrugged.

"I just fell over on the way back, it's no big deal. I'm just – " He broke off into a wide yawn. "…tired."

His mother plucked at his hair affectionately, then planted a kiss on his forehead, patting his shoulder. "Dinner's in ten minutes. Go wash up, okay?"

Roxas stayed where he was for a while, feeling the lethargy steal through his muscles, weighing them down. In the end, it was his stomach that got him moving, letting out a hungry growl at the promise of sustenance.

"Okay, okay," he muttered. He reached up, grabbing the soft material of the seat and hauled himself over the arm and onto his feet. His socks making each step silent, he padded upstairs to the bathroom and washed his hands, picking out pieces of sand and grit from the grazes. He glanced up ruefully at his reflection, the bright blue eyes dulled from too many hours. His hair was a mess. Scowling, he reached up and tried using the water to style it a little, ending up only with damp, messy locks.

"Roxas!" His mother's voice floated up. Giving his cheeks a light slap with cold hands, he left the bathroom and headed downstairs. Mom had dinner set up on the kitchen table, steaming, smelling great. He noticed there were only two plates. Sitting down, picking up his fork, he asked, "Dad's working late again?"

"Mm," she responded, not pleased. She sat across from him, frowning. "That man he works for is driving him too hard."

Roxas snorted. "The world is full of jerk-offs, mom."

"Don't be crude," she scolded.

They ate in relative silence, each too tired to make regular conversation. Roxas' parents both worked, normal sorts of jobs with normal sorts of hours, but on the days that his dad had to work late, his mom got lumped with the cooking and cleaning as well. Usually it was all sort of split three ways between them – they were a good family, they functioned well together – but when Roxas had his after-school job, it meant that his mom had just that bit extra to do of an evening. She dealt okay; it just meant that these nights meant early bedtimes for all, something Roxas would never disagree with. Sleep was every teen's best friend.

"I'll clean up," Roxas offered wearily, as they finished, but his mother shook her head, grabbing his plate before he could protest.

"I'd rather you went upstairs and did your homework, hon. This won't take long once I get going, and I want you to rest up."

"Aw, mom." Roxas sidled up beside her and gave her a hug. "Thanks, I'm sorry for being a lazy son."

"Lazy, maybe, but academic, which makes my poor overworked heart all better." She patted the hands he'd knotted around her middle. "Go on, you. Make sure to get to bed at a reasonable hour. No videogames tonight."

"Yes, ma'am." Roxas left her to the dishes, grabbed his schoolbag from the front door, and headed up to his bedroom. Once there, he kicked the door shut, and tipped his books and papers onto the desk. There was still an order to them, from when the redhead guy stacked them. Roxas wondered idly how anyone got hair that colour.

It took three hours to finish all his assignments, by which time, the rest of the house had gone dark. The desk lamp burned faithfully, casting gentle light through the room, soft shadows. Roxas was just about falling asleep in his chair, but managed to slide everything together into a semblance of tidiness, and stagger off for a shower.

At last, hair dripping, dressed in loose cotton pants and a baggy t-shirt, Roxas switched off the lamp and fell into bed. The sheets were cool, the comforter soft. Surely this was some version of heaven.

A pinpoint of white light pierced the room through the thin curtains, from the streetlight outside, illuminating the old glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to his ceiling. Roxas fell asleep counting them, never getting past thirty.



"Hey, Hayner."

It was morning. Roxas was almost at school, when the other blond intercepted his path. His best friend slapped him on the back, enthusiastically. "How'd it go tormenting the kiddies yesterday, man?"

Roxas shrugged his backpack from one shoulder to the next, giving a dry smile. "I'm pretty sure it's the other way round."

Hayner shook his head in mock-despair. "Seriously, dude, you're going about this all wrong. This is your one chance in life to go around scaring little kids without getting in trouble! How can you pass that up?" He adopted a Dracula face and accent, hands hooked into claws, mimicking, "Bleaugh! I van't to suck your blurd!" He moved on to dismay, covering his mouth apologetically."Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am, I was just testing out this new costume, I didn't mean to make little Billy cry."

Roxas was laughing, shaking his head, a hand over his eyes. "I am so glad you don't work at my store," he gasped. "You are sick."

"I'm glad, too," Hayner grinned, draping an arm over the blond's neck, squeezing him tightly. He sighed, "Man, this is such a feel-good moment. I think – yes, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna start crying. Any minute now."

"That's only because we've reached the schoolyard," Roxas pointed out. Hayner let go, lips trembling, and pretended to sob into his hands.

"Oh, God, it's true, it's all true!"

Roxas shoved him away, rolling his eyes. Their two friends, Olette and Pence, were already waiting outside the large building. Upon spying them, Olette gave a large, happy wave, and came trotting over. "You guys! How's it going?" Her bright shirt caught the light, illuminating her chin briefly orange. Pence brought up the rear, smiling good-naturedly.

"Did everyone do their English essay?" he asked, upon joining the group. Roxas nodded.


Hayner just gave him a squinty sort of look. "English… essay…"

"The essay for English, yes."

Olette started scowling, green eyes narrowing as she crossed her arms over her chest. "Hayner," she warned.

"I didn't do anything wrong!" the boy yelped, hands held out defensively.

"You didn't exactly do anything right, either," Roxas said.

Hayner punched his arm. "Whose side are you on?"

"He's on the side that causes the least amount of pain," Pence chirped, patting a hand onto Olette's shoulder as she continued to glower.

"Hayner, please tell you did not blow off your English homework again," Olette said, her saccharine-sweet voice belied by her vulture-like body language. "Because I'm pretty sure your parents told you, no more weekends if your point-average drops any further. No more weekends," she added, glaring from under her brow, "equals no more us time."

Olette sure was a scary girl to be dating. Roxas almost pitied his best friend. Very, very nearly.

"This is my cue to ride off into the sunset, guys," Roxas smiled. "I'll see you at lunch."

"Where're you going?" Pence asked curiously.

Hayner seized his sleeve, tugged him close. "You're not leaving me?" he hissed anxiously. Roxas detangled himself, backed away patting his bag.

"I've got some extra credit to hand in before first period starts. Sorry, but you'll have to fight your own battle this time."

He left the grass, smiling at the sound of the ordinarily sweet and harmless Olette going feisty on her boyfriend's lazy ass. Mounting the stone steps to the door, he entered the school building and went to hand in his extra credit work. That done, he stopped off in the bathroom to splash his face, trying to wake up a little more, and continued on to first period Calculus, only to be accosted halfway.

"Roxas!" He turned inquisitively, to see the school secretary coming his way with… Holy hell. It was yesterday's brick-wall guy. Wasn't he too old for high school? Roxas blinked, startled.

"Uh, M-Miss Charon?"

The woman smiled breathlessly, coming to a halt in front of him, taking hold of his jacket and pulling him towards the redhead. "This," she declared, gesturing with sharp nails, "is Axel. He's new at the school, starting just today! In fact, he's in absolutely every one of your classes, which is why you," she gave him a little shake, "get to be his mentor for his first week."

Axel sketched a cheery wave. "Hey."

"Uh…" Roxas eyed him dubiously. "Hi." He shifted his gaze to the secretary, who beamed at this apparent show of fraternity.

"Well, I'll let you two run along to class. Don't be late! Have fun now!" She scuttled back down the hall, leaving them to stare at each other. Roxas blushed a little, shamefully, scratching the blond spikes at the back of his head.

"Uh, about last night…"

"Forget it," the redhead said easily, green gaze pinioning. He had a half-smirk in place as he shrugged. "At least you don't look quite so tired today. Yesterday was rough or something?"

Roxas sighed, wiping a hand over his face. The guy was friendly. And nosy. "Daylight is rough," he clarified. He shook himself, attempted geniality. "So, same class schedule, huh? Which means Calc first."

"Yeah. Heh." As they got walking, Axel shook his head and said, "You know, you don't know it, but this whole mentor situation is seriously ironically amusing."


"Yeah, forget about it, though. So, you like school?"

Roxas shot him a weird look, at both the question and the abrupt subject-change. "Like school? As in, like? No. I'm pretty sure I don't like school. School is boring and exhausting."

Axel seemed interested, nodding his head a few times as though Roxas had said something profound. "I like that," he said. "That's a good sign."

Roxas shrugged. "We're here. I'll wait for you afterwards, okay?"

"Sure thing, Roxas."

Roxas weaved through the desks and sat in his usual seat, laying his head on the table to wait, while the redhead introduced himself to the teacher. In the space of a night and morning, he'd met up with the guy twice, and now he was in all of Roxas' classes. Weird. Also, good in a way. He really had felt bad about being such a dick to him, and at least now he'd got to apologise. Roxas wondered where he'd come from. It was rare for there to be new students at Twilight High. Those that came from the outside usually left not long after. Must've been something in the water, but nobody hung around long unless they'd been born there.

As Axel talked, hands moving animatedly, Roxas used the chance to get a good look at him, propping his chin on his forearms, head tilted slightly to the side. He looked a little different in straight daylight. His hair was, if possible, even brighter, and stuck out in long, no doubt aerodynamic, spikes. His eyes, too – he hadn't noticed them last night, but damn, they sure stood out. They were feline, and bright, and just so green. Not emerald, or leaf, or jade or – just – just green.

New people were definitely interesting.

The class passed at a reasonable rate, and Roxas found himself with more after-school work to do, the never-ending cycle remaining in motion as he handed in last week's assignment. He packed his stuff away, heaved up from the desk, and sloped off towards the door. A hand grabbed him as he started off down the hall, bringing him out of his lesson-induced stupor with a jump.

Axel, also incredibly tall when he was right beside you like this, smirked. "What, did you forget about me, Rox? Or are you just trying to ditch me?"

"Ditch," the blond said automatically. "But I guess you caught me."

Axel laughed. "Oh, man, are you always this pleasant, or is it just me?"

Roxas cocked an eyebrow as they got moving. "Are you always this tolerant of assholes, or is it just the Prozac talking?"

Axel leaned down, grinning. "You know, Roxas? I think I like you."

Roxas rolled his eyes a little. "I guess that's a good thing."

"Sure it is!" The redhead ruffled his hair. "It means we get to be buddies!"

"Sure, okay." Roxas struggled to flatten the new, wild spikes the interference had formed. "We've got Biology next. Have you got a textbook, or do I need to fix you up?"

"Fix me, baby."

"Roxas!" The pair halted and turned, as Hayner and Pence came jogging up. They shot the new guy curious glances.

"Olette let you live," Roxas observed with a slight smile. Hayner huffed.

"Only just," Pence revealed knowingly. "And only because he promised to make up for the essay with extra credit." The round-faced brunet smiled at the redhead. "Hi, there, I'm Pence, Roxas' friend. And you are…?"

"Oh!" Axel, looking surprised, thrust out a hand to be shaken. "The name's Axel. Get it memorised, because I'm your buddy's new best friend!"

"Oh, really?" Hayner scowled, looking him up and down. "I'm sorry, but that position is already filled, bean-pole."

"Hayner." Roxas sighed and shook his head. "Down boy. I'm Axel's mentor for the week, until he gets settled in."

"Where're you from?" Pence asked, smiling encouragingly to make up for Hayner's hostility.

Axel made a vague motion with one hand. "Oh, you know, out of town. It's pretty far from here. I moved with my parents."

"Well, that was informative," Hayner sardonically said, hands moving to his hips. "Are we gonna stand around here chatting with the newbie all day, or are we getting to class?"

"Since when do you care about class?" Roxas wondered sceptically. "Isn't this the one you skipped last week?"

"Ooh, tough guy," Axel interjected, eyes shining mischievously. Roxas cut him a warning glance, while Hayner flipped him off.

"That was until Olette threatened to cut me off," he groused.

Pence burst into wild gales of laughter. "Cut you off? Way to make it sound like she's sleeping with you, Hayner."

"Maybe she is," he argued.

"Maybe she owns the philosophy 'no sex before marriage' and told us exactly that when you guys started going out," Roxas replied, smugly.

"I – uh – damn." Hayner pouted. "Okay, so she'll cut me off from making out. Same diff."

"Sure, Hayner."

Pence was still giggling like a fool by the time they reached Biology. Roxas pushed Axel towards the teacher, and went and sat at his workbench next to Hayner.

"Class," the biology professor addressed them all, "we have a new student today, his name's Axel. I'm sure you'll all show him the courtesy he deserves. Roxas? Since you're Axel's mentor, would you please join him at the empty workbench? Hayner, you may attach yourself to Pence's group for this week's lessons."

Grumbling about bean-poles, Hayner shifted closer to Pence's desk, while Roxas went to sit with Axel. The redhead flashed him a winning smile.

"Roxas, fancy meeting you here."

"It's amazing," the blond agreed.

"Gentlemen? If you don't mind, I'll begin the lesson now."

They shut up, and got to work. Throughout the class, Roxas couldn't help but notice the numerous glances the other teen sent his way, flashes of green out of the corner of his eye. He shifted uncomfortably, and ignored it, figuring the redhead would give up eventually. After an hour, he lost patience.

"Can I help you?" he whispered, not looking up from his book, as the professor droned at the front of the room.

Axel smiled a little, turning to face him more fully. "Depends – what kind of help are you offering, Blondie?"

Roxas rolled his eyes, keeping them on his work, but his pen ceased moving across the page as he pointed out, "You keep looking at me. Is there a reason?"

"Hmm. Does there need to be a reason?" The redhead leaned close, so that his breath warmed Roxas' ear. "Maybe I'm just enjoying the view."

"The view of me doing schoolwork," Roxas deadpanned. "How breathtaking." He lifted his gaze to glare. "How about you find someone else to fulfil your working-man fetish with?"

Axel leaned back again, amused. "But Roxie, you fill the role so nicely."

Roxas snorted, and ignored him the rest of the lesson. Lunchtime rolled around.

"Hey, bean-pole," Hayner asked, as they headed for the cafeteria, "who're you sitting with? Got any friends yet?"

"I have my Roxie," Axel smirked, draping himself over the blond teen, who let out a frustrated noise and squirmed. Hayner knocked his arm back off, glaring.

"You know Roxas isn't gay, right?"

"Did I just ask him out without meaning to? Oh, hell, I hate when that happens." He lightly slapped himself. "Bad Axel. Bad."

"Jesus, where did you learn to be such a douche?"

"Same academy you went to learn how to be a jacktard, kid."

"What's a jacktard?" Pence wondered.

Roxas lifted his hands to massage his temples. "Seriously, can you people stop talking? Please? Just for, like, a minute? I swear to God, these conversations get dumber every day."

"Don't worry, Roxie, now that I'm here, you'll get some intelligent company," Axel smiled, patting the blond on the back. Pence frowned.

"I think I object to that…"


"Oh, thank you, God," Roxas muttered. Olette came running, and jumped into her boyfriend's arms.

"How was class?"

"I went," Hayner admitted begrudgingly. Olette beamed.

"Good boy. I knew you'd come around."

Axel made the sound of a whip being lashed, earning a death-glare from Hayner, and broad smirks from Roxas and Pence. They found a table and brought out their various lunches, Hayner standing in line to buy Olette a juice. Axel took the seat next to Roxas, propped his elbows on the table, and watched. Roxas shot him a glance, noticed he wasn't eating. "Didn't you bring food?" he mumbled through a mouthful of bread. Axel shook his head.

"Nah. Foresight, not really my thing." He shrugged. "It's cool, I don't eat much anyway." Roxas raised an eyebrow, then broke off half his sandwich to offer to the redhead. Axel blinked, looked at him. "For me?"

Roxas swallowed his mouthful. "No," he said, "it's for the other anorexic at the table."

Axel pouted. "I'm far from skinny," he argued. "I have muscles, right here." He slapped his chest. "I just have a little waist. Doesn't mean I'm anorexic."

"You have a skinny waist and don't bring lunch to school. Prove me wrong and eat the damn sandwich."

"I'm tall, too," the redhead muttered, taking a defiant bite of bread and meat. "It all has to stretch. Not like you, short-ass."

"Excuse me," Roxas said mildly, "but I'm pretty sure you didn't just call me that. If you called me that, I'm afraid there'd be consequences."

"Oh?" Axel lounged in his chair, grinning lecherously, his head resting lazily against his arm. "Gonna punish me, Roxie?"

"Forget it," Roxas sighed. "I can see I've been dumped with Innuendo-Boy for the week. What fun this'll be."

"So, Axel, where're you from, anyway?" Olette asked perkily, as Hayner slid in beside her, handing her a bottle and a straw.

"Oh, he's from 'out of town'," Hayner informed her sarcastically. "He's a real mine of information."

"As a matter of fact, I'm from Hollow Bastion," Axel responded smoothly. He took another large bite, the half almost completely consumed already. He chewed slowly, a smirk in place, as everyone processed this information with puzzlement.

"Hollow…?" Olette frowned thoughtfully. "I'm sure I've heard of it, but I can't think of where."

"It's probably on some TV show or something," Hayner dismissed. "I wouldn't trust that guy as far as I could throw him."

"Oh, that guy? Yeah, I totally agree. What a prick, I hate that guy." Axel gave a snort, flicked his own ear to emphasise that, yes, he was within earshot. "I didn't make it up, I am definitely from Hollow Bastion. I prefer it here, though, it's a nice town." He shrugged, straightened up, finished his sandwich. "It's warmer, for one thing. Brighter colours. Kind of a getaway, coming here." His green eyes darted quickly around the cafeteria, a wistful expression on his face.

"How come you moved?" Pence asked. Axel shrugged.

"It was just one of those things that happen. It's not a big deal."

"Are you looking for work?" Olette inquired. The redhead hesitated.

"I don't know. Maybe. I figure I'll just wait and see."

"Good philosophy," Roxas murmured. "Don't get a job until you have to, it sucks."

"Only because you don't know what you're doing," Hayner declared, hooking back into their topic from earlier in the morning. He leaned over the table, shaking his sandwich for emphasis as he spoke. "I'm telling you, man, you just gotta find a way to make it not obvious…"

The rest of the day passed without further incident, Roxas dutifully taking Axel to each class. He spent most of the time trying to figure out if the redhead's sporadic flirtation was for real, or if he was just another class clown testing the water.

At last, the day was over. Roxas descended the school's steps quickly, having been let out a little earlier than the other classes, hoping he wouldn't have to socialise any further between here and home. He loved his friends, but at times, especially lately, he found himself getting quickly tired by their antics – Hayner's lightening-flash mood swings, Olette's maternal bullying, even Pence's pleasant-natured geekiness – all were beginning to get him down. He couldn't figure out why, exactly, and he hated having to suppress that feeling of impatience whenever he found himself trapped within their circle. These were his best friends. They deserved better than this. He didn't want to alienate them, just because he was going through some sort of post-adolescence crisis.


Shit. There was only one person who called him that. He turned, stomach sinking, as a blaze of red in the sunlight came bouncing over. Of course, being in the same class as him, Axel had got off early, too. He'd had some business with the office admin, and Roxas had hoped this meant a clean break, but evidently not. He forced a weak smile.

"Hey, Axel."

Green eyes peered intently into blue. "You're looking tired again. Gotta do something about that narcolepsy, Rox."

Roxas, fighting irritation, pulled away from the inspection and kept walking, keeping his pace quick. Axel matched him easily, long legs maintaining an even stride. "So, you going home now?"

"Yes," Roxas bit off. "Aren't you?"

Axel shrugged, adjusting his backpack strap. "I guess. I was thinking of wandering around a little first. Maybe find a cute blond to bump into and send sprawling over the pavement."

"Oh, so it's a nightly occurrence for you?" Roxas grumbled.

"Ha-ha-haha-ha!" Axel sang. "Roxie just admitted that he's cuuu-ute!"

The blond massaged the bridge of his nose. "Don't you ever stop making noise?"

Axel pretended to think. "Can't say that I do, no," he said at last, regretfully. He beamed. "But I'm sure you'll learn to love me anyway."

They walked in silence for a while, immediately belying Axel's words. Roxas was off, lost in himself, a distant expression possessing his features, letting Axel's gaze wander undetected. "So, Roxas," he struck up abruptly. "Is it just me that does this to you, or are you not too happy with life in general right now?"

The blond blinked, frowned. "I'm not sure I get what you mean."

Axel shrugged. "You just seem like you could be a really fun person, I guess, but there's this heaviness around you. I was just wondering if it's through a potent dislike of me, or if maybe you're just depressed."

"Is there such a thing as just depressed?" Roxas shook his head, sighed. "Look, I'm sorry I've been a dick to you, really. It's not that I dislike you at all. I've just got a lot on my plate right now. I just need some space, is all."

Axel tilted his head to the side, turned around to face the blond, walking backwards. "I understand that. Sometimes, living in a place like this…" Axel studied him for a minute, footsteps slapping irregularly as he navigated the path without tripping. Roxas lifted his eyes, meeting the redhead's gaze, gestured for him to continue. "Well, sometimes in a place like this, you can feel crushed." Axel shrugged. "There's a lot more out there than you know, just living out your life in Twilight Town. I mean, don't you ever dream of escaping? Finding new worlds to go to?"

"New worlds?" Roxas' step slowed a little. Axel adjusted his speed accordingly, keeping them close, his eyes never leaving the blond's sun-kissed features. "I don't know about that," he said slowly. "But… It would be nice to get away. I don't really… think about it. I suppose I ought to." He frowned. "Nobody ever really talks about leaving Twilight Town. I guess… maybe because we don't get a lot of visitors?"

Axel nodded. "That could be it. But I'm here now." He gave Roxas a smile, genuine, and winked. "I'm here to stretch that little Twilight brain of yours, and show you that there's better stuff out there than just the familiar. You know?"

Roxas made a face. "Little brain?"

Axel laughed, poked him in the stomach. "Oh, don't worry, Roxie, I'm sure it's a very smart little brain. It just needs to be – expanded."

Roxas sighed. "Yeah, I guess. Maybe I should take a foreign language. Then someday I could travel."

Axel mulled this over. "Well, yeah, it's an option. But you could always just take me up as a friend, and expand yourself vicariously! After all – and don't tell anyone, coz I don't think they know yet – I'm from out of town myself."

Roxas smiled, rolled his head to the side to peer at the redhead from beneath the blond spikes that had fallen across his eye. "Don't worry," he promised, "your secret's safe with me."

Axel poked his nose. "You are just too cute for your own good, did you know that?"

Roxas shook his head, quickening his step again. "Whatever you say, Axel."

Axel's wristwatch suddenly let out a series of staccato beeps, startling the redhead. Scowling, he lifted his wrist to check the time.

"Problem?" Roxas asked. Axel sighed and shook his head.

"Nah, I just have to get going. Maybe I can follow you home some other time." He flashed a bright smile at the blond. "It was nice meeting you, Roxie. I hope you think about what we've discussed. Think of it as – Axel homework." He leaned in suddenly, lowering his voice an octave, and lifted his crimson brows suggestively. "I like the thought of you working on me at home."

Roxas glared and shoved him away, making him laugh. "I'll see you later, Roxie!" With that, the redhead clutched his bag close, and peeled away at a swift jog, disappearing around the corner into the next street. Roxas finished the walk home alone, and, despite himself, found his thoughts filled with the interesting new redhead in his life.