Hm .. this having been the second longest chapter thus far, I've realized something -- Roxas talks entirely too fucking much. It's time for Axel to talk. And .. eheh, he's going to, in the next two. Oh, hell, is he ever. -snort-

I don't think I have much to say about this? Except it didn't give me anywhere near as much trouble as the one before it, structure-wise -- I don't know why, but it's almost easier writing Roxas in first-person. I guess because he's coming off as so goddamned neurotic, and I'm able to be more expressive with him that way? -shrugs-

I must dedicate this one to my baby, my Roxas -- michele-bell -- because I had absolutely no idea where I wanted this to go before she suggested RPing it to give me some ideas .. and a large chunk of this was taken from that. Thank you so much for helping me. You're always there when I need you. -3-

.. -finally stops talking-

-o-o-o-

This is a very, very bad idea. Bad, bad, bad.

I stepped out of the cab warily, staring up at the apartment building that loomed ominously in front of me.

If you turn around now, you can still catch the cab before it gets too far away –

Bzzzzt!

Why the hell is your finger already on the buzzer?!

Staring down at my hand as though it were some alien object somehow attached to the rest of my body, I blinked several times, trying to focus. I don't … know. How the hell did that even happen?

"Yeah?" A disembodied voice crackled through the speaker next to the button, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I cleared my throat, shuffling a little closer to the box. "Hey, Axel … it's me."

"Hm." The voice paused. "I'm sorry, I don't think I know a 'me.' Could you be more specific?"

I groaned inwardly. So, it was starting already, huh? Please.

"It's Roxas, you twit."

Broken laughter filtered through that loathsome box, and I wanted to punch it. "Just kidding, Rox. I knew it was you. I left the door unlocked, so just come on in, okay?" Another sharp buzz and the door to the building swung open. I stared at it, still briefly considering retreat.

"Uh, all right. I'll be up in a sec."

"I'll be waiting."

"I'm … sure you will," I mumbled as the static abruptly died away, grabbing the door and pulling it shut behind me as I entered the rather dark entrance hall. It wasn't … creepy, per se, but it gave off this vibe that said I wouldn't want to be stuck down here for an extended period of time. Digging into my pants pocket, I extracted the crumpled piece of paper I'd scribbled the directions to his apartment on and studied it. Did that say … 8-A?

Sometimes I couldn't even read my own handwriting. Sad, isn't it? You'd think by now I'd have learned to take my time writing important stuff by hand, but … I always seemed to forget until it was time to decipher my poor excuse for chicken scratch.

It … looked like an 8. There aren't any other numbers that look like that … except for 9. Sort of. My nose was probably less than an inch away from the paper once I finally decided that yes, it was an 8, and made my way over to the elevator. I made a silent vow promising myself that the next time I had to scribble something down, goddammit I would make it legible – knowing full well that I was going to forget, but congratulating myself for making the effort. How was I ever going to accomplish things if I didn't let myself know that the simple act of trying was appreciated?

I know you're making that face. That "he's fucking insane" face. Aren't you? Stop it. I'm not. I keep telling you that, but you don't believe me …

Probably because you keep narrating everything you do like you're writing a fucking book, Roxas.

Let's not forget the fact that I also indulge the intangible voice in the back of my head that insists on being unbearably annoying … not to mention intrusive.

Aw, you can't hurt my feelings, Rox – I don't have any! Try again.

I'd really rather not …

The hall was quiet as the elevator door slid open and I stepped out almost cautiously, reading the letters on the nearby doors and determining which way I needed to go. Proceeding toward the end of the dimly lit corridor, I could hear the muted thumping of a mellow bass line as I neared the door I was looking for. I stopped just outside, listening.

Blend and balance pain and comfort … deep within you, till you will not have me any other way …

He listens to Tool? Well, there's a defining quality if I ever saw one.

What? I never said I didn't listen to music. Or that most of it tended to blow … but Maynard, I could happily tolerate. There was something about the quality of his voice that made it almost sexual … and in my opinion, it was quite unique. It struck a cord within me that not much else was able to touch. Almost … almost like being with Axel.

Excuse me … but how long are you planning to stand out here?

Shut up. I'll take my time if I want to.

A little touchy, are we?

No.

Not a very good liar, either.

I shook my head and reached for the doorknob, turning it and pushing the door open just a little – the music spilled out into the hallway and I just stood there for a moment, once more lost within the hypnotizing call of another man's voice.

How can it mean anything to me … when I really don't feel anything at all?

I'll keep digging … till I feel something.

"You can come in, you know …" My head snapped up and I found him leering at me, the end of a clove dangling from the corner of his mouth. He raised an eyebrow, cocked his head to the side. "Unless you'd prefer to stay out there? I could bring you a TV tray, or something."

Making a face, I opened the door a bit wider and stepped inside; I stood there awkwardly, suddenly at a loss for anything to say as I let it fall shut behind me. In my momentary stupor, I took the time to survey the apartment – it was clean, surprisingly enough, and pretty well furnished. The sofa was a black microsuede, very comfortable-looking with its overstuffed cushions. A moderately-sized television accompanied several different gaming consoles, along with an entire entertainment center full of games and DVDs. What was most surprising, however, was the fact that there were … paintings on the walls. Abstract, the lot of them, but with the most intense shades – deep reds and oranges, where others boasted the darkest blues and greens. Funny, somehow he didn't strike me as a connoisseur of art, but I was quickly learning that outward appearance meant nothing when it came to him.

"You collect art, huh?" Brilliant … redundancy is always the way to go, don't you know.

He looked up, green eyes briefly scanning the walls. "Oh, those things? Pff, I painted those myself … they're nothing special." Crushing the butt of his cigarette in a nearby ashtray, he strode over to the refrigerator and tugged the door open. "I noticed you drank import the other night, so I went out and bought a six-pack of Blue Moon." He held a bottle out to me, grinning. "Want one?"

My jaw had somehow dropped several inches, and upon realizing it I immediately snapped my mouth shut. I took the beer he offered in a bit of a daze, unable to tear my gaze away from the canvases adorning the small space. "You … you painted these?" I wandered over to the nearest one, idly tracing the sunburst pattern with the very tips of my fingers, the coarse feel of the paint seeming almost alien to me. I turned back to him, eyes wide. "You're serious?"

Axel shook his head, shrugging lazily as he turned to stir a pot on the stove. "Yeah, I … I was an art major in college. It just never seemed to get me anywhere, so that's why I opened the shop." He fell silent, and as I made my way back to the bar that separated the living room from the kitchen, I got the distinct impression that he didn't really want to talk about it. His stance had shifted, his shoulders tensing – clearing my throat, I set my beer on the counter and opted for the next best conversational piece.

"So … what's for dinner?"

He turned back around, mischievous grin sliding back across his mouth as though it had never left, and held out a spoon. "Well, I debated for a while on what I thought you might actually eat … and then I decided, spaghetti is pretty universal, right?" Indicating the contents of the spoon, he chewed his lip a little nervously. "Taste it for me? Tell me if it needs anything?"

I pondered the sauce briefly, noting the sharp smell of cilantro, the rich tang of oregano before I timidly leaned forward and took it into my mouth. It was … bold, with a little bit of a kick – unlike anything I'd ever tasted before. Altogether, very good, which was yet another surprise. Who knew the man could cook?

"It's … really good. I can't think of anything it needs." I licked my lips absently as he returned the spoon to the pot. "Have you always known how to cook?"

"Mm, I learned more out of necessity than choice, I guess … I was alone a lot growing up. Well, Reno and I were … and since he couldn't ever be bothered to do more than boil water for boxed macaroni and cheese, I took it upon myself to learn something." He smirked, leaning over the counter. "Um, you made a mess."

"I … what – " My body tensed automatically as he moved closer, and I could feel my face flush as his tongue darted over my bottom lip. He lingered, his mouth hovering above mine, before he receded completely.

"Do I need to get you a bib?"

"Of course not!" I drank deeply from my beer, averting my gaze at the sound of smug laughter. It was much too early to start making an ass of myself, I decided … but if I hadn't been there ten minutes and he was already finding little ways to get closer to me … I wasn't sure how long that was going to last.

Don't think of the dream. Don't think of how he touched you in the dream. Don't think of the way his mouth felt, how hot it was –

That's enough!

Shit.

I watched him silently as he moved about the kitchen, idly sipping my beer. He went back to the refrigerator, pulling out a head of lettuce and various other salad-making ingredients. Setting them on the counter in front of where I sat, the smile that spread across his mouth was genuine, if not a bit secretive. … What are you hiding?

"Wanna help? The only thing left is the salad … think you can do it?"

My brow furrowed as I regarded the vegetation in front of me surreptitiously.

It's not going to bite you, genius. It's just lettuce.

I know that.

Then stop staring at it as though it's going to gnaw your fingers off if you go anywhere near it.

"I'm up for a challenge." I got up and came around to his side of the counter, placing myself between him and the salad-to-be. I continued to stare at it, as though willing it to shred itself into chunks acceptable for consumption. "So … how does one go about this sort of thing?"

"How does … honestly, I'm starting to think you grew up with the Amish." He reached into a drawer off to the right, taking out a sizable knife and setting the sharp edge against the cutting board. His other hand settled at my left hip, and I tried not to notice. "You just … hold it with one hand, and chop with the other until it looks like it'll make good salad. It's not hard …" I took the knife from him, placing my left hand on top of the lettuce to hold it steady as I started slicing. It really wasn't that difficult, once you got the hang of it …

His other hand joined its twin at my hip, holding me gently as I continued. I could feel his breath on the back of my neck, moist and warm – he shifted, and his lips brushed my ear.

"Hey, you're pretty good at this. Sure you've never done it before?"

"Yeah, I'm – FUCK!"

The knife slipped just the slightest bit and sliced into my middle finger; not enough to cause any real damage, but goddamn, it hurt. I winced and dropped the knife, and it clattered noisily on top of the counter as Axel swore colorfully and reached for my hand.

"Jesus, Roxas, you weren't supposed to cut yourself." I remained perfectly still as he inspected the cut, bringing the injured digit to his mouth and sucking lightly. "I keep those things sharp for a reason, you know."

"I didn't do it on purpose …" I shoved myself away from him and stalked to the sink, roughly turning the faucet and holding my hand beneath the steady stream of warm water. What the fucking hell, you can't concentrate long enough to cut up some fucking lettuce? Come on, Roxas! This wasn't like me. This wasn't like me at all. I didn't even notice when Axel disappeared, and then reappeared with a band-aid until he was holding it out to me, looking like someone had just kicked his puppy.

"Here. You're going to hurt yourself again." I held out my hand and allowed him to apply the bandage, flexing once it was applied, satisfied with the way it stayed in place without too much effort. Feeling my face flush an even deeper shade of pink from the extended contact, I stared at the floor – looking up only when he tugged lightly at the end of my shirt.

"Sorry," he muttered. He looked genuinely upset, and I felt bad … it wasn't his fault, was it? It … it was mine, for being unable to shoulder the concentration it took to maintain sharp objects when in the vicinity of such … an attractive redhead. I sighed, very nearly disgusted with myself.

"Don't be sorry. You just … distracted me." I paused, watching him take over the act of chopping the lettuce, impressed at how quickly his hands moved. Hands that … what? Caused me to lose focus on even the simplest of things? What?

"I'm … still not used to so much attention … just bear with me, okay?"

His smile was small, but real. "Sure, Rox."

-o-o-o-

Dinner passed without further incident – unless of course you count the sliding of angel hair pasta from utensils, in which case, there was plenty. The meal was undeniably good, the conversation pleasant and unstrained. I was … comfortable around another person for the first time in my life. Though the sensation itself was unfamiliar, it wasn't unwelcome. Quite the opposite, actually. It was … liberating.

I got up to help clear away the dishes until he all but shooed me away; I compromised, hopping up onto the counter next to the dishwasher and watching. I didn't want to get too far from him just yet – I liked this sense of calm, no matter how fleeting it may have been. I didn't want to lose my grip on it.

It was quiet save for the subtle tinkling of flatware being place in the dishwasher, the clink of the dishes themselves as they settled next to one another. Axel was moving slowly, deliberately. I wondered why until he finally looked up at me, that ever-present grin still painting his mouth. "Do you always take such interest in watching someone do the dishes, Rox?"

I frowned a little. "Er, not usually, no." I picked at a seam on my jeans, suddenly not knowing what to do with my hands. "I just … I'm getting used to this whole 'being around people' thing, and …" I shrugged, at a loss. "I haven't really found anything about you that annoys me just yet, so I don't feel the need to exclude myself from even your most mundane activities."

Good lord, Roxas, why don't you come off a little more stalker-ish?

Okay, so maybe that wasn't the best thing to say. I wasn't thinking.

Where it concerns him, when do you ever?

I could feel my face redden even before I saw the look on his face, the mischievous glint in his eyes. He straightened away from the dishwasher, propping a hip against it and folding his arms over his chest. "Mundane activities, huh? That mean you'll take a shower with me sometime?"

Definitely not the best thing to say. Look what you did.

I stared at him, the easy smirk that curved his mouth as my own dropped open in mild shock. I coughed into a fist, expertly averting my gaze. "I take that back … there is something obnoxious about you. Two things, actually."

"And they are?"

Completely deadpan, I shrugged again. "Your ego … immeasurably overinflated as it may be … and your libido." He snorted a laugh, slumping back over the counter. "Aw, Rox, c'mon … those are two of my best qualities, all wrapped up in a neat little package … you can't say a libido like mine is a bad thing." Shifting a little closer to me, he lowered his voice a few octaves. A hand brushed my thigh, and I swallowed hard.

"For one thing, you've yet to experience it … how can you judge what you don't know?"

I cocked my head to the side, raising an eyebrow. "Are you implying that I'm going to experience it? That's very presumptuous of you, don't you think?" Unconsciously, I leaned back away from him as he moved closer, ultimately coming to stand directly in front of where I was seated. I watched as he placed a hand on either side of my legs, breath catching in the back of my throat as his face hovered above mine – I was roughly eye-level with him now, being on the counter, and somehow … being that much closer to him, close enough to smell the crisp scent of soap and cologne on his skin … it almost made me dizzy.

Breathe.

"Are you implying that you don't want to?"

"Axel, I don't know –" Words died in my mouth at the first touch of his lips, and I froze – Tool was still playing softly in the background, and I could just barely make out the subtle melody above the blood pounding in my ears. I reached up with trembling hands to trace the contours of his face, the sharp line of his jaw before wrapping my arms loosely around his neck; it was far too warm in here, but as my mouth fell open and his tongue slipped inside, it hardly seemed to matter.

And I feel this coming over like a storm again …

I am too connected to you to slip away … fade away …

Days away I still feel you … touching me, changing me …

It was as if I had suddenly lost all connection to my lower extremities – maybe not just that, but everything – all I could feel was the way his lips framed mine, and the steady thumping of my heart beating against my ribs. I was surrounded by him, drowning in him … willing to give up everything just to stay in this moment.

As the walls come down, and as I look in your eyes, my fear begins to fade …

When … how did you end up on the couch?

What?

I was sprawled beneath him, pressed down into the thick cushions beneath the weight of his body as he kissed me; I could feel his teeth on my neck, the flick of his tongue. A tiny moan slipped past my lips and I snapped my mouth shut, feeling my cheeks flush even more as he lifted his head to smirk at me. "Like that, Rox?"

"Um …" I stuttered, my brain unable to form the necessary thought patterns that lead to piecing a full sentence together. Yes. Yes I do. I'd like it if you did it again. I'd like it if you did more …

"Oh, fucking hell."

I caught sight of the clock on the wall opposite of the couch and swore colorfully, raking a hand back through my hair. Axel's brow furrowed, a corner of his mouth losing that natural smile, and I sighed. "My dorms have a curfew set during the week … the doors lock automatically after eleven pm, and no one can get in." I glanced at the clock again, just to be sure. 11:15. "I'm fucking screwed."

"Well …" I watched as the tip of his finger traced small circles over my chest through my shirt, just barely containing a delicious shiver. He raised his eyes, grin returning. "I could let you crash on my couch … unless of course you wanted to sleep on the sidewalk." He laughed softly, and I failed to resist the urge to kiss him again – this was swiftly becoming a habit, and a bad one, at that.

"I don't really have a choice, do I?" He was ignoring me, having found that the edge of my shirt had ridden up just the smallest bit – christ, his hands are warm. Is that even humanly possible?

"No molesting me while I sleep. Got it?"

"I can't make any promises, Rox …" He laughed again as my mouth dropped open, kissing my chin. "You'll just have to trust me, I guess?"

I shook my head, eying him warily. "You're not making that a very easy task, I hope you know … but, I guess I can give it a shot. So long as you make your own attempts at being civil." I poked his nose for emphasis and he grunted, which I took for an affirmation that he would try. I couldn't help thinking, even as he pulled me in for another kiss that I was in for an interesting night – one that, hopefully, wouldn't end in my waking up with him standing over me, watching me as I slept.

Is it weird that that's the first thing I think of?

Maybe it's even weirder that he seems like that kind of person. You'd better hope you don't wake up in a tub of ice, missing a kidney. I've seen it happen.

That … was a movie. A very bad one.

I didn't say it had happened to anyone I know.

I focused on the taste of his lips as he kissed me, settling into an increasingly familiar rhythm as he pressed even harder against me – my hips twitched, and I groaned again.

Please tell me this isn't a bad idea.

Would you listen to me if I did?

Mm … probably not.

Then it doesn't matter what I think.