"Axel, I've been wondering for a long time - why do you have tattoos under your eyes?"

Axel, who had been enjoying his ice cream with no apparent cares in the world, suddenly went rigid. Then he sagged. "You won't leave me alone until I tell you, will you."

Roxas stared in surprise - he hadn't been expecting that sort of reaction. "Well...um...you don't have to if you don't want to..."

"But you'll be everlastingly curious if I don't and you'll eventually ask me again." Roxas watched in disbelief as Axel's ice cream slowly fell to the ground far below. "All right - they mean you went to jail for murder. One teardrop for each death."

Roxas gulped. "Oh...I...ah...uh..."

"Don't know what to say?" Axel smiled bitterly. "Now would you like to hear the rest of the story or would you prefer I got the hell away from you?"

"Oh no no no no! I don't - you don't have to -"

Axel held up a hand. "Okay, cut the babble, Rox. If you want to hear the story, we'd be better off going back to the castle than sitting here on this tower. Of course, if you don't hate me yet, you will when you find out who I killed."

Roxas couldn't help himself. "Who were they?" he asked.

Again with the bitter smile. "My parents. Now let's go."

"If you're wondering why I took us back to your room instead of mine, there's two reasons. One, the room next to yours is empty - no eavesdroppers. Two, if you decide you don't want me breathing your air anymore, you can kick me out." Roxas didn't respond to that - he was too busy trying to wrap his head around the idea of Axel killing his own parents. "You look stunned. I'd offer you a drink, but you're underage."

"Stunned? I guess I am..." Roxas sat down on his bed and took a deep breath, trying to compress everything he wanted to ask in as few words as possible. "Why?!"

Axel leaned against the door, as if he was a little afraid to get too close. "I did have a reason for it...whether it was a good reason or not, you'll have to decide for yourself...it's a long story."

"Then let's hear it."

"All right...my parents were not the greatest parents ever known. They didn't waste too much time or effort taking care of me - they had the money, so they paid other people to do it for them. I was raised not by my actual parents, but by a series of nannies, who somehow tended to get fired after I started to get to like them. Or quit after they just couldn't take me anymore. I gotta admit, I was a horrible little kid, especially in school - the kind who puts stink bombs in the vents and glues bathroom stall doors shut and runs his own little playground extortion ring. Sorry, but it's true."

Roxas blinked. "I didn't say anything."

"You were thinking it. My little brother Ricky was born when I was seven - and looking back on the way I was then, I would have expected me to be an absolute bully to him. Instead, he straightened me out. I took more care of him when he was a baby than our parents did - I got to be an expert at changing diapers. And when he got older, I found that playing frisbee with him was much more fun than, say, writing dirty words on chalkboards while there was no one around, and helping him with his homework made mine seem less horrible somehow. And when I did get out of line, one disappointed look from him made me feel guiltier than a dozen lectures from both parents. Though he lectured me too, when he was older." Axel sighed. "The last lecture he gave me was when he found me throwing up in the backyard after trying my first and last cigarette. There were - a lot of problems going on in our lovely dysfunctional family. The money we'd always had was drying up, it looked like Mom was going to lose her job, my parents were arguing nonstop, it even came to blows sometimes. When I got in trouble, Dad didn't lecture me anymore, he just screamed at me - told me I was a useless asshole who'd never amount to anything but filling space in a jail cell. Sometimes he told me he was sorry I'd ever been born. Ricky and I were basically relying just on each other by then. Until one day, a week after I tried smoking, my parents left to pick him up from soccer practice and came home without him, sniping at me for picking him up myself without telling them." Axel shook his head. Little puffs of steam were rolling out from under his eyes. "He'd disappeared. I never saw him again. He was eight years old."

Roxas had been taking it all in silently. "How old were you?" he asked.

"Fifteen." Axel drew a shaky breath. "Search crews were pounding the ground for months, and I was with them all the time - I think I got to memorize every leaf on every tree within a fifteen-mile radius of the practice field. All I found was a little scrap of fabric that might or might not have come from his soccer uniform. But I never gave up on him - not until they told me they'd found the body. God, that was awful. I thought I'd never breathe again without crying," he whispered. "That was when I started burning things. Watching the fire made me feel better, at least for a little while. It had a hypnotic effect." He summoned a flame in the palm of his hand and gazed into it. "Still does."

He stared silently into the fire for a long while. Roxas shifted uneasily, and Axel snapped out of it. "Sorry. You see what I mean." He tried to smile. "Anyway, I promised myself that if I ever found out who killed him, their house would mysteriously go up in flames and take them with it. I didn't clue in at the time how our money problems were suddenly fixed. And when I found out where the money came from, I didn't ask what kind of idiot buys a huge life insurance policy on an eight-year-old. The police should have." He hissed softly. "I should have. But no, the esteemed attorney John Murphy of Murphy, Grey, and Witauer, no matter how much of an ass he was at home, couldn't possibly have anything to do with the disappearance and murder of charming little Ricky, and neither could his wife...if they were going to off either kid, they'd have gone for Lea, the delinquent, ha ha aren't we witty..." The room started to smell like smoke. "I was a suspect for a while, just because I was such a prodigal. Idiots. Idiots, idiots, idiots." He punctuated each repetition by banging his fist on the door. "It took three years for me to finally get it."

Roxas already had a sick feeling about where the story was going, especially since he already knew the end, but he couldn't bring himself to ask Axel to stop. "You already get it, don't you. It was three days after I graduated from high school when I overheard my parents yelling at each other again. They were talking about Ricky. And listening to them...I knew they'd known all along where the body was, because they'd put it there." Axel's face went very carefully blank. "I...wasn't so clever about setting the fire as I thought I'd been. Hell, if I'd been clever at all, I'd have just called the cops in the first place instead of taking matters into my own hands. It didn't take them all that long to arrest me." He swallowed hard before continuing. "The jury was too busy being horrified by what sort of person would kill his own parents that they didn't even stop to wonder whether my story was true, much less wonder what sort of parents would kill their own child. Not like it would have helped. Where I came from, multiple murders, or murder committed during the course of another felony, including arson, automatically earns either the death penalty or life in prison. And I wasn't hot on life in prison."

Roxas was more than sorry he'd ever even wondered about the tattoos, much less opened his mouth and asked. "So...you..."

"Got the death penalty, and didn't fight it. Either way, I'd die in prison."

Roxas finally realized what those little puffs of steam were - Axel was crying, and the tears were evaporating on contact. Not really thinking about what he was doing, he stood up, walked over, and gave the redhead a hug. Axel looked stunned.

"You're not - you don't -"

"Mad at you? No. Disgusted by your presence? No. Hate you? No."

"R-really?" Roxas nodded. Axel shook his head in disbelief. "And here I'd convinced myself you would." He sighed. "So there's the sad and sorry truth: your best friend is a death row criminal. That's also how I lost my heart, in case you cared. Sorry if I've shattered any illusions you may have had."

"You're still Axel."

"I hope so. I'd hate to wake up and find out I'm actually Demyx. That would be weird as hell, for one thing." Axel was starting to smile just the faintest bit. "I wonder what the real Demyx would think."

"He's an understanding sort. He'd find a way to live with it."

"You're right." Axel slid down to the floor, leaning against the wall. "Sorry. It sucks just to remember. A steel-trap memory is not one hundred percent a good thing, got it memorized?"

"Just think who you're asking..."

"Sorry. Yeah." Axel sighed. "Maybe it's just as well you don't remember. All of us have sad stories of some sort; that's how we end up losing our hearts."

Roxas nodded solemnly. "You may be right. And I think I've already established that it's a bad idea to disappear on you."

Axel smiled a little. "Damn right it is, got it memorized?"

AN: Poor Axel. ;.;

(ahem) Sorry, I don't know what to say. But this is Axel's Other's story, in close to its original form (in the original original form, Lea died in the fire too). For some reason, the idea of his Other on death row just...resonated. I don't want to say I liked it, because there's not much to like, but it resonated. And it's true, what the tattoos mean, though now they're more often used to represent loved ones who died while the wearer was in prison. At least, that's what they mean in the United States, and I just plain could not see Axel as a. Australian or b. a child molester. Eesh. (This also means I don't go for AkuRoku.)

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts and all its associated characters belong to Square Enix and Disney.