And sometimes when staring out across the gray sky, Axel dreams in black velvet.
The precipice is beneath him, the waves rolling on void like the sky and the center of the Earth. Void does strange things to your mind when you look at it, your eyes start hurting for something to see and you hope eventually the sun will crest and burst, foaming, from beneath the waves. You've been told the sun will always rise—(the sun will always rise)—the sun will always rise, until it finally sinks into the sea. (Then you'll be alone again.)
For now, Marluxia is beside him, smoking a 95 cent Swisher Sweet. The grape paper sticks to his lips and the smoke coils in his nose and his hair. Axel probably wouldn't recognize him without that smell.
Marluxia is not wary of the edges of things; he is like a thorny weed that will flourish and grow in any crack, strangling any other plant that comes near.
The precipice is beneath them and Marluxia balances on the edge of the horizon, one foot carelessly offered to the sea.
Axel drags him back by his pretty pink hair and when Marluxia snarls poison barbs in his face, Axel is stung deeply. Their mouths touch for a brief second.
"I'll see you tomorrow for lunch," Axel says and Marluxia puts on a big stylish pair of shades.
He can be such a flippant bitch.
The Central Sun is a train station on the east end of town. It's a transcontinental monument to an obsolete form of transportation, but people still come from across the seas to ride it, but just around town.
Axel rides the Sun because it goes where he needs to go, and maybe a few places he doesn't. Most days it's work, up on the hill and down in the shattered remnants of his ambition.
So, the Sun is his fixture during the week. He comes in, dodges tourists and panhandlers, buys his ticket in record time, glances up and smiles at the pretty blond thing behind the glass, pauses, and maybe continues to smile until someone behind him gets impatient and says AHEM and he is forced to move on, waving at the pretty boy in the starch-stiff red uniform. Sometimes the boy gives him an imperious look of disgust, sometimes he doesn't respond at all.
Axel used to switch which car he rode each day, but that soon fell into pattern. Now he just sits wherever he feels and looks at whatever the hell is out there. Sometimes it's wash lines and sometimes it's car wrecks and other times it's the hems of the schoolgirls' skirts.
Today it's industrial smoke from industrial fires.
"Hoo-we," Axel whistles under his breath, which annoys the woman sitting next to him. She glares, thinking nasty thoughts about him and he just grins at her and says, "Don't give me that look, you self-righteous bitch."
Terribly offended, she makes a huff to somewhere far-far-away.
"A holly jolly Christmas to you too, ma'am!" Even if it won't be the dread time of Christ for another three weeks.
Axel dismounts the red Sun at the rise of the hill and turns to watch the metallic gold stripes on its sides stream past in the dawning light.
Marluxia sleeps in late, tossing and turning beneath the pale moonlight because there are some days when he feels like he should be out there chasing it down. Instead, he sleeps, ignoring his cell phone because he knows it's only Zexion.
Zexion is his manager now, but was his cousin Lexaeus's when he was still boxing professionally. Marluxia doesn't care what he's doing now; they'd never been close and Zexion (with the legal rapport of a heavyweight and a sexual inclination towards accounting) is all his now.
Marluxia has photo shoots to go to, but doesn't think he'll get up until it's time to meet Axel for lunch.
He'll ask Axel for his money today and Axel won't have it and Marluxia will absentmindedly begin to calculate the interest and Axel will see it in his eyes and he'll scowl and say, "I'll make the difference by Christmas."
Which… he just might. And how disappointing would that be?
The cell phone is ringing again and Zexion is never so insistent, which leaves only one other bitch to be accounted for and he wants to hear her shrill voice even less than he wants to hear Zexion's.
But he reaches out one of his perfectly manicured hands and turns the phone on speaker and that's all.
"You are keen, my lord, you are keen," Larxene complains into the receiver. "You've skipped another of my shoots, you little shit. You're a deluded faggot if you think I'm still paying you."
Marluxia rolls onto his back and stares up at the egg-white ceiling. "I'm sick."
"Still better, and worse, I'm sure. Get here." Then she hangs up and nearly as soon as Marluxia has turned the phone off it begins to ring again.
Zexion this time, certainly. Marluxia gets up out of bed.
Maybe he'll go to Larxene's shoot today.
Axel sells prints of other people's artwork to people who mass produce them and sell them at hoity-toity art fairs and local malls. He deals with hungry artists who have lost all hope of "making it" with their respect intact.
Admittedly, today his first two meetings aren't too bad, even if they aren't exceptions to the rule. Pretty Naminé does black-and-whites of crushed snails and gutted fish, which sell surprisingly well. She may have a gift but there's no way she will ever get back what she's sold him, which may be her soul.
Smiling Sora does swirling watercolors detailed in metallics. Some-times there's some-thing in the cloud of color, other times there-is-not. His best selling piece is a pop-art collaboration he did with his boyfriend, whose specialty is usually scribbling on recycled napkins.
The rest of Axel's appointments for the morning are a string of interviews with new wannabes who will scrape and beg and open their legs. God but Axel hates this part.
The first is a girl who draws fuzzy-bunnies with nails gunned through their foreheads. The graphic crosshatching is admittedly intriguing, and he might actually call her. The second is a blond girl, just out of high school, with a taste for drawing cute kitties. No wonder she's come here. She's good enough for kids' shit, so he accepts her meager portfolio of calicos and tabbies and makes plans.
The rest of the string is frayed, knotted, and matted with uninteresting hacks and, finally, Axel decides he's going to lunch.
Marluxia is already waiting downstairs in the lobby when he arrives. He's garnering stares and chewing his bubblegum while looking like a model; all eyes on you, kid.
"I thought you weren't going to work for Larxene anymore," Axel comments offhand, because only Larxene designs the kind of tawdry backdoor whore-cum-fashion statement 'clothes' hanging like gypsy rags off of Marluxia's shoulders and hips.
"And I thought you weren't gay enough to be interested in fashion," Marluxia replies, glancing over the top of a different pair of trendy shades today.
They take lunch at a popular restaurant at the crest of the hill where no one gives Marluxia a second glance and Axel spends the entire meal watching the red Sun circle the hill on its local route. Marluxia is speaking to him, but is really just wasting air and Axel thanks the gods when someone's cell phone begins to ring and everyone scrabbles after their own. Axel really stops to listen and realizes its Marluxia's.
It's playing Billy Joel's Stiletto. "You've got a new boyfriend."
And Marluxia smirks, "Oh, don't sound so jealous, Axel, you know how these rich boys bore me."
Axel rolls his eyes, glad to have never been one of Marluxia's 'rich boys' because the bitch sure knows how to bleed them dry.
"The king rises," Larxene notes, a camera hanging around her neck. She has no tits worth talking about, so that's probably for the best.
She looks worse than usual, somewhat feral and mangy and her eyes follow him too closely. Gods but Marluxia really hates her sometimes. She dresses him in rags again and he sneers, just a little bit.
"You think you can sell clothes like this?"
She looks up at him, gaunt and somewhat sallow with boiling blue eyes, her hair a slicked back helmet of lightning on her skull.
"It isn't about the clothes," she replies and goes back to fastening the belt of old drier sheets around his waist, "it's about you. If it were about the clothes I would use someone much uglier."
Marluxia isn't really listening to her, just admiring his nails until she shoves him towards her John-Walter-William-white backdrop.
"You know," she calls from behind her camera and she sounds very far away, "people still buy the clothes. Since they're associated with you now. Some people think you'll rub off on them and some think they're as good as you."
Marluxia gives an arrogant smile at the last comment, which she quickly captures.
Not much later, he abandons Larxene to meet Axel for lunch. On his way down the stairs he hears her two most adoring PAs whispering over their coffee,
"She's trying to dent his reputation," one gasps and the other sighs, "Her work was so much different before she met him."
They blush when they spot him, but it means nothing to Marluxia.
Christmas comes closer, dragging itself across the threshold on mutilated limbs.
They're having dinner at Axel's place tonight because Marluxia's place is too full of hair products and hypodermics. Axel's made clam pasta speckled with capers and red peppers and Marluxia is inhaling with a greedy disregard because Axel is the only one who doesn't care these days.
"I am not buying you a Christmas present," Axel repeats, emphatically.
Marluxia twirls his fork at him wordlessly as he chews. His hair is pulled tight to the back of his head to keep it out of his food and maybe, sometimes, Axel remembers why he bothers.
But then Marluxia's cell phone begins to ring, "She's so good with her stiletto you don't even see the blade…"
And Axel knows who that is and would have known anyway because Marluxia reaches instinctively for the sickly smelling Swisher Sweet he'd left smoldering before dinner. He relights the sticky grape-flavored paper and then answers his phone and says,
"Your insides had better be hemorrhaging."
Axel just barely catches the edge of a laugh bleeding through the phone and wonders what kind of rich boy laughs at that kind of comment when Marluxia is so goddamn serious about it.
Axel decides to clean up the plates instead of listening to the glistening fragments of their conversation, which doesn't last very long at all, unsurprisingly, and Marluxia goes to the window to puff smoke, grape-flavored nausea running through him.
"What's his name?" Axel wonders and doesn't reach for a cigarette, no matter how much he'd like one. He quit and Marluxia puffs, "Xemnas."
"I'm not getting you a Christmas present," Axel reminds him again.
Marluxia breathes another lung-full of gray air out into the night and says, "All right."
The little blond at the Central Sun is off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Axel misses him viciously every time he isn't there.
He didn't use to care. In fact, he came and went through the same train station every day for five years before he ever looked up and the blond who'd been taking his money and handing him his ticket every day for five years looked back at him.
Axel notices every time now, smiles and flirts because he can't help it. He can't let a thin piece of scuffed glass separate him from someone he has interacted with every day for nearly eight years.
He's known the blond longer than he's known Marluxia and he misses the boy on Tuesdays-and-Wednesdays more than he misses Marluxia when he's away on a shoot for months.
Each Thursday, Axel finds himself whispering, "it's good to see you back" like it's been a lifetime.
The blond is not indulgent of him, does not wink at him, does not smile at him, does not talk to him, just takes his money and hands him his ticket and looks amazingly-perfectly militant in his starch-pressed red uniform.
The people behind him in line are always so damn impatient and Axel just takes the ticket, always trying to touch the blonde's slim fingers beneath the glass and never quite succeeding.
He gets on the train and isn't enough of a sap to collect all his tickets. No, he just rides the red Sun up the hill for work.
(Today it's an interview with a young Asian girl with a taste for Celtic knots and a red-haired boy with a vanilla folder of demonic snuff. )
But really, it is only as this Christmas nears that it occurs to Axel to wonder if, perhaps, the little blond in the starch-pressed red uniform misses him when he does not come Saturday and Sunday, like clockwork.
Axel buys him a donut and a cup of coffee for breakfast and he has lunch with Xemnas.
"You're quite poor at answering your phone," Xemnas notes, smiling that smile which sets him apart from the rest of the rich boys and has made Marluxia a little afraid of him.
Marluxia pokes at his ridiculously expensive squid raviolis and mumbles, "I can't answer my phone during a shoot."
Xemnas smiles like he doesn't believe him, but gives the subject a lateral change. "Did you know Zexion and I are old college friends?"
It's enough to make Marluxia look up, just to meet Xemnas' smile again. Marluxia swallows roughly and then reaches for his glass of grape wine.
Xemnas is still smiling.
And then Marluxia cell phone rings. He yanks it out hurriedly and answers, not caring who it is.
"And will he not come again?" Larxene wonders sweetly into his ear. "I want to do shots out at the cliffs, be there by five or I'm not paying you."
She hangs up without another word and while Marluxia shoves the phone haphazardly back into his pocket, he rises and mumbles, "I have to go."
Xemnas smiles at him. "I'll call you."
Marluxia takes a cab to the cliffs and smokes the entire way. Larxene has always said she hates the way the smoke makes his hair looks and he continues to puff on one of his heady Swisher Sweets as he approaches her at the precipice.
She turns when she hears him, eyes him up and down: the way the fierce winter wind blows his dyed-pink hair and grape-sweet smoke in a graceful chaos. She eyes his out of season jeans and his white silk shirt and denim jacket. She looks at his green eyes through his pink aviators.
"Yeah, that'll do," she murmurs. "Rosemary is for remembrance and all that shit…"
She begins taking pictures of him, without asking him to pose or remove the cigar from his mouth. She snaps her old-fashioned shutter until she runs out of film and then she forces in another roll and starts again, circling him leisurely.
He just stands there in the wind, smoking and looking out over the cliffs to the roiling sea.
Axel is alone on holy Sunday, Christmas day. He spends the morning in the kitchen, cooking up his favorite recipe. From the window he can see out into the snow covered town and the blinding whiteness of everything steals his breath away.
He feels festive for the first time all month and turns the radio on for some Christmas music while he cooks.
Marluxia doesn't call, and Axel isn't sure why he expected him to.
"Fuck," Axel complains to his pots and pans. "I hope he isn't with that sleazy rich boy."
At noon, Axel puts his creation into the fridge to cool and parks his ass on his couch and gets ready to watch A Christmas Carol like his life depends on it. It's that or The Nutcracker, which he only watches when Marluxia is around to gay things up with his bubblegum pink hair and flirtatious disses.
His phone rings at one o'clock and it still isn't Marluxia, just his cousins and his mother. His cousins remind him that they're too poor to buy him presents, and his mother reminds him that she forgot about him until today, so his present will be late.
It is only because it is fucking Christmas that he doesn't hang up like he usually would.
Finally, at six o'clock, Axel packages up what he's spent the morning making and trudges out through the snow. He splurges on a cab to the train station.
Central Sun is open on Christmas, run by the few surly employees who have the misfortune of having shifts on Sunday.
The boy is there behind the scuffed glass; Axel knows those scuffs by heart, but glances at them only briefly. Instead, he circles around to the back of the ticket booth and raps sharply at the door.
The blond boy in the starch-pressed red uniform appears a few seconds later, scowling, but glad to be out of his box for a little while.
Axel offers out his gift and the boy doesn't take it, just asks, "Who the hell are you?"
The redhead grins. "My name is Axel, and I've made you a Christmas gift, it would be pretty damn rude not to accept it."
The blond thing has pretty blue eyes, which light up curiously at the mysterious gift and he finally takes it and rips open the blue-snowflake paper because he isn't the sort to be paranoid about stalkers and anthrax. Maybe his brazenness is exquisitely attractive.
And besides, he recognizes the redhead who comes through his line every Monday and Thursday and Friday. He's the one who always smiles at him and tries to hold eye contact for too long.
Axel stuffs his hands into his pants' pockets like a nervous school boy and smiles as the Central Sun employee uncovers the tin of homemade chocolates.
"I hope you're not allergic," Axel confesses after a moment. "And if you are, I hope you're the type to think it's the thought that counts."
The boy puts a small piece in his mouth, like he can't resist and then he turns his scrutiny back on.
"Why did you make this?"
"I've got a crush on you."
"Why do you think I would care?"
"It's Christmas, I didn't think it would hurt."
The boy's eyes narrow, blue like snowflakes, indeed. "Oh."
He seems to be deep in thought and Axel has never been more nervous in his life, even Marluxia was easier to ask out, easier to fuck, easier to deal with than this intense expression of… of he doesn't even know what and then the boy is shoving him backwards, and he's stumbling backwards.
Then the boy is on tiptoes kissing him with his chocolate mouth.
Axel wraps his arms around his waist and is glad he feels more wiry and graceful than sinuous Marluxia.
When their mouths break, Axel licks his lips and wonders, breathless as the snow, "Why did you do that?"
The boy looks up at the ceiling and Axel's eyes follow to the high-mounted mistletoe. "My co-workers put that up there as a joke, I've been dodging it all week."
"Oh," Axel smiles, delighted. "When do you get off work?"
"Eight," the boy says. "Why?"
"Can I take you to dinner then?"
The boy frowns. "You don't even know my name."
And it's the truth; Axel looks to his chest reflexively for a nametag that isn't there. "Tell it to me then?"
The boy smiles, sly and alluring. "It's Roxas, and I think I'd like to go to dinner with you."
Marluxia is alone on holy Sunday, Christmas day. At seven in the morning he gets a call from the police because Larxene is dead. After that, the phone continues to ring. Calls from Zexion, from Xemnas, from magazines, and from police officers, but not from Axel.
Marluxia smashes the phone against the wall until his hand bleeds.
He stares out across the white city and feels the void taking him in black sunspots, light bleaching color from his world.
He wears her rags to the cliffs where he knows she drowned and the police are still there, but he ignores them. He stands shivering in the winds whipped up by the frost-bitten waves. Smoke and foam crest over his lips with each rolling puff of his sickly sweet grape cigar.
"What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis?" He asks the sky, because he knows she always did love Ophelia so.
An officer approaches him after a while. He asks for his name, which he gives, and then he asks for his time, which he can think of no reason to refuse.
They ask him when he last saw her and he recounts her mangy appearance, her hunger and her sallow madness as she snapped pictures of him upon the wuthering heights.
They've found the camera, they say, they're developing the pictures now, if nothing suspicious shows up, her last words say they're for him.
"Can I see it?" Marluxia asks, even though his tongue sticks dry in his mouth. "The note."
They don't see why not, and then he has the paper in his hand, her cramped jagged writing expressing her words the way she meant them and not the way the police have misinterpreted.
After a very long while Marluxia sets the piece aside, holds his head in his hands and whispers, "Fuck. I'll want that too when this is over."
On the first day of the New Year, Axel passes through the lines at the Central Sun and greets Roxas by name, pauses for a few seconds to ask him if he's free for lunch and touches his hand beneath the window when he takes his ticket.
He boards the red liner with a smile and watches the city thawing from the night beneath the sharp morning sun.
His first meeting of the morning is with Sora, who shows him a beautiful painting of a smudged town square at midnight. Axel smiles encouragingly at him, his eyes tracking the lines of watercolor and metallic detailing.
"Yeah, I think I can do something with this."
Sora gets to leave today with a receipt and a check and he passes Marluxia in the lobby on his way out.
Marluxia takes the stairs instead of the elevator up to Axel's office and enters without knocking and upon seeing him Axel calls the secretary to hold all his appointments.
"I didn't see you," Axel says and Marluxia shakes his head, "No, you didn't see me."
He sets an envelope on the desk between them silently and leaves it up to Axel to leaf through the photos. Axel frowns.
"This isn't a vanity press, Marluxia."
The model smiles tiredly and flicks out a pair of cheap sunglasses, looking as flippant as always even when his style is so trashy.
"It is a vanity press, because I'm going to pay you whatever profit you don't make."
Marluxia is lighting one of his disgusting Swisher Sweets when Axel gets to the note, hidden away amongst the strange photos of Marluxia at the cliff tops. He studies it for a moment, working to decipher Larxene's lightning-strike scrawl.
"Yeah," Axel breathes deep, resting his cheek in one hand and frowning. "No, a couple magazines will want these. Her last shit. It'll be good money…"
"I don't want the money," Marluxia interrupts. He looks pale and his hand shakes as he raises the cigar to his lips. "I don't want the money. I just want the pictures printed."
Maybe Axel gets it, maybe not, either way he nods and reaches across the table, palm up and fingers outstretched and Marluxia holds onto him, white knuckled for a little while.
But then he lets go, gathers his things, wraps a scarf around his neck but still has no coat. It's really easy for Axel to let him go, because it was over between them a long time ago, they'd just had nothing better to do than pretend for so long.
"Dump your sleazy boyfriend," Axel calls when Marluxia's hand touches the door.
"I already have," Marluxia whispers to the wood so that Axel cannot hear, but then he's gone.
Axel does not take his appointments for the rest of the day, just stares down the hill into the dark city streets, the golden stripe of the crimson Central Sun occasionally streaking through the shadows.
He takes lunch a little early and heads down to the station to flirt with Roxas while he's still at work.
The boy doesn't appreciate it, but his scowling face is cute and he still seems eager to eat out with Axel when his break comes.
They walk to the restaurant holding hands and while they wait for their food, Axel takes the crinkled envelope from his pocket and shows it to Roxas while explaining his job.
"These are nice pictures…" Roxas comments, flipping through them curiously and stopping in shock at the suicide note tucked amongst them. He reads it much faster than Axel did and then moves past it without a word. "Very nice…" he says.
Axel nods. "They'll be Marluxia's last big thing."
Roxas is confused by his words, but he's a cagey little kid and doesn't ask, just looks up excitedly when their food arrives. He eats like he's still a teenager; bottomless pit, high metabolism, all that.
Axel watches him eat in amusement. "Ah, to be young again," he laughs and Roxas doesn't slow down on his account.
Axel walks his happy and satisfied Roxas back to work and kisses him on the mouth before he leaves.
"I'll call you," the blond promises shyly.
Somehow, Axel manages to smile as he heads for the Central Sun's line of ruby-red cars.
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