When I was four years old, my brother Reno, who was nine at the time, bought me a plastic fireman's hat in a yard sale. Since then, I wanted to be a fireman. And amazingly enough, I do it. Eventually I get transferred to a station in Twilight Town, after being gone for a few years. The apartment/penthouse that I used to live in with Reno is all mine now. His spare key is tucked under the loose brick on the second step. I put out fires, and eventually the past catches up with me.
It's been two weeks since I've seen Roxas. Two weeks since I held him in the bed of my truck, and the moans have barely started to fade from my memory. It's been two weeks.
"There's some kid across the street who says he's waiting for you," Lexeaus says. I look up from the papers I'm filling out – being a fireman isn't all heroics, I've learned – and look to where he points. A kid with sandy blonde hair sits on the curb across the street from the station, looking down Sunset Ave. He's wearing a leather jacket that's a little too big for him. He can't be more than seventeen. But his birthday is in three weeks.
"I just wanted to see you," he says when I walk up to him ten minutes later. He's not looking me in the eye, and I wonder why he's acting so distant. It's an uncomfortable sort of aquaintenceship, especially since he was the one bold enough to touch me, beg me to touch him.
"Are you hungry?" I ask finally.
"A little," he says.
He sits squished up against the passenger door as I drive, doesn't even look at me. He hangs back when I open the door, and again I wonder why he seems timid. I look around to make sure no one is looking. There's a lady walking her dog across the street, a couple of kids racing tricycles in circles. I lean over and kiss him. He looks surprised when I pull away, but his shoulders become less tense immediately. He follows me into the house without another hesitation, and I watch his face to gauge a reaction.
Firemen are paid pretty decently in Twilight Town, and it helps that my parents paid off the entire apartment around the time that Reno disappeared to Agrabah or wherever. All I have to worry about is the electric and small miscellaneous bills. So the place is furnished plainly, but I've chosen dark woods and wine toned colors for almost every room, making it seem richer than it actually is. I pull some stuff out of the small pantry and set water to boiling on the stove.
"You cook," Roxas says. He sounds a little in awe.
"What, you think firemen can't fend for themselves?" I ask. "I do laundry, too."
He smiles a little and sits down at the small, round, three-person table. After a minute he shrugs off the jacket. I try to seem nonchalant, but I have to flinch at a tattering of bruises on his arm. He sees me staring.
"Skateboarding injuries," he says.
I remember, suddenly, when he was little. I held the soft flesh of his calf in my hand and put a bandage on his scraped knee. The image shifts to me gripping his thigh, his pant leg rolled down.
He eats the entire plate of pasta but declines seconds. I get a bottle of Gravira out of the liquor cabinet and pour myself a glass. For a long time, neither of us says anything. Then, quietly, he asks, "Can I stay?"
I'm a little buzzed from the drink.
"Sora's with Riku… and I don't know if my dad's home." He shrugs. "I just…"
I nod. "It's fine."
It's pretty much unspoken where he'll sleep. I don't pull out blankets or a pillow for him. I just strip down to my undershirt and boxers and climb into bed after washing. Roxas kicks off his shoes and dumps his jeans and the leather jacket in a pile by the door, carefully settles beside me. It's a long time before sleep starts to claim me, and just before it does, I look over at him. His eyes are closed. One hand is carefully draped over my torso, his mouth a bare inch from my shoulder. I can feel his breath steady. He smells faintly of sweat and of something I can't place.
He can't be more than seventeen. But his birthday is in three weeks.
When I wake up he's gone. The sheets still smell of him, and it's the only thing I know that tells me I'm sane and it was real. At least, I think that's all there is until I notice my cell phone is sitting on the hall table instead of charging on my desk. The red light blinks once, then flickers green. A message. I flip it open and dial the voice system, punch in the four digit code 0-8-1-3 and wait.
"Hey… Axel? Yeah… I turned off your phone so that you wouldn't hear it ringing. I just… felt like leaving a message instead," says Roxas's voice, honeyed and low in a way that is sexually arousing without meaning to be. "Thanks… for dinner… and letting me stay. I…" a sigh, and then quietly, so that I barely hear it and have to replay the message eight or five more times to catch it and keep it: "I love you."
The bottle of Gravira I started in on last night is killed within the next hour. It's pretty fucking amazing, I realize later. This kid loves me and I love him. I doze off, and when I wake up it's past three. School will be out now, I think. I remember when he used to skip school to get to the park early. My lungs feel too tight in my ribcage and I locate the car keys, somehow knowing. But the park is empty, and I chalk it up to the liquor.
I realize that I don't know where Roxas even lives.
"The Captain's thinking about maybe promoting you to Lieutenant after that rescue two weeks ago. The one on Twilight and Station Heights?" Lexeaus says over some crappy sandwiches a few days later. There hasn't been any other fire since, so I don't know why he bothers to get specific.
For some reason it takes a few moments for that to actually sink in. Lex never jokes about these things.
I think that might just be about the best thing I've heard in three days. But I still have the message saved on my phone, and when I get home I kick at the loose brick and the spare key tumbles out. I pocket it, knowing that Reno won't need it for a long while yet. I down another bottle of Gravira, hope I'm not becoming an alcoholic, and fall asleep on the couch. Lieutenant Axel Rote. Not bad.
When I wake up it's past noon the next day and I'm lucky to be off duty or else Lieutenant would pretty much be out of my reach. So I shower and head to the park for no particular reason. It's mostly empty, which is odd for a nice Sunday afternoon. Kids have probably been dragged to the Yevonite temples. I remember that it's been months since I went last. But I forget about it in a moment because I see a kid sitting on a swing, leaned back to stretch his legs out, a leather jacket around him. Roxas looks up and sees me, and I walk toward him in a sort of daze. All he does is stand up at his full height, pull me down so that the muscles in my neck tense, and kisses me with that innocent and real perfection that makes the whole world stop. We stand there for a while, and then he sort of shrugs and murmurs, "Sora will start to wonder where I am." I watch him walk off down 5th Ave. and have a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, like that slight glance to the side and then his back retreating is the last thing I'll ever see.
The sun sets and the street lights go on. I'm clutching the spare key in my pocket so hard it makes the web of flesh between my finger and thumb raw.
When I get home I scan the list of missed calls in my phone to find a way to reach him. He was clever about it, though, turning off my phone while I slept and using the house phone to dial it. I never use the house phone at all, really. So I decide, out of spite and necessity, to get it uninstalled.
Tuesday afternoon it rings, two hours before the company is scheduled to come and tear it out.
"Axel Rote," I say into the receiver.
I nearly drop the phone, thinking that it's that kid who punched my gut in the park that day, or Sora.
"It's Pence, man. Sorry… I'm kind of in a panic. I can't find him anywhere."
"Pence…" I've never heard the name.
"Roxas's friend. He gave me your number."
"Okay. Well, he's not here. I haven't seen him since yesterday."
"Crap…" Pence doesn't say anything. "Sora called and asked me where he was, and I said he was with Hayner. That's what I'm always supposed to say, right? Either that or he's with me or with Naminé. Something. Roxas doesn't' like Sora being worried if he's out on his own. Or if he's with you because Sora doesn't like you."
I don't say anything for a minute, but I'm thinking about how I should probably keep the damn phone, or at least give Pence my cell so that I'll know if Roxas is off by himself, and where. But instead I say, "What did Roxas tell you about me?"
There's a silence on the other end. Not uncomfortable, but searching.
"He loves you."
I nod, even though he can't see me. "So he went off without telling you to cover for him?"
"I cover for him anyway. But Sora said he saw Hayner, and Roxas wasn't with him. So I said I didn't know, and now Sora's probably mad, doesn't' even realize that Roxas is probably at home."
It strikes me as odd. "Why doesn't he call his own house, then?" I ask, getting worried. I try to remember anything about Roxas that might be helpful. and I don't know if my dad's home…" the bruises. My hand is gripping the phone so that my knuckles turn white.
"I tried calling, but the phone is dead… I think it might be Seifer."
"No. His dad's probably out drinking…" I hear concern in Pence's voice. "I'm not supposed to know about Seifer, I guess, but he's kind of been bothering Roxas. He's probably at home, not wanting to set foot outside today."
It's all I have to hear.
"Where does he live?"
Roxas's house, on 5th Ave. between Station Heights and Crossroads Drive, is small and a dumpy sort of tall rectangle like the other houses. It's painted pale yellow, and the grass is slightly overgrown with weeds. I wonder who keeps it clean when Roxas is out on his own and Sora's with Riku. There's a car parked haphazardly in the narrow driveway, but I can tell no one's used it for months, maybe. One of the tires is flat. The ironic thing, I notice, is that it's nearly dead across the street from where Xigbar, my roommate from college, sometimes crashes with his older brother, Xaldin. The font door is locked, of course, white paint chipping off of the wood. The doorbell is broken, so I wander around to the side, past the car to a short cement flight of steps that leads up to another door. It probably leads into the kitchen. I knock, but when there's no response I test the knob, and it's open.
The kitchen is about as small as mine, but packed with everything and nothing at once. The tile isn't tile so much as linoleum in a pattern, and one or two of the cabinet/drawer handles are coming off.
I was just wondering how strange it would be if I got the wrong house when I hear someone walking down the hall. Roxas stands between the fridge and the living room with it's dirt brown carpet and a tangle of video game stuff under the TV and stares at me. He's holding a struggle bat.
"What are you doing here?" he asks. He doesn't sound upset, but I don't think he wants me here.
"Pence was worried."
He looks down at the linoleum, grips the bat hard.
I do the only thing I've been thinking of doing these past three days. I step toward him, tilt his chin upward, and kiss him. He is unresponsive for a moment, but then drops the bat and kisses back, one hand brushing rough gentle over the back of my neck. I start to feel heat building in my groin and more than anything I want to push him onto the couch and feel his whole body against mine. He pulls away after a moment, breathing heavily, and locks the kitchen door, picks up the bat again. I notice the bruises again, and I start to ask, "Who's Seifer", when he cuts across, saying, "You should leave."
I start to open my mouth to argue with him, but something bangs against the front door, hard. And again. Roxas hefts the bat and walks toward it, but I grab his shoulder.
He doesn't' look me in the eye, and the banging continues, along with a staccato of muffled shouts.
"I've been putting up with him for a while," he says finally, quietly. "In middle school he stole my jacket and said that if I wanted it back I had to pay him for it. So I did. But after I had it back he kept saying that I still owed him. After a while it was less of that and more of him wanting to get a rise out of me, try to tempt me to fight him so he could beat the shit out of me and laugh."
I felt anger spill over inside of me, and I took the bat from him without much resistance on his part, throwing it on the couch. "Let me handle this."
I open the door, noting how it sticks, letting my whole frame fill the doorway. "Which one of you punks is Seifer?" I ask. There are about seven of them, but right away four of them bolt, and a guy with tanned muscles about two inches shorter than me jerks a thumb toward the other guy, a blonde with an insolent smirk, a white sleeveless coat, and a scar along his face that reminds me of Leon. There's a girl, too, and judging my he scowl she gives me under her sheet of silverblue hair, she doesn't think I have a chance against her boyfriend.
"What do you want, chicken-wuss?" says Seifer, stepping forward. "Are you Roxas's keeper or something?"
I decide not to waste time with words and instead swing my arm around, trapping him into a headlock. "Stay away from Roxas. I don't ever want to see your sorry ass around here anymore. If I do, you're screwed."
The muscled guy looks like he's going to grab me from behind but I kick him hard in the gut and glare at the girl, twist Seifer's arm to a painful arch and thrust him into her arms.
"Asshole," she says.
"Who the fuck are you?" Seifer spits out, pulling away from the girl's slightly caring embrace.
"The name's Axel, punk. Commit it to memory."
I don't bother to watch them leave, just duck back inside and slam the door.
"You'd better call Sora. Pence said he was looking for you."
He doesn't make a move to reconnect the phone, which I see has been dumped on the other side of the room, far from the outlet.
"Why did you do that?" he asks. I still can't tell if he's mad, so I have no idea how to answer him. Luckily, he doesn't see to want an answer, because he comes and wraps his arms around my waist, fingers digging into my back, and pushes his head into the curve of my neck. "Thanks," he says after a long while. He kisses me once more, that perfect kiss that makes me feel dizzy, and I smell him again, that smell I can't place. It's a kind of cologne, I guess, light but heavy with an amber sort of smell. It triggers warm gold in my mind.
He goes over to the phone and starts plugging it back in. Somehow I don't want to be in the room when he talks to Sora, so I wander down the hall and find a room with an open door. I know immediately that it's his room because I see the leather jacket on the end of the bed and a skateboard in the corner. There's a Jack-and-Jill bathroom there, and I go in to wash my hands. There's a big sink that's kind of old fashioned, and towels. A glass bottle filled with a deep, almost garnet amber sits on a small stretch of tile on Roxas's side. It smells like him. Twilight, it's called. For some reason I lift it up and spray a thin amount into the air and inhale. When I walk out, Roxas is in his room, back to me, pulling off his shirt. There are some bruises at the small of his spine, and a scar on his shoulder, but I ignore all of that for now.
"Roxas," I say, and he turns around, looking over at me, the blue in his eyes so beautiful I think I might die. "I think I'm in love with you."
He stares at me for a long moment, and again I can't read his expression. He drops his shirt to the ground at last and says, "I know." He reaches out to me and I draw near. This kiss is less gentle but just as perfect. A strong urge pulls up out of me and I hold him close. He's breathing hard now, and when my hand grips low at the small of his back he moans and pulls away. I think I might have done something wrong, but he pushes me onto his bed and settles himself over me, getting his hand in my pants and finding my arousal.
"I belong to you, Axel," he murmurs into my hair as I come.
I have to wait until I can breathe again to shift him under me, kissing him hard and moving my hands over his skin. He moves against me, stretching and moaning softly, breathing hard. I slip my hand under the fabric of his pants, the zipper falling loose. The firmness of him grinding into my hand makes me forget how much younger he is than me, and the whole world is warm as he empties himself into my palm.
He can't be more than seventeen. But his birthday is in less than three weeks, and as long as we're in love it doesn't matter.
Finally his breathing slows and he rolls off of me, eyes half-lidded and heavy. I pull my pants back up. He starts t get up after me, but I put a hand on his shoulder, kiss the very corner of his mouth. From my pocket I pull the key and drop it on the bed.
"Spare," I say, and see myself out.
It's only when I reach Suncrest that I take out my phone and dial Xigbar. Between two stop lights and a train crossing, I describe Seifer and his two lackeys to him.
"If you see those kid's around Roxas's house, make 'em dance."
I don't have to repeat myself.
Lieutenant isn't just handed to you. I know that. I've only been at this less than a year, and I know that to make Lieutenant I'm going to have to commit another year as a Firefighter, keep a perfect record of the schools and public places in my district, do monthly rounds of fire extinguisher checks/ fire alarm tests and learn to operate the truck. I'll also need a special recommendation from the Captain and approval by the Chief.
"It won't be easy, either," Lexeaus says over lunch. He thinks I'm being quiet because the promotion is heavy on my mind, but really I'm thinking about Roxas. I keep hearing echoes of his voice with my heart beat, like I song I can't get out of my head, but it's not just in my head. "I belong to you."
"The Captain says you've got potential, though."
I nod, not entirely listening to everything he's saying even though I probably should. Lexeaus doesn't talk much, but when he does, it's always important. And he's a Lieutenant himself. If I get promoted I'll be working more directly with him. The responsibility is an almost frightening thing. Directing rescue missions, especially. I haven't asked Lexeaus about it, but I've done a few as a regular firefighter. To test me for Lieutenant, I'll have to go through a mock drill where I'll be in charge of a battalion. The hardest part of rescue is learning to judge what you should do next. Seconds are crucial in saving lives.
It hits me suddenly. What if I hadn't been able to save Roxas?
When I get home, he's asleep in my bed, shoes and jacket strewn in the doorway. He clutches the spare key tightly. Now that I've realized that I'm in love with him – something completely alien from just loving him, I realize – it makes me worry all over again. He's young. Something could happen to him. Something has. I know for sure that Seifer won't bother him again, but I know that there are other things that could take him away from me. His father. I don't know anything about him other than his drinking habits and the fact that he's rarely home. It's enough to know. And what about Sora? True, his brother cares about him, but he's rarely around. I take off my shoes and socks, untuck my undershirt and take off my belt, putting my arms softly around him when I climb into bed, hoping not to wake him.
But he stirs, shifting around, pushing me away roughly, sitting bolt upright.
I smile and laugh quietly. "You're in my house, kid."
He nods after a moment. "Sorry," he mutters.
I open my arms to him and gently he fits himself back up against my chest, falling asleep quickly. But I hear it again, murmured against my skin a moment before he becomes heavy with sleep: "I belong to you."
When I wake up he's gone, but it can't have been long. Fresh coffee is brewing, and under my favorite red mug is a slip of worn, yellowed paper. It's a small pamphlet from the Yevonite temple I used to go to.
It's quiet when I enter the round, open place. On the back of the pamphlet are listed masses, but I guess in the past few years this one has stopped, leaving the place open for personal prayer. The time has been circled in new red ink, and I've read the subtle sign correctly. Roxas is kneeling in front of an image of a Maester when I look around. There is almost no one else around, but I keep a comfortable distance from him as I arch my arms, sweeping them around in a round gesture and bow, kneeling at his side. It occurs to me that I don't know what to pray for, but then I see Roxas's lips murmuring the Summoner's Hymn and close my eyes, praying that I'll be able to keep watching him like this.
I follow him when he walks out, and in the shade of the trees he begins to speak without my asking.
"I converted when I was about 12. My mom and dad were fighting a lot then… and I was thinking of you all of the time." He fingers the pocket of the leather jacket. "So I came here, and the Guardians were nice to me. I came almost every day and started learning the hymns."
I picture a younger Roxas, maybe helping a Guardian sprinkle Zanarkian water around Yunalesca's image.
"Riku's going to Radiant Garden for a few days to help his older brother move into a new apartment. Sora can't go with him, so he's going to keep me in his sight for a while."
I nod, even though my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach. If Sora had gone, Roxas could have stayed with me all that time. But in a way it's for the best. Since he pushed me down onto his bad the other day, I don't think I'll be able to keep from wanting much longer.
He's looking off down the street, and I sense that Sora might be approaching soon. He probably knows that Roxas comes at this time every day and comes with Riku to walk him home.
"I love you," I say, making him turn toward me with a calm expression on his face that I don't erase for the next week, at least.
"I love you, too," he says. He stands almost on tiptoe and brushes his lips over my jaw, not batting an eyelash. I think I love him more.
When I stand to turn around, almost two blocks away from him, he's walking in the opposite direction, between a taller figure with silver hair and another at his height, hand on Roxas's shoulder, brown hair like a lion's mane.
I don't know how I go three days without seeing him, but somehow I manage to focus on my Lieutenant testing. The mock rescuer goes well, even though I panic at one point when I can't contact one of the teams in my battalion.
"It happens," Lexeaus says later in an attempt to comfort me. "We have to throw everything at you so that you'll know."
I nod and fold up my jacket, placing it squarely in my locker. I try to not to think of Roxas wearing it, holding an oxygen mask to his face, like the first time I saw him after nearly seven years.
I'm not a heavy drinker. Never. But I keep a bottle of Gravira in the cabinet and sip at it one small sip at a time on days when the apartment/penthouse is too quiet. I'm savoring a long sip of the dark almost purple liquid when I hear the scrape of a key sliding into the lock. There's a soft click, and I'm standing there before he can get a foot in. He stares at me for a long time – I wonder when this is going to stop being filled with such silences, but I realize that I'm not unsatisfied – and then locks the door behind him. His hands slide around my shoulders and his mouth is over mine.
"You've been drinking," he says finally.
"Your dad drinks, doesn't he?" I ask quietly.
He nods. I want to kiss him again, but it feels like he might flinch away from me, so I do the only thing I can think of. I walk back into the kitchen and upend the bottle, watching the dark liquid pour down the drain. Roxas watches from the dark front hall, then steps into the pale light of the kitchen. He takes the bottle and drops it into the trashcan, a satisfied sort of gleam in his eye as he hears it made a heavy glass sound against the plastic.
Wordlessly, he sheds the leather jacket, draping it over a kitchen chair, and lifts himself onto the counter. We both watch as the last of the alcohol is washed out by the cold stream from the faucet.
"He's never really home. And when he is, he's drinking."
I nod, angry suddenly. "Is… is that why your mom left?"
"I think so," he says. "Or maybe the drinking came after the fighting. I can't remember."
I don't know if it hurts him to talk about it, but I feel like I should do something, so I pull a carton out of the freezer and sit it on the marble countertop beside him.
"Sea salt ice cream," he murmurs, wiping the frost away from the label.
"Pence said it was your favorite," I offer.
By the way he smiles I know I've done the right thing. I hand him a bowl and locate a spoon, shaving long loose curls of the stuff out. It's so bright white it seems to shine blue.
"Salty and sweet," he says after the first taste. I don't know why, but I laugh at that. He smiles – this is probably the first happy moment I can remember for us – and holds out a spoonful. It's just as he says; salty and sweet. We finish the bowl that way, and when there's nothing left but a thin shining puddle at the bottom Roxas sets it down in the sink and scoots over, shifting his weight so that one leg rests on either side of me, leaning against the counter. He gazes at me hopefully, and I close my eyes, feeling a rush of elation as his lips meet mine. His arms loop loosely around my shoulders, hands settling at the angle of his hips and his lap. I don't know how long we're there when Roxas pulls back slightly, chest heaving – the kisses have grown longer and deeper – and he sighes into my neck, then faces me again, bringing our faces together and murmuring something against my lips, ten thousand soft grazing kisses as he speaks, lips moving against mine.
"Do you want me, Axel?"
I take the last sound of my name from him, pushing his tongue back into the involved dance we started, and pull away, groaning. Yes. I do. And I can have him. I know it. I could pull him down from the counter and then bend him over it, bite down and kiss the nape of his neck as I claim him. But he can't be more than seventeen, even if his birthday is in two weeks.
He sighs into my shoulder. "I know."
"But I do," I say. "So bad, Roxas…"
He pulls away, smiling a little shyly, glances to his left.
"Can I stay?"
It's not dragged out with caution as it was last time. I nod. I want to wake up with him in my arms.
He's awake before I am. I can tell. He's warm against me, but his breathing feels awake. Dim light filters in through the thin scarlet drapes over the northeast facing window. His hair is tussled, and when he shifts to move his embrace away and sit up – maybe to check the time on the nightstand – I catch the venom blue of his eyes. I start t greet him, but my body alerts at the sensation of his fingertips sliding away from my skin, and the sudden hard, warmth pressed to my thigh.
He seems to hold his breath.
I sit up carefully, touch his cheek and brush my lips over his, pull him against me. We breathe together for a long minute, and then I am brave. I guide him around me, onto his back. My hands softly ghost over the thin cotton of his white undershirt, down to his navel, exposed from the night's shifting around in the sheets, trying to fit himself comfortably in my long arms. I pause, lower myself, knees pressing into the mattress. My tongue sips into the folded dent of flesh. Roxas gasps. My thumbs hook into the waistband of his boxers and I pull ever so carefully down. Roxas hisses at the friction and then gasps again. I need to coax him a little, pushing my tongue back into the perfect crease of flesh again and letting my fingertips fondle him. He moans, fingers twining through my hair. I think he begs. When I take him, pulsing hot and hard, into my mouth, he trembles. He tastes salty and sweet.
"Where were you?"
His voice is mild, but he's not looking at me.
"You didn't' come home last night." Finally he looks up, clear blue mingled anger and worry.
"You were with Riku."
Sora puts down the sponge and turns off the water. "Where did you sleep?"
I shrug, trying not to let my face betray me. I can still feel Axel's mouth over my manhood, tongue dragging around the base. "At Hayner's."
Judging by the mess of Firaga beer cans, dad has come and gone. I decide that he's off crashing on Uncle Auron's couch. Uncle Auron. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if he was actually around. Would Sora and I go live with him?
"You're wearing that jacket again," Sora remarks, finishing up the dishes.
I don't answer him.
Sora frowns softly. It's the kind of expression that makes Riku want to kiss him. I've seen it happen before.
"That pervert," Sora begins, and I look to the coffee table where the dictionary sits. A reflex. "He won't ever touch you again. I promised, remember?"
I can only nod. Sora hugs me like he always does, glaring hard at the upturned collar of Axel's jacket before disappearing into the hall. Axel loves me. He's not a pervert. He's not a pedophile. I'm going to be eighteen in two weeks. The thoughts are disjointed in my head, but in the end they collide. He touched me. He said that he wanted me. But he's going to wait. He loves me.
I hang up the jacket in my closet and look around for somewhere to hide the spare key. I finally stow it in an old shoe
I feel tense. I should have locked the door.
He looks down the hall and glances behind him, making sure that dad hasn't come back.
"Riku… touched me."
"He did it differently, this time, though," Sora continues, sitting on the end of my bed.
"How?" I ask quietly, mouth dry.
Axel's mouth gasps warm breath on the skin of my inner thigh. His lips move over my flesh and I want to stop him, but he knows.
"Roxas?" he says, the pad of his thumb pressed into the thin scar running up along the stretch of my leg, up to the base of my now limp manhood, exhausted from his ministrations.
I turn away, and he doesn't push me to speak, kisses the spot where my neck melts into my jawline.
Riku loves Sora. He's loved them since they were children. He would never hurt Sora, so I don't know why Sora does what he does t me. After a while I begin to think that there must be something wrong with me. There's something wrong with me for Sora to be doing this.
Roxas is sitting in his favorite swing, lazily pushing himself less than a foot off the ground, arching down pendulum and then straightening up again. I force myself to look into his eyes and not think about all the scars I don't know about.
"Push?" I ask, just as I did nearly eight years ago.
He smiles a little and I steady the chains, pull back, and let go. I catch him after he makes a few swaying movements. He leans back against me, and I swell Twilight.
"Touch me?" he says so softly it could be the wind. My hand plays with the hairs on the back of his neck, trail down the small of his back.
I pull back on the chains again, watch him rock back and forth, and catch the chains from the front. Pulling him in his seat toward me. He smiles and leans up to kiss the corner of my mouth.
I'm leaning over him, the spare length of chain lightly tapping against the taut metal. I'm suddenly seventeen again and he's ten. Or it feels that way, for a moment.
"What?" he says.
"Dammit, Roxas, I love you," I say finally. "I'm in love with you."
His expression is that one I fell in love with, that too-mature-for-ten but still naïve in a sweet, boyish way.
"Are you trying to ask me to be your boyfriend?" he says finally. His voice falls flat, but he's looking down at his feet.
"That's kind of what I was getting at."
I barely catch the flash of venom joy blue in his eyes before he kisses me. Perfect.
"Is that a 'yes'?" I ask.
He says nothing, but doesn't look away.
The chain in my hand, the smaller, brighter chain in my hand half-drops, tapping like the low note of a flute against the swing chain. He looks, and I smirk at his confused reaction. I clasp it around his neck and he doesn't' object, looking down at the crown charm with a mixture of curiosity and something else.
It looks as though it might belong to him already. At the same time, it's the opposite.
"You're lucky it was just a few burns."
The ceiling is white, and bright, bright light comes in from the window. This isn't my room.
"A beam collapsed and fell on you."
I look around, surprised to see Reno there.
"Are you supposed to be here?" I manage.
"I'm your brother!" he says, mock offended. "But I'm getting out of here as soon as I can."
"What happened?" My torso feels numb. I raise an arm to pull the sheets away and see a thin strip of raw scar there, above my elbow.
"There was a fire, and you got trapped while scanning the top floor."
I put my hands up, but feel that my face is intact. My hair feels shorter, though, maybe by and inch or two. Then I pull back the sheet and lift the hospital gown. My mind halts. A scar the size of a moogle's head, roughly, covers most of my stomach. I feel nothing when I touch it.
"Some of you nerves got fried, but the doctor said you'll be fine."
But what if I hadn't?
"Reno, do me a favor?"
He doesn't say anything, so I know I've got his attention. "Put Roxas Ars down as a beneficiary."
"Roxas Ars," he repeats.
"Yeah. I don't need something serious happening to me without knowing that he'll be okay."
"Can I see?"
I've been told to watch what I eat, but sea salt ice cream is still allowed. Roxas sounds like his ten-year-old self when he asks.
I step away from the counter and lift my shirt. He stares, unblinking.
"You could have died," he says bitterly.
"Firefighters aren't immortal," I reply.
"…Love is," he says finally, and we drop the subject.
We're working on our third bowl when Reno stumbles in, muttering about the spare key being stolen. He dumps himself into a stool and pillows his head on the tile.
"Who are you?" he says finally, looking up.
"Roxas Ars," I explain, knowing it's useless when he's had a drink or two.
"Axel's boyfriend," Roxas adds.
"Isn't that the jacket I gave you for Yevonmass that one year?" Reno asks, more to himself than to me.
Roxas and I leave him there, and in the morning the coffee pot is drained and Reno is gone.
"Your birthday is in a few days," I say, not meeting his eyes as I iron around the buttons on my dark blue shirt.
"Did you… did you want to do something special?" I ask. It sounds pathetic, coming out, but Roxas just pulls his shirt over his head and glances away, at the bed.
"Yeah…" he mutters.
He pulls on his pants and shirt. "Graduation is tomorrow night," he says finally. I know he's going to ask even though he knows what I'll say. "Can… do you think you could come?"
"I don't think that's a good idea. Sora might see me."
He bites his lip, doing up the laces on his shoe. "Yeah, I know…"
I picture him in the dark purple robe and cap, standing onstage with his diploma and looking out into the crowd. Sora would be there, maybe even Riku. Would his dad make it? But I wouldn't.
"I'll be there," I say finally. The Fireman's Ball is tomorrow night, too. But I can probably sneak away after the Captain introduces me around.
He looks up, startled. "You don't have to…" he begins, but I hear the hope in his voice.
He stands up, leaving one of his shoes untied, and gingerly touches the scars over my stomach. I can barely feel the ghosting sensation of his fingertips. I remind myself how to breathe, and then kiss his temple, smirking slightly when he steps back, looking embarrassed. We share breakfast: cereal from the same bowl, coffee for me and orange juice for him. He doesn't have school today, of course, but he's supposed to be looking around for a few odd jobs to do over the summer while he waits for his college courses to start. He's going to take the building block classes at Twilight Community and then try to transfer to Radiant Garden University. He wants to be a child psychologist.
When I get off work early he's been there again, and on the hall table a ticket cut from dark purple card paper sits, embossed with soft gold letters: "Twilight Secondary School invites you to our Graduation Ceremony, this 2nd day of August, 2013, at 6pm. The diploma passage will begin at 7pm."
I don't want to go to the Firefighter's Ball, really. But as a hopeful Lieutenant, I'm required to show up to at least meet the Commanding Chief and some of the other Captains. I choose a dark plum suit and a wine colored tie. Some of my hair was singed in the fire, so it's been trimmed and relieved of at least three or four inches. I don't mind. It was getting too long anyway. Usually I walk or take the train to work, but tonight I pull the darkest red Dark Thorn sedan out of the garage.
The ball is everything I expected. There is a nice but simple dinner, plenty of handshaking with names I won't remember in the morning, and at some point Leon convinces me to dance with his cousin Tifa. She's nice enough, chatting away amicably; but I'm thinking about Roxas. What would it be like if I brought him along? Would we dance?
At last I'm able to slip away. The street leading up and around the school is packed. It makes me remember my own graduation. Mom and dad had flown in from Land of Dragons to see me, and it had taken forever to navigate back out of the parking space Reno managed to find. Finally I find one, five minutes to 7. I know I won't be able to find a seat in the courtyard, so as soon as my ticket I verified I sneak around the ropes and duck into the dark halls of the school.
Twilight Secondary has a few traditions about the graduation ceremony, and on of them is placing the stage in front of the big main hall that runs out and branches into some small gardens between the class buildings. It's convenient if a family only has one kid, that way after they get their diploma they can take the offramp from the stage and exit through one of the garden gates. Somehow I know Roxas will be running down the stone hall between the columns, looking for Riku's car outside one of them.
Thankfully, he'll be one of the first called, and no one is waiting in any of the four small gardens.
"Olette Aalma!" the name echoes though the stone and I hear cheering.
Two more names are called, and then, "Roxas Ars!"
Lights flash from the other side of the curtain and I wonder if Sora, the proud and protective older brother, will remember to take a picture as Roxas earns his diploma.
A moment later, I see him dash up the ramp, the curtain billowing in toward him. He takes off his cap, smiling in accomplishment and then looks ahead, seeing me there.
"I didn't think you were coming," he says.
I don't know if I should be proud of him. I guess I am. There's a tiny gold star pin on the lapel of his robe, the one that means he was one of the five students the principal chose for good grades and overall effort. There's a round silver pin under it with a "c" engraved on it for the college planner's society, and around his neck a soft gold cord that means he was one of the top ten Star Test students in the school. Not bad for a kid that used to ditch third grade to play on the swings.
I should have brought him flowers, or something. Lilies are supposed to be good luck for the graduates of our school. I should have remembered one. So I kiss him instead. When he pulls away he's tugging at the tassel on his hat.
"I want you to have it," he says, holding it out. This is another tradition, one started when Reno went to school here. You give your tassel to your high school sweetheart. Urban myth says that if you keep it, you'll be married someday. There's a faint rush of pink on his face, but he doesn't look away. I take it, carefully looping it around two fingers and tucking it into the pocket on the front of my suit jacket, over my heart. The name call has gone on into the "d" surnames, and only a few other students have passed us, not stopping to notice long enough.
"Are you going to the party?" I ask. There's always a party at the station afterward.
"For a while," he says, unzipping the front of the robe. He's wearing a plain pale green dress shirt underneath and charcoal gray pants. The top button of his shirt is undone and I see that he's wearing the necklace I have him. My hand, at his shoulder, softly touches his cheek and I kiss him again, trail down to his neck. He moans.
"Will you come home after?" I ask then.
He glances to the side, a slight smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Home.
"Yeah, I will."
He steps back into the hall as "Pence Kota!" is called, and then he turns away, calling out to his friend. "Riku said to meet him at the Sun Garden Gate, Pence!" I watch them race to the last garden, Roxas throwing a glance my way over his shoulder as they turn the corner.
I wake up with his arms carefully curled around my torso. His cap and robe are draped over the chair. I wonder if Sora noticed that the tassel was missing. Roxas stirs in his sleep. I kiss the small hairs that curl away from his forehead and he stirs again, eyes fluttering open. The silver crown thumps lightly against his bare chest as he shifts over me, carefully putting one leg on either side of my hips before settling down again, dragging his lips over the spot under my ear. I trail my hands down his back.
"Tell me something," he says quietly, "What… I know this is going to sound stupid… but what did I do… to merit being loved by you?"
"Look at me," I say after a long moment. He sits up and meets my gaze. "I'm serious, Axel," he mutters. "I'm… there's nothing special about me. Why…"
I shake my head. "That's just it, kid. Look at me."
He seems so confused.
"When you were younger…" surprisingly, it doesn't hurt to mention it now, "You were just like every other kid in that park, right? But… you looked at me… the way you're looking at me now." I shrug. "You are special, Roxas. To me. But everyone deserves to be loved."
He says nothing for a long while, just sits calmly, running his fingertips over my scar. It's amazing how he's not repulsed by it.
It's just past ten in the morning and I'm glad that my shift is later. I don't think I could get out of bed just now. He looks at me, leans over, pressing an elbow into the mattress, and kisses me deeply. It stirs heat between my thighs, and again I'm filled with the overwhelming truth that I can have him. My hand closes over the flesh past the small of his back and he gasps, suddenly breaking the kiss to stare at me hard. He digs his fingers into my hair and shifts against me, making me close my eyes and breathe faster. He wants me.
"Please," he murmurs against my lips. I kiss him roughly, sink my teeth gently into the skin at his collarbone. "Axel… I want you… inside of me." The words come slowly but clearly. I'm hard and heavy against his abdomen. "I want you… to come inside," he continues, "and hold me to make me come with you." He's not looking directly at me, but his hand gripping the roots of my hair and sprawled over my spine are urgent. I want him, too.
"Roxas…" I bury my face in the bend of his neck. "We… I want you so bad… but we can't. Not now."
He sighs, but there is more relief in it, and he pushes me back down gently, sits up, and tugs at the hem of my flannel pants, then strips down himself, wrapping one hand around me and sliding himself against my inner thigh. I reach down and hold him, pulling him close and kissing him softly at first. He deepens it, and it's long and perfect. Warmth spills out between us and he settles beside me, breathing quietly before dropping back to sleep.
His head drops against my shoulder as I slip into a calm doze. Soon I won't be afraid to touch him, and at the climax I'll be more intimate with him than ever. I'll be good to him. Soon.
He leaves the next day to start a job he's picked up with the post office, delivering miscellaneous packages to the narrow streets that can only be navigated with a bike or skateboard. Then he'll be spending a day or two at Twilight Community, talking to counselors and registering for his courses. I work on passing the tests expected of me to become Lieutenant. Roxas looks pleased when I finally tell him. I remember him at ten, telling me that I could still be a fireman if I wanted.
The day before he leaves to camp out in one of the on-campus dorms for the night, I find his skateboard propped up near the back door and a pair of his pants folded and resting in one of the two empty drawers of my dresser. I don't ask him about it, of course, but while he's making sure he has all of his paperwork, he speaks:
"Dad didn't make a big deal out of it… said that at least he could sell the house now."
That surprises me. But if his dad is never around, I guess it would be unusual of him to object to Roxas coming to live with me.
"What about Sora?"
He shrugs. "I'm not telling him. But Pence isn't going to cover for me anymore."
He throws his pack over his shoulder, tells me that he'll be back the day after, and kisses me briefly, fleeting and perfect.
I spent the better part of the next two days drowning myself in paperwork and trying not to think about what day it will be when he comes back. I think of buying him a gift, but don't know what would please him more than what we both want. So I clean the house and spend most of the money I've been saving on things that I think might make him more comfortable, living here. A TV, a newer computer, more towels for the bathroom, a few extra pillows for the bed, and a bigger carton of sea salt ice cream. Lastly, I buy a bottle of Nocturne. Even though I know he disapproves of drinking, he'll be of age, and in Traverse Town, where most of my family came from, a glass was always tradition.
Despite my efforts to get all of the paperwork done, I'm home after dark. Roxas is already there, sitting on the couch, an empty glass in front of him, the TV on.
I start to wish him happy birthday, but the words stop in my throat. He gets up, turning the TV off and reaching up to kiss me. Twilight mingled with fermented grapes and raspberries surrounds him, and I realize he's had more than his one traditional glass. Judging from the bottle, it's been three, at least. Luckily there's not much alcohol in it, else I would be more worried. His leather jacket hangs in the closet, slightly ajar, and from where I stand I can see a pair of shoes that isn't mine poking out from under the bed. I pour myself a glass, but can't bring myself to drink it just yet, for some reason. I take off my jacket and drape it, along with my shirt, over the clothes rack in the bathroom. Roxas's cologne sits on the counter.
When I come out of the bathroom, just in my undershirt and pants, he's putting away some dishes he must have washed earlier. I turn off the lights in the living room and the one over the kitchen table, leaving only the one over the sink and the lamp from our room. Our room. He looks up from the sink where he's scooping up some spare coffee grains with a damp cloth, his reflection in the dark window seeing me.
He kisses me deeper and more passionately than he ever has, and I pin him again the counter, no longer afraid that I'll break him. He's mine.
"I want you, Axel. Please."
I kiss the softness of his neck. "Don't beg," I warn him. "Tell me what you want. Make me give you…"
"…Everything," he interrupts, firmly bringing his hand up the grip the highest point of my inner thigh. I gasp and pull him into a kiss again. "Go make sure the door outside the garage is locked," I manage, and he steps away reluctantly, then disappears into the short hall.
I can't remember ever feeling this excited. Forgetting the glass of crimson red Nocturne, I reach over and turn off the light over the sink. The screen door bangs softly, and I barely have time to register that Roxas couldn't have gone around to the other side of the house when it plows into me. I crash into the cabinets, and calm, even breathing reaches around me. Utensils scatter over the marble, there's a sharp sound, and then something is muttered darkly into my ear before the blade sinks into me: "Leave Roxas the fuck alone, you sick, perverted asshole." Again and again I feel dull throbbing stabs shake me, and I choke on eternity even though it can't be more than a minute in which it all happens and Sora is gone. I look down, feeling the room tilt. I put my hand over the mess of wounds, but it's no use. I'm glad, and I thank Yevon, that I can barely feel any pain, the burns having destroyed the nerve endings that would be screaming in agony now. In the dimmest light of the place I think I see my own insides spilling out between my fingers.
I stumble step toward the counter and lean against it, glad that Roxas only turns on one of the dimmer lamps in the living room. He won't be able to see the pain on my face.
"I need a drink," I say, and my voice sounds far off to me.
He looks down at his feet, and I can feel what he's thinking.
"What, you think firemen don't get nervous about this? I ask weakly.
He glances sideways nervously, anticipation flashing in the blue of his eyes. He's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
"Go on, then," I say quietly. "I'm going to have a drink and then I'll be along."
"I think… I think I'm going to take a shower," he says. It breaks my heart as I imagine him, clean and smelling of Twilight in my sheets, wanting to be clean so that only I can touch him from now on. I nod, and then the pain really starts to come. "I want you so bad," I whisper, and he looks at me. I worry that he'll come over now, but he glances sideways again. My last look of him.
"I love you," I say, fighting to keep the words even and strong.
He starts to turn away, but then he locks his gaze firmly on me. The fierce blue shatters the dim light.
"I love you, too, Axel."
Eighteen years old at last, and then he's gone. I wait to hear the shower turn on and then pull my hand away from my stomach, carefully sinking to the floor. My hand is dark with blood.
Fade to Black