Title: Reckless and Impulsive
Genre: Kingdom Hearts, general/romance, next life/AU
Word Count: 14,886
Summary: Roxas just wanted a simple and convenient way to die. What he got was Axel.
Note: This story was inspired by a comment aeternitasbeach (at LJ) made when reviewing Deae Ex Machina, and my wonderful beta as always was crystal-queer (at LJ). The magazine article that Axel is reading at one point is here: http// www. newyorker. com/ archive/ 2003/ 10/ 13/ 031013fafact
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As he climbed the last few steps and grabbed the door handle, Roxas glanced down at his watch; the sleek black one Sora had given him for his last birthday, with the checkers on the band. It could survive underwater up to depths of one hundred fifty meters; he wondered if it could survive a fall of one hundred fifty feet. The time switched over as he looked at it, 00:12 to 00:13. As good a time to die as any, he thought, and he braced his weight to force the handle and push open the thick metal door to the roof.
The door wasn't quite right in its hinges and the bottom scraped on the uneven flagstone roof as it opened, the sound causing Roxas to cringe. The sound also alerted the other person on the roof to Roxas's presence, and the blond stopped in his tracks, staggering back a step as he realized that he wasn't alone. He stared for a long moment at the other man.
The first thing was the hair, blinding red and pulled back in a messy ponytail at the nape of his neck. The second thing was the eyes, bright green behind black-rimmed glasses. Oh, and also the fact that he was sitting on the low wall edging the roof; the thing was stepped up and down, like the parapet of some kind of fucking rent-controlled slate castle, and he was bracing himself on one of the higher parts with one hand as his legs hung over the edge of what Roxas knew to be a straight drop to the street.
"Who the hell are you?" Roxas exclaimed, feeling indignation rising up within him as though he had a reservation here or something.
The stranger raised a thin eyebrow, taking a long drag off the cigarette in his free hand. Roxas watched the smoke whisked away by the light, warm breeze. "The name's Axel," he said, looking the newcomer up and down. Suddenly Roxas felt as though his t-shirt and cargo pants might as well have been nothing at all, and inexplicably he blushed. A couple of seconds passed and then the redhead added, "Don't bother to memorize it."
Roxas had been about to say something, but he froze with his mouth half open. Something about that request threw him completely, knocking him mentally off-balance. "…What? Why not?"
He waved the cigarette, sending some ash flying into the breeze after the smoke. "Because I'm going to die in a few minutes, after I finish this."
"You're… what?" Roxas took a few steps toward the man, who'd turned back to looking out over the cityscape dropping down the hill the building was perched on, down toward the skyscrapers of the city center. It was a beautiful view, one that Roxas didn't have. He lived, or rather had lived, on the cheap side of the building, between the male stripper and the evil genius grad student on the one side and the penniless sitar player and jobless beach bum on the other. Miserable.
After those few steps he hesitated, however, eyes moving off of Axel and down to the precipice he was perched on. He swallowed heavily.
"I'll be dead after I finish this cigarette," Axel reiterated. He tapped the little paper cylinder with his thumb, watching the ash flow away as if trying to gauge just how long he had left. "Why else would I be sitting on the roof of a building I don't live in?"
"How would I know that you don't live here?"
"Do you live here?"
"Then you should know who lives here." Axel turned to look at Roxas again, out of the corner of catlike eyes, and he smirked slightly and licked his lips, suddenly seeming almost as feline as human. "What's a boy like you doing on a roof like this at this time of night?"
Roxas sighed slightly and glanced off to the side as he pursed his lips, eyes catching on the full moon. It seemed as though it were taunting him. For fuck's sake, I should've been dead by now. "I'm here to jump."
Axel looked at him in seeming surprise for a split second, but then he covered it gracefully with a grin that slowly spread across his face, starting with his eyes. He lifted one leg back onto the parapet so that he could twist his body to get a better look at Roxas. It was then that Roxas noticed that underneath his black blazer Axel was wearing a band t-shirt. Fall Out Boy. Roxas nearly had to laugh, but he held back. He was pretty sure the maniac had picked the shirt out on purpose – possibly even bought it for the occasion – and he wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of pandering to his terrible sense of humor.
Another one of those searching looks that lingered up and down Roxas's body, causing his stomach to feel like it were about to curl in on itself and his ears to heat up. One of Axel's eyebrows quirked and he tilted his head away from Roxas as he said, "C'mere." He stuck the cigarette in his mouth and held it a little awkwardly between his lips as he reached out both hands to beckon Roxas.
Afterwards, Roxas would never understand why he let Axel do what he did, except maybe that he was planning on being dead as soon as he got rid of the troublesome redhead, so it didn't really matter what he did until then. He took a deep breath and stepped towards the other man, first one foot, then the other, having to force each movement. He lingered back as far as Axel would let him until he stopped gesturing for Roxas to get closer, and when Axel finally let him stop he closed his eyes and focused on breathing.
In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.
Then suddenly he felt Axel's hand in his back pocket.
In! In! In!
Roxas's eyes flew open again and he looked down to find that Axel had taken his wallet. It was still attached to Roxas's belt by a chain, but the freak had snapped it open and was flipping through it like it were a miniature porno mag in which he was trying to find the articles. "Hn," he said around his cigarette, and then he took it out of his mouth. He appeared to find at that point that he couldn't hold it, speak, and go through Roxas's wallet at the same time, so he ground out the butt on the stone next to him and tossed it away.
Then he returned to going through Roxas's personal possessions and Roxas just stood there dumbstruck and let him. "Debit, credit, state ID… what, you don't drive? Blockbuster, library… this GameStop card is expired, babe." Roxas bristled and opened his mouth to tell Axel to call him by his name, since by now he'd obviously seen it about half a dozen times, but the idiot just kept going.
"Frequent smoothies, huh? Insurance, insurance—ooh, student ID? We go to the same school, Blondie, or, well, went I suppose... Oh, hey, blood donor!" Axel gave him an excited look – Roxas couldn't even tell if he was faking it or not – but then the expression faded as he took another look at Roxas himself. "Do you even have a pint of blood in there?"
It took Roxas a moment to realize that this was a shot at his height, and when he did he yanked the wallet back by its chain and stuffed it into his pocket. "I don't care how you do it, but would you get the fuck off of my roof so I can get on with this?"
Axel grinned and clicked his tongue, shaking his head as he adjusted his posture back to the way it had been when Roxas first came up to the roof. "No reason we can't do it together, uh… er, well, you haven't formally introduced yourself yet, have you?"
Roxas flailed one hand. What the hell was with this guy? "You just looked through every form of identification I own!"
"I wanna hear you say it," Axel said simply. He seemed to need something to do with his fingers now that his cigarette had been abandoned, and he'd produced a lighter from his pocket. It was a Zippo, Roxas saw. Checkered. Axel began flipping it open and closed, not even bothering to light it, just starting a leisurely little rhythm with the metallic clicks.
Unsure of why he did, the irritated blond replied, "Roxas. My name is Roxas." And then he kicked himself; why was he even having this conversation? He should have just left. Preferably via a brief freefall.
"Well, then, Roxas." Axel sounded like he enjoyed saying Roxas's name for some reason, as though he was carefully savoring each individual sound as it passed his lips. "Since we're both headed the same way, c'mere." He turned and patted the spot next to him on the parapet.
"Hey! I never said I would jump with you!" Roxas exclaimed, stepping back a bit. "You have your jump and I'll have mine, all right? I'm not gonna be caught dead lying on the pavement next to some skinny freak of nature."
Axel laughed at that, leaning forward a bit. For a split second, Roxas thought he was going to go over the edge, and when the redhead had sat back again, Roxas's heart was left pounding against his sternum for a reason he couldn't pinpoint. Startled, that was all. Nevertheless, the sound of Axel's laugh seemed to endear this unwanted acquaintance to him a bit more. "No, we don't have to jump right this minute," Axel said, shaking his head and grinning at Roxas. "Just come sit down."
Even in the dim ambient light of the city, Axel seemed to be able to tell that all the blood had just drained from Roxas's face. He cocked his head slightly, jaw setting a little more firmly with concern. "You're not getting cold feet, are you?"
Roxas quickly shook his head, taking on a slight pout. "No. I'm afraid of heights."
There was that grin again. Axel sure seemed like a happy guy for someone who was planning on dying in a few minutes – a few minutes that had probably already passed, along with the cigarette that marked them, but whatever. "So am I. 'M also afraid of lung cancer, but I took up smoking when I decided I was going to die."
"When was that?" Roxas asked, his voice getting a bit quieter.
"I… me too, actually."
"See, that's the spirit. Heights are scary, but I'm planning on jumping and so are you. So what do you have to be afraid of?" He shifted slightly and held his hand out toward Roxas, slim fingers curled just slightly, invitingly. Roxas stared at them for a moment, then let his gaze wander up that arm to the face looking at him expectantly. "Come on, if you don't wanna fall, you won't fall. I won't let you. I promise."
Furrowing his eyebrows, Roxas thought about it for a second. He'd woken this morning – yesterday morning, technically – and known, just known, that tonight was the night for him to go up to the roof. He'd been thinking about it for weeks, thinking about hitting the top floor and then the bottom floor in quick succession, and then today had come and it was time. He was going to come up, close the door, and then run for the edge and fling himself off without a second thought.
Then he'd be found on the pavement below, maybe on the sidewalk but probably on the street, unless he botched the takeoff. His limbs would be bent at odd angles like a life-size marionette, and blood would be seeping from his mouth. Maybe his shoes would fly off – he'd heard about shoes flying off upon various impacts. He'd never have admitted to it, but he'd tied his sneakers extra-tight when he left the apartment. Not that it would matter to him when it happened, but he didn't really want to lose his favorite Chucks, the ones with the flames on the side. He was a little attached to them.
Yeah, he'd seen enough episodes of Law & Order to know what awaited him at the bottom, and that was what he wanted. He didn't want a conversation with this random moron on the roof. Nevertheless, he reached out and took Axel's hand, gripping it tightly as he slowly walked the few steps over to the edge. When he looked down he swore he was going to throw up. "I swear I'm going to throw up."
"Don't look down yet," Axel said quickly. "Sit down on the edge and then you can swing your legs around, and that's all there is to it. I'm right here."
Tell him to fuck off! half of Roxas's brain insisted. Tell him to go take a long walk off a short pier and leave this roof for more deserving people!
Don't look like even more of a chickenshit in front of this guy than you already do, the other half said gravely. Roxas was in no position for logic or reasoning, but the second part sounded more authoritative, so he took its advice. He slowly sat down, squeezing Axel's hand so hard that his knuckles were white and Axel's fingers were turning red, but the other man just squeezed back. He quickly reached out his free hand to grip the rough-hewn stone of the building where the parapet rose up again.
Battlement, Roxas thought to himself. That's what this thing is called. What a stupid way to build an apartment block. Battlements, pff. Who even knows that? Oh, yeah, Riku told me the name, the goddamn know-it-all. There's one person I won't miss, definitely not, and that's a good thing because I'm going to die soon. Riku, the stupid idiot, with his stupid hair…
By the time Roxas ran out of harried, nerve-ridden half-nonsense to talk to himself about, he realized that he'd actually made it over the wall and that his legs were hanging there fifteen stories above the ground. His hands both tightened, one on the abrasive granite and the other on Axel's surprisingly soft palm. He looked down, was sure he was going to have a heart attack, and then quickly moved his eyes off of that and onto the only other thing there was to look at.
Axel's grin had, surprisingly, morphed into what looked like a genuine smile. "Not so bad, huh?"
Roxas was pretty sure that he was probably turning a pallid shade of green right now, and the fact that Axel wasn't laughing at him for it made him feel quite a bit calmer, or at least more at ease with his companion. "I… guess not…"
Axel nodded, looking back out at the city, but Roxas just kept looking at Axel. Axel didn't let go of his hand. Roxas wanted to ask why, or to pull his away, because he felt stupid sitting here holding hands with a stranger, but he reminded himself that he was about to die anyway so he might as well just let it happen. They were both silent for a moment, and then Axel said, "Now this is nice. I'm glad I get to spend some time with you before we bite it."
Roxas's eyes widened. "What? Why?"
Axel looked over at him. "Why what?" His grin got a little goofy, presumably at the reversal of the words.
Narrowing his eyes slightly, Roxas just shook his head and sighed. Everything in his life and all aspects of this situation had become one big why all of a sudden. "Why did you choose this building? You don't even live here."
"Ah, but my apartment block is only five stories high. I might've survived." He tapped his nose, making Roxas nervous at the fact that he'd let go of the wall to do it, and Roxas looked away to try to ignore that fact. "I picked this building for the height, and the sheer drop, and the view. The view has turned out to be even nicer than I'd anticipated. Hence why I haven't killed myself yet."
Roxas's gaze shot back over to Axel, his heart beating a bit faster than it already had been, but the redhead was just looking back out over the cityscape. He swallowed, examining his profile for a moment – the slim, delicate features delineated by the soft white-yellow artificial lights. "So how the hell did you get up here, anyway?"
Axel glanced back over at him, having to turn his head slightly to do so through his glasses. "What is this, twenty questions for twenty stories?"
"This building only has fifteen stories."
A wave of Axel's other hand and Roxas's heart stopped beating for a moment. His fingers tightened again and Axel seemed to realize how nervous he was making him, because his hand went back to the wall next to him. "Tch. If you must know, I can pick locks."
Roxas huffed and trained his eyes on the skyline once more. He unfocused his vision slightly, and suddenly it seemed as though the world had flipped upside-down, with the vast plane of stars below him and the almost black reddish hue of the earth above. That was what the city did, it disrupted the natural order. He'd always wanted to get out of this fucking place, and now he was going to. He was going to drop into that starscape and leave all of this shit behind. Maybe he could even hold Axel's hand and take him with; Axel wasn't so bad after all. It might be nice to have a little company.
"Do you realize that if we were to jump right here where we are, we'd land on the sidewalk directly in front of the twenty-four hour Starbucks?" Roxas's vision snapped back into focus and his eyes narrowed and lip curled just slightly as he looked over to Axel. The redhead was peering down at the ground, the updraft blowing back the locks of hair that had escaped his ponytail. Maybe it would be better to go without him.
"Is that so," Roxas muttered.
Axel paid him absolutely no mind. "Huge plate glass windows. There's a perky barista there right now who works the graveyard shift, and if there aren't a lot of customers she'll show you her ninja skills while she makes your drink. If we were to scoot forward right now, she would probably never do that for anyone ever again. She'd probably quit there and always avoid walking down the 1300 block of 8th for the rest of her life, and sometimes she'd wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night remembering the sound and the sight of our bodies smashing into that concrete at fifty-three meters per second."
Roxas sighed heavily. There was probably a very good point in there, but he didn't care. "We're not high enough to reach terminal velocity."
"We might get close to that if we dove headfirst."
Another sigh. "Possibly."
"Do you think it would matter to the barista?"
Shaking his head a bit, Roxas leaned his head on the wall next to him and went back to staring out at the city. His heart rate was getting more or less back to normal now and he was able to become more aware of the quiet breeze blowing in and the warm, rough rock under and against him and the soft heat of Axel's hand where they were more resting together rather than clutching each other now. He closed his eyes and let his breaths become deep and long, the way he had in the stairwell before he opened the door on this ridiculous situation.
Before he knew quite what he was doing, he murmured, "We could die in so many ways, but I want this one. I have dreams where I'm running up a wall like this. The same dream, over and over, every month almost. I hate that fucking dream. I want to go down instead."
"Yeah, but if you go down you die at the end. Do you die at the end in the dream?" Axel's voice was so casual, almost disinterested, but now that he had his eyes closed Roxas could hear the soft tones underneath, and a hint of something else.
Roxas's mouth quirked back in a slightly sardonic little smile. "At the end of the building, no. At the end of the dream… in a way. The difference is that at the end of the dream, the fucking dream doesn't go away. At the end of this wall, it does."
He could feel Axel's hand tighten slightly and hear him release a long breath. "I don't know why I picked this way, really. No particular reason; it just seemed like a good way to go. Easy. Instantaneous." He paused for a long moment and then added, his voice not really taking on a joking air, "I thought about self-immolation, like one of those Buddhist monks. But I didn't have anything in particular to die for."
Opening his eyes again, Roxas looked over at the redhead. He couldn't help but smile. "You're a fucking idiot, you know that?"
"I've heard that said, yes," Axel replied, returning Roxas's gaze. He smiled, and they just mirrored each other's expression for a long moment, and then Axel said, "Let's go to Starbucks."
Roxas's smile faded. "Hey, I still never said we could jump together. I thought for a second maybe I'd let you come with me, but you ruined that one by opening your big mouth again."
"No, not like that. Let's take the stairs. I want a frappuccino when I get there."
Thoughts stopping dead in their tracks for a moment, Roxas shook his head, giving the taller man a disbelieving look. "What the hell, Axel? I came up here to die, and I'm not gonna give up that goal just because you've suddenly got a hard-on for orange mocha!"
"It's not orange mocha I've got a hard-on for."
"What? What the hell are you trying—"
"Green tea. I'm not a huge fan of oranges. Too sweet."
Roxas thought about slamming his head against the battlement. It was so close, he could probably get a really good hit, right on his forehead. But then again, if he did he might knock himself out and fall backwards and then Axel might be an asshole and call an ambulance for him before he jumped alone like the selfish prick he probably was and Roxas would end up in the hospital, maybe even on suicide watch, and it would be days, even weeks before he could get another chance to die. "Fine. You don't have to come with me; go drink your goddamned green tea frappuccino. I'm gonna kill myself now."
"Come on, Roxas, don't be like that. We have all the time in the world to die. We can go get Starbucks now and then come right back up here and jump off the roof, but we can't jump off the roof now and go get Starbucks later. You see where I'm coming from?"
"Are you chickening out?" Roxas asked warily.
"No, I've just rearranged my priorities," Axel said matter-of-factly. "I wanna die, but right now I wanna go have frappuccino with you just a little bit more than I wanna die. I'm very in tune with my own needs."
"Obviously," Roxas muttered. He sighed and closed his eyes, despite himself trying get in tune with his own needs. What a stupid fucking concept. Let's just jump. "Look, I'm serious about this. I came up here to die, and I'm going to do it."
"I'm serious about this too," Axel said, his voice getting a little softer as he squeezed Roxas's fingers with his own, very gently. "Might not seem like it, but I am. I didn't come up here to ruin your night; I came up here to kill myself. My reasons for wanting to haven't changed, you know."
Roxas shook his head, closing his eyes and setting his jaw. "I'm ready to do this now. I'm here; why shouldn't I?"
"Because I want to get to know you a little first. It's a shame that we just met and now we're gonna end it less than fifteen minutes later; I mean, you just showed up to kill yourself in the same way at the same time and same place as I did. I want to talk awhile, and then I want to die. How's that sound?"
Roxas sighed and peered over at Axel from the corner of his eye. "Seriously?"
Axel nodded. "Yeah. We'll have a suicide pact. We'll come back up here and jump together, all right? If you want I'll put a note in my jacket pocket that says that you're not really with me."
"Hn." Roxas looked out at the city for a moment and then shrugged. So Axel wanted to jump, but he wanted to wait. Did Roxas want to do the same? He was surprised that the answer came to him immediately, and it was yes. He really did. "Fine."
Axel grinned at him and let go of Roxas's hand suddenly so that he could push himself back and off the ledge, falling onto his back before getting up. As soon as that comforting hand was gone, Roxas's heart was pounding and he was back to being even paler than Axel was naturally, but before he could start hyperventilating or have a massive coronary, Axel's arms had swept under his own and pulled him back onto the roof itself. Roxas was trembling when Axel set him down; he clutched at the other man's forearms for a moment before he realized what he was doing and how pathetic it must have seemed, and he quickly stepped back.
The taller man stuck his hands in his jean pockets as he watched Roxas recover from the sudden resurfacing of that fear, lips quirked in a slight smile. "See? You're fine. You're fine and I'm fine. I'd say we're both in much better condition than we'd planned on being right now."
Roxas's eyelids dropped and he clenched his jaw for a moment. "That depends entirely on your definition of better."
There was that stupid grin again; Roxas suddenly wanted to wipe it off of Axel's face, but the idiot was moving over to the door and pulling it open, holding it for Roxas. Roxas took a deep breath and stepped past him; Axel let the heavy door clang shut and followed him into the stairwell. "I'm glad we're doing this. This is nice," he said. "But I'm beginning to wish I didn't use the last of my cash to bribe the janitor into letting me up here."
That nearly caused Roxas to trip down the stairs as his head shot around to look at Axel. "You said you picked the lock!"
Axel laughed as though that was the most ridiculous idea he'd ever heard. "Hell no, I can't pick locks, Blondie. How the hell did you get through that door, anyway? They in the habit of giving that key to the tenants?"
Roxas rolled his eyes and started off down the stairs again. "I've lived here long enough to know that to open the roof door all you have to do is yank the handle up and push."
There was a long moment of silence from behind him, and then Axel said, "Well, now I really wish I didn't use all my cash to bribe the janitor."
Axel had been absolutely right about the barista. Here it was well past midnight and she seemed to have all the energy of a nuclear meltdown; they were the only ones in the place when they arrived, and she was thrilled to have someone to show off her skills to.
Her so-called ninja skills, it turned out, involved a lot of throwing about off cups and tossing bottles of ingredients into the air and catching them in interesting ways. Roxas pointed out that, while impressive, this was more tepanyaki and less shinobi, and that was when the girl whose nametag read Yuffie jumped up onto the counter and frightened the everliving shit out of him by doing a roundhouse kick that nearly destroyed the display of overpriced flavored coffee beans nearby.
It was only then that Axel informed Roxas that Yuffie was, in fact, a black belt. Yuffie put her hands on her hips and gave them both a broad smirk, then hopped down off the counter and went back to work, looking very satisfied with herself as she caught a can of whipped cream behind her back and used it to top off Axel's green tea frappuccino. "So what're you guys doing out so late, Ax?" she asked as she did. "Date?"
"Nothing that utterly riveting," Axel replied, leaning on the counter and firing half the wrapper of his straw at the girl. "We just met, and now we're distracting each other for a while." He accompanied this with a grin that Roxas saw as throwing the meaning of the statement way off, and he narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to tell Axel to take his coffee and shove it because he wasn't even supposed to be alive, much less here, right now. But then Axel added, "Besides, Yuffie, you know you're the only one for me."
Roxas watched as Axel reached out and caught Yuffie's hand between his own, pulling it over like he was going to kiss her knuckles, but then she tugged it up and flicked his nose in one smooth motion. "You got a sister, Axel?" she asked as she went back to finishing up Roxas's triple shot.
"A varied selection for your perusal, actually," Axel said, reaching over and grabbing his frappuccino before Yuffie could hand it to him. Yuffie turned to hand Roxas his espresso, giving him a broad, friendly smile as she did. Roxas found it difficult to return the expression with anything that even remotely resembled sincerity, and he didn't meet either of their eyes as he took his cup and turned to head for a seat by the window.
The chairs he found there were overstuffed, dark green velvety affairs that looked so inviting it was likely that a lot of people who didn't even want coffee came in and bought some just so that they could sit and relax in them for a while. Roxas felt as though he sank about half a foot into the bottom and back when he sat down, his small frame looking even tinier folded up in the armchair. The chair was an on angle, and he scooted it over a bit so that he could set his feet up on the low radiator under the windows. Huge and plate glass, just like Axel had said.
"Nice shoes." Roxas looked up, slightly startled, as Axel took the seat across from him. Whereas the chair Roxas was in was getting ready to swallow him, Axel seemed to casually show the furniture just who was boss, splaying out on an angle with his arms draped over the back and side, one foot curled up under him and the other thrown over the opposite arm of the chair. He lifted his straw to his lips, tongue darting out to catch it, and gave Roxas a long look.
Roxas just scowled slightly; he was a little peeved with Axel all of a sudden – really irritated, not just putting up annoyance because the idiot had the audacity to stop him from dying – though he didn't consider exactly why. He looked down at the shoes Axel was referring to, the black hi-tops with the flames on the sides. They were dirty and had scuff marks all over the white rubber, and the tongue on one of them had red spots from where he'd had a laundry mishap involving bleach. They both had holes in the canvas along the soles and torn shoelaces that had been tied back together. They were not nice shoes.
"They make it look like you're going really fast," Axel said. Roxas forced a frown to cover a smile that he didn't want, then took a sip of his coffee and stared adamantly at the nearly deserted street outside.
"You're a moron," he said matter-of-factly. He was a little annoyed to find that even though he was glaring out the window to avoid looking at Axel, he could still see the other man reflected in the glass. He watched him with rather dark eyes for a minute as Axel took a few long sips of his drink, and then his companion's eyes flickered over and suddenly their gazes met in the reflection. Roxas expected to feel even more irritated about that, but he actually relaxed slightly. He cast his eyes down again at his own coffee.
"So, you still wanna do it here?" He blinked and then looked up at Axel, who returned the stare for a moment before tilting his head to indicate the sidewalk outside. Clarity dawned on Roxas, and then his expression darkened slightly as he glanced over at Yuffie, who'd put on a pair of headphones and was bopping behind the counter to some unheard, manic beat as she cleaned her workstations.
He'd barely met her, but he was quite sure that Yuffie was a sweet girl. She was entertaining, eager to please, and genuinely friendly. She was cute and likeable. She'd charged them both for talls and given them ventis. That was why Roxas was a little surprised with himself when the thought occurred to him that he didn't need to die in front of the Starbucks; Yuffie didn't have to see it happen to find out that Axel had gone and jumped off a roof with the mysterious blond kid.
Damn it; why the hell was he thinking like that? Axel was a stranger, and an annoying, meddling one at that. Yuffie apparently didn't even like men. And most importantly, very soon neither Roxas nor Axel would even be alive. Roxas's neglected libido very rarely reared its head, and he internally reminded said libido that it would shortly be nonexistent, and that it was pathetic of it to give even a second thought to some walking dead man just because the jerk apparently flirted with every bipedal organism that crossed his path.
"We don't have to jump here," Roxas said, turning his head again to occupy himself once more with the coffee and the intermittent activity outside the window. He expected Axel to say something to that, to keep running his mouth off like he apparently loved to, but the redhead remained quiet, the only sound the occasional unobtrusive scratching of his straw against the inside of his cup.
Despite himself, Roxas found the silence comfortable, even soothing. He stared out at the pavement as he'd done from his own window dozens of times, letting himself imagine the sudden release it would provide. Roxas didn't have a religion, didn't even want one, but he somehow knew there would be something there after he went. Nonetheless, he hadn't put a lot of thought into where he'd be going, who would be waiting for him, or what it would be like when he got there; he liked to dwell on the moment of impact, the fresh start.
He couldn't be sure that things would change after he died. It was entirely possible, he had to admit, that he would feel exactly the same the moment after impact as he would the moment before. But that wasn't what dying was about for him. It was about new beginnings; when he finally got to that fatal collision with the ground, everything would change. His body would bend and break, and then it would be picked up and pieced back together before being placed neatly in a box or a furnace and reduced to its components. The rest of him, well… that would be somewhere else, in some other state.
Hopefully in that place and that condition, he'd figure out what was the matter with him.
"Hey," he heard himself saying. "Is there, um… anything you wish you'd done?" Immediately after he said it, he realized that it was probably a really stupid topic of conversation, and also that he'd been extremely vague. But Axel seemed to pick up on what he meant immediately.
"Huh. Yeah, actually." Axel looked up at Roxas at the same time that Roxas looked over at him, and he shifted his weight in his seat. "There's a mountain in China, Hua Shan, one of those kind that you see in all those old tapestries that's like ninety-five percent cliffs. It's one of the five sacred mountains, so there are all these temples built on it, but to get to them you have to climb like five thousand some steps, and there are parts where you've gotta walk along these planks stuck along sheer cliff faces. Just looking at pictures of it is like the worst vertigo you can imagine.
"I wanted to climb it. I thought about saving up my money and getting a one-way ticket to China and then jumping from there, but… it's a sacred mountain. I can't kill myself on a sacred mountain. Besides, if I were to climb that thing it might reaffirm my will to live." Here Axel's grin became a little darker, and Roxas found himself laughing softly and shaking his head.
"I guess you think a little bigger than I do," he said, tipping his cup back and forth and feeling the remaining liquid slosh around inside.
Roxas sighed, unsure of why he was even telling this to Axel. "I never really had a dream like that. The one thing I always wanted to do was get married."
That seemed to take Axel off guard a bit; his eyebrows shot up and he asked, "A wife, two kids, and a white picket fence, huh? I wouldn't have pegged you for the type."
Snorting slightly at the suggestion and the mental images it put into his mind, Roxas shook his head. "No, not like that. The kids and the fence are negotiable, but no wife. None of that matters anyway; I guess I just always had these stupid romantic ideas. My oldest brother, he was really messed up for a long time. Not like partying or drugs or stuff like that, but he just… he was never happy, and he didn't seem to have any idea of why he wasn't.
"Then he met this guy, and they were like… exactly the same. Everyone could see it. They were both so quiet and aloof and they had everything in common, and I think they're still the only ones who really get each other. But I'd never seen my brother really happy before. They ran off and got married, and our mom was pissed at the time but at least now he finally seems like he's comfortable in his own skin."
"And that's what you wanted?" Axel asked, curling his arm up under his head on the back of his seat and giving Roxas a long look. "To find someone who fits you?"
Roxas shrugged and cast his eyes down at his hands, gaze following the punctuated curve of his knuckles around the line of the coffee cup. "It just made me really want to find out what that was like, having someone who understood me like that, and understanding someone else the same way. Of all the things I could do before dying, that one seems like the one I'd like most." He sighed through his nose and added, "But I don't think it's gonna happen, and it's not worth sticking around to wait for, you know?"
"Neither is Hua Shan."
They were both absolutely right, Roxas considered; there was nothing to wait for, and that was what he reminded himself of when he still wasn't dead nine hours later. It was a cliché that he'd never experienced, waking up in the morning to find himself asleep next to some handsome stranger and having no recollection of how he'd gotten there. And right now he was doing it wrong.
Firstly, he could recall every detail of the previous night quite vividly, from the time he left his apartment to go upstairs to the time that he fell asleep. The one thing that he couldn't recall, that he might not have even known in the first place, was why things had panned out that way at all. Secondly, yes, he and Axel were waking up next to each other. Roxas was curled up with his head on one arm of his sofa, and Axel was mirroring him at the other end. They were clothed. They weren't even touching.
It was all wrong in the narrative sense, and it was even more wrong in the sense of Roxas's own actual life. When he and Axel had left Starbucks and gone back inside to get on the elevator, that had been the first step in repairing Roxas's thoroughly broken suicide plan, in turning their little jaunt downstairs to the coffee shop from a wrench in the works to a minor delay. But then Roxas had fucked it up again, by pressing eight instead of fifteen. Why had he done that? There was nothing worth waiting for.
But he'd done it anyway, he'd brought Axel home. He remembered thinking at the time that he was just too tired to jump right then, that he needed time to regroup. So he'd waited, and what he'd got had been a night sitting on the couch next to Axel watching the Home Shopping Network. Axel had really gotten into it, raving over each technicolor tracksuit and embroidered seasonal sweater in an overblown North Dakotan accent, periodically imploring Roxas to hurry up and give him his credit card because those darling rhinestone overalls would bring out his eyes so well and they only had two hundred nine units of the blue style left.
Roxas had laughed and tried to stay up as long as possible, until either the channel ran out of offensively inoffensive apparel for the next PTA meeting or Axel ran out of energy and wit; but at last he'd drifted off, and apparently so had Axel. When he awoke, the sun had come up, but the TV was still trying to sell him things and the man whose last name he didn't even know was still there next to him. He sat up slowly and stiffly, uncurling his legs and stretching his shoulders.
Axel didn't stir; Roxas watched him for a minute. At some point he'd taken off his glasses and pulled his hair out of its tie and left them on the coffee table. He looked different without them, much younger and much prettier, even if he was still too odd and angular to be called beautiful. And he looked peaceful, like a man who had absolutely no reason not to go on living. Finally Roxas shook his head and got up off the couch. The hall and the bathroom were on his left; the front door and the stairs to the roof on his right. He went to take a shower.
When he came back out, t-shirt clinging to his skin with the moist, hot air of the bathroom and damp hair regaining its natural wildness as he ran his fingers through it, Roxas realized that Axel was no longer on the sofa. He looked around, unable to see or hear any sign of the other man anywhere in the small apartment. His heart stopped for a moment and then resumed its beating at double pace as he heard his blood rushing in his ears.
Suddenly he felt more alone than he ever had in his life. He'd always been surrounded by people who loved him, his brothers and parents and friends, and he'd always felt deep down inside as though he had no one at all. But now the feeling was worse; now not only was he alone, but the random acquaintance he was supposed to end this life with was gone without a word. Roxas had been abandoned, and as soon as that thought hit him he felt a pricking at the backs of his eyes.
Fuck, how pathetic could he get? On the verge of crying over something so stupid so close to the end of it all. Nothing had changed. Things were exactly the same as they'd been yesterday, his life reduced to the same basic components: Roxas, the rooftop, and a plan. Simple. Clean. Axel had done nothing but mess it up in the first place, and it wasn't like he couldn't do this without him. He'd been planning on it last night; he'd been prepared, he'd been right there. He didn't need someone to hold his hand through it all.
And then there was a low rumbling as the balcony door slid open, and the plain white curtains were pushed aside so that Axel could come back in. He re-entered the living room, bringing a flow of warm air and the smell of smoke with him, and as he slid a half a pack of cigarettes into the pocket of his blazer he noticed Roxas and grinned. "Morning."
Roxas wanted to collapse onto the couch and get his bearings back, or else lash out and deck Axel one across the face for scaring him like that, but instead he just ducked his head to hide the way he was blinking back the tears that had been on the verge of spilling and went into the kitchen. "I'm making breakfast," he said stiffly.
"I'm helping," Axel added quickly, and Roxas found himself unable to argue. Axel was a much better cook than Roxas was, it turned out. When Roxas said breakfast, he meant cereal and Pop Tarts. When Axel said breakfast, he meant eggs and sausage and toast and fried potatoes. When Roxas said make breakfast, he meant go into the kitchen and put some food on some dishes and bring them out to the dining room. When Axel said make breakfast, he meant go into the kitchen and sing and dance while he cooked in a way that meandered along the border of turning the entire room into a culinary disaster area.
Axel wasn't a very good singer; his voice had no particularly great qualities to it and he had a range that severely limited his song selections. Roxas was much better, and Axel told him that he could be colored impressed right before he addressed Roxas as a castrato, earning him a spatula across the back of the head. Axel protested loudly, but he dropped the affronted act when Roxas picked some potato out of the skillet and praised his cooking, and that was when Axel pointed out that he could cook a lot more than breakfast, but they'd have to go to the grocery store.
It wasn't until that night that the day caught up with Roxas. They had indeed ended up going to the grocery store, walking since neither of them owned a car, but halfway there Axel had pointed out that if he stayed in the clothes he was wearing much longer he was going to start to offend people. So he'd dragged Roxas onto a bus and a the couple of miles to his apartment, where he told his companion to "knock himself out" – doing what, he didn't specify – while he showered and stuffed some provisions, as he called it, in a worn out black backpack held together with what appeared to be nothing more than safety pins and sheer willpower.
And then they'd come back from the store, arms totally full and sore from carrying back enough food for several days at least. Roxas had stared at the fridge after putting most of the purchases away, just standing there with the door hanging open and wondering why the hell they'd filled the cart like that when they were going to be jumping off a roof and obviously would not be able to eat it all first. Then Axel had beaned him in the head with a roll of paper towel and told him to stop wasting electricity because he wasn't going halves on that like he had on the groceries.
After that, Axel had cooked him lunch, and when one of the stoners from the unit next door – the sitarist, from the jargon – showed up to ask to borrow a third of a cup of vegetable oil (brownie mix prerequisite, Roxas realized with an internal groan), Axel answered the door and ended up feeding him a half hour of heavily-accented story about how he was Roxas's penpal from Barcelona and that was why nobody'd ever seen him around the building before.
Roxas spent the entire exchange listening from the couch in the living room, and when Axel finally handed over the oil and came out of the kitchen, Roxas told him that next time he made him sit through something like that he was going to kick his scrawny ass, and also that he was lucky the neighbors weren't smart enough to know that Castilians were supposed to speak with a lisp. So Axel had lisped for most of the rest of the afternoon just to spite him.
After dinner, Roxas and Axel found themselves curled up on the couch once more, at opposite ends so that their feet kept bumping against each other. There was a war movie on TV, some old black and white flick with John Wayne that they only managed to catch the last two hours of, and as Roxas watched the men on the screen shot down on the beach in that particular sort of grisly, optimistic manner characteristic of the mid-century, it really hit him that he'd wasted a whole day living. It wasn't too late, of course; it was never too late. He lifted his head off his arm to turn and ask Axel if he wanted to head upstairs now, but the redhead had picked up the remote and brought up the guide at the bottom of the screen.
There was a Steve McQueen movie on after the John Wayne one. A little procrastination never hurt anyone.
The next afternoon, one of Roxas's brothers called him; Sora was out of town visiting Riku's family (Roxas hadn't met them, but he wondered if they were all as insufferable as Riku himself was), and Roxas shut himself in his bedroom rather than risk having Axel lean in and start moaning in the receiver the way he had when Roxas's mother had called earlier. She'd seemed almost disappointed when he'd explained that it was a friend dicking around and not a sign that Roxas was finally starting to take a romantic interest in someone.
Sora and Roxas always talked for a long time when they called each other, generally about the stupid little shit that was going on in their lives. It was hard for Roxas; Sora was telling him all these ridiculous stories about Riku's family's farm, half of which he was quite sure that someone, Sora or otherwise, had made up – there was no way a sheep could forget it was in labor halfway through giving birth, nothing was that stupid.
But Roxas couldn't really talk about anything that he'd done in the couple of days since they'd last spoken, at least not honestly. Explaining that he hadn't watched the Home Shopping Network alone for two hours would necessitate explaining whom he'd watched it with, which would in turn mean that he had to explain how he'd picked up a new friend since Sora left at the beginning of the week, and that was something Roxas just couldn't do. So he told Sora about two lonely days that had been some of the most boring of his entire life, two days that he hadn't actually lived, and when he got off the phone he found something else that he couldn't tell Sora about waiting in the living room.
Roxas froze in the doorway when he came out of the hall, catching himself on the wall and drawing a deep breath that he held for a long, long moment. Axel noticed that Roxas was there after a few seconds, and he grinned but didn't stop dancing.
"Off the phone?" he asked, and without waiting for a verbalization of the obvious answer, he shimmied over to the cheap old stereo sitting on the shelf above Roxas's TV and turned the volume up. Then he went back to dancing, the increased output from the speakers apparently raising his own energy levels, and Roxas could just picture his nose gushing blood like one of those Japanese cartoons as the idiot raised his arms above his head and afforded anyone who cared to look a nice view of pale hips between his too-small t-shirt and jeans that could barely stay up. Roxas kept telling himself that he didn't care to look.
"Get over here and dance," Axel said; it startled Roxas slightly, as it had appeared that Axel had totally lost himself in what he was doing. For a split second some part of him actually considered doing that, but then the redhead added, "If you're gonna dance with me, you might wanna stand on the coffee table, though."
Roxas's countenance immediately transformed into a sort of dry glare, and as he slid the phone back into its cradle on the end table and brushed past Axel, he said, "Sorry, I'm not enough of a fucking fruitcake to listen to Shakira."
"You're already listening," Axel pointed out. "It's just a matter of giving in to Shakira." He gave a particularly seductive little shake of his hips that sent Roxas practically scurrying toward the kitchen with the intent of immersing himself in making a bagel just to put something else on his mind. As an afterthought, he stopped by the stereo to turn the music down to a level that he was more sure the neighbors couldn't hear – though with the paper-thin walls here it was probably useless and with the sort of shit he heard coming out of their apartments it was probably stupid to be embarrassed.
"Axel," he said, trying not to blush as he risked another glance at the man, who appeared totally unperturbed by the second shift in volume, "I want to congratulate you on the fact that you've managed to embody the evolutionary advantage of having hips wide enough to accommodate the birth of offspring with brains significantly larger than your own."
"Oh, did you see that special about me on the Discovery Channel?" Axel asked disinterestedly, glancing at Roxas from the corner of his eyes. He didn't have to tilt his head to catch him through his glasses; he'd worn his contact lenses today. "You should see the shit I can do with my opposable thumbs."
As Roxas finally retreated to the kitchen, he was quite sure that Axel had caught the blush on his face and thought about going up and jumping alone just to end the embarrassment.
Axel appeared in the kitchen a short while later, the music having been turned down to a light ambient level; Roxas was sitting on one of the counters, chewing absently on a toasted bagel and staring at the grocery list Axel had started on the fridge – what the hell could they possibly need methylated spirits for in a house with no grill? Axel got a glass and filled it with ice water, then pulled himself up next to Roxas and took a couple of long drinks.
Glancing over at him a little warily, Roxas tore off a piece of his bagel and proffered it to him, but Axel just shook his head and set down the glass. "That one of your brothers on the phone with you all that time?" he asked, a little breathily. Roxas ignored the tone and nodded as he swallowed a bite.
"My middle brother, Sora."
"You seem like you get along pretty well with your family," Axel pointed out, obviously in reference to the fact that he'd had long, amicable conversations with two members of said family today. Roxas shrugged and nodded, and Axel said, "You don't feel guilty about leaving them?" Roxas's stomach turned over, and he put the bagel down on its plate. "Or maybe you do."
"I don't feel guilty," Roxas said quickly. "I feel bad, but not guilty. It's my right to go when and how I want."
"Well, not legally it's not," Axel pointed out.
A snort. "Legally it's not even my right to marry who I want; legality isn't the point. I've decided on what's best for me, and I can't worry about what other people would say about it. Sora and Cloud and my mom, they all have each other and other people to help them; they don't need me. If I was all someone had, I'd rethink it, but they don't need me to be here as much as I need to not be here."
He glanced over at Axel, half expecting that the other man would be looking at him in disgust or contempt, but all he got was a sympathetic, steady gaze. "That's how I feel," Axel said quietly. "I've got two sisters and two parents, and they're all strong. They'll survive."
Roxas nodded, looking down at his hands in his lap and picking at one of his nails. "I wrote them a note, trying to explain, telling them how long I've thought about it and that I left with a level head. I think that's all they can ask. I mean, I'll miss them, but… I can't do all this anymore. I just can't."
"Where'd you put the note?" Axel asked conversationally. "I'm not gonna go and read it or anything; just curious."
Flushing slightly, Roxas admitted, "I put it in my underwear drawer. It'll be in my pocket when we do it, though."
Axel laughed and said, "Mine's a document on my desktop. Kairi and Nami know the password, so someone'll find it."
Roxas glanced over at Axel, resisting the urge to take his hand. He licked his lips slowly, letting his eyes trace the strange curve of the other man's hairline before meeting his eyes, and asked, "Are you gonna miss them?"
"Yeah, of course," Axel said, nodding seriously. "My one concern used to be that I'd get lonely. But I'm not as worried about that anymore."
That night, they didn't fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV. Roxas got up in the middle of a Law & Order he'd seen twice already, said that he was tired, and went to the closet and grabbed some sheets and a pillow to throw on top of Axel and tell him to get some real sleep. Then he padded off to his own neglected bed in his own neglected room and lay down and stared at the ceiling for forty-five minutes. He didn't toss and turn; he just lay there and memorized the misshapen rectangle cast above him by the light through his window, listening to the ambient sound of the city and the occasional shout or slammed car door from the street.
He'd had a night like this over a month ago, the night he decided to die. He'd realized that he had to get out of here while lying in his boxers on top of the sheets, the tabletop fan trained on him from the nightstand doing nothing to counteract the broken AC. And all he'd been able to think about was the unfixable problem that had become his every waking moment, and the prospect of living like that for another fifty, sixty, seventy years. It was unthinkable, probably undoable; he'd drive himself mad. And then, quite simply and suddenly, he realized that seven floors up – no, eight, since you had to count the most important one – was a very simple solution. Probably the only solution.
Tonight the AC was fine – not even necessarily needed, since the days were beginning to cool down a bit. Roxas wasn't thinking about his life, that unfixable problem. Not any more than usual. He wasn't thinking about anything, really, as he realized eventually. He just couldn't sleep, and he couldn't put his finger on why. Finally he crawled out from under the sheets, tugging on a t-shirt whose color he couldn't see in the dim light filtering through the curtains but which probably didn't match his pajama bottoms, and padded out to the living room in bare feet.
Again, Axel wasn't on the couch. The pillow Roxas had given him looked a little rumpled, cast off at the end of the sofa, but the sheets and blanket were still mostly folded and left on the arm. Even before he noticed that Axel's bag was still slumped against the coffee table, it didn't occur to Roxas that the other man might have gone; there was none of that sense of panic from yesterday morning. Instead, Roxas simply made his way across the worn-out taupe carpet to the balcony door and pushed aside the curtains so that he could open it and slip outside.
The view on this side was nothing compared to the one of the city on the other – that view was the selling point on this building for people who had the money to live over there. On this side there was just the faulty plumbing and the aging appliances and the small courtyard with the cracked sidewalks and the bike rack. It wasn't a bad building, and it wasn't a bad neighborhood. Built to be trendy and super-urban in a friendly, charming way and then forgotten. There wasn't much to look at.
On that front, Axel had apparently picked the national news, which was playing on a TV in a living room in the adjacent wing of the building and one floor down. Roxas rolled his eyes at the pointless invasion of privacy and opted to look at Axel instead. The other man had tied his hair back, probably to keep it from blowing in the way of his cigarette with the updraft here. He had to lean pretty far to rest his weight on the wrought-iron balustrade that wasn't really meant for people as tall as he was and which was still a little too high for someone as short as Roxas.
Letting out a long plume of smoke that drifted away more slowly than it would have on the roof, Axel turned to look at Roxas and lowered his arm to let the cigarette rest below their waist levels, keeping the smoke and ash out of the way. "Thought you were tired."
Roxas shrugged one shoulder, watching the way Axel's hair fell over his hunched, bony shoulders. Even when he was purposefully slouched over, the guy really did have particularly terrible posture. Roxas chewed on his lip for a moment as Axel took another drag. "Do you like smoking, Ax?"
The snort was more visible than audible, the way little jets of smoke puffed from Axel's nose before he released the rest of it. "Yeah, I actually do. It's relaxing, and it gives me something to do with my mouth and hands. If I weren't dying soon, though, I wouldn't do it, no way. My uncle died of lung cancer and my grandma breaths through a tube these days. 'M reckless and impulsive, but I'm not stupid."
"Are you being reckless and impulsive choosing to die?" Roxas asked suddenly, and almost immediately he wished he hadn't. He could definitely see Axel turning and punching him for that; they were in this together, they had a suicide pact, they didn't question each other's motives any more than they questioned their own.
But Axel just shook his head, showing no emotional reaction to the question of any sort. "No, I'm not. I've thought about it a long time. I've evaluated and re-evaluated this whole thing every single day since I started thinking about it. I'm sure."
Axel suddenly flipped the cigarette around in his fingers – it was hardly even half gone – and put it out on the brick wall next to him that divided this balcony from the neighbors', then pocketed the remainder. Roxas wondered if he was planning on throwing it out or using the rest later. "Axel," he said softly, tentatively. "Why are you committing suicide?"
The redhead turned to look at Roxas with some surprise, but he didn't straighten up or move, or even show any other reaction to what Roxas was sure was an even more unforgivable crossing of that inexplicable, unspoken line. "Why?"
Roxas sighed and waved a hand expressively. "I can't figure out why you'd wanna die. You never seem unhappy, Ax! You've got a family and you obviously have no problem making friends, you have a pretty nice place to live and you're going to school, and… and you… you sing even though you suck at it and dance alone for no reason, and you can sit and watch the Home Shopping Network and make it seem like the most interesting thing in the world. I just can't even imagine you having a bad day, Ax, much less a bad life. Are you depressed or something and I just haven't seen it yet?"
There was a long silence that set Roxas on edge, sure that Axel was going to take offense at something, or everything, he'd just said; and then a smile slowly spread its way across Axel's face and he hung his head, shaking it as he laughed a bit. "No, I'm not depressed. Not right now, anyway. It's not about having bad days or a bad life; I get the first sometimes but I've never seriously thought I had it anything less than pretty good."
Roxas furrowed his eyebrows and cocked his head slightly. He was picking at one of his nails again and he reminded himself to stop. "So what's wrong?"
"I'm wrong," Axel said matter-of-factly. "Something about me is off, and it always has been. Maybe not off so much as missing, though. This is gonna sound stupid, but I've never once in my life felt whole. And you'd probably think, I mean, I always thought, if I've never felt whole, how the fuck do I even know I'm missing something in the first place? But the thing is, I know."
He straightened up and raised his hand to his chest, his index finger tapping against his sternum. "I'm empty here," he continued, his voice straightforward rather than melancholy. "Nothing's ever come close to fixing it; it's like it's something I can't touch, and it's just there, and it's ruining my life. Every single hour of every single day I'm actively aware of it. It's like this dull ache, but instead of becoming the background it's right there. I can't avoid it, and it'll drive me insane someday. I mean, except… I…"
He was chewing on his lip now and staring down at the balustrade, and he said, "On the other hand, I—" But then he cut himself short as he lifted his eyes to Roxas and caught the look on his face, the wide-eyed, rather pallid countenance. Roxas had a hundred things he wanted to say to that, and he could feel all of them crowding to the front of his brain at once, but finally his thought processes shot them all down at the same time and told him to get out of there and gather his mental faculties.
"Oh," he said, stepping back a bit. "I… I see." He swallowed, looking down at one of his hands and flexing his fingers a bit, then shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Ax. I'm going to bed. Goodnight." He turned abruptly, feeling the rough concrete of the balcony scraping his heel, and used both arms to shove the heavy balcony door open, nearly tangling himself in the curtains as he beat a hasty retreat inside without looking back.
Roxas finally got to sleep about an hour later, but it was sleep with almost no rest, and when he woke up in the morning and checked himself in the mirror in his closet, the area under his eyes was looking darker and the rest of his skin paler than usual. He went into the bathroom without going out to see Axel first. The air was a little muggy inside and the mirror had droplets of condensation clinging to it; apparently his unlooked-for houseguest was already up.
The weather had taken a turn for the dry and overcast, promising a storm in the afternoon or evening, and Axel's mood seemed to have shifted to match. He was sitting at the dining table, somehow managing to fold his six-foot-plus frame up on top of one of the small chairs, his hair rather unkempt and his clothes looking a bit rumpled. He had the laptop he'd shoved into his bag along with all his spare clothes open on the table in front of him and a pair of headphones in, and he appeared to be reading something because only his right hand was on the keyboard, long fingers splayed across the arrows. He glanced up only briefly at Roxas as he entered the room and then ignored him.
The morning was awkward. They ate breakfast at the same table, not speaking, the crunch of the cereal Roxas made them making things even more uncomfortable. Afterwards, Roxas spent time on the couch curled up and flipping through channels while Axel just sat at his computer with his headphones. Roxas wondered if he was even listening to anything or just wearing them to keep the idea of having a conversation from cropping up. Neither would have surprised him in the least.
Finally, around noon, just as Roxas was going to force himself to ask Axel what he wanted to do about lunch, Axel stood up and took off the headphones, shaking his hair out a bit and running his fingers through it. Roxas watched him and he stared back for a moment before saying quietly, "I'm going to Starbucks."
Roxas just nodded mutely as the other man grabbed Roxas's spare key off the hook by the door and slipped on his Vans in the entryway before disappearing out the door. Roxas sat and thought for a few minutes, about nothing in particular, his thoughts a little too scattered to really even qualify as thoughts, and then he got up and went over to Axel's computer. It didn't really occur to him to feel bad about looking at what Axel was doing; the guy had left his laptop sitting open, after all. When he bent down and got a good look at the screen, his heart skipped a few beats and then started up again, awkwardly, like a dancer who'd gotten stage fright and forgotten both the steps and the tempo.
Axel had a magazine article open, Roxas realized almost immediately, and it only took him a couple of seconds to see that it was about the history of suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge. Roxas's eyes automatically scanned what was visible on the screen, catching on a paragraph concerning the survivor of an attempt, right in the middle of the page.
"I instantly realized that everything in my life that I'd thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped."
Stomach twisting in on itself, Roxas straightened up and practically slammed the laptop closed. Eyes squeezed shut, he counted to ten – probably too quickly to do any good – and headed for the bathroom. He twisted on the squeaky faucet, not even bothering to check the temperature – too lukewarm – before splashing his face several times. Then he simply sat there for a minute, reining in his heartbeat and his breathing as he watched the water droplets from his face drip into the basin of the sink and run down toward the drain.
Soon he had to admit to himself that a lot of that wasn't even water – it was tears, flowing directly over his bottom lids from the bent angle of his head, down the soft curve of his cheekbones and off to splash against the cracked marble. Soon he had to grab the hand towel off the vanity to pat his face dry, and immediately afterwards he groped around for a tissue from the box on the back of the toilet.
He grabbed a few, wadding them up and using them to blow his nose before folding them over and wiping his eyes, and when he threw them into the basket between the toilet and vanity he very nearly missed that they fell to obscure a shiny cellophane package. Bending down, he pushed them aside and picked up a crumpled pack of Marlboros. When he shook it, he realized that it was at least half full.
Roxas practically shoved one of his neighbors out of the way as he burst out his door, the one with the long blond hair who was about twice his height. He ignored the snide remark sent his way just as he was ignoring the fact that he wasn't even wearing any shoes, arriving at the elevators and slamming the up button almost hard enough to break it. He had to continually remind himself that the stairs would not actually have been faster, and between the eleventh and twelfth floors he pounded his fist into the wall of the elevator so hard that one of the fluorescent light fixtures went out. Instead of taking deep breaths and slowly trudging his way up the stairs to the roof as he had the other night, Roxas took them three at a time and quickly shoved open the door, ignoring the grating metallic scrape of it against the stone tiles outside.
He nearly burst into tears when he found Axel there, half from fear and half from relief. Relief that he was there at all, fear that he was standing there staring at the edge. But he held back, instead just letting out a choked iteration of Axel's name. The redhead wasn't sitting on the parapet, at least, but he was standing right next to it, arms at his sides and one of his stupid frappuccinos dangling from the fingers of his right hand. The fucking asshole actually had gone to Starbucks. Roxas almost regretted saying his name, because when Axel lifted his head to look over at him, he couldn't quash that stupid childish fear that just by that simple movement Axel might somehow lose his balance and be gone forever.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Roxas exclaimed. He wanted to go over and grab Axel, but he wanted even more for Axel to come over to him – he was afraid of approaching, of maybe scaring Axel, of heights still. "Ax, you're not allowed to do this!"
Axel had opened his mouth to respond to the initial question, looking rather calm, but he froze at the second part and blinked a couple of times. "Not allowed…?"
Roxas shook his head furiously and said, voice getting rather choked, "We have a pact! We're supposed to jump together and I'm not ready to! You can't go without me, Ax, tell me you won't go without me, right now!"
Turning his body, Axel took a slight step toward Roxas. "Rox, I just came up here to think…"
Axel stopped again, staring slightly shocked at Roxas. His tongue darted out to wet his lips, and his fingers fidgeted with his frappuccino. It only looked like he'd taken a few sips of it since he'd gotten it, but now he raised it to his lips and took a long drink, narrowing his eyes slightly and casting them off to the side as his expression cooled. "So why are you not ready to jump? Left the oven on? Gotta go get your note? Chickening out?"
Roxas had never felt anything like what he did in that moment, and he wondered if that was his heart breaking. He realized he was trembling, and even yards away the height difference between himself and Axel was making him feel very small and weak. He wanted to say that he no longer wanted to jump at all, that he wanted to call off the suicide completely, but that might make Axel angry and then Axel might leave without him. Roxas knew that if Axel did, he'd chase him right over that parapet. "I… Axel… please promise me… just promise me you won't jump…"
Those green eyes were practically burning into Roxas, flashing even in the subdued grey light of the day, and suddenly a defeated look came over Axel's face and his shoulders slumped a bit. He looked away, brushing some of his hair out of his face only to have the dry wind pick up more of it and fling it there. "Fine," he said lowly. "Rox, I wouldn't jump without you. I couldn't do that." He lifted his drink to his lips and took a long sip, not lowering it again as he suddenly moved back toward the door, instead just chewing on the straw. He brushed past Roxas and through the roof door, the blond immediately following him as his friend quickly made his way down the stairs and out into the elevator lobby.
"Axel, hold on, I want to talk to you!" Roxas was saying. "Just wait a minute and let me—"
But there was someone else waiting for the elevator when they got back down to the fifteenth floor, and Roxas's mouth snapped shut. They got on, and Roxas stood back from the panel of buttons, waiting for Axel to press something. Axel glanced over at him only briefly, then keyed the eighth floor without further hesitation; Roxas released a long breath, letting his eyes slip shut and slumping against the wall. For the next seven floors they avoided each other's gazes the same way they both avoided the stranger's, and they continued to do so until they were back inside Roxas's apartment.
As soon as they were, Axel went over to the dining table, setting his drink down roughly and dropping his wallet and keys unceremoniously onto the scratched oak surface as though declaring that he was going to stay there, but he was going to be neither happy nor polite about it. He stared at his closed laptop for a minute; Roxas was afraid he was going to blow up about it, show even more of that part of him Roxas didn't know over something so petty, but he finally just shook his head and sighed.
"I either have to go to my apartment and get more clothes or you have to show me where the laundry room is tonight," he said at last with a neutral voice through grit teeth. Roxas had been staring at a small, almost unnoticeable stain on the carpet, but his head shot up as Axel brought up the last thing he'd expected him to be concerned with.
"What are you talking about?" he asked softly, annoyed with himself at how weak and injured his voice sounded. The room lapsed into silence, and the fact that soft rain was beginning to patter against the balcony doors crept its way in through his ears, up via his subconscious, and into the part of his brain that gave an irritable sigh at the fitting weather conditions.
It took a few moments, but then Axel snapped. He turned around abruptly and fixed Roxas with a dark look as he said, "Look, Rox, you wanted me to stay, didn't you? Well, I'm staying. Yeah, I've got my fucking nutty reason for wanting to die that you probably think is the stupidest thing in the world, but I'm gonna ignore that for you, all right? I don't know what the fuck's made you change your mind, but since you have and since you've got some reason for me to stay here that's more important than my reason to leave, I guess I'll just defer to that."
Roxas could feel himself beginning to shake again; he was no longer terrified that Axel was going to turn and plummet off the building, but there were a thousand other fears creeping to the forefront of his mind, a thousand different scenarios for the next ten seconds, ten minutes, ten years, all of which ended with Axel hating him and all of which chilled him to the core. And the other man just kept talking.
"What is it that you even want from me? You don't want to die anymore, but you like having me around to entertain you or something? I don't go with the furniture but I sure am amusing, huh? I'll pack up and move in here, I'll do the cooking and handle the neighbors and make sure to make you laugh! Anything else you want, Rox? You wanna fuck me, maybe? You can do that too, 'cause I sure as shit can't sleep on that couch every single night!"
Jaw dropping, Roxas stared up at the redhead in abject disbelief. The only thing that was keeping him from lashing out physically was the fact that Axel sounded as broken as he himself felt, and Roxas did feel broken, like his heart was being slowly squeezed until it was drained and the drying, brittle pieces began to tear at the seams. And then it split entirely when a single tear escaped Axel's eyes, running down his cheek and dropping to the ground before he could catch it to wipe it away.
Axel's voice cracked harshly as he added, "I don't get you, Roxas. You… I was beginning to think things, but… fuck. Fuck. I don't know why I'm doing this at all. And I don't know why you're freaking out; you obviously think I'm crazy."
That was when Roxas finally snapped himself; he walked over and grabbed hold of Axel's shirt up near the neck, shaking him a bit before dragging him down to his own level. Axel lost his balance, falling back abruptly to lean his hands and thighs against the table, but Roxas paid that no mind. "You idiot! I don't think you're crazy; we're the same, Axel, we're exactly the fucking same! I should've told you last night, but I was scared, okay? Am I not allowed to be scared?"
Axel 's eyes widened, the tears in them beginning to dry up with sheer surprise, and he more mouthed than said, "Scared?"
"Scared!" Roxas reiterated, unable to tell if his own voice was too loud or too soft, a shout or a hiss. "All I ever wanted was someone who got me, but I never thought there would be anyone, Ax, and then all of a sudden you drop it on me that you and I are… are…" He faltered for a moment, eyes dropping from Axel's face to dart back and forth across his body, and he grabbed one of the taller man's hands and pressed it to his own chest.
"It's this fucking hollowness!" he continued, feeling a sob beginning to build up in his throat. "I've never been right, I've been like this as long as I can remember. And I thought maybe I was depressed or insane or something, so I kept going to see doctors and shrinks and taking pills and going to therapy every week and they kept giving me these tests to try to figure out what my problem was, but I never checked enough of those stupid little boxes to qualify for anything because the one that I needed wasn't there! I just needed one big fucking check mark next to the one that says that everything's fine except I have this huge chunk torn out of me and someone's walking around with it somewhere and I have no fucking idea how to find it!"
Roxas paused for a much-needed breath, somehow realizing that he wasn't the only one shaking now, and his hands loosened on Axel's shirt and the fingers he was still holding pressed against his heart so that they could find a more solid grip on the redhead's shoulders. Axel was looking at him, still seeming fairly well stunned and appeared to be trying to rally his thoughts to say something, but Roxas just shook his head preemptively and sucked in some air so that he could continue, his voice shaky and weak and definitely much softer now, "You don't have to stay, and if you go I'm coming with, we can still keep the pact, but I just thought that… that… You're the part of me that's missing, Ax, and that's why I hoped maybe I was what you were missing too."
Axel's breath caught in his throat, and his hands tensed, one where it rested on his chest and the other on his side, fingers tightening in Roxas's thin t-shirt. Green eyes stayed fixed on blue, and for a long moment Roxas had no idea whatsoever how the taller man was going to respond to that. Then Axel took a deep, protracted breath and murmured, "I'm sorry, Roxas. I'm so sorry. I wouldn't have left you, I wanna be with you, I want to move in here and cook and handle the neighbors and make you laugh."
The sob that had been building in Roxas's throat but still hadn't broken finally came, shaking his whole body as he threw his arms around Axel, burying his face in his neck and let the tears spill against that warm pale skin, and he could feel Axel's arms closing tightly around him, and he let those initial tears and the feel of the dampness sinking into his hair where Axel's own face had come to rest coax more sobs and more tears out of him.
And then suddenly a choked laugh escaped his throat. "What about the other part?" he murmured, pulling his face away just slightly to cast his eyes up at the side of Axel's face. It was already flushed from crying, so Roxas couldn't see the blush that he was sure was creeping its way there, but he could definitely see the way Axel's eyes darted down and his head lowered slightly.
"I… When I said that, I meant… that…"
A smile tugging at his lips suddenly, Roxas nuzzled against Axel's temple gently and whispered, "You could have been more romantic. Would you like to make love to me, Ax?"
Apparently that was all the encouragement needed, because in an instant Axel's lips were on his, and in a manner of minutes he was being half pushed, half carried back toward his bedroom. It was quiet, the first time, clothes gently slipped and shoved off, fingers and mouths bordering on tentative, voices hushed, the whole affair so desperate that it would have been unthinkable to waste the energy on anything but feeling. The second time it was quicker and a little louder, a little rougher, a little simpler. Then there was exhaustion, but when they woke up they made sure that the third time let the neighbors know about it.
They were gone that evening; neither of them had a car, so they took a taxi. The note that they left was co-written, copies sent to everyone who would have missed them.
You each only know and love one of us, but we've found that we're the same. This is to let you know that we won't be reachable for a while, by phone or email or in person. We quit our jobs and on Friday night went up to the roof of 1300 8th St. only to back out at the last minute because we met each other and messed up our plans. Since then, we've come to realize that we don't want to die at all, because while we've spent our entire lives feeling broken and incomplete and unable to fix it, we've unexpectedly repaired each other.
We each thought long and hard about that very important, very irreversible decision, going over it again and again very logically, and decided it was right. Circumstances changed and it turned out to be wrong. As such, we've decided not to think very long or hard at all over a separate very important decision, doing it on a whim, and we're quite sure it'll turn out to be right. We're going to get married in Canada, and then we're going mountain climbing in China, and we'll be back by the beginning of the semester. We're using our savings, and we hope to make up the difference in the fall by subletting an apartment, but we might need a loan from some of you.
P.S. Before you blow a gasket, please remember that we're reckless and impulsive, but we're not stupid.