Chapter 3 - "Fate's Pull"
Halcyon Day Five, cont'd
Axel's halcyon day, beginning around 1:00 PM when he had finally stepped out of his apartment building and set off down the sidewalk, had a fairly good start. In fact, Axel was feeling damn good by the time he turned his steps towards Roxas's coffee shop much later that evening.
The red-head had decided to get most of his usual Saturday activities out of the way before visiting Twilight Café. Strolling along through the city, the illustrator stopped first at two of his favorite book shops to pick up a few of the newest best-sellers. A man had to keep up with the times, after all. He smiled when he noticed the 50 off sign by the novels, too.
However, Axel pointedly ignored the ads of Sora Hazuru's new book as he had moved through the store, unwilling to be reminded even more that he had a deadline to meet in two days.
Axel did follow a pattern for most of his Halcyon Days, even if he did switch up some of his activities. As per tradition, the red-head made his way through the nearby park afterwards, intent on cracking open some of his purchases and simply taking in the sunny day. It wasn't too hot or cold of windy; just right.
Flopping down on a bench by the fountain area, Axel settled in to read. And all would have been well. The red-head would have spent the next hour or so lounging in the sun, reading and relaxing and just enjoying himself in the peaceful silence. After that, maybe he would go for another walk, stop for some lunch…
"Oh my god, where'd you get that hat?"
… stop for some lunch, possibly get some desert at that new cake shop…
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Selphie!"
And then, ah… right, after the cake shop, I'd…
"No, you have to tell me, Olette!"
Oh, goddamnit it.
Axel frowned, glancing up from his page as he was distracted from his thoughts. A pair of teenage girls were steadily making their way towards him, skirting the main fountain and prattling on about a silly hat that one of them was sporting. They were both talking much too loudly and their voices were not only grating, in Axel's opinion, but they also reverberated throughout the whole park area.
"No way! There?! Really?"
"Way! Totally way! I told you that you wouldn't believe me!"
Axel inwardly cringed, willing them away with all the brain power he possessed as his hands curled up tighter around the edges of his book. He almost regretted Reno's absence, then; the ferret would have undoubtedly found a smart comment or two to throw at the oblivious girls for Axel's amusement.
The girls only got closer. Axel searched his brain for a way to maybe get them to go away faster but coming up short.
Luck was on his side. Just as the pair began to pass the red-head, a particularly strong gust of wind blew past them, rattling the trees, whipping Axel's scarf to the side and, more importantly, whisking the hat from the girl named Olette's head and carrying it off farther into the park. With cries of distress, Olette and Selphie took to their heels, running off and giving chase to the escaping hat.
Serene quiet settled back over the area. Axel smiled to himself as he buried his nose back into his book.
Halcyon day, indeed.
Thus, the evening found a cheery red-headed illustrator nearly skipping to Twilight Café. The sidewalks were crowded, but not overly so, and Axel had no trouble finding the coffee house. It was on the corner of 13th Street and pleasantly lit. Axel could see right through the wide windows; the café was only partially full but he couldn't spot Roxas. He paused.
For the first time that day, Axel felt his body clench together from nervousness. Anxiety began to creep through him. He stood by the door, fidgeting, fingers twitching as he felt himself being filled with second thoughts and unease. He and Roxas had parted on less than pleasant terms and even with the blond's letter, Axel wasn't entirely sure where they stood. Especially with Naminè's sudden involvement.
Axel couldn't help but suspect that entering the café would be a bad life choice. It would be uncomfortable and almost embarrassing. And that was only natural, after all, considering that the last time Axel had seen Roxas, he had slapped his ass and went on to yell hysterically at an imaginary ferret that no one else could see.
What if the blond didn't really want to experience the pleasant surprise of seeing the red-head just show up without warning at his work? How would he react? Would he just ask him to leave? Or, even worse, would he demand an explanation for the fiasco from before? That would certainly be an interesting conversation.
Oh yeah. Awkward City. Population: Axel Kohler.
Still… Axel picked at his scarf, stepping back automatically as two customers exited the coffee house, he did write the letter. He invited me. His free hand slipped into his pocket to clutch at Roxas's note.
He hasn't pushed me away. I've been given another chance.
Axel couldn't imagine himself going home without seeing the blond, at most to explain himself for the previous day, at least to just say hi. So that was that. He was going in. Squaring his shoulders and double-checking his reflection in the window hurriedly, the red-head finally walked through the door.
The smell of coffee hit him first, and then the chatter of customers moved in to fill his ears. The café was even nicer inside. Not only were there little tables everywhere, but large, comfy-looking cushions set around by the walls, too, in case some preferred beans bags to chairs. Along the walls were different paintings, all depicting something involving coffee, and the lighting in the building was low, allowing most of place to be lit by the natural sun.
Axel was almost done doing a full circle in place to take in the shop and he was just beginning to suspect that Roxas wasn't actually working at that very moment when he actually spotted him. The red-head froze.
The blond was standing behind the counter, working cash register and taking orders. He had rolled up the sleeves on his white button up shirt but had allowed his hair to stay messy and fall about his face in uneven spikes. Smiling and talking animatedly, Roxas was in the process of going through a line of about three people while moving smoothly from the counter to the back where he actually prepared coffee. He had a professional but friendly look about him and Axel couldn't help but stare. And gulp nervously.
He looked adorable.
Digging out his wallet without actually taking his eyes off the blond, Axel went to join the line. He had no idea what he was going to say. So many years of being a hermit inside his apartment, simply drawing and avoiding the rest of the public that thought he was crazy had rendered the man a tad… socially inept. He could look the look and walk the walk, but alas, he could not talk the talk.
Alright, it has to be cool, confident, smooth. I have to be the older, mature illustrator. I have to impress Roxas with my awesome. I'll just go up there and give him a little smirk and give my order. Yeah. That'll be good.
One more customer had been served. Axel moved up a step but Roxas hadn't spotted him yet.
But remember, I'm not flirting. I just want to be friends. Ok, maybe I'll just smile. A smirk is too suggestive. Damnit. Should I put my hands on the counter? Tuck them in my pocket?
Axel's hands shook and now that he was closer, he noticed that Roxas's shirt had its two top buttons undone, revealing the blond's smooth, tan neck.
Shit, ok, don't look there. Ok. Ok. I'm cool, I'm confident. I can handle this. I'll just go up there, smile and order. That's what I'll do.
One last person remained between him and Roxas. On the outside, Axel's features were neutral, but internally, the red-head's mind functions were being overloaded with well-hidden panic. For some reason, before, when he had been meeting Sora, they had fallen easily into friendship and Axel hadn't really worried. Here, though, he had an urge to at least impress the blond somewhat and make up for what he had done before with Reno.
"Hi, and what will you ha-… Axel!"
Axel blinked, realizing that while he had been concentrating on not overheating his brain's gears, the line had gone through until only he remained. There was Roxas, standing behind the counter, looking surprised but smiling with the top buttons of his shirt still undone and his eyes still as blue and vivid as ever.
Axel's mind went blank.
He slowly lifted his hands to rest them on the edge of the counter, staring at the blond with an expression that could have been compared to a deer in headlights. "Hi."
Roxas grinned brightly, looking actually happy to see the red-head but a little amused at the man's reaction. "I, uh, didn't expect you to come here so soon. I almost didn't recognize you with those glasses. Do you want to get anything?"
"Er." Axel gulped. In his anxiety to think of something to say, he had completely forgotten to skim the menu hanging behind the counter on the wall. He glanced up at it distractedly, but couldn't concentrate enough to read it. Maybe if Roxas stopped staring at him with that happy look… maybe if he just stopped being so adorable, then the illustrator could have pulled himself together. Instead, he was truly making a mess of things.
"Are you alright? You look a little… out of it. Then again, maybe I'm just too fueled up on caffeine right now." The blond laughed, raising an intrigued eyebrow. Compared to Axel, Roxas was much more relaxed and seemed to take the red-head's oddities in stride. By his never-dimming smile, he appeared to be in a good mood.
Axel's throat had gone dry. "Um. I'm fine."
"Do you want something? Some coffee?"
"I don't… I don't like coffee." Axel replied stupidly, appalled at himself. My god, pull yourself together, man! Cool! Confident!
Roxas leaned patiently against the counter, "How about some tea, then?"
Tea. Tea is good. Go with tea. Clearing his throat, as well as his clogged mind, Axel made an attempt to salvage his pride and laughed sheepishly, hand moving through his hair in a nervous twitch. "A tea would be good, actually."
"Good call. Hold on a sec." The blond turned on his heel and moved to make Axel's drink. The red-head, meanwhile, stared at the other man's back to occupy himself as he idly poked his glasses back up farther on his nose. Despite the professional outfit he had on, he was still too short to be actually impressive. It was just… cute.
Roxas returned quickly enough, sliding a full cup across to him. "Iced chai latte. It's on me."
"Are you sure? I mean, I can pay for it…" Axel frowned uncertainly, taking the offered drink. The blond shook his head.
"It's fine, it's not everyday I get to treat famous illustrators to tea. But…" A sneaky smile stole over the man, "You have to agree to wait here until I get on break in about half an hour."
Axel was startled, to be sure. "You want me to stay?"
"Hell yeah!" Roxas said, as if the answer was already obvious. "How are we supposed to hang out if you just come in and then leave? Just sit down somewhere, I swear, I'll be done soon."
"Alright…" Mystified and a little wary of the blond's friendliness, the red-head turned and headed to a table at the other end of the café, right by the window. He didn't mind waiting; in fact, that was the least of his worries, he had already finished up everything else he had wanted to do before he had arrived at the coffee shop. No, what had Axel worried was… the red-head paused.
He wasn't even entirely sure what he was worried over. He had already decided that he was keeping his relationship with Roxas strictly to friendship, right? Roxas wouldn't seek out anything more, of course, since he already had Riku. And yet, Axel couldn't shake the strange feeling of warning he felt that something about the whole situation was off.
Still, there was nothing Axel could have done to rid himself of the feeling. He would have to distract himself for the next thirty minutes. By doodling. It always helped him lose track of time, which was exactly what he needed. Axel pulled his spare pen from his pocket and snatched up one of the books he had bought earlier that morning, flipping to the back pages that were blank, and settled in to fill the spaces in. He had no qualms over drawing in his books; it gave the empty pages a purpose.
The doodles started out as they usually did; little animated animals dressed in clothes, scampering about the page. Axel had drawn Sora's characters so many times that they just flowed out naturally. However, as the time passed and Axel's cup of tea became more and more depleted, his drawings turned to the personal side as he flipped the page. He sketched out Naminè, giving her a thoughtful expression. Next came Reno, looking mischievous, as always.
Before he knew it, Axel's pen was tracing out the outline of Roxas's face without thinking while light smile stretched out the red-head's lips. He took care to make sure the blond's mouth was tipped into a grin and that his eyes were as bright as they had been when Axel had just met him at the counter. So intent was he on making the doodle perfect that he didn't notice the blond himself approaching until it was too late.
"I definitely do not look that good."
"Roxas!" Axel almost jumped at the soft voice by his ears. Roxas was standing right behind him, smirking as he looked over his shoulder. A cup of coffee was clenched loosely in his hand and the blond had also managed to completely unwind and unbutton his shirt, revealing a white wife beater beneath it.
Axel was caught red-handed, being his usual weird self, doodling Roxas. It was too late to even close the book. "I was just… bored. Sorry."
"For what?" Roxas chuckled and moved to sit across from him at the table. "I don't mind you drawing me."
Axel smiled and shrugged, much more relaxed around the blond now that he had gotten rid of most of his stressed out thoughts. "I just don't think this doodle does you any justice, to be honest."
"I don't have a problem with it." Roxas accepted the casual compliment and rewarded the red-head with a smile, "If I wasn't so determined on not embarrassing myself in front of one of my favorite illustrators of all time, I would have started gushing over it. Axel Kohler, doodling me? Half of my friend would be insanely jealous." At Axel's laugh, the blond paused to take a sip of his coffee before continuing.
"Even worse, if you gave me that, it's quite possible I would frame it and hang it up on my wall and show it off to everyone."
"It's just a doodle." Axel had received compliments from fans before and usually took them in stride, but Roxas's praise actually made him glow somewhat with delight. He raked his fingers through his hair. "I can give it to you, though. Just promise not to actually hang it up and frame it."
"I can't promise that." Roxas chuckled, sitting back in his chair. "But I'll try my best to keep it to myself."
The two fell into an easy conversation then. Roxas spent most of the time talking and Axel was more than content to listen and just observe the other man. The blond was a good speaker and he often waved his hands to emphasize a point. Eventually, however, Roxas turned the topic back to the other man.
Roxas set down his empty up of coffee. "So what did you do today? You're pretty dressed up compared to the last time I saw you."
"Ah well, see, today's Saturday, which is kind of a big deal for me."
"Oh? How so?"
Axel pondered the idea of explaining the Greek myth a moment. It wouldn't hurt, really, to tell him the general idea while skirting around the fact that he was relying on Roxas to be his king fisher. He laughed softly, finding the words coming easily to him for once. "I guess I can start by saying that I had a kind of crappy life before college. Everyday, it seemed, something bad would happen to me. Something just plain shitty. Then I found out about this myth about Halcyon Days. It's Greek, and they say that they basically represent 14 days of peace and solace before winter begins."
Roxas was listening intently, leaning forward and looking truly interested in the story. He nodded for Axel to continue.
"And in my mind, that sounded perfect. A halcyon day felt like something of a perfect day. Where everything is calm and nothing wrong happens. So I got it into my head to have an absolutely perfect day. A halcyon day. So every Saturday, I got out and attempt to just do all my favorite things and just have this flawless, ideal, easy-going day."
"Was today one of them, then?" Roxas asked curiously, curious and simultaneously fascinated. Axel slowly traced his finger over the rim of his cup.
"Well, today was an attempt, yes. It's been going alright so far, I guess, but it just didn't feel perfect, you know? It's like something's missing."
The blond grinned abruptly, his voice changing to a teasing tone as he moved in closer, propping his chin on his hand. "What, even with me? It's still not perfect?"
Oh, you have no idea.
"Ah ha…" Axel forced out a few laughs, eyeing the distance between their faces, "It made it a little better, I'll give you that much."
Roxas pushed himself back into his seat from where he had been leaning close to the table. "That's cool, though, I've never heard of that myth before. That's a cool goal to have, in my opinion. I don't really have something driving me through life everyday. Maybe I should take up getting a halcyon day, myself."
"It kinda becomes an obsession over time, I don't know if that's a good idea."
"Better than just working at a coffee shop day to day." The blond shrugged, turning his head to take a glance about the café. Axel watched him, then nearly jumped as Roxas allowed the chair had been leaning back in to fall back onto all four legs. "Riku!"
Axel shot a look in the direction that Roxas was staring. Sure enough, there was Riku, making his way around the tables towards the pair by the windows.
"Hey, Roxie." Riku grinned, flicking his hair over his shoulder. As he spotted Axel, though, his eyes darkened. "See you're already a little occupied."
Roxie?! Axel's dislike for the silver-haired man shot up few a notches. Must stay… calm. Can't punch out Roxas's boyfriend.
Roxas didn't notice his boyfriend's obvious mood change, nor Axel's, and smiled as he stood, allowing Riku to plant a soft kiss on his cheek. Axel's hands curled into fists.
"Oh, yeah, Axel just happened to be in the area, I guess, and he stopped by. What're you doing here?"
"Oh, I, uh…" Riku peered for a split second over Roxas's shoulder to frown at the red-head, who still hadn't moved from his spot, before turning his full attention to the blond. "I just came here to talk to you. I missed you."
"Well, we can talk."
"It's kinda… private, Roxie..."
Roxas sighed, rolling his eyes, "Fine. Can you wait here, Axel?"
"Fine." Axel managed to grit out, staring at a space somewhere between Roxas's feet, "I'll just, y'know…. Be here."
As Roxas was led away by Riku, a familiar little animal entered Axel's peripheral.
"You made Riku jealous, you know."
"Naminè." Axel glanced down briefly at the little bird now perched on the table, unsurprised. He kept his voice low so that the rest of the customers around him wouldn't start staring at him for talking to himself. "How could I make him jealous? The man's just possessive."
"Oh, no, Riku can sense when he's got competition, and you're it." Naminè replied cheerfully with a small flutter of her wings.
"… Aren't you supposed to be on his side? He is Roxas's boyfriend…."
"Hmph." The kingfisher sniffed, turning up her beak, "I don't like him."
"Seems like a decent guy." Axel shrugged, looking down at his almost empty tea, unwilling to watch any more of the interaction between Riku and Roxas, "And Roxas is happy with him, so that's all that matters."
Naminè surprised Axel by abruptly shifting from her usual calm self to shuffling about on the table, looking as displeased as a bird possibly could. "But he's not, that's the point! He's not supposed to be with Riku at all! It's against everything! He's not Ceyx, you are!"
"You mentioned that yesterday, too." Axel murmured, staring at the little bird. "What could the legend of Ceyx and Alcyone have to do with this? I mean, I know it's the back-story to the Halcyon days, but you're not suggesting that this is tied in somehow, are you? That I'm Ceyx and Roxas is… "
The bird quieted. "Haven't you felt the pull yet?"
The pull? Was that what the strange nagging feeling from before had been? Some sort of pull? Axel only frowned, not liking where the conversation was going. "I may like Roxas a little, a little, but it's not love. And Roxas doesn't love me. We are not doing a repeat of that story. I'm keeping this to strictly friendship for both our sakes. You know as well as I do that-"
"-that those two die. Yes. I know." At Axel's silence, the bird sighed, "You want Roxas so that you can get your 'perfect day', right? You think that he'll be something like your sign, your lucky charm to getting that halcyon day."
Easy question. The red-head nodded. Naminè continued, managing something of a bird-like shrug, "Well, I want something from you for Roxas' sake, too."
"Wait, so you're using me?" Axel quirked a surprised eyebrow, taking a short sip of his remaining drink so that he wouldn't start to look suspicious. He hadn't expected that answer. "What would you possibly need me for? What could Roxas possibly need me for? I'm nothing to him, just an illustrator and a neighbor."
"Don't you know what we're here for, muses? Most pin us down as sources of inspiration, but we're actually here to make sure that our partners fulfill what they were meant in life to do. Inspiration is usually just what helps the process along."
Axel allowed the new information to sink in a moment but found that he couldn't be deterred from the more pressing matter. "You didn't answer my question."
"And I'm not going to. It's for your own good." Naminè laughed with soft chirping sounds, "Don't worry. It's like I said, you just keep with what you're doing, keep Roxas on your good side, and you should be fine. You can't fight fate."
"I'm not entirely sure I want to know at this point. Seriously… for a little innocent bird, you know, you kinda scare me." Axel muttered, finally deciding that enough was enough with Naminè's vague hints. Outside, past the large windows of the café, it had already grown dim. The sun was setting behind the buildings, painting some of the sky a pale orange. The red-head grabbed his tea and turned to leave, intending to finish off the rest of it on the walk home.
"Good luck." The kingfisher hopped from the table to take to the air and fly over to Roxas and settle down on his shoulder. Naturally, the blond didn't react. Axel had almost forgotten, in his discussion with Naminè, that Riku and Roxas were even present, but as soon as he saw the pair, his stomach lurched and the urge to say a proper goodbye vanished.
Axel managed to make it to the exit without incident, when the blond noticed him leaving.
Taking a deep breath, Naminè's words still heavy in his mind, the red-head turned around briefly, flashing a smile as he waved once. "I'll talk to you later, yeah?"
The red-head didn't miss the slightly hurt expression on the other man's face, but he shook off the regret and walked out of the coffee shop without a backwards look.
Another Halcyon Day wasted.
"So how'd it go?" Reno was ready and waiting in the living room when Axel had returned. The illustrator shrugged, shutting the door behind him and beginning to peel off his outer clothes. He grunted, not bothering to reply as he tossed his scarf over his shoulder.
"That well, huh?" The ferret stood on his hind legs, nose twitching as he observed his friend. "Did you at least meet up with Roxas?"
"Yeah." Axel pulled out the letter from the blond that he had kept in his pocket the entire day. He gave it a long look, then tossed it on the nearby table. "And Naminè, too."
Reno made a soft growling noise. "And now we get to the heart of the problem."
"Apparently, I'm going to help her with something for Roxas."
Axel joined his muse on the couch and Reno proceeded to scurry onto the red-head's stomach. "What did she mean by that?"
"Oh, she kept mum about that." The illustrator dug his hands into his hair, hoping to relieve some of the tension in his head. "She mentioned something about a pull. And that I can't fight fate."
"Ah, the plot thickens." Reno quipped, tail flicking back and forth with amusement. "You, Roxas, halcyon days, a pull, and fate. Not to mention that whole Ceyx/Alcyone business. I wonder what that could mean. How'd the meeting with Roxas go, at least?"
"We talked a while. Then Riku came in and ruined it for me. I spent most of the time feeling sick to my stomach with worry, though." Axel stared at the opposite wall, frowning. He had finally, at least, figured out what he had been so anxious about.
The ferret made an intrigued sound. "What were you worried about?"
Axel laughed bitterly, shaking his head, "That I won't be able to just stay content with friendship with Roxas."
"Still fighting fate, huh?"
The red-head froze, eyes snapping over to glare at Reno, "Don't tell me you've got something to do with this fate thing, too?"
"My lips are sealed." Reno hopped off and fled to a distance just out of Axel's reach to make sure he was safe, his sneaky, pleased expression plastered over his furry face.
Axel, meanwhile, threw his hands up in annoyance, "Everyone knows something except me! What is this!?"
"I'll give you a hint; it starts with the letter F…"
Axel had never expected anything like destiny or fate to interfere with his life. He did things his way. He shaped his own future. The halcyon days was just a quirk, a hobby, a goal in life. Ceyx and Alcyone were just a part of the story. Love a slight detail.
But the red strings of fate had wrapped around Axel tightly and the red-head couldn't help but suspect that at the other end, Roxas was in the same kind of trap as he was.
Phew. This chapter took a lot out of me. Mostly because of Naminè's scene. I think i'll be proofing and fixing up details for a while with this one, but i'm too braindead now to do it xD
I apologize for the lack of Reno. He will return in greater prominence next chapter, I swear.
And now, for my last trick (I'll make this pencil disappear), I will update Special Discount before Otakon this Friday :D We'll see how that goes. xD Don't forget to review!