Written for the community springkink on LJ

Disclaimer: Roxas says he and Axel don't belong anyone, including me, and I'm not going to contest that.

Worth a Thousand Words

It all began with a project for photography class.

The project itself wasn't so bad, Roxas thought. In fact, it actually seemed like it could be fun. It was a photo essay on one of his classmates—using photos taken throughout the semester. Though they would have other, smaller, assignments during the term, this was the major project and a large portion of their grade. To give them plenty of time to work, they'd been split into pairs, with one group of three, on the first day of class, today.

No, as far as Roxas was concerned the problem wasn't the project itself. It was who he'd been paired with that was the issue. He'd hoped to be able to work with Pence, since they knew each other, but that hadn't panned out. The idea, as Martie had explained it, was to place everyone with someone they didn't know well to make the assignment more interesting. So rather than Pence, Roxas ended up being paired with Axel, who he hadn't even met before today.

Roxas looked up as the taller man—so tall Roxas would barely come up to his chin, so tall he was almost intimidating—sat down across from him at the table. Axel was all long lines and sharp angles, skinny, with red hair that must have gotten him teased as a kid and green eyes that were damn close to the same shade as emeralds. There was a moment of awkward silence, then Axel shrugged and leaned forward with his elbows on the table and his chin in hands. "So, how do you want to do this?"

It was Roxas's turn to shrug. "Not sure," he said, tilting his head to the side and crossing his arms over his chest in thought. "Martie didn't give us many ideas."

"Yeah. Try nothing except for "no stalking." Like that's not obvious." Axel snorted.

"So, what, we're stuck hanging out together, hoping for Kodak moments?" Roxas sighed in frustration.

Axel laughed. "That's one way to put it. Though I'm not much of a Kodak moment person."

They spent the next few minutes comparing schedules, trying to figure out a reasonable time to meet outside of class. Then, the scraping of chairs on linoleum and other students saying their good-byes made them realize that class was over for the day. Axel tore a sheet of paper from his notebook to write email addresses and phone numbers on. Then, contact information exchanged, along with promises to meet up soon, they parted ways, Axel going to another class. Roxas back to his dorm.

Overall, Roxas thought as he keyed Axel's number into his cell and email address into his contact list, it was a pretty forgettable first meeting. All he knew about Axel was what he looked like and that he had a nice laugh. Oh, and he wasn't fond of Kodak moments.


Over the next week or two they met a few times specifically for what could almost be referred to as photo sessions. Axel took pictures of Roxas with Sora, his twin, and Namine, his best friend. Roxas returned the favor for Axel and his friend Demyx. Then came the pictures of Roxas's dorm hole (term copyrighted to him) and Axel's apartment—the lucky bastard had permission to live off-campus. During these few meetings only the barest amount of information was exchanged. Roxas found out that Axel was a junior, like him, but a few years older due to putting off college for "personal reasons." Unlike Roxas, who was an Art major and English minor, Axel was majoring in Theatre Arts, focusing on the more technical side, with no minor at all, and lots of class slots to fill with things like photography. Axel's family lived only a few hours away (said with a look of annoyance), while Roxas's was at least eight hours away in another state. Just surface information, but it helped Roxas feel a little less awkward around the redhead.


The more spur-of-the-moment shots started when Roxas, while looking for Axel to show him how the pictures had turned out, passed by the music practice rooms and caught a glimpse of red hair through one of the windows. Looking in, he saw Axel playing the piano while Demyx played his guitar and sang. In his hurry to pull out his camera and try to get a decent picture, Roxas accidentally hit the door, making it rattle and alerting the two people in the room. The door flew open, and there were Axel and Demyx, both looking surprised, though Axel looked amused as well. After Roxas stammered his reason for being there, they agreed to the picture on one condition: that Roxas sing the vocal part for the song they'd been playing. Demyx wanted to hear how it sounded when someone else sang it. Axel and Roxas both ended up getting pictures. Demyx, for his part, tried to convince a red-faced Roxas to do backup vocals for his band, but settled for a trial of a couple of songs.

Three days after the practice room incident Axel showed up at the Painting workroom while Roxas was working with Namine on a project—painting each other. It was their main project for this class, a series of paintings of one person, and they'd chosen to be partners. Axel took a few pictures of Roxas, then sat down at one of the tables and watched them for a while. It made Roxas fidget a little to have someone watching like that while he worked, especially when Axel came up right behind him to get a closer look. More annoying than anything else, though, were Axel's cracks about feeling neglected and when was Roxas going to paint him. When Axel finally left (ruffling Roxas's hair on the way out and returning the resultant glare with a laugh), Roxas let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. When Namine looked at him questioningly, he merely shrugged and said apologetically that Axel could be an ass sometimes.


And Axel wasn't an ass all the time. When Seifer took Roxas's writing notebook (his private writing notebook, dammit) and held it over his head, threatening to read a passage to the entire cafeteria, Axel was the one to get it back. The look in his eyes had made Seifer back down (even made Roxas take an involuntary step back), but it had been replaced with concern the second he looked at Roxas to ask if he was okay. Miraculously enough, Seifer steered clear of Roxas after that.

Axel could also be pretty damn perceptive. One glare after trying out a few nicknames was enough for him to lay off the idea, though he still called Roxas He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Nicknamed sometimes, and even if that was a little annoying it wasn't as bad as the other possibilities, so Roxas dealt with it. Then there was the time they'd met up after Roxas's creative writing class. Axel hadn't needed to ask to know it had gone badly and hadn't said a thing, just taken Roxas by the arm and hauled him out for some sea-salt ice cream. They both got pictures of each other holding their half-eaten treats and Roxas decided that yeah, Axel could be an ass and wasn't somebody he wanted mad at him, but he wasn't all bad.


Eventually, Axel coaxed Roxas into showing him what was in the writing notebook and letting him visit the dojo where Roxas studied karate (fourth-degree black belt). The dojo part hadn't been too difficult—though Roxas almost wished he hadn't introduced Axel to the others when Yuffie started teasing him about his "boyfriend" and Axel didn't say a damn thing to contradict her, just grinned while Roxas stammered an explanation then shot him a dirty look. Aside from that it went well, Axel watching quietly as Roxas practiced his kata, unobtrusively taking a few pictures.

Sharing his writing is another thing, though. Roxas knew he was tense as he sat at one end of Axel's couch, knees drawn up to his chest and his chin resting on them, while Axel sat at the other, flipping through the notebook, his face unreadable. Then he looked up, grinned, and said that he thought it was all pretty good, so Roxas uncurled himself and moved over a little until he was sitting next to Axel so the redhead could point out what he'd liked. Eventually the notebook was laid on the table and Roxas found himself telling Axel that even though he liked art and writing and karate, he still wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do or where he'd end up, which was kind of freaky sometimes. Axel just gave him a crooked smile and welcomed him to the club.


Axel also coaxed Roxas into visiting the theatre—twice. The first time was during rehearsals for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Roxas had allowed himself to be talked into a backstage tour, but wound up seeing most of the rehearsal itself when Axel got called to read lines for Puck due to an actor's illness and an understudy's irresponsibility. Roxas got to permission to take pictures of Axel onstage after promising copies for the others. He personally thought the rehearsal was boring; lots of the same scene repeated with only slight changes made, and lots of waiting while the director spoke to only one actor. Axel helped by coming to talk to him whenever possible and explaining what terms like "upstage" and "blocking" meant. And it was fun getting to see Axel act—Roxas decided he was good at it, or maybe he just liked playing Puck.

About a week later Axel needed help with light hang. So Roxas let himself be talked into spending a rather late night up in the catwalks, attaching heavy lights to thick metal bars and sorting through masses of cables. The chosen background music—a medley of Broadway and movie musical tunes—made the work a little more interesting, though. It was a little bit surreal to go straight from "Mean Green Mother" to "Maria," but kind of funny, too. At least everyone else seemed to be amused. And Axel looked like he was having fun, grinning as he rushed around to check on everything and barked orders to his "underclassman minions" (his term for the Freshmen and Sophomores that were helping). Roxas just shook his head, smiled, and kept on working.

When Roxas admitted later that he'd had a good time even if it wasn't his thing and he didn't get why anyone would want to do this on a regular basis, Axel laughed and ruffled his hair. If Roxas noticed that Axel didn't draw his hand away as quickly as usual, and let it brush against Roxas's cheek, he didn't say anything.


Classes and work kept Roxas so busy that it was November before he had time to sit down and look through all the pictures he'd taken. There were a lot of good shots—Axel and Demyx practicing, Axel brandishing his ice cream like a sword, Axel with some of the cast of Midsummer on opening night—and he started to sort them into "definite" and "maybe" piles for use in the project. One picture, though, caught his eye, and made him sit back in his chair a bit as he studied it.

It had been taken on a whim one night when he'd been over at Axel's and there'd been a blackout. Axel had lit some (very much against apartment regulations) candles, and the interesting lighting had given Roxas the idea to take a few pictures. The one he held now showed Axel holding a candle, standing next to two others he'd just lit off its flame. At the time he'd been more interested in the contrast of light and shadow, but…After looking at the picture for another moment he laid it carefully aside on his sketchbook, then went back to his sorting.


Managing to use the Painting workroom while no one else was there proved to be more difficult than Roxas had thought, especially this close to the end of the semester, but somehow he managed it. The only person who ever saw his work in progress was Namine, and that was because he needed help finding a place to store it where it wouldn't be seen. In the chaos of finals (he and Axel got an A on their project) it almost didn't get finished before he left for home for winter vacation, but the evening after all his finals are over he holed himself up to work.


Finally finished, and feeling somehow drained and energized at the same time, Roxas stepped back to look at the painting. At first glance, it was exactly the same as the picture of Axel he'd set aside weeks before—same Axel, same candles, same light and shadow. That had been beautiful—no, nice, he wasn't going to use going to use the word "beautiful" in connection with Axel—enough, but somehow the overall effect had changed as he'd copied the photo onto canvas.

Because in the painting Axel looked like, well, Axel, but different. He looked fey, and not the good kind, but the kind that would trick and harm as well as help, the kind that weren't safe, weren't safe, but still drew people to them because they were strange and beautiful and…shit. There was Roxas using that word to describe Axel again. Damn. He'd wanted to show this to Axel as kind of an in-joke, to prove he remembered the redhead's comment about Roxas painting him one day. Now…Now he didn't think he could. Even if that thought made his chest feel tight and something at the back of his mind cry out in protest.


Roxas was in the supply room cleaning up when he heard the clack of footsteps on linoleum and Axel's voice call out "Roxas? Namine said you were—whoah."

Cursing his luck in every way he knew how, Roxas carefully laid his brushes down on the counter beside the sink and walked out into the main workroom. Axel had the photo in one hand, looking between it and the painting as if he were comparing them. When Roxas stopped beside him he looked over and grinned. "Hey, Roxas. So this is what you've been doing while you were 'busy.' Looks pretty good."

"Not that you're biased or anything." Roxas snorted.

Something in his voice or expression must have been off, somehow, because the grin slid off Axel's face and was replaced with a slightly worried look. "You okay?" he asked, laying the picture down on a nearby table.

Roxas looked away. "I'm fine."

He heard Axel give an exasperated sigh, then he felt a tug at his hair. He turned around to glare at the culprit, who was smiling a bit awkwardly. "You're a shitty liar, you know that?" Axel said, then leaned down and…kissed him.

When Roxas's brain finally finished processing that bit of information, he also realized that not only was Axel kissing him, he was kissing back. And, oh yeah, those were his arms wrapped around Axel's neck and Axel was holding him (almost too tightly, like he was afraid Roxas would disappear). The height difference made things a little awkward—Roxas had to practically stand on his tiptoes so Axel could straighten up a little—but not enough to be unpleasant. Roxas decided that Axel was a damn good kisser.

Axel didn't let him go even after the kiss ended, just let him move so he wasn't on tiptoe anymore and his arms were wrapped around Axel's waist. Roxas buried his face in Axel's shoulder.

It was first real Kodak moment they'd had all semester, without a camera in sight, and Roxas wouldn't have had it any other way.

Author's Notes: First and foremost, I have never been nor will I ever be an Art major/minor, nor have I taken a Photography class (much to my disappointment--taking pictures is fun), so if the assignments here don't seem very realistic, that's why. I did my best to make them plausible, and resisted fact-checking urges because I needed them for the story to work.

Second, theatre geek references! I had fun with these. Here's a list of definitions for any who were confused:

upstage--the rear part of the stage as you look at it from the audience.

blocking--where the characters stand and their movements onstage.

light hang--setting up the lights according to the plan the light designer has worked out.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is probably my favorite Shakespeare play, and Puck is my favorite character from it--trickster type. "Mean Green Mother" is a song from Little Shop of Horrors and "Maria" is from West Side Story. If you've heard the songs, you know why Roxas thinks they sound a little odd when played back-to-back.