(A/N): Absolutely no friggin' idea where this came from. Too much stress at work, perhaps. Or the random ramblings of a random mind. Or martians. ...I'll stop. I'm not quite sure what I think of this one, so I'd love any feedback you guys might wanna send my way. ...And that's all. I really need sleep now.

Disclaimer: I shudder to think what I would've done with the plotline of these games.

Time of Dying

The chakram carved bright wounds in the dying light, the flames dancing and twisting to his will. Axel easily sidestepped a clumsy lunge from one of the Shadows surrounding him, reaching out and tearing his weapon through the thing's body almost as an afterthought. Its remaining comrades drew away from him, hesitating, and Axel's weapons seemed to move almost of their own volition – flashes of flame that seared themselves into his retinas and burned away the nothingness inside.

Finally, the final Shadow fell. Axel stood over it, watching it dissolve back into nothing with flat eyes. He'd seen countless Heartless fade, even a few lowly Nobodies, and it never failed to engender the same question: would it be the same when it was his turn?

He couldn't keep his lips from curling in a sardonic smile as he admitted to himself that he didn't really care.

Axel doesn't know what to make of their newest member, with his bright bright eyes so flat and lifeless. Roxas. The Key of Destiny. He's got quite a name to live up to, and Axel wonders what Xemnas meant by giving it to him (and Xemnas had to mean something by it, because the bastard never does anything by accident).

It's idle curiosity that has him dogging the blond's footsteps, trying to get beneath that expressionless exterior and figure out what makes the pale porcelain boy tick. He knows they're all without hearts – really, how could he forget? – but Roxas is the only one who lives the reality willingly. Sometimes Axel wonders if he even remembers what it was to feel.

Another backwater bar in another backwater world. Axel's fingers tightened around the handle of his mug of ale as he peered out at the room from beneath his hood. He could smell the sea and hear the gulls crying, but he only gave them the periphery of his attention. Instead, he focused on the conversations of the rough seamen around him, ears straining for any talk of a stranger recently come among them. He wasn't holding out much hope – he had been in this world a week and there was no sign of Roxas. He'd have to move on soon.

He heard only the usual – strange creatures the color night roamed the streets, sightings of a mysterious Reaper that appeared at night by the docks and the strange, sudden disappearances among the townspeople. Superstition and fear wrapped around a kernel of truth stranger than fiction. The Organization plying its trade.

When he had heard enough, Axel melded into the shadows and vanished back into the darkness, neglecting to pay for his drink.

Axel's decided Roxas simply doesn't care. He is the perfect Nobody, devoid not only of feelings but also of any desire to regain said feelings. Axel wonders if that's a trick he can learn, to not care that he doesn't care, and he deliberately sets himself in the boy's path.

For a while Roxas seems not to notice his presence; when he finally looks up his pretty blue eyes are darkened to the color of bruises and he only asks "What?"

Axel shrugs. "Nothing."


Roxas walks past him, and Axel has to stamp down on the sudden urge to dig his gloved fingers under the boy's skin. Just to see if he'd actually bleed.

Axel watched the Dusks glide away, hood thrown back and hair tickling against his ears in the lazy breeze. He should've thought of this sooner. This was the town Roxas had been born in; it would make sense he might return here. He tilted his head back to study the large clock tower, hoping the Dusks returned with Roxas soon.

Because Axel was going to kill him. He needed to, so things would be simple again.

It had dawned on him, while he was wandering lost in the mountains in the Land of Dragons, that he wasn't looking for Roxas solely because Xemnas had ordered him to. He'd found that he didn't like that thought, and liked the thought that he disliked it even less. He'd had to stop, shin-deep in snow, to consider the revelation.

He'd been given a mission; he was carrying it out. What else could possibly matter? He'd waited, the snow turning to slush around him, but no answer came. Finally he'd moved on, the hollow place in his chest burning.

Roxas glances over his shoulder, cold blue eyes wary. "Stop following me."

Axel stares back, doing his best to look to innocent. "I'm not following you. I just happen to be walking this way."

"You're a lousy liar," Roxas scowls, turning away from him and continuing down the hall. Axel allows himself a smile, so sharp he's surprised it doesn't cut his cheeks.

"Whatever you say."

Their footsteps resonate in the sterile hall, fading into nothing behind them.

"You're always following me," Roxas says suddenly, frowning.

"You're imagining things."

"What do you want?" Roxas asks irritably, eyes flashing and the first faint markings of a flush staining his pale pale cheek. Axel is fascinated – it's the biggest reaction he's ever gotten out of Number XIII, and suddenly he wonders if there's more going on behind those blue eyes than any of them have suspected.

In the end, it was luck that led Axel to the hidden basement in the mansion. He'd been restless and bored, hating that the hollow places inside of him were suddenly at the front of his thoughts and hating that he hated it.

Once he was there, however, he knew he was right where he wanted to be. Knowing he was close to finding Roxas calmed him considerably, and as he tore his way into Number XIII's digital prison, he sent the Dusks swarming ahead of him with the simplest of instructions: Find him. And then bring him to me.

Axel can't get his fingers underneath Roxas's skin, so he settles for trying to get them underneath his clothes. The first time he tries to kiss Roxas, he finds himself flat on his back, the blade of Oblivion cutting into the base of his neck as the Key of Destiny stands over him, pretty blue eyes the color and warmth of ice. Axel only smiles, even as Roxas bears down and there's suddenly a warm red line running down the side of his throat.

They stay like that for what seems like forever, until finally Roxas removes the Keyblade from Axel's neck and walks away without a word. Axel calls a good-bye to his retreating back that Roxas pretends not to hear, and it's probably a good thing Roxas doesn't see the smirk that spreads across Axel's face or he'd come back and finish the job.

Axel flipped through the photographs the useless Nobodies had brought him slowly, telling himself he was looking for clues. Mostly he was trying to reconcile the Roxas he remembered – dour little Number XIII with his pretty blue eyes and apathetic attitude – with the boy smiling up at him out of these false mementoes.

His chest was burning again. He let the sensation explode outwards, and the pictures burst into flame in his hand.

"Now," he mused, letting the ashes drift out of his hands on the wind, "where's the real one hiding, I wonder?"

Axel still wants to get under pretty little XIII's skin, and he tries to kiss him again a few weeks later. He's not sure why, given what happened last time, except that he can and he wants to, if only to see what happens this time.

He's careful to get Roxas up against a wall first, pinning his wrists so he can't smack him with a Keyblade before trying to catch those forever frowning lips with his own. He's so so so close when Roxas – pretty little Roxas with his pale pale hair and blue blue eyes – knees him in the balls.

Axel can't help a pained laugh as he slides to the floor, fingers tangling in the front of Roxas's dark coat, and he waits for Number XIII to shake him off and walk away. Instead, rough fingers grab his hair and jerk his head up so he's staring into Roxas's perfect porcelain features, twisted in a remnant of something Axel can't name.

"What are you doing?" Roxas snarls. His face is flushed and his eyes are bright and Axel thinks he's never seen anything quite like it.

"What do you think?" he wheezes. Roxas just blinks at him, and it suddenly occurs to Axel that he really has no idea what Axel's been trying to do this whole time. He would laugh if he could find the breath.

He shakes his head, as best he's able with Roxas's fingers wrapped around his hair, and pulls the blond down onto the floor with him, pressing their lips together in a clumsy kiss before Roxas can recover. Roxas seizes up, and Axel pulls back with a wince.

"What was that?" Roxas demands, frowning and rubbing at his lips. Axel's breath is coming a little easier, and he moves to sit next to Roxas, propping his back up against the wall.

"A kiss."

"What's it mean?"

Axel shrugs. "Nothing," he tells him, and the truth tastes like ash in his mouth.

Axel waited until the day of the Struggle tournament to reveal himself to Roxas. He wasn't sure why, except that it was tied up in the burning and the hollow places, and he found he didn't want to examine his own reasons all that closely any more. What he wanted to do was get Roxas out of the way so that things could go back to the way they had been before a pretty pale-haired boy had joined the Organization and complicated the hell out of Axel's non-life.

He welcomed the battle that followed Roxas's blank confusion at his appearance. It gave him somewhere to channel the ache in his chest. He poured more power into the flames than he really needed to, sending the chakram spinning toward Roxas with the intent to do real harm, and it still wasn't enough. Forced to retreat by DiZ's appearance, he wound up having to incinerate the company of Dusks he'd brought with him to make the burning go away.

Axel rolls over and stretches, grunting when his legs tangle with someone else's. "Thought you left," he mumbles, instinctively drawing closer to a warmth that isn't there and throwing an arm over Number XIII's waist. Roxas doesn't answer him right away, and Axel's already drifting back to sleep when the blond finally speaks.

"It's cold."

Things were getting out of hand, Axel decided. He'd actually tried to defend Roxas's actions to Xemnas. It was time for this to end.

Yet when he stepped out of the darkness in the back alley, it was with a final plea to Roxas's slumbering memories, not a chakram to the face. When Roxas ran away from him for the second time, Axel finally identified the source of the burning in his chest, and marveled that Roxas could inspire such a strong remnant of emotion in him.

He welcomed the rage. It would make what he had to do easier.

There was more going on behind Roxas's pretty blue eyes than any of them suspected – Axel was right about that. Roxas isn't interested in Kingdom Hearts, or even his own heart, just "the truth," which is so damn funny Axel could just cry. Watching him leave, Axel knows he's going to be the one ordered to kill him, like he's killed all the others – just another job.

His chest is burning and there's ash in his mouth but as he glares at Roxas's back and hears his final parting words – "No one would miss me" – he thinks he could kill him right here.

Axel called up his flames and trapped Roxas in the circle with him, only slightly surprised when Oathkeeper and Oblivion appeared in the Key of Destiny's hands. Roxas's mental walls were finally crumbling, but Axel found he no longer cared.

He finally knew what the burning was.

"Burn!" Axel screamed, launching himself at Roxas and leaving a trail of flames in his wake.