A/N: Not-quite-pairing Axel-Kairi, for theme set Alpha. Done as a graduation gift for mellish. And, well, there IS that big blank timeframe in which he kidnaps her, sooo.

Disclaimer: Me no ooooown. D:

Here Comes a Candle

Axel has no idea what it is that makes her want to reach out to him like that; he sees the softness in her eyes and turns away with an awkward little jerk.

"I don't really think you're a bad person," she says, her face bent down close to his, her breath warm against his pallid cheeks.

Her hand feels strange in his, even through the gloves, small and white and unblemished as a new snowdrop; it nearly makes him sick to think of how little she's seen of the world.

Kairi thinks they might be able to understand each other, reminds him that he's said himself that they share a common ache; Axel laughs in her face and calls her a silly goose for believing such an obvious lie.

Axel plucks her off her feet and slings her over one shoulder like an empty sack, and bites his lip against only so many curses when he feels her struggle.

He sees the tears walled up hard and bright in her eyes, and he's glad she never gives them the chance to fall; he's sure they'd burn his skin.

She tells herself she should never believe a thing he says, because the words that spill out of his mouth really are more bitter than sweet—even though it's very, very easy to think otherwise, sometimes.

"Will you be happy when you find whatever it is you're looking for?" Kairi asks him; he shrugs his shoulders and, after a lengthy pause, answers, "I dunno, I never think about stuff like that."

Kairi talks to Sora sometimes, closing her eyes and throwing her voice like a net across the void, as far as it can reach; Axel envies her, because he knows there's nothing he can say that has a chance of passing through.

His footsteps are loud in her ears over the sound of the ocean, and that's what makes her run without looking back; it has to be all in her head, because he's not even walking all that fast.

She asks him for his name, and he has half a mind to tell her that—in politically correct terms, anyway—he doesn't have one, but that would mean having to explain.

She can't put her finger on it, but there's something very disappointing about the way he clucks his tongue and tells her, "Dammit, you're still just a kid."

"Tell her I'm sorry," Axel says to Sora—even if tying up loose ends doesn't make any sense at this stage, since he's already half-gone.

At least she knows he's not going to treat her special just because she's a girl, and it's almost scary how she never complains, but he can't suppress a sigh of frustration when she just keels over without a word from what, upon reflection, might have been too much walking for a member of the female species.

He's surprisingly strong for someone so spindly; he grips her so hard that the outlines of his long fingers tattoo white-hot lines against the skin of her arm.

In front of her he is all sharp edges and jutting spikes; he has to be, because if she learns to see through all the layers, if she finds out that at the heart of everything he is only a Nothing—then it'll all be over.

Axel bends his head forward so she can't see his face, pressing the heels of his palms hard against his eyes; Kairi reaches out and wraps her arms around his shoulders, and wonders why he doesn't push her away this time.

She can't figure out how long—or how far—she's been running in this Nowhere; the only thing she knows for sure is that if she stops moving it'll take her right back to him again.

Kairi knows not to trust him when the wind blows by, carrying with it the scent of fire, and a soft, stifling thickness that settles in the lungs like white ash.

It's too humiliating and too frustrating for Axel to try to think about how he lost her; he knows how screwed he'll be if he doesn't find her, so from this moment on that will have to be his only concern.

"What are you going to do, anyway, supposing you find him?" Axel asks, and is promptly disgusted by the confidence in her voice when she answers that they're going to go home together.

Her heart is so perfect, so pure that being near her is almost a physical hurt; he'd like to think that he doesn't envy her the slightest bit, that he'd rather have nothing because all the light is bad for his eyes.

She asks him why he always wears those black gloves, and he replies dryly that they're "all the better to hold you with, my dear"—and so she doesn't get burned too badly, a delicate little thing like her.

Everything about her puts such a terrible taste in his mouth, but he refuses to admit that it's because everything about her is impossible for him.

When he thinks about it, they're almost the same in their devotions, except the few differences are too important to ignore—that she has a heart, and that Sora actually remembers more than just her name.

"There can be such a word, you know—sometimes it's possible," she insists, but he only shakes his head, a patronizing grin stretching across his lips as if to say, Maybe for people like you, but where does that leave the rest of us?

Holding her gently by the wrist, he makes her trace a fingernail across the back of his hand, just to see the look on her face when he doesn't bleed—he's special, he tells her, because he's got nothing inside.

She tries to make sense of it when he tells her he was made wrong, that he's missing important parts and not supposed to be like this—the only conclusion she can come up with in the end is that he's very, very sick.

He hears her voice one last time before he slips away, telling him that everything has a song if you listen closely enough—and suddenly something inside him is singing, and that's the last thing he hears before he hears nothing at all.

Kairi remembers him sometimes, when she stays outside alone after sunset, waiting for the stars to come out; she thinks she'd like to know if he ever did get all his wishes, but of course it's too late now.

The pictures Naminé shows him nowadays are all of this golden island she says she remembers—but they both agree that she can't possibly remember, because she's never lived anywhere other than this castle before, and Axel would know this absolutely because neither has he.

He tells her to humor him, she retorts that explaining the concept of belonging somewhere to him is much like trying to describe the color purple to a blind person—and the worst thing, he realizes, is that she's exactly right.

She is infinitely more afraid of Saïx because his face never changes, because he always seems to see right over her head, because his voice is cold and flat as a sheet of metal—at least Axel smoldered and burned, and scoffed at everything she said, and occasionally even managed a smile.

Kairi observes how peculiar his eyes become when he's angry, because they don't lie as much as the rest of him—his mouth may be smiling, but they're all alive with sparks, like lightning flashes in a sky when rain refuses to fall.

She believes that people always manage to find each other when they're really meant to, so strongly it's almost amusing; he'd like to ask her if it's that simple, but then he remembers that he's not a person, not technically, so the principle may not apply.

Axel stands in the shadows of the alleys and searches the faces of passersby for her; she may be convinced otherwise, but she can't shake him, even in a place as crowded as Twilight Town.

It's only later that Axel realizes that, hilariously, both he and Kairi found their way to Roxas through some lucky glitch in the damned computer program.

He insists that everything he does comes with strings attached, that he doesn't know how to do favors—but then he opens up a window in the void, and allows her a glimpse of the sunset.

She doesn't think he quite knows how, because the twisting of his mouth can never truly be called a smile as far as she's seen—only a smirk, or a grimace, or a scowl.

"Spitting image of her," he mutters under his breath, even though it wouldn't really matter if she heard, since she wouldn't understand, "don't know squat about anything, either of you."

"If you don't have a heart," she hazards, chewing on her lower lip to stop the words in case they don't come out right, "couldn't you, I don't know, possibly… find one, someplace?"

The day is perfect until a sudden breeze stirs her hair, until he steps jauntily out of nothing with a mock-bow to no applause—then the smile melts off her face, because the sun seems just a little less bright.

There are many worlds, Axel remembers her saying, but they share the same sky; funniest joke he's heard in a long while, because that'd mean this road he's on might actually lead somewhere.

There is no real end for him, not really—only Nothing when he's finally through with being Nobody; that's why being around her is so difficult, because she almost makes him believe things can be different.

No matter how much he laughs in Sora's face, Axel can't keep denying that he just doesn't want it to be over yet—he never thought there was so much to being Nothing, as wrong as that sounds.

Kairi tries her best not to say anything about it, but Axel notices the pallor in her cheeks, and the way her lips quiver; he takes her hands, holds them between his own with an exasperated sigh, and she is surprised to find it warms her right through.

He looks up at Kingdom Hearts, but averts his eyes quickly because it's too big and too bright and too full of promises; he can't help wishing for a sickle moon, like the one he saw over the islands.

Axel doesn't breathe unless he has to—it's a hassle for Nobodies—but she looked very scared the first time she put a hand on his chest and felt no motion, so now the air flows in and out, in and out, like the tide.

She sleeps with her head in his lap, strands of her hair twined around his hands like bloodstains on the black leather; he thinks she's stupid for trusting him like this, but the only thing he can do is let her pass the night.

Axel takes the last leap—calls the fire from deep in the non-heart of him, lets it pour out in explosions and explosions and explosions, until the heat in his hands is gone and his eyes are the color of burnt gold from all the light—and then it's all over.