The next thing he knew was Sora's voice. "Oh what the fuck!"
Roxas bolted upright, the same instinct that made him yank the blanket up from his waist making him throw the rest of it over Axel and hold it there; the other man had stirred when he moved, but now he seemed to realize that he was in deep shit if he forced his way out from under the comforter.
"Get out!" Roxas shrieked. "Get out get out get the fuck out!"
Poor Sora was standing inside the doorway, one hand on the doorknob and the other flailing a bit as though he couldn't decide whether or not to tangle it in his hair to express the existential crisis he was currently facing. It wasn't hard for Roxas to guess what it must have been like, to come home and find out that your baby brother, the late bloomer who's never even been kissed as far as you know, has apparently lost his virginity to a guy you've never met nor heard mention of…
Sora finally seemed to snap out of it, hopping on one foot and nearly losing his balance in an attempt to turn around. "Yeah, out, I'm getting out, sorry, sorry!" He practically slammed the door behind him and Roxas could hear him pounding down the hallway calling for Riku.
Roxas scrambled out of bed and locked the door quickly (always ironic when trying to guard against the Keyblade, he supposed), then turned off the desk lamp that had been left on the night before. He turned to find Axel peeking out at him. The older man tossed the blankets back after a moment and let out a deep sigh. He was face-down and Roxas had been lying between him and the door, so there was no way Sora could've seen anything but a mop of black hair and probably enough of an arm or back to confirm that his little brother was indeed a fag.
"I gotta go," Axel said, rolling out of bed and beginning to collect his clothes from the floor. "Obviously. Sorry, I massively overslept. I should've been outta here at sunrise." He tugged his boxers on and then started for his jeans as Roxas grabbed his robe to put it on and then just stood there and watched him, his heart beginning to ache again.
"I'm sorry," he said, realizing that he should've set an alarm.
Axel shook his head quickly. "Nah, I assumed I'd get up. Last night was by far the easiest time I've had sleeping since I lost you, wasn't expecting it." He'd finished his socks now, was grabbing his shoes and yanking them on without tying them. Roxas licked his lips, tried to think of words, took a deep breath and then another as his eyes darted back and forth over Axel's thin frame.
His shirt was the last article of clothing Axel had to tug on, and when he did Roxas blurted, "Come back." Realizing what a silly request that was he added, "Please." That didn't make it any better.
The taller man paused for a moment, then finished adjusting his shirt's hem and the waist of his jeans. "You know I will," he said quietly. He realized he had nothing more to do before leaving and slumped a bit, reaching up to scratch the back of his head. After a moment, something seemed to occur to him because his expression changed and he darted forward, startling Roxas as he grabbed him around the waist and lifted him clear off his feet.
"What the—Ax!" Roxas immediately tried to push away from Axel; he had a feeling that when he was off his feet it was rarely good news.
Axel's arms just tightened and he leaned forward to whisper in Roxas's ear, "Parting is such sweet sorrow."
Roxas froze, at first confused, and then it sunk into his brain just what Axel was getting at. At first he couldn't hold back a smile, but then he schooled his features and punched his arm as best he could from such close range. "Nice parallel, wrong fucking character, you moron."
"I'm smart and you know it," Axel said smugly, letting Roxas down and bending to kiss his neck softly. "Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta alight through yonder window before your kinsmen barge back in and own my ass."
"You're a cheesy idiot," Roxas muttered, but there wasn't even any faux emphasis behind the words, and they were further belied by the insistent kiss he pulled Axel down into a split second later. He held him there until he was breathless, trying to ensure that he'd be able to recall his taste and smell and feel after he left, and then he finally let go and stepped back.
Axel looked down at him for a moment, catching his breath and wearing a rather melancholy expression. "I'll see you around, partner," he murmured, reaching out to ruffle Roxas's hair a bit. Roxas had the courtesy to give him a mock irritated look, but his heart wasn't in it.
"How long are you going to keep coming through my window like this?" he asked just before Axel climbed back out onto the fire escape.
A sigh as Axel paused, already half outside, and then, "As long as I have to." The day was overcast, and he slid the pane shut again before he disappeared. Roxas stared at it for a minute that seemed like ten, and then he realized for the first time that where there used to be a lock on the frame, there was only charred wood.
"Roxas, I am so sorry," Sora said, holding his hands up defensively as his brother came into the kitchen to dig through the fridge. "I did not mean to walk in on you and… and…" He furrowed his eyebrows, then leaned over the breakfast bar to try to see down the hallway. "Where is he?"
"He went down the fire escape because you mortified us beyond all reason and he didn't want his presence to cause any further mental anguish for any party involved," Roxas said matter-of-factly, not looking up as he grabbed some sort of fruit juice – he didn't bother checking what was in it – and took a drink from the carton. Something with grapefruit, apparently.
A rather disappointed look crossed Sora's face that Roxas caught as he turned around and leaned against the counter. "Well, who is he?" his brother asked.
Hn, Roxas probably should've thought up something for this before he came out here, shouldn't he? Okay, well, where would he have met someone to have sex with? Red light district. Gay bar. Coffee shop. "He's a guy from my freshman seminar." Good start. Now, name. Axel. Alex. Alexander. "His name is Zander." And? "And we're not dating or anything so don't get your hopes up."
Sora furrowed his eyebrows and pursed his lips. "You lost it on a one-night stand, Rox?"
"'M gonna be twenty soon," Roxas grumbled. "Had to do it sometime. And he's really hot." He almost felt bad saying that; Sora was a rather hopeless romantic and most likely had figured the guy to take Roxas's virginity would be the one to make an honest woman out of him. There was probably a dowry for him set out of his older brother's bank account somewhere.
Roxas thought about the idea of Axel making an honest woman out of him and suddenly snorted with laughter, right in the middle of taking another drink from the juice carton. Sora gave him a rather distasteful look and muttered, "I hope you're gonna finish that."
It wasn't until Sora left that Roxas remembered that his brother had been lying to him about the year he'd lost blatantly and consistently for the past two and a half months. He suddenly felt sick, so he dumped the rest of the juice, crushed the carton to throw it away, and went back to his room to collapse down on his mattress.
He tried to take his mind off of it; he tried to remember how to use his powers. He tried shaping light, bending it, changing its color, brightness, anything. He remembered how it had felt. He remembered how it had felt so natural. He couldn't do it.
Two nights passed; things were still seeping into Roxas's memory while he slept, slowly but surely, good things that had been tainted. The life-changing alteration to his genetic code that had almost gotten him killed; the friends that were out there somewhere that he wasn't sure if he'd ever see again; the lover who, for some reason he didn't fully understand, couldn't do more than climb through his bedroom window every so often.
On the evening of the third day he sat on the couch writing out page after page of kanji practice. His mind wasn't on it, and after a while he was pretty sure he'd have been able to do the stroke order of all of them in his sleep but was unable to recall what a single one of them actually meant. He waited until Riku had shut himself in his and Sora's room with a stack of paperwork and Sora had curled up at the opposite end of the couch to flip through channels with his particular brand of selective attention deficit, and then he said, "So, I think I'm starting to remember things."
The TV stopped on a Spanish soap opera. Sora had taken French in high school and sucked at it anyway. There was a strained undertone to his voice as he said, "Really?"
Roxas watched Sora closely: the particular, sudden stiffness to his motions, the subtle shift in his expression, the fact that what excitement he was showing at the possibility that his amnesiac younger sibling might be on the road to recovery came too little and too late to be genuine. "Yeah," Roxas said, and he went back to his repetitive scribbles that never looked quite like the examples.
It took a while, but Sora finally prodded, "What're you remembering?"
Shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly and bobbing his head rather ambivalently, Roxas said, "Little things, not too specific. People I don't know and places I don't recognize. I lived down at the main campus last year, right? So I must be remembering being there."
"Um, yeah, probably," Sora murmured. "That's really awesome. Tell me if you start to get anything else, okay?"
"Yeah, no problem," Roxas said, still staring at his paper like he couldn't care less that his memory was beginning to come back. "Sucks, though, that we had to move and switch last names and all. Seems like I had a lot of friends down there."
Roxas looked up in slight surprise as Sora suddenly stood up and turned off the TV. "Sorry, Rox, I'm gonna go lie down. I'm not feeling so hot." He wasn't looking at Roxas, and as he left he reached up and wiped at his eyes, doing a lousy job of being casual about it. Very much despite himself, Roxas's heart broke slightly.
Two more nights and Axel still hadn't returned. Roxas was sleeping worse than ever, the semi-conscious hope that he couldn't quash keeping his mind from really ever resting and the lack of REM sleep beginning to get to him. The note was gone, but that was okay; he still had the photos under his pillow to give him a bit of tolerable company when he thought he was going to go insane being in the house with Riku and Sora.
And then the day after the second night, Roxas came home from class and laid down to try to sleep off a tension headache. His hand slipped under his pillow as it usually did these days when he slept, still under the strange little superstition that if he had those physical reminders of his past pressed against his fingertips his memories might come back easier in Axel's absence. Immediately he felt that something was slightly different, and he sat up abruptly and tossed his pillow aside.
There was another picture there, face down on top of the others. It had a message scrawled on the back in freshly-sharpened pencil and equally sharp handwriting. Roxas picked it up immediately, heart pounding.
Things just aren't going my way this week and I've got no time. I think you should have this back now, and to be honest I'm kinda chickenshit so I'll give you time to think on it before you see me again.
Don't freak out and don't worry. Just trust me. I'll see you tomorrow night.
When he turned it over, his entire universe tilted off its axis.
Roxas walked as close to Axel as he could and murmured under his breath, "Why's he having us do this? Why doesn't he get Llyr and Hati back in there?" He was amazed at how easily the names were coming now. They'd never called each other by the codes the government had given them back when they were actually supposed to be those things. But since they'd reorganized, they'd all kind of figured that it was about time they put them to use.
"Apparently they were at it all night, pardon the innuendo."
Very vehemently ignoring the innuendo – Demyx and Saïx were probably about the last people he wanted to imagine like that – Roxas continued, "Well, fuck, if the good cop bad cop shit isn't working, what the fuck does he think we're gonna be able to do?"
"I don't know," Axel muttered. He tugged his gloves out of his pocket and pulled them on. "I guess he just doesn't want us to let up."
The door was metal and recessed into the thick brick walls that filled the basement. How the hell had Xemnas found this place, anyway? Roxas tugged Axel to a stop outside it and looked up at him rather worriedly. "Ax, what're we gonna do if nobody meets our demands? Are we gonna kill this guy?"
"He did conspire to murder thirteen people."
Axel sighed through his nose. "I dunno. I think we're going to avoid it at all costs, even if it takes a few months to wear him down. It'd show certain parties that we mean business but it'd still be really bad PR
with everyone else…" This didn't make Roxas feel much better, but Axel smiled softly, reaching out to adjust Roxas's thick black coat – which was slightly askew on his shoulders – and briefly nudge his chin up with his fingers. "It'll be all right."
A slight nod as Axel pushed open the door with a bit of trouble and let him go through first. It was like walking into a depressing cliché, the bare walls and the concrete floor and the single lousy lighting fixture and the man tied to a bare-bones chair. He was older, but not old enough to garner any sympathy for it – not that Saïx would've paid any even if he were – and his platinum hair was streaked with dry blood where he must've really pissed the berserker off. Roxas wondered how Demyx had handled that. Probably surprisingly well.
Roxas recognized him as someone he'd seen a few times around the facility where they'd been trained, someone too high up to hang around all the time, though. Someone high enough up that he knew Sora. When they entered, the man looked up and stared at Axel, and then Roxas. "Kagutsuchi," he said in mocking acknowledgement of Roxas's companion before his eyes shifted. A slight smile quirked his lips and he drawled in a deep, melodic voice, "Hyperion. Does your brother know you're here?"
It had been difficult, making up his mind on whether or not to tell Axel about Sora. But he trusted the redhead – Axel had saved his life on multiple occasions now, Axel had confided in him things that meant he trusted Roxas implicitly, Axel had never given him any reason not to. So he'd asked Axel to please, if they ran into the Keyblade in the course of their work, not kill him. Axel had agreed, and he'd never breathed a word to anyone.
In fact, he seemed a little more zealous than even Roxas was in keeping his family a secret from the rest of the Organization, because before Roxas could say or do anything in response to that question, Axel had grabbed the bottom of his coat with one hand to hold it back as his leg shot up and caught the man hard under the chin with his foot. Roxas wouldn't have been surprised if that had broken his jaw, but apparently it hadn't because all the man did was turn slowly to spit a good amount of blood onto the floor.
"Keep messing with him, fucker," Axel practically purred. "I'm not a cruel guy. I need the excuse."
Roxas couldn't sleep; things kept popping into his mind, things that were so foreign to him it was like he was remembering someone else's life, except that it wasn't because the memories felt so very right exactly where they were. He remembered what he and Axel had been during that year – they were the bomb squad.
He dug up everything he could online about bombings propagated by the Organization since they'd started, to jog his memory. They weren't quite your usual terrorist group – they didn't like killing
people, for one, not unless they really deserved it. Well, maybe some of them would have liked it, but it was against policy. Bloodshed, Xemnas had always pointed out, just made them look bad.
Most of the targets were local, government facilities within driving distance. Intelligence gathering, where they'd go in, take what they needed, and leave again – then blow the rest of it up. That was a real pain in the ass for the Feds, and it meant that nobody ever knew exactly what they knew. Others were national. Sometimes what they needed – or who they needed – just wasn't around. So they got sent places.
Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, some backwater town in Utah. Blowing shit up wasn't always necessary to what the mission was, but Axel and Roxas considered it a good way of covering tracks. And something of a calling card. It certainly got them attention, the fact that they'd clear a place out and then burn it to the ground with no casualties. Made people speculate as to what the hell they wanted. Built up public interest.
San Francisco should've been on the list, but the senior senator from California left unexpectedly the day they arrived there, so they went back to DC and the senator's lovely home stayed intact. That was the best one because it was where the least amount of business got done, if you know what I mean.
And it was fun, Roxas remembered. He and Axel were good at what they did, very good. Roxas could get them in almost anywhere unseen, and if he couldn't Zexion got called in. Axel made bombs that couldn't be defused. They worked well together. And they were glad to do it, because they couldn't hack like Lexaeus and Zexion and they sure as hell didn't want to be in charge of the bulk of the kidnapping and intimidation. Missions were simple, missions were clear-cut. They didn't have to think too much on missions.
Roxas never announced himself; he just lifted the covers on Axel's bed and crawled right in. Axel expected it by this point, and when Roxas settled himself practically on top of him, his partner simply whispered, "Hey, babe. Sex or conversation?"
"Does it feel like I'm here for sex, Axel?" Roxas muttered flatly, leaning on his elbow and looking down at the redhead. The light in the room was almost nonexistent, so he made a slight gesture with one hand and the space above them lit up softly with a thousand twinkling pinpoints of white light, a personal indoor night sky that raised visibility just enough to talk comfortably.
Axel snorted and replied, "So what'd you wanna talk about?"
A sigh as Roxas scratched his head and murmured, "We're doing this to take out the people who were complicit in the experiment, right?"
"We do what we must because we can."
That was Axel's favorite Xemnas-ism, but tonight it didn't get the laugh it usually did out of Roxas. "I've just been thinking… this was supposed to be like… like renovating a house. Getting rid of the rotten parts before the whole structure goes bad."
"I think it's only right. We know about the corruption, we have the means to take care of it…"
"But the thing is that we've spent over six months looking into it, and the more we find out the more…" Roxas sighed again, heavily, and bobbed his head in thought as he stared down at fingers tracing Axel's collarbone. "I mean, the president knew about this. What're we gonna do, kidnap the president and force his resignation? Kill him?"
Axel chewed on his lower lip for a long moment, staring almost blankly up at the fake stars. "I don't know, Rox."
It was a possibility and they both knew it. Roxas worried more and more that this was going to get out of hand, and he could read Axel well enough now to know that he was struggling with the same. They always whispered together, but now he was barely audible as he asked, "How far would you go for this, Ax?"
Green eyes moved to blue and Axel whispered, "Far enough to protect you."
That took a little bit of Roxas's breath. Axel spent a lot of time talking bullshit; it was probably what he was best at, and somehow people bought it even though they were entirely aware that Axel was utterly full of it. That was just the way Axel was. But it wasn't the way he was with Roxas. If Axel was in a bad mood, or if Roxas did something to hurt him, he'd lash out, say things he didn't mean, and so would Roxas. If he was deliriously happy, if Roxas undressed him and worked him to the point of incoherence, he would say ridiculous things, make promises that no mortal man could keep, and so would Roxas. Those were the times when Axel lied to Roxas, and when Roxas lied to Axel, but there was never and never had been, for a second, any deception.
When Axel said he would do what he had to in order to protect Roxas, he meant it. He already had, and he would continue to do so. Roxas's mood lifted a bit, and he had to smile as he shifted his body against Axel's and buried his face against the taller man's neck to kiss it softly. "My hero," he murmured, voice too soft and appreciative to come off as sarcastic. Axel hummed questioningly as though he wasn't sure he'd heard Roxas right, but Roxas just said, "Let's pretend I came here for sex."
Dinner was the most awkward it had ever been in their house, and it was obvious that Sora and Riku couldn't figure out why. They started off trying to talk to Roxas; Riku kept bringing up politics and Sora tried to prod something out of Roxas on the story he knew his younger brother was supposed to be
working on for his creative writing class. Roxas just gave little cursory yes or no answers, and soon Sora and Riku were mostly talking to each other. But apparently Roxas's bad mood was stifling, because shortly after that no one was talking at all.
Roxas couldn't help but keep glancing up at the two of them. Living with his older brother and his older brother's fiancé. Really fucking weird, he thought; what young couple wanted a grown sibling hanging around? But Roxas was recovering from a major medical ordeal, and he needed time to rest and regroup and of course they didn't mind having him stay, he was Sora's little brother and Riku understood and they were a family, weren't they?
That wasn't it. Roxas needed an eye kept on him. Roxas was an amnesiac member of the terrorist cell Sora was fighting and Riku was in charge of hunting down. Roxas was there because he was untrustworthy and they couldn't risk losing him.
How did they keep track of him when he was out of their sight, though? When he left the house for school? Roxas thought about it all through dinner. Serious felons on probation had tiny tracking chips implanted near the bone in their wrists, just under the skin's surface. They'd had the same thing, the thirteen of them, he remembered. Theirs had been quite palpable where they were, if you knew where to look, a little bump you could press your fingers to. Axel had burned his, Roxas had made a little laser incision and dug his out. Somehow they'd all gotten rid of them. The chips had been meant to protect them from capture, not to stop them from running.
Roxas rested his arms on the table and stared blankly at the wall as though completely lost in thought as he scratched absently at that spot, at the little badly-healed scar. When he let his gaze go back to the other two men in the room, he did it just in time to catch their stares moving from the motion of his own fingers to each other.
Even in all his time trying to be quiet with Axel, it had never been so difficult to keep himself from screaming. He couldn't look at them any longer, either of them, or he was sure he was going to blow up, so he got up and stalked back to his room without excusing himself. He reached under his pillow to take out the picture, the last one Axel had left.
He couldn't remember exactly where they'd been getting ready to go; obviously not out to the grocery store, since they were both wearing their business attire, the long black coats with the oversized hoods. They came down to their knees; a significant shortening had taken place to the design after a chorus of complaints about not being able to walk up stairs in the first ones. Roxas's was unzipped, and he was sitting on the floor concentrating hard on trying to lace up a pair of combat boots.
It wasn't something anyone would've taken a picture of, except that Axel had come up behind him and was reaching out to grab handfuls of Roxas's hair with fingers that were the center of fist-sized fireballs. Roxas remembered the flash of Demyx's camera and the blond's laugh that had alerted him to the fact that something was going on behind him. He remembered turning to glare at his best-friend-by-day and
the veneer of innocence that Axel had rapidly slipped on. With each day that passed, it was easier to remember.
Roxas had headphones in, so he didn't even realize that anyone had entered the room until the stupid little hearts and obscene messages Axel had been sending him via DS were replaced by an arrow. It was pointing to his right, and absently Roxas looked up before he realized that there was nothing but the back of the sofa and a blank wall there, and then he quickly realized that Axel had forgotten to account for perspective and was referring to his own right.
He'd been trying to point out that Larxene and Marluxia were back. Roxas reached into his pocket and paused his music, but he didn't indicate that he had done so to anyone; he just sent a little message back to Axel, who was watching the way his expression had shifted from thinly-veiled amusement to a hardened mask to cover his worry. Please ask.
"How'd it go?" Axel asked, twiddling his stylus between his first and middle finger as he leaned back on his arm of the couch and gave the newcomers what he considered to be his most winning smile – and what others considered to be the smile they'd most like to wipe off his face.
From the look of things, it hadn't gone well. They were a mess; Larxene's hair was full of dirt and partially-dried blood, Marluxia's clothes were torn practically to shreds in a couple of places, and they were both sporting a collection of extremely nasty bruises. It looked like the hem of Larxene's coat might even have been burned. Therefore it wasn't much of a surprise when her immediate response to Axel's question was, "Fuck off, you stupid shit." Her gaze and her voice softened only just slightly as she looked back to Marluxia and added, "I gotta go talk to Xemnas."
She was out of there a moment later, and Marluxia was left standing in the entryway getting out of his maimed coat and looking like he was going through quite a bit of pain to do it. The tone Axel used with him was identical to what he might have if he were asking Marluxia what he wanted for breakfast after the older man had just come back from a refreshing morning jog. "So what happened, Hyakinthos? Have a run-in with the Keyblade? Again?"
The look Marluxia gave Axel at that was so dry the latter could've sparked a wildfire with it just by snapping his fingers. Not only was it an incredibly stupid question, but of all of them he probably hated his other name the most; he said it made him sound like the main character of a stuffy British comedy, and nothing irritated him more than routine use of it. He tossed the remains of his coat to the floor and set about trying to get out of his boots. "Yes, Kagutsuchi, we did," he muttered as he braced a hand on the wall for balance and began tugging at the laces of one. "Your powers of perception never cease to amaze me…"
Axel remained totally nonplussed. "Did you even manage to land a hit on him this time?"
Roxas's breath caught in his throat automatically, holding for the answer. Marluxia sighed and said, "No," and Roxas breathed out, pretending to be engrossed in whatever was on his handheld and in his headphones but closing his eyes and thanking whoever was listening for that. Sora was on the wrong side of this, but that didn't mean Roxas wouldn't be devastated if his big brother were hurt.
"Eh, don't worry about it, I'm sure you'll get a hit in eventually, maybe a good punch right before he rips that pretty hair of yours out of your scalp, gorgeous," Axel muttered, going back to the Pictochat as he tapped away with his stylus. Roxas bristled; of course Axel only said that because he considered Marluxia a preening, effeminate moron and knew it would piss him off, but it was still irritating.
Marluxia managed to keep from starting anything with Axel, though, or at least from going along with what Axel was starting. He finally yanked his boots off and growled mostly to himself as he left, "I swear to god, that weapon of his is totally fucking different every single fucking time…"
Axel looked up at Roxas, who shot him an irritated glare. "Oh, come on," he said. "Don't gimme that look; I'm just being a jerk."
He tapped the stylus on the DS, the one that Roxas had bought him for his birthday, and the preemptive addendum to that sentence that he'd been working on popped over to Roxas's own screen. I'll make it up to you. You can gag me and pound me into the mattress.
Another glare was fired towards Axel's end of the couch, and Roxas muttered, "Fuck you, asshole."
And a broad grin was what he got in return; Axel knew that was Roxas's way of accepting the apology.