From Out of Town

When Roxas first saw Axel, he figured the guy was at least half-alien. Maybe even a full one. I mean, humans didn't look like that normally, right?

Okay, so Roxas had never actually seen an alien, but he'd heard stories. He was pretty sure he could spot an alien in a crowd, and Axel certainly acted like he came from another planet.

Roxas had been waiting in line for about two hours when the redhead two places in front of him first made his presence known.

"What do you mean you can't give me level 2 credits?" he said to the bored-looking government employee sitting behind the Plastec-paned counter.

"I'm sorry, Mr. –"

"– Just call me Axel –"

"– Mr. Axel, but those are reserved for landed residents of two years in class B –"

"Class B can kiss my behind, I'm not eating tofu for the next two years –"

Roxas didn't even know the guy, but already he was halfway between embarrassed and annoyed. "Will you just suck it up and move on?" he said loud enough for everyone in front of him to hear. "You're holding everyone up."

Axel swiveled around to see a blond kid, maybe a year or two younger than himself (but fuck was he short) tapping his toe and scowling.

Axel narrowed his eyes. "I spend two thousand credits for this stupid meal card, and for two-freaking-thousand credits I think I deserve something more than tofu, carrots, and that gawdawful health medly for the next two years."

"I'm really sorry, sir," the clerk repeated in a tone that indicated he was not in the least bit sorry. "But higher level plans are only available to landed residents of –"

"– class B or higher, yes, yes, you said that already. Well let me tell you –"

Axel's complaints held the line for a full half hour before Roxas snapped. Shoving his way to the front of the line (and ignoring many a protest on the way), he slammed his ID on the counter and slid it under the glass. "I'm class A," Roxas snarled. "Give him whatever he wants and I'll pay the difference. And set me up, too, while you're at it."

That shut Axel up. For a moment, at least. "H-hey, you don't have to –"

"Just shut up and take it!" Roxas was seriously not in the mood for this. First the guy bitches for a half hour, then he goes all polite and mannerly? To hell with it.

The clerk seemed to be so relieved to be rid of Axel that he ignored the disgruntled applicants that Roxas had shoved past in line. Within ten minutes everything was dealt with and Roxas was on his way.

"Hey –" the Axel dude put a hand on his shoulder as Roxas turned to leave. "Um, I should say –"

"Just can it," Roxas snapped, jerking his shoulder away from the redhead and stalking off.

Axel scowled at the departing boy's back. "I should say thank you, but I think I'll pass now!"


Roxas saw Axel for the second time in the cafeteria, and was immediately embarrassed. He carried his tray over towards the distinctive red mop and tried not to look so flustered. "Um –" he began.

Axel raised an eyebrow at his presence. "It's you again." From his tone, Roxas couldn't decipher whether or not Axel thought that a good thing or a bad thing.

"I'm sorry for being such a dick the other day," Roxas said, the words spilling out all at once. "I was in a really bad mood. Uh." Damn, this wasn't his thing. He looked to one side, nervous.

"No worries," Axel replied, waving a fork. "Just tell me your name and we'll call it even."

Roxas breathed a sigh of relief. "Roxas."

Axel smiled.


Three weeks later, Roxas had seen Axel a total of seven times, and he still thought Axel was an alien. If asked why he continued to spend time with Axel, he would claim that it was for investigative purposes.

Evidence the first of Axel's alien-hood: the gravity in Axel's chamber was set to 6.5. No wonder the guy was as skinny as a rail. All the physicians told you not to fuck with the gravity – no matter how fun it was – or it would start messing with your health. 6.5 was surely the measure of gravity on Axel's home planet.

Evidence the second: Axel never slept. No, seriously, he didn't. Roxas had gotten up in the middle of the night one night to go for a bathroom run and he'd seen Axel wandering up and down the hall in section 2C of the single males' residence, doing what looked suspiciously like talking to himself. Roxas had tapped Axel on the shoulder, Axel had jumped a foot in the air and then turned around red in the face.

"What are you doing in the middle of the night?" Roxas had demanded.

"I don't sleep," Axel had replied.

See? Completely not natural.

On top of all that, Roxas was fairly sure that Axel's hair was fully not of this world (that world, he corrected himself). No hair gel from Earth could go through rain in the simulated environment room and come out just as sproingy as before.


Roxas really hadn't learned about the aliens in class. Nobody had. After over two hundred years of cover-ups and conspiracies, the government had been forced to admit it: yes, we have made contact with life on other planets. But no, we still won't tell you about them because we have a two hundred-year-old pact with them not to tell you anything. But they are among us. Totally among us.

Yeah, Roxas didn't get it either. But ever since the first announcement had been made four years ago, the media and everyone else had been abuzz with rumors. Every other magazine had a headline where celebrity X confessed to be an alien. Was any of it true? Who knew? The selling point was the mystery.

Alien or not, Roxas fell to spending most of his free time with Axel. He didn't know anyone else at the colony, and because of his status he didn't have to work – he attended a couple of extracurricular classes, but not nearly enough to fill up his schedule. Axel also seemed to have a lot of free time on his hands.

The colony was still fairly new, but it was filled to the brim with young people (older folks had trouble adapting to planetary conditions, they said, it was hard on their bodies) so there was plenty to do. There were tons of sports facilities – keeping healthy was key to emotional wellbeing and planetary adaptation – including popular low-grav sports like faceball.

Axel was crazy about that stuff, bouncing around in low-grav like a hyperactive grasshopper.

"Your muscles are going to atrophy if you keep doing nothing but low-grav sports," Roxas said after one particular session.

"Pbff. Like I care." Axel grinned.

Sometimes Roxas wondered why Axel seemed to have so much free time. "Don't you have a job?" he asked.

"Don't you?" Axel replied, and that was the end of that line of questioning.

Courtesy of Roxas' intervention on Axel's meal card, Axel got a free rein of the selection of food at the cafeteria. Roxas could swear that Axel ate twice his weight in food every day (most of which was meat), somehow miraculously without gaining a single pound.

"What kind of fucked-up metabolism do you have?" Roxas was boggled.

"Eh," Axel would say around his chicken leg (okay, it probably wasn't actually chicken, but Roxas liked to delude himself), talking while he chewed. "I exercise a lot."

"Low-grav so does not count."

But Axel was evasive, and Roxas never got a straight reply. Roxas added Axel's eating habits to a long list of evidence that supported the theory of Axel being an alien.

One night Axel invited Roxas over to his room. Apparently there was a marathon of old science fiction movies on the tele-satellite. Roxas' alien detectors starting buzzing and whirling around like crazy.

Of course, Roxas thought. He wants to see how I'll react to aliens in fiction. This must mean that he's going to confess he's an alien.

However, after sitting through the original Star Wars, 2010: A Space Odyssey, and Alien, Axel had yet to confess anything. Roxas studied Axel carefully throughout every movie, paying more attention to him than to the films, but Axel gave no clues, his attention fully on the screen as he shoveled popcorn into his mouth at a simply disgusting rate.

Finally Roxas couldn't take it any more. "Aren't you going to say something?" He blurted out.

"Say what?" Axel turned from the screen, blinking. He was sitting on the floor with a bowl of popcorn on his lap, leaning against the edge of his bed, and Roxas was seated on the bed behind him with a small mountain of pillows surrounding him.

"Come on, you can admit it." Roxas crossed his arms.

"Admit what?" Axel's brow furrowed.

"Don't play dumb! I know all about it!"

Axel seemed taken aback. He paused. "I – I don't know what you mean."

Now Roxas was getting somewhere. "You don't have to be embarrassed or anything."

Axel turned bright red. "But – I dunno, it's kinda weird –"

"No it's not –"

"– and I didn't think you'd –"

"'s cool, really."

Axel cocked his head. "I guess I was thinking you wouldn't take me seriously."

"I totally do," Roxas said, leaning forward. "You've just got to prove it to me."

Axel grinned from ear to ear. "Alright." He got to his knees, turned towards Roxas, and kissed him on the mouth.

...This was supposed to prove Axel was an alien how?

Roxas sat there for a moment, uncomprehending as he let Axel kiss him. Hmm. Axel's lips didn't feel like they were from another galaxy. In fact, it was rather nice.

...wait a second.

Roxas skittered back on the bed until he was pressed back against the wall. "W-w-waait WHAT?!"

Axel blinked. "Um, well, you said –"

"I said I wanted you to prove you were an alien!" Roxas cried, still in a state of mild shock.

There was a silence.

Roxas looked at Axel.

Axel looked at Roxas.

Axel burst out laughing. His face was a little red, and his voice had an odd tone to it. "You – you think I'm an alien? Okay then. Right."

"You're not?!"

"Of course not!" Axel said, leaning back on his hands. "I mean, seriously."

"But you wanted to watch a sci-fi marathon tonight!" Roxas spurted.

"...I thought it would be fun."

"You eat like a pig!"

"...Excuse me?"

"You never sleep!"

"So I get insomnia sometimes."

"The grav in here is 6.5!"

"I sleep better that way."

"Your hair is ridiculous!" Roxas pointed accusingly at the offending red spikes.

Axel snorted into a laugh that was even wilder than the one before it, tears coming out of the corners of his eyes as he held his stomach. "Okay, now you're grasping, Rox."

For some reason the truncation of his name coming out of Axel's mouth, more than anything else Axel had said, made Roxas grind to a halt. "Well." He said after a moment. "Your hair is pretty ridiculous."

"Isn't it?" Axel threaded his hands through his massive head of bright red hair. Roxas was fairly sure that, despite what had actually come out of Roxas' mouth, Axel had heard, 'your hair is pretty awesome.'

Somehow, between the ridiculousness of the moment (and Axel's hair) and another four sci-fi flicks, Axel's misinterpretation of Roxas' words was forgotten... or at least put out of mind.


News broadcasts from Earth tended to be delayed, so everyone would hear things weeks, sometimes even a month after it actually happened. Roxas didn't care all that much – the news these days was filled with fake exposées on the aliens – the Nobodies was the new buzzword for them, because nobody had seen them and maybe they didn't even exist, they were nobody, ha ha ha. Roxas didn't follow politics and didn't want to, but Axel seemed to be up on the very latest news (latest being a relative term, of course).

"Did you hear about the Earth Minister?" Axel said over breakfast. He usually read the text broadcasts in the morning. "Second time this month! It must be crazy, people trying to kill you all the time. I bet he's super paranoid by now."

"Probably." Roxas shifted in his seat, stirring around his health bran with his spoon. It was getting to that thick, sticky, and virtually inedible state.

Axel seemed to be oblivious to Roxas' discomfort. "Yeah, he apparently lives in a virtual fortress. Security guards, alarms, booby traps, and he spends half his time in a secret hideaway that no one knows. He even sent his kid away to some secret location so that he wouldn't get involved. Hardcore, huh?"

"Yeah." Roxas picked up a lump of bran with his spoon and tried tasting it before putting it back down.

Axel seemed to notice Roxas' mood. "What's up?"

"I just don't like the news," Roxas said. "Politics. All that stuff. It's just a bunch of sensationalist journalists trying to make a buck."

Axel shrugged. "I guess. But it's pretty entertaining."

"Not really," Roxas replied.


That evening was one of those rare occasions when Roxas turned Axel down, claiming he was tired as he went back to his room. As soon as the door was closed, he cast his gaze over towards the stationary communicator. It was flashing.

"Hey." Roxas waved a hand at the communicator, activating the sensor. A holographic face popped up, a middle-aged man with a lined face an an expensive suit.

"How's it going, son?" the face asked.

"Fine." Roxas wasn't in the mood to be talkative. Actually, he didn't want to talk to his father at all for at least the next year or three.

"Are you going to classes?"


"How are they?"


The man in the hologram sighed. "Donald and Goofy miss you."

Roxas smiled bitterly. Donald was his parrot; Goofy, his aging old hound. He had spent the better part of his childhood with his pets and no one else, on his private little island of safety. "I'm sure you pay their caretaker enough to take better care of them than I ever did."

His father's exhaustion was beginning to turn to irritation. "You didn't have to go all the way out to the colony. I could have kept you safe here."

Roxas snorted. "Yeah, just like you kept mom safe."

"Sora –"


A frown. "That's just for security purposes. You don't have to say it when it's just us. I made sure your room was soundproofed and the channel is secure, so Sora –"

"My name is Roxas!" Roxas made a slashing motion with his hand, effectively cutting off the communication channel before throwing himself into his bed and closing his eyes.

Sleep didn't come for hours.


If Roxas had actually sat down and thought about it for a minute (which he didn't), it would have come to his mind that he had actually been spending the majority of his time with Axel for a number of months. It was hard to follow the passage of time when the seasons didn't change and you didn't pay attention to the dates because you didn't have any assignments that were due because you weren't even technically required to attend the whole two classes you were taking.

So when Axel mysteriously didn't show up for breakfast one morning, Roxas found himself at loose ends. He didn't think about where Axel could be until Axel didn't show up for lunch. When Axel didn't show up for dinner, Roxas had to admit he was worried.

But seriously, how sad was that? He couldn't go one day without seeing the guy's face? Come on. Surely Axel had his own life.

But – when it came right down to it, Roxas didn't really know anything about Axel. Not where he was from, not about his family, not what he was doing here. He didn't even know Axel's last name. Roxas had stopped asking those sorts of questions about Axel fairly early on, and Axel didn't ask a thing about Roxas. In spite of the fact that they pretty much hung out 24/7 – or whatever came next to it – they didn't know each other, not really. Roxas was uncomfortable even calling Axel – a friend? More like a convenience.

After a night of no sleep and mulling it to death, Roxas saw Axel the next morning again at breakfast. Axel waved Roxas over towards his table and they struck up a conversation right away without even mentioning where Axel had been the previous day. Roxas didn't ask anything, but he noticed that when Axel stood up he winced, and he seemed to have trouble moving his shoulders.


Things were normal again for the next month. Axel and Roxas started going to the new game arcade that had opened up. Axel was sickeningly good at every single damn game he tried out, beating Roxas time after time.

"How are you so good at this stuff?" Roxas demanded. "You come here in secret, don't you. I know I'm not Jesus, but there's no way you're this good."

"Honey, honey," Axel waved a hand. "I am that good. That's just the way it is. Feel free to ask for autographs. I'll have to charge, though."

Roxas wasn't sure how he felt about being called 'honey'. Axel's sense of humor was more than a bit odd sometimes. "What's your fee?" he rolled his eyes and decided to humor Axel.

"A kiss." Axel closed his eyes and puckered his lips in an exaggerated fashion.

Roxas snorted and walked past Axel to a new timed hand-motion game he'd been meaning to try out. "Whatever. Let's see if you can beat me on this one, too."

Axel pasted a smile on and came up behind Roxas, slinging his arm over the younger boy's shoulders. "Of course I can, Rox. Why don't you just admit defeat already?"

Roxas shrugged Axel's arm off without looking at Axel's face and stepped onto the activation square. "Never. Come on."


A month after the first day Axel was gone, Axel disappeared again. Roxas wrote it off just as he had the first time, and Axel returned the next day as before. He seemed to have trouble bending over.

At breakfast, Roxas could swear that Axel was eating twice as much as he had before. And did people normally eat that sort of thing for breakfast?

"What is that?" Roxas asked, wrinkling his nose at the fleshy red mass that Axel was ripping off his fork with his teeth. It looked horribly undercooked.

"Heartssss," Axel said, the grinning letting Roxas see more than he really wanted to of the food in Axel's mouth.

"Don't be disgusting." Roxas looked at his toast and cereal and suddenly didn't have much of an appetite anymore.

"No really," Axel said, swallowing. "It's heart. Probably a pig? Or some sort of synthesized pig, anyway."

Roxas was appalled. "People actually eat that?!"

Axel speared a hunk of flesh with his fork and ripped another strip off with his teeth. "I do."

Roxas watched with a sort of intrigued horror as Axel ate his meal.

"You know," he said about halfway through eating, "I hear pigs scream like humans when they die."

"You're being seriously creepy today, you know that?" Roxas said.

Axel snickered. "Oooh, Roxas is squeamish. Om nom nom heartssss." He waved a hunk of meat on his fork in Roxas' face, Roxas leaning back to avoid it.

"Cut that out," Roxas said. Axel just laughed.


Three weeks later, Axel was gone again for a day, again returning the next day. He winced every time he turned from side to side.

"Say you were allergic to strawberries," Axel said at lunch that day. He had a bowl of the aforementioned strawberries in front of him. They didn't usually get stuff like this at the colony, but an experimental grower had managed to come up with a bunch of prototype berry variants that thrived on this planet.

"Nobody's allergic to strawberries," Roxas said.

"I bet somebody is." Axel ate the strawberries whole, taking the green tops with the fruit. Roxas wondered how he could stand the taste.


"Okay, fine, but hypothetically speaking –"

"Why not peanuts?" Roxas asked.

Axel slammed the table with a fist, rattling his and Roxas' bowl. "Because I don't like peanuts!"


"As I was saying, you're allergic to strawberries. But you really, really like strawberries. In fact, you think they're the tastiest food you've ever eaten. What do you do?"

Roxas paused with a strawberry halfway to his mouth. "This is some kind of convoluted metaphor for life, isn't it."

Axel scowled. "No. Just answer the question."

Roxas bit the strawberry off the green and chewed. "Obviously I wouldn't eat strawberries."

"But you really like them."

"Well yeah, but I wouldn't want to break out in hives or something because I was stupid."

"But these are strawberries we're talking about."

Roxas' face screwed up in confusion. "I really don't see your point."

Axel sighed, and gave up.

After lunch, they went to the faceball court but found it occupied. They waffled about what to do next, and ended up standing in the hallway for a good forty minutes trying to figure out where they should go. Roxas kept making suggestions, and Axel kept turning them down, saying he wasn't in the mood. Whoever was in the faceball court apparently didn't feel like leaving, either.

"I had my heart set on faceball, what can I say?" Axel was despondent.

"You're being stupid and stubborn," Roxas told him.

"It's so horribly tragic!" Axel ignored Roxas. "What can I do without faceball? I have given my heart to it completely and utterly." He mimed removing his heart from his chest, his fingers pulsing like a heartbeat as he said the accompanying noises, ba-dump, ba-dump. He waved his invisible heart in front of Roxas' face. "See, my heart is beating for faceball, But faceball doesn't want it! Will you take my heart?"

Roxas rolled his eyes. "You don't have to be so literal about it."

Axel pushed his non-existent heart-holding hand in Roxas' nose. "Come oooon, take it, take it," he teased.

Roxas pushed Axel's hand away. "Don't be gross."

Axel let his hand drop. "You're no fun, Rox."


Two weeks after that, Axel disappeared again. When he came back, he withdrew to his room, saying he felt sick.

A week after that, Axel was gone again. This time, he didn't come back.

Roxas decided not to get anxious about it. He probably had stuff to do. Stuff that wasn't Roxas' business. Axel didn't come back the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. For a whole week, Roxas neither saw nor heard anything of Axel. He didn't show up at the cafeteria , the anti-grav facilities or any of his usual haunts, and he wasn't in his rooms.

After a week, Roxas went to the main office to make an inquiry. "I'm looking for someone," he said.

"Name?" The secretary said.

"Uh – Axel."

"Last name?"

Roxas fumbled. "I – don't know."

The secretary looked at Roxas like he was some kind of idiot. "I can't look up someone without getting their last name."

Roxas felt like a complete fool. Of course. What had he been thinking?

Yet another week after that, Roxas got a message on the communicator in his room. It was a test message from Axel. "Come to my room," it said. Roxas was out the door as soon as he had read it, not bothering to turn off the communicator to save power or put on his shoes. He ran down the hallway, skidding around the corner and skipping past the elevator – the damn thing took too long – he ran down the stairs taking four and five at a time and came out in from of Axel's room. The door opened before he touched the door.

Roxas walked in to see Axel sitting on the bed. He was pale – his bright red hair only made it look worse by contrast – and thinner than before, if that was possible. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and Roxas swore he could count Axel's ribs, even from the door.

"Hey," Axel said weakly.

"Hey my fucking ass," Roxas hissed, stamping towards Axel and placing himself before the redhead, looking down. This was the only way he'd ever be taller than Axel, but god damn he'd loom while he had the advantage. "Where have you been? You look like hell."

Axel started laughing, but it caught after a few breaths as he winced, bringing a hand to rest on the small of his back.

Roxas grabbed Axel by the shoulder and twisted the other man around, making Axel cry out. Roxas could see Axel's back now – what the fuck was that – it looked like there had been gaping holes gouged out of his back, eight of them about half a finger's length across, four on either side running from the small of his back to his shoulders. "What the fuck, Axel." Roxas let go of Axel's shoulder in his shock. "What the fuck."

"I guess I should've told you, huh." Axel shifted backwards slowly and lay down on his back, wincing as he did so.

"What should you have told me?" Roxas hissed. He started pacing. He hadn't asked Axel about anything before – not that he expected to get an answer – well, he had secrets of his own, he respected other peoples' secrets – but why hadn't he asked, tried to find something out before shit got like this, what the hell had he been thinking?

"Remember when we had that movie marathon?" Axel said.

Roxas stopped in is tracks. That had been when Axel had – "Yeah."

"I lied."


"I'm an alien."

Roxas went back to the bed, leaning his knees against it and taking a good look at Axel's face. He didn't look like he was lying or crazy.

"What's with that look? You were convinced of it a while ago." Axel grinned. The smile that had had the effect of lighting up a room was a million times less effective when the face it came from looked like death.

"Y-yeah, but –" Roxas didn't even know what to say as he knelt by the bed. "It's –"

"Well, technically, half," Axel amended. "That's why I'm like this. The genes don't mix so well, and the gravity doesn't help. My insides are getting all squishy."

Axel just had to find a cute way to put it. Roxas' eyes flicked towards the gravity meter on the wall. Still 6.5. "You mean –"

"You were right on the nose, Rox." Axel made a small gesture with one hand. "I guess it was kind of obvious."

Obvious. Yes, it had been obvious, like a lot of things. But Roxas was very good at denial. "Being here – the gravity – it was hurting you?!" he said, anger mounting.

Axel's lips pursed. "Basically. Kind of. Yeah. I wasn't... meant to stay this long."

Roxas's jaw clenched. "You –"

"Hey Roxas." Axel interrupted.

Roxas looked up at Axel's face again.

"Will you have sex with me?"

"What?" God, it was just one thing after another today.

"If you don't want to..." Axel looked disappointed.

Roxas thought of about fifty different and incredibly stupid things to say before managing to spit out a handful of words. "How can you think of that stuff when you're like this?!"

Axel's head rolled to the side, away from Roxas. "I've never done it before, and I wanted to try..."

Roxas slowly began to register the implication in Axel's words. He shot up to a standing position and took a step back. "F–" he breathed in and out a few times, the breath in his ears getting louder. "F-fuck you!"

Roxas spun around and stormed out of the room. He didn't start crying until he was out of earshot in the stairwell.



The man in the hologram seemed surprised at hearing that word from his son. He had been even more surprised to get a call from his son rather than the other way around.

"I met one of the Nobodies."

That definitely surprised him. "How?" the man asked, incredulous.

"It's not important," Roxas waved a hand dismissively. "He needs help. He said he's half-alien, and that's why he's –" Roxas halted on the word – "d-d– sick. Don't tell me you can't do anything."

Roxas' father was solemn. "Son, I can't–"

"Don't lie to me!" Roxas yelled, his fists balling up away from the view of the camera where his father couldn't see. "You're the fucking Earth Minister! You're the one who exposed the aliens in the first place! Don't tell me you know nothing!"

"Son –"

"Not like with mom, 'unsolved' my ass, I know it had something to do with the Nobodies but you wouldn't say a fucking word about it to save face in front of the media and the voters–"

"Listen!" The Earth Minister's voice cut in, commanding, and Roxas was reminded that his father hadn't gotten where he was by sitting on the couch and watching movie marathons. "I'll tell you the truth. I've always been meaning to, it's just –" he shook his head. "This isn't the time. Listen to me. Your mother didn't disappear mysteriously. She was – she was the reason I chose to reveal the existence of Nobodies. She was – one of them."

Roxas shook his head, laughing somewhat hysterically. "You expect me to believe that? That's fucking ridiculous! Have you been watching too many movies or something?"

"This is important!" his father growled. "Don't – Sora. Yes, Sora. Look at me."

Roxas turned his face to the hologram. God, he wasn't going to start crying again. He hated that; it never got him anywhere.

"Your human genes are dominant. With gene therapy and surgery, we had you made just like a normal human, but you've still got some of them in you. If – it's possible that you can give a certain kind of transplant to your friend, but there's not a one hundred percent chance it will take. If he rejects it –" the man shook his head. "– hey – wait – Sora!"

Roxas was already out the door.


Roxas had always been a sheltered – any kid would have to be, being the Earth Minister's son – but four years ago, shortly after his mother's disappearance, everything had changed. His father had revealed to the world the existence of Nobodies – but only partially. The Earth Minister kept his rivals and enemies in control, but there were always the spies, the vigilantes and the private extremist groups that resented the Prime Minister. A couple of scandals later – one too many scandals, perhaps, one too many cover-ups and the public started to get paranoid – and the assassination attempts started. After Roxas' English tutor had attempted to take him hostage, the Earth Minister forbade anyone from coming into contact with his son without extreme clearance and a minimum of three bodyguards at all times.

Roxas had begged and wheedled and threatened in order to get out like this. He just wanted to pretend that his father wasn't the goddamned Earth Minister and he could have a normal life like other young people his age. He didn't want to be who he was before, Sora, some stupid helpless kid who took it all and smiled and pretended that it was okay. A fake name, a fake identity later, and he had had something to call his own. His own life.

Well that had been futile, hadn't it?

Axel – Axel – Roxas didn't even know what he was supposed to think now, didn't want to think about it, thinking would slow him down from acting. If he started thinking about Axel then he'd slow down and sink down and probably start crying again. He'd think about it as soon as Axel was better.

When Roxas returned to Axel's room, they were just wheeling Axel out. The redhead seemed to be unconscious. Roxas followed the nurses, demanding to see whoever the head of this operation was.

It took threats, explanations, ID flashing, and Roxas wasn't above crying to get what he wanted. When he woke up, he was lying in a hospital bed with Axel in another across from him.

Roxas sat up, making his head swim as he was at it. His arm was hooked up to an IV, one which he carelessly ripped out. His back ached, and when his hands felt behind him they dipped into raw holes at his back. His fingers counted one, two, three, twelve of them with six on either side, and a thirteenth at the top at the back of his neck. His feet dropped to the floor, and he approached Axel's bed. It seemed Axel was still asleep.

Roxas stood there for a while, waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, no dramatic awakening, no tearful reunion, he went back to his bed and sat down. His nerves were raw; he was so tired. The drugs were making his head fuzzy. He fell asleep, and woke again to screaming.

Roxas's eyes shot open. What he saw happened quickly, but slowly enough that he could see every single variation in the moments of agony that Axel was probably experiencing. From his head down to his toes, Axel turned bone-white before his skin started tightening over his bones. When Axel stopped being able to scream, Roxas screamed for him, as Axel's form mutated into something sharp-edged and white all over, thin, spindly, something with no face that Roxas could discern.

He scrambled backward away from the thing, falling off the opposite end of the bed and hitting his head on the floor. He flailed until he was upright again, his head ringing, as he watched the final moments of the transformation.

When it was done, the creature got up, its limbs twisting and sliding back and forth in a disorienting way that made Roxas feel sick. Was – was this what the aliens really looked like? Was this what Axel was. Was this what Roxas was?

Something like a mouth opened in the creature's – Roxas couldn't call it a head, the opening was almost like a zipper. A sound came out that Roxas couldn't even identify, but it was two syllables, and ended with a long hissing noise.

It was the last thing Roxas heard before his heart was consumed.