Disclaimer: In true Xigbar fashion: As if!

A/N: HI. AGAIN. This story has a hell of a convoluted birth. I did a song-meme on dA the other week, and one drabble was for the song 'Bus-Stop Boxer' by the Eels. I want to turn it into a full-length story someday. This is that eventual story's sequel :D It is dedicated to, and because of, Nijuuni over on dA, the mother and shipper of ARR (Axel/Reno/Roxas)(LOL, she's the threesome mothership), whose recent pic/drabble submission of Axel and Reno just grabbed my brain and shook it sharply. The resultant rattling that took place inspired me to ask her permission to write this, go and do my customary hysterical flail and scream that occurs each time I throw another fic onto the pile to the oft-mentioned and weary Decorinne (who got a shit of a shock and thought I was dying when she first saw the overwhelming level of all-caps and bold), and then, once permission was granted (THANKYOUSOMUCH!) I went and started it :D

The notes are fun, so far. Because they also pertain to its original (I maintain that this is the sequel), it's like I'm doing notes for two stories at once XD

Hope you guys like it! I've stuck the link to Nijuuni's pic/drabble on my profile, so if there's anyone out there that hasn't seen it, for the love of God, do so!

--

CHAPTER ONE

There was nothing quite like riding a train at dawn. The world lightened slowly, shade by shade, shadow by shadow, the impenetrable darkness of night pulled apart by the silver lining the horizon, turning to gold and spreading up. Everything that had been obscured was now all of a sudden visible, the rise of the hills, the arms of the trees twisting this way and that, a sense of coldness overlaying it all. Axel felt like he'd turn to ice just looking at it, even knowing it was the precursor to another warm day.

Sure enough, inevitable streaks of pink appeared in amongst the pale blue and white that blossomed gradually from one end of the sky to the other, the fiery tip of the sun at last appearing, after an uncomfortable, endless-seeming night. Axel always had trouble sleeping during transportation, whether it was car, bus, train or plane. It boggled his mind that Demyx, sitting across from him, could sprawl so awkwardly over his collection of bags, the neck of his sitar case digging hard into his ribs, and snore obliviously. The world was permanently vibrating, constantly rattling, the small nearby cubicle bathroom a high source of traffic for the entire carriage. You'd think they'd all been drugged with a fucking diuretic or something, judging by the amount of times he'd heard footsteps stumping past down the narrow corridor, the tiny overhead lights flickering. Either that, or it was a single person with major kidney problems.

Axel was exhausted; he'd been awake for thirty-seven hours now, snatching only brief moments of groggy dozing when it simply grew too much for him, but he always snapped back to awareness feeling as drained as ever. Resentment had climbed like one building block on top of another towards the easily slumbering blond on the other long seat, crammed with half their joint belongings – but with the arrival of day, it all just kind of faded away. His relief was strong; this was the last day of it. They'd been travelling almost non-stop, through one means and another, for more than three days, and finally, the God-awful journey was coming to a close. For someone who hated to travel, Axel sure as hell managed to do a lot of it, much to his distaste. It was going to be nice to just stop, catch his breath, put his feet up, and finally pass out.

Across from him, Demyx shifted, making some gross noises as his mouth opened and closed a few times, before finding a slightly new position and falling straight back into peace, one arm jammed between him and the wall, arched over his face, fingers dangling an inch from his lips. Bemused, Axel shook his head silently at the display. From the way Dem's leg was twisted, he was going to cut off the blood supply. How many times had the redhead watched this happen?

He and Demyx had been living together for a year now, sharing a duplex in their hometown, before making the decision to cut and run after Dem's bastard of a dad started hassling them. It wasn't like anything was really tying them to the place, after all – Axel himself had only just returned to country anyway after five years away, before moving into the spare room at the blond's place, his childhood friend. And ever since they were kids, Demyx had done this, had twisted himself like a pretzel through every sleepover, every camp, every long-distance trip, much to the redhead's insomniac disgust. He was almost tempted to reach out a toe and jab the guy, startle him awake just for the hell of it… but then, that would just be Axel being a bitch. Not that he wasn't half the time anyway, but he still had his limits, not to mention his more benevolent moments, and Dem was doing this for him, pretty much. There was no guarantee he'd have ever left their old place if Axel hadn't made the decision for them, and nothing was forcing him to stick with the redhead – he just – he did. He just did, because they were friends, because they had a long and convoluted history behind them as teenage tearaways and fellow fags under the eyes of a critical local community and the aforementioned pig-fucker that was Dem's dad. Things like that meant something to Demyx, sentimental weirdo that he was.

Thus, Axel settled himself in for the show that would develop all on its own, and let him sleep a little longer. The train snaked across the countryside, effortlessly eating up mile after mile, the sun going from creeping around the horizon to launching itself into the air, beating down on the linked carriages and green hills. Its light flooded the compartment the two males had booked exclusively at a slightly higher price in order to carry on what they hadn't been allowed to put into the luggage carriage. It was no small feat picking up your entire life and depositing it elsewhere, after all; there was a lot of shit to carry along. Axel slid a little lower in his seat, long legs stretching out, warmed by the hot rays, watching the last vestiges of night dissipate completely, day taking precedence.

It was the clatter of the meal cart being pushed up and down the corridor that stirred Demyx at long last, the blond yawning like a cat, opening his eyes and blinking with sleepy incomprehension at his surroundings. His head swivelled slightly, a small, rough cough worked from his dry throat, before rasping, "…Hey."

The redhead smirked lazily, arms folding over his stomach, an eyebrow lifting. "Morning, Dem. Looking comfortable there."

The blond craned his neck to look down at himself, half-crushed under the massive hiker's backpack he'd been hauling around, still just about being gored by the sitar case, left ankle curled around under the opposite thigh. Features forming a cute, confused pout, Demyx started trying to shove everything off with sleep-weak arms, Axel making no move to help, just sitting there with a stupid grin on his face.

At last, he suggested, "Why don't you just get up? It'll all fall off you, then."

Nodding at this, rubbing his face hard, looking dazed with the shock of being conscious, Demyx, pulled himself up a little, wormed out from under the obstructions, swung his feet down to the floor. He grunted, "Huh. I can't feel my leg."

Despite this, like clockwork, Demyx stood, took one step, and promptly crumple-thumped straight to the ground. Reaching over easily to steady the sitar as it threatened to topple the opposite way, Axel cheerfully asked, "You doing okay down there, buddy?"

There was a long pause, before Demyx mumbled into the carpet, "I have pins and needles." As an afterthought, he added, "You knew that was going to happen." Another moment passed. "The ground is vibrating."

"Indeed it is." Axel settled back again, leaning the instrument against the wall, a satisfied expression in place. Somehow, watching Demyx crash to the floor each and every morning without fail had become one of life's highlights. It was heartening to know that, even in the middle of a cross-country venture, there was one routine that couldn't be broken.

Demyx clawed his way back up, stamping his foot agitatedly, performing a small, agonised dance in the middle of the compartment, shooting the redhead dirty looks every time he came into view, before suddenly catching a glimpse of the view through the broad window. Jaw dropping momentarily, he gaped, then demanded, "Where the hell are we? When did the world become hills, for Christ's sake?"

"About six hours ago," Axel replied, with a small, weary smile. Stretching his legs out, placing one foot on the opposite seat and crossing the other ankle over it, he tucked his hands behind his head and turned to see what Demyx saw. "We switch trains in Twilight Town," he recited, "and that takes us two hours down the line… to Radiant Garden." His features softened slightly. "Roxas said his apartment is only ten minutes from the station. Once we're there… we're done."

Still jiggling the life back into his left leg, Demyx's expression took on a pensive cast. "You think everything's going to be cool between you guys?"

Axel shrugged. "No reason it shouldn't be. We parted on decent terms."

Demyx nodded thoughtfully at this. "Well, as long as everything's okay." He paused in his movements, eyed the redhead off. "Do you think you guys'll, you know…" He rocked onto his toes.

Eyebrows lifting, Axel finished, "…Get together again?" He thought for a moment, considered the possibility, pinkie rising up to get its nail chewed a little. He shrugged again. "I don't know. Maybe? No?" He shook his head. "I can't say, Dem. It's been, what, three years since we were going out? And it's not like we've been pen-pals since then. We just sort of… kept tabs on each other." He took his finger in to the first knuckle, bit down meditatively. "I can't see it happening. Everything was pretty final at the time. But, like I said, I don't know for sure. I guess… we'll just have to wait and see."

--

"You know what sucks, Rude?"

There was silence for a while, before a deep sigh sounded out, followed by, "What sucks, Reno?"

"Little fucking bags of popcorn. I do everything the instructions tell me, and what happens? The fuckers burn. Every single time!" Disgusted, the redhead threw his paper bag of charred microwave popcorn into the trash, glowering down at it. "What a waste of money. And now the place smells like nothing but popcorn, of course – I'm going to be wanting it all day!"

With infinite patience, Rude twisted his head, peered over his dark glasses at his partner, and said, "Cloud's coming."

Reno brightened, exclaiming, "Well, it's about time!" He went to the window of the small office he and Rude shared at the gate of ShinRa Electric, sliding it open and hanging the top half of his body out. Ponytail swinging over his shoulder, he grabbed hold of the hulking boom blocking entrance to the car-park for balance, and waited as the black bike grew nearer, the noise of its engine soaring clearly through the air at the empty edge of the wastelands. Rude pushed his chair back, trying to get away from Reno's ass, uncomfortably close to his face. Sure, they were partners – but there were some things a man just shouldn't have to endure from a best friend.

The snarl turned to a rumble as bike and rider coasted to a stop outside the window, a leg lowering, boot pressing to the tarmac entrance of the power company. The engine cut out, leaving swirling silence.

"Y'know, Cloud," Reno warned in a sing-song, "you're supposed to wear a helmet when you ride that Class-A type vehicle. Much more of this fancy-free shit, and you'll find your ass with a ti-cket!"

The blond rolled his eyes behind dark shades. "Y'know, Reno," he responded in a sarcastic echo of the other's tone, "you're not a real cop, you're a security guard for a corrupt power company, so keep your mouth shut."

Scowling, Reno slithered back down onto his feet into the office. "Shut up and give me my lunch, delivery boy."

"That's courier, Reno. I haven't given you your food yet, it's not too late for me to accidentally drop it and step on it." Cloud twisted and unzipped a large, insulated black bag on the back of the bike, pulling out a smaller paper bag from within. As Reno reached for it, however, Cloud yanked it back a little, demanding, "Who am I?"

The redhead lowered himself to his elbows, eyes hooded, licked his lips slowly, plucking at his collar, breathing, "You're my daddy."

Behind him, Rude muttered, "Oh, Lord, my ears."

Cloud jerked the bag further out of reach, making Reno scowl, straightening. "Fine! You're courier Cloud, out to save the world from monsters and ShinRa and Sephiroth the almighty. Okay?! Gimme the goddamn food!" With just a slight hesitation, a hint of a smirk, the blue-eyed blond handed over the prize. Reno snatched, opened it swiftly to check that everything was in place, then lifted his chin, stuck out his tongue, and said, "Hah! I lied. You're a delivery boy whose boyfriend has hair like a girl's, and you couldn't beat up my grandmother, pretty boy!"

"Oh? You think so, do you?" Cloud's weight went more heavily onto his left foot, looking for all the world like he was about to swing himself off the bike and show Reno who was boss. The redhead threw the paper bag at Rude, shouted, "Protect the food!" before turning back and jamming his hands on either side of the window. "No entry, delivery boy, this office is official ShinRa security property, you step a hair in here and I get the legal right to kick you out on your ass! Don't you dare fucking try and touch my lunch!"

Cloud stared for a moment, then shuddered slightly. "That sounds… frightening, when taken out of context. Okay, Reno. I won't touch your… lunch." As the redhead flipped him off, he added, "I'll just kick your ass at pool tonight after work – how about it?"

Reno grinned, leaning against the side of the window. "That's your answer to my 'you couldn't beat my grandma' taunt?"

"Rude, you too," Cloud called, zipping up the bag again, making sure it was secure on the bike. "If you guys come towards closing time, my brother's gonna close the doors to the public and let us have the run of the place for a while."

The man's deep voice replied, from its resigned place behind Reno's ass, "We'll be there, Cloud."

"Like a married fucking couple," Reno confirmed. Cloud turned the bike back on, crept it forward to the boom, the redhead hitting the button to make it rise. "See you on your way out!" The blond waved carelessly, revved the bike, peeled away from the guard's station and into ShinRa property, where other hungry workers were waiting for their weekly Friday ShinRa-paid meal. Reno lowered the gate, turned to Rude. "Food me," he commanded, collapsing into his chair, tearing apart the package the man tossed over and attacking his lunch with all the voracity of a man denied popcorn in a popcorn-scented environment. Watching Rude carefully pop the lid off of a small tub of soup, he slowed a little, chewed thoughtfully, twisting his chair slowly from side to side with a toe. "It's been a while since Cloud's little brother let us take over."

"Business is going well," Rude commented, taking a cautious sip of the broth. "Sounds like things have been busy there lately."

Reno shook his head. "I tell ya, Rude, they are one weird-ass family. One's a delivery boy, one's a business tycoon at twenty-fucking-three years old, their parents are loaded and they don't touch a dime!"

"I wouldn't," the dark-skinned man admitted. "I mean, it's that Ansem guy, right? The scientist?" He shook his head. "From what I've picked up, there's nothing you get from that guy that doesn't have strings attached – and that includes his sons." He grunted slightly. "Better to be self-made than to owe someone like that."

Reno snorted, flipped a hand dismissively. "Well, yeah, but if I was Cloud – "

"If you were Cloud," Rude interrupted dryly, "you'd be the main whore of Junon."

Reno froze, lips parting, eyes widening. He sucked in his cheeks, knees knocking together, brows drawing low. "Oh." The look he gave Rude was… distant. He suddenly seemed uninterested in food, a fact which was enough to draw the other man's attention over enough to notice that things had gone awry.

"…What?"

Reno frowned. "I see what you're saying."

Rude arched a brow. "Huh?"

"I see where you're going with that statement," the redhead insisted softly, eyes lowering. Rude blinked behind his shades, mind grinding to a halt. A grain of concern flickered to life inside him, wondering if, somehow, he'd just crossed a line he hadn't known existed. Reno sighed. "You… you think…" His gaze lifted, met Rude's, blinking several times. "You think…" Rude held his breath as Reno's face lowered. A tremor passed through the redhead.

Lips hardly moving, the man ventured, with a tinge of worry, "…Reno…?"

Reno sucked in a hard breath, head popping up, and crowed, "You think Cloud's cute enough to be a whooore!" He started laughing, tears springing to his eyes. "You – you – if only he had – my kind of charm…! He could…!" He fell off his chair, clutching his stomach, head tilted back as he cackled helplessly. Rude watched impassively for a moment, before turning back to his soup. After a minute, Reno subsided into wild, hiccupping giggles, crawled around a little, wiping his face with the heels of his palms. "Oh, man," he gasped. "Oh, my God. If Cloud had my sex appeal, he'd be the main whore of Junon!" He continued to gurgle to himself for a while, as his co-worker steadily finished his lunch. At last, Reno dragged himself back into his chair, shaky and weak, still letting out the occasional feeble chuckle. He took a few deep breaths, smoothing his uniform, covered his face for a moment and gathered composure. "The next time I see Cloud," he said, muffled behind his hands, "I'm gonna laugh my fucking ass off."

"Didn't you already?" Rude pointed out dryly. "You think your ass can handle it twice in one day?"

Reno parted his hands, leered, "Oh, Rude. You really don't think enough about what you say around me."

The bald man thought this over, nodded, muttered, "Even after all this time…" He resealed his empty soup container, adding contemplatively, "His confusion is going to be fun to watch."

When, fifteen minutes later, the sound of the bike came growling back into range, Rude and Reno exchanged quick looks, and the redhead, right on cue, squeezed his eyes shut and started giggling.

--

Axel and Demyx stared up at Roxas' apartment building with something bordering on stunned awe. "Ho-lee shit," the blond exclaimed, twice his regular size with bags hanging from every available appendage. Axel, in a similarly lumpy state beside him, could only gape. "Are you sure this is the right place?" Demyx's brows drew together. "We didn't miss a block or street or, y'know, city?"

Axel stirred himself enough to lift the paper holding the scrawled directions he'd made after the last quick call to Roxas the previous week, green eyes passing over them all again, double-checking the number, before, with hesitation, giving a nod. "This is the place." Looking up at it again, he added, not reassuringly, "I think." Dem gazed at him helplessly, then over at the building.

"…Maybe we should ask someone," he suggested uncertainly. Axel nodded, shuffled up to the entrance, Demyx in tow, the reflective glass of the tinted door showing them as rippled, bedraggled creatures, before opening automatically, the redhead startled to find a doorman regarding them pleasantly, welcoming them in. "Good afternoon, sirs. How can I help you?"

They passed through into the building's elegantly simple foyer, Demyx looking positively nervous, gaze darting around the high ceilings, the hushed, shining interior. Axel lifted his page of directions again, offering them over, asking, "I wonder if you could tell me if we're in the right place? My friend gave us some instructions on how to find his place, but…"

The man took the sheet, eyes flicking over the writing only perfunctorily, before smiling and nodding. "Yes, sir, this is the correct place. Roxas has already told me you're coming, he said to let you go right up."

Demyx and Axel both stared some more. "So – he lives here?" the redhead attempted to confirm. The doorman agreed, and gave them the floor number.

"I'd offer to help you with your bags, sirs, but I'm required to stay by the door…" he apologised, eyeing off their load. Demyx blinked, waved the hand holding his sitar.

"No, it's – it's cool, we've carried them this far, we can manage an elevator ride."

Inclining his head, the man stepped back into position beside the gleaming bar-handle on the glass door. "In that case, I wish you both a good afternoon, Roxas is upstairs waiting for you."

The blond and redhead dithered for a moment, before Axel took charge, headed over towards the elevator, Demyx bumping the call button with the neck of the sitar case. The doors opened instantly, smooth and silent, Axel pressing the dull number six, lighting it up, doors closing again, the ascent beginning. Demyx fidgeted at his side. "Am I the only one afraid to breathe wrong in case I break something?" he wondered. Axel nodded shortly, eyes stuck on the climbing gauge marking their journey up the building.

"Yep."

With a cheerful ding, the ride stopped abruptly, doors parting to allow them through onto the landing. They checked their bearings, headed left. It was so quiet, not a sound coming from any of the apartments they passed, Demyx's voice the only disruption as he murmured the number of each until they reached the one written down on Axel's paper. They paused, exchanged looks, Axel taking a breath, butterflies suddenly fluttering and squirming through his gut. Three years was a long time between visits. He didn't mind being somewhere so foreign to his budget, wasn't intimidated by the hush – wasn't intimidated by much in general, unlike poor twitching Demyx next to him – but this… this was big. Nervousness exploded from its cramped, suppressed location in the fist-sized space within his chest, where'd he'd been denying its existence for the week since he'd spoken to Roxas on the phone.

Demyx shot him a glance. "You ready?"

Axel lifted his fist, knuckles rapping against the wood, moments before noticing the small doorbell beside the frame. Roxas, though, had been waiting, it seemed. After barely a pause, there was a clattering of bolts from within, before the white door was pulled open by a slightly breathless diminutive blond in ripped jeans and a sweater. "Axel. Hi."

Axel lifted a hand, gave a small wave. "…Hey, Roxas. It's been a while, huh?" He was pulled into an awkward, surprising hug. It was over before he could properly respond, Roxas moving on to hold his hand out to Demyx.

"Demyx, right? I've heard a lot about you. Or, well, I used to." He hovered indecisively upon realising that Demyx didn't have a free hand to shake, ended up taking hold of the sitar and doing it with that instead.

"Hey, same here," the musician replied, with anxious cheer. "Same with the 'used to' part, too." He laughed uncertainly, the noise echoed by Roxas, who hesitated, then gestured, stepping back.

"Well – come on in, both of you, this is your home for the next few weeks, right? Make yourselves, you know, comfortable and all." They entered the immaculately clean apartment, sparsely furnished in true Roxas fashion, just with everything a lot more expensive than Axel remembered. "Can I get you a drink? How was the trip and all?"

"Oh, uh, a drink would be great," Axel said, nodding and then shrugging. "As for the trip, well – you know what I'm like." As soon as he said it, he almost wanted to snatch the words back, in case Roxas didn't remember anymore what Axel was like, but the blond's laugh was reassuring.

"I feel sorry for you, then, Demyx," he offered, slipping his thumbs through the holes in his sleeves. "Axel's a terrible traveller." The taller blond grinned in appreciation, while Axel snorted and made a show of pouting in injury, knowing full well it was all true. Roxas waved them over to a two-set of lounge suites, backing away, saying, "Take a seat, get rid of your bags, just dump them anywhere – I'll get your drinks." He exited the room quickly, a faintly agitated air surrounding him. As he vanished through a doorway, Axel saw him pull up one sleeve and check his watch.

The redhead puffed out his cheeks in a sigh, looking around for a good place to leave everything, Demyx meeting his gaze with raised brows, an inquisitive tilt of the head. Axel shook his head, gestured with a heavy duffel bag to the side of the room, near a vast window. They trailed over, dragging their belongings, picking carefully past the low black coffee table, lifting everything higher so it wouldn't get scratched.

Axel set the duffel down, unhooked two bags from their position around his neck, shrugged off his hiking pack and placed it carefully on the carpet. Beside him, Demyx was doing the same, setting his sitar gently against the window, making sure it wouldn't slip.

Being suddenly so many tens of pounds lighter felt strange, kind of floaty, after having hauled them uphill from the station, before promptly getting lost for a good half-hour. To think that this was the last time they'd have to wear them all like that was almost startling, a welcome revelation.

Axel rolled his aching shoulders a couple times, sent a sidelong look at Demyx and grinned, knuckles resting on hips. "Not bad, huh?" he asked, quietly. He gestured a hip to the window, which offered a generous sight of the buildings and tall tops of trees in the park a couple blocks away. "Nice view." Demyx smiled, nodded, still obviously not quite at ease, understandable in the environment of someone he didn't even know, no matter how much he'd been regaled on the subject of Roxas, once upon a time.

"It sure is nice of him to take us in like this," he responded, just as softly.

Roxas re-entered the room, padding on bare feet across the carpet with a bottle of beer in each hand. Holding them up, he asked unsurely, "Too early? I can get you sodas, if you want, I think I've got a couple tucked away somewhere."

Axel faltered, smiled, shook his head. "As much of a homebody as ever, huh, Rox?" The spike-haired blond scratched his head with the bottom of one of the bottles sheepishly.

"Yeah, well… I get busy. It's easier to eat and stuff out of the house."

Axel accepted the beers, handed one to Demyx, who murmured his thanks, Roxas waving it off. "But what a house," the redhead commented, sweeping a hand at their surroundings, uncapping his beer effortlessly. "If I was you, I wouldn't even bother to leave. Screw the outside world – this place is nice, Roxas."

The blond ran his hands through his hair, glanced around. "It's a house," he said, simply. "I don't really pay much attention to it. I get it cleaned regularly, and I usually sleep in it, but other than that…" He shrugged. "I'm not really around a lot, I guess."

"And – " Demyx started to speak, stopped when they both looked at him, then ploughed ahead, "you don't mind letting us stay here, even though you're not around much?"

Roxas' blue gaze swivelled around to Axel for a long moment. "Well… I know Axel. I trust him. I definitely don't have a problem with it, otherwise I wouldn't have invited you guys in the first place."

Axel drifted over to one of the sofas, sat down experimentally, testing the softness. "But, jeeze, Roxas – I know you said you were doing well, but I had no idea you meant well on this scale." He hooked an arm over the back of the chair, as Demyx settled beside him, following automatically. He asked curiously, "What are you even doing these days? I know you graduated top of your class and came back here… but, then what? You've always been kind of vague on the phone."

Roxas smiled, dugs his hands into his pockets, wandering over, restlessly staying standing. "I got a loan and opened a restaurant," he confessed. "My older brother helped me out, you know how he's got the courier business? He put the business up as collateral, did a lot of riding around for me with advertising and gathering materials and stuff, and I took care of the operational side of things." Lifting a shoulder, he added, "It worked."

Axel gave a low whistle. "Cloud did all that? Man. Talk about trust."

"He sounds like a nice guy," Demyx chipped in. "You're lucky to have such a great family."

Roxas chuckled, scratched a toenail over the carpet. "Well, I am with my brother, at least, yeah. He's always done a lot for me."

There was a lull in conversation, awkwardness springing instantly into the space between words as Roxas continued to stand, eyes busily shifting from place to place, his two guests perched on unfamiliar furniture. Axel cleared his throat, asked, "Aren't you going to have a drink with us? Sit down, we'll catch up and stuff. You can tell me more about the restaurant."

Roxas sighed, shook his head, kicking the base of the sofa lightly. "Actually… I have somewhere to be. I'm sorry, Axel, I feel like such a shitty host, but – I took an hour off so I'd be here to help you settle in, but then you were late, and I got a call from Hayner in the kitchens, and…"

"And duty calls, right?" Axel smiled crookedly, Roxas grimacing back with regret.

"Sorry."

Axel waved his beer through the air dismissively. "Forget it. We're the ones who're imposing on your life, you can't just shuffle everything around to take care of your ex and his best friend. Jesus, Rox, we appreciate you taking us in at all." Demyx nodded fervently in agreement, the corner of Roxas' mouth lifting.

"Well – for what it's worth, I don't consider this an imposition at all. I'll be happy with the company."

Out the corner of his mouth, Axel muttered, "What, Roxas working too hard to have friends? Surely you jest." The spike-haired blond sent him a mock-glare, kicked the chair harder in warning.

"Shut up. And since I'll be there til stupidly late, you guys are both welcome to catch a cab over later tonight – I'll feed you, and you can meet some friends of me and my brother. Do either of you play pool?" He then shook his head. "I feel like I should know that already. Sorry."

Axel laughed softly. "What a terrible boyfriend you were, to not know if I played pool or not. Makes everything else seem just worthless." Green eyes rolled. "No, neither of us plays – in fact, I'll go so far as to assume that we suck. But when food comes into the equation, we'd be there even if you tried to keep us out."

"I'll get the doorman to call you a taxi, then," Roxas said, thumbs returning to the holes in his sleeves. "He'll call up to you on the phone when it's time, and tell the driver where to go." He checked his watch a third time. "It won't be til late, though," he warned. "So if you feel like eating something beforehand, I won't blame you." He flapped an arm over his head as he walked past them, through a doorway leading into a short hallway out of sight, "Anything you find in the cupboards, you can eat. Consider the place yours."

"He's lucky," Demyx remarked, once Roxas was out of earshot, "that we're not the type to take advantage." He stuck his tongue out with a grin, Axel reaching over lazily to flick his biceps.

"We're lucky," he corrected, "that he's willing to put up with our sponging."

"Touché," the blond agreed. "But we won't be sponging for long, right? Roxas said he'd give you a job." Axel gulped a mouthful of beer, nodding, wondering exactly what kind of job his ex had in mind for him. Roxas knew all the work experience he had, since he'd worked all but one of his jobs in Britain, where they'd met at seventeen and lived out their relationship, calling an end to it when Roxas returned to the States. He knew the kind of work ethic Axel had, and respected it enough to offer him a job in his own restaurant, for God's sake, despite the fact that the redhead had absolutely no culinary experience whatsoever. He'd been a busboy, among a myriad of other things, but looking at the kind of style that Roxas was living in these days, he couldn't imagine donning a stained apron, tying his hair back under a bandanna, and collecting people's dirty dishes into a greasy tub to rattle back to the kitchen.

Roxas emerged a minute later, looking every inch like a twenty-three-year-old moocher in his ripped clothes and dirty sneakers, looking, with a small stab at Axel's heart and memories, just like he always had back when they were together. He really hadn't changed all that much – just looked a little older, face a little leaner, and possibly with a shade more confidence.

Looping a bag over his neck, making sure automatically that his cell phone was in place, the blond said distractedly, "You still have my number, right? I left it beside the phone just in case, anyway, along with a couple emergency numbers. There's also – " He lifted his head, pointed over at a small bowl on a table beside the front door. " – a spare set of keys over there, in case you feel like going and checking things out. Just, uh, don't lose them, and don't lose yourselves." He took a deep breath, hands falling to his sides, shooting Axel a tight smile. "Really, I'm such a shit-head abandoning you like this, we've got so much to talk about, right? I wanna hear about the last three years of your life." He remembered Demyx, added in his direction, "And I'd just like to talk to you in general, I guess." His smile softened a little. "But we can make a start on all that later tonight."

Axel bobbed his head in agreement, said gently, "I'm looking forward to it, Rox."

The blond double-checked everything, said a quick good-bye, and left with his cell-phone beginning to warble in his bag, hands reaching to undo the clasps and snatch it out. As he closed the door, he said alertly, "Hayner?" Then the soundproofing kicked in, and Axel didn't hear any more.

There was silence for a while, the pair of them sucking at their beers, before Demyx asked suddenly, "Are you okay?"

Axel started a little, brought out of whatever reverie he'd sunk into, throwing a glance sideways at the blond. He swallowed, took a sip of beer, cleared his throat and lightly sank his upper teeth into the mound of his palm, holding his head up, elbow on knee. "Truthfully?" he sighed, after a moment's thought. "…Yeah. I am." He was almost surprised by it. Whatever he'd been expecting to bubble up from the past, it hadn't. He and Roxas had an old connection, and it was great seeing him again – but whatever powerful feelings Axel had feared would rear up to consume him were either taking their sweet-ass time, or simply staying back where they belonged.

"He's definitely a cutie," Demyx pointed out. "The pictures don't do him justice."

Axel shot him a narrow look. "You interested?"

The blond grinned wickedly back. "Would you kick my ass if I was?"

"Yes," Axel replied sharply. "He's off-limits."

Demyx regarded him curiously. "So… does this mean that you're still into him?"

"No," the redhead said calmly, sipping his beer. "What it means is that best friends can't date exes. At least, not mine. Not yet, anyway."

Demyx shook his head, patted his shoulder. "It's okay – I was just yankin' your chain. You know he's not my type." He sat back, getting more comfortable, looking around with interest. "Everything's black and white," he observed. Axel grunted agreement.

"That's Roxas for you."