A/N: Holy mow, eh wot. It's been waaaay longer than projected to get this chapter done 0__0;; A thousand and two apologies, guys; between school and taking care of my sister lately, I've been neglecting the universe and its dog in terms of fanfiction and review responses, but I'm clambering back up onto the bandwagon with all limbs intact and will be much better behaved in future, I promise :) Ahh, mini Rinoa just fell off my desk! *picks her back up* Attempted suicide because Cloud is with Leon… how sad… Hope you all enjoy the chapter, and please be patient with me while I attempt to recapture the whole mood of this story, eheh…
The next morning, Axel and Demyx rose early, standing in their boxers in the cold kitchen and wolfing down bowls of cereal while leafing through the increasingly worn real estate magazine that Roxas had given them. Through a mouthful, dripping milk, Axel mumbled, "We can find another magazine at one of the realtors'." Demyx nodded, shoulder pressed against him, eyes wide as they flipped past page after page of places way out of their price range. "A knife country one," Axel added.
"Does that mean we get to have knives?" Demyx wondered.
Axel ruffled his hair, drawing a whine of irritation from the blond. "Stick to the butter knives, Dem, their crimped edges are scary enough in your hands."
"…Does Roxas really think of it as 'knife country'?" came the next question dubiously, as he licked his thumb and turned another page. Axel lifted a bare shoulder.
"We could always get a dog. Or, you know, a budgie or something. Set it loose on all the psychos, watch them get bird-pooped to death."
"If we're going with bird poop, we're gonna need a seagull."
"And what, keep it in the bathtub?" Axel snorted, before shooting a sly look sideways. "Well, you know you could always just go and camp out on emo-darling's doorstep. Heh, you could be his dog, maybe."
"Oh, I wouldn't talk, Axel." Demyx sucked thoughtfully on his spoon. "You were putting out some serious 'bitch' vibes last night, with how fast you folded to Roxas' pretty smiles."
Axel gaped for a moment, then rolled up the magazine and whipped it across the blond's head, another, louder whine coming out of Demyx, hands leaping up to shield his poor, massacred hair. "Would you shut up?!" Axel whacked him again, across the forearm this time. "I wasn't being his bitch, I was seeing his point of view, you fucking queer!" He slapped it against the blond's exposed stomach, eliciting a pained yelp. "I was trying!" Whack! "To be!" Smack! "Mature about it!"
"Not that you're sensitive about itor anything," Demyx gasped, half laughing as he leapt out of reach and scuttled for the doorway. He paused, inspecting his abused flesh – so much of it bare, unfortunately, red welts were popping up all over the place – and pouted. "Jesus, Axel, learn to take a joke."
"Roxas jokes –" Axel pointed the magazine at him meaningfully. "– are so off limits." He gestured up and down to the blond's body, saying, "Go get dressed, we need a good early start. There's an apartment out there with our names on it."
Grumbling, Demyx turned and trailed away. "…Call me a fucking queer, you're the fucking queer…" His parting shot was to yell back, from halfway across the sitting room, "And you need to get dressed, too, so there!"
"Maturity? What is that?" Axel griped to himself, unrolling the magazine and smoothing it back onto the counter. He'd been through it backwards and forwards, and to satisfy Roxas had promised last night to go check out the cheaper ones on the list – but with absolutely no real intention of leasing them, unless a miracle occurred via bank error, or it turned out a vicious murder had taken place in one of them, which in turn would make it void anyway since Dem would be up all night hearing ghosts. He already had a sort of place in mind, as an ideal – basically, all he and Demyx needed was a carbon copy of their old duplex back in their home town. They really weren't fussy, they'd slept in all sorts of places as kids, before Axel had been shipped off to the school in England. All they really needed was a place to sleep, eat, and catch various connecting busses from – that was it. Roxas might have higher aspirations in living arrangements, but then, his apartment was fantastic and he was barely in it. What was the point of that? Comfort and a minimum of bathroom scum were about all the pre-requisites the pair desired, and so comfort and a minimum of bathroom scum they would have.
While Demyx was in the shower, misting up the mirror to inevitably draw faces on with his index finger, Axel yanked on his clothes and made a call to the realtor office on the magazine, announcing their arrival in advance so there'd be someone to show them around. The woman on the phone had sounded positive at first, dimming slightly when he mentioned their spending ability, but then bouncing right back with a promise of several places which were 'almost definitely affordable for their budget'. Axel smelled a rat, but nevertheless, thirty minutes later the blond and redhead turned up at her office with walking shoes on. The morning was spent driving from place to place, inspecting the various empty apartments with the background chatter of 'two working incomes' and 'budget realignment' and especially 'current market demand' working hard to silver-tongue them into a lease that would cripple them.
"Roxas' idea of affordable is scary," Demyx muttered at one point when Real Estate Barbie was out of earshot, Axel giving a subtle, grimacing nod of agreement as they stood in the cramped kitchenette of a two-by-four that was both overpriced for what it was and utterly wasted on two people. "You could share it with friends!" was the woman's chirping conviction on the latter issue.
"Ma'am, we have no friends," Demyx offered. "We're desperate loners with an affinity for guns and video games."
While the woman faltered and said, "…Oh…" Axel was distracted by the buzz of his phone in one pocket. Excusing himself with a raised finger, he stepped into the next room, arched an eyebrow at the number on the call display, then cautiously answered, "Hello?"
Reno had, for the first time in weeks, actually woken up early for a change. Well, eleven-thirty was early in his estimation, anyway. Maybe there were people in the world who would think that was the rising hour of the proverbial slacker, especially on a Monday morning, but Reno maintained that those people were Absolutely No Fun. And judgemental, too, the bastards. He was a night-shift man at heart, and this meant he was deserving of his late sleep-ins. Currently, by the clock, he'd only had about… well, okay, nine or so hours sleep. But he'd needed it, he'd definitely needed it, and now he was up and full of bleary-eyed vigour, determination, and just a smidgeon of leftover drunkenness. Mostly sober was sober enough in anyone's books.
Elsewhere in the apartment, Rude was still sleeping, and Reno was gifted with the rare sensation of feeling smug and superior to the other man, like he was actually doing something with his life in direct contrast to that lazy, lazy cretin who remained in bed, letting the day pass him by. Of course, Reno had his reasons for being awake prematurely, this wasn't a new leaf being turned in the life and diet regime – God forbid such things ever occurring, it was entirely too Tseng-like for consideration. No, rather, it was the act of a man deeply, irrevocably steeped in the intensifying stages of lust. He'd been dreaming about Axel, all sorts of naughty and delicious things that just didn't serve him well in the long run. Something had to be done about this, before he ended up spending his days doing nothing but washing his sheets at the Laundromat down the road. Was he, or was he not, a man? And was he, or was he not, Reno? Others may sneer and poke fun and laugh, but they were just jealous because he was such a goddamn stud. He had blocked more cell phone numbers of exes than Zack had ever even seen in his entire phone-holding life.
Not to mention Roxas! That goodie-two-shoes couldn't hold a candle to Reno's stud-ishness, and he fully intended to coax Axel around to believing the very same. Huh, how dare those terrible people posing as friends suggest he couldn't win the object of his affections! It was all too close to slander for words.
Thus, his new resolution which had him out of bed earlier than otherwise predicted. Rude had saved him from making a drunken phone call in those heady wee hours of the morning, but nothing could prevent him from pursuing his goal now that he had slept the majority of it off and had a chance to really steam over the insinuations that he was somehow beneath notice for a man with Axel's tastes. Had he, or had he not, sucked the guy's finger off? He counted it a victory, even if the others raised sceptical brows about it. He knew he was in with a hell of a chance, and he intended to increase those chances exponentially over the coming days and, yea, even weeks. That would show the fuckers. If Axel hadn't been at least partially attracted to Reno, he wouldn't have allowed it to happen any more than Reno would consider letting Rude do such things to his own hand. Good God, the thought alone was enough to want to send him retching towards the toilet bowl. Disturbing stuff.
First, though, Reno really had to get this weird taste out of his mouth. What was that, sawdust? Had he been eating sawdust again? Because Rude had promised never to let him do it after that last time, and if he'd gone back on that then someone was going to be in a lot of trouble.
With the curtains all having been drawn the night before out of a sense of mercy for their morning-selves, the apartment was dim and cool, Reno shuffling out of his bedroom in his boxers and making his way to the bathroom to brush his teeth. To his relief, no flecks of sawdust came out when he spat, though it left him confused as to how the flavour had come into his mouth in the first place. Maybe it was better to just not think too hard about it. Some things were better left forgotten.
His next stop was the kitchen, for some hair of the dog followed by a much-needed hit of H2O, the man very accustomed to this routine, an automatic occurrence whenever the alcoholic haze from the previous night fogged a little too thickly. They probably shouldn't have kept drinking after leaving Tifa's, but damn it, the woman inspired it. Plus, Reno hadn't ranted nearly enough on the subject of Axel when she'd kicked them out, and so Rude had kindly agreed to buy a leftover newspaper and sit with him for an extra hour in the park, getting the redhead moving only when a police cruiser swung past at a slow crawl. Huh, maybe Zack had been right about Rude. They should marry, so that Reno had someone legally obliged to take care of him while he had an exciting string of affairs with other people. He wondered briefly how Axel felt about open marriages, before his mind suddenly recalled the 'you may kiss the bride' part of such ceremonies, and forcefully ejected the possibility before his ears could bleed at the mental image.
Fighting back a shudder, he returned to the bathroom, climbed into the shower, remembering only at the last moment to kick off his boxers. The hot water was a godsend, dredging him up out of the worst of his hangover and shaking him off, hair dampening and lengthening, reaching down his chest. It was the sort of blissful moment he wished he could prolong, but in the end, his resolve kicked him out to finally make that goddamn phone call.
Returning to his room only to pull on some jeans and dry off a little, he grabbed his phone, carried it out to the sitting room, and found the number he'd scored off the little blond friend, by whom he didn't mean Roxas, that difficult creature full of wiles. Readying to launch into full charm mode, Reno listened to one, two, three long rings, before Axel's careful voice came swimming along the airwaves. Unfortunately, somewhere between his brain and mouth, 'charm' morphed into 'lecherousness', and he ended up leering, "Well, hello, fancy meeting a girl like you in a place like this." Oh, well. It was a relationship based on molestation, he might as well take it to the full extent and make it verbal as well.
There was a pause from the other end, before Axel hesitantly replied, "Hi, Reno. I'd forgotten you had my number."
Somewhere in the background, Reno heard, "The perv? Is it the perv? Tell him you want your chastity back." He grinned abruptly, feeling distinctly cat-with-cream-like. So, Axel had been telling tales, had he? Hmm, he liked that, he definitely liked that. The thought of the man recounting their intimate little episode made it all seem so much more real, rather than something he'd been made to feel he'd all but made up to sound big in front of his so-called friends.
"Just for the record," he pointed out with satisfaction, "I don't offer chastity."
"Oh, don't worry," came the dry response. "I know that much about you."
"Oh, I'd say you know quite a bit about me by now," the redhead musingly responded, stroking his chin with one finger, smirking up at the ceiling. "So, how's the man attached to my favourite finger doing today?"
There was a slightly strained cough in Reno's ear, an embarrassed sound. "Uh, well, you know. I'm good."
"Well, I never had any doubt of that," the man replied smugly. "But I'm glad to hear it."
Axel gave another cough. "Right. So. What about you? Anything the matter?"
"The matter? No, nothing's the matter, I simply felt the urge to dial you up, make some conversation, invite you to dinner…"
"Uhh, dinner?" He was sounding distracted, a woman's voice suddenly appearing muffled behind him, Reno praying only in that moment that Axel hadn't had some weird threesome without him. "I'm a little busy right now, Reno… Dem and me are house-hunting…"
"Ah." Well, that explained the woman, in a sadly un-thrilling sort of way. "That doesn't stop you giving me a sweet 'yes' to dinner, though," he pointed out, swinging his legs up onto the couch, settling his back against the arm and crossing an ankle over one knee to start picking at a loose toenail. Before the redhead could reply, he asked, "So, how's that going for you, anyway? The house-hunting?"
There was a hesitation on the other end, Axel saying with sudden non-commitment, "Oh, you know, it is what it is," alerting Reno to the fact that he was within earshot of whoever was showing them around, his mouth curling up at one side with a burst of amused affection for the apparent attempt at not blurting what a fucking waste of time it all was. How cute, the man had some sensitivity, perhaps even enough to make up for Reno's complete lack thereof. "Fucking waste of time, huh?"
Axel chuckled abruptly, caught off guard by the sound of it, not expecting such a raw statement of truth. "Yeah, well, you could say that." He lowered his voice, Reno feeling a little tingle at the depth of it as he muttered, "Demyx is halfway to convincing her we're a couple of serial rapists. He doesn't like her much, she keeps trying to screw us over."
Reno let loose a bark of laughter. "So he's not so bad, after all! And here I thought you were living with some kind of pure Snow White character." Axel joined in, a very pleasant sound as far as Reno was concerned, the man waiting for a lull before stating, "So – dinner. Now, Axel, what is it going to take to convince you?"
The other redhead gave a reluctant little laugh. "Reno…"
"Flowers? Champagne? Barry White in person?" Across the apartment, Rude's bedroom door opened, the large man making towards the bathroom with a towel and clothing, shooting an astounded look over at Reno. The redhead waved at him impatiently, shooing him off. The last thing he needed right now was a distraction, he could sense the fish nearly on the hook, these final moments were crucial to his success. "I can procure… at least two out of three. Or none, if none is what you prefer, what with you not being a woman, although I don't know, maybe you like getting flowers…"
Rude rolled his eyes, continued on to the bathroom, Reno flipping him off aggressively. Again, in his ear, Axel said, "Reno…"
"Yes?" the man answered quickly, following up with, "Do I get a yes? Do you make me a happy, happy man and agree to let me wine and dine you? Strictly as friends, of course," he clarified, without the slightest hint of sincerity.
"Oh, naturally," Axel mocked, sounding sensibly less than convinced. But then he sighed, and Reno could have cheered from the sweet defeat in that one little exhalation. "…I really need to get going, Demyx is starting to freak the realtor out… Okay, Reno. Okay, dinner. When?"
"Tonight?" Reno suggested promptly, with hope. Axel was silent for a moment, thinking.
"Actually, yeah, that's okay. Demyx is suffering withdrawals from the emo-waiter, so they're going off somewhere tonight, and Roxas is never around anyways…" Reno frowned at the mention of Roxas, wishing it was less a case of 'Roxas is never around anyways' and more like 'Fuck Roxas, and fuck me, come to think of it'. But, in the end, beggars couldn't be choosers… and really, he quite liked the thought of begging with Axel. "Do you know where Roxas lives? I'm staying with him."
"Yeah, I'd heard, and yeah, I do."
"Okay, well…" Axel hesitated one last time, then went on, "Come get me at eight. I don't know the area well enough to meet you anywhere yet, so you'll have to come to me."
Reno bit down on the lewd response that itched to crawl out of his throat, instead saying, "Sure thing, boss. I've got no issues with that, I'll pick you up at eight, then." He winked, despite the other man's inability to see him, and was unable to stop himself from adding, complete with leer, "You've made the right choice, Axel."
Axel coughed. "Yeah. Right. Uh, bye for now, then."
"Indeed – I'll see you later tonight. Good luck with the realtor," Reno smirked, "and have a fabulous day." Axel rang off, Reno shutting off the call with a bright expression, a grin spreading slowly across his face. Ohhhh, but he loved being right. Axel was going to be devoured by him, and would love every single minute of it – with God as his witness, Reno would personally see to it.
Today was indeed a most wonderful day.
Today had been… far from ideal, by either Axel or Demyx's standards. Like Reno had so succinctly put, it had been a fucking waste of time, and now, by mid-afternoon, spirits were low. It wasn't that they'd necessarily been expecting to find a place straight away, but they'd at least figured they'd have a few options on the horizon, rather than this sinking feeling that they were going to end up squatting in cardboard boxes on the edge of the highway. "Thank goodness for Roxas," had been Demyx's weak remark as Real Estate Barbie drove away, with which Axel had to gloomily agree. Yep, they had a place to go to, all on account of Axel's ex-boyfriend being kind enough and generous enough to extend his hospitality… and that just made this whole 'going out with Reno' thing feel even more weird.
How many times, since they'd hung up, had Axel been tempted to grab his phone again and cancel the dinner? He'd lost count a couple hours back, but Demyx was forever reading his expression perfectly and warning, "Axel – don't you dare."
"You know," Axel grumbled, as they began walking down the pavement towards Roxas' apartment, "you're supposed to be the voice of reason in all this, not the devil's advocate."
"And you're meant to not be an old man about this," Demyx replied patiently, hands in pockets as they meandered slowly along. "Take a chance on someone you happen to be attracted to, Axel, even if it is that Reno guy. It's what I did, and I'm happy enough."
"Yeah, because Zexion's really had a chance to show his character after one date," the redhead sarcastically responded, drawing a scowl from the other.
"Oh, hush. What's it gonna hurt, is all I'm saying. You're acting like some virginal little princess expecting to get jumped in an alleyway. To be honest, you're way too tense these days anyway – a bit of alley-jumping might do you some good."
Axel couldn't help but laugh, reaching out and cuffing the blond affectionately across the head. "You're such a dork, Dem. Fine. I won't cancel the stupid dinner, but I refuse to call it a date. It's…" He groped for words, chin lifting in the cooling air. "It's a…"
"Dinner?" Demyx suggested.
"It's a dinner between casual acquaintances," the redhead triumphantly summed up.
"Yeah. The whole thing smacks of fuck-buddies, huh? Ow, that was my leg." Axel aimed a second kick at him, the blond skipping nimbly over his foot and bolting for the apartment building up ahead. By the time Axel caught up, the doorman was already waiting with the door open, sending him a polite nod as he entered and met with an embarrassed-looking Demyx. "I feel bad," he whispered, clutching Axel's sleeve as they made their way to the elevator. "I left handprints all over the glass door… He pulled out a bottle of Windex and everything…"
Axel nodded sagely. "Didn't I tell you you're a dork? This is what happens when you act like a douche towards your best friend. The moral of the story is, stop being a dick to Axel, or life will punish you."
The hours passed restlessly. Zexion had called the night before, a short while after they'd got back to the apartment, and proposed tonight's date with Demyx much to the blond's self-wetting excitement, and while the prospect of being by himself hadn't thrilled him, Axel had halfway been looking forward to an evening of silence. Now, that was all thrown into disarray, damn it. While Demyx hurried to and fro getting ready two hours early for his big date, Axel slouched in the easy chair and scowled.
"Get ready, get ready," Demyx would urge him impatiently each time he fluttered past, to which Axel would firmly give him the finger. Reno had specified 'as friends', but that didn't mean he trusted the perv. His pinkie, and mind, would never be the same, never mind the little tingles that prickled beneath his skin, threatening to make him shiver whenever he called the experience to mind. What exactly was it about Reno that so repelled him, he wondered? Because there was a definite repelling going on here; there was no other way to explain Axel's reluctance. The guy was fun, but there was that sleazy quality that Roxas had described… That was definitely a factor in it all. And not just because it had been Roxas who had said it, he was sure. Then there was the fact that Reno was obviously pursuing him. Nobody had a high opinion of Reno, not even his friends, and that spoke volumes to Axel on what he had to expect from the redhead. Being targeted by the resident floozy wasn't exactly something Axel could count as a personal victory. Thus: he would use this dinner as an opportunity to make things very clear. The pool had been teasing; the finger thing had been… hot and disturbing in its own little way… but now it was time to lay down the law, and cut this at the bud. Friends – Reno would be very certain of it by the end of the night, just friends.
"Axel, for God's sake, stop sitting there looking like you're getting a hernia and put some damn clothes on."
"I'm wearing clothes," the redhead sulkily replied. "And they're staying on, too."
"Prude," Dem accused, before whacking him over the head, leaving behind a waft of cologne. "Have your shower, get dressed, and then you can continue pouting until Reno gets here." When Axel made no move to comply, he stepped in front of the man, hands on hips, looking fierce. "I'm leaving in five minutes, Axel, and I can't go happily if I think you're gonna just… be like this!" Stabbing a finger into Axel's tattooed face, he went on, "You're the one who agreed to it, you're the one who's enabled it all so far, so stop being such a fucking pussy and go have your shower. I'm not going until you're dressed, and if that means me and Zexy sucking face on Roxas' sofa, then so be it."
Axel squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, reaching over to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Shit. You are… such a…" Shaking his head, he couldn't even finish the sentence, instead pushing himself heavily to his feet. "I don't even know where we're going. Do I dress up, or down?"
The blond thought for a moment. "Well… it's Reno, so he's obviously classless, and he's got that security guard salary, so… down. Definitely down." He blinked as a strong finger flicked into his forehead.
"Yeah, I guess not everyone can be a Prince Charming emo-waiter," Axel sniped, trailing past him and disappearing into the bathroom.
"Owww," Demyx whined, rubbing his brow. "You are so abusive when you're dating perverts."
Axel didn't deign to respond, and by the time he'd showered, shaved, and left the bathroom, Demyx was gone. Obviously, getting Axel into motion was more than enough to satisfy him and allow him to trip off on his date with Mister Perfect. In the bedroom, where they'd dragged their cases to keep from cluttering up Roxas' stark apartment, Axel picked out a compromise outfit of half-up, half-down – jeans with a nice shirt ought to suffice. Not that he was putting any real thought into any of this; he didn't need to, it was Reno. Dressing to impress was not an issue here.
From here on, the waiting game resumed, Axel watching the numbers on his watch tick ever closer towards eight. Not that he was nervous at all, he just hated all this sitting around, without even Demyx's quaint idiocies to distract him. Here he was, supposed to be working up an appetite, and instead his stomach was churning. Oddly, his pinkie was also tingling. Stupid finger.
Eventually, it happened: the phone rang, bringing him jolting out of his chair, the doorman announcing the presence of a visitor to him. Grimly, Axel hung up, grabbed his coat and keys, and headed for the door. He and Dem had decided between them that Axel would definitely be the first one back, and so the blond had entrusted his ability to return to the apartment to him, with a dubious comment on hoping that Axel didn't end up seduced and Demyx locked out of the place until morning. Axel's biting reply that he could always just get Zexion to share a bed with him had been met brightly. Dem was falling hard.
Axel… much less so. Upon seeing Reno waiting for him in the lobby, he experienced less a soaring of the heart and more a swooping of the stomach. Noticing his reaction, Reno quirked a brow, Axel wishing he looked a little less attractive when he did such things. If only Reno could've been ugly, it would have been so much easier to dismiss him. One thing he had to admit to, whether he wanted to or not, was that Reno oozed sex appeal, and it just – it made ignoring him so much more difficult than it needed to be.
"Well, if it isn't the daisy of my heart," the redhead greeted him with amusement, evidently not put off by the lacking enthusiasm. "Looking delightful as always, Axel."
"Yeah. Hi." He sent a tight smile to the doorman, who nodded back, ushering them out respectfully. They stepped into the night, Axel taking a quick moment to look Reno up and down, the man wearing a similar, slightly flamboyant look to what he'd had on when they'd first met at Blade. Yep – way too attractive. This was not a good thing, not when Axel had a little voice in the back of his head suddenly nodding wisely and seeing how he could have ended up like he had the other night at Tifa's.
"The chariot's around the corner." There was a smirk in Reno's voice, a knowing in his pale eyes that looked a lot more smug than discouraged by his reception so far. "Can you believe that this entire street is paid parking? What're you doing here, man? This area's so upper-crust I'm getting scales just breathing the air." As Axel smiled thinly, distractedly, Reno continued to ramble as they began walking, "Roxas needs to downscale hardcore; this is the sort of place that that pink-haired fruit that works for him aspires towards, y'know?"
Axel lifted his shoulders in a stiff shrug, feeling the need to defend his ex's right to owning whichever apartment he chose and arguing, "Yeah, well… Roxas is doing really well for himself. He can afford it, so why not?"
Reno made a face, the notion evidently not suiting him any better than it had Axel. "Sure, but, not everything has to match your budget. I mean, comfort's gotta come into it, too, right? And if I won the Lottery tomorrow, phew, I'd get a nice house, like a house, with a gigantic backyard and a pool, and then just keep enough aside for if and when people accidentally gouge holes in the walls during the kickass parties me and Rude would throw."
Axel smiled a little at this. "Rude? You wouldn't get him his own place?"
Reno hummed thoughtfully. "Oh, maybe an outside toilet to stand up in way, waaay out the back? Otherwise, no – he's the only thing that stands between me and insolvency from too much liquor and porn. Me with a fortune, there'd just be a lot more magazines to hide when my mom came visiting."
Now, Axel couldn't help but laugh, because what else did you do when someone came out with something like that? Reno was just so unbelievably vocal about everything, including the shit you didn't even want to know about. You sure as hell didn't have to wonder where you stood with a guy like that, because he'd tell you five times to your face, with an increased level of sarcasm for every repetition. Whatever sleaze the guy might have, however much he'd earned the title of 'the perv', there was just something so goddamn charming about him, and it was frustrating the hell out of Axel. He really didn't want to be charmed, yet here he was, walking side by side with Reno, with the tension leaking reluctantly out of his bearing a little more every time the man opened his mouth.
Looking pleased with himself, Reno's step acquired a hint of spring, his ponytail flipping around as he twisted on the spot and began walking backwards, hands in pockets, so that he could maintain eye contact as he said, "So, I figured we could kick-start this little tour off with a visit to my favourite beer-garden, and head elsewhere from there; how does that sound to you?"
Axel echoed dubiously, "Tour?"
Reno snorted. "Of course it's a tour – this is your first time officially out on the town, right? I have to show you around, or it's no fun! You've gotta acquaint yourself with Radiant Garden, especially if you're trying to find your own place; how did that end up, by the way?"
They turned the corner, a sudden wind springing up that had previously been blocked off by the row of buildings, ruffling their hair and clothing, Axel having to squint a little against it as they headed for a car he recognised from the other night at Tifa's. Grimacing a little, he said, "Not so great, but, you know, it's early days yet."
Reno let out a thoughtful noise. "You know," he said, twisting back around now as they went to cross the road, pulling a set of keys out of one pocket, "I was thinking today, and I actually know a guy who could help out with that, if you're interested."
Axel glanced over, cautiously curious. "Yeah? What could he do?"
"Well, she's less a guy than a girl, but she makes you think that celibacy is a fucking great idea after an hour in her company." The way he said it, he obviously meant it – whoever he was talking about, Axel could be pretty sure she wasn't going to turn out to be an ex-girlfriend, not that that would have surprised him, if it had. "But she's, uh, she's got some connections, I guess you could say," the man continued musingly. "She knows all the places that are on the market before the real estate places even do, so she could fix you up real fast. If you want, I can ask her?"
They stopped at the car, Reno unlocking the driver's seat and climbing in while Axel went around to the other side, in time to see the redhead leaning across to yank up the lock on his door, allowing him entry. Axel spent the few solitary seconds running the proposition through his mind, trying to find the numerous ways in which Reno would require 'payment' for his services; however, the way he'd asked hadn't seemed to hold a whole heap of smutty depth. He'd appeared, for a brief moment, to be holding an actual adult conversation with the man, and if he took it at face value, then Reno had just offered to be nice and help him with something. That whole 'connections' thing sounded a little weird and mafia-drenched, but if Reno could actually set him and Dem up with someone who could make this happen faster, get them out of Roxas' hair quicker than expected…?
"So, you wouldn't mind?" Axel asked hesitantly, as he climbed in and shut the door.
"Of course not." Reno winked over at him. "We're doing this as friends tonight, right? So let me be friendly to you, and do you a favour." Holding up his hands as if having read Axel's thoughts, he added, "No strings attached, I swear." Damn it, he'd stolen all of Axel's lines – from the 'strings attached' all the way back to 'just friends'. He was supposed to be the one ascertaining all of this, he hadn't actually expected Reno to be anything less than a total pervert one hundred percent of the time. For a moment, Axel paused to sigh, wondering if, as Demyx had suggested, he was just taking this all a little too seriously. In the end, it was his own choice if anything happened with Reno, and if that choice was no, then a little bit of harmless flirting from the other man wasn't exactly going to result in –
He was yanked from his thoughts by a tug on one of his spikes of red hair, face turning sideways to find himself almost nose to nose with the object of his ruminations. Reno had managed to get awfully close, awfully quickly, and all of a sudden, Axel didn't quite know what his thoughts had been. He swallowed a little as Reno parted his lips, then blinked as the man said, "You're a lot more introspective than I first assumed, Axel. Somehow, I get the feeling there's a lot more fire to you than you're exhibiting…" Axel's pulse sped up against his will, his little finger tingling like crazy, but then an instant later, Reno was back on his side of the car, the arm that had curled around the headrest of Axel's seat unwinding and returning to grip the steering wheel as he started the engine with a rumble. Shooting over a quick grin, Reno added, "I'll look forward to when you finally loosen up, then, shall I? Friend?"
Axel gave an agitated cough, trying to convince himself that no, he was not blushing slightly. He really didn't do that sort of thing. Friend. Right. Friends. He could do this… he could totally do this, and he did not just react to Reno's proximity, and he was not enjoying the man's scent and wondering if that spicy hint was aftershave or natural; no, he was not. He especially wasn't finding the curve of Reno's smirking lips attractive at all, it was annoying, not attractive, definitely annoying. Because Axel wasn't on the market for anything right now; he was living with his ex-boyfriend, starting a new job, and trying to find a new home, and that did not leave time or energy for anything else.
No, it did not.
God damn it; he was going to have to dismember that traitorous pinkie.