Remember when I said this story would be finished by the time mid-December would come knocking on my door? Remember the deadline that I set for myself, DESPITE THE FACT THAT I CANNOT FOLLOW ANY TIME-LIMITS OR SCHEDULES TO SAVE MY LIFE BECAUSE I AM AN IMPULSIVE CREATURE, EXCLUDING SCHOOL-RELATED SUBJECT AREAS? Well, here I am right now, feeling like I am possibly one of the most silly ladies on the entire planet. It's been two months since my supposed completion (ACTUALLY FINISH SOMETHING, DARNIT) of Carpe Diem, but lookie here peeps! IT'S NOT DONE.


Well, I have had this chapter ready in quite a while, but editing was delayed (I CANNOT POST SOMETHING THAT I HAVE NOT EDITED) and now I am finally finished with sixty percent of my first chaptered story (Oh the horrors of imagining what to expect from me if I write a story with more than two chapters). I figured I'd just get it over with, despite a surprisingly shit-tacular day, which I was actually looking forward to last night. I've been half-depressed, half-hungry (NEW YORK FRIES OAO I'M SUCH A FATTIE), and a certain percentage of I-want-to-jump-off-a-cliff, and I know people don't give half a shit about this kind of stuff, BUT I NEED TO VENT. IN CAPS. SO I CAN LAUGH AT MYSELF ON A BETTER DAY WHEN I READ OVER THIS.

Anyway, I am not angry right now or emo (I definitely don't want to cut myself, and this was not meant in any way to be sarcastic) but I am simply tired. But the mere fact that I accomplished making the final adjustments to this chapter and having finally posted it makes me feel proud of myself : D. CLAP FOR ME. And my mood fluctuations are simply not something to laugh about (permanent PMS?) though despite that I am happy with myself!

Again, apologies for the immense delay, but unfortunately real life takes precedence over my writing : P. Unfortunately.


Carpe Diem

Seize the day. In my words, "Victory before insanity." That's what Zexion thought when Demyx had the brilliant idea to set Axel up with Roxas Caine.

- - -

Act III: (Calm before the storm …)

(October 26, 2008: Friday)

Roxas Caine, ever since he started high school, could never find a moment wherein he was grateful for the existence of Chemistry. The subject was simply abysmal no matter how he looked at it, and if his eyes so much as imagined the periodic table anywhere he would start to itch. It wasn't as if he failed the class. Chemistry was actually one of his best areas concerning school, but that didn't mean he enjoyed it. Roxas didn't have much of a reason for the unwarranted dislike, so he told himself day after day, as he walked into the Chem. Room and put on his lab gown and goggles that he was quite simply allergic to Chemistry. It was scientific fact and therefore could not be contradicted.

This was in freshman year when the honours class took the course as a sort of introduction in the beginning of the year, then a full term sometime in the middle.

Roxas detested every minute of it. Atomic mass, atomic number, Fe, protons, electrons, ionic compounds. So when they focused more on Biology, he was more than thankful for the break. Unfortunately, he would remind himself moodily every Science class, Chemistry was the main focus of the curriculum during junior year. Having no tolerance for the subject, Roxas eventually concluded somewhere in the middle of summer before his second year at Trinity High School that he would not take the honours class for Chemistry at all. And the moment he walked into the Chem. Lab for the first time as a junior, Roxas couldn't help but think that his aversion towards the dreaded subject was a godsend.

Chemistry was the one and only class he had with Axel Kashou.

Roxas was eternally grateful for this opportunity. Within that fifty-two minute span of time, when he was trapped in the hellish Chem. Lab, he could take his sweet time staring at the back of Axel's head, make up some stupid excuse to walk past the cupboard where Axel was, work in a group with Axel, let Axel borrow a pencil - at some point, the subject changed from 'Chemistry' to 'Axel Kashou.'

Roxas was discreet about all of this because not only was talking to Axel going to take a large chunk out of his guts but also the redhead hung out with a different kind of crowd from his. Axel was popular, always in the group where the sun shone brightest, and Roxas was simply within the crowd that ranked second to the student body icons: the academic-but-not-nerdy-and-slightly-athletic group. His worth simply wasn't as appreciated.

But within the Chem. Lab, the two had never once greeted each other or had a decent conversation. Seeing as school was only just beginning, and they were only on the month of October, Roxas was adamant about not giving up hope.

Maybe, he thought, just maybe, one of these days I can approach him and have a real conversation.

It was definitely one of his longtime goals in life, ever since he met Axel one fateful afternoon on his first day at Trinity. The redhead sparked his curiosity, and there was something about him that fascinated Roxas. Axel was vivid without being blinding, his actions were straightforward but didn't reveal everything about him, and he could be himself without trying. Roxas could see the way he acted when he was with his friends, and he had to say that Axel was genuine.

One can only imagine how many smiles Roxas cracked when he recalled Demyx Diluvia requesting (albeit with underlying blackmail) that he play bass guitar for him in the Talent Show. Which meant that Roxas would be spending two and a half months within the company of Axel. Granted, Demyx and Tidus were always there for rehearsals as well, but they mostly kept to themselves. They only ever argued anyway.

That left Axel and Roxas with each other, and the blond couldn't say that he had anything to complain about. Except maybe that he secretly wanted - just a tiny, little bit - rehearsal schedules to be lengthened, but that would make things a little too obvious. Aside from that miniscule, somewhat irrelevant detail, Roxas was living a happy dream.

Upon the discovery that Demyx held all three of them, Tidus, Axel, and Roxas, within the palm of his hand up until the night of December 16, Axel and Roxas had formed some sort of mourning camaraderie. Poor Tidus was, more often than not, too disgruntled to talk to either of them because of his frequent bickering with Demyx, and thus could not join their non-resistant alliance. "Neutrality is probably a good idea," Axel had said, his smile a mixture of fear and well contained resentment. "Demyx waging war on both of us sounds like a bitter hell that I'd rather avoid."

Roxas wholeheartedly agreed.

He and Axel had grown a little more acquainted with each other over the course of the past few weeks and now they greeted each other in the hallway, conversations were frequent to the point when Roxas' tally went past the fingers on his hands, and Axel had spent a whole afternoon with him one day. It was when all the sports teams and managers were meeting after school on a Monday. Roxas felt himself smiling involuntarily every time he remembered.

"So …" Axel had said, grinning as their large group assembled on the bleachers facing the spacious green of the field. "You're one of the team managers. Any reason why?" He had wagged his eyebrows at Roxas.

Having caught the implied meaning, Roxas had rolled his eyes, nudging Axel with his elbow as they sat beside each other on one of the front benches. "Oh, you know, no particular reason. It's just that I wanted to see every single event you were in, stare at you a bit, possibly drool while you do the one-hundred meter dash, and take videos like a complete stalker and watch them at night."

Axel had also rolled his eyes at the sarcasm, leaning his back on Roxas' shoulder as he said, "Oh, wow. I didn't know you adored me so much, Roxas. Maybe I can give you a lock of my hair to go with your collection of stalker pictures, videos, used tissue - oh, and I'm missing my blue boxers, so I'm guessing you pilfered those, too."

Roxas had snorted, giving the redhead an incredulous look. "Nah, I already have a lock of your hair that I stole from your pink, sparkle brush one night when I was going through your bathroom, so it's all good."

Gasping in pretend shock, Axel had replied, "That's supposed to be secret! You are a stalker!"

It was not a difficult task to talk to him - in fact, it seemed more of an enjoyable freedom than a "task" - and when Roxas did exchange a few words or two, Axel could manage to brighten his day with a simple comment, or even just a smile. The blond liked this about the redhead; even the smallest things, no matter how plain, as long as it was Axel, could make Roxas a little happy.

That would explain why, as the day of October 26 went by, within the Chem. Lab, Roxas was sitting happily at his station, the sight of the large periodic table at the front of the room not as revolting as it seemed on days when Axel's presence was lacking.

"All right, juniors," the teacher drawled, standing behind his large desk, addressing the room with lack of interest. "The materials and procedure for this experiment are all handed to you on a silver platter if you would all care to look at the sheets placed on your stations. And no, Jeremy, you can't do the lab if you have no lab gown. You were given five days' notice beforehand, so I expect you to be more responsible. Alright, everyone else who came prepared, you know the drill: Wear your goggles and gloves, don't inhale anything, don't eat anything, and don't break the costly materials. Remember to record your observations. Lab reports are due tomorrow, Jeremy. Get working, everyone."

"Hmm," Hayner muttered, taking the sheet of paper that listed the materials and procedure from atop his and Roxas' station. He eyed the thing with potent disgust. "First experiment's potassium iodide and lead nitrate. Yum. I'll get those, and you get two test tubes, a beaker, and a stirring rod. We can get the other stuff later." When the blond made to go where the chemicals were on a long table at the back of the room, he paused when there was no response from Roxas. Hayner turned back around, ready to get his best friend's ass moving, but was forced to stare a couple of seconds as he caught the face-splitting grin on the younger blond's face.

From the front of the room, Axel turned around, completely ignoring Riku who was slaving over gathering materials without getting trampled, and waved to Roxas, smile competing with the toxin levels of the chemicals in the room. Roxas waved back, trying not to laugh, and Hayner snorted in disgust.

"Are you listening to me at all, you bum?" he snapped, whacking Roxas on the back of the head.

"Ow!" Roxas shouted, swivelling around to glare at Hayner. "What was that for? And did you just call me a bum?"

Rolling his eyes, Hayner explained, "Yes, you bum. I'm cutting down on the swearing since I have to pay Olette five munny every time I do. Now get moving! Two test tubes, beaker, stirring rod!"

"Alright, alright," Roxas sighed, holding up his hands in surrender, moving to the large cupboard that held all of the assigned materials.

Hayner shook his head as he collected two bottles filled with potassium iodide and lead nitrate, looking around for beakers so he could measure 5 mL of each chemical, but froze when he saw Roxas all the way across the classroom - nowhere near the equipment cupboard - chatting it up with Axel. Scowling venomously, Hayner placed the required chemicals atop their station and proceeded to the front of the room, intent on dragging Roxas towards where he needed to be. Which was not in conversation with Flame-for-Brains.

"Uh, hello. Yeah," Hayner started, arms crossed in front of his chest as he smiled irritably at his best friend. Turning to Axel, the older blond frowned heavily, hoping for all that he was worth that his displeasure was really obvious. "Do you mind if I take back my idiot over here? You see, if you're in the room, he tends to catch ADD and forgets all about what we're supposed to be doing. So if you'd stop distracting him for five seconds, maybe you two can chat it up like girls later when we're done with this dumb crap."

Axel merely raised his brows as high as they would go. Roxas palmed his face, either embarrassed or simply speechless. Hayner continued to glare at Axel.

Scratching the back of his head, looking slightly perplexed if not thoroughly amused, Axel glanced at Roxas, then turned back to Hayner with a slight smirk. "Fine by me, buddy. Just don't take too long. Me and your 'idiot' over here were having an interesting talk. See ya later then, Roxas." With a two-fingered salute, Axel headed back to his own station where Riku was looking absolutely disgruntled, although all their materials were now complete.

With a snort, Hayner dragged Roxas back to their table by the arm. He placed him in his stool, making his friend sit down despite protest, and glared at Roxas.

"Dude," he began, not at all happy. "Shouldn't you be the one telling me to haul ass here? What're you doing slacking off!?"

Roxas winced as a couple of their classmates glanced their way, then gave Hayner a reproachful look. "I was about to get our materials, Hayner. Axel just had something to say, and I couldn't just ignore him, could I?"

Brown eyes rolling in their sockets, the older blond fished out two pairs of goggles from a drawer underneath their table and chucked one at Roxas which he caught. "Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Just get the materials and let's get this crap over and done with."

Roxas left their station, sighing in resignation, but was smiling later when he got all the materials together. Hayner gave him a look that asked why on earth he looked so damn amused, and Roxas answered him, "You said crap two times. I'm telling Olette later."

Frowning stormily, not at all finding that threat very funny, Hayner glowered unhappily at his best friend. "You do that Roxas, and we're going to have problems."

Grinning to himself as he sorted through the procedure sheet, Roxas quashed the laughter that was tempted to come bubbling out of his mouth. "Oh, yeah, Hayner. That's a real threat right there, because that's what you said last time I told on you."

"I followed through with that threat!" Hayner protested.

Roxas gave him a blank stare. "You pushed me into a playground sandbox. That's not very threatening."

"And," Hayner added, pointing a finger in front of Roxas's face, "I got sand into the most awkward places you can imagine, Roxas. You want a replay of that?"

As he winced in recollection of the hellish bath that incident had required afterward, Roxas was saved the suffering of having to reply by their Chemistry teacher who happened to be passing by. "Less chatting, boys. This experiment is not going to do itself."

Muttering their apologies, Hayner and Roxas proceeded to get on task, organizing all the materials on their station. As the teacher sauntered past them to attend to other mischief-makers, Hayner began to snicker. Roxas cracked a grin as his best friend whispered, "Get it? He said the experiment's not gonna do itself." The two of them laughed silently to themselves as they got to work.

They breezed through the tests, Roxas taking note of their observations and results, and soon managed to arrive at test four, the final experiment. Roxas noted this with relief as he jotted down observations on the lab sheet which was due the next day, and glanced up as Hayner read aloud from the procedure. "'Warning: The chemicals in experiment four can combust if not measured and combined properly.' Better be careful then, Roxas."

The younger blond nodded his consent, then whipped his head to Hayner, crying, "Hey! I'm not doing it alone." Roxas glanced at the procedure warily, then reread the warning. He frowned at his lab partner, and Hayner shrugged half-heartedly. "Dude, you're smarter than me. I don't wanna blow up our table and fail the class."

Sighing as he pinched the bridge of his nose, Roxas reread the procedure once more, then with a longsuffering look began measuring chemicals in their respectively labelled test tubes and had Hayner prepare the Bunsen burner. Warily feeling the material of his gloves against his palms, Roxas grasped the test tube holder firmly in one hand as he checked the measurement on the three he had filled. Holding one slightly above the burner, Roxas was about to add the second chemical as the first one bubbled, when he felt a prickling sensation and looked up instinctually.

From the front of the classroom Roxas caught Axel looking at him. The redhead seemed surprised that he noticed, but waved good naturedly when he saw Roxas look up. The blond grinned and had half a mind to wave back but was brought back down to earth with Hayner's jittery snap of, "Roxas, what the hell!? Are you crazy? You almost poured that stuff on our notes!"

Apologizing hastily, Roxas focused on the experiment, blushing heavily as he felt Axel's amusement from so far away. Trying his utmost to concentrate, Roxas added the chemical to the heated liquid in test tube one, watching as the steaming concoction turned a deep purple.

"Sweet," Hayner muttered in awe, handing Roxas the next test tube. "It says to wait a couple of minutes before adding the last chemical." He glanced up at the wall clock hanging atop the whiteboard in front of the classroom. "We got time."

As Hayner took down notes, asking Roxas now and again what he should write down, the blond glanced in fascination at the purple liquid within the test tube held firmly by the test tube holder he had in hand. Roxas wondered vaguely what colour it would turn once they added the third chemical, and began sorting through the rainbow in his head. As instructed, after a five-minute wait, Roxas had Hayner pour in the third chemical and the two watched in fascination as the mixture started to emit a hazy cloud of smoke. It dissipated moments later, and both Roxas and Hayner were disappointed to find that the colour of their mixture was still purple.

As Hayner finished writing down their observations, he glanced momentarily at Roxas who was beginning to clean up their table. "Well, I'm glad that's done. You typing out our report or am I gonna do it this time?"

Before Roxas could say "Half and half. It's faster if we split the work," a commotion towards the front of the room drew their attention. Apparently, Riku was having some sort of fit and was now arguing with Axel, and things only seemed to grow worse as one student - the Jeremy kid - ran towards the back via the middle isle of the classroom, screaming bloody murder.


Roxas's eyes widened. Not a second sooner, sparks started flying from Axel's and Riku's station, and before anyone could run for cover there was a deafening crack, followed by an array of glass shards clattering to the floor. Girls screamed, guys whooped, and others like Roxas simply stared in horror as some dark blue liquid - or slime, more like - dripped onto the linoleum tiles from atop station number one. The whole classroom was deathly silent for a few moments until the bell rang, causing everyone to move in a hustle. No one wanted to stay in the Chem. Lab longer than necessary and one look at their livid Chemistry teacher would answer why. Roxas and Hayner both closed their gaping mouths and rushed, cleaning and putting away materials and flasks with frightening order and speed.

As they hung their lab gowns and put away their gloves and goggles, Roxas could hear their Chemistry teacher's terrifyingly calm voice as he and Hayner made for the door.

"You two are cleaning this mess up, right now. I expect the payment for damages to be made as soon as possible and I don't care how you go about doing it. No marks for this assignment; that should be sufficient punishment."

- - -

(Lunch, Inizio Square)

Sitting down underneath the shade, Roxas looked up distantly at the dark viridian array of leaves above him. Little rays of sunlight managed to pass through small gaps now and again between the foliage as the cool October breeze swept through overhead. The square was mostly empty, probably because Roxas arrived earlier than everybody else, and was calm and quiet. The blond placed his wrapped sandwich beside him on the concrete bench on which he sat, silently looking out into the field adjacent the square presently bare of students. He was practically the only one in the area for the moment. Everyone was still at their lockers or in the cafeteria so the campus grounds were relatively quiet a few minutes into the lunch hour.

Enjoying the rare peace, Roxas tilted his head back, watching as two sparrows chased each other through the greenery above him, and disappeared a moment later into the vast expanse of leaves and branches. His friends were still inside the school building, doing who knew what at their lockers, and more often than not Roxas arrived underneath the third oak tree before everyone else. He had no idea what kept Hayner and the others for such an amount of time but he found that he didn't mind. Today Roxas appreciated the peace. He needed a little time to think things over. One particular incident had been lingering in his thoughts often in the past weeks and it was of the first Talent Show practice.

Looking up at the warm sunlight touching him past all the random gaps in the foliage, Roxas lowered his eyelids, recalling the occasion with something like tentative fondness in his chest.

After their first run-through - which had been that close to a disaster because of Demyx's constant quarrelling with his younger cousin - Axel had moodily said his goodbye to Roxas and had promptly ignored Demyx and Tidus and left as soon as the bell rang. Tidus had then stormed out himself, sheet music crumpled and slightly torn in his fist, which left Roxas and Demyx alone in the classroom, fixing up the instruments and desks and chairs.

Just as Roxas had his bass guitar slung over his shoulder and was making for the door Demyx had called out to him from where he leaned against the teacher's desk.

Turning around, his hand atop the doorknob of the exit, Roxas had looked at Demyx with a perplexed expression. He had thought it strange of the older blond to hold him back after practice. What could Demyx have to tell him, Roxas had wondered, that he couldn't say in front of the others?

As the taller blond scratched his head, as if fumbling for just the right words, Roxas had thought in silence, confused over Demyx's unusual beating around the bush. After a few moments Demyx finally announced what he had intended to say and his revelation had shocked Roxas cold - even at present - down to his very marrow.

"Do you have any feelings for Axel? And … I'm asking this as his friend, Roxas. I'm Axel's friend and your answer would mean the world to all of us." Demyx had said this with utmost sincerity that Roxas couldn't bear to doubt him, although his response was delayed by the numbness of shock.

For seconds Roxas had floundered around in his mind for an appropriate response. It had occurred to him to lie outright and deny what he felt for Axel, but something in Demyx's words called for the truth and anything far from it would have been unforgivable. And, Roxas had thought rather sadly, he would rather not deny the truth about someone who had come to mean so much to him, no matter how unfounded the reasons for his affection.

"Demyx … I … w-well …" Roxas had stuttered for a moment, feeling completely embarrassed by the whole situation. But as he looked up and saw that Demyx had an absolutely serious expression on his face, the awkwardness seemed to slowly dissipate naturally. Something about Demyx being serious called for a solemnity within Roxas that he couldn't control.

Organizing his thoughts, recovering from shock, Roxas began once more, this time sure - or as sure as he could be on a spur of the moment thought - about his words. Quietly he had confessed, "Demyx … I have honestly no reasonable excuse why, but I'm … crazy about Axel. I really am. I don't know why, not really how, though I'm pretty sure when …" Roxas had immediately blushed after saying the when part, pretty sure that he would sound unbearably pathetic if he told Demyx just how long he had had feelings for Axel. Nevertheless he had carried on, ignoring his blunder in speech for the moment. "Anyway … yeah. I like Axel a lot." Shooting Demyx an apprehensive glare, he had added, "This isn't something you're going to hold against me if I try to quit your band, right?"

Demyx's response had been an amused laugh, eyes sparkling more than usual as he looked at Roxas with something like fondness that the younger boy didn't necessarily get. "Don't worry, Roxas," he said as they both exited room 408, the door shutting with a noisy click behind them. "Axel won't know a thing about your secret. Although is there anything I could do to help?"

When Demyx wagged his brows at Roxas, the shorter blond decided with a sense of weariness that any sort of interference from the eccentric musician would only bring grief not worth dealing with. So he had settled for a simple question that had nagged at the back of his mind since his untimely admission.

"How did you know that I liked Axel?" Roxas had muttered with a little hint of grumpiness. "You seemed so sure, Demyx. I've never told many people, so how do you know?"

Again, Roxas found himself receiving that fond, almost brotherly smile from Demyx, along with his response, "There's just something about the way you smile when he's near. I had a good feeling about it." At Roxas's worried look, Demyx had laughed, patting the younger blond on the shoulder. "Don't worry. It's not that obvious."

From that day forward, Roxas always had the nagging suspicion that Demyx was always watching him and Axel whenever they had band practice for the Talent Show. And more often than not Roxas found himself stuck trying to learn a particular part of their song with Axel upon Demyx's insistence; Demyx would ask both of them to rehearse their lines for backing vocals together as he and his cousin once again tried to settle a dispute in the background; and Roxas had later on to discover in dismay that Demyx was trying to help him in getting closer to Axel, via inconspicuous little errands and tasks here and there that rendered Axel and Roxas almost always alone in each other's company.

Roxas couldn't find it in his heart to feel unhappy with Demyx at the persistent poking and nudging - he was being discreet about it - but somehow he felt as if he should be doing these things by himself without any help. After all, he didn't agree to Demyx's band proposal for nothing. The moment the older blond had asked him at the back of their music classroom to play bass guitar for him, Roxas could always recall one resolute thought that had made itself apparent in his mind in that very moment: This was an opportunity to get closer to Axel and there was no other choice but to seize it.

And so far he had let Demyx do all the work for him.

"Yo, Roxas. You awake there?"

His eyes snapped open as his mouth involuntarily let out a yelp of shock. Roxas bolted straight, immediately catching sight of the person who interrupted his train of thought. His breathe hitched quietly when he saw Axel hovering over him, willowy form blocking the light that filtered from the leaves above.

Scowling, Roxas found the strong temptation to slap Axel across the face for looking so smug about catching him off guard, but instead settled for huffing indignantly, picking up his forgotten sandwich from beside him on the concrete bench. "Axel, what the hell? I thought you were supposed to be cleaning up your mess in the Chem. Lab." Roxas raised a suspicious, reprimanding brow at the redhead. "You didn't leave Riku to do all the work by himself, did you?"

Snorting, Axel sat himself down beside Roxas, snatching the blond's sandwich from between his fingers. "Of course I didn't leave Riku to do all the work by himself. Jeez … Don't you trust me at all? Anyway, yeah. I cleaned that mess up as fast as hell. You would never believe the death glare teach was giving both of us. Actually, he was glaring more at me. Seemed to think that the whole thing was my fault." He eyed Roxas's sandwich then unwrapped it with an inspecting eye. "Tuna?" he asked, looking at Roxas.

"With tomatoes and lettuce," Roxas added, taking his lunch back. "And how did your experiment blow up? You can't just expect me to believe that it exploded of its own whim and will." Peeling the plastic back from his sandwich, Roxas added in a quiet murmur, "And Riku was looking pretty upset, so I can only imagine that it was your fault …"

Looking particularly offended, having heard Roxas's quiet accusation, Axel rushed to his own defense. "For your information, Rox, it was just as much Riku's fault as it was mine. He wasn't paying that much attention to me, honestly. And how was I to know that the chemicals were supposed to be combined in a specific order? You can't expect me to remember every single little detail on that procedure sheet."

Roxas gave him a bland look, taking a bite out of his sandwich. "Right. Of course I won't expect so much from you - thank you for the reminder."

Smirking despite the insult, Axel held Roxas's chin in his hand, moving the blond's head from side to side, cooing at those irritated blue eyes. "And maybe I should also remind you, Roxas, that you shouldn't talk with your mouth full. Or do I have to spank you so you can remember?"

Blushing furiously, Roxas snapped his head away, absolutely refusing to let his thoughts run amuck because of Axel's imprudent wording. Swallowing his food, the blond frowned dispassionately at Axel. "Don't change the subject. I'll bet you weren't being so careful yourself during that experiment. You were probably distracted about something and your mind was off in la-la land," Roxas muttered, glowering at Axel. "How else would your whole station explode to bits like that …"

To Roxas's disbelief, Axel himself turned a bright shade of red and immediately withdrew his hand from Roxas's face. He coughed, seemingly embarrassed and muttered something inaudible, then immediately glared at Roxas with slight irritation though the blond could see that he wasn't mad. "I'm glad you think so highly of me, Roxas. It flatters me so much."

"Your welcome," said Roxas, taking another bite from his sandwich.

A few moments passed wherein both boys didn't say anything and the silence of the square was soon cluttered by a few number of students emerging from within the school building. As a couple of freshmen students sat over by the first oak tree nearest the field, Roxas extended his sandwich to Axel silently, asking the redhead wordlessly if he would like a bite. Axel smiled obligingly and took the sandwich from him and bit out of it. He chewed thoughtfully for a second, then glanced at the object with apparent fascination.

"That's good," he muttered after swallowing. "Did your mom make it?" he asked, green eyes looking curiously at the blond beside him.

Smiling, Roxas shook his head, taking a bite out of the sandwich himself. Chewing then swallowing, he explained, "Nah, my mom works nights so she doesn't have time in the morning. I make my lunch myself - and my brother's, too. I don't trust Sora to prepare food." Looking out into the vast expanse of their school field, Roxas shuddered. "He made the most horrible marble cake once. It was the most disgusting thing that my mouth ever tasted. I swear, a thousand of my taste buds died that day."

Axel looked at Roxas incredulously. "Really? Huh … That might be handy in future back sales."

Roxas gave Axel a despairing look. "Trust me when I say that I'll spare whoever I can from Sora's concoctions. He's a good brother, but he can't cook anything edible to save his life."

Chuckling in amusement, Axel took the sandwich back from Roxas, biting out of it again. "I have to say though, that's a mean sandwich you make Roxas. You'd make a perfect housewife one day." Axel gave the blond a smirk.

Flushing in indignation, Roxas snatched his sandwich back and didn't think to offer Axel any of his self-prepared food ever again. Vehemently taking a bite, the blond stared at the students that continued to emerge from the school building, walking, rushing, and chattering all around Inizio Square. The area was the usual place of assembly for students during sunny afternoons when they were dismissed for lunch, and it was on such Fridays when Roxas and his group of friends met right underneath the second oak tree, where Roxas and Axel now sat at present. But Hayner and the others were quite absent at the moment, earning from Roxas a deep-seated frown. Where could they all be?

"I'm guessing you're waiting for your friends," said Axel, although he already knew the answer by glancing at the unhappy expression on Roxas's face.

The blond nodded, looking down at his sandwich. "They're later than usual, and I'm starting to think they ditched me. It is Friday today, right?" he asked Axel, looking sincerely unsure whether he actually knew the day of the week or not.

The redhead grinned, amused, but knew not to laugh. "Yeah, it's Friday, Roxas. I'm sure they're just late, is all. I'll stay until they get here, if that makes you feel any better."

Roxas had half a mind to refuse the offer - still somewhat offended about the "housewife" comment - but something about the handsome contours of Axel's face - that irreverent grin a natural born possession of the redhead's lips, green eyes a shade Roxas had only ever heard of, his alabaster skin softened by the shade and warm light - couldn't help but to erase all thought of rebuttal in the blond's mind. In a few seconds, he had to wonder what he was so irritated about moments ago.

"I guess that's fine, if you don't think it's going to bother you," he muttered immediately, turning away from Axel's charming smile for fear of showing exactly how he felt about the redhead's prolonged company. "But aren't your friends looking for you?"

The older boy immediately grimaced at that mention and looked at Roxas with anxiety. "I can imagine that Riku's told them about my little accident today in Chem., so I'm not really looking forward to talking to any of them."

Faltering at that revelation, Roxas could feel his sandwich growing stale by the minute. "So I'm your refuge, then. At least we're both getting something out of this." The blond frowned, not feeling the benefit of this at all. The thought that Axel was only here to prevent an unwanted confrontation with his posse stung something irrational.

The redhead smiled, apologetic somewhat, and leaned back looking at the square bathed in warm noon sunlight. "Don't look like that, Roxas. I would've come anyway even if Riku wasn't out for my blood."

Stiffening at the notion that his thoughts were so transparent, Roxas frowned crossly. "You're so conceited," he muttered, nose crinkling at Axel, as was the blond's habit when he found himself irritated or angry. "I'm not mad at you for using me as an excuse to hide from Riku. I'm just irritated that my friends are taking so long, and that I have to wait out here on this bench for them." The unspoken "with you," could have been uttered and it wouldn't have stung Axel worse.

Frowning, noting that Roxas was obviously very unsettled about something, the redhead decided to keep quiet until he figured out what was making the blond so irritated.

Heavy moments of silence passed between them like cold winds though it should have been warm, the two watching as the square filled with its regular amount of students, an amount which made Roxas a little dizzy. Too many people in the same place tended to make him feel a little claustrophobic when he eyed passers-by far too often. And as several groups of students wandered back and forth across the large expanse, Roxas was forced to look down at his forlorn lunch, several bites taken from it yet still looking thoroughly neglected.

A gust of warm October wind blew past - autumns in Hollow Bastion tended to retain much of their summer counterpart's bliss and only held traces of iciness late into the November months - and the rustling of the leaves above from the second oak tree seemed a much more prominent clamour to the silent boys seated beneath her rather than the whispers, laughter, gossip, and greetings all exchanged by the students within the square. The sudden breeze held fast, although gentle, and prolonged its brush against the youth for a few moments then stopped entirely, the wind's echo heard through the rustling of overhead branches and leaves.

Roxas, still looking at his dismal sandwich, didn't seem to notice the rush in wind, appearing to look inconsolable, at least to a stranger passing by, because of the sad state his lunch was in - which, Roxas recalled sadly, he had prepared that morning with the utmost care, as he always did when handling food. It was only when a warm hand brushed against his cheek did he look up, a little startled, finding that Axel was touching his hair.

Wanting to know exactly why the redhead was being so affectionate, Roxas opened his mouth both to protest and to inquire but was spared by a simple explanation by Axel.

"There're some leaves in your hair," he chuckled amusedly, brushing the green foreignness from Roxas's blond locks.

Shutting his gaping mouth immediately, Roxas could honestly say that he was torn between disappointment and laughter. He settled for the latter, finding it easier to laugh, earning a smile from Axel, and now he had to wonder for the second time that day what he was so upset about.

As the redhead rid Roxas's hair of the last stubborn traces of foliage, it was then when the blond spotted something odd about Axel. The older boy had been seated to his right all this time and so he hadn't been able to clearly inspect the right side of Axel's face. And sure enough, Roxas noticed with a highly amused bark of laughter, there was a smudge of blue on the redhead's right cheek, vengeful aftermath of today's chemistry mishap.

Axel looked at him funny, wondering what on earth was so hilarious at the moment that could take the seriousness from Roxas's face. The blond grinned, suppressing his laughter long enough to say, "You missed a spot," and pointed to Axel's cheek.

His face coloured - which only succeeded in making Roxas laugh even harder for the shade of red Axel's cheeks took seemed so absurd in contrast to that navy blue stain - and he immediately hurried to wipe it off, only failing in the process because Axel couldn't quite see where the malicious patch of blue was. And if his hand were to graze slightly closer to his jaw Axel would have succeeded, but given his embarrassed state there wasn't much to think of except how funny he must have looked in front of Roxas.

The blond grinned unabashedly as Axel glared at him sternly for laughing so much. As a form of apology, Roxas reached out and proceeded to rub off the unyielding blotch, his smile broadening more as Axel muttered vehemently, "I've been walking around with more of that hideous stuff on my face … Now I know why those seniors were laughing. Why didn't you say something sooner?"

Snorting and immediately controlling more peals of laughter, Roxas masked his mirth with a cough, though this was in vain and Axel saw through it right away and glared even more. Amused, he said, "You were sitting on my right, so I couldn't really see at this angle. At least I said something at all, right?"

Axel merely frowned, though Roxas would have liked to think that the redhead was pouting.

Roxas rubbed away at the spot but when it proved mulish and refused to surrender to eradication, the blond held Axel's face with his other hand for leverage, setting his sandwich down first, and began to wipe at the blotch with renewed vigour, though he was gentle about it. When at last the obstinate mark was no more, Roxas drew back, still smiling, though his hand lingered on Axel's face. Their eyes met, and both found indistinguishable expressions on each other's faces.

Axel's green eyes were piercing for the first moments and when they softened with a sentiment that Roxas wouldn't dare think of, a sense of expectant calm hushed over. And it was within those seconds that the two boys sat beneath that second oak tree, on that concrete bench, Roxas's hand barely touching Axel's cheek, their eyes trained solely on each other, that something indescribable passed between them. Their silence was the sort where both parties could only wonder about what was going on in the other's head because neither boys would ever ask aloud. But this didn't endure for long because a distinguished shout of, "Roxas!" broke their trance, and Roxas moved away from Axel, refusing to show his disappointment.

Axel, too, moved back, spotting from way across the square the source of the interruption.

Roxas's friends were making their way towards their coveted Friday lunch bench, and it was Hayner who had called out to his best friend, obviously not aware of what he cut short.

Sighing, Roxas picked up his sandwich from where he had set it down on the bench earlier. Right now it looked the most pitiful sandwich that he had ever made and the blond attributed the sense of loss in his chest to this culinary failure.

"Well, I guess I better get going," the redhead murmured, laughing silently.

Roxas glanced at him with an expression that asked what was so humorous about the situation, or at least he had meant to, but his lips only twitched into a smile that, like Axel's laugh, held no real amusement though Roxas himself wasn't aware of it. "Yeah. You'd have to face Riku sometime."

Grimacing, Axel stood from the bench and gave Roxas a pained smile. "That's probably smart. … well, see you later, Roxas."

As the redhead walked towards the field where the other members of the student body were now scattered all around, Roxas turned his attention to his approaching friends, frowning as Hayner and Pence plopped down on either side of him on the bench.

"Where were you guys?" he asked, completely forgetting about his sandwich. "You're never usually late."

Hayner shrugged, sifting through his lunch bag, leaving the job of explaining to Pence. The brunet shrugged as everyone else settled around the rest of the bench that went all the way surrounding the oak tree. There was Naminé, Kairi, Olette, and Roxas' brother Sora had yet to appear, but he was almost always late on Fridays anyway.

Pence got out his boxed lunch along with a fork and proceeded to clarify their tardiness to Roxas.

"Well," he began patiently, "there was some sort of hold up in the hallway earlier. Didn't really see what was going on though."

Nodding, Roxas stared out onto the square, unmindful of the chatter around him. Axel, for all his straightforwardness and honesty, was just about a mystery to Roxas as the manifestation of these feelings towards the older boy. He never quite knew why he liked Axel so much, even if he was sure that he did although he couldn't help thinking exactly why. There wasn't much to dislike, other than his double entendres and occasional cockiness, but Axel made up for that with being candid and, in an odd way, understanding. Over the past weeks, Roxas thought, they talked to each other more often and he found that it wasn't hard to approach Axel at all, no matter what he had to say. Axel had nothing to hide and when Roxas spoke to him, he felt that way, too.

Then, Roxas brooded, lowering his eyelids against the sunlight, what was that earlier?

As he pondered and questioned, as what was normal for him these days, Namine looked at her friend with concern in her eyes. It was never unusual for Roxas to be quiet, but Namine knew the reason for his silence now. As she had walked towards the square with Kairi, Olette, Hayner, and Pence, it seemed that she alone noticed what had taken place between Roxas and Axel just before their arrival. During freshman year Roxas had confided in her about his feelings for Axel and she had listened and supported him as only a best friend could do. She had felt so sad when Roxas had told her during the last day of school that he didn't like Axel anymore and that was that. Namine had known otherwise at the time but knew not to say anything; and her hopes weren't in vain after all! Though why did Roxas look so unhappy?

"Is it just me, or does Roxas seem a little more gloomy than usual?" Olette whispered to Namine and Kairi.

Kairi glanced at the blond as Namine replied, "You're right, Olette. He doesn't seem very happy …"

All three looked at Roxas. The boy was looking forlornly at his sandwich as if the thing were to start bawling tears any second. They turned their gazes to each other with group sympathy, worried over their friend. Roxas was the youngest of their group and for the longest time since they'd been friends the girls had always taken special attention towards his needs. And by needs this usually meant his clothes, dating, and Roxas' social agenda. It didn't take much of an effort anyway since all they had to do was give him the puppy eyes and Roxas was like putty in their hands. This, however, would never mean that he was a pushover - Roxas simply prioritized the happiness of his female friends over his own self-esteem and there was nothing wrong about that.

"Should we ask him?" whispered Kairi to the other two. "I don't wanna pry, but he seems really upset."

One more fond and concerned look towards Roxas (whom they probably considered to be their surrogate child/baby brother/pretend sister/Barbie doll) acquired a worried, motherly sigh from the three girls. Namine bit her lip, her resolve in keeping Roxas' sworn secret wavering. On the one hand, if she told Olette and Kairi, there was the possibility that they could all help Roxas. On the other hand, Namine had no wish to disclose Roxas' secret. Although as his friend it was her utmost duty to aim for the greater good …

It was at this time when Sora came jogging happily towards their coveted bench, sandwich in hand - his didn't look as if the Dark Ages had happened all over again. He sat himself down beside his brother, squirming in between his sibling and Hayner, earning a disgruntled comment from the older blond.

"So, what did I miss guys?" said Sora brightly.

When Roxas groaned with the sorrow of a thousand men having lost half their bank account on racing horses, it was then when Namine decided that the ends justified the means.

- - -

"You are probably the most irresponsible, half-assed, idiotic friend I've ever had in life, Axel. Somehow, I can't believe myself for ever wanting you as a lab partner, let alone as my best friend."

Axel frowned dispassionately at Riku's towering form. He lay his head back down on the field grass and with a sigh said, "Beggars can't be choosers, Riku."

Turquoise eyes brimmed with the fire of spite. Riku honestly looked like he would very much like to beat Axel half to death with a tap pipe then proceed to stone him to his inevitable doom. God knew there were plenty of rocks within the area. The tap pipe however was another concern, but Riku was imaginative; there were thousands of beating substitutes within arm's reach.

"Aw, calm down, Riku," said Demyx with the intent of keeping the peace - and probably because Riku's foot was dangerously close to Axel's gut. "I'm sure Axel didn't mean to do that to your experiment. It could happen to anybody."

The prompt snort from Zexion, who was reading a book underneath the shade of a nearby tree, was completely ignored.

As Riku grinded his teeth at Demyx, "Butt out," on the tip of his tongue, Axel spoke first, which would later turn out to be a clear mistake.

"Of course I wanted to blow up our whole experiment, Dem! What's one bad mark within our entire lives? It could happen to anybody."

This ignited an entirely new kind of rage within Riku - he was looking positively homicidal with fury - who apparently didn't find this very funny. And before Demyx could jump in between the small distance that separated Axel from Riku, a shoe went sailing into the redhead's stomach. There was an unearthly howl of pain as Axel curled up into fetal position, Riku towering menacingly over him.

"That," he hissed, pointing a shaking finger at Axel, "was not funny. And you know what happened after you left me all alone in the Chem. Room to clean up your god-awful mess? Our insane teacher made me clean all the beakers, all the flasks, and I almost got third degree burns from a Bunsen burner that wasn't turned off."

Axel wheezed out what was supposed to be a curse word, and after a coughing fit that sounded like he was about to hack up a hairball, he directed an utterly murderous glare at Riku and said, "You asshole. I was being sarcastic. What is wrong with you?" Axel wheezed out every single sentence because Riku had succeeded in knocking all the oxygen out of him and so the redhead couldn't manage to sound angry. Instead he seemed like a whispering hobo.

Refusing to utter anymore, Riku stalked off to buy lunch within the school cafeteria. Axel sat up painfully on the grass, glaring angrily at his best friend's retreating figure.

Wincing at the excruciating display, Demyx moved to the safety that was Zexion's side. Axel wasn't looking too happy at the moment and provoking him by any means seemed like a very stupid, suicidal thing to do.

"What exactly happened with those two?" the blond whispered to Zexion. "All I heard was that Axel blew up their entire lab station - and that I don't really believe - and now Riku's mad at him because they got zeros on the whole assignment."

Zexion closed his book with a lively snap of page against page and proceeded to explain. "To my understanding that is what happened, although I have to agree with you that the entire lab station exploding is stupid because Axel and Riku are still alive. However, Riku seems to insist that it was entirely Axel's fault, and he's not defending himself, really. It's entirely unlikely that Riku would commit the mistake himself, though if he did he'd jump off a cliff first before admitting it. Axel on the other hand doesn't seem to care much, though it strikes me as odd that he didn't beat Riku's face in for that kick. Peculiar."

Demyx grinned widely. "Roxas is in Axel's chemistry class, isn't he?"

"My entire point exactly."

- - -

(still Friday: Dismissal)

The last thing that Roxas expected to see at the end of the day was Demyx by his locker, grinning widely with a sheepish expression that Roxas now knew to be wary of. Sheepish expressions from Demyx usually meant that he had some sort of request at hand and refusal (for Roxas, Axel, and Tidus anyway) was not in any way acceptable.

Roxas smiled back, the expression a bit forced. "Uh, what can I do for you, Demyx?"

The taller boy's timid air rapidly transformed into that of triumph. "Well, remember that we're supposed to have rehearsals after school today at the usual place? Room 408?"

"Practice is cancelled?" Roxas asked with a little more enthusiasm than what was necessary.

Demyx lightly hit the younger blond on his head with a notebook that he was holding, gentle enough to show fondness but hard enough to show disapproval. "No, you silly ducky. Location's just moved today is all. I have a dentist appointment that I completely forgot about this morning! So practice is at my house."

Roxas nodded, knowing not to show any form of objection.

"So you can catch a ride to my house with Axel! Don't worry, I already told him, and I won't be gone too long. Anyway, Axel's in the school parking lot waiting for you. Ciao, Roxie!"

Roxas gaped with shock and a feeling that he could possibly classify as invasion of his right to feel safe as Demyx made a speedy getaway towards the end of the hallway and was out of sight within seconds. He gulped, shutting his locker with a hollow, metallic click.

It was with vain hopes that Roxas had been wishing all afternoon that any Axel-encounters be postponed until he could clear his head about the incident during lunch. Now, not only would he have to endure one hour with the redhead who haunted his thoughts day and night, but he would also have to suffer through a car ride with Axel, his thoughts in turmoil, and there was always the possibility of staying for dinner with the Diluvias. Axel was a close friend of Demyx's and there was not a doubt in Roxas' mind that he would never refuse an invitation to dinner from his friend's mother. And Roxas knew that he himself wouldn't think of saying no to anyone's mother. Maternal figures had this thing about them that said, "I know you'll try you're best, but even if you disappoint me, that's okay, I'll love you no matter what," and nobody whom Roxas knew to be alive could say no to that.

Begrudging fate and kind mothers in general, Roxas adjusted the strap on his bag as it bumped against his hip with every step he took down the stairs, towards the school lobby and out the front doors, onward to the parking lot. This was where the crowd of students seemed to thin out most because only a small minority owned cars. This made it easier to see Axel standing right next to a black Converj that was shiny enough to blind him from across another continent. The sight of such a dazzling automobile made Roxas stop dead in his footsteps. He felt incredibly poor standing anywhere near that thing. A few seconds later however, Roxas got over the initial shock and firmly decided not to give Axel anything to gloat about, and in order to do that he couldn't be caught drooling at that holy piece of metal.

"Hey, Roxas," greeted the redhead as Roxas approached. "Ready to take a wild ride with my baby over here?" Axel wagged his brows, keys jangling merrily in one hand. "And you know that goes both ways."

The blond scoffed as Axel opened the door to the passenger seat for him like a proper footman, courteous bow and all. "And I refuse to respond to that," Roxas muttered darkly before sliding into the car seat.

Axel smirked. "But you just did, my dear." Before Roxas could protest the inappropriate use of endearment, Axel had already closed the car door and moved to the other side to get into the driver's seat - his seat (Roxas simply denied his envy with a firm resistance).

The drive had been quiet enough at first, Axel's heavenly vehicle gliding past the school gates with nothing more than a whisper. It was several streets and turns later when they stopped at an intersection and Roxas broke the silence.

"So … uh, was this a gift from your parents?" asked the blond, eyeing the interior with desire.

Axel chuckled smilingly, glancing at Roxas then turning his eyes back toward the stop light. "You don't have to sound like this is some awkward first date, Roxas. Relax a little, would you?" He smiled more when Roxas turned pink. Wise enough not to agitate him any further, Axel moved on to explaining how he came into the possession of his black beauty, eyeing Roxas as the blond failed to quash his apparent envy.

"I have an older brother who earns piles of cash doing who knows what for his boss," said Axel, shifting gears as the lights changed perfunctorily from red, yellow, to green. "This was his first car; he got a sexier one, then gave me this 'outdated piece of junk.'" He feigned a forlorn sigh, and continued with: "Ah, the ails and woes of being the youngest child in the family. Always getting secondhand things."

Roxas rolled his eyes, apparently not acknowledging the fact that this was where he was supposed to sympathize. "Yes, Axel. That's so much worse than the time I got Cloud's old Scooby-Doo tricycle."

"What's so bad about that? Tricycles are fun. And as you said, it was Scooby-Doo. You can't get any more awesome than that, really, Roxas. Stop sounding so whiny."

Roxas looked glumly at Axel. "I was ten at the time."

The redhead started to cough and sneezed once, though Roxas pretended long and hard that the idiot was developing a terrible cold and was not concealing his laughter, albeit in a very obvious manner.

The rest of the drive was relatively more peaceful and was filled with more friendly sarcasm and repartee between the two as they lapsed back to normalcy. Certain incidences earlier that day seemed to have been long forgotten by the time Axel pulled up a wide driveway facing a two-car garage.

Roxas stared up at the impressive house that towered well over the height of the garage and was caught between awe and disbelief. He followed Axel out of the car, but instead of going up the cobbled walkway to the front door, Axel skipped right over the low brick wall that led to the neighbouring house to the left.

The blond stared at the taller boy in confusion.

"Uh, Axel …" muttered Roxas, staring at the two houses with uncertainty. "Where are you going?"

The redhead stopped to look at Roxas from the other side of the low wall, then laughed aloud as if he just remembered something important. "Oh, yeah! Forgot to tell, ya, Roxie. That's my house." He pointed to the one where he parked his car. "I live right beside Demyx." He gestured with outstretched arms towards the even bigger white house whose lot he was now standing on.

Roxas let out a snort of disbelief before he could control himself. As he jumped over the wall, he muttered darkly, "Stupid rich people … won't even take the time to tell me these things …"

Cracking a smile, Axel decided to pretend he didn't hear this and walked straight to the front door. Without so much as a knock or a thought to ring the doorbell, he turned the brass doorknob and stepped through the threshold into the house. Roxas severely doubted whether he should continue following the redhead, but saw no other option because the thought of saying, "Oh, Axel, on second thought I'll wait right outside for Demyx. He can't take that long," sounded really stupid. For one thing, Demyx's timing was unpredictable and one would have more luck predicting when exactly the apocalypse would come rather than trying to hazard a guess as to when Demyx would appear.

Sighing with apprehension, the blond stepped inside, feeling the weightlessness in his pocket that was the essence of "broke" as he looked around at the well-furnished surroundings. Roxas closed the door quietly behind him and followed Axel to a hallway that led to a brightly lit kitchen. At one of the counter stools sat Zexion, reading a weighty looking book, mp3 earphones making him oblivious to their entrance.

Axel came up behind him and unplugged the left earphone, grinning cheekily as Zexion turned around with an annoyed expression on his face.

"Oh, you're here," he muttered unenthusiastically, as if Axel came barging into other people's houses without warning on a regular basis. "Your instruments are all upstairs in Demyx's room. Tidus isn't here yet, but I've been told to tell you two that Demyx wants you both to practice the backing vocals. Now get to work." Without another word, he turned back to his book (Roxas, upon a glance over Zexion's shoulder, found that it was written in Latin), leaving Axel and Roxas to their assigned duties.

Shrugging with an impertinent roll of his eyes, Axel spun on his heel and pointed to the direction of a large staircase by the living room. "Right-o, Lord Valedictorian. C'mon, Roxie, before Zexion tells his lord and master that we're slacking."

Despite the fact that he had his music turned up, Zexion stiffened at this comment but made no defense or reply, earning an amused grin from Roxas as he headed upstairs with Axel.

Demyx's room was just as extravagant as the rest of the house, but it still held that touch of "Demyx" to it. There was a goldfish bowl on top of a desk that was right beside a canopied bed that, not surprisingly, had sheets in every shade of blue that Roxas had ever seen. What was impressive was that Demyx had a whole wall that held two rows of guitars - all in all, Roxas estimated that there were around eighteen.

His and Axel's own guitars were leaning against the foot of the bed along with the sheet music.

"What say we get practicing, Roxie?" Axel asked aloud as he sat down with a muffled thump on Demyx's bed.

Roxas nodded, picking up the sheet music then sat down next to the redhead. "Sure."

Snatching the sheets away from Roxas, Axel threw them aside with a disapproving sound. "Hell no! Roxie, haven't you learned a thing? When I ask a question that calls for your inner golden boy, you're supposed to answer, 'No, because badass is the way to go.' Got it memorized?" To emphasize this unconventional chastising, Axel wagged a finger in Roxas' face.

Amused, the blond pushed his hand away with a grin. "Right, right. Badass. Got it. Not sure I'll enforce it though. 'Golden boy' just sounds so me, and 'badass' is more you. I don't feel like copying your style."

Axel laughed. "Aw, what's wrong with my style? Too dangerous for you?"

"Where do you get these lines?" Roxas asked, his smiling widening. "Cheesy romance novels?"

"I'm hurt," said Axel. "My lines are purely original, and if you happen to come across one of them in your cheesy romance novels," Axel grinned at Roxas' irritated, "I do not have romance novels," but ignored him, "then the author merely took a page from my very own book. The plagiarism is on their part I assure you, Roxas, because none have given me credit for my work so far."

Roxas refused to laugh, but knew that he had on a face-splitting grin. "You're impossible. Anyway, your cheesy romance novels aside, shouldn't we practice? Won't Demyx find out if we don't?"

Shrugging, Axel leaned back on the bed with his arms for support, staring up at the blue canopy (why did Demyx have one, again?). "I doubt he would. He's too wired up these days. The auditions are on Monday."

Roxas nodded, placing his elbows on his knees. "Right, Monday. This month went by kind of fast."

"Not fast enough," muttered Axel with a frown. "There's still November, and part of December. We're still stuck with him for that long, Roxie. Don't go smelling the fresh scent of freedom just yet, or are you that desperate to get rid of me?"

Ignoring the hidden agenda behind Axel's wording, Roxas merely sighed with exhaustion. "Well, I'll just be glad when this is all over and done with. Demyx can get really scary sometimes …"

The redhead considered the short silence that followed then decided to reply, "Yeah. I can't wait until this is over either."

Roxas was left to stare in a sort of mild surprise at the older boy beside him, feeling as if this was very un-Axel-like of Axel. The blond had a strong suspicion that it was because of something he said. Gently, he murmured, "Axel …"

"But where would my Roxie be without me?" Axel suddenly said, leaping off the bed onto his feet, causing Roxas to let out a surprised, "Geh …"

He spun around and pointed a finger at Roxas' face, smirking. "You won't get rid of me that easily, Roxie. If you think I'm going to leave you alone after all this crap has come and go like a bad cold, then you have another thing coming."

Roxas looked up at Axel with a stunned expression. For a moment all he could really do was gape like a dying fish, but his unintelligent gawping slowly curved into a smile as he let out a fond sort of chuckle. The blond understood.

"Yeah. I know we'll still be friends." Roxas smiled up at Axel. "You don't have to hide your 'sensitive side,' big guy. I know what you mean."

Axel seemed to be a little more than surprised, but at the same time grateful and pleased that he needn't elaborate. Chuckling sort of sheepishly, he returned to sit beside Roxas, bumping the younger boy's leg with his. "You're a nice break, kiddo. I don't have to explain so many things to you."

Roxas grinned, looking towards a poster of Demyx's that starred Yuna, the current goddess of the music industry. "I know."

A moment of content silence lapsed, Roxas looking around the room, observing things that made the living space such a part of Demyx's character. There was a keyboard at one corner of the room where numerous books which contained sheet music lay scattered and piled. There were other posters of Yuna around the walls, with a couple of other bands and musicians that Roxas recognized from ecstatic conversations of girls at school. A calendar was tacked on the wall directly above Demyx's desk, which was situated right next to a large window where bright afternoon light streamed in.

It was a few more moments into the silence when Roxas felt Axel's hand gently shift on top of his own. Roxas was careful not to stiffen, but was aware of a sweeping sensation in his stomach that reached his chest. Neither made a move to look at each other, settling instead for lapsing into a state of calm.

When Axel leaned his head against Roxas' shoulder, the only thing they could do was smile.

- - -

Downstairs (In The Diluvia Basement)

Zexion was sitting casually on the basement couch, watching television when Demyx fell from the basement window and landed on the carpeted floor with a painful thud. Zexion was about to inquire as to the blond's wellbeing, but Demyx appeared to be quite fine seeing as he paid no attention to his own pain and instead bounded straight to Zexion, half tripping once before flinging himself on the couch.

"SO?" he practically yelled in a hoarse whisper. "Did you do it?"

Zexion shoved Demyx off his lap, then explained briskly, "Yes, I locked your bedroom door. Axel and Roxas have been trapped in there for two whole hours now. I haven't heard a scream, yell, or plea for rations as of yet, so I assume that they haven't noticed."

An extremely creepy smile appeared on Demyx's face.

"Which means that Axel and Roxas are busy …"

Zexion slapped him across the face - very lightly, but enough to stun Demyx. "I haven't heard anything like that either. And I know that they're having very platonic interactions right now because I check on them now and again to make sure they're alive and well."

Snorting, Demyx sat properly beside Zexion, crossing his arms disapprovingly. "Platonic won't do!" he whined. "Two hours is enough for people to get together, right?"

Zexion frowned. "Yes, if they're drunk. And I'm very sure that Axel and Roxas are sensible enough not to get it on in someone else's house."

Demyx frowned back. "I wouldn't mind lending them my bed-"

"That is disgusting."

- - -

"Axel, would you stop that …"

"You know you like it, Roxas."

"Well, get off- Hey, what are you touching!?"

"Oh, nothing, Roxie …"

"Don't do that!"

"But it's fun."

"Ah …! Axel!"

"What? Losing focus already?"

"Ngh … Axel … st-stop! Hey!"

There was a loud beep and an annoying, rainbow-coloured Game Over flashed on the screen of Roxas' cellphone. For the fifteenth time in a row he lost against Axel in Tetris.

The blond let out a sigh. "You're so annoying, Axel."

Snatching the phone away from Roxas, Axel smirked. "I just have strategy and you don't."

"You're distracting me!" True enough, in those past fifteen rounds of epic Tetris, all Axel did was distract Roxas and press random buttons on the cellphone from behind Roxas as the blond played. Thus explaining Roxas' fifteen losses.

"Right, right. It's strategy, Roxas. Strategy."

The blond frowned. "Well if that's how you wanna play."

Axel then lost the rest of the rounds due to the fact that Roxas kept pulling his shirt over his head and yanking on the garter of his boxers. Which then resulted in Axel tackling Roxas to the floor. The redhead won the ensuing wrestling contest, but was distracted by Demyx's entrance, giving Roxas the best opportunity for the most painful wedgie he had ever gotten.