Roxas didn't understand how this situation had come about, or even where they were. It didn't matter. What mattered was that all three of them were in deep shit. Axel and Demyx were both dangling over the edge of a cliff, and Roxas was kneeling at the edge, holding both of them by the wrist. If he let go of them, they would fall to their deaths, but he didn't have the strength to pull them back up - they both outweighed him. And his arms were getting so tired...if he didn't let at least one of them go, he would probably end up tumbling over the edge with them, and all three would be killed.

And if the situation wasn't already bad enough, it was a dark and stormy night.

A sudden flash of lightning illuminated his friends' faces. Demyx was looking helplessly at him, with wide and fearful eyes, but Axel seemed to be unconscious; his eyes were closed, and his body was limp. Demyx looked over at Axel, blinking either rain or tears from his eyes, then back up at Roxas. He understood the situation as well as Roxas did, and Roxas could tell in an instant what was about to happen. He opened his mouth to protest, but Demyx didn't give him a chance. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his soft voice somehow audible over the thunder. "It's how it has to be. Take care of him."

Another flash of lightning, and Demyx closed his eyes, let go of Roxas's hand, and plunged. At the same instant, Roxas lost his grip on Axel. As soon as the flash faded, they were gone.

Roxas sat bolt upright in bed, soaked in rainwater, as thunder rumbled again. It took him several moments to realize that he wasn't drenched in rainwater, but cold sweat, and the entire cliffside horror had been nothing but a nightmare, assisted by the storm outside. Shaken by what he'd just gone through, even if it was just a dream, he stumbled over to the bathroom sink and splashed some cold water in his face, trying to clear his head and maybe get the sweat out of his eyes. Why in Kingdom Hearts' name would he have a nightmare like that? It wasn't like he wasn't under enough stress already...that kind of horror was something he just plain did not need...

Well, maybe it meant something. Some expression of whatever was going on in his subconscious, or some other similar claptrap. Still rubbing his face with a washcloth, he went back and sat on his bed, trying to think objectively about the nightmare. All right, what had been happening? Demyx and Axel had been about to fall over the edge of a cliff. He was the only one who could save either of them, but he could only save one or the other of them, at best. But he'd ended up dropping both of them. No, Demyx had willingly let go, so that he could save Axel, but then he'd lost his grip on Axel at the same time. What could any of that mean?

...Well, lately, it had often felt like he had to be the responsible adult around Axel and Demyx, even though he was the youngest of the three. They were both having a hard time taking care of themselves, with Axel's alcohol problems and Demyx's injuries. So Roxas took care of them both, because someone had to. He supposed Axel's problem was the more serious of the two, judging by what physical withdrawal had done to him; in fact, Demyx spent a lot of time protesting against Roxas's help, or insisting he needed less than he did, just so he'd have more time and energy free to take care of Axel...except he very often didn't know what to do for Axel...he did the best he could to support him, but he wasn't a professional; he'd never been trained in how to deal with someone who was going through detox and withdrawal...

Something seemed to click there. Something about how Demyx had let go of him so he could save Axel. But Axel had been unconscious - he hadn't let go; he'd just slipped out of his grip. So what did the dream overall mean? Possibly that he was afraid he was going to lose both his friends - Demyx because he wouldn't let Roxas help him, and Axel because he was in no position to help himself. Was that it? Was that what the dream meant - Demyx refused to keep his grip, and Axel just couldn't?

And why the hell did he have to be thinking about things like this at 3:30 in the morning?

Okay, so was this dream just an expression of his deepest fears for his friends, or was it a premonition of some kind? Probably not a premonition, since if anything they seemed to have been improving lately, but just in case...what could he do to stop this happening? Or some metaphorically similar situation? Obviously, he couldn't let Demyx fall by spending all his time taking care of Axel, but he couldn't force too much unwanted care and attention on Demyx either, even if he needed it - for one, he'd just resent him, and for another, he couldn't let Axel fall either. Could either of them possibly get a grip on their own? He guessed they could, but in the dream, they hadn't seemed to even try to. Maybe he could encourage one or both of them to do so - probably Demyx, as he was the one conscious in the dream - but could they in reality?

...Couldn't this wait until morning? Didn't he have better things to think about, like getting back to sleep?

Would that even be possible, all things considered? The last thing he wanted was a repeat nightmare...

Shaking his head, Roxas flopped back into bed, with the intention of getting as much sleep as feasible despite the storm. It wasn't very much; he kept tossing and turning restlessly, drifting off only to be jerked awake by the next rumble of thunder, closing his eyes and seeing Axel and Demyx falling again... Refusing to accept the inevitable conclusion, he spent an entire hour struggling to achieve unconsciousness of some sort, even if actual sleep was beyond him. Finally, he had to accept that if he was ever going to get any more sleep tonight, he'd either have to wait out the storm or try somewhere else. And since he had no idea when the storm was going to die down - at the rate it was going, it might take all night...

With a sigh, he grabbed his pillows and a few spare blankets and portaled off. This wouldn't be his first night spent on Axel's floor. He just hoped Axel wouldn't react too badly when he woke up - and "too badly" could be expanded to include "too concerned". The last thing he needed was for the redhead to start fussing over him.

Demyx really did not want to move. He hadn't slept in his own room in so long...sure, theoretically, all members were given the same basic furniture, including identical beds, but there was something about the bed he'd been sleeping in for five years. It just...felt right. The sheets smelled right, the blankets were just the right weight, the pillowcases had just the right texture...the room was set up right, with the bed on the same side as the door and the desk under the window instead of opposite to it. The decorations were the right color. There were more pillows on the floor than the bed, though most of them had been shoved into the closet or under the desk - presumably Fori did that, to get them out of his way, the philistine. Those were his sitar pillows the demon was shoving around like obstacles.

And...Roxas was sleeping on his floor. That was not familiar or comforting or even explicable. Especially not comforting.

Biting his lip with concern, Demyx rolled and turned around so he could reach down with his good arm and shook Roxas gently. "Hey...wake up..." he murmured, frowning slightly. "What are you doing here?"

Roxas blinked sleepily, made eye contact, and stared at him like he'd never seen him before. "Um...morning, Demyx," he mumbled, his face going from pale to red with embarrassment. "Um...I'd been heading for Axel's room last night. I swear. I guess I was too tired to notice I'd portaled to the wrong room..."

"...Why would you be portaling to either of our rooms?" Demyx just had to ask. "Especially in the middle of the night?" He crossed his arms over his chest as best he could, just to make it clear that he wouldn't accept a lame answer. Which he figured Roxas would try to give him, at least on the first try.

Roxas read his expression correctly on the first try, and didn't waste time with cock-and-bull stories. "I had a nightmare," he murmured, looking a little shamefaced. "And...what with the storm last night, I couldn't get back to sleep."

Demyx sighed, at least grateful that he'd gotten a straight answer first try, even though a storm disturbing someone's sleep was a little hard for him to imagine. It was probably just him, but when he was tired, storms lulled him to sleep. He could certainly understand the nightmares, though. All sorts of further questions sprang to mind - a nightmare about what, why didn't he realize he'd gotten the room wrong - but for some reason, he didn't ask any of them. Instead, he just reached down again, offering Roxas a hand up if he wanted it. "Well, at least you got some sleep," he murmured.

Roxas sighed and nodded as he pulled himself to his feet, with only a little help from Demyx. "Yeah..." he mumbled, not making eye contact. "Just...needed a change of scenery to get it, I I just have to go back to my room to change..."

"..." Demyx kept his grip on Roxas's hand. Mumbling and not making eye contact were not good signs. "Okay...what's the rest of the story?" he demanded. "There's something important here that you're not telling me..." Roxas tried to pull his hand away, but Demyx just pulled harder, until the younger boy was forced to sit down on the bed next to him. "Come on, spill."

Roxas shrugged helplessly. "It's nothing, seriously...I told you the truth..." Demyx just kept giving him that look, and he quailed eventually. " was the content of the dream, I guess. If there's anything still bothering me, I mean." Demyx continued to give him the look, waiting for the reveal of said content. "...What? It wasn't such a big deal, just kind of creepy..."

"Roxas. Spill." The younger blond had forced enough unwilling confessions out of him lately. It was about time he returned the favor anyway.

Roxas turned away from him, obviously not wanting to confess. "I swear, it's nothing important." Demyx continued to glare at him, hoping the force of his stare would provoke some reaction. Eventually, there was success. "All right...we were on the edge of a cliff. Actually, you and Axel were over the edge; I had each of you by a hand, trying to pull you back up, but it wasn't working. If I didn't drop one of you, I'd drop both of you. Eventually, you looked up at me and told me to take care of Axel - you were awake, but he was out cold - and you let go. But at the same time you let go, I lost my grip on Axel and, both fell." Roxas looked very much like he wanted to just bury his face in Demyx's arm and cry now. "Like I said, it was just a dream, but...scary."

Demyx nodded and gave Roxas a hug, patting his back as if he were a child in need of comfort. "Don't you worry too much about it," he murmured, hoping he was saying the right thing. "I won't let go."

Roxas wasn't the only one plagued with unpleasant dreams that night. Axel dreamed that he was back in the biggest city near his hometown, wandering aimlessly on the first Christmas after his brother's death, when from an alley between two busy shops, he heard someone coughing violently enough to break ribs, and found a very sick homeless boy, with startlingly dark skin to accompany his dingy blond hair, hiding back there with his instrument case. This was Demyx, or more properly Edmy at that time, and in reality, Lea called an ambulance for him and Edmy was taken away to a hospital to recover and the two didn't meet again until they were Axel and Demyx.

This time, there was a key difference from reality. This time, Lea had been drinking.

He heard the coughing as before, and went to investigate, but instead of trying to help the pathetic child in front of him, Lea just scowled at him. "Shut up," he growled angrily, wishing someone would come by and haul the little street rat away with the rest of the trash. Edmy looked up at him with wide, fearful eyes and obediently clamped his mouth tightly shut, but before long, another series of devastating coughs racked his body, and he had no choice but to let them out. "I said shut up!" Lea snapped, unimpressed, and when Edmy couldn't stop coughing in time, he backhanded the boy fiercely, sending him headfirst into a brick wall. There was a sickening thud on impact, and Edmy slid to the ground and lay unmoving, still clutching his instrument case in one hand; Lea just grunted in satisfaction and left him there.

Axel woke up gasping in horror at his own cruelty and feeling sick to his stomach, especially when he remembered that even though he couldn't have been more than fifteen or sixteen at the time, he might well have been drinking. Hell, the first time he'd ever gotten really stinking drunk - not just mildly drunk; he'd done that more than once before then - was the day they found Ricky's body. He couldn't have been older than Roxas at the time, and already an alcoholic in the making, he realized with disgust. This wasn't anything sudden - he'd been building up to this for the past eight years, over a third of his life. And if he'd been drinking that Christmas day, there might never have been a Demyx - Edmy might have died with his heart intact, of head injuries or exposure or whatever illness had had its grip on him. It might have been better as far as Edmy was concerned, he thought, but it would have been a hell of a lot worse for him to have spent the last five years in the Organization with no Demyx.

For one thing, he'd still be drinking. For another, he might not have lived this long anyway. He and Demyx had saved each other's lives several times over in the years before Roxas joined; without Demyx, there wouldn't still be an Axel. had he repaid him? With cruelty and abuse. And Roxas...he'd been looking out for Axel as much as Axel had been looking out for him since he joined, keeping his head on straight, checking his bad temper, often stopping him from doing some outrageously stupid things. And when he'd tried to stop Axel from drinking himself or someone else into an early grave, Axel had lied to him, very deliberately misled circles around him, hid his stash and lied about getting rid of it, just so he could keep drinking without his interference...small wonder that by the time he'd finally realized on his own that he had to stop, Roxas had been so fed up with him he'd tried to walk away.

"I have better friends than I deserve," Axel muttered raspily to himself.

Seeking a little comfort, even though he didn't think he deserved it, he went to Demyx's bathroom door, but a brief listen told him that Demyx was already talking to Roxas about something - what the hell it could be this early, he had no idea. Apparently Roxas had had a nightmare or something and had gone to consult Demyx about it. It hurt that he hadn't come to Axel like he usually did, but that was about what he deserved. He just kept listening, with his ear to the door, until he heard the fatal words "- use my shower, as long as you're here anyway..." The bathroom door opened suddenly, and Axel overbalanced and landed face-first on Demyx's carpet. Demyx stared at him like he'd never seen him before. "...Axel? Are you okay, or..."

Axel just knew his face was the same color as his hair by now. "Yeah, I'm fine..." he rasped, cursing the hole in his throat where the trach tube had been. "I just...I was just..." Listening in at the door, as Demyx was surely intelligent enough to figure out on his own. "I...had a crazy dream," he temporized, albeit honestly. "And I...kinda wanted to talk to you, except I could hear you were already talking to Roxas..."

"Is this 'consult Demyx if you had a weird dream' day?" Demyx sighed, but moved back over to the bed and sat down, motioning for Axel to sit down beside him. "Rox, you might as well shower, unless you wanted him in on this?" he asked, glancing back at Axel briefly. Axel shook his head wanly as he joined Demyx on the bed; Roxas moved into the bathroom almost as soon as Axel left it, probably to use more than just the shower. "So...what were you dreaming about?" Demyx asked as soon as they had some privacy.

Axel frowned and kicked idly at the pile of blankets on the floor. "Why was Roxas sleeping on your floor?" he asked, almost jealously. Granted, it wasn't like he deserved much consideration from Roxas, but still...

"He had a nightmare, couldn't get back to sleep, wanted to sleep on your floor, and got our rooms mixed up in the dark," Demyx explained matter-of-factly. Axel was more gratified than he really should have been that the younger Nobody still had some amount of trust in him. "But you didn't answer my question. Now spill." Slowly and reluctantly, Axel confessed the details of his dream, and all the implications he'd come up with when he woke up - how young he'd started drinking, how shamefully he'd treated his friends, how little he deserved their help. He was in the middle of explaining what a bastard he was when Demyx held up a hand to stop him and said "Kingdom Hearts, Ax, you sound like me on a self-hating emo tear. This isn't something the Valium is doing to you, is it?"

That brought Axel up short. "...No; Vexen weaned me off the Valium," he said, wondering what the point of the question was.

"And..." Demyx prompted. "Since it's not brought on by medication..." Axel shook his head in confusion, wondering what he was missing. "Oh, for the love of Kingdom Hearts, Ax, what do you and Roxas always say when I come down on myself like that?"

Axel rubbed his forehead. "Um...not to come down on yourself like that? That you're our friend whatever you think of yourself, and that you're a much better person than you realize?"

"And do I have to repeat all that back to you? I swear, if you try to come down on yourself again, I will come down on myself so hard you'll want to kill yourself just from listening to me. Or want to kill me to make me shut up." Demyx paused suddenly, holding up a hand for silence, as he tilted his head from side to side. Then he strode silently over to the bathroom door and yanked it open; Roxas toppled onto the carpet, looking first shocked, then sheepish. "Or Roxas can say it for me. By the way, if you want me to think you're in the shower, start the shower running. I can tell when it's not like Axel can tell the bathroom's not on fire."

Somehow, all three of them had ended up spending the entire morning in Demyx's room. Roxas wasn't sure how, though he vaguely suspected it had to do with either his and Axel's freaky dreams and subsequent need for comfort or Demyx's remarkably good mood. Granted, it was only "good" compared to how depressed and moody he'd been recently, and maybe it was only because his painkillers had him in a slightly goofy mood, but still, it offered a nice change. Maybe it was because Roxas didn't want to go back to his own room now that Fori had moved back in next to him, or because Axel just didn't like to be alone anymore and Roxas and Demyx didn't like to leave him alone.

Or maybe it was simply because for the first time in a very long time, the three of them were just being friends. Not supporters or guardians or caretakers, just friends.

Roxas hadn't realized how badly Axel's struggles had changed their relationships with each other until he had this chance to see what normal was supposed to be like. Now that he didn't have to spend all his waking moments trying to keep Demyx's spirits up or trying to talk Axel through a craving, he found himself actually truly enjoying their company for the first time in - well, it felt like a very long time indeed. He had to admit to himself now, he'd mostly been seeking them out recently from either a need for comfort or a sense of duty, but now he was rediscovering why he liked these guys in the first place. Alcohol, addictions, burns, assaults, stress, botched missions, unhappy pasts, and other unpleasant and recently all-too-popular topics were tacitly banned from the room until further notice. Instead, Axel and Roxas were treated to an in-depth explanation of Demyx's plans for his new garden space, including numerous gardening catalogs. Demyx gave Roxas another sitar lesson, as long as he was there, while Axel played with the cats and didn't care how silly he looked doing it. Roxas couldn't help but giggle at how silly he looked, and didn't worry that Axel might be offended or hurt and go back to drinking; Axel just laughed as well and kept playing. Axel and Roxas hauled Axel's Xbox into Demyx's room to entertain themselves, while Demyx was getting his bandages changed, and gave the Nocturne a demonstration of their Halo skills when he returned; Demyx tried to feign some sort of interest, with limited success. Eventually, owing to the fact that Axel and Roxas hadn't gotten much sleep and Demyx could sleep on a clothesline, all three ended up on the bed, with Demyx and Roxas snuggling up to Axel (the warmest spot in the room, bar none) as if he was a big body pillow. They were comfortable that way, and Axel's thoughts on the matter went unheard, as he was as fast asleep as either of them.

Roxas was awakened by a weird gurgling sound from directly under his ear. Blinking and glancing around, he saw Axel just waking up as well, though Demyx, who was sleeping on Axel's other side, was apparently still sound asleep. Roxas really couldn't bring himself to wake him, considering how little sleep he'd gotten the first few days after Axel tried to quit drinking, and apparently Axel felt the same. "It must be lunchtime," the redhead muttered, and Roxas suddenly realized how hungry he was after skipping breakfast. "I just don't wanna wake the poor guy up. He looks peaceful."

"I'll go get us food, then," Roxas said, rolling carefully off the bed - luckily he was towards the outside, and Demyx next to the wall. "I'm going to assume from the fact that no one came looking for me that there was nowhere in particular I'm supposed to be right now, aside from the castle."

"Axel..." Both Axel and Roxas jerked, sure that one or the other of them had accidentally woken Demyx up, but the wounded musician was still apparently out cold and just sleep-talking. "Axel, don't...please don't hurt me...please..."

Roxas cringed, hearing that - no need to guess what Demyx was dreaming about. He glanced over at Axel, to ask whether they should wake him up out of kindness or let him sleep - but Axel was standing there with his mouth hanging open, looking like he'd just been shot. "Are you all right?" he asked the redhead with concern. "You look sick..."

Axel didn't seem to have heard him. "Was I that bad?" he whispered, as if to himself. "Was I so cruel to him? He's still having nightmares about me?"

Roxas instinctively gripped the redhead's arm, pretty sure he knew where that train of thought would lead and just as sure he didn't want it to go there. "Axel..." he said warningly. "That's all over. There's no point in continuing to beat yourself up about it."

Axel gave him a helpless look. "But...he's still having nightmares," he said, gesturing at Demyx.

"Well, you could wake him up, if it'd make you feel better," Roxas answered impatiently. "But I think it would have more impact if you made sure it never happened again."

Axel blinked uncomprehendingly at him, his jaw falling open again, then turned red. "I've been acting like an idiot, haven't I," he mumbled. "I can't stop beating myself up over what I did to him - and when I do that is when I'm most tempted to start drinking again. And if I ever did, that would just make it start all over again, wouldn't it?"

Roxas waited patiently for some grand overall conclusion, assuming Axel was coming to one. When it didn't seem to be forthcoming, he prompted "And your point is...?"

Axel was looking a little bit dumbstruck, as if he'd just found some great cosmic truth and couldn't believe how simple it really was. "It's about damn time I stopped beating myself up, isn't it?" he said finally, with a vague, self-deprecating smile.

Roxas looked up at him, as if scarcely able to believe he'd said such a thing - in truth, he was - and managed a slow smile. "Took you long enough. I didn't think you'd ever think of it yourself."

Axel chuckled and cuffed him lightly over the head. "Come on, little brother, give me some credit. Even I can get a clue once in a while. Now let's get some lunch."

Demyx woke up very slowly, though his unpleasant dreams gave continued sleep little allure. For a long time, he thought he was dreaming about lying in bed, feeling sore and achy and hungry. Eventually, he managed to open his eyes all the way and fully reengage his brain to discover that he actually was lying in bed, sore and achy and hungry. He was alone in the room, which wasn't how he remembered it, and there was a peanut butter sandwich sitting on his bedside table, apparently waiting for him. Next to it was a note, in Axel's less-than-precise handwriting - Didn't want to wake you, but you slept through lunch, so we made you this. Hope it's still good when you wake up. With a faint, weary groan, Demyx sat up and poked at the sandwich. The jam hadn't soaked completely through the bread yet, and he was hungry, so he picked it up and started eating. He could pick up bits and pieces of conversation from Axel's room as he ate - presumably, Axel and Roxas were in there - but he wasn't going to start listening in at the bathroom door, turnabout being fair play notwithstanding. His hearing wasn't that great even with hearing aids on, so it probably wouldn't do that much good even if he was feeling nosy. Besides, he had enough to do keeping Connie away from his sandwich. "Your food is over by the CD player, not here," he said, forced to hold the sandwich out of her reach temporarily. "Besides, you wouldn't like this anyway."

"Mrew," Connie said insistently, pawing at the sandwich in his hand.

"No," Demyx said more firmly, then started eating it as fast as he could just so she'd stop trying to get at it, ignoring her forlorn look. All he really accomplished was gluing his mouth shut and having to wash it out before he could keep eating, and making Connie look miserable. Well, it wasn't like she'd like peanut butter anyway, and when he got his mouth stuck shut, he could unstick it by himself, which was probably more than she could do. If she did and he tried to help, she'd probably bite him out of instinct.

...Not that he didn't appreciate Axel and Roxas's thoughtfulness, but whatever had been for lunch, he probably would have preferred that. Peanut butter was just so...meh. Or maybe that was just how he felt right now.

He ate the entire sandwich, only because he knew he needed food and to make sure there were no leftovers for Connie to get at as soon as his back was turned, then lay back on his bed, staring up at the ceiling and trying to will his shoulder not to hurt. It didn't work particularly well, but it did take his mind off of other things for a few moments. That by itself was slightly encouraging, so he closed his eyes and tried to empty his mind of all thoughts for a while, including how much his shoulder hurt, substituting meditation for the pain meds he disliked so much. He soon began to feel distinctly peaceful, with a vague drifting sensation, as if he was floating on the surface of a calm lagoon. He could hear Axel and Roxas's conversation as if from miles away, and whatever they were saying couldn't have mattered less. Connie was roaming around the room, growling and tussling with some new toy or bumping some trinket or another off of wherever it had been, and she might as well have been on the far side of the castle. He didn't know or care whether or not his shoulder still hurt. Demyx was comfortably ensconced in his own self-made cocoon of peace and serenity, and had no intention of leaving any time soon.

Someone punched him in the stomach, and he doubled over instantly. Granted, it hadn't been a hard punch - so light, in fact, it wouldn't have counted if he'd been fully conscious and on his feet - but it had taken him completely by surprise. "What the fuck was that?" he demanded, holding his stomach and rubbing his eyes. Then, instinctively, he jerked backwards in fear as he saw Axel at the foot of his bed. Gods, no - please - not again - never again - he didn't know how he could take it -

"Demyx?" He blinked again. Axel was just staring at him, looking scared and a little hurt. "Come on...I barely hit you. It wasn't that bad, was it?"

"You scared me, you jackass!" Demyx snapped automatically, and was a little surprised that he'd done so. He hadn't stood up for himself to Axel long had it been? Even for something so minor as this? "Don't fuckin' do that!" Axel actually backed up a step, raising his hands defensively, and... All of a sudden, Demyx felt strong. He'd made Axel back off with just harsh words and an angry look. "Were you trying to shock me into having a seizure or what?" he continued, rolling off the bed and standing up. Axel backed up another step, looking stricken. "I mean it, jackass! You ever do that again and I'll snap your fucking neck! You got that fucking memorized? I swear, I will make you -"

And then he heard someone laughing close by. It wasn't Axel, since Axel looked as startled by the laughter as he was. It turned out to be Roxas, who seemed to find the whole thing funny as all get out. "Demyx, Kingdom Hearts, don't eat him," he sputtered, barely able to talk for laughing. "You might want to let him go alive."

Demyx stared at him, all the wind rushing out of his sails. He was vaguely tempted to punch Roxas, for making him stop that big head of steam he had going,, that was stupid. What about Axel? Axel was still...cowering a little, looking a little bit scared, not to mention confused. "Jesus Christ, Demyx, I didn't think you were gonna take it that badly..."

"Well, don't do that next time," Demyx muttered, sitting down on the bed and feeling vaguely embarrassed. He really hadn't had anything like a good reason to take Axel's head off like that, except...well, he could. Yelling at Axel like that, and making him back down even over a stupid joke...

I'm not too weak to stand up to him. I can stand up for myself.

Maybe it was stupid. But it certainly felt good to know.

Axel was still staring at Demyx, feeling more than a little stunned. Where on God's green Earth had that come from? He'd just woken Demyx up, albeit in a less-than-gentle way, and Demyx had torn his head off for it. What had he done to deserve that? often did I stumble in around midnight or later and beat the shit out of him because he was handy? And what did Demyx do to deserve that?

He sighed and took a step back - this was all still preying too heavily on his mind. Despite what he'd told Roxas, he couldn't just get over himself, just like that. Who did he think he was kidding, anyway? Other than himself. With a sigh, he sank down into a sitting position on one of Demyx's sitar pillows, leaning against the desk until he realized what the knobs on the drawers were doing to his back. Did it even matter? Compared to the pain he'd caused Demyx, and the grief he caused Roxas, did getting a couple knobs ground into his spine matter at all?

Roxas tapped his leg with his foot. "Hey. You have no excuse to sit around and mope. Now look cheerful." Axel looked up listlessly at him, wishing he would go away; when that didn't happen, he "smiled" up at him with an expression somewhere between a pained grimace and a menacing snarl. "...That is nothing like cheerful."

"It's as close as I'm likely to get," Axel rasped, letting the rictus snarl fall slack and staring down at his hands. How could Roxas expect him to smile right now?

"Wow, mood swing much?" That from Demyx, who followed it up with a wadded sock. "Are you having your period or something?"

"...Demyx, the next sock you throw at me will be set on fire, got it memorized?"

Axel would have added something about the differences between genders, which gender he was, and how rich that mood swing comment was coming from someone who'd threatened to snap his neck two minutes ago, except Demyx started laughing. "All right. There's our Axel." Axel only glowered at him. "Roxas, kick his ass and see if he moves."

Axel ignored that, until Roxas actually took his advice. "Ow! Little bastard..." He pulled himself reluctantly to his feet, if only to get that bit of anatomy out of Roxas's range. "What was that for? And don't say because Demyx told you to!"

"What, that's not a good enough reason?" Roxas gave him a light shove that was probably meant to be playful, except Axel wasn't in a particularly playful mood at the moment. Right then, he was starting to feel that old familiar need for a drink, which he tried desperately to crush. That would just start all that old misery over again...but it was so tempting... "Then because you deserved it. This is not a day for sitting around and moping; I thought we'd decided that. Kingdom Hearts knows we've done enough of that lately."

"Ow," Axel repeated, sitting down in Demyx's desk chair. "I think I've earned the right to mope a little."

He was already composing his reply by the time Roxas started talking. "I thought you'd decided not to beat yourself up anymore. Besides, when you mope, you make us depressed. Is that what you want?"

Axel sighed, rolled his eyes, and let Roxas have it. "A pretty girl can kiss a guy, a bird can kiss a butterfly, the morning sun can kiss the grass, but you, my friend, can kiss my ass!"

He'd been expecting Roxas to be at least mildly stunned by that astonishing (for him) bit of wit. All he got was Demyx's other sock thrown at him. "Hey, next time you wanna be witty, come up with your own insults. I came up with that. Two years ago. It shut you up, if I recall."

"Now that is stunning," Roxas said, giving Demyx a thumbs-up. "Except now that he's heard it once, it probably won't work again. I'm going to have to find some other way to shut him up, I guess."

"Hey -" Axel picked up Demyx's wadded sock and threw it at Roxas. "How and why did making me shut up become one of your major life goals?"

"Since you started pouting and moping all over again," Roxas said, trying and failing to grab Axel in a headlock. "Because do you have any idea how sick of that we are?" He might not have been tall enough to grab Axel like he wanted to, but his weight was enough to make them both overbalance and fall on Demyx's bed. Demyx just laughed out loud at both of them, without a visible hint of pain. "Here's a hint - we've had enough. Enough and then some. We need some pointless silliness once in a while, Ax. We need a chance to take a break and remind ourselves that it really is going to get better. Tomorrow we can go back to being hurt and worried and, I think we've earned the right to relax."

"...Relax?" Axel repeated, as if he'd never heard the word before. Obviously, he had, had lost most of its meaning to him. When he tried to consciously imagine relaxing, the accompanying mental image always included alcohol. Going out and ending up at the bar. Hanging out in the company of a six-pack. Downing a shot before kicking back. Not...not sitting around and playing Halo. Not playing with the cats while Demyx and Roxas played sitar in the background. Not just hanging around and goofing off with his little brothers, no alcohol involved.

But this...somehow seemed more natural. More right. This was the way it should be. The way it should have been all along.

I can do this. I don't need booze to have fun anymore. I never did.

With that in mind, he grabbed Roxas and started tickling him mercilessly. Roxas squealed and squirmed and fell right off the bed, where he grabbed Demyx's previously-thrown sock and threw it at Axel's head. Axel retaliated with one of his own socks, and Demyx spontaneously decided to join the battle with a pillow to Axel's head. After that, things got a little chaotic; the chaos ended with both Axel and Roxas on the floor and Demyx still sitting on the bed, triumphantly holding up a wadded sock. All three of them were laughing their heads off. And that was just the way it should be.

AN: So how long have y'all been waiting for this? Since February of last year, I believe...and I have been working on this ever since. I like Roxas's dream, shaky about the rest of it, but I think it at least holds together and comes to some kind of conclusion. AND IT'S NOT ONE BIG GOO-BALL OF ANGST. In fact, my beta reader said something about warm fuzzy feelings.

Is this the end? Haven't decided. But it probably is.