When I was 18 and had just a month prior gotten my driver's license, this happened to me. One of the most helpless and humiliating moments of my life. The difference between Roxie and me is that I was in my mother's (now former) Mercedes as opposed to a Chrysler and I didn't meet a perfect stranger and fall instantly in love with him. The Merc and I survived the incident without a scratch. The same day the car went to have its tyres changed.

For A Spot of Bother because she is one of sweetest people I know. And whose influence is blatantly obvious in this fic.

I could really do with some constructive criticism. (I really hate the title.) Thought I'd start with something (SAFE) easy to write, easy to read before I start giving birth to bigger babies. Just let me know what I should edit and how, and if I deem your ideas worthwhile, I might do something. Might, you know.

Disclaimer: Uh, well I am travelling to Japan this month so I may be able to bluff Square Enix into… or maybe not. As much as I wish it, Roxas and Axel don't belong to me.

A Losing Battle

It'd been such a nice day. No uncooperative coffee makers, doors, socks, shirts, pens, or whatever else an ordinary day in the life of a high school student held. Roxas had even surprised himself by acing the pop quiz his history teacher had decided to dish out. Lunch had been spent eating, and teasing and getting teased by his best friends. His hair had looked great all day. Which had probably been a big factor in making so many girls - and a handful of boys - to ogle at him like the hot piece of meat he was. And that had resulted in him feeling quite pleased, even confident.

All in all, Roxas's day had been good. So had it really been that much to ask that he'd make it back home in his parents' Chrysler without anything coming to mar his close flawless day? Apparently, yes, as he was currently stuck halfway up a hill and nothing he did could make the car move.

The chilly and wet November weather had taken a sudden turn for worse, changing from tolerable to catastrophic in a matter of minutes, as freezing water had begun to rain down and cover everything in a thin layer of incredibly slippery ice. Roxas hadn't even realized how bad the weather was until he had reached the steep hill, and the car had simply begun to slow down as the angle increased. He'd tried a smaller gear to get some power into the wheels. Nothing. He'd tried stopping everything he was doing and starting again, carefully. Nothing. He'd forcefully inched the right front wheel onto the gravel by the sidewalk in hopes of some friction between the ground and the wheel. Nothing.

And there was a long queue of others behind him, all impatient.

The only thing that could comfort Roxas in his situation was knowing he couldn't possibly be the only one who was having trouble. Surely, there were more cars with tyres like this? (He did his best to ignore the others that made it up without much drama, either changing lanes or figuring the sidewalk was an alternative.) Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Resignedly, and gritting his teeth, he pushed the hazard flasher button and made sure he'd secured the handbrake so that the car wouldn't start sliding back down and bump into anything. The blonde buried his face in his hands and groaned. As irritated as he was at himself, he still found a part of his brain congratulating him for not causing too much of a problem in the traffic. Sighing deeply, Roxas fished his cell phone from his bag and dialed in his mother's number.

"Hey, this is Claire, sorry I can't –" He threw the useless phone away and he smacked his head against the steering wheel, making the horn go off.

Great. Just great. Roxas turned his head just in time to see a car pass him and the driver – a middle-aged, beer-bellied man in a monstrous Dodge - look at him like he was an imbecile blocking the road. Like he was a fucking girl who couldn't drive for shit.

He caught the tune for weather forecast on the radio and turned up the volume. "Expecting some freezing rain today around 3 pm, so be careful, folks. There may be some jams and cars stuck –"

"Shut up," Roxas growled and violently turned the thing off. "You're a bit late, asshole."

So far the blonde senior had kept his temper in check, but it was another car passing him, rude enough to honk like a motherfucker, that finally did it.

"SHIT FUCKING HELL!" He whacked the roof so hard he hurt his hand and curled in on himself, more curses spilling from his mouth. Just when he had started to consider breaking a window and slicing his throat open with a particularly nasty shard to end his misery, a figure appeared at the driver's side and knocked on the glass.

Steeling himself to tell the idiot off, Roxas opened the window, still holding his aching hand against his chest. Oh, perfect, now you'll get it. However, his insults died in his throat when he was met with a pair of bright green eyes (and where those tattoos on his face?), and wild, spiky hair so red it looked out of place, like it was from another world in the dull fall weather.

"You okay?" the redhead said in a husky voice, eyebrows drawn together. "Saw you and figured you could do with a bit of help."

Snapping out of his fascination with the stranger's appearance, Roxas frowned automatically and grumbled, "I'm fine."

The man's eyes visibly sparkled at the blonde's attitude. Straightening himself from his hunched position at the window, the redhead took a look at the cars passing them and the icy patches covering the road. "Sure you are", he said, not bothering to hide his amusement. "That's exactly why you've got your lights flashing and why you're sitting here while everyone else is… well, I think you know what I mean, kid."

Kid.

Flushing with anger and barely managing to refrain from punching the stranger, Roxas peered up at the tall freak and chose a verbal attack: "Okay, asshole, and I will call you that since you took the liberty of calling me a kid, I'm stuck. And apparently, that makes me a target for jerks that can't help butting in on things that have nothing to do with them. So before my fist twitches into your general direc - "

"Axel."

Frustration momentarily vanishing, Roxas, intelligently asked: "What?"

Pinching his nose, the man huffed: "My name, kid. And while we're at it, your name is…?"

"None of your business."

"So I'll just call you kid, then?"

"Roxas!"

"See, Roxas, it wasn't too hard now, was it?" The redhead, Axel, leaned down again with a triumphant smile on his face. Roxas convinced himself it wasn't contagious. It wasn't why his stomach did a backflip. He was fighting another blush, except this one wasn't out of anger.

"Fuck you."

"Now that we're almost best buddies – " Roxas scoffed. " - I can tell you that I know a thing or two about cars. So without further ado…" Axel opened the driver door. "Scoot and let me try."

"W- Wait a second! Did I invite you here?" Eyes narrowing, Roxas decided he wasn't quite yet ready to accept the offer of help. It felt as pleasant as mental castration.

"Uh, yeah," Axel insisted. "See that ice? Hear those honks? You wanna get out of here?"

Swallowing his pride, Roxas didn't word his reply but undid his seatbelt without looking the man in the eyes and moved over to the passenger seat.

"Slowly but surely," Axel said, more to himself than to Roxas, as he seated himself and chuckled, noticing how his head brushed the roof and how close to the steering wheel he was. "Man, you're short."

"One more, beanpole, and I'll throw you to the path of oncoming traffic."

Surprising Roxas by not retorting, Axel adjusted the seat and the mirrors and even flipped the bird to staring driver in yet another passing car. Roxas turned to look the opposite way to hide the smile that threatened to appear. Axel took the hazard flasher off and pushed some other button in the dashboard before he released the handbrake, put the car into gear and gently gave it some gas.

To his relief (and horror), Roxas realized the car moved. Turning to look at Axel almost accusingly, the blonde blurted: "The hell did you do?"

Axel grinned rather smugly and pointed at the button that had the letters ESP on it. "Electronic Stability Program. It's supposed to help you, and most of the time it does 'cause it stops the car from getting out of hand, but in situations like this, when you really do need the power, you should switch it off."

Roxas was mortified. So he was a girl who couldn't drive for shit, after all. Sensing Roxas's discomfort, Axel nudged his shoulder carefully, a teasing smile on his face. "C'mon, it's not that bad. At least you didn't have to go out and push."

They fell into a comfortable silence as the car climbed up the hill. Roxas noted, with great satisfaction, that the Dodge from before had stalled at the top and the man who had served Roxas with an unfriendly look, was cursing loudly, yelling at everyone who looked his way.

"Honk," the blonde said, eyes intent on the figure in the middle of the road.

Puzzled, Axel glanced at Roxas. "Huh?"

"Honk. It's payback."

Grinning widely, Axel was more than happy to comply. The man spun around to face them and fell on his ass because of the sudden movement. And that was quite enough to make both Axel and Roxas to burst out laughing. When the man attempted to get up and fell on his face, Axel sympathized by grimacing and letting out a hiss, but when Roxas wheezed next to him, he couldn't help laughing again. Through their poorly concealed joy they could make out some of the man's enraged ranting: "… -ing punks! Spineless, brainle -…"

The rest of his outburst was drowned out by yet another car's impatient honking. If the Dodge man had been a lesser man, he'd probably have started crying like a baby. But you could still realize the depths of his distress by the redness of his face which now rivaled the tomato of all tomatoes.

"Aww, man," Axel said. "Enough, enough. Look, Rox, we're at the top. Good car!"

After 'Rox', the blonde didn't really hear the rest of the taller man's words. The cynical part of him told him to be annoyed by getting nicknamed by a stranger, but, really, who was he kidding? It felt kind of… nice. No matter how hard it was to admit that. So it was only fitting that he would ask something stupid like "Why the tattoos?" Shit. That was stupid. He could have just said: "At the top? Great! 'Kay, thanks, bye." But no.

Unperturbed, Axel barked out a laugh and said, a devious glint in his green eyes: "Well, there's a story. You wanna hear it? Reaaally? So we're slowly warming up – "

"Just forget I said anything," Roxas interjected, hiding most of his face under his scarf. "Make a right turn here." His face definitely wasn't heating up again. Nu-uh.

An unreadable expression on his face, Axel regarded the blonde while at the same time driving quite skillfully along the icy road, following Roxas's instructions.

The tone of Axel's voice was suddenly softer, less edgy and arrogant. "A couple of years ago, a friend of mine got his heart broken. Fuck, it was really bad. Honestly, I couldn't think of anything I could say or do. It was like… I don't know what, but… well, enough to make you do pretty much anything to cheer him up. So I dragged him into a tattoo parlor late at night, told him to pick something and I'd have it done. So..." Axel chuckled lightly. "He chose a triangle. Don't know why. Anyway, just for kicks, I decided to get two, one under each eye. Couldn't really show much emotion on my face for a few days after that. It fucking hurt and my parents got damn close to throwing me out. But Demyx, that's my friend, started to cheer up bit by bit. Don't know if it was the tattoos, the unbelievable, burning pain or my parents' faces, though."

Roxas looked carefully at Axel's face, eyes narrowing. "Liar. Take a left."

"Roxas, you wound me. Why would I lie to you? I saved your ass back there." The car swirled a little at the turn.

"Who gets tattoos that can and will harm their future? You know, you can't get work in a bank looking like that."

"The non-banker types," Axel remarked. "And honestly, Rox, have I for a moment seemed like the type to wear dress pants, white shirts, and the works?"

The blonde turned to look at the road. "A right."

"But I do look good all dressed up," Axel added, mischievously after the turn.

"Sure." Pointing at a white house a bit further. "Just pull up in front of it."

The car slid to a stop and Axel turned the engine off. "You got a pen here somewhere?"

"Huh? Pen? Um… here." Roxas opened the glove compartment and handed Axel the first pen he saw.

"Gotta advertise the workshop," Axel elaborated and took out a small slip of paper from his pocket.

Rolling his eyes, Roxas got out. Axel followed, still finishing up whatever he was writing.

"So, thanks," Roxas said, noting enviously the man's height. "For… you know."

"Yeah, yeah," Axel said, handing the pen back to the blonde, smirking. "I help cars with people problems." Roxas held out a hand, palm up. "Oh, the keys…"

The redhead dropped the keys to younger boy's hand. "See ya, Rox." With a wave and a smile, Axel was off, trudging back the way they had come.

Roxas watched his back until it disappeared and then, suddenly he realized what he was holding. There were the keys and there was a slip of paper. He folded it open to reveal a phone number and a message scrawled under it.

Car trouble or not, call. I'd like that.

A smile lit up the blonde's face just when he heard the front door behind him open.

"Who was that?"

"No one, mom. Just some guy." Roxas turned around, still looking at Axel's handwriting, and walked inside, dropping his bag to the floor.

Noticing the piece of paper in her son's hand and the way he was holding it, Claire nodded, and looked at the birds in the tree at the front yard, an amused smile on her face. "Some guy, indeed." But only the birds heard that.

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A/N: Hmm, car-mechanic!Axel. Dirty, sweaty and working, oh yeah. Maybe I'll write a more summery version of Axel tweaking those nipp-, eh, screws. Shit. Engines! Engines, I swear! Engines!

Why don't I ever meet perfect strangers?