Notes: This fic started some time ago as a vaguely philosophical concept, inspired by (of all things) some dialogue in Genji Monogatari, and proceeded to be stuck in the planning stages for way too long. It's pretty much exactly what the summary says - nine next-lives, eight of which go wrong and then one that goes right. Some are short snap-shots, some aren't, some are inspired by songs, some aren't, and ultimately Axel and Roxas will get their happy ending. Even if it takes a while for them to get there.

As a side note, James Bond does, in fact, drive Aston Martins (in, like, eight films). I didn't make that up.

Disclaimer: Will an Oathkeeper and Oblivion tattoo count as a step towards franchise ownership? Yeah, I thought not. The lyrics are from, as indicated by the chapter title, "Life 2: The Unhappy Ending" by Stars. The song, if you check it out, directly influenced the plot.

I. Life 2: The Unhappy Ending

Scene one: late at night interior

We find ourselves inside the car

Our hero has just gone too far

His lover bleeding in the back

He removes the lucky from the pack

He knows now that he can't turn back

"Axel, what the fuck are we doing?" Roxas' voice, quiet and strained with pain, and maybe a bit with resignation, was almost lost in the revving of the car engine as Axel hit the accelerator.

"Finding somewhere safe." It was probably hopeless, and they both knew it, but Axel tried to be reassuring and confident anyway, because it was all his fault and Roxas deserved so much better than bleeding to death in the back seat of an old Alfa Romeo.

They seemed to have had the same thought (and hadn't Axel always been told that lovers started thinking alike after long enough?) because Roxas chuckled lowly. "Never thought I'd die in a fucking Alfa Romeo. It's not even a nice Alfa Romeo. Told you we should've found an Aston Martin - would've been like James Bond."

Axel chuckled, too, roughly, as he fished a crumpled pack of Parliaments out of his coat pocket. He didn't smoke very often and the same four that had been there for a week and half were still waiting to be lit. He risked a glance down for a few seconds, considered, and pulled out the lucky.

He doubted he'd have time to get around to smoking the rest, anyway.

The flash of police lights and the renewed wail of a siren behind them triggered another low, dry laugh from Roxas. It was cut off quickly by a sharp gasp and a too-wet cough. Axel scowled at nothing at all and knew, with a cold, clear certainty, that it was over. There was no way out. It didn't matter where they went, or how fast they went there - the police would catch up and he'd go to prison and none of it would matter because Roxas would be dead.

"Hey, babe," he called out with a lightness he didn't feel, hiding the sudden chill behind the curve of a slow, sly smile, "how do you feel about having some fun?"

Forever young, love, how about it?

"Why the hell not?" The smirk was written in Roxas' voice, even though Axel couldn't see his face, and it both did and did not make him feel better about the impending end of his world.

"I was hoping you'd say that." And he spun the wheel sharply, cutting across two empty lanes to take the exit from an angle that would have been deadly had he been a nervous driver.

"How fast are we going?" There was some revived life and interest in Roxas' voice, some of the resignation gone, and it made Axel smile more genuinely in turn.

"Ninety-one." He tapped his cigarette against the edge of the open window and smirked. He'd always loved fast cars. Fast cars and clear skies and open stretches of road in the early hours of the morning. It was where they'd begun. Fitting that it also would be where they ended.

"I know this car can do better than that." It was a challenge as much as a request. Roxas knew he wasn't going to survive the night, knew too that it was quite possible Axel would be following close behind - this was it for them. This was their ending and they needed to make it count. Maybe even enough to make up for all their mistakes.

Axel laughed and shook his head. "We're not exactly on a speedway here, honey."

"Try anyway."

Anyone else, Axel would have brushed off because, really, there was only so much he could do on narrow, twisting back roads. But his passenger wasn't anyone. He was Roxas, for whom Axel would have walked barefoot through hell, or gone out to collect the stars. Trying to drive faster in a stolen getaway car on backcountry roads in the middle of the night? That was nothing.

"Anything for you, sweetheart." He shifted the cigarette from one side of his mouth to the other in that way that Roxas had always said looked more awkward than badass. It was a habit, though, and habits were something solid for him to hold on to.

They took a turn a little harder than necessary and Roxas cursed fluently as he was jolted back against the cracked leather seat. Axel winced, but didn't bother apologising because that wasn't how things worked between them. An apology was worthless compared to getting away from the cops so they could have some peace before the end. It was true that they didn't have a Bond Aston Martin, but there was still time to make theirs an ending worthy of a film.

Everything had already gone to hell - there really wasn't much left to lose.

"I didn't think it would go down this way," Axel said quietly, honestly, flicking his cigarette out the window and turning down a tiny road through the woods.

"No use crying over it now," Roxas replied smartly. "We did what we did and I'm not sorry for any of it. I mean, come on, Ax, this sucks, but wasn't it awesome getting here?"

It was supposed to make him feel better. Wry, Roxas-style comfort. And Axel wanted to be comforted, wanted to be strong and okay with everything, but his burning eyes told against him and he had to blink a few times to keep his vision clear.

"What am I gonna do without you, Rox?"

There was a pause, a short silence that said more than all the words in the world ever could. Then, "Whatever you have to."

It was permission and forgiveness and a promise all wrapped up in four simple words, six sharp syllables. And Axel nodded, tightened his grip on the steering wheel, and floored it.

Roxas was dying, the police were gaining, and it was the end of the world.

All that was left to do was enjoy the rest of the ride.