Words: 2067
Pairings: Axel/Roxas, hints of Demyx/Zexion, others if you want to see them that way.

Warnings: Boy-Love (Shounen-Ai/Yaoi), Violence, Language

Disclaimer: I do not have any claim on anything related to Kingdom Hearts, or the Final Fantasy titles. Those are the property of Disney and SquareEnix.

A/N: Back when I finished Christmastide this idea had been one of the possible sequels, but it was such a good idea I expanded it into it's own fic. This chapter is coming to you all early, because today happens to be my birthday and I thought I'd give you all a sneak peek. The fic itself is quite nearly complete. Once it is finished I'll start posting the rest of it... So enjoy this little preview.

Axel was cold: Mind numbing, bone chilling, ice in the veins cold. Had he looked in a mirror he would have expected his lips to be a purpling blue, his cheeks to be chapped and the skin gone the pale white of dryness. He felt as though he stood in the middle of a great barren tundra, at the epicenter of a white out blizzard and there was no way of getting back.

The truth of the matter was anything but what the dramatic conjuring of his numb mind portrayed, except for the paleness. Axel was pale, so pale many people would tack on that saying about seeing ghosts if they wanted to describe him. Fact of the matter was that Axel would probably punch the lights out of someone if they said anything of the sort. He didn't want to hear about ghosts right now.

It hit too close to home, much too close.

No external chill caused the frost that had settled into the very marrow of his bones. In fact the weather was amazingly good today. The sky was a brilliant blue, with thick cotton clouds scudding along at a leisurely pace. The breeze caused the light weight draperies to flare inward like a dancer's gown with a faint rustle. It carried with it the scent of grass and the after taste of a recent rainstorm. The wind chime dangling just outside the chimed faintly. A lucky ray of brilliant sunlight hit the metal tubing, flashing off it and glancing across Axel's eyes, and momentarily blinded by the brilliance he closed them.

He could see the scene in the room even with them closed. It was painted with acrylic strokes across the backs of his eyelids. Besides, his eyes itched; Dry and achy with that swollen feeling at the corners of tears he would not, could not shed. His palms cupped his opposite elbows: Hugging himself in a tender embrace as if to comfort himself. He felt a little lost, and so he stood there in the shadows at the back of the room like a forlorn shade.

The wind chime sang another sweet note in the spring breeze, and Axel opened his eyes glancing from the shadowed doorway between the dining room and the large airy living room. No one had changed their position in the moment's he'd been watching from behind his eyelids. He swallowed hard passed the choking dryness that clung to his throat. There was an undefined tightness around it, as if his trachea was starting to swell shut. He knew it was pure emotion that was doing it, just as the pressure at the backs of his eyes was brought forth by the same.

There were a number of people in the living room. They, for the most part, had their backs toward him. The few that didn't were too busy watching the others to really pay any heed to him. Tifa sat on the couch her head in her hands while Cloud Strife, her husband, clutched her shoulder in a tight grip. The part of Cloud's face that Axel could see was tense, and lined with strain as he stared defiantly up at the man standing before him. Hovering nearby were Zack Fair and his wife Aerith along with their son, Sora: They had the pinched look of stress.

He supposed it was only natural that they all wore that look. That look that told the world that everything was not all right, the one that clearly said 'We have been victimized.' The only ones who didn't wear that look were the man and his partner: Agents Leonhart and Kisaragi. Leonhart's scar marked face was as blank as a brick wall, and his tone about as telling. He spoke in a calm monotone, it was dry and lacked inflection. Axel wasn't sure if it was because the man felt it best he be calm and strong, or if he'd just seen it all too much. Kisaragi was the exact opposite: She wore a sympathetic smile, and a brittle look in her eyes.

Axel liked Leonhart's approach more. He'd always found that people like Kisaragi with their sympathetic looks and words weren't quite as empathetic as they wished they were. Inhaling through his nose Axel turned his attention back to the scene before him, just in time to hear Leonhart speaking again, "When did you get the call, Mrs. Strife?"

Tifa stifled another sob, and sniffled instead, "Just a few hours ago."

"You didn't call police directly?"

Tifa shook her head, "I didn't want to believe it, so I called a few of his friends, hoping he was with them." The dark haired woman turned her head slightly to indicate Sora, and Axel himself. Axel couldn't help but notice how disheveled she was. Tifa was a strong woman, but he supposed even strong women could be terrified mothers.

Leonhart shot both Sora, and Axel glances before returning to his questioning, "When did you last see your son?"

"T-two da-ays.." Tifa broke down into further sobs.

Axel felt his breath catch in his throat, and after a moment of gathering himself he stepped forward and touched the shoulder of his best friend's mother, "Do you want some tea?"

Tifa looked up at him with puffy eyes and a watery smile, "Thank you." she hiccuped and reached up to give his hand a squeeze before turning back to the Agents. Axel could feel their eyes drilling into the area between his shoulder blades, but didn't care. Axel had known the Strife family since he was ten years old. They were like parents to him.

Once he reached the kitchen the act of getting out the things needed to make Tifa Strife's favorite tea was all mechanical. Axel was thoroughly on autopilot. His eyes didn't see anything, for his focus was turned inward. He didn't need to see, for he knew this kitchen almost as well as he knew his own. Axel set the tea kettle down on the burner, his hands bracing against the edge of the stove while he stared blankly at the dials, unable to really comprehend it all.

Had it really been two days? Had it really been two days since Roxas had disappeared? Axel inhaled deeply through his nose, and passed one hand over his face. He opened his eyes to meet the gaze of his own ghostly reflection in the nearby window where his complexion seemed paler than ever beneath the stark markings of his facial tattoos, and the dark hollow circles of a sleepless night.

He'd suspected something was wrong. Roxas hadn't been answering his calls, but it hadn't been confirmed. It had been nothing more than a nervous feeling at the back of his mind until Tifa had called earlier today and with only a few words the entire world had screeched to a halt.

He'd only just seen him two days ago. The two of them had been hanging out downtown and the younger man had been telling him about something stupid one of his other friends had done recently. Axel couldn't really remember what it had been, but at the time it had been funny. They'd both laughed so hard over it.

What Axel could remember was the way he'd felt when he looked over at Roxas. He'd felt bereft of the world, as though all things tying him to reality had been cut away. Helplessly adrift in a sea of emotion he had wanted nothing more than to reach out and pull the younger man to him, hold him close and feather affectionate kisses over his features until he stopped laughing and returned his adoring gaze.

The fact that he hadn't was like a physical pain. Axel wondered if that pain was what true, heart breaking regret felt like. He'd, so far, been too much of a coward to come clean. As they had parted ways on the end of a block of tall buildings, he had watched Roxas walk away already on the phone with another friend. Roxas had turned a corner, and that had been the last Axel had seen, or heard from, him again. Now Roxas was missing, and Axel felt cold.

Axel was jolted from his reverie by the sharp trill of the phone ringing next to him, and he picked the handset up from the cradle before it could even complete its first ring. He hadn't even realized what he was doing until he noticed he was holding it, frozen, a few inches above the cradle. Axel very nearly just dropped it back into place, but after a few moments of listening to himself breath and hearing no one coming some instinct made him lift it to his ear. He cradled it there, his arm wrapping protectively around his middle.

Someone breathed on the other end of the line in silence, and after several seconds the unknown call ventured, "Mrs. Strife?"

"No." Axel replied flatly, his body was tense but his voice was cool and calm.

"Mr. Strife then?"


"Then you are?"

Axel knew that it had to be them. The people who took Roxas. The people who had called earlier today to demand a ransom for the younger man's return. His mind was already racing ahead, thoughts piling up together. None of them even touched on signaling to the agents in the next room that the kidnappers had called again. After several seconds of silence he said coldly, "A friend of the family."

"I see." Axel could almost hear the smirk in the mans cold, cool voice. "Hmph. We don't have time to deal with friends. Let me talk to the Strifes."

Axel simply held his silence, and remained so. This man had Roxas, and though Axel knew what he was about to do could be considered very bad indeed... Well, he was willing to do whatever it took. Axel would sell his very soul to the devil, give his life, walk through the underworld and back out again; would do what Orpheus had failed at. He sealed this pact with his next words, "I really think you do. We don't have time to chit chat now." Then he railed off a series of numbers, his cellphone number. "Got it memorized?"

He didn't give the man a chance to respond, simply hung up the phone. He'd just pulled out his cellphone, and turned it back on when he heard footsteps on the linoleum behind him. Axel glanced back to find Sora hovering near the kitchen door, and gave the younger man a weak smile. A year older than Roxas, Sora and he could have been brothers, twins even. Though they had vast differences in personality, they were as close as blood brothers.

Sora cracked a smile in answer to his own, "You okay, Axel?"

Axel would have laughed at the meekness in Sora's voice any other time. Sora was undoubtedly, not meek. He supposed though, that he was feeling just as cold and numb about this as he was, "No." Axel wouldn't lie to the kid, not about that.

Sora nodded jerkily in response, "They'll find him." Axel wished he could have all the conviction Sora's voice had. "I know they will."

Axel looked away from Sora, unable to look at him as he voiced his lies. It was hard to lie to Sora's face, he was just too damned innocent and naive, "Reno called." He lifted the hand gripping his cellphone enough for Sora to see the device. "He wants me home...Can you.. can you keep me posted?"

"Of course!" Sora hurried to assure him, and Axel felt horrible for it. Sora was always so genuine. A lot like Roxas, though Roxas never seemed to mind if he was treading on a few toes as he went. "Of course I will Axel.. We both know that..."

He was glad Sora didn't finish that sentence, "Yeah." They both knew how much Axel cared for, how much he loved Roxas. Unable to stand the guilt any longer in Sora's presence he lunged around and brushed passed the surprised young man. As he fled, shouldering on the light jacket he wore to ward off the slight spring chill, he could hear part of the conversation from the other room.

"How much did they want for ransom, Mrs. Strife?"

"They... they don't want money..."