Act 1, Scenes 1 & 2
There never was an ordinary day in Theater 1A.
Not that Roxas had ever expected there to be. In fact, as an almost-probably-entirely straight teenage male possessing some small amount of dignity, he'd never expected to be enrolled in a class with the dreaded t-word in its name, much less one with a number as well. Classes with numbers usually expected you to follow up on them. Both the 1 and the A were blatant pleas for attention. "Don't you want to stick around for 1B?" they seemed to ask every time Roxas looked at his schedule. "Maybe you'd want to even stick around for 2. You'd be so happy in 2."
Roxas had no interest in sticking around for Theater 2. But, as his high school graduation was fast approaching (one year, eight months, 15 days, not that he was counting) and he was lacking that Fine Arts credit required for graduation, he'd had no choice but to sign up for two semesters of Theater 1.
He'd soon found out that he was not the only almost-probably-entirely straight teenage male lacking a Fine Arts credit when his two friends Hayner and Pence had ended up in exactly the same boat that he had, the S.S. Drama. His twin, Sora, was also enrolled in the class, but happily so. Sora also fell under the category of straight teenage male, but had been peer-pressured into taking Theater 1 by his girlfriend, a veritable theater aficionado, and so had a legitimate excuse. His best friend, Riku, did not have an excuse, except perhaps that he had been dragged in to complete the Destiny Trio or whatever it was he, Sora, and Kairi had taken to calling themselves nowadays.
The rest of the class was mostly female, which suited Roxas and his probably-mostly straight buddies just fine. There was the odd extra male or three who enjoyed theater, some of whom were also of the straight persuasion, some of whom were not. Not that it mattered. Still, the fact that the class was had a three-to-one male female ratio seemed, initially, to be the only point in its favor, and the only way to heal Roxas' wounded dignity.
Then Roxas happened to accidentally discover that he liked Theater 1A.
In his defense, anyone would like theater the way it was taught by their particular teacher. Xigbar—who'd insisted that the students dispense with the "ridiculous pretense" of referring to him by his last name, whatever it was—was an ex-surfer dude from SoCal who wore an eye patch. Maybe he was actually missing an eye, or maybe he wanted to be a pirate and had to settle for Drama teacher instead. Either way, his first act in the classroom had been to push all the desks to the side of the room and have his pupils sit on beanbags and discuss their previous theater experiences. If they were woefully lacking, as Roxas' were, they were told to think outside the box.
"Well," Roxas said, straining his non-theater geek but generally academically-oriented brain. "I've lied to my parents before. And they believed me."
And Xigbar had given him a thumbs-up in response.
To say that Xigbar's approach to theater was experimental would have gone down in the yearbook as "Understatement of the Year." He referred to many standard dramatic practices as "total pretentious bullshit," much to the chagrin of Kairi, veteran of Total Pretentious Bullshit Community Theater. Yet, he somehow still managed to teach them stage right from stage left. Roxas didn't know how the man did it, but he did, and every single day in Theater 1A somehow turned into an adventure in itself. Which was why no one was surprised when Xigbar addressed all them with a calculated, almost terrifying gleam in his eye. They all, however, braced themselves for the best of times, or the worst.
"Ladies and gentlemen, dudes and dudettes," said Xigbar, at his loudest and most affable. "And Pence," he added, garnering twitters from his audience. "We have an exciting opportunity. You all know about our musical in the winter, but before auditions for that start, we have something a bit more off-beat to offer. A student-run production."
More twitters. Mostly from the girls. Roxas glanced at Hayner and Pence, and knew that they were both thinking "No way would I be caught dead in that." Roxas sighed inwardly. His friends' outlooks on theater had unfortunately remained unshakable, even though they both thought Xigbar was, to quote Hayner, "the best nutjob we've ever had for a teacher." And they had undeniably had many nutjob teachers.
"And to tell you about it," Xigbar continued. "Is the director. Kairi, take the stage!"
Taking the stage was something Kairi was particularly good at, in Roxas' opinion, Sora's giggly girlfriend could be surprisingly commanding when she wanted to be. And she was definitely turning on the poise now. With her back straight, her head held high, she asked, "How many of you have ever heard of Romeo and Juliet?"
"Not me," Hayner muttered, rolling his eyes. "I hope that's the one where we wait around and the title characters never show up. It'd be a pretty short show. Easy to do."
Kairi glared and smoothed out her skirt. "Anyway, I'm organizing a production of Romeo and Juliet acted and crewed entirely by students, to keep us busy until the musical. I was hoping that some of you would be interested in auditioning or serving on a crew. Even if you don't like Shakespeare, you can always help out on lighting or sound or set construction."
There were excited more murmurs from the class, many of whom didn't sing and would not be cast in the musical. This was their chance to shine. Some of the boys were also thrilled by the prospect of operating power tools, even if it was just to build a stupid balcony and a two-dimensional mansion.
Before she could be drowned out, Kairi held up a hand. "But there's one catch," she said. "Casting's going to be gender-blind."
"Wait," Roxas said, a little too loudly. "What? Are you going to be cross-casting?"
"No, kids," Xigbar interjected from his own beanbag. Black leather. "It means that anything goes. Girls can play girls, guys can play guys, girls can play guys, guys can play girls. Whatever the director thinks will work."
Kairi nodded. "It takes away a lot of biases," she said. "Sometimes the perfect Juliet is male."
"But that—ugh!" Hayner exclaimed.
"Or sometimes she's not, and the perfect Romeo is female," she added.
Hayner wolf-whistled. "You know, that one I can get behind."
"Ditto that," said Pence.
"Now," Kairi continued, "I know it's a time commitment, but it'll be completely and totally worth it when we put on the show in December."
"I'll even give you extra credit for being involved," Xigbar said. "Shows you're getting into the true theatrical spirit."
Roxas blinked. Ordinarily, he would have raised his hand, but Xigbar encouraged them to say what was on their minds when it came to mind, so he simply said, "But, um, you don't believe in grades. You give us A's for being here."
Xigbar shrugged. "Yeah, I know. I'll get you credit in someone else's class. I can talk to Vexen or Zexion or someone else who owes me a favor." He then turned his attention on the rest of the class. "I'd better see all of you at the auditions," he said. "Or in crew meetings. Hell, some of my students in 'Drama for Delinquents' are trying out, and you know what they're like. Shouldn't take too much effort for you dudes."
At the mention of Drama for Delinquents, Roxas sat up a little straighter. Not that that would do any good. He still wouldn't be able to read Xigbar's mind and know who was trying out from that class. He saw that Sora and Riku were giving him an odd look, so he leaned into his chair again. The beans crunched against each other under his back.
"Auditions are next Tuesday and Wednesday," Kairi was saying. "I have the forms and monologue packets in my backpack. If you're interested, see me after the bell and…"
Roxas wasn't paying her any attention anymore. After this class was lunch. During lunch, he'd get to tease a certain Delinquent about auditioning for Romeo and Juliet. If that particular Delinquent were, in fact, auditioning.
He'd better be, Roxas thought, wearing a grin which would be utterly unexplainable to any of his other friends. He'd better be.
Roxas told his friends he had to make up an English assignment, said they should meet up at the usual lunch spot without him. After two years, he'd become particularly good at excuses. Good enough that Xigbar might give him two thumbs up if he saw the performances which Roxas gave weekly and how easily his friends ate them up.
In general, Roxas didn't like lying, and when he'd started there had been a certain amount of guilt knotting his stomach, but after two years of slipping away on Wednesdays the guilt had gone from noticeable to negligible. It melted away entirely when Roxas ran to the front entrance of the school and saw the rusty Mitsubishi outside waiting for him, windows rolled down to reveal a grinning redhead in the driver's seat.
"Hey, Rox," said the owner of that grin, leaning out the window. "What took you so long? I was gonna leave without you."
"We can't all skip out of fourth period ten minutes early," Roxas retorted, opening the passenger's door and climbing into the fabric seat. The air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror—Roxas had insisted on it—couldn't completely mask the smell of cigarette smoke, old potato chips, and coffee that had somehow become more comforting than irritating.
"Yeah, yeah." Axel shook his head, chuckling. "Someday I'll get to you. Someday you're going to stop being such a good little kid." Roxas rolled his eyes in response. Axel only drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "I promise. So, where to?"
"Burgers, I think," Roxas said. "We haven't had burgers in awhile."
"Burgers it is." Axel flipped on the radio, turned it up to as far as it would go, and sped out of the parking lot. The rumbling bass shook the car, but Roxas knew that the bucket of rust would hold up. It always had. Axel insisted that it always would, no matter how much the guitars screeched and the drum set thundered. Roxas, however, was a skeptic.
Roxas had grown used to the radio, though. It reminded him, somehow, of that first car ride with Axel, as a freshman. He'd never planned to get into that car, but he had, and his school experience, if not his life, had certainly gained an interesting fifth dimension.
As the buildings blurred past and the noises of the roadway blended with the honks of the other drivers who wanted Axel to turn that goddamn radio down (a message he never got), Roxas remembered how he'd met Axel as Axel navigated through cars and trucks and whatever had the misfortune of getting in his way.
It had been a hot, muggy September Wednesday, and his friends wanted frappuccinos. Fortunately for them, D. I. Z. Ansem High was located conveniently in the middle of Twilight Town, so even the freshman, none of whom owned or operated cars, could get to a variety of coffee shops, drug stores, and ethnic restaurants within a ten-minute walk. Unfortunately for Roxas, he had lost three consecutive games of Rock, Paper, Scizzors and had, to his chagrin, been designated Frappuccino-Getter-Boy, meaning he'd have to brave heat, humidity, and gnats to get Hayner his Mint Mocha, Pence his Double Chocolate Chip, and Olette her Mocha Lite, hold the whipped cream.
But he was a good friend, so he accepted his assignment with minimal groaning, and was so busy trudging through the wild side streets battling heat prostration that he didn't notice when the vehicle—more rust than car, really—pulled up next to him. He did notice the onslaught of sound battering his ears before the driver flipped off the radio and rolled down the window.
"Hey, kid," said the driver, leaning to peer up at him through the window. Roxas caught a glimpse of a thin face, wild red hair, green eyes, high cheekbones. "Get in the car."
Roxas wasn't really in the mood to be kidnapped by a pervert weirdo, even if this guy did look a bit young to be a pervert weirdo, so he said, "And, what, you'll give me a lollipop? Don't think so," whipped out his cell phone, and kept walking, staying close to the far end of the curb.
"Don't be stupid," said the driver, accelerating to match Roxas' pace. "I don't abduct underclassmen. I have some standards, kid. You looked like you were dying, so I thought I'd do you a favor."
"Yeah, sure." Not wanting to deal with the guy, Roxas said the first thing which came to mind, to keep the guy talking instead of, say, lunging out of the car at him. He opened his phone in case he found himself in dire need of the help of police, fire, or ambulance. Maybe all three. "Like I haven't heard that one before. Don't think I'd like your kind of favors, thanks. Now, if you excuse me, I'd like to get to Starbucks and back without being molested. I think it's one of my constitutional rights."
The driver laughed. "You're too much. I'm a student, just like you. See, look." He stopped the car and dug into his pocket, pulling out a Student ID, which he held up in Roxas' direction almost as a peace offering. "Truce, okay? If you don't want a ride, I'm not giving you one. Just let me know so I can go get my lunch."
Roxas examined the ID from afar. It seemed authentic enough. After all, who would counterfeit Student IDs? What could you get with them? Free trolley fare and discounted movie tickets? Considering the guy's offer in earnest, Roxas stopped, but did not get any closer. "What's your name?" he asked, crossing his arms.
"Axel," said the driver. "Got it memorized?"
Weird guy. "Of course," said Roxas, approaching the car door and leaning on it, peeking through the window to study the ID. It said Axel was a junior. Now that Roxas looked closely enough, he seemed perfectly harmless in a rapist-y sort of way. "So now I can give it to the police before I mysteriously disappear. I have friends waiting on their coffee back at school, you know. They'll figure out what's happened."
"Pff. I already said I don't go around kidnapping little boys. Now are you getting in the car or what?"
Roxas paused and weighed the heat against his eventual rape and murder.
He got in the car.
Ever since that day, he and Axel had struck up a sort of illicit friendship. Roxas never told his friends about Axel, because he'd soon found that they wouldn't approve of him. It wasn't the smoking, really (although that wasn't great), or the tattoos on his face (real, not henna), or the semi-punk fashion (which he managed to pull off, somehow) it was the crowd that Axel hung around. They didn't match the clean-cut model that Roxas and his brother, Sora, and even their younger sister, Naminé, usually kept company with. Axel's crowd was rowdy and noisy and liked drinking on the weekends. And Roxas knew that if one of his friends found out about Axel, they'd all find out, which mean that Sora would find out, which meant his parents would find out and he'd be banned from ever speaking to Axel again.
Axel didn't tell his friends about Roxas, either, maybe because he was ashamed of hanging around with some square two years younger than him. That hadn't stopped Demyx from finding out, but Dem was a special case. Other than that, no one knew.
That hadn't stopped them from making a ritual of going somewhere to eat every Wednesday and meeting up occasionally after school. Axel wasn't what you'd call a breath of fresh air. More like a breath of tobacco-scented air. But even so, it was a change, and one that Roxas found somewhat addictive. Without even realizing it, they'd become best friends.
Roxas chalked it up to a number of factors. Axel was smart, but so unmotivated that he rarely got the chance to show anyone else. Roxas liked adventure, but never had any. By sharing like this, they each got to see how the other side lived: Axel the rebel without a cause, and Roxas, the honor roll student.
They'd kept seeing each other even when Axel had gotten suspended last year. Roxas knew in his heart that it was completely warranted—intentional explosions in the chem lab couldn't exactly be taken lightly—but he'd been more angry at Axel for wrecking his school career than for the crime itself. Mr. Vexen was a dickhead. Still, Axel was lucky he hadn't been expelled. He should have been expelled. He'd told Roxas he had been thinking of dropping out anyway. But Roxas made him go back on his knees and beg forgiveness—by threatening never to speak to him again. Axel had pretended not to care, but Roxas knew better—and they let him off with a one-semester suspension.
So Axel was making up for the credit he'd missed the past year, and would be home free, a graduate, at the end of the fall semester. Roxas would miss him, and he had no idea what Axel could possibly do with his life, but for now he was going to focus on surviving the first semester of junior year and leave Axel to his own devices. Potentially a bad idea, to be sure. But Axel'd have to learn to develop his own conscience at some point.
"Hey, yo, Roxas, Blondie," said Axel, waving a hand in front of Roxas' face. "Penny for your thoughts? You've been staring out the window the entire ride."
"Huh?" Roxas blinked and realized that they'd pulled into a hamburger-wrapper littered parking lot. "Oh, right. I was just thinking that you need to grow a conscience. One that isn't me."
Axel waved him off. "Eh. Conscience. I tried that once. Was a good kid all through middle school. Wasn't much fun." He patted Roxas on the head, and Roxas swatted his hand away. He hated it when Axel treated him like a child. "You've got the conscience bit covered for me pretty well. Now, come on. Let's get something to eat."
They'd ended up at a fast food joint, but that was fine by Roxas. The previous week, they'd gone for Thai and he'd ended up with a stomachache, which lasted him all through Math and into History. Something conservative, albeit greasy, was preferable this week.
As they stood in line, waiting to order, Roxas unsuccessfully pressed Axel for more information about his good kid days. When that failed, he brought up the question which had so intrigued him before. "So then, Mr. Drama-for-Delinquents," he began. "I guess you've heard about Romeo and Juliet?"
"First of all," said Axel, holding up a finger, "its Introduction to Theater." He gave Roxas a serious, meaningful look, and they both snorted. Even Xigbar didn't call it that. It just looked more politically correct on paper. Unnecessarily so. Most of the people in the class were delinquents and proud of it.
"And secondly," Axel continued, "Yes, I have. What, you think I'm trying out or something? Prancing around the stage in leggings and a tunic isn't exactly my style."
"I think you should," Roxas said, barely suppressing his grin. "You seem to like Xigbar's class okay, and you told me that 'that acting shit' was actually sort of fun. Besides, girls love a man in tights."
"Hold on a second." Axel leaned on the counter and addressed the cashier. "Yes, one regular hamburger with ketchup, onions and tomatoes, one regular cheeseburger with everything, a large side of Cajun fries, a Coke, and a water. Got it memorized?"
The cashier glared but read it all back. Axel winked at her, and Roxas, who was responsible for footing the bill this week, fished out a twenty and handed it to the poor, tortured woman. "I can't believe that you remember how I like my burgers," he said to Axel.
"It helps that you eat the most boring burgers in the world," Axel replied, shrugging. "But anyway, Romeo and Juliet? I don't know, I don't think I'm going to do it. Too much time."
"Like you do so much with your afternoons," Roxas argued. "And regarding the tights thing, knowing Kairi she'll set it in Las Vegas or do something pretentious like that." He sighed as he filled his paper cup with ice, then water. "Is it the gender-blind thing you're worried about? Afraid you might end up a girl?"
Axel pressed a hand to his heart. "I'm wounded. Don't you think I'd make a stunning Juliet?"
"I think they'd be hard-pressed to find someone taller than you to play Romeo." The image of Axel in one of those Renaissance-era dresses invaded Roxas' brain and almost made him choke on the sip of water he'd taken. Axel was going to end up accidentally killing him one of these days. Roxas wiped his mouth on his wrist and said, "And you're too flat to be a girl."
Disturbingly enough, Axel planted a hand on his hip and pouted. "You're just jealous of my metabolism and my striking good looks," he said.
Indeed, Roxas was mystified by the fact that Axel could manage to eat his regular-cheeseburgers-with-everything and manage to stay as skinny as he was. But he was not going to be diverted. "Look, if you audition and get in, and I audition and get in, we'll get to see each other all of the time without this sneaking around. Don't you think that'd be, well, better?"
For a minute or so, Axel said nothing. Someone came up and set their order on the counter, and he still said nothing. Roxas grabbed the brown paper sack before anyone else could, and finally Axel said, "Oh, stop looking at me like that. Batting your eyelashes isn't going to do anything one way or the other."
"Well?" Roxas demanded, absentmindedly sucking all the flavor out of a Cajun fry.
Axel swallowed and scratched at the back of his neck. "I have no idea what people are going to think of this." Then he grinned and sighed in ultimate defeat. "Not that it matters. So, wanna get together after school and practice the monologues?"
Roxas grinned and took a bite of his boring old hamburger. This was going to be fun.
A/N: Wow, I have, like, how many active stories in this category now? D: This is what test season does to me. I always write when I'm busy. But that's alright! Anyway, trying something a bit different for me in this fandom. Oh High School AUs.
Before I get these types of questions, NO, Axel will NOT be Romeo. Axel would be a TERRIBLE Romeo. Generally, you need a heart for all of that star-cross'd loving stuff. I'm curious to hear who you guys think might be cast, though.
So, leave a review saying if you want more and, if so, who YOU think will be cast. I already have a list, but it can always be modified. ;) Have fun!