written for my beta, michele-bell; originally posted a while ago.
Barbed Wire Fencing, You Have Slain The West
C'mon, Roxas murmurs, a low challenge, and tilts the brim of his hat down to hide the sky in his eyes. His grin is dangerously protracted, sticky, bad lacquer spilt over cheap wood.
Axel tightens his hold on the reins and thinks about the girl he has waiting for him back home, a dull ring clamped around her finger and embers still dying on her tongue. Larxene's pretty, sure, but she doesn't have a smile that splits him apart at the ragged seams.
He doesn't say stop when Roxas reaches over, fingers calloused and unrefined, curving perfectly over Axel's worn, leather reins.
C'mon, Roxas murmurs, and Axel laughs, cannot help but think, you'll be the death of me, kid.
They pass by another town and the moon hangs high overhead, a shiny button pinned to the night's velvet lapel. Roxas is restless, ready, his horse pawing at the ground; could be he's got ants marching through his veins, bad luck dogging his steps, quicksilver drenched into the soles of his boots.
Should we, Roxas says, his wave encompassing the twinkling town and the midnight-seeped ground, a sunken horizon that edges on towards forever.
Axel squints at the small glowing windows and imagines he can smell his mother's slow cooked beans in the air. It is the scent of home he can never quite outrun, doesn't want to.
Not this town, he says, turning away, casting one last glance over his shoulder.
If Roxas is disappointed, his face is made for winning card games. Axel resolves to try him in the next saloon they stumble into, their pockets brimming with money that is never fully theirs.
Demyx doesn't trust Roxas; Demyx doesn't trust anybody. These are facts that Axel can rely on, like the dust in his cracks of his palms, like an early unmarked grave.
It's those eyes, Demyx says, biscuit crumbs spilling onto the shirt his mother made for him, months before she found out about the money they hid under her stove and ran them out of town with her daddy's old rifle. Demyx hasn't forgiven him yet, and Axel's not stupid enough to hope. It's always those goddamn eyes that do you in.
What, Axel says. Fuck's that supposed to mean?
Roxas's thin back is turned towards them, wrapped in a frayed blanket Axel picked up somewhere along the way. He feigns sleep like a professional actor and Axel briefly entertains the idea of setting him on a stage just to see him squirm and bare his teeth under the bright lights.
First Larxene, now this kid, Demyx says, his hands flung up in the air, and Axel relaxes, slightly. His reflexes are better; he would see it if Demyx reached for his gun now.
Not the same, he explains. This kid – he don't need saving.
You fuckin' idiot, Demyx mumbles, but Axel knows he's going to cave in, he never holds out for very long, it's tattooed into Demyx's blue veined blood like whiskey's flowing through his. You goddamn fuckin' idiot.
This fuckin' idiot knows how much is gonna be on the 6:15 to Twilight, Axel says, catching the way Roxas stiffens out of the corner of his eye, and there is no way the boy would ever make it on stage.
Good thing he's got a steady aim and a heart that hangs onto nothing.
The man is gasping, wobbling, tears rolling down his bread dough face, choking, begging, asking for -
Absolution, Demyx laughs, pressing the barrel of his gun to the man's forehead, nudging hard enough to draw a pained whimper, a few garbled words about a wife and family tucked somewhere back East.
Roxas is staring at Demyx, his face perfectly blank, and Axel thinks of cards fanning out across a pock-marked table, the way Roxas's cool smile hadn't melted once during any of the games they snuck into, the way they always had to hit the exits early to keep all of their money and their pulses pounding.
He tried to steal from us, Axel says, and Roxas nods slowly, his eyes sliding down to the man on his knees. The man whimpers again, even though Demyx hasn't done a thing this time.
I know, Roxas says, and draws his gun too fast for Axel to shout.
Jay-sus- fucking-Christ, Demyx laughs, knocking back another shot of liquid gallantry, chokes it down when it makes his eyes turn watery red. You didn't tell us – you didn't say you were a fuckin' gunslinger -
Roxas shrugs and hunches down in his seat a little, eyes darting to the little girl polishing chipped glasses in the corner. She smiles at him, showing a missing tooth, and Axel imagines the yelp that would slip from her pink mouth if he set her rag ablaze.
Little girl, little girl, he thinks, dragging his finger around the lip of his glass. Little girl, you don't have a fucking clue.
What, Roxas says flatly.
You've got fire in your veins, Demyx says, admiration tinging his voice with an unhealthy amount of honesty, and Axel staggers up, the room spinning dimly around him.
Going back to my room, he mutters, and sees Roxas's smirk reflected in the collection of bottles lining the wall, a spectrum of colored glass and shark teeth and blue, blue eyes.
He knows that he's trapped; there are worse things to be.
A few hours past midnight, he wakes up to feel of something cold and metal pressed to the center of his forehead; a familiar scratched gun barrel, barely lit by the moonlight spilling in. He slips one hand slowly under his pillowcase and doesn't feel particularly surprised to find nothing there.
Hello, Roxas breathes. His hands are steady and Axel's wonders, almost wistful, if the boy's pulse is skittering under his cracked china doll smile.
What's it gonna be today? Axel says.
The end, as he sees it, is violent and beautiful and at the hands of somebody he's dying to love. Roxas fits the bill even though he doesn't know it, not yet.
Stop it, Roxas says, a faint layer of desperation coloring his voice, and Axel's curiosity is lit.
Stop fucking with my head, Roxas hisses, and his veneer is cracking, pieces of it sliding off and shattering on the dusty wooden floor.
Yeah, sure, okay, Axel says quickly, aiming to please, and he feels Roxas relax against him, his hand falling to the bed with a soft thump. He could take the gun away now, imagines himself doing so. He doesn't.
You promise? Roxas says, sounding small and lost and cheated. Axel tangles his fingers in dirty blond snarls, tugs down so Roxas's teeth meet his lips, and promises nothing.
Morning light makes things stand out in sharp relief, which is why Axel refuses to roll out of bed most days. The drunken haze of last night is gone. Instead, he sees flattened shadows and a sharp form under the sheets.
Hey, he whispers, nudging Roxas's shoulder blade. Wake up, kid.
Roxas mumbles something about rusty keys and sits up, his hair a nest built by a blind bird. More than that, though, Axel notices the way the sky has returned to Roxas's eyes, like the first time their paths crossed, like the first time Axel's throat got caught on the word no.
The fuck, Roxas says, and yawns, jaw creaking.
My gun, Axel says. You still got it? It's not important, nothing he can't replace from a dead man, but Roxas's voice is hoarse and scratchy, dry straw that rubs him just right.
Roxas snorts sleepily and sticks his finger against Axel's chest, where his heart should be, maybe, if he hadn't sold it for rotten luck and a lifetime of hasty getaways.
Bang, Roxas says.
Axel hacks up a lung laughing, his pulse racing like he just dodged a bullet.
You'll forever be the death of me, kid, Axel says, letting his hat fall to the dusty ground, and Roxas looks pleased and tries to twist his words into a promise.