Roxas woke up on some suburban street, its street lamps and house lights quietly fighting darkness to illuminate the long stretch of sidewalk that he was lying on. He was on his back and he could just barely see the stars, shining dimly through a mess of clouds and light pollution. They mesmerized him for a little while, until he began to feel the cold through his thin t-shirt and torn up jeans, until he became aware of a strange pain around his left eye that was steadily throbbing.
He touched his face and winced; there were little stinging pains too, all across his cheeks, like he'd fallen face first into a bunch of gravel. He waited for something to come to him, some recollection that would explain everything. But it didn't. Not even a fragment of memory. There was nothing.
Roxas rested his palm against his left eye for a moment, listening to his own breathing and wondering why it was so ragged. He tried to stand.
A quarter of a mile down the street, Axel was in the kitchen having yet another argument with his cat.
"What the hell, Finster!" Axel yelled, brandishing an empty, clawed up cat food bag at a large orange tabby cat sitting on the table. "I leave you alone for ten minutes and you eat the whole damn thing? I did not raise you to behave this way!"
The cat licked his paw, purring.
"Don't you purr at me! Look at your poor starving brother and sister!" Axel cried, pointing dramatically toward the kitchen entrance, where two black and white spotted cats were looking in curiously. "How are they supposed to live like this? You're a monster, Finster! A monster!"
Finster was apparently okay with that. He curled up on the table and closed his eyes, the very picture of contentment.
Axel lowered the cat food bag and sighed, reluctantly accepting the lost cause that was his eldest child – um, cat. "Fine. I'll go out and buy more. But don't you think you're getting any breakfast tomorrow, you selfish bastard."
Grumbling nonsensically to himself, he shoved on his winter boots, tore his coat from the back of a kitchen chair, and stomped out into the cold night.
Roxas had quickly realized that his legs were not all that eager to support him. They wavered and trembled when he took the first step, and he was only able to take the second by hanging onto a street lamp. Slowly, though, he let them get used to carrying his weight and he was able to move forward a few stiff, aching steps at a time, grabbing onto whatever was in reach – lamp posts, trees, a fire hydrant – to keep going.
Going where? he wondered, but it didn't seem to matter very much. His feet had pointed him in this direction and with nothing else to trust, he relied on them to guide him.
Unfortunately they guided him straight into a tree.
A tree that yelped like a kicked dog and took a giant leap backward when he stepped on its –
"Jesus Christ!" yelled the not-tree, hopping up and down and clutching its leg.
Roxas blinked against the darkness and made out the figure of a person – a ridiculously tall person with long, spindly legs. And also ridiculously tall hair. Which made him look suspiciously like a tree.
"Oh," he said, realization dawning. His voice came out all dry and croaky for some reason, like he had a cough. "Sorry…"
The tall guy stopped growl-mumbling to himself – something about "goddamn fucking cats" – and looked in Roxas's direction as though he had just noticed him there. The soft glow of the lamp post above them illuminated the guy's eyes, which were a bright, oddly intense green. Roxas was so startled by the weird energy of their gaze that he nearly took a step backward. He couldn't help it. He felt disturbingly like he was being x-rayed, dissected piece by piece in that green stare.
Axel had been ready to murder whoever it was who'd so thoroughly smashed his toes. Seriously ready to murder. In fact he'd been on the verge of unleashing a tirade of rage so potent that the words themselves may have killed the poor inconsiderate soul standing before him.
But then the poor inconsiderate soul spoke. "Sorry," he said in the gentlest, sad-puppy-est voice that Axel had ever heard in his life.
Just one word. Two syllables. That was all it took for Axel to feel a bizarre, impulsive desire to take a complete stranger home and feed him soup.
And that was before he saw the bruises.
"Jesus Christ," he said again, in shock this time rather than anger. The kid – he looked around sixteen – was blond-haired and pale as hell, a trait that was accentuated by the fact that the skin all around his left eye was badly swollen and dark purple. There were other, less severe bruises on his chin and his right cheek. And the scattered cuts that went from the bridge of his nose to his left jawline made it look like somebody had chucked him into a pit full of broken glass. "What the hell happened to you?"
The boy blinked his overlarge blue eyes owlishly, like he was confused at being addressed directly. For a moment Axel thought he wasn't going to answer. Then he reached up to touch the left side of his face and said, quite thoughtfully, "I don't know."
Axel blinked back at him, mirroring his bafflement. "You got anybody to call? Somebody to come get you?" he asked, eyeing the kid's tattered t-shirt and torn up jeans.
The kid bit his lip, furrowing his brow. "I don't know," he said again, sounding frustrated this time.
Axel waited but he didn't say anything else, just continued to gaze calmly at Axel as though he were a mildly intriguing piece of artwork.
"Okaaay," Axel said slowly, beginning to suspect that the kid might be slightly…off. "So tell me, kid, what do you know?"
"My name's Roxas," the kid responded right away, seeming relieved to be able to relay some sort of, y'know, actual information. "And I'm not a kid. I'm nineteen." There was the barest hint of a spark of anger in his voice there, and Axel quirked an eyebrow.
"Mmhmm. Okay. I can work with that. What else?" he asked.
And then Roxas looked at Axel with fear in his eyes, pure and simple, and Axel found himself suddenly fighting the very strong, very insane desire to feed him all the soup in the entire world. And maybe buy him a pony for good measure.
"That's all," Roxas said, his voice gone quiet and hollow.
"Do you need a place to stay?" Axel blurted out.
Roxas stared, his heart suddenly pounding in his chest like it wanted to break through his ribs. "I…"
He stopped. Sure, the guy standing in front of him was a billion feet tall with bright red porcupine hair and creepily intense green eyes. But in those eyes there seemed to be actual, genuine concern. And somehow, for some reason that didn't quite make sense and had more to do with a gut feeling than any logic, Roxas trusted not-tree-guy.
"I don't have anywhere else to go," Roxas said, which was neither a yes nor a no, technically, and for some reason this made him feel better about the whole thing.
The guy nodded, a small smile tugging the corners of his lips upward. "Cool. My house is literally like ten yards away and I have a guest bedroom. You can hang out there till you figure stuff out if you want."
Roxas nodded slowly. "What's your name?" he asked. It had suddenly occurred to him that this would probably be a good piece of information to know.
"The name's Axel. Make sure you remember that much at least," Axel said, flashing him a grin.
Roxas felt himself smile back, and it felt weird, but kind of in a good way.
"This way," Axel said, and he reached out to take Roxas's hand, leading him slowly along down the sidewalk. Every step ached – not in just his legs but in his chest and his head too. Axel kept up a steady stream of helpfully distracting chatter.
"I hope you're not allergic to cats, 'cause I've got three of them," he said. "Don't ask how they find me. They just kinda show up on the street or in my front yard or in the newspaper classifieds and I can't just leave them there, you know? My friend Namine says I'm nuts but I mean, how could you leave a little kitten out there in the cold, right? She's not much of a cat person though." Axel paused, then added thoughtfully, "Although to actually be a cat person I guess she'd have to have fur and whiskers and stuff."
"I…um…I like cats," Roxas said hesitantly as they reached the house. It was your average, small suburban home – yellow paneling and dark blue shutters, two stories with a picture window in the front…complete with a little front yard and an actual honest-to-god white picket fence. He stared at it, feeling a slight dizziness and something else, something oddly like loss.
"Awesome, 'cause there's cat hair everywhere," said Axel brightly, turning around and reaching out to help Roxas up the front steps.
Roxas took exactly half a step before the world started to shake – and then all at once it was crashing in around him.
"Ax…" he managed, and collapsed forward.
"Roxas!" Axel lunged to catch him by the shoulders. "Roxas?" he repeated, panicking. "You okay?"
But the kid was out cold, slumped forward against Axel.
Axel gazed at him under the house light for a moment, at the swollen black eye, at the scattered cuts, at the disheveled blond hair that fell across his forehead in every direction.
Soup, he thought. Lots and lots of soup.
Sighing, he shifted Roxas into his arms and carried him into the house.
Of course Moo and Cow were immediately weaving in and out of his legs, mewling piteously. "Sorry guys," he whispered, carrying Roxas down the hall to the guest room. "Unexpected technical difficulties."
He settled Roxas down on the bed as gently as he could and paused, frowning at the kid's dirty clothes. Nothing to be done about those till the kid woke up. He pulled a blanket up over Roxas and stood there awkwardly for a moment, feeling oddly inadequate.
"Well…um…don't let the bed bugs bite. Or something," Axel whispered at last, and went to find the cats a can of tuna.
And thus ends chapter one. Thank you for reading and maybe hopefully reviewing! Sorry about spacing; I cannot figure it out and it's RUINING MY LIFE. Anyway, stay tuned for chapter two, in which Axel makes pancakes and Namine learns that Axel has adopted a random hobo!