25; feel it all around

"Yo. Short man. Time to get up, we're here."

The first thing I registered when I opened my eyes was obnoxious red clown hair. My first thought was Axel? But, the voice was too grating. Too loud. Too… red. I covered my mouth with the back of my hand as I yawned and then looked up to realize that it wasn't Axel, but Reno standing in front of me.

"Unless you wanna stay here and intend on heading back to New York, I suggest you get up."

I blinked a few more times before glancing around the plane cabin. Everyone was busy removing their luggage from the overhead bins and Reno was standing in front of me, briefcase in hand and a disinterested look on his face. He walked away as I finally got myself together, rose out of my seat and made for the aisle so I could exit the plane. I waited outside the terminal for Reno to catch up and began walking with him when he finally walked past me.

"Do you have any idea where you're going?" He asked, raising an eyebrow in a manner that reminded me so much of Axel it was scary.

"No." I said, "Does it look like I know where I'm going?"

"He's at the Nokia Theatre." Reno said, rolling his eyes. "Seriously, you flew all this way and you don't even know where my brother is playing?"

The first place I ever saw him play, huh? "Look. I was more focused on making this flight and figured I'd find out where Axel was playing later. And either way, standing around here talking with you isn't getting me to the venue any faster."

Reno chuckled and motioned for me to walk with him, "Come on, I got ya."

"Thanks." I muttered and followed him out of the terminal and down the long winding hallways that led to the arrivals area of the airport.

"Of all the people to see. ...You know, I still can't believe you were on my flight." Reno sighed once we stepped onto one of those conveyor belt walkways and readjusted his briefcase strap so it fit over his shoulder like a messenger bag. "I have half a mind to drop in with you to see Axel. I take it he doesn't even know you're here?"

"No. There's something called a surprise."

Reno chuckled again, "…You know, Roxas. I used to wonder about you."

"What are you talking about?"

"I used to ask myself … out of every possible person on this planet that my brother could have, why in the hell did he pick someone like you?" Reno replied, "The guy literally has girls throwing themselves at him at concerts. And there were always groupies waiting backstage to fuck his brains out. It made no sense that he'd settle for some mopey little rich kid with a fucked up family. Your relationship with my little bro never made sense to me until recently."

"What do you mean?"

"I started thinking about it when I was talking to Avo the other day." He replied, "She started talking about Axel. He called her a couple of days ago to check up on her seeing as he hasn't been in New York for well over four months? I should know. He's been sleeping on my couch."

Was he really? I gave Reno a questioning look and he rolled his eyes. "Seriously?"

"You take me too seriously; he's been staying in my guest room, Roxas. Jeez. I may be his older brother but do you really think I'd make my lovesick little bro sleep on my couch for four months? That's pretty low. Even for me."

"You never know. You Ramirez's are full of surprises."

"Could say the same for you Ardenwells." He countered as we stepped off of the walkway, "Anyway. I've been watching Axel for the past four months. When he came to me in February he was like some deranged, hormonal girl that had just broken up with her boyfriend. I kept asking him what was wrong with him, but he'd just snap at me and bury his face in carton after carton of rum raisin ice cream."

"Sounds like him."

"If you say so." Reno shrugged, "Anyway, one month became two and he kinda perked up. Zexion and Demyx came out and picked him up off his feet, smacked him—literally—and then thrust a guitar into his hands and pulled him into the studio. He seemed to get better. And then he left for Vegas…"

"Yeah? And?"

"And he comes back and it's like he's instantly fixed. He's calling me an idiot; I'm calling him an idiot. He's literally destroyed my guest room with guitars and music equipment—" Well, this sounded familiar. "—And it looks like someone hasn't cleaned up in fucking days. My cleaning lady literally won't even go into the room because she's afraid something might jump out at her."

Sounded worse than he was at home. "Get to the point, Reno."

"I asked him why he was in such a good mood…" Reno said, as we neared the exit for arriving flights, "…And you know what he tells me?"


"He says he saw you." Reno replied, "Of all the things in the world to lift his mood, it's you. And I'm thinking to myself. Axel's been with you since he was what? Twenty four? Twenty three? You've been the longest relationship of his—to my knowledge that is—to date, and I've always wondered … why? My little brother is a hot headed, manipulative and selfish bastard. He's cocky, arrogant and hides things from people all the time…"

"…But he's also genuine and loyal to those that he cares about the most." I replied, "Sure, Axel is a hotheaded moron most of the time… but we view the world through similar eyes. And that's why we click. It wasn't like that in the beginning, but… it is that way now."

"Huh." Reno said, as he stroked under his chin, "Huh."

"Is that all you can say?"

"Genuine and loyal." Reno repeated, "But a hotheaded moron…"

"You and I both know that's a mask. He's smarter than he lets on." I replied, stepping closer to the street curb as I was on the lookout for cabs, "But it's easier for him to pretend that he's not. So no one knows what he's really thinking… and that proved to be his downfall this winter."

"Seems like you've got my brother all figured out, huh?"

"You brought us up."

"Yeah, I did." Reno replied, waiting with me on the curb. He stuck his arm out as two lights flashed around the bend and checked his watch, "You'll catch him before he's done with the encore."


As the taxi was on its way to pulling up, Reno lowered his arm and sighed. "As you're about to leave. I guess we'll keep this short." He turned to me, "What I mean to say is. I approve of you, Roxas."

"Really now?"

"Yeah. Sure, you won't be begetting his babies anytime soon and Avo yells at the two of us for MORE BABIES all the time, but it doesn't really matter. I think you've succeeded where everyone else failed with Axel. You know what he told me?" Reno asked.


"I found him one night sitting on my counter top at 2AM with nothing but his boxers on." Reno said, rolling his eyes at the memory. "He was eating fucking ice cream again, but that's not important. He had his laptop on and he was staring at the background because it was this picture of you. Glaring, might I add. You don't smile much, do you?"

"Get to the point, Reno."

"Anyway, I turned the lights on and he instantly shut the laptop and glared at me. Cept he looked like someone had just killed his do—" I narrowed my eyes at him as he was getting off topic again, "Anyway, I brought you up and he told me to shut up like he always did. But then there's this brief lapse of silence and then he finally breaks down and starts crying, Roxas. Like legitimately, sobbing his stupid head off…" Reno shook his head, "I don't even remember the last time I've seen Axel cry… but it fucking freaked me out. I didn't know what to say. He just kept going on and on about running away from you when he should have stayed and that he was stupid and you were never going to take him back." Reno gestured toward me, "When he was engaged to Larxene? He threw a fucking party to when they broke off their engagement. But, you … yo, you come along and you reduce my little brother to tears, Roxas, because he was so afraid of losing you. …Do you know what that is? To see Axel cry? He'd sooner have someone pluck his teeth from his mouth with a pair of pliers than let them see him cry."

The cab pulled up beside us and I heard the locks to the door pop. "…Reno, why are you telling me all of this?"

"To let you know that my stupid brother needs you just as much as you need him." Reno replied, turning away from me and motioned for the cabbie to roll down his window, "Take him to the Nokia Theatre." He gestured with me for me to get in, "Well, times a wasting. What are you doing?"

"You're not coming with me?" I asked.

Reno shook his head, "Nah. I thought about it. I'm guessing you haven't seen him since Vegas and I don't want to intrude on your touchy feely couples time." He gestured with his hand again, "Now get in."


"Kid, I said get in. Okay? Go to my brother and kiss him silly already." Reno said, "I'll be around. Maybe we can catch lunch sometime after you're done fucking each other's brains out. Remember to use a rubber."

Jesus fucking Christ, he was almost as bad as Axel. I sighed and grasped the side of the cab's door as I slid in. I rolled the window down as he closed the door behind me. "…Thanks, Reno."

"Yeah, yeah." He rubbed under his nose, "Rather make nice with you sooner than later. You're all right, Roxas."

"…Yeah. Guess you are, too, Reno."

He grinned, "Yeah, I know. Now shut up and roll that window up. You've got a show to go catch."


I guess no one really cares to question where I go given my relation to Axel, because I honestly wasn't expecting to get backstage quite so easily. But there I was, sitting amongst the various security and staff member's running back and forth as I waited for the sounds of blaring rock and screaming fans to die down so I could fucking hear again. The earplugs they gave me were shit.

I should have waited in Axel's dressing room, but I wanted to be there exactly when he stepped off the stage, sweaty and borderline disgusting from playing a three hour show. I was probably going to ruin this stupid, stuffy tux, but I didn't care.

I hung my suit jacket around the back of the seat I was sitting in and was in the process of loosening my tie when I heard a familiar girly shriek at my side and turned my head in that direction. There was Xion, water bottle in hand, wearing a midriff baring shirt and cutoff shorts, with the biggest smile on her face.

"Roxas. ROXAS?" She began, immediately walking over to me and stopped short before she toppled over my chair, "You're here. Oh my God, I can't believe this. How?"

"Xion, breathe." I said, as I pulled the tie from around my head. I began rolling up my shirt sleeves next, "I just got here."

"How?" She repeated, "I thought … I thought today was Cloud's wedding." Xion paused, "…Roxas, you didn't skip out, did you?"

"No, Xion." I said, resisting the urge to laugh. I stretched my arms over my head, "It's kind of a long story. But, Cloud bought me tickets to come out here."


"Yeah, I know." I said, "I was about to call Axel earlier today and Cloud cornered me and we talked for a little while. Then he pulls out this envelope and tells me to go because I have a flight to catch. …He said I'd done enough for the day."

"What? Was it like a gift for being his best man or something?" Xion asked.

"I guess you can call it that." I said, "But it doesn't matter. I'm here now."

"I know." Xion said, "Axel is going to flip shit. You know he was pouting earlier about not hearing from you before he went on? Well, now we know why."

"Shit, I completely forgot." I sighed, "I was so caught up in trying to get on that plane before I missed it that I completely forgot to wish him good luck."

"Yeah, but you're here." Xion said, gesturing toward me with her water bottle, "Like, actually here."

"Yeah, I am." I glanced over my shoulder, "Did they start the encore yet?"

"Almost done." Xion replied.

I turned back to face her, "How'd your part go?"

"The crowd took a little while to warm up to us but they got into it around the fourth song or so." Xion replied, "And the release party went really well last night. A lot of big shots, a lot of celebrities. Kind of a party scene that's not really my thing, but it was nice."

"Yeah, I tend to avoid those things." I muttered, recalling memories of the first time and last time I ever went to any of Axel's release parties, "The wedding was really nice this afternoon."

"Yeah, I heard." Xion said, "It looked gorgeous… I'm sure we'll see pictures of you in tomorrows tabloids frowning for the camera."

"Hey." I said, "I smiled."

"…Roxas, you don't smile. You … just make it so you look slightly less pissed off." She poked at my forehead, "If you don't watch it, you're going to have frown lines in your forehead before you're twenty five, you know."

"Cut it out, Xion."

She laughed as I swatted her hand away and sat down in the chair next to mine. The music around us seemed to have died down and I saw the staff crowding around the backstage entrance leading to the stage. I rose from my seat in anticipation and willed my heart to stop hammering so wildly in my chest.

"They're coming." Xion said.

"I know."


This was Axel.

Axel Ramirez who took a chance on some stupid kid from the Upper East Side and turned his life around with nothing more than a helping hand and an open heart. Axel Ramirez, born in Portugal and raised in the Bronx by an overbearing grandmother and dearly departed grandfather whose influence I will never truly grasp or understand. Axel Ramirez who cooks the best damn mangu I've had in my life, makes wise cracks about my height all the time, infects everything with his signature brand of mess and … has given me some of the best damn orgasms in my twenty three years of life.

Axel Ramirez who I immediately grabbed by the front of his high collared black shirt and pulled in for a kiss before he could even be surprised upon seeing me. It didn't matter that everyone was probably staring at us. The midget blonde and the freakishly tall red head—what a pair.

This was Axel. Axel. The one person in my life that I could have risked losing… but couldn't. I honestly couldn't. I don't care. I don't care how stupid it sounds. I couldn't… I just fucking couldn't. There are certain things I don't like saying and talking about love is one of them. The way it rolls off my tongue just makes me feel queasy and weak. Like there's a force invading my body that I can't get rid of no matter how hard I try. But … but I loved him. I love him. I can say that. And of course there's fear laced in with all those feelings. Why wouldn't there be? I'm human. Underneath everything that I try to be, I'm human.

Things still hurt. Things still go wrong. Things still get fucked up even when I try to convince myself that they aren't. I'm not as messed up in the head anymore, but underneath it all I am flooded with insecurity. Even when I try to tell myself to calm down… that it's all right. There's no reason to fear the dark anymore. There's no reason to hold myself as tightly together as I used to, I still do.

I still dream about darkened rooms in a long and winding mansion. I still dream about the shadows that curl around the edge of my bed at night, licking at my bleeding wounds and digging themselves between scabs that are trying to crust over and fucking heal. At my core, I am still the idealistic child that never was. The child that should have been, but was cut down so early in life that they grew cold to the slightest touch of warmth.

But with Axel… Axel breathes fire everywhere he goes. Even at his worst, he's like this pillar of warmth and fire. He is something that burns away the shadows that suffocate me and hiss in my ear in the dead of night. The sound of his voice in my other ear and the soft curl of his fingers around my own? That's … that's what I need. That's all I've ever needed, that's all I've ever wanted. And now that I've found it, why in the hell would I ever let it go?


"Just shut up." I said, when he finally pulled away from me.

His eyes were bewildered, like he didn't know what he was looking at. Like he couldn't believe that I was actually standing there right in front of him. I threw my arms around his all too thin frame and buried my face in his damp t-shirt as I tried to suffocate him

"Rox—" He tried again, placing his spindly hands on my head and trying to push me back so he could look at me again.

"I said shut up." I repeated again. "Don't ruin the moment."

"But, you're here." He said, "How?"

I looked up at him but I didn't let him go, "Cloud."

"…How?" He asked, "Did he drive you or—"

"God, you're such an idiot." I nearly yelled as I buried my face back into the fabric of his shirt, "I took a fucking plane out here, Axel. How else could I get to California so quickly?"

"I dunno." He said, shrugging his shoulders and placed his hands over my own, "Maybe you were lying about where the wedding was held, you know? Thought you'd pretend like you couldn't make the concert but end up surprising me after all this time."

"…Only you would be so self absorbed to think of something so stupid." I sighed.

He grinned. Oh, that grin. God, I missed that grin. "You know you love me for it." And I did. I really, really did. Axel glanced behind him at where Demyx and Zexion were watching the two of us. Demyx was actually grinning, but Zexion was more composed, "What are you two idiots gawking at?"

"…I think someone missed you." Zexion said, glancing down at me and then back at Axel.

"Yeah." Demyx's grin intensified, "Like … a lot. You time that kiss, Zex? I thought Roxas was going to suck all the air out of Axel's lungs with the way the two of them were—"

"…Demyx." Zexion said, instantly clamping a hand down over the blond's mouth. "Please. Don't ruin the moment." He turned to Axel, "We'll be in the back. Xion?"

"I'm coming." Xion replied. She grinned at me and then Axel and then followed Demyx and Zexion down the hall and disappeared out of sight.

When we were mostly alone, I turned to look at Axel and let him go. "…Maybe we should talk somewhere more private?"

"Yeah … yeah, that sounds good." He said and reached for my hand.

After picking up my discarded jacket, we walked down a long hallway leading out of the backstage area and toward a more cramped space. He opened the door at the end of the hallway and I realized it was probably his dressing room. He took off his high collared shirt and threw it into the chair in front of the vanity mirror and then pulled his second t-shirt off so that he was standing before me in his usual black wife beater and jeans. He walked over to the door and began fiddling around with the unit on the wall.

"…Well… where do we begin?" He asked, running a hand through his sweat slicked hair, "Sorry if it's hot in here. They cut the AC when no one's around. It should start picking—"

As soon as he turned around I was all over him again. Hands in his hair, hands on his ass. Anywhere I could grab, I was on it. I don't know what came over me, but somewhere in the time I'd talked to Reno and seen Axel I was overcome by some demonic force that was screaming at me: fuck his brains out before he has time to speak.

Axel's back slammed against the door and he groaned when his head hit it as well, "Fuck, Roxas." He muttered when I had to stand on the tips of my toes to reach his neck with my mouth.

"Yeah." I panted, "Yeah, that's what I want to do."

"Are you serious?" He asked, looking down at me. It wasn't even like he was going to say no.

I reached down to grab between his legs and was hardly surprised when I already felt the telltale signs of an erection already forming there, "I think you are."

Something shifted in his eyes and he immediately reversed our position and hoisted me up off the floor. I slung my arms around his neck as he walked us to the opposite side of the room and ceremoniously dropped me on the couch.

"…I just hope you're ready to make up for four months, Roxas."


"…I really… really didn't mean for that to happen." I murmured, feeling oddly shy and demure as I realized our states of undress as we lay side by side on the couch. Axel peered at me with a look of disbelief and I felt a blush rising on my cheeks. I wanted to crawl somewhere and curl up and die. "Seriously. I really didn't."

"…The scratches on my back say otherwise." Axel said, "What did it, Rox? Do you get off on sweaty guitar guy smell?"

"Rancid men are hardly an aphrodisiac in my book." I wrinkled my nose at the thought.

"What about me?"

"Don't flatter yourself." I sighed, "…God, the others are probably wondering what the hell happened to us. We've been gone for awhile, you know."

"They'll put two and two together when they see the state of your hair." Axel chuckled, "Come on, let's get dressed."

I sighed as he held out my slacks and boxers. I took them from him and pulled them on as quickly as possible as he set to work on his own pants. I buttoned my now wrinkled dress shirt and pulled my vest back on as well. Axel slid his wife beater and T-shirt back on as I was straightening my vest.

"That's one thing off my bucket list."

"What?" I asked.

"Fucking backstage. We never did it Roxas, no matter how many times I've wanted to ask you for it. But tonight you made me a very, very happy man."

"You're fucking impossible."

"Maybe." Axel shrugged, "But then again, so are you."

I sighed when he grinned at me, "…Yeah, yeah. So…"

"So…" Axel repeated, raising his eyebrows as if silently telling me to continue.

I hesitated for a minute and then reached inside my pocket for something I'd taken off and stuffed in my pants before I entered the venue. I gently fingered the ring on the end of the chain before pulling it out and held it in front of Axel. His eyes traveled the length of the chain and landed on the small ring dangling at the end.

"This." I said.

"Oh." He said, seemingly not expecting me to address the matter of the promise ring quite so soon.

I unclasped the necklace and motioned for lean down so I could put it around his neck. He moved his hair away as I reached around his neck, "I think it's time you have this back."

"You think?"

I nodded, "Don't make me regret ever giving this back to you, okay? We've said enough on the matter already and I don't want to talk about it anymore. But just know if you ever do anything as stupid as you did, you can expect Cloud to deal with you this time around. Not me."

"Threat received and filed" He said, giving me the thumbs up. "Is there anything else?"

"No." I said, shaking my head. "…No, can I just ask you one thing?"

"Sure, Rox."

"…Can we just go back to how we used to be?" I said, "With you, me and the stupid fat dog we've adopted. In our stupid loft overcrowded with all of your guitars and my books. Can we go back to you staying up late composing melodies you'll never use, while I slave over coursework in the background? Can we go back to never having anything of sustenance in our refrigerator so my mother or your grandmother can come over and nag us into eating right?" I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, "Can we … can we just go back to being together? With nothing standing in our way? Nothing that will mess things up like they were before?"

Axel exhaled long and low and placed two firm hands on my shoulders. "You don't know how long I've been waiting to hear you say those words."

"Well… it's taken me awhile to believe that you were deserving of hearing them." I said, "So? Can we? Can we try this again?"

Axel leaned down to press a chaste kiss against my lips, "You're an idiot if you think I would say no."

"No, you're the idiot." I muttered half heartedly.

Axel lowered his gaze and his voice, "Nice tux by the way. It was all I imagined and more. Glad I got to fuck you in it."

I immediately slapped him away, but there was hardly any strength in my hit. "You are so unbelievable. Just like your god damn brother."

"Hm?" Axel asked, cocking a head to the side in question.

"…Oh, did I forget to mention I saw Reno on my way here?" I asked.

"Sure did." Axel said, placing his hands on his hips. "I forgot his flight was tonight. Dammit, why the hell didn't the idiot come with you?"

I lowered my gaze to the floor at the thought of what Reno had said previously, "…"

Axel saw my reaction and rolled his eyes, "Let me guess, he said something perverted to you. God damn idiot. Don't worry, I'll curse him out when I get the chance."

"Well, he was right about it." I replied, "I won't say much, but we had a long discussion about you and I."

"Oh? About what?"

"Things." I said, "Just know that he told me that he approved of me."

"Guess we won't have to elope now after all, huh, Rox?"

"I'm not getting married to you."

"Really?" Axel asked, "I thought you were in this for the long haul. Come on, Rox. I know you'd put the term June bride to shame."

"All right, enough." I rolled my eyes at him and gathered my jacket up. I checked the time. It was nearing one in the god damn morning. "Come on, we should really get going. Look at the time."

Axel nearly jumped when he saw what time it was on the clock, "Oh, fuck. We should have been out of here ages ago."

He gathered his shirt and slipped his feet into his shoes as I did the same. He slung an arm around me, opened the door and pushed me through. On the other side were the usual suspects. Xion had fallen asleep against Demyx's shoulder, and he was nodding off against her as well. Zexion was standing directly opposite the door, arms crossed over his chest and an expression on his face that clearly meant Axel's murder was in the works.

"What have you been doing?" The question was directed at Axel, not me.

"Me and Rox were getting reacquainted." Axel replied.

"They were fucking." Demyx muttered sleepily.

"Thanks, Dem." Axel snapped.

"We've been waiting for nearly two hours." Zexion replied.

"Hey, hey. Stop with the frowning, Zex. It's cool." He reached down to grab my hand, "Right, Rox?"

I looked at Zexion whose head swayed gently to the side as he eyed Axel's hand reaching for mind. Was that a smile I saw coming to his face? I sighed, resisting the urge to pull my hand away and looked up at him. "No, it's not cool."

"You turning on me too, huh?" Axel asked.

"I'm not turning anything. Let's go." I replied.

"Yeah, yeah." Axel looked over at Demyx and Xion, "Let's go sleepyheads."

Demyx roused first and then Xion sleepily picked herself up from his shoulder. She yawned and then looked over to where Axel and I were standing. Her eyes trailed sleepily from his face, down to mine and then down to where our hands were connected together. She looked back up at me and smiled as if she understood something I didn't and then hopped down off the stack of equipment she and Demyx were sitting on. Demyx followed suit, rubbing his stomach as he stretched one arm over his head.

"Yo, can we get something to eat? I'm starvin'." Demyx asked.

"Yeah, sure. Whatever. Let's just get out of here first before they lock us in."

"All right." Demyx murmured sleepily. He took a hold of Zexion's arm and shook him gently, "Lead the way, man. You should have been walking with all that time you spent bitching."

Zexion didn't even bother to answer Demyx and let the blond ramble on. As they disappeared ahead of us, Xion came up beside me and Axel and linked her arm with the one that wasn't occupied with Axel's hand. Axel raised his eyebrows in curiosity and she grinned back at him, "You don't mind. Do you Axel?"

"Not in the least." He replied, "There's more than enough of Roxas to go around, you know."

"Hello. Still here." I glanced at where she had me locked in on my left and then at Axel's hand on my right, "What is this?"

Xion shrugged her shoulders, "Just feels right."

"Yeah, it does." Axel said, "Now let's get going before they yell at me again."


We went to the beach at sunrise.

In a memory from long ago, I remember Axel talking about going to the beach.

On our next day off, let's all go to the beach, huh? Let's go someplace different for a change.

But, we never got to go. Something always came up. Someone was too busy, someone wasn't feeling well. The suggestion faded away after awhile and we came up with other stuff to occupy our time. But the thought still lingered and was always there in the background. And after tonight? Maybe the timing just felt right.

Xion always talked of the beach when we were younger.

Whenever I asked her if there was one thing she wished for, she always used to tell me that she wished she'd grown up on the beach. She wanted to be surrounded by the endless azure waves and the dusty white sand. The rushing sound of water against the surface was like an earthly lullaby that she couldn't get enough of. There was so much noise back home that she said she always slept so fitfully. There was nothing peaceful about the city. It was loud, polluted and dark. Maybe that was why she finally found her way to California after all these years.

So there we were.

Demyx and Zexion had retired to their hotel for the night, but Axel and Xion were livewires who weren't exactly keen on going to sleep just yet. I was stuck somewhere inbetween. Somewhat exhausted, but at the same time, I didn't want to sleep just yet. So we drove down to Xion's place in Santa Monica. Figures, after all these years, she would find her home on the beach.

A tuxedo isn't the most proper attire for the beach but it wasn't like I had anything else to wear at that point. We left our shoes somewhere in the sand before we hit the shoreline and I rolled my pants legs up before I came into contact with the water.

"This is nice, ain't it?" Axel asked with his hands on his hips. His green eyes were eerily bright in the early morning sun.

"Yeah." I said, watching the foamy white water wash over my ankles and bury my feet into the shore.

Xion stuck her foot out into the last bit of wave rolling against the shore, "You know when I first moved here, I used to always come down here at this time." She said, "The sun rises into my bedroom and I didn't have any curtains up just yet, so I got a face full of sunlight on my first morning here." Xion turned to look over her shoulder, "The balcony connects my room and the living room… so I came out here to watch the sunrise."

"Sounds nice." I said.

Xion shook her head, "I don't think it was as brilliant as this one."

"What makes you say that?" Axel asked, shifting so he could sit down in the sand.

"Maybe it's better when you watch the sunrise with people." Xion replied. "…But something still feels like it's missing right now."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Ice cream." Axel replied, "Of the sea-salt variety."

"You too, Axel?" Xion asked excitedly.

"Yeah." Axel turned to me, "Roxas turned me onto the flavor actually. Never heard of it until I met him."

"Where are we going to get sea-salt ice cream at this time of day?" I asked.

Xion shrugged, "There's a shop two blocks away from my place that sells obscure ice cream flavors. We can go there." She replied as she turned back to the sun, "Roxas? Axel?"

"Hm?" I asked, looking at Xion. Axel turned to face her as well, "What's wrong?"

She shook her head, "Nothing. It's just … I don't want this feeling to end." Xion replied, "It's been so long since I've felt this at peace and I. …I just want to thank you two for giving me a moment like this. Axel, thank you for being as welcoming as you've been over these past few months … and Roxas … thanks for giving me a chance again after all these years."

"No problem." Axel said, grinning.

"Yeah, Xion. Don't worry about it." I said, "You know… it's kind of funny that we're doing this right now."

"What do you mean?" Xion asked.

"This one over here would always talk about going to the beach and we never had a chance to do something like this. So, it's kind of like killing two birds with one stone I guess." I paused, "And well, for you and me, too. Don't you remember all those conversations we'd have in your apartment on late summer nights? You always talked about going to the beach … and I don't mean the ones back home. A beach like this… a real beach."

"You don't consider beaches back in New York to be real beaches, Roxas?" Axel asked, chuckling.

I shook my head. "Not like this. You know, like a stereotypical post card beach. Sunny skies, blue water, white sand."

"Eh, guess you're right." Axel said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Yeah…" Xion murmured.

We lapsed into silence and watched the waves shift, flowing in and out at a rhythmic pace. Eventually Xion and I sat down as well, letting the water lap at our toes and submerge our ankles into pockets in the sand. And we talked—about everything and nothing and whatever lied in between.

Sitting here with Xion and Axel … it was nice. It was as if time stood still for us but I knew it was moving. We were rotating around the sun on a never ending gravitational pull. And as the sun slowly rose above the horizon, I felt at an impasse of sorts. But, it wasn't bad. It wasn't something that I had to fight just yet. I realized that the past and the future will always collide and try to meet somewhere in your present. Past mistakes will come back to settle uncomfortably on your shoulders and possible opportunities will slip through your grasping fingers. Sometimes you'll feel tied down or tied up. Whichever one you prefer, it doesn't matter.

I'd moved past the point where I was angry with the shit life was throwing at me. I wasn't seventeen anymore. There was no reason for me to cling so hopelessly to death when all I wanted to do was live again. I was twenty three. Still young by comparison, but old enough to know that there was something waiting for me in the future. Something better than what I knew now.

Sometimes you look at the present and wonder how in the hell you got there. At each point of your life you felt like … this is as good as it's going to get and this is the best that you've ever had. The present is an odd place. I mean, have you ever just sat and stared at a clock and watch the minutes pass? The border between past, present and future is so vague. You're constantly existing in a period where time is always moving. People try so hard to compartmentalize everything when they should just leave things as they are. Stop trying to define things. Stop trying to label everything. Stop driving yourself mad with trying to classify everything into a neat little niche. That's why outliers exist.

For me, I've stopped seeing the world in shades of white and black. As you get older, you understand that everything is really just a heavy mist of grey. As a child you're taught right and wrong, but sometimes... there really isn't a right or wrong answer for every question you're asked in a lifetime. Some things are solved on a case by case basis and I've grown comfortable with that. I've grown comfortable living in this area of grey.

I glanced at Xion and then at Axel. Both of them were lost in their own thoughts as they stared toward the brightening sky. I took a deep breath and inhaled the salt tinged air of the sea. A new day was upon us and for once, all the shit of the past felt like it had been brushed free from my shoulders. I felt reborn for some reason. My family was okay despite everything that had happened. My sister was going to be all right, I'd be there for her if she tried to fall apart again. My mother was happier now living as she wanted to, rather than under the oppressive wings of my father. My brother had just started his own little family ... and my twin was doing all right for himself, too. And Axel and I? We were going to be okay. No matter how many fights we had or how many little joyous moments were sprinkled through our years together. Things would be okay.

With resolve, I eventually rose from the sand and dusted off my pants. Xion picked her head up first and then Axel turned to me, both of them with inquisitive looks on their faces. I reached out my hand for Xion first and pulled her to her feet and then turned around to Axel to help him up as well. With each of their hands in my own, I felt my heart slowly warming and suddenly ...I had the urge to smile.

Well, you two. What do you say we go get that ice cream now?



Well, it took three years. But I finally finished.

Thanks for being somewhat patient with me over the last few years, because there were so many times where I came close to scrapping this story all together. You know, just deleting it and pretending it never happened.

Sometimes I thought it would have been better if I left Inertia Creeps as is. Just a standalone piece of writing that ended when Roxas finally found his "happy ending" with Axel so to speak. Maybe I should have left his future up to your imagination. After all, there was no real reason for me to continue the story, right? Hm, maybe.

Honestly, Three Changes was probably the result of me finally coming back to Kingdom Hearts after a near three year break from the series. A couple of years back I had the chance to catch up with the series again (aka, I received a DS Lite for Christmas) and finally bought 358/2 Days. And well, from that sprung this. I mean, I'd always toyed with the idea of coming back to this setting with these characters in the back of my mind, but never really found the drive for it. (Although, I have written a one shot or two based on Inertia Creeps. Conticent and Buried if you're curious). But after playing Days, I felt like I had to.

As for the whole premise of Three Changes, there's no real message I set out to convey while writing the story. Maybe that's why it might feel dead or flat at times. It's less of a story and more like a really long and empty monologue that really serves no point other than what started out as a selfish need to toy with something that probably should have been left alone.

Going back a bit, I wrote Inertia Creeps at the height of a horrible depression in my senior year of high school. That story was a semi-therapeutic way for me to use writing as a way to get through the shit I was dealing with on a daily basis. But a lot has changed in my life since then. I'm no longer running around the city like some lost child seeking validation from some unknown source. I'm now sitting here with a BA in Psychology and I'm looking to take the next step to grad school in about another year. A lot of stuff has changed, too. But shit happens. That's life, kids.

So, about Three Changes? Let's see. Maybe in some way it's supposed to be about the aftermath of what happens after you've completely hit rock bottom mentally and you're trying to climb your way back up again. You've already gone through therapy, you've cultivated a support system, you're taking your meds (if prescribed) and you're trying to change your way of thinking. But what else? Life is rough, life is harsh. It will take you by your frail little wrists, snap them in two and leave you standing there screaming in your pain. It doesn't really care if your mother died on the Tuesday after you lost your job on Sunday.

I suppose the easy thing to do would be to kill yourself, rather than dealing with the pain. Well, maybe your pain, that is. But the people you left behind would probably be left wallowing in despair over your actions (or so we like to think, right?). We never really know how someone'll react to our death until after we're gone. Sure, you can be pessimistic and say you're bound to die either way. That's true. And you're bound to go through life hurting someone. That's true too. Pain in inescapable no matter how much we don't like to acknowledge that fact.

And what's more, the time you spend on Earth isn't long. Your existence isn't worth much if you measure it against how old this Earth really is. But, for some unknown reason we keep on going anyway. There's something that keeps humans holding onto their pitiful existence even when nothing seems to be going right and the whole damn world comes crashing down upon them.

Haha, so after all this somewhat self deprecating talk about how weak humans are, you're probably asking what my point is exactly? I don't know. Ultimately, we stick around for some reason. No matter how stupid or convoluted it might be to others, there's something keeping you here when you think about ending it all. You do what makes you happy, right? As cliché as it might sound, it's probably the truth. Sometimes that seems more than enough to get people through the day right? Sure, you're always pining for more, wishing for something to be different. …But, things have a funny way of working out in the end. Maybe by fate, maybe by your own hard work, who knows. I just know that it happens.

In Three Changes, things go to shit for Roxas in every way imaginable. Axel isn't the solid rock that he used to be and things with Roxas' family have gone completely to shit. Not only that he's trying to keep himself afloat and his mental health in check despite whatever life seems to throw his way. He has his share of breakdowns—(not as bad as Inertia Creeps)—but he doesn't seem be as insecure as he used to be. Or maybe he is and he's trying not to be. Realistically, it wouldn't be unreasonable for him to want to kill himself again. Depression is a bitch. It comes in and out of our lives when we least expect it, and yes. Even if you're doing well, you can slide back just as easily as you crawled forward. But something seems to be propelling Roxas forward. Maybe its age—(and whatever warped type of bullshit wisdom you seem to gain in your early twenties, which doesn't feel like much I assure you)—or the genuine need to see things set right even though he actively resents his position at times.

Either way, it doesn't really matter. He does what he has to do and things turn out all right for the most part. Like Axel said to Roxas while the two of them were sitting at the docks on Axel's birthday, you just keep going for however long you can. Because in the end, that's all you really can do.

Anyway, thank you to everyone that stood by me as I've agonized over this story. From the beginning stages of Inertia, all the way to this point in 2014 as I finish up Three Changes. Can't say it's my best work… (despite how many of you would say otherwise, I will always be my harshest critic in this life) …but I've made my peace with this story and what it means to me with whatever attachment I still have to it.

The story of Roxas Ardenwell and Axel Ramirez ends here and I'm laying these two to rest. In my writing, that is, because I'm sure it'll live on in your hearts (as seems to still be evident in present day despite Inertia being old as fuck). So cheesy, I know, I guess it's true to some degree.

I don't know how much longer I'll write for, or if I'll continue writing Axel and Roxas at that. (Even though I've been back on the Kingdom Hearts wagon as of late). But … it feels nice to see this through to the end even if I wanted to give up on it. Funny, because I felt the same way about Inertia during the course of writing that nearly seven years ago. Either way. Whatever you gained from Three Changes this time around, I hope it benefited you in some way. And if you didn't, that's okay too. I can understand if you didn't.

A lot of you say these stories were like therapy for you. Funny, because I'm going to grad school to become a therapist (after much deliberation, all of which I won't get into now). Just know that I was glad to provide some solace for all of you that are struggling out there and I hope you go on living in the way that makes you happiest.

We've all been there and where we've had something to overcome. And all of us have been pushed to our limits, almost to the point of breaking. Some more than others, and that's okay. I don't believe in shaming the dead… I mean those who have taken their lives. They held on for however long they could and they're gone now. But you're still living and you're still here. You still have a chance to make things right even when they feel like they're spiraling so dangerously out of control.

Haha, you know …I've actually become more cynical and pessimistic than optimistic since I graduated high school, but sometimes I think the opposite when I go off on tangents like this. But honestly, this is all I can really ask of you… and this is all I can really tell you.

So, thank you.

I'm out.


P.S. There's a playlist for Three Changes over on 8tracks if you wanna check it out. Wish I didn't have to give you the run around, but it's up on my writing/miscellaneous tumblr under the same name as my pen name. (You can find the link to that on my profile).