Part I. Truth is stranger than fiction.
WARNING: This story is for mature audiences. All characters, songs, and references to copywritten material are obviously not mine and I take no claim in ownership. This story was not produced for monetary gain.
When Roxas first got to college, he'd been overwhelmed. The college he was attending – the University of Wisconsin-Madison – was fucking huge.
The college proper took up most of the city around the capitol, and was so spread out that it took Roxas nearly two hours to find the buildings his classes were in, let alone the individual classrooms. It was radically different from the small-town atmosphere of his home.
He moved into the on-campus dorm Tripp Hall with only three suitcases of stuff. He was far away from home for the first time, in another part of the country, and he was scared stiff.
Hundreds of faces blurred together and he didn't know a single person. He was used to knowing everyone around him. The islands on which he grew up were remote, tiny, and the natives had been tight.
But leaving home left him vindictive. As if the bitter parting wasn't enough, he couldn't get used to the new ways of living. It wasn't warm and tropical in Wisconsin and it was humid in an odd way. The dorms were muggy and unbearable. The cities atmosphere seemed unfriendly yet liberal. The campus had a scholarly feel and everyone seemed too busy.
Nighttimes were overrun with people shouting and running around and he couldn't find any peace and quiet. He wasn't used to so much noise at all hours of the day. Even with earplugs the shouts of college kids woke him up.
His roommate turned out to be a hyper band nerd named Demyx. Demyx's half of the room was filled with instruments and band posters. Roxas was initially worried about getting along with the kid since their personalities were so oppositional, but Demyx had a car and Roxas needed to get basic living supplies.
Demyx had offered to drive Roxas to Walmart and the art store Penco so he could spend the money he'd saved back home on pricey canvases and watercolor paints. Roxas quickly learned that Demyx talked nonstop, but it reminded Roxas of his brother and Roxas found an odd comfort in the rambling. Plus, Demyx was an easy person to be friends with and Roxas was sure he really needed friends at this point.
Roxas entered college as an undecided art major and would be taking general studio classes. Demyx was in the School of Music and he was one year older than Roxas. Because Demyx already lived in Madison for a year he was able to show the blond around town and explain to him some of the traditions on campus. Roxas let all the information seep in slowly, but he still felt out of place in this strange new world. He suddenly had all this free time that he didn't know what to do with.
Posters were slung around campus with slogans such as, "Recall Scott Walker," and Roxas didn't understand a word of them. There were demonstrations every night on the capitol lawn, and the whole city was politically charged. Roxas had never met so many people his age that would read the newspaper and talk about foreign issues. It initially made him feel like a small-town hick.
The slang his dormmates used was unfamiliar, and when he asked questions about it he quickly became embarrassed at the incredulous reactions. These students all seemed to function on another level from Roxas, who was used to slow and relaxing afternoons.
Class started as a blur with the weeks passing swiftly. Roxas wasn't talkative by nature but managed to make a few friends. He met a girl named Xion in his Art History course, and a found quiet companionship with a guy called Zexion from his floor in Tripp Hall.
Roxas fell in love with college life.
He started to love living around so many other people, he enjoyed the nonstop events and the random musicians who would play on State Street. State Street was filled to the brim tons with shops that sold weird stuff, and sometimes when he and Dem were bored they would peruse merchandise even if they couldn't afford anything. Madison contained so many bookstores and he would sit in them for hours with Zexion, absorbing ideas companionably. With Zexion he never felt like he needed to fill the silence. They could sometimes sit together for a whole day and not utter a single word.
Roxas's only hobby back home was skateboarding. As it turned out, Xion loved skateboarding too, and since she was a year older she knew all the best skateparks. She had a moped so every Saturday they would wake up early and drive to McFarland and skate until their whole bodies ached.
Dem was social to a fault and it wasn't until nearly a month into school that he finally managed to drag Roxas to his first party. On the Destiny Islands – Roxas' hometown – there were parties of course. But they were small get-togethers and most people didn't drink. Drinking was something viewed as a taboo because most people he knew were athletes, and they didn't want to ruin their bodies.
However in Madison parties were wild on an unimaginable scale. Most of the houses around campus had balconies which students would throw events on. Leading up to State Street on an average Thursday you would find hundreds of people drinking around town. This made Roxas apprehensive of even going out because he hadn't really sipped any alcohol before and he didn't want to appear naïve.
But Dem wouldn't shut up about it for nearly two weeks and kept mentioning how Roxas was a stick in the mud that never had any fun.
Roxas found no retort for this and finally relented. If only so Demyx wouldn't think he was a loser.
So Roxas, an eighteen-year-old freshman at UW-of-M, went to his first college party.
Our story starts here.
Roxas was nervous as he stood on the doorstep outside what was obviously college housing. He could tell because paint peeled off the wood siding and the front porch was littered with dingy mismatching furniture. A bike was locked against the metal gate in front.
Demyx knew the tenants who rented this house, he was in the same band with them, but Roxas was always nervous when he met new people. Demyx assured him before they left the dorms that he would get along well with the people in his band, and that they would be friendly. He also assured Roxas that nobody would force him to drink if he didn't want to.
The blond could hear noise emitting from the party outside. The music was blaring through open windows, the sound of laughter echoing across the empty lawn.
Roxas pulled his sweatshirt tighter around him as Demyx opened the door and strolled inside confidently. Roxas was startled when Dem didn't knock first, but figured that nobody within the house would be able to hear knocking anyway.
There had to be at least twenty-five people crammed into the small place, each student held a bottle of beer or a red cup in hand. A beer pong table was set up in the dining room right across the hall with another set of people rapidly flipping cups on a coffee table. Demyx automatically went over and started mingling with the kids flipping cups which left Roxas to stand awkwardly by the front door. He shifted his weight nervously, unsure of how he should proceed.
A tall girl with blonde hair shoved passed him and shut the door with a bang. She spun around and glared down at him aggressively.
"Hey short shit, close the fucking door when you get somewhere." The blonde told him in a bitchy tone.
Roxas shook his head despondently, "Sorry," he mumbled in her direction with a lost expression.
The blonde studied him for a moment before sighing and explaining, "It's alright, sorry to snap at you like that. It's about cops, okay? There are a couple underagers here and the fuzz are more likely to burst in if the door is wide open. Visual evidence, you know?"
Roxas nodded again before softly responding, "Oh."
The girl held her hand out and gave him a tilted frown, "Yo, I'm Larxene."
Roxas took the hand and quietly murmured his name. The girl finally cracked a smile.
"Not the talkative type, huh? Weird since you're here with Dem. He barely knows how to shut the fuck up."
Roxas shyly smiled back. He completely understood that sentiment.
"C'mon short shit, let's get you a drink." Larxene grabbed his wrist and Roxas was suddenly being pulled through a labyrinth of rooms down a set of stairs and into a sweaty basement. Strobe lights were set up in the corner with a fog machine blowing smoke. It was hard to see, everyone around him was a lot taller. Roxas coughed at the heavy smell of cigarettes, his eyes watering.
Larxene pulled him over to the bar in the back corner. She turned back, "Got five bucks?"
Roxas nodded before pulling his wallet out of his back pocket. He didn't really want to drink but he also didn't want to look like a loser. He handed her the money.
"Axel you asshat! Come get me a fucking cup!" Larxene shrieked across the bar, her strong voice easy to hear over the music. She slammed his five-dollar bill on the makeshift table.
A redheaded guy glanced up while smirking, meandering past the other bartender and leaning over the bar. Roxas peered up at him silently; he really liked the man's jade eyes. It reminded him of the ocean after a storm all vibrantly green and eerie.
"Who's this little lost frosh?" Axel asked, making his tone friendly when he saw how skittish the boy appeared. Like a herded sheep far away from the flock, Axel thought the innocent expression was cute. Larxene roughly swatted Roxas's back, catching him by surprise.
"This is Dem's new dormmate, Rocks-ass." She informed Axel, amused that Roxas gasped for breath. Roxas glared up at her when she slaughtered the pronunciation of his name.
"Um, it's Rox-us," Roxas told them, raising his voice so he could be heard over the crowd. Axel reached under the bar and after a moment started mixing liquors together with an expert ease.
"You don't strike me as a beer person," Axel told him with a disarming smile.
Larxene quirked an eyebrow at his expression and finally rolled her eyes. 'Oh, great,' she thought to herself, 'another easy conquest. Well, at least someone's getting laid.' She twirled around and promptly strode away, heading up the stairs without a glance back. Roxas was decidedly uneasy. He was now in a stranger's basement – at a party no less. The people back home would never believe this.
Axel pushed a drink across the bar which returned Roxas's attention to him. It was in a red cup and Roxas slowly took it, cautiously sniffing the mixture. Didn't common sense dictate that you shouldn't drink anything someone else made? He finally glanced up Axel, who he was internally calling the giant.
"It's a tequila sunrise. Tequila, limejuice, orange juice, and I added some strawberry grenadine so it won't taste strong." He told Roxas with the same friendly nonchalance.
Roxas nodded while he peered down into the cup, figuring that at least he knew what was in it. Roxas saw the redhead duck under the boards of the bar and stand next to him. His hands looped casually in his front pockets, and Roxas was struck by howcool this lean guy was. He was wearing a ripped black band shirt, tight jeans, studded belts, and three necklaces. He held himself in a cocky manner and was incredibly tall.
"I'm Axel, one of your roommates band-buddies. I play the electric guitar and do some vocals." The redhead informed Roxas (not that Roxas even asked).
Roxas was unsure what to say so he took a small sip of the drink. It tasted… well, delicious. Way better than he thought alcohol would taste. Axel smiled at the look of delight that flickered across the smaller boys face, and watched him down another longer sip.
Axel bent at his waste so they were eye level, "Wanna head upstairs? Chat for a little while?"
Roxas nodded again before trailing after Axel absentmindedly. He wasn't sure why he was blindly following this guy but something about the easy way Axel talked made Roxas feel calm. And anything was better than the smoky basement.
Axel plopped on a couch in the living room. He high-fived a man with dreadlocked hair before scooting over to make room; Roxas dropped down beside him.
"So what major are you in?" Axel asked conversationally.
Roxas thought about it for a long moment, "Art undecided."
"… Not really the talkative type, hmm?"
Roxas huffed down at his cup wordlessly before taking a large gulp.
"Well, that's okay! I can talk for the both of us," Axel said, "I'm Axel McKenna, 21, Scorpio, in the pyrotechnics major under the science wing. I'm getting a minor in graphic design. I wanna blow shit up for a living and then get famous by creating magazines about the stuff I blow up. I really love watching stupid TV shows and going out to the bars and skateboarding. Oh, and I pretty much live for music."
Roxas's eyebrows rose and he tentatively asked, "You like skateboarding?"
Axel nodded enthusiastically. "Oh hell yes, I've been into that since I was a tween. I loved watching Jackass and Viva La Bam, 'cause that skater Bam Margera is the ultimate badass. You've ever seen those shows?"
Roxas shook his head in negation, "My father didn't allow us to watch television."
Axel's eyes became saucers. Internally Axel was relieved to get the kid talking.
"No shit? You poor thing! What did you do for fun?"
Roxas gave a tiny smile, "Skateboarding."
Axel grinned back before reaching out to offer his hand. Roxas stared at the large ring on the redhead's index finger and the spindly tattoo on his wrist before pushing his own hand over.
"So this is your first college party." It wasn't a question.
"How can you tell?" Roxas sounded surprised.
Axel chuckled, running his hand through his hair, "C'mon kid, seriously? You look so nervous! Like someone is gonna come and try to kidnap you."
Roxas frowned, his lips at the edge of the cup. His cheeks felt warm and he wasn't nervous anymore.
"I dunno, just never went to one."
Axel whistled before standing up and spinning around. Roxas locked eyes with him anxiously. Had he done something to offend Axel? Was it because of how much of a loser Roxas acted?
Until Axel reached his hand out again, pulling Roxas up from the couch. He smiled, showing white canines.
"Then we better make this night the best!" Axel stated happily, snatching his wrist and pulling him along. Roxas wondered if everyone from the Midwest was this pushy.
They went through the kitchen and up a backset of stairs. The second floor was a lot cleaner, and a lot quieter for which Roxas was thankful. Axel pushed open a door and flipped on a light.
"This is my room," Axel told him as he crossed to a window. With his back facing Roxas he glanced around.
"What are we doing…?" Roxas asked cautiously.
"Giving you the best first college party ever, duh. Now down that drink and come with me."
Roxas glanced down to his cup before tipping his head back. He finished the beverage a moment later, feeling tipsy. He watched Axel disappear out the window, motioning with an arm for him to follow.
Roxas normally hated heights but he was woozy from the alcohol so he slung his leg over the divider and clamored out. The wind hit his face so Roxas turned his cheeks away from the icy breeze. There were small blocks of wood nailed to the roof, and he watched Axel climb them.
Roxas heaved up the roof after him, grateful for his sweatshirt.
When he got to the top, Axel put a hand on his shoulder to steady him. Roxas looked around and gasped.
From where this house was positioned he could see the Capitol Building perfectly. Lights bounced off other windows, and it stood white and powerful. Roxas could see the sculptures, the elegant gold motif on the top, and part of the street that circled the building.
"How beautiful," Roxas murmured unintentionally.
Axel barked out a laugh, making Roxas jump frown in embarrassment.
"That's what I think too," Axel responded with a smile, his other arm gesturing to chairs that were nailed down on the far side. Roxas chuckled at the randomness but sat down anyway, watching Axel flip open a cooler.
"Larxene always keeps girly drinks up here." Axel told him, handing him a bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade. "This stuff doesn't have much alcohol, so the little lightweight should be fine!"
"Little lightweight?" Roxas echoed with sigh. He barely glanced at the glass bottle before twisting it open, sipping as he turned back to the view.
"How did you know to come on the roof for this view?" Roxas asked.
Axel blinked. That had been the longest sentence the kid had spoken yet.
"Um," Axel thought for a moment, "We moved in last year. Our buddy Xigbar used to live here. Him and his girlfriend at the time used to come up here to fuck."
Roxas blinked, looking around. 'That couldn't be very comfortable,' he thought.
Axel chuckled at the expression but continued, "Despite its horrid previous reputation as a sex-roof, I really like it up here. Nice and quiet."
Roxas nodded, spooning his arms around his legs. He shut his eyes and didn't answer.
Axel was staring down at Roxas curiously. There weren't too many people Axel had ever met quite like this blond kid. Normally Axel didn't like quiet people, but this kid was fascinating. His countenance was mellow but when he got irritated, such as when Larxene mispronounced his name, his eyes were like razor blades. It was wild.
"You can come here whenever you want," Axel added softly, taking a quick swig of his own drink.
Roxas copied the action, "I would like that."
Axel perked up, "So we can be friends?"
"You want to be friends?" Roxas asked blankly.
Roxas grinned up at him. Axel felt his breath hitch. The shyness that Roxas had been wearing was gone and his blue eyes were sparkling. He laughed softly and looked very pleased. Axel felt inexplicably proud of himself.
Axel put his thumb up to his mouth for a moment, before asking, "Have you ever smoked?"
Roxas blinked in surprise, "What? Cigarettes? No."
Axel chuckled and leaned forward, "No, not cigarettes. Weed."
"Like marijuana!" Roxas yelped. "Um, no, never."
"Have you ever wanted to?" Axel prompted, oddly curious.
Roxas frowned as he thought about it. He knew about weed of course, from that drug course he'd taken back in high school. The gateway drug, the teacher had called it.
Axel laughed again but it was a nervous sound. "Don't feel obligated to, dude! It's no big dealeo if you don't want to-"
"What? You have weed on you?" Roxas hedged.
Axel nodded balefully, "Larxene and I bought an eighth today from my other blond buddy. But I shouldn't have mentioned it. You're a little froshy, of course you haven't done that."
Axel was embarrassed, his cheeks flushing. He felt like an idiot for exposing the innocent kid to something incredibly illegal. Roxas watched him carefully, transfixed. Axel had such a different array of expressions. His face gave away everything he was thinking. Roxas wanted to see more of them.
"I'm sorry if you think people who do that are… like, stupid or whatever." Axel continued.
"I'll try it." Roxas firmly stated. Axel blinked, shaking his head quickly.
"No, no! Sorry, you don't have too-"
Axel blinked at the sound of his name. Apparently Roxas wasn't the sort to forget names.
"I'll try it. I need to experience more things. People can't grow up if they don't do things that scare them, or make them nervous." Roxas slowly explained, taking a few more sips of his drink.
"Are you sure?"
"Well, I won't die, right?" Roxas was dead serious.
Axel laughed openly at that sentiment. Roxas began to appreciate how full the older boys laugh was. It held nothing back.
"Bwahaaaa! No way, you won't die!"
"What will it feel like?" Roxas queried as he leaned sideways towards the redhead.
"Um, I guess floaty. You will only need to try a tiny bit to feel it because you've never done it before."
"But we can't do it up here," Roxas promptly informed him.
"What? Why not? We always smoke up here."
"I would fall off the roof on our way back down." Roxas told him with that same stoic expression. Axel grinned again and he leaned forward to brush his fingertips through the blond spikes atop Roxas' head.
"Okay, let's go to my room."
As they climbed back down the roof, Roxas wondered what he was getting himself into. He could practically hear his brother scolding him for being so irresponsible. Drinking was one thing, but he was about to consume illegal drugs.
Yet, Axel felt oddly safe. He somehow knew that Axel would take care of him if anything happened. He knew that Axel would protect him.
They clambered inside and onto the redhead's bed, which held a strong scent of musk and cologne. Roxas blankly watched Axel pull out a little tin container from atop his bookshelf.
"Cough drops?" Roxas read aloud.
Axel flipped the container open. Inside was a tiny white pipe, a smaller container with what was apparently weed, and a mini-lighter.
"So prepared." Roxas was slightly awed. Did all students at his school have a small cough drop box hiding drugs? Surely not.
Axel rolled his eyes, "Kid, you said you're an art student, right?"
"Well, get used to being around weed then. Almost all the art and music students smoke. It's just something people do, way better for them than drinking. Dem smokes all the time."
"Demyx does! He never told me." Roxas murmured.
"Well, duh. Normal people don't bring that up in conversation with someone they just met- um…" Axel bit his lip sheepishly.
Roxas smiled up at him and informed him, "You're so not normal."
Axel nodded, "That's probably true."
He handed Roxas the pipe and he took it awkwardly. What was he supposed to do now?
"Put this up to your mouth, I'll light the lighter, and you breath in." Axel told him. Roxas did as he was told, putting the end against his lips. Axel grew very close, his hand cupping the flame from the lighter.
Roxas breathed the smoke in and found that it tasted strange. Very organic. He didn't cough to Axel's surprise. He just kept inhaling.
"Now hold the smoke in your lungs." Axel stated, watching him carefully.
Roxas did so for a moment, before exhaling. Roxas watched the smoke blow beyond Axel's head. Axel quickly tapped the pipe before repeating that process himself.
Roxas watched him in a daze. How strange, he thought, how he felt like he'd always known Axel. Like this wasn't the first night he'd ever met him.
"So?" Axel asked after a pause.
Roxas thought about it, "I dunno."
His voice was quiet when he continued, "I feel very calm and peaceful. I'm glad that I met you tonight, we should go skateboarding. I have a friend named Xion from my art class and we can ask Demyx to drive us to this sweet skatepark with an 80 inch half-pipe-"
Axel began giggling, a cheerfully honest sound. "Wow, never would have guessed that weed would get you to open up more than when you were drinking!"
Roxas blinked and didn't respond.
Axel leaned forward again, his face mere inches from the younger students. His sharp eyes bore into Roxas, but the action didn't make him feel uncomfortable enough to pull away. Axel obviously had a different space bubble than most people.
"You said you like to do things that scare you? Make you nervous?" Axel asked innocently enough.
Roxas nodded. Axel grinned at him.
"Then we are going to be great friends!" He cried happily.
Roxas chuckled before a loud bang pounded at the door and made him jump. Suddenly Demyx appeared in the room, looking pretty intoxicated.
"Axel! You stole Roxas you bastard! I was like, where the fuck did you go? I came up here before, I think…" He paused, looking down at his red cup, "And another thing! You smoked up my innocent roommate at his first party, Axel, really?" He said the last words as a mocking taunt.
Axel rolled his eyes, "Shut up and close the door, you loud bitch."
Demyx did so with drunken grace, plopping on the bed next to Roxas. Demyx began to ramble, leaving Roxas to his thoughts.
They sat like that for almost twenty minutes, Demyx ranting needlessly. Axel lit a cigarette and seemed content to listen. Roxas rarely spoke, but he could tell that Axel was staring at him. After a while, they decided to head back downstairs.
Roxas didn't really want to go back to the party; he was far more comfortable in the presence of this new redhead and his roommate. Then Axel pet his hair and asked if they could stick together that night. Roxas blushed a little and nodded his agreement.
"Oh~ that's so fucking precious." Demyx was too loud. Roxas glared up at his roommate, the combined use of drugs making him oddly complacent.
"Shut the hell up, Fohawk," Roxas replied with a snarky tone.
Axel burst out laughing as they got down the stairs. Demyx was laughing a moment later and Roxas couldn't help but echo them. Soon they were all grabbing their sides, breathless like fools.
Demyx began to meander back to the living room. Axel grabbed Roxas's arm and pulled him close. Roxas could smell Axel's cologne; it lulled Roxas into a state of security.
"Hey, Rox-us," he emphasized, "Can we exchange digits?"
"Digits?" Roxas asked blankly.
"You know, contact information?" Axel pulled out his cell phone. Roxas felt lightheaded.
He fished his phone out of pocket, and they traded. After they exchanged phone numbers the night became a blur for Roxas.
Larxene had mixed him another drink in the basement and he had danced with Axel under the strobe lights. Speakers pounded heady punk music; nobody could understand the lyrics. The students around them were bobbing their heads and thrashing their bodies on the floor in a wild abandon.
Roxas was sweaty, grinding together with these people he'd never met. He had no idea how many people were on that floor, but felt happily anonymous. Nobody knew him so what did it matter if he was hammered and dancing drunkenly?
The only person who existed in his world that night was Axel. Axel's untamable red hair, his heady gaze, his rough voice. Roxas watched him the whole night, entranced. He hadn't known that Axel was doing the exact same thing. So they kept on wildly dancing, laughing, drinking.
They were young, stupidly happy art freaks that night. Roxas had never felt so perfect in his whole life.
The next morning when Roxas woke up his head was pounding and he wanted a fucking glass of water. He groaned, shading his hand from the light.
A moment later he jumped as his heart spiked in shock. This was most definitely not his room. Frantically looking around, he glanced next to him and saw a head of red spikes pooled against a pillow. His memory flickered back. Axel.
Dropping his head into his hands, he groaned again softly before climbing out of the bed. He spotted his shoes kicked on the floor and quickly tugged them on. He still felt drunk. What time was it? He didn't care.
After he collected himself Roxas began fishing in his pockets for his phone and wallet. Both were thankfully intact and he flicked his cell open. Two missed texts. Glancing through them he didn't notice Axel roll over and open his eyes.
"Leaving?" Axel asked, unsure what to say. His voice sounded scratchy.
Roxas's breath hitched, nearly dropping his phone in surprise. His eyes locked onto Axel's.
"Um," he glanced back at his phone. It was already eleven a.m. He totally did not feel like going to the skatepark with Xion. He felt bad for betraying the tradition but he was still too intoxicated to properly ride his skateboard.
"No?" He asked doubtfully as a request for Axel to let him stay.
Axel's lips twitched as he rubbed his eyes, "I'll get us some water. You can go use the bathroom; it's down the hall on the left. You remember much from last night?"
"Yes," Roxas told him, before screwing his eyebrows together and amending, "Bits."
"Yeah, sorry about that kid. I knew it was your first party and all but didn't stop you from drinking too much." Axel scratched his fingers through his hair. It was messy now, scrunched from sleeping.
Roxas shook his head, "No, it's okay. I had fun."
Axel nodded, wincing when his own head pounded, "Then let us go get greasy food and copious amounts of caffeine to rid us of our hangovers. Unless you have something else to do?"
"Nope, I was supposed to go to the skatepark with Xion but I'm gonna text her and tell her that I can't make it. I'm sure she will be happy. She kept telling me to get out and meet more people."
Axel quickly climbed out of his bed, "That's the right attitude, Roxas."
The thin redhead threw his shirt off, shaking away his sleep. Roxas watched him for a long moment, before sliding his eyes in the opposite direction. Roxas couldn't help sneak another peek at the slim muscles; Axel's body was covered in tattoos.
Roxas never thought that tattoos were particularly attractive. The tattoos he'd seen on tourists back home were cliché and ugly. But Axel's tattoos were oddly beautiful. He had one on his chest that looked like fire, with flames licking down his torso. Between his hips he had a heartogram inked. Most of the design was covered by tight jeans.
Axel threw open his closet and reached for a t-shirt. Roxas blindly walked out of the room and began to walk across the hall. He didn't want to be caught staring at Axel topless.
He could barely remember the house from last night; he only clearly remembered the roof. After Roxas relieved himself, he washed his hands and stared at his disheveled reflection in the unfamiliar mirror.
He could only imagine what people back home would think if they knew what he had done last night. 'You're a pot smoking, underage drinking, foolish college kid who needs to grow up,' is what his brother would say. Roxas sighed, washing his face with cool water. He finally met his own gaze in the mirror and gave himself a small smile.
It had all been worth it.
Now he could spend the day with Axel.
Nearly ten minutes later and after pounding two large glasses of ice water, Axel and Roxas stumbled out to the front lawn which was covered in empty beer bottles and crunched cups.
They strode side-by-side down the sidewalk next to the bike lane, both grumbling quietly about the sun. It was a bright beautiful day, not quite fall but still cool. Roxas felt a little grimy to be walking around in the same clothes as yesterday but Axel didn't seem to notice.
Axel lived on West Mifflin Street which was only a few blocks from State Street so they headed left past the Orpheum Theatre and down the block. Axel was rambling in a way that mirrored Demyx. Roxas found himself listening attentively.
They passed Roxas's favorite bookshop when a question finally popped into his head. His brain was sluggish.
"What happened to Demyx last night?"
Axel thought about it for a moment as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket. After propping one in his mouth and taking a deep drag, he hummed to himself.
"Hmm, if I recall right Demyx was more hammered than you were, but you kept saying that you didn't want to leave my side last night so Dem headed back to the dorms at like two."
Roxas tried to ignore Axel's second admission, instead stating, "Well, our dorm isn't that far."
"No, but poor Dem probably had to go through past Langdon Street. Fuckin' Coastie Island." Axel told him grimly.
"Coastie Island?" Roxas rolled his eyes; again with the weird names for everything around Madison.
"Haha, I keep forgetting that you're brand new. Coasties are like the uber-preps of UW-of-M. They come from the East or West coast and are spoiled fucks." Axel snorted as he continued, unconsciously flicking on his cigarette.
"They don't have to spend a dime on school so they live in these private residence halls that cost a shit-ton. They wear Bucky t-shirts and huge sunglasses with those ugly Ugg-boots, and black leggings all year round. Coastie Island rubs up right next to Liberal-Artsville, which is where you live."
Roxas slowly absorbed this information, "So why is it bad that Dem went through this Coastie place?"
"Because they probably ridiculed him from the balconies. The coasties are super stuck up. They always make fun of people and have a special kind of fun reserved for bitching about art and music students."
They reached the Brocach Irish Pub, which was on the same block as Capitol Square.
The inside was dim and relaxed; they sat in the back corner. As they ordered food and noisily gobbled it down, the pair talked about anything and everything. Roxas noticed that though Axel did like to talk a lot, he also liked to listen to what Roxas had to say. He would wait patiently for Roxas to think about his answer first, and he always gave thoughtful responses.
After they ate Roxas felt a little nauseous. He'd eaten too fast and his head was still pounding. Axel suggested taking the bus back to his house. Then they could chill in the darkness of his room and watch movies and bum the day away.
That plan sounded perfect to the kid who was in dire need of a relaxing afternoon. He was glad that Axel didn't make fun of him for getting sick after drinking and he was also pleased that Axel seemed to be such an easy friend to have.
They spent the day together inside the Unsafe Zone, which was apparently the name of Axel's house. Axel had three roommates; the blond girl Larxene from last night (who was sleeping off her hangover) and two science students who didn't come home much.
Just as planned they watched four movies back-to-back, smoked a little weed, and simply loafed around. In Axel's company, Roxas felt more talkative than he'd been in years.
October went quickly. School was beyond hectic but Roxas still found time to hang out with Axel almost every day. Axel's schedule was even worse than his because he was a junior and taking twenty credits, but the redhead would drop everything to go skateboarding with Roxas.
Sometimes they would study together in the main library and afterwards they always shared a quiet drink on the roof. Axel was introduced to Xion, and Roxas found out that Axel already knew Zexion through a mutual friend. Demyx was happy that he liked Axel's company and poked fun at his quiet roommate about it.
In the next month Roxas's group became steady and close; this stability was Roxas's saving grace. He wasn't used to having a full schedule and his classes were murder. But he managed to stay sane and found himself loving college more for the challenge it brought him.
Halloween was upon them and Roxas learned that Halloween in Madison was a huge deal. It was all anyone around him seemed to talk about.
The fashion apparel students were freakishly enthusiastic, Xion included.
He was walking with Xion after their last class of the day. She was ranting again about Halloween, which was a frequent occurrence in the last week. The fashion apparel students took Halloween as a challenge to create the best outfits and have a chance to show off their wicked sewing skills.
"Jeeze Roxas, you need to learn more about the traditions of Madison! Seriously, State Street on Halloween is mega-huge, right behind Mifflin. Thousands of people come from all over the Midwest to show off their Halloween costumes. Well, and to drink. This year I'm doing steampunk!"
Roxas nodded, wondering silently what the hell a steampunk was.
"But hey, be thankful I'm your friend! I talked to Axel and Dem and they both agreed that being a steampunk group would look collectively awesome."
"What's steampunk?" Roxas finally asked.
"Oh, it's like…" Xion's voice trailed away before she slid her blue eyes back to his. "… It's a hard genre to explain; just think Wild Wild West meets rugged technology. I've been working on a couple costumes in my spare time and I have one that would look epic on you."
Roxas's cell chimed in his pocket. He flipped it open and quickly scanned the message from Axel.
"Thanks Xion, for making me a costume. I probably would have just bought one-" Roxas started saying.
Xion shook her head furiously in response. She was clutching her fists tightly and marched forward with conviction, "Fuck that! You're adorable and you're going to wear the clothes I've made for you!"
Roxas sighed in resignation, "Adorable?" He echoed.
"Totally adorable," Axel's voice came from behind them. The pair spun around and saw their tall redheaded friend walking towards them in his casual strut. Something about that strut always put Roxas at ease.
"I was just about to text you." Roxas said, smiling up at Axel with the phone in hand.
Axel grinned back, "Yeah, but I heard Xion from a mile away freaking out about State Street."
"I wasn't freaking out," Xion wailed, facepalming into her hand.
Roxas nodded and comforted quietly, "More like mildly enthusiastic."
Axel chuckled, walking in step with them. "Well, either way, Halloween isn't till tomorrow night. Xion, I was going to ask if you wanna go skateboarding at Downing Park-"
"Nope and nope Axel. Not tonight. This night is far too crucial in regards to my costume preparations. You two should come and try them on. I won't have much time to make alterations tomorrow."
Roxas slid his eyes up to Axel, wondering what the older boy wanted to do.
Axel shrugged, "Well, then can I steal Roxas away for a couple hours? We'll stop back at your dorm later with Dem to try on our costumes."
Xion thought about it for a moment, putting a tiny finger against pursed lips. She finally nodded to herself, "Okay, you have fun boys. I'll check you later." She told them cheerfully, waving slightly as she split paths with them.
Roxas smiled softly at Xion's back before turning to trail behind Axel. Axel adjusted his pace so they could walk together, something that Roxas never failed to notice. Axel could easily walk faster than him but he would always wait for the blonds' shorter strides.
"So, skatepark?" Roxas asked, glancing up at Axel from the corner of his eye.
Axel shook his head, "No, I just said that to get Xion out of our hair for a minute. She was about to drag us with her to try on costumes. I have something even better to do."
Axel gave his cocky smirk before gently tugging at Roxas' wrist. Roxas followed him down an ally, where they made a sharp left turn.
Axel smiled to himself after he glanced back at Roxas. Most people would demand to know where they were being taken; Roxas never cared about stuff like that when he trusted the person he was with. Roxas always seemed at peace with the world, as if nothing could ruffle him.
"Now, okay, this is going to sound crazy right? But, you remember a couple nights ago you said you wouldn't mind a lip piercing?"
Roxas rolled his eyes, he didn't recall saying that. He never understood how Axel could remember random conversations.
"Well, I've got a friend who will do it for free. I'm going to get one too." Axel sounded proud of himself.
Roxas blinked slowly before nodding. A little more than two months ago he would have been freaked out about something like getting a facial piercing. But now, "Okay, let's do it."
"But there's a catch!" Axel stopped dead in his tracks and turned around. He seemed to tower of Roxas, but Roxas never found him intimidating.
"We have to get our hair done too."
Roxas gave him a dry look, raising one eyebrow. "Get our hair done? What are we, girls?"
Axel gave him a wounded pout, "No, for Halloween. I've been looking up that steampunk stuff that Xion keeps mentioning. It's pretty fun, actually. We are going to get our hair cut a little so we can gel it up and make our costumes perfect!"
Roxas was incredulous as they started walking again, "You really get into this whole Halloween thing, too, don't you?"
Axel nodded sincerely, "State Street on Halloween is a night to remember. It's one of the biggest parties in the entire United States. Plus, I got you a gift."
"What does a gift have to do with State Street?" Roxas retorted, amused, but Axel just kept pulling him along. They stopped outside a large tattoo shop.
Axel peered down at him, "You're really okay with this, right? You can take the piercing out if you totally hate it."
Roxas nodded, "I'm cool with this. Always try new things, right?"
Axel leaned down a few inches, burying slender fingers in blond spikes. Roxas' hair was soft and Axel loved touching it. Axel grinned in response that was shy, adorable, and happy and it made Roxas's mind skirt away.
'If only I could memorize that expression,' Roxas thought.
Roxas always saw himself as expressionless. His brother once told him that, and his father. His classmates could never understand why he was the brooding twin, while Sora was so bright and cheerful.
But the smile Roxas gave in return would have blown them away. It was such a heartbreakingly spunky expression, like a challenge, a dare.
Getting a lip piercing hadn't been the only thing. Axel also insisted that Roxas get his right ear pierced. He wouldn't tell Roxas why, so Roxas assumed it had something to do with his 'gift'.
An hour later, after Roxas made Axel hold his hand while the piercer stuck the needle through his lip, both college students looked noticeably different.
Roxas allowed this girl called Aqua to cut his hair; it was shortened in the back, with three lines shaved into his scalp on the left side of his head. His hair at the top could be easily fashioned into a Mohawk. The guy who pierced them, Terra, informed Roxas that ear-cuffs would really finish off the look he was going for. So Roxas did it, not really sure what look he was going for in the first place. His ear was stinging from the fresh holes, and his lip was swollen, but he didn't care.
Axel's hair was trimmed even shorter than Roxas, with only small spikes of red poking half-hazard. Axel had Terra pierce his lip in the exact same place as Roxas, even adding a cuff to his right ear. Roxas was oddly pleased that they now matched.
When they stood outside after their body modifications, Axel fished out a small package from his back pocket and handed it to Roxas. He lit a cigarette, watching Roxas open the envelope.
Inside a fake ID had Roxas' picture on it, saying he was born in 1989; along with a small chain that had two skull cuffs on either end. He looked up at Axel for an explanation.
"The fake is so we can get into State Street and still drink. The chain is for your costume tomorrow night. You attach either end to your piercings. It will look really cool, I promise."
Roxas laughed, holding the ID up against the sunlight to get a proper look, "Did you get a matching chain too?"
Axel nodded sheepishly. He'd been caught, "Yep."
They strolled away from the tattoo shop, both in a very good mood. Roxas was walking with an absent smile on his face. His new piercings made him look older, less innocent, and more assured of himself. His haircut made him look like a punk after band practice and gave him more confidence. Axel couldn't help but stare.
They arrived at Xion's who for her part had a conniption that they both got their hair done for her Halloween costumes. The costumes weren't finished; both boys could only try on the shirts and trousers.
They scrunched in Xion's tiny dorm-cell and took turns trying on what would be their outfits. Roxas' was a little too big in the shirt area and Axel's pants were too short. Xion beamed at both of them, and told them how amazing it would look once she made the modifications and they got the accessories on.
Roxas stared into Xion's small mirror, admiring his new piercings. He touched the cuff on his right ear gently as Xion and Axel bantered in the background. It was like embracing a new identity. An identity that conformed to the person who he was becoming, not the child he'd been. That identity matched his new best friends; these people whom he already couldn't imagine life without.
That night when he got back to his dormroom he asked Demyx to teach him how to play the guitar. Demyx was thrilled to share his passion of music, of course, but he was equally confused.
"What's this all the sudden?" Dem asked, rolling onto his stomach up on his loft-bed and staring down at Roxas.
Roxas rested his chin on his desk, thinking about it for a long moment.
"Well, you and Axel are both in that band. I figured if I learn how to play, we would all have more to talk about. More in common, you know?"
"Yeah, but you already go skateboarding with Axel and we're roommates." Demyx reasoned, "Why need another connection?"
Roxas dropped his face into his hands, trying to ignore the warmth that blazed his cheeks.
"I just want to hang out with you guys more." Roxas finally mumbled, clearly embarrassed.
Demyx stared down at his fish-print pillow, deep in thought. This was about Axel, he was sure of it. Roxas was oddly attached to Axel since the moment he'd met the pyro.
'I wonder if he likes Axel,' Demyx wondered, before saying aloud, "Of course I'd love to teach you to play, Roxas. We can start after Halloween. I'll schedule a practice-room in the music building, I think if we try to play in the dorms some of the other kids are gonna kill us for making such a racket."
Roxas gave him a small smile, nodding shortly as he finally climbed into his bed and pulled the comforter around him. Dem reached over and flipped off the lights.
"So tomorrow is State Street." Roxas stated quietly.
"Yep!" Demyx replied sounding wistful. "It's going to be a night you will never forget. Or at least, hopefully remember most of. Halloween is where you can pretend to be the person you always wanted to be. That's why I love it so much. A great big day of make-believe that is acceptable for adults!"
Roxas buried his face in his pillow, trying to ignore the sting from his lip. He sighed absently, a vision of red hair directly beneath his eyelids.
"We'll take lots of pictures, right?" Roxas asked. "I don't have a camera, but I really need some pictures with you guys. We can put them all over the room, cheer this cell up. For the memories." Roxas's voice was laden with nostalgia.
"Of course. Zexion is coming, and he's going to be bringing his camera. He has a nice Nikon; I think he's kind of obsessed with photography. Plus, he doesn't drink so he'll snap good pictures."
Roxas blinked, startled. "You know Zexion?" He had never told his roommate about his quiet bookish friend. It had simply never come up in conversation.
Dem laughed openly, "Of course I know Zexion. We've been friends since like the first week of classes last year. Same math class, he saved my ass in that course. He told me that you guys go to bookstores together? I could see that, you're on the same wavelength. I thought you already knew since that's how Axel met him."
Roxas tried to imagine Demyx and Zexion together, walking side by side. He could only imagine Dem jabbering away, and Zexion glaring at the ground not wanting to speak.
"Zexion is going to dress as death god or something," Demyx mentioned offhandedly.
"To bad Xion couldn't have made him a costume." Roxas replied.
"No, Zexy is pretty self-reliant. He doesn't let other people do the things he knows he can accomplish," Dem explained. "He absolutely hates to ask for help of any kind."
Roxas rolled over to face Demyx again and said truthfully, "I honestly can't imagine you too hanging out."
Demyx's voice was downtrodden, "I know. That's what Axel always says. We are totally different. But I can't help but really like Zexion, he's so smart and funny. He's always himself, and he always dances to his own music. Well, not that he dances but you get the idea."
Roxas blinked, "Really like?"
Dem sighed, 'If this vibe I'm getting is right,' he thought. He figured Roxas was a good person anyway, even if he wasn't totally right about this hunch he knew that his roommate wouldn't hate him for it.
"Roxas, I'm not sure if you caught this fact yet, but I'm gay." Demyx informed him matter-of-factly.
"Not gay for you of course, haha! I like Zexion, he's my secret crush." Demyx added.
Roxas sat straight up, nearly plowing his head into the ceiling in startled surprise. Demyx flipped the lights back on, staring at his roommate cautiously. He really hoped Roxas wasn't upset.
But on the contrary, Roxas seemed fascinated.
"You are?" He asked. He didn't sound disgusted at all.
Demyx nodded, "I was plenty out in high school, got a lot of shit for it. Got beat up more times than I can count, one of the reasons I went to a liberal school like Madison. Don't have to worry about homo-haters here in Mad-town."
Roxas nodded, twiddling his fingers nervously, "Okay, so you like Zexion. What are you going to do about it?"
Demyx's head dropped to his pillow, "Nothing. Zexion isn't gay. Or at least, if he is he's really good at hiding it."
"How do you know?" Roxas was skeptical.
Demyx gave him a wry look, "Are you serious? My gay-dar of course."
Roxas chuckled nervously; Demyx could tell there was something on his mind.
"…Most of my friends are gay, actually," Demyx continued, hinting heavily as he leaned his weight forward on his blankets.
"…Most?" Demyx rolled his eyes at the sound of blatant hope in Roxas' tone.
"Yeah. Like Xigbar, and Markle. Axel too." Demyx tried to feign nonchalance though his tone was careful and controlled. He didn't want to expose his excitement at the look that flashed across Roxas's face.
Roxas stared at the wall past Dem's head. He seemed to be absorbing this information though he looked anxious.
"Has Axel…" Roxas started, "had boyfriends before?"
"Yep, he dated this guy last year for a little while. They broke it off cause the guy said Axel only cared about the band and school. He didn't like how much Axel partied, bit of a prat really."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Well, it meant that Axel didn't have much time to hang out. Axel said that his next lover should at least have similar hobbies to him."
The blond was silent.
Demyx finally relented, "Roxas, can I ask you something?"
"Do you… like Axel?"
Roxas's mouth dropped, he couldn't stop the startled squeak. The answer was already written all over his face, a deep blush staining his cheeks.
"Um, he's my friend. Axel doesn't like me like that!" Roxas insisted.
The musician didn't know anyone could be so naive, "Roxas, Axel didn't hang out with his ex as much as you. He even paid for you to get piercings and a haircut, and bought you a fake ID for Halloween."
"But Axel said those piercings were free."
The dry look Demyx gave him made Roxas aware of how gullible he was. Of course Axel paid for them; he just hadn't said anything. But why would he do that? That must have been expensive. So, what was Demyx implying?
Roxas peered at his roommate, the words forming on his lips. "What are you saying?"
Demyx smiled at him while he reached over to flip off the lights.
"Figure it out, Roxas. You're a clever boy."