Part IX. Adversity Makes a Man Wise

By DXM Junkie


Riku was in a foul mood and he did not want to be at this party anymore. He wanted to find Sora, drag him and Kairi home, and forget that this stupid night ever happened.

When Cloud spoke to Sora, offering them a condescending invite, Riku was stunned by the expression on Cloud's normally friendly face. It was harsh and cruel, bitter and unforgiving. Sora was openly shaken by Cloud's condemnation, but Riku didn't let it show that he felt the same. Riku wondered what lies Roxas had spewed about Sora. Only lies would make Cloud hate the cheerful kid this much.

Sora was firm with his decision to attend, because Cloud said Roxas would be there. Even Kairi tried to talk him out of it, but the brunette was unrelenting so they finally bent. Both of his best mates subsequently promised to stay by his side throughout the night.

Watching Roxas play on stage only pissed him off further. It was like watching an unnerving nightmare. This kid who had been so righteously silent was now hypocritically prancing around a stage singing spiteful punk songs. He was such a little poser; Riku knew that this performance was a sham.

The way Roxas was able to smile and laugh openly while Sora was shaken and upset astounded him.

Riku never liked Roxas, even when they were kids. They were forced together more times than he could count, and Riku always resented him. Roxas was arrogant, self-serving and attention seeking. Riku knew that he caused Sora's biggest scars and didn't give a shit about any person's pain other than his own.

This new Roxas was taking that lavish decadence to the next dimension. This new Roxas had trailer trash piercings all over his face and got into a fistfight with Seifer. After Tidus told Riku about the fight, he'd been inwardly elated. It was what Roxas deserved, after all, being punched across the face. Roxas was an undeserving brat who always had no respect for himself or others. Riku wouldn't be able to live with himself if he had a history like Roxas.

Riku wasn't sure why he despised Roxas with such passion, uncaring of the consequences. But he did. Whenever Roxas smiled, Riku felt cheated.

That ass caused his best friend more pain that could ever be spoken aloud. Riku alone had been there to pick of the pieces during Sora's darkest hours, and Riku wanted to protect the brunette from anything, even his family. Roxas was a threat, and Riku didn't want him poisoning Sora's mind.

Riku had not seen Sora in nearly an hour, and this didn't sit well with him. It was obvious that Roxas and his friends were horrid influences; their outward appearance was outlandish and gay looking. It was like watching an emo-screamo commercial with how they dressed, dancing around like they thought they were clever.

Riku blanched at the skin-tight pants and the kid-sized shirts the band dawned. One of the kids had this disgusting Mohawk-mullet, while another had hair that covered his eyes. The thick makeup smeared across their faces would attract drag queens. Even if the music they played was decent enough, the songs were too personal, hit too close to home. When Roxas had sung at Sora, the poor guy nearly started sobbing. Riku wanted to throttle Roxas, but couldn't because of the crowd.

Kairi later dragged him to set of tables and began playing a drinking game after the bands final song. She wasn't very good at it and didn't score many points but their buddy Tidus taught her the basic rules. Riku kept his eyes peeled for Sora as they played two rounds, but he didn't see the brunette anywhere. He wasn't really getting into the game anyway because he was too apprehensive. He was unable to focus on anything, instead he felt like he was dazed.

Riku finally waved to Kairi, grabbed his drink and went off in search of his friend. Most of the other guests had gone outside to watch the drummer Ollie off the balcony. Maybe Sora had gone with.

The outside patio was packed with people; they were all laughing and jolly and way too fucking loud. Riku glared as he walked, his eyes scanning the faces with disinterest. His cheeks felt flushed from the alcohol he had been downing.

He spotted Sora in the back corner of the deck with Roxas and his band. They were laughing loudly, talking with ostentatious hand gestures. Cloud was nowhere in sight. Sora had a beer in one hand and his eyes were glazed. Riku stiffened with displeasure. This fucking band had gotten the kid drunk.

Riku stormed silently over to them, crossing his arms in front of Sora. Sora giggled up at him cheerfully, "Hey, Riku!"

"What are you doing, Sora?" Riku asked quietly, his voice remaining steady.

The redhead slung his arm around Sora's shoulder, pulling the shorter guy against his chest with a cocky smirk and swiftly spoke with a Southern accent, "We are just talkin' and drinkin' and having a golly ol' fashioned swell time."

Riku glared at the redhead before turning his attention to his inebriated friend, "Sora, I think it's time to leave."

Sora frowned, "But I don't want to leave. I'm catching up with Roxas and meeting his friends. They are super nice, and really interesting. They are telling me all about Halloween in Madison, apparently it's the biggest Halloween party in the country!"

The Mohawk kid smiled over at him, obviously pleased by Sora's exuberance. Riku wanted to rip the giant gage right out of his dirty-hippie ear.

"So what, you guys are suddenly peachy-keen now? Even after he was such a dick to you when he was playing earlier?" Riku retorted sharply.

Roxas bristled, swiftly standing up before moving so his face was mere inches away from Riku's face. He looked taller than he actually was when he stood like that, his shoulders arched with his back rigid. His cerulean eyes, the same as Sora's, were dancing with anger. Sora reached out to grab his brother's arm but Roxas shrugged it off and took a small step forward. Riku leaned away from him.

"This is none of your fucking business, Riku. Maybe you should leave?" Roxas asked him slowly, annunciating his words with open resentment.

Riku snorted in humorless amusement, "Oh, what, you think you can scare me Roxas? That heavy makeup and slutty clothes don't hid what's underneath- a fucking selfish queer."

Roxas's face melted into surprise, his mouth gaping open. There was no way that Riku could know about Axel. It wasn't possible. The silver-haired devil was probably just using the term as an insult, not literally. But it scared Roxas and his stomach tightened as a wave of nausea unsteadied him.

Sora moved his arms between them, separating them, "Stop," he turned to glare at his friend, not at all amused by Riku's behavior while anxiously asking, "Seriously, what's your problem?"

Riku grabbed Sora's arm and was about to pull him away when he blinked sharply in surprise. Sora stared back up at him blankly as Riku leaned over to sniff Sora's t-shirt. Roxas remained motionless, watching them but not really seeing properly. Axel moved next to him and was holding his elbow, slender fingers curling softly around his bare skin. Roxas unconsciously backed up into the warmth of Axel's chest, his lungs deflating as the redhead's arms wrapped around his back discreetly.

Riku pulled away from Sora in disgust, frantically yelping, "You've been smoking pot, Sora? What the fuck are you thinking? Do you know how stupid that shit is?"

Sora blushed, edging away from his oldest friend as he tried to explain himself, "Well, it was just to try it."

Riku pointed directly at Roxas, he was near hysterics, "This is your fucking fault, you little shit. You come home for not even a day and your fucking giving Sora drugs?"

Axel's body pounded with adrenalin as he cautiously stared at Riku with open dislike. He was waiting for Riku to make a move; he would not allow anyone else to harm Roxas again, not now or ever.

Axel felt his fist clench in apprehension as he thought, 'Over my dead body.'

The redhead motioned to step forward but Xion and Demyx held him back by the hem of his shirt. Roxas moved in front of them while holding his arms out to keep the band mates back. He didn't want them getting hurt, Riku was obviously freaking the hell out. Even Sora was shocked by his uncharacteristic behavior.

Roxas's friends were silent and cautious as they watched the exchange from behind him. They were ready to move at a moments notice. Zexion had slipped out anonymously to go find Cloud and Leon. Xion looked close to tears, Demyx's eyes had gone dull with sadness.

Demyx felt his arms wrap around his body as he thought about the insults that the prep directed at Roxas. Queer. He had heard that word way too many times. The tone Riku used reminded him of how the jocks had said it as they raped him.

Roxas noticed Sora deflating with shame at Riku's countenance. A spark of pure anger jolted through him as he screamed back loudly, "Oh, and what, you're his keeper now? The one who tells him what he can and cannot do? Sora's twenty-two-years-old for fucks sake. You are the one acting like a queer, following him around your whole lives like a lapdog."

His words got the intended reaction. Riku was suddenly unhinged; his cheeks flushed while his lips curled into an unbecoming snarl. The next thing anyone knew, Riku's fist was directly in front of Roxas's face, aiming right where he had been bruised earlier. Roxas would have been completely unable to block the punch.

But before the blow could be delivered, Axel animated with a shout and quickly snatched the kid's wrist to dig his fingers deep into the skin; his nails pinching tender flesh as he twisted the trapped arm around painfully.

Axel clenched his fist and swiftly punched Riku across his cheekbone as hard as he could. He released all his anger, all his frustrations about this stupid Island that Roxas was regrettably from into the punch, his fist immediately smarting as pain shot up his arm.

He felt his blood thrum in his ears as Riku toppled to the ground with a thud; a few people were moving back in surprise, yelping anxiously. Sora stared down at Riku in disbelief. Roxas quickly moved to grab Axel but the redhead protectively shoved the blond away as Riku regained his footing. Roxas tumbled into Demyx, who held him upright as Riku started walking forward.

Sora darted in front of him, pushing Riku away from his brother to stop them from fighting. Riku began cradling his cheek as his whole body trembled in frustration. Riku felt his heart freeze when he looked down at the brunette.

Sora was crying, silent tears of agony pouring down his tanned cheeks. His eyes reflected his pure shock and disgust at Riku's actions; Sora's gaze narrowed into a disdainful glare. Riku felt his blood grow cold as Sora turned his face away in resignation, his gaze directed at his brother as he spoke.

"Never go near my brother again, Riku." Sora said quietly, only a handful of people heard the words.

Sora was silent for a moment before repeating, "Never go near him again."

Roxas felt a swell of affection for his kin despite the horrid circumstances. Riku looked stunned, unable to comprehend Sora's countenance and words.

Sora's shoulders hunched over as he curled his arms around his stomach and stormed away without another glance in Riku's direction.

Xion quickly darted after him, Riku motioning to follow. Axel saw this and firmly shoved him away, nearly knocking him over again. Axel firmly stood his ground as if daring Riku to fight back, a cold chuckle escaping his lips as Riku held his arms up in defense.

Roxas thought Axel looked frightening. He had never seen his boyfriend so livid before. He'd seen him pissed, frustrated, and upset… but never so blatantly menacing. Axel wasn't meant to fight people, plain and simple. And he wasn't the type to drunk and get aggressive. If anything, drinking just made the man horny, Roxas knew this best of all.

But right now Axel was two seconds away from beating the fucking shit out of Riku.

Axel snarled louder, his voice venom as he spat in Riku's face while the smaller man tried to scurry backwards, "If you ever try to touch my boyfriend again, I will fucking kill you."

The people on the patio were loud, pointing over at the fight with interest and gossiping indiscreetly. Axel turned his glare on the crowd, silently demanding them to mind their own business. They turned away in shame when he met questioning glances. The random people shriveled under that gaze; his green eyes were eerie with their omnipresent psychotic reassurance. Roxas noticed Pence and Olette standing a couple yards behind Sora, their faces were aghast as they were quickly pushed aside by a disheveled Cloud, who flung past them. Cloud was next to Riku in a heartbeat.

The toned surfer snatched Riku's shirt aggressively, all but dragging him off his feet and towards the side-exit of the balcony. The collar of Riku's shirt was choking him, his face pounding while his vision blurred by unbidden tears. Cloud practically shoved Riku off the deck; he barely managed to land on his feet. Cloud was a blur when Riku looked up at him in disbelief.

"Get the fuck out of here and don't come back." Cloud told him sternly, turning around and disappearing behind the crowd without another word.

A few Islanders were pointing at him as Riku spit blood out of his mouth and strode away, trying to appear confident with his hands jabbed in his pockets. But inside he felt empty and sadly pathetic.

Cloud found Roxas where he'd left him before cautiously ruffling his hair while checking for damage. He finally pouted over at Axel, visually flustered. Blond spikes were rumpled and his clothes wrinkled and messily assembled. His lips were puffy and he had a love bite on the curve of his color bone.

"What did you do this time?" Cloud asked quietly, crossing his arms. Axel smiled absently, biting his lip to oppress a laugh. Cloud was clearly not happy, and Axel had three guesses why- none of which concerned Leon and the nearest horizontal surface available.

Roxas stepped forward after a long moment of silence to defend the redhead, "Cloud, Riku was trying to hit me. Axel stopped him."

Cloud rolled his eyes down at his fellow Islander in amused disbelief, "Seriously? You're a menace, Rox, you realize that right? Not even home for a fortnight and you're already bruised and battered."

Roxas snorted out a laugh, "That's a little much."

Cloud finally let out a deep breath while his voice remained reproachful, "Well, next time you plan on getting beat up tonight, find someone else to be the bouncer. I was like seconds away from a perfect orgasm, that you quit frankly ruined that with this buzzkill bullshit."

Roxas let out a surprised laugh, cheeks flushing with that same naïve innocence Cloud recognized from when they first met, "Oh, I… I guess I didn't…. mean to interrupt."

Axel frowned, glaring down over at his friends. Zexion had rejoined Demyx and they were chatting with the girls over by the bar. Demyx was informing Yuffie about what had happened, Aerith looked downtrodden as she stared down at the bar. Axel saw that Tifa was upset, and when she met Axel's gaze she quickly ran over.

"You okay, Ax? How's your hand?" The bartender asked, putting her hand on his arm with concern.

Roxas turned around in surprise, blindly reaching for his boyfriend's wrist to examine the aforementioned appendage. His knuckles were puffy and white-colored. Roxas thought that it looked painful and it was Roxas's turn to glare up at Axel with disapproval. Axel thought he looked adorable like that, and despite his throbbing hand Axel allowed a small smile.

"You fucking idiot." Roxas told his lover, his fingers curling around Axel's wrist as he carefully examined the damage. Axel noticed that Roxas was pale and probably needed a stiff drink. Axel glanced over at Tifa and gave her a wistful smile.

"Hey Tif? Would'ya be a right proper doll and get us all a round of strong shots?" He asked dolefully.

Tifa nodded in understanding and clapped his shoulder before standing and returning to the bar. Axel sunk into the seat he had been occupying before Riku had crapped on their lives, his hands buried into the long tresses of his thick hair as he tugged at the clumps. He finally buried his face into his hands.

Roxas crouched beside him, his soft palm resting on Axel's neck as he quietly inquired, "I need to go find Sora. Wanna come?"

Axel shook his head negative, as he groaned into his hands, "No, I'm fucking done with this night. I'm going back upstairs after this shot and passing the hell out. And you should come with me to coddle and comfort me. Today was fucking lame."

Roxas absently smiled at his boyfriend's pitiful countenance, "I can't go to bed just yet. We are leaving Ainu late tomorrow afternoon and I won't have another chance to talk with Sora in person before we go."

Axel looked up at him bleakly from between his fingertips, "Would you care to enlighten me as to how you two became cuddly again?"

Roxas released a tentative smile, and uncaringly leaned forward. He let his lips brush the smooth skin of Axel's forehead, and his fingers curled tenderly around the nape of Axel's slim neck. Roxas's eyes were calm and compassionate as he stared intently at his boyfriend, and even though he was visibly haggard Axel found him stunningly gorgeous.

"When you left us alone upstairs, I told him that I am madly in love with you. Sora was okay with it, even after all the drama. And he told me to be happy." Roxas's voice was barely above a whisper. Axel was blank for a moment before finally grinning in elation. He hugged Roxas too his chest, overwhelmed at the unexpected approval.

"I actually really like your brother." He amended into Roxas's hair, knowing he had taken back any previous negative thoughts for his boyfriend's sibling.

Tifa brought out a round of double shots; motioning for the group to join her at the table she rested the tray on. Cloud already disappeared again (probably to find Leon) so only Tifa, Aerith, Yuffie, Zexion, Demxy, Xion, Axel and Roxas toasted to their health at the end of the night. After they downed the shots with a harsh sting at the bitter liquid, the group left in pairs to clean up, drink more, or pass out.

It was already three in the morning, and when Demyx and Zexion went inside to go upstairs, Cloud started ushering people home. Leon was still nowhere in sight.

For Cloud, saying goodnight to so many people was tedious. All he wanted to do was head straight upstairs to his warm bed and his boyfriend's even warmer body and indulging in foreplay before attaining well-deserved rest. Cloud was on edge for too many hours, not really relaxed or comfortable. This hadn't been an unfounded fear on his part. Both Roxas and Demyx were walking away from this vacation with bruised faces and the derogatory slur 'faggot' echoing in the back of their minds.

Cloud was also trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he would also be associated with that word after tonight.

Earlier, Zexion pounded on his bedroom door while Leon and him were having a quickie. After telling them how Riku was getting aggressive, Cloud frantically pulled his pants back on and started to run down stairs. He'd been leaning over to kiss Leon one last time when Selphie barged around the corner and caught them mid lip lock. She squealed and ran off before he could even choke out an excuse. Cloud imaged that he would receive a call from his emulated father in a few days (maybe even a few hours), asking him about rumors and reputation.

And at this moment, Cloud felt like he would simply tell his father the truth. He would cross his arms behind his back and flatly state that he found his soul mate on the beach in Dunedin. They had grown close in Madison, and when they finally started dating he couldn't remember being so disgustingly blissful. He was in love with Squall Leonheart, who was most decidedly a male, and unwilling to leave his side at any cost.

How would he voice these things aloud? These simple, honest facts? That Leon made him work harder and aspire to be willful and ambitious? How would he explain that even if things sometimes got hard between them, because that happened to gay and straight couples alike, they would inevitably work around anything and everything?

Even if they broke up- it was unfathomable to forget one another. They would probably wind up back together after a stint of lonely rejection, and this oddly comforted Cloud. Because even if shit got super bad, he would explain, Leon made him a better man.

Cloud sighed to himself as he started pushing people out the front door. He mused humorlessly, 'And then, dad would shit his pants and attempt to murder me.'

At least both of his bruised friends possessed lovers who would do anything to protect them, and he was sure after they left Ainu things would return to normal.

Outside, Roxas was reaching over to pull at Axel's hair softly as he quietly spoke, "We'll talk tomorrow, okay? You look so tired, Ax."

He added teasingly, "It muddles your girlish figure. Go get some sleep, and I'll join you soon." Roxas ruffled his boyfriends hair and lowered his voice a little, "I love you."

Axel was overwhelmingly exhausted as he stood, curling his arm around Roxas and weakly planting a kiss to the silky mop of hair. Axel made sure not to touch Roxas's forehead, but felt clumsy when he pulled away. Now that the adrenaline had worn off he was far too tired to care about PDA rules. Most of the people were leaving or already gone anyway. And most were too drunk to remember such a transgression.

Axel noted that these Islanders couldn't hold their alcohol. They downed booze like it was water despite having a low tolerance. It was pure stupidity, and it reminded Axel of his high school years. Back when him and Dem started pilfering alcohol from Cid's cabinet, and got sloppy drunk together in his bedroom.

And if anything- the word queer on this Island was probably going to take new meaning after tonight. Roxas and the group would be long gone to miss all consequences, and Axel didn't give a fuck about the gossip anymore. This place wasn't worth his time. As long as Roxas was satisfied, that was all that mattered.

"I love you, babe." Axel responded discreetly as he quickly pecked the boy's forehead one last time and wandered off in the direction of their bedroom.

Roxas felt his chest warm with affection and he wanted to chase after his lover. They would strip naked and crawl under the covers and he would bury himself into that familiar embrace until every inch of his body was languidly relaxed. Then they would wake up and make love before they left, slow and affectionate. Perhaps Roxas would take him up on the bet-prize Axel owed him. Roxas felt hot at the idea of dominating his masculine boyfriend in such a manner.

'That would be wonderful,' Roxas mused.

But he would think about that later; Roxas needed to find Sora. He knew his brother was probably being emo in a corner, and how he loathed fighting with Riku. Even as children, they had only gotten into four or five huge fights. Roxas didn't know how things were now, but Sora had always been miserable when he wasn't talking to his best friend.

Roxas never understood why Sora cared about Riku so much; Roxas thought he'd always been a prat. Even if Sora could find the good in anyone, Roxas wondered if his brother was simply naïve.

Riku wasn't very nice to Sora either, often ordering around and pressuring him. Despite this, Sora hero-worshipped him while growing up. Sora could blab for hours when they were younger about how cool and mature Riku was. Roxas had always rolled his eyes when he thought about the narcissistic overachiever. Riku was always self-righteous; exhibiting an arrogant holier-than-thou mentality. And Sora was far too good-natured to spot the hypocrisy.

Roxas bet that Riku was going to feel like a downright jackass when he awoke with a bruised face the next morning. At least Roxas had been protecting someone when he got his injury; Riku had just been acting like a dick.

Roxas weaved back through the kitchen into the living room. The place had been trashed with crumpled wrappers and empty red cups scattered everywhere. Empty bottles of liquor littered the floor; the room retained the odd musk from when all the sweaty people had been packed together. Zexion told Roxas earlier that Leon brought their instruments back upstairs after the show (while he was getting ready to Ollie off the balcony). Roxas was grateful for his thoughtfulness; he had been too occupied to notice.

Leon was a good sport about pranks, probably immune to them after living with Cloud for so long. And Roxas felt Leon was the perfect choice do to the dive.

Roxas though that the older brunette was devastatingly erotic as he dove feet-first into the pool shirtless, his toned muscles flexed tight. Roxas had noticed Cloud's heated gaze, and it inevitably comforted him as it always did when he spotted visible signs of affection from the stoic couple.

However, he was mentally drained, probably more so than Axel. He already knew that he would need a long time to he process what had happened during that inimitable night. Playing live, coming out to his brother, Axel defending him, Seifer punching Demyx, the feeling of weightlessness at how he knew everything would be just fine tomorrow morning. Like a like a mother tells a bawling brat to soothe them into slumber.

Roxas spotted his brother spread-eagle on the couch by the bay window, talking quietly with Xion. Xion had her legs curled under her; the pink fabric of her dress was elegantly draped over the armrest. Sora's eyes were puffy and red and he was hiccupping to himself as he downed another beer. Xion appeared strained, her expression tight when he approached.

Roxas gave a crooked smile as he waved at Xion, trying to appear cheerful despite his brother's obvious inner-angst, "Hey Sora, you okay?"

Sora looked up at Roxas before wailing loudly as he hiccupped unavoidably, "I'm so sorry about… *hic* Riku. I didn't… *hic* know he would do that…. and seriously… I've never seen him act like such a dick."

Roxas chuckled as he sank onto the chair next to Xion, "Yeah, well. I was startled when he called me a queer. I never saw him as a perceptive kind of guy."

Sora looked guilt-stricken but forced the words out, "Axel… *hic*… called you his boyfriend during the fight. I've heard people talking about it since then, by tomorrow the whole Island will probably… *hic* know… but I don't… think dad will find out for a while."

Roxas groaned, his head dropping into his hand; he'd been expecting that. He didn't fault Axel for what he said; it had been in the heat of the moment and Axel was chockfull of good intentions. And he could never fault his lover for trying to protect him.

So Roxas focused on Sora's previous words, "Why wouldn't dad find out?"

"Because I think most people…. Were cool with it, actually." Sora mumbled, trying to hold his breath and rid himself of the hiccups.

Roxas blinked in surprise, looking over at Xion for confirmation.

She nodded while imitating an Islander with a mockingly heavy surfer accent, "Yeah, they were all like, 'Dude, that Roxas kid is, like, totally fucking badass. So who cares if he's homo? I heard Selphie saw Cloud macking on that drummer dude upstairs, no lie! But Cloud's still a million times more manly than you, haha.'"

Somehow nothing anyone told him could surprise him. Normally Xion's nonchalant words would have found him agape with disbelief. The Island's close-minded mentality suddenly forgiving? Not in this lifetime.

But if Cloud had been caught showing affection for Leon, this proverbially paved the way for Roxas's sexuality. Roxas filed this information away before focusing his attention back to Sora.

"It's not your fault about Riku, Sora, so don't worry about it. I wasn't offended, more pissed that Axel's hand got hurt on his face."

Roxas frowned retrospectively, "You know, Riku has always hated me, even when we were kids."

Sora twiddled his fingers with awkward resolution. His hiccups were finally absent when he spoke, his words oddly sober, "Yeah, I know that. When you were silent and stuff during high school he was always quick to judge."

Roxas was silent, watching Sora bit his lip with shame, "And when… I sent you that email after dad got remarried… about how nobody missed you and stuff…it was mostly Riku who wrote that. I just… sat next to him… let him type it out, and send it."

Roxas snorted, "I figured as much. You suck at writing, Sora, and that email didn't sound like you."

Sora downed more of his beer, excess spilling down his chin. His eyes were glazed and disoriented as he looked around blankly. Sora was obviously too drunk to go anywhere. Roxas glanced over at Xion who was fiddling with her camera.

"Have you been feeding him beer?" He asked her, a little amused.

Xion hummed, watching Sora stare at the lights outside, "Yeah, well. He was crying and… it's kind of devastating to watch him cry, so, I just kinda grabbed a six pack and sat back and let him ramble."

Sora was hiccupping again as Xion continued, "I figured he could just stay here anyway, since there are like a hundred rooms in this mansion."

Roxas yawned, bringing his legs up so he could rest his chin on his knee. Xion giggled, reaching over to toy with a strand of Roxas's hair.

"Did you like the party?" She asked, her fingers brushing through his hair to massage his scalp. Roxas let his eyes flutter shut as he groaned, nodding as he felt the tension leave his body.

"Yeah," he responded, "I guess I did. I didn't think this was a good idea, but-" Roxas glanced up at his brother whose head was lolling against his shoulder, "It was."

In the background they heard Cloud shouting, kicking out the last of the stragglers who were stubbornly refusing to leave. He slammed the front door shut and began combing his hands through his hair. He waved at them despondently, disappearing moments later up the stairs with mumbled words.

Roxas sat up after a long moment, Xion removing her hand. Roxas smiled down at her affectionately, "I'm going to get Sora into a spare room. G'night, Xion. Thanks for everything tonight, sweetie."

Roxas wound his arm around Sora's waist, pulling him upright. It took a while, but he was finally able to deposited Sora into a spare room with a glass of water next to his bedside. Roxas was still buzzed from the end-of-the-night double shot, so he nearly tripped when he tried to write out his phone number for Sora.

He stumbled out, having a little difficulty finding his room. When he finally found it, he tore off his clothes with wild abandon and flopped into the bed, body quickly curling into Axel's warmth.

Axel awoke for a moment, just long enough to wrap his arms around Roxas.

Roxas felt his brain shut down as Axel nuzzled into his ear. He shifted his fingers around the redhead's slender wrist, kissing the slender digits affectionately. As his eyes finally shut with Axel's strong musk lulling him, Roxas blissfully slept.

In his dreams that night Axel took Sora and himself to a picnic at Stony Park in downtown Madison. They munched on pineapples and smoked incredibly long cigarettes. Demyx appeared and forced Sora to drink brandy. They got in a car and went to a gay club; Sora was taking dance pointers from Leon. As they were dancing, Sora suddenly confessed to him that he was dispassionately in love with…

That was all Roxas could remember.


The next morning was rushed and frantic.

They were supposed to leave on Cloud's yacht by three in the afternoon, but when Tifa woke up first it was already past noon.

Tifa awoke Yuffie and Aerith in a panic, and the group of girls proceeded to pull the boys out of bed and force them to get ready. Aerith got an eyeful when she yanked the covers off Leon and Cloud, but she didn't say a word.

The group of friends was incredibly dehydrated, and had been so focused on the party that they had forgotten to prepare for the next part of the vacation. So as they downed large glasses of water, they delegated responsibilities to one another.

They still had to pack their stuff, bring it to the marine, purchase food, load the boat, prepare to sail and depart in three hours.

None of the group really spoke, most just sipped black coffee in resignation as they tried to remember specific tasks at hand.

Roxas was hungover as hell when he packed all the stuff messily into his bag. He forced his belongings to fit before throwing them carelessly into the back of the rental car.

He was sweating and irritated as he helped Leon load their instruments and other luggage, which felt much heavier in his sluggish state. He hadn't forgotten the stale humidity of the Islands, but he didn't miss it.

Around two in the afternoon the group finally left Cloud's house. Tifa and Aerith insisted that they should clean after the party, but Cloud assured them the hired help was paid well enough to manage.

The marine from where they were departing was located in a cove on the east end of the Island. The waves were gentle along the docks, but the dock was still narrow when hauling heavy suitcases.

Roxas felt miserable as the group pulled luggage aboard the vessel. His head was pounding from the bruise and he felt nauseous. His only comfort was Axel handing him icy bottles of water while patting his back softly.

Right before they were set to sail, Yuffie and Aerith managed to spend over $300 on food and drink at the grocery store for the three-day trip. Cloud rolled his eyes as the girls tried to explain themselves, but Cloud was already well aware that this trip was more expensive than he'd initially planned.

Roxas was lying on his back by the boat waiting for Leon to return from bringing the rental car back so they could finally depart. Axel had already gone inside to their small cubby to pass out.

"Hey, Rox!" A voice called out from several meters away.

Roxas glanced up, squinting as he saw his brother's slim body stride down the dock. Sora was wearing a fresh t-shirt and boxers and obviously showered. Roxas was envious; he felt gross right now. But he quickly pulled his body upright, wrapping his arms around his legs even as his stomach lurched in protest.

Even if Sora had been incredibly drunk the night before, he was still perfectly cheerful as he bounced near his brother before crouching next to him. Roxas envied him as he weakly smiled, nevertheless pleased that his brother had come to say goodbye.

Sora slung the backpack off his shoulder and handed it to him, smiling as Roxas reached to grab the preferred bag.

"That has your old sketchbooks from high school. Dad tried to throw them away after you left, but I grabbed them out of the trash because they are too beautiful."

Roxas smiled earnestly at his brother as he hugged the backpack to his chest, "Thank you."

Sora chuckled, "And I bought you a cell phone this morning. Unlike you, I apparently make money at my job. That phone has unlimited long distance minutes, so call me whenever. We need to seriously catch up."

Roxas nodded, slinging the bag around his back as he stood up. He reached over and hugged his brother, feeling at peace as his brothers arms wrapped around him.

They had been to this exact beach hundreds of times before. Either searching for seashells or bringing Kairi's tugboat out to the smaller Island just a mile beyond. Roxas had held the tiller while Sora balanced the small boat, Kairi squealing in delight even while they almost toppled over.

As Roxas pulled away from the hug he was frowning thoughtfully.

"Have you spoken with Riku?" He asked.

Sora frowned, his mood immediately turning sour, "No, not yet. I've called him but he won't answer his phone. I thing he's too ashamed right now to talk."

Roxas rolled his eyes, "Or too hungover. But Sora, seriously, I don't care about Riku right now. Forgive him, it doesn't matter."

Sora glared in astonishment, "Of course it matters, he was suck a prick last night!"

Roxas barked out a laugh before responding, "Yeah, he was. But I'm going home soon, and Riku can't touch me. You're the one who has to deal with him."

Sora huffed, leaning back and gazing up at the clear blue sky. They listened to the waves lapping against the beach for a long minute before Sora finally faced him with stern determination.

"Roxas, I want to leave the Destiny Islands."

Roxas idly shut his eyes, "Do you?"

Sora nodded, almost to himself, "Yes."

Roxas smiled back up at him, extending his hand, "Then come with us."

Sora stared blankly at him, "Now?"

"Right now."

"But- I don't have clothes or anything." Sora sounded embarrassed.

"OH!" Xion cried out, starling the siblings as she jumped onto the dock and trying to appear as if she hadn't been eavesdropping.

"Sora! You comin' with us? Do it! I have tons of extra clothes." She yelled exuberantly, obviously amused.

"Yeah, he should come." Leon stated, striding toward the boat with a backpack around his shoulder.

Sora was biting his lip as Cloud peeked his head into view.

"Oh? Sora wants to come? He's invited." Cloud said, obviously forgetting his previous anger towards the brunette.

Sora frowned, wondering what he should do. He had to work on tomorrow with Kairi, and he had class this week too.

But looking up at his brother, he admired how free and open he was. Roxas could literally sail away on a boat with his best friends, and be unrestricted.

Sora was envious as he shook his head in negation, "No, I'm sorry Rox. Not this adventure. I have to work tomorrow and it would really inconvenience Kairi if I didn't show to pick up her shift. Plus, I'm not going to skip the classes I'm paying to attend."

Roxas nodded, reaching out to hug Sora again. He hadn't really expected his brother to say yes, anyway. It was only due to various circumstances that his schedule was free in the first place.

Leon chuckled at Sora's response, leaning over to ruffle Sora's hair affectionately. Sora looked up this stranger; Leon was a good two feet taller than him. He had seen Leon the night before, but never spoken with him.

"You're welcome anytime in Madison, kid. I heard that you approve Axel and Rox being sick-in-love."

Sora blushed at the attention, nodding shyly.

Leon gave him a warm smile, an expression Roxas had never seen before on his attractive face. Roxas was happy because Leon was an excellent judge in character. Even if Roxas had felt his brother was a good person, he was probably biased because they were siblings. But Leon was glowing down at Sora, obviously pleased with the kid.

"Well, Sora Kouda, I'm called Leon. I'm Cloud's boyfriend." He held out his hand. Sora blindly shook it for a moment, still in a trance.

Sora suddenly flashed his eyes to Cloud for startled confirmation. Cloud rolled his eyes with an amused expression, "It's true."

Roxas started laughing at his brother's astonished expression. He patted Sora on the arm, "Wait here a second."

Roxas jumped onto the boat, disappearing down into the hull.

Sora shyly glanced up at Leon, "Do you think Roxas is happy?"

Leon nodded, "Yes, he is."

Cloud jumped off the ship, walking over to stand by Sora.

"I guess I should apologize for being a shithead to you a couple days ago." Cloud told him sheepishly.

Sora shook his head in negation, "No, I deserved that."

Cloud huffed, "No, way, Sora. It's just- leaving the Islands makes you jaded. You think you know people but then you realize you don't."

Sora nodded, gazing blankly at the dock. "I know I hurt Roxas, but it was half his fault."

Leon curled an arm around Sora's shoulder, "And it will make you both stronger."

Sora smiled up him happily, silently agreeing. Cloud frowned absently at Leon, wondering why his lover had taken to the brunette so quickly.

Roxas was jumping off the dock, he quickly handing Sora a CD.

"This is my band's music. I know it's a little confusing from last night, but Axel is our vocalist."

Sora held the CD to his chest, smiling at his brother, "Your gonna come back here before you fly out, right?"

Roxas chuckled and pulled out the gifted phone from his pocket, "I'll call you as soon as we are within reception."

Minutes later they were departing, Sora waved at them as they sailed off.

Roxas lounged on the bow of the yacht, watching the waves roll below him. A million different emotions were engulfing him, he felt listless. He heard Tifa and Yuffie squealing about something in the background. Leon was helping Cloud navigate the boat. Aerith had gone off to sleep along with Xion, Dem and Zexion.

Roxas was soon fast asleep with his arms curled around the side of the yacht. Leon spotted him and tenderly scooped him up.

Leon knew that this trip had changed his opinion about multiple things. Even if he had liked Roxas before simply based on personality, he now respected the kid immensely. Roxas was a tough kid. Roxas's face was bright blue and purple, but Roxas was uncaring. He was too busy being happy about reconciling with his brother.

And Axel- Leon also respected Axel a lot more now. As Tifa and himself loaded luggage into the car, she had elaborated on the events from the night. Axel has practically tried to kill Riku, and Tifa told Leon that Axel would die to keep Roxas from suffering.

Leon cradled Roxas to his chest while opening the door to his bedroom door. He lay the smaller guy on the bed before he deposited a platonic kiss atop soft blond spikes. Roxas was far stronger than he had been at that age, and he was going to be just fine.

As soon as Roxas was lying down, Axel immediately rolled over to face him. The redhead was still asleep as he scooted closer to the body heat.

Even in sleep they sought after each other. Roxas's arms wrapped around his lover's lanky torso, and Leon saw Axel curl slender fingers into his lover's hair right before he shut the door.


When Roxas awoke nearly five hours later, he was cradled in the utopia of Axel's arms.

Axel's hair was a mess so Roxas let himself run his fingers through the dense tresses. Axel didn't move much when he slept, always finding one comfortable position and sticking with it. He didn't snore either, simply breathing with a comforting repetition.

Roxas reached his arms from under the covers to curl around Axel's shoulder. He lifted himself so his body loomed over the unconscious man.

Leaning down mischievously he wetly kissed his lovers parted lips.

Axel awoke, his eyes fluttering open from the contact. He automatically spooned his arm around Roxas's waist, pulling the younger man to lie atop him.

Axel spooned Roxas close, absently kissing his hair, "Hey, you."

"Hey," Roxas responded, letting his fingers play around the Axel's face. He traced the man's sharp features, idle and lazy.

Axel moved so he was resting on his hip, his arm wrapped around Roxas's stomach. Roxas grinned after a moment, sitting up and reaching past his boyfriend's body.

He fumbled with a latch for a moment before throwing open a set of windows. As soon as their eyes adjusted, the blue and endless ocean sat before their gaze. It was sunset, the sun just about to hug the horizon.

The air smelled salty and fresh, and there were hundreds of colors represented in the sky. Roxas leaned back down to cuddle with Axel, nuzzling his cheek as he watched the colors swirl out the window.

"How does your forehead feel?" Axel rumbled, eyes examining the bruise. The swelling had gone down a little, but it still looked painful.

Roxas smiled, "It's fine. I can barely feel it anymore."

Axel bit his lip, his gaze absently resting on the ocean. He was trying to recapture the feelings he'd had the night before, the desperation and inability to help Roxas.

He remembered that Tifa told him to talk with Roxas about it, and he sincerely needed to. So Axel trailed his fingers through is hair and looked back to his lover. Roxas was watching him curiously, not understanding the expressions flickering across Axel's open face.

"I freaked out a little last night." Axel told him, sounding a little embarrassed.

Roxas softly smiled, "Which part of last night?"

Axel chuckled, "All of it. I feel like I had a harder time seeing you go home than you did being there."

"What do you mean?"

Axel flopped back onto the bed, eyes closed as he tried to find the right words, "I just kept thinking about Dem back in high school."

Axel crosses his fingers over his stomach as he frowned, "How they had beaten him up and hated on him and I couldn't do anything. I felt the exact same last night. While you were off with Sora, I was trying to fathom how you survived like that for so long. It made me understand a lot more about… why you were like that when I first met you."

Roxas was pensive as he felt his fingers clench around the rough fabric of their blankets.

"I tried to imagine you… silent, alone. I couldn't imagine it." Axel opened his eyes nervously. Roxas was staring blankly up at him.

"And those stupid Islanders talk like arrogant pricks." Axel scoffed.

Roxas swallowed the lump in his throat; mind spinning with old memories, "The Islanders probably said that I killed my mom with voodoo, didn't they."

Axel nodded as Roxas spooned forward, letting his body rest flush against the older man's. Roxas kissed Axel's arm, rubbing his fingers down his ribs. Axel curled his arms back around him.

"Sorry, should I not be talking about this?" Axel asked cautiously.

Roxas shook his head, a smile instantly warming his face, "No, it's fine. I'm happy that you get offended for me."

Axel frowned again at the words, "I just feel like I can't protect you."

Roxas barked out a laugh in exasperation, "Seriously Ax?"

Axel was silent, forcing Roxas to appear stoic again. He was staring into Axel's eyes as he said earnestly, "Axel, you are one of the strongest people I've ever met. Last night Riku looked like he was gonna shit his pants after you beat him up. And you did it to defend my honor."

Roxas flushed a little as his voice lowered, "You looked… so intimidating. So, sexy."

Axel rolled his eyes but broke out into a smile. "Oh?"

Roxas leaned forward to press a firm kiss against his lips. He was nodded, biting at Axel's lower lip before letting their tongues tap wetly.

Roxas was staring at him with glazed eyes when he pulled back and sensually murmured, "Guess what?

Axel nearly groaned out his response, "What?"

Roxas honed in closer, his breath tingling Axel's lips, "You lost the bet."