By Lauryn (DXM JUNKIE)
Chapter One: An Unhappy Birthday
Roxas glared petulantly into the distance as he squished his toes through the smooth white sand. His hands held his weight on either side of his body, his torso unconsciously curling forward.
The waves rolled loudly just a few inches away. The tawny sun was setting slowly on the horizon, creating a slur of colors. Faint stars twinkled overhead where the sky grew dark. Roxas's eyes rose upward at the sunset, depthless and unfathomable. He didn't notice the sky, or its beauty. His focus was turned inward, his mind racing atrociously.
It felt like someone shoved a rock down his throat, and Roxas's eyes burned wet with internal anguish. He obstinately refused to cry, because crying was for babies.
Yet the sordid truth planted him down firm. Roxas felt like a piece of shit. Not just shit, but a nobody-worth-nothing piece of shit. He was a loser, and nobody gave a damn about him or his mind or his thoughts. A single tear rolled unbidden down his cheek, his lower lip trembling. Bringing his knees up, he wrapped his arms around them and buried his face into his lap.
Today was his seventeenth birthday.
Seventeen years. Sixty-eight seasons that he'd lived through. Yet this particular birthday marked something unexpected, something heart-wrenching for the blond. Roxas knew he should have anticipated and mentally prepared himself beforehand. But he'd been thoughtless, and hadn't realized how tortured he would subsequently feel on this day.
Behind him he could hear the party his twin brother, Sora, was holding with his friends. Loud voices and laughter echoed across the empty beach behind his house. Almost a hundred people showed up to celebrate, despite the fact that Sora only handed out pamphlets promoting the event the day prior.
Here he sat alone.
And he knew he would continue to be alone. Because during that entire day, from when he woke, to school, to the lonely beach he sat at now; not one single person had spoken to him. Not one person mentioned how happy he should be that it was his birthday.
Not one person had congratulated him on surviving this long.
Roxas precisely understood the innumerable reasons. He would be naïve if he didn't. His oldest friends, Hayner, Pence and Olette hated his guts. Sora was ashamed of him and his biting sarcastic repertoire. And everyone else on the tight-knit island thought he was an arrogant prick. He wasn't worth the time, the energy, or the comfort.
The waves hit his feet as the tide rushed in. Roxas thought about remaining standstill until they engulfed his whole body. He'd continue sitting until his lungs consumed the paltry salt water. He would clench his eyes tight and wait for irenic oblivion.
Raising his head, he twisted his neck back to stare at his house. Roxas could see the numerous people he'd grown up with, played with, and shared memories with through the enormous bay windows.
They were all smiling and joyful. Roxas caught a glimpse of his brother, his head tilted back in laughter. The rock was forced down farther; it made Roxas sick.
So Roxas jumped to his feet, snagging his sandals from the beach before blindly heading down the expanse away from his home. He couldn't sit there and drown, because if he did so the last noises he would hear would be the mirthful exaltations of natives celebrating Sora's birthday.
Roxas knew he wasn't a selfish person. He unequivocally doted on his friends and family. It was them who pushed him away, those people who so blandly determined he was an unnecessary tag-along.
He kept walking, his figure becoming a black shadow as the sun disappeared. His fingers felt numb, not from cold. No, the cause was simple. Even if he did drown behind his house, Roxas knew for certain that it would take weeks for anybody to find his bloated rotting corpse, or even begin searching for him at all.
When school resumed tomorrow, Sora would think he was being an angst-ridden idiot. Sora would think he was maliciously skipping class, trying to prove a point. And nobody else would recognize his absence; he was akin to a ghost.
As his muddled cerulean eyes adjusted to the dark, he watched his feet move one in front of the other. Monotonously, idly, he swung his arms and refused to raise his gaze. No destination in mind, he felt like he would walk the expanse of the island that night, if only to stop thinking.
He thought back on the reason Hayner rejected him. It'd been a misunderstanding. Hayner assumed he'd spilled an important secret – that his father was cheating – and he hadn't bothered to ask Roxas if it was true. The rumor spread like wildfire. And of course, Pence followed Hayner like a lost sheep and Olette pursed her lips and felt the lie was factual.
Roxas knew the truth. He knew it was Seifer, not himself that spread those toxic words. But no one listened to him, and nobody believed him. Even his twin was disgusted that Roxas would extort such a horrid secret. Sora's normally cheerful disposition currently reflected abhorrent distain.
That was nearly four months ago, and Roxas was still spinning from the repercussions. He'd been naturally quiet before the incident and now found himself landlocked between stoic and inaudible.
Roxas felt his eyes burn again, and he tried to force his mind to other things. But there was nothing else to think about, no topics that could divert him from reality. It made his knees ache. Roxas wanted to drop to the beach and open his mouth and scream. He wanted to cry, desperately, dearly, but he knew it would be unhelpful. Life would remain constant even if he cried or screamed or shouted. If he did so, it would just affirm he was a spoiled brat.
As Roxas wandered aimlessly, a deep gulf of depression consumed him. He was stuck here for another year, at least. He absently wondered if he could endure that long. He was certain he couldn't.
When he'd woken up that morning, he sluggishly flipped through the recent mail that the maids brought in. He quickly spotted the birthday card intended for his brother, and quickly searched for his own. It was glaringly absent.
After their mother died, the twins' father left the island for long periods. He rarely visited, and when he happened to be home his father only wanted to check up on Sora. Roxas hadn't seen his fathers' face or heard his voice in over two years. So it figured he wouldn't send a card. That didn't subside the sting of alienation.
His father doted on Sora since childhood. Sora was so unlike his twin. Sora was cheerful, athletic, blissfully happy and optimistic…. His brother was everything he could never be.
This blatantly and sharply made Roxas feel inferior. Roxas was always confident with his mind; well aware he lacked the simple communication that seemed so easy to others. But now, the regress was clear. If everyone on the islands thought he was a shit, why shouldn't he agree with the major consensus?
As his mind spun round and round, he began to hear ostentatious laughter a couple yards down the beach. Finally lifting his eyes, he saw the sparks of a large campfire burning brightly. There were dark figures of people sitting around it, obviously having a good time. Roxas was oddly envious.
He halted, wondering if he should turn back and head home. But he immediately objected to that notion because doing so would cause more pain than it was worth. So he continued to walk, the fire growing larger.
As he stepped closer, he saw the shimmer of red hair. He heard clear conversations, the group was telling dirty jokes. He was about to stride past them when an unrecognizable voice rang out, "Hey, what's up?"
Roxas turned towards the voice, startled.
Several sets of eyes were staring at him, watching him from the faint light of the fire. It unnerved him. A man gracefully stood up and moved closer, Roxas watched him warily. The stranger was tall, lanky, with the mop of red hair he'd noticed before. A set of vivid green eyes smiled down at him. The man had his fingers looped into his pockets, his disposition calm and friendly.
"Why you walking all by yourself?" The man asked, innocently curious.
Roxas felt the rock in his throat dissipate, his voice raspy from his recent stint of silence, "Getting fresh air."
The man's thin lips curved upwards, he motioned back to the fire. "That's cool. Want to join us?"
Roxas blinked in surprise. He wasn't used to such open behavior. Most people usually shrugged past him. Roxas peered around the fire at the group assembled. There were three other people watching him. They didn't appear resentful, or judging, they were watching him with open curiosity.
"Um," Roxas attempted.
The man laughed, grabbing his arm and yanking him forward to sit on the sand. Roxas wasn't sure why he allowed this, but something about the radiant fire made him feel less lonely. And near the fire, his skin felt warm, the numb tingle fleeting from his fingertips.
"I'm Axel," the redhead told him, shooting out a hand to shake. Roxas took the preferred appendage awkwardly.
Axel swept his arm out, motioning to the other people, "These are my dudes. The Mohawk one is Demyx, the emo is Zexion (Roxas noticed Zexion scowl at these words) and the short girl is Xion."
Roxas was silent for a long moment before Axel leaned forward, too close for comfort, "This is usually when you tell us your name."
Roxas stared up at him before jolting a nod, "Yeah, um, I'm… Roxas."
"Hey Roxas," the group stated in unison.
The Mohawk guy promptly started another joke; only Axel didn't appear to be listening. He was staring down at Roxas, his eyebrows twisted up in concern. Roxas was entranced by this unfamiliar expression. How could this random be concerned about him when his own twin didn't give a crap?
"Are you okay?" Axel asked quietly.
Roxas was surprised, but he didn't let his eyes leave Axel's face. After a stagnant pause the blond queried, "Why do you ask?"
"Well, your eyes are super red and your face is all twisted like your in pain." Axel flatly stated. Roxas was a little offended at the acute observation from this utter stranger. His eyes narrowed resentfully.
This had Axel smile again, the redhead turned and fumbled with a big cooler sitting next to him. Axel fished out a can and twisted to hand it to Roxas. Roxas took it blindly, before looking down. It was a beer.
"Trust me kid, you look like you could use a cold one." Axel told him, nodding as if understanding what Roxas was going through.
Roxas was baffled and he was sure his face openly mirrored this bewilderment. Why was this man acting so friendly? They'd never met before. Axel chuckled at the expression.
The girl, Xion, leaned forward on his left. "Are you a tourist too?"
Roxas shook his head in negation.
Demyx smiled from across the fire, "Ah, not a talkative one. Just like Zexion! When I first met him back in Ireland, I totally thought he was, like, a mute."
Zexion glared at Demyx balefully, "That's because you couldn't shut up."
Xion laughed openly, a clear and comforting sound echoing across the silent beach. Roxas felt his shoulders mindlessly relax, his fingers popping open the beer. He had never consumed alcohol before, not because he had anything personally against it, but because nobody his age really drank. He took a tentative sip. Beer tasted disgusting.
Axel laughed at the face he made, "Just smack you lips and down it fast!"
Roxas nodded, idly listening to the groups' banter. For whatever reason, hearing them chat so casually comforted him. Roxas didn't feel like he was so disgustingly shitty anymore, and his mind skirted away from all the pain that had inhibited him. He took another sip of the drink, wincing, before tipping the can back and chugging the beverage. His throat clenched as he forced the vile liquid down.
"OOOH, look at him go," Demyx stated. The group cheered as he emptied the can, it made Roxas feel woozy. He set the can on the sand, forcing the grain to mold around the aluminum container.
"So where you from?" Xion asked him lightly, opening another beer and handing it to him. He took it, nodding his thanks, before his mind returned to her question.
The alcohol seemed to scatter his brain, Roxas answered lightly as he pointed vaguely behind him, "About a mile over there."
"You're so lucky!" Demyx cooed, leaning forward with his arms fished around his lean legs, "I wish I could've grown up in a rad place like this."
"Seriously?" Roxas was incredulous. He often forgot that other people referred to his island as a paradise. For him it was a personal hell.
"Well, yeah," Demyx continued wistfully, "You get to see the ocean so close every day, and the weather here is so wonderful. Back in Australia everything is like total desert."
"It's really not that great," Roxas frankly informed them.
"Why?" Axel prompted.
And something about the honest question made Roxas's mouth open, words coming forth easily, "This island is so small and close-minded. The natives are assholes who hate the tourists, despite the fact that tourism is what pays the bills."
The group hummed, silent, waiting for him to say more. Roxas pursed his lips, pausing. Of course this group of strangers wouldn't know he hadn't spoken in three weeks. They were non-the-wiser.
"This island is a monotonous idle, and everyone knows your exact place in the grand scheme of things," Roxas elaborated.
"And where is your place in this scheme?" Axel sounded cautious. Roxas turned his head and looked up at the redhead. He was scanning the man for malicious intent. But the vivacious green gaze was peering down at him, not as though he was sizing Roxas up. In a queer way, Axel appeared to be trying to help him.
Roxas let his eyes drop to the can of beer clutched tightly between his hands. The group didn't speak; they seemed to be patiently waiting for his answer. This had never happened before. Roxas was used to his friends continuing their conversation when he grew silent, but this group didn't seem to act in the usual manner.
Roxas opened his mouth, and closed it, pursing his lips for a long moment. Then, he opened it again. Because what was the harm of telling a group of perfect strangers who he would never see again after tonight?
"My place is invisible, nonexistent. My oldest friend thinks I told everyone that his dad is cheating on his mom. He didn't bother to listen to me, or let me explain. My twin brother is the perfect example of a upstanding islander, and I…. and my brother is back home enjoying his birthday party."
The group blinked at him, surprised by the venomous tone from the small blond.
Demyx stared for a long moment, uncomprehending, "Why is it your twins birthday and not yours?"
Roxas snorted, "I turned seventeen today."
Xion frowned, leaning forward, "So why aren't you…."
She clamped her lips shut after a long moment, understanding the answer from his dulled eyes. "Oh," Xion squeaked.
Axel shook his head, "Well, did you at least have a good birthday?"
Demyx rolled his eyes, "You don't need to be a rocket scientist to get what Roxas is saying, Ax."
Roxas blinked up at Demyx, he hadn't expected the mohawked guy to be so astute. And he hadn't heard his name spoken in such a friendly tone in months. Roxas suddenly inexplicably felt like he could trust these people. But maybe it was the beer.
"Today…" Roxas muttered, quickly taking a swig of his drink. "Today, not a single person spoke to me… besides you four."
The group stared at the boy in complete silence. They saw his melancholy eyes, his defeated disposition. No, you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to know the blond had a shitty day.
Axel was the first to animate, "Well!"
Axel hopped to his feet, and ran off into the distance away from the ocean. Roxas watched him leave, his face scrunching, "I'm sorry," he felt obligated to say.
Xion shook her head vigorously, getting to her knees. "No, way! Roxas, don't apologize!"
Just as she spoke these words Axel was running back to them with a box in his arms. He plopped into the sand just inches away from Roxas, fumbling with the parcel. Axel pulled out a cupcake, handed it to Roxas, and promptly stuck a thin pink candle into the baked item.
Axel fished a lighter from his pocket; Roxas blankly watching the man light the candle.
Axel puffed in a deep breath, then began to sing in a loud raspy but clearly beautiful voice, "Happy birthday to you,"
The group soon joined in, singing him the age-old song joyfully. Xion leaned closer and by the end of the song the group was shouting, "Happy birthday, dear Roxas, happy birthday to you!"
Demyx began to wolf-howl into the air, Zexion clapping loudly. Xion was cooing complacently. To Roxas, it was like a miracle.
Roxas was gazing at the candle, watching the flame carefully. He heard Axel murmur in his ear, "Now make a wish."
So Roxas closed his eyes, and blew out the candle. He wished that this group of people wasn't tourists and that he'd grown up with them. He vaguely wished that he could leave with them, join their world and leave his behind. Because he somehow felt if he did, he would be so much happier.
All the bad things from that day melted away like the gooey wax from the candle. Right now, the only thing that mattered were the five people huddled around this dancing fire.
Roxas finally smiled, the expression looking natural on his handsome face. He laughed suddenly, his cheeks growing pink with happiness.
Demyx leaned behind him, grabbing a large MP3 player with attached speakers and fiddling with the gadget. Soon, music boomed around them, as if Roxas had never heard the sounds before.
Axel grabbed his arm, pulling him upright. The group began to dance around the fire, hips moving fluidly with the music.
Roxas couldn't help himself. With an uncaring grin plastered to his face, he twirled his body around to the music. Axel pulled his arm around his waist, spinning him faster. Roxas held onto Axel's arms, his gaze turning up to the stars to watch them blur.
The sound of empathic laughter echoed across the silent beach.