Things I Own: a hideously perfect neon yellow Vans Warped Tour 2012 tank top, a digital copy of the song "Weightless" by All Time Low, a flask, countless vintage band t-shirts
Things I Don't Own: all of the characters in this story. All Time Low, Taking Back Sunday, The Killers, Jimmy Eat World, We the Kings, Bayside, New Found Glory, Breathe Carolina, Streetlight Manifesto or any of the other bands mentioned here. Warped Tour is, I think, owned by Vans, I just own several old ticket stubs.
my sister wanted a birthday present, and my sister gets what she wants. even though she and I LIVED most of this story together, at our annual trip to Warped Tour...but whatever, I've always wanted to write an Axel-and-Riku-go-to-Warped story, so here it is.
But I'm stuck in this fucking rut,
Waiting on a secondhand pick-me-up.
And I'm over getting older.
If I could just find the time,
Then I would never let another day go by.
I'm over getting old.
It had mostly been a joke. A silly little whim, the echo of a long-suffering sigh when Riku'd leaned over the shared four-and-half-foot wall between their cubicles and caught the telltale logo on the screen before the redhead hastily opened any window but the 18th annual Van's Warped Tour's band line-up for the August 13th show.
"Dream big, Ax," Riku had sighed, running one hand subconsciously over the rim of one ear, empty scars from old piercings still peppering the cartilage. "We're way too old for that shit."
It was three days before Axel dropped his plastic tray on a table next to Riku, morosely stabbing at a limp-looking salad with an inadequately flimsy plastic fork, and announced that no, they were most certainly fucking not.
"No," the redhead reiterated, silencing the other man's half-hearted protests. "Nope. Not listening. Look at us, Ri. High school Riku would be crying. High school Axel would light this tie on fire and double dog dare you into a lip ring. I mean really - I'm eating cafeteria food. From a tray. We didn't even eat cafeteria food when we had a closed campus lunch and security guards blocking the entrance to McDonald's, I am genuinely ashamed, nay, appalled, by this behavior, and it must be rectified immediately."
"Can't we rectify it," Riku grumbled, resolutely spearing a mushy tomato on his third attempt, "by going out for lunch or something? I hear that new sushi place -"
"Sushi!" Axel cried accusingly, despite all past experience evincing that the 23-year-old loved a good dragon roll, "for the love of all things punk rock, I hate you right now. Go home. Look at the set list. Find two mirrors and don't move until you remember what it was like to be enough of a badass to suffer twelve hours under Luxord's tattoo gun for that gorgeous monstrosity on your shoulders. Take two nostalgia pills and call me in the morning. We're going."
And Riku, completely in spite of himself, had caught a flash of red and blue in the mirror while pulling off his cookie cutter white button down after work. Or maybe a Blink-182 throwback came on on shuffle. Or he noticed the picture of him and Axel, 17 and filthy, shirtless and sweaty, bleeding from an elbow to the face in a mosh pit and grinning uncharacteristically wide, that somehow wound up tucked into a corner space on his fridge.
Whichever it was, Axel couldn't stifle his victory whoop at the 11:17 pm text (a late night for Mr. Boring and Businessy these days, but that was a battle for another day), quietly declaring defeat under the guise of:
you didn't tell me taking back sunday was headlining, you little shit.
"Good morning gorgeous!" Axel bellowed, throwing both arms wide at the sight of Riku stumbling down the front steps of his apartment building. "And might I say, you're looking quite dapper this morning for an old geezer like yourself, thought I'm severely questioning the wisdom of you wearing jeans to go stand around an asphalt parking lot in 90 degree sunshine."
Riku glanced down at the charcoal jeans in question, fingering the hem of his vintage black Rise Against tank. "Well," he conceded, "I got a new pair of salmon-colored chinos at J Crew last weekend, they'd probably match this shirt alright..."
"One day someone's going to invent a time machine," Axel declared loudly, yanking open the driver's side door and diving into his car before Riku could finish his thought, "and I am going to use it specifically to go back in time, get you from the height of your screamo stage, and bring you into the future to punch your older self in the face."
"Obviously there are going to be laws against that," the silver haired man said smugly, sliding into the passenger's seat and helping himself to the energy drink waiting for him in the center console. "I can't cross my own time stream, the universe will implode or something like that."
"It will be worth it," the redhead insisted. "Completely worth it. Think you can pull the stick out of your ass long enough to sing along to the stereo at a moderate volume for your delicate ear drums?"
As it turned out, he could. It even, Axel had a sneaking suspicion, pushed Riku over the line from tolerating their plans to outright enjoying them. By the end of "Damn Regret," their high school anthem, Riku'd hiked the stereo volume up almost to max, and by "You're So Last Summer," he was digging through the Jansport backpack Axel had left at his feet.
"Ah ha," he said triumphantly, straightening up with his best friend's BLACK OUT OR BACK OUT flask, "you're a lush, Axel Flynn."
"You don't hate it," Axel shrugged. "Besides, it's not Warped if we don't tailgate in the parking lot. Nevermind that we're actually legally old enough to do it now."
"Yes," Riku nodded, emptying liberal amounts of rum into his Cure can, confident in the knowledge that his best friend had packed more than just the single flask, "legality takes all the fun out of things."
Axel ignored him in favor of cranking the stereo up the last few decibels, catching the tail end of the opening verse with just enough time for the pair to turn to each other and scream "JEALOUSY, TURNING SAINTS INTO THE SEA, SWIMMING THROUGH SICK LULLABIES, CHOKING ON YOUR ALIBIS."
The parking lot, half an hour later after Axel paid the parking fee that, for the first time ever, he could actually reasonably afford, was already rapidly filling with all manner of creature: fratty bros playing beer pong in pinnies, punks with multicolored mohawks spiked skyward, girls with Sharpie graffiti already littering their torsos. Axel slowed to a roll as a guy and a girl on longboards whizzed by, stopped at the intersection to let an army of fourteen-year-old prostitots cross in front of his car.
"We are so old," Riku groaned, wincing away from the jailbait in the spot next to them, two high school girls in indecently short cutoffs and bikini tops, splitting a Four Loko that was definitely not legal.
"Nonsense," Axel scoffed. "Those bros over there are wearing Greek letters, they're definitely college age. And that girl has a tramp stamp, which stopped being cool at least six years ago, so she's gotta be at least 24."
"I hate you and you will now ply me with alcohol until I forget how awkward and inappropriate this is."
Axel promptly complied, and by the time they were handing over their tickets an hour later both had worked up a steady buzz, just loose enough that Riku weaved through the crowd without hesitation, leading the way to the giant inflatable sign posting the day's schedule.
"Streetlight Manifesto at 2:30, that I want," he rambled to Axel, who was entirely too busy trying to get the best picture possible of the schedule while at the distinct disadvantage of not being able to see his iPhone screen through the sun glare. "New Found Glory at 5:30. All Time Low and We the Kings always put on a good show. Bayside! I've never seen Bayside!"
"Bayside is a cult," Axel grumbled back automatically, giving up on his failing photography skills and opening a new page on notepad instead. "Okay, do that again, slower and with times and stage names."
Riku did, peppering the list with commentary about bands he'd never heard of and bemoaning their general lack of preparation in a complete 180 from his earlier stance. "We should have researched better," he sighed. "We don't know half these bands. And the ones I used to know, man I haven't heard them in years. Yellowcard, are they even recent or are they here for the nostalgia factor? And Breathe Carolina, I always meant to look them up, and now they're here and I'm not going to know any of their songs but I could have if only we'd done our research."
"What do you mean we, fuckhead," Axel snorted, shoving his best friend 's shoulder just hard enough that Riku narrowly avoided walking into the side of a merch tent. "I did plenty of research. I even made you a playlist, but you told me it was 'not appropriate work music' and never listened to it."
"I stand corrected..." Riku trailed off. Axel was three steps behind him, blocking the general flow of traffic and staring slack-jawed at something on his right. Even his heavy black Wayfarers couldn't hide that particular gleam in his eyes, the one Riku recognized as his patented "target acquired" look.
"Don't even think about it, Romeo," Riku teased, flicking the side of Axel's head to grab his attention back. "75% chance of jailbait anyway."
"You're so boring," the redhead huffed, falling back into step with his friend. "Where are we even going, our first band's not on for another hour?"
Riku rolled his eyes, grabbing Axel just above the elbow and dragging him head first into the mob of people surrounding the first row of merch tents. "You're the one that was here for the authentic, nostalgic Warped experience."
Axel frowned, green eyes following the path Riku had just nodded down, until he spotted the busiest tent in the row, a couple dozen teenagers covered in various amounts of paint crowded around the table. Riku bullied his way to the front and forked over two bucks for two pallets of paint, returning to the grinning redhead with a sheepish look on his face.
"I'm just saying," he said defensively, ignoring the gleeful mania with which Axel snatched up one of the strips of cardboard and immediately dragged three streaks of yellow paint down the side of Riku's jaw, "coming home from Warped Tour covered in graffiti and stamps and stickers and spray paint, that was half the fun."
"Yes," Axel nodded agreeably, cheerfully tracing a giant pink heart into the side of Riku's bicep. "I spent $50 on a ticket to a paint party. The sixty-something live bands are just background noise."
He earned a rainbow-colored handprint to the neck for that one, and a purple butterfly on his arm in retaliation for the heart, a smear of war paint under his glasses to match the same on Riku's cheek, and, after tugging off his A Day to Remember t-shirt and folding into the waistband of his black Dickies shorts, a swirly tramp stamp that curled all the way around to his hipbones and up to the spiked chakram tattooed over his left shoulder blade. Riku, for his efforts, got a large and very messily written THIS IS REALLY JUST AIRBRUSHED ON under the winged blades on his back and multiple circles and arrows highlighting the small "damn regret" on the outside of Riku's right wrist that he insisted was, in fact, a huge regret. (Axel, who had a matching one inside his left forearm, recognized this as a shame-faced lie, as Riku had developed the habits of both stroking his own when he was nervous and staring fondly at Axel's when the redhead was being particularly annoying.)
"If I have a tan line in the shape of a giant heart I will end you," Riku grumbled, tossing their wasted pallets in the trash as they began making their way to where they hoped the Kia Soul stage was.
"Tan line?" Axel snorted. "How optimistic of you, Mr. I Get a Sunburn When I Step Outside to Get My Mail. Just be grateful it's not a giant dick."
"I am actually shocked it's not," the silver haired man sighed. "Shocked, I tell you."
They found the Kia Soul stage. They even found a spot decently close to it, not quite center and still a good ways back, but close enough that the audience was tightly packed and the air was buzzing, early morning parking lot highs fading into the live concert buzz Axel used to crave worse than cigarettes. They were caught up and rolled with it, riding the mass euphoria of 400 teenagers shoving aside trivialities like sweaty, sunburnt skin and personal space and volume control in favor of the musicians taking the stage. It didn't matter that Riku didn't know more than three of their songs, that Axel was simultaneously sharing the same space as three shrieking pre-teens, 250 pounds of androgyny, and an overly affectionate octopus of a couple, they cheered and whooped and clapped on command with the rest of the audience all the same.
"Sometimes I think music is the only thing left in the world that isn't completely fucked up," Travis said, adjusting his guitar subtly as he nodded at the crowd's responding cheer, "and this is one of my favorite songs of all time, so if you all don't mind we're going to play it."
The instantaneous uproar that followed at the unmistakable opening chords of Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle" was the loudest We the Kings had received yet, a frenetic surge forward as the entire mass of bodies began jumping up and down like the over-enthusiastic fourteen-year-olds they'd all been reduced to. Riku was screaming the words like an anthem, Axel bouncing wildly on the balls of his feet and throwing a fist in the air, when deliberate fingers caught the redhead's elbow and dragged him around.
"HEY, CAN YOU HELP US UP?"
Axel turned, automatically lowering himself down a little further into the fray and most likely closer to whoever was speaking to him, until he caught sight of the boy standing behind him. It was totally, definitely the kid he'd seen earlier, spitfire blond and hot as hell, snarling at some poor bastard who'd ran right into him, and holy shit if he'd been hot from twenty feet away he was fucking gorgeous up close. Exactly the kind of guy high school Axel would have been mad for.
"WHAT?" he yelled back, bending down even lower in an effort to bring himself in hearing distance. The kid just gestured up, nodding at the girl tumbling hand over feet across a sea of outstretched hands ten feet to their left.
"Oh, word," Axel nodded, turning to grab Riku's attention as he shifted his weight and bracing one bent leg. "Ri, these kids want a lift."
"Not a kid," the shorter boy grumbled, wasting no time in grabbing onto both Axel's and Riku's shoulders and planting one Vans-clad foot on Axel's thigh.
"Whatever you say, Blondie," Axel laughed, waylaying the responding snarl by reaching out a free hand towards the people grouped in front of them. "HEADS UP BEHIND YOU."
Most of them turned, and when they were definitely sure there was support Axel and Riku shoved the blond kid forward, launching him up onto a crowd of waiting arms and hands. They waited just long enough for there to be space for a second person before turning back around. Blondie's friend, who, on closer inspection, was a slightly-less-hot, brunet version of the blond kid and was definitely his brother, looked significantly less confident than his brother had as he frowned at them.
"I have no idea how he did that," he admitted, pushing up on his toes to look for his brother still bobbing along above the crowd.
"Come on, we'll help," Riku said coaxingly. "Hand on Axel's shoulder, good, okay one on mine. Left foot on Axel's leg, go ahead put all your weight on it, he's a big boy he can handle it."
"I hate you," Axel grunted, bracing himself against the (boy, he was going to go with boy) helpful body next to his and holding the brunet's weight.
"Good, other foot on my hands, yeah like that, don't worry about it," Riku ignored him, focusing on the nodding brunet and holding out his interlocked fingers as a second step up. "Ready? YO, HEADS UP."
He was halfway out of sight, successfully following his brother into the depths of the crowd, when Axel noticed the phone on the ground between his and Riku's feet. He knelt down just in time to snatch it up before one of the little girls in front of him landed directly where it had just been, straightening up and flipping it over in his palm. The white iPhone definitely wasn't his or Riku's, but it was an automatic gesture to press his thumb down over the single button at the bottom of the screen.
The phone was passcode locked, typical, but the lock screen picture was most definitely a close up of Blondie, pushing one hand against the face of another blond kid and shoving him halfway out of the frame, a laughing brunette girl, and a quarter of a face and some arm from the kid who clearly took the MySpace-style picture.
"Excellent news," Axel nudged Riku, leaning in close to his friend's ear and turning the phone's screen towards him. "You'll get to flirt with your new friend some more, since I am apparently now in possession of his brother's phone."
"Don't be gross," Riku rolled his eyes, "they were probably like 16."
"But a very, very attractive 16," the redhead goaded. "Come on, you gotta give it to me, those two are going to be killer hot when they're all grown up."
"You are a dirtbag," the silver haired man insisted, but Axel could see hints of pink creeping out from under Riku's aviators, and yup, busted, Axel was totally not alone in thinking the wonder twins were adorable. Besides, all he was saying was that 16 (17. Okay, probably 18) year old Axel totally would have gone after that. Big time. Nothing wrong with knowing what his younger self would have appreciated, given the opportunity or the TARDIS.
Sure enough, We the Kings had barely left the stage when the phone started ringing. Axel waited a beat or two, holding up the speaker to his ear to see if he could catch the ringtone.
"The owner of this phone is my soulmate," Axel answered without further hesitation, ignoring Riku's raised eyebrow and shoving one finger in his free ear in hopes of actually hearing the caller's response. "That is the best fucking ringtone I've ever heard."
"Really, you think? I think it's kind of shady, but that's my brother for you."
"There is nothing shady about Wow I Can Get Sexual Too as a ringtone," the redhead scoffed. Riku rolled his eyes, slapping his forehead with one palm. "There is nothing but pure comedic gold and abundant opportunity."
"I'll pass it -"
"Can I have my fucking phone back or what?"
"Blondie!" Axel cooed delightedly, assuming the kid had pulled the phone away from his brother. "Love your ringtone babe, it's classic. Anyway, I haven't moved from where I was last time you saw me, six-foot-three and ginger, hard to miss, standing next to a freak with gray hair. See you soon kid."
"You're insufferable," Riku moaned, closing both hands over his face as he turned away from the smirking redhead. "Honestly, I can't take you anywhere, you're an embarrassment."
"At least he's just an uncontrollable flirt, mine gets all pissy and growly and tries to start fights."
Riku laughed, the pair of them turning to see a grinning brunet approaching with a scowling Blondie in tow, glaring daggers at his brother and refusing to look at the redhead holding his phone.
"Roxas," the brunet said warningly, and oh Axel liked that, so much you could do with it. He mulled the name over, letting it roll around his tongue a bit. Roxas. Hmm.
"Sora says I'm not allowed to deck you for calling me Kid, and that I'm definitely not allowed to twice, because it's not your fault for not being a mind-reader."
"I like Sora," Axel mused, nodding at the brunet still grinning at him. "He seems like a reasonable fellow. On the other hand, you, Blondie."
"Roxas," the blond corrected through gritted teeth.
"Axel," Riku jumped in, cutting across whatever undoubtedly inappropriate train of thought the redhead was preparing to board, "is just being a dick. He sometimes feels the need to overcompensate, cause, well..."
Sora burst out laughing, earning a small, specific smile from Riku that Axel would certainly be mocking him for later because honestly, he was not the only creep here. Roxas, unlike his brother, didn't seem to be quite capable of doing much more than scowling dramatically, but Axel could have sworn the scowl lessened by a fraction of a degree and that seemed liked an improvement.
"And this is Riku. I'm his parole officer."
Roxas snorted, and Axel almost victory danced right there on the spot. Well done, sir, four for you Glen Coco. Riku simply rolled his eyes again and looked at his watch.
"Give the ki- Roxas his phone, Ax, we've got five minutes to make it all the way across to the Kia Rio stage, I'll bitch the whole way home if we miss Streetlight."
"Anyway, glad your crowd surfing efforts didn't kill you," Axel said magnanimously, passing the phone over with fairly little fanfare, "or, more importantly, maim either of those gorgeous faces. Lovely meeting you, bye forever."
Riku ushered him away before he could do any more damage.
Axel turned hastily, but still not nearly fast enough; there was a body on his shoulders and a sneaker on the side of his face and he had just enough time to individually hate every single person standing in front of him who, instead of catching both of them, promptly moved the fuck out of the way of both bodies, fucking assholes, before he crashed face-first into the ground beneath him.
"The point," someone snarled hastily at him, lifting their weight off the center of his back and grabbing one shoulder to roll him over, "is to catch the person crowd surfing, not serve as a bony but passable - oh shit it's you. Oh shit you're fucking bleeding."
Axel groaned, blinking up at Roxas - Roxas? - for several dazed seconds before there were a half a dozen hands on them, yanking them both upright in the crowd.
"Hey!" Roxas snapped, elbowing someone away from Axel, "watch it fuckheads, he could have a concussion or something. Seriously, fuck you all very much, where were you thirty fucking seconds ago when y'all dropped me, back your shit off."
"You," Axel mumbled nasally, pushing the words out around the two fingers pinching his bleeding nose shut, "are absolutely adorable."
"You shut your face," the blond growled warningly, hands twitching nervously in front of Axel like he wasn't sure if he should touch the redhead or not. "What the fuck is wrong with you, don't you listen when someone says heads - oh shit, you really need like a towel or a tissue or something."
"Adorable," Axel reiterated, yanking his t-shirt out from his waistband and holding it up to his face, waving away Roxas' horrified 'is that your shirt!?' "I'm okay Blondie, really."
"I told you, it's Roxas. Or did you hit your head too hard, you don't actually have a concussion, do you? How many fingers am I holding up?" and he really genuinely did wave three fingers in Axel's face, holding tightly to his shoulder and keeping the redhead in place despite the swaying crowd.
"Three, but Blondie fits you so well, and I'm not entirely sure that test actually works to measure anything," Axel teased, pulling the once-white t-shirt away from his face to inspect the damage. His nose wasn't broken, that was for sure, but judging by the amount of blood on the shirt he probably looked like a macabre clown right about now.
"Oh yeah, who made you a medical expert?" Roxas challenged, apparently making up his mind on the touching Axel front. He reached out and grabbed the taller man by the wrist, dragging him bodily from the audience with fairly little effort, considering the size of the boy versus the size of the masses. Once they were free of the crowd Roxas steered him over to a shady patch of ground next to a merch tent, shoving him down to sit next to two girls and dropping down in front of him.
"How do you know I'm not a med student, kid?" Axel shot back, fascinated enough by this little tiger kitten he seemed to have picked up to just sit back and watch what happened. He was intriguing, this little Roxas, and, once confirming with a quick swipe of tongue that all his teeth were still intact, he was starting to feel better and better about landing this particular hit.
"I am. You're not," the blond insisted. He pulled a water bottle out of a lime green drawstring backpack Axel was certain he did not have thirty seconds ago, dropping it in his lap before reaching for the t-shirt the redhead was still holding to his face. "This shirt is ruined, agree or disagree?"
"I mean, obvious - hey!" Axel protested, reaching out one hand ineffectively towards the shirt Roxas had definitely just torn in half. The blond ignored him, opening up the water bottle and dumping the contents onto the clean segment of shirt he'd ripped away.
"Rox come on, don't waste...oh no, what happened?"
Axel glanced around certain that voice had been entirely too feminine to be either of them. Sure enough, the two girls they'd sat down next to had both turned towards them, one of them digging through the green backpack as the other frowned worriedly at them.
A very, very tiny part of Axel drooped in bitter disappointment. Girlfriends. They were adorable too, although he was starting to revise his age assessment, maybe 18, cause these girls definitely could have been older than 16 and the black haired one had at least one visible tattoo, but still. 18 might have been a five year age difference instead of seven, but it was still more than even Axel was willing to ignore.
"Axel fails to understand the fundamentals of crowd surfing," Roxas said tersely, reaching out and grabbing the redhead's jaw non-too gently, a sharp contrast to the painstakingly careful way he began to drag the wet shirt over Axel's bloody face. "He didn't get out of my way fast enough."
"Hey," Axel protested, "if I'd gotten out the way there would've been nothing between you and the pavement."
"Which is something that occasionally happens when you decide to fling yourself on top of a crowd full of strangers and hope for the best," the blond argued.
"Have you ever seen anyone fall from crowd surfing to pavement without anything to slow them down? It's really not pretty, I'm telling you."
Roxas dropped the t-shirt rags on the ground, reaching behind him and gesturing at the dark haired girl, who handed him...an ice pack?
"You carry emergency ice packs around with you?" Axel tried, and failed, to keep the condescension out of his tone. "That's sweet, really."
"You," piped up the red haired girl, grinning, "don't know Sora. Most of our friends ask why we don't have a fully stocked first aid kit."
"Just take it," Roxas sighed, "it should help the swelling at least a little bit."
"Oh fine," Axel sighed, accepting the cool relief of the ice pack and draping it over the aching bridge of his nose. "Ohsweetbabyjesusyes, beautiful angel girls whose name I don't know, thank you."
One of them giggled. "You're welcome," the redhead said. "I'm Kairi, and this is Xion."
"And I clearly had no part whatsoever in this," Roxas said sulkily, and Axel was amused to hear a note of seemingly genuine petulance in his tone. Interesting.
"No, no," Axel agreed, shifting his glorious ice pack. "You're absolutely right, you're the one that owes me a new shirt."
Roxas, to Axel's increasing amusement, turned pink.
"I - I mean -"
"Oh Christ, kid, I'm just teasing, don't hurt yourself. I don't even like A Day to Remember all that much, and that shirt was older than you."
"I very much doubt you have a 21 year old shirt, fuck you very much," Roxas snapped, jabbing a threatening finger into Axel's face, "and if you call me kid again I will hit you, broken nose be damned."
"You are NOT 21 years old," Axel challenged, whipping off the ice pack to look the blond head on before turning to the laughing girls behind him. "He is not 21 years old."
"Nooo," Xion agreed.
"He's 20," Kairi supplied.
"And a half," Xion added helpfully. "Actually, today's his half birthday, so he's exactly 20 and a half."
"Shut up he is not." The redhead was only half kidding in his overly dramatic gasp, eliciting both another burst of laughter but also a knowing exchange of looks between the two girls.
"He is right here, thank you," the boy huffed, shoving something small and shiny in Axel's face. Axel leaned back far enough to focus on the driver's license being held in front of his swollen nose, smirking as he plucked the card out the air and inspected the date.
"Well look at that," he drawled. "Roxas A. Strife, born February 13, 1992. Not quite jailbait at all, are you?"
"You are insufferable, Axel, I mean it."
All four of them glanced up as Riku and the little brunet, Sora, pulled up to a halt next to their shady little alcove. Axel didn't bother asking how Riku found them – he suspected it had something to do with the fact that Sora was currently riding piggy-back style on Riku's shoulders.
"And Sora's shameless," Kairi giggled, raising an eyebrow at the brunet making absolutely no effort to get down off Riku's back.
"It's a family curse," Xion stage-whispered to Axel, grinning up at the admittedly shameless-looking teen with his arms still looped around the older man's neck. "Strifes are horrendously unashamed of letting you know exactly how they feel."
"Can it, Xi," Roxas grumbled. He was the only one not watching the teasing volley of conversation between Sora and Riku, the brunt of his glare focused on repacking the green drawstring backpack.
Xion giggled, smirking at Roxas as she helpfully passed him the remains of Axel's bloodstained shirt.
"Except my cousin," she continued, glancing conspiratorially at Axel. "The more abusive he is the more he likes you."
"You," the blond snapped, flinging the backpack at her, "stop talking. And you," he turned his glare on Axel, "ice packs are only useful when you actually hold them on the injury." Roxas reached out and snagged the melting ice pack from where Axel held it limply against his thigh, raising it up and pressing it against the bridge of the redhead's nose. His brusque, overtly cranky demeanor was completely undermined by how exceedingly gentle he was, carefully applying just enough pressure to the tender flesh.
"What happened?" Riku frowned, finally dragging his attention away from Sora. The brunet scrambled down off his back and plopped down between Roxas and Xion, leaving room for Riku to crouch down next to Axel.
"Axel doesn't understand the mechanics of crowd-surfing," Roxas heaved a long-suffering sigh, like he couldn't believe had to say it again.
"Roxas doesn't understand the fundamentals of – ow ow, fine, Axel's an idiot," the redhead whined, wincing at the way Roxas' fingers were subtly pressing harder into his cheek. "Axel tried to single-handedly catch a falling crowd-surfer, face-planted into the parking lot, and suffered through some seriously begrudgingly applied first aid."
"Well," Riku sighed, "it's not Warped Tour without you getting the shit kicked out of you somehow."
"And we did sign up for the full experience," Axel agreed. He grinned at Roxas from under the cold compress, pleasantly surprised by the embarrassed flush dusting the blond's cheeks.
"Oh no," the redhead insisted, shaking his head until he dislodged Roxas' hand and could properly glare at the kid. "Don't choose now to start feeling guilty. It's totally not your fault."
Roxas opened his mouth to protest, or argue, or something that would no doubt cause Axel to want to pinch his cheeks and coo over how fucking adorablethe kid was, but Riku cut him off before he got the chance.
"No really, don't feed his ego by apologizing. He's fine, you're fine, everyone's fine, and New Found Glory is on in five minutes all the way over there."
"You're a slave driver," Axel complained. He used Roxas' head to shove himself back upright again, ignoring the blond's grumble of protest with a ruffle of honey-gold spikes and a lopsided grin. "Ladies, you light up my world like nobody else," he offered magnanimously, "and Sora, thanks for bringing the fun police along."
"I thought you were his parole officer?" Roxas challenged, throwing the ice pack at Axel's face.
The redhead caught it with a laugh. "Or is he mine? Who knows. Either way, I'm off to reminisce about middle school and hopefully buy one of those electric neon shirts that will offend Riku's delicate sensibilities all the way home. Later, kids."
He waited until they were two rows of merch tables away before shoving Riku playfully into the canvas side of the TWLOHA tent, grinning teasingly at his best friend.
"A piggy back ride, really? What are we, fifteen?"
"Shut up," Riku grumbled, "or I will take the next Sharpie I find and write FREE HUGS all over you."
Axel, wisely, shut the hell up.
New Found Glory was a glorious flashback. Bayside proved to be exactly the kind of cult their merch had always advertised them to be. Breathe Carolina was a surprisingly awesome dance party, considering Axel had known a grand total of One of their songs. All Time Low, always great, outdid themselves with songs Axel couldn't help but try to remember, scrambling to type lyrics into his phone so he could remember to look them up later. It was Warped like they'd always remembered, tamer with age but no less enthusiastic, no less energy-ridden and endorphin-high.
Axel pointedly did not keep his eyes peeled for a flash of blond hair, gravity-defying brunet spikes, a lime green backpack. He didn't, and he certainly didn't do a double-take every time he saw anything remotely familiar flashing in the corner of his eye, no matter what Riku might have said. Whatever, Riku was totally doing the same thing.
Still, they made it to the center of an enormouscrowd in front of the Kia Soul stage, every able-bodied teenager and young adult in the place crawling out of the woodwork for the Taking Back Sunday closing set, without catching another glimpse of Roxas or Sora. Axel allowed himself to be disappointed for a grand total of five minutes, right up until the first hint of band members near the stage started buzzing through the crowd.
"Remember the last time we saw them?" Axel yelled, glancing over his shoulder to find Riku. His best friend was braced against his side, unabashedly grinning, and Axel was thrilled to see Riku. Not the corporate drones they'd both been slowly morphing into, but the best friend he'd known since elementary school, wild eyed and windblown hair, winged tattoo brazenly shown off across his bare shoulders, sizzling with the anticipation of a killer show about to ignite the air.
"June 2006," Riku shot back, returning Axel's grin. "The entire bottom half of the stadium rushed the floor and moshed the shit out of that whole show."
"And we missed your brother's graduation," the redhead added. "Who knew your parents could actually ground me."
"Thank god they didn't figure that one out sooner," Riku snickered. "We would have spent half of high school confined to separate rooms."
Axel's response was interrupted by an outrageous roar from the crowd surrounding them, the conditioned, Pavlovian response to Adam Lazzara taking the stage. He grabbed the mic and jumped to the front of the stage, leaning forward without prelude or preamble, pressing into the mic and screaming, "YOUR LIPSTICK, HIS COLLAR, DON'T BOTHER ANGEL, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT GOES ON."
It was instant pandemonium. The audience went ape shit, kicking it into high gear faster than you could say "Cute Without the E," and Axel and Riku didn't even try to hold on. They swung loose with the crowd, bouncing off the ground with fists in the air, bracing themselves against bodies and brothers and doing nothing so much as reverting back to the high school juniors they'd been when they'd first fallen all over this song.
The audience was electric in the way only overenthusiastic fanbros could be – unified under the excitement of seeing a band they'd loved for years, a band they'd developed hometown loyalty for, that evened them all out to the same mentality, brought them back to the lovelorn and heartbroken, the reckless and the wrecked, fighting back and fighting hard and just plain fighting for it. They screamed their way through "Cute Without the E," belted out the words to "You're So Last Summer," pushed wide a mosh pit for "Timberwolves at New Jersey."
Axel and Riku worked the crowd the way only years and years of practice could have taught them, weaving with the ebbs and flows of enthusiasm, rolling with the movement as the crowd shoved them forward and buffeted them back. They tried to stay within reach, always within eye contact, but they trusted the masses not to bring them too far.
"Makedamnsure," came entirely too soon, but it was painfully obvious it was the last song. The audience knew it just as well as the band did, throwing every last bit of energy they had left in them, everything they hadn't already bled onto the sweat-soaked pavement in the last eight hours of unforgiving heat, and Axel wasted no time in joining them. He grabbed for Riku's hand and yanked him forward towards the group of burly guys in front of them, and none of them needed words. The bros braced themselves much the same way Riku and Axel had countless times today, boosting Axel up and over the waiting crowd beneath him.
He gave in completely to the crowd, letting himself go lax and trusting the clutching hands beneath him to support him, move his body forward through the audience. It was rough going, rolling ass-over-feet across the outstretched limbs beneath him until he didn't know which way was up anymore, flailing closer and closer to the stage.
Until, of course, two hands wrapped firmly around his thighs and tugged, yanking hard until the fickle crowd, supportive but never overprotective, let him fall forward, landing awkwardly (thankfully) on his feet. Hands gripped his shoulders until he was steady and upright, whirling around for the source of his sudden grounding.
Roxas stood behind him with a wicked grin, smirking up at the redhead in a way that shamelessly announced he'd been the one to pull Axel down. Axel, shockingly, found himself suddenly not caring, raising an eyebrow at the sly look on the blond's face.
He opened his mouth to ask, or to yell, or maybe to sing along, or something, but Roxas didn't seem willing to let him. He flung something garishly yellow and soft over Axel's head and around his neck, hands wrapped firmly around both ends of the fabric and using it to tug Axel forward.
The redhead went willingly, bracing his hands on Roxas' hips and lowering his head to accept the kiss, fast and eager and a little bit brutal, just as much teeth as there was tongue. It was appropriately fitting for the moment, for the song and the atmosphere and the day and the blond, and Axel couldn't help but laugh into it, tightening his fingers on Roxas' skin as the kid growled low against Axel's lips.
He pulled back as abruptly as he'd yanked the redhead forward, releasing his grip on the fabric still around Axel's neck. Roxas grinned wolfishly at the older man, quirking a single, pierced eyebrow in an unmistakable challenge, and turned tail and vanished into the audience like he'd never been there at all.
Axel gaped after him, even as the song ended and the audience screamed through TBS' departure from the stage, one last dying show of support before the music faded out and the day wrapped. He was still standing there, still dumbstruck and slack-jawed when the crowd finally gave way, jazzed and frenetic and stumbling en masse in the direction of the parking lot. Riku found him fumbling over his own feet, grinning at the redhead with a clear case of post-concert high lighting his eyes.
"Man," Riku laughed, arms gesticulating wildly at the rapidly thinning crowd around him. "That shit was unbelievable. God, I forgot how good concerts are. Especially when everyone's into it. Like seriously, dude. Also what the fuck is wrong with you."
"Roxas," Axel supplied dumbly, turning to stare wide-eyed at his best friend. Riku's grin morphed into a smirk, one hand coming up to nudge Axel's jaw higher up.
"Either you fell on your face again," Riku teased, "or someone bit you. Also, you have something hideous hanging around your neck."
Axel frowned, reaching up to tug the fabric he hadn't even realized Roxas had left behind. It was a painfully neon shade of highlighter yellow, exactly the color he'd been hoping to blind Riku with, and clashed delightfully with his ketchup-red hair. He shook it out to reveal the tank top he'd spotted at the official Vans merch table, loose fitting and tribal patterned, brashly proclaiming VANS WARPED TOUR 2012 and Music Makes the World New.
"That is hideous," Riku insisted, but the weight of his glare was all wrong for him to be actually offended by it. "I'm assuming it's Roxas' idea of payment for the shirt you bled all over?"
"Apparently," Axel nodded, holding the shirt a little higher up for closer inspection. He couldn't help the small grin at the way Riku winced, like the color personally offended him, and almost immediately turned the thing over to tug it on. "Hang on," he paused, "there's something written on the back."
Riku closed the distance between them to loom over Axel's shoulder, hovering close as Axel pulled the fabric taut and studied the Sharpie scrawled lines littering the back of the shirt. It was a vague attempt at a map, poorly labeled streets and a big fat star marking Way to the Dawn Diner on the corner of Thirteenth and Main, and Axel was already grinning even before he got to the scrawled out missive along the bottom hem of the tank.
"Post-Warped diner food," he read out loud. "for the full Warped Tour experience. Sora says your friend's hot, so bring him too. Don't get lost. Roxas."
This could be all that I've waited for
And this could be everything
I don't wanna dream anymore
Maybe it's not my weekend
But it's gonna be my year.