Chapter 3: To New Friends
"There you are!"
Roxas looked down the hallway to Axel approaching. After he had thanked Luxord for the lunch and reading, Roxas left the apartment.
"So, getting lunch with Luxord?" Axel asked. Roxas nodded. He felt a little surer about his new home, after the talk. He was… comfortable? He was a little more comfortable now that most of his anxieties alleviated.
"Yeah," Roxas answered. "He gave me a reading." Axel was now standing in front of him, crossing his arms in thought.
"Your reading, huh?" Axel asked. "Anything good?" Roxas nodded quietly. Axel, either not one to press the matter further, or by simply understanding the discretion Luxord confides in his readings to others, changed the subject. "Well, come on, then. Hopefully you're not completely full. I've got one more treat for you."
This had to be Roxas' lucky day; first one person treats him to lunch, now another? Come dinner time, he'll have to roll to get anywhere! Axel gestured to follow, Roxas obeyed and fell into step behind him. The door to XII opened as they passed, Roxas looking up to see not Larxene staring out at them, but the bored girl with black hair from yesterday. She stood frozen, then retreated back inside, closing the door behind her. Axel heard the door close and looked over his shoulder.
"Who's Larxene's roommate?" Roxas asked curiously.
"That's Xion," Axel replied. "She arrived about a week or two before you. Don't think she's gotten out much since she arrived. Shy girl, really. Not that talkative." Xion. Huh. Roxas stored the name for future reference.
The lobby was buzzing with activity. In the semi-circle of chairs surrounding the large TV, Lexaeus sat in one watching a bizarre show of several multi-colored costumed fighters of sorts. In the corner, sat the same person reading, but instead of Xion, sat a smaller, thinner boy, just barely older strumming a strange instrument.
"Well, well, who is this?"
Roxas looked over to a rather deranged-looking older man, with long, platinum-blonde hair and dark sea-green eyes looking him over, in perhaps the same fashion as Larxene did before.
"Back off, Vexen, you're scaring Roxas," Axel warned the man, pushing him away. The man answering to Vexen shrank back and hissed at Axel.
"I'm merely curious," Vexen replied, going back to look over Roxas, "Perhaps he'd make a good lab assistant, unlike that worthless Zexion." The last of his sentence dripped with a grudging rasp. The reader with cobalt hair looked up from his book, as if answering to the name Zexion, and then resumed reading. Roxas made a note of the new name to refer to later should he find it necessary.
"Doesn't mean you just cut open his skull and scoop out his brains if you feel like it," said another voice, this one coming from behind Vexen, down a hall hidden from view of the entrance. He looked oldest of them all, his black hair aged with grey streaks, a patch covering his right eye and a single scar running down the middle of his right cheek to his jaw. He was in a pair of comfortable-looking khakis, and a long-tee. He bodily pushed Vexen to the side and looked down at Roxas.
"Hey there, new meat," the new man said warmly. "I'm Xigbar. Hopefully Vexen didn't scare you too bad, did he?"
"No," Roxas said quickly. "You don't plan to do anything horribly weird to me, do you?"
Xigbar laughed. "As if!" he said. "Kid, all you've got to worry about from me are the war stories I have to share."
"And he tells some really good war stories," Axel added. "He's told one so many times, I have it memorized." Roxas chuckled at that. For being called Nobodies, they seemed like regular human beings. Roxas had a feeling growing in him he's going to like this place just the little more.
"Anyway, Axel," said Xigbar, "Xemnas said he wanted to talk to Roxas later about some paperwork. Don't make him wait too long for it, it's just to verify our new tenant is legally in our care and all, what with him being underage."
"I've got it memorized," said Axel nodding. "I was just going to take him into town for a bit then we'll be back to take care of it before dinner."
"I hear Marluxia has some fine things from the garden," Vexen joined into the conversation voluntarily. "Seems my formulas have been proven… effective."
"As if," Xigbar retorted, "Marluxia's green thumb is the best damn thing." Roxas wasn't sure who this Marluxia person is, but they sounded nice. He hoped so, anyway. Axel cleared his throat, and Roxas sprinted to catch up with him at the entrance.
The house was now behind them. Roxas turned around and looked at the hill's base nearly completely covered by foliage. The sun beat down on them in the afternoon, peeking its light every once in a while after a cloud.
"So where are we going?" Roxas asked. Axel stretched his arms behind his head.
"To a nice little place I know of," Axel answered vaguely. "To celebrate you making it your first night here."
"It's not official until the paperwork is done, though, right?" Roxas asked.
"Don't sweat the small stuff," Axel said, "it's all boring and takes time to do." Roxas watched as storefronts passed them. He saw a memory of himself staring into one of the store windows, being chased away by the owner with a broom and threats. The scars on his back itched again. He didn't watch where he was going, bumping into a girl with chestnut-brown hair. After a moment, she looked at him with a realization.
"Hey, you're—" she said, but never finished her thought, as Roxas had already sprinted to catch up with Axel further ahead.
"Who was that, Olette?" a boy asked from behind. The girl looked again at Roxas' back and shook her head.
"No one, Pence," she said. "Thought it was somebody I used to know."
"The… clock tower?" Roxas asked when Axel finally came to a stop. "What are we doing here?"
"You'll see," Axel said, going up the steps and entering. Roxas followed in after him.
Stairs. Always stairs. Roxas stopped to catch his breath once he finally reached the tower's top.
"Still with me?" Axel taunted. Roxas looked at Axel like he was ready to hurt him. Axel waved off the wordless threat with little interest, turned and walked toward something out of Roxas's line of sight. Roxas followed, only just feeling a breeze against his face for the first time. His focus on Axel went to the vastness of the city before him. In the distance, Roxas could make out the tops of mountain peaks that surrounded the town. The sun beat down on Roxas, his face warming to the light's kindness. At least the sun didn't ignore him.
"Where are we?" Roxas asked, face with Axel handing him a stick of ice.
"Top of the clock tower," Axel replied. He leaned against the wall facing out on the balcony. He took a bite of his ice. Roxas looked at his stick and bit into it as well. He grimaced a moment at how salty it was, but found he enjoyed the sweetness of it.
"Sea-salt ice cream," Axel waved his stick to Roxas, "I come up here sometimes to just be alone or whatever." Even as Roxas was starting into his ice, Axel was well on his second. He held his up to Roxas, as if to toast.
"To new friends," Axel said almost triumphantly. Roxas nodded in turn and held his ice up as well. Then two ate in silence a moment longer, and Roxas felt at peace; the first time since... well, since he was alone.
"Is it OK if I come up here sometimes, too?" Roxas asked. Seeing how high up he was, he liked it here. His head seemed clearer here than amongst the others in the house. The breeze was soothing, and the scenery was tranquilizing.
"Sure," Axel replied, finishing off his stick and tossing it in a nearby trash can. Roxas bit again into his ice cream ready for the saltiness this time and enjoyed it a little more. He eventually finished his own and licked his fingers of the sticky melting he neglected.
The sun was now beginning to go down. Roxas followed Axel back down the clock tower and toward to the house. The way was clearer, without so many people out and about now that the afternoon was diminishing.
"So, how as it?" Axel asked. Roxas looked up at him. Axel looked back down at him, grinning wide.
"It was great," Roxas answered. His voice caught in his throat, and looked away, wiping tears forming in his eyes. He could hardly remember this sort of kindness from someone else. Was it really only a year ago? Axel stopped, putting a gentle, caring hand on Roxas's shoulder. Roxas looked up at him.
"Not always easy to find the word you want to say, huh?" Axel asked. Where was this coming from? "I know what it's like, being lost for words. But you said it to Xemnas yesterday." Roxas did say that word, didn't he? Maybe he wasn't thinking. Or he was just so grateful it came to him in the moment he needed to say them.
"Thanks, Axel," Roxas's voice came hoarse and hardly audible. Axel smiled.
"Let's go get that paperwork done."
Author's Commentary: Believe it or not, in the first few drafts, this was going to be the chapter where Roxas and Xion would drink together, but I felt that was going too fast with their relationship. So I decidedly pushed that back to a few later chapters. This chapter was more off the cuff, but I wanted to start Roxas off with starting a friendship with Axel before bringing in Xion. So essentially this chapter was kind of a surprise to write; I knew Axel and Roxas had a deep-rooted bromance in the games, and honestly wanted to try and reflect that beginning in the story as well. Pence and Olette were thrown in to hint a little more at Roxas's past, and I would have given them a little more, but decided they had enough in the chapter to keep the flow and pacing going.