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The Neglected Virtue - Non-JRock, Kingdom Hearts II/358/2 Days, Axel/Roxas (Part I)

Title: The Neglected Virtue
Author: Kagome
Prompt: “Veracity, or the habit of speaking the truth, is a virtue.” – Leslie Walker.
Warnings: language, angst, sarcasm, short-lived fluff, very vague allusions to sex, major, major spoilers for KH 358/2 Days, Chain of Memories, and KHII.
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Pairings: Axel/Roxas
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies.
Summary: Perhaps he thinks that if he shields him – and shields himself – from the truth, he’ll get to hold onto him just a little longer.
Comments: Oh, gosh. I think this is my longest KH fic to date. Mind you, the events within it take place throughout Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days, and KHII. I have not yet played 358/2 Days, but plan on doing so when it comes out in English. Many thanks to roterhimmel for putting spoilers on her LJ, and many thanks to gold_panner, for without her translations to several scenes, I would be so very lost. If you don’t mind being spoiled, by all means, proceed. If you do mind, bookmark this and save it for after you’ve played the game. ^_^ Dedicated to kurosawabride (the Roxas to my Axel XD) and to bubblegumtotchi, because they encouraged this, whether they know it or not. *LOL* ENJOY~!


The Neglected Virtue



It all begins with fire, flame licking at his hands, though it does not burn him and it is his to control.

He vaguely recalls that this is how he came to be—torn from his old life by fire, and the Heartless that had known how to use it.

He would laugh at the irony of it, but he fears his heart just wouldn’t be in it.

Oh, that’s right—he doesn’t have one of those anymore, does he?

And then comes the man with the deep voice and the yellow eyes and that freaky black cloak, who calls him Axel and says that there are others just like him – just like the two of them – and that he should join forces with them.

It will ‘benefit’ him, the yellow-eyed-man tells him.

Even though Axel doesn’t believe him, he follows, because he’s got nothing better to do. He doesn’t follow because he feels obligated to do so. He doesn’t follow because he feels like he needs to.

The truth of the matter is this: He doesn’t need anybody. At all.

~*~

So Axel slides into the hum-drum life of a Nobody, following orders even though he doesn’t fully understand them simply because it gives him something to do. It’s not the most exciting life, but he figures it’s okay… maybe even fitting for empty shells such as themselves.

Their numbers increase from eight (his number) to twelve, even though it means little to him. His so-called ‘comrades’ aren’t exactly good company.

And then Number Thirteen comes along and changes everything.

Axel never, ever expected to fall, figuratively speaking.

But the truth of the matter is this: He does, regardless of preconceived notions.

~*~

Axel keeps his opinions to himself when he first sees the newest member of the Organization. He doesn’t ask the pint-sized blonde why Xemnas is incorporating twelve-year-olds into the Organization now. He doesn’t ask why the kid is looking around like he’s lost, with wide, curious blue eyes that seem to be drinking everything in. He doesn’t ask if the kid knows what in the hell he’s gotten himself into, because chances are, he doesn’t.

Instead, he pats the kid on the shoulder—a friendly gesture (or at least a faux friendly gesture), and he smiles as blue eyes meet his gaze and narrow. “Heya. You’re the new guy, obviously. They haven’t even gifted you with the trademark mysterious black cloak yet.”

Those eyes soften a miniscule amount, something like recognition flashing in them, even though Axel knows for a fact that this is the first time they’ve encountered each other.

“I know you,” Number Thirteen says.

Axel blinks. “No you don’t. We just met, buddy.”

The blonde scowls. “My given name is Roxas. Not ‘new guy’ or ‘buddy’. And what I meant is that the Superior told me about you already—said you’d meet me here. So you’re obviously the sarcastic pyromaniac who likes pointy things and throws around stupid catchphrases.”

The name’s Axel; got it memorized? dies in his throat, and he bites back a very sarcastic reply, because there’s no way in hell that he’s going to give this kid the satisfaction of being correct from the get-go (even if he is correct… mostly).

“I may surprise you yet,” Axel tells him. “After all, we’ve only just met, and while you’ve heard of me, you don’t know me. I’m in charge of you today, so you might as well get used to my company.”

And Axel supposes he should get used to the idea of babysitting this brat.

How Roxas can manage to look so freaking dubious is beyond him. “Great,” he says, and Axel thinks that maybe he’s met someone who appreciates sarcasm almost as much as he himself does. “What are we going to do, then?”

“I think you should learn your first lesson as an Organization member,” Axel says brightly, turning around and motioning for Roxas to follow. “Come with me.”

“I’ve already learned some stuff.” Roxas is staying put—not trying to keep up with Axel at all.

“I can teach you more stuff,” Axel calls back, not bothering to look over his shoulder. Roxas will follow, or he’ll stay there and be lost and alone—it’s up to him.

Roxas snorts. “Like what? How to burn the entire town down with a huff and a puff, pyro?”

The question actually makes Axel pause.

The truth of the matter is this: The kid has guts, Axel has to admit.

Not that he’d ever say it out loud or anything.

~*~

Turns out that Axel does have a few lessons to teach Roxas, the most important of those being How to Avoid Working in Favor of Being Lazy. Second-most-important is this: How to Totally Fake Mission Reports Later (after being lazy).

And let’s not forget to mention lesson number three: Sea Salt Ice Cream Doesn’t Taste Nasty, Even Though The Name Makes It Sound Like It Does.

Not that Axel really has to fake much today. Xemnas told him to keep an eye on Roxas, but didn’t exactly give him further instructions. It’s the kid’s first day, so maybe Xemnas wants to go easy on him.

Makes sense, and anyway, Axel’s not much in the mood to go off on crazy missions today. Thirteen is enough of a handful on his own.

He learns a few things, too. For one, he learns that this kid isn’t all sarcasm. He learns that there are moments when Roxas goes quiet and stares at the sky, a faraway look in his eyes (and he isn’t here even though he is), and he looks almost… sad, Axel thinks.

He learns that the kid is capable of opening up a little (after wearing him down with enough ice cream to give any normal person a brainfreeze and a tummy ache, of course) and is also capable of laughing. Axel laughs with him, light and melodious and free, and he realizes that he hasn’t laughed like this since… ever, really.

Maybe it means something. Maybe it means that this kid is special. Maybe it means that Axel’s found someone he can actually, truly get along with in this godforsaken Organization full of Nobodies that are exactly like (and nothing like) him.

Or maybe it just means that his mind is going the way of his heart (non-existent) and he should be locked in the nearest loony bin.

Either way, here he is, and here Roxas is. Here the two of them are, together, eating ice cream and watching the sunset from atop the clock tower in Twilight Town.

“So, you got it memorized now?” And Axel doesn’t care that he’s throwing around his ‘stupid catchphrases’, because they’re his damnit (and Roxas doesn’t try to shove him off the tower when he says them).
Roxas raises one finely-shaped blonde brow. “Got what memorized?”

Axel makes a show of rolling his eyes and waving around his half-eaten ice cream in Roxas’ general direction (Roxas scoots a good foot or so away from him). “You know, my name! A-X-E--”

“Oh, that,” Roxas interrupts, frowning momentarily before one corner of his lips curves ever so slightly upward. “Maybe.”

The truth of the matter is this: The kid confuses the hell out of him, but at least he isn’t boring him to tears. That’s gotta be worth something.

~*~

The first time they fight the Heartless together (it’s their first real mission together involving missiony-type stuff, and Axel figures it best to actually go through with it this time), Axel expects Roxas to be like a newborn fawn, all wobbly legs, inexperienced movements. He expects to more than half-carry the kid through the fight.

He’s wrong, though. Dead wrong. With the Keyblade, Roxas can carry his load and half of Axel’s too (or he could if Axel would let him—no point in letting the kid think his abilities are better than Axel’s). They fight together, side-by-side and then back-to-back when it seems that the going’s getting tough.

Idly, Axel notes that Roxas’ back, pressed against his own, is very warm, and he’s sure it isn’t due to the flames (his, of course), surrounding them. Why he notices such a small, insignificant detail, he isn’t sure, but he notices it all the same.

Surprisingly, he’s never been much of a ‘focus on the details’ kind of guy—he’s always been more of a ‘focus on the big picture’ kind of guy.

Later, when the mission is over and they’re writing their first ‘official’ mission report, Axel idly comments, “You didn’t do half-bad with that key, kid.”

It’s a pretty massive understatement and Axel’s sure Roxas is aware of it, too, but the blonde doesn’t say anything to that effect.

The truth of the matter is this: They really make a pretty damn good team, after all.

~*~

It feels like I’ve known you for so long

No matter how late in the day it is when they’re finished bashing Heartless (which is the only mission Xemnas ever gives Roxas, because only he can give the Nobodies what they want—Lucky-Unlucky Number Thirteen), they always find time for the clock tower and ice cream, and easy, mindless chatter and goofy laughter and all that gooey sentimental stuff that ‘friendship’ entails (though that can’t be what this is, right? Right).

Either way, Axel could still get used to it.

Because Roxas listens to him, even when he talks about useless things, like why the setting sun is red. Of course, Roxas calls him a show-off and threatens throwing his ice cream at him before seemingly thinking better of it and continuing to eat said ice cream instead.

Axel finishes off his own ice cream and then, without thinking about it, reaches over to affectionately ruffle Roxas’ hair for no apparent reason.

Surprisingly, Roxas lets him.

“Could get used to this, Rox,” Axel informs him as he leans back, their shoulders now touching, and it’s comfortable.

“Mmm,” Roxas agrees, closing those blueblueblue eyes.

The truth of the matter is this: Axel’s already gotten used to it.

He admits it only to himself.

~*~

But I can never let you know how much this means

Of course, it isn’t long before the other members of the Organization begin to realize that Axel and Roxas are spending a great deal of time together. Some of them – like Luxord – make no mention of it. Some of them – like Saix – warn him that ‘it isn’t a good idea’, whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean. Some of them – like Lexaeus – make mention of it but don’t drive him batshit crazy over it.

But some of them – like Larxene (who must have been the Queen of Bitches in her former life) – give him hell for it.

“So,” she says to him one day—says it all soft and sweet like she’s trying to be cute and innocent (but she’s never either of those things), “you’re spending a lot of quality time with the newbie lately.” Still soft, still sweet, but she’s just looking for the right place to dig the knives in.

Axel shrugs, as nonchalant as he ought to be, since he’s a Nobody. “Guess so.”

Wrong answer, because this is where the knives come in (figuratively): “Were you a pedophile in your past life, Axel? Do you remember?”

“Were you such a sweetheart in yours, Larxene?” he fires back without hesitation, voice as sugary-sweet as hers (and falsely so). “I’m sorry—if you feel I’m hogging this ‘Key of Destiny’, as our Superior calls him, feel free to step in and act out whatever schoolgirl fantasy you have of molesting the poor kid while--”

He smells ozone; he feels – rather than hears – the crackling of energy in the room, and he decides to make a strategic exit before lightning literally strikes. He considers himself winner of the argument by default, since he had the last word and all. Or something like that.

And then there’s Demyx, who also gives him hell. Boyishly handsome Demyx, whose Other had to be one weird-ass fellow, because Demyx himself spends the vast majority of his time avoiding pretty much everything he can possibly avoid, really.

He’s a coward until he’s backed into a corner, and then he’s a real difficult fucker to deal with. Axel knows this from personal experience.

The rest of the time, he’s busy being a total jackass, with a heaping side of ‘annoying idiot’.

Like right now, for instance: “So, you and the new kid, huh? What do you two do when you’re away? Do you bond over chick flicks? Does he cry on your shoulder? Do you eat chocolates together and then complain about getting fat? Have you copped a feel yet?”

Axel grinds his teeth together and walks away before he can give himself the time to summon his chakrams. He throws a casual, “The Superior gave me the task of looking out for him. It’s my job, nothing more,” over his shoulder as he goes.

The truth of the matter is this: There’s more to it than that—Axel’s just not entirely certain as to what ‘more’ entails.

Yet.

~*~

Xemnas calls him in one day—just him, so they can talk, alone.

“I have a mission for you,” Xemnas tells him, with the slightest curl of his lips, like he knows a secret that Axel doesn’t know. He probably does.

So, being the good, obedient, lesser member of the Organization (not the Superior, not the leader—he doesn’t know what’s good for him or for Roxas or for any of them but Xemnas apparently does), Axel raises an eyebrow and tries to look interested.

He wonders if it has something to do with Roxas—with the Heartless and the Dusks and the hearts that only Roxas can cause to be released.

Xemnas tells him about how certain members of the Organization are plotting to overthrow him. He tells him about Castle Oblivion and how Marluxia is at the center of this whole plan, and how he knows that Marluxia wants to manipulate the Keyblade Master—the other one. Roxas’ Other.

If Axel had a heart, it would stutter right about now.

His name is Sora, Xemnas tells him. Tells him that he could be of use to them. Tells him to get rid of the traitors and see what this Sora is capable of.

“I know you’re interested now,” Xemnas says, and he’s smiling that empty smile that means nothing even though that’s the one thing they’re all supposed to want: for their actions to mean something.

Xemnas says it like he knows that Axel is of course interested in all things connected to Roxas (and maybe he does know), but Axel doesn’t tell him that if he is indeed thinking such a thing, he is correct.

Of course, he’ll do what Xemnas bids. Not because Xemna’s has mentioned Sora – or rather, not only because he’s mentioned Sora (whom Axel doesn’t know, because in his mind, Sora and Roxas are notnotnot the same being) – but because he’s pretty sure his other choice is being Dusked, and he doesn’t want that.

“I’ll do it,” he says. Says it all smooth and calm and decisive-like. Like it’s his decision, like it hadn’t already been made for him before he even entered the room.

There’s a catch, of course. There’s always a catch.

If Axel breathes a word about the inner workings of Castle Oblivion to Roxas, Axel himself will be eliminated.

Axel’s smile is empty too—as empty as his chest as he says that he can handle that—he’ll have to, won’t he?

The truth of the matter is this: Axel doesn’t like this.

Not one little bit.

~*~

Fall into my lies

“I don’t see you as much as I used to,” Roxas tells him, and Axel, distracted, looks at him questioningly.

“Don’t see me?” he asks, as if he’s misheard, as if he doesn’t know exactly what Roxas means (when he truly does).

Roxas narrows his eyes – and Axel knows Roxas doesn’t believe him, not fully – but he doesn’t ask further questions, and for that, Axel is glad. He can’t shake that look in Roxas’ eyes, but as long as the blonde doesn’t ask him anything, then Axel doesn’t have to lie to him, does he?

So, Roxas doesn’t ask about Axel’s missions in Castle Oblivion—doesn’t ask what strange orders Xemnas has given him, doesn’t ask what sort of things he’s encountered there.

And Axel doesn’t tell him about how he’s been playing the below-ground members against the above-ground members, or how he’s been pretending to side with both groups. He doesn’t tell him about the blonde girl in the white dress who can both tear memories apart and put them back together—who draws and always looks so sad, and seems to know far more about people (and non-people, Nobodies) than anyone ever should.

He doesn’t tell Roxas that they’ve told him about a boy with eyes that are almost the same shade as Roxas’. He doesn’t tell Roxas that Sora – Roxas’ Other – will be at Castle Oblivion soon.

He doesn’t tell Roxas that he’s keeping things from him.

It isn’t a betrayal, though—it isn’t, because in order to betray someone, Axel’s pretty sure that both parties have to possess what neither of them has: a heart.

The truth of the matter is this: Axel’s lying to himself, and he knows it.

~*~

We’re far from comfortable this time

Sora is so much like Roxas that it’s freaky, and yet he’s so unlike Roxas, too, and that makes things kind of okay because if Axel focuses on the ways that Sora is not like Roxas, he can think clearer.

He forces himself to think about their differences rather than their similarities—or tries to force himself. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, he focuses on their similarities and it’s times like that when he fucks up and that leads to Larxene being all condescending in regards to him, telling him that he has a ‘soft spot’ for the Keyblade Master when she knows exactly why this so-called ‘soft spot’ exists.

He tries to redeem himself—tries to prove to himself that there is no ‘soft spot’ and that Sora isn’t Roxas (because he isn’t), and Sora isn’t anything like him (even though he is).

He mostly fails, of course.

Sora is actually a very decent fighter, even when he’s forgotten the things and people which are most important to him, even when he’s being played the fool and doesn’t even know it. He is no novice with the Keyblade, just as Roxas is not a novice. He moves with a fluidity that Axel should find surprising, though he doesn’t find it surprising at all.

Sora’s searching for what he’s lost, just as Roxas is searching for what he has lost, even though he may not know it yet.

Sora’s hair is darker than Roxas’. Axel imagines it isn’t as soft, either, though he doesn’t dare touch it.

His outfit is kind of ridiculous.

“Don’t disappoint me,” he tells Sora as he raises his chakrams, an almost-sinister smile curving his lips.

Those blueblueblue eyes narrow, light flashing inside of them, and it’s then that Axel knows this battle is over before it’s even started. And he has lost, already.

The truth of the matter is this: It’s Sora’s eyes – which are and are not Roxas’ eyes – that make him hesitate.

And that’s something, he discovers, that can’t be helped.

~*~

We’re broken, but we fit together just right

Some days (or nights, whichever), he comes back feeling like he wants to do nothing more than sleep for years and years, like Rip van Winkle. Sometimes, he comes back and he wants to do nothing more than sit on the clock tower with Roxas and eat ice cream and talk about everything and nothing, but he’s too tired, and he can’t talk about everything—not like he wants to, if he wants to stay alive (or semi-alive, or whatever he is).

Sometimes he crawls into bed and just lies there, and he has delirious thoughts of leaving the Organization and taking Roxas with him, because hell, Roxas is the only decent one out of the whole lot of them.

Those thoughts vanish before they can take root—he banishes them before they can pester him too long, because he knows he can’t entertain such thoughts. For one, they are dangerous thoughts, and for another, they are also very useless thoughts.

One night upon his return, he contemplates going to see Roxas, but changes his mind. Maybe the kid is sleeping, and Axel doesn’t want to bother him, so he lies down and he stares at the ceiling, too exhausted to even sleep. He’s learned that mind games are even more tiresome than actual battles (except when it comes to fighting Sora, and then Axel gets a dose of the difficulties of both these things—too much mind-fuckery).

Turns out that he’s wrong, and Roxas isn’t sleeping at all. He knows this, because Roxas comes into his room, without knocking. Axel would be offended if it was anyone but Roxas. Would be offended if he were capable of it.

“I didn’t know you’d be back,” Roxas says quietly. “Some nights, you aren’t here at all.”

Roxas has just admitted that this is not his first time coming here, looking for Axel. It makes Axel smile tiredly.

“Some nights, work keeps me in that stupid castle,” Axel replies. He doesn’t elaborate – can’t – and Roxas doesn’t ask him to. He lifts his head, grinning. “So you’ve come looking for me, huh? Missed me, Rox?” He’s teasing—knows it doesn’t mean anything. It can’t mean anything.

Roxas becomes very interested in his feet, and he clears his throat, ignoring Axel’s question. “You look like hell.”

He sounds worried.

“I feel like hell,” Axel admits, sighing and letting his head rest against the mattress again, closing his eyes.

The mattress dips slightly as Roxas’ weight is added to it, and Axel’s lashes flutter as his eyes open again. Roxas is on his bed, and now he looks worried, too.

“You have to take care of yourself, Axel,” Roxas tells him point-blank.

Axel snorts lightly. “I’m fine,” he replies. “No need to worry.” And then, on a whim: “What’s it to you anyway, Roxy?”

“You’re my best friend,” Roxas tells him plaintively, like he means it (but he can’t, can he?) and there’s a certain note in his voice that makes Axel forget how to breathe for a second. He doesn’t know why.

He wants to tell Roxas, That’s impossible, you know. We don’t have hearts. You can’t care, and there’s no way Nobodies like us can have best friends.

No, scratch that. He feels obligated to tell Roxas that. He doesn’t want to tell him, and so he doesn’t.

Instead, he smiles, brushes his bare fingers against Roxas’ bare knuckles for the briefest instant—the span of a heartbeat, perhaps (Axel wouldn’t know, would he?), and he says, “Thanks.”

He doesn’t tell Roxas that it’s impossible for them to be best friends.

Because….

The truth of the matter is this: He’d rather believe the impossible.

~*~

“Where do you go, anyway?” Roxas asks one late afternoon atop the clock tower. The sun is setting and they’re eating ice cream, and it feels like it did in the beginning, being with Roxas like this.

Except only now Roxas is curious, and Axel is still exhausted, and he can’t explain it—can’t give Roxas his answers, no matter how badly he wants to.

“Some stupid, huge castle,” Axel replies as he takes another bite of his ice cream. “It’s all rather boring, Heartless-related stuff, you know.”

But Roxas doesn’t know, and Axel has to keep it that way.

Roxas snorts softly. “‘Boring’, you say, and then you come back looking more and more exhausted. You stay gone for days at a time sometimes. I know you probably don’t realize it—don’t keep track of the days like I do.” He blushes then, as if embarrassed over having admitted it.

“I keep track,” Axel replies, eyes downcast. Whether Roxas realizes it or not, he doesn’t like being away, either. Doesn’t like the two of them being apart, which is stupid, because everything was all fine and dandy (it’s an overstatement, really, but close enough) before Roxas oh-so-gracefully stumbled into his little sphere of existence, all wit and sarcasm and wide blue eyes, with a softness that Axel has never known the likes of before.

And now Axel doesn’t want to imagine what things would be like without Roxas here. He doesn’t want to go back to how things were. He’s not sure he’d be able to, if given the option.

“So,” Axel begins after a moment of silence, eager for a change of subject, “what are you doing without me around to save your ass?”

Roxas rolls his eyes and elbows Axel in the ribs. “Same old, same old. Fighting Heartless. Except only… that new girl… they’re sending me off on missions with her a lot lately.”

Axel inwardly cringes. So, Xemnas is sending Roxas off on missions with Xion. What sort of twisted game is their Superior playing?

He decides it is best to tread very, very carefully. “What’s she like?” he asks, words light, voice indifferent.

Roxas shrugs. “She’s… really quiet. And she has a Keyblade, too, like me. I don’t know why, and she doesn’t either. It doesn’t make sense.”

Even though it feels like his insides are frozen, Axel plays it off, smiling at patting Roxas on the shoulder. “Don’t think about it so much. I’m sure you’ll figure it out in due time—or maybe it’s just one of those weird things that can’t be explained.”

It can be explained, however. Axel just doesn’t have the right to explain it.

Roxas frowns slightly, but he nods, evidently not too concerned with the subject at the moment. “Yeah. Anyway, going on missions with her isn’t like going on missions with you. Being around her isn’t… isn’t easy, like this. This is as easy as breathing. Being around her sometimes is more like treading water.”

Roxas thinks that this – their friendship – is as easy as breathing. Knowing this simultaneously makes Axel smile and makes his stomach feel like it’s sinking.

“I guess….” Roxas trails off, frowning again, as though he can’t quite find the words he wants to say. “… I guess I miss you, a little.”

It makes Axel’s stomach feel like it’s sunk a bit lower.

“Don’t worry,” he says quietly, moving in a little closer, shoulder-to-shoulder with the blonde. “My mission will be over soon, and then I’ll be back to bug you on a regular basis again, just like normal.”

He doesn’t mention that this mission could be the death of him. He doesn’t mention that every day he leaves, there’s a possibility that that day will be the day he doesn’t come back.

He tells himself that he’s only omitting details. He tells himself that he isn’t lying to Roxas—to his best friend.

But the truth of the matter is this: Just because he’s only omitting details doesn’t mean that he isn’t lying.

~*~

When all is said and done at Castle Oblivion, the traitors in both factions are dead and gone (faded—that’s what they call it) and Axel is left standing, though a little worse for wear. He both is and is not the same as he was when he first entered.

Some things never change, after all. Others do.

When he returns, the first thing he hears is a shocked gasp. The first thing he feels is a pair of familiar arms wrapping around him (and this part is unfamiliar but oddly not unwelcome). The second thing he hears is his name, repeated over and over again. The second thing he feels is Roxas’ fists, pounding lightly against his chest. The flip-flop greeting made of polar opposites is enough to confuse a scholar. Axel is not a scholar and is thus perhaps even more confused than said hypothetical scholar would be.

“Roxy?” he asks, hands coming to rest on Roxas’ shoulders, shaking the blonde gently so that he’ll stop fucking hitting him already. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Roxas looks at him then – really looks at him – and Axel feels something (nothing) inside of him twist and clench violently.

There are tears in those unbelievably blue eyes; there are tears that have spilled over onto his skin and have left trails on his cheeks. It looks like he’s been crying for a while, too—his eyes are all puffy and red, and Axel doesn’t understand why. He doesn’t understand why his best friend is crying, but if he ever gets his hands on whoever caused it—

“They told me you were dead.” Roxas’ voice is a hoarse whisper, strained with emotion that shouldn’t-be-couldn’t-be-isn’t there, and a few more tears slip out, following the trail that’s already there.

So the tears are for him. For Axel.

“I’m okay, though,” Axel replies, wanting to feel (appropriately) numb and yet not able to as Roxas’ arms slide around his waist again, the younger’s grip no longer bone-crushing, but comfortable. Maybe Axel could get used to this, too.

“They told us everyone had died, and you didn’t come back right away, and so I thought that you…that you….” Roxas stops mid-sentence, shaking his head and burying his face against Axel’s chest. “I thought you were with them,” he finishes in a muffled mumble, body quivering minutely.

Axel is fascinated with Roxas’ tears, but at the same time, he wants to make them stop. “I’m here now,” he says hurriedly, one arm wrapping around the blonde’s slender frame as he rushes to reassure him by any means necessary. “I’m alive.” There is a short pause before he adds, “If I can really be called ‘alive’. No heart in my chest, and all that.”

Roxas pulls back after a moment, scowling and rubbing at his eyes. “You aren’t allowed to pull shit like that anymore, just so you know,” he says darkly, like it’s a threat. “If something like this happens again, you had better find some way of letting me know what the hell you’re doing and if you’re okay. I don’t care what kind of rules you’d be breaking doing it.”

Axel almost wants to crack a joke about Roxas acting very much like a girl, but the slight tremble in Roxas’ bottom lip stops him, as well as the sudden movement from the corner of his eye.

He turns then and sees her, not for the first time, but it may as well be. Her hair is as black as their cloaks, and her eyes are as blue as the night sky, as blue as the ocean, as blue as—

As blue as his eyes.

How fitting.

Axel tries not to bristle, tries not to let his jaw set in an unfriendly, unwelcoming line.

“Hello,” he says, and it doesn’t come out sounding as carefree as is typical of him.

“Hello,” she replies quietly, eyes not quite meeting his. She looks lost and alone, standing away from them.

“Xion ate ice cream with me yesterday,” Roxas explains in a rush, like he’s too embarrassed to say the words at a normal speed. Like he’s some bashful teenager tripping over his own feet and his own words. “She… she’s not so bad, Axel. She’s one of us, you know? None of the others really talk to her, so I figured she could hang around with us.”

Axel wants to say no. Axel wants to tell Roxas the truth—wants to say that he knows exactly who she is and what her existence means to and for Roxas. He wants to say that she has no right to look all lonely like that because she’s nothing more than a fakefakefake. He wants to say that she’s even worse off than they are; he wants to say that she is nothing more than a shadow of a shadow, and that she isn’t really like them at all.

But he can’t and so he doesn’t.

Instead, he looks into Roxas’ eyes (eyes that are not Sora’s) and then into Xion’s eyes (eyes that are neither Sora’s nor Roxas’), and says, “Sure, why not?”

And, all of a sudden, just like that, RoxasandAxel becomes RoxasandAxelandXion.

Axel tells himself that nothing will change—that this girl will cause no problems, and that that whole spiel about three being a crowd is just bullshit.

But the truth of the matter is this: Axel discovers rapidly that three really is a crowd.

~*~

Kiss the boy and you make him feel this way

Things fall into a pattern again, just like before, except only now their twosome is a threesome—Xion goes almost everywhere with them, and she smiles when Roxas smiles and she laughs at Axel’s jokes, and she fits herself against Axel’s side, too, elbows him in the ribs when he teases her. She’s full of spunk as well, that one.

But she doesn’t fit. Axel knows it but doesn’t acknowledge it out loud—doesn’t tell her or Roxas, because he knows it will only make her look at him like she’s wounded when she can’t be hurt like that (can’t feel emotional pain), and he knows that Roxas will only look at him with burning, questioning eyes and then he’ll be stuck again, unable to deny and yet unable to give a straight answer.

She’s a fake, a soul-less shadow, a cute girl with twinkling blue eyes and soft laughter and pale skin with a dash of freckles. She thinks she fits, and Axel allows her that illusion—doesn’t have the heart (literally) to tell her otherwise.

These days, it’s mostly RoxasandAxelandXion. Roxas pretends that it’s always been this way—that she’s fit in from the beginning; Xion pretends sometimes that it’s no big deal, their acceptance of her presence alongside them. Axel pretends that he doesn’t know the truth about her.

Sometimes, like now, it is just RoxasandAxel again, like in the beginning, without her beside or between them. Axel never admits out loud that he likes these times best, because when he’s alone with Roxas, it feels like it’s easier to breathe, easier to think, easier to just be.

Roxas still asks questions every once in a blue moon—questions that Axel can’t really answer, and Axel would like to blame it all on Xion and her influence (because she is curious too and asks all sorts of questions about existence and Kingdom Hearts and all that jazz), but he knows he can’t. The yearning for knowledge, the curiousness, it’s an integral part of the both of them.

“What happened in that castle?” Roxas asks quietly, like he already knows he isn’t going to get a straight answer.

They are laying side-by-side on the clock tower, inches apart, the setting sun decorating the sky with different hues of orange and pink and red and gold.

Axel bristles for a moment, considering his words carefully. He can’t tell the truth—or rather, he can’t tell the entire truth. He can tell a little bit of the truth without going into detail about it, though, so he decides that that is the best course of action.

He moves to settle on his side, elbow propped against the stone beneath them, chin resting on his palm as he gazes down into fathomless blue. “The only thing I can tell you, Roxy, is this: Traitors have no place within the Organization, and they will be taken care of.”

He almost smirks as he remembers something Marluxia told him, and the former Graceful Assassin was correct—words like that don’t sound quite right coming from him, but he’s already said them and he can’t exactly take them back now, can he?

Roxas’ eyes narrow and then widen, realization sinking in, and his mouth forms a small ‘o’ but no sound comes out. He knows part of the horrible truth, and that apparently is enough for him for the moment, because he doesn’t push Axel further—doesn’t ask for more details, and so again, Axel doesn’t mention white rooms and doesn’t mention the boy that is everything and is nothing like him (because Sora is and is not Roxas and Roxas is and is not Sora), and he doesn’t mention that he played them all for fools, and he doesn’t mention the little caged bird (Marluxia’s pet) that escaped unscathed.

He looks down at Roxas and Roxas looks up at him, and he fights the sudden urge to tell Roxas that they should just get the hell out of here, the two of them together. They’d be able to make it somehow, he wants to say, but doesn’t. He banishes the mere idea of it before it can move from his mind to his lips to Roxas’ ears, before he can get himself into a whole lot of Trouble with a capital ‘T’.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Roxas queries, and his voice is all soft and sweet again—an innocent question but it’s almost as dangerous as questions about Castle Oblivion and questions about his existence and questions about Xion. His expression is relaxed, unburdened but curious.

“Your eyes,” Axel responds, and it’s only a half-lie again, a half-truth. Roxas’ eyes have always been kind of ridiculously mesmerizing.

Roxas’ brow furrows, and he says, “What do you mean?”

Axel decides to elaborate a little, even though he knows he’ll probably regret it later and even though he knows Roxas will probably look at him like he’s an idiot. “They’re like the ocean, you know? All that blue, and it feels like I’m going to drown sometimes when I’m looking into them.”

Roxas doesn’t laugh. Roxas doesn’t make fun of him.

Roxas smiles and reaches up, trembling fingers touching the corner of Axel’s mouth. “Stupid,” he says, says it fondly (like it’s real and Axel wants to pray that it is), “don’t you know how to swim?” And then, “I guess I wouldn’t let you drown, anyway.”

Axel feels a smile tugging at his lips and he doesn’t fight it. “You guess?”

It comes out sounding like he’s happy instead of offended, not that he can truly be either of those things.

“I guess,” Roxas affirms as he leans up, closer to Axel.

His lips are warm and soft and trembling a little, like his fingers were when they touched Axel’s skin.

Axel wasn’t expecting this, but he isn’t complaining. He drags the blonde a little closer, lips hungry and fingers needy and aching for reasons he can’t comprehend. Roxas doesn’t back down for an instant: he presses himself as close as he can possibly get, palms against Axel’s face, tongue shyly brushing against Axel’s.

Axel is smug with the realization that he doesn’t do this with Xion. He knows without asking.

Not that he’d ask.

They break apart long moments later, Roxas flushed and Axel still smug, both of them breathing a little heavily.

“Well,” Roxas begins, tilting his head. “You didn’t drown, did you?”

Axel grins. “Nah.”

The truth of the matter is this: He did. He had already, months ago. He is drowning still, each and every time he looks at this kid.

Drowning where there is no water. What a contradiction.

Axel’s always appreciated those.

~*~

Continue on to Part II
Tags: 358/2 days, axelxroxas, chain of memories, kingdom hearts, kingdom hearts ii, roxasxaxel
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