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It was a great lack of foresight on my part to give Axel a copy of my apartment key. He barged in like he lived here – which he practically did – and plopped down on my couch with a groan.

“One day you’ll come in when I’m not home and Jasmine will think you’re a burglar.”

I knew something was wrong when five seconds passed without a witty reply.

“Axel?” I left my Calculus textbook open to sit down beside him. His head stayed limp in his hands. “Axel.”

He muttered something, but it was impossible to decipher any words.

“Speak clearly,” I ordered in frustration.

“…Can I just sit here a sec?” He said quietly.

I sighed. He was clearly distraught over something, but it would do no good to press him for answers now. I could only hope it had nothing to do with the fact that it was Valentine’s Day.

“As long as you do not disturb my studying.”

For once he obeyed my request. He made no move to turn on the TV, or rummage in my pantry for nonexistent processed snacks, or peer obnoxiously over my shoulder while I reviewed my notes. He stayed in his silent bubble on the couch. Not only was this eerie, it was somehow more distracting than his usual energetic presence.

I returned to the couch. “Axel.” No response. “Sulking won’t do any good.”

He sniffed, and I caught a glimpse of something wet on his palm.

“You don’t cry,” I said, only realizing the tactlessness of it once it had left my mouth.

“Way to be sensitive, Saï,” he snapped sarcastically. At least it was a reaction.

“I apologize. What’s wrong?”

He smeared his hands down his face and looked up for the first time.

“I guess she wouldn’t have told you…”

“Who is ‘she’?”

“Xi. Xion. I guess she’s probably fuming to herself or her girlfriends right now…”

“What did you do to my sister?” I demanded, all the possible Worst Case Scenarios flashing through my head. “If you touched her, or even thought about—”

“Woah, Saï, it’s not like that-!”

“—I don’t care that it’s Valentine’s Day; you promised you would tell me first if you even developed feelings for her—”

“Saï! Listen!” It wasn’t until he grabbed my wrist and shoved my arm away that I realized I had been clutching a wad of his shirt. “Sheesh, I didn’t know you thought I was that horrible. Every decent guy knows you tell a bro before dating his sister.”

I grimaced a bit in apology. It was a bit of a hasty judgment, even if he seemed to be hinting at that… “So what is the problem?”

It was Axel’s turn to grimace. “I… uh… She might not want me to tell you, actually, now that I think about it…”

“And why not?”

“It’s… kind of… well, it’s not really your business, or mine either…”

“You made it my business when you barged into my apartment.”

He winced, running a hand through his hair. “It wasn’t my business to make it your business… Dang it, they’re going to be even more mad at me now. Gah, I’ve really made a mess of this…”

Wait, ‘they’? “Who else is involved in this? And what is ‘this’?”

It would have been much easier to remain calm if Axel did not keep avoiding my questions. His eyes darted back and forth like he expected a distraction to materialize from midair.

“So, uh, what’s up with this weather? I hear it’s s’posed to snow some more today-”

“Axel. What are you hiding from me?”

I glared into his eyes, and he threw excuses to the wind, jumping up from the couch and slipping past me in my second of surprise.

“Hey look I’m feeling much better now.” He gave a fake, choked-sounding laugh, backing towards the door. “I’ll just get out of your hair, let you get back to your books, Jasmine’s probably gonna be home soon, ‘k thx bye-”

I intercepted him while he was nervously wrestling with the doorknob. “Tell me what happened.”

“Or what, you’ll judo flip me like you did Xigbar that time he was messing with Roxas and Xion?”

He met my eyes long enough to tell how serious I was.

“Fine, so you would judo flip me, your best friend in the whole entire universe.”

“You are my best friend, and as such, you should not keep important information from me.”

“Saï…” He finally gave that sigh he always does before confessing to anything. “Don’t get mad at me, okay? It’s my apartment too; Roxas didn’t warn me at all, didn’t even tell me they were going out-”

I was beginning to piece together the situation, but I didn’t want to jump to any more hasty conclusions. “Spit it out, Axel.”

He let go of the doorknob and wiped his face again. “I walked in on Roxas and Xion making out. And kind of flipped out at them. And they flipped out back at me. And I scared Xion off and now Roxas hates my guts and if they’d just told me it would’ve been fine, instead of having to walk in and see two of my best friends…” He made a face resembling a kindergartener talking about cooties, which was fairly ironic since he’s kissed more girls than there are elements on the periodic table. Including the unconfirmed ones.

But the important part was about Xion. I severely disliked the mental image of her kissing anyone, but it wasn’t exactly an unexpected development.

“At least Roxas should be better for her than that Vanitas she dated for so long.”

“…What?” Axel’s brain looked broken.

“Surely you remember that. You and your brother took her three gallons of sea-salt ice cream after he broke up with her.”

“No, not that.” He shook his head, disheveling his already messy red spikes. “You’re not mad or thinking about lecturing her or anything?”

I sighed. “Axel, in this particular case I believe you are overreacting.” And had nearly had me overreacting for a few moments…

Axel suddenly turned on me with an indignant fire in his eyes. “Wait, you’re fine with my brother making out with your sister, but you freaked out when you just thought I might have done something with her?”

“…I can see how this would seem unfair,” I said carefully, moving back towards the couch. There was no need to argue so near the door where my neighbors could easily hear.

“Yeah, a little! Not that I like Xi like that or anything, but you really trust Roxas more than me? You don’t even like him!”

“He can be obnoxious and completely oblivious to the world around him, but as I have told you before, he is your brother and Xion’s friend… ‘boyfriend’ now I suppose… and I will tolerate him apathetically.”

“…At least you’re using Fancy Words, so you’re not totally okay with it.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Of course I’m not okay with it, but you remember the last time I became involved in my sister’s drama…”

“Oh.” Axel plopped on the couch beside me. “Yeah, she got pretty ticked when you chased off Ven… Probably why she started going out with Van in the first place, y’know.”

“Yes. I know.” I sighed. “But apparently you are the one who messed up this time, so it’s your turn to take care of the damage.”

Axel moaned and sank deeper into the couch. “I hate damage control…”

“It would be best to apologize now, before it gets worse.” I knew firsthand how bad Xion could be when she held a grudge.

“But they think I hate them…”

“Then tell them you don’t, and everything should be fine.” He’s Axel. It’s not like they could stay mad at him for long. I was never able to.

“We were going to celebrate Singles Awareness Day together…” he mumbled. “They both agreed about a month ago… Never said a thing about wanting to be a happy couple…”

“Oh.” I should have understood this earlier. “You’re afraid of being the metaphorical Third Wheel.” The same reason, though I would not like to admit it, why I would never want Axel to date my sister.

“I’m not afraid!” He snapped. “They’d never do that… on purpose…” He sighed. “I’m sorry, Saï. I think I finally get how you felt when I used to go off with girls all the time…”

I tried to keep the corners of my mouth from twitching upward in a small grin, with limited success. “Apology accepted. Now go call them before Xion has time to text too many people about how horrible you are.”

XXX

As it turned out, Axel got off pretty light. I could hear him groveling in the other room, and while I was disappointed in his lack of dignity, I suppose it was worth it when he came out smiling.

“Not so horrible, was it?” I asked. Not that I would have come close to apologizing if I were in his situation, but I wouldn’t tell him that. There was a vast gap between the levels of dignity the two of us had left, and Axel’s had been abysmally low for so long that it didn’t bother him too much to apologize for something that wasn’t his fault. As long as he was apologizing to Roxas and Xion, that is.

“Oh, it was horrible. I could practically feel Roxas’s Puppy Eyes through the phone, and Xi kept switching between crying and yelling at me…” He winced. “She hung up on me twice and wouldn’t pick up for a while, but eventually she listened to me. But the good news is, they’re coming over in two hours.”

“What? Here?!” This apartment isn’t even entirely mine; Jasmine could be back from her date with Aladdin by then—

“Yep, and we’re going to cook them an awesome romantic Valentine’s Day dinner to make up for my fail.”

“What do you mean ‘we’?!”

“Well, it is your apartment, I wasn’t gonna just use up your whole kitchen without letting you help.” He grinned impishly.

“Axel-”

“We’ll need to set a romantic mood. Where do you keep the candles?”

“Axel,” I growled again.

“You have the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, right?”

“AXEL.”

He waved me off while digging through the cabinets in the kitchen. “Chill, Saï. If they really do fall in love and get married-”

“You are jumping to conclusions way too quickly-”

“-We’ll be brothers-in-law!” He grinned.

“Is that supposed to be a pro or a con?”